Poetry Alan King Bananas………………………………………….............………………....………..55 Deanna Larsen Translations……………………………………………....…………...........………53 Rick Marlatt Casual Disaster……………………………………………………….............…….57 Andrew Payton Dress myself in explosives and head for the nearest dam.…......……..6 Our Land………………………………………………………………............….……8 Daniel Romo Advice………………………………………………………………….............……...35 Dreamcatcher……………………………………….………………............………36 The Office………………………………………….………………….............……..34 POW…………………………………………………………………….............……..33 Shane Signorino Professor Priest & His Hip-Hopping Beast………........…………………..19 Donna Vorreyer Rites of Spring……………………………………............………………………...41 Laura Madeline Wiseman The Exchange……………………………………............…………….……………38 The Vanishing……………………………………............………………………..…9
Fiction Matt Runkle Pride Goeth Before…………………………............………………………………11 Greg Tebbano Our House…………………………………….............……………………………..22 Nonfiction Gretchen Stahlman Nose Unplugged…………………...........………………………………....………43 Art Sabrina Alsaman So I Drift Through These Days…………………..……………………………..52 Cath Barton Paris in the Spring……………………………………………………………………10 Patricia Delgadillo Marionettes…………………………………………………………………………….38 Susan Dielman Pace………………………………………………………………………………………..18 Michelle Gluch Water Colors……………………………………………………………………………42 William D. Hicks Prairie 2…………………………………..…………………………………………cover Alfredo Toscano A Maior Lingua do Recife…………………………………………………………21
Editor’s Note During our senior year of high school, co-founder Lindsay Shields and I put together a publication called Mixed Fruit, and we distributed it to our friends and whoever else would take a copy. It was a hodgepodge of ramblings—rants about homicidal school bus drivers, conspiracy theories about the moon landing, etymological arguments, music reviews—all written by us. We stole photos from the internet and pasted them alongside our articles. After days of hard work and many trips to Kinko’s, we had produced a very laughable little magazine. My cheeks may blush a little when I flip through the cardstock pages now, but we had fun putting it together. I never imagined that we would revive the magazine more than a decade later, and I can’t express how gratifying this process has been—we’ve received over 500 submissions, and reading through them has been an enjoyable chore. We want to extend our thanks to all those who have sent in their work—we could only accept a minute fraction for publication, and writing rejection notes is certainly the most painful part of the process. Like many of you, we’re writers who have been rejected time and time again, and we know how it stings. We encourage those who didn’t make it in this time to try again, and for those who write but are too shy to submit, take a deep breath and give it a shot. You never know when the world may end—who doesn’t want to be immortalized? With no further ado, the Editors present to you the inaugural issue of Mixed Fruit. A huge thank you to our talented contributors, and we hope that you enjoy what we’ve put together. Happy reading! Abby Norwood Editor-in-Chief 5
Andrew Payton ___________________________________________ Dress myself in explosives and head for the nearest dam Fired hapless into Kentucky country, combusting petroleum, it occurs to me: a sharp enough tool and I would fruit into a thunderstorm, with the hunger of some Pleistocene megafauna I’d tear city center paddock by paddock. I halve myself under the wire and step into the pasture of numbered cattle. The few-week-old calves hide between mother legs and the bloated sway of milk, covered to the torso in shit— I had meant only to pass through to a wooded patch where I’d seek mushrooms after this morning’s rain— number 19 trails me, steaming the air, and number 42 throws her hoof into the mud. The whole inventory circles. Encumbered suddenly in fury, I am twelve stones of fleshed vegetarian. I sense it as weather: the nearness and the time for slaughter. (stanza break) 6
There is an ancient seabed here. No rest for the assembly line. That old self is functionally extinct.
Old land is ours now. Chickens in the coop. Television to the curb, tank of gasoline, crabapples and walnut ink the drive, and weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re not going to fix the kittens. We want bedlam. Fox rots right where it is. Sell the guns. Sex through the walls. Trees encroach every year, a call for returning wolves, resurrect the wood-burning stove.
Andrew Payton is a former filmmaker and future farmer. His poetry has been published in The GW Review, The Eudaimonia Review, Grub Street, and is forthcoming in dislocate and Caveat Lector. Originally from Maryland, he has been vagabonding about for a few years, but will soon attend the MFA program at Iowa State University. 8
Laura Madeline Wiseman ___________________________________________ The Vanishing The story is much bigger than frogs . . . Vance Vredenburg, biologist The Martians cluster around the amphibians, a special exhibit framed in black and white, weighted down by wooden clamps and screws. Here, skin flames yellow and poisonous blue, even the stripes and spots common to yards and state parks portend a pale underbelly. I join a group of Martians to whisper of creek stomping with a mason jar full of sticks and leaves, leopard frogs, newts, tree frogs, and toads. I explain that weeks later my sister and I gathered tiny florescent coffins previously full of sweet tart human bones for the service and burial on the weedy hill above the city river. I say, Sometimes they died.
Laura Madeline Wiseman has a doctorate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she teaches English. She is the author of Sprung, forthcoming from San Francisco Bay Press, and three chapbooks of poetry, My Imaginary (Dancing Girl Press, 2010), Ghost Girl (Pudding House, 2010), and Branding Girls (Finishing Line Press, 2011). 9
Cath Barton ___________________________________________ Paris in the Spring
Matt Runkle ___________________________________________ Pride Goeth Before I first became star-struck as an altar boy, a God-fearing child in the maw of a yawning cathedral. The cathedral was expansive and gilded. Wine bruised the carpet and dust collected deep in the folds of ancient radiators. Trash blew in on glamorous winds and gathered at the feet of the cleric while his eyes were raised to God. Such is the nature of theater. I miss the thrill of being watched. I long for those days as an altar boy, when I still possessed the ingenuous hopes of an understudy. I took the devoted gaze of the crowd for granted then. I didn’t realize shame could be cumulative; I thought it faded with time. And, of course, I underestimated the importance of knowing your audience. Rhonda could dazzle the most straight-laced old biddies, leave them uneasy, yet still somehow satisfied. Flamboyance is an art, it’s true, but certain crowds require something more— something magic. I expected Holy Orders to cast me, like Rhonda, in a ruthless array of roles. But sadly, instead of honing my charisma, it’s cramped me into a confessional, where I wait endless hours for the dying to creak in on crutches of guilt. Rather than a diva, I’m a mere collector of gossip—without the satisfaction of reporting anything I’m told. The sins I hear are as salacious as any star’s; they simply lack the glitz of celebrity to make them immortal. Defining the soul with eyeliner is a tricky business. *** I’m walking up the aisle; I hold the processional cross aloft. I want to strut like a queen but am stoicized by looks from the prayerful audience. I take to the stage and compose myself as a gleamy-lipped, pious-eyed altar boy. Hair parted at three quarters, sweet on the feel of my emasculating alb, I wait with bells in my hand. 11
Father Bowlin—seven feet tall and Black Irish—says mass with a voice like a rolling boulder. His belly is big enough for a benevolent god. His brow sprouts two thick clumps of steely hair. He lifts the Host and heavies his eyes, lowers and codes his voice. A holy light throbs from among his ringlets. I raise the bell and shake out a tiny chime, wishing the audience’s eyes were on me. But the real star of the show is Rhonda. She digs her candyapple claws into the folds of her choral gown, and pulls it thigh high as she mounts the steps to the lectern. Her stilettos and blackstockinged legs are sudden and shapely as they emerge from the neutral vestment. She surveys the crowd with a predatory ease. The audience shuts its eyes and withdraws in prayer. Petitions float from the ends of ascetic eyelashes. The proper place for music is in the choir loft, the crowd believes, at the cathedral’s rear, hidden away where it won’t distract from the solemnity of the mass. But Rhonda has them trained. The saints and angels crowd in miniature around the lofted chalice, extend their matchstick arms to catch the faithful’s prayers. Rhonda widens her smile, and a few wayward prayers become lodged between her teeth. Her drawn-on eyebrows rise behind the bangs of her immense bouffant. She’s been as subtle as possible about transitioning her hair from black to its current platinum blond, for although her appearance is meticulously crafted, she hopes to leave some impression of nature. Over the course of four years, she’s worked her way down the home dye-kit aisle: from jet black to the darkest and medium browns, with a brief detour through wine brown and several shades to strawberry blond, then back to the standard spectrum, fading from dark natural blond to silent snow. Such planning is necessary to retain her position as cantor at a conservative parish. As a flamboyant, almost-fifty divorcee, she already walks the line. She knows where to temper her tartish tendencies, which shade of lipstick is a hair past respectable. At the rear of the cathedral is the choir loft where a sinister, diminutive figure leans. Pimples percolate at his hairline, and he rests his leather-clad arms on the railing as he looks out over the crowd. He’s Rhonda’s son Dom, runty even for a twelve-year-old. I 12
