Editors’ Note Four years ago, in August of 2010, the founding editors sat around the campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University discussing ideas for a new literary magazine that would publish good writing, regardless of genre. We spent hours trying to come up with a title, Googling endless possibilities until we finally settled on Black Fox Literary Magazine. In September of 2010, the first website for Black Fox was launched and we had officially become a literary magazine. Flash forward to the summer of 2011 and the first issue of Black Fox was released. We had the title of a fledgling magazine, and we worked hard to spread the word that we were looking for contributors. This summer issue marks our third year of publication. We are proud to say that we no longer have to work as hard to spread the word. Our submitters and contributors now come from all around the world, including China, Australia, France, England, India, Canada and many other places outside of the U.S. We have built a solid reputation and we’re honored to be a part of a publishing community that helps writers reach their goals. We would not be here today without the support of our readers and contributors. Thank you to those who buy issues, read issues, promote the magazine, and relentlessly believe in the work that we do. Last, we want to thank our staff members Beth, Shaun and Donna who are not paid, but work tirelessly on submissions and are instrumental in getting the issue to its final state. Black Fox is still on the rise. We hope you’ll stay with us as the evolution continues. The Editors, Racquel, Pam, Marquita
Meet the BFLM Staff: Founding Editors: Racquel Henry is first and foremost a writer. She is also a part-time English Professor and owns the writing center, Writer’s Atelier, in Winter Park, FL. Racquel writes literary, women’s, and recently YA fiction in hopes of having a novel published sometime in the near future. She also enjoys reading a variety of genres, and is currently obsessed with flash fiction. Some of her favorite authors include Joyce Carol Oates, Lorrie Moore, John Updike, and Sophie Kinsella. She earned an MFA from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Scarlet Sound, Blink-Ink, The Rusty Nail, Freight Train Magazine, and Lotus-Eater Magazine. You can follow her writing journey on her blog, “Racquel Writes.” Pam Harris lives in Williamsburg, VA and spent seven years as a middle school counselor. Currently, she is interning at a family counseling center, and when she isn’t helping families resolve conflicts, she's writing contemporary YA fiction (and has also recently started writing middle grade). Some of her favorite authors are Ellen Hopkins, Courtney Summers, Jodi Picoult, and Stephen King. You can also find her at the movie theaters every weekend or pretending to enjoy exercising. She received her MFA in creative writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2012, and will soon receive her PhD in Counselor Education at the College of William and Mary. Marquita "Quita" Hockaday also lives in Williamsburg, Virginia. She is an educator who has never been able to shake her love of writing and reading. There is always,
always a book near her. Marquita is currently enjoying writing young adult (historical and contemporary)â&#x20AC;&#x201D;and most recently wrote her first middle grade novel with coeditor, Pam. Some of her favorite authors are Laurie Halse Anderson, Blake Nelson, Cormac McCarthy and Joyce Carol Oates. Marquita also graduated with an MFA in creative writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2012, and is beginning to work toward her doctoral degree in Virginia. Copy Editor & Reader: Elizabeth Sheets is an undergraduate student at Arizona State University, majoring in English with an emphasis in creative writing. When she is not writing, or loitering in coffee shops, she works full time as an administrative assistant for an electrical contractor in Gilbert, Arizona. Elizabeth currently interns as a Content Coordinator for Superstition Review, and looks forward to migrating fully into the literary field after graduation. Her work appears in Kalliope â&#x20AC;&#x201C; A Consortium of New Voices and in Black Fox Literary Magazine.
Readers: Shaun Taylor Bevins is an aspiring writer, voracious reader, dedicated mother, wife, and teacher. She has eclectic reading tastes, but prefers writing that has something meaningful to say about the human experience. She also appreciates clever and original characters that leave lasting impressions. You can learn more about Shaun from her website: www.broadneckwritersworkshop.com. Donna Compton lives just outside of Washington, D.C. and recently graduated from the University of Maryland
University College with a Bachelor's degree in psychology. She began taking creative writing courses a few years ago, with a focus on short stories. Currently, she's reading and writing a lot of flash fiction. Her other favorite genres include literary fiction, mystery, thriller, science fiction and fantasy.
Contents: Fiction Naranja by Joanell Serra (7) Open Wounds by Miranda Stone (50) Academy Seven by Cara MacNeil (81) Of Flashlights and Thongs by Grant Riedel (113) A Poodle in the Desert by Mathieu Cailler (149) Poetry Dear Editor by William Ogden Haynes (12) Selected Poems by Brad Garber (42) Selected Poems by Chelsea Eckert (47) And It Was by Ethan Noone (69) Selected Poems by Chelsea Reeser (79) Selected Poems by Stephanie Niu (86) About Sleepless Nights by Alicja Madloch (109) Selected Poems by David Klugman (110) Lightning Chaser by R.K. Gold (137) Selected Poems by Sandra Kolankiewicz (138) Selected Poems by Joshua Hall (141) Selected Poems by Holly Day (144) Selected Poems by Michaelsun Knapp (146) Selected Poems by A.J. Huffman (187) Non-Fiction Meng Li Sha by Melissa Grunow (13) All I Knew by Paulette Perhach (44) Proportions by Aleyna Rentz (71) As in Iowa? by Amy Friedman (90)
Cover Art: Phoenix in February by Marjani Viola Hawkins
Naranja By Joanell Serra Tomas was perched near the top of an old metal ladder, placed carefully in the forgiving spring soil. He was reaching for a particularly tempting orange, just inches beyond his fingertips, the scent of the ripe citrus like perfume in the balmy air. And then the boy ran by. Running hard along the serpentine path, the young man sported expensive clothes for sweating inâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;Nike shoes, dark running shorts and another swoosh splayed across his chest. And those socks. What an amazing coincidence, Tomas thought. As the boyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s feet lifted into the air, the stripe along the top of the socks matched up perfectly with the color of the orange Tomas so desired, and, simultaneously, with the poppies that grew at the edge of the garden. For a fleeting moment, Tomas saw all three: the spellbinding sphere, the pulsating poppies, the sprinting stripe.
As a painter, it took his breath away. Quite literally. He heard a scrape as the worn down soles of his sandals slipped gently from their hold. Even as he turned to grab the ladder’s sharp metal with his hands, he knew he was going down. The distance stretched as he descended, the fear mounting, panic flooding from his heart to his toes. Nothing beneath him. Is this what it’s like then? To fall? He remembered going to the bridge, also painted orange, though a hideous shade, looking down at the shimmering water below and wondering. How had his granddaughter felt the courage, let alone the despair, to leap from such a high place? He’d thought often of the protracted moments from bridge to water, from life to death, wishing she’d chosen another way.
And now it was his turn, one arm still outstretched to the plump citrus that he’d been reaching for, like Eve reaching for her apple. Orange? He thought to himself as his moments ebbed away, the last color in my palette is orange? Not red, like the angry young man he’d once been, like the blood of Jesus tattooed on his chest, like the red hearts his granddaughter cut out methodically on Valentine’s day. Not the dark ebony of his skin. Not the aching purple skies he’d known as a child in Managua. Orange. But then, as he felt the earth rush to meet him, his old bones cracking against the gravel path, then he remembered the orange tree outside his house as a child. His mother calling for him to pick them, las naranjas, before the rats got to them. The juice ran down his face, and he was sticky with citrus joy. She stood laughing on the
steps, a white house dress hanging over her round, rolling, body. “Tomito, don’t eat too many. You’ll make yourself sick.” So, he thought, orange is the color I take to the grave. The running boy didn’t stop, may not even have noticed the man’s fall. The poppies seemed to tip their heads slightly to acknowledge his plummet to the garden. The orange he’d reached for still hung, full of juice and promise, high above him in the cerulean sky. He squeezed his hands against the pain as he felt something give, even erupt, inside him. He touched the fading crucifix on his chest, but his regular praying days had ended. When his granddaughter jumped, she took the last shred of his faith with her. Or so he’d thought.
But now, as his ribs bent and snapped, the cage around his heart broken wide open, now he wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t so sure. SeĂąor he tried. Do this for me. Make it quick. And so it was.
Dear Editor By William Ogden Haynes Today I received a complimentary electronic copy of your magazine entitled The Stonecraft Literary Review. While I read the magazine with great interest the work is not quite right for me at the present time. I know you worked very hard on putting the review together, but you must understand that I receive many solicitations to subscribe to periodicals and I must choose very carefully. Feel free to send another complimentary copy in the future but please wait at least six months before doing so. Also, I am no longer accepting email attachments, so please paste your copy in the body of the email in number twelve Times New Roman and put solicitation in the subject line or it will be ignored. I appreciate the opportunity to review your work and wish you the best of luck in placing your magazine elsewhere. Cheers, Your Potential Subscriber.
Meng Li Sha By Melissa Grunow Nikki stands in the sweltering cafeteria, clutching her metal tray. “Why did this have to happen to me?” The corners of her mouth curl upward in amused exasperation. On Nikki’s tray is an unrecognizable chopped vegetable concoction, some rice, and—to her dismay—a boiled duck head. Children scurry to find seats at long, metal picnic tables. Nikki and I slide onto a bench next to one another and set our trays on the table. My right knee cracks, and I’m reminded that my ankles are still swollen from the fourteen-hour plane ride after enduring a thirty-hour travel delay. I had finally arrived after 10 p.m. the night before and was up at 6 a.m. to teach my first class at The Changxing Victoria Foreign Language School, an English summer camp for Chinese elementary school children in the Zhejiang province.
“I’m not eating that,” Nikki whispers to me as she picks up her chopsticks and pokes the empty eye socket of the offending duck head. “Are you supposed to?” I ask. “Maybe it’s a garnish. Like parsley.” She gives me a look and attempts to eat her rice, the individual bits slipping out of her chopsticks and back onto her tray. Around us, the students are shoveling food into their mouths; pieces of rice, vegetable, and meat falling back onto the table as their voices rise in a chorus above their heads, along with steam from our collective sweat. The heat continues to build in the room, the air so heavy that I’m full even before I’ve taken my first bite. Across from me, Kate picks up a duck foot from her tray and nibbles on the toes; her head is tilted slightly and propped up on her small hand, the elbow resting on the table. Her English is quite limited, but she quickly becomes my
favorite student because her face is full of expressions. She’s light enough for me to lift up over my head, so I give her the nickname Carry-on Kate. “Teacher, excuse me.” I turn and see a girl standing next to me at the end of the table. Her hair is pulled into a tight ponytail near the crown of her head. She has a big smile and animated features. “My name is Jenny.” All of the students already have English names that they’ve picked off a list that will stick with them in English classes through college. Names like Grace, Kate, Judy, Sandra, Rick, Penny, and Sylvia are typical, but there are less conventional choices such as YoYo, Cookie, Happy, and Madonna, as pop culture America has made its way to the other side of the world. Jenny taps her chin and rolls her eyes upward as she searches for her words. “Um, what do you like to do on the weekend?”
Her question puzzles me at first. There is no weekend in China, at least not the kind we’re accustomed to in the U.S. Our teaching schedule doesn’t permit us a weekend either, just a day off every six or eight days to go on excursion. “I like to spend time with friends and read books,” I finally say. “What do you like to do on the weekend?” “I like to go to the movies,” she says, and smiles a toothy grin. This brief interaction gives me an extensive amount of insight into what some of the children may already know and how much English they can speak. Jenny is advanced because she can form conversational sentences without prompting. She also doesn’t seem to be experiencing the shyness and hesitation with us foreign visitors as the other students who have spent the morning quietly staring and occasionally giggling in between recitation of English vocabulary, definitions, and sentences.
Back in the classroom, Nikki and I stumble around each other and make quick decisions as to who will cover which aspect of the lesson. She’s a college student, and I’m a college instructor, even though we’re only six years apart. I have more than five years of experience in front of the classroom, and she has none. We’re strangers, essentially, having met just a few times before this teaching abroad opportunity. There are polite suggestions, nervous laughter, and a flexible mentality. We may not know yet how to work together, but we know we have to give the appearance that we know what we’re doing as the room is filled with little faces eager for an English education. We teach the children the different words for family members: mother, father, grandma, grandpa, sister, brother. But this is the age of the one-child law, so they don’t have siblings, and refer to their cousins as brother or sister instead. The students repeat our slow pronunciations, write the word and definition in their notebooks, and raise their
hands eagerly when we ask for volunteers to recite back to us. After vocabulary, Nikki and I ask our students to work in small groups and come up with Chinese names for us. They scramble to rearrange their chairs, open their notebooks, and start to sketch characters in varying designs while we circulate the room. They’re conversing quickly, arguing over which combination is better, which letters sound the most like our English names. Each group takes turns going to the front of the room and writing their choice on the board, then they present what each character sounds like and its meaning. For me they choose Meng Li Sha, and for Nikki, Nih-ka. After school, Billie and Vivian, the class’s Chinese teachers and our guides while we’re in Changxing, approach us. “We go to Rick’s house for dinner.” I turn and scan the children, trying to locate Rick. He’s a tiny boy with glasses and a big smile, who Nikki has
nicknamed “Chicken Little.” He is one of the quietest children in class, so it surprises me that he will be our host for the evening. We ride the bus into town, and Billie and Vivian flag down a taxi. They push Nikki and me inside with Rick who is squished in the middle of us. They say something to him in Mandarin, close the door, and the cab drives away. “Nikki,” I say through clenched teeth. “We’re in a cab in China with a child.” Nikki’s eyes are wide. She nods and lets out a nervous laugh. It’s our first full day in a foreign city in which we don’t know the language, our child escort doesn’t know English, and we’re driving further and further away from the familiarity of our hotel, and we don’t even know the name of it. The taxi pulls to the side of the road just outside tall apartment buildings. Rick hands the driver money and
points to the door. I climb out and he follows, and then stands on the sidewalk clutching his school bag. “Rick, do you live here? Are your teachers coming?” He shakes his head and looks away while saying something quietly in Mandarin. It’s clear he doesn’t understand me. He waits and watches the road until another cab pulls up, and Billie and Vivian climb out. I look at Nikki and we both relax our shoulders. It would be an utter embarrassment if we had been left wandering around in downtown Changxing on our first full day in China. “Come inside.” Vivian leads us into a building, up three flights of stairs, and into the apartment. She instructs us to remove our shoes and slip on house shoes that are lined up neatly by the door in all different sizes. It’s customary to wear something on your feet while inside someone’s home, just not the shoes that you wear outside.
Nikki and I sit awkwardly next to each other on the firm and boxy. Rick sets two tall glasses with tea leaves in the bottom on the table in front of us. He fills each glass with boiling water, and the leaves swirl with the pour, turning the liquid to a pale green. I pick up my glass to take a sip and have to set it back down almost immediately. It’s too hot to hold, let alone to drink. Vivian hands each of us a round piece of fruit covered in a hard shell and shows us how to peal it. With the shell removed, the fruit is a bulbous gel, much like the inside of a grape, but sweeter. We ask what it’s called, but neither Billie nor Vivian knows the name in English. The language differences between us and Rick’s family are so obvious that we can’t even muster small talk because it all needs to be translated. We know it would be rude to just talk to each other, or to just talk to Billie and Vivian, so we don’t talk at all. I’m stiff with social discomfort. I need something to do.
Rick’s mother says something to Vivian, and she stands up quickly from her seat on the bamboo floor. “Come this way,” she says. We gather around a table and learn to stuff and fold wontons that Rick’s mother boils in a large pot of bubbling water. Rick’s father is stern and quiet until he smiles, and he is relentless in showing Nikki how to fold the wontons correctly so the filling doesn’t ooze out from the folds. She clutches the wonton in front of her face and laughs with her head back while Rick’s father repeatedly taps her shoulder to give her instructions once again. Our days in China quickly fall into a pattern of teaching, meeting up with our students for dinner most nights—either in their homes or at restaurants—and occasionally spending time in town with Billie and Vivian, shopping and wandering the city, crossing over bridges where the river below shoots water into the air full of
colored lights, the patterns dancing in the moonlight. Even as dusk approaches, there is no relief from the heat. I’m in an urban jungle and the natives stare at my pinkish skin and red hair, a freak among homogeny. I’m also bigger than most of the men—in height and in stature—my limbs thick and heavy, my hips wide. In China I resemble a freshly picked cherry—red, round, and warm to the touch. We Americans are so obviously American. We can’t help ourselves. But we don’t expect to get stared at, photographed, and stared at some more. I meet the eyes of those who stare, but they don’t look away. They keep their eyes focused on me as they steer their mopeds down the street with no regard for getting in the way of others. The only traffic law in Changxing is “Me first!” as scooters and cars fight for road space, riding their horn the whole way. At first I scowl back and stare harder, but after the first week, I smile, wave, flash peace signs, or just shrug it
off. Vivian and Billie tell us that they’ve never had foreign visitors in Changxing, at least not from what they can remember. Nikki and I are an anomaly, the equivalent of little green men walking down our street back home. If that happened would we stare? Of course we would. The smells in the street are made up of unfamiliar spices, including one that is best described as a combination of burnt plastic, moth balls, and a sprinkling of old garlic. It’s rubbed into flat pieces of beef that some of the families serve to us when we dine in their homes. The first time I tried it, I raised the piece to my nose, smelling it and studying its texture. It’s cut in such a way that I don’t recognize it as it curls slightly at the edges, dangling on the end of my chopsticks. I don’t want it, but I eat it anyway to be polite, and wake up from a deep sleep later that night to throw it all up in the bathroom. I would periodically smell that same spice as it wafted off the carts of street vendors while we wandered
the city at night with Billie and Vivian. The bile would curdle in my throat, and I would stop, look around, and try to identify the culprit. I would turn to Nikki and shake my head, and she knew instantly that I had to move away, my hand over my nose. Each day in the classroom centers on a different theme, the English taught in the context of American culture. Topics include money and shopping, food, school, holidays, sports. On sports day, we take the students outside and teach them relay games, including sponge toss which then turns into a water fight. Nikki walks up behind Ramiz—another one of the American teachers—and dumps a bottle of water on his head. He turns and points at her as she runs away. “Get Miss Nikki!” The children pursue the chase as she weaves through cars in the small parking lot. Ramiz catches her
and holds her still as the children douse her with water. There is a subtle flirtation between the two of them that gets more apparent each time they are together. Nikki has a love interest in the U.S. who won’t commit, a guy who treats her like she is all that matters in the world as long as no one else is around. She is frustrated and confused and Ramiz’s flirtations in a foreign country are a welcome distraction. There is a small pond next to the school where children fill their water bottles, and chase after one another, soaking their clothes in the process. Emma walks up to me with a big smile on her face, and I smile back, just as she tosses the contents of her water bottle in my face, flooding my eyes and my mouth with pond scum. I am certain I have contracted dysentery or malaria, that I will go blind, that death is imminent. My mascara runs down my face as I rub my eyes and walk back to the school. Dick—the best English-speaking student in my class—takes my hand and
leads to me a bench. He shouts in Mandarin at the students who approach me with full water bottles, while shielding me with a pink umbrella. The children back away, mortified that I’m hurt or sad or something other than smiling while singing songs and clapping as usual. Dick is protective because he thinks I’m crying, and I smile to show him that I’m OK, that it’s just the protozoans making my eyes water, all the while hoping my blurry vision is just my overreacting imagination. Later that week Nikki and I meet Dick’s mother and some of his extended family for dinner out in the country. Kevin, another student, joins us. We gather in a small room in the back of the restaurant and squeeze around a large, round table. The heat in the room is oppressive, with just a fan in the corner to blow around the thick, humid air. Bugs are stuck in spider webs in the upper corners of the room, and the floor is coated with waxy grime. I settle into my chair, my stomach ill-prepared for another meal of
unidentifiable food. Ever since the night I threw up the burnt plastic beef, my tolerance for Chinese food has dropped more each day. I’m losing anywhere from five to ten pounds a week, completely lacking appetite. All the dishes are placed in the center on a lazy Susan that we rotate, picking at the food with our chopsticks or spooning concoctions into our own tiny bowls. Various seafood dishes are placed in front of us, their shells or scales and eyes still intact. I look over at Nikki, and she knows I’m going to struggle to eat. I pick up what I later learn to be a pig intestine with my chopsticks, set it on my plate, and poke at it while I flash an awkward smile around the table, hoping they don’t notice that I’m not eating. Each time I sit down to an unfamiliar meal, I remember Nikki’s duck head from the first day in the cafeteria, and I regret my snarky remarks. Beyond that first day, she has had no trouble with the food. I am not so fortunate.
