CLAY BIRD REVIEW
The International Literary Journal of Swarthmore College
Volume 1, Issue 1 Enter Ghost
EDITORS Cara Ehlenfeldt, Fiction/Poetry Jacob Oet, Artwork/Poetry Cover art by Holly R. Smith “Last Port of Call” Copyright ©2013 Clay Bird Review All rights reserved. Special thanks to Maurice Eldridge and the Swarthmore English Literature Department for their support and generosity
Table of Contents 1
Jay Schroder Spectacle
Marion Cohen Thanatology Conference
James Ulmer The Luna Moth
Karen Biscopink The Medium
James Valvis December 25, 1978
Rae Gouirand Sounds
Doug Jackson The World as itâ€™s Understood
George Such Immured
Alexandra Samarina The-Most-Hated
Bryan D Mets Temporal
JAY SCHRODER Spectacle The dead clap and grin like the live audience of a Japanese game show, placing bets only the dead can afford. Onstage, I choose a woman. Happiness, heartbreak, or something unexpected waits behind the door. Like someone waking to himself while still inside a dream, I remember to look around. I see my mother in the balcony and wave.
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MARION COHEN Thanatology Conference Most people, even if they had only one week left to live, could make something out of that week. But not her, she’d be too nervous. Not butterflies but hummingbirds. The pink of her would tremble. The pink of her would redden. She doesn’t make anything when she’s nervous. She doesn’t invent and she doesn’t discover. When she’s nervous it’s like she’s dead. Coffee, maybe. Brownies. Potatoes. Eggs. Or she could make license plates. That’s about it.
JAMES ULMER The Luna Moth The same break in the rain that had brought Jack Conroy to the park surrounding the art museum had brought out the grounds crew as well, and a lawnmower sputtered and caught across the lush stretch of grass. Sitting on a damp bench, Jack closed his eyes, relishing the brief, hot touch of the sunlight on his face. He listened as the blades of the mower chewed through wet six-inch lawn, blotting out the sound of doves calling and answering from the green depth of the trees. It had been raining steadily for weeks now, trapping him inside for days at a time, dimming the usual bright flood of late summer light, and creating, at last, a feeling of unreality, as if the city were submerged, removed from the normal flow of time. A sudden breeze brought the smell of cut grass, but it was the scent of April, not August. Opening his eyes, Jack watched a couple pass hand-in-hand in front of him. They spoke rapidly in whispers, their eyes inches apart, unaware that they were being observed. The scene was painfully familiar, and Jack thought grimly of Julie Newman. But it was the same with every woman he’d ever known, from the time he was fourteen, putting M&M’s down the top of Laurie Offerman’s bathing suit in the woods behind the community pool. He’d drop the colored candies down her top, then fish them out and eat them – or better still, slip them into her mouth. But Laurie had wanted him to cut his hair and go out for junior varsity football, so he’d dumped her for a girl in his art class with spiked black hair and a pierced eyebrow. At first, he couldn’t believe his good fortune, but then the pierced girl started pushing him to learn guitar so she could pretend she was sleeping with a rock star and that, too, had ended. Jack was twenty-eight now, and those early disappointments, so bewildering at the time, had recurred in his life like a law of physics. A month of honest, blissfully self-indulgent mutual attraction, maybe two, and then the struggle began, the evasions and manipulation. He had a date with Julie that night. Jack worked as a freelance photographer. Years ago, on a trip
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to New York, he’d gone to an exhibition by Robert Frank. Walking along a white wall from shot to shot, he’d seen for the first time how black and white images of everyday scenes – mannequins in a shop window or a finned car parked at the curb – can tell us who we are. Since then, Jack’s course in life had been set. He didn’t make much, but he managed to get by just fine. He even had a few pictures in the Houston MFA. But apparently, that wasn’t good enough for Julie. She wanted him to work for the in-house publication of the energy company downtown where she worked. He’d make more money and get medical benefits too, she explained. But Jack didn’t want to take pictures of geeks in suits at business meetings. He didn’t want to eat lunch with those guys every day. Even more, he didn’t want a job where Julie could keep an eye on him, and he knew damn well that was her real intention in suggesting it. The lawnmower choked out, and Jack heard a low rumble from the bank of clouds billowing over the live oaks to the south. Shit. In ten minutes, it would be raining again. Resigned, he rose from the bench, the seat of his jeans damp from the wet wood, and began the four-block walk back to his studio apartment. A ring of bungalows, dollhouses all painted the same nondescript gray, surrounded the park. They were rented to artists and writers who wanted to live near the museum. But a bigger house on the corner, as you left that neighborhood, had always compelled Jack’s attention. Built in the nineteen- twenties, the place was a knockoff of a Frank Lloyd Wright prarie home: two stories, dust-colored brick, solid – built low to the ground. It had a wide front porch, rows of windows, and an oak front door with a brass knob and a stained-glass transfom, Tiffany maybe, with white lilies and red roses. The back yard was encased in a weathered pine privacy fence with honeysuckle spilling invitingly over the top. One of these days, he intended to get a picture of that place. He would need to take the shot from an angle, the light coming through the trees just so, to capture the sense of mystery and threat the house always made him feel. Jack approached, observing the place minutely as he always did, then turned and stepped past along the eight-foot fence. He was hurrying to beat the rain when a sound from the back yard arrested him. James Ulmer
