EVERYTHING IN LIFE IS WRITABLE ABOUT IF YOU HAVE THE OUTGOING GUTS TO DO IT, AND THE IMAGINATION TO IMPROVISE . THE WORST ENEMY TO CREATIVITY IS SELF-DOUBT. ~SYLVIA P LATH
STORYTELLING REVEALS MEANING WITHOUT COMMITTING THE ERROR OF DEFINING IT.
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Volume 9 F Issue 2
E DITORS Nicole Bailey Brittany Brockner M ANAGING E DITOR Celeste Karpf F ICTION E DITOR Jordan Davis POETRY E DITOR Carrie Waldron L AYOUT Nicole Bailey Brittany Brockner Chris Bowker Cassandra Stone A DVISORY E DITORS Scott Coykendall Dr. Paul Rogalus A SSOCIATE E DITORS Alexandria Cappello Naomi Fosher Jordan Huckins Jennifer Jones Elizabeth Mosher Cassandra Stone Elizabeth Rice Sean Robinson BUSINESS M ANAGER Jordan Davis C OVER P HOTO Laura Utley
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CONTENTS Vo l u m e 9 F I s s u e 2 1
Eve’s Best Bite
Marylou’s Guide to Loving a Runaway
Today is My Birthday. I am Five Years Old
Ronald Kaiser Jr.
21 I Just Woke Up This Way
23 A Sunday Afternoon
35 Mac’s Orchard
37 Breakfast for One
43 Innocent Mess
44 Introduction to Oblivion
45 The Long Road Home
46 My Climax My Lubrication Ashley Clark 47 Lucky
52 The Lack of Note
62 Between Worlds
68 I Care
71 Little Africa at the Cross Between Sterling and Highland St
72 The Last Ride of Navajo Joe
William R. Viau
79 Breaking Up
80 The News: Images
82 Morgue than Words
88 Reading Me
EVEâ€™S BEST BITE AUDREY GENT The crisp breaking of the first Bite into an apple Like the clack of steel on steel, A warning bell held in red skin. The world did not crack immediately. No lightning snapped through the air Like the breaking of a bone, splintered and sore. The garden did not shrivel As a salted slug will do; puckered skin Pinched into peaks. There was no keening cry, No mourning wail for the death of perfection From apple juiced lips. There was only a smiling serpent Sliding into the ground And a tall woman wondering at the marvel Of the entire worldâ€™s knowledge. There was only the slow eating of an apple, Like the waning of the moon, Down to its slivered core. Like the slow wearing away of innocence. Like Eden stripped to a pile of seeds But the inhabitants still satiated.
MARYLOU’S GUIDE TO LOVING A RUNAWAY AUDREY GENT “What is the feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain” ~ Jack Kerouac On the Road Bleached bones on the side of a highway Covered in a Texan snow, but we plow through. We’re all hustlers in our own ways. Dean makes us drive naked into the western sun So he can watch the trucks swerve shocked in the rearview. See if he can leave bleached bones on the side of a highway; I’ve been a car wreck on the side of his road for a long time. So I cozy up to Sal instead and ache a little inside. We’re all hustlers in our own ways. Dean leaves us in Frisco as per my prediction. Sal swerves shocked My bones bleach on the side of a city highway. We get by for a while anyways on Credit, on Sal’s sticky fingers, on my pretend love. We’re all hustlers in our own ways. What is the feeling of people driving away? It is bleached bones on the side of the highway, All at once pure and decay. We are all hustlers in our own ways.
PERFUMED CANCER L AUREN TINER A white lily’s scent lingers at your door, like the smoke of a hand rolled cigarette, curling its lips at night with creamy petals, smooth as a young bride’s train until smoldering sunlight churns cream to cinders, into burnt embers, falling like the remains of your blistered cigar, rotting in old, shriveled skin, the ashes of a fuming pipe, slithering streams of smoke, withering in the air, like a snake lured out of its pot by the exotic melody of a flute flooding with rising notes which fog your restricted air supply, like the impending smog of cancer’s fragrant promise; toxic as a carcinogenic cloud of death.
SKIN BARRIER CELESTE KARPF “Another one fell,” my sister commented from inside the stall, strands of long dark hair chasing across her eyes. She clomped around in mucky work boots and an old t-shirt, sweeping golf ball size clumps of horse crap into a bucket. Sydney was home for the summer after graduating from college in May. She’d probably only be here another month before leaving for California to find a job. I hurried over to the wooden stall door, resting my elbows on the top and staring over warily at the crippled feathered form at the center of the floor boards. “He didn’t step on it did he?” thinking I’d find the figure squashed into a bloody pulp by a misplaced hoof. My sister looked up and wiped some wandering sweat from her forehead. “No, it must’ve just fell,” she rested the shovel’s handle against the wall and went over to pick up the dead bird. Pinching its wing between two fingers she lifted it. The body was still soft and it hung limply as she held it at arms length, not wanting to be too close to fresh death. She started towards me and I pulled back, unlatching and swinging back the door so she could walk through. This was the second to fall. There had been four to start with up in a nest perched atop the electrical box to the stall light. I had wondered if the mother cared at all, balancing her nest so high above four trampling hooves below. Then one day I had crossed beneath the nest, passing out the side door and heard the sound of a soft purr. Looking up for the source, I spotted her: my black cat, Silhouette, her emerald eyes locked on the nest of hungry beaks. There was an unmistakable appetite in her eyes as she balanced herself nimbly on the rafters high above. I looked toward the nest in
CENTRIPETAL relief. There was no way she was getting to those baby birds. Not unless she wanted to plummet to her death immediately afterwards. It became clear why that little electrical box became home to a family of swallows. The mother had been flying consistently in and out of the barn throughout the summer, feeding the growing heads that forced up at her, eyes still sealed with membranes of skin veiling the outside world. They’d squeal at her in protest for more, always more food, and mother supplied. Tirelessly she answered to her babies’ distress calls, knowing they wouldn’t all make it no matter how many times she flew back and forth. Now she was down to two mouths. “Are its eyes open at least?” I asked, gazing over my sister’s shoulder as she reached for a garden shovel. I could tell its downy fluff had turned into feathers. It was further along than the first one that fell. I remembered how after the other one died, the mother continued her work as though nothing had happened. It was as though she had never birthed more than three, or if she did, it didn’t matter one way or the other. I knew with this second one dead it would be the same. I pictured her now feeding the two remaining - I could hear them ignite in flustered cries when they felt her weight beside them. Two wriggling necks stretched out for their mother’s worm vomit; their only nutrients until they could digest their own food. Did she glance below? Did she count heads and mourn the absence of another? If she did, I was certain it didn’t slow her repetitive work. It angered me until I considered the idea that maybe she moved faster, flew harder, knowing death was constantly on her children’s tails. “Nah,” she held the garden shovel in her hand and turned to go outside, “they’re still sealed shut.” She turned it back and forth inspecting its skin covered eyes as its head swung on a broken neck. “What are you doing?” My mom stepped into the
CENTRIPETAL shade of the barn from the intense sunlight outside. I could tell her eyes hadn’t adjusted yet as she walked toward us, squinting at the indistinct shape in my sister’s hand. “Another one fell,” I said. “It must’ve been trying to fly,” I added absentmindedly. “Or the others pushed it out for more room,” my sister supplied. “You’re going to bury it?” My mom inspected it with a level of skepticism. “Well yeah,” my sister said, starting to move past my mom to get to the barn door, “or else the cats will get it.” “It’s still soft though, do you think maybe it’s just stunned?” My mom moved into the light with my sister and they watched the baby bird lying twisted in my sister’s palm. I moved to look for myself. A warm summer breeze swept through the space in the large white sliding door and ruffled the soft swallow feathers across its front. It wavered side to side in my sister’s hand. For a second I thought it may take a deep breath, sit up and blink its little black eyes. “Here put it in the drawer,” my mom moved into the tack room where we kept all the horse supplies. “What? But it’s definitely gone mom,” for some reason it really irritated me. “Well if it’s just stunned then it may still wake up,” she shivered to herself, “I’d hate to just bury it alive.” “There’s no way…if it’s still alive then sticking it in a drawer is definitely going to kill it.” I wanted to be done with it, to lay its broken form in the ground and forget it had ever taken the leap, tried to fly, got pushed, or whatever. There was no reason to keep it around any longer. “Here.” My mom took the bird from my sister, rested it in the drawer and slid it closed. I watch the bird descend into darkness before it disappeared behind wood and two brass handles. “Just wait a little longer and then you can bury it.”
CENTRIPETAL We left it ‘til night, when my sister opened the drawer to find the small form exactly where we’d left it. She buried it in a shallow hole of wet dirt beside the woods. A month later my sister packed up and left, in her yellow SUV, to drive cross-country to Los Angeles. The same morning I kissed my mom goodbye and left for college, even though I got there early and school didn’t start for another four days. I thought on my ride back to school how next year I would be the one to leave, how I’d be facing whatever fears my sister held inside as she descended into the unknown. Imagining it felt like freefalling.
HOPE CARRIE WALDRON “‘You haven’t killed a man,’ she screamed, ‘you’ve killed a country!’” ~ a reporter after the assassination of Lebanese President Bachir Gemayel Our Hope is dead. A wedding band and a few teeth are all we found after he was crushed under three stories of marble tiles, electric wires, kitchen sinks, coffee tables, rocking chairs, televisions, bed frames, and a few thirsty geraniums that, only a minute ago, were enjoying the sun next to an empty clothesline on the roof. ~ We thought our Hope was finally getting somewhere until suddenly he vaporized— a cloud of hissing, burning flesh lost in the accordion of folding walls on Al-Fareed Street, Achrafieh.
TODAY IS MY BIRTHDAY. I AM FIVE YEARS OLD CARRIE WALDRON but we don’t have five good candles and Mama just heard something, so one after the other—Mama, Nuha, Layla first because they’re girls, then me and Baba last, of course—sardine our way into the bathroom closet to celebrate my candle-less birthday in the dark while bombs flash red and green like fireworks outside. Yesterday, mama said I almost became a statistic. Baba said it was God that made the car bomb wait for me to cross the street before exploding. I just think I’m lucky. Today’s my birthday, you know. In a few days, a wild man with bombs up his sleeves will blow up our car. A few months, and a singing missile will flatten our neighbor’s house. A few years, and all my friends will realize that they are Muslim, and I am Christian, and in this country those people don’t get along. Today I am five years old. Tomorrow, I will learn quickly to be fifty, or I will be dead.
ALLGOODE RONALD KAISER JR. Private Allgoode was on his third cycle through Army basic. In other words, he’d failed basic training twice already, and was on his third trip through. I can imagine no crime commensurate to such a sentence, as to suffer basic training three times. Me, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I was paired up with this guy Thomilson, from Colorado, who looked like George Clooney. He really did, just taller. He had great stories from back home. Thomilson told us once, he was in a bar in Colorado City, when he bumped into a guy in a plaid shirt walking over to the bar. They argue, and the guy ends up saying he was going to get his gun, and leaves. Hell, Thomilson was a big bastard. Not much else for a little guy with not much sense to do, I’m afraid. So Thomilson and his friends leave, not wanting to get shot up. Thomilson gets home, and they all continue drinking. Only they forgot one of their friends at the bar. He shows up in a cab. He comes in and says, “Weirdest thing happened, guys. As I’m leaving I see this short guy in a plaid shirt walking into the bar with a friggin garden hoe!” Some gun. So Thomilson and I were buddies. We were chosen at random, since we both happened to stow our shit on the same set of bunk beds. We’d always be doing push-ups or sit-ups if we had a minute or two of down time. We thought we were really hardcore. Served us right, though. Because Drill Sargeant Colesman paid attention. He saw us always working out over there (not that there’s much else to do). So he walks over to
CENTRIPETAL our bunk one Sunday when we’re shining our shoes. “Privates!” he hollers. We pop up and go to parade rest. There’s a stringbean of a recruit standing next to him. “Yes, Drill Sergeant!” we holler back. “Privates! This is private Allgoode. You are to take care of him, and make sure he passes his god damned PT test this time! Done failed it six times already!” “Yes, Drill Sergeant!” So after the drill sergeant walks away there is this skinny guy with army birth-control glasses on, just standing there staring at us, with the posture of an old beat-up mattress. Not only that, his mouth is as open as a barn door, and his two front teeth are strange chicklets: the top halves are tartar-yellow, and the bottom halves of his teeth are snow white. My grandma used to say people with teeth like that were mouth breathers, and that their teeth became oxidized on account of all the air passing in and out of their mouths. He should have had a rush hole in the back of his head, just to ease up the flow of air. He always had his mouth open, and his expression never changed. Sad: mouth open. Happy: mouth open. Ashamed (which he probably felt a lot): mouth open. So we took him in. He didn’t say much, but he did everything we said. He was to be a chaplain’s assistant, if he ever finished basic. A chaplain assistant’s primary job is to protect the chaplain, and obviously assist him. What keeps me up at night is wondering, what’s the point of a chaplain not carrying a gun, if he’s issued an assistant to shoot people for him anyway? Why not just give the chaplain a gun, for Christ’s sake? So anyway, that first day, Allgoode’s doing pushups with Thomilson and I. We see shiny booted feet standing over us, and it’s god damned sneaky Drill Sargeant Colesman.
