In this issue: Adam Tavel Carol Beth Icard Kelly Martineau; valarie clark Zana Previti
B a r e ly s o u t h r e v i e w F a l l 2013 Old Dominion University
Artist Statement From Shannon Wright: below the surface I am very fascinated by the human figure and with trying to capture a personâ€™s essence. To further explore this passion, I asked six college-age female friends to come to my house, put on a dress, and lay in a bathtub that had been filled with water. I wanted to examine how each model reacted to being placed in a bathtub of water while still fully clothed. I was curious to see if there were any similarities in body language while in this controlled environment, or if the expressiveness of the individual gestures would be heightened. I also wanted to explore the movement of fabric and hair in the water to see if they would become airy and full of motion or conversely heavier and immovable. Because the color palette is muted and most people find it uncomfortable to see clothed women submerged in water, these images may be seen as eerie and full of tension. However, they also showcase the beauty and grace that comes along with being female. There is an overall calm or peaceful feeling even though they are in such a vulnerable position in this confined interior space.
The students and faculty of Old Dominion University’s MFA program in Creative Writing form a lively and supportive community of writers in beautiful southeastern Virginia. The Tidewater region’s story is shaped by its history and its diversity—by its dynamic fusion of old and new. There is great complexity in any form or creative assertion of “here”, and it is in this spirit that Barely South Review embraces the opportunity to feature works from emerging as well as established writers. We are interested in great writing in its myriad forms. We seek to present many voices, especially those that defy easy regional, thematic, and stylistic categorization. Visit us online at barelysouth.com. BARELY SOUTH REVIEW reads for general submissions from 1 January to 31 March for the Fall issue, and from 1 September to 31 November for the Spring issue. Submissions for the Norton Girault Literary Prize are accepted from 15 December to 15 March. If you wish to donate to BARELY SOUTH REVIEW, contact the Friends of the MFA Creative Writing Program at ODU. BARELY SOUTH REVIEW is distributed for free online. Copyright 2013.
Masthead Managing Editor Geoff Watkinson Technical Editor Michael Alessi Fiction Editors Michael Alessi Natasha Arnold Amy Blondell Amana Katora Josh Norman Nonfiction Editors Liz Argento Lauren Hurston Geoff Watkinson Poetry Editors Robbie Ciara Lucian Mattison Alex McGaughan Sarah Pringle Andrew Squitiro Readers Mack Curry Emily Duquette Tom Kelly Matthew Larrimore Elaine White
Editorial Advisory Board Luisa A. Igloria John McManus Michael Pearson Janet Peery Sheri Reynolds Tim Seibles Barely South Review logo Josephine A. Carino
Brandon Bell THE OEDIPUS PACT . . . . . . . . . . 9 Caleb True BRUNCH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Garrett Quinn CREATURES OF UNPROVEN EXISTENCE . . 27
Roy Bentley PHOTOGRAPH OF MY FATHER . . . . . . 38 Laura Shovan EYES ON THE BACK OF MY HEAD . . . . . 40 Andy Stevens FOR THE NUDE DESCENDING THE STAIRS TOWARD ME . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41 Ruth Bavetta PACKING MY GRANDMOTHER’S SUITCASE . 42 Betsy Martin COMPOSURE . . . . . . . . . . . . 43 Heather Hallberg PINE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44 Sandy Hiortdahl
MATHEMATICAL EMO . . . . . . . . . Jacob Collins-Wilson FRESHLY MOWED OUTFIELDS . . . . . . Len Krisak CATULLUS: CARMINA, 69 . . . . . . . . Victoria Marie Bee BARDOT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Billie Tardos CHANCE, PRACTICES, LIMITATIONS . . . . Joan Mazza ODE TO CHICKPEAS . . . . . . . . . . Nicole Santalucia 1 PENN PLAZA, 23rd FLOOR . . . . . . . Leslie Anne Mcilroy A MEMORY ALMOST AS WET . . . . . . Kate Dwiggins THE FOOD CHAIN . . . . . . . . . . .
46 47 49 50 51 55 57 58 60
Garrett Dennert (SEARCHING) LUST AND LOVE AND I . . . 63 Sara Walters SITTING IN THE MIDDLE SEAT ON A FIVE HOUR FLIGHT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82
What Remains #1 Victoria marie bee
the oedipus pact
We holed up in Bobby’s basement to bang out a punk rock masterpiece. His parents were on vacation in Florida. We could play as loud as we wanted. But before we plugged in our guitars, Jackie went snooping and found porn in Bobby’s dad’s dresser. We watched it drinking Miller Lite, and somehow the alcohol and TV sex got us talking about beating up our fathers. “I wanna gouge his eyes out,” Bobby said. “You could totally do it. He’s old,” I said. I was on a beanbag. Bobby was on the recliner and Jackie was in his sleeping bag. All eyes on the porn. “You got it made, Bobby. Your dad’s out of town. My dad never leaves town,” Jackie said. He had legitimate reasons to hate his dad, which showed on his face as a black eye. “My dad’s kind of built,” Bobby said. “He’s fat.” “Your dad’s a pussy,” Jackie said to me. “Yeah man. You could for sure kick his ass,” Bobby said.
No way, I thought. I was fourteen years old and scrawny. The beer smeared my vision; the porn was melting off the dresser. I needed to pee, and in the morning I woke up hugging the toilet. I staggered upstairs. The sun was blinding through the skylight. Jackie was sprawled on the sectional sofa watching The Price Is Right. I flattened on the carpet and waited for the room would stop spinning. Around noon Bobby came downstairs wearing one of his dad’s suits. He seemed hangover-free. He’d finally popped the zit on his lip. “Let’s kick their asses,” he said. I looked at him for a beat and then I resumed staring at the wall. “We’re fourteen years old,” Bobby said. “I’m fifteen,” Jackie said. “Whatever. We aren’t kids. You don’t think we could kick their asses?” “Not really,” Jackie said. Bobby peeled off his blazer and flung it at the ceiling fan. “You think my dad could take me? Seriously?” “So kick his ass.” “That’s what I’m saying,” Bobby said. “We all kick their asses.” “Like gang them?” “Not gang them. Like kick your own dad’s ass. We all do it. It makes sense. They’re dicks, right?” Was my dad a dick? He was a flight attendant and was out of town most nights, which meant I had to cook dinner for my little brother. He wasted money on golf instead of buying a new car, so we sputtered around in a clunky hatchback. The only positive was he hadn’t abandoned me, like mom. She ran out on us—disappeared, really—when I was two years old. I bet she split because dad was whiny and smelled weird. Hell, I wanted to disown him, too.
“Yeah, he’s a dick,” I said. “See. We need to kick their asses,” Bobby said. “That makes sense,” Jackie deadpanned. “Yeah. Kick their asses.” “So we’re doing it,” Bobby said. “No, you aren’t doing it,” Jackie said. “Neither of you’s ever been in a fight.” “Bullshit I haven’t,” Bobby said, obviously lying. “It’s not rocket science. It’s just punching,” I said. “It’s brutal,” Jackie said. “Getting hit? Awful. Hitting someone? Really jacking a dude’s jaw? Even worse than getting hit.” “Why would that hurt?” Bobby asked. “Dude. Your hands are all bone. After a fight they feel like somebody beat them with a hammer.” He jumped off the couch and got in Bobby’s face. “Try it.” Bobby flinched. “No.” “Hit me.” “I’m not hitting you.” “Come on. Hit me, man. Do it.” “No.” “You want to kick your dad’s ass? Gonna need to know how to hit.” “I know how to hit.” “Prove it.” “I’m not your dad, okay? You want to get hit, go see him.” Without warning Jackie punched Bobby in the mouth. Bobby crumpled over. A Jupiter bruise appeared on his jaw. He tried not to cry.
“All right,” Jackie said to me. “Now you hit me.” “I’m not fighting you,” I said. “Have you ever even thrown a punch before?” He lifted his t-shirt, revealing welt marks. These from his dad, no doubt. “Hit me.” “Get out of my face.” I pushed him. He got back in my face and I pushed him again. He came back for more and I slugged him in the stomach. “Damn it, man. I’m sorry. Are you okay?” I asked. Jackie wheeze-laughed and crumpled to the floor. When I squatted to help him, Bobby sucker punched me in the neck. “I was supposed to do that,” Bobby said. “Right, Jackie? You hit me, BJ hit you, so I hit BJ. Is that right?” None of us knew what was right. Bobby and I sat on the floor nursing our wounds as Jackie drafted a contract on a sheet of notebook paper. In poseur legalese, the contract said:
By signing, the below parties agree to kick his dad’s ass. Failure to do so means expulsion from The Furry Rammers (band name subject to change) and a lifetime of servitude to the daddy man.
At the top of the contract Jackie wrote THE OEDIPUS PACT. We’d read a synopsis of Oedipus in eighth grade. After Miss Easton told us about Freud’s Oedipus hate daddy, want to bone mommy theory, we made fun of Jackie relentlessly. His white trash mom was beautiful. Bobby and I were in love with her, and Oedipus allowed us to accuse Jackie of loving her, too. Jackie’s writing THE OEDIPUS PACT confirmed our suspicions. Not that we pointed that out while he was in his violent trance. We watched him sign the pact and then we did, too. “There. All right. Let’s do it,” Jackie said. He asked Bobby, “When’s your dad get home?” “Today I think?”
“Good. Fight him today.” He asked me, “And the stewardess gets home tonight?” “Maybe tonight,” I said. Jackie shook his head. “No maybes. You signed. We’re doing this. My dad’s home right now,” often true, his dad was a rarely employed roofer, “and first thing I’ll do when I get home is punch him in the balls.” He left, but I stayed at Bobby’s. I regretted signing the pact. It seemed like a good idea before we punched each other, but getting punched hurt. Now I was supposed to punch dad? I loved my dad. Not that I admitted this. I talked little and watched talk shows—Maury, Sally Jesse, Springer. Around four o’clock we heard his dad’s Suburban pull into the driveway. Bobby ran upstairs. I looked out the front door and saw his dad behind the wheel. He was fat and his forearms were as thick as calves. His mom waved. Bobby galloped downstairs wearing only sweatpants. His chest was bony and pale and appeared to be covered in oil. “It’s go time,” he said. “Now?” I said. “Element of surprise. When he walks in the door I’ll be like, bam.” I hid in the hall closet. Through the slats I watched Bobby hold a boxer’s pose. His dad, skin lobster red, carried a suitcase through the door. “The hell is this?” he said. Bobby tagged him. Sucker punch to the jaw. I jolted at the smacking sound. His dad rolled with the punch and swung the suitcase into Bobby’s face. Bobby collapsed to the floor and writhed in pain. “I’m sorry,” Bobby cried, holding his bleeding temple. “What the hell, son?” “It was their idea. I swear it was their idea.”
I bolted from the closet, startling Bobby’s dad. He dropped his suitcase and clutched his chest. In the yard I passed Bobby’s mom as she came inside with the mail. “Did you boys behave?” she asked, oblivious. “Your husband’s having a heart attack and Bobby’s bleeding,” I said quickly. She laughed sarcastically and then shrieked and yelped her husband’s name. I kept running.
I set the macaroni and cheese on the floor beside James. He ignored it and continued coloring a topographical map of Frankfort. On the couch, I ate macaroni from the pan while watching syndicated Cheers. “Eat,” I told him. He forked a bite and chewed while coloring a rooftop swimming pool. I watched him, sweated, worried about fighting dad. I pictured the fight in slomo: dad’s cheek reverberated from the punch, spit flecked from his mouth and his head snapped back. The thought made me sad and angry. “Do you think you could kick my ass?” I asked James. His crayon froze. “Leave me alone,” he said. I set the pan on a magazine. “You always tattle to dad about I’m picking on you. Do you ever want to fight back?” “Leave me alone.” “Do you want to hit me?” “No.” “Think you could kick my ass?” He shoved his plate, which flipped, spilled macaroni, and rolled like a coin. I chased him upstairs and reached his door as it slammed. The sound of him crying dulled the bully inside me.
I went to my room, opened my sock drawer, dug out hand lotion and my girlfriend (March 1992 Playboy), and unzipped my pants. Then a pebble hit my window. A voice called, “BJ?” I looked outside. Jackie was sitting on his sister’s bike in the yard. In the dusk light I could barely see a new welt on his neck. I opened the window. “Did you fight him?” I asked. “I hit him,” he said. “I bloodied his nose. He landed a few punches but then I kicked him in the face. Mom screamed at me and held his head in her lap, holding a sock to his nose. She told me ‘Get out and never come back.’ ” Headlights flashed through the yard. “Your dad’s home,” Jackie said. “Yeah.” “Don’t fight him.” “I have to.” “Don’t. I was out of my head earlier. It was a dumb idea. Your dad’s actually cool.” “Yeah right.” “Compared to mine?” “Bobby hit his dad.” “Bobby’s dad’s an asshole. So’s Bobby.” Dad slammed his door and then whistled as he crossed the lawn. Jackie and I shut up until he came inside. “I gotta go,” Jackie said. “Go where?” He shrugged. “Probably home.”
