B RUS H F I RE literature
& arts journal
B RU S H F I R E LITERATURE AND ARTS JOURNAL EDITION 72, VOLUME 1
UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA, RENO
“Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second.” —William James
Editor’s Note: To be honest, each time I write one of these notes to you all, I can’t help but laugh at myself a little because I’m in over my head. Yes, the team and I just devoted months juggling responsiblities at school, at work, and within our relationships to painstakingly cobble together the final product you see here. But the truth is, we never come away from it feeling that the meaning of this journal is for us to decide. That’s because it’s not. That’s actually why sharing this art with you is so great — it’s unfinished. You get to help decide what it means, and you continue the process of making it long after the writer puts down their pen, the painter their brush, and the editors . . . well, after the editors pack up and go home because they’ve been blinking at a screen for eight hours and foregoing a bathroom break for three. That being said though, I’d at least like to try to offer something valuable to you as you flip through these pages. So here it goes: this journal is about how, for all of us, life often doesn’t turn out the way we thought it would, or the way we’d hoped for it to be — and how that’s okay. This does not mean that it’s foolish for us to have dreams, or that our desires to build loving and enduring relationships are pointless. It does not mean that our everday efforts to achieve personal fulfillment are whimsical or don’t matter. In fact, these are the things that actually matter. The point is just to acknowledge that part of the overall process of living a good life is learning to accept that the lives we work so hard for may take a painful or unexpected turn at times. And when this happens, all is not lost. No one is alone in their suffering, discomfort, or uncertainty about the future. In a way then, this journal is about resilience, and the way people weather the storm. It’s about the blues and overcoming the most brutal and unsettling of experiences by expressing them through art or making light of them through humor. It’s about taking personal responsibility for what is in your control and learning to let go of what is not. Ultimately, it’s about hope and holding out for the good things on the other side of the pain, even if you can’t see them from where you stand now. — Nick Huffman, Editor in Chief
TA B L E O F POETRY
Unexpected Solitude Lost in Humboldt Resurrection Herding Before There Were Shepherds Better Off Beneath the Snow The Word Urge Is a Strong One Since the Very Beginning The IBS Blues Oh Dear How Velour Must Feel Streetside Mattress Cuffs Falling Down Familiar Faces Three Times Fast Before He Left, and After
8 11 12 14 16 19
22 25 27 30 33 37 39 43 54 56 59
Frances Koziar Dani Putney Logan Chace Joel Savishinsky Jordyn Becker Richard Brostoff Edward O’Dwyer Jeffrey Zable Randall Weber-Levine Shelbey Winningham Michael Galko Brandon Marlon Pamela Sumners Celia Meade Kayla Randolph Gale Acuff Kathy O’Fallon
The History of Golf in America in 1983 What a Boy Needs Simple Dreams Her Room
34 40 47 50
Todd Sentell Tracy Werth Kelly DeLong Thomas Misuraca
C ONT E NT S VISUAL
Sideways Illusion Healing//Tranquility Reaching Out Segment Portrait Shadow Box Sometimes Your Heart Feels Like a Smudge 16 Gauge Hydration Machine Dripping 1 Burnt Wood Mirror, Mirror Widow Spider Imaginary Map 4 Broken Glass, Rusted Steel Blue Natasha and Those She Cares for August Gun It For a Better Place Jacob Wrestles the Angel 15
9 10 13 17 18 21 23
Sarah Cryan Julia Forrest Aldo San Pedro Hayley Jane Harold Ackerman Dominique DÃ©ve Alec Lewis
29 31 32 36 38 41 42 45
46 49 52 55 58
Fabio Sassi Beatriz Sato Jan Price Casey Martinson Fabio Sassi Edward Lee Anita Savell Mikayla Burton Sarah Cryan Sarah Cryan Erika Rier Jeffrey Hollman Hayley Jane
Unexpected Solitude by Frances Koziar
I look at them the way the old man who sits on the park bench every Tuesday looks at his pigeons, never mind that my face is young, I am drowning in isolation, sand burning beneath my feet, maybe I should call someone too, anyone, fake it, pretend for a moment that my life is like theirs, I override the pain with the sound of their speech, watch them move and shimmer and sweat in the sun like they are life written into a language I don’t know but almost remember, words I need to find, to recall how it felt to be at a beach with a family or a lover, not just surrounded by movement but part of it, not an addict of a drug I can’t understand but the scientist concocting this elixir. I sit, watching them glow like angels, sparkling waters behind, but there—my eye drawn to a One like water to itself—a parent left behind, toddler shrieking away like a dying comet, she looks down, finishes their sandcastle alone in unexpected solitude.
by Sarah Cryan
by Julia Forrest
Lost in Humboldt by Dani Putney
Blue eyes, take me to the craggy shore where Papa blew raspberries into your belly, tickled you on the sand while tears laughed along your eyelashes. Show me the briny cliff-face where Sis tripped you on the pebbles, left a triangular scar on your cheek, the one I tease you about but kiss every night you drift into sleep. Lead me to the felled redwoods where you, Teddy, and Billy compared chest hair, talked about girls at school even though you dreamed of kissing Teddy on the tree trunks. Etch the North Coast into my pores, kiss my skin with cloud-burn and cannabis haze, caress my bones with dew drops from the ocean garden of your childhood.
