EDITION 73, VOLUME 2 UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA, RENO SPRING 2021
“Ditto.” —Nick Huffman, Editor-in-Chief
TABLE OF CONTENTS
POETRY & PROSE TOTI O’BRIEN MELANIE PERISH ESTHER PALMER BRIDGET TEVNAN JASON BOLING SHANNON LEWIS WILLIAM CASS MICHAEL ESTABROOK SAM CHERUBIN ZACH MURPHY JORDYN BECKER REBECCA FIFIELD JIM KLEIN MATTHEW FRIDAY VICTORIA ELIZABETH RUWI KIM LINDEMANN JORDYN BECKER CLAIRE CARLSON
9 10 12 15 17 18 26 34 37 38 40 42 47 48 50 57 59 52
Pocket Science Guest Room Window in the Year of Covid 19 Happy New Year (Audio Guide to Alcatraz) In a Magpie’s Beak Fly Swatter Carbon Copy Shame Unconditional Love Grass Here Is Golden with Starlight 437 Wilton Street (A Brick Story) When I Smell Diesel Running Goals Wear Hunger on a Beach in Baja California Sur, Mexico Tender Earth Buddha’s Thighs Or An After Days to Come
VISUAL ART & PHOTOGRAPHY 4 DESPY BOUTRIS 6 JULIA BLANK 8 RITA PLANCHON 11 SOFIA LOMBARDO 12 SARAH CRYAN 14 EDWARD LEE 16 BRIDGET CONWAY MARK JABAUT 19, 21, 22 24 SARAH CRYAN 26, 31 SAMANTHA ROBLIN 32 JOHN L’ETOILE 33 HARLEY DEGUZMAN 35 TYLER EWING 36 JULIA BLANK 39 JOHN L’ETOILE 40 JULIA BLANK 45 SARAH CRYAN 46 DYLAN WRYE 48 ALDO SAN PEDRO 51 BRIDGET CONWAY 52 NICHOLAS KOLETTIS 55 MEGAN MCGUINNESS 56 HARLEY DEGUZMAN 57 EDWARD LEE 58 JULIA BLANK
I Want To Want To Live The Moon Willing to Be Lucky At a Glance Point Reyes Relentless Party Favors Altered Fireworks Rush A Certain Sentimentality in the Suburban West One Year Petite Amoureuse Cinematic,Yet Still Rachel Mandatory Atrophy Road Trip Sound the Alarm On the Corner of Fifth and Center, ItamaeE Lucid Stepping on Eggshells Great Horned Owl Mother Venus What Might Have Been Here Before Spring 7
Image by Rita Planchon
POCKET SCIENCE by Toti O’Brien Within the dream mind words are walls of suitable size, low enough for you to sit upon or else kneel, as if in front of an altar, brushing with your fingertips the seams between stones. Within the dream mind words are walls made of stone, never larger than the sum of your wide open arms. Or else, words form shelves lined with books thick volumes, perfectly bound that you would gladly keep, but just for reassurance. Deeper knowledge you sense, would not be of use. Within the dream mind, sentences come in short clips, like a trim just fit to hem a cuff, half a collar one you can attach with a single length of thread, one session, one take. Never they (words, sentences and periods) make a curve, only straight marks like slightly stretched em dashes. Always portable, carry-out, carry-on even in their ponderous versions made of mortar and bricks… Even those you can lift and shift at your leisure. Here, words don’t dare making a discourse know their limits. Ample room is left for quiet. Silence, breathing in and out, contemplation. The unexpressed, inarticulate. The ecstatic. The pure vision, a wide unobstructed vista, dune, desert path erasing itself in the distance.
GUEST ROOM WINDOW IN THE YEAR OF COVID 19 by Melanie Perish
The cedar is close, out of frame, the Douglas fir too far beyond the ledge of hedged evergreens. They’re pruned close. Like Monterey cypress, their naked trunks and branches twist under broad-leaf greens.
Shelter-in-place, my ass, my cousin said last night. This is lockdown. I’ve lived windowless with three hots and a cot, a door I have – I mean had – no way to open myself. This isn’t lockdown. Instead of breakfast with them, I’ll watch the rocks that bank the back of a square of dirt where my aunt wants to plant geraniums. She’s good about letting me be and be quiet. She knows it’s hard for me to leave this window in the morning. I don’t know if anyone in this house understands. I almost cannot bear to look at that tall sky.
Image by Sofia Lombardo 11
12HAPPY NEW YEAR (AUDIO GUIDE TO ALCATRAZ) by Esther Palmer
Most haunting were not the walls that watched you Stop by former stalls, framing memories, Five feet by nine feet at a time. Most haunting were not the names you saw beneath Those steely eyes: Capone, Kelly, Cohen, Karpis, The Birdman of Alcatraz, Young.
Image by Sarah Cryan
Have you ever lay in solitude by the Bay? And could you hear that carrying chatter From the shore? Echoes one cannot ignore. Ever louder is the length of laughter. Good folks ringing in a new year. Singing out Those resolutions they intend to keep. Most haunting was that “Auld Lang Syne” they could Not escape from the Bay. How they tossed and turned, They tossed, they turned. Another life away.
Image by Edward Lee
IN A MAGPIE’S BEAK by Bridget Tevnan The black butcherbird shakes a walking gait when it’s not death diving at children with their doodle drawn, brown bag wrapped books overhead. Feeling blood trickling down my mother looks up. That piping poller’s Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle’s another story though. Featherless skull, flesh folded socket, piebald pedigree, idle Mags chattering. The nuns tied our Margaret’s hand behind her back and wonder why we’re still scatter hoarding, funeral singing, pile-in roosting. The mate-for-lifeness of plucked ticks and forgotten cache saplings is a late summer grain stalk, is a pecked seed in endless, is this winter solstice. Rosebush and willow stand buffalo berry thicket, stableyard and hen coop steer death dump pile, morning and chiaroscuro spring false summit weak-winged and flight-labored why ever leaving.
