B RUS H F I R E LITERATURE & ARTS JOURNAL
BRUSHFIRE LITERATURE & ARTS JOURNAL EDITION 72, VOLUME 2
UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA, RENO
EDITOR’S NOTE Leonard Cohen once said: “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.” These words, I think, are useful for understanding this journal because each of the artworks set down here touch upon this idea in one way or another. To be specific, they all grapple with this notion that what you can make of life is often gathered from the remains of actually having lived it— lived it fully even despite the loss, tragedy, and confusion entailed; despite never fully understanding the present moment itself before it passes away into the next moment. In a way, then, this journal is about our relationship to the experience of passing through and passing away in life —of dying — not as an illusory or abstract concept, but as an actual physical and psychological process we endure all the time. Whether it’s the death of our own selfconcepts, our most intimate relationships, our connections with a place, our personal sense of belonging— or all the above — we all know this process, or will come to know it. Therefore, we must learn not to fear it. That said, this journal is really about life and being alive: about what makes life worth living, what meaning there is in suffering, what is more important than fear. It tries to view the perpetual passing of our lives in each moment, not as an occasion for continual mourning, but as that which actually constitutes our living, providing us the raw materials to fashion a meaningful life for ourselves. It seeks to validate the suffering we experience in feeling small and, just as important, to demonstrate there is strength in locating the other side of this feeling — for feeling small can give way to feeling great. Nick Huffman, Editor-In-Chief
“And did you not know that the smaller a creature is, the bolder its spirit?” —Suzy Kassem
Image by Nicholas Kolettis
Image by Aldo San Pedro
TABLE OF CONTENTS
POETRY Carol Hamilton Ally Messer Rachel Leishman Kaelynn Jensen Lauro Palomba Ana Fores Tamayo Max Stone Genevieve Hartman Grant Shipway Gale Acuff Kaelynn Jensen Christian Cacibauda Gaylord Brewer Alan Balter
8 11 16 22 26 29 33 34 40 46 50 53 56 58
Curriculum Slugs Fallen Snow Dear Man Who Raped My Sister Death Valley Christmas Marimacho Float Driving Home at Christmas The Binding of Isaac Golden Retriever Have You Ever Loved A Place So Much Aftershock Against Beauty, Perhaps And I Was Young Again
PROSE Demree McGhee Devin Mainville Catherine Shukle Stephen Ground
12 18 36 42
Pollen Peas Stepping on Jesus Bitter Fruit
VISUAL ART & PHOTOGRAPHY Nicholas Kolettis Aldo San Pedro Jean Wolff Jean Wolff Mikayla Burton Sarah Cryan Riley McKinney Leslie Lindsay Alexx Mayes Elizabeth King Elizabeth King Meghan Dyer Lauren Silex Ashlyn Davey Tavarus Blackmon Susan Liebman Susan Liebman Susan Liebman Patricia Joynes Aldo San Pedro Kevin Ashu Patricia Joynes
5 6 9 10 14 17 23 25 27 28 31 32 35 37 38 41 44 48 52 54 57 59
Dart Frog Hot Springs White Naples Ryman 4 The Moment You Have to Hide Low Tide All I Am Is A Shadow Refractions and Reflections Night Pollution We Donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t Need No Education Mona Lisa Override Panic The White Raven Do U See What Eye See Game Over Moses Breaks Tables Because of Golden Calf Adam with Apple Tango Imperial Moth on Pot Lucid Untitled Field of Flowers at Sunset
CURRICULUM by Carol Hamilton Every year we caravanned with parents and our third and fifth grade gifted students up I-35 to cross northern Oklahoma west to the Great Salt Plains and Alabaster Caverns. There we dug selenite crystals, cooked and camped and looked at stars and moon through our giant Dobsonian telescope. The next midday we descended out of the searing sun to walk the cool and dripping caves. At our campground, the children snapped photos of each other standing on the natural bridge of gypsum, until the year they had to take shots of just the bridge, now cracked and closed to foot traffic. The next year it was gone, a life lesson. But not the only one. We traveled in April, and along the highway north we passed the destruction of a recent tornado more often than not, the fields strewn with dead cattle and toppled and stripped trees. We hoped our trips were educational. We did not plan to teach harsh realities, but it is impossible to hide anything on the plains.
Image by Jean Wolff
SLUGS by Ally Messer Against the baby blue lockered hall, I leaned in. With brown paper bag salami sandwich breath and all the hormonal courage I could muster, my lips parted. Gnashing my gums like a fish attempting to substitute oxygen for water, I welcomed and congratulated your hesitant tongue, the first to enter my brace gate paradise.
Image by Jean Wolff
by Demree McGhee In the locker room, I can hear Trina four rows down talk about how she touched a guy’s penis while they sat in a slow Chick-fil-A drive-thru. She speaks at a normal volume but the metal lockers and high ceiling let her voice echo, which makes the squealing laughter of her friends in her row even louder. I can only catch pieces of what she says: “He rolled the windows up”—squeal! “I had to hold it at a weird angle”—squeal! “And there was this smell to it”—squeal! Her words vibrate through my locker, or maybe it's just my own hands thrumming. I’m pissed at the girls, not because I’m just that excited to hear about the specific smell of whatever the no-name high school guy’s dick smells like, but because I want to know how Trina would describe something like the smell of another person. The only way I could think to describe a smell would be to say what the thing was. Grass smells like grass. My week old gym shirt reeks like a week old gym shirt. But does something like a guy’s penis have a specific smell? Do all boys smell the same? If that was the case, what would keep Trina, who has several older brothers, from thinking that the high school boy just smells like her brother? Hanna tugs on my sleeve, rolls her eyes, laughs at Trina and her penis talk, so I know to laugh back and follow her and the rest of my friends out of the locker room. Everyone’s got on jackets and sweaters because somehow it’s legal to force kids to run a mile even when the sides of the track are caked with mud from the rain and everyone’s breath forms clouds in front of their mouths that gather in the air and make one big cold gray cloud looming over us. My friends talk and shuffle along the track, mimicking Trina’s stretched out beachy vocal fry, and laughing when they hear her talk ahead of us, and I wait until my fingers turn numb. Goosebumps pop up along my bare arms, my ears and nose blush red, and finally! My teeth start chattering. Every time I laugh or speak, I sound like a stuttering television or dice skittering across a table. Hanna notices—she always notices—and she rolls her eyes at me. “Honestly, do you even own a jacket?” She unzips her jacket, mid trot, and hands it to me. “You're lucky I’m so tall, more heat can be stored inside my body.”