can feel his sulky gaze, his spite at falling short of the faggy altar boy, his hatred winding out among the wafting prayers. Behind him, the organ pipes begin to thrum; they flood with a hum, then a roar of devotion. Rhonda bursts into a showy hymn. Its lyrics praise a newborn scent of flesh. Father Bowlin descends from the stage, his hands cradling a bowl of communion wafers. He recruited Rhonda from an offBroadway stage, an invitation just in time for a woman looking a bit weathered for ingĂŠnue roles. His motives, I imagine, came from a fascination with her overwrought femininity, for he seems to carry a hint of lavender deep within that belly. A tenderness belies his manly faĂ§ade, an almost maternal quality that can only come from a homosexual soul. He feeds communion to his flock like an incongruous mother bird. With Rhonda came Dom, a picture of compact impudence, an unhealthy child whose greasy, unblushing cheeks could never fit within the illuminated border of a holy card. He was eight when Rhonda began her gig as cantor at the cathedral, yet was still small enough to be cradled in her arms. He soon left those arms, though, and began to adopt a street swagger. His mother tenderly aided him in cultivating his J.D. demeanor, working Pomade through his hair, taking her fingernail clippers to the knee of his jeans. At school, he curses God and slithers beneath the habits of the nuns. He strums guitar and snarls about a girl named Sugar. He lost his virginity before his eleventh birthday. Despite his size, girls find him irresistible, for he pads his height with attitude. I once found Dom with Rhondaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s purse open on the floor of the sacristy. He was holding her compact sweetly against his cheek. I ignored him, walked to the wardrobe, and began to pull my alb on over my head. When I emerged from its folds, he was gone. The purse still lay open on the floor. I scanned the room for witnesses, then emptied the bag in search of makeup, but there was nothing. I made due by polishing my lips with my tongue. I removed my shoes and trousers, then bunched my alb up around my knees and strutted around on tiptoe. I distorted my face with various looks of rapture, holding my forehead an inch from the mirror. I imagined 13
myself a bloodthirsty saint. The next Sunday, Dom was in the sacristy again, masculine and composed. He watched me don my alb with a sneer. *** Rhonda warbles and shrieks; the red ring of her mouth contracts and expands in time with the organ. She raises her arms as a haughty cue to sing along. The audience approaches the stage in single file, plowing aside the glitz with a serene armor. Father Bowlin stoops to rest the Host on extended tongues. They receive the body of Christ. They crack and dissolve it against the roofs of their mouths, careful to avoid the blasphemy of teeth. The wafers absorb and circulate and surround every head like a halo. I move to clear the altar and prepare the Host for its return to the tabernacle. I’ve honed my peripheral vision to track Rhonda’s flash and sizzle. Both jealous and enamored of her, I anticipate each hammy expression, each willful display of leg. One Sunday, I waited alone in the sacristy with only a few minutes left before the Mass was scheduled to begin. I’d donned my alb, lit the candles, and was standing offstage and uncertain, my knuckles whitely clutching the brass staff of the processional cross. Father Bowlin was nowhere to be found. The backstage door swung open, and Rhonda and Father Bowlin stumbled through in a cloud of giggles and fermentation. The priest was in the throes of a low-register laugh, his hand over his mouth like an old maid. Rhonda’s head blurred amid a grayspeckled feather boa. They halted when they saw me standing ready in the shadow of the cross. Rhonda wrapped her talons around the doorjamb for support, grinding her jaw toward sobriety. Father Bowlin bent unsteadily to pick a stray feather from her bouffant. Rhonda looked at me as if for the first time, one eyebrow arched in disgust. She let loose a snort, and turned with a dramatic swish. Musky feathers dusted my cheek; a spray of mites and dandruff tickled my nose. She centered her stride as she moved off to put on her choral gown. *** 14
It’s now my time to shine: I place the leftover wafers in the chalice, and drape it with linen for the mass’s solemn denouement. Rhonda steps away from the lectern as the organ eases into a quiet dirge. Before I turn to carry the Eucharist back to its chamber, I see Dom’s head climb to a wobbly new prominence above the horizon of the choir loft. Whatever he’s standing on is unsteady, for he pitches and shifts and struggles for his center of gravity. A report shocks the building—the sound of a foundation snapping in two. Dom topples over the railing and into the crowd below. *** The cathedral is no stranger to disturbances. Bats and pigeons sometimes star in minor comedies here. Flitting down from the bell tower, their entrance provokes a slapstick chase. Winos and madmen, heretics and con artists have interrupted masses, striding up the aisle in the midst of the Liturgy, shouting and cursing and instating themselves as bloodshot nobility. It’s usually a welcome distraction—a giggle for the children, an adrenaline boost for the ushers who escort the intruders back to the street. But a child now lies crumpled between the pews. An outcry arises. The familiar pattern of sitting and rising and kneeling is sloughed as the audience congregates around the body. Rhonda sheds her shoes and races down the aisle, her robe flying higher than ever. She pushes aside the befuddled bystanders, and stoops to cradle her fallen son. Father Bowlin approaches, murmuring words of comfort. He reminds her of her current role, arranging the wrinkles of her face and gown in imitation of the Pieta. A beam of light, gilded by the stained-glass virgin’s halo, alights in Rhonda’s nest of hair. A tear slides down her cheek and glances off Dom’s oily head. I see something else glinting from the floor. It’s a black reflective object, vaguely cone-shaped and three inches long. It’s the evidence of Dom’s folly: the broken heel of one of his mother’s shoes. I clutch the covered chalice, saddened my moment of glory has been stolen, and turn, unseen, to return the sacred objects to their 15
cupboard. My hands, steady around the stem of the cup, stay hidden beneath the shroud as I picture the tiny morsels of flesh cradled in the chalice’s bowl. Saturated in boozy blood, they lurk beneath the innocent cloth. Rhonda has upstaged the stage. Drenched in the audience, she plies a sympathy so complete, she’s no longer a mere actress. I want to get to the meat of a role like that, to claw my way through the linen. But I know I don’t have the nails for it. I loosen my grip on the chalice, slacken its levelness, and drip wine across the carpet and out the door. *** Like most man-made buildings, the cathedral’s vaulted reach for heaven failed. Despite its crucial floor plan with rigid wings of dogma, there was enough echo to allow for uninvited gods. We see this exemplified in the story of the building of the Tower of Babel. Perhaps Dom suffered a similar fate. No one else noticed the broken heel that day, but if they had, would they have understood him any better than I? Most would assume that by cramming his feet into those shoes and striding along the edge of a precipice, he was striving for femininity. Given the tenuous mold of his persona, this is reasonable. I myself witnessed a structural flaw in his machismo that morning in the sacristy. But what if Dom’s quest was for the masculine ideal of height? Babel’s construction was, after all, an act of testosterone-fueled hubris. Either way you look at it, there’s no question that Dom died pretty. Once I lost my more cherubic attributes, I was doomed. Aging men can’t be taxidermied together with feathers and foundation in the same way Rhonda could. And appearance is everything in a vocation like mine. For really, when it comes down to it, I’m nothing but a frustrated actor. I squint at books in this dimness, poring over a pantheon of imaginary roles. Anyone who’s studied scripture will agree: Jesus was a showman. It’s the devil who prefers to work in secrecy. Which one performed magic tricks in front of thousands? And which one prefers to tempt in moments of solitude? 16
I hold this bloodstained linen and squint at it in the confessional, looking for meaning in its scarlet splotches. But no Christ face appears; no virgin comes to turn the stains to roses. The one hint at meaning I’ve found is a Rorschached blot at the outermost edge of the cloth: it resembles a wide-eyed, neckless bird of the night. Some legends say the owl is one of three disobedient sisters and was cursed with nocturnal instincts so that she could never again see the sun. Others say she pecked out her own mother’s eyes in exchange for the gift of flight. I envy her ambition, as foolhardy as it may have been. Few are so adept at posing artifice as instinct. Believe me, I know. It’s a long way to fall in the quest for height, for the heavens, for command of the greatest stage.