Resurrection by Logan Chace
Head first, perfectly in the small space between the wooden dock and the sailboat, I fell into the unforgiving water, and felt it push me down as if it had hands— a tumbling descent into the cellar of blue darkness. I struggled with unlearned strokes, the way babies flail, submerged in swimming pools, eyes open, passed from mother to instructor. I was brought out by the ankles, reversed from the way I came in, then turned upright to look into my mother’s panic-singed eyes. To drown is like swimming back into the womb. Pulled out again by trembling hands, grasping slippery legs like escaping fish: being reborn, an accidental baptism. When I did learn to swim, I moved only under the lip of water. I craved the feeling of drowning again— I inspected the possibility of death from all angles; I explored its depths and surfaces, and felt my breath bleed out, until the beauty of this underworld made me gasp again for yellow light.
Healing//Tranquility by Aldo San Pedro
Herding Before There Were Shepherds by Joel Savishinsky
This is what herding was like before there were shepherds. In the fall, after the last of the warble flies had died or burrowed deep into the skin to lay their seed to sleep, the caribou turned from the muskeg carpets of tundra moving south in a slow tide to their other home, the last springâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s calves in tow, following old routes grooved through the moss over an ancient permafrost. And always, out on the edges of the current, or close behind in its wake, the wolves, the killers, the cullers, the takers of the old, young, slow, or lame, the keepers of the health of the herd. If you call the predator a companion, then the wolves are company on the journey, an escort of sorts, as minions march, browse, flow below the tree-line to the winter forest of black spruce, frozen lakes, and lichens beneath the soft snows.
At each chosen place, in hours, perhaps a day, long legs, sharp hooves dig down deep, exhaust the forage, trample the surface into hard-pack, forcing the herd out, onto a lake, en route from one beaten meadow to the next promised land. And
always, on the flanks, or in the rear, the wolves, guarding, watching, waiting, creating opportunity: they feint, dart, sprint, get the caribou running, startle a stumbler or slow starter, so that a moment’s inattention, or the smallest of failures, becomes the morning’s measure of mortality, canine speed matching flight, squeezing a quickly closing distance into a thought, a breath, covered in a lunge, teeth and claws playing for purchase in a hind quarter, the mother’s antlers swinging, striking, wounding but not enough to alter fate, as young legs fold, belly drops, and blood and life drain and stain the snow. The calf’s blind eyes, turned to the sky, clear dark marbles whose depths are as sad as the summer sea they once saw, are still seemingly alert, each as keen as a talisman warding off the evil one’s envy, as promising as a prism whose light glances off but no longer goes in. Perhaps, if rational minds are the luxury of full stomachs and warm coats, such a life of death has made the wolf a reasoned creature. But if quiet can pass for peace, then this is a peaceable kingdom of mad monks eating a silent supper. Herding before shepherds, a wolf’s work, crafted long before the first prayers were voiced, or young boys, and pale Semite gods, evolved to tend their own compliant flocks.
Better Off by Jordyn Becker
It was December or maybe it just felt like December. Manure is a more welcome smell in the winter months. Snow had yet to fall but the cold hurt as we walked to the cows. My dad checked the water heater. It had been going out a lot. My nose ran while I talked to the cows. I gave them dumb names like Spot, Fluffy and Shirley for my Grandma. I sliced bales using a pitch fork, trying to spread the hay evenly in the long black troughs along the fence that separated me from the herd squeezing their heads between the metal rails looking for breakfast. As I finished off a bale my fork caught something unfamiliar. Instead of sliding easily through dried grass, it caught something solid, firm, an added weight. Speared at the end of my fork was a grey kitten. I can still feel the two prongs slide through thin skin, a nearly frozen body, piercing immature organs, and out to hay again. I called my dad over and he pulled the kitten off the bloodless prongs. Between bales, we found the litter of frozen bodies still curled at the spine, bits of golden hay peppered among their grey fur. Their eyes were closed, unable to see this morningâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s dawn,
while the mother remained safe in the barn not thirty feet away. My dad withdrew the fork from my grip, and walked to the next trough to finish the morning feeding.
