Welcome to the March 2011 issue of Umbrella Factory Magazine.
For more information and authors' bios please visit us at: www.umbrellafactorymagazine.com
From the editor
As we move forward in the second year of this Umbrella Factory endeavor, we do so with the
sincerest desire to connect well developed readers to the best writers and poets. Even in this issue, it is our pleasure to present to our readers some wonderful fiction: “The Brawl for It All at the Apex
Sports Club,” “Too Many Left Turns,” and “Where the Antelope Roam.” As editors choosing pieces for each issue is so overwhelming. We are often delighted and with rare jewels. Please pay particular note to Meredith Luby's story: “Too Many Left Turns.” This is her first publication, and we're pleased it's with us. Of the fiction represented here, it is less than one percent of what we read during this reading period. It's a daunting task, and one I hope pays off in the reading of this issue.
The second year has brought about a change of staff. Our former poetry editor, Oren Silverman, has
left Umbrella Factory to focus on his MFA studies and an appointment as managing editor at the new MFA journal Timber, www.timberjournal.com, in Boulder. He was a wonderful member of our team during our first year, and he has much to offer at his new position.
We welcome Julie Ewald as our new poetry editor. It's a big job. In her short tenure here, she has already begun to set the poetry program at Umbrella Factory up a successful second year. Julie
graduated with her MFA in Creative Writing in January 2009 from Goddard College. Recently, her
poetry has been wrapped up in PhD admission packets. She currently lives in Milwaukee. She can be reached during her shifts at the factory at email@example.com. We thank you for your support, your interest and your friendship. Please enjoy this issue of
Umbrella Factory Magazine. Submit. Subscribe. Comment. Tell everyone you know. Stay dry. Anthony ILacqua -worker
“Blue Fly Liquor”
Lauren Nicole Nixon "greener"
"what becomes of the lexicon" Robert Rebein “The Search for Quivira" Anne Babson
"TRIBULATION LYRIC #7" "SUBTERRANEAN LYRIC #7"
Aaron Jacobs “The Brawl for It All" Scott Alexander Jones
"YOU KNOW THE WAY & DAY YOU WILL DIE" "YOU LIVE SEVERAL LIVES CONCURRENTLY"
Becky Margolis “Where the Antelope Roam” Amber West
"AMORETTE" "MISERY INDEX"
Meredith Luby “Too Many Left Turns”
Jay Rubin Blue Fly Liquor
â€”Kester & Magnolia
Suburban mainstreet corner store a corner shelf for baseball cards six to a pack, a stick of bubble gum Birthplace of my pencil box sticky-sweet aroma scent of sold cigars Next door lived Harold Friedman ten years old, two hundred pounds his mother on her bourbon bed Between the Blue Fly Liquor shelves we swiped a couple candy bars swigged a virgin sip of beer A cashier rolled his centerfold shooed us out like common flies we ran into the autumn air
Pockets full of enterprise
Lauren Nicole Nixon greener beyond your backyard there is a dog and pony show/fireworks clipping at the ears/bursts of confetti (you’re sure of it). the thaw is taking forever you say to yourself. pawing at valerian. thumbing begonias through ice crystals. you imagine the look of other people’s sitting rooms: vaulted ceilings/candied orange peels in dishes/worn sofas with ink smudges. A maple coffee table. A soiled shoe on its side. you say the word sitting room inside of your head and feel the need to run laps. you say it aloud three times fast and feel the same way. you smell a cornish hen roasting from your
neighbors’ open window. you wonder if they spill into their laps when they eat. a large handbell is calling you in for supper/its brass tongue clacking at its cheeks. here is a cheat sheet: say the turkey was tender/that you send persons x y and z a kiss on the temple. Say something that’ll help em sleep like rocks/something warm and from the core of you. Say it was peachy.
Lauren Nicole Nixon what becomes of the lexicon when black sheep becomes verb (as in, black sheeping) (as in, her mother is black sheeping her and she hasn't shown her face
at thanksgiving in three years) is the word home done for? cause nobody's sayin it all that much anymore. they're all talkin about the shingles on the roof, the dew
that's dotted across the yard, the way the gardenia's positioned in the vase. if I showed you a cave in the middle of nowhere would you choose to live there or stay where you are? if I built you a fort under a bridge would you move in that very evening?
I'm thinkin the wolf was disgruntled cause his mama was more of an egg than a mama. so he blew things down and made the whole town shake with him.
Robert Rebein The Search for Quivira The idea comes to me in a dream, the night before I am to leave my parents’ southwest Kansas cattle ranch to return home to my family in Indiana — I will go off ... in search of ... Quivira! I get up, pad across the cold hardwoods, and drag a dog-eared Rand McNally into bed with me. Like the Spanish conquistadors who went before me, I know what Quivira is–a land of stunning beauty and spectacular wealth–I just don’t know where it is. Hence my plan. Following in the footsteps of Don Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, I will cut a path across Kansas from southwest to northeast, searching everywhere along the way for signs of Quivira. Doing so will reduce the tedium of a crossing I’ve made more times than I care to remember, resolving in the process (or so I hope) a certain ambivalence I’ve always felt for my home state. Having thus planned the day’s journey, I fall happily to sleep, a copy of Castaneda’s Narrative of the Coronado Expedition open on my chest. * I first became aware of the Coronado expedition in the middle of third grade, when my teacher, a young nun named Sister Fidel Marie, took our class on a tour of the stained glass windows in Dodge City’s Sacred Heart Cathedral. Most of the saints depicted in the windows–Frances Cabrini, Martin de Porres, Rose of Lima–were New World saints of a fairly recent vintage, Sister informed us. However, only one of them had walked the very ground where we now stood. “Which one?” we demanded to know. “Father Padilla,” Sister said, pointing to a blue window in the southwest corner of the church depicting a gaunt, gray-skinned monk with sad, wounded eyes. As we stood looking up at the window, Sister explained that Fray Padilla, good Franciscan that he was, had walked all the way from Mexico to
what would become Dodge City, and that once he got to Kansas, he refused to leave. “Father Padilla was a missionary and a very holy man,” Sister concluded. “He loved God and Kansas–even to the point of dying for them.” This last part struck me as unreliable nunspeak, and I remember thinking at the time, She’s got to be kidding. Who gives up his life for a place like this? But even so, I was intrigued. The idea that my flat, windblown home state had some connection to a period of time I associated with castles and knights in shining armor filled me with hope and longing. Several years after this, as part of an obligatory course in Kansas history, I dutifully learned the most salient facts about the expedition, such as when it began and ended (1540-1542) and the most probable route the conquistadors had taken through Kansas (due north from the Oklahoma border to Dodge City, and from there, up the Arkansas River valley as far as Salina or Junction City). However, bored teenager that I was, little about any of this impressed me. So what if Spaniards in chain mail and plumed body armor had visited the state four hundred years before? Had they stayed? No, they had not. And neither would I, if I could help it. It was only much later, after I had moved away from Kansas and begun to suffer the first twinges of nostalgia that I began to read books about the expedition such as Castaneda’s Narrative and Bolton’s Coronado: Knight of Pueblos and Plains. What I discovered in these books shocked and thrilled me. The Kansas I had known all my life, defined by dilapidated Main Streets and blowing dirt, was nowhere to be seen; in its place was a hauntingly beautiful world of tall grass and sweetly flowing rivers that went by the mysterious name of Quivira.