“I don't think that’s how heat works,” I say. I am lucky that she's so tall though. When I put on her jacket it fits me like a dress, brushing up against the top of my knees and my arms like bees against flowers. Whenever I take it off, there’s little pieces of green fluff from the inside that stay stuck to the hairs on my arms, and I can spend all biology counting and lining them up on the table. I trot behind Hanna so that I can watch her ponytail swish back and forth like an old-timey grandfather clock. It’s bright and blonde amongst all the gray and black and blue from gym uniforms, and I’m hazy neon green. The mile passes quickly. I don't even feel tired. I barely notice how my group passes Trina’s. I barely notice whatever it is Hanna mumbles to Trina as she passes. I barely notice how Trina’s footsteps stop against the pavement. The mile is over and we’re panting near the water fountain, I wipe the sweat on my upper lip with the front of Hanna’s sweater. That smell is there again. I hold the jacket there. I can’t put it into words, and for a moment I’m desperate for what Trina had to say, how she described the scent of another person. Maybe all boys smelled the same, but certainly all girls didn't. If that were the case, I would be fine with the smell of myself, but the smell of myself didn't make my chest tight. Maybe it was the combination of myself and the jacket—Hanna’s jacket—and the idea of the two of us being one unnamable smell together. Maybe Trina and her high school boy hotboxed themselves on some new smell in the Chick-fil-A drive through. “Ew. Are you smelling her jacket?” I freeze. Trina and her friends appear in front of me and the jacket I still have pulled over my nose. The water fountain stops running. I say no, which is a mistake. Trina already has her answer and my voice putters out weakly. I feel Hanna’s eyes bore into the back of my head like worms in the wet ground. Trina doesn't have anything very clever to say back. “Oh, well, it looked like it.” Then she's off with her friends, laughing and squealing, glancing to look back at me like I’m a secret. My face burns. Immediately my friends are rolling their eyes, brushing it off as something a stupid penis/sex-obsessed girl like Trina would say.
Image by Mikayla Burton
Brushing it off like flower pollen, but the weight is heavy on me. I feel like I might sink. I want to. Hanna and I hang back a little. She uses her height as a way to not look me in the eyes and I don’t know if her cheeks are red from running or not. “I was just wiping away sweat, sorry if that’s gross.” I wish it were true. I wish I could just be something simple and gross, like a penis-obsessed girl, or sweat on my lip, or sticky pollen flying onto arm hairs. Then I could be something she could see and grab and look at in the face and call gross. But I’m something else entirely now. She says it’s fine, but when we go to line up for badminton, she doesn't look at me, or choose me as a partner, or lean up against me while waiting for our turn like she does with our other friends. I miss birdies and try to sort through swimming explanations in my head about how I could lie to Hanna and tell her how Trina just didn't see me right through how foggy it was outside, and even if we’re best friends so what does it matter if I was sniffing her jacket, and why would she think I’m gross or weird or whatever she's afraid I am when Trina spent this whole period talking in specific detail about how she touched and smelled (smelled it long enough to put it into words) a boy’s penis? She doesn't ask for the jacket back.
FALLEN SNOW by Rachel Leishman Today is not the day when snow falls and adorns the town like a Hallmark movie. That was yesterday. Today the snow that fell immaculate is like those white Vans youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve had for two years and should really throw out. Car exhaust, plastic trash, crushed maple leaves and muddy footprints have infiltrated the white powder and maybe thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s why they call it fallen snow. Still, we keep our eyes open in search of a clean patch that we might cup in our hands and drop in our mouths until it dissolves and leaves us pure again.
Image by Sarah Cryan
by Devin Mainville You’re staring at frozen peas when you first hear about it. You originally began staring at the peas because you saw Melissa Reynolds looking at the frozen diners and you really didn’t want her to see you. So, you turned real quick and stared at the frozen peas hoping she’d be so consumed in her own grocery list she’d walk right past you. She didn’t. Instead, she shrieked in delight and ran over to you giving you a giant hug and an “Oh my God, I haven’t seen you in forever!” This is true. Mostly it’s true because you are not and have never been friends. You went to high school together for four years and all seven of your conversations in those four years were about class assignments. But Melissa is the type of girl who shrieks and hugs relative strangers in grocery stores and then tells you all about her life just because you asked how she was even though when she asked you all you said was “fine.” And that’s why you went back to staring at the peas. Melissa was going on and on about every little detail of her life in the eight years since high school and although all she’d done was get married and move half a block away, she had a lot to say about it. “That’s pretty much it. What have you been up to?” The pause in her monologue alerts you to the fact this conversation might almost be over. You perk up. “Oh you know, the same mostly—“ “Oh my God, did you hear about Jen?” So I guess we’re doing this now, you think. Since moving back home you find that every time you run into someone from high school all they want to talk about is other people from high school and their scandalous lives. Except they’re not scandalous at all. They’re really very ordinary. So you nod and “mmhmm” as Melissa rants on about people you barely know doing things you don’t care about. Then a name catches your attention and you’re ripped away from your pea reverie again. “Do you remember Mr. Solverson? The, like, sophomore history teacher? Or was it junior? I’m so old now I forget everything!” “Mr. Solverson?” “Yeah! You remember him?” “Yeah, he was junior year.” “Sure, well anyway, he’s getting a divorce.”
