Andrea Behrends is a senior in Cinema and Photography at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
In this volume: Jhoanna S. Aberia Candice Amich Dargie Anderson Kathleen Balma Laure-Anne Bosselaar Maxine Scates
Kathryn Stripling Byer
Jason Daniel Schwartz
Alana Merritt Mahaﬀey
Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie
Amber Flora Thomas
Charles Harper Webb
CR AB ORCH AR D •
published by the Department of English Southern Illinois University Carbondale
$8.00 ISSN 1083-5571
Including our 2005 Poetry, Fiction & Nonﬁction Prize Winners
$8.00us Vol. 10 No. 1
Crab Orchard Review
Elizabeth S. Hogan
Volume 10, Number 1 Winter/Spring 2005
Crab Orchard Review
Cover: Eight photographs by Andrea Behrends © 2005
A B ORCH AR R C D •
A B ORCH AR R C D •
A JOURNAL OF CREATIVE WORKS
VOL. 10 NO. 1
“Hidden everywhere, a myriad leather seed-cases lie in wait . . .” —“Crab Orchard Sanctuary: Late October” Thomas Kinsella Editor & Poetry Editor Allison Joseph
Founding Editor Richard Peterson
Prose Editor Carolyn Alessio
Managing Editor Jon Tribble
Editorial Interns Matthew Brown Joan Dy Aron Eﬁmenko Clay Held Deb Jurmu Kevin Kainulainen Jan LaPerle Linsey Maughan Chad Parmenter Patty Dickson Pieczka Maggie Shelledy Timothy Wagner
Assistant Editors Clint Cargile Steven Leek Tim Marsh Michael Meyerhofer Renee Wells
Book Review Editor Jon Tribble
Winter/Spring 2005 ISSN 1083-5571
Special Projects Assistant Josh Vinzant Board of Advisors Ellen Gilchrist Charles Johnson Rodney Jones Thomas Kinsella Richard Russo
The Department of English Southern Illinois University Carbondale
Address all correspondence to:
CRAB ORCHARD REVIEW
Southern Illinois University Carbondale Carbondale, Illinois 62901-4503 Crab Orchard Review (ISSN 1083-5571) is published twice a year by the Department of English, Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Subscription rates in the United States for individuals are $15 for one year, $25 for two years, $35 for three years; foreign rates for individuals are, respectively, $20, $35, and $50. Subscription rates for institutions are $16 for one year, $32 for two years, and $48 for three years; foreign rates for institutions are, respectively, $21, $42, and $63. Single issues are $8 (please include an additional $3 for international orders). Copies not received will be replaced without charge if notice of nonreceipt is given within four months of publication. Six weeks notice required for change of address. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Crab Orchard Review, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Carbondale, Illinois 62901-4503. Crab Orchard Review considers submissions from January through April, and September through November of each year. All editorial submissions and queries must be accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Please notify the editors of simultaneous submission. Crab Orchard Review accepts no responsibility for unsolicited submissions and will not enter into correspondence about their loss or delay. Copyright © 2005 Crab Orchard Review Permission to reprint materials from this journal remains the decision of the authors. We request Crab Orchard Review be credited with initial publication. The publication of Crab Orchard Review is made possible with support from the Chancellor, the College of Liberal Arts, and the Department of English of Southern Illinois University Carbondale; and through generous private and corporate donations. Lines from Thomas Kinsella’s poem “Crab Orchard Sanctuary: Late October” are reprinted from Thomas Kinsella: Poems 1956-1973 (North Carolina: Wake Forest University Press, 1979) and appear by permission of the author. Crab Orchard Review is indexed in Index of American Periodical Verse. Visit Crab Orchard Review’s website:
Crab Orchard Review and its staﬀ wish to thank these supporters for their generous contributions, aid, expertise, and encouragement: Rick Stetter, Susan H. Wilson, Karl Kageﬀ, Barb Martin, Carol Burns, Larry Townsend, Jane Carlson, Kathy Kageﬀ, and Kyle Lake of Southern Illinois University Press Division of Continuing Education SIU Alumni Association The Graduate School College of Liberal Arts The Ofﬁce of the Vice Chancellor for Academic Aﬀairs and Provost The Southern Illinois Writers Guild
Crab Orchard Review is supported, in part, by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.
Crab Orchard Review wishes to express its special thanks to our generous Charter Members, Patrons, Donors, and Supporting Subscribers listed on the following page whose contributions make the publication of this journal possible. We invite new Charter Members ($250 or more), Patrons ($100), Donors ($50), and Supporting Subscribers ($25) to join us. Supporting Subscribers receive a one-year subscription; Donors receive a two-year subscription; Patrons receive a three-year subscription; and Charter Members receive a lifetime subscription. Address all contributions to Crab Orchard Review, Department of English, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois 62901-4503.
CHARTER MEMBERS Edward Brunner & Jane Cogie Linda L. Casebeer Dwayne Dickerson Jack Dyer Joan Ferrell John Guyon John M. Howell
Richard Jurek Greg & Peggy Legan Beth L. Mohlenbrock Jane I. Montgomery Ruth E. Oleson Peggy Shumaker
PATRONS Alejandro Cáceres Siobhan Fallon Kent Haruf Jesse Lee Kercheval Lisa J. McClure
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DONORS Lorna Blake Tawanna R. Brown Charles Fanning Jewell A. Friend John & Nancy Jackson Reamy Jansen Rob & Melissa Jensen Jon Luther
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SUPPORTING SUBSCRIBERS Serge & Joan Alessio Erik C. Campbell Joanna Christopher K. K. Collins Jeremiah K. Durick Corrine Frisch John & Robin Haller Zdena Heller Karen Hunsaker
Chris Kelsey Lee Lever Jessica Maich Charlotte McLeod Peggy & Albert Melone Nadia Reimer Catherine Rudnick Peter Rutkoﬀ Paul & Lisa Von Drasek
A B ORCH AR R C D •
VOLUME 10, NUMBER 1
FICTION & PROSE 1
The Daily Willa
Jason Daniel Schwartz
Undressing a Tree
Tangled in the Ropes
In the Palace Parking Lot
Jhoanna S. Aberia
Mag Mano Ka
The Animal in the Walls
Grammar Lessons: The Subjunctive Mood
Recent Titles by Donald Morrill, Gordon Weaver, Veronica Golos, Matthea Harvey, Harry Humes, Christina Pugh, David Shumate, and Michael Sowder
Poetry Candice Amich
The Man in the Photo
Ali, Zaire, 1974
Cherry Blossoms Albino Horses Lehinch
36 37 38
Driving Oklahoma The Dragonﬂy
Kathryn Stripling Byer
La Huelga, 1970 The On Position
Dream of the Anxiety Clinic
Dawn The Body After Diagnosis
Snow in a Gdansk Courtyard Mapping the Lover
At the Outermost Shrine of the Narrowmost Road Shadeland
Goldﬁnch After Rain
Monks at the Pool
Train Stopped Along an Embankment
Elizabeth S. Hogan
The Blessing of Throats Rough Notes
To Eat a Mango Concepción
Recitation During the Storm
The Book of Stars
Alana Merritt Mahaﬀey
The Education of Girls
Sign. Signiﬁer. Signify. Signiﬁed.
Briefcase of Sorrow Coins
No Longer Krakรณw Late August Song
Greatest of These Is Fire The Dead Guy and the Evangelist
Are Not All Things Lovely Far Away?
City in the Air Embouchure The New Retina
184 185 186
Coming Home in Autumn Choleric
The House of Her The Catacombs Circus
193 194 196
In Your Movie Star Dream
In the Maternity Shop
Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie
Amber Flora Thomas
The Killed Rabbit Migraine Confessional Unattended Prayer The Get Away
224 225 226 227
Ode to Joy Lice
Ghazal False Spring Elegy
234 235 236
Charles Harper Webb
She Is or Isn’t
One World Only
Just Today Chuck Berry Knocks Us Dead
243 244 259
A Note on Our Cover The eight photographs on the cover of this issue are the work of Andrea Behrends, a senior in Cinema and Photography at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
Announcements We would like to congratulate past contributor J. Weintraub, whose nonﬁction piece “My Mother’s Recipes” appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Volume 8, Number 2 (Spring/Summer 2003). “My Mother’s Recipes” was awarded a 2004 IAC Literary Award from the Illinois Arts Council and was listed as a Notable Essay from 2003, chosen by Robert Atwan, series editor, in the 2004 Best American Essays.
The 2005 Richard Peterson Poetry Prize, Jack Dyer Fiction Prize, and John Guyon Literary Nonﬁction Prize
We are pleased to announce the winners and ﬁnalists of the 2005 Richard Peterson Poetry Prize, Jack Dyer Fiction Prize, and John Guyon Literary Nonﬁction Prize. The winning entry in the poetry competition was four poems by Amber Flora Thomas of San Rafael, California. The ﬁnalists in poetry were ﬁve poems by Anis Shivani and two poems by Nadine Meyer. The winning entry in the ﬁction competition was “Tangled in the Ropes” by Jason Skipper of Kalamazoo, Michigan. The ﬁnalists in ﬁction were “Held” by Amina Gautier and “Experimenting with Birds” by Sylvia Torti. In literary nonﬁction, the winning entry was “Grammar Lessons: The Subjunctive Mood” by Michelle Morano of Chicago, Illinois. Finalists in literary nonﬁction were “Purple” by Margaret Collins and “For My Sister, Who Has Learned How to See in the Dark” by Laura Distelheim. The ﬁnal judge for the poetry competition was Rodney Jones, a member of Crab Orchard Review’s Board of Advisors. The ﬁnal judge for the ﬁction and literary nonﬁction competitions was Carolyn Alessio, Crab Orchard Review’s prose editor. All three winners received $1500 and their works are published in this issue. Congratulations to the winners and ﬁnalists, and thanks to all the entrants for their interest in Crab Orchard Review. Crab Orchard Review’s website has updated information on subscriptions, calls for submissions, contest information and results, and past, current and future issues. Visit us at:
Philip Graham The Daily Willa It all began with the funny papers, the goddamn funny papers.
Willa sat in the diner and listened to the spatter and sizzle of hamsteaks in the background, trying to forget her latest assignment—an interview with a woman who’d been voted Most Devoted Gardener by her block association. But the woman’s airy little refrain—“I wouldn’t want to live in a world without azaleas”—kept repeating in Willa’s head, so she picked idly through the Courier and checked to see how the copy editor had butchered her latest masterpiece, “Ambitious Sewing Projects for the Coming Winter Months.” Why, really, did she care? If she hadn’t written it she certainly wouldn’t read any such thing. True, her assignments did some good, since the secret point of most of her stories was how to save a penny or two in these hard times. She was lucky to have a job, though she wasn’t sure how much longer it would last, and then her father would be right that a college degree and a nickel would get a girl bus fare and not much more. Her coﬀee cup still waited for that reﬁll. Sighing, she turned the page and came upon the latest Rube Goldberg cartoon. Willa usually skipped past the silly thing, but today’s caption, “Closing the Window,” caught her eye. She and Clark had gotten into a humdinger that morning, all over a little fresh air, so she gave the cartoon a glance: a frog tethered to a wire supposedly homesick for water leapt with joy at the sound of a rainstorm outside, and this set in motion an improbable contraption of a hot water bottle and a rising mound of yeast, a coiled spring and a car bumper, a monkey, bananas, and trapeze rings that, connected to a pulley, ﬁnally closed the window. Willa lifted her cup of coﬀee for the passing waitress and gazed in wonder at the cartoon’s long, mad journey for so simple an end. It might as well have been the secret blueprint for this morning’s argument. Willa had awakened as she always did, expecting to see her mother’s shocked face looking down at her and saying, “Just what kind of a girl have you become?” Instead, Willa only saw scraps of peeling paint on the ceiling. Crab Orchard Review
Philip Graham She’d licked her dry lips, reached over to the window, and pushed it up. “Close that damn thing,” Clark had moaned, still half-asleep, “it’s cold in here.” “Well, I’m warm. How about I pull it down…halfway?” she replied in that long-suﬀering patient voice she knew annoyed him. “No, close it all the way—it’s October, for Christ’s sake.” “Then how about just a crack? It’s stuﬀy in here.” Clark sat up in bed, reaching for his glasses. “Let me see how much.” Why had they suddenly found themselves shouting and waving their arms over a sliver of open window? Was it the Battle of Closing the Window, or the Battle of the Temperature, or was it really, Willa suspected, the Battle of Something Else that she wasn’t sure of? With another glance at the cartoon Willa chuckled at such a device, so conﬁdently built on false assumptions—wouldn’t the monkey eat those bananas ﬁrst instead of slipping on them? The optimistic futility of it all made Willa snort with delight. And that pile of yeast—just how long would it take to rise before releasing the coiled spring? The rainstorm would long be over by then! Yet what could be more precarious and ridiculous than her own obscure motivations? If these weren’t complicated enough, how much more diﬃcult to ﬁnd someone whose inner workings might somehow mesh smoothly with hers. Willa knew there was a secret history behind something as ordinary as a smile. She’d noticed Clark on her ﬁrst day in the newsroom, surrounded by some of the younger reporters who clearly were having trouble following his rant about psychoanalysis. “What are the superego, ego and id anyway,” he asked, “but Moe, Larry and Curly? Think of it—Secrets of the Unconscious, starring the Three Stooges and directed by Sigmund Freud.” Willa had lingered at the edge of the admiring but uncomprehending crowd and smiled at the thought of Saturday afternoon movies. She saw herself howling in the dark at the wide-screen antics of Moe, who she now imagined as a scowling superego in a bowl cut, poking the eyes of Larry, the frazzle-haired, shoulder-hunched ego, while Curly the id ran in circles around them, shouting “Woo woo, woo woo woo woo woo!” This smile had surely caught Clark’s eye, because he made a point of introducing himself before the day was over. Though the only feature he had in common with the dreamy Gable was two big ears, he was cute enough, and hadn’t she done well that ﬁrst conversation, with a sigh meant to bolster his conﬁdence, a raw little laugh hinting at her attraction, and then a wave goodbye that lingered long enough 2 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Philip Graham to mean quite the opposite? Within a day or two Clark was back again, inviting her for a drive in the country. It was an hour or so of nothing much to see from the front seat of his battered old Ford until he stopped at a gas station and said, “Fill ‘er up.” She loved the way he said that with such casual authority to the attendant, a boy with a bad complexion who eyed her without really trying to, and that’s when her mother’s disembodied voice appeared for a moment, saying something harsh about the length of her skirt. So Willa leaned over and kissed Clark, a nice slow one the kid at the gas pump couldn’t miss, the kind that would leave her mother gasping in disapproval. By the end of the day they had somehow worked themselves into lying naked on Clark’s bed, his penis poised just outside her. The way he waited, so politely, made her want to open up even more, but she was frightened too, and felt her legs tighten. She pressed them against the length of his own legs and this felt so good she opened her eyes to his questioning face. “Fill ’er up,” she whispered, and he laughed and obeyed. Since then it had been one convoluted grappling for contact after another. They’d been keeping company for some time, pretending there was nothing between them at work, though everyone knew. But from week to week their silences when alone grew longer, and Willa always mooched cigarettes to hide the long awkward stretches. How they used to talk into the night about the rise of that awful bully Hitler, or Roosevelt’s sneaky try at packing the Supreme Court, or the Negro question. Clark had as open a mind as anyone she’d encountered, so why was it now closing to her? He thought she complained too much about her assignments, but what did he know? It wasn’t easy getting a college degree in journalism, just to be cloistered in the women’s beat. He reported city council meetings, even the occasional offbeat crime. So she didn’t deserve the sort of words he could spit out that echoed the sudden cruel twist of his face. They always made up, of course, tears and regrets all around, but then it was Willa’s turn. She’d ﬂirt with practically anybody, and the less interesting the man the better. She never had to follow through, thank god—Clark always intervened, just as she hoped he would. Then he sulked for days on end, exactly the sort of smoldering that would wind them up tight again. Finishing her coﬀee, Willa motioned for the check and imagined magnets and weather vanes, cigarette lighters, sky rockets, bowling balls and clothespins inside her, not to mention every variety of scissors, Crab Orchard Review
Philip Graham knives and icepicks, plus string, wire and piping to hold it all together, the sort of inventory that could provide inﬁnite possibilities for selfdestructive deception and pointless mayhem. She looked down at the cartoon again—now transformed into a slapstick diagram of the grind and mesh of Clark’s gears with hers, the awful logic of every failed attempt at really, truly ﬁtting together. Oh, we’re a bunch of Rubes! Willa thought, and she laughed, laughed until the other diners began to shift their eyes away, laughed until they began to stare at her, laughed until tears clotted her eyes, tears that smeared the make-up on her face, tears that turned into sobbing. Willa pushed the paper away in horror at this unexpected unraveling. She slapped a tip on the table and ran out the door, through the cold rain to Clark’s car. He’d taught her to drive—didn’t that mean something? He’d even let her borrow his old tin can for her assignment today. So maybe he still loved her, maybe he might actually understand when she told him about all this Rube Goldberg stuﬀ. Willa could already imagine his sideways smile growing into a grin as he listened. He was waiting for her at Mickey’s house for the usual Friday gathering after work, but probably with growing impatience, so she backed out of the parking lot and gave it the gas. She was late because of a newspaper comic, of all things, but one that just might untangle their knots. And what would that be like? Well, even though it was pouring outside, Willa rolled down the window a crack and pretended Clark sat beside her and didn’t complain, because after all he knew she needed her fresh air. Willa liked the thought of a compliant Clark in the passenger seat, invisible but friendly, like an imaginary friend. Willa laughed at the idea. How long had it been since she’d thought of dear old Louise? Now there was an invisible friend. Louise loved to chase and be chased, and they used to tear through the house together, past her parents who never knew where Louise would turn up next, and that was what was so wonderful about her—she was Willa’s alone. Oh Louise, the whispering announcer of emergencies and disasters! Willa loved to report any news designed to grab her mother’s attention, to pull her from the haze she wandered through: “Louise says monsters are out tonight,” or “Louise says those mashed potatoes are poison,” or “Louise says the pantry is on ﬁre.” Why such a haze? Willa suspected it was all because of her grandfather, who died from some sudden illness when her mother was barely two years old and didn’t even leave behind a photograph to help evoke a single fond memory. Worse, by the age of eight Willa’s mother had found herself 4 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Philip Graham overwhelmed by the hard facts of a stepfather and his ﬁve older children. Imagine, being an only child for so many years and then suddenly surrounded by a gang of clubby siblings dividing the family pie into smaller and smaller pieces, until she was left with only a razor-sharp slice. Now there was one of the main turns in her mother’s life, the Rube Goldberg moment—an unstable set of gears constructed for her that would make her tick for the rest of her life. If this was the mechanism of the woman who helped raise me, Willa thought, then how did that aﬀect my own little baby gears? How did they lead me to the eensy-weensy possibilities of the reporter I’ve become, a prisoner of the Ladies Page? Turning on to the road heading out of town, Willa imagined Louise taking Clark’s invisible place on the passenger seat, arms crossed and staring at her in disgust. What story could I write that might release me from Favorite Holiday Recipes? Willa would love to capture secrets far more complicated than any simple whowhatwherewhenwhy. Only why could hint at the riches beneath, but where was the column space to contain it? Is it possible, Willa wondered, to uncover the juicy deep background, the Rube Goldberg variations, or do they remain hidden, out of reach from any snooping reporter? The sky was now a dark smear, the cold rain turning to sleet. I have to concentrate, Willa told herself, and the invisible Clark beside her snapped, “Be careful!” as she came upon an icy curve. She turned the wheel with her increasingly expert twist of the wrist, but the car simply slid sideways. “Oh no oh no—stop!” she cried, her foot on the brake, but that was a mistake. Now the car spun and spun, oﬀ the gravel shoulder and then into the air, skidding down a muddy slope straight into a dark pond. Cold water poured in the window Willa had left open a crack. “I have to get out, get out!” she heard her frightened voice crying. The water kept rising as she tried to push the door open, but the pressure was too great, and her skirt and jacket were so wet and cold she could barely move. How could the car ﬁll so quickly? Willa opened her mouth to shout for help and water rushed in. Her breath bubbled out—little circles and ovals rising swiftly to the roof of the car, joining the small, vibrating puddle of air that was all that was left of her life: not enough of it. She rose up to suck it back but hit her head against the roof, breaking that bubble into scattering beads. She tried to shepherd them back together, but her arms couldn’t move fast enough. She ﬁnally managed to press her lips to the roof of the car, gasping at the last sliver of air, and then that was gone too. Crab Orchard Review
Philip Graham Her slow motion ﬂailing increasingly futile, her lungs aching and brain starved of oxygen, Willa imagined she was a sleek trout, ﬁghting against a ﬁsherman’s line and the steady pull toward the surface of fatal air. Oh, if only she could sink, return to the depths, then she would survive! But she wasn’t a ﬁsh, she was Willa, drowning in a miserable little pond that might as well be as deep as any ocean. When Willa pokes her head above the roof of her car, for a moment she believes she’s broken the surface of the water, still alive. But her hands resting on the roof are transparent, and only half of her body is above the dented metal roof—her other half she can feel dangling in the water below. She resembles those air bubbles that escaped her mouth underwater—her own breath is now in the shape of her body. I’ve drowned? Willa says in a voice like a watery waver, a hidden current, I’m dead? Under the hazy glow of clouds lit by a full moon, Willa regards the pond, now just a ﬂat surface pocked by rain. Who knows how long it’ll take to ﬁnd my body? She looks past the water, to the dark ribbon of road and sees the distant blazing lights of Mickey’s house. No, she moans, I came so close. Willa pulls herself out of the water and skitters in the air to the embankment rutted with tire tracks. Maybe I’m still alive, maybe this is just another desperate hallucination, Willa thinks—there’s still time. She rushes through the air to Mickey’s and barrels up the porch steps and past the open door. A good proportion of the Courier crowd are gathered in the living room, drinking cheap booze and cheaper cigarettes, chatting and laughing at who knows what. Clark, save me! Willa cries, her hands stretched toward him, Save me, save me! Clark merely steps on a chair and raises his glass of whiskey. Willa stops, stunned—he can’t hear her. “To the advertisers!” he shouts, and because everyone ignores him, or turns away, he continues, idiotically, “And to…to all their friends and relatives.” He is quite the blowhard, isn’t he? Willa thinks. She tries to close her eyes rather than watch these antics, but her eyelids are as transparent as the rest of her, and in desperation she thinks, Oh God, maybe this is just a terribly vivid dream, a warning dream, telling me what a jerk Clark is. But why the drowning, what’s that supposed to mean—that there’s no happy ending with him? Then Todd, the sports page editor, and one of the front oﬃce secretaries—arm-in-arm and none too steady on their feet—walk 6 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Philip Graham through her, the strangest sort of silky clinging and release that she knows she could never have imagined on her own. This is no dream she will ever wake from. I’m dead, I’ve gone away—of course I can’t be saved. With a last regretful glance at Clark, still up on the chair and warbling some Bing Crosby tune, Willa ﬂoats away through the falling rain, which feels like another kind of drowning. She heads back to town, for no other reason than the shining lights that seem familiar and comforting in the dark. What will become of her, why did this happen? Because of all that loose living, she imagines her mother’s voice saying. And serves you right, too. But if this is a punishment, where are the devils, or the gaping hole to Hell? And if not them, then where are the angels, for that matter? The only other-worldly creatures about are other ghosts, all of them more or less as shell-shocked as Willa. They ﬂoat through the rain, down the streets and alleys, through walls and windows, wanderers with no clear purpose. As the days and nights and days pass and pass again, Willa comes to know more than a few of them all too well. Some swoop and circle over the town like birds and never come down, the perfect, soaring denial of death. Some stand at street corners and shout out convoluted philosophical musings, every last word directed to a living audience that walks by and hears not a thing. Others let the wind cast them about, as if they were scraps of paper, discarded napkins streaked with mustard, a torn corner of a newspaper— whatever circles and tumbles down any alley or broad avenue. Then there’s the ghost who clasps herself each night to a street lamp’s luminous glass ball, as if she is the protecting light of an isolated street. Or the ghost who likes to ﬁt himself over the faces of the living, to feel the rippling contours of ever-changing emotion and thought, becoming an invisible, supple mask that weeps or grins or yawns. No, not the sort of thing for me, Willa thinks, her mind still swinging back and forth between the chasm of her two lives. When she ﬂoats past the hungry lines outside the relief oﬃce, Willa is amazed to realize how much she’s been released from food’s daily tug of longing, and all that shopping, cooking, eating and cleaning afterwards, all the inevitable anticipation and planning for the next meal. Now it’s gone except for the longing, because a corned beef sandwich would really hit the spot right now, Willa thinks. And she wouldn’t gain an ounce. And how she misses sleep. Even forty winks and the briefest Crab Orchard Review
Philip Graham of dreams would be a blessed relief from this seemingly endless awareness, though everything in the afterlife seems like a dream, and the other ghosts Willa passes in the streets or in parks, in parking lots or weed-strewn ﬁelds might as well be her own aimless thoughts in search of a ﬁnal awakening. It’s during one of her wandering tours through the town that Willa comes upon a familiar, depressing sight—a repossession truck parked outside an apartment building, three men armed with dollies and ropes and ready for heavy lifting, their caps tipped at a sharp angle for that “Don’t give me trouble” look. Here’s a little nightmare she can watch unseen and satisfy the perverse desire of taking in the misery of the living: ﬁnancial ruin, humiliation, the loss of cherished possessions. No wonder we call this the Depression, Willa thinks grimly. She ﬂoats up the stairs behind the men and waits as the foreman, a broad fellow with weary eyes, knocks on the door. They don’t wait for long. The door opens enough for them to see a narrow little woman with large, defeated eyes taking in their sheepish faces. “Ma’am, I’m sorry but—” “Don’t I know it. I’ve been waiting.” She steps aside and lets them in. What’s there to take? Willa wonders, ﬂoating through the spare rooms. That table in the kitchen, the breakfast plates still not cleared, or the couch beside the family radio in the living room? The bed, the dresser, the rug in the hallway? “Ma’am,” the foreman begins, opening up a battered leather ledger, “I have some papers here for your husband to sign—” “He’s not here right now.” Willa, hovering beside them, knows the woman is alone to face the music because her husband’s oﬀ somewhere on the streets, racked with step-by-step guilt. The foreman sees this too—Willa is sure he’s been trained to size up a situation quickly and prepare for any possibilities. His face relaxes, softens. “Well then, ma’am, if you could just sign in place of your husband…” “That’s what I’ve been waiting here to do,” she says, taking the pen and scratching her name across the bottom of the page. “Thank you, ma’am. First we gotta take that table, I’m sorry.” The wiry younger crewman asks, “What about the food? That too?” “No, that’s theirs, we’re just here for the furniture. You have to set the rest aside. And be careful about it.” The older crewman gathers the plates and places them on the ﬂoor: the coﬀee cups, the plate of toast, the butter dish. 8 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Philip Graham “Wait,” the foreman says, “hold on there, Henry. That table’s damaged.” Henry stops, but the younger man turns and says, “Huh? What’re you—” “C’mon Danny, see the water damage on the legs? That can’t be resold, it’s no good for the store.” Danny bends down to peer at the polished grain. “I don’t see no—” “What do you know about anything? Put the food back, I say. That table’s no good, it’s staying here. Now, let’s see, what’s on the rest of this list?” “That couch over there, right?” Henry asks. The foreman strides into the living room, sweeps his hands carefully over the cushions. “Nope, can’t take this. The fabric’s too stained.” Danny stands very still. Willa can almost hear the calculations going on behind the fear on his face—if he obeys the foreman, he might very well be sacked by the store owner on their return. “Hey, you sure? I don’t—” “Get paid to think. Jeez, it takes so long to train a new guy. Buy a pair of glasses if you can’t see straight. I’m telling you, leave that couch there.” Danny looks to the older crewman for support, but Henry avoids his gaze; it seems he’s used to the foreman’s lapses into compassion. “Now listen Danny,” the foreman says, “the owner’ll be grateful that we didn’t work on his dime dragging back furniture he can’t resell. So don’t you worry.” He writes down details of damage on the chart and checks oﬀ the furniture that can be returned—about half the list. The woman can only stare at him with grateful wonder, afraid to say anything that might complicate this performance. Now there’s a saint of a man who’d be the ideal subject for a feature. Willa can imagine what a heart-tugging story this would make, just right for the Sunday edition. But even if she were still alive and wrote such a tale, if it were printed the man would surely lose his job. Willa decides to write it anyway. Who’s to stop her? Where’s the copy editor who would dare alter her ghostly words? She remembers a lecture she’d covered last spring at the Horticultural Society, about the strangest plants of the world. She learned that every tumbleweed rolling along in the wind is a skeleton that ﬁnally releases its seeds through the bumpy travels of its death. Such a productive afterlife. Well, why can’t she have one too? The freedom of movement in her new existence isn’t enough: why not freedom of everything? If I couldn’t be the reporter I wanted to be when I was alive, then why not now—I know how to write a lead story, a feature. Crab Orchard Review
Philip Graham Willa ﬂoats to the Courier oﬃces after hours, the morning light not far oﬀ, and hovers before Clark’s typewriter. She wiggles her transparent ﬁngers over the keyboard, and this seems to clear her thoughts. Words ﬂow out of her, column after column, about the repossession foreman with a heart of gold. Then she gives herself half of the front page and even imagines a photo of that nervous woman standing in awe before the foreman, his ledger in hand, with the caption, “A Friend in Need.” When she’s done, Willa leans back as if in a chair and sighs with satisfaction. No more idle assignments for her, no more throw-away features. Now she can really do investigative reporting, the kind that will uncover the facts behind the facts behind the facts! Hell, she’ll be the publisher, the editor, the reporting staﬀ, copy-editor and production, even the janitor who turns oﬀ the last light bulb at the end of the night, all rolled into one. A newspaper like no other. She’ll call it The Daily Willa. So Willa investigates the hidden machinery of the school board’s secret meetings; the quiet understanding reached between the mayor and a local businessman over lunch, an envelope of cash passing under the table; the frightening brutality of police interrogations; the County Board burying their generous pensions in the budget; the misplaced ballot boxes; the selective, lucrative looking-the-other-way of the cop on the beat. Willa becomes a muckraker par excellence, the invisible ﬂy on the wall, the reporter who would own the front page if only there were a front page to actually own, instead of edition after imaginary edition hot oﬀ her private press. Once she drops by a town meeting, just to watch Clark sitting in the back, yawning. The bastard certainly doesn’t seem to miss me, she thinks. He scribbles in his notepad at some ordinary comment made about the school tax base, and Willa is amazed that she’d once envied his assignments. Then Clark rubs at his jaw in that funny way he had, as if someone had just taken a swipe at him, and Willa feels some nearly forgotten tenderness rising within her and she swiftly ﬂoats away. That same emotion brings her back now and then to the town hall, but one evening he’s not at his usual corner seat. Willa ﬂies to the Courier oﬃce and discovers that Clark’s desk has been taken over by someone else, the corner cluttered with family photos of a weary wife and several small children—Willa doesn’t bother to count them. A quick check of the rest of the oﬃce convinces her he’s gone, not promoted. Maybe Clark has volunteered for the army, oﬀ to take on that monster Hitler, because there 10 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Philip Graham is a war on, though she’s barely noticed, she’s been so busy. Willa stops, ashamed that her ghostly life has left her indiﬀerent to the wider world’s troubles. My Clark has gone oﬀ to war, Willa thinks, and she wishes the lout well, wherever he is. Now Willa concentrates on reporting stories of the home front: the selling and hoarding of ration cards; the hank-panky that goes on behind the manager’s door at the factory, now almost entirely staﬀed by women; and funeral homes’ hidden over-charges for the services held for the bodies of all the brave lost men. By the time the soldiers ﬁnally return home from Europe and the Paciﬁc, The Daily Willa has become the newspaper that scoops all those rags the living read. Then neighborhoods sprout everywhere, with nearly identical houses lined together on each side of each street, with nearly identical young families inside them. Or so it would seem. Willa knows a few of the secrets of the women left behind during the war, and as for the men, she can only imagine what some of them went through. Their children run wildly through the rooms and hallways as if there is no past. One morning Willa ﬂoats through one of these new neighborhoods, curtains neatly trimming the wide windows, bikes lying on the grass, and an unusual sight passes by on the road—a Negro couple seated in the back of a car, a white man driving. A possible story, perhaps, so she swoops down through the roof of the car and ﬂoats beside the middle-aged man and woman, suited and dressed as if going to church. “Now I’ll just take a short-cut here and we’ll get to some nice houses I’m sure you’ll like,” the white man says, glancing back through the rearview mirror. They pass a house with a FOR SALE sign on the lawn: a dark brick front, a ﬂowering dogwood casting shade over the deep green hedge. The woman touches her husband’s hand, and he says, “You can stop right here, sir, we like the looks of this one.” “That house? It was sold yesterday.” “Then why is the For Sale sign still on the lawn?” “Oh. I forgot to take it down. My mistake.” Again, the real estate agent glances back in the rear-view mirror and catches a look passing between the man and woman: a mere ﬂicker of eyelids that conveys skepticism and barely suppressed rage. He slows the car to a stop and turns to face them. “You don’t believe me, do you?” The couple isn’t taken aback by this sudden candor. “No sir, we do not,” the husband replies quietly. Crab Orchard Review
Philip Graham “Then just watch this.” He turns the car around, parks in front of the yard and steps out. He pulls the sign up and then throws it in the trunk. Back behind the wheel, he says, “There. It was my mistake. Satisﬁed?” “Don’t you need to replace that with a Sold sign?” “Don’t have one with me.” “Well, your oﬃce isn’t far away. We don’t mind—” The agent sighs, nearly rests his head on the steering wheel but stops himself. “Look, I like you people, I really do. But you have to understand—” “Oh, we understand very well,” the wife says, speaking for the ﬁrst time. She opens the car door and slides from the seat. The couple leaves him without another word and walk with as much dignity as they can muster down streets ﬁlled with houses they’ll never be given the opportunity to own. The palest of little girls, sitting on a front stoop and swirling circles of chalk, stops to stare at this rare sight. Who else could capture such a scene but Miss Willa “Fly-on-theWall” Pelzynski? Only she can expose every hidden part of the story, and it doesn’t take her long to locate the “Residential Security Map” in the back oﬃce of the bank, the Negro neighborhoods clearly outlined in red. Try snagging a home owner’s loan if you’re from one of these neighborhoods! She ﬁnds the same map in real estate oﬃces across the town. It’s another Reservation, but this time designed for Negroes. “We’ve created breeding grounds for despair and poverty,” she writes in her mind’s editorial column about the redlining of Negro neighborhoods: THE SHAME OF THE RED LINE “No one should remain conﬁned, even if the bars of the prison are invisible. What are we condemning our fellow citizens to but a life sentence without a trial? One day, the children or grandchildren of our unhappy Negro population may very well rise up and run riot against their captors.” It’s an exposé that no one alive will ever read. How this town would be turned upside down, if only the living could read her features. As for the ghosts wandering the streets, they’re too dead to vote—at least in most elections—and too busy playing out their own dramas to give a damn. Still Willa investigates, still she writes long columns inside herself, topped by one screaming headline after another. Yet she can’t help 12 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Philip Graham thinking, I’ve become journalism’s imaginary friend. What’s the point of a scoop that sees only the print of my mind? Nobody’s listening. There must be something else I can investigate, some story I can uncover and write for only me, she tells herself while hovering above the spacious front stoop of a family that underpays its servants. Willa waits for the cook to leave so she can follow her home to what will certainly be a ramshackle box of a house. The door opens and the cat is let out without a word, a ﬂuﬀy ball of a thing that simply begs for a name like Snookums. The cat pauses in the middle of Willa, licking its paws, turning its arrogant face and gleaming eyes back and forth before slinking across the wide front yard. The cook won’t be leaving for another hour, so Willa decides to follow this Snookums-like creature—she’s always been curious about the nocturnal haunts of cats, all those mice stalked and mauled while their masters sleep, or make love, or sit up in an insomniac haze, oblivious to everything but their own human concerns, in much the same way Willa’s friends laughed and drank and gossiped a hundred yards away from her drowning, their party lighting up the house like some joyous volcano pouring itself out into the night. She glides behind Snookums into the lush gardens bordering these residential properties, into the slender stands of trees and windbreak and ornamental shrubs where she knows nightly dramas unfold. Snookums pads lightly in a lazy arc through a handful of backyards, stopping to sniﬀ a clump of dirt, a tree trunk, or simply to listen, its tail just slightly twitching. This must be its territory, another sort of property superimposed over all these other properties: Snookum’s own mortgage-free kingdom. But it’s not maintenance-free. For hours, Snookums patrols the area, sniﬃng at the leavings of trespassing cats as it continues its slow, patient search for a kill. Little scrabbling things hide there in the darkness, tensing the muscles of Snookums, bringing it full stop, ears up, and calculating size, distance, speed. The cat leaps—two ﬂashing eyes curving through the darkness to a quick rustling struggle. Then silence, except for the muﬄed crunch of bone, the surrounding leaves’ soft movement in the breeze, the low constant hum of insects, and a distant purling of a car here and there on the neighborhood roads—the only hint of a human presence in this secret kingdom. In the morning, Snookums scratches at the side door until let in to the gleaming kitchen, stretching for a friendly chuck behind the ear. Outside, warblers and robins lay waste to the insects with a few swift strokes of Crab Orchard Review
Philip Graham their wings and the snap of a beak, but Snookums is tired now and only wants to settle on the couch, in a patch of cushion warmed by the rising sun. Meanwhile, Willa drifts from the house and down the street, losing herself in The Daily Willa, telling all beneath a lurid headline calculated to catch even an idle reader’s interest: FELINE SERIAL KILLER STILL AT LARGE I’m going crazy, Willa thinks, as nutty as a Rube Goldberg machine. When did that begin? Where am I right now in the convoluted workings, and where is my mind’s mechanism leading me to? Must hold on, must hold on, Willa thinks—oh, if only I hadn’t drowned. Yet she can’t help seeking out odder and odder assignments, while among the living an assassination, another war, those race riots she’d predicted and a hostage crisis pass like shadows. Willa haunts the sewers and reports on the breeding habits of rats, she counts the dead bodies of insects in the streetlamps’s glowing globes, she weaves herself among the wires of a telephone line and feels so many swift, secret words passing through her, so much sadness and anger, so little love or hope. How to write about such things, and who would read them? Willa imagines advertisers bailing out right and left. She slips in her journalistic mission ﬁrst by reducing the number of pages in the paper, then she misses a couple of editions, and ﬁnally The Daily Willa sports the bitter front-page headline: FAREWELL FAITHFUL READERS Willa oﬀers herself a severance package—generous, under the circumstances—and wanders the streets in search of any imaginable alternate work. Against her will, she ﬁnds herself unable to stop slipping into even the smallest collection of water, even the sudsy shallow pool at the bottom of a bathroom sink. Year after year—if she were counting— Willa submerges herself at every opportunity. When winter comes she haunts the swimming pool at the local Y, where the human form has never been so graceful, and watches the children swim past her, legs and arms churning waves and bubbles. Willa glides under the warm water too, for the slight resistance that’s enough to remind her of the body she left behind and all its pleasures: eating, walking, running, the elaborations of sex, a simple, morning stretch, a lazy yawn. Then Willa 14 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Philip Graham pretends she is back in that submerged car, drowning. But in this case she rises to the surface, her face open to the air, saved, saved again as she plunges back into the water and rises once more, and yet still she’s lost in this afterlife. Then Willa knows that she’s become like the other ghosts around her, hauling their long or short pasts, restless ghosts merely traveling, traveling, traveling. Could you go insane in the afterlife, your hidden gears locked for eternity? It’s the water, she has to avoid the water, and Willa decides to distract herself in the town’s bright new mall. She ﬂoats down long hallways draped with Christmas decorations, where the glut of thingsthingsthings to buy in each storefront seems to dull the passing crowds. How could she have possibly imagined that shoes and jewelry, stereo equipment and stuﬀed animals, blouses, sweaters, scarves and shelves of books could oﬀer her any escape? At the end of the grand concourse, across from Fannie May chocolates, a fountain awaits, its undulating pillars of spray like ghostly ﬁgures hovering in the air. Passersby toss coins that sink to the bottom of the water. If Willa could ﬂush with anger she would, at the very thought that such submersion could be considered lucky. She glides beneath the surface and regards the faces on the coins: ﬂat surfaces with no complicated working parts behind them, merely a stoic acceptance of their fates. So unlike her own harrowing last moments, her present despair. A solace, she thinks, to have such simplicity. A penny tumbles through her and Willa looks up through the water’s surface at the shimmering bodies of shoppers—strange wavery creatures, like gods deciding fates as they release coins that spiral to the bottom of the fountain. It’s a presidential graveyard down here, scads of Lincolns and Jeﬀersons, Roosevelts and Washingtons resting side by side. Then Willa realizes what an unparalleled opportunity she’s stumbled upon, and she glides to the nearest penny for an exclusive interview that will surely revive her career in journalism. Please Mr. Lincoln, could you share with us your reﬂections on that play you watched with Mrs. Lincoln at Ford Theater the night you were shot? Do you regret not seeing the end of the performance? No response. Perhaps she should have addressed him as “President Lincoln.” Well, I won’t make that mistake again, Willa vows, and she eases through the water over to a quarter. President Washington, could you elaborate on the cherry tree incident? Did it really happen, and if so, what in the world possessed you to chop down that tree in the ﬁrst place? Crab Orchard Review
Philip Graham Not a word. They’ve taken their secrets to the grave, sunk like treasure on the bottom of the sea. Or maybe it’s her fault—she should have worked her way up to such sensitive questions. She turns to President Jeﬀerson and tries out some human interest about his present state of aﬀairs. What’s it like, sir, to have your handsome mug on a coin? What’s it like to be manhandled by strange ﬁngers in dark pockets? And about your recent plunge into the fountain—do you currently feel particularly lucky? Silence, silence, and silence. At this rate, how will she ever ﬁnd out if he slept with Sally Hemings? Still, there must be a way to salvage this story, if only she can think of the right angle. And then the headline hits her: MASS DROWNING OF NOTED AMERICAN LEADERS SPOILS HOLIDAY SHOPPING Willa swims from coin to coin, counting casualties. Dead, all dead, like her, with no more stories to tell. As she stops above a shiny Roosevelt, a nickel sinks through the water nearby, like a depth charge. Willa imagines it exploding, and the thought suddenly courses through her—But our stories don’t end with death. Mine certainly hasn’t. Why have I ignored the dead? she wonders. I created my own journalistic ghetto, sleuthing in the wrong world. The afterlife, Willa realizes with awe, is a much bigger beat: Ghosts have stories like so many whirring gizmos hidden behind their transparent faces. She swims restlessly back and forth beneath the water, trying to decide who will be the ﬁrst interview of her revived career—that ghost who ﬁts herself to the shape of a street lamp’s shining globe at night, or one of the ghosts who ﬂitter through the alleys like scraps of paper? Willa thrills at the thought of all those secrets she’ll have to untangle, each one probably more knotted and twisted than any Rube Goldberg contraption. She can already imagine ﬂying from street corner to street corner like some newspaper that delivers itself, reporting these stories to all the passing ghosts, keeping them up to date on the afterlife. So Willa rises from the fountain, and when her face breaks through the water’s surface she releases a gleeful, ghostly shout, as if she’s actually saved herself from drowning.