He heard it again: a low, throaty giggle, a woman, the kind of laugh that would get any man’s attention. There was a knothole in the fence. Without thinking, Jack put his eye to it. A brick path wound through a stand of sunflowers. There was the sound of a fountain he couldn’t see, water falling into a stone basin. A woman stood on the lawn where three steps rose to the porch. She wore a luminous silk robe, pale green, that reached to her feet. She laughed again, musical and low, and Jack saw her face for a moment in profile: an upturned nose, red mouth, her auburn hair so dark it was nearly black, bobbed at her jaw line, a spit-curl pasted to her cheek. With exaggerated melodrama, the woman stepped up onto the porch, and Jack noticed for the first time that a man sat facing her in a white wicker chair. All he could see were the man’s legs from the knees down, the faded jeans fraying at one hem and a pair of scuffed black boots. They’re playing some game, Jack told himself. The woman stepped in front of her silent, motionless observer and, with the same self-ironic flair, stretched her arms out at her sides and stood poised, one foot in front of the other like a peformer in a high-wire act. Jack had a glimpse of the robe: shimmering green with a single tawny circle at each side of her waist, the circles ringed in white like dilated, ecstatic eyes, the eyes of someone who’d been drugged or poisoned. Then, to his astonishment, the woman let the robe drop. She was pale, beautiful. Jack’s gaze fell from the nape of her neck past her shoulders, down the inward curve of her spine, the white, luminescent swell of her hips, the long legs tapering to slim, delicate ankles. She moved gracefully toward the man in the chair and climbed onto his lap, facing him, bending partly out of sight to kiss him… Jack’s pulse hammered in his throat. His cock stirred to life and throbbed painfully against the front of his jeans. A raw groan escaped him. Overhead, a crack of thunder split the sky, and the sunlight faded as if someone had thrown a switch. Jack pulled away from the knothole and glanced around uneasily, hoping no one had seen him. The air was bruise-colored and hazy, blurring the facades of the town houses lining the street, and he could smell the rain coming.
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He jogged toward home as the first big drops began to darken the sidewalk. Three hours later, Jack hunched under the shower, letting the hot water pound on his shoulders as the steam billowed up, replaying in his mind the afternoon’s unexpected revelation. Christ, he thought, seeing the robe drop. He’d peeredthrough that fence like Alice staring down the goddamn rabbit hole. He was lucky a cop hadn’t caught him at it. There had been a distortion to what he’d seen, a heightened reality. Maybe that was because he could look with only one eye, like trying to see down the wrong end of a telescope, so the view had been truncated, with no depth perception. Then too, the rain was coming and the light had a shimmering, refracted quality. More than likely, he was so damned excited that his brain had flooded with endorphins, as if he’d sucked up a line of coke. It’s not every day you get to see a woman like that, a stranger, in such a revealing, unguarded moment. He’d seen something he wasn’t supposed to see, and that, he knew, was half the allure. But there was more to it than that. He wished he’d had his camera with him. Jack toweled himself dry and stepped into a pair of straight-leg jeans, comfortably faded with a rip at one knee, then pulled on his black cowboy boots with the steel caps at the pointed toes. Shirtless, he thumbed through the rows of hangers in his closet until he came to the black silk camp shirt, an old favorite of his that he hadn’t worn for a while. A scarlet dragon coiled down each side of the row of pearl buttons. He slipped it on with deliberate satisfaction, feeling the silk cool against his skin, and moved to the bureau. Steady blue eyes met his in the mirror. He was ready now. A fine rain fell, tapering off from the afternoon’s cloudburst. Jack drove the twenty minutes to Julie Newman’s place, a high-rise near the Galleria, and rode the elevator to the twelfth floor. He’d first met Julie at a bar he frequented in Montrose. She’d been drunk, laughing a lot, trying to shoot pool with her girlfriends. She wasn’t very good at it, but the game gave her excuse to lean over in her low-cut black top and treat the boys at the bar to a good look at her. Jack had asked her out and gone to bed with her a half-dozen times before he realized she’d been slumming that night. James Ulmer
