Blue Mesa Review
Blue Mesa Review Albuquerque, NM Founded in 1989 Issue 38 Fall 2018
Blue Mesa Review is the literary magazine of the University of New Mexico MFA Program in Creative Writing. We seek to publish outstanding and innovative fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, along with compelling interviews.
Cover Art Scraps by Fabio Sassi
BLUE MESA REVIEW Fall 2018 Issue 38
Ryan W. Murphy
Layout and Design
Zahra Bundrage Gwyneth Doland Darren Donate Seth García Michelle Gurule N. Jane Kalu Mario Montoya Andreas Buechler Mayra Yasmin Cárdenas Mari Chavez Sabrina Fannin Bridget Jones Jonah Mioduszewski Luisa Pennington Laura Schoenfelder Angelique Tapia Joshua Thompson Colette Village Center Mitch Marty
Table of Contents Letter From the Editor
Poetry Menstruation Triptych Jihyun Yun
electric hand Ivanna Baranova
Calluses Mauricio Novoa
Fiction Art Unknown Nicole Cuffy
An Answer to Your Question Laura Price Steele
Nonfiction Pergelation Margaret Adams 21 Homing
Austyn Gaffney 49
Interviews BMR Reconnects with Jennifer Givhan Luisa Pennington and Frances Badgett 37
Art Back to the Corner Morgan Stephenson
Country Pond Tonya Russell
Tranquility Britnie Watson
14 Julia Wang
Blue painted door, Paris Roger Camp
The Alpha Wolf Alexis Avlamis
Author Profiles 63 Artist Profiles 65
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Letter from the Editor Dear Reader, Growing up, I didn’t read many books written by female authors, and if I did, the main character was usually male. This wasn’t an active choice; the books I read were whatever was available, popular, assigned. I loved these books. They taught me to read, to write, and to value words and stories. But they also taught me that some voices were required reading, like Salinger and Hemingway, and some were optional, like Plath or Morrison, and most weren’t even on the list at all. It wasn’t until after college that I actively started seeking out books by and about women—that I even realized I was missing out on over half a population’s worth of stories. I began to see that pink book covers and phrases like “chick lit”—things I tried to avoid in order to be taken seriously as a female writer—had disguised the stories and sentences that spoke to me in deep, powerful ways as superfluous. The submission period for Issue 38 closed shortly before a nation of women streamed (or purposefully didn’t stream) a story we’ve all experienced in one way or another: the Kavanaugh hearing. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford gathered herself, as we’re so often told to do in order to seem credible, in order to seem valuable, and told her story, which was anything but superfluous. The result? Our nation’s representatives called for more Salinger and Hemingway. But Ford’s testimony mattered, and the stories women share about their lives are creating a ripple effect. At Blue Mesa Review, we don’t read cover letters or identifying information before we evaluate a piece of writing. So, it fills me with pride to see that, in Issue 38, our staff and contest judges have overwhelmingly chosen to publish not only stories by women but about women. About their bodies, their menstrual cycles, their families, their queerness, and about their relationships to place, to nature, to masculinity. Issue 38 creates new space for literature to be deemed great, and I truly hope you create space in your life to soak in every word.
Hayley Peterson Editor-in-Chief
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Back to the Corner
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1st Place Poetry 2018 Summer Contest In this triptych, Jihyun Yun balances some of the many contradictory dynamics of menstruation and its connections to gendered violence. Blood here is both a signal of crisis averted and a reminder of violation; warped and silenced by femme-shaming, but never quite asked to stand in for womanhood. I’m impressed by the delicate navigation of these complexities, as well as such charged, lyric moments as “Tissue blossoms. Blood tea. Thirteen” and “The organic green tangle I am / also blooms best under moonlight.” I love the strange, difficult chord produced by these three vignettes. Franny Choi
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Menstruation Triptych Jihyun Yun
Menstruation Triptych I. I am so happy to be bleeding, I fold the unused test into the black hem of my pocket, just to carry this solitude with me. Seedless belly, beloved fallow, I. I’m so happy to be bleeding, I treat myself to sangria and ice cream, weave flowers of invasive species in my hair, sing praises to Korea’s over-the-counter BC. At home, I’m so happy to be bleeding, I pummel my stomach against the kitchen counter, just in case. I know it doesn’t work that way, but he came without permission and inside. I’m irrational is what I mean. Bloodless, I’ve heard stories of women flying to other countries to terminate but I’m too woman and poor to have a choice in this world you’ve thrust me towards so Lord, in this life I’ll happily bleed and bleed. Let the animals gnaw through every dam. Let the tides overpower.
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II. She’s never wanted to mother though the world’s demanded nothing else from her. She holds the napkin to her girlhood, watches the cerise leech into the quilted fabric. Thank heavens for periods, the rivers they carve into their bed of mortal meat. Tissue blossoms. Blood tea. Thirteen, she is my mother, thinking of the fabled student, years ago, who was never taught menstruation. Who thought the red escaping her human aperture was a sign of deadly sickness, wrote a letter to her mother, and took her own life. Forgive me Mama, I don’t want to die slow. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. In a world of men, this is the cost of blood. Why let girls bleed without telling them what it means? Why bloody your hands on another’s blood-body journey? She wraps the cloth close to her blood-body, draining the day closed. She does so love the act of escaping, even when it is her own womanly heat escaped. Please live freely in this blood vine of your singular life. In time, I will lodge myself within you and halt the cycle, the napkin still white between your thighs. I know I will not be worth it, but somewhere, it is written. Oh mother, I am selfish, to cling to your life merely as I am. III. III. Here, it is not my cycle that bleeds me, but lover tearing through Here, it ismy not my cycle that bleeds before I am ready. It should have me, but my lover tearing through mattered when he It didn’t care before I am ready. should have about my pain, but when in love, mattered when he didn’t care I love even the wounds. so tired about my pain, but when[I’m in love, writing his blue[I’m room, Ioflove evenabout the wounds. so tired let it stop now] Evening primrose of writing about his blue room, open beyond the window, lifting their open let it stop now] Evening primrose stamensthe towards thelifting night. their beyond window, stamens towards the night. I understand. organic green tangle I am IThe understand. also blooms green best under The organic tanglemoonlight. I am Six moons from now, I won’t be here also blooms best under moonlight. anymore. I’ll be in New York scalding Six moons from now, I won’t be here my tongueI’llonbediner coffee, anymore. in New Yorkspitting scalding the grinds on my plate of eggs scraped my tongue on diner coffee, spitting immaculate. I’ll be drunk and happy the grinds on my plate of eggs scraped on 32nd street. twenty-three, immaculate. I’ll I’ll be be drunk and happy I’ll finally understand he did to me on 32nd street. I’ll be all twenty-three,
I’ll finally understand all he did to me there on that blue bed. Gondolas rocking driftwood in my dreams. there ontothat blue bed. Gondolas The hurt he said I was born to eat. rocking to driftwood in my dreams. My, hurt Stop.he And then my,born Yes.to eat. The said I was IMy, bleed like girls are taught Stop. And then my, Yes.to bleed, pretending I amare fine.taught I tore to you I bleed like girls bleed, badly, he says, and I swear he pretending I am fine. I tore youis happy. He holds reddened fingers badly, he his says, and I swear he is happy. to my eyes to show me what I’m made of.
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1st Place Fiction 2018 Summer Contest This story lifted off the page like a swarm of butterflies. The narrative is so assured, the central mystery of the story so heart-breaking and the descriptions of both family and dance so right that the story reads like a piece of the music that keeps this mother alive for the two sisters at its core. LuĂs Alberto Urrea
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Art Unknown Nicole Cuffy
All nature is but art unknown to thee. - Alexander Pope I was sitting on the front porch with my sister when she told me she wanted to find Mom. We were waiting for our father to get home from work, our thighs stuck to the hot plastic of the porch swing. Emily was wearing the same turquoise tank top as I was, but she had safety-pinned a fabric panel featuring a peony onto hers—now that we were almost teenagers, she did not want to dress identically anymore. I’d told her earlier that the improvisation looked dumb, but really, I wished I’d thought of it, and she knew it. I eyed it jealously while she scratched at a mosquito bite on her arm. “I’ve been thinking,” she said. “We can find her, Emma.” “What?” We normally reserved talking about Mom for Sundays, when we snuck up into the attic while our father was at church and listened to her music, sitting among her things. “Mom. I think we can find her. I mean, she’s alive.” Emily looked to me for confirmation, her eyes marbled like bloodstone in the midsummer day’s glare. “Yeah,” I said. Our father was pulling into the driveway. Soon we would hear the familiar jangle of the things he kept in his pocket. I watched the sun slash his windshield and was blinded for a moment. Mom disappeared at the beginning of another summer, when we were eight. That day, Emily and I were going to the lake with Mom for a picnic. We spent the morning in the kitchen, making ham sandwiches, peeling hard-boiled eggs, decorating brownies one sprinkle at a time. Mom was wearing our favorite sundress. It was a clear, ocean blue, and decorated with small wildflowers, which reminded me and Emily of twirling jellyfish. The charm bracelet she always wore sounded delicately from her bony wrist—our father gave it to her on their first wedding anniversary, we’d been told many times. It was hot when we got to the lake, which was a quivering mirror in the bright sunlight, the dense crowd of trees around it glittering like emeralds. Our mom walked far ahead of us, and the outline of her lean dancer’s body was thinned in the glare. Emily and I jogged to keep up with her, but her long legs always carried her a little out of reach. We ate on a flat-topped rock, the water a few feet below us. When we were finished, Mom took off her rings and her bracelet and gave them to Emily to hold. She did a series of slow arabesques, one of the shades from La Bayadère. Emily set Mom’s jewelry down and we copied her. When she danced, Mom looked like an orchid tethered under water—solitary and weightless. My knees and Emily’s knees were a blotchy red from being on the ground—Emily’s turned out gracefully in a way mine would not. We got tired long before Mom did, so we rested side-by-side on our backs and watched the bottom of Mom’s dress flutter above our heads. When Mom stopped dancing we sat up. She announced that she had to go to the bathroom, that 13 | Issue 38
she’d be right back. She danced into the trees, a chain of happy little hopping steps. Brisès volès. Emily and I laughed. This was the last time anyone ever saw her. The few other people at the lake that day confirmed that they saw her dance into the woods, but no one spotted her after that. When Emily and I found our way back to the parking lot to get her cell phone, the car was still there, undisturbed. There was an investigation, but it was inconclusive. There were no signs of a struggle, no body, and none of her possessions were missing—they found her jewelry where we’d left it on the flat rock. They even sent divers into the lake. The only thing they ever found was her hair clip, abandoned only a few feet into the woods. The only fingerprints on it were her own. There was never a memorial service or anything—our father kept telling us she’d turn up somehow, until eventually he stopped talking about her altogether. We could hear him crying sometimes in his bedroom when he thought we were asleep. When they eventually told him they’d have to call off the search, he began going to church every Sunday. Almost a year later, when Emily and I came back from ballet class one night, we found all her things missing. Dad had packed it all up and put it in the attic. There was never any answer; only our silent pain. It was as if she had risen, dancing, into the air, and let her hair loose at the last minute, before the dewy summer sunlight extinguished her. We had to wait until after dinner—sushi, as usual—to continue our discussion. Our father was already up in his bedroom, where he would watch the small, black-and-white television that sat on the empty dresser that used to house Mom’s clothes. We could still hear him moving around upstairs, metallic jangling accompanying his heavy footsteps. Emily and I stayed behind in the kitchen to take care of the dishes. I scrubbed at the hardened nubs of rice, the brown smears of soy sauce, and Emily rinsed and arranged the plates in the dish rack. I slid the sponge around the rim of a glass. “So, where is this coming from, all of a sudden?” I asked. “What?” Emily scratched at her arm with a wet hand and her fingernails left a shining trail of soapy water on her skin. I looked toward the doorway and then leaned in closer to her. “You know what.” Emily rinsed the last dish but kept the water running. “It’s not all of a sudden. I think about her every day. Don’t you?” “Of course I do. But, I mean, you never said we should look for her.” She sighed. “It just bothers me that there’s no answers.” I knew what she meant. It was the answerless questions that held the wound open, even after years had passed. I’d remember Mom’s easy smile, the artful network of veins on the tops of her feet, the muffled line of her sternum, the organic column of her spine, the furrows at the corners of her eyes. I remembered all these things as experiences from just yesterday, but when I’d try to reach them, I’d become staggeringly aware of the incomprehensible distance that now hummed between us. And trying to form some closure around that distance was like trying to swim to the surface of the ocean without knowing up from down. I said, “What makes you think she’s still alive?” “I just have this feeling.”