Reaching Out by Hayley Jane
by Harold Ackerman 18
Beneath the Snow by Richard Brostoff
It’s Valentine’s Day, and in the early light at six a.m. I am dozing by your side. Other men will rush to buy their wives red hearts of cinnamon, carnations bunched with baby’s breath, red lacy cards. I buy you white pajamas, of fine Egyptian cloth, not certain what the color means. Outside, it’s not a Hallmark scene: The storm’s ablaze with winter white. What does it signify? The squall in our lives? The blur of married time, nothing? Car pools, errands, kids’ swim meets, one by one our hours disappear, like bits of snow blown on a windowsill, dissolving to transparency, as storm blankets the town, in slow strokes of erasure, blurring the boundaries of the yard, the garden path, wood’s edge; until I sense, inside the white rooms of our marriage, we lie effaced. Yet stilled beyond the yard, all things join in snow and ice into a mirror of our days, where we build the shelter of a history, an architecture that outlasts a storm. In this bare New England light,
from the drifts of my mind, I dream into the long, pressed sheets of snow, blanketing the sleepy fields, where a ghostly presence appears in wind, figure of another woman, old love, long gone, who paints the town a deathly white. At the border of our yard, surreal, a telephone pole floats up unanchored from the snow, in the intensifying light streaming through our bedroom window, where I keep waking into this life I can touch â&#x20AC;&#x201D;no other will comeâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;to find you here, no ghost beside me, breathing tranquilly against the absences of memory, where I write these lines out, finding again, beneath the storm, the earthly ground of married love, beneath these sheets, the white field of your body.
by Dominique DÃ¨ve
The Word Urge is a Strong One by Edward O’Dwyer
The word urge is a strong one. It wouldn’t be the word you’d ever choose to use for it, but you wonder if your wife suspects you’ve had these fantasies sometimes. Little vignette reveries of killing her in such gory detail, of impaling, bludgeoning, decapitating her. It isn’t often, but then you know once is too many. Of course, you wouldn’t ever do it. You love her completely. She’s the mother of your children. She’s on the inside of your wallet. She’s on your desk at the office, smiling at you—just you—out of a photo you snapped of her on a bridge some years back on holidays in Rome. You never remove those golden vows from your finger, as some men do. She does the cutest things, of course, even all these years later, and can still take you totally by surprise, which she did only last week by making a daisy chain for you, tying it around your wrist, saying nothing as she did, as if you were teenagers still, as if menopause and balding weren’t memories. 22
And does she do it, you wonder. Does she ever get up in the middle of the night to use the toilet, for instance, and for even a fraction of a moment, imagine the ceramic lid in her hands, raised over her head, about to pulverise your skull with it. Should you tell her, you wonder. Could this be something you laugh about?
Since the Very Beginning by Jeffrey Zable
The reason I don’t watch comedy on television, or go to any of the comedy clubs around town is because nothing is funny when you think about it. Human life is sad, and as far as I’m concerned we should be talking earnestly about why life on this planet is so harsh and oppressive for most of us. What we really need to do is have long term cry-ins until everyone comes to a mutual understanding of how most of us suffer by virtue of being human. And only at some unspecified time should we watch a few of those old Three Stooges shows or selected I Love Lucy’s, but do no more than smile for a moment. Other than that we should remain serious and somber in acknowledgement of the humorlessness of life itself, which has been that way since the very beginning. . .
The IBS Blues
by Randall Weber-Levine Let me tell you a little story. About bathrooms and all their glory. My respect for them has crossed into the spiritual, for my bowels are often acting irritable. You see as soon as I eat something wrong, I’m confined to the bathroom all day long. I have written this story from my porcelain throne. It contains a message you can make your own. So if you’re on the toilet put down the news. Listen and learn from my story about the IBS Blues. ‘Twas a summer evening, I’m on a date. Boy she is pretty, man she is great. Drinks are flowing and conversation is wheeling. And in my stomach, I’m starting to get this funny feeling. My body grows warm, my stomach begins to turn; my face is sweating, Jesus Christ my insides burn. Is this love? I have never before felt it. Wait what’s that smell? Oh no I think I have to . . . . I was hoping this date would be a cruise; instead it’s the onset of the IBS Blues. My head is getting cloudy, I’m beginning to lose my smarts. I’m saying everything loudly, I’m fighting to hold in my farts. “YOU LOOK PRETTY, DO YOU LIKE DOGS?” across the table I yell, coming up with the dumbest questions as I feel my stomach swell. Crap, crap, crap, what’s my play? Should I get up from the table and trundle away? I’ll be in there too long, that can’t be the move. She’ll know what I’m doing, she’ll think I’m not smooth. But there’s only one option from which I can choose. There is no love when you have the IBS Blues. I hit the tipping point and fling back my chair. I walk to the bathroom with my head down in despair. Hold it in, hold it in, I repeat with fear. At least I noted the bathroom when I got here. Slamming through the bathroom door into the stall I stumble; zipper in my hands I begin to fumble. “Get off, get off, get off!” I call. Pants drop to my ankles, onto the toilet seat I fall. The seat is warm, freshly used. You guessed it: it’s the IBS Blues. Perched on my throne, I try to think. A few minutes down, my nose adjusts to the stink. What could it have been? I don’t think the pizza had any onion. Could have been the clam chowder, or maybe the 27
pork was dusted with garlic powder. Cheese and bread aren’t great, but those I can normally tolerate. Down between my legs, I go looking for clues. Endless discoveries, exploring the IBS Blues. I look around and take the stall in. It’s pleasantly painted in a light meridian. Mini black and white tiles stretch the floor. Memory tells me that I’ve seen this stall before. Yes, yes, my butt knows stalls of this sort. Used this one at the mall or maybe it was the airport. Inundated with déjà vues. A classic symptom of the IBS Blues. Face buried in my palm, my sweating begins to subside. Bowels starting to calm, my tears have nearly dried. I reach for the toilet paper, but just grab air. It’s all gone, I’m confined to my chair. Oh no, what to do, what to do? I look to the ceiling, gazing for a clue. Socks and boxers are usually a safe plan, but I need to discard them and this stall has no garbage can. Looks like I’ll have to go with Plan B. I peer under stall to see if there are any shoes next to me. No shoes means I can sprint across the floor, and use the toilet paper of the stall next door! At this point, I have nothing to lose. Apathy setting in, this is the IBS Blues. Open the door and poke my head out. Coast is clear, no one’s about. Pants around my waist, I begin the trip. I take two steps and my feet start to slip. The plan was almost perfect as set, but I didn’t consider that the floor was wet. No, no, no, everything was fine; where the F is that “caution wet floor” sign? My feet fly above my head and into the air. Then my body comes crashing down in utter despair. On the floor, I think things could not be in a worse state. But then swings open the door and walks in my date. Now embarrassment is in full bloom, as she yells “what the hell are you doing in the women’s room?” Please God haven’t I paid my dues? I guess not, this is the IBS Blues. Although this story is downright shitty, I ask you to please not take pity. Life is full of shit, so take it light. Respect the Toilet Gods, do not put up a fight. This may not be the life I wanted to choose, but I am doing my best with the IBS Blues.