The elevator doors bumped open. He walked down the thickly carpeted hall to her door and knocked. Julie let him in without speaking; she turned away, not looking at him, and called out over her shoulder, “Have a seat. I’ll be right with you.” Feeling dismissed, Jack closed the door behind him and watched the perfect line of her straight blonde hair shift across the back of her black cocktail dress as she walked away, head tipped to one side, fitting a pearl stud through one ear. When she stepped back into the room a few minutes later, Jack was still standing by the door, waiting. Julie’s eyes flicked rapidly over him, and he saw the disapproval cloud her face. “Jack, you know I hate that shirt on you.” Of course he knew. That’s why he’d chosen it. He smiled at her coolly and made a point of keeping his voice calm. “What makes you think you have a right to comment on how I dress? I don’t tell you what to wear, do I?” The surprise on Julie’s face morphed quickly to anger. “You don’t have to tell me,” she snapped. “You don’t have to tell me, either,” he grinned. “But for some reason you always try.” She came at him as he’d known she would, her green eyes blazing, and then something unaccountable happened. All day, Jack had been anticipating this fight, waiting for it with a sick relish, but now, just when he needed to focus, his mind seemed to drop into a different gear. What was wrong with him? He couldn’t get it out of his head: the woman behind the fence, her pale hips like the curve of the moon… Julie was screaming at him, practically spitting in his face – something about being a child, needing to grow up. Jack grabbed her and spun her around behind him, slamming her shoulders hard against the door. Her head snapped back once and hit the wood. “Shut the fuck up,” he growled. He didn’t want to talk, didn’t want to hear her voice. There was too much talking and not enough reaching in the dark. He saw the sunflowers, the robe spread like wings dropping to pool around the woman’s feet, her body like snow when the light hits it. Julie’s eyes had widened in shock and fear. Despite himself, Jack smiled when he saw that. He yanked down hard on the back of her
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hair, forcing her chin up, and kissed her roughly on the mouth, then closed his eyes and shoved himself against her, excited, thinking of the pale woman behind the fence. After a few seconds, Julie threw her arms around his neck and kissed him back. But when Jack opened his eyes and saw the tanned blonde, fleshy and overripe, her lipstick smeared, his stomach turned. “Get out of the way,” he told her flatly.” “What? Jack, please…” “Move your ass!” She slid away from the door and crumpled to her knees. Jack turned the knob and stepped quickly outside. He took the stairs down to clear his head. He went back to the bar in Montrose, the one where he’d first met Julie. It was his place, though he hadn’t been there in weeks. Blues guitar wailed from the sound system, Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughn, old T. Bone Walker – music Jack loved – but he couldn’t drive the ghost from his mind. He smoked cigarette after cigarette, absently watching the smoke change color in the neon light as it drifted toward the ceiling. He kept seeing her profile, the upturned nose, the spit-curl coiled against her cheek. She reminded him of something he couldn’t quite recall. At last, Jack made his way home through the rain. He spent hours staring at the ceiling, playing the tape of the woman behind the fence, but he finally managed to shut his mind off and sleep. Just after dawn, he woke and stumbled groggily to the window, hoping that the weather had changed. To his surprise, a luna moth clung to the screen, a huge thing the size of his fist, the glowing green wings with twin markings like eyes staring into the room. He thought at first that he was dreaming, but there it was, inches from his gaze – alien somehow, too gaudy, a fragment from another world. Behind it, rain dripped from the gutter like a glass-bead curtain. He grabbed the camera he kept loaded on his night stand and snapped a few quick pictures. The more he looked at the thing, the more it seemed to stare back, and the pale woman’s sexual laughter, temporarily blotted out by sleep and alcohol, suddenly flooded his mind, how she’d spread her arms briefly before the silk fell to her feet. Frustrated, feeling intruded upon, Jack tapped angrily at the glass, James Ulmer
but the moth didn’t stir. He considered going out and smashing the thing, but it was still raining, and it seemed ridiculous to allow himself to be affected by something so innocuous. Instead, he threw himself down on the bed and shut his eyes. A few minutes later, he slipped off into a dream. He was back in Julie’s apartment, banging the back of her head against the door. He grabbed her by the arm, as hard as he could so he’d leave some marks, and dragged her into the kitchen. As he slammed her face-down on the table, her head hit the hanging lamp, and it swung weirdly back and forth, moving a swath of light across her. He had one of her arms twisted behind her back, and with his free hand, he hiked up that black cocktail dress and yanked her panties down. She turned to glare at him over her shoulder, and he slapped her, furiously, across the mouth. When the blood came, he slapped her again – but then it wasn’t Julie’s face. The dark auburn bob spilled across her cheek, and she grinned at him. “Jack, you unspeakable bastard,” and she laughed her throaty, musical laugh, “we’ve got to talk.” He woke with a start, his heart slamming in his chest. Sunlight