CENTRIPETAL Six-foot four, 250 someodd pounds, and quiet as a breath. We pop up again. “Private Allgoode!” he yells. “Please explain to the third platoon, the U.S. Army, and God why you are wearing a blue sock!” Allgoode articulates this response: “Huh?” “God damn it Allgoode, are you in pain?” Drill Sargeant Colesman asks. “No, Drill Sergeant!” he replies. “Then why is your god damned mouth always hanging open?” To this Private Allgoode could not formulate a reply. “I better never see no blue sock in here again!” cried Drill Sergeant Colesman. “How the hell did you get a blue sock in here anyway? Are you aware it is illegal to smuggle contraband onto a military training post, Allgoode?” Allgoode managed, “Yes, Drill Sergeant.” “Now get down and git yourself some!” Which was vernacular for do pushups until you can’t. So we work out with Allgoode, and try to keep him out of trouble. For someone who’s been through basic twice already, he’s in horrible shape. To pass the PT test he needs to do at least twenty-four pushups, and he can only do twelve pathetic ones. Although he’s skinny, he’s slow as molasses too. We’ll need to drop his two-mile time by three minutes to get him to pass. The craziest thing is he’s skinny as a rail, but he can’t do sit-ups! His physique roughly resembled Gumby’s. I think his spine was made of rope. Thomilson and I decide to make it our mission to get Allgoode through. There’s something about basic, about the military in general, that creates real camaraderie. But we have all we can do to keep Allgoode from being kicked out of basic altogether, before we even have the PT test. We have this barracks inspection, by the sergeant major of our post. Sergeant major is the highest rank a non-commissioned
CENTRIPETAL officer can achieve. When he comes through, we’re all lined up outside our bunks, beds made, boots shined, and a floor so shiny it hurt to look at. The sergeant major comes down the line, and asks a few guys some basic questions, like what are their three general orders, and so on. He gets to Allgoode and he stops. I swear these guys can smell a moron a mile away. He looks at Allgoode’s befuddled, glasses-magnified eyes. “Private, who is your sergeant major?” he asks. “I don’t know, Sergeant Major,” is Allgoode’s reply. There is a general sucking in of breath from the men around the perimeter of the barracks, at such blatant nincompoopery. But Allgoode is allowed to stay, only gets a good smoking by the drill sergeants. We get ready to test out of the first phase of basic, a phase that Allgoode’s been through twice already. We are tested on CPR, the three general orders, drill and ceremony, and proper salute technique. Surprisingly, he aces CPR and drill and ceremony. Then we’re tested on performing a proper salute. The standard is that the hand should be tilted downward, obscuring the palm of the hand, because we’ve never been defeated in war (which is crap, since we clearly lost Vietnam). The middle finger ought to be almost touching the soldier’s right eye. As I’m waiting in line, practicing snapping my salute, I hear Drill Sargeant Colesman’s voice: “What in the hell? Allgoode, you is tore up from the floor up! What is that, a Cubscout salute?” And surely, it was. I could see Allgoode up there, right hand raised up to his eye, all but two fingers folded down toward his palm. The Cubscout salute indeed. “Allgoode!” cried Drill Sargeant Colesman. “You hold that salute, and I want you to go straight in to the executive officer’s office, and show him what a fine saluter you are. Fall out!” In bed that night, I was beginning to wonder: could
CENTRIPETAL anyone possibly be such a screw-up? It was then I saw Allgoode walk past me, and go into the latrine. I decided to have a heart to heart. I followed Allgoode in there, and now I could see he was sitting on the bench near the shower, shining his boots. I was shocked. “Jesus Allgoode! You get caught doing that in here, they’ll smoke you to death! You know you can’t shine boots indoors!” He looked at me, dumbly, mouth agape. He said nothing. “Look man, you better straighten up. How long you want to go through basic, huh?” He speaks, and the sound of his voice in the echoing room startles me. “I didn’t ask for your help.” “Right. But the drill sargeant did ask me to help you, so I got to.” “Suit yourself,” he said, and resumed brushing the stiff back and forth, over the toe of his boot. I shrugged, and left to go back to bed. It was around that time I began noticing this other private, Private French, bullying Allgoode. I saw French, who was short and stalky, sitting next to Allgoode at lunch. No one was allowed to talk at lunch. It was chew & screw. Just eat and get the hell out. So in this drone of munching I saw French elbowing Allgoode, and giving him dirty looks. The idea was, of course, that French was so stocky, and wide, that he could not possibly fit his robust girth within the normal allotment of space in which a soldier was compelled to eat lunch. No, he needed Allgoode’s space too. This, of course, was a joint contrivance of French’s tiny brain and enormous Napoleon complex. The drill sergeants saw this of course, and did nothing. They hated Allgoode. Most of them, anyway. There was one among them who saw French for what he was. He was our assistant drill sergeant, Drill Sergeant Dohle. He looked on in silence. The only ones
CENTRIPETAL allowed to talk were the drill sergeants, who would yell at us, telling us to hurry up, or that we stunk. They’d even blame the temperature of the mess hall on us. One time Drill Sergeant Colesman came in to the dining hall, and screwed up his face. “Jesus, privates! It’s hotter than two cats fucking in a wool sock in here! Whatcha all been doing in here?” and so on. So Thomilson and I decided we would have a little meeting with French, to set him straight. Allgoode was a fuckup, but he was our fuckup. We swapped one of Thomilson’s fireguard shifts, so Thomilson and I would have fireguard duty at the same time, and at 3 am. Perfect time for a blanket party. But we never got the chance. The next day was handto-hand combat training. And Drill Sergeant Dohle, a far wiser man than anyone realized, had his own agenda. Drill Sergeant Dohle was old-school. He didn’t like assholes like French coming in and messing up his beloved army. He knew what a coward French might be, given the chance. After all, the Army had relaxed its standards over the years, and now it was full of all kinds of assholes. But not under Drill Sergeant Dohle’s watch, no sir. So all one hundred or so of us lined up in the sand pit, and after we stretched, they showed us a few basic moves that everyone already knew anyway. Punches and kicks. Then came the fun part. We paired off by height. Except Drill Sargeant Dohle came over and swapped out my partner, Allgoode, who was two inches taller than me, with Private French, who was five inches shorter than me. Drill Sargeant Dohle winked at me from behind French as he moved him into position. I still had no idea what Dohle was up to. French was broader of shoulder, and thicker than I was. I was somewhat intimidated by my new partner, who smiled arrogantly at me, no doubt relishing this opportunity
CENTRIPETAL to beat up on his sworn enemy: the taller man. Right before Drill Sergeant Colesman let us hit each other a few times, Dohle suddenly interjected. He had us rub sand in each other’s hair first, to piss us off. It did the trick for me, because French took special care to also pour dirt down my shirt as well. Then Drill Sergeant Colesman commanded us to punch each other in the chest a few times, to get us good and riled up. Only French “accidentally” hit me square in the jaw, snapping my head back. I was stunned. He only smiled, and said, “Oops,” unconvincingly. Now I was getting pissed, but I could not bring myself to punch him. I felt my face start to redden. It takes a lot to get me angry. I have a very long fuse. I don’t like getting pissed off, cause I like to be in control of myself. Somehow, Drill Sergeant Dohle seemed to know this. When I felt my face getting flushed, I looked over at him. He was smiling faintly, and nodding. What did he expect me to do? Pissed as I was getting, I was not about to slug this creep. We moved on to the next technique. We were to throw a slow motion punch at our partner. Our partner would in turn grab our wrist, turn inside, and shoot their hip out and pull, causing us to flip over his back, into the sand. I punched first, slow so French could catch it. He grunted mightily as he wrenched my arm and spun, shooting his hip out. But I was far too tall, and what would have been a mighty heave, ended up being a sad, slow descent as I slid over his back and flopped easily in the sand. He kicked sand in my face, and grunted in disapproval. I was next, and Drill Sargeant Dohle walked over to us to observe. There was a glint in his eye I couldn’t decipher. Then I noticed, behind him, all the other soldiers. All of them were paired up by height, nearly exactly. What was the big deal?
CENTRIPETAL It was then I understood. Under Dohle’s gaze, French had to play by the rules. Still, he wore that snug grin as he threw his punch. I caught his wrist, spun in, and shot my hip out as I wrenched his arm down hard as I could. My hip bounced him up and over, and he ceased making contact with my back. His wrist wrenched from my grasp as he cartwheeled through the air, away from me. His legs came down first, awkwardly side-by-side, and too rigid. The rest of him flopped to earth, and he was rolling around immediately, hugging one knee to his chest. That break was a one-way ticket home. Finally, after two grueling months, it’s the day of the final PT test. Allgoode has to pass this, and his twenty-four weeks of basic training will come to an end. He cruises in from his two-mile in sixteen minutes - a minute to spare. He does twenty-seven pushups, which is good. Then it comes to the sit-ups. God only knows why, but Allgoode, all onehundred and twenty pounds of him, had a hell of a time with sit-ups. I hold his feet as he pumps up and down, his rancidtartar breath blasting me with every repetition. The whistle blows, and I notice Drill Sergeant Colesman is standing behind me. “Thirty-seven!” he says. “God dang, Allgoode! You made it! Your ass is finally going...” But he trails off. His gaze is fixed on Allgoode’s sock. His one blue sock. “God damn it Allgoode!” he screams. “I thought I told you to never let me see that god damned blue sock again! Well, it doesn’t matter now. You’re through, Allgoode. Pack your shit. What is that sock, a god damned family heirloom or something? You and that prized sock will be doing the duffle bag drag over to the bus station first thing in the morning. You’re too crazy—even for the army. And that’s a sad thing.” I had the worst fireguard shift that next morning, which was the one that started at 4 a.m. and ran till 5 a.m.,
CENTRIPETAL which meant I had to get up an hour earlier than everyone else. So I was up there by the door when Allgoode came toward me, with all his gear over his back. As he strode up I turned on my red-lensed flashlight. Something was different about him; he was smiling! “Allgoode, you all right?” I ask, incredulous. “Never been better. I ship tonight, I’ll be back in Nebraska by tomorrow. Right in time for my daughter to be born. Good luck!” Allgoode walks over to the double doors and slams them with gusto. The sound echoes throughout the bay, as dark silhouettes pop up here and there, and little green Indiglo watches make little green dots in the darkness. I look back as the doors slam shut. I feel something wet hit my hand. Drool. It’s my mouth hanging open now.
SIXTEEN JESSICA RASMUSSON
I hear you blaring angst on your CD clock radio sitting on your unkempt bed wanting for tears to leak and moisten the confusion of your rage full youth I hear you prying the pink plastic razor from between the mattresses removing and discarding the clear casing breathing deep expanding the lungs lifting the sleeve of your torn gray sweatshirt swallowing slicing horizontally through the epidermal layer and repetitiously routinely deeper into the dermis breaching veinous streams and finally the subcutaneous layer watching the flesh separate in gradual waves like parting seas expanding to create an ocean of red non-logic for which to bathe in
CENTRIPETAL I hear you splashing around floating I hear you humming to yourself drifting into nonsensical utopia and envious I wait for consciousness to pass diving deep behind you and swimming in small circles absorbing revisiting in silence how it feels to be sixteen again.
