The Review Staff
Editor: Meredith Davis Production Editor: Meredith Davis Fiction Editor: Xavier Vega Layout Design: Katie Falk
Cover Photo, Front: Art on Tar by Fabio Sassi Cover Photo, Back: Cracks by Fabio Sassi
Where did it start for you – this love of language arranged just so; the way words feel in your mouth? That narrator in your head? They way your breath changes when you read? It comes from somewhere. Somewhere else in your body, yes, but also from that ineffable place where sound and speech and emotion and everyday lives mingle with nostalgia, suadade, and joy. All together. Tangled fibers, plates of buttery noodles in sauce, ice cream twisted and looped together melting over your hands to the hot ground. Flames and ash and sparks – some held back, some popped and crackled flying off with an unexpected breeze. The mostly melted ice in a condensation covered glass – sharp whiskey, or smooth if you know who you are, hot in your chest, but cool on your palate. The viscerality of poetry, of dialogue, of that scene you read, you wrote. Small reactions – your forearm prickles, your heart picks up speed. Breath catches, not in you, but in them. They are listening, reading, looking. You did that to them. You changed something in them as vital as the food they put in their mouth. You nourish your reader, your consumer of the immaterial made tangible in their flesh and breath, bones and brain; in their ineffable place, too. Maybe that’s where it lives – the universal consciousness – inside your words, your art. And the readers, writers, creators of this world keep it alive – as alive as bodies breathing. Maybe more. -M
Table of Contents Photography & Illustration Art on Tar Fabio Sassi..............................................................................................................................Front Cover Black Cat on the Beach Jim Ross.................................................................................................................................................31 Blue Ganine Chess Mick Ó Seasnáin....................................................................................................................................64 Cracks Fabio Sassi..............................................................................................................................Back Cover
Fiction Ruby Anne Baldo.........................................................................................................................,..................22 Driver’s License Nancy Hoffmann....................................................................................................................................32 Tastes Like Atlanta Katie Strine............................................................................................................................................46 To Chiang Mai Wen Pu...................................................................................................................................................56 The Violin Ralph Uttaro..........................................................................................................................................80
Poetry A Haiku for Michelle Melissa Hamilton....................................................................................................................................9 A HAYDN SERENADE Mark Gordon.........................................................................................................................................10 The Malignancy Rick Kempa...........................................................................................................................................12 Last Light on the West Face of Nanda Devi Eleanor Swanson..................................................................................................................................15 Archaeology David Jibson..........................................................................................................................................16 Strange Cocktail Party David Jibson..........................................................................................................................................17 Color by Number David M. Alper.......................................................................................................................................18 My 50th Birthday Sugar Tobey...........................................................................................................................................19 It’s Like Stickball Was Sugar Tobey...........................................................................................................................................20 Burned House Horizon Rachel Anne Parsons...........................................................................................................................21 My Mother’s Language Sophia Cirignano..................................................................................................................................36
Poetry, continued Frida Ashley Hajimirsadeghi...........................................................................................................................37 Good Morning! Rick Kempa...........................................................................................................................................38 The Man with the Ten-Foot Railroad Tie Rick Kempa...........................................................................................................................................39 Talking to the Moon Ashley Hajimirsadeghi...........................................................................................................................40 My Friend, the One Who Writes the Poetry Chris Farago...........................................................................................................................................41 Apple-picking DS Maolalai...........................................................................................................................................42 Turtles in Winter Adam Kenworthy...................................................................................................................................44 The Cows Off I-5 Mark Simpson.......................................................................................................................................45 Cruelty Jules Hutchcroft....................................................................................................................................53 Childhood: Growing Up Stephen Behrendt.................................................................................................................................54 Cupboard Stephen Behrendt.................................................................................................................................55
Another Couple in Our Circle Jacqueline Jules....................................................................................................................................63 Passages Scott Burwash.......................................................................................................................................66 Men, Blood, Apple. Chloe Hanson........................................................................................................................................68 Reverie X Alec MacLean........................................................................................................................................70 The First Megan Donofrio....................................................................................................................................71 Persephone Jade Homa............................................................................................................................................72 Spring Cleaning Shana Ross...........................................................................................................................................76 My New Sister-in-Law is an Immigrant Jade Ramsey.........................................................................................................................................78 On a Cherry Valance, Longing Jerri Bourrous........................................................................................................................................79 My Father and I Share a Drink Alonso Llerena.......................................................................................................................................87
A Haiku for Michelle (in spring transition) Melissa Hamilton Hydrangeas, held safe in your hand. You are beyond capable and strong. I am sorry that most people do not take the real time to see you. Forget them. At home, in print, Morrison writes that â€œA dead hydrangea is as intricate and lovely as one in bloom.â€? She is right. And here you are, flanked by green, coming back to life, a new universe in bud. There are pansies on the front porch now; watch them as they welcome you home.
A HAYDN SERENADE in memory of Betty and Lloyd
Mark Gordon The humpbacked and suffering human seems alternately to hold up the sky and to be oppressed by it, her back scraped like an ancient turtle. I see shadows of her deceased husband. They hover on bejeweled knick-knacks. His voice tumbles in the workings of a wall clock. She uses his scent on unwashed clothing to lull her to sleep. And on the radio this Sunday morning, a choir sings hallelujahs to a far-off god, while Haydn offers a serenade. I sense the honeycomb of this moment. It gathers the humpbacked woman into its perfect light, promises revelation for those whose spirits stay intact, although their bodies break.
I remember a heron abruptly rising from the marsh, skinny as this woman, who hardly eats anything now but memories. Its beady eyes seemed to know something, a morning harmony hidden to our sight, seemed to know the logic of the weather, the peace of bulrushes bent in the wind. Haydn, the old devil, he knew something, just as bees know a hiveâ€™s compartments, just as I know, lying in bed this morning, that something tests us at each moment, examines how well our world is made, if it will endure, when it will break. The suffering woman makes one more turn around her living room, pushing a walker called Free Spirit. The candy color reminds me of a tricycle. She adjusts the angle of a gemmed bird; it catches the sunâ€™s rays, rose and green in her eyes.
The Malignancy Rick Kempa Halfway between wholeness and dementia, when the tumor invaded that part of her that repelled invasions, they came to her bedroom, a committee of them, in the late afternoon when she was most tired (least herself). Laying their hands on her they said, you do not have to speak, just nod, and they prayed to their exclusive god. And our mother, who for sixty-seven years did not need saving, nodded (off to sleep) and they, interpreting the sheen of pain on her face as the godâ€™s true grace, rejoiced. That night, the preacher brayed the good news to his flock while she, surrendering another cubbyhole of memory to the malignancy, forgot.
Last Light on the West Face of Nanda Devi for Nanda Devi Unsoeld: 1954-1976
Eleanor Swanson Before the second summit party began the ascent of the princess of mountains, an ominous black cloud settled slowly around the summit block, persuading us to take a rest day, but morale was good. The next day at seven in the evening, my daughter Devi was on her last pitch, and it took her until midnight to haul up over the final lip. A long day. Two days later, a blizzard kept us in our tents, but the next morning, Devi was stricken, saying calmly, “She is calling me. I am going to die,” before she fell into unconsciousness. I tried to revive her, mouth-to-mouth, but felt her lips grow cold against mine. We had lost her. My daughter was gone. I and the other climbers wept. Her fiancé Andy and I bundled her in her sleeping bag and slipped her off the precipice of the NorthEast face. I said we had committed her to the deep. She had been the driving force behind this expedition, as she was inexorably drawn to her namesake. The Bliss-Giving Goddess had claimed her own. An excerpt from her last diary is inscribed on a stone placed in a high altitude meadow of Patai: “I stand on a windswept ridge at night with the stars bright above and I am no longer alone but I waver and merge with all the shadows that surround me. I am part of the whole and I am content.”
Archaeology David Jibson I come upon it digging in the garden, a rust pitted iron nail, square, made perhaps, in the slitting mill of the very blacksmith who built this house before the civil war. I clean off the crust of clay, turn it in my hand to admire the workmanship of itâ€™s flat head and how the length tapers gradually to a point. I hear the pounding of iron hammer on iron nail, the chatter of workman anxious to finish for the day and pick up a bucket of beer on their way home, one careless enough to drop me this expensive bit of history.
Strange Cocktail Party David Jibson I encountered them in a musty storage room in the basement of an old department store that had been subdivided into small shops in a futile attempt to save a crumbling downtown block. There were twenty or so of them, men and women, all naked but not embarrassed, most standing, some leaning, a few missing a hand or an arm, all staring at one another, or at nothing, none of them surprised that after so many years of darkness the lights had suddenly come on. They were so like us. But then, that was their purpose.
Color By Number David M. Alper
You unabashedly annotated my new copy from Hatchards. I just wanted to read “Woods etc.” but you were all over it, completely. Deliberating about Alice Oswald, Chatting about Nabokov’s Pale Fire. You even pronounced it like that, With a long “boh.” He looked at numbers, and saw colors He saw our condition: color by number, the confined are captivated, as we were, your coquettish fingers curtained over my hand in your London flat’s foyer, seats 24H and 24K on a flight the day prior, August, twenty eighteen.
My 50th Birthday Sugar Tobey
Come outside and smoke with me she says I follow this young girl like a puppet itâ€™s cold outside so she gets inside my coat with me she just opens it up and steps in match and cigarette illuminate us in the dark she reaches up to put the lit cigarette to my lips my cold hands find her wild black hair her small hands are warm on my chest she asks who I know at the party I tell her itâ€™s my party she says happy birthday she also asks how old I am looking into her big dark eyes I tell her suddenly I feel her little hands so gently push me away itâ€™s understood with age comes some wisdom but I know you also better have a sense of humor too or this whole thing is going to hurt more than a little
Itâ€™s Like Stickball Was Sugar Tobey A bunch of kids in the street knocking around a rubber ball with a broomstick half of us failing out of school the other half who knows back then no leagues no encouragement no chance of becoming a professional anything nothing seemed better to us or a bigger waste of time to everyone else but we already knew you do something just because you love it and for the art of doing it well
Burned House Horizon Rachel Anne Parsons We burned it down, no, they tore it down, every board, but I saved a few things. Artifacts of past lives. We burned it down, no, we burned it out. We stood on opposite sides of the fire, kept it going, a rite of passage, scarring ourselves to remind us it was time to put away childish things. We burned it down, every board, no, I saved a few things. Whole worlds paved over, but someone dug the bones and uncovered paper fragments, strands of fibers. They tore them out, no, we burned them out, saved a few things, scars, bodies under the boards. They tore it down, every board, no, we burned it down. I remember celebration, dancing in the smoke, no, just resignation, all things end. Paper fragments, fibers, scars, bodies, rites of passage. I saved a few things. Artifacts.