poured into the room. The moth was gone from the screen. Shortly after noon, Jack stood at the curb under the twisted branches of a live oak, the light coming and going as it had all day, breaking now through the clouds to weave in the green passages of the tree. His pulse raced, and his mouth was dry; it was hard to think straight with the constant rain and the heat. Gathering himself, he stared intently across the street at the steps leading up to the wide front porch, the wooden door with the stained-glass transom. In one hand he clutched his favorite camera, an old 35mm he’d used for years, and he had a business card ready in his shirt pocket. Jack knew he shouldn’t cross the street to that door, but he also knew that he intended to do just that. He would knock, hand the woman his card, and ask if he could take some pictures. Once inside, he wasn’t sure what he would say – I saw you yesterday in the yard, through the fence, and I haven’t been able to forget – but he wasn’t worried about that part. He’d find the right words; he always did. Thunder rumbled overhead – another storm coming, too many to count. Jack made a show of snapping some pictures of the house;
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then steeled himself, crossed the street, and rapped with one knuckle at the door. The house felt empty and ponderously silent behind the heavy oak door. He was about to knock again when the door swung open and he found himself confronted by a pair of coppery brown eyes, enlarged behind the lenses of her glasses, staring up at him from a face framed by brittle white curls. Before Jack had a chance to speak, the old woman clutched his arm, smiling, and drew him across the threshold. He was in! He couldn’t believe how simple it had been. The woman stood grinning at him ecstatically, one finger tracing a curl at her temple, a girlish coyness in the tip of her head. She wore a celadon shift with fringe and thin straps at the shoulders – old water-stained silk that looked like it had come from a dusty trunk in a junk shop – and a ratty shawl clung to her emaciated arms like the scraps of an old cocoon. She shifted slightly, excited, and a smell Jack remembered from his grandmother in the nursing home, a mix of urine and talcum powder, rose in the hall between them. “You’re so young!” she whispered, her eyes touching him. There was something wrong with her, but he’d come for the other one, the white ghost with the bloody mouth. “I need to see your granddaughter,” he began. “My granddaughter?” Her voice was rusty. She squinted at him as if she didn’t understand, then smiled. “Wait right here.” Slowly, the old lady drifted down the hall past the stairway, toward the back of the house. Jack shook his head as he watched her withdraw. Crazy bitch, he thought. In the silence, he heard the faraway sound of the rain falling, striking the roof and walls, tapping insistently at the windows. He felt a sudden thrill of excitement. The atmosphere in the rooms opening around him felt thick and still, like the air trapped inside a bubble in a piece of hand-blown glass. After several minutes the rain stopped, and the old woman hadn’t returned. Jack laid his camera down on the hall table and moved tentatively toward the back of the house, aware of a sense of trespass, his steps too loud in the stillness. Worse, he was suddenly dizzy, cut loose from his moorings, and as he lurched through the James Ulmer
dining room and threw open the French doors that led to the back porch, he felt as if he were falling. Somehow, he managed to reach the wicker chair and pour himself into it, sweating and faint. A slant of sunlight fell thickly through the wet trees. Jack found himself looking down from the porch to a pale young woman standing on the grass, a blur of sunflowers over her shoulder, the sound of a fountain. She wore a brilliant silk robe, green with a pale blue shadow, and he could see at once that she was naked beneath it. She was laughing, shaking her head. “You won’t leave me, Jack. You can’t.” Anger focused his mind. “Think so?” She laughed again and took a step toward him. Her short dark hair flared red when the sunlight touched it. Looking past her, he saw a mockingbird twitch its tail and fly from the branch of an oak, the white flash of its wings. “Oh yes,” she whispered, a catch in her throat. “You’ll always come back. You have no choice.” Suddenly his rage flared, hot and raw: he hated her for the power she had over him. The woman stood before him, her eyes watching his. She spread her arms for a moment, the robe opened like wings, and she let it fall – her thin pale body like a boy, a cat. Jack had never seen anyone so white and flawless. He knew that in a moment she would she would come smoothly toward him up the steps, a wicked grin on her red mouth, straddle his knees, and take his face in her hands. And at that moment, Jack also knew that he was standing on the other side of the wooden fence, watching intently, his eye to the knothole. He knew he would hurry down the street as the rain began to fall, as it had fallen now for longer than he could recall, and that his steps would only lead him here again, to where he sat waiting with anticipation and dread in a white wicker chair, the woman’s unblinking eyes on him. Thunder rumbled above the trees. A single deafening crash, then stillness. He glanced down and saw, in the suddenly darkening air, his scuffed black boots, one hem of his jeans frayed.