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I nodded. “And how do you think we’re going to find her? After all this time?” “We’ll search the last place we saw her. And we’ll find something. We were just kids then, but now— we’ll find something.” Emily shut the water off then and we went into the backyard to practice our échappés sautés. We always tried to return to the ground floating like Mom used to, but neither one of us ever got it right. That night, Emily climbed into my bed with me. The twin mattress was no longer big enough for both of us, so I was squeezed in between Emily’s body and the side of my nightstand. Emily whispered to me that we’d begin the search on Saturday. We fell asleep with our fingers entwined. When our mom danced, we saw a fluid melancholy in her that otherwise never bled through. Her body contracted with an elastic tension, bone and muscle gyrating beneath skin, face transformed by ecstatic pain. When she danced, our mom transcended herself; she became something beyond our mother, something beyond her body. She suspended herself in each movement, defied gravity with her grace. Every pulsing rib, every burgeoning vein, every wooden tendon propelled her through the music. She was the gnarled, yet persistent growth of a tree root deep into earth. We always tried to mimic her, but we could never match her beauty. On Friday, Emily and I rode our bikes home from ballet class. We were sweaty from dancing, and the hot air that rushed past us as we rode evaporated the moisture, leaving the salt to stick to our faces, an abrasive mask. When we got home, our father was already in the kitchen, unpacking tall paper bags of Chinese takeout. We helped him set the table, and we ate under the weighty presence of Mom’s favorite China. It was all enshrined in the antique cabinet in the dining room—the floral set she bought when she lived in France before she met our father, the square plates with silhouettes of ballerinas hand-painted in the centers. Our father said, “How was class?” Both of us responded, “Fine.” Then I said, “Mrs. Blunt says both our turnouts are getting better.” “Can she actually tell you two apart?” he asked. “Usually,” I said. “A lot of people can,” said Emily. Then, with a quick glance toward me, she said, “Our summer recital is coming up soon.” I could feel the hope waving off her. “Are you going to come?” Our father stared at the space between our bodies as if it represented us both. “I don’t know, kiddo. You both know I want to, but I’ve got a big case coming up.” He tossed a greasy water chestnut into his mouth with his fingers. “This one’ll have me working around the clock.” Emily looked at me again. I knew what she was going to say before she said it—maybe the air between us shifted. Maybe I felt her pulling at the threads of the veil we’d woven between ourselves and our father. Yet, I didn’t stop her, even though I knew her words would hurt our father; even though I knew she wouldn’t get the answer she wanted, mostly because she didn’t know what answer she wanted. “Dad,” she said, “when we dance, do we remind you of Mom? Is that why you never watch us?” Suddenly, the rims of our father’s eyes were red, as though he’d been crying for years. “I think—” he began. “How about this: we’ll go out for a really nice dinner tomorrow. We’ll go to Ophelia’s—you girls
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can order anything you want. That’ll be nice, right?” “We can’t,” Emily said. “We’ll be busy.” I thought I saw our father’s shoulders slump a little, but he just said, “Well, you’ll come with me to church on Sunday, won’t you?” It was his practice to ask us to go to church with him, even though we never did, so he didn’t wait for us to answer before he stood up and began clearing his dishes, which still contained his half-eaten dinner. He reached out a hand to Emily and me. “You girls done?” he asked. We shook our heads. He carried his plate into the kitchen, and soon we heard running water from the faucet, a harmony for the jagged percussion from his pockets. Emily and I leaned toward each other until just our hair was touching. Four days before she disappeared, Mom came home from her class smelling of salt and calendula cream. She was red in the face, and her curly, cornsilk hair—identical to ours—floated like seaweed around her face. She had danced so vigorously that she had rubbed the skin of her feet open. Our father saw her limping in and led her to the love seat in the living room. While he went to get the first aid kit, we watched Mom remove her shoes and socks. Her toes were bright red, and bent like spider’s legs. There were bloody blisters at the base of her big toe, on the balls of her feet, and at the back of her heels. She saw us staring at her feet and smiled, almost apologetically. Our father returned with the kit and sat next to Mom on the love seat. She put her bare feet in his lap and he began to treat them. “Look at this,” he said. “Why won’t you wrap your feet?” “Because it interferes.” Mom was still smiling, but her eyes were creasing at the corners—I could tell that our father was hurting her. “But the other dancers do it. I’ve seen it. Pretty soon you’re not going to be able to walk anymore, let alone dance.” He rubbed the antibacterial cream into her cleaned blisters with his fingertips. “I’ll always be able to dance,” she said. And then, more quietly, “I never used to get blisters.” “Doesn’t make sense to me,” he muttered as he wrapped her feet in gauze. Mom lifted her feet and wiggled her stiffly bandaged toes under our father’s chin. Our father caught her feet in his hands and kissed them, one at a time. “You’d dance yourself to death if I let you.” “Dance to death, live to death; everything we do is to the death.” For the first time, our father smiled. He said, “Oh, shut up.” Emily and I giggled at his informality, and then screamed in disgust and delight when Mom rested her feet on his shoulder, leaned forward, and kissed him full on the lips. Our father was standing in the kitchen drinking a cup of coffee when Emily and I came downstairs on Saturday. It was early in the afternoon—later than we’d wanted to get started. Our father always slept in on Saturdays. I gave Emily a look that meant, act natural. She went over to the refrigerator without hesitating and began pulling out the things we’d need for our packed lunch. I smiled at our father, who was alternately sipping at his coffee and glancing at Emily with one eyebrow raised.
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He said, “Where are you two headed?” Emily didn’t answer him, so I said, “We want to ride our bikes around before it gets too hot.” Outside, we balanced ourselves on our bikes with our backpacks, which contained our lunch boxes, as well as the other items Emily insisted we’d need—flashlights, compasses, magnifying glasses, tissues, bug spray, tweezers, and plastic baggies (It was on CSI, Emily told me). I began to pedal, traveling slowly, with Emily a bit ahead of me. Once the house was out of sight, Emily slowed so we were riding side-byside. She leaned toward me and asked, “Do you think he knows?” “I think he’s suspicious,” I said. A pause. “I don’t think he knows anything,” Emily said. This is something I’ve never told Emily. On a Friday night a little over six months before Mom disappeared, I was home sick. I hadn’t gone to school that day, and my parents wouldn’t let me go to ballet class. I was in bed with our father’s old black-and-white television perched on my dresser. The muted noise from the basic cable show that was on was lulling me to sleep, but my throat was as sticky as half-eaten candy. I wanted a glass of water. I got out of bed and started down the hall toward the stairs, but I could hear my parents’ voices coming from behind the half-closed door of their bedroom. They were speaking in hushed voices, but it sounded as though they were arguing. My curiosity deadened the thirst, and I crept toward their room and crouched against the wall beside their door. I couldn’t see them without being seen myself, but I could hear them clearly. “I don’t get it,” my father was saying. “Wouldn’t most dancers kill for him to choreograph something for them?” “Let them have it, then,” said Mom. “But ever since the girls were born, you’ve been telling me your career is over.” “It is.” “It isn’t, Alina. The company wants you back—you would’ve never turned down an opportunity like this. Don’t you miss the company?” “I have a family now. My priorities have changed.” “But what about your ambitions? I know the freelancing and the teaching aren’t cutting it for you. This could be your chance to get back to doing what you love.” “I am doing what I love,” she said. I heard my father sigh. “But what about your first love? When I met you, you told me ballet was your entire worldview, your everything.” “Anthony, you remember what it was like—classes, rehearsals, performing until late at night, and then by the time I got home I was exhausted. You’re always injured, you’re starving, and there’s no room for anything in your head but dance. I have two daughters now. Our daughters. They don’t need me to be a ballerina, they need me to be their mother. I’m much too old for dance now, anyway. I had ballet; now I’m free to have my life. I made my choice.”
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There was a long silence. For fear of getting caught eavesdropping, I began to creep on all fours back to my bedroom. Then I heard my father’s voice again. “Do you regret it?” “Every day,” she said. “And not at all.” I crawled back to my room and shut the door as quietly as I could. I settled myself back into bed, water forgotten. I didn’t know what to make of the last thing I heard my mother say. Maybe Emily and I had ruined our mother’s life. I had never been so aware of the sacrifice she’d made for us, and I knew Emily was unaware of it too. Like the time I’d accidentally discovered the dirty channels on the television downstairs, this felt like something I shouldn’t tell anybody. Not even Emily. I was still awake when Mom brought Emily home an hour later, but when Emily entered our bedroom I pretended to be asleep. Months later, when Mom disappeared, that whispered argument would come back to me. Mom’s sacrifice was like burnt sugar—simultaneously sweet and foul. Emily took to trying to guess where Mom had gone—maybe she’d been kidnapped; maybe she’d been abducted by aliens; maybe she’d fallen into an invisible hole in the forest. And the whole time, I’d be thinking of Mom’s tension-ridden face as she danced, and I knew that I could never voice the thought that stuck like a burr in the back of my mind, that smarted whenever I thought of her, whenever I heard the noise of her charm bracelet and her wedding rings, which Dad had taken to carrying around in his pockets: maybe Mom just left us. The lake was a glassy wound, the trees stitches in the distance. We had been to the lake with our father exactly twice after Mom’s disappearance, but never back to the same rocky picnic area where she was lost. Each time was like visiting a grave, but this time was different. As Emily and I walked our bikes along the trail that led to the rocky beach, it was as though I was fighting against a magnetic force that was repelling me. In a persistently physical sense, I felt I didn’t belong here anymore. Emily and I did not speak as we leaned our bikes against a tree next to the trail. We walked forward and stood on the flat rock where we’d had our carefree picnic four years ago. For several moments we could only stand there. Emily reached over and grabbed my hand. Her palm was as tender with clamminess as mine was. “Emma? How do we do this?” I didn’t know. “I guess we just retrace her steps and hope we find something.” Emily dropped my hand. “We will find something,” she said. She took off her backpack, set it on the ground, and began rummaging through it. She pulled out her magnifying glass, a plastic baggie and tweezers. Then she looked at me as if accusing me of something, so I took my backpack off as well and retrieved the same things. “We’ll retrace her steps,” said Emily. “Just like you said.” We started at the rocks, where I could still feel the rush of air from Mom’s twirling dress. When the wind pulled at the world around us, I could swear that the clamoring leaves brought me her scent— rosewater and apricots. The echo of her in this landscape was almost too much for me to bear, but Emily was determined. She insisted that we both examine every inch of the ground that once bore our mother. She took pictures of the shore, studied the cracks in the rocks with her magnifying glass. At some point
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I stopped and asked her what she thought we’d do if we found anything, but she didn’t answer, so I kept searching. The few people at the lake left us alone—they either knew who we were, or assumed we were just being kids. Eventually, as the rocks grew uncomfortably hot under the sun, the other people began to filter out. We worked our way down the path where she had danced into the woods. For me, every speck of dirt, every pebble, every blade of grass became suspect. Everything around us had witnessed her disappearance with an omniscience, or an objectivity—I wasn’t sure which—that we did not have. I wanted to dissect everything I saw, find some kind of physical core that could tell me finally what really happened that day. Perhaps Mom’s disappearance began before she even reached the trees; perhaps she began to disintegrate as she danced away. I remembered how, on that day, the strong sun made a shadow of her— did her mystery begin then? Or did we do this to her? Maybe she began falling away when Emily and I were born and she sacrificed her career. Every day. And not at all. When we reached the woods, we stopped for a moment. “They found her hair clip in here,” Emily said, reaching almost unconsciously for me. I took her hand. She looked so small. And I knew looking at her was the same as looking at myself, but still, she seemed so young to me. “If they’d looked harder,” she said, “I know they would’ve found something else. We’ll look real hard. We’ll find what they missed.” “What could they have missed?” “Anything,” Emily snapped. She pulled away and walked into the woods. Emily and I started pointe at the same time. Emily was able to roll up onto the box of her shoes right away, but I wobbled. Once I was up all the way, I felt feather-light and taut. There was pain, too—my toes felt hot, my ankles stretched. I was reminded of how Mom looked when she danced—that painful ecstasy on her face—and I thought that I must be feeling whatever it was she felt. Pointe brought me closer to her, the lightness a celebration of her, the pain a penance for having lost her. We spent hours in the woods, Emily marking trees and checking her compass now and then so we knew how to get back out. Some time in the late afternoon we squatted up against a tree and ate. Then we continued searching. We didn’t say much to each other. I knew Emily wasn’t really mad at me—I knew she was just as scared as I was that we wouldn’t find anything, or that we’d find something worse than we could’ve imagined. When the sky began to take on a pinkish tinge, I suggested we go home, continue our search the next day. But Emily said, “We can’t stop now.” “Dad’s probably already wondering where we are. How long do you want to stay out here?” Emily looked at me as if I’d slapped her. “As long as it takes.” I grabbed her by her shoulders. She glared at me. “I want to find her just as bad as you do, you know,” I said.
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“I know,” said Emily. “Listen to me. For me, even if we find her bones, it’s better than not knowing. But you want to find her. You want her to just appear, wearing that same dress she was wearing when we lost her.” Emily’s eyes watered. “Of course I want that,” she said. “You don’t?” “I do, but I want it the same way I want to be Sara Mearns—I know it’ll never happen. Mom’s gone, Emily. I’m just looking for a reason.” Emily stepped away from me. “I am too. But that doesn’t mean I give up hope. Why are you even here?” Without waiting for my answer, she began walking away from me, but I saw her shoulders shaking, and I knew she was crying. I grabbed her again, and she tried to jerk away from me, but I wouldn’t let her. I forced her to sit with me. She stopped fighting and collapsed into me, her temple against my collarbone, and began to sob. I always cried when my sister cried. I stared up at the scraps of reddening sky showing through the tops of the trees as my own tears dripped into Emily’s hair. Though my throat was tight and sore, I began to hum. La Bayadère. Emily’s sobs slowed, and she began to hum with me. After a while, Emily took off her shoes. I followed suit. Emily stood and pulled me up by my hands. Still holding hands, we raised ourselves up onto demi-pointe, relevé, up onto the tips of our toes. It was awkward in the dirt and without our pointe shoes, but we held each other steady. We began to dance as we’d seen Mom do on so many occasions, making it up as we went along, reaching for our mother in the weightless space of our dance, but not quite lighting upon her. The sunlight, darker now as it began to wane, transformed the dust particles in the air into bobbing stars. Emily released my hands and arched forward into an arabesque en pointe. So far as I knew, it was her first time doing it without the support of the barre. She wobbled a little because of her bare feet—our toes were white by now—but I could see the concave panel of her abdomen where it wasn’t supported by her ribcage; I could see the vein at her temple; I could see the spiny column of her trachea. Her arms stretched back toward the exalted leg. She resembled a horned animal. And her head, thrown back. On her face, that painful ecstasy. I said, “Emily, don’t move. You have her.” I had stopped dancing. She didn’t answer me. I suspect she couldn’t speak, strained as she was. Her suspension in that pose—the failing, dust-filled sunlight her spotlight—was timeless. Even when she lost her balance and fell out of it, the moment lingered. Soon, it got dark, but we had stopped searching. We propped our flashlights up against a tree and danced. Here was our mother. We danced our mother. We had no way of knowing what time it was, and neither of us was thinking about it. We got hungry again, but we ignored it. The dance took up everything. The woods were not woods, but the womb. The dance was not dance, but prayer, awe, grief. I saw a light coming toward us. For a moment, I thought I was going to see our mother, floating in a circle of heavenly aura. Emily saw it too—I heard her sharp intake of breath. The sound of metal jangling against metal was resonant in the woods, like a bell.
