Apeiron Review Fall 2014
Issue 7, Fall 2014
Editorial As I was sitting in a conference surrounded by other writers and writing instructors I was pumped, as I always am, to talk about and discuss writing. Nothing new. There was a well-known speaker hired and flown in to speak to us, and speak he did. It was interesting and enlightening. Nothing new. This speaker was introduced by the dean of the institution’s humanities department. The dean was not a writer. He was, in fact, at one point a math professor. He spoke of his admiration for writers and their adept ability at an activity in which he had never had much success, but an activity, nonetheless, he does more than any other on a daily basis. We professors and professionals exchanged knowing glances. Nothing new. He told us that communication and the ability to do so skillfully was of the utmost importance to human existence and experience. This was not hyperbolic to this particular crowd. You may even call the crowd a choir, and he was certainly preaching. Nothing new. I was captivated by this nothing new going on around me. The information shared was new in the specific sense, but this was no avant-guard, system shattering meeting of artists. And yet when posed with the editorial for the seventh issue of Apeiron I placed the heavy weight of newness upon my head and immediately had a stiff neck. Apeiron is moving in new directions, and as the humans behind the journal we have certainly been in the midst of newness in our lives. But our love and passion for the words on the page are steadfast and ancient. I realized that what we’re doing isn’t new, and that’s important. It is important to continue to share this prophecy, as Ginsberg called it. The prophecy of feeling or knowing something and having that articulated in a hint in your words that will resonate with and throughout time. Producing and publishing this prophecy is at the core of who we are, this core of empathy, this core of what it means to be human and look to another and know, that yes, they too feel as you do. I can think of nothing less new than this, and nothing as fundamentally important. We want your prophecy and we want to give it to others who may not even know they need it. We know we need it, and that’s why we’re here. While the prophecy may not be new there are elements of newness here at the magazine. We have a staff! A wonderful staff with wonderful reading eyes that are working hard to help Lisa and me keep up with ever growing submissions. And I would like to single out one of those new staff members (you’ll meet the others later) for special recognition and thanks. Xavier Vega is not only a great writer (you can read his fiction “Return to Dust” in this issue) but he has also been an invaluable asset volunteering his time, reading skills, and editing expertise to help us comb through the beautiful mess that is the pre-published version of Apeiron. This, like many arts, is a labor of love, and although our love is great the hours in the day are not. And so we are ever thankful to Xavier and the others who are helping make your art a published reality. Apeiron is dedicated to its authors and the words on the page, and that is certainly nothing new.
The Review Staff Editors
Meredith Davis Lisa Andrews
Design Editor Lisa Andrews
Production Editors Meredith Davis Lisa Andrews
Art Advisor Chris Butler
Unsolicited submissions are always welcome. Actually, we do not solicit submissions, so please send your work our way. Manuscripts are now only accepted via Submittable. For submission guidelines, schedules, news, and archived issues, please visit our website at apeironreview.com ÂŠApeiron Review. All rights revert to author upon publication
Contents Poetry 6
Dogs Michael Bernicchi
The Money Girls Peter McEllhenney
Cradle 6 Judith Skillman
Calculating Rain Matthew Connolly
Wedding Song Robert N. Watson
You Have to Eat Myron Michael
To a Friend a Day Younger Robert N. Watson
Burning Snakes Heather M. Browne
Underemployed While Being a Black American Denzel Scott
River Canal in Fukuoka Sarah Page
Condemning Colors in Pitch Pines Park Sarah Page
19 Twice Bradley K. Meyer 24
Diminishing Returns Will Cordeiro
29 Simmer Kenneth Gurney 31
Garden Party Lauren Potts
Dinner with the Hemingways Cindy St. Onge
33 Neighbor Bob Hicks 35
Jazz Haiku (after Basho) Mark Jones
Bix and Tram Mark Jones
The Bad Plus Plays the Logan Center, 25 October 2013 Mark Jones
Seduction at Sixteen Kelly Andrews
59 Fetched Rose Maria Woodson 66
Cellophane Malaise Kat Lerner
68 Tenderly Finnuala Butler 69 Untitled Finnuala Butler 76
Decency Derick Varn
77 Ultraviolence Vanessa Willoughby 85
Now that he has died
About Our Cover This issue’s cover was created using photography from unsplash.com. Why? Because we wanted to use a beautiful photo, but we didn’t want to mar the photography presented within these pages with logos and text. We thought we’d try something a bit different. We await your feedback.
At a supermarket in South Florida Jesse Millner
Things I Don’t Post on Tumblr or Ars Poetica
91 Quartet Sarah Bence
Before We Fall Silent C.C. Russell
Duende Denzel Scott
The Challenger Stephanie French-Mischo
Disease Elisabeth Hewer
From One Synapse to Another Maggie Montague
Ugly Breasts R.K. Riley
The Game of Diamonds Irving A. Greenfield
Apology to Wrigley, et al. Jean Kingsley
Small-Engine Repair Ray McManus
Agnes invokes the Nightmother her syllables made of mercury Michael Cooper
Last Chance Fancy Pants Robert Hiatt
116 Meditation on Reincarnation, Roaches and Kim Kardashian’s Butt Jesse Millner 119
I have been way too careful with my poems Jesse Millner
Full-blown Sugar Jill Khoury
Lifeless, Inverted Lukas Hall
Midnight Picnic Steffi Lang
Fog Study Tim Buck
Boiled Peanuts, Out of Season Allie Marini Batts
43 Fusion Sherry Cook Woosley 49
Metzger Haus P.K. Lauren
Dear Alfredo Rose Maria Woodson
Living for Leaving M.G. Wessels
Evangeline of Ténéré Matthew Donald Jacob Kelly
Of Gods and Curtains Star Spider
Return to Dust Xavier Vega
A Pocket for Taeko Gregory App
94 Tokyo Francis Davis 101
Perpetual Remnants of the Deceased Gina DeCagna
Clear Cut Brad Garber
Blind Mice Melody Sage
Words from Grandpa Ray Scanlon
Knuckles Jessica McDermott
There Are All Sorts of Holes Michelle Donahue
Cresting the Hill Shawn Campbell
Reflection in My Eyes M.I. Schellhaas
41 Fern Kristi Beisecker 56
Figures, Cathedral, Nicaragua, 88 Harry Wilson
Life Ring Dave Petraglia
My Perceptive Simulacrum Savannah Hocter
Looking Ahead Shawn Campbell
Naked Summer Katherine Minott
Dogs My mother says the dogs arenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t smiling but sweating and they canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t love only obey only once they smelled cancer and were nicer to the cat and I wonder if my mother knew love
Cradle 6 after Erika Carter’s artwork
You must not cry for night, a garden of blues and greens, the fragrant stars, the little melodies falling silent. You must not weep for the selvage of dusk, its frame settling against the window. This other kind of cotton’s made to soothe, to sweep and wrap against your back. Your child’s hiding within the forbidden grove, ever restless with her dreams of horses, her fear of wind.
Words from Grandpa Ray Scanlon There are words as good as forgotten through disuse and resurrected by chance, words acquired in my fishing days when I had scarcely attained double-digit years, before I even knew the definition of vocabulary: Wulff, hellgrammite, Neversink. There are words that, like the unexpected advent of a hummingbird, trigger a smile, which I will pit against cellar door and Shenandoah any day: Kattegat and Skagerrak (always the pair, and they always remind me of Shagrat and Gorbag), zouave, myrmidon, erysipelas. The oldest words delight me most, words with a provenance, burnished by long service, words my grandfather taught me: peacock herl, ginkgo, caltrop, wapiti, stilettoâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;as in my crudely-glued plastic model Douglas X-3 Stiletto that sat on my grandparentsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; television. Unlike its prototype, the model did not end its days in a museum.
Robert N. Watson
Wedding Song They brought in session men to tape my wedding song— The whole legendary Muscle Shoals rhythm section. I sat back against a poorly lacquered panel in the church foyer My mouth taped shut, though my tongue tested The bitter adhesive, and after a while I found myself Humming along. I had tried banging my head against the wall, But that seemed just to make them laugh in there, The bride’s side twinkling an eye across the aisle. I tried thinking the music on the rack of the rehearsal piano, But it was Rachmaninoff, and the first page was mostly signatures. In person, I was pronounced “husband” and “now the worse For wear,” at which the younger wives whispered behind their hands To each other, giggling, about the dust on my tuxedo tails, The clownish lips produced when they ripped off the tape, Mercifully all at once. And everyone said the video Came out beautiful, and we still play it sometimes.
Robert N. Watson
To a Friend a Day Younger What was the difference if it rained the day that you Were born, or on the day before, when I was born? We were too young, our mothers were too tired, to see The sunlight angling through the blinds, if any did. It could have rained on Clotho and the continent From Sacramento to New York, the land a washcloth Held up to a shower, pale and dry one moment And the next all dark and dripping with its purpose Once again, and it would not have mattered much, To us. On my birthday ten years later, rain Had hung a beaded curtain on your back-porch door— As good as prison-bars, your parents must have thought— But breath and pulse pursued you hurtling to the swamp, A maze as strange and vivid as your fever-dreams. Your legs were small and cuffed by arcs of mud from when You stepped between the clumps of grass. You climbed the tree That overhung the stream: the darkened bark was sweet Against your hands, and underneath the waters puckered Milkily, and surged as if another urge Were deeper underneath; your body tugged you down; You landed willingly on hands and knees, and stopped. You felt the spongy ground, and you could smell the life That it was breathing, and your hair itself was running Lines of rain, and in the momentary blur You traded with the field the look of curious Surprise of people who have never kissed before, And linger in the secret and the moisture of Each other’s eyes, half-worldly, wondering what they’ve done. Then you stood up and looked back at the house—a slivered Thing between the lines of hair and reeds and rain. When you arrived the raindrops and the reeds had wiped The giant fingerprints of mud from off your knees, And you were welcomed in with tokens of reproach, But you were still the smiling of your parents’ Sunday: Fresh as water and your infant second breath.
The next day I was just another child, a creature Tempest-tossed, but stabbing bravely at the world With weapons new to him, to free a buried spring; You had become the present, crisply dressed in pink; And only when the party waned, and when the door Swung open for a last departure, could you hear The storm that hailed you like a thousand ticking clocks. It seems somehow unnatural to celebrate A single birthday here tonight; a decade goes, But not the ghost; I feel my time becoming yours In midnight tolls. The hour is oceanic, troubled; Dreaming dead, and suited for the mist in coats Of wistfulness, I travel out to meet the phantom Of my age that sees a difference in the rain.
The Challenger Stephanie French-Mischo It’s cold and dark the morning of January 28, 1986. Icicles dangle from the A-frame of the old swing set in the Fiorlito backyard. Brooke, the eldest daughter, tears herself from the otherwise flat, Central Illinois view of her bedroom and wrests her damp hair into a ponytail. An embroidery floss bracelet slides toward her elbow. Only one of these woven loops of friendship remains, and it clashes with the black watch plaid of her uniform jumper. In another year, she will advance to wearing a white, robin-collar blouse with a solid navy, box-pleat skirt—the much more sophisticated high school uniform. But, if her parents get their way, her little sister will be sporting the same. “We’re out of mousse,” Brooke says as she enters the blaze of light and yolky paint that is the family kitchen. “I’ll add it to the list.” Mom folds crisp rolls in the tops of brown paper lunch sacks. “And a Good Morning to you, too.” Brooke scuffs over the tile. She knows that her parents are exchanging that look as she takes a seat at the oval table of blonde wood and matching boomerang-back chairs. Atomic age, her father brags, collectible. Multi-colored planetary models of the same era sprinkle the curtains. He’s particular about how things look even if all she can see of him at the moment is his receding hairline above the newspaper. “They’re launching the Challenger today,” Cecilia says to her, as though she cares. A dishtowel protects Ceec’s uniform jumper from spills. Brooke points to an imagined something on the pointed edge of the towel. Cecilia
knows better than to glance down; Brooke flicks her sister’s nose anyway before placing a napkin on her lap, like an adult. Things would be easier if their parents allowed them to come to the table in their pajamas, but they refuse to listen—to this among many other reasonable requests. Brooke reaches for a banana, the sole alternative to the wannabe astronauts’ steakand-eggs breakfast. “They’re really going to go today,” Cecilia tells her, still stuck on the stupid space shuttle. “We’ll see.” The corner of Dad’s paper flops perilously close to the grease shining on his plate. His head doesn’t move, so Brooke is left to wonder if that’s an accident or a response to her skepticism. “It’s cold even in Florida.’ Mom frowns at the banana peel spanning Brooke’s uneaten meal like some sort of tentacle-bearing sea monster. “Make sure to wear your sweaters.” “It’s about that time,” Dad says. “Coats, backpacks, shoes.” A shoveled walk lets the girls pass to the drive without slipping. Exhaust plumes from the Saab’s tailpipe. Brooke cups a gloved hand under the door pull. As the oldest, she should get the front seat, but Dad has determined— out of fairness to Cecilia—that both of his daughters should sit in the back. The car’s cabin is warm at least, the windows already fogging over as though they are in the clouds. They buckle up before Dad pulls through the crescent and into the street. “I hope Mission Control doesn’t scrub the 12
launch again,” Cecilia says. “Columbia was delayed a couple times, remember?’ Dad’s voice lifts. He works as a Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the local campus and asks for freeze-dried ice cream packs alongside his birthday cake. “Do you recall why?” Cecilia ticks off a list in her girlie voice. “First it was an aft orbital compartment, then out-of-tolerance solid rocket booster hydraulics, and then problem valves and prevalves, plus the weather. They returned late, which pushed the Challenger back.” “Or maybe Tang and freeze-dried food laid everybody up in the vacu-toilet,” Brooke teases. Cecilia says, “I like Tang.” Brooke begins to laugh. Dad’s resulting eyelock in the rearview makes it clear he understands that ’tang is vernacular for something else. It’s surprising; her parents seem so clueless otherwise. She glares back, a point made that her sister, book-smart as Cecilia may be, is not prepared for high school. When he breaks away, she says more to Dad than to Cecilia, “You forgot to mention the Columbia astronauts blowing one of their missions because they forgot batteries.” This earns another look from Dad, a longer one since they’d reached the stop sign at the end of their road. It’s like she’s insulted him personally. He returns to gauging traffic, and she winds the slack of her lone bracelet around her opposite index finger then releases. Threads near the closing knot have already snapped out of this habit. They dangle from her under her coat cuff like frayed wires. She could make more of the bracelets, of course, but trades are what symbolize the right associations. Status is the whole point of wearing them. Dad taps his palm on the wheel and mutters, “Go, go, go!” to spur the morning traffic to adapt to his speed. Brooke rubs a circle on the window to see the white colonial where they used to stop and pick up Angie. No longer. Word had spread about Cecilia being advanced, and, among other slights, Angie had started to ride in with her mom. A campaign of whining, door
slamming, and threats hadn’t granted Brooke the same privilege. “I’m sure they’ll push for the launch today,” Dad eventually says. “It’s getting embarrassing.” He turns on NPR for an update, and Cecilia starts digging in her backpack. As Dad accelerates to make the green arrow onto Westchester, Cecilia knocks into Brooke. “Watch out,” Brooke warns, punctuating with a good shove to put her sister back into place. Cecilia keeps fishing in her bag until she recovers a mass of green and white embroidery floss. The outside world begins to swirl and a rush of blood crashes into Brooke’s ears. “Were you in my stuff ?” Cecilia avoids answering Brooke, revealing a strip of bracelet several inches long and about a half-inch thick. Alternate-color chevrons form the design. She pats it flat and untangles the mess. “It’s like the one you wanted in YM—only in school colors.” “Yeah.’ Brooke caresses the work. It’s nice, but she can’t exactly wear a bracelet Cecilia has made without being an über-loser. However, if she can weave bracelets as good as this, she might incite some trades. “How’s it go?” Cecilia fastens the safety pin to the hem of her coat for tension and then explains the sequence of knots as she completes a row. “I can write it down if you want.” “I got it.” Brooke unclasps the pin from Cecilia’s coat and stuffs the entire project into her pocket before Dad catches on to something that might disrupt her schoolwork. Brooke’s rubber-soled Keds lose their spring as soon as she’s out of the heated car. Still, she will not suffer the indignity of yanked-up knee socks in addition to being dropped off at school with Cecilia. She approaches the twostory box of blonde brick, the sills outlined in Parisian green. Her homeroom clusters near the west-facing doors of the junior high wing. Students are not allowed inside until seven-fifty but are given demerits if not in class by eight. A group of pant-clad boys serve as a windbreak as Brooke 13
hovers at the outer ring of the eighth grade cool clique, her socks fashionably scrunched, her fist tight around Cecilia’s bracelet tucked in her pocket. The fifth graders are in much the same configuration farther down the school yard. Cecilia, though, is out in her own orbit again, scraping a bit of frost or mold or who-knowswhat into one of her baby food “specimen jars” before tucking it into her pack. This sort of thing will not go over well at the high school. And it isn’t just this or even just this day that has Brooke concerned. Most of the summer Cecilia had geeked around the neighborhood with a Kleenex box, two emptied TP rolls, and Atari joysticks taped to her back like her very own Manned Maneuvering Unit. Brooke had pitched the damned thing so Cecilia would have to play tag or something normal, but, instead, her sister had sat and dripped melted Popsicle over piles of National Geographic while on the front stoop. The school bell rings at ten ’til. The students form rows so they’ll be let inside. Cecilia, already advanced one grade by this time, is a full head shorter than anyone in her class. Brooke crosses the metal threshold into the Junior High wing, traversing a salt-crusted and soggy mat to terrazzo tiles. If they’d been born boys, their father might have worried more about the difference in age and size at high school. Had her mother not told him or had she forgotten the politics of breasts and flat chests, of pervy boys and mean girls? Brooke hangs her bag, her coat. Perhaps things were different in the golden days. They believed in Martians and thought the moon was made of green cheese. Their generation held—holds—some pretty strange ideas. For example, Teachers in Space sounds like a bad sci-fi series. She goes by Mrs. Orlen, the upper-level science instructor, in the hall and concludes that moon landing nostalgia explains the glittery deely-boppers wriggling above the woman’s head. First period Catechism passes by doodling in a notebook. Then, since it is Tuesday, Brooke
faces the humiliation of PhysEd instead of the beauty of Music, like on Monday-Wednesday, or her favorite, Art, on Friday. In Art, she might’ve found time to work on the bracelet. But volleyball eats up all of PE, and, at the end of fifty sweaty minutes, masculine-anorexic Mrs. Monyhan claps her hands together and says, “Line up, class. Alphabetically. Your homeroom teacher has asked you to proceed— silently—to the Multipurpose Room to view the launch.” So, it is still on. The only good news in this announcement is the opportunity to stand next to Angie. Brooke rolls up her sweater and does a few knots on the chevron bracelet stashed inside. She makes a mistake on the sequence, but Angie takes the bait and whispers, “We could swap when you’re through.” The bracelets Angie creates are of a lesser quality than Cecilia’s, but are much higher status. Brooke agrees. Mrs. Orlen beckons the class forward and into the Multipurpose Room, an area about half the size of the basketball court and with sliding blackboards up front. The pep club uses the attached kitchen to make popcorn for home games, and the stale, slightly rancid odor of the seasoning has sunk into the deep blue industrial carpet. Sixth and seventh graders sit in blocks of about forty, an aisle left between homerooms. Another void separates the students from a twenty-four inch TV atop a rickety A/V cart. A Betamax as well as a VHS wait beneath, red recording lights shining. Mrs. Orlen directs, “Eighth graders behind grade seven, please. Quietly.” “Why are we so far back?” a classmate asks as they fold to sit on the floor. Mrs. Orlen responds, “Grade five will be joining us.” Heads whip towards Brooke. Everyone knows why the little kids are invited up, and she is guilty by relation. Even Angie, so warm when interested in the bracelet, shifts dark. Coughs of nerd break from the boys in Brooke’s section as Cecilia and her class parade inside. The teachers hear nothing, as usual. They don’t intervene even when Brooke’s blonde 14
boy crush, the one with the constellation of freckles over his nose and cheeks, aims one of those coughs her way. She ties a few knots tighter than the rest. The strain makes them appear smaller. Cecilia helps herself to front and center. She stares up at the static Cape Canaveral shot, squirmy at all that potential just sitting there. News people talk of ice on the tower and the possibility of delay. Brooke expects that NASA will scrap it at the last minute, hoarding publicity. Then again, they can only cry wolf for so long. Shuttle launches aren’t exactly the event they used to be. This isn’t even airing on a real network—a satellite donated by Angie’s dad brings in CNN. Brooke continues to weave whenever Mrs. Orlen isn’t looking. Angie warns her once, keeping her from getting caught. The protection is more for the bracelet than for Brooke, but she takes what she can get. Angie having a bracelet means the other girls wanting ones, too. Brooke can almost feel the silky glide of all those links along her forearm. But Mrs. Orlen senses trouble and camps out nearby. She slips into the fuzzy, avocado-colored cardigan usually stowed on the back of her chair. Brooke pushes the bracelet back into her sleeve before spacing out at looped footage of the crew boarding. Seven astronauts, yet everyone’s attention centers on McAuliffe. The others have trained for years, flying jets, gaining experience from living the life, and then she comes and hogs the whole spotlight. Classic. Brooke hopes the crew has put her through an initiation at least. There is the freshman field trip—Science Day at the amusement park. She could put Ceec on the stand-up coaster. A tear and vomit-streaked Cecilia might give evidence that little sis can’t hack the pressures. Yes! Their parents will have to pack Cecilia off to the genius school then, or plunk her back with the booger-pickers of fifth-grade…or ground big sister for not looking out, regardless of the fact that it should be their job. This last one, sadly, is the most plausible based on experience. Brooke begins her ritual of twisting and untwisting her
bracelet. Her fingertip purples and swells as the countdown finally starts. Ten thirty in the morning, Central Time. The teachers are jazzed, some of them deluded enough to think they could be the next astronaut. Her classmates’ shifting and whispering and passing covert notes or flicking paper triangles for field goals ends. Everyone’s watching now, waiting. Brooke’s rear end is numb. The CNN guy talks over the official clock at Kennedy, and Cecilia lip synchs with him. “T-minus ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.” The Challenger ascends on clouds of white. It adjusts its attitude. The throttling down of the engines is logged. Cecilia is hunched and scribbling in one of her notebooks, likely recording the data to graph with Dad later on. They graph all kinds of things for fun. Brooke looks around for signs of dismissal and finds none. She gets in another few knots on the bracelet. Not a whole lot of string remains. Cecilia has underestimated what she needs, and Brooke worries about a snug fit on Angie’s rather thick wrist. It’s so quiet that Brooke thinks she’s been busted, but, when she glances up, everyone’s still looking at the TV. The shuttle isn’t on screen. Instead, a strange, Y-shaped cloud blots the sky. Horns reach out from a cotton ball body and a devilish tail. An announcer says it is the Solid Rocket Boosters, but Brooke has seen enough launches to know that the SRBs don’t produce a trail like that, not normally. Something is wrong. She grabs and winds her bracelet as the shots of icicles on the scaffold and the icicles on her old swing set begin to merge in her brain. Cecilia and the others in the room lean forward. It’s as though they expect that at any moment the Challenger will rise above the obfuscating white and continue into the great blue yonder. Orlen hugs her ugly, green sweater to herself like a binkie, her deely-boppers a quiver. Mission Control seems frozen. A TV voice, soundless for several seconds, says they are “looking carefully at the situation.” Her parents and teachers have “looked carefully” at 15
Cecilia and her placement. Cecilia. Still in the prime spot, trying to absorb the static shot of sky and steam looming in front of them. She’s catching on, rocking back and forth upon her hands, her odd way of self-soothing that often precedes a monster fit. To go off like that will humiliate them both. She needs help, but Mom isn’t here, and the teachers stand as transfixed and as useless in this tragedy as in the face of coughed insults. Brooke unfolds her stiff legs without kicking the students in front of her. The carpet fibers have cratered her skin between sock and hem. She rubs her wrist against the marks, hoping to clear the imprints on each tract, but they stubbornly stay. Another thread of bracelet pops from the friction. She tries to tie it to the remaining shreds, tugging hard while keeping it from unravelling further. Meanwhile, nothing appears on the TV, not even parachutes. The teachers start to see what has happened. Brooke notices the glances between them, the head jerks. They’ll conference before they do anything—and even then it’ll probably be the wrong decision. Brooke can save all of them from it—she sees this but hopes to be recalled by the use of her full name followed by a sentencing of detention as she stands. She pauses, the hideand-seek pressure of holding both breath and urine holding her a moment. However, she is, as is often the case, invisible. No last-second reprieve comes, even as she floats towards the disaster up front. “Obviously, a major malfunction,” the man on TV says. Cecilia’s face is pulled tight, like when she’s losing a board game. Her rocking nears frenetic, but her eyes haven’t left the screen. She is incapable of turning off. Brooke’s fingertips barely register the ridged knob protruding from the TV. She gives a twist and a push, not sure which action shuts this particular set down. The volume of dead air increases for a moment before the television pop-fades to black. Eyes move to her. This unaccustomed attention throbs through her limbs. It takes
all of her will to endure it, to keep her head up, and to return the stares of the bewildered students and their teachers. Mrs. Orlen finally says, “Brooke, please rejoin your classmates.” There’s a giggle as Brooke reddens, rushes back. But the laughs are at the adults’ expense. Her rebellion garners pats on her damp and hunched back, a thumbs-up and wink from the blond, freckled boy. Angie reaches for the bracelet that fell from Brooke’s sleeve when she’d stood. They are instructed to return to their homerooms, Angie tying what is salvageable of the bracelet around Brooke’s wrist. A look back shows the vice principal bent over Cecilia, who remains in her curl of motion. To touch her in that state is a dangerous thing. The teachers know this and will clear the other children then call their mother. Cecilia will be taken home. A damp cloth will be put over her forehead and the covers pulled to her chin. Over dinner, in hushed tones so not to disturb the exhausted and resting genius but no less urgent for their volume, their parents will discuss what happened. Dad will focus on the technical issues, hypothesizing causes if they are not yet known. Mom will worry about those left behind—the families, the technologists involved. Brooke will point out the red flags ignored. She will use NASA and Cecilia’s breakdowns to blow her whistle all the louder. Perhaps, in the respectful silence that follows, they will hear her.
Cresting the Hill
Knuckles Jessica McDermott A friend once told me the only part of the human body that doesn’t turn to ash after cremation are knuckle bones—like little Jacks, small concaving squares with the durability to withstand temperatures reaching above 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. My dad’s knuckles are fat. From growing up on a farm and playing basketball for the last fifty years, my dad’s knuckles have been jammed in nearly every finger. I will often notice him squeezing the knuckle on his ring finger, sub-consciously measuring the worst of the bunch, trying to make sense of the pain it shoots up his hand. My dad has had three wives now, but I don’t think a wedding ring ever went easy over his enlarged knuckle. I imagine once he got the ring over the joint, he left it there without ever taking it off; only removing the metal-hoop after my mother died and the other two rings after each kicked him out, both times in mid-winter. Maybe my dad strokes his finger not only to ease the pain, but to touch the soft space just after the middle knuckle where a wedding ring typically sits. Like a phantom limb still stings and aches, maybe he feels metal where there is skin, maybe he is remembering what is left when something ends. Perhaps there is comfort in momentarily covering what is now bare as bone.
Twice That first summer spent drinking with salvia for saliva & mushroom visions, vicious in our heads flew by swiftly. That autumn, winter & spring passed in succession slowly. They were only in the way of another Summer spent drinking with salvia for saliva & mushroom visions, vicious again-No, no, no, you were standing over there before & Tyler was sitting there. -Tyler’s dead. -I know, I know, but... We were unable to recreate it. & the third summer, we didn’t even bother. I don’t cross my fingers for Alzheimer’s, Frontal lobe trauma & forgetting. Instead, my sails unfurl, devoid of destination to avoid any further attempts at a second 2007. I burn my calendars & hurl the ashes over-board.
From One Synapse To Another Maggie Montague I.
going, and now you shall wait until I return.” It is said that the man was cursed in this moment with immortality until the second coming of Jesus. The myth also has origins in Genesis’s story of Cain cursed to wander the world for murdering his brother Abel. I acknowledge its shaky origins and the fact that it is a myth, thus inherently false, but I also wonder where the Wandering Jew would be today. Would he be in the midst of planting new roots? Or maybe, he would be just about to detach from the home he has come to know, because the wandering heart does not allow him to stand still for long. How many footsteps has he taken, and how many pieces of himself has he left in his wake?
