STYLUS Spring 2013
STYLUS Volume 128, Number 2, Spring 2013. Founded in 1882. Undergraduate members of the University are invited to submit original works of poetry, prose, and art. Direct correspondence to: Stylus, Room 129, McElroy Commons, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Works under review remain anonymous. Copyright 2013 Stylus Editorial Board, 2012-2013. All rights reserved.
Bostonese UNIVERSITY ADDRESSES DISPUTE OVER STYLUS DISTRIBUTION The administration threatened to take disciplinary action against Boston College Students for Literary Health (BCSLH) for distributing Stylus across the BC campus. Dean Raul Troubadour said that while students are free to possess Stylus, their public distribution on campus conflicts with BC’s Jesuit, Catholic mission. A letter was sent to students living in BC dorm rooms, which the group designated as “Safe Writes,” advising them that Stylus distribution from their rooms violates University policy.
who finds the story in the Custom House, you know? Anyways, definitly [sic] don’t publish this. Is it illegal I stole it from the trash? Is it sanitary? Is anything sanitary? —big papi XOXO My mum said She’d stop drinking Dad said He’d come home Sister said She’d quit her gang If I got into stylus I didn’t How meta.
SESQUI...SQUESQUI...SQUESQUES...OH FORGET IT In honor of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of COLSTYLUS CONFESSIONS LEGIUM BOSTONIENSE (it’s Stylus is currently taking anony- Latin or something), in this, the mous confessions. year of our LORD two thousand Dear Stylus, and thirteen, we, as members I found this poem on the fifth of the oldest club on campus, floor of Bro’Neill library. Kinda hereby present the newest edition like the guy in The Scarlett Letter of Stylus. Aien aristan, y’all.
STYLUS Volume CXXVIII Bostonese
Number 2 Staff
Verse Storm Season Fertility Letters from 1974 Going Up Correspondence A Felled Deodar I Found in the Rakaposhi Miriamâ€™s Song Picking Peaches Wailing Whimpering Wimp Epilogue Cherries Steeped in Moscow Wine Last Night, in Memphis Origins of a Vegetarian Green Desert Alone on a roof in New York City About Murder Ratty Requiem Margaret the Overblown Teenage Prophet
9 18 22 25 36 38
Helen Spica Maggie Nixon Christine Degenaars Bailey Spencer Kayti Lahsaiezadeh Townshend Peters
40 48 51
Bailey Spencer Helen Spica Jordan Dorney
Maggie Nixon Townshend Peters
77 91 92 102
Christine Degenaars Allison Rosa Kayti Lahsaiezadeh Caroline Oâ€™Connor
105 111 123 124
Helen Spica Maggie Nixon Bailey Spencer Jordan Dorney
Prose The Sometimes Dog Siblings This Train (Is Bound For Glory) This Train Down the James A Clean Cut Ethnomusicology Chaser (An Excerpt) River Mammals Bullâ€™s-Eye The Thought Collector
10 20 26
Sophia Gorgens Joseph Baron Jordan Dorney
41 52 69 80 95 108 113
David Kunkel Lindsey James Conor Kearns Kate Iannarone Zachary Frank Lindsey James Sophia Gorgens
Art Untitled For we had always believed that the right spectator, whoever (s)he might be, must always remain conscious that s(he) was viewing a work of art and not an empirical reality. Untitled Animal Untitled Hildy
14 19 24 29
Derek Lintala Tashrika Sharma
Chris Vaudo Christine Boss Derek Lintala Christine Boss
hey, what u doin tn? The Fog Rolls In The Party Fuels the Fire Untitled Untitled Solar Torture Untitled These Colors Don’t Run Untitled ...but her heart was far Grandpa Portrait of a Troublemaker Striving for Perfection Untitled The Wait Untitled
37 44 50 57 62 67 72 76 83 88 94 98 104 107 112 118
Bud O’Hara Gretchen Fredericksen John Malavé Alexia Blackhurst Yuan Ruan Zamin Husain Chris Vaudo Chris Vaudo John Malavé John Malavé Christine Boss Patty Owens Erin Cahill Joseph Baron Helen Zhang Alexia Blackhurst
For we had always believed that the right spectator, whoever (s)he might be, must always remain conscious that s(he) was viewing a work of art and not an empirical reality.
Storm Season She remembers the storm that picked up the neighborâ€™s boy as he stepped to the still wonder of his shaken world, front yard with his toes against snow, in his hair the nesting of petals, catching wind in the caves of his ear. The door ran wild on its hinges. She puts on her fingers those lost things they counted: mailbox, the soup in the pantry, electricity. All the branches of the tulip tree were found offshore, and the neighborâ€™s boy, too, below the window frozen as the eyes of Moses on the gold and the fire before he melted to the mountainâ€” anchored by ankle to the tomb. Helen Spica
The Sometimes Dog Sophia Gorgens
Her name was Collie, but in truth, she was a husky. I know. It’s a dumb name, but I didn’t name her. Meredith said it was probably short for Colleen. Every Monday morning, I would wake up early with the feeling of a lump of bread dough rising inside me by the labors of millions of yeast cells. It was a strong, hopeful feeling, but by Thursday it would always collapse, an over-proven mess. I’d once held a washcloth to my forehead until it burned with fever. My mom had let me stay home from school, but she eventually found out what I’d done. Now she thinks that Thursday tears are onion tears. But I don’t even like onions. So when I’m lying on the floor next to my bed with my cheek pressed tightly against the hardwood, it’s not because I fell out of bed. I mean, I move around a lot when I sleep, sure, but I’ve been awake for an hour now, listening for the front door to open. I want to feel the vibrations shiver through the house as she comes pounding down the hallway to my room. I want to absorb through every pore in my skin the sensation of her approaching paws, the scrabbling scratching of her claws. Because it’s Monday, and my Collie is coming home. But when she doesn’t come after another half hour, I reluctantly pull myself up into a crouch. I’m afraid that if I straighten up entirely, she’ll never come. It’s a silly fear, but an odd tingling in my foot has started up, and I always know that’s a warning for bad things to come, even though Meredith has told me it’s just my foot falling asleep. The alarm clock on my bedside table is blinking wriggling segments of red licorice. 6:45 am. Regret over the lost two hours of sleep yawns inside me like an empty mass, but worry for Collie quickly crowds into the vacant space. She should have been here by now. At seven, I straighten up one vertebra at a time and limp down the hallway with my leaden foot. It has definitely fallen asleep this time, and its reawakening is painful, like the prickling sting of hundreds of mosquito bites. I enter the kitchen. “Collie?” “Hm?” My mom’s at the stove, flipping unnaturally round and 10
perfect golden pancakes. It’s never a good sign when she makes pancakes. It means she’s trying to make me feel better. “Where’s Collie?” “Oh, she’ll be here later.” “But I want to see her now. Is she okay?” “Have a pancake, sweetie.” Maple syrup, a bowl of strawberries, whipped cream. Mom piles three pancakes onto my plate, and I drizzle them with maple syrup before making a smiley face with the whipped cream. I want to ask why we can’t have our own dog or why Collie can’t just always be ours. But my dad doesn’t really like dogs, and my mom can’t ever decide. Mom sets a place for Meredith before sitting down across from me and looking at my pancakes. “That’s cute.” But I’m not cute, I’m thirteen. I use my fork to mash up the cream, smearing the smile until it bleeds into the eyes, until the whites of the eyes begin to blend with the white of the porcelain plate. After school, just as Mom promised, Collie is waiting for me at home. When I open the door, she barks joyfully and prances at my heels like an excited marionette, strings pulling her limbs in all directions. Meredith, who is three years older than me, smiles and pats the husky gently on the head. “Just look how excited she is, Savannah!” I ignore both of them and trudge to my room. Meanwhile, Meredith is trying to avoid Collie’s thumping tail and glistening jowl which with each movement put my sister’s white miniskirt and tights at risk. “Aren’t you going to take her for a walk, Savannah?” I drop my bag onto the floor and stare at it, considering the merits of turtles. Next year, I decide, I’ll ask Mom for a green backpack. I don’t like pink anymore. It’s too— “Or at least to your room?” “Yeah, sure, I’ll walk her.” My call echoes through the house like Collie’s puppy yap a few years ago, before she had known how to really bark. It’s a longing and lingering note, and I rather wish I had murmured instead. That evening, my sister convinces me to paint our nails together 11
in front of the TV. It’s some chick flick, and Collie is sprawled across the second couch, her big hazel eyes catching mine between brush strokes. “Watch it!” Meredith swats my hand in an annoyed fashion, and I realize that I had painted one of her knuckles a vibrant red. Collie grins at me. “Sorry.” “What’s the matter with you today, anyway?” Meredith dabs at her skin with a piece of toilet paper. “I thought you liked painting nails.” “I hate painting nails.” “I thought you liked painting nails with me.” “Sure, I guess.” “Well?” “Nothing.” I take her left hand in mine and start transforming the rosy-pale cuticle into slashes of red. Like apple slices, I think while on the TV screen a woman professes her undying love in passionate sobs. It makes me want to laugh, but Meredith’s eyes are glued to the screen, so I don’t. I even wait for the commercial break, staring resolutely at a small patch of white fur on Collie’s chest to suppress the words that bulge up my cheeks like sails. The glistening, bald head of Mr. Clean fills the screen as he advocates the impressive advantages of his latest product. “Why wasn’t Collie here this morning?” “How should I know?” “Mom and Dad.” “Want to run upstairs and grab me a bottle of water?” “No. Want to tell me about Collie?” Meredith gives a dramatic sigh. I get her the water. “The Moores just wanted her for an extra few hours, okay?” “I thought they work.” Isn’t that why we take care of Collie during the week? But I always wonder. Doubt and fear, like coiling serpents, wrap themselves around my heart. “I guess they were running late then.” “That’s not fair.” My sister’s not listening anymore though—the movie’s started up again. I feel bad for Mr. Clean and all those other smiling, laughing commercials. They deserve more screen time. There’s a funny knot in my stomach, and I realize I even feel bad for myself. I drink some of my sister’s water and hope that it will 12
go away. The next day it’s raining, so Collie and I spend all afternoon curled up in my bed together reading. The protagonist of the book is a husky who has to save all the other dogs in his town from the starving wolves lurking in the forest. I read passages aloud for Collie and scratch her behind the ear. Her tail thumps the bed in enthusiastic agreement and sends up a small flock of animated hair. The short gray and white strands float in the air, swaying this way and that with the gentle breeze of the air vent above. They settle lethargically back to where they had risen, nestling in the creases of my blanket. Meredith thinks it’s gross, but I don’t mind today. Mom promised to throw my sheets in the wash later on. Wednesday comes with an unexpected rapidity, and I feel the tension in my teeth as I slowly chew on a bagel slathered with cream cheese. But it’s only Wednesday, I tell myself. I feed the majority of my bagel to Collie when my mom’s not looking and try to rinse the dry feeling in my mouth out with a glass of milk. It doesn’t work. On my afternoon walk with Collie, we go the long way because I don’t have a lot of homework and I want to forget about that stupid math test I took last period. I think I probably failed, but it’s really not my fault. Mr. Hulls doesn’t like me, and math’s just not my thing. “Well hello there, Savannah!” Great. When stepping outside of the house, there’s always the risk of running into Mrs. Wiliker, who has nothing better to do but walk her dog and gossip, but I’d been fervently hoping that I wouldn’t today. I don’t like talking to her, and she has this little cocker spaniel who is just the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. “Hello, Mrs. Wiliker.” We’re still thirty or so feet apart, so we both have to speak awkwardly loudly to make ourselves heard. “I haven’t seen you in a while!” “No, ma’am.” “Been busy with school work?” “Yes, ma’am.” We’re standing next to each other now, and Mrs. Wiliker’s cocker spaniel is running excited circles around Collie with highpitched yaps that shrilly tap against my eardrums. Mrs. Wiliker doesn’t believe in leashes, because dogs are people, too. My mom 13
taught me to respect old people though, which Mrs. Wiliker’s face like crumpled tissue paper certainly attests to, so I never argue. “How come I don’t see you two on weekends?” Her voice is rasping and soft and the cocker spaniel won’t quit yapping. I fidget nervously with the end of Collie’s leash. “Collie needs to rest her paws.” “That’s sweet of you.” I’m not sure what else I’m supposed to say. “Well, goodbye then.” I tug on Collie’s leash. Thankfully, she doesn’t resist. “Homework, you know,” I remember to call over my shoulder. We make it back to the house quickly, but just outside, Collie stops to investigate with vigorous sniffing a tuft of grass by the curb. I can just imagine that little cocker spaniel having peed there, and I pull on the leash. Collie growls at me, but I stare right back at her, right into her eyes which dogs hate. Eventually, she gives in. My mom once told me that Mrs. Moore doesn’t work on Fridays, and that’s why she and her husband want Collie on Thursday evenings. I haven’t met Mrs. Moore, but secretly I think she doesn’t work at all. Except for during picnics or walks in the park on weekends, she probably thinks dogs are a nuisance. That’s what Meredith told me, anyway. There’s not just tension in my teeth anymore. It’s in my lips, too, and my hair. It’s tangled in my clothes, and I can taste it in my food. It makes the lead in my mechanical pencil snap so many times that I have to ask Ellen, who I hate because she always picks her nose in class, for a wooden pencil. I use hand sanitizer to wipe the pencil down and wonder why I even put up with Thursdays. At home, Collie greets me with her usual cheer, paws slapping the pavement in excitement as I throw her favorite tennis ball down the street. Dad said I had to stop playing in the yard because Collie was tearing up all the grass. I guess it’s true, but now I keep wondering what would happen if a car turned the corner and engulfed my dog in a screeching metal embrace. I wonder what we would tell the Moores. Then after half an hour of playing fetch, I throw the ball and Collie doesn’t get it and I have to get it and I’m angry but I know I shouldn’t be because she’s leaving soon and that just makes me even angrier so I chuck the tennis ball further down the street with all my might and watch it bounce until it’s gone and I feel like crying and 15
burying my head in Collie’s fur but she keeps cavorting out of my reach because she thinks it’s just a game and— After dinner, my mom tells us she has to take Collie home now. “Don’t.” I always say this, and Mom always says— “But Savannah, you know I have to.” And Dad always gets up to watch the evening news and Meredith always shrugs and I’m never allowed to come. But tonight— “I still need to buy a birthday card for Anna.” “I’ll pick one up from CVS for you on the way back.” “But I want to pick it out myself.” And I win the argument, somehow. And I’m going to see the Moores for the first time ever. Collie’s other family. I rub my thumb over my knuckles and grin uncertainly at Collie. The husky just rolls onto her back, hoping for a belly scratch. The house Mom pulls up at is nice, brick and with a larger yard than ours. Around the back, she explains, they have a pool. I’m not allowed to come out, Mom says, so I sit in the car and roll down the window. I run my thumb over my knuckles again, carefully feeling each ridge, and watch my mom walk up to the front door of the house. Collie’s straining forward eagerly on the leash, and through the open window, I can hear the sounds of her panting choke. It’s her throat that’s being choked, but it’s in mine that I can feel a growing lump that tastes of bitter chicory. I can see the wild plant growing inside me, tendrils invading and roots shoving themselves through my veins and into my bones and down my throat, making me want to gag. The door opens to reveal a man in a white button-down, neatly pressed dress pants, and shoes that shine like Collie’s nose. I’m straining to see, but I can’t make out his face. He’s smiling at my mom, I think, and then he’s bending down and embracing a slobbering, scrambling Collie. She plants her paws on his forearms with a joyful bark, and together they dance into the house. My mother waits patiently by the open door, but I see an expression on her face that wrenches my stomach-lining loose in mirrored pain. I wonder how long it will take before my stomach acid devours my innards, my muscles, my bones, my skin. Everything. After a few minutes, the man appears again. Collie is barking in the background, an invisible woman is cooing, and the man’s shirt has two great smudge marks on its sleeves. I think of my dad and 16
how much he would hate it if Collie ever did that to his shirt. In our house, Collie knew how to behave. The man shakes my mom’s hand, and she laughs at something he says. They part and the door closes and inside I know Collie is there, miserable—joyfully, joyfully miserable. She didn’t even look back at me. I bite the inside of my cheek, really grinding down on it, until I can taste the sweet tang of blood. But how long will that last? At CVS, I drag my feet over to the cards section. Mom notices, but she doesn’t comment. She helps me pick out a birthday card for Anna because all I can see is my eyelashes. They keep fluttering across my vision like bats with wings woven out of darkness. And then I think of the albino bats and the gray bats and the brown bats, and I wonder if maybe someone killed them all. And I wonder if bats would really still be bats if they couldn’t fly, if someone just hacked their wings off with a knife and threw the writhing mouse-like bodies on the floor with a laugh. The card Mom picks has a cartoon of a duck on it and says, “Hope you have a quacking good birthday!” I don’t think it’s funny or cute or anything, but I tell Mom that I do and we pay for it and leave. At home, I somehow find my way to my room and lie down on the floor. I press my cheek against the hardwood and listen and listen, but I can’t hear anything. Tears are pooling on the wood beneath my cheek, and suddenly I realize how uncomfortable the floor is. So I get up slowly and sit uneasily on the edge of my bed. I rock forward and then back and then forward again. I wipe my wet cheeks with the back of my hand and try to calm the rate of my sniffling. Sticking my tongue out, I experimentally lick the back of my hand in a cat-like gesture. But my tears don’t taste salty at all. Maybe more like onions.
Fertility Spooning through the fruit’s fleshy pink, I’m reminded of my doctor, parting tissue to test. The tightly packed ovals, bursting with sweet juice, stick together like cells, make me imagine peering into myself through a microscope. Each wedge of endocarp, in carpel triangles hugging the seeds, like the postsplit zygote. The sour sweet sprays my face with each slice of the knife. My mouth waters at the scent. Teaspoon extraction like a surgeon, delicate and sure, stripping excess septum like trimming fat to push the juice vesicles to my mouth’s roof. Tongue, no teeth. Flesh and juice drained, my spoon echoes hollow against the rind no more meat to strip. Maggie Nixon
Joseph Baron The morning light filtered into the brothers’ bedroom through the drawn shades of the window. The young boy sifted through the rumpled clothes in the closet. The hangers were bare except for one holding a number of ties. “Danny, it’s time to wake up,” the young boy said. He had found his pair of khaki pants and shirt. Danny’s small figure wrapped itself tighter in its cocoon. “I don’t want to go,” said Danny. “You have to go. Dad said.” The young boy stepped into his khakis and tucked in his shirt. He went back to the closet and picked out a tie. After a couple of attempts, he cinched tight the double Windsor his father had taught him. The end of the tie, silk with black fleurs de lis stitched on black, came to his belly button. “Come here and pick out your tie,” the young boy said. The sheets shuffled and a small face poked out. A pair of brown eyes, red with the morning, peered towards the closet. “I’m going to wear a big kid’s tie like you,” Danny said. He threw off his covers. Tiny goose bumps covered his arms as his feet slapped the hardwood. “Get dressed first.” Danny nodded and rooted through the piles of clothes for his khakis and button-down shirt. Once he had them on, he ran over to the closet to pick out his tie. He reached past the clip-ons and grabbed a bright blue tie with yellow smiley faces. “I got it,” Danny said. “Do you need help tying it?” the young boy asked. He turned towards his little brother. “You can’t wear that.” “Why not?” “It’s not appropriate.” “Dad said I could wear any one I wanted if I could tie it myself.” “He told me that I’m in charge now, and I say you have wear one like mine.” The young boy grabbed the thin end of the smiley face tie. Danny held the other end, his bony knuckles white with effort. The young boy yanked on the tie with all his might but Danny held fast. The young boy let go of the tie and pushed his brother into the heap 20
of clothes in the closet. Danny looked up and bit his lip to stop the tears. Dad said he shouldn’t cry. “I’m going to wake Mom up,” the young boy said. “When I get back, I’ll help you with your tie.” The young boy left the room. Danny wiped his eyes with his sleeve. He stood up, tie in hand, and walked to the mirror. He had seen his dad make the loops before, so he started making misshapen knots. When the young boy returned, Danny smiled at his reflection. He turned to his older brother. “I told you I could tie it.” The young boy smiled and bit his lip. “Danny,” he said and loosened his crisp double Windsor. “I didn’t do mine right. Could you tie mine?”
