Black Fox Literary Magazine is a print and online literary magazine published biannually.
Copyright ÂŠ 2015 by Black Fox Literary Magazine. All Rights Reserved. Written and artistic work included in Black Fox Literary Magazine may not be reprinted or reproduced in any electronic or print medium in whole or in part without the consent of either the writer/artist or founding editors. Issue 12 Cover Art (Lips) by Iryna Lialko ISBN: 978-1-329-41565-2
We've been in a frenzy preparing for the release of issue #12, as it marks four full years of publication history. This September will make it five years since the creation of Black Fox. We can attend kindergarten! This past week we were honored to be included on a list that described Black Fox as one of the literary magazines seeking diverse voices. We've been thinking a lot about diversity and how important it is in publishing. We have always aimed to publish underrepresented work, now more than ever. We are also noticing an increase in international submissions and to that we say: keep em' coming. We believe that we have a responsibility to the industry and that responsibility is the very reason we keep doing what we're doing. We hope that when you read our pages you will find characters who are like people--from all walks of life and from all cultural backgrounds. We want to publish good stories. It doesn't matter where youâ€™re from, your stories matter. This magazine is possible because of our readers and writers. Thank you all for the love and support that you give to Black Fox. Let's keep this thing going, shall we?
-The Editors Racquel, Pam and 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. She earned an MFA from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Blink-Ink, The Rusty Nail, Freight Train Magazine, Lotus-Eater Magazine and The Best of There Will Be Words 2014 among others. 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, Jandy Nelson, 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)—and most recently wrote her first middle grade novel with co-editor, 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 a freelance editor and writer. She received a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Arizona State University. Elizabeth is a judge for Critique My Novel’s Ink & Insights contest, and volunteers with the Pen Project where she gives critical feedback to inmate writers. Some of her favorite writers are Stephen King, Anne Rice, Aimee Bender, Dan Chaon, and Stacey Richter. Her work appears in Kalliope – A Consortium of New Voices and in Black Fox Literary Magazine. Interviews Editor: Alicia Cole is a poet and fiction writer. She edits for Rampant Loon Press, and has interviewed for Bitch Magazine and motionpoems. Her creative writing is forthcoming in Vagrants Among Ruins, Torn Pages Anthology, Gadfly Online, The Dawntreader and Lakeside Circus. She spends much of her time either freelancing or playing with a menagerie of animals. Book Reviewer: Carissa Cullum currently lives in Tampa, Florida, where she works as an SEO Writer for a local marketing firm. Although she spends her work days writing about everything from ball bearings to vital sign monitors, she would much rather curl up with a cup of coffee and a good book. Her favorite genres include Latin American and Caribbean fiction, especially short stories. Carissa earned a Bachelor’s degree in English from The University of Tampa in 2013 and is currently looking to pursue a Master’s degree in the near future. BFLM Blogger: Jaime Mathis grew up half feral, half in a cult, in the countryside near Oregon City, Oregon. Without books she would have gone pure Tarzan and hence, thanks literature for both sanity and social skills. After travelling the world and picking up a husband in Spain, she
returned like a salmon to her spawning grounds where she now resides with 13 chickens, a son, and her Dane. You can see her work in places like FORTH Magazine, Dirty Chai, and The Flexible Persona. 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: Mr. Berrington by Sidney Williams (12) Lost and Found by Michael Washburn (34) Crossing by D.A. Young (57) Twelve Variations on a Left Hook by Amber Kelly-Anderson (88) The Search by John Burgman (122) Highway Angel by A.M. Bostwick (140) French Lessons by Shelley Masini (172) Murdo, By Southwest by Mark Heydon (198) Poetry Selected poems by Lauren Cerruto (8) Summer Melody by Patricia Frolander (11) Selected poems by Sandra Kolankiewicz (29) Selected poems by Gene Goldfarb (32) Selected poems by Samuel Triolo (50) San Marino by William Blome (54) Segue by William Greenfield (55) The Absolute by Kiran Damodaran (56) Selected poems by Richard King Perkins II (60) Your Brown Hair by Jessica Wiseman Lawrence (62) Paul Taylor to Martha Graham by Michael McManus (63) Raindance by Marcella Benton (65) Selected poems by Marco Kaisth (66) Selected poems by Kathryn de Leon (82) Kaleidoscope by Carolyn Elias (87) Selected poems by Valya Dudycz Lupescu (92) Selected poems by Francine Witte (95) Leaving Wisconsin by CL Bledsoe (117) Selected poems by Robert S. King (118) Selected poems by Christine Degenaars (131) Selected poems by Shaina Clingempeel (136) Selected poems by Allie Gove (138)
What You Do Not Want to Know by Sharanya Manivannan (164) Of Birth and Destruction: Selected poems by Diana DiPietro (166) Selected poems by Mark Vogel (169) Selected poems by Peter Serchuk (187) Selected poems by Katie J. Schwartz (188) Selected poems by Bobbi Sinha-Morey (194) Nonfiction Terror Lynchings by W. Royce Adams (69) Itâ€™s Still Me by Chelsey Drysdale (97) Cover Art: Lips by Iryna Lialko
Selected poems by Lauren Cerruto, Winner of the 2015 Black Fox Writing Contest Honeysuckle Its white and yellow trumpets herald another summer as my husband and I walk along the lake. Lovers for eleven years, we still can’t enter each other’s minds. I try: Have you tasted honeysuckle? Him: Sure. Falls back into silence. Then: Did you? Me: Yes. But there I falter, fail to say how when I was parched and dripping in the sun my fingers teased out its pleasure by the drop, sweeter than popsicles, until dozens of torn, trampled blossoms confettied the driveway. He closes his eyes, inhales the saccharine scent. Reveals nothing. I don’t know how to continue. Unquenched again, I tug off the bottom of a single flower guide the stalk through the silky shaft until a bead of moisture forms at the lip. He opens his mouth, presents his tongue. I dangle my tiny offering before I let it go.
Point Pleasant, NJ, After Divorce My son and I misplace a day at the Jersey shore among umbrella ghettos, hungry cleavage, music smashing from Jenkinsonâ€™s boardwalk, beach junked with clumps of seaweed. In this landscape, I am the burnt out, boarded-up shell of a fun-house building. My son digs holes, creating voids, not castles. We wander, tangent to the surf, collecting questions, finding fragments: broken shells, three severed claws, one beached star. I root myself in the shifting sand, hoist my son by the armpits. As we face the oceanâ€™s test, he keeps his knees hooked, feet in the air. Refuses to stand. He grows heavier with each receding, starts slipping from me, like the lone blue-black mussel shell the water offers, then whisks away.
I Canâ€™t Remember the Summer of 1992 I must have eaten hotdogs, pulled splinters, read a book in a white rope hammock. But what hot dog? What book? Surely there was watermelon, and a pool. A day I walked barefoot in some ambivalent grass. Small splendid moments, sensual but inconsequential, gone like ice cubes melted in a glass of water.
Summer Melody By Patricia Frolander 2015 Black Fox Writing Contest Honorable Mention I hear the tinkling bell before I see the small white truck roll slowly down our street, stop in front of Maryann’s house next to mine. The Ice Cream Man, white pants, shirt, and cap, steps out of the truck and slides the side door open. Plaid-clad girls and cuffed-jeaned boys run to him in late afternoon heat. I run too, nickel clutched in sweaty fist, then wait my turn, as Mother has instructed, fretful no chocolate remains. Double-dolloped into a wafer cone, eager tongue tastes the first bite— We children group in the shade of an old oak, licking and laughing, boys pulling girl’s sashes, as the sound of summer rolls on to the next block.
Mr. Berrington By Sidney Williams
The gentleman in the black suit on our doorstep looked like he should’ve been a floorwalker in a ‘50s department store named Bynum’s or Winthrop and Roy’s. He came complete with a bow tie and a small white flower in his lapel. I belted my bathrobe and greeted him with a confused look. Was he lost? “Mr. Sullivan?” He had the right place. “I’m a little under the weather,” I said. “I don’t think it’s contagious.” “Should blow over in a couple of days with the Theraflu®.” “How did you…?” “This won’t take long. I’m Mr. Berrington from Bullseye.” I maintained my frown. My wife and I were frequent Bullseye shoppers, but not good enough customers to warrant this kind of attention. Our biggest purchase of late had been a set of stoneware. The stuff we’d received as
wedding gifts had finally started to show enough chips and scrapes to warrant replacement. “You recently applied for our Bullseye credit card,” Mr. Berrington said once he was seated in my living room. “And you were approved.” “That’s right. We were buying…” “A set of Redding stoneware, and you received a 15 percent discount for the purchase.” “Yes.” It had seemed like enough of a price break for the aggravation, though we hadn’t been lusting after one more charge card. Ellery’s an astute keeper of the household books, so she cancelled after paying off the first statement. “You made only the one purchase on the card then cancelled,” Mr. Berrington said. “Were you somehow dissatisfied with the service we provided?” “No, no it was all fine. We just didn’t need one more piece of plastic showing on the credit report.” “You understand that Bullseye wants to make sure every customer is completely satisfied and is a customer for life.” “I think I’ve seen that flash past in the TV ads.” “It’s a long-standing tradition, one we hope to maintain.” “We have no plans to abandon Bullseye.”
“But you abandoned the Bullseye Preferred Card, and that means giving up savings of more than 15 percent on selected purchases, plus free shipping on orders of $100 or more from the Bullseye website. With our app you can gain additional savings and coupons.” “Don’t you get free shipping on larger orders anyway?” “The total has to be $105 for non-cardholders, which I’m sorry to say are ranks among which you can now be counted.” I wondered how he’d managed to get that sentence out, but he had a polished British accent. Maybe elocution lessons had prepared him for hard-to-recite sales literature verbiage. Glad I don’t have to say that last sentence out loud. “I’m sorry we lost out on that, Mr. Bynum.” “Berrington.” He handed me his business card with their embossed logo. “But we can use our Discover card. It, uh, has a cash back bonus.” He countered with a brief dissertation on the benefits we were giving up by allowing ourselves to function under the misconception that a universal card was just as good.
I pulled a tissue from my pocket and dabbed at my running nose. “I’m just going to have to find a way to get by, Mr. Berrington.” My move suggested I was about to usher him out. His hand locked on my forearm, his gaze on my eyes. “You do understand, Mr. Sullivan, that we offer the 10 percent discount in anticipation of you keeping the card for future use. There are associated benefits for the company. It’s a quid pro quo arrangement. If you keep the card, it, of course, enhances our bond.” “And the chance that I’ll run up a tab, pay the minimum and grace you with whatever interest rate you charge. I know how it works, Mr. Berrington, whatever sugar coating you want to brush on it.” I found it hard to believe he was being this zealous over one card cancellation. Maybe Bullseye had some sort of incentive going with reps, but I couldn’t believe this would be worth his time. “Mr. Sullivan, please…” “Let me stay polite and just say, good day, Mr. Berrington.” “The discounts can extend to some items in our pharmacy, and there is the matter of…” “I said good day, Sir.” You don’t get many opportunities to do that.
He hesitated a moment, clearly wanting to say more, but then he composed himself, adjusted his bow tie and bid me adieu. *** Ellery came home around six seeming distracted as she shuffled the mail, but she agreed Mr. Berrington’s visit seemed a little over the edge. “I guess they’re trying to slow routine attrition or churn or whatever they call it in that industry. When I was in retail and sales slowed they used to have us call three customers a day to tell them about new items or mention a sale or whatever.” Kicking off her shoes, she dropped onto the sofa and rubbed the back of her neck before giving her nyloncovered soles a massage. She looked hot in a pencil skirt, office attire way, but her work had been grueling lately. “Here’s a circular from Bullseye, speaking of.” “Anything we need?” Her brow wrinkled as she thumbed it. “Not at the moment.” *** We didn’t give Mr. Berrington’s visit and its inherent creepiness much additional thought, at least not for a while. Ellery was caught up in one of those internecine games that develop in corporate environments. A co-
worker was pursuing a subtle but pervasive personal agenda while wrapping their supervisor around her finger. Keeping her in check proved wearying and counterproductive for everyone. Since I was developing training materials for a new software product my company had acquired, my work proved equally intense and stressful if less dramatic. I was pouring over the details of a particularly delicate four-step procedure when the receptionist called a few days later to say a Mr. Berrington had dropped in. “I just wanted to extend Bullseye’s congratulations, Mr. Sullivan,” he said when I met him in the lobby. “Am I about to gain some additional and remarkable discount?” “Well, yes, but I was so happy about your wife.” “What about my wife?” “She hasn’t said anything? Are things all right between you?” “Fine, why?” “Are you certain?” “Our jobs are a little stressful, but we’re fine.” “Do you think there’s anything she’s not telling you?” “We don’t tend to keep secrets.”
“Just thought she would have mentioned it.” He lowered his voice. “She made some purchases including a home pregnancy test a few days ago.” Even lower: “She received a nice discount with the Bullseye App. I naturally, we naturally thought you were better… There’d been a decrease in purchases of certain feminine… No mention of anything like that?” “If she did, what business is it of yours?” “Well, I thought since you have had the concern in the past about…I thought this would mean good news and that her other matter was behind you.” “What?” “Look, if it’s still an issue, I mentioned the discount at our pharmacy, of course. It doesn’t apply to prescription medications, but certainly for a naturopathic route, ginseng or Pomegranate tea would have discounts available.” I took his shoulder and steered him toward the door, though I was a bit disconcerted, not just by Mr. Berrington’s aggression and presumptiveness. Why would Ellery keep something like the pregnancy test from me, even if the test had come back negative? “I wanted to offer you some coupons for special discounts on the items an expecting couple might need. You know you can even get 15 percent off on infant bedroom furnishings if things turn out…”
I didn’t take the coupon circular he proffered. I gave him another: “Good day, Sir.” This time it felt less satisfying. I left work early so that I could beat her home. Feeling like a jerk, I checked the bathroom cabinets and her dresser. Then I moved on to the trashcans and eventually outside to the garbage. We’d never had real concern over infidelity on either side of the fence, not once we were past those early marital stages when the realization sinks in that you’re in for life. But I didn’t think I’d managed to get her pregnant lately. Cotton balls and coils of dental floss clung to the test stick. It showed a faint blue coloration, which, I confirmed on Google, was negative for that brand. I tried to convince myself her silence indicated she hadn’t wanted to worry me. *** I just asked the usual when Ellery came home. Her day hadn’t been bad, though Andrea’s scheming was up to par, and her feigned fascination with their supervisor’s Marvel Comics collection seemed to be escalating. “She just got her own Scarlet Witch poster from eBay, and she’s bidding on some collectible Black Widow statuette for her desk.”
“Typical poser move. She ought to just buy him some back issue he’s missing.” “Andrea didn’t know who those characters were two weeks ago. She wouldn’t know which back issue to buy, even if she is acting like an über fan.” I couldn’t expect her to suddenly come clean about the pregnancy test. She had no way of knowing about Mr. Berrington’s revelation, but her secrecy troubled me. A nagging tightness in my gut kept me from confronting her during the evening’s spaghetti. I let the routine wind through its usual course. We watched an Indy film until she dozed. I paused it then and sat watching her drift through dreams as suspicion’s teeth nibbled. *** “What else do you know?” I had fished Mr. Berrington’s business card from the robe pocket where I’d stuffed it the day he arrived. Uncertainty had passed nibbling and started to gnaw, compelling a cursory check of the house. I don’t know what clues I was looking for, but my evidentiary findings were sparse. “You admonished me about prying into your business, Mr. Sullivan, and I’m really not supposed to use our data...” “I know but…”
“I was correct about the pregnancy test?” “It was intrusive of you, but, yes. What else do you know?” “Well, Mr. Sullivan, you did limit our options with the cancellation of the card.” “I know, Mr. Berrington.” “I can’t give you anything concrete. I’m sorry.” “What about not concrete?” His sigh was heavy and filled with consternation. “We did note a purchase of a rather expensive perfume on an account on which you’re listed as an additional card holder.” Ellery’s MasterCard. She used it for personal items and usually paid the household back at the end of the month. I never looked at the statements. “You can draw your own conclusions about why a woman might want a new perfume, Mr. Sullivan.” The click of his hang-up left me no alternative. I had to follow her. *** She didn’t do anything interesting for a few days, at least not in the time I could devote to the tailing while keeping up with the technical manual my team was compiling. I spotted her on business errands and eventually
lunch with a co-worker, Joy McGlone, a girl I’d never cared for. She’d never cared for me either. Joy was the friend most likely to give amorous advice, like get a sexy perfume or take a lover. I couldn’t determine the conversational topic from distant expressions. Was Joy counseling her on some aspect of an illicit liaison? Or was Ellery regaling her with accounts of something that had already transpired? At a distance, it was difficult to tell. “Perhaps binoculars would be helpful,” Mr. Berrington suggested the next time I called. “And a GPS device might be useful. You don’t own one, am I correct?” “Right.” “Reactivating your card would be useful, keep costs down.” “Fine, fine, do it, Mr. Berrington.” He gave me an 800 number to call. “I believe you’re making a good choice.” When the replacement cards arrived, I told Ellery that Bullseye had called with a great offer for re-upping. She expressed skepticism, but accepted her card after I explained the percentages. “If it saves a few pennies here or there, I guess we could make use of it since I’m wondering if I’m going to hang onto my job.”
Mission accomplished. *** “I’m afraid I have some disconcerting news,” Mr. Berrington said when he phoned in a few days. “Are you aware your wife has made some lingerie purchases?” “No, what? Gowns, teddies?” “Well, nothing like that. Bras, panties.” “That doesn’t prove anything, Mr. Berrington. Could be a matter of replacing things that are showing wear. Frankly this is a little creepy.” I had to wonder why she’d made a purchase like that separate from one of our weekend forays into Bullseye to replenish our Soft Scrub and toilet paper stores, but I tried to feel OK about it. “Your wife’s tastes usually trend toward practical Hanes purchases on that front, Mr. Sullivan. These recent acquisitions have entailed push-up bras and thongs.” That hit me in the gut. She hadn’t mentioned those, and she hadn’t been modeling them for me. “Can your magic tell me anything else?” “Mr. Sullivan, you really flatter me. We just look into the details.” *** I concealed suspicion but watched Ellery closely, studying her and contemplating things she said, looking for
nuances that might give something away. I also made mental notes of names that cropped up in conversations about her job, especially male names. I asked questions, trying not to sound too inquisitive. It must have seemed like I was taking more of an interest in her work than I ever had, but I gave little notice to details like sales meetings or conferences or the monthly reports her office sweated over. Deep in a folder on my computer, I buried a spreadsheet and other documents. At night, after she dozed, I tracked any mentioned contact with William Vigna, Mark Bolin, Travis Bronson, and a few others I picked up, along with Joy and the boss, Shawn Bethel. I also documented Elleryâ€™s movements, times, traffic routes and, of course, Bullseye purchases. I had to keep up with my day job as well, so I started to sip energy drinks, from Bullseye in multi-packs, purchased with a discount, of course. *** I followed her as much as my job allowed, and sometimes when it didnâ€™t. Mr. Berrington suggested a set of small, powerful bird-watching binoculars. Theyâ€™d fit in a jacket pocket and worked well for things like observing what looked like anguished conversations with Joy at Starbucks.
Guilt over something planned, or something that had already happened? We’d been married six years. Deep down, I could understand, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of being stabbed. “You must understand, you’re dealing with data out of context,” Mr. Berrington said. “If there’s one thing I know, it’s very important to understand what you’re looking at. Don’t jump to conclusions.” “A pregnancy test she doesn’t tell me about. Lingerie she’s not wearing for me?” “I just urge you to get proof before you do anything rash. The devil is in the details.” At his suggestion, I purchased a GPS tracking device that could be secreted on a car. It was a special order through the Bullseye electronics department, but they got it in a couple of days. It allowed me to follow Ellery’s movements without interruption. When I downloaded results, I plugged her various stops and starts into a web map and poured over it with bleary eyes, rubbing stubble on my chin. I discovered routes that took her out of the range of work and home, though I couldn’t pinpoint any location that seemed to be a rendezvous. Data aside, I needed eyes-on information. I started to skip more chunks of work to tail Ellery. An additional
couple of electronics purchases and an app allowed me extra savings and the means to use the tracker in real time so that I could stay several car lengths back to avoid detection. *** The worst day of my life began with the usual routine, or it must have looked that way from Ellery’s perception. We brewed coffee, ate our quickly heated pastries at the little bistro table in the breakfast nook, and she said a few things I must have grunted at. I wasn’t focusing on her words because I realized she had on the push up bra. If she’d made a mention of that, it would have penetrated my consciousness. Then it was off to work for her. For me, it was waiting in the garage a few seconds longer then switching on the tracking devices and following. A few blocks from our house she took a right turn instead of a left. That sent her toward our downtown area. Parking was already an issue there. When she slipped into a slot near one corner, I made a turn rather than drive past her. Without a tracking device on her person, I’d lost her by the time I’d made the block. After a few circles in which I failed to spot her on foot, I decided to find a slot of my own and wait, watching the tracker screen.
About 15 minutes later she was on the move again, and her car cruised on toward a cluster of downtown hotels. Fortunately the parking lots were large there, and I was able to get lost among rows. I parked and started moving on foot after a quick reach under my seat for my purchase from the Bullseye sporting goods department. I hit the lobby’s sliding glass doors a few paces behind Ellery, just in time to see her meet Joy and the two of them conversed solemnly for a moment. I noticed Ellery carrying a small paper bag. Had she bought more lingerie downtown? After a few nods, she and Joy disappeared into a restroom. Was Joy her liaison? I stood beside a tall plant, wishing I’d remembered to grab the dark cap from the Bullseye men’s department from my back seat. My notion about Joy changed a moment later when I spotted Shawn, Ellery’s boss, strolling across the lobby for the front desk. Of course it was him. He was on my list of possibilities. Joy must be helping Ellery primp while he secured the room. I pressed the Bullseye bag to my side and headed for the ladies’ room door. The time for subtlety had passed. Time for a confrontation. Ellery stood at the mirror, leaning forward to apply lip gloss. The benefits of the pushup bra were more evident because one more blouse button had
been undone, and in that position, the thong’s virtue became apparent. I yanked the survival knife with its serrated edge from its bag and swept it about, shouting something that was somewhere south of coherent. Ellery froze after dropping the lip gloss, her eyes going all deer in the headlights. I shouted something else and started for her. Then Joy stepped out from a stall, yanked a soap dispenser off the wall and clubbed me. *** At the police station, I tried explaining, and a few things came out. The hotel was the site of a big sales conference, and, edging out Andrea, Ellery had been asked to present Shawn with an award for their division. She’d mentioned all of it in one conversation or another while I’d been mining her words for possible lovers. She’d wanted to look her best for the occasion even if it meant exploiting feminine attributes. Joy had helped encourage that. Ellery had a mild concern that she might be pregnant and that it might affect the event. Didn’t want to bring it up if it was nothing. She’d dropped by a shop on the way downtown not to pick up more special lingerie but instead a copy of
Amazing Spiderman 121, made collectible because it featured, as I’d told her, the death of early girlfriend, Gwen Stacy. The comics shop had found a copy for a price the office could afford with everyone chipping in. She’d planned to present it to Shawn as part of the presentation, a gift from the whole staff but spearheaded by her, again in an effort to get a step ahead of Andrea’s brown nosing. They gave me Tylenol for the throbbing from the soap dispenser and listened to my tale of Mr. Berrington’s evil influence. After they’d taken it all down, they left me alone with a cup of coffee for a while. They returned after a long chat with a Bullseye rep. “We were trying to check out your story,” one of the cops said. “We finally got somebody in the corporate office to spill it. They claim no Mr. Berrington works for them, but they had a data breach a few months ago. Wouldn’t explain everything you claim he knew, but lots of personal information they were tracking for marketing purposes got compromised.” And Mr. Berrington, whoever he was, had used those personal details where the devil lives for a twisted little game, knowing Ellery and I better than we knew each other, nudging me politely toward self-destruction. What’s that old poem claim? “The devil is a gentleman...”
Selected Poems by Sandra Kolankiewicz Instead of a Convertible You watched yourself, didn’t you, slip out of what cloaked you, as if dissociation came naturally, impossible to stop what you don’t acknowledge, distance the same as the space between you on the bed and you on the ceiling, someone else’s husband lying down with someone else’s wife, no kitchen to be cleaned in the next room, laundry done, shopping left for later. Forgiveness remains in the drawer with regret, coming out on holidays with the silver and what’s left of the bridal porcelain after twenty-eight years. Now I know one can act without thinking or feeling, impulse stronger than guilt. Faces can be thrust before you asking why when you have no answer, blame as much a part of you as your t-shirt. After fifty, adults pretend they are not children, by then having circled back to what troubled them at puberty, aware that going forward is the same as falling behind.
Which Is a Universe Inside Then the moon was sinking on the other side of the river, having spent all night climbing, crossing, and peaking not only to assure lovers they exist but to give parasite eggs reason to hatch, greet life within a biofilm which is a universe inside an intestine with pathogens communicating to each other through a grid of electrical impulses like a city seen at night from the stratosphere. Lying across one another, legs not yet heavy on bone and arms too soon to fall asleep, we watch the steady shine go from one window to the next, by dawn framed behind bare trees and distant clouds, the water from our faucets clean, the decisions we are making clear. In Case You Forgot Then I got to the end, and I have to tell you I was not at all pleased. What they had in mind for me was not what I expected, and by then I had given so much that you can just imagine. There wasnâ€™t enough. If I had time just to remember what was missing, taken by so many.
Dog Eventually She was as complicated as the sky, and as empty, dog eventually barking at her moons, predictable as its phases. She’d push you away, for she who shoves calls the shots by cutting off, hand on valve sending love into another dimension, no longer accessible except to a saint already taken up, nothing left to vanquish, few of us in the end becoming the ones who make everyone happy when they think of us. Not quite rung nor level, more involved than merely “medium,” for one should question support in spite of ideal appearance, and, well, of course, that shunting. Not a place earned, either, not a badge or consequence determining the course of the absence of action, your wheels spinning, stage changing, the dog howling at a simple sunset. Lamp, Both Gone The room, empty and full of furniture at the same time, the last tray table and light they left in the living room might as well be my grandmother’s lamp, both gone while they sit there and glow, the ceiling at one time varnished in the fashion of the day, once brown with their cigarette smoke vanished under our paint. I took what was not mine, which was everything, and can’t be returned, for belonging is a feeling, not a fact, the same reason we love strangers or hide from family. I have a list I cannot find with all I meant to finish.