Matt Runkle is an Oakland-based writer, cartoonist and book artist. He’s taught workshops in fiction, comics art, visual narrative, sequential collage, and zine making. His fiction will appear in the third issue of Prayers for Children, and his comics are featured in Gay Genius, an anthology newly released from Sparkplug Comic Books. He is currently at work on a collection of short fiction. Visit his website at matt-runkle.com. 17
Susan Dielman ___________________________________________ Pace
Shane Signorino ___________________________________________ Professor Priest & His Hip-Hopping Beast “Darlin, I’ll get all the sleep I need when I’m dead.” -- Sam Elliot My man is one salty dog one madcap professor one midnight mass confessor kneeling down skinned-up knees on splinter wood pew stands, head resting on finger-locked hands with ice-white boxer knuckles, gossamer tear drops soaking the sunday prayer hymnal, king james bible and his drunk grandpa's heirloom rosary beads, reciting three our fathers six hail marys and nine acts of contrition: the mathematical godhead witch doctor remedy for warp speed roman catholic redemption, the sort johnny cash sought in folsom/san quentin the only kind that matters: forgiveness from the lepers, criminals, prostitutes and woebegone who walked the believer's walk with a brown-eyed wooly-haired jesus. My man spits poem songs to trumpets, tomato cans, congos, kazoos and dj uptown beats throwin' down shakespeare, ovid and amethyst rock over his jazzfunk-soul rhythm & blues-hip-hop fusion with one humble hobo goal: bring give-us-new-myths religion cracking open the petrified skulls of eggheads with mescaline and morning glory noonday demon trips, with five and dime wordsmith alchemy straight from the street preacher spouting his soapbox prophecy, Poetry, like government cheese, is for everygoddamnbody, I said Evvvvvery Gaaawwwddamn Baaahhhdyyy, with his wolf bone and xylophone strapped to his hemingway g.i. joe tool belt, with his motel beds that his mama said were not meant for one night stands but much much better things. My man born with one leg too long the other too short, two feet squeezed in black stack-heeled orthopedic shoes, dyslexia and cross-starred love affair with fried food became leonard cohen's old school ladies' man and cheech marin's amante de la mujer wooing the britches off filthy rich suv driving biologists, baroquely-tattooed barmaids bong smoking monologue screaming wild-eyed new york state of mind fried actors, zara the hebrew princess pub hoppin' in milan/uganda/paris, dirty red-freckled dirty red-haired nurses and nubian vibe models with tina turner legs, but he done changed done changed his lecherous ways composing baby-making music cause he just might spread his seed someday be one bad ass daddy/hometown hubby one day never again be lead astray. (stanza break)
My man puts his rusted pen to three morninâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; pages before coffee breakfast and cigarettes growling like tom waits through his junkyard pencil megaphone begging his lowly infidels come on up to the house belly up to the bar then howl wail and banshee bellow to granddad-absentee-landlord bushy white beard jehovah who's too busy playing grand trickster games with your manifest destiny smiling like one silly ass jell-o pudding pop bill cosby so now comes the time to let it roll baby roll roll on like backdoor bacchanals bringing southernfried-soul-food cheap-grease-wheel-booze and reverend run grooves to the brokeback tempest tossed the wretched glorious refuse the freakdom and forlorn who need this medicine show bohemian rhapsodist to sing their bodies wild and electric. My man spawns second city skit comedy in his brooklyn-eese diego mafia kingpin speak busting out wilde one liners like older the chicken, the sweeter the soup, the early bird gets the perm, once i knew a stripper who spent all her money on clothes, being so fat in school i WAS the eighth grade and my mama got carpel tunnel from making my sandwiches, shall do my best to write scatologically-free rhetoric but poop is oh so so poetic, if i sling one more latte i might beat the rich bastards and suck out their brains like raccoons drinking crack-shelled egg yolk, exploding mad hatter laughter to all in need of truly bawdy balm and big-bellied buddha guffaws, soothing the workday maladies for his gaggle of tramps troubadours boxcar hoppers & american slave laborers. My man worked the pipelines in oklahoma swindled fat and tall business men into buying overpriced three piece power suits did the high rise hotel bellhop gig whispering yes sir no problem sir be right there sir can i help you sir anything you need sir of course sir stalking the front lobby sidewalks in chicago blizzards bundled up like grade school kids wondering is this it, how in the fuck did i get here, life ain't nothinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; but dead somedays before riding his old pony back home to dried-up cornfields holy roller dead baby billboards twenty-four hour walmarts piggies-in-a-trough all you can eat all night buffets but he got himself other plans: transform/transmute/transist/transmogriphy/transcend his all too well-worn gotta-die-by-twenty-five-if-i-ainâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t-famous pawnshop philosophy. Shane Signorino is a poet and actor who seeks to combine street sonics with Prospero's wizard speak. He dedicates this poem to his compatriot in poetry crime: Squanto.
Alfredo Toscano ___________________________________________ A Maior Lingua do Recife
Greg Tebbano ___________________________________________ Our House After the break-in the front door was open and that’s how we knew, as dark in there as it was on the street and as cold. Ours was an old house, every window a sunken eye, each door too small for its frame. If you weren’t careful the front door would drift open a moment after you left it, the deadbolt releasing and the phantom that had been following you breathing itself inside. Erica said maybe we forgot to lock it. I don’t think she believed that. *** A week after they broke in Eli hung himself, wrapped a light switch chain twice around his neck with no need for a knot because of the friction. And Rachel found herself wondering, when he stepped off the desk had the light gone off? Or on? In the days that followed Rachel stayed home from school. Her mother spoke to her in nothing louder than a whisper, mentioned counseling as though it were one of the many sandwiches she offered to make her daughter for lunch. For her part, Rachel sunk herself into bed, crying handkerchiefs into cold compresses and remembering the last time she and Eli kissed in her attic bedroom, the long winter light turning red beyond her closed eyes. Rachel remembered how they had shared blood. She wondered if in some cultures this made her his heir or possibly his widow. They used a needle passed once through a flame, pricked and pressed their palms until it felt as though a pane of glass separated them—a window on a train or in a visitation room—and one of them would be going away for a long time. *** Rachel and Eli did everything together, all kinds: mushrooms and salvia, which was like setting fire to yourself. LSD. Pot, of course. Robotrips that ended in puddles of fake cherry vomit. They had not had sex. He had toyed. She had teased, but 22
nothing. Slowly its absence had evolved into a third presence that followed them around, a stray cat that rubbed and weaved underfoot and would not let them forget it. The closest they had come was once after dropping acid when Rachel watched a grey worm drip from Eli’s eye and fitfully make its way across the rug toward her splayed legs. It came so quickly—a silverfish, a cold peroxide trickle along her thigh. Screaming, she tore her button skirt from her legs and whipped it against herself, finally standing half naked before him, perfectly level with his mouth. A moment passed then, a long minute. She thought that this was it he was going to and she wanted him to, but instead he reached for the bed and the afghan to drape around her. Then they were searching the floor for the worm, under the bed, in the closet—all the dark places evil preferred. And when they couldn’t find it anywhere she knew it was inside her. *** Later, much later, a detective would sit me in a faux woodpaneled room and ask if I knew Eli Ferrar. Had I ever heard of a girl named Rachel Anderson? Did either of them have permission to be in our house on the night of March 17? When I’d shake my head, the detective would ask me to sign a document saying so. Then he’d thank me. This, he’d explain, is all they would need. *** On that night in March we did not know their names. They were as mysterious to Erica and me as our own front door drifting on its hinges. We peered into the blackness beyond and watched the moving door as though charmed. Shock is what they call it. “They broke in.” He or she. They. “What?” Then I was running through the house as they had run— carelessly, tripping over imaginary objects. Most of what you’d expect was missing: our laptop; my acoustic guitar; a steel box that had my passport and bank statements and tax returns and social security card and photos of Erica and I vacationing on the Panhandle or in foggy Maine. My bulky cell phone from the early 23
part of the decade lay overlooked at the foot of the bed and I heard in my head the joke that must have passed between them. I ducked in and out of each room half hoping for a hand on my ankle—to be pulled unawares into the ring where I could win back what had been taken from us with a few strokes of measurable violence. But there was no hand, only Erica who hadn’t made it past the doorway, who stood in a mound of our winter clothes that had been dumped out of a basket. She was shaking in her coat and hat and I could hear her teeth chattering against each other like a cup of dice hitting the table. “It’s all gone,” I said. *** “Strange boy, Eli.” That was what Rachel’s mother said about him. What everyone said. You know that boy, have seen him lurking. At Cumberland Farms and used record stores, thumbing on the overpass. Some boys with back-sized tattoos are perfectly normal. Some are raised by their grandparents. Though very few, it turns out, are driven back to the hospital where they were born and left standing in the lobby of the maternity ward as though there had been some mistake. He had been the wrong size or kind and they were returning him. *** Erica called the police. There was a scab of emergency numbers from the seventies inside one of the kitchen cabinets but none of the extensions had changed because dispatch picked up and asked if there was anyone else in the house. Were we in the house? “You need to get out this instant!” I heard the woman saying it over and over. I held the door for Erica who paused to go through our stuff on the floor, putting each glove and ball cap in her hand like she was picking up after a child and then dropping the pile all at once. “Can you believe it? They took my cigarettes.” *** 24