Letters from 1974 Where are you tonight, Bob Dylan? In the backward, gray alleys behind Somber laundromats? In the dreams of your disciples sleeping Under solitary bridges with thoughts of tomorrow And last week’s dinner? Or are you in the crumbs at the bottom of that empty pizza box That Jose threw out this morning? Don’t I know you, Worn Leader? As I cross the street Past the neon signs that read “Get It Now” and “Don’t You Wait.” We’re at a crossroad, don’t you see? The time has come. You’ve said yourself. Well, once you did. But then you bought a cigarette from the city Corner store and a lottery ticket dated for August. You can see us, can’t you, Mr. Dylan? Standing on stoop steps With newspaper hands and wrinkles and worries Premature above our eyes. And the others, look at them there. Lingering inside Searching for toll dimes and meter nickels. Picking up broken picture frames with memories Of hymns, hummed through midnight air-vents. And of You Cut behind the glass. What is next for us, Spent Drifter? We have hitched a ride On that Highway 61 and we are moving. We’re dust in a tornado, Mr. Dylan. We’re leaves in Spilled rain as it streams towards the gutter. We’re spaceships and Coke bottles and old record players Whose needles sit, slightly bent. Oh, but tell us what’s next! We’re driving so fast in rust- battered Fords Picking up Tom Thumb and Mr. Jones and the lady whose eyes are so sad they turned That highway double line black. 22
And where are we going, Mr. Dylan? Forward or back— In which direction does our Map point? Couldn’t you tell us? We’ve got passengers and miles and money For black coffee And no need to go home. It seems we’ve lost our way among The exits and the gas stations and the guardrails that extend on and on and on and— Mr. Dylan, our Bard of Melodic Creeds, our Captain of New Roads Where are we going? Can’t you find us, Ragged Rambler? Involuntary Mastermind of Jukebox Soapbox Avant-garde Rallies, won’t you look? Or are you too caught in your lonesome Too Stuck in the springs of that wilted, worn mattress you hid behind The freezer when she left. Please, Mr. Dylan, can’t you tell us? What song did you steal when you hid in those woods Of New York State? What story are we missing? Can you hear us, Bob Dylan? Over the static noise Of your AM radio stations This Morse code message, this postcard plea, this brine- bottled lament Is for you. Can you hear it, Mr. Dylan? Can you hear our Soaked travel trunks across the airwaves? Christine Degenaars
Going Up On the drive, we see cows and billboards featuring pictures of fetuses warning abortion is the ultimate child abuse. This is after we are told to pray the rosary daily to save the sinners. I guess it’s nice that someone wants to save us. The Baptist preacher in town only yells about hell when we walk by to get island cherry fudge ice cream. We’re almost there when we pass the ranch where I first saw a calf get its head stuck in the fence, trying to escape the rope. I cried along with it, and the boy in the cowboy hat next to me laughed. I saw him get into a Chevy with a Confederate flag in the window later that night and understood why. It is a town where the corn is knee-high before it’s warm enough to swim and if you’re not white, you’re Chippewa. At night, I lie on the dock and try to siphon milk from the moon, but only get a mouthful of fish flies and air heavy with gas. I imagine petroleum filing my lungs in a psychedelic drip and I start to gulp. Bailey Spencer
This Train (Is Bound For Glory) This Train Jordan Dorney
Two girls smiled at Tom. Look says I. One is frumpy. No response—just die. Look at someone and they don’t look back the way you look and you just want to die. We are children. No. Pit of the stomach, heart in my mouth, and I just love it. Brush your hair says I. The other: rapture in a bottle. A war has broken out between scowl and delight, oh wonder, oh secret, oh smirk of the screaming world. But surely her lips must lay down their arms. Brow advance and cheeks recede. Rush of wind and sway of reed. Behold I tell you a mystery. Her Eleusinian eyes, and I the uninitiated. A halfcocked smirk: highset face: here, oh here, is the apple of discord. For you is bend of neck and break of day. Stooping and surprised. Smoky eyes. What will you promise me for my votive offerings. The gates of Troy and the hand of Helen. The body of Patroclus my cousin. What will you promise. The other, the first, is frumpy. That’s some Greco-dreck I’ve drudged. Dredged. I forget myself, don’t I. What is there to talk about in public anyway. What was I saying then. Oh yes. Look says I. No response—forget the face. Red little shoes, but who cares about that. The birds and the bees and the fishes of the seas are out on full display. Little sparrows. Tits. Te-he. Drink it up. Sleep it off. Set yourself to work.
The window. Look out the window, Jerome. Look. Look at them passpasspass. Love greater than for any friend of mine. Mean and brutish and oblivious to my needs, these three friends of mine. Need friends that nobody likes, on islands far west over the sea. Hate the world that loves what I love. Better safe and dead and across the sea. But look out the window, and drink in those perfectly unknowable creatures. Because that’s the thing: you don’t care when you can’t see the faces. After funerals it’s the same thing. If there’s no video, no pic26
tures. Sometimes there’s no pictures, sometimes. I forget. The videos are always of the children and the pictures. Look lovey look lovey over here lovey my lovey. Good gracious Virginia quit playing with your—. No Ginny no look here. And you don’t need that since the children never go. Sometimes. I didn’t. Obviously. No children of ours will ever go. Obviously. And what the wonders of the terribly burning tiger of modern science. Yes, yes: what the hammer; what the chain. And only two left halves of a child will lead them. Why. Why. Why. Why. Why. All-whys creator. No ex and only whys makes a man manly, manly, and rise above others. But I was in America: what may not be expected in a country of eternal light. Enough. Me and tits, I mean. Did you think Tom. No babies from us. Genetic incompatibility of the common chickadee and one fully-grown human being. Liverpool to my—Fulham to my—Arsenal to my—oh fuck it. Teams of nasty body parts and nasty foods. Out of my league. Out of my league, I’m saying. Different flock of flying creatures. Tits galore. In any case: if they do go, they’re locked in as children. Adults you say, if you happen to catch a glimpse in the corner of a photograph, in a frame or two, look how thin he was or her hair was so dark or her clothes, my god, her clothes. She hardly looks herself. But you remember them thirty or forty or fifty or sixty years old. That’s what they were and are. Adults. But children who go, who go early we say. We say. Is that. Well, we say nothing, but we think, when we recognize, when we remember. When we are embarrassed, almost, we think. That is. She had just. She was about to. She was going to. The picture of my cousin on my grandmother’s refrigerator. Flowers and her great blue hat. Oh babbling infant angel. Ungrown for all eternity. What a beautiful little girl. Tits. Do you remember what he looks like says I, Molly’s new boy. No, just thin like you said, buddy, he signs. Do you remember his name says I and he signs no. I bet he knows and doesn’t want to bother me. Names bother me, I’ve told him. Names should be used as little as possible: otherwise, where’s the power. Nothing like the smile I smile when I say a name. Vocative evocative vocative. The word which calls forth a whole person. Aleph and Adonai and Αlpha 27
and Omega and the Lord of Fire and Ice. Hush hush. She likes him says I and he signs yes.
I know there’s someone. Yes. What would Tom say. (Or Molly or CP.) I should say that I see her, that her perfume, the sweetsmelling, the burntoffering, catches my attention. It’s a noetic premonition. No sight and no smell, though I wish for them. And Tantalus there did I espy. And thereupon did nose behold. And ever duller grew the taste and ever duller the sight. And the harder he tried—. What a laugh if her little laugh should stand out to me above the humming. A miracle beside the sea that would be. But it really was no miracle. What happened was just this. The wind began to switch—. Christ, she says. Somebody spills their coffee on somebody’s shoes and somebody’s bag and Dorothy and the Wicked Witch take a break. Shoes ruined. Book in bag drenched. Complaining. Vain. Doubly vain. Christ, she says. Don’t you know he never healed the—. But the blind, of course, and the spiritrapt. He moved as the spirit willed. The holy breath. Dovebreath. Treaclesweet. Imagine sticking mud and spit in a man’s ears and he answers him saying I hear men like trees talking. Imagine talking to it if it’s an it and it says I am legion and he sends it into a herd of pigs. A pig who doesn’t squeal. A herd of pigs who can’t hear the squealing when they rush over the cliff. But you’d feel it. Thousands of hooves. Thumthumpathum. They’d feel the rush of wind and cool of sea. Ghlol. Ghlol. Herdfold. Then. Bacon. Cured meat. Cured of evil spirits. Te-he. Maybe he does it in one of the gnostics. Him who has ears let him hear the hidden truth. Maybe someone will find a scroll and shoot my theory straight to hell. A scrap of a scroll in a dumpheap. Egyptian dumpheap. Oxyrhoxysomethingchus. Like old Gehenna. Where the flames are never quenched and the trash of the ancients is our firelogged library. A stray line of—. With a grocery list on the back. On the front even. List of stock and inventory over words of such import. And Vain Jane is worried about her shoes. 28
Give me something real. Oh bring them to justice, whosoever defiled the lost works of —. Only a stray line left to find. Will this happen again. Will Our Lord, Lear be lost and Leopold Bloom. Will men ever waste our dear dirty fathers, slay them in their beds with humdrum neglect. Crimes against humanity. (Well, against the human things but not humanity. Or against humanity but not human beings.) Oh weep over lost libraries, but shed not a tear for lost and slaughtered, swollen sheep. Forgotten charnel house. Or it was papyri they wrote upon and my metaphor only stirs up vegetable tears. Still, let us see the shears that cut them. Vengeance is mine saith the gourd. Until then. The blind and the spiritrapt he healed but not the deaf. It’s only a dreadful romance novel that’s ruined by the coffee. Melting. Melting. Fire of my loins. Quenched. My God, they had no toilet paper but rolls upon rolls of Aeschylus to spare. Why says I does she like him, and he signs, I don’t know. The heart has reasons, he signs. Oh stop says I. Hush. There are four stops to go and that’s four less than before and two more above and two more below and I’m sure. And I’m losing it. Hip check. Tip. I’m sure: next stop. Sleep.
Take the devil you know and all that but so what. Did she know him before says I. She knew him through—, he signs, but you don’t know her. Knowing’s painful and not knowing’s in vain. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, procedure or therapy. The implantation and implementation of something not my own. I wouldn’t do it for anything. So what if it’s only humming. Zumzumzum. Let the whole world hum. Even atoms vibrate. Atoms vibrate right says I. Right, he signs. Why, he signs. I don’t know says I. Is it charges: positives and negatives. I’m free, aren’t I, and I’m the master of me. I own my body and the fruits of my labor, and all that. That’s what everyone says, ok not everyone says, even if I don’t believe it sometimes. And that’s what it is, you know, they just believe it. I know things and I’m not sure, but they just believe it. I make my atoms hum, and they hum when I make them. Let the whole world hum, but I’ll hum when I make them. 30
You called ahead says I. Yeah, buddy, he signs. Leave. You’d better call again says I. Yeah, buddy, he signs. I mean it. I really mean it.
Two girls approach Tom. They recognize him: it’s an honor to meet. The frumpy one stands in front of me, and I can’t make out what’s going on. They are unusually discreet. No one else approaches. Four, three, two, they walk away. As always. As sometimes. It’s not for me, but there is another smirk. Not tonight, then. How can her hair be so straight. Even amid the steam or smoke of her cabalist eyes. Hiding. I should like to hide within that little cloud. Perhaps if I pray to Sappho, Sappho of the violet hair and the honeysweet smile. That’s an improvement. Not spectacular, but a bit more sincere. Buck up. It would have been better for us tonight not to have seen her at all. No matter. There are other places to look and miles to go before we eat.
Look away and I’m sparkling jealous. I’m looking at these buildings and these people, coruscant and gleamridden. Fractious and multificient. And the heavens declare. Nothing but the powderhalopowder around the human things. Crushed diamonds: refuse of the refuse of the earth. The kickedup dust: the brushed-from-the-soles-of-our-feet dust. We move on. Rejected in every city. Lurid. Garish. Brilliant. Queer. Oh alphabetsoup citizens: better to die than be in Baku. Where casual hate abides. Where the devil has bottlegreen eyes. Where’s that again, I might have said. Tom told me, and not everyone knows. Tehran then. Everybody knows where that is. The meaning, oh mullah magoo, is clear: we have no alphabet soup here. They say. And it isn’t but a quick drop in the public square, I suppose, if need be. By the neck until dead. But that really isn’t bad enough, and flaying would fair, they say. Though once more, we 31
assure, there aren’t any gays in Iran. Wilder than I. If I had a hood, I’d pull it over my head right about now. And pull the cord tight. And take a deep breath. Anticipate the plunge. Shaking and swooning. Oh darkness, oh darkness. Very subtle are we. Be quiet. No stealing. The sudden zeal for prosecuting the plagiarist. No. At least you could let me go along with some dignity, some secret little dignity. They never let you sit and watch, but now I can. A jerking and not a smooth hand, I shall go about the face of the world. And who watches the watches tick. I’d still feel guilty about it. Those lights never let me be. What I would give to trade for a proper working set. Of watches.
You sure you called says I. Yeah, buddy, he signs. Red blurs are my favorites. They stand out in the dark, and the dark is where it’s at. The outerdarkness I mean. And when you’re there you can always go outer. Further from the immanent which you cannot escape. Even there. And it’s a long way to Joppa. And wherever you hide there am I and wherever you take cover there am I also. Neither height nor depth shall separate you. A threat as much as a promise. Silent fire: without warmth or light. But no gnashing of teeth just yet. A few more stops before the restaurant. A burning fire though. Red on black is better than anything, like a fire in the middle of a little lake at night in the middle of summer, like Mars up above you when you’re too near the dreadful humanity to see any stars. The war god I imagine has slain the other angels, and this is more poetic than that mandust has slain them. The martial god has conquered the heavens. Does not stand alone in the sky. Say not that he is hard pressed alone at last. As Tom was. In the desert. In transit across the sun. Venus it was who would have died with ichor sprung of mortal bronze. The imperishable perishing. The incorruptible partakes of corruption. Oh say it of that effete goddess of love. But do not say it of Mars. Last conquered though he may be, but soon conquered still. Our shaken dust could not. Oh say that it could not. 32
It would be a better night tonight if I could say that it could not. But take that fire and run it past your eyes. Really sears the little image in your head: a bright blur when you see it, a dying little ember for the next few seconds. I really wish they would turn off these lights. I could shut my eyes. Not asleep just resting. Shut out the world in every which way, but feel the microscopic hum. Is ising. Being being. The depth of being. Too far. Enough. I could have, I guess. But then I’d have missed these delicious little blurs. Gnashgnash. And down down down it goes it went next stop. No blurs. Eyes flicker and close a bit more.
If you could keep the blurs blurry close up, I’d love you forever. And if you could keep them that way at a distance, I’d do the same. It’s easy to love the whole world when it’s the whole world you love and not the men in the world, the women in the world. Who hates whom he does not know has only a mental defect. Call in the doctor. Everyone can love whom he does not know, just so long as he does not know him. Let my little head resolve the blurs for myself, so at least I think I know them. Let me be a little god, making and molding and casting them in my image. See, I changed my mind. Let there be some old time religion. I do it anyway, so just let me be. Because now I have to hate them, have to kick them out of the garden when they get close, have to send the forty days of rain when they’re far away. When I walk in the garden in the cool of the day I see wickedness. When I look down upon the peoples of the world. Enough. One miss and one miss alone for you. One Miss Ann Thrope. A pun is an insult to the intelligence. Is it now. What says I. Is it now, he signs. What. Flask from hip. Hip check. Eyes aflutter. Eyes retreat. Eyes interred in far off time: the sword, the sword of all directions. The rain of all dimensions. Oh what a world. Who ever thought a good little girl like you could—. No one’s going to talk me down from it, 33
either. And for that matter, no one’s going to take me down. There aren’t any little Morningstars here. It’s all or nothing and screw the righteous. They never do what I say. Enough. What did you say, buddy, he signs. Nothing says I. It’s not good to be alone. (And toms and tomcats don’t count. No, he counts for—.) Someone said that. Or everyone says that but someone important must have said it first. Someone who could do something about it. At least it was a happy thought for him, a soon to be resolved one at least. Stretched over the face of the deep, the blackclay sea. The primeval sea unteeming, unharvested and empty. The wonderful wiz and the was and the will be. The whole unto himself. No sooner did the thought enter his mind. No time for chestclenching angst. No time for long nights with your face in the pillow and your eyes emptied out, the only salt sea beneath. When he speaks, the day breaks, the skies clear, and life springs eternal. Where is the trouble in that. Everyone afterward who ever said that was pretty f—ing depressed. Honest and declarative but impotent and pretty f—ing depressed. No world incipient, no waitinginthewings world. My ribs are not your ribs, my ways are not your ways. My word makes no flesh. For this reason a man must. What must a man. What must I. Give me someone then. Like me, please. Like me. Perish the thought. Sleep.