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KAREN BISCOPINK The Medium I cannot think with all this loneliness: hallway of too many doors that meet and sound. Leaving is to run the gauntlet. Barbed elbows, a woman’s slapdash perimeter of hearsay and hush. Some atomic light at the entrance ebbs and you are many men now— The hollow you beside you through which I’ll pass.
JAMES VALVIS December 25, 1978 For my parents, Christmas morning came hard. They sat at the kitchen countertop in robes and slippers, hair like tangled tinsel. Dark winter light wormed in like turkey gravy through cheesecloth. The Folgerâ€™s was stronger than their faith. One lighted a cigarette, the other coughed up something into a paper towel, folded the paper. Spoons clinked in their cups like weak hammers inside a bell. My parents said nothing, as if a word was all that kept the wall of the day from collapsing in on them. When I spoke, an hour after they had risen from bed, they told me to let them wake up. In time, I quit looking at their sagging faces and waited by the tree, where the gifts, few enough you could see the back wall, were wrapped in their fake gold ribbons.
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RAE GOUIRAND Sounds We listen to the poem: & hum a moment as though sounding ocean, ocean to the sound: every darkness just shadow overcome: every sound just its moment in time. Lovers know after is already on its way: spend their sounds now, tone at every turn. To make an infinity in paper turn paper on itself again, touch an end to an end. We mistake our song for something done: one ends, another comes.
DOUG JACKSON The World as it’s Understood Thoughts barrage Andrew in the seconds after the movement catches his eye: a tennis ball, fresh green, rolling from under the corner chair. Where did it come from? Is it really there? He’s alone in the room. Could he still be asleep? No one’s played tennis since Flora left for college. Alone in the room. He even moved the furniture for Lillian when she vacuumed last week. Some side effect of the pill? He was asleep on the couch, asleep on the couch, and something woke him. Lillian is upstairs in bed. A prank? No, Lillian doesn’t play pranks. It came from nowhere, from the dark under the chair. The ball rolled to a stop. It rolled slowly, like it had been gently tapped, tapped cautiously. Curiously tapped as if by a young child trying to grasp its properties or purpose. But there is no child in the house. A tennis ball. Alone in the room. Alone in the room. Alone in the room. And yet. And yet, here he is. There it is. Facts will help. It’s April. On this first truly warm day of the spring, the lower sashes of the windows are raised an inch or so above the sill. There is a slight breeze, warm still into these small hours. What is it one, two o’clock? He’s tired from working in the yard, clearing the shady undergrowth beyond the tree line, hints of the Appalachian darkness that falls even midday a little further into the adjacent forest. He cut and pulled vines, navigated poison ivy, dug tall stubborn weeds that pricked and pushed against him. Later he shoveled mulch around eager perennials, their new energy bursting forth, unstoppable. Now his limbs lie heavy on the couch cushions, the left arm pinned beneath his weight. Needled and pinned beneath his weight. There’s another weight, too, on his mind—not an argument, but either less or more—a general unease that simmers, radiates from his wife across that space between them. It’s a strain that he has optimistically ignored in the manner central to his nature, a
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way of grinning into rain, ignoring the temporary, tense discomfort until it lessens into a permanent state. It’s grown in the years, and like the day a crack in the plaster becomes a wall’s open wound, this particular moment in their relationship feels critical. It rests upon him now like a sidelong glimpse of himself in a passed mirror: the stooped posture acquired over years now a sudden and regular affront that stings like a slap. A realization. But what woke him? A sound? Did she call him from the bedroom? Did she cry out for him in her sleep? Could the ball have bounced off of the wall, having rolled down the stairs, around the corner, and across the room? Inconceivable. Yet he just conceived it, picturing the ball dropping from the top stair, reflected across the high-ceilinged room by the early morning darkness beyond the clerestory windows. It would be simple enough for him to stand up, to go look, to pick up the ball, to check for reality. He could feel for a fishing line invisibly threading its way to someone slightly heaving in a hunched cartoon snicker across the expansive room, perhaps in the darkened breakfast nook, behind the island wet bar. Flora. But Flora is in Mexico, on a final college break with friends, not surprising her stepfather with a tricky visit. The thought echoes that someone could be watching him. Adrenaline, or a thing less easily named, rushes through him. He clenches his fists, pulls them tight against his body, huddling beneath the cotton blanket. He curls into himself a little more. Is that slight shudder of a movement visible to someone, if someone is watching him? Because someone, somewhere, is watching him. He now feels it. There are no ghosts in this house. The house was new, brand new, for this freshly cobbled family. Him and a tired hound. Lillian and her ninth-grade daughter. They took to each other, eventually, and they all became just what was intended in this house with three-and-a-half bathrooms—one for each of them, and half a bath, they joked, for Cyrus, the hound. Poor Cyrus, he hated baths. They laughed. The lamp next to the chair where Lillian had been reading still spreads an arc of light across the floor. But did the light just flicker? Dim just a bit? What about the ball? Is it in the same part of that arc of light? Is it moving again? No. It’s still. Doug Jackson