Selected poems by Gene Goldfarb For Whom I Weep I did not weep for relatives, sensing they wanted a death I had neither hastened nor delayed, my life having barely intersected theirs, although they bemoaned their mortality to trick me into giving them the benefit of the doubt that they loved life, which they did not, succeeding in borrowing a scrap of time so they could scold their contemporaries and attend their own funerals in advance and cluck their parting wisdom. Yes, I did weep for King Kong misunderstood and feared, and all he did was chase a little blonde girl around Manhattan to have for his own heartâ€™s jewel after they had kidnapped him and taken the great ape full of blind brooding vigor to their own false Jerusalem, where he could not survive.
The Pendulum When I was a boy and saw the pendulum at the United Nations building swinging next to the stairway in such clean wide downward arcs I found it more impressive than all the important diplomats and the foreign leaders there, more striking than their fine speeches about world peace and the need for cooperation and how progress couldnâ€™t be stopped or if it was, woe unto us. Its movement so clean it would have been perfectly fitted for beautiful, public executions. The only thing that could diminish its breathtaking amplitude was something called friction, perhaps the grit of national pride having cramped into the dark oily pivot that suspended the bob way out singing endlessly to gravity.
Lost and Found By Michael Washburn
Ed Wright was thinking about Murphy’s Law once again: If something can go wrong, it will. He’d been desperately trying to impress his employer and hold onto his job, better mediocre wages than none, and now his car had conked out on the way back from a convention in Bakersfield, meaning he’d miss a meeting about one of the accounts they’d finally trusted him with. Ed had to crash at a motel some 50 miles from Bakersfield while the local garage rummaged around for a new alternator. As Ed checked into the motel, he felt the anguish of a lifetime of failure afflicting him like a collapsed lung. He knew how unwilling he’d been to call the thing what it was, but here, indeed, was what people call depression. Ed sat in the lounge for a while, sipping a Coors and glancing from time to time at the football game on the screen overhead, unable to muster any interest, before noticing a man of exactly the same age studying him from a few stools down. Here was a thin guy with trim brown hair and an easy manner. Why was this stranger looking at him? Was the depression so palpable? As Ed was trying to think of an acid rebuke for this unwanted attention, the man said, “Mind if I slide over?” and before Ed could say anything,
did so. After introducing himself as Jack Flynn, he spoke of damage to his car that made a shot alternator look like nothing at all. “You’ll be out of here by tomorrow. I’ve been here for two days.” “Hmm. Well, I’ll be here tonight climbing the walls for sure,” Ed muttered. “You seem like you’re not the master of your world, guy,” said Jack, before inquiring about Ed’s work and love life, or rather the lack thereof. Ed would have considered some of the questions quite invasive but for his mood of weary resignation. “I can see right away you’re an educated fellow,” Jack observed. “For what it’s worth. I have this day job in Placentia, but I’ve tried my hand at writing stories. I have yet to get one published, though.” Jack processed this for a moment before replying, “I had an interest in writing once, when I was a kid, and the world drove it out of me.” “I have no idea what you mean by that.” “I wouldn’t have understood either, at a certain point in my life.”
“Don’t you think that a man who never reads or writes is a limited man?” Ed asked, forgetting his initial reaction to this character as curiosity stealthily took over. “That’s one view, of course. But think about what you’re not considering when you get into a poetic mood and you get caught up in the sight and feel of a rainy fall morning in the country, or some such nonsense. Somewhere else in the world, Ed, guys are sitting around, anxiously waiting to hear a decision from a bank’s board of directors, and your drippy poetic state is so irrelevant and meaningless to them, to the real workings of the world.” “Well, you could of course write a story about guys whose fate hangs on a bank’s decision,” Ed countered. “Render something like that realistically? Come on, Ed. What writer actually writes realistically about anything? If you were as technical and detailed about the bank’s deliberations as you’d have to be to render everything accurately, it sure as hell wouldn’t be fiction as most people understand the term.” “You want to be the master of a practical universe. Power to you, buddy,” Ed muttered. They ordered another round. At precisely this point, Ed noticed an attractive woman, in her 30s like him and Jack, sitting at the other end of the bar and smiling at him. Now Jack changed the subject.
“Look man, I’m a sensitive guy in some ways. Are you a light sleeper?” “No,” Ed replied. “Then I wonder if you could do me a favor.” The scenario was this: The couple in the room next to Jack’s had been getting it on all night, every night. Jack couldn’t go another night without sleep. If it wasn’t too much of an imposition, Jack wanted to know, was there any way that Ed could switch rooms with Jack tonight? Ed wasn’t a light sleeper by any means, and he felt like being nice to the man, so he agreed. “My God, thank you!” Jack breathed. “No worries, man.” They had a few more rounds before Jack announced that he was calling it a night, and the two men exchanged the keys to their rooms. “Calculate your tip correctly, all right Ed?” After this puzzling remark, the thin man was gone. Jack had barely left the lounge when Ed turned again to the blonde woman who looked as if she might have recently strolled off the set of a film with an A-list cast, and once again he was at a loss to say anything witty. The woman smiled and sipped her drink, but then she too rose and strode out of the lounge, leaving Ed to curse himself for the social ineptitude that had spawned such frustrations all his
life. He chatted with the bartender and glanced at the screen, knowing that the mild boost the evening’s diversions had provided would soon be gone and the rotten old despair would tighten its grip. Oh, that awful, heavy feeling! He was so conscious of all the idle talk he made with people, and felt that it wasn’t putting things too strongly to compare him to an animal that must soon be put down, nervously licking and nuzzling its owner for reassurances that cannot come. He left an adequate tip on the counter and sauntered off to Jack Flynn’s room on the third floor, a room exactly like his own except for a bit of overpriced luggage, and a copy of Institutional Investor and a matchbook on the table. When Ed had stripped and climbed under the covers, he heard a few words from the next room, not lustful or belligerent, just chatter, and then he heard nothing. About ten minutes later, before he could fall asleep, the phone rang. “Yeah?” Ed breathed groggily into the phone. “Well, well,” came a voice, a bit like what JFK would have sounded like if he’d lived into his 50s. It continued:
“Jack, Jack. You’re not so hard to find after all. Although, admittedly, I did call two other motels before this one. Process of elimination.” Ed lay listening, quite stupefied. “But to be honest with you, my guys have given up. They’re sick of this whole thing and so am I. They won’t stop bitching about this endless misadventure in the desert where 100 degrees is a cool day. And we know that even if we got you, you’ve ditched everything in the hills God knows where. I’ve called it off, Jack. I want you to know that you have a standing offer: Just give me back half, and you can come back east and live in peace. No one will ever go near you, on that I swear. Just think about it, all right, guy? Here’s how to reach me.” And then the voice read off a number. Ed leaned over and scribbled it on the matchbook on the table. Then he hung up and within minutes fell asleep. The dream that came to him then was bizarre, even for a man who had had the most vivid dreams his entire life. The door of his room opened, and in stepped the blonde woman who’d flirted with him in the lounge. She smiled and pulled off her clothes and then she was on top of him, caressing his body as it roused in every pore, kissing his lips and cheeks and nibbling ever so lightly at his ears, and this went on for several minutes before he saw
in the moonlight filtering through the window that she was really not quite as old as he had thought from the other end of the counter downstairs, no, the skin was sleek and soft and girlish, and his false sense of her had stopped him from recognizing a womanâ€”a girlâ€”he had once loved and then cast aside, and the thought stung him that his selfishness had inspired a dream where he could attain this experience, this object, with no trouble or bitterness, where he could set right a past that haunted him to no end. The woman was probably happily married today and had long forgotten about Ed and his shitty behavior a decade and a half ago, she was married to a good successful guy with progressive views, a guy who adored her and made her know it every day, and Ed Wright, the most rotten son of a bitch in the world, knew that he would rather have the most horrible nightmare than this dream that initially gave him pleasure. But it was a dream and it was finite. Early the next morning, as the phone call and the dream made equal claims on his mind, Ed slid out of bed and looked through some of Jack Flynnâ€™s personal effects in an expensive suitcase. He found a stack of photographs and flipped through them. To his amazement, one of them showed a little girl with a charming smile. He showered and dressed, committed the number on the matchbook to memory, and tore it up. He made his way down to the
lobby, where Jack reclined in a red chair reading a newspaper and looking as nonchalant as ever. Jack had slept well. Ed pulled up a chair right next to the other man’s and pressed his mouth close to Jack’s ear. “Look, Jack, what are you really about?” Jack turned to him. “Excuse me?” “There’s something odd about you. You’re a guy who’s got something to hide.” “Can you step back from whatever you’re feeling right now and see how strange your conduct is?” “No, Jack, I can’t.” Jack gazed at him, a cool appraising look, then sighed briefly. “All right, let me come clean, Ed. There’s something I was going to ask you to help me do. I have to go to the hills to get something and I could use someone to help me move it. If you’re in, you get a portion, and we’re talking about something pretty damn valuable.” “So you’re not in such a hurry to get to Van Nuys?” “It’s Saturday. Neither of us is in too much of a hurry, correct?” Ed thought of his piles of unpaid bills, and the embarrassment that always gnawed at him because of how empty his wallet was.
“All right, Jack, I’ll help you.” Half an hour later, the two men were cruising in Ed’s repaired Saturn on a ramp leading off the interstate and onto one of the back roads that were not technically nameless, but were impossible to distinguish from one another. The road was an uncurving streak of gray beneath a vista of blazing sand and hills resembling mounds of clay shaped by a lunatic—so it seemed to Ed—and a sky of pure cobalt blue, a blue that never varied and could make you yearn for the seasons if you were from somewhere else. Jack was quiet until they got a couple of miles from the motel. Then he said: “Ed, do you consider yourself a loser?” “No.” “Okay, I’m just asking.” In the corner of his eye, Ed detected another nonchalant grin. “I did notice that you don’t wear a wedding ring. There was a time when that would seem unusual for a man of 29, forget about 39. But I know how it is with some guys in our day and age. Time means nothing to them. Mess around, refuse to grow up, treat a woman who’s cared for you like dirt—and then, before you know it, your hair’s falling out and your gut’s hanging out of your pants and you don’t have a wife or a kid—any man who’s for real has
both, in my humble opinion—or any prospects in that regard.” Why was Jack doing this to him? As if Ed didn’t know what his life was. Still he gazed ahead at the uncurving road. Jack continued: “I didn’t believe you when you said you voluntarily left your last job. I know why you’re making less than guys a decade younger. You got fired from your last job because you totally misjudged the market for those credit default swaps—you thought your job was just like selling insurance—and it really bit you in the ass. You had no idea how many claims would come in, in cases where the loan worked out fine and the customer didn’t actually lose anything.” It was true. “Yes, you thought it was like selling insurance. Poor fool.” “Look, this isn’t my idea of constructive criticism,” Ed protested. “I know, I’m just razzing you, guy,” Jack replied. Ed had to come up with some kind of comeback. There must be something he could throw at Jack! “Do you know who Ezra Pound was?” Ed asked, turning his head slightly toward his tormentor. “No.”
Now Ed tried to look a little smug. “Caliban casts out Ariel,” he said. “Look, man, it’s not that I think you’re a disgrace and your parents should never have brought you into the world,” said Jack. Now they were approaching a hill like something from a Martian landscape, curving and segueing into a row of other hills and buttes, cracked in places like an old clay vase, looming in its fearsome immensity over the sand and tar. “We’d sure be in a jam if another part of this car failed,” Jack put in. “You do know to change the oil every 3,000 miles?” Jack let out a chuckle as that last sentence passed his lips. “That’s uncalled for, Jack, okay?” But now Jack said, “You want to turn right up here,” directing them around a gnarled and barren tree to a side road, barely visible until you reached it, leading to the foot of the hill 500 yards away. Ed looked around and considered Jack’s remark and reflected on how easy it would be to die here. The car edged over the rough terrain until they were at the base of the hill and there was no use for the car any more. They clambered out and Jack opened a flask and drank from it, then handed it to Ed, who was in
awe of the vast spaces around them. It was not a good kind of awe. “All of this makes you feel kind of small, is that it?” Jack leered. “Listen, buddy. You may think I’m a nasty, abrasive S.O.B., but I want Ed to realize that if he had the potential to become anything, there’s no excuse for being nothing.” Ed let this latest provocation pass. They climbed up through one of the scars in the hill’s wizened face. It was not surprising that Jack needed help when it was practically all you could do to move your own weight and keep your balance here. It occurred to Ed now that Jack could talk to him any way he pleased because he knew how desperately Ed needed cash, and he had been naïve to expect otherwise. Yet he felt the other man’s words like a lash and knew he had nothing, nothing at all, to throw in Jack’s face. They kept climbing through the pass, which reminded Ed of a trail through the steep dunes that divide the glider port in La Jolla from the beaches far below. At length they came to a cave where walking was a bit easier. Ed followed Jack and the stones littering the cave made him think how satisfying it would be to bash the man’s head right in. For his part, Jack had the air of a kid at his birthday party, leading the other kids toward a stadium.
Finally they reached a heap of rocks, and without a word, Jack set to work removing them, and Ed fell in. They tossed the boulders into the nether parts of the cave, and the rocks crashed and came to rest amid the stillness of centuries. Jack had done an expert job of covering up the loot. When the last rock was gone, Ed was looking at ten bags of cash. Jack stood over them looking like a cowboy who had wandered into a saloon full of willing women. Each man grabbed five bags and then they began the trek back to the scarred face of the hill. Ed wondered if it would arouse Jack’s suspicions if he did not inquire about the source of this loot, but he held his tongue. Soon they were sitting in the car with the loot weighing down its rear half, just barely fitting in the trunk, and Ed brought the tired vehicle to life once again. Oh, Ed, came that mocking voice again, isn’t this more than you would ever have seen in your sorry life? And now that film played in Ed’s mind’s eye once again, a life of stumbling and frustration and vast investments of time and effort yielding more of the same, from nowhere to nowhere, nowhere to nowhere, watching men ten years younger get married and promoted, in a world full of possibilities that flourished into breathtaking reality only for others, never for Ed Wright. They had both grown hungry, so they decided to stop at a roadhouse about 60 miles outside of Bakersfield.
It was a black and white beacon as isolated as a balloon drifting through Siberia. So little rhyme or reason guided the encroachments of people in the desert, Ed thought. The two men climbed out of the car and strode inside and sat at a wooden table beneath a framed photo of gold miners in a canyon, one of whom had a curving mustache and a grin suggestive of some measure of success in the venture. A waitress came to the table, a redhead with the jaded look of someone who is used to being leered at by desperadoes. They ordered beers and sandwiches and watched the attractive woman come and go, Jack notably more admiring than Ed. Two beers led to six. At this point, Jack turned his torso in such a way that Ed glimpsed a pistol in a holster sewn next to his left breast pocket. He wasn’t sure if this was intentional or not, but he realized that Jack probably had no intention of giving Ed part of the loot. “Ed, Ed. I can’t say I’ve met a dumber man than you.” The explosion caused by this last straw drew the gaze of men and women at three other tables, when attention was the last thing they needed. “Christ, Jack! Am I stupid because I don’t make six figures? That’s most of the planet, you fucking asshole!” Ed bellowed.
“Ed, Ed, sit down. Sit down now. I’m just razzing you. Come on, sit down, the next round’s on me.” He sat down and the other patrons lost interest. “Look, man, I’m curious about guys like you, about how you think. I thought I might actually get an insight this way. I’m sure you have all kinds of cherished memories from your liberal arts college.” “I do. All kinds of memories.” “Tell me.” Ed paused, regained control of his breathing, and then began: “Well, I slept in a lot of beds, but those trysts aren’t what I remember most often. Not at all. In fact, I think about someone I knew, in college, who wasn’t as practical as you are, but had this tangible persona. If you must know, Jack, it was a young woman named Sarah Palmer, a woman I wish I’d been mature enough to treat much better. But I do relish my memories from the brief time Sarah and I were involved with each other. I ate with this schoolmate, we got into arguments in our philosophy seminars, and our experience was inseparable. I still hear her voice, crisp as if I’d graduated yesterday rather than nearly two decades ago. It was the damnedest thing when I went to the town—a college town—where my classmate had grown up, because I had such a strong sense of the person from this other
setting, from college, and now here I was one evening, on the streets of this town where my acquaintance had walked before, I was there all alone yet on another level not alone, and it was just the oddest thing I’ve ever felt. Here was a woman walking her dog, here a trio of kids on bikes, and I looked all around at the quiet streets, and I thought—well, I really don’t know how to describe it, Jack.” Jack looked bemused but didn’t take any of it seriously at first. “It’s not exactly déjà vu, it’s—I don’t know what to call it other than extremely strange. And if you knew a thing about literature, I’d explain it to you in terms of distinct Nabokovian personalities with a powerful sense of each other, of their complementary nature. You’re not well read enough.” Jack grinned, to suggest Ed would really have to come up with a better put-down. Ed continued: “But, Jack, I’m quite sure that the Irish-American mobster you ripped off must have known something akin to this strange feeling when he went to St. Louis, when he explored a neighborhood in the suburbs and saw a scarf, a coat, a face on a girl that looked uncannily like a younger, female version of yourself,” Ed said, recalling clearly one of the photos he’d glimpsed in Jack’s luggage, showing a
girl smiling warmly at the camera with a bridge in the background that clearly identified the location. “A lean angular face with straight brown locks. It must have been strange for him to see this in an alien setting, bizarre indeed,” Ed said, studying Jack’s face with relish. Jack looked as though he’d swallowed broken glass and it was just beginning to cut into his insides. His face was pale and his mouth inverted like a man sucking on an elephant’s trunk. He gasped, spluttered, slammed his left fist into the table. “No! No fucking way!” “Yes, Jack. You would think nobody could underestimate how long the mobster’s arm is, but a certain person committed that idiocy.” “How do you know this?” Ed was really enjoying Jack’s reaction. He relished the chance to push the knife in deeper, to twist it around a bit. “I don’t really feel like telling you,” he said. “Please, Ed!” Jack nearly begged. “Oh, well, you know, I got a call from a rather ticked off fellow. He and his men are in the area. He’s got to have the money back in the next hour or he’ll give the order to kill your daughter!” Ed replied.
“Give me the number,” Jack demanded. “I’m not giving you the number or the car keys. And you know that if you shoot me your daughter will die. I told the man that only half the cash is left, and I’m going to oversee this transaction if you want to see your daughter again.” The unlettered man named Jack Flynn enclosed his burning face in his hands. He said, “I’ll never forgive you. This isn’t justice you’ve achieved here, Ed. If you think it is, you belong in a straightjacket in a padded room. This is a fucking cheap shot!” Then he simply got up and stole out of the roadhouse. Ed would never see him again. Ed Wright ordered another beer from the attractive waitress and thought about several creative ideas that had been germinating in his head for a while. He’d have a bit more time to ponder these ideas and reflect on his burgeoning creative sensibility before he had to get back to L.A. Ed relished the prospect. To paraphrase Saki, romance at short notice was becoming his specialty.
Selected poems by Samuel Triolo A Wide Open Mouth We treat the water she Pours onto her cucumber plants So it is less-like-tap-and-more-like-rain by Way of systems with barrels and levers And sieves. It isnâ€™t as unnecessary as A garden played classical music but Still seems misspent time. For her, I pick Some ripe ones inside mason jars.
She wears yellow and will stay, imagined, in Yellow now. She slices more beautiful Cucumbers in two directions throws The pieces into bowls in a motion. The cloths I Wear here are too warm. She Balances her tools against her Gardenâ€™s wired fence. It makes me go Into her bathroom And flick the untreated water At my face; get Into the mirror; Examine the definition Of the crescents, grey
And below my eyes. I want To hide in my hair. I Want her garden to come through This cycle. I want genuine rain; it Would save us time and I Could treat myself to a conversation and speak slowly Because I would work each Word out twice before I said them. Little Changes on Matisse I can trace Green Line from memory. The Nose is like earth because It all spins off the Nostrils. Mine turns into My college “Yours Truly” Each time with “the Hair” and the “less Asian.”
These variations are Ignored cavities. Matisse Was never quoted because I don’t Google things he has said. He
Painted reluctantly and because He was depressed but had An ability to hear colors When he listened to music. He sighed After every stroke and wondered if It made him feel any more relatable. “Sad music Is white or blue,” he would Have said if anyone bothered To ask him. BlueWhite instruments; A cello, Very little percussion. One green line from between The eyes and just into the top lip. Adjacent Rooms and I Call Myself Names My housemate and I have The same wall.
I want to move his Possessions around from my room through The wall with my mind While he sleeps and I can’t sleep. It is morning When I hear a dog Chase a shift. To wake
Up to find your bed and Dresser have switched And to wonder how you Could have slept through The renovations Is to have to be Somewhere in 45 minutes And have a mild hangover And have your way out Be blocked by a shelf filled with Hard-backed books; they remind You of words and I close my eyes and sit Upright on a bed. The way I do it Makes it look like it is an honest manâ€™s work.
San Marino By William Blome I count aloud the dancing minutes As they increase and gather near sycamores, And the morning unfurls across high lawns Like a journal written on a bright orange scroll. Did you really think Iâ€™d get stuck in cement When they fashioned new sidewalks in San Marino? For the trick on all that uphill earth Was to walk as if peaks in the distance Were spongy cones near and ready for grabbing And your husband and I were agile as shit, As we laughed and hugged and skirted the workmen All down on their knees, smoothing concrete, Smoking cheroots, and wishing us well.
Segue By William Greenfield being enamored by things; the taste of cinnamon and blueberries, the red beginning to flourish on laden branches along the highway, a scent left on her bed clothes But, in the end, it is the long conceptual composition. A crescendo sets my nape hairs to bristle as it takes me full circle to a melody that ends just as it began. In the end, given the warmth of her hand in mine, it is these melodies I will miss the most.
The Absolute By Kiran Damodaran The red-white canyon remains untouched by rainfall. The man walks north into the intensifying darkness, the weight of his body deserting his mind without regret. He surrenders. As he departs from the cliff, he recognizes the blur: the heights, taller than he'd ever imagined, the short fall, a seemingly unending end. The body descends into the delay of darkness. Leave the soon-to-be mere indent-in-the-groundâ€“ the smart investor, who purchased a front-row ticket to his own funeralâ€“ the realist, who held himself captive in his mind, clinging to precipices for fear of a tidal wave, forgetting he was the warden of his own prison. Undefined by his face or his memories, enraptured by numbness, he resists his dissipating instincts to scream, to fight back, to devolve, and accepts the secure nothingness that seeks to extinguish the unreachable candle inside. He hits the dusty bottom. For when darkness followed he reserved no absolute but this.
Crossing By D.A. Young
The traffic light at San Antonio Avenue flashed "Walk" before Jamal reached the curb. He ran the last few steps to the crosswalk, and slowed abruptly to a stroll, behind the old lady ahead of him. In the blush of Sunday afternoon sunshine, he ambled across, his hands in the pocket of his blue jeans, tennis shoes scuffing against the pebbly asphalt. He should have called Calvin and made sure he was home. But he'd probably be there since his car wasn't running anyway. That meant killing a six-pack and watching basketball on television. Perfect. The old woman ahead of him cast a sidelong glance back. He glimpsed the turn of her sallow, veined cheek. She traveled fast, her cane not slowing her down any. She probably wanted to make it across before the "Walk" started flashing, before the two lanes of idling cars were ready to roll. Her quick stepping, the cane crunching smartly on the pavement, reminded him of the way his Grandma Vivian used to cross the road, her cane stamping along briskly like this old lady's. Ain't no thing, Mama. They ain't gonna run us over even if you still crossing when the light changes. But he could see why she was hurrying. They never
gave you enough time to cross these long intersections before the light began blinking. If you were old and couldn't move too fast, there you were, trying to get across with everybody staring at you. He wasn't hurrying. He would get to the other side when he got to the other side. That's all there was to it. He caught her looking back at him and looked behind himself. Nobody behind him, nothing to see. What's up with her? Wherever she was going, she must be running late. She ought to have somebody taking her around, but he guessed she didn't. Otherwise she wouldn't be out here with her cane trying to get to the store, or wherever, and home before her knees started hurting her. Right on cue, the "Walk" light winked frantically. He tskâ€™d, watching the old lady quicken her steps as best she could. They must know how many steps it took to get to the middle, and then they made you nervous, tried to rush you across. They ought to put a little more time on the clock for old people. He glanced at the waiting cars, didn't hurry his walking in the sunshine pace. Theyâ€™d just have to wait. The old woman reached the curb and looked back at him. Sunshine flashed on her wire-framed glasses. Her mouth trembled, lips parted as if she were about to say
something. Did he know her? Did she know him? Was she one of the ladies who shopped at the FoodMart, who came through his line regularly? He smiled at her, but let it crumble as her look struck him like a hard flick of sand in his face. He stepped past her, staring at his tennis shoes, away from her frightened gray eyes, away from the straight tense line of her lips. The sun fell hot over him, its heat barely cut by the flat brush of breezes. He didn't want to look back, didn't want to care, but he felt her gaze burning the back of his neck. He turned his head, looked back anyway. Her glare slapped him like a clop of thrown mud. Calvin's house was another block down the street. That first beer was going to taste too good to be true. He was just taking a walk, going somewhere like she was going somewhere. It didnâ€™t mean a thing. He strode on, but her face hung in his mind, white and glaring like the sun.
Selected Poems by Richard King Perkins II Blur the Night Blur the night when I last forgot that I was imaginary. So what if I blurred the night when I first gave in to the certainty that dying was real but momentary? And the night old man Kenton gave me a toolbox of hasps and files and I laughed on the rooftops because it hurt so much either way. And that it made me sadder than a swan twisting its own neck to breaking. And when towheaded Sarah heard me strangling myself, she asked me to go away and took back her salutations and native song. Such cruelty. I still remember the greetingâ€” her hazel eyes holding back six possible futures and the promise of a Danse Macabre.
Others of Our Kind Late, just a bit too late for the moon to lose its purpose; swallowed by the Susquehanna Valley, I drive back to work to cloister myself for a few more hours, denying myself a place of intimacy in the rural darkness among humans and others of our kind. Iâ€™ve stolen a place of diffused light and seclusion to find a lesser view of fellowship; its dark and complicated yearnings. After work, I drive to the fluvial watershed and pry the moon loose from a bear trap, releasing it into a new and distant orbit that isnâ€™t an orbit at all.
Your Brown Hair By Jessica Wiseman Lawrence
I could pull my dream from last night out of the knothole hereâ€” out of the wood on the back porch. I could weave the nighttime dream and my waking one into a movie in my mind. When the tears begin to slide down my shoulders, when they puddle in my chair, I will take the weaving-dreaming, and braid it into your brown hair.