Rachel didn’t have to wonder what it was like to be left behind because Eli wore it all the time. It was a tremendous cape or a puffy coat, distorted armor that barely suggested the outline of a person somewhere inside. His whole life since she’d known him had been an escape from the memory of his abandonment. Jumping off the bridge at Rexford—waiting shirtless for no cops and then letting go of himself into the river. She did it once with him. They held hands and she saw the water flying up, her heart and guts folding up as neatly as clothes from the dryer as they fell through their own screams. Or there was the night Rachel watched him put a brick and his hand through the windshield of a very old Honda Accord. Afterward they’d had to smuggle the bloody mess past her mother in a book bag. She sat across from him in the attic pulling glass out of his knuckles with a tweezers. He chewed down on an old stuffed bear so as not to cry out. “They had a car like that.” She hardly heard him with the bear’s arm crammed into his mouth. A bit of cotton cartilage poked out an incisor-sized hole in the bear’s neck when he breathed and it looked to her like he had killed it that way, with his teeth. *** When Erica called the police, dispatch told us to wait outside. We leaned ourselves up against the car, parked on the street, and Erica started in on how she hated other people. How hard was it to get through life without getting run over by some asshole in a hurry, speeding down a shortcut? Lately she had been wearing an aura of hormones and was hypersensitive to other presences nearby. You didn’t even have to say anything shrewd or insensitive, though if these came out they were knives. You just had to be standing too close—I was, and I could practically feel the electricity jumping off her as she kept checking the same pockets for a spare cigarette. “It’s just stuff,” I said. At the same time I wondered if tomorrow my new identity would be waking up in Montreal, in a plush suite with a ravaged mini-bar. “We’re fine. See?” I pulled her hand in my unzipped jacket across my chest where no bullets had passed. 25
She kicked a last stubborn patch of snow. “Could you go in that house, see those pictures of us—our nieces, those panda bears— and just take? I’ll bet you they weren’t junkies or pros or anything. I bet they were entitled little pricks.” What could I say? She was probably right. I tasted saliva and the cold curling against the roof of my mouth and wondered if tonight I’d be lying down beside my wife or a hot hissing pan or a French-Canadian hooker. Then I saw the cruiser doing fifty backwards down our oneway street, all lights and no sirens. Like someone rewinding a film. *** As terrifying as Eli’s behavior could be, usually those were Rachel’s favorite times with him: when they weren’t fighting or sulking, just feeling, and she knew if you lived your whole life that way you didn’t live long. And though Eli never spoke of killing himself, she heard death coursing just beneath his surface—the low hum that accompanies an old bulb before a crumbling filament puts it out. Eli was waiting for broken glass to find his wrist or the river to catch him like an empty street and Rachel knew and did nothing. She knew friends were supposed to shake friends by their collars and tell them how much they meant, how much they had to look forward to, or at the very least tell Mrs. Abraham, the school guidance counselor who spent her whole day under a Suicide: The Warning Signs poster. But Rachel wasn’t a friend that way. She listened to him, went where he went, did what he wanted because she thought she loved him and, with nothing to compare it to, loved him more than anyone. She thought of herself partly as a mother, one who didn’t chastise, didn’t curfew, but was there to bandage his hands. The perfect mother who wouldn’t vanish at the first sign of hellfire. On the night of the break-in she had been there for him, on strange streets under a drunken parasail. They had just killed a bottle of Old Grand-Dad and decided to go out exploring, jumping over each windy shadow as it threatened to rise up from the pavement. She looked when Eli pointed at the house on the corner— 26
quaint and rickety and floating in an island of dark silence. Not a car on the street nor a light in any of the rooms and the whole neighborhood quiet as a quarantine. “There’s one,” he said and she looked at his eyes. Gone, already inside. She hadn’t needed to ask. “One what?” *** The police burst into our place like action figures too big for the dollhouse, their boots heavy and long on the wooden floors. There were three of them and they had names like TV cops: McGuire and Sally and one of the other two called Rookie. He was younger than Erica and me and spent most of his time bent forward at the neck leaning into a small reporter’s notebook. They were nice enough asking for our IDs and passing a pen light quickly over our eyes. “Do you know anyone who would do you harm?” McGuire asked, his head shaved to the follicles but for a tight patch of fairway up top. “You know, have it out for you?” “Nobody,” I said. Then McGuire asked Erica, and I looked at her like maybe there was someone I was forgetting. I wondered if for a second she thought of me, the homebody who was keeping her locked up behind a tight grid of streets and away from her true home, the rolling country east of here where you could get ticks or sunburned, but not broken into. Where your door would shut and you wouldn’t have to lock it. Since I’d known Erica she’d wanted to try her hand at farming which you couldn’t do on a patch of rented earth that collected discarded scratch tickets and the largest size soda cups from Wendy’s. The city was a hundred elbows on her armrest. It was people not minding their own business. But what she hated, I enjoyed: the anonymity of my elbow in a crowd. Walking everywhere and at night casually spying into each lit window. When we fought on the subject she accused me of sticking only to what I knew, which was two decades of the suburbs. I, in turn, would ask how she expected us to pay a mortgage on a pitchfork paycheck. 27
It got bad. Some days we weren’t living in the same house at all but inside the future homes in our heads, elaborately complete and opposite and only when we sat down together for dinner would we realize the distance. Then would begin the slow process of casing each other’s perimeters, feeling out the right line to try first in the lock. *** “You know what today is?” Eli asked. He and Rachel were on the back porch of the old house he had chosen. The door had not been locked and no lights had gone on and now they were surrounded by someone else’s junk. Wine bottles and books, kids’ books—Babar and Strawberry Shortcake, books Rachel used to have. The day we become felons, she thought, and maybe he heard her because he was wrapping his hand in a dirty rag and then punching the glass out of the door that would let them inside. And though she was right there it was a sound she heard from far off—a morning gunshot in deer season when you don’t think Wow, a life has ended. You just keep on eating your cereal. “It’s Good Friday,” he said and then she heard the deadbolt pop, the released chain jingling against the molding. “Guess these bunnies are early,” she said. In her head Rachel heard the tired mantra from Sunday school and the Easter lesson: Has died, has risen, will come again. Christ, christ, christ. Back then it sounded like one word to her. The door was open now but Eli was just standing there clenching the point of glass with his bare hand. “Eli, what are you—” She pulled his hand away, pressing the wrist so he had to open it and show her the red dot spreading out from the center. *** McGuire found how they got in. We all went to him and saw curtains billowing up from the porch door to the kitchen, the missing jigsaw of glass beyond. Here is where a hand had passed, letting a body enter. Sally took photos with a digital camera and they looked like photos taken by accident—a doorknob, an open drawer, the bed 28
sheet tossed back. The flash gave these shots an urgency, catching not the aftermath but the incident. Each was from the view of a dilated eye as it wavered between what to leave and what to take and how much time. *** Once inside, Rachel began to feel pinpoints of numbness at what they were doing: trespassing. It was a word enunciated by snakes. And now they were scavenging in the dark through someone else’s smell, pungent in its unfamiliarity. Almost like incense, almost like Indian food. She could see the people who lived here in their photos. He was tall and skinny like Eli, but curly, and she was blonde and smooth looking, her skin weathered statue stone in the grey halflight. And there were no toys, no crib—thank God, what would she have done if there were a crib? Or if they’d been home? She pictured herself standing behind Eli as they were found out, the popping blue veins that anger forced up from his neck. Eli didn’t like to fight, but he would, and when he did, he was never fighting the other guy, but something dark and vacuous that couldn’t be hit anyway. Rachel had never fought anyone except Louisa Hermes last year on the lacrosse fields. Girls weren’t supposed to be good at punching, were supposed to only scratch and pull hair, but when Louisa had accused her of “fucking that psychopath” her fingers had come together automatically in a fist. What goaded her wasn’t the fucking. It was the idea that Eli was crazy, or that this was the part of him she adored. She was in love with the other Eli—not the boy who had impaled himself on a point of glass, but the Eli who came after, who patiently watched the bloom of blood like it was a ripple in a pond emanating from a skipped stone. “No one’s here,” Eli said and she felt a hand on her far shoulder, his good hand. They were together and for now, this was their house. “We’re here,” she said. Then they spread out to see what belonged to them. *** The cops had left, apologizing a hundred times for leaving our 29