Still. Still there. He’ll close his eyes; perhaps it will be gone when he opens them. Or if it’s the pill—a side effect that lingers beyond the moment he looks again—wouldn’t he be best served by relaxing into it, imagining an interaction with the ball? Picking it up, maybe? Imagine. Picture himself standing. The blanket becomes a pile on the floor. He crosses the room, picks up the ball, tosses it in the night air. He catches it in his hand, his right hand. It’s new: taut, hard to squeeze. Imagine that round smell of a new tennis ball. Toss it again. Catch it. Toss. Catch. Count the tosses like gentle sheep landing in the palm of his hand. One. Two. Three. One, two, sleep. Years ago, on a day like today, Flora would have run through the house in her tennis clothes, readying for a match. As a family, it would never be better than it was that day, the one day he particularly remembers. They were finally over the hurdle of coming together, adjusting, giving into life as a grafted family. They finally took, emerging together from the determined woody stem of his quiet past. Flora could finally stand to be in the same room with him. It no longer felt like they were doing what the books said, but becoming their own form. And on that day Andrew thought again of how good Flora was for him, just by being in the house. They had laughed at some stupid pun he made standing over a bagel at the kitchen counter. She laughed! She played along. She even added her own pun in response. What was it? Shouldn’t he be able to remember that? But he doesn’t; he just remembers the look on her face as she laughed— relaxed. He felt younger in that moment with his stepdaughter, and given the seven years he had on Lillian, he needed that energy, that youth. And right then he needed most for his bride to see him this way with her daughter, laughing in the thaw of 18 frosty months. But where was his wife when things were going so right? Was she upstairs? He would keep talking to Flora, entertaining her, actively responding to whatever she said, nodding as she recounted stories
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from the high school corridors. Just let Lillian come down and see this. She’d be so relieved. “But really, it’s true,” Flora said, pulling them back to the topic at hand. Her eyes widened, eyebrows at an earnest height. “Jackie’s cousin and some other girls did it at their slumber party.” “And what happened?” “Well…” Flora looked to the side to see if anyone was listening, like she was sharing with him some big secret, something just between them, “they wouldn’t say exactly. But they said they’d never do it again.” “Hmmm…” Andrew tilted his head. The look he gave her was playful but skeptical, like he couldn’t quite grasp the urgency in her voice. He thought: bemused. He wasn’t quite sure what it meant precisely, but it was the right word as he understood it. He was connecting with her; he knew it. “You have to do it in the dark. Total darkness. Then you turn the flashlight on, and she’ll appear in the mirror. It can age you like 20 years.” Andrew did the math. He would be 64. “It wouldn’t be worth the risk.” God what would 64 be like? “Or,” she added in a rush, “you’ll see the future.” “I don’t know,” he said slowly. “That sounds risky, too. It could be bad either way. Think about it: global warming. Peak oil. The Bush dynasty continues.” He capped the statement by shrugging into a tight smile under widened eyes. “Who wants to see that?” Flora was in the school’s environmental club, but she still had a sense of humor about it. Early on, he identified it as a connection point for them. “I know, huh?” she said. By the chimes of the mantel clock, it was ten o’clock on a perfect spring morning. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll do it.” “Are you sure? It could be scary.” She put her hands on his shoulders, overshooting a look of earnestness. “Will your heart be able to take it?” Her proximity was one of a trusting pet puppy, a natural extension of herself that demonstrated the permeability of the world around her. She flowed outward. There would be, he suspected, a time in which the world would dampen that confidence, in which she, like others would be afraid Doug Jackson
