5x5 Issue #8
5x5 is a 501 ÂŠ (3) nonprofit organization and literary magazine that publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. We publish once a year between fall and winter. Submissions are accepted year-round. Simultaneous submissions are welcome, though we do ask that you notify us and/or withdraw your work should it be accepted elsewhere. Visit 5x5litmag.wordpress.com for information on submission guidelines. ÂŠ 2020 in the names of the individual authors. Subsequent rights revert to the author upon publication with the provision that 5x5 receives publication credit. Issue layout by S.J. Dunning and Jeff Pearson About the Cover Image: Image provided courtesy of Nancy Grace Campbell.
5x5 Editors Editor-in-Chief S.J. Dunning Poetry Editor Jeff Pearson Fiction Editor Grace Campbell Nonfiction Editor S.J. Dunning
Letter from the Editor Jeff Pearson
Table of Contents 8 Poetry
Anemone Beaulier "A Sexual History: What Was Your Parents’ Attitude Toward Sex?"
Mickey J. Corrigan "From Your Granny’s Cookbook"
Catherine Martin "Spending Thanksgiving Together"
Zebulon Huset "Not Ever"
John McKernan "Satan"
Fiction E. Alexandra "A Tornado in Tennessee"
Melanie Jennings "Day of the Dead"
Leyla Brittan "It Tasted Like Ambrosia"
Angie Kang "Heading South"
Anthony Varallo "So Much"
Nonfiction Benjamin Davis "How To Wave At Strangers In Cars"
Marie Manilla "Trance"
Erika Eckart "Infested"
Survivors, What a year, folx. We have almost made it, but can we still live our life like it's golden? As the poetry editor, I now see that this issue might resonate well for this holiday season with writing on cookbooks and Thanksgiving traditions. These and the other works will hopefully be escapist works of a world before the COVID-19 pandemic or maybe they, the stories, present a future with uncertainty and hope we might find intriguing not desperate. These works strive toward curiosity. Either way, it's extremely hard for me to read the issue the same way I did months ago. Our editors have been using what extra effort and time, and as editors, our bonds are becoming stronger as we attempt to stay connected. Everyone's words become stronger and more resilient as we try to make sense of the pandemic. I believe all our current days may continue to contribute to this sadness, but I hope you find company reading these wonderful authors as we focus inward and grieve. Lastly, try to reserve enough resources to help others this winter. Jeff Pearson and 5x5 Editors
A Sexual History: What Was Your Parents’ Attitude Toward Sex? Anemone Beaulier My father flipped off “The Sponge,” banned Seinfeld as “disgusting.” That was his sole word on sex. I was fifteen. My mother, to mitigate, told me it could be nice enough, even pleasant— but it would hurt the first time, I’d bleed, the Pill caused cancer and condoms ripped, I’d get pregnant, and having a baby felt like a colossal bowel movement. When I moved in with a man after college, she mailed me The Good Vibrations Guide to Sex with a Post-It noting, “Oprah recommends this.”
Mid-chardonnay at my brother’s wedding, Mom asked if I’d had an orgasm: I said, “Yes,” she said, “Good.” We never spoke of it again.
From Your Granny’s Cookbook Mickey J. Corrigan There’s a recipe for death but it’s shared backward. You start when you are laid out breaths slowed, your belly full of long years of just desserts. Slide everything out of the oven serve cold on a sterling silver platter. Salt all the wounds, bitter lemon to taste. Beat until frothy. Blood, bruises always optional. 3
When you are hungry, look for something you can overpower. Take it, break open. Recall the room when you entered white, empty like all the flowers had already been thrown out.
