Volume 2, Issue 1
Kelly Grey Carlisle
Managing Editor James Stryker
Designer Erin Rand
Production Manager Clayton Reuter
Associate Editor Joshua Palmer
All staff participate in the reading and selection of work and the production of the magazine. 1966 is published with the support of Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, and its English Department. http://www.trinity.edu Founding Editors: Mallory Conder, Paul Cuclis, Michael Garatoni, Spenser Stevens, and Matthew Stieb The copyright of all text and images contained in this magazine belongs to its author. Cropped Detail: Sounds of the Past, Larry W. Lo, Copyright 2014, used under creative commons license Cropped Detail: Copernicus, MichaĹ&#x201A; Paluchowski, Copyright 2014, used under creative commons license Cropped Detail: Bicheno Signpost, Robyn Jay, Copyright 2014, used under creative commons license Cover and Table of Contents Image: The Future is Not What it Used to Be, Allison Skopec, 2013
Lori A. May
These Orbits, Crossing Dave Madden
Meme 5 Meme 10
22 After the Winds Die
Sharman Apt Russell
Sea of Crises
A Thing With Feathers The Canvas of Trees
Volume 2, Issue 1
Tate Modern, Spenser Stevens, 2013
These Orbits, Crossing
Volume 2, Issue 1
Hunched over the upstairs bathtub, my grandfather is carefully making
hydrogen. Behind him as he kneels, are his three children: my mother, my aunt, and my uncle. They sit in awkward places—the toilet, a corner of the sink—transfixed, as he carefully takes a 7-Up bottle and funnels it slowly with Drano. It must be a 7-Up bottle in order for this to work, although my mother has never been able to tell me why. It is just one of those particulars that cannot be asked to change—a fixed detail in our collective memory that will always remain the same. In that crowded room, the smell is heady, and the children cannot stop giggling. My grandfather shushes them, tells them to be quiet or he can’t concentrate, as he drops the aluminum foil ball into the top of that emerald bottle and places the cap back on. Shaking the mixture once, twice, he submerges it into the mostly full bathtub, the water the only thing that might save them if something is to go wrong. The four of them wait there, counting off the seconds, impatient for the rest of the moment to unfold. Somewhere in the house, my grandmother is cleaning. The laundry is getting done, dinner is getting made, but for now, within the confines of this bathroom, time stands still. Impatient, it is here where my uncle quietly makes a joke, his sisters laughing, their father shushing, the four of them anxiously circling around the moment with anticipation. Finally, my grandfather takes a balloon from somewhere near his feet, uncaps the bottle, and stretches the latex over the top. It hangs there limply for a moment, as if considering its options, before it twitches and then slowly begins to expand. A lemon yellow sphere grows in the space between their crowded bodies, and the children watch with moon-wide eyes, finally quiet, bent only on observing what’s in front of them. Once the balloon is deemed full enough, my grandfather carefully pinches it off the bottle, handing it to my uncle to tie as he begins to make another. Somewhere along the way, long pieces of string get fastened to the balloon ends, and one by one, they slowly drift to the ceiling to softly knock against one another, colored dots of flammable gas waiting for further instructions. Twenty-one years before, in 1942, my grandfather would not have been able to have this sort of summer-day moment with his children. Freedom for him would not be something easily recognizable amidst the desert terrain of Owen’s Valley. Still, here in this bathroom surrounded by his family, all of
that seems like a terrible dream. When enough balloons have been made, he stands up, grabbing their strings, pulling them behind him as he makes his way to the basement. The kids grumble with annoyance at the fact that they don’t get to play with even just one, but they knowingly leave their father alone as he slips away to his workbench. For hours he will remain downstairs, working with his tools that are tucked lovingly beside the washer and dryer, the hot water heater, the furnace. His mind will wander as he bends balsa wood into poly shaped wings, the paper plans of a microfilm model airplane coming to life in his hands. It is only when he readies those models for flight that he will allow his mind to drift to other things. Standing in a basement, watching his handiwork glide slowly below the rafters, occasionally nudging them along with the help of his hydrogen balloons, he will remember what it means to be free. Planet Earth is orbiting around the sun at a rate of 30 kilometers per second. Which is to say that our home is falling towards the surface of the sun at the same speed that the sun’s surface is falling away from us. Which is to say our planet exists in a perpetual state of falling. Which is to say, as inhabitants of this planet, we are always falling as well. When we take the dog for a walk, we are falling. When we make dinner, we are falling. When we drive to work, we are falling. We are falling flat on our mattresses at night. We are falling when we open our eyes in the morning. When we write a letter, say ‘I love you,’ pour ourselves a drink, we are always falling. We will never stop our descent, locked in orbit around the sun, this life, for as long as we’re allowed. At the rate of 30 kilometers a second, we exist. The Earth’s orbit as our orbit, our centers: the Sun. For my grandfather in the 1960s, there was more to orbit around than just a dying star. After the war, he found himself preoccupied with the usual tasks that come with being a family man. He took care of the house, shoveled snow when it was time, and tended to his Japanese garden and koi pond, tucked quietly in the back corner of the yard. He was modest even in his Kangol caps and hand-painted ties, and he was always willing to help his neighbors Volume 2, Issue 1
when necessary. His world rotated around his friends and family, and to the casual observer, it would seem that he had always existed like this. His planes were the things he worked on for himself. When he made his first plane, I cannot be sure, but it is obvious from the tons of them stored in the basement of my grandparents’ home, that the making of that first plane wasn’t nearly enough. I can imagine him, crouched low over his workbench, after everyone else had gone to bed. How his hands must have looked, small and beginning to wrinkle, as he whittled and sandpapered into the early hours of the morning just to get the shape of the thing right. Debating between poly or V shaped wings, but never gull, because those were always problematic. Shaving the tail fin down to just the right smoothness before carefully painting the Japanese flag on one side and a crane on the other. He revolved around those model airplanes, and they revolved around him. A mutual push and pull existed between the two. Where my grandfather wanted the wood to bend, sometimes it would snap. Where he wanted it to stay put, sometimes it would keep slipping out of place. But in the end, with patience and diligence, my grandfather pushed against those difficulties and that plane would fly beautifully for him on the day he took it out to see the skies. Standing in the large, vast field of Bong Air Force base, he would watch as his creation smoothly drifted in the currents above him, the two locked in a steady, perfect orbit around each other. In 1942, my grandfather was taken to Manzanar Relocation Center. He was 23 years old, a young man helping out at his father’s grocery store before his family got the notice. Within 24 hours, he found himself being relocated to the heart of Owen’s Valley to stare silently up at the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains for the next two years of his life. Manzanar, which is the Spanish word for “apple orchard,” was a desolate place, not a single apple tree in sight. Rows upon rows of barracks crowded into a small expanse of that waterless terrain, locked within a ring of barbed wire, guard towers stationed every couple hundred feet meant to protect the world outside from the people held within. Windstorms could strike up at any given time, blanketing everything in sight in a harsh layer of sand and rock, and the temperatures could well exceed 100 degrees on summer days.
My grandfather never spoke much about his time spent in that internment camp. In fact, I don’t ever think he mentioned it to me at all. My mother, of course, has stories, pieces of information passed to her in those very brief moments of remembering, but for the most part, that time in his life went relatively unnoticed. Not even those beautiful mountains were mentioned, so tall and so very necessary to the scenery of that space. I know my grandfather must have stood, looking up at them at least once or twice in his time there, but it seems, for the most part, the only thing that was ever remembered was the vast expanse of so much nothing. An empty space filled with an entire people mulling around at the center, no way for them to escape. My mother tells me that when she was a child, she used to go with her brothers and sisters and my grandfather to fly his model planes in the cornfields. He would let them free over that large expanse of green, and she and her siblings would chase after them through the tall foliage. My mother, being the youngest, was always too small to see over the corn, so she was forced to run with her hands in the air, much easier to spot if she got lost. Imagine a body, small in the vastness of all that corn, hands raised and feet running, being careful not to trip over an upturned stone or adjacent stalk. The leaves brushing softly at exposed calves and arms. The very blue sky hanging empty above, save for the moment my grandfather’s glider cut through. A glimpse and then gone, my mother’s feet redirecting her, sending her chasing in a new direction. I can’t be sure my mother was there on the day that glider got away, caught a thermal and just got gone. But I like to think that she was. That maybe she and her father stood, looking up over all of that expanse of corn to watch their plane drift silently upward and away in the early evening sky, knowing for certain they might never see it again. How strange the heart must have felt having to watch all those hours of hard work disappear into a setting sun, a mixture of sadness but also pride at having created something so perfect that it had to set itself free. That plane, an example of a broken orbit, only, instead of falling back down to the thing pulling it in, it took off, and up and away for thousands of miles. Free from constraints to land where Volume 2, Issue 1
it pleased. If we want to know how far a model plane has fallen in its flight trajectory, we use the following formula: Distance = ½ • 32 • (seconds)2 That same formula, it seems, can be applied here, as well. On the night before my grandfather was relocated to Manzanar, how far was his heart falling as he packed his suitcase? Was it a normal seventy beats per minute, shirts folded next to pants next to perfectly rolled up socks and several pairs of underwear? Or was it slower? Forty beats per minute, the rhythm falling in a rich cycle of looking around the room, deciding what was needed. The equations for my grandfather’s falling heart must have looked something like this: ½ • 32 • (the 60 slow beats his heart cycled through every 60 seconds)2 = the distance fallen the night before. ½ • 32 • (9,000 seconds)2 = the distance fallen in the time it took to pack all that he could carry. ½ • 32 • (240 seconds)2 = the distance fallen in the time it took to tie his shoes the morning of. ½ • 32 • (900 seconds)2 = the distance fallen in the time it took him to eat his breakfast with his family that day. ½ • 32 • (259,200 seconds)2 = the distance fallen on the journey to. ½ • 32 • (1,051,200 seconds)2 = the distance fallen in his two year stay within the gates of Manzanar.
And yet, despite his heart falling lower and lower with each passing day, it never quite hit bottom. It never quite fell out of orbit. Today, I am at my grandparents’ house, picking up a few things my aunt has put aside for me as she works to empty out the rest of the house before a new family moves in. Now, each time I return there, I contemplate how this could be the last time I walk through that kitchen, that garden, that basement of my grandfather and his planes. Walking around the house, we pick up odds and ends and put them in a box for me to take when I leave. In the basement, in a corner, the planes are laid out in a cluster of wings and bodies. Three large ones, one apiece for my mother and her siblings, and a small grouping of tiny gliders for anyone else. I was thinking, what I’d like to do with whatever plane I end up getting is fly it. I want us all to get together and fly it one last time. Whatever happens to it, if we lose it, that’s okay. I just think it’s more important to fly it again. My aunt says this to me as we stand looking over the motionless hulls of my grandfather’s craft, my bare feet cooling on the basement tile, my hands in my pockets, my heart in my chest. I whisper, Yes. I think that would be perfect. Driving home, I think about how I am still, will always be, falling at a rate of 30 kilometers per second, just as my mother is, just as my grandfather did, just as his father did, just as we all are. But also how the orbits of my grandfather have become my own. How I find myself circling around these things, those planes, that time spent in the apple-less orchard of Owen’s Valley. If we did the calculations, we might find that my heart, too, is always falling. I have heard that in the camps, my grandfather used to catch doves. Plucked from the sky, he would harness them for a brief moment in time to take his delicate, small, much younger hands, and carefully pull back the wings. How those birds must have struggled within the grasp of something so foreign. How being held in the palm of a hand must have felt when the world is already so large to your tiny, feathered body. How any of this might relate to those planes, these orbits, that night sky so definitely black against us all. Volume 2, Issue 1
Paintbrush in hand, my grandfather would color bright red circles underneath those wings, blow lightly on the feathers to quicken the drying, whisper softly into that animalâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s ear, and then open his hands and release. The bird, pausing for a moment to get its bearings, would push off his palm, up and into the hot desert air, the symbol of a country and a people carried delicately beneath its outstretched wings, leaving my grandfather, standing underneath, watching as it disappeared into the mountains.