Another dish is placed on the Susan and Nikki elbows me. “Look,” she says with excitement in her voice. It’s scrambled eggs and tomatoes. I relax a little and exhale. Scrambled eggs and tomatoes was the most familiar food I had eaten since coming to China, and it hadn’t let me down yet. I spin the Susan around and position the bowl in front of me. I pick up the big serving spoon and scoop all the way to the bottom, only to bring a whole fish the size of a large minnow to the surface. I let out a startled yelp, and drop the spoon back into the bowl. “Oh, the fish! Watch out!” Billie says. I look at her and manage a half smile, then sit back in my seat. No eggs and tomatoes for me. I feel like I should be starving, but the intense heat and humidity prevent me from feeling hunger. Dick’s uncle rotates the Susan so the eggs dish is in front of him and scoops the fish into his bowl. He pops the
whole thing into his mouth, chewing through bones and scales and eyes, crunching happily from across the table. I pick up the glass in front of me and sip my tea, the loose leaves tickling my lips. It will be another night of eating from the peanut butter jar that I had smuggled over in my suitcase. After dinner, we walk along a quiet road through a bamboo forest, the shoots as thick as baseball bats, shoots that tower over us and block the setting sun. The bugs are quiet, leaving us alone for once, and the humidity begins to subside a little. We come upon a stream and Dick’s mom stands on the bank and points out orange carp flipping their fins among the rocks. We continue along the road, Dick and Kevin chase each other in spurts, Nikki and I trailing behind them. I call them over and we line up and link arms. I show them how to walk in unison as I sing, “Hey! Hey! We’re the Monkeys,” their laughter drowning out my voice. Dick and Kevin skip a few steps, then connect their
arms to walk like The Monkeys again, their skinny legs crossing over in front of them as they climb the road ahead. At night in the hotel, Nikki’s first instinct is to turn on the television, even though there are only three channels and none of them are in English. Occasionally, we have access to BBC and one day we had an hour of music videos on MTV before the screen went blue. The television becomes background noise while we attempt to journal or unwind, but we always end up talking. I learn that Nikki’s guy back home isn’t very considerate or respectful, and she has responded to the realization by not making any effort to e-mail or otherwise contact him. Their mutual friends all tell her about his behavior with other women when she’s not around, but she can’t bring herself to end it. “Why not?” She shrugs, and I believe that she really doesn’t know.
I don’t know, either. I don’t have advice for her. I had been dating my boyfriend for about nine months and couldn’t get over that he was just a little too comfortable and accepting of my month-long absence. On our first day off, our chaperones take us by bus to Hangzhou, a city so beautiful and so rich in trade that Italian explorer Marco Polo called it the “City of Heaven” when he traveled to China during the Yuan Dynasty. He was the first western visitor to the city, and is recognized with a statue of his likeness erected near West Lake. Our group is made up of the eight of us Americans and our Chinese tour guides. When we arrive in Hangzhou, they warn us against pick-pockets, “Many people. Hold your bag.” We climb off the bus and walk toward West Lake for a boat tour. School-age children crowd around us. They’re around the same age as our students and also know a little English.
A small girl walks right up to me and stares at my face until I look down at her. “Are you from America?” she asks me. I kneel down so I am eye level with her. “Yes I am. What is your name?” She giggles, suddenly shy that I’m paying her attention. She mutters a name that I can’t understand, but I smile anyway. Around her, a small group of her classmates look on and nudge closer to watch our interaction. I dig into the bottom of my bag and pull out a pencil with my university’s logo on it. I study it for a second and hand it to the girl in front of me. She takes it in her hand and stares at it intently, her eyes large and focused. Her friends squirm in and push each other to get a look at the gift. They flash me their best grins and offer me greetings, not knowing much more English. I hold out my empty hand and shrug. I have nothing left to offer them.
The sun climbs higher in the sky, and the day heats up just like the others as July is the hottest month of the year, and also the most humid. There is no shade to hide under, no air-conditioned buildings to gather in. We stand to the side while our guides get us tickets for a boat ride of West Lake. The Chinese are walking around with umbrellas to block the sun or cover themselves with long sleeves to shield their pale skin, whereas we welcome the direct light that darkens our hues. I look up and see a small group of men slyly taking our picture with their camera phones, acting casual and nonchalant. I flash them a peace sign and a smile, and within minutes the crowd of onlookers had grown exponentially. Some come up and wiggle their way into our group to smile as a friend takes their picture with us foreigners. A man squeezes in next to me and grins into the crowd and at a camera. After his photo is taken, he turns to
me, runs his hand down my long, curly red hair and says, “Beautiful.” I cringe a little and step away as I realize the size of the crowd. We’re practically surrounded by Chinese paparazzi who don’t hesitate to get close and touch us as though we’re goats at a petting zoo. I turn to Nikki. “We’re never going to be able to get out of here.” She nods. “This is scary.” The mob circles even tighter around us. I reach down and clutch my bag, and can feel my wallet still settled in the bottom. I’m slightly relieved, though the fact that I haven’t been robbed yet doesn’t take away from the fear imposed by the impending throng. Our guide breaks through the mob, waves her hand over her head and yells, “Follow me,” as she turns and walks toward the lake. And just like that, the crowd disburses.
On West Lake, I slump into a seat, overwhelmed by a humidity thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s inescapable; I start to feel dizzy. A native of Michigan, I spent my life growing up around water. I am underwhelmed by a lap around a lake on a boat. I reach up to push my hair away from my face. Thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s no place to go to hide from the sun or the stares, so I turn my face to the water, close my eyes, and plead for the ride to end. When the boat docks, I gladly step off and quickly find a bench where I can sit down. Our guide is soon prodding us up a path until we reach a large concrete area, flanked by small souvenir shops. I look up, and see a mountain of stairs leading up Sunset Hill to the Leifeng Pagoda, a five-story tall tower with eight sides. Leifeng was originally built in 977, attacked by the Japanese in 1924, and rebuilt with modern amenities (including an escalator and air-conditioning) in 2002. Despite the heat, I decide to take the stairs to the top, cutting over to the escalator about halfway, unable to
make it to the base of the pagoda on my own. I throw a coin into the ruins of the previous tower that are on display once we get inside as itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s supposed to bring good luck. I climb and climb and make it to the top floor to marvel at the famous ornamented ceiling. I walk around with my chin tilted upward, and bump into a toddler who is wearing nothing more than loose-fitting pants that are split at the crotch. I mumble apologies that nobody hears, and wouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t understand anyway, and go back to taking pictures, before I rest on a bench along the outer wall. The same child that I bumped into squats down and pees on the floor of the Leifeng Pagoda, just underneath the solid copper, hand molded ceiling. His parents praise him, and I raise my eyebrows and stare, not believing what Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m seeing. I look around for Nikki, but she is out on the observation balcony and the rest of the group has split up
throughout the pagoda, so I’m left to witness this defilement of a public monument on my own. I get up and walk outside to where Nikki is taking pictures of West Lake from the balcony. Ramiz is chatting her up, trying to find some way to get her to notice him. I start to tell them what I just saw, but it’s a story I want to save for Nikki, so instead I say, “I can’t believe how hot it is. This is unreal.” “I know,” Ramiz says. “I’ve never had upper foot sweat before. That’s new.” He flashes Nikki a smile to see if she finds his joke funny, but she is studying the images on her camera. I lean against the railing and slump a little. I’ve seen too much. I want to go back to Changxing, to the comfort of the compound, and the familiarity of my classroom, to the smiles of my students. My version of China is one of body-obsessed, xenophobic, pushy, and hurried people without concern for public manners and personal space.
However, my experience in the Chinese classroom is a place of inspiration, of seeing excitement in children who are shy at first, but then loving, giving, and craving the opportunity to learn, no matter their initial skill level. A week later is our last day in the classroom at Changxing. Instead of teaching our scheduled lesson plans, we turn on music at full volume in all four classrooms, and do a Conga line throughout the school. Ramiz and Courtney lead a group of students in the â&#x20AC;&#x153;YMCAâ&#x20AC;? and Leslie does an interview (in English) for a local television show. The kids are running around tossing balloons in the air and wearing party hats, as we made some attempt to teach them about birthdays and holidays that morning. While hanging paper chains throughout the room, I give the kids instructions, many who ignore me and continue to color their pictures that they will then tape to the cinderblock walls.
“Ugh,” I turn to Nikki, “why aren’t they listening?” Dick looks over at me when he hears “listen,” a look of recognition on his face. Most of the others continue working on their projects, happily chatting to each other in Mandarin. I realize then that while they may be listening, they can’t understand me. That’s when it hits me that I’ve been working with a group of non-native English speakers for two weeks, and became so accustomed to our routine that I forgot that we don’t speak the same language. That night we go out with Billie and Vivian who wander into a little shop and instruct us to wait on the sidewalk. They come out and take us to a tea house where they hand us each a gift: a personalized rubber stamp with both our names in Chinese characters and in English. We are to leave for Huzhou in the morning and start teaching at Huzhou #4 Middle School the day after. On our last night in Changxing where we don’t quite feel like foreigners anymore, where we have a sense of
belonging, a sense of connection, with Billie and Vivian, I use my rubber stamp on a tea house napkin, leaving my mark in Changxing, a foreigner in a foreign city who feels like sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s leaving home in the morning.
Selected Poems by Brad Garber Imagination Equinus It wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t long ago my daughter taken by horse fever neighed on rocks along the ocean voices deep within her rambling on mudding cracks etched beneath flaring sun her bare feet in jagged canter line of toes across the horizon wild ponies leaping and bucking racing toward the sea constant nostrils windward hooves the roots of memory
Seasonal Migration When I saw the cranes dropping from invisible to land in cornfields along the Platte, I stopped. Every song that Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d ever sung went through me in spirals, full of rising spring hopeful currents, screwing me to the earth like a door hinge to allow the act of opening and closing again. The buffalo were nowhere seen, even though dusty wallows on passing hillsides were deep. I was on my way upstream to the law clerk office where I became aware of fragile relationships,
small town border disputes and water damage long moments on the porch in thick air dusk. The raspy conversations of thousands of birds like old friends on a cross-country bus trip fell upon me in a waterfall of happy banter travelers pulling into the â&#x20AC;&#x153;Flyway Truckstop.â&#x20AC;? When the last crane landed the fields changed chameleon colors in subtle earth hues fresh. Against the grey backdrop stood a lone bison on a distant hillside to the east in golden sun. Toward it I drove to a short season of changes only to fly high currents with returning cranes.
All I Knew By Paulette Perhach All I knew was we didn’t play in the pool anymore. All I knew was the boat still didn’t work. All I knew, as I pressed my forehead to the sliding glass doors, looking across our back yard and off past the dock into the ocean, was that even the sunshine seemed to be from another time. All I knew was I liked dad’s old car better. All I knew was I had nothing to wear to school. All I knew was that static blared from the channels where my cartoons were supposed to be. All I knew was that my brother’s clothes fit me okay, that other girls had plaid scrunchies that matched their plaid skirts, that “window-shopping” was just a way of seeing everything I wanted, encased in glass. All I knew was that the seconds after a cashier swiped mom’s credit card were starting to feel like waiting for a verdict, and she sent me to look at the candy machines before the verdict came down. 44
All she said was, “We’re rich in love, right honey?” All I knew was that the car was stalling again, if the needle on the dashboard fell between the 2 and the 1. All I knew was the power was going out again, when the man in the uniform came through the bushes near my bedroom window. All I knew was that they were fighting again, when the tense, muffled voices reached through the wall. All I knew was that a dollar of gas could get us home. All I knew was that barbecue sauce on bread was better than asking mom why there was nothing else. All I knew was that it filled me with panic when I opened the washer and found dad’s work clothes covered in pen marks. All I knew was that we could not afford mistakes. All I knew was that the mail was stamped with red words, and mean people called the house, mispronouncing my dad’s name, saying that he had to call back immediately about a very urgent matter. All I knew was that even the adults were in trouble.
All I knew was that I’d never heard the lifeless voice– “Yes. Please,” quietly, into the phone – coming from my father. All I knew was the worst sound ever was my mom’s voice sobbing. All I knew was that my sister never laughed. All I knew was things were getting worse, and since this was my introduction to the idea that life could be bad at all, I had no way of knowing just how bad things might get. All he said was any day now, the deal was coming in. Any day now. Any day now. All I knew was that the dock was rotting. But I still wanted to see the water. I ventured out alone. The wood planks cracked. They broke and swallowed my leg. I sat there with the splintered shards biting into my thigh, stinging and scared, and all I knew was that no one was coming to save me.
Selected Poems by Chelsea Eckert
The Mayfly We are the only mortal things here. Nothing else dies â&#x20AC;&#x201D; not mammals with their quiet eyes, not birds with their reed-weak bones. Even the moths who beat against the tiny suns of man will see tomorrow morning. (Tomorrow is a term that means many things: again and yes and go.) I imagine that we have offended someone, but I do not know who.
The Boy Who Turned to Gold whenever anyone touched him had, by the age of fourteen, wedding rings circling his skin. He looked like a gilded raccoon, or perhaps
a red panda. His mother hugged him too much, always did, still dangled him off one knee if he felt bad. And every time she did she left a precious metal scar upon his upper arms, his waist. At school the girls did not notice his eyes, which were blue, usually, but grayed when he glanced down, grayed into New England pond water. The girls saw the gold under his eyelids instead, and thought of taking a pickax to those delicate pockets so that they might own him for themselves. It was Father who finally owned him, though, who skinned him alive while he slept. He wore the boy inside the lapels of his coat, and noted after a day at the office that the whole city had undergone an alchemical transformation into gold. Yet Father could only think about New England pond water, which he saw in every plaza fountain.
Creature of the Night At the full moon I become, get this, a person. Thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s my problem. I know itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s coming
when my heart binds up & it feels like how my mother did coming home after running her paper routes, when she would tip over onto the couch and sleep open-mouthed until dusk. So I try to get to my safehouse, my panic-room made of blankets. My jaw tweaks, & my hands do too, & I am whispering my pains because it does no good to alert the townspeople to my condition. (My father was a wereperson as well, & they might watch me as if I was a doll of his making.) Yes, there is a cure, but you see, it only works when it is day.
Open Wounds By Miranda Stone My body throbbed like a bad tooth. I curled up in the bus seat and rested my forehead against the window, leaving a smear of sweat on the glass. My long-sleeved shirt clung to my skin in the late May heat. Other girls wore halter tops and shorts, their skin cool as porcelain, while I baked in jeans, the denim encasing me like an oven. Students poured out of the school, and I searched the faces for Quinnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s. She finally strolled through the front entrance doors, dressed in a fitted t-shirt and flowing skirt with a paisley print. Her sandals and bead necklace made her look like a misplaced hippie. A guy I recognized from my Government class walked beside her, bumping his hip against hers. They all desired contact with her, just as I did. She tilted her head and laughed at something he said. I pressed my hand to the window, willing her to look at me, but she only threw her arm around the boyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s neck and pulled him into an awkward embrace.
