Issue #24-25, August 2012
Untitled 3, by Allison Doan
In This Issue... Letter from the Editors
Photography by Allison Doan
Where Are the Others Like You?
Ricardo Nazario y Colón
David Dodd Lee
David Dodd Lee
The Cap Blanc Girl’s Last Thoughts
words you say
Penny Beggar Woman Comes Darling to Conjuroo
Photography by Jesus Delgado Mary Biddinger
16 Picturesque Rendering of an Impulse Purchase (Return Policy Unknown)
Risk Management Memo: Hello, Afterlife
You Can Take That Away from Me
Photography by Allison Doan Tiffany Grayson
24 Death’s Negotiating Table Would Probably Have That Cheap Kind of Tablecloth That is Plastic on One Side and Kind of Fuzzy Underneath
Converted to Vegetarianism
Letter from an Inmate in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Correctional Center
Photography by Jesus Delgado
Jeffrey R. Schrecongost
J. R. Solonche
When You Hit the Stones
Photography by Claudia HernĂĄndez
Katherine L. Holmes
Kimberly L. Wright
The sign, mistranslated, read Because you are dangerous, you must not enter
The Winter of No
Poem for my Unborn Thomas #63
Photography by Allison Doan
What I Wished For
The thing about babies is, thereâ€™s a plot worth paying close attention to. 52
Where You End Up
Photography by Jesus Delgado
J. Kirk Maynard
Touring Topeka, Kansas
The Baseball Game
Alice in Brotherland
Alice in Fatherland
Photography by Allison Doan Tasha Cotter
Drinking the Galaxy at the Venus Castle Ice Cream Shop
From we force-effect the oubliette
Photography by Allison Doan
The Pole Star
Photography by Claudia Hernรกndez
Partly Cloudy With A 30% Chance Of Champagne
Goodnight, Travel Well
Photography by Allison Doan
This is our 25th issue. Well, actually, it’s our 24th and 25th issues rolled into one glorious, 100-plus page double-issue. A little light end-of-summer reading for you. You may see some familiar names here, some writers who have graced our e-pages in issues past: Ed Makowski, Ellen Hagan, Andrew Cusick, J.R. Solonche, and Rich Ives, for example. Thrilled to have work by Mary Biddinger, j/j hastain, Alyse Knorr, Ricardo Nazario y Colón, David Dodd Lee, and so many others, and to be the first publication for emerging writers like Tiffany Grayson. And as always, we’re showcasing some vibrant artwork; this time, we have colorful, urban-inspired photography from Allison Doan, Claudia Hernandez and Jesus Delgado that pops right off the screen. We hope you notice our attempts to spice up the actual site a bit, too. Rather than include reviews and interviews in each issue, we’re letting the creative work speak to you for itself. This in no way means we aren’t publishing reviews or interviews anymore—just the opposite, in fact. We’re expanding our focus in this area, these tools that are so vital for publishers and writers we admire. We hope to feature more of them in between issues, and therefore update our site content more regularly. In July, we featured an interview with Black Ocean publisher Janaka Stucky, followed in August by a double review of Stucky’s new Ahsahta Press chapbook, The World Will Deny It For You, and former BL contributor Feng Sun Chen’s Butcher’s Tree, which Black Ocean recently published. As always, we are especially interested in reviewing books by contributors to BL. Email us at email@example.com for review copy snail mail instructions. We can’t guarantee review, but if we’ve published your work before, you have a pretty good shot. At the very least, we’ll continue to list all published books by our authors in the BL Authors’ Library section of the website—which had gotten so unwieldy, we had to separate it by two halves of the alphabet. Our writers are some prolific peeps! After 25 issues, we’re still doing what we do. Thanks for reading.
Sincerely, The Editors
Valparaiso, by Allison Doan
Rich Ives WHERE ARE THE OTHERS LIKE YOU? Everyone told me they were sorry about what had happened, but I didn’t know what it was, and they were so intense about it I thought they’d put me away if I asked them. So I went on with the excuse they had provided long ago, and I let things slide. I found some melons in my afternoon, and I developed a walk like a lump. I told them I was struggling, but that was another thought left off the hook in the brain’s dream about the brain. I couldn’t be held responsible. Soon I was an old man so shrunk his shoulders and head looked like the knob of his cane, the kind that swats the cat out of his easy chair and throws a book at it when it tries to skulk back. Sometimes we fall asleep, my cat and I, and one of us dreams mice begin pouring out of a miniscule hole in the wall, their eyes wide with fear when the cuckoo clock strikes and they panic, then relax again when it fails to try to eat them, their huge mouse shadows climbing from their feet onto the wall and squeezing one by one into the tiniest of holes as morning climbs under the doorsill. There’s an elevator in the wall. An attendant opens and closes a gate as the mice come and go. He’s announcing mouse treats on every floor. An elderly mouse asks him which floor has the warm milk. There’s a little snoring buzzsaw sound as the mice devour a loaf of bread, and a soft clicking as they play pool with peas on a slice of the bread, and a soft pop as they use their tails as corkscrews to open tiny bottles of wine. They eat their way into their own sad ends by getting too big to get out the way they got in. You don’t have to be starving to do that. I guess it must be my dream because the cat always wakes, dives at the mice eating the stuffing in a turkey that appears from nowhere and lands inside the turkey carcass, then runs after the mice wearing the turkey carcass, which wakes the old man I am in the dream, who thinks the cat is responsible for everything that has gone wrong, even though he knows better, and boots the cat out into the snow, which has snuck up on the house in the darkness because that’s the way things happen around here. The old man I am in the dream falls asleep again, and the mice pour out of their hole, singing and dancing in a chorus line to a sardine can piano, a mousetail bass, and the shuffle of a tiny mouse broom. The old man wakes again and the terrible sound of the mice celebrating with his food sends him out to get the cat, but the cat’s feelings have been hurt, and he won’t come back. The foolish mice begin taunting the cat from the doorway under the old man’s feet, and it’s too much for the cat, and the cat chases them back into their hole, looks smug, prances, curls up in the old man’s chair. The old man starts to swat the cat away again, thinks twice about it, then curls up on the cat’s rug and goes to sleep.
Rich Ives And then the old man wakes up again, and he’s me finally awake outside the dream this time, and I remember all this about my dream, but I still don’t remember what else happened. I stand once more before the door and think of what’s behind it. I refuse to believe it’s only me. I tell myself that story. I use what I know of others to do it.
Ricardo Nazario y Colón PAPO HUESO I was born in the South Bronx where manteca skied in the venas of tecatos. Donde cuerpos lay stiff like green army men. On the morning of my birth, Miguelito, the local junky was found jeringuilla hanging from his vein; half sitting at the kitchen table of his tenement basement apartment. Just about every Puerto Rican in the block—Juan, Miguel, Milagros, Olga y Manuel—worked in some lame ass garment district job; barely making enough for a Mortadella con queso sandwich. Marisol La Loca—well she wasn’t crazy crazy but for the right price she would let you watch Benji the dog fuck her. People said she was tostada, but what she was—era una deseperarción to feed an heroina habit, which made her do loca things. Papo Hueso, one of her tricks who didn’t care if he came first or second to Benji decía, hey, the dog is a client, too. He was always running cold and often envied la lengua del perro. On the afternoon of my scheduled arrival Puntilla the building super descubrió a Benji humping Marisol’s dead body. She had been stabbed and her ears were missing. La gente, hanging out of opened back yard windows like a Westside story gritaban, eso fue el perro. Benjiwho was fluent in broken Spanish, Poodle, Pincher and occasional stray cat dialects—understood enough to know perro was in trouble. By the time people began to pay attention to him, he was leading detectives on a chase out of the apartment, up to the rooftop and down a rusted fire escape ladder to Papo Hueso’s third floor bedroom. There three policías watched him eat a plato of arroz con sangre. I was twelve pounds on the night I was born; both my mother and I had our eyes open.
David Dodd Lee EAVESDROPPING In the shadow of the house a house a lung Bad news comes on Sundays The moon is rising in its veil of natural smog The catfish, muzzled, keep crawling ashore, not barking, not knowing * Let me start again: no matter the content I am apparently still screaming Screaming while the day sinks into night Screaming while the wind shifts more easterly over the water * Suddenly all is quiet again My parents are holding drinks in their hands, smiling into a mirror at each other
David Dodd Lee EVAPORATION Desire. I say it Can be subtractive. You want. (Oh, you Want to do it!) Ever just pull off To the side of The road? The wind is An instrument, And water. It goes Where it goes. I'm Talking about death. I'm talking about Sex. I'm talking About towhees (they Flip through your junk drawers). You might rattle A bunch of lizard Skins into the Blazing sun. I Guess God is partly Responsible. She created the Moss. He created The inexorable Pull of gravity. That dance has no Name. But we are Not evil. We are Surprised. The horses Are external, And covered. The Horses are moisture. The horses are hungry.
Tom Holmes THE CAP BLANC GIRL’S LAST THOUGHTS The Cap Blanc Girl is a relatively intact skeleton from over 15,000 years ago that was found buried below a six and a half foot horse frieze. She is one of the very few inhumations to be found near Paleolithic cave art.
The horse bulges from the rock shelter wall like a fetus trying to push a hand through its mother’s belly, and I am the seminal cause of the creation. That was before. Now there’s a man behind me with an ivory knife. He pushes me down and slashes the air in front of the horse’s eye. I crawl below its belly. The man kneels and presses me down. He looks to the horse’s arching shoulder and stabs me between the ribs. The sun has warmed the dirt. It comforts me between my long blinks. Nothing has yet happened to the horse . . . . I’ve gone to the other side to push.
Ellen Hagan HOLY, HOLY
for your entrance into the world. the expanse of hips before. before, smooth, landscape. before, belly button ringed wild and crop topped. the valley of 13 year old boy. hands anywhere near below. all had to traverse the space you arrived through- from. pulled like trout, salmon wild rivered fish, slick bodied. you, brung up, heaved, liftoffed from the gulley of me. oh body, body with your frisk and flock of arms, lungs. oh the canal of me closed but fingers, valves, aorta flung. mouth, tongue, the buds of teeth, vulva and ventricles of brain. matter. all of you tilted from the hemisphere of me.
Ellen Hagan WORDS YOU SAY
the first time you say oh, god damnitt, we are in kentucky your grandparents watching, their eyes on me & my parenting skills nil i don't tell them you already say shit sometimes when being changed and your father who told you only say shit at home with us or that last week, while editing you said hi to the images and instead of hi mommy, hi dad, hi cat, hi doggy, you said hi fucker to the man on the screen & laughed hard you are only 18 months old & already you've got a mouth on you, & the world, fuck i think, but don't say out loud anymore though gosh darnitt, & shoot & oh dang don't suit me or the kind of woman i am or the kind i want you to be words little girl i want you to know their use when a good god damnitt is appropriate & good, god words like fuck & shit & hell their place & how to use manipulate, right them into place right there where language does what it does & makes what is right right
Jamie Brunson PENNY BEGGAR WOMAN COMES DARLING TO CONJUROO She dwells in her own Unlook offers tribute Penny Beggar she come to the gate with Soft Tiny Thing Has To Be Held (made when she blossomed in hot times) a grave voice circling troubling the bones hot yellow Hardly Ripened Tiny Thing (being briefly then butcher’s meat) screeches like an empty horn sputtering across the borderland between worlds —not going on nesting stuffed inside Penny Beggar Woman face Soft Tiny Tyrant bursts up winks a round brown eye full of that somewhere grace then goes underground scratching beneath the skin leaving drag marks headed down the bones jump! Penny Beggar Woman shivers Penny Beggar Woman Soft Tiny Thing Need To Be Held (fallen buds in sun’s red heat) this legion at Conjuroos’s door uncoils a handful of dusted pennies (the beggar’s loot) Tremble- mouths Give me morning! Conjuroo to Penny Beggar Woman Hissssss!
Cattail Riot, by Jesus Delgado
Mary Biddinger PICTURESQUE RENDERING OF AN IMPULSE PURCHASE (RETURN POLICY UNKNOWN) We were shopping for a new snake. One with more cunning, or integrity. One made of fewer shapes, with less frontage, more curb appeal, exceptional pounds per square inch. So naturally we ended up in the head shop, the lady who made her own dream catchers, some out of peanut butter. I’d watched a short film about how finches sometimes nest in the human body, unknown to most, and wondered what they dreamed about if that was true, their heads engrossed in somebody’s spleen. It took me back to the caramel accident. I was trying to find a beaded neckplate that was pure whimsy, no subtext about native cultures or prehistoric calculators. It was a snakeless building, unless you counted the fiber ropes they promised were genuine hemp. I’d seen identical models at the discount fabric mall where I loitered occasionally, wishing I still had a grandmother in a hideous makeshift hangover, the kind of grandmother who’d crush a Hummel without blinking. I liked to touch the goods, but they were acrylic. No single fiber was alive, or ever dreamed of swallowing an egg.
Mary Biddinger RISK MANAGEMENT MEMO: HELLO, AFTERLIFE So little was personal about your interior longings or your compass. You wished it was easy like picking out the king of the bells, or killing all moths stuck to our daily adhesive calendar, but instead you just swept the hair away from my eyes, said something like eat your potatoes but meant something like we’re both going to die of interior longing, and was there a service to perform and rid us of it: two men in old brown suits, a storefront church, musty goblets. Months later and it’s either you rushing me or me rushing you to the hospital, we could save the bracelets for next time, maybe next time we’d be there for something better. I would entertain you with stories of evil brine shrimp, and you would froth about Arthur Rimbaud, how did I grow up knowing so little about him, we could’ve been the best playmates since I always walked into briars with bare legs and that’s how he loved his cities. He loved them desolate, blocks of dead houses inside, so the only flashlights they’d need would be sparks, no dormant volcano necessary. He loved his cities to be half concrete, no telling which half, or maybe it was simply the potential. You both loved your cities more than a little bloody, blamed it on a forest packed with the owls of our mutual childhood. Nobody else could see
Mary Biddinger them. You took me by the hand and I let you, a woman full of plywood and buckshot, like the pheasant everyone fought for and nobody ever won.
Mary Biddinger YOU CAN TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME I planted spools of thread, like a crop. Installed a weathervane indoors because so much lightning is interior. Mirrors donâ€™t work outside the mouth, and my mouth already had trouble with its metals. Daffodils fought with tulips in a bucket. Always keep them apart, or else. My grandmother dragged all the rugs out. She kept rabbits. I do not need to tell you anything more than that. Her radio was shaped like a cornucopia, or perhaps that was her leather lady-ear. She threatened me with foxgloves and porridge. I was angry so I watered the scissors. I resurrected things like a half-acre of ugly bricks in a pond.
Ken Arnold MANZANITA BEACH drops of rain bead down the glass how does one drop leave such a long trail the undiminished head descending not exactly like footprints on a beach that are only a sign of passage the deeper imprint of heel rocking onto toes and beside the human prints a dogâ€™s that sometimes veer toward a shocked and empty crab shell the history of flesh the mindâ€™s invention ahead the mountain thrusts across the beach to drink the sea
Leah Rogin-Roper THE HOUSE-SITTERS We drove up the road with the long, brown angel grass blowing in the wind, and Dad put his hand over mine as the car crunched into the gravel driveway. The lady came out of the house and smiled and waved at us. She looked real pretty in her red dress. She explained the cats and dogs and horses to Dad: “And sometimes Louie misses us so bad that he goes on a hunger-strike and just doesn’t eat for a couple of days,” the lady said, patting Louie on the head. “Don’t you gooey-Louie?” She pinched the dog’s face. He looked embarrassed. “But if you just keep putting the food out for him and taking him for walks, eventually he’ll start eating again.” “Do you have the first two weeks in cash like we talked about?” Dad asked, and I could tell he’d been trying not to ask it too quick. “Well, yes, it’s here. Your references were very good, but I have to tell you, we’ve never left for more than a week before. I hope everyone is okay.” She looked hard at Dad then, and I wished I could tell her, wished I could pull her into the corner for a minute and tell her what Dad was like. She smiled down at me. Poor lady. “Where’s the bathroom again?” I asked her. She’d given us a tour of the whole house, but it all seemed to go in a big circle. “Well, there’s one right here by the mudroom,” she pointed to the door down the hall. I walked slowly toward it, wishing she’d follow me, but not sure what I would say if she did. Dad grinned and winked at me when she looked outside, holding his finger up to his mouth. I went into the bathroom and closed the door. I turned on the water and looked at myself in the mirror, the too-small dress Dad had insisted I wear was cutting into my armpits. I watched the door and said a prayer to nobody. Maybe this time Dad would just do the job he signed up for, just take care of the house and the animals. Maybe when he got paid, we could rent a little ranch house of our own down the road with a horse or two. Maybe the lady would hire me to come and exercise her horses after school. I made an ugly face at myself in the mirror. And maybe zombie-mermaids would take over the earth between now and when the lady returned to find her house empty. I turned off the water slowly and walked back out into the hall. “Well, you have all of our numbers and everything,” she said. “I guess we’ll see you in five weeks.” “Have a nice trip, ma’am. Don’t worry about a thing.” Why did he have to add that extra line in there? I glared at him, mad that he would tell her not to worry about a thing when he was probably mentally pawning off her belongings. “Bye Dolores, nice to meet you.” I was still glaring at Dad when she said that, totally forgot that he had made my name Dolores this time. Dad came over and put his arm around me, kind of hard. “Say goodbye, Dolores,” he hissed at me. “Bye.” I told her, real short. She probably thought I was just a rude little girl. I thought about breaking away from Dad, running after her for a second, telling her not to do it, not to leave us here, not to trust us, but I just couldn’t risk it. She sighed hard, and I could tell she was kind of questioning herself, didn’t want to go. Just stay, just stay, make up an excuse, anything, just tell us to leave, I projected my thoughts at her real hard, and she almost set her suitcase down, I could feel it, but then she just yanked it up and walked out the door.