Paul Taylor to Martha Graham By Michael McManus He argues that she continues to dance well past her prime in 1965, and consequently defends his own unique style of dance Ordinary. Ordinary. Ordinary. In you. I see. A jaded choreography— The ruins of a poetry. Martha, the windows we watched your world through have broken. The shattered glass at your feet is bloodied from your attempts to reach the past. Now my choreography captures the soul’s reflection. In it we find what’s rare— a feral cat’s explosive leap after a fly, or the blind man kneeling in a rising stream, roiling from a recent storm— He cups the muddied water in his hands, brings them to his lips to drink, and by this act he can see. My stage, unlike yours, turns into a fluid landscape for my dancers to explore. I dress their bodies in black and hide their eyes behind insect-like goggles. They dart like dragonflies. Watch them come to a standstill like the world’s ending. Listen to the sudden diminuendo in the music. Martha, why is your mouth agape like a holy man who has lost his religion? Do you now understand the nothingness we find in the dead? How they answer
us with silence? I want that nothingness alive on the stage, a moment that is translated into love. One chance for everyone to recognize those tender mercies as they stand quivering before the abyss, moments before they fall into the dreamless faith that kills everyone in the end. Martha. Let go. Become elegy. Know that my premise goes beyond movement, form, expression, the beauty of the thing. I once focused on your geniusâ€” Now itâ€™s a vase filled with dead flowers. We know that they will never grow again.
Raindance By Marcella Benton the wind and the rain and the dust have started they swirl just above the gravel with skeletal smoke hands of a cauldron casting a spell of gray over everything they crack a whip of lightning through the sky and like the moment before a plate shatters on the floor everything stops and takes a breath of panic until bouffanted bushes teased by the wind cower under wild palm trees trading high fives and chignon trees spin into messy beehives forced into heart-thumping dances they shimmy and throw their arms in a foreign sign language in such a flurry only the youngest leaves can hold fast and someone watching from a safe distance might think god if only I could be that free
Selected poems by Marco Kaisth Barrow Song Burnt and spun out by sunset, now lies, cool and calm, the highway strip. Tar stretches forward as the tomb-pits back; the bank and sway of iodine hip across linoleum flesh reminding me of angelnecked girls who strung leg to infinity. There is a time and place but we can’t find it and our soles are wearing thin, our minds bearing down on throat and gut, forcing thought into body’s slick, dark crags. We are sinking into ourselves, preserved in those final blacktop glances, tumbling loosely into the shade of young calf, listless and leaflike, dancing across the endless ebon, settling final in the heavy grey of median. tide Your hair cut the light like an olive tree grasping at the moon. Torchbugs flit ‘tween gnarled limbs of Hindu Gods, beckoning
cerulean skin dancing in the clarity of night, like sailors in oil paintings, frozen and forlorn. I see the grass stretch now, see the nape of your neck reach. You unfurl and cover the world like a limping mist, hugged between the ground and forever too far. play17 There are fibers in your mouth now and they stretch across, tight like batâ€™s wings, slick filament, tar black breath baking. Eggshy, fingers twitching for screwball delusionals and pulp memoirs about incest and drug abuse and rape and children of cults, waiting across park benches. You are wonderful in the horizontal, but soda-flat everywhere else; the fizz is gone and so is the laugh and the smile and the world is all at once too big and just too fucking small. A leathery claw twitches between earthworm lips, sachet brown, old old old, and quickly hides inside.
Brush quick, fruit bat, big eyes, too-shrunk nose, looking a bastard mockery of the flying and the grounded, humble, nightshorn, cheek-filling, tonguesplaying, tooth-batting, bay against the rib cage and sing through the shoulders, pulse through the cells and singe all the nerve endings. Learn to weave again.
Caravan Song I was endlessly taunted by the stripes on your back and the way your skin folded like mountain tops baking in the sun and in the end we were quiescent lovers of overpriced drugs and shitty music and you threw your shoulder blade over for the last time like a Claymation dinosaur hatchling in reverse, returning to egg, and itâ€™s all a cruel temporal mockery and you are not as big as you were and not as big as you will be and
suddenly we’re stretched thin and pallid like clouds over a dull sunset until I feel the tar hugging my legs and see on either side roadkill. Inventory: Hoop earrings, Heart shaped charm, Pink tongue stud, I don’t know what to think anymore, Nothing is death proof, ageless, I think of your skin and then wax paper, Stretched thin and tight over loam, Bursting from the la’ers between. There is a dark skid beneath us, A casual grain of sand crunched between our teeth And sung into the throat, to Climb walls and hum gullies of the Fleshy gut.
Terror Lynchings By W. Royce Adams
Listening to the radio program Democracy Now the other day, Amy Goodman featured a story about the Equal Justice Initiative’s report, “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror.” The multi-year study documented almost 4,000 racial terror lynchings of African Americans between 1877 and 1950 in twelve Southern states. The report stirred up a part of my past I usually manage to suppress. Our family would never talk about it over the years, too shocked, too embarrassed, too willing to wish it weren’t so. As time passed, when I did think about it, I began to wonder if what I’d seen was real. Now I know I witnessed the aftermath of one of those 4,000. My dad decided to take us on a trip down south to visit relatives and places he had left behind when he was about eighteen. As an eight-year-old, the hot June drive from St. Louis to Wiggins, Mississippi seemed never ending. My dad’s heavy, black, 1933 Terraplane Hudson had no air conditioning, no radio, and scratchy gray wool seat covers, hard on a boy wearing shorts. Mile after mile, it didn’t take long to grow bored of singing Old McDonald-type songs. My parents tried to encourage me
to be on the lookout for anything unusual or different from home, strange looking buildings, landscapes, or animals that always seemed to be cows or horses. Having me look for the frequent Burma Shave ads along the highway gave my parents some relief. “Past Schoolhouses…take it slow…let the little…shavers grow…Burma Shave.” I was probably the kid who originated the phrase, “Are we there yet?” But the miles and time did pass and we entered Wiggins early in the morning. I was semi-asleep in the back seat when I heard my mother say, “Oh, my god! No.” My father made some gasping sound. “What?” I sat up looking around. “Don’t look,” my mother said turning to me. “Close your eyes.” But it was too late. As my father hit the accelerator, I saw out the back window what I was not supposed to see. My eyes stuck to a black man, clothes torn mostly off, hanging by his neck from a large tree that spread halfway across the street. As the car gained speed, I watched the image fade but never really disappear. “Turn around,” my mother ordered, harshness in her voice I’d never heard before. “Quit looking!” That tone and look were not like her, so I turned forward in my seat.
She looked back at me, making sure I’d turned around, then at my father who kept his eyes on the road, saying nothing. She looked forward again. Silence became a kind of suffocation. The sudden tension in the car unsettled me. I didn’t understand. Why was he hanging there? Why did he do it? Was it a real person? Was he dead? By my parents’ reaction, I sensed a disturbing seriousness. Should I ask questions or stay silent? I wanted so much to look back. I wanted to know the meaning of what I had just seen, make sense of my parents’ reaction. But they stayed silent so I did, too. Part of our trip’s destination was a stop at my father’s Uncle Carl’s home in Wiggins. I don’t remember his wife’s name, but I will never forget him. We were greeted by what some call Southern hospitality. Lots of hand shaking, hugs, introductions, how-was-the-trip questions, and pitchers of cold lemonade. Once the formalities ended and we were shown where we would sleep for the night, my mother and Uncle Carl’s wife disappeared into the kitchen. My dad and I joined Uncle Carl on the wide front porch. “Quite a greeting we had entering town, CW,” my dad said, addressing his Uncle Carl. I soon picked up the
fact that his southern family relatives called each other by their given names’ initials. “What greeting?” My dad stayed silent and waited. “Oh, that. Yeah. Saw it. Well, let’s hope that’ll remind ‘em of their place.” He took a sip of his drink. “Their place?” my dad asked. The muscles in his cheeks twitched. “Why, pshaw, W.R. That nigga’ done got what he deserved. Attacked a white girl. When those uppity coons see what we do when they step over the line, they’ll remember what’s what.” “Son,” my dad said, “why don’t you go explore the backyard, see what you can find.” I knew he wanted to get rid of me, but my curiosity was more than piqued and I wanted to stay. I wanted to know more about what we’d seen. “Go on, now,” he insisted. “Sure, there’s a big weeping willow tree out back, sonny. Branches touch the ground. You can hide under it and we’d never find you.” His uncle laughed. Instead of hiding under the tree, I slipped around the side of the porch where I could hear most of their conversation. The two of them soon got into an argument, their voices rising and falling. My dad used words like
shame, lawlessness, and stupidity. His uncle claimed the “filthy nigger” got what he deserved for what he did to a white girl. Words, like “nigger, coon, jiggaboo,” were foreign to my ears. I didn’t know what he’d done to a girl, but when I realized what other people did to that man I thought he must have done something pretty sinful. There was a pause in their arguing about slavery when Uncle Carl went in the house and came back out on the porch. Apparently he had gone in to get the Bible, because I heard him say to my dad, “Here. Right here. Leviticus 25:44-46. ‘… you may purchase male and female slaves from among the nations around you. You may also purchase the children of temporary residents who live among you, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance.’ ” “Shoot, CW. That’s using ancient history as an excuse,” my dad countered. “Just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s right. Men back then wrote that for the benefit of their people. It’s not even a Christian part of the Bible.” “It’s in the good book, WR. God’s word. Blackies never shoulda’ been freed. Gave ‘em all the wrong ideas.”
“You mean the idea they’re human?” my Dad’s voice rose. “Somewhere in the Bible it also says you can have more than one wife. Do you believe that, too?” “Not a bad idea.” His uncle chuckled. The women gave a call for lunch and the conversation ended. Someone called out for me but I waited a few minutes before going in, not wanting to give away my hiding. “That’s some tree out back, eh?” Uncle Carl asked me at lunch. “Hundreds of years old.” I nodded in a lie. I’d never gotten around to that tree. I still had a different tree on my mind. I was a confused eight-year-old uncomfortable in a strange adult world I didn’t understand. My mind tried to make sense of the conversation I had heard. Never heard such talk at home. What I had seen kept bothering me. Yet, I felt shame because a part of me wanted to go see the hanging body again. Uncle Carl’s attitude toward most everything confused me. What did it mean that the Bible says slavery is okay? What was slavery exactly, and what did it have to do with the hanging man? That evening after dinner and a restless, boring conversation about relatives I didn’t know, my dad took me for a walk. “I’m sorry you had to see and hear what went on today. Are you okay?”
“That was a real man, wasn’t it? Why’d they hang him like that?” I blurted out, happy to bring the talk back to my confusion. My dad didn’t respond with a fast answer. He sighed and finally said, “Ignorance. Hatred. For a start.” I still didn’t understand. “What did he do that was so bad?” “They claim he attacked a white girl.” “What’d he do to her? Why didn’t the police arrest him? Why did they have to hang him?” My lack of understanding agitated me. I felt tears coming and didn’t know why. My dad hesitated. “Carl says the young girl accused the man of hitting her. Some people don’t want colored folks even talking to a white girl or woman. When word got around town, things got heated. An angry mob formed and they took matters in their own hands.” “Why didn’t the police stop ‘em?” “It’s hard to stop a mob.” Then he muttered, “Chances are the police might have even taken part.” That surprised me. All I could say was, “It’s not right, is it?” “No, it isn’t. What they did was wrong. I want you to know that. What’s behind this is difficult to explain. I know it’s not helpful to say some day you’ll understand
the history behind this. At least I hope you will. What you’ve experienced today is a step backwards in time. A step in the wrong direction. Something you shouldn’t have had to see or that ever should have happened.” “Why does your uncle say such bad things about colored people?” “He was taught to think like that. His parents taught him those feelings. His friends feel the same, and they take comfort in that. I’m afraid a lot of Southerners feel that way. Today should teach you to not think like he does. I want you to know he is wrong.” “You’re from down here. Why don’t you think like he does?” “Different backgrounds, I guess. When I was eighteen, I worked in a country store down near Pervis. The owner was a decent man. He had a lot of colored folks who did business with him. Sometimes a client couldn’t pay, and they’d trade some crop they grew or a chicken or rabbit for whatever they needed. If they had nothing to trade, he’d give them credit. I saw him treat Negroes just like he treated white folks and he made sure I did, too.” “One night we were doing inventory and a noisy bunch of horsemen rode up to the store front. They yelled for us to come out. Floppy hoods covered their faces, holes cut out for their eyes. Some held guns, some held flaming
torches that framed them against the dark. Just the sight of them set me shaking. My boss didn’t seem afraid, though.” “What did they want?” I asked. “They wanted him to stop dealing with coloreds, sell only to white customers.” “Why?” “Well, times were really hard then. Farming was tough. Jobs scarce. A lot of whites blamed the blacks for their troubles. Some thought Negroes had jobs they should have. They needed somebody to blame and the colored were convenient. Anyway, my boss stood up to them. Told them to go home. Called some by name even though they wore hoods. He recognized some of them by their horses, or by their shoes or clothes they’d bought in his store.” “What happened?” I asked. “They rode away, but warned him to do as they said or else.” “Or else what?” “I never found out. They scared me enough that night that I went home, put everything I owned, which wasn’t much, in that little trunk you’ve seen at home, and high-tailed it to St. Louis.” “What happened to the store man?” “I never found out. I’ve wondered about it enough, though.”
“I hope nothing bad happened to him. I hope they didn’t hang him.” “No, I don’t think they’d go that far,” my dad tried to assure me. Still lost for any real understanding, I told my father, “Well, I’m glad you’re not like your Uncle Carl.”
Almost eighty years have not erased from my eyes that man hanging by his neck. Our family never talked about it again. But after that I became aware of “Coloreds Only” signs at water fountains, restrooms, and restaurants. While in the Navy, I even encountered prejudice toward my uniform with signs at some Southern establishments that read “No Dogs, No Sailors, No Coloreds.” Outwardly, “Whites Only” signs have disappeared today, but only from view in many cases. The Democracy Now radio report on “Lynching in America” stirred up old memories and raised questions I wanted answered. I sometimes wondered if I had imagined the lynching I kept seeing in my mind, maybe created the incident after hearing and reading and seeing movies about such atrocities over the years. The report prompted me to look for proof that I had not made up what I remembered. I did some research and discovered a small column on page 21 of the June 23, 1935 New York Times:
NEGRO IS LYNCHED, ANOTHER WHIPPED Mob of 300 at Wiggins, Miss., Hangs and Shoots Man as Attacker of Young Girl. HIDE HIM FROM OFFICERS Second Negro is Seized and Beaten on Charge He Insulted a White Woman Wiggins, Miss., June 22 (AP) One Negro was lynched and another was spirited into the woods and whipped in the course of twenty-four hours of mob rule by citizens in Wiggins today. R. D. McGee, 25-year-old Negro, was hanged to a tree and his body pieced with bullets about 9 A.M. for an attack on an 11-year-old daughter of a white dairy farmer... Stone County was in a state of excitement until the mob of about 300 dispersed and Sheriff J.A. Simpson and the Coroner had the body cut down from the tree beside a narrow road. Later the Coroner and peace officers met and held a formal inquest, returning a verdict that the Negro â€œcame to his death at the hands of unknown parties.
So, there it was. I hadn’t imagined it. I had witnessed a murdered man, R. D. McGee, left hanging on a tree by a mob of angry whites. While researching this hanging, I discovered many disturbing photographs exist of African-American mutilations and lynching. In the Amy Goodman radio interview, she interviewed Equal Justice Initiative Director Bryan Stevenson, one of the compilers of the “Lynching in America” report. He explained that in those days before the Civil Rights bills were passed, and sometimes even after, lynching became what he calls a “an intoxicating social phenomenon.” With no one stopping them, people got away with abducting, torturing, and lynching African Americans for no reason at all or for a made-up excuse. A black man in Blakely, Georgia, came home from fighting in World War I and was lynched because he refused to take off his American uniform when told to do so. Another black man bumped into a white girl while running to catch a train and was hanged. Whole communities would turn lynching into picnics and social get-togethers. Thousands of people gathered in Dyersburg, Tennessee, to witness a black man’s eyes being gouged out, his body mutilated, burned alive and hanged. Stevenson refers to such actions
as acts of terrorism, used to scare and control AfricanAmericans. Stevenson says in the summary of the “Lynching in America” report, “We cannot heal the deep wounds inflicted during the era of racial terrorism until we tell the truth about it. The geographic, political, economic, and social consequences of decades of terror lynching can still be seen in many communities today and the damage created by lynching needs to be confronted and discussed. Only then can we meaningfully address the contemporary problems that are lynching’s legacy.” I could have done nothing as an eight-year-old to counter the actions and beliefs of a man like my Dad’s Uncle Carl. But as I grew older, I did nothing of major substance to fight racial discrimination. My father, as an eighteen-year-old, ran away from the problem, though passing on to me his distaste for racial prejudice. As a family we grew up tsktsking bigotry, but managed to avoid taking part in any helpful action. Perhaps by not perpetuating Uncle Carl’s line of thought we made change in some small way. And now, as racial tensions continue to hurt and destroy, it is obvious we did not and have not done enough “to address the contemporary problems that are lynching’s legacy.” This legacy is seen today in the inequality of our
justice system: racially based incarceration, capital punishment, excessive sentencing, and police brutality. I continue to wonder what turn of events makes a man like my father and what makes a man like his Uncle Carl. I’m no longer that shocked, naive eight-year-old, but I’m still trying to understand the hatred and injustice that leads to brutal inequity. We shudder at pictures of the atrocities done at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and at the beheadings done by terrorist groups. Look back at the photos and historical reports of the terrorist treatment of African Americans. It could help bring about a better understanding of today’s racial biases and point us in a direction of evolutionary moral growth. *Equal Justice Initiative. (2015). Lynching in America: Confronting the legacy of Racial Terror. Retrieved from http://www.eji.org/files/EJI%20Lynching%20in%20America%20SU MM ARY.pdf Goodman, Amy. (2015, Feb.11). Transcript of interview with Bryan Stevenson. Retrieved from http://www.democracynow.org/2015/2/11/as_study_finds_4_000_lyn chings Negro is lynched, another whipped. (1935, June 23) New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.rarenewspapers.com/view/570101
Selected poems by Kathryn de Leon Walks with My Father (June 21, 2007) I took walks with my father at twilight after he'd left my mother and was living alone.
When the sun was gone, the sky filled with heavy blue like an eye tearing up, an after-dinner sky as deep as ripe fruit, a nourishing blue, my favorite time of day. He said his mother hated twilight, the dimming light depressed her.
I remember talks of ghosts and aliens and nothing else from our walks. We both believed but wanted proof. He said he'd communicate with me when he was gone, a Houdini-like promise made at twilight.
I constantly asked God to let me keep him a bit longer, and He did.
With time, the walks became shorter, his pace slower, until the walks were whittled down to my father in a wheelchair, then down even more to him sleeping while I read by his side.
His last days were Spring's last days, warm and full of sleep. I think those days were for me, God letting me keep him a bit longer.
The last time I saw him his eyes were closed as mine were the first time he saw me. His life closed its door on summer. I still wonder why.
Peaches The peaches made me cry, two or three in a brown paper bag left on the washing machine by the back door, the bag bunched closed where my mother’s fists had tightened it around the untouched peaches after the final hospital visit to her dying sister. It was not the imminence of my aunt’s death that made me cry nor the fact that she was unrecognisable, not even my mother’s description of her sister’s bones visible through a coating of yellow skin, it was the way the bag of peaches sat crumpled and lopsided, the peaches inside red and heavy with pain, never to be eaten, leaning into late September shadows like a slow mountain darkening at twilight, or a weary person giving up, letting go and falling into a welcomed, inevitable sleep,
as my mother did twenty-six years later, as I will also do, not so long from now.
Tattoos I will cover my tattoos when I am old. I'll be embarrassed that people will wonder why the old lady has a volcano on one side of her ankle, a palm tree on the other side. I'm told the bright colors will fade to bruise-blue. The volcano will lose its purple slopes, the sunset red and orange behind it will also go. The palm tree's green leaves will darken as if a cloud has passed over the sun or twilight has fallen near the sea. I'll pull a sock up over the tattoos in winter. In summer I'll wear pants with long cuffs that cover my ankles like sad curtains dropped when the show is over. They say you take nothing with you when you dieâ€“ that's wrong.
The tattoos will go with me, colorless but faithful to the end. At death whoever prepares my body will see the tattoos. Maybe they will touch the cold pictures framed in white, feel them like braille, trying to read the life just finished, the blue stories that have ended there.
Kaleidoscope By Carolyn Elias
Objects forgotten: my grandmother clock pendulumâ€™s swing or the tune of shattering china like pollen germinating. Glass kaleidoscopes, blue pinafore dresses, or sailboats with laughing children in sepia photographs. Static bits and pieces of the days and nights we spent gluing together the filaments of our lives.
Twelve Variations on a Left Hook By Amber Kelly-Anderson She broke his nose, Sara told her mother, Because she lost her temper in the heat of the moment and, no, she hadn’t been drinking, but yes, maybe she had been working too hard. Of course she had been raised not to behave like an animal. No, she hadn’t forgotten how to deal with her emotions like a lady. Yes, a slap would have certainly been better if she really couldn’t contain her physical impulse toward violence. Absolutely she would think about forgiving him and asking his forgiveness in return. Yes, it would be the Christian thing to do. She broke his nose, Sara told her brother, Because he was a no good, cheating, goddamn son of a bitch. When she saw it with her own eyes, the disgust swallowed her like Pinocchio in the whale and she couldn’t help herself. Lucky for him, her pencil skirt was too tight for her to knee him in the balls. She would have done that, too, and she would have enjoyed it. She broke his nose, Sara told her father, Because she wanted to make him hurt as much as she did for treating her so badly. She hadn’t
thought, in her wildest imagination, she was strong enough to do any damage, but perhaps all those self-defense lessons he gave her in high school had paid off. It was best, she agreed, not to share that last part with her mother. She broke his nose, Sara told her sister, Because he broke her heart in a way she never realized possible. She felt like she was the one who had been beaten. There might be bruises on his face, but her entire self was a map of bruises, each dark impression a mark of something that should have warned her to cut and run. He shattered her trust and self-worth—mugged her of all that felt good in her heart. Sara still wasn’t sure she could ever again let someone in like she had him. She wasn’t sure she could survive it. She broke his nose, Sara told her ex-best friend, Because the two of them were worthless, betraying shits who deserved each other and whatever vengeance Sara and God might reign down on them. And no, she couldn’t actually pass for twentyfive anymore. She broke his nose, Sara told the police officer, Because she was tired and angry and did not mean to hit him so hard, but her heels were really high
and her feet really tired so perhaps she lost control, but honestly it was more accident than assault. She might have even stumbled a little. His nose probably broke her fall. She broke his nose, Sara told her new best friend, Because he had it coming and everyone knew it. She broke his nose, Sara told her next boyfriend, Because during a heated argument he moved toward her while she was gesturing with too much force and caught him just wrong. He understood and forgave her. They agreed to remain friends. She broke his nose, Sara told him, Because fuck him, thatâ€™s why. She broke his nose, Saraâ€™s lawyer told the judge, Because after working thirteen hours straight for the fifth day in a row as the assistant to a man with documented mental health issues who made unreasonable demands in addition to using verbal abuse, Sara came home tired and vulnerable to find two people she trusted betraying that trust. Due to her fatigue and low blood sugar, having not had lunch or dinner, she was not in full control of her physical person and, while gesturing in anger, exerted more force than necessary to her thenboyfriend when he moved toward her, causing
accidental contact with his face and the subsequent breaking of his nose. As Sara was a woman with no history of violence, no criminal record (not even a speeding ticket), it was indisputably an accident. She broke his nose, Sara told her court-mandated anger management group, Because she too often found herself in unhealthy relationships which exacerbated her habit of internalizing her frustrations. By not owning those feelings, and verbalizing them, she placed herself and others at risk that eventually her internal dam would burst, causing her to act out in an inappropriate way. She broke his nose, Sara knew, Because she wanted to feel the crunch of his skin and bone and cartilage on the other side of her fist. To watch the blood gush down his front and into his open fly, staining his expensive white boxer briefs that accentuated him to the point of vulgarity, ruining his rumpled polo shirt in its annoying shade of orange that someone called Creamsicle in a fit of misplaced whimsy. To show his spread-legged cobetrayer on the couch a man torn down, broken. Sara wanted her to forever carry the image of him clutching his face, wailing and crying, doused in his
own snot and blood. She wanted to mark him with her wrath. Leave him limp. And know that she had smashed something beautiful in a way that might never be recovered.
Selected poems by Valya Dudycz Lupescu Phantom Leaf Effect I. When a leaf is ripped, Kirlian photography of the remaining parts will show the complete leaf, including the missing “phantom” portion. II. The men I know have Rolodexes, not cookbooks. You have recipes and a rolling pin. We meet up to make deep dish. I watch your hands, follow your lips, note the hair on your feet. “Part hobbit,” you tell me, and I almost believe you— made of myth and music, there is magic in your chest of herbs and heavy incense. Fans slice through hot air, hot breath, as we knead the dough and almost touch, discussing Sandman and modern fables, trying to sound so smart, so clever, so irresistible, but saying more in our pauses and sideways glances. We do not notice the baby cardinals until it is too late. Trapped in the kitchen vent, they suffocate while we burn the sauce. Still, we overlook them, our flaws, in favor of the slip and slide of lips on unfamiliar landscapes. So much smolders and dies that summer of ’95 in Chicago. We fly too close to the sun. III. Wagner cut it; Dumitrescu ripped a hole inside the center to see if it would know, would show its loss.
IV. Months later, land transformed by loss, the winter winds hollow out all the warm, moist places. Trees bend, their bare branches cleaving onto echoes; but God is in the rips, the tears, the holes. The whole remembers what is lost. Tree People The cat jumps up to explore the Sunday morning landscape of arms and legs crisscrossed under sheets like branches in a thicket. Parents bookend three children still young enough to seek comfort in a crowded queensized bed. The small explorers brave monsters in the dark, avoid the squeak of well-worn floorboards and creaking joints; half-asleep, they fold into blankets, wrap their arms around necks, and nestle into shoulders still strong enough to hold up the world. A gentle head-butt and brush of fur, paws on backs and over legs stir the saplings into waking. Slipping through my fingers, they peel away and launch headstrong into all the things that children do. My turn to sleep in, I relive dreams hanging in the bright dust of morning. In the kitchen, dishes clatter and children prattle; but I wait to be tempted, ripped away with the smell of coffee and cinnamon.
In fairy tales, cats perceive what cannot be seen. As she circles and curls beside me, I wonder if the cat knows my secrets. Can she somehow sense that even as I dig deep to hold onto their roots, I am reaching for the sun. I need to sleep on this poem, slip beside it under the blanket, caress the places it dips and swells, wrap around it until I fall asleep, then dream, reach for it in the night, press back against it, forget about it until I wake, stretch out alongside it, hold my breath, lie there listening, curl up closely, trace its lines, find its rhythm, and play with it until it comes.