kitchen under the dusting of black vinyl they’d used on the broken window. It had picked up a print, but the stuff was as stubborn as sap or blood, resistant to vinegar. Erica went upstairs for tea tree oil. I went to the kitchen for bourbon and stopped at every window expecting to see them crouched and laughing in ski masks, poised to rush in and finish us off. But each time there were only trees and the shadows made by street lights and all of it provokingly quiet. What now? Deactivate my credit cards. Invalidate my passport. Cancel myself. Every misfortune had its prescription: a rape was followed by shower. Overdose? Induce vomiting. TV taught you what to do. But burglaries? The best I could come up with was a Van Morrison record that I put on ridiculously loud. I thought of the flutes and saxophones fluttering through the shadowy recesses of that old house, chasing every last demon out through the cracks in the window casings. Erica and I cleaned the kitchen floor together. We passed a bottle of Wild Turkey and slugged back each nagging why us? We were hardly wealthy. For that survey question which asks you to describe your combined annual income I always checked the second box, the first range that didn’t start with a zero. Erica made the point that if they were juvies they’d probably be us in ten years. “Assholes,” she said. They were stealing from themselves. I wondered if maybe we’d been hit because of how we lived: small, with tube television and one car, shunning material possessions at every turn. Maybe our asceticism was a magnet. Little attracted less. “You mean we’re teaching ourselves a lesson,” she said. Then, imitating me: “It’s just stuff, right?” “At least you still have your identity,” I said. I thought about the minutia that I’d preserved in the steel box they’d taken and wondered why. I pictured them reading the line items on a credit card statement and how little it said about me. Maybe they knew I’d spent $12.80 in gas at the Church St. Getty on the third of February, but that wasn’t me—how I’d lingered a moment after the pump stopped to watch a fast-moving pack of clouds release the moon. 30
“So who are you now?” she asked. I paused for a moment to look around, as if this person might be in the room. But there was nobody, just Van Morrison and his ragtag choir singing, Ev-er-y-one ev-er-y-one ever-y-one ever-yone. *** Of all the oddities in the strangers’ house—shelves of terrariums and jungle plants, tiny dioramas—Rachel found herself attracted most to the fish tank. It held the only light in the place and seemed sacred to her. A board and two cinderblocks passed for an aquarium stand, and in one of the round nooks of a brick Rachel found a little pad with a sharpie in the spiral binding. It was some sort of log containing dates when new fish were added and the dead ones removed, their final resting places noted. In the azaleas. Under the pines. Eli had gone upstairs and Rachel heard him rummaging and packing things, the distinct finality of a zipper, and it reminded her of going on vacation, the end of school and how the calendar distilled itself into a single hot day that repeated endlessly. It was what these fish had, the one day: the same company to chase, the same spidery plants to hide amongst. It was what she and Eli had: the same streets, the attic bedroom. The only difference was that she and Eli were onto the glass. It was why Eli liked putting his fist through it so often. Rachel uncapped the sharpie and wrote a message on the tank, backwards so the fish could read it: we too are confined by boundaries we cannot see. A day later Erica would find the note, smudged but still legible, and forget what she was doing. *** “What if they come back?” We were getting ready for bed and I had all the lights off because otherwise they could see the flat black shapes of us, pulling shirts over our heads and doing the stretches I learned in eighth grade. “They’re not coming back,” I said, and I thought, what if they do come back? “They’re probably pissing in their pants right now.” 31
I knew I needed something just in case and came up from the basement with my old Louisville Slugger. It was wooden, from before the dawn of aluminum bats and short enough that I’d probably be stabbed or shot before I finished swinging, but it felt good to hold something solid in both hands as I climbed the stairs. After we got into bed, under the fresh sheets that Erica had changed I had the idea to put dumbbells against all the doors. Not that they would stop anybody. But they’d make noise, give me precious seconds to choke up on the bat and square off my stance—to ready myself for the red laces that would come tumbling like a bloodshot eye in the dark. *** “What if they come back?” Rachel asked. They were in the bedroom, under the comforter and the first blanket. According to Eli, it was gross to lie on sheets where other people had slept. She was surprised at how many blankets had been made up with the covers. It must have been a very old house. A cold one. “We’ll just apologize,” said Eli. “And leave.” He was lying with his hands behind his head, her cheek on his chest. Every now and then he leaned forward to bat the ball end of a long cord from the overhead light and they would watch it dance across the darkness like a nervous pendulum. “Seriously—what would you do, Eli, if you came home to find Goldilocks in your bed?” Eli pulled an arm down so it followed the line of her torso down to her hips. “I will never live in a house like this.” She knew he was right. At least not with her. That’s why this domestic aside was something to be cherished. She breathed it in, the smell of him and these foreign sheets, and floated in it. Sure, the booze was there, the adrenaline. They added buoyancy. But Rachel was exhilarated most by the quiet normalcy of the moment, Eli’s hand growing heavier on her lap as they listened to the strange sounds the house made. Rachel learned how it creaked at the joints in the wind, how the thermostat buzzed before kicking on. As she 32
rode the rise and fall of Eli’s chest she tried to separate these from what might be footsteps on the porch or a hand at the door—sounds the intruders would make when they arrived.
Greg Tebbano is subconsciously sabotaging his chances for a normal life. His stories have appeared in Nimrod, Folio, 322 Review and Chum. He is currently at work on his first novel, “If She Doesn’t Exist, Why Do I Miss Her?” 33
Daniel Romo _______________________________________________ POW You perched on the porch. Soiled wifebeater clung to your mountainous belly of barley and June sweat. Gleam of empty aluminum cans by your side: beacons of belligerence. Chronic cigarette smoke signals helped to blur your vision. My class had just finished studying the Apache. I ran shirtless inside the house armed with plastic bow and arrow chasing imaginary buffalo that resembled worn couches. Our family always the hunter窶馬ever the gatherer. I once overheard your brothers saying the voices came years ago, after you returned. Said you frequently mumbled about all the fathers slaughtered, all the children killers. The spill trickled down the steps like liquid kamikaze, and consumed the cement like a determined disease. I dove into my foxhole under my bed. Your deliberate steps were mortar launches. Your fists were exploding grenades.
The Office God no! He turned it sideways. – Date Night I ride my mountain bike to work. My students call me 40-year-old Virgin. I have two kids, a wife, and 30-something-year-old lower back pain. My hair is brown, sometimes parted like Steve Carell’s. The class is currently reading To Kill a Mockingbird. I’ve read it five periods a day for a decade. I’ve seen the same dead possum on Bellflower Blvd. for three days now. His eyes are gone, but his mouth is open: teeth glowing like miniature ivory daggers. I told the students Harper Lee doesn’t hate black people. They understood why she uses the N word and gave their approval, Fo’ sho. Atticus put a silver bullet in the yellow dog with rabies. He never told his children he was such a good sniper. But the majority of Maycomb knew of his skill at killing. Only a few of the teachers know I write. Most of my poems are written when I should be grading papers. Most of the ultimately graded papers are marked with undesirable red letters at the top—metaphors for life support. Sometimes the letters even look like blood. Many of the students will learn how to fake their way throughout life. Others will claim territorial colors, drop out of school, and ultimately learn the kill shot.
Advice Don’t worry, Scout, wait. Wait to tell Atticus the kiss shared with Dill behind the Black Oak was a fizzled spark, dark like dinginess of the Radley lot. You were young, the sky was a husky cinnamon of dusk, and your mother is dead. You never saw that type of affection displayed in your house and had to experience it for yourself. Wait to tell Atticus the boy’s bowl cut you had growing up was butch enough to last you the rest of your life, and that doily dresses never fit you for a reason. Blame it on the change in seasons, how the leaves couldn’t decide whether to be a blatant bloom of self-expression, or closeted remnants of what used to be. And Scout, when you’re a teen torn between the traditional ways of Maycomb folk, and the ideas that shook your soul found in boundless books you read preparing for the world outside Alabama lines, consider the ways to sit down with the man you never call Dad. Consider the loss of your mother. Consider how to tell Atticus, Miss JeanLouise Finch is dead too.