Leah Rogin-Roper The first few days were fine, the first few days were always my favorite. That was when Dad actually did the job he was hired to do, I got to help take care of Louie, the horses, and the cat. Dad figured that most people would ask someone else to drop by and check up on things, and sure enough, about Day Four a neighbor came by. “Helllooo, anybody home?” he peeked into the barn where I was brushing out Mindy’s mane. “You must be Dolores,” he smiled at me. Really, why Dolores of all the dorky names? “I’m Stanley, I live down the way. Is your Dad around?” Dad was already right there in the doorway, before I could say anything. I could tell he wasn’t trusting me after the last time either, when I’d answered the phone and managed to drop enough hints that the nice couple came back from their vacation early. If only they hadn’t made the mistake of telling Dad that they were heading home, I might be somewhere else right now. I always picture the people when they come home from their vacation, walking in the door. From the outside everything probably looks alright, but maybe something is a little off. The curtains are closed. If there’s a little machinery, it’s probably been sold. Maybe a planter tipped over by Uncle Marco when he comes to help put everything in the moving van in the middle of the night. Then there’s that second when the door is swinging open and they’re still feeling good about being home, then they see it, how everything is gone. I picture the lady, ducking back out to make sure she’s at the right address, wondering if it might all be a big mistake, then rushing back in to see everything missing, the furniture, the clothes, the jewelry, the tools, the art, the plates, the knickknacks, the horses, everything. I picture her running from room to room, gasping, hysterical, the stink of untended dog and cat. Please, god, don’t let the animals be dead when she gets here. I always heap up extra food and put out a few bowls of water before I go. As soon as I’m old enough I’ll run away from him. Maybe I’ll come back here and apologize, tell her how he did it, the fake references and names, the storage area so he didn’t have to put this address in the paper or on Craig’s List, in case any of her friends might notice, how he made me go with him to the Pawn shop three towns away and tell the man that it was my mother’s jewelry, that she had died, that we needed the money for this month’s rent, but that my dad had promised we’d be back for it. That he was waiting in the car because he was so embarrassed. The pawnshop owner would look over at him, and Dad would just lift his hand up the littlest bit, exactly the way a desperate and embarrassed widower might wave. We practiced that story together 15 times before I told it the first time, and Dad always laughed when I brought the cash out to him. “You have to get up pretty early to get on top of a pawner. They’ve heard it all,” he’d say, messing up my hair. The lady probably wouldn’t believe it if I told her about the final risky sale where he sold everything that was left in one day for anything people would offer. How we packed up and left town the next day. How he got the house phone switched over to that pay-as-you-go cell that he dumped after he talked to her the last time. I smiled crookedly at the neighbor as I listened to Dad subtly pumping him for information. I wanted to scream, “Don’t you get it? Don’t you?” but I just kept brushing Mindy’s tail.
Untitled 2, by Allison Doan
Tiffany Grayson DEATH’S NEGOTIATING TABLE WOULD PROBABLY HAVE THAT CHEAP KIND OF TABLECLOTH THAT IS PLASTIC ON ONE SIDE AND KIND OF FUZZY UNDERNEATH Look, if I buy the thirty-six-toothbrush pack you have to let me live long enough to get my money’s worth. You can’t just leave thirty-five toothbrushes sitting unused under the sink. Who would even accept thirty-five toothbrushes from a dead person’s house? This five-pound bag of Necco Wafers won’t eat themselves. No one even likes Necco Wafers. So. I get to live through at least twenty-five toothbrushes and two pounds of Necco Wafers. Two pounds is a good life. I have a few more aisles to go. I might to return negotiate. I couldn’t possibly die yet with eight deodorants left to use.
Changming Yuan CONVERTED TO VEGETARIANISM eating tomatoes potatoes, carrots, cabbages, apples, watermelons cherries, strawberries sorghum, pepper i recognize them all like true communists either in appearance or in heart while their lycopene contributes to the well-being of my ischemic heart i can only draw bloody memories from them about summer fields about all my Chinese pasts in red
Kristene Brown SMALL FIGHT I stand with bat in hand throwing crab apples up onto the rolling slant roof, little worlds falling with flesh force momentum to my determined swing. I crack the seam, shatter the gleam, split open, eaten from the inside out. Out is what I told him I wanted, the pressure of a pulse filling the pupil of an eye, narrowing in the fog tunnel headlight. I still see the blank stare of the deer. The same look he gave me the day of my mistake. How do I piece it all back together, everything Iâ€™ve fractured into broken bits. A body curving into the metal fender reflection, the wood hitting open air searching for the solid, swing after blind swing I inflict my damage. At my feet the lime brain rind of a splint crescent crab apple gathers in shatters.
Andrea Beltran WAKING UP Getting out of bed and out of a marriage are, in todayâ€™s case, the same. Both require opening your eyes to light from the sides of blinds you thought would keep it out. You force yourself up, adjust hips, then back, set foot on stone floor, noting the moment, telling yourself that sleeping forever, you might as well be dead. After a long shower, after brushing your teeth, youâ€™ll be ready to face it. Looking around, you subtract one from everything. One less chipped cup in the sink and book unopened on the nightstand, one less reason to fear the morning.
Andrew McCall MIGRANTS Brought here by man In splintered dark boxes On a ship limping on the sea. They call out after A hundred generations in The North Woods, underfoot And under oak, prodding soil For the hidden hole and the Warping ribbon of a worm. You ask me to help sliver Their future lives apart, To grind their eggs into bits Or freeze them in the cold Before pitching them into The lake for the carp to gulp. I must say no, my love, For although I have killed The moths in the cupboard And cracked a frogâ€™s neck That didnâ€™t belong in the reed, These sparrows once Pulled me out of darkness, Their tiny voices snapping Me awake after sleeping For three months alone.
David Zerby LETTER FROM AN INMATE IN THE YUKON-KUSKOKWIM CORRECTIONAL CENTER To answer your question, from time to time a face breaks across the glass pane in the visitation room, a two-foot-wide stall with a stool bolted to the floor. Sometimes my visitor brings magazines or dried salmon. I play basketball or cards between faces. If anyone comes it’s ani or Father Gregory, the priest, who confesses me. He’s from that church that uses the cross that has three arms. Our graveyards are overrun with those crosses, which sag into the boggy tundra among the salmonberries. On his last visit he gave me a glass cross that I keep in a niche in my cell. Before him, his father was a priest. Their family came with the first Russians to reach Alaska. They bolted beaver, otter, foxes with their rifles. They hunted ptarmigan on the faces of the mountains northwest of here. They caught salmon in the river like I did. Speaking of salmon, someone chalked a representation of a salmon in pink on the classroom blackboard: the fish’s scales form diamonds and crosses and one triangle forms his tail, and another, his face. For an eye the artist sketched an hourglass. Every summer I returned to fish camp with my uppa to place our net. Hawks bolted through the air and early in the season we dipped for smelts. Once we took the priest there and he blessed our camp. When I wait for the priest it’s out in the hallway where I can see the salmon, and sometimes I’m tempted to rabbit out of here, but electronic bolts seal the doors. When the box announces a visitor, I cross my cell and walk to the hallway of mirrored glass that lets the control room look at me; a camera knows my face and I spend my waiting time watching my face. I should review the tape to see if that change the priest blathers about really is visible: I see my blue stubble in the glass. At least something grows. Outside it must be closing in on spring season for the salmon which reach the river after a Pacific crossing. Have you ever seen a Chinook leap? There is a bolt of reddish silver, a shot of sun. They bolt their bodies into the air, reflective, and when they land a face same as theirs faces them across the currents, the same as I face the priest— all the wiry, flexible strength of the salmon as it torques like my eyes in the glass.
Whatâ€™s that Sound? by Jesus Delgado
Jeffrey R. Schrecongost KILLING CAROL Jett Mason walked up the highway toward Clarkton, hands and feet numb from the cold. His Levi’s were muddy below the knees, his black work boots torn at the soles, and his brown, leather bomber jacket creaked as he moved. A full moon reposed behind translucent clouds and illuminated rolling hills and pastures on each side of the road. Winter lightning split the night sky, and snowflakes glistened like descending shards of shattered mirrors. “What’s your favorite word?” he asked the trucker who had given him a ride forty-eight hours earlier. “My favorite word?” the trucker said. “‘Family,’ I suppose. ‘Love,’ maybe.” “That’s two. I asked you what your favorite word is.” “‘Family,’ then. What’s yours?” “‘Rehabilitation.’ Pull over here. I’ll walk.” “Whatever you say, buddy,” the trucker said, pulling the rig off to the side of the highway. “You take care, now.” “I will. Thanks for the lift.” Jett shook the trucker’s hand, then pulled a .38 revolver from his jacket pocket and shot him in the head. *** December, 1985 Jett knew Carol was bringing ugly news. It was her voice, how her voice tottered when she called him that Saturday morning. He had just finished a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when she pulled into the driveway in her growling, black Camaro. From his bedroom window he watched her stride toward the front door, her blue and gold coat matching her cheerleader outfit. Her brown curls bounced with each step she took. Her right hand was clenched. Worry reddened his face. He couldn’t swallow. The doorbell rang. His mother opened the door and greeted Carol. He walked into the bathroom, looked in the mirror, then went downstairs, counting the steps. …eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve. Carol stood in the narrow foyer. Jett leaned forward to kiss her. She pulled away. “Hi,” she said. “Hey. What’s wrong?” “I came over to give back your class ring.” Jett said nothing. Across the street Alvin, the neighbor boy, was building a snow fort. “It’s not working out,” Carol said. “What are you talking about? I thought you loved me. I love you.” “Where’s your mom?” she whispered. Jett turned. “In the kitchen. Why?” “We should be at the next level by now, and you’re never ready. You’re like a little boy.” “Next level? What do you mean?” “What do you think I mean, Jett? What do we always fight about?” “But I want to wait until we get married.”
Jeffrey R. Schrecongost “I don’t. And it’s not just that. We’re seniors, Jett. We should be able to date other people.” “You’re breaking up with me because we don’t do it?” “Yes. The other reasons, too. Here. Please take this.” Carol reached out and opened her hand. “Who is it? Tim? Sloan?” “Take it, Jett.” With his index finger Jett lifted the ring. Gone was the yarn and thick, black nail polish Carol had once carefully applied so it would fit snug. “Goodbye, Jett.” From his bedroom window he watched the Camaro disappear around the curve just past the Markwell’s house. He sat on the edge of his bed and pushed PLAY on his tape deck. He forgot he’d cued up The Beatles’ “She Loves You” the night before. “You think you’ve lost your love? Well, I saw her yesterday. It’s you she’s thinkin’ of, and she told me what to say. She said she—” He pushed STOP and stared at a framed photograph atop his dresser. It was Carol on Myrtle Beach in a day-glow-pink bikini, smiling, sitting next to a message she had scooped out of the wet sand: I LOVE JETT. He placed the picture in the top drawer of his dresser and closed the drawer. Then he dropped the ring on his tongue and sucked on it, shifted it from one side of his mouth to the other. The faint taste-combination of metal and nail polish made Jett swallow the ring four seconds before he wanted to. *** No more snow fell, but a harassing wind returned. Jett plodded up the on-ramp at the junction of Highway 78 and State Road 445 and made his way toward the Sunoco gas station on his left. A bell rang as he stepped inside. He walked directly to the counter. “Evening, sir. How can I help you tonight?” said the lanky, towheaded clerk. “I need two packs of Kools.” “Yes sir,” said the clerk, reaching above the counter for the cigarettes. Jett eyed the cash register. “Two packs of Kools. Jett? Jett Mason?” “Yeah?” “It’s me. Bernie Wickel.” He offered Jett his hand. “Hey, Bernie,” Jett said, shaking it. “Wow. Jett Mason. How’ve you been, man? Hell, I haven’t seen you since when?” “Since I went to prison.” “Oh. Yeah, man. Everybody missed you at the reunion. We all missed you.” “I bet. Funny thing is nobody missed me enough to visit me up there.” “I’m sorry I didn’t get up to see you, man. Things got really weird after you went away. People had to take sides, or take no sides. Bullshit, you know? I always thought you got a raw
Jeffrey R. Schrecongost deal, Jett. I mean, ten years? But, you know, Sloan’s parents, and Carol, they wouldn’t let it go, man.” “She loved him,” Jett said, looking out the window above the candy bar rack. A yellow Buick with front-end damage pulled up next to the gas pumps and stopped. The driver, a portly, middle-aged woman, got out, looked back into the car, threw a mini-tantrum, and drove away. “We all knew it was an accident. We knew you didn’t mean to kill the guy. Come on, it was a fistfight. He started it anyway, right?” “Sort of. Maybe. Then again, maybe I did. Anyway, one punch can fuck your life up pretty good, huh?” “Yeah. Jesus. So what’re you doing now?” Jett looked into Bernie’s eyes, pulled out the .38, and said, “I’m robbing you, Bernie. Give me all the money in the register.” Bernie laughed. “Quit fuckin’ around, man.” “I’m not fuckin’ around, man. The cash under the tray, too. Do it. Now.” Bernie’s hands began to tremble. He opened the register drawer, pulled out the cash, raised the tray, yanked out the large bills, and handed the money to Jett. “Put it in a bag.” “Don’t shoot me, Jett. We were—” “—Shut up. Now turn around. Give me the keys to your truck.” “Aww, Jett. You can’t take my truck, man.” “Do it.” Bernie reached into his jeans pocket. “Drop them on the counter. Walk this way, into the bathroom. Hurry up.” “Which one of these keys locks the bathroom door?” “The gold one. Don’t shoot me, Jett.” “Shut up. Get on your knees.” “Jett. Jett.” Jett shoved Bernie to the floor. “Quiet down, Bernie. All you have to do is answer one question, and I’ll leave. Okay?” “Sure, Jett. Anything you want to know, man. I’ll tell you anything you want to know. Just don’t shoot me. Please.” Jett took a quick look back toward the interior of the store. “How late is Pizza Prince open tonight?” “Pizza Prince? I don’t know, Jett. Midnight? One?” “Which is it, Bernie?” “One. One.” “Close your eyes, Bernie.” Bernie’s head exploded, red and pink chunks spattering against the wall above the toilet. Jett looked at the condom machine to his right and spit on it, then backed out of the restroom. Four bullets left. Jett locked the restroom door and closed it, grabbed his cigarettes from the counter, ran out to the parking lot, jumped into Bernie’s blue Toyota pickup truck, drove across the lot to the pay phone, called information, and asked the operator for Carol’s address. Then he drove back up the highway. He robbed two more gas stations on Highway 78, again shooting both clerks—a twentyfour-year-old woman and a seventy-three-year-old man—in the head and leaving them for dead
Jeffrey R. Schrecongost in locked, bloody restrooms, then doubled back for Clarkton. For Carol. But first, for King Arthur. Jett pulled off the highway and turned back onto State Road 445, then turned right onto University Avenue, slowing down to thirty miles per hour. He lit a Kool and scanned the area for the Pizza Prince delivery car he knew would eventually appear. Ten years is, after all, too long for anyone to be denied a King Arthur. It is cruel and unusual. Two bullets left. *** Pizza Prince is a Clarkton institution. The first Pizza Prince restaurant, on Washington Street, opened in 1958, and it was there and then that original owner, Driscoll Buckminster, created and perfected the King Arthur. The King Arthur is a culinary masterpiece: a thin crust topped with (in this order) a secret tomato-based sauce, finely diced provolone cheese, finely ground sausage and pepperoni, chopped black olives, chopped onion, chopped red and green bell peppers, and chopped mushrooms. This aesthetic tour de force is crowned with more finely diced provolone cheese and a sprinkle of secret spice mixture, then slid with care into imposing, Bulgarian-made ovens hand-crafted specifically for Pizza Prince. After the prideful pie has developed a bubbly, lightly browned exterior, it is removed from the oven and sliced with rare, razor-sharp, Nicaraguan machetes into iconoclastic square pieces, then boxed and covered with aluminum foil to ensure a dramatic unveiling. The King Arthur is, quite simply, the world’s best pizza, and those fortunate enough to experience this gastronomic rapture can never objectively judge any other pizza again. One can understand, then, why Jett Mason, after ten years in prison, and before killing Carol, had to conquer King Arthur. *** “Don’t shoot me, dude,” said the Pizza Prince delivery kid. “I’ve got a statistics test tomorrow morning.” The kid smelled of high-grade marijuana, and his eyes looked like Ban Roll-On applicators. “Just give me the money,” Jett said. Jett had followed the delivery car for three blocks, and when the kid parked in front of a fraternity house, he stopped the truck, jumped out, and put the gun in the kid’s face. He nodded at the pizza box on the passenger seat. “That a King Arthur?” “You bet. Sixteen-incher, man. You want it too, dude?” “That’s a stupid question, pothead. Of course I want it. I’ve been away for a long time.” The kid handed Jett his money bag, then the extra-large Arthur. “Screw you, dude,” he said, and sped off toward Kemper Street. The pie’s beguiling aroma had dulled Jett’s perceptions. He fired a sloppy shot at the kid’s car, missed badly, and put a hole in the left leg of an Inflate-A-Mate blow-up sex doll the frat boys had taped to an oak tree. One bullet left. Jett ran to the truck, tossed the pizza onto the passenger seat, the money bag onto the floor, started the engine, and stepped on the accelerator. He turned right onto Turner Drive, then left onto Millborn Avenue, and headed for Blue River Park.
