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December 2012, Issue 12
CONTENTS Prose: Thomas Kearnes Let’s Play House 8 Kevin Tosca Outside the Lines 14
Nonfiction: Lauren Smith A Thank-You Note to the County Jail
Poetry: Lianuska Gutierrez “God of Small Things” 24 “A Partial Knowing that is Full” 26 “How come, if I don’t go” 25 “Possession” 30 “Upstanding folks” 28 Philip Kobylarz “of exes and spots” 31 “Threadbare” 36 “Nineteen ninety nine” 35 “Recollection of the Fortifications” 34 “Coins” 32 Kimberly Ann Southwick “Backfires, Nahunt” 38 “Diagram of a Wrecking Ball” 37 “your forehead, mostly” 40 “now don’t panic” 41 “People overuse the Phrase” 42 Editor’s Note About Us Submission Guidlines BIos and Credits
5 4 6 44
UMBRELLA FACTORY WORKERS Worker in Chief
Anthony ILacqua Fiction Editor
Amanda Bales Poetry Editor
Julie Ewald Copy Editor
Janice Hampton Art Editor/Design
Jana Bloomquist Nonfiction Editor/Web Developer
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Umbrella Factory isn’t just a magazine, it’s a community project that includes writers, readers, poets, essayists, filmmakers and anyone doing something especially cool. The scope is rather large but rather simple. We want to establish a community--virtual and actual--where great readers and writers and artists can come together and do their thing, whatever that thing may be. Maybe our Mission Statement says it best: We are a small press determined to connect well-developed readers to intelligent writers and poets through virtual means, printed journals, and books. We believe in making an honest living providing the best writers and poets a forum for their work. We love what we have here and we want you to love it equally as much. That’s why we need your writing, your participation, your involvement and your enthusiasm. We need your voice. Tell everyone you know. Tell everyone who’s interested, everyone who’s not interested, tell your parents and your kids, your students and your teachers. Tell them the Umbrella Factory is open for business. Subscribe. Comment. Submit. Tell everyone you know. Stay dry
Please accept our invitation to the December 2012 issue of Umbrella Factory Magazine. The holidays are upon us yet again: year end festivities and year end celebrations. If you’re forced to give an impromptu holiday speech and find you’re at a loss for words don’t linger on too long. A simple formula is this: mention something from the past, the present and the future. Keep it on the up and up. So, raise your glasses. Issue 12 of Umbrella Factory Magazine marks the end of our third year. It’s my desire to thank all of the editors over the years for making this happen: Amanda Bales (fiction), Jana Bloomquist (art); Janice Hampton (copy), Julie Ewald (poetry); Mark Dragotta (cofounder/nonfiction) and Oren Silverman (retired). An especially large thank you to our countless submitters, our 12 issues of contributors and all of our readers. In this issue, fiction from Thomas Kearnes and Kevin Tosca. Nonfiction by Lauren Smith. Our poets: Lianuska Gutierrez, Philip Kobylarz and Kimberly Ann Southwick. Writers and poets can exist without the literary magazine, but the literary magazine cannot exist without writers and poets. We are grateful to represent this issue’s contributors. With three years of experience in the bag and under the umbrellas we have finally participated in the Pushcart Prize. For those of you in the know, Pushcart is the best of the small presses. And as you may not know, we have wanted to participate in Pushcart since we began back in 2009. As we say in our submission guidelines, your best is our best. Best of luck to those we nominated: Justin Ridgeway (“Things We Remember When Shopping for Something Nice to Wear and It’s Cold and We Just Want to Get Home,” March 2012 Issue 9) for fiction and Alisha Kaplan (“Mockingbird,” “The Dance Floor” and “Statues of January” September 2012 Issue 11) for poetry. The year to come? Well, who knows? We’re grateful for another year’s run at this. We’ve been cooking up a few dreams, a few schemes and perhaps we’ll see some new programs and products in 2013. In the meantime, thank you. Read. Submit. Comment. Tell everyone you know. Stay Dry. Anthony ILacqua
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Yes, we respond to all submissions. The turn-around takes about three to six weeks. Be patient. We are hardworking people who will get back to you. On the first page please include: your name, address, phone number and email. Your work has to be previously unpublished. We encourage you to submit your piece everywhere, but please notify Umbrella Factory if your piece gets published elsewhere. We accept submissions online at www.umbrellafactorymagazine.com
ART / PHOTOGRAPHY
Accepting submissions for the next cover or featured artwork/photography of Umbrella Factory Magazine. For our cover we would like to incorporate images with the theme of umbrellas, factories and/or workers. Feel free to use one or all of these concepts.
We accept submissions of three to five poems for shorter works. If submitting longer pieces, please limit your submission to 10 pages. Please submit only previously unpublished work.
In addition we accept any artwork or photos for consideration in UFM. We archive accepted artwork and may use it with an appropriate story, mood or theme. Our cover is square so please keep that in mind when creating your images. Image size should be a minimum of 700 pixels at 300 dpi, (however, larger is better) jpeg or any common image file format is acceptable.zz Please include your bio to be published in the magazine. Also let us know if we can alter your work in any way.
We do not accept multiple submissions; please wait to hear back from us regarding your initial submission before sending another. Simultaneous submissions are accepted, but please withdraw your piece immediately if it is accepted elsewhere. All poetry submissions must be accompanied by a cover letter that includes a two to four sentence bio in the third person. This bio will be used if we accept your work for publication. Please include your name and contact information within the cover letter.
SUBMIT YOUR WORK ONLINE AT WWW.UMBRELLAFACTORYMAGAZINE.COM 6/
NONFICTION Nonfiction can vary so dramatically it’s hard to make a blanket statement about expectations. The nuts-and-bolts of what we expect from memoire, for example, will vary from what we expect from narrative journalism. However, there are a few universal factors that must be present in all good nonfiction. 1. Between 1,000 and 5,000 words 2. Well researched and reported 3. A distinct and clearly developed voice 4. Command of the language, i.e. excellent prose. A compelling subject needs to be complimented with equally compelling language. 5. No major spelling/punctuation errors 6. A clear focus backed with information/instruction that is supported with insight/reflection 7. Like all good writing, nonfiction needs to connect us to something more universal than one person’s experience. 8. Appropriate frame and structure that compliments the subject and keeps the narrative flowing 9. Although interviews will be considered, they need to be timely, informative entertaining an offer a unique perspective on the subject. Please double space. We do not accept multiple submissions, please wait for a reply before submitting your next piece.
FICTION Sized between 1,000 and 5,000 words. Any writer wishing to submit fiction in an excess of 5,000 words, please query first. Please double space. We do not accept multiple submissions, please wait for a reply before submitting your next piece. On your cover page please include: a short bio―who you are, what you do, hope to be. Include any great life revelations, education and your favorite novel.
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Maybe Leeza wouldn’t bring her two irksome brats. Moments ago, while his sister cursed over the phone, Cutter asked about her plans. He hoped she might take the children to their mother’s condo in Arlington where they could spit and puke with impunity. But Leeza never gave an answer. She simply ranted about that fucking bastard, that horndog motherfucker and how she was absolutely done, done, done. “Oh, hell, baby. I’m a mess, just a fucking mess. I don’t wanna look like some homeless woman when I come.” “Take your time, Leeza. I’ll be here all afternoon.” “I know you’ve got your own life.” Cutter exhaled, gazed at the slowly spinning ceiling fan. He dropped into the plush recliner his last live-in lover had helped pick out. During this pause, he tried to remember how long ago Patrick had packed his things and stormed out. Three years? Maybe four? Cutter knew he and Darren hadn’t been together long enough to shop for furniture or do anything that might give the illusion of permanence. Darren was still a weekend diversion with only rare visits during the week, visits Darren requested. How would Cutter accommodate his deeply unhappy sister and keep his much-younger lover entertained as well? He had just one day to figure this out. “Cutter, baby, you still there?” Leeza asked. “What? Oh, yes—yes, sweetie. I’m here.” “There’s something I should tell you.” Leeza cleared her throat. “I think that bastard has your number. He might try to call.” “Shit. Leeza…” “No matter what he says, don’t let him know I’m there.” “Sweetie, what if he stops by?” “I’ll hide in the back. I won’t answer the door.” “You have to talk to him eventually.” Leeza sighed. “I know that, bubba, I know.” Bubba. Whenever she called him that, Cutter knew she needed him. He was already in junior high when Leeza was born, and by the time she entered kindergarten, she already weighed twice the amount of a normal five-year-old. Their mother vainly attempted to camouflage the swells and curves of her figure, but the peasant blouses and stretch pants she selected only made the girl appear like a bloated hippie. Cutter escorted her to school, barking at the children who shouted insults from the playground, the passing buses. And every morning, before Leeza left to enter the elementary campus, she wrapped her plump arms around his waist and shouted, “I love you, bubba!” Cutter waited for his sister to continue on the phone but heard only crunches and smacks. Surely, Leeza was attacking the junk food again, like vultures on a carcass. Whenever she visited, all he had to
Let’s Play House Thomas Kearnes
prose do was check the pilfered pantry to know she was upset. Finally, he spoke. “You never said when you’d be here.” “Just gotta get the little monsters strapped in and toss in my clothes.” So, the children would be coming. Fuck. “Well,” he said uncertainly, “since you’ll be here this weekend, I have a surprise.” “Really? Ooh, ooh, I love surprises. Tell me, tell me, tell me!” “You get to meet Darren.” “You mean that college kid you’re fucking?” Cutter’s face broke into a wide, embarrassed smile. Of course, he’d told Leeza about Darren, the 20-year-old he was still dating. After all, he told his little sister everything. Still, it disconcerted him to think how Leeza might view his romance with the much younger man. “I think I’m in love with him,” he said, stumbling over the words. Leeza hooted, a wild, unnerving sound that quickly shifted into a hacking cough. Cutter reminded himself to make sure an ashtray was ready on the patio. He didn’t allow Leeza to smoke in the house. “Well, that’s wonderful, bubba,” she said. “Can’t wait to meet him.” “I’m gonna have a full house this weekend.” “Don’t you worry. I’ll give you plenty of privacy.” “What about your kids?” “A few coloring books and some Legos, and they’ll forget the world exists.” Cutter looked out his glass patio door into the neighborhood. On this block, the plantationinspired homes were placed perilously close to one another, so Cutter’s “view” was little more than the brick wall belonging to the home next door. He wondered what his neighbors might be doing. Probably, they were at work. It was two o’clock on a weekday, and not everyone had
the luxury of working from home like Cutter. Feeling exposed, he drew the vinyl curtain across the glass. The room grew dark. He knew this conversation was reaching its end. Nothing left to do but pace the rooms until Leeza and the children arrived. Cutter hung up and stood in the middle of his sizable, smartly furnished living room, like a land developer admiring his newest purchase. With pride, he told himself everything in this house—every piece of furniture, every stitch of clothing, every obscure wire of electronics— was his and his alone. Why not share it with those he loved: his sister and his boyfriend? His house was large, two stories with two additional bedrooms and a master bedroom he shared with Darren during the boy’s visits. There was certainly enough room for all five. He dialed Darren’s number. Even though the semester was almost over, Cutter had yet to memorize his boyfriend’s class schedule, to know when it was good to call. He smiled unashamedly while he listened to the rings. He was a bit abashed at how eagerly he anticipated the boy’s voice. “Hey, sexy, perfect timing,” Darren said. “I just got done with my calculus exam.” “You should let me help you study next time. I was excellent at math.” “We wouldn’t get much done naked.” Cutter laughed, totally at ease. Darren wasn’t the first younger man he had dated. This was, however, the longest that this sort of relationship had lasted. Cutter delighted in Darren’s willingness to explore any corridor of sexuality through which Cutter led him. He was insatiable, and his skills as a lover were steadily improving. True, Cutter occasionally felt a bit odd, as if he were more instructor than lover. The boy, however, seemed to enjoy learning new things about sex. Wasn’t that the cornerstone of any romance: two people benefiting from each other’s experiences?
