featuring ConďŹ‚uence, Itself by Marjorie Saiser, winner of the 2017 Folio Award in Poetry Issue O.4 Fall 2017
The Fourth River takes its name from a subterranean river beneath Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a city famously sited at the confluence of three rivers: Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio. This fourth river, unseen yet indispensable to the city’s riverine ecosystem, is actually an aquifer geologists call the “Wisconsin Glacial Flow.” The Fourth River literary journal grew up from the idea that between and beneath the visible framework of the human world and the built environment, there exist deeper currents of force and meaning supporting the very structure of that world. Jeffrey Thompson, Founding Editor The Fourth River Issue No. 1
Issue O.4 // Fall 2017 Executive Editor Sheryl St. Germain Editor in Chief Sheila Squillante Managing Editor Samantha Smith Fiction Editor Marc Nieson Nonfiction Editor Sheila Squillante Poetry Editor Dr. Heather McNaugher Associate Editors Rhea Dunn, Jeffrey Bolden, Melanie Destefano, Elizabeth Royce, Ann Marie Falcone Assistant Editors Samantha Edwards, Juliana Farrington, Kenneth Gould, Jessi Hank, Maxwell Schaar, Trevor Dawson, Samantha Smith, Rachel Roupp, Rachel Jeffrey, Ian Rawson Copy Editors Trevor Dawson, Melanie Destefano, Rachel Geffrey, Rachel Roup, Rhea Dunn Layout & Design // Kinsley Stocum Administrative Support // Kelly Kepner Cover & Folio Art // Jeff Oaks
The Fourth River is a publication of the MFA in Creative Writing Programs at Chatham University. We welcome submissions of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction that explore the relationship between humans and their environmentsâ€”writings that are richly situated at the confluence of place, space, and identity, or that reflect upon landscape as culture, and culture as landscape. The Fourth River publishes one print issue and one online issue per year. Subscriptions: See our website http://fourthriver.chatham.edu or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rates: $10 (single issue), $16 (2 years) Submissions: The Fourth River only accepts work via Submittable. For guidelines, see our website. Emailed submissions will not be read. Mailed submissions will not be opened and will be recycled. Copyright ÂŠ 2017 by The Fourth River. All rights reserved. Reproduction, whether in whole or part, without permission is strictly prohibited.
Table of Contents
Wedding The Hall of Akashic Records On Impact Navy The Place Where I Knew You A Different Sky from Leafmold Crease Our Failure of Paris Pocket Water Kentucky Haiku Cornscateous Air
2 3 4 6 7 9 18 23 24 25 34 35
Christopher Todd Anderson Lindsey Novak
from Engineer Poems Confluence, Itself
Donna Steiner Marjorie Saiser
inheritance Once it Opens it Never Closes Brute Wisdom Uphill Stray Song of Hezekiah Catapedaphobia Dear Earthquake, What the walls know No going back Tangerines Strange Days
54 55 57 64 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73
Dan Jacoby Kevin Boyle Christopher Robey Will Hollis Tanis MacDonald Libby Maxey Tanya Muzumdar
About the Authors About the Artist
Aidan Lee Kate Hopper F. Daniel Rzicznek Paige Menton Hilary King Eric Lehman Jennifer Davis Nicole Stockburger
Peter Grandbois Renee Rossi Nick Conrad
the Folio Contest Award Issue from Engineer Poems
Folio Contest — 2nd Place Shoring Up This World Resurrection Gifts
37 38 39
Folio Contest — 1st Place A Letter on Confluence, Itself I Don’t Know Which River I Am Where I Keep You My Mother The Child The Pasque Flower Opened What I Learned From My Mother She Went to the Fair I Put Off Apology, Mother We Searched Our Mother’s House For Money Hamburgers, Frying She Didn’t Want Another Dog Music Is Time When Despair Wakes Me This is Her Territory, Not Mine
40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53
Natalie Diaz, Judge
A Letter from the Editor There are many reasons to love the autumn, and I have for my whole life. Milkweed pods bursting into white silk. My birthday. Wood smoke from my neighborâ€™s yard. The moment just before the leaves turn brown and dryâ€”that yellow they get, soft and bruisable as ripe fruit. In the autumn I can most clearly feel the space between seasons, the possibility of renewal present in the coming cold and dark. So it feels fitting that our autumn issue of The Fourth River features a selection of work that is also about the moment just-before or in-between. A place of coming together. Here, we celebrate the stunning series, Confluence, Itself, by Marjorie Saiser, winner of the first Folio Award for Poetry, chosen by Natalie Diaz. We hope youâ€™ll spend some time with these poems and take in their quiet clarity, their unflinching domestic sentiment which beautifully presents a mother/daughter relationship in all its tender complexity. We also welcome to the staff a new managing editor, Samantha Smith, and as always thank our faculty and student editors who make the journal the always-renewing, over-wintering thing that it is. Grab a sweater and settle in. Sheila Squillante, Editor in Chief
Christopher Todd Anderson Wedding those who gathered we did not know but still they congregated at the woods’ edge eyes curious or restless pinched a little against the sun’s late-day glare we two stood in the middle facing one another over a pile of bones jumble-stacked on the field’s stubble large bones small bones jawbones delicate wing bones tiny skulls thick human ribs some quadruped’s pale pelvis staring upward like a ghost mask this is the way to marry vowing love over bodily rubble eternity seeps from our bones into our blood burns hemo-red: overripe passion that swells toward splitting like plums too long in the sun we wed and kiss then deer come for their bones vireos gather skulls of their dead one red fox carries off his sister’s thigh bone her gift to us her fleeting gift a stout white blessing fitting emblem for delicate love lacework of air and stone
Lindsey Novak The Hall of Akashic Records I summoned a demon and my hair turned into gold. There was magic there. There were demons there. There were magical demons there, and I danced with them in that house. Maybe they hide under mountains. Maybe they have turned into birds. The sun and the moon, the marriage of the two. Imagine: trolling your own body with a tattoo. Rivers— give it a name, let it pass through. I’ve started whispering to my plants. Part of me hopes they will save me. At this point I'm so lost that you're going to have to find me; I never even look in my own eyes anymore. I have not been able to see, so I have been looking inward— help me.
Lindsey Novak On Impact A math problem: find the radius of the circle of disturbance a gunshot makes in the air. Last night I dreamed all the flowers were dead. Heads hung in shame. She only writes in imperative, two-syllable sentences. You're a plastic bag over my roadside cross. The drugs lasted for the rest of the party, synergistic, fighting with each other, calling each other names. No one leaves; we just change forms. You need the storm to come to bring the rain, warmth from the palms of your hands. You might wake up happy; you might wake up free. You might wake up, with any luck on the inside of me. Chiggers, something bit you and created a little hole. Maddening, a violation, a symbiotic relationship. This thing lives inside you now. This thing is a part of you now. 4
I am trying to make myself disappear. By this time next month, we’ll need a blanket. By this time next year… Death is a whisper through the house that says, “I need to be by myself right now, honey.” Informed by the trees and the wind. Numbers to dial that tell you where to put your problems.
Lindsey Novak Navy Navy— not exactly black; love— but not exactly. The courage to say out loud, "I'm having a hard time, too." "The sunlight burns my skin," or, "I don't know what to do." This sinking feeling comes, I think, from knowing all the things you say were previously offered to someone else. Closed pistachio shell. We are: so busy trying to survive abuse we cannot name it. Old men told themselves stories, liked to hear themselves talk. Hence we have religion; hence we have war centuries strong. You are a bright star because your sun sign. You're a bright star because you're sunshine. We are soft little beating throbbing flesh all the time. If you go white-blonde and you believe in yourself… I have no faith in poetry anymore. I like you most when you're gone.
Aidan Lee The Place Where I Knew You after Elizabeth Bishop From across an ocean, I will you to want this again, to remember the place where I knew you. Come and I will wait in the Pujiang Hotel, in one of the rooms as multitudinous and haphazard as compartments in a house of cards. Cross the endless wooden floors, sloped and creaking like a coracle about to set sail, to the room with a view of the pearl tower. I will you to want this again, to remember the place where I knew you. In the morning, when flatboats chug along the slug-gray river, we could join the old ones who waltz serenely with invisible partners like animated wind-up dolls, then take the train that bullets past verdant fields overgrown with lush largesse, past clustered shacks and vines curled around jagged stakes in makeshift gardens. I will you to want this again, to remember the place where I knew you. The snack vendor would push her cart past limbs protruding into the aisle, emerging from the curtain of cigarette smoke and tempt you to purchase strips of duck in air-packed plastic, even though you donâ€™t eat meat. Buy the peanuts instead, large as pupae, briny with salt crystals, like morsels from the sea. I will you to want this again, to remember the place where I knew you. The train would deposit us in the city where we knew each other, where heat is not temperature but scent, of machine grease and cranes erecting buildings in a single night like a giantâ€™s toys, of lonely museums where armor of translucent jade tiles
lies in a glass case like a glowing corpse. I will you to want this again, to remember the place where I knew you. In the night market, we would stroll dazed under colored lights like that from a million fake jewels, neon glory shouts of padded brassieres and unctuous pomades. Step over the tub of eels swirling like a glistening pinwheel, around the plastic buckets of crawfish crawling over each other like feverish homunculus. I will you to want this again, to remember the place where I knew you. For dessert weâ€™ll slice open the watermelon crosswise, atop newspaper spread on the floor, sawing valiantly with a dull pocketknife. Eat the icy innards like an oversize sundae with two errant spoons from your desk drawer. Next, the bulging lychees, heavy bunches like grapes: Peel away each nubby hide pocketing a fleshy white orb so sweet you must remember not to swallow the smooth pit inside; my stomach aches with food and joy. I will you to want this again, to remember the place where I knew you. In the teahouse on the hill where carved corners of the roof spiraled skyward, we could have played Scrabble or eaten orange popsicles, then walked home quietly, tacitly denying all that divides us now. From across an ocean, I willed you to want this again, To remember this place where I knew you.
Kate Hopper A Different Sky On our third morning in Costa Rica, Stella and I sit on the porch of my host family’s home, eating our breakfast of rice and beans. It’s the height of the dry season, the hottest weeks of the year, and the landscape is leached of color. The dirt road is pale as bone, heat rising from it in shimmering waves. Against the plastic of my chair, my legs are slick with sweat. “What do you think of San Vicente?” I ask my eleven-year-old daughter. “I love it,” Stella says, nodding vigorously. “I’m so glad,” I say. Before the trip, I worried that the girls would feel uncomfortable being immersed in a culture and language completely foreign to them, but instead they seem just fine. Each afternoon, Stella heads out for a pick-up game of soccer, returning an hour later with a huge smile on her face, her legs covered in dirt. And even Zoë, who is only seven, seems completely at ease. From inside I hear her and five-year-old Sol, my host-sister Sara’s daughter, giggling and chattering away—one in English, the other in Spanish. I take a sip of my sweetened coffee. “What would you miss most if we lived here?” I ask. “Winter,” Stella says without hesitation, and I laugh. We were excited to escape Minnesota in March—the cruelest month—but it’s been almost a hundred degrees here every day. At night, the air in our bedroom, even with a fan on, is suffocating. “Family,” Stella adds. “My friends, hockey.” She pauses and takes another bite of her beans, then looks at me, her blue eyes clear. “Actually,” she says, “I love visiting, but I don’t think I’d want to live here.” I nod, but don’t answer. I want this place to work its way under my girls’ skin the way it worked its way under mine so many years ago. I want them to feel at home here. But I understand why Stella wouldn’t want to live here. And as I stare at my confident tween daughter, I’m grateful that we don’t.