I JUST WOKE UP THIS WAY JUDI DAGUE before I am completely awake I feel it in my stomach first from the navel pit, like a fist punching, ransacking, through the barrels of my bones and the walls of my flesh. Screeching, kicking a tormented tantrum prying its path through my body ‘til it settles at the chest. before I am completely awake. The paralyzing nostalgia crawling like a spider up my arm that wakes me from my tainted, utopian, idealisms of how this was supposed to go before I am completely awake. I am left wondering as I’m turning to face the wall like a lover as if he is the only space between. You and I will reach for something for someone tangible. And it’s become evident like the color of blood when oxygen meets wound that this wound is not healed
CENTRIPETAL yet when I look, this skin is not broken.
A SUNDAY A FTERNOON TIM SACCO It was close to four thirty in the afternoon on the day of the winter solstice. Fittingly, Bob Fritz thought, snow had been flustering outside for the majority of the day, but was dying now along with the sunlight. He threw another log into his woodstove, which was made of cast iron and rested agelessly upon a slab of bricks in the center of his kitchen. Sparks flew into the open cavity between the top of the woodstove and the head of the flames, floating placidly in the air before resetting themselves in their bed of ash. “Loraine!” he called, still crouched in front of the woodstove, letting the heat breeze his face. The fire popped, the white flame flared and curled, and looking down he noticed just how leathery his hands were in the firelight. “What do you want, Bob?” Loraine yelled from the next room over, “I’m working on that quilt for the guest bed.” “The snow’s dying down,” he said. “I’m going to go clear off the driveway.” He closed the woodstove and stood up as he heard her chair scoot out from beneath her sewing table. Her footsteps got louder and she quickly appeared in the doorway. “Bob, you really need to call one of the kids and see if they will come and help out,” she said. “You are almost seventy-nine. You shouldn’t be shoveling. You’re going to blow out your back or break a hip or something.” “I’m not going to shovel,” he said soothingly, with a suave smile on his face that always used to work when he was younger. “I am going to use the snow blower. I didn’t buy that to let it sit and rust in our garage.” Loraine looked at him cockeyed with her hands on
CENTRIPETAL her hips, just as she used to when they were younger, when she would tower over the bed at 7:45 on a Sunday morning saying, “Me and the kids are ready for church, Bob, some fatherly example you are setting.” Or how she would stand in front of the TV, holding her sides, her black hair curled and shoulder length, her red lipstick making her look so goddamn sexy and appetizing in her form-fitting dress and her face scowling with anger, “There is no time for beer and football, Bob, the kids are doing yard work and I expect you to go and do it with them.” She would tap her heel upon the ground and say, “You don’t want them to grow up to be hooligans, do you?” Loraine still had the same mannerisms, though her black hair was now almost white, her skin wrinkled and leathery, like Bob’s, who had lost almost all his hair. “You’re going to use the snow blower?” she asked, not looking for an answer, her heel tapping as it always had. “That piece of junk won’t even start; it’s twelve years old and hasn’t started for the past two winters, Bob.” “It will be fine,” he reassured her, looking into her deep blue eyes, the only ceaseless part of her wilting body. “I still wish you’d call one of the boys,” she reiterated. “I love you, babe,” he said. “I love you, too,” she replied. Bob walked out of the room and grabbed a blue Woolrich jacket he had owned since the boys were in grade school, a maroon cap that covered his polished head, and a pair of gloves. He walked back into the kitchen. “I wish you would get rid of that jacket,” said Loraine. “It’s all musty and worn out.” “There is nothing wrong with this jacket,” replied Bob. “It keeps me warm, doesn’t it?” “Just because you’re old doesn’t mean you need to stop keeping up your appearance,” she said with a chuckle. Bob’s face sunk. “Please don’t call me that,” he
CENTRIPETAL snapped defensively. “Don’t call you what?” “Old,” he said. “I am a hell of a lot healthier than most people my age.” “I know you are,” she replied. “I didn’t mean anything by it. I’m sorry.” “Well, why’d you have to say it, goddamn it?” “Bob, I said I’m sorry, I didn’t mean anything by it. I don’t know what you want me to say.” She looked at him, through him, to the young man she married, rich Italian skin and hazel eyes that could seduce a woman in the silence of night. Now he had aged; she had watched him day by day wither away with frustration as his hair grayed and dissipated, as his neck sagged and his cheeks hung like criminals from the gallows, mournfully swinging as he talked, or chewed, or took part in the most routine daily activities. His eyes were overflowing with frustration. He turned his back on her and walked out the door. F F F
He stood in the driveway puffing his pipe with the heavy machine before him. It was as rusted as he was, both exhaling smoke from bellowing mouths. Reaching down, he pulled the cord again, and again the engine choked. The air smelled of gasoline and the wind whispered secrets through the dead space of the land. He looked around; the trees were naked and thin, the land around him was barren, lifeless, and the closing sky was filled with blood, casting ghostly shadows across the white blanket it had spread. He puffed on his pipe, the smoke rolling off his tongue and into the frigid wind that carried the scent of vanilla, corncob and tobacco into the deep voids of a dead landscape. A wintry breeze blew down the back of his jacket and he tensed his body.
CENTRIPETAL “Christ,” he muttered, ashing his pipe off of the soul of his boot. He leaned over and pulled the cord again. Still a choke, but no life. He pulled it again and again, but it sat there, half submersed in snow, having already accepted its bitter end. Bob emptied the bowl of his pipe on the side of his ankle and stuck it into his pocket as he walked into the garage and picked up an axe. He was swearing up a storm, and when the snow blower lay defenseless before his feet, he swung with all his might, the head of the tool forcing itself into the machines flimsy aluminum shell with a loud Shwunk! As soon as the axe made contact he felt a sharp pain in his lower back. He let go of the handle and keeled over sideways, groaning with pain. He tightly gripped the muscle in his back and the loose skin around it, his face lying in the fluffy snow that masked his driveway. He lay a few seconds, breathing deeply, heart racing, squinting his eyelids as the snow tickled his eyebrows and eyelashes. After a moment he reached up, grabbed the handle of the machine and pulled himself to his feet. He stood over it for a few seconds, staring it down, the axe still embedded in the outer shell. He took hold of the handle of the snow blower, twisting his palms tightly until he had a firm grip upon the quavering corpse of the contraption before him, and then he dragged it across his front lawn to a stonewall that stood approximately thirty yards from his house. He struggled, straining the whole way, rolling snow, uprooting mounds of frozen dirt and grass as the machine’s corners dug into the ground. He would’ve been able to carry the piece of shit had he been some years younger. He knew he would’ve. It sat there before his feet. “You are a machine, goddamn it,” he yelled at the top of his lungs, “you aren’t supposed to die!” He turned and trudged back to the house, startling his wife as he stormed
CENTRIPETAL through the kitchen, and back through moments later carrying his Winchester bolt-action 22, pocket jingling with bullets. “Bob! Christ, what are you doing?” Loraine scolded as he walked back through. He ignored her. He burst out the front door, loading the first cartridge into the chamber as he walked. He stopped close to fifty feet away from the corroded machine that was now lying on its side. He took aim. Loraine had followed him out the door in her stockings and no coat. “Bob, stop! This is nonsense!” Bob took aim, hesitated for a moment, noticing his hand was no longer as steady as it had been when he was a Marine back in the Second World War. But, this hesitation only lasted a moment, and then he fired. The crack of the discharge echoed; throbbing at first and ending like the sound of water receding back to the sea. Birds flew out of the long shadows from their secret perches, looking to Bob as if they were tissues dipped in paint and thrown aimlessly into the wind as dusk rapidly approached, the fluttering of their feathers coinciding with the loud crash of the bullet lodging itself within the belly of that terrible machine. Bob ejected the cartridge and the casing fell onto the surface of the snow, and then he reached into his pocket to grab another. “This is madness!” Loraine pled. Bob turned. “Go inside babe,” he said sternly. “You’re going to catch a cold.” “You’re going to hit the gas tank and kill us all, you fool!” Bob looked at her with eyes that showed little concern, and then he turned, took aim, and shot the machine a second time, the loud crack cutting through the air. He turned back around and ejected the empty cartridge from his gun. He reached his hand into his pocket
CENTRIPETAL again, but suddenly felt the sharp pain again in his back, falling over, a loud, gut-wrenching wail escaping his mouth and the Winchester’s crash muffled by powdered snow. Loraine ran over to him. “Bob!” she cried as she yelled, “Oh my god, Bob!” She knelt down in the snow, wrapped her arms beneath him and helped him back on his feet. “Bob, are you okay?” she asked. “I’m fine, I think I pulled a muscle in my back,” he responded in a nondescript voice. He rubbed his fingertips over the loose skin on his back, wincing as the muscle palpitated beneath his touch. “We need to call one of the boys to help with this,” she said. “Come inside and sit down. Do you need to go to the hospital?” “I’m fine, I guess I’m just not as sharp as I used to be,” Bob replied in defeat. His wife helped him walk across the slippery driveway and up the front steps into the house, her arm harnessed around him, holding him close. F F F
Bob threw another log onto the fire, watching the ash flutter beneath the weight of the quartered wood. He stared for some time with amazement, the fire was an immortal being that always had been and always will be. It popped, as a cork pops from a bottle of champagne, and hushed something that only Bob’s mind could make out. He shut the door and stood up. “Loraine!” he yelled. She quickly made her way into the room and glared at him. She asked what he wanted, “I just wanted to tell you I am going to take a shower. It may make my back feel better.” She pointed to his rifle, which was still sitting on the kitchen table. “At least put your gun away, Bob,” she said with a hint of hostility. “You know, the one you almost blew us up
CENTRIPETAL with?” “I will stick it back in the closet,” he said sheepishly. “I know you will,” she replied. “This isn’t an armory, you know.” He did not reply and they looked into each others timeless eyes, and then she stopped scowling and relaxed the muscles in her face behind her loose cheeks. “Do you want me to make you a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich and some soup for when you get out of the shower?” she asked. “That would be wonderful,” said Bob. “If you wouldn’t mind. I love you.” “I love you, too, and it’ll be ready in fifteen minutes or so,” she said with a smile. Bob grabbed the Winchester off of the kitchen table and walked to the bedroom. It was dark, it smelled…aged. He set the rifle on the bed and walked over to the dresser and fiddled with the watch on his left wrist until his brittle fingers freed it. He struggled to unbutton his flannel shirt, getting more and more frustrated with each button. After a minute or so, his shirt was off. He found his way over to the bed and eased himself down with a sting in his lower back. First he crouched over it; firmly planting his hands on the bed cover, and then, using all his strength, lowered himself down. He exerted himself leaning over and untying his boots, slipping them and his wool socks off of his bony feet. After each was free, he ran his fingertips over them, wiggled his toes and cringed as the joints creaked. The light invading the darkness through the doorway snagged itself on a golden cross hanging from the opposite bedroom wall. Bob thought of a hymn, “Death Hath No Terrors,” which his mother would sing him as a boy as she held him close in her rocking chair, shielded from the world while he lay beneath the red and white checkered blanket she had sewn for him: Our souls die daily to the world and sin,
CENTRIPETAL O glory hallelujah to the Lamb! By the Spiritâ€™s power as He dwells within, O glory hallelujah to the Lamb! He sang and hummed as he massaged his decrepit feet, running his fingers between his frail toes. He hung his head. He hadnâ€™t thought of his mother in a while. He missed her warmth. He missed her protection. He missed how young and immortal she made him feel. Finally, he pushed himself slowly to his feet and walked into the bathroom and locked the door. Turning on the water, he let his hand sit beneath the streams until it was the right temperature. He spun around, undid his belt and dropped his pants to the floor, shivering as he succumbed to the cool draft that blew beneath the door. And then he looked up. In front of him, hung on the back of his bathroom door was a full-length mirror with the reflection of the shell he had become. He stood up straight and ran his fingertips over his cheeks, which had never hung limp, but now did. The little hair left on his chest was a silvery white, glistening in the light. His gut sagged, as did his chest, the skin stretched and hung. His pubic hair shimmered beneath the florescent light of the bathroom, his penis a debilitated tool, dated and worn. There was no tone, no rugged frame. Nothing was the same. He studied his body, his flabby edges, his rough skin and atrophied frame, for a few seconds before the pain struck his lower back again. He winced, his face churning, tightening as if it were a knot. A few lone tears of pain inched down his cheeks, getting caught in the crevices, deep and unknown even to Bob who had not studied his own characteristics in decades. Looking into the mirror, he did not see himself, but a flower long wilted, ready to decompose. Bob became exasperated at the reflection of his own body, naked and vulnerable; it had become a prison. There
CENTRIPETAL was no escaping it now. He stepped beneath the hot jets of water, set his head against the wall, and breathed in the steam. His head throbbed and his back twisted in the heat of the water. He rubbed it, digging his fingers deep into the muscle, thinking of the image of himself he had just studied for the very first time. There was a knock on the door. “Bob!” yelled Loraine, “Bob, can you hear me?” “Yeah, babe,” Bob replied, head still against the wall, eyes shut, pressing his hands into his back. “Your soup is ready, Bob.” “I’ll be done in a second, Loraine.” “Take your time,” she said with a chuckle in her voice, “just don’t die on me, now.” Bob whispered that last part over and over to himself…just don’t die on me…just don’t die on me… Still facing the floor, he opened his eyes, and took another look down at what he had deteriorated to. “Just don’t die on me, now,” he whispered. F F F
Loraine walked out into the kitchen as she heard the bathroom door open. It was evening, the world around had become nondescript in the blanket of night, the dark sky cryptically consuming the smoke bellowing from the brick chimney that rested upon the roof of the house. She could hear Bob struggling to get dressed in their bedroom; the shuffling of his feet against the rug, the throaty groans he tried to muffle as he bent over to pull his flannel pants up. She listened on in silence to make sure he didn’t drop dead in the process of getting ready for bed, just as she did every night, sipping a gin and tonic and saying a small prayer in her head for the safety of her husband’s fading shell. “Loraine,” he called amidst his struggle.