“There’s something I have to tell you about this weekend,” Cutter said, dropping his tone. “I’m afraid we won’t be alone.” “What do you mean?” Cutter noted how much like a child he sounded. “My sister Leeza—you remember her?” “Yeah, I think so.” “She’s going through a tough time, and she needs a place to stay.” “Okay…” “Don’t worry,” Cutter rushed. “We can still be together, do everything we normally do. But yeah, my sister Leeza and her kids are staying with me for a bit.” “She has kids?” Darren said, pronouncing that last word as if someone had belched. “A two-year-old and a five-year-old.” Cutter waited anxiously for his boyfriend to respond. His free hand had bunched into a tight fist, fingernails digging into his palm. Startled, he relaxed his hand, shook it out. “Maybe I should stay up here this weekend.” “Why do you say that?” “Well…it all sounds kind of crowded.” “Babe, I’ve got a huge house. It’s all planned out. Leeza and the kids get the first floor while you and I get—“ “But we’d have to be quiet.” “Yeah, I guess so.” “I like it when you make me scream,” Darren said. Cutter laughed despite himself. In his nearly two decades of dating and fucking men, this was the longest time he’d been with one where the sex was still as vibrant and purely enjoyable as in the beginning. No sad, desperate “schedules,” created over fear that sex would cease completely without them. Even after nine months, Darren stirred within him an excitement and enthusiasm he never imagined possible at thirty-seven. ***
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prose Two hours later, just as the neighborhood began to pulse with children returning home from school, Cutter knelt before a hedge that bordered his house. He clipped the leaves with his shears, aware that his snips and snaps weren’t changing the shape of hedge. He simply needed to occupy himself while he waited for Leeza to pull into the driveway. He felt it more proper to greet her outside as she exited her vehicle, rather than force her to drag the children to the front door and knock. Aside from Darren, Cutter’s sister was his most frequent guest. He didn’t notice Leeza’s Honda approach. He looked over his shoulder and saw her waving madly from the driver’s seat. Always, she greeted him this way, as if he were the longabsent parent and she the doting child. Tossing his shears to the ground, he shuffled over to the car and opened the door. “Hey there, bubba!” Leeza shouted. “Good to see ya!” Cutter smiled and reached to take Leeza’s hand. His sister had put on more weight since having the children, now close to 250 pounds. The black velour stretch slacks and shapeless zebra-print blouse she wore only accentuated what she likely wished to hide. She exhaled as if exhausted after Cutter helped her to her feet. “Hurry, mom!” cried a child from the backseat. “My show’s about to start!” Cutter knew that piercing wail. It belonged to Leeza’s five-year-old son, Grayson. While the boy kicked the back of the driver’s seat, waiting for someone to open the door, Cutter caught a glimpse of his nephew. He was, to be frank, an ugly child: a disconcerting under bite, long hooked nose, pale blue eyes that crossed whenever he glared at someone. No doubt, Cutter feared, his hands were sticky with whatever ill-advised treat Leeza had given him to buy silence. “Mom! Chelsey just threw up!” Leeza gave her brother a weary half-smile. “Honey, use the towel from the floorboard,” she
told Grayson. “Mom, it’s gross!” “For fuck’s sake, Grayson, it’s just a little spit-up.” Grayson scowled, dug his shoulders deep into the seat and crossed his arms. Leeza gazed at him, pleading with her eyes, but her son was unmoved. She looked over at Chelsey, her twoyear-old. Unlike her brother, the toddler had a sweet, welcoming smile, cheeks that flushed a pale pink, and bright, inquisitive hazel eyes. The vomit coating her chin and the front of her jumper diluted her charms only slightly. “I’ve got one of the spare bedrooms ready,” Cutter told Leeza. “Oh, bubba, I don’t deserve you,” she cried and planted a sloppy kiss on his cheek. The moment she turned to tend the children, Cutter wiped what he knew was a smear of Leeza’s infamous hot pink lipstick. She had worn the same shade every day since her marriage months after graduating high school. Cutter watched as Leeza cajoled Grayson and cleaned up Chelsey. All the beds in his home were king-sized luxury pieces, complete with silk sheets and down-filled pillows. Grayson and Chelsey would have to share one bed downstairs while Leeza took the other down the hall. Cutter knew that placing a toddler and an older child in the same bed was strange, but he couldn’t think of a more tenable solution. Besides, Leeza wouldn’t give it enough thought to complain. After a half-hour of unpacking and devising suitable distractions for the children, Cutter and Leeza migrated to the patio. Though it was well before five o’clock, Leeza insisted they indulge in a glass of red wine. “The good shit,” she said. “The stuff you save for you and wonder boy.” The two siblings sat adjacent to one another around a quaint wooden table, one Patrick had picked out during a long-ago trip to Home Depot. Leeza fired up an ultraslim cigarette, the kind advertised in women’s
magazines, held aloft by models much slimmer than Leeza. “Are you sure the kids will be all right?” Cutter asked. “What—them? Hell yeah. They’re couch potatoes, just like their bastard father.” “Does he even know you’ve left?” Leeza smirked and took a drag. “He’ll know when he comes home and no one’s there.” “Christ, Leeza.” “That bastard didn’t tell me shit all those times he shacked up with that whore.” “It’s not the same thing, sweetie.” “It’s the exact same thing.” “You should call him,” he said, lightly placing a hand on her shoulder. “What if he calls the police?” “I highly fucking doubt it,” she said. “He’ll probably invite that whore for some cheap, nasty fuck.” Leeza’s husband rarely came to Cutter’s house. Leeza once confided that he feared catching “faggot germs.” On occasion, Cutter had gone to visit Leeza in Garland and found her husband to be crude, demeaning, vulgar and wholly unfit for even basic human interaction. Once, Cutter caught the man picking his teeth with a toenail. “Promise you’ll call him tonight,” Cutter said. “Okay, bubba. But just for you.” “Who knows? Maybe you’ll be surprised.” “The real surprise will be if that damn whore doesn’t answer the phone.” *** Cutter waited until the kids were safely asleep and Leeza had retired, fifth or sixth glass of wine in hand. All through the afternoon and into the evening, he couldn’t stop thinking about Darren. His mind jittered with unpleasant scenarios in which Leeza and the children stymied his attempts to be intimate with him. It was now
well past sundown, however, and Cutter had the second story to himself. He locked his bedroom door and powered on his laptop. Moments later, after a flurry of keystrokes, an image appeared on the screen. In it, Darren grinned at Cutter. He, too, was seated behind a desk. His bare torso gleamed in the glare of his table lamp. Already, Cutter felt his cock stiffen. “Dude, this webcam is my religion,” Darren said. “Isn’t technology a wonderful, terrible thing?” “So where’s the family tree?” Cutter playfully placed a finger across his lips. “Fast asleep, boy. It’s just you and me.” “Want me to go first?” Darren asked. “Absolutely. I wanna see what my boy has to show me.” “Yes, sir,” Darren purred. He stood up. Now only his hips and upper thighs were visible. He lowered his gym shorts in one swift motion. Cutter grinned with appreciation that his boyfriend wore no underwear. Darren’s cock hung limp between his legs. He’d trimmed his unruly pubic hair since their last online encounter. “What kind of lube you using?” Cutter asked. “I didn’t wanna waste the nice stuff you gave me.” “Stroke it for me, boy. I wanna watch you get hard.” While Darren coated his hand with lubricant off-screen and massaged his still-limp cock, Cutter’s hand shot down to his own crotch, greedily grabbing it. After a few moments of this, he finally sprung from his seat and whipped off his sweatpants. Doing this took his gaze away from Darren for only a moment, but even that was too long. Undressed, Cutter tumbled back into his seat, elated to watch the boy he loved making himself hard for Cutter’s pleasure. The two men continued stimulating themselves. The steady fwick-fwick sounds broadcasting
over the laptop speaker, the rhythm of Darren stroking his cock, entranced Cutter. He marveled at how this boy so completely stunned him, after all these months. The loud, sudden knock on his bedroom door startled him. “Uncle Cutter!” Grayson called out. “Uncle Cutter, are you asleep?” On the screen, Darren instantly stopped stroking and dropped back into his seat, his face visible once again. “What the fuck was that?” Cutter waved his free hand frantically. “Quiet!” he cried in a hoarse whisper. “Don’t let him hear you!” “Who the hell is that?” Darren asked, now whispering. “What is it, Grayson?” Cutter called out over his shoulder. “You’re out of real Pepsi, and I’m thirsty, but Mom said I have to ask you before I take a Diet Pepsi. Is it okay if I drink a Diet Pepsi?” The child spoke these words in a long, rambling monotone, as if they were lines in a grade-school play. “Yeah, buddy, sure,” Cutter called out. “Take whatever you want.” He waited. Cutter waited. And waited some more. Throughout this, Darren leaned forward, his fine-angled, pale face taking up the entire screen. He, too, appeared to be closely listening for more signs of Cutter’s nephew. Finally, the younger man spoke. “Was that one of the kids?” Cutter nodded, let go of his breath. His broad shoulders fell. “Sorry about that.” “Maybe we should pick this up tomorrow,” Darren suggested. After a quick, longing gaze at his still-erect cock, Cutter returned his attention to the screen. “I promise,” he said, “tomorrow I’ll give that bastard every Diet Pepsi I own.” *** Amazingly, Cutter managed to forget all about
Leeza and the children the next day. He retired to his roomy upstairs office to work like every weekday, pausing every so often to fantasize about Darren and what they would do that night. When he came downstairs for lunch, Leeza and the children were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps his sister hadn’t been kidding about their appetite for television. Shortly before five that afternoon, he called Darren to confirm the boy’s arrival. He had already instructed Leeza to have both children fed and bathed before Darren came over two hours later. “What about me, bubba?” she asked with mock indignation. “I suppose you want me in bed with lights out, too.” “Of course not, sweetie. I’d love for you to meet Darren.” “Maybe I should cook something.” “Leeza, your food is terrible.” “Suck my tit, big brother.” “Oh, yeah, about that,” he said. “Keep a lid on the more colorful language, okay?” “What? Is he a virgin or something?” “I don’t want him thinking my family is full of trash.” “Trash?” Leeza cried, hooting in derision. “We’re not trash. We just marry it.” “Speaking of which, you haven’t called him, have you? Leeza sighed and rolled her eyes. “No, not yet,” she said petulantly. Then she wrapped her arms around him with a force that knocked the breath from him. She dug her chin into his shoulder. “But I will tonight. I promise, bubba. Promise.” Leeza released him and vowed to behave herself. She disappeared back into the children’s room and Cutter returned to his upstairs office. He didn’t fully believe Leeza. After all, it was her utter lack of a verbal filter that he found so bewitching. He also knew that if anyone else had requested that Leeza watch her tongue, however, she would have responded with a curt fuck you.