Tree, Spenser Stevens, 2013
Volume 2, Issue 1
Meme 5 Dave Madden
Detail: Sounds of the Past, Larry W. Lo, 2014
I took a train one June with Renee from Erlangen up to Bayreuth to
spend the day with Christine who, too, was on a two-month exchange between highschool students of Fairfax County, Virginia, and the German state of Bavaria. There wasn’t a plan. The train overspeeded north durch der Fränkische-Schweiz and within the hour Christine was at the bahnhof with a car. Christine had been given open use of a car. At the home she got to stay in, her quarters were above the garage. Kitchenette. Full bath. The host family was all at work, or school, save the much older brother of her gästschwester—a serious man with wet, heavy eyes and a high brow to whom she spoke, exclusively, English. “Since we’re speaking so much German at school I get to speak English at home,” Christine explained. To stay solo prolonged weeks in a foreign country is to find one’s home language gradually lost. Whole words slip from mastery to mystery. What lights another’s cigarette becomes a fire thing. Gloves are soon hand shoes. Words toss themselves across new orderings: You have a better student been could. It takes what’s often an intolerable loss for this all to happen. Naturally, new terms for old things find room in your brain somewhere. Ein Stadtbummel: a stroll, errant, through a city’s civic landscape. Bayreuth had what had come to be expected from these cities older than even the idea of the United States of America. Mountainous cathedrals, echt Gothic. A grand stone Rathaus. Parks and Plätze. All of it Black-Death old. Dip in and take a snapshot. The girls posed everywhere. Christine’s face masked something Asiatic in her family’s past. Renee’s long and heavy lashes got her face all bashful at certain angles. They wore blousey white T-shirts, sized for Titans, tucked into high shorts. Christine and Renee shoulder-to-shoulder on a streetcorner by the Jean Paul Museum. Christine and Renee on a park see-saw, giggling, the Rathaus-Apotheke open for business across the street. The German curbside parking meter is identical to the American curbside parking meter. The curbside parking meter was an American invention, sent propitiously abroad. The German curbside parking meter Christine in her car, like so much else in this country, worked to ignore. No one was friends so much as American together. At a cafe somewhere the orders were Radler, Radler, and Sprite. Auf Deutsch, say «ein schpritt». “A Volume 2, Issue 1
Sprite,” Christine said, accentless. Bayreuth’s lionized citizen, Richard Wagner, built in 1872 a villa there in yellow stone. On a row of plaques above the front door’s and windows’ porticoes got inscribed these words: Hier wo mein Wähnen Frieden fand– Wahnfried–sei dieses Haus von mir benannt. A translation: “Here where my madness peace found—Madnesspeace—should this house from me be so named.” In Wahnfried’s cellar vault lie, publicly unviewable, Wagner’s handwritten scores. A darkened room which holds, in cabinets, illuminated dioramas depicting stage sets from the operas’ original Bayreuth productions—around the center display of which Christine popped to scare Renee into high giggles—is now closed to the public. Who knows whose loss this is. Who knows what led upstairs to the library, where more than 2,500 books line the high walls in costly wooden shelves. If the past is a foreign country, it is the tourist’s duty to impose herself thereon. “Take my picture,” Christine said, and sat herself down on the bench at Wagner’s grand piano. A Steinway, one hundred and two years her elder. Nothing, no ropes, no bitte nicht setzen, stopped her from taking this perch. She raised her wrists, poised, and laughed as the flashbulb filled this old hall with light.
Detail: Providence, Allison Skopec, 2013
Volume 2, Issue 1
Meme 10 Otello, Allison Skopec, 2013
I studied film in college, a shift away from The English Major Plan, one
provoked by a senior-year AP English Literature course taught so thoroughly to the test that every novel became a jigsaw puzzle of fixed symbols meant to be fitted together to produce one flat image of America at the time. Anyone in 1996 knew he could direct a feature film far outside Hollywood, because Jarmusch, because Tarantino, because Smith and Guest. It took only an earnestness and a dream of independence. Because the Nineties. The University of Pittsburgh contracted with instructional outlet Pittsburgh Filmmakers to get its film studies majors production experience. Otherwise it was all The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Citizen Kane, and Battleship Potemkin screened on interruptive Laserdiscs over sleepy afternoons in classrooms without windows, where aquiline retirees brought shawls and popcorn bags and perched themselves tight up near the dais. They never had to write any papers. Filmmaking 1’s classroom was equally windowless—because cinema—but the talk from dais to desk concerned f-stops, focal lengths, and 18-percent gray cards. The stock was Kodak Super-8 Tri-X Reversal, bought in cartridges at the equipment counter, where Elmos and Minoltas were rentable for the weekend. Processing took the USPS. Editing took chopstick-thin rolls of Scotch tape, glossy yellow. The lesson was clear: you cannot live for art unless you’re made to suffer for it. Film came with high costs. On shoots it was mostly first-take best-take. To put a story together it helped to know the 180-degree rule, your storyboards. It helped to know some theatre kids, but theatre kids were scarce and proud. Theatre kids were full of their own hopeless spotlight dreams. Come project-screening days, each student self-projecting before an audience of his peers, one dreaming montage after another, flickered in high contrast on the pulldown screen, the acting done through the eyeballs of one’s most shameless set of friends. Suckers for a camera. One Point Park student was a pornographer, went the rumor, convincing scores of girls from behind an SLR’s gaping eye to pose for photos he’d sell to schoolmates horny in those early days of dial-up. Assignment 1 was to shoot a space, but assignment 2 was to form a narrative. M. Doughty’s Slanky had dropped the year previous, with a short poem in it, readily memorizable:
Volume 2, Issue 1
Drunk, she was carried and thrown into the pillows. She stamped her foot on the floor as she slept, to keep the world from spinning away from her like a troubled childhood. It was not so readily filmable. Lamp poles didn’t want to fit between desks and dorm fridges, and convincing Lisa not to look into the camera wasn’t half as easy as convincing her to be shot in her bra. Getting post-jocks Damon and Brad to emote more with their beer-bottle props? This is what Hitchcock must have felt like. And if all actors should be treated like cattle, what to do with the prize bull: the theatre kid grouchy about having to act without words in take-spans of under ten seconds? Because micro-budget. Because stock expenses. Tossing a semi-topless girl onto a mess of floor pillows and getting, as the camera made a fitful pan to the left, to stage-kiss down to just under her belly-button wasn’t, in the end, any kind of compensation for having to say “What the fuck?” three separate times because the focus was always off. His name was Mark. He’s an editor at Ballantine now. Lisa’s married to a man with enormous shoulders. Brad teaches P.E. and Damon’s tweets hate the President. Mike (née M.) Doughty has renounced his old band Soul Coughing, and Tarantino never won an Oscar for directing. In 1999, Super-8-to-VHS transfers were inexpensive but in June 2003, DVD rentals surpassed VHS rentals in Blockbuster Videos around the country. Bedspins got two screenings, once for a grade and once for some other kind of acclaim. It sits—along with Dorm Stairwell, Roommate Trouble, and Belle Atlantique—in a box on a shelf in a closet, right next to a Polaroid camera. Time does make a monkey of everybody. You look far more noble in yesterday’s dreams than you ever could in the limelight of today. You stand taller. This doesn’t make the present a letdown—the wrong-colored polish, the burger with pickles still in it—it makes the past unreasonable. The world will not have jetpacks, not because it can’t have jetpacks, but because people shouldn’t be given them. Leave the jetpacks for the dreamers. They look way better captured on film than they do on paper, in prose.
Detail: Providence, Allison Skopec, 2013
Volume 2, Issue 1
Silver Moon, Clay Reuter, 2013
Sea of Crises Natalie Vestin
Volume 2, Issue 1
Falling. Although he doesn’t know it’s all moving—universe spreading,
gas compressing into hot young stars. Planets round and round the sun, sun bumping along rumpled cloth of galaxy. Giovanni Riccioli knows of being held. He understands the hands of God. He’s Jesuit, exploratory, curious to the point of being irritating. He feels himself pushed forward, always out, always somewhere to find something new. Perhaps he understands gravity in this way—the press of centuries of tradition and loyalty married to a seeking urge. Perhaps he seeks falling. The Jesuits drop things. They measure weight, distance, time to Earth. Riccioli uses a pendulum, counts its swings. Monks chant to keep time. It feels like ceremony, and he wonders if he should pray. Pray what? Will you bless this falling? May all fallen beings find the right place at the right time? Or, faster, harder, right there, oh God? Falling. Think of a sea to catch and soften. Or think of the freefall and the blow. Were we talking of falling or jumping? Everything wants to be cradled. Everything wants to find a home. Sins of the fallen, he thinks. So many ways to want the earth, smash all vices together. He does not want to jump, except in the way that all people want to jump. Would anyone have reached the top of the Tower of Babel? Was closeness to God the sin, or sin the flesh that unwittingly pulled toward Earth? He wants the sky, thinks of falling upward, but is it still called falling? He thinks of the fall of man, fallen soldiers, fallen, dishonored women, fallen angels. Why does everything that falls keep falling? Why, in homilies, is there no ground, no bottom (except that which drops out), no eternity with an end, no place to rest? Riccioli names what he sees. At night, he maps the moon, names all dark spaces, and gives them a home. He makes the universe stable, places each piece. Each piece scorns immobility. What is the law of the love of motion? One winter, after a family argument, when everyone was still raw and nauseated, my father told me about Mare Crisium. We were talking about orbits, about how I had mistaken Jupiter for Venus the previous night. How, in his
upset, he had nearly pulled the car over on our way to the diner. How Venus can never be more than 23 degrees away from the sun. How Venus can never be a bright light in an eastern evening sky. Planetary orbits seem to correspond with their positions relative to the earth, or perhaps it’s just the only way we have of monitoring them. Mercury and Venus, between Earth and the sun, are inferior planets, able only to maintain a strict position in relationship to the sun. Mars and planets onward are superior, able to travel where they please, within the bounds of each other and gravity. And then there is Earth and the moon, center of our universe. Mare Crisium, the Sea of Crises, is the dark crater on the right side of the moon. My father refers to it as the Gorbachev birthmark, but it resembles Pac-Man, always ready to tip off the moon’s curve and chase beeping after stars. Riccioli named it “Crisium” for the way it attracts stormy weather, rainfalls of stony lunar pummeling. He also put the heretical Galileo crater next to it, in the face of the storms, but that’s another story. The moon has a bit of a wobble on its invisible stick of axis, a wobble that lets it turn its face to us from side to side like a pretty girl. Sometimes, the Sea of Crises is perched at the edge as if the moon is being eaten away by dark space, and sometimes it is further inland, a new white surface free of storms available for earthly view. January is for insomnia. It’s something to do with the cold that’s more like pain than cold, the way tight molecules of the air pull on my eyes, bend skin in on itself in a semblance of horror. It’s something to do with the high dark sky, the brilliance of it. The earth is cold and dark and alone, yet the heavens are aflame. Nothing is so dreadful. I lie awake, thinking of what one thinks of at these hours: failure of things past, fear of things further down the rumpled cloth of time, family far away. I am too soft to contend with these things, so I pray, and I look up into the ceiling, praying to the hidden sky, as one does, lying in bed, unable to sleep, too soft, too thoughtful. I sleep for an hour one night and dream of God. He shakes his head, he says, you are too homogeneous. Volume 2, Issue 1
I wonder what it might mean; likely it is a consequence of January ice, of trying not to slip, staring down at the floes of hardened water, H2O H2O H2O, same solid state of matter, teeth chattering, boot soles worn down, thinking this sidewalk is too homogeneous. January was January: sheets and floes of ice on the sidewalks, cold that formed pebbles of frost in my eyelashes. Clear skies with no snow. The atmosphere’s subzero bleeding into air closer to Earth, creating a jittery molecular window into star-flame. I walked two miles home from the bus stop every evening. Eastward, toward Jupiter, away from the sun gone under the horizon before afternoon passed. The planet rose a little each night, pulling the madcap battle of Orion and Taurus upward with it. I wondered how many people noticed it, or knew the name for the bull’s eye, Aldebaran, knew that it is orange, really orange and not a trick of an eye untrained to faraway fire. The first website that pops up says it’s a bad sign to dream about God. You want to be perfect. It means you’re struggling; your goal is always out of reach. But God was a chemist, and even half-asleep, I know this can’t be true. We lovers of chemistry are always tamping down the necessary evil that comes with knowing all the parts, how they fit, how they love and hate their bonds. We lovers of chemistry know that chemistry belongs to the other guy. And because God can’t be a chemist, he can’t mean that my molecules all are the same, all have the same weight. He knows as I do, I have so many different molecules, I barely know what to do with them. So he must be a physicist, referring as they do to larger matters, to various states of those matters. Homogeneous meaning all liquid, all gas, all solid, little movement in between states of being. And a physicist, yes, I think this is right. The stars, the dark, the false dome of the night, we all know having something to do with God. Giovanni Riccioli—astronomer, philosopher, and member of the Society of Jesus—had a number of obsessions, tossing things off towers being only one of many scientific pursuits. During the 1500s, he and his Jesuit colleagues focused their experiments on movement through space, the fast and slow of it, the fact that everything always falls downward. It was all to do with what