Soon we drifted apart. At fifteen he dropped out of school and started roofing. At sixteen he drove a 1987 Ford Taurus and dated a twenty-year-old woman. Who he got pregnant. When we signed The Oedipus Pact our friendship was the most important thing in the world, and then it ended. No formality, no ceremony—simply done. I told him okay and shut the window. Dad was banging around in the kitchen. James ran downstairs. I dreaded the fight. But I had to do it. I had to kick my dad’s ass. The phone rang. Dad answered it. He sounded agitated and kept trying to interrupt. Bobby’s mom, I figured. Bobby ratted me out and now she’s warning dad. James ran upstairs and beat on my door. “You’re in trouble,” he sang and opened the door. “Get out,” I said. Then dad was in my room. The Playboy and lotion were visible, the masturbatory implications were humiliating. Dad, wearing his flight attendant suit, sighed at the floor. “Come on,” he said. “Come on where?” I asked. “Just get your shoes on.” He drove us to McDonald’s. James rode up front and I rode in the back. I felt terrible about signing The Oedipus Pact. I didn’t want to beat dad up. I loved him. When we parked under the golden arches sign I broke down. “I’m sorry, okay?” I blabbered. “Um,” dad said. “BJ’s in trouble,” James said. “Hush.” “I didn’t mean to sign it. I swear,” I said.
“Sign what? What’s this about?” “The Oedipus Pact. That’s who was on the phone, right? Bobby’s mom?” “Son. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I sobbed my confession. Dad listened, staring at the windshield, loudly breathing. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I lost my job today,” he said. “That’s who called—my boss. He was too chicken shit to tell me to my face.” “You mean we’re poor?” James said. “I knew the layoffs were coming. And now this, what was it, some pact you call it? Today of all day’s you pull a stunt like this.” “Are we poor?” James asked. “Shut up,” dad said. He looked at me with emotionless, terrifying eyes. “Now BJ, if you want to fight then that’s what we’ll do.” “I don’t want to.” “Shut up. It’s fine.” “But I love you.” “Me too. Okay. There’s a lot of people here. Someone will break it up. Now get out of the car.” He got out. “Come on,” he said and smacked the window. I locked my door before he could open it. “Out. Now,” he said. “He snapped,” James said. He seemed worried—scared for my safety. I told him to lock the doors, and to my relief he hit the power lock button. Then James punched me in the nose. My eyes watered and nose bled. Dad banged on the window.
“Don’t hit your brother,” he said. “Open the goddamn door.” On the drive home we were silent, ashamed. At home dad wrapped an icepack in a sock for my nose. Then the tree of us squeezed on the couch and watched TV. Occasionally one of us cried. The wimpiest dudes on Earth.
On the compound no doors lock. No privacy. Uncle Fred always comes into the bathroom when I’m on the pot. Do you need help wiping? he asks. I have a daughter too, he lies. She always needs help wiping. Uncle Fred reaches for the toilet paper roll and spins a long wad around his hand. He goes for it. I clench my thighs together and scream. My baby brother bangs into the bathroom and wants to know what’s going on. There was screaming so it must be good. He screams too. Somewhere off in the house someone hollers about all the screaming, wants us to shut the hell up. My uncle steps back from the toilet, completely turned off by my brother’s arrival. My brother waddles up to Uncle Fred and tries to snatch the toilet paper from his hand. He jumps, grabs. I pull my pants up and run from the bathroom dribbling. Pants up, I find my parents in the kitchen. My father pays no attention to me when I try to tell him about Uncle Fred. He crumples a Miller Lite in his hand and glares over at his timid wife like it’s her fault. She says to me, Why don’t you fetch some eggs for dinner? My father digs in the cooler for another Miller Lite. I go into the living room and find Uncle Bart smoking by himself on the couch. Uncle Bart is fat. He used to preach in the family church, but his wife died a few years ago and he quit preaching. He spends all his time with his
dogs now. He’s a popular dog breeder in the county because he stages marriages for his dogs before he breeds them. I plop myself down on the couch next to him. Hey Pooch, he says. Hidy Uncle Bart, I say. He offers me a smile. It dies fast. He sucks his cigarette and turns his head to blow the smoke away. You hear about that new pet store in Myrtle? I ask him. There is no new pet store. Us kids ask him every brunch. We want him to cuss. Pet store? A godless fuckhouse more like, Uncle Bart declares. He crosses his eyes to make me laugh. I giggle. Fuckhouse! Uncle Bart stubs his cigarette out on the windowsill. He gets up slowly. How about you go and play with your cousins, Bree?
Two of my cousins are outside messing with the chickens. They were supposed to drive the tractor back into the equipment shed but got distracted. My oldest cousin Rex is an ex football star. Rex played in high school and college but dropped out his junior year after a nervous breakdown. My female cousins like Rex a lot. He is a good-looking older man, older than their boyfriends but younger than their fathers. He occupies a cherished space in the family dynamic, being a role model and peer to the younger kids while simultaneously slapping backs with the older generation. The deep-cutting disappointments Rex has suffered in life have left him the handsome residues of wisdom: crows feet, a perpetual squint, forehead lines. Rex does little to assuage my cousins’ infatuations or downplay his own legend. The attention is too delicious. And now he’s rabblerousing in the worst way, holding the family rooster like a football. The angry cock yowls. One of my younger cousins is spinning a hen around and around and then— Flings the hen away. The poor bird careens for a short distance, flails to a soft landing. It clucks in indignation. Three of my female cousins stroll out of the woods giggling. They want to do whatever Rex is doing. Hi, girls, Rex says with a squinting smile. The cousin who just hurled the hen snatches it up and brings it to Rex. Mackie, says Rex, why don’t we let the little girl down? Fun’s over. Mackie gently places his hen on the ground. It darts away. Rex drops his rooster and it flaps off, leaving a cloud of down in its wake. Let’s fetch that tractor, Rex says. You girls want a ride? Rex sees me and tries his squint in my direction. Bree have you ever driven a tractor before?
Yes, I say. You want to come too? We can have a hayride! His squint makes me open my eyes even wider. No thanks, Rex, I say. Are you doing all right, Sport? Rex says, moving closer to squint into my soul, check me for lice or something. Uh-huh, I say. I shove my hands deep in my pockets and tense up. I feel his breath on me as he peers lovingly like a father. I smell pinesap and sweat. I notice he’s starting to get this old man musk about him too. At his age it adds rather than detracts from his dignity. Rex feints left, then picks me up in a bear hug and swings me around to shake out whatever’s making me turn down a tractor ride.
They leave. I wander over to the barn where the horses live. I remember being younger. Going on horsie back rides. We’d drive out to the compound to ride and shoot rifles. That was back when the family had money. A whole lot from my great-grandparents who’d had a successful stud farm in Western Tennessee years and years ago. With the inheritance my family bought some land and horses and tomato seeds and seed corn and farm animals and a tractor and a whole bunch of fertilizer to get things going. They raised barn. Built a coop. Fenced in. Stockpiled. There’s a shack at the edge of the compound with two thousand gallons of gasoline and an underground bunker, just in case. The compound was a self-sufficient paradise for a while. The horses got oats, oats, oats, I got horsie rides, we went fishing, I fired a whole arsenal of weapons I never should have: an AK-47 (They do have a kick, I bruised my shoulder!); a pistol-grip shotgun (I was a nine year old girl!); a hand grenade (ten seconds!); a relic crossbow with a draw weight of seven hundred pounds (I couldn’t turn the crank!). The money’s gone now.
I close the barn door behind me and walk the length of the aisle. The horses seem weak and affronted by my presence. They mope. The barn doesn’t smell like I remember. Maybe it’s the horses not smelling right or maybe it’s the state of disrepair of the barn. A cold breeze enters and exits from a
hundred cracks and miscaulked points. The breeze riles the stale air; straw dust swirls in the enclosed space then settles. On the breeze I hear the booming voices of a fight back at the house. My belligerent nephew has drunk too much and thrown a punch. My father will break it up but get clocked in the process. My mother will stamp her little foot and tolerate the embarrassment, then suffer a hot flash and shed layers—pullover, cardigan, paisley vest. She’ll say her husband’s name a few times and then she’ll take her hair up and let it down again and take it up again and find a glass of water and find herself a chair. Her hot flash will subside, as will the quarrel itself. Blood won’t be spilled, but beer will. I walk the length of the barn crooning Easy, easy, to the uneasy horses mistaking my presence for salvation. At the end of the row of stalls I stop. The last horse walks up to me and I bend to sniff his coat. Do you want me to ride you? I ask. Oh—and he’s got a name. His name is Pixie.
The wind pummels the rotting barn from a different direction. From deep in the woods I hear one of my girl cousins scream. Fool. I saddle Pixie up. It’s been awhile so I take it slow. Pixie takes a couple steps then stumbles over his own feet. He’s not been ridden in a while. I wonder if I weigh too much for him. I named him Pixie when he was a slim foal. I was four or five. I didn’t consider his future when I chose the name Pixie. I jinxed him. He never outgrew the name. Pixie is spindly and delicate and undersized, like the first boy I let put his hands down my pants. I feel sorry that Pixie is a runt horse. Marching past the other horses in their shitty stalls, I wonder if they treat Pixie all right when no one’s watching. Pixie stamps the grassless earth. Chickens cluck out of the way. We prance. It’s labored prancing but prancing all the same. I try to lead Pixie in a tight cavalryman’s three-sixty but he balks halfway. I almost fall off. Bree? says my mother from somewhere. I whirl around, startled, and the quick movement startles Pixie, who balks again in the other direction. My mother is walking over from the house. From the looks of it, the fracas at the house was a doozie: she’s down to her camisole. As she walks her sagging breasts bounce. She folds her arms across/under her breasts so they are controlled. Bree, she says again, where’re those eggs?
I— It’s almost time to say grace and we need those eggs, she says. Get down from that horse and get your ass in the coop! I dismount Pixie. My mother leads him back to the barn. I go to the chicken coop and open the narrow door. I hear a squawk from inside but it’s not the roosting hens. A sweaty buttocks seizes up and rolls over, exposing another body. A sweating, naked, huge woman. Her splayed breasts, stomach rolls and pubic triangle look like the face of a lippy man with a soul patch, a droopy sleazy face. The man grabs for his pants, belt clinking; the chickens are startled, the woman covers up and screams at me to get out. I duck out of the coop for a moment and look around. Mother is nowhere to be seen. The bumping inside the coop quiets and finally Uncle Bart and Aunt Wen stumble out. Uncle Bart is apologizing—to me? to Aunt Wen? to himself?— as they hurry away. I cuss and reenter the coop. It is dark and still. Aunt Wen’s left her voluminous panties in the corner. The smell inside the coop makes me wonder about cologne. I lift the front of my shirt to make a bowl and feel under each hen. I march back to the house with the eggs. I find my mother standing at the stove beside Aunt Wen, who is looking very busy. She glares at me when I enter the kitchen. I hold my shirt-bowl up to Mother and she unloads the eggs two at a time into a pot of water. Aunt Wen grabs my forearm. Mary-Catherine, she declares, what are you feeding this ripe young child of yours? My mother smiles at Aunt Wen and makes a noncommittal noise. How old is she, fifteen? Sixteen? Fourteen, I cut in. Aunt Wen releases my arm, glares at me again, then scoops the rest of the eggs out of my shirt. Well, we’re going to fatten you up, she says. Help you out with some hips and tits so you don’t look like cousin Max the rest of your life! Cousin Max is the boy I let put his hands down my pants about six months ago. He is here somewhere. He won’t ask to put his hands down my pants again. I might let him anyway. Well, what do you say? Aunt Wen continues with good cheer, through an open-mouthed smile. You’re either with me or against me.
My mother is staring at the boiling eggs, face in the steam. She transfers her stiff smile to my aunt. With you, she says.
Twenty minutes later a dozen card tables are shoved together to form the longest table ever. It occupies the length of the dining room. At intervals along the table, ice-cold sixpacks await, moistening the tablecloth. Everyone in my family lines up in the kitchen to get food. Except Uncle Bart. He wanders through the kitchen to the dining room. He takes a seat by himself at the far end of the long table. He stares at the vase of plastic flowers, muttering to himself. He stops. He surrenders. The novelty of family time seems to have worn off. Where’s the football star? someone in line asks. The food line shifts. Aunt Wen passes in front of the westward-facing kitchen window and blots out the sun. Everyone in line is cast into shadow. My creepy Uncle Fred, in line behind me, pretends the line is tighter than it actually is and keeps bumping against my rear end. Whoops! he says. Bree, excuse me. Whoops! The line shifts again and the sun blinds us all as Aunt Wen steps up to the counter to stack her plate. Uncle Bart enters the kitchen from the dining room, lifts a plate quietly from the stack on the counter and takes his place at the end of the line. As soon as I reach the counter I fill my plate quickly with the closest stuff then dash to the dining room.