To go there, to elude the tenacious grip of the present and visit a place once known for the limitless possibilities it evoked in the imagination of the beholder ... was such a journey even possible? The more I thought about it, the more I longed to find out. * It’s still dark when I pull my mile-worn Jeep into a scrappy roadside park six miles east of Dodge City and a dozen miles below the ranch. Just behind me, on US Highway 400, semis scream past carrying live cattle to slaughter, boxed and frozen beef in the opposite direction. In the final minutes before dawn, I train the Jeep’s headlights on the park’s six-foot-high roadside marker, and begin reading. The Coronado Historical Park commemorates Coronado’s journey in 1540-41 searching for gold. Following the safe crossing of the treacherous Arkansas nearby, Coronado and his entourage celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving in this vicinity. The cross on the hill serves as a memorial of that first Christian service held west of the Mississippi on June 29, 1541. To my surprise, I find myself a little annoyed by the marker, which I haven’t read since I came here as Cub Scout shortly after the cross was dedicated in 1975. The so-called Mass of Thanksgiving, featured so prominently here (to say nothing of the stories of Sister Fidel Marie), is mentioned nowhere in the firsthand accounts of the expedition I’ve been reading. As for the idea that this Mass, if it happened at all, was somehow the first of its kind held west of the Mississippi–well, that is of course pure nonsense. After all, isn’t the expedition’s entire route from Mexico to Kansas “west of the Mississippi”? However, none of these absurdities irks me to the extent that the marker’s brief mention of the “treacherous Arkansas” does. For as anyone familiar with southwest Kansas will tell you, the stretch of the Arkansas that runs through Dodge City has been dry for thirty years and more, its once treacherous waters drained by upstream irrigation and the building of Colorado’s John Martin
Reservoir. Indeed, to cross the Arkansas these days is to encounter no greater obstacles than derelict barbed wire and ankle-deep sand. Is this what I’ve come here for? I wonder. To have my dreams of finding Quivira derailed by faulty signage? But even as I think this dismal thought, I know it can’t be so. Quivira is out there somewhere, just waiting to be discovered. * Don Francisco Vasquez arrived in the New World in 1535, drawn across the ocean by the legend of the Seven Cities of Antilia. According to this curious legend, the Seven Cities were founded by seven Portuguese bishops who fled the Iberian Peninsula in 714, shortly after the Moorish invasion. For centuries thereafter, so the legend went, the descendants of these bishops lived in splendid isolation, building a wealthy island paradise somewhere off the coast of Portugal. After Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the New World in 1492, the search for the Seven Cities shifted across the Atlantic to the West Indies, Mexico, and eventually as far north as the Great Plains. A muster roll of the Coronado expedition taken on February 22, 1540, lists 225 cavalry, 62 infantry, and 559 horses–an army of mercenaries, landless nobility, and other gold-rush types equipped with everything from buckskin jackets and matchlock rifles to cross bows and suits of Castilian armor. Alongside these Europeans marched 800 so-called “Indian allies”; hundreds more, as well as an untold number of African slaves, were brought along to tend to the army’s pack animals and its “walking commissary” of cattle, sheep, and pigs. A small cadre of Franciscan missionaries–Father Padilla among them–rounded out the company. For a year and a half, the expedition toiled ever northward, visiting hostile Pueblo lands in what became Arizona and New Mexico before traversing the staked plains of Texas, and, with a much
reduced force, continuing north and east into the very heart of what is now Kansas. Along the way, the Spaniards suffered great hardships, spilled much Indian blood, and saw many wondrous things, including the Grand Canyon and the limitless bison herds of the lower high plains. However, no matter where they went, or what marvels they witnessed, the treasure they had come so far to loot stubbornly refused to materialize. No gold was discovered at the Zuni city of Hawikuh. None at Acoma. None at Tiguex or Pecos Pueblo. None still amid the level wastes of the staked plains. And so in May of 1541, having failed to find the Seven Cities in any of these more likely places, Vasquez turned his sights northward, to a province on the plains his Indian guides called Quivira. * When dawn breaks over the eastern hills, I step out of the Jeep, pour what remains of my coffee on the ground, and begin the short trek up the chalky bluff at Coronado Cross Park. Above me, looming like a colossus, is the 38-foot concrete cross that gives the park its name. Seen from below and against a backdrop of yawning blue, the cross looks curiously like a sword thrust into the hillside by an angry giant; either that or the headstone of some massive, anonymous tomb. Gaining the ground beneath the cross, I take a moment to read some of the words etched into its granite base (The Indianâ€™s role was always that of defender; no victory he won on the battleground, however complete, would remove the invader from his shores. . . ), then turn to take in the surrounding countryside. It is a landscape I know well but for which I feel little affection. A mile to the south sits the dry Arkansas, a pit of sand lined by dead cottonwoods and junked irrigation equipment. To the east, in the
direction of the town of Ford, a small feed yard for yearling cattle bears the name of Coronado Feeders. To the west, on the other side of Fort Dodge, sprawls all of the stink and squalor of Excel Corporation, a massive beef packing plant that is the town’s chief employer, slaughtering roughly 1.5 million head of cattle a year. Although, strictly speaking, I can’t see the plant from where I stand on the bluff, I know it’s there by smell alone, its odor a pungent amalgamation of ripe manure, blood, diesel fumes, and that frozen, meat locker smell you get at the backs of butcher shops and older grocery stores. Immediately to the north, meanwhile, within a stone’s throw of where I stand beneath the cross, squats a double-wide trailer with an old pickup parked in the gravel drive, the yard in front treeless, the screen door beaten to smithereens by the relentless wind. Well, this sure as hell isn’t Quivira, I think, pausing only briefly before trudging back down the hill to continue my search. * The author of Don Francisco Vasquez’s dreams of Quivira was a tattooed Wichita from the plains of Kansas whom the Spaniards called “El Turco” on account of his supposed resemblance to an Ottoman Turk. A captive of the Indians at Pecos Pueblo, the Turk was on loan to the Spaniards as a guide to the Great Plains, a region Vasquez intended to explore fully as soon as the ice was off the Rio Grande. To hear the Turk tell of it, Quivira was a place of mighty rivers and powerful kings whose subjects paid tribute in finely woven fabrics and all manner of precious metals. The Lord of Quivira “took his siesta under a large tree from which hung numerous golden jingle bells,” and “the common table service of all was generally of wrought silver,” and “the pitchers, dishes, and bowls were made of gold.” That word! To the soldiers in Vasquez’s bedraggled army, it was like a bell in a far off tower, calling them and calling them. Evidently the Turk understood this well, for during the whole of the
winter of 1540-41, as the army sat shivering beneath blankets stolen from their Indian “hosts,” he would talk of little else. And when the soldiers, playing a game of sorts, tried to trick the Turk, showing him jewelry made of tin and asking if it were gold, the Turk, Castaneda tells us, simply “smelled [the tin] and said that it was not gold, that he knew gold and silver very well, and that he cared little for other metals.” What a magnificent liar he was! In the spring of 1541, newly installed as the army’s chief guide, the Turk led Vasquez and his men out of their winter camps on the Rio Grande and onto plains so flat and devoid of landmarks that a sea compass had to be used to stay the course. Nowhere was there a tree, a bush, or even the slightest rise of ground. It was as if the expedition had sailed off into a vast, uncharted, and bewitched ocean. At length, grain for the horses began to give out, and drinking water became scarce as well. At the height of these disasters, a tornado–what Castaneda terms “a violent whirlwind”–ripped through the Spaniards’ camp in the badlands of Texas, shredding tents, wrecking pottery, and scattering the expedition’s horses high into the surrounding hills. Badly shaken by these events, as well as by the contradictory reports of Quivira his advance scouts continued receive from friendly Indians, Francisco Vasquez sent the bulk of his army back to its camps on the Rio Grande, vowing to continue the search for Quivira with a smaller, more nimble detachment of thirty handpicked men. Guided by a bit of magnetized iron hung from a silk thread, the party traveled north in a series of forced marches that in thirty days brought them to a ford in the Arkansas River long used by buffalo and traveling bands of Indians. Three days beyond the ford, somewhere between present-day Kinsley and Larned, Kansas, the Spaniards encountered their first Quivira or Wichita Indians, and here something extraordinary happened. “The general,” Juan Jaramillo tells us in his brief chronicle, “wrote a letter to the governor of Harahey and Quivira, believing that he was a Christian from the shipwrecked fleets of Florida.”
A Christian from the shipwrecked fleets of Florida? Should we doubt that a glimmer of hope yet remained in the heart of Don Francisco Vasquez, here is our evidence to the contrary. * US Highway 56 follows the Arkansas northeast from Dodge City until the river makes a dramatic turn southward ninety miles later at the aptly named town of Great Bend. The road here roughly parallels the old Santa Fe Trail, passing by Fort Larned and Pawnee Rock State Historical Site, as well as Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, a pair of wetlands connected by a Scenic Byway. These attractions aside, however, the land is mostly flat and farmed up, the fields terraced to conserve rain or carved into massive circles watered by center-pivot irrigation systems. Here and there, a lone oil well stabs at the ground like the needle of some giant sewing machine. In 1541, this landscape was home to an estimated 150,000 Wichita Indians, a number nearly impossible to fathom given the dismal fact that, by 1874, a combination of war and disease (mostly the latter) had reduced the tribe to four bands boasting a total population of 671. Buffalo, antelope, deer, and elk were plentiful, to say nothing of bears, mountain lions, wolves, beavers, ducks, geese, turkeys, quail, prairie dogs, and thousands of other species of wildlife. As for the land, it was covered from horizon to horizon in a thick carpet of native grass through which wildfires swept with regularity, keeping trees and other obstructions to sight to a minimum. Upon witnessing this part of Kansas for the first time in 1866, a young George Armstrong Custer felt moved to declare it “the fairest and richest portion of the national domain, blessed with a climate pure, bracing, and healthful ...” Today, of course, all that a memory–and a distant one at that. Like every other section of the country, Kansas must earn its keep, and it does so by turning topsoil, groundwater, and liquid fertilizer into corn and wheat, grass and grain sorghum into beef.
It is with these hard facts in mind that I drive through scrappy Great Bend, continuing from there through the towns of Ellinwood and Chase, before crossing finally into Rice County, where a wooden billboard posted high above the roadway declares in capital letters, LYONS: LAND OF QUIVIRA. Will this be it? I wonder, leaning forward in my seat.