When I first arrived in San Vicente in 1994, it was not love at first sight. I remember my dismay when my advisor’s car pulled into the village, the center of town no more than a few run-down buildings coated in dust. There were supposed to be five hundred people who lived in San Vicente, but that day I saw no one. After I’d met my host family and after my advisor had driven off, I tried to 9
tamp down my fear. I did my best to answer the rapid questions in Spanish, smiling stupidly when I didn’t understand, which was most of the time. I gave myself silent pep talks: You’ll be okay. It’s only two months. But that night, nothing felt okay. I lay awake on my narrow bed, listening to the intermittent crow of roosters—Weren’t they supposed to do that in the morning?—and the guttural growls of howler monkeys in the distance. Then I heard an odd rustling sound outside my window. Was it a man? Someone spying on me, trying to scare off the gringa? Terrified, I buried my head under the pillow and wished I could go home. But soon, San Vicente became my home. I fell in love with the sweet smell of plantains frying in the early morning. I fell in love with the way the barren hills glowed pink at sunset. I fell in love with the pulsing rhythms of cumbia and piratiado and with the saltiness of cuajada and fresh tortillas. I fell in love with Sara’s easy laughter and the lilting way that my host-mother, Betty, would say si, mamita whenever I called her name. And I learned that the mysterious rustling outside my window at night was simply the cows, stealing hibiscus from the bushes in the yard. Betty is the reason we’re here now. Six months ago she was diagnosed with stomach cancer, and though the reports over the phone and through Facebook messages were that she was doing well, I wanted to see for myself. Besides, it had been nine years since my last visit. It was time. We decided that Stella, Zoë, and I would spend a week in San Vicente, and then my husband, Donny, a teacher, would fly down for his spring break and we’d spend a week, just our family, at the beach. So here we are, and I’m relieved that Betty is doing well. She had a portion of her stomach removed, but she didn’t need chemotherapy, and she looks good— thinner, but healthy.
San Vicente is located in Guanacaste, the Northwestern province of Costa Rica characterized by dry tropical forest, extensive cattle farms, and white sand beaches that disappear into the pale water of the Pacific. Like the neighboring village of Guaitíl, San Vicente is an artisan community specializing in replicas of ancient Chorotegan ceramics. The first time I lived here, I was a college student studying abroad, a budding anthropologist researching the effects of tourism on the ceramic arts industry. After I graduated, I returned for a year and a half, that time to record the ways women’s lives had changed over the previous half-century. When I lived here all those years ago, I spent my mornings sweeping and mopping and washing my clothes on the cement block out behind the house. I spent my afternoons visiting with neighbors or shooting the shit on the front porch or in the 10
backyard with Sara. Often we took turns cranking the metal grinder out behind the house as Betty filled its mouth with kernels of softened corn for the day’s tortillas. As strings of dough spilled into the wide bowl below, Betty would tell us stories of before. She loved to tell us how, when she was in grade school, she and her siblings had to wrap plantain leaves around their feet with twine to keep them from burning on the long walk to school. She loved to tell us about el salitral, the watering hole where, in the days before running water, she washed her family’s clothes every day. And she loved to tell us the story of the neighbor girl who had used a fork to flip her tortillas until her father, in a rage, grabbed the fork from her and pressed her open palm into the burning comal, saying, “You will learn to do a woman’s work like your mother before you and your grandmother before her.” I wondered why that story played over and over in Betty’s mind. Maybe it was because it was while Sara and I helped her make the evening’s tortillas, as she stood over her own blistering comal and deftly flipped tortillas with her fingertips, that we most often talked. Maybe it was because I couldn’t flip a cooking tortilla successfully even with a fork, and she wanted me to understand what could have happened to me had I been born here, in San Vicente, a generation ago. I’m not sure. I simply listened and said, “Que hombre más feo”—What an ugly man—and Betty would nod her head in agreement. “That’s what men were like before.” Later, I would jot these stories down in my notebook next to the twisted branches of Betty and her husband Chano’s complicated family trees. And I would scribble questions, trying to parse out the ways Betty, Sara, and I were different from one another and the ways that we were the same.
It’s afternoon when I wave to Zoë and Sol, who have linked arms and are heading off to visit cousin Laura at the ecomuseum, down the hill on the other side of the parched soccer field. And I yell to Stella to have fun as she dribbles her ball toward the plaza for the pick-up game with cousin Daniel and his friends. My only warning to them is to be mindful of the traffic and the cows that roam through town. I’m sitting with Daniel’s parents—my host-brother, Didier, and his very pregnant wife, Heilin. “No es celosa?” Didier asks. Aren’t you jealous? In this context “jealous” means overprotective. He wants to know why I’m not more worried about the girls, why I’m letting them traipse around town on their own. Here I’ve actually loosened my hold, let them spin farther out in orbit than I would if we were home in Minneapolis. They’ve explored the town, even ventured up into the hills behind the house. Every day after lunch they head to the store with 11
Sol for ice cream bars, returning coated with sugar and dust. But it’s not lost on me that my girls and Sol are the only girls out wandering around town. It’s not lost on me that allowing Stella to play soccer in the plaza with a group of muchachos is breaking, or at least pushing the limits of, a cultural gender rule. When I lived here all those years ago I embraced the gender roles. I wanted to belong in San Vicente so I tried to act like a true sanvicenteña. I swept and cooked and washed. I delivered steaming mugs of afternoon coffee to the male artisans in the family’s pottery workshop. But that was me as a twenty-one-year-old college student, raised as a feminist, making a choice to take on roles that I wouldn’t have adopted if I’d been home in the U.S. And now that I’m here with my own daughters I realize how much I don’t want them to embrace those same roles, not at all. I look at Didier. “No,” I say, furrowing my brow and pushing out my lips, my body reclaiming the sanvicenteña gestures it learned two decades ago. “I’m not jealous.” “What about Donny?” he asks. My lips shoot out again. “No.” Didier raises his eyebrows, unconvinced. “Daniel told me that Stella was doing some move yesterday,” Heilin says. “And that all the boys tried it, but none of them could do it.” She shakes her head, smiling. I know which move she’s talking about, and I can picture Daniel and his friends trying not to look impressed as Stella flips the soccer ball up behind her, arcing it over her head—a girl’s head—in a perfect rainbow. Last summer, she spent hours and hours at the tennis courts near our house practicing. Donny happened to catch her first successful rainbow on video, and I’ve watched it over and over, mesmerized by the way she gracefully flips the ball over her head and then turns to Donny with that huge smile, her arms pumping the air as Donny’s laughing voice yells, “You got it!” I want to say to Didier, “See. She can hold her own. She can kick their butts.” But I don’t.
It’s our fifth day in San Vicente when my goddaughter Diana comes to visit. Diana is seventeen years old and she’s beautiful—tall, slender, with high cheekbones and a wide smile. She arrives carrying a toddler on her hip. The toddler, Estéfani, is her one-and-a-half-year old. I have been such a poor godmother to Diana that I didn’t even know she had a baby until we arrived in Costa Rica. Sara and Didier picked us up at the airport in Liberia, and as we drove the 60 miles to San Vicente, hot wind whipping our hair across our faces, they regaled me with gossip. But when they told me about Diana, I almost started to cry. 12
“She wasn’t even fifteen when she got pregnant,” Sara said. “No. That can’t be,” I said. Diana was just a kid. How could she be a mother? I glanced at my daughters, who were sitting next to me in the back seat. Zoë was exhausted from the long trip, her eyes slowly opening and closing. Stella was staring out the window, taking in the parched hills, the small towns, and the fruit stands on the side of the road. I felt lightheaded with the realization that Diana had been only a few years older than Stella when she’d had sex, when she got pregnant, and I was grateful that neither of my girls could understand what we were talking about. Now, as I sit next to Diana on the couch, I want to tell her I’m sorry for being such a shitty godmother. It’s not that I think being more involved would have made her immune to teenage pregnancy; but still, I was almost completely absent from her life. Now we’re strangers and I’m filled with regret. Regret for her and for me and for her twin sister, Ana, my other goddaughter, who died of a sudden infection seven years ago. I tickle Estéfani’s arm and Diana tells her to give me a kiss. Estéfani glances at me, gives me a coy smile and shakes her head. “Mañana,” she says. Tomorrow. Stella and Zoë try to hold Estéfani, but she wiggles away from them to scoot herself across the tile. She spies an abandoned piece of hard candy on the floor in the corner and pops it into her mouth. Diana jumps up, fishes it out, and gently scolds her daughter. Her daughter. It’s hard for me to get my mind around it. Zoë looks between Diana and Estéfani. She looks between Diana and me. She looks back at Estéfani. I think she is trying to piece together who this young woman and her child are to me, and more importantly, who they are to her. I don’t realize she is also trying to figure out how an unmarried teenager can be someone’s mother. When I go into the kitchen to get Diana a glass of water, Zoë follows me, cornering me by the sink. “Mom.” “Mm hmm?” I turn around, and she’s staring up at me, her eyes earnest. She motions me closer and I bend down. “Mom, I thought you had to be married to have a baby.” I glance from Zoë to the water in my hand. “Weeeell,” I say, stalling. Then I nod in the direction of the other room. “Let’s talk about it later.” When I lived in San Vicente, Diana’s mother, Clara, and I were close friends, and when she asked if I’d be a godmother to her twins, I immediately said yes. By the time the girls were born, I was back in the U.S., but I flew down to Costa Rica for their baptism. I arrived very pleased with the matching pink cotton dresses I’d
brought as gifts, but when I pulled the dresses from my suitcase to show Betty and Sara, Betty said, “Where are the other dresses?” “What other dresses?” “For the baptism.” “What do you mean?” I asked, but even as the words left my mouth, I realized I had somehow screwed up. “The godmother always buys the baptismal gowns.” I put a hand to my forehead. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” Betty shrugged. “I thought you knew. Everyone knows.” I had been raised Presbyterian. I didn’t have godparents. Clearly I didn’t know the rules. And since this was before you could simply Google “Costa Rican Catholic Baptism Godmother Etiquette,” Ana and Diana were baptized in pink cotton dresses. The priest, I learned later, was more than a little irritated with me. I tell this—my first failure as a godmother—to Stella and Zoë after Diana has left to catch the bus to the next town over, where she lives with the family of Estéfani’s father. “Someone should have told you,” Stella says, immediately indignant on my behalf. I shrug. “I guess I should have asked.” “That’s not fair,” Stella says, her brow furrowed. “Mom,” interrupts Zoë, who couldn’t care less about the baptismal gowns. “I thought you had to be married to have a baby.” We’ve talked about how babies are made, but she doesn’t seem to remember, and I’d rather not get into it right now. “You can have a baby when you’re not married,” I say. “But it’s better to be married.” I pause. “And at least thirty years old.” Luckily Sol comes in and drags Zoë outside to play, so the conversation is over for now. But the next day, I can’t get Diana out of my mind. I worry about what’s in store for her. She’s still in school, which is a very good thing. She drops Estéfani off with her grandmother in the mornings on her way to the high school in another nearby town, picks her up on the way home. But after high school? What is she going to do? I don’t know her boyfriend, but I’ve heard he steps out with other girls while she stays home with their daughter at his parents’ house. It fills me with sadness. I mention this to Betty later, and her face takes on a pained expression. “Viera, Katty, que tristeza. It’s so sad. Es que no le cuidaban.” They didn’t look after her, watch her. And when you don’t watch your daughters closely enough they get pregnant when they’re fourteen? I bristle. My daughters are off playing somewhere; I’m not 14
sure where. All I know is that I’m definitely not watching them. I want to talk about the fact that girls are smart and strong and can make healthy choices. I begin to feel a chasm form between how much I love this village and this family and what I want not only for my own daughters but also for Sol, for Diana, for Estéfani. Now that I am a mother to girls, can this place ever be my home again? Was it ever?