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1st Place Nonfiction 2018 Summer Contest “Pergelation” tells a story about a desolate Antarctic coastline at the edge of the world, but its deepest excavations—into the residence of loneliness and the fragile surprises of intimacy— deliver us to far more intimate reaches of the ordinary, infinite human heart. It’s funny, tender, visceral, curious, and constantly attentive to the small fissures and desires that contour—like forces of weather—the landscape of our living. Leslie Jamison
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I stood inside a tiny unheated trailer on the Antarctic coast and tried to convince myself that leg lifts were relevant to anything in my life. I had unearthed a pile of VHS exercise tapes while doing inventory, plugged the ancient black and white TV into the one working outlet, and was attempting to perform what home-exercise guru “Jenifer” called “Power Yoga.” Onscreen, Jenifer directed an unseen public of fellow home exercisers (the rest of whom, I hoped, had recently taken amphetamines) from a beachfront in Miami. Inside the trailer, one of five modular units that comprised the helicopter refueling station called Marble Point Air Facility, I sweated along with the heavily pixilated green-tea chugging Bond girl armed with five-pound hand weights. Outside, a wind-scraped coastline abutted the Wilson-Piedmont Glacier on a tiny spit of exposed land about fifty miles from the nearest research base and a continent away from civilization. I couldn’t go running, my usual habit, on the ice-pocked shore or the crevasse-riddled glacier. At thirty degrees below zero, I couldn’t really do much of anything athletic outside besides walk and shovel snow, not while wearing fifteen pounds of parka and boots. Ever since my job had transitioned from the daily unburying of entire buildings with a snow shovel, to sitting around inside those buildings and waiting for a helicopter to refuel, I had begun to watch my waistline with suspicious foreboding. Taking out my own anxious boredom on my body wasn’t exactly original, but it was classic in a way that was never threatened by self-awareness. When I found the old exercise videos, it hadn’t been a jump to shut myself inside the pilot’s bunkhouse and try the bulky VCR leftover from a more populous season. The crackling image of Jenifer encouraged me to push myself, but also warned me that this move was difficult. Then we would move on to triceps together. Everyone feeling alright? Let’s go. I turned the video off and briefly considered burying it in the snow, but then thought better of it—once unwound from the confines of the plastic cassettes, the VHS ribbons would make great wind telltales or could be used for tying bows on impromptu gifts. As I relayered my multiple shirts and insulated overalls over my increasingly unfamiliar skin, I resigned myself to my long daily walks for exercise. After lacing my boots and zipping my parka I stepped outside, letting the trailer door bang shut behind me. The sound echoed hollowly. White assailed me, and it took several moments of blinking spots before my eyes adjusted and the world realigned into snowy gradients. The glacier rose behind our encampment as an icy white wall, adjacent to a snow-encrusted coastline, which curved around rectangular slabs of frozen white sea-ice in the bay. I had been working in Antarctica for a time period that seemed to stretch, continuous—one long day. The sun had not set in five months. It was hard to think about time clearly. I had dreams in which my hair grew beyond my waist overnight, my unconscious’s protest against the decision to work somewhere with virtually no environmental indications of the passage of time. The skies were clear enough that the mountains were visible, white peaks looming in the distance
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from behind the glacier. It looked like flyable weather. It had been days since we’d heard the whop whop whop of a helicopter approaching. With nothing to refuel and no one to feed, the only three residents of Marble Point Air Facility were getting restless. I trudged toward the largest trailer that served as our heated living space. I didn’t feel ready to be back in the same room as the other two, but I was getting cold. Griff had hired me, he told me later, for three reasons. First, it was good form to keep the position filled, despite the fact that this was slated to be the slowest season on record and he didn’t really need me; he didn’t want to risk the government pulling the funding for the assistant manager/cook position for all future seasons if he went without one once. Second, I was a Yankee. Third, I had just finished a contract at South Pole, the landlocked station at the center of the Polar Plateau. Griff himself was a New Englander who had spent over a decade working at South Pole, so his biases were clear. Gray-haired and sun-ravaged, Griff looked like he was pushing sixty, but moved and spoke like a man in his twenties, an incongruence so complete that I sometimes had to look directly at him to remember who the banter was coming from. Andrew, the only other denizen of Marble Point—mid-forties, ginger-bearded, bespectacled, and enamored of his own lexicon—had been hired as the fuels specialist because he had once beat Griff’s least favorite administrator in a Scrabble tournament. Both men were on the couches in our main living area, predictably engrossed in one of their favorite topics: The Long Emergency. About 40% of their conversations concerned this, the coming period of crisis when oil would run out and global warming destroyed civilization as we knew it. Griff and Andrew priced out off-the-grid real estate, researched visas to hospitable-seeming foreign countries and local planting techniques, and compiled practical information on moonshine. They planned around the pylons of society with ideas involving everything from steam engines to pandemic prevention. I found it both ironic and apropos that they were deep in preparation for a total separation from society while living on the most far-flung reaches of it. Both men looked up when I came in. “Hey,” Griff said. “Hi.” There was a pause in which I considered saying something about the ridiculous exercise videos, bikini season, neuroses and whichever past residents had brought the videos down in the first place, but this wasn’t the crowd for it. Instead, I looked blankly at them. They looked blankly back. Sometimes I wondered what they thought was going through my head during my increasingly frequent moments of socially isolating self-censor. Sometimes, I wondered if they noticed. Griff smiled vaguely, then, having acknowledged my presence and seen that I did not look like I was going to say anything more, picked up the thread of a self-sufficient greenhouse again. “So, if you connect the stove pipe to the glass…” I hung my mittens up slowly, then my hat, and my top two sweaters, putting a lot of effort into infusing my puttering with as much purpose as possible. The last plane on or off the continent had left six weeks earlier in February. The next one would come to the nearby research base, McMurdo, at the end of April. That last flight would be the one all three of
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us left on, the only flight before the long, dark winter season. Until then, there would be no mail from offcontinent, no fresh food, no new supplies. At Marble Point, we had even less access to goods than folks at the main base. Fresh apples had been the most recent new produce I had seen, and I’d diced and baked them to make them last. All helicopters into the Dry Valleys came through Marble Point for fuel and food. I was responsible for feeding and, in the event of an emergency weather hold, housing all pilots, helicopter technicians, and passengers—usually near-sighted microbiologists and alcoholic glaciologists—who passed through the valley. In the high season, this meant several flights a day. Now it meant one or two a week. Except, of course, when bad weather kept them from flying at all. In my free time, I did the bare modicum of preventive maintenance on the few areas of camp that had been deemed my jurisdiction, and spent a lot of time trying to coax “seasonal” meals out of our supplies. I rejuvenated dried fruit by soaking it in water, recreating dishes like “Autumn Pork Sauté” with dehydrated cider packets. I was the only one who cared. If I put it on the floor and stepped on it, Griff would eat it. His recent decision to microwave thirty-year-old Fig Newtons and subsequent declaration that they were “as good as new”—a declaration made while extinguishing the one that had caught on fire—only cemented this certainty. Still, I persisted in my quest to make frozen fruits and vegetables and hydrophobic, shrink-wrapped salmon taste like more than average food. I wasn’t sure if this put a little extra meaning into my life, or if it was just one more scene in the ongoing middle school play that was “normal life” in Antarctica. I kept doing it either way, covering defrosted textures with powdered yogurt sauces. My boyfriend had mixed feelings about my decision to accept the three-month contract at Marble Point. These consisted of part disappointment that we would not be together for my birthday, part anger that I had abandoned our plans to travel together in New Zealand in favor of the job, part jealousy that I had gotten a coveted position in the field camps, and part mysterious male emotion that was only communicated through quasi-affectionate pot-shots and the downgrading of email closings from “Love, Chris” to “-C.” As long as the emails kept coming, I figured it was probably not a good idea to point out this last demotion. In my own emails I avoided whiny statements such as “I haven’t seen another woman in five weeks,” or, “the batteries for the vibrator you mailed me are dead.” Instead I wrote him details of my long walks, described the different colors I was beginning to see on the coast as the months drew closer to sundown, and made pointed remarks about adventures that we could go on together once my contract ended. Griff, Andrew and I were capable of spending hours clued to our respective laptops in a still life around the table. We lugged our drinking water from the nearby glacier, maintained an elaborate grey water evaporation system, had only one scratchy, semi-useful phone line that was largely ignored in favor of the more functional VHF radios, and were completely dependent on helicopters for all goods and materials, but we had wireless internet bounced off of a now-defunct Russian satellite four days out of every seven. In bad weather, the system often stopped working, causing predictable mayhem and social chaos in our tiny community. Today, though, the connection was up, and while I wrote determinedly cheerful emails to the boyfriend who might or might not still be my boyfriend, Griff and Andrew were
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consumed by the pastime second only to planning for the Long Emergency: options trading. Options trading was a new activity for the two men. I had come back after a long hike one day to find them both particularly quiet and consumed by their computers. I was immediately unsettled. “What’s going on?” I’d asked. “We’ve been getting smart,” Andrew told me. “We just watched an instructional video on options trading with the stock market.” “Yeah,” Griff said. “Some guy in McMurdo did a talk and they filmed it, and Bob sent it to us last week. I think he knows what he’s talking about. The options trading guy.” “He has a really big mustache,” Andrew said. Since then, options trading had been a highlight of their day on the World Wide Web. They were pouring over dividend payment dates when without warning, the internet went down. After 30 minutes and 180 clicks of “refresh,” they ascertained that the internet was not flickering, but indeed gone. Griff and Andrew paced for a bit, then sat on the couches, sullen. Bad weather in McMurdo meant no helicopters, no helicopters meant no fuel to dispense and thus no work to do, and now, the final indignity, the internet had gotten the kibosh. It was so overwhelming they didn’t even have the energy to discuss alternative farming methods in the event of nuclear war. “I’m going on a hike up Hensleigh Hill,” I said, naming a nearby landmark that doubled as a visibility marker in our regular conditions reports. “I’m bringing a radio. Call me if someone launches from town.” “Take a thermos with you,” Griff said from his sulk on the couch. I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a large carafe of hot chocolate, threw both into a backpack and set off. More than the white, more than the cold, was the silence. After just ten minutes of plodding, the camp’s small generator could no longer be heard. The dry snow crunched loudly under my feet, echoing in my hat-muffled ears, but if I stopped walking for a minute, pulled the hat off and waited for my breath to slow, the only thing I heard was the thud of my pulse. I revered that stillness, but occasionally it crept its way towards uncanny. Then—or sometimes when I just wanted the contrast—I would talk to myself. I gave speeches or recited other people’s words, the odd poem I had memorized or a nice set of phrases remembered from a recently-read book. When the stillness either swelled too big or, conversely, shrank to no longer noticeable, I would conjugate verbs out loud. Then the silence would become just what it was again, a simple lack of sound, neither unnoticed nor personified. The scale of the valley made for misleading proximities. The snowscape was foreign enough to confound normal estimations, and the mountain ranges seemed to expand the horizon rather than hem it in, the dominance of white multiplying the mountains like an infinity mirror. I was glad for my dark goggles even under the gray tinge of clouds. Near the top of the hill an odd shape caught my attention, something discrete and linear partially buried in the snow. My first thought was a tree branch, though of course, there were no trees. As I looked a larger shape emerged, bigger than the small piece I’d seen at first. It wasn’t until I saw teeth that it clarified and I realized what I was looking at: a desicated, partially decayed seal skeleton.
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It took conscious effort to not jump backwards. In the cold it had no smell, otherwise I might have noticed it sooner, not almost tripped on it. The skeleton showed more teeth than I was used to seeing on the live seals that lolled on the shore—the lack of mouth around its jaws made it look like it was in the act of biting something. I couldn’t figure out what a dead seal would be doing so far up a hillside. I’d never seen one more than 200 yards from water. I sat on a nearby rock, close enough to the seal corpse that I could still stare at it but far enough away that if it decided to come alive and attack me—an absurd notion, I knew—I would have time to scramble away. It was several minutes before I could wrest my eyes away to look around at everything else below me. I could only just make out our camp—five orange specks below me. I got out my thermos and ate the now partially-frozen PB&J, pretending the ice crystals were nuts. Then, on hands and knees, I crawled the last of the way up to the summit. It was steeper than it looked from camp. The skeleton felt like a warning, and chastened, I took care not to slide on the snow covered rocks. Three days later the weather at McMurdo finally broke and two helicopters launched. Both the Bell 212 and an A-Star landed for lunch and fuel and a crowd trooped in: the pilots, Charlie, John, and Bob, as well as the two helicopter technicians, Ted and Evan. After the enduring silence of many traffic-less days, the chopping blades descending over the camp seemed deafening, and the sudden onslaught of other people’s voices just as much so. I put stacks of fresh cookies on plates near the entrance to the kitchen in an attempt to buy more time to serve lunch. One by one the new arrivals stumbled into the building, the younger men swatting at their helmet hair and the older ones wishing they had enough hair to be mussed. “We figured you lot had died out here,” Ted said around a mouthful of cookie. “We thought about it,” Andrew said while I knocked out a tray of corn muffins onto a cutting board. “But then we remembered eBay, and knew we still had something to live for.” The guys banged around the kitchen, grabbing mugs and glasses from the cupboards and pouring long draughts of Kool-Aid and coffee. Evan smiled widely and earnestly complimented my cookies, then stood awkwardly for a ten-count in the middle of the kitchen. This was par; Evan came out strong and floundered immediately. The youngest of the crowd, only ten years older than me, you could tell he’d have moral qualms about picking me up even if he was succeeding. “I have a theory about creepiness in guys,” Griff explained once. “Evan fits it perfectly. It’s like this: the longer you go without being laid, the creepier you get. As soon as you get laid, you stop being creepy. Women can smell it on you.” “Huh,” had seemed like my safest response at the time, so I’d gone with that. That same day a group of volcanologists had gotten stuck at Marble Point on their way back to McMurdo from Mount Erebus, and had spent an evening throwing back Griff’s whiskey and debating whether or not the volcano would erupt anytime soon. “We need to sacrifice a virgin to it,” Andrew had said. “Won’t find one in McMurdo.” “We can throw in Evan,” Griff had suggested. They’d all laughed until someone had threatened to puke Griff’s 18-year-old scotch.