Ruby Anne Baldo My mother and I lived in the southeast part of the island, down a dirt lane called Stone Road. A white house shaded by ash trees. Ditches out front, full of standing water and dead weeds. A breeding ground for mosquitoes, black flies, insects out for blood. When I walked up the road that afternoon on my way back from the beach, I saw something I hadn’t for years. My father’s truck parked on the front lawn. Even though we had a gravel driveway. A damp porch swathed in cobwebs. Spiders twitching in the doorway, the window frames, white paint peeling. Insects in the long grass clicking, rubbing wings with a high scraping whine. In the trees at the edge of the lawn the birds were restless, disturbed. I couldn’t understand what my father would be doing here. Why my mother would let him stay. Last week she’d mentioned him for the first time in months. I saw Charlie this afternoon. He had run into her one afternoon at the island’s only grocery store when I was at school. She was buying milk and soap and he had needed cigarettes. He should have bought some soap, my mother told me later. She washed her hands ritually and so they always smelled like lemon, cold and clean as bleach. My mother disapproved of him, of his careless and dirty hands, his cigarettes and stained teeth, but I could tell she was also pleased by all these things. They assured her she was right, and it gave her what she believed was a delicate sort of dominance over him. The screen door opened and he walked out. Sat down in the rocking chair, put his feet up on the railing. Shirtless so you could see his tanned stomach, his arms and shoulders dense with muscle. He was somewhere in his thirties then but still thin. Malnourished, my mother said, subsisting on liquor and cigarettes, thank goodness for sliced lemons in his rum or he’d have scurvy. Smiled crookedly at me, unashamed of two missing teeth, and cracked open a beer. “Where’s my mother?” “Don’t worry about her.” Took a long swallow from his beer, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Without his shirt I could see the tattoo inked luridly on his shoulder. Blood red heart twisted up with barbed wire. I wanted to go inside, find my mother, but Charlie held up a hand. “Wait out here,” he said, “with your father. When’s the last time we got to see each other, anyway, Ruby? Last summer?” “Summer before that.” 22
The door creaked slowly and my mother came out. “Ruby,” she said, “you’ve got a sunburn.” My mother but not my mother. Her voice was different, funny in a way I couldn’t place. Her hands went to my face, my arms, but her usual scent, bleached clean, a sharp antiseptic lemon, an undercurrent of watery roses – was gone. I thought she smelled like blood. “Don’t worry about her. She’ll be fine.” A pale girl. I always think of her in shades of white, still. Blonde hair and a grey, fretful gaze, snowdrop skin. Cold to the touch. Italian, but her family came from the north. From Fidenza, a town that had changed its name sometime in the late twenties. There were still some remnants of medieval structures standing there. There still – but broken now. She was always shivering, even in the summer. She favoured pastel shades, dreamy dresses and romantic jewelry. On good days we took the ferry and went to flea markets in the county. Spent hours sifting through dusty drawers of old silver spoons, strands of seed pearls and heavy rhinestone brooches shaped like peacocks and bunches of grapes, boxes of yellowing postcards. She wore antique lockets and cameos from another era, maybe a time she would have better belonged to. A corseted time, a staid life of tea, gloved hands, gentlemen who were held up to certain standards. I watched period dramas with her, I knew or thought I knew the men she preferred – waist-coated, devoted to decorum, suave adherents to all the social graces. A kiss on the hand, a tilt of a stiff-brimmed hat.
I thought he must have forced his way in. Threatened her or in some strange way held her hostage. But standing there in the doorway she seemed hushed, unhurried. For once all her fussing, her fretting, had slowed down to a dreamy fidget. Not even as disturbed as she normally would have been by the sunburn heating my face. She had the ability to always look wounded. So I could never tell if there was something wrong or not or maybe something always was. Now she was covering her throat with her hand. When she turned to look at me I saw it was a bruise beneath her fingers. I looked to my mother. “Are you okay?” Her snowdrop skin went crimson. A kerosene blonde, almost phosphorous. Gold and opal earrings, shaped like teardrops, and a necklace with a thin gold crucifix. She reminded me then, suddenly, of the girls in old horror films, frail and pale who always made bad choices. Slipped their crosses off their throats, invited monsters in. “Go change your clothes, Ruby,” she said. “Put on something clean.” I walked inside. There was a bottle of white wine on the kitchen table, uncorked, half
empty, and two wine glasses. Which was strange because I never saw my mother drink. I didn’t think we kept any in the house, but maybe I had never noticed. Everything else looked the same as it always did. All our things had belonged to her parents – the amber glass dishes, the butterscotch Bakelite flatware, the laurel patterned china tea cups – and this, combined with the dust and darkness, lent the house the unreal, eerie mood of another era. When I had changed my clothes I went back out on the front porch. I didn’t know where else to go. My mother was sitting on my father’s lap. She looked up when I came out, pushed his hands away. One on her waist and one stroking her blonde hair which was now unpinned, loose so that I couldn’t see the bruise on her throat anymore. Her pale face and hair, her downcast gaze, reminded me of the figurine she kept on our coffee table. A Royal Doulton porcelain girl called Miss Demure and worth, my mother said, over a hundred dollars. I was not supposed to touch her. She had a lavender shawl, a pale green bonnet, and a little pink parasol. “There you are,” my father said. “Good as new.” I looked to my mother, but she wouldn’t meet my eyes. Fingers twitching over the buttons on her long dress. Her gaze was far away, somewhere over the darkening lawn, as if she had seen something move in the trees by the road. Charlie tilted back his beer. He bent his fingers. “Come over here,” he said. “I want to take a good look at you.” Reluctantly I did. The porch lights were on, darkened with webs and the little wings of dead insects. Moths and other soft things lured to their deaths. Lulled by a light mistaken for love. “She don’t look much like me,” he said, finally. I didn’t like being studied in the light. As if in a way this was a test, one I was in danger of failing. I felt I’d let him down all over again by this lack of resemblance. As if I’d chosen somewhere along the way to favour my mother’s side. “No,” she said. “She looks like me. But she’s got your dimples.” “Wouldn’t know. I never seen her smile.” “Then I guess she takes after you in that way, too.” He nodded. Crushed the can in his hand, lit a cigarette. “How’d you like having your daddy around.” I looked towards my mother. I understood from her face I was supposed to say yes, yes I’d like that. But I wasn’t sure. I had the strange, uncomfortable feeling that the father I’d hoped for all these years wasn’t this man, had probably never existed at all. 25
My lack of an answer didn’t seem to bother him. I suspected my say on the subject didn’t count one way or the other. Having him around or not having him around. Charlie wasn’t overly interested in the opinions of others. Weighing their feelings, taking things into consideration, acting in accordance. A tyrant, my mother called him, a backwoods dictator. A small-time, small-town sadist. Despot of the sticks. In the end, he did what he wanted to. “Violet,” he said, “I’m hungry. Why don’t you start dinner.” “Alright.” She shifted to her bare feet, a blush on her pale face as if she was a little feverish. Later I wondered if it had been the wine. The humiliation of going back on her word, going back to the man she’d trashed for almost a decade. But then I only thought maybe she was afraid of him. She disappeared inside the house. Leaving me alone on the porch with Charlie. There was a dampness in the air, the strange smell before it rained. He took a long drag on his cigarette, rose from the rocking chair, slowly. Came closer till I was against the screen door. Forearm on my chest. Lightly then but with pressure enough to know not to push. “Came here to talk to your mother,” he said. “Thought I’d stay and teach you a lesson, you and her both. Acts like she’s too good for me, raises you to think the same. Like I’m a shame, a stain that needs washing out.” When I was older I knew. There was nothing more predictable than a drunk. The same old scores to settle, again and again, the need to bleed it out to anyone who will listen. “I want you to remember this,” he said. “Remember this night next time she runs her mouth about how she’s so much better than me. Wants to act like she don’t even know me, like she’s too good for me, but when I come by she don’t close the door, does she? So, I must be doing something right.” Through the open window you could hear my mother cross the kitchen floorboards. Ring of forks and knives set on the table. “Dinner’s ready.” He backed away. Threw his cigarette to the damp lawn. “You coming, Ruby?” “I’m not hungry.” There was my mother, behind the screen. Caked with the little wings of dead things. She had let this place go to pieces. Dreamy in her white dress. Her bruised neck. She said, “She should – sit with us.” “No,” he said. “I don’t ask twice.” He spoke with a drag to his words, a drawl. Sweet but cruel. Candy concealing needles. An apple with a razor blade. “I sure don’t beg. Please is a weakness.” 26
“It’s good manners.” “Where did your good manners ever get you?” Pushing the door open. “She said she’s not hungry, she can stay out here and play, do whatever it is she does.” His voice went low and rhythmic as the sound of the tide coming in. “Besides, not like me and you seen each other lately. We got some catching up to do, Violet.” My mother’s grey gaze flickered towards me. Then towards him, and she closed her eyes. He touched her mouth which shocked me most of all. That she would let him and his hands after all she’d ever said. “Alright,” she said, a sigh. “Stay in the yard, Ruby.” Then they were gone. The screen door closed. Stay in the yard. Here she meant, she thought I would be safe. Scrape of their chairs over the floorboards as they sat down to dinner. I sat down on the front porch steps. Once there had been a small garden tended here, but the stones that bordered it were sloppy, loose, a gapped smile missing teeth and now nothing much grew. Summers before my mother had carefully arranged wildflowers of the island here. Leafy blue-flag, catnip, honeysuckle. Touch-me-not and pennyroyal. Milkweed, tall and pale, for the butterflies to feed on. She had long appreciated the nature of the place. At the turn of the century botanists had arrived on the island, recorded what grew in the ditches, the roadsides, the fields of abandoned farms. Snipped slender stems and peered at petals. Noted the number of leaves, sketched their shape – clasping or tendril, toothed or heart-shaped. Concurrently celebrated what they called the unspoiled air of the place, mourned its inevitable corruption. “Start of summer always reminds me of you.” “Really?” “Every year around this time I find myself thinking about you. Wondering how things are. With you, with her.” I love you, Ruby, my mother used to say. I’ll always love you. You’re a part of me. But I knew there was also a part of me that wasn’t her and I wondered if she loved that, too. “Wait and see. You never know, Charlie. She might change when she’s older. Turn out looking a lot like you. In her eyes, sometimes. Something reminds me of you. They’re your eyes, I think. Just grey, without the blue. Maybe she’s a – a softer version of you.” A murmur, a sigh, some mumbled words I didn’t hear. Scrape of chairs over the floorboards. When I looked in the window he was hugging her around the neck. Through the dusty curtains their outline wavered, uncertain, like trying to glimpse something 27
under water. I clapped my hands over my ears and shut my eyes tight till I saw a swarm of tiny stars flood the darkness, a thousand gold specks. A hum filled my ears. The insects in the grass or the blood in my head. I’d seen that in a picture book, once. The shape of a body mapped with red veins like highways, the heart pumping away. The leaves were blowing with their pale undersides showing, that’s how you could tell it would rain. The humidity made the stems go limp, the leaves getting caught up in the wind. Wilting, the same white shade as the girls in vampire films, in their gauzy dresses. Their bare, bitten throats. Doomed, but they swooned. There were far worse fates. I knew that now. The trees along the road trembled. The birds disappeared. I had to go inside. Slowly I opened the screen door, but they were gone. I could hear their voices in her bedroom. She was laughing, but she didn’t sound the same. Alone, I stood in the front room of our house. On the kitchen table, the milk glass sugar bowl had been overturned. The plates, china with a pattern called bridal rose, were still out, dirty. The wine bottle was empty. There was a pack of cigarettes on the table, and the candy dish, amber glass shaped like a handful of leaves, had become an ashtray. Everything else stayed the same. The framed lithographs of autumnal scenes, hanging on the walls, the brass sailboat over our unused fireplace, the sofa – kept pristine under plastic, pink and green floral upholstery, mahogany wood trim, preserved as it was the day my grandparents brought it to the island. Miss Demure on the coffee table, her sweetly downcast gaze, her pale face shaded by a bonnet. She was in mint condition, my mother said. She didn’t seem serene, now, she seemed cool, her shy smile superior. These surroundings suddenly appeared devious, insincere. And I saw that we might have the accessories and the trappings of nice people, but that deep down we were not. How could we be, with half-smoked cigarettes snuffed out in the candy dish and already his things everywhere, his truck on the lawn, dirty boots at the door and even now I could hear his voice coming through the walls. I did it quick before I even knew what I was doing, my skull like a snow globe shaken up, and when everything settled again I saw she was on the floor in pieces, Miss Demure, her face so porcelain and perfect, mint condition, now shattered. I must have fallen asleep on the sofa. When I woke up the house was still dark. I could feel my sunburn for sure, along my scalp and my arms tender to the touch. There she gleamed in pieces on the floor beside the coffee table. My mother stood a few feet away, her hair like the white part of the flame, shrouded in her dressing gown, cream-coloured satin. She looked insubstantial, like the wisps of milkweed that blew away in the late summer wind. Disheartened, she gazed at the pale 28
fragments. “Your father can be so careless.” He was gone again. My mother drifted around the kitchen all morning, amending things. She cleaned the dishes, threw away the empty wine bottle, lit candles in the windows. She scrubbed the candy dish shaped like leaves, wiped the table, the counters, even the chairs as if scouring a crime scene. The bruise on her neck was covered with a milky powder.