I’d been living in San Vicente for over a year when one evening Sara and I went for a walk and ended up at the abandoned open-air café adjacent to my host family’s house. There were two boys there—boys we liked, boys with whom we’d danced at various fiestas—so we sat down at a picnic table to talk. When we walked into the house later, my host father, Chano, was staring at the television, his face set. He didn’t respond when I said goodnight. I could tell he was seething. Sara and I got ready for bed without a word. I assumed his anger had to do with the boys, boys he didn’t like, boys who were known drinkers. But direct communication wasn’t encouraged, so I figured I’d learn what was bothering him from Betty the following day. What she told us the next morning was that Chano saw me lying on top of one of the boys on the picnic table in the café. “What?” I asked, incredulous. Betty shrugged. “That’s what he said.” The ridiculousness of it infuriated me. I had been carefully protecting my reputation the whole time I’d lived in San Vicente. I avoided any behavior—especially promiscuous behavior—that would brand me a stereotypical American. Even if I’d wanted to lie on top of one of those boys, I wouldn’t have, much less in front of Sara on a table in a café a few feet from the main road through town. How could he think I’d do that? Sara verified my story—the truth—but it didn’t matter. Chano believed only what he thought he’d seen. We didn’t talk to each other for days, our mutual fury thick and unspoken. It was enough to make me want to pack my bags, abandon the life-history research I’d been doing, and go home. Finally, several weeks later, when one day it was just Chano and I in the living room, he brought it up. I don’t remember exactly what we said; I just remember that I told him that he was wrong, that I didn’t do that, that I wouldn’t do that. “I know what I saw,” he growled. “You’re mistaken,” I insisted, angry tears in my eyes. But I knew I would never convince him. 15
“Katty,” he said, waving his arm. “You have an education and a profession. You can leave. You can take care of yourself. Sara doesn’t have that.” It felt as if he’d slapped me. Did he think I was a bad influence on his daughter? It was true that I was always trying to drag Sara out of the house, on a walk, to the pulpería for a snack, to dances in nearby towns. Was I a bad influence? In that moment I knew it didn’t matter how well I could dance the piratiado, spinning and dipping across a dance floor. It didn’t matter that my arms had grown strong from washing my clothes on a slab of cement. I was not a sanvicenteña. I could pick up any time I wanted and head home. I also realized that Sara couldn’t. This was before Sara went back to school to get her teaching degree, long before she had a way to support herself and a child of her own. So I understood his concern. But what I didn’t understand—what I still don’t—is how he couldn’t know his daughter well enough to know that she wouldn’t be so easily influenced by someone else’s behavior. As if she’d see me lying on top of some guy and quickly follow suit. As if she weren’t smart enough to make up her own mind.
I tally the ways San Vicente has changed since I lived here two decades ago: a housing project on the edge of town, the eco-museum, the new grocery store, more traffic, cell phones and Facebook in everyone’s palms, and, quite unfortunately, karaoke in the town dance hall every Saturday night. But as the days slowly unfold, I realize how much has not changed. Cows still meander through yards, plucking fuchsia blooms from bushes with their teeth. Women still sweep and mop cement floors each morning, still flatten corn masa into perfect discs for tortillas cooked over an open flame. Many men still drink too much on Saturday nights, stumbling home early in the morning smelling of sweat and cerveza. And there is still a place for girls and women (in the house) and one for men (anywhere they want). Right now Zoë and Sol are more alike than different—two young girls with ice cream on their faces, dirt coating their flip-flopped feet, giggling in the hot sun. But what will they be like in two years, in ten? Stella moves freely from the house to the plaza and back, something that already sets her apart from sanvicenteñas her age—something I hope she’ll always do here, even when she understands it’s not culturally acceptable. Because I want both of them to walk confidently in the world, to believe in themselves, be proud of their minds and bodies, to trust their
instincts. And of course I want them to be healthy, happy, and safe. These are the same things that Sara wants for Sol and Diana wants for Estéfani, aren’t they? I guess I’m still scribbling in my notebooks, trying to parse out the ways we are different from one another and the ways we are the same. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it never has.
It’s early evening, but already dark. It’s our second-to-last night in San Vicente and I’m both ready to leave and know I’ll never be ready. We are walking down the road, heading back to the house after a visit with Betty’s mother. The sky above us is filled with stars. They are different stars from the ones we see at home in Minnesota, or rather some are different and some are the same, only in different positions. Here the Big Dipper is upside down, stars spilling from its cup like milk across the universe. I almost point out the upside-down Dipper to Stella and Zoë—it could be a metaphor after all—but I don’t. Anyway, though the Dipper is facing up in Minnesota right now, I know it will shift as the seasons change. And as much as I’m beginning to understand San Vicente can’t be home to my girls, at least not the way it was for me, not right now, I desperately want them to be at home here. So I say nothing and instead slow my pace to match Betty’s, looping my arm through hers. The air smells faintly of smoke, and I glance up at the hills, which glow with wildfires that stretch their orange fingers to the south, toward the town of Nambí. Until the rainy season begins, still a month away, they will continue to burn, leaving scorched earth in their wake. I lean into Betty, this second mother of mine, and she pats my arm as we carefully make our way down the road. Each time a car or motorcycle passes, powdery dust billows up and envelops us, and I hold my breath until the air clears.
F. Daniel Rzicznek from Leafmold The last sunset could be a Dolly Varden made-up for the spawn or the thick, blanketing aroma of pine pollen or the simmering thrum of an outboard or the tremolo swells of the bugs or the high-up chuckle of an eagle or the smooth abrasion of a pen scripting characters or the hands of two figures waving from a small, old boat nosing through rocks or the slip of nylon and wool or all the smog in China or the laughing gull now quiet or the lightning-black stump with a clothespin in it or a red crab trying to eat a stillborn alligator or the snowâ€™s weird code tapping your windshield while a passing plow sparks the road or everything coming out as one whole piece all of the time now or a stuffed macaw in the corner of a burgundy parlor or the greasy, long-worn ball cap you tossed in a campfire and how it melted or the orange and black beetles busy dismantling the corpse of a bat or the air moving through the clouds in enormous handfuls or the glint from a faraway mirror, a strangerâ€™s sunglasses or the struggle of a worm in the cold rain or Orion somehow upside down in the sky or eternityâ€™s brevity or a last, seemingly endless sunset.
F. Daniel Rzicznek from Leafmold Dear Jack Miner: monstrosities in silhouette suggest a waterline separated from kin by naturalists. How shall we die today? You hunted sans hat, red hair flourishing in the wind you rose to from the blind, knee-level in geese. Ruins have determined more than a few things about variance in color of bills and feet. Metallic bees wheezing near the poles: the way you say what you say about your god. Silent weeks on the north shore of Erie except for the birds returning and returning to your pocket. Wounded ones, or with angel wing, a gradual crippling via bread, the sparrows and jays busy anting in the serrated trees. Even the Gulf of Mexico sends grey interlopers. This moth, wings closed, is dead bark. Wings open, an orangeand-white-on-black beckoning to a better half. Who was it for you? Heads-of-state trying to stare down the lake? Gypsy moths in the habit of ragged establishment? The voice you heard in the marsh has never finished a sentence: not ridiculing, not rakish or hoarse, just ongoing, neither domesticated nor organic, lacking in nothing but probabilityâ€”a mongrel with a collar, the sea at winter, a purring like something at work and undivided.
F. Daniel Rzicznek from Leafmold You see them tying off to a strong root at the lakeshore, hauling their catch from the boat over a shoulder. One of them chooses a place for a fire and you hear the sounds of another in the trees gathering fuel. They walk right through you, coughing as they pass, pausing halfway into your body, the same space the chair you rock in occupies. One is done with the cleaning: organs, pink and blue, sliding on wet stones, mist hovering between the troughs of waves. You spend the rest of your day deciding if what you have seen happened a thousand years in the past or another thousand in the future. Child warrior, child ruler—never meant to be. There is a part of this place deemed unnavigable. Sweeping the boards for how many times now? The clouds insist on the day’s specimen of slate light. The difficulty is not with solitude but with anticipating what to do when the solitude breaks. No past tense for greed. The spider’s trick is to remain still and be mistaken for a knot in the woodgrain: the face that launched a thousand shrieking housewives. Big pot of beans, canned greens, onions, tomatoes, razor-thin garlic, leftover rice. A dozen winters float by in the time it takes to simmer. The rock you sit on to eat was formed just minutes ago.
F. Daniel Rzicznek from Leafmold Dear Whitman: youâ€™re still out there on the horizon, stumping for ferns, quartz, deadfall. Any shiny object in the distance compels you to pull on your boots and investigate. A trick of the eye or some glorious flotsam? Trick of the light: wavewet stones in the sun. Footfalls in the boundless abandoned rookery. The tossed aside bottle of picaridin frightens and fascinates you. You can hear the boat-hulls slapping the waves at a surprising range, the heads and waving arms through damaged binoculars. Significant as a chamber of limestone, the minerals and materials of men turn through you: lambent, percolating, haughty, solemn. Your heart is a perch of shale, a once-ancient dune now contemporaneous with shore and drift. Sausage, potatoes, onion, canned greens: down the hatch and off you go chanting against premature death, eddies of theme vaporized into virtuous distortions. Far from here the candidates are counting their money and talking about how much they do or do not have. You slip into song as always, drawn close by both wheat and blood to what remains of the weatherâ€™s spiritual products. A sparrow trills in a passing bush. A sunrise alights on your shoulder, this place floating by like so much fire.
F. Daniel Rzicznek from Leafmold The last sunrise could be all in your head. Still white caps, red cliffs and sweeping the boards. Some triumphant birdsong. People in planes on long high-altitude flights may or may not feel like this. Tarpon following the Gulf Stream may or may not. Part of home: the dog may or may not be sad when he wakes briefly as you cross the room. He looks sad. And you knew the witâ€™s end was such a lush, beautiful place? Too many old songs in the mind today to count. A subject can be withheld only until the audience is one moment from turning away and walking off to get lunch. The message deployed to the point of miraculous arrival. Hiding in the trees from the jet-skiers, for example. The self delivered from distraction to monotony. The work stalled out in fact becomes honorable. Bought with a price, freed from the crater within only to come to in an actual crater: black and orange beetles tunneling in the walls, root-ends of distance tangling in your hair. Dressed up for no one every evening. Pacing to shake off the bugs. Headed out into the water now to find whatever can be seen. The smallest fish on the planet at the moment. Boots that feel like eels eating your legs. The closing door inside the gullâ€™s thin voice.
Paige Menton Crease I tried to capture a spent hibiscus bloom in a drawing, not so much the duskiness, but the retraction, the billows of line leading bees to its collapsed center, now falling over each other, gathered like the skirts my mother wore to dances, piled in the trunk for Goodwill
Hilary King Our Failure of Paris At Notre Dame, outside Versaille, hawkers sell the city, shake handfuls of tiny Eiffel Towers in our faces. You like? You like? We donâ€™t like. We are not enjoying Paris the way we dreamed we would. Our centrally-located apartment is too centrally-located, our small children too small, our meals not incredible. Friday afternoon, three days in, I collapse, fall asleep on the white duvet of our bed. Wake to the sound of a saxophone coming in through the open window. Beneath the music, laughter, and chatter, reminding me that we are in Paris, we are hungry, we are awake, To eat, we need only step outside ourselves.