Jeffrey R. Schrecongost He cut the lights and pulled the truck in behind a group of trees and bushes just a few yards from the bank of the slushy river. Wind gusts whistled above. On the other side of the river red and blue lights reflected off the now heavy, opaque clouds. Jett rolled down the truck’s windows, took a deep breath, and opened the pizza box. With deliberation he lifted the thin foil covering the King Arthur. A bit of provolone cheese had stuck to the foil, and Jett licked it off. Then he reached first for a crispy edge piece. He raised it to his mouth and bit into the savory square, closed his eyes, and chewed slowly, slowly. His head rolled back as the pizza’s rich, complex flavors both pleased and perplexed him. He smiled and nodded, contemplating every glorious morsel, then gently pulled his fingertips across the tops of the steamy, grease-heavy center pieces. More red and blue lights. Sirens now. A sixteen-inch King Arthur provides the fortunate diner with thirty-five wondrous squares. Jett ate twenty-seven of them, placed the foil back atop the pie, closed the box, pulled onto Millborn Avenue, and headed for Tommy’s Trailer Park. For Carol. He dumped all the cash he had stolen that night into the Pizza Prince money bag, stuffed it into his jacket, then parked the truck in an empty lot nine units down from Carol’s trailer. It was dark inside, but a Chevy Malibu was parked in the drive. He walked to the back door, took off his boots, then with a nail picked the lock and entered. He moved like a ghost through the neat, clean kitchen and turned to look down the hallway. He heard voices in a room at the end of the hall. It was Thomas Magnum. Arguing with Rick and T.C. He walked on the balls of his feet toward the room, his greasy hand holding the .38 to his side. …two, three, four, five. The door was open. Jett peeked around the doorjamb. Carol was asleep on her left side, the only light in the room the Magnum, P.I. rerun. He stepped forward and stood next to the bed. She had kicked the black sheets off her body, and they lay in a messy lump at her feet. God, that sweet-white smell. White Shoulders. A small ceiling fan made a scraping noise every fifth rotation. Scrape. Scrape. His eyes moved from her toes to her knees to her thighs. Her white t-shirt had shifted up a bit, revealing the two dimples on her lower back and the curve of her hip under tiny, green, satin panties. Her lips. Her eyes. Her hair. You smell so good. He held his breath, leaned down to within an inch of her face, and moved his left hand up and down her body, never touching. He counted her breaths. …three, four, five… He had never seen her skin before. Not like this. He closed his eyes and again inhaled her scent. I think I’m ready now. Ready now. “I think I’m ready now,” Jett whispered, startling himself. Carol opened her eyes, paused for a moment, then leapt up screaming. “Get outta here! Get out!” Like a ninja she rolled to the other side of the bed and grabbed an aluminum baseball bat she kept next to her nightstand. “I said get—” “—Carol. It’s me. Jett.”
Jeffrey R. Schrecongost “Jett? What are you doing here? Get the hell outta here. I’m calling the cops.” “I remember this one,” he said, pointing to the television. “Magnum’s having all those Vietnam flashbacks. Is this a two-part episode?” With her free hand Carol reached for the phone. Jett raised the gun. “Not yet,” he said. “Carol, look.” Jett pulled the money bag from his jacket and dumped the cash onto the bed. “See? I’m not a boy anymore. I’m not a little boy.” Carol stared at the money and wrinkled her nose. She looked up at Jett. “You smell like a King Arthur.” “I should. I just ate twenty-seven pieces of a sixteen-incher.” “That means there are, what, eight pieces left?” Carol lowered the bat. “Yeah. Eight. Center pieces, though. I ate all the edge pieces first.” “Jesus. You would do something like that. What is this, anyway? You gonna hurt me, Jett?” “Yeah. But I thought we could have sex first. I think I’m ready now.” Carol looked back at the pile of cash. “Where’s the rest of that King Arthur?” “In my, in Bernie Wickel’s truck.” “You killed Bernie?” “Gas station. What do they call it? A Spree Killing? Thrill Killing?” “He was always a jackass, anyway,” she said. “Look. I’m not gonna fuck you if I know you’re gonna kill me as soon as we’re done. Total turn-off, Jett. You must’ve picked up your social graces in prison, huh?” Jett pointed the gun at Carol’s face. “You really like that thing, don’t you?” she said. “Calm down. Hear me out. I’ve got an idea. I’ll put my bat away, and you put your gun away. Then you run out and get those last eight pieces, and I’ll freshen up. Then, when you get back, we’ll thunder the lightning, polish off that King Arthur, count this cash, and take it from there. Sound good?” “How will I know you won’t call the cops or something?” “Baby, I’m hungry, horny, broke, and I haven’t had a King Arthur in months. I’m a little ragged around the edges, but I’m not stupid. So, what’ll it be?” Jett put the gun in his pocket, nodded, walked out the back door, put on his boots, and ran through the darkness like an unhinged possum to Bernie Wickel’s truck for the remnants of the King Arthur. More lights in the sky. More sirens. Carol placed the cash on the floor. She strutted to the bathroom and fixed her hair, applied a bit of lipstick, eye liner, and White Shoulders perfume, turned off the television, turned on the small lamp on her nightstand, took off her t-shirt, and stretched out on the bed. Five minutes passed. Then the thump-click of boot-steps on plastic tile. …two, three, four, five. Then nothing. “Jett? You can come in, baby.” Jett stepped into the bedroom and looked down at Carol. “You took long enough. Where’s the pizza, sweetie?” she said. “Baby? What’s wrong?” The room was quiet save for the sound of the ceiling fan. Scrape, scrape. Every fifth turn.
Jeffrey R. Schrecongost “I guess I’m not ready,” he said. “No more pizza.” Bang. No more bullets. *** Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Nineteen months later. “Hop in, buddy,” the trucker said, fiddling with his stringy, gray beard. Jett looked at the goofy lettering beneath a not-so-cleverly-airbrushed caricature of a nude Marilyn Monroe on the truck cab’s door. It read: The Booby Trap. “Thanks,” he said. “Where you headed?” “South. Pensacola,” the trucker said as he rolled the rig out of the truck stop’s parking lot. “Can you hand me that bag of Red Man there on the console, buddy?” “Sure,” Jett said. He handed the trucker the bag of leaf tobacco. “Hot day, huh?” “Lord yes. There’s some beer in that cooler behind you. Help yourself.” “Thanks.” Jett opened the red Igloo cooler, pulled out a Stroh’s, admired the can’s frosty skin, and popped the tab. He took three gulps. Then he lit a Kool. “Fire Brewed Taste,” the trucker said. “Folks just don’t appreciate Fire Brewed Taste anymore. Real shame.” “What’s your favorite word?” Jett said. “My favorite word?” “Your favorite word. What’s your favorite word?” “Hmmm. I always liked myself some words, you know. I guess my favorite word would be ‘invidious.’ Yep. Always liked ‘invidious.’ Kinda mean-soundin’, ain’t it?” “Yeah. It sounds mean.” “What’s yours?” “It used to be ‘rehabilitation.’” “That’s a pretty good word, I guess. You say it used to be your favorite?” “Yeah.” “What’s your favorite word now?” Jett closed his eyes and felt the pull of the simmering Deep South. He listened to its warm winds whisper promises of anonymity, peace, forgiveness. Maybe a little, white boat in calm, Gulf waters. Yes. A pearly dot and sail-shadowed stick figure on azure, and a child on a beach grasps his father’s hand and says, “Look, Daddy. There’s a man on that boat.” “All of them,” Jett said.
J.R. Solonche WHEN YOU HIT THE STONES (Poem Based on the Last Line of a Poem by Myself)
When you hit the stones, all you will hear is the sound of stones hitting. When you hit the stones, you should not blame the stones. When you hit the stones, you cannot tell which stone will remember you longer. When you hit the stones, you must explain clearly what the stones did wrong. When you hit the stones, the stones will cry out in your language. When you hit the stones, put them back exactly where you found them. When you hit the stones, the branches of the oaks will think they are next. When you hit the stones, wash your hands in the first stream to the south. When you hit the stones, visualize the center of the stones. When you hit the stones, be prepared, for the moon will be startled from its sleep. When you hit the stones, breathe in the dust you make from hitting the stones.
J.R. Solonche When you hit the stones, reinvent the dance your ancestors danced. When you hit the stones, stop hitting everything else. When you hit the stones, your heart must already be a stone. When you hit the stones, the valley will laugh at how foolish you are.
Canto Azul, by Claudia Hernรกndez
Katherine L. Holmes BRUISED EXHIBIT The blued blood of bruises or the underside of the tongue, such a sunset. I have been transfixed at the ugliness of my tongue in the mirror, the upstart muscle with its nether gizzard shades, shape-changing. The sky shrieks of storm in its raw places of passion as if to exhibit the damages of a day, the world a man in an intoxication of desires willful and forgetting his strength makes a squelching brand on a soft an espoused a malleable thing. Contused the black and blue cloud straggles in complaint above the human clusters with their vein-gray muscles potent of destruction,
Katherine L. Holmes the nimbus sob-near departing.
Kimberly L. Wright LEAVING Leave this campground as you found it, more or less, though hard to do after nearly a decade. Acres of pine trees chipped and pressed into mountains of court-mandated legalese—one copy for me, one copy for you. An uneven moonscape, stumps jut like nubs of rotten teeth. It takes skill not to trip over dozens of earthen mounds, all our burials. Something canine or feline growls, leaves clawed prints and a maimed teddy bear bleeding tan stuffing from ripped seams. In-laws smear dust on family portraits, tell ghost stories in the dark, cast menacing shadows on the tent. Clothes I'll never again wear—sequined formal gowns flowing maternities, boxy business suits of gray and black, faux animal skins mother never stopped buying for me—I throw into the campfire. It's warm.
Sara Leavens ARMISTICE Yesterday, I made paces toward you as an ill-equipped tourist navigating stretches of bayside sidewalk in poorly constructed shoes, hauling a scarred heart threatening to snap its surgical staples— San Jose resting helplessly to the south within reach of my havoc, close enough to choke the image of skyscrapers with my hands and somewhere in between the Presidio and Embarcadero, past plots of persimmons and St. Francis’s peaceful channel, not quite to the sand-sculpted mermaid wearing aviator glasses or the glorious St. Safeway straddling Buchannan and Laguna like a lapdancer— pleasure for my starving stomach, bandages for my bleeding heels certainly buried inside— people in Patagonias playing with overpriced puppies to my left Spanish-tiled, petit four palaces to my right, freezing fish-fouled breeze weaving with the fog rolling through to the east, I surrendered to this place and forgave you— five years earlier than I’d intended.
Sara Dailey THE SIGN, MISTRANSLATED, READ BECAUSE YOU ARE DANGEROUS, YOU MUST NOT ENTER In Neruda I learned to love the body as landscape, until I found your sedge of skin had overtaken mine, that I was nothing more than an ant lost amid its wayward green, seeking breath. If it is possible to be drowned by a body, to find self a ship, sinking it would explain how after your leaving, my tongue, marooned, a split-prowed, unsound vessel, could find no words left with which to shape the crevasse of your name or, ash-mouthed and emberless, to recall your last volcanoed taste.
Sara Dailey THE WINTER OF NO It was a winter of no. No poems , no snow, no baby, and so I put the photo in a book at the back of the closet because I didn’t know which of these to weep over anyway. The photo showed only a hazy oval, a mess of black and white making grey my insides taken the last day the heart beat, red, before running down my thighs. Was I to weep at the confused birds on the tree’s empty, skeletal limbs, the birds who hadn’t gone south, or the bear that wandered into the neighborhood to be shot by police? It should have been sleeping, curled in its cave, its body fat with flesh over bones, just sleeping, dreaming its great bear dreams, digesting them slowly, a sleep like honey, a molasses syrup of sleep, its great bear lungs pumping oxygen through its great bear blood. We should have woken in spring, not less, but more, woken and spilled, out of that darkness into the sharp and sudden bright.
Darren Demaree POEM FOR MY UNBORN THOMAS #63 Own the bridge if you can, the field & the lights that sink into, that is god or what I imagine god could be & with that, ownership of the field will always be in question. The bridge, there’s money in the bridge & the death that surrounds the water is eager only for your body’s pittance. The lesson of our land is to stay near the field, unless you are brave enough to answer the one question of the plow & the shoulder, the rights of the farmer & the issues of an untended black dirt. Shape the question to the length of your own legs, that’s what adults do.
Valparaiso 2, by Allison Doan
Tria Wood VASECTOMY DAY
in the office, Highlights, Texas Monthly, Car and Driver you disappear into the depths I crack the spine on a Marjane Satrapi on the radio, Peter and the Wolf dances in and out of consciousness, the same I had on vinyl; your doctor hums along across the state line, my cousin’s newborn blindfolded, bound to this world by wires and tubes waits for milk, shivers at the world in my father’s house, our son convulses with happiness to help make supper, splats an eager hand, spills the seasalt in our neighbor’s back yard a volcano has arisen, squealing bikinied teenagers spurt from its crater, slide its slopes, splash down on the couch, you refuse aspirin and ice watch The Full Monty, reach cautiously for the box of Girl Scout cookies on the ottoman
Lucas Pingel WHAT I WISHED FOR I tossed a quarter into your veins and made a wish. It was complicated. I brought a chart to show you exactly what I wanted, but you were struggling with growing pains that cut you right in half. Did you get any sleep last night, or did you give your devils heartburn? I think we are running out of time to dig this moat before the nasty stuff comesâ€”primitive droppings from another world. We were warned about predators. We found the last safe place in America flagged and colonized by sitcom punchlines. When I tell you that you should really get that thing looked at, a laugh track pelts our heads, staining our vision with dust. What can I do before our eardrums are flooded with yolk and cymbals? Where can we go now that our country has scrambled and seasoned?
Lucas Pingel THE THING ABOUT BABIES IS, THEREâ€™S A PLOT WORTH PAYING CLOSE ATTENTION TO. You can chain the choruses together using cereal and concrete if you like. Beware that these roads are deceptiveâ€”a tight corner can spin you around like a toy for baby Jesus. We once imagined that we would stay in a single place and bury our treasure. This is what our faces mean in the holiday photograph. Poorly executed beards somewhere in a river equals progress. When the spinning had stopped, our eyes were in our throats, and the baby kept sleeping. No one bothered to conceal the evidence, and we considered this taking ownership of our adult follies. Fields freeze too. This is why you are moving to a city. Think of the steam.
Will Robinson WHERE YOU END UP I was working at my uncle’s apartment building on Lexington as a super. In exchange for doing all the handy work, he gave me room and board. It seemed okay. I was just biding time, waiting around until my wife figured out whether or not my face was the first thing she wanted to see in the morning. The phone rang occasionally, though sometimes somebody would just show up at my door. The woman who banged at three o’clock one afternoon while I was washing my clothes in the sink I recognized from the elevator or taking her young daughter to the school bus stop. She was wearing faded jeans with a hole at the left knee and a man's T-shirt like a dress with no bra underneath. Her nipples were distinct, like two little soft raisins. “I got a leak in my bathroom ceiling,” she said. She lived in the apartment above me, which I only discovered after following upstairs. She led me into the bathroom. The leak had turned into a water bubble the size of a seven-month pregnant lady. “That's a leak all right,” I said, “just like you said there was.” She got me a step ladder and I pressed on it lightly. “Yep, pretty full.” “Can you fix it?” I hopped off the ladder. “First I'll need a bucket. Then I'm gonna have to rip out the drywall, repatch, sand—” “How long?” “How long?” “Yes, how long?” Her tone was nothing short of impatience. “A few days, I suppose.” I looked up again. “That thing's gonna pop like a zit,” I said, trying to make a joke. She was in her mid-thirties. Frizzy, uncombed hair like a lion’s mane. A small birthmark in the shape of Tennessee on her left cheek. She was prettier for it. Before I left, I said, “I don’t want your problem to become my problem.” She gave me the blankest look I'd ever seen, so I pointed to the floor. “I'm directly below you. Water doesn't stop until it reaches the lowest—” “Just fix it, okay?” *** Sandy needed something yet unknowable. We married young, tried to have a baby in our first year, but when she miscarried, she decided to go back to school instead of trying again. She enrolled herself at the local community college, working days at the kennel and then coming home briefly to eat before rushing out to her classes. It all seemed to be going okay. I liked taking on odd construction jobs here and there while selling a bit of pot on the side from a couple of plants I kept out on the balcony. That was until one night Sandy dropped a bombshell on me: she wasn't sure she wanted to stay married, but not sure she didn't. I said, “Why can't we try to figure that out together?” She agreed to try that for a bit, but I couldn't stop watching her every move. Finally she asked me if I would go to my parents for a while. And because I loved her, I did as she said. Some of her classes were psychology-based, and halfway through the semester she began to entertain notions of becoming a therapist. One night on the phone she said she couldn't
Will Robinson believe how much she was learning. “Yeah, like what?” “Well, for starters, maybe we weren’t attracted to each other for all the right reasons.” When I asked her to give me a wrong one, she said, “Basically, the common indifference our respective parents bestowed upon us stimulated a desire to seek out those of similar ilk. In this way we gained the love that was denied us growing up.” “Is that what your professor says?” “Neale, it's true.” “It’s psychobabble bullshit, is what it is.” Then she said, “I’m sorry.” “Of course you can say that. The one who has control can always say that.” “If we were together right now, you'd hate me.” “But you're gone, and I hate you just as much.” I didn’t mean it, of course, but before I could take it back her line went dead. *** The next morning I went upstairs with my tools to the apartment above the woman's, to Mr. Thompson's. I checked his bathroom and found the source of the problem: a loose toilet rubber seal. It turned every flush into a little pool of water dripping through the broken bathroom tile to the apartment below. I retrieved a new rubber seal from the basement and went upstairs to the man’s apartment. Then I went downstairs to the woman's directly below. No one was there, so I used my master key. I walked around a little. There was a picture on the bedside. A guy and her, both suited up in wet suits, water skis, sunshine, down in the Keys maybe. The guy was big. Football lineman big. There were photos of their young girl at Chucky Cheese, too. I went straight to the bathroom. I got a bucket and held it under the water bubble as I pricked the drywall. Water sluiced out, and I pulled off drippy painted slices. Afterward I was washing my hands in the tub when someone keyed the front door. When it opened, I yelled, “It's just the Super, fixing your ceiling.” I heard a man's voice get on the phone. I continued to carve out the drywall and break off a clean line. Finally he poked his head in. “You know what you're doing?” “I think so.” “Don't make it worse.” After I carved out the wet drywall, I went to Home Depot and got myself a 4'X8' piece of drywall. Loaded it up the freight elevator. When I got back, he wasn't there. So I took a break and smoked a joint out on the fire escape. Sitting outside I could hear Buster, Mrs. Evans dog, barking one flight up. Her cabinet drawers wouldn't close on account of the tracks falling off. She thought it was a five minute job, but I had to remove the dishwasher to get in there, then rebuild the detached wall. It's always more work than you think, I told her. She was a kind lady, but she couldn't hear. I had to yell and stomp my feet in the other room before I got within ten yards of her. No wonder that dog barked all the time. It was a mean little white thing, a Pomeranian or something. If I moved suddenly, he'd run over and nip me on the ankles. One day I asked her if she could put him in her study. “I'm sorry, I just don't think he likes me.” Generally she left me alone, off to do her food shopping or play bridge with her friends. And always the moment she'd leave the dog would start barking again. It barked back pissed off that I was ruining its freedom. At one point I couldn't take it any longer and yelled, “Shut the fuck up!”