to let anyone that close for fear of giving something away, a fear that something in the teeth, on the breath, or emitted without her knowledge could bodily communicate miscalculations and errors, humiliations and losses, those experiences that attach to us. In short: an involuntary display of her humanity. Get too close and you can see the skin’s imperfections, which, like the wart on the witch’s nose, betray deeper flaws. But if Flora could somehow keep that fearlessness, he thought, she could do anything. She could sell cars. Sell used cars. Used cars with flat tires. Cars with no tires. With a smile like that, she could sell anything. He gave his chest a thump. “Heart of a twenty-year-old,” he said. “I think I can handle it.” They saw nothing in the mirror. The darkness surrounded them in the small half bath under the stairs. They turned. They bumped into each other, and he felt too large. He turned again, and again. His heart could take it, he remembered thinking, but could his stomach? The three turns dizzied him, and when they burst through the door, laughing into the hallway, he was desperate, longing for air, happily disoriented. And he was even happier when he saw Lillian, saw that Lillian saw them—witnessed them connecting in such a good spirited way—as she happened past. Or had she been propped on the arm of the reading chair, as if waiting for their emergence? He moved to her. He laughed and leaned over, bending toward his wife, hands on his knees and said, “Never again,” as if they had barely made it through a terrible ordeal. Flora bounded toward them, wrapped herself around her mother, long arms encasing shoulders and neck. “Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary,” she said, laughing. Lillian held a hand aloft, lifting something into the air. It was the color and size of a Granny Smith apple. Flora’s palms slid up her mother’s arm, winding around it until she reached the hand. She took the small orb, wrapped it in her own palm, unwound herself from her mother, and bounced a few steps into the great room. She turned. She flipped her shoulder-length hair to one side, and she tossed the tennis ball into the air. With an imaginary racquet she served an
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unseen opponent a crushing blow. She laughed again, and didn’t Andrew laugh with her? Picture Lillian observing them. What was that look on her face? Wasn’t it the dimly curious look of someone trying to come in late on a joke or a game? Couldn’t she be included? Wasn’t that the question on her face as she had watched them tumble out of the dark space? New leaves beyond the window danced shadows about on the floor in that afternoon light. His wife had searched his eyes, her own absorbing the room’s light, pupils gaping for more in the filtered air. Even toying with the tennis ball, there was nothing playful in the stony look she kept locked on Andrew. Her daughter extended and flexed her body in the slow motion approximation of a serve, and the room was overtaken by a sudden air of sadness, of resignation. What had changed that day? It was all an innocent game; wasn’t that what she understood it to be when she and her daughter entwined arms? In that upward reach, so clear to him now, mother and daughter continued in a spiraling wrap, twisting into themselves. And what was his role in the shifting energy of that structure? Andrew lifts from beneath the blanket, takes in the room around him. He looks at the tennis ball, still resting in the arc of light, and he wonders, how it could have sat there, unaddressed all of these years. He stands and lets the blanket drop to the floor. He steps around the ball, and clicks off the lamp, without looking at it again. He moves toward the light of the hallway and starts to climb the stairs to their bedroom, feeling a new and uncertain weight in his gut. Years ago, on a budding spring day, he joined in laughter with his stepdaughter. Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary. He had risked catastrophe as only dared the young. He lifted his eyes away from his wife and laughed, as if into a slicing rain, as he had when he stared into the darkness behind the mirror, and they had gone about their day. Doug Jackson
GEORGE SUCH Immured Surprising where your brain can jet on a trans-Atlantic flight, how as my body shifts between two others, elbows wedged against my ribs, I’m shoved inside a sleeping bag by older children. They pile on. I can’t breathe. And now that pressure on my bones – that desperation in my chest. I think of Mark, my friend who’s been in prison the past twelve years, how when he was young a friend’s older brother stuffed him inside a dryer, closed the door, and wouldn’t let him out – how he must have felt, contorted in that metal drum. In my airplane seat I watch my mind seal itself inside a casket of panic. Mark has three more years before he’s out. He tells me in his letters
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that he survives by traveling in his mind to the fishing we did when we were young, casting lures in the Columbia River – a hole we called “smallmouth paradise”– watching the water roll and curl, waiting for our lines to surge. I lean forward and rest my elbows on the plastic tray. I breathe. I rest my head against my hands, my face feeling my warm fingers, fingers feeling the moisture on my face, as if I were plural, one self sensing another, as if a friend reached out a hand and said: Come back from your flight and be with me.
ALEXANDRA SAMARINA The-Most-Hated I’m here to find you, Since I have your portrait immured in my mind. Since I saw you, the Formless, Since I heard you, the Mutest, Since I touched you, the Absent, Since I embraced you, the Stinging, Since I silenced you, the Singing, Since I poisoned you, the Happiest, Since I frightened you, the Bravest… All I’m destined to is following the Hostile. I hope we will be friends after a while. I already hear you breathing, the Uncreated. I already love you, dear The-Most-Hated.
