Black Fox Literary Magazine is a print and online literary magazine published biannually.
Copyright ÂŠ 2016 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 13 Cover Art (Pigalle) by Gregg Chadwick ISBN: 978-1-329-88536-3
Editors’ Note Every time we put out a new edition of Black Fox, we wonder what we’re going to say to our readers. We’re forever thinking about whether or not there will be progress. However, we’re repeatedly surprised that there is something to report. We’re growing, and even though that growth is always unexpected, we are grateful beyond measure. One of our goals has always been to get the magazine to the annual AWP conference. We’re thrilled to say that Black Fox will be an exhibitor this coming March at AWP in LA. As some of you have probably noticed, we have new submission options available, and you can now receive feedback on your submissions. Not only does this help us pay for magazine expenses, but it allows us to give back by offering suggestions to help writers improve their craft. A warm thank you to those of you who submit with a donation and all of you who read the magazine both online and in print. We know how fortunate we are. The magazine would not be able to thrive without the support of our generous contributors and readers. -The Editors Racquel, Pam and Marquita
Meet the BFLM Staff: Founding Editors: Racquel Henry is first and foremost a writer. She is also a parttime 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, VA. 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 is Managing Editor of Population Research and Policy Review, and a judge for Critique My Novelâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Ink & Insights Contest. Elizabeth received a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Arizona State University. Some of her favorite writers are Stephen King, Anne Rice, Aimee Bender, Dan Chaon, and Stacey Richter. Her work appears in Kalliope â&#x20AC;&#x201C; 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. Readers: 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: What Sweden is Like by Riccardo Savini (7) Eliot by Brendan Stephens (45) Opening Raynah by Lyndsey Ellis (61) Blue by Beth Sherman (101) Poetry Selected Poems by Elizabeth Whittington (19) Walking into a Georgia Gas Station by Aracely Medina (26) Knots by Alexi Garre (28) Selected Poems by Kaleb Cook (30) Selected Poems by Ephraim Scott Sommers (35) Selected Poems by Julian Randall (39) Abandoned Girl by Francesca Badalamenti (56) Perennial by Alena Zhang (57) Selected Poems by Seth Jani (58) Goodbyes by James Mahon (85) Sunday Evening Ironing by Kevin Casey (94) Caritas Gemini by Thomas Snarsky (95) Bad Memory by Terry Minchow-Proffitt (96) Bill Evans at the Smiling Dog Saloon by John Stupp (98) Selected Poems by AJ Huffman (99) Nonfiction On Howard Drive by Jessica Demarest (86) Photography Forgotten Horse Barn by Jodi De Luca (84) Cover Art: Pigalle by Gregg Chadwick (Cover Artist)
What Sweden is Like By Riccardo Savini Everybody in Sweden is hushed but you are loud. Swedes don’t look at the people they cross in the street, while you search for eyes. Hardly anybody approaches strangers, and you’re a stranger from Italy who longs for company. Some of them loosen up on the weekends, in bars where beer and vodka flow, while you’re a forthcoming rambler who wears his heart on his sleeve and talks with his hands in the air. They were hooked on NYPD Blue and the Jerry Springer Show in English, with subtitles, and you watched Pippo Baudo host Fantastico and Inspector Cattani fight the Mafia. Swedish women are pallid and hushed, and have foggy eyes. You have brown eyes, olive skin, and stocky legs. You’ll turn forty next month. Your hair is long and wild like Marc Bolan’s on the cover of T-Rex, and your attire is Spartan: jean jacket over a black T-shirt, military trousers, baggy, rolled up to your knees. You were born in Ostuni, a fishing village on the heel of Italy, perched over the Adriatic Sea, lucent in the sun. Ostuni: a labyrinth of streets and alleyways and stone steps between white walls. A church that was once a Roman temple stands in the town center. Ostuni, a white citadel, you think now that you’re in a different kind of white fortress. A barbican, a great wall of flesh that never reddens. Never breaks a sweat either, or lets out a sound. 7
When you turned twenty, you ditched Ostuni, the smalltown-mentality, your mother, too much of the wrong love, and her miserly whining about your father—He abandoned me, he abandoned you. And this is the reason there never was any money for your piano or Karate lessons, and nothing in your life is likely. In Rome you moved into a warehouse squat outside Cinecittà. You slept with every girl who lived in that brick edifice, listened to CCCP, and tattooed the phases of the moon on your forearm. Your hair grew wild. You took acting classes and performed with a theater collective. But Rome became too tight, so you took your show to Zurich, Paris, and Amsterdam. You busked the streets, played guitar, perfected a pantomime act. Wherever you found a friendly face or a pretty girl, you dropped your hat. You made ends meet with salutary jobs; serving espresso, pouring beer, stuffing paninis with mozzarella, fresh parsley, and pomodorini. Ciao, va bene! A dopo, Bella! you said to every woman. *** You had no idea what Sweden was like. This was the farthest you’d come from home, the most foreign you’d been. The far-stretching views, boundless blue skies, and pure air mesmerized you. You set out to discover the country. Like a great explorer you wandered through unspoiled countryside. Only 8
peace. You don’t speak a word of Swedish but your smile and garrulousness intrigues the rare souls you encountered—farmers living in red houses at the end of the world. You’re drawn north, away from Italy. You close your eyes and breathe. Sweden. What wide-open country is this? No sign of men’s labor, construction, or waste. No churches or castles on hills. No ruins of more prosperous times. Only virgin territory. Lappland. Vast forests extending, then snow and melting ice, and then nothing but tundra, hillocks, a gray-green expanse as far as you can see. A lone bird of prey circles far above, in the blue. The calm infinity finds a place inside you. You have no doubt. Sweden’s the place for you; it will be the ballast to your mercurial heart, the vessel that collects your emotions. *** Stockholm. You work part-time in a café. The Italian at the espresso machine. A Cliché, but you percolate one damn good coffee. The café owner, an Iranian, pays little but lets you stay in a small bedroom in his house. So many pretty women! You don’t understand how Swedish men can keep their cool. Sometimes you run after girls with flowers you pluck from vases on window ledges. They smile at you, take the flower, and walk away. They’re intrigued by your Italian voice and how you look them in the eyes to let them know how much life there is in you. Swedish men have nothing on you, 9
not your boldness and geniality. You are drawn into a frantic love life. No love, but short stints with women happy to sleep with you and see you gone by morning. Until you lay eyes on Eva. *** Eva, as in Adam and Eve. Pale face, inscrutable eyes, ashen lips. And that melancholy crease in her forehead. Eva’s twenty-five. Fifteen years younger than you. Perhaps younger. It’s possible she lied about her age. What do you care? She’s beautiful. You are so young, you murmur to her as you take her in your arms and smell her. She’s all you ever wanted: composed and graceful, fair and freckled-nosed. And the delicious curvature of her neck! And her long white hands! In her company the words pour out of you. She’s turned you into a poet. You tell her everything, you talk about Italy. She listens and nods. You pause to ask her what she thinks. Everything you say makes sense, she says. She listens to you for hours. She chuckles at your jokes. You’re the entertainer, the voice in the relationship, the man who sets things right. You tell her about Brussels and working in a workshop where you shaped malleable tin-plate into lampshades. Espresso making isn’t interesting, so you don’t talk about that. You want to get back to acting, your calling in life. 10
Acting, theater, pantomime. Eva nods but says nothing, so you tell her about the Venice Carnival and a Scaramouche mask you once fashioned out of papier maché. I have never met anyone like you, she says. Yeah, you are different. Swedish men are cold and reserved. They don’t have your bravado. They don’t know how to talk to a woman like Eva. Bocca (mouth), culo (ass), guardami negli occhi (look into my eyes). She repeats the words until she pronounces them correctly. She loves Italian. You’re useful around her flat. You show her how to crush garlic cloves, instead of cutting them open, and how to make bread and prepare Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino. Eva can’t cook worth shit. But the way she sets up the breakfast table, slices dark bread and Jarlsberg, garnishes the sliced bread and cheese with cucumber and red bell pepper, this makes up for her culinary ineptitude. When you fuck her she moans. Even when you thud into her, rippling the layer of fat on her glutes. When she comes, she shudders and goes quiet. Then she lies besides you with her head on your chest and talks about going on holiday to Italy, anywhere far from Sweden. In the morning, as she leaps out of bed you reach for her long calf, but she’s already on her way to the bathroom. She returns dressed in a pair of trousers she wears high above her waist. The trousers make her look longer and more slender than she really is. Her gaze wanders past you, past posters of art 11
exhibits, past a collage made out of postcards with bizarre architecture. Her lip curls down. Her gray eyes cloud. Your blood is calmed. You need this. You used to be an errant traveler. Used to be a gypsy. Eva grounds you. It will snow in winter and the streets will glaze with frost, the green parks and the trees turn white and black, and fat, white rabbits will burrow through the white blanket to find nutrition. You read Fernando Pessoa and Eva works at the computer. On the weekends she goes shopping with girlfriends you haven’t met. They avoid the fancy department stores in Sergels Torg. Eva prefers the boutiques in Södermalm, a neighborhood that feels less Swedish and is home to Ethiopian and Middle-Eastern immigrants and young Swedes who moved home after living in London. Eva is in medical school. What a good thing, you think, to care for people. When she takes a phone call, she often goes to the next room and shuts the door. She’s very private. Never once has she suggested you meet her parents, although she dines with them every week. It doesn’t matter: you’ve moved in with her and sleep in her bed. You kiss her on the bus. Stop, she whispers. We are not alone. You grab her ass and stare back at the grannies across from you until they look away. You don’t back down. Sometimes this gets you into a scuffle. Like the afternoon you wore Mickey Mouse shoes, a red 12
nose, and a top hat. You drew thick, red lips around your mouth, and off you went down the pedestrian street. People stopped to watch your pantomime. Some dropped coins in a basket. Two idiots heckled you. They called you a clown. Sure, you were dressed like one. But the way they said it and how the big guy stabbed a finger at your chest? You stood your ground, told them they were the clowns. Some of the older customers who come to the café don’t want to speak English. This is Sweden, they whisper. You whistle a song and pretend not to be irritated. You know you’ll never learn Swedish. And even if you did, you’d make sure to only speak English or Italian. Eva shampoos your hair when you shower together. She makes a face when you push your chin into her neck and tickle her with your stubble. You bite her collarbone. She freezes. Enough, she says. So you kiss her. Sometimes you run out of things to say. Your heart shrinks and you feel a little Swedish. And when you go quiet, everything is quiet, and Eva the quietest. She’s always quiet, but now that you’re quiet, she’s so so quiet. *** One day in June, you’re invited to Rome to work on a play. The director is your old acting teacher, the one who taught you everything. You need the money and a little ego-boost. 13
Three weeks in Rome. Night after night, you perform in front of a packed theatre. At the curtain call, applause erupts and the roars go, Bravi! Bravi! It fills you with pride, gives you new purpose. After the performances you drink wine in a square with your fellow actors and converse about life and art. A Saturday morning. Porta Portese, the open-air market. A jungle of makeshift stalls. Everybody’s looking for a bargain, negotiating, sweating, shouting. A feisty old woman rides past you on a bike. She thumps her bell with persistence and cuts through the crowd. The stallholders shout out their deals. There’s a melody to the chants and competing calls. A hand grabs your shoulder. This man with a low, friendly voice, wants you to try his melon. You take a wedge of fruit from the plate he holds up and bite into it. Sweet, rich, juicy. Senti che buono? The man says, and resumes calling passers-by. The deluge of life and noise is disorienting. For a moment you have to sit down on the pavement. What can you tell your old friends about Sweden? What do you have to show for your time there? You give them the best thing you’ve got: a photo of Eva. She is beautiful, they say. Now they understand what keeps you in Sweden. You let slip that she might be the one. But when your brother, Stefano, wants to know if you’ve learned Swedish, you suddenly feel unsure of what you are doing.
*** Stockholm again. You traveled two long days to get here. You missed a bus, a train, an airplane. You shelled out an extra one hundred Euro for a next-day ticket and spent the night on the floor of Fiumicino Airport. You couldn’t sleep. Everything seemed to conspire against your return. You had the feeling this wasn’t the right time to come back to Sweden. But you were on such a high. The jam-packed theater! Your fellow actors’ praise! The endless applause! You couldn’t wait to see Eva, tell her everything, share your joy. Show her your true self. Tell her about the thrill of living. It’s ten at night when you arrive at her apartment. You knock. The door is unlatched. Eva. A thin smile and not a word. Her hair is moist, as though she just came out of the shower. Her eyes are red at the corners. She doesn’t seem happy to see you. You follow her to the kitchen. She goes to the sink and turns on the tap. You drop your duffle bag to the floor. Long knives are tacked on the horizontal magnet that runs along the counter top. Shakers with dried herbs and ground spices crowd the narrow wood shelf. You never noticed them before. She keeps her back to you. You think about grabbing your bag and getting out of there. But where would you go? Her shoulder bends and her magnificent neck, the neck you’ve kissed many times, is revealed. She turns reluctantly. Her lower lip droops. She looks stupid. The kettle shakes and there’s 15
a bubbling sound and a click. She turns and prepares tea. You go to her, take one of the cups, and sit at the table. She remains by the counter and studies her cup. Says nothing. Doesn’t even look at you. Is this the woman you lived with? You pull out a chair for her, but she keeps away. You wonder what changed. Maybe she’s talked about you to her mother or father. A foreigner? Working in a café? Are you crazy? She’s so distant. She’s different. You don’t know where to start. The look on her face crushes you. Again, you’re just an insignificant mime. A clown. How you wish she’d reach out to you, offer a word, cough out a sound. Speak to me, you say. Almost implore her. If only she’d speak. If only she asked an innocent question, like, How was it? Speak to me, Eva. Instead, it’s the miserly sipping from her cup. Say something! You raise your voice. I’m always the one speaking. Her eyes are vacant. Your heart slows down and your body, organ by organ, like the compartments of a sinking ship, fills with cold water. You want to provoke a reaction. Force her to say something. You read Dante to her, described your mother’s house, told her of your childhood dream of playing the piano. Taught her
how to make a fist and punch. How to cook. You were her friend and lover. Your turn, you say. Eva fiddles with a small music player. Of the thousands tunes she could play, she selects one you recognize right away. I will survive, the chorus goes. Such a fierce look in her eyes. You crash a fist against the table. The cup jolts, tumbles, and shatters on the floor. You bang your fist again. Sit down, you say. She doesn’t flinch. Your face is hot. Eva stands in the corner, as far from you as possible, defenseless like a deer caught in the headlights. Speak to me. Your turn now, you say. I’m not saying another word. I am tired of speaking. She starts to sob, Please leave. You get out of the chair and pace circles around the table. Your life is unraveling. What will become of you? Of you and this country? And Eva? Eva doesn’t move. Eva has nothing to say. A pause. As you feel your muscles and fists tighten again, you draw in a long, slow breath. Call the police, you say. This is the only way I’ll leave the apartment. She doesn’t move a finger.