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Mimi Herman Adorna In the year of 1972, my stepmother purchased a wig.
She did, in fact, have a head of perfectly serviceable real hair, of a not particularly ambitious auburn shade. But this was the style in 1972, for women of a certain class (upper middle) and a certain race (white) in a certain part of the country (which was then just starting to be called “The New South”) to purchase wigs, so as to save their real hair for a rainy day. In truth, her wig wasn’t as nice as the hair underneath, which didn’t begin to grey until she was in her late forties. Granted, the wig was made of real hair, but it had been dyed to an ash blonde that looked neither natural nor chic. Every morning before my stepmother ventured out to face the world, she pulled her actual hair tightly back from her forehead and twisted it into a ﬂat bun which wouldn’t show under her wig. Then she donned the ash blonde thing, pressing the front of it against her forehead, and stretching the remainder down to her ears and back to the place where her head met her spine, like a reverse scalping. She made a pained face as she did so, as if someone had asked her to swallow several aspirin without a water chaser. When she had secured the wig in place against her head with a light snap, she would take up a plastic pick, like the one my friend Adorna used on her afro, and ﬂuﬀ her dyed real-fake hair as if she were trying to whip meringues on top of her head. Then she would purse her lips approvingly in the mirror, ready to take on whatever the world might choose to put on her plate today. My stepmother was a timid woman. Everything intimidated her: dogs slobbering with friendliness, having to choose the right moment to cross at the crosswalk or shift gears. She never wore any item of clothing until it had been in style at least a year, nor did she make unnecessary telephone calls. Adorna, my best friend in sixth grade, liked my house better than hers. She was supposed to be home every afternoon after school to take care of her ﬁve-year-old sister, Carla, and their cousin, Trudy, Crab Orchard Review
Mimi Herman also ﬁve, who lived with them. But as often as not, she would tell Charlie who lived next door and did kindergarten work in his special school— making little hand turkeys for Thanksgiving and learning his ABCs every year all over again, since he never seemed to latch on to them, even though he was supposed to be in the eighth grade—to tell his mom to look after Carla and Trudy. Carla and Trudy didn’t actually need much looking after, which was a good thing, since Charlie never remembered to tell his mom. Mrs. Dawson, Adorna and Carla’s mom, was resigned to coming home from the K&W Cafeteria—where she handed customers green Jell-O mold across the sneeze shield—and ﬁnding her youngest daughter and niece playing at their little playtable in the clover and crabgrass backyard. That table had been Adorna’s once. The red and yellow ﬂowers and some of the shiny ﬁnish had faded away at the edges, leaving places where the bare wood had turned black with mildew, but it had two small sturdy chairs which ﬁt the two small sturdy girls perfectly as they drank endless cups of tea out of acorn caps and perched pale pink azalea blossoms on their heads for hats. When azalea season ended, they switched to rose-petal cloches, which they wore throughout the summer season. I didn’t ever remember having had such an appetite for imaginary tea, but Carla and Trudy, who called themselves Mrs. Peckish and Mademoiselle Darling, never complained when Adorna abandoned them to visit me, even when Charlie, grinning, hovered by their table, wanting to play. Sometimes they shooed him oﬀ as they did the neighbor dogs that appeared hopefully, having learned that food and children often meant table scraps. Other times they’d let Charlie play butler until he spilled the spigot water out of the acorn cups. Then they’d return to Plan A. The ﬁrst couple of times after Adorna and I became friends, when Mrs. Dawson telephoned, she sounded both irate and terriﬁed of what could have happened to the little girls, but after awhile, she realized that they were probably safer on their own, under the oblivious eye of Charlie’s mom, than in the company of Adorna and me, who might have been forced to try scientiﬁc experiments on them. So what did Adorna and I do, in the privacy of my room, away from nosy youngsters? We read Nancy Drew books aloud to each other, and when my stepmother was out shopping, we made popcorn, which we invariably burnt and put too much salt on. The burning meant we had to open the window and fan the burned air out of the house with cookie sheets. Perhaps the smell remained, even after we’d scrubbed the popcorn pot, but if so, my stepmother kindly never 18 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Mimi Herman commented on it. Technically, we were not supposed to use the stove without an adult present, but we’d never started a ﬁre yet, and we’d both practiced dialing 911 with the button pressed down so the call didn’t accidentally go through, so we felt safe enough to risk it. Adorna was bossy. I liked that about her, since I tended toward the timidity of my stepmother, which I seemed to have acquired through some sort of non-genetic heredity. Plus, I could never think of interesting things to do. Adorna always could, things like spying on my babysitter, Margie, and her friends, the boys and girls who snuck over to Margie’s house when her parents were out of town, and played Strip Poker and Spin the Bottle and sometimes Truth or Dare, right in the afternoons, after school. We would creep through the privet hedge and sneak up on the window, peering underneath the gaps in the bottom folds of the curtains so we could see the older girls in their hot pink and black bras and matching nylon bikini panties, and the boys in their baggy boxers and tight briefs. Because of the angle of the window, we could never see their faces, so we used to try to ﬁgure out through extrapolation who they might be. We recognized some of the boys’ chests from late afternoon pick-up basketball games on the junior high court, which we watched from a distance, picking out the boys we would marry, changing our plans as often as my stepmother changed my bed linens. Some of the girls’ breasts and hips we had seen when we went shopping for school clothes at Belk-Leggett. The girls might venture out of dressing rooms beside where we were trying on training bras, to show their girlfriends this mini-skirt or that belly-baring Indian print top. Still others, of both genders, we knew from the municipal pool, where they lifeguarded each summer or splashed each other or lay baking in green-mesh chaise lounges. We were also well-versed in whose older sister was dating whose older brother, so by process of association we could often ﬁgure out which couples were present. Each time we could successfully match all the below-the-necks with names, we felt absurdly proud, as if we’d passed a math test we hadn’t even bothered to study for. I probably don’t have the authority to say it, but Adorna was one of those girls who would have grown up bad, had she not been friends with me. She would certainly have had sex early with drunken boys, more than likely drunk herself. Talked back to her mother, slapped her sister and cousin around in loose volatile rages, run away and perhaps not been heard from again. I was sensible and realistic enough to recognize that, even then, just as I realized that without her, I would Crab Orchard Review
Mimi Herman have grown up a priss, completely unversed in the language of coolness, a sideline-sitter, a wallﬂower who sported Carter’s cotton full-cut underwear until well into my teens. What haven’t I told you? Besides, of course, the fact that Adorna was black and I was white, and this was Raleigh, North Carolina in 1972, the year the Wake County Public Schools began bussing black kids across town from Tarboro Street and South Wake Forest Road to my Martha White Flour-of-a-school in the suburbs, where you could walk from your neighborhood, where no one drove above 25 miles per hour at any hour of the day, except hot-rodding boys who raced up the streets on Friday nights like rampant poltergeists, high on testosterone and Michelob. For many of you, who grew up after I did, or in places where blacks and whites were not Venn diagrams intersecting only in the realm of service industries, 1972 will seem a little late for us to be getting around to integration. After all, the lunch counter sit-ins started in 1960. And right around then, black kids bravely mounted the steps of school in Alabama like stolid soldiers mounting horses to ride into battle. The schools had been legally integrated for several years before the ﬁrst black kid showed up in mine. But the law did not drive kids across town from the neighborhood where they lived to a school of strangers who did not want them. At least not until 1972, when Adorna blew into my ﬁfth-grade classroom like an insistent January wind, pulling seven other black kids like eddies in her wake. Adorna wasn’t particularly interested in other black kids. In fact, she wasn’t all that interested in other white kids, either. She held particular disdain for timidity, and I never understood why she put up with mine, except for the fact that her presence dissipated it. Adorna was not a person who could keep her mind on consequences. She was always diving between the strands of a barbed wire fence and striding past the No Trespassing sign. But I couldn’t leave her alone. She was a deliciously risky friend for a cautious person to have. When I was around Adorna, I would do anything she suggested: walking across the creek on a fallen dogwood tree like it was a tightrope, crawling through the culvert even though it was dark and smelly and, I suspected, full of slimy animals that had not yet evolutionized themselves. So perhaps she never realized I was timid, since I wasn’t that way around her, though I tended to put the brakes on anything I thought of as completely dangerous, like standing on each side of Yadkin Drive at dusk, pretending to stretch invisible ropes in front of cars. If I could claim that a kid had gotten killed or seriously hurt doing something, or invoke equally solemn consequences, like her 20 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Mimi Herman mom whupping the living shit out of her, which had been known to happen, Adorna usually yielded to reason. I never felt particularly brave, following her lead, as, given my own natural inclinations, I would have done nothing more courageous than bake chocolate chip cookies without permission to surprise my dad and stepmother. It also never occurred to me that we might have been showing bravery in choosing each other as friends, despite glares from other white girls who developed the habit of coming up to me on a Thursday, saying things like, “Well, I was going to invite you to my slumber party tomorrow night, but…” The sentence was never completed, but I knew I was meant to understand that the “but” implied that I had, through being a traitor to my race, forfeited my rights to participation in any activities that white girls shared with each other. The fact that they hadn’t invited me to their parties before I met Adorna never seemed to cross their minds, though I certainly remembered. It was just that now they could be frankly hostile. Now it wasn’t my whole personality they objected to, but my fraternization with the enemy. And “the enemy” was exactly how they saw it. Most of them had been raised by parents who saw black people as their nemeses, determined to inﬁltrate our schools, our homes and our lives until integration took hold and the white race disappeared, swallowed up into blackness. For Adorna, being friends with me wasn’t much safer. Not that her mom minded. Her mom fussed about stuﬀ but never seemed to take anything too deeply. But Adorna, being big for our age, and strong, not to mention afraid of nothing, got accepted under a special dispensation by the boys. Despite the fact that she was a girl, and the wrong color, the team captains always fought over who was going to get her, unlike me, whom they fought to keep oﬀ their teams. Adorna could whomp a baseball over the fence, could smear that red rubber kickball beyond the stretching ﬁngers of even the tallest sixth grade boys. Adorna was an asset. I was a liability. Since she wouldn’t play on any team unless they took me too, we came out to be almost a total wash, which caused the team captains some consternation until they realized they could rig the order of who was up to bat or up to kick so that I was last, and often never came up in an inning. Also, I could sometimes catch, though the boys were inclined to forget any decent plays I’d made. As for the girls, they didn’t want to have anything to do with Adorna, which was ﬁne with her. Not only was she absolutely loyal to me, which meant she wouldn’t speak to anyone who wouldn’t talk to me, she also didn’t have much use for girls, especially girly girls. Crab Orchard Review
Mimi Herman She did, oddly, revere my stepmother. This was odd not only to me; it also threw my stepmother, who didn’t know what to do with an eleven-year-old girl who came right up to her and pumped her hand when I introduced the two of them, saying, “Mrs. Rogers, I am so pleased to meet you. You are a very handsome woman.” “Thank you,” my stepmother replied, more than a little taken aback. As if it had been a compliment from the grocery store manager or a shoe salesman, she ran her ﬁngers through her ash blonde hair, unwittingly matting it down a little since her hands were coated with the sweat that cursed North Carolinians, even as late as September. Sometimes I would come home after making up a test I’d missed at school, or a Brownies meeting, to ﬁnd Adorna and my stepmother drinking milk out of wine glasses—an oddly frivolous touch from my serious stepmother—and eating chocolate chip cookies they had baked together. I might have been jealous. After all, my stepmother rarely thought to make cookies with me. But in truth, I was more than a little relieved. Both my stepmother’s constant fears and Adorna’s constant fearlessness sometimes exhausted me. On those afternoons, I would slip quietly into my room by myself, leaving the two of them in the kitchen, and read Nancy Drew alone under the covers with my orange plastic ﬂashlight, pretending I was Laura Ingalls Wilder, reading by lantern light, though the sun still streamed through my windows. I sometimes think each of us has a disguise, a costume we wear out in public that makes us safe, as if we are surrounded by a spell of invisibility. For my stepmother it was that wig, a talisman she touched whenever she was nervous or pleased. For Adorna, it was certain brashness. For me, I don’t know, maybe a willingness to adopt a protective coloration, to be whatever anyone wanted me to be. Or maybe it was Adorna. All I know is that the year the wig became a necessity instead of a convenience for my stepmother was the year in which she became tougher, as if her entire personality, which I had always thought of as soft gushy clay, had been baked in an oven and became hard and brittle. That was the year the auburn hair, which had greyed substantially with an illness my stepmother had tried to ignore for months—pretending her forgetfulness was due to age when she was only in her late forties, that the constant misplacement of words as if they were car keys she’d put down and never recovered again was a common event in most women of a certain age—came out in chunks and parcels when the doctors and my father ﬁnally insisted she at least try the chemotherapy, 22 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Mimi Herman though by that time it was too late for much hope, even on the part of my aﬀectionate and befuddled father, or my stepmother, who, though she could be forced to believe in x-rays, could not be convinced they meant anything all that serious. The wig, by this time, was a remnant of an era to which no one belonged. Except the crazy bag ladies who sometimes found wigs abandoned like dead animals after someone had moved house and left their history on the curb for the garbage collectors. These women wore their wigs backward and sideways, paying no attention to whether they were appropriate for their skin coloring or age. My stepmother looked like that. Though her wig usually faced front, it was sometimes askew, lovingly set upright by my father when he visited her in the hospital. Adorna would spend hours by my stepmother’s bed, slowly making meringues of the ash blonde hair, whether she carefully left a rakish curl over my stepmother’s eyes or styled the wig on the faceless styrofoam head where it resided while my stepmother slept. Adorna was the only person besides the nurses whom my stepmother would allow to see her naked head, with its secret, soft baby hair ﬁltered across it. Not my father, or the doctors, nor even me. Only Adorna, who knew her as a handsome woman, and superimposed that image over the woman who lay spindly and sparse-haired in the bed with lever controls. The thing about brain cancer is that you know what you’ve lost. You know that there are thoughts somewhere you should be thinking. Not just anyone, but you. But, like a train stuck on the wrong side of a pried up section of track, you can’t steam across to the trainyard and pick up the cargo you know is waiting there for you. My father would sit, helplessly patient, waiting for the train to cross those few trackless feet and deliver to her what she was trying to say, without ever getting the fact that her frustration increased exponentially with each attempt to leap the gap. Me, I would ﬁnish her sentences any which way, impatient to get something said, anything, whether it was what she intended or not. How could I have turned out to be such a bad, impatient daughter? But Adorna ﬁnished my stepmother’s thoughts, not with my brusque “can’t we get this over with?” tone but with the same dreamy voice with which my stepmother had begun, and my stepmother would collapse back against the pillows with their daily sanitized covers, satisﬁed she had been heard. You don’t choose your friends with an eye toward how they will be useful to you in the future, but perhaps in choosing friends you ﬁnd what is missing in yourself. And though you think you know yourself Crab Orchard Review
Mimi Herman and certainly you think you know your closest friends, what you may not know is that sometime you will cross a creek on a tightrope of a dogwood branch and by the time you reach the other side, you will have become each other. Who could have known that brash Adorna, abandoner of small children, whomper of baseballs over the fence, would have this gentle, helpful patience, or that I would want to be gone, anywhere that reeked of boys’ underarms and felt like the bristly skin below their jaws, as far as possible from the scent of piss and Lysol, from air a little too cold for anyone who wasn’t under a hospital-issued blanket, in a valiant outdated wig, waiting for a girl who was nothing like her to ﬁnish her sentences?
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Rose Jenkins The Field All of the other shoes in the classroom are perched above
the ﬂoor, on the desks’ bottom rungs, because Erin’s are on the ground. She lifts hers, and everyone else’s hit the ﬂoor. According to A.J.’s rule, even a second the same as Erin will turn them corroded. “Eating celery will make you corroded, too,” he says. Erin squashes her celery, smeared with peanut butter, in a napkin. She doesn’t want the soup anymore either, in the thermos where she’s been saving meatballs for last. “I’m drinking Capri Sun,” she tells A.J., “and so are you. So you’re corroded.” “Capri Sun won’t make you corroded if you don’t use a straw,” says Fred, who’s A.J.’s friend, tall and covered with orange-brown freckles. A.J. is smaller. He’s tan with dark blonde hair that light reﬂects from. “You have to suck through the hole in the carton.” Around the room, straws are scooted out of shiny juice pouches. Erin draws hers out, too. “Straws back,” A.J. says, punching his through the bag. Erin tries hopping, but her legs are heavy, attached to ground for sure. She remembers that from her grandmother’s porch she was supposed to land in tall, scratchy grass, but she jumped up and swung her arms like she was swimming, over trees. This memory confuses her. The ﬁeld was wide and rough, with brown-gold grass. But her grandmother’s porch isn’t in a ﬁeld. It’s in a row of houses with tiny lawns shrunk even more by ﬂowerbeds. Erin spreads her arms and runs, weaving between the skinny trees that mark the playground’s edge. She is an airplane, no, a pterodactyl full of guano—a word she has learned. It’s funny, and Erin wants to roll on the ground laughing like they do in cartoons. She remembers, though, that someone may be watching and looks at the game, across the school’s long lawn. Fred’s legs are spread against an evergreen near the building, his arms crossed in front of him in a brilliant yellow jacket. He’s guarding the jail, where branches split apart to make a cave. Corroded kids Crab Orchard Review
Rose Jenkins should get to play, Erin thinks. There should just be a rule they have to play bad parts, like robbers. The robbers, shot down, would fall so far. Head-ﬁrst down the slide: in the game that’s how they’d show it. She sees a girl try to get away between Fred’s feet, but his legs clamp shut. He sits on her back. “Police!” he yells at A.J. The girl is pink-jacketed, squirming between Fred’s jeans. The teacher says A.J. will miss class for a week. No questions, she says. They don’t need to talk about it. She says, now divide into reading groups. Erin is in high math but low reading, the group the teacher said on the ﬁrst day hadn’t ﬁnished the kindergarten book. During reading group, Erin tries to remember times before that she’s ﬂown. She’s sure there are some, but her memory feels like parts of things are stuck in it, bright but missing. It’s the same when she hands in her worksheet and can only almost remember the shape of nines. Erin has been to a doctor who says she’s smart. And she knows the parts that make a nine, she has learned them. Still. “She wrote P’s in the date!” Fred says. He’s standing behind Erin with his feet spread, like he just landed from a jumping jack. Because hers are together, Erin realizes. Fred says lightly, “Corroded.” The teacher asks, “Is that your problem to worry about?” Erin tells Jocelyn at recess that she shouldn’t play with her, or A.J. when he gets back will make her corroded. Fred would do it, but this week he has to sit on the principal’s hard bench all recess. Jocelyn says, “I don’t care. A.J.’s corroded. So is Fred.” Jocelyn wears lavendar pants and shoes that Erin’s mother wouldn’t have bought until spring, with eyelets cut out that show pink socks. Erin thinks she should wear girl colors more herself. A tall board fence stops Erin’s family’s property, with all its trees. Across the fence—she has been held up to see—are houses, lots of them, with concrete driveways close together. Her family’s property has a metal barn with no animals in it, only nests that hold hornets in hot weather. Beside the barn are grayish, splintery boxes with rows of wire doors. One is a chicken house, Erin knows, the other a rabbit house. She can ﬁt in the rabbit house. She pulls the door shut after her and pretends to be in prison. She is in prison for ﬂying and dropping bombs of compost—grapefruit peels and dark, stinky coﬀee grounds. 26 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Rose Jenkins Pretend one accidentally hit the teacher. They sent hang-gliders after her. If Jocelyn was there, she could latch the door shut. Erin could say through its wire squares, now pretend you are going to town to get the judge. Now pretend you are the judge. But Jocelyn wouldn’t like that. They should get Erin’s mother to let them stick jelly beans in cupcake frosting. They could use bright drops to turn the frosting pink, or pale green. Erin would ask Jocelyn just to lock the door for a minute, to show how she could ﬁt in the cage. Her mother asks if she knows what happened to a girl at her school. “Well, I know because I’m on the PTA,” she says, “although I didn’t hear until today. The administration thinks it’s settled.” She says A.J. and Fred took a girl behind the building after they captured her in some game. A.J. made her take her pants down. “If anyone asks you to do that, you never let them,” her mother says. “You tell the teacher right away.” Erin has a pair of corduroys with pink, fuzzy grooves that she imagines herself wearing when she has to ﬁght oﬀ Fred and A.J. “I’m not ever corroded,” Jocelyn yells, from the top of the slide. “People who get suspended are corroded, A.J. Almost Jailed!” Before the end of recess, she shows Erin two books with glossy, colored pages. One is mostly ﬁlled with stickers, the other blank. “My mother says you can have this one,” she says. She’s brought Erin two sheets of Strawberry Shortcake stickers and one of honeysuckle, scratch and sniﬀ, to get started. The ﬁrst pages of Jocelyn’s book are blue and decorated with sea life—seals that feel furry, and eels sliding through coral. Her favorites are the silver dolphins split into many sparkling triangles, but she says she will trade Erin one for two honeysuckles. Erin leans and quickly kisses Jocelyn’s lips. Jocelyn has been asked to skip recess. There is a lady in the oﬃce who would like to talk to her. Erin is at the end of the playground jumping from a bench. It’s an experiment. Maybe she should take her shoes oﬀ. Was she barefoot that other time? She isn’t positive anymore if that happened, but why does she remember it? Zooming. She unrips her Velcro fasteners, peels her socks oﬀ and drops them into foot-moist sneaker holes. While she is standing, two voices yell, “CHARGE!” She looks and Crab Orchard Review
Rose Jenkins sees Fred running with his head lowered. A.J. is running from the other side with his head down. A.J.’s head punches her stomach. She knocks into Fred, and then falls. As the boys walk away, she opens her mouth. Her stomach works at it, but breath won’t start.
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Candice Amich The Man in the Photo after Andrew Moore’s “El Pentágono” The night electric, antennas collaborate on the wet roof. My father hides in the anonymous slouch of a stranger photographed between two wings of a ﬁvewinged 1950s Havana apartment house, el Pentágono. The man does not think of his lost belongings, immune to the blue explosions that azure my father’s Cold War dreams. And though his face swims in the same red shadows, it is unclear who is hungover. The dresses that slump bodiless—drip from above him—are weaker in fabric than the ones my father’s woman slings across their water-side balcony on the 32nd block of Collins Avenue. * The word exile an alien term unless it means his parents sent him and his brother away without debate. The family is the least democratic of institutions: the father
Crab Orchard Review
Candice Amich a wingless monarch that rules from afar, often spoken of, rarely seen, though his breath stinks like anyone else’s. Or in the case of my father’s father: a stale trapdoor that opened to an orphanage cellar populated with no one but a skinny rat as a reminder of any living thing. Anything produced down there must be counterfeit, or so I understood his tales of slow, relentless abandonment as a child—tight-lipped until he drank something clear. Only now does he mention “the CIA-planted lie of Sovietization,” that all children would be scythed from their mothers; his father’s silence on the issue a vast ﬁeld of uncut cane. I too have lied: the man’s face in the photo is so faraway and small I can’t even see if his blood vessels are broken.
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Dargie Anderson Ali, Zaire, 1974 after the ﬁlm When We Were Kings There must have been a moment in the shower. Alone, after the bout. Hot water running down his hot skin. Sweat salty in his mouth. In the steam, the tiles, a spatter of suds, the yolky foreign light, his bruised breaths —there must have been a transformation, a staying the same: It was what made him able to feel the water. Why he could feel it all at once and let it go, everywhere on his body, the smack on tile ﬂoor. He felt the drops, the soap, its oily perfume; ﬂashes of the ﬁght, Foreman’s chest, the night crowd chanting; the soap, the water smacking down. We are not like him. The prizeﬁghter could apprehend it all—the stintless night, the ﬂoodlights—and rise, and ﬁght. He had fought. He balanced pretty in the shower and by the fragile dawn, before he’d slept, he’d come out more than human, a giant thing, all ﬂesh and none. As he spoke to children and looked into the cameras we could feel his muscle rising in our throats.
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Kathleen Balma What’s Mine Accidents are necessary, disease, also necessary. I believe this. I believe it as much as I used to believe in the unlikelihood of a faulty roller coaster. Shameful, really, the way I tricked my thrill-phobic mother into taking that train ride at Frontierland, Disney World, telling her I remembered it as tame. I might as well have driven her oﬀ the side of a cliﬀ as far as she was concerned. She was that scared. On my driver’s license are printed the words whole body, any organ, witness, witness, but I’m not checking either donor option. I want the pieces of me to cease in union. Because my liver won’t get to live on in the immaculate body of a ﬁve-year-old cellist. My heart won’t get chosen to keep time for the citizen who just discovered the amazing healing properties of coconut hair. I’ll peter out in some old smoker, or worse: I’ll be a metronome for a martyr who recycles the great mistake of sacriﬁce yet again. I won’t be given to the girl on the ground down there who just fell oﬀ the ﬁrst stand-up roller coaster, the one her husband coaxed her into trying, who is dying there for all the world to see—the rest of us suspended above the scene 32 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Kathleen Balma by belts and harnesses, squinting at the speck of woman at the bottom. People have to die. I believe this. I believe it sure as my mother believed her life was one frayed hair from ending every time she braced a curve by biting, hard, into my very own shoulder.
Crab Orchard Review
Laure-Anne Bosselaar Memory Mall Funneled into, tunnelled toward the past’s underground: lives, loves—millennia of them. Cemeteries, mass graves, urns. Photo albums, memories, books, all clogged with indispensable souls. But that’s too abstract. Think the love of your life, or Mary Magdalene, the stone carver’s son, your cat. All equally fated, standing in line for, or already crowding memory’s mall. I long for that—the promiscuity of it: dead gods, scholars or whores shopping for attention, selling cheap tricks to nothing but bones and dust. I’ve prayed for death, ardently. And ardently carve three names out of each plea, fearing the black winds might suck them into that vortex too—a siren song we try to sing louder to, 34 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Laure-Anne Bosselaar but our tune nothing but cinders turning to stoneâ€”a rock no memory, love or god can ever roll back.
Crab Orchard Review
Brian Brodeur Cherry Blossoms for J. 1975-2000 You hated this time of year. When horsetail ferns have just uncurled and sway as if underwater. When the woods are not quite empty, not quite full and cottonwoods spill their seed against mulch. Our sets of pushups on the basement ﬂoor, performing in the mirror before school…How much time did we spend alone in the dark down there, sweating in the cold? Dead leaves of the burgundy ﬁcus line the wall like discarded personalities: You said it yourself about the cherry blossoms— “shame we don’t have time to adjust to this”— as they lose themselves in a heavy wind and dapple the patio: the tremble and click of the limbs, the green haze before the leaves come in.