Something reminds me of you. It seemed like a warning, now, menacing. I told myself I was not like him, now or ever. I would prove it to my mother, too. While she was doing the laundry I picked the pale wedges of porcelain up, one by one. It had been a clean break, no shards or little pieces. Outside on the lawn, the tracks from Charlie’s tires had left deep furrows in the damp lawn. A crushed beer can glinted from under the rocking chair. I buried Miss Demure, deep down under the pennyroyal. Afterwards my hands smelled strong like mint from the crushed leaves. Inside my mother had the radio on as she bleached the sheets. When I went back inside she smelled like lemons again, and the good kind of soap. 29
Black Cat at the Beach Jim Ross
Driver’s License Nancy Hoffmann “It’s good to see you,” my father says when I walk in the door to his apartment. He is old and bent, but not withered. We sit at opposite ends of the sofa. The TV is on. He doesn’t turn it off. “You look good,” he says. “Thanks, so do you.” He turns back to the TV, his companion since my mother died. “I came to visit for your birthday.” “How old am I going to be?” “Ninety-three,” I say. “I can’t believe I’m ninety-three.” “Not until tomorrow,” I say, failing to make him laugh. “I remember when I couldn’t wait to be sixteen,” he says. “Oh, yeah.” “So I could get my driver’s license.” He looks away from me. “And now I’m ninety-three.” We watch TV for a while, a crime show. I think he keeps the TV on mostly for the noise, the voices. I always leave his apartment with a headache because of the noise. “I miss your mother,” my father says. “I know. You went to visit her every day.” “I fed her.” 32
“You took good care of her.” “She didn’t talk.” “She loved you, she just couldn’t tell you.” “She was a wonderful mother.” “She was a good cook.” My father reaches for my hand. I take his in both of mine. His fingers are rigid, permanently bent. “How old am I going to be?” “Ninety-three. Do you want to open your present?” He nods. It’s sneakers with Velcro closures. While he stays on the sofa, I pull off his old sneakers, and put on the new. I’d worn them around my house, shuffled up and down the driveway, a good step with my left leg, a sliding half-step with my right, just like my father, so I could break them in.
“Try them out,” I say, not telling him I want to see if the soles are still too tacky and grab at the carpet. I’m worried he might fall. “They’re good,” he says. “Yes, I think so.” He sits down. The sofa is hard on his back. He has throw pillows mounded behind him for support. Every so often he has to adjust the pillows. “I couldn’t wait to be sixteen so I could get my license.” “What was the first car you drove?” “A Ford. It had the gear shift on the column and you pressed a button to start it.” “That’s amazing.” “No power steering.” There’s a knock at the door. A nursing assistant comes in with a package. It’s from my brother. Chocolate covered strawberries. I take a picture of my father with the open box and text it to my brothers and sisters. One of us always visits for special occasions. The rest send packages and cards. My father and I watch TV. Another crime drama. Another knock on the door. This package is from my sister. Chewy chocolate chip cookies. The next package is lifesavers and throat lozenges, and the next is shortbread cookies, then sugar cookies. “Sweets are what he can taste,” the nurse had told us when my father began asking for cookies and candies. “At his age, his taste buds don’t work well anymore, but most elderly can still taste sweets.” “Something to look forward to,” my brothers and sisters had texted to each other. “If we live that long,” the doomsayer added. “I remember when I couldn’t wait to be sixteen so I could get my license,” my father says. 34
“What was the first car you drove?” “A Model A Ford. It was my father’s car.” “Who taught you to drive?” I ask, but my father doesn’t answer. He looks at me without comprehension. “Did you have to take a driver’s test to get your license?” I continue “Did the car have a rumble seat? I remember Mom talking about rumble seats.” His eyes clear and the sixteen-year-old boy excited about getting his license says, “I can’t believe I’m ninety-three.” “I’m sorry,” I say to the boy. He frowns, disappointed in my response, and turns to look at the TV. A few minutes later, my father adjusts the pillows behind his back. 35
My Mother’s Language Sophia Cirignano
In sixth grade, she didn’t let me grow my nails long or wear high-heels, trends fabricated to hinder book writing and a certain strut towards academic awards by women who speak multiple languages like five pm sunrays spattered on pavement. Regarding birthday candle puff, school dance prep pictures, she prefers the ones where I’m double chin, crinkle eye cracking up (“Well that’s what you look like!” she’ll say if I complain it’s an unflattering shot). Expect eyebrow elevation at all that’s not firmly fastened to truth. She’s the sort of person who has admirers and who will refer to someone inspired by her daily watercolor Facebook posts or how she presents Italian grammar to her students with a side of focaccia as just that, what they are: “My fan.” Often her hands press against her sternum—when Milva sings out the fatal nature of love and Kaveh Akbar mentions missing chunks of universe—like how bivalve mollusks clutch their soft parts so as not to spill.
Frida after “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird”
Even with closed eyes, I can taste burgundy in my child’s kisses, honeysuckle lips chapped with youth; we live as if we are dying. With each pucker, she whispers, “Frida, where have you gone, Frida, why are you sad?” She lies at my throat, tangled in thorn & twine, eyes mournfully peering up at me; she is both a dagger and a joy. The foliage grows near; it closes in, a blanket draping on my shoulders. And when I choose to open my eyes, the world is monochromatic, oil slicks mixed with paint & blood. My child, with the elegance of a rose, stays with me even with death, her lithe body painted crimson.
Good Morning! Rick Kempa Three A.M. at a rest stop on the Ohio Turnpike, ours is the only car in the lot. I’m settling in at the urinal for a long one when a voice, deep and booming, rocks me on my heels: “Good morning! Hey, good morning!” A banging and shuffling in the backroom and out lurches a man, face aflame with joy, bellowing, “Good morning!” “Good morning to you too!” I say. He chortles wildly, then, as if he’s been warned about such displays, retreats into his den. But we keep shouting. This, more than swabbing pissy floors, is his true calling! My nephew, jarred awake by our racket, bursts in, fists clenched, looking wildly about. “David, tell the man good morning.” It matters not that the dark reclaimed us on the empty road, nor that an hour later a woman said, “Good evening,” nor even that I fell at last asleep and the sun rose without me. Day would not dawn if it were not for the inward morning, and his was ours. _____ “Day would not dawn…” Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, line 9334
The Man with the Ten-Foot Railroad Tie Rick Kempa
The man with the ten-foot railroad tie on his back advances up our street twice a day, every day. The beam rests on his shoulder blades, an immense weight that drives his upper body down, compacts his spine, makes each slow slide of his battered boots a matter of the mind. He wears a filthy sweat suit, a knit cap pulled down low, grimy workmenâ€™s gloves. His left hand arched behind him holds the tie in place. In the other handâ€™s a leash, at the end of which a jaunty-stepping Airedale moves. When he passes, other dogs go nuts. Strangers slow their pickup trucks to gape at him. Kids trail behind him, mimicking his gait. But there is a wall around him that nothing penetrates. He advances, grimacing. I love the man who carries the railroad tie through the streets because, although he may not know it, he is free. He gives us our small freedoms too: Because of him, I heave two cinder blocks above my head and down, up and down on the front porch. It feels good. My wife meanwhile raises her sweet voice every night in the still air of the neighborhood to serenade our dogs. I would like to tell him what he means to us, but I doubt I ever will. He is always grimacing, forever looking down.
Talking to the Moon Ashley Hajimirsadeghi I used to hate the way you cupped your palms to catch the rain and sipped at the little bitter drops. Something inside of me would churn, an acidic chemical reaction haunting me, fueling my insecurities. I used to hate poetry, how at night it would strip and dance under the moon, drinking in stars that are secretly strobe lights. I thought life wasnâ€™t meant to be written, that in this chemical equation, poetry was an atom destined to be classified as death by combustion. I used to hate forgiveness because it was my synonym to goodbye. When I would throw stones into the sea, I watched how the water consumed them. And even then, as they sunk into what was possibility, what was unknown, I still found myself angered, hating goodbye goodbye goodbye.
My Friend, The One Who Writes Poetry Chris Farago My friend, she writes poetry for single women to fuck to. It’s nothing tawdry, bawdy, or even all that explicit. Some of it is metered, some not; A great number of the poems are about the rain. The collection of poems is titled “Poetry for Single Women to Fuck To,” So as to remove any doubt from the reader’s mind As to what she is reading (She finds this makes it easier for both herself And her audience). There are versions in Braille, And French, and Portuguese (She’s 1/16th Portuguese on her father’s side). While there is not a licensed audio book, in the Introduction She suggests that one may have a close friend in the room Reading the poems aloud if one so chooses to go that route. Bookstores have been stocking her book In the poetry section, of course, But also in self-help, reference, gender studies, and humor. One bookstore in Belgium has it in a section Whose name has no direct translation in English; It roughly means “books you both simultaneously Wish you had written and also vaguely recall Having seen on a table at a work acquaintance’s house Several years ago.” I asked my friend if she’d ever consider Writing a book for men. She laughed and said, “I already did.”
Apple-picking DS Maolalai and I watch her as she picks around the room, gathering things very deliberately from their fallen places like apple-picking in late October pants come away from the over my shoes and her blouse is hanging on the mantel like the end of a sex scene in a bad movie and last night thatâ€™s what it was, but sober now she moves around, uncomfortable as a horse crossing water or someone dodging dogshit in an unfamiliar garden boxes of half-eaten pizza and scattered beer bottles surround.
I am naked and comfortable under the covers, warm but not thirsty, stretched like a cat at a table leg, half dozed, watching her look for her earrings knowing that she wants to leave and knowing that I donâ€™t want to stop her even though we both were so comfortable last night and so carefully fitted together, the way a blackbird tucks away its wings on landing and flicks its head about. putting her shoes on she smiles at me, and shows her eyes, blackbird shy and sweet as found apples.