You grab the phone and hold it to her. You want me to leave? you say, Then call the police. The phone shakes in your hand. She stares at you then snatches the phone from your hand. *** She puts the phone down. She doesn’t even sneer at you. She goes to the bathroom, then to the bedroom and shuts the door behind her. You stand in the kitchen. There’s nothing for you to do. There’s nothing you can do. You feel like a prisoner. So you take your bag and walk out of the apartment. The sky is gray-blue, a luminous Swedish night like a dawn of an Italian summer day. And you recall the morning you went out fishing with your father and you learned how to hold the oars and row. Then you went out into the blue sea, a long way, until you could no longer see the shore.
Selected poems by Elizabeth Whittington The Last Light Supine My grandmother died in the morning by her own hand rope over beam in a shed behind the house where her daughters were born I was not yet born Sun broke over fields of daffodils beyond the dim windowless building where she tightened the coils and set the noose My mother found her at noon took her
down poured a thumb of whiskey into a kitchen glass breathed daffodil air from summer windows watched dusk feather down and sat in the stunned parlor with my grandfather through the twisted obsidian night Acknowledgement The title, “The Last Light Supine,” is from William Faulkner’s novel, The Sound and the Fury. The character Quentin longs for escape from pain by suicide. “I could smell the curves of the river beyond the dusk and I saw the last light supine and tranquil upon tide flats like pieces of broken mirror, then beyond them lights began in the pale clear air, trembling a little like butterflies hovering a long way off.”
In the Night Sky My mother used to say In jest That half of us Are bent on death And then she watched Her son run Back into the flames He’d fled To save a friend My own grown son Feels trapped On earth Doomed by familial stars Constellations of loss My grandmother’s cosmic knots Gnarled across the moon Thick with prediction I promise him only The colors Of his one birth Vermilion Begotten of autumn Scarlet night calls The petals Of snow, ice globes At the window Where we rocked At dawn Linked by mother’s milk 21
Communion Of cells And the gray rain of spring A flourish of forsythia From black beds Of mud Tilt of solstice Into blue June I confess fears-Blood Moon Solitary fox White cat at the back Door in darkness But dread is a ghoul It chews At the rafters Like sacrament For fools I tell him to take down the ropes Those braided snakes And let the dead Come back shining Naked of pain Naked of shame Radiant as celestial flame Benign as Orion In the night sky
First Husband We are twenty-two You wear green fatigues Black boots Home is an army base Gated. Blank buildings Concrete and red Carolina clay We are youth beautiful. You, mesmeric Eyes. Lashes. Jaw. Hands, mouth on my skin I am rapt, ecstatic Once is never enough I say and you say Give me twenty minutes
And Then You come home drunk Bang on the locked bedroom door When I let you in you raise your fist Your face slams shut You swing. I become small Flatten to the wall and fall back To childhood, silent I soothe you like a cool cloth for fever I become one of those women
Outside the heat hits A hundred degrees Sun hammers from the white sky Pink petals drop to dry dirt Mine is an error of thirst
Stone Garden November. I watch through the window As snow sweeps across the mulched earth of a stone garden I dug in the fall, yellow and orange leaves in my hair Scent of apples and wood stove smoke. Pines lean in snow to the roof of my house— An old house built of stone by Scots who could be My ancestors, thick hands scraped by woodland slate The coarse weight of New Hampshire granite. I dug the garden in October, my skin hot With sweat in the chilly air, my bare legs bruised by tools— A shovel, a hoe, and a lopper to cut the buried Vines that tangled like snakes through clotted weeds Entrenched, like memories. My husband Decades ago, a soldier just home, his eyes Like gun sights in the glare of a drunken Saturday night His clenched fist a hammer to my jaw. Last month my gloved hands planted perennials The roots tender against flat rocks, round rocks Snow-in-summer, English Thyme, circled runs of tulip bulbs— Scarlet, white, lavender
The days grew short. I hung a bare bulb for light And thought about that undiluted night The steeled air, my fear a scuttle of bats from the attic The blow a taproot no tool can loosen
Walking into a Georgia Gas Station By Aracely Medina Since the walk from the gas pump Aryan blue eyes behind tan hats Descendants of the KKK Want to catch me, Their mouths froth, They are trigger heavy, and I am A weekend deer in hunting season Body aching, the blast of air conditioning Freezes the summer sweat Breaking across armpits, back, Creases of neck Aisles bulge, stinking of hollow plastic Brightly packaged 20 percent more, 2 for a dollar deals Boiled peanuts huddle in a pot Sold by the heaping cupful Picking up, putting down, protein packed Granola bars, the belt busting cashierâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Heavy puffy pink hand twitches under the counter Stops, Flexes Vienna sausage fingers, And holds still My skin releases its own fire, Kindled in mosquito thick nights I had forgotten I wear the cheekbones of The hot-blooded Mestizo His skin, a shade of true wild brown Of earth red clay, livid with life I go to pay with a ten dollar bill Folded in half countless times He gives me my change 26
Coins on a bed of bills Careful not to let His fingertips brush my skin
Knots By Alexi Garre Knotted fingers and knotted knuckles you sit them down at the dinner table, with one extra chair for your own father who promised he would at least stop the passive aggressive bullshit and “talk shit through.”
Knotted eyebrows and knotted lips you explain to them that this is not a choice, “this is who I am born to be” and you hear that sigh wrestle and twist its way out of your own mother and you see the tears wrestle their way into 28
her knotted eyelids
And you keep asking yourself, “how do you tell them?” But you realize that telling them is easy, watching them listen— that is the knot.
Selected Poems by Kaleb Cook For The Fathers My father was a glass jar filled half empty with moonshine and piss, his old skins of twenty years basked in foster care, tethered here in his palms, cuticles, the medicinal stench of vomit. He holds on as the odor of forty-two years burn out, his faults and flesh, his stowaway bar-torn self and dissipates-it scatters him morselled into the night air, reeking of stale breath and 99-proof sweat. But for men like his own father, who crawled over the starving mouths of their children like wingless flies sifting and seething, reaching with leather hands for the bottle, there was no answer. He and my father meet in the same place every night, emptied and brazen over by dark, and with thin-slit numbered days marked for return on their lips, they roam liver, spine, brain, fingertip, knuckle and bone, and each face distills the same question into the unmoving tide of my palms--
I see what needs to be seen. I let what doesn’t stick drain out, slowly, because I have to be sure. I’ll never be anyone’s best man because friendship is standing in line in the middle of a theme park lobbing peanuts at strangers. Eventually, one of them will share a coke with the crook of your nose and you’ll never even feel it rattle you, like the holy spirit at your front door. It happens. The moment is transient, spatial, blurred like polaroid photos taken on a roller coaster, and neither of you remembers it the same way twice, or hardly at all, once the moment is weathered away like a wet valley split across two city limits, two different lives, so many years between then and becoming lighter, distant, collected, written in the spastic limelight of language.
Dysphoros I know where and when it will rise, as the edge of a dim world joins another, and the light of a single sun is greater than eight-thousand nights spent ruminating with the dead on my wall. I needed to know their names. Where they went when their bodies would molt into craters coated in nicotine strands, what they did when they ran out of paper to burn. I met my mother here, who told me that her life and mine were inherently without. One day she found herself smothered in a plastered cocoon carved out of the sky. Entire years spun along her skin, waiting to see the sun again, but the sun wouldn’t reach something that didn’t belong to it anymore. She said we lose what we give away, and there is no purpose in searching for old wounds beating inside cold caskets. Only the body forgets. “He was just a man inside a slew of grain and bone, and couldn’t find what he was really looking for, within a person who already knew too much about letting it go.” She wouldn’t tell me where or when it would finally set— she didn’t know about the moon and its troubles, or how the sun sculpted everyone out of its own image in the hopes that they would all burn too, like clocks with candlehands ticking out, the minutes dripping faster down—
She was a notebook filled with them, each page smudged into the next one, velvet ripples of blood in her eyes, and lunar semen oiled into her memories like Ash Wednesday etched on her forehead. The risen weep from them over the bright bodies of the children still blooming out of her stomach, wilting low now, below her feet and corpsed into wet soil, unblossomed. She rests now in the slow drift of skeletal years sifting down her throat, idle and wingless. This is the way the world sleeps, joined at the shadow between light and dark, like caterpillars spinning wombs in glass jars, pulsing on the walls at five in the morning where the dead rest in silhouettes, and the living ripple over me like autumn wind spilling through the door.
Overtones New Yearâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Eve around the card table, each year behind me like nesting dolls, stomach after stomach after drink. This was not an end or a beginning. The night whirling inside a shot glass spiked with people fixing for resolution, each sip like a dancer putting on her face. That reflux never hit so hard, cycloning in and out of me, an acidic storm, carouseling harder and faster. My eyes somersaulted toward the dance floor all partnered up, blurring into each other like bad panorama. We were all tango and liquor choreography, slipping into a two-four tempo of hot ale and vodka. We cooled our tongues with a glass of tap and clicked our feet to the sound of Swan Lake over the PA. The patio never seemed so hip to the touch of a hard floor, and the violins shook us down for cigarettes and a new bottle of rosin. Everyone was in on it. I sang melody over everything, warbling each double-string swell into a blustering sound of scattered overtones. Nothing held on closer like a fifth of vodka in a Bud Light can, laced with this strange need to belong 34
Selected Poems by Ephraim Scott Sommers The Hardest Thing No coming together without letting go, she reminds me and reminds me, for love, she believes, is two people trying for the same place, and her I will follow, therefore, into the future neighborhoods of future cities until my elbows are jimmied further open, for if forgiveness is a backyard, she has taken down the fences, filled the pool, and invited everyone to the piñata. We are always gathered here together as balloons so we may rise, she hums and hums, and here her forgiveness comes despite her jawline, her hair flowered and floating the white aisle toward the cello’s gentle question. Who takes my daughter? Her father asks, and though she takes me, though I’ve always said we were born to get even, she revises my mouth to say now we were born for getting over. She vows, today, we will U-Haul up our memories and send them away, and I am almost ready to unlock like she has, to unlatch my fingers, to uncock them and accept her father’s hand, and though metal in a woman’s mouth is an almost impossible thing for a man to un-remember, and though across the courtyard, Aunt Diane scorches a pork shoulder with a blow torch and spits Skoal onto the back of a golden retriever, still I am almost ready to receive the same father’s hand
that sixteen years ago drove a crowbar through my girlfriend’s chin. Get Out of the Way, Ephraim Don’t apologize for spending your life in silence, clawing the wrecked room for the right word, and though the day may seem a puddled ceiling about to burst, do not believe what is heavy and quiet and full of holes is not sacred. As a hotel phone hurting into the morning, so many of your lives will begin, but whatever I am now must remind you also like an echo, Ephraim, that you are still alive, that there is someone else for you to be today, ice chests or friendship for you to carry and say, but, Ephraim, first, thank the sky people will wait their whole lives for you to tie your shoes. You are late to the bar but alive, and easing into a seat at the Oakhurst Dive, you remember your mother shoveling the head off a diamondback, telling you, Maybe something must die first in order for us to find the words to call the living beautiful. Ephraim, stop talking to yourself in the mirror. Ephraim, get out of the way! Trafton’s father, Tommy, has died, and your band mate, Trafton, is taking off his face at the wake while talking in front of the regulars 36
about his father in a way you never could, the wind being trucked out of every living lung looking on, and he’s talking with the soft Godliness of fog, the ceiling and so many of his faces leaking into the pretzel bowls, so be more generous, Ephraim, bend down, and let a man you love stand on your shoulders. Tell the room your friend is the best hibiscus of all of you in a daylight language you were never taught to speak. Ephraim, a whiskey and a bottle of beer have been sitting before the two of you in this loyal and dimlit way for as long as you can remember. Do not grow tired of being unbelievable. So many will say, You only love because of alcohol, Ephraim, so many not here will say, There is not real love between two men in a dive bar on a Saturday afternoon where most people say, There will be trouble unlike any other, but you must not believe them. —Trafton, look up! Trafton, you, too, and I shall not believe those who declare in theory what they never prove in life. Brother, I declare you ordained to praise, alcohol or not, you, wading far out into the dirt where your father was, you, shoving your fingers into the deepest wound, you, the only son in Oakhurst who’s found a way to talk about the bullet.