composes the sky and air, where God might live. It was all to do with exploring and understanding the universe as a composite of many known pieces. Riccioli was convincing himself the heavens were fluid. He was mostly alone. Some astronomers thought the sky was solid—a dome pocked with stellar doors. Heaven, an advent calendar or the final Showcase Showdown, space, a collection of little surprises. Others thought the sky was the fifth element called quintessence. Say it without imagining a sky of glitter, a hovering sparkle. Don’t think air, or wind, think of what makes air and wind separate, wind something more, wind’s touch on your hands’ webbing remnants. Now, physicists call quintessence the clouds of expanding dark matter that give a good spin to the hands of the universe’s ticking clock. Heaven built in itself a doomsday, a hurtling through space. Riccioli turned his nighttime attentions to the moon, mapping its surface and naming its features, giving us the moon’s romantically named maria, or seas—vast plains usually located in craters and viewed by us as dark splotches. Mare Tranquillitatis (Sea of Tranquility) is perhaps the most wellknown, because it provided a smooth landing space for Apollo 11. Mare Serenitatis (Sea of Serenity) is one of the man’s eyes. Mare Nectaris (Sea of Nectar) may well be sweet, but for now is only poetic, and Mare Foecunditatis (Sea of Fecundity) is as beneficial for agriculture as the rest of the moon. The Roman Catholic Church in the 1500s was coming to the tail-end of centuries of Inquisition and accusations of heresy, although by no means was the end sputtering and losing ground. Anything considered a threat to established doctrine was stamped out if vocalized; who knows how many ideas were simply lost to terror? It’s easy to decry all those accusations of heresy, for the Inquisition was abominable, a frightened, frightening beast with no head. Especially abominable when it came to the Church’s control over the heavens, sanctions of astronomers’ observations, and utter repudiation of what mathematics was showing to be true. But I stop short of thinking it was inconsequential, just some mental posturing or claws dragging in Earth as other powers took hold. The astroVolume 2, Issue 1
nomical arguments of the Roman Catholic Church—Earth at the center of the universe, Earth unmoving, sky a manifestation of God—went against all calculations, evidence that had been mounting for centuries. The cardinals bloody knew the earth moved. But the sky is always something to do with God, a deity who craves a certain way of being, a shape and an order. Once upon a time, there was a form of heresy that said a planet full of living creatures went round and round a sphere of fire, as if spinning were a type of worship, subservience to the hottest heat outside of hell. Once upon a time, there was a category of abomination that had everything to do with how a form moved through space. Nikolai Copernicus believed that a perfect God could only make a universe that moved in perfect shapes, and the only shape that was perfect was a sphere. He wasn’t the first to assert that the planets orbit round the sun; his heresy was relating that movement to the nature of God. Spheres are close to God. They are symmetrical, all points on the surface being equally distant from the center. Copernicus’ problem wasn’t that he wanted to eschew superstition or scientific ego, wasn’t an issue of excess humility. His problem was theological; he couldn’t handle a God who didn’t shape and move things in particular ways. Why call an orbit a problem? Call it a sphere, and also celestial, so you can hear it sing. Copernicus knew he was absurd, said so to the Pope. He read Plato, the Arab astronomers and mathematicians, with their ideas of God everywhere, inside everything. The Arabs whose artists couldn’t draw God or man in whose image he was made. Why call image a problem? Call it architecture and arch and square, and also symmetry, so you can hear it sing. Arab scientists and mathematicians got around the rules by making like God would make (in symmetry), which seems simple, reductionist, lines and arcs a protractor could make, shapes for God’s sake. Asymmetry is much more interesting, but largely imperfect. Sines, cosines, and tangents are as logical and ridiculous as God. A circle, perfection—as if a line consuming itself were enough of an offering. Yet where is protection in such perfection when all those ghosts of ideas are quashed? No one will call it the Dark Ages for some time, yet it
Copernicus, Michał Paluchowski, 2013 feels and looks dark, feels like hiding, feels like looking for some light. If God can’t be anything, then God must be a circle or everything or perfection, and there’s no sense really, no logic, just some frightened looking around. Seek and ye shall find, and Riccioli pays close attention to Copernicus, must wonder about seeking, wonder about the terrible trapped fear of those who must resort to seeking. All that violence, all that terror, revealed in the seeking. When you map something—a neighborhood, a genome, the activity and repetition of electricity in a muscle, the face of a rock—you may feel as if you are organizing it, dividing into manageable pieces, creating comprehensible routes. Flattening and scaling and visualizing. Knowing it as both a sum and piecemeal. Placing yourself in relation. Maps give places (and also mappers) Volume 2, Issue 1
relationships to their surroundings while telling them where they belong, where they can go to find home. But mapping always reveals greater and greater violence. Always, somehow, a layer of grief underneath, or perhaps formed by a vector, the end of a line. Not layers to peel away, but a covered grief, God’s grief maybe, only in a graph. A grief that doesn’t exist until you play pick-up sticks with the horizon, your axes. If you want God, don’t build a tower; draw a map. Draw the universe on graph paper, make heaven a composite of equal little squares. Add, create complexity. Uncover a violent past. Bring forth crises. Not only to be born from but to receive a form from violence, to take on the shape of brutality once it’s left. A shadow, unattached but still receptive, still made in the image. There is more than one creation story for everything; creations are continually recreated, and it’s unjust to value pure states of being when a new form can’t help but emerge. The moon’s origins—the nowmoon not the old moon, how its plains and valleys, mountains and ridges, floes of rock—are a mystery. Unknown, but known through the practice of semiotics, the tracing of shapes, mapping forms to a birth that suits them, watching the still imprints of what once moved. The moon is a cold, white, dead face, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. We’ve known since we could look up that the moon isn’t smooth. The moon is cratered, grooved, textured with a past rich as scrimshaw. Everything needs a background made of more than radiation, a story to explain how it moves, what gave it shape. Here is a story for the bones under the peaceable moon. A very long time ago, something hit the moon. The moon was not as it is, then it received a blow, fierce, reverberating, and now it is as it is. The object, likely a meteor (in which case, it’s proper to say the moon, dreamy as always, ran headlong into the object, concussed itself), struck the moon so violently that it shattered the entire plate of rock lying under the moon’s surface. If it were Earth, we might call these shattered plates unfinished, plates always grinding, driving themselves into one another, driving under and over, pushing, subverting, building pressure, then quaking the soil when
things grow too tense. But the moon is a quiet, weightless place without atmosphere, no tension in that earthly upheaving way. The moon doesn’t shift its weight to find a right place, some comfort as a world that fits together. It doesn’t topple lives or buildings, doesn’t send seas washing up over breath. The moon is a cold, white, dead face under a shattered skull. Many regions of the moon, trapped in movement, look like the motions of water: wave, floe, tide, groove, undulation and ribbon. The ground burned away in patterns, lava moving on top and under, rock writhing, giving up a rock-ness to mimic water, trapped in a semblance of warm body, moved on. Volcanoes on the moon are not like volcanoes on Earth. Volcanoes on the moon are not properly volcanoes at all. Lava is marrow, loosened and oozing from broken plates under the surface. Creation is what’s left, new body, now-moon. The moon, with its seas and craters, dips and ascendancies, is not a perfect sphere. Mare Serenitatis and Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains) are mascons, or areas where gravity does not behave as it ought, spots where there’s a flux in the law and gravity’s press is higher than it should be. Serenity and Rains either have lava under their surfaces, or, like the Himalayas, the plates under the surface “float” at a high elevation due to previous breaking and impaction. It’s hard to think of the most beautiful face in the universe formed by violence, a being of utter breakage, its cold face once molten and full of strife, now so calming and close, loyal in its following of a warm and living planet, its pulse at our fretful oceans. The moon formed by tumult, cracks showing through, exhibiting a structure maimed, purified by orbit and continued gaze. What does it mean to be formed by assault? Are you brute or victim? You carry the ghosts of brute and victim, change your shape to accommodate breakage. Riccioli decried Copernicus in public, but likely understood what the heliocentric fellow was trying to achieve. Riccioli’s god, however, sanctioned by his office, was far from perfect in putting the world together. What Nikolai joined in perfection and symmetry, Giovanni took apart, made piecemeal Volume 2, Issue 1
in order to draw lines around boundaries and between what he’d cleaved. Giovanni was a map-maker, a measurer, a watcher of fallen objects. Poet and Benedictine monk Father Killian McDonnell says God “relished endless light years to a fault, / gave the universe indecent space.” Greek philosopher Empedocles also felt troubled by the great dark span and divided the expanse of universal time. One age was in the shape of a sphere. When the universe was spherical, all beings lived in peace, and harmony reigned. What else but unity could one work toward when caught in the great circle? But unity was lonely, the sphere’s perfection hard to overcome. When all points are equidistant from the center, unity is desolate, devoid of all the fun we have in contact with each other. Peaceful beings in the sphere wanted to be touched, and unity was only a connecting line, not a chaotic crush of flesh. Who wouldn’t crave chaotic flesh over an age of harmony? So violence and frustration and destruction and heresy brought the universe into a new, imperfectly shaped age, an age where harm was born by the need to be closer. If we had a Sea of Tranquility and a Sea of Crises like the moon, we would know where to put everything that ever happened to us, all our drifting feelings, and everything would have a home. You can even have a Galileo crater in which to store your fractious Copernicans or for those times you must refuse to deny true apostasy. It is a lucky circumstance to find oneself in possession of a Sea of Crises, and unfortunate to hopelessly desire the same. Sometimes, I don’t sleep for days. Sometimes, I become troubled and lost. Sometimes, I search for things and try to make them me. These are just other open holes, craters with a singular attraction to storms. I fear we are, most of us, more like Io, Jupiter’s volcanic moon. Its volcanoes are not like ours, not at all pressurized cones subject to grinding, temporarily placed plates of rock. Volcanic forces on Io are pulling forces, not pushes from within. Io dwells in a magnetosphere, the tug from Jupiter’s magnetic field and its three sister moons brewing friction and discord in Io’s core until it spews its inner moon body. It cannot stop, not in our lifetimes. Io, orbiting and orbiting, erupting and upheaving, existing only in an atmosphere of its own ionized insides. The struggles of Io. The exhaustion of Io.
Recent calculations have revealed that the earth’s bodies of water are pushing the moon further away. They’ve always pushed in a back-and-forth kind of way, a simulated struggle. The moon has always pulled, and what looked like a yielding in the tide was actually some orbital pushback. The moon carved by the memories of tidal motions doesn’t fully appreciate the depth and force of what it pulls; it just wants what it wants. But carbon dioxide levels in the oceans have strengthened the force of the tides. Now, the moon gets a choking mouthful of water and retreats further, unsure. The universe loves a tide, a good writhe in the rumpled sheets of spacetime. Galaxies give and take from each other in thieving surges, moons push and pull when they find a yielding wetness. Is our blood, our cerebrospinal fluid, our lymph, immune to moon’s tug and push-away, or do we only hear it as a static pulse in our ears, see it collect under our eyes after a restless night? In bed, insomnia, roiling insomnia, the words Mare Crisium running through my head, as if somewhere I am driving it in, a storm creating its own place to beat down where everything can belong. I think of Io, friction and pull ripping it apart, forcing it to rend its own body and fling it into space. Mare Crisium is the patron sea of insomniacs, helpful in guiding turbulent souls toward proof that bodies can build homes for crisis. Everyone needs a sea whose sole purpose is to attract the storms. All erupting Ios need to strive for a cleaner, well-organized face. I don’t sleep, not even in the morning when pale light from heaped snow finds the windows.
Volume 2, Issue 1
A Thing With Feathers Carolyn Kraus
Detail: Bicheno Signpost, Robyn Jay, 2013 Volume 2, Issue 1
The half-thawed February snow had refrozen, blanketing the parking
lot with a polar ice cap, over which thirty-seven of us, feet out-turned, slipping and sliding with every step, waddled toward the Penguinarium at the Detroit Zoo. We were here to attend a weekend course on penguins, but at this point I was less interested in penguins than in penguin-watchers. What strange bird would invest $300 and devote an entire weekend to gawking at penguins? My six months on the course’s waiting list had made this question pertinent to me. Since the 2006 release of both the French-made documentary March of the Penguins and Happy Feet, the cartoon hymn to penguin-hood, interest in penguins had skyrocketed, sometimes taking strange forms. The Christian right viewed the documentary as a lesson in Penguin values—loyalty, monogamy, resourcefulness, and heroic endurance. Such miracles could not be the result of Darwinian selection, argued an article in the Christian publication World, which went on to claim that penguins clinched the case for intelligent design. A Christian website urged its devotees to bring a notebook, flashlight, and pen along to the theater and “write down what God speaks to you.” But it isn’t only the promoters of Intelligent Design who profess an anthropomorphic kinship with penguins. When birds and sea creatures began washing up on the coast of Brazil after a 2006 oil spill, hordes of self-styled “commandos” rolled up their heart-wearing sleeves, rounded up hundreds of penguins, doused them with dish soap, and scrubbed them clean with toothbrushes. Not surprisingly, the largest animal rescue mission in history, mounted in September 2000 after a damaged tanker sank off Robbin Island near Cape Town, involved fifteen thousand oiled penguins airlifted to safety by helicopter. “Some seagulls were also rescued,” one report noted offhandedly. In 2009, volunteers rallying to the plight of endangered African Penguins installed several thousand fiberglass penguin houses on Boulder’s Beach and on nearby islands along the rocky coast of Southern Africa, while the continent’s endangered tortoises were left to their own devices. The world had been riding a decade-long wave of penguinmania. But that February morning at the Detroit Zoo, I was clearly among the hardcore.