I stare at my plate as people take their sweet time sitting down. Aunt Wen arrives last, ready to move along the table to her seat. Everyone scootches in to make room. I scootch in, but she stops beside me. She puts her second plate down next to mine, and tells me it’s for me. What’s all that stuff? she says, about the salad covering my plate. Someone at the table asks, Where’s the football star? Once everyone’s seated there’s still about six empty seats down at the far end of the table.
Caddy-corner from where I’m sitting sits my cousin Max. He’s a nice person. He’s sixteen, but already balding. I think it’s from all the goo his mother puts in his hair for church. Makes it hard as a rock. Church is held at the far edge of the compound, in a windowless sheet-metal Quonset hut. Cousin Max and his family walk four miles one-way on Sundays to worship with the rest of us. Max’s mother doesn’t want him looking too windblown I guess. Max glances up and smiles at me with half a heart, then someone announces that it’s time, and we all put our hands together and bow our heads. Max has thin, strong arms, and soft fingers. He drums his fingers as he holds his hands together in prayer. I look around while everyone else is blind. There’s one other person with his eyes open, and he’s got his hands apart too, not participating. It’s Uncle Bart. Our eyes meet and he gives me an embarrassed smile. I look away, and my eyes lock with Max’s. He smiles and looks down again. When grace is over everyone politely lunges for beer. There are a whole bunch of refreshing crack-hiss noises. I reach for the discarded plastic sixpack thing near me. I pull it apart so fish won’t die. Uncle Bart down at the other end of the table is the only person drinking from a glass. Not only that, it’s a wine glass. He raps on it with a fork and the glass shatters, spilling wine everywhere. Oh God sorry! he blurts. He was just trying to get the attention of the room. He’s succeeded. I glance over at cousin Max, who giggles at Uncle Bart’s slapstick. Uncle Bart stands up and announces he’s going to take his own life in six weeks. There’s a dull silence. My father inhales some beer and coughs into his fist. My mother tries to re-engage Uncle Bart from across the table. She asks about a second opinion, New Age homeopathy and what-not, but when she starts talking everyone else starts talking too. Honey, admonishes my father, fist to his chest, concentrating on not coughing again. Uncle Bart leans forward to respond to my mother but then cousin Rex bursts in the door, spooked and pale. Football star! someone says. Help, please, Rex starts. In the woods!
I roll my eyes, here we go, but there is a general muster. Flannel shirts and blue jeans and stiff legs and tired hearts rise to the occasion with unanticipated grace and singularity. Uncle Bart seems affronted that his thunder has been so completely stolen by his sisters’ famous child. I make eyes at Max while everyone else is moving towards the door, towards the woods, to fix whatever mess my cousins made with the tractor.
Max and I creep silently up to the third floor attic and watch from a crescent moon window as the rest of our family disappear into the trees. My Uncle Pete, the last in line behind Uncle Bart, hauls a 30-rack. Just in case. Though Max and I watch from a great distance, Uncle Bart’s voice carries all the way up to us. Uncle Bart hurries beside Uncle Pete, speaking rapidly in a low voice, a voice so soothing I’d have no idea what he was talking about if he hadn’t said what he’d said at dinner. Uncle Pete, struggling with his case of beer at the end of the procession, is a captive audience. He nods. He’s playing the good listener and supportive family member as Uncle Bart pours his heart out and Max slips his hands down my pants. I push my pants down past my knees and relax, letting Max work feverishly. I rest my head on the wall and close my eyes. I think I’ve disturbed a raccoon somewhere inside the attic wall. I hear scrabbling. Max hears it too. Don’t stop, I tell him.
creatures of unproven existence
Monday Before lunch, Donald and Stan snuck into Classroom 205 to examine Greasy’s desk. It was covered in carvings and doodles and they took turns running their fingers over the symbols like they were reading braille. A decapitated snake head, beads of venom dripping from its fangs, a skeletal hand flipping the bird, a voluptuous, naked girl riding an atomic bomb. They had been studying Greasy since their freshman year of high school. Each of the boys had a notepad filled with information, like what Greasy ate for lunch (he once survived off chocolate chip cookies for over a week), snippets of conversation they’d overheard, and what type of mood he seemed to be in. When they were close enough to him—sometimes in the lunch line, or during class—they even noted what he smelled like. Then they would compare notes, creating a larger picture of Greasy, of who this boy was that had moved across the country from California, from his parents who were both mildly successful actors. Stan and Donald differed in the ways that mattered to teenage boys. Donald lived in an apartment with his father, a used car salesman, and his face was a minefield of acne. He couldn’t afford Proactiv, Exposed, or ClearPores. He’d seen his red-pocked face in the mirror so many times that he forgot what he looked like before. Sometimes this would make him feel trapped in adolescence, like the acne was a tattoo that would come and go with his
teenage firsts. In his freshman year, he won the school spelling bee on the word “empiricist” and proof read all of Stan’s essays. Stan lived with his mother. He had a gut small enough to be hidden under large shirts that coincided with his Tootsie Roll addiction. He drove his mother’s minivan and wore Reebok sneakers and shirts with dragons on them. His face was free of pimples, his upper lip sprouting fuzz. Although he was terrible at spelling, his brain worked like a calculator and he let Donald copy his math homework. Neither of them had ever had a girlfriend, though Donald jacked off while watching Xena reruns. A German exchange student had played Magic with them for a week or so, but she could never quite grasp the rules of the game. Eventually, Tina and Jane, twins that always wore contrasting colors, snatched her away. It was the only girl they had ever really talked to, but Donald missed her more than Stan did after she left. They sat in the corner of the cafeteria behind a white beam. “I got a Beacon Behemoth from a booster last night,” Stan said. He handed the card to Donald. Stan felt bad that he had the money to spend on booster packs, but the card was too good to keep secret, even strategically. Magic was a game of strategy, of secrets. Donald held it from the edges, eyeing it like a gem. “Holy crap,” he whispered. He licked his lips. The hard plastic case was new, free of smudges and scratches, the card in mint condition. “You’re going to kick my ass now.” He slid the card across the table, his peanut butter sandwich flopping in his hand. Donald didn’t have any rare, powerful cards, which made their duels lopsided. Even though both boys could have high GPA’s, they settled for B’s and C’s so they could spend more time playing Magic, transforming their decks for different strategies. Both of them wanted to play well enough to place in the national Magic tournament. They liked the way the rules of the game could change, the way you could come back from one life point when victory seemed an improbable option. “He’s in the line,” Stan said, pausing as he drew his hand. Donald peered past a group of perfumed blondes to study Greasy. It’s what they usually did at lunch, play Magic and spy on Greasy like bird watchers or scientists. He had a toothpick clenched between his molars and a black goatee that appeared to be spray-painted on. He snaked his arm around the
girl in front of him. Both Donald and Stan jotted these actions down in their notepads. “He’s so sneaky,” Stan said. “He reminds me of the Goblin Leader.” The Goblin Leader was a card that buffed the rest of the Goblins on the board. It could change seven useless creatures to seven powerful ones. “He even kind of looks like a Goblin,” Donald said. He wrote this in his notepad and sketched Greasy as a Goblin. “Is that Beth?” “Yeah. Isn’t she with Tim now?” “I think so. Joey two weeks ago, Tim now,” Stan said. “Sometimes I think she uses them, as opposed to the other way around,” Donald said. Stan nodded. He didn’t quite understand what Donald was saying but he was too busy watching Greasy to care. Greasy reached up and tore a line of paper pumpkins from the ceiling, letting them cascade to the floor in a slow wave. Bethany giggled and slapped Greasy’s arm. “I’d faint,” Stan said. “I’d pop one,” Donald said, and they both laughed. Greasy pulled an unmarked bottle from his vest, popped the cap off, squirted a dollop in his palm and slicked his hair back. Donald wondered what it smelled like, and he made a note to walk by him on the way to History so he could write the scent down. “He seems cool,” Stan said, “but not jock cool, not stoner cool.” Donald agreed that it was interesting. While Greasy was alone as far as cliques go, he had the ability to morph into any group he wanted. Maybe he wasn’t like the Goblin Leader after all. Greasy and Beth were together by the end of the day and Donald and Stan watched them peel out of the school parking lot in Greasy’s orange Mus-
tang, the fat rear tires sending out puffs of smoke, Beth’s red hair flowing out the open window like a pirate’s flag. “Did his parents buy him that car?” Stan said. “I think so,” Donald said. “Maybe they’re more successful than we thought.” That night, both Donald and Stan, unbeknownst to the other, watched Lair of the Zylphid, a B-level zombie movie that both of Greasy’s parents appeared in and they studied their faces, looking for signs of Greasy.
Tuesday Donald and Stan were hiding in the trunk of the minivan, peering out the frosted, rear window. They had discovered, after reading Greasy’s Facebook wall, that there would be a fight before school in the parking lot. Many of the other students had gathered by their cars to watch, though neither Stan nor Donald cared about them. The parking lot, like the school, was too big for the amount of students. The school had been built in the sixties when it was the only one in Bedford, New Hampshire, and when other private schools were created, it left the public one at half capacity. Stan’s mom let him use the minivan during the school week. She worked night shifts at the hospital, leaving Stan to fend for himself most nights. He didn’t mind it—he liked making frozen dinners and playing video games so loud that the walls of the house vibrated with each gunshot and monstrous roar. Donald had found a condom in the minivan once and, before Stan had seen it, he’d pinched it between his fingers and tossed it out the window. They did things like that for each other because they both knew what it was like to pinball between parents. They had their notepads open to fresh pages, pens clutched in their shivering hands. Tim was standing in the parking lot, pacing in front of a row of his friends. He had arrived just after six. His hands were stuffed into his letter jacket, plumes of breath shooting from his nostrils. Fog hid his sneakers. “I heard Greasy has a patch for every kid he’s beat up,” Stan said. Donald felt his breath tickle his cheek.
Greasy wore the same vest every day, the fabric hidden beneath patches—so many patches he had patches on his patches that the patches had molded into one, bulletproof patch-skin. He had patches of obscure punk bands like Stinky Toys, Alex Harvey, and Peter and the Test Tube Babies. He had a patch of a scorpion over his heart. The vest, both Stan and Donald had noticed, smelled faintly of stale Steel Reserve. The minivan grew hot from their bodies and Donald was aware of Stan’s shoulder touching his. “He hears something,” Donald said. They watched as Tim cocked his head. Greasy’s shadow appeared through the fog, the mist curling off his leather boots, the school standing in the distance like the last building in a ghost town. He stopped ten feet from Tim, pulled a toothpick from his pocket and jammed it into his mouth. Donald flipped through his notepad, and read out loud, “A toothpick clenched between your teeth during a fight can stop your jaw from breaking and make it harder to be knocked out.” Stan looked at him. “How’d you know that?” “I’ve heard him say it once. A while back. September fourteenth.” Stan was surprised at this information and was slightly jealous of Donald’s observations. He turned back to the window, wiped away the condensation, and pressed his forehead against the glass, determined. Greasy flipped a Zippo between his fingers, popped it open on the thigh of his jeans, and lit it in one smooth sweep. He ran his fingers through the flame and said something. Both boys, attempting to read his lips, wrote down what they believed he had said. Then Greasy put the Zippo away and they squared off, their fists rocking. “I think Tim might die. He might actually die,” Donald said. “He might. Oh—I can’t take it anymore,” Stan said. Even though Tim appeared to be more muscular, both boys knew that Greasy was quick and—even though they had no proof—deadly. They could see it in his eyes, in the way he clenched and unclenched his fists while sitting in the back of math class. When Stan shifted, his pinky slid over Donald’s first knuckle. It was an accident, but he left it there.