Quinn bounded up the bus steps, and when she spotted me, her face broke into a smile. I patted the empty space beside me, and she slid into the seat. “Evie, you look sick.” She held the back of her hand to my cheek. “You’re burning up.” “It’s just hot on this bus,” I said. Quinn tugged at my sleeve. “That’s because you’re wearing this. Time to put away your winter clothes, love.” I pronounced the word love behind my closed lips. Quinn called everyone that, but it was still nice to hear her say it. She rummaged through her backpack, and I sneaked glances at her full breasts, the swell of her belly. My body was all straight lines and sharp angles. Quinn found her lip balm, some cherry flavored stuff I could smell if I leaned close enough. She applied a thick coat and then held the small jar out to me, unable to see the wound just inside my lower lip. I’d begun gnawing at it during first period. As the hours passed, I tore layers of
flesh away. Now I delighted in rubbing the tip of my tongue against the raw spot; it tasted like a penny. “Thanks.” I dipped a fingertip into the jar and brought the balm to my lips. The seats around us filled quickly. A few stragglers drifted onto the bus, including Quinn’s older brother, Clay. He was two years ahead of us in school, a senior, but Quinn told me that after he wrecked the family station wagon, their parents didn’t allow him to drive anymore. As Clay passed our seat, he gave Quinn a hard shove, sending her flying into me. “Hey, slut.” “Fuck off, dickhead,” she snapped. He only laughed and headed toward the back of the bus where the juniors and seniors held court. Quinn rolled her eyes. “I hate him. It’s too bad he’s not leaving for college this fall.” I picked at a cuticle on my left hand, tearing the skin until I felt a prickle of pain. Blood welled around the nail, and I wrapped my finger in the fabric of my dark shirt,
applying pressure. “What does he plan to do after he graduates?” “Hell if I know.” She cradled her backpack to her chest. “His grades are pathetic. I guess I should be thankful he’s passing this year.” The bus engine rumbled as it eased out of the school parking lot and onto the road. Quinn leaned back in the seat and closed her eyes. “I’m so glad it’s Friday, even if I have to finish that stupid Biology assignment for Mrs. Hamilton’s class over the weekend.” “I have to work on that, too,” I said. Quinn nudged me with her elbow. “You should come to my house this afternoon. We can work on it together.” Quinn and I lived in the same neighborhood, but I’d never been inside her house. We’d only begun hanging out at school a few weeks ago, when we were partnered in Spanish class to translate a passage written by Borges.
I worked the muscles of my face so my smile wouldn’t morph into a stupid grin. “Sure.” We didn’t live far from the school; our stop was first on the bus’s route. Quinn and I stood, waiting for the bus to grind to a halt. Several students ahead of us shuffled toward the door, and as we lingered in the aisle, Clay approached and pressed his body against mine. My shoulders tightened, but I didn’t have the nerve to tell him to back off, even as his breath was hot on my neck. Sandwiched between brother and sister, I scooted closer to Quinn, nestling my face into her long dark hair. I could smell the lavender shampoo she used. When we were finally free of the bus, I fell into step beside her. While other kids on our street paired off or started home on their own, Clay stayed right on my heels. “You haven’t introduced me to your friend, Quinn.” He gave my hair a yank.
She spun around and shoved him hard. “Leave us alone,” she said, but he just grinned at me. I tore at the wound in my mouth, widening its area, tasting fresh blood. Quinn once told me that Clay was popular with the girls, but I couldn’t see why. He wore a pair of faded jeans and a stained white t-shirt, neither of which appeared to have been washed in a while. For the entire walk to Quinn’s house, I heard Clay whispering behind me, but I couldn’t make out the words. “Just ignore him,” Quinn said as she linked her arm in mine. I winced at her touch, but she didn’t notice. “How did you do on the Spanish test?” “I think I did okay.” Clay caught my heel with his sneaker and snorted. “Sorry about that. Hey, how do you say lick my balls in Spanish?” Quinn glowered at him. “You’re such an asshole.”
We made our way up the short driveway leading to their one-story ranch house. Quinn took a set of keys from her backpack, and I bounced on the balls of my feet waiting for her to unlock the door. Clay crowded us on the front stoop. “Back off.” She tried to smack him, but he jumped out of reach. The living room was airy and bright with bay windows. Its neatness surprised me. “You have a lovely home,” I said. “Thanks.” Quinn tossed her backpack on the floor. “Mom’s a compulsive cleaner. Her shrink says it’s her way of exerting control over her life.” “Stop blabbing about personal shit,” Clay said as he headed down the hall. “Mom’s been going to the shrink for years,” Quinn went on. “That’s probably where she is now. Hell, if I’d
given birth to an asshole like Clay, I’d be living at the shrink’s office, too.” A door slammed at the other end of the house, and we snickered while kicking off our shoes. I followed Quinn into the kitchen. “Would you like something to drink?” she asked. “We’ve got juice, soda, water.” “Water’s fine.” Quinn’s cell phone emitted a chirping noise, and she sighed. “That’s Madison. She’s thinking about dumping her boyfriend, and for days now, it’s been drama, drama, drama. I’ll just be a sec.” She ran out of the room to retrieve the phone from her bag. I stood in the doorway and watched as she drifted down the hall where Clay had disappeared. “Madison, he cheated on you. Just dump him already!” Her voice faded to a murmur. I went to the kitchen table and sat down. The skin beneath my shirt felt like a separate entity from me; each wound I inflicted had its own pulse. Gingerly raising my
sleeve, I examined the flesh picked raw. Scabs dotted my skin, and among them was a fresh wound, meaty red. I prodded it with my fingertip, hissing at the sting. Blood oozed from the sore, and I dug deeper, closing my eyes and releasing a sigh. “What the hell?” Clay stood in the kitchen doorway, his lips twisted in revulsion. I pulled down the sleeve and wiped my bloody finger on my jeans. “What are you doing to your arm?” He moved toward me, and I jumped to my feet. Blood roared in my ears, and the edge of my vision darkened. I tried to dart out of the kitchen, but he blocked my way. I raised my head to stare at him. “Move.” Clay shook his head. “What kind of freak are you? I saw you digging at your arm. I saw the blood.” “I hurt my arm today. I was just looking at the cut.” “Bullshit. You’ve got sores all over your skin.”
Clay jerked at my sleeve. “So that’s why you wear these shirts.” His grip tightened. “What else are you hiding under there?” “Fuck off,” I said through clenched teeth. Clay raised an eyebrow. “You’ve been hanging out with Quinn too much. You’re getting a dirty mouth.” He leaned closer, and I got a whiff of unwashed clothes and oily skin. “Just lift up your shirt and show me. I won’t tell anyone.” I struggled even as the fabric of my sleeve tore. “Let go of me.” Clay laughed and slipped his free hand under my shirt. I swung at his face, but he easily blocked me. I felt his fingers on my skin, on all of my sores. “Holy shit,” he said, moving his hands higher. “Quinn!” I screamed.
I heard her feet slapping against the floor before I caught sight of her. She charged at Clay, leaping on his back and clawing her nails over his cheeks. “Get off me!” He staggered under her weight, fighting to pull her hands from his face. Quinn pounded her fist against his temple. “Don’t you put another hand on her!” He hurled himself backward against the counter, and Quinn took the brunt of the impact. I heard the air leave her lungs, and her grip loosened enough so Clay could wriggle free. Before she could recover, he spun around and struck her with the back of his hand. Her head snapped to the side, and she raised trembling fingers to her bloody lip. I lunged for the knife block next to the stove. Gripping the largest handle, I withdrew the knife and started toward Clay.
He held up his hands. I slashed at him, and he stumbled backward. “You crazy bitch,” he said, his stare fixed on the knife. “I’ll cut you if you don’t get out of here.” My voice shook, but the knife was steady in my hand. “This is my house. I’ll call the cops.” “Go on and call them,” Quinn shrieked. “I’ll tell them everything, Clay.” Tears slid down her mottled cheeks, tumbling over the curve of her lip to mingle with her blood. Her teeth were stained red. Clay looked from Quinn to the knife I held. Then he strode from the kitchen, hurling insults at us over his shoulder. A moment later, the front door opened and slammed shut. Quinn and I stared at each other, breathing hard. I placed the knife on the counter, within easy reach in case he returned. She sank to the floor, bringing her knees to her
chin. As she buried her face in her skirt and sobbed, I moved on silent feet and knelt beside her. “It’s okay,” I said, rubbing her back as I made comforting noises, the way my mother did when I was little. “I’m sorry. I never thought he would try anything like that.” She raised her head and scrubbed her face with her palms. Her gaze settled on my ripped sleeve and the bloody wound on my arm. “Oh, my god.” She grasped my wrist. “Evie, did Clay do this to you?” “No.” I pulled away with more force than I’d intended. “Well, what happened? You’re bleeding.” She reached for my arm again, and this time, I let her examine the scars and scabs, the open sore. “I pick at my skin,” I said. “I can’t seem to stop. Even though it hurts, sometimes it’s a good pain. I know
that doesn’t make sense. But that’s why I wear long sleeves all the time.” Her eyes locked with mine, and she took my hand. “These could get infected. Come with me.” Quinn climbed to her feet and pulled me down the hall. She pushed open a door on the left, and I saw that it led to her room. An enormous James Dean poster hung on the wall above the bed. Photos of Quinn with various friends were tucked into her mirror frame. “Take off your shirt and lie down,” she told me. “Quinn, no.” She squeezed my fingers. “Whatever you’re hiding, Evie, it’s okay. I promise I won’t judge you. I just want to help.” Hot tears burned my eyes. I blinked them away and sank onto her sky blue bedspread. “I’ll be right back,” she said.
I lifted my shirt over my head, looking down at my marred skin and imagining her reaction when she saw it. Clay was right—I was a freak. Quinn came back into the room with a bag of cotton balls and a bottle of rubbing alcohol. The sight of my bare skin made her stop short. “Go on and lie back,” she urged. I lay down, and she sat next to me, taking the cap from the bottle of alcohol and soaking a cotton ball with the fluid. The smell burned my nostrils, and I closed my eyes, unable to look at Quinn looking at me. She lifted my left arm and ran the cotton over my skin, giving extra attention to the wound I’d been picking. I couldn’t hold back a gasp; the alcohol felt like liquid fire. “You okay?” she asked. “Yeah.” Each fresh and healing wound stung in protest, but I felt my muscles relaxing as Quinn swabbed my shoulders and chest, my stomach and other arm.
“This will help prevent infection,” she said. “I’m going to put some antibiotic ointment on each sore.” She tugged at the waistband of my jeans. “Do you have any sores on your legs?” “No,” I lied. I couldn’t show her everything, couldn’t let her know I’d ripped half my toenails from their beds. I feared the pinky nail of my left foot would never grow back. My breathing slowed as she applied the ointment to my wounds. “I’ll give you a clean shirt,” she said. “And I want you to take this ointment home. Make sure you apply it every day.” Quinn raised her eyebrows at me. “Promise?” “I promise.” She rummaged through her dresser drawer and pulled out a pink t-shirt. “This one’s soft. It’s been washed a hundred times.” She handed it to me, and I sat up and slipped it over my head. The fabric smelled like her. “Thanks, Quinn.”
She smiled and came back to the bed. “Scoot over. I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted.” I moved to make room for her, and she stretched out on the bed, turning on her side to face me. I wrapped a strand of her hair around my finger. “Have you told your parents about what Clay’s been doing?” She closed her eyes. “I told my dad, and he said he didn’t have time to deal with it, that he works twelve hours a day and has enough stress as it is. He said for me to tell Mom. I figured she’d freak out and spend hours at the shrink.” Quinn shook her head. “You know what she said? That Clay’s just being affectionate. I said, ‘Mom, he’s not showing affection when he grabs my tits.’ She told me to stop making up lies about him.” Quinn sniffed hard, and when she spoke again, her voice was raspy. “At night, I lock my door, and I keep a knife under the bed, but I think he knows better than to come in here.”
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. My fingers closed around hers. “You can always stay at my house. Whenever you want. My mom practically lives at her boyfriend’s place, so I’m usually by myself.” She opened her eyes and blinked at me. “Don’t you get lonely?” I shrugged. “I’m used to being alone. But it does leave me a lot of time to start picking. Sometimes I pick at my skin for hours, until my hands are bloody.” Quinn’s eyelids grew heavy. “Maybe I’ll take you up on that, Evie. It would be a win-win for both of us. I’d get away from Clay, and I could keep an eye on you and make sure you don’t hurt yourself.” I listened to the sound of her breathing. The thought of her staying at my house, gliding through the sparsely furnished rooms with their fine layer of dust, made me smile. My smile widened when I heard her faint snore.
Close to sleep myself, I trailed my fingertips over Quinnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s bare arm, relishing the feel of her smooth skin. I reached her elbow and found a small rough patch there. I imagined sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d gotten it by propping her arms on school desks all day. As she dozed, I scratched the scaly spot with my ragged fingernail ever so gently, careful not to wake her.
And It Was By Ethan Noone And love became something we knew; when we had no other choice. And the memory of a long forgotten word that came from a friend. The burden, removed. And it was something we knew. And it was love that we had. And if we recall, it was simply something we had without ever making a choice about what it should be called. The burden, relieved. And it was something we knew, And it was love that we had And in a sublime repercussion, it becomes apparent that we knew what it was all along, and what it should be called. The burden, repealed. And it was something we knew, And it was love that we had. And in the word is the meaning, free from the freedom of choice of deciding what it meant, or how it should be called. The burden, restored.
And it was something we knew, And it was love that we had
Proportions By Aleyna Rentz This is a story about a shower and a spider. I’d advise you against making the assumption that this shower is something out of a steamy scene from Grey’s Anatomy or Fifty Shades of Grey or, well, anything else with grey in its title, because it isn’t. It’s a shower I share with my three younger sisters; a shower whose curtain is inhabited by owls, their wisdom stripped away and replaced with pastel pinks and greens; a shower lined with empty soap bottles and neglected Barbie dolls; a shower whose youngest patrons still use Disney princess three-in-one shampoo and sing songs from Frozen as they lather the falsely-advertised bubbles through their hair. It’s that kind of shower—my sincerest apologies to anyone who expected otherwise. This is not a violent spider, either. It is not the surreptitious spider that crawled over your face during a camp-out in your friend’s backyard during the third grade;
it is not the inimical, exotic spider that bit your grandpa’s neck in the thick brush of the Vietnam War and sent him to a makeshift hospital in Saigon; and it is certainly not that massive beast of a spider that strung Frodo upside down— and just when he was so close to reaching Mordor, too! This is not that kind of spider. I noticed him (her?) only seconds after turning on the faucet. It was so small, so insignificant, that I cannot even attribute to it a feminine or masculine pronoun. It was so small that it could gather its relatives for a family reunion on the nail of my pinky toe and still have room to fit a spider-sized grill and hot dogs. It was so small that I at first confused it for a nick in the shower’s paint. It was a tiny, brown, finite speck in a vast, transforming, incessant universe. And I was still afraid of it. Listen: I happen to be a ridiculous person. I’m afraid of bugs, all bugs—from Gregor Samsa-sized
cockroaches to dainty ladybugs, they terrify me equally. I’m polite—I don’t discriminate based on size. But there’s little doubt in my ridiculous head that you’re ridiculous, too. I’ve watched TV before, you know, and I’ve seen those people that are afraid of stuffed animals and shoelaces. For all I know, you could be one of those people. There’s an unnerving irrationality that haunts us all. But I like to think that my ridiculousness is justified. People die from spider bites all the time. Wasps can fly in your ear and send you to the emergency room. Bacteria can eat your brain. Being six-foot-tall is not a reassurance in this world of tiny assassins, of microscopic sociopaths. So there I was, my hair full of Disney princess shampoo (I had forgotten to bring my own, more mature bottle home from college), faced with an ethical quandary. To kill or not to kill? That was the question. Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer my absurd fear of tiny spiders, or to take arms against the little arachnid, and by opposing,
end it. I couldn’t just jump ship. If only it had been that easy. But nothing is easy when your sisters insist on squeezing the entire Little Mermaid soundtrack into one scalding shower; I certainly wasn’t going to surrender my only chance at hot water to a silly spider. There was an abandoned washcloth sitting on the floor of the tub; I’ll pick it up and squish it and it’ll all be over, I decided. But no, what if it escaped? What if it survived my attack and somehow crawled up the wall, down the shower head, and into my hair? Or worse, my ear? The human body is much too vulnerable; I would have to let the little thing live. But I kept vigilant watch over that spider. I watched as it struggled to keep its hold on the slick shower wall. I watched as it kept slipping and climbing, slipping and climbing. I watched as its eight little legs splayed out and scurried together again, as if it were ice-skating for the first time. Pitiful, I thought as I squeezed a glob of face wash into my hand.
I must admit that there were two pitiful beings in that showerâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;I had to face the stream of water to wash my face. I had to turn around. I had to abandon my strict observation, my intransigent staring contest with that little creature whose eyes I could not even see. It would scurry over my feet the moment I turned around. It would crawl up the back of my ankle. I could feel the terrible, tickling sensation of its legs running over my skin. But I hear that most humans are capable of rational thought, and I like to consider myself a member of that group, so I, a martyr for pimple-free faces, turned my back to the spider. I let the water run over my face. Time braked and skidded to a halt. Water blurred my vision. The suspense was killing me. Rationality was thrust aside. I whipped my head around frantically. There was the spider, still slipping down the wall, still climbing back up, a small-scale Sisyphus.
I turned back around. Conditioner dripped from my hair into my eyes. Blinded, and with a cold-blooded killer in the room. That was it. My life was over. I furiously tried to rub the conditioner out of my burning, useless eyes. The spider was preparing to strike, to sink its poisonous fangs into my skin, I knew it. I was history—and only at eighteen, with so much life ahead of me! I blinked the last of the conditioner from my eyes so that I might at least see the last moments of my life with some clarity. I saw that those last moments did not belong to me, but to someone else. There was the spider, its perennial struggle ended. It had been caught by a drop of water—just one drop. It had drowned in an arbitrary drip, a chaotic puddle no bigger than the nail of my pinky toe. Think of all the drops of water falling right now: A storm barraging the cobblestoned sidewalks of London, a sprinkler spinning on an elderly neighbor’s lawn, a splash from a cannonball in a
backyard pool, water dribbling down a kindergartener’s chin at the water fountain, a bead of sweat dripping down a Little League shortstop’s cheek, a leaky pipe somewhere in Siberia…and this drop had landed exactly where the little spider stood, had pinned it wriggling against the wall, had ended its life. The irrational part of my brain went to work: Who would alert the spider’s family of this untimely demise? Did the little spider believe in an afterlife? Had God come down and taken His spider home? Where would the funeral be held—beneath my bed? Behind a crack in the wall? Can you imagine a family of spiders clad in black hats and leather shoes, singing a requiem as their beloved is lowered into the ground? I didn’t. I don’t like to let my silly thoughts wander quite that far. I finished my shower and dried my hair and went downstairs to paint Easter eggs, per my mother’s request. Among our creations were a Cheshire Cat, a Pokéball, and, the product of a sarcastic eleven-year-
old with a Sharpie marker, an egg simply bearing the word “egg.” I tried to replicate Van Gogh’s Starry Night on an egg, a tedious undertaking whose final, failed result evoked much teasing from my siblings. Our conversation covered lots of topics as we worked—how our classes were going, how my brother’s first prom went, my utter lack of eggpainting talent—but my struggle with the little spider was forgotten. It was just a spider.