And Sunsets of Her Pink Fingernails so the skin doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t hold the whole soul inside I didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t know because consider the way the woman I love is poured into a glass and plastic nation while a piece of her empathy stirs the fern leaves billows the curtains full of her breath from two towns over still to live with a woman is to fight with her against a nation she must skinny herself to fit so a nation says and when we get here about the right sizes always I am a man falling short of what to say always what good is a nation without room for the one I love for how much skin pinched before how many mirrors how many hyperventilations overheard in the line of light under the bathroom door I think of weeks not touching each other and the maybe-imagined glass outside wedging our Wednesday dinners further and further apart until and then one Sunday it happens over a little biking a little no-handed frivolousness we unleash our tiny ultimatum improvised but in earnest that a nation must shrink itself to fit inside us over our little late Korean lunch or there is no nation
Selected Poems by Julian Randall Summer in a Time of War Today the trees are rustling with gossip The sun a radiant mouth Swallowing us all in his heat The grass is green enough That I wonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t trouble myself with Daydreams of lying beneath it I am too busy becoming the color of
Skin banishing the steep price of winter While the air is still full of this hot music The sun does not unmake the grief Or play at Lazarus But the bullets can wait
Today Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m just drinking in the remnants of fire Making the light pretty
Bleachbomb Sestina In broad daylight The moon is a miracle Sky spilling heat everywhere Baking the Earth’s skin Transfiguring Brown An arrogant sorcery We got our own sorcery We drink in the daylight We choir of brown We the soil miracle We never just skin If we are just skin, how are we everywhere? But then the moon bursts on your everywhere Cleansing you of your “sorcery” We a witch trial of skin We “devoid of daylight” We burn with liquid, they call it miracle We still brown? The Texas heat full of mouths dripping brown Sizzling landscape everywhere We are landscape, a conquered miracle
They got their own sorcery A reaping of our daylight A swallowing of our skin The balloonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s thin skin Blue like the sky, not brown Full of wet moon, but burning like daylight We black and speckled with stars everywhere Soap made sorcery Turning us the color of miracle We still miracle And now sizzling skin Victims of sorcery A landscape still brown But thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s snow everywhere Smothering us in cold daylight And now the daylight hissing everywhere A miracle our skin survived We scarred with the sorcery our brown escaped
Grace This is not the poem about the insatiable dread devouring the daylight Ode to the nest of dark clouds holding the moon hostage I can speak all day of the bullets And their small copper rage But this is not the first time My people have stared a snarling apocalypse in the face And found the courage to laugh To let our joy be the vine that begat the forest And make our bodies the forest that would not bow to winter And that’s our magic An ancient sorcery Won’t you come bear witness to this loud levitation? A raucous alchemy we practice daily Our laughter either a slow garden Bursting with life Or taunting the ocean which once swallowed us so easily And we know salt And we know drought Know the grim tradition of sewing graveyards With our children’s names Tragedy birthed a rainless summer But we always find something to sing about Someway to master breath
Make our grief a good wind We dance and make do Until the rain can’t help but join in And all the powerlines are weeping for the glory of it And that has to be grace How our mouths cradle our names Like a song everyone knows all the words to Even after we’ve given it to soil How my father calls every old Black man Doctor As if to say “Congratulations, we were never meant to hold our names for this long” But our grace is not just in our refusal to die I am saying grace every time I speak of my father’s hands And their quiet love for the record player Until the whole house is humming with our music And they say our joy is a forbidden faith But I say our grace is lawless As song uncoiling from the belly of a saxophone Or a trumpet blooming with resilient melody We have always been the children of commonplace miracles Our eyes a bright autumn And we have seen enough to know it is always raining somewhere And we know grief, well 43
And we know rain, is coming And we know gratitude And that laughter is just how we remix praise Come, we will find all of our joyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s new names Call it: A tame thunder A quivering sky Proof that we could fly once And will, again
Eliot By Brendan Stephens I hadn’t seen Eliot in the decade since our high school graduation, and when I finally saw him again, I could have walked right past him. I was grocery shopping with my wife when he came up to me and said, “Hey, Alan.” The only reason I recognized him was because of the peculiar way he had always pronounced my name; it almost sounded like “owl in.” He’d changed so much from back in school where he was homecoming king, lead in the play, captain of the basketball team, the son of the principal, the grandson of a judge. But now, in the market, he stood before me with a buzzed head and, starting at his neck, tattoos creeping out of his shirt sleeves down his thin forearms to the back of his hands. Every single tattoo was gray: gray skulls, gray crosses, gray dog tags, gray wolves. “What’s goin’ on?” he asked. “I’m not really sure where to begin,” I said. I scratched my goatee. “I know the feeling,” he said. “I’m not sure either. Hell, I don’t even know how I recognized you.” I didn’t either. I’d long since cleared out my stockpile of comic book character shirts that I wore every day back then. In their place I wore striped dress shirts tucked into khaki pants. My hair started thinning recently, but I grew it out anyway in defiance.
My wife, April, pulled at one of her amber curls. She always did that when she was nervous. I squeezed her hand. She once told me that if we have kids, she would disown them if they ever got tattoos. I asked, “Are you back in town? Weren’t you in New Mexico or something for college?” “Actually, it was Arizona. And nah. I quit after a few semesters. Some shit went down, so I did a little this… little that. Lived in New York for a bit. Hung out in Philly for a while. Moved to Baltimore. And now… I’m back here,” he said with a defeat I knew well. No one ever intended on sticking around after high school in Oakridge, the tired Western Maryland country town tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains. It’s a whirlpool we all fought to escape, and once you thought you were safe, if you stopped to catch your breath, you’d be sucked back in. That was what happened to me after going to college in Chicago. I swore I’d only be back for a summer, but years kept drifting by. April started tapping her foot. Her pursed lips told me that she wanted to get away from him. I didn’t want to introduce her. “You’ll have to tell me all about it sometime,” I said never expecting him to immediately ask for my number and start making plans to meet up at the driving range, which is exactly what he did. I felt April’s piercing gaze, but I ignored her and agreed to see him in a few days. We said goodbye.
On the walk to the car, my wife asked me, “Who was that guy buying all the TV dinners and Ramen?” “Eliot. We used to work together at the driving range over the summers as kids.” “Were you friends?” “No,” I said too quickly. “We just worked together.” She grabbed the bags from the cart and loaded them into the trunk. “I can’t believe that you gave him your number. He seemed so weird. He totally pretended like I wasn’t even there. And all those tattoos of skulls and knives.” “He’s harmless,” I said. “Just an old acquaintance. Forget about him.” # I bought a bucket of golf balls. It all seemed familiar to me: the dull grass shooting its way up between the gravel, the faded green tees, the wooden signs covered in rot that marked the distance in yards. It was like nothing changed. Eliot was late. I felt like that was unusual even though I couldn’t remember anything specific about him being punctual or not. As I hit through the bucket, I couldn’t help imagining myself back in that one room booth. Too many summer hours were spent in the booth. Inside, there had been only enough room for a wooden stool and a backpack with my lunch and some books. Every other inch of that booth was devoted to the buckets, some spare clubs, and the cash register. I’d mostly reread stacks of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman comics for those eight hour 47
shifts. I never read so much in my life. I wondered if my name and Eliot’s were still carved into the floor. He brought a pocketknife on the last day of summer before our senior year and insisted on leaving our marks. I hit a ball barely twenty yards. I’d never been good at this. I saw a teenage boy driving the golf ball picker across the range. From this distance, I couldn’t make out what the boy looked like through the metal fencing around the cart, but I imagined he must look like Eliot. All four summers I worked the booth, Eliot drove the picker when people were hitting and the mower when things were slow. Shortly after I bought a second bucket, Eliot showed up. All he said was that he had to pick some stuff up. I didn’t pry. We hit a few, and he told me about how he never really found steady work. He’d spent some time as a piercer at a tattoo shop and worked construction for a bit. Every time he was seriously strapped for cash either something would come up or he figured it was time to move on. I told him about how when I came back to Oakridge after college, I took the first job I could find at a call-center and figured it’d just be temporary. But I never moved on. He asked how I met April, so I told him that she lived across the hall in college and how embarrassed I was when she was the one to ask me out. We talked about some of the people we graduated with. He didn’t know that Jeremiah and Blake both died in Iraq. He told me that Carey OD’ed and that Clay wound up on some reality show. 48
“It’s kind of hard to believe that we were ever friends,” I said. “What do you mean?” he asked. His powerful swing launched a Titleist well passed the 200 yard marker. Despite the fact that he looked thin, especially compared to before, he still retained his strength. “Like the whole culture of school. Even as bored as we were here, we shouldn’t have ever really talked or hung out. I mean, we ignored each other in school, but it still seemed defiant just to acknowledge each other all of those summers.” “I know what you mean, man,” he said, but I think he only half followed what I meant. He hit another ball with perfect form. He changed the subject: “Remember how the 250 yard sign got busted?” The sign still had the lower right corner broken off of it. “Didn’t you drive straight into it in the middle of the night?” I asked. “I think that was the night that you brought moonshine and chased the duck on the picker.” I smiled up from my stance before taking another shot that must have barely made it to the 50 yard sign. “It was the night that we got blitzed on moonshine… but you were definitely driving,” he laughed. I laughed too. I tried to picture it, but I could only remember him driving while laughing big guttural laughs. I saw myself hanging off the back of the riding lawn mower with one hand. In my other hand, a mason jar fumed. I had tried to sing 49
Nirvana songs I only half knew. When we hit the sign, we kept laughing and lay down in the grass. “Why did we always pretend like we didn’t know each other when the summers ended?” I asked even though I knew the answer. “Beats me,” he said. “We should have done more shit like this. Just chillin’, you know.” “Yeah,” I said. “I would have liked that.” Within the caste system of high school he was the epicenter. When the summers passed he ignored me. I tried to hit the 100 yard sign, but I missed by a mile. # The doorbell rang for a third time. Between the bells, hard pounding knocks echoed throughout the house. I checked the digital clock by the bed: 1:42 AM. “Jesus Christ, it’s the middle of the night,” I said. “Who do you think it is?” “Just go check. It must be an emergency.” She started to push me out of bed. Goddamn it. I felt my way through the dark house. I opened the door to find Eliot. “About time,” he said with a smile. He’d obviously been up all night. “What the hell are you doing?” I asked with a yawn and a small stretch. “Me? Nothing. What’s goin’ on?” He smelled like cheap boxed wine, and his teeth were red. 50
“It’s the middle of the night, Eliot. Go home.” He swung in the door frame a bit. It didn’t seem like he processed what I said. “So look,” he said. “I know this is out of the blue. It’s totally cool if you say no, but it’d be a huge favor.” He tried to read me, but I just stood there with a blank face and my arms crossed. He continued, “Do you think there is anyway… anyways that I might… it’s not a big deal… can I borrow your car?” I sighed. “I’d have it back in the morning. I promise,” he said with one hand covering his heart. “Are you being serious right now?” “Come on. Give me one good reason.” “You’re drunk” “Besides that.” I shook my head. “Get some sleep, Eliot.” “Come on man,” he balled his hand into a fist. “You can’t turn me away like everyone else. You’re my best friend.” I winced. “Don’t be dramatic,” I said. His eyes widened with shock. Perhaps if I hadn’t been exhausted, I would’ve been more restrained, but instead I said, “I barely recognize you. I mean, it was great seeing you and all, but we haven’t been friends since you went away to Arizona.” “What are you talking about?” he asked. “You were supposed to go off to Chicago with me when we graduated. You even got accepted and changed your mind last 51
minute. For Christ’s sakes, I even wrote you letters and called you, but you ignored me once you got out there.” I paused. When I realized he had nothing to say I added, “Does that sound like something a friend does?” He loosened his grip. His eyes began to water, so he wiped them with the back of his hand. “I figured you would understand…” I stepped outside and closed the door behind me. “Maybe we were friends years ago. Neither of us are the kids we were back then. For Christ’s sakes I’m married now, and you’re well… I don’t know. But you’re not the same person either. Now go home and forget about all of this shit.” He gave me the finger and said, “Who needs you anyway? You were an anxious prick back then, and you still are.” Eliot turned and walked, stumbling into the dark street. He kicked my car before he turned and spit towards me. I went back into the house. As I crawled into the warm blankets next to her, April asked, “Who was at the door?” “Eliot.” She sat up. “What did he want?” “Nothing. He’s gone now.” “What’s going on Alan?” “Don’t worry about it.” I climbed into bed and lay down. “Please. Won’t you talk to me?” She put her hand on my shoulder, but I rolled away.
She sank back down into the bed beside me. A few minutes passed before she started to cry. She tried to hide it, but I could tell by her breathing. “What is it?” I asked with my eyes still closed. “Can you at least tell me why he came here?” “He was drunk and wanted to borrow my car. I told him to leave. That’s it. What more could you possibly want to know? That’s all that happened.” “But why did he come here? Like, why here? Why you?” “Look. It’s too late to talk about this. Just go to sleep.” “What happened between you two?” I grabbed my pillow and said, “It’s too late to deal with this. I’ll be on the couch.” I’d never walked out on an argument with her before. We always worked through things. “Wait,” she said. She started crying again. I ignored her and tried to sleep, but even after she stopped, I couldn’t sleep for hours. In the morning, she was gone. She wouldn’t answer my calls. Eliot didn’t answer my calls either. Honestly, I don’t know why I even called him. # Monday morning, Eliot was in the paper: “Body Found along Interstate: Local Man Dies of Overdose.” According to the story, he was found four hours after he left my house. I tried to piece together how he got there through every article I could find 53
about him despite there being so little information. I wondered if he walked there or hitchhiked? Did he have the heroin on him when he stopped by my house or did he get it later? Was that why he needed to borrow my car? I like to think that he wanted the car to buy that lethal dose of laced heroin. That way, my refusal was a speed bump to his death and not the catalyst. That way, I did all I could. But sometimes, I wonder if I had lent him the car, maybe he never would have shot up. At the funeral his parents had him covered in thick makeup that hid his tattoos. I went alone. Throughout the church, friends and family posted pictures of every point of his life. Pictures of him in his basketball uniform with his arm around a cheerleader. Pictures of him smoking a cigarette in the Arizona desert. Pictures of him popping a wheelie on his first bicycle. None of them seemed real to me. Later at the graveyard as they lowered his coffin, I remembered Eliot as the boy who would sneak beer to the driving range, so we could drink under the stars after work. He cried all the time when he was drunk. He made me promise not to tell anyone about how scared he was to leave Maryland. One time, he told me that his only real goal in life was to outlive his father so that he could piss on his grave. Most of all I remembered Eliotâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s body against mine. He was so gentle, even more delicate than my timid wife. To me, Eliot was a memory long before he died.