Greasy struck first, darting in, the sole of his boot scuffing tarmac, and connected with a right hook to Tim’s body. Tim swung back, his fist slicing air. “He’s like the Spiked Wurm—” “—Or the Vestigial Ghost.” Greasy ducked forward, hitting Tim with an uppercut so violent that blood sprayed from his mouth in a thin ribbon. He fell backward, his skull bouncing off the pavement like a deflated basketball. Donald gasped and Stan, frightened, moved his hand away. “Holy shit,” Stan said, pulling his forehead from the window and leaning back. Donald watched Greasy kick a pebble and disappear into the fog. The rest of the kids dissipated, dashing between cars and into the forest, like they were sprinting from a prank gone bad. Donald opened his mouth like he was going to say something, but found that he had nothing to say. Both boys scribbled in their pads, reliving the fight moment by moment, making sure not to miss a single detail. And when they were both done, they leaned against the back of the seat, fingers aching. Donald, breaking the silence, asked about the scar on the back of Stan’s hand that he had noticed before, but had thought too personal, in case it was from his father. But Stan told him it was only from a lawn dart at the Hanover fair. Then Stan continued to talk, the words coming like sporadic burps, about how when his father left they stopped going to church, and that he wished they’d continued because, fuck, he still struggled with things sometimes. About how he didn’t like yellow Skittles. About how he was so fucking miserable before Donald moved here that he had considered killing himself—not seriously, but seriously enough that the days when he went to sleep sad and woke up feeling the same way, the thought ran through his mind. When the torrent of words ended, Donald picked it up without missing a beat. He told Stan that after his mother left, his father would stay up late watching Wheel of Fortune reruns, the television so loud that it kept him up. That the reason his father lost his job and his wife was because he had sex with one of his patients—Donald wasn’t supposed to know this but he heard it through the walls at his old house, and he didn’t resent his father for that. He resented him for fucking up so bad that they’d had to move, that Donald would have to make new friends before his first year of high school, but, most of all, that he’d never apologized for it. The rear window was opaque with fog and both of the boys, realizing their fingers were resting on the other’s, quickly pulled away. Then Stan said that once, on Hal-
loween, he had eaten so many Sour Patch Kids that he’d vomited rainbow all over the bathroom tiles and they laughed. After school, when Stan dropped Donald off at home, Donald found a note on the kitchen table, “From mom.” Reluctantly, he opened the manila envelope and pulled out Amazing Fantasy #15. The edges were worn down and the colors had faded, but Donald was impressed, and he was mad at himself for being impressed by something his mother had given him. He spent the next hour reading it, studying each page, so pissed off that he left the apartment complex when he finished and went deep into the woods, throwing stones at trees, trying to make the loudest thunk possible.
Wednesday Tim’s front teeth had been smashed into chalky shards. The principal locked him in his office, begging him to confess his assailant’s name but, according to Beth, he kept saying he didn’t remember. The principal had several students in mind and he called them into his office one by one, including Greasy, but Greasy strolled out with a smirk and a toothpick jutting from his teeth. Beth felt bad for Tim and his swollen lip, the red weal on his side the only tell of a broken rib, and she had an argument with Greasy in the janitor’s closet. Stan and Donald stood with their ears against the door, silent, their faces inches apart, their eyes closed, their pens scratching. When it ended they quickly walked away, not even looking back as the door opened behind them. Instead of going to the cafeteria for lunch they escaped to the privacy of the basement. Technically, they weren’t supposed to be there, but they had never seen anyone down that side of the school. Since Stan’s deck was more powerful, they spread their cards out in a pile, swapping creatures for spells until both decks seemed even. “Why don’t you use the plastic cases on your legendaries?” Stan said, lifting one of Donald’s cards, Malfegor, a four-headed dragon with the wings of a bat, and thumbed the crease running down the center. It not only ruined the artwork, but the value as well. “Don’t have the money to spend on them,” Donald said. “Remind me to give you some. I have a bunch of extras back home.”
They squared off their decks, sat-cross legged, their bony knees nearly touching, and drew seven cards. Boxes of printer paper stood around them in columns, trapping them in, creating a gladiatorial arena. But before they could start the door swung open behind them. They both spun to look at the intruder. Greasy stood framed in the doorway, fluorescent light glowing behind him. Stan and Donald gulped. “I’m looking for cement glue,” Greasy said. His voice was low, like he had just swallowed a brand new Brillo Pad. Stan and Donald looked at each other. Although they had been studying him for over a year, neither of them had ever talked to him. “It’s around here somewhere,” Stan whispered. Greasy stepped into the basement, looked at their cards, scoffed, and rummaged through boxes. Neither Stan nor Donald dared to write about him in his presence, but they both catalogued his maneuvers and his mutterings in their heads. After cement glue had been deemed dangerous for students, the school packed them away in boxes and hid them in the basement. Greasy slipped a bottle into his pocket and left. As soon as the door closed they both wrote several paragraphs into their notepads. “Holy shit,” Stan said. Donald nodded. Then they started the game. It was close, closer than any game they’d had before. Their life points drained slowly, legendaries were wiped from the board by powerful spells. It went on for ten minutes, twenty, the basement silent save for the clicking of cockroaches and water running through the pipes above them. Near the end of the game, their libraries slim and graveyards fat, Donald cast a spell that drained Stan’s life. Then they shook hands, their sweat mixing, and swept up their cards and pocketed them. “What do you think he wanted with the glue?” Donald said. “Can’t you sniff it and get high?” “Can you?” “I think. It kills a few brain cells, but that’s what I’ve heard.”
“Should we try it?” “If Greasy’s doing it, we should too.” Donald agreed. It would help them with their notes, help them understand the creature that walked through their high school.
Thursday “I guess you just go like this,” Stan said, clutching the amber bottle. He unscrewed the cap, held it beneath his nostrils, hesitated, and sucked in. “Shit,” he said. Donald could feel his breath, smell the sour cream and onion Pringles he had eaten in the cafeteria. Stan’s eyes rolled back and he thudded against the stall wall. Jocks had doodled on the peeling blue paint: a cartoon penis ejaculating black lines, a picture of Ms. Cooper with big tits. They were in the locker room bathroom, a safe, empty place where no one went unless the football team was practicing. “Damn, Donald, you got to try this,” Stan said, pushing the glass bottle into Donald’s chest. He wavered, grasping at the air for balance. Donald held the bottle and looked down, catching a whiff of the glue, seeing the toes of their shoes, Stan’s shiny Reeboks, his own worn out Vans, just inches apart. He looked up at Stan and noticed for the first time the thin blonde hairs jutting form above his lip, the way his iris exploded outward like a gun blue star. The muffled, sporadic pounding of a basketball drifted through the window. Donald held the bottle to his nostrils. It was still warm from Stan’s palm. Before he could think about it, think about the lost brain cells, he sucked in hard and quick. White noise filled his head and the sounds of the school reverberated, a ringing bell, squeaking sneakers. “Stan,” he said, scared. “Stan.” The grimy tiles swirled beneath him and he reached forward, falling against his friend. Donald caught him in an awkward hug. Their bodies pressed together and he felt Stan’s knee touch the inside of his thigh. Donald, the sensation wearing off, ran his tongue over his lips and looked at Stan. He considered doing something, but he didn’t know what, so he held his friend.
That night both of the boys wrote in their notepads, but they wrote slowly, word by word, not about Greasy but about sniffing glue, about what it was like, about how their bodies felt pressed together.
Friday They ate lunch and played Magic in a silence that wasn’t awkward. Their decks were still mixed, and the games they played were more competitive, tense. Both of them were thinking about what they’d heard that morning, that Beth broke up with Greasy before school, slapped him in the face, left him in the parking lot crying. He wasn’t in school that day, but neither of them particularly cared. As they thought about it, picturing Greasy standing alone, crying and heaving, the illusion fell like a window shattering. He was no longer Greasy, no longer the Goblin King; he was Gus Tammerson, an eighteen-year-old boy with no mysteries save for the ones that all teenagers have. Both of them wrote final scribblings in their notepads before tucking them away in the back of their closets, hiding them like outgrown toys. He disappeared from their lives, blending in with the swarms of students until he no longer existed. Donald slept over at Stan’s house that night. They slid their sleeping bags together, a bag of buttered popcorn squished between their hips. Donald had brought over a comic book to share with him and Stan didn’t ask where it was from because he knew. They watched a television show about cryptozoologists, scientists who searched for mythical animals in various areas. When the show was over, they shuffled, squared off their decks, and played.
What Remains #2 Victoria marie bee
Photograph of my father
In the photograph, you’re either drunk or on your way to drunk. One arm is draped over the shoulder of that friend from Iowa, and the other arm ends in a hand encircling a fifth of something. And there’s a lit cigarette dangling from the corner of your mouth, as if War is a long series of photo ops, male bonding and horseplay, an occasion to forget oneself in the service and company of others, a regular shindig, with painful death thrown in for good measure. If you told me once, you told me a hundred times over the years of nineteen fifty-one and the afternoon you shaved your goatee, having gotten orders to pack your duffle bag and come home— should I say how much you suffered after? Should I let the fact you’re smiling in the photograph stand for some part of the heart where the killing of another can go unaccounted for? You told me you’d ordered bombardments upon masses of Koreans and Chinese. More noncombatants than you could recall without breaking down. Said you saw them as stick figures before losing count altogether. You repeated the hometown of the guy beside you as if naming anywhere in the States was a sort of first step toward forgetting. You wanted what had taken place to vanish like any morning in a country far from home. But it didn’t vanish. Not ever. You wanted free of nineteen fifty and nineteen fifty-one. You asked for water. Then coughed up blood and fell
back like one of the stick figures in your nightmares. Both arms, then, both legs relaxing into last forms.
Eyes on the back of my head
They might be a pair of clips for my hair, irises of interchangeable stones to match a mood or sweater, reminiscent of a moth whose tawny wings, when flat, mimic predatory eyes−redwing hawk, great horned owl. And I would not say no to feathers rising from my temples, resembling an extra set of ears, alert to sounds my fleshy head cannot make out. (Oh, jeweled eyes. Oh, gentle ears.) And with these, it would make sense to construct a pair of wings, extensions jutting from that sturdy bra I never wear. I’d put them on−eyes, ears and wings− to fool those who gather there, behind. How fierce, this other self. At any time, she might lift into the sky, while I rest on her feathered back, eyes on the clouds, mouth empty of reasons.
For the nude descending the stairs toward me
I know she’s torn. Descending double stairs with broad stroke hair, her calligraphic forms explored; tonight her heart has offered to share, but she is scared. She knows she’s been adored, what flattering meant. But her gait is sultry, her legs braid and weave: is she hesitant? Her comely descent: is it meant to deceive? The movement’s sweet and her steps are intent, the movie-screen cream of her shadowy thighs, her svelte tip-toed sighs still tugging at her seams; this isn’t a dream. Does she see my eyes? And when she arrives, what’s left to reveal? She reads herself like braille, her fingertips— the world spins on the tip of her fingernail. I see the scale of her body as she dips: the swaying of her hips, the weight of each detail.
Packing My grandmother’s suitcase
You’ve been dead for more than thirty years and you want what? See’s chocolate? Okay, one large box, share it any way you want. Your Chinese silk robe? I’m glad. Every time I’ve worn it I’ve thought of you. Should I put in your rosewood crutches? They’re still here in the corner closet. How about an extra pair of glasses? You no longer need them? How nice. No, I won’t forget, four bottles of Manischewitz, five cans of imported sardines, three tins of English tea. Where shall I send it?
A charred pancake hovers over the houses. It rumbles and the shutters grimace. A corner of the neighborâ€™s roof points at it. Trees murmur. My head, thrust out the window, glistens with drops of sweat. Only a catbird on the white birch keeps an elegant, dressed-for-dinner, black-and-gray composure, as its bead eyes meet mine. I rest my gaze on it, absorbed in the serenity of its small form as darkness nearly envelops it, then close the window against the storm.
Pine an Amish Funeral Jasper, NY for Bill Roemer
In thick July heat, my friend sands pine boards, its grain brightening when he blows dust away. How carefully he measures the angles and cuts them – corners to cradle the head and hug the shoulders – one box after another. He listens to himself breathe. Eyeing the spirit level’s bead of air, he makes each surface plumb, each length a gift to the dead. In the distance, a dove purrs. This is the most important work my friend could ever do, his silence honoring theirs:
every movement is a prayer; every detail is as much a part of his own story as it is his friends’ stories. Wind blows darkness toward him. Tomorrow, the community will fill the barn on High Up Road. They’ll invite us – strangers – in, as if spirits need more spirits to stand upright. We’ll circle the caskets. They will hold their quiet children. Here in this unfettered world, I wonder if their grief weighs more, if it cuts through more piercingly – or maybe God finds them more easily, like the space a mile from here that once held the pine – how, after silence and prayer, it now cradles the sunset.
Unsuspecting colon: Rudely bisected By a haphazard dashâ€” Division.
Freshly Mowed outfields
My father built a church from a baseball field after he gave up drinkingâ€”one could do worse. You can find him building churches on lawnmowers criss-crossing green outfields & dragging the dirt in perfect over-lapping circles, a small dust cloud floating ankle high following him around the skin like a dirty, heretical halo. He takes communion with snow-cones, blesses people with a fungo, blesses himself and blessed situations like a no-hitter by outlining a diamond on his chest. The bleachers are pews, benches are alters, umpires are pastors, fans are witnesses, and ballplayers are gods. The entire congregation rises in the 7th to sing, but no one removes their hats.