* The final leg to Quivira took the Spaniards through the lush middle valley of the Arkansas and Smoky Hill Rivers, a paradise of tall grass and bracing streams that was also the site of their greatest disappointment yet. “After traveling seventy-seven days over these barren lands, our Lord willed that I should arrive in the province called Quivira, to which the guides had been leading me,” Vasquez would write in a letter to the King of Spain dated October 20, 1541. “They had pictured it as having stone houses many stories high; not only are there none of stone, but, on the contrary, they are of straw, and the people are savage like all I have seen and passed up to this place. They have no blankets, nor cotton with which to make them. All they have is the tanned skins of the cattle they kill... The natives there gave me a piece of copper that an Indian chief wore suspended from his neck. I am sending it to the viceroy of New Spain, for I have not seen any other metal in this region except this and some copper jingle bells which I am [also] forwarding to him . . .” The note of despair here is almost unbearable. Everything Vasquez had, was, and hoped to become had been riding on the gamble of Quivira, and here his final roll of the dice had come up snake eyes. There were no more dreams to follow, no more legends to explore–it had all been a wild goose chase, a terrible dead end. A scapegoat must be found to pay the price for this. The soldiers demanded it, their cries focused on the head of the Turk. It is said that Francisco Vasquez resisted their demands as long as he could before turning the Indian over to be garroted in the night, his body disposed of in secret so as to prevent an uprising among the Indians of Quivira. According to one chronicle, a meat cutter named Francisco Martin carried out the deed, twisting a rope around the Turk’s neck until his eyes bulged and he died. *
An hour northeast of Lyons, the land begins to ripple and rise. The fields are green with winter wheat, the pastures heavy with cattle. It’s a little after eleven o’clock, more than three hours into the day’s journey, and I’m headed for a butte called Coronado Heights reputed to be the outermost spot in Kansas visited by Vasquez and his chosen thirty. I come in sight of the butte, which rises three hundred feet above the valley floor, long before I reach it. At its base, a switchback road leads past a bullet-riddled entrance gate to a large stone tablet bearing the inscription CORONADO 1541. Further up, a set of crumbling stone steps leads to the first of a series of picnic areas built directly into the hillside. At the east end of the butte, a two-story stone castle rises to stand sentinel over the valley below. Seeing this fake and yet oddly impressive castle, I break into a fit of private laughter. What’s next? I wonder. Knights in shining armor? Parking the Jeep at the first of the picnic areas, I walk across the flat top of the butte, which stretches three hundred yards from end to end, and ascend the steps of the faux castle. Above a doorway on the second floor, a stone marker attributes the building of the castle to a Works Progress Administration project dating from the mid-1930s. On either side of the doorway, a stream of visitors has paused to carve their names into the soft brown stone. Roy. Cristal. Dara. Tommy. Jesus Aldazvega 8/02. Passing under the WPA marker, I emerge onto a balcony offering a view of the valley stretching eastward toward the Flint Hills, a patchwork of hay fields and bottom ground planted to wheat, milo, and corn. Perhaps a mile to the south, a combine is busy cutting a field of sorghum. Even at this distance, I can see the yellowish-orange grain as it flows from the long arm of the machine into the bed of a waiting semi. Witnessing this, I recall the words of a passage from Jamarillo’s chronicle. “This country has a fine appearance,” the passage reads, “the like of which I have never seen anywhere in our Spain, in Italy, or part of France, nor indeed in other lands where I have traveled in the service of his Majesty. It is not a hilly country, but one with mesas, plains, and charming rivers with
fine waters, and it pleased me, indeed. I am of the belief that it will be very productive for all sorts of commodities . . .” The passage, long a favorite of Kansas history teachers, always left me cold whenever I encountered it as a child. The Kansas I knew looked nothing at all like Jamarillo’s description. And because I took the man’s words at face value, completely missing the strong note of ambivalence in them, I failed also to see the extent to which it was disappointment as much as approval or awe that inspired his chillingly accurate prophecy. Only now, thirty years later, do I make the connection, the two of us joined across the centuries by our separate disappointments. Unlike Jamarillo, however, who gazed into the future and imagined a Quivira tamed by the plow, I find myself looking in the opposite direction, longing for a glimpse of the place as it was when he saw it, before the production of cattle and corn turned its surface inside out. It’s a futile wish, I know–as silly in its way as expecting to find cities of gold on the vast, windswept prairies. But try as I might, I can never seem to shake it. The dream dies in one place, only to be born again farther down the road. This isn’t it, either, I hear myself mutter, my eyes traveling upward from the harvest scene to fall once more on the distant Flint Hills, the last place I’ll visit in my search for Quivira. * In the spring of 1542, as Vasquez and his men prepared for their long journey home, Fray Juan de Padilla electrified the expedition’s winter camps by announcing that he would not be going with them as planned, but instead would retrace his steps across the plains to take up a missionary’s life among the Indians of Quivira. Upon hearing this dramatic declaration, sixty of Vasquez’s soldiers immediately volunteered to accompany the priest, and only the intervention of Francisco Vasquez himself prevented a mutiny of sorts from taking place. In the end, only a small party consisting of
Padilla, a Portuguese horseman named Andres de Campo, and two Indian lay brothers, was authorized to make the journey. Pushing a mixed herd of sheep and mules before them, and traveling at most fifteen miles a day, the party forded the Arkansas River near Dodge City sometime in early July and arrived at the first Quiviran villages a week or so thereafter. By all accounts, Padilla received a warm welcome among the Wichitas. However, at some point, perhaps as early as a few weeks or months after his arrival in Quivira, the priest began to speak of visiting the tribe’s eastern neighbors and longstanding rivals, the Gaus or Kansa Indians. Why Padilla made this fateful decision remains a mystery. According to one theory, advanced by the Spanish historian Moto Padilla, the priest’s “heart burned within him, and it seemed to him that the number of souls of that village was but a small offering to God.” However, this is but one view of the matter, and a highly biased one at that. A more radical theory, put forward in the 1960s by the Franciscan historian Fray Angelico Chavez, holds that it was never Padilla’s intention to remain long among the Wichitas. “He had not crossed the great plains once more merely to return to the cross he had blessed, as the pious chroniclers relate,” Chavez insists. “It was the Seven Cities of Antilia that beckoned like an ever-receding mirage.” The Seven Cities! The hardiness of the fable is nothing short of amazing. Whatever accounts for the priest’s decision, historians agree that in practical terms it amounted to little more than an act of suicide. At a day’s journey from the Quiviran villages, hostile Indians caught up with Padilla and filled his body with arrows, covering it, in the words of Moto Padillia, “with innumerable rocks.” Campo and the two Indian brothers, meanwhile, somehow managed to make it back to Mexico, where in the years to follow the legend of Fray Padilla grew to include many fantastical elements, including reports of floods, fire balls in the sky, and a total eclipse of the sun on the day he is said to have died. *
At least two spots in Kansas claim to be the final resting place of Fray Juan de Padilla. The most picturesque of these is a hill south of the Flint Hills town of Council Grove, and it is toward this hill I point the Jeep upon climbing down from the castle at Coronado Heights. By now it is early afternoon, and by my own calculations, I will not make it home to Indianapolis before midnight, if not later. Still I feel compelled to continue the search. Indeed, the farther I progress in my journey, the more certain I become that I will find Quivira in the end. The Flint Hills are the last great swath of North American grass not surrendered to the plow. Because the soil here is thin and full of chert, farming never got a foothold. Alfalfa and the occasional plot of wheat is grown in the lowlands, but on the treeless, higher ground, grass still reigns supreme. Early each spring, the pastures are burned to clear the way for new growth, and by late April hundreds of thousands of head of cattle have been shipped in for an intensive grazing season that lasts but three months out of the year. By late summer, the season is over and the cattle have been shipped away, leaving the hills as empty as they were before the trucks arrived. It is in this state of seemingly preternatural emptiness I find them as I wend my way eastward from Gypsum to Hope to Council Grove. In Council Grove, a town of two thousand people founded by a grandson of Daniel Boone, I waste half an hour trying to find the Padilla monument before wising up enough to ask directions at the Kaw Mission Historical Site, where the woman in charge, who is in the process of closing up, allows me into the Mission library long enough to photocopy a map from an old guidebook. “Are you Catholic?” the woman asks as we wait for the photocopier to warm up. “Yes,” I say. “But that’s not why I’m here.” “No?” “I’m searching for Quivira.”