After the burial, after a few drinks at a nearby bar, I went back to his grave. I pushed a tee into the fresh earth and placed a new Titleist on the tee. I lined up a shot over the cemeteryâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s pond and swung as hard as I could. I didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t think it would make it to the water but somehow it did. It hit near the center and sent ripples over everything.
Abandoned Girl By Francesca Badalamenti after Abandoned Farmhouse by Ted Kooser
She was a small girl, says the size of her dress on a patch of lilacs by the house; a short girl too, says the length of her bed in an upstairs room; and a polite, society-fearing girl, says the smile that doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t fade on the girl below the window, painted with shades of black and blue; but not a girl for harming, say the leaky eyes and the heart, heavy with boulders. A brother lived with her, says the bedroom wall papered with trucks and the kitchen floor covered with mud, and they had a father, says the stench of shoe polish that still permeates his room. Money was scarce, says the holes in her clothes and the screaming stomach. And the summers hot, says the perspiration on her skin. It was lonely here, say the blank picture frames. Something went wrong, says the heart escaping choked up words. Her paper skin and soft hands say she was not a harmer; the briefcase in the kitchen says he left in a nervous haste. And the girl? Her memories are strewn in the corners of an almost empty house, as she sits isolated and confused, a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say.
Perennial By Alena Zhang The backs of her hands wrinkle with the wear of time Dandelion feathers of a baby girl thrive on in her mind Skipping, sneering, sparkling, her daughter tauntingly chimes â&#x20AC;&#x153;One day, mother, maybe one day.â&#x20AC;? She gleams, prances, sashays away Holding on to her light -leaving nothing behind.
Selected Poems by Seth Jani
Burial I remember crying in the strange dusk Under a hollow sky. The remains of a small bird Hanging in the golden branches. I remember covering its body With large, baptismal tears, The kind reserved for childhood. I carried it home through the fields And walked up the old, wooden steps Beyond the unkempt garden To my secret place in the wood. I dug a hole with small, pale hands. The dirt, like grief, blackening my nails. I made a makeshift cross And said words from a prayer I never understood. I traveled through the darkness As the first fireflies began to light. I wondered too, where those little lanterns Went to die. Desert Seeds The pears in the autumnal midnight Of the valley Grow dense and incandescent. From the smokestacks the house releases A breath, and it moves up Amongst the black and speechless clouds. An old vision of the country Is combing through the fields Ducking under milkweed
And the bourgeoning wheat, Communicating something As strange and inexplicable As the black seeds I found Tucked like rainfall, In the desertâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s treeless hills.
In the Shallows Growing up means no more spindrift poems, No more music, like fire in the trees, Ballooning from the mouth. The street is just a street And itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a hard avenue to name A beautiful new thing. I want now to live A calm and focused life. Deliberate vision, passages of wind And glass in the old cranial furnace. Let the news lead to sounds Of rooted transcendence, Abstractions with the kiss of dirt Brooding down below. I want to hold you Not in the bright eternal winery Of love, But here in the shallows, Amongst the provinces of misconception, The shared menagerie of roses and rust.
Memoir I read Joni Mitchellâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s memoir and wept for days. To fade in and out of light, To disappear into the worldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s glimmer. All the exuberance for which we burn and envy Ends in sickness. The cost of being well-lived Is a life with something beneath the skin. Insects? Fuzzy blood or marrow? Plasma ablaze with tiny burning boats? All those bright yesterdays Trapped inside the body as the voice And the music go.
Opening Raynah By Lyndsey Ellis The house was cold and damp with the heady smell of roses. Raynah wiped the dusty television with her bare hands and shaded her eyes from the early morning sun that came through the living room’s thin lace curtains. She removed a blanket from the top of Sir’s old recliner and hurled it over her shoulders. The cotton was still thick with his scent: aftershave, cigarettes, sweat. “Those flowers stink,” she said, scratching what looked like mustard crust off the worn fabric. She watched Justine flip through a Schnuck’s coupon book and ignore her from the dining room table. Her mother’s elfin frame seemed even smaller and more ridiculous in her large navy housecoat, surrounded by mounds of papers, photos, and bouquets. Several rollers poked out of her matching hairnet. Justine still moved like someone afraid to exist. She reminded Raynah of the knock-off purses sold by boosters near the defunct Northland Shopping Mall on West Florissant Avenue. Stilted and tacky. “I know you hear me over there.” Justine glanced up as she licked her thumb and turned the page. “If all you came over here to do is complain, you can go home.”
“But, this no-heat rule to preserve them makes no sense in the middle of December. Why do you always need so many?” “Because they make me feel good. You got that ugly spread on. Now, hush.” Raynah sat down and looked out the window. The tired chug of a train nearing on the tracks at the street’s end, coupled with Sir’s smell, pulled at her. She knew she needed to leave now or keep Justine talking. Disappearing was the better idea, but Lois was late again, and Justine still couldn’t be trusted alone. “I saw Tony the other day in The Loop.” “Why you still go down there? Don’t you watch the news?” “And see that media circus? No, thank you. Like Tony says, it’s all a distraction. ” “Tony don’t know shit. A bullet hit your ass, don’t you come crying.” “There’s things worse than bullets.” “When he get so military? He was afraid to look at folks when y’all was in school. Now, he all Black-fist-in-the-air and whatnot. This never would’ve happened if he’d stayed friends with your brother. Tony went to California and came back out of his damn mind.” “He’s not militant, he’s informed,” Raynah corrected. “And, stop making Theo into the angel again. Tony had his reasons.”
“Well, his reasons ain’t got him very far. Damn near fifty and working at some club.” “He’s a café manager.” “How hard is it to boss around kids making coffee? What he get, a year’s worth of free lattes for a raise? Some revolution.” Raynah heard the resentment in Justine’s voice. She’d seen and done a lot of things in the Bay Area and in the beginning, it was a dream being in the company of others who’d seen and done a lot of things, too. Tony was the only member of their original circle to remain there as long as he did after most of those things fell apart. People in St. Louis tolerated him after his move back last month, even if they didn’t understand him. Raynah didn’t get the same treatment. Her return to the Midwest over a year ago had been as stifling as it was necessary. Of all people, her mother was one of those who prided themselves on appearing receptive but wasn’t above snide remarks whenever she saw a chance to strike. Justine was good at punishing Raynah, even stooping to things as petty as demoting her family rank in public. Years ago, she introduced her to people as the daughter studying at UC Berkeley on a full scholarship. When Raynah dropped out of school, she became the one living in California. Now that she was back, she was just the oldest child while Lois was the successful realtor and Theo, the esteemed city Alderman. Someone once asked Raynah to elaborate on Justine’s brevity
and before she could respond, her mother told them she was Angela Davis without the PhD. “For someone who doesn’t keep up with people that much anymore, you know a lot about Tony.” “You brought him up, not me,” said Justine. “Myrtle’s the only real fan of his soapbox foolishness. I guess the nuthouse’ll do that to you.” Ms. Myrtle was always old. But, when she was less old, Raynah admired the short, stocky woman in men’s overalls and high heels tending to her chrysanthemums across the street. If she wasn’t in her garden, she was sitting on her front porch, peoplewatching and nursing a Stag beer. It was hard to fathom the years of fickleness between the two women. Ms. Myrtle—quirky and unrestrained—was a confidante by habit, not choice, for Justine. On her way home from school, Raynah would sometimes see them in conversation on the porch. Ms. Myrtle, her Stag in hand, usually did most of the talking while Justine did most of the laughing. They weren’t friends anymore when Ms. Myrtle’s grandsons, Pete and Tony, came to live with her. Then, they were. And, then they weren’t again. After Pete’s death, Ms. Myrtle was placed under involuntary psychiatric hold at the state hospital, and Tony was forced into foster care. Raynah’s bitterness over Tony’s fling with Lois had already dissolved under the weight of her dreadful freshman year in college, returned when hearing news of her 64
sister’s pregnancy, and left again after Tony’s abrupt move with relatives on the west coast. It all happened fast: the murder, the baby, the abandonment. Raynah couldn’t imagine what it must’ve been like for Ms. Myrtle to be institutionalized, lose both of her grandsons, and witness the birth of her first great-grandchild by her neighbor’s teenage daughter, all over the course of months. “Better start on these Thank You cards,” Justine said, closing her coupon book. “You kidding?” Raynah scoffed. “It’s been six months.” “Funerals come and go, but it’s never too late for kindness. Plus, what I’ma look like not sending folks something for attending?” “Like any other grieving wife who lost a husband of forty some-odd years,” said Raynah. Justine continued rummaging through papers on the table. She folded some down the middle and tossed others in a waste basket at her bare feet. It was unreal, how together and beautiful her toes were. Even without polish, her nails still held a natural shine. The veins underneath her skin were hardly noticeable with no sign of corns, bunions, or hammer toes. Good feet mean a clean house. Justine’s favorite saying drifted into Raynah’s mind. She heard her mother repeat the phrase she’d come to hate throughout her childhood. Feet weren’t just a part of one’s body. According 65
to Justine, a person’s feet revealed everything about their character. People with yellowing skin underneath their toe nails were always uptight and stressed. People with scaly feet were unstable while people with smelly feet couldn’t be trusted. People with peeling feet were irresponsible. People with calluses were vain and cared too much about others opinions. But, people with cracked heels were selfish and didn’t consider others at all. “Where’s your sister?” Justine demanded, cutting the soiled edges from a battered flyer found in the rubble. She caught Raynah’s eyes on her bare feet and slid them underneath her chair. “On her way.” “Neither of y’all got respect. Always late. Always sassing me—” “When’d you start talking so much?” “See?” Justine scowled and pointed the tips of her scissors at Raynah. “Put those down before you hurt yourself.” Justine reluctantly placed the scissors on the table as Lois was pulling into the driveway. Raynah locked eyes with her sister prancing toward the house and balancing a grocery bag on her hip. Lois looked away first and adjusted her cell phone’s earpiece. “You’re late again,” Raynah announced, opening the front door. 66
“There’s more stuff in the trunk.” “You should’ve called.” “I asked if you wanted to switch shifts. You said no, remember? Traffic’s a mess at this time.” “If you’d time yourself better, there wouldn’t be an issue.” “And, where do you need to be at this hour, Miss WorkFrom-Home-Transcriptionist?” Lois asked, marching toward the kitchen. “That’s not the fucking point, Lo,” said Raynah, trailing her sister. “Learn to respect other people’s time. Pretend I’m one of your Class Act clients if you have to—” “Hey, hey, hey!” Justine hobbled into the kitchen and clapped her hands at them the way she did when they quibbled as kids. A silver ringlet shook against her temple. “It’s too damn early and nobody cusses in my house but me.” “You should be proud, Mama,” Lois said, putting down her grocery bag and re-curling the rogue strand of hair around Justine’s roller. “This is the most she’s talked to me in years. Beats watching her hole herself up next door all the time.” “Jealous, are we?” Raynah asked, pulling a gallon of milk out of the bag. It was always like Lois to try and play the good seed, especially if it meant winning over their mother. She was forever 67
a child rooted in Justine’s approval, obsessed about keeping their relationship unstained. The only thing that tormented her more was Raynah’s inheritance of their father’s house next door. Why Lois wasn’t equally bothered by how their parents managed to live under separate roofs for years while still wed, was beyond Raynah. Their bleak marriage was hitting her harder now that Sir was gone. Every day, she became more convinced she’d inherited more than just their dead father’s property. But, if Lois liked being a proud fool, Raynah wouldn’t waste time explaining. “No one’s mad you got Sir’s house. It’s more of a headache than a prize. You’d sell it if you knew what was good for you.” “Says the big-time agent always looking for her next client.” “Keep being stubborn. You’re just hurting yourself,” Lois said, leaning against the sink. She sighed warily like it grieved her to breathe. “Speaking of clients, Isha called me on the way over.” “And?” “She was let go again.” Raynah stiffened, shifted her weight. “Did she say why?” “Couldn’t afford the chair rental.” “I told her Rita could use another girl,” said Justine. “Where? In that busted basement she calls a shop?” Lois asked. “Mama, no one wants what that woman’s offering. She’s 68
always stoned and all her equipment’s outdated. I’m surprised she hasn’t burned a hole in your scalp yet.” “Where’s Isha now?” Raynah managed to keep her voice low and controlled as her anger churned. She reminded herself that she’d changed her mobile number days ago to avoid the nasty bill collectors. Of course her daughter wouldn’t have it memorized or locked in her phone yet. Why wouldn’t she call her aunt first? Now, Lois could rub it in Raynah’s face and somehow find a way to make the conversation about herself. “She’s cleaning out her station, but she should be here soon,” Lois responded, folding the emptied grocery bag. “In all fairness, I understand where Isha’s coming from. Customers can be wishy washy, especially when it comes to their money. The brokerage industry’s no fairytale either. Just the other day, one of my top buyers…” Raynah smacked the countertop hard with her hand, interrupting her sister. The sting felt good against her palm and silenced her raging nerves. “I’m going out for a smoke.” * The air was eerily thick outside. Raynah lit her cigarette and let the blinking Christmas lights on Ms. Myrtle’s hedges entertain her. After growing bored with them, she slumped back 69
in the folding chair on Sir’s front porch and took in a cobwebbed shutter dangling from its hinges. A knot lodged itself in her throat. Everything broke her heart these days. Hot water boiling. Neglected Tupperware in the alleyway. The quiet snap of dryer-tumbled linen pulling apart. It was like being pregnant again, except all that came out of it were sleepless nights spent staring up at the bathroom ceiling of her dead father’s house. Sir’s old room still gave her chills and the mattress in the guest bedroom had bed bugs, so she often lay awake in a peeling tub with pillows stuffed under her backside. Raynah no longer went to church regularly, but she played gospel records to pass the time. Thomas A Dorsey’s Precious Lord. Mahalia Jackson’s How I Got Over. The Angels Keep Watching Over Me by Albertina Walker and the Caravans. Old songs that made her think about barefoot women in large hats and sparkling suits traipsing down the sanctuary aisles, slipping her and the other kids candy in exchange for Bible verses. Other times, she sat in the sunroom, thinking about nothing or everything as she unraveled and re-threaded the wicker in her favorite patio rocker. The stillness of those nights was gratifying. She liked being alone and sealed off from the world. She didn’t have to make small talk with folks or think about being judged. There, she was content with just being a speck at the mercy of the moon. 70