The scent of milk and golden honey fills the bathroom, or at least that is what the label tells me. The allusion seems out of place on a threedollar soap dispenser. Moses and the Israelites trudged through the wilderness with grains of dirt crushed into their skin. And me, with clean hands doused in the scent of milk and honey. The images cannot be reconciled in my mind, and I am flooded with the urge to walk until my shoes wear thin, to seek something, anything, to put meaning back into the scent. II. I first encountered the Wandering Jew, an aptly named member of the spiderworts family, outside a Subway in Texas. The spiderlike purple-leaved plant hung in front of the window, limp in the summer heat. Tradescantia pallida gets its nickname from the rapid rate of the vine growth. The vines are easily uprooted and broken off. The Wandering Jew can be given new life by simply laying the broken off stem on soil, and it will begin to grow again. The name alludes to a myth said to be invented and first recorded in the thirteenth century by an Armenian archbishop. There are many different versions and names given to the Wandering Jew, but the gist of the story is as Jesus was dragged from the hall of Pontius Pilate a man goaded him saying, “Go faster, Jesus, go faster,” encouraging Jesus toward his death. Jesus responded to the man, “I am
III. My grandfather Leo was a wandering soul. When my mother was only nine, he left my grandmother Esther, ten years after immigrating to Los Angeles from Jerusalem. But his wandering started before that, when he was a boy in Germany, in Poland, in Egypt, when he became a man in Prague, a husband and father in Israel. When I was little, I remember cramming into the van to visit him in Los Angeles. He would beckon us into his stuffy apartment with remnants of his overeasy egg caught in his mustache. I would call him Saba and he would smile. I would sit on the rug at his feet, and he would settle into his chair, squinting into the distance to find his memories. He told tales of the ghost he had 20
seen in a hotel room in Italy. The specter sat on his bed silent, as he grasped the wall to steady his shaking legs. It was a woman he once knew, but could not remember her name. He told me of the time he gave his only money to two young boys in Prague. He slept in the street that night. He wasn’t a religious man, but thoughts of God kept his teeth from chattering. He would stop the story, look past me, past my mother, father, brothers, and into the place beyond the walls, where his memories escaped him.
still in Big Bear, where my brother Jonathan and sister-in-law Lauren teach me how to snowboard. As for my nose, I wonder where I left it; perhaps, it sniffs the sulfuric stench of Yellowstone, or maybe, it seeks out the company of fisherman in Tarcoles. V. My grandfather died at the age of 93 after battling dementia for several years. The last two years of his life were spent in nursing homes in my hometown, Fallbrook. My mother visited him every week writing down his stories on a yellow notebook pad. She filled page after page, and the lines of fact and fiction were never clear. He claimed he sat next to George Lucas on a plane, and my grandfather spoke of his idea about a story crafted in a galaxy far, far away. He also spoke of the time he tried to smuggle John Lennon into the country, and my mother remembers walking down to the pay phone at night because John Lennon called collect and my grandmother wouldn’t pay. I remember visiting my grandfather, and he was so certain that he had thousands of dollars hidden away somewhere. A retribution check from after World War II. It was next to the motorcycle in a garage he did not have. He died, and somewhere in the aftermath, the yellow note pad was lost.
IV. The Wandering Jew has been a recurring theme throughout the centuries in art and literature; take for instance, French artist Marc Chagall’s painting On the Road, the Wandering Jew, or British poet Percy Shelley’s poem “The Wandering Jew.” Both portray immortality as a form of punishment. To wander and to seek used to be synonymous in my mind. Both words hinted at a chance for adventure and sojourns into another world, but now they could not seem farther apart. The Israelites sought the promised land. There was an end to the journey, a home destined on the other side of the travels, while the Wandering Jew cannot settle, he must constantly uproot. In wandering, he gains access to the world, but as one in exile, never again can he find home. I wish I had snapped a stem from the plant hanging outside the Subway window. I could have planted a piece of the Wandering Jew in each of the places I went. My path through the world could be traced by the vines seeking a way out of their pots. And the branches would leap from their confines and begin again. Instead, I left a piece of myself. My ears remain forever in San Francisco, where they listen to the pluck of my brother Jacob’s banjo while leaning against foam-covered walls. My feet continue to walk the streets of London, catching on the cobblestones of century-old streets. My mouth exchanges stories with my parents between bites of spaghetti in San Diego. My jaw clenches to keep my teeth
VI. My definition of home narrows a bit more each day. My brothers’ rooms have been emptied of guitars and computer gadgets and decorated with World Market canvases. The rickety treadmill has been updated to a newer model, complete with a non-slip guarantee. My parents want to re-paint the kitchen. Change is good, we say to each other. My address switches to 1012 North Ten Mile Road as the tree grows taller outside 1114 Bellewood Way. The participants in annual family road trips reduce from five to four to three to two. Change is good. Maps of places I have been and places I plan to go line the walls of my 21
room. Picture frames are crammed into the corner of my desk, and in their static state, I trust them to tell me of my past. I keep memories of kickboxing in oven mitts with my mother to avoid cleaning the dishes or watching the Miami Dolphins win their one game in the 2007 season with my dad, I keep them just below the surface. And I look to the pictures to tell me of the red in Jacob’s beard and the blue in my father’s eyes.
I recall her, I would lose her a bit more. My defense weakened when I tried to fall asleep, and I recalled Lacy’s lion eyes and reddish brown face framed in gray, but the light in her eyes shifted from golden to green as I tried to grasp it. My definition of home narrows a little more. I know I can’t go back. I can’t go back to the roof of the doghouse where Lacy and I stood to keep away from Petey, my brother’s white boxer, who shook his head and flung drool in every direction. It’s fading, the story where she ran away to another county and was adopted from a pound, which we discovered a week later. I walked down the aisles of the pound, pit-bull in every cage, I saw her face in each of them. Except, she was a mutt, pit-bull and lab, maybe something else too. But she peed on their carpet and they returned her to the pound. She came home to us. The walls of my house trembled from the 4th of July fireworks. Or maybe, it was the bombs being tested at Camp Pendleton. Both shook the walls, and I held her tight to stop the tremors coursing through her.
VII. According to Israeli neuroscientist Daniela Schiller, “Memory is what you are now. Not in the picture, not in the recordings. Your memory is who you are now.” Schiller studies the reconstruction of memory and how controlling memory can be beneficial to patients undergoing rehabilitation or trauma recovery. She compares the repeated access of memory to revising a story every time you tell it. Every time a memory is accessed, a morsel of it is changed. A piece of reality is traded for fiction. Neuroscientists such as Schiller or Karim Nader seek to show that memory is malleable and not consolidated as previous scientists had thought. Traditional thought said that memory once constructed would remain relatively unchanged. Nader suggests that the act of calling upon memory is an act of reconsolidation, or re-construction. This reconsolidation could be the brain’s way of restructuring the past from the perspective of the future. We take into account everything that has happened since the memory and infuse that knowledge into the memory itself. Nader explains that this process is what could keep us from re-living past trauma.
IX. From 135 C.E. when the Romans exiled the Jews from Israel to 1948 when the state of Israel was re-established, the tribes of Israel spread across the world with no homeland to return to. After 1,813 years away, homes change, people change as well. Knowledge is gained and lost, while stories are revised from one generation to the next. What specters exist in the lands of Egypt? What pieces of heritage were discarded in the ghettos of Poland or the concentration camps of Germany? What remains of them on the streets of New York, or in the films of Hollywood? And what of them still dwells in the temples of Israel? People say my generation dwells in an amnesiac culture. What have we already lost?
VIII. My dog died yesterday. My father called and said that she didn’t suffer. They stuck a needle in her because sixteen years was too much for her body to handle. Lacy witnessed threefourths of my life. All I could think was, if
X. Jacob and I decided that we want to try and 22
celebrate Hanukkah this year. The problem is that we don’t know what that entails. We know there are eight days, we know a menorah is involved. My mother, the only full-blooded Jew in our household, knows bits and pieces, but my grandmother left all that behind in Jerusalem. My mother didn’t celebrate any holidays growing up in the Jewish projects of West Hollywood, where Christmas morning was the prime time to ride your bikes in the street. She became a Christian in college and married a Gentile, receiving a letter of warning from her aunt. Don’t marry that German boy. We need to keep the Jewish heritage going. We are the only ones that can. She married my father anyways, who, though not German, was also not Jewish. “Why Hanukkah?” My mother asked, and I puzzled over this. Why did I take a course on Biblical Hebrew, why do I organize my bookshelves right to left, why do I investigate the Holocaust like remembering will erase it, why do I seek to go to Israel and see what this promised land business is all about? “I don’t know, Mom. It just feels like we lost something along the way.” I am not converting to Judaism, though there was a second of consideration when I realized that if I converted, the Jewish state would pay for me to go to Israel. I am Christian, and I remain so. But there is something to maintaining the Jewish heritage, and I can’t bear to forget, even what I do not yet know.
Diminishing Returns My family’s written tender blah-blah notes for years. They offer me their trust funds. But I’ve been too busy cashing out their checks to ever check back in. I found this word, idiolalia, but never looked it up. I took all I can. Took it in and got more smashed than the guitars. What’s not questionable? I crowd-surf, crowd-source hallucinations— I help cover hits. I double dip blue chips in low-cal artichoke spread, and call it a vegetable despite the sugared processing while sound checks iron out the static, feedback. The lights gel. We tool with covers before redressing. —Old card. We’re called “Nervosa” now. No, I just work merch. Y’know, I bang my head while the markets and the spliffs get rolled. Most days I need a lift, like if the gig’s in some exurban hole. I listen to the air reports. News says your model’s been recalled. I tell the kids that punk is dead. I tell the old-timers you never can know what is being said on them old records, golden junk. I hatch up Ponzi schemes for blue book quotes, take stock of gonzo marginal value theorems as the squirrels scratch up their patchy treasures buried in the pay-dirt everywhere; blonde rows of slow rotisseries in discount tanning beds— it’s all screwed up my heart, like some halfway transformed Transformer, not quite starship, not quite Decepticon, ok… So far, so what? Yo, shit-tards, I tell ’em, I need your bottleopener, a’ight? I’ve paid my dues. This piece of work ain’t a twist-off, jeez. Hey, fuck it bros, I’ll whip something out my old bag of tricks you gotta see: here, hold still, I can make it pop like nobody’s business, getting purchase against the gristle of my good eye socket. 24
The Game of Diamonds Irving A. Greenfield
Fathers tend to teach their children whether or not they want to. Some do it because the son or the daughter will someday take over the family business, or perhaps the child accompanies the father to “the job,” whatever it might be. That particular educational practice reaches back to the time when man was a hunter, and it was imperative the son learn the skills of his father. In time the “apprentice system” created a surrogate “father.” There are still skills that require years of apprenticeship. But more often than not, high schools, junior colleges and regular colleges take the place of patriarchal teaching. When I was younger—say, in my twenties—I would argue that my father never taught me anything. It was a stupid statement, and could have only been made by someone in the foolishness of youth. Because I believed it, I looked for, though not consciously, a surrogate father. And every time I bonded with a man older than myself, I was disappointed. I was mistakenly looking for a father I never had, or rather one of my own creation rather than the man who was my father. There are numerous situations in which a surrogate father plays an important role in the life of the seeker. But my search led only to disappointment and disillusionment. The experiences—there were three of them—were teachers of another sort. From them, I learned not to trust individuals who praise easily, and just as easily discard you as if you were a piece of trash. The fault was as much mine as it was theirs’;
I should not have allowed myself to be seduced by their verbal blandishments. But in my defense, which is really no defense but rather a statement of fact. I was hungry for their praise, starved for it. The distance between my father and me was more than forty years, light years in terms by which we viewed and understood the world. Born in 1885 in a small town outside of Vienna, he came to the United States when he was six months old. There’s strong possibility that he was illegitimate, not an uncommon situation when immigrant parents have been separated for years. From what little I was told my father hated his father, who, according to the family mythos, was a cruel man and beat my father mercilessly. Oddly, given the hatred between the two, I was named after my paternal grandfather. I don’t ever remember my father being young, though I had a photo of him when he was in his forties I would guess. But my sister, Roselyn, appropriated it. I have another of him at the piano but he looks like the old man he was. He appears to be deep into whatever he’s doing. I don’t believe he could read music, but he might have been playing by ear. He seldom laughed, and when he did it was usually the result of having witnessed some slap-stick event. A stocky man, he was shorter than my mother. He was handsome, and grew dignified as he aged. He had a shock of beautiful white hair. My father seldom spoke. Though he was Democrat, his newspaper was the Daily News. I am not sure he was capable of writing much 25
more than his name. He never wrote a letter to me while I was in the army. But he did append a very brief sentence or two at the end of my mother’s letters. He lived in a world of “dasants.”—must not do. He seldom raised his voice, but pushed to anger he could and did out roar the best of them. He struck me only once. I interrupted him while he was speaking to his friend, Benuzia. My father would rather avoid an argument than engage in one. I have no idea what he thought about. He never shared his thoughts. But he did teach me things. He used his own hands on method. Though on one occasion, it could have been a disaster; I could have drowned. This took place in Coney Island; he called it Cooney Island. It was his summer joy. His hangout was Giant Racers Bathhouse on 8th street, where the Aquarium is now located. Off the beach, going straight out into the water, the Atlantic Ocean, there was a man-made breakwater of huge rocks and approximately at its mid-point was another man-made structure of creosoted pilings that ran perpendicular to the rocks for some distance, together they formed a small artificial cove with the ocean on one side and a protected area between the pilings and the beach on the other. Though people fished off the rocks, or went crabbing, or just sat on them, they were a big “dasant” for me. They were dangerous. It was easy to slip on the seaweed that grew on them and in places the rocks were razor sharp. Moving from one to another often required a leap of some distance either up or down, and amiss could easily mean a broken arm, leg, or worse, a broken back. So, when my father beckoned to join him on the rocks, I was surprised. But I made my way to him and we moved slowly out on the breakwater. My father, as usual, gave no explanation for being on the rocks or why he wanted me with him. I was familiar enough with the tides to be aware that it was low tide, and much of the breakwater and the pilings that formed the
artificial cover were considerably above the surface of the water. The day happened to have been a blistering hot Sunday in August and there were thousands of people in the water and tens of thousands more on the beach. The small cove held its share of the multitudes trying to escape from the heat. When we reached pilings, my father did something even stranger than going on to the rocks; he led me on to the pilings. Despite the low tide, seaward side was white water as the waves crashed against the pilings. It looked dangerous, and I knew it was. Suddenly, without any warning, my father picked me up and threw me into the placid water of the cove. I was under water; I was terrified. I didn’t know how to swim. “Swim,” he shouted when I surfaced spitting water from my mouth and trying to clear my eyes. “Use your arms and legs.” I swam, while he moved down the rocks toward the beach shouting instructions to me. He never learned to swim. I swallowed a lot of water before I found my footing and, exhausted, made my way back to the beach where I promptly vomited. But I did learn how to swim. I don’t think it ever occurred to him that I might have drowned. It surely occurred to me several times that day, and for some time afterwards. Though it was a “hands on” way of teaching, I wouldn’t advise anyone to use it. There are more benign ways to teach a person to swim, or learn an athletic skill. But my father must have thought it was important for me to learn how to swim, otherwise his action would have been inexcusably cruel. * * * There were things my father wouldn’t teach me: card games, though he was an excellent poker and rummy player, shooting craps, pool, and discussing anything having to do about sex. He was most certainly a prude. What then did he teach and how did he do it? My father was inveterate walker, and when I was a boy I walked with him. By doing that, I learned about the city, about the harbor and 26
in the days before World War II, about the transatlantic liners berthed along the North River, another name for the Hudson River, and the Brooklyn waterfront. He taught me recognize the colors of their funnels, and thereby know the name of ship and the company who owned it. He taught me how to be psychologically comfortable no matter where I am. Together we roamed the city. But never did he say, learn this or that. My learning took place almost by osmosis. That said, I have to add there was exception—that exception had to do with diamonds. He was a diamond dealer, a jeweler by trade. Exactly how he became one, I have no idea. But what I do have is an apocryphal snippet. After the Triangle Fire, he was hired to sweep out the premises at Eighty-two Bowery, which was and still is part of the downtown Diamond Exchange, on a daily basis. Eventually, he was hired by a man named Joe Rose, who I understand died in prison. After working Mr. Rose, he worked for George Harris & Sons. My father learned about diamonds from Mr. Rose and Mr. Harris. He worked for Mr. Harris for at least twenty-five years, and was let go in nineteen-thirty-seven, at the height of the depression. He was fifty-two years old, and I was eight. He never again worked for anyone; he was a “freelancer.” He didn’t have a show case. He operated out of a black leather change purse which he kept in the right hand pocket of his trouser. All of his customers came to him by way of recommendation. His usual place was in eighty-six Bowery, at the counter of one his friends where he often spent hours playing poker or gin-rummy. Years after he died, my mother told me the from time to time he was also a fence, which might explain his rapid departures for parts unknown and the visits from detectives, often late at night. To teach me how to judge the purity and therefore the value of a diamond, he invented his own game of pick and chose. He’d put a piece of black velvet down on the kitchen table; then he’d empty his purse, or remove stones wrapped in tissue paper, and place them on the black velvet. Sometimes the diamonds
were in settings, but often they were not. Then, he’d hand me his loupe and tell me to pick out the best diamond from the lot. Of course I made mistakes. I went for the biggest stone first. But the under his patient tutelage I became discriminating and found the gem stone even if it was less than karat. He worked gently and without coercing me until I developed the kind of expertise that pleased him. He did this without wanting me to follow him into the business; it was his way of giving me something that no one else could give me. It was his special gift to me. It has stood me in good stead many, many times. * * * Now flash forward. I’m eight-three years old. My watch has died after I put a new battery in it. The battery could have been defective or something else might have gone awry inside the watch. The minute hand still makes its rounds, but no matter what time I set it to, it loses an hour. Is it time for a new watch, maybe. But I happen to be down town where there are many jewelry stores. I do some window shopping. I even go into a couple stores to look at what they have in their display cases. I’ m not impressed. Most are too elaborate; they do too many things and have more dials and controls on them than I want to deal with. I am impressed by the prices, which are much more than I am willing to pay. But I finally find one, a simple watch, for a hundred dollars.I tell the shopkeeper that I’ll be back with my wife. I know he doesn’t believe me; there’s no reason why he should. My wife is having her hair done and when she’s finished I go back to the Jewelry store with her in tow. She likes the watch and its price. But I know I can move the price down by at least twenty percent. I offer to pay in cash, but only if the price comes down to a more acceptable level. Magically the price drops twenty percent. I buy the watch, but three links in the wrist band have to be removed in order for the band to fit on my wrist. It’s while the links are being removed that I begin to examine the diamond rings in a nearby case. There are well over a hundred rings in 27
the case. With prices that range from a few thousand dollars to well into the five figure range. The settings are varied as are the cuts of the diamonds. I see nothing that impresses me. Yes, the diamonds sparkle. But there’s sparkle and there’s fire. Then I see one, a very small diamond, probably seventy or eight points. It catches my attention. It has fire. I point to it and ask how much it costs. The Jeweler tells me, adding it’s a “gem stone.” I smile and nod my agreement. “Seventy, eighty points,” I say. “Seventy five,” he answers. I suddenly have a lump in my throat. I turn to my wife; I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I manage to whisper, “My father taught me very well.” She doesn’t hear me. I swallow hard and hold on to the memory of my father and his game of diamonds.
Simmer You arrive fresh baked, cooked, steaming the smells of the city. Your words spray soap, launder my wooly dog thoughts that snooze flee-bitten in my brain. Between us: fault lines and pointed fingers, maddening afterthoughts. Martyrs. Loaves of dark bread. A brand name penny-pinch detergent. Our lusts co-mingling with the unwashed. You say I wear a five oâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;clock rainstorm, a slow kiss drizzle that submits to your gravity. I say you are an apprentice to silence not yet able to train your tongue to curl quietly like a lap dog.
Reflection in My Eyes
Garden Party Dance with me, Kansas says an old man who still looks too long at women. Drink in my hand decides and my forehead fits tight against his flask, silver fleeing chest pocket flannel. Hard liquor hazes him away I sway now with late autumn, hostile earth opposing its decay. Tires crunching gravelâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;his wife in the driveway but aging fingers leech twenty one green Novembers from the young veins at my wrist. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m not done he says, words whiskey thick on his tongue.
Cindy St. Onge
Dinner with the Hemingways He can’t sleep so why should you. Lights are on at the morgue; they’ll unzip him for you. The man on the slab stops at the neck. His hand is cool between yours, and you’re shaking when you find the divot in his finger, proof of that last exertion. Brown, curly hair fringes his opened skull, the interior exposed like the rubble of Coventry Cathedral. It’s catching, they say—the melancholy, the lassitude, a germ in the tears perhaps. You’re afraid, but you might risk it, knowing once you close your eyes you could fall long into that hypoxic darkness too. It took a while. After a few false starts, putting it off and putting it off until the time was right—when the money and the gun met, then he finally lost the argument on the drive over. The view from the St. Johns’ bridge is a postcard bearing bad news. When you’re ready, go stand on that exact spot, look through his eyes, and try to change his mind.
Neighbor Propped open in the clamp of my thumb and pointer finger, it flummoxes, this New and Selected Poems. The poet who captures squirming icons and mysterium treenddum is my neighbor in the Craftsman a few blocks away. He is the guy I’ve seen for years on weekday afternoons taking slow lap dog walks in a stuttered, loopy gait along the dawdling streets, His face skyward then snapped down, a hockey stick grin nearly always hitched up, his talent unmedaled and hid. A puff cloud of a dog pulls taut the retractable leash, inhaling and cataloguing the width of a side yard, While the dog’s owner, engulfed in the vermillion bloom of a snapped tulip, somehow finds his mother’s face, A desert hermitage, streams of black bile and ejaculate, then fingers probing the wound in Christ’s side, And, of course, a sky looming, full of haunt, churning some vague and awful truth. 33
Small-Engine Repair Ray McManus Jeff stands, feet spread and back straight, and I listen to him tell the customer that I’m new here. The customer nods to the mower on the sidewalk. I get it. A good mechanic is drawn to an engine. A good mechanic is part chassis and crank, oil and water. But a small engine mechanic hovers and grunts, finds a way, uses pliers on rusted bolts. You borrow tools and work under the outside leanto, not near Rush and his Camaro Jacket, not at the shop table near the fan and radio. We haven’t seen our boss in days. Jeff takes a twenty from the cash box, tells me to get him a biscuit and to bring back the change. I imagine what his trailer looks like, how it could be possible for him to have sex with his wife when she’s awake. I think about quitting and taking the money. Sunlight reflects off the showcase chrome. His hand is out. He never says thank you. The power stroke: just before the piston and crankshaft reach top dead center, a spark. Take what fuels us, the air we breathe and smash them together: the boss on vacation, Jeff manning the counter, Rush pouring gasoline. Everything that has been taken in and thrown back is tossed aside just as quickly, unlike the two stroke principle and all of its scavenging. I’m better for it: the blow-down, the displacement, the wrench in my hand, Jeff facing the opposite direction.
A series of haikus by
Jazz Haiku (after Basho) even in autumn— bill evans scattering leaves— I ache for autumn
Bix and Tram bix in davenport horn pressed tight against his pillow singin’ the blues
tram slides in on sweet c-melody singin’ the blues
The Bad Plus Plays the Logan Center, 25 October 2013 commissioned cover: the trio plays Stravinsky— man, where is thy swing?
Last Chance Fancy Pants Robert Hiatt
Hold me. You should know that I’m not an early adopter, with the possible exception of Grand Gestures. So listen up Mr. and Mrs. Green Jeans. I just read that a supernova is now visible—discovered by some kids in England— and it happened twelve million years ago. But here and now, on the east side of the island where I live, no one seemed to notice. But I noticed many things that day. There was a distinct difference in my surroundings. Light, shades, and perspective were all enhanced. My toaster radiated optimism, and I saw it from several points of view. The cats improvised a harmonic meow chorus, and I sipped my coffee with an awareness and self-consciousness that informed or distorted (depending on your point of view) my new state of insight. I was in love with no object of affection, no subject of attraction. [This is where something important belongs] The phone rang and I let the machine answer while I went to the kitchen. I ate a banana and thought about bicycles. I stared out the window for a while and considered the day. While I was pondering these things a couple of kids spotted me watching them from my window. One of them gave me the finger. I continued to watch and they moved on. I became immersed in memories of my little league childhood, stealing bases with ease. * * * Thrill me. I decided to wait until the mail came before I went out into the world. The mail is delivered at an arbitrary time in my neighborhood,
and I like that. I remember when there were no zip codes and mail was delivered twice a day. Milkmen wore white suits and Captain Kangaroo was administering something that I never quite understood. I never knew when those Ping-Pong balls would fall, nor did I know why. The message that was left on the answering machine offered some advice about something that I didn’t understand. I didn’t recognize the voice, but I could hear music in the background that sounded familiar. Something about the sky splitting, planets shifting, and the stopping of existence. And stop it did. Or at least it seemed to stop. I wanted it to stop, but after a slight pause, existence continued. After a cigarette and some more coffee, I put the newspaper in the collage morgue, put a bagel in the toaster, and took care of business. A cream cheese satisfaction distracted me for a while, and I made more coffee. The phone rang again, and I answered it this time. I didn’t want more cryptic advice, and I was ready to make that clear to whoever was on the other end of the call; however, it turned out to be my good friend and droog, Seymour. “I’m getting bored,” he said. “You never get bored,” I said. “That’s right.” “So?” “So what?” “So what’s what?” “I said getting bored. Getting, get it?” “What’s to get?” “I want you to get something and bring it to my house.” 36
“What and why?” I said, knowing I would not want to “get and bring” anything. * * * “I’m thinking of time and space.” “Of course you are.” “Of course,” he said. “Time and space are hard to get,” I said. “Maybe we should get back to where we once belonged,” he said. “Some would say that when you’ve got it coming, you should get it while you can.” “Some,” he said, “Some might say that.” I hung up and got more coffee. The Mr. Coffee machine was sitting in the cusp of the morning sun and the glass pot was invisible until I touched it. The black coffee in the black cup was austere, but generous in spirit. I sat, smoked, dreamed and drank. I was aware of no purpose, only process. At that moment I got up, and I noticed that all three cats were positioned perfectly, deliberate as if posed by Apollo or Michelangelo. I stood in admiration and watched them as I walked across the room. Each step, each movement within each step, showed them in infinite perspectives, all in fascinating accord with uncommon lighting and shadows. * * * Love me. Seymour never did tell me what he wanted me to get and bring, so I bought flowers and went to his house. By the time I got there, I was exhausted. Seymour was asleep on his couch, the room was filled with flowers1, and a note was propped-up on the coffee table: “I live on an island that has no beaches, The tides imitate the water it reaches, In time there’s no telling, The next thing they’re selling, Is Truth for the sailors in speeches.” I put the flowers on the coffee table near him and let myself out. When I got to the west side of the island, I turned into the preservation area and there was no one else there.
* * * Tell me that you’ll never let me go. I got out of the car and looked at the water. The blues were in my head, and I heard polyrhythm accents and counterpoint harmonies that I could neither describe or deliver. I was dancing at a bride-less wedding. There were laughing gulls and ring-bill gulls, and carpless aquarium dwellers, along with blue-green pads and ponders. I wanted to see how fast I could go while I was standing still. Well, it was just as they say: the closer you get to the speed of light, the more time slows down. And that’s how it went for me, gradually slowing and speeding at the same time, until there was no time, and there was no speed, and I saw everything happening all at once, at the same time, as it were.
1 ? 37
Seduction at Sixteen Beer-drawl backdrop and neon signs light up the wood-paneled walls. He’s mimicking my movements, one long makeshift stare. Twenty years my senior, easy, and I’m grimacing through the watered-down gin, my first taste of something so bold. Hold here, he says, zipper burn on soft skin. Ice cubes slide across the marble counter, pool sticks pound against peeling paint. Every mouth is moving, mapping the night. My back against the dumpster, he dips down to eye level grabs my gussied-up face take off that skirt. And fuck if I want it, panty hose pulled, the cold metal on the backs of my thighs. Stench of all that’s rotting hovering behind our heads. In the heat of his hurriedness, no one notices my pale shaking legs, his near-limp dick.