Selected poems by Francine Witte There was a time when the earth was flat, ironed out to the edges, and if you traveled far enough, you’d simply fall off, get swallowed up in some open spacejaw. This was how it was, until one day, the scientists said no, and even worse, proved it with measured shadows and inconsistent stars. Soon, there were divisions, camps of believers and non. Possible brothers who had suckled at the same breast, now shunning one another. Maybe lovers arguing, the air hissing out of their balloon-y relationships. Love itself going flat. And yes, it’s easy for us now, to laugh at their tiny mindsets, and give ourselves a collective nod as we sip on our café lattes some dressed with foam, some not.
Thirst We are thin now, hands dry as old wishes. All we wanted was love, but settled for a passing touch. Inside, too, we are desert. Even for the miles of blood, oasis of heart. Nothing really is wet enough to quench the constant need. Each morning, we wake up drenched in sweat. Tempted to drink it, lick it off our fingers. Instead, we wring our empty hands above the kitchen sink. Each day is a bony crawl on our bellies. Sand-scratched as we claw our way to evening. And every night we realize, how exactly the same we have become, older than our whole lives, younger only than our death. What the Gardener Forgot Strange shade of blue for a watering can. Too bright, you said. Then you said my name. I was a flower for you. Always growing and opening in the sun. When you said my name, I would look at the rest of the garden. I was that watering can, too blue, and abandoned on its side. The gardener might not remember how much he needs it. How all the plants will need water in the same way a woman needs love. At night, when itâ€™s moonglow and you have left me, I lie there, waterless, hollow.
It’s Still Me By Chelsey Drysdale
I stared into familiar blue eyes of a smiling stranger outside a restroom in an Italian restaurant. A tall, blondhaired bartender in a black apron stood next to me with his hand on his hip smiling. I smiled back. “Hi!” I said. He was inviting. There was a long pause. “You were my student teacher,” he said. I recognized the voice instantly. I flashed on a skinny 16year-old with short hair in 1999 American Lit. “Holy shit! Ethan!” “Yeah, it’s still me under here.” It had been nine years. I looked the same, now 35, but this bashful surfer appeared to be a man. The 25-yearold had gained a fair amount of weight, in addition to lengthy tresses and a beard. I told him I quit teaching after two hellish years. He said he thought about teaching, but would take “failed musician, thank you.” I was surprised by how happy I was to see him. We hugged, and I gave him my card. On that warm fall day in 2008, it had been six months since I left my fiancé and his two children in Georgia. With the pain of the breakup and his mother’s
sudden death, I had cried myself into a size 4, a size I hadn’t been in a decade. I was again a free California girl, feeling both sexy and beat down. I couldn’t handle another traumatic breakup. I was entering the “fuck it” years when I did whatever without considering the consequences. I was open to anything that didn’t have a future. Two weeks later, Ethan emailed me a hesitant message addressed to “Miss Drysdale—I mean Chelsey!” We then volleyed words for three weeks—all through email. We argued over what hockey team was better: my Kings or his Ducks. Oh my god, where have you been? he wrote when I told him I played fantasy hockey. We analyzed the musical incarnations of Ian MacKaye. In high school, he was a straightedge kid in a Minor-Threatchanged-my-life way. He didn’t drink, have sex, or do drugs. The last part was still true. He told me his friends used to tease him for having a crush on me. But mostly, he made me laugh. You and I liked the same things, and I took a lot of flak from the kids outside of class. Mostly getting called out on having a crush. I like to think I paved the way for young high school dudes out there who got weak in the knees in your classroom. I’m a pioneer. What can I say? In 1999 I thought of him as a smart, kind kid who occasionally got in trouble for talking. My mentor teacher
once intervened. She took Ethan and another student outside to chat. Both boys were sheet white when they returned and were quiet the rest of the period. Out of a class of 30, he’s one of three students I remember. I have an image of him blushing, his head down, giggling as his friends teased him. He said I had been a hot teacher in a land of rich kids with little to do. I called him young man. He called me Letourneau and asked in jest if I wanted to move to Hollywood for his tour managing career. I later gathered his life as a tour manager for his younger brother’s metal band consisted of booking gigs, collecting money, and doing the duties of a glorified roadie, like packing the fuck out of the bus—he bragged—and driving it all over North America. We made plans to make plans for a cocktail, but I was in the middle of planning my best friend’s bachelorette party. He had gone to a bachelor party in the summer, where they slayed some babes. What the heck does “slayed some babes” mean? I questioned. …exactly how it sounds. On those nights, that’s what your [sic] supposed to do. But that was so long ago. I was like a child then. Did you check what Ducks game we’re going to yet?
When I corrected his improper use of “your,” he blamed his cell phone. You know ol’ Ethan got 800 on the verbal because he had an awesome student teacher as a sophomore, he said. You were a junior. Just sayin’. Nah, dude, I was totally a sophomore. I used to cherish every moment of that class as a young lad who totally felt a connection, and you blocked it out because you hated me, so I might be the more accurate historian here. I told him I never taught sophomores and never hated him. Well, the teacher was a babe. I suspect you are all kinds of trouble, my friend. Am I right? I asked. “Great time” is a better description, he wrote. Well, I’m a “trouble” or “great time” magnet, I said. You are an “everything” magnet. You just decide to talk to the trouble. He had a point there. He had a sea of acquaintances in high school and five real friends who were still around, except for one who
decided to leave us early on and by his own means. Long story. Not one I tell often. It sucks. Worse than anything I know, he said. I offered my condolences, and then I had a dream about him. A dreeeeeaaammm? How was I? No, what happened? Tell me every last detail this instant! Just a kissing dream. Nice though. I don’t know where that came from. It most likely came from your deep-seated attraction to me, he said. I told him it could be from all the gushing he’d been doing. Puh! I do not gush. You are something else talking to me that way, Chelsey Bone, making stuff up out of thin air. He asked me what I possibly could have considered gushing. All that talk about me being “super hot” and an “everything” magnet and the “weak in the knees” comment. I could go on if you want, I said. Nice detective work, he said. But that’s what I love about you: your attention to detail. I remember everything and I write about it, so watch out. But we don’t have any stories yet, I said.
So hot. Also, never start a sentence with “but.” C’mon, C, you know this. I have no idea what you’re talking about. (Never end a sentence with ‘about’—a preposition.) If you know grammar rules, you can break them. Come on. You know that, Ethan. I told him I’d see him sometime later in the week. He said he’d waited seven or eight years, so seven or eight days wouldn’t be so rough. He declared you’re a quitter, Drysdale, when I said I was hitting the sack. I feel like I got hit by a truck right now, I said. It’s my calling in life to hear you say that again, he replied. The next afternoon I told him I was exhausted. Well, I’m still in bed if you’re feeling tired. Or experimental, he said. He said he was ambitious and creative; I told him I was creative too. Talk is cheap. Prove it. We decided to get a drink the next night. Drinkies are fun, but you’ll have to drive if we drink. It is unlawful in the eyes of the state of California for me to operate a motor vehicle with any amount of alcohol in my system thanks to a random violent offense that I am
guilty of. But not alone. It was a random group thing. I’ll explain in person. He never did, but I surmised it wasn’t something he started and wouldn’t have happened if he’d been alone or sober. I was thinking DUI. You’re full of surprises, I wrote. I got one of those too, but it’s over and behind us, baby. The road will do funny things to a man, my dear. Don’t hate me. It’s still me under all this. That was the second time he’d said that. Why and what was he hiding under all this? I envisioned the crazy things he’d done on the road. I told him I couldn’t imagine how many people he’d had sex with. I’m a virgin, I’ll have you know, he responded. Yeah, so am I, I joked. Well, why don’t you find a friend and we’ll toast up a nice virgin sandwich for daddy bones. So you want to go from being a virgin to a threesome? You haven’t even gotten me into bed, so to ask for a third party is kind of greedy, don’t ya think? I would hate a third party with you, actually, because I have so much pent up angst in ever seeing you again. I would hate to waste it on someone else, he said.
That’s better. I’m probably all the woman you can handle anyway. Probably way more than I can handle, I’m assuming. He was right. For someone who had been arrested at least twice, there was something innocent about him once he dropped the online façade. I told him I’d pick his felony ass up. You have tails from the road to tell me. TALES. Duh. There were tales on the road and tail on the road. It was hard to stay a virgin, I would say. You were a virgin before going on the road? And after, he joked. Ethan later clarified. Every once in awhile on the road, there’s not enough babes for every dude, or they can’t choose, so you improvise so everyone can be happy. I should have just admitted I wasn’t a virgin. I was going for shock value. I was about to chauffeur a guy ten years younger than me who couldn’t drive if he drank one beer. (Never mind he was once one of my students.) I enjoyed the attention and knew what was underneath all this. I have a history of caring for broken men; in the process, I’ve become broken too. I no longer vie for the wrong kind of male attention, but at the time I was just getting started.
When I called to pick him up, he was at his mom’s house. He said he didn’t live there. He couldn’t remember the street name, and he sounded more nervous than he did in his emails. “How do I get to your mom’s house?” “Hang on.” He set down the phone. “MAMA?!” Calling to his mom, he sounded like a child. It was endearing, and I was a sucker. When I drove up, he was standing on the curb. I was relieved. I didn’t want to go inside to meet his mom. “How do you two know each other?” would surely come up. Yeah, about that. He was wearing a black puffy parka meant for colder climes than November in Orange County. He stared straight ahead in the car as we drove. His jacket enveloped his silky hair and hairy face like a turtle shell. He said it was the only jacket he had from being on the road. I took him to Island’s, a restaurant that couldn’t be misconstrued as romantic, in case my instinct was wrong, and we were just two people catching up, instead of two people who were about to have sex. Dinner conversation flowed smoothly. We reminisced about his high school friends. Innocuous topics
filled space and time before the main event. Neither of us drank much. When he went to the restroom, I paid. After dinner, I took him to the two-story condo where he said he lived. When we pulled up, he asked if I wanted a drink. I said yes. We went inside, but drinks were never mentioned again, and I didn’t care. His buddy was on the couch playing PS3 war games in honor of Veteran’s Day, himself an Iraq vet. We parked it on the opposite couch. Ethan put his arm behind me, but didn’t touch my shoulder. I felt like I was in high school, and waited for him to make a more solid move. He didn’t. We sat there for an inordinately long time watching his friend play video games. Ethan was waiting for a sign. He got one. His friend showed us his new tattoo. I asked Ethan, “Do you have any tattoos?” “Yeah,” he said, and lifted his jeans to show me the one on his calf that read “Drug Free” in faded font. An old one. His calf was of no use to me. “Do you have any more tattoos?” He lifted his hair off his shoulders. A neck tattoo. Perfect. I tickled the place where the amorphous blob covered the back of his neck. He closed his eyes. A chill went through my back. I then glided my fingers down the side of his hair, placing the locks carefully behind his ears.
“Your hair is so soft.” “Let me give you the tour,” he said. We were off the couch, up the stairs, and in the bedroom in seconds. The clean room was small, barely fitting a bed and a wall-hanging bookshelf. Tons of books lined the shelf, including multiple works of Palahnuik. “I love him,” I said, pointing to the shelf. Ethan sat down on the bed. “I have no excuses for you,” he said. “We can’t even pretend to watch TV.” “I don’t need any excuses,” I said, making eye contact. “Question.” “Yeah?” he asked nervously. “Do you have any condoms?” “No, I honestly didn’t think anything was going to happen.” “We should get some.” “Okay,” he said eagerly. “But first, kiss me.” Our first kiss was scarily comfortable and intimate. His lips were familiar, even though I’d never touched them before. I helped him out of his jacket, black t-shirt, and jeans. He was self-conscious for a second without his clothes on, making a joke about penis size. “No, you’re good,” I said, and meant it. He relaxed. I knelt next to the bed and drank him. It was quick. He said
he didn’t think anything was going to happen, and yet he had shaved. “That was the second fastest I’ve ever come,” he said. What the hell was the first fastest? I thought. I laughed. We kissed more with him lying on top of me, both of us clothed. After making out for awhile, he sprang from the bed and declared, “Field trip!” The teacher-student reference didn’t hit me until the next day. At the local grocery store, he mentioned, “I’ve never actually purchased condoms before. On the road, they’re always just there.” Fortunately, he didn’t seem nervous now. I, however, was on alert. We made the potentially embarrassing trek quickly without incident. This time he paid. I was glad we didn’t run into anyone I knew. He probably wished his whole junior class was waiting for us in the checkout line with balloons and confetti. Back in the bedroom, we made love for two-and-ahalf hours. A clock was of no concern. I later called it lovely. It WAS lovely, wasn’t it? he said in a post-coital email.
We had been in a zone, eyes locked in understanding. His long hair hung down and tickled my face. He was right about the connection he said we had. Lying naked, intertwined in the moonlight, I complimented him. “Sexy,” I said. “Nuh uh,” he sang. “Yes,” I said. “Nuh uh,” he repeated, grabbing me tighter, shaking his head. He received a text that he held up for me to read. I hope you’re getting an A, it said. “B minus? C plus?” he questioned. I laughed. I still don’t know who sent the text. After sex, he went down on me. “I bet it tastes like condoms now,” I said. “Is that what that is? I thought that was true love.” Aside from humming Hot for Teacher after it was over, teasing me for making him “wear a bag,” and moping because he didn’t get me off when he got off three times, he was blissfully silent. He smacked my butt cheeks softly in succession every few minutes. “What are you thinking? You’re so quiet,” I said. “This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he whispered.
I hugged him harder. “Well, not the best thing,” he backpedaled, but the words were already hanging in the air. I looked at the partially used box of condoms. “We have more. We should really do this again.” “Yeah,” he said without conviction. At 1:00 AM, I got dressed. “Where are you going? Get back in bed with me,” he pleaded. “I have to work tomorrow.” It was late, and I thought we’d see each other again. He didn’t want me to leave. I should have stayed when I had the chance. Downstairs, his friend was still fighting fake wars, wearing a ridiculous grin. I drove Ethan back to his mom’s house to get his car. He hugged me. “Thank-you-thank-you-thank-you.” “No, thank you,” I said. He hopped out of the car, clutching the condom box and disappeared. Two days later, I emailed, Want seconds? No strings. A few hours later, he replied, That’s the best first email to get after getting shacked in the green room. Translation: He’d been in a work meeting. He didn’t answer my question.
Maybe he knew no strings was a lie girls tell themselves, or maybe he was 25 and had just banged his high school English teacher and was now going back on the road. A future was obviously unrealistic, but we’d connected. The part of my brain that blurred the line between sex and love questioned, Why doesn’t he like me? I then surmised he had a girlfriend. In every Facebook photo, the same adorable girl with long black hair was draped over him. Her name was probably Ashley or Britney or some such unoriginal ‘80s concoction. Then I remembered him carrying the box of condoms back to his mom’s. He had to get rid of the evidence, I thought. I wrote another email. Do you have a girlfriend, Ethan? Just curious. Why on earth would you think I have a girlfriend? Why so curious? Just a thought I had. Why you dumb dumb. Okay, so I was wrong. I acted like I wasn’t pining over him, but I’m sure I was transparent. After one do-over marriage and other life-changing heartbreaks, I now was acting like a teenager and felt desperate—the emotion that ends all possibilities. I had never acted this way, even when
I was a teenager, waiting to kiss the right boy until I was 17. Fuckin’ jeepin’ on me, Ethan said, when I casually mentioned other men who liked me. You have to stop speaking in code, I replied. It means you’re cheating on me. It’s from Clueless. Isn’t that movie in your wheelhouse of time? He disappeared for a long time after that, but I remained mildly obsessed, following his life on Facebook. He went back on the road and videoed horrific scenes of dirty tour bus living. The band consisted of skinny, pretty boys with shaggy black hair and no beards. He was heavier, the opposite of his metal-head friends, and even though the life of the party, he was with the band instead of in it. A failed musician, I thought. But I’ll take it, he said a month later on instant messenger when he was drinking liquid courage in someone’s basement in Detroit. Are you on a PC or a Mac? he asked. A PC. Why? Damn. If you were on a Mac, we could use iVideo and get nasty, he said. You’re killing me. We could have gotten nasty in person. He hinted that I wasn’t into him.
You have pretty eyes, I said. Lies. I really did like you. Erroneous. I have to be leery of your cunning eloquence, he said. Then he switched gears. Where are my nudes? he asked. Where are mine? I have no camera or form of carrier pigeon. Liar, I thought. What do you want to see? I asked. Did I stutter, Chelsey? No. I took a cell phone photo of the bottom half of my body and hit send. No, no, I’m a boob man, he responded. I sent him a photo of my breasts to his satisfaction. I said I’d send him one photo for every day he was gone: 30 more days. He didn’t believe me. So, for the next four days, that’s just what I did, adding a sexy little message with each one. My legs. My belly. One of them even included my face. I heard silence, but I’m sure his band heard plenty. On the fourth day, I instant messaged him on Facebook to ask if he was enjoying the photos. He logged out. I quit sending them. I felt used and pathetic.
I didn’t stop following his life from afar, however, getting jealous of a video he posted from Montreal, where he ate his fist while a gorgeous woman spoke French to him. I couldn’t bring myself to delete him from my friends list until one day when he posted a status update about having a beautiful naked woman sleeping next to him. He really needed to grow up and stop fishing for validation. So did I. I deleted him and didn’t know anything about his life until almost a year later when I noticed we now had a mutual Facebook friend in common. By this time, I wasn’t obsessing anymore, but I still thought of him as more than an anecdote, and started checking in on him again. I had seen what was underneath all this, albeit briefly, and whatever was under there was getting swallowed by a monster. Constant binge drinking. Blackouts. Mysterious piercings. Punching holes in walls. Sucking on girls’ feet. A new tattoo. Chaos on the road. Fuck this and fuck that. One day he posted a photo of a homemade sign sticking out of flat grasslands. It read, “Jesus is real.” Underneath the photo he had written Prove it, Kansas. I’m too tired for your guilt trips.
What was I thinking? crossed my mind when someone tagged him in a video where he was drinking cheap vodka straight from a plastic bottle. He emptied it. His face and body were starting to take on that characteristic alcoholic bloat. “Straight. Fucking. Edge,” he said as he slammed down the empty bottle. He had created a persona hell bent on shocking a large audience. Each senseless act topped the previous one, until there wasn’t much left that could shock. He was living every day like it was his last. Until, it was. Twenty days after his 27th birthday, he died sometime between his last status update at 10:00 PM the night before asking, Does anyone have any hockey skates I can borrow? and 10:00 AM that morning when the rest in peace messages started piling up from across North America. He was universally adored. One girl wrote, What fresh hell is this? Indeed. It didn’t sink in for a few hours. I took the news calmly. But after Googling his name and reading many messages posted by devastated friends and one very devastated brother, it hit me. He was really dead. I had daydreamed that I’d stop by his restaurant soon. He’d be in his apron behind the bar. I’d reach over and give him a big hug. Maybe he’d swallow me up in his
ridiculous jacket. We’d exchange a few sweet words. I’d kiss his scraggly beard. No hard feelings. I should have said an unknowing goodbye. Unfinished business is so unfinished. For the next three days, I pondered how he died. I didn’t know his friends, his brother, or his parents. I cried in the shower. I cried in bed. I cried at my desk. I was alone. I couldn’t explain my sadness to anyone. I woke up in the mornings thinking, Ethan’s dead. I said it over and over in my head to make it more real. I heard his voice: “This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” After a few days of asking around online, I picked up my cellphone and saw these words from a girlfriend of his: “…some people went back to hang out at Ethan's. Ethan was drunk…and got his hunting rifle. Evidently he walks around with it drunk and pretends like he's hunting all the time. But this time he loaded it. A friend tried to take it from him…He said something like, ‘Oh, I'm not gonna do anything stupid,’ and put it in his mouth and almost dropped it, fumbled with it, and his finger landed on the trigger and it went off. This was at 2:45, and the coroner didn’t get there until 6:30.” He was going for shock value.
I didn’t expect something so horrific. Many visions had gone through my head: car accident, alcohol poisoning, even a hockey accident. A gun never factored in. Now I had a new set of visions. Eight people saw him blow his head off. The screams. The terror. The blood. It was implausible. He ruined his beautiful long hair and adorable face, I thought. He snuffed out hilarious wit, shy hesitation, and crazy antics in an instant. Did he blow out the back of his head? Did it graze the side? Were his blue eyes even decipherable anymore as he lay on the floor? How does a person shoot himself with a hunting rifle anyway? If someone dies, how long does it take for his mom to find the naked photos of you—and other girls—on his cellphone? This wasn’t exactly the most forthright suicide, but anyone putting a loaded gun in his mouth, drunk or otherwise, must at least subconsciously want to end it. My heart broke for his mama. Incredulous waves washed over me that made me want to pick minute pieces of his 27-year-old brain and skull off the carpet, wash the blood out of his hair, mold him back together, shake his shoulders and yell, “Why you dumb dumb!” Plus, he still owed me a hockey game.
I wrote to a high school friend of his who thought the lifestyle with his current friends was a catalyst for his death, and that he didnâ€™t act like his real self around them. She knew the real him and his loving heart. She knew what was underneath all this. I wrote to his brother to send my love. He said Ethan had lived with their mom all along. He died under her roof. I keep thinking about what he said about his close friend committing suicide and how it was the worst thing he knew. If only he could have foreseen that he was going to do the same thing to his loved ones. The innocent kid in my class would never have believed it.
Leaving Wisconsin By CL Bledsoe There’s a hole in my soul that can only be filled by corn syrup and processed sugars; the sticky things comfort me. Preservatives keep feelings from festering while sitting on some cobwebbed shelf. I don’t know when the Hot Pockets will reach bottom but I’ve got to keep pouring them down until they do. Otherwise, how will I ever climb out? You don’t understand; if I lost weight, people would just want to screw me. And then, where would I be?
Selected Poems by Robert S. King The Way to Hope Unlike we who follow, hope never gets lost. We are dreams unattached. We trip on sorrows and detour into darkness like birds without wings. We wait for morning’s widening light when trees gleam and lean apart for our passage. Black clouds crack apart, and while they are gone we hold on and dream again. The Gravedigger's Blue Shift Years on this job with no benefits, a shovelman becomes good at math— mostly subtraction—yet dirt is the only bottom line I can count on. In the soil everyone eventually goes broke, even those with riches beyond their worth. Under the lids their eyes freeze in surprise. Life and Death exist in the same storm whose eye is never calm. I listen to winds arguing about who gets the spoils. I stay poor in pay but rich in long hours. I am the rotting fruit of society’s labor, my back bent into a semi-circle whose ends one day will touch, then blow away like so many other dusty winds passing through.
Just a low-life in a hole, I suppose, but I long to stand straight in the storm, hold up my shovel like a lightning rod, waiting for the final blow or the shock treatment that cremates me with peace. Can death bring peace or just another dark wind of eternal longing? No grass grows on this graveyard road where I bend over in warped servitude. I am Quasimodo with shovel instead of bell, one whose face is never eye to eye. The last I see of many are their backs. We all have the same last name. On the dead-end road, I am everyone. I have nothing but a shovel to lean on. Let me at least paint my own death’s images. Let snowflakes fall into all the mirrors I’ve ever known, down, down, down into a blue shift of space where I can see myself nearing, see the stars snowing down on my peaceful sleep. I will drift into all wonders, and the white earth and the black sky will squeeze closer together— my gray matter in the middle of everywhere.
Bar None Here in my best poker face I slump over again swirling liquid verse in a bar, too under to know if I cough up hairballs of true words or just cross the line of brawl. Scotch is my ancestor and my child. With swizzle stick for pen I stir a whirlpool in the glass, hoping for a better mix, for something to blend a different taste in night after night of bitters and burning. At happy hour everyone is either too friendly or too mean. I'm caught in the middle of hollow laughter, some my own, and throbbing songs to drown out the blues, but we're only the downbeat of a chorus, bluffing the players, keeping our glasses half full. Witnesses In one point of view, I dream of frenzied jackals, in another of lions purring on lamb pillows. My big picture windows tune into every possible dimension where a warp of shadow leaps
from screen to screen. Cat eyes are curious, never blink to miss what can happen. In one world the wolf is vegetarian. In another he sleeps at Grandmaâ€™s feet. We all live on the edge of couches, change channels to more exciting worlds where we too might be eaten alive. Maybe we won't even warn Little Red to see what can happen.
The Search By John Burgman
Three days ago, Terri called to say that my father was missing. Terri is my father’s landlord, and the de facto housemother at the wedge of apartments on the outskirts of town. The apartments look oddly dorm-like, perfect for ambitious and industrious 20-somethings, yet they are filled mostly with harsh examples of failed Ohio adulthood— steady alcoholics, deadbeats, degenerates, and broken divorcees like my father. Terri said that the front door to my father’s apartment had been left wide open, as if announcing a housewarming, but my father was nowhere to be found. I ignored Terri’s voicemails for as long as I could. My father’s pessimism and vitriol and general post-divorce mischief were precisely why I moved so far away, to the revitalized section of town that boasts life’s small domestic pleasures—an espresso bar, reading rooms, and summer symphonies in the park. I thought that Terri would just give up after my blatant disregard—why does she care so much about my father and his sad, solitary existence?—but instead, she phoned my older brother in Tucson. And so, yet again, my father has managed to cause headaches for my brother and
me simply by being absent in our lives. When I pick up my brother at the airport, he tosses his carry-on duffel into the backseat of my Acura with both hands like he’s heaving a large log. I can hear a mass of papers flop around inside the duffel as it rolls off the seat and onto the car floor, audibly punctuating how much of an inconvenience it is for my brother to take time off from his job to help me locate our father. “Have you been spending any time with him lately?” my brother asks as I drive. “Do you at least call him once a week?” “Sorry,” I say. I don’t actually have to apologize—I do check up on our father from time to time. But my brother is the one who makes decent money, and sends my father a little spending cash every month. As a writer and an adjunct creative writing teacher, I am stuck perpetually in a clench of inferiority. “You should be the one keeping him grounded,” my brother scolds. My brother leans his head out the window, his hair churning in the wind. We haven’t actually seen each other face-to-face in a long time, and I notice that he has aged into an acute likeness of our father—the same smooth nose, and now with the slightest trace of ensuing wrinkles, hair a
little thinner than I remember. “Are you still writing?” my brother asks without looking at me, his thin face still pointed into the wind like a weather vane. “Yeah, when I have free time,” I say. “Getting paid for any of it?” These judgmental questions—masquerading as intrigued, familial curiosities—are why my brother and I don’t talk much, and live our lives as opposite, refracting images from the same genomic lens. “I got $500 for a short story that got anthologized,” I say. (This is a lie; in actuality, the anthology promised me a royalty of 10 percent of net receipts up to $500, and I was yet to see a dime.) “$500?” my brother says, lifting his eyebrows like tree branches caught in an updraft. I know the facial expression—he is unimpressed. We drop my brother’s duffel off at my apartment and call Terri to say that we’re going to start searching for my father in earnest. My brother speaks to Terri on speakerphone. From what I can guess, Terri is in her mid50s, addicted to Botox, and rightfully stern as a landlord of so many of society’s lowest common denominators. But she always speaks about my father with an uncommon tone of grace and compassion. She likes to remind me frequently
that she has read both of my father’s novels. “It will be fine, Terri,” my brother assures into his smartphone. “He likes to abscond every now and then and hole up somewhere…yeah, sort of escapism.” Escapism? The word in the context of a missing person strikes me as odd—especially in reference to my father, who spent so many years fleeing from his marriage to my mother, consumed by his professorial tenure at the university, tuning out his family. The divorce had been the escape, so it doesn’t make sense to me that my father could now be escaping from an escape. My brother hangs up and pockets his phone—“That lady Terri loves to hear herself talk, doesn’t she?”—and then we hit the road. We stop to peer inside the handful of faux-rustic bars that we know our father prefers. They all seem to be cast in the same drab tones of brown, all smell of piss, all are mostly empty. We also check around the university campus, just in case my father happened to be struck by a wave of nostalgia for his previous, stable existence. It’s only 4:30 pm, but the sun is shining off the glassy windows of the campus buildings, simulating the gloom of sunset. My brother recommends that we grab a bite from the student union. “Wherever Dad is, he’ll still be there a half hour from now,” my brother says.