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Albino Horses Co. Donegal Dipping their pink mouths in peat-sludge soft as butter, they edged what seemed the margins of an Age we’d read up on in our one, coverless copy of Let’s Go Ireland: this pair of feral mares—displaced or fugitive— grazing among beached shopping trolleys, Coke cans, cast-oﬀ plastic sacks of shattered turf. Sporting our Aran sweaters and gaiters bought oﬀ the B&B, who besides us would’ve noticed the frozen mud giving way a little with each hoof-clap, the tangle of cedar roots gripping the granite boulders like ribs around a lung? When a pheasant screeched they shifted, thrashing their tails. We skulked from the rented Mazda along the hissing road as they clattered over the stones—their bright thighs shuddering—and everywhere, the odor of turned ground.
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Lehinch Co. Mayo We slept against the burnt-out hollow of an alder, drunk on the last of your father’s poitin. Above our heads, autumn’s static hushed what was left of the leaves. I combed dead grass from your hair as the battered forsythia shook. Culled into a corner of the aluminum barn, the blind heifer dreamed of silage on her bed of dung. All night the cows made their sea sounds in another world. Cattails, stiﬀ as matches, broke in the breeze.
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Ralph Burns Driving Oklahoma I can only remember the legless Choctaw We passed pulling out of downtown Anadarko, The clack of his four wheels under plywood, The berth of the sidewalk, the Gibble gas station. Our Buick lurched like a happy song. My dumb stare followed its own horn Of silos and what we then called range. What could I have been wanting looking Out to my right beyond fences, roofs, and grass? You weren’t supposed to ask too often For the same thing—how far To where they open the door Just to let you in? I think it’s when Friction no longer occurs in back Of the knees in the black and yellow grasshopper. This that, that this; now means sometimes And other times. Whatever you say you are wrong. Whatever it is that looks back with longing Watches some wind toy spin in the sun Then fall like bright colors. This Is Grandma’s house. Take the Coke You choke by the neck.
Crab Orchard Review
The Dragonﬂy When I ﬁrst heard Little Eva I was clowning around my brothers in front of TV—near the window skating on tension in wild light. We could smell damp asphalt just by looking past the living room panels. We were thin and our bodies barely touched the starred linoleum. Our neighbors would light their lights too and watch the night. My father would lift an arm and then let it fall on whoever might be close, and late when I woke and skated on the oak ﬂoor in socks, I’d hear my parents argue, then the muﬄed knock, note held in suspense, lurch of furniture, eﬀort locked in sofa springs like breath running from breath. Listening closely wasn’t that at all, but wanting sensation to be over quick, so locomotion might draw itself through bright colors. Skimming surfaces or jumping from here to nowhere, tapping the scrim of Peterson’s pond, ﬂoating sticks and Dixie cups, I can tell you we could never do anything to break the spell of arriving just exactly as things happen.
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Ralph Burns My brothers with wings on their feet, my sister with her voice in her hair, go stretching towards harm where grass is green. If that is too symbolic then that is the real story when lights go out at night. The neighbors knew. It isn’t true. It isn’t true. It isn’t true.
Crab Orchard Review
Kathryn Stripling Byer Her Hair Because she died shorn of her crimped, hennaed glory my kinfolk called shameless for someone her age, I hate short hair that clings to the skull and risks nothing. Her ﬁery profusion I like to imagine as ﬂaring out into the sickroom to shock, to accuse: all she might have become had she not said “I do” and sat down in that chair when he pulled it out, scraping the ﬂoor, making idle talk stop for an instant, the old women frown when she whispered I must have this: canna lily she plucked from the vase on the table to pin at the nape of her barely contained bun, what she called a chignon. When the mirrors of middle-age goaded her, she dyed her gray back to ﬂaming rebellion they cut oﬀ the last day she lived, for the sake of what family called Visitation— the coﬃn lid opened, no time for embarrassment. People might gossip about her lack of repentance, the devil’s own red coming loose from the pins. 42 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Kathryn Stripling Byer So she lay without any complaint, as I too have sat cowed in the stylist’s chair watching my dishwater blonde hair descending around me like chaﬀ.
Crab Orchard Review
Jeﬀrey Rubin More So Right from the start, Bree and I were a Metric Couple. That
is, when we walked side by side down the street, we looked a lot like the number 10. Of the two of us, I was the slender digit. Barely ﬁlling out my “Small” oxford button-downs, looking lost in most “Mediums.” Bree was the 0, the round number. We drew stares, naturally. Round numbers all around, but as a people, we’re still not very comfortable with Metric. My best friend at the time, Sebastiano LaPaglia, was just like the rest. He never did have much of a head for the new math. Seb couldn’t ﬁgure it out, this thing between Bree and me, though he was clearly tickled by it. In that warped spirit, he unloaded the wet-spot joke as often as he could. “What do you do, Jake-o, roll her in ﬂour?” “Haven’t we been down this road before,” I’d answer, rolling my eyes.
“Y’know, Jake, roll her in flour—help you find the wet spot,” he’d say then, cackling gleefully, his pronounced Adam’s apple twitching like a Mexican jumping bean. Usually, I tried to meet his cackle with the sweetest grin I could muster. I understood that Seb’s own tastes were suspect, running, as they did, to airbrushed Size 2s with staples through their middles. He had hundreds of these “girlfriends,” stashed in two plastic milk crates in his bedroom closet. Meanwhile, if there was even one of these beauties in his actual life, she was a bigger secret than those vintage Playboys in his closet or those frequent paper cuts on his hands. As for my mother—that was trickier. Try not to dwell on her opinions, make a deliberate eﬀort to keep Mrs. Millicent Mills out of my head, and poof, there she’d be. In each vision, I pictured her wearing a diﬀerent expression, diﬀerent eyes: They might be wide with alarm or incomprehension. Or downcast. Or closed to the sight of me. Or slick with tears. The way my imagination swapped all those looks, 44 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jeﬀrey Rubin it reminded me of playing with one of those Mrs. Potatohead toys (though I’m certain my mom would blanch at comparisons to a thick, stumpy tuber). Then, of course, there were strangers. They occupied my thoughts about as often as Seb or Mom. How many bystanders were riveted by the sight of Bree and me window-shopping in the posh part of Lauderdale, down on Las Olas, or cutting a path through the food court at the Coral Springs Mall? How many of them nudged their friends or their lovers squarely in the sharpness of protruding ribs and whispered about the same things Seb was never too shy to say out loud: ﬂour and wet spots? It’s my shame, really. I spent more time obsessing over those things than even Bree knows. The judgments. The imagined bets over which would prevail at that food court, salad bar or Cinnabon. For a time, it was those things, or the Mrs. Potatohead eyes. We met in South Florida two years ago last August. A Friday, but not a standard one. That was the morning FAT came to town, sweeping in with more buzz, and a lot more people, than the usual Boca convention. At the Marina Marriott, we’d seen all the other groups. The benign number crunchers. The Stepford wives hawking the same old Amway. Those impotent sci-ﬁ groupies in their tinfoil headgear and those pasted-on Mr. Spock ears. In time, every tedious one of them had probably come through my hotel and wandered past my front desk. But we’d never seen anything like Fat Acceptance Today. I suppose all those headlines about “The Battle of the Bulge” were what caught people’s attention, raising the temperature by degrees. Or maybe it was the mayor’s comments, dutifully recorded by the Palm Beach Daily and picked up on a slow news day by the networks and national wires. When one of our local columnists heard that an advocacy group for the obese had booked the Marriott for its annual summit, he knew just where to turn for a pithy quote to cap oﬀ the column. And the mayor, Alfonse Muido, famed for his occasional anti-Semitic one-liners and his collection of Negro lawn jockeys, didn’t disappoint: “I’m going to ﬁnd out exactly how many people they’re bringing,’’ he said. “This could be one heck of a boon for our local restaurants.” That’s where things started, and maybe the mayor thought they’d ﬁnish there, too. Oh sure, one or two of the great chefs of Boca, taking his comments to heart, might lay in extra supplies of steaks and chops. Crab Orchard Review
Jeﬀrey Rubin A few readers, like my mom, might shake their heads in wonderment at Muido, or at FAT, or possibly at both. Mostly, he probably imagined, everyone would share a chuckle and move on. But FAT’s leadership wasn’t particularly amused, and the only platter they craved was a silver one bearing Muido’s mostly empty head. At a news conference outside City Hall, they asked if he also believed that an NAACP convention would be a banner day for watermelon farmers. As far as I know, our mayor never replied, not to FAT, or to the journalists eager to see what he’d say next. I don’t think he understood the need. It being South Florida, who expects snowballs? On my way inside the hotel that first morning of the long weekend, I counted seven diﬀerent media trucks laying cable and raising satellite dishes in our visitors’ lot. Dozens of Bocans were there, too, standing on the fringes, pointing toward reporters they recognized from the nightly news. Even at that early hour, there was a kinetic, carnival feeling. But it didn’t excite me. It made me nervous. I was uncomfortable with the notion of being caught on camera and seen by thousands of TV viewers. So I hurried in, head down, tapered ﬁngers held to my temple as a shield. Coming into the lobby, our guests were forced to pass by the same media mob. The cameras were kept a fair distance from the front of the building—after all, there are laws; there’s private property—but they were tricked out with very long lenses. These were pointed toward the smoked glass of our double-doored entryway. Newsmen shouted questions at anyone with a duﬀel bag or a suitcase or a suggestion of a gut, anyone who looked like they might be attached to the FAT organization: “Are you going to sample the Palm Beach restaurants, like the mayor said?” “Isn’t it wrong to compare fat people to African-Americans?” “Excuse me, Miss, but how much do you weigh?” Eventually, after running this gauntlet, the attendees—sweaty, breathless, aggravated—stepped up to my counter. Or they hobbled, relying on crutches or companions’ shoulders to help move all those pounds. Or they motored up to my station on specially reinforced electric scooters, leaving deep ruts in the rugwork. Many of the arrivals, I remember, were well beyond what any actuarial table or Body Mass Index would classify as even morbidly 46 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jeﬀrey Rubin obese. A few of the women, easily 400 pounds or more, came with men barely a third their size. Miniature partners, nebbishy sorts, those guys were wildly aﬀectionate, downright grabby, in their passion for extra chins and shelf-like behinds. Fat men with tiny women? They trickled in, too. So did any number of fat couples, their thick ﬁngers laced together as they made their way across the plush golden carpet of the Marriott lobby. Reﬂected in the mirrored panels—our lobby was full of those polished, gilded things—these guests multiplied, then multiplied again. Five or six arriving at once, and you had a battalion of FAT, ready to challenge “the last unchallenged prejudice.” A FAT army, mobilized for three days of civil rights declarations, health insurance workshops, and Lane Bryant runway shows. I took names. I took IDs. I took American Express and Visa. I tried to appear nonchalant as I checked reservations and handed out magnetic key cards. As usual, my practice was to put all our guests at ease, to follow the Marriott rulebook. It calls for a polite manner, and an unwipeable smile. It also says a good desk clerk performs his duties so smoothly and eﬃciently that he should go largely unnoticed. He should not be too familiar with the guests, nor should he call attention to himself in any way. Don’t be intrusive. Don’t be presumptuous. A good clerk is invisible. In this part of my job, I’d have to say I excelled. It’s probably the thing about clerking I liked the best. The concealment behind my mahogany countertop. My tidy little list of bureaucratic tasks. It suited me, since, after all, I wasn’t particularly comfortable with myself. I was a head taller than most people, with ﬂesh pulled tight across the bones of my face, like drum skin. My work relieved me of the selfconsciousness that attached to my gangliness. Behind the desk and my computer, at least half of me was hidden most of the time. Yet despite my best eﬀorts that morning, I’m sure I was guilty of gaping. Not precisely like Seb or those newsmen, with their leers of contempt. But gaping, nonetheless. I couldn’t help myself. I had simply never seen such a collection of outsize limbs, ripe bellies, extreme cleavage. It was alien to me. It made me curious. In my family, the overweight didn’t exist, except for one uncle on my father’s side, Karl from Jersey City. I saw him from time to time when I was child, at family functions, weddings, and the random conﬁrmation. He had a massive head, droopy in the cheeks, jelly in the wattle. And though his chest wasn’t broad, and his shoulders were Crab Orchard Review
Jeﬀrey Rubin surprisingly small and delicately sloped, his torso ﬂared from the nipple line to where his stomach rolled over two spindle legs. With such strange proportions—a pear shot through with toothpicks—one might have expected someone grotesque and crude. Yet at all those functions, he always showed up neatly groomed, with a crisp part in his hair and clean, pressed clothing that was just right for whatever the occasion. He liked well-starched white or canary yellow shirts, and dark worsted suits whose thick shoulder pads tried to draw the eye and balance out his dimensions. And what if those suits were a bit too snug in the middle? What if the buttons on his shirts pulled a little more than they should when he sat down? He still seemed elegant enough. In fact, it surprised me to note that he was not only aware of his bulk, but somehow comfortable with it. He wasn’t looking to shrink, not in any sense of the word. He even made it a point to wear attention-grabbing neckties, pricey silks in the most vibrant colors: juicy melon, banana, cantaloupe and plum. That’s what I remember, anyway. And what I remember is, at this point, possibly all there is left of my Uncle Karl. Because he never appeared in any of the photographs from those family occasions. By design masquerading as coincidence, he always seemed to arrive for those portraits a few minutes too late to be included in anyone’s keepsake album. “Oh, sorry, Karl,’’ someone would say with a shrug or sheepish grin, “but we had to get going without you. You understand, don’t you, Big Guy? This shutterbug works on the clock.’’ Yet if he complained, I never heard it. The truth is, I can hardly recall ever being around the man long enough to hear him speak at all. At these receptions, it always seemed as though my mother was herding me away from my uncle, and from the buﬀet tables where she no doubt expected to ﬁnd him grazing. What did he sound like? As I watched the convention guests arrive, the thought of Uncle Karl had me combing brain cells: Did he have a baritone, the kind of James Earl Jones, Word of God rumble that would seem so impressive and so natural coming from a big man? Or was there a surprise there, something soft, halting, unexpectedly high? I was straining to recall even a fragment of my uncle’s voice when other voices distracted me. Loud voices. A commotion. It came from behind the hotel. I couldn’t pick out exact words, but the sound of naked anger carried from out back, in the pool area, to every high and low corner of the lobby. 48 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jeﬀrey Rubin A ﬁlm crew from the local NBC aﬃliate had snuck around the hotel and gone poolside. There, in advance of the afternoon heat, some FAT guests, the earliest arrivals, were taking a morning swim. A few had been sprawled out on chaise longues, though by the time Seb and I had left our posts and followed the screaming to the source, all the pool furniture had been abandoned. A few pieces had been upended in all the hubbub. Some of the guests were still looking for cover, moving so slowly, their wide, ﬂat feet slapping the damp deck. They cowered behind palm trees too slim to oﬀer much of a hiding place. One woman dove into the churning blue-green water, creating a mighty splash that only served the NBC aﬃliate’s purpose. That water geysered everywhere; chlorine burned the little hairs inside my nose. “Cannonball!” Seb shouted. He was delighted by the spectacle, clapping without a trace of self-consciousness as one guest, who had fallen while rising up from one of the pool chairs, lay wriggling on his back like an upside-down tortoise stunned to be out of the pond. While this was going on, two other guests, a heavy man and woman, gestured wildly at the camera. The man threatened violence. The woman started to shout: “You think this is some kind of circus?” She shook her ﬁsts. Her upper arms kept quivering long after those ﬁsts were still. “What do you think, we’re a bunch of dancing bears?” Seb, now standing behind me, tapped me on the back and whispered: “Hoo-boy, this one’s got no idea.’’ It was right then that one more person, still treading water, decided to mix it up. She waded over toward the steps. Her broad back broke the surface, followed by a lot of deep crimson, the waterlogged fabric of a one-piece swimsuit. She took a ﬁrm hold on the banister. It was anchored in the cement, but still wobbled as she came all the way out of the pool. She stood there for a moment, just dripping. Great gouts of pool water spilled from her body. The droplets traced every one of about a hundred sweeping curves. She called to the guys from NBC: “You want footage? You want something to show your three viewers?” She struck a pose, arms spread, palms raised, legs planted far apart, like old-growth sequoias. “How ‘bout you pick on someone my size?” When they hesitated, she chuckled. She shook her head, and saturated red curls ﬂew in every direction. “Come on,” she said, waving them on. “I won’t bite. I already had my six breakfasts today.” The cameraman couldn’t resist. Lifting the camera to his shoulder, he inched toward her. Crab Orchard Review
Jeﬀrey Rubin Surprising myself, I did, too. As she stood there, drawing the news crew’s attention so the other panicked guests could slip away, I felt an undeniable pull. The science of gravity, or of magnetism. So I moved in front of her, stepping directly in the cameraman’s line of sight. “You don’t belong back here,” I called out, admittedly in a parody of real authority. I don’t know that anyone could have heard me more than a few feet away. But then I kept talking anyway. “Listen, the cops are on their way.” Tentatively, I held up my arms to block the view. My shirt, soaked through from all the earlier splashing, hung oﬀ my long, meatless arms like curtains oﬀ curtain rods. The cameraman began to mutter something about the First Amendment. But what caught my ear was the laughter from just behind me. “What are you doing?” the large, wet woman asked me. I was too nervous, too ﬂush with adrenaline and other mysterious chemical compounds, to oﬀer much of a response. “I’m blocking you,” I may have said softly. She laughed again. The sound of her laughter gave me a little thrill. It was no timid tweet, but a hearty, full-throated guﬀaw. I could feel the warm gust of it against my shirt collar. The breeze rustled the ﬁne hairs on the back of my neck. “It’s just a guess,” she said in a mock whisper, “but I think they can still see me.” Bree had a pretty face. I could offer up that faint praise, which fat girls hate to hear because it translates to “try to overlook everything below the neck.’’ But the truth is, even now, I’m still not sure how a word like “pretty” might apply to a face like hers. Not that it was blemished or disﬁgured. Her complexion, though tending toward ruddy, was entirely clear. But more than anything, it was a face open to interpretation. To me, it was all about the symmetries, the intriguing geometries. A collection of gentle arcs and ﬂawless circles. One circle, her generous chin. Two more, her cheeks. Still, I’m sure others would regard those circles as simple pouches of fat. With the eyes, we had the same beauty-and-beholder situation. I saw them as two more instances of remarkable, perfect orbs. Someone else might have pointed instead to the semicircles beneath them, the shadowy borders between those eyes and those full cheeks. And in any case, her face aside, Bree’s body wasn’t something anyone could just overlook. 50 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jeﬀrey Rubin She did have a small potbelly, but nothing outrageous, nothing draped or dangling. In fact, she wasn’t really loose at all. Some fat people have that inelastic ﬂesh: under the arms, it ﬂaps like a banner in a breeze. At their waist, it hangs like the same ﬂag, but on a very still day. Their bodies lack muscle tone, as does my own. But where my skin is pulled taut, a body feeding in on itself, theirs has gone slack from a lifetime of dieting victories and defeats. Atkins. Ephedra. Seven-Day Grapefruit Miracles. Bree? She was just big, just bigger. Herself, to the Nth Power. Sometimes, I look at her and I go back to my ﬁrst impression. I imagine a sculptor trying to ﬁgure out what to do one day with twice his regular supply of clay. I imagine him making a daring artistic choice—he’ll work the clay, shape it, but he won’t split it down the middle for two boring pieces of commonplace size. This time, he chooses to work on an altogether diﬀerent scale. He uses the whole pile. And in doing so, he achieves something unique. A bold work is made bolder. A brave work is that much more daring. A lush work. A romantic one. What he creates is all that, only more so. I began to see her everywhere at the Marriott, filling up all the empty spaces. The ﬁrst afternoon, several hours after the ugliness out back, I spotted Bree at the hotel’s restaurant-bar during my lunch break. (By this time, I knew her full name, Sabrina Portman. This, I had gleaned from her HELLO MY NAME IS BREE nametag, and from a skim of the reservation log. Sabrina Portman, Port St. Lucie billing address, Mastercard Platinum cardholder since 1985.) I usually didn’t eat much of a lunch, maybe half a turkey sandwich from the kitchen there, turkey-wheat, with brown mustard or nothing—dry. Sometimes, even that was a lot. Most of the time, Lesley, waitress and occasional hostess, brought me my meal, which I’d nibble at one of the out-of-the-way tables. I didn’t say much to Lesley. I could never ﬁnd my tongue with her, not even after a year of working together, of hanging with the same crowd, Seb and the rest. But I often watched her as she ricocheted around the restaurant. She was the quintessential Florida Girl, blonde, athletically slim, with her lank limbs carmelized by 25-hour-a-day sunshine. Many a time, I’d study her from that little table with a hunger dry turkey couldn’t touch. But this time? All I could think was that the resemblance to my Crab Orchard Review
Jeﬀrey Rubin mom seemed a little too strong. It must have been her build, though it could also have been the way she plated my sandwich, without a drop of potentially fattening condiments or dressings. Not feeling especially Oedipal, I turned my attention away from Lesley, and to Bree, who was over by the bar. Bree was standing, not sitting—though the bar was mostly empty, all the stools had these high wooden arms. I could see she was drinking something tall and frozen. By the look of things, she was drinking alone. But courage—I’d already spent my daily allowance of it out there by the pool. When she winked at me, I felt thinner even than usual, practically sheer. She turned my way and winked over the top of her glass, and I felt like she could see right through the vague outline of me, my two dimensions, to the lighthouse paintings behind my head. I darted out of the bar, the remnants of my sandwich forgotten, and hurried back to my desk 10 minutes early. Back at my station, I took a call from my mom down in Miami Lakes. She was sorry to bother me at work, but she thought she’d spotted me on a Miami station, Channel 2, halfway through the news at noon. She picked me out as the camera brieﬂy panned the crowd. I looked just ﬁne, she assured me, though she once again noted my posture, my stoop. A tall, thin, handsome guy like me—why shouldn’t I stand up straighter? “It’s like you’re cringing. What are you hiding from, Jacob?” she asked. “I’m not hiding, Mom.” “But those people, those poor, poor people. If I looked like them… I think I’d be the one hiding. Oh Jacob, if only they could have seen themselves.” That evening, as I was handing off my station to the overnight clerk, there was Bree Portman once again, speeding through the lobby. She was rushing to meet a group which had already gathered by the hotel’s baby grand piano, a half dozen or so fat men and women in loose shorts or tight bathing suits. They were planning a late walk over to the beach, which was only a block or so away. That is, most were walking, though a few of the heaviest had asked me to arrange for a van. Sailing past my post, Bree oﬀered a little wave, but with her friends calling to her, she didn’t break stride. As I watched her and the others leave, I noticed a small imperfection, a tangle of spidery veins 52 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jeﬀrey Rubin at the back of her left knee, just below her khaki shorts. I decided that it looked, from a distance, like a kind of sexy tattoo. My shift came and went uneventfully the next day. I handed oﬀ again, and drifted over to the Red Coral Ballroom, where about 100 FAT guests were sitting in on a seminar. A cardboard placard outside the room gave the title: “Fat vs. Thin: The Language of Loathing.” On a large easel inside, the group’s leader had written several words across a sheet of paper: “Thin Plot…Thin Broth…Thin Air…” “Thin doesn’t sound so good now, does it?” he said. His manner of speaking was musical, like the evangelical preachers who’d held their own regional convention at the hotel in mid-July. “Thin ice? Thank you very much, but if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather make my stand on the thick stuﬀ.” He ﬂipped the page at his easel, and immediately started scrawling again. “Fat Wallet…Fat Raise…Fat Cat…Phat.” “Fat’s where it’s at,” someone shouted, and people cheered. “Yes, indeed,” the speaker said, repeating the slogan, savoring it. “Fat…Is…Where…It…Is…AT! Sounds about right, don’t it? Sounds about right to me.” There was more applause, more laughter. I couldn’t help it. I clapped and laughed along. It was infectious. A few people, noticing me in the back of the room, looked at me curiously. Who let the beanpole in here? But the overwhelming feeling in the Red Coral Ballroom was good humor. It hung lightly in the air. As the meeting ended, I made my way deeper into the ballroom while most of the chattering guests were ﬁling out. Bree was still seated in one of the middle rows. I made minute adjustments in the angle of some other chairs in the same row, like making these minute adjustments was a big part of my job description. Then I sat down, not right beside her, but with an empty seat between us just in case I was going too far. “Well, look, it’s my hero,” she said. Then she studied me, while I, in turn, silently studied her across that empty seat. This went on for a minute or so, but it wasn’t awkward or unpleasant at all. I saw that her face was red, and that a small peel had begun at the tip of her wide, upturned nose. Despite the experience with the news crew, which had sent some of the guests scrambling for the privacy of their suites, she’d obviously been back outside, fearlessly absorbing too much sunshine. “We made the news,” she said ﬁnally. While she spoke, she lifted Crab Orchard Review
Jeﬀrey Rubin her body slightly, and slid over to the chair beside mine. She was a bit too big for it. Her thigh pressed lightly against mine. “Who says there’s nothing good on TV?” “I missed it,” I answered. “Pretty good?” “You were…very cool. Very gallant.” “Glad I could help, Ms. Portman.” At that, my mouth went suddenly dry. But if she wondered how I’d learned her last name, she left it at a knowing smile. “It’s Sabrina,” she said. “Bree.” “Jacob Mills.” “Jake?” “Jake’s good.” “Can I ask you something, Jake Mills?” I nodded eagerly. “You’re not one of those chasers, are you? I’m not into chasers. I won’t go there, just so you know.” “Chasers? Um, sorry?” “Chubby Chasers. You’ve seen them here this weekend, haven’t you? They come to all the conventions. Those really skinny, really creepy little guys, usually with the biggest girls. But believe me, Jake, that’s not love. No way. They’re fetishists. They’re looking for a Big Mommy.’’ “Oh,” I said. “No, I’m not a chaser.” “They want to be cocooned.” “I’m not looking to be cocooned,” I assured her. “You’re sure? Cold world. Maybe you’re looking for warm folds.” “I’m not.” She thought about that for a moment. “You looking to feed me, then? Come on, tell the truth.” “Feed you?” I could hardly keep up with Bree Portman. I was still picturing deep folds, cocoons, and, for some reason, underweight moths. “I really don’t follow.’’ “Some guys get oﬀ on that. I’ll eat a whole cake for you, or a pie. Pizza pie, apple, whatever. You cut it into slices and feed me, and that’s enough to get you oﬀ. Co-dependency at its worst, know what I mean?” “No,” I told her. “I mean, yes, I know what you mean, but no. No to the other.’’ “You sure?” she said. The lights over our heads gave her eyes an extra ﬂuorescence. “I’m sure, Bree,” I said. “Actually, I’ve never even dated a fa—” My 54 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jeﬀrey Rubin cheeks smoldered. I looked down to the ﬂoor and it was surprising to see two feet planted there, what with the tang of one already in my mouth. But she tipped my head back up gently, ﬁnger under my chin, like I was some kind of Pez dispenser. “You mean a fat girl? Wait just a minute…” She examined her body, and opened her mouth wide, as if to shriek “Oh my sweet Jesus, you’re right, Jake Mills…I’m fat!” I stammered. “I didn’t mean anything,” I said. Laughing, she stood up to go. There was power in the movement, so much forward momentum to launch herself out of that chair. But then she didn’t go anywhere. I expected her to disappear in a huﬀ, but she didn’t even make a move for the door. “You hungry?’’ she asked me. “I hear a lot of restaurants in Boca are on high alert.” I wasn’t particularly hungry. I’d gnawed on another of my turkey sandwich halves only an hour or two earlier. “I could eat, sure,” I said. Bree adored eating out, but not merely for the atmosphere of a restaurant. Mood lighting was all well and good, linen tablecloths a lovely bonus. But for her, it was the menu. It was all about choices and combinations, variety—experience. We went for Chinese that ﬁrst night, at a little place in Boca, oﬀ Federal Highway. It was renown for its crisp Peking duck, and for its Day-Glo pistachio ice cream. I didn’t try either item. Silver serving dishes arrived at our little table in steady procession, lo meins and spring rolls and prawns in lobster sauce. I dipped my spoon gingerly. I pushed a few strands of this and globs of that around my plate. But I ate like I always ate. That is, I nibbled, and fretted, and put down my silverware pretty soon after I’d picked it up. Of course, I nodded with enthusiasm as she asked me if we should sample item after item. I supported her selection of lemon chicken, though our waiter told us the chicken was deep-fried. I endorsed those prawns, which ﬂoated in a skim of egg and ﬁnely chopped pork. And when she waved oﬀ the waiter’s oﬀer of a sugar-free cola and insisted on the regular sugar-full kind? My mind reeled, but I ordered a regular, too. I don’t mean to imply that Bree ate everything in sight. Only that she wanted to try lots of things. Only that she ate, and that she ate substantially more than me. I was stuck on the act of consumption itself, which brought Bree Crab Orchard Review
Jeﬀrey Rubin so much pleasure, but which brought me only a distinct feeling of queasiness and a vague one of dread. I imagined that at the bottom of at least one of them, I might ﬁnd a familiar face glaring at me through the density of brown sauce. My mother, the ghost in Shogun Wok’s serving platters, was always a thin woman. How she loved telling admiring friends that she was a size 4 and had been for years. Waist as trim as on her wedding day. Not an ounce of cottage cheese on her rump. Not like Betty Larkin down the street, with that broad fanny, that hideous middle-aged spread, and two daughters already going down the same bumpy, lumpy path. Or the Felicianos on Hillside, Manny and Evita, with their carb-heavy, riceand-bean culture and their family curse—those short-fat Aztec genes. Mom had been an aspiring dancer, before Dad and me. She studied ballet and a few modern forms. It never led to a career. Still, this was another one of her favorite stories, how she’d learned the value of a well-tuned body from her instructors, who’d taught her that a French fry was as much a curse as a ruptured tendon. Periodically, as the dancers limbered up at the bar, the teachers would grab them by their ﬂanks and squeeze, probing for warning signs of love handles. “That sounds awful, Millie,” Mom’s friends told her as she described the ritual. Mom shook her head and smiled patiently. “Not at all. It’s discipline. Discipline of good health, good life.” My father was slim, too. Not at all like Karl, his older brother. Perhaps, for a while, that was a bond between my parents. I wonder if their ﬁrst dates involved avoiding sugars together, if there was a time when they took all their meals oﬀ a single salad-size dish. But Dad had appetites, too, and at the end of the day, Mom couldn’t satisfy them. One afternoon in ’85, when I was about 11, I heard him on the phone in his home oﬃce, talking to Uncle Karl. It didn’t matter that my mother had no use for my uncle, or that she couldn’t say a thing about him that didn’t include a comment about his weight. In spite of her distaste for the man, Dad remained close with Karl; the only reference he ever made to his brother’s size was the teasing nickname “Little Bro.” “Really, Karl,” I heard him say into the receiver as I lingered outside the open door. “Really, it’s like screwing a bed of nails.’’ Pause. 56 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jeﬀrey Rubin “Little Bro, trust me. Sex with my wife, it’s like layin’ down in the Killing Fields.” Dad was also no great fan of my mother’s cooking, which tended to exclude all things savory or moist. “Just a pat of butter, how ‘bout it, Millicent?” That was my Dad’s constant lament. “We’ll work it oﬀ tomorrow. Or—” At this point, he liked to grab her, pull her toward him, and loop an arm around her tiny waist. “—we can work it oﬀ tonight.” Thin as he was, Dad sometimes just wanted the option of buttering toast. He was willing to break the rules on rare occasions. And, in a way, I suppose that’s just what he did. How else to explain his departure, the way he left our family for the woman who worked the counter at the Rolling In Dough Bakers in Jupiter Beach? After he left us, Mom could have gone in one of two directions. She could have considered the reasons for his leaving, all that tight control, that deprivation. She could have eased up by a fraction, and maybe even doled out the occasional butter pat. Instead, she drew herself in more tightly, the way an animal balls up after someone has stomped on its tail. She became more rigid with her diet and her exercise—her Tae Bo in the basement, ﬁve mornings a week—and wound up going from Size 4 to 2. She was even a 0 at one point, ultra-petite. She pulled her body in upon itself, till the whole of her suggested nothing so much as a compacted ﬁst. As for me, well, you can imagine. The summer I turned 13, she spotted me out in the driveway with some friends, working my way through two scoops of Carvel chocolate and a waﬄe cone. She came oﬀ the porch, launched like a guided missile, to knock it out of my hand. She sent my friends home then, politely, because she was always one for appearances. But then Mom turned back to meet my sulking, snack-deprived glare. Mom ground the remnants of my cone into the blacktop with one dainty, sandaled foot. Then she thumped the hollow of my belly with her pointer ﬁnger. “I thought you said you were hungry,” Bree said to me as the waiter stood over me and my still-unﬁnished plate. I didn’t answer right away, though. Perhaps not making the best of ﬁrst impressions, I was preoccupied with thoughts of my mom and her notions of weight. I thought about what she would have made of Bree (they have never met, mostly because I know the answer). “A heavy plate makes a heavy Jacob Mills,” Mom once told me. Crab Orchard Review
Jeﬀrey Rubin Bree spoke again. “You O.K.?” she asked. “Sure,” I said. “Just a little nervous.” “If you weren’t hungry—” “No,” I answered, becoming conscious of a not-unpleasant burble in my belly. “I am.” I began driving to Port St. Lucie. Other times, Bree made the 90-minute trip to Boca. Occasionally, we met between the two towns. And in time, a few weeks of it, I found my appetite. From here to there, there must have been a hundred places to eat, a thousand. We tried a pretty fair number, date by date. At ﬁrst, I took only a quick pass at the salad buﬀets. Even there, I felt intimidated. So many items—thick and creamy—that were salads in name only. Indian was too spicy. About Thai, we were both on the fence. But Mexican, that went O.K. Seeing me attacking the layers of melted jack cheese and slathered guacamoles might have given my mom a conniption. But I began to like the place, from the fake adobe walls and those haphazard strings of red-pepper lights to the tureens of chips and salsa. I liked the salsa there best of all, the way it tasted on a tostada triangle, and the tang of it in both our mouths when we kissed. There was cilantro in that liplock, and pepper, and traces of onion from the kitchen of Bambina’s. Nothing masked by peppermint sprays or freshen-up gums or overpriced mints in pocket tins. A taste to savor, each ingredient complementing the last one and the next. We still go back to Bambina’s. After almost two years, I guess you could call it our place. Bree and I eat there a few times a month now. She is still the more adventurous between us. We know the owner, him and his short-fat Aztec genes. He stops by our table and tempts Bree with recipes not on the regular menu. Enchiladas with all sorts of crazy seafoods. Mole sauces, rich and dark as fudge. Me, I eat. I eat because I feel hungry. Last time I saw my mom, about a year ago, I wore a bulky sweater. Florida, 80 degrees in the shade, and I’m dressed for Vermont in fall. Underneath and out of sight, my belt on the next to last hole. She did look at me funny, but what she thought, she kept—and has kept—to herself. And that’s the way I keep Bree.