My father turned raking out a batters box into prayer. Striping the foul lines is scripture. He mows outfields for so long his hands vibrate in bliss his insides shake in incantation. One weekend he preached all tournament about the sound a ball makes when hit on a line as it passes by your ear. He said it sounded something like growing grass or how the sun feels in the morning when the field is still covered in fog. Everything I learned from my father I learned outside covered in dirt. He taught me how to wait for a pop-fly to find you. How to turn people into teammates. How to love an ump. He uses a glove like a bible. Preaches with grounders. With him hitting you can find epiphanies in center field. More than one player hasn’t returned from shagging flies—they jumped for the catch and kept rising. Belief is considering angels. For example: Every mound must slope one-inch per one-foot beginning six-inches from the rubber and must not rise higher than ten inches: pitchers are advantaged enough. It’s sixty-feet-six-inches exactly from the back corner of home to the pitcher’s rubber. One-hundred-and-twenty-seven-feet and three-and-three-eights-inches to second. There are rules in religion.
CATULLUS: Carmina, 69
No wonder women shun you, Rufus. This is why You’ve never lain atop one, thigh to thigh, Despite the rarest silks you use for bribing them, Or how you tempt them with some flawless gem: A nasty-smelling rumor’s rampant. This is it: You keep a rancid goat in each armpit That they all hate. No wonder! It’s an awful beast No girl would think of bedding in the least. So this is nasal pestilence you’ll have to slay . . . Or give up wondering why girls run away.
Bardot -1968 “Bonnie & Clyde” performed by Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot
victoria Marie Bee
Bardot prepares for her trip on the tongue stretching out her two lingering syllables like a piece of watermelon bubble gum, the first curls back waiting on the cock of a gun, descending into the floor of the jaw, trigger happy tongue ready to tie the knot of a cherry stem, waiting on the whisper of a maybe, the glance before a last goodbye, the how and why, the pull of a slingshot open wide then thrusts up to strike the roof of the mouth with the tip of the tongue, unrolling to poke and prod the front pearly whites from behind, in anticipation of a crescendo of O-O-Ohs that shape the velvety kisser to softly blow bubbles, now steady yourself and hear a yes, please that brings Bardot up from her knees, humming Gainsbourg’s tune and beautifully becoming bored with her own gun, like Bonnie.
Chance, practices, limitations
The aleatoric is the shoveled moat surrounding a sandcastle, waiting for water, swells.
Roll the die.
If I say each number corresponds to a sound you should make a sound
we might argue.
(For example, my pick against
the six steel strings: is it strike or strum or clang and whatâ€™s left
in the belly of the instrument.)
Silence is (not) sound.
I make certain
sounds in your presence certain
sounds in your silence.
In your presence: greeting. (In your silence: grating.)
This is where I continue to approach the parenthetical curve of your body is closing me.
Silence is not asymptotic
trying to quiet this.
I am in your Main Street bedroom trying to hear the outside trying to diminish to night.
Ode to Chickpeas
Rough little pebble, beige bauble, you are the among the earliest legumes cultivated by my ancestors, dating back 7500 years. No wonder your wrinkles, your ancient face. I will not use you as ammunition for peashooters like the bad boys of grade school, who showed me pictures of bare breasts. You look like little scrotal sacs, seam down the middle, crinkled with cold. Little garbanzo, remembered from my Sicilian childhood, soaked, roasted, and salted, served in crystal bowls like candy for holidays, mixed in salads and soups. Cicer arietinum, of the family Fabaceae, immigrant through time from the Bronze Age, let me hold you, roll your bumpy siblings in my hand, secure in abundant proteins, adaptability to become hommus or stew.
Dicotyledon, I invite you into my kitchen. Immerse yourself and plump to fullness, shed your skins. Help me change my life.
1 Penn Plaza, 23rd Floor
There’s a poem on the 23rd floor threatening to jump. Well, it’s thinking about what might happen if the window opens on this sweltering hot August day but the window doesn’t open and the poem presses its head up against the glass and notices all the dead flies trapped in the metal lip that holds the storm window tight. The poem realizes he’s not alone that there’s another poem hiding under the desk. They whisper something about the end of the business day and taking the train home but I can’t quite hear everything they’re saying because I am 23 stories down stuck in a crack in the sidewalk waiting for it to rain.
A Memory Almost as Wet
leslie anne mcilroy
With the oak gone broken, the last thing you need is lust, carrying its faux-fur weight, the constant panty thinking like walking in front of a train, like being tied to the tracks, like the hero has to wear chaps and irony and boots. What is he without metaphor, a credit card and cuffs? What are you without walks about the house in your negligeed armor, stooping to pick up tumbleweeds, ass in the air, so anyone might think there was, in fact, a lemon peel amiss. What are you without this, sleepy girl, in bed with your fingers and a memory almost as wet? And when the night is over, you almost soil
the sheets with fondness, you almost think you could look at that catalogue again, that you could like that girl, if only she would put some clothes on.
the food chain
For twelve years I held fast to the crisp green snap of celery stalks, feathered onions searing in the skillet, lonely seeds scooped out by hands tearing through husk and rind, shoveling beans and tofu by the forkful. Always the oddball at family dinners.
Last Christmas, my discipline narrowed to a wafer
when I indulged my mother by trying her meatloaf, a deep-fried, down-home, delicious mound of beef, and suddenly grew a wicked taste for red meat, craving hamburgers, prime ribs, t-bones and flat-irons. Even gnawed the gristle off my first Kansas City rib-eye.
A novice to the tradition, my kitchen swelters with the smell of seasoned iron hovering comfortably in my nostrils as I dive up to my forearms in raw-pink ground chuck, beef sweat soaking the skin.
We chew the fat together over her motherâ€™s family recipe, nipping Crown â€˜n Coke, warm as blood.
What Remains #3 Victoria marie bee
(Searching) Lust and Love and I
Stop. Just fucking stop. Look, you’ve always been a good friend. But sometimes you say things about love I don’t think I can support anymore. Like when I was fourteen and you said love makes the world go ‘round. FAST FORWARD to you saying it now, again, to me, a single twenty-two year old man. My world doesn’t rotate, not like it once did here, in Hart, Michigan. And you know it’s because of the routine: wake up, go work my cashier job, come home, write, and workout. Then stare for hours at TV screens while I try to sleep. Curtains. Walls. Ceilings. Lampshades. Anything at all to keep my mind from analyzing why I’ve been so lonely for the past six years. REWIND to GIRLFRIEND #1. REWIND because transitions of Love are never smooth. GIRLFRIEND #1 Characteristics: Height: Five-three (at best). Weight: unknown (this will be a constant), but she had hips reserved for an eighteen year old woman rather than a thirteen year old girl, those a fourteen year old boy’s knows he has no business touching, but whose hands are so desperately ready to explore. Eye color:
dark brown. Hair color: light brown. Ethnicity: Caucasian, but in the summer she tanned so well she looked Hispanic, which made her fake diamond necklaces and earrings stand out. Fun fact: She hated the word “pussy”. What she was like: Difficult. From her mom’s sofa, she gorged on vows of love staff screenwriters from Universal are only capable of penning for leading men, vows women I’m no longer interested in fall for daily. She had low self-esteem, a weak self-image caused by a single mother, an absent father and a wild child older sister, which led to daily four to five-hour long phone conversations between she and I, with me attempting to diffuse the situation, helping her realize something about her family, about herself, things she couldn’t alone. Above all else, she was moody, especially during these conversations. She’d pull tight, then push away. Possible bipolarity—not quite “I fucking love you” to “I fucking hate you” with a snap of her fingers but close enough. Several times she wanted to take “breaks” (eight hours, a day, a weekend) because she wasn’t sure what she was getting herself into, loving me and all, kept picturing a disaster cycloning Cloud Nine. What I was like: Obedient. At the time, I had no idea so many “sorry-s” could add up to something my selves now would be very disappointed in, would disrespect. Partial Rendering of Conversation Between GIRLFRIEND #1 and Myself: ME: You didn’t like the movie I recommended? HER: Not really. The guy, the main guy was too much like you. ME: I’m sorry (1) I recommended it. How was the guy like me though? HER: I don’t know. He was funny and all. But then he wouldn’t be like you. It’s just—it’s just scary, ya know? ME: What’s scary?
HER: Us. Don’t you think? ME: Sure… I mean, I’m sorry (2) you feel that way. I’m sorry (3), but I don’t know what you’re talking about. HER: … it’s my fault, too. Hang on, my mom’s yelling at me because she needs to make a call. Such a bitch. ME: I’m sorry (4)… I apologized for my tone of voice, for not putting croutons on her salad, for her moods, for her dad not being there. I held her hand, I stroked her hair. I tried to stare into her eyes for the longest time because that’s what Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp and Ben Affleck did to the women they were trying to woo. I was there, time after time, to pick up her emotional puzzle pieces and lightly force them back into place, to play the mind games she extraordinarily was capable of conjuring at thirteen and fourteen. What our relationship was like: Hard to say. We made out until our lips bruised, her vagina (can’t say pussy, remember?) was the first I ever touched, my dick the first she stroked. That satisfied one of my selves, Lust. But, at the time, the one truly satisfied was Love. Pause. Let me explain. I believe that each human being, when experiencing what they think could be love, becomes schizophrenic, resulting in three distinct selves: I, Love, and Lust. Of course the human being cannot articulate the idea before or during that first love, for they have no relevant basis. Instead, they look to what they’ve conceived as primary examples such as cinematic heartthrobs, relationships between peers, or the relationships of their caretakers because, up until that first love, the human being only knows I. I is the physical manifestation of both Love and Lust. While desiring reciprocation, he carries with him and is influenced by two separate, invisible entities within the soul that, no matter how hard he tries, he cannot turn off: Lust and Love. It is only when both Lust and Love are satisfied that I is satisfied. Are you following? Good.
Lust occurs when the soul is hungry. He thinks he is driven by need but, really, he is driven only by desire. For example, he wants the girl to sit on I’s face, he wants to see her eyes looking up from the head of I’s dick, he wants her fingernails dug into I’s back, her teeth grabbing I’s bottom lip during the last thrust before climax, etc. He wants the other being’s Lust to reciprocate. Love operates on both want and need and occurs when your soul is starving, when I has found a food source capable of providing both for an extended period of time. He needs to be reciprocated by the other being’s Love in the relationship, and that stems from wanting to have long conversations about nothing and enjoy them, holding hands, spooning, sharing dinner. God damn it, he wants I to smile, and he wants her to smile, and laugh, and smile some more. Okay, I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, so it’s like a guilty conscience type thing. Real angel and devil on the shoulder.” Wrong. Outside of relationships, Love and Lust can sometimes operate independently but the three selves must work together to achieve something meaningful with another person. Lust can fuel Love, Love can fuel Lust, but they both work together to fuel I. This should help:
It’s a cyclical energy that relies on reciprocation to achieve happiness, and not just from each self. No, when the aforementioned wants and needs are reciprocated by the other being in the relationship, the perception of lower case love is finally realized because, regardless of I’s individual interests outside of the relationship—favorite films, profession, sports, etc.—he has found, in this formula of give and take, something in common with the other being. The reciprocation, then, can come in many forms, whether it’s washing dishes when the other is tired (Love), using sex toys to accompany human anatomy (Lust), or something between that wide spectrum.
It’s simple, really. Everyone wants something from the other being because they need something their own selves cannot provide. There is no altruism in love, no matter how much you lie to yourself and say, with valley girl twang, “Uggh, that’s so not true.” Resume. Love was head over heels because he knew no better. He enjoyed putting the puzzle together because, by helping her, he’d never been presented with something so complex and been made to feel so useful. Love liked cuddling with her, giving her back massages (where Lust would play with her bra strap, his hand slapped away with a “Keep doing that” smile he’s come to embrace from any woman), enjoyed talking to her mom because she gave him compliments on the way he treated her daughter, the phone calls, the gifts (for Valentine’s Day I bought her Forrest Gump, her favorite movie, made a massive card with Hershey kisses taped on the inside, wrote her a letter I do not have in my possession—if I did it’d be included—and burnt her a CD with her favorite contemporary love songs [Armageddon’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” I’m sure was on there, along with Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be”, Eve 6’s “Here’s to the Night”, etc.]), etc. What went wrong: No idea. Went over to her house one night, took a walk in the apple orchard nearby— nothing out of the ordinary—and she started crying. Said she wasn’t feeling “it” anymore, stars weren’t aligned, some shit none of my selves agreed with. Lust wanted to step in and fix the situation right away—kiss her until her worries subsided, lay her down in that orchard and see how much it would take to change her mind—as he often is capable of delaying things that need to be discussed. Love thought he could make this work by giving her space, that with space she’d realize she missed him, would even call that night and apologize. So I let it all play out. No one called that night. Or the next night. Or the next. Yet I held onto hope until I saw her at school the next week getting hit on by someone years older than me, when I discovered a year of Love could be erased or replaced by an older man’s Lust.
