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Issue 9

Spring/Summer 2017


Issue 9 Spring/Summer 2017

Atlas and Alice Literary Magazine Sioux City, Iowa www.atlasandalice.com atlasandalice@gmail.com

Š Atlas and Alice, All Rights Reserved


LETTER FROM THE EDITOR What was meant to be our spring issue ballooned into our spring/summer issue. We’re good at going overboard, I guess. Oops. Really, though, we fell in love with so many stories and poems that we couldn’t stop publishing them on the website, and so another season folded into these virtual pages. Issue 9 features a superb variety of writing. There’s something for everyone, from the experimental fiction of Jude Conlee, to the Shakespeare-infused nonfiction of Kailee Marie Pedersen and the cross-genre poetry/art from Jessy Randall and Briget Heidmous. Unique points of inspiration blossom into fantastic poetry, as well: E. Kristin Anderson’s erasures use Stephen King as their starting text, and Kate DeBolt’s poems are a direct response to artist Barton Lidice Beneš. And dark humor drives Simon Phillips’ “The Hero’s Return” and Caleb Michael Sarvis’ “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” As always, I’m so pleased with the fact that we at A+A are able to bring these voices to you. Thanks for reading. BW

Editorial Board

Founder: Brendan Todt • Editor in Chief: Benjamin Woodard Poetry Editors: Liz Ann Young & Summar West Fiction Editors: Donald Quist & Whitney Groves Creative Nonfiction Editor: Emily Arnason Casey Readers: Sarah Braud & Sarah Kilch Gaffney


TABLE OF CONTENTS Simon Phillips ƒ

The Hero’s Return

6

Marne Wilson †

Earthshaking News

10

Madison Tompkins †

Anamnesis

12

Lynn Brown ƒ

Searching for the Jazz

14

Jude Conlee ƒ

By the Side of the Road

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Shoshana Lovett-Graff †

Afterwards

21

Caleb Michael Sarvis ƒ

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

22

Suzanne Verrall ƒ

stones

26

Kailee Marie Pedersen ≈

The Cordeliad

28

E. Kristin Anderson †

Subaudible

36

All right, though

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Chicago, 1987

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Josh Patrick Sheridan ƒ

Jessy Randall and Briget Heidmous Message in a Bottle

42

Fair to Say

43

Enough

44

Jennifer Fliss ƒ

Towels

45

Baba Badji †

Multinational Self

51

Kate DeBolt †

Silencer

52

Molotov Cocktail

53

Call for Submissions

54

Contributor Notes

55

Fiction – ƒ

CNF – ≈

Poetry – †


SIMON PHILLIPS

The Hero’s Return Maybe you won’t believe me but it’s true—I had that thing happen to me we all fear. Sometimes we play the scenario out in our twisted minds to torture ourselves, like the sore on your tongue you scrape with your teeth because really you like the pain. A classic. So I’m walking along the path up there—I often come to Lands End when I want to be alone and still. I guess most people like to be alone to really think about things, but me, I get alone to be still, to be empty. Usually I feel so full of everything that isn’t even mine. Sometimes it helps, the walking. So I’m walking, and I swear here comes Heidi’s smell. It’s not a perfume, really, and it’s not exactly her sweat. It’s a mixture of all that and something else on top. She secretes this scent. And the scent, once emitted, stays out there. It must never dissipate because nearly everywhere I go in the city here comes that scent, so distinctly hers, smelling of flowery soap, armpit and musky body, the smell of strength and kindness—a graceful smell. Distinctly female, though not exactly feminine. She leaves it wherever she goes and it hovers there waiting to turn me into an animal. So I come up the path through that clearing in the manzanitas and here I am overlooking the Pacific, hundreds of feet down, where the surf’s breaking on jagged rocks. And I’m following Heidi’s smell because I can’t help it one bit and I see her, or rather I see her hands peeking up from over the side of the cliff. Even from fifty or so feet I recognized those hands, so small and dainty, so fiercely strong, so gentle in the times she feels gentle. Plus her relentless scent. And of course she’s not saying a thing, the quiet one, even here in the most strenuous of circumstances. But there’s a storm rising in there you can be sure. The real mindfuck comes when I see another set of hands I know, Neil’s hands, maybe ten feet to Heidi’s right. Neil’s hands are thick and strong—working man’s hands. They used to work on me. Neil is a magical body worker. Of course he would

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be, as intuitive as he is. It’s his curse, really, his persistent intuition. In real life it runs him, but when he’s at the table working on a body, it’s like alchemy. He goes in to you and finds the pain. He’s never been comfortable with this gift, always second-guessing his true intentions as a healer. So imagine it, that sadistic game coming to life right there when I was really just trying to get some peace of mind: the two people you love most in life hanging from a cliff—and you can only save one. “Why does it have to be one?” Neil asks. “Quit ruminating, asshole, and save us both. Less think, more save.” I’ve never known how but sometimes Neil can read my mind. I mean he knows exactly what I’m thinking. Sometimes. Sometimes he’s completely off, but when he’s on it’s really creepy. But it’s a good point. Neil was always good at motivating me through negative re-enforcement. Then Heidi, dangling so patiently, asks, “But whom will you save first?” This I haven’t yet considered. As I approach it’s clear I’m moving precisely down the center of them and have not yet made a decision. This kind of thing is too important to leave to intuition—it must be thought out a great deal. There are feelings to consider, so much history to take into account. “Because,” Heidi continues, “that’s really what it comes down to. You might have time to save us both, you might not. You can’t know what the fates have planned. So without thinking you go for the one of us you most cherish.” She says it so patiently, as if she wasn’t dangling from a cliff hundreds of feet above some jagged rocks. She may as well be sitting at home on the couch listening to records, the way she says it. Well, this really paralyzes me, and I think of what my mother said once when I posed a similar question to her: if my sister and I were dangling from a cliff and you could only save one of us, which one would you save?—My mother’s response was that she would jump herself. Well, I’m not gonna jump. But I’m not sure which one to save. I’m not involved with Neil or Heidi anymore. I’m still hopelessly in love with each of them. I can’t compare my love for Neil to my love for Heidi. Why, for example, am I obsessed with Heidi’s hair, with her goddamn smell, with the battle inside her between stubborn tenacity and graceful acceptance, her soft and serious voice—but with Neil it’s his icyblue gaze entering and gripping you, it’s the force of his thighs, the way he pushes through the shit of life with something like a sense of humor, the contagion of his laughter. I’m still in love with both but beholden to neither. “Can I ask how the hell you two got into this situation?” I say, remaining

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equidistant from the two, and Neil says, “Are you really gonna ask that while we’re dangling here? Step up, man!” Then Heidi says, “We met here to discuss what to do about you, and the effects of your awful ways.” “Why do you have to do anything about it?” I ask. “Stay out of it, man,” Neil says. “You’re no longer part of the equation. Now save us. Make yourself useful for once.” Well, this pisses me off, and it occurs to me to just walk away. Heidi is once more staying quiet, just dangling there. I turn and walk away, on down the path. I came here for peace and quiet. I can’t say either relationship had sufficient closure—do they ever? Ultimately I couldn’t decide whom to be with, so I broke it off with both. I guess I was a little messy about it. But neither person hanging there was any longer my responsibility. They got themselves into this mess, they can help each other out of it. Talk about a healing opportunity. But I don’t get far. Of course I can’t leave them hanging there. “Oh look,” Neil says when I peek my head back over the edge. “It’s the hero’s return.” “How long have you two been dangling there?” I ask. Heidi says nothing but when I look to her she turns her face away. Through the back of her head I can see her eyes roll. She kicks a rock with her left sneaker as if out of boredom. Finally she turns her face to me and says, “Long enough. Are you going to help us?” I think again of what my mother said, I think of jumping. But you know what I do instead? I sit on the edge, scoot my hips around, and lower myself down so that I’m dangling there with them. “Oh, that’s genius,” Neil declares. “How typical.” At this point I’m dangling for my life and so what Neil says doesn’t bother me much. I nod. I study Neil’s hands, feel the ice of his gaze on me. When I finally look him in the eye he’s glaring at me with a deep mix of devotional love and absolute hatred. He swings his legs wildly, still holding me with his eyes, and kicks at me, at which point his left hand slips, followed by his right, and he falls. As Neil falls I can see he’s managed to give me the finger, his eyes still locked on mine even as the rocks get closer. I close my eyes before he hits and when I open them the surf is washing over him. I turn to Heidi, who’s looking solemnly down at Neil’s body. She lifts her eyes to meet mine, and such a look of love comes over her and she smiles. That smile. Her smooth face. I want to touch her face so badly that without thought I reach out for it and slip, and now I’m dangling from only my left hand. Heidi smiles wider. “You really love me,” she says. I smile and nod. The wind’s picked up a bit and it’s blowing her hair in golden ribbons. The wind blows her hair away from me but somehow her smell

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wafts over. I inhale deeply. Heidi looks down at the rocks below, then up to me. Another smile, and her green eyes shining. Then she looks back down, releases a huge Heidi sigh, and lets go. All the way down as she falls she watches the rocks approach. I look away, and instead turn my attention back to my conundrum, manage to swing my right hand back to the ledge, and that’s when your face came peeking over the top. Now won’t you please help me up?