A middle-aged woman in high-heeled boots, shuffling along beside me on the perilous trek across the icy parking lot, lost her balance. Extending an arm to steady her, I noticed a miniature golden penguin pinned to her coat collar. “I fell and cracked three ribs last week,” she told me, “but I couldn’t miss the course. Besides, I thought about the penguins—how they live out there in the cold and never complain. I’m really into penguins.” A lot of my fellow students here at the zoo were really into penguins, although some had registered for the course out of simple curiosity or a more general interest in conservation or global warming. One man had been given the course by his granddaughter, as a Christmas gift. “Her card said ‘For the man who has everything,’” he said, sighing and pulling up his faux fur collar against the brisk wind. “She gave me a choice between penguins and a course on making butter sculptures.” Just ahead, three giggling young women were admiring the course’s professor, who sported a three-piece suit and a trim moustache as he herded us from the lecture room to the Penguin house. “We took his course on ungulates before,” the girls told me. “We’ll take anything he teaches.” “Ungulates?” I wondered. Imagining fictional Dr. Seuss creatures, I turned to a fortyish woman behind me. “I don’t know what ungulates are,” she admitted, shaking her lacquered blond curls, “but I love learning. It gives me the feeling I’m getting myself together instead of falling apart.” The windowless Penguinarium was dank and dim inside, with concrete ramps and steel railings to lean on while viewing the glassed-in polar scene. Among hills of fiberglass snow rimmed by a moat of water, the penguins really did look at home. My fellow class members and I gazed at our furry subjects with amusement and empathy. The penguins were caucusing in little groups, their chinless heads tilted vaguely, thoughtfully upward: intermission at the opera. The Emperor penguins, dressed to tubular perfection, appeared properly bored. The largest species of penguin, the Emperors, dominated the ice, blocking the advance of a troupe of Macaronis, nouveaux riches named for their Yankee Doodle Dandy cap of yellow feathers. With Volume 2, Issue 1
their snoots in the air, the Emperors ignored the overdressed newcomers who were knocking together, regrouping, knocking together as they tried to pass by. The Emperors’ dignified tableau suddenly disintegrated when an individual wobbled away from the group. Another flopped to the ground and, schmoo-like, slid over a hill. The transformation from vertical penguin to horizontal penguin was shocking, rather like a symphony conductor turning into Winnie-the-Pooh. A few other visitors filed through the Penguinarium, trailing popcorn. The scene behind glass was momentarily worth watching, but the rest of us exchanged scoffing glances. We had a sense of Us vs. Them. “They’re just looking for something to feed,” whispered the crackedrib woman. But we, too, had come to observe feeding time, and soon a bored-looking attendant in a green jumpsuit was dishing out herring. He identified individual penguins by tattoos on their flippers, he later explained, and saw that each penguin got a fish with a vitamin pill shoved down its gullet. One of the smallest penguins toddled after the keeper wherever he went, begging for attention. We students were offended when the man repeatedly shoved it away and finally slammed the exit door in its face. Head down, flippers limp, the little penguin shuffled off to a lonely corner. Later, in the exhibit’s control and storage room, a silver-haired woman asked the keeper the question on everyone’s lips: “Why did you push the little penguin away?” “You mean Blackfoot number seventeen?” “Doesn’t he have a name?” someone asked. The setup was looking pretty crummy to us. “Number seventeen was born in the zoo last year,” the keeper told us. “It was removed from the nest and raised in isolation when its parents abandoned it. Now it thinks I’m its father.” By giving the penguins numbers instead of names, he continued, the zoo discourages attachments. With a minimum of human contact, the penguins would retain most of their normal behavior and breeding habits. If number seventeen didn’t wise up and blend into the Blackfoot group, it would be given to a marine circus.
This explanation smoothed our feathers and revived the scientific side of our investigations. We returned to the lecture room, ready to dive deeper into penguin scholarship. A few notebooks came out, generating insecurity and whispering around to borrow paper and pens, until we were all equipped and poised to take notes. I wondered—will these notes be reviewed over supper? Quoted at family gatherings? Filed somewhere under “P”? Then I noticed with alarm that my neighbor had already filled half a page on her yellow legal pad, though the lecture had not yet begun. I snuck a closer look. She had copied the list chalked on the board in front of us: Class: Aves Subclass: Archaeornithes (ancient tooth birds) Subclass: Neornithes Superorder: Neognathae Order: Sphenisciformes (penguin-like birds) Family: Spheniscidae Genus: Spheniscus We had had just seen four of the seventeen known varieties of penguins, the professor, a naturalist on loan from a local university, began. They’re named for their resemblance to the flightless great auks, former inhabitants of Penguin Island off Newfoundland, who were given the scientific name Pinguinus imperines, probably from the Latin pingues, meaning fat. Great auks were so trusting, so innocent of human nature, that they could be petted. Of course, they ended up clubbed and roasted instead. As far back as the sixteenth century, the crews of ships anchored at the island rounded up auks, marched them on board, killed them by knocking them on the heads with a mallet, and stuffed them into provision barrels. In 1844, on a small island off the coast of Iceland, three Icelandic seamen shot the last two great auks in the world. For unrecorded reasons, the flightless birds of the Southern Hemisphere inherited the penguin name. Conservationists have tried to save penguins from the great auks’ fate by protecting them in the wild and by preserving them in controlled enviVolume 2, Issue 1
ronments like the one we’ d visited that morning. Detroit once housed seven varieties of penguins, but in line with the modern zoo’s focus on breeding and species survival, the zoo later narrowed its focus to specialize in just four. We had seen, in ascending order of size, Blackfoots, Macaronis, Kings, and Emperors. Blackfoots are found in Southern Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, the professor told us. Macaronis live on islands around the southern coasts of Africa and South America, as well as in Antarctica. Emperors and Kings inhabit Antarctica, building communities of nests made of piled rocks that they continually pilfer from one another at unguarded moments—a sort of Charlie Chaplin shuffle on ice. The Emperors’ eggs are pointed at one end, so that they won’t roll away along the slick stretches of Antarctic ice. This is especially important since Emperors carry their eggs around on their feet, protected by a fold of flesh and feathers that is warmed up to eighty degrees by a rich blood supply. (At the front of the lecture room, the heartthrob professor demonstrated the delicate technique of walking with an egg on one’s feet.) When one partner tires, the egg is carefully passed to the other like a fragile and precious soccer ball. During the egg’s incubation period, the male penguin guards the nest while the female goes off to sea to feed, a ritual documented in The March of the Penguins. By the time she returns, six weeks later, our professor went on, the male has lost half his body weight and is near starvation. (A general snicker arose from the mostly female audience, celebrating the ultimate justice of the universe.) A twenty-minute educational documentary showed the class how Emperor chicks are left in collective nurseries called “crêches” while both parents file off to the sea in search of food. When the adults return, they feed their chicks on regurgitated fish until they are old enough to forage for themselves. Later, the chicks get a lesson in “tough love.” For weeks they chase after their parents, hoping to cadge one more meal. (The professor demonstrated the frenzied “food chase,” hopping about and flapping his arms.) Eventually, the chicks abandon hope and leap into the water. (The professor’s gestures were becoming quicker, jerkier.) The new generation is now on its own, instinctively mastering the “porpoising” movement that propels penguins through
the water. (The professor thrashed at the air with his arms and gazed upward, leaving behind his Adonis persona and approaching, it seemed to me, the point of no return.) Catching sight of frantically scribbling fingers on desks to either side of mine, I realized that, mesmerized by the professor’s dramatics, I’d missed some facts. So I leaned over and snuck a peek at one neighbor’s notes. “Impossible to tell male from female,” I read. Now the professor was explaining that penguins’ unisex appearance presents a problem in supplying zoos. They generally mate for life, so the penguin catchers—who tackle the birds, pin them down, and slip bags over their heads—try to nab them in pairs. “Males and females look exactly alike?” asked a young man in the audience. “Exactly,” said the professor. “Then how. . .” The question died on the young man’s lips, followed by murmurs as members of the audience contemplated how to phrase the question. This was an educational gathering. You couldn’t just say, “How do they do it?” But the professor appeared fairly relaxed after all of his flapping and flopping, so I raised my hand—just as he said, “Believe it or not, someone once asked me how the egg is fertilized.” My hand slunk back down. We discussed every other aspect of courtship and nesting. The professor demonstrated how penguin lovers do-si-do with their beaks parted in the air as they perform the mating ritual called “ecstatic display.” Then we took a cocoa break. Feeling mildly perverted, I approached the professor to pose privately the still unanswered question. “You can’t tell the male and female apart, right?” “Right.” “Down to the tiniest detail?” “Yes.” “Then how is the mating. . . uh. . . carried out?” “Well, one sort of behavior leads to another sort of behavior and finally to the laying of an egg.” “But there must be a difference.” I tried to sound calm. “Something has Volume 2, Issue 1
to happen.” “Their genitals are internal.” “Oh.” I blushed and started to walk away, but, catching sight of a room full of cocoa cups frozen in mid-sip, I recognized my responsibility to the group. I turned back to the professor. “Surely someone has observed them mating. There must be some way to distinguish male from female.” “Well,” said the Professor, “you can look to see which one is on top.” I waited for a laugh. None came. The interview was over. The second day of the class involved a series of lectures and discussions about polar ecology, conservation, and zoo keeping. We even tracked the evolution of the penguin, for they hadn’t sprung to earth formally dressed. They evolved from flying birds like cormorants. Finding their wings more practical as flippers, penguins took their flying skills underwater. At last we departed for a final look at the zoo’s penguins. Since yesterday, the sun had thawed the parking lot’s ice cap, and a brilliant blue sky looked down on our trek across it. Only our loyalty and the instinct to stick with a project persuaded us into the dim world of the Penguinarium. The penguins were still standing around with their snoots in the air, but science had done its work, eroding our metaphors so that now we saw only three varieties of flightless birds, looking somewhat listless, having lost their primary need to forage for food. Through the glass we could make out a cackling sound, like distant chickens. At feeding time, Blackfoot number seventeen stuck to the keeper’s heels, and his devotion was rebuffed again. But now we agreed that this rejection was right, all to the good, for Blackfoot number seventeen was a penguin, not a person, and would best accept his birdhood. Observing that one King penguin had just eaten twenty fish, we eschewed jokes about greediness. As newly-fledged penguin scholars, we now understood that the animal was fueling up for the molting period, when it would eat little or nothing for several weeks. When an Emperor hopped out of the water and shook itself, we no longer felt an urge to cuddle it; we knew that its coat—which appears furry
to the uninitiated—was really the tips of thousands of oily feathers packed tighter than sardines in a can. One shake, and the penguin was bone dry. As our group departed the Penguinarium for the last time, I stayed behind to speak to the keeper. He’ d already taken off, so I asked my question of a young man in dark blue overalls who was sweeping up. “Why are penguins so intriguing to everyone?” I asked. “Is it that they seem so much like people?” “Like people?” the young worker said. He emptied a dustpan of feathers, candy wrappers, and popcorn into a trash can, then wiped one hand on his sleeve, shook his head, and looked at me as if I’ d just said the stupidest thing in the world. “Listen, lady,” he said, “penguins are dumb. They fight, they stink, they steal. They snap at you. They leave gooey green messes everywhere.” He resumed sweeping the floor.
Volume 2, Issue 1
Destroyer of the Void, Clay Reuter, 2013
Canvas of Trees Sharman Apt Russell
Volume 2, Issue 1
Close to the river, I see a pattern of scratches five feet up a sycamore
trunk. I don’t see any tracks below and the scratches don’t seem fresh, although I do feel suddenly alert. I do turn in a slow circle. Mountain lions scratch trees much like house cats scratch furniture, standing on hind legs and dragging their claws down, keeping those weapons clean and sharp. The scratches also leave behind scent and might signal a desire for sex or mark territory. The home of a mountain lion is large, twenty to eighty square miles, depending in part on whether the lion is male or female. Males, in particular, cannot abide overlap and must be clear about where the lines are and who is crossing them. In the wild, mountain lions can live ten or more years, which is a long time to leave behind your scratches, as well as your many piles of scat, your scrapes in the dirt and kill sites, all the various signs of yourself. It is a long time for us to share these woods, you and me, here along a river in southwestern New Mexico where, in this last decade, I’ve raised children, sent them off to college, written books, read books, taught classes, followed the Presidential elections, eaten dinners with my husband, eaten lunches with friends. Where you’ve found and pursued mates with an intensity that defines you, eaten hundreds of deer (you need eight to ten pounds of meat a day), maybe killed another lion or saw your cubs killed by one, lounged in the shade, drowsed in the sun. You’ve dreamed and schemed. You’ve thought about—well, you don’t really have thoughts, not that we know about, the little we know, the mystery that you are. I put my hand to the scratches on that papery white trunk—the luminous white bark of sycamore. And something surprising happens. It’s happened before. Disconnection. A silence falls, like a thump on the head, the silence of the nonhuman world that cares nothing for us, not a jot, not a fig. Koo koo ka choo. Who are you? The owl cries in the night. Nothing to do with you. The silence of wind rustling through leaves, of bird call, scent, color, patterns. “Nature’s silence is its one remark,” writer Annie Dillard once complained, “and every flake of world is a chip off that old mute and immutable block. The Chinese say we live in the world of ten thousand things. Each of the ten thousand things cries out to us precisely nothing.” This is the silence
Dillard saw in a vision when walking carelessly (as I often do) on a dirt road in the bucolic countryside, the “silence heaped on the field like trays,” the world saying nothing to her, the silence spreading and growing. Later Dillard would write that she never wanted to see such a sight again. Later still, she thought maybe the field of silence was a field of angels. “If pressed I would say they were three or four feet from the ground. Only their motion was clear (clockwise if you insist); that, and their beauty unspeakable.” This is unrequited love. Or a kind of autism. We find ourselves on the other side of nature, and we bang on the glass and look longingly and press our nose against the pane, wanting to be inside, not outside. Just a moment ago, I had been happy enough. How did I get here from a few scratches on a tree? It’s that mountain lion, I think, that alien life, the flat face, those measuring eyes. She’s taking me out of the center of things, reminding me: you don’t belong. But no, I think, as dappled sunlight patterns the white sycamore trunk, she’s showing me the way, that natural stretch upward, the lazy drag down soft bark. I look up into the tangled limbs, and my heart lifts. My chest expands, heart flowering. This is how I turn the world into beauty (or angels, if you insist), how “white” and “sycamore” and “tangled limbs” become something else, something more, because I cannot bear their silence, or because I just don’t like silence, or because why not? Why not make the world beautiful? Why not mark this tree with my comment, my claw, the various signs of myself? I walk on, comforted.