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I cringed at the untimeliness of remembering that particular conversation at that particular moment and hastily thanked Evan for the praise of my baked goods before shoving bowls at him to pass around. I set condiments on the table before everyone could bolt their chili down without the thawed blocks of cheddar, tortilla chips, and only slightly expired jarred jalapenos. “Don’t let the helicopter crews bully you,” Griff had told me when I first arrived. “They’re all good guys and some of the best pilots around, but they’ll tease you something awful. It’s all in good humor so dish it back and you’ll be fine.” Forewarned, I had come out swinging, announcing on my first day that I was serving two options for lunch: take it, or leave it, with the added consideration that if they didn’t like either of those options, they could go do something unlikely with a screwdriver. They were delighted. Since then, I’d learned a bit of what they liked, mostly that anything hot and hearty (read: not vegetarian) would be well-received. The two helicopter crews decimated the vat of chili, a few blocks of cheddar, and half a pot of lentil soup before sitting back around the table. Charlie and Bob traded notes about the military. “You all got your pilots licenses through the service, didn’t you?” Andrew asked. “Everyone but this guy,” said Charlie, jerking his head at Jim. “Where’d you get your license?” I asked Jim. Charlie answered for him. “John got his license in a Cracker Jack box.” They bullshitted over their coffee, trading stories. I had been longing for more company and people to talk to, but now that they were here, I was quiet. I held onto my coffee mug in my corner and listened to the talk being chucked around. An hour later, the radios crackled instructions sending the helicopters two field camps over. There was a five-minute flurry of jackets, cookies tucked into pockets and food requests for their next stopover made, and suddenly the camp was empty again. I blinked. Then I started washing the dishes, letting the water trickle slowly onto the pots to conserve it. When I first arrived in February, there was still open water in the middle of the bay, and the edges of the coastline at Marble Point were ringed with slush instead of solid ice. Green and blue pools, peppered with cracked ice sheets and the marks of seals’ air holes, ran between the sea ice and the coastline. Seals emerged to loll on the shore, and I could watch the slow rise and fall of their flanks as they breathed. I found then that I could draw an oddly comforting connection between this coast and the shores of home. The ocean here didn’t crash with surf, but small waves, weighted down with cold and hidden under icebergs, made barely perceptible motions against the shore. I could hear these waves if I listened for them, the slow, suppressed rush of water in and out against the rocks, it’s rhythm slightly slower than the musky snores of the seals’ breathing. The slush that dotted the water clumped and swayed in time with this still-discernable cadence, a slow motion telegraph tapping out the message: the ocean lives under here. The seals only proved the point that the broken ice was just a lid on a living body of water. I could listen to it from the shore, a safe distance from the indolent bulks of the Weddell seals, blinking frequently to keep my eyelashes from freezing together. As the weeks passed, though, and the sun began to dip under the horizon—first for one hour, then four, then seven hours a day—the solid ice crept all the way up to the rock’s edges. One day I was
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surprised to notice that I no longer saw any blue at all that wasn’t the sky: the water was all white, all solid. Neither, I realized, had I seen the seals, not for days. I felt oddly bereft. With the freezing of the shores came an equally marked slowing of my communications with the outside world. I paused over my keyboard now. Instead, I went on longer walks. Sometimes I stood on the glacier and shivered not because of the cold, but because of the desolation in the beauty, and the feeling of life trapped under my feet. Two valleys over, microbiologists had recently discovered that it was possible for cells buried deep in the ice sheet to continue evolving and growing, even during the darkness. Griff announced that I would be spending two nights in town: Charlie and Ted would helicopter me to McMurdo on Saturday morning and bring me back on Monday. The pretense for this trip was booze-andgrocery procurement and our laundry, but I knew better—Griff just wanted me to see some people my own age, namely other women. “Okay,” was all that I said when he told me. But I looked forward to getting away from Marble Point for a few days. This trip was a chance for me to see Catherine. She was my one female friend still on the continent, a woman who had also worked at the South Pole Station and who was posted at McMurdo for Blue Mesa Review | 28
the winter, supplying the field camps. Catherine was the reason why that last box of mail had contained six bars of dark chocolate hidden among the air filters Griff had requested. The helicopter back to McMurdo was late, waiting on a geologist who had been dropped on a nearby mountain to collect samples. Bad weather was rolling in and Charlie fidgeted, then radioed him again. “I just need a little more time,” the geologist said. “No, you don’t,” Charlie told him. We flew him back to his camp at Lake Fryxel. There was uncharitable chuckling at the unpracticed way he rolled out from under the rotor wash. The field camp manager attached a sling load to the bottom of the helicopter and we were off, headed to McMurdo at last. I had worked it out in my head, and if we got to McMurdo by five, I would have time to hit the station’s gym and run three miles, then take a real shower—my first in weeks—and I’d still be able make it to the galley before it closed to meet Catherine. I obsessed over this timetable as we flew, imagining the joy of shorts and sneakers in a heated indoor space followed by the ecstasy of hot water. Outside everything was an ugly, monochromatic gray—gray helicopter, gray sea below and gray clouds all around. Charlie and Ted grumbled about the weather and the visibility. I half-listened as they talked about the wind gusts from the south. In the talk I had been given before getting into a helicopter for the first time, I was told two things about crashing. First, not to get out of the helicopter until the rotors stopped turning—you didn’t want to survive a crash only to be decapitated on your way out. Unless it was on fire. That was the second thing. If the helicopter was on fire, you got out right away. And if it was on fire and the rotors were still turning, you were supposed to figure out yourself what you wanted to do. Listening to Charlie and Ted’s terse conversation, I thought about what it would be like if the helicopter crashed. If a gust of wind lifted the sling load under the helicopter up into the air and then dropped it, the sudden yank on the sling-line might pull the floor beams out of the bottom of the craft. I wondered if and when I would know if we were crashing. I could imagine a dramatic fall, the helicopter swinging wildly, but I could also imagine that it might be like a normal descent, only with less talking. I would probably realize what was happening when we were four hundred feet from the ground and just have time to think something like Jesus Christ, I just wanted to get there by five and go to the gym, and then we would hit. A few years earlier, Helo Seven-Nine-Uniform had gone down in the Dry Valleys. One of the first responders to the crash still worked at McMurdo and had told me about it. He said he’d taken the downed helicopter apart with his ice axe and Leatherman tool to get a passenger out. That was the part he talked about: how lightweight and flimsy the metal had been, how malleable. How he could disassemble the transom with handtools. He didn’t talk much at all about how sturdy the man inside had been. Nor had he gotten back into a helicopter since. I reached out now with one gloved hand, pressed it against the side of the hull, imagined how hard you would have to press to be able to make it bulge outwards. Statistically speaking, 7.5 helicopter accidents happen every 100,000 hours of flying. About 0.105 helicopter accidents happen every season in Antarctica. Odds were that 0.05096 people would survive helicopter crashes every season in Antarctica. Only about 60-65% of Americans eat breakfast. Chances were only 0.03 Americans would survive a helicopter crash in Antarctica after eating breakfast. What were the odds that someone would survive a helicopter crash after having a bowl of Rice
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Krispies with powdered milk, a microwaved Fig Newton, and 2.5 cups of coffee? We didn’t crash. We landed safely on schedule despite the bad weather, but I didn’t go to the gym, or look for Catherine. I climbed out of the helicopter, looked at the dirty sprawl that was McMurdo, and went straight to a private pay phone tucked in the back of a seldom-used housing building that I had found on a previous stopover and called Chris. His phone rang unanswered. I thought about calling my parents, the only other number I had memorized, but it was three in the morning where they lived. I dialed Chris again, with less hope this time, just to listen to it ring. I set the receiver back in the cradle. Then I cried for the first time in months, tucked into an anonymous corner where I would be neither overheard by my coworkers nor risk having my face freeze. I hid there until after the galley had closed for the night. The next morning I stepped gingerly around the research base. By the back entrance of the galley two men sat on the steps smoking cigarettes. I couldn’t differentiate between their exhaled smoke and the usual frozen breath, and wondered if the fact that smoking and breathing looked the same out here took a little of the joy out of the cigarette. Catherine found me in the hallway outside the galley. She made a small, sibilant sound before wrapping her arms around me. Catherine smells like she’s been granted regular showers, I thought as I rested my chin on my friend’s shoulder. Catherine kept her hands on my shoulders when she stepped back, looking from my right eye to my left and back again. “You’re here until tomorrow,” she said, a statement, not a question. She ran the flight manifests. I nodded and lifted the right side of my mouth in a half-smile. “I’m fine,” I said. “I figured.” She still hadn’t let go of my shoulders. “You know what? You’re going to cut my hair today. Short.” “I’ve never cut hair before,” I said. “I don’t care.” “This is a bad plan.” “It’ll be fun. Short-short. Boy cut. You’ll do great.” Catherine shoved me up the stairs to her room, put scissors into my hands, and told me to have at it. Reluctant and terrified at first, I made tentative snips, but soon the floor was littered with Catherine’s hair and I was ordering her on how to tilt her head, throwing water on the ends to make them stick up. Two hours later we were drinking coffee in the galley. Catherine shoved her hands through her new haircut once every few minutes, giving a small shriek of nonsensical delight. My muscles relaxed bit by bit. Later, we did Marble Point’s laundry together and I caught myself lecturing Catherine on the dangers of oil dependencies. I picked up a few more novels and bought a bottle of Johnnie Walker to bring back to Marble Point. In the morning I returned to the helipad, got into another helicopter and took off. “Welcome back,” Griff yelled at me over the din of the turbine. He kept his hand on my backpack as we half crouched, half ran out from under the shadow of the rotor blades.
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“Thanks,” I shouted. Griff patted my back a few times, his ear protectors perched crookedly on his head, then ran back to refuel the helicopter. I had taken my outdoor gear off and dropped my backpack in the kitchen when he came back in. “So…” he said. “Okay trip?” “Fine,” I replied evenly. He nodded but kept looking at me, it seemed, for me to say something more, “It was okay,” I said. “It was good.” “Good.” He waited another moment, then: “Did you bring us whiskey?” Andrew stuck his head into the kitchen. “Hey! How’s it going?” “Fine. I’m hungry. What have you guys been eating?” Griff and Andrew exchanged a look. “Well. We thought about what would happen if the helicopters couldn’t fly and we had to spend the whole winter out here. So we tried getting some algae from the lakes, you know, we dug it out from under the ice hole where we pump our water from, to see if it was truly edible. We’ve been baking it.” “It’s not bad with teriyaki sauce or Tabasco,” Andrew put in. “That’s absurd,” was all I could say. “Yeah, you’re right. We’re kidding. There’s lasagna that’s probably about your age but the expiration date had worn off the box, so who knows.” It was a Tuesday, and the temperature was thirty-four degrees below zero. All conditions were normal.
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Blue Mesa Review at AWP Portland 2019
Contest Judges for Summer 2019 Contest Want to find out who our contest judges for the Summer 2019 contest will be before anyone else? Visit Blue Mesa Reviewâ€™s table at AWP Portland from March 27-30, 2019 to find out! If you canâ€™t make it to the conference, keep an eye on our Twitter and Instagram accounts during the conference for more information!
Welcome to Portland
Photo by Emily Cope
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2nd Place Poetry 2018 Summer Contest In conversation with CAConrad’s While Standing in Line for Death, Ivanna Baranova questions the limit of the ritual to “‘somaticize’ / safety.” I was drawn to the humor and restraint of this poem, (which shows in moments like “two assholes / duking it out” and “rapt in pools of / masculine compulsion”) and how the use of parentheses creates the feeling that there’s always something more lurking beneath. It’s a thick moment, deconstructed with a real sense of curiosity. Franny Choi
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electric hand (after CAConrad) electric hand
Ivanna Baranova (after CAConrad) i. our so-called friend is gonna murder the 10pm catcaller who sits in the chlorinated tub splash splash two assholes duking it out over their perceived ownership of pussy ii. “take notes for the poem” iii. when in water women are the starfish vigilante of the aquatic panopticon (habit-turned-necessity) hot jet corners soaked thighs quiver drip no no (no) rapt in pools of masculine compulsion iv. my cells shimmer like Capricorn moon(stone)— crystal on a ring around
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soaked thighs quiver drip no no (no) rapt in pools of masculine compulsion iv. my cells shimmer like Capricorn moon(stone)— crystal on a ring around the ring around my fat femme finger that is mine all mine v. _____? (how many) rituals enacted “somaticize” safety? _____? (how many) crystals ingested “ritualize” the body? vi. “your arms look strong like they could punch someone” i say recalling the time my own arms failed me and i couldn’t get away sometimes my electric hand stays clenched in a fist remembering
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BMR Reconnects with Jennifer Givhan By Luisa Pennington and Frances Badgett In May of 2017, Blue Mesa Review spoke to Mexican-American writer Jennifer Givhan on her work, which spans the topics of life, death, and femininity. Originally from the California-Mexico border, Jennifer Givhan now resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico where she is a writer, mother, editor, and educator. A prominent voice in the writing community, Givhan obtained a Masters in English from California State University and a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from Warren Wilson college. Today, Givhan teaches composition at Western New Mexico University, in addition to online poetry workshops at the Poetry Barn. Other honors include the Frost Place Latinx Scholarship, a National Latinx Writers’ Conference Scholarship, The Lascaux Review Poetry Prize, Phoebe Journal’s Greg Grummer Poetry Prize chosen by Monica Youn, the Pinch Poetry Prize chosen by Ada Limón, and seven Pushcart nominations. Her work has appeared in Best of the Net, Best New Poets, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Ploughshares, POETRY, TriQuarterly, Boston Review, AGNI, Crazyhorse, Witness, Southern Humanities Review, Missouri Review, and The Kenyon Review, among many others. Givhan has been published over 100 times and was a runner up for Blue Mesa Review’s 2014 Poetry Prize. In 2015, she was granted the National Endowment for the Arts fellowship which was awarded to her in order to assist her literary prowess. At the time of our last interview, Givhan was working on a book of poems titled Protection Spell, which then became a finalist in the 2017 Miller Williams Poetry Prize. We wrote to Givhan to discuss her latest book, Girl with a Desk Mask. Winner of the 2017 Blue Light Books Prize, the collection is unafraid to talk about love, sex, and late nights. You’re an editor at Tinderbox Poetry Journal as well as a writer. Can you talk a little about those roles? How they complement and how they contrast? I see editing as a chance to give back to the community the support and encouragement that has been given to me; in my early career as a poet, a kind word from an editor when the rejections were pouring in meant everything to me, buoyed me. As a writer and as an editor, I know firsthand how important mentorship can be, that sense of community, that sense of finding others with whom the work resonates— it’s like finding kindreds, lights in the dark.