Spending Thanksgiving Together Catherine Martin Winter is frost gripping the back of your head as we walk across the parking lot heading for the college basketball game. This is our love. Sometimes you have fancy tickets. We always sit close to the court, sweat with the players. Everyone is too loud, we agree . The national anthem doesn’t need this much, we agree. If I were a boy, I’d have been beautiful, we agree as young giants jog their muscles out looking like they were carved fresh from apples, as you probably looked - I wouldn’t know, never seen a picture. 5
They marionette themselves across the wood like dancers nearly in love, like they want to win each other’s hearts, like they’re reaching for their fathers beyond the backboard. Every game of basketball is perfect, we agree, because every game is a great American novel like the one we each carry inside, slowly turning its own pages over as we age. I’m beautiful as a woman, but not as beautiful as a basketball player. Do you remember the best game we ever saw? Georgia versus Tennessee Spring peeking through winter’s hand to watch the women play, the ones you taught me to admire. Tall and young as if God pulled them up from earth the day before and made them with the dark shadows you and I walked home through that evening. 6
Not Ever Zebulon Huset (an erasure poem from the lyrics to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”) 1. No—strangers love rules and commitment. I’m thinking you wouldn’t get this… I just want you, you understand? You never desert, you never cry goodbye. Tell a lie you’ve known for so long. Aching inside—we both know. We know we’re gonna play “How I’m feeling” blind. 2. You run around and make a lie hurt. You never give up, never let down. Never never never say goodbye. 7
A lie hurt you—we know. For so long aching to say we both know what’s been going on, we know the game and we’re gonna play it—I just want to tell you how I’m feeling, you understand? Give you up? Never never never never never gonna.
Satan John McKernan Has three vaginas & Four penises Each giving zero pleasure Each keeps growing Each Wears a stylish coat hat scarf And pair of leather gloves His love for us Even for the sexless lame Who own only their last breath And dress in moth-eaten prayer shawls Resembles most The shadow Beneath the newest fresh corpse Happy to be on a crash diet The big birthday party in the rear-view mirror 9
A Tornado in Tennessee E. Alexandra The summer I turned seventeen a tornado touched down in Tennessee. My friend Tara and I were at Bonnaroo. Bruce Springsteen and R. Kelly (before we really knew R. Kelly) were the headliners. We were part of a clean-up crew, which is to say the trash collectors. They gave us free passes and we wore bright orange shirts, neon gloves. We trudged through fields with heavy bags on our backs that reeked of piss and stale beer. This was not cool. I wanted to be cool. I tied the shirt in a knot below my chest, wrapped gold chains around my navel. I covered my legs with silk skirts of peacock wings that had lost their allure on sticky, sweet floors. This was also not cool, but we were young and naive and blinded by our belief that we were wise and not so young, not anymore. The tornado watch turned into a warning, but it was after our 11
shift, and I thought, thank God, because I thought only of trash cans overturned, used condoms, old meat, flying through the air. Which is to say I did not know much, and knew even less of consequences and natural disasters. Tara and I borrowed a hammer from our neighbor. A man in his 30s from Mobile, Alabama with a thick, black beard, doughy skin, and beady eyes. He gave us metal stakes and Xanax too, said, “well that should do.” We hammered the stakes. “What now?” we asked. “Wait and pray,” he said, “and take those Xanax too.” And so, we did. We sat and waited and watched the sky turn from blue to grey to sea-foam green. We were heavy on Xanax and the air was heavy with waiting, but it was not a humid heavy. The air was sharp and cold and oddly still, and before it all turned, we peered from our tent, and watched the man from Mobile, khaki shorts, no shoes, no shirt. He sat in the bed of his golden truck, sipped Budweiser cans, kicked his legs, blew us kisses in the air, and we cowered, turned our eyes to the sky, waiting and praying. 12
Day of the Dead Melanie Jennings The mountain winds had blown warm and dry overnight, clearing the canyon of autumn haze. The long faรงade of our house glowed white and shadowless, a bleached bone in the path of rising sunlight. Dad's belongings clumped like roadkill along the driveway, across the path, and over the handrail next to the front door. Shards of Mom's favorite orange candy dish sparkled on the cement patio and tinfoiled Kisses spread out in a perfect radius from the site of impact. "My buddies tell me that I should've waited," my father said, stretching his hand toward me though I stood ten feet away on the narrow concrete path that led to our front door. He lay in the small strip of succulents Mom had planted beneath the kitchen window, covered by the brown afghan she had thrown out with him. As Dad breathed beneath the striped weave, it swelled and fell against his skull, mummy-like, the best haunted house decoration on the block. "What buddies?" I said, picturing Arnold, the gruff and 13