Your heart gives an involuntary flutter that, if you had time to reflect on it, would greatly embarrass you. But you don’t have time to reflect on it because Melissa isn’t done. “Because he was having an affair with a student!” She stares at you with wide, gleeful eyes giddily awaiting your no doubt shocked reaction. All you manage is, “What?” “Isn’t that crazy?” “Crazy,” you echo. “I just never would have thought he was the type. Right? I mean, I know a bunch of girls had a crush on him, but I never really saw it. Did you?” “I don’t really remember.” But you do. You remember the way those teenage girls swooned whenever he smiled and how they glared whenever he smiled at you. You remember how your heart fluttered every time he gave you special attention, every time— But now the more you remember the more that flutter in your heart turns into a sick feeling deep at the bottom of your stomach. You really think you might pass out here in the frozen food aisle with Melissa Reynolds still nattering on about some other old acquaintance who’s getting a divorce. She would love it, of course. It would give her a new story to pass around to all the uninterested parties she comes across in public places. You turn back to the peas to regain your composure. The door to the freezer is closed but you can still feel the cold radiating out from it. You focus on the cold spreading across your face and the blood rushing in your ears starts to fade. You can hear your own thoughts again, but they’re flying so fast it threatens to make you ill again. You realize it’s the embarrassment that’s making you ill. For years, every time a flicker of a memory from that time threatened to resurface you stamped it down and moved on. During it and for a year or two after, thinking about it filled you with a kind of pride. It made you feel dangerous and sexy and like this secret gave you a certain mystery: a colored past. But, as the years went on, as you got older, those feelings began feeling false. It wasn’t all that sexy, it was actually pretty sad. And it wasn’t dangerous as much as it was incredibly dumb. It was the kind of thing a dumb kid would do to feel like an adult and its not until you are an adult that you realize no adult would act like that. He was an adult and he did it. He’s still doing it. That thought sends a chill down your spine. You realize you’re now closer to his age then than he ever was to your age. And now? He’s another eight years older and she’s 17? Maybe 18. God, you hope she’s 18. You were 19. You always thought that distinction mattered. You weren’t a student and it wasn’t illegal. That somehow made it more real. Of course, now that you’re an adult you know there really isn’t a difference19
between 18 and 19 no matter what the law says. But how could you have known that then? As the sick feeling intensifies, the thought you’ve avoided for so long becomes increasingly unavoidable. As much as you can pretend your disgust stems from the fact he’s still up to his old tricks, it’s the revelation that these were old tricks that’s really messing with your mind right now. As much as you’ve come to regret what happened and look back at that time with increased shame, there was still some small, delicate butterfly of a thought that you were special. But now that butterfly has been crushed under the heel of Melissa fucking Reynolds. You were never special. You never wielded any power. You weren’t some siren calling out to men to crash against the rocks. He wanted to crash against those rocks and if it hadn’t been you calling out it would have been someone else. It was someone else. Probably many someone elses. Now the sick feeling is turning into tears, burning in your eyes, threatening to come spilling out. And this makes you angry. What are you crying for? Didn’t you already realize that any power you thought you had was fake? Didn’t you realize he was just a creep when the texts stopped, when it became clear you’d already had your last moment together without even realizing it? Yes, you already had all these epiphanies, but time has a way of dulling down the harsh realities you’ve already faced and making you face them all over again. “Well, I better get going. It was so great running into you though!” Melissa is smiling strangely. You realize it’s probably pretty obvious that you’re about to cry and Melissa has no idea why, but she doesn’t want to deal with it. And who can blame her? “Yeah, you too.” You voice sounds a little choked and Melissa is officially spooked. She starts pushing her cart away from you. “Well, take care!” “Take care.” Now you’re just a woman, standing alone in the frozen food aisle trying not to cry. You sniff. You blink. And, because you’ve been staring at them for so long and because you don’t really know what else to do, you open the freezer door and grab the bag of peas. As you drive home in silence, all the thoughts and emotions that have burbled up to the surface in the past fifteen minutes start to recede back to wherever they’ve been living for the last eight years. By the time you walk in the front door the tears are gone. The man you love is waiting for you and greets you with a hug and a kiss. And maybe he can somehow sense you’re shook because his hug lasts just a little longer than usual and he gives you an extra kiss on the top of your head. And the two of you chat and laugh as you unload the groceries. You aren’t even paying attention when you toss the peas into the freezer. And the peas stay in the freezer for a very long time. Partly, because
you don’t particularly like peas and partly because every time you do come across them they just never sound appetizing. So, they get buried in the bottom, rendered almost completely unrecognizable by freezer burn until many years later, when you’re in the process of moving and cleaning out the freezer. The man you love pulls them out, laughing, and asks “Jesus, how long have these been in there?” And you laugh too and say with complete sincerity, “I have no idea.”