The Money Girls Beauty is marketing to the Money girls and they spend With lavish precision because Big dreams need big budgets. Seal-sleek hair, shinning pumps, Pearl earrings, suit and skirt, All elegance and no sex they Interrogate their prey with Smooth questions; and when Your answers satisfy they slide Their treasured secrets from Leather cases softer and more Durable than flesh, click-clasp, Showing what you long to see: MBAs and GPAs, KPIs and ROIs. Will they be content after they Eat the world and don’t grow fat? Will work and reward fill the void Or just gild it over? I can’t say, but The money girls will spend their youth In acquisitive pursuit, and if those years Go to hard waste, they can’t have them back.
Calculating Rain Reality is like our family dinners, Ungrateful, always on the verge of madness— Exceedingly ordinary. I have retreated many times to a wine glass, Nearly laughing at the thick silences And the half-charred chicken more alive Than our teeth and jaws; not more human Than our bewildered eyes That connect accidentally—mutual pin-pricks Waking knitting hands to time. Later from our porch I watch the mayflies rise and twirl, unaware That they are little embers burning out. I am not sure who is more unaware Of digesting the chicken’s limbs that fought and flailed As blood leapt hurriedly from its neck: My mother with the house-phone to her ear, Sweeping the bones into the trash. She has asked me to walk the dog; My father who is asleep and burping out the chicken; Or my sister sitting next to me, calculating rain. With the American flag going like it is and this April sky (That she says could be a November sky) She’s sure that the dog and I can reach the end of the yard And back before the rain. There really is no point To this contest, but she’ll come with me, she says. She’s that certain I can make it.
You Have to Eat Hunger comes with its mouth open. When the cupboards are bare. But the mind mass produces and cooks up modified food starch (flour, water, salt, and peanut butter makes a kind of cookie). If writing or eyeballing divine law â&#x20AC;&#x201D;one thorn of a rose to another and so forthâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;I forget to eat. (Once I was too young to know how the moon tugs at the ocean. It would splash through my window, and I would swim through the streets and stroke the plum face of a woman hanging with every muscle from her atrophic body, with my eyes.)
Fusion Sherry Cook Woosley “Good luck,” whispers Toni, an older poet with a strong command of prose and short, gray hair. “Too bad your family can’t hear you read.” Aimee gives a delicate shrug as if to say ‘what can you do,’ but, of course, her poetry is only possible because she’s away. She walks to the stage and tilts the microphone down as far as it will go because even in wedge sandals she can barely reach. Tonight Aimee is Cinderella at the ball and she must seize these three minutes with both hands before she returns home and becomes Mommy again. She looks for her friends and finds them—the poets— clustered together like birds. Except Ronnie. He’s half-Korean, half-black, and all gay. This afternoon he sits by himself, the timekeeper, ready to signal the one-minute mark. He gives Aimee a wink. The lecture hall is small, seats filled by the other conference writers. Sound will carry without her yelling. She sweeps her long curls away from her face with both hands. “I’m reading the poem I’ve been workshopping called ‘One-legged Ducks.’ It’s about the transmigration of human souls and…oh, I’ll just read it.” Gentle laughs buoy her and Aimee’s senses are heightened so that she can hear every cough in the room, feel every twitch in the bodies before her. This is it, Aimee marvels. This is the precipice. She takes a breath and leaps over the edge. The pond is filled with two-legged ducks, Two- winged, one-billed. But, there’s a woman, frumpy and thick like potato ladke, who looks for the stumpy one- legged bird.
She’d practiced the night before, by herself in the college dorm room reserved for this writers’ conference. Aimee found the identical twin beds and empty drawers comforting rather than sterile because of the dorm’s very closeness. A womb of one’s own, Virginia Woolf with a lisp. At home, the diaper bag was a daily test as it sat on the table with its maw spread open to ask if Aimee was a proper mother. That is, the opened bag asked from between its zipper lips, will you be able to anticipate all the wants and needs of your children? No need for sippy cups and goldfish crackers here, but Aimee hadn’t known what snacks to bring instead. She’d forgotten what she used to like. She searches, holding the bread, fingers kneading kneading as she passes over the whole, the fully formed. The woman and creature meet with guttural cries of recognition. Susan, the poetry workshop leader, sits in the front row wearing a bright red top. She plays with a golden hoop earring while her head tilts to the side. Aimee recognizes the posture, knows that her words are being evaluated, sifted, tasted. Aimee’s hands flutter with nerves, but she continues, falling back into the moment. Souls struggling until the entwined spirits rise toward the horizon on diaphanous wings veined like palms read by gypsies. Aimee slows the sentence to draw out the last image. “Thank you.” She smoothes her teal sundress, and walks back to her seat. The dress had been bought last year, but she’d never worn it. There had never been an occasion when little hands wouldn’t pull at the silk, spill creamed green beans, blow milky spit bubbles across the top of the 43
shoulder that would dry to a crusty white. Toni reaches over and squeezes her hand. Performance giddiness over, Aimee touches her purse. The purse is merely the container for her phone, the connection to her other life. Aimee folds her hands in her lap. Of course she’d called to check in with Bill and ask how the girls were. Two girls, aged 18 months and 3 years, whom Aimee loved. Bill, the husband, devilishly handsome and unpredictable. But, she could admit in the lovely silence of the dorm room, her family had stolen her words. Bound it with twenty-four minute episodes of a bilingual child who was always looking for a map. Pummeled it with expectations of playdates and laundry, grocery shopping and constant meal-making. And Bill, former poet himself, acted resentful if she tried to get away from the house. Coming home from a job, something in a cubicle over at Locust Point, wrapping his artist’s fingers around the neck of a beer, reminding her that she didn’t have to work, but he did. I want to work, she had felt like screaming. But saying, “I want to make art from words” was like saying, “I want to be a firefighter” or “I want to be an astronaut,” when you are a child. And Aimee could not embrace whimsy, not when she was the one pushing the stroller. The last person reads and then the writers meander out of the lecture hall and across the grounds to the outside reception in an open grassy yard between college buildings. The weather cooperates, sunshine mediated by vaguely-shaped clouds and teasing breeze. In the nearest building’s shade, a long table displays refreshments. Folding chairs have been placed haphazardly, but Ronnie, the timekeeper, waves from a table in the sunshine where he’s “saved seats” for their group like they are still in school. “Just bring the bottle over,” Ronnie calls to Aimee. “I second that,” says Toni. After looking to each side, Aimee grabs a bottle of red and a bottle of white. Knowing her friends are watching, she makes a show
of placing the bottles in her large purse and walking with exaggerated innocence. “Now you’ve done it,” she says to the group. “You’ve made me either a thief or a pig.” “Cheers to that,” they raise their glasses to be filled. Other members of the poetry workshop wander over and settle in chairs. “Just pass the bottle around.” Ronnie says. “Speak for yourself, young man. I’m not drinking after you.” Toni adjusts her bulk in the seat. “Aimee, that part about the woman like a potato ladke. I liked it.” A buzzing in her purse. Vibrations that signal she is being called away. She uses her elbow to push the purse away so she can’t feel it. “I added it last night.” She shakes her curls back, irritated. Her hair falls long past her shoulders because there is no point in cutting it – being shortened just gives the curls more bounce. She wants to be a serious poet, a notion at odds with her childlike appearance. “I wasn’t sure whether it worked.” “Well, I think so.” Toni shakes a ringed hand. “You’ve got good instincts.” The unexpectedness of the compliment brings tears to Aimee’s eyes. It means so much. The purse shakes, an irritated dance. Only one person would call again and again. She understands he is on the other end, increasingly angry, maybe all three of them clustered around the telephone in the kitchen, listening to four rings before her voicemail picked up. Automatically, she checks her watch. When Victoria was an infant, every evening around seven was hell. She’d start the crying, the fussing, the balling up her hands into tiny angry fists, her face turning red with the force of her cries. Aimee had tried to rock the infant into contentment, but she felt so scared of the baby’s enormous anger, so flustered by Bill’s scrutiny. She’d swaddled Victoria, made comforting sounds, and swayed back and forth in the rocking motion that is supposed to soothe infants. “You look like some fey creature stealing a human baby.” Bill said. He’d been high, sprawled on the couch, his eyes glazed over. A smile twisted his lips. “See how I did that? I 44
evoked a specific image wrapped in a larger story. That’s how you write a poem.” Aimee’s face flushes as she comes back to the present. This trip is hers; Bill’s advice about poetry an unsolicited intrusion that creates a sour taste. The poetry workshop, however, has been four days of cerebral delight. Poetry by immersion. They read each other’s work in the morning, eat lunch outside, attend lectures in the afternoon, work on their own material, and come together at night for faculty readings. Breakfast and lunch are provided – no grocery or preparation – as if Aimee is a child instead of a mother. The experience has been heavenly and Aimee’s creative voice flooded in the second day as if a levy had broken. Her hunger for words cannot be satiated. “Ronnie, I would have liked to have heard you read.” He shook his head, mouth pursed. “Nope. Too soon. I don’t show early drafts.” A toddler’s shrill scream pierces the air. The table, as one, turns to look at the red-haired fiction writer from Toronto with a child sitting on her hip. Her parents lived nearby, she’d said on the first day, thus her reason for choosing this conference, and her husband and son had come with her to visit. Aimee’s breasts tingle in physical response to the child so close in age to her own Amelia, although she hadn’t nursed either of her girls for very long. She’d tried, but the experiment ended in bleeding nipples for her and frustration for the hungry child. Ronnie shakes his head. “Why’d she bring a kid here? Total downer. This is like our closing ceremonies.” Aimee smiles, but the toddler’s cry has affected her and Aimee is suddenly aware of the empty space where her family belongs. “Don’t, Ronnie,” she says. “Red is educating the next generation of writers. She shouldn’t be hassled for bringing her child.” Her statement, offered in mild reproof, rings true. An ideal world of art and motherhood blending. She wants to be that woman whose writing is supported by family. A woman whose daughters will admire her as a writer, not remember a mom passion-starved like an
anorexic model. “Writing is lonely work, the words pulled out and then chipped away to reveal brutal honesty.” Ronnie leans forward, dark eyes shining with emotion. “She’s over there as if this was a vacation. I guess they have their own trust fund.” “I’m jealous of her too,” Aimee said. Heat rises in his face. “I’d like to see how she coped with growing up gay in a Korean family.” “I don’t know.” Aimee swallows. “I just think we’re all ‘trying to scrape by with a little grace and dignity.’” “Annie Lamott,” he says, identifying the quote’s author. “I love her.” “Me too.” Her heart hurts, breaking open with new awareness. She’d been feeling like Cinderella, escaping a life of diapers and bottles, but other writers had their own struggles. His dark hands swallow hers, cradling her small white ones. “Pain calls to pain.” The phone, and all it signifies, presses on Aimee. She excuses herself and walks across the lawn for privacy. Three missed calls. HOME, her phone identifies. The first ring doesn’t finish before his voice is in her ear. “When are you coming home?” “We finished the reading and haven’t even made it to the reception yet.” She swallows after the lie. “There’s a party tonight that I was thinking about—“ “Mommy? Mommy? Are you going to read to us tonight?” A picture of her sweet girls, teeth brushed, nightgowns on, snuggled under blankets with their lovies, the smell when she buries her nose into their hair right at the crown, fills her mind. She looks at her watch again. At least a three hour drive. She’d have to leave now, ten minutes ago even, to be there. “She wanted to talk to you.” Bill has taken back the phone. “We miss you.” Guilt makes her stomach cramp. She sees Susan, the workshop leader, approaching the group. Invisible hands pull her in two directions. 45
“Yes,” she says. “Yes, I’m coming. I’m leaving this very second.” She walks over to the poets, only to say goodbye, but Susan speaks. “I’m so proud of you all; good work this past week.” Susan hands marked papers to the poets, but holds Aimee’s against her chest. “Aimee, I noticed you took out the line about the ‘strange, hissing quack melding with the woman’s cry of greeting.’ I’m glad. I found it distracting.” “Thank you for this week.” Aimee says. “I needed a chance to be away, to talk with adults.” She tries not to trip over her words, to hide the admiration she feels for Susan, this poet in a red blouse who, before this weekend, was only a name in literary journals. Susan nods toward the refreshment table. “Walk with me, Aimee.” “I’ve got to go soon,” Aimee says, slipping the paper into her purse. As she does, she sees a flash of familiar black hair far away in the parking lot. But, Bill wasn’t here. She’d just talked to him on the phone. Aimee shakes her head and follows Susan. More treats have been added to the table: roasted red peppers dripping with olive oil, a shrimp ring, grilled cheese sandwiches cut in quarters, and chocolate-covered strawberries. Susan spears a slice of goat cheese with a toothpick and adds crackers to her plate. “Your poems grapple with emotions, Aimee, and the gut-level hunger for freedom rips through.” Aimee swallows. “Not on purpose.” “My son is thirteen now.” Susan’s nose is hooked like a bird of prey. “I remember what it was like.” A laugh sounds nearby. Aimee looks for Bill, but too many people are moving, as if they are on a spinning carousel and she sees only blurred images. “I haven’t done much writing since I had my daughters.” Aimee avoids Susan’s face, fearing condescension. “Short-lived career.” Aimee discovered writing in high school. Her teacher had insisted that everyone could write poetry. Mrs. Blumsky had nodded
encouragement with such verve that her permed hair jiggled like an echo. Webs, charts, and brainstorming exercises before they were allowed to put pen to paper. For Aimee, excitement built as she moved phrases, selected images, found details that, together, became more than a sum of their parts. Each poem became a puzzle; the struggle for words, to communicate, and then the final draft an emotional pay-off. In college she met other students who wrote poetry, who knew what it was to become a magnifying glass and to sweat over each syllable. “Did you know that becoming a mother physically changes your brain? It’s hard to get that creative focus back.” Susan selects a sardine with a toothpick. “Picasso had a Blue Period and a Rose Period. My poems are prechild and post-child.” Aimee feels something inside of her, a possibility trying to birth itself in her chest. Not to return to the way she was before, but to become something new. To the left she sees a three-year-old with blond curls duck behind a group of fiction writers. Aimee leans away for a better view, wanting her daughter. “We normally have a party in a hotel room to finish off the conference. Are you staying?” “Um.” Aimee steps back. She doesn’t see anyone with black hair or a little girl. “I’m not sure.” It seems impossible, but an hour has passed since she’d said she was leaving. A champagne cork pops. Bubbles rise in the air from a sweet mist. Aimee sees the faces of Victoria and Amelia in the bubbles, round baby faces smiling in iridescent splendor. The bubbles float up and away. Aimee reaches out her hand to catch one and it collapses with a soft pip, leaving a wet circle on her palm like the imprint of a child’s moist mouth. Susan tilts her head. “I’d like to see you submit ‘One-Legged Ducks’ to literary journals. I jotted down the ones I thought might be a good fit on that copy.” She gestures at the pages sticking out of Aimee’s purse. Aimee wants to ask if she sees the bubbles. Instead, she says, “Thank you,” and walks back 46
toward the poetry table. From here she can see the periphery of the party and there, just like she knew she would, she sees Bill standing there holding Victoria’s hand while Amelia clings to his leg. She can invite him in, to her poetry conference. Her new friends can meet her children, maybe say how cute they are, and Bill will take over the discussion of poetry mechanics. And then Victoria, 3-year-old Victoria, will need to go potty and Aimee will leave the talk of enjambment and structure. She will dig in her oversized purse and pull out not another wine bottle, but a sippy cup with juice. Bill and the girls shimmer as light hits their undulating bubble edges and makes a rainbow on the grass. Pop. “Aimee?” Toni is looking at her as if this is not the first time she’s called her name. “Are you coming to the party tonight?” She won’t make it home for bedtime anyway. Her purse vibrates again. She could tell him she changed her mind, she’d be late. She could say that she has left, but is stuck in traffic. They would know. He must already. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be calling to check. Aimee glances around the reception, notes the full-bodied sun sinking, her teal-colored cloth sparkling in the fading light, make believe artist dress. Aimee feels the possibility inside of her, stretching wings underneath her skin. She embraces this power inside her, of being a strong enough gravitational force to bring the two worlds of motherhood and poetry close enough for overlap. Fusion. “No,” she says. “I need to get home.” Her purse strap is thick on her thin shoulder, the weight of Susan’s critique digging into her skin. There is urgency now, a need to get home, to touch her children. To, maybe, touch her husband. She walks away, toward her parked car. “Hey,” calls Ronnie. “Keep in touch, right?” She waves a hand in response. On the way home, before she hits I-95, Aimee pulls over to the side of the road. She reaches for a napkin and pen and begins scribbling. 47
Heather M. Browne
Burning Snakes Her mind cracked the night snakes burned. Releasing grey smoke to color the sky, darken the clouds. Her sight tilted, like stepping off a curve. Stumbling, she slipped, not able to catch her fall. Thoughts and voices rising up. On the ground we lit snakes. Freeing them from charcoal cage, growing long streams of ashy scales. Sulfur scented serpents slithering. I wanted to touch one, to hold him close. And as I stroked softly, his long grey body cracked, disintegrating into dust. He tilted too and fell.
Metzger Haus That was the summer I sold clean slates. Jobs trickled in through word of mouth and referrals, leads passed down from my few real-estate agent friends and their even fewer in-escrow homes. Move-out cleans were where the real money was. Something about people moving away, about new inhabitants moving in, required a special kind of clean. An erasure. In this way I think maybe homes and lovers are not so different. Personal. Territories of sorts. Both pretend undiscovered, virgin states, however illogical the illusion may be. Proximity landed me the Metzger referral. My roommate at the time, Stephen, moonlighted as a property manager for various vacation rental properties in northern Arizona. I walked in the front door one evening at dinner time and he tossed the job in my lap. “Just signed a new contract. Interested in doing the clean?” He pulled a few staccato drags on his joint, holding them in as he stirred a wildly creative pozole concoction on the stove. The smell of cilantro and lime mingled with the sweet skunk as he exhaled. “Hell yeah.” * * * The day I went out for the bid I drove 25 miles from Flagstaff across blustery I-40 to the remote community of Parks. There was no town to speak of, just a gas station, fire house, school and half a dozen residential roads filled with sprawling ranch homes and even larger lots. The Metzger residence was located some five more miles past the freeway off-ramp, down a dirt and gravel dead-end. The red slatted façade was ringed with outbuildings and chain link. The gate was open, but as I rolled through I could see the No Trespassing and Private Property signs layered upon the fencing like metal fish scales, several of each as if the point wasn’t adequately
expressed with one. J.T. Metzger sat on the front porch, jilting slowly back and forward in a rocker, watching me as I killed the engine and approached. A rolled cigarette became visible between his teeth. Metzger’s handshake was paper over thin wooden planks. His eyes were hard and splintery too, nearly indistinguishable from pupils. His facial skin sagged at the chin and neck but stretched taut over a bald forehead imprinted by constant 10-gallon cover. The handshake went on a little too long. So did his eye-contact. I broke it and looked down. I could see his fingers as they lowered were grey towards the tips, drier and darker there from decades of nicotine. “Stephen says you’re good.” I looked up and assumed my sales pitch smile, “Well, I do my best.” “You should know I already have another bid.” Hardball always did get my head hot. Discomfort momentarily forgotten, I leaned my hand on my hip and pulled a pad and pen from my back pocket. Another bid my ass. If he was in any way happy with it he wouldn’t have called me here. I smiled wider. “No problem at all. Why don’t you tell me what you need done and we’ll see if we can’t get you an estimate you’re pleased with.” J.T. mirrored my lifted eyebrow and opened the front door, motioning for me to enter. The smell of stale tobacco burn filled my lungs and I fought back a cough. It wasn’t the time to offend. It must have been about mid-July and I was flat broke. No way was I losing this job, even if it would be a difficult one. Some evidence was harder to lift than others. Odors were the worst. He led me through the house which was a linoleum-wrapped, animal-corpse adorned monstrosity. The blinds need cleaned, all the triple-
pane windows too, probably need a pumice for the toilet bowls, everything dusted, vacuumed, mopped, walls washed, stove needs a deep-clean—lots of fat build-up there... In each room he rattled a laundry list of tasks, explaining that he intended to use the place as a vacation rental once it was cleaned. J.T. Metzger was hitting the road. Said he was done with Arizona. My sheet had notes on both sides. I began to get a little sticky, perspiration adding to the heavy dark inside the house, inside my chest. I hadn’t tallied it all up but I could tell just from the first few items that this was going to be a number that even I would balk to utter. “Can you shampoo carpets, too?” I swallowed hard. “Sure, that will cost quite a bit extra though.” The last time I cleaned carpets I charged $75 per room. J.T. had two heavily stained, large, oddly cut carpeted rooms. He dismissed my disclaimer with a flippant hand. “So what’s your price?” His smile was a dare. He stood looking at me as I ran the numbers on my paper and then in my head. Mouth flat as a floorboard, eyes steady, I took a slow breath. “Four hundred twenty five.” Any lower and I may as well have murdered myself with a pumice stone. Or maybe the residual tar in the air would’ve done it. I took the gamble. This time it wasn’t me to break eye contact. J.T. scanned me up and down. He started to smile again. “Shake on it?”
knocked with a free foot. J.T. swung open the door and pushed out the screen to let me through. I dragged in the cleaning implements in after me as he walked back to the kitchen. He began calling out to me in the mudroom as soon as he heard the screen shut. “I’m leaving some food here if you want it. Otherwise toss it.” I came through the wood paneled hall into the dining room and kitchen. I scanned the counters and saw one was full: half-empty orange juice, cardboard milk carton with the mouth unfolded and gaping, a few boxes of cereal, Ziploc full of grated cheese, various condiments. I didn’t want any of those things. Neither did I want to bother hauling them in the back of my Jeep to a dumpster. “Oh. Thank you, that’s thoughtful.” It wasn’t worth making a point of contention. “Here’s some change too. Can you get stamps and mail my last utility checks?” This was worth speaking up. Apparently J.T. was under the impression he had purchased a personal assistant. I didn’t quote him for this shit. But as I opened my mouth to protest, I stopped and looked at him. His eyes were fixed on me but his fingers were furiously at work, rolling cigarette upon cigarette on the dining room table. His hands were a blur. The wood was covered with torn bits of rolling leaf, scattered tobacco and filters. A half-eaten bowl of bran flakes accompanied a coffee mug in front of his cigarette tailings. Most of the milk had sogged into the cereal, but I could see what little remained unabsorbed as it sloshed in the mire with the motion of the table. Still J.T. rolled and rolled, waiting for my answer. He didn’t watch what he was doing. He only watched me. “No problem.” I smiled as genuinely as possible. Somehow I just couldn’t bring myself to be assertive with him. Something in his unblinking eyes, his dark doll pupils staring me down in the poorly lit room. If I was accommodating, he would finish licking those papers, rolling those leaves, suck down his coffee and cereal, and hit the road. His car was running and ready. In that one moment,
The sun was fully detached and rising from the jagged Flagstaff horizon by the time I got to the Metzger residence on the day of the clean. I pulled around back, coming to a stop in front of what looked like an industrial tumbling composter. My ride sandwiched nicely between Metzger’s F350 and one of the three sheds that spotted the lot. His truck was hot and running as I sidled up to it. Just as well. I preferred to work with clients absent. There was something off-putting about being watched. Vacuum in one hand, Rug Doctor in the other, I shuffled my way to the back door and 50
I would do anything to facilitate that turn of events. “That box there, that’s the good silver. I want you to set the table up nice like it’s for dinner before you leave.” There was no inflection to indicate that this was a request. I shifted my weight. My legs felt stiff, my back rigid. My palms sweat inside my pockets. “Okay. That’ll look really lovely. I even know how to do fancy napkin folds.” J.T. nodded once and began gathering up the mound of smokes he had rolled onto the table. He put them all into a Ziploc and stood up from the table. “Well. Best be off then.” “Drive safe, wherever you’re going first.” I began walking with him to the back door. “Montana. Then, who knows?” He smiled for the first time that morning, a wide grin that seemed to more evenly distribute his facial skin. Just as he was stepping through the threshold he turned again to me, the tight expression still fixed on his face. He leaned on one side of the door jamb and shook the bag of cigs at me. “You’re pretty.” Adrenaline made my mouth bitter. I put on my best flattered, shy face. “Well, thank you! That’s awfully sweet to say!” I wasn’t able to stop the raising tone. The last word was almost a squeak. I glued my expression steady and counted the seconds it took Metzger to turn and walk to his car. One… two… three… four… five… six... Seven. He stepped into the extended cab and closed the door, already chewing on a cigarette as he kicked the truck in reverse. One eyebrow cocked as he began to roll down the drive and shouted out the window. “Have fun.” I stayed on the back stoop and waved until he pulled out of sight. I wanted to be sure. * * * Once back inside I locked the doors and cranked Mars Volta into my earbuds. I decided to start with the kitchen. I began to relax. Kitchens give an immediate sense of accomplishment once cleaned—it’s the same way in my own home. I almost enjoy cleaning kitchens because there is something
so comforting about pristine countertops, a glistening stove, no sign of a single soiled dish. An empty canvas waiting for something delicious. First to go was the proffered food. J.T. left a coffer of cleaning supplies for prospective renters. I took the liberty to open up one of the boxes of 50-gallon Hefty bags and fill it with the unwanted counter buffet. The half-eaten raisin bran sludge still sat on the table. Into the bag with that too. Fucking slob. I was feeling a little better already, more confident. Wailing guitar riffs and syncopated drum rhythms filled the inside of my head. I bounced a little with it. I cursed Metzger out loud to the empty house, even timed it along with the music. “Fucking Honkey. Honkey Ass Slob. Dickwad!” Several dishes littered the remaining countertops. Into the dishwasher with those. Once I had the surfaces clear, I began my crop dusting ritual. 409 in a thick layer over all the counters, front of fridge and appliances. Soft Scrub for the sinks. Degreaser for the oven and stove. Cleaning professionally is all about efficiency. Set chemicals to pillage the crust while you do something else. I did just that, launching an attack on the inside of the fridge in the meantime. From the first shelf I was forced to hold my breath. There was a smell there, perhaps sourced by the globs of jam and chocolate and onion skins as well as other undistinguishable substances. It was a sweet, cloying odor. I didn’t even mind inhaling the antibacterial spray fumes as I covered the soiled white plastic over and over and over. I began to get nervous after 45 minutes of scouring the fridge. Perhaps the chemicals I sprayed on the rest of the kitchen had eaten through not only the filth, but the Formica too. I checked the counters, half expecting them to squish under my probing finger. No give, no discoloration. I went back to the refrigerator. At least by this point the top part was clean. At least the smell was less present in the air; though it still clung in my nasal cavity I closed my mouth and exhaled sharply several times. I opened the freezer and whatever odor 51
molecules I had dislodged were immediately replaced by something far more foul. I got down onto my knees to have a look at it; there was something in there. I plucked at it with a paper-towel shielded pointer and thumb. It was…was it? I sat down on my heels with a thump. It was human hair. For a moment I could only stare at it, my eyes getting wider, then squinting, then getting wider still. My heart played kick-drum on my ribs. Long, black, curly hairs. Lots of them. Clumps. I stretched one to full length. It was at least a 12 inches long. There was no doubt it was human. It surely was not from Metzger’s bald head. I sat on the gritty, moist, laminate floor in front of the fridge for an entire song. My headphones fell silent between tracks and I took a deep breath, wrapping my hand three times in paper towels. With an inhale trapped in my throat, I quickly swept my hand-swab around the interior of the freezer. Into the Hefty with that too. * * * Two hours later, fat disintegrated from the oven, images of hair fading, I made my way into the master bedroom. Every wall was covered with lacquered wood paneling. It was the only real wood in the house as far as I could tell. As such, I would need to oil and dust it all thoroughly. Carpet to ceilings. Cobwebs rounded out the corners and lit up grey where the windows allowed the sun to peek through. My scanning vision stopped for a moment. Rising up into the ceiling like an empty elevator shaft was a gigantic skylight. Each one of its sides was wide and tall, much larger than a standard door. I squinted. One of the panels had a row of padlocks down its right side. Three of them. There were no spider webs anywhere in the skylight. I pondered the logistics of such an inaccessible storage space for a few moments. And why lock it? I shook my head as if the motion could remove the thoughts. I focused back to the task at hand. First things first.