It strikes me that my brother has made his own escape from our family—a process that had been going on for quite a long time, beginning with his move to Arizona. I watch him intently for a moment, but hang my head so that he doesn’t catch me staring. I can recognize in his walk the same gait that I noticed as a child, the same older brother cadence to his steps. Noticing its permanence now makes me sorry that he is so ashamed yet bound to our family. We order tuna salad sandwiches and split a bag of lime tortilla chips. Students, stylishly disheveled, congregate at various spaces at the long tables. I used to eat with my father at this same cafeteria, at these same tables, and talk with him about literature. He would give me copies of the short stories and poems that he was teaching to his classes, Xeroxed theory essays with mesmerizing subheadings. I still remember a couple of them: The Architecture of Meaning and Dialogue and Dynamism in Fictional Spaces. “You should get back together with Ling,” my brother says with a bulge of tuna in one cheek, interrupting my momentary sentimentality. “You ever think about that?” In fact, I don’t ever think about it. Ling is a longgone ex-girlfriend of mine—a lawyer who was astronomically out of my league. The fact that my brother is still convinced that she would be the key to getting my
life on some hypothetical right path reinforces how comfortable my brother is with being out of touch. “Just eat,” I say, crunching on a tortilla chip. “Valerie and I got engaged,” my brother says. “No wedding date set yet, but probably within the year.” I congratulate him, but feel surprisingly melancholy. I imagine searching around town for our father by myself in the future, my brother completely and happily living a new and distant life. I am hopelessly oblivious to all of our father’s favorite hideouts and enclaves, while my brother had somehow whittled the act of searching down to a science. When we finish our meal, we drive until the highway exits to Central Park. It’s not the Central Park, of course, rather a gentrified attempt to concoct pastoral charm on the necropolis of an old coal plant. It is beautiful though, with swaths of bright flowers covering stacked rock walls, stone walkways winding like arteries through the lawn. I can’t imagine the present iteration of my father—laid off, discarded by his old editorial friends at the literary journals—ever frequenting such a tranquil space, but perhaps that is precisely why my brother has chosen to search here. “Damn, it’s getting cold,” my brother says, as if he is now insulted by the climate of his own hometown.
“Maybe we should file a police report,” I utter. I’m actually starting to get a little worried. My brother winces at this suggestion. He then lets out a snort. I don’t know what he’s more disgusted with: the fact that we are still searching for our father, or the unlucky existential circumstance of being adults and having to physically hunt for an elder family member. I get the feeling that my brother hopes this will, in some way, teach our father a lesson. Or perhaps my brother is disgusted with me, which grows increasingly likely as we continue to drive around searching and hardly speak. There is never an overt argument or any brotherly fuck yous, but I can sense my brother’s annoyance swelling; this town is no longer his home, this past has been sloughed off in collateral damage of his forward progress. Late in the night, we stop for gas. My brother has to check his work e-mails, and he slides his fingertip nimbly across the screen of his iPad as if sketching in sand. I am tired. I close my eyes. I don’t sleep, but awareness and reality are completely wrested from my mind. When my brother stirs me, I think I must have dozed off, and I am surprised to see that hardly any time has passed. “Terri called,” my brother says. “Dad came home.”
“Shit—,” I say, still groggy and grasping at my bestrewed thoughts. “Is he okay?” “Didn’t say. It was a voicemail.” “We should go check on him.” I know something is off when my brother and I arrive at my father’s apartment—a plodding 30-minute drive through downtown and out to the bland, farmy openness of the east side—and climb the steps to his door. The entryway smells like perfume, a sugary scent that makes me think of bulbous, exotic fruit. “Guarantee he’ll be drunk and passed out,” my brother says, making that same winced expression again. It is his new go-to mannerism, perhaps borrowed from his fiancé. My brother unlocks the door with the spare key on his keychain—something that he will undoubtedly bequeath to me upon his eventual marriage. He has trouble pushing open the door; a pile of discarded clothes— women’s clothes—catch on the door’s corner and drag across the carpet. My brother steps inside and flicks on the light. “Holy shit–,” he says. I step inside too and see my father stark naked and passed out on the bed. He has clothespins clamped in a line across his bare chest, forming a long zipper. His skin is so
white that he looks fluorescent. His penis is scrunched between his legs like a fist. There is a young, naked woman passed out beside him on the bed with clothespins clasped to her nipples, dangling like antennae. She looks collegeaged. One of her hands is bound to the bedpost, her legs curved toward my father. The two of them—my father and this unknown young lady—are side-by-side in this strange and private equipoise like lost ghosts, collapsed and cuddled together. My brother’s mouth is half-open, his eyes big and bright like balls of glue. It is a hollowed out appearance, taking in the scene. Finally, I think, my brother doesn’t know our father, nor do I. I untie the woman’s hand as she stirs to remove the clothespins from her nipples and conceal her breasts with a pillow. She is stoned, trapped in a slow choreography. She rolls over and is asleep again. My brother and I pull my father’s body so that it is not dangling precariously on the edge of the bed. It is like transporting an unwieldy mass, and it takes both of us working in unison to correct my father’s posture and lay his head on a pillow. We drape a bed sheet over my father’s pale body— he mumbles something, inaudible and heavily slurred. He is still wearing socks, loose on the ends of his feet like dark
tongues. It occurs to me, suddenly, that my father is apologizing. My brother leans close to my father’s face, reading his lips, wiping a smudge of lipstick from my father’s cheek. “Just sleep, Dad,” my brother says, slipping into a chuckle. “Jesus—just sleep.” My brother and I drive back to my end of town. The line of coffee shops and boutiques is dark and pristine, like a prison cellblock. The traffic lights are blinking yellow and foreshortened, glittering in their incremental distances. At my apartment, I take a long shower and make toast, slather it with butter. It feels good to do these familiar things in my familiar space. I don’t look at the clock. I can tell by the weight of my eyes that it must be early morning. I expect my brother to power through the night without sleeping a wink, catch the first morning flight back to Tucson. To my surprise, though, he doesn’t mention leaving. When I emerge from the kitchen, he has helped himself to a Budweiser and is lounged on the floor. He is slouched like a vagrant, his back flat against the door. He is grinning in between sips of his beer. I don’t have to ask what he finds so amusing—I already know: family erodes and breaks your heart, and the sheer certainty of that is astonishing.
I slouch against the wall beside him with my toast and think about, of all things, my father’s skin—puffy with tiny, red islands from the clothespins—and his body in our arms, hefty and warm, like a relic of a distant civilization, something priceless and forever lost in time.
Selected poems by Christine Degenaars Home of the Blues That night I found her in the bathtub, counting the dotted designs of the shower tiles that she said, if you looked hard enough you could see constellations. I wish I could say I had helped her out, that I said something funny about loss or the early spring or the backdrop patterns looking strange without the water on. But, I didn’t. Instead, I slipped in with her and stared until I, too, saw stars. She told me that I had been there when her mother had called last week, three days after the funeral. That she had found the note I wrote to remind her a day too late. *** Two years ago, we replaced the tiling behind the bathtub, turning it gray-blue like Appalachian mountains in May. To help the men, my wife removed the drawers near the tub, emptying their contents onto our floor. Pushing them into a corner, she’d left them forgotten, until today. At breakfast, she hints that she’s ready to clean them, to pick through what’s snared among the combs and rubber bands we’ve had since the Classic Cash album came out. Over her newspaper, she wonders what things she might find in the lotion bottles
and crumpled Walgreen’s receipts we’ve left there. But I know what she’ll be looking for, what she’ll tuck away into new drawers and corners. Tomorrow when she pulls out a pair of clean socks, she will see a picture of Casey, almost life-like, with a Tuesday written in ink at the bottom, dark as a mass card. One May I was eight when he left. I remember playing with the graveled dirt in my driveway as he went. I would pile the pebbles into my hand and carry them to the Forsythia bush at the edge of the yard. I’d pour them there for safekeeping, under the yellow-stained branches, thin and crooked-clawed. Maybe I should have known it was the last time I would see his back, see the way his shoulders sloped and rounded at the edges, but I didn’t think like that. As he went, he stepped on a yellow petal I had left, abandoned, and it was that petal, rubbed clear of its color, that I remember. And the emptiness that traced my father, that followed him, coloring the way he walked, the way he looked at the mailbox, at the dark metal of it, without looking at it at all. Jackson looked like that the first week after Casey died. I would watch him from the window walking through the yard, picking up twigs and branches and then putting them down again. There’d been a bad storm
that weekend and our own Forsythia bushes had been left, bent and buckled over by the wind. Their flowers had torn and the petals coated the ground. I watched as he paced the yard, hair covering his face. He paced and kept pacing, snaking through the grass, but he never stepped on those flowers. He never tore their petals with his sole, tattooing them to shoe rubber and leather. He never did that and he never left. Daddy I planted a sapling the year Casey was born. There was a patch of earth not too close to the porch steps that swore to itself that it wouldn’t grow any grass. I planted the baby tree there, promising that she would get enough sun. I watched her grow from the window in the kitchen and from the swing set where I pushed him on the days it wasn’t too cold. I planned to carve his first word into her skin and the date above it, deep-etched marker. In time, I figured it’d turn into one, long scar that would remain through each season, keloid-thick and glossy. But he spoke his first word in January during the coldest week of that year and the bark would have been too hard, it would have been too frozen for carving. I planned to cut my baby’s words into her trunk but, somehow, I had forgotten. Today is the first day of winter. From the porch, the air feels thin and bitter, angry at the wind for squeezing it under wooden doors and into window
cracks. The leftover Cottonwood leaves of his tree are brown and yellowed dewdrops. They’re dangling from their tails, making me want to reach through time to tell Casey to jump for them, to make a bouquet of tired, amberous things that don’t worry about falling. This afternoon, I think I will gather some and put them in a glass by the sink. I will keep them there all night until Jackson catches them in the corner of his eye and repeats to me, once more, that dead things don’t have a right to be beautiful. October, West Hackberry Street I didn’t think of her yesterday— at least I didn’t fully picture her—her face in profile, staring out the window—her breath slow and choking, sucking up mine. I only thought of her on the way to thinking about something else—a rest stop on Route 40 that I saw but didn’t park at—didn’t run into to grab a soda or point fingers at the things I wanted behind the vending machine glass but didn’t buy. I think Kate is thinner when I think about her like that. Yesterday, she was a veil, thin as cheesecloth and hanging to dry somewhere behind my forehead. She’s always sitting by the window or at the kitchen table or in the bathtub. She never moves—won’t move—even when I ask her to leave. This morning, I told Diana I might have finally forgotten her—
that at least she had stopped waiting for me in every room, behind every door. Diana says she thinks about Casey like that—that she can go days when she’s unlucky, without finding him in her wallet or in the silverware drawer. But then, she says, she’ll really think of him one day and it’ll hit her that he’s been there all along—that he’s crossed her mind like so many lists and passing thoughts— Did I lock the door today? Did I make the bed? Did I leave the coffee-maker on? And when she goes to check, he catches her behind her tongue, deep in her throat, rolling himself into a ball as big as her fist. Only when she sees the off-switch, she says, does he thin— does he flatten himself just enough to leave her feeling something slightly less than fine.
Selected poems by Shaina Clingempeel Poem 1: Sometimes itâ€™s the silent talks after restless souls waltz out of bed for pancakes with syrup and black coffee too bitter for the tongue. I on the kitchen counter, and you kissing my neck, us tip-toeing around the place. Your roommate in bed while you and I dream silly dreams sleep won't satisfy. We cook ten minutes to find the stove isn't on. You slip me an embarrassed smile, staring at me staring at our inside glimpse of subdued light, my fingertips wrapped around your arm. Without words to stain our small moment of pancake batter but no pancakes stuck in sweet head-space somewhere much too close in this nothing moment I know I love you.
Poem 2: Your voice is a haunted echo In a seashell of pale tangerine, grandpa. Spirals graze my ear with sound muted somehow. This building up of a house bound to break nails drilled into a rooftop, a rust-laden red shade. We take small strides, but this rooftop shakes— Grandma loves you yet skips memories these days. We don’t know where to eat. We pick twice. Call small lip-curls smiles. Though I want to pull the past from your tarnished skin. Powder blue bruised knees stitched up as patchwork quilt, covering the four ounces of cold coffee your doctor said you could drink. Post-surgery, it tastes bitter on the tongue. The last sip before the bottom, seeming already empty. So I trade the warmth of a ghost’s embrace for small claps because you can eat again. You cannot drive your car. A better soul bows down to the God I never believed in. Grandpa, you are the brave one. I must learn to love the planting of strong columns in damp sand, hands shaking but half awake.
Selected poems by Allie Gove Porteño Like dry silvers of grape skins, we laid out over a starboard of tree limbs, pulled taut and swelling in the hum of a storm cloud, our porteño of and to the galaxy, earth. We tucked our toes into the bow of branch and listened to his singing into purple, silting atmosphere. He stayed there all night with us, brothered and undelivered into light. Church “No wonder the hills and groves were God’s first temples…” -John Muir We come to it with hardened eyebrows, the trailhead like the Word in our fingers. We stand sprouts among saplings in this backcountry temple. Granite and fragile springs welcome us into soft meadow seats, where the mountains echo sermons of truth and glacier before God’s people.
We pass into groves of deacons, Hemlocks and Jeffrey pines; we listen to their ringed testimonies of hundreds of years. We take communion with tiny lakes and baptize with stars. Because we understand this, and faith, and nothing more.
Two Days Later We sat with our knees together on a piece of Rhode Island coast. The day was resting in the hips of April, the thigh and muscle of half a month spent not knowing things fall apart: first, in handwritten drafts of ocean up to the knees and then a long, thin vodka string. I held your throbbed hands, leather anxious and postmarked for last Tuesday and neither of us looked into those wide-moated scabs where you’d picked away your skin— compulsions swum up like the Sunken Cathedral, and the pelleted seaspray and wind perforating our skin— We didn’t know each other then. We were blackout hungry like lilies grown from a mud puddle.
Highway Angel By A.M. Bostwick
They say when you die, your life flashes before your eyes. But all I can see is the future. All I won’t have. The cold IV drips into my veins. My bones ache. “Enough,” he says next to me, voice dry as desert sands. “Stay with us,” a doctor robed in white tells James. Machines beep and whirl. I close my eyes. “This transplant is going to work.” A cold sweat breaks across my forehead. Inside my skull, a hammer pounds. A machine clicks and screams. Everything goes dark. I’m dying. Doctors flood the room with hurried steps. “We’re losing him,” someone says. It would be a relief. To let go. To have this be finished. Please, let me die. But it isn’t me. I force my eyes to open, drag them to look across the room. James. The heart line is dead and straight as an arrow, headed towards nowhere. The doctors struggle, pumping at his hollow chest and forcing electricity into his lifeless body. I fade in and out of consciousness. The machine is clicked off. Everyone files out, door sucking shut behind
them. My breathing quickens. Me. It should have been me. I was meant to save him. I loved him like a brother. I was Created for him, and I failed. I look to him one last time before they come for him. I don’t see James, though. All I see, is my own face. *** When I wake, sunlight is filtering through the pine trees. Shadows elongate and stretch. Birds twitch in the trees. I take in the edge of Illinois one last time. I have to keep moving. It’s been months since I left The Residence in New York. Months since I have stepped foot in The Hospital. I still miss James. I won’t think of then, I will only think of now. I am filled with the now. Grateful for the sun and the wind and the clouds like torn cotton. I turn the truck west. With the window rolled down, I feel the wind on my face. It wasn’t like this at The Residence. It was stone walls and gates. Alarms ushering us to class, to eat, to shower, to pee, to bed. Day in and day out. Unless we were in The Hospital. Then it was waves of pain, nausea, machines beeping, slicing needles, and blood.
I am going to drive this truck until I can drive it no further. To the edge of the continent. Where the ocean can lick my toes. I was Created for one purpose, and one purpose only. To save James, who is gone. The memory lashes my brain and radiates to my center, clutching at something I cannot see nor touch. Eighty miles under me, I stop at a gas station and fill the tank. I eye the building. Despite the late summer heat, I pull on my long sleeve shirt. I gather milk, bananas, and granola. The cashier smiles. I smile. My Identity Bar Code tattoo flashes when I stack the items. The cashier’s smile evaporates. “We don’t serve your kind,” her husky voice says as she pulls the items closer to her, out of my reach. I nod and head for the door, dipping my chin so she cannot see the redness that flushes my cheeks. “You come from the factory, boy?” she calls and I stop but don’t turn. “Frankenstein. Get out and don’t come back.” The air hits me. I take a shaky inhale. She could have been meaner. They have been meaner. A lot of Clones stay in New York. They pass their Citizen Exam and leave The Residence after their Originals no longer need them, when their Original has been healed or passed away or when the Clone itself is about to Age
Out and die. The day I bought my truck, I saw a Clone outside a tavern. They wouldn’t serve him inside, but they let him spend some of his Parting Funds on a bottle of gin. The Clone sat there against the cold brick wall, moral weight of the world on his shoulders, drinking it and hating circumstance. Hating the world. Hating himself. “I hear it’s better in California,” I said. He spit at my feet. “You can have your California. Didn’t you hear, Clone? We’re dying. We’ve hardly got any life left to live. They took it.” “I don’t mind dying,” I’d said. The Clone replied, “People don’t want to die. They want to live on and on and on. That’s why they have us. They want to be immortal.” He took a strong swig off his bottle and I left. It’s true: I don’t mind dying. But I didn’t want to die there. In that blocked in city, with all the traffic and smoke and noise and people who hated us or ignored us or simply looked away. I travel another fifty miles, empty stomach clawing on my ribcage. *** Midway through Iowa, I enter Bellford. The sidewalk is hot. A planter of flowers withers in the heat. I am so hungry.
There is a diner on the corner, with wide glass windows and red vinyl booths. My hand shakes when I open the door. I hold the corners of my sleeves in my palms. A bell tinkles as I step inside. “Hi, sugar,” a young waitress in a flowy dress says to me, dropping a glass of water in front of me. We could be the same age. She doesn’t know who I am. What I am. She has a necklace around her neck that flashes in the sun. The stones are large and clear. “I’ll let you look over the menu.” I drain nearly all the water. “I don’t know how long. I promise I’ll pay you back. It’s just a small advance,” I hear the waitress say. She sounds desperate. The other waiter shakes his head. “You got yourself into this, kid. I warned you.” I cast my eyes away as the waitress approaches, tucking straight, dark hair behind her ears. “Ready to order?” Her smile is a struggle. I point to a hamburger platter. “This?” “Sure,” she says. Her nametag says “Livvy.” I can hear meat snapping and sizzling. The smell of food has my stomach trembling. Ceiling fans spin lazily. Livvy counts bills from her apron. She recounts. From the look on her face, it isn’t enough. James’ dad couldn’t stand to look at me after James
died. He pulled out his wallet and tossed a fistful of money at me. Dr. Zagata escorted him into the hallway. “Neal is still recovering,” I heard him say. “He’s not my son. The soulless bastard is not my son! I want him gone!” “They don’t heal as well as Originals,” Dr. Zagata. “Their cells are unstable, their systems weak. Just give him another few days.” Dr. Zagata later told me James’ dad didn’t like me because I looked so much like James. “You’re your own person, Neal. But to Mr. Macavoy, you have the face of a ghost,” he said. He handed me the stack of money. “You should take this. Start a life for yourself. You’re only 18.” I knew money gave an advantage to anyone— Clone, or not. It didn’t matter whether they lived a long life or a short half-life, like me. “Here you go.” Livvy slides a plate in front of me. “Thank you.” I reach for the plate, to bring it closer to me. My Tattoo is plain to see. My breath trips and my pulse wakes up. I wonder if she’ll demand I leave. “Let me know if you need anything,” she walks away. Nothing at The Residence ever tasted like this.
Eating was a necessity, not an enjoyment. “You better slow down,” Livvy says. “I like your necklace,” I say quietly. I know this is how people communicate. I took Sociology. The moment I say the words, I want to wrap my hand around them and take them back. “You think so?” “It catches the light.” “It’s cheap. Rhinestones. I wish they were diamonds.” “Would they catch even more light?” “No. But they might buy me a ride outta here.” Outside, the day is quickly fading. I leave a big tip for Livvy. *** The sky is inky blue midnight when I wrap into my sleeping bag outside town. I am only one of two members camping tonight. They have a camper. Why, I wonder, would you want to sleep inside when you can sleep outside? Breathing real air? Cradled in shadows of trees and under the blinking eyelashes of the stars? Why would you want to miss a sweet, single breath? *** The morning sun slants though the windshield and echoes off the pavement. It’s so bright, I nearly don’t see
the girl standing on the roadside. Livvy. It’s early and warm. The land is flat and there are no trees. I pull the truck over. Her blue dress billows out as a semi rumbles past. “Hey,” she says. Tears are dried in dirt on her cheeks. “Oh. It’s you.” What was I thinking? That she’d want help from me? A sub-human? “I guess I should have known you weren’t from around here,” she says. “I just thought you must have left already. I need to get to Oregon. Even if I only get some of the way, I’ll be a hell of a lot closer than I am now.” “I’m going to California.” “Seriously? I don’t have much money. If I could ride with you to the California border, you’d really be saving me. I should tell you, though. I’ll need to stop fairly often. I’d be an inconvenience.” “I doubt that.” “You’re too kind,” she says. No one has ever told me I was kind. Meadow used to say I was “sweet.” “You wouldn’t mind?” “Not if you don’t mind…me.” “Of course not.” “Okay.”
Livvy smiles, wide as the sunset. “Thanks…I don’t even know your name!” “Neal.” She offers me her slim hand. “Nice to meet you, Neal.” *** For hours, Livvy sleeps. Sleeps as though she hasn’t for days, maybe weeks. I pull into a gas station just inside Nebraska where I buy food and fuel. With my hand stuffed in my pocket, no one turned me away. Livvy slept on. It is late afternoon when she wakes. “Guess I drifted off,” she mumbles. “I’m sorry.” At a rest stop, Livvy goes inside. She returns with orange juice and marshmallows. She tears the bag open, offering me one. I shake my head. Livvy pops two in her mouth. “This is the first time I’ve gone on a road trip this far. It’s good to be moving, to be going somewhere. Anywhere out of that town,” Livvy says. “It’s good. I felt trapped. Like a butterfly in a jar. I felt like I was always hitting the glass. Going nowhere.” I think of a butterfly and its velvet wings inside a jar, slowly dying. I think of Livvy in a jar. The miles go easy on the road. Livvy can talk about anything.
“Where are you from?” she asks. “New York.” “Mom kicked me out. I got into some trouble,” Livvy says, squeezing a marshmallow between her fingers. “My aunt said I could stay with her. While I figure things out. She moved to Oregon a couple years ago. I’ve missed her so much. She always called me ‘Lovey.’ Where are you going?” “California. To the ocean.” “Do you know people there?” “I don’t really know anyone, anywhere.” Livvy watches me. It’s not unpleasant. “Well, now you know me.” *** In the sandhills of Nebraska, we camp for the night at a site overlooking marshes and tall grass. Crickets are loud in the trees. I listen. The Residence was always silent, silent as rejection, as sickness, as reform. “Revolutionizing Healthcare” they always said. “Are you okay?” Livvy asks. I reel back from my limited memories. I nod. She opens her suitcase and pulls out the rest of her marshmallows. “This isn’t actually a suitcase. It used to have a small record player in it.” I unfurl onto the ground, glad to stretch after being inside the truck. It is dark, but the moon gives white, strong
light. Livvy spreads out her blanket. “Does it scare you?” Livvy asks. “That you won’t live as long?” “As long as what?” “Like, normal people.” Livvy puts her hand over her mouth. “God! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that!” “It’s okay.” “I just meant, like, normal life expectancy,” she says. “Because it would scare me.” “It doesn’t scare me. I just want to live while I’m alive.” “The ocean will make you feel alive.” I push hair out of my face. I haven’t had it cut since I left. “I’ve never seen it. I promised I would. For a friend.” “Why didn’t your friend come?” Meadow could be dead. I cannot call her the way Livvy called her aunt 60 miles ago. “She hadn’t been released.” “Can you send her a postcard?” “Clones aren’t allowed correspondence. I’ll never know what became of her,” I say, voice heavy with sorrow. “That must be hard.” Above us, stars play hide and seek between the branches. “In California, go to Pismo Beach,” Livvy tells me.
She becomes animated. “The monarch butterflies hibernate there. They’ll be coming any day now. Hundreds, thousands of them. My aunt took me one year. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.” I smile in the dark. “Go, tell me you’ll go?” “I’ll go.” Livvy stretches out beside me. In the shadows, her figure is long and lean. Her dress settles over her. Her tummy is round, like the top of a setting sun. “Are you having a baby?” “Yeah,” she replies. Her hair splays out around her like a messy halo. “It’s what pushed my mom over the crazy ledge.” I consider a baby making someone crazy. “Why?” “I’m only 17.” Livvy glances down at her stomach. “I don’t know if I’m going to raise the baby or put it up for adoption.” I’d seen the child-desperate. I’d known their Clones. “I’m mostly a child myself. I’d be an awful parent.” “Why?” “Because I’m young. Uneducated.” She sounds as though she’s repeating words someone else said. “I doubt you’d be an awful anything. Why does that matter?”