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Lately I’ve had to learn to pare back in my editorial roles because editing takes as much energy as writing, often, and I’ve needed to learn a balance since I don’t ever want to stop writing, but I only have so much steam at the end of the day. Several friends have pointed out that writing is also giving to the community, that taking time for ourselves as writers is also a kind of gift. This is something I’m learning for myself, as a mother/writer/editor. You write poetry as well as fiction. Are you mostly a poet? How does poetry inform your fiction prose? Do the genres share themes for you? I’m a poet at heart. I think in poetry, in rhythm, line, and song. And yet, I love a good story. There’s nothing quite like that Dark and stormy night. I write to ask my readers to pull up a chair. I have something to tell you. Whatever tools the Muse hands me to make that happen, I am grateful for. I have two novels forthcoming in the next two years, and I’m getting started on a third. I also have a poetry manuscript I’m working on. The two feel interchangeable for me. And they speak to each other. Next year, for instance, my novel Trinity Sight, about a Latina scientist who has fallen into an indigenous myth in the dystopian New Mexican desert, is coming out with Blackstone Press, and my poetry collection Rosa’s Einstein, about two sisters who go searching the desert circus wonderland for Einstein’s lost daughter and their lost scientist father, is forthcoming from University of Arizona Press. Both utilize myth, magic, the hero’s journey, and theoretical physics. And yet, they are night and day in terms of structure. Still, they come from the same core, the same poet’s heart, the same daydreamer’s hope that
someday I’ll fall into a mythical wonderland and break all the rules of science—or finally understand. Why did you decide to convey your story in four poetry movements, as opposed to one work of creative nonfiction, or even as a fictional character’s story? I’m actually at work on a memoir, Quinceañera with Baby Fever, and have two novels forthcoming, both of which tackle motherhood/ girlhood from different angles and speak to my experiences as a Latina in the Southwestern borderlands, transforming via myth and the magical real. Poetry often speaks to me first and clearest, and I work through any other ideas I have through the poems – what the poems teach me, open up within me, I often then find ways to expand via fiction/nonfiction. But the poems speak first. Girl with Death Mask is the bridge I needed on my journey toward healing and survival – it is the guide and hope I leave my daughter, and those girls/women who find resonance and light within its pages.
Girl with Death Mask explores themes of womanhood. To you, what is most poetic about being a woman? The endless possibilities for transformation. This is true of any human, yes. But I’m especially concerned in Girl with Death Mask of the opportunities for girls/women to transform – to break away from or stand apart from a society that has so often tried to trap us within our biological/reproductive functions and/or demean us within rape culture and the cult of beauty… At least this was true for myself as a girl growing up in a Mexican-American
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border town. My speakers find release in the transformative power of reclaiming their own voices, some even after death, such as Victoria in The Girl… Runs Away – where the takeaway is that, finally, she is believed. Her story is heard. My collection is a song for girlhoodturned-womanhood. The woman going back to girl and saving herself and those she collects in the net of her arms, in the net of her heart along the way. Which movement within Girl with Death Mask do you think your readers will relate to most and why? I hope all movements hold some discovery for readers – the first is the historical trauma, the girlhood mired by rape culture, the #MeToo lifeline reaching back through the speakers’ bloodline; the second is the speaker grappling
through motherhood with the weight of trauma strapped to her body and soul; the third, a bridge, reconsiders the mythical La Llorona, a haunted figure who has traditionally terrified children, now reclaimed as a source of hope and light, a way out of the dark tunnel the speaker has found herself in; the fourth is the speaker transformed, unmasked, flying not away but back into herself, renewed, perhaps not completely healed, but armed with hope and knowledge, at the altar of staying alive, proclaiming, Whatever happened to my body My body kept me alive. How do you want Girl with Death Mask to influence readers today? I hope it will be the survival guide you need; or the map toward transformation. If you are unaware of rape culture and the lasting trauma it effects on girls/women, then I hope this will serve as the eye-opener you’ve needed. I hope it will be a two-way looking glass, where you can both find yourself and be carried away somewhere strange – somewhere into yourself where you can see yourself anew. What’s next for you? Finding joy. I catch glimpses in the writing, glimpses in the mothering and daughtering. I need to grab it and hold onto it, let it fly me away.
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Blue painted door, Paris
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2nd Place Fiction 2018 Summer Contest This story is beautifully narrated and shows bravery and wisdom. LuĂs Alberto Urrea
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An Answer to Your Question Laura Price Steele
There’s a club we used to go to near the river, a place meant for people like us. This was before you, before everything. The club was downstairs—you had to descend into it, and it always felt like crawling down a throat. The bathroom stall doors had fallen off and been carried away. I remember that. But the club itself was nothing. A little fist of darkness on the dance floor. A pool table with a rut down the middle. The sweaty-chinned bartender. There was nothing official about the club. No drag shows or rainbow flags. In fact, not having a real name kept the place from gaining much of a reputation. I didn’t even think of it as gay bar, just a place with less rules about how bodies should be arranged. The few times I’d ventured into other bars I sensed immediately a whole set of laws for how men should stand next to one another. I mimicked the boxy stance—arms crossed, chest inflated, head on a swivel. Guys stood as if they were each encased in a refrigerator-size force field and they did not get any closer unless they absolutely had to. There were of course little exceptions when men were expected to touch, but any platonic hand on the shoulder or elbow to the ribs had to be done with a calibrated casualness I never quite got the hang of. We didn’t go to the club to be inside. We went to smoke out front. To climb up and down the stairs. To sneak into the back alley and kick our toes into the curb. To toss empties into the dumpster like glass grenades. Sing was the bouncer. We went for him too. Every night he propped himself on a stool and didn’t move unless he had to. I’d never seen anyone so patient with violence, so calculated in doling out pain. Even nights when we could see a fight coming from a long way off, Sing waited as long as he could. And then he only hit as hard as he had to. I think it made people test him more often—he gave them the chance to get an exact measurement of what they could get away with. I watched once as Sing put his fist into a man’s bulging stomach. The man had been yelling for a while, his words whiskey-loose as if the stitching that held one sound to another had come undone. Sing’s expression did not change. He waited until the man thrust his red face too close and then he delivered one quick blow to the man’s gut. The man stumbled back toward the street; it would have been easy for Sing to shove him to the ground and take another shot or two, but he didn’t. Instead he looked off the other direction while the man stood doubled over, gulping air. Sing never revealed a whole lot about himself, but we spent plenty of time guessing at the particulars of his life because even in that small town where everyone was tied to the same string, we never saw him anywhere but at the club. When he left he seemed to evaporate into the night, though I heard he lived out in Bonner somewhere. We’d also heard that he grew up in Guam, that he’d been a Marine, that he lived on the Rez, that he was divorced, that his dad was a Hmong guerilla fighter, that he had a baby who died in some freak accident, that he’d done time for a DUI—we heard enough to know it couldn’t all be true. But his dark features disguised his age well, and we had trouble even settling on how many decades he’d been around. What we wondered most, of course, was whether Sing worked at the club because he belonged there or because it was a job he could keep. We never put words to it, but we were all watching
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him the same—trying to catch his gaze settle on any one person. But it never did. Occasionally, I saw people from the club at the gas station and the grocery store and most of the time they locked eyes with me and nodded. Sometimes they pretended not to see me. None of them ever said anything. So many of us might never really come out, and here we were locking eyes with strangers who we’d seen grinding up against one another. I liked the feeling of holding the secret between us, fragile like a blown-out eggshell, but I could tell most of them did not trust me with it. I did not really have friends then. I had a trio of guys that I met up with. Theo, who was rail-thin with bright orange hair and knobby elbows. Abe, who had a square head and one grey tooth. And Link, who was half-native and kept a sling-shot in his back pocket at all times. We were not a good match, and I think we could all tell that we were simply placeholders in each other’s lives until something better came along. The four of us moved toward the club the way we might move toward the scent of a rotted fruit, as if we could not tell whether we were compelled by appetite or disgust. When I edged up to the dance floor I found I was mostly repelled by the people there. Their mouths hung open, their eyes rolled back in their heads, their limbs did not match their bodies. But even as I watched the most wretched of them swirl around each other, I could not quite pull myself away. None of us ever stepped out on the dance floor. We shifted around the club as if every time was our first time. We acted overwhelmed by the stink and the sweat, by the man with the undone tie and the woman with the dreadlocks. We eyed the men sneaking into the bathroom together and traded looks of disbelief. We poured out the back door and kicked around the alley, pretending that we did not want to be there. We claimed to come because the liquor was cheap and no one bothered to check our ID’s. We talked often about moving to Seattle. Sing popped into the alley sometimes. He took smoke breaks back there. But he didn’t really smoke cigarettes as much as he let them burn to cinders between his fingers. On the rare occasion that he talked to us, he did so impersonally, as if he could be talking to anyone. One time he claimed he could see the space station right above us. None of us knew what to say, but we all looked up and watched a little blue/ red blinking light slide across the sky. I think it was just a satellite. I was still going to school then. My senior year. Theo was in my class. Abe had dropped out and gotten a logging job. Link was a junior, but he looked older than the rest of us. He talked about working the gold mines down in Nevada when he graduated. He wanted to work with explosives. Looking back, it’s strange to think how careful we were to not talk about sex. Somehow, we just glommed together and knew better than to put words to our common ground. An instinct that dims after adolescence, I think. During the week we met at the California Street Bridge and walked down to the river. Link tried to slingshot rocks to the opposite bank. On the weekends we met up outside the club, and we always spent a few minutes pretending to decide whether we really wanted to go in. Sing respectfully ignored our fake deliberations and bumped his fist on our shoulders as we passed him on the way through the door. He smelled like campfire and stale tequila. All of us had been leered at. We’d had men offer to buy us drinks. Twice I had a man hook his fingers into the pocket of my jeans to pull me closer. Once a hand slipped under the back of my shirt and stayed against my skin until I pulled away. I was drawn to those interactions, but the pleasure seemed to come
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from declining the offers. I could not be sure what that meant for me. Figuring out my own sexuality felt like trying pick out the shape of an object by looking only at its funhouse shadow. The club is long gone now. I passed through Montana a couple years ago and found a little shit bakery there. The stairs they’d left the same. Each step had the slicked concrete edge of a million footfalls. But the door had been replaced and everything inside was turned around. The bar itself had been completely removed. I used their bathroom and bought a coffee, which had the burnt pumpkin taste that some coffee gets. When I paid, I wanted to tell the woman something about what the place had been, but I knew how grotesquely intimate that would be, like lopping off an ear and dropping it into her hand. Instead I asked, “How long you guys been here?” “At this location? Three or four years,” she said. She had a chirping voice meant to cut off the possibility of more conversation. “And before this?” I asked, even though her gaze had already flitted away from me. “It was on the other side of the bridge, I think. That was before me,” she said. “Before you?” I said. I wasn’t ready to be left alone. “I’ve been here a year and a half.” Her eyes met mine and I could see a fleck of black in the gray of her left iris. “I used to come here,” I said. The base of my throat tightened. “Before it was this.” “Oh,” she said. I could see that she’d dealt with her fair share of lonely middle-aged men in her life. No matter what I said, she wasn’t going to ask a question that might prolong the conversation. In fact, when she saw I wasn’t moving along, she looked past me as if there was another customer waiting even though I could have called her bluff simply by looking over my shoulder. “Thanks,” I said, lifting my coffee. She nodded. I took my change and left, dislocated by my own nostalgia. The last night I ever went into the club was in the middle of October. I remember because a few overeager people were already dressed up for Halloween. Winter had laced itself into the air and the cold stung my nostrils on the walk up from the bridge. The four of us huddled together for a minute on the corner before we made our way up the street. Sing stood in his usual spot just outside the mouth of the staircase, his body thick, a hat pulled over his ears. “Boys,” he said, nodding as we slipped by. The club wasn’t too busy. A few regulars, a group of girls who leaned on each other, two men in work boots playing pool. The place smelled of sweat, spilled beer, and the cool dampness of a tunnel. I sipped whiskey and coke. The lights looped, purple and green, across the low ceiling. A man stuck his ass out too far as he leaned into his pool shot. Theo got in my ear about our upcoming English paper and kept at it even when I tried to change the subject. I didn’t want to talk about school; one of the benefits of coming to the club was that it cut off feeling to the other parts of my life, left them numb like dead limbs. I drank my drink too fast so that I could back away from Theo and get a refill. I set my empty on the bar. I could feel the heat of the man sitting on the stool next to me. “Another?” the bartender asked. He had too many creases in his face. Abe said he used to be a meth head. Got clean