Dreamcatcher Kool and The Gang reunite to throw a party. They need a theme song for the night. Be too tacky to play their own celebratory anthem. Like Barry White making love to Barry White. They invite the Village People to perform. Though now they resemble residents of an old folks home. But the crowd still responds, equating Young man . . . with their youth. Things get out of hand; Kool and the Gangâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s grandchildren are incorrigibles who crash the party and mistake alphabet arms for gang signs. The cop pulls out his plastic nightstick to restore order. The leatherman cracks his whip formerly reserved for other pleasures. The cowboy pulls out his rusty six-shooter and fires into the sky. An eagle crashes down like a bloody comet. The Indian laments the loss. Scalps the misguided children. Collects the feathers.
Daniel Romo is an MFA candidate at Queens University of Charlotte, but represents the LBC. His poetry can be found in Fogged Clarity, MiPoesias, Scythe, Praxilla, and elsewhere. His first book of poetry, Romancing Gravity, is forthcoming from Pecan Grove Press. More of his writing can be found at danielromo.wordpress.com 37
Patricia Delgadillo ___________________________________________ Marionettes
Laura Madeline Wiseman ___________________________________________ The Exchange Somewhere in a train heading away from the deep gorge of Loch Ness, a motley green stocking cap hides where all things go when lost, wedged between seat cushions, wadded in a corner with trash, or prone along the steel girders of the tracks, damp, half-frozen, unable to rise as the caboose passes to call out a cold, monotone So long. My hands fumbled about empty for the hat as my train rumbled southward, delayed for an hour as conductors cajoled a stray ass that had wandered onto the rails to graze and then picked up speed again past the remains of Hadrianâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s wall. Then something made me glance up to the metal luggage rack above to see a scarf, a fuchsia riot of plaid with ends that danced with the thrum of the engine. I pulled it down to me and searched the car for anyone with that desperate look of abandonment until I saw my own face there reflected in the train window (cont.) 39
as we sped through shadows of a tunnel, lined and blanched, except for the eyes that shook circled in an unknown darkness. I wrapped the long, thin arm of it around my neck and waited for this stranger to accompany me home.
Donna Vorreyer ___________________________________________ Rites of Spring Gardening, I come to the place where we buried our first dog, the dirt now sprouted with daylilies and sprigs of weedy thistle. My husband dug the hole in early fall when her hips began to fail, before the ground became unbreakable. She lasted until March, the plot covered in plywood and late snow. I pull the thistleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s gangly roots, hoping for orange blossoms instead of burrs. I try not to think of her bones beneath, the beetles that pick her carcass clean of the sleek, black fur that once velveted my hand. Ghost ants haunt the undersides of upturned rocks and branches, scribble their white calligraphy of industry. Our golden retriever limps up, nudges her grey muzzle at my elbow, collapses her own crooked hips beside me. She does not rise until I do, her front legs bearing the slow bones of her backside. I stoop to bury my face in her neck as if love could keep her from this dirt. As if love could fail as easily as flesh, as flower. As if it were that frail. Donna Vorreyer spends her days convincing middle-schoolers that words matter. Her work has appeared in many journals including Weave, Cider Press Review, qaartsiluni, and Rhino. She is a contributor to the blog Voice Alpha, and you can also find her online at her blog Put Words Together; Make Meaning. 41
Michelle Gluch ___________________________________________ Water Colors
Gretchen Stahlman ___________________________________________ Nose Unplugged My first swim lesson since signing up for a triathlon at age fifty: at the community center pool, holding to the edge, face in the water, blowing bubbles in the water like a child. Although I can survive in water, I can’t swim for distance. In nine months’ time, I must swim 1.2 miles across a New Hampshire Lake. A high school boy teaches us, smiling indulgently at the class of six in which I am the youngest. Blowing out with my face in the water as he instructs, I then turn to the side to inhale, and chlorinated water gushes up my nose. It burns, filling my sinuses, searing the tender tissue. Coughing, pulling at my nose, I try it again, again the flood. By the end of class, I’m cradling my face in my hands, clipping the bridge of my nose with my fingers to prevent even the chlorine-scented air from entering. “How do I keep the water from going up my nose?” I ask the boy. He shrugs, doesn’t have that problem, suggests I get a nose clip. I ask all the avid swimmers I know how they deal with the problem. It doesn’t happen to them. One friend describes how she plugs her nose from inside, as if she’s imitating Edith-Ann, a character by Lily Tomlin who talks like she has a bad cold. I try but I can’t do it. Like blowing your nose, she says. I’ve never been able to do that either. *** We take breathing for granted: inhale, exhale, repeat. When we breathe in, air is sucked up the nostrils and into the nasal cavity where it is filtered, warmed, and humidified before being drawn into the lungs. So simple, it's a baby's first act in the outside world. The nose on our face is there strictly to focus the air into the nasal cavity. Nose hair filters out the largest particles but the true work is done by the turbinates that reside protected inside the nasal cavity. These thick tubes of tissue come in three sizes: the largest and closest to the roof of the mouth heats and humidifies the air; the middle turbinate closes off the sinuses; and the small, upper 43
turbinate serves and protects our sense of smell. These three work together like thumb, index, and middle finger, independent but coordinated in keeping air flowing in and out of the body as needed. About ninety percent of people can control their turbinates, leaving ten percent of us who cannot. Anything that enters the nose—air or water, sweet scent or stench—sweeps past into the body. *** When Nick was born, I did not want him to be the poor swimmer that I was, that my mother was before me, so I signed up for a water babies class; my infant son might remember the water like the womb he’d left only six months earlier. As soon as he entered the pool, his legs kicked like a frog, his face open wide in laughter, trying to squirm from my arms to propel himself through the water. Let go, the instructor insisted, he will instinctively hold his breath. I was afraid to release my grasp on him, afraid that if I relinquished my careful watch over him, he would die. But his eagerness reassured me, so I let go and he sank, then bobbed to the surface, eyes wide open, snorting and kicking with glee. Afterwards, wrapped in a towel, he smelled of chlorine and baby powder and joy. *** For two weeks in May, the place where I live and run proves its title, Lilac Capital of the World. Nearly every yard sports a lilac bush, most in a pale purple but some with blooms as dark as concord grapes, others white as popcorn. New bushes come to my waist but most in my sixties vintage neighborhood tower over my head, like multi-trunked trees with branches that stretch up and out, their tips drooping where blooms cluster. Stepping off the asphalt road, I run in the grass to let blossoms brush my face, closing my eyes to their cool softness. Sometimes their sweetness stops me altogether; I pause to bury my face in an armload of fragrance. This is the perfume of my childhood, my sons’ childhoods when we visited Highland Park, the boys sniffing as many of the five hundred varieties as their noses could reach, consulting each other as tiny judges on which were the best. Once in 44
Los Angeles, I visited my aunt who had lived all over the world, including New Hampshire. At a florist shop, she pressed her face into the bouquet lilacs for sale, inhaled deeply, then slowly pulled away, weeping. “I miss the seasons,” she said. “Lilacs mean home in springtime.” *** When air is sucked up the nose, the largest particles are filtered out by nose hair. Near the turbinates, smaller particles cling to cilia like flies to sticky paper. Scents, carried in by minuscule particles, slip past the other barriers to attach themselves to odorant receptors in the upper nasal cavity. The smallest, uppermost turbinate is a trap door to the pea-sized olfactory bulb that passes the scented neurons to the brain. It’s not until that connection is made that we smell cobbler baking in the oven, flowers blooming, the baby's diaper that needs changing. When a scent hits the brain, the neurons scatter themselves into zones, not clustering in one place. Scents sort themselves and self-categorize, and when the aroma is experienced again, it is identified and stored in the same location in the brain. Time and again, we save the same scent, committing it to memory, strengthening our recall. Humans recognize up to ten thousand single odors, constantly assessing new and emphasizing old. The new hope of spring mixes with the gloom of fall; all scents must be stored so we can access them later, if the need arises. *** As the sun comes up, I start a ride of forty-five miles before work plies me with guilt that I should be working, not biking. My stomach gurgles; it can handle little more than a protein drink at five a.m. For nearly three hours, I am riding on empty. The best roads are the deserted ones, devoid of cars and trucks and exhaust. Each ride is a map of scents. This road: shoots of corn rise from clumps of soil that hold last night’s rain. That road: a marsh where skunk cabbage blooms in imitation of its namesake. This stretch: a farmer in a gasmask sprays chemicals, clouds of compounds billowing behind his tractor. That stretch: bacon, eggs, 45