And it hurt. If given the chance, twenty-two year old me would sit my sobbing younger self on the edge of his bed, maybe put my hand on his shoulders or unwashed hair, and say: “Hush, child. You did nothing wrong. All you did was love her. But soon you will learn that this was not love. You’ll see.” I’d say this now because it’s what you should’ve said then. Instead, there was silence. But in the silence, fifteen-year old me began examining himself, questioning everything he had been to her. Fifteen-year old me thought his five-eleven frame he hadn’t quite grown into as too boy-like. He thought his lack of sexual experience a burden, wondered if he’d fingered her too much, too hard, if he’d done it right at all in the first place. Then he thought himself too predictable, too even keel to make her happy and hoped he would get a chance, soon, to prove he could change any way GIRLFRIEND #1 wanted while she stayed the same, because that’s what you said you do when you love someone. You sacrifice. I know now she wouldn’t have reciprocated. Where she is now: At twenty-one, a mother to a daughter born out of wedlock, as seen on Facebook. It’s easy for me to speculate that it was unplanned, that a more mature GIRLFRIEND #1 leapt from stroking dicks to inserting them without protection years after I dissipated from her life, acting on a cinematic whim where a device (here, the baby) strengthens the relationship, makes the distraught couple realize how much they really love each other. But it’s easy for me to say I’m probably wrong, too, that they may spend the rest of their lives together. In pictures, the father looks like he cares, like he’s accepted the role(s). Her too. And they made a really cute little girl. Haven’t seen or talked to GIRLFRIEND #1 for over three years, when I saw her at a party. I truly hope things are going well. Recovery time of selves1: Lust—a month or two, until you told me I had to get back on the playing field.
1 I find that, with me, the recovery times will never balance
out. Love is a beast and when he’s been woken, it takes a while for him to go dormant, to wake up starving. Lust, however, struggles to understand sleep. 68
Love—two years. You told me time heals. I found it just dulls the pain. FAST FORWARD from GIRLFRIEND #1 to GIRLFRIEND #2. You told (and still tell) me any girl would be lucky to have me. GIRLFRIEND #2 said she was lucky. GIRLFRIEND #2 Characteristics: Height: Five-five (maybe). Weight: unknown, but she was bulkier than GIRLFRIEND #1—not in a bad way, but broader shoulders, more muscle, a more athletic build. Eye color: blue. Hair color: dark blonde. Ethnicity: Caucasian—pale in comparison to GIRLFRIEND #1. Fun fact: she was GIRLFRIEND #1’s best friend long before I dated GIRLFRIEND #1. What she was like: Conservative. It’d be a stretch to say she’d never hurt a fly, but you described her that way, though I heard that didn’t hold true when she played sports (a great boyfriend would’ve went to her athletic events—I would be out with you, and others, because I wasn’t a great boyfriend—but instead I’m left to picture GIRLFRIEND #2 spiking a volleyball into the girl attacking the other side of the net, hearing a thud as the ball deflects off said girl’s sports bra-protected boobs and into the scorer’s table. Point.). GIRLFRIEND #2 giggled often, gave a ton of hugs, had a large family consisting of present mother and father, older brother, older sister, and twin sister. She was a reflection of her family’s stability, never straying off course, never being unpredictable. She was safe. And she was boring for someone whose selves had been conditioned for instability. What I was like: Uncommitted. This relationship starting a couple months after the end of GIRLFRIEND #1, Love wasn’t ready, was just trying to replace what he had before. Lust, on the other hand, thought he had a solution, thought he could mend all. He wanted rumors to be spread, wanted GIRLFRIEND #2’s secretive sex talk with her friends to reach GIRLFRIEND #1’s ears, wanted to make her
jealous, resentful. I wanted to fuck GIRLFRIEND #1’s mind, as well as her heart. Each of us without a driver’s license, GIRLFRIEND #2 and I spent a lot of time on the phone, talking about teachers she liked and never hated, about soccer, about how I refused to watch Moulin Rouge with her (I submitted once, but lasted half an hour before being driven insane by its theatrics), about us and how our relationship would be different, more adventurous if the circumstances were different, if we could hit fast forward and be adults. I worked hard to be attentive and open-minded because I convinced my selves that I cared, that good could and would come out of this. I learned how to act like a good boyfriend at age fifteen. What our relationship was like: Unbalanced. Love enjoyed talking with her and her family, rough-housing with her golden retriever, introducing her to his family, giving her back massages (Lust’s hand nudged from bra strap again, without GIRLFRIEND #2 turning her head). But Lust, Lust was not satisfied. Lust thought with each relationship you up the ante. He wanted a vagina to explore with not only his fingers, but his mouth. He wanted bruises on his body the shape of her lips. He wanted to see what came next in the not always natural progression of sex. GIRLFRIEND #2 didn’t care to make out. Let Lust’s hands wander her chest and ass every once in a while when watching movies, but that was all. Unsatisfied, Lust let four months pass, then gave up because nothing was reciprocated, not even a grab at his dick after unbuttoning. What went wrong: I broke it off. The only time I have. I called her up instead of waiting to see her face to face and told her it was me, not her, which is a lie many people go to. Told her it wasn’t working, wouldn’t ever. She cried for a while, actually got a little angry, as if I’d been the one to spike the volleyball into her chest. She hung up the phone. I felt like an asshole. Still kind of do. No concrete explanation as to why. Where she is now:
Haven’t spoken to her for seven years but I think she’s still here, in our hometown. I can’t be friends with my ex-girlfriends. Just can’t. Neither Love or Lust will let me—one or the other will always be attached to more than just a hug, will get flashes of what once was as soon as contact is made. But because of the lack of both Lust and Love with GIRLFRIEND #2, I think I could be friends with her if I tried. I’m just not that interested. I do know that right after I broke up with her, a nineteen-year old “man” still in high school came swooping in, taking her virginity as if it were a bag of candy he’d stolen from the local dollar store. I felt bad it happened that way for her because I thought virginity was supposed to mean something. That’s what you said. Recovery time of selves: Lust—a month or two. Love—took a little over a year to recover from GIRLFRIEND #1. After GIRLFRIEND #2, you said there were plenty of fish in the sea. I went to the seafloor. FAST FORWARD to me losing my virginity at age sixteen in the backseat of the car I still drive to a Hispanic girl I’d flirted with in class for months because Lust loved the way her ass looked in yoga pants and ate her out earlier in the summer, then told her she owed him. Then hit PAUSE and FAST FORWARD so you watch me lose what you considered a monumental moment for a human being in slow motion. See the car shake, the windows fog. Her on her back, me on top, pants off, my shirt on, her tank top straps to her elbows, nipples exposed, my lips on one of them. See our friends walk from the campfire to the car. See them beat on the windows, then gawk until we finish. Think to yourself: “How special.” FAST FORWARD through the guilt and embarrassment I bottled after doing that, through the ignored horny upperclasswomen who hit on me during the school day and in the stands at football games, some of whom I made out with in cars, but never went any further because Lust was actually scared of an older woman, scared (for a while) that he couldn’t meet their standards, afraid he’d take a sexual misstep and endure the ridicule of small town gossip until graduation. FAST FORWARD to GIRLFRIEND #3. GIRLFRIEND #3 Characteristics:
Height: Five-six—tall enough I didn’t have to crank my neck to give her a peck on the cheek. Weight: Unknown; she was lean, yet filled out in Lust’s favorite areas. Hair color: black, though there was a period of blonde streaks. Eye color: brown. Ethnicity: Asian-American. Fun Fact: We had sex in a church parking lot. What she was like: Beautiful. She was foreign to me in so many ways (no pun intended), the rural boy who only left the city limits when he had enough money to blow on week-long vacations. She was older (a senior when I was a junior), she was from Michigan (where her dad resided—divorcee, but remarried) but lived in North Carolina the previous year (where her mom resided), only to come back to graduate with her childhood friends. North Carolina is crucial. Remember this detail. She wasn’t like the other girls in high school, who knew little to nothing of the world outside of our town, who still believed in cliques and having to sit by their closest friends in the cafeteria, or who joined clubs or teams not because they liked the activity, but because it was what their friends were doing. No, GIRLFRIEND #3 was independent. She’d eat by herself if she had to, she’d join clubs or teams only if she wanted to. She was a woman when all of my selves were used to girls. She often made the correct decisions and quickly (not just in Economics class, but outside of school—i.e. partying with her friends vs. babysitting for her sister). She was a hard worker, one of the hardest I’d been around, holding a couple after school jobs while maintaining A’s and B’s. She had priorities. GIRLFRIEND #3’s List of Priorities, If She Had Been Anal Enough to Keep A List: Family—this includes friends because she was the type that kept a small group of actual friends, not just acquaintances or drinking buddies. This circle was tightly wound but not resistant to newcomers like me. Dreams—she didn’t want to be the next American Idol, or something else not worth chasing, but she wanted to be able to be relied upon by family while running her life the way she wanted, to travel and learn, to care and to be cared for. Dreams were not work-related.
Work—see Dreams. Basically, she needed the money to get to where she dreamt of, and this took precedence over school because school, school was a steppingstone to get to the job she needed to chase her dreams. School—see Work. And she had this grace about her, a sense of confidence in the way she dressed and walked that put all the push-up bras and ass huggers in hallway shadows. There was a natural beauty epitomized in her eyes, a soft, genuine beauty that let you know you hadn’t even scratched the surface of who this woman was, that there would always be more to unravel. She was quick to smile when standing corrected, quick to argue her position on not-soimportant issues (such as: the best burger in town), quick to suggest a long walk in the city we’d driven to for the day. Through her, I escaped the past. What I was like: Head over heels. But not like I was with GIRLFRIEND #1. Before I even kissed her, I saw the potential of GIRLFRIEND #3 and was no longer stuck on GIRLFRIEND #1. I no longer cared what GIRLFRIEND #1 thought, no longer wanted to remind her of what she was missing. GIRLFRIEND #3 let me be who I was and, because of that, I was able to see her and I staying young together2—never would we fight over which TV show to watch on Monday nights because we’d be out exploring wherever our feet (or cars) would take us. Never would I waste time putting her puzzle together because she could do it herself, and better. Never would we stop pushing love’s boundaries, but we would expand, always expand. What the relationship was like: Great.