Dripping 3 by Fabio Sassi
by Shelbey Winningham
Halfway through the Skype call with the cute boy I have been talking to, I stop to really look at him. He twitches his ears in an agitated manner, like he is shooing flies. His eyes are wide, his hair a soft brown. It is only then I realize the boy I have been talking to has been a deer all along. Hooves. Antlers. The whole nine yards. When I confide in my friend later, she assures me that my relationship with this deer/boy is nowhere near bestiality. Rather, I am becoming aware of a deep longing to be more in touch with nature. I should be proud, she says to me. That night, when I am getting ready for bed, I notice things about myself I hadnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t before: black leathery nose, dark round eyes. In the morning, I awake with a small white tail.
Burnt Wood by Beatriz Sato
Mirror, Mirror by Jan Price
How Velour Must Feel by Michael Galko
Once, the king of fabrics, or at least a well-dressed fop of a prince. Now, years spent on bargain racks with no fingers to run over
his spongy smoothness.
All it will take is a lingering touch, a downward tug on that long front zipper—
a mirror with the right bend.
Velour has always felt good—but soon, baby, in these royal runway dreams,
he’ll feel well again.
The History of Golf in America in 1983 by Todd Sentell
Little Jeremy Robideaux, twelve years old, an enthusiastic junior golfer who lives in Foley, Alabama, sort of near the Tanger Outlets shopping center, was given an assignment by his social studies teacher to write about the history of something he loved. Jeremy loved golf a lot. His mother didn’t really play golf . . . she just took a lot of private golf lessons. The one-on-one kind. Just her and the club pro at the far, secluded end of the practice range or inside the new training center. She also enjoyed getting massages at their country club quite a bit. Jeremy’s uncles played golf and even one of his sisters played golf until she broke both of her arms and her left foot a couple of weeks ago. Jeremy’s dad used to play golf but he quit because he travels a lot now. For reference material, Jeremy had only the “G” volume of his very own set of World Books. Through his research, Jeremy discovered there was a “colonial” period of golf in America but the encyclopedia didn’t say a whole lot else about it. This really intrigued Jeremy, and wanting his report to be thorough, of course, Jeremy dialed up the head pro of the club where he played and where his parents were members, Pelican Landing Country Club. Jeremy’s mother knew the pro’s home phone number by heart and she recited it to Jeremy in sort of a sultry, sing-songy voice. The head pro’s name was Vern Johnson and he was twenty-nine years old and a really nice guy who had won a regional club professional event a few years ago in Pensacola by fourteen shots. Amazingly, for a club professional, Vern was also fairly well known for having a good historical knowledge of the game. Jeremy’s mother had urged him to see if Mr. Johnson knew anything about this colonial period as this would be a good opportunity to impress his teacher, Mrs. Nix, by interviewing an “authority figure.” Jeremy’s mother said that Mr. Johnson knew quite a bit about a lot of stuff. As a couple, Jeremy’s parents were hugely involved in their son’s academic and golf growth, although they would have been nonetheless pleased if he excelled at badminton. The phone rang a bunch of times before Vern finally picked up. He sounded a little out of breath, so Jeremy asked him right away about the colonial thing. Vern said, “Oh, yeah. There was some course near Charleston, South Carolina. Okay?” Jeremy had his fresh legal pad all ready and his pencil was sharp. 34
“When, exactly?” “Late seventeen hundreds. Oh, Jesus.” “Good . . . gooood,” Jeremy said as he scribbled furiously. “Thank you Mr. Johnson.” Jeremy continued, “Mr. Johnson, can you tell me anything more? I really do appreciate your time, sir.” “Uh, well, actually, in seventeen-ninety-six there were a couple of clubs down there and one near Savannah and then they just disappeared.” The woman squeezed it tightly and put her nose in Vern’s left ear and let out just a little breeze. She dug her long red fingernails in the thing ever so slightly. Vern liked that very much. “Well that’s about all I know about the history of golf in America,” Vern said quickly. “Okay, Jeremy? Good