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after his wife overdosed and died in the bathtub. “Thanks,” I nodded. I turned away from the man on the stool to look at the dance floor. A man and woman clutched each other, swaying out-of-sync with the dance beat. She had ratty hair that hung all the way down to her waist. The bartender slid a cool glass into my hand. Already the whiskey had loosened the marrow in my bones. The man on the stool swiveled toward me just slightly, but I didn’t look at him. Link stood by the back door. When my gaze swung over him, he caught my eye and held up a pack of cigarettes. I nodded, put up one finger to tell him to wait for me. I paid slowly, slipping the bills from my wallet one at a time. The cash stuck to the beaded moisture on the bar, wetness blooming in a cloud around Washington’s glum face. I didn’t turn toward the man on the stool, but I moved my hip into his space just to test the fever between us. Then I pivoted away and headed toward the door. “You seen Abe?” Link asked. Already he had an unlit cigarette between his lips. I scanned the edges of the room. “Is he outside with Theo?” So much of our conversation was just keeping tabs on one another. “Maybe,” he shrugged. Then he flipped his hood up and turned toward the exit. That’s when we heard it—the laughter. It was enough to make us both pause. Everyone in the place turned toward the sound. I realized for the first time that even with the constant thrumming of the music and the patter of conversation, nothing in the club was ever very loud. The laughter turned the air into something brittle, something I could hold between my teeth. Just inside the entrance a half-dozen guys breathed into their hands. They were not much older than us, from the college probably, and each of them wore an ill-fitting dress—their chest hair spilling out, their legs goose-bumped, their shoulders too square. Immediately I could see that the costumes were a joke. “What the fuck?” Link whispered. “It’s Halloween,” I said, even though Halloween was weeks away. The men at the door stomped their feet as if they’d walked through snow to get there. They stood with their legs wide apart. “What’s good here?” one of them asked, half-shouting. If the group had a quarterback, it was this one. He had an easy grin and those light-up eyes like he’d never had anyone say no to him. His dress was made of gold sequin and had only one shoulder. “Fuck if I know,” the short one said. He fidgeted as if he needed to prove how uncomfortable he was in his outfit. The quarterback surveyed the room and gave a little wave like he was doing us all a favor just by showing up. I might have slipped out then if Link wasn’t standing in my way. “Carry on,” one of the guys yelled to the room at large. He looked like the quarterback’s righthand man. A little thicker through the middle and meaner around the eyes. The quarterback liked the attention, but this one didn’t want to be stared at. His dress looked like something a great aunt would be buried in. Floral and high-necked with buttons down the front. The men at the pool table got back to their game. The bartender tipped whiskey into a shot glass. Link and I were still frozen. He hadn’t even taken his hood off. The guys moved in a pack toward the bar,
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the fabric of their dresses catching on their skin and hiking too far up their legs. The quarterback leaned onto the bar as if he was a woman with cleavage to show off. “Seven shots,” he said. “Of what?” the bartender asked without looking up. “Tequila.” The quarterback had this sing-song voice that was maybe part of the costume. The bartender lined up the shot glasses and filled them by sweeping the bottle over them in one fluid motion. The quarterback pulled a credit card out of the front of his dress and the guys in the horseshoe around him snorted with laughter. I felt the pressure of the room ratchet up. “Keep it open,” he said, tipping the card into the bartender’s hands. I checked on the dance floor, which had emptied. That’s when Theo and Abe reappeared. They must have been out on Second Street because they came in through the front door. Theo had a way of entering that made it seem like he’d been shoved from behind. I tried to catch his eye, but he didn’t see me. “What’s this?” he said. He seemed to be genuinely curious. Abe was already a few steps behind. The quarterback shimmied up to Theo. The men around him snickered. “It’s okay if you like it,” he said. Pinholes of light reflected off the dress. Theo wasn’t a whole lot shorter than the quarterback, but his frame was so thin he took up half as much space. “Do you like it?” the quarterback asked. Theo’s mouth gaped—a little cave of darkness below the boxy white of his teeth. I felt Link tense up next to me. “Don’t you think I look pretty?” the quarterback said and he moved too close to Theo. Theo put his hands up. The right-hand man stepped forward. “Answer the question.” He reached out like he might smack Theo in the ear. “Sure,” Theo said. “He looks pretty.” “Don’t tell me,” the right-hand man said. “Tell him.” “You look pretty,” Theo said. The right-hand man laughed a few hard notes. For a second, I thought that might be the end of it. But then the quarterback pushed even closer to Theo. They could probably smell each other’s breath. The quarterback grabbed Theo by the front of his shirt almost like he meant to kiss him on the mouth. Instead he hooked one leg around Theo’s feet and shoved him in the chest so that Theo fell backwards to the ground. Theo landed on his ass and his arms flew out sideways. To his credit he tried to laugh it off, but the laugh sounded too much like a sob. Before anyone else moved, Abe stepped between Theo and the quarterback. Abe was short, but stout. Logging had turned his back ropy and wide. The pack of guys turned toward Abe, closed in a step. “Shit,” Link hissed. I could tell he felt what I knew I should—an instinct to defend Theo, a willingness to fight. He didn’t say anything to me, but he slid away and then there he was, standing next to Abe at the center of things. Somehow the cigarette in his mouth was lit. “What’re you going to do faggots?” the right-hand man said. Something in the air soured instantly. “We might be faggots, but you’re a bunch of pussies,” Link said. I couldn’t believe the word faggots could roll out of his mouth so easily.
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The right-hand man lurched forward like he wanted to make Link flinch. But Link didn’t flinch. Instead he took the cigarette from his lips and flicked it right at the quarterback. The orange tip glowed as it arced through the air. It landed with a little burst of sparks at the hollow of the quarterback’s throat. He jolted and flapped his hands against his chest. There was something distinctly feminine about the movement. No one threw the first punch exactly, but suddenly bodies collided. Link and the right-hand man went after each other. Abe got tangled with some guy in a tight purple dress. Theo didn’t even bother to get all the way to his feet. He crawled into the knot of people and grabbed someone’s knees, took them to the ground. The two guys in work boots shouldered their way in, but I couldn’t tell if they were trying to hit someone or break it up. The fight lacked any sort of athleticism. When fists swung, they swung wildly and mostly missed their target. I saw one guy hurt his hand by landing a punch into the sharp corner of Abe’s shoulder bone. Theo had his guy on the ground, but they were mostly just wriggling around, trying to get up. Link was hunched, jabbing into the right-hand man’s gut, too close to gain any momentum. Abe was the one to pick up a bottle and throw it at the quarterback. It grazed his hip and shattered on the ground. I think that’s where most of the blood came from—people falling into all that glass. I knew I should try to get at least to the edge of the action. Abe, Link, and Theo were in a losing battle. I saw each of them take a good hit. But my feet stayed planted as if I was locked in place, as if I wasn’t quite sure which side I would be on if I stepped into the fray. Just then the door next to me pulled open. Sing brushed past, letting a rush of cold air snap into the room. A short metal pipe hung in his right hand, tucked partly up into his sleeve. He did not hurry, but he moved with a smooth efficiency. The first guy he got his hands on wore a blue dress that shimmered like an oil spill. Sing came up from behind, hooked one hand around the guy’s neck, and landed a sharp blow into his ribs with the pipe. From there, Sing slid toward a dull pink dress. He whacked the pipe across the bare skin of an arm. The sound of metal on meat changed the tone of the room, introduced the sort of pain that could echo through a body for months or even years. The energy in the scrum turned frantic. The costumed men seemed to understand that they’d lost their upper hand. Some of them angled toward the door. Both Abe and Link found space to step back, but Sing moved forward into the crowd of dresses. I watched his arm pivot back and forth. I saw the men curl into themselves with each blow. And finally, I saw Sing standing in front of the quarterback. They looked each other in the face. The quarterback let out a breath as if he understood the fight to be over. For a moment I thought maybe there was an unspoken truce between him and Sing, but then Sing cocked his arm and brought the pipe down sharply across the quarterback’s jaw. It was the sort of blow that could kill a man. The quarterback’s body twisted like a rope and collapsed to the floor. The rest of the fighting stopped instantly. Three of the guys rushed to the quarterback. Leaned over, they looked almost like women. Sing let the pipe hang heavy in his hand. He turned toward me. I thought in the moment that he was staring right at me. But maybe he was just looking at the door. The quarterback came to with a deep-gutted groan. His friends pulled him to his feet, but he couldn’t hold himself up. They kept repeating his name, which turned out to be Trevor. His neck tipped back and his eyes rolled around in his head. Already his face had changed shape, his jawline swollen, his forehead
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bigger somehow. Sing did not look at him. Instead he leaned against the bar. I understood right then that my life, if I lived it, would include this sort of thing. I would have to decide which side of the violence I wanted to be on. The men in dresses shouldered their quarterback and disappeared out the front door. The bartender pulled a broom from behind the bar and handed it to Sing. He swept up the broken glass, leaving smears of blood that would have to be mopped up later. Nobody said anything. Link, Theo, and Abe were all turned away from me, their shoulders nearly touching. I could tell even without seeing their faces that they had been fused together by the violence. Before anyone bothered to look for me, I slipped out the door into the glassy cold of the night. Outside the air was like tinder—that happened when the Hellgate winds picked up. I cut down toward the river, walked along the water for a while. In the dark the river looked like concrete, like it might hold me up if I tried walking out onto it. At the California Street bridge, I crossed south, stopping in the center to test my eyes, see if I could pick out the current. I had to wait a while before something floated by and caught my gaze. While I stood with my head hanging, I felt the distinct sensation of being watched—a cold creep up my scalp, a pressure on the underside of my heart. For a split second I thought maybe Theo, Link, and Abe had come to find me. But when I picked up my head, I found myself staring into the face of a stunned deer. She was nearly to the middle of the bridge. Almost close enough for me to reach out and touch. Her glossy black eyes were pinned on me. I could tell I’d surprised her and now she was measuring the space between us, trying to decide whether she should turn back. I didn’t move. The silver light spilled off her hide. Her front legs were knobby and thin, but her shoulders were bulbed with muscle. I knew deer to be perpetual prey—dismembered by mountain lions and bears, split apart on the highway, shot and quartered during hunting season. But this close, I could see the power of her limbs, the fear curled up in her body, but something else there, too. Her hooves were sharp, and I understood that she would pummel me with them if it came to that. We stood a long time stuck in place, the steam lifting off her nose. Her ears twitched. She picked up her front leg, took one step forward and paused. I could smell her—the musk of dirt gummy with sweat and sap. She took one more slow step and then exploded into a trot, springing to the other side of the river with such velocity, the bridge shuddered under her weight. I can still—even after all these years—close my eyes and see the quarterback’s ragdoll body fold into itself. For months I imagined him with his mouth wired shut, sipping meals through a straw, tonguing the cracks in his teeth. When the scene plays back in my head, I try to cast myself as Sing; I try to feel the weight of the pipe in my hand. But I am always the quarterback—bearing the brunt of a fight for which I feel no real conviction, too naïve to even put my hands up. So, when you ask me how long I’ve known I’m not sure how to answer. I’ve known a long time, but I’ve known almost as long that I don’t have the stomach for it. In fact, a few weeks after that night I packed a bag and told myself I was going to hitchhike to Seattle. I figured that if I could just get to an I-90 ramp, it would prove that I had enough grit to carry me the rest of the way. But instead I left the bag under my bed until spring, when I finally took my folded clothes out and tucked them back into my dresser, mixing them in with all the stuff I’d been willing to leave behind.