Image by Riley McKinney
DEAR MAN WHO RAPED MY SISTER by Kaelynn Jensen Dear Man who Raped my Sister: When I heard your story —The first time— My bones clamored —a silverware drawer when it is shut too hard She sat against the red wood fence with her head between Her knees Eyes open, We watched her heart hit the sand and sink. This is a poem about numbers. You raped my sister That was nine years ago, And I still can’t go 8 steps from my front door For fear of becoming the ninth Survivor I have loved I only met you once, But your silhouette Is framed by every bedroom door You were the first of seven, Some of whom I once counted as friends. My sister’s mascara still draws bird-cage bars Across my breast And I still walk lopsided So many tear-stained faces Weigh heavy upon my shoulder Your presence in this world is like leprosy for the soul Airborne by your laughter You haunt me, She, the prey of your dreams and 23
I, the prey in my nightmares Eight steps don’t get me out of this house, Or past that room So I don’t take walks Your shadow lingers in the lamplight And the window, and the mirror And I am still staring between my legs Loving those I could not protect From men like you Wondering how many men walk beside me How many are standing too close behind me When I go to sleep I take my keys I tuck them between my fingers Cold and hard and sharp We will not roll over for you You are the dog, don’t call us bitches. Dear Man who Raped my Sister, I was just ten when you hurt her Her soul your subjugation, But my mess I drag these skeletons around with me, None of them are mine But I love them, so I will let them rattle Around with the fragments of this heart, Dear Man who Raped my Sister I wish you could know how heavy these bones are.
Image by Leslie Lindsay
DEATH VALLEY CHRISTMAS by Lauro Palomba In a desert mirage you can spot infinity it winks in steadfast glare the forsaken track you’re on —empty but for yourself emptying you of yourself— will take you there The desolate hours burn off beliefs, beguilings, betrayals clarity of those alive no shade yet shades till you are arid unsecured as tumbleweed The GPS says soon you will reconnect to traffic slough the ghost towns the ghost dread but you have quit believing have quit questioning why you came this way became this way this day dark night of the soul in blazing radiance The barren hours burn down fuse to the lunar topography the hypnotic seclusion It jolts you then when it grabs not the exultation but its force that pumps forth cheer the flood of melting fear sluicing your hermetic hush just because, sheltered by a boulder, out has hopped a kindred hare
27 Image by Alexx Mayes
Image by Elizabeth King
MARIMACHO by Ana Fores Tamayo Short cropped hair. Flat-chested, stocky, with large hamstrings like a boxer. Butch, he calls me, marimacho. I have always been this way I murmur hoarsely, ever since I could remember. I can be happy though. Why won’t he let me be? The Mara takes a gun to my head, grazing my chin, seductively swearing he’ll stab me inside with its protruding metal barrel, make me squirm like the woman I never want to be. I run. He begins to shoot, slow motion flying. I hear the buzzing breaking boundaries, the war zone where I live explodes into a shambling chaos, and others—MS13—fire at my aggressor now. But they don’t shoot because of me, I think. He is the opposing Mara, the other gang, barrio 18. I run I run I run I run I run I remember my father touching me, warning me, I will make you a woman. Even when I was too young to know what it was like to be a woman, a man, he would stroke me. I am a child filled with fear. I am a woman a man afraid. His touch makes me cringe, and I avoid The graze of any man against my skin, now, forever. I clip my hair short; I strut the streets, freed at last. My strapping stride makes me stand out. I work as security for some time, until other men claim I am a freak of nature, a sin to God for impersonating man for being woman man: they can rape me still. So the abuse continues -- ravishment, assault, desecration, destruction. Once more I wing lightning, I retreat, I FLEE. Everlasting escape is a constant no, safety I can find nowhere, nowhere because all abandon what they cannot understand. And then I journey here, I beg asylum, I plead do not let death claim me in the streets of my belovéd country that does not want me, a man woman who only yearns to leave live in peace, who wants to love, to feel joy, to be not condemned because you say I am butch, I am marimacho.
MARIMACHO por Ana Fores Tamayo Pelo corto. De pecho plano, fornido, mis jarretes amplios como boxeador. Butch, me llama, marimacho. Siempre he sido así murmuro roncamente, desde que puedo recordar. Aunque podría ser feliz. ¿Por qué no me dejan? El mara apunta la pistola a mi cabeza, acaricia mi barbilla, jura que me apuñalará por dentro con el barril metálico que sobresale el cachorrillo, me hará retorcer como esa mujer que nunca quisiera ser. Corro. Comienza a disparar, a cámara lenta vuelan los tiros. Escucho los zumbidos rompiendo fronteras, la zona de guerra donde vivo explota en un caos desgarrador, y otros—la Mara Salvatrucha—ahora comienza a disparar a mi agresor. Pero no disparan por mi, pienso. Él es de la mara opuesta, la otra pandilla, Barrio 18. Corro corro corro corro corro Recuerdo mi padre tocándome advirtiéndome, te haré mujer. Incluso cuando era demasiado joven para saber cómo era ser mujer, hombre, me manoseaba. Soy una niña convertida en terror. Soy hombre mujer espantada. Su toque me hace temblar, y evito El roce de cualquier hombre contra mi piel, ahora. Siempre. Me corto el pelo; pavoneo por las calles, finalmente libre. Mi zancada de paso confiado me hace destacar. Trabajo como seguridad por algún tiempo, hasta que otros hombres afirman que soy un fenómeno de la naturaleza, un pecado contra Dios por hacerme pasar por hombre por ser mujer hombre: aunque todavía me pueden raptar. Así que el abuso continúa: violación, asalto, blasfemia, destrucción. Una vez más aleteo como un rayo, me retiro, HUYO. El escape eterno es un constante no, La seguridad no encuentro en ninguna parte, ninguna parte todos abandonan lo que no pueden entender.
Y luego viajo aquí, les pido asilo, Suplico que no dejen que la muerte me reclame en las calles de mi amada patria que nunca me ha querido, un hombre mujer que solo anhela vivir en paz, quien quiere amar, sentir alegría, no ser condenada porque todos dicen que soy butch, soy marimacho.