grizzled gay bartender at Dad's drinking hole, hardly a friend. "You know, Chelsea," he said. Classic Dad. You know. "No, I don't." I kicked the wilting jack-o-lanterns onto the lawn. Their sugary, candle-burnt innards scented the air and Dad moaned, rolling into the wall of the house for comfort or warmth. I was out of pumpkins, so I kicked the tailgate of the moving van. Its yellow happiness bellowed up and down the street, announcing my parentsâ€™ final failure to the neighbors as if the previous night hadnâ€™t done the trick. All that was left was Dad sobering up, gathering his remains, and driving away. Instead, he coughed under the afghan, two stockinged feet now poking out like black kittens, a miserable old man I could finally see the truth of: rosy-eyed and gin-brined, everyone else to blame. "I should've waited, Chels. Tried again. You know, to get Mom back." The hangover rasped in his throat, cracking like knuckles, churning like bird-grit. He craned his neck to look at me, then yelled, "You'll never forget this day." He reached 14
his hand toward me again. Mouths of babes, I thought but didn't say. I pictured my motherâ€”usâ€”getting away at last, hoping this time would be the final curtain, and saw my dad as someone we would mourn in the far distant future like a dead relative. But, not today. I took his hand and pulled.
It Tasted Like Ambrosia Leyla Brittan When you were twelve, you had been across the ocean to the town with the olive oil factory many times. You were just old enough to begin to understand that these things were part of you, in a way that they werenâ€™t part of Elizabeth or Julia or Sam. The scent of the olive grove creeping through your open window along with beams of yellow morning sunlight. The loose bricks on the path to the house; the rusted bikes that lay beside it and the orange-and-white cat who didnâ€™t have a collar but sat next to the door and meowed like you owned him. The street market on Saturdays and the cacophony of vendors. The bright colors and wide smiles and handfuls of nuts, clover honey, olive oil soap. The crunch ofsimit. The feeling of sesame seeds falling from your lips to the sand. The steel-and-rust playground and the military-time clock that watched over it (which was how you learned what military time was). The smell of salt and sea and fish. The call of the muezzin on the loudspeaker, projected through the streets and over the buildings of this little town. In the car 16
one day, this time, you’re looking in the mirror and turning your face from side to side and frowning. You tilt your chin up. Your mother looks over from the driver’s seat and says with a tone of defeat, Yeah, you got the nose, and you understand that this, too, is part of you. Then she adds, You can always get a nose job. When you’re older. Later, at the market, a woman offers you a piece of honeycomb, still intact, from fields somewhere in the countryside--which is here, but also you-don’t-know-where. It drips with slow golden honey and your mother nods and says You should try it. You take a bite.
Heading South Angie Kang It’ll be our last biking trip before I begin to show, so I take advantage of it. Today I’m in nothing but a bandeau and shorts, offering my bare belly to the sun. As we ride, I imagine our still-forming child turning her still-forming head towards the heat. After four miles, you wave your left hand wildly for me to stop. “Look,” you shout. “Geese.” And lots, all fleeing somewhere warmer. We pause by the side of the road, a few feet apart, panting and squinting at the illegible mass of birds above. I shiver in anticipation, and you notice. “Do you want my jacket?” you ask. I say no. You respect me enough to not push, or maybe 18
you’re relieved. Either way, you don’t ask again. Later, when the day grows weak, I will take your jacket anyway. I will wrap myself in that sea of synthetic wool and we will bike all the way home. When we get there, home, I will still have your jacket, and in six months, I will have Cynthia in the kiddie pool in our backyard, doused in sun as soon as she enters the world. Even so she will be small and cold, and I will press her wrinkly skin to my own until she stretches her arms trying to break free. You will watch, a few feet away. And four years after that, when you head south without me, you will leave me with both that jacket and child. I guess they have their commonalities: the capacity to change owners. To be passed around. Otherwise: to be discarded. But right now, it’s hot. Right now, our shadows sit squarely under us. Right now, you say: “Let’s follow them,” and we do, right out of town.