Let me rest my eyes. Am resting. Not old do I feel. But tired. Life without hardship or tragedy or pain or suffering. It is still enough. Is it. Others are tested; others abound in something. Even in being exceptionally bad. But I am middling. If I were the politician, if I were Tom himself, the prize and shining star of the East, I’d have nothing to say about tough-as-nails mom or atlas-shouldered dad or famine or peril or sword. 34
What of it. Shall I swallow swords. Shall I take up serpents. Put tender arms in way of deathtart teeth. Shall I put my good fortune to the test. Where is my opportunity, oh malignity of fortune. Are my people any longer enslaved. No, they were freed twice over. Was I exposed at birth. No, I was fed and bed twice over. Is there such soft and effeminate peace that I should be welcomed. No, everything is a.o.k. Is the city dispersed upon the waves that I should lead them back. No, we are all here, neither ghettoized nor cast apart. What modes then and what orders shall I set up. Oh batter my heart, you great buttermilk lump. What if I were a prophet. If I were a prophet, that would be something. But prophets need a time and an empty mountaintop. And subway walls and tenement halls, says Paul Simon. That’s poverty and anguish, you clever yew and yenta, you jew and junta. Then. Cannon fire in the orchestra. Flourish of a thousand horns. Exult. Exult. This is noise. A reminder from the pulpit, a woman’s voice, oh daughter of Zion, which I have not heard for so long. Amen amen I say to you. Oh brethren, oh sistren. No fly by night religion, no feast day sabbathkeeping, no spirit born of rushing wind shall save you. The sky is split and the sea is spilt: let all you who have ears let him hear. Oh he’s tramplin’ out the vintage where—. This train is bound for glory this train. Don’t ride nothin’ but the whole and the holy. Oh beloved get ready get ready. There’s a train a-comin’. For I feel the earth a-tremblin’, and the mountain spouts forth fire. And behold he descends the mountain with a crown of glory on his head, and his face shines. Oh wretched monk, thou sibilant sycophant, thou fig-shower, thou squib thou, I see him with horns upon his head. Oh idiom improper. Jerome. Jerome. Oh Moses with horns, with shining horns descends. I see the mountain carried into the midst of the sea and I am consumed by the roar of the sea and the onrush of the rocktide and the calamity of the— Wake up, Jerome, he signs with a shoulderbound elbow. If he won’t talk to me, how can we have a good night. I suppose. I suppose I didn’t hear.
Correspondence I. She can’t stand American idiom: chip on the shoulder, damaged goods, good riddance. She prefers romance languages, despite her stumbling pronunciation.
She picks at the calamari, aware of her hollow places: the dip in her throat, the arches of her feet. ¡Tu no eres nada que una maldita! Infidel American, she keeps her mouth shut and listens to the woman on her left, who sobs softly: ¿Pero porque no me quieres? II. In Munich, he finds that good beer improves pronunciation and sips a Hofbräu as he ambles toward the zoo, visiting the other expatriates: Panthera pardus in her black velvet dress, Pygoscelis adeliae shuffling like a nun, Pongo borneo pulling faces. He finishes the bottle as they feed the lions. Later he’ll hear the roaring as he sleeps, dream of nails in his back and the clang of cages. Kayti Lahsaiezadeh
hey, what u doin tn?
A Felled Deodar I Found in the Rakaposhi I can just see her drowned body in the beck, swollen and submerged, a shape distended beneath the dense current, an ice-flowed bullet but colder, blind and numb and starless ribbon of night. And as I make my way to her, I can tell she was a waterlogged deodar first, henna-trunked cedar drawn sienna, now fogged anemic grey through hardened waves; sunk boughs twisted bent, feet uprooted, fingers frozen, struck bare. A felled spire daughter of the summit banks: those sanded strands she called home; these soaked-dark stretches she knew; shores where kusumba thread wove her in turmeric winks: flashes so delicate and bright, bindi star-petaled bright, safflower suns stifle-bright in canopies needled dark. Forest tower mountain trees, grown Rakaposhi river green. Above her freshet casket
I hear sisters teach a stoic that weeps: jasmine oils dew and drop, too heavy for the stiffest breeze to break, but not sink below the choppy run; so settle to settle, viscous blooms, Jessamine eddies. Byzantium blots; what ink insoluble stain removes. I translate “wait” from Brushashki as I raise her freckled bark, but I’m too late in meeting my Pakistani bride, this dead girl in my arms; her too grinning Mehndi mouth clotted beads and congealed amber sap. Townshend Peters
Miriamâ€™s Song Named bitter, I reach for sycamore, thirst for fig sugar and honey wine, salve for mortar-coated lips. Always my hand is pushed away, tied to the loom by chains of desert-wind-whipped hair. At the river I gather reeds: blood beetle, I bow to Nile spittle and choke on copper dust gone blue. Prophecy, I think, when I prick my finger. Squeeze: coax beads of red to harden like pharaohâ€™s jewels and whisper to a basket drawn downstream. It is the year the threads are stained and I feed dates to the rapids, hope my brother stays sweet. Bailey Spencer
Down the James David Kunkel
Halfway to the river, it started to rain. I’d never driven this route, but Matt said we were about halfway. The sky had looked gray all morning, and after that there was thunder, but when nothing happened we thought it might’ve been a false start. Now it rained. The thunder had stopped. The day wasn’t dark enough for lightning. “Do you think we’ll still see Sam in the rain?” I said. “Sam doesn’t give two shits about rain,” said Matt. I pictured Sam paddling his kayak in the weather, and even though it hadn’t started down that hard yet, I could just see the river frothing around him with rain flying in his eyes. We’d sit on the bank staring out, he’d row right past us, and we’d miss him through the water. Originally, he’d planned to take on the whole Mississippi, whether out of some Into the Wild-type thing or just to prove he could, until his park ranger uncle had told his family he’d die. So he’d downgraded to the James. Matt drove and scratched his nose on the left-hand side from time to time. His car was littered with CDs and receipts, as if to prove he’d had his license for a while, and he turned the radio way up so we could hear the music over the sound of the rain. It was just him and me. Emma and Jason were supposed to come with us, too, but they’d called and canceled at the last minute. Matt said Kevin might meet us there, but that sounded unlikely. I don’t know if anybody else even knew where we were supposed to be going. Matt could run a five-minute mile and do pull-ups until the gym teacher made him stop. “Maybe this’ll at least cut the heat a bit,” I said. “We can hope.” “It’s been unbelievably hot.” “That’s the weather for you.” He took a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and held one to the car lighter. I knew that some of my friends smoked but I’d never seen anybody light one in their car. He angled the pack toward me. “Want one?” he said. “I’ve never tried it,” I said. “Good for you,” he said, and then he took the pack and put it in the cup holder. “What’s it like?” “You get dizzy and feel like you want to throw up,” he said, and 41
placed it in his mouth and then blew smoke out the window. Some rain came in and he switched the cigarette to his right hand. “But you get used to that after a while.” “And then what?” “And then you get cancer.” He took an exit as the rain started to pick up. “Here, try it,” he said, and handed me the second half of his. “You’re not going to die from a half.” I took the cigarette and some cinders fell off onto the floor. He told me to step on them and I did, and then he said it was fine and if I looked at the seats I’d find cigarette burns all over. Rain flecked my face once I rolled down the window, and I placed the butt in my mouth like he had and then blew to the right. I didn’t feel anything but tried again and frowned slightly and attempted to lower one eyebrow until he laughed at me. “You need to inhale it, like weed,” he said. “I’ve never tried that, either.” “Christ, Phil, next thing you’re going to tell me you’ve never even killed a hooker.” I laughed and coughed, which he said was good. I coughed some more the next time and handed it back to him, and he took a long drag and tossed it out the window with a flick. I felt like I had to throw up and was a little dizzy. “What’s the best way to hold it?” I asked. “What?” “You know, like if I had somebody to impress.” He laughed. “If you have someone to impress,” he said, “stay away from cigarettes.” We talked some more about smoking and I’d never had such a long one-on-one conversation with him. He was just the same alone as in our group at school. The road we were taking tracked the James on the left. Through the trees, we could see the water popping with raindrops. I looked for a kayak just in case we passed Sam on the way, even though Matt said it might be an hour before he got there, given the spot on his GPS. I didn’t know Sam all that well yet, but then I didn’t know Matt all that well either. There were supposed to be more people with us. By the time we stopped, the rain had reached the downpour I’d imagined earlier, and the water pounded hard against the windshield until we couldn’t see ten feet in front of us. Matt pulled over, and I thought we were waiting for the rain to die down until he said, 42
“We’re here.” “Where?” He pointed toward his now-closed window. “There’s a little beach that way,” he said, and then looked out and turned to me again. “You can’t really see it now.” “Are you sure that’s even it?” “Only one way to find out.” With the radio and the engine off, the rain sounded louder than ever, and we shouted so we could hear each other. “Shouldn’t we wait?” I said. “We don’t want to miss him.” “How far away is he?” “Still a while.” “So what are you talking about?” “Don’t be a pussy,” he said. He put his feet up on the seat and untied his shoes, and then he put them and his socks on the ground and took off his shirt. His chest looked especially pale in the flat light, and he opened the door and stepped out into the rain. From outside, he stared at me. “Well?” he yelled. I took off my shoes and unbuttoned my shirt but left on the undershirt. His hair was already flattened down by the water and I pushed open the door. The pounding only grew louder, and with some caution I stepped with my bare feet onto the asphalt. The rain drenched us as I followed him across the street and through a thin layer of trees. It almost hurt with the force it was falling, but I followed him all the same and through the trees there was a small beach jutting out, invisible from the road and covered in wet, gray sand. The ground gave way under our feet as we walked all the way out to the water, which seemed about to envelop the whole beach if the banks rose much higher. Then we stared out but couldn’t see much in the rain. Matt pointed downriver just in case I still didn’t know which way he’d be coming from. “Now what?” I yelled, and he yelled back, “Be patient,” and tried to light a cigarette. Then he sat down on the beach and said, “I should’ve known that wouldn’t work.” I sat down, too, after standing for a little while and realizing that my shorts couldn’t possibly get any wetter if I sat on the sand. It took five or ten minutes for the rain to begin to let up, so we sat mostly in silence at first, partly because there wasn’t much to say and partly because it was raining too hard to hear each other. My 43
The Fog Rolls In
shirt was transparent within a few seconds. Matt breathed deeply and visibly as the rain made his skin turn red. Eventually, it eased off, still drizzling but only lightly, and our visibility improved enough to see the entirety of the little section of land where we sat. “How did you find out about this?” I asked. “My dad has a boat and Sam and I took it out once and went as far up as we could, and this was it.” “Your boat made it all the way up here?” “What?” “I said, your boat could make it all the way up here?” “Not anymore, probably. That old thing’s a piece of shit.” “This is a cool little spot.” “You should see it in better weather.” “It’s practically invisible from the road.” He nodded and picked up some sand. He kept staring at the beach around him and sometimes he’d look at the water straight ahead. Sometimes he glanced at the GPS next to him. He adjusted his shorts since they’d ridden up too far up his waist. “Do you guys come here a lot?” I said. “Once a week, since I got my license.” He tossed some sand out into the river as if he was trying to skip it. “Must cost a lot.” “Hm?” “For gas.” “Right.” After a little while longer, the rain had almost stopped entirely, leaving behind a gray mist that started to turn into fog. Matt leaned back on the sand, and I ground a few pieces between my forefinger and my thumb and glanced at him a few times. He looked up at the white sky, blinking to keep water out of his eyes. I put a foot in the river. It was warm, and that surprised me even though the week had been one of our hottest all year. The humidity came back with the fog and my soaked shirt clung to my body. I felt a few mosquito bites. I took it off and said, “What a fucking awful excuse for a shirt.” Matt looked at me and laughed. I crossed my arms over my chest, whiter than the fog, and I could see the cleft in my chest where the lines from my ribs showed through. My armpits felt hot with my hands. “I’d say we could go swimming,” Matt said, “but it’s pretty high right now and I wouldn’t feel great about myself if you drowned.” “Swimming in the river’s always disappointing anyway,” I said. 45
“It’s like it wants to be the ocean but just can’t.” He laughed. “It’s like it wants to be the ocean,” he said. “What do you guys usually do here?” “Swim, tan, you know, all that stuff you can do so well on days like today.” I laughed. He looked at his GPS and smiled, and he looked at me and my hands. “Sometimes we fight,” he said. “What?” “Not in a way that would hurt each other, you know. Just a little sparring.” “I think you’ve been watching too many movies,” I said. “People used to box all the time,” he said. “Back in the twenties or something.” “I’m sure they did.” He looked at his GPS for Sam and pushed himself up. “Want to try?” he said, and he held his fists up in front of him, rocking back and forth, weaving his head around and jabbing the air. His sinews stood out when he extended his arms. I said, “I don’t know.” “Don’t wimp out on me now,” he said, jumping around me in his boxing stance. I stood up slowly and heaved off the ground. My shorts hung low. I tightened my belt buckle. “Hey, they don’t call those boxers for nothing,” he said. “At this rate, we’re going to be naked by the time Sam comes around,” I said. He laughed and I adjusted my shorts higher on my waist. We stood there and he showed me how to hold my arms. He showed me blocks and jabs, then haymakers and uppercuts because I asked him to. He said we should pull our punches some, because our parents would probably be suspicious if we came back with bruises on our bodies. Then I might have to tell my mom I’d smoked. I laughed but agreed. He jumped around with more energy and quickness than I’d seen before and I wondered how much he and Sam had done this. Then we both got in our stances. I moved toward him as he moved from side to side. I aimed a jab at him. He ducked out of the way, hitting me hard in the side, and I grabbed it and fell to the sand. He was breathing hard from moving so much but raised his hands in triumph, and then he fell to the ground in a spinning motion and landed next to me but slightly further down the beach so his head was the height of my navel and he laughed. Trying not to sound like I was hurt, I clutched my side. He reached his hand over and patted me right under the belly button where my shorts had fallen again. He left his hand there for a 46
while. I stared at the sky and my side hurt. I felt the light pressure from his hand. It didn’t move at all and he breathed heavily. The sky was white and water crept into my eyes from the mist. I couldn’t see through the fog. “We should keep an eye out for Sam,” I said. He sat up quickly, nodded, and stood and went over to check his GPS. I sat up slowly, looking down the river instead of trying to watch him. “I think he’s stopped,” he said. “In the fog. That’s more of an issue than the rain.” “That makes sense,” I said. He laughed, and we went back to the car. As he put his shoes back on, he said, “Didn’t you wear a shirt to the beach?” “Screw it. I’ve got plenty of undershirts.” I buttoned my shirt and he drove me back to my house. Once we left the river, there wasn’t much fog anywhere, and dusk fell but it wasn’t colorful like usual thanks to the rain. It was gray and flat and looked like night only lighter and Matt drove fast and smoked another cigarette. I thought that was strange for an athlete. When he dropped me off it was humid but clear. Sam stopped the next day after he got to Richmond since his mom thought the river would get too dangerous further on, but if he’d kept going he would’ve reached the ocean and paddled away until you couldn’t see him from land. Matt and I would’ve looked for him anyway, but he would be too far offshore.
Picking Peaches I was afraid for years. Pain revolved in my mind like a pink belly, almost ripe, that left my palms all silver splinters. My husband’s gone concave: we forget to eat in summer, when the air’s as thick as cream and night has made its bed in our hair. We buy fruit from the supermarket: blueberries, apricots, plums that go black in the bowl. Their skins peel back— the justice of Cambyses, make fleshy thrones on our tongues. I always got it wrong: my mother tried to teach me tarts, upside-down cakes, but always too sweet, falling flat like old lungs, perhaps the fruit bitter to the throat— my mother always set them out for the birds. I heard the moon lived inside the fruits’ fat bodies, cut away with the fading month but I never saw it spill to my fingers. Perhaps only once, when our bed stretched away like a desert, 48
and he, looking for water, sliced gently in to the waiting pit. He says: youâ€™re pretty as a peach. But when he pulls at my hips I go with him, the skin stayed to bone, and I forget, then, standing at the sink with all fear stuck to my flesh, trying to tear my hands away, and so in this flowering mouth we turn warm and heavy as dew, just beginning to drop. Helen Spica
The Party Fuels the Fire
John MalavĂŠ 50
Wailing Whimpering Wimp If it were dark outside and dark in here, I could just be. It’s all mine when I sit and watch. You can imagine anything but not being, and all that, so there’s no danger in trying. As far as I can tell. Just close your eyes and hold your nose. Wave your hands and paint your toes. Antimeditation. Mmmmmhhho. Mmmmmhhho. Igoy the Antiyogi’s orders. That’s what a party is for and dancing is for and the swirl of the gleamridden caravan is for. Blacklight basement: shake your head. I can almost. And all creation humhumhums. Breathing bridgeofnose close. Grinding and grating and grasping. Lopsmiles and liquid courage. Rolling thunder of fleshy thighs. Enough. I suppose it’s too much for me says I. But look around and it’s all nothing. Dissolve dissolve. Oh very subtle. Oh shake your fist in the howling wind, why don’t you. Curse the god that made you, why don’t you. Beat your breast and tear your hair. Put on sackcloth and ashes. On the wild moor and let it be raining. No, thundering, let there be thunder, and let the raging sea seethe and the sea-cum-sky erupt. A craggy crag and a windswept shore. Hounds in the distance. Bloodhounds. Bloody great bloodhounds. Heathcliff and heather in all his galling glory. Enough. Jordan Dorney
A Clean Cut Lindsey James
Two weeks. That’s how long I’d been back in Maine. Two weeks and four days. That’s how long I’d been flushing my pills. I’m not even sure why I was doing it—a combination of things, I suppose. Orange cylinders, lined up like soldiers on the white tile sink. The bottles and I, one pill lighter every day. I surface when Peter yanks me awake at 8:37, cotton-ball sky pressing on my bedroom window. The sheets are the same ones I’d bled on when Ronnie Stark took my virginity, sweaty and panting like a pig, on a heavy-lidded Tuesday in July. He had been the pitcher for the high-school team and was heading off to play for Vassar in the fall. I was fifteen. I wonder if he still wears his hair parted to the left and gelled up in a ruffle. I’d gotten the stains out—well, almost out. There was a heart-shaped dollop of faded pink like a secret shadow only I knew about. My father had never concerned himself with things like new bed sheets and dish soap. I ribbon down the side of the hill in the shiny new Jeep at Peter’s command, the water glimmering like a sequin dress out the window. The sun is hot and intense, but the air is cold. A deep breath is delicious. “Get a cake, any cake. Oh and milk, two-percent, Ellen doesn’t like skim. Oh and don’t go to Donny’s, that place closed down last winter. You have to go to the A&P. Straight through town. You remember?” Of course I remember. “Actually, she likes chocolate cake and white icing I think. So get that. Got it?” Got it. I buy a packet of cigarettes too even though I don’t smoke much and the local newspaper even though I don’t read much. Chewing on the inside of my cheek I realize the boy ringing me up was a year below me in high school. Quiet, with a dry face, fuzzy dusting of red hair, and a frail bottom row of teeth. He looks like a stretched-out version of his teenage self, old silly putty. He doesn’t recognize me, or if he does, he doesn’t show it. I fight the urge to call him Billy because I’m pretty sure it’s not his name, but something about it feels right. I instinctively look to his left ring finger. Not married. Not surprised. Kids used to pick on him pretty badly because he was dumb. I don’t say dumb in the mean way, but simply just dumb in the dumb way. “Paper?” he asks looking up. His eyes don’t meet mine. I imagine he’s focusing on a tiny spot in the middle of my hairline. “What?” 52
“Paper?” he pleads, like a little kid waiting for his mother to serve him dinner. “Oh,” I muse, looking up at the ceiling, dotted with ambiguous brown stains and blocks of florescent light, “I don’t care.” He nods and reaches for a plastic bag. “Wait,” I gasp as my hand twitches toward him like I might grab the bag right out of his hand. “Paper. I want paper.” He opens his mouth then closes it. I hear his twig white teeth click against each other and stifle the shiver that runs down my arms. The burst of nervous energy dissipates as quickly as it came. A thought strikes me. “Is there someone here who can write on the cake?” Billy boy blinks twice before saying anything. I might have well asked, “Is there someone here who can perform open heart surgery?” I cling to the idea though, picturing the pink swoopy “Y” at the end of “Birthday” and the big loops on the “E” in Ellen. I think about the only letter my mother ever wrote me. I knew it by heart. Like someone tattooed it on my tongue, on my vocal cords. Every time I try to speak, I think I might recite it. But I never have. The words are caged on paper. If you love someone write it down. That way they will never forget. I love you and Peter. Remember that. “No,” he says flatly, maybe with the hint of a smirk. Or maybe I’m imagining it. I want to shake him, or scream, but I hand him a twenty instead and walk through the automatic doors. I carry the little cake, white and begging, out to the car and cry with my forehead on the steering wheel and my bare legs sticking to the leather seats that Peter can’t afford. The icing starts to droop under the magnified sun and I feel like iron, so low and heavy that I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it back up the hill.