Selected Poems by Chelsea Reeser Typewriter I remember the typewriter we dragged out of the dust in my aunt’s attic, the wide eyes of my sister watching the keys clack, the fingers swing up, attack the whiteness of the printer paper and make black patches of half-letters. Then my fingertips tapped out letters fully-formed with a chorus of keys that resisted my touch like elastic connecting two dancers, flinging each letter forward, coming together to create ideas to be caught in the web of the page like glistening black flies captured in a truncated photograph of motion. And my sister, like a flitting dove, fleetingly fascinated, somehow sits still, a fragmented snapshot of a fluid thought.
Magnolia I’m from the magnolia tree in my grandma’s yard An old tree with many branches That still has room to grow I’m from the old music room The Chopsticks keyboard And the brown guitar that never loses its tune From “My Girl” and “My Way”
I’m from a house of cloth and sewing machines I’m from a line of mother-daughter dances I’m from sweet potato casserole And the picture of a black dog on the refrigerator I’m from jet skis and cookouts Fireworks and Egyptian Ratscrew I’m from flip-flops and sunscreen and red cans of potato chips I’m from workbooks scattered over the kitchen table And field trips to the zoo I’m from the library with the hands on the wall And the park with the rolling slide I’m from the calendar that my mom makes every year With pictures of a growing family In front of the magnolia tree in my grandmother’s yards
Academy Seven By Cara MacNeil Tempus Fugit “Two minutes remaining.” The teacher’s voice rang softly out into the classroom. It was test day and the sound traveled without any interference from the students. Not that the eight of them made much noise. Lily craned her neck around to check on the others. She knew that she wasn’t in danger of failing but she couldn’t speak to how well she had scored. Towards the back Warren James leaned back in his chair with a snide look of self-confidence. He was actually a moron but he passed every test with flying colors and it had made him nearly insufferable to be around on days like this. In the front Priscilla Parker was sitting ram-rod straight in her seat tapping her fingers nervously along the edge of the desk. She was checking her test again, this was the eighth time in as many minutes, but she would inevitably be checking in vain: the whole test was perfect. Jensen Rhodes was panic-stricken. He was writing at a frantic pace to finish the test in the remaining two minutes. He might make it, Lily thought, but he might not.
Right behind Jensen, Lucas had broken a sweat. He looked up at the clock, down at his paper and Lily could tell from across the room that he wasn’t nearly close to being done. She focused on him, so did a few of the other students who were done, and the clock’s tick grew louder and louder. Tick. Lucas erased at a word that he knew was spelled wrong and would cost him precious points. Tock. He returned to writing at a furious pace, trying to make the ends meet between his blank paper and his growing answers. Tick. “One minute.” The teacher’s voice was quiet. She, too, was tracking Lucas’ progress. Lily could see the worry etched all over the young teacher’s face—she hated seeing the students fail. Tock. Tick. SNAP! A collective gasp filled the room. Lucas’ pencil had snapped.
He stared at the utensil in abject horror as if it had bitten him or stabbed him in the back. Next to him Tessa Gray tried to pass him a pencil but he didn’t notice. Everyone was waiting with bated breath to see what he would do and Tessa nudged his arm and coughed to draw his attention to the pencil. Lucas’ big brown eyes turned to her and looked at her perfectly intact pencil sadly. He just shrugged and whispered, “It’s no use.” “No talking!” The teacher’s voice was shrill, cautioning, noticeably concerned, “Thirty seconds remaining!” Lucas just crumpled up his test and said, “I know the answers, I just need more time.” A buzzer sounded over the intercom. The teacher’s eyes welled up with tears, “Time’s up.” From the decrepit ceiling a small door opened and a sleek metal arm descended. It enfolded into a polished steel gun and it rotated around the room as if threatening each student. Finally it aimed at Lucas. He turned to Lily as if confiding some terrible secret, “I just needed a little more time.”
Before Lily could reply a bright white light shot out of the gun and hit Lucas squarely in the chest. He fell over his desk instantly, eyes wide with death, the smell of seared skin and clothing heavy in the air. Lily and Tessa turned their heads. Priscilla was tapping her fingers. Jensen looked at his test as if hoping and praying that the School Congress thought it was complete enough to let him live. He had been writing until the buzzer and then had promptly dropped his pencil as if it were a venomous snake. For a moment the gun swiveled and ran its hot tip up the back of his neck. He wanted to cry out but didn’t dare move. He felt for sure that two bodies would be piled in the classroom today. But the gun retreated, contented for now, and Jensen was able to breathe with some impression of normalcy. The teacher put her head in her hands for a moment and then stood up, “Pass your tests forward, please.” She walked down Jensen’s row personally and took their papers so that nobody had to get up and walk around Lucas’ body. She wished they’d move it immediately but School Policy said the body had to remain there for the rest of the day as an object-lesson for the rest of the students.
Regardless of Policy, she didn’t see the point. The students had seen this display before. In fact, they’d seen this scene fifty-two times before today. Each class began with sixty but this particular class had suffered significant losses during testing. Nobody in the room had a choice about what to do so the teacher cleared her throat, tried to hold back her tears, and said, “Open your books and turn to chapter one hundred and thirty three, please.”
Selected Poems by Stephanie Niu Anaerobic I dreamt I was a log drowning in ammonia. The banks whispered this will make you whole but I was a log, a paralyzed stump knit of pores and fiberswhat did I care if I was whole (I just didn’t want to be empty.) There is a vision of a river meeting the sea, milky delta seeping fingers into a hollow midnight. Its color, watered jade slipping through mud reminds me of what color I am: mottled sanguine, crimson dotted with specks of mica — tiny pieces of light caught in the blood of clay scraping the bottom of the river, that liquid artery that swells and bleeds whether we’re drowning or not.
To record a voicemail greeting, press 1 Splinters of sunshine lay on the leaves, sunbathing shards that watch asphalt bloom below them.
I am little more than the shifts in my bones when my heels meet the pavement. Being in transit keeps me safe; I live moving between stillnesses, lingering in spaces between commitment, curled up on the way from day to night. Sorry, I am unavailable at the moment, I am in the process of changing locations from spring to summer, an intentional streak on the blur of the metro. Please consider me lost to everyone except myself and the pieces of sunshine on the leaves. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll call you back when I can.
Shrinking Minutes slip out of the sewn air needled apart by my blinking cursor until all thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s left is threads, frayed reflections of what-if. I know how to linger, nothing more. Beginning and end lay thawed, murky waters under a sheet of ice where the edges of the pond are shrinking and I can taste erosion. In the middle is darkness and ammonia.
Taking a Bullet I have a friend who got shot when he was twelve. He showed me the scar, a puckered
cap of glistening skin in the middle of his bicep. Somehow getting shot reminds me of love or at least the pursuit of love, the haphazard nets we throw out knit of gestures, furtive glances, the way we curl up when we sleep and designed to capture phantoms. The scar is worth the street cred, he had said. He said he got caught in crossfire between two gangs and to this day I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t know whether or not to believe him. We make ourselves lost in the hopes that the right person will find us, that they will appreciate the way we change lanes on an eerily placid Saturday interstate or that dimple wannabe that appears whenever we crack our wryest smile. Thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s an art to it, of getting lost, of hoping the scars you have will impress the right crowd. I wish my mind recognized poison as easily as my body does but for now, Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m devoted to meandering purposefully and hoping to be undone by something worth remembering.
water tower moon Snug pull of cashmere tides on glistening clavicle shore I watched fingers of cotton wavering above grey fields in the overcast dark like frost that grows backward.
Stately clapboard houses haunted by Georgian generations and kudzu My hands don't fit so well in the sand (I used to lay here without any irritation) but the water is the same water that kept my back up as the sun set into a lowering tide (flaming sweet dipping into molten honey) What is a curlew? I looked it up but that didn't help me. The grass is too green here it's too green Tomorrow has become a cloudy word in my mind but it's never too different from today and also made of water. Over spidery irrigation machines, the tiny water tower moon winks at me.
As in Iowa? By Amy Friedman Before one enters into the universe of parenthood, going on a vacation may include an exotic locale with beaches, lounge chairs, alcoholic drinks served with tiny umbrellas and orange wedges, and decisions ranging from where to have dinner to which bikini to wear to which pool party. After the baby arrives, a vacation consists of a grocery store trip by yourself, unencumbered by diaper bags and cereal aisle tantrums. Escaping the chaos for at least a short time becomes a goal in itself; the destination can be errands, a root canal, or protesting a parking ticket that you would have paid without a second thought prior to the child's arrival, but one that now you have decided to fight in court simply because it allows you an excuse to hire a babysitter and to drive in the opposite direction. The impulse to flee does not stop once infancy passes, as each stage of childhood brings with it its own unique, nervefraying difficulties that leave you eyeing the door more
often than you ought to, and hatching escape plans as if your home were Alcatraz, and the child your warden. This explains why at 7:30 on a Friday morning in August, 2006 my husband and I find ourselves driving toward Galena, IL, a place perhaps only incrementally more exciting than watching paint dry, to spend the weekend celebrating our ten-year wedding anniversary. As the parents of an eightyear-old daughter, an adorable firecracker lit at both ends, we are seeking quiet, calm, and peace in a sleepy town. We drive in silence, experiencing the thorny transition we all endure when attempting to cross the threshold from the daily grind into "vacation mode," replete with the unrealistic expectation of leaving behind our worries the moment the car door locks, and the internal unrest that comes with discovering that hasn't happened. There ought to be a rehab center one enters prior to a vacation to detox from everyday life. Patients would be disconnected from electronic devices, taught to meditate,
and subjected to aversion therapy including photographs of relatives who drive them bananas so as to draw out lingering anger. Instead, despite the desperate urge to leave behind our stress and baggage when traveling, we unwittingly pack it up in subconscious compartments of our psyches littered with the burden of responsibility, and sticky with the residue of what ifs and I'm sorry(s), all ready to burst as soon as anyone dares to relax. My parents once bought a cabin in Lake Geneva, WI in which to spend weekends, only to create typewritten lists of relaxing activities they might engage in while there. They sold it after only two years, as unwinding there became far too stressful to contemplate. So, jazzed up and ready to take it easy, we arrive in Galena by 10:30 a.m. and manically pace up and down the town's one street of boutiques, burning off pent up parental angst as if we are outdoor mall power-walkers, or wind-up toys that work and home and life have cranked one notch
beyond fully wound. Being both ghastly exhausted and overflowing with energy is only one of many fascinating and unexplained dichotomies of parenthood. Our frenzied sojourn up and down the same street continues until we decide we cannot look at one more quilt shop or crafts shop or fudge shop or doll shop or whatever-the-fuck-you-makewhen-you're-bored-to-tears shop. And so, in the span of only a few short hours we've exhausted Galenaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s offerings and ourselves, yet we still have Saturday and Sunday ahead of us. We head back to the hotel, a resort comprised of several buildings constructed entirely of tree-sized Lincoln Logs. Surrounding the sizable log cabins are beautiful expanses of land cleared for golfing and blanketed with wooded walking paths for hiking, outdoor spaces that only make me think of crippling boredom, Lyme disease, and Poison Oak. Someone in relaxation mode might contemplate a moonlit stroll through the woods; I wondered
how long it might take to reach the nearest hospital following a bear attack. Inside the hotel lobby, a space meant to look like a hunting lodge with plaid furniture, forest green carpet, a rustic wooden front desk, and mounted animal heads that appear synthetic and mass produced rather than wild beasts that have been stalked and taken down by brave and burly men, we ask the concierge, a woman who looks like The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, what else people do in Galena besides stroll up and down the town's one and only street of dreams. "Well, lots of people go to Dubuque," she replies. "As in Iowa?" I ask, puzzled. "Yes, as in Iowa," she answers in monotone, a smile plastered across her face like the Joker. "It's about a 45minute drive from here and you might enjoy seeing it." I'm not sure if I'm more disturbed that she links "joy" and "Iowa" or that she looks at us and thinks, "You know what
these two could use to spice up their relationship? Some time in Dubuque." My husband and I look at each other and shrug our shoulders with an unspoken "why not?" then rush out to the car as if in some sort of race with a moving target. In front of us stretches two days of nothing to do and nowhere to go, and yet, like hamsters on a wheel getting absolutely nowhere quickly, we're still running. Forty-five minutes later we arrive in Dubuque. It has a Walgreens. That's it. At least that's all that's open. The rest of the town appears abandoned, as if a plague has come through and wiped out all but the two people working at the Walgreens, assumedly due to their access to antibiotics. I begin to wonder if the concierge in Galena had taken offense when we suggested that her town was boring us, so she banished us to hell as punishment. My husband and I are big fans of Walgreens, but we do happen to have them in Chicago. And being a chain, Walgreens prides itself on looking the same no
matter where in the country you may find yourself, and hell if the one in Dubuque doesn't like just like the one we just saw yesterday in the Chicago suburbs, minus the several hundred mile drive. We turn the car around to head back to Galena; as we do, I notice that my husband's right eye is beginning to swell, bloodshot vessels bulging cardinal red in the inner corner. This matters because a few years back he had major surgery to remove a tumor from both sinuses on the right side of his face, with the surgeon cutting through his tear duct to reach the abnormal growth. In fact, the surgeon had to cut along the entire length of his nose, peeling it back in order to open up his sinus cavities to remove three baby food jars of inverted tumor tissue. He's been getting eye infections from bacteria backing up in his dysfunctional duct ever since. "Do you want to call your eye doctor for an antibiotic?" I ask him.
"No, it's fine," he tells me. "You worry too much." This as he blinks at the pace of a flashing computer cursor. We get back to Galena around 6:00 p.m., waste another hour or so, and by this time my husband's eye has morphed into a miniature volcano, erupting with thick, gelatinous discharge every few seconds. "Now would you like to call your eye doctor?" I ask. "No," he repeats with conviction. "I think I'll go swimming in the hotel's pool. The chlorine will kill the infection, don't worry." This from a lawyer. He returns to our room around 8:00 p.m. and now his eye is fire engine red, swollen to half-mast, and he tells me he can't see. "Now would you like to call your eye doctor?" I ask, knowing that I will call the doctor no matter what he answers; it will just make things easier if he answers affirmatively.
"Yes, now I would like to call my eye doctor." Oh, good. I first dial the hotel front desk to ask about a place to fill the prescription. "Yes, can you please tell me where I can find the nearest pharmacy?" "Sure, it's just down the street from here." "Great!" I reply as my exhaustion and relief compete for attention. "Oh, shoot," the operator says, "it's 8:02." "So?" "So, the pharmacy closes at 8:00," she responds dryly. "The nearest pharmacy open now is in Dubuque." "As in Iowa?" I ask incredulously. "Yes, as in Iowa." She sounds surprised that this is a problem. After all, it's just 45 minutes down the road, and who knows, we might enjoy seeing it.
"So you people drive to Iowa after 8:00 p.m. every time you need a prescription filled? That's insane!" I bark at her. Softly she whispers, "Yes, I'm afraid we do." Clenching my teeth and rolling my toes up and down on the rough, burnt orange carpet in our room, I hang up with her and dial Jeffrey's eye doctor. After briefly and graphically explaining his symptoms she agrees that yes, he has another eye infection that requires antibiotics immediately. "Well, we are away for our ten-year anniversary, so you'll have to call the prescription into the Walgreens in Dubuque," I angrily retort, not opening my jaws. "Dubuque, as in Iowa?" she asks in that way one does when she's woken up in a strange place and has to pause to get her bearings. I picture her shaking her head and thinking that we won't make it to year eleven. "Yes, as in Iowa," I sneer. "Don't ask."