So Much Anthony Varallo When had “thank you” been replaced by “thank you so much”? The parents didn’t know. How would they know? They had been too busy getting married, having children, finding jobs, moving from one place to the other. Until they’d settled down (their children older, their jobs relatively secure) to keep their marriage company. Somewhere in there, “thank you” had become “thank you so much.” They heard it on the lips of sales clerks, cashiers, waiters, servers, customer service representatives, and telemarketers, whose numbers had dwindled during the years they’d spent becoming responsible adults. Whatever happened to telemarketers? Probably the same thing that had happened to “thank you,” the parents figured. There had been other changes, the parents agreed. Grocery bags, which they’d both secretly liked for their sweet inner scent of wood pulp, had been replaced by canvas sacks which they sometimes left in the car for weeks, and which sometimes acquired the smell of rotting fruit. Bottled water, 20
which they had drunk proudly, liberating themselves from soda and lemonade, had yielded to reusable water bottles, which they lugged around like the rest of the world, and which never fit quite right in their cars’ cup holders. Compact discs were gradually eclipsed by MP3s and then MP3s were suddenly eclipsed by Spotify, which seemed to offer almost too much—who needed all of that? Their wrist watches were replaced by smartphones; handier, sure, but farewell the pleasure of raising their wrists impatiently and checking the time, in perfect approximation of someone in a rush. Which they weren’t. But still. “Mom, Dad,” their children said, “No one watches cable TV anymore.” “How do they watch the news?” they asked. Their children smiled at one another, exchanged knowing looks. “They don’t,” the children said, “they just check their phones.” “The screen is too small,” the parents claimed, who still preferred the evening news, its usual horrors now playing 21
across the seventy-inch flatscreen that had replaced the fortytwo inch that had replaced the thirty-inch, years ago, when “thank you” was still socially acceptable. Those seemed like the good old days now, didn’t they? After all, what was wrong with “thank you”? It said exactly what it meant. No filler. No wasted words. What was it about “so much” that seemed to appeal to everyone, for whatever reasons? Wasn’t the addition of “so much” a clear sign that the “thank you” preceding it might be cast in doubt, insincere, in need of reinforcement? In a way, didn’t “so much” undermine the entire enterprise of thanking someone in the first place? Their children laughed. “You just don’t get it.” “Don’t get what?” the parents said. “Don’t worry,” their children said; they still loved them. So much.
How To Wave At Strangers In Cars Benjamin Davis I used to run around willy-nilly and use phrases like willy-nilly. I was a kid living in the countryside. Then, five years ago, I moved to a city, then another and another. Now, I’m back. This isn’t so bad, I think, making my way along a road in some green corner of Finland. I’ve been here for twenty-four hours since taking a bus across the border from Russia. The closest shop is two kilometers, I’ve been told. I’ve got free time, so I walk. The sun is out. It is the Finnish sun; St. Petersburg’s less temperamental cousin. I’ve brought my music with me: Whitney Houston. As I walk, I realize how colorful everything is. The word vibrant pops into my head. I suddenly realize that I haven’t thought or spoken the word vibrant since I arrived in Russia one year earlier. Vibrant, I say aloud. It sounds weird, I put it away. A car drives by. Instinctually, I shy away. The driver gives me a wide berth, he slows and then does something incredibly odd. 24
He waves. My hand, not used to the gesture, hangs rudely at my side. I keep walking. I make a promise to myself that I will wave to the next driver. It doesn’t take long. A minute at most. Over-eager, I hold my hand high and shake it wildly. The driver slows, stops. Oh, uh–sorry, I call through the window, I was just waving. The driver, a woman in a low cap, smiles. She nods and drives on. I take a deep breath. I look around. You used to know how to do this, I tell myself. Across the road are some horses in a field. I wave to one of them, casual-like, with a gentle lilt that says, “howdy neighbor,” or the less creepy Finnish equivalent. I try again, then again. The horse doesn’t judge. Finally, well-practiced, I trek onward. Maybe two minutes later another car approaches, it is blue. I take a quick breath and lift my hand. I even give a little head-nod with it, as though I’ve suddenly become a natural. The man, or maybe a woman, waves with half their hand on the steering wheel. I put my hand down, cool-like. 25
I wait till I can no longer hear the car. Then, I start to dance. I hit play on the Whitney and up-my pace. I start singing aloud, throwing waves out to everything I see; flowers, horses, trees, clouds, bees, yes, even bees. The countryside is lovely, I think, half-way to the store.