God I’ll call you back la—” “What? Fire? Hurricane?” Jeremy was ready to write again. He thought this was what a reporter must feel like. “Nuh uh . . . just disbanded. Social climate. Bad gnats. Goddamn fucking shit like that. Oh-kay? Is that goddamn fucking . . . you know . . . enough? Jeee-zus.” The woman mouthed, “I’m leaving.” She stopped her hand, but held her grip. Jeremy ignored Mr. Johnson’s profanity as he was used to him cursing like that at kids during junior clinics. “That’s exactly what I need, Mr. Johnson,” Jeremy said brightly. “Tell me some more. Really, I appreciate it.” But there was a long pause while Vern forced her hand back in action. She wouldn’t do it at first. Vern helped her. Then Vern breathed heavily, “No, Jere-mee. I got a wo-man over here. We’re doing something . . . very important.” Jeremy pressed the phone to his ear to see if he could determine what Mr. Johnson and the woman were doing that was so important. All of a sudden the woman started going at it as if her hand were covered with killer bees. “OH . . . SWEET JEEEE-SUS!” “Mr. Johnson!” Jeremy shouted. “Are you oh-kay?” “I’m sitting here,” Vern said slowly, “getting . . . oh, Jesus . . . my chicken spanked.” Jeremy literally looked at the phone in his hand. Chicken spanked? What? Mr. Johnson’s got a pet chicken? Jeremy was extremely confused. Jeremy’s mother was in the kitchen cooking dinner. And right before 35
she chopped the head off of a fish she called out, “How’s it going in there, little golf history scholar?” The moment Jeremy put the phone back to his ear he heard Vern drop his phone, but Vern didn’t turn his phone off before he dropped it. And just an instant later, and for a good five minutes or so, Jeremy had the distinct pleasure of listening to the sounds of Vern’s chicken get spanked and was also privileged enough to hear the type of conversation extremely particular to when a woman spanks a guy like Vern Johnson’s chicken. And as intellectual and generally informed of modern times as Jeremy was, even at twelve years old, he truly felt at that moment in his existence on the earth that there was so very much left to do and so very much left to learn. The End
Streetside Mattress by Brandon Marlon
The main stain, amber and oblong, repulses but stay with it a moment, riveted by curiosity to an artifact of quotidian art, testimonial of bodily fluids and flakes (its memory foam a record preserving rough-and-tumble activity by night and day), locus of dreamscapes and grotesque sounds the likes of which are seldom heard elsewhere, which, I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t mind noting, is probably for the best. The usual seminal splotches bespattering the center are redolent of chlorine, how terribly embarrassing, pungent proof of misfires, spillage, the several conveniences of onanism, the frenzies of lust, remnants of human pickling, brine, marinade. But then thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s the striking crimson stain imbruing the lower surface and down the left side, a gruesome blemish flaunting its own mysteriousness as if proud of the unnerving questions it excites in inquirers intent on causation. For the love of God, restrain your outstretched hand; who dares finger the holes becomes an indelible part of its story.
Imaginary Map 4 by Fabio Sassi
by Pamela Sumners No one knows you, your casuistry or habits of taxidermy. You’re Prufrock’s receding hairline writ huge, this life you’re bleeding out, a subterfuge. Not to touch the icky-sticky thing, not to grope what’s prickly to grasp a hope! There’s Pee Wee Herman on you, a whiff of vermin, a felon fleeing blazes in the loins’ crowded theaters where shame’s a vibrator. Holy crap, son, get a grip on yourself. This morphine drip you’ve nursed is hardly a potent antidote for these rodents scurrying your veins’ sinking ship. In the blue light where you’re fumbling something vile and alive is rumbling. Something is tumbling from your dreams. There’s a monster in the closet There are boogers on the bedpost and boogey-men who roast your sheets while you’re asleep, torturing the whole dismal heap of half-baked secrets you keep from yourself. There’s a pressed hair-shirt you wear for Mom, a curdling superficial calm in that rat’s nest you’ve embalmed. But Mother knows. She’s hung the clothes you wear, unraveling the sleeve you sneeze into when seized by nasty impulse, her monogram of care.