Volume 2, Issue 1
Where To Next?, Juliana Diez-Barroso, 2013
Volume 2, Issue 1
The meteorologists in Montgomery were calling the reprieve from
the humidity the “August Miracle.” The collared reverends in straw hats and red stoles called everyone to leave the cool shade of an old live oak. Contingents from different parishes emerged slowly into the sun and formed a semi-circle around the celebrants. Some wore t-shirts in the martyr’s red with the name of the event: Jonathan Myrick Daniels Pilgrimage, Hayneville, Alabama, August 9th, 2008. On the back were printed the names of thirteen people whose deaths during the civil rights movement stigmatized this state. The Episcopal Church of Alabama organized this annual religious event. I was here because I wanted to see how a region unmasked a past it considered shameful. Hayneville was a six-mile drive from the highway in Lowndes County, a large rural space between the Black Belt cities of Selma and Montgomery. I was here alone, aware that pilgrimage is a practice that crosses ages, cultures, and religions, that the journey to a place of symbolic or sacred meaning could be simple or arduous. I hadn’t known what to expect and had worn a pink seersucker sundress. Episcopal church clothes, I thought. Before leaving my parents’ farm for the fifty-mile drive, my mother insisted on photographing me beneath my wide-brimmed blue sunhat, a gift from my four-year-old daughter. I had turned back its brim to admire the brilliant, watermelon-colored sprays covering the crepe myrtle trees, which lined the square. The town’s two-story courthouse was handsome with Corinthian columns, an exterior staircase of wrought iron that curved to a second floor, and a cupola on its domed roof. It anchored the town of roughly one thousand people, of which eighty-five percent could not have entered the courthouse doors as full citizens in 1965. Across from those front doors was an obelisk. The stones of its base marked the names of the confederate war dead. This small square of preserved antebellum memory contained our gathering as the celebrant began. “We give you thanks for your faithful witness, Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another; and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression.”
And then he asked us to form the processional that marked Daniels’ last living days. We filed into the street as the sheriff ’s car blocked traffic. Someone handed out old-fashioned funeral fans. On the paper square stapled to a balsa wood handle were printed the words to spirituals and movement songs: “Music for the Journey,” it said. Hushed singing of “We Shall Overcome” began like a dirge. The businesses on the square stood still. An aproned man and two women gathered at the door of a cafe, watching in silence as we walked to the jail where Daniels and twenty protestors had been arraigned on charges of unlawfully picketing for voting rights in the nearby village of Fort Deposit. Among the participants, who were black and white, old and young, the occasional recognition and greeting barely interrupted the quiet murmur. Placards with black and white photographs floated in and out of my view. On each one, the date of death and place of martyrdom for each of the thirteen who died in Alabama stood in bold print beneath the disembodied faces. Children, almost hidden behind the sign, carried the pictures of the four little girls who died in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. What proceeded might have felt more familiar to fourteenth century pilgrims to Canterbury than it did to me. A grey-clothed verger led the procession, swinging his silver-tipped mace. Following him was an ornate processional cross mounted on a tall staff; then an icon, a gold-leaf depiction of Daniels written on board. Behind it followed the embroidered banners of the participating parishes, all named after Jesus’s disciples. The people of Hayneville were probably like me—the sons and daughters of John Calvin, the low-church protestants with spare, white churches and hard wooden pews. During the Reformation’s initial frenzy, John Calvin’s Swiss followers destroyed the icons they had been taught to revere. As the pilgrimage turned right, I saw travelers caught unexpectedly by the accident of this parade. A young black driver, hauling huge rolls of baled hay, yawned in boredom, waiting for us to pass. An elderly white man in a trucker’s cap and rusted pick-up looked in wonder at the strange sight—we must have been a vision, twenty-first century pilgrims in the Black Belt. Jonathan Daniels must have been a vision, too, when he arrived in
Volume 2, Issue 1
this isolated, insular place. Leaving Cambridge, MA, where he was a seminarian at the Episcopal Theological School, Daniels arrived in Selma on March 9, 1965. The New Hampshire native had heeded Dr. Martin Luther King’s call to the clergy to march for voting rights. A graduate of Virginia Military Institute, he stood guard over the Lowndes County camp site the second night of the Selma-Montgomery march. The disparity between white and black in this region affected Daniels. “My own identity was called too nakedly into question,” he wrote of his decision to bear Christian witness to the poor and disenfranchised. After the march, he arranged a leave of absence from seminary to work for and among the impoverished in Selma. He scandalized Selma’s Episcopal church whose members saw his accompaniment of black children to their services as a provocation. He confronted the state’s leading church authority on whether any congregation could turn a person away. He compiled lists of available social services and delivered the information to the most marginal of black Selma. Among Lowndes’ rural black community, Daniels’ was the first white hand they shook. In the accounts of his five months in Selma and its surroundings, Daniels resembles a prophet wandering in the wilderness, asking the discomfiting and obvious questions about poverty and equality. During the 1960s, the Episcopal Church of Alabama established itself as the adversary to Dr. King and his methods. In Birmingham, the state’s Bishop Charles Colcock Jones Carpenter penned an open letter calling for an end to nonviolent protests, perceived as the cause of violence. He advocated a return to patient negotiation among “our own Negro community.” This letter calling for calm received King’s rebuke, “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in return. The moral failings of the church I walked with were a matter of public record. We arrived quickly at the jail where Daniels was held for six days. Curls of barbed wire topped the chain link fence around the small grass yard where we gathered. We stood in the full sun of the crumbling, disused cell block as the celebrant began again. A second minister read a passage from the book, Outside Agitator, that describes Daniels’ experience inside. No ventilation during the sweltering August, no functioning toilet, no privacy, no bath, nothing approximating decent food. Readings from a
book of Southern history were replacing the Old and New Testaments in the church liturgy. “The filth must have especially disconcerted the usually fastidious Daniels, who had become accustomed to order at the Virginia Military Institute.” When the celebrant finished, he said, “Let us pray.” While Daniels and his fellow inmates suffered these physical discomforts, the community beyond the cell walls bordered on civil insurrection. For anyone associated with voting rights, gunfire into their homes often came in the night. In the day, grown black men and women would hide in ditches at the sight of a white man driving along a road. They faced the constant threat of violence, of credit termination, of eviction. Historian Hasan Jeffries writes: White property owners, employers, merchants, and parents drew on the custom of ordinary people resorting to violence to suppress race- based insurgency and led the attacks on movement activists by organizing informally, as they had in days of old. Consequently, most acts of racial terrorism in Lowndes County did not involve Klansmen. A uniformed prison guard waited at the door of the abandoned building as the processional returned to the street. Out of courtesy, this man (who worked next door in the town’s new correctional facility) offered the unused jail as a destination we might want to tour. A few people lingered behind and entered the squat brick box: the entranceway and hallway were so cave-like it was impossible to make sense of any floor plan. Boxes, garbage bags, and broken furniture were stowed away in rooms with falling ceilings. And I overheard a young white couple, carrying a small baby, discuss where might have been the jail cell Daniels shared with Stokely Carmichael, a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Council (SNCC). Unsettled by staying in the foul ruin, and by leaving the procession behind, I left the jail confused as to what I was experiencing. The stray pilgrims were turning right at the top of the road as the quiet ordinary resettled over the town. A family, which had been observing from the fern-draped porch of their trailer, returned to their Saturday morning routines. Smoke rose from a grill hidden behind a clipped hedge-
Volume 2, Issue 1
row. A sheriff ’s car again stopped the southbound traffic to Letohatchee. The shade seekers lined a narrow ribbon of pavement as the procession gathered at a modest storefront. Near the end of the processional, I arrived late to this place of symbolic meaning. The only sign read “Insurance Office.” Metal grate windows and doors shuttered the narrow brick building. It was so easily overlooked, sitting by itself at the sharp bend. When it was Varner’s Cash Store, Daniels came here with three other people to buy a Coke. Daniels had been arrested for picketing twenty miles away in Fort Deposit. Richard Morrisroe, a Catholic priest, had also joined Daniels for the Fort Deposit protest; the two had been introduced by Stokely Carmichael at a civil rights strategy meeting in Birmingham. These three men, and seventeen others, were transferred to Hayneville’s larger jail. Some parents had posted bail for their children, as SNCC did for Carmichael. ESCRU, the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity, posted bail for Daniels and Morrisroe; but the two men refused the offer. They would stay until everyone was released. When that moment did arrive—a sudden decision by Fort Deposit’s mayor—the group was left to fend for itself in a town rattled to the core. The reasons the town was on edge were so stunningly embarrassing, that by 2008 they were unspeakable: rumors of depraved sex, miscegenation, fear of rape. In 1965, these licentious beliefs made up everyday language. “What nuns in particular heard concerning their chastity out of the mouths of the white women of Alabama,” wrote two observers for The Saturday Evening Post, “cannot be transmitted in public print.” Two black women: Ruby Sales, a Tuskegee University student, and Joyce Bailey, a resident of Fort Deposit, left the abysmal confinement with the two men wearing clerical attire. Together, the four walked around the corner to Varner’s Cash Store to buy a drink. The celebrant, still reading from Outside Agitator completed the depiction of what happened next on the store front’s apron: When two white men and two black women approached, Ruby Sales went first as Jon Daniels, wearing his seminarian’s collar, reached to open the screen door for her. Richard Morrisroe and Joyce
Detail: Slow Burn, Cade Bradshaw, 2012 Volume 2, Issue 1
Bailey were several feet behind them. As Daniels opened the screen door, Tom Coleman suddenly appeared at the door with his shotgun. He shouted that the store was closed and ordered them to ‘get off this property, or I’ll blow your goddamn heads off, you sons of bitches.’ In an instant, Daniels asked if he was threatening them and pushed Ruby Sales out of the way and to the ground as Coleman, standing only a few feet from Daniels, abruptly fired his twelve-gauge shotgun at the seminarian. At point-blank range, a load of buckshot tore a hole in the right side of Daniels’ chest. He fell forward on the concrete apron and died instantly. Then, Tom Coleman, a deputy sheriff, shot the priest, who had grabbed Bailey’s hand to flee. He would be left for dead as well. The two women ran for cover as Coleman circled, threatening to shoot the onlookers before he left his gun at the store and drove two blocks north to the courthouse where he was known by everyone. He was an integral part of a community that did not acknowledge what he had done as a punishable crime. The celebrant said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Before leaving it is appropriate to kiss or touch the site where the martyr’s blood was shed.” Everyone approached: elderly white couples whose age and memory would have paralleled Coleman’s; black teenagers who would have known only through story what Jim Crow meant; men and women in their 30s, like me, who straddled that world and the angry silence which came next. The refrain of “Kumbaya” drifted through the crowd as it slowly peeled away. The concrete apron resembled a communion rail as pilgrims knelt and touched the step. Among the last to approach, I laid a hand on the hot, grey surface and winced at the refracting light. Tom Coleman had been a deputy sheriff in Lowndes, just as my grandfather was in neighboring Dallas County. My youngest aunt remembered her father’s deputy badge and the leather-cased blackjack, a flat piece of steel that was the deputy’s sidearm. Coleman had been friends with Dallas County’s infamous sheriff, Jim Clark, who was the face of violence in Selma and my grandfather’s fishing buddy. Perhaps Coleman had been
my grandfather’s friend as well. I told myself I was here to observe, that I sought only perspective. In the few moments I kneeled at the apron, that pretense fell away, leaving me the clumsy, stumbling seeker pulling at my own veils. From the little store, the pilgrims’ path diverged from Daniels, whose transport to New Hampshire required intervention at the highest levels of government because airline and train companies refused to be embroiled in what they perceived as a political act—the moving of an agitator’s body. Our path diverged from Morrisroe’s, too; he would eventually be taken to a Montgomery hospital where another priest had to remind the doctors that Morrisroe was still alive and in need of treatment. Our pilgrimage returned to our beginning—the square, which meant we were following the steps of Tom Coleman. Beneath a tree at its far corner, we stopped where Virginia Military Institute, Daniels’ alma mater, built a small memorial to acknowledge their 1961 class valedictorian’s death. I hadn’t noticed it earlier when I eyed the watermelon crepe myrtle, the confederate dead, and the blanching surface of the courthouse. A reverend read from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: “we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith came.” We prayed for “a like faith and power of love, that we who rejoice in his triumph may profit by his example.” We filed into the courthouse where Coleman took refuge after the shooting. In the same building, a jury would refuse to convict Coleman for manslaughter, refused even to consider the case as murder. During the trial, peals of laughter had filled this same room when Joyce Bailey described running from the gunman and when Ruby Sales said Daniels was a personal friend. On the witness stand, Sales did something virtually unimaginable for a young black woman in the Black Belt. She publicly testified that they had been picketing for their constitutional rights and that Tom Coleman shot two unarmed priests. The judge’s bench had been prepared as a sacramental altar. As I slipped into a seat, five gospel singers swayed, clapped, and encouraged the crowd. The fine wood patina of the benches suggested that little in the elegant, high-ceiling room had been altered since its construction. To my right a local Hayneville resident said he had seen this event from the outVolume 2, Issue 1
side but never come in before. This year, his daughter was a participant in the service. Reverend Francis Walters addressed the crowd from his seat on the front row. Quietly, he asked that we didn’t forget Richard Morrisroe, who was still alive and still living in pain from the buckshot wounds to his back and spine. Walters had delivered ESCRU’s bail money, which Daniels and Morrisroe had rejected. Had they accepted that offer, they would not have been left unprotected and exposed in Hayneville. It was Walters who took over Jonathan Daniels’ role for ESRCU and endured the cruelty of Bishop Carpenter, who refused to recognize Walters as a priest and who stymied his attempt at adoption on grounds that any integrationist in Alabama was of unsound mind. When Reverend Walters returned to his seat, I realized he had been carrying Daniels’ photograph. Then, a 1982 Virginia Military Institute graduate and school trustee, Darryl Horne, delivered the sermon. He began his remarks by quoting Senator Barack Obama, who had memorably said that his presence as a presidential candidate had been enabled by the heroism of people who stood up for their rights when it was risky. Horne reminded us that forty -three years after Daniels’ murder, the imperfections of our nation were still visible in Jena, Louisiana, just as its wounds could still be seen in the hollow basement of the World Trade Center Towers. A few amens rang out. The confident call and response of the empowered mixed with the silence and stillness of the black man next to me, who did not shout, clap, or sing along. To my left, an approving middle-aged white woman whispered, “This is why I’m a Democrat,” as Horne reminded us that feast-day participants come and go, but the residents of Lowndes were left here to do something, every day, with Daniels’ memory. The self-congratulations mingled with real joy and real discomfort, the pilgrim’s burdens. A woman representing Hayneville welcomed us: “Every year we get more familiar with Jonathan Daniels, we get more familiar with the Episcopal Church.” It struck me that this occasion must have seemed curious, especially for the black community of Hayneville, as Daniels’ death was not quite the reason Lowndes County made its political transformation. A second woman stood to read a proclamation from Alabama’s Gov-