Will Robinson *** The next day heading up to Mrs. Evans from the basement the elevator stopped on the first floor. The doors opened and there was the woman in the leaky apartment. Her hair was tamer, but she still had that look of hurriedness about her. We were riding up together when I blurted out, “Do you know who you look like?” Her face squeezed into this knot of tension. “Sandra Bullock,” I continued. “Anyone ever tell you that?” “Ah, yeah,” she sighed. “Only like a thousand times.” I waited as we passed the fourth floor. “You know, I got something to take the edge off.” “Edge?” she said, with an edge. “Oh,” I said, “so I guess this is your naturally charming personality?” She got off first. Then before the doors closed, she spun and gave me the one-finger salute. Later I got a knock on my door. “What do you got?” She didn't say it pleasantly, but I let her in anyway. She came in and looked around as I rolled one for her on the glass coffee table. I had an over-sized balcony and two cannabis plants growing among the ferns and ficus. She walked around, picked up a picture of Sandy and me, then put it back. “I like what you've done with the place.” It was an obvious joke. It was pretty barren. “It's temporary,” I said. She stood with her arms crossed over me. “Where you headed, to the White House?” She snickered at her own joke. “Something like that,” I replied. “You have a name?” She stood next to the tattered couch across from me. “Jackie,” she said. “Neale,” I offered back. Then I handed her this thick, perfectly rolled joint. “This one's mild.” She started digging into her jean pocket, but I put my hand up. “The first one is free.” *** In the morning I ran out to pick up some eggs and milk at the convenience store a block and a half away. As I waited in the check-out line, I heard someone calling my name. I turned around and three people behind me stood Jackie. “Wait for me,” she said. I sat on the curb until she came out. “I went looking for you this morning,” she said, as we started back to the building. “I'm gonna start on your ceiling after I pick up the supplies today,” I said. “Actually, I was looking to apologize, you know, for that finger gesture.” “Oh, well,” I said. “I've had worse.” “You were right, by the way,” she said. “About?” “It was mild. Very. Relaxed me for the night, and god knows I need it.” “Too much life?” I said, trying to be cute. “Just every moment of every day.”
Will Robinson We arrived at the apartment. “Maybe I'll swing by again later,” she said. “Get myself one before I pick up Amy.” I switched the plastic bag to my other hand. “Well, you can come up now,” then added, “No charge.” We went upstairs. “Take a seat on any one of my luxurious pieces of furniture,” I said, as I put the eggs and milk away. When I came back, she said, “Let me pay you.” “Nonsense,” I said. I got out my bag of leaves and papers, and sat down. “You know,” she said, still standing. “I'm not going to sleep with you.” I kind of laughed. “You sure do think a lot of yourself.” She then plopped on my couch while I pulled out a few seeds and leaves and one rolling paper and put it all on the table. “Besides,” I said, “I'm in love with my wife.” She glanced at the framed photograph she'd picked up the day before. “I take it that's her?” “Yep.” “Where is she?” “Confused,” I said. “Confused? How?” “She's taking some time to figure things out,” I said. “About us.” “How long?” “Five months so far.” “No,” she said. “How long have you been married?” “Three years.” “No offense,” she said, “but maybe it's better when you're young than when you're my age.” “You're not old,” I said. “Too old to grow up,” she said. She leaned forward to watch me roll up the paper and lick it. “Tom and I were high school sweethearts. We were each other’s first.” I handed the joint to her. “Thanks. Yeah, I know. Right out of fairy tale land. He's got his good side. But generally he's a shit.” “Everyone has a shitty side,” I said. “Well, I see that side more than any other. We fight all the time. Like cats and dogs. But we fought before. I just didn’t realize it.” She stood and put the joint in her pocket. “You must hear us going at it.” “Nope,” I said. “Really?” “No,” I said. “Not a once.” But that night, while lying in bed, I thought I did hear something. I couldn't make out the words, but it was something all right. It reminded me of Charlie Brown's teacher: Wa-wa-wa-wawa. I started to think of Sandy, then, in her classes. I should have clued in a bit a year before I packed up my things. Nothing I did bothered her, then nothing I did didn’t bother her. I fell in and out of sleep, anxious for morning to roll around so I could call her. She got it on the sixth ring. “Morning,” I said, cheerfully. “I can't talk.” “Why? Where you going?” “Where do you think?” “Okay. I'll call you after work then.”
Will Robinson “That’s not good. I have class.” “Well, what time do you finish?” “Neale.” “What?” When all I heard was silence, I repeated, “What? I can't schedule a time to talk to my wife?” Her heavy breath came through loud and clear for my benefit. “I’ll call you.” As I was about to hang up, she said, “Neale?” “Yeah?” “I love you. I hope you know that. But I need, you know, more time.” *** An hour later I was up in Mrs. Evan's apartment alone screwing in the tracks on the side panels. Buster was already in the study with the door closed, but that didn't stop his yapping. It seemed every time I told him to settle down, he'd do so for a minute before going crazy again. I glued the panels on, let them dry while I went downstairs to Jackie's place. She wasn't there, so I cut off a piece of drywall and screwed it up on the joists, then taped with a coat of joint cement. That night, I lay in my bed, but soon enough I started hearing the mumbled voices in her apartment. I also started making out some words. I found it easy once I started listening for it. *** Jackie started coming down pretty regularly. She'd take her daughter, Amy, to the bus stop for school around 8:30am, then wait for Tom to leave. Sometimes we smoked, sometimes we didn't. Sometimes we watched Oprah or The New Price Is Right and got so stoked one time we laughed our heads off at that little Danish yodeler climbing the mountain. I was taking my time with the work in her apartment. I had skimmed and sanded once, but I hadn't even bought the primer and paint yet. Sometimes I felt like the only good part of the day was waiting for her knock. She almost made me forget about Sandy. One afternoon she said, “If Tom knew I was down here so much he'd probably kill you. He'd think we're screwing each other.” “Would that annoy him?” “Yeah. But it's not because he loves me. It's because he'd think someone else might.” Then she said, “Everyone says you're supposed to follow your heart. But no one tells you that your heart can be wrong. No one tells you that it can want things that aren't good for you.” “Why don’t you just pick up and leave?” “People only leave when they got something else to leave for.” The comment made me think of Sandy, if she had a boyfriend. I'd asked her once at the beginning if that was true, but she said, “Why does there always have to be someone else? Why can't the problem between you and me be because of us?” The joint was down to the roach. I took it from her and pinched it between my fingers and smoked. After I exhaled, I said, “I hear you walking around.” “When?” “At night.” “How do you know it's not Tom?” “You guys have different walks.” “Different walks?” “You have a happy walk, a sad walk, a walk when you are pensive.” She looked at me funny, so I said, “When you're sad you walk on the balls of your feet. When you're happy, you're faster, lighter. Like you're walking on a cloud.” Her face softened in a way I hadn’t seen before.
Will Robinson She looked prettier than I’d ever thought. I said, “Tom has the same walk no matter what.” There was a silence, awkward this time. Then she said, “What's going on with you and Sandy?” “Nothing. She's not ready yet to make any decisions.” She sat up and said, “Neale?” “Yeah?” “How long are you going to wait?” I didn't answer her. I snuffed out the roach in the ashtray and said, “I gotta go.” “Where?” “To the basement.” She shot up. “I'll go with you.” We took the elevator down to the laundry room, and then turned behind it into another room no one was using. The room itself was cinder-blocked with no windows. I had put up a fine mesh screen to act as an air filter and plastic on the walls. I flicked on the light. A fluorescent black light. On the shelves were box-shaped pots everywhere filled with mulch and substrate. In the pots, I told her, were planted mushroom spores. She stayed silent for a second, then in a drawn-out voice, said, “Ohhhh.” “Sorry,” I answered her. “Just ordinary mushrooms.” She walked around a bit. “So let me get this straight. You sell marijuana and grow just regular old mushrooms?” “Yep.” “Something funny about that.” “Well, they're all different.” I then proceeded to show her shiitake, button and portobello. I told her one had to be careful because once they get fungi, it will infect the host and eventually kill it. I also explained that mushrooms are known for their role as the “recyclers” of the ecosystem in that they feed off dead organisms while returning vital nutrients to the soil. “Huh?” I said, “It means it doesn't take much to make things grow.” After I finished watering, we went back up the elevator together. I decided to head up straight to Mrs. Evans to finish her cabinets. We didn't say anything on the ride. When she got off her floor, she turned and gave me the finger again. But this time with a smile. *** That night I awoke to Jackie's voice. And I distinctly heard words this time: whore, bitch, asshole. I wondered if anyone else heard them, and if they did, were they sitting up in bed, waiting to hear a scream or a crash of some sort, before making their move. I put my jeans on and lay in bed just in case. I listened for a while. My hands grew clammy, anticipating something. But eventually things quieted down. Still, I slept in my jeans. The next morning I went up under the pretense of finishing the bathroom. I knocked, and after a few seconds, Tom came to the door. He pulled the door back abruptly, but only to stick a wedge of his face in the opening. “Not today,” he said. Then he closed the door. I didn't leave. I put my ear to the door. I wanted to hear Jackie's voice. My heart pounded, waiting to hear it. Then I heard Amy’s, then Jackie’s. She didn't sound in distress—and my heart settled down. I called Mrs. Evans and told her I’d like to work on her cabinets. She said she was just
Will Robinson out the door, but would put Buster in the other room. I went to get my tools and when I got to her apartment, he was already barking his head off. I started screwing in the tracks for the shelves when I began talking to him through the closed door. I needed to talk to somebody at that moment. So I filled him in on Sandy, the phone call the other day, and how my life was going neither backward nor forward for the time being, but I was convinced that she’d eventually come around so that we could reboot our life again. I also told him about the phone calls I'd been leaving for her, but she was probably deleting them without listening to the messages. As I talked to him through the closed door, I realized the more I talked, the more he calmed down, and didn’t bark. I got up off my knees and went to the door. I peeked in to find him sitting on the puckered leather couch. I turned and left the door open a crack and went back to the kitchen. Soon enough I heard the click, click, click of his nails over the wood floor. He sat there and watched me put the drawers in, tilting his head at me. I thought maybe we weren’t all that different, wanting a bit of attention, someone to hear us, and when we didn’t get it we acted out. I left the drawers open to let the glue dry, then I took the elevator to the basement. I went into the back room and gave some attention to the mushroom spores. I was moving some extra trays and was beginning to water the mushrooms with a watering can when the door pushed open behind me. With the light behind her, I could only see Jackie’s silhouette. I couldn’t see her face. She stood there for a few seconds. “Turn around,” she whispered. So I did. I turned and began to water again. She came up behind me. I felt her arms snake through mine and around my waist. I let her hug me, squeeze hard. So hard that I couldn't turn around. *** The next morning I went down to work on Jackie’s ceiling. I knocked again, but no one was there. So I used my keys and yelled out. “It's the Super.” No answer, so I went into the bathroom. I was in there no more than fifteen minutes when someone came home. It was Tom. I could tell by his footsteps. “It's just me,” I yelled out again. I heard him get on the phone. Then, “No, nothing.... she took all her clothes...yes, Amy, of course Amy. I don't know....no, that's what I'm fucking saying....note? No, there's no fucking note.” When he got off the phone, I came out of the bathroom and was going to tell him that I needed to get the can of latex paint. But the truth was I wanted to hear about Jackie. He was sitting at the kitchen table, a fingernail in his mouth, thinking. I wasn’t even sure if he felt me standing there. It didn’t matter, anyway. I realized he wasn't going to know anything. I knew more than he ever would. Instead of heading to the basement for the paint can I went to my apartment. I took off my tool belt and hung it on the hook by the front door. I then went to the fridge and took out a beer. I twisted the cap and sat down at my kitchen table. Son of a gun, I thought to myself. I didn't know what was going to happen, if Sandy was going to come back. Maybe she would, if I just gave her some more time. If she didn’t, what would I do? Where would I go? For this I didn’t have any answers. But I knew then that sometimes a person has got to make a decision before he’s ready to make it. I drank my beer. I took my time. Then I went back upstairs and into the bathroom. At some point Tom walked by on his way to the bedroom, but turned back and said, “Aren’t you fucking done yet?” “Today,” I said. “It will be finished today.”
On Your Left, by Jesus Delgado
Phil Rodenbeck TERRA CODA 1. So it has come to this: done with college, a job in Florida, leaving this place where the brick walls are ripe as cherries. Someone ate the fruit and left you the pit in which you found your own richness to build your body and your face and I would guess, as well, your spirit. Dear God, you have every color of brick in your face and every shade of brick that has ever been faded to blushes in you when the sun breaks down the street called Wabash. This name meaning “water over white stones” you pixilated brick by brick into something more ruddy and black— this riverbed is dry of souls. 2. Do you know that baking powder pads my bones? There is no such thing as a self-made man. Even the hermit must thank others for leaving him alone. The fact that I am here means the Wabash must run through my veins. I could not be here if it wasn’t so. It is no coincidence that my bones are as white as limestone. The fact that I am leaving means I owe you. 3. Everywhere I go I just see ghosts. The cicada of this town has left for lower ground leaving us the shells of shops: quilt shops and barber shops and junk shops turned to junk like an aging house bears the nails of last resort— a dumb name jagged in vermillion over the whitewash oak board and a talisman hung in neon light: Open your soul to the future beyond the immediate creel of ghost bugs.
Phil Rodenbeck 4. Dear Terre Haute, I am nervous I am the madman walking into the sun of the palm-rife boulevard with a gun to threaten the trees to a death I choose but I am the only one getting red in the face. I am nervous about these foaming horses and the beaches of Troy. The sound of the sea is too constant not like the sound of a train at midnight whose tone depends on ice, and heat, and load. When I see the tan woman raking her hand through the sand I see each finger: a peninsula wrapped over white stone. 5. Dear Terre Haute, Went to Palm Beach. Leaving you. Leaving the ghost. The moneymakers and the meth-heads donâ€™t care about the girls around the old Red-Light who just want something better or faker that could move the soul through this water which is not what Max Ehrmannâ€™s ghost saw in the Wabash: white fish in blue water. The ghost built brick by brick cannot pixilate the colors of your face I see when I see my face seeing the ghost in your stomach. When I see my soul adrift in blue water I see my soul returning to myself.
J. Kirk Maynard CRUISE CONTROL What I know is a town’s white and sober-grey, the painted gazebo’s latticework fading— one truth turns the corner before the next truth drives by. I keep the oncoming traffic to my left, accelerate to forward, crossroads become avenues become lanes become a pump jack in sagebrush, a single farmhouse and silo, everywhere an urging for direction : VISIT BET Y’S STOP’N’GO EXIT 6 GENT’S PAIR-A-DICE 5 MI WEST EXIT 28. The dead ends wake with a cuckoo in the nest. What I know is why my foot hovers over the brake, what I can feel for : a gravel driveway, an old oak, my initials carved in the old oak’s bark insisting its roots are mine, love is not fake water, the family vans will be waving : they will say— Off you go, Sainte-Terrer—! The prairies and mountains worshipping the long day. How does a leaf rustle without a wind?
I worship too.
Israel Wasserstein TOURING TOPEKA, KANSAS The Frito-Lay plant hunches over Topeka Boulevard like a great cat tensed, or some days pulls itself compact before the gray prairie sky (to see it breathe is to accept personification). Today it disgorges smoke, industrial stench that burrows in your clothes. Mud and snow blend across the Boulevard. Private trucks, contractors, plow the streets or leave them buried. The capitol dome shakes open the sky as men like bees scale its scaffolding. At the crest, the bronze Indian eternally readies his bow. Union workers chant slogansâ€” the State proclaims itself right-to-work. Two blocks from here the bodies of immigrants amongst the squalor. Their boss had confiscated their green cards. The city tore down the old mental hospital, hauled away asbestos and bars for the windows. Gravestones remain, in flat white rows overlooking the Kansas River, where ice cuts wounds across the water. An easy walk from there to Westboro. The church proclaims GOD HATES FAGS and flies an inverted American Flag over an eight-foot fence. The parishioners pace busy sidewalks with neon signs proclaiming THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS and AMERICA IS DOOMED (four-year-olds holding signs and Reverend Phelps searching for his next lawsuit). And here, look, the pine we planted in memory of my brother, in the backyard of our old house. No plaque adorns it. Through the chain-link in the corner of the yard, it grows.