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prose Cutter waited anxiously for the sun to set and for Darren to descend. *** Darren smiled in sweet surprise to find Cutter waiting for him on the driveway. The older man wrapped Darren in his arms. He held the embrace so long that Darren tried to wriggle free, his duffle bag slapping against his calves. The man finally released Darren only to place both hands firmly on his shoulders. “I’m so thrilled you’re here,” he said. “I’m the same guy you saw last night,” Darren replied. “Not quite. You’re far less naked.” Darren chuckled and slipped around Cutter toward the front door. “C’mon, sexy, I wanna meet this infamous sister.” He threw open the door and strolled inside. Cutter scurried after him. He didn’t know precisely where Leeza waited, and he wished to supervise his sister meeting his lover. What if Darren was repulsed by her? What if Leeza said something foul? What if the children sprang forth from the depths? Cutter entered the living room only to hear footsteps quickly climbing the staircase. Darren had gone straight to the master bedroom to drop off his duffle bag. Splendid, Cutter thought, I have one last moment with Leeza. He spied her on the patio, puffing away on an ultra-slim cigarette. He watched as she tilted back her head and exhaled an impressive cloud of smoke. She appeared calm, relaxed. Perhaps she expected Darren to present himself as if she were a feared queen holding court. Cutter slipped through the glass door and joined his sister. “Darren’s here,” he said simply. “I heard him,” she said. “Cute little ass. I bet you enjoy banging that bubble butt.” “Have you called him, yet?” he asked, desperate to change the subject. “I can’t think of anything to say.” “Leeza…”
His sister turned away. Cutter looked over his shoulder and saw Darren crossing the living room, headed towards them. “Remember,” he said, forgetting about her husband. “Behave yourself.” Leeza said nothing, merely crushed her cigarette butt and neatly folded her hands in her lap. Darren closed the patio door behind him. Cutter took a moment to observe his lover, perhaps wondering how Leeza herself regarded the boy. Darren was tall and slim, but plump muscle wrapped his biceps and thighs. His nearblack hair was cut short and spiked at various angles. His generous mouth was slightly parted in a way that Cutter always found innately erotic. Darren introduced himself, stepping around Cutter and offered his hand. Taking his long, graceful fingers into her grip, Leeza said, “You must be Cutter’s sweet young thing.” Darren broke into a grin, his cheeks flushing. “I guess you could say that.” “Sit, my boy, she said, gesturing grandly. “Cutter, baby, fetch us some wine, would you?” Cutter gaped at Leeza, confused. She obviously planned to navigate this bizarre family gathering. “I hope you don’t mind,” Leeza said to Darren, leaning over the table. “I’ve been stealing the wine Cutter bought for you. You should taste the cheap crap he tried to serve me.” Darren laughed and produced a pack of menthol cigarettes. He asked Leeza for her lighter. “I thought you were quitting,” Cutter said, suddenly feeling like a third wheel. “Fucking calculus exam,” Darren muttered and lit his cigarette. “Hey, bubba,” Leeza said, her voice now stern. Cutter snapped to attention. “The wine. Remember?” Cutter dropped his head in appeasement and left the patio. While he made his way toward the kitchen, he heard two distinct laughs echo
through the house: Leeza’s loud, honking bray joined by Darren’s airy, rapid giggle. As he searched the refrigerator for the wine he and Leeza shared the night before, Cutter realized that part of him wanted she and Darren to remain strangers. He harbored a brief image of them strolling side by side down a stone path, passing tacky tourist shops and fast-food stands. Leeza knew so much about his relationship with Darren, yet Darren knew very little about Leeza. Bringing the wine back to the patio, it struck Cutter that he discussed his sister’s life with no one, really, not even their mother. He never saw the point of spreading unfortunate news. Leeza’s voice carried into the living room. Cutter clearly heard her regaling his boyfriend before either one had come back into view. “Oh, the kids. Let me tell you about my wonderful fucking kids.” Cutter froze in place, his grip around the wine bottle so tight that his hand muscles throbbed. Leeza continued as her brother stood silent. “Me and the bastard wanted kids right away. Hell, he wouldn’t mind if I popped out a goddamn litter. I’m only twentyfive years old. My plumbing works just fine.” Cutter watched through the glass door as these two new friends conversed. The moment Leeza paused, Cutter sprang into action, appearing back on the patio before either Leeza or Darren noticed. “Sweetie,” he told Leeza, “I don’t think Darren wants to hear all that.” “It’s all right,” Darren said. “I asked about her kids.” “Hey, hot stuff,” Leeza asked Darren, “can I bum one of those menthols?” “Absolutely,” Darren replied, holding out the pack. He flicked his hand, shaking a cigarette toward her. “It’s way better than those princess cigarettes of yours.” “Don’t knock my Capris. Those babies reek of class.” Darren erupted with laughter. Cutter, still
apart from the twosome, swooned to hear that delightful sound. Soon, Leeza joined Darren in making merry noise. For the next two hours, the conversation between Leeza and Darren flowed with only occasional input from Cutter. More often, he simply gazed in awe at these two people he adored cackling together like kindling over a fresh flame. When the three of them had drained the last drop from the wine bottle, Leeza demanded that Cutter open another. By the time the grandfather clock chimed ten, all three of them wavered and slurred under the spell of a shimmering intoxication. “Oh, good God,” Leeza cried, slapping the table. “We never ate fucking dinner,” she said. “Goddamn, I meant to fix you boys something.” “It’s okay, sweetie,” Cutter said, placing his hand over his sister’s shoulder. “We have the whole weekend.” “Nonsense. There’s plenty of time to stuff our faces.” “I’m exhausted,” Darren said, his head propped lazily upon his open hand. “Long drive. Plus,” he added, allowing a sneaky smile, “I do believe I am drunk.” Cutter interjected, collecting the wine glasses, “I think we all are. Time for bed.” He entered the house and went into the kitchen. As he washed out the glasses, the phone attached to the wall began to ring. Odd, he thought. Everyone he knew always contacted him on his cell. As it continued to ring, he questioned whether he should answer. It had to be for Leeza. He considered letting his answering machine handle the call but worried the night would become a concert of unanswered rings. He grabbed the receiver and cleared his throat. “Hello?” he said. He waited. Outside, Leeza hooted with laughter. “Hello?’ he asked again. He heard nothing, not even anonymous breath. Finally, he hung up and rejoined the others. ***
Darren wanted a few hits off the pipe before letting Cutter fuck him. The two men sat atop the unmade bed in the master bedroom, both naked. Cutter warned his lover that smoking tweak while drunk was not a good idea, but Darren insisted. It was at these moments Cutter suspected Darren might be developing a nasty drug habit, something above and beyond typical weekend usage. But, as he always did, Cutter dismissed the concern. After all, this marvelous boy was here now, naked and lustful beside him, and most men his age would sacrifice a great deal to say the same. “Promise me you won’t overdo it.” “Scout’s honor,” Darren said, holding up his middle three fingers in a gesture Cutter thought looked vaguely familiar. “You recognize this?” Darren asked. “It’s some Boy Scout salutething. Fuck, I can’t believe I still remember it.” “You were a Boy Scout?” “Hell yes. You should’ve seen me at the big jamboree they held each year. I got so many guys to suck my dick, it was unreal.” Cutter laughed, loading the pipe with the small, clear crystals. Everything would be all right, he told himself. Leeza was passed out downstairs after a night of good cheer, and Darren sat just inches away, waiting to give whatever pleasure Cutter requested. He and Darren passed the pipe back and forth, each exhaling immense, bright clouds of smoke toward the ceiling. Afterward, they made love—quietly, so quietly. As Cutter surged inside his lover, Darren gritted his teeth, jerked his head back and forth. As much as Cutter wanted to hear the boy scream in surrender, thoughts of poor Leeza, drunk and alone, kept his desire from overwhelming him. When the two men were done, exhausted and drenched with sweat, they fell into a light, unsatisfying sleep. Cutter wasn’t surprised when he blinked awake at some obscure hour. He gazed at the bedside clock: not long till four. What did surprise him was that he was alone. He
snapped up, scanned the room for any sign of Darren. Worried, he slipped into his boxers and made his way for the door. He then remembered Leeza and the children downstairs and put on his Oriental-print dressing gown. He crept down the stairs. It didn’t take long to find Darren. The boy stood looking out the patio door. From the way Darren was positioned, Cutter couldn’t at first discern what his lover saw. He joined Darren at the glass. All became clear. Leeza—his funny, loving, deeply unhappy sister—sat at the table on the patio. An open bottle of wine rested beside her. There was no glass present. She took a drag from her ultra-slim cigarette, belted back a slug of wine. Cutter couldn’t see her face, but he knew the woman was crying. He had caught Leeza alone in the dead of night before. “I couldn’t sleep,” Darren said softy. “I warned you not to smoke too much.” “What’s wrong with her?” “I told you. Her marriage is in the shitter.” “But she was so happy tonight.” “You’re right. I never did thank you for that.” Darren didn’t acknowledge this last comment. “What can we do?” “Just leave her alone.” “What if she needs to talk?” “Believe me, Darren. She doesn’t wanna talk.” Darren’s voice rose in pitch. ”But how do you know?” Cutter placed his hand at the small of Darren’s back. “Because,” he said, “she’s my sister.” Neither man moved when they heard the landline ring. If Leeza heard it, she gave no sign. It rang again. Darren narrowed his gaze, his mouth drawn tight. “Who’s calling so late?”