CENTRIPETAL “Yes, Bob?” she replied, sipping her drink. “I’m not feeling hungry anymore. Do you think maybe you could stick my dinner in the refrigerator for later?” She looked over at the table, steam still rising from the tomato soup, the grilled cheese sandwich cut down the middle, each half placed on one side of the bowl. “Sure, Bob,” she said apathetically as she sipped her gin and tonic. “Do you think maybe you could mix me a highball?” he asked from through the doorway and around the corner. “Bob, you have already fallen over once today,” Loraine said calmly. “Do you really think it’s such a—” “Loraine, I think I know how to hold my liquor.” He walked around the corner in blue flannel pants and a dark green sweater. He looked pale. “Are you feeling well?” she asked. “I’m fine,” he replied, “my back just has me tense, that’s all.” He walked into the den; Loraine heard him sit down in his rocking chair and turn on the television. It was loud, as Bob’s hearing had been failing him lately. She finished her gin and tonic solemnly standing next to the woodstove, free hand on her hip, heel tapping with slight agitation. She hadn’t gotten sex in years. She missed the glory days, the times of promiscuous gin fueled nights with Bob, pre-the two boys. They would go out dancing. They would go to clubs and gin mills, his hand finding its way up her slip beneath the tablecloth, calling a cab, sneaking home in the shadows. Excitement. Nostalgia was about as useful as a dead horse, Loraine thought, as she made her way back to the counter. She wrapped his dinner in plastic wrap and made room for it in the refrigerator. Then she made herself another gin and tonic, and made Bob a highball with Seagram’s whiskey and ginger ale in a Collins glass. She threw another log into the woodstove, the sparks
CENTRIPETAL dancing around the heart of flames beneath the weight of the tossed wood. She knelt for a few moments, the heat breezing her face, wisping her cheeks, igniting youthful warmth within her body. She closed the door and carried the two drinks into the den. Bob was asleep in his rocking chair, head tilted to the side. She set his drink down next to him and turned off the television, noticing that her husband was singing beneath his breath. She listened: Jesus rose from the dead, Rose triumphant as He said, Snatched the vict’ry from the grave, Rose again our souls to save— O glory hallelujah to the Lamb! We’ll rise some day just as our Savior rose, O glory hallelujah to the Lamb! Till then shall death be but a calm repose, O glory hallelujah to the Lamb! She looked down at her husband, spittle quivering on his lip as his aged voice sang in the glory of a dream. She sipped her drink and listened, first with pity and then with a warm comfort she had not received from the man she loved for some time. She sipped slowly and listened to his song. After some time his singing stopped. She set her drink down on the table beside him and nudged him with her pointer finger. “Bob,” she said with a whisper, as not to startle him. “Bob, wake up.” “Wha…” he said in a disheveled voice, wiping his mouth with his sleeve. He looked up at her with a child-like innocence. “Who won the game?” he asked. “We did,” she said with a motherly smile, not knowing
CENTRIPETAL if there was any thread of truth behind her answer. He chuckled. “Always knew those boys had it in them,” he said. He was still looking pale. “Do you want any of your drink?” asked Loraine. “It’ll put some color in your cheeks.” “I think I am just going to go to bed. Can you help me up?” She didn’t answer, she just outstretched her arm and helped him to his feet, gracefully cradling him under her arm all the way to the bedroom and beneath the covers. She kissed his forehead. “I will be in soon,” she said. Bob was already snoring. She made her way out of her bedroom, retrieved her gin and tonic, and clad herself in Bob’s worn coat and maroon hat. Stepping outside, the wind raged and tore apart the land. She took a sip of her drink, which warmed her her throat. She found, in the pocket, Bob’s cigarette case and lighter. She walked into the shadows of the garage, the door still open, and lit one in the shelter from the elements. She exhaled the smoke into the night, which had fallen upon her. Beyond the darkness, a barren and lifeless land stood.
MACâ€™S ORCHARD CASSANDRA STONE Itâ€™s debutante season. The girls are all primping and shining, donning their best scarlet satin gowns to try to catch the eye of an eligible suitor. They have grown from petal-thin waifs to rounded, voluptuous young women who are still too young to know what to do with all those curves. Some of them stand together tiny clumps of nervous, giggling girls flashing bright shiny smiles with a turn of their head. Away from the crowds stand a few lonely maids watching and waiting for their turns to slip out of their pale green gowns into rosy red robes. The bachelors arrive in one heady herd. They each want the best one, the prettiest one, and their eyes scan each little cluster looking for her. Suddenly a beau finds the girl he wants for his own. With barely an introduction and a hello he pushes through the crowd, reaching for her. She is shaken by his hasty moves, unsure of the next step. But she consents, and lets him pick her as the object of his courting. As she brushes her cheeks against his chest,
CENTRIPETAL her face glows to a perfect shine With nerves and embarrassment. This is new territory for her. She has been shaped for this moment alone, taught how to catch herself a man, and now she has one. He brings her closer to his open mouth Ready to consummate the relationship That was three seasons in the making. His teeth graze her shiny cheeks, As he tries to break through. A sprinkle of juice grazes his upper lip. She was lured into believing that this was what she wanted. But as her eyes open to see both the wonder and the wickedness one small drip rolls down the curve of her cheek. Suddenly she realizes that this debutante ball was her fall from grace.
BREAKFAST FOR ONE
After “Large Waffle” by Michael Heffernan CASSANDRA STONE A lonely waffle sits on its plate growing colder, staler, congealing into a lifeless lump. One bright spot tries to shine forward: a bit of warm butter melts and becomes a cool puddle. The blue sky plate peeks out from underneath, trying to brighten the kitchen and catch someone’s eye. The waffle still sits sticky, soggy, and waiting for the scratch of knife on porcelain, the clink of orange juice glasses. They all just run past it trying to be the first out the door, the first to the car, to work, to school. The clink of a fork on the plate shocks the waffle into attention. But its happiness disappears as it is pushed into the open mouth of the garbage can.
CENTRIPETAL She sits down with a lukewarm cup of coffee and an empty house, wondering how her days of warm meals and sunny mornings have faded into these rushed routines.
PARANOIA MICHELLE STEPHENS Someone is knocking on my door. I want to look and see who it is, but it could be her. She’s probably coming by to borrow some clothes. Of course, we’re the same size. “It’s cool if I wear these, right?” she asked last month when I walked into my room to see her holding up my favorite jeans. I cursed my roommate silently as my fist curled tightly. “Of course,” I forced out. “What are sisters for?” I haven’t seen my jeans since. I know she wants it. To tell the truth, I’m not sure why. It’s not special. Full of inconsequential nothings, devoid of excitement. I’m just a mediocre college student, only 20 years old. I’m not famous, I’m not popular. With her flowing blonde locks, and sky blue eyes, she easily outpaces me for looks. Men don’t give me a second glance some days. I don’t have a fancy car; I don’t live in a mansion. Money is as tight for me as any other ramen-eating alcoholic at this campus. I can’t figure out what the appeal of my life is for her. She could be out there, right now, probably taking pictures of my apartment, or driving my car. I’m not sure how she got the key, but I bet she has it. Or maybe she went out and bought her own tan Toyota pick-up. She probably dented the rear fender, and broke off the passenger side mirror like mine, leftovers from that time I drove drunk at the drive-in. I wouldn’t put it past her. She is manipulation at its purest. She pretends to be all sweet and innocent. Like our “similarities” are accidental occurrences. She’d be the kind to say “sorry” if I ever said something about it. That’s what they all think. Mark, my boyfriend, laughed at me last week when I first told him about Lexi and her mental instabilities, but this
CENTRIPETAL week when I dragged him into the bushes with me to avoid her walking out on campus, he told me that he was done dealing with my “issues”. If I have “issues”, then he must have subscriptions, because two days later, I saw him in the Student Union building with his arm around her. If she wants him, she can have him. At least she’s getting the good and the bad when it comes to my life. I’ve taken to walking around my apartment to check around the corner before going in. I started keeping the door locked since the time I saw her up on the deck outside the door. You never know where she could be, sitting on the steps perhaps, or slicking them down with water. As soon as it turned to ice, she could have my life completely. Nonresponsive coma patients rarely make a fuss. My sorority welcomed her with open arms. “She might as well have ‘Theta’ tattooed across her forehead!” Rebecca shrieked the first time she came to our open house. Some sisters they turned out to be. Can’t they see what she’s doing to me? When I voiced my opinions about giving her a bid, they shrugged me off and did it without me. Even my parents can’t escape her charms. They fell for her treachery quickly last year when she met us at the door to my dorm. As she bounced away with my microwave in her manicured hands, my mother turned to me. “Why can’t you be more like her?” she asked, shaking her head. “I’ll try,” I had said. But how do you become more like yourself ? My friends think I’m being dramatic. They stopped listening to me after I showed them the handwriting samples I took from our American Lit course professor when he left his office for a few minutes. If they cared about me, they would let me show them how her writing is changing over the semester. Now I can’t even tell the difference between hers and mine. A few days ago, I went before the board of academic
CENTRIPETAL integrity. Apparently, her paper on the War of 1812 and mine shared striking similarities. Close enough, in fact, that the university suspected us of plagiarism. Or, to be more accurate, they suspected me of plagiarism. The professor said that her paper came in a few hours before mine, so it must have been me who copied it. Luckily, (depending on your definition of the word) she came to the hearing and spoke on my behalf. Since she was the “wronged party” they took her opinion into consideration. I got 50 hours of community service, and a letter home to my parents. They haven’t gotten it yet, but I know the look and sound of my father’s voice when he’s disappointed in me. It’s ringing in my ears, clogging my throat, cutting off the air. The bottle is heavy in my hands. I’m sweating a little, but I pull back my hair so it won’t affect my perfect tight brunette curls. My hands are shaking, and it’s a little hard to twist off the safety cap. The knocks are coming louder now, but I try to block them out as I finally wrench the cap free. Just as I tip the bottle back, a loud crash makes me pause. Of course, it’s her. She grabs on to the bottle and pulls it with force out of my protesting hands, pushing me roughly to the floor. I look up through my blurry tears to see her eyes, usually such a bright blue, shine deep brown, just as my own, behind her dark lashes.