I collapsed in a beauty salon. That’s what they told me when I woke up in the ER, bleary eyed. I remember it was on a corner, rounded like a ballpoint pen, the outside rough white stucco. All pastel-pink floors and pastel-pink lips. Long nails the color of candy and cottage cheese, walls the color of piss. The smell of floor polish and bubble gum. Syrupy music that made you feel sluggish and drunk. It was the kind of place where some unlucky girl could get her hair done for prom or a drifter could get a blowjob out back behind the dumpster. No one cared. 53
I guess I knew it was the place. I had to have known. I just walked in and asked for a haircut. I remember reaching up and feeling my hair against the stunted pillow in the emergency room. I was a sheered sheep. Between hot, thick wave of nausea the doctor told me I was in Tulsa. I told him I had a bus to catch. He told me I needed to rest because I wasn’t well. I told him that I sometimes did that, collapsed in public places. The doctor, who had thick glasses and the haircut of a five-year-old, much like mine, shook his head. I told him sometimes I forgot to breathe. He scribbled on his clipboard. I asked him where the fuck he put my braids. He stared at me for almost a whole minute then turned around, white coat flashing, and ordered a consult. My mind does this thing. Like watching a movie frame by frame. Things come in flashes. Sometimes it’s what’s happening in front of me. Sometimes it’s stuff I didn’t even realize I forgot. When I think of her, I think of a woman who used to be pretty. A woman who used to be shiny and new. She got used up quicker than most. People who aren’t like us, people like Peter, well, they have more time before they need to be taken out with spring cleaning or sold at a garage sale for cheap to someone who doesn’t realize just how used up they really are. I’m not like Peter. He’s two years older, two years sturdier. I’m a sponge, absorbing everything, threading it into my being. He’s a stone. In a lot of ways we’re similar, though. Dark hair the color of coffee beans, cinnamon eyes. We both prefer beer to vodka, quiet to noise, winter to summer. We like to keep our mouths shut because we’ve learned that most times, listening is better than speaking, understanding better than being heard. The sound of the water calms us, probably because we grew up in a rickety coastal house with open windows. Our dad made sure the windows were open, even in mom’s room. When we’d hear slamming we’d know it was a bad day. Those bad days looped into bad weeks, into bad months, and building in my memory into bad years. The good days, golden and glittering, faded as we got older, like they were being filled in with a dark pen. Peter isn’t like her. I am. Luck of the draw I guess. That’s why we’re so different. I want to understand her, he to forget her. I think I might have the capacity for forgiveness; he barely has the capacity to mention her name. My life is lived in violent shifts between black and white, being yanked in either direction. His isn’t.
The winter that Peter and I were ten, a little boy drowned off the docks. Taken by the waves, like a bag of dirty laundry, scattered out at sea. I used to have nightmares about his ragdoll form moving along with the waves in perfect unison, like a grotesque puppet, in tune with the music. He was always faceless and green, tangled in black seaweed, useless, dead. She’d flick the lights on when she heard me whimpering, illuminating her tired face behind dirty glasses. She’d wrap her sweater tighter, smooth back my dark hair, and say “It’s okay, it’s not you, sweetheart, it’s not you. You’re safe.” The lady I saw once a week at school said I had an overactive imagination. Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. But it haunted me. The little boy’s body didn’t wash up on the gritty beach for seven days. People ate dinner, slept in their beds, bought groceries; all the while he was cradled by the cold iron whitecaps that could bite as swiftly as a wild dog. I didn’t know him, although I do remember seeing him riding around in his driveway on a red big wheel, the kind Peter used to ask for but never got. Maybe that’s why it upset me so much. I kept thinking of Peter on that fucking trike.
I don’t eat the icing. It makes my tongue feel waxy and I swear I can feel each single grain of sugar, like someone melted a candle in sand. The little birthday girl watches me, wisps of white icing clown makeup around her mouth, blue eyes like big coins and cheeks like pin cushions. Ellen is four and she has Peter’s face and hair, but her mother’s eyes. There is something sad about the way she looks at me. Like she expects things from me that I could never give her. I feel my hand go instinctively to my stomach like someone else is moving it. It feels strange to be in his house. Our father’s house. Peter didn’t have to force me to come back here. After Tulsa I knew I had to go somewhere. Peter said he’d take me in if I promised to take my meds again. I felt like it wasn’t me who was breaking a promise, it was someone else. Someone with wild eyes and a charred brain. He doesn’t talk, I think because in his own furrowed brow and tight-lipped version of the world, I’m all his fault. I don’t talk because of some deep-rooted sense of pride I’m holding on to with twisted fingers. I look at Ellen and try to fathom that all she knows about the world could fit in a suitcase. And all she cares about is that piece of icing-covered chocolate cake right here, in this kitchen, right 55
now. That’s it. I used to think they were right about the medicine, that I needed it. But I’m changing. They are trying to deflate me. I’m pretending to do what they tell me. I have this secret and my mind is clearing up. I feel like I’m soaring. I’m a good liar. Peter’s back is to me, his hands under hot running water, something we didn’t have growing up. The doorbell rings. I flinch as Ellen screams and knocks her cake onto the dark wood floor. “What?” Peter says, jolting as he sends a fork down the garbage disposal (another thing we didn’t have). “Fuck,” he yells. For a second I think he got his hand stuck too. Ellen whips around holding out a single finger. “Mommy says that’s bad, and and and and.” Her stutter is fucking debilitating. I feel like I’m banging my head on the table. Peter says he doesn’t notice it anymore. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, your mother says a lot of things.” Peter walks to her and wipes the corners of her tiny mouth with the wet dishrag, face burned red. His vocabulary is dotted with fucks, shits, and silences. “Mo-mo-mo-mommy is here!” Ellen squeals and leans away from the rag. I cringe at how dirty it must be. Peter looks at me as his broad shoulders rise and fall. The air in the room shifts. “Can I meet her?” I ask with a tilt of my head. Pressing him when I know he doesn’t want to be pressed. The bottoms of his jeans are covered in thick mud and little puzzle pieces are cracking off onto the floor. “Not today, Margaux.” He throws the rag into the sink and sits down defeated next to Ellen. She drops a piece of cake off her fork onto the floor and asks if she can eat it. Peter ignores her. The doorbell rings again. “Da-Da-Daddy, she, she, she, she’s here! A-a-at the door.” He looks at me for a moment. With the sun streaming through the clouded kitchen window threading through his dark brown hair, it looks like a photograph I recognize but have never seen before. I look at the Ellen’s bobbing ponytail as she crouches down, pulled up off center by the rough hands of a distant father. She is kneeling on string-bean knees, eating the cake off the floor, but neither of us says anything for a moment. “She’s eating off the floor,” I say flatly. “I know.” His voice is dull and hollow. “Well—” 56
“Well what?” he interrupts violently, “what do you want me to do?” I raise my eyebrows slightly and hold his gaze. “I just—” I shrug, knowing exactly what I’m doing. “You’re not her mother, Margaux!” His voice is sliced open and raw. I feel like he just hit me across the face. The sound of the old latch of the front door sends Peter upright like a bullet. “Come on, Ellen,” he says as he pulls her off the floor, face discolored like a piece of bruised fruit. “Stay here,” he says harshly to me. I just stare. I try not to listen because I can feel his embarrassment, his own stutter from pre-school years, rearing its ugly head, the words that get caught in his throat like he’s choking. Then I feel as if I might be choking. My mind is doing it again, retrieving a muddy memory from the bottom of a well.
I’m back in Boston, it is the middle of summer and my apartment is hot, the air thick with humidity. I am pacing. Back and forth. Like a trapped animal, caged and wounded. My mind feels like tar. I throw the little plastic stick across the room, the light material clicking against the wall and clattering to the floor, a totem of my carelessness. He thinks he knows me, but if he really knew me then he wouldn’t know me anymore. Like looking in a window I see the night it happened. He cooked something I didn’t like but I ate it anyway through clenched teeth, punctuated with gulps of warm red wine. I smiled a lot, forcing the corners of my mouth, pulling puppet strings. Stupid. I decide I won’t tell him as I stand there, feet flexing on the warm wood, my shoulders rising and falling quickly like the buzzing of an insect’s wings. I hear a whoosh in my head, feel the familiar choking sensation as the tendons in my neck stretch like rubber bands. In nothing but a bra and shorts, my stomach, hands and face are slick with sweat, a dark braid running down the middle of my back. My mind feels like a merry-go-round. Colors. Loud music. Everything outside too blurred to make out, everything inside spinning too fast. Then I feel it. Pulling me down. Twisting its tentacles around my ankles. I fumble for Xanax, 58
realizing I am leaning over the sink. My face blotchy patches in the mirror, which is spotless and bright, cleaned compulsively with a roll of paper towels and half a bottle of Windex. Black. I am lying on the cool tile floor, cheek to stone when I come to. Knees pressed against my chest, glued there as I fold into myself. I am pregnant. A little baby nestled behind my clammy skin. I think about offering the homeless man around the corner a hundred dollars to kick me in the stomach until I spill warm blood down my legs. Then I think I can’t get any sicker. I can’t be pregnant. But I am. I can’t stop the spiral, so I let it wash over me, soak me, seep into me, needling through the surface of my skin. The medically induced flatline I normally live on feels miles away. The devastating low is refreshing. Like cold water. A slap in the face. The feeling rushes in like trapped water, quick and violent. My skin is tingling, cheek burning against the smooth tile where my mom’s fingerprints are embroidered, stitch by stitch. I’m not a mother. I should have known I was making a mistake when I let the joy seep in, let your father’s excitement swallow me up. I wish someone had warned me. She is giving me the warning she never had. I pull myself off the ground; grip the ceramic sink as if attempting to leave my own fingerprints somewhere. My eyes are lit up like little twinkling windows in me, pretty face gone wild. I see my mother behind my skin and I’m torn between wanting to vomit and wanting to cry. It’s happening again. I’m losing control. All the medicine in the cabinet is swirling down the toilet in front of me. Lithium. Clozapine. Lamotrigine. Swirls of green, pink, and white. A pharmacy in the plumbing. I feel weightless, breathless as I do it, rising like a balloon.
He comes back into the room, face saturated in shame, like he’s just been caught masturbating. I see him see me and he blanches, expression flipping like a light switch. “What happened? Are you alright?” I think I nod. He moves toward me. “You’re shaking, and,” he feels my forehead with the back of his hand, his skin is dry and warm, “you’re freezing.” I close my eyes and hear myself apologize. “You’ve been taking those pills right?” “Did Emily take Ellen home?” I ask evenly. 59
“Yes.” He doesn’t look at me but he doesn’t really look anywhere else. “Have things been okay since she—” “They’ve been fine, Margaux,” he cuts me off with a razorthin voice that belongs to someone else. “You’ve been taking them right?” He wrings his hands and looks at me like he’s trying to memorize the combination to a safe. “Just tell me you’ve been taking them.” “I have.” I’m a good liar. My hands begin to sweat but my dark eyes are level. I’m a good liar. “We need to talk about this.” “What,” I say as a statement. I’m tired and my bones feel like they’re powder. “What do you mean what?” He’s pissed. He pulls away from me because I’ve stopped shaking, the memory loosening its grip. I watch the way the corners of his mouth turn up slightly when he talks. “I mean, what?” If I were him, I’d kick me. “Stop fucking around, Margaux.” Little droplets of spit hit the rough wood surface of the kitchen table. A dog barks in the distance. I wish Ellen had stayed. “I’m not.” “This is my house. I took you in. I brought you into my house.” He steps towards me and flexes his fingers into fists. For a second I think he might grab me. “Dad’s house.” “That you didn’t want,” he almost hisses. He’s the one who put Dad in the home. I said it was best, he said okay, we both agreed. But he’s the one who did it. Sitting here now, I think it may have crushed him. I feel so low, like I’m drifting on a black oily lake. The sun is peeking through the underside of a cloud, streaking the sky with piss. There’s a baby growing inside me that I can’t raise because I’m not a mother. I’m not a mother. Her words. “Why the fuck would I want this place, Peter?” “You don’t have to want it,” he remains firm, “but I think part of you does.” “There is no part of me.” This time I can’t tell if I’m lying. “Fine.” “It’s like her shadow is still here.” Around every corner. Everywhere I turn, its some poison memory that pushes its way through. 60
“Her drinking out of that mug, her putting on that polka-dot bathing suit, her stirring lemonade,” my voice clipping up a ladder, louder, harsher. “Her hanging her red winter coat on that hook, her kissing Dad when he’s standing at the sink.” My hands are flying in every direction. I can’t decide if her lingering film covering every inch is why I want the house, or why I don’t. Peter looks at me, takes a breath and sits down at the table quietly, like he’s trying not to wake a sleeping newborn. He folds his hands in front of him, strong arms flexing. Tense, release, tense, release. When he speaks his voice is like cotton. “What did you think you’d find in Tulsa?” “I have no idea why I went.” I want to vanish into the floor, just melt into a puddle and drain through the cracks in the wood. “Margaux.” He looks older. I don’t know why I’m realizing it now, but something about the way his head is tilted, the way the feeble strings of light coming through the glass fill in his soft wrinkles. Sad lines, our mother used to call them. She’d had a lot of them. I wondered how many I could count on my face if I looked in the blunt square mirror hanging over the bathroom sink. “I don’t,” I say simply. “You do.” I do. “I don’t, Peter, I really don’t.” Good girl. Keep lying. “I wound up there. Got on a bus in Boston. Got on another bus in Chicago, going south. Got off in Tulsa.” It shouldn’t have been that simple, but it was like writing a sentence, one word after the other. The next step was obvious. “I needed to get off in Tulsa, so I did.” “You needed to…” Peter pauses, purses his lips like he’s swallowed something bitter, “in Tulsa.” “In Tulsa,” I say, like I’m ordering off a menu. “Because of the letter.” “What letter?” Came when we were freshmen in high school. On a Friday morning, as ordinary as brushing your teeth. Tulsa is beautiful, Margaux, you would love how hot the sun is and how kind the people are. Maybe some day you can come visit. Maybe. “Nevermind.” “I put it in the trash unopened. The next day it was gone. Return address was Tulsa.” Peter has known this a long time. He’d gotten the mail that day. He wanted no part in it, I’d devoured the paper like I was starving. 61
“You didn’t read it.” “No, I didn’t. I didn’t care.” He’s looking at his hands in front of him. Twisting the wedding ring that he still wears. “That beauty salon.” I pause. “She used to work there.” “So what.” “I felt her there, Peter.” I’m itching for him to understand. “How old are you?” He stands up but doesn’t move. “She left us.” His voice is like steel. “She apologized. In the letter,” I’m almost gasping, “she apologized.” I wish things were different. I wish I were better. I’ll never be able to convey how sorry I am, but just know that I am sorry. “Oh?” he spits acid. “Oh, is that so? So all fine now? It’s all just supposed to be okay now?” “She didn’t know what she was doing.” “Fuck you, Margaux,” he says a little too loudly. After staring at me a moment, he stands and turns his back to me, looking out the window. I can’t see them, but I know he’s looking at the docks. Mottled and slick, they are lined up like dominos and roped together, hammered into each other with big thick nails. Quiet and wounded he says, “And fuck her.” I hesitate. “She was sick.” I don’t know why I feel like I’m pleading with him, but suddenly I feel this rush of urgency and it overtakes me. “Like you?” he splays the words out, ugly on his tongue. And as if the answer is being carved into my tingling skin, I suddenly know that I can’t keep it.
The summer when Peter and I were eight, she used to take us to the docks for picnics on the weekends when she wasn’t sad. Dad would hook his lobster trawl to the back of his boat, and we’d sit with our feet dangling, hands sticky with peanut butter and jelly, throwing handfuls of potato chips to the seagulls. In the summer the docks were sweet like hard candy. The wood was always warm from the sun and it toasted my bare feet until I didn’t need shoes anymore. We’d lie there and look up at the sink-hole sky. The water was always dark, no matter what time of year. It was thick navy velvet that washed over the low planks at high tide. White lobster boats with twisty cobwebs of red flags bobbed back and forth like they were seasick. Dad’s lobster buoys’ were golden yellow with two apple-red 63
stripes. We’d watch them trail behind in his wake, like a string of ducklings following its mother. She looked so happy with her face in the sunlight, sitting with salt flecks in her dark eyebrows, jeans rolled up. She’d rub my back without me having to ask her to and braid my hair in two long strands. I’d leave the braids in for as long as she’d let me. This particular memory comes to me in waves, always different, always fluid. It was a pivotal moment, yet I’m not sure of everything. I’ve always been trying to restore it, like an old painting. Bring it into focus, trying to sharpen the foggy moments. Clearest I ever saw it was in that beauty parlor in Tulsa, my eyes tunneling as my bare legs stuck to the hard plastic cover over the chair. My face was fading in the mirror. She cut them off with the sharp silver scissors. My two braids. A clean cut. It was March; the sky was grey and shifting. She apologized, even cried right after she did it, hot tears spilling onto my tiny hands, glimmering salty spots. She picked them up, holding the two braids like something disgusting, two dead fish in her hands. I told her it was all right, even though it wasn’t. I was unnerved at seeing my mother cry, caught seeing something I wasn’t supposed to that should have been hidden better in the back of the cabinet where she kept the Christmas presents and pill bottles. Then like a summer storm, low and warm over the water, she turned. Sometimes I lose control. Like flipping a light switch, or knocking down dominos. I’m high as a kite, yet crushed under the weight of things I didn’t even know I was carrying. The smile came like a smack in the face, like she was electrified. Sparks seemed to run through the very fibers of her hair, eyebrows raised, skin stretched and white. She shot up like a jack-in-the box, bouncing and laughing. Like fire she blazed through the room, touching everything, the heavy curtains, the milk walls, the glass panes in the window. Elbowing a lamp, shiny and blue with candypainted fish, she squatted down and picked up the ceramic shards, one cut her hand in a straight line through the middle. Dripping rusty blood, she jumped on my bed, tilting her face toward the ceiling, her shallow canyon eyes rimmed with purple, telling me I had to see the stars outside. The image of a twig snapping clean has always filled this moment in my memory; I see it as if it happened. Maybe I’m just trying to fill the dead space between her twisted smile and the slap she delivered across my face, fingers like tiny bloody whips. I think I gasped, or screamed, or maybe I didn’t do anything. And as quickly 64
as she swelled, she withered. I bit my lower lip hard, tasting blood that Iâ€™m not sure was mine or hers as she sobbed into the hands that hit me only seconds before. Two months later she was gone, just in time for the wood to warm up and the air to taste sweet. That summer was different though. It was rare when the heat got thick like honey. I was used to cold summers. This whole town was. If the heat went up too high weâ€™d melt like candles, just waxy twigs and thick puddles. The memory is so heavy that I want to let it drift out in the waves and then drown it, just like that little boy when I was ten.