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Violet sat at the kitchen table with her crayons, her coloring book, and a half-finished bowl of Cheerios she wasn’t going to finish. They got gross after too long in the milk. They transformed. They became something else, something unsolid, something absolutely inedible. Every four-year-old knew this. Her mom? Her mom was too old; her mom did not know this. Violet’s mother, like she did every weekday morning, made random appearances in the kitchen, shooting back and forth between it, the bathroom, and her bedroom in varying stages of dress and disorder. She would tell Violet to stop coloring and eat please, tell her that they were late again, that they had such little time, that good girls finished all of their food. But the words were never enforced. Violet knew, when it was finally time to go, that her mom would look at the half- finished cereal, frown, dump it down the drain, rinse the bowl, shove the bowl into the dishwasher, and
they’d be off. Violet continued to color. When she colored, she felt free. She was coloring when she heard the car doors slam, the voices, and the yelling. She had been taught that yelling was wrong, but these new neighbors must not have been taught the same lessons: they never stopped. Did that mean they were more free? Violet couldn’t believe that, so she paid the ugly voices about as much attention as her whirlwind mother. Both would come, both would go. She was concentrating too hard on her work, anyway, using a new shading technique a girl named Brooklyn had taught her at daycare, one with thick, monster outlines. Violet turned the page and was confronted by a jungle scene. She smiled. She liked the idea of a jungle, a place so wild and free, so different than Minneapolis. She wanted this to be perfect. She wanted her mom, this time, to admire what she had done because UFM
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prose not so long ago, with a beach scene, Violet had colored a wet, sadlooking dog blue, and when her mom looked at it Violet heard an unhappiness in her voice, a disapproval. “Hmm. A blue dog? Never seen one of those.” Maybe Violet wasn’t so free with her coloring, her art, after all. Maybe limits and lines existed here, too. Maybe, but she still had choices, and she knew there weren’t going to be any blue animals in this picture, no black suns or cherry-colored faces, either. In front of her was a lion, a bear, a tiger, some big trees with monkeys in them, and a carpet of grass swayed by invisible winds. Violet liked forces she couldn’t see, like wind and love, because they were fish-in-the-ocean free. What Violet did not like was that all the animals were smiling. She wanted reality. She wanted menace and blood, if need be, but what choice did she have? What could she do about it? She didn’t make this book. She could only pray that they got better as she got older. Violet picked her palette with care: greens for the grass and leaves, brown for the trunks and monkeys, orange for the tiger, yellow for the lion’s fur and face. What sky there was should be dark, she thought, a purple-blue-black, like before their nasty, Midwest storms. Aubergine, maybe? No reds though, definitely no reds. Nothing in the picture would naturally be red, so she set all the reds aside, lining them up out of reach and temptation. She felt proud of herself for doing so. She felt free, but not bird-in-the-sky free. Wouldn’t a red bear be so cool? She shook her head and got to work. Eventually, like many an artist before her, she wanted to compare her picture to life. She wanted to see some trees, but there was a problem: she and her mother lived on the ground floor of a rather small (and temporary, her mother had said) apartment. There was only one “window” from where Violet sat. It was the glass of the sliding doors but the blinds were always drawn because her mom said that this was how it had to be. Non-negotiable, she had said. When Violet asked her mom why, her mother answered with words Violet couldn’t understand, saying that she didn’t want to give the people outside any ideas. But what’s wrong with ideas? Violet had asked. Non-negotiable, her mother had repeated. Violet did know what that meant: no choice, no freedom. Violet gazed at the covered glass and wanted to take a peek anyway. Her young body urged her toward it and she, being human, was just about to give in when she heard a loud, violent crack, kind of like the fourth of July, but summer—she had learned her calendar 16 /
and her holidays now—was a long ways away. Startled, and slightly frightened, she remained seated and decided to rely on her imagination. She’d have to be careful, though: imaginations were troublemakers. They were free. Violet had to be more careful about her freedoms. She colored feverishly, knowing her mom was almost ready, that it was almost time to go. Lights were being killed, accessories hoisted. Soon her mother would appear with her laptop in a bag around one shoulder and her gargantuan purse around the other, shut off the coffee machine, say it’s time to rock ‘n roll, and then help Violet into her big, warm jacket. Violet loved the way her mom looked before work, all professional and serious and otherworldly. All grown up and free. One day she’d be big too. One day, Violet would be just like her. What was left of the picture was the tall, grinning bear. Violet picked the black crayon, deciding this was going to be a black bear. The decision (she would admit it if pushed) had to do with ignorance, not freedom. She didn’t know bears that well, but she remembered seeing a family of them at the zoo and how they had been black, all of them. She remembered feeling bad for the bears because they were even less free than her. Without a doubt, less free. Just as she was about to apply the thick, dark outline there was another crack and then a whiz, then silence. The crayon rolled out of her hand, rolled off the table and onto the kitchen floor. Strange, but she couldn’t hear it, nor could she hear her mother anymore. The world had gone quiet, but her eyes still worked. She could still see. And what she saw was a small shaft of light shining through the wall next to the blinded doors. She saw that her bear was being painted a rich, runny red, running all over the lines. She smiled. She couldn’t help it. But Violet fought the artistic satisfaction, the wicked pleasure of seeing her red being come to life, seeing it so sloppy and free, so totally, so wolf-on-the-mountaintop, free. Another unseen force demanded her attention, and she didn’t quite know what this one was, couldn’t exactly say what its freedom was, or was not, like, but she knew, without a doubt, that her mother would not approve. Her mother would definitely—absolutely, positively—not understand this choice.