What a Boy Needs by Tracy Werth
Robert truly loved her. The copper-colored Continental had been a surprise gift from his father. Now the old girl had let him down by failing the emission test he needed to renew her plates. The bland bureaucrat at the motor vehicle office had only shrugged when Robert asked about getting a waiver until he could afford to repair his car. When he left the DMV, the familiar crewcut and windbreaker of his father appeared in the corner of Robert’s vision, but as soon as he focused his eyes, the stranger looked nothing like his father. The smile the man wore should have been his first clue. His mechanic friend Joey gave him the bad news. “Bobby, I’d be happy to help you do the labor for a six-pack, but that short block runs like three hundred bucks.” Many nights, hidden by the darkness, he would drive through his father’s neighborhood, never brave enough to venture down that familiar street, yearning to ask his father how it was that his old man’s second wife with her snippy whispers could turn a man against his own son. Desperate as he wandered into the unbearable bright dawn of the next new day, Robert pulled his heaving car into a side street behind Wally’s Auto Parts. With only $23 in his wallet, Robert stepped inside the parts shop and ordered the part. The clerk’s hands were riddled with scars and stained with oil as he returned to drop the heavy head assembly onto the scarred countertop with a thud. Robert hefted the $327 piece of metal into his arms as if cradling a child then ran and ran.
by Anita Savell 42
Falling Down by Celia Meade
My daughter can’t breathe she sits on a green chair a privilege of the most dire. Blue chairs can sit for hours there, one man has a spider in his ear trapped in bitten, swollen flesh but still crawling. A carpenter who sawed off all his fingers waits next to us beside the soccer player with a blood-soaked towel pressed to her ear. They’ll come up with new names as carpenter and soccer player no longer apply. If you feel sorry for yourself go to emerg. A girl with bad blood work looks like a perfect china doll but she is the sickest of them all she will go to the city from here. She has bad veins they poke again and again it’s her mother’s face that makes me cry. My daughter applies a mask steam pours in her mouth to coax open her bloody-minded lungs.
An old woman lies on a gurney “All she did was fall down,” my girl says. “Why did she call an ambulance for that?” “Falling down,” I say, “can become falling down dead.” A woman says good-bye to her husband he wheels into the O.R. they sob and clutch at each other then she walks out alone. we walk together into the night a figure stares at us, motionless from the forest edge his face a moonlike mask between the living and the dead.
Natasha and Those She Cares for
by Mikayla Burton 45
by Sarah Cryan
Simple Dreams by Kelly DeLong
Everyone dreams about something, don’t they? Don’t we all need that one thing that buoys our spirits, that keeps us hopeful even when there is no cause for hope? Hasn’t that always been the case? It’s as true today as it was in late June 1982 when this father with his son and daughter were out walking late one Sunday night through the car dealerships on Main St. after they closed. Dreaming, each one dreaming. The father dreams the simple dream of sitting behind the wheel of the Chrysler New Yorker he runs his hands over in the back of the lot. He can see the faces of the guys as he slowly pulls in behind the cement plant. They point at him, looks of excitement and admiration on their faces. Smiles everywhere. The perfect image. He breathes a faint sigh. The plant. Laid off a month now and still he thinks of it and the guys. The guys—he thinks of the times they pitched in to buy dozens of lottery tickets, their talk of marrying rich young widows, of the stocks they would buy if they had the money, the houses they would build, the cars they would drive. On a prayer, he tries the door handle of the New Yorker, why not? You never know. To his surprise and delight, the dome light flicks on, the door opens. “Hey, guys, come here!” he says, causing his son and daughter to hurry over to him from the cars they were caressing and peering into. “They forgot to lock this one.” “This is great,” the son says. “It’s like they left it open just for us.” He’s fifteen. Not too long ago he and his sister lived in his mother’s boyfriend’s house. But then the boyfriend decided his house wasn’t big enough for two teenagers. Their mother dumped them at their father’s apartment and drove away. They started at another school, again. Every night they fight over who gets to sleep on the sofa and who’s stuck with the floor. “Can you see me in this?” the father says. “Classy, huh? This guy I went to school with drives one of these. He’s an accountant, makes big bucks. He’s somebody.” “Not too bad,” says the son. The father sits behind the wheel. “Hey, open the door, let me in,” the daughter says. The lock clicks open. She slides in the passenger seat. “I love that smell. It’s like everything is brand new. No one’s touched it and ruined
it yet.” She’s almost fourteen. In the previous eight years she and her brother have lived in ten different places. Sometimes they live with their mother and sometimes their father. It depends on when the one with the kids finds out where the one without has moved to. “Open the back,” the son says. He gets in. “This is alright,” he says. “I like it back here. Are the keys in the ignition? Can we take it out of here? I can drive, you know.” “No, I checked,” the father says. “They didn’t forget that.” The father breathes in the car, runs his hands over the dash, over the steering wheel. Dreams. . . “Can we move it?” the daughter says, reaching over to the gear shift. She grabs hold of it and tries to force it. “Hey, what the hell!” the father says, pushing her hand away. “Don’t do that.” “Why not?” The son reaches up for the dome light switch. He flicks it off, on, off, on. “Stop that! Keep it on,” the father says. The daughter throws a fist at the horn in the middle of the steering wheel. The horn blasts from under the hood. “What the—Stop it! Stop!” The father turns to them. “That’s it— both of you out of the car. It’s too good for you two. You can’t appreciate it. Get out. Now,” he says. “It’s a piece of shit anyway,” the daughter says. “I’d rather have a Mercedes.” “BMWs are the best,” the son says. “American cars are junk.” “Get out!” the father says. “I don’t want you in here with me. You’re on your own from now on.” They slowly rise out of the car, then slam their doors shut and stand on either side of the car, looking around. The father locks the doors, grips the steering wheel with both hands. This last time his ex found out where he lived sooner than usual. The kids banged on his door, saying they were living with him again. He didn’t want them to know he was home so he made no noise inside his apartment. But they banged and banged, said they’d seen his car outside, they knew he was home, so open up, they’d scream and yell to wake up the neighbors if he didn’t. He stares out the windshield, dreams of driving out of the lot, down the street, to the highway. He’d just drive and drive. Wouldn’t ever stop. 48
Would leave everything and everyone behind. “I know what to do,” the son says. “Come here.” His sister meets him at the back bumper. They grab onto it, begin rocking the car up and down. The father tightens his grip on the steering wheel as he is bounced in his seat. No amount of bouncing is going to distract him from his dream. It wasn’t his idea to have kids, after all. They’re no reason to lose his concentration. He steps on the gas pedal. He’s getting farther and farther away. “Push down harder,” the son says. “We can get it even higher. We’ll get that fucker out of there.” They would bounce that piece of shit 1982 Chrysler New Yorker all night if they had to. What else did they have to do but dream their simple dream that their father couldn’t go anywhere without them?