JORDAN DAVIS sought at any cost the stone, the grail constant division to define and know the ultimate solution logic and science, deities and dogma endless over-thinking fretting and separating: broadens the divide when language canâ€™t describe itself, the objective answer suicides axioms, postulates commandments--implode bearing witness to faith and facts negated absolute truth has no absolute proof the missing piece is the puzzle itself leave it alone drink from the cup kiss the stone let it go
INNOCENT MESS, ANGIE M ANZI
INTRODUCTION TO OBLIVION, SETH NASON
THE LONG ROAD HOME, M ADISON FLEMING
MY CLIMAX MY LUBRICATION, ASHLEY CLARK
LUCKY RYAN MCLELLAN she cooks onions, fresh garlic and vegan mac and cheese while I type, thinking how lucky we are that the heat clicks on whenever we turn up the thermostat this sluggish winter – we’re not under ten feet of Colorado snow, cut off from the kine, estranged from food sources – or splintered and shattered in the aftermath of a hurricane in halls of a Georgia high school, we weren’t flushed from homes, left sick and starving for days while politicians gave stump speeches about saving us and flying home in personal jets – or “State of the Union” speeches failing to mention us at all – sure the ceiling in the hall buckled, bending with water from the floor above, the carpets in every room have dog piss stains like some kind of sick tie-dye and sure we put the litter box in the bathtub, and the cat kicks his smelly sand all around it – this place may not be the cleanest, the coolest in summer or warmest in winter, the best designed, best smelling or best decorated – it won’t be well-lit, the most expensive or in a tourist friendly area and it’s not even the cheapest, newest or the only one left in the classifieds, not the last you check out before running home or the last place anyone would think to look for you – it’s not a palace but we’re here and the TV works, the stove makes soup, stir fry and grilled cheese, and the fridge is cold and holds leftover vegan cuisines, seasonal beers and hoarded veggies – we’re just lucky – We’ve never been swept under the rug until election season,
CENTRIPETAL never marginalized due to lack of influence on the mainstream, we’re not an unneeded demographic or considered leeches on the underbelly of the economy – we’re just lucky – She’s finished her meal and thoughts are still caught on suffering so far from my door, so far from anything I’ve seen, so far I’ve known no pain other than what I’ve created to seem or feel experienced, I have not lost anyone I didn’t want to lose me, I have not been the butt of the political joke, handled the brunt of the social labor, turned into a scapegoat for wiretaps, military tribunals or detention centers – I have never been beaten by a policeman for the color of my skin or the neighborhood I was in – I sat, watched and listened while wars were waged, families starved and mothers were battered in the apartment upstairs – and I hid in this hole I’ve been in for the last eighteen years; this apartment of sorrows, sex and self-medication I can’t run away from…Always say, “gotta keep working, keep saving, keep preparing for the long haul, keep writing, keep walking, keep clunking down the hallways in black and white Doc Marten’s, keep lesson planning with the kids in mind, multiple intelligences, Albert Callum and professors Petersen and Ahl in mind” – This place has been the source of a sort of jellyfish pride– mystical, deadly, electrified – a terminal repulsion beats on my temple like a tumor – this apartment has been that and more and yet I’m lucky; luckier than the above mentioned or forgotten, luckier than the abandoned, disenfranchised and the next generation– I’m lucky to have been here, lived here and lived this life; a life of relative comfort, of close caring people, a life of hard work and being rewarded for it, a life blessed by bodhisattvas, a life of lessons learned by way of broken hearts, bottles and families –
CENTRIPETAL Luck pulses through these veins like a horse rounding the final turn, pounding out a steady mechanical thunder that sparked a way to recognize and abandon the anger I felt thinking about this place â€“ most thankfully, it keeps my lethargic life awake, tingling like a limb with pins and needles and keeps my eyes open for all the gifts written in the shitty stucco on the ceiling like encoded messages in the stars from some place far away from here â€“
BLANK RYAN MCCLELLAN nothing in here, no spontaneous creation, no point to shake a stick unless you plan to beat the shit out of it, walk softly and carry yourself as if you own the joint, puff out your chest like you’ve filled your lungs with pot smoke and strut through the room like Hank would have, make him proud to hate you – nothing in here, no empty syllables to spare, no clean cock or pampered pussy poem to laugh at, no sense of despair, seeing as how you’re bound to fair better than the rest of us, no more desperation, only a tingle in the tips of your toes that tells you it’s almost time to pull out, tired of this scene, sick of the routine, lame as it seems I feel badly for the people who just sit on the sidelines and watch with thumbs up their asses, wish they’d realize the fact that it’ll never come to them, they have to make it cum, slowly warm up the mound and trace the lips with fingertips before insertion, simple concept, I know, but you’d be surprised how many fools go oblivious through life when the road map was in their heads from the start, how many parents bail on family because they’re just…not…happy…but have no problem finding that joy with surrogates, meanwhile we sit in the livingroom watching old “Simpsons” episodes, wonder whether or not we’ll see you on the holidays and practice what we’ll say
CENTRIPETAL if we get the chance to confront you about all the years of neglect, nothing in here tonight but bad thoughts and boring lines, tired topics discussed at great length with girlfriends, best friends and psychiatrists, but still persist like the nasty cold you get from shaking hands with all your students on the first day of school, nothing in here but a serious desire to break all the rules and stop with things still left unsaid â€“
THE LACK OF NOTE ASHLEY CLARK Generally, couples and families call into The Birches before they just show up on my doorstep. People must have a fear of driving deep into the White Mountains to find a deserted bed and breakfast. Nowadays, if there isn’t a flashy website people won’t even consider making the drive up north. It must creep them out like a southern horror movie. On occasion a couple will knock on the door late at night and surprise me. This was how it was with the couple who arrived three years ago in the early night. Around that time I was just finishing up my dinner. Sometimes, I like the solitude of my house when I have no guests. It is peaceful and I can just sit there without a bra. The knock on the door startled me and my fork crashed onto my hardwood floor. The crash annoyed me not because it scared me, but because I really didn’t want to bend over and pick up the mess. The older you get, the more you realize that you just don’t want to bend over. Presumably that’s why they advertise for the grabber claws in the quilting magazines I read. Regardless, I didn’t pick it up for a few days. My two Bernese Mountain dogs slobbered around the spot where my meatloaf rested. “Come on in!” I shouted while I opened my arms like a butler might do. The couple looked somewhat nervous when they entered my house. A bed and breakfast in many ways is somewhat creepy. People don’t like the thought of staying in someone’s house with nobody else wandering around. In hotels at least there is the comfort of the screaming children running down the halls. Yet here, there was just the sound of my dogs panting.
CENTRIPETAL It was hard not to notice the couple’s sexual aura. It was something that I hadn’t seen for years. In general, as couples get older they lack that youthful touch. They sit across from each other in restaurants and don’t talk. They don’t talk, not because they aren’t in love, but because they have nothing to say. While they eat their fried chicken I imagine they think something about how they wish they had had sex with more people. They must wonder what it would have been like to jump out of a plane or go to Africa when they had the chance. Yet this couple clearly wasn’t in that category. When I pictured this couple in a restaurant I could see her cleavage hanging out of her dress. Under the table she would slowly run her high heel up his pant leg. His face would turn red and her neck would blush. They were the type of couple who didn’t have kids. I could tell. Once a kid comes along, all the romance goes out the window and everything left in sight is ruined. This couple definitely didn’t have kids. “I’m Ruth and you can call me the maid, cook, and accountant.” They didn’t laugh. Rather, they stood there blank faced as if they were pumped with drugs. The couple introduced themselves as Angus and Vivian. The shine on her wrist told me he must have loved her a lot. I assumed they must be newlyweds and beginning to think about starting a family. They certainly have money, I thought to myself as I glanced down at her Roberto Cavalli handbag. Later I pulled back the lace shades and saw their Jaguar and smiled, knowing I was such a good judge of character. Vivian hardly talked through dinner. Angus wore the pants in their marriage without a doubt. Once in my life, I tried that and realized I was much better as a strong, independent woman. I had Angus fill out a little card with his name and address. Sending past guests Christmas cards is a pleasure of mine. I love seeing how the children grow up over the years. When I get picture Christmas cards back
CENTRIPETAL I must admit those are my absolute favorite. Angus said that they would be staying for only a few days, which left me wondering what they were doing up north. I waited a while for them to ask for a local guide as most couples do, yet they didn’t. I left the yellow White Mountains guide outside their door later that night. Sunday is a day of rest and recovering. At least that’s what I learned in my college days playing rugby. In the morning I always go to church and attend the women’s club meeting after coffee and snack time. Each week we rotate who brings the snack. Last week I brought my famous rhubarb pie. My little Episcopal church helps me find serenity after a busy week. On that particular Sunday I couldn’t stop thinking about the couple back at the inn. I wondered what they would be doing on the glorious fall day. Around ten I stopped by their room to tidy up before church and found them still sleeping. Never before had I seen a couple waste such a beautiful day. The guide I left sat unmoved outside the door as if it were never touched. The note I left them was brief and let them know the coffee was on and breakfast was on the table. As I pulled into my driveway, I couldn’t stop singing. The couples car was gone and I had the house to myself. As I walked in my door I was still singing the words to the hymn “What a Friend we have in Jesus.” What a great song to end the service on, I thought to myself. “Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.” I began to clap my hands as if I were in an all black church in the south. Despite the fact we had an African-African hymn book in church, everyone still sang as if they were on morphine. The congregation was basically all over seventy and sang as though we were in archaic times. Sometimes I would try to sing fast and pick up the pace. Yet the organist
CENTRIPETAL would still play slowly and off key. Whatever the blue haired ladies wanted to do I didn’t care much. They were all my friends after all. Besides when I came home every Sunday I would run over to my grand piano and make up for lost time. Man, oh man, did I let that piano have it. “Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer!” I sang loud and raised my arms high to the sky. The light blasted in through my stained glass window and I felt at one with Jesus. That couple won’t be back for ages, I thought to myself. I imagined them bombing on the back roads with the top down in their Jag. Vivian would certainly be wrapped up in a wool blanket with her head on Angus’s shoulder. The blanket was probably a Pendleton and would certainly have their last name embroidered deep into the wool. I could see the leaves fly up as the Jag roared around the corners of the Kancamagus highway. I bet somewhere they would stop and take pictures of the colorful view like all the other leaf peepers. My bra was tight and I began to slowly unhook the clasp. Suddenly, upstairs I could hear moans that spread through the house and echoed the walls. Quickly I sprung up like a preyingmantis. Whatever asshole was trying to rob me had another thing coming. I heard a deep moan and my eyes opened wide. I dashed to the window. As I pulled back the shades I saw their car outside hidden behind the maple tree. I must have been so consumed by Jesus that I didn’t even notice the decadent car. Slowly I shut the lid to my piano. After all I couldn’t have Jesus hear what was going on. Strong vibration thumped into the picture frames and almost knocked them clean off the wall. It was hard not to imagine what was going on in the tower room of my own house. Sweaty hands probably grasped the walls as my Laura Ashley sheets were destroyed with sex. In a few days I would have to slowly enter the crime scene with something like a
CENTRIPETAL gas mask on or possibly the type of mask that they wear in hospitals. No amount of disinfectant could get rid of the smell I imagined. After all, they had been up there for days. As someone who owns the bed and breakfast you have many responsibilities. Sometimes I like showing off my mother’s apple pie recipe. They never did eat my breakfast that day. My dog sure did enjoy it. Unfortunately I had to go upstairs to get a fresh towel. As I passed their room I could hear them arguing in full force. “We can leave, you know, Angus. We can just get away from here. Let’s move somewhere where nobody can bother us. Let’s just run.” “Vivian, it’s harder than you think. Just stop asking me so many questions about it. It is what it is and you know that! What about the kids? What about everything I have created and built out of nothing? Is that not important to you? Fuck, you are so selfish sometimes.” I didn’t feel that guilty listening in on their heated conversation. I had just been to church and knew that made up for it. The fight was like a soap opera on morning television. Just like most soap operas I watch I had no clue what was going on. What were they running from? Actually, for that matter, where the hell were they going? On top of that I wondered how it was possible they had kids. Had they been taking male and female Viagra to make them both this rowdy? For a while I sat by the grand piano and occupied myself. Never before have I had guests like this and keeping myself busy wasn’t all that bad. A few minutes after the fight, the floor began to rattle slowly. It moved the little hand painted cats on the mantle closer to the edge. It was as if the cats were about to commit suicide. The cats picked up speed and moved faster than a race car. I imagined a race track and horses roaring around it. At the climax of the race the little kitten I got in a yard sale perished. He crashed on the ground
CENTRIPETAL into what seemed like a million pieces. I could have caught him, yet I chose to watch him fall. For a while, I sipped my coffee and stared at the cat. Back and forth the couple went from fighting and another choice F-word. It was entertaining, but I really needed to get out. My head was spinning from all the drama. Vivian rushed down the stairs as if she were in an aerobics class. Her eye makeup bled down her face, which complimented her torn up hair nicely. “Is everything alright?” I had to act as though I hadn’t been eavesdropping for ages. “What does alright mean anyway?” I had no idea after all and wasn’t sure if this was sarcasm or an actual question. Vivian ran out to their Jag so fast I couldn’t even respond. It was cold outside and she was only in a lace shirt, pants, and a light coat. I was sure it was from a sexy store and her husband surely picked it out for their anniversary. There was so much confusion I hardly even noticed Angus sneak up behind me. He was carrying all their luggage and sweating profusely. “Thank you Ruth, your hospitality has been amazing.” He put down five hundred-dollar bills. I gasped as he ran out the door. Had he really just left 500 dollars? I thought to myself, what type of hospitality? The couple had hardly talked to me for fifteen minutes. As I walked upstairs, I could smell the dank sexual aroma. Slowly I opened the door to find what looked like a battle scene. I didn’t dare touch the sheets and quickly ran to get rubber gloves. As I put on the blue rubber gloves I felt like a forensic expert. I imagined myself on a show like CSI. Slowly I lifted up the damp sheets to find red wool flashing in my face. How could she possibly have forgotten her coat? The bright red coat looked extremely expensive and I took no shame in trying it on. Tucked into the coat pocket was a pair of leopard skin male underwear.