Chemicals for the flooring. I made a thorough pass over the room with a Resolve bottle, marveling at the shapes and varying shades of tarnishes. Dark brown, greens, charcoals ranging from dime to fist-sized in diameter smattered the carpeting. I used half the spray treatment in one go. Another hour down, attached bathroom spotless and finally onto the excessive dusting. Start at one corner and work in diagonal lines. I came to the bed and remembered I needed to wash the bedding. Quickly stripping the sheets, I walked back to the laundry room that was little more than an oversized pantry off the kitchen. I tossed the bedclothes into the washer and set the temp as high as it would go. A glance around the closest shelves and not a single detergent bottle to be found. I started digging deeper. On the side of the dryer, stacked against the wall, were two rows of 10-gallon plastic tubs. In the shadows I could make out just a few labels. Ammonia. Sodium Hydroxide. Lye. The last two made me stand up straight. Maybe the hot water would be enough to clean the sheets. They had looked pretty unblemished to begin with. Back in the bedroom I went straight to the bedside tables, sliding each one from the wall to allow the vacuum to pass behind. I put my back into it and gave the bed a similar treatment. A thick runner of hair lined the baseboards. I remembered the panting Labrador in the back seat of Metzger’s king cab. This fur matched. With a healthy stream of lemon oil, I soaked my rag and got wiping. The tops and sides, all the grooves and features of the battered nightstands shone up like Pepsi-soaked pennies. I opened the drawer to give the inside a pass-through. It wasn’t empty. At first all I saw was a tri-fold pamphlet. I lifted it out of the drawer before I saw what the heading read. Erectile Dysfunction: What You Should Know. My lips pinched, my nose scrunched, a little grunt that closely resembled “ick” escaped me. I went to toss the brochure towards my trash bag against the wall and stopped. There was more. Something bright pink in the drawer pulled at my periphery. My hand tightened on 52
the pamphlet. I stood blinking at the florescent cornucopia, the paper in my hand strangled and forgotten in my grip. Monstrously long, girthy, silicone dongs. Next to the pink was a purple too. They nestled atop a coil of rawhide straps. Suddenly my eyes went to the headboard. Matching leather earth tones coiled around the leftmost corner. I must have overlooked them, or perhaps I only subconsciously catalogued them before. The leather almost blended in with the wood. “No fucking way. No.” I unwrapped the headboard binds and dropped them into the nightstand along with the reading material. Stephen referred me this job. Stephen was J.T.’s new property manager. Stephen could clean the sex drawer. Dildos and choke-straps were Stephen’s jurisdiction. “Fuck no.” I said it once more to the empty room, kicking the drawer closed. * * * By the time I reached the last section of the house, the afternoon had taken a nose-dive into full-dark. I turned all the lights on in the house and pulled the blinds shut, even in the rooms I was through with. I had saved the guest room for last, thinking the simplicity of it would afford some solace. After a dust, wiping the walls down, cleaning the window panes, vacuuming and shampooing the carpet I could finally go home. I wanted nothing so much as that. When I got home I could pop a Black Butte, sit on the back porch and let my lungs clear. I had developed a sturdy cough somewhere during the day, no doubt brought on by the combination of several chemicals. Every time I blew my nose I inspected the fallout. It was darker each time; almost black the last tissue I checked. Dragging my dusting implements, rags, spray bottles, paper towels and vacuum down the tiny hallway between living room and guest room, I paused for a quick wipe of the bookshelf hidden there. The shelves seemed equally blanketed in grey and books. The complete works of Horatio Alger and Louis L’Amour, along with various books on warfare, became
visible as my rag lifted the thick dusty film. Of course. Metzger was just one big limp-dicked cowboy cliché with a military background. That padlocked room up in his skylight—it was the perfect place to stash his victims. And that’s what was up with all that hair in the freezer. He kept the last one’s head in there until he got sick of it. Then he threw it in that huge barrel composter in the back yard. That’s where the sodium hydroxide and lye came in. It all made sense. I was completely high on aerosol cleaning products. * * * I sighed. Just an hour or two more. Then cold porter in a hot shower would wipe the slate clean. Few things are more satisfying than cold beer while bathing. Steam and condensation are happy twins. I fixed the pending reward firmly in my mind and mustered my final wind. Once inside the tiny room, the last vestige of filth, my tired hands lost their grip on the cleaning supplies. Lemon oil and paper towels falling with a solid thud. For the sake of continuity I opened my right hand and let the other bottles tumble on purpose. I thought briefly about picking up something and throwing it intentionally. It seemed like it might be soothing. But then it struck me; the sound of impact on one side was different. I flexed my foot and thumped my heel on the carpet to verify. Sure enough, in the area directly to my right, the floor was hollow. No doubt about it. The low thrumming section of the floor abutted a closet with sliding mirror doors. Windex could wait. I slid the doors open and thunked the floor inside with a heel for good measure. It was hollow too. I leaned my top half inside and began knocking my way around the wall panels. Duck… Duck… Goose. I pushed on the closet wall furthest left and it flexed. I could see the edge bend up under the pressure. A gap appeared between solid wall and what now seemed to be nothing more than painted plywood. One good pry with a screwdriver and I could pop that left wall right off. I could. I stood there for minutes on end, leaning on the corner of the closet and staring 53
at the trick wall. I could open it. My IPod battery had died hours prior. There was only a ringing in my ears to fill the empty room. I could have opened that hollow room. But there are so many good reasons to have hollow walls and floors inside a house. I was sure there were. And my imagination is far too active. Always has been. There were good reasons, sound ones that didn’t involve secret burial plots. Rationales that would make decades of bones under the floorboards seem ridiculous. Still, I took a quick walk into the kitchen. I staged a flashlight search party. It was all for show. I only looked in one cupboard before giving up. After all, it was probably nothing. That was logical. My mouth filled up with a familiar bitter taste when I got back into the room. Despite my solid logic I was running on nothing but fumes and hormones and fear. I cleaned that guest room in 30 minutes flat. Including the time it took to shampoo the carpet. Just as I was turning to leave the space, my index finger poised to flick the lights off, I looked up. I don’t know why I looked up, but I did. There on the ceiling, above the dingy day bed, were footprints. Grey, sporadic, human footprints. On the ceiling. I could see all the little toes. I started laughing. I couldn’t help it. It was the sort of laugh that is more hysteria than humor. I shook with it. I didn’t even try to figure it out. I couldn’t. I won’t. * * * Off with the lights. Out with the vacuum. Out with the Rug Doctor. Lock the back door behind. Out with me, down the dead-end, close the gate, peel out the gravel, merge onto the interstate. My Jeep’s speedometer stopped at 80 MPH but my foot on the gas pedal kept going. The weather stripping around the windows had long since crumbled, allowing gusts of wind to trespass between metal and glass. Again and again the air pushed through the tiny gaps. Again and again, and every burst sounded just like a scream.
Underemployed While Being a Black American Working as a cashier while being black teaches you a few things, but none so important as this: people assume you’ve done nothing with your life because of the job you have. My saving grace is my wit. But before I can speak, I must be spoken to. I must be acknowledged as an equal. Without my Heidegger, Milton, Ellison, Aristotle, Flaubert, Faulkner, and Morrison, I would have no shield, being merely a black body thought to have no brain, and thus a lesser soul. No customer with any real money in their pocket, of any color or creed, gives the benefit of the doubt that someone like me might be cultured, might have a sensitivity to matters of a higher aesthetic, might be someone a little bit more complicated, without those books either being in my hands, or constantly near the register. And so a lesson I learned quite early as a child aids me well in presenting my humanity to the masses that I must accommodate: To be an intellectual, I must carry the articles of an intellectual, and then and only then can I astound, as nappy hair and dark black skin, almond eyes, and full lips, rightfully become the opulent embodiment of a fervent autodidacticism and unconquerable will. 55
Figures, Cathedral, Nicaragua, 88
River Canal in Fukuoka Unruffled ducks sun themselves Serene on the pier at high tide While submerged white bags float by— Lethal as swarming jellyfish Death traps emptied of whatever Human treasure, now just molted dreams Bobbing in the current’s ebb and flow As daffodils on the bank nod through Broken tines of an umbrella While a white heron nests in rubbish Caught in an isle of golden reeds And seagulls sort the rest. When Did we learn how to throw away things? Just little things at first: Bones, Pottery shards, shiny beads and worlds, Acres of clean air, you and yours forever Drowning together in rivers Of undrinkable detritus— Watching wings over the canal, I can’t tell If the salt stinging my eyes belongs To sea-laced waters or originates with me. Perhaps that is why we are always losing With so much having, I forget all this Salt was never mine, but Ours to cry.
Condemning Colors in Pitch Pines Park Pink ribbons twist around the limbs of those still waiting to die While sweet-scented pine needles gleam green as innocence, Thin spires scattered few and far between deciduous silhouettes. A sign lends slaughter an air of authority, makes each clearing a victory: Pitch Pines Park shall be reclaimed from decades of hardwood invaders Who now blithely flaunt the spectrum’s blaze on the edge of a breeze. Perhaps the tree sparks are not so bright, but grey-laden skies frame Each October leaf like the settings for a hundred thousand jewels As if citrine, amber and garnet were the facets of a fading wing. Not a single water drop has stripped the branches, yet as I tread deeper Into groves of many-hued foliage, I count the signs of scouring: Oaks and maples have all been hewn down with deliberate strokes. Someone must splinter; the hardwoods shade out the evergreens, Their broad leaves smothering young cones on the forest floor But I wonder if there can be no co-existence? It’s all too human. The forest won’t sound the same again next autumn: Crunch of blanketing gold, scarlet flutter and sigh—exhaled. No eyes will ever breathe the sap and syllable of these sentences. I can’t accept this revel of colors will never burnish another fall That already, I am walking among the chroma of ghosts Who have lost their time to be here, like tears before rain.
Rose Maria Woodson
Fetched we are stars driving through night sipping breath like orange crush something sweet & cold is rushing into us, short lines short lived glorious dust
Dear Alfredo Rose Maria Woodson
Finally I have found work. Inside an oyster. I put a spin on things, little pings that piss the mess out of you, like being one car behind the car that takes the last parking spot, paper cuts, cheap ass garbage bags that break when you overstuff them, leaving you in a carpet of cartons and egg shells. And worse. I wrap silk around shit like that, over and over again until it becomes. Pearls. All the rage now. Then, again. Rage is all the rage now. The mollusk across the way keeps rain in her heart. She’s all piss and purrs these days. But then, she sleeps with a storm. Keeps spinning apologies around his sorry ass, waiting for some shiny alchemy to gloss over his dross. She’s swimming in a dry river bed, dreaming strawberries, eating dust. Can’t get home like that. I listen over coffee, serve up blueberry muffins and emotional helium. What can you do, Alfredo…what can you do? There are nights I ride the hoot of an owl even though there are no owls here. I hear “who” swooshing through the current and I jump on, take hold of wings not my own and hold dear. Now I know what you knew all along, Alfredo: I had to lift one brick of a foot after the other, one after the other. Pave my own road out of Dodge. Leave the only fireflies I’ve ever known. That’s oxygen- mask- over- your- snout scary. Scarier still when the road fizzles in still waters. The pinwheels in my heart stopped that night. Any knights in white armor were rust stilled. That’s when I learned to knot my own darkness. Arch my life like hyperbole. And swing. Back and forth. Back and forth. I was a flee on a trapeze, looking for a way…and just when I was about to unclench my rope-burned self, I saw them, a pod of photons lighting the brink. I hitched a ride on the mångata. The rest is history. Dear Alfredo, thank you for noting the darkness. Thank you for being. My trellis. At last I am my own magic bean. Love
There Are All Sorts of Holes Michelle Donahue
name stuck even after I could say blanket. I couldn’t say beach, although I loved it and always wanted to go on the weekends. My favorite beach was Laguna. But that word was hard for me. I liked Laguna because there were rocks and tide pools with all sorts of magical creatures like spiny sea urchins and swollen sea stars. But I couldn’t say Laguna. The “l” the “g” even the “n” were too hard. It was the word I labored over the most, as I tried to convince my parents that we needed to go to Laguna again this weekend. Fitting, that Laguna’s name is one small letter away from another of my favorite words. Change the hard “g” to a smooth “c” and you get lacuna: a lexical gap. A missing word in a language. When I grew frustrated with trying to pronounce a word, sometimes I’d just say, bah, bah, bah. Bah? My tongue couldn’t tap my teeth properly or curl and bend enough to say beach or ocean. And as I struggled to say the words right, I kept a list of missing words, of lacunas I found particularly intriguing.
\ la·cu·na \ Words were always hard for me. Though my mother said at three months old I spoke a solid, sharp, “good,” I didn’t speak again for months. In fact, I didn’t say another word properly for years. I saw this nice, old man named Dr. Borghie for my speech impediment. We mostly played games, while I tried to pronounce words like noon and nook, and then later, harder words like rock and shell. I was good at the games, but the words just wouldn’t quite shape in my mouth. It didn’t bother me much. When people couldn’t understand me, I made up my own language. I imagined it was a bit like Hebrew. I’m not sure why I was obsessed with Hebrew; I wasn’t Jewish nor were any of my friends. But Hebrew seemed magical, and once an idea stuck inside me it never left. I’d sing songs in my own language and cry when my mother couldn’t sing along. I thought I had found a secret language. I had words that went unspoken in English. Mine was a language of intuition, of emotion, of whooping laughs, and gesticulations. I couldn’t say most words at first. I loved bees, and when I pretended to be one I went around saying “b, b, b, b,” because I couldn’t go “zzzzz”. My name: Michelle, was Ma-hell, a name which gave many parents pause. “Mahell?” they’d repeat, their eyebrows climbing into their hairline. A lot of words were “bah” because I could make that sound. Table? Bah. Chocolate? Bah. My blankets I carried around everywhere with me? Also bah, although that
\ tree-eat·ing \ I first learned of this lacuna when I read an article about Vashon Island, in my beloved Pacific ocean, in Washington, over 1,000 miles north from my home. There was a tree here. In the woods close to the Vashon highway, someone left a children’s bicycle chained to this tree. As the tree grew, its hard lignin wrapped around the rusting metal. And as the tree lost 61
and gained layers, it began to eat the bike. The tree lifted it upwards and the bike flew higher. Now, if you walked through the woods of Vashon you could find this tree and look up at the rusted bike. The news said, in 1954, a boy named Don Puz, left his bike to the devouring-tree. His house had burned and someone, nameless now, donated this too small bike to the family as a consolation present. There is no consolation when your home burns. Don left the bike chained to the tree. Children understand the art of losing things. There is no word for tree eating. A tree that refused to be confined and devoured anything around it. The opposite word exists: dendrophagy, eating trees. In El Oriente, the Ecuadorian rainforest, I witnessed dendrophagy. I walked through the dark cast by thick, buttressed trees and then came to a clearing. I was a young thing, barely nineteen, and was studying abroad. “Look,” my guide said, as he took a knife to a tree and peeled back the bark. Brown ants swarmed beneath that skin of bark. “Lemon ants,” the guide said. He scooped one off and ate it. “Tangy,” he said. This was symbiosis. The tree, Duroia hirsute, gave the ants a home. The lemon ants produced formic acid to protect their tree from interspecific competition, or competition against other species. The ants crawled into other trees, ate the leaves and spat out this acid. Two hydrogen, two oxygen, a carbon, an alcohol, a ketone. So simple, yet it ate through the trees and killed them. All trees except the Duroia hirsuta. The natives called these clearings the Devil’s Garden because they believed malignant spirits dwelled there. But it was just an insect, an acid that ate trees. Eating trees. I wondered about the tree in Washington that eats. Tree eating. Perhaps it was too rare for a name. I was eaten by a tree once. My father and I hiked to the Bouli tree in Sequoia National Park. My mother and sister were tired, but I felt antsy; I never could stand still for long.
When Dad and I pulled up to the trail, we were the only car in the parking lot. The trail was up-hill the whole way. I was a young twenty-something and my lungs were used to the smog of the Inland Empire, so I could conquer the altitude and keep walking. My father needed breaks; when we stopped I felt that wonderful loneliness of nature. So many people flocked to Yosemite that few found their way to Sequoia and fewer still to the Bouli tree trail. General Sherman, the largest tree in the world, pulled people toward him, so that Bouli was wonderfully, tragically, left undiscovered. We walked in the hour before sunset. Not dark, but soft light. We followed the sign that pointed toward Bouli and came to a plaque. The Bouli tree. The only great redwood left in this area when the trees were cleared not long enough ago. Left because Bouli was too large to be cut down. Or too beautiful. Maybe even the loggers could see this. “Where is he?” I asked my Dad. Even the new trees were large and thick now, but through a sliver of space I saw him, seemingly taller and more beautiful than Sherman ever could be. There. Bouli was right in front of me. We walked the path and got right up to him. Touched his red flesh. You can’t do this to Sherman; there are fences. I crawled right into Bouli. A fire had burnt a piece of him open leaving a gaping fire scar. It was charred black inside. I touched the inside of him and felt him wrapped around me. Trees eating. It felt like night inside of him. \ l’a·ppel du vi·de \ I was the first to jump from the cliffs of Bartolemé Island in the Galapagos. I was somewhere very close to the equator, high up on the center of the earth. The guys in our group started making snide remarks about girls, because Julia was too afraid to jump off. The guys were talking a lot because they were scared, too. We were a small group of biology students studying on the Galápagos and there weren’t many guys. So they stuck together, mostly. 62
I had always been drawn to high places. I liked heights or else I liked that twinge of my stomach I felt when I was high. And I liked falling. I really liked falling. That swift rush of air and the precious seconds of weightlessness. In French, l’appel du vide describes the instinctive desire to jump from high places. When I was on a sixteen-hour train from Budapest to Bucharest, I whittled away time in the dining car with a French and Belgian guy. Etienne, the French guy, told me about l’appel du vide on that trip as he sloshed through his fifth Ursus beer of the night. “I hate heights,” he said. “I don’t get it.” I did. I’d never had the word to describe it before. I walked to the edge of the cliff and looked down. Sharp, black volcanic rocks pierced the water to my right. Tomorrow I was twenty. Today was the last day that I could blame stupid acts on my stupid teenage mind. I turned back and looked at the boys, then jumped from the edge. Jumped to the left. The air around me rushed, my stomach shifted and for a moment it felt like flying. I landed in deep water, far from the rocks. As a native Californian I could navigate the Pacific Ocean and its dangers. I wished the thirty-foot fall had lasted longer, but that water felt good. That equatorial sea turned cold from the arctic Humboldt. Julia finally did jump. She hit the rocks. Her back was bright pink flesh, blood flowing into the sea. There were sharks in these waters. I was in search of sharks. After I jumped, I joined the others who were snorkeling around the island. I sprinted to catch them, knowing that this was my best chance to see the hammerhead. I’d seen the Galápagos sharks, I even saw a tiger shark, but I wanted to see a hammerhead. They were shy, so I knew I needed to be in front of the pack. I swam fast, with strong muscles thanks to years of water polo. Water made sense to me and I could move through it quickly. I pushed my muscles until they burned. And just as I got in front of the pack, just as I was thinking ok you can slow down, I saw him, coming from the depths of the ocean, a white
hammerhead. He looked like a Galápagos shark until he swung his head around and I saw that long, flatness. His eyes on the side of his strange head opened as if in shock. His mouth opened too. For a moment we just looked at one another, both a little afraid. Then he snapped his head around and dove down deep. I pulled in as much air as my lungs would hold and dove after him. I swam as fast and as deep as I could in chase of the shark. I swam into that empty darkness. L’appel du vide literally translates to call of the void. When I retold this story, no one understood why I followed the shark and I couldn’t explain that inexplicable allure of deep, dark water. I swam after him until long after my lungs burned. \ place·less \ I was in the darkness of underground, waiting for the metro in Barcelona. Night had begun shifting to morning, but I couldn’t tell this from the sky. I’d met Jonathan ten hours ago in the hostel common room. I’d just showered and my hair was strange and puffy. I wore clothes that had been worn too many times before, because my mind was too interested in other things— Gaudi’s sculptures, towering sandcastles—to worry about laundry. We stayed out all night in Barcelona. Mostly we just rode the metro. We couldn’t settle on one place. We started with a large group of people from our hostel. We soon lost everyone. This wasn’t something I would do normally, but I was two days from turning 21 and I felt invincible. I felt the lure of adventure. I had never been in love. I couldn’t be safe or rational because those words didn’t exist here. Traveling meant jumping head first into everything. Anachronistic means out of time, but there’s no word for out of place. Yet I was so often out of place and this lack of place changed me. Both Jonathan and I were out of place. He was British and I think that, more than anything, attracted me to him. I had these false ideas about love and romance. 63
Later, he would be the first person I had sex with. I’d meet him in Wimbledon and in the room of a house he rented, I would lean down and kiss him. Later, he would lie to me. Later we would try to make a long distance relationship work. We’d meet in the U.S., in Denmark, in Prague. Later he would cheat on me and I would discover this slowly, gradually. But then we both felt the fearlessness of being homeless. So we jumped far and fast together.
Schwarzenberg family was, but no one seemed to know. There was a lot of mystery in the Czech Republic. I stood near a wall of bones. Long femurs sliced open to reveal the marrow, the hollowness, the star-shaped osteocytes: bone cells. One of the few cells in our body that does not undergo mitosis. Blood and bone; they can’t split themselves in two. Osteocytes, housed inside of lacuna connected together, branching and becoming bone. I feared that I too could not split myself in two. I wanted to inhabit both worlds: his and mine, home and abroad. No matter where I was, I missed somewhere, someone. There was no getting around that. In Karlovy Lazne with its windows looking out at the Charles Bridge, we drank too much absinthe. So when we started yelling, we had to yell louder. The absinthe came burning from our throats and we couldn’t put that fire out. We were on the third floor and music blared and I couldn’t even really hear what he was saying. Not until the music stopped and we were smacked with that silent moment of tension (a lacuna) and all I heard was myself saying goodbye. I didn’t know what else to say. Words were always hard for me. I was lost in the skeletal night of Prague with every cell in my body hurting. Earlier that day I had slammed into Jonathan on Eastern Europe’s longest bobsled track. Every move hurt my bruises and my back. And that wasn’t the worst of it. Ya’aburnee: I love you. You bury me. Even at the time I knew it was melodramatic. But the emptiness that had burrowed inside me, a feeling past even grief, felt like the ground being poured around me, my body being immersed in earth.
\ ya’a·bur·nee \ In Prague people burned sugar and let it drip, caramelized, into absinthe. Jonathan and I drank in Karlovy Lazne, four stories high in Eastern Europe’s largest club. The floors lit up with neon lights as we drank absinthe, cloudy with ice water. It burned our throats. In Arabic ya’aburnee literally means “you bury me”. But it really means I love you. It means I can’t live without you, so I hope I die before you and you bury me. Sweet, but also a little selfish. As Jonathan smiled at me and whispered his magic British speech into my ear, I felt for a word I didn’t have. I felt us cracking. He had already cheated on me then. Except, it was more complicated than that. Isn’t it always. I had promised I would never take anyone back who lied to me. But I was young, and naïve and I loved him. Or I thought I did. There are so many levels within love, and yet only one word for it. We’d walked the levels: up, then down. That day, we went to Kutna Hora, to the bone church. Long ago, Frantisek Rint, artist and wood carver, took bones from people who died of the bubonic plague. He fashioned their bones into art. Human bones lined the walls of the church. In the center of the main room hung a chandelier with at least one of every bone in the human body. Human skulls became pillars. Strung humerus bones formed garlands. In the front was the Schwarzenberg Family Coat of Arms done, of course, all in bone. Jonathan asked around about who the
\ tos·ka \ The waves licked my toes that were halfburied in the sand of Laguna Beach. I was home again after being too long gone (but never long enough). I lived now in Iowa, landlocked, locked so strictly in corn and a 64
culture that felt more foreign to me than any other Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d known. I liked the ocean because of the thrill of its beauty coupled with the aching nostalgia I felt whenever I was there. A good sort of sadness, whole and clear, as if the ocean was all of my memories given physical form. The soft hushed in and out of waves. A promise always to return. A promise to leave. There was no word for this that I knew. In my language or others. The sun started falling toward the ocean, lighting up the sky like it only could in the polluted air of Southern California. California: the land where you appreciate everything, right down to the pollutants. I thought beautiful sunsets were worth the lung cancer. After all, bad air gave me big lungs, which helped make me a good swimmer. I could see the light side of things here, like I never could in Iowa. In that middle space where water became land, I thought of that almost spiritual feeling you get from perfect sadness. From breathing but not belonging. Toska means sadness in Russian. But it means so much more than that. Toska is bone-aching spiritual anguish, sudden and from no known cause, just a wave of it sweeping through you. Sometimes I felt sad for no reason. I felt out of place, out of my place, like I was groundless. And this wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t a bad feeling, always. Sometimes it was just a feeling I wanted to crawl inside of and explore. I loved California, but I was bored here. Too much excitement, yet nothing to explore. I always yearned for a nameless elsewhere with a faceless someone. Sometimes these places had names Barcelona, Ecuador, Prague and sometimes the people had faces. Mostly I just wanted to move, keep moving like a shark. I watched the waves move in and out as I dug my fingers into that damp sand. Toska can also be a dull ache, an ungrounded longing, an itchy restlessness, yearning. Toska also describes apathy and boredom. And thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s little beauty in this sort of monotony. And here the ocean was, bone-ached, beautiful, and me, a dull ache, bored. The tide rose. The sun set into the darkening sea.
Cellophane Malaise The brittle people perch in dim cafe corners hazy yellow diners, nightclubs frothing our cut paper selves pile onto shelves scatter and lose track of our home addresses Tumblers empty and fill, amber liquid clear crystal, glass, waxed paper—it’s all passed around and forgetting is a little easier the unopened letter in her desk drawer tucked under the dry stamp pads and stale peanuts the ticket to Moldova, or was it Maldives Montreal? Est-ce que se serait moins effrayant? shake, ear to the cereal box, two-thirds empty but before you close the cupboard, just a peek at the jars of bitter cinnamon that mixes with honey so sweet empty spaces filling with vials of vanilla, jasmine, fire yellow knots of saffron nudging towards a breeze that leads out a window overlooking branches bent with swollen cherries double breasted plums, raspberries something like velvet thimbles—and you wonder if I pour my hopes into a sugar crumb crust let the edges burble and gasp at the trickle of strawberry ice cream a shivering pink line down its side, what if it’s exactly what I wanted after all? hits that sweet tooth pop and zing and the living room grays, the telephone, the vanity, the soap dish, the bubbles as your lips hum in technicolor, what if the letter begins, “We are pleased to inform you…” or “I haven’t forgotten anything,” and she bought two almond biscotti at a sunny cafe in Ville-Marie? what beastly frights lurk behind these gauzy curtains can only be imagined, only there could their bite gnash sharper than the meringue licks sweet 66
Living for Leaving M.G. Wessels The one time he forgets to lock the front door is the first time he comes home to find their house completely torn apart. The first and last time he’ll see his wife dead on the kitchen floor. The coffee is still hot in its glass carafe, and the beer is still cold in the fridge, while the television quietly plays local news. Overwhelming joy brings this man to tears, a new profound happiness that he can already feel. He didn’t have to do it himself. It won’t cost him anything. On the floor, a sock remains—not his, underneath a picture of him and his wife, the glass of the frame shattered. He calls the police, moves to the fridge, and grabs a drink. He waits on the front porch. The TV hums in the background.
Tenderly Remember motherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hand cupping the nectarine as she cut with a small knife into the sweet-silent flesh. How I reached for the first pieces of newborn sunshine and swallowed the spilt light greedily, hoping to grow my heart so tender a fruit.
Untitled We, steam-paralysed strangers embraced in the column of dawn between two locked doors. Spoke in light and dark only, never learned each other’s names. As such there is nothing of that solace left on my tongue, but still I say, “morning is breaking” when I fall in love.