Livvy laughs, but doesn’t sound amused. “That’s everything in America, isn’t it? Having enough money to make sure you and your kids don’t suffer? I grew up on nothing. With a mother who made drinking look like a sport. I never knew my dad. That’s tough. This baby won’t know her dad, either. He took off the second I told him.” When I think of growing up, all I can remember is being 16. When I was Created. James already had cancer for years. A Clone was his last chance. My earliest memories are in The Hospital. There were good days, too. Days when I was Healing and in Education. Days I spent with Meadow, days before procedures where James snuck in and we’d talk for hours. Growing up how Livvy did sounds terrible. “I think you’re a good person, Livvy.” “My aunt says that. She was my salvation as a kid. She took me all kinds of places. Sometimes, we’d just spend the day at the river. Or at the animal shelter walking dogs and cleaning cages. No matter what, we had fun. Recently, though, she got sick. So she moved. I hate that she’s sick.” “Maybe she could get a clone?” “She couldn’t afford it and she doesn’t believe in it. She thinks it’s cruel.” I prolonged James’ life for a few years. He hated
living, he told me as much. He begged his parents not to clone him, begged for the pain to be over. The cancer could have him, he said. The Macavoy’s could not let go. I wanted James to have a life he could not only stand, but desire. For his parents to have that veil of distress lifted from their faces. I failed. My eyes drift to Livvy’s tummy again. “How do you protect it in there?” “You’d be surprised what a little kid can survive.” *** “Have one,” Livvy insists. “I don’t know what they taste like.” “Never? You’ve never had a marshmallow?” It’s morning and the air is new and so unmarked with the day you can nearly touch it. We slept well last night, me outside and Livvy inside the truck. She was concerned about bugs, about dew. “I passed my Citizen Exam.” “And?” “I didn’t need to eat a marshmallow. Why are you laughing?” “Because no one is afraid of marshmallows!” So, not quite out of Colorado, I eat a marshmallow. “Well?”
I chew. “It’s…spongy.” Livvy claps. “Finally.” *** Road tired and hot, Livvy wants to eat a real meal. We find a chain restaurant. The atmosphere is loud and assaulting. I blink, trying to adjust from the hum of tires to here. Livvy dashes to the restroom. At a nearby table, a young teenage boy is making his girlfriend laugh. He whispers in her ear, and her smile could light candles. I wish I could make Livvy laugh like that. “My name is Dusti, and I’ll be your….” her enthusiastic voice trails off. She’s seen my Tattoo. Her face contours. “I think you should go.” I feel exposed. Ashamed. Livvy strides up in another of her flowy dresses. “What, Neal?” “He’s unnatural,” Dusti says. Some diners have quit eating. I look down, letting hair fall over my eyes. “Are you one, too?” “One what?” Livvy is confused. She has yet to encounter someone turning me away. “You both need to leave.” The manager migrates over, a plastic smile creasing his cheeks.
“Problem, Dusti?” She points. He sees. “Oh. Well. Our policy is that of comfort for our guests. I’m afraid you should leave.” “What? You jerk!” Livvy is incensed. “He’s not unnatural. You could learn a lesson in tolerance!” “It’s okay.” “It most certainly is not okay!” Livvy yells. She puts a hand on my arm. “He is the only person who has been nice to me the last six months!” “I’m going to have to ask you both to leave, or I will call authorities for causing a disturbance,” the manager says. I take Livvy’s hand and walk her out. She resists, yelling curses. Outside, cars go by and exhaust chokes the air. “Let’s keep moving.” Livvy’s sudden quiet is jarring. Inside the truck, she sits with her fists bunched. Ten miles pass. Twenty. “I just cannot believe they treated you like that,” she finally says. “I’m used to it. It’s okay.” “It’s not okay, Neal!” “There are people who matter more, and people who matter less,” I recite what my Health Instructor told us. “We matter less.”
“Oh, Neal,” Livvy sighs. “That’s simply untrue.” I drive on. Change lanes, go back. “I don’t mean to yell,” Livvy says. “I never realized how awful people treat…” “Clones?” “You’re not just a clone, Neal,” Livvy says. “You’re a person. A person. Has history taught us nothing? It’s not right.” I don’t know what’s right or not right. I only know how I want to be treated, and I try to give that same to the people I meet. “Back there, you said I was born. But I wasn’t. I was Created.” “Don’t say that.” “It’s true.” “It doesn’t mean you don’t deserve equality and to eat at whatever damn restaurant you damn well please.” Inside a diner with waitresses who did not see, or did not care, about my mark, Livvy and I eat chicken and fries. “Did you know him?” Livvy asks. I drink. “My Original?” “Yeah. Sorry. Is that too personal?” “I don’t mind. His name was James. I was Created for him.”
“Don’t say that. Created. It sounds creepy.” “It’s true.” Livvy pushes a fry into her mouth. “I’ll never agree with you. But go on.” “James was great. He liked me. I was fortunate, you know. Many Originals don’t like their Clones. Dr. Zagata said it helps them cope. James had been sick a long time. He felt like it was too late for him. But not for me. He wanted me to live.” “He sounds cool.” “He was. I failed.” Livvy shoves her plate aside. “You did not fail, Neal Hawkins. Science failed. Life failed.” My throat feels as though it cannot breath, my eyes prickle. “Look at me,” Livvy pulls my hand, her thumb skimming my Tattoo. I look at her green-blue eyes that change with whatever dress she wears. “You did not fail.” *** Into the night, we drive. It’s raining. With the headlights illuminating the road, the nighttime breeze coming in through the cracked windows, and Livvy in the passenger seat, it’s the most alive I’ve felt in my abbreviated life. “What will you do in California?”
“I’ll see the monarchs. And the ocean.” “But what then?” “Live. Find a job. A place to stay.” I ask where the butterflies go, after they’ve hibernated. “They leave,” Livvy says. “They go north. They stop and lay eggs. Then those butterflies continue the journey. Then their children make it to Canada, or Wisconsin or whatever, where they have eggs. Those butterflies are the really extraordinary ones. They live the longest. They have to make the thousand mile journey to Mexico or California to hibernate. Then it all starts over again.” “It sounds like a beautiful way to live. And to die.” Livvy has offered to drive the truck. I feel it is my responsibility, though. Livvy tires easily. “I want to take you to Oregon,” I say into the oncoming night. “No. You’re already doing so much. You’ve done so much.” “I have time.” Livvy adjusts in her seat to look at me. “Time means something entirely different to you than to the rest of us, doesn’t it?” Under my fingers, I feel the steering wheel. “No
one knows how much time we have.” Livvy pinches her lips. “That sounds like a fortune cookie.” Rain patters louder on the windshield. “I want to spend time taking you to Oregon.” “Neal, I’m going part ways with you inside California, like we agreed. I’ll probably get a job waitressing and get enough money together to finish the trip.” “She’s too sick to drive down to get you.” “I’ll get there.” Livvy pulls her feet up under her. Her small, round knot-of-a-belly shifts. “You shouldn’t make such risks with a baby.” She tugs at her rhinestone necklace. It flashes in the green dash lights. “The baby isn’t here yet.” “Yes, it is.” Livvy sits back and rolls her window all the way down, letting the air rush over her. Raindrops land on her arm. “It is, isn’t it?” *** Inside Nevada, we find a campground. We are nearing the end of our journey together. “Do you miss her?” I ask Livvy as she puts her few dresses and items into a laundry machine. She shows me how to do the same, and inserts the quarters. Her square
suitcase yawns open, nearly empty on a plastic chair. “Who?” “Your mom?” Livvy kicks in the quarter release and the machine shakes to life, I can hear the water gushing. “Not a lot. I love her. In her own warped way, she loves me. It’s just she always cared more about drinking and guys. I don’t want that. Not for me. Not for this little marshmallow.” Livvy points to her stomach. “You wouldn’t be,” I say. Livvy sits. Her profile against the blue, blue Nevada sky is striking. Her hair is lifted in a bun against the heat. Pieces have fallen out, clinging to her neck like a rose vine. “I’m afraid I’d be like that, Neal.” “How?” “Drunk. Selfish.” “You wouldn’t be.” “But what if, I, as a little kid, drove my mom to it? Because she wasn’t ready to be a mom? What if I’ve got it in me? In my DNA?” “I don’t think that’s the way it works.” *** “I didn’t want to give up,” Livvy says, laying beside me in the bed of the truck. We were asked to leave the campground after someone saw my Tattoo. We are parked
at a wayside, overlooking a swath of desert, cracked from the day’s sun. “It wasn’t a fight worth having.” She reaches out her hand, her finger tracing pictures in the stars. “How did you learn to be so nice? No one has ever stood up for me like that. They always assumed it was my fault.” She half-smiles. “Maybe sometimes it was. I don’t know.” “People were nice to me. It could be a…challenging place. The Residence. The Hospital. I always tried to care for my friends having a hard time. Some dealt better than others.” “Did he look just like you? James?” “I think I’m better-looking.” Livvy bursts out laughing, loud enough to reach the moon. “I’m only kidding.” “You made a joke!” Livvy shoves my shoulder. “That’s your first. I can’t imagine. Seeing my own face, on someone else.” “Without him, I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere. I’m undefinable.” “I feel undefinable a lot, too. I didn’t belong in that small town, but I don’t know what I want to do with my life, either. I can’t give this baby anything,” she says quietly. “Not sandcastles. No trips to the zoo. No white
fenced-in yards. No frilly canopy beds. I always wanted one of those.” “I would only want you,” I tell her. Livvy turns to me. Her smile is sweet, but her eyes are sad, so sad. “You, Livvy, were the first to look at me…like I was…a person.” *** Inside a diner in a small town that popped along the Nevada highway like a tumbleweed, Livvy and I eat a large breakfast. Pancakes. Syrup. Eggs. Juice. I listen to the mindless chatter around me. So many connections. When Livvy comes back from phoning her aunt, she says, “Give me your wrist.” Livvy wets her napkin from her water glass and swipes down a square of paper. She wraps it around my tattooed wrist and presses, then lifts and lightly blows. “Don’t look yet.” I don’t. I look at the curve of her shoulder. The bend of her collarbone. Her rhinestone necklace. “See?” She’s imprinted a set of black wings across my Tattoo. The lines of the wings blend so well with the lines of the barcode, you cannot tell what it is. “Now, everyone can see you have wings. You’re my highway angel,” Livvy says, her fingers still on my palm. “Thank you.”
“The butterflies don’t live long, Neal. But think of the extraordinary things they do.” *** For miles and miles across Nevada, we move forward as though there is no end. As though a mountain range will not divide us at the border. We buy deli sandwiches and take them to a small park. Livvy watches the mothers and their children. “Look how beautiful they are,” Livvy says. “So innocent.” The mothers examine their electronic devices. I ask, “Why would a mom look at her phone when her child is playing right in front of her?” Livvy watches, her face unreadable. “I don’t know.” The park has a carousel, with horses caught in deep, carved smiles. Reins forever around their heads. The children call to each other. Their fingers reach for the pole of the carousel horses, for swing ropes, they reach higher and higher and higher towards the sun. “You see the world in a real different way, you know that?” Livvy tells me. I shrug. “Do you want children of your own, Neal?” “Clones aren’t allowed to marry. We’re sterile.”
“Neal, that doesn’t matter. You don’t need their rules about what makes a dad a dad. Or a wife a wife. You could still find someone to have a life with. You could still have a family. Biology does not make a family. Not even DNA. It’s love. I know that sounds corny, but it’s true.” *** Near Boundary Peak, we camp. When darkness comes, we sit on my sleeping bag beneath the trees. I feel at ease, and yet discontent. “I want to take you to Oregon,” I say. “No,” Livvy says, “You have to see the butterflies. Promise me you’ll go.” “I can go next year.” Livvy’s tummy is round with her back flat on the ground. For the first time on our trip, she lays a hand across it, tenderly. Cradles it. “You don’t know that. No one knows that. You have less time than anyone. Like someone who’s chronically ill.” “No one knows, Livvy. Even if they are an Original. Even if they are healthy.” The baby stretches sometimes. It reminds me of butterfly wings.” “Really?” Livvy places my hand over her belly. It is firm, warm. “Maybe she’ll stretch her wings for you.”
It takes awhile, but I feel the flutter. Livvy’s face breaks into a huge smile. “There! See? She likes you!” That night, for the first time, Livvy sleeps not inside the truck cab, but beside me. We fall asleep in the warmth of the dying day, our fingers touching. *** When I wake, she’s gone. The blanket remembers her body imprint. Hanging from the rearview mirror, is her rhinestone necklace. *** As I enter California, I pull over to the side of the road. I get out. I whisper my own name. I have a few hundred miles to go, to reach the water that turns to foam as it skims the sand and rushes over the beaches and rocks. Stretching my arms wide, the wind pulls over me. I feel my wings. Just because they made me, doesn’t mean I don’t belong here. I will honor James. I’ll go to the ocean for Meadow. I will see the butterflies for Livvy. Then, I’m going to Oregon. For me.
What You Do Not Want to Know By Sharanya Manivannan
If I sought to ruin your pleasure, I would describe the landscape: how he praised me in all the ways I am not like you. I would offer you the cartomancy of my body like a fable, a mirage of smoke. I would complicate you as though it was I who had been your lover, instead, and you who now walk the earth with my panic at your earlobes, startling the emptiness of your pockets for an alibi for my name. Instead, I will tell you, you who have never wanted to be my friend: he and I were made only to be lovers or to be adversaries. And now we keep time in pulses, unbalanced by equidistance. I will greet you with the apologies of a season of halfyield. I will tell you, softlyâ€”he is yours because there was a six of hearts at his gate that morning, the card of the deceit you can live with, but here: I offer you another telling, a path of flight, intelligent weakness. He is yours because he did not know how to reveal his hand, how else to outplay the pretense that we had never happened. He is yours because he trysts with elision, and I am too full with lacunae to seduce with the same.
He is yours because I give him back to you with a capmangoe of fidelities: He kissed my elbows as we fell asleep. His palms were all fate lines, and they runed my dreams varicose. I calligraphed his eyes with the tip of my tongue. Against my nakedness he kept them closed.
Of Birth and Destruction: Selected poems by Diana DiPietro The Cradle of Resolve The change begins with his face fractured by one word: pregnant. In his eyes, nothing left to share, our words are bricks clamoring from dry lips in search of structure. Keep climbs down from my tongue to build a fortress, word by word. Abort slips through his saliva and spits in my face with the final â€˜t.â€™ Trapped between two dialects, my words curl and fold over my promised plus like a letter inside an envelope. The words remain unchanged. He, a temporal being, always eyes the end with greedy hands. He presses against my fortress demanding words fall. But I cradle my resolve. I leave his face gasping for words, I leave the unsaid lined like bodies between us, old wounds, open words. Sandy Speaks after Patricia Smith I am singular, a swirling smoky eye gathering water like a dress, seaweed tulle, salt sequence. I am queen, ruling cerulean with a pointed finger smudging skylines,
blurring landscapes to match my shadow. I am not your sandy beach. I am not your sandy point. I am not a nickname tossed and thrown like a buoy shaking waves. I am not defender of man. I wreck. I ravage. I rake skin from bones, force family from home to meet the wake. I weather their pleas silent. My body demands praise. My hips a hovering havoc, my lips a Bansheeâ€™s screech between sheetrock. I twist my hops and lean in, sipping chaos from the harbor. Gusts gather like gaggles in my throat, each breath a new fury born. Tracing The Lines of Family Ties I. Mother Tracing the lines on your face to mine, I know how to age. You wear skin like a leather jacket, holding your bones in. Breasts greet your knees with conversation, of weather and gravity, of the corn on the left toe shaped like a face: Breasts say, a woman. Knees say, a man. Ears cannot hear deafened by crowâ€™s feet plucking your eyes blind with prints I see every time you smile. Like drafts map the shape of your face, to my own: your nose hooked like a clothes hanger, the kiss of your lips thinned and weathered by worry. Each crease another dollar, each crevice a bill raised by a cheekbone. II. Father
Tracing the burns on your arms to mine, I know how to die. Balloons rise from embers, blister at the arm hinge and the harbor. They lounge at the lip, carved like a ravine between two valleys: the numb and the feeling, a married couple. The wife speaks, the husband forgets, refusing to listen, What, Dear? Hands like tree bark work towards an ending. Eyes packed for China, flight leaves at seven. But your face droops heavy on one side. I trace sleep down your face like a line of solder on stained glass. The picture is pale. Hound dogs, flashlights pan the floor; find a leak in your lining. III. Sister Tracing your name across stone spells mine. I know how to decay. Grow the body like a baby to slip inside the ground: an open womb, unnoticed soil, closed like baptismal waters. Holy birth blessed to ash by butts and trays. Maggots gore eyes into dark corners, teeth chewed to the grind of a whetstone. Bones out-line your face like a blueprint for being, eyes, hair unknown. A milk carton disgrace, seen last in shadow. Sister, twin. I live like Persephone half above, half below. My skin traces winter from the scar on my stomach that remembers.
Selected poems by Mark Vogel what never was taught O Hope today for any concrete bald truth/ even as mother horror understood. Better exposed in heated air than left untreated under quilted cover as a white lab coat explains 8th grade biology to us children/how the onceelastic aorta ages, thins, expands/how unseen bubbles created in the breath-hiccup can race to the heart/how under the right conditions, it happens every day. We digest this pared medical language which hasnâ€™t charted historic steaming pancakes/or seen maternal hands reaching to soothe/or smelled her essence in perfumed pajamas. In carpeted hospital sterility a thousand framed portraits camouflage mauve walls. We miss already the ironic Mother-grin, the bent hand ready to cook, the closed eyes peering into the depths of us all. The doctor drones on, explaining the map of her sleeping body in persistent pain. The situation is promising; a bursting is not inevitable. But we worry, and glance to each other, and lay hands on the mother victim, and try not to see hints the blood flows down and around/ready to release the bubble to the brain. The florescent end of permanence drugs us as we wait for the wheelchair. And each of us plots an individual way to escape, for the choices which arenâ€™t choices spell out what politeness will never voice.
The fact more than clear—like a found piece of metal/hard and real—suggests our now mute fluid source/our affirmation/our sacred glue at this advanced age is falling apart/and right now we must acknowledge that she could face worse ways to go. South of the border South Carolina beckons like an innocent raw kid on billboards luring speeders going the long way north/south. Maybe never sign-stories have been authentic, what with peanut brittle grins/idyllic beach escapes—exactly the vision a traveler leaving progressive North Carolina desires. Maybe never poor-boy wisdom about dried gator heads can erase the greasy ancient slave market sepia story. Maybe in this fresh future today’s quality machine is broken, and all is a lie. Giant Pedro is forty feet tall facing the interstate, wearing a yellow sombrero for us so stupefied looking for escape as we stretch and prance like cartoon dogs, delighted as our children ride the twenty foot long red dachshund. My brother and I nibble timeless goobers in white hot sun, and read aloud sad puns painted on the sidewalk. Viewed from a distance this could be joyous religion— reformulated families wallowing in vacation mode, but trapped on flat land without a father in blistering sun, we can’t admit we are lost. Distant theme parks point and cackle—but our void justifies crumbling abandoned motels across the highway, as if this was inevitable. We feel the future belly exposed/ a bald spot/the smell of tooth decay, when an entire region smells on certain days, what with making
our paper, our chemicals, our crassest intolerance. Thankfully machines exist to carry us away in the whoosh. Once upon a time we fell into Florida and saw helicopters flying-in palm trees to landscape the castle and the mote. Close-by, Rome and Prague and Venice were built overnight on recovered swamp for us who wanted to believe. We are prepared to spend all we have saved tomorrow when the neurotic caged sharks will wheel, and dart forward on schedule/to eat for our entertainment someone elseâ€™s young.
French Lessons By Shelley Masini “Vivre. To live.” William always states the verb and its meaning before conjugating. “Je vis, tu vis, il vit, nous vivons …” He steers the car onto a well-manicured street. Mature trees hide the California Craftsman homes. “Vous vivez, ils vivent.” Glancing down at his notes on the passenger seat, he searches out the next verb on the list. “Rêver. To dream.” He narrowly avoids hitting a parked SUV. The clock on the dashboard reads 5:55. Clarice is sitting the boys down for dinner. When he’d left, the house had smelled of grilled pork chops and steamed green beans from the garden, an old Joan Baez CD playing. His wife mentioned they needed to talk about the business. He had given her a quick kiss and slipped out the front door. William spots Lisa’s house ahead on the left. It’s yellow, with a red door. He recognizes her black Volvo in the driveway, an empty spot next to it. White curtains billow through open windows and the porch light is on despite the bright summer evening. He parks in front.
Outside the car he hears faint music. He opens the backseat door and grabs his leather book bag and a bottle of wine. “Zur must be zee wine vhen studying zee Fwench,” Clarice had teased in her horrible French accent. “How many of you will there be?” “I’m not sure,” he lied. She insisted on picking something up at the market that morning. William looks down at the bottle of red. He has no idea if it’s any good, but he trusts Clarice. He wishes she was taking French. He hears her in his head. “How can I? There’s the boys and the business. Besides, it’s your thing, not mine.” At the front door, William rings the doorbell and clutches the wine close to his chest. The music is clear now. There’s a guitar, an accordion, and a sad trilling voice. He looks down at his scuffed brown shoes and wrinkled pants, runs a hand through brown hair in need of a cut, and wishes he’d popped a mint after the black coffee he downed on the way. The door swings open. Lisa is barefoot, in denim Capris and a loose blouse, her blonde hair pinned up. “Bonsoir, Guilluame.” Her lips pout over the sounds of his French name.
“Bonsoir, Lisa.” He struggles with the lingering ‘z’ sound. She glances at a delicate gold watch on her wrist. “But this is not French at all!” He blinks. “You never arrive on time in France,” she explains, “not even for a meeting. I want you to leave and come back in fifteen minutes.” William falters. He considers turning around but Lisa grabs his arm and lets out a throaty laugh. “I’m kidding. Well, not entirely, but come in. Entrez-vous, s’il vous plaît.” She opens the door wider. William steps over the threshold and into a foyer rich with music and smells. Beyond, the living room is a glossy magazine shot, with antique furniture, built-in bookshelves and a pitcher of bright sunflowers. William presents Lisa with the bottle of wine. “Uhm...un bouteille du vin pour vous…de ma femme et moi.” “Ah, merci.” She takes it from him and surveys the label with approval. “But really, no more French until I’ve finished dinner. I’m attempting my first Provençal menu and I don’t think I can speak and cook French at the same time, though I better get used to it, right?”
She walks ahead, cradling the bottle and indicating he should follow. His scuffed shoes thud over pristine wooden floors, her bare feet silent. He takes in the bright paintings and supple sculptures, the smells of garlic and herbs, and is reminded of the one and only time he traveled to Europe, to Italy with his high school band. In the dining room they pass a large oak table covered in boxes filled with wrapped items. “When do you leave?” William asks. “At the end of the summer, just four weeks now.” They are both taking the summer French course at the local junior college, meeting four hours a day, four days a week. That first day she’d been sitting next to him in a tailored black suit and expensive looking shoes. He recalls her introduction. “I’m an art appraiser,” she’d told William and the teacher, Madame Burlingham, ignoring the rest of the class which was made up of apprehensive high school kids and bored college students. “I specialize in Provençal artists— Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne. My firm’s started sending me to France so often that my husband and I have bought a house and are moving there.” On his turn William explained how he and his wife were hoping to expand their small “green” clothing line and had made some like-minded contacts from France at a
recent trade show. “Unfortunately,” he’d admitted with a glance at Lisa, “I haven’t been to France yet.” “You’re in good company,” Madame Burlingham had smiled at him. “Who here is hoping to make their first trip to France after these lessons?” About half the students raised their hands. But Lisa wasn’t just visiting France, she was going to build a life there. He looks at the boxes with envy. Clarice had humored William’s ideas about a French outlet, but there was no way she would uproot the boys and move there, no matter how much William touted the social services, 35hour work week, museums and food. She just laughs and repeats, “Our life is here, Will.” Lisa’s kitchen is painted in creams and brightened by yellow and blue earthenware, textured paintings and printed linens. An orange skillet sits on the range and vegetables cover the large island cutting block. “Sit down,” Lisa gestures to the stools at the island. “I’ve started with some champagne. Would you like some?” “That’d be great.” William perches on one of the stools. His legs are too short to stretch comfortably to the floor so he tucks them onto the bottom rung.
“Italian food, no problem,” she is talking over her shoulder as she opens a cupboard and reaches on tiptoe for a second champagne flute, “even paella is a cinch compared to French cooking. I don’t care what Julia Child and her damn books say.” At school, Lisa is always polished and professional. She doesn’t chat much and is usually on her cell during breaks. But tonight her blonde hair escapes from its clasp in unruly wisps and her toenails are painted a deep wine color. William is reminded of the film, And God Created Woman, and the effect of Bardot’s bare feet on the men around her. He fixes his gaze on the remnants of chopped onion, tomato, and bell pepper in front of him. “So, are you finding the class as grueling as I am?” he asks. “God, yes.” Lisa comes to stand across from him. She pours a glass of champagne and passes it to him. “I think it’s about as close to immersion as we can get around here. But if I don’t study three, four hours each night I get behind. It’s killing our sex life, but it’s worth it.” Picking up her own glass of champagne, she pauses in thought. Her free arm wraps around her waist, pulling her blouse close to her body; the other arm holds the glass of champagne out in front of her. “If I had to choose one word to describe French, I think it would be ‘sensual.’ How ‘bout you?”
William is taking a sip of champagne when he finds honey-colored eyes on him. A warmth rises from his belly even before the champagne has a chance to go down. “Oh, I don’t know,” his laugh is self-conscious, “I think I’d choose something like ‘diabolical.’ ” “Come off it!” Lisa sets down her glass. “What about your ‘tiroir’ and ‘commode’—what would we call it—analogy?” She raises an eyebrow at him, but the clattering of a lid grabs her attention. “Shit!” She rushes to the stove. William recalls the moment to which she’s referring. That day in class they were struggling to find ways to remember the gender of French nouns. Madame had asked, “How are you going to remember, for example, that the word for a dresser, une commode, is a feminine word, but the word for a drawer, un tiroir, is masculine?” William had raised his hand and said, “Well, a drawer goes into a dresser.” He hadn’t expected the high school giggling that ensued nor Madame’s raised eyebrows. He mumbled apologies in embarrassment. Only Lisa had nodded in appreciation. When she returns to the cutting block, he watches her chop parsley then add it to the pan on the stove. Though her gaze is off him now, William still feels warm.
He’s sat next to Lisa for three weeks and been partnered with her in class numerous times, always appreciative of her preparation. It had been William who suggested one day after class that they study together. Now as he looks into the champagne, he wishes Clarice hadn’t insisted on the wine. She turns from the stove and begins to assemble a salad in a large wooden bowl. “Disaster diverted. In fact, dinner’s almost ready.” William realizes he’s starving. “Is there anything I can do to help?” “Since the dining room has been taken over by boxes, Logan and I have been eating in here. But I thought it’d be nice if we ate in the living room at the coffee table. Then we can spread out our books if we want. We have to sit on the floor, though. Is that okay?” “Sounds great.” “Fantastique. Alors, if you wouldn’t mind grabbing the bread and champagne, I’ll get the place settings. Oh, and le vin.” In the living room, William finds long shadows as the sun sets. The bass from the music vibrates in his chest. Seeing that the coffee table is centered on a large expensive-looking rug, he slips his shoes off. Lisa arrives carrying the place settings.
“Is your husband not coming?” “Let’s just say Logan is a bit Frenched-out. It wouldn’t be that much fun for him, anyway. He decided to work late.” William nods. They both collect their books and refill their glasses from the bottle of champagne, the wine sitting on the table, as well. Lisa makes a final trip to the kitchen to retrieve plated salads. “A little Jacques Brel and allons-y,” she announces, putting in a new CD before joining William on the floor. The dinner is served in slow courses and accompanied by French sentences that grow increasingly easy with each successive glass. The champagne is soon gone and Clarice’s wine opened. Around foreign words, William savors equally new flavors and textures—salad Nicoise punctuated by possessive pronouns, baked tomatoes scattered with demonstrative adjectives, fricassee and past participles. Jacques Brel sings of old lovers, the prostitutes of Amsterdam, and nothing but love to sustain you. Soon the last of the wine is poured into their glasses. “How do you do it?” he asks in exasperation when she laughs at his pronunciation of a word. “It’s like your mouth was made for French and mine’s hopeless.”
She shrugs. “It’s easier for women. It’s really all in the pout which men aren’t used to doing. Look,” she sits up straight. “Hold your mouth like this for thirty seconds and then say something in French.” She puckers her mouth, like she’s kissing the air. William does the same. The thirty seconds tick by. William is aware of Lisa studying his lips. He looks at hers, which are now stained red from the wine. It’s strange how well he knows her lips from their hours together in class. Tonight, they look both soft and taut, like the skin on a slice of orange. “Time’s up,” she announces. “Say something. Count to ten.” He starts. “Un, deux, trois …” Even to his own ears he finally sounds French. He grins. Lisa smiles also, grabbing her wine and removing the clasp from her hair. William takes another bite of the fricassee and watches her hair spill like the last rays of sunlight over her neck and shoulders. Over the rim of her glass Lisa catches his eyes with her own. “You know, I had a dream about you,” she says before taking a sip. The fricassee becomes a lump in William’s throat. He reaches for his own wine to force it down. His eyes look at his plate but he sees her lips in his mind. “About what?” “It’s kind of embarrassing.”
He risks a quick glance up. Her chin is now resting in one hand. When she remains silent, William assumes that’s the end of it. He can’t tell if he’s relieved or disappointed. After a few moments of Brel’s crooning, Lisa speaks again. “I mean, you’re obviously a man, with a business and family. But there’s a boyishness about you.” She tilts her head. “Or maybe I just think so because everyday I see you raising your hand and making mistakes and getting in trouble, like when Madame took your cell phone away because you forgot to turn it off.” She laughs. William stays silent, listening and watching the vanishing light glint off his wedding ring. Lisa keeps talking. “In the art world you get used to smooth men with fake smiles. Even Logan, my husband, who is a good man, is all polish and confidence. But your smile is so uncertain. There’s a sincerity about you that I like.” The wine’s made William’s brain fuzzy. He can’t tell if she’s complimenting him or teasing him. Every act since childhood has been a conscious step to divorce himself from the timid boy he used to be, the boy from South Carolina who spoke in a drawling accent and lacked the social graces that everyone on the West Coast mistakes for intelligence. He learned quickly when his parents
moved him across country that out here sincere words and a kind heart weren’t enough; what mattered was how you sounded and where you were headed. Lisa has leaned back on her elbows and stretched out her legs beneath the coffee table. One foot presses against William’s. He doesn’t move. Her head is tilted back as if she’s listening to the music. All of William’s senses focus on that small point of pressure. The boy from South Carolina is forgotten and he remembers a recent business trip to New York. He’d looked out the hotel window at the city lights, feeling a desperate ache for Clarice and the boys, but also an eagerness for the unknown. Looking now at Lisa he wonders what the French word for Goddess is. “Do you have a picture of your house in Provence?” he asks. “Of course. Would you like to see it? He nods. She gets up and changes the CD. “I tossed all the house stuff in a box upstairs in a spare bedroom.” Fear and exhilaration come in alternating waves with each step up the stairs, wreaking havoc on William’s full stomach.
At the top, he follows Lisa into a curtained room, the only light coming from the open doorway. She points at the bed. “Have a seat.” He sits and watches her bare feet move to a stack of boxes where she opens the top one. His eyes move up the silhouette of her legs and hips, to the curve of her small round belly and the breasts beneath her blouse, and finally to her undone hair. Edith Piaf is singing now. William recognizes the aching word “regret” repeated, again and again. His head feels hot. Then Lisa is standing before him holding out a photo in a plastic sleeve. Instead of taking it he reaches for her hand. She doesn’t resist and sinks onto his lap. Her warmth makes the heat in his head flood down his body. His head swims but he’s not floating. He is in his body, aware of every sensation, familiar and foreign. Her face draws nearer. He imagines he smells lavender and wine. Piaf’s refrain urges them closer until their lips are a breath away from touching. Then the soft flesh of her lips meet his and it’s too much and not enough at once, like the first gasp of air after suffocation and the suffocation itself. In the kiss, William tastes the burst of sweetness he knew would be there. His mind’s eye flashes to an orange tree in the garden.
But even as he considers falling backwards onto the bed, with her in his arms, Clarice and the boys appear beneath the orange tree. His wife is picking fruit for the boys and grinning at him in that way she does. William’s not sure if he pulls away first or if Lisa does. The heat of the moment is cooled instantly by the air that passes between them. The music downstairs has stopped and the house is silent. “I’m sorry,” his voice cracks. Lisa’s eyes look darker. She lingers a moment then unfolds herself from William’s lap. He notices that the photograph of the house has slipped from the plastic sheet that Lisa still holds. He bends down and picks it up. Without looking at it, he hands it back to her. She returns to the box and drops the photograph back in. It is only then, as he sits alone wanting to shiver, that he hears movement downstairs. “Lisa?” a man’s voice calls. The voice shocks William’s system. He notices there is no lovely “z” sound, just a smooth, confident “s.” Lisa walks to the doorway and calls back, “We’re upstairs.” She looks back at William. “It’s Logan.” William stands on lead legs. Somehow, he manages his way down the flight of stairs, returning to a world that isn’t quite the same as when he left it. He meets Logan in
the foyer, the remnants of dinner and the study session hidden behind the tall man. They shake hands. Lisa gives Logan a kiss on the cheek and introduces William. “I was just showing him a photo of the new house.” “Nice to meet you,” Logan says. “How’s the studying going?” William feels raw and doesn’t trust himself to speak, but Logan is looking at him expectantly. “Your wife’s amazing.” The words are out before he realizes his lips have moved. If Logan is surprised he hides it behind a polite smile. “Yes, well, she definitely has a knack for languages.” Lisa ushers William back towards the living room. Still in a stupor, he barely registers her laughing with Logan, talking about leftovers and what she has to do tomorrow. Her eyes are light and clear again but they won’t meet William’s, even after Logan has gone into the kitchen and left them alone. She helps William gather his books. He fumbles with his bag, still trying to search out her glance. Before he knows it, she is thanking him and his wife for the wine, opening the front door, and giving him a small wave.
William finds himself on the other side of the red door as it clicks shuts. For a few moments he doesn’t move. He blinks, waiting for the summer night to warm him and the fresh air clear his senses. Finally, he takes a few uncertain steps backwards then turns and steps off the porch. At the car he sets his bag in the back. In the driver’s seat he looks down at his notes still on the passenger seat. “To dream. Rêver,” he says aloud. But the French ‘r’ evades him and all he hears is the boy from South Carolina. He knows there won’t be any more study sessions. When he sees Lisa in class tomorrow this will all feel like some film watched in a dark theater. She will be dressed in one of her suits, her hair tamed and her feet covered. He turns his notes over and starts the car. The clock on the dashboard reads 8:43. The boys are in bed, the dinner dishes washed and Clarice asleep on the couch with the television on. She will wake just enough to ask him how the evening went, though tomorrow she won’t remember what he says. She won’t bring up what she wanted to talk about earlier, knowing that there will be time to talk the next day or the day after that.
Selected poems by Peter Serchuk From the Astronautâ€™s Logbook As seen from space, Earth appears a quiet place, a modest mass minding its business, lovely with its scarf of blue and white. Here, in the silent swirl of stars, where the sun is a soothing nightlight proclaiming all is safe and well, we take a deep breath, forget the garden and the viper, imagine we are none the wiser. A Recognizable Face I counted all the money until my fingers bled. I ate a thousand meals while others begged. I walked a million city blocks swimming in the love others crave to keep them off the streets. Weep for me, sister, please. None of my dreams came true.
Selected poems by Katie J. Schwartz A Brief History of My Breasts Fifth grade, noon bell rings: squeeze into a bathroom stall and breathe easier without a training bra. Squirrel it away in my Lisa Frank lunch box. Much to my mother's chagrin, my savage self resists her civilizing mission. But my saucy bold rebellion cannot evade a different Mother. Summer, twelve birthday candles: Fall asleep flat and wake up aching, unwieldy, and off-kilter— angry red fissures stain my skin. Sixth grade, bra now compulsory: Male fingers snap and pinch. Don't bother complaining— “Boys will be boys” High school, sexual awakening: Nipples stiffen beneath thin cotton and his fingers, self-satisfied smirk. Cherry crawls across my cheeks. College, birth control prescription: Safe from a swelling stomach, but my breasts balloon, cartoonish in newly-tight t-shirts. I mourn the goldenness of pre-puberty: Ballerinas and horses and skinned knees. No double entendres to weigh me down.
But clocks don't tick in reverse. Present, the racks of Victoria’s Secret: $50 cuts of cotton and $70 scraps of silk. Bras break my bank account and my back, and my inner savage howls, rip it off. Rabbits’ Lesson Ears quiver, alert; heart beats a frantic tattoo: a child shouldn't be so hypervigilant. When fear rules and only the mind can offer escape, paramnesia reigns. Garage door gears growl out a warning and the whole room shiver-shudders. Downy nape-hairs jump to attention and the rabbits in the curtains whisper, “Hush! Freeze!” Wolves wear honor and coyotes show caution— what stalks nearer now is sly, rapacious, much more a slinking sharp-toothed stoat. And the rabbits in the floorboards whisper, “Flee! Hide!” Heels stub on steps, toenails catch on carpet, and feet trip a dripping red trail up the stairs. Bedroom should mean safety but its door is lockless, useless, and the rabbits in the brass knob whisper, “Dodge! Feint!” Scurrying and scrambling, cannot escape hot hungry breath, the gobbling gluttonous hole, the clutching craving claw-tipped fingers. And the rabbits in the wallpaper whisper, “Kick! Bite!” The hunter’s muscles bunch and overpower. Manic fingers clench, lock in place,
bruising windpipe, tender neck-flesh, and the rabbits in the blankets whisper, “Stop. Stay.” Crushed between mattress and hulking terror, legs ache as greedy paws scald skin. Look upward hard, ignore slavering lips. And the rabbits in the ceiling whisper, “Still. Wait.” A built-in predator makes for an unhappy home, but that house was filled with rabbits, rabbits that taught me how to listen, hide, run; when to kick, and when to play dead, to lie in patient wait— “Your chance will come,” they whisper. The Fae’s Mad Dance Hair flowing down and shoulders bared to the cool night air, this one night that’s free of chores and duties. Cheeks flush, eyes glisten with the thrill of sneaking, leaving no tracks to find. A soft song tugs, pulls feet farther from the light of the house, and draws the unwitting to the forest. Breathe in deep, inhale the dark lush forest— moss so soft on calloused heels, between toes bare. Pupils expand in the dim green light to see blades bow under flowers bursting free, and heavy branches with veins so slim and fine, throbbing as strands of beaded dew drops glisten. Beneath the leaves, sly eyes watch, glistening with hunger. One can never truly know the forest and its humming, ambient pulse. Secrets found in its curling vines, in thorns sharp and bare, can make pleasures seem harmless and free from consequence. But beware, quickly fades the light.
In a perfect ring of birch, there flickers firelight, and strains of music haunt those who listen to its intoxicating notes, its fluttering and fleeting cadence. It draws them here, to the center of the forest, where heady highs make inhibitions too much to bear— for the trapped and longing, Fae’s Revel at last is found. Join the Fae’s mad dance, abandon all care and find its raucous frenzy. But do not mistake faery glee for lightheartedness, for their words are sugared, never barren but dipped in honey, belying teeth that glisten. Do not eat the food nor sup the wine of the dark forest— nothing here comes free. Those who partake will learn they cannot flee, for as legs tire and arms droop, one finds the trap in the Fae’s dizzying dance, begging for rest but none is granted. The rhythm rises and the mind alights, burning with a strange fae fever, eyes glaze, lips glisten: one sip of faery wine can flay thoughts bare. Deeper in the tangled forest, more skin is bared when heat finds pale limbs and sweat beads glisten, as feet spin freedom farther into fae light. Anosmia Amnesia Scent, I’ve read, is the sense most strongly connected to memory, and I have to wonder: Where does that leave me? Me, with my out-of-order olfactory my nose that has run away from its job
My vicarious nose and its constant questions for my sister, braving the perfume counter minefield; my best friend, eyes alight as she stacks descriptions; my boyfriend, humming, hunting out adjectives. I miss out on fluffy mountains of salty-buttered popcorn, delicate petals at winter's end, and the broken-in spines of antique books Do I miss out on my own memories too? And would my memories sharpen if I had my absent fifth sense? Childhood Christmases clearer with the waft of warm cookies? Autumn bonfires more in focus if I recognized burning leaves? If a margarita's tang hit my nose instead of just my throat, would I recall my twenty-first? But then sometimes I’m grateful not to pitch, unexpected, into remembered un-pleasance— The stinging, sterile chlorine that surely clung to my stepfather, home from work, clenched fists and a mouthful of insults; an ex’s cheap cologne, a cloud of harsh and bitter regret; or a hospital’s antiseptic, the stay from which my grandpa never returned. Instead
I grasp the pulse of memoryâ€” not its elusive scent but its tinkling tintinnabulation. The bass-pounding song that dredges forth high school homecomings; an ambient chorus of frogs chirping through sleepless childhood nights spent stargazing; the soft, nearly inaudible whisper of snow swirling down on crisp nights: comfort, family, and home. I save memories by their echoes.
Selected poems by Bobbi Sinha-Morey Button In the eyes of a thread lace button are worlds that have long ago eluded me: the rainbow bridge to summer, bent under the hanging stars; arcs of silver spilled in little lakes; the blurred canoes, the dance pavilion swimming in wrinkled splendor on the waterâ€™s face; porches bloomed with shy and spinster aunts, fluttering their fans or flirting their gauzy sleeves, caged in a latticework of trumpet leaves. All I have before me is a raveling nosegay and an orchardâ€™s breath. So ends an autumn day, light rippling on the ceiling of my home. Bonnet In her bonnet she digs for other lives that thread the solace of her simple life. Wrapped in her only skin, half hidden by forgotten eyes. There in the China
light she lay, the thin hour of dawn when she laments the past, the tangle of lines inside her hands. What she buries haunts her ivory shell with dim and dreary reveries, and stormy crows speak inside her head. Not even the sun will comfort her bones. In her dreams the apples and the birds above move her life soft words. All that she has left is a watch fob leftover from yesterday and her prim and plain dress. The room she’s in doesn’t even breathe. She writes her name in the ashes of a bible with her thumb. The last thing she sees before she sleeps are the bars on her window, the stars boldly shining while she’s still too proud to weep. It’s All in the Wings If I retreat, too afraid to cast the benediction of a single leaf, understand why. It is the error in invisible support, in love’s celestial venturing, when I once trusted the air before it plunged me down; there has not been
a deeper stratum of despair than this. For all the birds of modern design to sweep and arch the atmosphere I do not believe in what they seem to do. Itâ€™s all in the wings I am told, and I grant it may be true. I observed them in their dips and circles, their jet-propelled ascendancies. I want the rush of upper air lifting me up like a feathered thing. Halo Above the blue capering lights of the city she wakes inside her apartment as dusk divvies itself from the day, the quiet sky shining its way in; a glow casting itself on her glass shelves. On the highest one a ladyâ€™s head vase from the fifties; a thimble and thread, a safety pin in her head, a stitched patch the size of a thumbprint saying not to forget. A gift from her auntâ€™s curio cabinet when she
used to live on V Street. Outside in the paths of waning light, the sun looks like a halo before it is gone. Sniper In the blue silver of dusk I took the lonely road and found a single light on inside a small house. In the cracked half-pane of a window bonedeep phobias lived in the room of a man hunched over his desk, ink on his fingertips, the murmur of his lips making the shape of words; secrets which didnâ€™t fit my ear. In the dirty window were pictures of men pinned to a bulletin, their paper hearts targeted by the sniperâ€™s code. Newspapers on a stool, faces cut out, articles sharing their spaces in binders, scrapbooks, and who else knows in locked cabinets through the grey window. Like the Unabomber isolated in the woods a bounty hunter will soon have a price on his head.
Murdo, By Southwest By Mark Heydon
The earth. The boy. He’s telling it now, how at just sixteen he’d last seen the enameled blue square of metal disappear beneath him, his shovel barking sharp against the hard rocks he’d hit--each thrust and throw followed by a heavy rap and scatter of dirt across the roof of the (it wasn’t his, it was his father’s) Ford that he’d (not the father, but the boy’d) already driven, wedged, and bellied deep into the earth he’d dug for the man the day before. Seen it, and told further how the sun had followed him all day, in and out of the blue sky and the few clouds, from east to west, making him sweat, and how the sharp, clear smell coming up from the earth cooled him like a breeze even though it was July and his shovel was scarring the broad earth up like a whore’s back with this chore his father had asked him to do, all the while him telling him what he had done and why. The boy (slowing then, reflecting, taking in for a full minute the shape of each face in front of him and to the side, taking them in like it was the last time—and it was the last time—he would ever see these assembled faces) telling them that he knew what he had to do but that, despite task
and father, he’d stopped once to rest when he was nearly done, when his grandmother (that Jesus-loving woman who knew nothing but the single-sided coin of salvation and refused as regular as Sundays to believe anything else) had come out onto the porch in the late of the afternoon and swept back the long strays of gray from her head with the dough and floured back of her hand to check on her cats that’d already taken their sun and were just then deep in the hind quarter acre of the farm chasing gophers and mice through the weak rustle of blonde-eared South Dakota weeds. She stopped to check, saw him shoveling the dirt, and gave a shout. “He’s in the truck,” he shouted back since, after all, there was no doubting that this was her son down inside the truck, and it was therefore natural that she would worry what had become of him and had a right to know, a natural worry since her son had, in the July heat and inside the space of a single summer, become not even the tired trunk of a living man, but had declined into the pain-dried and illness-slackened shell of a man going cancer-dead on her. So, now, after having come out of her on the day he was born onto the earth and after forty-four years of being her son, was then going back into the earth with just as much expectation as the day he was born. The boy reasoned this, braced himself on the long
handle, and put his work aside long enough to remove his cap and notice the sweat and dirt that had caught and smeared into mud beneath the crest of the band. “Rapher’s down inside the truck,” he shouted again. He was still pausing with the flat of the blade resting up against his shin when he thought to add for some godunknown reason, “It’s done,” which sounded, he remembered, unnatural not in the value of the words and their meaning but in the value of time and its meaning, that this that he was doing stood as a boy’s final remembered, deliberate, and acknowledged exchange between him and his father, the fully conscious exchange of their last mutual, air-breathing moment. He said then, too, (so softly that if the courtroom hadn’t been hushed by the summer heat and slow breathing of those listening it would have been lost) that his mother was already gone, gone when he had never known she was anywhere that could be touched or held or even talked to, and that Rapher, his father, had killed her, his mother. His father had told him so. That Rapher had, the day before, driven the truck to the place in the town where his mother had been not remembering, as a mother should do, not wishing, as a mother could do, but waiting for him, Rapher, to die as she was doing with no motherly thought to the boy as she sat inside some brown-walled and single-bulbed room where spears of liquid were injected into the nooks
and crannies of (her) arms and (her) legs and (her) self until (this was what his father had said to him within that last mutual, air-breathing moment) she thought she could return, maybe, and claim, maybe, after the old man’s passing, the farm and earth that was right there, claim it right out from under the boy’s feet. He, the boy, said then, too, that he was prepared not to understand just then what he was doing standing on that mound of metal and dirt above his father’s truck and his father’s still functioning (and, therefore, still legally and technically his father) body beneath him, but that that’s what his father had told the boy he would do later, that the boy would understand as soon as the father was deep enough beneath the green bladed cover of prairie grass and its thick green cover of time. He told him that he would understand (but the boy then added that he was afraid that maybe he was not going to understand, never understand, going to have to go crazy in order to understand why a boy would bury his own father living inside the earth). The old lady, Emma, looked back once again across at the stopped figure of the boy standing flat-footed on the sheet metal roof of the Ford (that she couldn’t see but could only see from where she stood what was missing of his feet buried deep in the farm and going deeper. There was no telling what the boy was doing) and shouted back some
soundless words at the boy. The boy seemed deaf to her shout so she shouted again, working her jaw and lips but that was all from where the boy could see of her, but then the boy, like she’d broken a spell, steamed back alive into the steady flow of the act of shovel and ground and heaving earth, and said back at her not loud but with a knowing and certainty that relieves the heart, “It’s done.” She waited, and then went back inside the house like she hadn’t heard, and let the screen door slam. “I’m not cold” (this was the boy recalling while he’s telling, saying it was as though he thought there was no real reason for Rapher saying anything at that point, the brown dirt crumbling apart and down in and heavy already over the frame of the window, carrying its single dark consuming substance in a running flow that poured like a liquid earth through and around the interior of the Ford). “I’m not cold,” Rapher said as if surprised. The boy stopped to listen but Rapher gave no further comment, and the boy continued on like warmth was some naturally expected dollar-cost benefit of dying and his father was getting his share (but the boy made clear right then and there where he was still sitting on that bench that he was having nothing to do with placing Rapher in the mouth of death but was merely completing, early, at the persistent request of Rapher, his father, this being buried nearly
alive). No, not exactly alive, he said, not even nearly, because Rapher was dying there where two doctors had already sworn oath and allegiance in writing at the front of the summer against any and all future coming of life in Rapher, sworn that Rapher was consuming death at this point and that within three months and no more, dot over dot, that he was to be reprieved from no date, comma, including weekends, comma, holidays, comma, nor being able even to include a leap year day--it being the wrong quarter of the year--comma, that he would not be reprieved from any time because of a living, growing clump of cancer buried inside of his chest. And that therefore was not murder, the boy said again, under the cover of a whisper. That was not murder, but a request, and that was not a request either, but respect. Even though two people were dead and even though (and this was the boy talking) that one was not unwillingly dead, he knew himself that this dry section of earth was now refusing him, the boy, and tossing him, the boy, off of itself not because of what heâ€™d now done by his own hand out under that sun, but because after what heâ€™d done there would be only two directions to where he, the boy, could have taken himself--and that one direction had been taken away from him because his father had killed his
mother thereby denying that direction towards any reunion of blood on top of the earth between mother and son and, the other because he had buried his father thereby denying claim legal or moral possession of or any comfort in, at least not yet, the one thing, the brown earth, that he could also someday lie in and suckle from and wrap his weak mind (those were his words) around, denying himself by what heâ€™d done from staying on that earth and planting any further crops in this dark earth. He had buried his father. He now understood as he was standing above the earth that he was on top of the earthâ€™s pure and stark refusal to claim his death, too. Or, at least, not yet. He was not dead at all, yet. He sat back on the bench and rested. Rapher. The earth. The boy. The sealed kernel of earth-imbedded Ford was down then, full married inside the dirt, the lover at last submitting to the lover, and burying himself inside her. She, that had lain her loyal self out for, with, and by Rapher for forty-four honor and obey years without stumble or threat or divorce or even comma unlinking her from Rapher, that had begotten then begotten again like a memorized Bible passage the lineage of animals and crops, pushed them up from her womb, graved them and raised
them again, bedded and sprouted herself out even beneath the spring harpy’s cyclone wail (—the boy could attest, understood, and did attest to all this, was telling the exact words of his father here as best he could remember them— ). She, rain-fed and stony Earth, rose up around Rapher even during his long, slow, patterned and barren (except for the boy) years of marriage to a human woman, a failed combination of dullness of substance and sex woman from the town, while Earth abiding abiding abiding her till she was gone, absent, disappearing from him and back to the town in a rusty yellow truck filled with drunken men, finally, in the fall of her fourth year, but leaving, too, finally, the boy behind like the small dropped pellet of a migrating bird. (The boy stopped, gave his chest a chance to refill with air, then began again, telling what Rapher had said.) He was, therefore, not killing, he said again, not burying, even, but preserving in the earth Rapher in agreement and by his asking--even by his, the father’s, begging--for the swift planting of his human flesh while there was still human life left inside, while there was still left a son who could cling and clutch a shovel with rhythm and swing and toss of earth into the hole. While there was still son left to stand there and hold a shovel and declare that, in the earth, flesh and man were planted below him
and, therefore, that this blood and dirt had become immovable just as the land was immovable just as the boy and the future of that land should be and must be immovable even though, soon enough, there would be those legal people who would be coming from the town when they found out that the man was already buried beneath the earth, town men who were sure there would be no one in their way when they came to claim the deeded earth out from under the boy and leave behind the old woman (who stood a husband and a son down and only a grandson now ahead). Rapher had been placed under and seeded, the boy said, having been brought out of the above and placed into the below and there was not now nothing unsacred or pretended or unnatural there (here his father’s words finally disappearing into his own words) nothing unsacred or pretended or unnatural there in the earthen tomb, but then, at last, the boy said that his last full swing of the shovel did carry itself to the one last square inch of blue enamel edged Ford pickup roof just before the single word “stop” was said once up over and above his head and the now-mound of brown earth--and that that word did, in fact, stop the boy and he laid down the long handled wood and metal tool onto the top of the earthen mound and then set his own self down and began to sway back and forth into the curled up folds of his grandmother’s long skirts,
sway and hold, and then begin to cry and settle into the dirt his hard haunches and the growth, too, of the first fine tendrils of what he imagined was his own murderous cancer there. The boy was telling all this.
The grandmother. Not that being here inside a courtroom eased her thoughts any, not while she sat and listened, saw, touched the long thick oakwood bench of a seat to the boy’s quiet ramble of heres and theres and what happened then didn’t happen then happened again (because the boy was crying by this time, nearly wailing, as if some God-inspired worm of truth had finally been able to eat its way through the dirt to sit and chew on his heart, truth that the boy had murdered his dad, his only dad, his dad that despite being in the teeth, gum and jaws of death was still not dead when the boy stood and touched and launched his first spade full of rock and dirt to do its awful work), the boy’s memory coming and going like the afternoon shadows and being subject to repeat, clarification, and designation right within the simple phrase. Of course, it was she who’d first entered the judicial chamber when her name was called and found the indicated seat set on the near left of the judge, and she who had been
the first to sit to attest to the fact of the death and then the clinging of the boy and of the boy’s not being full in his mind. The old lady, Emma (as her husband had called her until the day his chest exploded and he died floating upside down so his face looked up not down through three inches of green pond water, still holding a tangle of leather traces, and her finding the old mule face down in the bank’s spring mud opposite him, its own heart gone in the stumbling, choking, dreadful effort of its want and need to drag the man’s worn out carcass towards the barn) told how she looked back once again across at the stopped fixture of the boy who was standing flat-footed on the sheet metal roof of the Ford (but that she didn’t know this until she made her way at suppertime across the quarter mile and up the mound to where the boy had stopped, stood, and then dropped to his knees in front of her). She began then to tell what she understood, that by then Rapher was gone and the boy was curling his arms round her legs like he’d never had anything living inside them before and she was thinking he’s never going to get up, never going to break loose from the soil then with Rapher buried and gone from his life and only herself left to take him off the mound and dirt and farm and himself. “The boy’s not quite right in his mind.”
Her words curled up clear and cold even around her own ears as she spoke and tried to unexamine what had already been examined in order to free the boy this time from more than the earth but also from a culture and society and government of town men and their obligation to rules drawn not by a will to obey and follow rules, but by their complete incomprehensibility of anything not claimed inside their own law-covered paper, their complete incomprehensibility of anything placed down into the earth in order to be given birth by the earth and then grown by the earth and then be cared for by the earth, town men who were becoming nothing more than what they already were: strangers coming to prevent, by means of the incarceration of the boy in a concrete and metal cell, the implantation of that single seed (the boy and Rapher and grandfather all added up together) into the earth. (Speak louder, the judge said and so she continued against her own will not to remember.) The town men had come then for the boy and for his wrongful termination of what she described as the familial sum of flesh plus blood placed into her son who had never once tried possessing the unclaimable earth, and into the boy, the distant issue from her womb by way of a city woman, but from her nonetheless. They were coming because of their already having failed to prevent the manâ€™s fatal termination of that
city woman he had not possessed, either, but whom he had managed to prevent from later claiming the boy and earth as hers. They were coming for the boy because he— Rapher—was already in the earth where the town’s men could not reach and could not understand, nor could they ever imagine being. They were coming for the available boy who remained kneeling on that earth after the father had gone into the earth, for that same boy who continued to remind them, despite their own incomprehensibility of disintegrating flesh and blood and memory that they, too, someday would be buried--(she stopped there and shook her head). Enough was enough—one dead in the water the other in the earth (she whispered this)—that even for the long moment that the boy knelt before her it felt as if, even for her, the lost son of her own would suddenly burst back up out of the soil, would be back up growing again, and now, just when she began to think she might finally understand this godawful obsession in a male with having to live forever to seed and seed and seed again, there stood in front of her a man in a suit and tie and shoes that could be tied saying, “I understand.” “The man is dead.” “I understand.” “He can only be so dead. Enough is enough.”
So she pulled him back, off her legs and earth and any solid grief he could attach himself to, stood him up to where he was seeing again nearly eye level with her and the broad land that soared straight out from her and her flanks as far as either of them could see, and admitted not to him or father but to herself that the boy would first have to be presented and bound over to the social imposition of men to be purged and purified by banishment from them, men also who would not understand what it was to be banished from that earth, that dirt, banished from that planet that had permitted their existence like mold on a piece of bread, that had permitted men to dig and plant and sow and perpetuate unabated, that had permitted the men to continue there until there was enough existence of their species--finally enough, spoken, and done. And now the trouble was that there was no one saying here what she knew, what she wanted to tell this court of men, that a man was allowed temporarily on this earth in order to break into it and then plant his seed in it and then, by raising up crops out of it, survive and then, by surviving, think that he was alive; but that a woman could pack three paper sacks full of her belongings and then pick them up along with her child-bearing womb and move on not leaving anything behind because there was nothing to leave behind, her body and sense and reason all combined
at once inside the whole of three paper sacks and a womb. No one was saying that. No one was telling that. There was no use pretending it shouldn’t be said. The sheriff. The preacher. There’s more noise and I understand like a block of wood. That much. And now at fifty-five miles per hour we were arriving, steady, with nothing but the blunt power of the engine in front of us, bold, without possibility of stopping or slowing, even, but only directing itself from here the point--the authorized and representative and discussionless stack of bricks and mortar courthouse--to there the point, the one gray-by-gray board and screen erection thirty graveled miles out and seated on three hundred acres of dirt that had been tamed and domesticated by seeds and roots and hooves and one family’s hope most recently named Rapher. I understood. I understood. I understood nothing even though he wasn’t telling, not even bothering to whisper beneath the moan of the engine or even beneath his own unnecessary concentration of car, bodies, glass, rubber, chrome and speed. At ten miles the sheriff switched on the light and turned off the siren. “I’ll let you think.” Which I was not, under these circumstances, going to do. What I was going to do I was doing, was being,
clamped beneath the dashboard and seat belt, praying to any god that still stayed around to suffer the heat and drought and humiliation of this South Dakota prairie long enough to hear the last words of my prayer before It, too, managed to disentangle Itself from the ornery confusion of why It was here and leave before I did, or, maybe, just stopped listening and sat. What I was being now was flush excited and soaring next to him at fifty-five miles and faster, next to a lawman who once, forty-four years ago, had come to stand and be present next to the father and Emma, came to watch a bald and squirming worm wiggle out of the dark hole in the woman (the single red light still turning dizzily in the sunlight outside), came to watch back in that distant time Rapherâ€™s entry into his first earthly experiences, watch from then until now, watch him grow from earth up to six foot and boots, to watch himself arresting that son of that Rapher for the murder of that same growth of man who wanted only to reseed himself in accordance with nature, not man nor society, but earth, watch himself arrest a boy who was unfocused and undefined and uncertain (and at best only hinted at in the boyâ€™s mind) how to achieve that one mixed blessing of causing his father to live forever by way of restocking the earth, who finally planted his own father there hoping he would again grow, propagate,
become, and would not die because dying somehow was worse than everything else bad and evil and dull combined. The sheriff. And so there is the roaring, rushing, screaming need of the sheriff to rush in and occupy, to be sucked into and occupy the vacuum of a suddenly unoccupied human space with all his learned social ability and regulation, to be sucked in primarily to patch up the rent fabric by suspending from that ruptured society this boy or any other dawdling fool who might wish to try his own independent establishment of mortal law in, of all places, this godawful and neglected location thirty miles southwest of Murdo; but more importantly also to be sucked in to patch and contain and substructure and hold up the perforated governmental social order already tilted toward collapsing beneath the weight of its elected squatters who have skittered in from all walks of life and places (save any walk of life or place that demanded the foolâ€™s foot to touch the bearing earth), ones who were at this moment populating its green halls right up through its linoleum floored branches with their pale, unsunned bodies. Weâ€™re speaking of this beneath the twirling red light: What is a sin that would cause kin to murder kin no
matter how gelled and awful and hollow the skeleton, skin, and membrane of kin be? Kin that could carry kin with eyes wide open and gawking at him towards the truck, kin that had become in one day too weak to raise even an eyebrow of concern for itself, kin that was carried along with the boyâ€™s face directly above him, looking down at him, saying that the hole and the truck and the earth were ready to receive him, as if the hole and the truck and the earth could know or understand what it meant to be the carried kin and would hold him once he was buried there in perpetuity. The preacher. We were there, standing on that dark bubble of earth becoming a grave beneath our feet even as she talked (Rapher was dying, then dead, beneath us as she spoke), her words working at the ground beneath our feet like fingers as she talked, explained, the sheriff taking his hand off his holstered gun and leading her thick elbow and heavy skirted self down off the mound, down from where the foot-pressed prints of dirt and rocks filled with the shadows of the dropping sun, leading her down to where the boy had already self-guided seated himself into the hind seat of the patrol car. How could I understand? I asked: â€œWhat did he do?â€?
“I’m telling you what he did.” “What?” “He buried his father right there. Living.” “Why?” “You think I know?” No crying, not even now with the flesh of her own son breaking under her feet. “Give a woman time to sort things out.” “Even when you knew, you didn’t stop him?” Still no crying. “You think I, a woman, could bring him down? One woman go up and pull down one man off another man that had been bonded by blood?” “A boy, your blood—“ “Blood they stripped of any rights of a woman so their blood. Bonded by their blood to each other, perhaps even love. I couldn’t bring him down.” “You did.” “When it was over. When he had finished.” Then she stopped, too. Enough was enough. What was left now was only the permitted slow falling of the western sun over the roof of the car, the woman in the back seat with the boy, and me in front again. The sheriff turned off the circling light and then let it begin to move, the car on its own and us, out away over the earth, the mound, northeast. Still there was no crying.
The boy. Saying here and now without stopping, still sitting, then standing up off again off the hard, brown, heavy wooden seat where he had finished, and, finally, let himself suffer the fall and spread and glisten over his cheeks now that he understood, maybe, that he would be detained and assigned and confined for said period of time (and removed and buried in concrete walls and metal bars outside the soil for said period of time), saying to himself, worst of worse, that after all this, how could anyone understand? The boy, who knew we were coming, who always knew we were coming, who watched us come, who waited for us to come, saying when we were finally there and standing with him on that awful mound, looked down at his feet, pointed, and said: Wait. Watch with me. Wait. Wait.
Contributors: Iryna Lialko (Cover Artist) was born in the Central Ukraine in 1981. In 2006 she graduated from Ukrainian National Academy of Visual Arts and Architecture. She has been working and residing in the United States since 2014. Her artwork is located in the private collections of people from many countries. Find her here: www.lialkoart.com and at firstname.lastname@example.org. W. Royce Adams, a retired college English professor, has published over a dozen college textbooks, several journal articles and juvenile novels. He lives in Santa Barbara, California, with his wife, Jane Brody. “Terror Lynchings” is his first creative nonfiction piece to be published in a literary publication, for which he thanks the editors of Black Fox Literary Magazine. Marcella Benton lives in Lakeland, Florida with her husband and pets. She works as a legal assistant and as an artist for her husband’s screen printing and embroidery company, Whatever Tees. CL Bledsoe is the author of a dozen books, most recently the poetry collection Riceland and the novel Man of Clay. He lives in northern Virginia with his daughter. William C. Blome writes poetry and short fiction. He lives wedged between Baltimore and Washington, DC, and he is a master’s degree graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars. His work has previously seen the light of day in such fine little mags as Amarillo Bay, Prism International, Laurel Review, The Oyez Review, Salted Feathers, and The California Quarterly. A.M. Bostwick writes Middle Grade and Young Adult novels. Her debut middle grade novel, The Great Cat Nap, earned the 2014 Tofte/Wright Children's Literature Award
from the Council for Wisconsin Writers. An early draft of her young adult novel, Break the Spell, was a finalist in the 2013 Wisconsin Romance Writers of America Fab 5 Contest. She took third place in the 2014 Rochester Writers’ Summer Writing Contest for her flash fiction piece, “Paint the Stars.” She holds degrees in both art and earth science. Her YA novel, Break the Spell, is forthcoming in September 2015 from Fiery Seas Publishing. A.M. Bostwick lives in northern Wisconsin with her husband and thrill-seeking cat. John Burgman, a former editor at Outdoor Life magazine, is the author of the book, Why We Climb. He is a former Fulbright journalism grant recipient and holds an MFA from New York University. His writing has appeared online or in print at Esquire.com,The Rumpus, Portland Review, Prick of the Spindle, and other outlets. Follow him on Twitter: @John_Burgman. Lauren Cerruto is a poet, fiction writer, and medical writer from northern New Jersey. She studied poetry at the University of Virginia with Greg Orr, Deborah Nystrom, and Rita Dove. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Pirene’s Fountain, Margie: The American Journal of Poetry, The Journal of NJ Poets, The Paterson Literary Review, Cliterature, and Mothers Always Write. She is currently working on her first chapbook manuscript. Shaina Clingempeel is a senior and an English major at the College of Charleston, with a concentration in Creative Writing and a minor in Psychology. During the school year, she volunteers at the N. E. Early Childhood Development Center, a model preschool that assists young children in cognitive development. Currently, she works as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble in Florence, S.C. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, writing, and watching philosophical films. Also, she loves to travel, and will be
studying abroad, and travel blogging, at the University of Nottingham during the fall of next year. She has been published in Boston Poetry Magazine, Thought Catalog, Poetry Quarterly, Eber and Wein, and Long Exposure Magazine. Kiran Damodaran is a writer born and raised in Chatham, New Jersey. He has had his work published in the Writers' Slate, sponsored by The Writing Conference, and by Live Poets Society of NJ. He received second place in the narration category of The Writing Conference's annual contest and earned a spot as a Topical Winner in American High School Poets' "Of Love and Dedication" issue. An avid reader, Kiran loves literature and spends much of his free time devouring the pages of the latest novels in a futile attempt to finish the growing stack of books on his "toread" list. When he doesn't have his head stuck in a book or a pencil between his fingers, Kiran can be found playing sports, singing, strumming the guitar, or entertaining his adorable dog, Lucky. Christine Degenaars has had work published in several Boston College affiliated magazines, including Stylus, Laughing Medusa and The Medical Humanities Journal of Boston College. Outside of Boston College, she has work published and forthcoming in Hermeneutic Chaos, The Magnolia Review, Red Paint Hill Publishing, Hypertrophic Literary, and Plain China: Best Undergraduate Writing. She is the recipient of two Bishop-Kelleher Awards. Kathryn de Leon was born and raised in Los Angeles but has been living permanently in England for the last five years. She has been writing poetry since childhood and has been published in a number of little magazines in the U.S. in the past (LONG past!). She recently decided to begin submitting poetry for publication again. She has a B.A. in English and is a teacher. She has taught primary school in
the U.S. and England, and has taught EFL/ESL in the U.S., South Korea, Japan, and England. Diana DiPietro received her MFA in Poetry from Adelphi University. In 2013, she was the recipient of the Donald Everett Axinn Award for Poetry. She currently resides in Kalispell, Montana. Chelsey Drysdale is a writer and editor living in Long Beach, CA. Her essay, “Philosophy of Hamilton” appears in the Book Lovers anthology from Seal Press. She was Smith Magazine’s Memoirist of the Month in July, and Smith also featured her essay “Drive-Through Debacle” in 2013. She is in the process of editing her completed essay collection, Yes Girl. Valya Dudycz Lupescu is the author of The Silence of Trees and founding editor of Conclave: A Journal of Character. Valya earned her MFA in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has been involved with the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame since its inception in 2009. Her poetry and prose have been published in many literary and genre magazines, including Strange Horizons, Mythic Delirium, Abyss & Apex, Danse Macabre, The Pedestal Magazine, Gone Lawn, Jersey Devil Press, and Fickle Muses. You can read more at: www.vdlupescu.com or follow her on twitter @Valya. Carolyn D. Elias’ poetry appears in the anthology: Turn Left at Nowhere. Her work has been published by Lunch Ticket, Apeiron Review, Sassafras Literary Magazine, East Jasmine Review, 1947, Slink Chunk Press, The Tower Journal, Digging Through the Fat, The Magnolia Review, Decades Review, S/tick, HelloHorror, The Altar Collective, The Gambler Magazine, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Ann Arbor Review, Crack the Spine, The Voices Project, Torrid Literature Journal, and Beakful. Look for Carolyn’s
upcoming publications in The Poetry Storehouse, Poetica Magazine, Vending Machine Press, The Bookends Review, and Wilderness House Literary Review. Follow her on twitter @CarolynDElias. Patricia Frolander and her husband, Robert, ranch in the Black Hills of Wyoming. Still active, you may find her on a tractor or horse, but at this stage of her life she prefers her writing desk. Frolander, a Wrangler and Willa Cather Award recipient, has been widely published for eighteen years and was appointed Wyoming Poet Laureate by Governor Matt Mead in 2011-13. Gene Goldfarb, a Long Islander, resumed writing after working as a judge for over 30 years. His poems recently appeared in Empty Sink, River & South Review, Annapurna, Livid Squid, Lalitamba, A Narrow Fellow, Stoneboat, SLANT, Thin Air, and Black Fox. Allie Gove lives in El Dorado Hills, CA and writes both poetry and fiction. She began writing fiction after being captivated at a young age by stories like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and didn't start writing poetry seriously until college. Her two current favorite poets are Sharon Olds and Carolyn ForchĂŠ. Her poetry has appeared in The Fat City Review as well as a few of her community college student literary magazines. William A. Greenfield began writing poetry in college, and thanks his daughter for giving him the spark to start writing again. His poems have appeared in The Front Porch Review, The Storyteller Magazine, The East Coast Literary Review, Down in the Dirt Magazine, and other publications. He resides in the Catskill Mountains of New York with his wife, son, and a Springer Spaniel.
Mark Heydon lives in the heart of Californiaâ€™s wine country where he teaches at the local community college. Occasionally, he escapes and has taught in the Congo, China, the Czech Republic. His early days were centered in the green triangle of Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota where he often returns in both thought and spirit and where this story has its roots. His short fiction and essays have appeared in various publications including Pulpsmith, Happy, Lost Coast Review, Central Park, and DataBus. Marco Kaisth is a rising senior at West WindsorPlainsboro High School South. He started his own role playing design company and is currently the Accessibility Coordinator for Wireless Philosophy, a Khan Academy affiliated non-profit that produces short form philosophy videos. He's extremely passionate about writing, game design and photography. Amber Kelly-Anderson is a Texas based writer and literature/history professor. Her recent publications include The Best Womenâ€™s Travel Writing, Toasted Cheese, Kansas City Voices, East Coast Literary Review, Copperfield Review, Necessary Fiction, The Review Review, and Brain, Child. She enjoys the writings of Margaret Atwood, roasted corn salsa, and punk band t-shirts. She is working on her first novel. Follow her @AKellyAnderson. Robert S. King, a native Georgian, now lives in Lexington, Kentucky, where he edits the literary journal Kentucky Review. His poems have appeared in hundreds of magazines, including Atlanta Review, California Quarterly, Chariton Review, Hollins Critic, Kenyon Review, Main Street Rag, Midwest Quarterly, Negative Capability, Southern Poetry Review, and Spoon River Poetry Review. He has published eight poetry collections, most recently Diary of the Last Person on Earth (Sybaritic Press 2014)
and Developing a Photograph of God (Glass Lyre Press, 2014). His personal website is www.robertsking.com. Sandra Kolankiewicz's poems and stories have appeared widely over the past 35 years, most recently in Per Contra, Prairie Schooner, Bellingham Review, Fifth Wednesday, New World Writing, and IthacaLit. Turning Inside Out is available from Black Lawrence Press. Finishing Line Press released The Way You Will Go in 2014. When I Fell, an enovel with 76 illustrations by Kathy Skerritt, is available from Web-e-Books. She lives with her family in Marietta, Ohio, and teaches English at a community college in West Virginia. Jessica Wiseman Lawrence studied creative writing at Longwood University. You can find her recent work upcoming or published in Origins, Black Fox Literary Magazine, and The Feminine Divine's upcoming Anthology of Female Voices, along with many others. Additionally, one of her poems has recently earned a Best of the Net nomination. She lives in rural central Virginia, where she works as an office manager. Sharanya Manivannan's first book of poems, Witchcraft, was described in The Straits Times, Singapore, as “sensuous and spiritual, delicate and dangerous and as full as the moon reflected in a knife.” She was specially commissioned to write and perform a poem at the 2015 Commonwealth Day Observance at Westminster Abbey, London. She lives in Chennai, and her fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in Hobart, Drunken Boat, Wasafiri, Whiskeypaper, and elsewhere. Her next book of poems will be published by HarperCollins India in 2016. Find her on Twitter: @ranyamanivannan. Shelley Masini is a freelance writer who holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in English from Sonoma
State University. Residing in Santa Rosa, California, she is a member of the Redwood Writers branch of the California Writers Club and the Northern California Chapter of Sisters in Crime. She meets regularly with a salon of women writers in San Francisco, as well as a small writing group known as the Keys, made up of peers from graduate school, to discuss and workshop writing projects. She is currently finishing her first novel, a literary mystery, and writes a daily blog, Living as a writer for 365 days. Michael P. McManus has published poems and short stories in numerous publications. These include Louisiana Literature, Texas Review, Atlanta Review, Rattle, Prism International, The MacGuffin, Pennsylvania Review, The Dublin Quarterly, Texas Review, Burnside Review, and ODark-Thirty, among others. He is the recipient of an Artist Fellowship Award from the Louisiana Division of the Arts. His poetry has received Pushcart Prize nominations as well as The Virginia Award and The Oceans Prize. He has a short story forthcoming in Per Contra, and poetry forthcoming in Chicago Quarterly Review, Absinthe Poetry Review, and Red Paint Hill, among others. He attended Penn State and The University of Louisiana at Monroe. He is a Navy Veteran and service-connected Disabled Veteran. Richard King Perkins II is a state-sponsored advocate for residents in long-term care facilities. He has a wife, Vickie and a daughter, Sage. He is a three-time Pushcart nominee and a Best of the Net nominee and has had work appear in hundreds of publications including The Louisiana Review, Bluestem, Emrys Journal, Sierra Nevada Review, Two Thirds North, The Red Cedar Review, and The William and Mary Review. He has poems forthcoming in the Roanoke Review, The Alembic, and Milkfist. His poem, "Distillery of the Sun" was awarded second place in the 2014 Bacopa Literary Review contest.
Katie J Schwartz Katie was raised in a small Midwestern town and now lives in a slightly different small Midwestern town. She has had publications in Journey, Helix: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Research, and has a forthcoming publication in Adanna Literary Journal. She likes fairy tales, bakes delicious cookies, and speaks very poor French. Her influences include Neil Gaiman, Kate Bernheimer, and anyone who's ever told a tale around a campfire. She is currently pursuing a Masterâ€™s degree in Professional Writing. Peter Serchukâ€™s poems have appeared in a variety of journals including Boulevard, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Denver Quarterly, North American Review, Texas Review, Nimrod, Poet Lore and others. His work has also been featured on Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac, as well as in more than a half dozen anthologies. His poetry collections include, Waiting for Poppa at the Smithtown Diner (University of Illinois Press) and most recently, All That Remains (WordTech Editions). He lives in Los Angeles. More at peterserchuk.com. Bobbi Sinha-Morey Bobbi Sinha-Morey is a poet living in the peaceful city of Brookings, Oregon. Her poetry can be seen in places such as Pirene's Fountain, Plainsongs, The Path, Poppy Road Review, and Faith, Hope and Fiction, among others. Her books of poetry White Tail, The Glass Swan, and others are available at Amazon.com and www.writewordsinc.com. In addition, her website is located at http://bobbisinhamorey.wordpress.com. She likes cooking, aerobics, knitting, reading, and rock hounding with her husband. Samuel Triolo currently lives in Madison, New Jersey. He is a graduate of Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, New Hampshire where he studied creative writing. During his time there, he was both featured in and later served as
editor-in-chief of Nevermore, the school's literary magazine. He has no other previous publications. Mark Vogel has published short stories in Cities and Roads, Knight Literary Journal, Whimperbang, SN Review, and Our Stories. Poetry has appeared in Poetry Midwest, English Journal, Cape Rock, Dark Sky, Cold Mountain Review, Broken Bridge Review, and other journals. He is currently Professor of English at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, and directs the Appalachian Writing Project. Michael Washburn is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor with a B.A. in English from Grinnell College. His stories have appeared in Rosebud, The Brooklyn Rail, The Montreal Review, Stand, Still Point Arts Quarterly, Prick of the Spindle, Two Cities Review, Floyd County Moonshine, The New Orphic Review, Raven Chronicles, The Bryant Literary Review, The Weird Fiction Review, and other publications. He is the author of two novels, one set in Los Angeles and the other in a remote Australia of the mind. Sidney Williams, a Louisiana native, is the author of a number of novels including the thriller Midnight Eyes and horror tales such as When Darkness Falls, Blood Hunter, Night Brothers and Azarius. His books have been re-issued in audio and ebook editions from Crossroad Press. Crossroad has also issued a collection of his short fiction called Scars and Candy and has plans to release a short novel called Dark Hours. His short work has also appeared in Cemetery Dance, Eulogy, Paper Tape, Danse Macabre du Jour and in anthologies including Hot Blood: Deadly After Dark, Crafty Cat Crimes and Under the Fang. He sometimes performs a short program of flash fiction readings called Decoherence. Visit him at sidisalive.com or facebook.com/SidneyWilliamsBooks.
Francine Witte is a poet and flash fiction writer. Her flash fiction chapbooks are The Wind Twirls Everything and Cold June. Her poetry chapbooks are First Rain" and Only, Not Only. She lives in NYC and is a high school English teacher. D. A. Young began writing as a teen-ager and soon discovered she couldnâ€™t give it up and couldnâ€™t seriously pursue any other endeavor. She acquired a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from California State University, Fullerton, has written and published a number of short stories, and is working on a novel. She's lived in Germany, bounced around the U.S., traveled in Europe, and currently resides in Long Beach, California with her cat, Loki.
Thank you for reading! Stay in touch: www.blackfoxlitmag.com Website www.facebook.com/blackfoxlit Facebook @blackfoxlit Twitter & Instagram
The Summer 2015 Issue of Black Fox Literary Magazine featuring new fiction, poetry and nonfiction.