Eric Lehman Pocket Water When Ernst saw the river for the first time he cried. He and his first wife were touring Quebec and they had turned inland from the gannet coast, leaving behind its small white houses and sparkling sunlit bay. The interior road followed a wide river, and immediately he craned his neck at the perfect fly-fishing paradise, with delightful riffles and channels, no-more-than chest deep, winding out of the dark pine hills. “Stop the car!” he cried, and his wife dutifully pulled over. He got out and took photos, looking longingly at the rod case in the back seat, but knew the regulations were both obtuse and strict here. Reluctantly, he slumped back into the passenger seat. Around the next bend another perfect slice of trout river appeared. Then another. And another. For miles and miles the river flowed out of the central plateau at exactly the right angle, with the perfect width, the perfect rocks, and behind each one a waiting salmon or trout. He literally started to cry, and his wife laughed. Though their problems went back further and deeper, he always dated the inevitable divorce from that moment. When he found romance again he made sure she loved fishing. Brought up in an old Long Island family, Anise had gone out for bluefish and tuna since her pigtail days, and happily joined him, casting a trout fly into Connecticut’s Farmington River and paddling out into Lake Winnipesaukee to troll for pike. After one long summer fishing together, he asked her to marry him. Divorced herself, Anise seemed wary at first, but agreed to a small justice of the peace ceremony in the New Haven courthouse. She was taller and stronger than his first wife, with long tanned arms and sturdy ankles that never turned on the uneven rock bottoms of trout streams. He joked that she could beat him at wrestling, but they never tested it. She could certainly outrun him. “Stop watching TV,” she often told him. “Let’s go for a walk.” It’s not that he was weak, but his stomach had started its middle-aged spread, and his asthma often caught him unaware. He ended each day exhausted and happy. It was difficult to adjust to fishing with a partner in other ways, too. He struggled to give up the best runs and holes to his new companion. The joy on her face when she pulled in a fat trout was beautiful, but he had been surprised to find himself jealous, wishing that he had been the one to cast over that particular pool.
Mostly, those feelings passed, however, and the compensations were well worth the trouble of halving the catch. They did not plan a honeymoon, having “given up” such romantic ideals in their middle age, but secretly that perfect Canadian river kept rippling through his head. He imagined casting his line across a sunlit section of riffle into the surface of a deep dark pool. The rising trout, the tug on the line, the struggle and the victory. Imagined kissing his new wife while surrounded by the rushing water’s tumble, hip deep in its cool embrace.
He planned the trip in secret, other than telling her to take a week off from work. At summer’s end he packed their equipment and drove all the way through New England in a state of manic anticipation. Anise remained calm, as usual, taking her turn at the wheel casually, driving fast but steady into the Canadian landscape. He had taken the wheel back close to the river so that she could “get the full impact.” And she did, gasping and clucking over the miles and miles of trout fishing paradise. She didn’t cry, but he nearly did, choking up at the thought of the years it had taken to get back to this place with the right person. Through an arcane system of fishing rights, their lodge owned this entire stretch of river. This kept the locals from fishing it and tourist money rolling in. Three days of angling cost them as much as a plane ride and hotel in California. They checked in and brought their luggage into the log-paneled room. They arrived just in time to catch the end of dinner and a meeting with a guide at 8 pm. Ernst wolfed down salt cod and potatoes, nearly shaking with excitement. Back in the room they studied the printed plan, which including a map of eighty miles of river with over 100 pools. Another index suggested specific flies for each area during each month. Many sections were guided though some were not. Ernst had arranged to be guided the first day – eight hours of fishing split into morning and evening – then for he and Anise to be alone on the river the next two days. Firm guidelines prevented fishing all day or leaving your assigned sector.
The next morning in the pine needle parking lot, a man in a large, floppy hat greeted them. “I’m Pierre,” he said. “You are going to have a wonderful day.” He waved them into a small car, which he steered along the purple fireweed path to the main road, heading down a gentle slope toward the sea. They passed fishermen, some carrying canoes, but most standing on the side of the road in neoprene waders, 26
squinting in the early morning light. Pierre hummed and pointed out particularly beautiful sections of the river until the hills finally dropped away and they pulled into a graveled berm almost within sight of the coast. “This is so far down,” Ernst said, trying not to sound like he was complaining. “Yes, yes, but each section is perfect in its own way. And I noted that tomorrow you will be farther up. It is good to get many views of Quebec.” Ernst nodded, and Anise said something pleasant as they put on their vests and waders. The land here was not flat, not hilly, with a cabin on the opposite bank, and a log jam at one bend, piled high on the shingle. In the river orange, gray or greenish rocks crossed with solid white lines broke the crystal-clear water. Pierre took Anise into the river, slowly stepping into the rush, chatting softly, pointing to a section of pocket water. Was he actually flirting with her? Ernst chuckled. He took his single-handed rod, with nine-foot leader, tippet, and salmon steelhead fly line. He tied a clinch knot then dipped a hand into his vest pocket and pulled out a small plastic box. Inside, lay a blue olive, a Royal Wulff, a bucktail caddis. Nymphs like Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear, Bitch Creek, and Green Damsel. He had never gone to the trouble to tie his own flies, yet insisted he was still a purist. He only used the best flies, and knew he couldn’t hope to tie those himself. Being a saltwater fisherwoman, Anise didn’t care. After all she didn’t carve her own lures. He began swinging wet flies, covering each pool, searching for the sea-run brook trout and twenty-pound salmon advertised by the lodge. He moved slowly out to a meadowed island with one lonely pine, which he circumnavigated, casting into the adjacent water. Pierre looked up from chatting with Anise. “Try under the outcrop ledge there,” he called, waving Ernst toward the northern edge of their assigned section. Why there? Ernst shook his head. Nevertheless, he stepped out of the cold liquid onto the shore and walked through the brush to the north. He took out an ultra-realistic grasshopper, pitched it to the outcrop and gently jumped it off onto the water’s surface. A fish rose, but failed to take it. He tried again. Again the fish, a large salmon, failed to swallow the hopper. He switched to a dry fly, holding a loop and then shooting the line all the way across the river, trying to land the fly gently on the surface. His feet accustomed themselves to the free stone bottom, and he kicked up less silt, but still didn’t catch anything. Downriver he could see Pierre sitting on the gravel island smoking, while Anise fiddled with her graphite rod and floating lime-green line, heavier than they usually used. She spent ten minutes mending the tippet, and he couldn’t help
glancing her way. Was she having a good time? This was the greatest day of his life – surely she must be feeling it, too? The hours passed quickly, and soon Pierre was motioning them back to the car. Anise had a trout and a salmon to her credit, but Ernst had caught nothing. They tried to take a nap in the afternoon, which led to some desultory lovemaking. “I’m thinking about getting out on the river again,” he apologized. She laughed, kindly. “Me, too.” After tea at the lodge they decided to suit up for the evening’s fishing, but a light fog turned into rain, pouring down so heavily that they decided not to go out. Most of the other patrons decided to stay in the lodge too, playing cards or reading, all of them periodically glancing out the windows until real darkness descended. Anise and Ernst went back to their cabin, after the lodge discounted their meal in order to supposedly alleviate disappointment. “I’m sure you’ll get one tomorrow.” She stroked the side of his head. “Sure.” He paused. “I’m really excited that you got two, though, honey.”
The next morning he dragged himself out of bed at 4:30, and as he and Anise pulled on their equipment, light began to filter over the hills to the east. They stumbled out into the chilled air where four men already sat in a white van. “Where to?” “Section 41 today.” The driver scribbled on a clipboard. Two more men sauntered out of the lodge, sipping coffee. They took the last two seats and the driver pulled out of the gravel drive, light classical music tinkling from the van’s CD player. Barely half mile down the road, the driver stopped and called “41.” Surprised, they apologized their way out of the van. The driver handed them a bucket and a small soft cooler. “Breakfast,” he said brightly and slid the door closed. The path to the river led through a small patch of forest, and they emerged at a picnic table, where they left the cooler and bucket. The river curved around this forest, and the far side dropped sharply into the water, a twenty-foot cliff with some small clinging pines. The rocks in this section were mostly underwater, though he could see them well enough anticipating areas to cast. “Let’s split up,” Anise said. “I’ll start here and work down, and you start at the north edge and work back down here. “Sounds good.” She smiled and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Have fun.” 28
He began walking but quickly encountered a thick wall of bushes. He tried to go around them in the water, but at that spot erosion had created a scooped wall impossible to descend. Frustrated he hiked in the other direction taking a full ten minutes to find and navigate his way past the brush tangle. By now Anise had been fishing for fifteen minutes, he thought. It was another five before he saw another fisherman far off up the river at what he assumed was section 42. Where was the border, so to speak? Without a guide he was not so sure. He moved to the stream, but again found he couldn’t get down. He continued for another fifty yards before he could get into the stream. He could see the other fisherman clearly now, and the man could see him, too. In fact, he was looking at Ernst with binoculars. Maybe he had gone too far into the next section. He waved and shrugged an apology then turned away, swinging wet flies, covering each pool before wading back south. An hour passed without a strike, and he found himself close to the picnic table path, where Anise stood, blowing kisses, holding up a brace of trout. He felt the sting of last night again, but shoved it down. Once he reached the shore, they shared bagels, orange juice, and hot coffee. “Where were they?” he asked. “Oh, I’ll show you. There’s a whole pod of them behind a big rock.” “The north section seems pretty dead.” He shrugged. “It’s a pain to get up there. Lots of heavy brush.” “Ugh, sorry, honey. We’ll switch after I show you that rock.” “Great,” he said. “Fair warning, though. I couldn’t find a good path. I might have strayed into the next section.” “Okay, I’ll be careful.” Bagels done, they put apples in their vest pockets and Anise led him to the river. “There,” she whispered, pointing at a spot downstream. Ernst nodded and pinched his line, tying on the dry fly the guides had recommended. His arm moved from 10 to 2, again, again, drawing more line, and then he landed it upstream, letting it float past the rock. He pulled up the rod sharply as soon as he felt the take. Anise waited until he reeled in the large salmon then scooped it up into her net. “Great guide work, honey,” he said, and she smiled. “See you soon.” She patted his shoulder and slowly moved up into the bank. He watched her carry the netted fish back to the others in the bucket. Like she had caught it herself. Which she pretty much had. He fished for the next hour and finally caught another on his own, a small
salmon with a red eye. As time ran out in the morning session, he became increasingly frantic and probably scared away any possible strike. Back at the lodge they gave their salmon and trout to the cook and had lunch. Then they took a nap in preparation for the evening session. “Afternoon tea” followed, and then the shuttle dropped them back at section 41. “It’s still too light out.” “Yes, but maybe the fish are ready to bite again.” They weren’t and neither of them caught anything that evening. When they returned to the lodge the concierge ushered them into an office, where a severe looking Canadian with a moustache greeted them. “I’m sorry to say, but we’ve had a complaint about you.” “What? What about?” “The gentleman fishing section 42 today claims that you were well into his territory.” Ernst thought back to the man with the binoculars. “Oh, well, there was no place to get down the bank so I had to walk up a way before I could get into the river.” The moustache nodded. “Sorry, so did you fish his section?” “Well, I turned downstream right away. I didn’t see any signs.” “Next time walk back up the road if you’re not familiar with the stream. The signs are on the edges of each section, not the middle.” “The edges?” “No one told us that,” said Anise. “Didn’t a guide take you out yesterday?” “Yes, of course,” said Ernst. “Well, you should have learned that then. Listen, we’re not the police or anything, but we’re going to have to levy a small fine.” “How small?” “Fifty.” Ernst gave a strangled bark. “I paid good money for this…” “And so did the other gentleman.” “Really,” Anise said. “No one told us and I think you could have a sign or something down by the picnic table with instructions.” “Most of the sections don’t have a picnic table.” Ernst rolled his eyes. What the hell? “At any rate,” the man continued. “Is it true you caught a fish in the other territory?” Ernst bristled, ready to argue. “Yes, but I put it back,” Anise said. She looked at her husband. “It was a small fish.” 30
“Still,” the man said officiously, now in charge of the conversation again. “There will have to be a fine. Sorry about that.” He stood up and offered a hand, which they limply shook. Ernst didn’t say anything more to Anise about the throwback fish, and neither did she. At dinner, they drank two bottles of wine while they commiserated over the terrible signage and unfair Canadian regulations. Probably too loudly, as other diners eyed them.