CENTRIPETAL They looked like something an exotic dancer would wear. Only a small string in the back of the underwear gave a clue as to how one might put them on. For a while, I waited by the kitchen table expecting Vivian to come claim her lost coat. Days went by and the fall leaves started to separate from their branches. Exactly one month had passed when I decided it was best to mail the coat and underwear back. Angus hadn’t left a phone number but he had left his address. The letter I wrote was brief, but I didn’t just want to mail the coat without saying hello. On our twenty-five cent Birches B&B postcard which I slipped in the box, I wrote the following: Dear Vivian, It was so nice to have you and your husband Angus visit this fall. I hope all is well and that you are ready for winter. Come back again! Warmest Regards, Ruth As I sealed the box I felt good that I had decided to mail it. On the label I wrote Vivian Pestron with her address in Marblehead, Massachusetts. I thought about writing Mr. Angus Pestron because he was the one who left his address with me. It was only fair that his wife should get her own mail though. Over the years many couples and families forget a variety of items. Generally the family calls or stops in the next season. At least three times a year I have to mail out something that was forgotten. Every time I mail something out, I always get a phone call right away. The guests always want to pay for the shipping and feel awful I went out of my way. It is my pleasure after all, and I never make the guests pay. Besides I don’t have room enough for a lost and found.
CENTRIPETAL Almost a year passed and I hadn’t heard anything from Vivian or Angus. Quite honestly I began to worry that everything was okay. I thought about sending out a letter yet I decided against it before I put the stamp on. For a while I assumed that they must have sent a letter and it got lost in the mail. Or possibly the couple was busy having sex like usual. Why would they care about little old me at the B&B? Life went on as usual at The Birches. Every Sunday I still went to my little church and the congregation still sang out of key. To be honest I had completely forgotten about the over sexed couple. My uncle used to say that the French were under worked and over sexed. I bet that couple had French roots. Mail was sparse and I generally only got stupid senior citizens magazines that made me feel like death. Sometimes I would just throw them to the dog’s right when I saw the old lady on the cover. Yet in the mail that day something caught my eye. It was an ivory envelope with a return address that looked familiar. Somehow I remembered I had met a couple from Marblehead. The town was so luxurious it was impossible to forget, although the name didn’t seem at all familiar. The little ivory card read only a few words: “Thank you. You sent me all the answers I had been looking for.” Gratefully, Susan
HAIRSCAPING BRITTANY BROCKNER My tool kit consists of tweezers, razors, a wide tooth comb, round and straight hard and soft bristled brushes, a blow drier Frizz-ease straightening serum and volumizing mousse. This tool kit was a long time in the making: the importance of hair first became evident in elementary school when mom would roll my melon head, this way and that, raking the hair, smoothing and pinching it up into the perfect ponytail stem. Then in middle school I learned some hair is bad, I learned to weed hair from my caterpillar brows, to pare the hair from my legs. I learned that beauty equals Jennifer Anniston and so I cut my hair like hers and highlighted it. Once, at four or five, out of frustration, rebellion, or revenge my sister and I barbered Barbie. We sheared her plastic locks with momâ€™s poultry scissors. and then we cracked up because her cartoon sapphire eyes and rose lips didnâ€™t look so great
CENTRIPETAL with blonde stalks sprouting up through her almost-bald head.
BETWEEN WORLDS BRITTANY BROCKNER January, sunset. We’re seventeen, capturing Smith’s Point Beach in black and white photos. Winter winds whip our faces. A broken zipper splits my coat in half; Behind me, you hug the gap closed. We sway to the music of the ocean’s percussion as it hits hard the smooth sand. The sun, a butterscotch candy, melts its flavors across the sky, dissolves at the horizon. We collect clam shells, so few of them whole - most are halved, pink pearly palms, open, reaching for other pink, pearly palms. When we leave it’s not quite night. The empty parking lot looks like a huge slate tablet with chalk marks tallies, perhaps, of all the times we’ll come here together. In your car, on the outskirts of the lot, a white tailed deer wanders from the woods - her hooves on the concrete, between worlds. We park and tiptoe out, not bothering to shut the doors. The deer stays, lets us pet her coarse fur without twitching or
CENTRIPETAL flinching. She’s fearless, I guess or naive, I’m not sure which.
BONDS RIANE HERLIHY I heard the tires spinning on the pavement before I could see the car. I made myself look as innocent and pathetic as possible by slumping my shoulders and allowing my backpack to drop to the ground. I held my thumb out into the middle of the road and my hope grew and then dropped like a crescendo as the car paid me no attention and sped past. Thirty years ago this would have been nothing. I would be where I needed to be already. I wouldn’t be stuck on this godforsaken road with my thumb in the air hoping that someone will notice that I’m no murderer, that I don’t want to rob them, that I’m simply a teenage boy in need of a ride. Maybe if I play dead I’ll have better luck. Hours later, or possibly no time at all (I’ll never know since I wasn’t wearing a watch), I was awakened by the loud, rhythmic humming of a diesel engine. I had fallen asleep on the roadside, head propped up against my bag, hat covering my eyes from the sun, thumb pointing upwards toward the sky. I had been dreaming about lizards crawling over my body, staring at me with their emotionless and unblinking eyes. They felt the vibrations on the ground beneath us and scattered out of my mind forever. It took me a moment after their departure to remember where I was. I lifted my hat and was assaulted with the brutality of the sun. It must be around noon, I thought, congratulating myself on my ability to quickly morph into the mind of a primitive earth dweller. The deep horn of the truck shook me from my trance. I jumped up, grabbed my belongings, and was inside all in one swift movement. I had planned to act tough but I couldn’t hide my excitement. I had taken a bus from Pennsylvania to Omaha, which had cost me fifty bucks and I was already low on money. Then, in that small town in
CENTRIPETAL Iowa, I had sat in a diner and eaten my fill of coffee and pie because the waitress kept smiling at me and her smile made me feel whole again. Whole was a feeling so foreign to me at that time that I almost forgot my purpose and asked the girl to marry me straight away. But her shift ended and a pimply teenage boy came over to ask if I wanted another slice so I grabbed my check and took off, ashamed of my weakness for sweet pie and even sweeter women. So this is where my trip began. A few miles outside of Omaha, I had successfully hitchhiked for the first time. “Thanks for picking me up, man,” I said, trying to study the driver without being too obvious. He sat with both hands on the steering wheel, back hunched over towards the windshield. My best guess was that he was in his fifties, but countless packs of empty cigarette cases littered the floor of the truck, giving me the hint that he looked a lot older than he actually was. He wore a white t-shirt covered in grease and oil stains and a pair of holey jeans. His belt was unbuckled to allow his potbelly to lay comfortably in his lap. “Name’s Evan,” he said, without even looking in my direction, an unlit cigarette resting in the corner of his mouth. “I’m Richard,” I responded, though he didn’t ask. “Dick,” was all he said in return. “Uh,” I hesitated. Was it really a good idea to correct a man who held complete power over my life? “Actually, I usually just go by Richard.” “Sure, kid. Listen, I’m stopping in Denver to drop off some shit I’m carrying. Then I’m heading up to Portland to refill and go back east. You’re welcome to come along as far as you’d like.” I was looking to get to San Francisco and told him so. “Kid, your best bet would be Portland. Maybe you can catch a ride with a logger all the way down the coast. I might even be able to help ya out.”
CENTRIPETAL I thanked him again. “Enough with the thanks, kid. This your first time out in these parts? Then shut up and open your eyes.” I did as I was told. At least for a little while, but finally sleep overpowered wonder and I slipped back into my dreams. When I awoke, it was dark. The seat of the truck was empty next to me. I peered out the window and saw the parking lights of nearby trucks. I opened the passengers side door and jumped down to the ground, letting the door quietly click shut behind me. The night air was very warm, but comfortable. Where ever we were, it was definitely dry. I took a piss near the back end of the truck and noticed the latch on the trailer door was unhooked. I peeked around the corner to see if Evan was anywhere in sight and slid the door open about a foot. It was too dark to see so I slid my hand inside and felt around on the ground until my hand landed on a small enough box to extract from the vehicle. From the light of a nearby truck, I gently opened the box and strained my eyes to see inside. Guitar picks. I chuckled to myself. No ammunition. No pistols or sawed off shotguns. This truck was transporting musical instruments. I zipped up my fly and climbed back into my seat. I could see Evan approaching from across the lot. “Weigh station,” he explained once he got back in and lit another cigarette. “We’re just about to enter Colorado. You slept all the way through Nebraska.” “Yeah, I didn’t get much sleep on the bus ride to Omaha,” I said. “Where y’comin’ from anyway, kid?” “I started in Pennsylvania.” “How old r’ya? You don’t look old enough to drink yet, even. Wucha gonna do in San Fran if you can’t even drink yet?”
CENTRIPETAL “Naa, I’ll be twenty-one in two days. This is kind of my birthday present to myself, you know? Things at home, they been the same for the past twenty-one years. It’s about time for something new.” “Well, I can’t imagine there’s much to do in Pennsylvania. At your age, it’s best to be right in the action while you got it in ya ta keep up. Me, I’m an old man now. But you kid, you got your whole life aheada ya. You know anyone out there?” “Yeah, sorta,” I stammered. “There’s a girl I know, or knew I guess, a long time ago. She’s got a place in the city.” Evan chuckled, “There’s always a girl, ain’t there?” He winked at me. Somehow, in the past few minutes we had bonded. He was looking at me thinking back to when he was my age, and I was looking ahead, hoping that my story would end differently than his had. I was hoping she was still waiting for me in the foggy streets of San Fran. I was hoping she still remembered my secrets.
I CARE HEIDI THERRIEN I dedicated an entire page in my slam book to you. Hidden in with other words, thoughts, problems, you were a problem. I took care of it. But I hate how long it took to decide. I thought of myself first, then you. Hate how long it took in the waiting room, passing through piles of paperwork, just to listen to loudspeaker music of ‘baby come back,’ and songs about leaving. Hate how I thought of what you’d look like if I gave you the chance. The finger prick to test iron levels, the consultation in the midst of waiting with my thoughts for two hours. Screaming inside when the nurse kept repeating abortion. The look on the sixteen year-old girl sitting across from me, when she looked up to see her mother looking after her, helping with paperwork and her will to go through with it, all while I sat wishing I could be that close. Closed eyestrying not to cry thinking of past times when life was a harder decision than this.