Epilogue These storm winds run together when he loves me sweetly. Our bare lives sing with the mad moon. Summer is not smooth, I learned some bumpy night when we crashed instead of converged. The moon was a sliver of his former glow, glared instead of igniting, revealing where the hook in eye fit, where his hands were too calloused, when my eyes were open too long. Our knees bumped and knocked, not intertwined. When we broke, I heard the wolf howl. Maggie Nixon
Cherries Steeped in Moscow Wine Carmine rubies drink deep their luster and most drown in night, red-black ink sinking one blushed knot, light but broken, to the bottom; Clinking against the ice-fogged pane, counted hours force survivors’ palm-prints to the windows. Hands ripen cold and depart, flooding scarlet walked avenues with lamp blooms, nail-etched sallow stars twinkling in the dark; sweet bloodwines work fresh snow streets, while rime roses open like yesterday’s shame and rooms are fields of frozen flowers. Inside from the north windblast, brackish droplets still decay the air, thawed permafrost pleasures paid cheap and often despite the stench: “Da!” a clean coal, the only color for a lying stain— skin bruises, velvet rinds the only truth not eaten; Soaked in winter’s bright ferment, second-numb eyes stare through clear glass, suface embers jostling for fresher fumes at the top. It’s early, yet all will be white come morning. Townshend Peters
Ethnomusicology: The aggrandizement of how music convalesces and interpolates culture as we know it Conor Kearns
Music and culture, both essential components of any civilization of living carbon-based organisms such as homo sapiens, are so ineluctably linked that it is as if they are both infinitesimal, yet contemporaneously vital threads of an intricate tapestry—a tapestry of such monstrously chthonic proportions that its gargantuan size exceeds the very fathoming of the totality of human thought—threads woven together by the great loom of Penelope (who in the role of a tragic hero fended off hoards of suitors who happened to be ravaging her estate in Homer’s epic work, upon which this essay is based, The Odyssey,1 while her husband, the man of twists and turns, Odysseus, strove to return to his home, sweet Ithaka) with such finitude that distinguishing one from the other becomes nary impossible like the polyphonic blending of sweet voces in early beatific church music; yet, before henceforth initiating upon a detailed synopsis of the precise manner in which music relates to culture, as any good philosopher such as the great Immanuel Kant of Germany, the legendary Aristotle of Greece, or the practically divine Professor Donald James of the United States of America (although James is a professor in the Music Department at Boston College, all men and woman from the planet that we as humans call home and also sometimes “Earth” who are capable of sentient thought can be considered philosophers on account of the fact that all thought is valid thought and regardless of its coherence, cohesion, or co-habitability leads to insights into the human psyche) it is necessary to define les verbes de l’essai, which for the purposes of this paper are most importantly: music and culture. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, music means: “A band of highwaymen, or similar robbers.”2 Also according to the Urban Dictionary, culture means: “Some bullshit that cor-porations like to throw around to pretend not to be either evil or incompetent. Either that or they are just blindly copying other corporations[’] lead in newspeak.”3 Those definitions, however, are hardly suitable for this paper—poppycock, one might say. They 1 Homer. Edward McCrorie, and Richard P. Martin. The Odyssey. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. 2 Oxford English Dictionary. 3 www.urbandictionary.com.
are, in fact, utterly ridiculous and should not be taken seriously even within the context of everyday speech. So let me take the time to define music in a more serious sense. In the broadest sense, all sound is music. We must thank John Cage for this revelation. His piece, 4’33’’ shifts “attention from the stage to the audience and even beyond the concert hall.”4 Composed in three movements, the piece comprises four minutes and thirty-three seconds of full rests—the music truly being all the ambient noise at the time of the performance. Thus, one could argue that the world is constantly and forever playing John Cage’s piece 4’33’’ and that all sound, or lack thereof, is in point of fact, music. Of course, this is a radical idea. To most, and for the purposes of this paper, music is an organized amalgam of sound usually involving one or more instruments, and recognizable melodies sometimes with harmonies. Culture, however, is not so easy to define. People talk about culture frequently. Certain neighborhoods, ethnic groups, countries, and cities claim to have their own particular culture. One gentleman from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania commented about his city in a Southwest Airlines commercial: “Well there’s a lot, a lot of culture here.”5 That gentleman, however, did not pause to explain what exactly the culture of Philadelphia is, or whence it arises (the rest of the commercial would lead you to believe that the sole basis of Philadelphia’s culture is the cheesesteak6). Ultimately, culture is a product of society which arises from differences among groups of individuals. At the microcosmical level, an individual can have his or her own specific culture, which we would refer to as his or her personality. Moving in a more macro direction, a household has its own specialized culture. Each familial unit has its own unique rules and regulations. The differences between families contribute to the different cultures per family. One can continue to move up the macro ladder pausing at townships, cityships, statedoms, regionalities, countrifications, planets, and even larger divisions. Culture stems from any level or manner of dividing humans 4 Gutmann, Peter (1999). “John Cage and the Avant-Garde: The Sounds of Silence.” 5 The portion of the commercial with this particular phrase begins at around the 12-second mark. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANhofzv-n7c) 6 The cheesesteak, occasionally referred to outside of Philly as a “steak and cheese,” is a delectable sub (or grinder, hoagie, po-boy, spuckie, or whatever other applicable term you wish to use) consisting of a sub roll, slices of steak, and melted cheese. Cheesesteaks are a staple of Philadelphia and are better in Philly than anywhere else in the world. If you haven’t already had a true Philadelphia cheesesteak, I would highly recommend it.
into different categories. Thus, culture is the differences in how and why said categories of people function in their daily lives. For example, a portion of Texas’ culture stems from the fact that it was an independent nation from the years 1836 to 1845. Texans, generally, regard their state highly and proudly.7 Such pride, sometimes (I say “sometimes” because there are so many cultural factors influencing any individual person that it is impossible to make any sweeping generalizations with any hope of accuracy) manifests itself in Texan individuals’ personalities with regards to their own abilities in life whether they pertain to athletics, academics, or other areas into which pride factors (basically any area where anyone could think of a competition (so more or less, everything)). Now that we have defined both music and culture, we must examine their correlation.8 Over time, the general populace’s taste in music and thus musical style goes through changes. Culture is also an amorphous being, changing periodically. Exempla gratia: the vast majority of Americans do not listen to Baroque music for pleasure, opting instead to subject themselves to the voice of Justin Bieber.9 This change does not stem from an improvement in the quality or complexity of the music—Bach, Beethoven, Bruckner, &c. composed some of the most intricate and complex music in history (if anyone takes issue with this claim, I will politely ask them to try writing a fugue10). The change in musical taste stems from some other source, which I will discuss in a moment. Culture goes through a similar evolution. For example, no longer do male members of American society consistently sport suits as they did in the 1920s, and the females most definitely have forsaken dresses as everyday apparel.11 Verily, we have shown that both music and culture change over time. 7 The author would like to point out that despite what Texans want you to think, Texas is not the largest state in the United States of America by land area. Texas’ paltry 268,581 square miles falls far short of Alaska’s 663,268 square miles. Residents of Texas try to assuage their jealousy of Alaska’s size superiority by claiming to be the largest continental state. 8 An interesting point to note regarding correlation: Pastafarianism adroitly elucidates the correlation between pirates, or rather lack thereof, and global warming. Since the 1800s, “there is a statistically significant inverse relationship between pirates and global temperature.” (http://www.venganza.org/about/open-letter/) 9 See also: chipmunk. 10 Glenn Gould was so bold as to write a fugue about writing fugues. (http://www. youtube.com/watch?v=N2JFgfc7c70&) 11 Author’s blatant editorializing: Personally, I would much rather have a society in which we still wore suits and dresses every day. Suits are, in fact, quite classy, and sundresses are undeniably sexy.
But which music affects culture, and to what extent? First of all, I shall limit the focus of culture and music to American on account of the fact that as your typical internationally ignorant American, I have not ventured outside of the United States, nor do I have much knowledge of modern European music (with the exception of some German music like the “Ding Ding Dong Song” by Gunther12). In any event, all music influences culture. Regardless of its popularity, each piece of music affects American culture. Even music that no one listens to affects culture, for one could examine why said piece receives no recognition, in turn providing insight into American culture. Far more can be gleaned, however, about popular culture from popular music. “Oh, ho!” you say. “Slow down Mr. Kearns, you have introduced a new term which you still have need to define.” You are quite correct, so let me pause for a brief moment to discuss popular culture and how it differs from culture in a more general sense, which I will henceforth refer to as: Culture. Culture is like the patriarchal grandfather. Sometimes he’s the lovable geriatric ruling with a smile; other times he is the cranky old fart with the iron fist. Popular culture is like the hip, slightly edgy adolescent. These days, sporting the iPod ear buds, pre-ripped jeans and flat-brimmed hats. Since Culture has been around for a while, he is more set in his ways than popular culture. He has longer-standing traditions, and he is more predictable than his younger whippersnapper relative. Culture incorporates elements from all the slices of a society’s history. Popular culture, on the other hand, is a young animal—only a small slice of the pie that is time. Many aspects of popular culture will disappear over time. No one says “groovy” these days, just as no one writes “letters.” Music plays an important role in popular culture, although music often succumbs to popular culture’s ephemeral nature. Disco has given way to rap.13 Justin Bieber14 will give way to the next pre-pubescent singing sensation. Despite its relatively short shelf-life, popular music (since this is yet another term I have to define I will be brief and circular15: popular music is music that is popular at a given period of time) has a large impact upon popular culture. Jimi Hendrix lights his guitar aflame on stage. This single act has inspired every guitarist (and pyromaniac) since then to set an instrument on fire on stage. Within some circles (outsiders refer to 12 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbYtqAWDF2U 13 Not immediately, of course, or even in a direct fashion, per se, but eventually. 14 See also: mop. 15 Like a merry-go-round.
them as “hipsters,” but they refuse to acknowledge labels) it would be considered poor form to completely copy Hendrix, so while they would still be influenced by the great left-handed shredder,16 they would burn something ferrously ironic like a glockenspiel. The grasp of popular musicians upon popular culture extends further than the mere musical domain. Rappers popularized the baggy-jeans-flatbrimmed-hat-socially-acceptable-male-necklace look. Lyrics of popular bands have a direct impact on current events. In one Titus Andronicus song, the lead singer refrains: “You will always be a loser.”17 This pessimistic ditty is the sole cause of the prolonged recession. One song, in particular, captures the very essence of popular culture. No, it is not a song by Justin Bieber.18 It is, however, a song much beloved by the “hipster” (but don’t let them hear you calling them that) community—“Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse” by the group of Montreal off their album Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?. Two musical choices that perfectly reflect popular culture right off the bat: the use of the minor chord (a fancy f# minor chord as the first chord heard if we want to get into the musical theory nitty-gritty) and the use of synthesizer. The use of the minor chord clearly is a commentary on the state of popular culture. The use of a minor chord signifies that popular culture is not in good shape, one might say out of shape, or even obese.19 The choice to use synthesizer as the first instrument heard stresses the erroneous basis of popular culture. Pop culture is totally based upon falsity, or, as Holden Caulfield would say, everyone and everything is “phony.”20 Moving on from the first chord, the piece can be interpreted in a plethora of (actually, two) fashions. This ambiguity marks it as one of the great works of art, for, as the great Mark Twain once quipped, “All of us contain Music & Truth, but most of us can’t get it out.”21 The brilliance of the piece stems primarily from the lyrics. While the score is quite good, it has already been analyzed sufficiently. The 16 This is indeed a technical term. 17 The song, fittingly, is “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future” from their album The Monitor. 18 See also: female. 19 An interesting note, America is actually becoming increasingly obese. Currently more than 33 states had an obesity prevalence of 25% or greater, and 9 states (mostly southern states) had an obesity prevalence of 30% or greater in the year 2009. I blame fair trade and Justin Bieber. (http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html) 20 Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. 1951. 21 Please note the capitalization of both the M in Music and T in Truth. That means they are really, really, really, really important.
only important point of the score is to emphasize the poppycockness of popular culture. The lyrics delve more deeply into the specific nature of popular culture’s maladies. According to the song, all of society’s problems come from one place: drugs.22 This, however, is the miracle of ambiguity. Is of Montreal talking about illicit drugs like my girlfriend Mary Jane? Or about pharmaceutical drugs like Viagra? Each one contributes equally as much to the ills of society and popular culture.23 This song correctly shows how American culture today is defined by illusion and escapism. We would rather shoot up or pop some pills to whisk us away from the sorry state of our affairs than “Ignite the Heights [of America, of course] with Spirit and Truth” or “Honor the Legacy [of America] and Pursue Greatness.” With all this having been said, let us fade into the oblivion while listening to the dulcet tones of Justin Bieber.
22 For the record, Yahoo! Answers says that alcohol is a drug. Just saying. 23 Unless you live in Canada, in which case, for some odd reason, both contribute to the goods of society.
These Colors Donâ€™t Run
Last Night, in Memphis The papers said you were dead. The blues king of rock and Trailer park juke-dens. The suited crooner of the backbeat Subway south-stylers. It said you were dead and Standing over The sink, they read it. Behind water stained, cigarette cindered First edition issue magazine covers, they read it. In the soap suds and soaked tea leaves Lodged at the bottom of the drain They read it. Across the crackled antennae of Shortwave box sets, they heard it. In the side-tone debris of monoband Frequencies, they heard it. The King, it said The King, it said, was Gone. But they didn’t believe. And then they saw it. Jimmy Carter dressed In display window blue on the small screen Set to channel forty-three, they saw it. In the spotted, wrinkled hands shaking From the worry and the late hour and the after-dinner coffee That had been labeled caffeine-free But wasn’t, they saw it. They saw That he knew you— That he knew you missed it. You, the nonstop, round-the-clock captain of Two hundred and two tour dates just last winter. You, the Graceland, mile-a-minute-man. You— You missed your set and the rail Along the sliding shower-door. 77
And you fell. And you lay there, hair gel and road rubble, waiting— At least, that’s what he said. That you just Missed it. But they’ll dream about you, don’t you worry. Those dime store novel Writers with their broken Ballpoints and their forget-me-nots sitting Steeped in clear jam-jars. Oh, how couldn’t they mourn? They were shocked into Solace but they’ll triumph with pipe Dreams of plenty and a pencil sketch of That one time they saw you through a Cab window at the traffic light. And they’ll bewail you. And they’ll sigh and They’ll sob and they’ll grieve over you—Yes! Yes, you can bet they will grieve. But we— We, the visionary, factionary Soda shop, used car parking lot crew, Didn’t we lose you first? We were caught in our Prime with our roller skates and our Voting rights and our pants still a half an inch Too short above the ankle. But we were the Leaders—the front row left stage seaters. And we wouldn’t have let You go. But then you made your choice and You took your chance and you were Swallowed up by the white paper tags Stamped with “Dry Cleaning Only” and the deep
Record grooves that cut round and round and round Those black vinyl discs. And you lost us, then and there. And we were leftâ€” To linger in the railroad track dust that still collects Sometimes on the awnings along Beale Near that Blues bar where you once loved To play. But last night, we could almost make you out again In the streetlight shadows and the gutter grit. You were standing at the edge of the bus station Stop. Then you were gone. Christine Degenaars
Chaser (An Excerpt) Kate Iannarone
CHAPTER ONE It was definitely a nipple. Sarah squinted and tried to find something else, anything else, that it could possibly be. No luck. Her mother just couldn’t paint beaches or flowers or rustic farmhouses, could she? “You did a nice job,” Sarah said with the conviction of an owner praising her cat for bringing home a dead chipmunk. “You don’t have to say you like it if you don’t.” As her mother moved in next to her, Sarah tried to sniff for pot, but the tannic amber of her perfume trapped her like a primordial mosquito. “Your sister told me I shouldn’t have used so much pink in this one.” Of course, Glory would be the helpful one. Glory, named by her mother, the artist. Not Sarah, named by her father, the man shrewd enough to get away. “Well, I think it looks fine,” she said blandly. “It isn’t my favorite.” Her mother hoisted the painting from the easel, arms straining. “There are better ones in this series.” “You’ve been busy.” Sarah did not try to mask her disappointment as she surveyed the paintings that filled her mother’s painting studio, mostly studies on the female body. “I thought you were working at Debbie’s salon.” “Part time, but it’s terrible.” Her mother’s voice swooped down dramatically. “All I do is answer phones or make schedules. You’d hate it.” She placed a different half-completed canvas—two breasts on this one—onto the easel. “Oh, and you’ve already started at your job, haven’t you? Remind me what you’re doing.” She busied herself with running brown around the areolas. Sarah sighed. “Numbers.” “Oh.” Sarah watched her mother paint for a few moments. There was no use chatting now; her mother never remembered anything she was told while she worked—no, not worked. Work didn’t suit her, willowy with bones like a bird’s. Indeed, everything about her, from her downy white gold hair to her craning neck and fluttery hands, had an avian quality, and she seemed in a constant state of bewilderment in her inability to float away. Sarah hadn’t missed her. She had seen her mother and sister 80
only a month ago at her college graduation. The four-hour drive from campus to her new apartment in the city had condensed enough bonding time to last a year. But her mother wanted her home for the Fourth of July fireworks on Holliston Beach. It wasn’t that her little, loose family cared much for traditions, but her mother often had these maddeningly inconvenient whims that would peak into dire necessities —oh, Sarah, you just have to be there! It would be miserable without you. The more she begged, the more Sarah considered spending the holiday alone. But here she was, back at the small yellow duplex that would always and never be her home. Oilcloths were bunched on the floor, and in the middle of the room stood the easel, a spindly and medieval device that Sarah could imagine clamped to her mother’s forehead, unraveling and reknitting her thoughts. “Well, I’ll leave you to that,” Sarah said, and her mother grunted in response. Upstairs, Glory’s door was closed, her singing and strumming guitar filtering through the walls. She had a deep voice that didn’t seem like it should come from someone so petite. It was a voice of many textures. Cragged and scaly when Glory was practicing with her god-awful rocker band; thick and cool liquid when she sang her quieter songs, the ones she wrote for herself on acoustic guitar. In these times, Sarah always found herself listening in a way she never listened when her sister spoke. Sarah had already set the dinner table when Glory emerged, a tattered t-shirt with a belt constituting her outfit. She was a slip of a girl with Elvin features: a small upturned nose and ears that were slightly peaked. Glory had always had long, banana-blonde hair, just like their mother, but since Sarah had last seen her at graduation, she had sheared it off and dyed it a violent shade of violet. “Nice hair.” “Good to see you, too, sis.” “I heard the song you were just playing,” said Sarah. Peace offering. “Did you write it?” “What? Oh, yeah.” Glory accepted the salad and began to harvest the olives for her plate. “For your band?” What did Glory and her band call themselves? Artemis Rox, or something? There were two other guys, a drummer and a bassist, both significantly older and less talented than Glory. Glory pulled her grape-colored head up, and Sarah saw the white earbuds among purple strands. “We do alternative and pop 81
rock fusion, Sarah,” she called. “Did that sound even a little alternative or pop rock?” “I wouldn’t know. But I liked that song,” Sarah said. “Don’t waste it on your band. Those guys make everything sound like a war crime.” Her mother nudged her the mashed potatoes, and Sarah declined. “Shut the fuck up. Like seriously.” “Girls,” their mother said, the word wobbling like a whine. They ate, forks scraping loudly against plates. “How are the applications going?” Sarah asked after several minutes. Glory looked up without removing her headphones. “What?” “For college. Take out your headphones so you can hear me.” “I can hear you. And they’re not.” Glory spooned more potato onto her plate. “You’re not getting in if you don’t apply.” “No shit. I don’t want to go to school. Why should I make Mom spend money for something I don’t even want to do?” “You’d get financial aid, Glory. I did.” “Sorry I’m not you, Sarah.” “That’s not my point,” Sarah said, although it might have been part of it. “You don’t have to go to an Ivy or anything. Some state colleges have somewhat decent programs, depending on…” “I’m not going. Just drop it.” “Mom!” Sarah rounded in her chair towards her mother. Her mother looked up languidly from her dinner. “Your sister doesn’t feel that college is the right path for her; maybe later down the line it will be. I’m not going to force her when she feels she is called to other things.” “Are you high?” Sarah demanded. She knew from her mother’s voice and eyes that she was not, but she wanted to get a rise out of her. “No, Sarah, I am not.” Her mother’s voice was smooth and flat as the cheek she turned. Anger curdled with the salad in her stomach, and Sarah pushed her plate away with more force than she intended, sending it halfway across the table, but Glory left the table first. “Not dealing with this!” she called. Sarah sat, her cheek on her fist, as her mother quietly removed the dinner around her. She began whistling as she scraped dishes, and Sarah couldn’t stand to listen. She jumped up and climbed the stairs to Glory’s room. “All right, listen,” she said when Glory opened the door. “I’m 82
John MalavĂŠ 83
not saying you have to do what I did. I just don’t want you to end up like Mom,” she added quietly as she heard her mother turn on the sink downstairs. She would not eavesdrop, but Sarah continued to whisper. “You’re smart, Glory, I actually believe that, but no one else will, unless…” “You’re being really condescending right now,” Glory interrupted. “Yes, I know that word. Another synonym is denigrating. Patronizing. I know I’m smart, and Mom’s smart too, believe it or not. So fuck off, twat-thesaurus rex, and let me do my thing.” Sarah did not have an immediate retort, and Glory had already snapped her door shut by the time she could call out, “Put on a pair of pants, for Christ’s sake!”