Joseph Pascucci The Baseball Game Time is how it passes. Like a nightingale in a sandbox, or a pony in the desert. Like an ocean in an oil well, I am the reaper of mutated offspring. My calendar says it's March, but I say it’s April. It’s raining, and there’s a billy goat eating my favorite roses.
Alyse Knorr ALICE IN BROTHERLAND When I was young I thought my brother’s name was “Own.” His whole life, Owen hated the water. And this was before Rose drowned. Our mother spent her whole life thinking she’d bred this fear by forcing him to swim lessons at the Y, but Owen denied this. He’d just mutter something about wet hair and that’d be it. But no matter how he came by it, you’d see him on every vacation at the beach pacing the shore, scrawny and narrow-eyed behind his hair, shoulders hunched like a witch mid-vision.
Alyse Knorr ALICE IN FATHERLAND After Rose drowned, our father took up bowling, not drinking. Our mother didn’t care about all the nights he spent away in alleys. She’d read about the health benefits of bowling in AARP Magazine: the calories burned, tendons and ligaments stretched—not to mention the psychosocial benefits. He was a cranker with a mean hook ball, took me and Owen out for ice cream after his first perfect game. Etc.
Barrio Quinta Normal, by Allison Doan
Tasha Cotter DRINKING THE GALAXY AT THE VENUS CASTLE ICE CREAM SHOP I am sitting with her in the Venus Castle Ice Cream Shop Listening as she unlaces the tether to my father. I try to concentrate On what she’s telling me, but that’s impossible because I’m watching Her shiny silver spoon. This spoon reminds me of the night sky. To me, it is the most perfect spoon. So perfect, in fact, that I wonder If this spoon came with a china set on someone’s wedding day. It is an expensive piece of flatware and nothing at all like the one I was handed to go with my hot fudge sundae. A constellation Of clonazepam is beside my mother and her big dipper spoon. I thought the inside of this place would be blue. It’s also worth noting That the edge of this table is not really an edge, it is curved slightly. I suppose this is to protect your skull from banging into it. I’m now thinking of how awful it would be for anyone to bash their head On a sharply-edged table. I look into my glass bowl and everything has collapsed. What I see is a formless, vanilla sugar mess. It sort of resembles the Milky Way With the sprinkles dug in like melting stars, the swirl of matter. This is my galaxy. It happened when I wasn’t looking. I know enough to recognize what’s in front of me Will still taste like the memory of a hot fudge sundae even though it looks nothing like What I had wanted. I set my unremarkable spoon aside and pick the bowl up. I watch her swallow pills. I drink the galaxy and try to locate an edge.
j/j hastain FROM WE FORCE-EFFECT THE OUBLIETTE The decay of he, of the father, was somehow farther and so easier to attend to. The open basement door. The way too much gale would come in through it. There was no sure way for me to turn that flabbergast into grammar. No way to turn its sensations into assets or fortitudes. Boi was cutting all of the extremes away from the rose bushes. Is a bloom an extreme? Is a bruise? Is a dream? Maxima was being handed each snipped extravagance. Boi expected Maxima to translate. Maximaâ€™s body gleamed quietly. Maxima complied with the need for some things that were from before and beautiful to be altered.
Ed Makowski REFRAIN After accidentally noticing the scent of a passing stranger's shampoo I feel invasive The elevator door opening empty to a ghost bouquet of perfume and makeup One time my coworker discovered a pool of bloody ulcer vomit behind the dumpster. “Come here,” he said, “this is unbelievable.” We agreed the odor was remarkable in the extent of awfulness, so putrid, it was new echelon of bad and we both felt lucky for the experience The other day I was in a store and that really popular anthem song was playing on the stereo system -You know the one, that song where everyone in room sings the refrain, some even arm in arm in arm and when I took breath to join I was stung by the pain of memory from not singing like an under-stretched; now torn hamstring in my throat. Why is it the part we repeat is called refrain?
Ed Makowski ORGASMATRON Wrists and hands sore after manually inducing hysterical paroxysm in female patients suffering â€œmale hysteriaâ€? Dr. George Taylor invented a steam powered chain drive device called the Manipulator So necessary was the vibrating dildo, the only electrical devices invented prior were the tea kettle, the toaster, sewing machine and circulating fan Soon after the vacuum cleaner and electric iron and that party was over
Untitled, by Allison Doan
Liz Drayer WATER BILL “Three thousand habitable planets in the known universe, and I’m stuck on the only one without water,” I said, surveying the desolate landscape that surrounded us. “Leave it to the incompetents at DIM to screw up the resettlement.” Lars, my colleague at Endtimes Online till we’d been blasted into space twenty-three hours earlier, shielded his eyes from the swirling sand. “Could be worse. They could have shipped you to Activa with the nuclear waste. You’d be glowing by now.” “Like I’d be so much worse off? Unless we find water we’re totally screwed.” Lars dismissed me with a wave. “Always the wet blanket.” “Lars, Lars, Lars. What do you think, some cosmic savior will swoop in and proclaim ‘let there be H2O?’ There’s an excellent chance we’ll all be dead by the end of the month.” “Twelve hours ago your biggest problem was how to get laid once we got here, remember? Enough with the gloom and doom already.” Despite the small matter of survival on this poor excuse for a planet, getting laid was still job one as far as I was concerned. I hadn’t been with a woman in months, and the situation had come to a head, so to speak. Worse, the field of potential partners had narrowed dramatically, since only a fraction of Earth females would resettle on Aquanet. Odds were I’d be renewing my Penthouse subscription and stocking up on hand cream, if I didn’t die a slow agonizing death first. Isaiah, our mission commander, poked his head out the door of the shuttle, sweat beading on his skin. “I inventoried the food and liquids. There’s water for two more weeks if we limit ourselves to eight ounces a day.” I groaned. “Fifty-six ounces a week? I could suck down that much Old Style in one afternoon watching the Cubs get their butts kicked.” “Until we find a water source we’ll have to conserve,” said Isaiah. We lined up to collect our rations, grumbling and kicking sand like four-year-olds. “Two ounces four times a day—that’s my plan,” said Lars, always the conservative, if you didn’t count numbers of sex partners. I collected my eight ounces and chugged it, feeling refreshed for the first time since we’d left Earth for this celestial sauna. Lars and I found a patch of shade in the shuttle’s shadow and stretched out on the sand. I lit up a Lucky Strike, but before I could take the first drag Midori leaned out the hatch. “This ship won’t unload itself, slackers. Mush mush.” Isaiah’s second-in-command stood barely five feet tall but had a bark like a rabid Pekingese. I stamped out my cigarette and we followed her to the rear of the spacecraft, where Isaiah was guiding a sand cruiser down a long ramp. “Hold up!” shouted Midori. She hopped onto the ramp to examine the cruiser’s left front tire. Even her scrawny rear end looked good to me now. “One of you girls toss me that jack, would you?” Lars complied, scowling. Isaiah, still perched on the cruiser, spat in the sand. “Freaking dust bowl. But look at that sky,” he said, pointing at dark gray clouds above us. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Strange, the terrascan showed no surface water on Aquanet. What happened here when it rained? Did the water evaporate before it hit the sand? Midori tightened the last lug nut and jumped down from the ramp. Isaiah drove the cruiser onto the sand. “So what’s the plan now,” I asked, “a rain dance?” Before they could answer a sudden gust lifted Midori off the ground and flung her into a huge dune. She struggled to her feet, swearing and brushing sand from her bulky clothes. I reached out my hand to help her up but she waved me away.
Liz Drayer Isaiah shrugged. “We’ll assemble the habitation modules and hope for a downpour.” We set to work while more shuttles docked, unloading new settlers and equipment. At sundown I crawled into my module, exhausted and parched. I tossed in the sleep pod, cursing my exile to this cosmic armpit. Bad enough the Brotherhood had wrecked planet Earth, pumping toxins into the water and air till we were drowning in chemical soup, forcing the human race to seek shelter in neighboring galaxies. Now I’d been shipped one hundred thousand light years to some spaceball, dry as Death Valley in August and twice as hot. Not that I was surprised to end up on one of the “new frontiers,” as DIM called them. You needed connections, the high-level kind, to get space on a planet that was already colonized. The slick ads DIM ran when they announced the resettlement guaranteed planet assignments would be random. What a joke! Like anyone doubted the First Secretary and her three husbands would be on the first shuttle to Alpha Chihuly, with its sparkling resorts and lavish buffets featuring twenty-five pound lombara imported from Zamoor. The rest of us had the jet packs on our backs and whatever we salvaged from the meltdown to start our lives over on planets unknown, hoping some black hole wouldn’t suck us into oblivion before we reached our destination. Sleep came at last, and I dreamed of Perrier bottles stretching for miles, shimmering in the steamy haze, until my alarm jolted me awake at 06:00. I wandered down to the street and joined the line of Aquanetters filing into the sensatorium, which provided a three hundred-sixty degree view of the desolation that surrounded us. Isaiah mounted the podium and the crowd quieted. “I’m sending four manned cruisers to search for any life form, any mineral, that we can trade with another planet for water.” Isaiah punched some buttons on the podium’s control panel and through the windows we saw the cruisers ride off into the sandstorm. “What if they don’t find anything?” someone asked, the question on everyone’s mind. “The terrascan showed high levels of zyrene, alluvium, and other elements. They’ll find something; the question is, can we trade it for water?” Isaiah divided us into work units and assigned me to his team outfitting the rejuvenation module. When I reached the honeycomb-like structure Isaiah was arranging rows of botox vials on a long table, his thick lips pressed into a tight line. It was Isaiah who’d rallied the Aquanet contingent, pumped us up for the mission. We were new age pioneers, he’d said, we’d build a new world that was better and smarter, not make the deadly mistakes that destroyed Earth. His kinetic buzz was contagious and we drew up a constitution and held elections, naive enough to think we’d not just survive but thrive on some distant dot in the universe about which we knew nothing. Isaiah activated the robotic sweep to suck up the construction debris. “We should have heard from the cruisers by now,” he said. “How did this place end up on DIM’s habitable list anyway?” “It’s not the first time some low-level galaxy tech misclassified a new world,” said Isaiah. I’d never heard him sound bitter, and it rattled me. “So this whole mission is one big intergalactic typo?” Isaiah didn’t bother to answer but slid open a door in the robotic sweep’s midsection, yanked out the sac of compressed waste and tossed it in the recycle bin. He shut the lights, locked the door, and we headed to our modules for the night. The next morning Aquanetters packed the plexiglass pews of the sensatorium, anxious for news of the cruisers. Isaiah mounted the podium and looked out over the crowd. His eyes
Liz Drayer lacked their usual gleam, like one of his halogens had burned out. “Still no word from the cruisers,” he said. A teenage boy in the first row popped to his feet. “Maybe they fell off the edge of the planet.” The crowd tittered, though this was not out of the question. A flat planet —one more crucial detail about our new home DIM had neglected to mention? We queued up for rations, arguing and jostling. On Earth we’d done all our business on the grid, including nutrition maintenance; being forced to wait in lines was almost insulting. Midori poked her head out of the medical module. “Knock it off or you’re all on the next flight back to Earth.” We hushed and lined up one behind the other. None of us doubted Midori would make good on her threat. There was nowhere near enough fuel for a return trip to Earth, and no one wanted to spend eternity drifting in oblivion. At 12:00, with the temperature pushing one hundred ten, two cruisers appeared on the horizon. Isaiah ran out to meet them. “Irradium mines, acres of them, fifteen miles due south,” Milos shouted as he climbed from his vehicle. I ran to join the crowd forming around the cruisers. RC, Aquanet’s resident hairdresser, twirled his finger in the air. “Irradium? Big whoop. “You can’t drink it or wash with it.” He’d been orgasmic about his monopoly on the planet’s salon business till he’d realized he couldn’t shampoo or do color. Midori rolled her eyes. “You’re so old school. Get a cranial vacuum like everyone else in the world.” Isaiah held up a big hand. “This is good news. Irradium kills bacteria in the food supply. It’s like gold on the interplanet market. We can trade it for all the water we need.” That turned out to be, well, not exactly true. Engineers rushed to assemble extraction and processing modules, and in no time were churning out two hundred gallons of irradium every hour. Trade, though, was another matter. The price of water had shot up since the mass migration began, and the small quantities we could buy were reserved for medical emergencies. Two weeks later we were still thirsty as ever. At the next planet assembly RC asked the question on everyone’s mind. “So the irradium thing was a bust. What now?” Isaiah grinned, white teeth gleaming in his black face. “I have good news. Astrid Nine has agreed to sell us wine, and Anheuser Busch just finished colonizing Inebria Minor, so we’ll have all the beer we can drink. We can substitute booze for water.” Booze for water? The assembly erupted in debate. Was this wise, could it work? There were plenty of naysayers, but in the end no one offered a better plan, so for the next month we bathed in Bud Light, hosed the family cruiser with Chardonnay. But alcohol couldn’t wash sweat out of our clothes, and not even perfumes from Denitra could mask our own rancid smell. Productivity plummeted; drunk cruising and spouse-beating were rampant. “My sex life is over,” I said to Isaiah over nightcaps at the Watering Hole, Aquanet’s only dance club. “At least on Earth I had hygiene on my side.” “Forget your dick for five minutes. I need your help. The meteorologists say a huge storm is coming. We have to install platforms on every roof module so people can ride out the flood. It’s a two-person job, but everyone’s drunk or hung over. We’re bigger than most of these guys and alcohol doesn’t affect us so much. We can build those platforms before the storm comes if we start tomorrow.” I snorted. “Are you kidding? It’s never going to rain here. Those weathermen don’t have a clue. They look out the window and tell you it’s snowing when white flakes fall from the sky, call it science.” “We need to prepare for the flood,” Isaiah insisted. “Are you in or out?”
Liz Drayer “Yeah, yeah, see you tomorrow.” The next morning my alarm woke me at 06:00. The thermometer registered ninety-five degrees Farenheit pre-dawn. Let Isaiah find some other slob to slave in the blazing sun, I thought, hit the snooze button and fell back to sleep. The next day was even hotter; Isaiah hadn’t called Friday after I bailed on him, so I figured he must have found someone else to help him. I strolled down to the pool module and shot a few rounds with Lars, showing off for the blonde twins sipping cocktails at the bar. Two hours later I left with their phone numbers tucked in my pocket. The day was starting out fine. Isaiah pulled up to the curb in his cruiser. “What happened to you yesterday?” he asked, looking more worried than mad. I shrugged. “Did you get the platforms up?” “Hell no. I told you it’s a two-person job. I was counting on you. If the flood comes….” I turned and hurried down the street. I had more important things to worry about, like which twin to take out that night. The next morning my module bell chimed. I pushed “enter” on the control panel and the door rose, revealing shapely female legs and a body to match. A wave of lust surged through me. “Can I help you?” I said, wishing I wasn’t still wearing a bathrobe at 11:00. “I’m Jennifer. From the block.” She raked long fingers through her long hair. “Mo.” I held out my hand, hoping it didn’t feel clammy like the rest of me. “I’m baking a cake and ran out of sugar. Do you have any?” I grinned. This was so twentieth century. “Kitchen’s this way,” I said, and swaggered down the hall. Jennifer was the first female to penetrate my module since we’d landed. My heart beat wildly. I poured some sugar into a Ziploc. “I could use some help with the cake,” Jennifer said. “Maybe you could cream the butter.” I swallowed hard and followed her the few hundred yards to her module. “Live here by yourself?” I asked, noting the single sleeping bag tossed in a corner. She nodded. “My roommate just moved out.” Yes! I couldn’t believe my first cosmic hookup would be this easy. Or was Jennifer a mirage brought on by alcohol and heat stroke? Jennifer ran a finger down the front of my robe. Thunder rumbled in the distance. “We could use a rainstorm,” she said. I pulled her toward me and heard the sound of rain on sand. It grew louder and I looked out the portal. Water poured down in sheets. My gut clenched. Was this the storm Isaiah had predicted? “Rain! C’mon.” Jennifer pulled me out the door. Aquanetters filled the streets, shouting and jumping in puddles like children. In minutes the water had risen to our knees. “It’s getting deep,” Jennifer said. The water continued to rise and the rain showed no sign of stopping. Soon the street had become a river, and celebration morphed into panic as people were swept off their feet. I grabbed Jennifer and swam towards City Hall, the highest point in Aquanet, and lifted her onto the building’s wide terrace. “Run to the roof,” I shouted. I plucked two thrashing toddlers from the white water and handed them up to her. “Where are you going?” she yelled. I spotted three boys pinned between an uprooted tree and the wall of the medical module. I dove into the foam and under the tree’s mammoth trunk, which lay horizontal. I mounted the trunk and it wobbled under my weight, but I held on long enough to lift each boy onto the walkway, then fell back into the water. I clung to a large branch to avoid being swept downstream.
Liz Drayer A woman drifted by on some floating debris, a whirlpool swirling around her. “I can’t swim!” she yelled before disappearing beneath the surface. I swam towards the spot where she’d gone down, a sharp pain stinging my ribcage. I spotted her polka dot top under the murky water, grabbed her around the middle and lifted her high. She gagged and spit. “Hold on,” I yelled and swam for City Hall, dragging her by the shirttail. When we reached the structure I heaved the woman up onto the terrace. Something hard slammed my skull, and I sucked an ocean up my nose. When I awoke, I was flat on my back on dry ground. Midori’s lidless eyes peered into mine. “Lucky you didn’t drown, slacker.” I coughed up a quart of water and struggled to my feet. I looked down at the river surging below the raised walkway. A familiar black head bobbed in the foam. “Isaiah!” I yelled. In a moment Midori had scaled the railing, but I pulled her down and set her on the ground. I dove into the water and reached Isaiah in a few strokes. “Hold onto my shirt,” I shouted. He opened his mouth but before he could answer the water pulled him under. I grabbed his utility belt and dragged him towards City Hall and managed to hoist his dead weight onto the terrace. I climbed up, the pain in my ribs chipping like a pick. Isaiah’s face had turned blue. I sealed my mouth over his, forced air into his lungs and pushed down on his chest. “Breathe, damn you! Isaiah!” Jennifer appeared beside me, held two fingers to Isaiah’s neck and shook her head. I slammed my forehead into the concrete. Blood gushed from my nostrils. Jennifer ripped a sleeve from her shirt and held it to my mangled nose. “You rescued six people,” she said. “You couldn’t save everyone.” How many would have survived if there’d been platforms on every rooftop? I wondered, knowing the question would haunt me the rest of my life. I leaned over the terrace railing, sure I was going to vomit. Moments later I felt warmth on my back. The sun. The rain had stopped, as suddenly as it had begun. I lifted my head; the nausea subsided. I climbed to the top of City Hall and looked down at the carnage that littered the sands of Aquanet.