Evangeline of Ténéré Matthew Donald Jacob Kelly
“You’re two blinks away from a whole lot of nothing,” Miss DePasqual sneered before plopping Evangeline Mudd at the metal cafeteria table leaning against the dumpsters in the back of Saint Simeon’s Elementary School. Evangeline knew full well what it meant to be relegated to the janitors’ table – a Mecca of Lucky One cigarette butts and Styrofoam coffee cups left behind by the school’s custodial octogenarians, who convened around it daily to trade jokes about erectile dysfunction and “the old lady upstairs.” There, for the morning, Evangeline would disappear, hidden from those assembled for the Sixth Grade History Fest Parade, this year to be officiated by Deputy Mayor Stu Trudeau himself. Participation in the parade was simple enough – students were instructed to come to school dressed as their favorite historical figures. Two years back, Jesus costumes had been banned on account of costly legal proceedings brought by Harriman McQueen, the local bondsman and notary public who independently and unofficially converted to Orthodox Judaism on account of not having anything better to do. But even with Jesus excluded, the event was a grand old time all the same. On the morning of the event, a sea of Escalades parked before the school and unleashed wave after wave of prepubescent Lincolns, Washingtons, Edisons and Cleopatras. However, Evangeline Mudd was not among them. As her own grandmother had said before abandoning the family to take up with a Pentecostalist minister who smelled of whiskey and Vaseline, “If Evangeline thought straight half the time, she’d be two-thirds the way to
hell and dragging us all down with her” The sobriquet was modified over the years through laziness and inexactitude, but the crux of the message remained the same – Evangeline was a strange little girl. True to form, her choice of costumes for the parade made heads turn: she had made the half-mile trek to school on foot dressed in a brown Lycra jumpsuit, gold glitter streaked across the front, holding aloft two humongous tree branches. “And who exactly are you?” DePasqual sneered, eyeing the jagged branches arching over her desk. “I’m the Tree of Ténéré,” came the reply. “What in the world is the Tree of Ténéré?” DePasqual barked, rolling her office chair back to clear the spiked acacia leaves. Annoyed by the question, Evangeline moaned. “The Tree of Ténéré was the loneliest tree in all of history. It stood alone in the Sahara, hundreds of miles from any tree. It was a monument to hope and strength and solitude.” DePasqual blinked uncontrollably, which happened in only two circumstances, the first being acute panic-induced hyperventilation and the second a physiologic response evoked behind closed doors by Deputy Mayor Trudeau, whose years of roof bolting had honed manual dexterity faculties storied among the town’s backdoor gasbags. Squeezing her eyes shut, DePasqual moaned. “I’ll pair you with a Lincoln and you can be the tree he cut down.” Evangeline shook the branches angrily. “I’m the Tree of Ténéré. For years, I was the only tree in a vast stretch of desert but nobody cut 70
me for wood, no camel ate my leaves. I was the symbol of all of life in the desert!” DePasqual leaned forward and spoke into the branches, her voice a gravelly grunt. “It’s either Abe’s tree or the janitors’ table.” And that was that. Evangeline had been given strict instructions to remain at the table until 11:00, at which point the parade would have passed and the deputy mayor with it. She was then to march herself to the school therapist’s office to let her figure out how it was that “any girl in her right mind would come to school dressed as an African tree when Betsy Ross was a viable alternative.” When 11:00 came, Evangeline wandered into St. Simeon’s administrative offices looking for the therapist, who as it turns out was engaged in a roof bolting consultation with Deputy Mayor Trudeau. So, she rambled instead into the office of Mr. Rugglebart, the incalculably obese man who met with all eighth grade students attempting to find internship in the town’s local oil refineries and toiletry manufacturing plants. Evangeline wasted no time in getting to the heart of the matter. “You help kids figure out what they want to do with their lives, right?” Rugglebart nodded, unsure whether he was awake, asleep, dead, or the target of some strange administrative performance review. She continued. “Good. I want to be the Tree of Ténéré.” Rugglebart nodded again. Evangeline sighed and shook her branches. “The Tree of Ténéré was the most important tree in all of history. It was all alone in the Sahara, a beacon of hope and strength. And now it’s gone. I want to be the Tree of Ténéré.” Rugglebart nodded once more, concluding that the spandexed sixth grader was not in fact a figment of his imagination. Leaning forward and resting his hands in the droopy pockets of his burgundy cardigan, he sighed. “It looks to me like you already are the Tree of Ténéré. I help kids find what they want – you’ve found it yourself. Go be the Tree of Ténéré.” He paused, unsure whether what he said was right, wrong or legal. Evangeline processed
the words, nodded a deliberate nod, and left Rugglebart to drift back into a confused but happy sleep. The little girl then marched out of the office, down the administrative hallway and straight through the front entrance of the school. Before her stood the vast Chihuahan Desert, stretching for miles as far as the eye could see. The Tree of Ténéré was indeed gone, downed by a drunk driver ten years before Evangeline was born. But with each step into the Chihuahan wild, Evangeline became its heir, her skin tightening, her branches lifting, until finally she too was a singular dot in the vast, dry solitude. A piece of history. Two blinks from a whole lot of nothing.
Of Gods and Curtains Star Spider My God lives behind that curtain. But it doesn’t act like a curtain should, it doesn’t fold and ruffle, no, it hangs so still and solid and thick I would think it was a part of the wall if it wasn’t striped, white and green and white and green. And when my God comes home, smelling of pennies and promises, He will push it aside because He is stronger than me, He is so much stronger than me that He would push the curtain aside even if it belonged to His Idols, He would push it aside because He is the kind of God who needs to know what is behind curtains that are still. I am not strong, in fact, my hands are not hands, they are paws and I crawl along the floor. I am His dog, struggling, struggling to remember who I am beyond what He has taught me. Stupid, He says, Bitch, He calls me, and I remember only those words because those words are my name, because I respond so well to his commands, sit, beg, crawl Stupid Bitch. Sit, beg, crawl. I come crawling back on my tired paws to greet Him because He is all I know and making Him happy affords peace in this small world in which I am to allowed reside. I salivate when He rings the bell for supper. A supper I have cooked. My paws are singed from the stove and cracked from the soapy dish water. I used to play with the bubbles, I used
to watch them sail through the air because they were so light they made me believe in magic. I believed in magic so much that I went out to look for it and, lucky me, I found my God. He is all I need of magic now so the bubbles stay in the sink. They are tools, only tools for the ritual of washing the dishes of my God. Stupid Bitch, He says, mouth full of food, I will take you away, we will live by the seaside, all alone by the seaside and there we will be free. My God knows the future, He tells me to prepare, He tells me who I am and that everything has been written. He says we will be together forever and He is happy that I have given myself to Him. He smells of pennies and promises and I smell of nothing. Every day I scrub myself hard with unscented soap, scrub my self hard to remove the stain of my own personality, to release myself into the soap and the steam and the water so that He may fill me up. You are evil Stupid Bitch, He told me once, when I made the supper wrong, you are evil but if you follow my instructions you can be good. So I wash myself clean of myself and try to fill up with Him instead, hang on to His every word, try to perfect my slow crawl across the apartment floor, the happy wag of my tail when He finally 73
comes home to be with me, to hide all the tears that fall whenever He is gone or hidden, hidden behind the curtain. A hidden God. I wonder if there is any other kind of God, any who show themselves, who put themselves on display so we can see them at their weakest, when they laugh, when they cry, when they shit. Or maybe those things are beyond the Gods, maybe those things are only for dogs, only for me. He doesn’t try to fuck me, He won’t even hit me. He doesn’t want to touch me, His hands are too holy and fucking is for dogs, another thing that is only for me. I hoard those things because so many things belong to Him, like light and song and goodness and right, those pure things are His and I get the others. I keep them in a row on the floor by my bed, those things that are mine: evil, and fucking, and shitting. I get tears too, and sorrow. Secret sorrow. I should be happy, He says, I should love myself in spite of myself, I should be happy to know the future, to be a part of something bigger, with Him. My sorrow is like a black river, hidden behind the curtains of my eyes and it flows and flows and erodes my insides. You should be happy, He says, when He hears me in the deep night, sobbing, sobbing, tears of black onto my pillow. We are going to the sea, far away from this evil place where we can be alone together and I can teach you to be good. Yes, yes, I cry, I want to be happy, this is the place I want to be, with You everything is perfect. It’s me, I say, it’s my fault, the black river has always flowed through me, I just never noticed it before today. The supper bell rings and I crawl. When was the last time I saw the sky? He doesn’t want me to leave because there is evil out there, evil out there and evil in here,
deep in here. I cry into His noodles, His beans, His soup. His soup is too salty, Stupid Bitch, His soup is so salty I must be trying to poison Him. Do I want Him to have a heart attack, to die and leave me forever? I can’t answer the question, but the answer must be no. The answer must be no but I wonder: if my God was to die would I be allowed to see the sky? No no Stupid Bitch, don’t think that, I say to myself. Sit, beg, crawl. He doesn’t need to be there to say the words anymore, to remind me I am His. I salivate when the bell rings. I build a mask to catch my tears, a mask that makes me blind and I burn my paws on His soup. He is pleased that the salt is gone, but mad that my eyes won’t stop leaking, there must be a flood, a broken pipe. I can’t bring a Broken Dog with me to the sea, He says. Broken Dog is not my name, Stupid Bitch is my name. He drives me to the vet, but I can’t see the sky because I wear the mask all the time now, to soak up my tears. Broken Dog, He calls me now, not my name, not my name. He doesn’t want a Broken Dog. My God lives behind that curtain, white and green, white and green. My God has been out for hours when I reach for it, reach for the curtain, with a hand that is not my own. A hand in the shape of the vet’s hand, with smooth fingers and rings of gold. Maybe the vet is a God too, a God of Broken Dogs. Go behind the curtain, the vet says, here, use my hands. She lends me her hands and they are strong enough to pull the curtain back, to 74
reveal the room beyond, my God’s room, the place where He resides. The walls are covered in ink, in words, I have stopped crying, removed my mask so I can read. There are stories of my life, my history, my psyche, there are plans for the future drawn like maps, scrawled like spiders across the white, white walls. My God is not a God, he is an Elephant, with memories as long as the world. It is all written by his hand, nothing divine, just an Elephant making plans for the future. He is not a God, he is an Elephant and I am not a dog, I am a mouse. I am small and fast, but if I stay I will be trampled. I back up and out as my Elephant returns, my eyes are dry and he watches the curtain fall, back into place. But it is not a curtain, I see that now, it is a carpet. His eyes are wide with wrath, but small, so small. Everything is small now as my God diminishes. Not an Elephant or a God, just a man. Your Idols are crumbling, I scream, you have put them so high on their pedestals you can’t see the cracks. Then I run and he reminds me that I am too broken to run, but I have borrowed the vet’s legs as well as her hands and I am faster than him. Down down down the stairs and out into the sky. He shouts from the balcony, I don’t want a Broken Dog. But it is too late. He is a broken god, for what is a god with no one to pray for him? 75
Decency The swerve of headlights ahead: something nicked and broken. The truck moves past in a blackened blur. Stopping my car I see the fawn still breathing, sinew unknotted and legs unwoven, browns eyes looking at me. There is no decency in suffering, the nonsense grew out of careless swerving that even my pity does not undo. In unbelief, I took a revolver from the glove-box and caressed its blank head. Then pulled the trigger. Deer blood to remind me of another unkindness of heedless speed and motion. My grandmother prattles about the Garden of Eden how we all fell but the sinister bit of truth no enchanted apple can explain steel upon flesh. It drags the ear to hear faithful talk about the wicked tree. Like a record skipping, the lambs bleat but we know what shepherds do to a herd at the end. A less kind culling comes from what we choose to believe. In the end: no waves, no wind, no sound, but swerving atoms collapsing and colliding. Making and unmaking life: itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hard to be decent tramping down the mud and nurslings under heel and yet kindness is careful violence and a clean end and kinder still the care to to avoid the blind side swerve.
Ultraviolence we met when Eros was looking for a rope to hang himself. i was simpler— young and panting, carrying burdens heavier than heaven’s gates. you ripped me from the roots and readied the nerves for the swaddling slumber of Plath’s great electric-shock white-heat-love-making engraved in the memory of the scholars who specialize in shame. mountains rumbled when you touched me, but i dulled the avalanche to a dog whistle. to pack a bag is to be reborn again into promise of blinded flight. i don’t want a handler, a tamer, a man who fancies himself a breaker of wild jungle cats with shifting eyes. you came strapped with the fear of deep sea depths and Wonder Women who hold divine power in the ink-dipped locks of their hair. you are the witch-hunter who shot me down. maybe i could have saved both of us if trust had never comfortably crystallized and i had bothered to turn around.
Return to Dust Xavier Vega The public library is always full of Mexicans taking advantage of free federal outreach programs. They come for help filing taxes or to take citizenship classes. Some of them come for the computer lab, and some bring their children to borrow books or DVDs because they have no money for cable. I tutor English, and in my study room today is a middle aged couple and their baby. They both have muddy colored skin and they are very oily. The baby looks like a baby. They are shiny people, like little jewels twinkling in the sun. My father told me that Mexican bakers would rub their dough against their skin to collect grease before kneading. It wasn’t a disservice; they just simply didn’t know they were disgusting. The Mexicans who came over learned some of the American rules of cleanliness, but some didn’t care enough to change. A roach here or there adds crunch. My father told me that you can’t trust other Mexicans. The four of us sit in a soundproof study room with windows, but it is a cheap library in a cheap city, so the room is not truly soundproof. The baby cries and other patrons stare into the room as if we were animals in a zoo. It is frustrating to continue our lesson, but the mother calms her child and we continue. “Did you understand the homework?” I said, hoping to recap our last lesson.
The woman did quite well, but the husband struggles. “Yes, sir,” he said. “Are you sure?” “Yes, sir.” I believe they are in their thirties, but they look like they are in their forties. The man wears a hat and a flannel shirt with jeans. The woman wears a thin dress. The husband fakes his way through our lesson and he reminds me of children I previously tutored. You have to confront them on their issues without demeaning them. The husband’s shame fills the room and he taps his fingers on our table. His fingers are calloused and his nails are caked with dirt. He reminds me of my father back when we lived in old tin trailers on dirt roads. The baby works to my advantage. I give him a man-to-man talk to convince him to stay. I speak to him in Spanish. “You plan to stay here for a long time, yes?” “Yes, sir. We want to stay.” “So the child will grow up in America, yes?” “Yes, sir. I want him to go to school and get smart to get a good job.” “You won’t have to worry about him. He will speak English. He will watch English TV with English cartoons. He will speak English at school, he will speak English with his friends, he will read English books, and he will learn with English teachers. It will all come very naturally to him. He may even prefer 78
English to Spanish.” I pause for a moment and smile down at their sleeping child. “I could barely speak Spanish myself for many years,” I said, “I could understand it a little, but a few things never made sense. I wasn’t very good at speaking it. My parents wanted me to know English first so I could do well in school, and it worked. But what will happen if you and your son can’t speak the same language?” We went over the homework again and I showed him what he did wrong. Later, I explained that Americans pronounce their vowels differently; their mouths don’t open as much, which is why they were so quiet. “No” in Spanish puts a large emphasis on the O. The mouth expands more and the lips stretch out further. To Americans this is loud. They don’t like it when people get loud because they are quiet and tame. They do not like to strain themselves. I don’t tell him to ask his wife for help, otherwise he would never come back. She doesn’t offer him any help either, and the husband continues to struggle. Our hour ends. I leave the library and walk to a bar for a drink before I go home. I graduated Summa Cum Laude from a highly accredited University, but I’m Mexican so I look around the bar for men to fight. When I was young I would take a sharp pencil and drag it across my arm in an attempt to tattoo myself. It was not a depressed form of self-harm, but rather a stupid attempt to mark myself as a member of a gang because that’s what all the other Mexicans were doing. Thin trails of lead marked Sur 13 on my arm because I hated white people. I knew some kids who dug paperclips across their skin to draw tiny amounts of blood, hoping to cover their cuts with permanent marker to make a tattoo. Some of them got arrested for misdemeanors over the years, some dropped out and got menial jobs. Those parents I tutored have so much hope, but there’s no guarantee their kids won’t be stupid. The problem with being Mexican is
that you can’t get away with stupidity the same way that white people can. I am dressed professionally, and I am confident that if I do land in a fight and if police were to become involved, they would take my word over that of a stupid gangster. Part of this disgusts me, but part of me relishes it. I remember being stupid. We all hated white people because our parents worked so hard for so little. Picking strawberries is a job that requires you to bend over for hours at a time, and the pay is not hourly, but per unit. My farm paid us two-dollars per flat, and so it was about speed, but the money never added up to enough. We all saw the big American Pie in The Sky, but we got the tiniest slice, and so we tricked ourselves into thinking that white people were weak and pathetic, and that Mexicans did hard labor because only we were tough enough. We didn’t need breaks or overtime. We didn’t need food. You have to do something to not hate yourself, and success through adversity is the sweetest kind of success. All the good superheroes have tragic origins. Hercules had his Twelve Labors, and grown men cry on national television when they win the Super Bowl. All the shit and pain and despair vanish with victory as a boxer finally snatches that golden belt and declares himself Champion of the World. A Warrior. When I was young and overweight I used to run laps around the large strawberry fields. By the time I started, the berry pickers had been working for several hours, and I finished running several hours before they went home. No matter how hard I ran, I knew I would never be as powerful as them. They were warriors. The bar is dim and quiet, and in the back are several pool tables. Sitting at the bar, I sip a rum and coke. I’m an odd sight, wearing a dress shirt and slacks inside a Mexican pool hall, but the older crowd appreciates my work in the community, so I have a little respect. It’s the young bucks that don’t like me, and I like 79
that they don’t like me because it means we can fight. A young cholo sits next me. He wears long socks and long, baggy shorts that reach his ankles. There are many other stools by the bar, and he could have picked any of them. He knows it and I know it. Mexicans always want someone to fight. “I’m saving that seat,” I said. He gives me the dirty eye, and instead of giving him one back, I give him a look that tells him he is beneath me. In reality I am jealous of him and his power, but I want him to think that I think I am better than him. It’s the best way to antagonize him. He shakes his head and moves to the other end of the bar, and so I take another drink. The cholo’s t-shirt has a cartoon of a bald and shirtless Mexican gangster in sunglasses with a bandana around his forehead. The cartoon wears baggy khakis, but the cartoon isn’t a bad guy. The cartoon is on a cross with a sad woman close to him. In the background is Jesus weeping, and on the top of the shirt is the caption To Love is to Suffer. I remember that shirt because a young boy in middle school wore that same shirt as he lay on the restroom floor in a fetal position, protecting himself from his fellow gang members as they jumped him in. They stomped his ribs and kicked him in the face, but after a while one gangster called off the beating. The boy got up and hugged his attackers, and they left the bathroom and went somewhere to get high. It’s a strange initiation, but I suppose some fraternities have done worse. It doesn’t surprise me though. First we had the Aztecs. They were all about human sacrifice and tearing out hearts. They would serenade volunteers with flaming arrows to the chest on top of large temples. They had Flower Wars where the entire purpose was for opposing armies to gain sacrifices for their gods. And then the conquistadors came in with a vengeful God that demanded penance and sacrifice. A man has to suffer to be a man. He has
to endure pain. Carlos Fuentes said that’s what Mexico is all about; you have to kill a man to believe in him. You need to slit your wrists and let the blood nourish your crops. Huitzilopochtli won’t allow it any other way. A few men in their late teens come in. They’re wearing blue Dickies and blue hats and blue Nike Cortez shoes. I laugh at the irony and decide to antagonize them. “Nice shoes,” I said, “Nike Cortez?” “Yeah,” said one of the gangsters, “You got a problem?” “Did you know that Hernan Cortez was the Spanish conquistador who came to Mexico and killed all the Aztecs? Stole their gold, raped their women, gave them smallpox. And you’re wearing his shoes. It’s cute.” “The fuck you care?” “Just wondering why you were wearing a white man’s shoes.” “What?” “Cortez was from Spain. Spanish people are white. Those conquistador shoes are white. The Aztecs, the warriors? They were something else. They were magic.” “Watch your back, faggot.” I chuckle, hoping for them to make the first move, but like nervous lovers nothing happens. I’m worried that the Mexican people are all dying. Mexican Americans will take over this country in about twenty years, if the numbers are true, and I am not a Mexican. I am a Mexican American. I live in the space between two worlds. I want to be professional and dignified, but I also want to get drunk and scream to Tejano music. Mexico truly is a rugged country. The cartels still decapitate villagers and stick theirs heads onto pikes. You don’t see that shit in Seattle. I’m trying to get into a bar fight because I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. My tutoring job is funded by a federal grant, and I might not be employed a year from now, but even if that were certain, I would rather be doing something else. I didn’t want to go to graduate school because there is too much petty academia. Academia doesn’t reach out to the people. It’s 80
an ivory tower of supposed intellectualism. It’s incestuous and hollow, full of people looking for careers instead of knowledge. Academics tend to look down on the ants who slave away for minimum wage with nine-to-five jobs. The working class. The Warriors. Academia does nothing to help people who struggle, it just documents suffering like someone who calls themselves an artist but just sits around doing coke all day while having sex with under aged models. Rich bastards with inheritance. Inheritance bugs me. It’s like watching a horde of cannibals eating the corpse of one great man, taking the rewards for his hard work without struggling themselves. They don’t value things the way we do. And then I remember how I’m making myself feel superior this way, and I know I need a reality check. In my mind I know this is not the face of all white people. I perfectly understand this, but I cannot believe it. At least that’s what I think. Or maybe I was too scared and didn’t think I could last in the white man’s world. A few more blue gangsters walk into the bar and they greet their compatriots who insulted me. They point me out and I raise my drink to them with a shit-eating grin. They glare at me and I wink. I was about to get some action when a few red gangsters walked over from the pool tables towards the blue gangsters. None of them want to fight me. They want to fight each other. They want to fight someone in the same boat. It’s prisoner envy; why should one inmate get privileges and not the others? Beating someone below or above you won’t change the system, but beating someone who’s supposed to be on the same level? That makes you better as an individual. That makes you special. There was a stare down and some pushing, but the bartender threatened to call the police, and so everyone left. I wanted to find them on the streets but realized that I would be making an ass out of myself. I finished my drink and paid, and the bartender smiled at me. He never cusses me out the way he does
with his friends. I walked towards to my apartment and saw some chonga ladies in the street. They wear gaudy gold bracelets, lowrise jeans, thick lipstick and eyebrows that have been shaved off and drawn back on. They dance to reggaeton in the street, and I can feel them staring at me as I pass. We both look like Frankenstein monsters. Sometimes I don’t feel man enough to be with my own kind, but then I feel restricted when I have to be around white people. I’ve read bell hooks, Foucault, and all the other big thinkers. I’m well versed in the social sciences that shape the human psyche. Intellectually, I can understand my problems, but my heart wants something else. I want to be the Golden Aztec who wears cheetah skin with a bald eagle’s head as a helmet. As I kept walking, the music began to pour out the pool hall, and I pondered upon the similarities between a dance club and the jungle. Nothing important has ever been said in a club. Loud music, dancing, a search for lackluster sex, and the occasional fight. It’s all very primal, full of awkward mating rituals, and even the cleanest bars have a dim and seedy vibe like raw meat or Mardi Gras in a bottle. That’s not a shot at Mexicans. Everybody turns savage when the beats are good. I get a phone call from Sherry. Her sister is fine. She has a broken toe but will be given a splint and should be able to function. Sherry apologizes for missing our appointment, but says that she can meet me later tonight if I can make it. When I arrive home I turn on some jazz and read an issue of National Geographic. Today we are in Thailand, discussing Muay Thai, the fighting style that inspired Kickboxing. Some would say that it is a crude and blunt martial art, but some say the technique is graceful. It’s not about learning the myriad ways to hurt a man, but mastering a limited number of ways to hurt a man. Muay Thai, and all exercise in general, is rewarding because of the sweet relief from pain. Any weightlifter will tell you how good your muscles feel after 81
you toss an enormous load onto the ground after the struggle. For the uninitiated, think of a nice couch or bed after a long day at the office. Think of taking off a heavy backpack after school. In Thailand, all the young men fight. Fourteen year old boys will compete in title fights and retire in their late teens unless they have the potential to become a star warrior. Their skills require hundreds of hours of training and repetition. Muay Thai kicks make use of the shin and not the foot, and students practice their low roundhouse kicks with each other, connecting against each other’s shin to strengthen the bone. This country makes me so soft. Apart from a few minor gang fights in my younger days, I can’t say I’ve been in any serious conquests. The only other violence I’ve faced in my life was from my parents, and it was never abuse or neglect. Very few people acknowledge that violence is a necessity in the real world. It has its uses. Disciplining children is a cerebral task. You never hit a child in an emotional outburst; you only do it deliberately as a lesson, like any good teacher. Most kids can’t understand the consequences of their actions. They don’t understand the social contract or that their actions can lead to trouble, or they’re not smart enough to care. What they can understand is a smack on the arm or to the back of the head. You phase it out once they’re smart enough to understand yelling and shame. Humans are not as fragile as white people believe. Discipline teaches you respect when done right. You’re forced to acknowledge the power of others. You learn not to fuck up someone else’s shit because you can end up punched in the face or with a broken back. It’s an awareness that most people don’t have. An awareness that can save your life. An awareness that can become a crippling fear. I once read an old story where an aristocrat couple cheated on each other with members of the lower class. The wife tricks the peasant woman into a trap, getting her killed in the
process, which causes the couple to stop the cheating and live happily ever after. It was written by Maqruis De Sade, I believe, and that story pissed me off because the peasant woman was disposable. For some reason I really wanted justice for that lady. It’s human nature to want justice. On the internet I click on links titled Justice Porn. It’s all about bad people getting caught and punished; turning the tables on a mugger or bullies. It feels good to condemn things; we love to hate things. We’ll team up on someone if they say something against the LGBT community or black people. We hate Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber for some reason, and that’s perfectly fine with most people over twenty one. Hatred aimed at acceptable targets is highly fashionable. Hatred will never die, and this is exactly how propaganda works. One of Hitler’s men made a series of cowboy movies featuring villainous Jews that would try to destroy small towns. Victorious showdowns at high noon got all the Jr. Nazi’s excited. Think about that for a minute, then think about Twilight. One day there will be a book burning, and suddenly the lines will become blurry again. It’s stubbornness that allows Mexicans to thrive, but it also keeps them miserable. Hard work can get some people up and into the world, but an overdose will keep you cynical. It takes away your faith and leaves you bitter and depressed. There are no pleasures that come without hard work. Hard work is important. Hard work is what gets you success. You have to go through trauma early on in order to be prepared. What you reap is what you sow. No pain, no gain. I drive into the city hoping to meet with Sherry. I park outside a closed bank, walk past a butcher shop, go down an alley and open an unmarked door. Down the steps is another door, and past that is a receptionist who tells me to wait. Ten minutes later, I am tied up in an elaborate torture table. I am shirtless and flat on my back with my arms and legs spread apart. My wrists and ankles are tied to ropes 82
and the ropes are propped up and strung through pulleys. Sherry cranks a steel gear that slowly pulls my limbs apart. Then she digs her nails across my chest, sits on stomach, bites me randomly and slaps me around a bit. Towards the end she sits on my face for several minutes. I struggle and shake and suffer and scream as she squeezes her thighs to choke the air out of me. My screams are not screams of pain, but a battle cry. The cries of a berserker. Our time is up and I help her clean the room. “How’s your sister?”– “She’s fine. Overreacting if you ask me. How about you? It’s been awhile. How’ve you been?” “Well, I’m feeling much better now.”
My Perceptive Simulacrum
Now that he has died she moves to the mainland, a neat white house above the river, packs life in boxes: dishes, linens, photos of children alive and dead. Age rests on her shoulders, but does not burden. She unpacks records and cassettes, from the forties on, recalls a piñata she bought for Jason’s ninth birthday: paper machè burro, bright with red, yellow and turquoise blue. She hung it high; children, blind and vicious with the broom, left a shattered husk, dangling paper streamers and cardboard innards. For weeks foil-wrapped candies sparkled in the shrubbery.