The next evening, she went with Glory and her mother to Holliston Beach for fireworks. Sarah and Glory talked neutrally, both afraid of making the spark, both afraid of staying silent. But when the show started, it didn’t matter. The air filled with sounds so loud she felt that she had swallowed them. Glory’s face was pulsing with color, sparks swimming in the gloss of her eyes. Without looking away, she leaned in, and Sarah met her halfway. “They did a good job this year,” Glory whispered. Sarah thought of money exploding, condensed potential for luxury, or at least a couple Prada bags fizzling out in seconds. Maybe it was the sea air or the tenuous peace between her and Glory, but that night, Sarah decided to ignore those thoughts and instead watch the beads of brightness chase each other through the night like minnows. Back home, their mother kissed her picnic wine cooler into her daughters’ cheeks and went to bed. Glory and Sarah brushed their teeth together—Sarah moved over and let Glory use the sink alongside her. Their faces pushed together in the small bathroom mirror, the likenesses sharpened: crinkles in the same place on their foreheads, identical one-eyed squints as they brushed. Glory spat the toothpaste first, and Sarah glimpsed the blonde roots at the base of the purple. It was the last that she would see of her sister. CHAPTER TWO It was Sunday, the day after the fireworks show. Sarah sat in her 84
bedroom, her computer open to the Wall Street Journal. A break from the office seemed nice in theory, but by three in the afternoon, her malaise itched. She found herself thinking of her little grey cubicle at the Fisher Capital Management offices on the thirty-fourth floor of a gleaming skyscraper in the Financial District. She thought of her supervisor, David, sitting in his office before a window that opened to the reflective glass of another building. She thought of the CEO, two floors above. She heard you could actually see the streets from his office. She liked her cubicle better than her apartment, which was fine, because she probably spent more time there. She couldn’t leave before David, so even if she had nothing to do, she would occupy the time by pretending to be busy and worrying that the other new hires were getting the more critical menial tasks. Listening to the other new hires type and click and shuffle papers made her wonder what she was missing, some leather bound manual passed down from banker father to progeny. Meanwhile, her inheritance was daubed onto canvases, or perhaps hidden in her mother’s purse, an anomaly of physics that could produce from its depths any object in the world in infinite quantity, just so long as you didn’t have an immediate need for it. She still didn’t understand it; her own bag carried what she put into it, nothing more or less. Bored by the Internet’s infiniteness, she thought of asking Glory to go to a movie. Sarah hated movies, but she hated idleness more. It was then that she realized she hadn’t seen her sister all day. “Where’s Glory?” “Glory?” Her mother frowned at her canvas and dabbled her brush into a puddle of yellow. “I’m sure she’s around. Probably out with her band.” But by the time the sky had folded from blue to orange to purple, Glory had not come home. Sarah returned from a walk to the convenience store down the block—they were out of milk. Her mother had not left her post at the easel since morning. White paint darted through her hair, and a smudge of blue intersected her nose. “Glory’s still not back?” Sarah stood by the easel to draw her mother’s attention. She looked up and blinked sheepishly. “I’ll call her.” “I already tried many times,” Sarah sighed. “She’s turned her phone off. She didn’t say anything about where she was going?” “No.” Her mother bit her lip and set aside her palette. “No, not that I can remember.” 85
Sarah retrieved her computer from her bedroom and perched on the couch next to her mother. Glory’s last update on Facebook was three days ago—Don’t sweat petty things, don’t pet sweaty things— but she had tweeted within the past three hours: @DonG cant wait 4 2morrow babe see u soon!! Sarah had no idea who @DonG was, but his followers were halved between skanks and greased up DJs. Only four of Glory’s friends had their contact information on Facebook. When Sarah tried calling, she got four voicemails. She shut down her computer and left the living room for her bag and coat. “Where are you going?” Sarah turned to find that her mother had followed her into the hall. “Wolin Park.” Sarah zipped her coat up to the chin, even though the outside air was balmy. “Glory always goes there to hang out with her friends, remember?” Her mother watched dolefully—Don’t leave me—and Sarah was about to suggest that she come along but decided against it. She found them where she expected to, clustered in the gloom around a rusty swing set, swapping cigarettes and saliva. The Pleathers, the five kids Glory hung around with who dressed like punk rockers but only seemed talented at poking holes in their skin and dry humping each other. Sarah cleared her throat, and the Pleathers turned towards her. For a moment, they surveyed her under the park lights, before they determined that she was alien and unwelcome. “Don’t act like you don’t know me, Spyder.” Sarah singled out the bleached blonde boy in the pack’s center. “Where’s Glory?” Spyder slouched further, his eyes round and brown and guilty as a dog caught shitting on a lawn. The circle of friends tightened in the shifty silence. “This does not have to be difficult,” Sarah said after a moment. “I just need to know what’s going on with my sister, and then I’ll leave you guys alone.” More silence. The girl to Spyder’s right flicked out her cigarette and ground it slowly into the sand. “You need more cigarettes?” Sarah had thought to snag a box from her mother’s purse and rattled it before them. The Pleathers conferred through sidelong glances and grunts, but it was wordlessly determined that, no, they didn’t need cigarettes that badly. If Sarah were going to get anything, it would be through Mimi, the small girl clinging to Spyder’s side with black pigtails and a Hello Kitty shirt. While Mimi’s friends wore Hello Kitty ironically, 86
she adored plush with a base instinct bordering on eroticism. Sarah had known her since she was in Glory’s kindergarten class. Mimi had a bubbly personality that she tried to clamp down with the sullen affect of her peers, but she succumbed to bouts of chattiness and affection that were as sudden as they were earnest. Even now, she was watching Sarah closely, her thickly lined eyes wide. “Mimi?” Sarah tried to soften her voice. “Mimi, do you know anything?” Mimi glanced nervously at her forbidding peers, and Sarah sensed a quickening. “C’mon Mimi. I’ll buy you guys beer.” After a ten-dollar down-payment was negotiated, Mimi started talking about stifled Glory, frustrated Glory, depressed Glory. Glory angry at her mother, Glory hating school, brilliant Glory passionate about guitar. These were all Glorys that Sarah knew, and she pitied none of them. She kept talking, told Sarah that Glory had been doing solo shows for months, she was kind of a big deal, had an industry connection and everything—Hasn’t she told you? Glory had been planning on moving out, and besides she had gotten a gig at MausTrap, you know, the new club in the Worm, and that’s maybe where she was heading now, and Spyder nodded vigorously, and Sarah stopped her right there. She closed her eyes and imagined rattling Spyder by the ring in his nostrils before beginning to walk away. “What about the booze?” Spyder called to her back. A fantasy captivated her for the walk home: Glory was wandering through a dark tunnel, alone, but figures began to detatch themselves from the moldy walls, mottled, stained lurkers, armed with knives and dicks. Sarah found herself shaking, but she had been morbidly compelled to finish the fantasy out, to assure herself that it couldn’t happen, wasn’t real. But it seemed too real; Glory’s assailants lunged for her at once, and Sarah could hear her sister’s cries and she could see her sister’s so-called friends, their stupid grins fading as they emerged from the tunnel walls too. “Well, shit guys, maybe we shouldn’t have let her go after all.” Fury raked its nails against Sarah’s innards. Those morons. It was dusk; fireflies blinked between the weeds and trashcans. She threw the door shut behind her and ignored her mother’s calls as she ran to her room for her laptop. Sarah had never been to MausTrap, but she knew about the part of the city where it was located. Like most of her suburban peers, she had been warned of the Worm mythically, as if she would be dragged 87
...but her heart was far
John MalavĂŠ 88
down there for lying or using foul language. City kids knew it was real, and they knew to steer clear, unless they were the types already careening towards early destruction. People got high and shot and mugged and raped there. Sarah wasn’t sure if shanking was still a thing anymore, but if it was, it happened in the Worm. Wikipedia told her the rest as she lay on bed, shoes still on. In the seventies, the Worm had been an underground music mecca, where the chic could slink below the scrutiny of the streets to the hottest clubs and concerts. Now it was little more than ghetto nestled in the sewers. There were talks of revitalization programs, a Worm Renaissance, pushed around like toddler food only at election time. Sarah clicked through old news articles. Henry J. Wormser was the last politician to invest over a decade ago by opening a Worm branch of the city’s public library. The program failed—the library was bought out and refashioned as Pub Skool—but Wormser got the place named after him for his efforts. There was only so much she could read. She was beginning to feel a bit dizzy, but even when she closed her eyes, the computer’s gleam was imprinted into the backs of her eyelids. She closed her laptop and began to pack. After she folded her things into her suitcase, she found herself in her sister’s bedroom. There were rumpled clothes everywhere. The bed had been left unmade and the walls were still covered with posters of Glory’s idols and their albums: Clapton and Joplin and Jett, although one had been ripped down, leaving a white hole, like a blinded eye. Usually her sister was in here, so Sarah never got the chance to snoop. She pored through her sister’s bookshelf, poked through her drawers. She found a framed picture of herself and Glory from the summer before, taken by her mother in a rare moment of affection. Glory’s face was nuzzled into her tanned neck, and Sarah was laughing with her eyes closed. In her sister’s trashcan, she found the ticket confirmation for a one-way bus trip to the city. The purchase order had been made over three weeks ago, and as virulent as was her hatred towards the Pleathers, Sarah’s anger molted. Glory thought this through, went through the trouble of finding a place to stay, making contacts, getting her equipment and venue all squared away. These things didn’t just happen; most likely, she was planning this break for months. Glory knew what she was leaving behind. Hadn’t Sarah left it behind as well? But for college, for a way up and out, a job in finance, and only when the time was right. Now, 89
she would be dragged back, lodged in roles she had never wanted and frustrations familiar as her skin. All because Glory had to be radical. The next morning, Sarah had her bags packed and standing by the door by the time her mother came downstairs. “Are you leaving already?” She sounded injured. Sarah nodded as she scribbled down the next train times. “Please don’t.” Sarah looked up to find her mother watching her from the landing, deflated and poorly draped in an old bathrobe, and her chest clenched. She didn’t want to be frustrated with her mother right now. She wanted to smooth her palms over her mother’s hair, blonde like Glory’s, long like her own. She wanted to hug, but she realized that her bony frame was cut more like a cage than a daughter. But then her mother completed the space between them and wrapped her daughter in her arms, and Sarah wished for an embrace that could impart comfort, at least from one direction. “Glory will be fine, won’t she?” her mother asked. “Of course she will. I’m going to find her.”