The next day they were taken farther up the canyon, to one of the last few sections, where the steep pine-clad hills closed in toward the central plateau. The lone road had been squeezed between the river and the eastern hill, and the bank dropped straight into the water. The steep eroding ravine beyond the green tangle of bushes and low shingle of rocks looked like a Montana canyon, though the river itself still flowed as gently as an English chalk stream. The few deciduous trees on the steep hump of a mountain had already faded to yellow, and the chill air caused them both to shiver. They eased into the stream, talking softly about strategy. Deep runs and shallow riffles alternated as the canyon widened and narrowed. The trout would be in their feeding lies, and he thought he’d try a nymph. They had no bucket today, because there really wasn’t room for it. They were on their own, “fishing the old ways,” Anise said, chuckling. They separated, and moved up and down the ravine. As a cloud changed the light, he could see a pod of trout behind a big rock. He was backed up against the trees, and tried a roll cast. Fish on, and a huge one! Patiently he reeled it in, then laid the salmon on the shingle in a creel filled with ferns. While doing this, he saw Anise catch a beautiful silver trout. They smiled at each other. Then a whoofing snort brought up their heads. What the hell? Near the far corner of a hill, a black shadow shifted in the sunlight. Coming closer and closer. A bear. Ernst’s mouth gaped. Of course they were deep in the wilderness of Quebec, but he had never even thought of this as a possibility. “Shit, we just got started and now this.” “Don’t pay any attention to him, Ernst. Just keep fishing. He’s not interested in us.” She casually tossed out her line again. “I know, but…” He watched the huge black bear shuffle along the steep slope, slipping a little, kicking dirt down into the water. It wasn’t looking at him, at least. But it was coming and headed straight for his salmon lying on the shingle. “That bastard,” he huffed. 31
Then the huge black pile of fur slipped, crashing over a bush and splashing into the water. Anise didn’t move, reeling in line, watching the animal out of the corner of her eye. The bear shook itself, spraying water. Then ambled onto the dry rock, put a possessive paw on the bag, and looked at the two humans as if asking permission. Seeing no reaction, it ripped the cloth creel apart, grabbed the fish with its teeth, and began to chew. Ernst ground his own teeth, glancing back and forth between Anise and the bear. She moved slowly, step by step, further away from it, up the canyon. Ernst backed up the opposite direction, splashing, angry he was scaring the fish away, slipping on loose gravel. He found a spot on the bank that led up to the road, and as he left the water, he could see the bear tearing his fish off its chain, slurping up great hunks of skin and muscle. “Damnit,” he muttered. Then he heard a car door slam, and two excited voices above him on the road. “Look at it eat!” A tourist couple peered down the slope at Ernst. “Hey, did that bear just eat your fish?” “Yes,” said Ernst. “The bastard.” “Hey, man, bear’s gotta eat, too,” the woman said. He smiled wanly. The man looked upstream. “That your wife? She’s still out there fishing?” “Hard core,” the woman said. “Why are you out here?” Ernst bit his tongue. “Never mind, honey, we’ve got our photo,” said the man. They hopped back into their running car, and sped up the road. Ernst struggled up the steep bank and slowly walked along the road to the spot above where Anise continued fishing. The bear remained on the rocky shingle, licking its paws. “Hey, maybe get out of there, honey?” She glanced up at him, and at the bear. “I think it’s okay.” “You’ve got a fish in your vest.” “He’s not going to come near us. These aren’t grizzlies.” “Well, he certainly has learned to steal like one.” “It’s just being a bear, nothing we can do about it.” She shrugged. “Go a little way up there and catch another.” “Easy for you to say.” Anise tilted her sunglasses. “Don’t be such a whiner.”
Ernst stalked north up the road away from both bear and wife, furious now. He stared down at the water, up at the hills, and back at the bear. It lolled on the rocks, looking as if it was going to take a nap now. Ernst was about to slide into the water when he realized heâ€™d forgotten his rod back on the bank where the couple had taken their picture. He walked back down the road, refusing to look at Anise, passing the lolling bear and recklessly jumping down the bank. When he picked up the rod, it fell apart in two pieces. Split. Damn it, had he stepped on it? His brain filled with fire and he splashed into the river, shouting at the bear. The beast stood on its hind legs and stared at him, irritated. Behind him, Ernst could hear Anise screaming, and it made him happy. He swung the broken rod around like a sword, and charged forward.
Jennifer Davis Kentucky Haiku Razor blades of grass snipped clean at their midsections smell like Kentucky. A girl finds Jesus, loses her virginity, misses her mother. Concrete porches with wooden swings suspended by rusted-out chains are the ballrooms of the Bluegrassâ€™s most revered: the common neighbors. Fireflies, spark bugs, nightâ€™s most reliable guests, dance with bats and children.
Nicole Stockburger Cornscateous Air July 10th “Time in July when the air is damp and warm…ideal for growing corn.” —The Farmer’s Almanac I have a new skin from a thousand passes under the sun. I move through the old barn thick with pine boards, feed the hens, collect what the wind has tossed careless across the fields. Beneath Cumberland Knob, the cattle’s clenched udders, burning evening cut by vultures, grasshoppers, wrens, all sift through my arms. The wind soaks my clothes and our rows of corn darken their silks. I am bound by what is boundless in these milk-less hills stirring with cicadas—their beats of wings dying for water. In seconds before the storm breaks the bottomland, drops prick the soil, beg to touch clover, lamb’s quarters, robins, deer, garter snakes hidden in the rafters, and my body full of brush and dust. I walk to the hill, weave around stalks and the spirit pours down.
FOLIO CONTEST AWARD
Donna Steiner Shoring Up This World The ship can be spooky at night, its tempo altered and changeable; on deck feels one speed, below another. Some nights I hear sounds of weeping, some nights go for a smoke, the lucidity of constellations enough to settle me down, help me imagine shapes that donâ€™t actually exist, help me bend a part to fit the engine that is older than every man on board. To recall a journey I heard, begin with its ghosts.
Folio Contest â€” 2nd Place from Engineer Poems
Donna Steiner Resurrection Me and my buddy skydived over Maui, men strapped to our backs in some new intimacy. We said amazing, awesome, meant beautiful. Have missed Christmas, all the birthdays. Now it’s Easter; we’ll do some fun thing meant to distract the guys who miss their kids – shoot fireworks off the deck or light up the pipe. The world brings so much and I give little. But under the skin things happen; I turn as translucent as eggs of cuttlefish. Light finds openings, the sea presses tender spots until the surface gives. I still feel that man on my back, remember how he taught me to fall.
Donna Steiner Gifts The girl keeps spices in sacks on a counter in the corner. Silt of turmeric, dust of cayenne. Her nails are edged with residue; her tongue tastes like ocher and fire. From port he smuggles scrolls of cinnamon, knobs of ginger; back on land he offers a bottle of anise stars as though presenting a new species of beetle or specimens of royal bone. When clouds descend he pulls tangerine peel from his pocket. It is not enough, but it is orange and smells burnt and real, like stilled wings of monarchs or the antlers of deer.
Conﬂuence, Itself MARJORIE SAISER
Conﬂuence, Itself is an archive of a life, of a grief. The speaker recalls and images a mother in numerous ways, artifact by artifact, in a catalogue of both absence and affection. She writes: each drawer and cupboard / we opened and pawed. We were / on a mission, swimming around / inside the sunken ship she left us, / divers wearing tanks, / carrying lights, staying long enough / to ascertain, swimming off, up. This is a grief the speaker “stays long” in, often becoming the mother herself, or a left behind version of her, such as in “Hambu “Hamburgers, Frying”: she was gorgeous and troubled and not boring. / Some people liked her and I am now // one of them. I stand sometimes, / hands on hips at the window // as she often did, and look toward where I cannot go. // The often short lines and uneasy breaks create a rhythm at once broken and suspended yet also pushing forward into the new space of the next line. A necessary holding to what came before and what is yet to come. These beautiful minimal elegies show us that what is left behind is not grief alone but also love, a love that is different than the love for the living, a love for those who are gone: a smile in the dark. —Natalie Diaz, Folio Award Judge
Marjorie Saiser I Don’t Know Which River I Am I started out where the Keya Paha flows into the Niobrara, where one becomes the other and the new is neither. That’s me, all my life, not quite this, not exactly that. Tolerance my father had in abundance. He could forgive. That water merged with bitter because my mother knew everybody had wronged her. I’m confluence itself. I want to be kind; I want to be right. Look out for me. I’ll run over you in the road but then I’ll brake and get out of my car, leave the door hanging open, run back, and hand you the keys.
Folio Contest — 1st Place Confluence, Itself
Marjorie Saiser Where I Keep You I keep you before the mirror ready to put on your Sunday shirt, or I stand you, holding a cup of coffee, at the window, staring at the gravel road. As long as I live you slide your warm arm into the cool starched sleeve, or you say angry words, or you are silent, punishing one another. I stand outside your galaxy and direct you, planets in orbit. What power the liar has, to fill the cup with coffee or the shirt with arms and torso or the house with argument. I feel wrong with this power and I feel right. Guilt is the gravel road which doesnâ€™t bring me, as it didnâ€™t bring you, satisfaction, its long straight edges unable, quite, to converge before they disappear into distant trees.
Marjorie Saiser My Mother The Child She didn’t get her hand stuck and chopped off in the corn picker; she didn’t make headlines that way but there must have been a day something happened to the unmarked child she was, something I can’t reach back and save her from, and it, or he, got her, wrung her turtle-dove heart or filled her mouth and eyes with fear, which drained away of course but which also settled, like the level of water in the aquifer, to influence what would flourish above the surface in the rows: cabbages big as washtubs, radishes waiting to be pulled up by the tops, onions sweet as apples, and yet it was there, sometimes shriveling the pears on the tree, not to be explained. The fruit remained small and an oriole moved among the empty branches.
Marjorie Saiser The Pasque Flower Opened Cold wind had blasted the county but when spring came, all was softness for my mother. She had dark hair and that fascinated my blonde father, that and her long legs so unlike all his sisters. She did not have shy eyes. Eager, even, after the dance at the town hall. Maybe she held him an extra moment, maybe she said yes because he was going to war and might not come back, flowers or no flowers, maybe he asked her in the words he had practiced in his room, alone, his sentence bowing like a blossom on a stem in a soft south wind.
Marjorie Saiser What I Learned From My Mother Tell a lie and then believe it Don’t talk to your sister for years Drink coffee all day Don’t buy fancy clothes Don’t compliment anybody; they‘ll get a big head Don’t trust the bank, the church, the post office Take every opportunity to use algebra If you are afraid you’ll forget where you stashed this or that, write yourself a note in shorthand; nobody knows shorthand much anymore Read the newspaper, keep tabs Do the crossword in ink Don’t say what you are thinking Don’t say what you are thinking Don’t say what you are thinking Don’t buy bananas at Martin’s Grocery Don’t forget what you think your friend said and don’t ever check it out to see what she meant Love your daughter so much all your life; she will know it someday after you are dead.
Marjorie Saiser She Went to the Fair In the maze and glitz and commerce of the fair she tried to be good company, like any girlfriend of her era, interesting, interested, and mostly succeeded, followed my father around, saw what he looked at. She didnâ€™t have to fake it at the draft horse competition, enthusiasm for the way a Percheron can move, stretch out, reach forward, arched neck, dark nostril, a ton of grace. An animal kept indoors, small stall, wooden walls to doze against, but then on command, for the judge, runâ€” float for a moment, haunch and hoof, over the manicured dust of the arena, over the captive life.
Marjorie Saiser I Put Off Apology, Mother We are innocents, both of us, now in separate worlds: you beyond apology. But I offer remorse anyway into the wind blowing tonight relentless, tearing at the citrus tree. It is heavy with green fruit, Mother, and will crack. Stop shaking and pushing further than wood can stand. Stop whipping my hair out long before me, streaming it back behind me, ruffling it into my face. What anger you had and could not act. Hair pulled back, beaten down on the skull, foolish girl, bad, shameful child. The wind beats my hair, changes, grabs me, would if it could, if it had arms, hold me against its old thin ribs.