toast, coffee from a home where the blue star flag—the sign of a son at war—hangs in the window. Left turn: fish surrendered on the shore of a pond. Right turn: wild roses that invade the drainage ditch. Town: carbon monoxide farted from a school bus. Country: manure. Home: the scent of myself wearing wind and early sun. On this day, the smell of bacon and eggs has hitched a ride, drafting every mile. I arrive home exhausted, spent. I wake my son Paul. “Can you make me eggs?” For once, he doesn’t complain about me waking him before noon; later he tells me that he dared not when he saw the dazed look on my face. He moves to the kitchen while I lie on the living room floor, waiting for the smell of bacon fluttering in the pan, eggs crackling, bread browning in the toaster. “I might be too old for this,” I whine. “They call Lance Armstrong ‘old’ and I’ve got fifteen years on him.” My hamstrings struggle to relax, slowly working relief up my legs to my spasming lower back. “You know what they call athletes your age?” Paul calls from the kitchen. “No, what?” “Retired.” This makes me laugh. Good point. Most people have stopped doing these things just at the age I started; in middle age, I am embracing my youth. Pulling up my knees to my chest to stretch my back, rocking from side to side, I listen to Paul in the kitchen. The refrigerator door opens, orange juice is poured, the door closes again. “Ready,” Paul calls. By the time I reach the table, he has returned to his room. The plate is beautiful, slick with bacon grease, eggs shining like morning. The toast sops up the yolks, the juice lubes my wind-brushed throat, life returns to my weary body. A good ride today. Past the blue star flag in my window, a cyclist climbs the hill in front of my house. He breathes heavily, jaw jutted forward. I want to throw open the window to let the scent of bacon and eggs urge the rider home. *** 46
Before my second swim lesson, I purchase a nose clip, a curved wire with rubber nose pads that meet at the ends to clamp my nostrils shut. Pushing off into the water, I turn my head to breathe, able to inhale only through my mouth. No rush of water into my nose, no burning of my tender turbinates as I swim across the pool and rest on the far side, panting through my mouth. Using the clip leaves me more breathless because I’m inhaling only through one source, not two, but it’s a small price to pay. The more I use the nose clip, the less fearful I am that water will sink me to the bottom of the pool. *** The main olfactory system detects scents that we are aware of: coffee brewing, brushfire, eggs frying. We react consciously to these smells: pour a cup, grab a fire extinguisher, eat breakfast. But secret parts of the nose are at work: the vomeronasal organ is beyond the cartilage that divides the nostrils. Pheromones inhaled from people around us deploy themselves into the accessory olfactory bulb where they are decoded into base instincts. A mother recognizes her child, a child his mother, both unknowingly recognize danger, ease coming only when reunited in safety. *** The mail carrier backs her Jeep into my driveway. She has two boxes to deliver: a battered footlocker and a brown cardboard box with Arabic letters translated as “Kuwait Flour & Baking Company.” “Let me get Paul,” I tell her, because the boxes will be heavy, but really, it feels right that a little brother should bring home his big brother’s detritus from war. Paul shuffles into sneakers and hoists the boxes, pretending they aren’t heavy as hell. “He’ll be home soon,” the postal carrier says to me. “I have four in my family.” She means she is waiting for four family members to return, a burden beyond imagining for me. I have held my breath through Nick’s two deployments to Iraq. Paul drops his brother's boxes in the hallway, and we stand together to stare at them, wondering what they hold, what to do with them. Nick has the key to the footlocker so that must wait for him, but we debate opening the box, finally deciding that we should: if it’s 47
laundry, I’ll wash and dry Nick’s clothes, so nice for him to come home to that chore done. Paul hopes it contains hand grenades but I am certain it does not. He uses a box cutter to slit the packing tape. A stench erupts from the opened carton. “Smells like camel ass,” he howls. “Not that good,” I mutter. My eyes tear and Paul dances around, twirling from the stink. Even Febreze cannot cover the smell of dried sweat fermented in Nick’s cammies. Grime and hair and lint clog the Velcro closures; the stiff fabrics and netting are covered in fine grit, everything a shade of sand. When we close the box, the smell dissipates. “You can wash that crap. I’m not opening that box again,” Paul says. I shake my head. “I’m not that good of a Mom. Nick made this mess, he can clean it up.” The closed box and the footlocker stand in the hallway where we walk around them every time we move through the house. Days, weeks pass; I sweep around the boxes. Nick leaves his base in Iraq, and although during brief phone calls he complains of boredom while he waits ten days for a transport plane in Kuwait, I feel some relief that he’s out of the worst of it. He lands in North Carolina and I can breathe again. He wants me to send him the footlocker at Camp LeJeune and I do, but he says the box can wait. A month passes. Still, I do not move or open the box. What if he never walks through the door as I fear that he might not, that he will be called back, that somehow the war will reclaim him before I have a chance? If he doesn’t return, I want that box exactly as it is, in case I need to fill my body with the scent of my son at war. *** Nearly all of us will experience degradation in our ability to smell as we age. Most of us experience a temporary loss through a cold or sinus allergies, but some people develop anosmia, a permanent inability to perceive odors. Some diseases, such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease, as well as mental health dysfunction such as depression, can affect the ability to smell. A head injury can sever the connection to the olfactory 48
bulb. Chemical hazards, such as repeated exposure to noxious substances like chlorine, can bring anosmia on. *** After six months of learning to swim, I can now move securely through the water. Slow-going, yes, but moving my arms and legs simultaneously no longer leaves me breathless. Studying the swimmers around me, I try to see what they do differently so I can improve. No one uses a nose clip. To be a good swimmer, not just a survival swimmer, I should wean myself from the clip. YouTube videos instruct me to keep my chin down when turning to breathe: my head angle turns my nose, literally, into a funnel that pours water into my head. At the pool, I practice this positioning of my nostrils so they are unfillable, but no matter what I do, water leaps up my nose and burns my sinus passages. For hours afterwards, I smell nothing but chlorine. *** Nine months have passed since I took my first swim lesson. Tomorrow morning, I leave for New Hampshire where I will complete the longest swim of my life, 1.2 miles, in a half-Ironman. The list of the gear I need is lengthy and detailed: running shoes, socks, triathlon shorts and top, wetsuit, goggles, bike, helmet. Nose clip and, just in case, a backup nose clip. My mind is circling over the list, the pile of stuff, adding things in, taking things out, making sure I have everything. The piles mount in the hall where Nick’s stinky box sat for months before he came home to be teased about its pungency. Paul wants to make cobbler from the peaches I bought at the market, finally ripe enough, soft as a baby’s cheek. He has a recipe that he shows me on his phone. He had all day; now it’s six p.m., seven, eight, and he has yet to start. “I need your help, Mom,” he says. He doesn’t. I don’t have time or patience to help him do what he can do on his own. He knows I’m irritated, sees the piles in the hall, the crumpled lists, my muttering about why things are not where I put them. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” he says. OK, I say, show me the recipe. His phone lights up. We scroll 49
through the ingredients, the instructions, and I tell him to boil water to dip the peaches, making it easier to remove the skins. Meanwhile, get everything else ready, and he does, but he interrupts me again and again with questions. Mom check this, Mom am I doing this right, Mom Mom Mom. It is nine p.m. by the time he puts the cobbler in the oven. I have finished packing and want to go to bed to get my last night of good rest before the race. “Aren’t you going to try my cobbler?” Paul asks. I want to say no, I don’t care about cobbler, I care only about this event that will prove something I cannot name. I cannot disappoint this son at home. Call me when it’s ready. At the computer to busy myself with nothing, I check Facebook. A friend who just started swimming asks her friends if she should use a nose clip. “Nose clips are for babies,” one of her friends responds. Chiming in, I explain the physiology, how some of us cannot prevent the water from entering our sinuses. Just as goggles protect the eyes and sight, the clip prevents drowning, preserves our sense of smell. Perhaps too defensively, I claim the nose clip is essential protection to some of us. “Just joking!” she chirps. Closing the computer, I gaze past its fading screen out the window to the darkness that has descended. I am wired and weary of waiting. A few deep breaths, the last inhale full of peaches as ripe as this month of August. The aroma draws me to the kitchen where Paul pulls his cobbler, golden like the setting sun, from the oven. “I guess we should let it cool,” he says, scanning the directions on his phone once more. I take two bowls from the cupboard, the vanilla ice cream from the freezer, two spoons from the drawer. In a few hours, I will drive to New Hampshire, the scent of home replaced by the traveling smells of gasoline and rest stop coffee. Before the race, I’ll smell the rubber of my wetsuit as it meets the fresh water of the lake, then slip on the nose clip, my protector of respiration and fragrance, and swim through the waves as I have learned to do. Paul scoops the steaming cobbler into bowls which I 50
top with mounds of freckled ice cream. It melts like the end of summer. We settle into comfy chairs and lick spoonfuls that are both too hot and too cold, steam rising from the peaches, sweet as exhale.