Origins of a Vegetarian The oreo cows were safe from the slaughterhouse, they told us as every day we pressed against the school bus windows. One cow escaped the chopping block, seeking safe grazing on Stonebridge Way, day after day, for weeks, leaving steaming surprises on the lawns, ours yellow, too unappetizing to sample. The Hartzellsâ€™ was a prime target, the line demarcating the end of their property, the beginning of ours, clear as the edge of a ruler. I never saw him in the flesh. But the gossip at the bus stop every morning was where heâ€™d visited the night before. We were trying to catch him and send him to cow paradise. A farm, but not the farm my parents said they sent the dog to when she got old. But the bad guys caught him first and my parents broke the news, as all through the neighborhood hamburgers were raised in a farewell salute. Allison Rosa
Green Desert If women were meant to be tall dark and handsome, I’d have it made. Instead I drink the black stuff, each swallow sweeter than the last—it’s not so bad, being bitter—if I were beer it’d be better. Bitterness needs time to ferment and reach its full potential and anyhow, I’m an acquired taste—hard to stomach. The rain is not so much deluge as dirge, drowning me from the head down as I duck into Parnell’s for a pint that I don’t drink so much as inhale. I order another, eyes already aswim. Jesus a woman at my shoulder snorts, taking in my empty glass and rising color. Her name is Judith, like the Jew she tells me, and tips her head back to laugh. We tap glasses and I tip my head back to drink. She’s married, mired somewhere on Leeson Street. She shows me pictures of her sons (one ten, the other around my age) and admits she never thought she’d be a mother, that her life is now the mishegas she always feared. I ask what it means, that word, and she gives me a cockeyed grin. Chaos. Absolute chaos. I wake, not Finnegan but feeling gutted, mouth sour whiskey. I retch with no success. I recall stalking home, past a football pitch dotted with thistles. Needles of rain pinned my thin shirt to skin. I’m sick of this green
desert, rolling dunes of tor and tree. I put Jeff Buckley on, set about steeping tea. Poor guy, he drowned in Tennessee when I was seven. I may very well die waiting for water to boil or my mother to call. Outside, the rain rattles like coins in a jar. Kayti Lahsaiezadeh
River Mammals Zachary Frank
We get back before dusk. I laid down a sheet of plywood in the front yard when I woke and now we head over to it. Cheyenne’s fur catches and holds the sun while we tramp through burnt grass and wilted sedges. Horseflies swarm overhead and shade my face. They’ve taken a liking to me since I’ve started growing antlers. When we reach the board, Cheyenne gets to a long end and I stand across from him. “Ready, boy?” He looks to me and pants twice. I nod back, then reach to his side, get my fingers under the wood, and haul it up. Cheyenne barks like an alpha and I roar too and a dozen snakes come shooting out of the shade. Cheyenne looks them over in a snap and snatches the biggest one in his jaws, right behind its flat head, like Sweet Pa taught him. It’s a patchnose, all three feet of her writhing like an exorcism, trying to turn her head around to fang Cheyenne’s muzzle. We head into the smokehouse. I lay the snake down on the carving block and cleave her at the neck. I put a glass jar over her severed head and watch it tongue the glass and unhinge. For a second it looks like it’s gonna turn inside out, then it yawns to sleep. The rest of the body fidgets for a few minutes; it takes snakes a while to realize they’re dead. I clean her out and bring her inside to fry on the stove. Sweet Pa’s lying on the couch with his legs bent up. He eyes me and I hold up the pink meat, the bag of flour I brought back from the exchange. The snake lies in oil. I sprinkle it with salt, light the stove, and head to fetch water. I run down our two blistered hills with an old paint bucket and stop at the pond. The hand pump was slipping more and more and finally hissed last week. I’ve been hauling buckets since, straining them through Sweet Pa’s cleanest white shirt, and boiling them. A nest of bats used to pour out of the woods every night like a cloud of smoke to catch mosquitoes and take water on the wing. Sweet Pa and I liked to sit on the porch and look down the hills to where they carved moonlit lines in the pond face. They don’t come anymore. Used to be the water came up to my waist, now it doesn’t reach my ankles. I left all our extra pots and buckets and bins outside to gather rain, but so far all they’ve caught is sunlight. Each morning, I hear the metal pop as it expands in the new day’s heat. It gets me up 95
when I sleep too late. Green sunfish float on their sides. I wade to a spot where I can’t smell their death and drag the plastic bucket through the water until it’s half full. On the short flat between the two hills, the scent of frying snake swaps the reek of the pond. I hurry to the stove and set down the water next to it. I wait a few minutes, cooking the meat just until it’s safe to eat, and then I cut off half for Cheyenne. He downs it in two bites and barks for more. “Sorry, boy, that’s it for today.” He lies down and unfolds his tongue. We used to have a lively garden, but the drought’s burned through our crops and the root cellar’s just about empty. I ready the pond water and set in on the stove. The meat draws more water from my mouth than I knew I had in me. “Didn’t come out too well,” I tell Sweet Pa. He can hardly open his mouth enough to breathe. His lungs are full of fluid and he hasn’t said a word in three weeks. I mix milk in a jar and ease it to his lips. He sputters it down. Our house is falling apart, but that’s how Sweet Pa likes it. He decided to leave all the windows and doors open once he knew he was dying, said he wanted to get used to no separation. We had all kinds of critters living in here. A red squirrel would sit on the couch arm by Sweet Pa’s feet, watching while I propped him to drink tea or thumb his pipe. She’d chew acorns and the crumbs would fall onto his blanket and I’d sweep them into the corners. A family of armadillos used to hide in the kitchen, balled under the wash basin, only coming out at twilight to lick up termites. A skunk slept in the fireplace and that’s all I ever saw him do. I wanted to name them, but Sweet Pa said that would defeat the purpose. Doesn’t matter much now; they’ve all dried up or left. I’m on my way to becoming a critter too. I’ve been having these cracking headaches, and when I told Sweet Pa, he patted my hair and said horns grow out of girls with too much worry. I don’t think I worry too much, but I guess he’s right; I’m only twelve and they’re coming in. They’re small, still under the skin, two dots of braille on my forehead. I’ve been keeping a pair of antlers under my bed to help them grow. Day after day I sat outside, spotting rings of black vultures, running to get under them. They’re always overhead now, like hundreds of smoke rings from Sweet Pa’s pipe. I tracked them to a whitetail who’d been picked apart, took his rack and boiled it. Each morning I shave off a couple flakes and use them in the day’s cooking. I know my horns are gonna bust through soon cause Cheyenne’s 96
been licking my forehead every night in bed. He’s a mix, with brown and white fur and a bare patch on his back leg where he got bit by a snapper. I don’t think he likes what’s happening to me; he’s been awfully loud lately. I just rub his sides and say I’m gonna use my horns to look after us. Cheyenne knows a ton of tricks that most dogs probably don’t. When I was little I would tell him to lie down, then I’d lie on top of him and put my arms around his neck, and he’d spring up and carry me wherever I told him to. I know he liked it; he used to stretch out in front of me and nudge my shins until I climbed on. We can’t do that anymore; I got too big and he got too old. Now his lips are slumped and his gums are turning black and his eyes run and his knees shake and wobble so bad it looks like the balls are gonna roll out of their sockets. So I carry him sometimes; I put him on my shoulders like a fallen branch when we take longer walks to the exchange. We went today to get supplies and so Clancy could cut my hair. He’s only got one hand but he manages fine, holds the scissors with his weak hand and steadies himself with his other arm while he snips around my ears. I wash the pan in the basin and stoke the fire. I sit on the end of the couch, roll up the legs of Sweet Pa’s pants, and rest my hand on his shin. I give it a squeeze. “Do you like my haircut?” I ruffle up the ends. “I think it’ll be nice once summer really gets going.” His eyes are always wet nowadays. He smiles without showing any teeth. His hiking stick rests by his head. He carved it himself. It’s bone white and thick as my wrist, with a big round head like a turtle’s. I’ve seen Sweet Pa swing off a band of coyotes with it. He made pictures in it, stories from his life. Him and his boys building our house. Cheyenne lying under a willow. My mom cradling me. He doesn’t have any pictures from before he came out here. Clancy told me Sweet Pa’s wife ran off and then he took his boys to the woods and they all worked themselves into a house. I never felt right asking Sweet Pa himself. Sap cracks in the fire. Sweet Pa and I stare at the flames twisting into shapes. “Did you see the face?” He nods. “A hand. A pair of tulips.” He brings his foot forward and back to flex his shin. Till he falls asleep, we watch the fire bloom. Cheyenne and I head into the basement to read from the old newspapers Clancy gives me. I dragged an extra mattress down for warm nights. We creak down the stairs and sit on a cord rug, looking over the Arkansas Times. I pour a little sugar water in glass jars and 97
Portrait of a Troublemaker
Patty Owens 98
read by candle until enough fireflies climb in. Then I screw on the lids and poke holes. They act different now with the drought, stay low, cling to the dead lawn. I go out at night to use the outhouse and they blink galaxies in the grass. I never need to take a light. They’ve moved in the house lately and it’s like a tiny lightning storm. I’ve learned to sleep with their glow. Me and Sweet Pa named each other; he used to call me Sweet Pea and before I can remember I was calling him Sweet Pa back. He grew me up, on account of I hardly knew my parents. Everything I know is thanks to him. Sweet Pa has so many names for me, I can’t be sure of my true name. I can’t remember my mom ever calling me anything other than Honey, and I can’t remember my dad at all. Sweet Pa told me he left while I was still learning how to stand. When Sweet Pa was mad at me, like if I was out in the woods too late or brought home ticks or ivy rash, he called me Child, which I hate. The maddest I ever saw Sweet Pa was three months ago. I had to go to the exchange by myself and Clancy said he’d take me to town with him next time. I asked Sweet Pa if I could go and he put a fist mark in the wall and walked off, coughing. I don’t think Sweet Pa and Clancy like each other. Back when Sweet Pa was well enough to take on jobs, he’d come to the exchange and they’d talk in oneword sentences and grunts. Clancy’s the only one around here with a truck. He drives in to Crossett every weekend to buy stuff for people who live out here and trade it to them for a higher price. But he gives me a good deal. After Sweet Pa cooled down, he told me he came out here so I never have to see city life. I said I could handle it but he wouldn’t budge. “The day you pin me in arm wrestling is the day you go to the city.” Sweet Pa was real strong up until he got sick. He used to sit in his chair outside and drink, then he’d make a bicep and let me hang from his arm. I always got tired before he did. Now he’s a stick, always sweating, gasping. I lay wet rags across his barreling chest, watch as he coughs up bits so black and ugly I cry because I can’t believe they were inside him. I read through the comics I like but get tired fast; it’s a day’s sun to the exchange and back. I stand up and walk to the mirror on the far wall. There’s a chair next to it with my mom’s brush. It’s got a ball of bristles and is supposed to look like a hedgehog, but one of his eyes has worn off from my rubbing thumb. I don’t know if she left it for me or forgot it. Most times I remember my mom, it’s like I’m look99
ing at a picture. She’s on the couch. The window above her is filled with sunlight, but she’s sleeping. I’m at her feet, my cold hand on her bare calf, trying to wake her up. Sweet Pa said you wouldn’t have known she was my mother by our looks. My skin’s shades darker and I have my dad’s eyes and mouth, but my mom and I have the same color hair and we’re both good at making him worry. I remember she’d spend most of the day sleeping then haunt the downstairs at night, creaking through cupboards, flipping pages in books, washing her hair two or three times in the basin, all the while whistling songs that could make a mourning dove cry. I’d lie in bed upstairs, afraid of her sounds, with the feeling that she was right below me. I comb my hair and walk to the mattress. Cheyenne lifts himself from the floor and trembles over. He lies down at my feet and nudges my shins. He opens his mouth just enough to whine. I lift him onto the bed and pull him close, holding him tight so he can’t get loose and lick my forehead. His fur warms my bare arms. Two fireflies land on my forehead and I fall asleep hoping they’ll spend the night there, lighting up, blinking their way into my dreams. Me and Sweet Pa have this thing we do when he’s sleeping and I want to wake him. Ever since I was little, I open my eyes wide and put my face in his face, and when our noses touch and his eyes roll over to meet mine, it’s like the sun finding a lake to float on. “Why hello there, stranger,” he used to say, grinning. “What can I do for you?” When my nose presses against his this morning, he startles like he’s coming out of a bad dream. He coughs forward and his legs jackhammer. I start sobbing and put my head on his chest. It takes him a minute to figure out who I am. I can hear the rattle and burn in his chest, like his lungs are lined with embers that glow every time he inhales. He rubs my back, then taps my head and points to his hiking stick. I bring it to him and he uses it along with my shoulder to manage his way out of the house. “Sweet Pa, you’re walking again! Does that mean you’re getting better?” He looks at me with a faraway smile and I don’t say another word. We walk into our woods in a way we’ve never had any reason to go. I can tell Sweet Pa’s trying not to put too much weight on me, so I press down on his hand and he gives in more. Sweet Pa’s too weak to hide his pain; I spend the whole time looking at his stick, thinking about the stories he’s never told me, the bottom half that’ll never get carved. 100
I drip buckets but Sweet Pa’s not sweating anymore. For some reason, I take it as a sign that after he dies it’ll rain for days and days until nothing’s thirsty. When we reach a clearing, Sweet Pa labors to the ground and leans against a tree. I just sit there next to him, his stick at my side, crying cause I don’t know any better. It feels like my heart slipped through my ribs and is beating in my stomach. I suck in my gut so it can’t fall any farther, and twine our hands as tight as I can. His eyes are half-open, and when I finally turn to look up into them he lowers his brows and makes this sour face he makes when he catches me watching him. But it doesn’t mean he’s mad, he does it cause it makes me laugh. A sound comes out of me that has too many emotions to describe. As soon as it leaves me I know it’s a sound I’ll never make again. I rest my head on the slope of his shoulder, and fidget until I can’t see the sun through the trees. There’s only one memory of my mom that moves. It’s early on, maybe I’m three. She holds my hand out to the swing, the one Sweet Pa made after rolling a giant tire all the way back from the exchange. She lifts me into place and puts my hands on the rubber lips to hold. She spins the tire around until the three ropes that hold it up are all braided together. I throw my head back and look up to her, pale and smiling, her face sleek and her brown hair close, like a river mammal. She moves her hands to my shoulders, gives a little squeeze, and lets go. Sweet Pa taps on my shoulder and I come to. His right arm is propped on his thigh. He opens and closes his hand and it feels like filling a hole inside a crater. I move forward and turn around, facing him. I prop my right arm on his leg, put my hand in his. He wraps his long fingers around mine and right as they close, he lets his arm fall to me. Ever since Sweet Pa opened the windows and doors, it felt like I was sinking, like my stomach was filling with stones. But now it feels like rising, like something’s burst. I move back to his shoulder. When Sweet Pa’s head dips forward and he spills over himself, I stand up and lay him down straight and proper. I cross his hands over his chest, see the four lines of blood from my gripping nails. They shine in the sunlight.
Alone on a roof in New York City Manhattanites tossed their gardens into the air to give themselves something to strive for and, on the roof, the city opens herself up to me, my perspective coaxing the streets to arch into the foundation of my building as yellow cabs race up and down her spine. All around me, boxes of humans are stacked and lit like TV sets: The husband feeds the baby ABC is on, the dishwasher’s being loaded, the snow keeps falling, outside. I press my hips against the brick and, beer in hand, I’d stay forever, If I could only immobilize my neck, so I would never turn around and see the chaise lounge, where she waited for me while I ran to the elevator and smacked the glowing button, floor two, to get the corkscrew I left behind, alongside the salt, which we didn’t need. Because if I were to turn and see that, the bricks wouldn’t hold me stable anymore and, no, I wouldn’t jump, jump and drop to the McDonalds, the corner deli, the fruit man selling Sunday’s refuse. But I would fall back, back into the wooden deck furniture that leaves indents in my skin, where I fall into its creases. I guess, after all, it’s not the bright-lit rooms that break me: It’s the dim blue hues that conceal the ones within, and only suggest their tender and intimate lives without fleshing in the details of what I always lack,
while I melt with the snow down and down, wondering about the fruit manâ€™s gloves. Caroline Oâ€™Connor
Striving for Perfection
About Murder After a good movie about murder we like to talk about how we’d do it, kill a lover: what she did wrong, the leading lady with too many fingerprints and eyeliner like a slashed tire. You think you might like a knife with a bone handle that curves, an ivory tongue or snow blown up in a curl against the barn, like the grey steel of winter’s eye your father kept at his belt, and on it brought you the opened chest of rabbit, its black eye rolling, your first look at death laid out like a gift. And once, when dreaming on your back, legs up, you dragged your feet over fence-post and came away with it, little sharp tooth, stuck in the meat of your heel, before father dipped the knife into you. You thought you would die. You told me that later. But instead, your foot held tender in his chest, he placed that small death on your palm, as blood poppies bloomed from you. And that’s how you say you would do it, not like her, in the movie: no poison in this lover’s cocktail, 105
but with his shirts hung in the closet, their collars clinging to the pale flavor of her lips you would open your hip like an attic door to hold out to him, betrayer, the lie, thin and sharp as fence-wood, the silver slice at your fatherâ€™s belt. Helen Spica
Lindsey James Shotgun mounted on the wall over the door; empty beer cans crushed in the yard; cracked windows broken and never fixed; old work boots covered in tar, dust, and cow shit; throwing rocks from the front steps with your brother; spraying your brother with bitter cold water from the rusty hose; dirty feet; hot asphalt that burns your dirty feet; hotter nights where the air is a stagnant pond of bad breath and damp carpets; your Daddy saying you’re his little girl through cigarette lips; sopping heavy towels with big splotchy shapes on the clothesline out back; Daddy’s laugh like kicking an oil drum; growl of a rusty screen door’s hinges; hot bacon fried to shoe leather in the big skillet; playing in patches of crunchy yellow grass; buying fresh sheets with rainbows on them at the Wal-Mart with Mamma; blowing bubbles in the backyard; Mamma telling bedtime stories; Daddy telling bedtime stories; watching pieces of old newspaper float out of the campfire into the dusty sky like little feather kites; soft white Dairy Queen ice cream cones melting all over your hands; hard pink chewing gum stuck on the bottom of coffee tables; Mamma telling you to get off her favorite yellow chair; running barefoot down to the stream with the boys to catch a fish with your bare hands; getting out the special occasion table cloth with the little red rosebuds for Daddy’s weekends off the road; eating a hot dinner with the powdered lemonade you like; waiting by the window with your brother, pining for the headlight at the turn; hearing the crunching gravel as Daddy pulls up in his mud-spattered pickup truck; wiping chocolate-covered fingers on Mama’s chair; watching Daddy shoot geese with that shotgun out in the woods; hearing him yelling bull’s-eye in his rough rich voice; feeling the weight of that shot gun in your dirty-nailed fingers; pulling the trigger for yourself with Daddy’s warm brick hands on your shoulders; tubing in muddy bathwater under sweet summer green branches; seeing a bruise on Mamma’s arm; knotty hair wrangled in to tight pig tail braids; Mamma and her yappy friends sitting around the kitchen table drinking sweet tea and gin; Daddy’s strong hugs; bringing home a stray white kitten in a soggy cardboard box; leaving that same box on the side of the highway when Daddy said no; playing kick the can in the field down the road; Daddy’s sandy beard that leaves a prickly feeling on your skin; trying to do fractions homework but Daddy won’t stop yelling at the TV; Daddy getting tired of yelling at the TV and yelling at Mamma; thud of a rough hand; 108
plotting to run away with your brother under a pillow fort; realizing Mamma doesn’t tell stories anymore; hoping maybe she’ll get you something for your twelfth birthday; realizing you were stupid for hoping; falling asleep feeling like a deflated balloon; using up all of Mamma’s blush so a boy will notice you; Daddy saying how pretty you look and feeling pretty because a boy did notice you; waiting for Mamma to take you to school; walking to school when her door stays closed; waking up in the middle of the night to a raccoon digging through the garbage; waking up in the middle of the night to Daddy and a bottle; waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of those rough hands on her and knowing to stay quiet; realizing that boys look at you different than before; mangy dogs; abandoned dogs; hungry dogs who howl like someone might do something about all their howling; burning fingers as Mamma drops her famous beer-battered baby shrimp in cooking oil that snaps and sputters on the stove; rotting wood; watching your brother clear away the wood in dark red work gloves; blue flickering TVs on all night; stuffing your bra with candy bars in the grocery store; stuffing your bra with tissue paper; boys stuffing their hands in your bra; your Mamma saying she’s done with him; your Mamma saying she needs him; giving everything to Bobby Handler under the bleachers at a football game; smiling when you say yes; changing your mind; trying to push him off you—only now he isn’t asking anymore; going to cheerleading practice; telling Bobby you love him; getting laughed at; getting drunk; getting over that dumb boy who used you up; learning party tricks; Mamma’s apple cheek swollen and black like a worn-out work boot; knocking on the bathroom door; knocking louder this time so Mamma can hear it through all her crying and hoping this time she’ll open it, but knowing she won’t; warm beer with too much foam in red plastic cups; sneaking out through the back window; sneaking back in through the same window, jaw aching with grass-stained knees; cigarette butts pressed into the living room carpet; static and music blaring with windows down and sleeves rolled up; crispy sun-tanned skin; too-tight electric-blue tube tops that scream slut to open-mouthed hicks with five-o’clock shadow; catching your brother with a pipe; catching him again; wishing you had caught him the night he packed his bag; skipping school to smoke in the woods; skipping school to throw rocks at cars; skipping school to skip school; cleaning up empty vodka bottles; Daddy losing his job one oppressive night in June; Daddy losing his cool; Daddy losing his nerve and Mamma telling him to never come back; locking the door each night like your 109
Mamma told you; wondering where Daddy went; walking past your brother’s empty bed on your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night; lying awake for hours to the cicadas’ song wafting on hot air through the screen; thinking you look fuckable in the bar bathroom mirror; hoping the guy with the blue jean shirt and the pool cue in his hand thinks so too; making sure you look fuckable while he’s fucking you in the back of his truck on his dirty out-of-town cloth seats where you know he’s done it before; pulling down your shirt after it’s over, even though you know it’s too short to ever cover your stomach; smack on your ass; whiskey kiss; slammed door; dirty feet from walking barefoot, high heels in hand; knowing something isn’t right a month later when you’re puking behind the bleachers in a cheerleading skirt, thinking of Bobby Handler; hot sticky air; mosquitoes buzzing and whining; Daddy coming back one night while you’re gone; filling a Ziploc back with cold hard ice; Mamma insisting you don’t call the police; picking up the phone but realizing you don’t have the nerve; dreaming of prom dresses; dreaming of your Daddy’s smile; dreaming of your Daddy stumbling drunk and getting hit by a truck; dreaming of a baby; crushed beer cans in the front yard still; driving to the doctor; hot tears on a hot night; sitting in the parking lot instead of going in; driving home; shaky legs but strong resolve; feeling a spark like a lone firefly on a summer night; drunk on the humid air and the sip of hope you left inside you; your hands going numb on the steering wheel as you round the corner; mud-spattered pick up truck where it doesn’t belong; your pulse like fire in your limbs; rich and rough yells; crushed gravel; howling dog; bare feet; open door; vomit-stained carpet; flickering blue TV; Mamma’s stories; fresh white sheets with rainbows; blurry vision; molasses time; hand on face; hand on face; hand on face; rush of color; shotgun on the wall; shotgun off the wall; bull’s-eye; hard thump by a vacant body; steel scream; blood on your Mamma’s favorite yellow chair; feeling the weight of that shot gun in your dirty-nailed fingers.