CENTRIPETAL Hated when my boyfriend left to get money, leaving me alone... Us alone. Hated how you never left me alone, but I didn’t want your company. Hated the anxiety pill that melted on my tongue and how it worked too well, I wasn’t scared, just hurting without emotion, pain with reason. Hate the tiny room, the ultrasound stick she slyly slid up to see exactly where you were hidden. My tissue, my little dot, my... lips pressed to a teary ‘B’ sound. I hated how the Spanish assistant grabbed both my hands while my lover sat empty handed, sweating, reaching with his eyes, the nurse telling me to breathe, while yours stopped. The first piercing pinch, buttocks lifting, screaming for you to stayStopWhen the doctor cranked me open, reached inside seeking life that was not directly mine, I cried for you. The pain was unbearable, but drowned out by the crystals hanging from the ceiling,
CENTRIPETAL the lightly painted blue walls, the stunted stereo in the left cornerblasting the soothing sounds of my life being ripped away. The cold footrests, elevating, shifting blood to the core, trying to give you more time. The warm nurse hands singing for me to look at only her. I thought I felt you move, I thought I heard you scream with me. I thought I heard your name, gender, reality swimming through me like the heating pad after you were gone. You were the reason for not coughing too hard, for throwing up whenever I did, for my tits swelling sore with life, for never sleeping, eating, for feeling my body evolve to something I just couldnâ€™t handle. For loving me enough to stay inside me, for being born to die. The reason this poem will never be edited.
LITTLE A FRICA AT THE CROSS BETWEEN HIGHLAND AND STERLING ST KIMBERLY PANIAGUA little africa at the cross between sterling and highland st. I ask my mother about the housing project down the road the one with men who look like my father the never-gonna-get-nowhere blues boys colored deep deep purple sittin on sun-bathed concrete my little africa, come and speak to me tell me about your children She is a single mother in apartment 43 wears neon green tank tops and rocks kinked out hair on shoe-polish skin He sits on the corner stoop shoots at the Mexican boys asking for cigarettes my little africa, stare back at me show me something Iâ€™ve never seen before the system spits out brown boys onto Nile pavement like two front teeth and we drive through it every morning past black children huddled in jacks corners, twenty bags, tupac and biggie past yesterdayâ€™s clothes that hang on power lines in the car I wonder what secrets you keep in the car I imagine you beautiful
THE LAST RIDE OF NAVAJO JOE WILLIAM R. VIAU “It’s my birthday,” I say to Jim. He closes the register and smiles through worn-down teeth. He is my friend. “Oh yeah? And how many centuries are we up to now?” Jim jokes. His black, weathered hands hold out my paper bag from the counter. I chuckle with the softness of old age, and take it into the lap of my wheelchair. “Ninety-four,” I reply. “It will be a good birthday, Jim. Today I am going on a journey.” “Well, happy birthday then! And good luck with your trip.” He winks at me. Jim knows that there is peyote in the bag, because he has been selling it to me for more than thirty years. I laugh at his clever joke, but this is not the journey that I am talking about. With a wave and a nod, I spin my wheelchair around and begin to roll myself out of his pet shop for the last time. To my left and right, caged lizards croak in chorus with the squawking of dream-colored birds. The cages rattle, and the walls seem alive. The animals are restless, and I sense that they know they will never see me again. Be easy, my friends, I think to myself. We will meet in the end. Outside of the shop, my wispy mane, the color of smoke, flutters in the summer breeze. I look up and down the buzzing streets of downtown Santa Barbara, and smile beneath the fiery wings of the sun. I am happy, on this day, for the time has come to take my last ride. My paper bag crinkles as I withdraw the divine cactus from its dry embrace. It is almost the size of a kiwi, deepest green, and smooth as a stone. I place the familiar plant into my mouth, and squash it between my dentures. Bitter juices spill onto my tongue, but I expect them, and welcome the taste. This tang of peyote is well-known to me, and brings
CENTRIPETAL back many memories. I close my eyes and think about my first trance, when I took the vision quest upon myself in younger days. A verdant forest, the pulsating color of coal, is clear in my mind, but I cannot remember the name of this place. It breathes above me as I stare into the moonlit canopy, old and yet new in my mind. This is a magical place, filled with life and unlike the desert reservation of my home. My meditation is interrupted by the clopping of ghostly hooves, which echo through the camp of my past. A pale horse, as white as flour, saunters across the leaves and brushes its nose against my cheek. This animal is known to me, though I have forgotten many things. For hours I have ridden upon this phantom steed, as it has taken me deep into the wood and shown me the magic things, the secret places, and the hallowed trees. From this trance I took my tribal name: Dream Horse, but I have not been called by this name in many years. I am wheeling myself up the sidewalk of this hill, passing by the people of my city. They look at me, and see a withering Navajo elder, crippled with age and seeming to melt in the sun. My wrinkles hang from my throat, dripping with sweat. Salty beads of it saturate the turquoise bandana that sits around my neck. I am not what you see, I think to them. I may be old, but my heart is brave. In six minutes, I am approaching an ice cream cart. “Giovanni’s Ice Cream” reads across the candy-striped canopy. A moustached man in a white pointed cap carves colors like clay from the inside of his stand. He packs these scoops into sand colored cones, and offers them to the line of patrons who squint in the heat. My throat scratches, remembering the bitterness of the cactus and my heavy breath from the hill. I reach into the left pocket of my rawhide vest and discover a few remaining green papers. This is lucky, for I do not recall where this money is from. It will
CENTRIPETAL be enough, and so I join the anxious line. Ahead of me, a young girl tugs upon her mother’s tiedyed tee-shirt. She is twirling her braid and asking how many of the rainbow scoops she will be allowed to eat. We have never met, but I know this girl. She is the innocent youth who wants but does not give, who is kind but does not know kindness. I recognize her greed, but accept her naivety. I was once that boy, a long time ago. I would tug upon my father’s snakeskin belt, and beg for another box of candy at the drivein movie. You will learn, I tell the girl in my mind. It is not the getting, but the giving that matters. My father has no face in this memory. His head is a soft mound of brown, licked smooth like a scoop of coffee ice cream. Many faces look like this in my head, nowadays. I strain to chisel out my father’s forgotten features, but it is no use. His face has been worn away, as a sandstone statue that has seen too much rain. I am looking at my hands. These dark hands that have seen many things. My skin is old, and cracked like the desert. Wrinkles weave across the backs of these mud colored hands, tracing valleys into my flesh that are full of secrets. Like the spots that speckle the landscape of my skin, my mind is puddling, and these secrets are sinking into the earth. Time is slowing down, and the creases of my palms begin to flow like a river. I feel lost in the twisting labyrinth of my skin. “What can I getcha?” the ice cream man asks me, smoothing his moustache. I am lucky, because he has my favorite flavor. One minute later, I am licking a cone of maple walnut by the side of his cart. I must finish before I can leave, because with only one free hand I am lame. The ice cream soothes my throat and cools my head. I crunch on the walnuts, picking them from my dentures with my tongue. Everything grows brighter in the sun while I eat. The candystripes of the man’s cart swirl and spiral, coming to life from
CENTRIPETAL a long sleep. I watch him pass out more of his colorful cones, and think back to the old days. My stomach shivers like it did when I was an eagle, who soared above the people from trapeze to trapeze, perched only long enough to bank for another dive. Below me, the crowd would cheer and the elephants would trumpet, filling my heart with the greatness of my flight. “Let’s hear it for the incredible Navajo Joe!” the ringmaster’s voice would ring out as the flickering tails of his fancy red jacket trembled like a flame, bright with care and soft with soap. Onlookers would tend to their melting lumps of ice cream and furry puffs of cotton candy, laughing and applauding in the shining night. I miss the days of the circus, with the wind in my ears, the whip-cracks of the lion tamer, and the hullabaloo of the pavilion. I know that I was closer to the earth in that time, because I slept upon it. My life was charged with the cheers of onlookers, nomadic, and simple. I stare at my lap, and wonder why it is that I left this part of my life. The end of the circus is a fog in my past, like so many things. As my gaze burns into my shriveled legs, I wonder if they are a memento of those days, or a birthday present from more recent years. Confused by the emptiness in my head, I decide to forget this thing and remember only what matters. In that time my life was free, and today I will be free again. The last of my nostalgia washes down my throat with a trickle of cream and crumbled waffle cone. I push myself further up the street, growing closer to the universe. My wheelchair sinks into the environment, and I am a presence, observing the vibrant life of the city. Buildings shine like prisms in the vibrating rays of the sun, their paints saturated with heat and light. The asphalt road becomes a river of black water, ferrying steel boats to and fro in its twin currents. The army surplus store washes by on my left, a music box of veterans and grenades. “Big wheels keep on turnin’!” the
CENTRIPETAL voice of the store booms into the streets. “Carry me home to see my kin!” This music fills me with joy as I continue on my last ride, reminded of my own military service. I weave between the faces of middle-aged men who exit the store, veterans of Vietnam, but they are children to me. My fight was far older, and far greater. “Hey, it’s Navajo Joe!” a voice exclaims from inside the building. I do not recognize this voice, but it is strident and warm. Lurching to a halt in the swirling current of the sidewalk, I peek into the store, searching for this voice. “Joe! Joe, come on in here, man!” a veteran with strong shoulders beckons from a counter within. He wears a suit of camouflage, which is bubbling like splotches of congealing paint in the amber glow of the store. I float into this hoard like a ghost of the past, my gaze wandering across compasses, rations, and machetes, all less than forty years old, but ancient to many who frequent this place. I am an ancestor here, a spirit of old, who haunts the artifacts of a younger generation. My descendant from behind the counter comes out and pats me on the back, smiling and content. He gathers his friends and several wooden stools, asking me to tell again the tale of my war. These faces are unknown to me, but there is recognition in all of their glittering eyes. I cannot remember what stories I have told these heirs to the nation, but before I know it the words are coming out of my mouth like a waterfall, and my tale has consumed us all. The circle of eager listeners is a blur to me, as I reenact scenes from the distant past. In my story I am speaking into a transistor radio, in the language of my native people, but the words make no sense. A hand grenade is a potato, and a tank is a tortoise. Anxious white men in olive green uniforms huddle around me in the dirt. They do not understand my words, but they tell me what to say. A Navajo on the other end responds to my code, and gives me instructions in this familiar, garbled
CENTRIPETAL language. I put them into English for the waiting whites, who clutch their guns. For the first time in sixty years, I am Sergeant Joe Namble, a code-talker in the American marines. “Nobody tells it like Navajo Joe!” my companions proclaim in praise when I am finished. I chuckle and nod humbly as they pat me on the back. “Incredible, it’s just incredible…” they muse, drifting away in pairs to discuss the Great War with the enthusiasm of younger men. Already the details of my saga are hazy to me, and I can’t remember the names of my battles or the comrades in my squad. As I glide back into the street, I wonder whether I have told these men of battles escaped or battles finished, living or dying, the past or the present. Now I reach the summit of this flowing asphalt hill, a mountain of undulating tiled roofs and bright glass storefronts. The Pacific Ocean glistens out to the horizon, the glowing indigo of so many blueberries. I am awestruck by the beauty of earth, and pleased to be rejoining it on this day. I am Dream Horse, I say to myself. And I am here. Sirens ring out like the terrible howls of coyotes in the full moon. They are distant, but growing closer. I know that they are hunting me, sent by the nurses at Cedar Hills to return me to my room. These hunters do not know the emptiness of my home, the hollowness of my caretakers, or the misery of rotting like a log in a human swamp. There I am surrounded by trees that have crumbled long ago, and my mind is going to seed. It will not be long before I too am petrified in the swamp. I must rejoin the land in the proper way, before there is nothing left of me to nurture the dreams of the young. Too many times have they brought me back before I could finish my last ride, but here I sit upon the mountain, and it is too late for them. I am ninety-four years old, and I clutch the Silver Congressional Medal of Honor that rests upon my chest. It is not yet tarnished with age, for Navajo Joe was an unworthy name in this country until
CENTRIPETAL just several years ago. As I gaze upon it, the polished silver flashes in the sun, and I am proud. With a thrust of my withered arms, the wheelchair begins to roll. I am in the center of the road, staring down the tallest hill in Santa Barbara. I move faster and faster, but time is only a blur to me, in my trance. I am on my pale horse again, galloping at full speed towards the bottom of this sacred mountain, towards the ocean. Smudges of steel howl at me and rush from side to side, squealing as they dodge my charge. I grip the handles of my saddle, soaking in the whirr of my stallionâ€™s spinning hooves. Again the coyotes yowl, from the peak of the mountain now, beseeching the sun for help. The fiery blaze smokes with clouds, but does not listen. I have made my peace with the sun, and it shines upon my back like a rocket, burning tracks into the quivering pavement. My steed trembles with the might of our dash and whines with the strain on its legs. The street is a wash of color and light, terracotta and goldenrod, fire and water. A man dives into the Tarmac River to rescue me from the rapids, but I have seen him and do not wish to be stopped. Be easy, my friend, I think to myself. You will understand in the end. I screech the left brake of my pale horse and skid out of the way with a lurch, tilting the vibrating world. As it levels out again, my stampede resumes full speed. My platinum mane billows in the roaring wind, but I am calm. In moments, my horse and I have crossed the base of the mountain and flown off of the pier, soaring into the wind. My body leaves the seat of my mount and my frail old wings flex in the sun, beating freely in the brilliant noon air. For the first time in many years, I am flying over the cheering world. I see the sky above me, a vast blue glass, soft with clouds. I see the ocean rolling below me, deep and rumbling with welcome. My heart leaps as my stomach plummets. As I begin my descent, I am Dream Horse, and the earth is all around me. I am free.