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A Thank-You Note to the County Jail Lauren Smith
nonfiction In front of me, the bricks of the jail rose up. I stood at a parking kiosk and stuck three dollars in a slot for my space. My car chirped goodbye as I walked away, and the sun was starting to slip behind the building. I pushed through a set of double glass doors. On the other side, a camera roosting on the drop ceiling blinked blue at me. There was a rickety row of plastic chairs with gashes and graffiti. A man and a woman sat on two of them with the air of a couple who had just had a huge fight, and the woman kept patting the middle of her sweatered arm. I passed them without making eye contact and approached the bulletproof check-in window. The female guard sitting in the booth traced her index finger down a clipboard, looking for my name. Her expression stony, her hair wound in a tight bun, she asked for my driver’s license. Her eyebrows arched when she saw the fancy stitching on my purse. Glowering, she shoved a visitor’s badge towards me and slapped the buzzer that opened the beige-barred door beside her. I walked in, and a short, beady-eyed cop pointed me to a metal detector. Another cop stood nearby, smirking. The detector stayed silent as I drifted under it. Somewhere, far off, I heard young men laughing. A guard showed me to a locker where I had to leave my stuff. I could keep my notebook and the copies of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style I had with me, but only after I explained that I really, really needed them. Someone else brought me to the Intake room. Papers, pens, and clipboards overflowed from a large round desk in the middle of Intake, and a rusty water fountain crouched in a corner, dropping tears on the cement floor. More cops cruised by, tasers clicking against their belts. I stole quick glances into the holding cells. The people in them seemed suspended in air, their angry heads floating behind the Plexiglas walls—some black, a few white, segregated by
sex. The air was thick. I smelled piss. A kid in a Metallica T-shirt sat in a chair near the round desk. He wore handcuffs, but as if to challenge the restraint, he spread his knees as far apart as they would go. “Holding” was a good name for this place. “Laura!” Half-deaf and booming, Mr. Leighton appeared in the Intake doorway. He was about 5’10,” and he meant every inch. “Good evening!” He held out to me a large, square hand the color of coffee grounds, and his breath was a stick of peppermint. When my father tugged the zipper, it sounded like a record scratching. Twelve years old and next to him on the couch, I worried about the black hole gaping at the top of my book bag. His roughness could break it and leave behind the weird rift that a broken zipper does. I was sweating. I had culled my papers ahead of time so he wouldn’t find any grades lower than a B. On the inside flap of a book cover, the name of a boy I liked hid beneath penciled vines. My father studied the vines; he knew they concealed something. He gave me a sideways stare, and I tightened the muscles around my left eye to keep it from twitching. This was how he and I spoke to each other. Next, he turned the bag inside out and examined the seams. We had this inspection every night. My dad was a social worker at the county jail. His big oval key ring would land on the kitchen counter with a thunk when he came home from work. For a long time, those keys were all I knew about what he did during the day. I had the keys, and I had the halfused school workbooks he brought me. The workbooks had blank lined pages in the back on which inmates wrote statements like, “My name is Angie Johnson. My favorite movie is Stir Crazy” and “My name is John Mills. My daughter’s name is Destiny.” On the empty lines below, when I was first learning to write,
I would copy them, my letters larger and less even than theirs. The pen. The pokey. The farm. The joint. The word jail itself comes from the old English gaol, and early writers misspelled it as goal. This confusion seems to endure. Some believe jail is a chance to intervene, to persuade people they have more potential than society has led them to think. Others believe all jail has to do is convince criminals the State cares about them—that way, they’ll bear less of a grudge when they get out. I don’t know what my dad’s opinion was, what he wanted for the people who flowed like carnival ducks through his jail’s Intake. He has been dead for a few years, and during the brief chunk of time when he and I were both alive and adult, we didn’t talk about work. I doubt he started in the jail because he loved it; before I was born, a nervous breakdown ended his plans of becoming a political science professor, and he found himself taking the job he could get. Still, “we were gonna be agents of change,” his secretary told me at the funeral. “He put it just like that. Agents of change. Had some strange ideas, your father.” I tried to visit his jail after he died. His work will be the answer, I thought. I’ll get it then. I’ll get him. This was nearsighted of me: a child never “gets” her parents. But a job could mark a person, and I wondered if the dumpy, square building on Broad Street, the one my dad made a point of looking away from whenever we passed it, pressing his lips together and cranking up “All Things Considered,” had a stink on it. The warden said no when I called, a response that filled me with self-righteousness. Everyone was right: jails were corrupt, nasty places. Factories of despair, cesspools of oppression. I next tried the cesspool in the city where I lived, and I contacted William Leighton, an elementary school principal who went to the jail three nights a week to tutor in
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nonfiction basic skills. The principal volunteer hesitated at first, not wanting a busybody do-gooder peering over his shoulder. When I said I taught college writing, he relented; what harm could an academic do? He would be happy to have my company, delighted, even, if I would bring some textbooks with me when I came. This is how I came to shake his big hand at Intake. Principal Leighton stood too close to me and seemed in danger of falling. I tried telling him my name was Lauren, but the detail wouldn’t take. When he heard I was thirtythree, his mouth made a round o. I couldn’t be a day over twenty-five! I almost asked him how old he was but decided against it. He wore a faded brown suit with white pinstripes, a Yankees baseball cap, and bifocal glasses. He moved with a dignified old-man shamble like my father, but there was a light in his eyes that my dad’s never had. My father had been unsure about lots of things, but he was convinced that whatever reason he might find to smile would disappear as soon as he pulled his lips back. Leighton looked like he treated doubt like a summer cold. “Let’s get to it,” he piped, leading me down a hallway and opening a door. “Step into to my office!” He gave a raucous laugh. It was the jail’s boiler room. The stains on the ceiling were yellow-brown; I knew from watching Lockup that inmates sometimes flooded the toilets to show their discontent. Shelves of unfinished wood held dozens of books, few of which could have been published after 1985. “Donations, most of them,” he said as he dusted a row of Scholastic workbooks with his hand. “I brought a few from my school, and I go to yard sales. I don’t like to bother the management. I’m a do-it-yourselfer, Laura. I got to be.” I gave him the Strunk and Whites, which he thanked me for and shoehorned onto a shelf. He grabbed a manila folder from a
wheeled metal cart parked near the door. It reminded me of a fruit stand or an ice cream truck. “They send me a list of inmate names and I go through it. Got to see who’s ready to work.” The cart also had stacks of books, worksheets, and photocopies of a quote from George Washington Carver: Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses. “Check this out,” he said, taking a funny-looking pencil from a maroon case on the cart and handing it to me. Made of rubber, it felt pacifier-smooth in my hand. It had lead but no eraser. It would be hard both to stab anyone in the neck with it and to change anything you wrote. You would have to cross out. I asked him how to sharpen it. “You think they care about that? That’s Corrections for you. Safety first, foolishness later.” He took it back and returned it to the case. Then, he tossed the case onto the cart where it landed next to an open bag of peppermints. We took an elevator to a pod—a cluster of cells with an open center—on the sixth floor. At the pod’s entrance, he stopped the cart and opened his folder. This was a men’s pod. The residents lounged on metal folding cots, playing cards and stretching rubber bands until they snapped. A small group sat on the floor in front of a television, and the click of a dial produced The Bachelorette. Some guards stood around a security desk, sluggish but aware. A few more inmates entered through another door, apparently coming back from the gym. Their shirts were tied around their waists. Sweat basted their chests. I felt eyes on me. Stares. When I moved a fraction of an inch this way, that way, they followed. Their gaze wasn’t surprising: if a prisoner can control anything, it’s vision. Still, it was creepy. The jail’s website had warned me about “provocative” clothing, so I was wearing Mom jeans and gym sneakers. Vanity kept me from picking the dowdiest of my
shirts. The fitted blue one I wore scooped at the neck. I thought it brought out my eyes. To the inmates, I might have looked like a piece of cartoon cherry pie with wet, round cheeks and a quivering chin. Or maybe I looked like a tourist in a third world country, a white heiress off the grounds of the resort. I straightened my shoulders, trying to pretend neither my awkwardness nor their stares bothered me. But then I saw how the guards were watching them and how they were watching each other, and I wondered if I mirrored any of their vulnerability, their exposure, back to them. Having picked an inmate to tutor, Leighton began rolling his cart. Behind me, I heard a rumbling and a clatter of metal on the floor. Then, indistinct yelling and feet stomping on the floor. Before I could turn around to see what was happening, Leighton put a hand on my elbow and steered me along. Our inmate was new. We waited for him in a small, empty room with bare plaster walls and a long table, the bulky sort you find in public schools. The sixth floor was maximum security. “The quietest floor,” Leighton commented. “They pray all the time, and they go to bed at eight o’clock. The worse the crime, the quieter they are, and the more they pray.” As he said this, glib joy played on his lips. When the inmate came in, his pained, ginger steps and the careful motion of legs revealed his struggle to carry that joy, shoulder the awareness that even the people in here to save him might not believe he was worth it. The inmate wore a faded blue jumpsuit, and the right lens of his glasses bore a spidery crack. “You know you can get that fixed, right?” Leighton asked after they shook hands. He was a big handshaker. A teaching book I have says you should greet all your students, no matter their age or attitude, with a firm handshake. It shows them respect. I liked this idea, but I never remembered to do it. Leighton pointed
a bony finger at the right side of the inmate’s face. “Tell your caseworker next time you see him.” He sounded more “street” talking to the inmate than he did to me, and I admired his skills as a linguist. They started talking about the GED, which the inmate had taken but not passed. Leighton seemed to want the man to know that he could be frank with him. Frank but respectful. As they spoke, the inmate’s shoulders dropped a millimeter. When he said he couldn’t do percentages, Leighton asked him, “What about bail? Bail is ten percent of a total fine, right? If you fined five thousand dollars, how much the bail?” “Five hundred.” “Good. How you know that?” “That’s how it is. You take off the last zero to get your bail.” “Right. But you can do that to get ten percent of anything. So think bail when you do percents.” The inmate looked thrilled to have this tip, but then his eyes met mine, and he started picking lint off his pant leg. While Leighton got papers from the cart, the inmate and I sat across from each other. Unlike the men in the pod, he didn’t fix me with a gaze; instead, he seemed to be trying to become part of the room so I couldn’t see him at all. His feet were flat on the floor, and his hands were palms-down on the table. His blackness and my whiteness blazed out from us. I’m harmless, I wanted to assure him, you’ve no idea how harmless I am. I asked him if he liked math better than English. He said no and loosened his hands a little. “What I really like to do is write. I write all the time. People in here get me to write letters for them.” I said that was great, and his eyes brightened. His cheekbones were narrow and high. I asked him what kind of stuff he wrote. “Poetry, I guess. I don’t really have a name for it.” “All right, young man. Here you go.”
Leighton handed him some worksheets on percentages. The inmate thanked him—he didn’t have anything to do back there. Leighton also gave him a peppermint and a pencil, and not one of the rubber Corrections ones. “Put it in your sock,” he instructed. The inmate nodded. “Take care,” I said lamely as Leighton rolled the cart out of the room. “You, too, baby,” said the inmate, allowing some tomcat into his voice. In the hallway, I said how sharp the man was. “Oh, yes, ma’am,” Leighton replied. “Smart as a whip.” Then, “Now I remember him. He was in here before, for two counts of rape.” Another dirty-olive smile and the inmate’s handsome face dancing before my eyes. “And I can guarantee you, Laura, he’s not going to ask anyone about those glasses. I’ll have to do it. It’s a darn shame, how little they expect for themselves.” He shook his head at the rapist’s self-esteem. “You probably noticed I didn’t teach him much,” he went on. “I usually don’t.” His cart got stuck on a piece of gray gum on the floor, and with a jerk, he pushed it free. “I talk to them like I’m their daddy. That’s what they need.” We waited for a female inmate in a linoleum room scrubbed so hard with ammonia it could have pulsed. When she came in, she had a freaked-out look on her face. Her green jumpsuit was hugging her waist. “I’m in here for Felony 2!” she screeched at Leighton once he introduced himself. “Is that bad?” Leighton sighed. “You have which judge? Michaelson? He nice. You’ll be all right, girl.” What did she plan to do when she got out? She suggested she could go back to school, and he said she sure could. She glanced at my unopened notebook, and I wondered if I was supposed to write that down. He asked how many kids she had.