Image by Elizabeth King
Image by Meghan Dyer
by Max Stone // I am a bird for a moment each day. Before the heaviness of the world Settles on my chest. // The crest of sleep Can be an unlocking Of what you already know. A blue and emerald rush Of ideas. // Brother I am resting. Don’t call me at ten On a saturday morning To tell me what I haven’t done. I’m not ready to Face the mountain. Until I am my back Is my shield against The wind and your breath. I wanted you to save me In the warmest fall We’d ever felt And when you wouldn’t I was left submerged. Feeling for the light switch. For years For years.
DRIVING HOME AT CHRISTMAS by Genevieve Hartman
as the sun rises, it turns the world platinum and silver, white and gold and orange flashingÂ against snow. i can hardly see. the lines of light on the highway are grooves on a record and i am trying not to be broken, repeating the same things over and over again. the lone crow on the side of the road picks at the scabs on my heart.
Image by Lauren Silex
STEPPING ON JESUS by Catherine Shukle Alvin said, “If you can do this, I’ll know you love me.” Alvin said, “God, Lou, it’s only a game.” And, for a moment, it felt like recess fun, and Lou watched from the hood of their van as Alvin drew a Jesus, with a stick of white sidewalk chalk, on the other side of their driveway: a tangled wig of holy hair, a triangle angel gown, upside down. He gave Jesus almond eyes, with big weeping pupils. Lou giggled. Chalk Jesus looked like their third youngest, Jesse, after he got his eye socket canned by the door knob. Alvin looked at his wife and said, “Your savior is alive at your feet.” He said, “Would you laugh if this was me?” Lou looked at Alvin in his black pressed pants, his teal blue tie that swung out from his chest. Ten months ago, after their fifth child, Leroy, was born, birthed out in the back bathtub before the midwife could arrive, Alvin quit his job at the aquarium shop, where he’d earned minimum wage scooping up tetras and puffers, wet rainbow bodies, and taken a job managing a local McDonald’s. “Feeding the family, one fat paycheck at a time,” he’d said. Now, he came home smelling like burger patties and diced onions. Now, he came home red-faced, muttering about mercy in the eyes of sinners, talking about how French fry fat rotted out Jesus’s veins. “Goddamn, Lou,” Alvin said that morning. “There’s a little bit of them both in everything, isn’t there? Little bit of Jesus in the soft serve, little bit of Lucifer in the cone.” He’d closed up the night shift and stumbled into the house right as their oldest, Marianne, was strapping on her training bra. The little ones tossed, sleepily, under their cartoon comforters. Splayed out on the concrete like a ghost of himself, chalk Jesus grinned. Alvin drew a smile on his face, a little too high, where his nose should have been. He handed her the chalk. “Draw the heart, Lou,” he said. But, she shook her head. She watched as Alvin traced a ♥, like a target, halfway down the holy man’s gown. Lou almost giggled, but she thought better of it. She imagined a man with heart-shaped testicles, more to love, more to love. Alvin spat into the front yard and threw his tie off into the tulips. Inside the house, through the screened windows and closed blinds, Lou could hear Leroy’s hungry cry. They’d switched to formula at six months, but, still, Lou’s breasts began to tingle. Their home sat in front of them like it always did, solid aluminum siding and beady shingles; inside, Lou and Alvin knew, it spilled out like guts, or carnival rides, or the McDonald’s lobby at 6:00 on a Monday evening—all noise and need this and bloody veins they created but couldn’t stop up.
Image by Ashlyn Davey
Image by Tavarus Blackmon
“What is this, Alvin?” Lou said. She slid off the hood. Without his tie, Alvin looked like a pall bearer. His white button shirt had a smudge of ketchup dried brown like menstrual blood. Alvin smiled. “Step on him,” Alvin said. “Jesus said, You have to prove your love in big ways. Jesus said, Love should be bigger than the both of us.” Lou didn’t know, but she thought that sounded about right. When she’d married Alvin ten years ago, only eighteen years old the both of them, they’d discovered the Bible tucked into the nightstand at their honeymoon hotel in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Alvin had said, “This is the way it’s supposed to be,” and Lou had agreed. Now, they kept a Bible by the side of their bed. Occasionally, Lou would open it up and read a line, dogear a page. They weren’t church-going people, but, as Alvin explained, “All the Lord wants is love,” and they could give that to Him by loving each other right, growing their kids up good, keeping their carpets clean and dishes washed and thoughts righteous. Before they made love to make a child, Alvin said a prayer over her body, asked God to help Lou’s lady parts bulge with Jesus’s sacred blood. Lou sighed. Inside, she could hear Marianne singing a pop song and Jesse howling about peanut butter. Leroy had stopped crying, and Lou tried to imagine Lela, their eight-year old, rocking him in the feeding chair, rolling him around on the ottoman, trying to change his diaper. She looked at Alvin. “What time do you go in tonight?” she asked. “Jesus, Lou,” Alvin said, dropping his head. “Can’t you just do this one thing for me?” Chalk Jesus wobbled in the late morning sun. His smile reached up and pricked his eyes. Lou thought she might start to cry, but, instead, she looked at her husband. His cheeks hung belly-up, sad fish fins, and she could imagine him wrapping up chicken fillets in greasy paper, apologizing with extra nuggets for his employee getting someone’s order all wrong. She thought of how he’d looked when they held Marianne up to them for the first time, his white-ghost eyes, his smile shocked a beautiful shade of red. And, so, she stepped. She tried to step. She climbed into Jesus’s empty gown and dipped her toe into the target of his heart. When she couldn’t bear to put her heel down, her husband, Alvin, wrapped his arms around her and pulled her down to the ground. Together, they sprawled out over the chalk lines. With the wings of their shoulder blades, they wiped the grin right off the holy man’s face. 39
THE BINDING OF ISAAC by Grant Shipway
headline; Man Drives Into Lake, says he was following GPS. but certainly, of course he was, it is the voice we must follow, it is the law, intrinsically, it knows the way, drive straight for eight hundred metres and turn right, turn right in fifty metres, continue on for four hundred metres, you have arrived at your destination, you are in a lake, because you must have faith or else all is chaos, if you see the lake, glimmering, lambent in the morning sunlight, and are told, continue along four hundred metres, you must believe, have faith that all will be sublime. A voice spoke to Abraham, take your son Isaac, bind him upon an altar, carry him to the top of a hill and sacrifice him to my eternal glory, Abraham did not hesitate, because obeying the voice is everything, he tied Isaac, carried him up, he pushed his face down to open the neck, took the sharpened knife from the sheath, and stepped on the gas, he could see the water coming up through the floorboards, but this was what the voice of his belief commanded, because faith is absolute,
faith is digital, it is either zero or it is one, there is no other type of thing called faith unless it is all or naught. So let us all give thanks to those heavenly satellites above, carving out destiny in the sky and never allowing us to become lost, guiding us and protecting us, Amen.