ernor Bob Riley, an “achievement,” she added before starting, that was “not a small thing.” She said: “Whereas, we also recognize the lives and contributions of the other civil rights workers and martyrs—both those known to us and those known only to God—injured or killed for the cause of world wide human rights; and “Whereas, White and Black citizens in Lowndes County recognize this opportunity for reconciliation in our Great State of Alabama: “Now, Therefore, I Bob Riley, Governor of Alabama, do hereby proclaim August 9th 2008 as Jonathan Myrick Daniels Pilgrimage Day in the state of Alabama.” These were remarkable words coming from a statehouse where George Wallace swore to stand forever for segregation. After her reading, she sang a cappella as the names of martyrs were read aloud: Willie Edwards, Jr., mistaken for a man rumored to be dating a white woman, he was forced to jump 125 feet into the Alabama River by four Klansmen; William Lewis Moore, the postal worker who alone walked with his letter for the Governor of Mississippi and who died alone on a road in Attalla, Alabama with two bullets in his head; Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, the four girls who died in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church—an event that led to passage of the 1964 civil rights act ending legalized segregation; Virgil Lamar Ware, shot while riding on the handlebars of his brother’s bike by a group of teenagers leaving a white supremacy rally in support of the bombing hours after the crime; Jimmie Lee Jackson, hot by state trooper James Bonard Fowler; the Reverend James Reeb and Viola Greg Liuzzo, whose murders in the wake of the Selma-Montgomery march led the nation to confront violence as more than vigilante acts, but state-sponsored and popularly-supported terrorism; Jonathan Myrick Daniels. After each name had been read, everyone said “PRESENT”, until the grim necrology ended with Samuel Leamon Younge, Jr., January 3, 1966, martyred in Tuskegee, Alabama. For each martyr, the young daughter of the silent man to my right lit a votive candle floating in a parfait glass filled with red gelatin. And the bearer of each photograph came forward, glancing at each other, the crowd, and the elderly reverend holding Jona-
Volume 2, Issue 1
than Daniels’ photograph, until the thirteen stood in a line. “Direct our will, O God. Teach us to forgive. Pray in us,” the celebrant said. We exchanged the peace. We stood together and ended with the hymn, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the Black National Anthem. Two hundred fifty voices rang together, ending a strange and wondrous service. “Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,” The pianist marched our tongues like Baptists, though the crowd barely faltered over the quick triplets. “We have come, treading our path thro’ the blood of the slaughtered,” As we sang this hymn, I looked around the earnest room with its mix of ages and colors and I was struck, with the clarity of the converted, by a thought: Tom Coleman’s ghost haunted the proceeding. I looked again at the inside of the program with its summary of Daniels’ story. The second sentence read: “He was shot and killed by an unemployed highway worker who had been ‘deputized.’” I could not tell if the quotation marks around “deputized” were meant to be ironic, or, if Tom Coleman’s vigilante status and the immunity it provided were galling to the pilgrimage organizers. We were never asked to say Coleman’s name. When he fired the load of buckshot at point-blank range, his sister, like their father before her, was the school superintendent. The Colemans were a family of leading citizens and Lowndes closed ranks. Coleman’s defense attorney waved Daniels’ red underwear in front of the jurors. He injected the specter of miscegenation at every opportunity and the jury was willing to believe Coleman acted to protect the female store owner against an outside agitator wearing colored, not white, underwear when shot. “Coleman was the hero, the defender of Southern womanhood,” wrote a reporter for the Los Angeles Times about the proceedings. And outside, in the square, reporters took note of four white women loudly discussing how Daniels got what he deserved and then being among the first to congratulate Coleman as he left the courthouse. Until the end of his life, Tom Coleman continued playing dominoes at this courthouse with the community’s tacit understanding that his own
criminality would go unmentioned. Despite the thrill of song, the service felt shrouded by a similar complicit silence. The pilgrimage had honed a black and white story: the deprivations and sacrifice of Jonathan Myrick Daniels; violence as the grotesque reaction of someone poor and white, someone whose name wasn’t worth repeating. Had I not known of my grandfather’s affiliation as a deputy sheriff in Dallas County, I wouldn’t have noticed the absence of a name or made meaning of that blank. Without this knowledge, perhaps my awareness would have aligned with the clarity of Daniels’ witness. “The Sunday after the murder,” writes Hasan Jeffries, “some one hundred movement supporters gathered in Gordonsville and listened to [Stokely] Carmichael give voice to their shared outrage. ‘We’re going to tear this county up,’ [Carmichael] said. ‘Then we’re going to build it back, brick by brick, until it’s a fit place for human beings.’” Carmichael, SNCC, and Lowndes County together created an independent political party, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO),which would run black candidates for local office. Civil Rights historian, Taylor Branch, cites LCFO’s creation as an act of bravery comparable to Valley Forge. LCFO picked as its symbol the black panther, which the black power movement used as it flourished in California. Under Carmichael’s leadership, SNCC would make the fraught decision to bar white volunteers from their activities: it was too dangerous. And the enormous, collective effort of nonviolent change, which experienced its greatest achievement in the Selma-Montgomery march for voting rights, splintered, its cracks traceable to Lowndes County. For a place that on the surface seemed so marginal and empty, there was no end to what might be resurrected from Hayneville’s past and made meaningful in the present. I left Hayneville with a watermelon. A black farmer had a truck-bed full of them, parked at the courthouse’s edge. He was conversing with another customer and I was thinking of my experience. He’d waved his hand, saying pick one. My distraction and large hat must have seemed uppity because what happened next reminded me that I too was aligned in the pilgrim’s narrative, just as the celebrants saw themselves as Daniels’ disci-
Volume 2, Issue 1
ples and the children carrying the placards knew whom they resembled. When I pointed inside the truck bed, his female customer scolded me for expecting the farmer to hand me the heavy fruit. I must have looked the part of white Southern womanhood, a piece of the story that has never been called to account. I returned to the highway. In ’65, SNCC purchased six acres of land abutting the road for a tent city, where the Lowndes sharecroppers, evicted for registering to vote, could live after asserting their rights. The Interior Department now occupied the land with a new Interpretive Center for the Selma-Montgomery Historic Trail. The black and white photograph of the tent city shared a wall with its inhabitants’ stories. A young pregnant woman died there in childbirth because no hospital would accept her. Had we prayed for her, too— the martyrs known only to God? I left, driving west on Highway 80—that knife cutting through the green rind, revealing the red dirt full of seeds—through the fields and pastures where everything hid from the afternoon heat.
Detail: Douglas Fire, Cade Bradshaw, 2012 Volume 2, Issue 1
Crawfish Alica Forneret
Complimentary Lamp, Clay Reuter, 2013
As the temperature rises in New Orleans, the seasons shift and lo-
cals are signaled of impending spring. Warm breezes tickle the sweaty lower backs of women bending over coolers to pick through cans of PBR and Heineken. Young, uniformed kids race to the bus stop after school to crowd buses headed toward their favorite sno ball shack that’s finally opened for the season. And the thick, humid air that hangs over our heads is saturated with the scent of Zatarain’s Crab Boil. Balmy evenings welcome entire neighborhoods onto the streets to chug malt liquor from sweating 40 bottles, lounge lazily on porches of their neighbor’s shotguns, and trade work clothes for unbuttoned booty shorts and stained tank tops. People move through the city in packs, sharing sweatsoaked handkerchiefs, scratching each other’s bug bites that are out of reach, and recognizing Lent on “meat-free” Friday nights, crowding around folding tables covered in empty crawfish shells. Maybe it’s the fact that one day a week their arteries are given a break from fried chicken for breakfast, smothered chops for lunch, and BBQ ribs for dinner, but on Friday nights people are lighter on their feet. The promises of late night conversations with friends and sweet tail meat evoke smiles at strangers on the streetcar after 6:00 p.m. Come spring, boils dominate Friday night plans and draw people off their couches, out from under their ceiling fans, and onto back decks full of people and pots exploding with plumes of white steam. Boils are hosted from “afternoon - till” on Fridays, leaving room for everyone to be satisfied—those who are in search of an early afternoon snack as well as those who can’t make it until the third batch is rolling at your friend’s place around 9:00 p.m. When the crawfish are “running,” it’s hard to miss packed dive bars selling them for $4.99/lb, or the tubs in front of a grocery store that stocks them boiled-for-sale. Driving through the city, you’re berated by sandwich boards announcing fresh boiled crawfish, stuffed artichokes, crabs for $3 a piece. The Channel is littered with Big Fisherman posters stapled to light posts announcing their fresh catch, and pop-up kitchens (pots, gas burners and coolers) are assembled in front of Igor’s on St. Charles, Lucy’s on Tchoup. All day the smells of heated seasoning and seafood are impossible to Volume 2, Issue 1
ignore, irresistible. And if it’s not being funneled through your living room window from your neighbor’s backyard, it’s somewhere else close. It’s hard to miss when you’re walking around town stepping over cracked heads and naked corncobs. People slip dollar bills into the streetcar machine with fingers that smell like a bait shop, no matter how many times they’ve scrubbed them under a backyard hose. Twenty-somethings are found outside of Cajun’s on Broad and Toledano, squatted on a curb picking through two pound plastic grocery bags and tossing empty shells under their car. And it’s hard to miss when your neighbor’s children are battling with the live mini-lobsters that they pull from a cooler before they’re thrown into the pot to boil. The slow moving monsters are pulled from boxes of ice by the tiny hands of cousins, nieces, and neighbor kids and made to snap claws at each other. The water heats, and until it’s fully rolling, the small grey animals crawl and creep across each other, unaware of their fate. Whether it’s crawfish, crab, or shrimp, a boil has the significant power of collecting neighbors and family members to share in a communal meal once a week. They take place in spaces meant for sharing in community activities: dusty backyards, shaded medians that run through a busy Central City street, or bar porches lit with strings of blinking Christmas lights. As a boil approaches, these spaces are converted to accommodate an influx of hungry locals as diverse as the mixture of vegetables and seafood in the boiling pot. Garlic and potatoes are dropped—as folding chairs, porch swings, and hammocks are strewn around host teachers, artists, and bicycle repairmen. Artichokes and corn are dropped—when cooler lids and air conditioning units become seating for tiny children and muddy pets. Brussels sprouts and mushrooms are dropped—as tattered couches provide relief for tired asses of overworked teachers, and porch steps fill with exhausted mothers. Those welcomed into someone’s home show up toting cold beers and “party size” bags of Zapp’s Voodoo Chips—cheap, sure, but the only contributions necessary if, more importantly, you’re willing to also contribute a few hours of rich conversation. At bars people are found sharing picnic tables surrounded by paper towels saturated in spicy juices and bowls full of room temperature remoulade sauce for dipping potatoes and artichokes. The host or hostess weaves through the crowd introducing friends to
lovers, children to dogs, and neighbors to best friends. Women have the baby of a friend straddled on their hip. With a beer in one hand and a roll of masking tape in the other, they sway slowly back and forth watching their sister lay out sheets of newspaper to the tops of folding tables. Old men talk to young women about ending and impending careers in the film business or what New Orleans was like back in the day. By the time the sun has set and the porch light clicks on, strangers have found themselves lighting the cigarettes of new acquaintances. People mill around any boil spot discussing workweeks, art projects, children, pets, or last week’s boil. They let their guts fill with beer and hang over waistbands. Because by the time it’s Friday, your shoes are coming off and comfort is the key concern, second only to good conversation over warm glasses of liquor. The comfort of family and friends trumps any effort to be proper, sexy, or put together—slippers are thrown on to scale the fence between your and your neighbor’s yards, and sweatpants suffice while cigarettes and joints are ashed across your lap as they’re passed around a circle. After an hour of timing, when potatoes should be dropped, when seasoning should be added, and the time it takes for the mudbugs to cool enough to eat—people are hungry with tongues wetted by Abita and tepid soda. Belts are whipped from their loops and sleeves are rolled up clear to armpits. Voices grow softer while the host or hostess slips on potholders to lift 20 pounds of fresh, warm seafood and vegetables from the pot. The red boil liquid sifts out of the colander and splashes onto the concrete around the pot. Folding tables are dragged from garages and unfolded, propped by cinder blocks or left to wobble slightly when elbows or beers meet their tops. The stability of the table is irrelevant as long as there’s space enough for everyone to bump arms and access the entire pile of seafood once it’s laid out. The crawfish tumble out of the heavy stockpot and onto the table, and the conversation fades as hands reach into the pile of steaming red insects. Those who have been peeling crawfish and shrimp their whole lives get through a pound before those who haven’t can even taste a single morsel, so help is offered almost immediately when you look like you’re having a hard time. When you’re trashing half-full tails or leaving heads un-sucked, neighbors at the table offer advice and dissect the animals ten times slower than Volume 2, Issue 1
they normally would to assure that nothing’s going to waste. Instructions are boiled down to: crack, twist, suck, peel, throw. Taking the head and tail in either hand, crack the shell and twist the two halves of the crawfish apart. Then, depending on your preference, either discard the head into a pile of empty shells and corncobs—or wrap your lips around the spiced, warm, open neck forcefully sucking as not to waste any flavor, juice, or organs worth eating. The tail meat is retrieved by peeling the segments of the shell away one-by-one until the entire piece of white meat is exposed and ready to be consumed. Mouths are too busy chewing and sucking boiled brains to continue conversation until people sporadically come up for air or need a minute to rest fingers and pick corn kernels out of their teeth. Then by the time people have gotten a few pounds in them, conversations are started about the first time someone peeled crawfish for their child, their boyfriend, a newcomer. Mothers peel tails for themselves, discussing when their newborn will be able to peel their own. Nieces exclaim their extreme disgust at the thought of eating brains and intestines when an aunt hasn’t cleaned a piece well enough. Batch after batch is boiled, dumped, consumed. People sit out number one to keep drinking but go hard on numbers two and three. Seats are filled and emptied. Conversation keeps as raucous laughter carries into the air aside clouds of steam and smoke. Bellies fill with food and conversations pick up, but eating slows as diners begin searching for one last tiny mushroom at the bottom of the pile that might push them over the limit. They stop feeding themselves and help peel crawfish for a five year old hovering below the table with his or her mouth open, head thrown back like a baby bird begging for food. Eventually lazed eyes flutter and tired hands grip dog leashes, ready to return home. Belches, sighs, and tooth sucking are a common part of conversation, vocalized unabashedly throughout lines such as: “My favorite part—has got to be—the garlic.” “I don’t know—the last time—I had crawfish this damn spicy but Jesus Christ—that was a meal.” “Were you here last week because—that corn was to die.” “This is what life should be—about. Eating crawfish, all day.”