She had five, and they were staying with her mother. This fact provoked him—he took off his glasses and wiped them with a polka-dotted handkerchief. “What if something happens to your mama?” “I don’t know, sir.” “Do the state of Ohi-yuh want to raise your kids?” “No sir.” “Then you’d better straighten up, hadn’t you?” “Yes, sir.” Her hands were folded in her lap, and I had the feeling she was telling him what he wanted to hear. Still, when he gave her two peppermints and a stack of papers on sentence fragments, she beamed. I was starting to understand why so many inmates checked the survey box that read, Yes, I am interested in educational counseling. This inmate may have been staring down a Felony 2, but her daddy-daughter dance with Leighton had gotten her breath to slow. It was almost like they had been using those old-fashioned cutouts you taped to the floor to learn to waltz. You placed your feet in certain spots and followed the pattern, making all the steps others had made before. Waltzing was as easy as that. Leighton pressed the elevator’s call button and told the operator to take us to the second floor. Despite how the little car stank of shit and macaroni, he seemed to enjoy riding it, and it was no wonder why. No one can study you in the jail elevator. No one can fix a gaze on you. Inside it, the only connection you have with the outside world is the callbox, into which, godlike, you say who you are, where you are, and where you want to go. I thought about how Leighton had asked the girl, who couldn’t have been more than eighteen, how many children she had. Not if but how many. When I was her age, my own
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nonfiction father had been obsessed with my womb. As he plowed rye toast into his eggs at breakfast, he would warn me not to get knocked up. Never mind that I was a virgin and that he usually scorned such vulgar talk. When my best friend did get pregnant, I sat dumbfounded in the back seat as he drove her to the chain grocery store in town. She could use her WIC there. “The little places gouge you,” he told her. “They really gouge.” “She was young to have so many children,” I said as Leighton and I zoomed downward. “Oh, that ain’t a surprise. Her kids ain’t a surprise. And if I’m still doing this in fifteen years, I bet I’ll meet a few of them.” He frowned. “I’ve had that happen before. I end up teaching the kids of kids. It’s nice in a way. I get to hear how the parents are doing.” His natural loquacity left him then, and he straightened the books on his cart. “Your daddy believe in what he did?” The question startled me. “He believe in rehabilitation?” “His friends said he gave up at the end,” I said and then rushed to add, “But he did do it for twenty-five years.” Leighton stayed quiet but looked thoughtful. My skin felt grimy, and I remembered how some nights, when my father came home from work, before he went through my book bag, he would lie on the couch and chew stick after stick of Wrigley’s gum. He couldn’t do anything else, I guess, until he made his mouth wintergreen. The spring after I graduated from college, I took a trip to Amsterdam alone; adventure and solitude in a far-off place seemed
just the thing to get me going in life. It was my first transatlantic flight, my first passport. On the day I was leaving, I got to the terminal early and lingered outside the gate. The plane to Heathrow wouldn’t leave for two hours, and except for the final check-in, I was ready. I read a book. I ate half a pretzel. I moved from seat to seat. No matter what I did, my nerves followed me. A vein in my wrist jumped with my pulse. I was about to look for a pay phone to call my mother when I saw my father coming towards me. He sat next to me and read the newspaper. When I went to the bathroom, he watched my suitcase. And when it was time for me to head to the jet bridge, I turned back to see him waving. He seemed to be waving with his whole body, with the jowls of his cheeks and the frames of his glasses. Years later, I didn’t find my father in the jail. Instead, I found what fathering could look like, and it was peppermints and scolds, rubber pencils and smirks at sixth-floor prayers. Book bag checks and farewells at the airport. In that labyrinth of holding, I realized I had been chasing someone who didn’t exist. A parent isn’t a person, but a set of performances, a handful of acts. I can thank the jail for this discovery. Leighton and I waited at another table in a bleached room. Jail does waiting in endless variations: waiting for escorts, for judgment, for hope. Waiting for no eyes on you. But this inmate was no longer waiting. He had just received eight years in Lucasville for holding up a convenience store. The kid had started robbing, Leighton told me, to keep his parents in good stead at the crack house. Then, because
he was good at it, he kept it up after they overdosed. He was a gangly white boy. Unbuttoned to the waist, his jumpsuit showed a bare chest with a tangled mess of tattoos on it. Roses, eagles, motorcycles. He buttoned it up when he saw me. Leighton explained who I was, and it could have been a parody of a high school lunch period. The kid’s overbite was so deep he could have swallowed his own chin. “Tell Laura what you said to the man behind the counter,” Leighton commanded. The inmate didn’t seem game. “Go on. You can say it in front of her.” He paused and then roared, “Shut the fuck up and give me the money!” The two of them laughed, and I did, too. The bravado sounded so ridiculous coming from his Wally Cleaver face. Leighton switched to Daddy mode. “You didn’t shoot him, did you?” “No, man!” “You waved a gun at him, didn’t you?” “Yeah, but I wouldna shot him. I might of grazed his ear, just to scare him. I don’t want to hurt nobody.” “Karma, son, karma. Remember what I told you.” “I’m-a get that word tattooed on my arm.” A guard came in wearing a jacket with badge pinned to the breast pocket. Driver, it read. Most of the guards acted like robots, but once in a while, I glimpsed a shoulder sagging or an arm going limp. Without speaking, the inmate and Leighton shook hands, and I felt like a stranger at a train station standing too close to family saying goodbye.
“I’m scared,” the inmate whispered loud enough for me to hear. “You’ll be all right, son.” “I’ll write to you from Lucasville.” “I look forward to it.” Once the inmate was out of earshot, led away by the jacketed guard, Leighton muttered under his breath, “When he writes, he’ll be asking for some CDs or something.” He decided he was finished daddying for now. He told me goodnight and said he hoped he was helpful to me, and he went off down a hallway by himself, the shoulders of his suit jacket lumpy with wear. A guard brought me downstairs where I passed back through Intake and the beige bars. In the parking lot, I unlocked my car and got inside. When I switched on the headlights, they brightened the road ahead of me. I looked back at the jail before driving off. The building’s edges bled into the sky. But it was darker than the sky, and as blank as a clean sheet of paper.
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God of Small Things The order of eating utensils flanking a plate allows for one kind of mastery. Boot the unserious server who grips the lip of a patronâ€™s glass of water as he brings it over, who makes his grime communicable. Not a lady she who fails to cover her lap with linen square; when punctilious manservant whisks napkin with snap in air and puts it on her, a teaching impulse is admonished as wily
frock goggle-eyed on a railroad track. To come with immanent sense of place, untroubled lagoon of worth and capacity to a city that encircles many stories up like magic beanstalks to the heavens with flashing panes of glass (twirl about and the sameness tricks you to thinking you are bottomed in a cistern, an ant in a malt shaker). Get up close to one of the buildings and pick out a brick; take out a marker and swift-squiggle a smart face Ă la Dali or a subway artist, make of that brick an heirloom. Leave to his frantic come at control the young dumb waiters who serve him poorly when he sits
lechery. He has a domain, and leave him to it leave him to his patch a plot to till in repetition, his Sisyphean matchbox track elevated to connoisseurship and craft: the setting down of hot lamb made even with appraisal
as customer in a middling eating house (a lecture diverted to the family, not to those who might hawk spit in the bouillabaisse). Leave to him his family to line up and order in a matchbox house.
of scintillating knuckle knobs and precious eggs under rapt eye pressed to spyglass a plot not ongoing in all directions, not so wide to parcel, to delegate, his to work alone. To make a life in a new land when inner man
Know too, it is not one scenery wall, not one page of a story, and the wives of blood and bread grow Herculean too like cutout sponges dropped in water, and menace and teach wrong in their turn. A chunky,
is not a nullity but a toreador in flashy jacket is to home the tongue in a sand dune to tether it with leather straps rebel colored or desperate debtor or gagged damsel in scalloped lace
plastic, transparent bracelet inside of which shiny confetti stars and spades bump bubbles really bitty marbles; and the tired the written (firmament of stars) circuit of clash and amnion water is family.
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How come, if I don’t go If I keep on to when there is no possibility any longer for touch, and what is now is more so, walking unshielded everywhere, inspiration in fits as the body cannot sustain, the body, the sensorium, flagging, untaut, cannot be played on; if my rich inner store can only converse with itself, inner variants with necks bent heads bowed in a ring: that will not last on and on: I will be reminded of the loneliness. If I keep on to feed myself, to brood over the ailments of my flesh gown, resist all the time, remember, and cry, and want what it is too late for, it will be because I know that I know what many others do not (--many! while it only takes chance enmeshment with one. think of guillotine mobs, sanctioned hunters, the rich dorky heir talking about “getting pussy” in an interview for a documentary about misconceptions of the rich, to be hip and because he can; the Hutu warriors swinging their machetes, the dull efficient Eichmanns; the gossipy girls who attack a stray from the pack with a bloody maxi pad to the face, the gangs and their automatic guns; the vulgarians, like H. Stern, who made a mom and grown girl-child French-kiss for pervs and snorted as an 80s it girl decomposed before him on the air, whose stench-buns and fixed nose have garnered now a seat on primetime (a well-tended garden earns reward…), the family who wished death on the gay son next door have a very happy son in a distinguished and moneyed line of work (divested, as scion, but unaware- what he lacks, he was taught not to value); the bullies on the bus, the mamas who mumly shield their acid-throwing sons; the townsfolk and governing bodies who burned grouchy old women and called it witch-purging, the tribes who slashed throats and buried alive in votive ecstasy, the rapists on every street corner who keep it to rapacious gazes, tongue flicks, hisses; the desperate workers who sell all to eat, who skin alive screaming rabbits, fur to go for trinkets, a shawl for Beyoncé, who want to live and eat, after that, who want to keep their hands, after that; those who feed a wide-eyed baby to a long snake and in the video on youtube are heard to snigger over the shrieking… and enter here, and here… there are many, you see, to lump, to stand away from… some guffaw at the tenet that seems self-lifting, that insists civility is not the first order: but that wackiness is chilling, tell it to the West Memphis Three), because I count to those mouth-stopped and despairing by my being alone, by my want to obliterate each nightmare in tiny, single space, though my want sees short and cannot do, grows feeble, holds scant. My care is for keeping, I am almost what they would want, I am the goodness they more than settle for, against sense and luck. And too, if I keep on, it will be out of spite, to hug close, in ferocious embrace, all the cruel smiles I can, and kiss them dead.