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2nd Place Nonfiction 2018 Summer Contest “Homing” is about finding home through missing it. It’s about pigeons and floods and coal country and monogamy, but it’s also an eloquent, sensitive exploration of what it means to find beauty in places that other people don’t notice, and what it means to find yourself belonging to a place, or not belonging enough. More than anything, it’s alive to the complexities of how so many experiences can feel several different ways at once. Leslie Jamison
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The peace is partly in being free of the suspicion that pursued me most of my life, no matter where I was, that there was perhaps another place I should be, or would be happier in. â€”Wendell Berry The Flood
Noah was the first man to use a bird to deliver a message. His ark reached the steeple of Mount Ararat, a dormant volcano in far eastern Turkey, in the first six months of the global flood. It was crowded. Hanging from the rafters, swinging through the rough sea, were cauldrons of bats and passels of possums. Skittering into corners were glares of cats and caravans of camels and clusters of arachnids. Lounging across the floor like frat boys were sleuths of bears, gangs of buffalo, and a congregation of apes. Lions paraded themselves along the catwalk of the ship. Pods of whales and swarms of eels hunkered in saltwater pools in the hull, while a bevy of otters and a bale of turtles sat half-sunk in small streams of freshwater worn into cordwood. Noah did not sleep. He was constantly caretaking. He fed each animal group every day, he cleaned up their shit, he broke up fights between predator and prey, he cradled those who were homesick, most often the two-toed sloths and the ravens. He waited, his boat periodically banging along the side of the iceberg-like mountain, for three months before he noticed the earth begin to change. He opened his hands like the spine of a book and a dove flew out. It returned to him a week later like a boomerang. In its beak it carried the silvery sprig of an olive tree. The seas that flooded the earth had seeped back to the underwater portals from where they came.According to the Bible, the land was ready for Noah to restore the planet. After a year aboard a floating zoo, Noah eagerly returned home. His animals, whom he had mothered for the longest year of his life, slowly shook off the dust from their hackles and feathers, their fins and their scales. They licked the parts that were dirty, scraped their claws along rocks to sharpen them, stretched their wings in their caves like an updraft of hope. They blinked as Noah opened their doors, pulled back the curtains, unlocked the skylights and let the sun pour into their pens. Their knees buckled as they stood and their hooves felt tender. But one by one they all began to walk and then paddle and then gallop towards the open door of the ark. The giraffes and the dolphins nearly crushed Noah in their eagerness. The sloths and the ravens gave Noah a nod but every other animal began their migration home without a backward glance. Noah felt heavy. He sank down to his knees and they were quickly swallowed by muck. He ran his hands through his white beard and felt it matted, smelling a bit like piss. He watched them go, and he felt relieved and suddenly bereft. His family, his wife and his sons and their wives, crowded in the doorway behind him, scarcely believing the foothill of mud and wildflowers that stretched out before them. They were hesitant. What if they forgot how to put one foot in front of the other? What if they forgot how to plow, how to milk, how to grind, how to set aflame, how to procreate, how to saw, how to construct, how to collect water and let Blue Mesa Review | 50
it pour over their hair? Below them Noah was crying. He could barely see the herd of animals in front of him through the blur of his own flood. He would miss the ark like a spreading cancer. He’d live out his days getting drunk and cursing his progeny. He couldn’t remember where he’d come from, only that something was missing. The Cave When I was twenty-one, I followed a man into Mammoth Cave. We walked down steps carved out of limestone. The summer air lowered with each stair like we were descending into a cooler. The railing next to me was wet, and the condensation glided under my hand. My palm smelled like iron. The sky overhead was bright blue like the man’s turquoise t-shirt. The dense rock in front of us was the color of milky tea, the same color as his hands. The mouth of the cave was wide and its roof hung over like a sitting porch. The man reached the iron gate along a slick path of worn rock. He took out a key, unlocked the iron bars, and slid open the door, motioning for me to go in first. I passed through the door, about the size of a kitchen window, like I was re-entering a womb. It was cool, dark, and quiet. I felt so detached from my body, I could have been floating. Somewhere, I heard the gate shut behind me, somewhere, the sound of crickets along the wall. My hand brushed the rumpled side of a stalagmite. It rose from the ground like a column, its smooth curves a potion of mud, minerals, sinter, pitch, and the urine of wood rats skittering across cave floors. I was underground and entrenched. But I felt, suddenly, like the world in front of me was limitless. Mammoth Cave is the largest known cave system on Earth. It unspools for over 405 miles of known passageways. It’s twice as long as the second longest cave system in the world, a series of underwater caverns in Mexico. While explorers have mapped this length, the subterranean systems are still vastly unknown with each new tunnel leading to another new tunnel. According to explorers, there is “no end in sight.” The caves below Kentucky began forming over ten million years ago. In an assembly during third grade, a park ranger came into my gymnasium at Alvaton Elementary School, a small county brick building surrounded by rural neighborhoods, ponds, narrow two lane roads, and farmland. His shiny leather boots squeaked across the shiny yellow floor. He clicked through a slideshow of caves and he told us about the karst system: how water had spent a millenia seeping through limestone rock until it formed openings underground. We knew these as sinkholes. They were strewn across the landscape like horse chestnuts. Everyone’s backyard had a sinkhole. None were roped off. Kids could just tell by the slope of the ground, the shortness of a tree. The park ranger showed us photos of cave crickets, eyeless cave shrimp, bats. The Dove The messenger bird referred to as a dove in the Bible could also be the common pigeon, known as the rock dove. The pigeon is an empire builder. The pigeon directed Noah and his progeny to a new world. For Genghis Khan, the pigeon founded the largest geographic dynasty ever known, the Mongol Empire, by flying between communication posts. For the ancient Romans, the pigeon aided Julius Caesar in capturing Gaul, or what is now modern-day France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Switzerland along
with corners of Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany. The same pigeons were used by Prussians to end the Franco-American war after the Siege of Paris, the same war that allowed for the rise of the German Empire. During World War I, Germans used them as photographers, strapping cameras to the pigeon’s bellies for aerial reconnaissance. The French used them to carry casualty records, coded plans, and messages of victory or defeat. Anyone who impeded the journey of their flying cavalry was sentenced to death. The U.S. Army even used them. One valiant American pigeon was shot on his journey but flew home to his coop, delivering his message before dying of his wounds. Carrier pigeons excelled as territorial messengers because of their strong homing instinct. Homing, or the impulse and ability to return home after traveling over a vast distance, over a long time, or over unfamiliar territory, is not exclusive to pigeons. Domestic pets are said to have this strong instinct. In the 1993 movie Homeward Bound a trio of animals -- the wise golden retriever, the slapstick bulldog puppy, and the independent feline -- flee a California ranch for their family in San Francisco. They navigate dense forests, run through golden plains, climb mountains, and cross strong, tumbling rivers. The whole region is foreign to them, but eventually they make it home. Seabirds are said to follow the sun and the smells of open water back to their nests. The wandering albatross, a bird with a wingspan of up to eleven feet, with white feathers and a yellow bill that fades to grey at its beak, can return to remote islands after flying thousands of miles away. They can return to the very nest where they parted from their mates months before. Dung beetles use the milky way. Mole rats, the familiar curves of underground burrows. Sea turtles, landmarks like coral and groves of plankton and ocean currents. Salmon use olfaction, or smell, to find their way back to the rivers where they spawned to spend one earnest season swimming upstream to procreate. Lobsters use the magnetic orientation of the earth. Although people have theories, the way animals find home is still a bit of a mystery. We don’t know exactly how they return to mates or nests or landmarks or regions or rocks or tunnels or perches or coops. Only that they do, and that in lonely walks at dusk through foreign cities, in sun-dappled afternoons staring out coffeeshop windows, in the quiet shatterings of hospital rooms and public buses and airplanes and college campuses and refugee camps and shelters and apartment complexes, we wish we could too. The Cave, Part Two In Mammoth Cave, the man and I sat on a rock wall next to a beaten path. We could hear visitors walking through tunnels that would eventually lead to ours. We turned off our headlamps and felt ourselves disappear in the darkness. I heard him shuffle and it sounded very far away. “Where are you?” I asked. In six months, the man in the cave would move to a Pacific Island while I moved to the West Coast. We were ill-fated. Once, in bed, he turned to me crying and said he was worried he was only with me so he wouldn’t have to feel alone. I soothed him. At the time, I thought he was my home. If only he could follow the sun or the milky way or the tunnels or the ocean currents back to me. I am twenty-seven now, and in the six years since we parted ways, I’ve seen him once. He was across the street. We waved. But then, in the cave, he leaned forward. He put his hands on my knees and kissed me. I smelled chai
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and musty clothes. “There you are,” I said. The Kentucky River I drove to Wendell Berry’s home from a road that twisted with the curves of the Kentucky River. It was narrow and dark and the driveway up to the white paneling of his farmhouse was steep. While my new boyfriend, Colin, fiddled with the keys, I got out of the passenger side and stood with one foot near my seat and one on the concrete. I saw the river, the small writing house that overlooked it, the steep Kentucky hill that blossomed with purple clover and daisies. Berry walked around the corner from his back porch. He wore a long green coat, tall muck boots, and a hat. He said something about being out with the goats. He invited us inside. We spent two hours drinking glasses of water at his kitchen table. Berry quoted from Aldo Leopold’s “The Land Ethic,” he talked about joining the NRA to shoot Amazon drones off his doorstep, he mentioned strongly worded letters he’d written to the Sierra Club, and he listened patiently while we told him about Montana ranches and landscapes and loneliness. Colin, only one year after moving with me to Montana, talked about missing home. He wanted to return to Kentucky soon. He missed it like a constant ache, like a broken toe that won’t heal or a knuckle that is always bruised. Small but consistent. I nodded in agreement. Berry told us that he admired his wife Tanya for being brave enough to leave California’s Mill Valley and retreat to Kentucky and sheep and tobacco and horses with him. It was a conscious choice for Berry to live and work in his home state. Berry told us about his grandson who wanted to stay home and farm while Berry encouraged him to move out of state, or at least out of the county, to explore. He said, “I hope my grandson moves away before coming home. There’s something in the desire to come home that can only manifest after you leave.” A year later, it’s manifested. We leave the West. We move home. Home Run Through elementary, middle, and high school I treaded water through the public school system in Warren County, Kentucky. At the same time, I ran. From my house to the stop sign three miles away, I passed half a dozen barns, three donkeys, small herds of cows, tiger lillies, a smattering of yappy dogs, two ponds, woodlands, and a trampoline. I loved it because the road was shady with oaks and maples, the charcoal pavement smooth and free of yellow lines. My runs most often ended at a dilapidated barn and an open field of wheat that stretched across the small hills of Southcentral Kentucky to the waning bar of sunlight. Sometimes I stopped to pick up turtles and carry them back to grass. Other times because the light was dappling in a way against the dark green that was beautiful. I sometimes ran that route with my eyes closed. I never stumbled. I never got lost. My eyes always flickered open at the right moment: a crack, a tree root, a stop sign. Then I started again. I didn’t run again with the same joy until I moved, at twenty-two, to the coast of northern California. I lived in a small town, called Fort Bragg, limping along through tourism after a Redwood logging boom and bust. There I ran the forested trail from my red house on Highway 21 to the woods and the No 53 | Issue 38
Trespassing sign a mile later. I ran along the headlands after work. I didn’t get very far. It was sandy, I was out of running shape, and there were so many things to look at. I was also very sad; I had just broken up with the man in the cave. On the weekends I found a trail between two peninsulas of private property. The first half was a boardwalk between stands of eucalyptus trees that pushed skyward in soft peeling trunks. The second half was sand and dirt and brambles and a narrow trail that led to the edge of a cliff covered in a coastal succulent called icefrost. It was sacred. Of the five times I’ve returned since I moved away, I’ve found my way to this secret trail on each visit. The same year, I spent the summer in Berkley. I wandered through entire afternoons following the trail of gardens that outline the East Bay. Honeysuckle sweetened the sidewalks; passion flower vines twirled out of chain link fences; blackberry bushes blossomed before they bore fruit; lemon trees hung heavy with their oval suns; rosemary and lavender grew wild within the easements; manzanita held onto the hills in polished reds; gardens blossomed into succulents, poppies, agave, sunflowers, roses, protea and tulips. I once hiked six miles through the city in sandals just to visit the Botanical Garden. And then I walked six miles home. My feet had blisters but I could see the ocean while I smelled eucalyptus and walked. I was so happy the memory sometimes surprises me. I’ve never gone back. My favorite runs happened in Montana when I was twenty-five. I went early, when the sun was turning the skyline red and then lavender and then gold. The cars were just headlights and I ran from my front porch up a hill to a ditch of fast moving water, and then further up to the base of the Rims, a tall line of sandstone that surrounded the industrial city of oil refineries and train tracks and the fat snake of the Yellowstone River. From up there the city spiraled like a blanket being aired out, at the moment when it’s still floating and hilled in the air. I ran in the cold and the heat and up and down and it was often quiet, and I learned to run thirteen miles and sometimes even a little more. Running, for me, has always felt like a way of belonging to a place. I memorize the land below me -- sand to dirt to brambles to concrete to rock to grass and back again; the feeling of sage or eucalyptus or pine cones beneath my sneakers feels familiar and comforting. When I run with my eyes closed the sun paints my eyelids yellow and I feel as much a part of the universe as any time. Running is like my old Sunday church service; in many ways, it has become my religion. Since moving back to Kentucky I’ve kept up these long runs. I can leave my house and put a dozen miles beneath the padding of my shoes before I hit my doorstep again. I haven’t gotten lost but I also haven’t found anywhere to run without cars and sidewalks and stores and dead ends. It feels like there’s something on my ankle weighing me down, some sort of message like, try again, like I haven’t found my home yet. I’m here but I’m not yet roosting.
Cercis Canadensis The Eastern Redbud tree is native to the eastern seaboard. Its reach spreads from Ontario, Canada, where I was born, all the way to northern Florida. It blooms in the first three weeks of spring. Each year their buds still feel like a gift. Their blossoms litter the streets, the highways, flake down the walls of limestone, curl across lakes. Their petals are coral, periwinkle, lavender, and bright magenta. They twist through the woodlands of the Appalachian foothills like a ribbon. In the mountains it’s known as the spicewood tree. Green twigs are peeled from the limbs to use as seasoning for wild game. They seep into
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possum and venison. The leaves of the Eastern Redbud are eaten by caterpillars, some of which will eventually become the Lo Moth. The Lo Moth has plumy antennae and velvety yellow wings. On their hindwings is a bluish eyespot meant to ward off predators; it’s looking right at you. The moth only lives a little over a week. During that time it may attach itself to lemon-colored vinyl siding or a yellow tulip poplar or goldenrod. It may flutter into lamp posts and front porch lights. It may not live long, but it will stay in the same county where it was born. I have lived in at least twenty different counties. I am constantly forming a new chrysalis, pushing myself back out, pulling myself back in. Laurel County, Kentucky is in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. It is green and rolling like a child’s drawing of farmland. My in-laws live here, on the same 54 acres where Colin grew up. When I visit, I take a daily walk, or two, to the outskirts of a field on the other side of the utility line from their house. The old hayfield is just under seven acres and a neighbor mows it a few times a year. It’s full of blackberries and milkweed, the bright orange of asclepias, and soft rugs of clover. There is a hill that divides the land, sloping up with an island of evergreens in the middle that was the start of a Christmas tree farm when Colin was little. The top of the hill flattens out in two perfect acres before it meets Blakely Road. At dawn, I sit with my in-laws on their back deck, and we throw rubber frisbees and old golf balls down the hill for the dogs to chase. The ritual comes after coffee. It is sandwiched around a walk in the woods that grow into a crest at the bottom of the same hill. Depending on the day, I wear the green rain boots I keep in their basement to splash in Horse Creek. Other times, I bring a book to identify wildflowers like trilliums, purple aster, white phlox, or crownbeard. Learning this land feels important to me. It seems easiest to begin in the brightest spots, the patch of coneflower, the surprise of a mayapple bloom beneath a wet, broad leaf, the feathering of aster along the edge of a field. I have a dog who is two, who I brought back from Montana. She has the markings of a cattle dog but the appetite of a labrador and the attitude of a pitbull. She is fast, hungry, and a bit ferocious. She runs through the fields with her sleek black body of a seal splayed out and torpedo-like. She’s not uncertain at all. She loves it here. A year after we moved back to Kentucky, my father-in-law bought a John Deere mower with an implement for the plow because he thought I might use it one day to grow flowers. I had spent the past few years working sporadically on farms, for florists. When I published my first story online, he uncorked a bottle of Beaujolais. I’d never seen him with anything but a juice glass full of Bota Box Merlot. Is that what love is? Is that how you stumble back home? Here’s the tractor, here’s the wine, here’s the walk through the woods, the sled down the hill, the stack of lumber for the wood stove, the frisbee for your dog. Here’s the coffee in the morning, the sunset at night. Welcome home. The Eastern Rosebud is tied to a place. So is the Lo Moth and so is my partner. I’d like to believe I can be too. Belief Why do I want so badly to feel the same homing instinct for Kentucky? That feeling, in its own way, feels like the religion of my childhood. I desperately want to believe I can stay. I doubt I know how.