“Quivira, huh?” she asks absently. “Yes.” A pause. “Isn’t that a lake up by Kansas City?” “I’m looking for the actual place–the real thing.” “Well, good luck with that,” she says, handing me the photocopied map. Ten minutes later, I stand on a high, windswept hill, looking at a ten-foot cairn of native rock and mortar that rises pyramid-like from the surrounding plains. In the center of this curious monument, which dates from the earliest days of the Great Depression, a bullet-dented brass plaque bears the following inscription: THIS MONUMENT MARKS THE PLACE OF THE MARTYRDOM AND DEATH OF FATHER JUAN PADILLA FIRST FRANCISCAN MISSIONARY TO KANSAS DEC. 25, 1542 It goes without saying that the central claims made by the authors of this plaque are false to the point of absurdity. After all, who can say for sure where on the plains Padilla was killed, let alone on what date? By now, however, I have ceased to care about such matters. In fact, I spend no more than a minute or two snapping photos of the monument before turning away from it to take in the roll and sweep of the surrounding landscape. Although it is November, far from the period of their peak beauty, and a string of power lines mar the view to the south, these hills are a sight to behold. “What is the grass?” Whitman asks in his
most famous poem, answering the question in part, “I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.” As it happens, my disposition is not nearly as hopeful as Whitman’s, and yet, whenever I am in the Flint Hills, this line of his always comes to me. For despite the dusty road I drove in on, or the sight of those power lines strung like gaudy lamps across the southern horizon, or even the pile of rocks and mortar that is my ostensible purpose for being here, this spot yet remains a place where it is at least possible to imagine what the plains must have been like in that long ago time before they were given over entirely to the production of “commodities.” Is that enough? I wonder. Would you call that Quivira? As I stand absorbed by these questions, a white tail deer emerges from a bank of trees a mile below me. Quickly, without conscious thought, I step behind the Padilla monument and continue watching as the animal moves toward me in a series of magnificent leaps. Onward it comes, disappearing from view only to reappear again, moments later, having seemed to grow in the interval. In this way, the deer drops from view into a gap in the hills directly below me. Five seconds tick by. I can hear the sound of its hooves crashing through the dry grass. Then the deer bursts into view once again, not twenty yards in front of me, its body frozen in mid-leap. Of course, it isn’t really “frozen”; time doesn’t stop that way, and it never has. Even as I stand transfixed, caught somewhere between hopefulness and despair, expectation and disappointment, already the deer’s hindquarters are coming around, and by the time its hooves hit the ground, a millisecond later, the rest of its body is already angling sharply away from me, into the vast, still undiscovered country of Quivira.
Anne Babson TRIBULATION LYRIC #7 At their house, the front door swung half open, As if Missus Beekman had just gone out to Clip some more of her roses, like she does, Or did, but inside, nothing got burgled. At the table: a half-eaten apple
A bowl of Corn Chex, a glass of grape juice. The master bedroom shower was still on, Squirting the tiles, and the soap cap open. A pair of Missus Beekman’s underpants
Were laid out with some of her pantyhose, And one of her business suits, a red scarf On the bedspread. The phone was off the hook. Normally, I clean for them – but the house smells Of roses, roses I can’t find, and no clippers.
Anne Babson SUBTERRANEAN LYRIC #5 To ratify the contract, they asked me To spit on your spitting image and Declare you dead, and forgive me, I would Have to feed us here at the house, but I Remembered the note I found after all
The martyrs disappeared that morning, The one that told me in a poem to Cling to you, make you my rock climbing Grapple, and I said, â€œmaybe later,â€? but They insisted. I finally, belly
Growling, left the lot. I came home. My wife Asked when I would start, and I told her today, But today is the start of a different kind of work, The sweat of my brow, this time on the stake.
The Brawl for It All If you’re asking, it’s because you know my business, if not me personally. Or maybe you dabble in shallow erudition and read the local newspaper. Either way it doesn’t matter to me. If thirty-six hours ago you had never heard of Apex Sports Club I’ll still sleep easy knowing that, regardless of how this all shakes out, my work has benefited you, a loved one, a friend, a neighbor or a colleague. For over thirty years, I have fostered the lion’s share of dietary fads and fitness crazes that have gripped our country. A little bit of history before we get into it: The Grapefruit Juice Diet truly began as a lemonade from lemons situation. My second wife, Gail, was at the time having an affair with a locally prominent entrepreneur, Jerry Park, and as part of the pretext of seeing him, bought unimaginable quantities of fruit from one of his Park King Superstores. That I’m a cuckold shouldn’t surprise you or arouse your pity. I twice made love to Gail’s sister while sitting shiva for their mother. Grief affects everyone differently and I never judged Sheila for hers. Point being, while a lesser man might have doused every last piece of citrus in gasoline before hurling them, aflame, through the windows of Jerry’s house, I consumed them, lost fifteen pounds in the process, and made a mint off marketing the idea.
Apex Sports Club is more than a gym. It is a 200,000 sq. ft. wellness complex, with state of the art fitness and strength equipment, basketball, tennis and racquetball courts, full sauna and spa facilities, and two Olympic size swimming pools with 10 meter high dive platforms. It was the first gym in the contiguous United States to have an indoor/outdoor climbing wall. Our personal trainers have degrees in nutritional science, physiology, and sports medicine. Each has a physique that looks carved from oak. All natural bodies! I won’t swear under oath to that last part. The expense of testing prevents me from doing so but I have an anecdotal means of keeping my trainers clean. When I hire them, I give each of them a fitted ball cap made by the same company Major League Baseball contracts. One side effect of Human Growth Hormone is cranial enlargement so when I observe the caps teetering atop their moai-sized noggins I know the time has come to part ways. Private sessions are three hundred dollars an hour. We were ahead of the curve when it came to the low-fat frenzy, experimented with something called the Blood Type Diet, saw the winds changing and got on board with low-carbs back when Dr. Atkins had less street cred than Dr. Scholl. We were the first to Jazzercise (This workout will leave you “Kind of Blue” in the face); we were the first to step, the first to spin; we introduced Pilates when most people thought it was athletic training devised by the Roman governor responsible for killing Christ. We debuted our boot camp class six months before any gym in L.A. and a full year before you saw Al Roker trying his hand at it on the Today Show. I got former Marine Drill
Instructors to bring the spirit of Parris Island to a generation of draft dodgers and their yuppie offspring who were never so glad to be called worthless maggots (and another word that rhymes with maggot), their eyes brimming with pride as they sought out the strategically located puke buckets. More recently, I drained one of our pools and imported 20,000 tons of gritstone into the deep end. The Quarry (patent pending) has been even more successful than I imagined. Members show up an hour early for class just to make sure they get the chance to heave some rock, smash it with a mallet, and haul it out in buckets joined to an elaborate contraption of ropes and pulleys. It’s a full body workout as vigorous as anything. Given my reputation for forward thinking, my claim that kangaroo boxing wasn’t one hundred percent my brainchild perhaps strikes you as a desire to distance myself from the tragedy it precipitated. In truth, I’ve never needed to own another man’s idea and, had this worked out differently, no one would have sung Nathan’s praises louder than me. Even knowing what I now know, I still think it was a bright concept. Nathan is my brother’s kid and a manager at Apex. I have two children by my first wife, a son and a daughter, and they sided with Abby in the divorce. As a way of rebelling against me they have become lazy slugs who show no more of an inclination towards fitness than they do world domination. My nephew is a smart young man who could be anything in the world and who is himself rebelling against his father by refusing to follow him into dentistry. Nate is a lot like me and I
tried explaining to my brother that a life spent confronting gum disease and impacted molars can not properly engage a man with a curious imagination. One afternoon Nate came into my office, dropped his laptop on my desk. He was giving off a restive vibe, the kind of energy that makes other people uncomfortable because it seemed like he might get up and smack you in the mouth for no good reason. I knew, however, that he wasn’t just aimlessly fussy but jazzed up about something in particular. I enjoy seeing my employees this way and I encourage it. On his computer, he showed me a film recorded some time during the Depression, a big lumberjack looking fellow naked to the waist trading haymakers with a kangaroo. After a few minutes of this back and forth a referee jumped in and called the bout a draw. Funny as I found the clip, I wasn’t paying Nate to screw around and I told him to get back to work. He said, “This is work. This is the next big thing.” He wanted to bring kangaroo boxing to Apex. “Why not bear wrestling?” “Who would want to wrestle a bear?” he said, and then, as if my question had threatened to topple a number of nervously organized thoughts, he segued into a well prepared, if ineloquent, presentation. He was a bit over-caffeinated, lacked the smooth touch of a salesman, but, like I said, he knew his stuff. “There are over sixty different species of kangaroos. Males can reach a height of six foot seven. For short bursts, they can hop up to forty miles an hour.”
“Well, if we brought one here he might start stealing and hiding things in his pouch.” “Only females have pouches,” he insisted. Since both of us thrive on enthusiasm I couldn’t tell if his idea was really viable or if I was falling under the influence of his blatant excitement . He wanted to know what I thought. In other words, would I back him? I told him I needed to sleep on it. I wanted give it some thought when he couldn’t pressure me with his hopeful family face. “Where do you even get a kangaroo?” I wondered. “I have a guy.” He had a guy. I met Nathan’s guy, Victor, who claimed he’d wiretapped the Vice President’s home phone in reprisal for the NSA tapping his. “Fair’s fair,” he explained. He’d had an act for twenty years with a revolving stable of kangaroos all called Flash that had achieved cult status in less metropolitan areas of the country. A couple of years ago an animal welfare organization started protesting his exhibitions, saying they were barbaric. The promoters, smarting from the bad press, stopped booking Victor. I can’t say I blame them. The current incarnation of Flash looked diseased and gaunt. I don’t know if kangaroos can contract mange but this one had scabby rashes suppurating from bald patches along his spine. Victor said, “Flash’s still got it. Still the champ.” I disagreed. We exchanged views. Then Flash began coughing like a human, which almost soured me to the whole boxing idea.