Image by Bridget Conway
FLY SWATTER by Jason Boling
the world has never seen a predator like man he said tearing with pride waving a blue flyswatter in the backyard dangerously close to the fourth of July suffering nostalgia for a lost agency for a grip on something that believe it or not was never there to begin with
CARBON COPY by Shannon Lewis Images by Mark Jabaut
You find her pink hair in the crowd. The wave of people emerging from the train floods the platform and you lose her again. You swivel around, trying to find her but she finds you. She wraps her arms around your ribs. You breathe her in. Artificial apples and something else, something salty that you’ve never smelled anywhere else. Your memory stirs with images of bedsheets and sunlight filtered through a curtain. You kiss her. She slips her hand, hot and slightly sweaty, into yours as you descend into the Underground. You ask if she had a good journey. Her lip trembles. She squeezes your hand tighter and says it was fine, but she’s just glad to be here. The train screeches. You shake your head, trying to rattle away the headache building at the base of your skull, and find a couple of seats. She leans her head against your shoulder and thanks you for letting her visit last minute. You kiss the top of her head, drawing her nearer. Her dark roots are starting to show. She never needs an excuse to visit, you say, you’re always happy to see her. Does she want to talk about it? She shrugs, fiddling with the lighter in her pocket. Chemistry coursework isn’t going well, and she had another fight with the fork-hoarding housemate, and her parents keep asking if she wants to invite Aunt Elise to graduation, and Aunt Elise keeps asking if she has a job yet even though it’s only February. The lighter wheel spins with small quick clicks. And she’s had it up to here with the cold. You laugh, taking both her hands, and promise you’ll take her somewhere warm soon. Meantime, you say, reaching into your backpack, I brought you a present. She smiles, flashing her pink gums. You hand her watermelon-redcurrant gummies, the kind that can only be found at the off-license at the end of your street. She gives you a sideways hug. Leaning your head against the top of hers, you can feel the vibration of her chewing. It is steady, constant. Your eyes close. You see strange visions, test tubes full of gloopy red liquid and emaciated bodies wheeled into a furnace. There’s an acrid smell, like burning rubber, and the sound of machines. You look down at your body and find it has no skin. You can see your organs, cotton-candy pink, shining up at you. Your heart beats. She nudges you awake and you jolt up. It’s your stop. Winter air stings your face as you exit the station. You stifle a yawn. The cold, which you expected to shock you into wakefulness, only increases your longing for a bed. She asks if you like your new job, and you say it’s fine but phlebotomy isn’t exactly your life’s passion. As you unlock your front door, her finger slips into your belt loop. She kisses you and your body responds. She says she loves you, running her fingers through your hair. Light bounces off her lashes. Like clockwork, you say it back. She pauses, feels at the back of your head a moment as if tentatively brushing a bruise. You think
you catch her frowning but then she gestures to the bedroom and tugs at the zipper on her dress. It crumples to the floor. Her smell grows stronger, apples and salt, as she closes the gap between you. Laying naked next to each other, she touches your lip and says you’re bleeding. You raise a hand and when you bring it back, it’s flecked with red. You hold your face in a half-grin. Tight-lipped, she buries her face in your neck and breathes in. When she pulls away, she smiles at you, but her brows hang low. You try not to think much of it, and run your fingers through her hair. Her breathing goes soft and steady, like a metronome. Your eyelids grow heavy. You stand unclothed in a room surrounded by several versions of yourself. You all stare blankly at the front of the room, moving out of sync like a broken House of Mirrors. Someone stretches a measuring tape against your arms and legs, around your torso. The stethoscope on your chest is so cold it burns. You flinch.
You wake up to the sound of shuffling. She’s flipping through one of your work folders by the light of a lighter flame. What the hell, she mutters. You blink, reconfiguring yourself. The room has gone dark, so you can’t gauge time. The mattress is warm against your stomach but when you shuffle, the duvet slips off you onto the floor, exposing your bare skin to the cool room air. She notices your movement and turns on the light. Where’s your tattoo, she asks, brandishing her lighter like a weapon. Her eyes narrow, examining your face then fixing on your back. What are you doing? you ask. You crane your head to
20 check a mirror. Your back is smooth, flat, the skin unmarred. Your head throbs. You manage a shrug, and her voice turns shrill. What do you mean you don’t know, she says, I looked it up. It’s at least sixty weeks if you’re lasering it off and it was there last month, I saw it. When you proffer no answer, she grunts and returns to the papers in front of her. Tattoos don’t just disappear, she says. She hides her chest with a folder; its cover’s embossed. The Continued Roslin Institute glints in your eyes. She thrusts several pages at you. You gingerly pick them up. Experiment Dolly, Stage Omikron. Copy #37 approved by Doctor Campbell. At the bottom of the stack is a waiver with miniscule writing and your signature. You look up, head heavy with memories of hypodermic needles full of acid-green liquid. The headache now feels as much a part of you as your heartbeat or your breathing. You touch the back of your head, where there is a sizeable divot, and clear your throat. Are you okay? you ask. She looks at you with growing horror. Her hair glows under the harsh bedroom light. She snatches back the waiver and reads. Tears fill her eyes. Get dressed, she says. A draft sneaks through the broken seal of your bedroom window. You shudder. I love you, you try. She whimpers as she zips up her dress.