by Thomas Misuraca Last night. She didn’t come home. Her bed wasn’t made. I knew something was wrong. This wasn’t like her. She always called, or sent a text, or an email to both me and her father. But most of the time, she came home early. Yesterday. The police got involved. They searched her room for clues and found nothing. I spent the rest of the day putting it back in order. Last week. I changed her sheets. It’s just a matter of time before they find her. And I want her to have clean sheets her first night back. Last month. They’ve all given up hope, but I haven’t. I keep dusting her room and changing her sheets. Washing her clothes, even if they were clean. I want them to smell fresh for when she returns. I bought some peanut butter cookies for her (not so) secret stash in her bedside table draw. She’ll never want to leave her room again. Last year. We both try to avoid her room now. But every once and a while I have a weak moment and step inside. When I see those posters of boy bands and movies on her walls and the pictures of her friends on her mirror, the memories come flooding back. They’re overwhelming. He usually finds me there, crumpled on her bed or her floor (one time in her closet). He picks me up and carries me back into our room. “Why do you do that to yourself?” he asks. How can I not?
Two years ago. “I think it’s time,” he tells me. He doesn’t have to say any more. “No,” I reply. “Not yet.” “But we both know…” He knew. My daughter will always have a place in my home. “Maybe… just… take down the posters.”
“No!” She loves those bands and movies. “But… even if she were… she might no longer… like those things…” No. She had to come back to find familiar things. And knowing they were there gave me comfort.
Three years ago. He’s stopped asking. He’s also stopped picking me up off the floor.
Five years ago. We’ve drifted apart. He’s been sleeping on the couch for months. But I suspect, some nights, he wants the comfort of a bed and sleeps on hers. I can’t find any proof. He covers his tracks perfectly. Because he knows if I found out, he’d no longer be welcome in this house. Seven years ago. I’m alone now. When he left, it was easy to throw out anything he left behind. I no longer wanted to be reminded of him. But I’ll never forget her. Ten years ago. I will not leave here until the authorities force us out. The bank can send as many notices as they like, but I can’t leave her. She has to be able to find me. I’m not a fool. I know she’ll be different when she returns. Older. Changed. She’ll laugh at those posters of long-forgotten boy bands on her walls. At the same time, they’ll bring back wonderful memories. And we will instantly create new ones. Her friends in those pictures on her mirror have all grown. She wouldn’t recognize them. I hardly do when I run into them at the supermarket. How I hate the tone of pity in their voice. Who knows? She could be off somewhere, in another life. Married with a daughter of her own, who’s hanging posters of whatever bands she’s listening to these days. She just forgot where she came from. Any day now she’ll remember and come rushing home. I’ll do everything in my power to wait for her. In her perfectly preserved room. 51
Familiar Faces by Kayla Randolph
I think I’m up in heaven, I’m far above the trees. I look for familiar faces, The ones I’ve longed to see. But no familiar faces, Are there waiting for me. I walk and walk. I search and search. But never do I see, Those sweet familiar faces, That I had asked to wait for me. I had told them I’d meet them here, When my time would come. But now my time has come and gone, And yet I’m the only one. The only one here, As far as I can tell. It was then that I had a thought, Upon which I’d never thought to dwell. They were good people, All throughout their lives. Was I a good person? I had told a lot of lies. It was then that I realized, Perhaps, I’m just unwell. Or maybe they’re in heaven, And maybe I’m in hell.