Marc Pietrzykowski THE POLE STAR She, my wife, is on all fours crying and scooping turds and clumps of piss from the cat box. Then she's sitting on her knees, Japanese style. Still crying. We had a fight, barely a fight, a squall, the work week nearly crushed her and so, and so. Her sister is sick and won't say how, there's plastic in the water, and god would still hate us all were he more than 1/13 alive. The cats run to the box when they hear it being cleaned. The runt doesn't, but her mom and brother and the hooker's cat all appear and mill around, waiting to be first to dip their toes in new litter. I can't get her up to stop her crying. I'm tired and dumb so I leave her there, go upstairs,
Marc Pietrzykowski wait for her to come and tell me it's over now, we can still make sparkle the air between us. And she does, and we are on a ship and the oars are creaking steady, what is below deck I cannot say. I am poor at knots. She is fine at knot-tying, at navigation once a port is invented; the sea, of course, is barren, nothing but life teems there, a bulging can ripe with botulism. It heaves itself skyward, the sea, leaves the rot to settle, surfs gusts over the deck, salts and tans our skin. Thus are we marked, and preserved.
Jill Khoury CATHEDRAL We sat on the porch for an hour even when a perfect ball of lightning floated down to touch the wooden railing and disappeared—our boyfriends inside, teacher and student, both with guitars. My stepdad touches me, Nixi said. He’s been touching me for years. I picked arcs of paint from under my nails, flicked them into the hedge. I turn seventeen today, she said. My name means ‘evil pixie.’ One hand raked through short bleached hair. Her tiny form in the cave of the boyfriend’s sweatshirt, Huntingdon Prep. My mom don’t believe me. No one else knows. Only eight years divided us. I, first year teacher, lost my students once: museum field trip, towering sarcophagi. A guard stared into me like he knew. I thought I’m not worthy to be anyone’s guide. You don’t have to go back. These words caught in the pink of my throat. You can stay here. She brushed off her jeans and made as if to stand. No, that’s okay. My train leaves tomorrow. My mom will be upset. We banged the screen door on the way in. The two boys looked up. Nixi is seventeen today, I said. We collected candles from the mantels and corners, lit them all so the room became a cathedral.
Extracto de Esencia, by Claudia Hernรกndez
Tyler Bigney CHURCH Jack and coke all down my chest, danced in worn out shoes, danced a ring of fire, danced till the lights turned on, and then stumbled home, and slept till the light broke like yolk through my living room window. A gentler reminder of the need for curtains. The world aglow, my heart a lone cricket. Church, first thing, in the pew next to a stranger. The veins in his tendons bulging, threatening to burst into a Sea. The Red Sea. We spend our whole lives waiting. I don’t want to spend my life begging for forgiveness. I stand when they stand, clasp my hands, touch a finger to my heart, listening to the organ, the music reaching the roof, smudging the stained glass. Everything working the way it should, my hands, my heart, my lungs—in and out— my deluging grief—distanced from everything.
Tyler Bigney INDIAN SUMMER We pushed the bed against the wall under the window and stripped down to t-shirts, sweating, listening to the TV—sounds of gunfire in Libya, “Freedom” screamed in a language we couldn’t understand. Flat broke, we boiled noodles, soaked them in cheap butter. Spent our money double fisting rum and cokes at a strip club the night before. You said, “I know you fall in love with everyone, but don’t fall in love with them.” But then I did. Whiskey sick, eyeing a murder of crows flock from tree to power line, breathing out our mouths, wringing our hands, & praying for a cool breeze
Jameson Stewart PARTLY CLOUDY WITH A 30% CHANCE OF CHAMPAGNE Sometimes at night, For no reason I will get up from my chair Walk to the closet, Open it, take off my robe And put on: A pair of slacks A nice dress shirt A tie My cashmere scarf My cashmere jacket And my Aldo shoes Spray some J'adore Get into the Pontiac (2006) And drive to the grocery store. I walk the aisles Up and down Up and down Up and down My heels clack different emotions With each step The drunken metronome of life Eventually I make my way to the exit Happy about the wine, cheese, bread And cat food in my grocery bag. When I get home I carefully put away The bread and the cheese, open the wine Feed the cats, then undress: First the jacket, then the scarf The tie, the shirt, the shoes, And finally the slacks Returning to the robe and the chair I can still hear the clacking of my heels As I light a cigarette, Ignoring the phone as it rings and sings And regret not using my coupon To purchase name brand love At two dollars off
Amanda Phillips REGIMEN a good secret can work wonders for your complexion if applied immediately upon waking there’s no point in brushing your hair or changing your shirt secrets allow a certain careless grace try stretching out stomach to mattress while listening to his shower run close your eyes and make like a cat elongate neck and spine toes point until legs twitch file your nails on sheets that match his walls go get a solitary latte at noon lap foam from your cup’s rim lick your finger before you turn each page in that magazine you aren't reading secrets are hearty so you probably won’t be hungry take your freed up time and explore his neighborhood spring down streets with rows of storefront windows: tea sandwich wine shops sustainable coffee table books art you can’t afford but could easily consume enjoy your hips your hips as they reflect over tableaus of gentrified bounty secret spreading shiny down the length of both arms which are suddenly lovely glistening white when your cheeks grow tired from grinning at his neighbors and their little dogs
Amanda Phillips take the secret home get it in the bathtub and rub it in really work it into a thick cream lather until the water goes lukewarm and you rise up gasping
Andrew Cusick GOODNIGHT, TRAVEL WELL Jess died in January. A 17-year old boy got drunk and took his Dad’s Ford Escape out for a spin into the eastern part of Los Angeles. Jess was on her way home from a meeting in Palm Springs when the kid swerved into the opposite lane and careened into the Range Rover she was driving. The crash cut her spine in half and punctured her liver with one of the nine broken ribs. The kid wasn’t hurt. Fifty-four hours later she died. She’d been a girlfriend of mine for a time. We’d lasted four or so years during college and we’d held it together through the first year or so after we’d graduated. At school she was in my freshmen Philosophy 101 class and I remember staring at her from across the auditorium for the better part of the second semester. She was tall, black-haired, soft spoken, and pretty in almost every way. I remember asking my friend Eric her name just so I could hear it said aloud. The following autumn I spotted her across the basement at one of the parties my fraternity was having. Two days later I took her to dinner at a mediocre sushi restaurant in central Pennsylvania. Two weeks after that we were dating. We split the April following our senior year, about 11 months since we’d graduated. We’d moved into separate apartments in New York City and started different jobs, and it had worked for a few months but then it took its toll on us. I was living on Greenwich Avenue and commuting into Jersey City as a copywriter for an educational publishing company. She was living on Delancey and Essex and was a publicity assistant at Dimension Films on East Houston. The first few months were fine—Tuesday movie nights, Thursday wine nights, weekend gatherings with college friends. After that it sort of just fell apart. In December she started mentioning other people. Do you ever think about someone else? This question grew into a kind of emotional abscess and our relationship began to crumble. Our movie nights became exercises in pitiful desperation and our wine nights were excuses to get drunk and sit quietly and try not to cry. During the final ugly weeks she and I would just sit on opposite ends of the couch and wait for it to be late enough to justify going to sleep. Around the middle of April she told me it was over. After the break-up it took Jess three months to move to Los Angeles and take a job at the Dimension office in Century City. I landed a position as an associate copywriter at a social media company called Magdalena in Morristown, NJ. I moved out of New York and bought a small studio in Mendham, about fifteen minutes down the road from work. The city had become too much—too many memories and too much noise and too few people I cared about. Over time I found a few new friends, no one quite like the ones I’d made when I’d been younger. Time moved along and Jess and I drifted apart. We wrote each other a few simple Facebook messages. When she got promoted to associate publicist I texted her congratulations and she sent a Thanks back with a smiley emoticon. When she moved in with this guy Karl in L.A. and he proposed to her, I wrote her a long, drunken message about how happy I was. Later that night I wandered in circles around the studio, guitar strapped to my chest, drinking the rest of the Bushmill’s and playing the Jacques Le Cont remix of “Mr. Brightside” over and over again. I made myself a peanut butter sandwich for dinner and watched YouTube videos that had made me laugh when I’d been younger. Then I emailed a few remaining friends from college and asked them how they were doing and hit refresh a few times and stared at the screen, waiting. I thought about them mapping out their futures and the way that people faded into the scenery of the world and then I cried a little, fell asleep. The years came and went. I went about my life and my job. Jess trickled away and eventually she just became another girl that I’d known at some point, another person I’d dated,
Andrew Cusick another friend I’d lost. We stayed in touch via Christmas cards and emails. I married this girl Sandra from work and we had a son named Benjamin. We made it work for a few years. We bought a nice house in Randolph. Sandra was a second-grade schoolteacher and I’d been promoted to Director of Public Relations at Magdalena. I got fairly good at being a family man at about the same time I got fairly good at abusive drinking. I polished off anywhere between six and twelve Miller Lite cans a night, maybe half a handle of Svedka or Seagram’s, a couple of fingers of Clonozepan, whatever happened to be around. At that time the reasons for the drinking weren’t clear to me. I never linked the liquor to the anxiety attacks, the depression, the fear I felt each time I watched my son kick a soccer ball or stared at my wife as she was sleeping. I held it together at work but my family life fell apart. Sandra kicked me out of the house when the addiction became intolerable. Ben’s fourth birthday was a complete blackout—that might have been the breaking point. I’d spent the entire party by the pool, drinking from a bottle of Tanqueray, not talking to anyone. I tried my best to stay in touch with my son but Sandra got full custody based on my behavior. I tried rehab for a bit but it wasn’t for me, and since I was alone, I fell back into habits. I knew no one could call me an alcoholic because no one was watching. Sandra found a job in central Pennsylvania, a town outside of Harrisburg. She packed up the house and left. After that everything just seemed to get worse. My son grew older through Facebook statuses and PhotoShelter collections and Twitter hashtags. I saw his first day in kindergarten, his transition into middle school, the beginning of his freshmen year in high school all through some form of social media. My professional life took over. I made more and more money. I looked better and better. I still felt like shit. I met a few women and tried to fill the void but the most they lasted was about six months. Do you think we’ll do this forever? I’d asked Jess, however long ago. We will. I promise we will. Karl called me the day after Jess had died. I’d never talked to the man before, so his introduction was jarring. I was at work. I sat at the desk for awhile, my fingers still on the keyboard, trying to draft an email to my son for what felt like the hundredth time, twirling a silver locket Jess had given me twenty years before. Karl told me how much he knew Jess had cared about me even after all this time had passed. He said they’d be scattering her ashes in Monterey. I coughed up the money and took the three days vacation and went to California. I don’t remember the flight too well. I got pretty numb on whatever bad vodka United Airlines was offering at that point. I dozed off into a couple of dreams and tried my best to make the flight seem as short as possible. Karl picked me up at LAX and introduced himself. He looked fat and unkempt and I felt bad for him as he sweated his way through the terminal, uncomfortably asking me about work and verbally dodging the elephant in the room by doing his best to be friendly. Karl worked in real estate. I couldn’t imagine him trolling around Sunset Boulevard, trying to sell glam and glittery houses to pearly-toothed mock-celebrities while ignoring the corpse lingering in his brain. We grabbed my luggage and didn’t talk much. Then we left the airport. “So, uhh…how are you?” he asked on the car ride home, sucking on a large Coke. We’d stopped at McDonald’s and he’d ordered a chicken club, large, with large fries, and an apple pie, and the extra-large Coke that was in his hand. “I’m okay,” I said, head down, “how are you doing?” He nodded and made a noisy sucking sound with the straw. “I’m okay, you know,” he paused, “just okay, I guess.” He hesitated, caught himself. “Having a hard time explaining things, you know? To the kids.” He looked the other way quickly. “Do you have any?” he said.
Andrew Cusick “Kids?” “Yeah.” “I’ve got a son.” “What’s his name?” “Ben. His name’s Ben.” “Good guy?” “We don’t talk much anymore.” “Sorry to hear.” A beat. “So, thanks for coming out here,” he said. “I know Jess,” stopped himself, “she would have just appreciated it. I know it’s been awhile but she thought about you.” “I wasn’t even sure why you called.” “She would have wanted it that way.” The palm trees passed by. “Did she ever talk about me?” “Yeah,” Karl said quietly, “sometimes.” “It must be strange.” “What must be?” “Picking me up at the airport. You don’t even know me.” Karl paused. “It’s good to know she had people who cared about her.” “Where’s her family?” “They’re going to meet us in Monterey.” I didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry for all of this,” I mumbled. “You don’t have to be sorry,” he said. When we got to his house, a three-story in the hills overlooking the entire spectrum of Los Angeles, Karl introduced me to the kids. Anna, the oldest, was red-haired, pretty, and small. She carried herself like Jess but looked more like her father in the face. Tyler heavily resembled his mother—black hair, brown eyes, tall. The youngest, Elisa, was upstairs sleeping. I almost asked Karl if anyone else was coming but remembered he already told me—I was hoping for company and now I felt even more awkward. At night Karl grilled us some dinner and I volunteered to help out. I poured myself a vodka tonic, snuck to the bathroom to finish it, poured myself a second drink, chugged it while Karl emptied out the leftover marinade, poured myself a third, and followed him outside. The sun was setting over the city and the light all around the backyard was orange and bright, beautiful and brutal and blinding. It was more than a little odd cooking tilapia with the guy who married your ex. I’d never met the man before that day. I wasn’t even sure what I was doing there in the first place—was I really that lonely? Had Jess actually talked about me? It all seemed so bizarre. I felt out of place and desperately uncomfortable. I kept grilling though. We didn’t speak much. He offered me a Marlboro—I took it. He asked me about my life—harmless questions. We didn’t really bring anything up that couldn’t be swatted out of the conversation within a few seconds. Mostly we just stayed quiet. I picked up the IPhone at one point and stared at Ben’s number. I punched in the first few letters of Hey kiddo and then stopped myself when I realized how many times I’d started that same message before. Sandra watched over him most of the time. She told me he was a nice kid. She said he was a little fat and didn’t get along with the rest of the kids and needed a father figure. She said I wasn’t that guy though. I told her that I could move out to Harrisburg and find a job and live close enough so Ben could see me but she reminded me that I was an alcoholic and a depressive and not really worthy of parenthood. My son was becoming a non-entity.
Andrew Cusick After I’d made up an excuse for why the tilapia had the texture of sawdust, we sat down at the dinner table, the family plus mom’s ex. Tyler brought up the question that I’m sure had been on the family’s mind. “You were Mom’s boyfriend?” I took a bite of the fish and started on my fourth vodka tonic. “Yeah,” I said, “I was.” “How long did you date?” he asked. “Almost made it three years. Back when we were twenty or so.” “Yeah?” he said. “It was nice. Your mother,” I said, “was nice.” I enunciated as deliberately as I could. “What was she like when she was younger?” Tyler asked. “She…” I paused for a moment. I accidentally clinked my booze glass against the plate. Tyler eyed me patiently. “I don’t know,” I said, “she was smart. Funny. Capable.” “Did you talk to her after you guys split?” he asked. I shook my head. “Not with any kind of frequency.” “Why not?” he asked. “You’re very curious,” I said. “You have someone as a mother, you don’t ever really get to know them, right?” “Well you won’t find out from a college boyfriend either.” Anna leaned forward. “I don’t think what’s what she considered you,” she said. “I just mean…you weren’t that forgettable to her. Otherwise it’d be pretty bizarre—you being here and all.” She forced a smile, trying to make me feel comfortable. Tyler nodded. “She mentioned you a few times.” “Yeah?” I said. He put the fork down and stared at his plate. He hadn’t taken a bite. “She’d talk about you like, randomly and stuff,” he said into the plate, “said you were a cool guy.” I hesitated. “Oh,” I said. “Just thought I’d tell you.” I smiled faintly. “Thanks.” Anna turned to me. “Do you have any kids?” “Yeah, I have a son,” I said. “What’s his name?” she asked. “Ben.” “How old?” “Sixteen, no fifteen,” I hesitated. October 10th? “I had Ben ten years after your mother and I split. I think.” “You think?” Anna asked, in that same kind of are-you-serious tone that her mother used to give me. “I don’t see him that much,” I said gently. She went back to her food. Elisa turned to her father. “Where do you think Mom is now?” Anna faced her. “Don’t ask that.” “It’s okay,” their father said. “She can ask.” “Where is she?” Elisa asked again. “I really don’t know,” Karl said back. “Somewhere nice,” Anna said. “How do you know?” Elisa asked.