*** You’re sitting in a chair with a strap under your chin and when you try turning your head, you feel a sharp pain in your temples. You hear muffled voices behind you. The top of your head is cold, numb. The conversation stops and something like a
thin metal stick touches the back of your head. It presses down, deeper and deeper, until your entire face begins to tingle. Your vision goes black. A Tube announcement wakes you. She is in the seat across from you, clicking her lighter. As soon as the small flame jets out, she lets it die, then starts the process over again. You give her a sleepy smile. Her knuckles turn white. You want to talk to her, say something, but you’re sleepy again. You hold your fingers to the side of your neck, gauging your heart rate. It’s lower than you can ever remember it being, not that you’ve needed to measure it before. I’m sorry, you mumble. Your eyes are closed, but you hear a sniffle. *** You are liquid, thick and viscous. You slither through a plastic tube and land in a vat. You feel yourself solidify into cordons of muscle and strands of hair. It hurts, you hurt, as though you are the magma pouring into yourself. You scream. She shakes you awake. Is this the stop? she asks. You check out the tiny window at the approaching sign. As the train slows, the letters become legible. You nod. She wipes the hand she touched you with on her skirt. Outside, pinprick stars bear down on industrial buildings. She follows you down a quiet street. A light breeze blows. You can smell something sour between the apples and the salt. A tear slips off your nose and you stop. She nearly crashes into you. Her eyes are large and watery as she scowls. You feel a lump in your throat. You say you’re scared, and reach for her hand. She pulls away. Don’t speak in that voice, she says, it isn’t yours. Sorry, you say, more tears streaming down your cheeks. Her lip trembles. Facing away from you, she grabs your hand. Her palms are slick with cold sweat. You want to clasp tighter, but are worried she’ll change her mind if you do. *** The large bronze gate proclaiming The Continued Roslin Institute is locked with a chain and padlock. She looks it over a moment, then goes to a line of rubbish bins at the end of the street. Help me, she says. Together, you push a heavy blue bin against the gate. She climbs it with a grunt. You reach up a hand to steady her, but decide against it. Instead, you grip the bin, making sure it doesn’t wobble. She clambers over the top of the fence, swearing under her breath, and lands on the other side. Come on, she says. The front door is locked, too. You hold your key-card to the scanner and the door slides open. The smell instantly hits you: a mix of bleach, ammonia, and flesh. Like a hospital-sanitized meat market. You shiver, grab her hand tight. She locks her fingers with yours and you start down the impossibly long halls. You walk past a room you recognize from your dreams, empty in the half-light. You try to wake yourself up, but for the first time you are already wide awake.
22 You move through the building like a lab rat through a maze. Neither of you speak. Her hand clasps yours tightly, her nails digging into your skin. You’re pretty sure you’re bleeding by the time you come to a cell that looks like a cage. She lets go. It’s you, she says, pushing up against the bars of the cell door. You see yourself, naked, hunched in the corner, with an elaborate tattoo of an elk on your back and bruises all along your arms. The you in the cell presses against the door and kisses her through the grate. How did you—you ask—where? Your voice breaks and you begin crying. They said it was for stem cell research, you say, I woke up in here and I heard them saying something about a trial-run and I thought I’d never—She kisses the metal grate again. I’m getting you out of here, she says. There should be bolt cutters in the lab over there if I remember right, you in the cage says, but be quick, the night guard will be here in twenty minutes. She nods and runs towards Lab Room C. The you in the cage avoids your gaze. The bruises on your arm, blossoms of rust and blue, swarm across your inner forearm. You recognise them as the result of hasty needlework, of cannulas inserted and ripped out with little consideration for the subject. Careless phlebotomy. You rub your own arms, trying to smooth down the gooseflesh. She returns with bolt cutters and two containers marked Warning: Flammable. She sets the containers down and works at the cage lock. After a moment that lasts a millennia, it falls to the floor with a loud clang. You emerge from the cage and scoop her into your arms. She kisses you. You turn away. We need to make sure this kind of thing never happens again, she says, running her finger along your inner crook of your elbow. Her anger is near physical, radiating out through the hall. She pulls out her lighter and you nod grimly. It can’t go on, you say, we need to end everything. You swallow and back against the wall, watching as she sloshes chemicals on the ground. The wall stings cold against your back. A shiver runs down your spine. Should we put, you tilt your head in your direction, in the cage? She pauses, then shakes her head. No, she says, I can’t kill you. That’s not me, you say. A drip of cool sweat slithers down your untattooed back. She shakes her head and empties the last of one container onto the floor. Alcohol fumes sting your eyes. She flicks her lighter on. After staring at the flame a moment, she groans, and lets it die out. Her back is to both of you. You know how this thing works right? she asks. Yes, you say simultaneously. Realising she didn’t mean you, you slide down against the wall and are silent. Chemicals soak through the seat of your jeans. All you need is DNA, you continue. Does it take long? she asks. Why? you ask. Answer the question, she snaps. I overheard them discussing the experiment, you continue, voice taut, it used to take a week, now it takes five minutes. In the dark of the hallway, the sound
of her tapping foot seems especially loud. Okay, she mutters. She plucks a pink hair out of her head, kneels down, and hands it to you. She puts her hand over yours. You have fifteen minutes, she says. Your entire body freezes, locked midbreath, mid-swallow, mid-heartbeat. Before you can respond, she stands. She grabs your hand, picks up the remaining chemicals, and walks away, back towards the rooms you recognise from your dreams. You hear yourself arguing in an angry, desperate whisper as you disappear around a corner. In the silence, time slows. You stare at the hair curled in your hand. Fifteen minutes.