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Jason Daniel Schwartz Undressing a Tree Had to cut those bottom branches down, clear the way for sunlight to the ﬁrst ﬂoor windows at least, see they got some light. But the task took me, branch-ripper, up on a ladder to get the ones even higher up, unblocking the second ﬂoor on the western side where the guest room is, my oﬃce too, a corner, and even though the south side’s light is enough all day, I’m there already loving it, loving the chainsaw, the ladder wobble, the growing wavelength of it as I go higher, loving watching the branches fall, the fall each time, the feeling of watching spit fall down ten stories and loving it, like for anything falling from high places, an awesome thing to see, objects falling, spreading at rest. Watching from the top you get a sense for the big, muddy magnet of the ground. I decide to cut up to the level of the gutters. Big ragged pine won’t care. Dawn named him, not me, it’s hers really, the mutt, Sandip. He likes me, he’s mine in the way her books are mine, her dishes, mine hers. She says just forget it, the origin of things, who brought what pillows. I try, but the dog, with the name, with a “sun” and a “deep,” which she insists on, how can you think of a skinny little pooper like that and be right with that name? She said, well, if you’d ever been to India you’d know he looks just like a street dog. Sandip’s never been to India either. I call him pooper and he turns. He’s trotting around the yard while I’m with the tree, and I’ve been going at a good pace up through the pine since nine-thirty. I’m doing vertical sections now, that’s the way to do it, I discovered a method by the time I was midway up. I make my way around the pine, come around it going up. I’m at thirty feet. The things are heavier than I thought, the arms. They bend and snap and hit the ground in breezy, compressed fumps. The mutt doesn’t even notice me anymore up there. He’s out by the butterﬂy bush sniﬃng and stiﬀ, maybe he’s on to a vole. Then he’s trotting again, indiﬀerent to me like he knows exactly what a chainsaw is, what I’m doing, the full meaning and peril of dismemberment. Crab Orchard Review
Jason Daniel Schwartz It smells so good I take oﬀ the face mask Dawn made me wear, an old yellow thing we had left over from when we took a power sander to the ﬂoors. It’s complex, a bouquet, sap and fresh pinewood, gasoline and exhaust, some of the June lilac that comes in ﬂashes with the river breeze, an intermittent swirl that sweeps up my sweaty smell also, and there’s grass, a bit of summer tar oﬀ 47, but that’s all part of it, the complete thing, where I am, out here eviscerating this plant because I want to be, and whether it’s a matter of my own aesthetic sensibilities or Dawn’s or simply because I love Dawn, love her and her requests, do everything I can to make her happy, here I am, on a June day, on a ladder with my chainsaw, loving it. Sap has sprayed my bare arms, my cheeks, neck, forehead, and hardened. Sunburned I’m not unlike a candy apple, but mobility is not greatly aﬀected, there is no caking about my bones, muscles, meaning I can saw, saw ﬁne, though judging by my arms, stippled with needles and chips now, ﬂakes of bark, I am a monster. Laminated, spiny, bugged by swimming goggles ambered and useless which I throw down on the grass beyond the limb pile. The mutt noses his way into the bushes and that’s where I lose him, last I see is the tail, the humiliated little ass end of him. I scream ‘Pooper, Pooper,’ but he shimmies his way into the brush. I start back up the saw. Pine bleeds. There is a pooling seep to the ﬂuid and then it stills, chalks white, the smooth wound has a red to it in which I read anger, humiliation, I am going after the tree’s thickest clothes, its oldest, strongest arms, if it had a mind its pain would be the pain of nakedness after what, ﬁfty, sixty years of stately dress? And I wonder, knowing nothing of the life of a tree, of a rooted life, the weight of wood, combined weight of needle, the press of wind, the freezing burden of ice and snow, I wonder if this surgery does something to relieve our old tree, if soon, when the sap has turned hard and gone, when the red wounds fade brown and dry, I wonder if after all of this, some time soon or far, the tree will have become stronger against gravity, if the economy of xylem and phloem will have become robust with less circuitry to go among, because this is no diﬀerent than radical pruning, removal of limbs to make way for light, yes, but also make lighter our pine tree’s burden. Can’t really compare this kind of operation to anything in the human world—pruning, removal—we have amputation, but that’s usually due to necessity, I can’t ﬁnd a way to stretch an analogy, but I prefer being a prudent surgeon to having my intentions compared to gangrene. 60 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jason Daniel Schwartz I’ve gone about around the pine, just got the street side limbs to take down, when I see I’ve gone up about a half of the trunk, maybe a bit more, and it doesn’t look bad, a little naked, a little less healthy now that the big skirt it used to wear lies in frondy heaps at its feet, because my biggest fear was that it wouldn’t look natural, that I’d strand something sick and depressing before our little house, overly shorn, delimbed. I confuse myself, become instantaneously tricked into thinking I made a mistake, it goes from looking ﬁne to looking terrible, and then I think it doesn’t even clear much way for sunlight’s way to the second ﬂoor. It doesn’t. I can’t tell. I don’t think it’ll be eﬀective, I’ve gone above the line of the window, just below the gutters, but the forest inside a pine is thick, I’m afraid the sun hardly has an angle. It’s got a straight line, but I think ﬁne, it’s ﬁne, at least the windows have a view now. I vow not to deny and forget spending good moments inspecting the little city, the little forest in that tree from my oﬃce window, the sparrows and the black squirrels, goldﬁnches, hopping around and tweeting. It’s all still there if I want it now, only higher up. I ﬁnish oﬀ the bottom half of a Genuine Draft, check my gas and pull the cord. I go around the bottom there, take oﬀ the last of the wide, bouncing hem, pull the heavy branches into a stack, bring the ladder around to where I need it. I know Dawn is watching me, I saw her face in the front door window, I know she wants to watch me, see me do what I’m doing, so I let her watch, my Dawn, my girl, she’d be out here with me. This is hers, this life, this tree, the June light and the green. I pull the cord on the saw again, rev it, up on the ladder now, I make sure I put myself in a place she can see me, I hold the running saw above my head, a shirtless Viking sweating in the sun, and I dig into a branch at the level of my hip giving Dawn a good tricep shot. By then she knows I’m doing a show and she comes onto the porch smiling, her hands soundlessly clapping as my saw goes mostly through the branch, stops at wood’s snap, the wood falls as I draw the spinning blade out, hardly tumbles, comes to its airy rest. Dawn was up before me, spent the early hours out front, came into the kitchen walking against the counters, her slid little steps, pulling her feet along the balls, she said, “You going to clean up that stupid pine?” I said, “Oh Dawn, Oh baby,” gave her a kiss and held her, my arms around her bony shoulders, I kissed her smooth neck. “What’s that banana bread?” Crab Orchard Review
Jason Daniel Schwartz Now here she comes, sideways against the wooden railing down the front steps, one foot sideways at a time, Dawn bending at the hip to come down them, but she doesn’t turn her eyes from me, she watches me as she comes down the steps, smiling, happy, squinting, the sun white in her blond. “I’d be up there with you if we had another saw.” She comes down on the grass, stands without leaning on anything, then comes slowly to the tree, each step the length of her sneaker, the legs hardly bending, I rev the saw again and cut oﬀ another branch, smaller, but it hits right, claps dull and hard on the ground, and Dawn doesn’t jump, she still inches to me like the yard is a buckling plank. I say, “Tree looks a little sick, no? A little weak with the bottom gone?” “It’s great,” she says. “I’m used to it already.” “Will the light come in?” I say. “All day,” she says and stops, turns her body around, her head, to see the house. I look too and see the second ﬂoor is in sunlight now, already, early as it is, and my Dawn turns back to me, looks up at me against the sun, squints down to her cheeks and chin, says she’ll bring a chair out and sit with me. She stands, breathes in, stands straight up, hardly any motion to her but the balloon in her chest, her eyes now closed, the breath itself and then it goes, out and long, the sound of it fades into silence. She looks asleep, “So nice,” she says, “so nice.” I pull the saw’s cord and cry along with it, my metal heart. I’ve dragged the branches into three piles around the trunk, and at the top of the front path, by the orange light, give our house’s new face a look. The tree is alive in my scope, I see it breathe heat, I see the heat humming oﬀ all its eyelike wounds, and it’s all I see, the tree, our little contempo-cape, simple and clumsy, two ﬂoors encased in blue shingles. The beer I’m drinking was warm when I cracked it, and its bubbles sting. I feel the thirst in my left eye, full of light now, heavy on the tissue, I see the landscape in front of me in all of its physicality, ripeness and brightness become motion, a swirling. I cannot transform it into an image on a screen but try to. My mind is pulled into its corners. I don’t get a picture of what I am looking at, amputation or facelift, if I’ve left a dead log. I go in. The breeze is alive inside of the house, sucks in the curtains, ﬂaps out paper’s calls, the mail on the desk and her notebooks, the magazines on the ﬂoor—they’re decks of cards. Dawn is in her wooden chair, never made it back outside, her back is turned at a right angle with the seat’s. 62 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jason Daniel Schwartz This is what she does, sitting in her wooden chair, her seat, she says: best in the house, but she sits stiﬀ in it, back at a line, legs apart a little, in the middle of the room, she opens the windows and puts herself in the cross breeze. The outside comes in tactile ﬂashes with the curtains’ yawns, she breathes it there, she has made something that is private, I am not part of this. She gives me a look, up drinking my can of beer, and says, “Machoman.” Her eyes go up and down me and she laughs, makes a face at my sap gloss and spines, says, “What you need is an open ﬂame, not a shower.” She is in her chair, in her baby-blue T-shirt and shorts. Her hands are on her little knees, her hair is tucked behind her ears, her cheekbones are teaspoons. I say, “There’s plenty of wood.” “Do you burn pine in a ﬁreplace?” she says. “You going to chop it?” “The thicker branches,” I say. “I’ll bring a chair out, I promise,” she says. I say, “When you can,” and walk into the kitchen for another beer. There’s a clear line from where I stand at the counter to where she’s sitting and we look at each other, me with my beer, she with the breeze all around her, the magazines and papers clicking in the room, it is in her hair, she turns her face into it and watches the light through the drapes, hands on her knees, her bony legs are bare. Tedious to get down finally to the log of a conifer, that is what I learn, I ﬁnally devise a way to skim the needly protrusions and sticks oﬀ using the sawhorse and the chainsaw. I do three or four big logs that way, skimming oﬀ the brush then sectioning the trunks, and the screen door slams open. Dawn catches it on its swing back to the jamb in one hand, her wooden chair in the other behind her, she pushes it back open and comes out, rotates the chair to her front, uses it seat-forward as a walker across the porch. She wears her black sunglasses, egg-shaped eyes, holds a can of beer. Sides down the steps and comes down to the grass. There is a promising rectangle of sunlight in the center of the lawn and she stops in it, rolls up her t-shirt sleeves, her shorts to the tops of her thighs, pulls a magazine from her back waist and sits. “Where’s that puppy?” she says, pulls up the front of her shirt, her folded belly ﬂashes in the light and then its color calms, goes golden. I tell her about the vole. “Did you squash my dog?” she says and looks around her, looks at the overgrown yard. We have three foot dandelions, vines that cut through and spiral up the stalks of our honeysuckles and lilacs, around our little trees and wildﬂowers. The Crab Orchard Review
Jason Daniel Schwartz blossoms are like mouths, everything sucking in air to swallow sun, Dawn says she loved things overgrown, she says that as a girl she hated haircuts more than booster shots. “Sandip,” she yells, her voice is high and loud, she holds out the notes, the second lower than the ﬁrst, she calls it until she’s satisﬁed the word is out and opens the magazine. I get back to my wood, still working on the bigger branches, the thick ends of them, stacking the ﬁrewood in my wheelbarrow, planning our winter with this incentive to ﬁnally use the ﬁreplace. I’ve already doubled our woodpile, and I think most of what I have left can just get thrown in the truck and dumped or burned out back is better. The whole time Dawn sits, the magazine is now on the grass, she has sunk back in the chair, her stomach crinkles into soft ridges, minidunes, I don’t know if her eyes are open to the sky. I look up and see nothing, but she has a window cat’s interest in it, seeing it all, waiting for something to come into frame. Or it’s diﬀerent from a cat’s because cats watch and their feet move, tails twitch with the feeling of being in it, but Dawn hardly moves. She looks asleep. Still that way, not waking from it, concealed eyes up, she says, “Are you sure you burn pine in the ﬁreplace?” “I’m not,” I say. “Well we should check before we do.” When I have it almost stacked the little pooper comes back into the yard backwards, pulling a speckled garbage bag in his mouth, it’s wider than he is. It’s a pause before I see it for what it is, a bull turkey, he’s pulling it by the tail, dragging the chest and head, its wings are wide out and bushy as taﬀeta. Big one, the pooper has some blood around his muzzle and eyes and I can tell it’s his own. “Baby!” Dawn yells and the mutt lets the turkey go a second, looks back at her. Somehow the bird wakes out of death and catches a run right for me, his neck apparatus a blood-canalled pink jiggle, I see him clear in the light, it happens quickly but I see it slow. See it all go, the bird come right out running, wings hanging out and limp, feet like an ostrich, a run that spins below its feathered body. But the legs slow a few steps into it, something in the rotation catches and gives, and just as the turkey sees me in front of him he collapses, goes to a sidespin in the grass. The mutt sprints over, snaps at the turkey in its break-dance, back a few steps, he tries to negotiate reentry. The turkey stops and sits up, his wings in a dress around him, his beak open in a cluck-tongued pant, and pooper hangs his head, still in his pacing, he has lost his 64 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jason Daniel Schwartz canine fury, the killer bred from him, he backs oﬀ. His walk goes slow and stooped. I back oﬀ, too. The bird is terrifying, pitiful, his neck and head are a beaked snake and silent as one, no gobble gobble, no fowlish murmur, just silence and labor on his prehistoric face. “Get away from him, poor thing,” Dawn says. “Can’t you see he’s scared?” “It’s hurt,” I say like an idiot, my voice cracks on the H. I walk to the pooper, who is going back and forth with his teeth out in an awkward grin, I grab his collar and tell Dawn I’ll call somebody. It takes no force to drag the dog up the path and into the house, he’s willing and I am too, something to get away from that thing out there. Sandip has some scratches on his face, beak-sized gashes on the long bone of his muzzle. The blood is thick, dry, wet red and drying black to his fur. He hardly struggles, he seems like me, relieved to be away from the turkey. Calm now, breathing. I wash his cuts clean and smooth his head in the kitchen, wrap his face in gauze and medical tape. Through the window I see Dawn pull her chair to the bird, speak to him. She’s whispering, kissing to the bird through the pollen-yellow air. She bends toward him, brings her face close. He lowers his head and rests his chin on the grass. I know it because I’ve felt her fingers on me more than anybody has, I know that she is queen of our island. Of it, not in it, not physically, but locked to it more than I am, and, I think now, locked to it more than she is locked into me. I think it, but am I searching for something? She touches me and it is far as the trees. It’s my job to take her little jester for walks, and we’re up on Cave Hill with the sun still going. We left Dawn back, left her in the kitchen saying she’d rummage for a light evening meal, but I know she was waiting to get back in the chair, still outside, she’d go back there in private, it’s a Sunday, the sun, the fridge is full of beer. Before the animal control guy came she lobbied to keep the turkey, she believed he would let her care for it, I said no birds, no turkeys, no reptiles, winter is cold enough here. The guy came in a green pickup and lifted the silent turkey by its neck, held it above his head and checked the body. “Looks like a broken drumstick,” he said, and he tossed him like a sack into the bed. We get up by the bend, where the forest clears on a long fallow cornﬁeld, what was once a cornﬁeld, grown patchy and long-grassed, leafy bushes, stalky weeds, knee-high most of it. There is a haze to it, a yellow cloud, the whole thing is in the light. It expels a liquid mist Crab Orchard Review
Jason Daniel Schwartz of pollen that hangs above it, made bright by the sun. Dawn would come up here when we ﬁrst moved in, when stiﬀness was just a tingle at her joints, she called the ﬁeld desperate the way it bled, the way it wanted, sent its signals so ﬁercely that it polluted its own air. I ﬁnd her beautiful still, I do, I’d say that, sitting in her chair, the back back, her browning stomach ﬂat, I ﬁnd her beautiful, she looks up at me, into the sun, a saluting hand above her squint, the rise of the muscles in her belly as she crunches her body up. It is a crunch, what ﬂares her bones, I know it is a crunch, though I can’t feel it, it’s not mine to feel, I get left with the feeling of sadness, the guilt of feeling sad for her. Our ﬁelds overlapped once, there was no stray edge, no corner poked out, until they shifted, I didn’t feel it happen, but they had shifted, her there, me, me, it’s the same for both of us: we have a life in our heads, these lives have inﬂated. She does not bend but she bends, and I believe I have bent. We ﬁt only when we both lie ﬂat and only along our sides. I do like it. I do like to have her against me, to hold her. I feel her bones in my grip, I wait for them to click and sigh with pressure. Still. I look out at the desperate ﬁeld and say, “I don’t deserve this.” It’s a feeling that has hundreds of faces, it shines a diﬀerent color from every angle, one way I’m selﬁsh, another I’m spoiled, another I’ve given everything up, despicable as it is to say it, I’ve lost it all. Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter. “Look at this day,” I say. “Hey pooper, do you see this day?” The mutt turns his head to me, looks at me across his ﬂat, golden back and whines softly, holds his high note a bit and fades it out until it’s just breath. He is still a dog with his bandages and strips of tape, but he’s right. He’s right. The day glows, we must be small and in awe, great peculiar things have come to us at this place, this day. We should be singing our dialogue, dancing out our happiness and dejection both, ﬁlling gaps in habit with hobbies and meditation, ﬁnding natural analogs and homey solutions for outstanding wants. Instead we’ve buried want in our bellies. Ours does not emanate in a self-asserting yellow steam, ours smolders, digests us, byproducts emerge from time to time as sudden kindness to each other and weak little wordless moans. I find her against my leg some nights, her somnolent looseness surprises me. Her mouth lingers open, covers my lips when I believe the kiss ﬁnished. I do what I can, I try to ﬁll it, try to, try to ﬁll her although I’ve lost it, it’s gone from me. 66 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jason Daniel Schwartz When I come into the yard she is bent at the waist at a wide angle, walking backward toward the driveway pulling one of the smaller pine branches. She sees me and drops it, wipes her hands on her baby-blue shorts. “Come here,” she says. “Both of you.” The mutt goes right to her, runs and pushes in around her legs, again she bends at the waist, she does most of her bending there, she lets his fur ride along her ﬁngertips like water beneath a canoe. The day is going, the sun is sunk toward the western tree tops, I go to her and hug her tight, my arms around hers, which hang at her sides. She kisses me, opens her lips around my mouth and bites soft, when we break it is me breaking, coming away and looking into her eyes. She knows this is an excuse. They forgive me, they come down, squint but are bright. “Mountain gorilla,” she says smiling. She looks up at me, past my chin, her eyes become full circles, half spheres, she pulls an arm from my grip and gets her hand on my neck, pushes it slow along my shoulder. “I’m going to fuck you tonight,” she says. She lets her hand drop quickly and then it is on my cock, moving along it with no attention to contour. I kiss her on the lips, stay a moment, then kiss her on the cheek, the ear, then the neck as I move away from her, walk by her to the undressed pine. “We did a good job today,” she says, turning as I go by her. “You’re such a good worker when you want to be.” She is tiny. I love her. The day is gone, it’s gone. It’s now nothing for me until tomorrow. Dawn stoops to the chainsaw on the grass. She lifts it, pulls the slack from the cord and pretends that it’s on, moves it a little, blade out. She holds it well, in both hands of both stiﬀ arms, she makes the noise of a chainsaw, Ehhhh, and swishes the blade in little diagonals. She puts the blade to her left leg, just above the knee and looks up at me, smiling, still making the chainsaw sound, jerks the saw as if going through textures, from ﬂesh to bone, I say, “Don’t. Don’t make it so realistic.” She drops the saw. “Franks and beans tonight,” she says. “For Schwarzenegger.” “Wieners,” I say like a German, with a v, but I’m not there. I’m standing by the tree, but I’m terrible, I deserve the chainsaw through my chest. “Yes please,” she says. “But after dinner.” After dinner we’re drunk, I’m tired, we’ve taken some of her pain pills and gone to bed. I still like to take her clothes oﬀ, this has not changed. I watch her little shorts slide over her skeleton, over the bones of her hips, the crotch catches. Crab Orchard Review
Jason Daniel Schwartz I am in love with her. She knows that. She knows. I understand that it is not enough to know, not always. There is more to it than knowledge, more to happiness in love than admiration, gratitude, and loyalty. We lie ﬂat on our backs, her right side down my left, my arm under her head. “Help me on my side,” she says, and I do, I pull her up so her front is up against my edge. Her little hand is on my trunk, it slides up and down it. There is no touch in it. I don’t know if it’s my fault or her bones. It goes over my ribs and we stay that way. My eyes close. I feel her touch me, the rhythm of her sliding hand over the bones in a row, the ﬁngers I feel that creak to bend, I feel it all through my chest bones and pull her head tight to my shoulder but I’m going out there, beyond the western trees I’m setting. Her lips open on my neck and I feel her tongue, her hand is on my balls. She holds them her rubbing slow, she is against my thigh moving in little ways I feel it all, the love in her in her slowness and softness, but I’m going out. I’m so tired, a dog, for me the day is over. I close my eyes black. I follow after the sun.
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Marcus Cafagña La Huelga, 1970 The year Chavez called for a boycott of lettuce we posed beside a shopping cart as husband and wife. Still kids in school, we faked honeymoon smiles to give the checkers at Safeway the sense we were customers. Back in Salinas, the UFW had put us through the paces picking heads until we knew in our bones why every farm worker, paid piecemeal, would soon wave the red ﬂag in protest. The produce manager was quick to tell us that the growers had denied Mexican children were dying in the ﬁelds from the pesticide their crop-dusters sprayed. Led through back rooms and coolers, we double-checked the lid on crates of iceberg the Teamsters unloaded. We were there to kiss-and-tell on a union so rotten they had their label stamped, instead of ours, all over some sweetheart deal.
Crab Orchard Review
The On Position Sobering to work once the bar closes down. The trophy case distorts a man’s reﬂection, makes him wonder if he really is alone. These nights weigh heavy as the barstools he must lift onto tables, cases of empties that clink against his hip, the old Hoover he ﬂicks to the on position. A steady hum radiates as he vacuums the worn shag. Swizzle sticks, butts, bottle caps, click through. Nothing will ever be clean enough. Both of the restrooms are hot and cramped, in the women’s the walls loaded with moisture. The mop head leaves a soapy trail, the bucket sings a song nobody wants to hear. Below a partition he bumps what could be someone’s arm. Flinging back the stall door, he sees it’s only Rita the bartender passed out drunk beside the bowl, a ﬁfth of Four Roses turned on its side. A strand of pumpkin hair sways on her breath as she drops her head and her face grows slack and mournful, until a look of clarity prints itself across a forehead crosshatched with tile, behind those baby blues a switch is thrown.
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Shannon Castleton Dream of the Anxiety Clinic I ﬂoat through leaves to a sign, “Anxiety Clinic”—the building glass-fronted and next to Ultimate Bodies where men and women twirl in their bright skins like ﬁsh. A woman asks can you say circadian rhythm, explain how we see dreams with closed eyes? Wrapped in gauze, a man slouches next to me. I unwind him—so much wrap my arms are knotted in it. The woman says meet your grandfather, found crushed and drunk at thirty-six beneath his horse trailer. He calls my name with music like tears. I think where is my father who dreams you back? And my father comes, presses his forehead against a window. Even in my dream he is tired of dreaming. He is peering through glass for bodies he can’t see. The woman chants who will hold him? She deals numbers and orders us in line, me in front, my grandfather plaid-shirted at the end, my father alone, his ﬁngers tracing veins on his wrist. I smooth his hair with my palm. I love him with quick words I don’t understand. When a voice calls time, I have already left him. I am a sheer body unfolding in light. I lift my arms and blur past the window.
Crab Orchard Review
Deborah Cummins Dawn The sun is suspended in the spruce’s lowest branches. No wind has startled the oaks to rattle. The only voices are the gulls’, the warblers’, and nothing in their language signiﬁes to me expectation. Oh, that I were capable of such translation. To think that because my eyes are now open, I’ve put the whole thing into motion— the oldsquaw’s low tide probing, the osprey’s ﬂight from its nest of warp and sticks. That because I throw back the covers, step into my shoes, only now will the road’s curve beckon. Like saying because the moon has disappeared, she no longer exerts her pull, and the sea needn’t obey its mistress. Like saying I bear no similarity to ﬂotsam, along for the ride.
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The Body After Diagnosis And then it is not your friend. Swiftly it forgets the scented baths, morning jogs, vintage champagnes uncorked in celebration. As though it had been drunk on cheap jug wine, it threw open its door, porch light lit, a welcome mat set out for anyone. There’s still hope, of course, that with cuts and cures, the tumor will not thrive. But never again can the body, its soft machinery of limbs, be held harmless, every cell a carrier of death, this traitorous house you once, despite its ﬂimsy roof, thought safe, except, perhaps, in the case of ﬁre, ﬂood, a midnight intruder shattering glass. All this time, danger lay within, a realization your cell-dividing brain in unmindful self-destruction cannot get its hands around. Nor the fact you have only one life and one house, even if its deed is ﬂawed, its ownership un-negotiable.
Crab Orchard Review
Jarita Davis Atlantic Coasts These boys could be in Praia, I think. Dried sea salt coarse across their shoulders. They dig their feet into the sand, chase glimmers of polished glass and trail tracks along the shore leaving smudges like their grandfathers left on Cabo Verde at this age. Across the ocean and decades before, two boys called each other in Crioulo. I picture the brown mountains watching from behind, and the sea washing up smooth rocks and jellyﬁsh for them. But they’re not in Praia, they’re here, we’re all here, in New Bedford where they dig at the beach with sticks and face the Atlantic from the other side. “What are you taking pictures of?” the boys ask me. “The beach,” I say, and they scatter sand behind them to collect their stash. “Take a picture of this,” the younger one suggests, holding
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Jarita Davis a twisted clump of seaweed and goo. The older boy is serious. He carries stones with important colors for me to photograph. Our tie to each other and to the past is the water. They do not discover and uncover bits from shore, their home, to remember lost family in Cabo Verde. This is where they are. This is where we are. “Take a picture of this,” the younger one oﬀers, grinning at the snail peering from its shell.
Crab Orchard Review
Adam Day Snow in a Gdansk Courtyard On a kitchen window’s slate ledge, a swallow, white chest dusted orange from the moth in its beak. Across the courtyard a black dog perched atop its doghouse, one ear pricked to the wind. A rusty nail sticks up from a sodden half-buried plank, shocking the snow with its faint russet pulse. And a child’s distant croup-cough seems to stir the snow from frost-stained branches. Here is the cloud-helmeted sun, and here is the world smoothed and close to the eyes, like the gleam of cupped hands bathing a face above a sink’s darkening basin.
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Mapping the Lover Bright November afternoon, eight ﬂoors above Manhattan. We lay clothed under covers, shirts up, stomach to stomach—full, lovely weight of the body—white as marl. We put our hands to the window, measuring temperature, letting sunlight slide from our skin. Charting the paths of our palms, I ask her about my taste; she asks about hers— the expected salt is hardly there, sweetness mostly, a faint decay, like slightly overripe almonds. Something the way my father smells, in from the rain, the deep creases of his hands and jeans traced with night-crawler soil. Magniﬁed, it would terrify, but it remains far oﬀ and pulsing like a blue-rippled light in coastal darkness.
Crab Orchard Review
Rae Gouirand Behold Beans shaking between bent ﬁngers, my grandfather squints as he snaps the tops oﬀ into the sink, proceeding very slowly, holding all the beans together in his ﬁst, the done and undone. I’ve come to see him to ask him a question—if you stop seeing your dreams as you lose your sight, if they become mere sets of sounds. I have failed to ask. From his hardened hands I claim the remainders. He turns toward the tart—the apples have been soaking for an hour in an apricot-lemon dressing. His hands wrap around the soft fat halves and lift them from their syrups into the light, where he smiles at their progress. The memorized recipe succeeds: there will be a fabulous dessert. Each fruit is cut by an easy blade and smoothed to a gentle fan in the dough, slice by slice overlapping as sleeping knees. Once in the oven, it’s me who sets the dials, and soon as it’s out the fan turns a satisﬁed hum. A sure whiﬀ, and he leaves me leaning over the grand hot tart like fresh stained glass unready for hanging, too far from cool. Steaming, immediate in reddish-peach heat, it’s improper
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Rae Gouirand to touch, I know, to breathe too close, and he slips to his study to write out the ingredients for me. The new heart hardens and goes a deeper shade. He makes a sure signature at the bottom, in the dark.
Crab Orchard Review
Devachan Aramaic, “angelic realm” Some suspect angels, up there; I suspect ﬁsh—blimp-sized, ﬂopping in dangerous range of our towers and planes, dropped like anchors where the sea has dried up, and when we seek to be still their thrashing propels the clouds of our dreams, ushering in the urge—to pluck at the air for slivers of scales, small glimmering signs that our hands have come close to the pulse, trembling with piscine lungs’ hiccups while tracing the strains onto our spilled plane, 80 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Rae Gouirand ﬂat page, a place kept among our papers and receipts as though we owned it— or at least the ink that forms the letters, or part of the space surrounding the page, hovering between rungs of thin blue lines.