Andrew Cusick “Because if she isn’t somewhere better than the whole thing is pretty fucking pointless, right?” Tyler said. “Tyler, don’t use that language,” Karl said. Tyler turned to his sister. “Mom’s not gone. You just can’t see her. You understand? She’s right here next to you. You just don’t know it.” “Can she see me?” Elisa asked. “Yeah, she can see you.” “Okay.” Jess and I had the same conversation years before. Her uncle had just died and she’d just come back from the funeral. I think it had been our junior year of college. I don’t think it’s over, she’d said. What do you mean? I don’t think he’s gone. Maybe. I guess I’d like to believe if you love someone enough they never really die. I helped do the dishes after dinner. Tyler stopped me as I was going to the bathroom and said “thanks for coming” once more. After he left I shut the bathroom door, leaned against the wall and cried for awhile. I cleaned myself up and came outside and found Karl standing on the deck staring at Los Angeles. “Want a cigar?” he asked. “Yeah.” We stepped outside. “I haven’t had an adult to talk to in awhile,” he said, lighting up what looked like a pretty cheap pharmacy-grade Philly and handing it to me. He pulled one out for himself. “You and Jess have friends around here?” “We did. You get older. You raise a family. Friends sort of become second tier.” “I wouldn’t know,” I muttered. He paused, took a drag. We kept quiet for awhile and watched the city glowing in the distance. “How do you talk to the kids about Jess?” “I just try my best.” “I’d have a hard time,” I said. “I have a hard time as it is.” “Talking to your son?” “Yeah. It’s fucking impossible. His mother…” I stopped myself. Karl didn’t speak for a few seconds. Eventually he pulled out a familiar looking locket from his pocket. “What’s this?” he asked. It was the same locket Jess had given me, the same one I was twirling around my fingers when Karl had called to tell me she had died. We had bought each other matching sets. “A gift,” I said. He waited. “Jess gave it to me years ago. We were twenty or so.” He opened it and looked inside at the writing. He didn’t show the writing to me. I presumed he knew that I had remembered it by heart. “I never quite understood it,” he said. “Is that why you let me come out here? To ask me about a locket?” “No, I never lied. I knew Jess cared about you. You deserved to be here for the service. It’s just bizarre getting in arguments with your wife on and off for fifteen years and having her pull out some locket you’d never heard of each time she got upset.” “She would do that?”
Andrew Cusick “Yeah.” “And she never explained it?” “No.” “It was just a stupid gift. I got it for her our senior year.” A pause. “She didn’t seem to think it was stupid,” Karl said softly. A few moments passed. I pulled out the same locket from my pocket and opened it and gave it to Karl. He read the message aloud. “It’s a single sentence in two lockets. You can’t have one without the other,” I said. Karl kept his head down. “I see.” “It’s only a locket,” I said. “I know,” he said. “If you want me to go, I understand,” I said. “I don’t want you to go. Jess wouldn’t want it that way.” “Okay.” He turned to me. “And that’s what’s important I suppose. What she would have wanted.” He hesitated. “Christ, I miss her.” I felt selfish and stupid for even bringing Ben up and I was surprised that Karl had been so eager to ask me about something as simple as some inscribed trinket. After awhile Karl patted me on the shoulder and walked inside. I sat out in their backyard and stared out at the city. I thought about dying. There was a blue mist coming over L.A. and it settled over the yellow lights in front of me, everything quiet and buzzing and whispered. My IPhone started humming in my pocket and I could hear the sounds of bats moving through the night. I checked the phone anxiously. A text from my boss asking me about an ad proposal that was due Wednesday. I put the phone back in my pocket, disappointed. The conversation in my mind took place many years before that at a restaurant in Palm Springs called Felicidad. I was on a business trip and I’d emailed Jess and asked her if she wanted to grab dinner, and we met up at this tiny Mexican place that overlooked the rocks and the dust and the desert. The sun was red and fire-like in the distance and the heat was fading quickly into a chilly breeze. Jess and Karl were set to get married soon. They’d already had the kids though, because despite social norms, Jess was always petrified of the word marriage. It meant something to her beyond commitment and love and such—it was a sign of doom to come, the same doom that had slaughtered her family’s wellbeing almost gleefully. When we met for dinner, it’d been a couple of months after I’d gotten separated from Sandra and I’d gotten hammered for about two weeks straight and I was hoping I could hide the stench from Jess. She was confused to see me at the bar when she stepped in and when she asked me how long I’d been there, I lied and said just for one drink, even if it’d actually been about three margaritas and a shot of Cuervo. I knew I reeked of tequila but she didn’t mention it. At the dinner table I was trying not to cry, trying to sit up straight, trying to look sober. “Are you alright, Jack?” she asked. I nodded. “Yeah,” I said, “I’m fine I guess.” I looked around at the restaurant and tried to think of something dumb to say. “Pretty place, Jess. Really nice.” She looked down. “Yeah, it is.” The waiter came over and I awkwardly tried to order her a Bacardi cranberry. She interrupted me and ordered a Corona instead. Her tastes had changed. I asked for a Cuervo Gold on the rocks and a glass of water and then I started playing with the fork. “How are you doing?” she asked.
Andrew Cusick “I’m okay. Just,” I paused, “trying to get through.” “How’s your son?” “He’s good. He’s you know,” I stopped myself, “young. So he doesn’t take too much time for me anymore. But that’s natural. I think that’s really natural, so I’m just going to wait for it to pass,” I said. “Should pass soon,” I added. “And your wife?” I started rotating the utensil around my fingers and I smiled. Then the smile went away. “Well, you know,” I said. “We got a divorce. Not officially or anything but,” I waited for a reaction, got nothing too dramatic, “it should be happening soon.” Jess looked in the other direction. “Sorry to hear that.” “Yeah,” I whispered. “Me too.” “Listen,” she started, and then she looked down at her lap and didn’t continue. “Go on,” I said. “I just, I don’t know, I hope you’re doing okay. That’s what I’m getting at,” she said. The waiter came over and put the tequila down. I grabbed it quickly and took a gulp. I watched Jess take her drink and thank the waiter and hesitate before actually taking a sip and I felt terrible. “Hey,” I said too loudly, “how are the kids, Jess?” “They’re really good. Tyler’s just getting into soccer. Elisa’s learning ballet. Anna is doing really well in school. She’s smart, Jack. Really, she’s just so smart sometimes I just don’t understand where she got it from.” “And your husband-to-be?” I asked. “Please…” she said. “I’m serious, how is he?” She took a sip from her drink, and with some of the alcohol still garbling in her mouth, said “he’s fine.” “You know I hate seeing you sometimes,” I said. “I know.” “I do. I hate it.” “Please just stop.” “We had plans, Jess. We had our lives mapped out.” Jess took another sip. She pulled out the locket from her purse and looked inside. “Plans don’t always work out.” I pulled out the matching locket from my jeans and put it on the table. “They could’ve. I know they could’ve.” “Just stop. No more. Just don’t bring it up. Let’s just get this fucking thing over with.” “Okay.” “It was a terrible idea in the first place. A terrible idea.” We fell quiet again. The whole thing was over quickly. Everything hurt. I managed to make her laugh once at a bad joke I told her and that hurt the worst. I remembered when I was younger and how hard I tried just to hear the sound of her laughing. When the waiter asked if we wanted dessert we both said “no thank you” at the same time. I had a flash of us at some café on Greenwich Avenue twenty–some years ago drinking cappuccino and smoking cheap cigars and waiting for a storm to pass outside. You’ll make a good mother someday Jess, I’d said. You think? I know. You’ll make a good father then. Deal?
Andrew Cusick Deal. We paid the check. After the dinner I walked her outside and helped get her coat on. The valet pulled the car around and I heard the sound of thunder clapping in the distance. “Goodbye, Jess,” I said, leaning in for the hug. The breeze came in and cut between us. She wrapped her arms around me cautiously. “I’m sure I’ll see you again,” she replied, holding on to me before pulling back. I watched her take the XL-450 into the night and then after she had faded entirely into the horizon I turned to the valet guy and said “I’m ready now.” The sky turned from pink to dark blue and the rain began to fall. That was the last time I saw her. It was the day of Jess’s service now. The ride up to Monterey was pretty non-eventful. It was awkward sitting in the back-seat in between the two girls, sweating profusely and trying not to talk too much. Tyler was in the front seat listening to music. At one point he turned to me and asked me if I wanted to listen, and when he was facing me the sun flashed across his face and I saw something like a reflection and I wondered what it would have been like if he had been mine. I picked up my phone and looked at Ben’s number and put it back into my pocket. As we were driving I was thinking about why Jess and I had fallen in love in the first place. We weren’t too much alike initially—I was shy, she was loud, I preferred movies like Dead Alive, she preferred movies like You’ve Got Mail, I liked chicken, she liked steak, I liked the Yankees, she liked the Mets. For whatever reason we agreed on music, specifically The Killers. We saw them three times live, each in a different phase of our relationship. The last concert was in the month before we broke up and I don’t even remember it I got so drunk. Jess came from a family with every level of unhappiness in it. Her Dad was an absentee ballot, an analyst at Chemical Bank before they dissolved, and when he wasn’t mailed off, he’d be condemning various social inequities and paying little attention to anything not involving quantifiable statistics. Her mother, nice as she was, was a distant part-time-pharmacist who seemed to be fairly oblivious to just about everything besides the numbing benefits of California merlot and Percocet. Her sister Jane joined the Peace Corps at 22 and fell out of touch from there. My family was just as cracked out. My father worked most of the day in southern Connecticut and he and I were very much like strangers. My mother worked as a bank-teller and she spent most of her time at brunches and banquets and other various representations of pretty bullshit that doesn’t really matter. My sister Christine was an avid ballet dancer with a nasty eating disorder, and that brutal insecurity ultimately carried over into her three divorces and two estranged children. My brother Jeremy was just a problem. He had been arrested four times before he was sixteen and now he was in jail riding a fourteen-year assault and robbery charge. When I was watching her kids in the car on the five-hour ride to Monterey, how all of them sort of didn’t say anything despite the ghost of their mother hovering in the back seat, how there was this weird, comfortable silence in the car, how Tyler made a joke to Anna about how shitty the Dodgers were and how she laughed, how Karl told Tyler to turn up the radio when a particular song came on (When You Were Young), and how grateful Tyler seemed for this, how when Elisa started to cry her sister leaned behind me and whispered something comforting to her, and how even though everything seemed tenuous and ever-so-fragile at that point, there was some idea floating around that everyone was going to be okay. When I saw all of these things I finally understood why Jess and I had ever connected in the first place. I knew that everything in that car, all that comfortable grief and pain, were the very things both of us never had, and always wanted.
Andrew Cusick I realized how lost and lonely people find each other, and the comfort they find in being alone together. I realized how, for those of us who’ve never had a family worth mentioning, never truly had a home to go back to, the people that we choose to let in become those things for us. And I realized that, if you’re smart enough, these people can give you hope, and faith, even if you’re too young to know it at the time. Around three o’ clock in the afternoon, after I’d said hello to all of Jess’s family, and after they’d told me how glad they were that I came, we scattered Jess’s ashes into the Pacific. Her husband began to cry. Tyler came up behind him and put his arm on the older man, tears soaking the boy’s cheeks as well, and then the rest of the family formed a circle around them, and for a moment, the only thing you could hear was the sound of the waves splashing against the jetty and the quiet, muffled tears of a group of wounded people doing their best to survive. I took the red-eye home from San Jose later that day. I said goodbye to the entire group, after a dinner on the Bay. I wished them all the best, and then I went back. I drafted up a few notes on the IPhone on the plane ride back—things to say to my son, things I’d always wanted to share, feelings I’d been stupid enough to ignore. When I stepped off the plane, the weather was bitter and windy and cold, and I had to shield my eyes as I moved across the tarmac. It took about an hour to locate my bags at customs, and it felt like the routine was starting over again, and that if baggage claim was a sign, life would fix itself again here soon enough. The limo driver, who I knew very well, who knew how often I asked him to drive me around aimlessly on the company card, who seemed to actually see how truly drained and tired I was, inquired almost timidly, “where are we going sir?” “Just take me home, please,” I replied. It was around six in the morning when I got back to the apartment. I’d already taken work off that day, and the sun hadn’t yet fully risen, so it felt almost like dusk in the apartment. I wandered around for awhile, turned on a few lights, turned off a few lights. I picked up the Taylor and strummed a few notes from “All These Things That I’ve Done” and thought about what was going to happen next. I made the guess that Ben was sleeping and wouldn’t hear anything. I went to Contacts and pressed Send because I didn’t know his number by heart. The phone rang and rang. The voicemail was on automatic one—a machine, a quick notification. I didn’t even hear his voice— just the sound of some robot telling me to leave a name and number. “Hey Ben, it’s Dad.” I stopped myself. My voice caught in my throat. “Just would really like to hear your voice. I just want you to know I’m here. Call me if you want,” I paused, “I love you very much.” I hung up. There was a good chance he wouldn’t call. His mother might even berate me later in the day and tell me what a terrible person I was for contacting him. But he was my son, and he wasn’t lost. On the dresser by the bed there was a photo album lying out from when I was younger, and when I set the phone down on it I opened it to see what was inside. I’d taken the album out the day before I’d left for the funeral and never really gotten the courage to open it up. Most of the photos in the front were of college friends—most of them gone, some dead, some just out of touch. At the back of the photo album, there was a picture of Jess, and she was standing on the edge of a lake, with her hair wet and slicked back and her body tan from standing out in the heat. She was smiling. We’d taken a weekend in our senior year to go to a resort in central PA on the Susquehanna. We’d fished, grilled, smoked pot, drank wine. We had given each other those lockets then, sort of as a guarantee we would never drift apart. Inside the lockets there was half of a single message. My half read: Life is not a journey, and her half read:
Andrew Cusick worth making alone. We’d said it to each other multiple times the year after as our relationship disintegrated. By the end it’d become a sad reminder that there had once been something between us, and that all good relationships eventually come to an end. That weekend though, that resort, those were the last memories I had of her in a totally Zen state of mind—before everything came apart. She was alive then. She was young and she was alive. We can’t do this forever, Jess. I know. Only for a little while. Just a little while longer. And what about after that? I’d asked. We go home. No, I mean, after this year. I don’t know. We live. Are we gonna’ make it? Most people don’t, she’d said sadly. I know. Doesn’t mean we can’t try. A few tears ran down my cheeks. I put my hand on the photograph and everything came rushing back to me. I imagined the full measure of her existence. In my head I saw a movie of everything that had transpired in her life, and everything that I hoped had come true. I saw a day at the end of July so many years ago, a pregnant wife rushing into the hospital, her husband beside her, the fear lighting up in both their eyes, the rush as the doctor pulled back his hands and showed them Jess for the first time, the new parents taking the child home, giving the girl her first bath, watching as she started to walk and talk, the first time she said “Mommy” and “Daddy,” Jess smiling back at me, cradling a Nestle chocolate bar in her hand, sitting outside in a snowstorm, gloves and jacket and hat on, pointing towards the sky, asking me to follow her, traveling to school as a young girl, and the way that the sun lit up her face in September, her figure dangling from the monkey bars, her shadow chasing images in the sand and the sound of the summer splashing gently on the shore, the progression of time and the way her hair must have fallen down her back, and how softly she grew into age and beauty, against the backdrop of her family as it withered away, her father’s inconsolable rage and her mother’s numbed indifference, her sister drifting into political causes and protests, anything to stamp away the pain, the ceaseless days Jess spent waiting for some dream to rescue her, the doubt that filled her mind at every chilly dinner table, every broken glass and splintered doorframe and yelling match that ended in pain and hatred and the brutal scars that families can leave on their children, and then I saw her leaving for college in late August, the sun setting behind her as she quietly waved goodbye and drove away into autumn, and those first days at school, those initial moments of freedom and relief and most importantly—the day that she saw me standing across the party, the way that time slowed down as she crawled through the drunks and the losers to ask me my name, and how scared I was at that time and how quiet her voice was when she spoke, and the conversation we later had lying in the football field in early May after a lightning storm had passed, and the way the grass felt against our backs, wet and cool, our eyes watching the stars silently and wondering if somewhere else, someone else was staring at the same night sky, whether our loneliness was shared by others and how comforting it would be if it was, and then the camera flashed again and I saw us cradled in bed together somewhere around five in the morning, waiting for the day to come as October cracked in through the open window, and how our conversations drifted ever so slowly towards our secret hearts, how quietly we’d discovered that bond that we shared, the emptiness and sadness of the lives that we’d left behind, the promises that we’d fill in these gaps for each other, that we’d heal each other, that somehow we’d find something better than what we’d been born into, and the
Andrew Cusick camera panned out to me, watching her leave for the summer, waving good-bye, and the walks to the Town Tavern and Zelda’s café and the Susquehanna Mall and the boozing and the sugar and the cigarettes and the tequila and the phone calls and the temptations and the anticipation, and how I used to count the days until she would come home so I could watch her sleep again, and the sound of her breathing next to me, sleepily awaiting the next move, and then the movie flashed to the first fight we ever had, the screaming matches that ensued in the months afterwards, and how my hand running through her hair became a sad gesture, how quietly our lives folded in on themselves, and the ugly rift that formed between our hearts, and the conversations that plunged into staring matches, and the comfortable silence that shifted into unbearable emptiness, and the pain that comes from hurting the people we let in, and the way we used to sit in bed and promise each other it’d never happen again, and the horror of being young and unaware and trying to wander through the wreckage of a world that’s wholly indifferent to any and all suffering, and then the camera flashed forward one more time, and I saw her with her husband and her children, and I saw the fulfillment in her eyes, and the knowledge that she’d finally exorcised her demons as best she could, that she’d finally done the thing she’d always wanted to do, the thing that had been eating at her since she could remember, the thing that she thought was impossible: she’d made the family whole again. And then I imagine her smiling, falling into the Pacific, waving to me as she crashed into the ocean, whispering in my ear “we’re all going to be okay,” and then, just as quickly as it had began, the movie stopped, and the track faded to black, and then it was me again, back in the studio, back by myself. When I had opened the album, a bunch of random photos fell out besides the shot of Jess: me with my arms around a few friends from college, me drinking Yuengling at the Bull Run Inn with an old professor of mine, me painting a house in the dead of summer with my friend Eric, both of us pointing at the camera, inadvertently acknowledging contentment. He was dead too now—a heart attack at age thirty-nine. He’d joined the ranks of so many people like Jess that had died the last ten years. People whose names I hadn’t heard for a long time. People whose names I’d almost forgotten. The lost phone numbers, the misplaced email addresses, the illnesses, the suicide, the car wreck—all of my friends had just disappeared. When my son called me later that day all I could think about was Jess and everyone else who had gone in the last few years: not how much it hurt that they were no longer with me, but how it seemed like the dead were the only ones capable of pushing anyone to live, that the mourning and the regret and the guilt and the sadness were inevitable, that the love of those we keep close to our chest is something that isn’t possible to put into words, however desperately we may try. But, to whomever I’ve lost, here is my attempt: to my friend, wherever you are, I hope that you found what you were looking for. As I’m lying here, I’ll tell you, as honestly as I can, goodnight, travel well, may your adventures be safe and sound. If you can see me, know that I am thinking of you, always. I hope you know this with all of your heart, and if you don’t, I hope that this is evidence enough. Remember, you can always come find me, at any time, in your heart, and in the quiet, lonely hospital where we nurse our memories back to health, and there you can find the one message that you’ve been looking for, that all of us have been looking for: that you were loved, and you always will be loved.