*** You’re gonna burn if you stay there all day. Your eyes flash open. She kneels down in the sand and kisses you. I’m sorry, she says, you look peaceful, but also UV rays are a thing. You reach out a hand to ruffle her dark hair, lingering over a divot at the base of her skull, and smile. She runs her hand down your back. Do you think I should get a tattoo? you ask. A moment like a missed step, then she laughs. I’m gonna get some lunch, she says. You sit up and stretch, reaching out to pull her into a kiss. The hotel shampoo mixed with her sunscreen makes her smell like coconuts. You breathe in. Under the coconut, there is a salty smell. Lunch sounds terrific, you say, standing and taking her hand in yours. Sorry I’m all sweaty, she says. I don’t mind, you say, holding her hand tighter, I don’t mind at all.
Image by Sarah Cryan
Image by Samantha Roblin
SHAME by William Cass Tom and Marie were a couple that my wife and I had dinner with a half-dozen or so times when we first moved to Chicago after finding teaching jobs there. Tom was a big, jovial guy who had been a college roommate of my older brother; he called to welcome us to town and ask us over for a bar-b-que. We waited about a month to reciprocate, and that’s how our brief pattern of get-togethers began. We didn’t have a great deal in common. A lot of laughter and alcohol were always involved, much more of the latter than my wife and I normally consumed. Things usually started on the back patio, moved to the dining room, and finished with afterdinner drinks in the living room. We were at our place, it was pretty late, and Tom had just refilled our glasses with brandy. He lifted a small framed photo off the fireplace mantel, studied it for a moment, then looked at me and said, “This you?” I nodded. “And my mom.” “How old were you in it?” I cocked my head, though I knew exactly. “Seven or so.” He turned the photo around so everyone could see it. In it, my mother sat at her sewing machine in the corner of my parents’ bedroom in St. Paul, Minnesota, and I stood between her legs. Her hand was on my shoulder.
Tom asked, “She a seamstress?” “Not really.” I reached for the photo from where I sat on the couch. My wife was next to me. Marie sat in an armchair on one side of the coffee table. Tom handed me the photo and settled his girth back into the armchair opposite her, lowering the bottle onto the floor next to him. I used my thumb to brush dust from the glass covering the photo and sighed. “What?” my wife said. “Nothing really.” I pursed my lips. “Just an old memory about that sewing machine.” I looked at her. “One of my biggest regrets actually.” She frowned. “Tell us.” “It’s silly. Little kid stuff.” Tom gestured with his glass in my direction. “Spill, mister. Show and tell.” “Yes, don’t be shy,” Marie said. “We were all young once.” I looked from one face to another, then back at the photo. “Well, like I said, it’s pretty silly.” I shrugged. “I was in second grade. St. Rose of Lima School. Old smoke-stained brick building. Almost all the students, like me, had fathers who worked blue-collar jobs. Sister Bernard was my teacher. Ancient. Strict. Classroom was in the basement behind a boiler room. It was a Catholic school, so we didn’t celebrate Halloween, but did the next day instead: All Saints’ Day. We had a party before dismissal where we all had to dress in a costume of our patron saint. Wasn’t an option, it was a firm expectation.” “Who was your saint?” Marie asked. I heard myself snort. “Francis. My middle name.” “Of Assisi?” Tom said. “The one with all the animals?” I nodded. “So, my mom stayed up into the wee hours the night before sewing my costume. I remember getting up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and passing their bedroom. She was hunched over the sewing machine in the dark.” I pointed to the photo. “Just this gooseneck lamp sending a cone of light over a brown robe under the bouncing bob and her face furrowed in concentration, my dad’s slumbering shape under the covers. I can remember, like it was yesterday, the sound of her working the peddle on that machine after I got back in bed.” I brushed more dust off the glass. “Go on.” My wife’s voice was soft, urging. “Well, she had me try it on the next morning before school. The 27
28 robe had a hood with a rope for a belt around the middle. And she’d found these little plastic figurines somewhere that she’d sewn onto the shoulders: a couple of birds, a mouse, and a little squirrel, I think. My mother clapped with delight after she’d straightened it on me.” I glanced at each of them again in succession. “But when I looked in the mirror, I was horrified. It was the stupidest thing I’d ever seen. I couldn’t even imagine the teasing and humiliation I’d face from my classmates.” Marie had put her fingertips over the smile that creased her face. “So, what did you do?” I shrugged again and shook my head. “I brought it to school in a paper bag and stuffed it behind the boiler on my way into the classroom. When it came time to change into our costumes, I told Sister Bernard I didn’t have one. She made me sit outside the classroom and copy the Apostle’s Creed while they had the party.” “Ouch,” Tom said. “Yeah, and that’s not the worst of it. When I got off the bus after school and came into the house, my mom was waiting for me at the kitchen table. She gave me this long, sad stare, then said, ‘Sister Bernard just called.’” “Oh, no,” my wife whispered. “Yep.” I nodded. “Afraid so. I’ve been ashamed about it ever since.” Tom reached over and gave me a pat on the knee. He nodded, too. “I’ve got a story of my own like that. Only I can’t blame it on youth.” I set the photo on the coffee table. Marie and my wife took sips from their glasses. We all looked at Tom. He used his drink again to gesture to Marie. “It was just before we met in Cleveland. I was driving on business from one godforsaken place to another out in my territory. One of those two-lane county roads where you can drive for miles and not see another vehicle, fields forever all around.” He rubbed his chin. “January, bone-cold, but no snow. I drive up over a rise, start down the other side, and I see a car up ahead on the shoulder. Guy about my age standing on the driver side, which is jacked up. He’s holding a flat tire in one hand and has his thumb out in the other, hitchhiking. I feel a little jolt inside, something between angst and obligation. I slow down just a little, then drive on past. As I do, I see a woman, his wife I suppose, in the passenger seat nursing a baby. But I don’t stop. In the rearview mirror, I see the man follow my car with his eyes and drop his hand to his side.” Tom surveyed