Crab Orchard Review
Jason Skipper Tangled in the Ropes We were sitting in the shrimp van on the large bench seat with our feet set on top of the Igloo coolers laid out between us and the van’s open side doors. Raindrops hit the lid of one of the coolers, and my grandfather, Buddy, said we should probably get at it. He climbed over the boxes, got out of the van, and I followed him. The sky turned from blue to purple to gray in the time it takes to snap and smooth a blanket. In the ﬁeld across the highway, grass curved to the right and passing cars started ﬂipping their headlights on. The wind smelled like dust and felt like spring, but this was late August in Grand Prairie, Texas, during the last weekend Buddy lived with me and my family, selling shrimp from a van on the side of the highway just outside of Trader’s Village. A makeshift dirt driveway alongside the road between Trader’s Village and a Mr. M’s convenience store had become our permanent set-up spot that summer. The space was a natural clearing in a patch of oaks on a plot of land owned by Ron Castillo, a man Buddy’s age who stopped by from time to time and gladly took the twenty pounds of free shrimp we’d oﬀer. This was the third summer in a row that Buddy had stayed with us. Throughout most of the year, his emphysema stayed in check, but once the drinking started, so did the cigarettes. He’d call us up one morning in late spring, hardly breathing, and my father would make the drive to Wewahitchka, Florida, to get him. I never got used to how he looked when he came back. With his body sunken in and eyes bloodshot brown. His every word strained like he was sick of explaining things. He normally stood six foot two, but during these times, he looked something closer to my height. My father put him back in my room and cleared the house of any alcohol, aftershave, or vanilla extract. Weeks passed and Buddy got worse before better. Then one morning he’d stroll into the living room wearing creased jeans, an ironed shirt, and the look of someone who’d only just arrived. In his deep, clear voice he’d say to get the poles and tackle. He woke up
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Jason Skipper those mornings the same ex-con artist who’d made his way through life running fake rooﬁng companies and check-cashing scams. The man my father said could sell bubbles to a ﬁsh. This summer they had decided I would take over the van once Buddy left, and he was dead-set on teaching me how to hustle people. To speak up and pay attention to their bodies before their mouths opened. Sometimes he said there was a thing or two that no one else on earth could teach me, so pay attention, he said, watch me. Because what I teach you now is all I’ve got to give, and after this summer, I doubt there’ll be any more. The raindrops dampened Buddy’s short sleeve button-down. The wind pushed his combed-back white hair forward. He waved me to the front of the van and said, Get over here, Christopher, before we get soaked. He was standing beside the three metal signs that had once belonged to realtors, signs we’d picked oﬀ lawns and painted that May. First a layer of white, then in red: FRESH SHRIMP, TODAY ONLY, and 5LB for $20.00. We lifted them and hurried to the back of the van. Rain pressed harder. Buddy opened the rear doors. I hopped in and turned around so I could grab the signs from him. He held up the smaller ones with the pointed ends leading. Mud was clumped on the sharp metal stakes and I spread my hands wide to get a clean spot. C’mon now, he said. This stuﬀ’s coming down. I said, Yes, sir. But instead of grabbing onto them, I jumped out and took the stack of signs from his hands. I banged their metal stakes against the back bumper. So it doesn’t get all over the ﬂoors, I said. Customers will see it. Plus, I’ll be the one who has to clean it up later. Buddy nodded and said, Hurry up. He followed me inside and slammed the back doors shut. The wind became a moan, the rain a patter against the roof. We sat beside each other in the two front seats. The van seemed much smaller. The small signs laid ﬂat on top of the coolers. The large ones sat on their sides next to the bench seat. We were soaked and trying to catch our breath. Buddy took his maroon Prednisone inhaler oﬀ the dash, put it to his lips, and breathed in. He oﬀered it to me. You want a hit? I smiled and shook my head. He shrugged. It’s good stuﬀ. I ﬁgured he felt bad for jumping me earlier. I reached under my seat and found an old towel. I wiped my hands and oﬀered it to him. He shook his head. No, thanks. He’d already wiped his threadbare handkerchief over his face. He drew a comb straight back through his Crab Orchard Review
Jason Skipper hair, sending the peppermint scent of Brylcreem through the muggy, closed-in space. He looked in the mirror. Yes, sir. Yes, sir, he said. I looked out the windshield and watched cars zipping by. Everyone was leaving Trader’s Village because of the rain. I knew it made sense to head out ourselves. The signs were put up. All we were to people was a white van beside the road. But I knew better than to ask. Buddy would say this storm will pass over soon enough; even if it didn’t, we had the vendors to consider, some of whom were regulars, and they’d still be packing up; leaving now meant throwing out good, sellable shrimp, enough to make up my paycheck’s worth of proﬁts; cut out early, and my father would have our asses in a sling. My father was thirty miles north up I-20 doing what he did every Sunday and most evenings after closing up his seafood store in Kennedale. He hung out at a beer joint called Greener Acres, a dark place lit by TV screens, pool table lights, and the light oﬀ the mirror and liquor bottles behind the bar. He’d be drinking a can of Schlitz and shooting pool with some friends. If I walked in there now with shrimp left over, I’d hear no end to it. Buddy sat back and resigned to get comfortable. He repeated his typical late-afternoon Sunday saying: Maybe somebody’ll come along in a big Caddy. Take the whole mess of it and clean us right out. I said, Fat chance. No one’s stopping in this weather. Buddy sat up. He said, It’s that rotten attitude. You can’t have that mindset and expect to run this van. Not once I’m gone. I said, You guys act like I want it. I haven’t said whether or not I’m going to do this once school starts. This is a summer job for me. Dad has done all right hiring extra help. No diﬀerent than last year. He drives down to get the shrimp on Thursday mornings, then whoever he hires sells it on Fridays and the weekends. That way you guys won’t have to worry about me speaking louder. And I won’t have to hear it whenever I don’t sell out. All I want is this summer’s paycheck, the half from each weekend that he’s been keeping, so I can put it toward that Epiphone SG at the pawn shop by our house. Buddy said, Times are tough. Your father can’t aﬀord the help that he could once aﬀord. You’re old enough now. You’ve come a long way this summer. It’s time you show you understand your responsibilities. That I haven’t been wasting my eﬀorts on you, trying to show you the ropes on how to deal with people. Time you showed there’s more to you than daydreaming about guitars and listening to all that music by doped-up idiots who look like hookers. 84 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jason Skipper I’d first mentioned the guitar on a Sunday night in early June. My father and I were sitting across from each other at a corner table in Greener Acres. He was wearing his ballcap that read Saxton’s Shrimp and Seafood and a polo shirt. The good mood he’d been in turned south when I told him there were still twenty pounds left. He reminded me this was the third week in a row. After a few more beers, he stopped grinding his teeth and staring at the spiral notebook where the day’s sales were kept. Finally, he asked what I planned to do with all the money I’d make over the summer. I drew him a picture of the guitar. I said, Once you give me what I’ve made and I put it with what I’ve saved, it’ll be enough. It’s worth more than the guy is asking, but he said he’d cut me a deal. I didn’t tell my father I’d put the guitar on layaway back in April. That every cent I had was going toward it already. With the money he was giving me in August, I’d just make it. He traced the body’s shape, the way it rounded at the bottom, then came up to two points before dipping toward the neck. He said, It looks like a devil’s head, and pushed the drawing away. You’ve already got a guitar. The one that I bought you. Four years ago, I said. It’s an acoustic. And the tuners are broke. You’ve seen how I have to use pliers to turn them. Besides, I’ll never make it with a guitar like that. You’ll never do much if you keep talking so low, he said. People have to strain just to hear you out there. I’ve seen you in action, Lightning, and it’s not so good. I looked down at the drawing and thought, It looks nothing like the real thing. There’s a shitload of other things you should spend your money on, he said. You should think about saving it. For school clothes and new school supplies. Maybe you can stay on after this summer, once Buddy heads out. Then your money could go toward that racket machine there. You’d have all kinds of extra dough in your wallet. We both know Buddy’s probably not going to make it if he pulls something again like these past years. He’s counting on you to learn some things so you can take over the van. This was the ﬁrst time he’d mentioned me running the truck myself. I’d been too young to work out there by myself. I was scared he was serious. I wanted to make sure he understood how I felt. I said, Forget it. Running that van on the weekends would be the worst thing in the world. I’d never do anything but school and selling shrimp. And I barely pull it oﬀ with Buddy out there. Crab Orchard Review
Jason Skipper I don’t know, he said. I think you’d like it. It’d be like having your own business. You’d be your own boss. The last thing I want is my own business, I said. You’re the only Saxton in Saxton’s Fish and Shrimp. I can’t stand the smell of it, the cold water, or hauling those coolers in and out of the van. All of it. Especially sitting there with nothing to do all weekend. Not for ﬁfteen bucks. Show me that you can do better, he said. That you can sell those shrimp out consistently each weekend, and then we’ll talk about getting this guitar. Maybe then you’ll change your mind about staying on. I looked out across the smoky bar, feeling I was getting tied down to something I didn’t want. I could have asked why he wouldn’t run the truck himself, but his reasons were right in front of me. I worked for less than others and he wanted his weekends free to stay at Greener Acres. I said, Forget it. He turned in his chair toward the TV at the bar. He said, Once you get a few lines going and people believe what you’re saying, you’ll be surprised. You’ll sell out and be home before you know it. Just wait and see. I did figure out a few lines of my own to say. I took some things that Buddy said and made them work for me. The harder I tried each day, the sooner we sold out. The sooner we sold out, the sooner I went home. Each weekend, I got better. I spoke up, worked on my lines, and gauged people by their appearances. Shoes were always the giveaway. Ostrich-skin boots meant I could push the jumbos; regular cowhide and I’d go for the little ones. Leather slip-ons meant the mediums, usually. Sneakers depended on the brand name and whether they looked blown out. If you’re wearing old shoes with dirty laces, why bother paying eight bucks a pound on jumbo shrimp? Get the little ones. Get something. Or else why bother stopping? But today no one was stopping. We sat in the van. I’d already eaten my hamburger and chips. I’d practically memorized my issue of Rolling Stone. I sat back and stared at the rain on the windshield, wishing I hadn’t forgotten my Walkman. The van’s battery drained whenever I used its radio. Plus, Buddy couldn’t stand the music I listened to. A couple of weekends into that summer, I’d brought my acoustic with me. But it agitated my father to think of me sitting there, playing it whenever a customer walked up. Buddy’s eyes were shut, but I could tell he wasn’t sleeping by the way he rubbed his thumb in and out of his knuckles, the space where 86 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jason Skipper he once held his Winstons. His hands were thin and thick-veined and marked with liver spots. I took a pencil out of the glovebox and the notebook oﬀ the dashboard, turned to a clean sheet, and drew three sets of six parallel lines on the paper. I tried to get the patter of rain out of my head and remember the song I’d thought up earlier. I didn’t know how to read sheet music, so I wrote down the fret number on the line that stood for a string. Without opening his eyes, Buddy said, Got one of your tunes going? I ﬂipped the notebook closed and started to put it back on the dash. Best name this one ‘The Shrimper Man’s Blues,’ he said. Or ‘Can’t Make a Nickel to Save My Sorry Ass.’ I smiled and sat back. Buddy leaned forward, took the notebook, and turned it back to that day’s sales. The three diﬀerent sizes of shrimp were divided into columns and the amount of each sold was written down beneath them. He pointed to it. Take care of that, he said. Figure out your sales. Then, add up your dough to make sure it’s all straight. We started today with sixty pounds of little ones, twenty middlings, and twenty-ﬁve jumbos. I added up the columns and told Buddy we were down to eight pounds of the small shrimp, two of the mediums, and two of the large ones. Without this stupid rain, I said, we’d be home already. The rain came harder, as if it had heard me. Water layered on the windshield, but I could still make out the headlights passing. I decided not to work on the song anymore. Who was I kidding? It was pointless. Instead, I put my head against the back of the seat and listened to the rhythm of the rain on the roof. I knew that falling asleep inside the van was irresponsible. I sat upright thinking we’d been ripped oﬀ. The sky was still gray and water poured down the windshield. There was a tap on my window, and I turned around to see a Hispanic man staring from outside. He wore a straw cowboy hat and multi-colored button-down opened to the small curly hairs on his tan chest. His knuckles rat-a-tat-tatted again at the window. He nodded and said something else. I rolled the window down half an inch. He stood on his toes and said, I saw them signs going into Trader’s Village. Are you guys open? I wasn’t sure if Buddy wanted me to take this guy, knowing he’d be more likely to make the sale. I was best dealing with women and Crab Orchard Review
Jason Skipper some of the older folks, and still learning a few things when it came to dealing with men. Buddy cleared his throat and said, Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Long as we’re here, we’re always open. He climbed over the signs and coolers to reach the bench. He set the hanging scales on a hook screwed to the ceiling. He said, Help me with this, Chris. I stood up and pushed the signs away. I opened the doors and scooted the coolers away from the bench. Rain came inside the van. The man bellied up to the coolers and pushed his hat back on his head. Afternoon, he said. Good afternoon, Buddy said. Nice to see you again. I doubted Buddy knew the man. Well let me see here, Buddy said. He opened the cooler to his far right. He said, These are the shrimp we’ve got on sale today. Five pounds for twenty bucks. Otherwise they’re ﬁve per pound. He reached in and picked a few up. He let most of the shrimp drop but bounced the large ones in his hand. Still got them heads, the man said. No time to head them, Buddy said. He let the full-bodied shrimp with their pointed heads and long whiskers plop in the brown water. This time yesterday these bad boys were swimming. We got a driver that hauls them up from Galveston every morning. Cost is ﬁgured. Plus, I always add in some extra. The man nodded toward the next cooler. Buddy moved to it. These are bigger, he said. You get about twenty-three to twenty-ﬁve per pound. They’re thick and meaty. Best for frying, but good for anything. They’re $6.99. The customer’s eyes followed Buddy’s as he opened the lid on the jumbo shrimp, but his hand stayed on the box with the smallest ones. Even I knew it was useless to show him the big ones. His boots were worn leather and muddy at the soles. His pants were tucked inside them. Too much, the man said, waving his hand over them. He tapped the cooler where his hand had stayed. How about these bad boys? Can you do three for twelve? Buddy checked his watch. Too early, my friend. We haven’t made enough to buy the young ’un here dinner. The two men looked at me. You’ll be here later then? Look at what I got. Ain’t a lot left. 88 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jason Skipper I see. I see. Three for ﬁfteen, you may as well get the ﬁve. The man took a deep breath. Already sold, I thought. Take me two seconds to weigh them on up. Get you out of this rain and headed home with what you stopped for. The man thought for a second. He peered at the sky then back down at the boxes. All them heads. You can do three for twelve. Nope. The lid fell. How many are you feeding? The man pointed over his shoulder with his thumb and said, My wife and our boy. Buddy said, What will she eat? You and your son can probably go through three pounds by yourselves pretty easy. He’s only two and a half, the man said. Buddy said, You know as well as me, three pounds is nothing. Five feeds a family. And you can’t beat that deal. Got some left over, just freeze them. These ain’t been frozen. Consider it an extra pound or so for free. You can thaw them out and eat them by yourself during the game tomorrow. The man nodded and reached for his wallet. While Buddy ﬁlled the scales full with shrimp, I looked outside at the man’s red pickup. Through the rain, I could make out a woman with brown skin and dark hair playing with a boy in the cab. He stood on her lap, and she held his hands for balance. Buddy told the man Thank you and the guy walked away, avoiding puddles as he carried the bundled sack beneath his arm. When the woman saw her husband, her smile turned to a glare. She set the boy back down between them and stared straight forward. I could easily imagine her, before they even stopped, telling him to not spend more than ﬁfteen dollars. That way they could get vegetables on the way home. Five more down, just a few more to go, Buddy said while walking back, counting the money, and sitting down. I said, They won’t ﬁnish all ﬁve pounds by themselves. And did you know that some of those little ones were frozen? They were left over from last week, and I thawed them out this morning. Dad didn’t want to sell them in the shop. Not our job to make pals, Buddy said. That guy just paid a part of your wages. Don’t forget that. Plus, I know he’ll be back. He’s been here before. We went through this routine the last time he stopped. Except he was with a few of his cronies, drinking Budweisers. Buddy took the notebook down from the dashboard and made Crab Orchard Review
Jason Skipper note of the sale in the farthest left column. I looked back out the window as the truck worked its way back onto the glimmering road. One Sunday in late July, my father and I were sitting across from each other at the same corner table in Greener Acres. He ran his ﬁnger over the pages of that weekend’s sales. Only a few pounds were left over, but he’d somehow ﬁgured out my little scheme of tossing in a few extra shrimp here and there. That day, I’d given away too much and he’d noticed. When he asked why I did it, I said it kept them coming back. For free shrimp? he said. Come on, Chris. You’re smarter than that. It’s your responsibility we come out on top each weekend. How am I supposed to trust you with this truck if you keep giving away our proﬁts? I’m not taking over the truck, I said. Maybe next year. Maybe. But not this year. My father said, Look, I’m ﬁnished debating this. When I turned thirteen, I started buying my own shoes and all my own school clothes. I delivered papers and worked all sorts of odd jobs. For nowhere near what you’re getting. He downed his mug of beer and poured another from his pitcher. He leaned in toward me. He said, Tell me what I have to do to make you give a damn. To not keep coming in here every Sunday, telling me that you’ve got shrimp left over. Crossing your arms like you could care less. I pushed back from the table. He grabbed my elbow hard enough to pull me forward. Stop pouting like I’m some bully, he said. Sit up now and tell me what it’ll take. Name your price. I jerked my arm away. I said, I can’t help it if people aren’t interested. Maybe we should sell less. He said, Buddy can go out there, work that truck himself, and be home by four, selling more than what I send you with. What do you make of that? I glared at the near-empty pitcher and sighed. I looked up at the ceiling fan pushing smoke around. He picked up the pitcher and went back to the bar. I looked at my watch. 8:30. Probably already dark outside. He came back with a full one and a small hand-held calculator. How much are you making now? he said. Fifteen dollars a day, I said, as if he didn’t know. 90 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jason Skipper And how much was that devil machine you drew in the notebook? And what kind of diﬀerence does it make if I give you a quarter for each pound you sell? It didn’t seem like much. He poured another beer and started ﬁguring on the calculator. He multiplied the pounds of shrimp sold by twenty-ﬁve. He wrote the number down, then poked in a decimal. Look at the number, he said. Look at that number and realize you’re breaking me. I’m not doing this completely for me. It read, $61.50. More money than I’d ever made. And that’s after you gave fourteen pounds away, he said. Even still, I thought, it meant I’d lose every weekend. The sun poked back out just as quickly as the rain had come. I heard what sounded like the engine of a lawnmower. Buddy looked over my shoulder, then back at me and said, I’m sick of sitting here. You take these folks and at least get rid of the little ones. That will be our last sale. Then we can head out. I jumped from my seat. The whole family had already poured from their Volkswagen van. They were making their way through the mud— a grandmother, mother, father, a boy and girl. Both of the kids had spots of dirt on their faces. The girl’s stringy cut-oﬀs and stretched-out, faded T-shirt looked like something passed down from her older brother. The man and woman held hands. She used her free hand to hold the hem of her dress in her ﬁngertips. The grandmother was ﬁrst to arrive, wearing a hat with a wilted dandelion in the band. I thought, Hippies, and had no idea what in the world they’d stopped for. The grandmother talked like she was trying to hold her dentures in her mouth. Heyya, Sweetheart, she said. Hello, hello, I said. That sure is a pretty ﬂower you’ve got there. This old thing? She pointed and made a face. It’s probably dead, Hon. This one picked it for me at a truck stop in Lubbock. She hip-checked the boy and he stumbled to the side, then she reached for his hand before he fell to the muddy ground. The little girl covered her smile. I waited for the father to step up. He wore glasses with earth-tone plastic frames and his hair hung shaggy, parted oﬀ to the side. He reminded me of John Denver. They all looked like maybe they had missed out on Woodstock and were still in search of it. I expected him to say Heeeyy, maaan, so I said it. Just like that. Crab Orchard Review
Jason Skipper He shot me a confused glance, then said, Hi there. I just stopped to see what you were selling. I ran through all of the shrimp just like Buddy had, just like I’d been doing all weekend and all summer. The guy scratched his head. I really don’t know, he said. Maybe if you could do the big ones here for ﬁve bucks then we could talk business. Once you weigh in all the ice and water I’m paying double what the grocer asks. Besides, you don’t have enough of the little ones to reach ﬁve pounds. Tell you what, I said. I’ll weigh in all that I’ve got of the $4.99’s, and then if it doesn’t come out to ﬁve pounds, I will make up the diﬀerence with the big shrimp. Oh yeah? he said. Maybe. I don’t know. I let the lids drop and stepped back. He opened up the farthest left cooler again and picked up one of the laid-out jumbos. He said, Can you take oﬀ the head and weigh it out like that so I can get a sense of how it measures up? He held it up to me with the tips of his ﬁngers. The kids kept trying to climb up in the van. I was about to tell him no and tell the kids to knock it oﬀ, but he went ahead and tore the head oﬀ the shrimp himself. He threw most of it on the ground and smeared the yellow and blue liquid of its insides across the cooler. The boy picked up the head and started ﬂying it around, chasing his sister. The man tossed the shrimp up onto the scale. Compare that to one of these others, he said, picking up another one of the big shrimp from the cooler. I took the other shrimp from the guy and put it on the scale. See? he said. It’s half the weight. Either you head them or sell it to us cheaper. There was no way I was going to cut the cost, if only because this guy was being a jerk. I’ll sell you the little ones for $4.99, I said. But I’m not coming down on these big ones. But that’s a rip oﬀ. Not at that price. And I’m deﬁnitely not going to head them for you. I let the cooler lid fall again. That’s my last oﬀer. I looked at Buddy. He waved his hand low and with stiﬀ ﬁngers, telling me these folks weren’t worth the trouble. Suddenly, I thought of what he sometimes said after dealing with people who drove cars that barely ran, who tried to get the shrimp too cheap and had scrawny kids like these. Buddy wouldn’t push anything. He’d only show the shrimp quickly and let them leave empty-handed. He’d come back to 92 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jason Skipper his seat shaking his head and wave his hand as if pulling himself out of a game he could have easily won. The guy’s face was red. His wife turned to walk away. The grandmother pushed her glasses up her nose and made a face like she had smelled something. At that point, I could have cared less if the whole family starved, if they spent their last twenty bucks on these shrimp, so long as I got one over on this guy and got myself out of there. I wasn’t even considering the guitar, the school clothes, or what my father might say if we were to show up with the extra shrimp. Since that last talk with my father, the night of the raise, I knew there was no way I’d get out of this business. I’d be dealing with this sort of situation for at least a few more years. But I wanted to show myself I could handle these kinds of guys. And I wanted to show Buddy I could pull this oﬀ without him, that he hadn’t wasted his time with me. I knew this was the last chance that I’d get to show him. I waited until this guy was so frustrated that he started to leave, ready to wave me oﬀ. I tried not to smile. I said, Look here, partner. He looked up. I’ll weigh these little ones, then make up the diﬀerence with the bigger shrimp here. That’s a better deal than you’re going to get elsewhere. That way you’re leaving with what you stopped for. I kneeled and used a line I hadn’t used before. I said, This is my dad’s business. He’ll run me into the ground if I give you those jumbos for less than what he paid. I could care less, but it’s not mine to give away like that. You understand. The guy’s shoulders dropped. Let me just weigh them on up, I said. The rest of the small shrimp came out to two and a half pounds— plenty to ﬁll up the two kids, maybe—and the jumbo shrimp was enough to ﬁll two more. Either way, they would all end up going to bed hungry. I took the guy’s ten and two crumbly ﬁves. Then I thanked him. They walked to their van. The mother had to slap the shrimp’s head from the boy’s hand. As we watched them, I said, Check out that stupid kid. He’ll have about another pound of those things to run around with once they’re ﬁnished pinching them oﬀ. Still watching them, Buddy said, Twenty bucks could have fed those kids for a week. Bread and bologna. Some decent food, maybe. He shook his head and looked up at me. The sun shone on his face and he squinted. I couldn’t tell if he was smiling. He said, Then again, I guess it’s not our job to worry about that. Crab Orchard Review
Jason Skipper I said, It’s not, and wrote the sale down in the book. Are we about ready? Buddy said, Let’s hit the road. As I stood from my chair, I heard another car pull up. I turned around. A beige Mercedes with gold rims. The driver was heavyset and wore a suit that matched his car. He got out quickly, took oﬀ his sunglasses, and, without looking down, walked through a puddle in his ostrich skin boots. He already had his wallet out. As I straightened up to meet him, I started to feel it settle in. He went directly to the jumbos and pulled the lids open himself. I hope you’ve got a bunch, he said. Because I’m in need of all of it. There’s not much left of those, I said. Some family just bought us out. He said, You’re fucking kidding me, and searched the cooler for a moment. He twisted toward his left and stared down the empty road, as if considering catching up with the people who had his shrimp. And then he shot a look at me, as if I should have saved them.
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Elizabeth Wetmore Practice It is only a ten-minute drive from the boy’s house to 17th Street
and Maple, where the girl stands just outside the sleety circle of light from a street lamp at the corner. It is after midnight, a school night, mid-May, and a skinny mesquite bush partially hides the girl from the eyes of neighbors who might still be awake. She stands behind the bush and watches lights go on and oﬀ, up and down the street. She counts House For Sale signs. There are six all together, two more than the week before. Hours earlier, freezing rain mixed with snow from a cold front in the Panhandle moved into West Texas and began to beat a steady path to the ground. It is a freak storm, much too late in the spring for anything so big and full, and from the windows of their separate classrooms, the girl and boy had watched the storm build and gather strength. At the end of the school day she waited for him by his locker. “Last storm of the year,” she said. “Let’s meet for practice later.” Tonight she wears a ﬂannel shirt pilfered from her father’s closet, and a pair of jeans pulled on quickly over her nightgown. Usually he picks her up around midnight, time enough for their parents to be well asleep, but tonight it is closer to 12:30 before he arrives at the corner of 17th Street and Maple, where the girl hides and waits and wishes she had worn a hat. Because he is late, she does not immediately get into his stepmother’s old LTD, a long, heavy car that the boy pushes for half a block on these nights, half a long block, until he feels safely away from his father’s house. Instead, she walks around to the driver’s side and leans toward the half-open window. Her breath is Crest and pineapple lip-gloss. Her straight and ﬁne hair is about an inch above the tops of her ears. Thin, blonde hairs lie jagged and close against her skull. Two nights ago she took a pair of scissors and a straight razor to her hair. “It’s freezing out here,” she says, “it’s late.” “Are we still going?” he says. “Is everyone asleep at your house? Did you have any trouble getting out?” Crab Orchard Review
Elizabeth Wetmore She stomps her feet against the pavement and looks up and down the street. Mrs. McAllister’s house is dark now. “No,” she says, “I’ve been waiting forever. It’s really late.” “I know it,” he says. “I had trouble getting out.” The girl thinks about the algebra test she is sure to fail the next day. She walks around to the passenger side, her shoulders hunched against the sleet that seeps under the collar of her shirt. The wind catches the passenger door as she pulls hard against it. They are seventeen. They have known each other for most of their lives. They are both virgins, barely. “Don’t let the door slam shut,” the boy says. “Are you ready to practice?” he says. He arches his eyebrows a little, does his best John Belushi imitation, teeth tight against his lips, one eyebrow up. “OK,” she says, “but don’t tell anyone.” It is a private joke between them. Practice is what they’ve called it since they were thirteen and ﬁrst used their library passes to sneak out of school and walk across a ﬁeld to the construction site where Katie Whitehead’s father had begun to build a new burger joint. The site had been abandoned mid-project and locked up for about six months when the boy and girl crawled through a torn place in the barbed wire. She had leaned up against an unﬁnished doorframe, and he had angled his head slightly upward to reach her mouth. They put their mouths together, her breath metallic and sweet with braces, Swiss Rolls and Dentyne, his heavy with potato chips and Dr. Pepper. They had pressed their mouths together slow then hard for most of the hour, stopping when they had just enough time to make it back for their next classes. Together they walked through the alley behind the school, the girl putting on lip-gloss and the boy swatting metal trashcans with a stick. “Practice,” she had said. “We’re practicing for when we get older. Don’t tell anyone. I mean it.” Tonight the boy drives north on Maple toward 42nd Street, the same route he takes every time he picks her up. At ﬁrst, they met once or twice a month, but lately it has been two or three times a week. They are picking up speed. The sleet falls hard, and it looks as if the storm might settle in for a few days. The boy turns up the heater, tests the brakes, and uses the edge of his sleeve to rub at the frost on the inside of the windshield. He wonders what he will say if he should wreck his stepmother’s car. He says, “How’s your dad? Did he get that job over at Beecham’s?” “No. He didn’t,” she says. She watches the storm. She ﬁddles with the radio, tuning past several country and western songs, a Christian 96 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Elizabeth Wetmore revival, and the Top 40 station that broadcasts out of Lubbock. She thinks about Grace’s letter from California. It is hidden in her dictionary, on the page where she highlighted her word for the day. Lucid. She thinks about the strange angles of her father’s shoulders since the layoﬀs started up again, the new sharpness in her mother’s voice when she insists the girl eat everything on her plate, that nothing be wasted. The boy pushes his tape case across the seat. “Do you think your dad heard the window open?” he asks. “I guess no one heard anything or I wouldn’t be here now.” She looks through his tapes, all that AC/DC in one place. She holds a bootleg up to the windshield and tries to read the label as he makes a slow right turn on 42nd and starts to drive past their high school. The girl pushes the tape into the player, then leans with her back to the passenger window. She presses her middle ﬁnger hard against the glass as the boy drives the length of the high school, the band ﬁeld, and the football practice ﬁeld. “Lighten up,” he says and rolls his eyes. “We’ve only got two weeks to go.” With the tips of his ﬁngers he plays a drum roll, the school ﬁght song, on the steering wheel. She keeps her middle ﬁnger on the window. He looks at her from the corner of his eye. He says, “My dad got a job working as a roughneck over in Stanton.” The girl takes her ﬁnger down. She says, “That’s good news. Listen, do you have any cigarettes?” “Coach made me quit. You should quit too,” he says, “you’re going to get hooked on those things.” “No I won’t,” she says. Once the boy turns onto Highway 80, they are only a few minutes from the oil patch. The girl leans her head against the window and hums along to the music. He tries to drive a little faster, but the car trembles against the wind and the highway turns black beneath his headlights. Hands at ten and two, he thinks. Two weeks. In two weeks he will be ﬁnished with school. Then, he will try to ﬁnd work in the oil ﬁelds. He will marry this girl and after a couple of years of settling in, they will begin to have babies, three he hopes. They will always make love on Saturday mornings and then they will lie in each other’s arms and wait for the babies to toddle into bed with them. They will read the newspaper together. They will go to church and the girl, by then a woman, will let her hair grow long and she will not talk of leaving. The babies will soften the wildness he thinks he sees in her eyes. Lately, she talks about how she will move away from West Texas as Crab Orchard Review
Elizabeth Wetmore soon as she’s out of school, how she will go to Denver or San Francisco or Montana, one of the places on the posters she has tacked up on her bedroom walls, and when the boy says, “Where would I go?” she laughs and tells him that he could go anywhere. Monument Valley, where the rocks stand up straight for a thousand feet or so, right in the middle of the high desert. A beach in California where people swim naked alongside colonies of sea lions. She tells him about a picture she’s seen—the north rim of the Grand Canyon ringed with snow, a winter sun rising pale and enormous behind a herd of elk. “You could go there,” she says as she leans against him and breathes in the constant, heavy smell of the dying oil patch. “Anywhere, Andy,” she says, “anywhere but here.” Other times, they don’t talk about much of anything. They just drive out to the oil ﬁelds and practice until they are full up with each other, and sleepy. Tonight the girl looks through the windshield, her eyes moving back and forth across the interstate. She points to a dirt road ahead. The boy slows the car and makes the turn. He heads out to where the pump jacks stand still and rusting, great metal sentinels against all that wind and ice. Using only his parking lights, he drives slowly and tries not to slide into a ditch. Fifty miles oﬀ, the sky is orange from the ﬂare-oﬀs in the natural gas ﬁelds. A hundred tiny suns ﬂicker behind the sleet, and the boy wants to say, Isn’t that pretty? And he wants to hear her say, Yes. It’s real pretty. He parks by a barbed wire fence. A short pump jack stands thick and sturdy behind the locked gate. When she was younger, before she knew better, the girl had called the pump jacks grasshoppers, huge black grasshoppers that moved dependably up and down against the ﬂat earth, thousands of them scattered in no particular pattern across West Texas. She believed the pump jacks were as native to the land as mesquite bushes and ﬂies and the tumbleweeds that blew through town in the spring and were big enough to leave a scar, if one of them caught you unaware. When she was a little girl, she did not know how the oil derricks worked, and she did not care. She didn’t know that men, roughnecks, wrapped a thousand pounds of chain around a single stem to change out the huge drill bits that wore out quickly from trying to break through a half-mile of rock and caliche. And sometimes the chain broke or the bit caught or the oil came too fast and men died. Or worse, worse even than men dying, the oil prices would fall down and stay down. In the last four years, the girl and boy have watched the oil derricks stop moving, ﬁrst one or two, then ten and twenty at a time. 98 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Elizabeth Wetmore The boy turns oﬀ the car and the wind immediately begins its strange wailing, its steady, gentle shaking of the car. He tells her that two days ago, Sunday, right after supper, his father called him out into the garage. The boy’s father has heard the noises the boy makes when he comes in late at night; he has found cigarette butts in the stepmother’s car and lately, when the car is closed up for a couple of days, the boy’s father has noticed a cold, sharp smell, a smell that he says he is not old enough to have forgotten completely. The boy tells the girl that his father sat at his workbench and sorted through a stack of odd bolts and waited for his son to come clean. Then the boy shows her the box of condoms his father gave him saying, “Don’t get into any trouble, Son. We’ve got plenty of trouble around here already, plenty of mouths to feed.” The girl and the boy laugh at this. He sets one of the condoms on the dash. He leans toward her, rests his mouth on the space between her neck and shoulder. In the last few months they have left each other sticky and undone, then driven home with bruises from thighs pressed too long against seat belts, jammed ﬁngers and toes, necks cricked from hours of bad angles. Tonight when he leans into the girl he says her name, Kayne, and his voice is small and tight, his Adam’s apple huge in his throat, the sleet falling hard against the windshield. The summer they were ten, he had shown up at her house once, unexpectedly, in the middle of the afternoon. Two weeks earlier his grandfather had been killed when the ground caved in around a well outside of Pecos. The men had drilled too hard, too fast, and the earth had given. It happened all the time but, until then, not to anyone they knew. The boy told her that his father was mowing the yard every couple of days, and he didn’t know what to do. The girl didn’t know what to do either. She made a pot of coﬀee, to help with the grief, and they sat together in the living room holding her mother’s best coﬀee cups as they talked about the boy’s grandfather and the girl’s aunt who died the year before and the boy’s uncle who lost his leg when a chain swung loose from a drill bit and caught him across the thigh. After the coﬀee went cold, and awful, they built a fort under her mother’s hawthorns and spent the afternoon seeing who could catch the most horned toads. They each had thirty-ﬁve of the small creatures imprisoned in Folger’s cans by the time the girl’s mother had stood on the porch and said, “Andy! Your mama called. She says for you to get home right now.” Tonight Andy helps Kayne take oﬀ her father’s ﬂannel shirt and Crab Orchard Review
Elizabeth Wetmore they sit close for a few minutes with his ﬁngers heavy against the buttons of her nightgown. She says, “I’m thinking I’ll call in sick tomorrow. Take another day to study for that algebra test and skip the meeting with the guidance counselor.” “You should go,” he says, “it’s your future.” She looks at him. “I guess I can work in a mall someplace else just as well as here. I guess I can work in any mall in any town as easily as I can here, and I don’t think I need a career counselor to help me know that. By the way, I got a letter from Grace.” “California is nothing but trouble,” he says, but he can tell she is thinking about it. In the margins, Grace had drawn stick ﬁgures of the two girls standing on a beach with surfboards in their hands, Grace’s brown hair wild around her face, Kayne’s pale and ﬂat as paper. Come West, Young Woman! Grace had written above the ﬁgures. “That Grace is bad news,” the boy says. He begins to unbutton her nightgown. They have been here before, plenty of times, but tonight when he takes her small breast into his mouth, her face burns. She moves against him a little, her ﬁngers around his ears, then across the tops of his ﬁne boy’s shoulders, then splayed across his back. She pulls against him until she is leaning against the window and he is half on top of her, his legs on both sides of her hips, his lips pressed fast against her neck, her hands on his face, then in his hair, then familiar against the front of his jeans. And he says, Kayne. She pushes against him again, then, and tries to take oﬀ her nightgown. She wants to free up her arms. He sits up and looks through the windshield. The wind wails against the car, and the little pump jack stands quiet behind the barbed wire. It is getting late. She opens the door. She says, “Let’s take oﬀ our clothes,” and he says, “Don’t let the door slam shut” and then they stand outside the car shivering in their underwear and socks, their clothes piled on the back seat, sleet stinging their skin, both of them shrinking from the wind, goose pimples everywhere, the air thin and sharp as a lie, their bodies smooth and ghastly in the thin light from the ﬂares. He stares until the girl heads back to the car. He follows her. They sit in the front seat and look at the condom on the dash and he rests his hand on her thigh. They don’t look at each other then, but he pulls at her until she covers him, their mouths full of each other, his ﬁngers at the edge of her panties, the air in the car thick with the smell of oil and sleet and them. They burn then, mouths and sticky ﬁngers, and she wraps her 100 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Elizabeth Wetmore hand around him as he says her name and her ﬁngers ﬁnd their way to his face, his smooth boy’s cheek. Andy. She says his name and then they are both saying please, please, Kayne, please and please, Andy, until nothing is dry in the car anymore and she is under him, their stomachs hot with summer forts and grasshoppers and old men in the oil patch who watch as the ground gives. The girl thinks of all the trouble she might run into someplace else and she believes none of it will ever be half as big as the trouble right here, in this car, in this storm. She reaches for the condom. She tries to tear the package open. She hands it to the boy. He tries to open it, hits it once against the dash, then slows down and ﬁnds the arrow. She watches him try to put it on. She says, “Should I do anything?” “Are you OK?” she says and watches him in the driver’s seat, the condom drying out in his hand, the wind creeping in through the edges of their doors. The air is stale and heavy now. Cold. He looks at the ﬂares over by Pecos, then rolls the condom on and reaches for her. His hands at her hips, the boy pushes at her, tentative, and she thinks she should tell him to move over just a little to the right, there, but he pushes against her hipbone and then he says, “No. Fuck. Oh no,” and she thinks then that maybe she should move a little to the right, there, but the boy has his face up under her chin and he says, “Don’t move.” “Don’t move?” she asks. “I fucked it up. I fucked it all up,” he sighs. “It’s OK,” she says as the burn slows and her belly loosens. She puts her hand on his shoulder. “We’ll practice,” she says. She thinks of the two weeks ahead, the practice they will get in. She remembers Grace’s letter tucked away in her dictionary, Lucid, and she wonders what she will say when people ask her, “Where are you from?” Tonight, she promises to stay for a little longer. Then she doesn’t say anything more to this boy, her friend, who is already making some plans of his own, his lips moving in the pale shadow of her throat, sleet falling fast against the car, and the oil ﬁelds stretching out tonight for more miles than she could ever imagine.
Crab Orchard Review
Andrew Grace At the Outermost Shrine of the Narrowmost Road Black rock, rafts of meadow and a sky of packed ash— past the dog-shooting grounds, tooth-colored rice, Hell’s Window and Headlong Fall, you come towards the end of the road you’ve stuck to, shot shoes and useless suitcase. You want to lie down in the pigweed’s privacy and know your true place like the salt does, low leech and keeper, lost hours scattered like dead bees across the sand. As is, you kneel among the lost bottle-mail of some far quarter, another sun, another spoke in the wheel of emptiness. Footprints arrow and meander: this may not be the way, yet how else to know but take a stormtrue doubt with you, step into the cold stream, how else to know but through this?