Ratty Your socks are looking really ratty. – My Mother You always smell like dryer sheets so hugging you is like socks—warm and clean. I wear through the heels, just the heels, so that the hot pink or sky blue or patterned stars on my foot, up to my ankle, are faded to clear like a white silk screen, slight white fibers crossing and recrossing, thready crucifixes crushed under my heel. When I’m at home, and you do my laundry, Mom, you make the pairs match, colors with like colors, patterns back together, folded into neon orbs of sock. I splice the pairs like mutant genes, unfold visual cacophony for my feet. Maggie Nixon
The Thought Collector Sophia Gorgens
On Mondays and Tuesdays, Fitz Allen was a priest, making the rounds at the hospital and liberally doling out the last rites to dying patients. He could also be a rabbi, a monk, an Imam, or really any other type of holy man, depending on the circumstances. He was well-versed in the art of religion and its various rites. He knew Zeus as well as Yahweh and Allah as well as Brahman, and the families of the dying were always quite pleased with his work. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, Fitz Allen was a medical examiner in a hospital just across town, confirming the deaths of patients and determining the causes. This job was not quite as satisfactory as the first. Dead corpses as opposed to dying ones made his true task much more difficult, but over the years, he had found that as long as the body was under two hours cold, there was still plenty of material to work with. In the past, he had also functioned as a coroner, a pathologist, and a necropsy technician—any job that got him access to the morgue. But Fridays and Saturdays were Fitz Allen’s favorites. These were the days when he traipsed all across the town and visited various homes for the elderly, mental hospitals, children’s hospitals, and occasionally, if the mood struck him, prisons. His excuses for venturing into these sacred places varied as a chameleon’s skin might vary—at the elderly homes, he was usually supposedly visiting his aging Aunt Mary while at children’s hospitals he often came with his Anatolian shepherd, Enoch, who was a certified therapy dog. For mental hospitals and prisons, he simply sighed at the bored-looking guards and pulled out some credential or another—a psychologist, perhaps, or a lawyer. And Sundays? On Sundays, Fitz Allen rested, for God had decreed that Sunday was the holy day. The name Fitz Allen didn’t suit him though, and he much preferred to go by “Angel.” His various business cards, kept meticulously separated by glinting, metallic card holders, all gave his formal name, but after preliminary introductions, Fitz Allen always insisted rather fiercely that he be called Angel. When an unfortunate man or woman happened to forget his name, glance at the business card for remembrance, and then smilingly greet him as Fitz or Fitzy or even Allen, Angel would stare at them frostily for a moment before politely and delicately correcting them. He handled these numer113
ous acquaintances of his as he handled most everyone—as if they were fragile glass figurines that might shatter if spoken to in even an octave above normal. So it was that on a particularly fine April day, Angel strolled out of his house with a cheerful whistle and his left hand stuffed warmly into the pocket of his trench coat while his right gripped the handle of a black briefcase. It was a Thursday, which was no reason to be quite so cheerful as it meant a long day ahead of him in the morgue, but it struck him as a rather beautiful day, and he had decided long ago that one ought not to be miserable on such days. Enoch barked mournfully at the window, paws resting heavily on the sill, but Angel knew he would more than make it up to Enoch tomorrow—there was a children’s hospital on tomorrow’s list, and Enoch adored children. For today, the Anatolian would have to be satisfied with the professional dog walker who came twice most days while Angel was at work. St. Lazarus’ Hospital was only a fifteen minute walk from Angel’s small, white-washed house. Although his own street was relatively quiet and respectable, albeit poor, St. Lazarus’ felt like it was right in the throbbing center of the sprawling town. It was a quite reputable hospital, especially renowned for its trauma center, and often the gunshot or stabbing victims from neighboring cities would be airlifted to St. Lazarus’ in the faint hope that the patient might yet be saved. This was often not the case, and it was why Angel so adored St. Lazarus’. The first corpse awaiting Angel was, to Angel’s great disappointment, already four hours cold. A useless corpse, then, but he had to feign interest when the diener unzipped the body bag to reveal a wrinkled old crone. Drinking a cup of tea with her niece one minute and in the back of an ambulance the next. Cause of death—unknown, which was why an autopsy had been ordered, but Angel was pretty sure he knew why. Who wanted to live to such an age? He most certainly didn’t, but, well— Angel sighed and began the autopsy. Despite the slow start, the day quickly picked up—the second corpse was only thirty minutes dead when it was rolled in. A grin was already starting to pull like fishhooks at the corners of Angel’s mouth when the diener uncovered the body, but it quickly reversed itself into a frown. A gunshot victim. Now, Angel had nothing against gunshot victims in general, especially the good, innocent bystand114
ers, but this was the bad kind of gunshot victim. Confirmed by the ominous “John Doe” on his paperwork, Angel knew at one glance that this was the kind of gunshot victim who was the cur of society. He had that look. Again, Angel had no problem with these types of people. Their existence was inevitable in all civilizations, but they made his real job rather painful. These were the types of people who had very few happy memories and even the few “happies,” as Angel liked to call such memories, that they had were invariably entangled in a mesh of “uglies.” Tonight, Angel knew with the uncomfortable feeling of a clamp tightening around his pharynx, he would be sifting through memories of childhood abuse and molestation as well as hunger, loneliness, betrayal, and sexual rage. And somewhere in that mess of mud that God had given life to, Angel would find, if he were lucky, a grain of hope embedded here or there, the warmth of a rare moment of affection, the caress of a faint whisper of happiness. Even with the prospect of a tedious night nibbling away at his thoughts, Angel was content. He now had work to do, and he thrived in his work. Sending the diener away was easy enough. The dying man had been airlifted here with all due haste but, as was so often the case, had died before arrival. With the bullets still in him, procedure dictated that an X-ray be taken of the corpse before the autopsy began so that the location and number of bullets could be obtained. Having already taken note of the clothing and having taken various samples of the man’s hair and fingernails as well as the gunshot residue on his clothing, Angel politely asked the diener to prepare the X-ray machine. The diener left. Angel quickly removed his gloves and snapped open his black briefcase. Inside it were several rows of empty vials, padded in black velvet to dampen the clinking of glass on glass. These were the only tool of his trade, and he carried them around everywhere, often slipping one or two into his coat pocket even when he took Enoch on walks. One never knew when one might find a dead person on the neighbor’s lawn or half-hidden in the bushes. Taking one of the vials and labeling it with a sharpie, Angel strode hurriedly next to the corpse’s head. He placed the tips of his bared fingers on the man’s temple and began to pull out his thoughts. Now, this was an unusual gift which Angel felt quite sure was unique to himself. He’d first noticed it when, as a small boy, he’d accidently stolen a small memory of his sister’s—a trifle, really. It had 115
just been the memory of stepping onto the beach on a warm summer day and feeling the sand between oxygen-starved toes. His sister, though, had been furious, and their father—no, her father. Angel had the distinct feeling that he was adopted, a claim his father always fervently denied—had made Angel promise never to do that to anyone again. Memories, he explained, were dearer to people than gold. Angel quite honestly had no great affinity for either gold or memories, but when he’d found sometime later the joy pleasant memories gave other people…well, stealing from the dead, he reasoned, was not really stealing at all. So in the morgue Angel thought it the most natural thing in the world to pull the thoughts out of the corpse’s head before it, and the thoughts with it, decayed. He stored them in the vial and stored the vial in his briefcase, and by that time the diener was back and the X-ray machine was ready and all in all the autopsy was seamlessly continued without anyone being any the wiser. At 5pm, after having cut the last shoulders to breast bone, breast bone to pubic bone incision and after having gently peeled back the last layer of skin, muscle, and soft tissue to examine the exposed delicacies underneath, Angel clocked out and strolled peacefully back to his house in the dregs of the day’s light. In the briefcase, the glass vials, many of them filled by now, mutely jolted against each other. Enoch greeted Angel with a loyal and slobbery smile, his paws following in his master’s footsteps as Angel made his way into the kitchen and set dinner under way. It was spaghetti and meatballs out of a can today—one can for him and one for Enoch. They ate together in front of the TV and watched the news. Angel didn’t care much for the news, but he cared even less for the other programs. And Enoch liked the news. Or at least he liked his spaghetti and meatballs. After taking Enoch for his evening walk, Angel went into his small study and laid the briefcase on his desk. He gazed at it for a long time, steeling himself. Each night, he worried that it would be his last night, that the thoughts and memories over which he had such masterful control would overwhelm his mind and drive him into a dark madness. Enoch padded into the room and sat down on his feet, stretching his head backwards so that he could give a reassuring grin to his master. Angel opened the briefcase. Extracting the first vial, Angel read the label. “Bridget Ang116
sworth, age 34, cause of death: cancer.” That was comforting. Cancer patients were quite often what Angel defined as normal people— people who evened out on their happy, miserable, and mundane memories. Angel screwed the vial open and coaxed the viscous vapor out with his index finger, swirling the vapors around it like cotton candy. When he gathered memories and thoughts from corpses already an hour or two cold, they tended to be more viscid and heavy, already starting to decay. The best thoughts were those that he collected at the bedside of a dying patient. He would sit at the head of the patient’s head and console him with soothing words and gestures. Even when the hospital’s machines started humming and whirring loudly with a death announcement, Angel would wait, for had not a man often been brought back from the brink of death by the modern marvels of medicine? Only when Angel felt the soul leave the corpse’s body would he remove the fresh thoughts with a quick whisk of his fingers. These “freshies” were the cleanest, purest, and most coherent thoughts he collected. In his study, Angel put the empty vial down and began to unwind the wiry strings of thoughts from his index finger with his other hand. They came away like the gossamer threads of a spider’s web. He wove them deftly into complex designs with both his hands as if he were playing a strange game of Cat’s Cradle where all shapes made were formless and each pattern was altogether lost to all eyes but his. As Angel built this network of filamentous-thin thoughts, he meticulously examined each section of Bridget Angsworth’s memory and deftly sorted out the happies from the uglies and mundanes. He was well practiced in his trade, and within thirty minutes he had the best of Ms. Angsworth bottled up again. The uglies and mundanes still hovered on his fingers, and he gently disentangled himself from them and watched the silvery thoughts dissipate into the air. Freed of his touch and unrestrained by a corpse or a vial, the thoughts had decayed within seconds and existed no more. After working through the rest of his ten vials—good work for one day, he had to admit—Angel quietly stood up so as not to wake Enoch who had fallen asleep with his snout tucked between his front paws and a blissful expression playing across his face. He himself was mentally drained, but even after experiencing through his fingertips the emotions and desires of so many others, he could not muster an emotion of his own. This did not concern him, though, for it had 117
always been that way. Angel stowed all his vials in a cabinet without a lock—another person, coming across Angel’s hoard, would only see empty vials. Even if they opened the vials, the memories preserved neatly inside would be useless to them. Angel’s gift was unique, and this was something he remembered every day with a certain amount of pride. But never too much pride, for was it not a deadly sin? And with that, Angel showered and went into the bare room where the white linens of his bed and the white carpet of his floor and the white paint of his walls greeted him with the cleanliness of a raw-bleached hospital. He slept. On Friday morning, Angel was running late. It gave him a queasy feeling in his stomach, for he found no pleasure in having informed St. Michael’s Children’s Hospital yesterday that he would be arriving with Enoch at eight o’clock this morning to make his rounds when in fact he was now at least half an hour behind schedule because his alarm clock had failed to go off at the appointed time. While simultaneously struggling into his trench coat and attempting to spread strawberry marmalade on four pieces of toast (two for him and two for Enoch), Angel ignored his unsettledness and cheerfully whistled his favorite song from Casablanca. Yes, it was ungentlemanly to be running late, but that was no reason to ruin such a beautiful day. Enoch grinned in agreement and gulped down his toast in three smacking bites. In the past year since Angel had moved to this town (for he never stayed too long in one place lest anyone ever began to suspect him a fraud in one of his various occupations), he had visited St. Michael’s regularly every week. The staff never tired of seeing Enoch, and whenever they gathered around to coo their adoration in the Anatolian’s flopping ears, they threw a few praising phrases in Angel’s direction, too, although more as an afterthought, really. Enoch was just as excited as any of them to be among so many admirers, and when he and Angel finally made it past the front desk, he pranced down the hallway with a jaunty, self-assured step. His movement caused the leash to sway violently from side to side, but Angel walked calmly in his dog’s wake, only pausing once to readjust his grip on the black briefcase he carried with him. 119
In their routine visits to the hospital, Angel and Enoch visited as many of the young patients as time permitted. Many of the children were overjoyed at simply seeing the handsome Enoch, but for others, Angel could sense the loneliness, fear, and pain that lurked behind their gentle smiles and light-hearted words as they patted his dog. It was onto these children that Angel bestowed his collection of thoughts and memories. He would slip them into their minds while they were engaged with Enoch or else while they drifted off into an uneasy sleep. Unlike him, though, all other people—these children, the residents of Oak Grove Assisted Living where Angel would be this afternoon, or even the chronically depressed and schizophrenic patients at St. Gabriel’s—did not experience these bestowed memories as the originators once had. Angel had stripped the memories bare beforehand so that all that was left was unadulterated happiness. It was a feeling that pierced the soul with a soft euphoria and that briefly banished physical and emotional pain, but it could not heal and it could not last. It was a salve when all Angel wished for was a cure. So Angel and Enoch went their rounds, visiting old acquaintances and meeting new while all the while Enoch’s tail sailed merrily back and forth and Angel’s vials muttered sadly with their growing emptiness. It was the ninth or tenth patient that Angel and Enoch visited, though, who strung a chord somewhere on the hidden strings of Angel’s heart. His initial reaction had been quite typical—she was a fiveyear-old with severely advanced infantile Tay-Sachs disease, and the first thing that Angel thought of was how he would label her vial: “Miriam Lior, age 5, cause of death: Tay-Sachs.” Upon entering the room, Angel perceived right away that she was already blind and partially paralytic, and glancing at her medical chart, he saw that she was apparently having trouble swallowing as well. He made a mental note to keep a close eye on St. Michael’s in the coming days—young thoughts were always such a pleasure to harvest. These were his first thoughts. And yet. When she heard him enter, Miriam looked up at him with her sightless eyes. They brimmed with a reflected inner joy. Her skin was drawn whisper-thin over her cheeks. The cheeks glowed with vitality. 120
Her throat gurgled with spittle when she spoke. Her words were clear and clean. Angel’s heart quivered with something new, and in a panic, he wondered if his heart could perhaps be removed and embalmed. He would even do it himself, he promised silently. He’d had much practice with it in the morgue. Something rose like a vapor from his thoughts, but the vapor was a fog, and Angel could not remember. It was important, it was vital, but his memory was lost. Miriam cuddled with Enoch, and her parents came and patted him too. Angel watched and he watched and he could not tear himself away. Only when the nurse came to tell them all with a forgiving smile that Miriam had had enough excitement for the day did Angel and Enoch leave to continue their rounds. But like the child who’s found the jar of sweets, Angel could not resist coming back before he left the hospital. He stood in the doorway frame for a full five minutes, watching the slumbering girl and realizing with a sudden lump which seemed lodged between his esophagus and trachea that today would be her last day. He just knew. He stood and he thought and there was a tugging inside of him that he didn’t understand. He waded through the silver mists of his mind, but he could not remember. He only left when he thought he heard the approaching footsteps of her parents returning. Even then he paused, and Enoch put his damp nose in his master’s hand in reassurance. But the moment passed and Angel found his slow way back to his car. St. Michael’s was not in walking distance from his house. For the rest of the day, Angel concentrated on fulfilling his responsibilities. His supposed Aunt Mary and all the other elderly people at Oak Grove absorbed the memories he slipped them while they weren’t watching with a tender longing and a faraway look. The orderlies at St. Gabriel’s were left in awe of the effect a visit from the psychiatrist Dr. Fitz Allen had on their patients. Enoch stretched himself out fully on the backseat of the car and waited with a sigh. It was dark when Angel returned to St. Michael’s, and the woman at the front desk hardly gave him or Enoch a second glance as she struggled to keep her eyes pried open. She would stretch them open into giant teacup saucers, but they always quickly collapsed again into sagging crescent moons. Miriam’s parents were there as well, and they didn’t say a word 121
when Angel glided quietly into the room. They must have sensed, like Angel had earlier, that tonight was Miriam’s last night. It was something quite plainly palpable, as if Miriam’s soul had already crawled out of its protective shell and now clung without conviction to the girl’s skin. Enoch’s collar rustled as he gave it a shake. Miriam’s eyes fluttered open, but she could not see him. Her cheeks glowed, but they were pale as death. Her lips moved, but she could not speak. Angel’s heart was dilated. He knew that any moment now, it would explode, and he didn’t know how or why. It would spray a bloody mess to paint his ribcage red, and he would fall to his knees without a single word left on his lips. An hour later, she died. He did not collect her thoughts as her soul quietly stole from her body, for although he knew she would be a goldmine of happies, he could not bear to think of the pain he would experience by sifting through her precious thoughts. He simply stared at her still-warm face which blazed with that peaceful, unearthly happiness that he had always observed in her. He didn’t stay long, and after he left the hospital, he never came back. In fact, the next day, his house was on the market, and three days later, it was sold and void of all life. The kitchen still smelt of instant noodles and the couch retained its characteristic sag in the middle, the imprint of Angel and Enoch still fresh in the worn cloth. The white bedroom gaped with emptiness like a discarded Styrofoam cup. Angel had left clothed in a neatly pressed suit and his trench coat, Enoch’s leash in one hand and the black briefcase clenched tightly in the other. Inside the briefcase, his collection of filled vials mutely nudged each other in a knowing way. Squeezed among the cancer patients and the John Does, the heart attacks and the lower respiratory infections, was a small vial labeled “Essence of Miriam.” Angel, though, didn’t pay this vial much attention—he wasn’t quite sure who Miriam was, but he knew that if it was in the briefcase, it was a happy memory. Once he had found a new city or town in which to spend the next year or two, he would get himself settled and then find someone on whom to bestow the memory. Enoch, though, looked sadly at his master and let out a soft whimper.
Requiem The casket was the same mahogany as her piano. I wished we could bury that, too. Last time I saw Grandma, I ate cookies while she played. They were madeleines—pretty, but not sweet, deceptive little nuggets of fool’s gold. I took too many and my mouth went dry. She favored Rachmaninoff, whose name and music sounded like cacophony and hurt my ears. Mom made me watch. “With her arthritis, it’s a wonder she can play.” Her fingers hit the keys, curled like crochet hooks. I imagined her reaching through the ivory and pulling out strings of dripping marrow with her nails. She’d knit them into new bone and graft it to her own and her fingers would uncurl. But instead she shrank away. The will said the piano was mine. Mom paid for lessons and calcium tablets, but I still can’t remember the difference between “clavichord” and “clavicle.” Bailey Spencer
Margaret the Overblown Teenage Prophet Adam, my clapping, flittering friend, just a moment of your time. But what excuse to get us alone? Suppose I had a vision of the end of the world and I told you that tonight was the end of the world: I grab your hand and we run and we reach the top if we can call it that, of the mountain we can see from your backyard. I am dizzy and pretend to swoon and fall and tumble into your arms, though the burning world (yes, the bubbling world of radioactive decay or the second coming or whatever spice suits our congress) has done away with nothing more than propriety at long last. So I have brambles in my hair and briars on my socks and thighs, but I donâ€™t notice. So what do we do now: do we do now what I have cried over and wept for and waited on and wondered about? I am praying and you are praying and the world-consuming fires are darker in the distance and soon it is only us only. Only weâ€™ve left lollipop love, greasy hands behind. I scream for all the world to hear if the world could hear. I never knew how many colors a shrinking moon could let me see.
Oh yes: that would work nicely, even if some bright new sun should rise above this delectable mountaintop and show you what Iâ€™d done. Oh Adam, I have had a vision of the end of the world and tonight is the end of the world. Jordan Dorney
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