2 See, you say you want to grow old with someone, but this
isn’t the right way to word it. Growing old together is an undeniable progression. But if you can find someone that threatens to reverse the processes, someone that can slow the world’s rotation as quickly as she can speed it up, someone that can one day accept white hair but still wants to swing naked from a rope into a chemically infected pond because it’s the nearest water source on an ungodly hot day, then, my good friend, you’ve got a keeper. bsr
I discovered what it was like to love as an adult. We gave and we took, took and then gave; an ebb and flow alien to a Great Lakes boy. Started off slow, with face-to-face conversations over home-cooked meals while her parents were at work. Or on shared sofas, our backs pressed to opposite armrests, feet tangled, the glow of whatever TV show we were ignoring in fragments on her chin, cheekbones. We were able to familiarize ourselves with each other’s Love—dreams, fears, pleasures, hers morphing into mine, mine into hers, the thought alone of her being scared frightening me, the thought of her reaching her dreams somehow making me feel as if I would reach mine, ours. We admired each other. Then Lust took over. It was the first relationship of this kind for each of us, the regular sex. I kept a supply of condoms, she got on the pill. I fucked her in her bed, she fucked me in mine. My floor, her floor. Couches. Cars. Showers. The hotel room (six-month anniversary night, I quote Lust, who was tearing the wrapper off of a condom: “Let’s see how many of these we can get through.” GIRLFRIEND #3 smiled, nodded, then took off her top). Lust liked her chest (34C, if I remember right) and he liked that short but flowing white skirt she wore that allowed easy access, let him tease her a bit with his fingers, slip the underwear from waist to high heels. And her Lust liked me (I quote her Lust, grazing my bare stomach with unpainted fingernails, twenty-five minutes to spare before she had to drive twenty-five minutes to work: “We need to have sex again.”) But that’s not all. Every week that summer we’d have picnics on the beach, we’d go for walks around the tourist towns nearby, we’d go out to dinner, to lunch, to breakfast, run into people we knew, some we didn’t, who’d say how great or how cute of a couple we made. You said that several times. And then I’d help babysit her niece and nephews and admire her taking on a motherly role, the authority she was capable of channeling, the care she could provide for something, someone so helpless. And I was proud, of her, of us, what we were and what we could become. What went wrong: North Carolina. Her dreams—remember those? Well, her dream was to move back to North Carolina. And while I had become a priority (I’d put myself under Family, which is a tougher area to figure out than you’d think, her family being 1,000 miles apart), North Carolina superseded me. She had plans she wished included me (I quote: “I wish I could just pack you in my suitcase.” I would’ve laughed when a young man sardined between sweaters and skirts of her
largest bag going to cargo popped up on TSA’s screen, would’ve grinned at her as I stepped out of the suitcase, would’ve endured the physical pain while two security guards escorted me to the interrogation room). So with my senior year ahead of me, she left. Tried to make the distance thing work but it was back to the phone for me, to conversations that lasted hours, provoked too many “I miss you-s”, too much aching, paranoia of things out of my control—Who was she really going to the club(s) with? How old was the boss that hit on her? Did she really just go on that double date to support her single friend? The phone calls became shorter. She came home for Thanksgiving, my Love still intact. We fucked a few times, our Lust(s) temporarily satisfied. For Christmas, I booked a flight to Wilmington. Three days before the flight, she called, told me she was seeing someone else. Said she still wanted me to come. Said I’d like the guy. I said no. I didn’t know that was the last time I’d hear her voice. Where she is now: Last I heard, she lives out west in Navy-provided housing. Yeah, the guy she said I’d like, she’s married to that guy. They were engaged the March after my horrible Christmas, married in June. You were there when I heard about their engagement. Remember? A couple of us were driving to Ferris State for what you called, “My release back into the wild.” But halfway there, that tall blonde guy neither of us talk to anymore bluntly, so fucking bluntly, said, “Hey, you hear [GIRLFRIEND #3] got engaged?” I hadn’t. And to have that tugged away, that hope I’d held that someday soon she’d get divorced and come back, maybe for a Thanksgiving or Christmas, and we’d see each other somehow, maybe in a gas station, and she’d admit to feeling something similar, experiencing the same warped dreams, the clenched jaws, the whittled fingernails, that longing, that ache for something you thought could last a lifetime. But to have that tugged away, it feels like you’re never going to quit spiraling toward inadequacy. Recovery time of selves:
Lust—probably a month. My memory went numb, too. Love—I think I’m okay now, which would make it six years. You were sorry then, too. But for what? For the hand I’d been dealt? Or for the way I buried it all so deep? It’s true. I put so much on my own shoulders. Somehow, it was my fault, it’s always my fault, these failures. Why? Because, for whatever reason, once love is shared between two people, the tendency is to think the other person perfect, even in mistakes like infidelity, mistakes that cripple whatever you’ve become. But after the pity for your selves begins to subside, you vow to change so that none of you will be hurt again. You begin to harden yourself. You vow to your selves that you can find someone better, that you won’t settle for anything less meaningful than the previous relationship. You vow that, soon enough, all of you will be satisfied, not just one third. You promise happiness. But what happens when, for six years, you can’t find a woman you admire and are proud of, a woman that can reciprocate those vows? You get scared. You get scared because it seems that the cyclical triangle has crumbled, that not even you can repair you, that, from here on out, all you’ll ever be is Lust. No more Love. A forever batted I. FAST FORWARD through spring of my senior year, the summer after GIRLFRIEND #3, when I fucked the party slut who woke me up with a blowjob, the ginger I gave a false phone number to so as to avoid anything further. Through freshman year of college when I fooled around with a neighbor who was on the school’s diving team, through junior year when I turned twenty-one and got drunk, brought a pre-med student home and fucked her, then an accounting major. FAST FORWARD through that weekend in Traverse City, that one night of liquor, the $40 cab ride where two women from the bar whispered what they’d be willing to do to me, to each other. FAST FORWARD to now. I know you’re here out of pity. Don’t shake your head. I know you are. You’re here because I’m your only single friend, the lonely one who can’t seem to get with the program. I mean, you’re in love. You all are. Look around. Over there, by the picnic table, sharing sandwiches they made together. And those two putting their boat in the lake. And over there. He’s by himself, but he’s walking with that bounce in his step, the one I know I once had, that says he’s in love with someone. So is that woman. You’re all in love. And you all are starting lives with someone, renting apartments together, buying rings and houses, talking about having kids, if not already having them. I’m not saying that’s what I want. But I could. What I know I want right now is that. You see them? See how both know exactly how
to hold the other. Look at how tight that is. No space. No light between. I want that again. I miss that. I’ve tried. God, I’ve tried. You know I have. Pause. When you have wounds, psychic wounds that have condensed you to rubble and debris, wounds that will forever be there but wounds you’ve worked so hard to build yourself back up around, your whole approach to finding someone to love changes. The lingering failures, the guilt, the regret, they compound, and with the weight of it all goes your confidence, your posture, and it lets all those around know you’re damaged. But they see it elsewhere too, in your indirect eye contact, in the fear of yet another failure oozing from your skin in what they perceive only as sweat. And because you’ve been told so often that no one desires someone who is afraid, you have to lock it all up, if only temporarily, because you don’t know, you just don’t know how much longer you can continue living the way you do. What You’ll Need: 1) Someone you’re interested in. 2) An environment (classroom, workplace, cafe, etc.) 3) An agenda, meaning you’re not at environment for the sole purpose of seeing this person. Step One: Be demonstratively independent Hint: Skip to Step Five. Speaker has no authority on the matter. She doesn’t need to know you’re interested, doesn’t need to know Lust is thinking about her naked. Doesn’t need to know Love has been asleep for too long. No. What she needs to know is that you don’t need her. Go about your business. Women like that you don’t need to latch on. Glance around to see if she’s sneaking peeks. Smile when you catch her looking at you but don’t let her in by saying too much. Maybe allow yourself a “Hello”. Step Two: Observe and report to selves Hint: You should skip to Step Five. Speaker doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Watch how she goes about her business. Observe until you can picture what she could be like in every situation—grief, joy, boredom, etc. Profile the shit out of her. Then ask her questions that sound simple but whose answers hold what could be major implications (i.e. Ask her: “Who’s your favorite singer?” If she answers “Justin Bieber”, and you don’t like his music, contemplate running away because that means you’ll have to hear his voice more often than you’d like, on the way to the movies, on the way to his concert, in the backseat of her car when fucking, etc.) Report answers to Love and Lust. See what they think. Listen. Step Three: Keep resisting Hint: Seriously, skip to Step Five. Step Three is where speaker usually falls off. Keep up your act, but let your mind wander. Look at her hands and imagine her index finger grazing the calluses coating yours. Picture the two of you wandering the beach on a humid night, one of you suggesting stripping down and jumping in the water, or lying on a blanket and talking under the stars, cuddling. Think about how cute she might look when she’s asleep. Imagine the first time you’ll make her climax. The first time she’ll say she loves you. Then stop imagining because you’ve gone too far not to act. Step Four: Set yourself up Hint: Kidding me? You haven’t skipped to Step Five yet? Because you say love is all about timing, use it to your advantage. Play it cool. Wherever you’re at, wait until you two are alone. Ask her if she has the night off. Ask her if she has any plans. Say: “Hang out with me,” or “Come over tonight,” because the imperative is effective. She’s following an order. Then pray to whatever god you’ve decided to worship that her nose wrinkles in the cute way you’ve observed over time, that her lips move and say: “I’d like that.” Step Five: Do it your own way Don’t waste your time with what has failed. I don’t want you to be a twenty-two year old man who has been in love but has forgotten how to ask a woman out. I don’t want you to see only your shadow on the brick building you pass while walking home, but two shadows fusing at the hands, like the couple ahead of you, the couple behind you. I don’t want you to go so long without watching a sunset or sunrise with someone you love. I don’t
want you to wonder if your nose is too big, your dick too small, your hair too thin, gut too round, shoulders too narrow, arms too scrawny, your soul too incomplete to be loved. No, I don’t want that for you, those six long years of correcting starving selves to fit what you think would be needs and wants of someone else. Those six long years of self-examination and commitment to change that go out the window once you meet a potential lover. Resume. Right now? Really? Fine. Come with me then. Right there, that’s her. POTENTIAL LOVER #1 Characteristics: Height: Five-four (I think). Weight: unknown, but her legs and hips are responsible for most of it and not in a bad way (think a slimmer Kim Kardashian’s lower half after she cut weight, if you need a reference point). Hair color: light brown, but I know she likes to switch it up from time to time. Eye color: dark brown, clearly seen when she’s not squinting (which isn’t much, but makes seeing her eyes a luxury—so damn relaxing, so kind). Ethnicity: Caucasian, but she tans well. Really well. Fun fact: She actually likes Justin Bieber’s music and I don’t hate her for it. What she’s like: Awakening. Lust says: cute face, great ass, an interesting lip ring and ink, which Love finds attractive, too, thinking there could be a wild side to this girl, a side he can be educated on, something he’s never experienced before that can coax him out of his slumber. There’s a strange balance to her, a matured innocence she carries as if she knows the pitfalls of love, yet still hopes she could believe in it if she chose to pursue. She’s a hard worker (I work with her at one of her two jobs), using the money to pay tuition for art school in Chicago and to keep alive a gold Toyota Corolla on its deathbed. And she’s funny. Really funny, actually. I don’t have to reserve my fake laugh for her, the one I use for most girls making jokes. She comes up with phrases I’ve never heard before, is unafraid to risk her appearance for my entertainment, is able to ping pong movie lines with such rapidity it feels like we watched them together. And god damn it, she makes me smile. She makes me smile with unannounced staring contests, with whispers about
that one socially awkward co-worker who tries so hard to hit on her. She makes me smile while we’re stuck behind a counter for eight hours together, like a string is attached to my lips, wrapped around my ears, and she just tugs, and holds. And holds. What our relationship (could be) like: Full of motion. After working with her, observing, interacting, engaging, Lust really wants to grab her ass while she rides on top, feel her lips, cup her breasts, turn her over so he’s on top, wrap her legs around him and get deeper, closer. Forget Love waking up; he feels like he could be born again with her, on the sidewalk, in her home, his home, being shown her artwork, showing her what he thinks is his until he can run for what seems like the first time and forever. He could slow dance with her to a song neither of them have heard before, put his hand on the small of her back and dip her, raise her, grab her hand and twirl her, and he’s never twirled anyone before, and she’s never been twirled before, but around and around she could go, and their eyes could meet each time she revolves, each glint communicating something but neither knowing what, but they’d smile, oh, they’d smile and they’d laugh at how goofy it all is, how goofy and how fucked up real romance is, and they’d forget the bedroom because the floor would be more than adequate, and they’d strip each other not because that’s the way it’s supposed to be done but because it just feels so fucking right, and kiss each other, and trace the other’s body with their fingers because something, some divine power has a hold over them and they can’t fight it off because humans, us humans aren’t equipped to do such things. They could love. What (already) went wrong: I waited too long. Someone else has beat me to the punch and can call POTENTIAL LOVER #1 his girlfriend (number unknown). I speculate that as soon as he saw her he asked her out, acted with something closer to instinct than I’ve been unable to tap into for years. I speculate he hasn’t been hurt like I have. Or, if he has, he’s better at refusing analysis, better at healing, carries with him more confidence, a higher self-esteem. I speculate she thinks him more than adequate. A desirable product. But I’m tired of blaming myself. I am. I want to put this on you, your condescending eyes, the ineffective idioms you pass on like bible scripture or
Chinese proverbs to boost the morale of someone you think is inferior for being alone. You, you are full of shit, my friend. Why? Because, even after knowing someone for years, you are impervious to the individual, their selves and their situation. Remember how I called you the day I met her? You said to do it, you said to ask her out. And you didn’t stop. Week after week you told me to, as if you would be the one to benefit from it, as if, regardless of my happiness, it’d make you happier knowing, in your own way, you’d played matchmaker, you’d known all along what and who was best for me. You piled the pressure on shoulders already holding too much. So I retreated. And here I am, depressed. Depressed because I’m still stuck behind a counter for eight hours a day with POTENTIAL LOVER #1, smiling, laughing, imagining her twirling, telling a deaf heart not to love her because I know she’s not talking to a friend about unseen but reopened wounds curbing her appetite, scattering her mind. She’s not wishing good things to happen to people she’ll never talk to again, trying to convince herself there’s the one soul mate out there you keep telling her about. She’s not hoping with everything she has left that you’re right because sometime soon, if they don’t already, all of her selves will have an answer. Where (I hope) she’ll be: Look at her smile. How could I want anything else? Recovery time of selves: Lust—stick to the pattern. Give it a month or so. Love—soon, I hope.