Turtles in Winter Adam Kenworthy Do you think the snow melting off the roof sounds like a bird with enormous claws trying to tear us through the sky? You have been sleeping since last May. The kids have started to pile clothes on you like we do the treadmill, or that old chair we took from your grandmotherâ€™s basement, the one that is the color of candied yams, that has a hole in the big cushion, from when your father lost his job, and the last years went to smoking and Diet Pepsi. I am sorry, but this is how we must struggle. The way forward is to struggle, like all of those baby turtles we watched make their way to the sea. How they ascended from below the sand, an entire battalion of tiny green saucers, fumbling for the oceanâ€™s grasp as gulls loomed, ready to strike and crack them like pistachios. Why hasnâ€™t nature prepared them better? Why not a smaller shell and faster speed? I am in need of better answers. I am in need of help with the dishes. But there is always so much sand, and then the bills come, and the tide, and then, somehow, we endure.
The Cows Off I-5 Mark Simpson Few understand that the cows off I-5 standing ankle-deep in excrement are there for us, so that we can have the perfectly round hank sizzling on the gas grill in the backyard, or that we might take satisfaction in refusing it so that we have something pastoral as we drive I-5, cruise control set, what we like on the radio, thinking fuck this fuck this as we pull out to pass the semi climbing the hill next to the clear-cut, the Jesus Saves sign just up ahead. I donâ€™t understand about the cows, but I do know how to drive, metal-fleshed, high beams on and ankle-deep.
Tastes like Atlanta Katie Strine She has three stuffed dogs - taxidermy style - and she positions them around her house in a myriad of ways. One time he came to the front porch to see them staring at him through the picture window. Myles with his mouth open, tongue drooping. Gordon with his furry face, forcing a growl. Margaret with her tail up, a constant wag in place. They’re dependable, he thinks, their moods never changing. Sometimes she positions them while he sleeps. She says it’s an added bonus of spending the night. She lines them up on his side of the bed, three dogs in a row, so that if he wakes up without opening his eyes or wakes up without shaking off his dream, he runs into them, collapsing them like dominos. Doggie dominos, she shouts from her side of the bed. She spends her mornings in the bathroom. She sings songs into a pink hairbrush, her long, stringy hair tangled from sleep, her hips swaying under his boxer shorts to a song in her head. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, probably. Bored with that she throws her leg onto the counter and examines her toenails. Flakes of polish remnants of what she polished weeks ago. A whim had struck her and she splayed across her front porch dipping the teeny brush into a teeny jar of hot pink: Flip Flop Fantasy, she read the name aloud to the birds. She bangs her foot back to the floor and starts the shower water. He listens to her movements through the wall and decides on the right time. First he picks up Myles, then Margaret, leaving Gordon for last because even though he knows better, Gordon looks like a biter. He files them outside the bathroom door in size order: Margaret, Myles, Gordon. He waits on the other side of the wall eager in his chess move. He feels his heartbeat accelerate beneath his undershirt. He couldn’t find his boxers so he threw on her pajama pants and they sit just below his calf. He runs his fingers across his forehead rubbing the bangs to one side. There’s a line of acne at his hairline and he immediately regrets touching his face at all. Now he’s stood for long enough that the excitement has passed - this is stupid, he thinks, as he hides behind the adjacent room door, waiting for her response, the dogs in a line, bored. Their mouths in a half yawn. When she finally opens the bathroom door and the shower steam releases into the hallway, she doesn’t laugh. There’s no shriek of surprise. Instead she scolds the dogs for being there - as though they had ignored some prior instruction to stay put. It’s a sordid game. 46
She has peach candies in a dish in the kitchen and he told her they taste like Atlanta. Last night before he stayed over, before she tugged his shorts onto her hips, he popped one in his mouth, the sugar coating rough against his tongue. The hard candy alternated from his right cheek to his left cheek to his right cheek. He held it there when he said that, that it tastes like Atlanta. I’ve never been, she said. I go to visit my aunt, he said but that’s all he said. No other details. Then he picked at a scab he felt behind his ear. He didn’t think she would notice. *** The next time he visits, he finds a Guide to Atlanta handbook on her coffee table. Apples and New York City, she says, oranges and Miami. Let’s travel the states and taste their fruits. She hands him a banana and awaits his approval. But she never leaves her hometown. Her roots are as stable as the trees in her backyard. High school belongs to memories, she’s told, but she doesn’t care. She drags him to Friday night football games with pom poms from her past. They eat stale popcorn, and she recites old cheers.
He sits beside her and looks all around him, not interested in the football game. Teams, sports, who cares? he thinks, but she does. She waves her pom poms and there’s a crowd cheer. He sees the cheerleaders on the track and blames them. It’s them, he thinks, they’ve started something here. The sky above has blackened since they first sat down and he’s calculating the length of the game against the stars, counting plays in constellations and doing math on his fingers. It keeps his mind busy, but really, he just wants to go back to her house and peel into her layers of clothes. The scarf. The sweater. Fall piled onto her shoulders. I’m tired of this scene, he says. She puts the two pom poms in one hand and with her free hand, reaches for him. They take large steps down the high school bleachers, a hollow banging accentuating each step that amplifies their exit, but the crowd - a blur of faceless faces, a whole cast of nobodies to him - ignore their descent and cheer again into the black night. First down, she looks over her shoulder and smiles at him. She holds those pom poms wildly over her head. *** The next morning she yawns and stretches her pale arms above her head. Her hair matts on one side and sticks in scraps on the other. They expand their limbs over her bed and avoid the morning news, the morning coffee, the morning routines, until noon approaches and she announces it’s safe to come out. They poke around the kitchen and take small bites of stale fruit. In the living room - a grand room with polished wood floors - she has thrown blanket after blanket and pillow after pillow into a nest at the center of the room. They burrow there at first tasting fruit from each other’s lips, their tongues acrid. An afternoon sun pushes through the picture window. He asks her about the house, the old wood, the creaking bits that whistle to them in the midnight hours. She slides out of a daydream. The house belonged to my grandparents. It’s all she says before a pair of glasses materialize on her face. He’s never seen them before yet here they are, her eyes now framed and somehow more poignant. She reads lines out of context to him - only the lines, not a whole paragraph, not a whole page - and she implores him to complete the details. What’s the rest of the story? She asks as she wedges her finger onto the page’s place and closes the book, a fraying fabric at its spine. He thinks about the lines of text like ants, black specks seen at a distance, then he pulls 48
out a magnifying glass - one he only uses with her - and bends toward making meaning. He says, I picture a male and a female and the male is handsome but whole. He’s allAmerican, you know, guy next door, bring him home to mom. He quiets and smiles and she assumes he talks about himself but she won’t acknowledge that out loud, so he continues: But the girl...she’s less attractive, dangly strands of dirty hair, looks like she swam in a lake and let her hair dry in the sun and then she walked to this guy’s house. He looks to her and waits for context, for affirmation or for denial. No, she says. You have it all wrong. They aren’t lovers. They’re siblings. She puts the book behind her, nearly tosses it over her shoulder into the heap. She pushes about the pillows with swimming motions. Their bodies have taken over the living room. Hardwood threatens their joints despite the mountain of pillows and blankets. The fall light from outside tells the room in its quiet way that it will leave soon; these days linger as a warning that winter will exist as a funeral. When she tells stories and talks to him she does so without full sentences, he always thinks, never a full image, only lines of stories, dead dogs and a fading sun. He asks, What did you learn about Atlanta? She rolls from a front stroke to a back stroke and pretends to spit water from her mouth into the air before she says, I learned they like Coca-Cola. He’s been leaning up on his elbows, the pointed angles of his bones against the wood, and he envisions her - her tattered hair, her sharp hip bones - bare except for a two piece bathing suit, Coca-Cola in hand beneath a southern sky. Vivid blue. Humid afternoons. When she wraps herself around him, he tastes it. A swirl of sugary sun on her tongue. He swallows. He kisses back. His elbows give up and he falls backward and they swim, swim, swim in the current of sheets and blankets. *** He wakes hourly and complains of a sound. A ringing, ringing, ringing. He grabs at his temples. He argues with the pillows. His back knocks against the hardwood and he scolds himself for sleeping on the floor. Termites, she insists the next day. I bet they’re eating at the wood planks and their work echoes in your head. No, no, no, because I can hear it now. He covers his ears and his mouth and his eyes but nothing works so he leaves her house assuming it’s the house, not the termites, but the 49
house complaining that he’s overstayed his welcome. He erases himself before he leaves by lifting every piece of cloth from its floor and sweeping any crumb he’s ever dropped into the garbage disposal. She interprets this as a message that she’ll never see him again but he returns after another week folds into the past. He says he visited four doctors but the ringing won’t ever go away. She responds by grabbing a chair, opening the front closet, and climbing toward a box on the top shelf. He hears her shuffle through its contents until she unearths a pair of earmuffs. She puts them on his head. It doesn’t work like that, he says, but she believes it will. I just have to, he starts to say then pauses, looks to her picture window where the dogs watch the street. The mailman is across the street and he never noticed this before, but right now it bothers him, the lack of barking. They don’t bark for the mailman, do they? She laughs. That’s a joke, right? He stands, earmuffs on, and waves to the mailman as he comes to the front porch, squeeks open the metal box, and shoves the mailers, coupons, bills into the tight space. The mailman is unaware. He continues to the next house. Football season is over, she says. Should we go bowling? He doesn’t hear her at first. The daydream. The dogs. He turns to her and pulls the earmuffs slowly from his head. His hair now skewed. Bowling? 50
She doesn’t answer with words; instead she makes the motion, her arm swiftly dipping by her legs and into the air. The pins clatter against themselves and the eight pound, ten pound, twelve pound balls thrust themselves back out from the ground, their private journey from the end of the lane to the front of the lane. He sips on a light beer and she sways her hips each time she walks up and walks back. Are you miserable? It’s a whisper on his earlobe that she takes a bite of. He grabs her and pulls her onto his lap and everything else falls away except for the ringing of his head but he ignores it. He finds a way to ignore it. *** She continues to suggest covering his ears whenever they meet until fall hands itself over to winter and as they bereave the autumnal colors, they find they truly need the earmuffs, the gloves, the hats - everything from the top shelf of her front hall closet that has spilled onto the foyer floor. One such night, winter breathing full of wrath, its icy teeth perched above their throats, she does what she loves to do: she collects every sheet, every blanket, every pillow she’s ever owned and tosses one after the other into the living room covering the polished wood floor. She hums a song, its melody vibrating against her molars, while he arranges small logs in the fireplace. He lights a match and its teeny flame catches, grabs hold of a newspaper that he’s twisted and holds adjacent to the match. He throws both pieces at the logs. From behind he hears chairs pulled from their resting places, pulled into the living room mess. The scraping of chairs on the wood floor compete against the ringing of his head. He rubs at his right ear. He sighs. He joins her and hoists one from her mismatched dining room set. In a belabored way, he’s become accustomed to acting in tune with the cacophony of his head. Her out of tune humming just another trill against his. It’s no more than a stagnant metronome, he tells himself, his mind an ugly poem set to a rhythm of iambs. You’re no different than Shakespeare, she comforts him, but he insists he’d rather be a free verse. They construct their fort with a foundation of blankets and a ceiling of sheets. Gordon, Myles and Margaret nudge their snouts against the soft wall until their faces appear within the fort, included and safe, protecting and loyal. He peers out of the flaps of sheets and folds of blankets, the four of them behind him. He stares through the moment, time and place otherworldly, his third eye maneuvering 51
through her picture window, and he finds in the sky an unforgiving white. It’s night, he says, but the sky appears to have forgotten. Where are the stars? She responds with a fable she thinks she remembers from grade school. Swallowed into the pit of the underbelly, she says with finality. He pictures his mind as clear and blank as a winter sky. The fire cracks and pops at their side, the smell of smoke faintly attaching itself to the sheets. It’s like eternity. Nothing is forever, she responds. But the white sky, he says. There’s a meditative quality and his mind works to echo the sky’s canvas. He hears it. The sky. He hears its crisp blankness flatline and the ringing stops. Beside him a crinkling calls him back inside the fort. She has the bowl of peach candies in her lap. Not for you, she bops Gordon’s nose, pulls the candy from its wrapper, and pops it into his mouth. Just like Atlanta, he says, every time.