our faces, which remained as blank as his own. “I think I told myself it might be dangerous to stop, some kind of set-up. I think I told myself that I was already late for whatever meeting I was heading to. So, I didn’t turn around. I just kept going.” “Shucks,” my wife said. “Yeah.” “Still haunts you a little,” I said. “It does.” He shook his head. “And not just a little.” We watched him finish his drink in one long swallow and refill his glass. It was quiet for a few moments, only the faint murmur of traffic on the boulevard a few streets away until my wife said, “My turn.” We all looked at her. I’d first noticed a bit of grey at the temples of her auburn hair the prior year when we’d both turned forty. She lowered her eyes, smoothed her skirt, and said, “Senior year in college and I was in the middle seat on a cross-country plane flight. We’d just taken off. The woman next to me against the window was asleep, and the guy on the other side had started talking to me as soon as we were in the air. Seemed like he wanted to tell me his life story. Loud, booming voice. He got going about serving in the Vietnam War and then suddenly told a joke about slant-eyes and chinks.” She looked at each of us. “And I laughed at it. It just came out. It was an uncomfortable laugh, a confused laugh, but I laughed. As soon as I did, I wanted to take it back, but it was too late.” She made a small grimace. “I don’t know, I suppose I was anxious about having to sit there next to him for another six hours and how awkward it would have been not to have laughed. But I remember a Middle Eastern couple across the aisle glaring at us. I couldn’t look at them. I sat cringing, wanting to disappear.” She blew out a breath. “But all I could do was squeeze my eyes shut and listen to that man start another story. It was awful.” We all nodded. I resisted an urge to take her hand and had a sip of brandy instead. A dog barked nearby. Sprinklers hissed on in a neighbor’s yard. By that time, I guess we were all staring at Marie. She was as small as Tom was large and wore her dark hair like a boy’s. She let her mouth dangle open, then said, “Forget it.” “Come on,” Tom said. “Let he who is without fault cast the first stone.” “You expect me to share a memory like that?” “Yes,” he said. “I do.” 29
30 She met each of our eyes briefly before her shoulders slumped and she said, “All right, fine. I’ve never spoken about this before.” She looked at Tom. “Not even to you. It happened when my sister and I were living together in that apartment in Cleveland just after you and I had started dating. My sister asked me to loan her $500 so she could go to Florida for a close friend’s wedding, and I told her no. I had plenty of money, but it had been nine months and she still hadn’t paid me back for her part of our deposit on the apartment. During that time, I’d simmered because she’d bought herself new clothes she didn’t need and a fancy bicycle she hardly rode. So, I was pissed at her, though I never said anything to her about it. Just a blurted no to the trip loan. I didn’t even tell her why.” Marie was facing Tom but seemed to be gazing with knit eyebrows at something over his shoulder. “So, my sister didn’t go to the wedding and then her friend and husband died on their honeymoon in a car accident.” She looked at each of us and wiped at the corner of an eye. “So, there you go. That’s my story.” “Wow,” my wife muttered. “And she still hasn’t paid me back for that deposit,” Marie continued. “And I couldn’t care less.” We sat in silence then. Occasionally, one of us took a sip from our glasses. The sprinklers hissed off in the neighbor’s yard. Finally, Tom said, “Well, let’s not do this big unburdening thing again. I don’t think my heart could stand it.” “Yeah, maybe play Twister instead next time,” my wife said. Our little chuckles that followed faded uncomfortably. I don’t suppose any of us knew then that there wouldn’t be a next time. Or how much those last fifteen minutes contributed to none of us wanting a next time to happen. Tom and Marie went home shortly afterward, and my wife and I were in bed a few minutes later. We lay on our backs in the darkness not touching, just thinking. Eventually, my wife said, “What happened after your mom told you your teacher had called?” I looked up into the darkness for a long moment. “I don’t want to talk about it.” Several more seconds passed before she said, “All right. Maybe another time.” I shook my head; of course, she couldn’t see it. I thought: not on your life. But I didn’t say a word.
Image by Samantha Roblin
Image by John L’Etoile
Image by Harley Deguzman
34 UNCONDITIONAL LOVE by Michael Estabrook When your brother calls tells you she’s gone an avalanche of nostalgia loosens from the hills She’s only been gone a month and already I’m missing our weekly phone calls: miss hearing her mispronounce sandwich, breakfast, toilet, saying milky milky milky whenever she poured herself a glass of milk because she thought it was funny miss her asking me if I talked to Pam, Cousin Sandy or Cousin Linda miss her telling me how losing a son is worse than losing a husband and she kisses Kerry’s picture every morning miss having to yell into the phone because her hearing is going, “I’m almost 93 you know” miss her saying why me, why am I still alive when all the others are gone? miss her asking me if I think she’ll see Kerry again and Daddy and her sisters and... miss her telling me she didn’t want her second husband’s name on her headstone or obituary, she divorced the bastard after all miss her saying if I win the lottery I’m moving back to Cape Cod, I loved it there miss her reminding me to not lift heavy barbells and to stay the hell off of ladders miss her asking me if I remember playing with Sandy down in the Gulch at the Fox Hills Army Barracks after the war miss her asking me to look up something or someone for her on the Internet miss her laughing because she got confused tried to call Regina on the TV remote again miss her telling me she’s saved all the poetry books and poems I’ve ever sent her in a box at the top of her closet but most of all I miss her saying: Do you know how much I love you? This much (can see her stretching her arms out on the other end of the phone) because you’re my number one son.
Image by Tyler Ewing
Image by Julia Blank
GRASS HERE IS GOLDEN WITH STARLIGHT by Sam Cherubin
Miss you. Kiss the cats for me. Sorry I’m leaving a sink full of dishes. New York City sits beneath the airport’s streaky windows.
The novel: set in a castle. Fjords, full of shield-maidens eating herring.