Image by Susan Liebman 41
by Stephen Ground The Missus and her late husband had been the first residents of their street seventy years earlier, when town first expanded beyond dirt road borders and stoptional signs. She lived alone in her tiny bungalow for decades following his sudden demise—cut flowers in a vase on the table, an aggressive ubiquity of doilies, content in her routine of compulsively cleaning, baking cookies for imaginary grandkids, and her greatest source of pride: her garden. Her tomatoes regularly captured blue ribbons at the fair, lettuce and peppers were snatched at the farmer’s market like penny beer at Oktoberfest, and her cucumbers were the secret ingredient of any pickler worth their salt. Then, the Builders arrived. They bullied her, tried claiming her plot, but negotiations at her kitchen table left their young, arrogant lawyer spinning. Neighbours proved spineless, and her quiet street blistered with eyesores—tall, narrow houses with tiny lawns and jostling eaves filled the country road, tumbleweeds traded for road hockey and traffic, barbecues and birthday parties. She rose one Saturday, preferring to freshly pick her haul before leaving for market at five-thirty. Tottering across the lawn with her baskets, she heard rustles from the garden and froze. “Hello?” she said, but no one answered. She creaked closer, cautious, but not conceding her crop without a fight. As she neared the wrought-iron gate, three dark figures fled, hurdling fences like showjumpers. She clicked her penlight—a halfsmoked joint discarded near a once-majestic tomato plant, ribbon-worthy fruit strewn across the soil, gnawed but few finished. A handful of plants survived. She didn’t scream, or weep. Didn’t call the police. No, in a lifetime of nurturing Edenic fruits and veggies to feed her friends and neighbours, she’d encountered more than her share of garden pirates —though this felt different. She trudged inside to the office housing tomes on herbology, botany, and horticulture, sat at her desk and opened a drawer, plucking a card from exactly where she’d left it— NATARAJA HERBS AND ODDITIES, international number. She dialled and listened to the ring. # Patient Zero woke up sore after pitching a doubleheader and didn’t think twice, but by lunch his jaw was knotted, piss dark brown. Jumpy as a
beaten kitten, snapping at friends, he couldn’t breathe after shouting at his first baseman during warmup, and was rushed to the hospital—on respirator by sundown. When similar fates met two of his teammates, specialists from the city descended on the small-town petri dish, scouring commonalities as a starting point: water bottles, bags of seeds, detergents their moms used, beer their dads drank. The experts called a town meeting to discuss their progress. “We need to know what’s happening,” shouted Patient Zero’s father. The crowded hall burbled. Dr. Zuke, the team lead, patted the air to soothe them, then spoke slowly: “I know you’re very afraid, but you must know we’re doing all we can with the information we have.” He paused to let his compassion permeate. “For now, the children are critical but stable. Barring unforeseen circumstances, they should all make full recoveries.” He cleared his throat.“That said, we require everyone take extra precaution, to ensure there are no further cases. Do you understand?” “Doctor?” said a voice from the back. “I’m sorry,” we’re not open for questions. “Are you good at math?” Dr. Zuke smirked. “I suppose.” “How about a quick calculation?” The lead doctor glanced at his colleagues, and shrugged, unsure how this relates, but glad to help. “Thanks,” they said. “How many millions of dollars of med school are required to save our children?” “Meeting’s adjourned,” barked Dr. Zuke. The platoon of doctors stood and strode off stage. # A week later, the case was wide open and the townsfolk were panicked. People stopped waving, delivering pies; neighbours avoided neighbours except to throw jabs at inept doctors and fancy, overpriced degrees. Cracks in the town’s foundation, developed out of sight through years of expansion and crowding were rippling to the surface, birthing chasms between narrow, jostling eaves. The Missus, on the other hand, was enjoying an unusually hot summer, spending days tending to her flower boxes and reading dogeared Harlequins in the shade, with a bottomless glass of sugar-free lemonade. Her watering can was nearly empty one afternoon when her neighbour Lisa stalked over and, foot tapping, waited for her to notice. Impatient, she cleared her throat. “Hello Lisa,” said the Missus, not turning to look. “Didn’t see you 43
there.” “Can I ask something?” “Certainly, dear.” “Why are you holding out?” The Missus glanced over her shoulder, a thinly-penciled eyebrow raised. “Pardon?” “Don’t play dumb,” Lisa spat. “Usually you drop off beans, carrots, leeks. But this year, zilch. And in case you were wondering, we’ve all noticed you haven’t been at the market.” “Wasn’t my best year. Must be losing my touch.” “You’re growing something,” Lisa said, peeking over the fence. “You know,” said the Missus, placing her can on the stoop,“I might have a little something.” She waddled inside and returned a moment later, a plump, red tomato in her palm. She held it out. “What do you think?”