Cruelty Jules Hutchcroft He said “blow me” and loyal wife that I was, I tried. That didn’t work so he said “Fuck me” and loyal wife that I was, I tried That didn’t work, so 3 in the morning he said “Get me a triple whataburger with grilled onions, pickles, and mustard.” Loyal wife that I was, I did so—and sacrificed my own sleep meant for renewing me For the next day at work I’d earn more dollars to support his health insurance coverage. He ate 3 bites and crapped the bed. Loyal wife that I was, I cleaned him up and put fresh sheets on the bed That he crapped again. Next day or some or any other day, I pull on plastic gloves to pry out dry, bloody feces While he screams. Then he asks for another tall glass of scotch Hands curled in and crossed over his chest, Signals from spine to the rest of his body long cut off, Refusing to see a doctor While I lug his lumbering dead weight body to and from the bathroom, My 5 foot 2 to his 5 foot 11, And my bones are cracking inside the purple straining muscles. And so it went for years Until that last glass of scotch A wheelchair, walker, and too many medications later. His feet are purple. Eyes closed, mouth ajar, breath gone. No more blow jobs, nursemaid clean ups, or Whataburger trips, But broken, I’m the prime target for the next cruel man Who held my hand when this one died.
Childhood: Growing Up Stephen Behrendt She thinks she must have been four or so when he took her to St. Medinaâ€™s in Milwaukee, her father, for morning mass at eight with the young priest at his first parish. Heâ€™d go to confession first, he told her, she remembers, so he could take the bread with a pure soul. After mass, she waited while the church emptied like the young priestâ€™s chalice at communion until none remained but the priest and the arthritic old nun, hard of hearing and nearly blind, too old for teaching, who tended the altar, did the flowers, refilled the holy water. They whispered together and soon came pastor and Mother Superior and after, the police, with social workers in tow, who fussed with papers, food, a place to stay while the city poked and prodded its hidden corners, its darks and hollows, fields and alleyways, for the father who disappeared, who was never found, who never spoke again her name to her or stroked her hair, her bed, her way ever again. This, she tells those who ask, was her growing up.
Cupboard Stephen Behrendt Beside the little kitchen, a half-height cupboard, scribed panel door smooth and pale blue, secured by a simple brass latch like the one at the St. Agnes Home that Mother Superior would twist and snap in place when they locked her in for missing prayers or nodding off at Mass those winter mornings when the chapelâ€™s warmth would thaw her night-chilled limbs. One night, with the moon stalking her window to window, rude round face peering in, she turned the latch the first time and saw herself inside, knees drawn up, eyes wide with fear of Mother Superiorâ€™s switch, hair a thin curtain too fine to hide her face. Nowhere to hide. She slammed the door so hard it woke the white-faced owl in the eaves who fled to where the white horse rested in the empty barn, the disused stall, then rushed startled down the pasture, hoofbeats pounding like her racing heart. Too late: she saw herself trapped there forever, eyes wide as the vacant moon, tried in vain to wake, but it was no dream nor either quite a waking nightmare, awake already, fully so, alone in the shapeless night and him gone in the river, his eyes wide like hers, looking up, unseeing. Now she steps slightly south when she passes, for fear of coming too near the cupboard.
To Chiang Mai
for Phitsinee Jitprasert
Wong Wen Pu There are many great rivers in this world. There are the Tigris and the Euphrates, fallopian cradle to human civilisation. There is the sacred Ganga, river of life and death, samsara and continuity, ohm and shantih. The Pearl River, from which stupefying flora vapours of opium from the last century still rise, in voluminous violet plumes, by night. The Iguazu and the Parana, discharging the untamed heart of South America into frigid wasteseas at the end of the world. But this is not a story about the riverâ€™s millennials rich in romance and history. Rather, this is a story of the Chao Phraya and the River Ping. The most practical amongst rivers, they ply not in myth or lore, but oil and spermatozoa and waterborne diseases. ***
Tiratep was a boy who had, until recently, lived in raised hut by a khlong in the district of Thonburi, Bangkok. For a living, Tiratep offered tourists rides along the Khlong Bangkok Noi in his motorized longboat. He would find them at Wat Arun in the morning and ferry them to the various attractions nestled along Thonburi’s intricate waterways: the colourful floating market of Taling Chan, Orchid Garden, Snake Farm. On days when business was slow, he would take them out to a floating restaurant on the Tha Chin, where white dolphins, drawn by food scraps swept into the river, could occasionally be seen. At the end of each tour, Tiratep would drop his charges off at the Wang Lang pier, where they could visit the nearby forensic museum or railway market. It was good business, and the tips were often generous. But when the rain had started falling, and continued to fall interminably for several months, the tourists had stopped coming. They were unable to come, as flights into the city were cancelled, following the subsiding of Don Meung and Suvarnabhumi’s runways into the surrounding marshlands. And neither did they want to: Thermae Bar had closed for good after the water overran its basement premises, fresh food was increasingly scarce, and fighting between the Avalanche militants and the Royal Thai Army had spilled into the full length of Sukhumvit Road. One morning, Tiratep had taken his boat around to Wat Arun, only to find many other boat-tour operators like himself milling about the sacred grounds, some eating their breakfast of rice, bananas, and sunflower seeds, others engaged in desultory conversations about the rain, but no tourist anywhere in sight. After several days without work, he had stopped making the morning trip to the temple. Instead, he stayed at home, fishing, casting his lines and fishing pots into the khlong behind his house in the morning, and sitting by them as they dangled limply in the brackish water all day. While waiting, he would lie under the slow ceiling fan in his hut and follow the languid turns of the blades, or watch ripples wrought by rain unmade by the river’s flow. Rarely would his lines snare any fish; when he hauled in his fishing pots in the evenings, however, they would be swarming with bloated riverbed scavengers: bright blue prawns, marble white shrimps, and the occasional flowery golden crab. *** At the beginning of fall, the city’s critical infrastructure began to fail, the rains flooded the power plants in the southern districts. Streetlights no longer worked, hospitals evicted patients, and fires from electrical short circuits broke out sporadically in parts of the city. The day after the city’s grid was crippled, men from Tiratep’s village had watched, from the mouth of the Khlong Mon, the golden spirals of the Grand Palace burning across the black waters. The streets were dark by late evening. On the first night the power of the power had went out, Tiratep had laid on the corrugated metal roof of his hut, transfixed by the stars, visible for the first time in centuries. The military government abandoned the city and moved its headquarters and garrisons to the cities in the hilly north, taking with them the royal family and the emerald 57
buddha. In the following days, the victorious Avalanches overran the Sarthon Unique Tower. They shot the vagrants loitering about the buildingâ€™s dry areas and draped a tarpaulin banner bearing their symbol, a black and white panda, over the old Coca-Cola advertisement. They then started a perpetual conflagration at the summit of the tower in angry defiance of the ceaseless rain. Snipers, stationed on the higher floors, opened fire indiscriminately at people who approached the tower. However, it was when the water rose past the silts to begin lapping at the wooden floorboards of their raised huts, and the rain showing no sign of letting up, that Tiratepâ€™s village headman decided that it was time to move to higher grounds. Plans for the evacuation were drawn up, and there was a flurry of activity in the village in the following days as everyone loaded their boats with dried food and replenished the fuel tank of their rickety engines. Tiratep had finished his preparations early and went around the village helping his neighbours mend canvas roofs and chasing fowls into floating pens. When all the preparations were completed, they had set off in good cheer, sortieing orderly, longboats on longboats, like the royal barge procession Tiratep had seen during the coronation of Rama XIII, onto the Chao Phraya. However, the angry storm on the second day had scuttled many of the boats in their convoy. Tiratep had narrowly avoided being swept downstream in the river surge, but he was separated from the other villagers. When the storm eventually abated, he found himself having to make the long northwards journey alone. *** In the following days, Tiratep made brisk pace chugging along the river till the engine ran out of diesel. He had then retrieved the oars from beneath the thwarts and began rowing. He would sit on the stern of the boat in the light rain, pushing against the current with the weight of his body. At first, Tiratep had ached, deeply, his body unused to the physical exertion. But he soon grew accustomed to the dull throbbing in his arms and chest and back. When he had rowed past the militant monastic enclave of Ayutthaya, glowing embers were flaring skywards within the walls of the city, drenching the night sky vermillion. Gone were the saffron-clad monks, chanting Buddhist suttas on the walls at daybreak; gone were the men who visited to whisper secrets to the cityâ€™s weathered rocks; the granite prangs of the ancient temples had all toppled over. The cool breeze bore the acrid tang of burning Sulphur. Tiratep had quickly put Ayutthaya behind him. Further upstream in Chai Nat, where the river arched and bowed, he rowed past the pangasius farms, cultivated for export to all over the world. These farms, like most bankside dwellings he had come across, were abandoned; the bright-scaled fishes all drowned in the freshwater surge and were rotting by the thousands in their enclosures. Tiratep had again quickly put Chai Nat behind him. *** 58
In the early days he met many other refugees like himself. Entire villages, plagued by the rain and malarial mosquitoes, had set out in droves for the hilly provinces of Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai. These floating affairs always had the festive spirit of a Bangkok weekend market. Chang Beer flowed noisily from tin drums, bananas and river prawns grilled on racks of glowing charcoal, pans of sticky rice were passed from stern to stern of the longboats. They would share the news with him: Pattaya was burning and all of Bangkok, only five feet above sea level, was now swamped with half a meter of rain and polar melt. The Victory Monument was now a fountain sculpture, and Memorial Bridge had been bombed into the Chao Phraya by the Avalanche terrorists in the night. Whenever he encountered these other refugees, Tiratep was comforted by a sense of normalcy, as if the world they all lived in had not entirely fallen apart. However, after each meeting, each celebration, they had always left him behind. The last time he was abandoned, Tiratep had spent a particularly raucous evening with one such mobile carnival, singing pop songs and trading stories late into the night. This group from the southern district of Bang Nam had been displaced by the fighting between the militants and the government forces, and were rowing towards the ancient city of Zanarkand, not too far from Chiang Mai. When Tiratep learnt of their destination, he had tentatively expressed hopes of making part of his journey with them, and they had cheerfully, drunkenly, agreed. However, the movable feast had disengaged his boat from their convoy some time during the night, and quietly departed while he was asleep. 59
By the time he awoke the next morning, his unmoored boat had drifted some distance downriver, and he was alone again. Tiratep had missed the company of people for the next few days. However, his loneliness was cured out of an encounter with the Avalanche militants one quiet afternoon. A well-supplied convoy of motorised lifeboats had sped by, panda insignia-ed pennants flapping violently in the slipstream. Stay away, the men aboard had roared at him through battery-powered loudhailers. They strafed at him with their mounted machine-guns without waiting for his reply. Tiratep had hurled himself onto the bilge as the screeching bullets tore through the blue and red tarp of the canopy and punctured the wooden hull of the boat. There he laid for a long time, arms wrapped about his head and neck, blood shaking his heart. When he eventually picked himself up, the lifeboats were no longer in sight. He spent the remainder of the day moored against the riverbank, mending the leaking holes in his boat with wax, and afterwards discovered that he no longer craved the company of others. *** In the past, all that drifted past his hut by the khlong were spent condoms, plastic Coke bottles, and diseased tilapias. Now, it was corpses that would float by his boat amidst the debris of driftwood and broken clumps of water hyacinth. The freshly deceased would pass face-down, their trailing arms and legs making soft wimples in the water. The longer dead, convulsed into deep knots by putrefaction, would bob along more reluctantly. In the day, Tiratep would steer the boat away from them when he could and nudge them aside with his oar when he couldn’t. Night-time, when he tossed sleeplessly on the waxy-paper lined floor of the boat, he would feel the occasional body bump and scrape gently against the boat’s hull, right next to him, as it continued on its long journey towards the Gulf of Thailand. One afternoon, he encountered a familiar longboat snagged against liana in the river. He had immediately recognised the weathered garuda figurehead on the prow of the boat. Not so long ago, tourists had posed for photos against its gaudy grimace as the headman plowed his longboat noisily through the quiet khlongs on his way to Taling Chan or Orchard Garden or Snake Farm. Now, as his longboat drew closer, Tiratep could see into the other boat’s dim interior, and there they were. The headman, his wife, and the two sons, slumped heavily against the lacquered hull. Their faces were black from the malarial fever. Tiratep pressed his palms together and offered a quick wai and prayer, then rowed on. *** Now the rain was lighter, the wind fairer, Tiratep improvised a mast and sail for the longboat. When the sail filled with wind, the boat skimmed lightly over the waters. Tiratep would perch at the stern of the boat and feel the autumnal wind stream gently through the furrows of his hair. 60
Towards the last days of fall, Tiratep found himself in the heart of Siam. The alluvial plains of old, famed for its silvery rice paddies and windswept fields of red sorghum, had turned into floodplains, as the river spilled over into the land. A vast expanse of wastewater, golden-red and shimmering when the sun set. When the wind blew lightly across the surface of the water, ripples scattered molten light in every direction. Here, when Tiratep strayed from the deep natural course of the river into the flooded fields, he would quickly find his oars scraping against the shallows. Here, too, he noticed that everything had become very quiet. There was no chirping of birds or buzzing of insects. Only the sound of waves lapping against his boat, the sound of his oar meeting the water, the sound of his own deep breathing. It was as if all other noise has been sucked out of the world, and that he was the only thing still living, the only heart still beating. In Nakhon Sawan, a thousand kilometre upriver from Bangkok, the churning Chao Phraya diverged into the green Ping and the red Nan. Follow the jade serpent, Tiratep had as a child heard his people say, to the city of the first Siamese kings. So he had beat on against the placid current of the Ping, past the ruined gray ramparts of Bhumibol Dam, past the limpid blue waters of Lake Doi Tao, past the washed-out, ochre slopes of Doi Inthanon, till Doi Suthep, with its still-green hillside, still dotted with white ceramic pagodas, came into view. And in the last month of the lunar year, as Tiratep arrived in Chiang Mai, the weather turned cold. That night, the moon was supposed to be at its fullest, but the rainclouds had blotted the moon from the sky. When Tiratep rowed past the line of whitestone cairns that marked the water boundary to the ancient capital, he rowed into the heart of an inky night. His frail candle, muted by its shade of thin rice paper, was the only weak light on the black river. *** The Thai people are a people of water. Venice of the East, their ancient dynasties prospered on trade with the Dutch and Chinese and Burmese on the rivers of Indochina. During the Songkran, they would throw water and rice at each other, for luck and health in the coming year. Their markets were floating, as were their gardens, and their lives pulsed to the rhythm of their riverine hearts. In a previous age, not too long ago, the Thais would give thanks to Phra Mae Khongkha for the gift of water during the Loi Krathong. Young lovers, hand in hand, would set candlelit krathongs into the Ping River, as they prayed for shared felicity in this life and the next. If you stood by the riverside, you would see these krathongs lingering serenely above the moonlit water, like fireflies, as they slowly begin their long journey into the night. But that was the world of a happier time, a happier age. A world irrevocably lost, never 61
to be regained. Somewhere deep in the mysterious mountains, an aquifer springs forth, to join streams and tributaries and rain, and wipe clean the slate of this late world. When Tiratep rowed past the whitestone cairns that has, for the last thousand years, marked the water boundary of the ancient capital, his frail candle, and its wobbly reflection in the water, were the only weak lights on the black river.
Another Couple in Our Circle Jacqueline Jules When she told me they were parting after 33 years, I thought of all the nights, we’ve slept side by side. All the nestled mornings, stealing snuggles at half past six. But she said she’d rather wake alone, without words over who picks up the bananas, who pays the gas bill, who does the laundry or mows the lawn— all the banter that bonds me to you as we brush teeth and hair and dress for another day of returning home to each other. The husband she’s leaving may have attended her father’s funeral, but he did not drive all night to reach the hospice in time. Her husband did not carry boxes the week she moved Grandma to assisted living. He had a meeting the morning she took the dog for his final visit to the vet. But not you. Who bought candies for my sister after surgery. Who traveled with us for second opinions. Who did not disappear when my grief made your needs invisible. I can’t consider life without the countless meals and music and movies we have shared. All the moments that make a marriage both mundane and memorable. And while another couple in our circle must separate from history made together, I pray we have the chance to make more. 63
Blue Ganine Chess Mick Ó SeasnÁin
Passages Scott Burwash The ladder bounces and bows, wanting to fail on me, but doesnâ€™t, and I rise above what is left of the yard. Single rung, one step at a time. Smokey blue curls drift from the tip of a pocket-strained Marlboro and the sticky perfume of sweetgum struggles against acidic fumes; a losing battle. My ritual always begins this way. I, alone in the late afternoon, having placed the tree for the children to decorate, clamber about in the November air. Each strand tested and true, I carefully place an anchor astride the gutter spikes before looping green braids under and through each plastic curly-q. I rest my forearms against gritty shingles along the south side of the house. My field of view narrows into the roof and I forget the world for a spell. There is considerably less work to be done on the second level, but it takes me as long, with eyes lingering over the distant Kanawha Valley.
The slenderness of the old bridge catches most drivers and they are forced to share the limited space, deliberately and awkwardly, like latecomers to Sunday morning sermon finding room on the pew. The river crossing inspires rampant thoughts of escape; if only I had known it would be this way, if only I could look back at a younger me and scream in his face, â€œAre you sure?â€? Skeletons of white ash are backlit by another setting sun. This day comes to a close, but foregone ghosts still waltz behind my eyes. The front door slams and I look down to see her boy, neutral-faced, asking if I need anything. I hide the remainder of the cigarette behind my thigh, whisper the truth to myself, then assure him I am fine. I cast a final glance toward the bridge, headlights shimmering. I tell the boy go ahead and as the swollen buds of light emerge as one in the dusk, I can only admire his simplistic innocence.
Men, Blood, Apple. Chloe Hanson Youâ€™ve heard seven, but three men came. Does this make the story more or less compelling, more or less true? They didnâ€™t come all at once, I did not stumble upon their tired and overworked bodies, beg them take me. No, they found me, arms wide open and faces hungry. I was thirteen when I met the first. In a shack across the street from my motherâ€™s cold cottage. When I watched his children. My mother used the money to buy fabric to mend my torn clothes. This man dwarfed me, tall and broad, sure in his purpose as a priest. He called me little piggy, tore at my flesh with his teeth. The policeman bade me forget this small infraction.
Two more men arrived years later, when my young frame had hardened with childbirth, stiff and fragile, smooth as glass. They crept in at night, the house a still, dark forest, their steps quiet and predatory. Quiet, they whispered. Quiet, or we tear your childrenâ€™s hearts from their chests. I lay still as a corpse, tongue caught heavy and stale and sharp in my mouth as a piece of poisoned apple.
Reverie X Alec MacLean i. you unhinged your jaw like a snake and I climbed in creeping past your molars to slide into you, and out, past you into night ii. we were sitting in the park, coiled around each other, laughing at frantic mice. though we took no notice, they watched from beneath our tails as you spoke in gilded tones iii. you forgot and fell asleep at my house, sunning yourself like always: until you frightened the family; my motherâ€™s worst nightmare iv. after you molted, you were never quite the same, and your skin felt foreign to my touch
The First Megan Donofrio Iâ€™m in your corner, you said And you meant it Without malice, but I think Only of the man before you The corner I do not want To be in, caged, captive I do not want to be In a corner, with you I want to stand at the edge Of the Yellowstone Caldera I want us to stare into the molten rock And dare it to destroy us Beneath the earth, the movement of magma Not well understood, a constant upwelling Burning a hole in the surface, we are A hotspot, thawing the walls between us Corners softening, I wonâ€™t be pushed Into another hiding place, a mattress That hugged two walls as I hugged my knees
Persephone Jade Homa i. she calls herself a pomegranate, and it’s synonymous with grief. the taste she left in my mouth on some alternative timeline. in that world, I planted a seed, and she didn’t destroy the flower before it opened. she didn’t pluck out the roots before it even had a chance to grow. ii. in this universe, girls love other girls freely. in this universe, dogs are never hurt. in this universe, you got on the plane. under my tongue, there is grief. behind that, sadness. anger still burning on the coals. waiting. even when I’m not. now create a tidal wave with your tears. smother the fire instead of her. let your anxiety do something useful for once and squeeze your hands until embers become ashes. leave the tenderness in a garbage disposal, a paper shredder, the note section of your iPhone where it does no harm.
iii. I wonder if things would have played out differently if we had kissed in person. slow danced across a movie theater parking lot. pressed flowers against our sleeping bodies. I wonder what you would have tasted like if you werenâ€™t so scared. if you gave me a chance. if you did anything at all. iv. so you want to yell about fruit? my fingers peeled back the very essence of you until only craters remained. and still there I was, mouth around your throat, bleeding our love story dry for the masses; fingers plucking something so ripe and shoving it in the dehydrator until it matched my underwear after you were done with me juice ran down my chin and nobody blinked. people lined up for miles; tickets sold out in five minutes. everyone loves a show.
v. oh little Persephone girl, you call yourself a god of suffering, but only when her name is in the footnotes. fist to heart, let my throat close up she didn’t even put up a fight one second, a girl existed and the next, nothing so I’ll hold onto the anger with fire poker fingers because you didn’t sweep the earth barren or destroy the universe in your wrath the second I was gone you didn’t kill the flowers or the trees when you lost me everyone kept breathing.
Spring Cleaning Shana Ross I can’t say I know why today is the day I decided to clean the refrigerator Do not think less of me when I tell you How bad it was. I feel, deep down Black mold is not something that just happens to anyone It must have been brought on by some inadequacy A moral failing, above and beyond refusal To domesticate properly, to clean house daily The meditation and obligation of the wife There’s no surprise here in the state of things The infestation has been growing. Maybe the scope Is greater than I’d imagined or wanted to see Maybe the shame so deeply programmed is unexpected Even as I refuse delivery. The cleaning is Cathartic. Today I am merciless with the condiments, The barely perishables, maraschino cherries and garlic pickle Still good but purged, the green tomato relish Bought last summer on the road trip south Where we passed by my relatives but said nothing Like the old days when no one needed to know Where in the world you might be No blinking light on the map of a GPS, tracked, known. I squealed, my fingers slipping into the onion That looked solid but had quietly liquefied in a drawer.
With everything salvageable on the counter I took the shelving apart Bleached the glass and scrubbed Paper towels, real towels, an old toothbrush Everything open, stripped, scoured. Look – I knew, OK, that things were out of hand. No refrigerator should smell like that Garlic and rancid dill and earthen must Fragile things gone off even as I told myself The fixing was more trouble than soldiering on Maybe it would resolve on its own We were so busy, all winter. Fall before that. What then, is the takeaway? That hope Is achievable time after time with enough elbow grease And willingness to finally throw away remnants Of all the things that will go uneaten, even if they Are not spoiled yet? Or is it bleak, no matter What I’ve done today, I know I can’t defeat The mold. It will return, re-colonize over time The internal conditions always perfect for its bloom There is nothing, nothing to do but Fight it back regularly or in giant bursts Of inspiration and unlikely motivation.
My New Sister-in-Law is an Immigrant Jade Ramsey On the phone with my right-wing brother, I mention the man deported this week. Ripped apart from his wife and children and friends and business. Before, someone illegal wouldn’t have entered our radar. Before, my brother would assume the guy was probably a criminal who had it coming. But this guy, right now, feels like that bullet my brother felt whiz past his ear when we were in third grade. We’d been playing on the volleyball court our neighborhood church had built to attract more young people. Young people who could never be enticed with sand and a pavilion. But the neighborhood was sketchy where we lived then. A drive-by shooting had occurred the year before and we wondered if, while we slept with our headboards in front of the windows, we’d feel anything. My only brother felt the whooshing death angel and we heard the shot. But there weren’t any following. This man carted off to god knows where across the border buzzes the same way. He’s married to an American woman, he pays his taxes, he owns a beloved neighborhood restaurant. This is no criminal. He should be protected, my brother says getting incensed. We don’t mention the looming truth. The hovering shrill above our cell reception. That banshee wail.
On Cherry Valance, Longing Jerri Bourrous She says that the sunset looks the same no matter where you are in Tulsa, even though she hasn’t really seen one in a long time. He doesn’t believe her but she seems like a nice girl. She waves goodbye and with a gust of wind, a flame of hair licks her face. She curls it around her finger before extinguishing it behind her ear. Nothing about them fits and even if he told her he loved her and even if he meant it, she’d never look at him, eyes wild with longing the way she looked at Dallas or that sunset on the right side of the tracks.
The Violin Ralph Uttaro My mother looked up at the ceiling as soon as the first notes floated in through the open window. “That son of a bitch.” She was referring to Mr. Wolf, the old man who lived on the third floor, two stories above us in the old brownstone on President Street. “What’s the problem?” I was fifteen. I had no patience for her dark moods and anxieties. “Every time he plays that violin of his, something happens. Last time, your grandfather had his heart attack.” “That was two years ago.”
“He played it the night your father left too.” My father walked out on us when I was eight. My mother never explained why, all she said was that I would understand when I was older. She had a perpetual look of sadness about her. She was quiet, frail, jittery. Maybe my father had his reasons. My Aunt Mary had her own theory. “You drove him away, “ I heard her tell my mother one day. “You, with all your foolishness.” Aunt Mary was my mother’s older sister, but they were as different as two people could be. Aunt Mary was coarse, blunt, hard as tacks. She lived a few blocks away on Court Street, above a pastry shop. Most afternoons, the two of them sat at our dining room table drinking coffee. Their conversation would often stop when I walked in the door from school. They treated everything like a dark secret. Most of what I knew about family matters, I learned by eavesdropping. I was sure at first that my father would come back. I waited with anticipation as my birthday approached. There was always a party with a big ice cream cake, presents, friends wearing pointed paper hats. I remember my father putting on one of the hats. It had a big red 7 stapled to the front. He pulled the little elastic string tight under his chin, then sat with us drinking Kool-Aid while the adults sipped their coffee at the other end of the long dining room table. I was sure he would show up, at least call. Nothing. Christmas was his favorite holiday, but that came and went too without a word. Eventually I stopped waiting. *** Mr. Wolf played on. There were long pauses, abrupt changes in tempo, high-pitched screeches as his baton slipped on the strings. “He has it in for us,” my mother said. “That creep.” Mr. Wolf scared me when I was younger. He had wild grey hair, broken yellow teeth, impassive eyes with irises that were so pale and blue that they looked almost translucent. One day, I was playing with my friends in the front yard when he leaned out his window. He had a thick German accent. We could barely make out the words, but he was waving his hands, shooing us away. “Go,” he kept yelling. After a few minutes, he came out and stood at the top of the stoop with a bucket full of scalding water. We scattered as he tipped over the bucket, sending the water cascading down the twelve concrete steps. When my father found out, he grabbed a baseball bat and ran upstairs. I 81
heard him pounding on the door, but Mr. Wolf wouldn’t let him in. My mother went up and coaxed my father back down before the police came. “He’s a jinx,” my mother said now. She made the sign of the cross then clamped her balled up fist between her teeth. “Ma, there’s no such things a jinx.” “Don’t be so sure.” My mother checked her horoscope in The Daily News every morning; mine too. She threw salt over her shoulder for good luck, lit votive candles for the souls of deceased relatives, prayed for the sick. I had stopped believing any of it. Religion, superstition, it was all the same. “Ma, you worry too much. I’m going over to Mello’s house to listen to some records.” “Stay,” she pleaded. “I told Mello I was coming.” “I got a bad feeling.” “Call Aunt Mary. Tell her to come over and keep you company.” I felt her watching me from the window as I walked up the street. Mello laughed when I told him about it. “My old lady’s the same way,” he said. “They’re so backward. It’s like they just came off the boat.” Mello had gotten a copy of The Beatles’ White Album for his birthday. We played Revolution 9 five times, listening for the hidden clues about McCartney being dead. I told Mello you could only hear the clues if you played the record backward, but he wouldn’t do it because he was afraid he would scratch the vinyl. I forgot all about jinxes and violins. *** It was after eleven when I walked home. Mr. Wolf’s shades were pulled up, the open windows filled with light. He looked down at me, lifted his violin to his shoulder and began to play. I ran inside.
My mother usually watched Eyewitness News at this hour—she thought Bill Beutel was handsome—but the living room was dark. I looked in her room next. Every morning, she carefully made her bed, smoothing out the creamy satin duvet with the palm of her hand, making sure it hung down exactly the same length on each side of the mattress, propping the decorative ruffled pillows up against the headboard. Nothing had been disturbed. I checked the bathroom. The door was open, the lights off. My mother washed and dried the dishes every night after dinner, but when I went in the kitchen I saw plates in the sink clotted with gravy and peas, a half-empty bottle of 7-Up on the counter. I’m not sure what made me look in the cellar. No one ever went down there except the meter reader from Con Ed. When I opened the door in the first floor hallway, just outside our apartment, dampness hit me in the face. The lights were on. I moved warily down the narrow wooden steps. It was dim at the bottom, the air heavy with dust from the crumbling concrete floor. I walked past a cinder block room that enclosed the boiler, a cluttered work bench piled with tools, a rusted red metal wagon from my childhood. My mother was sitting in the rear corner in a wing chair that had been banished from our living room when the ticking had worn through the cloth. She had a blanket wrapped around her. Her lips were moving but no words came out. “Ma, what are you doing down here?” She didn’t react. “Ma,” I said again. I shook her shoulder. It felt stiff. She had a faraway look in her eyes. I pressed my hand to her forehead like she did when I was sick. Her skin was ice cold. I grabbed her wrist and felt for a pulse but wasn’t sure what I was looking for. I didn’t know what to do. I ran up the stairs and dialed Aunt Mary. “I’m calling the ambulance,” she said. “Then me and Uncle Angelo are coming over.” When I answered the doorbell, Aunt Mary charged past me without saying a word. She had rollers in her hair, a sweater buttoned tightly over a paisley housecoat. She went down the stairs and left me standing in the hallway with Uncle Angelo. “Your mother, she gets these spells sometimes,” he said. “Spells?”
“You probably never seen her like this. It’s been quite some time since she had one this bad.” I wasn’t aware of any spells, certainly nothing like this. I did remember being sent to stay with Aunt Mary and Uncle Angelo for a few days after my father left. All they said at the time was that my mother had the blues. *** Before long, red lights were pulsing outside. I watched as two EMTs carried in an aluminum stretcher. “They’re in the cellar,” Uncle Angelo told them. He led them to the door but didn’t follow them down. The two of us stood on the landing and listened. The voices of the EMTs were calm, unhurried, matter-of-fact. It seemed like they were down there forever. I stepped back out into the hallway when they turned the corner and slowly started to bring the stretcher up. Once they cleared the top step, they set the wheels softly on the linoleum floor. My mother didn’t even turn to look at me as they rolled her past. Aunt Mary was right behind them. “I’m going with her,” she said. “You stay here with Uncle Angelo.” She took a string of rosary beads out of the pocket of her sweater and handed them to me. “Here, say your rosary. Your mother, she’s gonna need all the prayers she can get.” I followed her out the front door. Aunt Mary walked toward the street, passing a cluster of neighbors who had gathered on the sidewalk. “It’s nobody’s business,” she said to them. “Scram.” She stepped into the back of the ambulance and took a seat next to my mother. The siren squawked a single time as they headed off down the street. The neighbors began to disperse, stealing furtive glances at me as they turned away. *** The next morning, I packed some of my things and went with Uncle Angelo. “You can’t see your mother,” Aunt Mary told me when we got to their apartment. “She’s in the hospital. Long Island College. She’s gonna be there for a while.”
That was all she said. I listened at night from the small side bedroom after they thought I was asleep. “Bellevue?” I heard Uncle Frank ask a week later. “Shhhh! You don’t want the boy to hear.” “He don’t know from Bellevue.” “Sure he does.” I knew a little. I knew that Bellevue was a hospital in Manhattan. They brought all the crazy people there. “They can’t do nothin’ for her at Long Island College,” Aunt Mary said. I moved closer to the bedroom door. “She needs the shock treatments and they don’t do them there.” I had a vision of my mother strapped to an operating table, bright lights shining in her face. A doctor with wild grey hair and restless blue eyes checked her pulse then hurried to the wall and threw a switch that looked like a large mousetrap. Sparks flew from the metal dome attached to her head. Her body shook violently. I wondered if I would ever see her again. My mother returned home less than a month later. Aunt Mary fixed dinner that first night, but didn’t stay to eat. I was at that age where I didn’t talk much to adults, but the silence at the table was almost unbearable. When I looked up from my plate, I found my mother staring at me. She looked even sadder than usual. She still had that far-away look in her eyes. “What?” I said. She took her fork and moved bits of food around on her plate. “Eat!” I said. “I have no appetite.” “You gotta eat something so you get your strength back. That’s what the doctors said. Aunt Mary told me.” She also told me it was my job to make sure my mother ate. “The doctors. Whaddya they know? The medicine they give me, it makes me nauseous all the time.”
I finished dinner as quickly as I could. “I’m going over to Mello’s,” I told her. She said nothing, just looked down at her hands. I spent a lot of time at Mello’s in the months that followed. His parents were kind to me. When they asked about my mother, I told them she was getting better. And she was, in small agonizing increments. At least that’s what I told myself. My mother never discussed what happened to her at Bellevue. I wanted to ask, but I knew better. She would want to spare me all the gruesome details. I guess I didn’t want to know anyway. I would go on to major in psychology at Brooklyn College. I learned that electro-shock therapy was a common and effective treatment, that it was not nearly as ominous as it sounded. I didn’t know any of this as I stood by the bedroom door that night at Aunt Mary’s house. I could only assume the worst. I crept back to bed and reached over to the nightstand for the rosary beads Aunt Mary had given me. I took the first bead and rolled it between the tips of my thumb and index finger. It’s cool, smooth, black surface comforted me. I began to pray.
My Father and I Share a Drink Alonso Llerena My father pulls out a bottle of pisco for our first drink together in ten years. We sit across from each other in a kitchen bar counter he recently remodeled. Much of our old apartment looks the same. The old facade is dirt-covered pink paint layered with dust. The bottle is enveloped in leather, dates back to 1994 and comes from Ica. The desert where he learned of money firsthand. He pours slowly, his fingers shake fully aware the spirit is a relic from the time when our family splintered. His glare searches my reminiscing eyes as I stare at the silver tray which commemorates the last time he was a banker. A profession he never recovered. The one that made him when he was my age. He tries to connect by toasting to something I wrote. He says: This poem of yours… It’s about fish? I tell him it is a struggle of language and time. How does writing of fish and ceviche become art? You taught me to love all the fruits of our land. He remembers, smiles and says don’t focus on the past. The glasses meet where our hearts can’t. Lima 2018
Contributors Photography & Illustration Jim Ross jumped back into creative pursuits after retiring from public health research in 2015. He’s since published 75 pieces of nonfiction, several poems, and over 200 photos in more than 80 journals in North America, Europe, and Asia. His publications include 1966, Bombay Gin, Columbia Journal, Friends Journal, Gravel, Ilanot Review, Kestrel, Lunch Ticket, MAKE, and The Atlantic. Jim and his wife--parents of two health professionals and grandparents of four wee ones--split their time between Maryland and West Virginia. Fabio Sassi makes acrylics and photos. He uses tiny objects and discarded stuff. He often puts a quirky twist to his subjects or employs an unusual perspective that gives a new angle of view. He really enjoys taking the everyday and ordinary and framing it in a different way. Fabio lives in Bologna, Italy. His work can be viewed at www.fabiosassi.foliohd.com Mick Ó Seasnáin has continually attempted to farm his quarter acre lot in the small town of Wooster, Ohio while catering to the diverse and often unanticipated needs of his tripod-ish dog and three rowdy children. His wife tolerates his creative habits and occasionally enables his binges of writing and photography. Find more of his work at https://tinyurl.com/MickOSeasnain
Fiction Anne Baldo is living in southern Ontario. Previously published in SubTerrain, Qwerty, The Impressment Gang, Carousel, The Windsor Review, and the anthologies Whisky Sour City and Sweet Lemons 2 (Sicilian Studies). Nancy Hoffmann’s short fiction has appeared in Everyday Fiction. She has an MA in writing from Johns Hopkins University. Katie Strine tolerates life through literature and dark beer. She has been published in the following online journals: BONED, The Furious Gazelle, Inwood Indiana Press, r.kv.r.y. quarterly, The Writing Disorder, The Wayne Literary Review, and Visitant. Ralph Uttaro’s short stories have previously appeared, among other places, in Apeiron Review, The Cortland Review, Literary Orphans, Stone Canoe, and decomP magazinE. He lives with his wife Pamela in Rochester, New York. Wong Wen Pu is a pilgrim from Taiwan. 90
Poetry David M. Alper is a high school AP English teacher in New York City, residing in Manhattan. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Northridge Review, The Platform Review, Shantih Journal, Dragon Poet Review, and Tilde. Stephen Behrendt teaches British Romantic literature and culture at the University of Nebraska, where he is a George Holmes Distinguished Professor of English. His most recent collection of poems, Refractions, was published in late 2014. Jerri Bourrous is a recent graduate from the MA English program at Stephen F. Austin State University. Bourrous currently lives in Nacogdoches, Texas, with two dogs. Scott Burwash is a graduate of Southern Oregon University and a novice writer of poetry and prose. He lives in the Willamette Valley with his wife and children and can be found on Instagram at @scottburwash. Sophia Cirignano is a Philosophy major with Writing and Religion minors at the University of Vermont, whose Italian blood and pisces sun sign have her often tearing up over fresh metaphors. She’s been writing poetry consistently since it came out in the form of first grade flip books about raccoons. She plans to keep exploring inner and outer worlds as attentively as possible through this medium. It was an introductory poetry workshop at the University of Illinois that led Megan Donofrio to drop Journalism and pursue Creative Writing. After graduating, she spent a year teaching in China where writing material and inspiration were abundant. These days she works at a nonprofit in Chicago by day and write poetry by night, both to the tune of anything sung by Matt Berninger of the band The National. Chris Farago is a poet from Greenbelt, Maryland, by way of Ohio and Minnesota. His work has appeared in Exterminating Angel Press: The Magazine, and his work has been featured in the Poetry Moment box at the New Deal Cafe (which is the place to go if you’d like a great vegan chocolate cannoli). Mark Gordon is a novelist and poet who grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals in Canada and the United States, including Poet Lore, Quiddity International, and Roanoke Review. His three published novels are The Kanner Aliyah, Head of the Harbour, and The Snail’s Castle. He is presently living in Toronto, Canada. He maintains the website, markgordonauthor.com, which he cordially invites you to visit. Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a literary arts senior at George Washington Carver Center for the Arts and Technology. In March 2018, her first poetry collection, tributaries, was self-published through Amazon’s CreateSpace. She has won 22 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for poetry, including a Gold National Medal, Silver National Medal, and was selected as one of six students in the country to receive the prestigious Civic Expression Award.
Melissa Hamilton (she/her) is an arts administrator, educator, and creative who’s been involved in Philadelphia arts and culture for over a decade. Committed to racial, economic, and gender justice, she’s dedicated to leveraging her privilege toward collective liberation. Passionate about comics, creative pedagogy, gardening, and queer resistance, Melissa was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2013. She is a proud Philly native and fat, queer writer and comic-creator who loves a good karaoke playlist and decadent brunch. She lives in Mt. Airy with her wife and their super-adorable cat. Recent publications include Cliterature, Euphemism, and Poets Against War. Chloe Hanson’s poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Contemporary Verse 2, and Calamus, among others. She is the Assistant Poetry Editor for Grist: A Journal of the Literary Arts, and the Fundraising Director for Sundress Academy for the Arts. She enjoys expensive beer, cheap wine, and Every Dog in the World, but particularly her own dogs, Simon and Ruby. Jade Homa is a passionate dog lover, pasta enthusiast, and sapphic poet. At age 19, she has already written over 50 poems and several short stories; her work primarily focuses on themes of softness, gender, mental illness, sexuality, and intersectional feminism. Jade’s work has been published in BlazeVOX, Anti-Heroin Chic, Seshat, Moonglasses Magazine, and The Internet Void. Her poetry will also be published in print for Sinister Wisdom 2019. Jade’s debut poetry book, growing pains, will be released in spring 2020. Jules Gates is an Associate Professor of English in the Department of English and Modern Languages at Angelo State University. She has published poetry in Amarillo Bay, Blue Bonnet Review, Carcinogenic Poetry, Concho River Review, Voices de la Luna, Visions with Voices, RiverSedge, Red River Review and other journals. She has presented poetry and creative nonfiction at the SCMLA, the Texas Association of Creative Writing Teachers Conference, and the Langdon Review Weekend. Having grown up in rural Michigan David Jibson now lives in Ann Arbor where he is a co-editor of Third Wednesday, a literary arts journal and a member of The Crazy Wisdom Poetry Circle. He is retired from a long career in Social Work, most recently with a Hospice agency. Jacqueline Jules is the author of three chapbooks, Field Trip to the Museum (Finishing Line Press), Stronger Than Cleopatra (ELJ Publications), and Itzhak Perlman’s Broken String, winner of the 2016 Helen Kay Chapbook Prize from Evening Street Press. Her poetry has appeared in over 100 publications including Apeiron Review, The Broome Review, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Hospital Drive, and Imitation Fruit. She is also the author of 40 books for young readers. Visit www.jacquelinejules.com. Poet and essayist Rick Kempa lives in Rock Springs, Wyoming. Recently retired after thirty years of teaching at Western Wyoming College, he has embarked on a path of full-time writing and walking. Other recently published work can be read online at Months to Years, One Person’s Trash, Santa Fe Literary Review, Under The Sun, and, in 2014, Apeiron. His latest poetry collection is Ten Thousand Voices. www.rickkempa.com Adam Kenworthy is an attorney living in Iowa.
Alonso Llerena is a poet, visual artist and teacher born in Lima, Peru. His work, which merges interpretations of historical events and personal history, attempts to document and honor the victims of the Internal Armed Conflict that fractured Peru from 1980 through 2000. He teaches and writes in Washington, D.C. DS Maolalai has been nominated for Best of the Web and twice for the Pushcart Prize. His poetry has been released in two collections, Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden (Encircle Press, 2016) and Sad Havoc Among the Birds (Turas Press, 2019) Rachel Anne Parsons is an Appalachian writer and poet who lives in Olive Hill, Kentucky. She is currently pursuing her MFA in creative writing through the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University. She has been previously published in Now & Then and will be published again in the upcoming issue of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel. Jade Ramsey teaches at Buffalo State University. Her works can be found in Best New Poets 2013, Gargoyle, Prime Number, Whiskey Island, and many others. Shana Ross is a poet and playwright with a BA and MBA from Yale University. She bought her first computer working the graveyard shift in a windchime factory, and now pays her bills as a consultant and leadership expert. Since resuming her writing career in 2018, her work has been published in or is forthcoming from Anapest Journal, Anatolios Magazine, Ghost City Review, Indolent Press’ What Rough Beast project, Mad Scientist Journal, SHANTIH Journal, Voice of Eve, and Writers Resist. Mark Simpson’s work has appeared in a number of magazines. Books include A Poised World, which won the Rhea & Seymour Gorsline Poetry Competition from Bedbug Press in 2008 and the chapbook, Fat Chance, published by Finishing Line Press in 2013. He farms several acres on Whidbey Island, Washington state. Alec Suthy is a full time student and visual artist based out of Boston, Massachusetts with a passion for writing and reading poetry. His themes typically explore identity, loss, and relationships. His work has been published by Spectrum Magazine, Woof Magazine and in 2017, he was the recipient of ‘Best Emerging Poet’ by Z Publishing House. He can be found on social media under the handle @dilettantishly. Eleanor Swanson’s poems were featured in the Winter 2017 issue of The Missouri Review. Her poetry and fiction have also appeared the Southern Review, Black Warrior Review, the Denver Quarterly, the Bloomsbury Review, the American Poetry Journal, and in many other publications. Awards include an NEA Fellowship and a Colorado Council on the Arts Fellowship. She has been nominated three times for a Pushcart Prize. Her first poetry collection, A Thousand Bonds: Marie Curie and the Discovery of Radium, won the Ruth Stevens Award (NFSP Press) and was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award. Tobey Sugar was born in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Received a degree from the School of Visual Art in Manhattan. Now lives in NYC above a pizza parlor.