Gretchen Stahlman lives near (but does not swim in) the historic Erie Canal in Fairport, New York. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from the Rainier Writing Workshop. Her work has appeared in Sport Literate, Marathon & Beyond, Literary Mama, and other publications. 51
Sabrina Almasan ___________________________________________ So I drift through these days
Deanna Larsen ___________________________________________ Translations Quepos. I can’t escape the salt; in the air, the ocean, my nose. Luciana has a pit bull named Chus who swims after us if we drift too far. We bury ourselves in the sand where I lose my wedding band to horseshoe crabs. Back at the hostel, Luciana digs a piece of coral out of my foot with a knife by candlelight. San Isidro de Heredia. Men with machetes sell coconuts on our street corner. I try to let cockroaches live; shoo them out the house with brooms. Conchita, the neighbor girl who keeps her pet gecko in a shoebox, practices her newest English word, “Yuck.” Her mother calls me sentimental for naming stray dogs. Alajuela. My umbrella flips up then collapses; a useless pile of vinyl and wires. Splashing past the basilica shaded by mango trees– cobblestone splattered with mushy red peels—through the vegetable market, the man selling heads of cabbage shouts, “Hey Mrs. United States, will you marry me?” Later I write, Impromptu marriage proposal by produce man. First time I've laughed since it happened. Puerto Viejo. The Caribbean smells like marijuana and falafel. I watch old American movies on TV with inexplicable Italian subtitles that make me cry. Must be the humidity. Ticos ride bicycles with their sweethearts sitting on the handlebars like a scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Grecia. Postcards are the most difficult form of literature. Such little space; so much pressure to be profound. I want to send Cy a postcard that says, I’m sorry. Instead I offer a litany of observations: I don’t understand Celsius. El Banco Nacional is (cont.) 53
guarded with semiautomatic weapons. Tamarind is an acrimonious plum. There’s a mime outside a store called Banana Olive. He’s screaming out a megaphone; doesn’t he know mimes are silent? San Jose. I whisper goodbye to my mother the night I accidentally take a pirate cab. The window lacks the mandatory red triángulo, but in the chaos of the Coca-Cola Bus Station at dusk I don’t notice until he demands my luggage by switchblade. Alone in the ghetto, I’m dizzy with men’s thin-lipped hisses—boozy serpents waiting to strike. I hide behind a makeshift tin wall with barbwire latches where a pregnant prostitute performs fellatio. Her eyes shoot me a missive like two dead owls. I trip over a homeless man panhandling for colones; he pulls up his pant leg to show me the gangrene—the yellow supernova in his calf. Tortuguero. The guide drops to his belly and expounds in Creole, “Here she be! She be layin dem eggs!” The Leatherback thrashes her flippers in the soft glow of his infrared flashlight. She possesses a prehistoric elegance. After the burial, her teardrop carapace slips into the surf. I run barefoot across midnight tides. Plankton reflects the moon like meteor showers in the sand. In Spanish there are so many words for ‘this’ and ‘that’: este for something near, ese for something far and esto for something you don’t recognize.
Deanna Larsen recently cleaned her car and found the following items: dental floss, compass, neon plastic shoes from Buenos Aires, pay stub from 2007, passion fruit flavored chapstick, googly eyes, duck shaped candle, crayons, and four pairs of sunglasses. Her work has appeared in PANK, The Ante Review, Euphony, The Dirty Napkin, and elsewhere. Beginning in the fall of 2011, she will be an MFA candidate at Minnesota State University, Mankato. 54
Alan King ___________________________________________ Bananas I wanted bananas— a bunch of them stacked on one another like small yellow kayaks. So I missed what you said about the war in Libya. When you say Gaddafi, I think of how they spoil if they sit too long on their wicker thrones. We're in my car, listening to WTOP. We pass a Spanish market that calls what I love plátanos. Just saying plata-, my tongue snaps like the slingshot's elastic strip, hurling A’s like stones. And there's -nos, what my one-year-old niece thinks is plural for no, what I think sounds like nose, only not as long and more appealing. We're in my car when you complain about the weak radio signal. I could nod and punctuate your frustrations with hums, as if I'm listening, as if my head weren't full of Hunger's S.O.S. plumes. (cont.) 55
I could agree that the radio static is annoying, as if the sizzling sound it makes doesn't have me thinking of sweet, chunky rhombus slices frying in my mother's skillet, or plantains boiled whole with dasheen, dumplings and potatoes to eat with salt fish and coconut bake— plates and plates of large bananas, edible boomerangs, nature's golden sugar-filled tusks, the moon’s waning frown or waxing smile.
Alan King is a poet and journalist. His poems have appeared in Alehouse, Audience, Boxcar Poetry Review, Indiana Review, MiPoesias, and RATTLE, among others. He’s been nominated for both a Best of the Net selection and Pushcart Prize. His first collection of poems, Drift, will be published in 2012 by Willow Books. 56
Rick Marlatt __________________________________________________ Casual Disaster And you had fallen fast asleep when I jumped onto the secret speed of my bike that survived the treachery of Rocky Mountain snow and twelve trips into town for black glacier roast with no sign of a devil or eager multi-bear And the air was deliciously cool as I pedaled into a new season of knocking on would you believe the elm limbs carved kanji in the sky and that I was thankful for the wonderful night And the moon was my grandfather’s chipped tooth turning through space the stars were the thousand stories he never told me like why my grandmother doesn’t mourn why she calls him a tree-hater why his casket was bordered with metallic evergreens And I didn’t consider that you could die in your sleep like so many members of our species or the two hundred people who have spontaneously combusted or our thousand thousand wars and our short memories and of the things this god has accomplished is the art of casual disaster And I weaved like a child’s crayon between the gaps in the center line where tomorrow the world will funnel to offices drowning out worry with morning talk shows shouting at wives through cell phone grips texting appointment times marking calendars without suspicion And fall is your favorite season because my hugging suffocates you in sweaters while I drown in your eyes’ waters and today I saw you praying as you straightened your hair and today August is full of caution and today it bows out early and today Ted Kennedy died. And tomorrow we’ll roll on in our thorn resistant ignorance reaching for water when thirsty matching lips when moved looking upward when we think of something profound laughing at ourselves sometimes mostly not and the prick of regrettable actions (stanza break)
And when I walked into the kitchen you swayed dreamily in a pair of my shorts slicing grapes and kiwi and swirling them together in a sugar-gushered galaxy all your own the knife sweating with juice the blade tip dangerously close to the electrical outlet
Rick Marlatt holds two degrees from the University of Nebraska, as well as a MFA from the University of California, Riverside, where he served as poetry editor of The Coachella Review. Marlatt's first book, How We Fall Apart, was the winner of the 2010 Seven Circle Press poetry chapbook award. His most recent work appears in New York Quarterly, Rattle, and Anti. Marlatt writes poetry reviews for Coldfront Magazine, and he teaches English in Nebraska, where he lives with his wife and two sons. 58
Artist Biographies Sabrina Almasan is currently a student at the University of North Texas studying photojournalism. She has been taking pictures since high school and hopes to have a career in the field of photography after graduating. She has photographed weddings, engagements, family portraits, baptisms, and other events. Cath Barton is a singer, writer, and photographer who lives in South Wales. She has photographs published or forthcoming in Vapid Kitten, The Verso Review and Media Virus Magazine and you can see her exhibition of photos of Wales at The Camel Saloon (www.camelsaloonwales.blogspot.com). Patricia Delgadillo lives in Fort Worth, Texas, where inspiration and her cameras are never far from reach. She works with both digital and film which she develops in her own darkroom. This is the first appearance of her photography in an online literary journal. She currently works at the Dallas Museum of Art and is in the process of starting an online business selling her photography work. Susan Dielman is an artist from Illinois. Information and portfolios can be found at her website, www.susandielman.com. Michelle Gluch is an author with more than fifty Idaho based stories, articles, and photographs published in print and on the Internet. Her writings are rich with details of her home in Southwestern Idaho. Michelle holds a BA in English with a writing emphasis, from Boise State University. William D. Hicks lives in Illinois by himself (any offers?). Though not related to the famous comedian Bill Hicks he’s just as funny in his own right and will someday publish his memoirs, about Bill Hicks’ life. His writing and art appear in numerous literary magazines. Alfredo Toscano is a married photographer from Recife, Brazil. Before becoming a photography enthusiast about a year ago, he worked with manipulating and editing images. He now works as a professional photographer, making portfolios for models and documenting weddings and children’s birthdays.