Image by Susan Liebman
Lisa snatched it, wispy smile and dewy eyes. “Thanks. So much.” “Don’t be foolish,” the Missus cooed, lifting the can and dribbling her petunias. “Go, eat before it goes bad and makes you sick.” Lisa scampered to her tall, narrow house, locked the door, and devoured her prize like a farm in a twister’s path, juice dripping down her chin and off her elbows, licking as far as her tongue could reach. The Missus wandered to the backyard, pausing and stooping to refill her can at the tap on the side of the house. # The briefings grew more heated each day the cases went unsolved. The doctors had resorted to keeping out of sight unless it was time to deliver another non-update, but townsfolk staked out the motel where they cowered day and night, taking shifts to chant and howl at the experts flailing like fish hooked by the town’s collective dread. To make things worse, a new patient had emerged since the last briefing. The horde had doubled in response. “Order,” cried Dr. Zuke, “or I will not continue.” “Doing nothing. What else is new?” shrieked a woman, infant clutched to her chest. “Not quite,” Dr. Zuke said, gently wagging a finger. “Since the most recent case arrived, we’ve determined we’re dealing with garden-variety poisoning.” The mob roared, leapt, shook the hall; the line of doctors panicked, some fled, but Dr. Zuke sat steadfast, gazing stoically over the frantic mob. An aide tiptoed on stage, whispered in his ear. He listened, nodded, then dismissed them with a flick of his wrist. “The most recent case,” he boomed, and the crowd settled, assumed overturned seats. “She’s passed.” The room was still. A sob. “I’m sorry. I can’t say more,” Dr. Zuke said, standing. “This just became a criminal investigation.” # Police spent months unearthing leads, scouring grimy crevasses, bathroom graffiti, feuds old and new, rumoured deals gone bad, urban legends. They spoke with every man, woman, and child, except one – she was old, tired, and sweet. Besides, her prized garden, the only thing sustaining her, had failed spectacularly for the first time in most people’s lives, disappointing a town’s worth of loyal customers. She didn’t need cops banging on her door, frightening her to death. She’d had a hard enough summer as it was. 45
GOLDEN RETRIEVER by Gale Acuff
When I find my dog run over I’m ten years old and he’s about one, in dog years, which makes me fifty-three if he were I. Suddenly I can’t cipher, stop as if I’ve just died but I come to life again in so short a time it’s not quite seconds. This must be the speed of resurrection, I say aloud, to no one, coming to. Then I move but I don’t want to be touched by my mother or father (whomever he was), head for the roadside where I see my dog with all living knocked out of him and a little blood, too. It’s red. Like mine. I pick him up—I’m not afraid of the dead —and take him behind the house and down through the garden with its flowers on one side and vegetables on the other, and the path that separates them joins them, too (when I walk back this way again, empty -headed, I’ll wonder if they’re more joined than separate). I forgot the shovel so I set Caesar down next to a spot that looks good for resting eternally. If death is rest. If his body won’t rot. Which it will. I’m counting on the spirit to last, however. I can’t explain it but it’s not faith—more like pure ignorance. I retrieve the shovel from the shed—well, not retrieve, exactly. I’m not a dog and no master threw it there for fetching unless I get poetic about it and that might make digging that much harder.
First bury him—then I’ll have time to fall apart. Not really, of course—no escape from poetry, I guess, until I die and even then I don’t know what’s waiting. The ground is soft because it’s in the shade, softer even than Caesar’s body but death has a way of turning to stone. I make the hole and set him in and fill it back and what’s left over is my friend measured out in earth so I make a mound on top and figure that as the air trapped in there squirms free and his body decays the thing will settle until it’s level and then grows over with grass. And one day I’ll come out here and never figure out where the grave is—the wound will heal itself and I hope I’m so lucky. In good time I’ll follow. I miss Caesar but I can wait to see him again. I might wake where he is, feel his spirit-tongue on my face. I’ll reach for him with my spirit-hands. They won’t exactly pet him but close enough.
49 Image by Susan Liebman
HAVE YOU EVER LOVED A PLACE SO MUCH by Kaelynn Jensen Have you ever loved a place so much That getting in a car breaks your heart The door closes and thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a 1906 San Fran earthquake in your soul The white pillars of your peace of mind crumble Raise dust that gets in your eyes And this car is the only reason you have a job But you are sort of hoping all of the wheels fall off Because then You could stay another moment Hold him another hour Laugh with her another year Loss is a word so big, It swallows the road in front of you whole You keep driving Waiting for a head-on collision with its face And realizing that this Might actually be its tongue And you are halfway down its esophagus You want to scream loud enough to shatter the windows Of this Nissan Sentra The image of the things you are leaving behind would be gone And it wouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t stain the upholstery on the back of your eyelids You tried to pour antifreeze fluid where the oil goes You thought it might change the sound the engine makes This engine sounds like her voice on her deathbed You want it to sound like Anything. Else.