Grate, Clay Reuter, 2013 Volume 2, Issue 1
After the Winds Die Down Lori A. May
Menacing Sky, Ben Carlisle, 2013
The tree has few leaves, but is resilient and its color shows signs of
spring. About seventy feet above ground, a blue sweater is caught between branches. A few feet over, shredded insulation wraps itself around a mess of fragile limbs. Less than forty-eight hours earlier, an F3 tornado swept through the town of Dexter, population just over four thousand. It was one of three tornados that struck southeastern Michigan, but Dexter faced the worst with winds reaching close to two hundred miles per hour. More than one hundred homes were damaged; at least thirteen were completely destroyed. Yet no one died and only minor injuries required care. Behind Busch’s, a locally owned supermarket, my husband and I take in the view from atop the hill that skirts one of the impacted subdivisions. We can’t drive into the cul-de-sacs; state troopers have blocked the roads to all but homeowners and official clean-up crews. From here, though, Chris and I are able to survey the land, see the damage, and blend in with locals, busybodies, and families licking ice cream cones on an otherwise beautiful, sunny day. Most stand in awe, but there is one ringleader. He stands firm, tall, and is circled by a half dozen almost-locals, his arms gesturing as he speaks. “I told him, you fool, you come out here to gawk? Why don’t you get in there and help clean up.” Heads nod. “Damn fool.” A woman with a small girl at her side says what we all think. “I’m glad no one was hurt. It’s remarkable.” When the winds died down, emergency crews began the foot patrol, seeking out any form of life harmed or trapped by the debris. The first officer on the scene came upon a hand—a single hand reaching from within the aftermath. Beneath the rubble of his destroyed home, an elderly man was buried. He was dug out with care, shaken but able to stand and walk on his own. Minor injuries were reported, tended to, bandaged. Police, fire, and EMS vehicles paraded in from surrounding towns like it was the Fourth of July. Clean-up crews arrived to clear the streets. The American Red Cross set up a relief shelter at the middle school. Here, the newly homeless were provided with food, water, basic needs, and mental health services. Volume 2, Issue 1
The whole town of Dexter was affected, but it was this one subdivision behind Busch’s in particular that made the most news, suffered the most damage. The ringleader waves toward the homes. He explains his theories, reconstructs the path of the funnel cloud using his hands, and explains how tornados work, where the plastic debris now lodged in a tree may have come from. “It’s probably siding. When I lived in the South….” I turn my attention to a few new arrivals, fresh with the awe of seeing destruction. “It’s amazing how much they’ve done in just a few days,” a woman says. I agree. We talk for a moment, and while it’s impersonal small talk, we have managed to bond over other people’s misfortune. We are all here to see what happened, to see what comes next. The tornado had lingered for about half an hour, ripping a path more than ten miles long. Hail, rain, high winds, and the touchdown were followed by fires sparked by downed power lines. Siding and roofing tore away from homes; support beams and windows caved. Yet within twenty-four hours, chainsaws, dump trucks, and manual laborers were at work, recovering what could be saved, tossing what was lost. Below this hill behind the market, everyone is busy. Torn roofs have been patched with temporary coverings to fill the void and protect from rain until the real work is complete. Families pile refuse on their lawns, saying goodbye to collectables, photos, and even a hand-crafted chair passed down through generations. In mid-March, such storms are not expected in Michigan. When the warnings circulated, I mouthed a prayer, unplugged my computer, and went to the basement as a precaution. Fifty miles from the projected path, I shouldn’t have been concerned. Yet, I have always possessed an unreasonable fear of tornados, like my fear of sharks. I neither live near the ocean nor the typical tornado belt, but these two fears have stayed with me since childhood, thanks to a bad dream about Jaws and a close enough proximity to disaster. On most days in 1979, my brown hair was parted unevenly down the mid-
dle and elasticized into lopsided pigtails. I wore polyester pull-up pants and a coordinating synthetic top, adorned with a press-on metallic floral pattern. I was six and carrying post-kindergarten wisdom, sure I had a sense of it all. We did not have a basement. My parentsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; home had only a small underground room for the mechanicals without room for much else. A trap door in the floor of the front porch led into a cell, an unlit chamber, where pipes dominated and litters of kittens were born. When the news broadcast word of a dangerous weather pattern headed our way, I sat on the couch with my teddy bear and waited for parental instructions. We would watch and listen for updates, keeping the emergency care package at the ready should we need to hide in a closet, the bathroom, or try to fit into the barely-there dugout. It was August 7th when a cold front settled into Georgian Bay, developing flash storms and a few weak, barely noticeable tornados across the Bruce, Grey, Dufferin, and Simcoe counties of my home province, Ontario. The storms began in the morning, starting up and stopping throughout the day, but by 6 PM a supercell had developed and produced an F3 tornado near Stratford, home to a world-class Shakespeare festival theatre. The storm raged for fifteen minutes or so, then died down only to build back up into an F4 tornado spanning more than a kilometerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s width once it reached Oxford County. By 7 PM, another supercell developed northwest of Woodstock, Ontario, and a black wedge tornado a kilometer wide leveled a path through the city and surrounding areas. They call it a wedge for its vast flatness, unlike a funnel, like a flat edged shovel jetting from earth. When the tornado crossed Highway 401, it tossed cars and semis with ease, like a toddler throwing a tantrum with Legos. Tens of thousands of pounds of metal were flicked off the road and into the air. The tornado continued southeast, completely erasing the town of Oxford Centre and leveling most of Vanessa and New Durham. Seven miles from the destroyed cathedral in Vanessa was where I sat, on the couch with my stuffed bear, wondering when it was time to head underground. Volume 2, Issue 1
My mother patted my head and said, “We’ll be okay,” but I could feel her fingers tremble. It was during this string of tornados that I learned to pack an emergency kit, a cardboard box with nonperishable snacks, coloring books, and flashlight batteries. I watched as my mother hand selected photo albums and baby booties to preserve underground as winds rushed outside. Our house was safe. Seven miles, or a ten minute drive, was enough distance to ensure we only felt windows shake, roofing waver, and young trees slap against brick. By 8 PM the storm dissipated and thunderstorms gradually weakened to a throbbing murmur. The southeasterly passage of the storm left more than one thousand people homeless. A few died. Several hundred were injured. I continue to dream about the 1979 tornado and its subsequent news coverage. I wake in cold sweats, decades later, with anxiety and anticipation, the lingering fear of my six-year-old self still very much within me. All this time later, I just as clearly visualize the swooping mixture of earth, wind, and rain traveling across the television screen; I still feel the pull of its destruction. Just days after the 1979 tornado left its wake, Ken McClellan stood in front of the camera for CBC news, giving a recap of the events that took place on his dairy farm near Burgessville, halfway between Woodstock and Vanessa. The soft-spoken McClellan is dressed not unlike my father, as a manual laborer who works outdoors with machinery and land alike, regardless of weather, regardless of time of day or season. Layered over his work shirt is a rugged wool-mix jacket in 70s brown plaid. The checks and lines are extra-large, providing no camouflage to him on the land, but keeping him warm with material that will stand up to spilled oil, mud and guck, and repetitive hot washes. Not unlike my father, McClellan wears a mesh cap that could be exchanged for a baseball cap, but this is a working cap. A fleshy, foamy monotone panel of fabric above the brim boasts a supply or machinery company logo; the remainder of the hat is a contrasting white mesh, suitable for airing out the sweat and heat of
the day’s work. Not unlike my father, McClellan bears sideburn chops that would rival Elvis’. As he speaks, his Ontario farmer’s accent is clear. McClellan’s voice has a sound that sits somewhere between Newfoundland and North Dakota, yet has a clarity more settled in the grassy landscape of rural Ontario, where farms spread out miles away from chain restaurants, department stores, and grocers. I imagine McClellan grows whatever he needs and that when his needs aren’t met, he saves up his list for the bi-monthly trip ‘to town.’ On the night of the storms, McClellan was working outside when his daughter yelled. A strong wind rattled the shed. She knew something was wrong. He told the camera crew, “I had just come out and saw the shed go when the barn came down on top of us. And then it was dark.” The barn door flew open. The wind tore through. The barn wall caved in and trapped McClellan. He survived. His wife was in the house with her brother and a family friend. “They had a little more warning,” he said. He tries to retell the story with a monotone lull. His swallows and breaths are hard, visible to the eye, audible to the ear. “They felt the pressure drop. She had enough sense to head for the basement. They didn’t make it, but they at least tried.” McClellan survived but lost much of his livelihood that day. The house was destroyed. The friend’s car blew a half mile away, a pile of metal, just another piece of the debris left after the storm. “We lost twenty head in the storm,” McClellan said of his livestock. Those that survived were hurt or lame, some were saved and sold after the tornado. “About ten were outside and the rest of them were in the barn. Friends and neighbors and even strangers were here for two days, two nights, digging them out. Some of them they had to drag out, they were already dead. Some they had to shoot, after they got them out, they were so bad.” The family dog, an aged German Shepherd, was trapped in the barn’s carnage for about two days, but they were able to get him out alive. Beyond McClellan’s interview, in the alternating shots and depth of field behind him, the devastation of the aftermath is shown: worn timber Volume 2, Issue 1
piles where a barn once stood, unrecognizable debris lay where a house once offered a warm meal at the end of the day. Townsfolk and neighbors are seen patching together remnants of the farm, clearing the unusable, and setting the dairy farmer back on his feet. Atop the hill behind Busch’s, “I’m glad you’re okay” is the most common exchange of dialogue. Locals and onlookers alike gather to observe the mess, observe the recovery. Relief efforts begin to make progress and the town is active in helping one another out. Busch’s provided supplies, asked shoppers to ‘round up’ their grocery bill and donate the change to the efforts, and just about every business in town has some form of fundraiser in the works to help people move on, to help them forget what they’ve lost. My memories of the 1979 tornado are limited. I experienced that night as a child, yet I continue to be drawn to these storms as if the winds themselves carry reminders. Perhaps I seek a connection to what little I do recall. Perhaps I seek a connection with those who will continue to wake in the middle of the night, the past never fully in the past. On the outskirts of Dexter, we stop at Jenny’s Farm Stand, a small shack on the property of a farm where I have previously picked up jams and pickles. We see the ‘Open’ sign, despite the approaching late hour, and are grateful for the chance to pick up “Frog Jam,” a homemade concoction of red raspberries, orange peel, figs, and ginger. It has a tangy sweetness to it, a spicy kick in the aftertaste. “We got some people who’ll get downright upset if we’re running low on Frog Jam,” the clerk says to me. “People go crazy over that stuff.” I make small talk with her as I inspect other varieties of canned goods. I say something about berries and she mishears me. “Scary? Hell, yeah, it was scary,” she says. The storm is on everyone’s mind. “It’s not often we get an F3 tornado through here.” Outside the stand, a man lugs refuse from the ground to a flatbed truck. It’s hard to tell what’s par for spring cleaning and what resulted from the storm. The market stand and farm take up a corner lot, and on all roads surrounding the property, large trucks come and go, traveling to and from disaster sites to carry on the work. This has likely been the most traffic