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BRYAN D METS Temporal This thing lying here is not a deer Not a shining-eyes-staring, Ears-pricked-defiantly-toward-the-bull-face Of the moon, Ripping-silently-through-cornfields Deer, but Unblinking flesh A lost reel of film Torn apart across a black road, a Chrome grill, an orange pylon, by a director Enraged celluloid Could not capture The scene. I do not know why this Thing-That-Is-Not-A-Deer came to be Here, surrounded by red-and-blue flashing lights In the middle of the day, Saginaw stretching Around in congealing lines, Pulling the city To this single point, Avoiding focus, Blue caps, black sticks, white gloves Gesticulating, A moment as if Gravity lapsed And this thing lying here is not a deer, A brown stain To wash away In the next rain.
Bryan D Mets
CONTRIBUTORS Karen Biscopink lives in San Francisco, CA. She has an MFA in poetry from the University of San Francisco. In addition to working for a local tech startup, Karen is the associate editor for Apogee Press and Litseen, and she contributes reviews and columns to various publications. Her work has recently appeared in Metazen, Watershed Review, and Hayden’s Ferry Review. Marion Cohen teaches math and writing at Arcadia University. Her books total 20, including a memoir Dirty Details: The Days and Nights of a Well Spouse (Temple University), Crossing the Equal Sign (Plain View), poetry about the experience of mathematics, and the just-released Parables for a Rainy Day (Green Fuse). Rae Gouirand’s first collection of poetry, Open Winter, was selected by Elaine Equi for the 2011 Bellday Prize, won a 2012 Independent Publisher Book Award and the 2012 Eric Hoffer Book Award, and was a finalist for the Montaigne Medal, the Audre Lorde Award, and the California Book Award for poetry. She is currently at work on a second collection of poems and a book of linked essays. Doug Jackson lives and writes in Roanoke, Virginia. His work has been acknowledged with the Tennessee Writers Alliance Short Fiction Award, the James Andrew Purdy Award for Fiction, and the Bay to Ocean Fiction Award. His stories have been included in Haunted Voices, Haunting Places: An Anthology of Writers of the Old and New South, and The Delmarva Review. He works as a community capacity development specialist with the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and is a graduate of Duke University; the University of Calirfornia, Irvine; and the creative writing program at Hollins University. Bryan D Mets lives, works, and prays for Michigan. His poems have previously been published in Nimrod. You can find him in the sunflowers if the season’s right, or by emailing BDMetsptry@gmail.com.
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James Ulmer is Chair of the Department of English and Foreign Languages at Southern Arkansas University. His poetry and fiction have appeared in The New Yorker, The North American Review, Poetry, The Missouri Review, and elsewhere. His book of ghost stories. The Secret Life, was published by Halcyon Press in 2012 and has been nominated for several awards including a Bram Stoker Award and The Shirley Jackson Prize. Alexandra Samarina, 19 years old, is a young poet and literary translator from Moscow, Russia, a student of Maxim Gorky Literary Institute, and a participant of different writing programs, both Russian and international. Jay Schroder lives in Talent, Oregon. Along with his practice of poetry, he also practices karate (he’s a 2nd degree black belt). He is also muddling through the frustrating processes of teaching himself to play the guitar and to sew his own shirts. He teaches writing and language arts classes at South Medford High School. He’s a Fishtrap Fellow, an Emerging Voices Finalist, has won several poetry awards and contests and has had his work published in various literary journals including West Wind Review, Whistling Fire Review, Jefferson Monthly, and Watershed. Holly Smith is a senior at Swarthmore College studying history and statistics. She was born in Chicago and it was there that she developed her love for creative writing and photography. She always has some form of a camera on her so that she’ll never miss a great photo. George Such: A chiropractor in a previous incarnation, George Such is a student in the English Ph.D. program at University of Louisiana Lafayette, where he was awarded a University Fellowship. His collection of poems, Where the Body Lives, was selected as winner of the 2012 Tiger’s Eye Chapbook Contest. James Valvis is the author of How To Say Goodbye (Aortic Books, 2011). His work has appeared in Anderbo, Arts & Letters, Barrow Street, Baltimore Review, Hanging Loose, LA Review, Nimrod, Rattle, River Styx, Vestal Review, and many others. His poetry has been featured in Verse Daily and the Best American Poetry website. His fiction was chosen for the 2013 Sundress Best of the Net. A former US Army soldier, he lives near Seattle. Contributors
CLAY BIRD REVIEW Enter Ghost
Featuring: Karen Biscopink Rae Gouirand
Marion Cohen Doug Jackson
Bryan D Mets Jay Schroder George Such James Valvis
Alexandra Samarina Holly Smith James Ulmer
Submit for our next theme: Ekphrasis and Reappropriation Email up to five poems or one story as an attachment to email@example.com
Published on May 14, 2014
This is the first issue of Clay Bird Review, featuring work by Karen Biscopink, Marion Cohen, Rae Gouirand, Doug Jackson, Bryan D Mets, Alex...