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Shadeland Beginning with a line from Hopkins Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, wherever an elm arches— wherever June wind barnstorms the dry stations of barley, clouds like a thirteen-year-old tattoo dragging in rain over the West, you can almost see how the body moves after life, ﬁshtailing across the water hemp, suddenly keen, gunning for any heaven. Standing in the white pines, their chalkmail and tin music, what does this mean to me, starting to fade, even now, my hours, my days reshuﬄing and losing sense in the future’s cipher— we must work hard and fast: death is a pitch black pearl spinning itself in a pond on the other side of the fence, memory the moth turning my anthology of dead ends to dust above the world of our bodies, whose skins are frail clay in the hoarlight.
Crab Orchard Review
Kelle Groom Her Voice Walking through the meadow the path is always lighter grass like moon on water, soft circles where the deer bed down. Climbing over fallen trees in the dark, looking for both sisters, Andrea said this is our life now, but when we leave, it’s just memory, a family of strangers lying ﬂat on a red blanket to trick the mosquitoes, bats zipping overhead. The green mountains looking for us, turning around, in memory, we sit in the shoulder, like blue dresses fallen onto a chair. A woman I barely met, passed on the white stairs, admiring her baby, died a week ago with her boy, but I heard her voice yesterday, a compliment from summer. The body picks up leaves, & the soul misses it so, neither wants to live the TV life, shut up in a closet when the ﬂowers are out: Weather Prophet, Freckle Face, Flower-of-an-hour.
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Elizabeth Harvell Goldﬁnch After Rain Where the gold of your feather, pulled by ﬂame, lifts from its surface and bleeds into the water drop, domes above the body, I see an iris bead, ﬂatten, and slip like an eye’s ﬁnal closing. I remember your history: a string tied to your leg tethered you to some wanting child, kept you close to the ground yet somehow ﬂying low enough to entertain. But your body was more than that—a tongue for what the mouth could not form. How many men painted you clutched in Christ’s hand, your feathers spilling from the child’s ﬁngers. How many needed to conﬁne your wings in the palm and silence you— no song reﬂected in your eye. I lift you now from the ground outside my house, brush the water from your face, and force my candle closer. I hope to see a need to keep you here; I bury you in the dark.
Crab Orchard Review
Michael Heﬀernan Monks at the Pool Subiaco They think about the theology of the body. Many of them talk about it breathlessly, though not here at the pool. It’s a gang of monks and a bunch of kids who came to weed the garden, three of them in bikinis, which the monks thoughtfully ignore; but what’s to think about, when you’re ﬂoating around on your noodle under a sky blue as the Virgin’s blouse she’s just brought open? One of them keeps his eyes shut and his mouth up to the heaven as if to kiss or suck. I know my place in the world that I come from and will go back to once my welcome’s worn. The monk with shut eyes opens them and greets me. I call him Father. Brother, he corrects me, I can’t be Father now. I am a father, I have three sons, I tell him. His eyes smile. The world has taken you, he says, to places I’d only dream about, hopefully often. It’s nothing like you think, I tell him next, after a laugh, enough for him not to hear me. He’s noodled over to the shallow end and lifted his ample self up the three steps onto the hot concrete, to drip and stand, letting his soul weep freely from every pore. Something about the bell ringing the prayers or lunch, probably both, brings up the others rinsed in the waters of renunciation, leaving a ring of broken sun wide enough to empty myself in and become clear.
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David Hernandez Always Danger There’s always the pit bull lunging for someone’s throat. There’s always the girl sucked into the shadow of a van and dumped in a ﬁeld or the vast blue of the ocean. And the car crumpled like foil on the freeway, the yellow sheet, the vigil of ﬂares. There’s always that. There’s always the plunging bombs, those wingless birds, silver-beaked, whistling their death songs. There’s always the bullied kid with revenge in his backpack. Always. And there’s always the Christmas tree in ﬂames, its ornaments softening like sherbet, in a house with bodies dreaming under bedcovers. A cop to chalk circles around bullet casings. The black widow and a baby’s pudgy arm. The fallen dominoes of a derailed train. There’s always an epidemic congealing in the air. There’s always the busy café and someone in a trench coat with his ﬁnger on the switch. There’s always the man with a 3-inch nail driven through his skull plate who says he didn’t feel a thing.
Crab Orchard Review
Dennis Hinrichsen Train Stopped Along an Embankment If time everlasting is the ﬁnal gesture and we, sometimes without our bodies, its careless servant, then darkness will be its own good end, and the cooling down there a thing vital to the next shift in matter. But for now we wait. The train on its high throne along the countryside. Smell of creosote from the roadbed. Dying ﬁsh. The whole string of them where the boy fell like the imperfect fossil of his luck—dragged twice across the grading because the ﬁrst man there leaned down as if to retrieve them, then thought better of his fate—such smears of autumn daylight—train crew and rescue workers up and down the right-of-way, authority not yet done with the train. And so one reads, or charts the breakdown of the stellar ﬁres, while another spoons yogurt into her daughter’s mouth; another on a cell phone crying here and lateness—who can really say what the body feels in going down that hard, the whoosh almost killing ﬁrst—neck hairs rising, arm hairs rising—before the lightning strike of mass, the train even now, stalled, a fanged, forward aching, its spectral light at the tip of speed what dying starlight tells us. Though you could 108 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Dennis Hinrichsen walk back down the triple length of cars and watch the pitched cruisers strobe the whole day red through which the crowd dispersed and leaves fell—some like galaxies or moths that could spot both hands with intricate, ﬂammable wing-thrusts; others like birds who dive, reckless, fullthrottled, into the creek’s black water.
Crab Orchard Review
Elizabeth S. Hogan The Blessing of Throats When the sky turned to steel and salt pocked the snow, Ms. Sage pointed to our coatroom’s swollen hooks. The whole school marched four blocks single ﬁle for Saint Blaise to pull ﬁshbones from our fragile throats. No more frogs, no cherryﬂavored cough drops, no drink breaks. Just bare necks, scarves hung limp as Father’s stole. Gently, he held candles to our glands in an X to ward oﬀ illness. Prayer vaccine, blunt shot. Unafraid of strep, of missed school days spent sipping ginger ale, I didn’t care if it worked. Already I wanted more. When the waxy scissors clamped my throat, I prayed: Give me a voice, give me something to say.
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Elizabeth S. Hogan
Rough Notes Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions, which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale. —Robert Falcon Scott The rescue team found them eight months later, bodies stubborn as ﬂoorboards in a shallow grave of deﬂated tent. So cold the penguin-meat froze in planks. Two men lay cocooned in sleepingbag slumber, and Scott, half out of his sack, one arm exposed and withered from frostbite, stretched for his companions’ bodies. There were pony carcasses too, half-eaten and encased in glassy lacquer like tree limbs after an ice storm. The dogs. And the ski tracks x-ing the moony earth like fences: the Norwegians had staked a ﬂag at the pole one month earlier. There’s always someone who gets there ﬁrst, and always a body that gets left like a note.
Crab Orchard Review
Jennifer Johnson To Eat a Mango It has been said that the best way to eat a mango is in the bath. —Jane Milton In Mexico mango can be a boy loved by girls, giggling and ﬂush with ﬁrst desire. But I prefer it this way: heavy heart soft in my palm, green gone to orange sunlight through the kitchen window where I left it laying for days. Ripe for the giving, and for the giving up, a body that holds the shape of my thumb, the way human skin, red with heat and burning, will keep the mark of all it touches. I confess I’ve never learned the proper way to cut, the clumsy angle of my knife striking bone, the thick mash of ﬂesh between earnest ﬁngers, eager more for the idea of mango than anything I could ever tongue. But I can still love the way the juice slips in honeyed beads beneath the blade, the way the skin relaxes, relents, the way the solid store reveals itself to me. Why would I want the warm water to wash me, to clean the thick juice from my palms, between my ﬁngers,
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Jennifer Johnson when I can bend over the table, fruit cupped in my hands, dripping pools on a plate of ďŹ‚esh, my tongue sweet on my own wet skin? If I loved a woman, it would taste like this.
Crab Orchard Review
Concepción She is a small queen in a house dress, regal arms immersed to soapy elbows in the antique clothes washer, plucking noodles of socks, underwear, the thin undershirts of gentlemen boarders from grey soup good for nothing but washing clothes and sweeping dust from steps where it will only settle again by evening. I watch her retrieve, wring, clip articles to the line—it is like witnessing, for the ﬁrst time, brown pelicans coasting low over Paciﬁc waters, wings half-folded, prehistoric shadows plunging into the surf. She presides without apology over her own territory, her garden a ragged kingdom of cramped pepper plants, bougainvillea, avocado tree drought-twisted and bent to its small patch of earth. What is there to grow on this dry acreage but superstition, the ghost of Doña Josefa stamped out by the sharp low heels she wears to market and mass, blood of the butchered marking the ﬂoors of Templo de San Antonio, 114 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jennifer Johnson the everyday witches who walk these narrows, the mountains bellied with water? Concepción snaps boxer shorts to order, sends a spray of droplets over marijuana leaves trembling, brushes silvered black hair from her brow, eyes dark as the spiced molé she will put to bear on Saturday’s table. In the mornings, alone with the laundry of the others, she ﬂicks the line with a single freckled ﬁnger, watches it quiver, smiles.
Crab Orchard Review
Melanie Jordan Ghost Season Hibiscus in January, the only stars visible, furious blooms just as the leaﬂess banana trees jag their way into the Houston air. A pool caged by an iron fence shivers so residents constantly wonder if the water’s warm enough to swim, knowing it can’t be, not quite. Winter evaporates here like alcohol on a cotton swab, and left is a halfsummer which will hang on until the summer proper starts swinging and then on into October, really, so that fall’s caterwaul is all we get: suppressed, every season but the burning one. Imagine a world in which extremes lope oﬀ with the largest shares, this near-tropical hotbox; think of laboring to breathe inside a sauna, a white towel soaking with your sweat, your pores gorging themselves like wicks, skin nearly sentient 116 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Melanie Jordan with stinging heat and wood; think of the rising blister from a hot skillet accidentally stuck to skin, and you’ll know how, when she claimed her kiss from you in front of me, I became both humiliated autumn and igneous summer, my ignorance at once slapped awake and god, I haven’t seen snow in years.
Crab Orchard Review
Lynna Williams In the Palace Parking Lot Lee’s
parents were early converts to Danish Modernism, and most of the wood she and Richard owned folded in half. Wood was useful, she’d thought, not beautiful, but she knew better now. The house they were renting from the college was like a wood museum, the exhibits changing from room to room. Some of it was walnut, she was almost sure, but she could only guess at the rest. She couldn’t describe any of it properly, the fullness of the colors warming in the light, the feel of the grain on her ﬁngertips. It was a joke with her now, walking into a room to try another set of inadequate comparisons. Fireplace mantel: honey made by Brazilian bees. Wainscoting: Barbra Streisand’s pageboy in The Prince of Tides. Built-in buﬀet: Hartman luggage. Eventually she’d ﬁnd a book on wood, and a history of Iowa houses, but she wished she could just ask Richard. He probably knew every wood in the house, and he deﬁnitely could talk about it without invoking Streisand’s hair. But she was never going to moon over the woodwork in front of him, any more than she would stick a note on the fridge asking him to run out for tenure, skim milk, and baby artichokes. This was their ﬁfth move in seven years of marriage: ﬁve colleges in four states, ﬁve diﬀerent names for teaching jobs that came with expiration dates. This one, at Grinnell College, was Richard’s ﬁrst visiting artist residency: teaching intaglio and relief printmaking only, no courses in art history. It was what he wanted—it was a miracle and a gift—but in two years they would be back to using pliers on the Toyota’s trailer hitch and scrounging extra boxes at the liquor store. Still, every day something else about the house delighted her. She had never imagined life with a clawfoot tub, or oversized windows overlooking a wide-plank front porch, white cut-out trim decorating the eaves, a funny little telephone altar set deep in the hallway wall. The house even came with accessories. Move-in day had been a week ago, and she was still ﬁnding small things other visiting faculty had left behind: twinkle lights, ivory chopsticks, six cans of Iowa’s Best Beans packaged like chocolates in a red plush box, two CDs for self-taught
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Lynna Williams Arabic. And books, of course. Most she threw in a box to look at later, but she kept out an illustrated Calendar of Saints and The Hobbit. Her degree was in social work, and she’d put in a year or two as a welfare caseworker wherever they were; she was experienced in the forms that disaster took in the world. Everything else—what academics, and artists, seemed to be born knowing—she was still learning. “Property of Daniel Sean Blyven” was printed on the inside cover of the Tolkien in backward-slanting capitals. The saints’ career choices were beyond her, but she hoped Danny Blyven hadn’t grown up to be a professor. He was too soft-hearted. “Watch out, Bilbo Baggins!” he’d written in the margins. “No, Bilbo Baggins, don’t go that way!” Tonight she was in bed with the Calendar of Saints, and only the Calendar of Saints; she hadn’t seen Richard since dinner, when he’d borne the sad remains of their take-out Chinese to the trash can outside. By now he was under the one good light in the living room making sketches for his next project, or picking the dried peas out of the Asian Snack Mix, or maybe he’d found a stump and was campaigning for second place on the Republican ticket. Lee didn’t know what he was doing; she was only sure that ﬁnding him to ask wouldn’t help, not right now anyway. This move was like all their others. Richard was all right as long as he was packing, or driving, or in a truck stop gigging her to just try one chili-cheese fry before she died. He was only miserable when they arrived. As soon as their boxes were inside and emptied, he stopped talking, only for three or four days, but completely. His theory, and hers some of the time, was that he made up for those silences for months afterward—until the next move, in fact—with wry sweetness, and the wonderful things he made for her. Lee went up on an elbow in bed to see the grotto in the opposite corner of the room. Richard had found, and named, its terra-cotta saint—Santa Lee—in Baltimore, shaped the plaster for the grotto, painted and applied gold leaf, planted herbs and ivy at the base. Where he’d failed was in making it level. Santa Lee was perpetually oﬀ-center. When he walked across the bedroom ﬂoor in this house, the weight of his footsteps bumped the little saint toward him, making her look cheap and eager. “Look,” Lee said, holding up the Calendar of Saints. “You have life-sized cousins, and some of them are very snappy dressers.” The sheet was bunched around her feet, and she kicked it free before she dropped back onto the pillow. Flipping through the book, Crab Orchard Review
Lynna Williams she stopped at a painting of a girl seated at a cello, the bow loose in her ﬁngers. A cherub served as a music stand, both hands holding a score above his head. The girl’s eyes were wide to heaven. Lee squinted at the page. “St. Cecilia, virgin and martyr,” she read, but she couldn’t make out the smaller print without her contacts. What she wanted to know wouldn’t be there anyway: if Cecilia was as good a cellist as Richard was a printmaker; whether the girl loved anyone besides God, and how much, and for how long. “Watch out, Cecilia!” she said, but under her breath, because little plaster saints had big ears. It was almost midnight when, fed up with accounts of pain cheerfully endured, she put the heel of her hand under the Saints’ spine and pushed. The book did a listless loop in the air and landed cover side down at the edge of the rug. Lee got out of bed to retrieve it, and slid the rest of the way to the grotto. When she looked down, Santa Lee was noticeably unmoved. “Be that way,” she said. “Just remember that chasing after my husband morning to night doesn’t mean he’s in here talking to you.” She leaned over to break oﬀ a stalk of mint. The smell made her eyes water, made Santa Lee shimmer. “I’ll show you martyrs,” Lee said. “Watch this.” She was at the end of the hall before she saw Richard; he was camped under the good light as predicted, but he wasn’t drawing. He was bent over a Smirnoﬀ Vodka box, one of two or three they didn’t bother to unpack anymore, straining to bring something up from the bottom. When he saw her, his shoulders dropped, and his hands came up empty. He put them on his bare knees, ﬁngers wide, and sat back, the exact posture of a man bracing against an intruder. Lee thought how perfect his hands were—that would never change either—and backed out of the room. The silence followed, but she had known it would. In bed again, she lay with her eyes open, torn between getting up again to put a pillowcase over Santa Lee’s head, and thinking of a game Richard had invented when they were ﬁrst married, on the drive from Florida to Baltimore. She made herself choose the game. The way it worked, one person said “Now,” without warning, and the other had to connect the last ﬁve topics of conversation. She had never played when she was talking to herself, but it wasn’t as if she had a choice. “Now,” she said, and moved her ﬁngers to keep count. A woodworker beatiﬁed for saving a child from eating Iowa Chinese food. A nun who praised God even as she performed her own emergency bowel resection with a chopstick. St. Cecilia who, had she lived, might have taught a tune on the cello to a representative of the deserving poor. 120 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Lynna Williams Sainthood for any woman whose husband was an elective mute. Triple exalted sainthood for Lee because she had a mild crush on Yo-Yo Ma, her stomach hurt, and she loved Richard, Richard who was so lost he couldn’t ﬁnd his way to bed. He was up before her the next morning, which almost never happened. They were still missing the box with their clocks in it, and her watch was in the bathroom. But the light from the windows was too bright for early-early morning, which meant it was only odd he was up ﬁrst, not a classic episode of the Twilight Zone. But she wished she’d been awake when he came to bed. Lee wondered for an instant if he even made it back to their room, but his T-shirt from the day before was on the arm of her wicker rocker. Richard was a serial undresser; his clothes came oﬀ one piece at a time, always in diﬀerent parts of the room. It took a while, but she ﬁnally saw his jeans, rolled up like socks and stuﬀed above a row of fat art books on a shelf. There was no music playing. She listened for the weight of his steps, the refrigerator door banging shut. Nothing. If he was deliberately letting her sleep, she thought, the quiet was a kind of gift. She tucked her head and rolled over to his side of the bed to run her hand under her pillow. Sometimes when he made her an apology-present, he hid it in the last place she’d been. In Portland, he tucked a set of twelve vellum place cards, engraved with the “signatures” of dead artists, between the hydrogen peroxide and the band-aids in the medicine cabinet. The space under her pillow was empty, but her ﬁngers grazed something soft under his. Everything Richard made had hard edges. She made a show of arching her back and considered, intently, the odds for and against a mouse sitting still for a ﬁnger massage. She held her breath and ﬂipped the pillow over. The something-soft was a sock, one of hers she wore with tennis shoes, with a pink pom at the heel. She launched it across the room toward the laundry basket where its sisters lived, and missed wide. Her feet were on the ﬂoor now, toes pushing up the rag rug to ﬁnd the hardwood underneath. Lee made herself feel how smooth it was, how solid. It carried her out of the bedroom and down the hallway. The doors to the bathroom and the small bedroom were open. She turned on the light at the top of the basement stairs and walked down far enough to see the washer and dryer. Richard had stacked their empty boxes single ﬁle against the same wall, which she guessed Crab Orchard Review
Lynna Williams was his homage to Grinnell’s squashed-ﬂat skyline. She would ask him about it when she could. The box from the night before was in the dining room; he wasn’t there, or in the kitchen. The curtains at the front of the house were all wrong, a see-through white gauze, like bandages, she hadn’t had time to replace. Lee walked forward toe to heel, out of sight of the windows, and when she reached the wall, swivelled her neck to the glass so anyone looking in would only see her face. The car was gone. She had known it was—the quiet was overwhelming now—but she made her arms go limp anyway, her ﬁngers loose: the natural posture of a woman unconcerned. Or it would be, she thought, if only her head would move; ﬁxed to the glass, it felt huge and dangerous, a stalled Thanksgiving balloon. She rolled her neck, three slow rotations, long enough to feel her shoulders relax, her heartbeat leave her ears. Richard was at the college ﬁlling out another raft of papers, or downtown getting a haircut, or—please God—ﬁnding Chinese Iowans for whom “sweet” and “sour” were separate concepts. What held her at the window was imagining him coming back to draw this scene: her own pale face in the glass, the dirty-blonde poodle casing a neighbor’s yard for a place to lift its leg, clouds thin as smoke in a bright sky. She wanted him here. She was turning away when a pack of little boys, seven-years-old, maybe eight, came around the corner at the top of the block, riding their bikes in tight formation down the big middle of the street. With the windows closed, it was a silent movie scene, the boys’ mouths moving in ragged unison, as if they were singing. They were out of sight when she looked back the way they’d come, and saw a left-over boy, smaller than the rest, pedaling toward her with his head down. A car appeared in the street behind him, and the boy jumped his bike over the curb onto the sidewalk. Lee moved in front of the window. It was a blue car, like a million others. The boy on the bike had pulled even with the house before she remembered him, remembered the curtains were useless. He looked right at her, at the curve of her breasts under a T-shirt shrunk in the wash, her bare stomach, her plain white panties. She saw his face, amazed and thankful, backlit by the Iowa sun, and then in slow motion, the bike sliding out from under him. Lee broke for the bedroom. She grabbed what was closest— her jeans, a wadded-up dress shirt of Richard’s—and half-hopped for 122 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Lynna Williams the door still pulling on the jeans. The zipper caught on the shirt, and she made herself slow down long enough to free it, zip up, button every button. She told herself this was a college town a week before classes started; four other women, three with graduate degrees, were probably running to help the boy right now—and none of them had pushed him oﬀ his bike. At the front door she hesitated, feeling suddenly as if she needed more clothes, and then opened it just enough to see the sidewalk. The boy had gotten his bike up and was riding away, not smoothly, but not like he needed a stretcher either. Lee thought about running outside, chasing after him to make sure he was all right. But when it was clear the bike would stay upright, she closed the door. She scuttled down the hall to the bathroom, throwing oﬀ the clothes she’d just thrown on. In the shower, the water quickly ran to hot, and she turned her head side to side to take the spray full on both cheeks. It stung, but at least it was a red she could stand to explain. Every time she thought of her body in the window, the boy’s open mouth, she let the water hit her in the face again. It made her laugh, ﬁnally, which moved her to the relative safety of dry land. Her hair was still damp when she set up the ironing board in the spare bedroom. It took some digging through the closet, but she found a linen blouse, the one with tiny tucks down the front. It was the last thing on earth a frantic woman would want to iron, which was the point; she wasn’t frantic. The boy would live; Richard would be home in a minute. She slipped on her black slacks, and ironed the blouse past perfection. Lee emptied a box of granola down the sink, poured the last of the milk in after it, and turned on the ancient disposal. The morning was half gone with waiting for Richard, and part of her wanted to keep it up, maybe build a milk carton lantern to hang in the window to guide him home. But she had to go out now; they were out of granola and milk. She could walk somewhere for breakfast, buy groceries on the way home and, in her spare time, inventory all the blue Toyotas in the American Heartland not driven by a print artist. Her house key was already in her hand when she did a double take, for all the world like the dumb girl in a vaudeville sketch, and ran down the hall to the bedroom. She straightened the comforter, fussed with the perfume bottles on the dresser, threw her jeans and Richard’s shirts into the laundry basket— all before she spared a glance for the grotto. Santa Lee was there, not missing, not riding in the temporary getaway car with Daddy. Crab Orchard Review
Lynna Williams Relief spun her around, made her grab for the rocker to steady herself. “Car therapy,” she said to Santa Lee. “That’s all this is; he’s driving around until mood-Iowa is over. You’re crazy if you think it’s anything else.” In the living room, Lee slowed down in front of the windows; someone needed to see that she was dressed like Barbara Bush in defense of little boys everywhere. What she got, instead of a neighbor looking in from across the street, was a bottle redhead in a denim jumper sitting on the porch swing. Lee jumped, trying to blink the image gone, but the woman was too obviously real. “I’m Lee Whitmore,” she said, coming out on the porch. “Can I help you?” “I thought you weren’t home.” The woman got to her feet. “I’ve been waiting for you to get back.” She put her book down on the swing, next to a banana and a bottle of water. Lee looked past her to the empty driveway, the gray mini-van parked at the curb. “I’m sorry I didn’t hear the bell. I must have been getting dressed.” The woman made a sound like fairies sneezing, too delicate to be a snort. “Beth Anderson,” she said. “We should go inside for this.” She was a little older than Lee, and miles bossier, with straight-cut Dutch-boy bangs and a wide stretchy mouth. Her hand was around her own neck, pink blooming under and through her ﬁngers. Not the Avon Lady, Lee thought, and not just because those women knew better than to chew lipstick. This one had ﬂecks of coral on her chin, and was vibrating with some emotion Lee was sure she didn’t want revealed: maybe the love of Jesus for all mankind, or worst case, love for four-color pictures of Iowa fetuses hidden in her book. “I’m about to go out,” she said. “Anyway I’m not a registered voter here, and I’m not going to be, so maybe you don’t want to talk to me.” Lee made an “after you” gesture toward the porch steps, and watched in confusion as Mrs. Anderson went the other way, straight to the front door. She was wearing clogs, and every step made Lee think of Heidi ﬁring a riﬂe. Much too late, she said, “What do you think you’re doing? Come back here,” and grabbed for an arm. It was pointless. The woman had stepped inside the house, and was holding the door open for Lee, her face composed and unsmiling. The front yard was just big enough for one half-hearted tree and a ﬂowerbed, but Lee turned to look at it, as if reinforcements might be hiding in the miniature rosebushes. She wanted the other housewives in the neighborhood, or the other manic-depressives, to swing by for 124 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Lynna Williams this one. She wanted Richard—Lee closed her eyes, considering for the ﬁrst time that this woman could be here about him, could know something about him. It didn’t make sense, but Lee couldn’t stop herself pushing into the house. The other woman didn’t move back. “Tell me,” Lee said. “What is it?” “You already know. At least you know the part before I heard my seven-year-old son describing your body to his Cub Scout pack.” Lee was picturing the little boy on the bike, the glad oblong of his mouth; it was this woman’s mouth, but softer. “Is he all right?” She heard how small the words were, and was starting in on how sorry she was when the woman cut her oﬀ. “He’s happy as clam chowder, but that’s not the point.” She jabbed a thumb at the living room curtains. “If you’re really sorry, you could cut those up and sew some underwear. It would be a start, at least.” Lee had her doubts that degree of snottiness was taught in the Iowa Public Schools; this woman was a college professor, never mind that she thought “happy as clam chowder” was something people actually said. She tried to imagine the boy on the bicycle again, but what came to her was Richard on the drive from Oregon, laughing, critiquing the placement of cows in green pastures, snaking his hand out to nudge her to look. It made her voice come out wrong, angry, but with almost no breath behind it. “Your son said I was nude? That I didn’t have any clothes on?” “I know what nude means. And thanks to you Brian has a much better grasp of the word than he did yesterday.” “Not if he thinks it’s a Hello Minnesota T-shirt I shrunk in the wash and J.C. Penney panties. Because that’s what I had on.” Lee walked over to the couch and sat down, pulling a pillow tight to her chest. Mrs. Anderson stepped in front of Lee to perch awkwardly on the arm of a chair. “He’s a second grader. It’s not like Sesame Street teaches ‘nude’ and ‘not nude.’” Her voice was still ﬁghting, but everything else was deﬂating by the minute; she had to hold her arms straight to keep her perfect posture. “I’m not saying it was all right for him to even see as much as he did,” Lee said. “I should never have come in here without being dressed; I know you can see in from the street.” “You’re right; you shouldn’t have.” Mrs. Anderson’s face changed like ﬂash cards: embarrassment, worry, irritation, what Lee thought might be sadness. She looked around the room for a long moment, at the small and beautiful objects Richard had arranged on the shelves, Crab Orchard Review
Lynna Williams his prints on the walls. “Are you the artist?” she asked. She was looking at a woodcut over her head, Four Skaters of the Apocalypse, smiling at Tonya Harding as Conquest. “I’m a social worker. My husband’s a printmaker. Richard Whitmore. He’s the college’s visiting artist for the next two years.” “I hope he has a show soon,” Beth said. “I’m in American History. Women’s roles in movements mostly: suﬀrage, abolition, socialism, Utopian communities.” She looked over her shoulder at the curtains and laughed, which seemed to startle her more than Lee. “This isn’t going the way I thought it would. When I was acting out this conversation driving over here, you kept saying kids who look in windows see what they deserve.” “You slapped me, I hope. I can’t tell you how much I wish this hadn’t happened.” Everything to Lee was the same wish now: velvety black night, without stars or streetlights, Richard saying “Hi, sweetie,” when she walked into the dining room, following her back to bed, both of them asleep when Brian Anderson came ﬂying by the house. His mother slid oﬀ the chair to the ﬂoor. “It’s not the end of the world, even if I came tearing over here like it was. Brian and I talked about what he saw, and about privacy; he understands there can’t be any more play-by-play for his friends. I’ll speak to their mothers, too, and make sure no one hears the wrong version.” She was going to leave, and all the air in the world would go with her. Lee pictured the gray van outside, then tried to see herself explaining to a woman she’d known for ten minutes that she needed a ride, but didn’t quite know where. Telling the truth was out, and not just because she wasn’t sure what it was. Richard hadn’t left her, but he wasn’t here. She was here, but she didn’t want to wait anymore. Lee squeezed her eyes shut. When she opened them, Beth was standing at the couch. “Are you all right?” she said. It was a mother’s voice, sure of her ability to soothe. Lee dragged the back of her hand across her eyes, and sat up straighter. “I’m sorry; I’ve been enough trouble to you today. It’s just that I’m lousy at pretending I’m not miserable when we move. It drives my husband crazy. He’s always so cheerful.” She had meant to make her voice shake a little, for eﬀect, but it happened without her, as easily as she’d made herself miserable in Richard’s place. “We came for my job, but I was exactly the same way when we got here,” Beth said. “I cried on the postman so many times he started leaving my mail with a neighbor. But there are good things about living in a small town, too.” 126 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Lynna Williams She was a nice woman, Lee thought, but right now she was a ride. “Can I ask you something? Even if it sounds like we met in a better way than we did?” “Whatever that means. Go ahead.” “Richard’s got the car, and we’ve been so busy unpacking I haven’t seen anything of Grinnell. Do you think you could show me around a little, let me buy you lunch?” “Sure.” She said it so freely that Lee almost missed it. “I need to call home ﬁrst, make sure my mom isn’t pressuring Brian to become a Rosicrucian.” Lee laughed, and pointed to the phone by the couch. “I’ll be outside.” She heard Beth say, “Brian? Sweetie?” and let herself out of the house. She walked halfway down the driveway and turned around. The house was right there; FDR had been President the last time the house wasn’t right there. Anyone in Grinnell could tell Richard how to get home, but not where she had gone. Eight days ago now, they’d stopped for the night at a motel with a giant golden horse on the roof, just across the border into Iowa. Lee hadn’t tried to talk Richard into anywhere less likely to show up in her dreams. He was happy, with the trip, with her, with the stupid horse over their heads, but privately she’d begun counting every word he said to her, building a credit against the inevitable grand silence. They were spooning in the lumpy bed when the power suddenly blinked oﬀ, and Richard made her laugh by asking what she thought of the state tourism board’s new slogan. Iowa: Darkness Becomes Us. He propped open the room door with a wagon-wheel end table, keeping up a nonsense lecture about air currents and wind sheer and continental drift, because he knew she was half-afraid. It was too hot to sleep, almost too hot to breathe, and after a while, Richard told her to sit tight, that he wouldn’t be long. He was gone before the “Don’t,” was out of her mouth, but it was only a minute or two before he came back with a paper bag full of ice. They ate it like popcorn, the discards melting on their bodies, and Lee fell asleep praying that Iowa would be diﬀerent than Maryland, and Minnesota, and Oregon, already halfbelieving that it was. Iowa was not diﬀerent; riding with Brian Anderson’s mother was. Lee had expected to make small talk, exchange biographies, all with her face pressed against the van window, scanning the streets and sidewalks for a chance sighting of her husband. But Beth didn’t Crab Orchard Review
Lynna Williams volunteer anything new about herself, and she was only interested in Lee’s recent history, demanding a day-by-day account of her ﬁrst week in Grinnell. Before they’d gone three blocks, Lee had shifted in her seat to be able to see her face. Beth listened with as much animation as she talked, driving one-handed, ﬂinging her free arm in front of Lee every time the van cut a corner. “Oh, my God, you ate take-out from Sonny Chin’s?” she said. “I was going to give you a choice of lunch places, but not now. Now you just have to trust that I’ll do the right thing; you’ve been hurt enough.” “Are you about to tell me that sesame seeds in real Chinese food don’t have legs?” Lee said. “You need to spare me the truth this one time.” They were on a second pass through Grinnell, with Lee already starting on another page of notes. Beth had ﬁshed a stray notebook of Brian’s from the jumble of clothes and books on the backseat, mooning a little over his list of spelling words before she handed it over. “He’s had a rough year,” Beth said, ﬁlling in the sudden quiet with the name of a dry cleaners for suede, which of two community theaters was worth supporting, a place to go for ﬁsh that wasn’t fresh, but wasn’t rectangular either. She barreled through a yellow light, the fourth time she’d waved at the driver of a car she had just missed hitting. Every one of them waved back. The tiny houses in this part of town had fenced yards, most with indistinct dogs chained to gates posted with handmade “Keep Out” signs. Lee wasn’t sure which direction the highway was from here, but Beth had to talk over the call and response of truck horns. “We’re here,” she said, bouncing the van over a curb, pulling up to a dull child’s drawing of a house: a cinderblock cube with two rough windows, a red door, a smoke stack coughing bluish curls of smoke into the air. “I give,” Lee said. “What is it?” Beth’s answer was to get out of the car, wait for Lee to catch up, and guide her to the counter inside, past a dozen or so men eating at card tables. She said hello to a solemn teenage girl taking orders, a fall of black hair pulled up and oﬀ her face. Beth asked for three tamales for each of them, and Cuban coﬀee, and walked them back to a table with an oilcloth cover to wait for their food. After the ﬁrst bite, Lee ate with her head down, greedily, picking up the loose ﬁlling with her ﬁngertips, not wiping her mouth until the plate was clean. She chased the tamales with a tin cup of boiled sweet coﬀee; the ﬁrst mouthful made her feel as if a great hand had come down from heaven and pried open her skull. She drank it all, blotting 128 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Lynna Williams tears with the back of her hand, and sat back to let Beth laugh at her. “Now you know my secret to happy living in Grinnell, Iowa,” she said. “I found it by accident, and I never bring anyone from the college here. I live in fear that anything about this place will change.” Lee laced her ﬁngers together and made a steeple, which became a church full of tiny people who would throw up if they tried to move. “Thank you,” she said, but Beth was getting up, expecting her to follow. They walked outside, and around back, picking up along the way two or three kids too young for school who were playing by the concrete benches. The door to the kitchen was wide open, blocked by a fan mounted on a stand. Two women stood side by side, so opposite in height and weight they looked like novelty salt and pepper shakers. One was patting out the masa, the other ﬁlling and forming the tamales. “Gracias, señoras,” Beth said, leaning around the fan to put a couple of extra dollars on the counter. The taller woman reached into an apron pocket, and tossed Beth, and then Lee, wrapped candies. That was the signal for the kids who’d followed them to swarm the door with their hands raised above their heads. It looked like a hold-up, but in reverse, and Lee walked away ﬁrst, without waiting to see if joy came to all the supplicants, or only a few. She sat down on one of the benches in front, and Beth came around the corner carrying a grease-dappled bag at arm’s length. “Lunch tomorrow,” she said. “Brian will bark and roll over for one of these.” Lee’s face was back to catch the sun. “I can’t believe this day,” she said. “Brian falls oﬀ his bike because of me, and his mom gives me a tour of Grinnell unmatched in human history.” Music was playing inside, something snappy about dying for love, and Lee looked down to clock the minutes since she’d thought of Richard. He was home by now, she thought, maybe not camped out at the window watching for her, but sitting uneasy in the kitchen or the bedroom, taking in what stillness, undisturbed, did to the sound of a human voice. She realized Beth was staring at her. “What?” she said. “What’s wrong?” “Brian fell oﬀ his bike?” Lee’s head bobbed up and down, which made her stomach lurch. “He didn’t tell you? His bike slipped when he saw me at the window. He was already riding away when I got to the front door.” Beth unwrapped her candy, but didn’t notice when it fell to the ground. She was torturing the wrapper, smoothing it out, then balling it up and starting over. “But you went after him,” she said. “You must have gone after him.” Crab Orchard Review
Lynna Williams Lee’s hands went up, her ﬁngers spread wide. “I didn’t have clothes on, remember? When I did, he was riding away. I was sure he was okay.” A girl not much older than the one behind the counter, but with a baby in her arms, had claimed the other bench. She said, “Shhhh,” into the air, patting the baby, but Beth ignored her. “What if he’d ridden two blocks and fallen again because he was hurt? What were you thinking?” “I was thinking he was all right, and he is, isn’t he?” She was imagining a cutdown version of Beth, using two good hands to describe breasts he hadn’t seen. “It was bad enough that he caught your act in the window, but you can’t justify not checking to see if he needed help. This is a seven-yearold.” Lee couldn’t keep her legs still; she bounced her feet on the asphalt, feeling it all the way up her spine. “I just told you, I thought he was all right. And anyway, how was he going to feel if I chased him down the street?” “You weren’t thinking about Brian’s feelings. You couldn’t be bothered to be responsible, any more than you could spare the time to buy real curtains.” They were facing each other across the bench, alone, because the young mother had stalked into the café with her baby. “Can you even hear yourself?” Lee said, heat climbing her throat. “I’m not surprised Brian didn’t tell you what happened; he had to be afraid you’d think it was his fault.” “I wouldn’t do that.” She was crying a little into her hand, crumpling her ﬁngers like tissues. Lee didn’t answer, and Beth’s head came up. “You never asked if I was married.” “Are you going to yell at me for that now?” She didn’t bother to keep the impatience out of her voice. “Brian’s father left me last winter. He and the woman who lived in your house just moved to Chicago. She put up those stupid curtains; from the day she got here, she pranced around the living room like this was Copenhagen, not Grinnell.” Lee breathed out a small, shocked sound. “Brian was too little then to ride his bike that far, but there were middle-school boys who lived on the sidewalk in front of your house. My husband didn’t stop at the sidewalk, obviously.” “God, I’m sorry,” Lee said. “About Brian, too; I understand why 130 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Lynna Williams you think I should have gone after him. But I’m not someone who doesn’t take responsibility. I’m really not.” “Yeah.” Beth started for the van. Lee bit back a sour bubble of laughter, because no one had much to say to her now. The passenger side was blocked by a pick-up truck, and Lee walked out into the parking lot to wait for Beth to back out. She was reaching to open the door when Beth stretched across the front seat, and pushed the notebook pages out the window. “He’s a little boy. You should have watched out for him,” she said. “Call Grinnell Cab, and tell them you’re in the Palace parking lot on Copeland.” A breeze Lee couldn’t feel picked up the pages, and she let them go, all the names of places and people she would learn to live without soon enough. The van hadn’t moved, and she slapped her hands ﬂat on the hood; inside, Beth drew back as if she’d been struck, as if there was nothing solid between them. Lee was almost to the benches when she stumbled and went down hard on one knee. The coﬀee taste was overpowering in her mouth, even her nose, and sweat had pooled at the back of her neck, between her shoulder blades. She put her head down to vomit and saw, between her arms, the van turning into the street. The pavement was hot on her palms, shot through with bits of gravel that blinked in the sunlight. Lee braced herself with her arms, and rocked backward, but when it came time for the big push to get to her feet, she surprised herself by giving up. She dropped her bottom to the ground, and straightened her legs in front of her, taking shallow breaths to cut the smell of meat and her own body. She would get up eventually, but there was no one around to bother her about it. The voices inside the café were thin and distant, as removed as Beth, who seemed far-fetched to her now, part of a story she didn’t have to believe. Even the truck horns had faded. Some part of her was afraid—she was always afraid—but not of anything that could happen to her sitting on the ground in the Palace parking lot. To prove it, she closed her eyes and let her head touch her shoulder. She might have slept, she wasn’t sure, only that the heat and light began to feel as right, as much a part of her element, as air. Nothing seemed beyond her here. She could see their two years in the household of the woods laid out in order, day after day, see Richard laughing, turning his hands to art, then to her; see herself storing every good time against the day the boxes went back into the U-Haul, and everything started over again. Crab Orchard Review
Lynna Williams Lee fumbled in her handmade darkness for her shoulder bag, put her hand in, and pulled out a pocket mirror. It was a silver oval, monogrammed LRW for Lee Redaker Whitmore, and she balanced its cool weight on her palm. She opened her eyes, blinked, and brought the open mirror to her face. This was what Richard saw: an absent-minded prettiness, not much changed in seven years, and a watchfulness acquired, like her knowledge of art and blues guitarists, in her marriage. Richard’s depression had been treated a dozen diﬀerent ways, in four cities, in ﬁve states. Everything was a cycle, an up or down; medication worked, and stopped working, and something else took its place. She knew the details of the treatments—he had never tried to keep that from her—but the sadness, like the silences, belonged to him. They had talked about why that was, about causes and eﬀects, with therapists whose names ran together in Lee’s head like a jump rope rhyme: Marta and John; Elizabeth, Sally, and Sean. Marta, Richard’s favorite, was from Switzerland, and had a cold for the year they saw her in Minneapolis. “Trust issues,” came out “fust ih-hoos,” and when Richard was wound up on one of their cross-country drives, he imitated her giving the Gettysburg Address. Lee had been all the best adjectives: loving, patient, hopeful, even trusting, no matter what the Swiss Miss had to say. But somewhere between Minneapolis and Portland, she chose the content of her own silence. She had never told Richard how much, and how often, she was afraid he would die. It had taken her too long to realize that he knew anyway—he had drawn her face a hundred times, could read in her bones and skin what was true—and that he blamed her for it. He wanted her to trust that he would never hurt himself, the same way that she believed in his love for her, in his talent, in the absolute impossibility that he would look in another woman’s window, and want what was there. But she couldn’t be sure he was safe, and most of all when he was silent, or he was gone. Richard came out of the house when the cab pulled into the driveway. She knew he was present in other ways, too, even before he smiled and called her name. She felt the old happiness, unbidden, move up her back. “I was just coming after you,” he said. “Some woman called and said you might need a ride, but she wouldn’t say why. She sounded upset.” “It doesn’t matter.” She let him ﬁt his hand in the small of her 132 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Lynna Williams back, imagining it was a button he pushed to make her next question sound academic, a seeking after fact. “Where were you?” “Working on this. I got held up, and you weren’t here when I called. Are you all right?” His other hand was out of sight, and before she could answer, he drew it out slowly, holding a watch by the strap with a magician’s ﬂourish. Lee took it from him. A cut-out of Frida Kahlo’s face was at the center, a tiny band-aid for the minute hand, a white ambulance racing in circles to mark the seconds. She touched her ﬁnger to the dial, and saw on his face pride in the workmanship, and something else, the knowledge that he had taught her what the joke was. He reached for her arm, and she let him fasten the watch around her wrist. She breathed in his smell, felt the sureness of his hands on her skin, and knew she was going to leave. It wouldn’t be now—she would live in this house, and with him, for as long as she could—but she would leave. The knowledge made her walk slowly, stepping where he stepped, leaning into him to catch what he said, ﬁxing in her mind a picture he would never draw.