We get in the car for the second time to embark on the journey to Dubuque, and forty-five mind-numbingly boring minutes later, having seen nothing but fields, cows, and the occasional protest sign painted on a barn illuminated by lamplight, we find ourselves at the Walgreens in the middle of Ghost Town, USA, in line at the pharmacy counter behind a teenage boy with dirty, matted, shoulder-length, strawberry blond hair and jeans hanging six inches below his underwear line. He's asking the pharmacist in a dopy tone that comes only when youth, pharmaceuticals, and too much time in front of video games collide, "Uh, how much Hydrocodone can I get for two dollars?" The pharmacist replies with something logical, something that completely confounds this boy genius. They go back and forth, all while my husband is standing next to me moaning in pain, his eye now a veritable fireworks display of mucus. The resourceful young man in front of us finally decides to see how much
cash he can "scrape up in the parking lot," and warns that he'll be back. I quickly pick up my husband's antibiotics along with a bunch of snacks for the road because we haven't yet had dinner, and for the second time in one day we turn around and head back to Galena. The return trip takes an hour; dense fog now covers the dark, unfamiliar roads, making for a more arduous return to our hotel. By this time it's around 10:30 p.m., and many couples are strolling the beautiful grounds, hand-inhand, enjoying the moonlight and natural surroundings. As we head to our room Jeffrey tosses the trash from the snacks we demolished in the car. Jeffrey's eye now resembles a special effect from Swamp Thing, and my worry about his sight grows as quickly as his infection. As I begin to change for bed I decide I'd better put Jeffrey's medicine by his bedside table so that he remembers to take it first thing in the morning. He needs a dose every eight hours, and in his current
condition, he can't afford to miss one. I ask him where he's put the medicine. "It's in the Walgreen's bag on the chair," he tells me. I look in the bag to which he's directed me. It's filled with garbage, wrappers from the snacks we ate on the road. What it does not contain is his antibiotics. "IT'S NOT IN HERE!" I scream, "WHERE IS YOUR MEDICINE?" "Oh, shit!" Jeffrey shouts back with a mixture of fury and fear, "I must have thrown it away. You see, I can't see, and I must have thrown away the medicine and kept the garbage on the way in!" "What the fuck!" I'm screaming, "What the fuck! That's it, I'm digging through the garbage!" Enraged, I storm out of the room and slam the door so hard that the frame shudders from the force. Looking around I'm shocked at the sheer number of garbage cans at this resort. I hadn't noticed before, but as I
survey the area I see garbage cans littering the grounds in all directions, one every three feet or so along each of the walking paths that jut out to form a giant spider web from a central spot that houses a carved wooden bench. I have no idea in which can this medicine might be, or where to begin my frantic, furious search. As I'm scanning the cans the moonlight strollers are staring at me with curiosity. I don't know why. I mean, I know I just screamed "What the fuck," but I can't be the first person they've ever heard use this language. And yet they keep staring as if they're witnessing a train wreck, or a homeless person break into a black tie fundraiser for the president. What? I know I'm a raging lunatic right now, but what is it? I look at them, they look at me, and then I look down. And I realize that I'm not wearing any pants. I had started to get ready for bed when all this happened, and once I discovered that Jeffrey's medicine was M.I.A. I stormed out of the room wearing nothing but a
shirt, a short jacket, and underwear. So I'm half dressed, I'm screaming, I'm swearing, and I'm digging through garbage, all at a classy resort while people are trying to take romantic walks. I forage through the three garbage cans I think are the most promising, but no luck. It's dark, I'm not wearing gloves, and the work is tedious and disgusting. People have thrown away half-eaten sandwiches, mostly full cups of coffee, gooey substances of questionable origin stuck to paper plates, rubber bands (at least I hope those were rubber bands), stickers, sweat socks freshly coated in sweat, and a host of other unmentionables. After tunneling to the bottom of the third garbage can without any sign of the meds I'm seething with rage, covered in fruit juice, pasta sauce, and God knows what else. Pants-less and panting, I walk into the hotel's lobby. A gaggle of ladies dressed in satin ball gowns all in various sherbet flavors stands at the block of wood serving as the front desk,
looking as if the prom bus for the middle-aged has stood them up and left them wondering where else (aside from an 80's tribute party) they might wear their outfits. In front of this coterie I turn to the concierge and brazenly announce, "I've been going through your garbage and I can't see a thing. I need rubber gloves and a flashlight. Please call maintenance. I'll be waiting outside." And with as much dignity as a half-naked, garbage-coated, distraught person can muster in front of the socially acceptable, I march out. A maintenance man approaches me about ten minutes later, equipped with two sets of rubber gloves, a flashlight, and a look of bewilderment and horror. "What, you've never seen a pants-less woman dig through garbage before?" I yell in his face, violating his personal space. "Well you shouldn't do it without rubber gloves!" he yells, only two inches from my nose. I like him already. We dig through the same three cans I've already rummaged through, with no luck. Defeated, I finally head
back to my hotel room tortured by visions of a third trip to Dubuque, this one at midnight and propped up by coffee and a burning rage. I approach our door smelling like moldy pizza and spoiled milk, coated in food, half-dressed, and crying. I knock, as I left my keys behind when I stormed out earlier. Jeffrey opens the door. "Where have you been all this time?" he asks timidly. "Excuse me? Where have I been? What do you mean, where have I been? I've been digging through garbage looking for your FUCKING medicine!" I prop myself up in the doorframe and gasp for air. My God I smell bad. "Well, I hope you won't be mad," he says, stepping back for his own safety, "but right after you left I realized that I forgot my medicine in the car."
"WHAT? Why didn't you come get me?" Now I'm screaming in his face, and I'm pretty sure his eye infection is no longer his biggest problem. "Well, you see, I can't see," he retorts meekly, afraid of being murdered. "Give me the car keys,â&#x20AC;? I say, slowly and methodically so as not to go on a rampage and knee him in the balls. "Um, sweetie, do you want to put some pants on first?" I'm pretty sure he's shaking. "NO, I DO NOT WANT TO PUT SOME PANTS ON FIRST! GIVE ME THE KEYS!" Of course the medicine is sitting right where Jeffrey left it, on the front passenger's seat. I pick it up, march back to the room, and throw it at him. I'm hoping that his lack of depth perception will give me a target advantage. We go to sleep in silence. I'm apoplectic and worry that anything I say might result in irreparable damage to
our relationship. He's worried that any word he utters might result in permanent bodily harm. The next morning Jeffrey looks at me and says, "What do you want to do today? I'll do anything you want to do." "I bet you will," I tell him. "I want to get in the car, aim it in the opposite direction of Dubuque, and drive as fast and as far as we can."
About Sleepless Nights By Alicja Madloch I think the rain tastes funny if it mixes with coffee when I forget the lid. And heels feel like times when they tick tock towards streets as grey as the idea of early mornings. I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t hesitate to put liquid eyeliner on in the lines of sleepless honking, I always vow to leave my home in a dignified state but even my tattoos are singing about insomnia. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m really not a bright sky kind of person.
Selected Poems by David Klugman number 1
It’s a bumpy ride in the back of the bus but we’ve been planning this for weeks now, maybe more, yes more, all year, and what a big deal this is going to be, the stuff that legends are made up from. Going over it one more time: the bus will stop at its usual place and then we’ll jump out the back setting off the alarm and, of course, he’ll chase us, old Frankenstein, old blockhead, been driving us for years now with that grim iron fist of a face; and if he catches us - well, that’s what the ditch is for at the top of the trail, where we’ve rigged it for him: he’ll trip on the wire we’ve tied there between the birch and the sumac and fall — not all of him, but bang! wham! last day of school prank it’ll go over like a parade and our mark will be made: they’ll talk about us for years as we move on to the Middle School, two giants fading into the future casting shadows on the past of their imaginations, from which (like us before them) they’ll carve out the image of their aspirations! But you cop out at the last minute, that look you give like horror like lies betrayal and fear bunched up my throat a choke of hate as I punch the bar that reads Emergency Exit
Only - Alarm Will Sound, you freeze up in the BUZZ! BUZZ! as I jump into unfathomable danger and chaos — smack! four feet down onto asphalt and then trek, trek, hauling book bag up the hill where, puffing, huffing...no one follows, nothing happens. I turn back from the top, far enough away to be just out of reach in case — but old Frankenstein just shakes his head, walks ‘round the yellow bus and slams the door, as if routine, as if he’s been through this a thousand times, as if he knows somehow that my entire life will be a series of elaborate preparations against disasters that will never happen, as if he knows that in this way I will avoid my life the way that he, perhaps, has come to terms with his — as if that’s punishment enough. But I run anyway, ashamed now, feeling small and silly; a different kind of danger as you come down off the bus that pulls out with its usual roar and puff of black smoke. We walk toward home together, unable to speak of it.
Every Time the Wind Blows Every time we change we fight as if resisting loss and disillusion we enter childhood all over again. At these moments it looks like the ego wants to be infinite and airy as feels the mind
but it is the mind really that wishes to enjoy the egoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s finitude and smallness: to contain life so specifically the big questions just never come up.
for my brother I cannot tell if the falling rain behind my eyelids is identical To the rain outside my window, Or if it is merely shadows of serotonin Erupting in that section of the body we call mind. I cannot tell if the finger pointing to the moon Is better than the moon itself; Because the moon is always fading in the witch-eyes Of the night, then after sleeping gone. So Cain emerges as the stronger son In the cultured ferns like rough light On a beachy day or dazzling glare that dances on The chrome of cars on a highway by the sea. And Abel sinking in the mud like reeds Like cattails at low tide; More sludge than mud this sinking in And badness sinking into him.
Of Flashlights and Thongs By Grant Riedel
They hovered over it, poking at it with their index fingers. “It’s kind of like a banana,” Hanna said. “No, it’s more like a bent hotdog,” Heather countered. They looked at each other and giggled. My guess had been a flashlight but I didn’t want to admit it. Then Lisa spoke, and we knew it had to be the truth. “I know what it is,” she said. Lisa was experienced. She was older, held back a grade last year on account she failed math, social studies, and science. She was thirteen but acted sixteen. Rumor had it she had dated a junior from the high school for two weeks until her mother found out. We didn’t know if it was true but we idolized her for it anyway. Lisa was sexy. She pushed up what nubs for boobs she had, even stuffed before the school dances. She wore skirts, rolled up her shorts (cut them shorter in the bathroom), glossy lip balm, and eyeliner that gave her raccoon eyes the shade of blue. She said she
smoked, too, but I didn’t believe it (she always smelled like her mom’s lilac perfume). She was my best friend, a sneak, and a bitch at times. Sleepovers were always an opportunity for her to embarrass us.
Empty pizza boxes and soda bottles canvassed my bed. The four of us were sitting on pillows in a semi-circle facing my old twenty-six-inch television. We were watching Flashdance. The 80's, a time my mom said she hated; the era that I had developed a love affair for. It was mostly the movies: The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and my favorite The Goonies. I loved the part where Michael and Andy kiss; I wanted my first kiss to be like that, in an unexpected place. I skipped over the music and fashion trends (though I couldn’t help but love neon). My girlfriends put up with it until we got older, now they just made fun of it. Lisa was already older, and proclaiming it. She kept saying, “We should do something else” or “dumb
movie.” It got to the point in the movie where the water hits Jennifer Beals (I love that part) and I couldn’t stand her commentary, she was ruining the mood. Hanna and Heather supported her comments with laughter. “C’mon,” I said, “it’s almost over.” “It was over for me before you put the tape in,” Lisa said. The twins laughed. They were twelve, the hanger-on type. Heather was cute in a Molly Ringwald sort of way. She had little freckles that covered most of her face and green eyes—a straight A student, too. Hanna, her twin sister, didn’t have the freckles, but kept the rest. I learned from them that twins can be a weird pair. They always laughed at the same things, talked for each other, and even had their own language (literally, in a notebook they shared). They both looked up to Lisa, too. They wanted to be her in their own naive way; they wore eyeliner and lipgloss but only at school and it always seemed to run or smear. I couldn’t blame them, Lisa was cool.
I hit the pause button on the remote and looked at Lisa. She had a look on her face that spelled smug. I tried giving her the look back, “Well what do you want to do?” I asked. I looked her in the eye and then down. She was wearing a V-neck Trenton County sweatshirt and boy shorts. I wanted a V-neck, but had nothing for it to lead to. Some girls have all the luck, I guess. “Let’s play truth or dare,” she said. It was her favorite game and she was good at it. She knew us all so well that she could embarrass us no matter which way we went. I wouldn’t call it torture, but sometimes she made you want to put your head in a paper bag or hold up in your bedroom for a few days until you were sure no one at school heard what happened. A few weeks ago at Hanna and Heather’s she dared us to streak through the back yard in the rain.
It was my fault. “I blame myself” as Mikey says. I picked dare this round because last time on truth I had to
admit that I had never gone commando in a dress. Lisa laughed, the twins laughed. Lisa said she did it all the time, especially at school dances. She said it kept things interesting. I said the whole deal sounded chilly. I was embarrassed; I didn’t know what to say. So the next round I picked dare. The dare was simple: strip down, run out the patio door, around the back yard tree, and come back inside. Lisa said it was a dare for the three of us, but winked at me. Hanna and Heather didn’t question, they just started taking off their pj’s, but a few minutes later I was still fumbling with the first button on my blouse. “It’s like forty degrees outside,” I said. “Maybe we shouldn’t.” I was stalling, what could I say? Lisa grabbed my shoulder and looked me in the eye, “C’mon, I’ll do it, too,” she said. She pulled off her top then dropped her bottoms like it was nothing. “C’mon,” she repeated. She was wearing a smirk and snapping her fingers. I couldn’t stop myself from looking at her. She was
naked except for an emerald green thong. My underwear was standard cotton and had flowers on it. I wondered if she’d notice. Embarrassed, I turned my back to her. By that time Hanna and Heather were huddled by the door, naked, arms crossed in front of them, shaking. “Hurry up,” Hanna said. I started tugging at the buttons of my blouse. It was pink and dotted with little silver stars. The bottoms matched, only with magic wands. I looked back at Hanna and Heather’s blue and green track T-shirts and striped pajama bottoms on the floor, suddenly they seemed older than me. I snapped back as Lisa tugged at my blouse. “You heard the twins, let’s get moving,” she said. She didn’t give me time and pulled my bottoms down. Instinctively I tilted my legs inward. “C’mon pussy, nothing new here,” Lisa said and this too was echoed by the twins followed with their laughter. “Just give me a sec,” I said. I kept my back to her, she
didn’t move. I had no choice; I undid the buttons and let the blouse fall. “No bra?” she asked. I didn’t say anything. What was I supposed to say? “No, I’m flat chested!” She was the only friend I had that wore one, not even the twins had peaked yet. She knew this, but thought it was funny. It was like she had to maintain her superiority in everything including personal body development. “Umm no,” was all I had. “C’mon then, the twins are good. I’m good, now let’s get it over with,” she said. She pulled at the elastic of my waistband and let it snap. It stung. She had to have seen the flowers. “It’s just a game,” Heather said. “And I’m freezing over here,” Hanna added. I straightened my legs and finished the job, “Okay, let’s go.” Lisa strutted in front of me to join the twins. She slid her thong down her legs. She seemed so confident. She
didn’t try to cover herself. She didn’t shiver against the cold air. I followed with one hand draped between my legs and one across my chest. Lisa looked back at me, “Now that everyone’s ready.” Heather pulled open the door and one after the other we tumbled out and bolted through the course. By the time we were back inside, we slumped to the floor to catch our breath. “That wasn’t so bad, right?” Lisa said. The twins were leaning against each other’s backs laughing. Everything was a game to them. “No,” I said. We started getting dressed. The twins kept telling each other how badass they thought the stunt was. I guessed they’d be tweeting out “#badassstreakers” soon. “Ever wear one of these,” Lisa asked. She was dangling her thong in front of my face. “No,” I admitted. “Well, you should,” she said. “Flowers are for
preschool.” She looked back at the twins. The twins heard it. They grinned at us. I looked down at the floor and stopped at the sight of Lisa’s breasts nipping. “What?” She had caught me. Three weeks later, sleepover, my house, she caught me again.
This time I had ditched the magical pj’s for a volleyball t-shirt and sweatpants. I still had flowers on my panties but I was hoping we didn’t go there this time. Somewhere between the pause button and her suggestion I phased out and was looking and thinking about her chest. I wanted to tug on the v line just a little further. Did she always nip out? “Earth to Natalie,” Lisa said. I broke free. “What?” Hanna and Heather were laughing (push overs). Lisa resumed, “Good. I thought I lost ya there. So
truth or dare?” “We’re in,” chimed the twins. “Natalie?” Lisa was smiling at me like she knew something I didn’t. Or maybe it was she knew I would cave—three against one—peer pressure. “I’m game,” I said. “Good.” I jumped in, “Wait.” “Yes, darling,” she asked. Cue the twin laugh track. “I’m not running outside again. I mean, I was cool with it but my parent’s window is like right there and—” “Well damn, Nat, that’s the first thing I wanted to do.” She was belittling me I knew it. I ignored her but I started to sweat as the game began. Playing the game was simple. Most of us picked truth. The questions were typical: like who’s your crush or have you ever stolen anything. These questions were standard and a waste because we all knew each other so
well. We were just buying our time, or at least I was. Lisa, naturally, was the first to pick dare. Hanna dared her to lick the bottom of Heather’s foot—heel to big toe. She did. Lisa would never back down from anything (I saw her eat chewing gum off the gym bleachers to prove she was tougher than Jimmy Wales). Heather was next. Lisa dared her to stick her tongue in Hanna’s ear for thirty seconds. It was sort of gross and Hanna made a weird face the whole time, but after it was over they laughed. My turn was next. I chose dare, too. Lisa smiled. I was prepared for the worst: running through the house naked, sticking my tongue in Heather’s ear, calling up boys and asking them if they’d “done it” with anyone (she made Hanna do this once). “I’ll take it easy on you this time,” she said. “I dare you to sneak into your parent’s room and steal something.” “What,” I asked. I was confused. “Steal something?” Did she want money? I knew my father always kept money
in the top dresser door. Jewelry? My mother kept a small case with pearls and diamond earrings in her closet. “Money?” Lisa laughed. The twins followed. “No, you dork. Just sneak in and grab anything,” she said. “Just don’t get caught.” Simple enough. Maybe this was my Goonies fantasy: sneak in, grab the prize, impress my friends. My parents were two doors away, their dresser close to the door. I’d grab a shirt from one of the drawers then jet. “Alright,” I said. “Wait.” Lisa was rummaging through her bag. “You have to do it wearing this.” She held up a hot pink thong. She let it dangle, the fabric swinging like the pendulum from my aunt’s grandfather clock. I didn’t know what to do. I was at checkmate; the twins looked eagerly on like someone watching a car wreck about to happen and Lisa was giving me a serious look. I didn’t know the first
thing about wearing one. Would I even know how to put it on right? I didn’t have to think much longer over the decision; Lisa got up and started pushing me into my bathroom. “Get it over with,” she said and shut the door. The bathroom was painted a light baby pink. White ceramic tiles with pink flowers bordered half way up the walls and covered the floor. I picked the tile out myself two years ago. Two years ago, when my father redid the room for my birthday. Lisa thought it was “ewww” in taste. I never defended the choice to her, but I wondered what she would have chosen now. Maybe metallic purple like her toenails. A knocking from the door interrupted me. “Hurry up,” someone said, probably a couple someones. I let my sweatpants drop. The flowers on my panties fit well in the room. “It’s now or never,” I urged myself. I pulled them off and started fumbling with the thong. I was pretty sure the string went in the back. Had to, could the other way really be comfortable? They’d call them crotch
floss then, not butt floss. I stepped through and pulled it on looking at myself in the mirror trying to make my ass cheeks look how I remembered Lisa’s. It wasn’t so bad, but I still felt naked, too much cold air across my skin. I pulled my sweatpants back on and opened the door. Three sets of eyes were staring at me. Lisa was tapping an imaginary watch on her arm. “Enough time,” she said, “now show us.” The twins echoed the latter. “Uhh…no,” I said. “Seriously, Nat. It’s no big deal,” Lisa pulled down her shorts to show off her bright blue thong. “We’re all girls here. We’ve seen each other naked before. Now get out of your shell.” The twins were nodding. Awkward as it was, it was my dare, and they needed proof. “I’m just cold,” I said. “Just let me get the rest over with and I’ll show you guys, okay?” The twins started to protest, but Lisa jumped in,
“Girls, girls, it’s fine. She’ll show us when she gets back.” She followed this with a wink. I started to leave the room when Lisa pulled on my pants exposing me. “See girls,” she said. The twins were laughing, I pulled back at the bit of my pants in her grip, she slapped my bare cheek with her other hand. “Cut it out,” I said. She let go and I fell. I could hear the twins echo “epic” between laughs. “I’m sorry,” Lisa said. As “sorry” as she was she kept letting out her laugh a little at a time. “You look pretty pissed, Nat. Maybe we should just cut the rest. You’ve got to admit the whole thing was a little funny.” It was funny; my best friend had humiliated me. I’d be lucky if the twins hadn’t Instragramed the event or tweeted “#spankingasspartyatnatalies.” No matter how pissed I was I couldn’t let it show. “No,” I said, “The dare’s still on, I’ll do it.” “Seriously,” Lisa asked. “I thought you’d be a bitch
the rest of the night if we made you.” “No,” I said, “I’m in.” I left the room and headed down the hallway. Lisa and the twins settled in the bedroom doorway urging me on. I was hesitant, the door to my parent’s room creaked a little when it opened and tonight was no different. No matter how lightly I pushed, the sounds from the hinges seemed as loud as a car alarm. I pushed it just far enough to slide through sideways. After a few minutes I was in. The room was quiet except for the hum from the box fan. My mom and I shared the same problem; we had to have noise to sleep. I could see a couple dark lumps on the bed, motionless. My father was wheezing. Behind me the giggling was getting louder. The girls were at the door trying to watch me. I turned to the dresser and slid the bottom drawer out and reached in. I fumbled looking for anything. I felt the flashlight, grabbed it, and tucked it under my arm. I retraced my path to the hallway. Pulling
the door nearly shut. I turned and the girls were smirking. Hanna was whispering something to Heather. “What,” I said. “Girls, girls,” Lisa said. She was behind the twins, tugging at their shirts. “Let’s get back to the room. Dare over.” I followed them holding the flashlight in my hand. Maybe they were astonished because now I was the badass. No one else had done a dare like that yet; they hadn’t snuck in anywhere and stolen anything. I mean steal something from your parents, that was big, you could go to jail for that, right? Maybe Lisa was going to tell me how cool I was when I got back. I was wrong. The twins were sitting, looking up at me, and Lisa was standing, sporting that smug look, again. “Give it to me,” she said, her hand held out. Who was she, my mother? “Okay?” For the first time I looked at the flashlight and realized what it wasn’t.