Marjorie Saiser We Searched Our Motherâ€™s House For Money There was none or someone found it before we did. Wads of cash in a coffee can, the rumor had it. My sisters and I searched the basement; there was a stack of left-over lumber she might need for something, a soft dust over the shoulders of the jars she hadnâ€™t filled with fruit, a pile of worn-out jeans folded, ready if she needed them for patching. Small boxes of nails, crooked or straight, waiting for their project. Upstairs, each drawer and cupboard we opened and pawed. We were on a mission, swimming around inside the sunken ship she left us, divers wearing tanks, carrying lights, staying long enough to ascertain, swimming off, up. From her books, photos, her stash of copper bottom pots, her forks, we carried some piece away to place in our own vessel, the bits and particles we gather to surround us. 48
Marjorie Saiser Hamburgers, Frying She mashed each patty into size and flopped it into a cast iron skillet where it had to behave and shoulder up to its buddies without trying to be sirloin. She assigned motives as if she knew what people were thinking, no court of appeals. She salted and peppered, she had the buns ready, one big leaf of iceberg lettuce for each, and two pickles. She was lanky instead of dainty, and Irish instead of Hollywood. And yet, having said all this, I must also say she was gorgeous and troubled and not boring. Some people liked her and I am now one of them. I stand sometimes, hands on hips at the window as she often did, and look toward where I cannot go.
Marjorie Saiser She Didnâ€™t Want Another Dog You get attached she said and then they die. Too hard, the leaving. She left me and the leaving was hard, yes. The dog, expecting his due, jumps off the couch, comes to my chair, what a sparkle of waterfall he is, stretch and shiver and wag, and what can I do but rub his head and neck and down his spine. His ancestor began to be with my kind around a fire. He added not one twig to the flame. The bones under the slippery hide, their configuration, linkage. Heâ€™s caught by the hand rubbing his skull. The animal and I, eye contact, as if choosing this easily broken world.
Marjorie Saiser Music is Time My friend may be right when she says music is time because it doesnâ€™t exist after itâ€™s played, released into air, gone. If you remember it, if you think of the tune, then you are remaking, making anew. My father, that old softie, heâ€™s gone, walking no more the grass and pebbles under his pear trees, gone, leaf and globe, so I must make, configure, create the music of the green hard fruit, the twig, his steady footfall, his eyes their fading blue. My friend played Debussy for me, audience of one, I remember it, part of it, some cadences, a mood. My father walks a path in the trees; his hand lifts a low branch and he passes under.
Marjorie Saiser When Despair Woke Me When despair woke me in the night, the yard quiet, the moon not yet risen, the trees and sky waiting, I looked for the stars I knew, not many, naming some to try to comfort myself: little Rigel, red Antares, fuzzy Polaris, though each could already be a cinder or burning at such a distance as never to warm me, and I happened to think of her as if to bring up from the horizon what she said one day in particular, at the door to a very plain room long ago disassembled, existing nowhere anymore. One small set of words, each following each, rose in me and made me smile in the dark.
Marjorie Saiser This is Her Territory Not Mine
flestI ,ecneuﬂnoC RESIAS EIROJRAM I return to my mother’s childhood, the big yard in front of the farmhouse
where from the windows of the second story she might have seen me, her future, standing in mittens and a coat and I, looking up, might have seen her shadow behind the white curtain. It would soon be evening, it was winter,
she was young. Someone had sent her upstairs to the unheated room dna sllacer rekaeps ehT .feirg a fo ,efil a fo evihcra na si flestI ,ecneuﬂnoC htob fo eugolatac a ni ,tcafitra yb tcafitra ,syaw suoremun ni rehtom a segami where the vegetables were stored denepo ew / draobpuc dna reward hcae :setirw ehS .noitceffa dna ecnesba in sand in crocks in a line along the walls, neknus eht edisni / dnuora gnimmiws ,noissim a no / erew eW .dewap dna hguone gnol gniyats ,sthgil gniy rrac / ,sknat gniraew srevid / ,su tfel ehs pihs ,ni ”gnol syatold ts“ reher kaeto psgo ehget t feione rg aturnip si sihT and .pu ,three f fo gncarrots immiws ,niat recsa ot / and make it snappy. She might have ni sa hcus ,reh fo noisrev dniheb tfel a ro ,flesreh rehtom eht gnimoceb netfo / .gnirob ton dna delbuort dna suoegrog saw ehs :”gniy rF ,sregrubmaH“ / ,semitemospaused dnats Iat.mthe eht window fo eno // won ma I dna reh dekil elpoep emoS I erehw drawand ot kher ool small dna ,dhand id netfo ehs sa // wodniw eht ta spih no sdnah ecno ta mhtyhr a etaerc skaerb ysaenu dna senil trohs netfo ehT // .og tonnac txen eht fo ecmight aps wehave n ehtmoved otni drathe w rocurtain f gnihsupaside osla tey dednepsus dna nekorb esehT .emoc to ot look tey si down tahw dat name eroin febthe emyard, ac tahwaiting. w ot gnidloh y rassecen A .enil tub enola feirg ton si dniheb tfel si tahw taht su wohs seigele laminim lufituaeb esoht rof evoUnplanned l a ,gnivil ehgesture, t rof evohand l eht nand aht curtain tnereffid si taht evol a ,evol osla .krad eht ni elims a :enog era ohw and then back to her errand: her hand digging egduJ drawA oiloF ,zaiD eilataN— into the cold sand for what was stored there, finding and bringing up the root crop, her rich unadorned life.
Dan Jacoby inheritance farm all but gone still own it rent it to uncle sam now investment, not a way of life connection financial unfortunately not one formed by daily labor working the ground putting something in the ground making that come back out in patient time now no farmerâ€™s son puts plow to earth but the rich soil remains enriched by macoupin creeks itâ€™s called hagaman bottoms named for a town that has almost disappeared german settlers came when it was wilderness spent my summers before college working there before I went into the world to discover what it had to offer me cousins are out of farming also their old farmstead torn down itâ€™s true you know we never do really own the land we pass on, it remains left unattended it will go back to the way it was supposed to be
Kevin Boyle Once it Opens it Never Closes I didn’t understand the marketing premise Of offering free wine in the boutique shop Called The Fox and Grape until I cleansed my palate And drank the more expensive wines I would never buy, the owner speaking softly To not interrupt my pleasure, “This is, I hope, A bespoke red made for your tongue and nose.” It was from a country in Europe where the sun Must have lips and the soil its own fragrance Not of death and manure, but of a little touch placed Behind the ear where the owner whispered, “And now for our better wines,” and he took me By the hand into the back room, through velvet curtains So thick I couldn’t hear the sounds of the marketplace In the clothing store next door, only his voice Saying, “We never speak of tannins, only pleasure Here at the Fox and Grape, try this Barolo and Brunello, And you will taste the leather,” and I did taste leather Which I had never tasted before, and when he noted That I was chewing more than drinking really He said, “Slow down, everything good requires time, Here, sit, and lie down for a brief pause and we’ll resume In a moment.” On the ceiling were two angels peeling off, Making love, their wings both straight up, pointing To heaven, and he said they came from a monastery Mostly destroyed during the war, only this mural surviving, And he said, “We are lucky to be alive, sir.” I had become somewhat woozy, it was only past noon As I recalled, and when I finally left the store with A twelve pack of perhaps sangiovese, I felt for my wallet 55
As if it had been stolen, and I thought that maybe I would become an addict who cuts purses from older women Or steals wallets in the nightclubs where I began to look For pleasure at the oddest hours, but I never drank white wine, Only the reds that I would whisper to locals about Before I’d be removed from bars and tossed into the street where I’d look up And on clear nights see the constellations of angels: “More,” I’d cry out to them, though they knew my hunger, my thirst— My twin passions—would never now be satisfied.
Christopher Robey Brute Wisdom Wrapped in layers of fleece and a heavy coat, I went walking—not in a crusading spirit, as Thoreau would have insisted, but simply as a witness, hands deep in pockets, struck silent by the soft, spare luminousness of a winter day. It was early December. No snow had yet fallen, but a fiercely cold wind had been blowing. Above, the rippled cloud layer held the soft glow of a cataract sun— row after row, like wave-shaped sand or folds of rumpled wool, hung low as if bearing the weight of radiance. Higher up, the winds whipped the clouds into feathered trailing ends and carried them south. A break of sky appeared at the horizon’s edge. Spears of light shot through for just a heartbeat, then the clouds shifted—there for one radiant moment, then gone, joined with the dim, grey horizon. The wind picked up, flattening the broom sedge in waves. All around, the pines quivered as the wind whipped about their crowns. The clamor of their branches and stirring needles condensed into one oceanic roar, and I stood amidst the whirling noise awestruck, emptied of myself and yet filled by its blood-rushing sound. The pasture stilled again, and I stood listening as if for a heartbeat. Bear shivered and trotted ahead, then turned to me—one ear flopped, his broken tail quivering like a canted weather vane.
He lives for walks like these. He was just a puppy when Sue, my stepmom, found him—a small, shivering thing, so thin that rubbing his side was like strumming your fingers along a length of corrugated pipe. Now, he’s filled out, become sleek and sure-footed. He’d make a good hunting dog, given another year or two. We’re still uncertain of his breed, but I’d venture a guess that he’s at least descended from a feist—a squirrelling dog, mainly, but sometimes used for hunting black bears. In his short story, “The Bear,” William Faulkner, himself a feist owner, characterized them as rat-sized, frantic, and possessing “that bravery which had long since stopped being courage and had become foolhardiness.” It is not Faulkner’s story that is his namesake, however, but an actual, living bear he treed the day Dad and Sue first let him off his leash. They’d walked him out to one of the far pastures, and as they neared its edge he’d started tugging madly at his chain and barking. Dad finally let him off, thinking a few laps around the pas57
ture would get him to settle down. The moment they unhooked his chain, he tore off into the woods. Dad took off whistling and calling after him. He quickly found the small black pup yapping frantically and scrabbling at the base of a tall swaying hemlock. He stepped in to scoop him up, then looked up as bark-bits tumbled about his head. Above, the branches heaved as something clambered higher up the hemlock’s trunk. Dad found himself looking into a pair of dark wet eyes and a clay-brown nose peering out through the boughs. I used to chase Bear off when he’d follow me to the woods—I sought quiet and solitude, and his habit of tearing off after god-knows-what frayed my nerves. But I welcome having him along now. Each time we walk, I feel I’ve learned something of what it means to walk with presence, to not only look about the world but to be wholly in it—sniffing and pawing, trotting and shivering, marking my passage. I stopped for a moment to relieve myself behind a tree. Bear followed suit, sniffing at a nearby patch of weeds then, as if deeming it good, lifting his leg. Sheepishly, he leaned into the breeze and loosed a quick stream of urine. I looked on, bemused. “I was once emptying the cistern of nature, and making water at the wall,” wrote Cotton Mather in his journal. “At the same time there came a dog, who did so too, before me.” Mather had been horrified by the situation– “How much do our natural necessities abase us, and place us…on the same level with the very dogs!”—and had resolved to himself that he would be yet “a more noble creature.” He concludes, having reached his ultimatum: “I resolved that it should be my ordinary practice […] to make it in my mind an opportunity of shaping […] some holy, noble, divine thought…” High-blown thoughts while pissing in the wind, Mr. Mather, I thought. Best be wary they don’t spatter back at you. Bear shook himself from head to tail and we continued on, crossing over the barbed wire fence into a sloped pasture bottoming out into a grove a tulip poplars, a small creek trickling between them. At the center of this pasture stands a gnarled, lone apple tree. The patch of ground about it had become a place all its own, the tree itself a host to myriad living things—from base to crown, the tree is dotted in meandering rows of small gimlet-holes drilled by years of visiting yellow-bellied sapsuckers. Bats and hummingbirds draw upon the sapwells left by these meticulous woodpeckers, and deer browse upon the fallen apples. From its bark spring splotches of pale green lichens and gelatinous, ear-shaped fungus, and tufts of moss cling to its branches. 58
There is a certain comfort, in knowing that a tree stays rooted where it stands. Frail and withered as it was, the apple tree nonetheless exuded a mute presence—a stolid, indisputable there-ness. And yet, vital as it seemed, I knew the tree was dying. More branches drop every year, and fewer grow back. With each visit, the sapsuckers and bats and hummingbirds bleed the tree just a little more. I looked down, expecting to see Bear at my feet, but found that he’d already moved on to interrogate a patch of swaying broom sedge. The wind had picked up and we both felt its bite; he trotted quicker, and I lengthened my stride to catch up to him. We continued along the sunken roadbed leading past the old Ayers place. This abandoned road, called Dobyns Road in the old censuses, was named for the lawyer-turned-land speculator who briefly owned this land in the 1890s. A barbedwire fence lines its downslope side, though this has done little to hold back the encroaching woods. Head-high skeins of vines and briars press in from this side, while on the other, overgrown box hedges grown tree-size lean in overhead. The roadbed sags, worn down first by tramping feet, then by wagon wheels and, later, Ford tires, and winds its way through the thin woods separating the pastures, on through deep rhododendron thickets and past an old home site where tulips still grow at the crumbled brick doorstep and the barn door is held wide open by a young cherry tree grown up by the jamb, down to where the ridge drops into the New River over a jumble of raw granite boulders. Here, the cliffside edges the mouth of Chestnut Creek, where the Norfolk and Western Railway once ran through. There used to be a swinging bridge that spanned the creek here. The Ayers and Jennings who once populated these ridges would hitch their wagons down this road down to the bridge and cross over to the train stop. From there, they boarded trains inbound for the furniture factories in Galax, or outbound toward the cotton mills at Fries; the mines and forges at Ivanhoe and Austinville, the brick power station at Byllesby dam. Men with the Norfolk and Western Railway could board the trains here to ride out to whichever of these depots they were stationed at that day. Dad and I followed the road out to this spot one day, though there’s not much here now—a grove of sycamore trees leaning far out over the river, verging on tumbling like Narcissus into the water. Nearer the bank, there came the sick-sweet smell of watergrasses softly rotting. The water had risen since the spillway at Byllesby had been fixed after being washed out by a flood, and the water had begun to intrude farther into the riverbank, seeping in and rotting the vegetation from the roots up.