Lois returned to her car for the last of the groceries next door. Everything about her looked rehearsed. The bounce in her walk. Curls teased to look the right kind of nappy. Fake nails curling around the air. “Wanna help me get the rest of these bags?” she asked, opening her car’s back door. “Nah, looks like you’ve got it all together.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” “Whatever you take it to mean.” Lois closed the door, careful not to let it slam. “Why’s everything always a struggle with you? Everyone’s not the enemy. You don’t get points here for being the rebel.” Raynah flicked ash from her cigarette onto Sir’s porch. She used a fallen branch to scratch the sock inside her shoe. “I don’t know what happened to you out there,” Lois continued, staring at the patch of yard between their parents’ houses. “Honestly, I don’t know what else to say anymore.” “You knew what to say to Tony.” “That’s what this is about?” Lois let out a wry laugh. “Tony and I have a kid together. That means, relationship or not, we’re bound forever. And, if you must know, we are together again.” Jealousy and regret gripped Raynah as misery darkened her sister’s face. It had been nearly three years since Quentin’s 71
death, and Lois still talked about her only child in the present tense. As fragile as she was, she still wanted to appear normal. There’d never been an admission of loss, no anger, no questioning, no blaming. She coped by working everything away with the help of therapy and pills. “Finally,” Raynah said, resisting the sorrow inside her. She stood and took another long drag of her cigarette before stamping it out on the ground. “I was wondering when you’d grow a spine.” Lois shot her a dirty look. “Brava, big sis. You’re such the guerilla.” Raynah gave her the finger and reentered their mother’s house. * Justine, still busy with her piles of memorabilia, growled something without looking up from the mess she’d made. “Save it, Mama,” Raynah said, swishing past her. She went upstairs where the house was a sleepy warm but the sun, less intrusive. It had been a lifetime since she’d been in her old room. The space seemed larger and livable since Isha was there. One queen bed was diagonally centered, replacing her and Lois’s twin beds. The walls, no longer covered with Raynah’s Roxanne Shanté posters and Lois’s New Edition pinups, were
bare with glossy cream paint. A purple tie-dyed sheet hung where a frilly curtain once covered the room’s only window. Raynah eyed the flat iron station, wig stands and bags of hair weave poking out of her daughter’s dresser. More shoes and purses than clothes in the half-opened closet. Goofy photo booth pictures of Isha and Quentin thumbtacked to the ceiling above the bed, the words “RIP Cuz” typed over them. A portrait of Justine posing with a teenaged Isha on the nightstand. The photo took all the air out of Raynah. Like an injured bird, she dropped to the floor and rolled under her daughter’s bed. The carpet hugging her back was snug and squishy. The darkness, humbling and unpeopled. Times like these made her terribly miss the California she first moved to when things were good. She craved the dreamy fog and sparkling sidewalks of San Francisco. The taco trucks and hills of colorful homes in Oakland. The Pacific Ocean gleaming from the docks of the Berkeley Marina and the vast beauty of Stinson Beach. But, while the Bay Area left a lasting impression on the surface, St. Louis always hit below the skin and ground itself into Raynah’s bones. Most memories were easier on her than others. Fireflies lured into mason jars on humid summer nights. Creamflavored Vess sodas at backyard barbecues. Madge, the school lunch lady who had a school lunch lady’s name. The fine tang of peppermints inside pickles. Bony Tanya and thickheaded Kay, the neighborhood fraternal twins that everyone called “Nobody” 73
and “Nevermind.” Secret rides down North County’s haunted Bubblehead Road on Halloween night. Family breakfast on Saturday mornings. And Sir. For all her father’s heroic deeds as the breadwinner outside the home, he seemed only satisfied with raising Raynah and her siblings from a distance. It felt like he’d watched them grow up on some television show that he’d settled on for lack of anything else to pursue at the time. They all had ways of compensating for Sir’s absence. While Theo drifted into his own murky world that was beyond anyone’s comprehension or interest, and Lois gobbled all their mother’s affection, Raynah drew closer to her father. His detachment chipped away at her, but it was intriguing all the same. She idolized Sir, protecting the image she’d created for him in her mind. Her deep admiration eventually earned her privileges. Sir started showing Raynah sides of himself that helped her understand why Justine adored him. She missed the way he let her call him Dad when no one was around. And, reading the Funnies with him on the evenings he was home. And, the random, but meaningful, advice he gave her, like to never trust folks who didn’t eat everything on their plate, or to pick up loose change off the sidewalk only when the head was facing up. Even, their trips to the neighborhood dry cleaners owned by Sonya, the redbone divorcee who sometimes let Sir do his business with her 74
in the supply room when they thought Raynah was busy with her toys or asleep in the car. Raynah always knew about their secret, but she enjoyed being around Sir too much to care. Blind devotion to Sir, regardless of his shortcomings, was confusing and treacherous. While Raynah’s love for Sir grew, her disgust for Justine also blossomed. Even as a kid, Raynah sensed the feeling was mutual. Her mother’s habit of singling her out for every misstep only added fuel to her hostility. The aftermath of her parents’ fights—often bloody and always physical—was Raynah’s long waits for Sir’s return home after he’d left the house to go cool down. Or, her hiding Justine’s good make-up and then, gladly watching her mother fail to blot away her bruises with cheaper brands. But, when Pete was found on the train tracks, his body in one place and his head somewhere else, Raynah discovered the venom she held for both of her parents. It rose in her slowly and unannounced that night, swallowing the alarm and helplessness she shared with others in the neighborhood. She remembered standing among the crowd in Ms. Myrtle’s yard, viewing a bloodied stretcher being pushed into an ambulance when movement inside her own house across the street caught her attention. Upstairs, her parents’ shadows stood out against the glare of their television. They seemed bound together in their bedroom window and fixed into an unnatural shape. The sight of them watching in the distance—safe and unaffected—split something inside of Raynah. Their disfigured 75
bodies shifted. She imagined her mother folding her arms across her chest the way she did when she tried to compose herself as Sir closed the blinds in front of them. “Mommy, what are you doing?” Isha’s voice travelled through the room from the opened door. Raynah shut down her thoughts and pulled at the plastic on the underside of her daughter’s mattress. The sound of Isha— faint and watery—taunted her. It was the babyish echo of someone who always seemed on the verge of crying. “Waiting for you.” “Under there?” Bracelets jingled in the distance. A belt unfastened and shoes were being removed. Raynah caught a whiff of Isha’s citrus body spray when she sat down on the bed. “Best spot on earth,” she mumbled. “You’re gonna hate me today.” “Why’s that?” The bed groaned as Isha rolled across the middle of it. “They canned me. I’m fucked unless I find another chair to rent.” “Watch your mouth.” “You cuss in front of Granny all the time.” “That’s different.” “How?” “Because it is.”
Raynah sensed her daughter struggling not to protest. She held in a grin, relieved to have her face concealed by the bed. “You’ll manage. Better this than a crime scene. Or, trouble with some knucklehead boy.” Suddenly, she was queasy with shame. The darkness underneath Isha’s bed thickened, firmly pressing itself against her as tangled feelings emerged and welcomed the invisible brick back into Raynah’s mouth. She prayed Isha wouldn’t get frozen in a love big enough to deflate her. All women wished that for their children, especially for their girls. But, Black women, maybe twice as hard. Being painfully gullible wasn’t a flaw they could afford. It cost them beyond what they could grasp. Justine was the perfect example. She’d loved Sir more than life—more than her children—and Raynah hated her for it, but with the funny way life worked, she could also relate. Raynah knew that feeling of needing to remember the person she loved was good at their core, regardless of who they showed themselves to be. Hers was Douglass, a laid off construction worker-turned-druggie who she’d met while she was working as a page at Oakland’s main library. It bothered Raynah that she couldn’t recall exactly when she knew Douglass had a problem. Or, the first time she’d slept with him, who said they loved the other first, or how long they dated before shacking up. Details about their relationship were
jumbled together and only came out in spurts at the most random times. Raynah could hear Douglass making up new words during one of his binges when someone said her name wrong. A dish would break and she’d feel the crunch of a pipe underneath her shoe. Some couch left in the back alley turned her cold with the rage of returning home and discovering he’d pawned all the gifts from the surprise baby shower he’d thrown for her. She’d walk by dog shit on the road and see herself removing soiled sheets when their bed became his tomb. Besides Tony and their small group of local university dropouts-turned-organizers, no one had known about Douglass. He was a bittersweet secret that Raynah closed inside of herself. At the time of his death, he had no living family, and she’d been his closest friend. She borrowed money, had him cremated, and refused to discuss details about her pregnancy with anyone, especially not with her parents or anyone else back in St. Louis. Douglass was easier to keep hidden than her poverty. It never had to be as bad as it got, but Raynah dismissed promising job opportunities given to her by old mentors and classmates still at the university. Most positions offered room for advancement and higher pay than the dead-end canvassing gigs she worked. Raynah always knew she was a leader, but she also knew she’d never be in a position to lead. It wasn’t just because she was a Black woman; she was also fiercely coarse and lacked the gift of packaging words correctly. She’d never felt compelled to 78
master framing messages, especially when they only benefitted a select few. To her, the illusion of having control was far more dangerous and insulting than knowing she didn’t have any. And, by the end of ’87, with her man’s ashes in the ocean and a baby on the way, the last thing on her mind was maintaining order on someone’s pecking scale, regardless of the benefits. She was busy trying to keep it together. “There’s no men,” Isha said, snickering. “Still boys for now.” Raynah pushed both of her palms into the underside of the mattress, relying on the foam between them to comfort and praise her daughter. “My girl. At least you know the difference.” The bed’s squeaky coils were silenced by a gravely long growl coming from Isha’s belly. If it had been anyone else, Raynah would’ve used her wit to massage the moment. But, more memories clawed at her. Clumps of hair left in Isha’s baby rocker. Weeks of refilling her bottles with expired supplies of Slim Fast shakes. Tiny malnourished bones breaking on the playground. The trail of gummy bears falling from her five-yearold daughter’s backpack as she boarded the bus to go live with Justine. Giving up Isha was like accidentally drowning in a fountain. What was meant to be noble and cleansing had turned into a laughable disaster that would take more than death to live
down. There wasn’t any perfect way to cope, so Raynah began the cutting. She was deliberate, but careful. To avoid questions, she endured socks throughout the Bay’s grueling Indian summers. She didn’t tread too close to the mystery of veins beneath the skin, instead favoring quick, little slices along the sides of her forefeet. Tiny gashes that kept her chest from breaking open every time she thought about Isha. At the time, she’d convinced herself she was doing the right thing. She was tired, broke, and half-crazy from surviving. She was a young single parent burned by a damning system. A community caregiver and activist driven by adopted beliefs in social justice that, in turn, denied her what she was fighting for on the basis of what was (or wasn’t) between her legs. As the need for collective progress became a priority, Raynah and her circle of organizers gave up on raising families. A whole culture was disintegrating before everyone’s eyes, and they were hungry idealists determined to fight the world’s evils. Children were an indirect threat, a dangerous distraction like the crack epidemic. Sacrificing motherhood felt appropriate, like pushing kids out to go play while one disinfected the house. Not even the constant storm that gnawed at her parents’ lives outweighed reasons for moving Isha. “You should eat,” Raynah said. Her body was sore from being squashed against the floor too long. 80
“Come downstairs with me,” Isha replied. “Only if you stay next door tonight.” The bed squealed again as Isha hung upside down to look at Raynah on the floor. Save for her sculptured eyebrows and sparkling nose ring, she didn’t look like a normal 26-year-old. She was morbidly youthful, forever trapped inside the body of a girl with dimpled cheeks and begging eyes alongside the Greyhound attendant prying her away from Raynah and into the passengers’ line. “With you?” Her question was really a statement that reeked of kindness. It made Raynah sick with gratitude. Isha was guarded, but she’d never harbored resentment. If anything, their way with each other since Raynah’s final return home was cold and awkward. They didn’t touch each other much. Raynah let her eyes do all the hugging and cuddling. She greedily tried to relearn every line in her daughter’s face, recall every strand of hair on her head. Sometimes she caught Isha doing the same thing, stealing narrow glances of her, eager to re-piece together in her mind parts of Raynah that had been eroded by time and distance. “Yes. Is that so bad?” Isha scrunched up her face, weighing her next move. “I’ll even let you do my eyebrows,” Raynah promised. “Depends. You paying?” “Girl, you’re too much.” 81
* Lois’s eggs were runny with bits of shell stuck inside them. Raynah ate in silence, too hungry to complain. A jarring calmness came over her as she snatched glimpses of Isha spitting the white flecks into her napkin and listened to Justine rant about who wasn’t getting one of her Thank You cards. After breakfast, she helped clear the table and left Lois washing the dishes in the kitchen. She retired to the living room, carefully slid out of her shoes, and lay opposite Justine on the sofa. “Where’s your glasses, Mama?” “Don’t know again.” “Remind yourself never to get old,” Justine said, winking at Isha who was sprawled across the floor in front of the television, her body outlined by loose rose petals on the carpet. Raynah could barely contain the warmth that leaped through her as she absorbed the scene. “You’re not old, Granny,” Isha said, returning her attention to the screen. “Don’t lie to her,” Raynah mumbled. She tried to spread the blanket from Sir’s chair across both her and her mother’s legs, but Justine playfully snatched it from one of Raynah’s legs and yanked off her sock. Sunlight spilled across her hardened sole, the jagged scars along her foot. 82
“Isha, what y’all do upstairs?” Justine asked, her eyes holding Raynah’s as a wan smile settled on her thin lips. “Your Mama’s acting less the devil.” She sniffed Raynah’s exposed foot and let it drop into her lap. “At least I can trust you.” Returning the smile, Raynah grabbed one of Justine’s ankles and tickled the soft heel, watching her mother squirm and laugh and curse but never pull away.