At a supermarket in South Florida Whitman gazes at me through the eyes of an old woman who wants that last helping of pineapple the nice Publix lady is handing out. Even though I know the yellow flesh is good for my inflamed prostrate I move on to other matters of fruit and vegetables. Kale for example, full of iron and vitamins, a deep cosmic green that makes me dream of acres and acres of tobacco in a Virginia sun. It’s odd that the prettiest leaves were poison. There’s the old woman again, standing in front of the narrow display of free range chicken, each package with a website that will take me to the farm where the chicken was raised by a nice family, and if I imagine deeply enough, I can travel to that farm, inhale the deep calm of those green pastures where it feels like a man can settle down, raise his own family with his own chickens Maybe even have a cow or two for fresh milk. And if I imagine even deeper I can travel into the past of that family, see a grandpa tilling a field of 19th century radishes while grandma sits in the kitchen reading an Old Farmer’s Almanac, which says the coming winter will be the worst in fifty years, how it would be best to harvest and can all the blackberries and cucumbers so that January might still be filled with sweetness and crisp pickles on the white bread sandwiches that speak of a time when plain was fine. That’s quite a website, so I’d better be sure not to linger too long in its familiar foreign lands, and be sure not to covet the farmer’s daughter whose hair is flaxen and whose breasts rise and fall beneath her lilac blouse, which promises even more flowers and a feast of white skin and nipples so dark, I can’t help but gasp when I touch them, which is a mistake I can’t come back from, and now I live on the farm in the website and clean the chicken coop each morning before gathering eggs for my new wife to scramble into breakfast. I can’t wait to eat them along with the hot buttered biscuits buried in fresh blackberry preserves. 86
A Pocket for Taeko Gregory App A man and his eight-year-old son sat in the attic of their home. A single bare light hanging in the center of the room illuminated the space, but every box, suitcase and unread book cast the room in shadows while planks of wood and rafters melted into the darkest corners of construction. A draft in the ceiling let the October afternoon seep in, and wandering sheets of dust floated through the mothball scent of history to settle on the pink insulation separating the yesterday of storage from the today of downstairs. The man had climbed the retractable ladder in search of a cast iron skillet so that his wife, the child’s mother, could cook her famous soufflés upon her return from work and he brought his son to assist in the search. However, the man lost himself in a box of college days and the child explored his father’s chest of military souvenirs, unsure of what a cast iron skillet even looked like. “Hey,” the son said, holding up a green canvas backpack with one hand while brushing a tuft of hair out of his face with the other. “Was this in a war?” The bag had sun-bleached yellow spots like bad skin and the pockets and pouches remained sealed by thick straps with tin end caps looped into metal bits. The boy undid various clasps and looked through each compartment. “There’s nothing in here.” The father lifted his head from a photo album and turned toward the child. His taught
neck accentuated the sharpness of his jaw. “There,” he pointed. “In the front. It’s the bottom pouch.” The child struggled with the pocket as his father continued. “That was my bag from the navy. My brother got it for me before I shipped off to Japan. No war, just fun.” “Oh, cool.” The child freed the straps and opened the pouch. He pulled out first a little plastic toy with a string attached. “What’s this?” he asked, and dangled the item between his thumb and forefinger. Even in dim light and with the pendulum-like swing of the trinket, it was easy for the man to identify the faded colors and shape of the object. “Hello Kitty,” he laughed. “Who’s Kitty?” “No, that’s Kitty,” he said, pointing at the charm. “She’s a character that all the girls loved over there.” “Why do you have it?” His voice was accusatory. “My girlfriend at the time liked her, so I did too.” “Mom?” “No,” he chuckled. “Not your mother.” He told his son about his small gray ship, how they used to go to many ocean side cities in Japan and how at each place there was a different kind of Hello Kitty charm made. “In Kagoshima,” he said, “they had a yam 87
Hello Kitty, and in other towns they had other Kitties. Whatever that town was famous for, they had a Kitty made after it.” He went on to tell how his girlfriend liked to collect these things so he bought them for her whenever he could. After a while, though, she didn’t want any more because her phone became too heavy and cumbersome from all the Kitties, so he put that particular charm on his. “Kawaii the girls would giggle when the saw me and Kitty on the train. They thought I was cute.” “What was her name?” the child asked, as he reached farther into the bag. “Taeko.” He explained how they would sail toward Australia, and Singapore, and Hong Kong stopping in little towns, big towns and nowhere towns all along the way. There would always be something to do and something to buy. “And I would always get her something and place it in that pocket to give to her when I came back home.” “Even this?” the son asked, holding up a credit card size piece of paper laminated and decorated white and red with the name Taeko Zawa written in English. There were other Japanese characters printed on it and a stylized image of a kite in the corner. “Of course,” the man said and smiled. “That’s a lifetime membership to the Japan Kite Association that I got for her birthday one year.” He said he bought it before he and the ship’s crew went on a long deployment and he wanted to give it to Taeko upon his return. “You flew kites?” “No, not really, but we liked to laugh about it.” And he told his son that while on the boat all he did was think about Taeko, and off the boat all he wanted to do besides smile at her was to walk around and explore the world with her by his side. So, whenever they were away from one another he spent this time asking his friends about their secret date spots and searching for fun things for the two of them to do. And he did come up with a great many ideas: they once went to the Tobacco and Salt Museum where
they saw the history of Japanese cigarette packages on display. He chose a box adorned with two imperial Japanese flags as his favorite; she a pack of Nile smokes with the pyramids of Giza on them because she liked the idea of living in the desert and she thought “the Pharaohs had good hair on their face.” They also went to the Ueno zoo where he saw for the first and only time an anteater. They went so many places that he couldn’t remember them too well anymore. But the one place he would always remember is the Kite Museum. “It was fun?” the child asked. “No, it was kind of creepy,” he said staring up at the roof in retrospect. “And boring.” He went on to explain that not all of the places they went were supposed to be fun or terribly exciting, but he only wanted to spend time with her – to experience life with her – and who else would take a girl to the Bank Note and Postage Stamp Museum, anyway? “But the kite place was great,” he continued. “It was spooky the way they crammed ‘em all in there and how they were decorated like bugs or dragons or monsters. It must’ve been a thousand in a room half the size of this,” he gestured with his hands around the attic. “And the lighting was even worse, but none of that mattered because it was the first time anyone told me they loved me.” At the sound of his last sentence the man straightened himself and stared into the insulation. He hadn’t thought of Taeko as a person in many years now for she had become more of an object in time than a living memory, but he surprised himself by wondering what she may be doing and how he would very much like to say hello. “Ew, Dad,” the child interrupted his father’s reverie by wrinkling his face and dropping the card to the floor. “That’s gross.” The father sighed, then moved toward his son to pick up the card. “I guess it is.” He shrugged. “If you loved her so much,” the child said, “why didn’t you give her all those kites?” The man shook his head and hit the card against his free hand. The cheap plastic bent 88
as it moved back and forth over his thumb. “Well,” he paused to scratch his nose. “I did give her one kite, but she let it fly away. She lost it.” He shifted his weight and the floor creaked under the new stress. The child groaned, disappointed in Taeko, but continued rummaging. “Was it a nice one?” “Very,” the father said, and rubbed his jaw as he studied the card further. The plastic lamination peeled in the corners and flecks of dirt and dust found themselves trapped between the edges. “Maybe the nicest kite you could ever have.” “Lots of money?” “No. It wasn’t worth very much.” He inhaled sharply through his nose and bent the membership into a ‘U’ shape. “But it was one of a kind.” “Oh,” the child said, not understanding. “She lost your favorite kite, but you still have all this stuff for her?” His face contorted and his voice rose at the end of the question. The father laughed once, then stopped fumbling with the Kite Association card and turned his head toward the attic fan mounted at the top of the house. It spun slowly as a breeze passed through the assembly of metal blades, and slivers of a bright blue sky could be seen between the whirl. As his son called to him, the man said, still staring upward, “I kept a pocket for Taeko because I wanted to forgive her. I loved her, you know?” He furrowed his brow and thought to continue. He thought to tell his son about how it felt to be away for months at a time and what a simple, distorted long-distance “I miss you” would do to cheer him up. He thought to tell him how scared he would get and how much it meant to hold her hand and watch her smile. He thought to tell his son how Taeko used to occupy his mind and how she let him escape the dread and nothingness when the seas were heavy and the nights grew long. And he thought to explain how his absence made her equally as scared and lonely and how sometimes people who are frightened or alone have decisions to make and their choices are not always what the other person wants.
Sometimes, he thought to say, that’s just a part of everything. But he kept his mouth shut and his eyes off the card and before him his child sat expecting to hear more. The man could think of nothing to say, so instead of stories of the sea and romance the two passed the time by blinking at one another as dust fell like snow in between shadow and light. The fan spun twice. “Oh,” the child said, breaking the silence. He rolled his eyes with great embellishment and began searching in a different box. “I guess we’ll never find that kite up here, huh?” “No. We won’t,” the man replied. He slipped the card into his back pocket and moved toward his son. “But it’s OK.” He placed his hand on the child’s shoulder. “I’ve got a new kite now. Your mother helped me choose it.” The young man bent down to rummage through the container and left his father’s hand hanging in the air behind him. “I don’t like kites I decided,” he said into the depths of the box. After reaching as far down as his arms would stretch, he returned to face his father, spinning the wheels of a red metal car in his palm. “But mom gives good gifts, so she probably got you a good one.” The man smiled, full of teeth, and nodded. “She did. I know it.” After staring at the child for a moment he shook himself and returned the card to the pouch in the bag. He tightened the straps and placed the bag in its chest, but before he could close the lid the sound of the front door opening caught the duo’s attention. “Mom’s home!” the boy lit up and hurried toward the ladder. From below, a woman called out, “I’m starving. Where are my men at?” “Hold up,” the father said before the child climbed downstairs. “Can you take this to her?” He moved toward the ladder, reached into a box and grabbed the skillet they had come in search of. Its weight was almost too much for him to handle with one hand, but after adjusting his grip he was in control of the kitchenware. “Be careful, now. It’s heavy.” “OK, Dad,” the boy said, eager to greet his 89
mother. He grabbed the skillet’s round body with two hands and shouted, “Mom! We’re up here.” He scooted himself down the wooden rungs, his bottom resting on every step during the descent. The child’s stomping rattled decorations as he crashed down the hallway, and the man who now sat alone under the dim light with his shadows, his bag, his charms, and a lifetime membership to the Japan Kite Association could hear the joy in his wife’s voice and the excitement in the boy’s. He brushed the dust off a nearby container, returned to his souvenir box, placed the bag inside and closed the lid with both his hands. Before rising completely he froze with his torso hovering over the chest, his head bent and his arms supporting him like an exhausted athlete. He breathed deeply and stared down at the lid where dust settled and disappeared into the darkness of the grain, but he was looking beyond dust and wood now. He was looking at cigarettes and anteaters and trying to remember the color and the shape of his favorite kite. He was looking at the ocean and the stars and trying to feel insignificant again. He was looking at Taeko’s hands and remembering their softness, her face and its warmth, her smile and its brightness – the lives they would have had together if kites were not so easy to lose.
Quartet I. We lived on hills dreamt of pillows and quilts other than our own sang our songs of love and farm animals II. I could be so happy when the geese scatter shuddering limbs and gills of bass we reel in solemn and early III. I’ve learned how to build a fire in every size put it out with lake water watch white ashes wither the hottest softest part IV. You can come round again but our piano is still untuned and you’ll find my red boots on the back porch a hornet’s nest in our attic
Before We Fall Silent One more poem, then of legs and the moist spaces between them. One more of the lives spent near water, the summers of waves and the caps of light we woreâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; foraged halos. One more of your hair, its sticky golden strands stuck to your face. One more useless poem, then, of the time spent on memory, all of the heat we squandered.
Tokyo Francis Davis
Julia and I lived in South Philly, in what the locals called a trinity, an 18th century brick house with three rooms pancaked above a basement kitchen where bars lined the windows and the ceiling was low enough to scratch the top of a tall man’s head. A spiral staircase thumb-screwed from the basement to the top floor. I’d taken one look at the place, my bags still in Julia’s car, and knew I’d go crazy if I stayed longer than a couple of months. “This is cool,” I said. “This’ll work.” Julia had just picked me up from the airport terminal after my thirteen-hour flight from Tokyo, where I’d gone to live with my banker brother to teach English for a year and reinvent myself only to come back, lamely, after six short weeks. Before I’d fled Japan, I’d caught a fever, moped around, visited ghostly Kyoto and tribal Korea, where I’d bought a hand-carved wooden joker’s mask, sensing that I was leaving behind exactly what I’d hankered after for years—a fresh start, an adventure, a new me. Life in Japan surely would have blossomed if I’d simply stuck it out. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I’d already punched my ticket home, already told my brother I was leaving, so I’d gone to a park and buried a note under a cherry tree, promising myself that someday I’d be back to dig it up. I’ve never gone back, and probably never will, but I like to imagine this other me, maybe still there, settled down with a Japanese wife and raising biracial beauties, digging sumo wrestling, baseball, and the simplicity of tea. I’d run into Julia at an AIDS dance benefit a couple of months before I’d left for Japan
and shortly after my bad break with Rita, lovely Rita, whom I’d lived with for a cozy five years until April 1, the day (and night) she didn’t come home from work, my whole life since then like some kind of hidden-camera April Fool’s joke, and a milligram of me still expecting even now, years later, for Rita to pop into the room and scream “Gotcha!” But this story is about Julia. She’d wooed me home with a series of long, breathless phone calls, phone calls which, because of the thirteen-hour time difference, always took place either late at night or insanely early in the morning, and always, always started with the same set of questions: “What are you doing? Are you up? What time is it there?” as if we couldn’t believe time could bend like that. These calls had infuriated my brother, who’d presented me the bill, red-faced, while we stood in the Narita airport waiting for my departure flight back to Philly. I’d paid him with the last of my yen, glad to be rid of that money, and not surprised at his attitude—this the guy who had once showed up at my dorm in Philadelphia, red-faced, clutching two twenties, which he shoved into my hands, saying, “You can’t call Dad every time you need something, Stewart. You have to learn how to take care of yourself.” The very same guy who, years later, would bully me into turning away from my father as he lay dying in the hospital after falling down the basement steps of my sister’s house. My father needed surgery to stop the bleeding in his brain and save his life, a surgery we’d refused because at the time he was also dying (just more slowly) from pancreatic 94
cancer. I’d cowardly ceded the decision to my older brother, letting my father slip into that dark current as my brother whispered into my ear, “You have to take your emotion out of a decision like this, Stewart. Right? You understand this, yes?” Julia, though, saved me from all this—my brother, my indecision, myself. She was a sculptress who worked with clay, an artist, the real kind who created objects of beauty, not like me, a sad-sack writer who called himself an artist but scribbled only nonsense, lies, no one would ever read. She had a studio in Old City, and actual people paid actual money for the stuff Julia made—life-sized limbs and torsos, quirky salt-n-pepper shakers molded into the shapes of animals that sold for fifty bucks a pop at craft stores along trendy South Street. I loved her because of her art and because the evidence of this art was everywhere—the front of her jeans, the tips of her finger, her neck. And soon enough the evidence was in our house, our tiny gingerbread house, where on the first floor a huge, clunky piece of clay shaped into the form of a female torso sat like some demented God, some sliced apart Buddha. We used it as a side table and called it good. The second floor was not much bigger than a closet, but Julia insisted I make it my study, and I threw myself into this idea with the abandonment of a banshee, working atop a wooden door I’d scavenged from a junkyard in North Philly, hacking away day after day at some new version of myself that, even then, I suspected might take me away from Julia.
I’d ditched Rita, and her exquisite blonde looks, two minutes inside the front door, and headed to the back yard, hoping to find Julia, but really what I sought was myself, that version of me that I wanted to become, the artist, the creative man, anything but the man I was at that moment, saddled in a relationship with a girl who didn’t create (or drink), but programmed computers and acted rationally, day after day after day after day. I was twentyfour, two years out of college, unemployed, the first Bush was still in the White House, and I had no clue how to give birth to this idea of myself that I’d been carrying around like a secret, like a boy carrying a frog in his pocket, but on the porch that night I spotted Julia and felt the first scratchings of this new me clawing to get out. Julia had short spiky blonde hair— pretty, but in a butchy sort of way, and she had what looked to be an acorn pinned like a medal to the front of her jean jacket. I saddled up next to her in the moonlight chill and asked for a cigarette. She didn’t smoke, but bummed me one from some other guy, and a light too, and we laughed at this, bonding over our role reversals. When she asked what I did, I said I was a writer. And when she asked what I wrote about, I said, “My generation, you know, how we live in the shadow of the sixties. It’s kind of sad how we’re not defined and all.” It felt like the truth, and, more importantly, Julia didn’t smirk, or laugh, but nodded like I made perfect sense, and when I asked her what she did, she said she was an artist, and right then I wanted her. I remember specifically wanted to exchange Rita, my Michelle-Pfieffer look-alike girlfriend from Roxborough, with Julia, this butch-looking artist in jeans and a denim jacket that matched mine. Rita came outside then, wide-eyed, a little shocked at the scene, and said she wanted to go home, so we went home to fight about it, beginning our mad march away from one another. So nine months later, Rita gone, I’d spotted Julia at the dance benefit in the city, and it seemed like serendipity—it seemed only natural to saunter up and speak to her, kick-starting a relationship
Ironically, the first time I’d met Julia I was with Rita at a party in West Philly. Rita was taking one of Julia’s pottery classes, maybe because she was sensing my frustration with her orderliness, her perfection, and at this party, in the middle of January, in a bombedout section of West Philly, there was drinking everywhere, pierced people smoking, a thrash band thrashing, and a back porch where all the badass creative types hung, talking the talk, shivering and smoking under a moonless gray city sky. 95
even though I was already planning to skedaddle to Japan in two short months. What I didn’t know at the time, or what I didn’t want to believe (and maybe still don’t) is that there is no one directing all of this nonsense, no man behind the curtain directing the way; it’s just us and our choices, our silly little choices.
mindset—East versus West, but within those broader categories things are pretty much the same.” “But don’t you get to define those categories, choose your paradigms.” “Nice word.” “I know. A little birdie whispered it to me.” “Yeah, well, maybe. I don’t know. I’m confused. I think we need more beer.” “I can’t. I have to fire a piece in the kiln before we take off.” “What body part is this?” “Ha. It’s a hand with a little bit of the wrist attached, like someone reaching up through the sand.” “What sand?” “Beach sand.” “What’s wrong with dirt.” “Too ghoulish.” “I want it to be playful. I want people to laugh.” “Dirt isn’t funny?” “You want dirt? It can be dirt. Come down. I’ll show you.”
Julia and I tried to make a life in that house, and for a short time we did. At my junkyard desk, I scribbled my lies, slowly untwisting them, making them a little more true each day. I’d read somewhere that if a person could simply sit still for an hour or two each day and write that by the end of a year’s time the routine would have either burned itself inside that person or that same individual would realize the writing life was not the one he wanted. Julia had no such questions. She worked at her studio in Old City, molding her funky women’s torsos, her amputated limbs, her lumpy moon rocks, her salt-n-pepper shakers, her single eyeballs looking right down into the center of me, firing them in a kiln as big as our bedroom, and when I visited her at this studio we often took a six pack of Rolling Rock to the tarpapered roof that overlooked Old City. On the roof we bullshitted about love and art, the shiny city below ours, our future itself roaming along the cobblestone streets, slipping past the ghosts of Franklin and Jefferson, skirting the shadows of the street lamps, our talk, our words, drizzling down on them like rain. “Where do you want to be in five years?” “Published. A book. I want a book.” “You can’t be in a book. Where do you want to live, Stewart?” “I don’t know. Here. There. I’m not sure it matters. I guess I live mostly in my head, anyway. It’s sort of the same everywhere.” “Is that what it was like in Japan, like here?” “Not at all. There was a whole different way of looking at things over there, a completely different paradigm.” “But how does that make sense if it’s the same everywhere.” “Well, amend that. What I’m saying is it’s a
But I wasn’t ready for this life, this talk, this love. None of it. The sad way Rita lingered like smoke in my imagination, and around the one-year anniversary of her departure, Julia entertained some artist friends from New York City, whom I think were either moving to Seattle or had recently returned from Seattle—this before Seattle became a cliché of the alternative lifestyle. Cobain and his boys were still laboring happily in obscurity and the rest of us could only sense that some type of sea change was in the air. Being part of it, we were oblivious to all that young life bubbling up from beneath the surface, life that would eventually burst forth only to be gobbled up, repackaged and sold as a gimmick, topped with the bow of grunge, flannel, and Starbucks—a cell phone in every pocket. “They have these coffee bars there,” Julia’s friend said of Seattle. “They drink so much coffee, it’s kind of crazy, but I guess it’s because of the rain. And the music scene is really rad. The bands have this really thrashing sound, but 96
it’s not really like metal.” “What’s it like?” I asked. We were in our basement kitchen, drinking wine out of some sake cups I’d brought back from Tokyo, and Julia’s friend, like most of Julia’s friends, was dressed in black second-hand clothing, and she was, I thought, just a little pretentious. Julia, I think, knew her from Ohio, where they both had gone to art school together. “I’m not sure,” she said. “It’s hard to describe.” I laughed and shook my head and Julia shot me a look of scorn. What I remember most about that evening was how it ended with Julia spitting in my face and how, before that, her friend had cooked us an utterly delicious dinner of potato gnocchi, feta cheese, and spinach. “This is really good cold after you come home from the bars,” she’d said, and it proved true a few hours later. This was a dish I’d steal and make my own, cooking it countless times—a first meal for all my future girlfriends, and the last thing I ever cooked my father, just a couple of days before he fell on those basement steps -- but when I scoffed at Julia’s friend she didn’t rise to the bait. She just stared me down and asked, “What do you do, Stewart?” Now, I have to stop here and tell you this was exactly the kind of life I yearned for when I felt stuck with Rita—the company of artists, wine, good food, but all I could do that night was scorn it—and maybe it had something to do with Julia’s friend’s pretension, or what I perceived as pretension, or perhaps it was the undercurrent of a sexual vibe that seemed to exist between them, or maybe the fact that Julia hung her multi-colored bras over the shower rod in our teeny, tiny bathroom to dry or maybe it was just that basement kitchen, which smelled of mildew and was always cold, but I think it was something deeper than all these things – this habit I had of turning away from exactly what I wanted, this inability to understand my own bruised heart. “Oh nothing, really,” I said, answering Julia’s friend’s question. Julia paused with her sake cup halfway to her
lips, looking as if I had just slapped her. We were toast. Though we didn’t know it yet, we were done. We could have gone anywhere, done anything—Seattle, NY, Europe, but I was paralyzed and I want to know why. Could it be as simple as the tiny black hairs that sprouted on Julia’s nipples and occasionally got stuck between my teeth when I sucked her small breasts, so unlike Rita’s , which were ample, smooth and dreamy white? Can a life pivot on something this shallow—a hair between the teeth? Or is it deeper? The past and future just illusion. My brother’s red face, my turning away from Rita, my father falling down those steps, and me, ridiculous little me, turning away from the old man and letting him die that way, ankles and wrists strapped to the bedrails, his hands covered with enormous white mittens to keep him from pulling out his IVs. In March, a couple of weeks before her friends visited, on one of the first real warm days, we’d set up a couple of lawn chairs atop Julia’s roof so we could sip our beers and gaze out at the Walt Whitman Bridge that connected Philly to Camden, the old poet’s last home. The bridge was decked out in white lights, and on the Philly side of the river, just a few blocks from Julia’s studio, among the redbrick row homes and church steeples reaching toward the sky, stood Independence Hall, a solemn place with marble Romanesque columns lining its entrance and an engraved plaque out front. The Declaration of Independence was signed here, a document that declared the independence of the American colonies from British rule…It didn’t seem real, and in a way, nothing did back then, except our own lives. It’s what youth lacks, I guess, perspective, and though too many people have spent too much time searching for ways to remain young, what should be offered is what the young need the most, a vision that would allow them to see themselves as they really are—brushstrokes, breaths, quivers, how they sit so near the beginning. That night, Julia went to the edge of the studio’s roof and called back to me still lounging in my chair, maybe trying to 97
remember those first few lines of Whitman’s epic poem—I celebrate myself and what I assume you shall assume. Julia said she wanted to show me something. I was comfortable where I was, daydreaming about Whitman, my old life with Rita—the time she and I had stumbled out of a South Street bar near midnight and run past the house where Edgar Allen Poe had penned “The Raven.” Nevermore. Nevermind. Oak trees dripped rain. The silent windows of the house were like a rebuke. How spooked she was, how drunk I was, and how we had stopped running only because we were laughing too hard. Part of me was still running alongside Rita, still laughing and in love, no fault lines dividing my heart like a puzzle, but I rose that night and made my way over to Julia and slung my arm across her shoulder. She wore the same denim jacket she was wearing the night I met her, and I knew we might be together forever or we could be done in a month. Julia shrugged me off, gave me her beer, and said, “Watch this,” before she took a little running start and leapt off the roof. It was only about two feet to the next building, no big thing, but I still dropped her beer in shock, the glass shattering about the same moment Julia landed on the opposite building. “What the fuck?” I said, my heart near my balls. “Are you insane?” She leaned back and barked out a laugh, howling at the moon. “Your turn,” she said. “No way,” I said, thinking at the same time it was only about twenty-four inches, you could almost make it with one giant step. I suspected I was years away from my own death. “Don’t be a afraid,” she said as gentle as if my mother were still breathing. I shrugged, nodded, backed up, put down my beer, and took my own breath. “Wait,” Julia said. “Watch out for that glass.” But I’d already started running, already crunched over the glass, already felt the pinch of pain in the bottom of my foot, already knew that everything was about to change.
The day after her friend left, after we’d argued as her friend slept one off upstairs, I’d call the Frog and asked if they needed any help, beginning that part of my life, the part that would lead to my departure to Montana, but in that dank basement kitchen of our trinity only the moment loomed, Julia’s wine glass halfway to her lips, and she looked over at me with a pleading look. “Oh, Stewart,” she said finally, slugging back her wine, trying to save us, “just tell the truth. For once in your life, tell the truth.” I am, I would like to tell Julia now, wherever she is—after all these years, I’d like to say, I’m finally telling the truth.
Duende Nobody loves the angel or the muse, like they love my nigga, the duende.
When we dance in the desert, we dance with the luciferous moon and the wise neon serpents and the spinning flowers.
The duende be that genius child who is like me, to everyone’s surprise, with a crown, not of laurel or gold, but of woolly kinks and sharpest curls.
Then the duende goes away from me and I wait for it to come again and play with me and love me like it did before.
My nigga the duende draws Promethean flame out from the blood and ancient earth and shares it with the kids who’ve met the fire before in dream and baptism. The duende be that dark miracle who loves me and leaves me and comes back again with the sound of drums and dusty black feet. My nigga duende loves to dance through the desert of my mind where it’s always night and I follow it into the darkness, wherever it may go.
Disease Make me a martyr and I’ll teach you my city. Dusty angels with patchy wings singing glory hallelujahs from the sagging rotting dockspace and sunken-eyed Valkyries padding warningly between lawcourts. There’s a whole universe inside a lady somewhere wearing a fur coat and red lipstick. When she coughs she hacks up stars. The bricks feel like scales when you touch them in the dark. This nightmare inside your head feels as real as pain so imagine it if you couldn’t wake up. If the wolves from the streets were pacing between your ribs. If the blood on their mouths was all yours.
Perpetual Remnants of the Deceased Gina DeCagna I. Mediation This impressionistic poem
concerns the disparity
between past and present, memory and direct experience.1
These copied words from a poetics textbook were scribbled on a yellow sticky note on my desk, which was adorned with many sticky notes, with many penciled phrasings and notes. When taken out of their original context, I’ve discovered how such words could take on new, unexpected meanings—especially when scrambled or left isolated for some time. I value all my sticky notes for catching the transitory bits of particular feelings. Though I may crumble and toss them from time to time, or delete the virtual ones littered across the desktop of my laptop, I believe the ideas held in the scribbles are worth more than anyone’s life. Ideas may not be tangible, but they are invincible. II. Generation coping with death My father’s family history in America began in a tall, tall house. My father’s mother, Sarah, was the eldest of four children born to two immigrants from the rustic village of Tioria outside Naples, Italy. It was 1920 when her parents, Pasquale and Alfonsina, arrived via Ellis Island. They married in St. Lucy’s Church of Newark, New Jersey. Sarah was born two years later, in 1922. I remember St. Lucy’s for its uninhibited gaudiness, resembling the most flamboyant Romanesque-turned Baroque church. In this same church, bejeweled in ostentatious marbles and swirls of gold, I remember Sarah laid in a casket surrounded by her favorite roses. I remember kissing her forehead to say goodbye one last time, and my immediate shock to feel the cold, stiff clamminess of her powdered flesh. She died in 2007 when I was thirteen years old. It was my first funeral. Sarah and her three younger brothers first lived at the top of a six-story flat. Sarah’s younger brother, Nick, heaved loads of coal up and down the stairs to feed the basement’s furnace every day. At his mother’s request, he also purchased lamb and pig’s feet at the morning market on 7th Avenue. He sandwiched the meats between large blocks of ice and heaved them up and down the stairs. 1
The New Anthology of American Poetry, Vol. 2: Modernisms, 1900-1950. p.233. Editor’s Note. 101
Up until his twenties, he ran small errands for the gentlemen that clustered over cards and poker at the local gentlemen’s social club. He earned a shiny copper penny or two, and sometimes, if he were lucky, a nickel. He eventually got a job as a janitor at the local public high school, and he saved everything he earned for the family that birthed him in America. In 1953, he bought his parents and sister a three-story house on Summer Avenue in Newark. “This is my house,” Nick recalls his mother saying in broken English as she held her wrinkled fist against her heart. That house was a symbol of pride that they had made their dream, their purpose, alive in America. My father was born five years later in that house, in 1957, and he lived there until college. My Grandma lived in it for fifty years of her life—until she died in 2007. Nick, today an arthritic but strong octogenarian, still lives in it. For the first ten years of my life, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, “going to Grandma’s” meant she was babysitting my brother and me while our parents enjoyed a weekend excursion. It had three flights of steeply stacked stairs— some going into the basement, some going to the second floor, and some going to the third floor. We climbed them, swinging from railing to railing like they were monkey bars. Sometimes, we pretended to be spies with our walkie-talkies. Grandma waited for her hug at the top of the second floor stairs each time we visited. She would hold our little bodies against her peach-skin form as she rubbed our backs. I haven’t been to that house in seven years— since Grandma died—and yet, it’s one of the most vivid pieces of memory from my childhood. I can’t bring myself to visit the historical landmark of my family, where my father’s linage in America was born, where I’m reminded of what it means to work hard. Though she’s gone, the idea of Grandma still lives in that house. The dream is still alive. I think of hearing her humming—the way she always did in a silent room.
III. Remembrance tombs of ideas The first time I went to a wake by myself, without my parents, was six years after Grandma’s death. It was a wake for Paul Casale, a fifty-two year old contemporary realist painter from Brooklyn who changed the way I approached my art. I took workshops with him throughout high school within my hometown of Cranford, New Jersey. In demonstrations, he would strike a horsehair brush against a canvas like a snake that knows exactly where it’s going. He stood statuesque: his legs shoulder-width apart, his arm outstretched to easel. His light blue eyes shifted back and forth from subject to canvas. And then, he would turn the spotlight to me. “Is that dark of the cast shadow as dark as the hair?” Paul would stop and point out every flaw in value, proportion, line structure, or composition. He was the first instructor I ever had who did not immediately praise me for my work. “Now, when you think of Sargent’s work, you see how he simplifies the form,” Paul would gesture to show the breakdown of light from shadow, of foreground from background. He watched my eyes for recognition, as he held his prized John Singer Sargent book rich with examples. I nodded. He frequently criticized me for trying to get too detailed too soon. “Simplify the form to the basic shapes,” he would say. “Everything starts out as an abstraction.” He told me these things from the time I was fourteen years old until I was eighteen. At nineteen, I stood in a line sweeping around the block, standing not for a painting before an easel, but for Paul’s wake. I was home from my first year of college, and I had recently received second place in the local plein air painting competition. The only artist who had beaten me for the first place prize was a sixty-five year old veteran. I was satisfied, but disappointed when I didn’t see Paul there. The last time I saw him was at a Pathmark—a chance encounter during 102
Christmas break after my first semester. He immediately asked me about my art. I lied. I told him it was going great in college, that I drew every day. He didn’t know that I was spending months engrossed in readings for classes not related to art, that I was taking only one art class that was a fraction of my curriculum. I was in the Ivy League, but that didn’t matter to artists—it just confused them about what I was planning to do with my art. I didn’t know, and I felt ashamed when I didn’t tell him I was at prestigious art school—Pratt Institute or Cooper Union in New York— painting along masters like he did. I didn’t want to let him know that maybe, I wasn’t pursuing art like him. I didn’t know if the struggle of an artist was one I wanted to live.
had not yet been released. And while all his family members, painter friends, students, and admirers pointed to the sky and demanded an answer from God above, Heda poked me in the chest and said, “I’m rooting for you, now.” While I was waiting at the wake, my eyes grazed his original paintings flanking the passageway to the casket. I expressed condolences to his wife and two children. I hugged his daughter, a girl two years younger than me, and gave the standard, “I’m sorry.” Then, I softly added, “Your dad was the best teacher I ever had.” Her stained blue eyes met mine. “He really believed in you, Gina,” she croaked. “You have to live up to it and be an artist like him.” I didn’t know what to say.
if we must live
Paul was the first person in my teenage life I knew independently of my parents, that I built a relationship with because of our passions for art as teacher and disciple. I learned how to pencil a graphite portrait of a model under him. I learned how to layout a Venetian palette under him. I learned to mix flesh tones and what types of brushes to use —round, flat, or bright. I purchased my first French academy portable easel with his guidance. They were my favorite tools, my most valued investments. The best investment of all, however, was the very first workshop I signed up for with Paul at fourteen years old. As we stood in the Pathmark entranceway, metal carts in hand, I could not look him in the eye. “I’m teaching a bunch of high school goons over in Elizabeth,” he chuckled, as the electronic doors swung open and closed. I was surprised, but immediately saddened to think that a master like him was teaching kids who probably didn’t even care about art. He shrugged, “Yeah, it’s another job.” I would never find out how he died—a question one of my middle-aged classmates kept asking me when we stood on the line of his wake. I didn’t know. The cause of death was unknown at the time. The autopsy report
I recently found a couple of black and white charcoal sketches Paul did for me in my notebook. He was showing me how to capture the model’s form. Every time I look at the sketches, I can think of his arm sweeping in a single stoke to get the arch of the neck. I think of the gentle shading of tone and value that came from maneuvers of his wrist. I think of how Paul first told me to stand back from the easel an arm’s length away, to stand so all I had to do was shift my eyes, not my head nor my body. Paul lives in that drawing. When I see it, I hear his voice giving me the advice he said before I went off to college, Draw every day. It’s the same as the humming of my Grandma, a memory living inside my mind sparked by associations with tall houses. I think of how busy I am with my academic work, the numerous readings and writings and other sorts of work that don’t include drawing on a daily basis. Draw every day. The sketches contain the life and memory of Paul, something, like my Grandma, that I try to lock away because the sadness is too great. My guilt seeps in, the expectations that I become like him reappear, and I cannot escape it. 103
Draw every day. The sketches are the residual traces of a life I valued.
successful lives with lots of money. That’s all I really wanted, right? I was insulting myself.
art, writing, music
perpetual remnants of the deceased
The first time I went to my academic advisor’s office my freshman year of college, I climbed up four flights of stairs to get there. Located inside a West Philadelphia house spotting the southwestern corner of 38th and Walnut Streets, its placard read: Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing. With each step up those creaky, dark-stained wooden steps, I felt like I was pursuing a path further and further into a world of academia and less art. It also reminded me of a reoccurring nightmare I’ve had since I was five. It’s a nightmare that lays dormant for several successive years. Then, it reemerges—my subconscious telling me that the worry or grief is always there. In the dream, I’m inside a very tall house—sometimes it’s four-stories and sometimes it’s six—and I’ve run up to the very top only to discover I’m contained by the roof. I cannot escape. I don’t know what I’m running from, but it strikes fear into my lungs. Eventually, the house starts swaying, back and forth, back and forth, as I peer out the window and see the greatest tornado from the state of Kansas headed my way. And then I wake myself up. The house containing my advisor’s office was like the house of my dreams. As I sat before my advisor, amidst auroras of déjà vu, I asked question upon question but wasn’t really looking for answers. I’m going to take mathematics next semester, and psychology, and art history, and visual studies, because those are more intellectual than just another painting class. I thought I had it reasoned out: I was taking smart classes for smart people who didn’t do art. We all knew that artists were never the brightest of the bunch—getting lost in ideas that allowed them to get stoned in the middle of the afternoon and never make a dime that could buy them a house. People who do smart things often have
I spent my first Independence Day weekend the summer after my freshman year of college away from my family in New Jersey. Sandwiched between two college friends in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, we spent the entire day lounging in the sand of the beach, tanning in the golden sun. We spoke our minds on the deepest of topics—cooing mildly as we drank red wine and talked about the meanings of life and death, what our purposes were, where we went when we died, and if there was a God. When we finally got bored, we left the beach, and started meandering down a wooded street. We had no destination, but we were looking for answers about how to make sense of anything. We ended up in a short, pink house. It was a colonial cottage converted into a bookstore with stacks piled floor to ceiling. One of the special ties of our friendship was our common interest in literature and writing. We bonded while reading short stories together over dinner. We bonded over the fact that we had the same isolating childhood obsessions for making our own books. We had each other. “Oh my God, Gina, look how cool this is,” one friend held a heavy book. It was a 19th century publication of poems with a goldembossed cover like the Holy Bible. She flipped through the pages like a mother smiling upon an infant in her arms. Likewise, I discovered an 18th century collection of Leonardo Da Vinci’s writings published in the seventeenth century. I continued to jump to the next book that protruded from the stacks. I followed a path of books into the basement, feeling content with each creak of the wooden steps. Redefinition I found a sampling of rare bound-books, 104
folios, and hand-written manuscripts. My favorite was a small indigo volume. Its cover was embossed with metallic swirls and patterned letters. On its first page, the owner, Lillian Parter Wallace, 1715, scribed her name. I found notes of the same types of scribbles as the ones on my sticky notes. Seeing I comprehend thee I did not know the 17th century owner. We were separated by two centuries. We were separated by two lifetimes. It saddened me that I would never know her, but it excited me that I held her ideas in my hands. Her thoughts were being transferred to mine, and that made her invincible, right? I continued to thumb through. These books were capsules of lives that once lived. Those individuals were gone, but the outpourings of their souls remained. Their ideas engulfed me. While I went down into that pink cottage houseâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s expecting to find caskets, I discovered immortality. Pieces of art, writings, musicâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;I realized they were all perpetual remnants of the deceased, that associations could be transferred from one form to the next.
Clear Cut Brad Garber When the corn plant reached the ceiling I had to cut off its head and start a new one and there was no sound in its decapitation just a quiet acquiescence in fate like the time the squirrel clutched the tree for interminable moments after being shot in its tiny brain my best friend whacking barn kittens on fence posts the long snake pounded flat with a hammer by some kid on the front porch until the tail stopped moving the last twitch of the hanged foot the fist gripping in pain the bubbles escaping from the open mouth and I hope tendrils of hope erupt from the cutting which sits in a bucket on the porch and the squirrel’s children lived and the mothers of kittens have more and the snake felt little pain for even a partial death might result in, like, partial life which is more…but, then, what is “more” about, anyway…and the damned plant was taking up way too much light in the room sort of like the “Tragedy of the Commons” thing and the steam rising from my morning coffee could no longer be seen in the streams of sunlight after 30 years of growth reaching toward a limited sky and one time filling the air with hopeful blossoms that leaked sticky crap all over the carpet but smelled like vanilla but I certainly did not do this out of disrespect or animosity having enjoyed the company of deep green in an otherwise gray world for so long how I wished I could knock out the ceiling of the apartment and allow the dreams of flight to take root out into the last gasp of atmosphere to breathe the bullet out of the squirrel’s head to turn the fence posts to goose down and the hammer to soft strokes of a woman’s hand.
Blind Mice Melody Sage Otto believes the children are mice. He hears them sifting through sugar in the cellar and sets traps. Traps he cannot bring himself to check. Solveig had done that task, to spare him. Then he hears the children whisper, thistle-light and incoherent, disquieting. It has been a long time since he has encountered other voices—years even. “Who is there?” Footsteps in the dark answer him. Displaced household objects orbit Otto. His tobacco pipe set six millimeters to the right. Brittle petals scattered in his underwear drawer. The lid left open on the idle dust-furred piano. Fresh bed sheets rumpled and undone. Coming in from pickaxing root vegetables from the ice, he trips over a shoe on the threshold. Flakes of mud crust off the sole. He holds it up. It does not span the length of his hand. He sets another trap, taking a special package from a locked trunk, setting it in his lap, and pretending to sleep. They come breathless on tiptoe. Otto remembers the pure want he once felt, peering in through the gilded glass of the candy store. From the faraway vantage of age, his young self seems more like the child he never made. He forces his eyelids smooth. His moustache tingles and begins to itch. When they reach into the jar of licorice, he seizes hold of their wrists. “Please, I only want to speak with you.” Snorting, they fight to break free. A thick crystal ashtray cracks on his skull. Sometime later, he rolls over and pats the ground. His thinning hair is wet, and there is a wet circle on the crocheted rug. The shards of glass and blood cling to his palms. Still trembling, he
does his best to clean up. Otto talks out loud, as he rinses off in the porcelain sink. “Before the war, everyone was someone else. I was a professor of literature. My lectures were linked to ten thousand students around the world, in places that may no longer exist— Papa New Guinea, Iceland, France. I lived in a snow globe of words, fragile and blinding. I never saw the end coming, the fall from the high shelf.” From behind his back, the boy interrupts him, curt and abrupt. “What happened to your eyes, then?” “I apologize. I imagine the scars must look very frightening. I had the misfortune to glance up from the book I was reading into the profane light of a nuclear blast. The glare was so severe, so bright, steam collected in my eyeballs, and they burst from the pressure. My wife found me and dragged me down eleven flights of stairs. She exchanged her jewelry for rides out of the city, leaving a sparkling trail of diamonds and rubies behind like bread crumbs. Solveig was a determined woman. She had inherited this farm. In the summer, we used to come here on holiday.” “Where is she now?” Otto pinches the bridge of his nose. “She is buried in the orchard.” They had been careful those first months. Solveig, always the worldly one, had prepared for the war. They took potassium iodide and wore masks outside. They boarded shut the windows and duct taped plastic to the seams. They cut and hauled brush to obscure the driveway. Their location was sheltered, remote, 108
a tight nest in the mountains built for two. No one knew they were there. They were careful, but not careful enough. He wondered if they had heard her playing Deux Arabesque by Debussy on the piano for him. “How did you find this place?” he asks. “We followed the smoke.” He nods. Of course, they should have only set fires at night. “You know I have plenty of food. You are welcome to stay here, if you like.” “We—” the girl starts to speak. “Shut up,” the boy says. Otto turns around. His chest bumps into a metal cylinder, the barrel of his shotgun. “I could shoot you,” the boy says. “Yes, you could.” Otto waits. The boy gives a disgusted sigh and runs outside. The next day, Otto wakes to find a shaved and decapitated doll head laid like an offering on his pillow. He runs his finger across the bubbled rubber contours of its face. “She’s mine, but you can borrow her,” the girl says. “Thank you. I promise to take good care of her.” “My brother says we can stay here.” “Good, I am glad to make your acquaintance. You can call me Otto. May I ask, what is your name?” “Isa.” “Nice to meet you Isa,” he extends his hand, but she does not shake it. He heaves himself out of bed to make breakfast, cold glutinous porridge with the last of the apple jelly and cinnamon. He sets out three bowls, and the children eat like stray dogs, fast enough to choke. Otto starts to speak before he realizes he is alone at the table. It is more than a month before he learns the boy’s name. Since the children came, he keeps track of the days, notching them with a knife into his cane. He feels like he did when he used to glimpse a fox or a snow hare in the forest, close enough to see their breath smoke, the flash of their dark clear eyes, a blessing all
the more poignant for its certain brevity. He is patient. He is calm. He waits for them to approach. He listens to static on the hand crank radio: white noise for a white world. This winter is ouroboros, a snake closing in to swallow its own tail, with its own circular logic. The other seasons are shadowed, brief and incomplete, since the bombs dropped. The boy leans over his shoulder. His breath is hot and biscuitscented in his ear. “Can I try?” he asks. “Yes please, I could use a break.” “Have you ever picked up signal?” “No news, not for a long time. They used to say no news was good news.” They listen to the mechanical whir. “My father had a radio like this. He used to be an engineer—before he got sick.” “What was his name?” “Peter, same as me.” Peter turns the crank harder and harder, until Otto places his hand on his to stop him. “We can try again tomorrow.” Peter can read a little, and Otto begins to teach him and Isa more. Most of the writing paper was used as tinder, so he shapes the letters with charcoal on the walls and hearth, feeling out the powdery lines. They sound out the words from his favorite books for him— 1984, Les Miserables, The Brothers Karamazov; troubled friends he believed long gone. Soon Peter is insatiably devouring the entire contents of the library. Otto periodically crashes into precarious towers of his discarded books. Isa is more lingering and particular in her selections. She recites the first sentences quietly to herself and hesitates to see if she can fall in love. Otto wonders if his own son would have been so skeptical and quick witted, if his own daughter would have been so pensive and kind. He likes to think so. Their displays of affection are quick and glancing, self-consciously nonchalant—a feather left as a token on his desk, a swift pat on his shoulder when he least expects it, staying at the table a little longer to listen to his stories. The children take care not to reveal much of their 109
itinerant life before him, as if to protect him. He has gleaned that they were originally from the city. That their nursery walls were painted custard yellow. That they used to have a pet cat named Coquette. That their parents died about three years ago, possibly from drinking contaminated water, possibly from tetanus or radiation poisoning, prolonged wasting deaths, collapsing, skeletons intertwined now in the wilderness. Isa helps him cut blank pages from the books into a bouquet of paper flowers, fragile razor-edged star shapes twisted with wire. She buries her face in them, rustling. “They smell so good.” “I also love the smell of old paper. It reminds me of dust and falling leaves and Earl Grey Tea. You have a refined sensibility my dear.” He tweaks her nose to make her laugh. They walk together outside past the barn. Otto tries not to remember having to shoot the horses pointblank, tries to think of them instead glistening viscerally alive, manes thrashing in the sunlight. Ash is falling with the snow. He carries Isa with difficulty and counts the paces in his mind. The quiet is preternatural, no cars, no birdsong, no chainsaws. Even now he still expects them. Only the crunch of their boots breaks the spell. He hits his toe on the cairn of stones. Stones he and Solveig had brought back from their travels, her concert tours around the world, brought here to the place where they were supposed to garden side by side and grow old together. Grow older, always older than they were. To an extent they had succeeded. Clapping in the front row, he must have presented her with a thousand bouquets of roses, white, pink, yellow, violet, salmon, lilac, silver, and deepest crimson. He brushes the snow off the stones and lays down the paper flowers. The best he could do. He attempts to clear the tightness in his throat. He had planned to say a few words, but now cannot. Peter sniffs, and Otto pats his shoulder. As one, they turn and go. Springtime comes as a surprise. The children spend the afternoons chasing each other
barefoot on the icy nascent grass, immune to the cold. Resilient the narcissus bulbs still bloom. They cover every surface with overflowing jars used as vases. Otto touches a crenellated trumpet, delicate and flesh-like, to his lips and smiles. He imagines the blossoms as a blizzard of golden eyed brides. They are kneading sourdough when they hear the engines. “Go into the wardrobe in the attic, as we rehearsed,” Otto says. “You have to come too. We can’t leave you.” “No, if they find no one here, they will look until they do. Go now.” He hears them pound up the stairs. He sits at the kitchen table, knuckles still gummed with flour, the yeasty odor rising off him like a sigh. He lays his hands palm up, so they will immediately see that he has no weapon. They have stocked a dummy storeroom with food they can afford to lose. There are four other caches concealed around the property and a false compartment in the wall. They are safe, as safe as they can be. This is what he tells himself. The interlopers hatchet through the door, not bothering to knock. Unwashed and raw, he can already smell them, the smell of a pylon of bones in a scavenger den. Otto controls his expression, sets it to careful neutral. There are both men and women. He hears their raised voices calling to one another, bantering. The hardwood floors creak under their heavy feet. A series of gunshots fire. Otto tries to rise and is knocked on his back. He feels a round O of steel emboss his forehead. “The food, where is it?” “There in the pantry. Please it’s all I have.” A cudgel to the face answers him. When he regains consciousness, his blood is crackled and dried. A hard wind blows on him through the banging door. He stumbles upright. He has to find the children to tell them it’s safe to come out now. He trips over a labyrinth of splintered and upturned furniture on his way to the staircase. “Children it’s safe to come out now,” he calls. His hand grips the wooden bannister. He takes a few steps. 110
â&#x20AC;&#x153;Children?â&#x20AC;? He trips again, this time on something soft, yielding as bread He reaches out to feel. He palpates the thin arms, the narrow rib cage, the well-known and cherished nose, and the dainty skull with its terrible small wet hole. Peter is splayed next to her, as if trying to shield her. Otto sucks in his breath. No tears fall from his ravaged eyes. Later he finds the shotgun missing from its hiding place, and he realizes what must have happened. Peter took the gun. He would not leave Otto. And Isa would not leave Peter. Otto lays two more cairns in the orchard, coughing up blood on his shirt. He falls on the frozen grass and looks up into his private starless night. He had once assumed that death meant nothingness. Now he sees every moment, every cup of coffee he forgot he drank, every snowflake, every kiss, every single configuration of molecules that briefly comprised his body, still exists. He has experienced his life as continuity, but everything that ever happened is happening nowâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;only somewhere else in time. Solveig, Isa, and Peter, still exist. Their lives are intact, pure, and invincible. All the pain is there. And the beauty. The love. Nothing in this world can be undone.
R. K. Riley
Ugly Breasts ugly words made uglier yet by the pulsing ache of desire undisguised by a boyish smile that never climaxed to his eyes or snuggled deep under his tongue laced his words like lust against a tiny crevice in my neck that knew his name from way back but had let it lay forgotten in the shadows of new breasts that left him fumbling like keys against change in a pocket bulging beside his reluctance that held only a moment before his open mouth found tender skin the hitch caught blind inside his moan the last beautiful thing I ever heard
Apology to Wrigley, et al. The clouds whisper a fine spray of drizzle—not bad you think—but still rain. Might be welcome on a hot day, but in late November shrinks the skin with cold. It’s not a matter of if we get breast cancer, but when. After a lumpectomy, she asked to see the offending tissue—it looked like an old piece of chewed gum: gray, slick, bitten.
Agnes invokes the Nightmother her syllables made of mercury O Alejandro what Sheppard what selves what hooved-horned what? What a time licking our neighbor’s shingles with our toothy tongues we scrape the shellfish from the Sacrum Delirium! We change as we fall thru no-time each hinge of us a multiplicity of delight. Our time selling the world records for the slowest and the weakest salesman sweating on the copper throne. Her hair reigns down serpentine wetware her lashes rule all who scuttle claw handed and binary. Our time to ignite the incandescent dark matters beneath our mantles and cloak gaslamps with the dagger of slick fingered evenings. The eclipse of sunglasses and the closed umbrella mumble some deep meaning. Our time long shore man pinned to the dock by a forklift split bodied dentures spat out on the ground like newborn mice[ I am bringing up my children to be you a bent wingtip leapt up from the well lipgloss crystallized on the crush thrust knee of December wet hand can’t unclutch your iron apron without giving up skin our tithe is 27 of our adult teeth our sandpaper grin erodes the under carriage of your private jet a lock of his hair all what’s left of we small 114
boy the day after payday I will let you smell this burning marrow Angel.]he still gurgles and one leg kicks to the tenor of the jig saw. We are not warm round stones. I am the sweat under[ The windows spilled out on the kitchen floor open for the trains that dangled ripe cognizant of falling through their own mouths in search of winesmoke her necklace I sipped salt browed somnambulant coffee grinders cry out their feathered shards I bled hands with the circumference of all ladled men madhatted by her perfume spatter patterned anointment of bedside alarms sniffing out the blood trail of the honeysuckle coughing rose huffing unreason wedless undertaker of my smileless days she woven explosion of flocked apparitions in the grove.]your arms deer did you fly all night to make me? We are stones. I am the water in your lungs with what arms have you rowed my black sea flickering
Meditation on Reincarnation, Roaches and Kim Kardashian’s Butt I wonder about reincarnation: What happens when there’s no planet to reincarnate on? If everything is poisoned and dead, and the only living creatures are cockroaches, do the dead come back as bugs? Whenever I read New Age accounts of reincarnation, previous lives involved queens and kings, an actress or two, an adventurer, a writer maybe, but never a bus driver or dish washer. I guess I’m losing patience with the worshippers of celebrity. My favorite person is the owner of the local Mexican restaurant who worked his way up from bus boy to proprietor. Best of all, he doesn’t smother the enchiladas in cheese and big bits of fresh avocado float serenely in the guacamole. Maybe it wouldn’t be bad if Kim Kardashian and Kanye came back as cockroaches. Maybe they’d find each other somehow in that next insect life and make passionate insect love. I’m sure they’d breed baby roaches that were also so self-involved, they’d believe from the moment they were hatched somehow their own tiny lives were more important than every other roach’s. I don’t believe in reincarnation. But I don’t disbelieve it either. Personally, I’d like to come back as a bird, maybe that cardinal I saw yesterday flashing through the areca palms, so bright red against the monochromatic green wall. And his tiny heart beat so fast, his bones were so light—how must it feel to launch oneself skyward with so little effort, to skim over the surface of this suburban world that is a mix of strip malls and cypress sloughs, of blight and beauty, of concrete and soft swamp trails we follow in our squishy tennis shoes, where the resurrection 116
fern has no need of its own reality TV show, nor do the bony knees of the pond cypress, and the siren that evades the biologist’s trap is happy to just swim in the teacolored currents fringed by Alligator flag, beyond which lies the dome itself, deep-watered cathedral where sometimes god whispers down in the slurry of rain and lightning. Kanye and Kim had a baby girl they named, North West. I know this because it was the Yahoo headline. My students tell me that Kim began her acting career with a porn video. Just Google it, they say. I don’t. I haven’t. I won’t ever. But that doesn’t stop me from asking the question, Why, Lord, why? And it is true that last summer while trolling the Weekly World News for writing prompts in my creative writing class, we did discover Kim Kardashian’s butt explodes, which I clicked on, which immediately froze the computer, which succumbed to a ravenous Kardashian butt virus, which greatly amused the class, which embarrassed me when I later had to call computer services. I think I will name my next dog, Southwest. I think I will spare the palmetto bugs that scrabble across our kitchen floors some mornings, looking for crumbs in the dog’s bowl, and who knows, maybe in their own ways, searching for roach meanings in our strange world. When I first stopped drinking, I looked for new meaning at a treatment center in Chicago. Some nights we caught roaches and made them race each other in shoeboxes where we’d carefully constructed lanes defined by matches. We’d bet nickels on the speeding insects and it relieved for a little the darkness which was consuming us as we scrabbled away from addiction, looking for a new incarnation that didn’t include booze. What a dark turn this poem has taken, and it reminds me of a reality TV show called Intervention, which I tuned on once years ago when my wife was away, having left the dog and me alone, so we watched a family intervene into the life of a husband and father who was drinking himself to death, and praise the lord, halfway through the show 117
he stopped drinking because he finally saw the reality of his desperate situation, and his wife and daughters cried tears of happiness, but I knew something was wrong because there was still twenty minutes left, plenty of time for another reversal, which came when the newly sober man found out his liver was pickled, so the show ended with a picture of the man, and the date of his death. The dog and I hated the ending. We wanted the man to live long and prosper like space travelers who’d been blessed by Vulcans. In reality there was no happiness, no long walks on the beach with the grateful family, no slow-motion montage of birthday parties and christenings, no final frame of the reformed drunk holding his wife’s hand as they walked into the kitchen on an average morning and drank coffee and listened to the birds singing in the backyard, as they talked about the mundane things that make up real reality: Maxwell House with a little cream and sugar, the broken ice maker in the freezer, the way the man once noticed there were a few more wrinkles around his wife’s eyes and how that made him happy. The resurrection fern comes back as itself. Reality stars come back as reruns in the summer. I keep going back to the Mexican restaurant and order the tamales verdes. Jalepenos, corn, bean— I tell my wife I’m only missing squash and then I would have the trinity, las tres hermanas, Maya have eaten for centuries and who keep coming back in the Yucatan amid the limestone cenotes and the cities of their dead, where every spring a rattlesnake climbs down a many-stepped temple to fertilize the Mexican ground. If I were a more accomplished poet, I’d leave Kim and Kanye out of this poem and simply be grateful for the reality of my sobriety, how I’ve been reincarnated as a man who loves Mexican food, his wife, and the way in early Florida spring, yellow blossoms have already sprung from the frangipani, which were leafless all winter, whose grey branches looked so barren, that when I looked at them on a wet day this past December, I could have sworn they were dead from weeping.
I have been way too careful with my poems so careful they seem like those perfectly straight superhighways the Chinese have built in the Congo, in order to more quickly exhaust that African landscape of its precious metals and gems, so they might arrive by next-day-air in Shenzhen where careful workers will assemble raw beauty into commerce so that next month in California a woman’s new iPhone will ring with Handel’s “Water Music” as she gazes wistfully west into the sea. I have been way too careful with my poems, afraid of what you will think if I’m honest enough to talk about the time in fifth grade I was so afraid, my hands shook, and when I tried to tell Kit Carson’s story, the syllables tripped off my tongue like stuttering pack mules confronted with a New Mexican canyon where down in the damp darkness near a rushing creek, ghost Navajo still grew peaches. I need to write poems the way I don’t write dreams, the way narrative moves down a familiar road that leads to a landscape I’ve never seen before where California, China, Kit Carson, New Mexico and ghost can be five stops on a rail line where I’m riding in the dining car eating a hot dog. I need to write poems that follow the logic of ripe peaches listening to the rippling of moving water. Fruit with ears, canyons filled with ghosts, the moonlight filling my bedroom window—are no different from the yellow patterns that disturb the perfect black singing of a pilgrim on the Silk Road who hears the long whispers of wind moving sand and longs for his mother. 119
Full-blown Sugar Your lips surround the mouthpiece of Burnout attenuates the sound. black, hip, flame tipped, The rhythm section has dug Let go the stage. (stop I said your opposition. Framed hang open smile bodies glisten. Oh yes. Full-blown sugar. smile soft woman: hand belly rock. Unfurl in private electricity When a woman undresses you,
the clarinet. Spin the cityâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; deeper than ache. trenches. Abdicate. cover the mic) No smile will outshine in one note: a warning. Their mouths Break down the stage. Near the bridge, you sing the dark Brave bombardment on one wing. like a quivering waterskin. forget to breathe.
Lifeless, Inverted Ribbons of white cedar swirled, clambered over lily pads as childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s shadows vanished under the deafening water. The canoe, on its tattered stomach, felt a sting of fishâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s scales scraping against its molded wood, its splinters flaking off. Teeth submerged into oak skin, catching the roots, snapping them, vortexing out chewed up wood dust. The canoe grew silent, watching us, the indifferent children on the reeled back shore, stare at the black stripped fish all around it, while it tried to regressivly flip on its back, but the canoe was old, so it ended the day, nestling the surface of the river, lifeless, inverted.
Midnight Picnic We slip out, away from the fluorescent, sagging streets through foxglove thickets and wisteria limbs. The quiet night doesn’t watch us— it is too busy guiding the fox cubs home and following the girl as she stutters in the alley. We do not hold hands or words. Cars thrum far away on cold highway, their lights scrape the dark. You become moon wisp-organza, draped in midnight a kaleidoscope mirage beyond neon city cadence; everything blurred blue and dark the lights are behind us now. We move through the browning clover of the fieldspast the dark, taut oak and the stilled crickets. The thick scent of ragged grass and milkweed clings to your hair— fall chills your breath into phantom gauze. We eat fruit, nectarines, persimmons and tangy apples-thick juice coats our chins in sugar dribble, staining sweaters. We are careless with words-throwing pulpy red cores in the dark to rot in sticky sap. Blue blanket puddled on ground, we nestle like foxlings— I think you are more beautiful with grass in your hair your apple smeared mouth ripening before the coming of winter.
Fog Study Conditions are best on the Mulberry River in September, in the northwest of Arkansas. One doesn’t have to actually go there to see what the morning fog does when it happens. One can—in fact should—just try to imagine. A small, rushing river, rapid-filled and clear. Wild wood thick, now going to autumn color. Tumbled chaos of tilted boulders, slick rocks. A good place to drift to in a morning’s reverie. An insubstantial river barely flowing above the liquid one. Cold dragon’s-smoke hangs above sounding water. It haunts through the forest trees, going into leaves. Those leaves are turning into a feeling like waiting, in soft hues of reds, oranges, and darker eggplant. One could imagine he is in Bohemia, wandering a ways off from his village just after dawn and before an early sun begins to burn off dense mysterious fog. One always thinks of a somewhere else when banks of mist occlude real objects. It’s the dimming of vision that makes brume special. When clarity is challenged and gray vapor is hovering, equivocal mood can breathe. It’s the way last year’s leaves and branch rubble scattered appear as a collage of silence, as pieces of a lost old puzzle that will never be completed...
Things I Don’t Post On Tumblr or Ars Poetics you
I’ve made myself sick with you.
I reblog you
I’ve made myself sick with you. Sick, yes—a resonant source— your name shows up everywhere. You’re always sticky like jam: raspberry preserves with seeds that stick in my teeth. I find tuna in my scarf and think of you and your packets of crackers, suddenly, in the back of my car, smoking. I see your nipples through your shirt; I bite my lip hard. I think I have made you up: sloppy memories of touching boys because they were there and they were angry. you November 1 I can’t stop tasting your name. I reblog you
I can’t stop tasting your name.
And it smudges my lipstick. Others ask me, Who are you talking to? I know I know I know, and they don’t. I look at weeks as if they’re minutes and they are; no one else knows your name when you post pictures of pierced nipples, but I do.
Pictures of bodies. Pictures of places.
I press like I tell you I love everything you see, but I know you’ll never go anywhere. I watch you from across the country, flipping through imaginary pictures, and I write you down. 124
Allie Marini Batts
Boiled Peanuts, Out of Season for my mother-in-law, who taught me how to eat them The vehicle that can carry a man towards nirvana is a dusty blue Ford F-100, parked next to a 24 x 36 piece of plywood HOT BOIL’D P-NUTS $5 on a January afternoon that’s warm enough to drive out to the coast— the perfect saint is himself a weather-burnt strip of stick, leather-tough and tan like, limbs of pine scrubs after a controlled burn. Each arm a ropy collection of muscle, knotted from hauling a cast net back up into the trawler, full of mullet, sheepshead, or brim from the deep of the bending Apalachicola. At the bottom of the bridge, a propane flame and stockpot, 20 quarts full of out of season peanuts simmering in water as salty as the ocean on the other side. Shoo-ee! though, ain’t today purty? Y’all take the big bag, I ain’t got ‘em good enough today, but these here’re the last of ‘em. Ain’t gon’ be back up till April, so y’all enjoy ‘em, y’hear? voice all sandpaper and Natty Light tallboys, netting peanuts as easily as shrimp, fish, or oysters in their season. Bouncing from finger to tip until they’re cool enough to crack, spitting damp threads of their waffled husks against the Gulf breeze, windows rolled all the way down. Joy is shaped like the shell of a peanut, and tastes soft and briny as the ocean
Contributors Kelly Andrews’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Uppagus, Thirteen Myna Birds, Weave Magazine, Pear Noir, and Philadelphia Stories. Her chapbook “Mule Skinner” is forthcoming with Dancing Girl Press, 2014. Recently she started an online lit journal Pretty Owl Poetry with two of her favorite writerly friends. She has a hand in creating the sometimes quarterly zine “BE Quarterly”, and like most people she knows, has an affinity for cats.
Michael Bernicchi began writing poetry after his deployment to Iraq with the Army in 2005. Shortly after his return, he received his B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Florida. His poetry has been featured in Reflections, an Edison College publication. Bernicchi currently teaching high school English in Port Charlotte, Florida and using my summer off to live in Brooklyn and write about the various aspects of the borough and human interaction in general.
This is Gregory App’s first time being published.
Heather M. Browne is a faith-based psychotherapist and recently emerged poet, published in the Orange Room, Boston Literary Review, Page & Spine, Eunoia Review, Poetry Quarterly, The Poetry Bus, Red Fez, The Muse, An International Journal of Poetry, Deep Water Literary Journal, Electric Windmill, Maelstrom, mad swirl, and Dual Coast. Her first chapbook, We Look for Magic and Feed the Hungry has just been published by MCI. She just won the Nantucket Poetry Competition and will be featured on their website. She has been married 20 years to her love, has two amazing teens, and can be found frolicking in the waves. Follow her: www. thehealedheart.net
Nashville native Hannah Baggott, 23, is a poet of the body pursuing an MFA in poetry at Oregon State University while teaching writing courses. She has received awards for flash fiction and critical writing in gender studies. Her work can be found in Tupelo Quarterly, Small Po[r]tions, and others. Allie Marini Batts holds degrees from both Antioch University of Los Angeles and New College of Florida, meaning she can explain deconstructionism, but cannot perform simple math. Her work has been a finalist for the Sundress Best of the Net and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She is managing editor for the NonBinary Review and Zoetic Press, and has previously served on the masthead for Lunch Ticket, Spry Literary Journal, The Weekenders Magazine, Mojave River Review & Press, and The Bookshelf Bombshells. Allie is the author of the poetry chapbooks, “You Might Curse Before You Bless” (ELJ Publications, 2013) “Unmade & Other Poems,” (Beautysleep Press, 2013) and “This Is How We End” (forthcoming 2014, Bitterzoet.) Find her on the web: https://www. facebook.com/AllieMariniBatts or @kiddeternity Sarah Bence has been previously published in multiple volumes of Brown University Press’ The Round and The Dunes Review. She also works as the outreach intern for the Kenyon Review.
After retiring from hardware and lumber type jobs, Tim Buck abides as a recluse in a small house on a gravel road somewhere in Arkansas. He writes poems and essays about poetry and other items of interest. One of his essays appeared in the anthology Vocabula Bound (Marion Street Press); a poem, “Old Jaffa” appeared in the online journal Calliope Nerve. Other poems have appeared in the online and print versions of Edgar Allan Poet Journal and in VerseWrights. He is the author of a novel, Séance in Bi Minor. Tim is a co-editor of the emerging poetry journal, Spectral Lyre (spectrallyre. wordpress.com). He also maintains a personal blog at My Dripping Brain (mydrippingbrain. blogspot.com). Finn Butler lives in London and studies music at Goldsmiths University. 126
Shawn Campbell has been published in Chinese Combine, Silo, Construction, Flour Mill Tour, Prairie Grain Magazine, Winter Walk, and Owen Wister Review. Michael Cooper is an inland empire poet, PoetrIE member, MFA student, Veteran, and father of two great sons: Markus & Jonathan. You can find his work in Tin Cannon, The Pacific Review, The Chaffey Review, The Camel Saloon, Creepy Gnome, Milspeaks: Memo, Split Lip, and other fine (but wild) publications. Michael would like to make you aware that the splash zone includes the first 11 rows. Matthew Connolly’s poetry draws upon experiences from growing up in New York’s Hudson Valley, where pastoral beauty meets rural and urban decay. Previous work has appeared in Boston’s Burn Magazine and Literary Matters, a publication of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics and Writers. He currently reside in Columbus, Ohio, where he is pursuing a PhD in English at Ohio State. Will Cordeiro received his MFA from Cornell University, where he is currently completing a Ph.D. in English. Recent work appears or is forthcoming in burnt district, Copper Nickel, Cortland Review, Crab Orchard Review, CutBank Online, Drunken Boat, Fourteen Hills, Phoebe, Sentence, and elsewhere. He is grateful for residencies from ART 342, Blue Mountain Center, Ora Lerman Trust, and Petrified Forest National Park. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. Francis Davis has had fiction appear in Weber Studies, Natural Bridge, The Gihon River Review, and Ducts, among other publications. Originally from Philadelphia, Francis has lived much of the last 20 years in Montana, where he earned an MFA in fiction from the University of Montana. Currently, he teaches as a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at the University of Montana Western. Gina DeCagna currently attends the University of Pennsylvania, where she is
majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing and Fine Arts. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Symbiosis (www.upennsymbiosis.com) a visual-literary art magazine at Penn, an editorial assistant at Jacket2.org, and a frequent dweller at the Kelly Writers House. Michelle Donahue is a current MFA candidate in Creative Writing & Environment at Iowa State where she is the managing editor of Flyway. Her work has appeared in Whiskey Island, Redactions, Front Porch Review, and others. Stephanie French-Mischo’s short fiction appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of the Still Point Arts Quarterly as well as the July 2012 issue (#6) of Midwestern Gothic. In 2010, she was a finalist for the Santa Fe Literary Awards and invited to read at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis’ International Women’s Day. Glimmer Train Stories awarded an Honorable Mention to a story of Steph’s in their May 2009 Short Story Award for New Writers. She is a member of The Indiana Writer’s Center and lives in Indianapolis. Brad Garber lives, writes, and runs around naked in the Great Northwest. He fills his home with art, music, photography, plants, rocks, bones, books, good cookin’ and love. He has published poetry in Alchemy, Red Booth Review, Front Range Review, theNewerYork, Ray’s Road Review, The Round Up, Meat for Tea, Gambling the Aisle, Off the Coast, Shadowgraph, Livid Squid Literary Journal, Brickplight, Shuf Poetry, Rockhurst Review, Penduline Press, Literature Today, BASED, Eunoia Review, and other quality publications. Nominee: 2013 Pushcart Prize for poem, “Where We May Be Found.” Irving A. Greenfield has been published in Amarillo Bay, Runaway Parade, Writing Tomorrow, eFictionMag and the Stone Hobo; and in Prime Mincer, The Note and Cooweescoowee (2X); and in THE STONE CANOE, electronic edition. Greenfield and his wife live in Manhattan. He has been a sailor, soldier, and college professor, 127
playwright and novelist. He also has had 10 OFF OFF Broadway and Regional Theatre productions and won several awards for them.
a page dedicated to her photography and other works, which has gained a slight following that she’s trying to grow. Her inspirations include Salvador Dali and Henrique Frazao, and impressionism has helped to shape her style.
Kenneth P. Gurney lives in Albuquerque, NM, with his beloved Dianne. To view a fuller biography, publishing credits and available books visit http://www.kpgurney.me
Ann Howells’s poetry appears in Calyx, Crannog (Ire), Free State Review, Little Patuxent Review, Magma (UK), Sentence and Spillway, as well as other small press and university journals. She serves on the board of Dallas Poets Community, a 501-c-3 non-profit, and has edited its journal, Illya’s Honey, since 1999, recently taking it from print to digital. Her chapbook, Black Crow in Flight, was published by Main Street Rag Publishing (2007). A second chapbook, the Rosebud Diaries, was published in limited edition by Willet Press (2012).
Lukas Hall is a poet, currently in the BFA Creative Writing program at Hamline University in Saint Paul, MN. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Aviary Review, East Jasmine Review, Rib Cage Literary Magazine and Souvenir Lit. He also won the Patsy Lea Core Memorial Award in Creative Writing, for his poetry. Elisabeth Hewer is 20 years old and lives in South West England. She is currently studying journalism, media and cultural studies at university in Wales and hopes to be able to earn her keep writing one day.
Mark Jones is an English professor at Trinity Christian College, where he teaches a range of subjects including Shakespeare and linguistics. As a writing teacher and amateur jazz pianist, he is fascinated by improvisation in music and in other forms of composition. His creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in Chrysanthemum, Haiku Journal, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Red Booth Review, and Tenth Muse.
Robert P. Hiatt lives on an island in the Gulf of Mexico with his bewitching wife Betsie, his young daughter Marza, and a passel of annoying critters, all of whom he loves deeply and expects nothing in return. His work has appeared in The Alarmist, Mangrove Review, Youth Imagination, and Belletrist Coterie, among others.
Matthew Donald Jacob Kelly’s prior writing has largely been in the domain of playwriting. Of note, his play “Homegrown Beginnings” was nominated for the Christopher Brian Wolk Award and the Woodward/Newman Drama Award. Most recently, his short play “Russian Tea” was produced by the Metropolitan Playhouse in New York City.
Bob Hicks draws his writing from the areas he has lived in—a small industrial Illinois city surrounded by cornfields, a desert village in Botswana, and the North Cascades range of the Pacific Northwest. He has written essays, a novel, and poems. Hicks has been published in Cirque, Jeopardy, Stories of the Skagit—Anthology II, and Loyalties Anthology. He is a a two-time Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest Award winner and received second place in the Bellingham Fiction 101 contest.
Jill Khoury earned her Masters of Fine Arts from The Ohio State University. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals, including Hayden’s Ferry, RHINO, Off the Coast, and Stone Highway Review. She has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net award. Her chapbook Borrowed Bodies was released from Pudding House Press. You can find her at jillkhoury.com.
Savannah Hocter has been practicing photography at an amateur level for two years, and has been exploring various genres and mediums to figure out what suits her. She has 128
Jean A. Kingsley was born in Omaha, Nebraska, has lived in Arizona, Alaska, and Virginia and now resides in Rochester, New York. She earned an M.A. in Creative Writing from SUNY College at Brockport, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific Lutheran University. She is the recipient of the 1995 Academy of American Poets Prize, a finalist for “Discovery”/The Nation and The Constance Saltonstall Foundation of the Arts Fellowship. Her poems and essays have appeared in Tar River Poetry, River Oak Review, American Literary Review, Excursus Literary Arts Journal, Quarterly West, Eclipse, and Poetry Lore, among others. She has recently won a poetry book award for Traceries from ABZ Press, selected by C. D. Wright.
Red Dirt Jesus (Marick Press, 2011), Left Behind (Steeping Stones Press, 2008), and Driving through the country before you are born (USC Press, 2007). His poetry has appeared most recently in Blue Collar Review, Barely South, The Pinch, Hayden’s Ferry, and moonShine Review. Ray is an Associate Professor of English in the Division of Arts and Letters at University of South Carolina Sumter where he teaches creative writing, Irish literature, and Southern literature.
Steffi Lang is an emerging poet. She has worked as a journalist for her university’s publication and has also had poetry published in LAMP Magazine and The Literary Hatchet.
Myron Michael is a publisher and writing teacher. His poetry appears in Days I Moved Through Ordinary Sounds (City Lights, 2009), Nanomajority, Fourteen Hills, Harvard Review Online, Toad Suck Review, The Blink, Words+Images, Beeswax, Reverie, The Revolving Door, Spillway, Tea Party Magazine, Cave Canem XII, Eleven Eleven, and Another&Another, respectively. In collaboration with Microclimate Collective, he has presented work or exhibited work at the openings of Eidolon, Perfect Place/No Place, and X LIBRIS. He cocreated “Vertical Horizon” as a participant in Broadside Attractions/Vanquished Terrains. His chapbook Scatter Plot won the 2010 Willow Books Integral Music Chapbook Prize, and he is co-author of Hang Man (Move Or Die, 2010).
Bradley K. Meyer writes from Dayton, Ohio. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Literary Bohemian, Parody, Hobo Pancakes, Right Hand Pointing & others. He is the author of a chapbook, Hotel Room (Vostok East Press, 2013). His favorite animal is: opossums.
P.K. Lauren’s work has been chosen to appear in several literary venues, including Clapboard House, Prick of the Spindle, Casserole, Dark Matter, Empty Sink Publishing, and others. Kat Lerner hails from the ever-breezy Pacific Northwest, where she writes fiction and poetry and teaches creative writing. Her work has appeared in publications including Word Catalyst Magazine, Bartleby Snopes, Wilderness House Literary Review, Triggerfish Critical Review, Labyrinth, and Inkspeak. Jessica McDermott is currently an MFA student at the University of Idaho studying creative nonfiction, but she also enjoy writing poetry. She has found flash a great way to blend the two.
Jesse Millner’s work has appeared most recently in The New Poet, Real South, Squalourly, and Best American Poetry 2013. He has been the honorary poet for Blue Bell Creameries and lives in Fort Myers, Florida with his wife, Lyn, and dog, Henry Brown.
Peter McEllhenney has a BA in English from Oberlin College and does a lot of writing for my marketing company.
Katherine Minott, M.A. is an artist whose photographic work reflects the Japanese aesthetic of wabi sabi— the celebration of things imperfect, impermanent, and
Ray McManus is the author of four books of poetry: Punch. (Hub City Press, forthcoming) 129
incomplete. Her work has appeared in Camas: The Nature of the West, New Mexico Magazine, Visual Language Magazine, and the Santa Fe Reporter’s Annual Manual. Maggie Montague is currently an undergraduate student at Whitworth University in Spokane, WA, studying writing and art history. She usually considers herself a fiction writer, but has more recently dabbled in creative nonfiction and poetry. Her piece “From One Synapse to Another” is a braided essay exploring the nature of memory and change. This is her first official publication in a literary journal. Cindy St. Onge’s poetry has appeared in Cactus Heart Press, The Poet’s Billow, New Millennium Writings, and The New Guard. Her poems were shortlisted for the Atlantis Award (2013), the Knightville poetry prize (2012), and New Millennium Writings award (2012). Sarah Page graduated from Southern Connecticut State University with an M.S. and certification in Secondary English in 2013. She is a 2013 recipient of Dialogue’s New Voices award for poetry. Her poems have been published in journals including Connecticut River Review, Fresh Ink, Inscape, Noctua Review, and included in the anthology Fire in the Pasture. Dave Petraglia has appeared in Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Better Homes & Gardens; more recently, or scheduled in Agave Magazine, Cactus Heart Press, Dark Matter Journal, eFiction India, Loco Magazine, Gravel Literary Review, Storyacious, The Olivetree Review, Petrichor Review, Thought Catalog, theNewerYork, and Vine Leaves Literary Journal. He’s a writer and photographer and lives near Jacksonville, Florida. His blog is at www.drowningbook.com Lauren Potts is a graduate of the University of South Florida with a degree in public relations and a concentration in creative writing. Her work has appeared in A Celebration
of Young Poets and various official publications of the University of South Florida. R.K.Riley quietly writes herself real from a small Midwest suburb. Her debut poetry collection, “because...writings from a tainted life,” was released last year. C.C. Russell’s poetry has previously appeared in The New York Quarterly, Hazmat Review, Grasslimb, and Rattle among others. He currently lives in Wyoming with his wife, daughter, and two cats. In the past, he has lived in Ohio and New York. He holds a BA in English from the University of Wyoming and was the editor of their Owen Wister Review for part of his time there. Russell has held jobs in vocations ranging from hotel maintenance to retail management. Melody Sage is a professional artist. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in The Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal 2013, Menacing Hedge, The Dirty Napkin, and widely elsewhere. She currently resides in Duluth, MN. To view more of her work visit: melodysage.com Ray Scanlon. Massachusetts boy. Has grandchildren. Extraordinarily lucky. Recovering assembly language programmer. Not averse to litotes. No MFA. No novel. No extrovert. Recently in Cleaver Magazine and Vine Leaves Literary Journal, soon to appear in Camroc Press Review. On Twitter: @oldmanscanlon. On the web: http://read.oldmanscanlon.com/. M.I. Schellhaas is a Southwestern PA poet, abstract artist, calligrapher, photographer, and mother of two. At the age of twenty-one, she earned her Associate degree in Psychology. Perplexed with what she would truly enjoy to study, she discontinued college to devote time to a myriad of independent artistic endeavours. Her poetry has been published in various volumes by Eber & Wein Publishing. Most recently, Schellhaas’ phonoeashetic poem “Reflection” was recorded on Eber & Wein’s Expressions CD. With a manuscript of poems 130
in process, Schellhaas’ passion for photography abounds capturing, forever, the beauty of the experience before her. Denzel Scott earned his BA in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago. He’s currently working on an MFA in writing at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in his hometown of Savannah, GA. He is a great lover of the macabre, of the opulent, and the dramatic. Judith Skillman is the author of fourteen collections of poetry. Her latest book is Broken Lines—The Art & Craft of Poetry, Lummox Press. Poems have appeared in FIELD, Midwest Quarterly Review, The Iowa Review, The Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, First Water— The Best of Pirene’s Fountain, and other journals and anthologies. Skillman is the recipient of grants from the Academy of American Poets, the Washington State Arts Commission, the Centrum Foundation, King County Arts Commission, and the Jack Straw Foundation. She has taught at University of Phoenix, City University, Richard Hugo House, and elsewhere. Visit judithskillman.com Star Spider is a magic realism writer from Toronto, Canada where she lives and works with her awesome husband Ben Badger. Star is currently in the process of seeking representation for her novels while she continues to write, play and frolic on the beach. Her work can be found in Black Treacle, ExFic and Grim Corps and she was a 2013 winner of the Fringe Contest at Eden Mills Writer’s Festival as well as recently winning an honourable mention in the Friends of Merril Short Story Contest 2014. starspider.ca C. Derick Varn is a poet, teacher, and theorist. He currently edits for Former People. He has a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry at Georgia College and State University where he served as assistant editor for Arts and Letters: A Journal of Contemporary Arts. He has served
as managing editor for the now defunct Milkwood Review. He won the Frankeye Davis Mayes/Academy of American Poets Prize in 2003 and his poetry has appeared at Unlikely Stories 2.0, Full of Crows, Writing Disorder, JMWW, Clutching at Straws, Xenith, Piriene’s Fountain, and elsewhere. Originally from the deep South of the United States. He lives in Northern Mexico as a lecturer and teacher on Ethics, Composition, and Intercultural communication. He taught both University and high school in South Korea and the States as well. He lives with his partner, and a bunch of books, and writes at night. Xavier Vega grew up on a strawberry farm in Plant City, Florida. He moved to Tampa to attend the University of South Florida, where he was published in Thread Literary Inquiry while earning his B.A. in English. He’s been published in The Bangalore Review and The Yellow Medicine Review. After his publication with Apeiron he became a slush reader for the magazine. Xavier writes novels and is searching for a literary agent. He also writes for the music blog NoisePorn, and he has his own blog that no one reads. Robert N. Watson has recently had several poems published in The New Yorker, and others have apeared in The Antioch Review, Prairie Schooner, Ariel, The Warwick Review, The Boston Literary Review, and a half-dozen other journals. He is a professor of English at UCLA, teaching mostly Shakespeare and 17th century poetry, and has authored books on Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, the fear of death, and the roots of modern environmentalist consciousness in Renaissance literature and painting. M.G. Wessels lives, where he studies, among other professional obligations, in New Paltz, NY. Vanessa Willoughby is a graduate of The New School. She has written for The Huffington Post, xoJane, The Nervous Breakdown, The Toast, and Paper Magazine. 131
Harry Wilson is a retired Professor of Art at Bakersfield College. His photographs have been exhibited and published widely. He has exhibited at the de Young Museum in San Francisco and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art among others. Wilson has been published in Cerise Press, Folio, Rolling Stone, The Sun, and Zyzzyva among many others. Heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s been on the brink of a brilliant career for 50 years! Poems by Rose Maria Woodson have appeared in Foliate Oak, Magnolia: A Journal of Womenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Socially Engaged Literature, Volume II, Quantum Poetry Magazine, OVS Magazine, Jet Fuel Review , Stirring, The Mojave River Review and Scapegoat Review. Sherri Cook Woosley has a M.A. in literature from University of Maryland. Her fiction has been published in Abyss & Apex, Bewildering Stories, Indies Unlimited, and Third Wednesday.
FEATURING KELLY ANDREWS / GREGORY APP / HANNAH BAGGOTT / ALLIE MARINI BATTS / KRISTI BEISECKER SARAH BENCE / MICHAEL BERNICCHI / HEATHER M. BROWNE / TIM BUCK / FINN BUTLER SHAWN CAMPBELL / MICHAEL COOPER / MATTHEW CONNOLLY / WILL CORDEIRO FRANCIS DAVIS / GINA DECAGNA / MICHELLE DONAHUE / STEPHANIE FRENCH-MISCHO BRAD GARBER / IRVING A. GREENFIELD / KENNETH P. GURNEY / LUKAS HALL ELISABETH HEWER / ROBERT P. HIATT / BOB HICKS / SAVANNAH HOCTER ANN HOWELLS / MARK JONES / MATTHEW DONALD JACOB KELLY / JILL KHOURY JEAN A. KINGSLEY / STEFFI LANG / P.K. LAUREN / KAT LERNER / JESSICA MCDERMOTT PETER MCELLHENNEY / RAY MCMANUS / BRADLEY K. MEYER / MYRON MICHAEL JESSE MILLNER / KATHERINE MINOTT / MAGGIE MONTAGUE / CINDY ST. ONGE / SARAH PAGE DAVE PETRAGLIA / LAUREN POTTS / R.K.RILEY / C.C. RUSSELL / MELODY SAGE / RAY SCANLON M.I. SCHELLHAAS / DENZEL SCOTT / JUDITH SKILLMAN / STAR SPIDER / C. DERICK VARN XAVIER VEGA / ROBERT N. WATSON / M.G. WESSELS / VENESSA WILLOUGHBY / HARRY WILSON ROSE MARIA WOODSON / SHERRI COOK WOOSLEY