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Perhaps I want to feel rooted in Kentucky because I am an idealist. Environmental writer Terry Tempest Williams wrote an essay called “The Wild Card” that argued the most radical thing a person could do was stay home and create community. Especially, she argued, in places that are unassuming. In places not yet protected. I hoped if more people cared about Kentucky, and the South generally, it could become a special place like Yosemite or Moab or Glacier or the Rockies; the western landscape I love and miss. Its mountains might not be cut off for coal. It streams might not be filled with toxic sediments. The health of its people might matter. It might have a national voice. Or perhaps it’s because of my partnership with Colin. I respect long-term commitments. I want a memory keeper to share a life with. Because of this, I desire very much to feel settled in Kentucky. Colin’s parents are here. His community is here. Our dog is here, next to me, chewing a bone and listening to the rain on our roof. They may never leave again. When I worked as a tour guide for a travel company that took me across the country for weeks at a time, Colin told me I couldn’t have it both ways. I couldn’t have my home and my life of continual motion. But both ways is the only way I want it. In the end, I made a compromise. I could commit to a temporary stint. I could hope it would lead to longevity. I moved home to go to graduate school for two years. I flattered myself that I was following a long line of Kentucky literary greats who left the state only to return to the heartland years later, wiser about their heritage and more jaded about the cities outside it. But I almost didn’t. I wanted to go to California to study with one of my favorite writers whose essays are about wandering, adventure, and grinding into independence. One afternoon, on our porch in Montana, I went over the pros and cons with Colin. “Aren’t Frank X Walker and Erik Reece teaching there?” he said. “And didn’t Gurney Norman and Wendell Berry graduate from the University of Kentucky? I mean, if it were me, it’s a no brainer.” I decided later that night to go to Kentucky. After we’d moved, Colin mentioned offhandedly that he’d never read Walker or Reece. It was a lie. It was my decision. It was both. Exploration John Muir is one of the most famous naturalists and protectors of wild lands in America. But he is not from here. He was born in Scotland. His earliest memories began when he was three. He took walks. He wandered the coastline and the countryside. While he was young, his grandfather held his hand. As he grew older, he started avoiding his father’s strict religious teachings for walks out of doors. After his family immigrated to America when Muir was 11, he returned to Scotland only once in his life, when he was 55. But he always carried a book of poems by Robert Burns in his backpack. He never lost his accent. Muir was said to have a “restless spirit.” After his family moved to Wisconsin, Muir attended college at age 22 but never graduated because his eclectic mix of chemistry, botany, and geology courses never amounted to a degree. When the Civil War started he moved to Canada to avoid the draft, hiking much of the Niagara Escarpment and Georgian Bay until he ran out of money. He worked at various factories constructing rakes and wagon wheels until, at the cusp of thirty years old, he went temporarily blind
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in one eye from a workplace accident, and upon retrieving his sight, decided to devote his life to the natural world around him. He took off on a 1,000-mile walk from Kentucky to Florida. From Florida, he sailed to Cuba, then New York City, and then California. After reaching San Francisco, Muir traveled to Yosemite, where he fell in love with Giant Sequoias, waterfalls, granite cliffs, and wildflowers. He built a cabin for himself on Yosemite Creek. Although northern California became Muir’s home, he did not stop leaving. He traveled to Alaska at least four times and canoed up the Stikine River in British Columbia, recording over 300 glaciers. When his health began to fail him, he climbed Mount Rainier in Washington as treatment. Before airplanes, he visited Russia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, and Australia. He visited most of the western parklands of the United States. In much of Muir’s writing on nature, he refers to nature as home. He once told a visitor at his ranch in Martinez, California: “This is a good place to be housed in during stormy weather, … to write in, and to raise children in, but it is not my home. Up there,” he pointed towards the Sierra Nevada, “is my home.” Karst There is a reason John Muir never moved back East after he discovered Yosemite. Kentucky doesn’t look like the West. It is round where I prefer peaks, green where I want grey granite and gold cottonwoods, landlocked where I want the edge of salty blue ocean. But there is also a hayfield on my in-laws property that looks like dawn no matter what time of day. There is a creek near the county jail where bushes and brambles tower into a tunnel. There is a dammed lake surrounded by sandstone that, in some bays, on quiet days, still feels wild. Under my feet, there are caverns of uncharted territory. ames Baker Hall, a Kentucky writer, was once asked: “Why are there so many great poets from Kentucky?” “It’s in the caves,” Hall said. “It’s all underground.” Eventually, Mammoth Cave will begin to erode. The sinkholes will sink in, water from the Green River and Nolin River will wear away at its sides, as will rainfall and wind and the freeze and thaw. Thousands of years from now, it will be a canyon. Mammoth Canyon, perhaps. I will be long gone by then, but I imagine it could look like Moab or the Grand Canyon or the wild terrain of Wyoming or the low hills and deep gorges of Oregon. I wish I could see it now. I wish I could love it now. The man who took me into Mammoth Cave led me into a large cavern the size of my elementary school gymnasium. He showed me a rock to sit on, and then he turned off his flashlight and walked away into total darkness. It was silent. I could hear my ears humming. I imagined the faintest breaths of life in a place so big, so black, so empty, so unexplored. I imagined the heartbeats of cave crickets, the splash of blind fish, the quiet overlapping of the wings of a bat as they hung off the ceiling somewhere. But really, there was nothing. Suddenly, the smallest light, so yellow it was almost pink, shone in a corner. It grew wider and brighter as the man walked from behind a house-sized boulder into muffled sound near the center of the room. It was a magic trick. It was sunrise. It was both.
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We don’t have a history of using carrier pigeons in Kentucky. But we do have a history with canaries. Before miners had the technology to measure the amount of noxious gases in a cave, they would bring canaries down in bell-shaped aviaries, their yellow wings fluorescent against the charcoal walls of the mine. They sent messages: if they chirped, everyone was safe. If they stopped chirping, the miners should get out of the shaft, quick. We have a lot of coal in Kentucky. It is the crushed bones of Noah’s brethren, the decomposed bodies of the plants that regrew after the flood waters slithered away. The Appalachian Mountains used to be as high as the Rockies. Their limestone towers were peaked and valleyed. It’s the same geography I miss. The canary still chirps: you’re here you’re here you’re here. It’s all eroded. It’s all underground. You’re home. I try to listen.
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3rd Place Poetry 2018 Summer Contest Mauricio Novoa has an impressive control of the sonic elements at play, starting straight from the rhythmically delicious opening: “Mami’s feet were a Weller Road Elementary / census, each callus a Spanish speaking teacher.” I love the way the slant rhyme ricochets between “Weller,” “Elementary,” “census,” “callus,” “Spanish.” Such sonic rigor is well-matched to the rigor of the mother whose story is being told in this moving, well-muscled portrait. Franny Choi
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Mami’s feet were a Weller Road Elementary census, each callus a Spanish speaking teacher. Because she cleaned hotel rooms, I was almost switched into an ESOL class, even though she had Mr. Rogers tutor me to English fluency. We got a mirror in our bedroom when she got more than Univision to watch at 7pm, home from work eating at the table by herself – 4 boys sleeping in the same bed but meals in whatever hole they found or made. Some nights I rubbed her feet after pulling out her caspas, her soles blistered with each country she left behind, each quarter she got as a raise for promotions, each vacation and conference she tidied up without tip. When she accidentally hit the remote and it switched to the English channels, the characters only said “Hola” when they were scrubbing a toilet. That might explain why she always fell asleep halfway through a movie. And why 6 weekend tequilas were what made her dance then pull me in, making my brick feet drag to cumbia. And why whatever school loans didn’t cover went on her credit card. I got my first callus on my left toe when I started working with Spanish speaking students, one for every teacher they might have had that talked like us. One for every dirty mirror I shaved in front of. One for every stomach pump after drinking like a grown-ass, hard-working-forworthless-pennies woman that made her the first thing I saw when I woke up and had work that Monday. But because of the 12 she’d put on my ass for being a baboso, I may never get another.
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The Alpha Wolf
Authors Jihyun Yun Jihyun Yun is a Korean-American Poet from California. A graduate of the MFA program at New York University, she is also the recipient of a Fullbright Research Fellowship in the arts. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bat City Review, Poetry Northwest, Adroit and elsewhere. She currently resides in Ann Arbor and is working on her first poetry collection Some are Always Hungry.
Nicole Cuffy Nicole Cuffy is a proud Brooklyn emigrant who enjoys yoga, ballet, and writing literary fiction. Her work can be found in Mason’s Road and The Masters Review Volume VI, and her chapbook, “Atlas of the Body,” was an editor’s choice and a finalist for the Black River Chapbook Competition, and winner of the Chautauqua Janus Prize. Nicole holds a BA in Writing from Columbia University, and an MFA in Fiction from the New School. She does her best writing when she’s writing by hand, and she is a high-functioning book addict. When she isn’t reading, writing, or yogaing, she is most likely dancing. She can be found muddling her way through Twitter and life in general here: @nicolethecuffy.
Margaret Adams Margaret Adams is the author of short fiction, creative nonfiction, and essays. Her work has appeared in Joyland Magazine, The Pinch Journal, Monkeybicycle, and The Baltimore Review, among other publications. She won the Pacifica Literary Review 2017 Fiction Contest and was a Finalist for the 2017 Glimmer Train Very Short Story Award. She is a fiction editor for JMWW. She currently lives on the AZ/NM border in the Navajo Nation.
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Authors Ivanna Baranova Ivanna Baranova is a Brooklyn-based poet. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Montreal Review of Books, Hobart, The Puritan, Poetry Is Dead, Peach Mag, Prism international, SAD Mag, Metatron (ÄLPHÄ), and elsewhere. In 2017, she earned a BA in Philosophy, Gender Studies, and Creative Writing from The University of British Columbia. In 2018, she was selected as a Brooklyn Poets Fellowship Finalist, and awarded the Adele Wiseman Endowment toward the Poetry Writing Studio at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. She currently works as a Poets House intern and is on the editorial team at Witch Craft Mag / Sad Spell Press and The Maynard.
Laura Price Steele Laura Price Steele is a writer and editor. Though originally from Colorado, she now lives in Wilmington, North Carolina where she earned her MFA from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her work has been named a finalist in Moment Magazine’s Karma Foundation Short Fiction Contest, a runner-up in Flyway’s Sweet Corn Short Fiction Contest, and the winner of Ploughshares’s Emerging Writer Contest in nonfiction. Currently she is working on a novel.
Austyn Gaffney Austyn Gaffney’s essays are published or forthcoming in Brevity, Prairie Schooner, onEarth, The Offing, and elsewhere. As a freelance writer, she reports on the South for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Scalawag, and Southerly. She has received funding from Brush Creek Arts, PLAYA, Bread Loaf Environmental Writers’ Conference, Writing by Writers, and the Kentucky Arts Council. She has an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Kentucky.
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Authors Mauricio Novoa Mauricio Novoa is from Glenmont, MD, the son of Salvadoran refugees. He received his MFA from Queens University of Charlotte and has had his work published in The Acentos Review, The Petigru Review, and the anthology The Wandering Song: Central American Writing in the United States.
Artists Fabio Sassi Fabio Sassi makes photos and acrylics using tiny objects and what is considered to have no worth by the mainstream. Fabio lives in Bologna, Italy. His work can be viewed at www.fabiosassi.foliohd.com.
Morgan Stephenson Tonya Russell TY holds a BS degree from TWU in Sociology. Her work is forthcoming in several literary journals in early 2019.
Britnie Watson I am a traditional and abstract artist, focusing on energy and peace through color, rhythm, and texture. As a result, I want the painting to be an experience for the viewer. I am from a small town on the Eastern Shore, where I spent a lot of time in nature. I really enjoy being in and painting nature, especially sunsets. When I paint landscapes, it is my way of escaping, and helps me relive those memories. The thing that I enjoy the most about art is how I can incorporate my own feelings and emotions into it. Although I do love painting landscapes, I most recently began venturing into the wonderful world of acrylic fluid painting. It provides the same feeling that painting landscapes gives me; the feeling of expression, freedom and liberation. I also enjoy the experimentation of colors and chemicals, which give varying results. I love the mystery and surprise of it all.
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Artists Julia Wang Julia Wang is a senior at Saint Francis High School in Mountain View, CA. She is an aspiring concept artist hoping to work at companies such as Pixar and Bandai Namco one day. Find her online at http://juumeithings.tumblr.com.
Roger Camp Roger Camp is the author of three photographic books including Butterflies in Flight, Thames and Hudson, 2002.
Alexis Avlamis Alexis Avlamis (b.Athens 1979) received an early art instruction from Bennington College, Vermont and later on earned a BFA(hons) in Painting from the Athens School of Fine Arts. By tapping into a stream of consciousness, he creates dreamlike mindscapes aiming at a unified whole, where existing and fabricated visuals co-exist symbiotically. Avlamis is a laureate of the International Emerging Artist Award (Drawing and Illustration category), as well as a recipient of the 2018 American Art Awards (Naive-Other Category) and will soon land his Cosmographies solo show series at the CICA Museum, Seoul, S.Korea. He has exhibited internationally and works may be found in private and museum collections.
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Blue Mesa Review Issue 38, featuring winners of the Summer 2018 Contest selected by Leslie Jamison, Franny Choi, and Luís Alberto Urrea.
Published on Dec 6, 2018
Blue Mesa Review Issue 38, featuring winners of the Summer 2018 Contest selected by Leslie Jamison, Franny Choi, and Luís Alberto Urrea.