Forgotten Horse Barn by Jodi De Luca
Goodbyes By James Mahon You are the foundation upon which I rest my weary, tainted mind. All else pales next to your corner roost by the lamp, waiting. Comfort is my enemy, but you are indistinguishable, and you are my friend, beyond certainty. Please donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t leave me here to bay at the polluted stars, but beseech me to remain. Then I can cry foul the whole way to my island. You see, larger forces are at play, the waning sunlight and October wind will carry me where they must.
On Howard Drive By Jessica Demarest
I grew up on a dead end street called Howard Drive, and when I was three years old I would drive my plastic red jeep past the sleepy yellow house next door and turn around where the pavement stopped. There were only eight or so houses on the street, and most of them were filled with families, home to married couples with dogs and children and cats. Their yards were always in motion. Tracey and Ed lived kiddy-corner from us, across the street. They had a son, Connor, who was about my age, and every night we’d each stand at our front doors and squash our cheeks up against the screens, pressing fine checkerboards into our skin. “Is Connor outside?” I would ask my mom as I toddled toward the door, my eyes already searching for a playmate. Karen lived on our left, in that sleepy little house. The house had been her parents’ and, an only child, Karen had moved back in to take care of them when they got sick. She never married, though she was kind, and had to have been pretty enough. She had a slight frame, fragile in her old age, with soft wrinkles on her skin. Her hair came to her shoulders, tawny brown and wispy, but straight. She lived alone, her property butted up against the field at the end of the street. The field seemed to stretch for miles, home to tall grasses and weeds that swayed in the wind. Somewhere, on
the other end of the open land sat a prison—the Coxackie Correctional Facility. We couldn’t see it from our street, but everyone knew it was there. I imagined scruffy-faced criminals running through the field, escaping from their cells only to find themselves trapped on our peaceful little dead end street. The prison field was empty, bare, but at the edge of Karen’s property line, everything felt full again. Tall oaks towered in her front lawn, and a fence surrounded her backyard. Thick maroon shutters hung over her sunny siding, radiating comfort. There were plenty of other kids on the street. The children on the corner left toys scattered across their lawn—bicycles with the wheels still spinning and a bouncing red kickball. There had to have been at least ten of them by the amount of toys they left out. My mom operated a daycare out of our white, ranch-style house, and parents dropped their kids off at our door every morning. I was an only child at the time, though it never felt like it. But despite all of the other sticky-faced toddlers running around, I was Karen’s favorite. She didn’t have any grandchildren, so I became an honorary granddaughter. She played games with me and gave me baskets full of pastel candies and little bunnies at Easter time. In the summer, she’d call out through the fence and I’d slip through the rickety brown gate on the side of the house.
Visiting Karen was like going on an adventure. Her yard was a maze of raised flower beds and potted plants, all reaching up to the sky and teetering over my three-year-old head. She was usually outside, trowel in hand, digging in her garden of snakelike vines and clutter. I helped her plant vegetables and flowers, my little fingers sifting through sun-warmed dirt until she sent me home at the end of the day, cheeks stained brown with mud. Inside, Karen’s house always felt snug, like a tangle of plush blankets you could climb into and get lost in. My imagination fills it with stacks of boxes and old furniture, many of them antique and bulky. Smoothly carved wooden chair legs poked out into narrow walkways and heavy armoires towered toward the ceiling. It was warm, if dusty, and in my head we sat at a hefty wooden coffee table decorated with an age-tinted lace doily and ate cookies from the oven. Sometimes she’d let me bake them with her, and I chattered on about the other kids at the daycare, and how we’d race in circles around our basement and Mom would yell at us to stop running. Karen listened patiently, humming quietly to herself. “Oh, really?” she’d say as she lifted me up onto a stool so I could reach the mixing bowl. Karen had three or four cats, meandering about the house and climbing atop thick pillows. Sometimes a long-haired white cat would curl up next to me on the sofa and I would giggle. I liked to rub my fingers through their fur. 88
I didn’t realize how lonely Karen must have been, trapped between ever-growing families and a barren field. When her parents died, Karen stayed in the house. I used to think it was big; my child eyes saw everything far grander than it really was. An old-style silver car sat in her driveway, and she drove back and forth from Albany every day, heading to and from her job as a clerk at the county DMV. She couldn’t have made much and was probably paid by the hour, but it never stopped her from bringing me new things. Every week or two I’d get a pretty pink dress or a patterned shirt. Karen would stop in the stores on her drive home from work, just browsing, and find something perfect for me. “I just had to get it. I couldn’t help myself,” she’d say, her frail hands clasped at her chest, as she told my mother how she’d pictured me in it, running around our patch of yard. Thanks to Karen, I always had more clothes than I needed. When I mention Karen now, Mom tells me she was a hoarder. When she said she couldn’t help herself she meant she really couldn’t. She used to keep all kinds of trinkets piled up in her house, and alongside them were shopping bags, filled to the brim with clothing with the tags still on. She bought things to make herself feel good again, and I wonder if that was her way of finding comfort, of filling the holes that people couldn’t. But at three years old I didn’t realize what the adventurous maze she’d made of her home really meant. Where I
saw silly knick-knacks and musty stacks of paper, Karen had seen memories. I like to imagine that maybe she’d had someone, a handsome lover with deep brown hair and green eyes that flashed in the sunlight. They’d met at college and spent their afternoons studying on the green, lying in the grass with their textbooks splayed open. When he tired of whatever it was that he was reading he’d lean over, bumping her on the shoulder and nuzzling his face into the crook of her neck. She was twenty. They were in love. He would have married her, and they’d have spent their lives raising dark-haired babies in a pale blue house with a white picket fence. But then Karen’s parents got sick and she had rushed home, an ever dutiful daughter. Perhaps she was only supposed to be gone for a week, then two, until finally she was dropping all of her courses and moving back in at home. He would have waited for her at first, occasionally making the long trip to Howard Drive to kiss her exhausted cheeks and ask if he could help. But exam season arrived and the visits grew farther apart. I imagine he’d called, the phone ringing on the wall in the kitchen, Karen at the stove, worn and sagging. Strands of hair fell over her eyes as she reached for the receiver. “Hey, love,” he said. “How are things?” Karen would have leaned back against the door frame, her fingers fiddling with the long white phone cord. “All right,” she
answered. “Mom’s doing a bit better. She made it out to the porch.” “That’s great.” his voice echoed in her ear. From the living room, Karen’s father called out. He needed more water. On the phone, he still would have been talking, telling her how glad he was that her mother’s doing well, how maybe she can get back to school for the spring semester. “Sorry,” she told him. “I—Dad’s calling. I’ve got to get going.” “I understand,” he told her. “I miss you.” She was already gone. Eventually, the phone calls slowed, then stopped. He didn’t visit anymore. He was too busy moving forward, while Karen was standing still. So she stayed in her parents’ house, baking cookies and tending her gardens, and every day she drove down to Albany to sit in a white-washed building and stare out a glass window at angry drivers leading lives just as empty as her own. Sometimes I wonder what happened to Karen, if she ever escaped her boxy yellow house on Howard Drive. We moved away when I was five, but we stopped by once after that, just passing through. When we took the familiar turn onto Howard Drive, I hardly recognized our house. The new owners had ripped the leafy green bushes under the front windows out by their roots. Mom was devastated. They’d even put in one of those garden globes Mom hated—the kind that sat atop a conical ceramic pillar, and was all the rage in the early 2000s. 91
Mom parked the car to go knock on Karen’s door. No one answered. I wonder if she still lives there, if she still shares a view with the prisoners, looking out over opposite ends of that empty field. She had enough in common with them, sentenced to life at the end of Howard Drive. Eventually, everyone must have left her. Tracey and Ed gave Connor a little sister, Casey, and moved two streets over, into a larger neighborhood. The front lawn on the corner was empty, no more bicycles or signs of playtime. I still don’t know how many kids they had. I like to think that new families moved in, moms and dads with curious little kids who gave life to Howard Drive. They’d visit Karen, baking cookies and playing with her cats. In the summer, she’d teach them how to plant flowers in her garden. And when she’d come home from work, she’d bring them gifts, soft blue hats and striped socks they could wear to sleep. Sometimes I wonder if Karen still remembers me, the little blonde girl who left. I wonder why she chose me, what she saw in me. If she thought maybe someday I’d be lonely, too. At twenty, I’m the same age now I imagined Karen was when everything fell apart. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that life is unpredictable. I didn’t expect my parents to get divorced, or my stepdad to fight a war. I didn’t expect my mother would develop breast cancer, the tumor in her chest growing from
nothing to the size of a baseball in less than two months. But it happened. It all happened. Karen feels like love—like warmth and comfort and someone who cares. But she is also fear. Fear because at twenty I still don’t know where I’m going. There are so many roads in the world, some that wind and curve and others that roll on for miles. But for every road that keeps going there’s another one that ends. I’m not ready to be trapped. When I think back to that time, three years old on Howard Drive, I imagine Karen as I knew her, heading home after a long shift at work. As she drove, she thought about how she couldn’t quite see the holes in her life, but somehow she knew that there wasn’t enough to fill them. She was stuck, and she knew she needed more, so she took the exit ramp at the mall, slid her credit card at the register and brought a pair of shiny new shoes home to the little girl next door.
Sunday Evening Ironing By Kevin Casey The flat-bottom keel of her iron steams across the rayon waves and ripples -the fabric’s surface placid in its wake. For years, she’s made smooth, soothed his cotton creases, quieting each week the tempest swirling in the wicker basket. While he stews at the stern, his weekend receding, she navigates the flat world of the ironing board, staying clear of its edges with the tap water ballast sloshing in the tank, her chrome-hulled tugboat leading a workweek’s worth of care through the narrow channel of another Sunday evening.
Caritas Gemini By Thomas Snarsky I. The dog sprinted full-bore into the field & Was gone forever from the present tense He turned into a stack of love letters Scribbled on postcards with addresses All over the world but mostly in Europe To be read by whoever found them Actually they were music boxes with Nothing written on them at all Each one a shrine to claustrophobia & the cleverness needed to write music II. My reology is just a smooth pear that I first saw under a prescriptive light In a nightclub full of people I loved & None of whom had yet learned my name They were all mauve without apology so I dripped out the door & into the night Singing their songs in my cracking voice Until I found a dirt path that led to a field With the redundancy of color & with love I ran into it headlong like a black hearse
Bad Memory By Terry Minchow-Proffitt Cousin Billy asks if I remember blowing up toadfrogs. Says think back fifty years to when it rained toadfrogs, everywhere frogs at dusk, so many it was funny beneath the lightpole hopping about in that small glow before the great darkness where the yard gave way to soybeans. Remember how it took two to hold their fat bodies, pry open their mouths with leftover Lady Fingers and Blackcats that stuck out like small cigars? We lit them and watched frogs fly. Says he’ll never forget that crazy-ass laugh of mine. I tell Billy I don’t remember, not the laugh, not the frog piss wet on my hands, their soft bellies and dry warts, my dark glee over what I held, the weaselly look over each matchflare in the night to see if my parents were home yet from work, the wick sparking over their beating throats, how I couldn’t stop myself as the light in my eyes went out—don’t remember how I couldn’t sleep either: 96
unsure whether toadfrogs had souls but sure as hell knowing I did.
Bill Evans Smiling at a Dog Saloon By John Stupp Sublime quiet textures intricate music that won’t see daylight— like raindrops falling on roof beams before wind untangled the sky’s hair outside in a spring storm on West 25th Street— and our minds broke like minnows into schools of blue— while night wheeled over the strangled city the broken sidewalks the clotted river choking on its trash the rain the flood waiting to make it right Inside— between sets he worked a pay phone at the bar fingers nonstop like a safe cracker dialing for junk before dawn wings sweaty like a sparrow at an empty feeder desperate to leave morning’s flickering jukebox for good
Selected Poems by AJ Huffman Last Night the Rain Sang Me to Sleep The percussive downpour echoed with undertones of longing, and I dreamed I was a desert island and you were a mockingbird. I was land, locked in constant battle with my fear of drowning. You were a loud-mouthed angel with nowhere to fly. Together, we crashed against walls made of air and our desperate need to breathe in co-dependent space. I woke with understanding staining my cheeks, left without feeling the need to say goodbye. Hearing Candles whispering in the moonlight. Golden tongues of flame flicker with promise. Touch, the burning of skin against passive heat, echoes against walls used to emptiness. Danger increases with every rushed breath. Moving like moths, more than hands collide. Consumption is inevitable as is rising likelihood of ash. His Body was a Tilt-A-Whirl and I could feel the excitement and fear tightening in my gut as I approached. Sliding myself into his seat, I searched for appropriate handholds. I leaned back for support as we picked up speed, turning into the motion as we surged forward. Faster
and faster we moved as one until I became dizzy, lightheaded. Leaving the cool structure of his form, I found my legs weak, unsteady on solid ground. I immediately placed myself back in line, a child eager for another go â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;round.
Blue By Beth Sherman From his seat by the window, Jon could see the busy street below. There wasn’t much of a view. Two tall office towers like the one he was in sandwiching a dilapidated threestory building. On the dirty window, spelled out in neon blue letters, it said Peep Show. Girls. Toys. Lingerie. People walked by the storefront all day long, singly, in pairs, sometimes in groups. An ATM machine was installed outside, though he hadn’t seen anyone use it. It was the second day of the conference. Yesterday, they’d gone around the room and introduced themselves. There were twenty-three of them in all: writers, freelance editors and publicists, a couple of MFA students, one poet, and several small publishers like himself. When it was his turn, he talked about some of his upcoming projects. The English translation of an obscure German novel set in the Black Forest. A non-fiction work on decoding Celtic runes. People looked bored. He wondered if he should have mentioned the cat books. During the ten-minute breaks between speakers, he called his girlfriend, Miranda. Each time, he was put through to voice mail. Miranda was a yoga instructor in Boston. Vinyasa only. If it doesn’t involve the breath, she liked to say, it’s not real yoga. She had a studio on Boyleston Street and a dozen private clients. She often turned her phone off for long stretches at a time. Still.
He hadn’t been able to reach her in two days and he wondered if she was avoiding him, if she was angry he hadn’t asked her to accompany him to New York. The trip was a last minute decision. He’d read about the conference in a newsletter he subscribed to. Learn What’s New in Publishing Before It’s Too Late. The urgency of the course title appealed to him. Wasn’t it already too late? The industry was changing so fast he could barely keep up with the latest technology. He thought he’d be the oldest one there. He wasn’t. All of the publicists looked older than him. Some of the writers did too. A few of them had self-published on Amazon and passed around copies of their books. He’d leafed through one at the hotel the night before and caught three grammatical mistakes on the first page alone. “In a couple of years, books will no longer be printed on paper,” said one of the speakers, the marketing manager at a large online retailer. Jon didn’t think of them as a competitor. If they were a shark, he was a lowly minnow. “Soon, brick and mortar bookstores will be obsolete.” Jon sighed. Each week brought news of another independent bookseller shutting its doors. The large chain stores were closing, as well. If bookstores disappeared how would books be displayed so people would want to buy them? The poet rolled her eyes. “No more bookstores,” she said sotto voce to Jon. “We have entered the tenth circle of hell.”
He nodded sympathetically and looked out the window. A man in a white T-shirt and baggy jeans was going inside the Blue store. Jon wondered how it managed to survive. Pornography was a lot like publishing. With the advent of Internet porn, stores like this one had become an anachronism. * The cat books kept him afloat. He’d published the first one as a lark. Lester’s Manic Cat. A cross between a novel and a comic book. Or as they would put it at the conference, between The Cat Whisperer and How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You. They were written by Lester Gordon, an elderly gentleman who lived in a charming cottage in the English countryside with a fat tabby named Marmalade. Lester Gordon had already been turned down by every publisher in New York when his query letter reached Jon’s desk in Waltham, Massachusetts. Jon didn’t know why he took the chance. Maybe because it was a letter, not an email pitch. Nobody wrote query letters anymore. They typed something up and hit send. Still. Jon didn’t even like cats. He was allergic. But he sent Lester Gordon an advance of $500 and printed 1,000 copies. It was the best business decision he’d ever made. Lester Gordon made a video on YouTube that went viral and sales of the book took off. Lester’s Manic Cat now paid the rent on Jon’s office space in Waltham and the salaries of the six people who worked for him. He’d sold the foreign rights too, which allowed him to buy a new car and offer his employees 103
health insurance. Never mind that the rest of his list was languishing in obscurity. Or that he’d become a small independent publisher in the first place to get away from the crass, commercial, ridiculously stupid books that always seemed to find an audience, no matter what else was going on in the world. Jon published books because he loved reading them. He loved leafing through the pages, cracking open the spines, smelling that intoxicating new book smell. “It’s so easy,” Miranda had said over breakfast a couple of weeks ago. They’d ordered in room service at the Holiday Inn Express on the outskirts of Boston. Two omelets, muffins, and a pot of coffee. “I read on my phone and I don’t have to lug around a heavy book all the time.” “They’re not so heavy,” Jon had replied. “I don’t understand why everyone thinks it’s such a chore.” She looked up, studying him as if he were a sixth grade science fair project. “I bet you miss horse and buggies too. I bet you’re nostalgic for the unicycle.” Miranda was twenty years younger than he was, with a heart-shaped face and toned, taut muscles. Her youth had been part of her appeal at first. But sometimes it wearied him. Her irony, her aimlessness, the way she thought of her body as an art form, like an installation in a sculpture garden, only better.
“If you’re unhappy with the cat books, you should publish books you’d want to read,” she told him, taking a tiny bite of a muffin. “I’ve tried that. They don’t sell.” “How about a compilation of everything you like? Seven Books You Need to Read Before You Die. That’s catchy, don’t you think?” “Mmmmm.” He didn’t feel like explaining that many of the books he admired were part of other publishers’ backlists. Miranda thought publishing was as simple as printing out a bunch of pages. “That means no, right? You’d rather complain about stuff than do anything different.” He should end things with Miranda, he thought, dialing her number again, from his seat at the conference, before she broke it off with him. There were signs she was considering it. She’d told him repeatedly that she was unhappy with their current situation, with the amount of time they spent together, his inability to make changes in his life. Unhealthy, she’d called it. An unhealthy relationship. The conversation played in his head when he called his wife the first night of the conference. Unlike Miranda, she picked up after three rings. “How was your day?” he asked. “Not too bad. I cut the abatacept by 50 milligrams. The nausea is better but I still have a wicked headache.” 105
His wife was physically unhealthy. That is, she had rheumatoid arthritis. The doctor had told them she would probably have to start using a wheelchair soon. The disease had come on suddenly around the time Jon was thinking of asking for a divorce. There was no single reason why he wanted one. They rarely fought. On the surface, they seemed companionable, amiable even. Like roommates who shared a house together but had little else in common. He’d looked at her one day. It was an ordinary day, they were wallpapering the downstairs bathroom, she had a smidgen of paste on her upper lip – and realized that he’d never loved her, at least not the way you were supposed to love someone you were planning to spend the rest of your life with. But then she fell walking down the stairs. Her knees suddenly gave out. She had trouble with balance and little things proved difficult, like gripping a coffee cup. He couldn’t bring himself to leave. He still considered it from time to time. But moving out felt disloyal and wrong. “How’s the conference going?” she asked. He pictured her sitting in the kitchen of their house in Medford, applying cold compresses to her aching joints. “Okay.” “What’s the take away?” “Bookstores are dying. Print books are dead. Yada yada.” “Well, we already knew that.” “Yes. We did.” 106
* The afternoon speaker was from JoyReads, a hot new social media platform. The speaker reminded Jon a little of Miranda. She had the same way of speaking rapidly with complete and utter certitude in what she had to say. “The fact that you’ve written a book is not news,” the speaker told them. “There has to be something fresh and different about your book that makes people want to read it, I curate blogs and the best ones all have an interesting hook. That’s the way people get published today. Agents and editors scour the Net for blogs they can turn into book projects. And, of course, the more followers you have, the better.” Jon glanced at the poet. She was scowling. “For instance, there’s a woman in Maine whose husband is with the Marines in Afghanistan. Every night he was gone she invited someone over for dinner to sit in his chair and share a meal with the family. She started with the kids’ soccer coach and the school principal and moved on to senators, even rock stars. Over a million people follow her on Tumblr. Taylor Swift came to dinner a few weeks ago. The book is going to be a bestseller this fall.” Jon remembers when reading used to be a solitary endeavor. That was the joy of it, curling up with a book you loved. If you liked a novel, maybe you’d recommend it to a friend or two. Nowadays you were supposed to share your
thoughts in an online review with two million friends. Now everything was about marketing: Publishing. Life. There was a twenty-year-old intern from Brandeis University whose sole job at Jon’s company involved trolling social media sites all day long, pretending to be Lester Gordon, composing brief witty posts on the joys of chasing (but not catching) butterflies and whether it was preferable to snack on fresh or canned sardines. The real Lester Gordon owned an antique rotary phone and an old IBM Selectric typewriter. Jon printed out some of the posts and mailed them to him occasionally. Lester Gordon seemed amused. The intern had wanted to write in the voice of Marmalade the cat. But Jon thought that was going too far. After the conference most of the attendees usually went out to dinner together. Tonight was Mexican. Rosa Mexicano near Union Square. Jon begged off, claiming he was too busy. Some of them had already requested that he friend them on Facebook and LinkedIn. He forwarded the requests to the twentyyear-old intern. The intern pretended to be Jon at Leda Books, too. Jon had named the company after “Leda and the Swan,” back when he used to be an avid reader of Greek mythology. He rode down in the elevator with the poet. She’d invited him to a reading she was having later that night at a bar in the East Village. Jon had forgotten her name and now it was too late to ask her for it again.
The poet was complaining bitterly about the JoyReads speaker. She was visibly upset. Her forehead puckered, her voice turned shrill. Jon was struck by how passionate her reaction was and took an involuntary step backward. “If I got hit by a car on the way to my reading,” the poet said angrily, “and became a paraplegic and had to type poems with my nose that would probably be a good hook, don’t you think? People would probably want to read my chapbook then.” “Yes,” said Jon, with a wry smile. “Definitely. Only I don’t recommend it.” She asked him again to come to the reading and he mumbled an excuse, darting away from her and hurriedly crossing the street. When he looked behind him, she was gone. He found himself in front of the grimy plate glass window of the Blue store. Glancing both ways, as if he was a criminal about to commit an illicit act, he walked inside. A heavyset guy whose arms were covered from shoulder to wrist in tattoos sat behind the counter, tapping on his phone. The usual tourist paraphernalia was displayed on racks: sunglasses, baseball caps, New York T-shirts. Jon walked to the back of the store. There were XXX DVDS, shelves full of sex toys, and an assortment of kinky costumes and see through lingerie, most of which look like they’d been manufactured in the 1970s. A fan whirred overhead. The floor creaked. Jon went back up front. “Where’s the peep show?” he asked. 109
“Show starts at nine,” the counter guy said, without looking up from his phone. Jon plucked a pair of sunglasses from the rack and tried them on. He squinted at himself in the tiny mirror perched atop the display. There was something wrong with the mirror. The glasses made him look stretched out and distorted. He put them back and left the store. It had started to rain. He took the subway to his hotel, picking up a copy of The New York Post at a small Korean grocer near the station. On the train, he spread the paper out defiantly, fully aware that he was the only person in the entire car reading words printed on paper. * He called Miranda after dinner, which consisted of a hot dog with sauerkraut, a bag of chips, and a Coke purchased from a vendor a few blocks from his hotel. He was surprised when she picked up. “Hey,” she said. “Hi. I’ve been trying to reach you.” “I know.” He attempted to gauge her mood from the tone of her voice. Sometimes when she got mad, she grew slightly breathless. But he couldn’t detect anything out of the ordinary. She didn’t sound angry. She told him that she was thinking of streaming her yoga classes online, in order to attract students from all over the country. She’d worked out the details with PayPal. He thought her voice was formal and polite, as if she 110
were simply making conversation. It was a little like talking to his Aunt Harriet. “How are you, really?” he finally asked. “Fine. And you?” “Are you upset I didn’t ask you to come with me to New York?” “I honestly wasn’t expecting to be invited. That would mean you give a damn.” He remembered the first time he set eyes on Miranda. She was walking down Boyleston Street carrying a half dozen yoga mats. He’d gone over to help her out and she’d looked up at him with hopeful, merry eyes and his heart had lurched violently in his chest. “I don’t think we should see each other anymore,” he said abruptly. He hadn’t known he was going to end things until the words were out of his mouth. In a sense, it was cowardly, doing it this way instead of in person. He supposed it could have been worse. He could have sent her a text. There was silence on the other end. He pressed the phone close to his ear and could detect a faint, persistent buzzing. “Do you know what your problem is?” she asked him finally. He honestly didn’t but he was sure she would tell him. “You’re like a book with nothing written in it.” “Do you mean that metaphorically?” 111
He heard a sharp intake of breath, followed by the buzzing noise, then silence. He realized she’d hung up. This was the end of Miranda. In the middle, he’d thought things might turn out differently. He remembered driving with her in the Berkshires one warm summer afternoon and passing a ramshackle farmhouse, painted oxblood red. It was situated in a meadow surrounded by wildflowers listing in the breeze. Cows, Miranda had said. Let’s have cows on our property. Yes, he’d replied. Chickens, too. I volunteer to collect the eggs. She reached over and put her hand on top of where his rested on the steering wheel. Swallows flitted over the meadow. The sun burnished the roof of the storybook farmhouse, turning it coppery-gold. Six months from now, when he thought about Miranda, would he remember the way her body curled against the small of his back like a question mark in the quaint Bed & Breakfast they’d stayed in that night, or would his memory of her always center on the bitterness he’d just heard in her voice. He turned off his phone. The book he’d brought with him was from his own list, a first novel written by a Venezuelan guitarist who was playing for coffee money outside a Book Expo in Miami when Jon came across him. It was about a group of rebels from Anguilla who tried to carry out an unsuccessful coup d’état in St. Kitts in 1967. Jon considered it an excellent read – 112
thoughtful, inventive, gorgeously written, though it hadn’t sold more than a couple hundred copies. No hook, he supposed. He hadn’t done a good job of selling the Venezuelan’s story. When he glanced at the clock, it was almost ten and he put the book down and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep. * On the third and final day of the conference, there were free pastries and Danish, along with coffee and juice. Jon poured himself a half-caf. The poet drank Orange Pekoe tea. There were several speakers on the agenda. Jon wasn’t all that interested. He already knew a lot about subsidiary rights and he looked askance at the man from Half Moon Press, which only published material available on e-readers. Jon knew no matter how bad things got he could never abandon physical books. The head of Half Moon Press bragged about how many followers the company had on Facebook. Over 85,000. Apparently, they gave away free e-books the first week of every month, which helped attract the anonymous hoards. “I’m nobody. Who are you? Are you nobody, too?” the poet whispered to him. Jon shot her a puzzled look. “Emily Dickinson. Very apropos, don’t you agree?” “Quite.” She looked weary and hung over. “How did your reading go?” Jon asked, to be polite.