Trance Marie Manilla I sat freeze-tag still, my back pressed against the wall. Joanna’s twelve-year-old classmates crammed into her den. Only us girls. There was cake. Presents. It started as a staring contest. Girl facing girl until the last one blinked. I didn’t blink as child after child caved. Safely tucked in a narrow space in my brain, as I was, where laughter couldn’t reach. Nor balloons. Nor streamers. Even as Joanna tried to jolt me awake. “Marie! Marie?” “She’s in a trance,” Dee Dee offered, a conspiratorial whisper. So many round eyes as if it were true, our Catholic heads filled with macabre woman-saint stories. Sliced-off breasts, plucked-out eyes. Hands clapped inches from my nose. Fingers snapped. Water flicked onto my cheeks. But I didn’t flinch, and I didn’t flinch, even as Joanna started crying, her party now tainted by the dark arts. I had no mercy. Because I was still in that narrow place where laughter couldn’t touch, nor Joanna’s wails, nor the cusp we girls straddled: the breast buds and coarse hairs and tiny uteri shedding. The martyr sacrifices. I wanted to stay there with 27
Troll dolls and kickball and tree climbing. Refuse to contort to polite ankle crossing as Mrs. Lamb had instructed. To demure running. Perpetual Lent. Giving up. Giving in. I would forestall it by not blinking and not blinking, even as dryness seared my eyes and a tiny voice chanted: Let them burn. Let us burn. Let it all burn.
Infested Erika Eckart I saw a flea on our cat. Now, it’s 4AM and I’m scrubbing her with dish soap, digging at my children’s heads, the pile in the rug, pulling stuffed animals apart at the seams looking for more. Even though I am the one pursuing them, I feel hunted. Where I grew up, fleas bit at our calves. They don’t want to drink human blood, but they make do. I’m afraid that, like my mother, I won’t be able to protect my babies. They’ll become pockmarked, dabs of red frosting disrupting their pale flesh, like my sister’s legs coated in wound constellations. We rationed the pesticide we could afford, bleached the rug, but after a couple of days when you put your foot down they flurried there again. Like memory, fleas are persistent: their eggs can lie dormant for years, the parent of this one might have existed generations ago, stowed its eggs in the cracks of the hardwood. Sensing a host, they hatched. I’m terrified this one is not alone, that there are hundreds, thousands, millions, creating tunnels. Affixing their colorless eggs on fibers of my 29
sweater, moving toward the smell of blood under my feet, teeming in the carpet just below my daughter’s sleeping head. Shitting everywhere their pewter dust. I saw two lice in my daughter’s hair. After crushing them, I searched, but found nothing, not even pearlescent teardropshaped eggs. Were they real or a flashback to being nervous, looking down at the crowns of my sisters’ heads, at the web of life under their translucent strands, undulating, a forest in the breeze. People will know. The nurse will come in with her wooden stick and knit in my hair and send me out and I won’t be able to come back until it is all cleared up. I’ll watch my mother’s face twist under the unbearable cost. Maybe it’s an infestation in my flesh that I’ve passed down, like the dormant flea eggs, emerging after a long sleep. A curse for escaping the studio apartment where roaches streamed up the drain to this sanitized suburban home. They’re coming for me, reminding me this is where you came from, did you forget? I can’t turn it off now. I make them sit in my lap, section their hair with my pen, try to catch the light, needing to know they are uninhabited. I’m hungry 30
for the old pleasure of severing a nitâ€™s bond to the hair, the satisfaction of squeezing a louse between my thumb and forefinger and the red stain that means it is done for. Weeks pass of empty highways of scalp, but in my mind the lice squirm in an infinity loop like a disorganized school of fish, multiplying exponentially, the scalp becoming more and more covered. Until they become a solid block of pulsing black which follows me wherever I go because it all comes down to blood: being made from it, being thirsty for it.