Nate pulled me aside. “Okay, fine, Flash is a bust and that’s my fault. But think of it this way: if a psycho like Victor managed to pull this off, imagine if we did it the right way. Don’t quit on me now.” He was so persistent and I was really proud of him for taking the initiative. I conceded it probably could work. Stupider ideas have worked. The Stairmaster, for instance. It was then that I took a more active role. Nate had brought it as far as he could but the time had come for a pro to do what a pro does. I contacted my own guy in Australia. It turns out that live export is illegal unless on exchange between zoos. I wasn’t in love with the idea of committing fraud just because I’m loyal to my nephew’s potential. Another interesting fact I learned is that four types of kangaroos are raised for meat. Did you know that people eat these things? So Australia was a dead end. Thank God I live in America, where everything is for sale as long as you know where to look for it. This meant going to Macon, Missouri, home to less than six thousand residents and one exotic animal auction. I outbid a semi-retired energy mogul—who was in the process of constructing a private nature preserve at his estate—for Maurice, a three and a half year old Red Kangaroo. I paid twenty three hundred dollars for him, a little high, but Maurice came from a fine lineage and was fully trained. Was I at all concerned about housing a large marsupial in a facility containing tens of millions of dollars worth of athletic equipment? The short answer is, of course. The longer answer is that I’d already watched The Quarry (patent pending) cause my premise insurance to skyrocket so I had an
inkling as to the liability of bringing a wild animal onto the property. As expertly trained as Maurice was, I couldn’t shake the images we’ve all seen of lions turning on their handlers or of elephants quitting their jobs at the circus by stampeding into the audience, as children with cotton candy beards and Mylar balloons tied to their chubby wrists were scooped up by their shrieking parents in a sprint for their lives. And who could blame the elephants when all they wanted was to return to their families in India and roll their kids in mud so they didn’t get sunburn? Did you know that elephants sunburn? Who was to say that Maurice wouldn’t realize one day that it was his daughter’s wedding or his son’s Bar Mitzvah and suddenly decide he’d had enough of the ring? While those who know me best would call me many things, I suspect the term animal lover isn’t one of them. Still, I took an immediate liking to Maurice and saw him as more than another employee, certainly more than the gimmick many on my staff thought he was. He was tall and brown, strong and quiet. Mostly, though, I liked him because he didn’t appear to suffer self-doubt or timidity, despite being the lone representative of his species among a group of common predators. From the moment I brought him back to Apex, I knew he wasn’t destined to be a permanent fixture. Nate didn’t say it but he too understood that, at best, we would get some mileage out of the publicity and bring in a few new members. There was no way, financially or logistically, we could care for Maurice into his old age. As it was I had to hire a caretaker fulltime, a zoologist, Dr. Bernard Williams, with big
enough tax problems to rationalize any ethical issues that might have arisen. He fed Maurice and saw to his general health and made sure the animal had a suitable living environment. You know, when this thing becomes even more public than it already is, my concern is that most people won’t understand that kangaroo boxing is a misnomer. As practiced at Apex Sports Club there were no fisticuffs or sparing in a traditional sense--- very few punches thrown, period. An accurate name would have been kangaroo evasion, but you and I both know that’s not sexy. It was a workout to promote stamina, agility and speed. You spent two rounds keeping the hell out of Maurice’s way. He could be on you in one leap. If he wanted to overwhelm you, you were overwhelmed. His quickness was almost mythological. Besides, the participant was so loaded up with safety equipment—headgear, mouthpiece, leg protectors, sixteen ounce boxing gloves, chest shield like the bull riders wear, you ended up looking like a riot cop called in to quell a prison uprising—I always assumed there was a greater risk of personal injury in yoga. I know it sounds like I’m pleading my case pretty hard but Nate and I were the first to go toe to toe with Maurice. I lived the experience more than once. So that’s another thing you have to remember. I would never expect anyone to partake in an exercise I myself thought too dangerous. Honestly, I believed the whole thing, barring the absurdity of the spectacle, was safe as milk. And a spectacle it was. We packed the gym to introduce him, played Waltzing Matilda over the PA as he entered the ring. We chanted “Mau-RICE! Mau-RICE,” drowning out any whiny
objections coming from our more liberal minded members. I loved it. It was the type of playful, fun, innovative athletic activity I’ve spent my life promoting. True, the adulation spooked Maurice and Dr. Williams had to sedate him. This cut the festivities short. I’ll tell you, though, I wasn’t alone in my admiration. Each Thursday when we held the boxing class, nothing else in the gym mattered, all eyes were on the ring. The simple fact is that Maurice is a graceful son of a bitch. No one who saw his confident footwork and masterful hand speed could claim exploitation. In his eyes there gleamed the undeniable light of a competitor. Tough too. Contained within him was a reservoir of wildness that belied his birth in captivity. I gave Nate a raise because it seemed as though he made his bones with this one. But then that goddamn meathead had to sign up. If anyone had to lose the use of his extremities I suppose I’m glad it was Frank Paganini, though I would have been happier had Maurice somehow only paralyzed Frank’s vocal chords. He was a loudmouth, a five foot six, two hundred pound, juicer with stubby arms no longer than an alligator’s. He’d tried enlisting in the National Guard and they turned him away, this during wartime, so it was obvious he possessed a fairly serious psychological deficiency. He was good about paying his dues and he followed club rules so I had little recourse in suspending his membership just because I found him to be an insufferable blowhard. By virtue of his near omnipresence at the gym, he had deceived himself into believing he and I were
peers. His habit of interrupting me when I was talking to real employees made me want to bitchslap him through the nearest wall. “Phil, we’ve got to do something about the towel situation. We’re using too much bleach and I’ve noticed it’s irritating my skin. And you know I’ve got the skin of a rhino. If it’s bothering me, just imagine what it’s doing to some of our ladies.” Or else he elevated himself to my boss. “A word please,” he’d say, showing enough chutzpah to enter my office when I was on the phone. “Now listen, when you get the chance, I want you to look into plyometrics. I’m expert in some wonderful drills that I’ve been meaning to teach the training staff. Maybe a weekend workshop but we’ll have to see what my schedule looks like the next few weeks. I might be traveling to Asia on unrelated business.” I put up with him because I suspected he didn’t have much of a life outside of the gym and because it was a testament to what Apex stood for that it could be so meaningful to any one person. Were there signs along the way that might have helped me grasp the true extent to which Frank envied Maurice? Not when you put it like that. I’m simply not equipped to glimpse in others the kind of torment that allows a man to view a marsupial as competition. That said, the night he fought Maurice he arrived at Apex at noon and for hours stood around promoting the fight as though he got a cut of the gate. No matter what I was doing that day or where
in the building business took me, Frank was there, telling people things like, “Phil’s finally giving me my title shot. You don’t want to miss the Brawl For It All.” “Do me a favor and take it down a notch, please,” I said. “Can I ask you something? Why do you want to steal my thunder?” He sounded brokenhearted. “That was thunder? I thought you had gas.” Kangaroo boxing was at seven. Nate ran the class and refereed the fights. I was there when Dr. Williams brought the kangaroo to the ring. Maurice looked great, his coat shining. He smiled and playfully weaved his head around while Dr. Williams put his gloves on. Frank was having a word with Nate and I saw things were getting heated. I walked over to assist. Frank said to me, “You tell your boy Frank Paganini don’t fight on the under card. I’m the main event. This is a heavyweight championship. Come on, the title’s on the line.” “The matches are determined by the order people sign up. Guess who signed up first? Take your spot or get the fuck out,” Nate said. I think I’ve mentioned he can lack a soft touch on occasion. Frank was bouncing on the balls of his feet. “The mouth on this kid, Phil, right? Just tell him how you and I do things around here.” He cracked his neck. It sounded like a bicycle riding over a sheet of bubble wrap. “It’s Nathan’s class. I’m sorry but it’s out of my hands.”