As we walked along the drier parts of the bank, Dad pointed to something jutting from the grasses. We walked closer and I knelt to pick it up. A jaw bone, canid by the incisors—a fox or a coyote, maybe. We pondered over it for a few moments, then I tucked the bone into the breast pocket of my coat and continued on. I stopped when a deep stink filled my nostrils, then removed the jaw bone from my pocket. The joint was cracked, and inside the marrow had turned greenish. It reeked of wet-rot, of something recently dead. Paul Rozin writes that the things that disgust us most—blood, urine, feces, rotting meat and decaying corpses—often come from animals. Animal death in particular disgusts us, he says, because it reminds us of our own animality, that we too inhabit bodies that urinate, defecate, copulate, bleed, die, and decay. Our reaction, whenever we come across a deathly scene, is immediate, almost instinctual—we put as much distance between it and ourselves as possible. An a posteriori explanation—what happened next was unpremeditated, quick as a breath. My gut writhed and, cursing, I flung the jaw bone back among the jumbled boulders, as far back as I could. And just as quick, no later than the moment the bone left my hand, Bear took after it. He leapt joyously, the whites of his eyes glaring, pin-wheeling in the air before landing, then dove headlong into the brush and boulders. When he emerged a moment later, it was in a victorious, prancing manner, the bone clenched firmly in his teeth. Weaving between Dad’s legs, he took the bone back toward a dry pile of leaves, plopped down among them and began gnawing rapturously. There came a sharp cracking as Bear split the bone with his teeth to get to the marrow. For a dog, death is not a word, nor a concept. More so something that you play with, cut your teeth on. Faulkner always commended the feist for its bravery—but this takes bravery of an altogether different kind. I neared a place where the fence sank under the weight of a thick fallen limb. Bear leapt nimbly over the sagging barbed wire strands. Before stepping through the opening, I stood for a moment, nervously looking overhead, then followed after him. I stood now at the edge of the hollow, white pines on every side. Even just a few yards from the road, it took my eyes a moment to adjust to the dimness. Here, the trees grow close and crowd each other out, their roots tangled beneath the soil, locked in a slow choking struggle for water and minerals. Less than a century ago, this forest had been a cow pasture, fenced in with electric wire–you can still find the white porcelain insulators nailed to the old fence posts. Now it was fast becoming a wilderness in the Puritan sense—a place
of thorns, a field of limbs. A dead, fallen place. Cotton Mather would be quaking in his boots. The wind caught in the treetops and the trunks shrieked under their own weight—an awful, chittering sound, like a winged bird. Somewhere farther back in the woods came the heavy thud of falling branches. I stood for a moment in the shadow of a snag, the trunk snapped midway up and precariously suspended, held in place only by the angle of the fall and the weight of the crown bearing down on the neighboring tree. All it would take to offset its dumb weight would be the right push of wind, the right heave of the trunk. The tree groaned and settled into place like some giant’s dead-fall trap. I moved on quickly. Ahead were clear signs of deer: tracks leading farther down into the hollow, signs of browsing along their path—shriveled mushroom stems, low shrubs stripped of their berries, and cracked acorn shells. I followed the tracks into a small clearing grown over with running cedar and broom. A few gnarled black walnuts stood guard at its edge. Scattered among the grasses were shining dung pellets, and a few needle shrubs that still bore fruit, the berries small, kernel-sized and bright as blood drops. In spring and summer, this hollow brims with life. The grasses grow so tall I have to walk with a stick waved out in front of me, for flushing out any snakes. The air thrums with insect life, birds titter melodiously, and all around, the hollow rings with the clear voice of a spring that wells up near the ridge top, coursing quickly down toward where the hollow bottoms out. But soon spring’s whimsy and summer’s thrum give way to wistful autumn—as the philosopher Henry Bugbee wrote in his journal, “the wind carries with it the prophecy of dead leaves.” In due time, the leaves drop, revealing the stark, spare forms of bare trees, striking clear lines against the sky’s soft glow. This is the mouldering season. The winds bespeak a prophecy fulfilled. Though the woods grow more cluttered, a still clarity reigns. The land makes a slow, wheeling turn once more before settling—and the leaves go to soil. I no longer knew the names of things that had grown here in summer. To know the name of a thing is to imply some familiarity, and though I’d come here for years, it was as if I were walking the hollow for the first time, each plant, rock, and tree wholly strange, wholly new. There is value in this, and yet I found myself discomfited. It was like meeting someone again, someone with whom you’ve shared an intimate moment, but finding yourself unable to recall their name. I knelt down to examine a scatter of droppings, and as I settled on my haunches a thorn pierced my hamstring. I jumped and swatted at the branch caught on 61
my jeans, and another thorn embedded itself in my thumb. I yanked the thorn free and breathed sharply–slowly, blood welled and filled the whorls on the pad of my thumb. I sat, holding my wrist and sucking the blood from the wound, and settled into my coat. It was warmer nearer the ground, and on all sides I was sheltered by grass tussocks and thorned shrubs. Bear trotted up and pressed his wet nose to my cheekbone, then began licking at my hand. The throbbing eased. Settled among the grass, I felt sheltered, like I could settle in here and wait out the wind up top. Slanted rays of wheat-gold light illumined the grass tussocks, and beyond their reach, things lost their color, fading to an icy grey. Bear walked off into a dusty sunbeam and pressed his nose low to the ground, sniffing intently among the pine needles. I’d just begun to lie back when I noticed the tangled whorls of flattened grasses about me. A slight dusting of frost had settled upon the ground, but the impressions themselves were damp, as if a warm body had recently lain there. The deer must have bedded here for the night–they’d passed through recently, then. “Narratives are one sort of trace that we leave in the world,” writes Gary Snyder. “Narrative in the deer world is a track of scents […] A literature of bloodstains, a bit of piss, a whiff of estrus, a hint of rut, a scrape on a sapling, and long gone.” I stood and examined the impression my body had left upon the ground, and was strangely comforted—to gouge the earth, or scrape a tree, to leave a print or scat, a track of scent. A sign containing the possibility that my presence would be known, its meaning understood–if only to say, I’ve been here. I continued on. The prints led down a slip of mud into the creek bed and crossed over, started back uphill. Suddenly, Bear tore off into the underbrush leading deeper into the hollow, paw pads thudding on the leaf-littered ground. I called after him. “Bear! Bear!” I started after him and tripped over a strand of barbed wire hidden among the leaves. The wire tore at the hem of my jeans, and I thrashed my foot to shake it free. When I finally untangled myself and stood up, Bear was gone. I walked in the direction he had run in, squinting through the icy grey. Worried as I was, I had to admit some relief—I was finally alone. He’d come back—eventually, I hoped. I neared a low, tin-roofed shed. A dry slat of wood held the door in place, and a spray of clay-dust spilled out from beneath it, sprayed back a foot or two where Bear had been burrowing. I got down on all fours and peered inside, expecting a
strong must, a skitter of movement, but picked up no smell at all. Whatever dug the hole had not lived there for a long time. I followed the slope’s contour, heading nowhere in particular. In the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of red—a cardinal flushed, now perched on the long arm of a black walnut tree. It jerked its head toward me and tittered—phi-phi, phi—and fluttered off. Whirling at a crash of leaves behind me, I turned just in time to catch the dark blur tearing between my legs before it took off, barking madly. As if condensed from the leaves and deadfall, the deer sprang into being, near enough that I could hear frantic huffs as if it were my own breathing. A flash of white—their twitching tails, a signal to move on. Their dappled hides speared by light shards flashing between the trunks. A spray of dirt—sharp hooves gouging the hillside. One, two bounds and they were down the slope. Three, four– over the creek, “…and long gone.” Heart pounding hollowly, I plopped down in the leaves. When Bear reappeared, I hadn’t moved. Speckled with dirt, he propelled himself into my lap and spun himself once, leaving dusty paw prints all over my coat and jeans. He held still, and for a moment I could look directly in his eyes–bright, urgent, and auburn. I’d never noticed the color before–he never sat for long enough. After giving me one quick nip on the chin, he squirmed out of my lap and charged up the hill. Arthur Schopenhauer wrote that “there is one respect in which brutes show real wisdom when compared to us […] their quiet, placid enjoyment of the present moment.” In the same passage, he continues in saying that “in some respects they make us feel the value of every hour that is free from trouble and annoyance, which we, with our thoughts and preoccupations, mostly disregard.” “Dumbass,” I said aloud—though to whom, Bear or myself, I wasn’t sure.
Will Hollis Uphill Look up when you bring the shovel over your shoulder (like when you reach up to the fan to dust the blades, just on toes) The light will drop into your crafted ditch, catch your neck tendons & sweat shadows, you will look at me, your hand will cover your eyes. Will you see my face, see my eyes, how they move, dart over you and stay, linger there and leave? I will blink you in. You will block the sun from your nose, dirt will cover your boots (like when you slid through my hall in socks and he chased your ankles since they were the only part covered from daylight). Your hand will shade your dimples; will I see ligaments in your shoulder will it decide to keep your makeshift visor, will the shovel lean on your hipsYour scent will be brought to me by clover, picked from the dirt pile. I will reach for it, over the box from Amazon holding our dog. I will inhale and pollen will raise to my nostril with your pheromones attached. I will throw shredded leaves at you.
“Stop it please. This would be easier if I could bury him in the garden.” But no, I will want him to smell this every day when the sun is back there almost over the ridge behind me. And maybe he’ll think of you, too. How you smell like mint.