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Jhoanna S. Aberia Mag Mano Ka “Mag mano ka,” my mom tells us when we walk into my uncle’s house after church on Sunday for our weekly lunch. My little sister Lavinia and I push through the throng of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins, bowing our heads at anyone with an outstretched arm, pressing our foreheads against the backs of their hands, a Filipino sign of respect. By the time we make it to the overloaded dining table, we have mano’d to everyone we’ve seen, elder or not, giggling with our cousins as we whack each other on the forehead. In the kitchen, my grandmother catches sight of us and shakes her head. Unlike the grandmothers I’ve seen on TV, Lola is not cuddly-warm. She accepts a quick peck on the cheek as greeting enough, and loves to torture us by cooking ampalaya for lunch. A horrible perversion of what appears to be an especially wrinkly cucumber, ampalaya poisons whatever it touches with its noxious battery-acid pungency. One of my Lola’s favorites, it pops up with alarming frequency in her soups and stir-frys. In soup it is especially deadly, corrupting even the broth, so the directive to “just eat around it” is useless. When it appears on the menu, Lavinia and I take turns with our chipmunk maneuver, tucking gorge-inducing mouthfuls into our chubby cheeks and excusing ourselves to the bathroom, where we spit them out gleefully, watching as they swirl down the toilet. After a few sessions like this, my grandmother gets wise to our ploys and complains to our mom. “These girls,” she says, “don’t care how hungry their cousins back home are. They just throw away food.” Mom tries to excuse us, tells her, “Well, they’ve grown up in the U.S.” Lola turns her attention from misbehaving grandchildren back to her cooking. We gather around as she dumps sizzling lumpia, ﬁnger-sized egg rolls, into a wire basket to drain, hoping she’ll ask one of us to help her transfer the cooled ones to the plate. It’s a mixed blessing to be asked to help with the food. You get ﬁrst dibs on the steaming platters 134 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jhoanna S. Aberia of noodled pancit, lumpia, pork adobo, and deep-fried whole bangus, its ﬁsh head and tail still attached to prove its freshness, but then you inevitably get dragged into the not-so-fun prep work, chopping bags of carrots and celery into miniscule pieces for the eggroll mixture, trying to drop the rolls into hot oil without scorching yourself in the process. My patented method is to hold the lid like a shield while I settle them in gently. It’s delicate work, the reverse of Operation, where the only penalty is the alarm’s annoying bleat. Here you may burn away precious bits of skin, stain a favorite shirt with greasy blotches that don’t come out despite my mom’s baking soda tricks. Standing in front of the stove, shield in hand, I notice my aunts and mom chuckling behind me. “What are you, a lion tamer?” my mom asks. My aunts join in, laughing. My hesitation in the kitchen amuses them. At my age, thirteen, they could prepare whole meals for their families back home, trundling home well water from the spigot several houses away, lighting kerosene stoves with saved-up newspapers, and helping their mothers pluck chickens clean. A little hot grease is nothing, as one aunt tells me, twisting her wrist to show oﬀ the trail of pockmarks on the inner skin of one arm, the strip of roasted skin on the meat of her right thumb. “This, I got last week frying tocino. You have to pay attention.” I am not a natural cook, unlike my older sister Daniela, who has to get dinner on the table when my mom does an extra shift at the local Pick’n Save and hits us on the head when we don’t compliment her cooking. My mom has to tell me again and again how to chop the vegetables for the pancit, translate sayote into English so I can get the squash she wants out of the fridge, its strange pear shape ending in what looks like an old lady’s wrinkled mouth. When I help roll lumpia, mine end up looking like mini burritos, not the long elegant tubes my mom twirls out in seconds. She has to stop me, make me watch her do it again. “See, like this,” she says, her calloused ﬁngers pushing the spoonful of meat into a thin strip, holding the wrapper tight as she rolls, then seals the edges with a splash of water. I get tired of looking at my sloppy ones and end up back at prep work, chopping, peeling, readying the pan with an inch of oil. My aunts push us out of the kitchen, eager to have the kitchen to themselves. It gives them a chance to gossip, catch up on each other’s Crab Orchard Review
Jhoanna S. Aberia latest woes without the kids underfoot. Tita Lou complains about the low grade she’s gotten on one of her nursing diagnostic exams. “How am I supposed to know she needs to go to hospital when she doesn’t have any tummy distension?” I hear her ask, before I’m herded out. We kids are supposed to canvass the house, oﬀering up Chinet and utensils to anyone who looks like they could eat. Food, and especially the eating of food, makes up the major portion of our Sunday gatherings. Relatives who don’t eat enough are deemed “picky eaters,” trailed by our clucking aunts when they attempt to duck from oﬀers of more food. I am not “mashadong picky,” don’t stop with just one half-ﬁlled plate of rice and eggrolls. Although I avoid hard-core Filipino foods like dinuguan, the cow blood, liver, and vinegar stew that my aunts oﬀer to “American” friends as chocolate soup, or balut, the embryonic eggs my older relatives savor, I chew my kare-kare with gusto, dotting each piece of tripe with dried shrimp paste. My mom’s experiments with tomato sauce and squid or cow’s tongue don’t turn my stomach, as long as I don’t watch her handle the packaged tongue, which looks like it wouldn’t ﬁt inside an elephant’s head and makes me wonder how my own muscle would look splayed on a chopping board. At the Asian grocer’s, my sisters and I ogle the fresh ﬁsh lazing in the butcher’s tank, their smooth silver ﬂanks twisting, about-faced, before they crash into one end. The men behind the counter wear blood-ﬂecked aprons past their knees, but their harsh speech is more frightening to me as they bark questions at the clientele. After we’ve passed out an army load of paper plates and everyone’s gotten at least two servings, my aunts decide it’s time for dessert, which always involves some kind of sticky rice. I’ve never been back to the Philippines since we moved when I was four, but I imagine that a cauldron of rice warms on the stovetops of every kitchen, that the early Filipinos sat around, scratching their heads wondering what to do next with this glut of uneaten starch. Most of the desserts I’ve tasted have the same basic ingredients: rice, sugar, and water. We Filipinos must also be crafty people, since the stuﬀ crops up everywhere, yet manages to taste diﬀerent each time. Today the aunts have brown biko, a caramel-colored brick topped with crumbs of roasted coconut. When my cousin Liz was younger, she thought the coconut was ground beef and refused to eat it. Wrapped in toasted banana leaves, the biko absorbs the earthy, warm taste of the leaves. 136 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jhoanna S. Aberia Dessert for us must include coﬀee, and the coﬀee maker’s feverish percolations scent the kitchen with a sharp, nutty ﬂavor. I’ve been drinking coﬀee since I was a toddler, taking sips from my parents’ cups as soon as I could hold a hot mug. When I ask if anyone wants coﬀee, hands shoot into the air. Even the uncles, shuﬄing mah jong tiles in the next room, pipe up. “Oh, yeah!” my dad says, wriggling his eyebrows at me to make sure I’ve seen him. Taped above my parents’ TV, an artist’s sketch of my mom and dad illustrates their most prominent features: my dad’s Buddha-like cheeks and long earlobes and my mom’s wide nose and pointed chin. When we look at photos of our family, my mom pinches her nose and tells me it’s “talagang Pilipino,” this ﬂat nose she’s inherited from her father, so unlike her mother’s own patrician mestiza proﬁle. I pour and measure out sugar and creamer while my sisters pass out the mugs. Tita Lou comes in from the family room, “Hey, where’s my cup? Make sure there’s enough for me.” “Okay, okay, I’m moving as fast as I can. I’ll make another pot as soon as this one’s empty,” I tell her. My aunts reminisce about “real” Filipino food, the stuﬀ you can only ﬁnd back home. “Remember the men in front of the church with the big trash barrels?” my mom asks Daniela, the only one of us girls who can remember back that far. Mom explains how the men would set up as the parishioners were arriving for afternoon mass, rolling their metal barrels to the side of the church yard, loading them with hot coals and a layer of chestnuts on top. “Daddy bought us each a bag for the walk home,” Daniela tells me, closing her eyes to better remember the smell of the chestnuts steaming in a paper sack. “Dad used to buy us lots of things, penny candy, roasted corn, whatever the guys had outside church,” she says. Back home, he used to run a camera shop with his brothers and two friends, the same men I’ve only met in pictures, my dad thinner and with more hair posing in the store’s doorway, his younger brother Toto’s arm draped over his shoulders. I look over at him, squinting at the mah jong tiles laid over the gamblers’ table, as if he smells something bad, probably his luck. Crab Orchard Review
Jhoanna S. Aberia Only Lavinia can get money out of him these days. During the week, when we get home after school, I nudge her into his room, tell her to ask for a dollar so we can go to the store across the street for Cactus Coolers and Fun Dip. “Da-ddy?” she always begins, dragging out the two syllables in the aﬀectedly cute way she has. He falls for it each time, if only so he can go back to watching This Old House. “Yeah, yeah, okay,” he says, peeling one soft bill from his wallet. This dollar buys him a good hour of quiet, me and Lavinia laughing at He-Man on the big living room TV, licking our ﬁngers to get all the colored sugar after we eat up the Fun Dip’s white tongue depressor. Her empty cup of coffee already waiting its turn under the faucet, my grandmother stands at the sink, washing dishes. No one can stop her from doing this, even the aunts who all protest, “One of the kids can do that.” She ignores us all, dipping her sponge into the small bowl of soapy water on the counter, scrubbing with one hand as she rotates a plate with the other. Lola has a system, dirties on the counter, one sink full of soaped-up dishes and cups, the other sink for drying. She works in batches, stopping every now and again to tell her daughters and grandchildren to keep eating. There’s still so much food, my aunts always preparing at least seven times as much food as there are people to eat it. Finally the aunts begin packing up, loading up on leftovers for the rest of the week. Mom happily saves some bangus for breakfast, pancit and adobo for lunch, dinner, and beyond. This food will keep reappearing until each bit is gone, her prodding us at the dinner table, saying, “Hey, that’s still perfectly good.” As everyone says their goodbyes, we cousins invent a new game: reverse mano, whacking each other across the forehead again, this time taking away our respect. My mom sighs, and pushes us out the door.
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William Kloefkorn Avon Calling Once you have spent a lifetime waiting in the front seat of the Chevy for your mother to return from having made her pitch or from having derived the fruits of an earlier successful pitch you don’t need to bother to learn again the meaning of relentless. Scribble something in the dust on the dashboard, then watch as motes deﬁned by sunlight begin their relentless settling, their relentless quest to return your silly calligraphy to dust. Inside the farmhouse your mother disappeared into, odd syllables are moving from one mouth to another—you have heard them on those few occasions when you bawled until your mother relented and took you in: lipstick and rouge, powder and blush, lotion and body cream. Hush,
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William Kloefkorn your mother said, and you did, and the women talked and laughed and closed their eyes and aahed, smelling each other’s wrists. It’s an old Chevrolet that might become newer should these new products prove to be all they are said to be, Mother said. You study the dashboard relentlessly, trying to decipher those hieroglyphics abandoned no doubt by a civilization that now must surely be extinct. Inside the farmhouse meanwhile the women testify, however obliquely, to the relentlessness of time that in the front seat of the Chevy seems almost not to be passing. To hurry it along you sit low behind the wheel, steering the old Chevrolet at breakneck speeds into a high blue sky maddeningly aromatic, that smile on its sun younger by far than the face that so relentlessly wears it.
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Sandy Longhorn Recitation During the Storm Let the thunder clamor above and continue after lightning has licked the heavy air. This is not a haunting. I mean to be awake and wide-eyed—to be both owl and ﬁeld mouse caught in strobes of light. The clock pushes past midnight, then one, then two, and I am counting backwards into what is left as the bruises fade. One man told me love was a transitive verb, worrying me like a rosary bead to prove it. Another man stood me in the middle of Nebraska to prove the Permian seas once stretched from Pittsburgh to Denver, home to creatures we read about with our stone-caressing ﬁngers but could never know. The last man was a thief, his voice a prayer to a god so exotic I bloodied my knees falling down before them both. This is a recounting. I mean to be accurate and true—to be both diary and document held open and up to the light. Let the storm pass, dawn taming the landscape outside my room, leaves and branches loosening back into the shapes of trees.
Crab Orchard Review
Al Maginnes The Book of Stars I don’t know a more precise word for desire or why I think I need one except that the new clarity of the stars, buﬀed by fall’s ﬁrst chill to hold the gleam of fresh knife-steel on velvet, demands a sharpness the dull human tongue cannot carry. Astronomers whose names we’ve forgotten gave the sky balance when they composed the constellations whose great mute symphonies cycle above us. If I look, I can see the few stars I know reeling tonight among the thousands I don’t know, the ones whose names I didn’t learn from the book I checked out of the library a few months ago, trying to widen the ﬁeld of what I know, the same way I searched once in a seldom-used wing of my college library for a copy of the Kama Sutra because I wanted to prove to my lover that I was willing to learn new tricks. The book of stars has returned to the shelf along with that copy of Kama Sutra, which wasn’t illustrated and whose euphemisms, translated from ancient Indian to Victorian English, built barriers my imagination could not work around. One night in a city built in a desert, I waited in an all-night laundromat for my clothes to wash and listened to two saﬀron-robed novices, their pale heads marked with the marks of recent shaving, talking, as they waited for the bales of robes they had carried in to tumble dry, in accents as ﬂat as cornﬁelds of the joys to be discovered in celibacy and poverty. Perhaps I should have listened. I had both, and want smoldered in me, stubborn and hard to ignore as a junkyard ﬁre. After they had gone to mine new raptures of deprivation 142 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Al Maginnes and my clothes were nearly dry, a man in a coat too heavy for early fall’s thin cold came in the door and oﬀered me the coat for the two dollars it would take to buy a quart of the wine so raw and potent store clerks called it “rocket fuel.” I knew his want was no passing taste, but desire that would not die of neglect, that would stay constant until it was sated. I wanted so much then, it was hard to say I really wanted anything. I wanted to kiss the woman who lived next door, whose porch was a shadowy refuge of green plants. I wanted to know why the star-shaped ﬂowers in my backyard closed when dark came. I wanted to stop spending every hour of daylight rigging together roof trusses. I didn’t buy the coat, but two nights later, I saw him bare-armed and sober, waiting to cross the street. If he shivered a little, still he was willing to endure what his desire cost him and to know desire’s burn is constant as the light that leaves the stars and falls for centuries before we see it, so the stars visible to us inhabit both present and past at once, a privilege memory allows so the light that is our desire shines forward long after the body has failed.
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Alana Merritt Mahaﬀey The Education of Girls Greenbrier, Arkansas
1. On an afternoon when the rain drove spears into an abandoned garden and dug out the seed that had been planted but had shriveled up like so many mummiﬁed ants, my great-grandmother leaned out of her chair toward me clicking her yellow nails against a beaten snuﬀ can, the brown and terrible threads snapping from her bottom lip. She asked if I was married yet. I was 13. I shook a no, knowing by 13 she was married with one child, and her daughter at 15 married with one child, and the number of children, alive and dead, growing with each rotation of the crops, until the last 144 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Alana Merritt Mahaﬀey child was carved out of her, weeks dead, a city doctor leaving the sickle-shaped scar.
2. Her husband’s tools had receded into the same gray as the barn walls where my cousin and I were not allowed to go and so we waited until the women couldn’t leave their jars and we wasted our afternoon among those things that belonged to men only: uncles, fathers, brothers, husbands; we inspected stalls and tables with a curator’s eye and drank soured fruit fermented in steel tubs, stored in giant mason jars, hidden in a toolbox too large not to be invaded. My cousin climbed in, arms folded, Cleopatra in a can she said. We didn’t know any better yet, but I’d read the stories of heroic men prying apart
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Alana Merritt Mahaﬀey the riddled sarcophagus, how it poured out a sour wind, a devil’s curse upon the men seeking knowledge too large for them. A ﬁnd, then a fall. My cousin grinned too wide to be a convincing corpse. Are we cursed yet? she laughed.
3. In the Garden, Adam did the talking and Eve did the listening. You cannot witness to a snake my mother said, and even the dead copperhead can kill unwary girls in shorts and sandals. We never knew that death would dart from the darkest corner of our great-grandfather’s barn: mine with a farmhand two years older, hers from a cottonmouth two feet long, sin slipping up our ankles, the sweet sound of snake tongue on our burning ears. We were tempted by the fruit. We tempted with the fruit given us. We bit down and swallowed. And we knew then all there was to know.
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Gregory Mahrer Horse, Rider What is spun from earth returns not as earth but as something ﬂown. We ﬁnd ﬁrst the rider and then the horse that threw him. Are we ﬁrst to run our hands over this quadrant of earth, to ﬁnd sharpened stone, gash of stirrups? To add up depletion? Only now we know that what is thrown from earth stays thrown, rider and horse tumbling beneath one another until there is nothing in them that is not falling. Of forelock and whip only the whip remains, as the earth grows round with what it has loved and broken.
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Lydia Melvin Sign. Signiﬁer. Signify. Signiﬁed. I’ve heard Death is a white man in black tie, a man captive in a trick of black. I hear myth, an earthworm moving an inch at a time, urging black earth aside. Elms in winter displace heat, turn black as damaged snow. In theatres before curtains release and withdraw from black, music lingers, intactly absent. Silence. Exercise patience. How does black myth survive? I hear a black man in red face, red stripes slashing through hair is death. Black mothers in kitchens seduce ﬂour into loaves of bread. And men, black as coal, squeeze the necks of cotton stalks, anticipate struggle, create black gospel, black blues, black jazz, hear music’s possibilities. Unrelenting black whips damage-myth their beaten backs. In Europe the black plague created black deaths two hundred years prior 148 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Lydia Melvin to Shakespeare’s Othello, the black moor, strangled his wife, prior to the introduction of black comedy. Before the stock market collapsed in ’87, brokers held Monday until it too could become black. Waiting around for another invention, mail lost its innocence to black, then black sex, black satire, black ice. Too clever for this set-up? Soon, dawn will erupt, precise, breathtaking, the un of black. And here we linger in black images, repeating phrases as if they are truth. As if the structural design of words hold black like fear. The myths fall in on themselves. But how we hunt for the blackest diamonds, the blackest metaphor. Strangers live, resilient, under interstate overpasses, black as exhaust and valleys of ashbuds. Heavy as rain clouds, inﬁnite as nebula. On the corner, a black man contains himself in wilting dust particles, jaded as tossed napkins, spare change, coﬀee, crows.
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Richard Newman Briefcase of Sorrow Some writers get into the habit of letting of name a metaphor without really showing the image to the reader: sea of life, mattress of the soul, river of death,…or (perhaps the funniest) briefcase of sorrow. —Frances Mayes, The Discovery of Poetry My briefcase of sorrow slumps by the door. The semester’s done. I leave it behind, all my manila folders of grief (stacked and alphabetized, bound with rubber bands of stretched hope), pens of overachievement, and pencils of petty angst. At some point, I suppose I should dump its insides out on the table, the staple remover of apocalypse, a few sticky notes of indecision. Poor briefcase—it can’t ingest them, try as it may, and I should especially purge the gradebook of mixed endeavors, the crumbs of last month’s sandwich. Not now. My neighborhood pub calls louder than some cloying briefcase, strap of pity wagging as I leave, its two bright buckles of expectation gleaming for my return once again, when I will spill its contents, the paperclips of despair, the Wetnaps of desire, bringing it, light and swinging, along my side to ﬁll one more time its compartment of everything and nothing.
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Coins My change: a nickel caked with ﬁnger grime; two nicked quarters not long for this life, worth more for keeping dead eyes shut than bus fare; a dime, shining in sunshine like a new dime; grubby pennies, one stamped the year of my birth, no brighter than I from 40 years of wear. What purses, piggy banks, and window sills have these coins known, their presidential heads pinched into what beggar’s chalky palm— they circulate like tarnished red blood cells, all of us exchanging the merest ﬁlm of our lives, and the lives of those long dead. And now my turn in the convenience store, I hand over my ﬁst of change, still warm, to the bored, lip-pierced check-out girl, once more to be spun down cigarette machines, hurled in fountains, ﬂipped for luck—these dirty charms chiming in the dark pockets of the world.
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Miho Nonaka No Longer Kraków How terrible it is to have eyes when you can’t eat each and every landscape you enter. You continue falling helplessly for, say, a city whose heart is one bright square after a shower: pigeons about to take ﬂight, children dressed in lemon, and afternoon stretches before you like an untainted mirror. Self-consciousness is a needle, the second hand of a watch piercing sight while you sit in a café, listening to the blackbird who is a poet in disguise, perched on the spot between the plates of sacred and profane. When you leave, what you’ll miss is not his music, its lucid and elusive tone. You’ve never desired poised comfort like that. What will tighten your throat is the city you couldn’t swallow whole, spires and cobbled paths, patient women carrying smoked cheese like wooden dolls, a museum of medicine, warm horse dung and nuns, berry-blood eyes of the Madonna… No longer a city after a while, but a lake
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Miho Nonaka migrating, ﬂashing through the mind’s dunes, and the sound you hear is the clinking of glass ﬁgures in procession, the strangers you passed in the city, never quite meeting but merging now with the gradual sundown of your blood cells, savage, scholarly, indiﬀerent, critical or admiring—while the city is not dying, it simply evaporates by traveling aﬂame inside you, who will always be left lacerate, always with a puddle of burning salt, the ecstasy of remote voices, possible unhomes, eyes of mica after the streets vanish.
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Late August Song Like quicksilver, cicadas’ voices well up from behind us, sister, and summer has hollowed itself to a shell to contain our fears clearly. In the village of our childhood sea, it’s the night of the Lantern Festival you and I will not attend. Remember joining a procession, their Bon dance years ago? Even as we merged with the ﬁsh-smelling crowd, each ﬂushed face looked ever so beyond us; between light and dark, where were they headed in their almost knowing steps? Tonight is the Festival of the Dead, sister, open your palm. Like summer himself, our father stands on the lines of your hand, shading a sparkler with his mantle. Its magnesium rains willowy and thins to inexorable white seconds as we turn away from each other. My absent sister, cicadas’ songs rise liquid silver from behind us to claim this season. Now separate, are we strong enough to sing against the ringing of something ever-splitting, something more than indiﬀerence? 154 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
William Notter Greatest of These Is Fire I drive eighteen hours straight to sneak under ﬂannel sheets beside her, warmth I haven’t felt in weeks, and an hour after I kiss her awake she says I don’t think I love you anymore. So I turn back to the highway and cringe at country all horizon, rangeland where we used to lie laughing with the cries of coyotes. Wind pries around the car’s windows, and low-hung winter sun chaps me raw as the prairie sky. I almost lose myself to the blue shoulders of bluﬀs, to the road’s rhythm through draws channeled by summer creeks. The land carries me on to places I won’t imagine yet, holding the steering wheel as a cottonwood grips the sand. In the rearview, near Great Bend, sunset spreads against the sky like ﬂames back when the grasses were tall and wildﬁre burned the year’s old growth away.
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The Dead Guy and the Evangelist A guy wearing a tie and a soaking shirt was handing out religious pamphlets at the truckstop today, asking everybody have they been saved from eternal damnation by Christ our personal lord and savior. I’d just picked up four deads that were three days gone from the heat down at Shafer Brothers Feedlot. My mind was on air conditioning and fueling up so I could get my load back to the plant. He came over, wearing enough cologne to keep a dog away from a dead wagon, and asked me if I know where I’m going when I die. A rancher who called me once to carry oﬀ a dead horse asked how I liked the resurrection business, and so I told that preacher I wasn’t sure, but I work in resurrection too, and had to get a load to Wauneta before it spoiled. Who is he to ask me where I’m going when I die? Me and that preacher and a millionaire will all end up drained and pickled and dressed in suits, and that’s all any of us knows. What’s left is just a carcass the undertaker powders and buries instead of hauling oﬀ to the rendering plant. We both keep the dead from piling up. People would know if somebody wasn’t there to keep those cows from laying around getting ripe where they died. I don’t need to imagine more of a heaven than the light inside of Five Springs Canyon afternoons when cutthroats pop the surface 156 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
William Notter and bite on anything you throw in the water, or watching pheasants break from a ﬁeld of cornstalks, or even having Rhonda call me Darlin’ when I stop for lunch at the Conestoga Grill. I won’t say I’m ready. But if I got run over by a sugar beet truck tonight, I could die knowing I did some good in life, that I was willing to do a job not many people would do.
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Chris Pexa Are Not All Things Lovely Far Away? —after E.A. Poe When my soul asked to live next door to me I made the mistake of telling it be a violin, be a wren, female wing tilted erotically for the neighborhood. It practiced scales with the manic energy of whales breaching in clouds only Hamlet can see. I found blood in my cough and ran outside my head hacking through alleys, until the world was convinced I had really died, that I was just a gaudy double to statues outside the library, literary lions never meant to sing. Sang anyway. We stood outside the sky, raised the roof, that loyal western redness, all those cooler colors endlessness prefers. I mean the starlight of future birds, the thigh and body close beside me turned suddenly into pulsar, particle and wave that won’t drown, a nice wave, hello from your arm slung outside the car, real friendly, more friendly from afar than right next door. Soul, I miss you calling me drunk. Hearing the ﬁre, the ﬁrewater, in your alphabet was better than hearing the stars blow.
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Teline Guerra Humor Me And to love comedy you must know the real world, and know men and women well enough not to expect too much of them, though you may still hope for good… —George Meredith
Listen to me. I’ll make it worth your while.
I see you’re reading. Don’t let me bother you. I hate those people who try to talk to you while you’re reading. You’re sitting in a chair with an open book and you’re looking at it and your eyes are moving side to side, and someone asks, “Whatcha doing?” Wondering where you got that lobotomy, that’s what. You and I are at opposite ends of the best anonymous intimacy ever. You could be reading this on the toilet. I could be writing this dressed entirely in crushed cans. Ok, ok. That reminds me of a joke. What can a can do? A can can can can. This doesn’t so much make any kind of sense, as it gives a person the opportunity to say, “a can can can can,” which is just funny. Can is a funny word. Can to the fourth power, that’s fun to the fourth power. Do the math. It works. Before I get too carried away, let me explain that this has been a demonstration of how to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Want to know how to win friends and inﬂuence people? Forget all that compromise and listening crap. Funny is the way to go. Funny makes people be your friend. And you need friends. Lots of friends. The more friends you have, the more popular you are, and didn’t we all learn in high school that popularity is a measure of worth? The more people laugh at you, the more friends you have, and the more friends you have, the better a person you are. It’s really quite simple.