Dexter has seen in one weekend. The downtown core is alive with business. It is St. Patrick’s Day and the two weeks leading up to the storm, up to the holiday weekend, have ranged in temperatures from mid-70s to high-80s. I am wearing flip-flops in the middle of March in Michigan. The town’s ice cream parlor has a line outside its window that extends half a block. Chris and I dine at Red Brick Kitchen and Bar, where Reuben sandwiches seem to be the most popular, but we opt for beer battered cod and signature house chips. It’s the closest we’ll get to consuming alcohol with Chris on the night shift. The bar side of the establishment is buzzing with patrons dressed in green, the beer tinted with food coloring. Wooden bench seats and booths are occupied with families. Every table whispers about neighbors they know who have it worse than they do, who suffered more loss. When we drive back down the main road, past side streets blocked by state troopers, we see the work still in progress. Hammers pound, shovels dig. The work continues past sunset. Decades after the 1979 tornado, and two weeks after the Dexter storm, I barely recognize Woodstock when I visit. When I drive into town, I pass one mega store after another. I have not lived in that section of Ontario for years; I no longer live in Canada at all. I take the same route my family did thirty-three years earlier, after the storm, when we checked on our friends and their properties. The Van Hoves were close with my mother and the first owners of puppies I adopted as a kid. For this reason alone, I considered them significant to my life. Today I take the tight curve along Highway 59, the main line that turns into a city street, then back into a country highway on the other side of town, and slow when I come across the land where the Van Hoves’ house used to be. I pull over. My memory fills in the space with the multi-addition house in which they raised two kids and entertained friends. I see the ‘before,’ I see the view of the home after the 1979 tornados, and I see it now, long after I’ve left childhood. They made it out fine; no one was hurt. Considering what could have been, their house wasn’t that bad off. This is how Volume 2, Issue 1
we respond in disaster. We tell ourselves it could have been worse. Woodstock’s population has ballooned one hundred and fifty per cent since I was a kid waiting on the couch for the storm’s approach. Despite suffering through three of the tornado streaks that hit in 1979, there was just one fatality within the city, when a single occupant vehicle was blown off the highway. But I remember the town the day we drove through. Churches and schools were destroyed; homes looked as though a bulldozer had come through. As I drive through the city, with so much a small town feel to it but so much that has boomed since my last visit, I see the past and I see the present. With every turn, every corner I take, I remember debris and people picking up pieces of their lives. Back in Michigan, I call my father to share the news about Dexter, and we talk about how close the 1979 run was to our home. I tell him what I remember of the destruction of Woodstock, of Vanessa, and how just miles from our house, a small town was wiped away. “Waterford was close too, ya know,” he says, but I need to ask for clarification. I often forget my family’s roots there. “My parents’ home was shifted and irreparable,” Dad explains. “It had to be torn down.” He tells me how bricks came down all over town as the tornado passed through. Memory is interesting. Like how I remember the streets of Woodstock, the town of Vanessa, the destruction that came close to our home. But I do not remember the damage done to my own extended family’s property. I don’t even remember the house my grandparents lived in. “There’s only one person on that street now that remembers me,” my father says. “Everyone else has died off by now.” My grandparents passed away long ago, when I was still too young to understand. Maybe that’s why I don’t remember their home in Waterford or its destruction in 1979. Most vivid to me are the dreams that replay without warning. With each recurring dream, I again feel that tension and anxiety in not knowing what will happen, or how bad the damage will be. I hear the wind. I hear the rain pound against glass. I feel the house tremble and the windows
shake. Sometimes when I wake, I calm myself with reminders that these events are in the past. I remind myself with archived news coverage and fill in the blanks with old photographs. Yet being there and seeing what a storm can do and looking at a photo are two different things. Thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s why I went to Dexter. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s why I stood on top of the hill, looking down on the subdivision that was torn apart in the middle of March in Michigan. Perhaps in confronting the present, I can quiet my dreams of the past. Sometimes you just need to see the damage firsthand to understand what comes after the storm.
Volume 2, Issue 1
Firefly River Nancy Penrose
Fans, Lauren Smith, 2013
Volume 2, Issue 1
I seek to live a pleasure twice. What beckons is a dark river and a silent symphony of light. A memory of a night when trees pulsed with a bioluminescent glow. It was 1992 on the Selangor River. West Malaysia. Flashing on and off in synchrony, congregating fireflies. In Malay they are kelip-kelip. Now it is nearly twenty years later. I am in Kuala Lumpur and an afternoon bus ride takes me back. At 8 PM, an hour past sunset, I go to the dock at Bukit Belimbing. I buy my ticket under the blare of fluorescent lights and climb down into the boat. The boatman sits at the stern and starts the motor. It is electric and it is quiet. As we pull away from the landing into the darkness, I feel weightless, like a leaf floating on water. The damp air of the tropics holds me like a cocoon. I hear the click of the boatmanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s lighter and then the warm clove smoke of a kretek curls around me. Shrill against my ears is the unceasing whine of insect voicesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;cicadas, crickets? I am not sure, but it is a welcome memory of the sound of night on the Selangor River. My vision is slow to adjust to the dark. Lights from the nearby town of Kuala Selangor illuminate low clouds. Against them are the lean silhouettes of coconut palms. The river is a dark liquid and the banks are black until I catch a soft pulse of light. The boatman steers toward the glow at the edge of the river. The shimmering takes the shape of trees, rounded and low to the water. Nearer now and the throb resolves into hundreds of sparkles, as if little stars had settled in the leaves. Fireflies, flashing on and off in synchrony. Fireflies are a bioluminescent beetle. Some are roving, such as those in North America with nicknames like glow worm and lightning bug. In southeast Asia, along rivers in Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea, firefly species congregate. Here, along the Selangor, one dominates: Pteroptyx tener. Each is about an inch long. Thousands may gather. The syncopated flashing is communication, a sexy signal four times a second from males striving to attract females.
The abdomen holds the secret of the flash. An abdominal tube pulls oxygen to luciferin, a pigment. The chemical reaction creates a burst of greenish-yellow light from the firefly lantern. The blinking beetlesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; whether synchronous or rovingâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;control the on-and-off staccato. Along the Selangor River the display trees are a mangrove species, Sonneratia caseolaris. Here, only a few kilometers from where the river meets salt water at the Strait of Malacca, the tree can withstand the tidal fluctuations between brackish and near fresh. S. caseolaris is only a roost for the competing, flashing males. Habitat for most of life is on the ground where decomposing plants provide food for the tiny snails the firefly larvae eat.
Explosion, Lauren Smith, 2013
Volume 2, Issue 1
The boat nears the edge of the river but does not touch the trees. Picking leaves or fireflies is prohibited. I have seen the signs at the landing, the universal slash through a circle around a hand reaching for a firefly perched on a leaf. No flash photography is allowed for that, too, would disturb. I lean in close to a branch and I can see individual insects, a handful flashing in perfect synchrony. A new one flies in and lands. Out of sync at first, it soon takes on the rhythm of the others. The flickering leaves are little neon signs, the trees like the sweet tinkle of piano keys. The lambent river banks are a silent orchestra of light. Much of what these insects depend uponâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;rivers, trees, groundâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; has been modified, developed, ruined beyond what can support them. Along some rivers, where the lighted trees were once so dependable they served as markers for navigation, the fireflies have vanished. Happily there are efforts to protect what is left, and some fifteen miles of the Selangor have been gazetted as firefly sanctuary. My hope is that the tourist ringgit I paid for this ride is a kind of insurance for preservation, that the income provided to the people who live here will prolong protection. My eyes are now at home in the dark. The river surface is still, a mirror for the coruscating branches. I see the reflection of a giant firefly. Startled, I look up for the leaf that holds it and then realize it is a star that has appeared in an opening among the clouds. The boat reaches a point where there is no more glow, where the firefly light ends. The boatman steers across the river to return to the landing. I wonder if the darkness means an oil palm plantation. On my journey to Bukit Belimbing, the bus rolled by the monotony of acre after acre of bottle green trees planted in row after row for easy tending and harvest. I know plantations mean a depletion of diversity. I know it is possible that display trees were ripped out for the sake of oil palms, even as I recognize this other source of livelihood for the people here.
On the bus ride back to Kuala Lumpur, I think about why I love returning to places I have known before. Going back is a yardstick of change, of losses and gains. Me: brown hair gone to white and gray; wrinkled skin on the backs of once-smooth hands; years that feed familiarity with mortality. There is reassurance: despite the threats, the fireflies are still there, still beautiful, enchanting. A pleasure lived twice, thrice now with the writing of it. I often seek the new, but the poignant pleasures of return always beckon. Perhaps that is why that afternoon I had boarded the bus, like a time machine into memory.
Volume 2, Issue 1
I <3 the People, Allison Skopec, 2013
Our Contributors Alica Forneret is a graduate from The Evergreen State College with a BA in Creative
Nonfiction Writing and Ethnography. She spent six years traveling the United States, Canada, Eastern Europe, and Mexico studying communal eating practices and recipe preservation. She eats too much, exercises too little, and writes about food because of a deep passion for exploring how the people around a table can mean as much as the food on top of it. Her work has appeared in Gather Journal and Brooklynâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Urban Glass.
Carolyn Kraus teaches Journalism and Screen Studies at the University of Michi-
gan-Dearborn; writes for literary, academic, and general-audience publications; and co-produces Detroit-focused documentary films.
is the author of The Authentic Animal: Inside the Odd and Obsessive World of Taxidermy. His shorter work has appeared in The Normal School, DIAGRAM, Barrelhouse, New Ohio Review, and elsewhere. He teaches in the MFA program at the University of San Francisco and co-edits The Cupboard, a quarterly pamphlet.
Lori A. May’s books include Square Feet and The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A
Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students. Her next nonfiction book is forthcoming from Bloomsbury in December 2014. Lori teaches in the University of King’s College (Halifax) creative nonfiction MFA program and is a frequent guest speaker at writing conferences and residencies across North America. Canadian by birth and disposition, she now lives and writes in Michigan. For more info, visit her website at www.loriamay.com.
Nancy Penrose writes to explore the territories where cultures converge. Her work
has appeared in Shenandoah, Memoir (and), Drash, and the anthologies Travelers’ Tales and Burning Bright: Passager Celebrates 21 Years. She is the co-author of Behind the Brushstrokes: Appreciating Chinese Calligraphy. Details may be found atwww.plumerose.net.
Miya Pleines currently lives in Chicago where she is working towards receiving her
MFA in Creative Writing from Northwestern University. Her work deals heavily with her Japanese American heritage, with a strong focus on the Internment. On her off days, she enjoys spending quality time with her parrots, Kermit and Marcello, and committing every episode of Gilmore Girls to memory.
Science and nature writer Sharman Apt Russell lives in southwestern New Mexico and teaches writing at Western New Mexico University and Antioch University in Los Angeles. Her books include Standing in the Light: My Life as a Pantheist (Basic Books, 2008); Hunger: An Unnatural History (Basic Books, 2005); An Obsession with Butterflies (Perseus Books, 2003); Anatomy of a Rose (Perseus Books, 2001); and others. Her work has been widely anthologized and has been translated into Chinese, Korean, Russian, Turkish, Swedish, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and German. Her awards include a Rockefeller Fellowship, Pushcart Prize, and the Writers at Work Award. For more information, go to www.sharmanaptrussell.com.
Dawne Shand grew up in Alabama’s Black Belt and attended Selma’s public schools during their first two decades of integration. Since then, she has lived and worked in Nice, London, and Boston. Her work has appeared in Thicket and the anthology, Children of a Changing South. She co-directs The Tannery Series and is working on a forthcoming book about her grandfather’s role in Sheriff Jim Clark’s posse during Selma’s voting rights movement. Natalie Vestin is a writer and health researcher from Saint Paul. Her essays have been published in The Iowa Review, Puerto del Sol, Bellingham Review, Chautauqua, and elsewhere. She is the winner of Crab Orchard Review’s 2013 John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize, the Prairie Schooner 2012 Creative Nonfiction Prize, and the 2012 Sonora Review Essay Prize.
Volume 2, Issue 1