A Partial Knowing that is Full The kind of knowing I mean leaves no room for anything else. I saw that intelligence in the slant look. Sly hood in baggy jeans in which cap, bells, pompom to top off can hide. I said, that after you and college1 , I came home and was angry, I was no longer close to my mother. And you remembered our spooning, my tempting an again, another break me in two, crash me into so many scintillant water sparks that fly, and a regression too for you, even if you whisper obscenities while it’s happening, all that spite of the infant pushing out and working its lips for the familiarity of milk and suck that eases the belly, brings to rest and no brain but reception of sun dapple and dance on the wall, and pastel hues, and everything to gently know. I told you then, my mother held me like this in bed when I was a little girl. You knew, then, what it was all about. When you returned your boyhood nolove to me, you knew what you shattered. It came as no surprise to you when I announced that outcome years later, and that knowing in your eyes and shape of mouth, bit of chagrin but amused as well at what at what, dear? at what, maw? (my poking? my stuckness in history, to remake, to find a strand off the charred yarn doll to weave with to your big bird, your bygone flap: leave her back to reverence she you blackened, the one she was, leave her to remembrance and ascend in the world as one who can kill, who can win, when the contest
was unasked) lips pulling in (opposite of the catcaller’s no-shame meant to shame, lips a flare to turn all bodies to obscenities, especially the body pointed to in the moment by erect lips that tell that on a public street each can be made distended and open, lacy dress or ironed skirt the better, girl of any age, any hint of nurturance the better for despoiling, for showing up as like self-smut- the envy of the one dirt by no luck, his wish to prove that the one in fact made better by luck is not, his lie allowed to rub on any she: Save me, lover, or what are you for.) to inverted flat shut bud, the look down and away— not a blank gaze back but the assumption of having figured in how things played out, in the severance, for one. An impersonation of shame, admixed with the pride of knowing what the flutevoiced, cleft-mounded has beneath the long-haired scalp; a victory when you are more than brute, when you know how you mangled the filigree circuitry and can claim intention. Put on her a platitude, what each is party to but leaves out every minute of being, all that bearing. The wasting of another, and then, Pull yourself up—that ethic of nodoing, abnegation of attention
1 The Atlantic ran an article about girls tending to have a more trying time than boys away at college, as a result of their more minor independence, or emotional dependence on their families. This story, with its enumeration of pitfalls for young women, came out a few years after I had graduated from college.
issue12 / 27
to her his bottomless need (to think to tell what is allowable; oh, Herr; what chafes is made taboo, puny); the peremptory impatient dictum: saintliness a quixotism, I’m gonna do me (and by this I mean hurt, take more than basic need be- the propulsion in amnion ocean away from the swallowing mom, feet in her face, push against chin mouth nose see make her as abject string her with feculent streamers; then free). When shelter dogs need mamas, to piss a fund of love and make a wicker man: her vital hands held out can hold a baby can bar its mongrelization, what made you; but sit on them. But that kind of knowing, however something and remarkable at all in the china store tramper, is not really it. To know is fully inhabiting, sitting in that madness, no dilution of excuse, no one foot here one there— that bigness of the poet’s mind. A gotcha, but no, that ideal is not wan, it is wide and red. Be a god, I say, know it all the way on both sides, know it on my side all the way, to curl in like the legs of a hit spider, and then I’ll move toward you, I may give you my unpleasurable dissolution. You can call me a conquistador with flag to jab in dirt. Bring my holy down to fair.
Upstanding folks You want at first to think: domestic spat, reprimand, chiding and cajoling a tantrum into subdue (like the cabbie I had who, stoppering me with a thumb to suck, grinned and said, Estan jugando, driving on past the teen lovers, boy hitting girl and pulling her hair as she backed into brick, arms raised). They came into view, the girl, six or seven maybe, and the pale man, fiftyish, escorting her, tall only stood next to a child, skinny, with raised, train-chuff-blue veins. She was toffee-colored and dressed the way my mother had dressed me. When I was this little girlâ€™s age, I had worn pumps with thumbnib heels, a leather miniskirt made from mewling calf with Minnie Mouse leather bow sewn near the hem, hair ties busy as wedding cakesâ€”radial tiers of hexagonal beads or Murano evil eyes that could double as bracelets, grand dame manacles when hands poised on wooden desk in class, back and neck erect. A favorite outfit from Bellisimo (a store fit for the adult-impersonating child pinups, who would jabber, flit hands and lashes in swoon, dance on the stage set of Sabado Gigante, after the Chinaman or bug-eyed Afroed blackie skit) was a pale blue undersea smock with a mermaid looking out, her Rapunzel hair floating in thick wreaths, shielding her breastsâ€”part-shown parentheses with legs in air and bellies grounded in copy of the roundness of a bust, bold in my third-grade classroom.
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This little girl was decked in neon pink and green from winddancing ribbons in hair to the laces securing her immaculate white sneakers. Her slick Amazonian hair, raven-black, was half-up half-down, gelled to vinyl, not a wisp loose even after the long school day. She wore spandex shorts, her hot pink cotton sleeves were puffed, her socks frilled. A child pet and bowed to, made to feel comet and stork swaddle alit on the doorstep. He had her by the hand. He did not match her, pasty, wasted, to her careful and brown newness. My mother in spandex pants and I next to her on a crowded midday midtown sidewalk watched them nearing, watched them pass us. She was crying, he was speaking softly to her, “We’re going to see your mommy later.” She said nothing, she looked scared, she did look panicked, when I see her again and again, she whimpered, her tears ran, he looked about. He hushed her, it’s okay, we’ll see her later. She looked scared, they did not match, and I told my mother, They look strange, and my mother, Yes, I noticed that too, and I said, we said, maybe he’s taken her, maybe he’s kidnapped her! We should call the police. Mother says, you go, my English; I say, you call, my shyness. We have to wait for your father (he had gone into a store, we did not know which, we were to wait).
He returned and we told him: Ridiculous! No se metan, maybe a babysitter, maybe a tio, how do you want to cause a stranger problems so easily? Protests like butterfly wings attacking the face, and a backhand in air, Ay chica, ya! *
Many hours later, home, in my mother’s bed, she to me, Let’s call now. The policeman: Why didn’t you call before? (No one beat us to it.) The English, I’m ten, my father, to find a phone, we knew we would call later, does it make so much of a difference, now or later? Protests like butterfly wings beating the face, an “uh-huh” that puts in place. The years sediment, we protest and claim, wash, perch chin on fingers, don hosiery, ties, get our teeth fixed. A father maddens if his daughter fails love remonstrance, wants a Daddy Warbucks fascination. We samaritans shake our heads at the news stories, they make me call to say I am safe. That night, I was tucked in.
Possession Mama’s face now, if you give it a poke, is like a clotty pudding with the crust, her skin, on top; her arms too, when you grip them, to embrace her, not throw her down. When she was fresher, when I was her apple her spice cake and not taken, with this heinous blessing, she made a prayer for me and taught it to me every night. I repeated it after her in sections2 each night, and we chimed it as well in unison, even long past I had it by heart-for years this ritual, as we lay in bed together. Mama is faithful. They almost came for her but chose me instead. She told me how when she was a girl and was bad one day (she was given to misbehavior, her sister was the sweet one, but mama she had a venom), she was exiled to her room in punishment. A few minutes into her sentence she heard a terrible grating on the roof, as if a huge metal machine was being dragged across. She had no idea how her parents had manufactured this trick, to scare her. It had to be papa moving the thing, but how had he gotten onto the roof so quickly, when he’d just been downstairs? what had they put up there? when did they haul it up without a sound? She had been home from school two hours, and she had seen no hulk shining on the roof on her way into the house. She strained her mind, how did papa have the strength to move that thing, whatever it was. The cleverness of her parents baffled her. And what lengths, she thought; what love for me. But mama asked Babcia some years ago about this, and Babcia knew nothing; they had done no such thing- they were no magicians. So you see, they came for mama, but then decided to leave her be, and they waited for me. It’s God the Father behind it all. The fiends when they make my lips flap they say, we have this snot-nose snob and we won’t let her go, it will take a lot more praying. Keep on praying! they goad, their voices an agony of cruelty thrown from my throat, the desperate growling that makes my gullet raw put into tidy human taunting words. But the Virgin when she came to me said the choice was mine. It’s that I have the strength- with my terrible love- I have the strength to trade my suffering for the betterment of all- to stir belief in Him, in heaven and in hell, to make them remember that they too choose. I have the talent to die slowly, so that I may show them. Look at the bones of my wrist, articulated as the finely cut Pieta, for the terminus of my appetite, and when I am ravenous, my inability to keep food down. My body disappears. My sockets wide bruises- plush purple black and blue petals- from my pummeling fists, the way they flail my limbs like personal whips. It won’t be long now before I am fulfilled. 2 The Atlantic ran an article about girls tending to have a more trying time than boys away at college, as a result of their more minor independence, or emotional dependence on their families. This story, with its enumeration of pitfalls for young women, came out a few years after I had graduated from college.