Tanis MacDonald Stray I’m eleven in a ball cap and faded orange bomber, a girl with paper parents, left arm propped on the stucco that grinds into my palm. Hypotenuse in no one’s formula, pants too big at the waist and too short in the leg, untended as loosestrife, smug as a stray who wagged her way in. I am Chance jolted into life, a hydro tower chucking and humming, just six months before an older boy gets his hate on for my matchstick legs and tries to break them. Call it a lie spun. Call it a social worker’s warning: troublemakers get locked up for their own good. Call it a man who pinches my nostrils shut and squeezes me hard, demands I say aloud how I love it. Who’s he when he’s at home? Nothing special: a demon is common as dirt.
Libby Maxey Song of Hezekiah My house is pulled down and I am uncovered â€”Isaiah 38:12 He prayed here, rested, made a sunrise fire and warmed the dusk in company. He hung on promises. The shingles trusted nails; the beams believed their righteousness, the stones their place. But only stones remain: a spire of chimney in the clearing. No bells ring. This is an ocean with no need of light, an island pile of broken nutshells, there a lighthouse barred with efflorescence, used for stories. What is saved? You, swallow, swift, in empty towers, naked centers, what is saved? We make our song, the living, by the solitary hearth, the mantel washed with rain, the woven nest, a crescent boat depending lightly from the inner dark. â€ƒ
Tanya Muzumdar Catapedaphobia Fear of jumping Mean summer when they voted me to jump off the continental shelf of a boat gunwale. Kids talking the come-on game. Who swam best & lasted longest in the low of that canal, sunless & hazel, was who mattered. Kid static. The sting of cannonballing how many schools of muskies, gun-colored for all I knew. Through the unsaving trees I jumped, cracked water, sunk in the down-there drown of plants vying to hug my legs. The manhole I'd shelled open closed up, surface smoothed cat-quick, as if it'd never trusted
Tanya Muzumdar Dear Earthquake, I see you didn't level the daylilies. Buds, dead & humid, their petals, slender, labial, blend into paintbrushes. I deadhead, snap & drop buds in a bucket planet. Heaped & heating up, exuding fluid-in-the-dark Venusian liquid, paints entwined, mating in the dark, mixing from daylilies new people. Incarnadine & purple, the tint of apocalypseâ€” that lovely provocative slop in us all.
Peter Grandbois What the walls know I could be anything else, a murmur beneath cold sheets, skin stung with winterâ€™s lie, a story of a lover in paint-smeared clothes. Yesterday, I was a house for rent crippled from the sudden reversal of us. Today, I am a beggar climbing your veined road, though the land remains level. Tomorrow, a mouth shaped like a long beak, prodding and turning the earth, as if I can recover my need to surface. 70
Peter Grandbois No going back This is the country of unaccustomed silence. We dare not give it time to take root. Better to wag about with fevered heads to wander out of woods begging for food or redemption under a sunless sky. It is the country of cast off bodies that float for years avoiding the touch of unnamed gods who never cared anyway. The country of saints with muddled visions whose child hands have forgotten how to hold. Perhaps there are two countries, and the line between them easier to get lost in than a dream. Little is known of the hard hours beneath the surface. Less still is known of the hungry wind above, why it sits like a cat on a broken fence, waiting. I once had a dream in which everyone piled everything we loved into a vast parking lot then set fire to it and watched the way it burned beneath a hushed rain. I wish instead we would’ve built a field where sunlight touches every inch of ground. I don’t know why I have this other dream, or why it’s always evening in this country, only that all things must move to their end.
Renee Rossi Tangerines After the snow settles, the new father has an exotic job growing tangerines in a valley where you can see snowcapped mountains but the climate is temperate and the mother is never sick and paints the skies, the mother who wants to find a new world in her own personal snow globe. But her father enrolls her in secretarial school so she leaves home to have a baby. We're all inside that snow globe: father, mother, swinging crib, house with pine tree and unattached garage. And memory, of which there is none until preschool when I fall off a piano bench and hit my head and the world grows sparkly and crystalline. Or at age four when they keep playing Kennedy's death on TV and all the ladies cry. And wear those hats. My mother never wore one of those hats. I was born under the new moon so inside the glass globe it's dark memories appearing first. Snow globes came about as an accident when a scientist tried to create a brighter light bulb and one day found semolina and poured it into the glass globe â€” the effect reminded him of snowfall. But, artificial snow, being enchanted, is a company secret and when children show up at the snow globe factory, their eyes must be wide open, they must be mesmerized as they start shaking the globes all at once-and the snow, depending upon the phase of moon, falls everywhere, everywhere, but never melts and never sticks. 72
Nick Conrad Strange Days Almost a month into winter and still no snow. Now, at dusk, as I take my walk, hoarfrost slowly descends on the woods. Ice thorns form from raindrops. Once coated in white, the tree limbs clank in the wind: bone rattle; skeleton dance.
Table o f About the Authors
Christopher Todd Anderson is Associate Professor of English at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, where he teaches courses in American literature, creative writing, and popular culture. His poetry has appeared in journals such as Tar River Poetry, River Styx, Terrain.org, Tipton Poetry Journal, and Chicago Quarterly Review, among others. Kevin Boyle’s book, A Home for Wayward Girls, won the New Issues First Book Prize (Rodney Jones, judge) and his most recent book, Astir, published by Jacar Press, received Honorable Mention in the 2016 Brockman-Campbell Book Award (Barbara Hamby, judge). Originally from Philadelphia, Kevin now teaches at Elon University in North Carolina. Nick Conrad’s work continues to appear in national and international journals, anthologies, and websites. Most recently, in Badlands, Blast Furnace, Coe Review, The Cortland Review, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Kentucky Review, Red Savina, Split Rock Review, Southern Poetry Review, Stoneboat, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. Poems have been accepted for future issues of Clackamas Literary Review, Comstock Review. Mayday Magazine, Orbis (UK), Slipstream, and Wilderness House Literary Review, Work also appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Chariton Review, The Literary Review, Seattle Review, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Stand (UK), Texas Review, Times Literary Supplement (TLS), Wisconsin Review, and others. Jen Davis peddles her wordly wares in Northern Kentucky. Her poetry is published or forthcoming in Eclectica, Door is a Jar, Whale Road Review, Licking River Review, and others. Jen is seeking shelter for her unpublished works and creating a list of potential titles for a memoir she isn’t writing. Peter Grandbois is the author of seven previous books. His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in over eighty journals. His plays have been performed in St. Louis, Columbus, Los Angeles, and New York. He is a senior editor at Boulevard Magazine and teaches at Denison University in Ohio.
About the Authors
Will Hollis is from Cincinnati, and is an MFA candidate at Western Kentucky University. His work has appeared in the Sourland Mountain Review, Longleaf Pine, Midwood Press, and Literary Orphans. Kate Hopper is an editor, writing coach, and teacher, and the author of Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers, Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood, and co-author of Silent Running. She teaches online and in Ashland University’s Low-residency MFA program. For more about Kate visit www.katehopper.com. Dan Jacoby is a graduate of St. Louis University. He has published poetry in Anchor and Plume (Kindred), Arkansas Review, Belle Reve Literary Journal, Bombay Gin, Burningword Literary Review, Canary, Common Ground Review, Steel Toe Review, and Red Fez to name a few. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2015. He is currently looking for a publisher for a collection of poetry. Hilary King is a poet and playwright. Her poems have appeared in The Cortland Review, PANK, Blue Fifth Review, Mom Egg Review, Gertrude and other publications. She is the author of the book of poems, The Maid’s Car. She now lives in Northern California. Please visit her website at hilarykingwriter.com. Aidan Lee’s poems have been published in Salamander, Bayou, Memoir, J Journal, Snapdragon, Santa Ana Review, Rise Up Review, Tiferet Journal, Paper Nautilus, and Aunt Chloe. Her poetry collection was a semi-finalist in the 2017 and 2016 Crab Orchard Series First Book Award contest and in 2016 for Crab Orchard’s Poetry Open Competition. Eric D. Lehman teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Bridgeport and his essays, stories, and reviews have been published in dozens of magazines and journals, from Gastronomica to Berfrois to the International Henry Miller Journal. He is the author of a dozen books of fiction, history, and travel, including
Shadows of Paris, Becoming Tom Thumb, Afoot in Connecticut, and Homegrown Terror: Benedict Arnold and the Burning of New London. Tanis MacDonald is the author of three collections of poetry, the most recent, Rue the Day, published by Turnstone Press. Her poetry has appeared recently in Prairie Fire, The Puritan, Contemporary Verse 2, The Goose, Iron Horse Review and Alyss. She lives in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Libby Maxey is a senior editor with the online journal Literary Mama. She reviews poetry for The Mom Egg Review and Solstice, and her own poems have appeared in Tule Review, Mezzo Cammin, Crannóg, and elsewhere. Her non-literary activities include singing classical repertoire and mothering two sons. Paige Menton lives outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she tutors, teaches writing and naturalist workshops to homeschoolers, and monitors the creek in her watershed. She was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. Her poems have appeared in Clade Song, Spiral Orb, ecopoetics, Combo, 26, and Bird Dog. Tanya Muzumdar teaches English and poetry at North Central Michigan College. She is also the editor of Dunes Review. Her poems appear in Cimarron Review, Nashville Review, Prairie Schooner, Superstition Review, THRUSH Poetry Journal, Vinyl, and elsewhere. She was a writer-in-residence at Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. Lindsey Novak received her MA in writing from Missouri State, where she served as editor of the university writing center student journal. She’s relocating to the desert to pursue a Master of Counseling at Arizona State and continue to teach, write, and document the resilience of tenderness in harsh terrain. Christopher Robey is a writer, runner and wilderness trail crew leader based in Boone, North Carolina. His work has appeared previously in The Fourth River’s weekly online feature, Tributaries, as well as the Peel Literature and Arts Review and the Appalachian Voice. Renee Rossi's first book of poems, Triage, was published in 2016. She has published two chapbooks: Still Life, which was awarded the Gertrude Press Poetry Chapbook Prize, and Third Worlds. She lives and teaches in Dallas. 76
F. Daniel Rzicznekâ€™s collections and chapbooks of poetry include Nag Champa in the Rain, Vine River Hermitage, Divination Machine, Neck of the World, and Cloud Tablets. Rzicznek teaches writing at Bowling Green State University. Marjorie Saiser is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently I Have Nothing To Say Aabout Fire (The Backwaters Press, 2016). Her poems have been published in Poetry East, Poet Lore, Rhino, Rattle, Chattahoochee Review, and on her website www.poetmarge.com. Saiser's Losing The Ring In The River won the Willa Award in 2014. Donna Steinerâ€™s essays and poetry have been published in literary journals including Fourth Genre, The Bellingham Review, The Sun, Full Grown People and The Manifest Station. She teaches literary citizenship and creative writing at the State University of New York in Oswego. A chapbook of five essays, Elements, was released by Sweet Publications. Nicole Stockburger is a second-year MFA in Creative Writing candidate at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her poems appear, or are forthcoming, in Appalachian Heritage, Comestible, and About Place Journal. Splitting her time between Greensboro and Mount Airy, she market-farms two acres of organic vegetables with her partner.
About the Artist Jeff Oaks I started taking daily photographs when I bought my first iPhone in 2008. Because I walk my dog on a trail beside the Allegheny River and under the 40th St. Bridge at least twice a day, I have photographed both in all sorts of conditions. For the last ten years, I've marked changes in the flow of water and shifts of light. It's become almost a meditative practice now. What new thing can I see in these two simultaneously ordinary and monumental representatives of Pittsburgh's character? Some days it's subtle, some days spectacular.
About the Artist
Issue O.4 Contributors The Folio Contest Award Marjorie Saiser Donna Steiner Christopher Todd Anderson Kevin Boyle Nick Conrad Jennifer Davis Peter Grandbois Will Hollis Kate Hopper Dan Jacoby Hilary King Aidan Lee 78
Eric Lehman Tanis MacDonald Libby Maxey Paige Menton Tanya Muzumdar Lindsey Novak Christopher Robey Renee Rossi Daniel Rziczneck Nicole Stockburger