Untitled 5, by Allison Doan
#24-25 Contributors Ken Arnold calls himself a "re-emerging poet," having published poems decades ago in The American Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest, the Southern Review, and many other little magazines. In the intervening years, he worked as a book publisher and for a time as a playwright (author of a play cited in Best Plays of 1983). He has published three books in spirituality. Now writing poetry most of the time, he is re-entering the market with poems published or forthcoming in A Baker's Dozen, The Barefoot Review, Big River Review, and Palooka. Andrea Beltran lives in El Paso, Texas and moonlights as a poet. Her poems have recently appeared in Pyrta, caesura, and Flashquake. She's the web editor for Referential Magazine and blogs about poetry and writing at http://andreakristen.blogspot.com. Mary Biddinger is the author of the poetry collections Prairie Fever (Steel Toe Books, 2007), Saint Monica (Black Lawrence Press, 2011), O Holy Insurgency (Black Lawrence Press, 2012), and A Sunny Place with Adequate Water (Black Lawrence Press, 2014). She is also coeditor of The Monkey and the Wrench: Essays into Contemporary Poetics (U Akron Press, 2011). Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Barrelhouse, Bat City Review, Blackbird, Crab Orchard Review, Forklift, Ohio, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, Redivider, and Quarterly West, among others. She teaches literature and poetry writing at The University of Akron, where she edits Barn Owl Review, the Akron Series in Poetry, and the Akron Series in Contemporary Poetics. Tyler Bigney lives in Nova Scotia, Canada. He writes poems, and true, embarrassing stories about himself, which you can read for free at www.tylerbigney.com Kristene Brown is a MFA student at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has previously been published, or has work forthcoming, in anderbo.com, Birmingham Arts Journal, Forge, Swink, Westward Quarterly, and many others. She is also a psychiatric social worker for the state of Kansas. Jamie Brunson is a poet, memoirist, award-winning African American playwright, named a “New Voice in American Theatre” by the Edward Albee Theatre Conference and executive director of First Person Arts, a non-profit dedicated to transforming real life stories into memoir and documentary art. Her poetry has been published by Blushing Moon Press in the anthology, Cape Henlopen Poets 2010, with a forward by Delaware Poet Laureate JoAnn Balingit and The Broadkill Review – A Literary Journal. Her plays have been performed at: the Kitchen Theatre, NYC; New Freedom Theatre, PA; the Harlem Theatre Company, NYC; Walnut Street Theatre Second Stage, PA; Karamu House, OH, Providence Black Repertory Company, RI and Abingdon Theatre, NYC. Her playwriting awards and honors include: a Panelist Choice Award at the Edward Albee Conference for her Blues drama, RED, WHITE & BLUEs and Chesterfield Film Company Fellowship Semi-Finalist. Ms. Brunson holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and a BA from Temple University. Tasha Cotter's work has recently appeared in or is forthcoming in Booth, Everyday Genius, Contrary Magazine, and elsewhere. Her fiction was recently nominated for a storySouth Million
Writers award, and her poetry has been nominated for Best of the Net Anthology 2011. You can find her online at www.tashacotter.com. Andrew Cusick lives in Matawan, New Jersey and spends his days teaching at his old high school. When he isn't writing, he's eating, drinking, sleeping, going to the beach, or working out. He's been published by the Bucknell University Press, Underground Voices, and Blood Lotus. "Goodnight, Travel Well" was a Top-25 Finalist in the August 2011 Glimmer Train Contest for New Writers. Andrew is currently writing his first novel, but he may just go to sleep instead. Rock and roll. Sara Dailey has a B.S. in Writing from Mankato State, a M.A. in English from the University of St. Thomas, and a M.F.A. from Hamline University. Her poems and essays have appeared in journals such as Ascent, Cimarron Review, The Bitter Oleander, Whiskey Island Magazine, and FragLit, among others. In 2009 she won the Shadow Poetry chapbook competition for her manuscript The Science of Want, which was also a finalist for the Flume Press prize. Her fulllength collection, Earlier Lives, is due out in 2013. She works as a teacher and editor in St. Paul. Jesus Delgado is a Regional Bandsman for the United States Air Force Band of Flight in Dayton, Ohio. Over the last few years he's developed an interest in digital photography and strives to reflect an organic and personal feel in the images he creates. You can find him on google+ Darren Demareeâ€™s poems have appeared, or are scheduled to appear in numerous magazines/journals, including the South Carolina Review, Meridian, The Louisville Review, Cottonwood, The Tribeca Poetry Review, and Whiskey Island. Recently, Freshwater Poetry Journal and Blue Stem have each nominated him for a Pushcart Prize. His first full collection of poetry, tentatively entitled As We Refer To Our Bodies is forthcoming from 8th House Publishing House this fall. He is currently living and writing in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and daughter. Allison Doan is a translator and English teacher who lives in Santiago, Chile. She has been published in Temple Universityâ€™s Hyphen and she works with a magazine in Santiago called Revista Revolver. She also recently won the Arboretum Photo Contest. Liz Drayer is an attorney in Clearwater, Florida, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. Her writing has appeared in the St. Petersburg Times, Orlando Sentinel, Foliate Oak, Construction, Coe Review, Helix and other publications. Tiffany Grayson is a recent graduate of the University of Northern Iowa with a Master's degree in English. When she's not writing poetry or tweeting she is usually cheering on one of her beloved Detroit sports teams. This is her first published work. Ellen Hagan is a writer, performer, and educator. Her poetry and essays have appeared in literary journals, magazines, and anthologies, including her most recent publications in: Spaces Between Us: Third World Press, and She Walks in Beauty: Hyperion, edited by Caroline Kennedy. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2004, and 2008. She has received grants from The Kentucky Governor's School for the Arts, The Kentucky Foundation for Women, and held residencies at The Hopscotch House and Louisiana ArtWorks. Ellen holds a MFA in Fiction from The New School University in New York. A proud Kentucky writer, she is member of the Affrilachian Poets, Conjwomen, and co-founder of the girlstory
collective. Crowned, her debut collection of poems was published by Sawyer House Press in 2010. http://www.ellenhagan.com j/j hastain is the author of several cross-genre books including long past the presence of common (Say it with Stones Press) and trans-genre book libertine monk (Scrambler Press). j/j has poetry, prose, reviews, articles, mini-essays and mixed genre work published in many places online and in print. Claudia D. Hernández is a self-taught photographer from the city of Los Angeles. Claudia is currently an MFA student at Antioch University Los Angeles. She writes, illustrates, and manually binds children’s books. Her photography, poetry, and short stories have been published in The Indigenous Sovereignty Issue of The Peak,Hinchas de Poesía, Chicana in the Midst, Poets Responding to SB1070, La Bloga’s on-line Floricanto,KUIKATL ~ A XicanIndio Literary and Arts Journal, nineteen-sixty-nine an Ethnic Studies Journal, Along the River II Anthology and in the first anthology of Colectivo Verso Activo. She has had numerous photography exhibits throughout California, including: “The Waiting Compendium” at the South Gate Art Gallery, South Gate, CA; “Renuncia” at El Sereno Gallery, El Sereno, CA; “Renuncia” at Corazón del Pueblo, Boyle Heights, CA; “Concrete Reality” at the Play House, Long Beach, CA; “Concrete Reality” at Art on the Vine showcase at Mari’s Wine Bar, Downey, CA; “My Chapina Roots” at the YogArt Show, Whittier, CA; “Capturing Life” for Operation Smile fundraiser at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA), Long Beach, CA; "Frontera: De mi lado" photography exhibit for Proyecto Esperanza fundraiser at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA), Long Beach, CA; and “The Rhythm of Landscape” at the Sun Rise Poetry Series, San Francisco’s Mission District, Ca. On March 2012, Claudia took part in the5 th Annual ‘Día de la Mujer' exhibition in San Ysidro, Ca. Katherine L. Holmes's poetry and short stories have appeared in more than 50 journals, most recently in The Adirondack Review, Existere, The Straddler, and streetcake. Her short story collection, Curiosity Killed the Sphinx and Other Stories, was released in May from Hollywood Books International. More information is at her website: http://home.earthlink.net/~klouholmes/ Tom Holmes is the editor of Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose and the author of six collections of poetry. His writings about wine, poetry book reviews, and poetry can be found at his blog, The Line Break: http://thelinebreak.wordpress.com/. Rich Ives has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Artist Trust, Seattle Arts Commission and the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines for his work in poetry, fiction, editing, publishing, translation and photography. His writing has appeared in Verse, North American Review, Massachusetts Review, Northwest Review, Quarterly West, Iowa Review, Poetry Northwest, Virginia Quarterly Review, Fiction Daily and many more. He is the 2009 winner of the Francis Locke Memorial Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander. His story collection, The Balloon Containing the Water Containing the Narrative Begins Leaking, was one of five finalists for the 2009 Starcherone Innovative Fiction Prize. In 2010 he has been a finalist in fiction at Black Warrior Review and Mississippi Review and in poetry at Mississippi Review. In both 2011 and 2012 he is again a finalist in poetry at Mississippi Review, as well as receiving a nomination for The Best of the Web and two nominations for both the Pushcart Prize and The Best of the Net. He is the 2012 winner of the Creative Nonfiction Prize from Thin Air magazine. The Spring 2011 Bitter Oleander contains a feature including an interview and 18 of his hybrid works.
Jill Khoury earned her Masters of Fine Arts from The Ohio State University. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals, including Sentence, MiPOesias, Menacing Hedge, and Harpur Palate. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize twice by Breath and Shadow: A Journal of Disability Culture and Literature, and has a chapbook, Borrowed Bodies (Pudding House Press). She blogs about poetry, disability, and art at quixotic-a.blogspot.com. Alyse Knorr is currently the poetry editor of So to Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language and Art, based out of George Mason University, where she is pursuing her MFA in poetry and teaching undergraduate English. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in RHINO, Salamander, The Minnesota Review, elimae, Moria, Dark Sky Magazine, and others. Cardigan sweater enthusiast and avid shower singer Sara Leavens is currently entering her first semester in the MFA program at the University of Kansas. Her work has appeared previously in the North American Review. David Dodd Lee is the author of eight books of poems, including The Coldest Winter on Earth (Marick Press, 2012), The Nervous Filaments, (Four Way Books, 2010), Orphan, Indiana (University of Akron Press, 2010), and Sky Booths in the Breath Somewhere, the Ashbery Erasure Poems (BlazeVox, 2010). Other books include, Abrupt Rural (New Issues, 2004), Downsides of Fish Culture (New Issues, 1997), Arrow Pointing North (Four Way, 2002), and Wilderness, a chapbook (March Street Press, 2000). Recent poems have appeared in Zoland Poetry, West Branch, Blackbird, Field, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Pool, Denver Quarterly, Slope, Pleiades, Laurel Review, Barrow Street, Nerve, and Massachusett's Review. He is currently involved in making collages and paintings, and working as Editor in Chief for 42 Miles Press. Ed Makowski lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is a poet and independent radio producer. As Eddie Kilowatt he released two books, Manifest Density and Carrying a Knife in to the Gunfight. During November 2011-April 2012 he served as the Narrator, a writing fellowship at Milwaukee's Historic Pfister Hotel. Right now he's remodeling one of those transitional neighborhood fixerupper foreclosures and misses his motorcycle. Listen to or read more of Ed's work at EdMakowski.com J. Kirk Maynard lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife Jessica and their dog Lucy. His poems and reviews have been published in White Whale Review, Arch, 580-Split, and Blueline. He received his MFA in Tuscaloosa under kudzu and cypress, and continues to write and teach under lilac and bird feeders. Andy McCall is an assistant professor of biology at Denison University in Ohio. He studies flowers and teaches ecology and evolutionary biology. Among his pastimes are bowling and playing the toy piano. Joseph Pascucci lives in Buffalo, NY. You may reach him at Joseph.Pascucci@gmail.com. Ricardo Nazario y Colón is the author of The Recital from Winged City Chapbooks 2011 and Of Jibaros and Hillbillies from Plain View Press 2011.Visit him at http://www.lalomadelviento.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amanda Phillips received her M.A. in English from The University of Louisville. She currently resides in her hometown of Frankfort, KY, and routinely commutes back to her alma mater to teach First Year Composition. This is her first publication. Marc Pietrzykowski lives in Lockport, NY, with his wife and many pets. He teaches English at Niagara County Community College and grows hops up the side of his garage. He had poems and essays in many journals, magazines, anthologies, and so forth and for a while left wee poems on bus seats and other public spaces. He just published his first novel, Music Box Dancer, and has published 3 books of poetry. You can visit him virtually at www.marcpski.com. Lucas Pingel lives in the Twin Cities, and teaches writing and literature at St. Catherine University. His work has appeared recently in North American Review, Sawbuck, Midway Journal, Cant and Poydras Review. These poems are part of a forthcoming collaborative chapbook, Yes, I’m Sure This Was a Beautiful Place, co-authored with B.J. Love. William Robinson has a BA in Creative Writing from Concordia University and is currently enrolled in the University of British Columbia’s Optional-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing. His work has been published in numerous print and online journals, including carte blanche, SNReview, Verbsap, The Furnace Review, CellStories, Scrivener Creative Review, Talking Writing (featured writer August 2011), Poetry/Fiction in Motion, blinking cursor and Avatar Review. His short story “To Whom Nothing Whatever Was to Happen” was a finalist for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Intro Journals Award, and carte blanche submitted his story “Storm Chasers” to the Journey Prize for “Best of Canada” consideration. He has also created and patented his own commercial line of artistic poetry products based on the Dada movement. Phil Rodenbeck was the Grand Prize winner in the 2012 Max Ehrmann Poetry Competition and has been published by local ‘zines in Terre Haute, IN. He served as Editor-in-Chief of RoseHulman’s art and literature journal, Ink, and co-founded the Art in Science and Technology (ArtiST) conference. Phil currently works in Jupiter, FL as a mechanical engineer. Leah Rogin-Roper's work will be featured by Connotation Press in April, 2012 http://connotationpress.com/fiction. Her work has also been published in Mountain Gazette, not enough night, Weird Year, and other literary journals. She is a contributing editor with Fast Forward Press. She teaches at Arapahoe Community College and lives in the mountains west of Denver with her husband, daughter, and dog. Jeffrey R. Schrecongost received his M.F.A. from Converse College and currently teaches English at Spartanburg Community College. He lives in Greenville, SC, with his loyal Golden Retriever, Molly. Four-time Pushcart Prize nominee J.R. Solonche has been publishing poems in magazines, journals, and anthologies since the early 70s. He is coauthor of Peach Girl: Poems for a Chinese Daughter (Grayson Books). Jameson Stewart studied poetry at Indiana University. He enjoys Nerudian slips when discussing romance, leaving messages in a bottle in his bathtub, and crash dieting with vagabond soup. He strongly believes that if Hemingway would have known that so many hipsters would carry around Moleskines that he would have shot himself.
Israel Wasserstein, a Lecturer in English at Washburn University, was born and raised in Topeka, KS. His poetry collection, This Ecstasy They Call Damnation, was published in 2012 by Woodley Press. Tria Wood lives in Houston, Texas, where she teaches English at San Jacinto College as well as helping children become creative writers through the Writers in the Schools program. One of three writers featured at the 2012 Emerald Isle Writers' Conference in Kodiak, Alaska, her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Snowy Egret, Concho River Review, Arcadia, and other publications. In the fall of 2011 My Life as a Doll, a large-scale literary art installation Wood created in collaboration with sculptor Tara Conley, was exhibited at DiverseWorks Artspace in Houston. Kimberly L. Wright's poetry has appeared in small-press literary journals such as Dr. Hurley's Snake Oil Cure, El Locofoco, Arrowsmith, Doggerel and Dicat Libre. After serving more than a decade as a journalist, she currently provides freelance writing, editing, and literary services in central Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. A Florida native, she has spent most of her life in Mobile and Montgomery, Ala. Changming Yuan, four-time Pushcart nominee and author of Chansons of a Chinaman, grew up in rural China, holds a PhD in English, and currently teaches in Vancouver; his poetry has appeared in nearly 540 literary publications across 22 countries, including Asia Literary Review, Best Canadian Poetry, BestNewPoemsOnline, Exquisite Corpse, London Magazine, Paris/Atlantic, Poetry Kanto, Salzburg Review, SAND and Taj Mahal Review. David Zerby is a former Alaska public defender. He currently works for a Native American nation in northwest Washington. Writing poetry is his passion.
Issues 24 and 25 of Blood Lotus