Contributor Bios Anemone Beaulier’s poetry has appeared in Briar Cliff Review, Cimarron Review, Jabberwock Review, Main Street Rag, Prairie Schooner, The Pinch, Poet Lore, Poetry Daily, Rattle’s Poets Respond Series, Salamander, The Southern Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and elsewhere. She grew up near Marquette, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and now lives in Fargo, North Dakota, with her husband and three children. Originally from Boston, Mickey J. Corrigan writes Florida noir with a dark humor. Project XX, a satirical novel about a school shooting, was released in 2017 by Salt Publishing in the UK. Newest release is What I Did for Love, a spoof of Lolita (Bloodhound Books, October 2019). Visit at www.mickeyjcorrigan.com. Catherine Martin lives and works in Cambridge, MA. When she’s not at her day job, doing communications and fundraising for a local non-profit, she’s writing her first book
of poems or dreaming about getting a dog with her husband. Her work has appeared in Nimrod Magazine, the Superstition Review, Maps for Teeth and others. Zebulon Huset is a teacher, writer and photographer living in San Diego. His writing has recently appeared in Meridian, The Southern Review, Fence, Rosebud, Atlanta Review, Texas Review and Fjords Review among others. He publishes a writing blog Notebooking Daily and is the editor of the journal Coastal Shelf. John McKernan - who grew up in Omaha Nebraska - is now a retired comma herder and rhyme poacher after teaching a long time at Marshall University. He lives in Florida. His most recent book is a selected poems Resurrection of the Dust. He has published poems in Antioch Review, The Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, The New Yorker, Virginia Quarterly Review and many other magazines. E. Alexandra is a psychologist in New Mexico. Her work has previously appeared, or is forthcoming, in Cathexis Northwest Press, unstamatic, Quip Literary Review, FLARE:
The Flagler Review, Forbidden Peak Press, and elsewhere. She studied journalism and creative writing at NYU and is working on a novella and collection of short stories. Leyla Brittan is a recent graduate of Harvard College, where she studied English with a secondary concentration in computer science. She is a writer, filmmaker, and rock climbing instructor; her fiction has recently appeared in the Harvard Advocate. Benjamin Davis is a traveling short story salesman, recovering fintech journalist, and author of The King of FU. His other work can be found in Maudlin House, Star 82 Review, Cease, Cows, Defenestration, and others. Erika Eckart is the author of the tyranny of heirlooms, a chapbook of interconnected prose poems (Sundress Publications, 2018). Her writing has appeared in Double Room, Ghost Ocean, Quarter After Eight, Quick Fiction, Nano Fiction, Quiditty, and elsewhere. She is a high school English teacher and a mom in Oak Park, IL.
Angie Kang is an illustrator and writer living in Providence, Rhode Island. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in Porter House Review, Lunch Ticket, Hobart, Star 82 Review, typishly, and others. Find more of her work at www.angiekang.net, or on instagram @anqiekanq. M. Jennings lives on the Oregon coast where she is revising two allegorical literary novels. Her short stories have appeared in Hotel Amerika, Fiction Southeast, and Crab Orchard Review. You can read more of her work at mjennings.com. Marie Manilla is the author of The Patron Saint of Ugly, winner of The Weatherford Award. Shrapnel received The Fred Bonnie Award for Best First Novel. Stories in her collection, Still Life with Plums, first appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Prairie Schooner, Mississippi Review, and other journals. Her essays have appeared in Word Riot, Cossack Review, Hippocampus, and elsewhere. Anthony Varallo is the author of a novel, The Lines (University of Iowa Press), as well as four short story collections. He currently serves as the fiction editor at
Crazyhorse. New work is out or forthcoming from The New Yorker "Daily Shouts," Chicago Quarterly Review, One Story, and The Best Small Fictions 2020. Visit him at anthonyvarallo.com or follow him at @TheLines1979