Three Times Fast by Gale Acuff
Luke 6.38 If I had to choose between Jesus and God I’d probably go for the Holy Ghost because whoever else He is He seems to hang back and mind His own beeswax unless He’s called on for inspiration, I don’t know beans about the Bible but I do go to Sunday School though not church, I always fall asleep in there and I don’t want to wake up dead with all those folks and neighbors staring at me—I don’t know much about the Bible but I recall Miss Hooker, our teacher, talking about the Pentecost, something about some guys gathered together and those tongues of fire and a lot of glossolalia, now there’s a word for you, say it three times fast if you only can, I don’t think real tongues of flame but who the Hell knows, it’s the Good Book and just about anything goes but anyway, speaking of the Holy Ghost it was He Who was involved in a big big way, the Holy Spirit’s what He’s called in the really classy churches, Catholic for sure, where Mother Mary’s pretty big too and they’ve got statues but anyway don’t get me wrong, God and Jesus are all
right with me but for true mystery you can’t beat the Holy Ghost, Spirit that is —pick one—and Jesus is the Son of God and God’s the Father, not just of Jesus, and God and Jesus are one and the same but different and for all I know you can throw in the Holy Ghost for good measure, shaken, not stirred, or am I thinking of James Bond’s favorite drink but drinking’s a sin in our church, which maybe explains why my father never goes, he likes his cold Schlitz after supper every day and ditto Sundays, especially Sundays, maybe because it’s the day before Monday, that means back to work, maybe that means shaken and pressed together for good measure or whatever the Hell I’m trying to say, I’m only ten years old and how old’s God if not infinite, what number’s that, and maybe Jesus is a few years younger and the Holy Ghost, maybe He’s so old you never hear as much about Him and no one’s ever seen Him except in what He’s wrought, which is to make people crazy with excitement, not like in James Bond flicks but with something deeper down that comes from somewhere higher, hope I know for sure when I’m dead and if I don’t learn what then then I’ll be damned if I’ll ever be the same.
Before He Left, And After by Kathy O’Fallon I. Chickadees and mourning doves scan the sycamore tree out back where a bird feeder dangles in the wind, its glass walls cracked but holding. The roof raises up to be furnished with seed, shingled like a home, but he never fills it all the way, and then not until the birds give up scrounging. He says he doesn’t want them to have to count on him. Once he noticed the birds had gone but for a chickadee trapped inside. A glass house. Outside all around. What was it thinking? It only knew to flee. II. They came back—patient, faithful fairies, and I fed them, just before the next rain. What spilled over the mourning dove ate on the ground, not minding the mud—big-bellied Buddha— not wasting, and generous. Didn’t he know freedom does not have to mean wings?
staff Ivana Lang
Visual Arts Director
“Experimentation—that’s where all the delicious things happen.”
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“Weathering the storm is always hard. But it helps if you learn to sing and dance in the rain.”
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“Life’s crazy. There’s nothing to do but chill.”
special thanks The Brushfire would like to express our sincerest gratitude to all the artists and student organizations whose efforts furnished this journal with thoughtful content, and whose craft inspired us to think of the journal as its own experimental work of art. In particular, we would like to thank the UNRtists, the Creative Writing Club, and the UNR Wolf Speaks team for inviting us to collaborate with them and for encouraging the local artists within their midsts to share their work. On a final note, we would like to express our deepest thanks to Harley Deguzman, Bryan Urrieta, and Faith Evans for bringing their creative enthusiasm to all of our meetings, for sinking their hardearned free time into reviews, and for gathering the courage to offer up their respective visions for the journal. You all rule.
colophon The Brushfire is the oldest literature and arts journal at the University of Nevada, Reno. Established in 1950, this nationally recognized, biannual publication provides an opportunity for emerging artists and writers to publish and share their work. With each iteration of the Brushfire, we strive to represent the diversity, originality, and interests of our community. Athelas is the body copy and headline text throughout the book. A. Carlisle & Company of Nevada printed this FSC-certified, 8.5 x 5.5-inch book on 100-pound paper. As a UNR organization, we also strive to be the creative outlet for our student body. Our priority is to connect with the various art communities throughout Reno. However, anyone may submit to Brushfire. While we focus primarily on student and Reno-based work, we continually receive and publish art from across the country. To all of our submitters: we greatly appreciate your creativity, dedication, and love for the arts and freedom of expression. You are what makes Brushfire unique. Thank you.
Brushfire recieved the 2018 ACP Magazine Pacemaker Award, 2016 ACP First Place Best-0f-Show Award for Literary Magazine, 2017 ACP Third Place for Best of Show Award for Literary Magazine, and 2017 Pinnacle Awards honorable mention.
want to have your work published? Brushfire publishes bianually but we accept submissions year round. Our deadlines for the spring and fall semesters can be found online. To learn more about submitting, visit us at unrbrushfire.org. Have beef with the journal? Let the Editor know! firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright ÂŠ 2019 Brushfire and its individual contributors. All rights reserved by the respective artists. Original work is used with the expressed permission of the artists. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher. The opinions expressed in this publication and its associated website and social media are not necessarily those of the University of Nevada, Reno, or of the student body. Brushfire is funded by The Associated Students of the University of Nevada.
Journal Layout Cover Art Artist
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Brushfire Staff Fire Orchard Ann-Marie Brown