issue12 / 31
of exes and spots the last of the summer flies buzz in circles on the window sill. Their evasion of months of cobwebs and fan blades have earned them this much. A final hurrah at the warped window panes, the manic whir of their magnetic wings; they drop like anise seeds and dry into caskets of lint in the light of late November. They suspected the air outside was warmer when it wasn’t. Heat being a factor of magnification. The physics of glass, sun, and angle stir the soup of air as invisible as chopsticks. When the physics of memory and tables of elements lie. Same as ever belladonna casts off her batik scarves and the fields outside wash to ochre, umber, sienna, sepia, dun; (sash weights ripening inside the walls) a knocking heard from within. Outside the harvest’s opulence of gourd and blackberry is revealed by the naked black limbs of the trees gesture to the lovers walking their dog up the grass hill where there is an acorn tree and a hundred and sixty degree view. Portraiture of cities, or knots in the tails of kites, trail vines of smoke that empty off clouds or shadows of clouds lit up like war. The radio tower’s aerials blink their single red eyes to the contrails of jets that are trying to spell something–
Coins coins left on a plastic gin blossom cigarette scarred bench, near a pay phone, bus station coins thrown, dropped, or left in any park fountain eyed mysteriously, greedily, by children coins the color of the sea found within the failed cobblestone street of the river beach coins unattended on the pool table shining resplendent in hopes to attract woman flies coins tucked into cards specifically made for card coin tucking coins mettle tested by the old manâ€™s remaining teeth old bullets shot in the ground coins left on the formica table top for a waitress named Sandra mimicking her black eye coins given at halloween to unsuspecting and until that night, apple haters coins dropped into the busy city street, with miscellaneous rubbish, cleverly evading rust coins collected and never spent as hats bought and only wished to be worn coins that thought they were merely tokens so lived a life of reasonless, sexless, solitude
issue12 / 33
coins or lilies of-the-valley sold by street vendors both envying shade bought by umbrellas
coins without banks and nowhere else to go coinS cOins Coins coIns coins coins
Recollection of the Fortifications as Daudet The mill. Swathes of green and white and grey that sting the horizonâ€™s edge. Stars caught in tree branches. Parasol pines. A cool 14C. Air winding the blades of wood spinning in stone. Flock of birds making their way to Morocco. Letters left on a desk, rattling. The crease of the shutter (cedar) and of the window (arranged nothing). Eucalyptus leaves circling the footpath trying to get somewhere or lost. A place beyond the mountains. Where a city wakes in a vale of steam, scarves of smoke flung from chimneys, black carriages, dull and dark geometries of buildings without signs. Ink of India drying. Swirls of clouds paint sea and land a mute hue of no color in particular. Whatâ€™s behind the seams in the clouds: legions of angels or whores of Babylon. Chiaroscuro signature and the date: an etching of characters.
issue12 / 35
Nineteen ninety nine
Just as Nostradamus
who would dig him up
knew of the men
are thrown like blood,
resides in the city.
ribbons of quarantine.
tonight are walking
alights with a beetle
what is not found
nubs of ebony and leaf.
on the hillsides from
in the month of May,
to drink from his skull
red crosses are painted,
on the doors where a disease Blocks are bound in yellow
The few people seen in town
without the accessories of shadows.
Jack be nimble.
Crow on the telephone pole in its beak; both are unlike on the horizon:
many, many tasteless seeds
The flowers of the apocalypse
wild irises and the sea is a cliff
From that day, one vow deliriously broken. Waking
and the alarm, merely a type, that once levitated
state: when eyes are naturally chameleon-like
Byzantine emperors, now confined to a dumb metal
ringing, really a cry for help. Another day, oncoming.
To, or not, butter the hair. Breakfast of dried palm leaves. Tea with milk, on the balcony, above the city-fresco too many times well-captured in paintings modern and classic, of a certain middle terranean school, struck with a polluted haze. Bored commuters
graduated to solitude of their singular cars, moveable coffins, free to groom themselves at every third traffic light. She carried with her an ague of the
heart. Never to ease, alone cease, with baths of jazz, lavender water, milk of roses. Like the haunted
in a badly written story, naiveté is believed with a dash of over-desired suspense. Perhaps this time it’s
a mummy in the grandfather clock not disappearing with each stroke of time. Counting, as if it ends.
Colored either bright red, or red gone orange, when poppies cease to bloom, hats become sought out
from stores of fashionable repute. Rain holds its own
therapeutic value. Coldness. Downpours separate one sea from another, one Ligurian, the other, not. What’s
left to be built in a day. Pasquinades, a greatcoat,
the number plate of some obscure lodging. Something
shared in common by us, buildings, angels, weather. Falls.
issue12 / 37
Kimberly Ann Southwick
Diagram of a Wrecking Ball The pendulum of wrecking ball lovers whose loneliness razes tall steel buildings and gray churches with high-pointed steeples, those who practice airhigh and summer blue values, the repeated motion of back and forth. Time twisted like rain through gutters streaming full of unholy skywater. To knock over the urn, to spill the sacred waterâ€” something about not having any regrets. The second hand swings, its teeth tight like a knot, as far as it can in the opposite direction before gravity, time, and weight, pull it back again. A mistake repeated is no longer a mistake.
Kimberly Ann Southwick
Backfires, Nahunt A lone distant siren awry, I left something red
in the sand. I was wearing a black one-piece bathing suit that Iâ€™m not sure I can wear again without you on the broken beach chair, the one
we dragged from beside the empty trash can.
The ocean left my fingernails bleached from seasalt and thin. I think you have a brain
in the place where your heart should be. We really ran with the radio on loud,
and the way the waves buried everything, especially the soundâ€”no humming, no heartbeat.
issue12 / 39
I stood in a pathetic line to use a restroom.
We forgot stupid things before we left your house, sunscreen, towels, but we remembered the books we were reading. It was seventy-five degrees. We shouldn’t have even gone to the beach. It was August, our month. I buried something blue in the place where your heart should be.
I buried something in the sand, but the tide tells me that it’s coming back for me. My fingernails
are strong again, and I’m ready to show you where every rusty organ belongs, how to sound off in minor and mean it.
Kimberly Ann Southwick it was ryan’s birthday
before we knew enough about him or christine,
and there was something
inside like a light or maybe
i hadn’t been to many bars
really, but you said, you said the time was ripe, like
you were someone i knew
from somewhere i couldn’t recall,
but i knew, at least, that your green room was once mine, masking tape talking in the corner.
there is maybe a lost clip,
your forehead, mostly
after the gin and beer, when you
compliment my lips, flatter my posture,
expose your invisible black-eye charm.
but it wasn’t until your hand locked mine, both buried in doug’s skinny couch our heads thinking spring
on each other’s shoulders
in the white bright kitchen. i supposed it eventual,
your brain in my swept room
each past night and all the rest
until too many untils. yes, the way you kissed my shoulder his postbirthday morning, and
i looked at your forehead and i thought something about
the moon and i decided, then, “well—“
issue12 / 41
now don’t panic, but this is a photograph of me
but we had this one party— george,
drunk, posing like a party girl would
let his friends charge at the door. they
dressed like a party girl, in a party girl picture,
but i was never much of one. is it the real fur or the sunglasses inside? Halloween,
we had a party the day i dumped him. he read my journal,
left on my nightstand. but he didn’t get to the part
where the plain-looking photographer wanted the funny girl instead.
i called him, the photographer, a brick wall. the brick wall. it was a winter
with an easier spring to come.
no New England winter is easy.
i had stared down the Union Dead; i would soon teach my brother
to tie his high school graduation tie.
who lived with us the first three months, replaced the keg in the downstairs tub
twice, and i asked the guy in the kitchen, with my coffeepot full of beer, who
told you this was okay? and took it from him
to fill my friends’ plastic cups in sophie’s room. this was before you moved in from Florida.
this was before you. this was before we held hands on doug’s couch right below. this was
the day, probably, i cut cans in the living room, scissors and sharp.
i was less sinister then, holding that injurious blade.
Kimberly Ann Southwick
People overuse the phrase I tell him there are lots of words
Be clear. Explain. The phone was on silent.
This is an online conversation
called, though. He texted me during Jeopardy.
but he knows what I mean.
got an international call during class but
and unwords for what he means.
where nothing but words exist,
How do I
explain that no matter how far you are there’s always a bar that reminds me. It’s like that. That is a pronoun.
You are a pronoun. He is a pronoun and better in bed than you, but.
You shouldn’t end sentences with conjunctions. You shouldn’t end thoughts before they begin.
I would have missed your call. You never
I got a call during class but couldn’t take it. I
couldn’t take it. I couldn’t take it.
The envelope you mailed me is in a folder
unopened. Not so that he doesn’t see but so I don’t. I don’t look at it. He is temporary. You are permanent. Do you know that? No.
You only know that you are a pronoun, that I am a pronoun. We are a pronoun.
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is a 36-year-old author from East Texas. He has published over 100 stories in print and online. He is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee. His first short-fiction collection, Pretend I’m Not Here, will debut from Musa Publishing in 2013. He runs like a girl.
’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Fleeting, Flash: The International ShortShort Story Magazine, Prick of the Spindle, Underground Voices, Atticus Review, The Smoking Poet, and elsewhere. He lives in France. Read more at www.kevintosca.com
’s work has appeared in The Writer’s Chronicle, Prick of the Spindle, New Madrid, NewPages, Bookslut, and The Toledo City Paper. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Bennington College, and teaches English at Delta College in Bay City, Michigan.
has her B.A. from Harvard University and M.A. from Fordham University, and she is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Her primary area is creative writing, but she also focuses on twentieth-century American poetry and poetics, modern and contemporary Spanish poetry, Lacanian theory, and phenomenology. She was a 2008 Saltonstall Poetry Fellow. Lianuska was raised in Queens, NY by parents emigrated from Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
Recent work of Philip Kobylarz
appears or will appear in Connecticut Review, Basalt, Santa Fe Literary Review, New American Writing, Poetry Salzburg Review and has appeared in Best American Poetry. His book, Rues, was recently published by Blue Light Press of San Francisco.
Kimberly Ann Southwick
is the editor in chief of Gigantic Sequins, a print-based, bi-annual black & white literary arts journal that publishes a collection of unique voices and illustrations twice a year. Her poetry can be found in Barrelhouse, Big Lucks, PANK, Everyday Genius, Whole Beast Rag, and Paper Darts, amongst others.
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