This car is a gift, a blessing That opens up the whole west to you But he is going east, They are going anywhere you are not And she will be gone to god today. You would give the whole wide world to hold on to them But love is not this desperate reaching Love is understanding why they go Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a four-hour cry in the car as they do Love is smiling wide enough to brighten the way before them Loss. Is not some road-swallowing monster that lies in wait For me Loss is the handprints in my heart that now go empty An emptiness so heavy It pins me against the seat An emptiness Full of love and blessings and The kinds of conversations that fill this world full of hope Like some hypothetical hot air balloon So, when I left, I packed loss in my bags. I packed those bags in the trunk. They rattled around behind me Keeping time to the blues CD I never bought I cried most of the dust from my eyes As we rattled down the road Towards many of the gifts Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve been given But not all of the things I love. 51
Image by Patricia Joynes
AFTERSHOCK by Christian Cacibauda for Tyler Beal. Keep on trekkin’! This time, when fleshless knuckles aim and swing, they strike so close to home the windows rattle in their panes. In fact, the headline reads: Quake Rocks Nepal, but to my self-regarding gaze, proclaims: That mountaineering friend of yours, you know the one, last seen ten clicks from Kathmandu? About your length of bone, your years, and pounds of flesh? There’s been no word since last week’s quake. That could have well been you. Shaken, I post my reassurances on somewhere like a dozen pages linking all his worried Facebook ports of call— at Flagstaff, Denver, Daramsala, Seoul. I write: I’m sure he’s fine, the whole time thinking for all the good such windy consolations do, I could have sent my prayers, or cash. But where I’ll grumble inwardly, and ask what I should do (or else not do) with all the years, the flesh and miles I still believe are somehow owed to me, is if the worst has come to Thorung La. And then, of course, I know which lame cliché they’ll trot out like a geriatric horse. Well, he was doing what he loved, at least. A gnawing, morbid sort of envy, then, that while my friend surmounted breathless peaks, a something roughly Himalayan-sized in me went unexplored, untamed, ungrappled-with, and—worst of all, perhaps—unnamed. But if—as I suspect it will— my instant messenger should ping with news that he’s turned up, alive and well
and bivouacked in some bleak knot of yurts so off-the-grid and unpronounceable the mail and news still come each week by mule— what then? Relief, I know, will only last so long, till I resume my own pedestrian loop: work off my debt, live hand to mouth to check, drink hard on blurry Friday evenings, fret about my rising hairline, athlete’s foot, that wart I need removed (I won’t say where) the endless list of other boring chores I need to do—and do I really, even then? How long before my mole-hills of concern begin to swell and bulge like grinding faults to take the shape of massifs once again?
55 Image by Aldo San Pedro
AGAINST BEAUTY, PERHAPS
by Gaylord Brewer
A single frigate bird floats in easy circles on the air’s current. I watch its slim, angular wings, the regal fork of the long tail. In the channel, a distant boat adjusts north north-east according to the full belly of its sail. A speck of white in a watery kingdom. Let us not forget the pale, open sky, the lush mountain range ascending to the channel’s edge, the maddening profusion of palm and succulent and flowering vine that works the tropical birds into a frenzy. I have paradise to myself this Saturday morning, all this immensity that’s perhaps too much. I can interpret this mug of coffee, weigh the simple decadence of this slice of coconut cake, perhaps even, under duress, make sense of the wedge of sunlight falling across my bare legs. The young artists have gone to the waterfall to splash and frolic and the house is mine. It was senseless of me not to join them. Senselessly, I did not. Twenty years ago this morning I was twenty years younger. Perhaps you don’t believe me, and perhaps you’re wise not to. I continue, dazed amid this beauty that I cannot stop or hold. My wife, my frail father, my mother who lately cries so easily, where are they? The sea doesn’t care, neither mountain nor sky, what losses the next twenty years will bring, and this common truth is perhaps a comfort. The frigatebird has gone. The boat, a small brilliance on the vast blue canvas, seems hardly to have moved at all.
Image by Kevin Ashu
AND I WAS YOUNG AGAIN by Alan Balter there was a summer place in Michigan nestled onshore of the big lake where I walked along the soft sand beach among seagulls pecking at perch green breakers laced with foam rolled ashore while the sun shone strong on my face and back, then under a leafy canopy, I picked wildflowers, still damp with dew, for Maggie the forest thinned into a stretch of rolling hills dotted by decrepit sawmills from an earlier time and loggersâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; cabins rife with moss and fungus and spiders spinning their sticky webs then Maggie, with her sweet country mouth and scent of lavender, showed me her body and we made slow love under the northern sky shimmering with green and purple if only I could return to that summer place where everything near me seemed to rhyme, and cool breezes freshened the night air punctuated by fireflies in crazy abundance, and I was young againô?°&#x20AC;
Image by Patricia Joynes
Nick Huffman Editor-In-Chief
Matthew Cotter ‘20 Literary Editor
Ana Perez-McKay Visual Arts Director
Kayla Quintana Zine Editor
Alec Brown ‘20 Audiobook Producer
Adia Monzon Public Relations Manager
SPECIAL THANKS to Harley Deguzman, Derik Knak, Sruthi Srinivas, Daphne Franks, and Johanna Guerrero for bringing their creative enthusiasm to our meetings and for offering us their own unique visions for the journal. Also, we wish to thank our IT team Garrett Moore and Raul Rodriguez for making sure the journals are accessible online! 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. AVENIR BOOK and AVENIR ROMAN are used for the headline text. A. Carlisle & Company of Nevada printed this FSC-certified, 8.5 x 5.5inch 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 2016 ACP Best-0f-Show Award for Literary Magazine, and recieved an honerable 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 ÂŠ 2020 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.
: Ana Perez-McKay & Staff : Emerald Dream ARTIST : Aldo San Pedro
JOURNAL LAYOUT COVER ART
Moth motif on pages 3,15, 21, 46, and 51 is derived from The Semaphore of Extinction by Lauren Silex