Televisions on the ceiling speak of death, debilitation, collapse. The message on the kiosks is clear: “Be happy. Spend money.”
He came on horseback. Cinderella stood with her pail of ashes in the drizzle, in the mist.
437 WILTON STREET (A BRICK STORY) by Zach Murphy
Charlie’s wistful heart tingles as he pulls up to 437 Wilton Street, the apartment building from his childhood. Everything is gone but the skeleton of a structure and the echoes of Charlie’s memories. You can board up the windows, but you can’t cross out the souls that once occupied the walls. Every Saturday night, the entire block would light up with a Fourth of July jubilance. Dueling music speakers battled to steal the humid air at full volume. The Ramones shouted to the rooftop. Bruce Springsteen crooned to the moon. And Sam Cooke sang to the heavens. Out in the street, Rich used to show off his candy red Mustang. Rich thought he was a lot cooler than he actually was. His hair grease looked like a mixture of egg yolks and cement. Charlie hasn’t forgotten the time that Rich revved up his ride in front of the whole neighborhood, only to blow the engine. As everybody laughed, Rich’s face blushed redder than his broken car. Shawn was the tallest human that Charlie had ever seen. He dribbled the basketball on the bubblegum-stained concrete like he had the world in his hands. He never did make it to the pros, though. But he did become a pro of another kind. Charlie hadn’t heard about Shawn in years until the day a familiar voice spoke through the television. It was a commercial for a landscaping business — aptly named Shawn’s Professional Landscaping. Charlie wished that he were older. Then, maybe he might’ve gotten noticed by his first crush, Henrietta. He’d often daydream about her curly hair, sparkly lip gloss, and mysterious eyes. Sometimes when Charlie passed by her door, he’d hear loud yelling and harsh bangs. Wherever she is now, he hopes that she’s safe and happy. TJ always treated Charlie like a little brother. He’d even give him extra cash for snacks every single week. Charlie always admired TJ’s bright red Nike shoes. One day, TJ got arrested by the cops in front of Charlie’s very own eyes. It turned out that TJ was selling a certain kind of product, and it wasn’t chocolates. Charlie’s grandma cooked the most delicious spaghetti. It smelled like love. The sauce was made from fresh tomatoes that she grew on the building’s rooftop. Charlie still thinks of her sweet smile with the missing front tooth, and the big, dark moles on her cheeks. The cancer eventually got to her. When she was put to rest, Charlie was forced to go into a new home. But it wasn’t really a home. The memories from that place are the ones that Charlie permanently boarded up in his mind. After snapping out of his trance, Charlie picks up a decrepit brown brick from the building and sets it on the passenger side floor of his pristine Cadillac. When he arrives back at his quaint house in a quiet neighborhood, he places the brick in the soil of his tomato garden and smiles.
Image by John L’Etoile 39
WHEN I SMELL DIESEL by Jordyn Becker 40 I’m four again, riding shotgun on a rock-riddled dirt road somewhere between home and Bishop. My chubby fingers are sugar-coated, sticky and red from sour strips, Nerds and a cherry Icee we picked up at the corner store.
Sagebrush and sweet pine weave through the dry air that pulses past us from my cranked open window. My short hair tangles even further. Sunday’s game plays on the radio, announcers holler and Dad yells from his seat to no one in particular between sips of the Bud Light cradled between his legs. My stomach aches and I want to go home. I smell the sea salt and vinegar chips he offered me. We don’t head home until each bottle of the 12-pack is tossed out the window and today’s games are over.
Image by Julia Blank 41
42 RUNNING GOALS by Rebecca Fifield Sports bras weren’t really a thing for teen girls in the early 1990s. There was no such thing as “motion control.” No real tech clothes. Running gear consisted of shorts no longer fit for public, our rattiest bras, and cheap sneakers. My high school track team friends were mortified by our skimpy nylon track uniforms, and we sought modesty by wearing white turtlenecks and black leggings underneath. To avoid disqualification at track meets, our 4x1600 meter relay team all had to wear matching earrings. (Why did we care about earrings?) My high school track was an asphalt loop that wreaked havoc on our shins. At a 6:40 mile time, I was slow. I struggled to crack a 3 minute 800 meter dash. Forget hurdles; after face-planting on the asphalt once, I realized they weren’t for me. I was a simply unremarkable runner. It was Stephanie who left us all in the dust. She was so fast, she ran with the boys. Today, running for me is something between an obligation and a mom’s mental health break. Even with a bulging L-5 disk, gripey knees, and tricky asthma, I can still compel my feet to give me a 6:58 mile. Saturday afternoons find me at the local rail trail or high school track, reliving high school glory that never really happened. Beneath the blank scoreboard and the empty stands, the impact of my feet thrills me, and my need for speed is now a pleasure. At age forty-five and with nobody else watching, I can finally feel like a star. And the reason I started running in the first place recedes in the distance. Recently I was having a beer with a colleague. He is more of a runner than I am, and he asked me: “Do you have a goal, like, a running goal?” I was stumped. As an adult who runs for exercise on the weekends, it never occurred to me to have a running goal. Since high school I’ve mostly run solo and I don’t race much. I must have missed the memo about running goals. As I sipped my beer, I couldn’t identify one current motivation shaping my adult running life. All I found, with its damning persistence, was the reason I started running in the first place. “Just run,” I replied. “Run as fast as I possibly can.” In 1988 I started running because I was 118 pounds. I ran because I
was five-foot-five, and one of the teachers in my middle school was six-footthree. I ran because I was twelve and a child, and I didn’t stand a chance. Fight wasn’t an option so flight was what I had. It would be another three years before Anita Hill gave testimony at Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation. After school one day my club was having photos taken, and I had to get something from my locker. Across from my locker was a radiator cover, where I found that teacher sitting. He often hung out there between classes, but at 5 p.m. the hallway was empty of the usual swarm of kids. He held out his hand. Mind you, I was twelve and knew this was weird. But I was raised to be polite, so I took his hand. He wrenched me off of my feet, clenching me to his chest. My thrashing was pathetic against his steely hold on my body. At my first “No!” he wrapped an arm around my mouth so hard that the flannel of his shirt squeaked against my teeth. The pressure was so intense, I couldn’t even get my mouth open to bite him. In that terror-eyed moment, our club president came looking for me. As Amy came around the corner, she was larger than life, a pillar, a giant, my hero. She was no more than thirteen and unaware of her power just by being there. This is the reason I remember her at all, thirty-three years later. When she appeared his arms fell to his sides, leaving me to scramble up off of his body. He said nothing but the message of my powerlessness was clear. Perhaps he compressed my freedom there for no more than two minutes. But it was a test. It was that initial incident that allowed him to calibrate what he could get away with. For the next two years, he taunted me in front of other students. He would stand in the hallway and stare at me as I walked down the empty hall or up the stairs. His fingers reached out to touch my hair, grip my arms, clench my wrists, just to release them seconds later. As an adult I can now see that the constancy of this torment was meant to remind me that he was in control, and one day he might not let go. When the 1988 spring track season began, I chose running. I chose it for self-defense. I chose it for escape. I chose it to remind myself—even now—that I have a shot at survival. These were my goals. These have always been my goals. 43
44 Running has never been about beating my personal record or Fitness with a capital F. I do not run to be thin. I am not scientific about it. I don’t care what I eat before or after, or whether I stretch or hydrate properly, but I’m probably just lazy. Running isn’t about the distance. I do not run because I need to clock in 5K, 10K, or 26.2 miles. How far I need to run is unknown and will always be unknown. The goal was always to run as fast as possible for as far as I need. That required distance is an unknowable quantity until it desperately matters. The finish line keeps moving. I have aged and the course has changed. Now my path is largely smooth with a hard climb every few miles, prompted by my memories or current events. I methodically assess every man I meet. How strong are you? How tall are you? Most importantly, how fast are you? My rail trail run yesterday included one fourteen-year-old boy calling, “Hello, babe!” from his bicycle and another guy who growled at me as I passed him and his dog. I shaved a whole extra minute off Mile 6. If you have ever used a starting block, you know the discomfort of being perched in one, waiting for the starting gun. Your feet rest against tilted metal plates in an upright lunge. Your weight tips forward onto your fingertips, fingertips that burn as they press into the cinders, the asphalt, whatever surface is on that track. It is an exquisitely uncomfortable feeling, being poised for explosion. That is where you will find me, still crunched up in that starting block after thirty years, legs shaking, waiting. How many women are exhausted, waiting for that starting gun? How much energy have I expended on the vigilance of being female, upright on my fingertips and staring down that track? This is the race many women run, or wait to run, for the rest of their lives. Those two minutes have colored my world for longer than any other event in my life. Not my husband’s first kiss. Not my wedding. Not my son’s birth. I’m now running farther, harder, and, yes, consistently faster than I ever have in my life. I’d like to think that now I run not out of selfdefense, obligation, or anxiety but because I finally enjoy doing it. How many women start running not because they choose to run but because they don’t see any other option?
Image by Sarah Cryan
WEAR by Jim Klein There is no way to halt the life process. There is wear. There is wear, and you can’t change the oil. You end up watching the life process work on your bones, and what’s in between is gravy. It might even congeal into happiness, but just until the solipsism of wear takes over again, which is why I need no wear in my gravy, and why language should be used by lovers for amusement only.
Images by Dylan Wrye
48 HUNGER ON A BEACH IN BAJA CALIFORNIA SUR, MEXICO by Matthew Friday
The sea-chewed remnants of life lay littered on the beachy gums of La Ventana beach. Toothed debris of wood and seaweed, bleached coral chunks and plastic mark the tidal smile line. Here lay scattered skeletons of fish: spinal columns, skulls agape with sharp teeth, the leathery, empty sacks of fish skins, discarded vertebrae; the resting place for tenants of the former Aquarium of the World. Always patrolling are the vultures, keen-eyed for any carrion. Two politely take turns tugging inside a fish head. Seagulls watch and snatch a lump when the vultures get bored and take to hungry wingtips wing, wind spitting them up to look-out posts. Suddenly an osprey in the air, ducking a seagull trying to steal the wriggling fish in its left claw. It disappears, fish still squirming. A squadron of pelicans glide over the water, bellies touching down on gentle waves. They sit watching on the water with huge bills lowered like mourners. A few frigates arrive, painting black patient lines with forked winds and split tails. Pacific wanderers hanging on the breeze with origami wings cut like kites, above endless waves, constant hunger, smiles and grimaces.
Image by Aldo San Pedro
TENDER EARTH by Victoria Elizabeth Ruwi
Pumpkins, more orange than the named crayon, abound along the sculpted path to pick-your-favorite orb in deep ochre choices. Tucked afar rests an oxidized trophy truck, next to an earthbound rusting thresher: iron dust.