He ground his teeth audibly. “Your gym, your rules.” He pointed at the list of names on Nate’s clipboard. “I just wonder who they plan to fight. There’s going to be nothing left of that overgrown rat.” He jumped onto the ring apron and started screaming, “Rest in peace, Maurice.” In the far corner of the ring, his opponent seemed not to notice the taunt. By now it was seven and the gym had filled with our members, as it did every Thursday. Frank turned around on the ring apron and addressed them as if their attendance was at his behest. “Welcome to the Brawl For it All! I want you to give yourself a round of applause. It’s time to say goodnight to Maurice.” He vaulted the top rope and geared up quickly. “Rest in peace, Maurice,” he sang repeatedly, in case there was one person who missed his witticism. I hadn’t planned to stick around for the class. I was awaiting a call from a guy who arranged street luge competitions—he got the permits, did the marketing, etc.—and wanted me to sponsor an upcoming event. Frank seemed more unhinged than usual and I decided if my presence couldn’t calm him, it might have a palliative effect on the rest of the class. The fight was over in under a minute. The bell rang and Frank charged Maurice. He launched so reckless a punch that he less resembled a boxer than he did a centerfielder trying to throw out a runner at home. The punch started below his hip, his front foot off the mat, chin up; it traveled in a wild arc behind his back and over his head. As inaccurate as it was forceful, it struck Maurice on the side of his long neck where his shoulder would be, if he had shoulders. Maybe Frank paused to watch
the ramifications of his handiwork or maybe he was surprised Maurice didn’t go down. He stood there, hands at his sides, unsure of what to do next. It would be nifty to say Maurice was only acting on the collective wishes of everyone in the class. I hesitate giving him human motives and he likely felt threatened and lashed out to protect himself. Maurice cut the ring in half with a single leap, scored two quick headshots that put Frank in the corner. He never made it out. Maurice dazed him with a head butt—a dirty move, I grant you— then he balanced the entirety of his weight on his tail and fired both feet into Frank’s chest. Remember when Nate told me that kangaroos can hop forty miles per hour? The chest shield is there to protect bones and organs. It’s not armor and a stunned diaphragm often results from hard hits. All Frank’s wind flew out of his mouth. He was doubled over, clutching his midsection, when Maurice reared back on his tail and uncoiled those great legs again, knotted sinews twitching under his fine brown fur. This one connected with the crown of Frank’s head, smashed it almost right down his neck. In my line of work, I’ve seen injuries: torn knees and shoulders, herniated discs; I’ve seen pick up basketball games end in compound fractures; I’ve seen a man step out of the sauna and drop dead of a heart attack. The bruises, sprains and strains are too numerous to mention. A broken spine was new for me. Frank crumpled as if his skeleton had come unglued. This queer tension filled the room,
a sense that we had experienced some random awfulness that we all knew existed but that seldom visited good people like us. Dr. Williams had Maurice out of the ring, back in his habitat and sedated, as the ensuing panic overtook Apex Sports Club: the running for help and the phone calls, the paramedics and the police, the hiding of Maurice from the authorities, the traumatized members and staff. It was hours later, but seemed like days or maybe only minutes, when the actual emergency had passed. There was time now to reconcile what had happened. Nathan, my brother’s son and a real sweetheart if you knew him, was destroyed. He cried in my office, “I killed him.” We didn’t yet know that Frank was alive, a motionless turd nevertheless. “They’re going to sue me and I deserve to be wiped out. I was referee and I couldn’t stop it.” I told him I was taking the blame on this one. “But it was my goddamn idea. I deserve to go to jail.” “It’s my fault even if it was your idea,” I said, which is true. I said that when the lawsuits come —and they’re coming, big time—they’re not coming for him. I’ll protect him. The police want to know where Maurice is because they have a job to do and kangaroos that beat a man half to death don’t get to live. My lawyers are running interference for now. Throughout my life I’ve made money and lost money and made more money, these ups and down coming at intervals too regular to call them coincidences. I can the say the same about women, friends and
children. Now I have a cripple on my scorecard. Maybe my sympathies are in the wrong place and I should be at the hospital with Frank, praying over him. Instead Iâ€™m getting ready for a road trip. I gave Nate an overdue vacation and I paid Dr. Williams for services rendered, awarding him enough severance to square up with the IRS. Maurice and I are leaving town. When I come home Iâ€™ll be alone and the lawyers and insurance adjusters can sort out the rest. For me, it will be over. For Maurice, I have a place picked out. No, not with the semi-retired energy mogul. I heard he recently picked up two okapis in south Florida.
Scott Alexander Jones YOU KNOW THE DAY & WAY YOU WILL DIE The city, the season, the indivisible moment. It involves a train, a flood, a child. It involves the advent of penicillin. Or television.
Choose either definition of: SPAM. You remove one candle once a year, not on your birthday but in anticipation of the anniversary of your death. It's not so much mooncake as cheeseburger.
Cigarettes for candles. Hold your breath. Purse your lips. Make a wish.
If you'd like you can wish for a million wishes. Only you can't wish to live several lives concurrently.
Scott Alexander Jones YOU LIVE SEVERAL LIVES CONCURRENTLY Enough to populate Rhode Island comfortably. You get bored w/ your selves so you all go into hiding. One of you paints himself into a naked cheetah.
One of you tattoos jigsaw phrenology onto his shaved skull. One of you becomes Ted Kaczynski. One of you _________. One of you _________. One of you eats acrylics until his face turns fuchsia. One of you injects blood into his irises. One of you traps another one of you in a soundproof cellar. One of you eats another one of you then buries himself alive.
One of you wears lipstick, mascara, lingerie. Cuts off his own testicles. And even when dreaming into the deepest levels of sleep all the rabbits at the banquet still call her Esmerelda.
Where the Antelope Roam That summer there were three escapes from the city zoo, and my father said it had to mean something: coincidence, apocalypse, or reason, at least, to shrug your shoulders at the universe and buy another scratch-off lotto ticket. I had just graduated from college and couldn’t find a real job— didn’t even know what real job I should be looking for. So I moved back to Cleveland and into my old man’s house, a neglected rental with a missing front doorknob. It was a temporary arrangement, until we both got back on our feet. My father had just finished up his second stint at booze camp (“How many picture frames can a grown man really decorate?”), and he was home a lot, shuffling around the house, listening to country outlaw records and watching the cat; there was only one left at that point, though usually he kept them in pairs or small packs. My father had subscriptions to three different newspapers and he read them all, every day—something about getting sober that made him rifle savagely through those pages, front to back and back to front, looking for some tangible evidence of the remarkable, the freakish fact of life. Here’s what he found. On June 7th, Evelyn the gorilla escaped in broad daylight, hoisting herself out of captivity with an overgrown vine. She cruised the downtown streets for almost an hour before being caught by the
animal police. In that time, she ransacked a dumpster and robbed an ice cream truck. When they found her, she was eating fudgsicles, the driver long gone. Oh freedom, thought Evelyn the gorilla, oh, sweet freedom, did it taste good. My father bought a box of his own fudgsicles then, perhaps in some kind of homage. Perhaps because when he wasn’t drinking, he was eating ice cream. He ate bowls of it—ice cream, and candy. He kept hard candies and little stale chocolates stashed all around the house: in miscellaneous drawers and cabinets, next to the bathroom sink, outside on the picnic table. I’d find the junk everywhere, like a tribe of invincible roaches. “I hope you’re brushing your teeth,” I told him. “Those caramels are gonna rip your fillings right out,” I said. He laughed. He thought it was a hoot. He hadn’t been to the dentist in ten years. “Worse things in the world than sugar,” he said. I hadn’t come here to babysit my father, but inevitably, that’s what I found myself doing. Babysitting and waiting, which was a mostly tedious combination. After the first month, I started thinking about New York—Brooklyn? That’s where a handful of my college friends were living. I spoke to them on the phone and they’d tell me about their parties and their bookstore jobs. People were wearing feather boas now. People were drinking fermented mushrooms. Opportunities were passing me by. “I’m still in Ohio,” I told them. “It’s, you know, whatever.”
My father had grown a beard and we talked about that for a while. “It’s rugged,” I said. “I think Jake is scared by it,” he said. “Who’s Jake?” “Jake—the cat.” “I thought the cat was Willie,” I said. “What happened to Willie?” “When Waylon died, I changed Willie’s name to Jake. You can’t have one without the other,” he said. “You’re turning my world upside down,” I said, pretending to pull out my hair. “First the cat’s name changes, and then what? What’s next?” “Your whole life, kid.” He laughed. “Your whole life,” he repeated, as if he liked the way the words sounded. “Soon they won’t even be called cats,” I said. My father was a smart man. He’d gone to college and he used to write grants for non-profit organizations—“I’m good at asking people for money,” he said—though he’d been mostly unemployed the last ten years or so. For a while he ran a leather shop where he made and sold belts, wallets, and bags, but the store burned down when I was a kid and never re-opened. He had the sign though, Squeaky Leather, which I’d always imagined him running in to save while the place was going down in flames, still sitting in the corner of the living room . Now he somehow managed to
float by, maybe on the brink of serious financial hardship, maybe not, but never seeming too concerned about it. This used to embarrass me, his inability to hold down a job, but recently it made me concerned for myself. I worried that I’d inherited this trait—bad luck mixed with weirdo mixed with who knew what else. For a while that summer I worked as a door-to-door Internet and cable salesperson. I found the job in the paper and it was easy to get hired because they paid entirely on commission, which meant I earned almost nothing. At the end of the week, the top salesperson got to ring The Bell—a large metal gong that echoed loudly when you hit it with a mallet—while everyone else stood around them in a circle, clapping bitterly. I was a bitter clapper, every time—that was a fact. This was another fact: Stella, the African antelope escaped almost one month after the gorilla, July 2nd at ten in the morning. Restlessness was contagious. She jumped over the fence, startled by a performance during a Michael Jackson tribute that the zoo was hosting. A cover band, each member dressed as a different type of arctic species (bear, caribou, seal), was playing all the hits. When a walrus sang Thriller, the antelope split. When my father read about it in the Tribune, Stella had been missing for almost twenty-four hours. She was nimble and skittish and they couldn’t track her down. They had their top guys—the smartest and the savviest zookeepers—on the rescue mission, but so far, Stella had eluded them. This
depressed my father. He figured she would be hit by a car, or shot. I sat outside on the front steps and smoked his cigarettes with him to offer support. “They’ll find her,” I said. “I know they will. She’s an antelope, not an enigma.” “Good one,” he said. “That’s a keeper.” He was referring to our not-business—the one where he designed bumper stickers from witty sayings that I came up with. She’s an antelope, not an enigma. “Let’s go look for her,” my father said. He rubbed his hands together strangely. “Just for an hour or two,” he said. “We should try to hunt her down.” His proposition was endearing. We did not often travel, or even got out in public, together, so this felt like something new. What did we have to lose? So I drove the car and my father directed from the passenger seat. We rolled down the windows and smoked more cigarettes. We had a city map for a reference, but we let our instincts guide us. We put on our sunglasses, even though it was cloudy. “Slow down,” he hollered, as we approached a row of garbage cans. “We gotta look for clues.” What clues? What were we looking for, anyway? Strewn trash, antelope tracks. Something along those lines. We drove downtown, past playgrounds and parks. We drove around the mall and the stadium and the lake. A few times I spotted a large dog out of the corner of my eye and thought it might be the
antelope. Stella, I almost cried once, to a greyhound. Come here baby girl! I almost said that, though I couldn’t be sure where those words came from, why I’d think to call an antelope, “baby girl.” After a couple hours of that, I said, “Maybe it’s time to take a break.” We stopped at a diner and I bought my father a cup of coffee. I ordered a rice pudding for myself. We sat next to the window and it began to rain hard, water pushing down the glass in little rivers. From here, the city looked gray and gloomy as ever. The sidewalk and the sky and the buildings all seemed to run together into the same pile of sludge. My father sipped his coffee slowly, swirling it with the little red straw. “So what, you think Stella is a lost cause,” he said. “Is it time to throw in the towel?” “She’ll be okay,” I said. “She’ll find her own way.” “Yeah, she will,” he said, but I could tell he didn’t really believe it. We talked about ordering more food, but neither of us was hungry, so we sat and waited out the rain. We talked about baseball, about the recent sorry state of the Indians that no one from Cleveland would ever fully admit. (Case in point: my dad still had a special edition Albert Belle candy bar from 1995 that he believed would someday be worth big bucks.) “I bet that candy bar is decomposing inside the wrapper,” I said. “It’s probably fossilizing.” “See? It’ll be even more valuable.”
We talked about the economic recession. “This kind of thing always hits us harder here,” my father said, and the mention of us—of the possibility that I might be included on this sinking ship— made my stomach tighten. He asked me what I was going to do, what my big plans were. What he said was, “If nothing else, you could become an animal chaser.” This sounded vaguely hopeful to me, but mostly ominous. Vaguely hopeful, but mostly ominous: I doubted if it would make the cut. I didn’t remember much of my childhood, but sometimes when I thought of myself as a kid, I wanted to shake me—Snap out of it, girlfriend! Get with the program here, we’re all miserable! There was a period in middle school when I lived with my aunt (booze camp, round one). At the time, my aunt was also taking care of two foster kids with mental disabilities. She would talk about the kids right in front of them, as if they couldn’t understand her, though I had been certain this was not the case. “Wally over here’s not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed,” she said to me, thrusting a thumb in Wilson’s direction, “So mind where you leave that retainer of yours” —the implication of which I could only imagine. While my father was sobering up, I was worried about having my eyes gouged out by my retainer. My own retainer! This was my most pathetic, indulgent memory. We could not find Stella, but the authorities did—that day, or the day after that—holed up at a nearby golf course. How could we have not thought to look there, my father wanted to know. He
applauded though, anyway, when it was announced on the news. We both cheered. Huzzah, we said. It’s a good life! Give me a home where the antelope roam! “It’s buffalo, though,” I said. “Give me a home where the buffalo roam, right?” My dad laughed. “I think we can say it however we want,” he said. The summer was much less eventful after that, and it started to stretch out in the way that a movie that goes on for too long does. I called my friends in Brooklyn and they told me to hurry the fuck up. Everyone had gotten new haircuts. “I’m gonna head out,” I told my father. “I have to find a real job.” He nodded at me and saluted. He looked a little sad, I thought, but not really. “Is that OK?” I said. “I think that’s good,” he said. “I think you ought to do that.” So I packed up my car with what little belongings I had. Most of my clothes fit into a few duffle bags. I left my toothbrush in the bathroom; I would buy a new one when I got to New York. My father and I ate an early dinner together so by the time I was ready to go, it was still evening, my favorite time to drive. I slammed the trunk shut and went to look for him, to say goodbye, but he wasn’t in the house. I called his name and walked outside again, to the small yard in back. The mosquitoes were just starting to come out and a small colony swarmed at my ankle. I bent down to swat them away and when I looked up at the yard, everything appeared as it should: the wild, un-
mowed lawn, the plastic chairs circling the coffee can ashtray, the small orange sun glinting over it all. I could hear the trucks cranking by on the nearby boulevard, the symphony of honking horns. “Dad,” I said. “I’m going.” He was standing with his back toward me. He was completely still, like a statue staring off into nothing. I wondered for a moment if he hadn’t heard me, if I hadn’t actually spoken. But slowly he turned around, his finger pressed to his lips to shush me. He was grinning, his eyes white and bulging. And then I saw the zebra, an actual zebra with stripes, standing in the yard next to the picnic table. It was bending over, eating something in the grass, tail swishing from side to side. The zebra’s ears flickered while it ate, as if it were listening to us, listening for something. It moved forward a few steps to mouth for some more forage. Munch, munch, munch. Scattered all around the zebra on the ground and across the table were candy wrappers: hundreds of them, piercing and shiny. It looked as though someone’s Halloween bag had been ransacked. The confetti of wrappers covered the glass like tiny, glittering disco balls. It was a feast of scavengers. A buffet of bounty! My dad crept gently across the grass toward me. Easy, easy, he was telling himself. No sudden movements. He leaned over, put his hand on my shoulder, and whispered, “The zebra found my stash.”
Soon the animal control authorities would come. They would bring a tranquilizer gun so as to haul the zebra off without any problems. They would apologize profusely, and professionally—it had been an unlikely mistake, a lock left open. A one in five thousand chance, really; one in a million. Some zookeeper would surely lose a job over the incident, but I would be long gone before that happened. My father would go back to drinking sometime afterwards, which wouldn’t surprise either of us, though it might have taken a lot by then, to surprise. And the zebra—he would be returned in his sedated stupor back to the zoo, the locks double and triple checked. The other zoo animals, though, would not understand. They wouldn’t be able to wrap their minds around it all. Because how could the zebra ever describe this—the crinkle of candy wrappers, the wind in your eyes, the warm sun on your back? What could he say?
Amber West Amorette
She is deceased. Amorette, does that mean little love? She darted out into the road. Maybe on purpose, do you know— had some reason to— No, I know— The woman flew, then skidded 118 feet from the point of impact before she came to rest. Amorette, the driver, was uninjured. Amorette does that mean little love.
We thought she was chased, a man, a mountain lionâ€” but no. This is where she landed. A motorcyclist rolled her over, tried CPRâ€”
It might be best for you to tell her mother. Amorette, does that mean little, love?
Amber West Misery Index
We started measuring misery in 1963. An economist traced its origins to 1948. Our misery: 11.49. A year later, we were far less miserable: 5.10. Many experts credited the index for the improvement, much like those who weigh themselves regularly inevitably shed weight, though by 1951 it was clear this wasn’t the case: 11.16. We were least miserable in 1953: 2.97. Almost everybody got a new refrigerator. We won’t forget 1980, our most miserable year.
June, in particular, the cancelled trips, too many weddings, and Misery’s 32nd birthday—
a crisis of confidence. Suddenly every baby made her breasts ache, the threat nearly invisible in ordinary ways. Since then we’ve done our damnedest
to stay under 10.0 while everyday Jimmy
builds and builds. Each home sweet home an apology we canâ€™t quite accept, the smell of 20.76 on his neck, its taste on his lips.