There are, loosely speaking, two categories of funny: verbal humor and physical humor. In verbal humor, you’ve got your quips, come backs, retorts, puns, your comic stories and your jokes. In physical humor, there are pratfalls, faces, impressions (because it Crab Orchard Review
Teline Guerra isn’t what you say, it’s how you say it), lisps, accents, funny walks. And between the two, role-playing, character-making and faking. Logical inconsistencies, weird preferences, physical attributes, and mannerisms are all good sources for jokes. Every joke must have a butt. People don’t want to be the butt of your jokes. You are the safest butt of your joke. You meet someone for the ﬁrst time, you have options. How will you approach this? You can go the where-you-from-what-you-do route, gather info you aren’t interested in and won’t bother to remember. Or start gooﬁng on whatever you see. Waiting in line? No one likes lines. They’re easy targets. Anyway, it’s fun, kills time. These people become Superﬁcial Friends. Superﬁcial Friends are people you have to make a minimum investment in. They are where you get your numbers. Everybody wants friends. The more friends they have, the better they feel about themselves. However, most people think, “I’m a good person, I have yeh, sheh and neh good qualities. I deserve friends. People should want to be my friend.” And so they sit back and wait for friends to come to them. C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Four Loves, in which he discusses friendship at length. To him, friendship happens when two people’s paths converge. When the paths diverge, the friendship ends cordially and everyone remembers each other fondly. That is friendship for suckers, I say. You want to have a small group of friends? Do that. Wait for them to come to you. Because most people are waiting for someone to come to them, those of us who go out and pursue, (A) fulﬁll the expectations of the sit-and-waiters, (B) indicate to those people that they are good people, and (C) have more friends than anyone else, thus in the equation, are better people. There is never any reason to fear that a person will reject the friendship you oﬀer. There is a small subgroup of people who basically marry their friends, and thus, allow no one entrance to the inner sanctum. But they are easy to spot and avoid. As long as you oﬀer a person attention, which is most painlessly accomplished by making them laugh, they will pay attention to you. And attention is the same thing as love. I was once at a college party, which means small and packed with people and noisy, and to be honest, I was trying to catch the eye of a boy, but without him knowing I was trying to catch his eye, so I stood up in front of this sofa of girls, all freshmen and all giggly, and started running a routine. Now, when I say I was running a routine, I don’t 160 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Teline Guerra mean that I had anything planned to say. What I mean is, I was talking, and I wasn’t looking for them to reply. I raised my voice just enough to include the people to the sides of me, one of which was this boy, who in the long run, turned out to be not worth impressing. But I never looked to the sides, see, because the illusion was I was talking to those girls, and the folks to the sides of me just happened to be listening in. The joke I started running was that I was telling “Yo mama so fat…” jokes, but I didn’t actually know any. This worked to my beneﬁt, because at the time, yo mama jokes were pretty popular, and any that the other folks chimed in with, everyone had already heard. So I would put on a face of intense concentration, and then bust out with a made to order, awful yo mama joke, and that would get a laugh because it was stupid. “Yo mama so fat, she soaks her feet in Lake Erie.” “Yo mama so weird, that’s why they call it Lake Erie.” “Yo mama so ugly, she works as an exterminator, because cockroaches see her and drop dead.” I didn’t look any of those girls in the face. They giggled and were delighted to be talked to. They became my absolute fan club. Later when I ran out of money and had to move away, they begged me to come live on their couch—they would feed me, they promised, because they wanted to keep me around, and that was good, because you never know when you’ll need to stay on someone’s couch. I think one of them was named Jen, but I never knew which one. Normal is not funny. This is a law of nature, right up there with gravity. (Ha! A pun. Puns are the empty calories of humor.) At the same time, not normal equals emotionally unstable equals alone. Knowing these laws, you look at yourself. Whatever you are on the inside, it’s a big stew of feelings and tics and history. Normal, well, that’s no one. That’s putting the lid on the pot and pretending nothing’s cooking. Emotionally unstable’s upending the pot and people trying to keep it oﬀ their shoes. Being funny mixes half-truths and illusions. You’re pretending to be nuts, which means you are really normal without ever acting normal. Or you’re nuts, but harmless, which is also a lie. To be funny, you must be what you are not, direct people’s attention away from your unhealthiness, create illusions of stability. Being funny is hard work; it requires constant vigilance. Sometimes, it means dipping your hand in the goo, showing it around, and saying, “Isn’t that disgusting?” Just don’t expect anyone to shake your hand afterwards. I used to be serious. I used to talk about people starving and Crab Orchard Review
Teline Guerra philosophy. My freshman year of college, I would lie in wait for my roommate, Margot. She’d come in from doing whatever, sit down at her desk and continue doing whatever. I’d be on my bed, strumming my guitar. I’d sigh a few times, put a thinking expression on my face, and if she failed to ask me what was going on, which she usually did, I would ﬁnally ask a question, in a wistful, almost teary voice. “Do you ever feel the edges of your soul?” What answer could she give? She’d say no, and sometimes, why, do you? Which was, of course, an invitation. Any answer was an invitation. I would go on from there. Thing was, as the year went on, she came home less and less frequently. She started hanging out in other dorm rooms. These other rooms always had two or three people in them, just visiting. If I left the door open, I could hear the laughter coming down the hall. Everybody can appreciate a joke. Most people think they’re funny (even if they aren’t), and many people say that their ideal partner has to be funny. Groups of friends are built upon shared senses of humor—the jokes they can all get. And when those groups of friends are gathered, they are usually gathered around the funnier ones. The funnier ones talk, everyone listens. The less funny ones make comments that only the people standing next to them hear. But then, people will eventually laugh at unfunny jokes told by people they like. They will describe that person they like as funny. Having a sense of humor becomes code for “thinks like me.” Sometimes it’s a code for “puts up with me.” Or, you get two funny people in the same group, two people who have to be the center of attention, and watch them duke it out, one up each other, act friendly, but really hate each other. I am not the funniest person in the world. I have friends whose comedic genius can make even middle-aged white men gasp, “No more, I’m gonna pee!” I love them wistfully, in awe of their ability, and then I steal their jokes. But it is precisely because I’m not the funniest person in the world that I am the ideal person to tell others how to be funny. I’ve had to work at it. I’ve had to study. The same way natural athletes make terrible coaches because they’ve never had to think about how to do something, but the third stringers can take you to the Superbowl. That being said, I am still in the upper seventy-ﬁve percent of funny people. How much more do I have to justify myself here? I’m the one 162 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Teline Guerra writing this, already. If you think you’re more qualiﬁed, why don’t you come over here and write it? That’s right. I didn’t think so. There was, in our dorm, a yearly talent show of the serious type, complete with dressing up and operatic renditions of songs from The Phantom of the Opera. Margot the mastermind signed up me and Sunny Gregg, musical performance. Sunny had been a violin virtuoso since the age of four. We were slated to perform in the middle of the show, and when it was our turn, we approached the stage somberly. Sunny had her violin case; I had my guitar case. She took out her violin and tuned up. I put on a pair of headphones. She began playing the introduction to Pachelbel’s “Canon in D,” which, as you may know, is like a giant round. When it came time for the second instrument to join in, I pulled from my guitar case a kazoo, and following the music on my headphones, played the correct second part. Hysterics. People falling oﬀ their chairs from laughing so hard. It was better than applause, better than money. They liked me; they really liked me. I was hooked. Impressions require practice and study. Don’t do Elvis if you can’t do the hips. Unless you are doing the impression as deceptive roleplaying, in which you are pretending to think you can do Elvis when you obviously can’t. This only works if you pretend before that you are the kind of person who thinks they can do Elvis, and that the person watching understands that you actually know you can’t do Elvis at all. I was once at a backyard barbeque/play outside type activity, and someone got hurt. A girl, probably twenty, twisted her ankle in the volleyball game. A couple of men carried her inside, where she lay on the couch, ice on her ankle, waiting for the Advil to kick in. She was crying and rocking back and forth, and people were saying, “You ought to have a doctor check that,” and “I twisted my ankle once. It swelled so big I couldn’t wear shoes, and I was on crutches for two months. It still hurts right before it rains.” I started telling jokes, like “If you die, can I have your jacket? Mind if I try it on?” and “When I said sacriﬁce your body, I meant dive.” She laughed, little sniﬄy laughs. So I said, “I’m going to do something extra special, just for you. I am going to do the worm.” That’s right, I know break dancing. She perked right up. The ﬂoor cleared. I stretched, one two, did a few torso twists before I executed a wobbly handstand, and then fell, boom, on my face. I got back on my Crab Orchard Review
Teline Guerra feet, did a little dance spin, and raised my hands in triumph. Sure, I felt as though someone had whacked me across the chest with a two by ten. But that girl laughed so hard she couldn’t breathe. Forgot completely about her ankle. When she’d see me weeks later, she’d laugh again. Now that’s power. Part of my strategy is to give others a chance to tell jokes; I listen closely and laugh uproariously. I only bother to do this with Deep Friends. Deep Friendship is saved for a select group. I prowl around, sizing people up, till I see someone who is something I want to be. Competent, stylish, adult, or sincere. I relentlessly imitate my Deep Friends. I wear my watch on the inside of my wrist, I ﬂip my hair a certain way, I listen to Fleetwood Mac, and have names to go with each one. I may look like a Deep Friend ﬂunky, but humor puts me on top. I have the power. I chose the relationship, and I push it forward. Not only does humor give me power over other people, it gives me power over humiliation, over hurt, over all bad things. However, once people start laughing at you, once you are established as a card, people will laugh at everything you do. Even if you don’t mean to be funny, you’d better pretend or you’ll lose your audience. Clowns have no feelings. When they fall oﬀ a building and lie writhing on the ground, people have permission to laugh because they are agreeing that the clown isn’t hurt. I once took a weightlifting class with a Deep Friend, and we were tooling around the weight room. I was looking down, reading oﬀ how to do what we had to do, as I walked right into a bar. It was eye level and horizontal, so it caught me, naturally, in the eye, and thanks to one of Newton’s laws (good ol’ Newton, always a pal), my head stopped but my body kept going. And the Deep Friend fell into absolute hysterics. My eye was watering and going in and out of focus (because the thing hit my actual eye) and I thought I might go blind, and at the very least, it hurt like a mother. “You walked into a bar,” she wheezed, “like in a joke. You walked into a bar, and said ‘ouch.’” Right. Not that funny. But because my Deep Friend was laughing, because I knew the rules of the game, I played it up. This is so obvious that they wrote cheesy pity songs in the 1950s about it. Pity ruins everything. I take my lumps; I know what I am doing. If you feel sorry for me, you are robbing me of the payoﬀ. 164 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Teline Guerra This is what Martin Grotjahn, m.d., a psychoanalyst, says about the humorist as a personality type in Beyond Laughter: …We found him to be related to the masochist and to the melancholic. He behaves as if he knows the misery of this world but resolutely proceeds to disregard it. He remains aware of this valley of tears but behaves as if it is still the Garden of Eden. He proceeds not by denying the existence of misery but by pretending to be victorious over it. He illustrates for us the hope for the victory of infantile narcissism over all experience. His victory is only partial and temporary; what he may gain in inner strength and kindness, he will lose in the world of reality and adjustment. He may be free but not necessarily happy or well adjusted to his environment. The wit as a person is closely related to the sadist. Under the disguise of brilliance, charm, and entertainment, the wit—and we do not mean only the practical joker—is a sadist at heart. He is sharp, quick, alert, cold, aggressive, and hostile. He is inclined to murder his victims in thought; if he inhibits himself and if he does not succeed in transforming his brain child into a joke, he may develop a migraine attack instead. I’ve done both. Really, I just switch oﬀ between them. Will I be a wit or a humorist today? Which one goes with these socks? When I was fourteen, I went to visit my cousin. It was spring, just barely getting warm enough to swim, and he had an above-ground, white-trash pool in his backyard. His mom told us we couldn’t swim, and then left. So naturally, we went swimming. To do this, we had to pull the cover oﬀ the pool but only half way, so it would be easy to get back on. So we’re swimming and my cousin says he can swim under the cover and touch the wall. Which he does. Then he decides to do it again. Only this time, on his way back he stands up before he is clear of the cover. The cover suctions right to his body. I see him come up under the blue tarp, waving his arms around like he’s the swamp thing, clawing at his face and his open mouth, and I lose it. This is the funniest thing I have ever seen. He goes back under and comes up in the tarp again. I think I ought to help him, but I can’t move, I’m laughing so hard. Finally, he makes it out, gasping, eyes bloodshot from his near drowning, and I am still laughing. As soon as he catches Crab Orchard Review
Teline Guerra his breath, he starts yelling, “I could have died blah blah blah!” Which makes me laugh harder. Is that what Martin means by the humorist personality being out of touch with reality? It isn’t like my cousin actually died. Infantile narcissism. He’s just jealous. I observe, and certainly I come ﬁrst in the scope of my observation. Which means I am, at the same time, close to being depressed. I tried that, and it didn’t get me anywhere. But hello, my baby, hello my darling, pretending to be victorious is awful close to actual victory. I’m up. I’m moving. Victory. Ok, and yes. I am amazed at the nasty spiteful things I can say, and people will laugh. But think of it as a nastiness shunt. If I didn’t get it out somehow, it would build up on my spine and cripple me. How many people are crippled today by their niceness? Thousands, I’m sure. Let’s start a charity. In my pot, I’m cooking up a gooey stew of obsessiveness, a mentally ill level of moodiness, stubbornness, some insecurity, diﬃculty forgiving, and a dash of snobbery for ﬂavor. Once it gets on people, they really don’t think I’m funny. That’s why I’m super careful about taking that lid oﬀ. But how diﬀerent from everyone else can I possibly be? I am not smart enough to be uniquely crazy. The key to a good quip is to get in the habit of hyper-analyzing everything you hear. You are no longer someone who listens and responds. You are someone who tests the limits of anything said. You look for ways to deliberately misunderstand, or inconsistencies, or for people who don’t say what they mean. This is also a way to attack someone. The only diﬀerence is the friendly attitude you must have at all times. If you sense you’ve crossed a line and hurt someone’s feelings, go directly to making fun of yourself. Most of my jokes are designed to convince the audience that they are better than me. If I fall, you are coordinated. If I am dumb, you are smart. If I stick a green bean up my nose, you know what you are supposed to do with a green bean. I went Christmas shopping on a snowy night, and was walking home, big bags full of wrapped packages, and the snow about a foot deep and none of the sidewalks shoveled yet. I knew I was going to fall, so I set out cautiously, shuﬄing along, arms with bags extended out for balance. Which didn’t help. I fell spectacularly, legs ﬂying out, over my head, suspended a moment before landing on my back. Packages ﬂung several feet in every direction. And I lay there for a moment, watching snow fall on my face, wiggling my toes to check that I wasn’t 166 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Teline Guerra paralyzed, and laughed. And laughed and laughed. I wished someone had been there to see it, because it surely was the best banana peel fall I’d ever done in my life. I did get to pass out crushed, water-damaged Christmas presents that year. Score. “The man who trips would be the last to laugh at his own fall, unless he happened to be a philosopher, one who had acquired by habit a power of rapid self-division and thus of assisting as a disinterested spectator at the phenomena of his own ego. But such cases are rare.” Thus says our friend Charles Baudelaire in “On the Essence of Laughter.” I include this because it makes me look good, and heaven knows there isn’t much else in this essay doing that. These are my Patented and Guaranteed rules for being funny, which I follow most of the time. I don’t know why these rules work; they just do. 1. 2.
You can’t try to be funny. It doesn’t work. If I’m thinking about something else, like getting something out of someone, the humor ﬂows. Never tell the same joke twice unless you are absolutely, dead certain that no one within earshot has heard it before. The only way to be dead certain is by moving at least three states away. When people hear you repeat yourself, they realize that your material is limited. This is bad. It makes even a good joke less funny. Cleverness has to be oﬀ the cuﬀ. Besides, you have destroyed the illusion that what you say is for that individual. That it comes from your interaction. That they are a part of your funniness. That you need their cooperation. That you are not funny without them. Abandon dignity. Self respect is no longer a part of your world. Most people don’t want to make fools of themselves. This is why most people aren’t funny. If no one laughs at your jokes, reevaluate, adjust your timing, make sure people are listening. And if they still don’t laugh? Try a new subject, a new angle. Go at it with more energy. Take more risks. And if that doesn’t work? Knock yourself in the head somehow. If they still don’t laugh, they hate you, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Crab Orchard Review
Teline Guerra I’ve been watching you. Don’t be fooled about that. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if you hadn’t met certain standards. Most people just take friends as they come. Not me. I pick and choose, and when I’ve chosen, I do what I’ve got to do to make a friend of you. I’m on top of your responses, see. I’m watching you all the time to see what’s going on inside your head. I learn what makes you laugh, and I adjust. I don’t know why I’m like this. My elementary school teachers called my mother because I spent my playground time oﬀ by myself, having splendid adventures that from the outside looked like talking to myself and twitching. The other girls wanted to pair or triple oﬀ and walk around. What was so interesting about that? At seven or eight, we are talking phases, not determinate future behavior. I should have grown out of that. So I guess I’m just a control freak. People don’t like that. (I know a lot about what people don’t like.) I disguise the control with humor, and amazingly, no one seems the wiser. Or maybe it’s all an illusion of control. Ah, but even this, even the disclosure of personal information, the revelation of vulnerability, is all done for eﬀect. Here, let me stand on my head for you. Headstands are little suicides. What are you doing, really? You’re putting all of your weight on the soft spot of your skull. Ouch. Things fall apart, however, at the Romance level. Friendship has a limit on intimacy, whereas Romance puts its roots down directly in that manure. I show poorly in that light, and I don’t do vulnerable. Let’s say I meet someone who sets oﬀ the right physical pops and sparks, and manages to not say anything repulsive. I watch and measure, but I’m vibrating like a banjo. See, that’s why it’s diﬀerent from friendship. OK, I’m on my best behavior, because I don’t want this person to give up on me. And maybe awkward ﬂirting leads to a dinner invitation. Yippee. Somewhere in here, in the trying to cozy up to someone in a meaningful way, all that stuﬀ I’ve been hiding comes spilling out. Let’s say he tells me I am beautiful, a standard guy compliment. No, no. Bad. I stiﬀen up. I hate when people look at me. Being funny usually protects me from people looking at me, and you are thinking I’m nuts, but when I joke around, I’m saying look at this, not look at me, and even if I happen to be this, I’m still above it. I don’t want to admit to this potential romantic partner that I am a complete nut job (have you 168 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Teline Guerra not been following any of this?) so I settle with blushing ﬁercely and if I can be angry sometime during the evening, I feel better. So things go along rippingly, right? This means I now have to talk to him on the phone. For an hour or two at a time. Because if I don’t, we aren’t “connecting.” But I haven’t suddenly become a normal person. I hate talking on the phone. You know what else I hate? I hate feeling like something is expected of me. It doesn’t matter what something is, or that I can’t actually say what is expected of me. This is more paranoia than pet peeve. I can stand things that I hate for about four weeks, then humor switches to defense mode—more jokes with more energy. The victim of my insanity might actually think this is a good sign. But what I’m doing is drawing more into the realm of what must be kept disguised. Now it isn’t just my weirdness, but the weirdness I am creating between us. This is a death knell for the (it’s too short to be a relationship, and not hot enough to be a ﬂing) encounter. I protest the phone conversations by not talking. I protest the looking by avoiding the looker. So I get out, and I feel immensely relieved. Months later, I think back on the poor guy and remember all the good things about him, and complain to my friends that I can’t meet the right guy. You’d think that knowing this, I’d be able to defuse some of the landmines, or at least, warn someone. That’s actually more altruistic than I’m inclined to be. By the way, I am never won over. If someone, anyone, likes me before I have tried to be liked, that’s a no go. They have the power, they chose. I refuse to give up the upper hand. Effective face making can sometimes be subtle, for example, the look of incredulity. Someone says they don’t know why they’ve lost weight. I raise my eyebrows. That’s it. Mouth stays closed, eyes don’t open any wider. Not frowning exactly, but deﬁnitely not smiling. Looking at the source of the incredible comment. When I was seven, there was this crowd of kids up the street I wanted to hang out with. Tara was in my class, and her older sister rode the bus with us. So one day, walking home, her sister starts talking about kids who eat their boogers. I can’t even tell you how an apparently normal children’s conversation got around to eating boogers. But I said, I eat my boogers, even though it wasn’t true, and then demonstrated. Boogers, by the way, are mostly salty. I wasn’t trying to be funny. I was attempting to relate to others. This is what happens to me when I’m sincere. Crab Orchard Review
Teline Guerra The other good face-making technique is the Sudden Switch. Like I’m laughing I’m laughing I’m laughing I’m frowning. Good for jokes made about you, but if done right, applicable to any situation. Both faces must be genuine. Then the switch startles. In order to throw your face in reverse, you must have your emotions under control. Like, tight control, like follow them to the movies, call them every three minutes control. When you get your feelings into their cages, they get smaller and easier to manage. If you got something big under there that bites your arm oﬀ when you try to pet it, don’t bother trying to use that in a Sudden Switch. You’ll lose your arm, and hey, you never know when you’ll need an arm, plus someone will see you lose it. That makes people uncomfortable. If people are uncomfortable around you, they won’t want to be around you. Rule of thumb. See, that arm’s coming in handy already. I hate to think Marty is describing me in his bitter little rant against funny people. I’m not mean funny. I don’t hurt people’s feelings or go after disabilities. Well, not always. But there is a gap. Humor keeps people at bay. The distance between what you say and what you mean becomes a barrier. Maybe there’s relief in unplanned, uncensored disclosure. I’ve got lots of abandonment issues going on. I’m scared of people forgetting me. Out of sight, out of mind. But I’ve abandoned like crazy, and I am the poster child for forgetting old friends. Attention is not the same thing as love, but it’s so close that lots of people get them confused. We show love by paying attention. Attention is the beginning of compassion. It’s like sex without love; feels good, eases loneliness, and has absolutely no business doing either. So it turns out I am like a boxer getting the worst of it in a ﬁght, arms in, protecting the body, bent over, face pressed onto the tops of the gloves. Not trying to avoid being hit, just trying to keep the blows out of the sensitive areas, and I thought I was some totally diﬀerent metaphor. A sexier metaphor. So listen, this is my last thing: the best laughter comes from a love of the ﬂawed. Everybody’s limping. Embrace it. Charlie Chaplin was inspired by the Donner Party. They were trapped in a snowy pass and ate one another. The comedic possibilities are endless.
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Nancy McCabe The Animal in the Walls I first hear the animal one day in early September, as I’m working at the desk in my bedroom. Something passes through the wall behind it, clicking and swishing sounds that bring to mind the brisk clip of stiletto heels across a parquet ﬂoor and the electricity of hair bristling through a comb. I’m so deep in concentration, the sounds take a second to register as what they are: claws, fur. Instinctively I ram my oﬃce chair backward from a creature so close by, I half-expect paws to skitter across my feet. At ﬁrst I picture something sleek and feline, a trapped stray cat, and I’m afraid it will die in there. When no one at the SPCA answers the phone, I call an extermination company, where a guy oﬀers to sell me a contract for hundreds of dollars I don’t have. “You’ve got rats,” he says. “Rats?” I’ll sell our clothes and furniture, skimp on food, ﬁnd one of those jobs stuﬃng envelopes in my spare time, whatever it takes to buy the deluxe contract. The guy tells me that a service man will call me. “It could be a chipmunk,” my neighbor says. “Or a skunk.” “I think it’s a baby elephant,” says my three-year-old daughter, Sophie. When the serviceman calls and I explain the situation, his exaggerated sigh sputters across the line like a bad connection. “It’s not rats,” he says. “Anyway, I don’t get rid of rats. I get rid of termites. The company just wants to sell you a contract, but I’ll tell you what it is. Are there any pine trees nearby?” There are. “It’s a red squirrel,” he says. “I’m guessing that it’s stocking up on pine cones inside your walls.” He suggests I call some business right over the New York border called Critter Getters. We just moved here, three months ago, to this house overlooking the Tuna Creek Valley. Everything felt strange at ﬁrst: this monstrosity Crab Orchard Review
Nancy McCabe of a house, the directness of people’s questions after the ultra-polite south. Where I lived, backstabbing was a more acceptable weapon than rudeness and all personal questions were considered rude. People here keep asking me if I’m going to tell my daughter that she’s adopted, and I restrain myself from hooting at the notion that I, her tall, pale mommy, might try to convince my tiny black-haired daughter that I gave birth to her. The ﬁrst time I explained to her that she had another mommy before me, my throat tried to close up and trap the words inside, but I swallowed hard and they stumbled out anyway. I didn’t, don’t, believe it really. I’m her only mommy ever—how could I not have given birth to her? I soldiered on, trying to explain, feeling this other mother, this other sorrowing woman, come between us. Sophie clapped her hand over my mouth. She didn’t want to hear it. Yet. When I bought the house back in April, I knew I was probably getting in over my head, but it seemed like the sort of place where a child ought to grow up, huge with a lopsided foundation to accommodate the slope of the mountain. That, along with the yellow siding and purple trim, give the house a pastel shapelessness reminiscent of a big hideous half-melted piece of candy. It was the house’s details I fell in love with—the rich woodwork common to northwestern Pennsylvania during the 1920s oil boom, the built-in bookshelves and nightstands wired with small lights, the hardwood ﬂoors, gas ﬁreplaces, high ceilings, and window seats, most strikingly on the landing below a huge picture window surrounded by beveled and stained glass that turns sunlight to rainbows. Whenever I round the curve of banister, I ﬁnd them splattered everywhere. “Rainbows,” Sophie yells, leaping on top of them as if to squish them like bugs, but they just gently relocate to the tips of her sneakers. The place needs work. “Expect to replace the roof, furnace, windows, and garage within the next few years,” the inspection report says. The hall wallpaper’s cluster of pink ﬂowers are as big as cabbages, as big as my head, and the pink and green rose and trellis wallpaper in the master bedroom peels oﬀ in huge patches to reveal bare walls, unlike the master bathroom, layered with ﬁve generations of loosening green ﬂoral patterns. The shower is a homemade aﬀair, mold and mildew undaunted by the Comet that strips all the paint. But these things are cosmetic, I tell myself. But the house was so cheap. So what if the dishwasher leaves dishes and the kitchen smelling 172 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Nancy McCabe vaguely of burnt rubber and the ancient oven throws sparks when I turn it on? When the water heater goes out, the repairman emits one of those low whistles reserved for the discovery of dinosaur bones and appliances that can only be found on display at the Smithsonian. No big deal, I tell myself with a jauntiness designed to fend oﬀ panic. My mortgage payment is little more than my rent in South Carolina. The spaces I’ve lived in have always felt reﬂective of the stages of my life. During graduate school in Nebraska, a time when I felt conﬁned in a temporary existence, one in which I was turned inward, recovering from many losses and disruptions, I lived in a cozy, cramped upstairs apartment. While I adjusted to a new job in South Carolina and prepared to adopt my daughter, I rented a huge townhouse in an apartment complex—an expansive but transitional space with a shelf of hand-me-down shoes so I could get used to the idea of a child’s presence. There were baby Birkenstocks and high tops and patent leather Sunday school shoes which, with the slamming of neighbors’ doors and the shifting of the building, kept ending up at odd angles, as if arrested in the middle of a dance. Returning from China, trying to settle down and provide my baby something stable and traditional, I bought my ﬁrst house, a remodeled 1950s bungalow with a huge yard. It was beautiful and comfortable, but it, the town, the job, felt too conventional, oppressive, wrong for me. So now here we are in Pennsylvania in this rambling house with an animal in our walls. I feel guilty for uprooting my daughter from a community where she was loved. I am still wading through the wreckage of the last two years. I became a parent and an orphan, for all intents and purposes, in the space of a few weeks. No sooner had I arrived back in the U.S. with my daughter than my dad died suddenly of a cancer no one knew was there, spreading swiftly and silently. I sat beside his bed and listened to his last breaths. Afterward, my mother, lost without him, began to have one small stroke after another, each increasing in severity. In the last two years, my family fell apart and the job I’d counted on, worked hard at, came crashing down around me. But when Sophie gives me her ritual hug, kiss, and push out of her preschool’s door every morning, when she brings me papers on which she has outlined her hands and feet in endless overlapping repetitions, when she stamps her foot upon hearing the title of a movie I’ve rented and yells, “I do not want to watch The Princess’s Diarrhea,” I understand that this house is like my life, rough around the edges but when it comes right down to it, Crab Orchard Review
Nancy McCabe luckily, amazingly, structurally sound and breathtaking in its details. “My daddy had a stroke and died,” Sophie announces, and a canned peach I’m dishing up ﬂies from my spoon and skates across the ﬂoor. “Uh, Sophie,” I say. “Have you been telling people that?” She closes her mouth tight and smiles her zip-lipped amusement up at me. She loves baiting me. Painstakingly matter-of-fact, I ask her if she understands that our family hasn’t ever had a daddy. “I know, Mom,” she says, at three already a master of adolescent scorn. I laugh but at the same time I mourn the rich life I meant to give my child, the settled one surrounded by family and friends. Already, our ﬁrst two years together have been torn by so much stress and loss, the energy I’d saved up for her eroded by outside forces. The parent I planned to be is nowhere to be found, the one who was ﬁrm but fun, who took her to Families with Children from China meetings and zoos and plays, the mom who dreamed up creative craft activities and threw her birthday parties. We read books and take walks to the park with the wagon and her stuﬀed dog named Ozzy Osbourne, washed so many times its fur is clumped up and everyone thinks it’s a lamb. Books and walks are all I can manage. Every day I ask her what she did at day care and she answers, “I was sad, I cried, I missed my mommy.” Our schedule retains the irregular, haphazard quality that originated to accommodate all the changes we were weathering. My dad’s tumor was discovered the day before her ﬁrst birthday. We were moving on her second birthday. And then we moved again right before her third, and when we went home to Kansas where my aunt gave her a party, my mom ended up in the emergency room with another stroke. Our ﬁrst weeks in this house were full of surprises. Doors kept opening into spaces I didn’t know were there. Narrow stairs led down to a craggy basement with ﬁssures in the ﬂoor ﬁlled by years of dust and dirt. I ducked through its many chambers—a laundry room, a small walled platform containing nothing but a toilet, and a storage area lined with cabinets labeled “Pigeons and Traps. Scuba Diving Gear. Football and Baseball.” Another room with a worktable and tool rack, a tag dangling from an old electrical box: “Ask me about my friend Jesus.” A nail hung with a pile of surgical masks, webbed inside by many spiders, now long-dead; leaning against the wall, someone’s discarded painting of a barn. Another room, shelves lined with paint cans and rolls and rolls of wallpaper, some yellowed and crumbling. And then out the back 174 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Nancy McCabe door to the patio, a storage shed tucked under the grill porch. Upstairs again: a cubby in Sophie’s bedroom, under the attic stairs, where she promptly dragged her crib mattress so she can sleep in there like Harry Potter. I sometimes hear her rattling the cellophane envelopes of junk mail in there and brieﬂy mistake the sound for our wild animal. I didn’t ﬁnd the huge closet in her bathroom, previously hidden by the open hall door, until I’d unpacked most of our possessions. And then there it was, another set of empty shelves. Other things were right in front of my eyes but just took me a while to notice, like the slots in the medicine cabinets below tiny iron plates with raised letters ﬂattened by time, now barely distinguishable: “Drop used razor blades here.” I imagine the insides of my bathroom walls heaped with razor blades and the dust of 80 years of whiskers and leg hairs. Above my attic’s many shelves and closets, doors opened to yet more cupboards. Sometimes it still feels as if I’m living in one of those dreams in which there are whole worlds just beyond my immediate vision, secret rooms hidden behind mirrors and walls, chamber after chamber. I’m picking up books and toys and junk mail and shoes, all the stuﬀ Sophie scatters all over the house, when I realize that if I stand on the landing, I can trace the creature’s progress. It gallops down my bedroom wall, passes above the landing window, and leaps along the inside of Sophie’s bathroom wall. It’s unnerving knowing that I am never alone, that my walls are like one big Habitrail, a series of McDonald’s Playland tunnels and slides. I look up red squirrels in the set of 1960s World Book Encyclopedias I inherited from my childhood home. I ﬁnd out that red squirrels can cover three feet in a second. “Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, all neatly packaged in a peanut shell, get a squirrel’s undivided attention,” says my encyclopedia. And: “Fence, branch, and telephone wire are all highways to the lightning-quick and sure-footed little rodent.” And my walls. Critter Getters makes an appointment to come inspect. Then they call back. Turns out they aren’t licensed to trap animals in Pennsylvania, only New York. “She looks like an Indian,” says the seven-year-old neighbor girl. I dart a quick glance at Sophie, busy yanking a trike free of a tangle of toys in the neighbors’ garage. Crab Orchard Review
Nancy McCabe “I adopted her from China,” I say. Rene’s eyes widen. “Why didn’t her real parents want her?” No one has ever asked me this question. It knocks the breath out of me. “That’s not the way it works,” I snap. Sophie doesn’t appear to be listening as she tugs and maneuvers the trike. I take a breath and speak in as level a voice as I can manage, because I suspect that Sophie really is listening, that what I say to this kind of query will shape the way she thinks about her background. Feigning patience, I say that I am Sophie’s real mom because your real parents are the people who raise you. After that my explanation goes downhill fast. I am lecturing a seven-year-old on a foreign country’s complex political, social, and economic circumstances that leave children without families. Rene stares at me, furrows deepening across her forehead. She doesn’t like this one-child policy one bit. She has three siblings. “I’m glad I don’t live in that country,” Rene says. I’m up all night, reading, pacing, heading downstairs to do laundry, toppling Sophie’s light-up sneakers into the washer with some towels and socks. I’m not sure if I should be washing these shoes because of the lights in them that ﬂicker on impact. I don’t understand the technology of the shoes, but I do know that there is no electricity involved. Still, I feel as if I’m teetering on the edge of risk as I dump in detergent and turn on the spray of hot water. I remember when we ﬁrst bought these shoes, how Sophie went leaping and bounding down the mall’s walkway to make them light up, heedless of passersby who smiled as they darted out of her way. As the shoes gently thump against the washing machine barrel, my own anguish rises to the surface: how could anyone imagine that someone wouldn’t want my child? I remember the stunned moment in China when I opened her documents and read her abandonment papers. Tears ﬁlmed my eyes. The woman who gave birth to my baby left her on the steps of a police station for reasons I will never know: perhaps she already had a child, perhaps she was holding out for a boy to support her in her old age, perhaps she was unmarried or poor or had failed to get government permission to have a baby. My daughter never forgets a song, a phrase, or a promise. She is distinctly beautiful with big eyes and even features. She is witty, is moody, is stubborn, is resilient. She can be headstrong and highstrung, with feelings that get hurt easily. 176 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Nancy McCabe Somewhere in China there is a woman whose face shares my daughter’s beauty, a woman with a quick mind and maybe some remnants of a child’s ﬂaring temper and tender heart. When I watch my daughter, I simply can’t believe that her ﬁrst mother does not live day after day with a wrenching, unfathomable loss. The shoes are banging in the washer, threatening to throw it oