Apeiron Review Winter 2015
Issue 8, Winter 2015
About Our Cover
City #1 Photographer: Ray Scanlon Words from the photographer: Digital equipment has made it easy for me to resume my teenage habit of carrying a camera, and the digital “darkroom” makes gratification sinfully instant. My eye is a little more discriminating than it was then, when I tried to document everything I saw. Now I try to notice geometry, symmetry, color, but I’d passed by this building dozens of times. Some days you get lucky.
Editorial It’s a new year and we all have resolutions to go with it. As writers, we hope to make time to write every day. That’s the goal, right? As a writer, your one job is to write! But then there’s the family, your day job, the cat poking at your chair, the dog needing to go out, and you haven’t called your parents back yet. Balance is something that I’m always at odds with. Thankfully, I thrive with change. And there’s been quite a bit of change in the few short weeks of 2015. Meredith ran away to Mexico and got married. Huge hugs and congratulations to the newly weds. Thankfully, they’ve returned to Philadelphia, and Apeiron continues! Apeiron-related updates: we’re still determined to grow as time passes. We’re struggling to sort out just how we move from digital to print, and that’s meant adding staff and shuffling job functions. With this issue, we were blessed with a talented team of first readers. For those unfamiliar with how submissions are processed, our “slush” team reads all incoming submissions and notes their thoughts. All submissions are then bumped up to Meredith and me to read and review. You might not think that this process would be so helpful, but it is. Thanks to our growing staff, our turnaround time has increased drastically and we’re able to give more feedback. It’s always frustrating when you wait months to hear back from a submission. I think Meredith’s had one out for well over 6 months now. So, thanks go out to our First Readers! Changes coming in 2015 shouldn’t be immediately noticable to readers. I’ll be attempting to grow our online presense, and I’ll have much more time to spend on making the layouts pretty and such. The hope is that I’ll finally develop the ability (confidence) for a print run. Maybe one more issue (yes, I keep saying that), and we’ll give it a go. So keep your eyes peeled for a call for submissions for an actual paper copy. Plant a tree in preperation. This issue showcases many seasoned and debut writers. Take your time with this one. Find “the space between the pauses” within this issue (Wong, 42). Speak to the hermit crab and listen what he has to say (Reilly 63). Learn how different parents love their children. I won’t share how Sabrina Bertch’s photograph, “Self,” makes me feel, but I will say that I’d hang it on my wall (See p. 52). I believe our youngest author in this issue is 16 years old. Crazy, right? As you follow through with your new year’s resolutions, we hope to see your thoughts and submissions in our inboxes. As always, we want your dreams, fears, hopes, wrath, and maybe even your drunk dials—but in print. Let’s keep it to print. As always—happy reading!
The Review Staff Editors Lisa Andrews Meredith Davis
Design Editor Lisa Andrews
Contents Poetry 6 Solace Jae Lee
April, May, June 1997 A.N. PadrĂłn
Antler Esther McPhee
Funeral Food Kristin Laurel
Meredith Davis Lisa Andrews
8 Oysters Kristin Laurel
Porch Easel, Flight Charles Thielman
9 Brick Emily Wong
Stone Carrier, Salish Territories Carol Shillibeer
14 12 a.m., another front porch gathering John Roth
Blue Dan Leach
Honey Holly Jensen
Mill Road Lisa Megraw
Michael Cooper Gina Dozois Marcene Gandolfo Ashley Hutson Xavier Vega Unsolicited submissions are always welcome. 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
15 Want John Roth 16
Some Days, I Kimberly McClintock
In Winter Bethany Fitzpatrick
56 These are the stages of tiger grief Kasey Thornton
18 After Backpacking Over Mt. Whitney John Brantingham
Suzanne Muzard, et al Danielle Pappo
59 Ophidiophobia Cal Louise Phoenix
Desert Cloudwall John Brantingham
Away Emily Frankenberg
Famous Last Words Clyde Kessler
Darkness Sheng Kao
Multiverse Tim Hatch
In Kiev Estill Pollock
Monkey Subdues the White- Boned Demon Estill Pollock
The Bear That Made My Father Love Me Michael Gentry
Memory Forms Nancy Dillon
Men at Work #109 Robert Laughlin
12 Umar Jay Merill 20
Dad’s Goat Matthew David Perez
Lassen County Kathleen J. Woods
Oyster Bay Carol Shillibeer
Drive Aaron Gansky
Eye Mouth Tobias Oggenfuss
The Shadow Puppet Jim O. Neal
Organic Horn Tobias Oggenfuss
Business as Usual Emily Claire Utley
Jail Dave Petraglia
You May Also Enjoy Kasey Thornton
City #1 Ray Scanlon
Rabbit and Tracks Jim O’Leary
Oceanic J.C. Reilly
52 Self Sabrina Bertsch 58 Untitled Pepper Jones
Solace Listen—the white whisk of sky from where you fell like the heavy weight of silence, the flat line of your descent, (the softest downfall,) the sea of people, the gray shorelines that go from building to building, and in the midst of them, your halo— none of this matters anymore. So come along, give this thing a meaning, a name, a story; We’re nothing but words traveling from one lip to another in the end. Look—your father’s coat hanging heavy like the air in his office, the smell of bourbon, your mother’s voice flowing as soft as laced cotton from the other room— none of this ever mattered. Now you’re thirty and you’ve balanced yourself on the tips of your polished shoes at the mouth of the longest staircase that leads to the throat of the darkest road, and it almost blinds you. You said, Let me take comfort in your green eyes and wood smoke hair. (The fireplace slept as you awoke and its glow smoothed out the planes of your face, skimmed down the hollows of your cheeks) and let the stars dotting your face drown me. After all, nothing could compare to her sunset eyes that make rivers run down the length of your dry throat, trickling down the surface of your bones, and pooling at your core. 6
Funeral Food After the funeral, the ladies in the church basement served open-faced deviled-ham sandwiches, and green pistachio pudding with mini-marshmallows. There were english muffins, topped with cheez-whiz, each with a single black olive in the middle that reminded me of an eyeball. Each table, draped in a white sheet, was set with fire-trucks, dinosaurs, race cars, and pictures from your two-year-old life; and there was the one of you, Benny, learning to walk. The one of you, with your small bare feet, touching the top of the earth, touching grass for the first time. The coffee was weak, the angel-food cake swelled up in my throat, and I couldnâ€™t swallow any of it: the empty words, empty calories, the tears, or that inexplicable hunger that was trying to consume me. And so I went out into the parking lot and sat in the car. I was crying and (of course) it was raining. I found an old bag of Cheetos. The Egyptians, I read, buried food with their dead. I wonder if you liked Cheetos. I begin eating them, pretending I am sharing them with you. We eat the whole bag. My hands become pasty and orange; and as I lick my messy fingers clean, I am loving youâ€”refusing to feed the hungry grave.
Oysters Away from the riptides away from the erratic waves of the Atlantic we paddled our kayaks through the tall weeds of the estuary. It was the nicest day of vacation, the only day without rain. Back at home, a blizzard warning. Safe in the brackish water, we laughed as dolphins leapt nearby and our guide said, Notice how clear the water is where the oyster’s live. A single oyster can filter up to fifty gallons of water a day. Back at home my sister’s son, Benny, went for a tractor ride his father needed to plow all of the snow. For lunch we ordered a bucket of oysters. Some say oysters taste of the ocean, but I couldn’t stop thinking, they’re filter feeders, they’re full of toxins, I couldn’t swallow that colorless blood. The oyster shells on our table were tough. It was hard to pry them open, but even oysters die when you separate them from the bottom shell and cut through the heart. My mother waited to call; she wanted us to enjoy our day. She was relieved not to tell me, but told my lover instead, Benny fell off the tractor crushed skull, blood all over Earlier that day we were buoyant, detached, half-way listening as our guide said, Baby oysters need the shells of their ancestors to live while all around the shoreline, piles of oysters clung to each other like those people we hold onto in the middle of the night, as we swallow the ocean and nearly drown. 8
Brick Between the drinks and the cigarettes— the smell of vine-ripened tomatoes; the sound of the cicadas. Slung moons slow ocean: Switching addictions is tricky. I am bones walking down a runway. I am the shape of shadows. Of dying light. Sleep inside my lungs; breathe into someday. Someday meaning never, never meaning: That heart-stopping moment; the pin-prick through your left lobe. I brought a mood ring, a broken windshield, and literature… smelling of death. I love the space between the pauses: a quiet cliché, a blackened heart. That tire screech, metal crunch. That perfect, plastic, better dream; my cracked scapula whispers: Going home is easy— it’s the arriving that sticks in the throat.
Men at Work #109 Robert Laughlin
Timothy, a lay volunteer Every time it’s a different town, one where I’m not known. Doctor Jeremy thunders to his climax, still moving to me though I’ve heard it more times than I can remember. He calls on his listeners to come forward and be saved. I get out of my seat in the pews and walk up the aisle, tears rolling down my cheeks. Doctor Jeremy says I’m a natural actor, but all I have to do to make myself cry is remember my life as it was, how I might have gone to my last day on Earth a stranger to His love. I don’t think of my function in Doctor Jeremy’s church as an imposture; none of us think that. We walk up the aisle, and dozens, hundreds, of newcomers follow us into the light. They just have to see someone else go first; they have to see there’s no shame in wanting to be saved.
Umar Jay Merill
Today, Friday, a day in a million. Millie’s on her way. She winked it plainly with her eyes. So I get up, make myself ready. Want to be bright and early for the girl. When I get to the hospital I don’t see her, and I ask the woman at the desk. Woman says she don’t know who I’m meaning. Millie, I tell her. She says there ain’t no Millie here. I says must be. If Millie winks it’s as good as anybody’s word. Says I’ll wait. Woman says I can’t. No room for waiting. I insist I will. Woman goes: “Yes, I remember. You’ve been in here, haven’t you. More than once,” she tells me. “Don’t know. Could of been. Can’t remember stuff.” “Yes, you’re one of ours. Umar. I got a good memory, love.” “Ok,” I say. “Where you livin now?” woman’s asking. I shake my head. Screams from somewhere and moaning sounds. Doors start banging, buzzer goes. More moaning and groaning then all turns quiet. Happens a lot at the hospital. Might of done a bit of screaming myself at one time. When I was a patient here. “Aven’t seen you in a while,” goes the woman, peering at me close. “When did you see me last?” I need her to tell me. It may be a clue to something I should know. “Oh, I’d put it at about a year. Eight months the very least.” Her head goes nodding with the words. “So who’s this Millie you’re on about meeting here?” Eyes starin’ right at me, smile twitching in corners of her mouth.
And just for that moment, when she’s putting me on the spot like that, I clean forget. “Better get some rest. You look done in,” says woman. “Can’t,” says I. “I gotta wait.” “For Millie, you mean? Did she tell you she was comin’ here?” I’m trying to hold onto those last winks that Millie gave me, but they keep falling sideways, slipping out of my eyes like tears. “Now son,” goes the woman, “What you cryin for? Here’s a hankie. You takin’ your medication like you should be? Make sure and take it. Best to go on home.” She gets out a pen and piece of paper. “What’s your address?’ “Greenwich Park,” I hear myself telling her. Her pen’s poised above the paper. “Number?” she wants to know. “Behind the willow trees.” Now she’s gawking right up close to me, driving Millie’s face away. Make me lose my nerve those eyes of hers. Millie would go for her if she saw a stare like that. “Yes, it’s coming back to me,” goes woman, writing something down, not waiting for my answer now. “You’re the one as had that Staffie what got run over down the road.” All words comin die in my throat. I don’t know what to do. In a panic I get out my packet of minty-chews, offer one to the woman to keep her fat mouth shut. “Fanks for that, Sweet’art,” says she, stuffing the minty-chew into her gob. I run off. Millie’s not comin’. Woman’s right. See the poor dog so clear now as she lay there, side of the road. All bleeding and weeping, 12
then gone quite still. Get to the door, hear the woman calling after me, “You take good care’ve yourself, yeah,” before I’m through. Can’t help getting this dream sometimes. See old Millie as she used to be before death took her. Would waddle along by me her tail a-swingin’ high. Givin’ me a look as if to say Can’t you keep up sonny? A dog can’t speak as we do, but they say everything with their eyes. Must have been in last night’s dream; she told me she was coming by to look for me. Hospital was the last place she’d clapped eyes on me afore she went. Road in front, just where I’m runnin’ now. I see it all too clear. Van swerved right into her. She didn’t stand a chance on earth. Runnin’ to the trees in the Park where my stuffs’ hid then crawling inside my sleepingbag. I bite the corner of the cloth to stifle pain. Tomorrow. Saturday. Millie won’t be back.
12 a.m., another front porch gathering where spiral-shaped bulbs fluoresce through powdered glass as moth wings paddle deftly in the splash light. Moonbeams kiss the ceiling with stonewhite lips; raw taste of opal smoothed out over pointy stucco tongues. Naked, he sits on the edge of his bed, wondering how long it takes for darkness to fill a single given space. All night, his mind buzzes with insomnia like the tiny box fan shoved into his window. From shifting drawers to tangled blinds, a ghost-hand (not his own) slips in and out, then back again. The shadows tallied on his headboard not a mark, but a compendium of muted stars.
Want The moonâ€™s dim razorblade & the night divides in half Fat, dusk cherry cutting The black juice that weaves not yet licked; no stain Only, thereâ€™s longing somethat old puddle of bones, tenements. Like molding spit to spirit, but far less aside hourglass sand to beat of man, until a wind-carved His chest a stone keyhole Still, no water for weeks. open jewel box; a brief rain & the covetous land that
chattering over gray-blue ice like palmed fruit. away at its star-seeded flesh. between fingers, worthy of its sweet removal. where beneath a softening of soul into wax a tiny breath, from pliant. Pour into shape & set in the ageless face valley roars & rips through him. brimming with light. The sky unlocks like a smashed scattering of diamond fills itself, that steals it all back up.
Some Days, I Some days in winter tell a clear warm lie, while some toss blue in wind, each streetlight an orange sun. There is recent news of corruption, not news itself, but a heroâ€™s fall disturbs especially. I recognize the current wind from last year this time, same locale, the power lines drug sparking down the street and the plummet through a fence of sap-surged limbs. In the snowcrust, impressions from some birdâ€™s three-toed feet. ~after Jim Harrison's "March in Patagonia, AZ"
In Winter Today the geese are on the wing straggling east, in a v-less midwinter flight. I was hoping for a hint of spring, but they weren’t heading north. Today my youngest child curls within me, a soft nudge and a heartbeat, while my oldest waves a mittened hand and dives headfirst into a snow bank. Today the sun shines and the snow sparkles, but I can’t help but feel the years unspooling, an impermanence, even while held fast in the fist of winter. Today I can’t help but fear these fledglings flying from me like those erratic geese, even while one nests within my body and the other calls for me across the vast canvas of the yard.
After Backpacking Over Mt. Whitney My back’s propped against the rock wall so I can stare into the Milky Way’s middle distance or watch that creek flowing down into Owen’s Valley, and I think maybe I’ll just stay up tonight, let the stream and the sky do their thing to my head and have the ancient thoughts of water and stars. Of course, that’s when I fall asleep and dream totems that are either personal or Jungian, and who cares what they are as long as they’re drawn from the springs of the High Sierras, the waters older than these mountains, the waters that incite bears to dance their joy in the meadows downstream, the waters that will eventually split these mountains in half. They are in me.
Desert Cloudwall The dog and I walk the firebreak tattooed on the spine of the mountain, where the forest and the sea air blend themselves with desert. Above us, a cloudwall marches into dry air and steams off into the sky.
Dad’s Goat Matthew David Perez
I met my dad for breakfast at Buen Café. “I had to put the goat down,” he said. I didn’t want to hear it, but he was going to tell me. “Yeah?” I said. “After the dog attack, he was pretty messed up. No ear and everything. One day I was out there shoveling the pen, and he just didn’t move. Got right up on him. Didn’t even know I was there.” “Wow.” “Sometimes he fainted.” The waitress brought our breakfasts and set them before us. “The neighbor wanted to stuff him. Because of his horns.” “Really?” “So night before, I set him up right. I gave him a big bale of alfalfa, and filled the tub with fresh water. He just laid there, had a good time. And next morning I borrowed the neighbor’s .22.” He sprinkled pepper on his eggs. “Four times. Nothing. Finally had to cut his throat.” I poured coffee, and took long sips. “So I cut the grass on Saturday.” “Yeah?” “First time using the mower in fifteen years.”
The Bear That Made My Father Love Me Michael Gentry
My father shot two deer the day before Thanksgiving. In our southeast Alaskan logging camp, this wasn’t unusual. But the night set in quickly, and he was only able to pack one of the deer out before dark. He tied florescent pink engineering ribbon every 50 or so feet to guide him back to the kill site. I was 12-years old. My father made a point to take me hunting and fishing often. I thought it was so cool that my dad carried a .44 magnum. He carried it for protection. Admiralty Island was affectionately named “Fortress of the Bears” by the Tlingit. I’d jump at any opportunity to tramp through the timber in my father’s shadow. I never wanted to cut the heart out of a Sitka black tail or clean a king salmon, but I wanted to be with my dad. And, as a father, I now realize he could have gutted a dear or filleted a fish much more quickly and efficiently than I had. But, for him, it too was about the moment. He woke me before sunrise, and we set off in the dark to collect the second deer. It was Thanksgiving morning. The truck seats were cold, my breath visible. There were no logging trucks on the roads. In the darkness, it seemed all was asleep. We drove for about an hour along the winding, bumpy logging roads before we came to a pull off at the edge of some old growth. On the closest, tallest western hemlock was tied a pink ribbon. I assumed my father loved me. He tried to include me, spend time with me. But my father was not one to profess his love. In fact, I can’t recall a time in my youth when my father told
me he loved me. It wasn’t his nature. In fact, in fits of rage, I’d question his love. The rays of the sun poked through the trees, illuminating particles floating in the morning air. A fresh coat of snow covered the forest floor and the fallen timbers. I walked a few feet behind him, exploring deep into the woods with my eyes. The deep woods fascinated me, like a hidden world never before discovered. Every 50 feet we’d pass a pink ribbon fluttering in the cold breeze. About a mile into the dense undergrowth, we reached the second deer. My father promptly knelt down to quarter it and cut out the back straps. I picked up some cold stones and tossed them at a fungal conk growing about 30 feet up a nearby tree. “Was the other deer a buck?” I asked my dad. “Yeah, just a two point,” he responded without looking up. “Where’s the head?” I asked. “Oh, look around, you’ll find it.” After a few minutes of unsuccessful searching, my father looked up, realized I couldn’t find it, and got to his feet. We searched a small radius before branching out a little farther. My dad went one direction, me the other. Just ahead of me, completely surrounded by snow, was a mound of freshly worked dirt. “Dad,” I called. “Yeah,” his voice questioned faintly through the trees. “What is this?” I asked, a tinge of worry in my voice. He jogged over and immediately stopped, his eyes frantically searching in every direction. 21
“Come here,” he said, hurrying me back to the carcass. “Bears will often bury their food before they eat it,” he said, his eyes still scanning all around. He stuffed the two hind quarters and the back straps into a large, black garbage bag and slung it over his shoulder. “Let’s get out of here,” he said, nodding toward the crooked row of pink ribbons.
eyed. We both knew we were being circled. My father hastened our pace, forcing me to jog every few steps to keep up. In time, light poured in through the cracks of the trees from the clearing of the road. We climbed up the hardened embankment to the truck. My father opened my door and hurried me inside, tossed the bag of meat into the bed, then climbed inside himself. He placed his hand on my leg and sat there for a long moment, staring straight ahead at the rocky logging road. I looked up at him, smiling, awkwardly looking away when he looked over. He fired up the truck, and we started home. The cab heated up quickly. We sat in the warmth, staring ahead, silent.
We had traveled a few hundred feet before I mustered the courage to speak. “Dad, what if we see a bear?” He stopped, turned, and looked right at me. I could see fear in his eyes. “Michael,” he said, after a solemn sigh. “If we see a bear, I want you to find a tree and climb to the top.” “What are you going to do?” I asked, looking up at him. “I will toss him this bag of meat. If he doesn’t want it, I will lead him away from you. You stay in that tree until you know it’s safe.” He turned around without much hesitation and started to walk again. This moment was the first time I knew my father loved me. He didn’t have to tell me. He was going to lead a grizzly deeper into the woods to keep me safe. I felt fear. I felt guilt. I felt love. We walked briskly, attentively. I walked close enough to my father to rest my hand on the cold butt of his pistol, scanning my immediate surroundings for a tree with low hanging limbs. Scenarios flashed through my mind—some happy, some not. I was consumed by emotion, for a moment forgetting the physical world around me. My father abruptly stopped and gasped. I bumped into him, my face smashing up against his heavy, winter work coat. I was sure I was going to climb a tree, and he was going to die. He didn’t say a word. He pointed in front of him. In the snow were bear tracks crossing our path. He bent over and measured the print to his outstretched hand. With the imprint as a backdrop, his hand looked so small. With a forward nod, we continued, twice more stopping to examine bear tracks crossing our path. Each time he’d look back at me, panic 22
Enjoy the wallet you have taken, shredded bank cards and expired state IDs. Enjoy its smooth leather exterior, but the animal is gone. Enjoy my pans without a grain of salt, my house without a book in sight since I have moved. Enjoy the peels but not the fruit, the broken pot but not the ivy of my soul, which scales the windows high above. And little bear, enjoy the moon that you canâ€™t trap inside a box. And Roman guards, enjoy the cold and empty tomb.
Lassen County Kathleen J. Woods Johnny resolved to steal his sister home before dusk. He threw a backpack in his truck and kissed their mother goodbye. Be careful, she said. And don’t kill him. The road from Susanville to Eagle Lake was clear, familiar in its winding, narrowing roads. October was not a time for tourists or hobby fishermen. Only those without much else to do would set out on the lake now, as the cold crept in, willing to bob for hours before a bite. It was their father’s favorite time of year. Johnny remembered how his legs had numbed as he sat on the fishing boat’s metal bench, watching the cooler empty. He’d drunk one can of the cheap beer that flattened halfway though, sneering as he sipped. His father had laughed and tossed him another can. Johnny fiddled with the truck’s radio. Styx battled against the mountain static, and Johnny let them. It was better than country. Better than nothing. He tapped his fingers against the steering wheel and dreamt, for a moment, of robbing a gas station and continuing on, turning for Las Vegas and driving east and east and east. He was nearly done with high school anyway. What more could he learn in seven months? He laughed to himself. There were no gas stations in these woods. Next, in another year, the Navy. He would travel then. When their father had called about the camping trip, Johnny had been ready to refuse him. He hadn’t seen the man in a year. But he heard April in the background. She’d begged for the phone. “I expect you to join your family, son. Here’s your sister,” their father had grunted. “I really think you should come camping
with us,” April said. “What, you miss me?” Johnny said. “Wait, he’s going outside,” she whispered. “You have to come get me.” “Is he hurting you?” “It’s the same,” April said. “How’s Cheyenne?” Johnny said. “Jesus. The dog is fine. Aren’t you even worried about me?” Their father’s husky was beautiful. As a boy, Johnny would sit by the dog on the back porch and stroke her ears. She’d lunge at anyone coming for him. She’d go for the throat. And their father knew it. Sometimes Johnny lay awake at night picturing his father smashing the dog’s head in with a shovel. “I don’t want to see him.” “You and Mom were right, okay? All Reno’s got is prostitutes and strippers. He keeps joking that in two years, I can start my career,” April said. Johnny imagined her standing at the phone, wrapping the coil around her arm as they had as children, pretending to mummify their fingers. April had left in a fit. Their mother had forbidden her to spend a weekend in Reno with a boy. She packed a backpack and announced that she and the boy were going, and she wasn’t coming back. She’d already talked to her daddy, and at least he wanted her to be happy. He understood that she was an adult. She’d screamed as their mother started to cry and bit Johnny’s arm as he held it across the door. The boy was waiting outside. Johnny started after her, but their mother told him to let her go. The car tore down the street. Their mother had 24
touched the bite mark on his arm and sighed. Let her go. And pray to God she isn’t pregnant. “Please, Johnny,” April said. “He won’t let me leave. Just pretend to come camping and take me home while they’re sleeping.” “I’ll do it for Mom,” he’d said. Johnny slowed the truck as a blue Mustang roared past. He never understood why people sped along these snaking roads. When they were children this drive had made April cry. Their father would laugh and take his hands off the wheel. Johnny liked to drive fast on a highway, where he could imagine himself slicing through the sky and golden fields, not here, where one careless turn meant a head-on collision or pinball down a mountain. He taught April to drive in the fields. When she failed her first test, he took her out for ice cream. She’d forgotten about stop signs, she said. Oops. Once, he’d seen April’s boy road race. He’d just finished a night shift at the bowling alley and joined his classmates in the parking lot. The boy drove a red Challenger with a broken driver door. Everyone cheered when he jumped in through the window. They cheered again when he took a shot. The cars had revved their engines and taken off down the main strip, towards the end of the streetlights and back again. The boy had lost by a mile. Weeks after he drove off with April, the boy had gone bowling. Johnny had walked out from behind the lanes, hands black with oil, and saw him sitting in a blue half-moon seat, his arm around a redhead. “Hey,” Johnny said, wiping his hands with a rag. The boy looked at him and blinked. He and the redhead stunk of pot. She stood up to bowl, her lips pursued around a cigarette. “Hey,” Johnny repeated. “You’re back in town?” “Looks like it,” the boy said, grinning with teeth like a hand of cards. “And April?” “April? Man, that girl is crazy,” the boy said. Johnny stuffed the rag into his back pocket. “You left her there.”
The redhead knocked down seven pins, and the boy applauded. Johnny watched him watch her bend down over the ball return. “In Reno? Well, yeah. I was never going to live in that shit-hole. Your sister’s hot, but she’s crazy,” the boy said. He grinned again and cracked his knuckles. “We were just there for a little fun, you know?” The redhead’s pins clattered. She’d made a spare. The boy turned to cheer, and Johnny grabbed the back of his shirt. He hadn’t realized how small the boy’s body was. No shoulders to speak of. He imagined the boy’s sallow bones on a motel mattress, undressing his little sister. “Watch your fucking mouth,” Johnny said. He tossed the boy into the lane. He slid a good four feet before his skin screeched against the varnished wood. He scrambled upright. Johnny had watched the boy struggle to stand and noticed that he’d smudged oil over the boy’s shirt. This made him smile. He weaved through the bowlers clutching their drinks and sat in the back room. He counted his breaths. Johnny hadn’t been fired. He was too good an employee, too responsible. Besides, his father had worked there from the moment the alley opened, and the boss refused to break a legacy. He didn’t tell their mother anything about the fight. If she’d heard, she kept it to herself. Last he’d heard, the redhead was pregnant, and the boy, racing drunk, had rolled his car, crushing his leg. What a shame, people said. He’d been counting on the Army. Johnny wondered if April knew. Susanville, it turned out, was a shithole too. Johnny turned off the main road onto the stretch of dirt that would lead him to their father’s campsite. The radio gave up. He hummed to himself and imagined April struggling to assemble the tent—a tent she wouldn’t even sleep in. Years past, their father and his girlfriend had taken the shelter and left April and Johnny sleeping bags and a tarp in the bed of the truck. They’d huddled together and told ghost stories, trying to cover 25
the yelling or the moaning coming from the tent. As they grew older, they slept farther and farther apart. He’d begun waking up before her. He’d learned to make coffee. He’d learned to sit quietly by the lake and watch the morning herons dip into the water for fish. Johnny whistled as the lake came into view. The mountains spread wide and flat, and the water stretched through them to the horizon. Johnny saw no one, and his heartbeat quickened. He thought of their father discovering their plan and waiting, gun ready, for Johnny to arrive. But the gun misfires and shatters April’s skull. Blood sprays the boat, the tree trunks.
Johnny squinted again at the water. He could make out no bodies. He started the truck and angled back toward the road, just brushing the corner of their father’s tent. It bent and sagged, and April laughed. He watched his rearview mirror, waiting for a gun. The lake disappeared from view, and the radio crackled to life. April reached out and twirled the dial. Dime-sized bruises spotted her forearm. Once, long ago, the family had spent a day at the lake together. Their father taught Johnny to skip rocks. Their mother stood in the water and held April’s hands as she kicked. Soon Johnny’s stones made one hop, then two. Their father patted him on the back. “Watch this,” he’d said. He picked up a wide, flat stone and snapped it over the lake. It struck their mother in the hip. She and April splashed under the surface, yelling. Their father laughed and laughed, his hand on Johnny’s shoulder. Johnny had giggled too. Their mother scooped April into her arms and carried her to shore. It had taken another three years to teach her to swim. “Never try that again, okay?” Johnny said. “Mom missed you.” April looked up from the radio and nodded. Her hair fell over her eyes. “Sure.” “You’ll go back to school next week.” “Sure,” she shivered. “There’s a sweater in that bag there. Put it on.” She reached into the truck’s narrow back seat. Her shirt rose as she stretched, exposing the way her hipbone pressed through her skin. She pulled the sweater over her head. “Don’t singe it,” Johnny said. The radio played an advertisement for McDonald’s. Another for mattresses. Johnny listened to the air moving past the truck. “Hey, have you heard anything about Michael?” April said, still clutching the cigarette. The sweater swallowed her. She shook the sleeves away from her hands. “Who?” He watched her tap ashes into his cup holder. She wore a big silver ring on her thumb. It was green around its edges. “My old boyfriend. Some help you are,”
When he was thirteen, he’d found blood in the bathroom. There was red tissue in the garbage can, pink swirling in the sink. He watched plum clots dissolve in the toilet water. He’d known someone had died. He’d screamed for his mother, and she and April both came running. April blushed and fled back to her room. Their mother had done her best to explain. Johnny gripped the steering wheel. Their father’s truck sat a few feet offshore, rusty and dented, its boat trailer empty. Johnny looked out across the water. Before he could make anything of the black shapes blotting the lake, April pounded on his passenger door. He opened it, and she threw herself inside, hair wild. She clutched her backpack to her chest. “C’mon,” she said. “Let’s get out of here.” “Where’s Dad?” “Fishing. They’ve been out on the lake for an hour. I said I would wait for you, and here you are. My hero,” April said, dancing in her seat. Her bare arms were tan and covered in freckles. Her face looked strange to him, puffy though the rest of her body remained so thin that he saw the shape of her ribcage as she breathed. She still had no chest to speak of. Not pregnant then. She pulled a cigarette from her backpack and lit it. He watched her exhale. Smoke twisted through the truck. Their mother would make her flush the cigarettes one by one. 26
she smiled and punched his shoulder. “God, I wish I could see Dad’s face when he pulls into camp.” Johnny looked again in the review mirror. Nothing. Though their father could follow them later and pound on their mother’s front door, demanding that his son face him. They’d keep everything locked. They’d change their phone number. And in one year, the Navy. He wiped his palms on his jeans, one at a time, and eased the truck through three short curves, seatbelt heavy on his chest. His legs ached. April stretched her feet out on the dash. Pink nail polish clung to the ends of her big toes. She took a drag on her cigarette as the truck began its descent. “Go faster, Johnny. I’m not scared.” He looked at his sister, at her puffy, freckled face, so flat in the shadows of the trees. He pressed down on the gas. He’d get them home.
Famous Last Words If you bury a word just for your life, or for autumn, or for a love across Eastern Shore, will you find it the cedar of a cloud? Will you re-voice it deep down like the deserted friendships of villages crowded into a computer, the stars slapping their dark waves into a boat? Will you play it with banjo calluses, cracked ribs, lame stage hands, in a flare gun where no rescue helicopter can circle? You like all the dramas that help you disappear. Yet you tell your cold body to find something kinetic to save memories and muscles. If you can bury a word, you can soon bury everything else.
Darkness and from her wounds despair flowed like time, scrubbing the dirt into dust into nothing into nothing into cold, empty, lovely darkness, a world so dark one swallows the sun to feel a glimmer of moonlight again, those white rays that pick at the seams of the body like a needle, that unravel threads of precipitation and coat the eyes in foggy film, consuming the visible world in blank vacancy. and this is darkness, the white empty.
Drive Aaron Gansky
My father pulls to the side of a quiet residential neighborhood and parks the car. He spins the barrel of his revolver and clicks it in place. “You’re good here, right?” I nod. He’s left me alone in the car before, sometimes to run into the store, sometimes at night on unfamiliar streets like this. On the drive, I watch the map and memorize the roads, a game my father has me do to pass the time. It’s hard in the dark, but I remember turns, and I’m good at figuring out shadowy landmarks. When he leaves on nights like this, he’s never gone long. I pass the time by reading comics. Afterward, he always takes me out for ice cream or buys me more comics and lets me stay up late. He kisses my forehead and steps out of the car. Before he closes the door, he says, “I love you, kid. Stay put.” He tucks the gun into the waist of his pants. The dome light gleams off the polished wood handle before he closes the door and leaves me in the dark. My father’s boots click across the asphalt. There’re no streetlights here, and a November chill frosts the windows. I climb in the back seat, settle on the floor, pull my knees to my chest, and cover myself in our emergency blanket. It smells like dust and gasoline. I click on my flashlight and open the latest X-men. I want to be a hero, want to stop speeding cars with a wave of my hand, want to heal people with a thought. I’m able to get through three of the six comics dad bought for me last week at Kettleman’s drugstore. One I read twice. When I hear his boots on asphalt again, the sound is different, softer, more a click and drag
than the sharp clacking of earlier. I slither out from the blanket and climb back in the front. His face is pale in the patchy porch lights, and he holds his left hand under his coat. He’s breathing hard, and he slumps into the seat. There won’t be ice cream or comics tonight. “Remember how to drive?” I nod. He’s had me sit on his lap and steer before, but only in and out of the driveway at home, and we haven’t been home in weeks. The whiteness of his face scares me, so I don’t ask questions. He licks his lips and turns the car over. “Hop on,” he says. I slide onto his lap, and he pushes the small of my back forward. “Don’t lean back.” He presses the gas slow. “If you want me to go faster, tap my right leg. Tap my left if you need me to slow down or stop.” “Can’t you see?” I say. “Not Superman, kid. Don’t got X-ray vision.” He laughs, but the air whips out in bursts, wheezes. I turn on the headlights. He’s shown me how to do this, how to do the blinker, the wipers, but not the defroster. “The window’s foggy.” He turns a dial and the fog thins in clear fingers. “You have to be careful with guns,” I say. “They’re not toys.” He leans back. “Remember how to get to Uncle Joey’s?” “I should take you to the hospital.” “They’d take me away from you, and you’re all I got.” “You’re all I got,” I say. The first corner comes fast, and I turn 32
the wheel right. The tires squeal, slip on the pavement. “Slow down,” I say. “You didn’t tell me,” he says. His legs shake under me. Uncle Joey’s is miles away, and I worry I’ll forget the way. It takes me a minute to learn the fine art of signaling speed by tapping his legs. It’s all I can do to stay on the road, so I straddle the line, and go over it when I get close to turns. There’s never many cars on the back roads we take, not this late at night. “What happened?” “Just drive, kid.” “Are you going to die?” “Life isn’t like comics,” he says. “Good guys don’t always win.” “We’re the good guys, right?” “We’re always the good guys,” he says. “But no one else knows it.” His voice is softer now, like he’s tired, like he’s about to fall asleep. “And you,” he says. “You’re my hero.” “Dad,” I say. I tap his left leg, but he doesn’t slow. “Dad.” The car speeds up. My chest tightens. “Dad. Slow down.” I see the turn coming, the red octagon, the flash of headlights coming from the left. I stretch out my hand toward the oncoming car. In that moment, I am my father’s hero.
The Shadow Puppet Jim O. Neal
Sandra vividly remembered the day she realized, or admitted to herself, that something was wrong with Ethan. She was sitting on the floor of the living room with Ethan lying on his back on the carpet. Her husband, Will, was relaxed in his recliner watching a football game. Dylan, her older son, played by himself in his room. Over the sound of the announcers on television, she could faintly hear toy trucks crashing together. Ethan squirmed and looked around the room. He was nine months old, beyond the age that he should be rolling over and even sitting up on his own. “Come on, sweetheart,” she said, “let´s try again. You can do it.” Sandra picked him up under the armpits and sat him on his butt, held on until she thought he had his balance, then slowly let go. He immediately fell over, and would have bumped his head on the floor had she not caught him. “Damn it,” she whispered. “That was better. You’re getting closer,” but he wasn’t, and she knew it. She had already made the effort a thousand times with the same result so she returned him to his back, pulled up his shirt and blew on his stomach. She lifted her face to laugh with him, but Ethan gave no response, just kept on with his flailing. She tickled his ribs, his feet, under his chin, and got no laughter. She had great memories of playing with Dylan when he was this age, tickling him and listening to him giggle. She put her finger into Ethan´s palm hoping he would grip it. He didn´t. “Are you here, Ethan? Are you here with me?” She didn’t know what she was trying to ask him, but she
had to try to get an answer. She felt rejected and needed a connection that she wasn’t getting, but putting it into words was difficult. Will had insisted that they take him to the doctor months before because he was such a difficult baby, but they had reassured Sandra that there was nothing medically wrong with Ethan. Babies were difficult sometimes, the doctors told her. He would grow out of it. She believed them. Playing with Ethan on the floor that day, she finally let herself feel that it wasn’t right. He should be rolling around, sitting up, trying to crawl. She should at least be able to get a laugh out of him with a tickle. “Will, honey, I think something is wrong with Ethan,” she said. Will didn’t take his eyes off the screen. “Yeah, I know,” he said. “No, Will, listen. I think I know what is wrong with him.” “Oh, what is it?” He leaned forward slightly. “Come down here. I need to show you.” Will pulled himself out of the chair and squatted down beside her. Sandra started crying as she tried to tell him. It sounded so crazy in her head but the closer she got to saying it the more certain she became. “He can’t feel me,” she said, starting to cry. “Hey, calm down. I’m listening. What do you mean he can’t feel you? I don’t understand what that means.” Sandra put all her effort into composing herself so she could get the explanation out. She wiped her eyes with her sleeve, and looked up at Will. “I mean that he can’t feel when I 35
touch him. Watch,” she said as she pulled his shirt up above his belly. She tickled him and rubbed him. There was no reaction. He seemed to not notice at all. He just continued to swing and kick his limbs with a blank expression on his face. Will reached in and patted his belly—nothing. Then, he pinched the skin on Ethan’s stomach a little too hard. Ethan screamed. Sandra looked up at Will in confusion. “I don’t know. He definitely felt that.” “I’m just sure something is wrong, Will. I know it.” “We’ll take him back to the doctor, see what they think.” They took Ethan to their family doctor, the only one in their tiny little town. He didn’t have the tools or experience to deal with something like this so he sent them to a doctor in the next town, a thirty-minute drive away. That doctor did his best and passed them along to the nearest city, two hours from home. It was weeks before they finally got to someone who could help. After a couple of visits, the doctors confirmed what Sandra already knew, but they didn’t understand what was causing the problem. Through some simple tests they determined that Ethan couldn’t feel tactual stimulation, except, inexplicably, infliction of pain. None of the doctors had ever heard of such a thing. They did blood tests and neurological testing, but were still baffled. The best they could do at the end of it was send Will and Sandra to the pharmacy to pick up a bag full of prescriptions. Losing hope in finding a medical explanation, Will and Sandra devoted their time to coping and just dealt with the difficulties. They didn’t understand what Ethan was going through, but learned to accept his behavior and adapt, acting practically, trying to adjust. The doctors continued to search for the answers and, finally, tracked down a neurologist who had worked with a patient with similar symptoms half way across the country. Because he was one of the only doctors who had worked with such a case he flew in just to see
Ethan. He was able to confirm that Ethan had the same disorder as his patient. He explained the disease and gave them a gloomy scenario. “Mr. and Mrs. Hicks,” Dr. Simon began, “Ethan is dealing with an extremely unusual impairment of his sense of touch.” He was concerned, but his expression gave away his fascination with Ethan’s case. “It’s a disorder in his peripheral nervous system, the nerves connecting his limbs and body to his spinal cord. His sensory nerves, the ones that convey information from the periphery to the central nervous system, aren’t functioning properly. We all have small receptors that receive touch in the skin and convert it to electrical impulses that are sent to the brain. Ethan doesn’t have this system.” “Ok,” Sandra responded. “How did this happen to him?” She dreaded having to ask that question, fearing that she had somehow caused it. The small room, with plain white walls and official looking certificates in cheap faux-wood frames, seemed like a place where only bad news was delivered. She became uncomfortable with the carpet her feet rested on. The tears it must have absorbed over the years made her feel sick. Dr. Simon had to admit that he didn’t have all the answers. “Honestly, I don’t know. There are only a few cases known in the world, and those have all happened later in life, to adults. I’m not aware of a single case of someone being born with the disorder, although it’s quite possible that babies have been born with this condition but not survived long enough to be diagnosed. It is most likely from a viral infection that has attacked his nerves. Look, Mrs. Hicks, I know there is a tendency for parents to blame themselves, but I can’t stress enough that you didn’t do anything to cause this.” Sandra was relieved to hear that, but she wasn’t totally convinced. She looked at the ceiling and wondered how many people had done the same thing, hoping to get a better view from that cold plastic chair. “Dr. Simon, I really don’t understand all this,” Will said. “I mean, how is this making Ethan so difficult? He won’t even go to sleep. 36
What the hell does his sense of touch have to do with that? It’s a miracle every time we get him to eat.” “Well, there’s more to it than what you think. Since we all have it, most of us don’t even realize how important our touch sense is. The peripheral nervous system, where Ethan’s impairment is, also provides information from deeper in the body, from muscles and tendons. This information tells us about where our muscles and body are in space, in the absence of vision. Ethan likely has no spatial awareness in his body. When he closes his eyes he must feel as though he has lost contact with his body completely. I’m sure it’s very frightening for him to lose sight of himself. That’s probably why he won’t go to sleep. He’s afraid.” “Wait a minute, though. Ethan cried when I pinched him earlier. He definitely felt that,” Will added, confident that he could somehow prove the doctor wrong. “Well, there are actually separate receptors in the skin that pick up on pain and temperature sensations, and also muscle fatigue. Ethan apparently has these. This is extremely important. Without these Ethan would have a much harder time.” Doctor Simon told them that Ethan would never be able to walk or talk. The adult patient that he had worked with was confined to a wheelchair, could barely communicate, and had to be fed intravenously because she couldn’t control her lips and tongue. She couldn’t chew. She couldn’t even swallow on command. “Listen, Mr. and Mrs. Hicks, this is not going to be easy for Ethan, or for your family. We will do everything we can to help Ethan deal with this, but I don’t want to imply that his condition will improve. I see little hope for that. What I suggest you focus on is giving Ethan all the love you can give him.” Dr. Simon went on to explain that otherwise healthy children who aren’t touched enough don’t grow normally, have much weaker immune systems, and lack social skills. They have lower intelligence and shorter life spans. A baby that isn’t touched at all dies. Sandra was hysterical when they left the
office. “That is total nonsense!” They had finally gotten some answers, but she felt she couldn’t accept what Dr. Simon had said about Ethan’s future. He didn’t know Ethan, didn’t know her. “That’s just not going to work for us. We can teach Ethan to eat. I mean, give me a fucking break! I’m supposed to believe that my son won’t even be able to eat?” “Sandra,” Will said, “He’s a doctor. I’m sure he knows what he’s talking about.” “Nonsense! I’ll teach him to eat.” Sandra had always been in the habit of checking in on the boys while they were sleeping. When it was just Dylan, she would quietly open his door and look at him right before she went to bed. After Ethan was born, she added one more check in during the night. She woke up promptly at two in the morning and snuck to their door to make sure they were okay. One night, when Ethan was three and Dylan was six, she noticed something peculiar. She saw Dylan lying on his back in his bed, one arm raised straight to the ceiling and the fingertips of the other hand stroking the length of the bare, up-stretched arm, tickling it. After tickling the arm for a minute he curled his fingers to scratch the arm lightly with his nails. He was still asleep. This wasn’t the strange part. She had seen him do this many times before. It struck her as kind of weird but she always got a little laugh from it. It was so cute. What she noticed this night was that Ethan was watching him do it. She stayed a few minutes longer and Dylan finished his routine. Once he put his arms down and rolled over on his side, Sandra saw Ethan’s head roll back to face forward. His eyes remained open. She stayed until she was too tired to stand. Ethan was still awake when she left. The next night, Sandra returned and found Ethan awake. This time, she realized he was staring at a spot on the bed beside him. He didn’t take his eyes off of it. Again, she stayed as long as she could, until she started to fall asleep while standing. 37
This went on for several nights. Sandra was so confused about what her little guy could be doing awake so late at night until, finally, something happened. It was the same as the previous nights. Ethan was awake, lying on his back staring at something beside him. Just as Sandra had decided to go back to bed, Ethan’s hand slowly levitated off the bed, first a few inches then a foot. Sandra clamped her hand over her mouth to keep from squealing. Her eyes welled up with tears. Ethan could always move, but she knew immediately that this was different. Ethan had controlled his movement, something he had never done before. He had been staring at his hand, willing it to move. His hand suddenly fell. Ethan’s body was more like an inert object, like a lamp across the room, than it was a part of him, something connected to his mind. He had to move it remotely using intense mental concentration, replacing the functions of the body that normally happen without thought by essentially controlling these functions manually. A person attempting telekinesis would look much the same as Ethan did when trying to control his body, and his movement was only slightly less miraculous. This felt like a huge victory for Sandra, and she used her newfound enthusiasm to help Ethan build on his abilities. Once he had learned that sight was such a useful tool, he was able to apply it to other movements. It took him hours of concentration and practice over the course of months to learn basic maneuvers.
learn to do things on his own.” “He needs help, Mom. He can’t do it on his own.” “You’re right. He does need your help, but he doesn’t need you to do everything for him. What he needs is for you to encourage him to help himself.” Her reasoning was sound, but it was difficult to convince Dylan. “New rule,” Sandra said. “From now on, Ethan has to try to do everything for himself before anyone can help him. If he can’t accomplish something after he’s given it a good effort, one of us will help him. Got it? That goes for you, too, Dad.” Will was almost as bad as Dylan, although not quite as open about it. He would be Ethan’s right hand while Sandra wasn’t around, but in her presence he was disciplined in the approach she preferred. “I mean, look at him,” she said, looking down proudly at Ethan sitting on the floor, slightly propped up with pillows. “Look at how much better he’s doing.” Sandra praised him for even the simplest accomplishments. Will and Sandra were thrilled by watching him sit on the floor and stare. It was almost as if he were a little monk, meditating. They watched him like he was a magician doing something they couldn’t quite follow. They studied him. At first he could move his legs only while he was sitting, but then he learned to stand on his own by holding onto the wall or a piece of furniture and keeping his eyes on his legs, keeping those muscles flexed. His legs had to be locked in order for it to work. Once Sandra saw Ethan making progress, she started challenging him to do more. She stood him up next to a piece of furniture and placed his hands on it. The whole room was totally silent so he could concentrate on all he had to maintain. He focused on his hands, midsection, and legs, all at once. She slowly let go of him when she felt like he was stable enough and, just like that. “Oh, my baby can stand! My little guy can stand on his own!” Sandra screamed. They clapped and shouted and laughed with excitement, causing Ethan to get distracted and
Even a year later, when Ethan was four, Dylan still carried him almost everywhere he went throughout the house. Ethan could simply point his eyes towards where he wanted to go and give a grunt, and Dylan would correctly interpret and deliver him. “Dylan, if you carry your brother around everywhere he’s never going to learn how to walk. Would you please not do every little thing for him?” “I’m just helping. He likes it.” “Well I know he likes it. Who wouldn’t like to be waited on hand-and-foot? But he has to 38
fall, and then they did the whole thing over again. Sandra became obsessed with her effort. She could think of nothing else but working with Ethan to learn to walk. It was the most important thing she could think of. She couldn’t imagine him going through his whole life without being able to move on his own, couldn’t accept it. Will finally figured out what Ethan needed to help him along. He came home one day with a walker he had welded together from scrap aluminum. “Try that out little buddy,” he said as he presented the gadget. “It’s not very pretty to look at, but I think it’ll help.” It was still difficult and frustrating, for all of them, but Ethan didn’t seem troubled by the effort. He made slow, patient progress.
chair and gave him a hug. “Do it again,” she said. “Say something else.” Ethan slowly lifted the mirror while Sandra waited. “I´m humbwy,” he said. She had hoped for “I love you, Mom,” or, “Thank you for all your help over the years,” but whatever he said was beautiful to her. “You know what would make this place a whole lot better,” said Monroe, Will’s best friend. “We need to build a screened in porch here.” They were sitting outside the back door, drinking beer and looking out at the back yard. “That´s not a bad idea,” Will said as he swatted at a mosquito on his face. “It would protect us from these damned bugs.” “We could put in a little ceiling fan, too. That´d be nice.” They each took a drink of beer from their warm cans and thought it over a little more. “You think we could get some of the guys to help?” “Hell, if you cook some pork and brisket on the smoker, fill up a cooler with beer, you´ll have thirty guys over here swingin´ hammers. We´ll get Monk to throw us aside some wood from the lumber yard. Piece o´ cake.” “Alright, let´s do it next weekend.” Monk was the first to arrive on Saturday morning at just a little past seven. He drove the delivery truck from the lumber yard where he worked, carrying bags of concrete mix to set the posts, a roll of screen, shingles, and the lumber they would need. Will only paid for about half of it, and didn’t feel bad about it. Monk had worked at the lumber yard for not enough money since high school. He knew the place and the customers better than anyone so there was no risk of being fired. “Hey, Willy,” he said as he jumped out of the truck. “Morning, Monk. Think this’ll do it?” Will refilled his cup of coffee. “I know where there’s more, if not.” The rest of the guys started trickling in half an hour later and waited for Jones to show up with the bloody maries. They all needed one and no one made them like Jones did. Monroe
“Fay fomefeem,” he said. These were his first words, spoken to his own reflection. He was eight years old. He had for a long time been making noises to himself and trying to shape those into words, but he could never get beyond a sort of singing sound. The difficulty was that he couldn’t see his tongue well enough to tell it what to do like he did his with his hands and legs. Eventually he was able to work around that by looking into the mirror and learning how to make sounds his tongue would normally make using his lips instead, the reverse of what a ventriloquist does. Finally, it came out, “Say something.” He smiled at himself. “Say something,” he repeated. During dinner, he steered his walker into the living room where Will, Sandra, and Dylan were eating and watching television. He sat down in his chair and, with unsteady hands, lifted a small mirror to his face and said, slowly and carefully, with a shaky voice and slur, “Pweav paff ve popapoev.” They all stared at him silently, in disbelief for several moments before all at once coming out with laughter and praise. Sandra covered her mouth with her hand and fought back the tears. She got up from her 39
was the last to show, already on his second beer from the drive into town. Ethan and Dylan were just waking up as the commotion began. Dylan rushed to get his jeans and t-shirt on and, after gulping down a bowl of cereal, bolted outside to start helping with the work. At thirteen, all he wanted to do was hang out with Will and his friends. Ethan took his time, dressed and ate slowly and carefully, situated himself on his walker and rolled to the back door. “Hey, little buddy,” Jones said between loads of concrete mix he was carrying from the truck parked in the street in front of the house. “Need a hand down?” “Can you take me over there out of the way?” “You got it.” Once Jones got him past the stacks of lumber, Ethan struggled to the slope at the back of the yard so he could sit down and still see the work happening. Sandra finished putting up the dishes from dinner the night before and looked out the kitchen window. She could see Ethan sitting in the yard, which gave her some comfort. There would be a lot of hazards while the porch was being built, piles of scrap lumber, nails, power tools. She wanted to make sure she could keep an eye on him. Work moved along at a decent pace until late morning when it got really hot. The hammers fell with less force and accuracy. The tape measures were difficult to see through the sweat in their eyes. “Let’s eat, guys!” Will couldn’t stand to check on the grill even one more time in that heat. The meat had to be done. They sat around in the shade of the maple trees at the edge of the property and ate. The cold, sweating beers were refreshing. Once they had all had seconds they struggled to find the motivation to go back into that sun. They delayed. “It’s too hot to run that saw,” Monroe said. “Why don’t we play a couple rounds of Annieover until it cools off a little.” “I could go for that,” said Will. The game
was one they invented a couple summers ago. It was a combination of tag, hide and seek, and dodge ball and involved the roof of the house. “Well, son of a bitch,” Sandra said. She knew they wouldn’t get back to working on the porch. They’d play until they were either too tired or too drunk to play anymore. Then they’d go home, take showers, and go to the Tightwad Tavern for the night. They wouldn’t get around to finishing the porch for another month or so, depending on how many weekends they spent at the lake on Monroe’s pontoon boat. “Too hot to work, but not too hot to run around the yard like idiots all afternoon.” She was fuming mad, even though she had expected this all along. “We’re gonna have to live with a damned construction zone in our back yard all summer.” She was about to burst out the back door to scream at Will or Monroe, whichever one she saw first, when she noticed Ethan’s walker standing at the edge of the yard. He wasn’t next to it. She scanned the yard in immediate panic. He’s gone. Someone took him! She thought before realizing that that would never happen, not in their town and not from a yard with a dozen drunk rednecks with hammers and power tools. “Dylan,” she screamed. “Where’s your brother?” “I don’t know,” Dylan yelled back without interest, not wanting to take his attention away from the game. “He was sitting in the yard last time I saw him.” “Get over here and help me look.” She walked quickly around the back yard, searching around the tools and lumber, but he wasn’t there. He wasn’t on their property. How had she lost him? Where had he crawled to? With each step she took she thought of a new danger that existed on their block. The trucker who lived up the hill drove too fast when he came home at the end of a haul to park his rig on the street. There weren’t sidewalks and Ethan would never be able to get out of his way if he happened to be coming home. There was the angry drunk three houses 40
down that was always shouting at people walking by. He also had three mean dogs that weren’t always tied up like they should be. What if one of them attacked Ethan? A creek ran right past their neighbor’s house. If he got too close he could fall down the embankment and into the water. She rounded the side of the house where she could just see into the front yard. “Ethan, stop,” she said when she saw him. He was taking slow, careful steps on the gravel of the driveway, legs rigid. He stopped and almost fell as his momentum carried his upper body forward. He stood wavering, looking down at his legs. Sandra gasped as though he was teetering at the edge of a cliff. “Come back, Ethan. You need your walker.” She was short of breath. Sandra didn’t know that Ethan wanted to turn around to her and smile, to wave and tell her not to worry about him, that he was fine on his own, but doing any of those things would have made him fall down. He took another step and continued towards the street. Dylan ran up behind Sandra and stopped. “He’s doing it!” Sandra put her arm around his shoulder and leaned on him slightly. “He sure is, but I don’t think I like it.” “What are you talking about? It’s great! It’s what you wanted, right?” “It is, but I’m just so scared for him.” “He just needs practice. I’ll keep an eye on him.” Dylan shrugged off Sandra’s arm and ran to catch up with Ethan at the edge of the driveway. He gave Ethan a hug from behind, a little rougher than Sandra liked. She sighed heavily and smiled, glad that Dylan was there to keep Ethan safe. Sandra felt the distance between her and Ethan grow as the two boys continued their walk along the street. She wanted to take back her wish that Ethan would someday be able to walk on his own. She would gladly accept the burden of having him around all the time. He wasn’t ready to be out in the world, but there he went.
April, May, June 1997 Remember the time we made flower crowns for the dogs and walked them through the yard saying they were married and how perfect they must be or the time we made a farm from pulled weeds and ripped leaves for dollars so we could pay the price a pound of marigolds fetched in the tool shed market take me to the hidden place beneath the piano where a chord of three strands wasnâ€™t easily broken and help me relearn the pattern for a string bracelet so I can retie the thread that came loose when Chip and Goldie died Mom sold our piano and the flowers shriveled in their pots.
Antler Dear body, flighty and sure-footed, you bawled into this world ready to remain speechless, a new holder of heat in the herd, licked clean.
Bone grows like tree branches, covered with velvet, that living bone softer than Lambâ€™s Ear.
Once you were grunting into your own life, foraging for breath in the understoryâ€” you, too, woodland animal, hoofed in heather, azalea. Now you are antler or you are animal; rarely both.
Bone turns into trophy.
Light filtering, fawn-spotted, through trembling aspen and groves of paper birch.
As if bone means anything without its body. As if the body means anything without its home.
Now you are arrowed into city, antlered through with fear.
Bone turns into trophy, kept.
As if keeping that were enough to keep you tethered to your life.
Dear body, consider this prayer, wordless, like the old one: let death be death, let rot return to forest. 44
Stone Carrier, Salish Territories When lightning touched stone there was no love there. Instead it was a kissing. Forces have no lips nor fingers & yet touch intimately, one electron recognizing another. Once met, only the stone remained, that loose, temporary knot of how-things-are; once grounded, white-sky, the sprite, unraveled in the particle sea. Even the stone has now become a pebble, the rest of the rock, mountainous, devastated with time: a mountain over time, shards, sand, its calcite dissolved. Somewhere, calcium ions, in a bone (in a hawk leg say) or riverbed racing, storm to the sea. Down below in a temporal corner, a woman. Now walking, now driving; of no consequence to the long spent sprite, nor to the pebbleâ€”even ifâ€”her leg-bone walks carrying in its marrow errant ions.
Porch Easel, Flight Sparrows forage thin grasses close to a roadside cross, train wails curving through amber waves at sunset. Her long sable brush carries a vision from dream. The dark blue flags of dusk unfurl a reprieve, she paints a last lamppost, city centurion, close to a meadow squared by new sidewalks. The sniper in her tower still squeezing off ricochets of low thoughts, planting cross-hairs on crowâ€™s feet deepened by years of struggle, days of joy, hope as real as wings shaping wind. Gusts change the light as insights ignite the borders of rust and repair, she dry-brushes crows on an oak branch. Her riverbank gypsy leans into the voice of one current, the dusk in his eyes a day closer to its roots.
Blue This is how it’s been ever since I was sixteen: you, lingering in the rearview; me, praying to the dash. The needle matches the number, the tags are paid in full, and I even hit the lights a good hour out of dusk. Anything for you. Yet still my stomach tightens when you appear beside me. A sickening sense of guilt fills the car like Freon, and I can’t shake this feeling that I’ve done something wrong, something deserving of lights, a siren, and—if I’m honest— so much worse than that.
Business as Usual Emily Claire Utley Mary and her mother sat at a plastic table in the corner of a McDonald’s. The midafternoon sun leeched through the tinted window and made Mary’s fish sandwich look gray. The tartar sauce dripped of its own volition from the plastic bun. Mary had given her fries to her mother who ate them like a hamster eats a carrot. The doctor suggested organic greens, meat high in protein, and snacks easy on the stomach. Instead, her mother wanted to sit in the dingy McDonald’s, her bald head warmed by a purple knitted cap, and lick salt off her fingers. “You feeling ok?” Mary asked. “Stop asking. I’m fine.” “This is absurd.” Mary crossed her arms and tilted her head toward the dead-moth-infested florescent light. “Dr. Morrison said you should be home in bed.” “Well, it’s not like it will kill me,” her mother said, munching on another fry. “No, Mom, that would be the cancer,” Mary barked, then unfolded her arms in attempt not to bite. “As a nurse, I can attest McDonald’s is not the chosen cuisine for breast cancer.” “You aren’t a practicing nurse. You work for an insurance company. Let the real nurses worry about my salt levels. Go get ice cream or something. Relax.” Worry was Mary’s own form of cancer, digging into her organs and gaining strength with each new mass: sick mother, absent fiancé, looming deadlines, weird ticking noise in car, out of tampons. “I don’t want ice cream,” she said. Her mother shrugged and inserted another fry between her bright pink lips. On chemo
days she insisted on wearing make-up to the hospital. Mary couldn’t help but think she had a crush on the 30-something Indian doctor who let slip he’d just broken up with his fiancé. A scrawny teenager with dimpled cheeks appeared at their table. “Napkins?” he said, offering a thick wad of them. Mary’s mother reached out and allowed the kid to place too many napkins into her palm. “Thank you, young man,” she said. Then, after the kid stepped away, “Where’s Chris?” “At work, I guess.” “You guess?” “Where else would he be?” “You tell me,” she said. A child’s head appeared above her right shoulder. A toddler stood in the seat, chubby cheeks smeared in ketchup and a fry clutched in his tiny fist. When Mary made eye contact with him he ducked back down. “There’s nothing to tell,” Mary said. He had been taking sick days without telling Mary. When she had called his law firm and asked to speak with him, the secretary responded, “He’s at home, isn’t he?” When she had asked how his day went, he said, “Business as usual.” Then, he stopped coming home altogether. She spent her days, alone, approving insurance claims and her nights, even more alone, trying not to use her imagination. His absences became routine. Each time he returned home with new vigor for their relationship. He spoiled her with intimate nights in with a bottle of wine or dinner out with his hand possessively around her waist and a new piece of tasteful, expensive jewelry. She didn’t know where he went or why; she told herself she 48
didn’t need to. If losing him for a few days every couple of months meant the rest of their relationship was something her girlfriends envied, then so be it. “When’s the last time you heard from him?” her mother asked. Two large families came through the door with several children under the age of five. Their ruckus gave Mary a few moments of evasive silence. Mary’s mother raised what should have been an eyebrow. Mary missed the days when passive aggression ruled their relationship; cancer had given her a more direct approach. “Tuesday,” Mary responded, attempting nonchalance. “It’s Friday.” “I know, Mom.” “Have you tried calling him?” “Yes,” Mary said. She had restricted herself to three calls and two voicemails. She kept telling herself he was probably camping somewhere outside of civilization, living off trout and Beanie Weenies. Though, he’d never been the outdoorsy type. “He didn’t answer,” Mary’s mother stated. Judgment protruded from the edges of her words like thorns on the flesh of a flower. She took a napkin and rubbed it between her fingers then reached up to fidget with her head scarf. “Will you go get some ketchup?” “What?” “I asked you to get me ketchup. It’s been ages since I had ketchup. Too much sugar for Weight Watchers,” her mother said, consuming two fries at once this time. “Come on, Mom. Say it.” “Say what?” Mary pushed her tray away and got up from the table. She retrieved a square plastic container with ketchup. The last time she’d eaten here there were ketchup packets, squishy bags that sat in your car glove box for weeks. Since she started dating Chris, her life had become a brochure for organic diets, new age exercise, and large vitamins you had to swallow with juice the color of grass. He never verbalized a preference for this type of
lifestyle. In the beginning, he ordered for her at restaurants. Then she found junk food from her cabinets in the trash after he slept over. He gave her a membership to the gym and an expensive yoga mat for her birthday. He never had to say anything. When she began to order healthy menu items, he rewarded her with compliments. When she came home sweaty from the gym, he took her to bed. When she lost ten pounds, he took her away for the weekend. She had forgotten how McDonald’s smelled: grease and salt. She returned to the table. “Thanks,” her mother said and peeled back the plastic so she could dunk a fry into the goop. Mary sat down, picked up her sandwich, then put it back down. She wouldn’t be able to sit through yoga; the other women could sense the consumption of fast food like they could sense divorce or adultery. “I think you should leave him,” her mother said, reaching across the table to dip her fry in the oozing tartar sauce. “There it is.” Mary rolled her eyes. She then saw the same act performed by a seven year old across the room and felt ridiculous. “Yes, there it is. Someone needed to say it.” “Leave him like you left Dad?” Her mother nodded. “At some point, Mary, you’re going to have to find a little clarity. Your father tried to be a good husband, but frankly the tools weren’t in the tool shed. And Chris is going to be the same way. Mark my words.” “Is that what you found? Clarity? Because it looks to me like you found a crap studio apartment three blocks from a hospital and a cat you so lovingly named Bob.” “Your father didn’t make me happy. It took a needle in my arm, a vomit bag next to my bed, and a life- threatening disease to make me see it, but I did. Doesn’t matter how you achieve clarity, darling, as long as you achieve it.” “Chris makes me happy.” “Don’t lie to yourself, Mary. It’s a pathetic trait you inherited from your mother.” Mary didn’t argue. She didn’t have a valid defense. “Chris isn’t like Dad. He pays 49
attention to my needs and the needs of the house. We’re partners.” “Except when he leaves every three months to be someone else’s partner.” “You don’t know that.” “Honey, everyone knows that. Even you.” Mary took a sip of the huge diet coke she’d filled to the top with ice. She liked the cold against her teeth. The caffeine would make her jittery later. “No, Mom, I don’t.” “Yes, Mary, you do, or you would’ve asked him a long time ago––not asked, demanded–– where he slinks off too and why. Instead, you pretend that everything he does when he returns makes up for his absence. But it doesn’t.” “Maybe it does, Mom. Maybe this is the secret to marriage that people have been working years to find.” “You’re lying to yourself again.” “Maybe, but at least I’m not dying of cancer alone in an apartment that smells like tuna.” Her mother smiled and picked up another fry. “Oh, but I’m not alone, dear. I have you. And a charming companion you are too.” Mary reached over and took her mother’s hand. “You’ll always have me. But I couldn’t possibly be enough, Mom. Don’t you miss Dad? Don’t you miss having someone there for you?” “Of course I do. But I missed that when I was with your father.” Mary waited for her mother to finish, navigating the conversation away from Chris and toward treatments and errands. When her mother finished, Mary cleared the plastic table, even dipping a napkin into her mother’s water cup to wipe it down. Her mother stood up, kissed her on the cheek, and made her way to the door. Mary carried their trays to the trash. Before tipping the contents in, Mary reached out and took a single french fry. She popped it into her mouth like a vitamin pill.
You May Also Enjoy Kasey Thornton
His wife doesn’t ask him to come with her to the bookstore. She doesn’t have to. They leave the house on Saturday, and he gets in the driver’s seat, and it’s not raining but he thinks it should be. She is curled inside herself, looking forward at a glassy star on the windshield where a rock struck it, picking at the pearl-colored polish on her nails. He drives slowly because he is not in a hurry to get where they are going. They are going because she got wine-drunk three months ago and told him about how her Uncle Chuck pushed her into the tiny hall bathroom beneath the stairs after Easter lunch when she was fifteen. Her hands gripped the pedestal sink and she gasped in the warm stink of whoever shit in the bathroom last. The brown marks were still on the bottom of the toilet. Seeing them washed God out of her. He was not sure how to feel when she said it. His wife was sobbing with her head on his lap, and he pushed his fingers against her skull as she spiraled and shrank and became empty in front of him. He remembered that it was Chuck that sent them the wine they were drinking as a Christmas gift. It made sense. She was always prone to bouts of… what? Not moodiness. Discontent? A frustration that infected her bones and lasted for weeks, where she couldn’t get comfortable at night and couldn’t make decisions during the day. She’d stare blankly at the television and bury her fingers into the mane of the dog’s neck, holding them there for hours to anchor herself to another living thing. He wished he was a living thing to her. There is a book that Google told her she needs. She knows she needs it, but she isn’t sure what she will do once she has it. She regrets ever learning to read because knowing how to read means she will have to read this book and she does not want to read it, but she needs to buy the book to say that she bought it, to know that she has it. She doesn’t tell him any of this. She doesn’t have to.
They walk into the bookstore and he puts his hand on her lower back like he is steering a vehicle from the passenger’s seat. They are suddenly lost, looking at all the sections. Would it be in Self-Help or Relationships? Family? Surely not Love and Sex? The edition they found in the Self-Help section was not the newest edition. They were out of the newest edition. She does not want to think about the implications of that. She takes the book about healing without looking at the cost and hugs it to her chest, not quite lovingly. They wait in line like wrongdoers, like they have committed a crime and are waiting to see if they will get away with it. The cashier boy waves them over. Her husband takes the book from her and slides it over the counter with a fresh twenty, a signal. No credit or debit. No memberships. No questions. No talking. His wife keeps curling up. She is a snake swallowing its own tail. Her eyes are wide marbles. The boy with acne says nothing because the book is any other book to him. It’s Harry Potter and the Child Molestation. It’s What to Expect When You’re a Victim of Sexual Trauma. It’s Eat, Pray, Panic Attack. He puts the book into a bag and hands the woman the receipt and his day is still every day. Her husband is propping the door open for her, but then she stops and stares at the receipt. He looks over her shoulder. The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse cost them $17.94 but that isn’t what she’s looking at. At the bottom of the receipt is a list of books headed with the words “You May Also Enjoy” and an ellipsis. There are four other titles listed there. She shakes her head, shudders with sudden delight, and throws her head forward, chuckling into the paper. She doesn’t tell him why. She doesn’t have to, because he is infected by her. People are trying to get in around them, but they are blocking their own way out and laughing about it.
Honey Beekeeper assures me Iâ€™ll grow accustomed to the stingers, the stings, and the stinging. He says my blood will get so used to the venom that Iâ€™ll start to crave it, to long for the poison. Calls me honey. Says this dress brings out the red in my eyes.
Rabbit and Tracks Jim O’Leary We were walking the railroad tracks through the north woods outside of town. Soldier Creek moved along in the same direction as the tracks but in a meandering way, so a number of trestles had to be crossed where the creek went wide and then cut back in, passing under the tracks. Soldier Creek got its name from the soldiers who occupied the army post on a bluff overlooking the creek over a century ago near where the town library now stood. The soldiers gave the creek a name just as the army post gave the town a name, Fort Dodge. It was mid-November, and we were hunting rabbits. It was around 3:30 and the sun was already getting low. I was with my friend, and as the area became more open the two of us left the tracks and moved down to the outside edge of the heavy brush in the railroad right of way. My gun was a single shot 20 gauge. My friend had a 12 gauge pump, overkill for rabbits. We walked easily, making the brush crack and crackle as we moved so the rabbits would run. Then in the orange–gray light a rabbit flushed. It bolted to the right. Its white tail was easy to follow, and I saw that in its run to the right it would end up crossing the tracks. I moved the barrel of my shotgun to the point where the rabbit would reach the tracks and, without really aiming, fired as soon as it came into view. The rabbit went into the air; actually, it was blown into the air and made an elongated fullbody somersault, twisted, and landed on the far rail of the track. I started walking to it when I heard the rabbit start to scream. Some people think rabbits are totally quiet. Not always. Their scream is long and sharp and they don’t stop. When I got to it I looked for a rock or
something to use to hit it on the head. There was nothing around so I hit it, hard, with the butt of my gun. The screaming stopped. I picked it up and put it in an old lined game bag I had gotten at a yard sale a year earlier. My friend joined me and we stood for a bit. “Good shot,” he said. “Did it you hear it screaming?” I asked. “Yeah, sure was loud. We need to bring something with us so we can whack it quick and take it out of its misery,” he answered. “You know, Kawskiz’s Sporting goods has good black jacks. Maybe we should get a couple.” “Right,” my friend said, “they’re going to sell black jacks to a couple of high school juniors.” “Guess you’re right.” We moved on, hunting for another half hour. We didn’t kick anything up so we quit. It was getting dark. We were walking on the tracks back into town. “You know, there are a lot of ‘possum, muskrat, and mink along the creek and, further up, beaver are starting to move in,” said my friend. “Yeah, my grandfather told me a couple of years ago the beaver would come back.” “We might want to think about a trap line.” “Worth looking into,” I said. We walked until we got to the bridge that went into town, climbed the embankment up to the sidewalk and walked home. The rabbit in my bag wasn’t heavy.
Mill Road You are coiled snakes escaping mud-banked mattresses, sofas left to sag against bins; birds with peaty eyes who sit on crooked roofs under grey skies that run on like rivers. You are fish and mash on a plate in a dimly lit cafe with a man’s mouth wrapped around a fork and a woman who stares at a picture of sycamores hanging above the till. They are waiting for the wave of silence to break while someone outside talks to the shell of a phone booth because no one will spare any change and he has so much he’s bursting to say. You are the crowds of students at The Bell and Whistle, gutters that smell of cloves, the wife who wrote in black kohl over the door of the barber’s shop to ‘be careful the road is iced’, but still the taxis pull up like kippers to be flipped back into grey-green waters, their after-dark scales slippery as music over the flush of headlights. Later, you are the boy wearing a wool hat who brushes a snow-crusted bench and pulls out a moleskin notebook; the woman in the cafe who has eaten enough silence and left; and the man who was rattled but now leans against an ATM singing just above a whisper, something simple but fragrant as winter.
These are the stages of tiger grief He has strewn the chicken you gave him all over his enclosure without eating a bite of it, a confetti of intestines and feathers. If he acts out, someone will bring her back to him. After all, denial is not a river in Asia, so heâ€™s never seen it. What he has seen are humans crying and carrying his mate away in a blue tarp, her body cold from heart failure. This is the crime of the century, and you are an accomplice. Mourning people are unmanageable enough, so what can you possibly say to the tiger left behind to chuffle at nothing, pacing circles around the place where he last saw her sleeping?
Suzanne Muzard, et al In an interview on love how it â€œtransitionsâ€? from an idea to an act you told them you did not wish to be free. How bold. It is no burden to paint yourself in two: one for your self, one for the man that you loved. To sit with your eyes rolled back, speaking automatic stories noted by him.
Cal Louise Phoenix
Ophidiophobia When it started, we were hummingbirds. We played tragic by comparing strange dreams and other head sounds. We laughed at broken guitar strings and stubbed coins. In the rain, we canned ourselves in glass and blew smoke through the cracks. In the heat, we peeled away our foliage and sweat in watercolors until all of the furniture was new. We drew plans until they became mistakes, but kept making love to the maps—even after they had shrived and fallen from the face of the refrigerator. Now, he weighs me into sofa foam and plucks me with his tongue to keep the words from blooming. His calloused tips —and teeth too—cut my backside into decorative scales: red to blue to yellow—all slick, all swollen. Once my limbs—my keys and earrings are lost in the tumble, I slither gone to sleep in the dark beneath the soft house of his liver. While he quiets in the hum of an amber cloud, I wish for another warm summer.
Memory Forms Nancy Dillon
I have these zinc charette forms—geometric primitives: cones, rectangles, cylinders, and pyramids. They’re anywhere from 4 to 12 inches high, depending on the shape. I display them as decorative objects, but their original intent was as a teaching tool for drawing class. The idea is the teacher arranges the forms in a still- life composition, and the students try to recreate it on paper, building 3D shapes on their 2D sketchpads. The exercise is designed to heighten the students’ awareness of shadow and light and how the two work together to construct solid form. The fact that the shapes are simple is key to the exercise. There is no complexity to distract from the underlying structure of the subject. The structure is the subject. When I think about the progression of my life through time, I imagine these dark forms stacked up against each other along a central line. The shapes form an irregular landscape: the pointy tips of the cones jut up from a low sea of broad rectangles; the cylinders, tall and thick, curve gently through space, tangential to the hard edges of straight shapes; the multiple facades of pyramids, all originating from a single point, slope downward, angled in different directions, bracketing negative space. These are the varying shapes and sizes of my memories arranged along the path of my existence. Some are strong pillars to hug and lean against and gain calm. Others are sharp and aberrant, stabbing up to heights high above the others; first to be seen and felt always with as much force as when they were formed. Some are there solely to define absence, the what-ifs and might-have-beens of angles unturned.
I zoom far above the arrangement, where I can analyze its form in total. From this height, I see where I’ve wasted time and expended too much energy building up elaborate structures that cut me off from my central path—the cragged nooks and recursive cul-de-sacs where I get lost and ruminate on distorted images and thoughts. This perspective allows me to grasp the magnitude of the towering heaviness that pushes down on me, holding me in place. From up above, I want to reach down and fix the imbalance in my composition, adjusting components, so that the more pleasing parts have a chance to be seen—a shift in balance between the ugly and the serene. In this way, I can alter bad memories of past events. And I don’t mean to change the outcome of what’s happened or forget the harm I felt. It’s more like introducing a little tweak in emphasis, or maybe even realizing something new, something that’s always been there but not first remembered. Something that, when recalled, makes me half-smile and say, “Oh yeah…that happened too.” For instance, I have this memory from second grade. I’m on the playground before the start of school. I wanted to play jump rope. The version where you have two people working each end, while others skip through. Approaching different clusters of girls, I held my rope out like an offering, “Wanna jump rope?” The girls giggled, a prelude to their refusals. After about three tries, I gave up. I was a quiet child—distant and calm…too calm. Even at this young age, I had a tendency to lock into a long, faraway stare, never thinking of anything. In third grade, one of my 60
teachers laughed at my class picture. “Talk about a deer in the headlights,” she said as she handed me my packet of photos. There was one girl stiller than me. Her name was Cindy, and she might have been developmentally slow. In second grade, we each got a cardboard nametag for our desks. The 2-inch by 8-inch strip wasn’t fixed in place, and it didn’t take long before someone invented a game where you twirled your nameplate around on the top of your desk, like the spinner of a board game. Everyone succumbed to the urge to spin, except Cindy. She never touched her nameplate. She just sat still at her desk, all day long. The teacher commended Cindy for her ability to resist temptation. “You see how neat Cindy’s name tag is?” All of our desks were marked up by the dust and dirt distributed by our spinning nametags, but not Cindy’s. I felt pangs of guilt and shame at my failure to maintain stillness. I wanted to be still like Cindy. Maybe that was my problem. Left to myself on the playground, I stood staring with my rope, looped up like a lasso, and my school bag, waiting for the bell to ring. I probably looked pitiful, gazing out over nothing, holding a rope for no reason. That’s what must have inspired a bunch of girls, former nay-sayers, to approach me. One among them spoke for the group. “We’ll play with you.” Her offer snapped me out of my trance. Excited, I dropped my bag and unfurled my rope. Then, another girl — tall with a jet-black bob and bangs — stepped forward. “Yeah, because we feel sorry for you.” I froze. I scanned the faces of the other girls. Everyone was squinting with morning sun in their eyes, hands on hips or crossed over chests, shoes impatiently tapping or kicking at pebbles on the knee-scraping asphalt, waiting for me to accept their invitation so we could all get this over with. But before anything could happen the bell rang, and everyone before me scattered like birds from a tree rattled by the wind.
This moment of rejection is vivid in my mind. Even decades later, I clearly see it all unfolding in the morning light of early fall, and I feel the excitement, and then the embarrassment and shame that the girls and their words welled up in me. The stabbing points tower high above all other details, but they’re only the tip of what occurred...painful, yes...but only the top portion of a deeper scene. In my real-world arrangement of charette forms, one of the shapes is a cube. The taller ones dwarf it, almost like it doesn’t belong in the set. The curious thing about it is that it’s also a box with a lid. It tickles me that the manufacturer did this, as if anything square must exist to contain something. I like that I can hide stuff in there—stuff only I’d know about. Then I’d wait to forget and, months or even years later, I’d open the box and find a surprise. My landscape of memories has a lot of little boxes like this, down low, deep in an undergrowth of details not first remembered. If I’m careful and slow, I can trace the contours of the harsher shapes downward to where the small containers have been planted, each waiting for me to open. There, with no particular expectation other than surprise, I reveal the treasures they contain, and the memories I unpack unfold into new shapes that restructure my past. Sure, I was a quiet kid, probably weird, but so what? I had something those girls would never have. I had my rope. It was an old clothesline rope that my dad used for tasks like tying our canoe to the roof of the car or shoring up saplings. What I held on the playground was only a portion of his stash—a piece he gave me for skipping. The rope, tinged off-white by dirt, was stiff from being wet then dried, except for the frayed ends, where the unbraided threads were soft and wavy and bright white. It smelled like earth, cut grass and wood dust...a byproduct of hanging in the garage where my dad kept the lawn mower, these wobbly old saw horses, and canvas tarps he used as drop cloths for painting 61
or transporting piles of autumn leaves to the curb. My dad taught me how to wrap the rope. Hold your arm up like you’re getting ready to arm wrestle. Hold one end in the hand of the raised arm, and then wrap the rope down and around your elbow and back up to your hand. Keep doing that until the rope runs out. So that’s what I did that morning on the playground after the girls left me standing alone, and I did it fast, demonstrating my mastery of the technique. This simple action strengthened me, my little arm working hard to form the loops. It connected me to my dad in a moment of pain, reminding me that he cared enough to equip me with this rope and the knowledge of how to handle it. By unpacking this detail, I’ve changed the shape of the entire memory. The rudeness of the girls, their pity and my horror at being pitied, it’s all still there, but the sting is diminished. From now on, when I recall that moment on the playground, I can look down at my rope wrapped up in my small hands and smile.
Oceanic J.C. Reilly
A hermit crab wants me to tell him the time. When I say it’s breakfast, he tells me that it’s February, and the sky is the shape of broccoli, and that wasn’t what he asked. I reply it’s nine, and that the tide is like an untied shoelace. When I was younger, I thought only fish swam in the blue martini ocean—I didn’t know you lived there too, a merman whose fin curled at the tip like Elvis’ lip, and that jellyfish, your voice, could sting the heart right from me, a jewel for your sodden crown. The hermit crab finds none of this remarkable—and as for calculus, sacraments, the color of breath, those are X’s on a pirate map no one remembers. What is time, he says, but an octopus’ misplaced tentacle, flapping in the surf, gray and rubbery as a Michelin tire? What is time, but the song you will no longer sing? Memory seems hard as a scalpel to the knee, as arctic winds, as the hermit crab’s carapace, as judgment from the dead. As that piece of eight, your love, buried, lost at sea.
Multiverse The double-pronged death razor, otherwise known as the fucking plug to my wife’s curling iron, sits on the off-white tile, an evil little bastard waiting on its natural prey, hiding on the midnight floor. Its teeth sink in the soft arch of my foot and, holding back a scream, I kick it out of the way, which causes me to stumble back into the tub. I reach out and I feel the familiar shudder of fractured reality as my palm hits the pink tile wall.
In one, I step on the plug and scream as loud as I want to and when my wife asks what’s wrong I tell her she’s a fucking child who can’t pick up her fucking toys. I hobble after her as she, a bag of clothes, and the dog back out of our driveway.