Too Many Left Turns My imaginary boyfriend beats the shit out of me. See, I have this romantic way of dressing. That is the first thing my imaginary boyfriend noticed about me. He complimented my knee socks, took me home and stuffed one in my mouth. He almost choked me with the other one after we had sex on the couch. The next time he wanted me to keep them on, the knee socks and my shoes, while he shoved himself inside me. Afterwards he threw me on the floor and walked into the kitchen to get a glass of water. When I stood up I saw blood on the floor, and I knew it was mine, but I couldn’t be sure where it came from. There are bruises all over my arms and legs and back. He gave me a nosebleed once. It was morning, and he felt so bad after—he hates seeing my blood—and he held tissues to my face while we watched the news. He gives me bruises because he finds them beautiful. He loves me most when I am crying. The nosebleed happened like this. I was pouring orange juice into glasses, and he started mocking me. Not about the orange juice. He loves orange juice. He was mocking me in that way where I knew it was because he found me adorable, because he found these mockable qualities adorable. He said, “spill five pounds of coffee beans on the floor, leave your shoes in someone else’s
hallway.” These are all things I have done, I am forgetful and whenever he gets mad at me about it I quote Elizabeth Bishop. I had forgotten to buy milk, but he wasn’t really mad, only teasing, but then it turned. It turned so fast I was in the kitchen at the stove and then my face was bleeding into my orange juice. He said, “Leave your shoes outside a room where you don’t live, only you sleep there sometimes and maybe you have left more than your shoes and your underwear and your hairs and stains on the sheets.” And this was still okay because it was still true, and he still thought I was cute. “When you walk into the hallway your eyes are hurting. It is like you fucked someone in their car and when they finished they lit a cigarette, reached around you to open the door and pushed you out.” He said this to me. He said it like all the other things, like this was something I had done. Like this was the same as forgetting about milk. “Or maybe they burned you with the cigarette. Or maybe they put their arm around you and pulled you close. Either way, at some point you’ve been pushed out of a car after being fucked. So who did you fuck? Whose car was it?” I turned around and I was crying because it was his car, or his bed, I mean. He pushed me off the bed after leaving part of himself in me. And I was crying because I did fuck someone else but not in their car. And they did pull me close. But he is the one who put the cigarette out on me, right in the middle of my shoulder blades while I was sleeping.
“You don’t even know who Elizabeth Bishop is,” I said. Then he punched me in the face, and my nose started to bleed. After that he held me on his lap and held tissues to my face and laid his hand on my head, smoothing my hair down again and again and again. I leaned into him and he kissed my bangs. He lifted my face and licked my tears off my cheek. I have a lover too. That is the other person I fucked. He is real. He wears a pea coat. After we made love on his bed I picked his coat up off the floor and put it on. The smooth lining felt good on my naked skin. He pulled me onto his lap and slipped his arms through the coat too. We just sat like that, sharing his coat, my head fitting perfectly under his chin. My boyfriend knew because when I got home my arms were glowing. Every single hair on my arms was standing up. I think mostly he was mad because he thought he was the only person that could make me feel that way. Mad because he is not so special as he thought. But no one gives me bruises like him, no one makes me cry half as much. Like when he pushes me off the bed. It hurts, and I hate to sleep on something so hard and cold, but I always wake up to him lifting me back into the bed, wrapping me in the sheets or his jacket or his arms. He lets me lay on him like I’m a cat and we sleep like that for a while. My lover wraps me in the sheets even though he does not push me off the bed. And he has more of a right to, because it is his bed, not mine, not like the one I share with my imaginary boyfriend.
My imaginary boyfriend is learning Dutch. He has these stickers and he puts them all over the house, with the Dutch words for everything. His is learning Dutch because he is Dutch, or he thinks he is. He could just as easily be Norwegian or Finish or Swedish. Both he and my lover have this very European look about them. I don’t know what kind of look I have about me. I could be from anywhere. When I bring my lover to my house he notices the stickers and laughs. “Going to Holland sometime soon?” He asks. I say nothing. He notices my bruises and my burns and cuts. “Been falling out of trees lately?” he asks. I say nothing again. He touches my back where the burn mark is, and for a second I think it is he that gave it to me. Because the thing is, I kick the shit out of my boyfriend too. Only he doesn’t know it. I kick the shit out of him when he isn’t looking or is asleep or when he thinks he is kicking the shit out of me. He thinks the tiny cuts on his feet are just from the wear of everyday life, the little things that tear at our skin constantly, so much we are numb to the tiny pain, the tiny bit of blood, the tiny scar. I am proud of those black eyes, the swelling, the deep purple staining my face. Other people, they don’t understand, they call it abuse, but I focus in, focus so deep, and his knuckles pressing against my flesh, my bones, that is what I love. And each time I look in the mirror and see the bruises and I remember his touch, like fingers on my shoulder, a nose tickling my neck.
There are bruises other places, on my legs and my back. He tells me to cover those up. He is ashamed of how much he loves me, of what his love makes him do. But we lie in bed at night and he kisses each one, and whispers the ways he thinks about hurting me. It is not sexual, this pain, these scars. They are only for him, to make sure he knows what I would do for him. Still, though I wear my bruises like merit badges, I am secretive. I write letters I will never send. To my dead mother, to him, to people I have met once. In one to him I say: Remember that shirt you bought me last year? The one that is nothing like anything else I own, but that you thought I should wear because it shows so much cleavage? Do you wonder why I never wear it? I will tell you. One day, while you were at work, I sat in our closet, I sat in the corner behind your suits, and I was wearing that shirt. I took a pair of cuticle scissors. Wait, maybe you donâ€™t know what cuticle scissor are. They are tiny scissors used for cutting the little piece of skin between the nail and the finger. I had these scissors and I cut that shirt off my body. And the blades are so tiny, the line I made was jagged, like the pieces of the coffee cup you broke that morning when I bought the wrong cereal. I cut off my pants too, then my underwear, carefully so that I would not accidentally cut myself. I think the thrill of seeing my own blood would be too much for you. I cut that shirt into little pieces and stuck each of them in the pocket of all of your dress pants. Imagine if that cloth had had my blood on it. What would you have done upon finding my clothes stained with my blood in your pocket in the middle of a meeting?
I never gave him this letter. I burned it on the stove before heating up water for tea. I stood there, forgetting I was naked, forgetting the blinds were open, wondering what time he would be home, wondering— I want an imaginary baby. A whole imaginary family. But it is probably safer to have my lover’s baby, a baby that would wear pea coats instead of one that would beat the shit out of some girl. Only I don’t love my lover, and I want a baby with someone I love. I love my imaginary boyfriend. I love him whether I’m bleeding or not. It is Monday, always Monday. Everyday with my imaginary boyfriend is Monday. He crossed out all the other days on the calendar and replaced them with Monday. And with the Dutch word for Monday, Maandag. It is always starting, always beginning, there is never an end for him and I. On one of these Mondays, one that was really a Thursday, he found all of my letters to people that don’t exist. He slashed them to pieces with a steak knife. That is the thing about Thursday, it is the most unnecessary day. No one ever knows what to do with them so they do crazy things. But I guess my boyfriend and I do crazy things most days. Or he does. I don’t do much. Ever. On Monday I slept at my lover’s house. We had coffee and cornflakes the next day. I stole a package of dried cranberries from his pantry and went home. He calls my house. He doesn’t know about my boyfriend or fear that he will answer. My boyfriend is prone to outbursts anyway and would probably break the phone.
When I get home with the cranberries my boyfriend is still asleep. When he finally wakes up I am on the couch watching Jon Stewart and braiding and unbraiding my hair. “Take a shower with me,” he says. “I already showered.” “But not with me. I want you to wash my hair.” We fuck in the shower of course. Then we sit there, the stream of water between us, trying to be heard over the water, over each other. All of life is trying to be heard over each other. He plays with the hair on the shower wall, my hair, from earlier that day. He looks like a child that way, crouched and naked, like bathing with my cousins when we were kids. But I scratch under his chin, his wet sandpaper stubble, and remember how different this all is. How different it was being a kid. No one ever tried to make me learn Dutch when I was a kid. The water makes my veins show purple, the bruises deep and stippled with yellow, if they are new. But my skin is beginning to heal, as is his. Only in this water are the tiny scars on his back and feet visible, lighter than the rest of his skin. I pretend I am pregnant but don’t tell anyone. I pretend to hide it from my imaginary boyfriend, who I am hiding from my lover, who I think, is hiding from me. Maybe I am only imaginary to him. His imaginary clandestine girlfriend pretending to carry someone else’s baby and hide it from him, from everyone.
My boyfriend starts to take me to restaurants. I think I see my lover there, but if it is him, he does not see me. I rub my stomach. I am in my second trimester by now. I threw the pregnancy test in my neighbor’s trash can. My neighbor is an elderly woman. Or not elderly, but old, too old to have a baby. Maybe I should give this pretend one to her. I see her riding her bike to the grocery store sometimes. She could get one of those seats for babies and put this baby in it. She could buy baby food and carry it home in the basket. I don’t know how to feed a baby, even a pretend one. I am clipping my toenails in the bathroom when my water breaks. My imaginary boyfriend come in and carries me to the car. “But it is only a pretend baby,” I say, “and besides, it is my lovers baby not yours.” “You don’t have a lover,” he says, “you only have me. And what do you mean pretend baby? You are going into labor as we speak.” “Pretend labor,” I say. “Sshh, you’re delirious from the pain, you aren’t making any sense.” “Yes. You’re right, I don’t even know what day it is.” “It is Monday, of course.” He says, turning left out of the neighborhood and speeding towards the hospital.