Immediately I let it drop to the floor. “What the hell,” I said. The object was in stark contrast with its pink color against the white carpet. The twins just looked on at it. Lisa laughed, “Your mom’s, I hope.” “I…I don’t know?” I said. The twins were on their knees now, hovering over it. “It’s kind of like a banana,” Hanna said. “No, it’s more like a bent hotdog,” Heather countered. We all knew what it resembled. When we were in the sixth grade we had to take a sexual education class. They showed us videos and handed out condoms. We had all seen the full-blown overhead pictures, too. At the time I remember thinking all of it was disgusting. My friends and I would make fun of Mr. Turner outside of class, calling him a pervert. Now, I was just shocked. I wanted to get closer, but couldn’t. The twins were still ogling. I felt a hand on my shoulder. “I know what it is,” Lisa said. “My mom’s got a few. Pink, purple, black. It’s no big
deal, really. I wonder if your dad knows.” “I thought it was a…flashlight,” I said. Looking to the floor I noticed Lisa’s painted toenails, purple with metallic flakes. She wore a toe ring on the right middle. “It’s definitely not a flashlight,” Hanna said. She was holding it up by the base, waving it in front of Heather’s face like a stubby lightsaber. “I’m gonna slap you with it,” she said. Heather started moving back, giggling, as Hanna was coming at her. All of a sudden Hanna dropped it. The two girls separated from it like it was going to bite them. Lisa was laughing, “It’s just vibrating, girls. Calm down. That’s what they do.” We all looked to her. She was our guide to the dark side. “What,” she said. She moved between the twins, picked it up, and shut it off. “Sissies.” She held it vertical in front of me. I looked back to her toes. “If you can’t handle looking at this one, you can’t handle seeing a real one,” she said.
I didn’t know what to say. I could feel the twins looking at me. Maybe I should have been cooler about it: grabbed it out of her hands and sang into it like a microphone or wave it around like I was conducting the band during pep rally. I could have just taken it from her and looked it over like the twins, or lied and said I had seen it before or a real one at least. I didn’t do any of these things. I just said, “Game over, okay?” and looked her in the eye. “Fine, missy,” Lisa said. She let it fall to the floor turning her back to me and mouthing something to the twins that made them laugh. I picked it up and left them. After returning it, I went to the bathroom down the hall and sat on tub’s edge. I looked down at my feet. My toes were ringless, un-painted, with nails that were splitting. I felt my chest, hoping for some growth, but nothing changed. Lisa was probably entertaining the twins with stories of how many boy’s toys
she’d seen or showing them her bright blue thong. I jumped when she opened the door a few minutes later. She came in, sat on the toilet, crossing her arms on her lap. “What’s wrong, Nat? You’ve been gone like half an hour,” she said. I didn’t say anything. “Well, I told the girls that either you had the shits, got caught putting it back, or were playing with it.” I looked up at her. She had that smug look again. She thought she was so funny. She wasn’t. “I wasn’t playing with it,” was all I said. She touched my shoulder. I brushed her off. “Hey, hey there. It’s just a joke, bestie.” “Look, I’m pissed at you right now,” I said. I was. She was my best friend, but now she was just being a bitch. Lisa moved next to me on the tub. She put her arm around me. Her body was warm. I could smell lilac coming off her neck. “Look, girl. I’m sorry.” She squeezed me a
little then let go. The next was unexpected. She kissed my cheek. “It’s okay,” she said. I couldn’t move. I wasn’t sure what to do. The last person to kiss me was my grandmother at Easter, I think, and it didn’t raise my pulse or make me sweat. Lisa kissed my cheek again and started rubbing my arm. “C’mon,” she said, “let’s get back to the twins.” I turned into her. She wasn’t smiling; her lips were just resting in a mild smirk. Her blue eyes locked on mine. She put her other on my other shoulder. “C’mon, Nat, it’s just kidding around. We can make fun of the twins when we get back.” For some reason I believed her. “Okay,” I said. I shifted a little expecting her to move, but she leaned in quick and pecked my lips. Coffee flavored lip balm lingered. Up until then the only action my lips had seen was the back of my hand or a pillow and they tasted like sweat and salt. I was lost. “It’s okay,” she said. She was leaning
in. I averted my eyes to look anywhere else, and ended up looking down her open v. I couldn’t help it there was nowhere else. “C’mon, Nat,” Lisa said. She tugged at my shirtsleeve as she got up and headed for the door. She looked back, “First kiss, huh?” “Uhh…yeah,” I said. “It’s cool,” she said, “we can practice later.” “Okay,” was all I said. “And, Nat. It’s cool, too, that you like my boobs.”
Lightning Chaser By R.K. Gold The kitchen catches the lightning and for a moment turns into an empty jar holding a firefly. The rest of the house simultaneously dims and brightens from the bouncing yellow and white skidding across the tile floor. I too try and catch lightning so others will want to hold me as a guide as they wander down a generic dirt path listening to Top 1-40 because theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re all built like snow men: Same Construction Formula Different Names. But when I chased lightning, hop in my four door Ford and speed down a deserted highway to get a buzz I feel nothing but a burn. With singed hands on top of city hall I stare up at the rain forgetting to cry I smile as I open wide and taste a spark
of acceptance, like my guardian angel put on a business suit and formally offered me a job.
Selected Poems by Sandra Kolankiewicz Bi-locating in the Back Yard Whether or if I were doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t matter. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m here now, sitting in a collapsed chair in the back yard but watching you hasten away over the bridge, river reduced to a trickle beneath us, the driest summer on record. The neighbor has ceased mowing, the air feeling the absence of sound, carrying my listening with it to the surrounding hills and the distant hint of thunder as I frame your back moving away, a beige sweater frayed at the sleeves and receding from the same field of sight that holds the children in the empty bed below who have just uncovered an old barrel and, shrieking, believe something big will be done if they only can spend the rest of their afternoon digging it out.
How to Survive in the Wild Use that esoteric head crap as if it will keep you from losing all your teeth, dying friendless in a rented bed in the living room of the woman you did not have, nor want, but there nonetheless, for sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s more of that mind bending, you can think her up, thereby avoiding the nag that all is wrong by considering her breasts,
or her sister’s breasts now becoming that rose you didn’t pick on the path of the trip you never made, the sky thrown open to a sparkling ocean meeting steep cliffs, the open road you must walk to arrive at the consequences of your ideas.
Drifts Some Kind of Honking From way down the cindered lane drifts some kind of honking that makes you know it’s time to have your oil changed, or is the sound the tail end of a siren, reminding you to have that blood test, unwrap your sleeve to expose the skin that here, even in the dark, you don’t recognize as your own. Or you can always roll over, go back to dreaming of the sky after the damaged tree came down, when at first you believed the open expanse terrifying after so many years under extreme branches, even in winter, whether scraggly bareness or fullness, an assumed constancy that set the tempo to your step though you never looked up. Amazing how those who were someone so rarely become no one, all those family ties, private connections, religious and otherwise, though anyone can fall, distance determining the rate of acceleration, the packaging on the
ground governing the physics of the landing. When the Morningâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a Bad One Unfurl that image and make it brighter, let your thoughts scoot under a bush where they belong, locking them unnecessary, a leash or rope degrading in the end and beneath you. You can tap tap tap your foot while sitting at the table, jiggle the salt shaker toward the edge, stop before it falls. Take your tongue out of the hole in your tooth! Find a pair of pants that fits. To stop the faucet from dripping costs just a moment of quiet motion, the urge not to waste sincere, the plunk plunk plunk stronger than inertia, the source of a scene you keep trying to recall of happiness overflowing with transitory grace.
Selected Poems by Joshua Hall A certain near-explosion like the ecstasy of a baby Terrier whose paws have imploded an ant-hill—pouring out its citizens like decades from a history book— his panting tongue licking both ears in one manic sweep. That is what she wants for the language of which he is a means, a density, but not rarefied, chunks of semi-sweet morsels awaiting the dough, not Gödel’s theorem, that’s for damn sure. And a certain expectation of fire—but not fire, because the flame is too obvious. Like the gap inside a spark plug: hot singles scene, molecules of oxygen bouncing lines off gasoline specimens, and in a green instant,
everything is almost what it never was.
A Coherent Thought is like a unicorn: one perfect point of gold, skin of whiteness approaching translucence, legs sufficient to carry the mass of a black hole across Africa from Casablanca to the Cape of Good Hope completely imaginary and impossible.
A Cousinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Apartment trees pour pale mellow greens and blue-grays into his moment raindrops find 142
appropriate pixels wind conducts an orchestra of gray sound warm in the cold three big windows mediate the air and cold in his warmth cardiac stitches squeezing frictioning feelings
Selected Poems by Holly Day The Arrogant Imposter he ate, pushing his fork into the pile of spaghetti in front of him with a fervor that seemed too angry for dinner. he was nervous, my father was out of town and he was not supposed to be there. my mother watched him eat with the look of a contented lion in her eyes, this was her plan come true, her lover at the table with us her children, we could pretend to be a family while my dad was gone. He tried to engage me in talk about school, about what I wanted to be when I grew up, what sorts of things I liked smiling too big as my motherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s knee touched his under the table. All the things I wanted to say all the wrong answers that would have worked just right for his questions my mind went blank, my tongue numb when I saw him take my motherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hand.
From His Dreams gutted telephones my old laptop, toys, he binds odds and ends into a random assemblage, doomsday machination the last page.
in my sonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s room gearwheels litter the floor, tiny screws the beginnings of the something that will make his name synonymous with Armageddon.
The Fire beneath the burnt rubble of the beachside boardinghouse the makeshift markers left in memory the seagulls search the sand, seeking the crippled claws of the cold, curled up diligently digging deep into the dead, digging past the remains of the fire, thirteen boys dead.
Selected Poems by Michaelsun Knapp There – There There’s a moon that blackbirds drink from where a eucalyptus leaf floats slowly across. A canoe with nothing but faith, where the blackbirds are stars, and a scorpion carries the earth.
How it Starts I. A heron wades through the reeds of the sun and the salt marshes. It’s here that they say God was born, or maybe this is the place that was first born by God. In either sense, the heron walks as though he knows, and I feel as though I’ve become ordained in an ancient priesthood, standing on the banks, in wonder of this pure white bird moving among the reeds and cat tails. II. It’s a raven who calls out to dawn first, then plucks a feather with a broken quill and lets it fall and roll,
like ringlets of shorn hair, to the earth. It’s a raven who takes the form of a boy to steal cooling pies from window sills, and to trick others into white-washing fences for him. It’s a raven who married the moon. III. When men were still terracotta, but had not yet picked up guns, it was a house sparrow who woke them. The exact words or even their sounds are lost to grandfathers and mothers with mud for ears, but they say they remember that it was a sparrow that was the first thing they saw close its mouth to them. IV. At the exact moment the first man died and the second learned to mourn, a black and gold eagle landed on the dead man’s forehead. The eagle pulled a tail feather and laid it across his lightless eyes, and continued to do so until a shroud had been woven over him. Still clothed, the gold and black feathered eagle touched his beak to the mourner’s eyes, soft.
In her talons, she took the first man to where it is that birds fly to, and left the mourner with the smell of herons.
A Poodle in the Desert By Mathieu Cailler My whole life I’d only wanted two things: a Gibson Les Paul electric guitar and Pricilla Milton. Three years ago, I’d finally saved up enough money for the Gibson, but Pricilla couldn’t be put on layaway. Tonight, I was going to tell her that I’d always loved her. The timing wasn’t perfect; I was leaving for the Peace Corps in a couple weeks, but I wanted her to know, and I wanted her to know it tonight, on Halloween, at my friend Scott’s party. It was a perfect Palm Springs night: seventy-nine degrees, dry, with the sky as open as the freeway. I felt the rush of air on my face as I sped up and leaned my Vespa into a bend. In less than a minute, I was at Scott’s. I hopped off my scooter and secured my helmet to the handle bar. Masses of children rushed the sidewalks in all directions, and parents stood tall in the centers of these clusters, holding flashlights and calling out names and “be careful”
and “slow down” and “watch out” and “Joey, your cape fell off” and “it’s back there” and “yes, on your left… your other left, on Mrs. Brody’s hedge.” At that age, all I wanted to do was be an adult, shave like dad and wear dress shirts, but now, at twentyfour, I missed the freedom of being a boy, of having no other goal for the entire month of October than to possess more candy than the other kids of the neighborhood. I just wanted to tell those children buzzing around the street, with their superhero tights tucked into their sneakers, that adulthood was nothing more than candy corn: it looked exciting, but it was really sticky and turned stale fast. Music, laughter, and loud conversation hung in the air around Scott’s house. I twisted the knob and entered. “Hey, Cooper,” Scott said. He was dressed as an oldfashioned doughnut. He also had a backwards cap on, which I wasn’t sure what to do with—was he a rebellious sweet treat? One that just didn’t want to jump into the
fryer? “When do you head off to Ghana again?” he asked, leading me into a hallway where Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” had trouble finding us. “In a couple weeks. Where’s Pricilla?” “Man, I’m gonna miss you. Can’t you just do some hero shit out here in Palm Springs? The freeway’s full of trash. What the hell are you anyway? A gay Bill Clinton?” “What? No. I’m Mister Rogers.” “Oh, yeah. I see it. The red cardigan, the sneakers. You’re the causal Mister Rogers, the ‘just in the house’ guy. How’d you get your hair gray?” “Baby powder. Is Pricilla here?” “Yeah, she’s been here a while. By the fire pit in the backyard, I think. She asked when you were coming a couple times.” Scott patted me on the shoulder and started mingling with a woman dressed as a slutty construction worker. A long blonde braid poked out from underneath her hardhat.
I walked outside where my eyes found Pricilla. They always did. I took a deep breath, then another, and tried to get my heart to relax, but it couldn’t. She was no longer in front of the fire pit; she was near the edge of Scott’s property, sitting on a bench in a garden that Scott had let go to hell. I strolled her way, reminding myself to breathe slowly so that my face wouldn’t match my sweater. “Hey, Pricilla,” I said. She turned my way and uncrossed her legs. She was dressed as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, and she had it all, too: the blue-and-white checkered dress with two big shoulder straps secured by white buttons, a ruffled blouse underneath, a wicker basket in her hand, and ankle-high socks tucked into shiny ruby-red slippers. “Hi, Coop,” she said. “You all right?” Even with the poor outdoor lighting, I noticed that her eyes were shiny and that her cheeks were wet.
“I lost Roberto.” “Your little poodle?” “Yes. I brought him with me, you know, to look like Toto.” I joined her on the bench. “Why are we here then? Have you looked for him?” “Of course! I’m just tired now. I thought maybe he never left the party, or that someone was playing with him or something.” “Let’s go find him! He can’t be that far. His legs are the size of golf pencils.” “Okay,” she said, grabbing hold of my hand. We headed across the burnt grass, through the house, and out the front door. Her fingers and palm were soft and delicate, and I wanted to hold them tighter, but worried that I’d crush her. I hadn’t seen her cry since her father’s funeral a couple years ago. Poor Mr. Milton had suffered a heart attack. And before that, I think she’d let out a few tears
when Hal McGinnis broke up with her in the eleventh grade. She’d rambled on and on about how sweet guys were an endangered species and I’d just sat there in the cafeteria, poking at my sloppy joe. When would I tell her? It couldn’t be now. She was frantic and worried. I’d wait. Once we reached the driveway, I called out, “Roberto! Roberto!” Nothing. Then Pricilla did the same: “Roberto! Roberto!” A chunky kid, not far down the block, who I thought was dressed as The Flash, yelled back, “Yeah, what do you need?” Pricilla sighed. I apologized to The Flash, and told him we were looking for another Roberto. “I love him,” Pricilla said, “but he’s a stupid dog.” She paused and looked me up and down. “Who are you supposed to be? Norman Rockwell?”
“I’m Mister Rogers.” “The cowboy? No, wait, that’s Roy Rogers. I love Mister Rogers, the ‘beautiful day in the neighborhood’ guy, right? He was so sweet.” “Yeah—” “Wait!” Pricilla pointed to a house in the distance. “I think I see him. Right there! I just saw a little white dot. It had to be him! Roberto!” I chased Pricilla who chased Roberto who chased freedom. We ran against the grain of trick-or-treaters, weaving through capes and hats and brooms and axes. Pricilla had decided to name her dog Roberto after the ballplayer, Roberto Clemente, her dad’s favorite player. Mr. Milton I had always thought secretly rooted for me to date his daughter. He’d always hugged me whenever I came through the door and told me I looked “sharp.” I’d been with Pricilla when she got news of her father. We were at my apartment, playing Scrabble. I had just plunked
down “quibble,” and couldn’t have been more excited. She started crying in a way I’d never seen, her whole body convulsing, and her face turning white. I scooted over on the couch and held her. I wanted someone to cry like that over me. I wanted to mean that much to someone. “Did you see that?” Pricilla said. “Did you see him?” We approached a dark house that was clearly not interested in Halloween: The lights were off, the shades were closed, and the sprinklers misted the front lawn. We dashed across the wet grass to a side gate, where Pricilla said she definitely saw Roberto. She crouched and peeked through the planks of wood. She yanked the gate open and the hinges groaned like my Uncle Bart getting out of a waterbed. “Roberto,” she whispered as we tiptoed past trashcans and an open barbeque. “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”
“I wondered how long it would take you to say that. There!” She hurried into the backyard. “Berto! Berto!” An automatic light cut on, casting a thick cone of white across the backyard, temporarily stunning us. I thought I heard a rustle at the far end of the lawn, but by the time Pricilla got there, Berto was gone. She called his name a few more times, but nothing. I wrapped my arms around her. She smelled like coconut. I knew I’d never find another woman like her, not in Russia, not in Ghana, not even in America. There was only one. So many men searched for a Pricilla, and I was lucky to have grown up with one. We’d lost teeth, time, and Toto together. All of my happiest moments took place in her presence, and I knew it’d be strange to spend years away from her. She’d told me she’d visit and that she was proud of me, but I knew I’d return home soon, and she’d be with some bastard named Brad or Hoyt or Zach, a man with meaty shoulders and thick ringlets of golden hair. Some
dude with a tough-guy job, like a fireman or a lion tamer. He’d have an old Corvette or Buick that he’d polish on weekends with a special microfiber towel, and Pricilla would make her famous mango lemonade and bring it out to him while he worked on the transmission. Meanwhile, across town, I’d be married to Barbara, a mailwoman, whose father, Don, hated my charity-giving, vegetarian guts and who often said at get-togethers, “Real men eat bacon!” “We’ll get him,” I said. “We’ll find him.” She brought her hand up and clutched mine. “You think it’s harder to find water in Ghana or a poodle in the desert?” A sliding door on the back porch screeched open. The automatic light clicked on again and backlit a man with the physique of a Russian doll. The man held a rake. “What the hell are you two doing in my yard?” he said in a voice that was more Kentucky than California.
Pricilla walked the man’s way. “I’m sorry, sir. I’ve lost my dog. He’s a curly white little poodle. I saw him make his way in here. I wasn’t thinking. I’m sorry.” “Lucky I didn’t shoot you both.” “With a rake?” I said, joining Pricilla near the deck stairs. “Who the hell are you supposed to be?” the man asked. “Ronald Regan?” “He’s Mister Rogers,” Pricilla said. “Never liked that cupcake,” the man said. “Cupcake?” I said. A woman’s voice escaped from inside the dark home. “Harold?” the voice said. “What is it? Is it a prowler?” The man turned around and faced the sliding door. “Shut up, Marjorie. Go back to bed.” Pricilla raised her eyebrows. “Don’t talk to her like that,” I said.
“Thank you,” said Marjorie. “Mind your business, kid,” the man said. He pointed the rake’s teeth at me and trudged my way. Pricilla wedged her body next to mine. The coconut scent lingered in the air and gave me confidence. “She was just asking what happened. Marjorie,” I shouted, “we were just searching for a dog. We thought…” The man stomped onto the grass and brought the rake back. Marjorie yelled “thank you” and Harold told her to “close the door” and “pipe down,” and I told him to “be quiet” and “calm himself,” and then he came at us faster. For a big guy, he could really move. In the distance, I thought I heard a dog bark, but I wasn’t sure until Pricilla confirmed it. “It’s Berto Boy!” she said. “Run!” I said. “Run!” We zipped down the side of the house. Harold followed. I even felt a gust of wind as he swung the rake and it nearly connected with my back. Instead, though, it
slammed a bag of charcoal next to the barbeque. “Always hated Reagan,” he said, before Pricilla kicked open the gate and we sped to the other side of the street and slipped into an alley. From there, we studied Harold in his driveway, his head craning from side to side, the rake in his hands. A few children bustled past and pointed at the old man. One of them giggled and asked, “Who is he, Mama? Elmer Fudd?” When things were calmer, Pricilla and I left the alley, took to the street, and resumed the search. I scoured the sidewalks and front lawns of homes, creepily whispering, “Roberto” and “Berto Boy,” and Pricilla asked oncoming trick-or-treaters if they’d seen a curly little white dog. One of the girls whom she’d asked wasn’t any taller than a fire hydrant and was dressed as a pumpkin. In this moment, I was perfectly happy. From time to time, life seemed soft and mellow, like I was roaming an unshaken snow globe. This warming feeling didn’t happen
to me a lot, but when it did, the common denominator seemed to be Pricilla. I remembered when I’d first gotten my driver’s license and my dad gave me his LeBaron for the night and we put the top down and didn’t have a destination. I drove and drove and Pricilla controlled the music and we rushed past speed-limit signs and thanked them for the suggestion. That was all I wanted now: just the two of us—and maybe Roberto—on my Vespa, cutting through the desert night. I neared Pricilla and the pumpkin. The girl told Pricilla that she thought she’d seen a dog in the haunted house up the road, and Pricilla leaned forward and placed her hands on her thighs. “So right up the road?” I asked the girl. “You think you saw him?” “I saw a little dog,” the girl said, “just right up there. Who are you supposed to be?” “Mister Rogers.”
“You look like my dad.” The girl’s what-must-have-been chaperone called her name, Joy, and the girl skipped away. I’d never seen a pumpkin skip. “Do you know what’s wrong with kids today?” I asked Pricilla as we started the climb towards the haunted house. “Oh, please, not another one of your rants.” “No Mister Rogers. He died and all kids became weird.” Pricilla shook her head. In those soft moments between conversation, when I could hear telephone wires buzz and light gusts dance overhead, I started to ask Pricilla. Actually, I just said, “You know what?” and “How long have we known each other?” Then I calmed down. I knew she’d say, “We’re like brother and sister,” and that the whole thing would be over. Asking a long-time friend to be more than that was like
leaping across a lava-filled moat: most people never survived the jump. “You know,” she said, “the only people happier than children on Halloween must be dentists. I bet right now, DDSs are just sitting in their living rooms, sharpening their tools, thinking of what kinds of cars to buy.” “Dentists don’t sharpen tools,” I said. “It was for effect,” she said. I smiled. And she started jogging. Soon after I’d broken a sweat, we arrived at the haunted house. It was built of plywood and began on the driveway and led into the garage. A woman dressed as a witch with a wart above her top lip spread both of her hands out, as if to say, “Welcome.” “Ma’am,” Pricilla said. “Have you seen a little dog? He goes by Roberto.” She didn’t answer. Witches didn’t help people, apparently.
“Lady,” I said, “Can you drop character for just a moment? We’ve lost our dog. He looks like a large rat.” “Cooper!” Pricilla said. “I’m trying to put it in terms she might understand.” The woman stood there, continuing to motion the way of the entrance. Her wart seemed to have gotten bigger in the last minute. Maybe I should have asked it for help. Pricilla shrugged and we headed inside the haunted house. When I turned back around, I saw the witch take a sip of orange soda. Good sorceresses didn’t speak, but pop was okay. Inside, it was the expected mess: strobing lights, fake spiders, cobwebs, eerie whoo-wee-woo music, and a labyrinth-like layout. Corridor after corridor was splashed with fake blood (I hoped), and strewn with little plastic bones and cut up Barbie dolls. “Roberto!” Pricilla said. “Roberto!”
A machine hissed and a cloud of gray smoke blanketed us. “Why does this fake fog always smell like feet? It’s not scary. It’s just gross,” I said. “And why the hell would Roberto come in here? He looks smart… you know? Those big eyes, they look intelligent. I really hope we don’t die this way, in here, like this. Can you imagine dying in here, this way, wrapped in this smelly fog?” “Shut up, Coop,” Pricilla said. She reached out and our fingers met somewhere in the smoke. I held her tight as the music swelled and the Psycho theme pulsed. She screamed and I clutched her shoulder. “Compared to this, I’m actually looking forward to Ghana,” I said. We crept forward. Baby steps. Our feet sliding along the garage floor. A group of people in front of us squealed and the lights shut off. Then a red glow took hold of the tight passage.
“My earring! I lost my earring!” Pricilla dropped to her knees and began sliding her hands over the ground. “Can you do me a huge favor and stop losing stuff?” “Seriously, Coop. Help me. I actually felt it fall out, so it’s got to be right around here.” Red light morphed into blue light and blue light into pale light. We were both on the ground now, on all fours, massaging the garage floor. I had never told a girl I’d loved her. Sure, I’d used love to describe everything from The Great Gatsby to couscous, but I found it sad that I’d never used the word the way it wanted to be used. And while I knew I was far from an expert in the matter of love, I was certain that love was being spread out on a garage floor, searching for an earring while searching for Roberto. “I didn’t know Dorothy wore earrings,” I said. “She didn’t,” Pricilla shouted. “There’s just more pressure on girls these days.”
“Oh, I think I found it,” I said. “No, no, that’s just gum—still very wet gum.” Pricilla called off the hunt soon after. “I liked those earrings. Bought ‘em just for tonight.” “You still have one, though, right?” “Yeah.” “You can just wear the one then—like Michael Jordan.” “That’s who I try to look like.” I helped her up and we pressed on through the dark, stinky maze. Again, the fog blasted us and I gripped Pricilla. Moments like these, when Pricilla was mine and no one else’s, were my favorite. I savored them. Replayed them. Did my best to pump them with formaldehyde. It did annoy me that while in my arms, she constantly called out another name, Roberto, but I reminded myself that he was, in fact, a poodle, and not an Antonio Banderas look-alike with curly chest hair and a
soothing Spanish accent that would turn Pricilla into Preecee-la. One step at a time we conquered the haunted house. It was scary, not because of ghosts or demons, but more because of the B.O. stench and the possibility of contracting hepatitis. “Do you see it?” “What?” “That.” She pointed at a black mass, fifteen feet in the distance. “It’s coming at us!” “It’s not Roberto,” I said. “No,” she said. “It’s not Roberto.” We worked north. The thing plodded south. We crept. The thing lumbered. Pricilla squeezed my hand, and I squeezed back. “If need be, I’ll kick its ass,” I said. “Sure,” Pricilla said. I could hear the thing breathe.
In and out. Hard and quick. Then it laughed, and let a high-pitch scream rip from its throat. The noise assailed my ears, and I dropped Pricilla’s hand and shielded my head. She shrieked and swung her wicker basket and smacked me in the neck. I may have called out for help, too. I think I even yelled, “Heavens to Betsy” a few times. “Ow!” Pricilla said. “You shit! You bit me!” “Let go of me lady!” a voice said, a squeaky voice. “What the hell is going on?” I asked. Pricilla stormed towards the opening, all the while holding on to whatever had bitten her. The voice spouted bits of apologies, and I followed the two of them until we reached the driveway. The witch had vanished and the chomping monster turned out to be little boy wearing a Batman costume. It wasn’t even one of those cool Batman costumes either—the ones with built-in six-pack abs and
hearty pecs. No, this one’s bat emblem was fuzzy, like shag carpeting, and some of the spandex, especially in the belly area, looked tired and see-through. Even the mask wasn’t right, with droopy, dachshund-like ears. “I’m sorry,” Baby Batman said. “What kind of an asshole bites someone?” I said. “Coop, don’t swear at him,” said Pricilla. “Seriously, though, why did you bite me?” She showed him her hand. There was a red semi-circle where her index finger and thumb met. “I just got excited,” Baby Batman said. “You both screamed and then I felt I had to do something scary, but I didn’t know what.” “I don’t think you understand the Batman thing,” I said. “You’re supposed to be on our side. You should be fighting the monsters. Batman would never scare people.” “I didn’t want to be Batman,” the boy said. “My mom just got me this because it was on sale.”
“Batman on sale?” Pricilla said. “Wal-Mart,” Baby Batman said. “Honor the costume,” I said. “Look. She’s Dorothy. She’s honoring the costume. You don’t see her holding-up a liquor store. Do you?” He nodded and hung his head. “It’s okay,” Pricilla said, shooting me a look that said take it easy. “It’s all right, Baby Batman,” I said, patting him on the back. “More importantly, have you seen a dog? A curly white little dog. He goes by the name Roberto.” “There was a dog here earlier, but he was grayish and kind of big.” “Oh,” Pricilla said. “Really?” She put her head in her hands and Baby Batman patted her on the back. I did too. In time, I wrapped one of my arms around Pricilla and guided her away from the haunted house. We took to
the road, our shoes scraping along the yellow-lit asphalt. What would happen if I found the dog? Would Pricilla need me to stay? Would she want me to stay? Or would she just thank me and move on? I worked up some courage, and said, “I just don’t understand it. Why would anyone want to run away from you?” “You are.” “I’m not running. I’m right here.” “You’re leaving, though.” “I’ve never been closer to anyone, Pricilla…” And then I couldn’t speak. My mouth turned into cracked desert clay. Romance with Pricilla was a language I couldn’t speak. She waited a while, called out for Roberto a few times, then said, “I’ll come visit. Get a nice room at the Four Seasons Ghana.” “Ah, a lovely place.”
“By the way, thanks for letting go of my hand when we got attacked by Baby Batman. Did you really yell ‘Heavens to Betsy,’ too? The cardigan has seeped into your pores.” “I didn’t let go.” “You so did. Then you screamed way louder than me and dropped me like a sack of potatoes.” “Never understood that expression. Who the hell is dropping all of these potatoes? And why? Spuds are fragile.” “The one that always gets me is blowing smoke up your ass.” “Yeah, the visual’s strange, too, right? And is it cigarette smoke? Hookah? What kind of smoke are we talking about?” “Roberto!” she let out a few times. She peeked under a parked car. I called out for him. Then we both yelled his name. “Are you sad about leaving?” She blinked
her eyes and the streetlights’ sheen caught the hazel of her irises. “Yeah. I know I’ll be doing good stuff, though, so that helps.” I couldn’t believe I’d just described the honorable JFK-founded institution known as the Peace Corps with the words “doing good stuff.” “Roberto!” Pricilla said. “I want you to know that you’re my favorite person in the world,” I said. Pricilla stared at the ground and dug one of her shoes into the asphalt like she was putting out a cigarette. “I’m going to miss you, too,” she said. Then she broke the quiet with another “Roberto!” “Do you remember that night? The night when we drove around town in my dad’s LeBaron? Do you?” I said. “With no place to go,” she said. “Yeah.” I noticed the glimmer of her single earring and nearly laughed.
“I wish we could do that again,” she said. “It’s hard to spend a lot of time together these days. I’m busy with my master’s and work, and you’re trying to save the world.” “I liked when our only thing was hanging out. Like spending time with you was a day of the week, you know?” “Then we went to different colleges,” she said. “Yeah, but we stayed close, right?” I said. “We talked on the phone a lot, and we both moved back home right after graduation.” “Now you’re abandoning me again,” she said. As I thought of a reply, a police car grumbled up the street. Its roof lights spun and flashed, but the sirens weren’t on. “I’m going to ask about Roberto,” Pricilla said. She waved her arms and the police car pulled alongside her. The officer lowered his window and clicked on the interior light. He was around thirty, with a perfectly-shaven face. How was he so well shaven? Had he just started his shift? Did he use
a straight razor? Maybe he had one of those shower mirrors that allowed you to shave while warm in blanket of steam. Pricilla leaned against the driver’s-side door. Why did she need to get so close? He could hear her just fine. “How can I help you, Dorothy?” the officer said. He smiled. Of course his teeth were all in row. “Who are you supposed to be?” He looked my way. “A grandpa?” I just went with it. “Yes, a big ol’ grandpa. Are you supposed to be the cop from YMCA?” He smiled. The asshole actually had a good sense of humor. “My dog,” Pricilla said. She told him the story. The officer picked up his radio and asked a question about a curly white little dog. The man actually got to say “over” and “copy that” for a living. Pricilla seemed impressed. She kept smoothing out her left braid. After he radioed-in the message, we waited and Pricilla filled in the empty moments. “Busy night?” she asked.
“Yeah,” the officer said. “You probably have a lot of crazy stories.” “For sure. I just arrested a man who was dressed as Jesus. He was disturbing the peace in a mini-mart. You from around here, Dorothy?” Pricilla giggled. “Yes. Born and raised. You?” I knew he was falling for Pricilla. It was easy to do—everyone had, did, and would. “I just moved out here, was transferred from Barstow. I really like it. There’s enough action, but not too much, you know?” “Do you ever get scared?” Pricilla said. “He’s human, Pricilla,” I said. “Of course he—” “There’s no time for fear,” he said. No time for fear? What did that even mean? “Roberto! Roberto! Pricilla we should get back to looking for Roberto.”