Image by Bridget Conway
Image by Nicholas Kilettis
DAYS TO COME by Claire Carlson I’ve found that the antidote to a somber, sullen, no good, very bad day is to tip my head toward the sun and breathe deep. If I find myself in the Pacific Northwest where the sun is scant for large portions of the year, I look for a bird or a very tall tree to point my attention toward instead. I stare closely at these beings until I feel my eyes, well-versed at squinting at things at shorter distances in my indoor life but not so good when we take things outside, adjust to look at animals and trees from afar. Once I’m satisfied the horizon’s been observed long enough, my gaze moves toward my feet to examine the microworld beneath. It’s best to crouch or even lay flat against the earth to see the fuller picture, for within one inch of the ground there are mountain peaks dusted with moss and trickles of water snaking through canyons to separate the ridges. There is life bursting at the seams at the base of the trees, and I press my nose into their trunks to gulp in the smell of decay and sap and evergreen. I bury my ears in the soil to listen for the soft hum of mushroom spores unraveling in the dark underbelly of the earth, spanning for miles beneath the surface. I watch as a trio of ants
skitter by, on a quest much more worthy than any journey of mine. When it is too cold to lay on the hardened winter ground, I will look for water instead, as its changing physicality in accordance with the weather never ceases to amaze. The coots bobbing in the river as chunks of ice drift by makes me ashamed of my own apprehension toward being outdoors in the biting temperatures, but perhaps I should be gentler with myself, remembering that I do not have insulating feathers to keep me safe from the cold. I watch with wide eyes as a mosaic of ice detaches itself from the larger sheet near the riverbank, clopping against other drifting pieces as it makes its way leisurely downstream, its soothing scraping music to my ears. I wonder what creatures have made a home for the winter burrowed beneath the shrubs around me. I allow the pleasure of a daydream, one where I am small and furry enough to burrow with them, our bodies soft and plush and nestled into each other, like young folded into the breast of our mother. There we will lay, our collective heat enough to keep warm even on the coldest of days. *** There are times in the year where a certain kind of nesting is required to bear the cold of a winter’s night. Words do this best for me. My home has always been filled with books, thanks to parents with nesting inclinations similar to my own. Stacked precariously in different corners of the house, the stories found amongst these pages offer a welcome respite, soft reminders. One of my favorites, brought to life by Chanel Miller’s words:
. . . You have to hold out to see how your life unfolds, because it is most likely beyond what you can imagine. It is not a question of if you will survive this, but what beautiful things await you when you do. Without the dark cold of winter, a plant will not bloom once spring comes around. Without the dark, light means nothing at all. There is beauty in these depths. *** 53
54 Recently, I’ve vowed to pay more attention to my locale. Learning the birds has been my first venture, and so far I’ve found friends in the chickadees that flit through the hedges in my yard, the nuthatcher that keeps returning to the berries on the tree, and of course, the bumbling band of pigeons that fly to and from the telephone pole. I have to keep in mind how energetically I thrust the back door open, for this can deter even the bravest pigeon from swooping beside me. Instead, I slowly edge my way onto the deck as quietly as is possible atop a crusty, week-old layer of snow. Standing still with the sun in my face, I listen to the cooing and cackling that accompanies their exchanges as they nibble on the vegetation and tumble playfully through the air. My only hope is that I am merely another fixture in their urban playground, but this is probably underestimating how much more attuned they are to their surroundings than I.
A colonizer’s prayer: May I never forget what grows beneath our feet and soars above our heads. May I never stay too rooted in reality that I forget what has lived before us and what will remain long after, for that is the real world. May I stay in tune with the different heartbeats that surround me, for those are the places and creatures that will teach me more than I could ever learn on my own. ∻ There is a chirping outside the window, a rustling in the trees. A keen ear might hear a distant rumble, a shuddering on the horizon—the white blanket of winter is slowly becoming a quilt of grays and browns and greens, its patchwork dotted with the gentle stirrings of spring. It’s a gradual change, a certain kind of warming that’s nearly indiscernible from the sneaky winter days that bring temperatures reminiscent of summer (and oh how concerned we are about those days); but it’s as sure as the sun’s daily ascent, and on one morning, seemingly no different from all the rest, there are four speckled eggs tucked tightly in a nest, their mother not ten yards away. Each one would cover a space no larger than the fleshy mound that connects the thumb to the palm, yet each carries a vernal promise of life anew in the wake of darkness, earth’s annual inside joke, only made clear for those who wait long enough for the punchline—there is beauty in these depths, just you wait and see.
Image by Megan McGuinness 55
Image by Harley Deguzman
BUDDHA’S THIGHS by Kim Lindemann deep breath in . . . and slowly . . . let it out stare across the room at the quiet little Buddha seated there in the corner I wonder what’s he thinking if he thinks at all under those clay curls and painted lips I wonder do his thighs itch? mine do is it disrespectful to think about the Buddha’s thighs? I wonder if he could really sit like that for hours really or if he squirmed and fidgeted peeked out one eye did his head sometimes feel like it was floating? I’m here to be silent and I am but still I wander
Image by Edward Lee 57
Image by Julia Blank
OR AN AFTER by Jordyn Becker I don’t believe in God or an after. But, if there is some place — where my grandpa sits on a rickety wooden bench under the walnut tree in the backyard, surrounded by overgrown crabgrass, climbing vines of ivy, and wild orange poppies, with a dog called Trust, lying at his feet, I would join, sit and open a hand to each of them.
Nick Huffman Editor-In-Chief
Jeanne Lukasko Literary Editor
Ana Perez-McKay Visual Arts Director
Kayla Quintana Zine Editor
Faith Evans Audiobook Producer
Sabrina Cesana PR Manager
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 throughout the book. AZO SANS is used for the headline text. Greenerprinter printed this FSCcertified, 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 Northern Nevada. 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 and the world. 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 received the 2016 ACP Best-0f-Show Award for Literary Magazine, and received an honorable mention for the 2017 Pinnacle Awards.
WANT TO HAVE YOUR WORK PUBLISHED? Brushfire publishes bianually. We accept all printable forms of art. 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 © 2021 Brushfire and its individual contributors. All rights reserved by the respective artists. Original work is used with express 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
: Brushfire Staff : Reno : Susan Liebman