“The usual. A handful of family members and lots of drunk college kids. The bar’s near one of the NYU dorms.” “Aaaaah.” He thought about telling her to send him a couple of her poems but that would only make her think he was interested in publishing them. He drew the line at poetry. It didn’t sell. It was like shooting himself in the foot. Besides, every encounter he had ended up being transactional – people needing something or wanting something from him. What did he need? A bigger online presence, more small gem-like books that actually sold. “I’m partial to Keats myself,” he said. It was true. He could still quote parts of “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by heart. What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?/What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy? Twenty years ago, Jon might have offered to print her chapbook. His younger self was a superior version of the man who sat at the publishing conference. Jon 1.0, he thought, with a faint whiff of irony. Not everything improved over time. “I Googled you,” the poet said. “Why didn’t you tell everyone you publish Lester’s Manic Cat?” Jon shrugged. “Do you like cats?” There were a few promotional items he could send her: A tote bag, a calendar. “I hate them. Nasty, mangy beasts.” The last speaker of the day worked at a public relations firm specializing in publishing. “Only one out of every five 114
things you write on your blog should be promotional,” she said. “The other four should strike a conversational tone. Comment on a film you’ve seen or a song you’ve heard. Take a picture of something interesting and share it with your followers. The goal is to have them like it, tag it, and resend it to their friends. That’s how you build a passion community.” Jon dutifully jotted the advice down on a yellow legal pad to pass onto the intern. He and the poet were the only ones in the room who took notes with pen and paper instead of using a device with a screen. When the conference was over, many attendees traded email addresses and promised to keep in touch. The poet left without saying goodbye to him. He was staying in the city one more night and flying back to Boston the next day. He’d originally intended to take in a Broadway show or wander around the art galleries in Soho, but now he felt listless and had a dull headache. He sat in a rickety lawn chair in Bryant Park for awhile, watching people come and go: Couples holding hands. Young mothers with babies in tow. Office workers shooting the breeze. There was a café across the street with salads and sandwiches though he wasn’t particularly hungry. He thought about Miranda, supine on her yoga mat in Reclining Tree pose, and about his wife, stretching her joints gingerly, searching for a space without pain. The three of them were like points on a triangle – distant, remote, connected by invisible black lines that pinned each of them in place. 115
By nine, the park had emptied out. The sky faded from gray to an inky black. The streets were emptier, the tourists had melted away. At the Blue store, the tattooed guy occupied the exact same spot behind the counter, tapping on his phone. “Peep show?” Jon said tentatively. “Twenty bucks.” Jon extracted a bill from his wallet and the man waved his hand toward the rear of the store. Jon walked toward the back and spotted a door he hadn’t noticed before. Opening it, he found himself in something resembling a small closet or an old-fashioned telephone booth, minus the rotary phone. A dim light bulb hung from a chain on the ceiling, illuminating graffiti smeared walls. In one corner of the booth was a small hole. Jon pressed his eye against it and felt as if he were looking through the peephole of a door in an apartment building. Only he couldn’t see what was on the other side. It was hot in the booth, hot and airless. Sweat gathered on his upper lip and in the creases of his neck. He began to feel uncomfortable, even claustrophobic. He was considering asking for his money back when the light in the booth went off and behind the peephole he saw a girl walk toward him. She was a normal looking girl of indeterminate height, with long brown hair and a fairly compact body. She wore a pair of black high heels. Nothing else. They had a strap across the ankle that reminded him of the shoes he’d seen on a flamenco dancer in Barcelona once when he and his wife took a trip there 116
years ago, before she got sick. Jon heard music coming from somewhere and the girl started gyrating to the beat. The girl’s hips moved from side to side. Then she began touching herself. Jon settled in to watch. The show lasted awhile. It was so hot in the booth Jon felt as though if he opened his mouth, he would swallow air and choke. He focused on the girl. She was a pretty good dancer. Her moves were fluid and graceful, her limbs almost elastic. He was aroused but strangely unsatisfied. Throughout her routine, the girl had gradually moved closer to him until her body was just inches from the wall that separated them. Suddenly, she stopped. Jon waited for what was coming next and was surprised to see the girl studying him through the peep hole. She squinted her eyes and stared at him. She could see him. She wasn’t supposed to be able to see him, but she was looking right at him through the wall. He was certain of it. Jon struggled for breath. He couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. The naked girl stared at him from her side of the wall while he listened to the yammering of his helpless, empty heart.
Contributors: Cover Artist: Santa Monica based artist Gregg Chadwick has been painting for three decades. His current studio is an old airplane hangar where the flurry of takeoffs and landings on the runway outside seems to creep into Chadwick's paintings as he explores movement and travel within his light filled paintings. His current series of paintings is entitled Mystery Train and evokes the railways of America that Chadwick says run in his blood. His grandfather worked as a fireman stoking coal in steam engines before advancing to train engineer on the Jersey Central Line. Chadwick often says that family gatherings brought the rhythms of the rails home. The sounds of railroad workers echoed in the music that Chadwick's relatives played in the shadows of the train lines outside. For Chadwick and many others such as writer Greil Marcus, filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, and musicians Junior Parker and Elvis Presley the enduring mythos of America and its legacy is wrapped in the blues notes of the song Mystery Train. Chadwick’s current solo exhibition Mystery Train runs through February 2016 at the Sandra Lee Gallery in San Francisco. On Pigalle I painted Pigalle after living for a summer in the 8th arrondissement in Paris. Walking along the Boulevard de Clichy is a sort of time travel which echoes in the painting. We move from Degas’ former studio at Number 6 on the boulevard, to Number 18 where Whistler painted, to Number 54 where the twin cabarets Le Ciel and L’Enfer used to stand, to Number 82 where the Moulin Rouge opened in 1889. A series of words seem to follow our steps: romance, sensuality, blue, noir, city, color, impressionism, mystery, night. Francesca Badalamenti is currently a sophomore in high school. She enjoys writing and rock climbing.
Kevin Casey's work is forthcoming or has appeared recently in Paper Nautilus, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Rust+Moth, San Pedro River Review, and other publications. His chapbook The wind considers everything was published earlier this year by Flutter Press, and another is due later in 2016 from Red Dashboard. For more, visit andwaking.com. Kaleb Cook has been writing for nearly ten years, but has only recently begun taking it seriously. When he isn't writing, he's likely doing something music related, or commuting 40 minutes to Sacramento State to finish an English Degree. His work has been featured in The Finger, Words Dance, and is forthcoming in an issue of the San Diego Writer's Ink Anthology Volume 9. Dr. Jodi J. De Luca is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and nationally certified Emergency Medical Responder. She is part of the Emergency Room Department Behavioral Health Team at Boulder Community Hospital, Boulder, Colorado. She attributes her personal and professional experiences as major influences toward her commitment to the Arts and Sciences, and quest toward a better understanding of human emotion and behavior. Dr. De Luca has been quoted in national and international magazines for her research on emotion and behavior. Of special interest are Dr. De Lucaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s award winning photography, video documentary Homeless: Inside America's Minds, and book, Homeless in America: Portraits of an American Legacy (February 2015). These endeavors are attempts to launch further national attention to the reality of an American subculture that is rapidly growing. Dr. De Luca enjoys painting, writing, musical composition, traveling, and especially hiking in the Colorado Rockies. Recently, she reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. Her latest photography collection includes portraits of rural Tanzanian village life.
Jessica Demarest is a Professional Writing student studying at Champlain College in Burlington, VT. Her creative nonfiction has been published with Om Yoga Magazine and Yoga International. When she's not writing, Jessica can be found eating peanut butter or attempting to balance on her hands. Lyndsey Ellis received her MFA in Writing from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, CA. Sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a VONA/Voices Alumnus and was a writer-in-residence at Vermont Studio Center. Her work appears, or is forthcoming, in The Offing, Nomadic Press, Heart & Soul, Quiet Lightning, Monday Night - A Journal of New Literature, Indigest, Crick!Crack!:Poems & Stories by Emerging Writers, and elsewhere. Sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a St. Louis native who currently lives in Oakland, CA. Find her at @lyellis on Twitter or www.lyndseyellis.com. Alexi Garre studies Music in Abu Dhabi, UAE, but walks the corners of the world. He loves everything from illegible scribbles in notebooks, to staring into space, to laughing at himself. If he graduates successfully, he plans to hibernate for seven years, or work for NGOs, whichever feels right. You may find more of his poetry on thoseshotsthough.tumblr.com. A.J. Huffman has published twelve solo chapbooks and one joint chapbook through various small presses. Her new poetry collections, Another Blood Jet (Eldritch Press), A Few Bullets Short of Home (mgv2>publishing), Butchery of the Innocent (Scars Publications), Degeneration (Pink Girl Ink), and A Bizarre Burning of Bees (Transcendent Zero Press) are now available from their respective publishers and amazon.com. She is a four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, a two-time Best of Net nominee, and has published over 2400 poems in various national and international journals, including Labletter, The James Dickey Review, Bone Orchard, EgoPHobia, and Kritya. She is also the founding editor of Kind of a Hurricane Press. www.kindofahurricanepress.com.
Seth Jani currently resides in Seattle, WA and is the founder of Seven CirclePress (www.sevencirclepress.com). His own work has appeared throughout the small press in such places as The Coe Review, The Hamilton Stone Review, Hawai`i Pacific Review, Gingerbread House and Gravel. More about him and his work can be found at www.sethjani.com. James Mahon lives and writes in New Haven County, CT. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Burningword, Bitchin' Kitsch, Enizagam, Commonline, ArLiJo, Buck Off, and Common Ground Review. Aracely Medina was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida where she attended Douglas Anderson School of the Arts to study creative writing. She is currently the Poetry Editor of Ă&#x2030;lan, a student literary magazine. Terry Minchow-Proffitt lives in St. Louis, MO. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Arkansas Review, Big Muddy, Christian Century, Crack the Spine, Crux, decomP magazinE, Deep South Magazine, Desert Call, Freshwater Review, HashtheMag,Mud Season Review, OVS Magazine, Oxford American, Penwood Review, Pisgah Review, Prick of the Spindle, Tower Journal, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Wild Violet, Words and Images, and The Write Room. His chapbook, Seven Last Words, was recently published by Middle Island Press. To access his blog and poetry, go to www.TerryMinchow-Proffitt.com. Julian Randall is a Living Black poet from Chicago. A 2016 Callaloo fellow and two time national college slam competitor, he traveled to the 2015 National College Slam (CUPSI) earning the title of Best Poet. He currently works as a teaching artist with the Philly Youth Poetry Movement. His work has appeared in Winter Tangerine Review, The Killens Review, and Pluck! A Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture.
Riccardo Savini grew up in Luxembourg. He has lived in Milano, Santa Fe, El Paso, Oslo, Berlin, Austin, Montreal, London, Brussels, Miami, Karpathos, New Orleans, and of course, Stockholm, the city he loves to write about. Some people think you have to be rich to live in so many different cities, but that’s not true. He worked as a parking lot attendant, yellow pages ad salesman, and for an Internet start-up that went bust. He is currently trying to wrap-up his MFA at the University of New Orleans, and writing a novel, Stockholm, I Broke-up With You Long Ago. His stories have appeared in Forge Journal, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Tratti (an Italian magazine). Beth Sherman has an MFA in creative writing from Queens College, where she teaches in the English department. Her poetry has been published in Hawaii Pacific Review, Hartskill Review, Lime Hawk, Synecdoche, Gyroscope, and The Evansville Review, which nominated her poem, “Minor Planets” for a Pushcart Prize in 2016. Her fiction has been published in Portland Review and is forthcoming in Blue Lyra Review and Joyce Quarterly. She has also written five mystery novels. Tom Snarsky is a Noyce Teaching Fellow at Tufts University in Medford, MA. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in H_NGM_N, aglimpseof, Fur-Lined Ghettos, foam:e, and elsewhere. He posts work occasionally at quarrellary.wordpress.com and tweets @TomSnarsky. He lives in Braintree, MA. A singer-songwriter from Atascadero, California, Ephraim Scott Sommers has toured nationally with his band Siko, and internationally as a solo artist. Recent poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Cream City Review, Prairie Schooner, TriQuarterly, Verse Daily, and elsewhere. Ephraim is currently in the last year of his PhD at Western Michigan University where he teaches creative writing. For music and poems please visit: www.reverbnation.com/ephraimscottsommers. 122
Originally from Maryland, Brendan Stephens currently resides in Florida and is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida. His works have been published in the Little Patuxent Review, Clash by Night Anthology, Backbone Mountain Review, and elsewhere. He has too many allergies to live with any pets. John Stupp is the author of the 2007 Main Street Rag chapbook The Blue Pacific and the 2015 full-length collection Advice from the Bed of a Friend (also by Main Street Rag). Recent poetry has appeared or will be appearing in Wraparound South, Houseguest, The Mackinac, The Timberline Review, The New Guard, 4ink7, The Sweet Tree Review, Long Dumb Voices, Goliath, and Drunk Monkeys. He has lived and worked in various states as a jazz musician, university instructor, taxi driver, radio news writer, waiter, auto factory laborer and paralegal. He currently lives outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Elizabeth Jane Whittington is a born writer who has submitted work to anyone who could read since she was eight. Poetry is her enduring love, though she also writes fiction and memoir. She has published work in online and print journals such as Crack the Spine Literary Magazine and Black Fox Literary Magazine, and has been a finalist in several literary contests, most recently in Glimmer Trainâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Fiction Open. She teaches literature and writing and received the James Moffett Award for Excellence in Teacher Research for her investigation into literacy and attrition among pregnant and parenting teens. She manages Upper Valley Writers Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/uppervalleywriters/. She is the mother of two grown children, both of whom write, and lives in Cornish, New Hampshire, home to artists and writers and the longest two-span covered bridge in the world. Alena Zhang is a sophomore at Newark Academy in Livingston, NJ. She is a member of several regional newspapers, as well as her school's newspaper staff and literary magazine. In her 123
writing, she enjoys exploring themes of the human condition and experimenting with aural aspects of language.
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