The two them played verbal ping pong. He asked about what she did for a living and she let him know that she was working towards a special-education degree and waitressing in the meantime. He told her how much he respected teachers and how they should get paid more and that they were unsung heroes and Pricilla laughed and leaned back and said, “Me? A hero? I’m just a girl—a little desert girl.” A little desert girl? What the shit? The police station finally radioed back, answering my prayer, and telling Officer YCMA that no one had reported a curly white little dog, but that they had found a beagle wandering down Main Street. “Sorry about that,” the officer said. “Let me get your information. I’ll let you know if we find a little white dog.” Policemen were lucky. They could ask a woman for her “information,” not her number. Information didn’t seem
as threatening, yet it was the very same stuff. While Pricilla took her time giving him her number, I stepped off to a nearby driveway, pulled out my phone, and dialed the number for the local police. I had it saved on my phone from the time my Vespa had been stolen. When the secretary picked up, I told her what I saw: “Yes,” I said, thinking of an address that was close enough to get Officer Flirty dispatched. “I have something to report.” The woman on the other end of the line asked me to go ahead. “I’m in the Wal-Mart parking lot and there’s this man harassing this beautiful lady. She’s trying to get away, but he won’t leave her alone. He’s being an asshole and pestering her and I can’t get him to stop. Can you send someone out here?” The woman said she was on it, and I hung up, shoved my phone deep in my cardigan pocket, and returned to Pricilla and the officer. The sweet sound of grainy CB radio popped into the night air: “Attention units: We have a
possible 8-0-8 in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Nearby units…” Pricilla howled with laughter at one of the officer’s jokes. “Shouldn’t you … sounds like you should get that. It’s real close. A possible 808,” I said. “Yes,” Pricilla agreed. “They need you. You’re important.” “Yeah, guess so,” the officer said. He put his car in gear and flipped on the lights, but not before reaching towards Pricilla and saying, “We’ll be in touch.” He sped off, the sound of his American engine booming. “He told me that the pound closed hours ago, so there’s no point in looking there,” Pricilla said. “Sorry,” I said. “A lot of the time a dog goes back to where he’s most comfortable or even the spot where he first got lost.”
“This isn’t like him. He usually doesn’t like to spend any time away from me.” “I hear ya.” We started back towards the house, calling out for Roberto every now and then. The street had changed its costume, too: It was no longer teeming with children and parents and candy and laughter. I thought of those kids shoving their favorite costumes back into dresser drawers for the long year. What use was it to tell Pricilla how I felt about her? I was leaving. She didn’t need me to come clean. It was selfish, actually. “Hi, I’ve always loved you. Bye.” It was better to be a weakling and her friend, than a hero and her nothing. Scott’s party was still going strong. Laughter and banter exploded from the home like fireworks, and I leaned against my Vespa and tried to look cool, while Pricilla sat on the curb and fanned her dress over her knees. “I really love him. It’s stupid maybe to love something so much,
something that incapable of loving you back. Here I am, searching and looking everywhere.” I joined her on the curb. “He does love you back. He’s your Berto Boy.” There was a yip. A bark. And then another. They were muffled and seemingly nearby. “In the house, I think,” Pricilla said. “Go check the house! I’ll stay here, just in case. Hurry! Go!” I sped off, my laced-up sneakers bashing the pavement, and shoved Scott’s front door open and hurried about the floor plan. I scoured the living room, the bedrooms, the backyard, the kitchen, the garage, and a bathroom (which a man dressed as Zorro had forgotten to lock). I was certain I’d heard a bark. Had I heard Pricilla correctly? “Maybe it’s stupid to love something so much, something that’s incapable of
loving you back.” Roberto was a dumbass who licked his crotch for fun. He didn’t realize how lucky he was to get caressed by Pricilla’s hands and bathed in her porcelain tub and granted permission to sleep at the foot of her bed. He was the luckiest son of a bitch on the planet. “The dog!” I said to Scott. I wiped my forehead with the sleeve of my sweater. “Have you seen Pricilla’s dog?” “No.” He titled back a beer. “Shit.” “Did you check upstairs? When did she lose her dog?” I pushed through a crowd of costumed folks and rushed up the stairs, yanking on the railing, flying up to the second-story. There, I got on all fours, thinking I’d have a better chance of spotting Berto if I got on his level. “Roberto! Berto! Berto Boy! I swear I wish we lived in Korea, so I could eat you when this was over!”
Behind each door was exactly what was supposed to be, though: beds in bedrooms, books in bookcases, bath in bathrooms. I really thought I’d find him, and that I’d be Pricilla’s cardigan-wearing hero. But nothing. I got off the ground and shuffled into a bathroom. I pulled in a few breaths, splashed some water on my face, then gazed out the tiny window on to the street. Pricilla brought her head back and forth and her pigtails swayed. After checking the surroundings, she slinked to her car and plucked what had to be keys from her wicker basket. She slowly opened the driver’s-side door and scanned the road once again. Inside her car, sitting on the seat, was Roberto—the curly little white dog. He was wagging his tail, barking, and licking Pricilla. Heat rushed to my cheeks and my chest tingled. I balled my fists to keep my fingers from twitching and held Pricilla in sight. She placed Roberto in her basket and shut her car door with a quick thud, before taking a few more
steps into the center of the road and casting her gaze about the quiet street. There was something perfect about Pricilla Milton standing in the middle of Yucca Lane, alone, waiting to tell me that she’d found Roberto, that he’d just turned up. I didn’t know why she’d done it. Maybe she’d wanted the same thing all along, or maybe she’d thought an adventure would pull it out of me, or maybe we just needed to search for something that was never lost in the first place. And so I sprinted from the bathroom, jumping the stairs by twos, with the front door in sight, and the knowledge that Pricilla and Roberto were standing behind it.
Selected Poems by A.J. Huffman It Was Supposed To Be for G.V.
a group date. You and your significant other, me and mine. A few other friends thrown in to complete the party picture. Traveling from bar to bar, boundaries became as blurry as our alcohol infused vision. The third stop found us isolated from our partners, dancing too close in the dark. You took my hair down, whispered it was better this way. I found it hard to catch my breath, leaned into the scent of your skin, forgot for a moment that we were not the only two people left in the world.
If I wasn’t hollow, wandering random hallways alone at midnight I didn’t echo with the voiced-over scars of lovers past I wasn’t consistently gathering pieces of myself to re-instate I could crawl beyond the frostbitten scorn of my own soul I could trust my senses to translate what is actually there
then I could open my mind, and respectively my arms in welcome, in wanting, in love.
What the Pulse Recalls Hand circling wrist. Skin to skin, his to mine. Eyes closed. Mouth, open. Breathing collective of anonymous tongues. Nails scraping, clawing, clinging to sheets, pillows, posts. Air and voice evade, escape, erupt in a moment of consumptive night, burning like a star.
The Perfect Drive The graveled whir of the tires echoes through puddles. Cue the rain: lightly tapping the windows and roof. Creation’s mist fogging the edges of the view from the arched peak where bridge meets moon and gives way to the light of my cell phone’s call. An ethereal ring linked to kaleidoscopic eyes and a smile that can melt glass. He’s waiting. I’m on my way. Twirling through tunes of softly twanged: timing is . . . . . . everything.
Contributors: Cover Artist: Marjani Viola Hawkins (MVHPhoto) is a 23-year-old photographer based in Phoenix, Arizona. Originally from the California Bay Area, Marjani has resided in Phoenix since â&#x20AC;&#x2122;02, and is currently attending Arizona State University, following a stint at Northern Arizona University where she was an Opinionâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Columnist for The Lumberjack Newspaper. Her freelance photography business MVHPhoto specializes in portraiture, fashion photography and head shots; with experience in landscapes, sports portraiture, concerts, and special events. MVHPhoto was established in 2012, and since its launch her photography has been published in CIRCUS Magazine, the 2014 Blues Festival Guide, and Lost Freedom Magazine. When not behind the camera, Marjani can be found studying and discussing feminist topics, and applying the final touches to her first full length novel manuscript. To check out more of her photographic work visit mvhphoto.com, Facebook: MVHPhoto, & Instagram: @mvhphoto_ Want to get more personal? Marjani can also be found on: Instagram: @ageoftheaquaurius, Twitter: @marjaniviola and at violavalentine.com.
Background of Phoenix in February: The inspiration behind the cover for Black Fox Literary Magazine simply presented itself. Phoenix in February, was captured during a visit to a park in the West Valley, where Marjani happened to witness a perfect Phoenician sunset. The picture was taken with a Canon Digital Rebel Xti with a zoom EF 28-90mm lens. Mathieu Cailler is a writer of poetry and prose. A graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts, his work has been published in numerous national and
international literary journals, including Ardor, Epiphany, and The Saturday Evening Post. He has been named a finalist for the Glimmer Train New Writers Award and the New Rivers Press American Fiction Prize, as well as awarded the Short Story America Prize for Short Fiction and the Shakespeare Prize for Poetry. He is the author of Clotheslines (Red Bird Press) and Loss Angeles (Short Story America Press, forthcoming). Holly Day was born in Hereford, Texas, â&#x20AC;&#x153;The Town Without a Toothache.â&#x20AC;? She and her family currently live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she teaches writing classes at the Loft Literary Center. Her published books include the non-fiction books, Music Theory for Dummies, Music Composition for Dummies, and Guitar All-in-One for Dummies. She has also written the poetry books, LateNight Reading for Hardworking Construction Men (The Moon Publishing) and The Smell of Snow (ELJ Publications). Her needlepoints and beadwork have recently appeared on the covers of The Grey Sparrow Journal and QWERTY Magazine. Chelsea Eckert is a creative writing undergraduate at San Jose State University. Her work is forthcoming or has appeared in Vending Machine Press, Stoneboat and Bird's Thumb. Amy Friedman is an English instructor at Harper College with an M.A. in Comparative Literature from Northwestern University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Decades Review and Rougarou. She is currently coauthoring her second satirical correspondence novel. Amy lives in Chicago with her husband, her daughter, and her three-pound dog, who is often mistaken for a squirrel.
Brad Garber lives, writes and runs around naked in the Great Northwest. He fills his home with art, music, photography, plants, rocks, bones, books, good cookin’ and love. He has published poetry in Alchemy, Red Booth Review, Front Range Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, theNewerYork, Ray’s Road Review, The Round Up, Meat for Tea, Gambling the Aisle, Empty Sink Publishing, Fiction Fix, Screaming Sheep Magazine, Off the Coast, Apeiron Review, Shadowgraph, Livid Squid Literary Journal, Stoneboat Journal, Brickplight, Shuf Poetry, Rockhurst Review, Penduline Press, Literature Today, BASED, Eunoia Review, and other quality publications. His poem, “Where We May Be Found,” was also nominated for the 2013 Pushcart Prize. R.K. Gold is a dog enthusiast who finds time to write when he is alone in his room. Though most of his published works are poems, he is attempting to jump into main stream fiction with a couple of novels in the works. Because of his photography background, he emphasizes strong, concrete images in his poetry in order to help the reader clearly see whatever emotions he might be attempting to portray. But, at the end of the day, while writing is his passion, he would be more than happy to cuddle with a puppy and sip scotch. Melissa Grunow's writing has appeared in New Plains Review, Yemassee, The Quotable, 94 Creations, and Wilderness House Literary Review, among others. She has an MA in English from New Mexico State University and a BS in English-creative writing from Central Michigan University. She teaches composition and creative writing courses in southeastern Michigan. Visit her website at www.melissagrunow.com.
J.M. Hall is a Visiting Lecturer in Philosophy at Muskingum University. Since earning his Ph.D. in 2012 from Vanderbilt University, he has secured publication for a forthcoming anthology on philosophy courses in prison (entitled Philosophy Imprisoned), fifteen peer-reviewed journal articles (including in Philosophia Africana, Journal of Black Studies and Southern Literary Journal). His poetic work includes a mini-chapbook collection, entitled Bachata Adobe, in RedOchreLiT, fifty-seven poems in literary journals internationally (recently including Xavier Review, Entasis and The University of Chicagoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Euphony). And he has also published dance criticism for Zouch Magazine, with twenty years of experience as a dancer and choreographer. William Ogden Haynes is a poet and author from Alabama who was born in Michigan and grew up a military brat. His first poetry book entitled, Points of Interest appeared in 2012 and a second collection of poetry and short stories Uncommon Pursuits was published in 2013. He has published over a hundred poems and short stories in literary journals and his work is frequently anthologized. A.J. Huffman has published seven solo chapbooks and one joint chapbook through various small presses. Her eighth solo chapbook, Drippings from a Painted Mind, won the 2013 Two Wolves Chapbook Contest. She also has a fulllength poetry collection scheduled for release in June 2015, titled, A Few Bullets Short of Home (mgv2>publishing). She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, and her poetry, fiction, and haikus have appeared in hundreds of national and international journals, including Labletter, The James Dickey Review, Bone Orchard, EgoPHobia, Kritya, and Offerta Speciale, in which her work appeared in both English and Italian translation. She is also the founding
editor of Kind of a Hurricane Press. www.kindofahurricanepress.com. David Klugman is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Program (1983), and has been a practicing psychotherapist for twenty-five years in Nyack, New York, where he resides with his wife and his daughter. Once, Michaelsun Knapp became best friends with a Sasquatch for 6 months while backpacking through Alaska. The sheriff's department lovingly referred to the pair as "vagrants wanted by the law," and, a local psychologist, who unknowingly housed the duo for a weekend-long bacchanal in a tree house his son once used before the divorce was quoted as saying, "they're a danger to themselves and society, but damned if they don't smell like jasmine and honeysuckle." A small-award winning author, he's been published in Ball State's Broken Plate, Ultimate Writer, In Somnis Veritas, and Ghost Town among others up and across the United States. Nearly 150 of Sandra Kolankiewiczâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s poems and stories have appeared in journals over the past thirty-five years, featured in such places as Mississippi Review, North American Review, Confrontation, Gargoyle, Rhino, Prick of the Spindle, Cortland Review, Fifth Wednesday, Louisville Review, and in the anthologies Sudden Fiction and Four Minute Fiction. Her chapbook Turning Inside Out won the Black River Chapbook Competition at Black Lawrence Press. Blue Eyes Donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t Cry won the Hackney Award for the Novel. The Way You Will Go is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in September 2014. She has a B.A. and a Ph.D. from Ohio University and attended the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins. She currently lives with her family in Marietta, Ohio, and teaches at a community college in West Virginia.
Cara MacNeil is an aspiring writer from New Jersey. She is currently a graduate student at The College of New Jersey who is writing a Master's Thesis on Shakespeare. She is a high school English teacher and is also a contributing writer for The California Journal of Women Writers. She loves science fiction, graphic novels and historical fiction and cites Neil Gaiman as a writing influence. She currently lives by the Shore with her boyfriend and their enthusiastic, wrinkly dog. Alicja Madloch is a junior at Newark Academy in Livingston, New Jersey. Writing has been her escape from reality since she can remember and she has had the honor of being published in the Apprentice Writer, BRICKrhetoric, GREYstone Literary Magazine, Prisms, 5 Quaterly, and Pomona Valley Review. She has also recently received a Scholastic Silver Key Award for her poetry. Other than writing, she enjoys reading classics and living in bookstores. Stephanie Niu is a high school senior from Marietta, Georgia. Her poems have appeared in Live Poets Society’s Quarterly Magazine, Wren’s Nest Magazine, and the occasional blog post. She attended the Governor’s Honors Program in 2013, where she majored in communicative arts. When not writing poetry, Stephanie likes to play the piano, figure skate, and do robotics. She was captain of her high school FIRST robotics team last year and will be president of the high school poetry club in the fall. Stephanie has yet to write a poem about robots. Ethan Noone resides and works in Tampa Florida. A hobbyist writer with aspirations to continue writing screenplays, he has begun submitting poetry and short fiction for publication. He can be found on Twitter at
#sheetforbrain or emailed directly at email@example.com. Paulette Perhach has been published on Salon.com, OSU's The Journal and other fine publications. She is currently seeking her MFA at Pacific University. Chelsea Reeser is a musician, horse-lover, and Tolkienite who enjoys paying homage to the intoxicating power of words. She speaks three languages, can solve a Rubik’s cube in three minutes, and considers the bookstore her second home. She is studying English at the University of South Carolina Honors College. Aleyna Rentz wrote her first novel in the second grade, during which she wrote about time-traveling tornadoes instead of paying attention in math class. She is now a sophomore English/writing double major in the Honors Program at Georgia Southern University. Although she no longer writes about tornadoes, she certainly hasn’t stopped writing: She currently serves as editor of The Southern Praxis, a progressive, campus-based publication, and is the assistant editor of Honors @ Georgia Southern Magazine. Her fiction has also been published in Miscellany. She recently was able to experience Bloomsday in Dublin, and her life is now complete. Grant Riedel is an artist who hails from the Midwest. He holds both a B.A. in Art and an M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Northern Iowa. When Grant isn’t creating new broadsides for the North American Review, he spends his time with his wife and daughter, Raegan. Grant attributes his style to author’s such as Margaret Atwood, Raymond Carver, and J.D. Salinger. Over the next year he has plans to bury himself in PhD applications, hoping to find the right school to call home.
Joanell Serra is a writer and family therapist, living in the San Francisco Bay area. Serra has been published in various magazines and journals and will publish a collection of short stories in late 2014. Recently, she had her first short play produced. She is thrilled to be included in Black Fox Literary Magazine. You can follow her writing journey atwww.Joanellwrites.com, and read her tweets @Joanell. Miranda Stone’s fiction and poetry have been published in numerous print and online journals, including Pithead Chapel, Prole, and The First Line. Her short story, “The Confession,” was published in the anthology, Southern Gothic: New Tales of the South. She lives in Virginia and can be reached at http://AuthorMirandaStone.com.
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