BREAKING UP NICOLE BAILEY I wait biting my lip I just seem to pause as the word Comes out hollow in an empty Echoing space: Hello? Are you there? Distant words and I can hear The exhaling of your thoughts How has your week been? “I need to talk to you… About something.” I do too I pause listening attentively Have you ever thought of it? He said trying to utter the words. …that maybe the distance is too much? I held it closer to my ear He stated you have three more years “And I’m going to be starting a new chapter In my life.” What are you suggesting? Are we breaking up? It’s not like that… It’s not you…. It’s me. My throat swelled shut I breathed in and out again I clutched the phone If you would like to make a call Please hang up and try again.
THE NEWS: IMAGES ADAM SKAWINSKI Blood stained boots run through crimson sand; Flames erupt as metal rains from the muddled sky. Guns fire, child cries, rock crumbles, tongues twirl; Ash, grease, and moldy sweat sweep the street: Frozen figurines lay scattered across a pond. Howling winds pierce through Creole quarters, Horns blast jazz while water barrels through levees; Bare feet work to trudge in murk where bodies lay Face down. Man in clean suit makes relief speech: The sun reflects teary eyes in a puddle. American heiress weeps mascara streaks in a SoCal Courtroom. Helicopters hunt a small line of Mercedes. Jail door opens as cameras snap to illuminate the cell, Anchorman adjusts to smile as he tucks in his shirt: The wind collapses a house of cards. Protestors picket, walk in circles and hold signs, On NYC sidewalks at the threshold of starlight; Old man wears a Rockefeller mask and tuxedo As he pounds his fist into the palm of his hand: Protestors drop signs and push the tuxedo over. Creased suits stand below banners behind podiums, Lips move rapid then simmer to scowl through a smile. Two outstretched arms point fingers at one another
CENTRIPETAL As a crowd rises to wave their fists and shout loud: Politicians wrap knuckles in a square-roped ring.
MORGUE THAN WORDS REBECCA TARDIF I stepped out of the car and onto the pavement at Concord Hospital. I waited nervously as my professor and three classmates regrouped from the hour’s drive. We were part of Plymouth State University’s forensic anthropology course “Bones, Bodies and Disease” and the four of us were headed to our first autopsy. The course itself focuses primarily on the human skeleton and how it aids in legal investigations, but it also compliments forensic pathology, the study of the soft tissues of the body. Midway through the semester, we are given the option to witness an autopsy. Few ever pass up the chance. Our professor, Dr. Starbuck, led the way with his students in tow and I noticed my stomach felt queasy. Unsure of whether this was due to nerves or hunger, I suddenly worried, “Maybe I didn’t eat enough.” I had made sure to eat an extra-light breakfast that morning, unable to ignore the horror stories of an over-active gag reflex reacting to the stench of human decomposition. I’m sure the students who previously attended took pleasure in heightening my apprehension. Though I had a rough idea of what to expect from the procedure, I still couldn’t predict my reaction. Attempting to hide my trepidation, I adorned a fake smile and avoided eye contact. At the front desk, my professor asked, “Excuse me, could you tell me how to get to the morgue please?” I smiled, knowing he enjoyed the surprised look on the receptionist’s face as she stumbled to answer. The stagnant air of the elevator smelled stale and the ride lasted just long enough for the silence to become slightly uncomfortable. I timidly walked along the dungeon-like halls until reaching the door to the morgue. We found ourselves in
CENTRIPETAL a makeshift lobby and by signing the required waiver, pledged our silence regarding the identity of all bodies seen. Yellow smocks, teal paper slippers, purple gloves and pink facemasks with attached eye protection, the required uniforms of the morgue, combined to make us resemble a batch of life-sized Easter eggs. I felt utterly ridiculous and I asked myself nervously, “does it really get this messy?” Following my classmates into the examination room, I took a last minute deep breath. No more prep-time. The assistant wheeled out the body and after unzipping the body bag, began taking pictures and measurements, while reading and filling out paperwork. “The paperwork just gives us general information about the way the body was found. Essentially, it narrows the spectrum of possible causes of death,” he revealed. His less-than-fazed demeanor gave the impression of just another workday, and it seemed to help ease my nerves. I tried to imagine doing this kind of work every day but my attempts were in vain. I simply couldn’t fathom it. A naked, white, middle-aged man lay before me (lacking any bragging rights I might add). Thankful for my facemask as it hid my nervous smirk, I somehow suppressed the urge to laugh, narrowly escaping the wrath of my classmates. I wondered if the man who previously lived in this body would be at all embarrassed about it lying there exposed to a room full of strangers: the naked body is such a private sight for most. I had to remind myself that death demands the separation of you from your body, a place we grow so attached to that we sometimes forget it is not the most intimate part of ourselves. Still unsure of where to stand for the procedure, I remained tense and near the wall. “Just don’t faint” I told myself, feigning courage, “Or vomit.” From utter disgust, I couldn’t help but look away when the assistant took a large needle to the eye. Scolding myself almost instantly, I forced
CENTRIPETAL my eyes to return to the procedure and made a promise not to miss another part of this experience. “Why the eye?” I heard someone ask, forcing my eyes on the corpse before me and resisting a look at the person speaking. “The fluid is really useful in the toxicology lab. It’ll tell us if there were drugs in his system,” replied the assistant. A second needle went for the pelvic region. Stabbing and jabbing the 6-inch spike in a less-than-gentle manner, I winced at the pain being inflicted on this man’s body. Again I reminded myself, “He can’t feel a thing.” The process of an autopsy was still so mysterious, but I will admit, my curiosity grew as these initial proceedings were under way. F F F
Greek physicians were performing autopsies 2,500 years ago but it wasn’t until the mid-1700s that a pathology text was finally written. The word stems from the Greek word “autopsia” and means “seeing for oneself.” The post-mortem examination of a human corpse has proved irreplaceable in the education of med-students. After all, there’s nothing like hands-on experience. Autopsies even helped make the association between smoking and lung cancer. Primarily used to determine the cause of death, its secondary function is to evaluate any possible disease or injury. Samples of organs and bodily fluids are taken from each body, examined and are then sent to the lab for more analysis. Numerous studies over the past few years have shown that 25-40 percent of autopsies reveal an undiagnosed cause of death, yet the numbers of examinations performed are decreasing. Doctors seeking familial consent to perform an autopsy typically get the “Hasn’t he suffered enough” response. It seems that society is growing more squeamish in the face of death. We forget that at one point, not so long ago in history, it was customary to embalm your own family
CENTRIPETAL members and prepare for a funeral in your own home. F F F
The medical examiner took a scalpel in her hand. “You guys are lucky,” she said as she placed the scalpel up by the man’s collar bone, “This guy’s been dead for six days but he died in the hospital so he’s been in the freezer. There’s almost no decomp.” Truthfully, I’d feared the smell of decomposition more than anything else. I heaved a sigh of relief and stepped a bit closer to the body, eager to see the initial incision. I felt my eyes widen in the second it took to cut from the top of the chest to the waist, that famous Y incision we’ve come to know only because of popular TV shows like CSI. The blade was sharper than anything I’d ever seen, slicing effortlessly, and the man before me quickly became nothing more than a science project. Fear drained from me like water from a faucet and was replaced just as quickly with excitement for what was to come. The inside of the body is unexpectedly colorful. The sunshine yellow of fatty deposits, the blueberry purples of vein, the vibrant crimson of blood, all have a way of drawing you in, of making you want to look closer. It was a new world. I marveled at the intricacies working in perfect unison inside everyone. Suddenly I understood why every science teacher I ever had thought anatomy was fascinating. We forget that we are hosts to a universe inside us. My thoughts expanded tenfold from there and I realized that my theory of collective unison couldn’t possibly be exclusive to humans. No, I was part of some cosmic truth linking everything, from planetary orbs to microscopic amoebas. It was a natural high. With one of my own dead and exposed on the table before me, I was sure there was a purpose to life, to existing. As certain organs were cut out from the body and measured, we all seemed enthusiastic but Devon, the brave
CENTRIPETAL soul, was a classic ‘kid in a candy shop.’ Unable to keep his hands to himself, he started poking at the body. Starbuck nudged him, having never experienced a student attempt this before. But to everyone’s surprise, instead of stopping, Devon asked the medical examiner for permission and he’ll forever be my hero for it! She consented and we passed around the organs as she cut them out of the body. It’s standard procedure to cut out the organs one by one, to weigh them and then take a sample of each, but I was in all my glory! The organs were slippery and though they had no function anymore, I held them with the utmost of care. The heart was surprisingly heavy and the size of the liver was monstrous. The dark black spots on his lungs were hideous enough to convince anyone against smoking. If only all beginners could see an autopsy of a smoker before taking that first drag. Going “hands-on” hadn’t even crossed my mind until Devon started poking around. The boundaries of social behavior in the morgue had not been relayed to us and we surprised even the medical examiner with our desire to participate. Admittedly, the lack of decomposition played a role in allowing us to get so close to the body but I was lost in the experience, completely engulfed. The world had disappeared and only the examination room existed. To this day, I sometimes can’t believe that I’ve seen the gray (surprisingly dull-looking) human brain cut up into slices before my very eyes. With every turn of the scalpel came a more thrilling part of the body. By far the best dissection I had ever experienced, frogs and fetal pigs were child’s play compared to this! As the procedure was brought to a close, the assistant began to sew up the body. When he revealed that he would have let one of us do it, I felt my heart sink. It was just a couple of cross-stitches up the abdomen, nothing too fancy (they leave the fancy stuff for the embalmers at funeral
CENTRIPETAL homes) but I had already disrobed and the thought of getting any splatter on my clothes was enough to keep me at bay. “I’m hungry!” I said as we walked back to the parking lot, a little extra bounce in my step. Dr. Starbuck, already dumbfounded by our reactions to the autopsy, was even more surprised at this remark. As my stomach growled the whole way home my mind raced, reliving the past hour. “When can we go back? I want to sew up the body!” I said (with a genuine smile this time). I thought of how nervous I was before the autopsy and how an overwhelming sense of confidence replaced my tension. The truth of the matter was that I could picture doing that kind of work every day. And what’s more - I could like it!
READING ME TONIA WHITMAN They claw at me, tearing flesh from bone, consuming me inside and out. Pushing up into me, reading between the lines, crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s. We lay here tired, every bone aches, every muscle is sore, I inch my hand towards yours reaching for those fingers, those fingers that have seen every part of me, been inside of me, touched me in ways I couldn’t imagine. Entwined together, these exhausted hands these tools of ecstasy. Never let me go. Those hands knew me so well, they knew my curves and my weaknesses. They held me up when I needed them, they comforted, they made me feel real. Now they are gone. I have left them. I want them back. I want them to fill me up. Oh how I want…to be read.
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