In another, I kick the plug and fall back into the tub. She runs in and sees me a broken, screaming sculptor’s mannequin and the guilt crushes her. I hold that guilt like a cleaver hacking away small pieces of her one argument at a time, swinging wildly in a constant threat that keeps her from the door. Back in this reality, I grab hold of my foot and my temper and I wrap it in the gauze I’ve learned I need to keep on hand. As I clean the yellowing blood, I wonder: In how many of the universes born of my childish anger have I squandered love? In bed, I stare at the ceiling instead of sleeping, and I wonder: How many universes do we get to create? And what happens when we run out? 64
In Kiev In Kiev they eat concrete sniper fire flags They knead rubble this bread they say we also eat we have chained ourselves to our dead Yulia Tymoshenko in her wheelchair in prison asks the crows to speak for her she has learned crow language in her defilement where justice bleeds out it is crows she takes as emissaries they gather overhead where the streets of Kiev are devoured Yulia Tymoshenko says to them it is time the president has fled the president whose heart is vipers now in the east looks for a compass someone has stolen his compass the special one Putin gave him Tymoshenko whispers to the crows say to my countrymen they must eat the presidentâ€™s linen napkins his best napkins twisted in swan shapes say to them the golden bath the gilt framed selfie the bullion weight of bullshit the palace itself must be devoured say also to my daughter Yevgenia shield maiden of these times there are letters to be written in the blood of our heroes folded in tear gas & a hungry future between the dungeon & power the path a bladeâ€™s edge
Monkey Subdues the WhiteBoned Demon Pussy Riot whipped in Sochi they leap pogo by Winter Olympics’ hoarding singing Putin will free the motherland haha cossacks wade in pepper spray Nadezhda beat her with a crop she yelps Putin where are our freedoms federation thugs now beating the others wrenching arms a guitar kicked across the pavement but wouldn’t break Nadya’s friend at the crowd’s edge unnoticed taps his iPhone app pings to Youtube everyone everywhere so quick goons still smirking as a million watch in the throne room Putin says white as bones these games are mine Nadya blinks through acid tears singing Putin where are our freedoms singing our lives are in the cloud
Contributors Sabrina Bertsch received her Bachelor of Art in photography in 1999 after an impressive student career including national publication in both her photography and poetry, receiving the highly prestigious Marjorie DeFriece Scholarship for excellence in art among other visual arts scholarships and exhibits. After years spent living in Philadelphia, New Mexico, Tennessee, and Virginia, Sabrina currently resides in New Jersey. She is completing her Master’s of the Art of Teaching while working on her first biographical work concerning her daughter’s depression as well as a new series of self-portraits that deal with her personal emotional conflicts.
has published nonfiction online for Mothering magazine. She lives in northwest Arkansas where she teaches English Composition, gardens, and raises two delightful children. Emily Frankenberg is an American writer and English teacher residing in Seville, Spain. She writes in both English and Spanish. Her work is forthcoming in Strong Verse and Typehouse Literary Magazine. She was also chosen as a finalist in the poetry contest held by Editorial Zenú (Colombia). In addition to being a loving father and husband, Aaron Gansky is a novelist, teacher, and founder and editor of The Citron Review, an online literary journal. In 2009, he earned his MFA in Fiction at the prestigious Antioch University of Los Angeles, one of the top five low-residency writing schools in the nation. He is the author of the novel The Bargain (2013, Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas) as well as Firsts in Fiction: First Lines and (with Diane Sherlock) Write to Be Heard. His first YA fantasy novel is due out in February of 2015 from Brimstone Fiction.
John Brantingham is an English professor and the director of the creative writing program at Mt. San Antonio College, Walnut, California, the writer-in-residence at the dA Center for Cultural Arts, Pomona, California, an instructor at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, and the president of the San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival. He has published hundreds of poems and short stories in the United States and abroad. His books include the poetry collection, The Green of Sunset, and the short story collection, Let Us All Pray Now to Our Own Strange Gods.
Michael Gentry lives and works in Eastern Idaho. He received a B.S. in English Education from Brigham Young University-Idaho, an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from National, and an Ed.D. in Education from the University of Idaho. Michael teaches basic writing courses at BYU-Idaho. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Animal Literary Magazine, The Casserole, and Outside In Literary and Travel Magazine.
Nancy Dillon has an MFA in Sculpture, and works as a web developer.You can find her at medium.com/@nasin where she publishes personal essays and other non-fiction work. Bethany Fitzpatrick has an MA from the University of Arkansas where she studied English literature, creative writing, and ecofeminism. She has had poems published in Exposure, Babel fruit, and Cliterature. She 67
Tim Hatch’s poetry has been published in Creepy Gnome, MungBeing, East Jasmine Review, The Pacific Review, The Vehicle, Touch: The Journal Of Healing, and he is the recipient of the 2014 Felix Valdez Award. He lives inside a volcano carved into the calcified bark of an ancient redwood tree, and he finds writing about himself in the third person to be an overtly seductive invitation to tell lies. He has a dog.
Stories. His website is at www.pw.org/content/ robert_laughlin Kristin Laurel is employed as an ED nurse and flight nurse. She owes her passion to poetry to The Loft Literary Center where she has been taking writing classes for the past eight years and completed a twoyear immersion program in poetry. Recent publications can be seen in CALYX, The Raleigh Review, The Mom Egg, Grey Sparrow, Lake Region Review among others. Her first full-length book, Giving Them All Away, won the Sinclair Poetry Prize from Evening Street Press.
Holly Jensen’s work had appeared in Pank Magazine, Pear Noir! and the Midwest Quarterly. “Selected Timelines: Past and Future” is forthcoming from Neon Books. She lives in Cleveland.
Dan Leach was born in Greenville, SC, graduated from Clemson University in 2008, and taught in Charleston until 2014 when he relocated to Nebraska. His short fiction has appeared in The New Madrid Review, Deep South Magazine, Two Bridges Review, Storm Cellar, Drafthorse, and elsewhere. His poetry has appeared in Off the Coast, Star 82 Review, SN Review, and elsewhere. He is currently at work on his first novel.
Pepper Jones is a philosophy student at EKU, whose hobbies include photography and creative writing. She believes that the greatest and most beautiful art is found not in museums, but in the world around us. She lives in Kentucky with her husband, Bryan, and their two cats, Po and LK. Sheng Kao is a sixteen year old poet. Words have been her companion for over a decade. Sheng lives in southwest Virginia with a queer pantheon of friends, constantly dreaming but never sleeping.
Jae Lee is a student currently attending New York University and has never been published before, but has have won a number of creative writing and poetry awards in the past. Kimberly McClintock is the recipient of a Larry Levis Post-Graduate Fellowship from Warren Wilson College’s MFA Alumni Association. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in: Glassworks, Bird’s Thumb, Mountain Gazette, Chatahoochee Review, The Poet’s Attic and Wazee. After many years by the ocean in New Jersey and a few around the corner from Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Kimberly currently resides on the Front Range in Colorado.
Clyde Kessler lives in Radford, Virginia, with his wife Kendall and their son Alan. Famous Last Words comes from a manuscript that he’s been working on for 15 years. Additional poems from this manuscript have been published in magazines such as Cortland Review and Big River, and most recently in Now and Then, Sow’s Ear, Decades Review, and San Pedro River Review. Robert Laughlin lives in Chico, California. His “Men at Work” stories will be collected for book publication at a later date. Apart from the “Men at Work” series, Mr. Laughlin has published over 100 short stories, two of which are story South Million Writers Award Notable
Esther McPhee is a genderqueer writer, magic-maker and collective organizer, who lives in a cozy collective house and reads a lot of kids books. They co-organize a queer reading series on unceded Coast Salish land 68
Petrichor Review, Prick of the Spindle, Storyacious, Thought Catalog, theNewerYork, and Vine Leaves. He’s a writer and photographer and lives near Jacksonville, Florida. His blog is at www. drowningbook.com
and hold an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. Jay Merill is published in the current issues of Anomalous Press, Citron Review, Corium and SmokeLong Quarterly. Stories have appeared recently or are forthcoming in Night Train, Spork, Eunoia Review, The Legendary, Blue Lake Review and Vine Leaves Press. Jay is the author of two short story collections – Astral Bodies (Salt, 2007) and God of the Pigeons (Salt, 2010) and has been nominated for the Frank O’Connor Award. Her story ‘As Birds Fly’ won the Salt Short Story Prize and is included in the ‘Salt Anthology of New Writing, 2013.’ She has an award from Arts Council England and is Writer in Residence at Women in Publishing.
Cal Louise Phoenix is an undergraduate student and tutor at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. Some of her hobbies include watching British period dramas, cooking, and stirring socially-conscious debate. Her poetry has most recently been featured in FLARE, Inscape, and seveneightfive. Estill Pollock’s publications include the book cycles Blackwater Quartet (Kittiwake 2005) and Relic Environments Trilogy (Cinnamon Press 2011). Recent anthology contributions include Sylvia is Missing (Flarestack Poets 2013) and Newspaper Taxis: Poetry after the Beatles (Seren 2013).
Jim Neal was born to a gravedigger and a housekeeper and raised on the banks of a muddy, man-made lake in rural Missouri. He is the author of Farewell to Hot Water, a novel published under the cooperative model of The People’s Ink, an independent writers’ community. Jim lives in Portland, Oregon, with my wife and young daughter.
J.C. Reilly is author of the chapbook La Petite Mort and a 25% co-author of a recent collection of occasional poetry, On Occasion: Four Poets, One Year. Her work has recently appeared in Kentucky Review, Fly Over Country Review, Dirty Chai, and Deltona Howl. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, three cats, and a sticky-fingered ghost.
Jim O’Leary has been writing for fifteen years. His venue is the short story, and he pares his stories down as much as possible so they will be true and accurate.
John Roth is currently enrolled as a first year student in the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program. His poems have appeared in The Orange Room Review, The Eunoia Review, Toasted Cheese, and Bird’s Thumb, among others.
A.N. Padrón is an undergraduate Creative Writing student at Florida State University. Danielle Pappo is a poet and an aspiring teacher living on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Matthew David Perez is a writer and whale enthusiast, as well as a graduate of the University of Washington’s MFA program. He lives in Seattle.
Ray Scanlon. Massachusetts boy. Has grandchildren. Extraordinarily lucky. Recovering assembly language programmer. Not averse to litotes. No MFA. No novel. No extrovert. Twitter: @oldmanscanlon. On the web: http://read.oldmanscanlon.com/
Dave Petraglia has appeared in Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Better Homes & Gardens; more recently in Agave, Apeiron Review, Cactus Heart, Crack the Spine, Dark Matter, eFiction India, Far Enough East, Gravel, Loco, Olivetree Review,
Carol Shillibeer lives on the west coast of Canada. Her publication list and contact information is at carolshillibeer.com. 69
Kasey Thornton is an aspiring writer seeking an MFA in Creative Writing from UNCWilmington. Kasey was born and raised in North Carolina. Emily Claire Utley is earning her MFA in Creative Writing through Carlow University. She lives and works in North Carolina. Charles Thielman: Born and raised in Charleston, S.C., moved to Chicago, educated at red-bricked universities and on city streets, I have enjoyed working as a social worker, truck driver, city bus driver and enthused bookstore clerk. Married on a Kauai beach in 2011, a loving Grandfather for five free spirits, my work as Poet, Artiste and shareholder in an independent Bookstoreâ€™s collective continues! Several of my paintings and drawings are, or have been, featured in galleries and cafes. All that I perceive becomes driftwood fed to the kiln of my creativity. Emily Wong is a writer/editor in Chicago, where she spends her time investigating deviations at a pharmaceutical company and playing fetch with her one-eyed Shih Tzu, Gatsby. She is pleased to say that, a mere eight years after receiving her MFA in poetry, she has finally found her voice. Kathleen Woods is an MFA candidate at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she teaches and serves as the assistant editor for Timber Journal. Her work has appeared in Art Faccia, Paragraphiti, Paper Tape, and Cavalcade Literary Magazine.
FEATURING SABRINA BERTSCH / JOHN BRANTINGHAM / NANCY DILLON / BETHANY FITZPATRICK EMILY FRANKENBERG / AARON GANSKY / MICHAEL GENTRY / TIM HATCH HOLLY JENSEN / PEPPER JONES / SHENG KAO / CLYDE KESSLER / ROBERT LAUGHLIN KRISTIN LAUREL / DAN LEACH / JAE LEE / KIMBERLY MCCLINTOCK / ESTHER MCPHEE LISA MEGRAW / JAY MERILL / JIM NEAL / JIM O’LEARY / TOBIAS OGGENFUSS A.N. PADRÓN / DAVE PETRAGLIA / CAL LOUISE PHOENIX / ESTILL POLLOCK / J.C. REILLY JOHN ROTH / RAY SCANLON / CAROL SHILLIBEER / KASEY THORNTON EMILY CLAIRE UTLEY / CHARLES THIELMAN / EMILY WONG / KATHLEEN WOODS