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MARNE WILSON

Earthshaking News He wished to say he loved her, but he could not find the courage. Instead he asked her who she favored for the Superbowl. She said she did not follow football. Their voices escalated, ascended to the mountains. The avalanche was quick and soundless. The melting waters rushed eddying to the sea, and the waves engulfed all the land. So lovers, test your love, inspect it for truth, but then declare it. Make it known to all the earth, or it will crumble at your feet.

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MADISON TOMPKINS

Anamnesis It’s all slow motion until it’s not, until you can’t even remember it happening, until it didn’t happen at all. It’s like the comb sorting through your hair knowing it will be tangled again. It’s like the van door being slammed on your thumb, bruising your nail until it falls off. I am the one who closed the door but I refuse to hear you shout in my ear. You’re shouting into an empty jar meant to be thrown through a town hall window with a cursive note: Break Me so they can hear what you have to say. But they won’t break it right off. Things like this don’t come around too often and they’ll want to enjoy the moment. They’ll save it for a new ship, one yet to set sail. When they smash it your voice will be heard

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politely saying your first and last name, then it will trail off because time has made the sound stale.

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LYNN BROWN

Searching for the Jazz “Well there was my first boyfriend, the only one I had in high school. He was a real sweetie, real SCA that one…born in the wrong time period for sure. It was something we had in common. He was all courtly manners and hand kissing. He used to call me his ‘lady.’ Perhaps that’s where I got my penchant for having my hand kissed. Do you know I’ve never slept with anyone who hasn’t kissed my hand?” And you broke up with him because… “Well we didn’t ever actually break up. He just…sort of…moved away…” Oh? Well why didn’t you— “…with his wife.” I see. “Yeah, I’ll bet you do.” And your other relationships? “Let’s see…there was the one guy in college. He was fun…wonderful in bed. We used to have awesome drunken philosophy arguments, he was a great drinking buddy. Although, I imagine most alcoholics are.” Ah…is that why you broke up with that one? “You know it’s time to end the relationship when the cops are called.” Who else? “Hmm…there was the really wealthy movie producer. The one that left me in Santa Fe” You lived in Santa Fe? “I did after he left me there. At least, until I earned plane fare home.” Jesus! Anyone else? “Well, my ex-husband of course!” Of course. Where is he now anyway?

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“In a mental institution, most likely. That’s where they usually put people that see invisible worms coming out of their hands.” That or a rehab center. “Yes, there is that also.” OK, enough stalling. Tell me about the guitarist. “…I really don’t want to talk about it…” You should, I’m told it’s very therapeutic. “Is it?” That’s what they tell me. Why don’t you give it a try? “What is it you want me to say? That I was in love with him?” I find that a bit hard to believe. You only knew him what…a month? “Two weeks.” Two weeks is not enough time to fall in love. “It was with him. He was the jazz, after all. He was beautiful. He opened doors for me, he kissed my hand, he asked me questions and listened when I answered. He sang for me and played for me and rocked me to sleep…” Did he kiss you? “Maybe once or twice.” But you never slept together. “Never. He didn’t seem to mind.” Maybe he didn’t want to. “Maybe.” Did you want to? “…Maybe” Have you seen him since? “Nope.” Talked to him at all? “Nope.” You’ve had no contact with him? “I have some of his music on disc. I can hear him whenever I need him, and if I close my eyes I can still see him. ‘In the groove,’ he called it. Eyes closed, head back, fingers flying across the strings. He was heaven in the groove. A pure and perfect being.” Do you think it’s possible that you were in love with the jazz, and not the man? “It’s more than possible. What makes you think I haven’t been searching for the jazz all along…”

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JUDE CONLEE

By the Side of the Road I could do so much more than the stain-ridden state of a world has left me. I could make so many more things out of what rushes by me but my eyes always blink, I can’t hold my lids steady and the everything around is blurs of red and streets like rivers come to lap up my blood when I shed it, it’s gold but tarnishedly so and I imagine the blood of everyone on this planet is gold but I am Narcissus if the road is the water.

I can say saints and their names to infinity, I repeat them and count them and everything, their names like a Mobius strip in heaven angels celestial sing around it their eyes on the curious case of science in measurement. Leave measurements if you will but I am alone living like it’s no great wonder why angels sing to proclaim when the saints are really below, in the blood of the streetlights whose light pours like milk. there is no milk for me nor my kind if I had a kind, but I am a we, a minority of zero a group of one, demographic statements show we are not we and there is no me to speak of. I collect. drink up, drink of what is left. the milk is no comfort but milk has never been for my lack of acquaintance with the mother’s breast is what left me dry. bloodstains of black on a pavement are where I feel I roam blood is black it is stained it is crusted away and I could blow off the dust that a whole life made. footprints are to murder the surface of things. nothing better by which to murder them save the inescapably correct concept of humans, human lives. footprints are only motions they are provably such, I don’t like true-or-falses no fifty-fifty on chances. what are chances, I haven’t got one. if the rushing-by everything is anything a chance I know I haven’t got one but I will intersect my body with an onlookers spilling just

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more black on the universal street

a great bright balloon of extractions, so are teeth pulled from mouths, made as monuments to nowhere and nothing, the art of dentistry was never so hard as the science of silence the suicide void you call voids what do not exist. never going to. not to turn my hand against myself against its own hand. these cuts you see are not from mine. the bites in my flesh may be but they bloom into faded cold skin again. that’s what you should know. street city light suffocating and drowning I do not drink lifeblood for it contains life, and my vital signs are street signs albeit with much more rust much more decay. the world is a hospital and all who live are patients. I cannot bear much more. patience lord patience if you will so bless but blessings are common and that’s why I never receive our lord’s grace. I am stumbling. I am wandering. I fall.

if I dreamt in the wayside then it was only a dream, but if I drank in the listing of the outside path then I lay down in the tall yellow grass that the road parallels. city of a sound and I hear no sounds here. there is no sound to sound anylonger and if I hear anything again it will smash out my teeth I will have no bite left. there is no need to fear nor upset nor fight back when you are paralyzed and anesthesia blessing in the dead dreading deathlike; death is only life spelt backwards and drunk is only misery in palindrome. first way backwards next way off. but I have never read such words. level sees rotator, repaper deified stats. more like tenet? tenant? more of the latter I live in ideas. to the side of the safe again maybe, my house has no letters in common with “common” for it’s not a house it’s a head.

drink to your bones and I hope that you break for it’s only the bits that get crumbled away. oh what a piece of work is a word is a person who speaks it I speak for a million I speak for myself. I speak. suicide void. desperate for a singular to the second word there. If the world is the water then I am the narcissist. Sight believer without its own language. there are no drinking songs to be sung for that implies warmth and fingers on hands and that’ll never be. not here not now not ever. cold things die alone. but not tonight maybe maybe if I so aside that void go:

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“I can’t stand up to you anymore, for you are many and I am as weak as the day I was born. You are no more my equals than I am a victor. If my cowardice is clear, it’s only because you’ve made me a coward. What a piece of work am I. What a mess you have made with no intent to clean up.” but the last words linger onto me and I can’t get out of the sense that I meant them and they meant me I am what they mean. pour the rest of my stupor out on the slowed down rush. I need the opposite of awake.

What good is a stageplay without an audience? Do you think if Hamlet had no desire to turn the cemetery into a stage, then Yorick’s skull would be as immortal as a few words thinks it is? forget about it, and forget about Shakespeare as well if you like. the pen is no mightier than its words. all the world’s a stage not if no one is looking. rose smells sweeter when it doesn’t have a name. My words have more power if “anonymous” applies. I have no people who’d fight my claims to say “that isn’t me, your mirror is a lie”. mirror? only I can see through the mirror and what do I see I see my reflection of course but distorted. more human-shaped, more people-colored and nothing looks better than that. that’s my training that’s what I have been taught about. to be people what else is there to be? to be black tar teethstained on the curb when your mother’s milk turns out to be that of a stranger at birth. god damn my fingers god damn my teeth god damn them all and I’d claw them to pieces if possible but it wouldn’t solve anything. if they ask where the bite marks are from I’ll say they’re a memory and make up a name. kids lie to kids I was a kid once, does self-injury count as a schizoid sign? but memories fail and gurgle to death. throw them into the road. that’s all they’re good for now.