sitting in the middle seat on a five hour flight
Mom said Nana had a bad fall. She said she scuffed her arm up and bruised her wrist but refused to push the call button on the Life Alert pendant she keeps around her neck. Even at ninety-seven, she refuses to accept help. She still wants to stand in the kitchen all day every Thanksgiving and make every side dish, occupy every oven shelf with mismatched cookware and dice onions with her shaky, age-spotted hands. Every Christmas, though, she still sighs and says, “Hopefully I make it to next year.” -There’s a group of Mormon elders on the flight to Salt Lake. They wear square name tags and stiffly pressed black slacks and carefully buttoned white shirts with straight collars and black ties. They sit two rows ahead of me and on the descent into Salt Lake, they sing Happy Birthday to the flight attendant. I watch one of them through the flight. His name badge reads Elder Josiah or something equally as predictable. I watch the side of his face through the seats in front of me. His eyes are big and a pale green that catches me each time he turns to look out the window. I imagine a simple ceremony with a high-necked dress and a modest silver ring. Two sisterwives lined up beside me, posing for a handful of cameras stationed a few feet away. He’ll kiss me when the others aren’t around. He’ll dance with me in an empty kitchen after the children fall asleep. He’ll give me sweet names and make me promises into the shell of my ear. We’ll sing hymns and say prayers and send our children out across the country to do God’s work like
he did when he was young and I’ll braid the little girls’ hair and tie the ends with satin ribbons. One day he’ll snatch my hand in one of his and we’ll race out the screen door and down across the gravel driveway until we run out of breath and hitchhike our way to someplace with more trees and less dirt and we’ll take up smoking hash and burning incense and singing along to scratchy Beatles records in an empty living room in the middle of the night. -On the flight into Orlando, a little boy dressed as Woody from Toy Story grasps the armrests on either side of his tiny frame and panics, “We’re going down.” ///
if the drugs don’t work
The Prozac used to make it better. It used to dull the sharp edges of my headaches and weaken my need for things like fresh razorblades and tubes of antiseptic. I remember sitting in my empty bathtub in Fresno with my bare feet against the tile wall, rattling the green and white pills around in the red prescription bottle. I remember taking my pill, like I do every day, and setting the bottle aside, its lid tightly screwed back on. I turned on the bath water and let it run while I fished out the paring knife I’d tucked under the towels on my rack and traced out a few slices of red along the underside of my wrist. -I picture Nana dead. I imagine she’ll look a lot like how she does when I catch her asleep on the couch in her living room: lips pulled down, eyebrows raised, pale leather skin. -One night I’ll have too much to drink and spend a few hours throwing up in the bathroom. The light will buzz and burn my eyes whenever I lift my head from the toilet seat long enough to catch my breath. My stomach will churn and ache and twist and my mouth will dry out and my tongue will stick to my teeth when I close my lips. I won’t be able to fall asleep. Every time I close my eyes, everything will lurch forward and sideways and backward and I’ll open them again just in time to collapse back onto my knees in front of the toilet. I’ll sit up against the side of the bathtub and think that if I were
dead, I’d never have to feel this way again. I’d never have to be sick or feel wretched or shake with every muscle that tenses in me. I’ll think if I were dead, I’d be free of this. ///
in which I listen to a lot of songs about bleeding
We take our shoes off and leave them on the floor of the backseat. The blacktop is cold under our bare feet outside the car and the sand is even colder when we step onto it. The girls roll their jeans up over their ankles and we jog down the sand toward the water. We touch our toes to the water that slowly rolls up toward us and jump back when it reaches us. It’s sometime after two a.m. and when I look up, I think about how dim the moon always looks back in Fresno. I’ve almost forgotten the sky has stars in it. I’ve almost forgotten that the world could spread out flat in front of me instead of lifting and breaking and caging me in the way it does out west. We’ve had too much to drink and it’s cold and it’s late and we sang too loudly on the drive home down the 202 but the moment we reached the shore we were at home and breathing it in and singing without music and holding hands and getting sand on our sweaters and trying to peel off our paper wristbands. We point out constellations and chase each other back up the beach and topple into the sand when we laugh too hard to keep running. The tall condo buildings lining the streets behind us are glowing purple and gold. The edges of our universe end in white sand and shining moon-water. -Once, or maybe nine times, a boy broke my heart and I wrote some words about him. ///
sometimes people die
Tomorrow, I’ll go to a funeral. My high heels will sink into the soft ground and I’ll hug a lot of people I’ve never met. My father will cry silent tears with his shoulder under the edge of a mahogany casket. He’ll carry his best friend’s father to the open hole in the ground and we’ll all stand around it and watch as they lower him inside. I’ll stand there quietly and think of dark things and maybe I’ll cry, because nothing bleeds me out more than seeing tears on my father’s face. I’ll stand there quietly and think of damp earth and cold January nights and the surface of that smooth casket covered with
dirt and beginning to creak and ache with decay. I’ll wonder why we put so much effort into people that are dead. I’ll wonder if ten years has taken all of Allie. I’ll wonder if she’s bones yet. Bones in a brown dress. Bones with redpainted fingernails. Bones in a pink box. Bones with smooth blonde hair and metal braces still glued onto her teeth. -In Utah, the city outside the airport windows is the bottom of a mountainwalled bowl. The flat land lifts up all around, peaking with white tops and chocolate brown trails leading down to the rows of houses dotting the paved streets. I’m eating tart frozen yogurt that costs too much, wondering if anyone is buried up in those mountains. Are their graves marked? Does anyone know their bodies are there? Do their sad wives and lonely daughters bring woven flower halos to hang on the crooked wooden crosses stuck in the soft earth above their heads? I throw away what’s left of my yogurt and a lady wearing blue latex gloves asks to search my shoulder bag. While she digs through my books and examines my bottle of perfume, I’m thinking about twisting stems of carnations and daffodils into careful circles.
Ruth Bavettaâ€™s poetry has been published in Rattle, Nimrod, Tar River Review, North American Review, Spillway, Hanging Loose, Rhino, Poetry East, and Poetry New Zealand among others, and is included in the anthologies Twelve Los Angeles Poets and Wait a Minute; I Have to Take off My Bra. Her book, Fugitive Pigments was released in July 2013. Two more books,Â Embers on the Stairs, is (Moontide Press) and No Longer at This Address (Tebot Bach) will appear in 2014. She loves the light on November afternoons, the smell of the ocean, a warm back to curl against in bed. She hates pretense, fundamentalism and sauerkraut. Victoria Marie Bee is an artist, letterpress printer, poet, and translator. As an MFA candidate in Fine Art Photography at Texas Tech University, she currently lives in Lubbock, Texas. Brandon Bell lives in Louisville, Kentucky. His stories appear in Owen Wister Review, Tulane Review, Whiskey Island Magazine, Matter Journal, Juked, Barnstorm, and other publications. Write to him at email@example.com.
Roy Bentleyâ€™s work has been recognized with fellowships from the NEA, the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, and the Ohio Arts Council. Poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Shenandoah, Pleiades, Blackbird, North American Review, Prairie Schooner and elsewhere. Books include Boy in a Boat (University of Alabama, 1986), Any One Man (Bottom Dog, 1992) and The Trouble with a Short Horse in Montana (White Pine, 2006). Starlight Taxi, his latest, won the 2012 Blue Lynx Prize in Poetry and has just been published by Lynx House Press. Jacob Collins-Wilson, a high school English teacher, has had poetry published in Crack The Spine, Barely South Review, The Finger Literary Magazine and Burningword Literary Journal. He will be or has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net series. He can be reached by everyone at firstname.lastname@example.org. Garrett Dennert currently resides in Holland, Michigan. He received his B.A. in Creative Writing from Grand Valley State University and is currently a nonfiction editor of Squalorly. More of his work can be seen at WhiskeyPaper, Toska Magazine, Circa Review, Quick Fix Sports and dennertwriting.com. Kate Dwiggins is a former vegetarian who currently teaches Composition and Creative Writing at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She enjoys boating, BBQ, gardening, and taking long walks with her four dogs. Her poetry has appeared in the Crab Orchard Review and Atlantic Pacific Press, among others. Heather Hallberg Yanda teaches in the English Department at Alfred University, in the hills of upstate New York. She has poems forthcoming from Tulane Review, The Birmingham Arts Journal, and Pea River Journal, among others. Her first collection, Late Summerâ€™s Origami, is looking for a publisher.
Sandy Hiortdahl lives with her best friend Kismo Blue, an Australian Cattle Dog, in East Tennessee. She’s a recipient of the Sophie Kerr Prize and has an M.F.A. from George Mason University and a Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming this year in Punchnel’s, The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, and Bop Dead City, among others. More may be found on her website: www.sandyhiortdahl.com Len Krisak has taught at Brandeis University, Northeastern University, and Stonehill College. His most recent books are Afterimage (U of Evansville) and Love Poems of Ovid (UPenn Press). In 2014, his complete Catullus will appear from Carcanet, and in 2015, Rilke’s New Poems (Boydell & Brewer). His work has appeared in the Hudson, Sewanee, Hopkins, PN, and Antioch Reviews, Agni, Raritan, The New Criterion, The Formalist, Literary Imagination, Pleiades, Margie, Classical Outlook, and The Oxford Book of Poems on Classical Mythology, among many others. In addition to the Richard Wilbur Prize, he has received the Robert Penn Warren and Robert Frost Prizes, the Pinch Prize, a Los Angeles Poetry Festival Award, and numerous honors from the New England Poetry Club, which awarded Even as We Speak the Motton Book Prize. He is the former winner of the GoldPocket.com National Trivia Competition and is a four-time Champion on Jeopardy! Betsy Martin works at Skinner House Books in Boston and has advanced degrees in Russian language and literature. She lived in Moscow for a year studying at the Pushkin Institute. In addition to writing she loves bird watching. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Green Hills Literary Lantern, Sanskrit, Assisi, Minetta Review, The Alembic, Pirene’s Fountain, and others. Joan Mazza has worked as a medical microbiologist, psychotherapist, seminar leader, and has been a Pushcart Prize
nominee. Author of six books, including Dreaming Your Real Self (Penguin/Putnam), her poetry has appeared in Rattle, Off the Coast, Kestrel, Slipstream, American Journal of Nursing, The MacGuffin, Mezzo Cammin, Buddhist Poetry Review, and The Nation. She ran away from the hurricanes of South Florida to be surprised by the earthquakes and tornadoes of rural central Virginia, where she writes poetry and does fabric and paper art. www.JoanMazza.com Leslie Anne Mcilroy won the 2001 Word Press Poetry Prize for her full-length collection Rare Space, the 1997 Slipstream Poetry Chapbook Prize for her chapbook Gravel and the 1997 Chicago Literary Awards Competition judged by Gerald Stern. Her second book, Liquid Like This, was published by Word Press in 2008 and her current manuscript, Dreaming of Men, was a finalist for the 2013 Autumn House Press Poetry Prize. Leslie’s work appears in numerous publications including Dogwood, Jubilat, The Mississippi Review, New Ohio Review, Pearl and is forthcoming in PANK. Leslie is Managing Editor of HEArt — Human Equity through Art — Online (heartjournalonline.com) and works as a copywriter in Pittsburgh, PA, where she lives with her daughter Silas. Poems & performances: lamcilroy.com. Garrett Quinn is an MFA candidate at Wichita State University and is the fiction editor for mojo. His work has been published or is forthcoming in in NANO Fiction, The Adirondack Review, r.kv.r.y., and various other journals. Nicole Santalucia serves as the poetry editor of Binghamton University’s literary journal, Harpur Palate, and assists the Director of The Binghamton Center for Writers. Nicole founded a literary outreach program in 2011—The Binghamton Poetry Project—and continues to work as the project’s Director. She received her MFA from The New School University in 2008. Her work has appeared in Clockhouse Review, Paterson Literary Review, Bayou Magazine, Gertrude,
Barley South Review, and others. Nicole received honorable mention awards from Astraea Lesbian Foundation Writers Fund as well as the Allen Ginsberg Award. She currently teaches creative writing and is a PhD candidate in English with a concentration in poetry at Binghamton University. Laura Shovan is editor of the art and literary journal Little Patuxent Review and of two poetry anthologies. Her chapbook, Mountain, Log, Salt and Stone, won the inaugural Harriss Poetry Prize. In 2012, Laura was a finalist for the Rita Dove Poetry Award. She was a 2013 Gettysburg Review Conference for Writers scholarship recipient and has recent poems The Fourth River and forthcoming at Switched-on Gutenberg. Laura works with young poets as a Maryland State Arts Council Artist-in-Residence. Andy Stevens is a student at the University of Tampa Low Residency MFA, and a founding member of Tampa Review Online. He received his B.A. in Creative Writing from Eckerd College. Billie R. Tadros is a doctoral student in English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and a graduate of the MFA program in Poetry at Sarah Lawrence College. Her poems have appeared in the Boiler Journal, the Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, Yalobusha Review, Wicked Alice, and the anthology Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013), and her work is forthcoming in the anthology Bearers of Distance (Eastern Point Press, 2013). Caleb True short stories have appeared in The Madison Review, Yemassee, Euphony, Whole/Beast/Rag and elsewhere. Some of them have been Pushcart Prize nominated. Caleb holds a masters degree in History and lives on the east coast, where he eats right, exercises, and whittles away at those novels of his. Read more online at Calebtrue.tumblr.com.
Sara Walters is currently a student in the MFA program and graduate instructor at the University of South Florida. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Dying Goose, Embodied Effigies, and Sugared Water, among others.
In this Issue:
Ruth Bavetta, Victoria Marie Bee, Brandon Bell, Roy Bentley, Jacob Collins-Wilson, Garrett Dennert, Kate Dwiggins, Heather Hallberg Yanda, Sandy Hiortdahl, Len Krisak, Betsy Martin, Joan Mazza, Leslie Anne Mcilroy, Garrett Quinn, Nicole Santalucia, Laura Shovan, Andy Stevens, Billie R. Tadros, Caleb True, Sara Walters
Old Dominion University's Barely South Review, a journal of literature and art.