I could bring this city to a screeching halt if I wanted to, if its constituents make up its fullness. fullness is a song they sing but not when they jump into traffic that rushes. forget the rushes by the river this river is a road this road is bright and light and potential in the flesh. how many times would my flesh be awake if it all came down to once, one night? I could do this more often if I had a month’s worth of lives to throw/ away.

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“The sentence of living is far too cold to tangle my fingers into its shame. if honesty isn’t a sight too bold, then into the road is a sickly name. it doesn’t get better you don’t get well you get more advanced but you break yourself and why do they keep you from saying hell if hell is the best from their dead man’s shelf. I hate it and urge you to feel the same were hate but a number you take to bed and bed is for foreigners foreign claim to life what a liar you can’t be dead. to die or live I can’t accept amiss. so face up go home. there’s no time for this.”

I can only ask the only question that ever existed for what others. what OTHERS. what OTHERS are there. what CAN be there is the only question anyone is ever meant to ask is “why?” why LIVE or why DIE why make a scene at all if the only scene that’s going to play is the closing curtain on your lifeless form no call it a corpse call it what it is, if roses are roses then call mine as dead you are dead and I’m alive but I’ll soon invert that. make it all like it ought to be. hold up my mirror. back to normal. yeah it’s magic. just like I told you. just like I told you. I drink tonight in the name of everything in the name of my words in the name of my world. I’d sing to it maybe were the choirs of Mobius angels not singing with saints I’m the saint I am saint of my actions. there are teeth in my mouth and my tongue knows them well but soon it will know what it’s like to be smashed against its prison. it’s prison to stay here and teethmarks on bodies, they’ll ask where it came from. like the child I blamed for my own childhood marks. even then in my flesh I was carving out my space. the bottle falls out of my hands it smashes I blow away the dust, it turns to dust so quickly and I so quickly turn as well, dust in the wind as it winds down the road. throwing myself in. tonight. no time to delay, act now or say nothing. words become actions become images and a WORLD tonight I am the world and the waking won’t find me.

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behind me trail an army for my army of one conjures a million ghosts of could-havebeen. the legion of the hypothetical linger on. a funeral beat is their step. on. and on. and on. and on. sharp. real. steps. none. to. the. curb. and that is where my blood goes black and I turn into a scream and it screams into the whole of this flash flesh world: …………………………………………….a lifeless void, avoid what you cannot ……………for no one tells you anything but can …..umbrella cloud balloon as white as shot ……………………but shot is not a word to call a man …………………………………………….a piece of work, a plagiarized……………a sigh …..a sight as real as sight…………………………………no, sight is fake ……………………then sleeping then or rain that cannot lie …..no blank………………no dead………………no sleeping………………..no awake ……………………if you can’t take a song and make it good …………………………………………….then take somebody better in your sight can….someone……….help….them….someone……….can….or……could …..make signals.………………make it better.…………………………make it right. this is not mine.…………………………………………………words are not mine to own. ………………this wasn’t meant to end with me……………………………………..alone. and that is my tribute as it sails to the wind and I think of the millions of bottles of words and whose blood isn’t life and whose light isn’t milk and whose outskirts are no more than literal things. metaphors are dead. metaphors are false. metaphors never lived. so aside a void what else is there now. I don’t think I’ll come back again but at least my skull isn’t a millionth statistic sleeping soundly with its teeth lodged in place all the whooshing; the whirling; the realing. the waiting around til the let-go. if the road is the narcissist, I am the water, and the opposite of “sleep” shakes itself onto me until the life seeps back into my eyes. take years maybe but the color’s still good for a thousand.

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SHOSHANA LOVETT-GRAFF

Afterwards i provide anew to my grandmother’s flesh she was sifted finely on me but it did not stick i was moldy and speckled already by dank water lapping the edges of her composure, quiet run through with whispers, and after the truth was told, there remained some vertigo when no one could remember who was first and who was third, who was the second removed as my mother was displaced from her blood and replaced in later years with words that made the silence so eagerly upheld virtuous and modern: adopted call me what you want, the child of a child still whistling for her mother, or whimpering a playing card tossed out between two decks i remain a child half at ease to the name given, or the name unknown

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CALEB MICHAEL SARVIS

Baby, It’s Cold Outside Baylee opens the glass bowl of leftover salad and her left thumb falls off without a mark. It’s been numb for a few days, but now it rests atop spinach and grape tomatoes. Italian dressing coats the nail. She picks it up with her other hand. It’s knobby and soft, a leather-coated rock. The spot on her hand where it used to sit is closed and scarless. Maybe she never had a left thumb, perhaps a dimensional mirage, but mirages fade, barely leaving a memory. Her thumb rests against a crouton, undoubtedly present. The winter is a little worse this year. It could’ve frozen off. Baylee’s neighbor, a small, cheerful man, says he smells snow on the way. Snow! In North Port! Roscoe, her husband, made the salad for a special dinner. He does it for himself. A little reminder that she exists, that she’s a present member of the household. He’s an inventor, so he can check out for a few days at a time. Maybe a few months. It’s kind of nice, because Baylee gets to catch up on cheap television and mindless crafts. She’s decided to finish her undergrad degree and has completed a few courses over the last year. He stumbles from the office, drunk with guilt, but it’s all momentary. He tells her it’ll get better, that one invention will satisfy his thirst, but his hibernations are getting longer and longer. She rinses her thumb and wraps it in foil. She drops it in the freezer, the ice bucket, for preservation. Roscoe’s doing a headstand when she walk into the office. “Blood flow to the brain is scientific inspiration,” he says. Baylee waves her hand. Her wedding ring shines brighter without the thumb. “Check this out.” “Carpet that warms your feet,” he says to her. “It’s getting pretty cold out there.” In their bedroom is a basket of unfolded laundry. She scoops a pair of socks, reaching with her left hand before switching to the right. When she tosses them at her

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husband he falls over. She studies him while he studies the socks. They stand like that, the Soviet Union and America, until he shuts his eyes and takes a nap. She calls the doctor and makes an appointment.

Her doctor is from Eastern Europe and speaks with an intention that doesn’t match his wandering eyes. He wears a fur shawl over his lab coat and tells Baylee the thumb fell off because it lost its utility. “Appendages are an evolving species. There are documented cases of them becoming existential,” he says. She can see his breath indoors. He is full fingered, no wedding band present. “How do I inspire it?” “Give it a little affection. Perhaps it will crawl back.” When she holds her thumb to her face, it does droop in a familiar way. It’s something like slow disappointment, an empty house on Christmas. Baylee asks the doctor for one of his plastic gloves and he lets her have it.

She’s left handed and struggles to cut up one of her husband’s shirts. She turns the jagged fabric into a small blanket for her thumb. It wiggles in delight but doesn’t return to her hand. She rubs it against her cheek, and it rubs her back, but chooses to remain detached. The piece of her husband’s shirt isn’t warm enough. Cheap cotton fading in a drawer. Baylee drops the thumb into the appropriate pocket of the doctor’s glove and shoves her hand inside before it can jump out. For a moment, it looks whole again, until the thumb thrashes about, its violence pulling the glove off her hand. It looks like it might suffocate, all panic and fear, so she frees it and lets it be for a while. Over the next few days she doesn’t wear any makeup or straighten her hair. She paints the thumb’s nail and becomes adept at texting with one hand. Roscoe comes out once to remove a leg from their dining room table and returns to the office. It’s his first appearance in weeks. Occasionally Baylee hears their wedding song boom against the walls and she’s hopeful. That means he’s making progress. The thumb squirms now. It nestles close, rubs its paddy head against her elbow, but still won’t reattach. She tries reading to it, but it only falls asleep. She grabs it and sits it on her hand but it remains independent. Baylee tries super glue, holding the thumb down tight, but it drops to the coffee table and seizes in a way so awful she doesn’t try anything else. She resigns to the belief that it’ll happen when it happens.

Baylee continues going to classes because it turns out she doesn’t really use the thumb

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when she types. It sits on her desk, thumping and distracting other students. When she raises her hand to answer questions, students murmur to one another. One day, a professor asks her to stay after class. She tells Baylee the same thing happened to her a couple of years ago. “You shouldn’t be so casual about it,” she says and holds her hands up. Both thumbs, as well as the left pinky, are gone. “Inaction is just as sharp. When I remarried, I started to feel them again, but they never came back.” Her face shakes when she says this. Baylee doesn’t understand why she bothered remarrying. The thumb worms about in her pocket. She thanks her professor and considers dropping the class.

Roscoe sits in the living room when she returns from a study session. His face is in his hands and the coffee table is dissembled and lies in pieces. She drops her jacket and scarf over the mess. The thumb sits in her breast pocket. It wiggles and peeks. She sits next to her husband and rubs his back. He feels like an iceberg. He turns to her, eyes dry and crusty. His curly hair is flattened by grease. He seems to be looking past Baylee, or at the top of her ear. He takes her hands. The thumb hops out of her pocket. It crawls down her shirt, down her arm and attaches itself to its rightful place. There’s no separation line, as if it never left. It caresses her husband’s thumb, rubbing its own prints dull, a ravenous indulgence. For a moment, she can’t see the steamy clouds of their breath anymore. “I’m sorry,” he says. “It’s another world in there.” There’s a tilt from the office, a mechanical gargle, an aluminum stretch. “I graduate next week. Cap and gown and all,” she tells him. “I made reservations at Capono’s to celebrate after.” Roscoe hugs her. His breath seeps through the cotton and onto her shoulder. It melts her nerves. His beard cuts through the fabric. “I’m so proud,” he says. The mechanical gargle is louder now. From the hallway comes a robot that can hardly walk. It wobbles like a baby deer, using the table leg as a cane. Its face is made out of their wedding china, its mouth of their Panini press. It opens its mouth and the room’s ten degrees warmer. They’re both sweating. The robot reaches forward and beckons Roscoe with its fork fingers. “Finish me,” it says, its voice the grind of a garbage disposal. Roscoe squeezes her hands. “Next week?” he says. Baylee nods. Her thumb clamps down like a bear trap. “Just a few more tweaks. She’s almost done.” Roscoe stands from the couch, pulls his hand from hers, and joins the robot by the hallway. He pets its face and kisses it on the forehead. Then disappears into the office.

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Her thumb doesn’t drop off this time. It leaps. It bounces off the couch and onto the carpet. It crawls into the hallway and slips into the office before the door shuts. Her sweat turns to ice, dangles from her ear lobes. Baylee’s pinky goes numb. Outside the window, snow falls.

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SUZANNE VERRALL

stones There was a woman who loved her children so much she ate stones to fend off hunger while feeding them what wizened roots and tubers she could forage. She visited neighbours, begging for mean scraps to keep her family whole. The neighbours gave what they could, sometimes denying their own chickens or pigs, so evident was the woman’s love for her children. She blessed her neighbours for their kindness, hurrying home with her meagre bounty, for her children were as demanding as fledglings, gawping and insistent, and she could not bear to witness the pain of their hunger. All the while swallowing stones to keep her belly full. Consumed by jealousy, the children sliced their mother open while she slept. Stones, sharp and unforgiving, tumbled from her gut. “That’s her secret,” they said, and gobbled up every last one. Of course by morning they were all as dead as doornails.

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KAILEE MARIE PEDERSEN

The Cordeliad KING LEAR

What can you say to draw A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.

CORDELIA

Nothing, my lord.

After my grandparents and parents die, I will inherit one third of my family’s farm in Fremont, Nebraska. I have no idea how large the farm is, even though I spent a summer there when I was younger. It could stretch forth until it encompassed the entirety of the world, and it would not surprise me if it did. There is a story I was planning to tell about this farm, about my greatgrandfather’s departure from Denmark to come to America, about my father’s childhood as a chubby kid at Fremont High School. I was going to write about how my uncle renovated the farmhouse after my grandparents moved out, and though I have only seen it once, embryonic and half-finished, I am sure it is beautiful work. Still, I never asked for a piece of this legacy: not the etched window at the back of the house, not the wet earth near the creek, not the swing made from rotted wood. When I receive this pastoral inheritance, I do not know what I will do with my tiny sliver of Arcadia. The pioneer homestead has become a fetishized image in America. My family is not exempt from the romantic allure of Mid-American Gothic. When I was in elementary school and we came up from Oklahoma to visit, my father took me to a place shadowed by trees and showed me where he had buried one of his old barn cats. My father also had a succession of German Shepherds: one knocked him over and gave him a concussion as a boy, and another was killed when it accidentally fell under a tractor. At Christmas, my cousin showed me pictures of a dead deer he was in the middle of skinning.

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I have my own farm memories, but they do not make for exciting reading: scaring some nesting pigeons, getting hay fever, finding a snake in the garage. I knew some girls in Oklahoma who were proud to call themselves “farm girls” and Southern almost-belles. The woman who taught me Greek and Latin told me she had spent holiday break at her family farm in Alaska, reading ancient pastoral writers while baby lambs tumbled into her lap. Sadly, I have never had the chance to whip out Works and Days while on the farm, mainly because I do not like Hesiod but also because I do not like Nebraska. I especially do not like returning there; it is not, as Homer would put it, my Ithaca. There is a town called Ithaca in Nebraska, as well as Crete. Once I banish the local minotaur, a small part of this infinity will someday be mine. However, this inheritance would require my father to die. Though my father dying is as inevitable as reading Shakespeare, it is unbearable to realize this. My father has killed diamondback rattlesnakes with a shovel. I am sure he will never die. But if he does, I will go down to the underworld to rescue him, Orpheus with a violin (for lack of a lyre). Losing more than one father is egregious, even for the Ancient Greeks. Cordelia’s mother is missing in King Lear, though no one bothers to explain why. Perhaps she left because Lear was always Lear and never Benedick—making her do the dishes, forgetting to laugh at her bad jokes. She could have packed her suitcase, careful to keep the framed pictures of Regan, Goneril, and baby Cordelia nestled in her scarf collection; she could have worn the diadem her mother gave her before she married, and thrown herself off the castle balcony. Or perhaps she simply vanished, as it often happens in literature, slipping into the stage directions and emerging, unfazed, onto a rainy downtown street corner. In New York I see many women standing on street corners with their bright umbrellas, and I wonder if any of them are Cordelia’s mother. Whenever I see an older Asian woman walking down the street, I wonder if she is mine. KING LEAR

So young, and so untender?

CORDELIA

So young, my lord, and true.

I read the part of Cordelia in high school. It was hardly my first Shakespearean role that I butchered—my original affront to the theatre was the Queen of Scotland, who had somehow become Asian (with an American accent) in English class. I even blushed when the cute boy playing Macbeth turned to me in Act 2 and said, What, ho! I am very fond of Cordelia. I say this as someone who has been eternally dedicated to the cruelest bitches of the stage: Claire Zachanassian, Hedda Gabler,

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Clytemnestra. Cordelia was one of my more honest, if slightly wooden, portrayals. What separates Cordelia from her sisters? She willingly rejects her inheritance and refuses to bow down to her father’s wishes, even though she is the only one who truly loves him. Although she dies at the end (as it often happens in Shakespeare plays), she was so beloved that Nahum Tate rewrote her storyline to save her and marry her off to the noble Edgar. This became the only version performed of the two plays for a century and a half. Despite my penchant for happy endings, I do not foresee a universe in which I gladly accept my portion of the land and return to Nebraska to live out the rest of my days. Cordelia is the most honest of her sisters, so I too must be honest: if I am to inherit one third of a kingdom, I will not rule it. There is nothing for me in that place where my father was chased by a pack of coyotes and almost gored by a bull. At the end of The Good Earth, the wealthy once-farmer Wang Lung is dying. He says to his children, “If you sell the land, it is the end.” His sons sell the land anyway, of course. I must betray my father, King Lear or Wang Lung, to rid myself of this burning soil. The fantasy of an idyllic farm life is a fever dream from which I have awoken but the rest of America has not. One of my high school English teachers once assigned a creative writing exercise in which we were supposed to write about our “home”. She meant Nebraska, of course. Ever the contrarian, I wrote that I did not have a home, nor did I have any history. I think she was unhappy with this answer. When we read The Bluest Eye, I was the only person who brought up the subject of blackness and white beauty. When we read My Antonía, I dared to mention that Willa Cather was probably a lesbian. That semester, or possibly the one before, I was called crossbred for being half-Japanese. A classmate I knew refused to address me as anything except, Hey, Asian! A peculiar loneliness rises in me when I remember these things: that person, according to my friends, has grown into someone who writes strident Internet screeds about the importance of racial minorities in film and openly campaigns for awareness of LGBTQ issues. I desperately wish to forgive them, to be as magnanimous as Cordelia. We were young, after all. So very young. I do not have the privilege of redemption. I have been called a bitch so many times that I have acclimated myself to the term. Now I bear it in my mocking smile, and I do not care very much anymore what people call me these days. Bitch, whore. Cordelia, Lady Macbeth. I have forgiven approximately three people in my entire life. But not this one. KING LEAR

How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is To have a thankless child!

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This is a futile test of imagination. My favorite stories are possessed of a wild ugliness. They desire and they devour beyond logic; there are plot holes, flaws, and inconsistent characterizations. They do not hunger for beauty but greatness. This is why the Iliad attracts me, though the episode with Dolon is especially frustrating. It strains against the weight of its poetry, as though it would like to transcend its own language. There is a certain triumph in survival after two thousand years. Yet our knowledge of several Greek works is accidental: Euripides wrote more than ninety plays, and we have around eighteen through the happenstance of history. I am not the kind of woman for whom the playwrights craft ingénue roles. Not anymore. I have known this for a very long time. I have known, always, that this would be my fate. Perhaps I was a girl once, though I do not remember it well. Now my voice has lowered to a sadistic contralto; I have nasty rejoinders for practically every insult. I will never play Cordelia again. King Lear is a tragedy. It is one of the greatest, but it is still a tragedy. Cordelia inherits her own death and Lear’s as well. I do not want one third of the family farm because I do not want my father to die. I will not live in Nebraska, nor die there, in that place where my grandfather slaughtered cows and my father caught fireflies for me in a small jar. Let the devil laugh at my funeral, then. I would do anything to avoid the fate of Cassandra, to die dreaming in a foreign land. The one summer I spent on my grandparents’ farm as a young girl was idyllic in its desolation. I would stay up late each night writing terrible short stories, and my grandmother would make me hamburgers for lunch. Back then I could still look my grandfather in the eye. He and I went fishing once and he drove me to the lake in his truck and we watched the bobbers for hours in aching silence, drinking soda and hoping for trout. If we caught one that was too small, we had to throw it back. I remember pulling the hook from their mouths and tossing them into the lake. I felt bad for them because there was so much blood: on my hands, in the water. At age twenty I would sing Schubert’s Die Forelle, perhaps as an apology to those poor sacrificial victims. The fish is betrayed at the end of Die Forelle; its innards turn the water scarlet. I think occasionally of the little girl standing on the banks of a Nebraska river with a toolong fishing rod in her hand. I have betrayed her an unforgivable number of times. I am still doing it, as early as a month ago, or even yesterday. Lying becomes very easy, if you practice it enough: like playing the piano, or riding a bike. To cloak yourself in cosmopolitan self-degradation can be as simple as tearing out Gloucester’s eyes. Nowadays when I see my grandfather I cannot look at him. Did Cordelia flinch

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from the madness of her father? I fold and refold my napkin at family dinners. I cling to the memory of us sitting at the riverbank hoping for trout and then eating sandwiches on a picnic bench afterwards. King Lear tells Cordelia that she has reason to hate him and that he understands. Cordelia replies that it is not true; she has been a devoted daughter from the beginning. I am not very good at being Cordelia. All of my charity has slowly leaked out of me. When a man tells me I am sexy even though I am still in high school and he is much older I think, I should be very flattered. When my grandmother talks about “the Orientals” I think, It was different back then. When my grandfather tells me something terrible about Asian people, I try very hard to remember that he taught me how to fish, once upon a time in the English Restoration. Even after she is exiled and cast out of her family, Cordelia never asks how her father could do this to her. Neither do I. It is a sign of faithlessness, this asking. Better to die at the end of the play than suffer being called an ungrateful child. I can no longer play Cordelia, I told one of my professors. I used to, but now I’m me. She laughed, not necessarily because it was funny, but because it was true. If only I were Nahum Tate’s Cordelia, who received a happy ending after suffering so much. Still, she paid the price for erasing Shakespeare. No one remembers her anymore. When it comes to literature, you never die. But you never really live, either. GLOUCESTER

As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods. They kill us for their sport.

Since I cannot play Cordelia, I must play Edmund instead. Edmund slanders his brother, hates his father, ruins Lear, has an affair with two sisters at the same time, and ends up getting nearly everyone killed. Edmund the bastard child, the one who does not belong in the family tapestry. Because he is the illegitimate second son, he will inherit nothing. Why bastard? Wherefore base? His mother might have been a whore. Edmund is the most selfish of children, to betray his own father. But his motives are understandable: after years of unhappiness, what else is there to do except overthrow the king? Unlike the superior Iago, Edmund has the great flaw known as a conscience. He is too late to save Cordelia, though he attempts it. Edmund does not understand that destroying a man’s life is the noblest of goals; history would be nowhere without revenge tragedies filling the streets with blood. I too feel the shadow of regret when I turn away from snide comments at my grandfather’s birthday dinner. I despise

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admitting that I am wrong, but I will occasionally apologize if prompted. I am overly fond of my friends, but the moment we are no longer hopelessly entangled I am as wrathful as the Furies. I tried to save Cordelia, but she always dies. She dies when my father criticizes me for not practicing the piano for three hours a day, and she dies when I remember that my parents only went to China because they had exhausted all other methods of having a proper Edgar, a true bloodline. Ambition in Shakespeare is a death sentence. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, indeed. I killed Cordelia and became Edmund because I could not stand the Midwestern appetite, to have a plot of land and machines with which to till it. I do not mean that I am destined for greater things, though I am arrogant enough to think so at night, in secret; I mean that when I was in the seventh grade I attempted to write a novel about the Russian mafia but failed, and then I read some books, and then I read better books, and now I am hopelessly ensnared by book-reading. Literature inevitably leads to the dissolution of a woman’s petticoats and then her morals, which is perfectly fine with me. I must be ambitious because there is no way out of being a woman. If there were, I would have found it by now. But if you are very, very clever, you can alter the course of fate, like light bending toward a distant star. I was once meant to be a violinist, but now I write, which is more Edmund than gentle Cordelia. Edmund composes one letter and destroys his family. I cannot destroy a family that I bought with my shredded arteries, when I was so young I did not even know what arteries were. But if I could, if I could— I do not dare consider this. I love my family very much, I say, which is true. It is also true that I hope my birth parents are dead, because then I will never have to face them like the coward I am. The ghost of Hamlet’s father is the ghost of my father, but I have never wanted to be the Prince of Denmark. Let me be Edmund, with my inheritance of nothing and no expectations. I will betray my father and my country for the sake of narrative continuity, the decline and fall. A notorious Shakespearean villain is not the worst role in the world. What an empire was offered to Edmund, I recall, and oh, how he had paid. The owner of a small press once claimed that I was the most brilliant young writer he had seen in forty years, but the only thing that glitters in me is self-loathing. I have been told that I am most likely a good person. I am not sure if I believe this. Good writers do not make good people. Edmund tries to redeem himself, but everyone dies no matter what he does. Always the bastard son, the plaything of fortune. A fine word—‘legitimate’, Edmund sneers, and I cannot bring myself to contradict him.

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EDMUND

As for the mercy Which he intends to Lear and to Cordelia— The battle done, and they within our power, Shall never see his pardon; for my state Stands on me to defend, not to debate.

I extend no mercy toward my younger self. Why would I? Back then, I believed in many things that approached a faith in God but merely stood in his alcove: neat endings, violin concertos, love immemorial. I see her passing me in the hallway of my old house in Nebraska, and sometimes in the surface of glass coffee tables. Little Cordelia, not yet Edmund, not yet overly concerned with her appearance or how shallowly erudite she seems. I have tried to salvage her from the mess that was my teenage years, but I cannot bear to see her reflection. People speak fondly of their younger days, and I feel very confused. I have never wanted to be in high school again, plain and unhappy, comforted only by my shining hair. That is what my grandfather said to me last: Your hair is very shiny. Thank you, I said. I comb it every day in front of the tiny mirror you get in college dorm rooms. Maybe one day, if I comb it enough, I will finally be beautiful. ALBANY

The weight of this sad time we must obey; Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. The oldest hath borne most: we that are young Shall never see so much, nor live so long.

Oh, to be seventeen again, with my velvet antlers, to be courted by Tsar Koschei and the river Achelous— You are never young twice. There are only so many times you can play the evercharming Vasilisa before the audience grows bored of you, before Koschei throws you away like all of his other wives. I will never be so beautiful as I was when I was still in Nanning, before I had inherited my lineage of ash. I was beautiful enough for the King of France then, but not beautiful enough for my mother to come back for me. I never am. But I will comb my hair and cut off my antlers in every cervine variation, just to believe that she will. If I were Cordelia, I would know what to do with one third of paradise. I would not crown myself with useless metaphors. I have been disinherited three times: once by Lear, once by Gloucester, once by China. Like Edmund, I might regrow the kindness that I cast off so easily when I was younger. I do not have high hopes for this, but I hope all the same.

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E. KRISTIN ANDERSON

Subaudible Please, not poison— small, trashy, the hanging leaves mother knew, these toy hundreds floating yellow school buses, the party in the destination, windows opened out. If you hear— shadows joined hands and tumbled down breathing, out all night, out all night, panic trying to grab her mouth, hemmed in, no name, the glow from the window following the fear-taste. Pray— without vocabulary her hands brought on this cloudy idea, some deep, future-seeing need to remember.

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All right, though Thunder continued— unpleasant like legs aching. Guys with bloodhounds maybe save myself, find a window, see some previous fall. The dust dream: a trace of empty hands. I know where I am, but I’m a small day turning in a foamy rush, unreliable, one of those people above broken ground.

Editor’s Note: These are erasure poems. Source Material for “Subaudible”: King, Stephen. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. New York: Pocket, 1999. 53-54. Print. Source Material for “All right, though”: King, Stephen. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. New York: Pocket, 1999. 66-69. Print.

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JOSH PATRICK SHERIDAN

Chicago, 1987 According to the schedule, the train will be coming in two minutes. There will be lots of people on board—a Saudi exile, a former welterweight boxer, a family of twelve with tickets to the aquarium’s new PenguinTown show. Women and men will be holding hands, their noses nestled into each other’s fur-lined corduroy, shifting like eggs when the brakes clamp; other women and men will be staring at each other from across the aisle, their ample asses stuffed into the grubby seats closest to the wall, their noses grown red and pocked, their hats crooked. They will have had so much of each other by now that the reprieve of a train-car’s width is worth coveting. A Mexican teenager at the far end of the car will be playing ranchera music on his ukulele, trying to earn a buck. When they alight, they’ll be stepping into a cold and windy Chicago in which nine babies have already been born (and it is not yet noon); in which three people have been shot; in which the buses will later stop running for the better part of a week, thanks to an impending blizzard. The frozen-solid floorboards of the platform will accept their footfalls like concrete, ka-thunk, ka-thunk, but they won’t notice, happy as they are with their dinner plans or their product proposals or their tickets to the PenguinTown show. The dark sky will be looming over them—over the Sears, over the Hancock—gray as a chalkboard, but they won’t see it until they are streetside, and by then they’ll be holding cups of coffee or pastries warmed in microwaves and likely won’t be moved by the thought of an apocalyptic snowstorm, literal tons of water dangling above them, waiting to fall like trillions of miniature bombs, to crystallize mid-air and strike earth with all the violence of an eyelash brushing a lip. If they come from a certain car, chances are good they’ll bump into a smallish, slender man named Eli, who carries a shining new briefcase that smells of the plastic bag it came in, who wears decent shoes and who carries himself, overall, with the

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decency of an old-timey baseball player. Eli will be the only person waiting for the train, because at mid-day he’s headed to Aurora, a place people as a rule don’t go until their days are over. He’ll be blowing streamers of breath toward the platform ceiling, playing that secret game lonely people play in which they compete with themselves to reach meaningless goals—in this case striking the ceiling with a continuous stream of breath; he’ll never reach the ceiling, though, because his lungs aren’t strong enough. Eli’s had asthma his whole life, and it gets much worse in the winter. In his briefcase, Eli will be carrying the specs for his new invention, an invention that has him convinced he will soon be both wealthy and well-respected. It’s not that he’s always been an inventor, or even a tinkerer, or even someone who has good ideas all that often. It’s that this particular good idea is so obviously a life-changer, an earthmover, that he assigns it zero chance of failure and one hundred per cent chance of changing his circumstances for the better, of getting him out of his apartment in Avalon Park, of buying him a new scooter and maybe a small dog. He’ll be pitching his invention—incidentally, a permanent, surgery-free device the size of a lapel pin that vibrates at an identical frequency to that of a human voice and fastens to the head behind the ear, in nearly the same fashion as a lapel pin, and allows its users to silently listen to music, hear their voice messages, or call their mothers without the hassle of having to break out those bulky headphones or go home to use the phone—to a group called Aurora Home Audiology and Hearing Adjustment (AHAHA), who have promised him ten minutes and a coffee Q&A. If any one of those folks from the train decides to stop, to chat with Eli for a moment and ask him what he’s got in the case, maybe offer him a preliminary “How do you do?”, and then ask him what he’s got in the case, Eli has decided he will play his creation off marvelously as simply the product of a dorky bachelor’s voracious tinkering, something totally not worth a second of their crucial time, while simultaneously imagining them with the fresh-shaved spot behind their ears his product will initially require, the little black box about the size of a lapel pin fastened securely to the side of the head. He’s already thought of the licensing possibilities: military, intelligence, aviation. A further generation of his product might revolutionize warfare! GPS coordinates read aloud in real time! Hands-free walkie-talkie communications! The possibilities aren’t exactly endless, but they’re pretty damn close.

It will be snowing by the time they arrive back on the platform. The aquarium will have closed, claiming emergency; the young lovers will have eaten their lunches, done their romantic-comedy dance up and down the winter sidewalks of Grant Park; the fat old couple will be standing with shopping bags clutched between their blistered and throbbing feet. The ten children in the family of twelve will still be excited about the

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PenguinTown show, which they luckily didn’t have to miss, but more so about the snowstorm; they will want to go home and bury each other in it, stuff it into their mouths and try to talk through it, tilt their heads backward and stick out their tongues, try to catch it piece by piece. The lovers will continue on to their row house in Bucktown, each of them lost in the storm to their own brand of memory—him to the news, on a similar snowy day in Wisconsin, that his father had died of a stroke; her to the sound of her sister’s voice, which she hasn’t heard in months, garbled in the background, almost inaudible through the bustling din of a Parisian marketplace. The old folks will simply be annoyed, will childishly question the need at all for so much snow, for so much anything, will wish they’d moved to Florida when their nephew was still offering the spare bedroom in his condo. The train, they know, will be coming in just two minutes. When it arrives, Eli will be standing in front of the door, waiting to disembark; his face will be slack, his shoulders hunched, his meeting not having gone the way he’d projected. The folks at AHAHA will have been gracious, initially; they will have offered him coffee, been prepared with coffees of their own, taken notes in professionallooking leather pads. Young, attractive experts in their field, ready to swing a deal, make a buck, get in on the ground floor of this thing. But, standing there, waiting for the doors to open, Eli will remember the change in their faces when he’d produced his prototype, their use of words like vulgar, aggressive, and cruel. “Isn’t there an adhesive that can do the same job?” “Aren’t you worried about subliminal messages?” “Why not just hold the damned thing?” They will have spent half his allotted time, and the entirety of his Q&A, laughing at his design, telling him how far behind it is, that other, smarter, people have taken the same idea and improved it a hundred fold before he’d ever even had it. They will have explained to him the logical progression of the telephone, from bulky wall ornament to, eventually, ten years from now maybe, external brain-in-pocket, capable of being seen and heard from almost anywhere, capable of having a conversation with a human—words he’ll have heard fewer and fewer of as the meeting went on, distracted as he will have been by the building storm in the window, a wave of gray clouds washing quickly from the west, rolling like a herd over the broken cornfields of suburbia.

Though they’ve been standing, freezing, for some time, they will wait for Eli to step off the train before stampeding on. They will be able to see, even through their own relative successes, a man disabused of notions of a better tomorrow. We have all seen that man. We know what he looks like.

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The air in the train—warm and piss-reeking, thin—will relieve them immediately; the Mexican boy at the end of the car will be playing a dirge he’d begun when Eli boarded in Aurora. Each of them, in his own space, will be thinking about Eli, about what could have been wrong with that poor little man with the briefcase, and each of them will have a heart for him, but none will have a moment. Thoughts of the things they need to tell people, to call people about—penguins dancing for fish like a dictator’s entertainment, a girl at lunch with no panties, a deal for a comeback fight in Atlantic City—will compete with their compassion for Eli and will, ultimately, drown it out completely. Eli, for his part, will have a brief moment, an outburst of frustration, during which time he will throw his briefcase—and the redundant, antiquated technology inside—over the edge of the platform and watch it tumble down a hillside of snow and blowing rubbish to rest in a ravine with the other detritus of a normal year in the city: losing scratch-offs, condoms full of seed, train tickets with their destinations rubbed away. In an hour it will all be covered, forgotten, like it had never been thought of in the first place. And then, just before the train pulls away, Eli will turn wildly to face it, heaving, his hair swept, his cheeks burning red, and he will see that the passengers on board are all waving to him, as though he’s just done something worthy of their appreciation, as though they’ve grown to know him in their fleeting and chaotic time together and to respect something about him—his passion, maybe? His effort?—or as though, as they lurch slightly forward, heading west towards the grasslands of the upper Great Plains, straight into the mouth of a blinding, unnavigable blizzard, they have recognized in Eli something integral to their own history, something they don’t even know they’ll never be able to get back, and they’re simply waving it goodbye.

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JESSY RANDALL & BRIGET HEIDMOUS

Message in a Bottle

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Fair to Say

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Enough

Editor’s Note: These are from the Mapping Project, a collaborative work by Jessy Randall and Briget Heidmous which includes images with text, texts made of images, animated gifs, and more.

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JENNIFER FLISS

Towels The baby is born at home. This isn’t planned. In a blizzard in Wisconsin, she slips out of her mother and is wrapped, a slush of vernix and blood; a blue child in a crisp white towel.

We are going to the beach. We carry sunblock and water and snacks. The kids haul pails and shovels. Towels decorated with fish and polka dots and Mickey Mouse flung over our shoulders as we tromp through the sand. We lay them out and position our bodies on them as the surf comes in and goes out and we watch our children play.

Cotton. Durable. Washable. Imported.

I had too many margaritas. After the searing hot shower, I step out and blanket myself in the towel. I rub my eyes; black slicks of partying and drinking and dancing. Smeared remnants of Can I buy you a drink? I consider getting back into the purifying font of the shower. C’mon . . . you don’t mean that. I still haven’t been able to wash it all away.

She was babysitting the two year old. It was her first day and she wanted to get it all right. On a subdivided plate made of environmentally friendly material, she put out cut pears, cheddar squares, thumb sized carrots. She poured the milk into a matching cup. From upstairs, the child screamed out, a prehistoric yowl that caused the babysitter’s hands slip. Milk glugged onto the counter, pooling at the edge and slipped down to the

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floor. She bent and mopped it up with a dishtowel, the cloth sucked up the liquid and grew heavy. The baby still cried.

At the very exclusive club at the very end of the boulevard at the very end of the island, the towels were burgundy and white striped. If you had a towel that was not burgundy and white striped, it was clear you did not belong. Lying atop burgundy and white striped towels were CEOs, hedge fund managers, heirs, actors, and trust fund teenagers. After only a handful of washes, the like-new but too-used-for-the-clientele towels found their way into the homes of the housekeepers, pool attendants, reservations staff, and waiters. If they couldn’t pay their rent with the eleven dollar an hour wages, they at least felt like they were two steps instead of one, from the street if they folded themselves into the luxurious cotton.

Wash with similar colors. Tumble dry on medium heat. No bleach. Cleaning instructions in home economic hieroglyphics.

You are sitting in the glow of your computer. Scrolling through the hundreds of towels. They look soft. Are they as plush as they look? 100% Egyptian cotton? Turkish? What color? Slate? Ash? What about Aubergine? Lilac? Your fiancé said definitely no purple. If they are not called purple, are they purple?

They were robins. The blue of their shells still lined the bottom of the nest. Where was their mother? You understand you shouldn’t mess with nature. That you shouldn’t touch or feed or nurture in any way, these fine brittle chicks. But they are right by your kitchen window. And you can’t help but open the window to hear their earnest chirps. A crow hovers near. Those brilliant evil harbingers of chaos. You can’t bear the thought. You hurry around the house. Towel, syringe from the infant Tylenol, a large shoebox. You line the shoebox with red and green shredded party paper that had been in a gift bag carrying a tiny embroidered pillow from your mother-in-law. It read What Part of MEOW don’t you understand? You don’t have a cat. You go out to the nest. There are now three crows perched on the gutter. With a hand towel you lift the nest and place it in the box. Careful. Careful. One little robin is particularly vehement and you name it Stevie and you nurse the three birds over the next month. The mother robin doesn’t return. You release the three birdies to your yard. There are five crows watching you from the gutter. You watch and you wait and you only see one robin ever

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Atlas & Alice | Issue 9, Spring/Summer 2017

return.

There is a fire. Wet the towel, throw it over your head. Run like hell.

Algodon. Hecho en China.

Harold the mastiff rubs his 110 pound body in the mud. Though still large, Harold is underweight and his owners are discussing – hushed and tearful – euthanasia. The coolness of the earth soothes Harold’s worn self while fresh drops of rain tickle his nose. Harold has been waiting for this, the arid summer too long, too difficult for his tremendous aging body. Harold! Here boy! Hauling his body around, he slips and slides through the door into the kitchen, mud slicking the linoleum. A towel is thrown over his thick body and he is hugged and dried and hugged again.

Natalie surveyed the hotel room. In the middle of the king sized bed were two origami towel frogs. She had seen swans of this ilk before. But never frogs. Were they trying to tell her something about the man she just arrived with? Was it an omen? Marcus swept into the room behind her; she jumped and he pinched the skin at her waist. Isn’t this something? Bet you ain’t seen anything like this before. I got this for you, babe. Now don’t say I ain’t done nothing nice for you. She excused herself to the bathroom, marble and larger than the apartment she had been living in. Contorting her body around, she looked in the mirror, saw that where Marcus squeezed, a bruise was forming.

In an effort to conserve, we encourage you to reuse your towels and linens. If you would like them replaced, please place them in the bathtub.

He knew his mother would be home soon. He knew she didn’t respect boundaries. He knew she would spit, toss a towel at him, and make him say at least fifty Hail Marys if she caught him. And still, this newly discovered habit brought him an almost yogic peace. He thought about Amanda, his girlfriend who had been a whole year older. She was a sophomore. She did things like blow in his ear like she was trying to cool him off. She did things like slip notes to him through the vents at the top of his locker. She did things like say she was never ever, ever, going to have sex until she got married.

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Atlas & Alice | Issue 9, Spring/Summer 2017

She did things like create crossword puzzles with secret messages to him. She did things like promise she could never go for Zack. She did things like forget their date at the ice cream parlor. She did things like not text him back. She did things like get pregnant. She did things like disappear for a few weeks. She did things like never meet his eyes again. She did things like that. And he did things like think of her in those moments when his body still needed her.

Monica didn’t have enough money to buy new towels. The monogram a bruise that wouldn’t fade. In slick baby blue cursive: MEK. Kevin had left and now she was just ME, which was so literal she couldn’t help but laugh. But she couldn’t pull off the K without also taking the M and the E. She decided to only use the side of the towel that was not monogrammed. After time, only the one half of the towel shredded away, disintegrating with use. On the other side, as if it was the day of their wedding, were letters she didn’t even recognize anymore, despite their genteel perfection.

You rub your daughter’s hair dry and a minuscule louse peddles away on the white terry cloth.

Rena had two towels. This was one more than she had ever had in her life before. This was also her first visit to The Club. She had garnered a guest pass as a tip at the bar where she waitressed nights. Rena knew she had to bring a towel and understood the grungy now-gray towel that barely covered her thighs, the one that she had filched from the school pool where she was a substitute teacher, would not be a wise choice. She knew that. She also knew she needed to wear a swimsuit. Picked from a bin also at the school pool, she poured herself into the lycra. A few extra rolls bubbled at the seams, but it was a comfortable fit. She could cover the Wissahocken Warriors logo with a casually placed arm. What she didn’t know was quite a lot. Would food be provided? Was she going to be assigned a spot to park herself? Would people stare at her? Is she supposed to just leave the towel and her things as she went into the pool? Was it okay that she didn’t know how to swim? What if she saw students from school? Would they even know her, her presence so occasional, so inconsequential, did they even see her when she was right in front of them in the classroom? She decided to bring the burgundy and white striped towel, the one she bought at Goodwill. It was in excellent shape with a small insignia sewn into one corner. It was very soft and rather large. Rena too had gone very soft and rather large and felt this was the perfect cover for her in her swimsuit on her first day visiting the swimming club.

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65-gram Egyptian cotton with double-rolled, hand-sewn scalloped edges.

It is the kind of day that keeps people inside. It is the kind of day that only some venture out into, but then find themselves either tormented or richly rewarded. The rain had temporarily stopped. Steam rose up from the fallen leaves laying in beds of auburn colors. There is no one else at the playground. You probably shouldn’t have taken your 20-month-old daughter here. It is a bit far from the main road and anyone could do anything and no one would know. You zip her coat up to her chin, slip on a woolen hat that makes her look like a bunny rabbit, complete with ears, and wrap her tiny fingers in oversized mittens. You walk toward the play structure together. She reaches up with her bear cub paw and you grasp her whole hand with one finger. Hundred foot trees stand sentinel along the path. Your boot heels echo in the ashen sky and cause a flurry of crows to scatter from a poplar tree, leaving behind a silence that is almost reverential. Vapors are emanating from the swings too, also the slide and ladders. You approach the primary colored structure, reminding you of your own 1980s childhood and seems out of place in this place of tremendous nature. Your daughter chirps with excitement as you approach; she loves slides. She goes down them backwards, her entire torso feeling the experience and momentum. But then you realize the whole thing is covered in water, large puddles and small islands of rainwater threaten to soak your child and send her careening off into even greater pools that lay in wait at the bottom of the slide. You should have known that. It only just stopped raining a half hour before after storming for three weeks straight. Your daughter begins to climb, her feet slip on the first rung and she issues a bleat. You remember. You pick her up and haul back to the car. Clipclipclip go your boot heels. You remember there is a towel in the trunk. With it, you return to the playground. You wipe the ladder rungs and the swings. As your daughter watches, one mitten having fallen off, you go to the slide and wipe it down, every foreboding drop being sponged up, providing a safe luge for your daughter to play on this lovely day in this lovely park, just the two of you.

A bird flies into the window. With a thump that stirs you from your dish washing reverie, you see a wet smudge on the newly cleaned window. You go outside to find a robin lying at the base of the house. One wing twitches and goes still. Its coal eye reflects your own fatigued face. You holler for help, refusing to tear your sight from the bird’s eye. On your watch, it dies. Your husband brings a towel and with rubber dish gloves, you pick up the avian corpse. The robin’s breast is a deep copper, not red like

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Atlas & Alice | Issue 9, Spring/Summer 2017

all the songs say. It is buried in the towel at the base of your Japanese maple tree. The leaves are the same color as the bird’s chest and when the wind rustles the leaves, you like to think you can hear the bird singing.

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Atlas & Alice | Issue 9, Spring/Summer 2017

BABA BADJI

Multinational Self Imagine shutting myself in the American face, where I face the low slung & pale sky where Africanness send Negroness down the elephant’s shadow of Négritude. The will to smile that big Senegalese smileUn Homme blanc me dépose au regard de L’Océan Atlantique, au regard des terres Africaines Because I refuse to stop for prose. Because the aches of Double Exile never froze. We slowly become American in law of faith. The setting of dreams gone dark on bamboo farms. Looking back, insanity and nostalgia curve against my people’s tongues (you think dangerous) in defense of multinational self a penance I pay for Coffin Maker.

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Atlas & Alice | Issue 9, Spring/Summer 2017

KATE DEBOLT

Silencer i wouldn’t really kill you but if i did it wouldn’t be such a big deal : i mean we’d keep it quiet : because didn’t you hate it when a game of cops & robbers would end : with just the loudest biggest kid we knew : pressing a twig to your temple, screaming bang?

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Atlas & Alice | Issue 9, Spring/Summer 2017

Molotov Cocktail in the span of several seconds a bloody firework blooms : wet sparks on red wind & how the scalloped eaves of Main St. shiver off their bunting & how a whisper gallops through the horrified crowd did you get any on you : did you get any on you did you did you did

Editor’s Note: These ekphrastic poems are responses to artist Barton Lidice Beneš’ “Lethal Weapons” series—specifically, the pieces “Silencer” (1993) and “Molotov Cocktail” (1995)—in which the artist filled various vessels with his own HIV-positive blood. 53


Atlas & Alice | Issue 9, Spring/Summer 2017

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS ______________________________________________ We’re always looking for writing that spans genres, that demands to be read, that might be considered the black sheep of a family. Art and science thrill us, but so does the simple image of a man standing at a crossroads. Surprise us. Thrill us. Make us laugh and cry and cringe. Tell us your thoughts. We can’t wait to hear from you! For submission guidelines, please visit http://atlasandalice.com/submit/

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Atlas & Alice | Issue 9, Spring/Summer 2017

CONTRIBUTOR NOTES ______________________________________________ E. Kristin Anderson is a poet, Prince fan, Starbucks connoisseur, and glitter enthusiast living in Austin, Texas. She is the co-editor of Dear Teen Me and her next anthology, Hysteria: Writing the female body, is forthcoming from Sable Books. She is currently working on Come as You Are, an anthology of writing on 90s pop culture. Kristin is the author of seven chapbooks of poetry including A Guide for the Practical Abductee (Red Bird Chapbooks), Pray, Pray, Pray: Poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night (Porkbelly Press), Fire in the Sky (Grey Book Press), She Witnesses (dancing girl press), and We’re Doing Witchcraft (Hermeneutic Chaos Press). Kristin is an editor and designer at Red Paint Hill and was formerly a poetry editor at Found Poetry Review. Once upon a time she worked at The New Yorker. Find her online at EKristinAnderson.com and on twitter at @ek_anderson. Born in Senegal, West Africa, Baba Badji is currently a Chancellor’s Fellow and a third year Ph.D. Candidate in Comparative Literature, with the Track for International Writers & a combined Graduate Certificate in Translation Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. His research interests are situated on 20th C American, African, Caribbean, Francophone Studies, Poetry: fixed & free forms, experimentation, Poetics of Exile & Poetics of Blackness, Modernism, Postcolonial Studies. He holds a BA in English & French Francophone Studies from the College of Wooster, Ohio and received his MFA in poetry, and translation from Columbia University, New York City. He is fluent in French, Wolof, Mende and Diola. His first Chapbook, Owls of Senegal, was a finalist for the 2016 Seattle Review judged by Claudia Rankine. His translations have appeared on the 2014 Pen World Voice Festival. Lynn Brown is fiction writer and journalist whose work has appeared in The Fabulist, Words & Art, Ebony Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler and the JSTOR Daily blog among others. She’s the Co-Curator of the Voices From the Margins reading series and is currently working on two major projects: A novel based on New Orleans culture and mythology, and an anthology of work by contemporary African American expatriate writers in Paris. You can find her at www.literarylynn.com. Jude Conlee does not exist but has somehow still managed to create fiction and poetry, some of which is good and some of which gets published. Venues that have published its work include and/or, Five 2 One, Scrutiny, and otoliths. Its non-writing relating pursuits include amateur film criticism, collecting interesting knives, and the care and keeping of Syrian hamsters. Kate DeBolt holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, and is an Assistant Poetry Editor for The Four Way Review. She has work forthcoming in The High Window and The Boiler Journal; she has been previously published in Noble / Gas Qtrly, The Adroit Journal, Dialogist, Bluestem, and Plain Spoke, among others. Jennifer Fliss is a Seattle-based fiction and essay writer. Her work has appeared in PANK, Fiction Southeast, The Rumpus, Pacifica Literary Review, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter at @Writesforlife or via her website, www.jenniferflisscreative.com.

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Atlas & Alice | Issue 9, Spring/Summer 2017 Briget Heidmous is a multi-media visual artist exploring the principles of ecology employing scale as illusion. Her work has been in solo exhibitions at the Manitou Art Center and The Machine Shop, where she was artist in residence in 2014. She is a curator at Colorado College. Shoshana Lovett-Graff is a writer from New Haven, CT. Her poetry has previously been published in Blink-Ink, The East Coast Literary Review, Poetica, and Durable Goods. Kailee Marie Pedersen is a recent graduate of Columbia University. She was adopted from Nanning in 1996. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, The Boiler Journal, Arcturus, and others. She is currently working on an essay collection and a novel. Her favorite Shakespeare role that she never got to play is Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing. Simon Phillips is a writer, musician, and gardener living in San Francisco. He is part owner of Adobe Books and Arts Cooperative, a volunteer-run bookstore/art gallery/performance space in the Mission, where he curates the occasional reading. He volunteers as writing mentor for the Prison Education Network, and has been known to run writing workshops out of his living room. Simon earned his MFA in Fiction Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2015. He is currently working on getting to work on a novel. Jessy Randall has had diagram poems, poetry comics, and other things in Poetry, Story, and The Best Experimental Writing 2015. Her most recent book is Suicide Hotline Hold Music (Red Hen, 2016). She is a librarian at Colorado College. Caleb Michael Sarvis is a writer from Jacksonville, Florida. He is the fiction editor for Bridge Eight Literary Magazine and received his MFA from the University of Tampa. His work has been featured in or is forthcoming from Hobart, Literary Orphans, Panhandler Magazine, Flock, The Molotov Cocktail, Barrelhouse, Oyster River Pages, Yellow Chair Review, and Empty Sink Publishing. You can follow him on Twitter @calebmsarvis or come to Jacksonville and grab a beer. Josh Patrick Sheridan lives with his fiancÊe and daughter in upstate New York, where he teaches writing at area colleges and works as a tutor for an early-college program. His fiction has appeared in over a dozen journals, including Shenandoah, The Adroit Journal, and Coe Review. He’s at work on his first novel. Follow him on Twitter @belmontfoghorn or at his blog, belmontfoghorn.wordpress.com. Madison Tompkins works and writes in Kennesaw, Georgia. He attends Kennesaw State University and works with students at a local church. Suzanne Verrall lives in Adelaide, South Australia. Her flash fiction, essays and poetry appear in Flash Frontier, Flash Fiction Magazine, 101 Fiction, Archer Magazine, Lip Magazine, Poetry NZ Yearbook and The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. Marne Wilson grew up on the plains of North Dakota and now lives in the foothills of West Virginia. Her poetry has appeared in such places as Atlanta Review, Poetry East, and The South Carolina Review. Her first chapbook, The Bovine Daycare Center, was recently published by Finishing Line Press.

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Atlas & Alice | Issue 9, Spring/Summer 2017

Image Credits: Cover photo: Jack Kaminski, via Unsplash. Page 11: Eric Didier, via Unsplash. Page 27: Clem Onojeghuo, via Unsplash. Page 35: Benjamin Woodard. Pages 42-44: Jessy Randall & Briget Heidmous. Visit atlasandalice.com for links.

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Atlas & Alice | Issue 9, Spring/Summer 2017

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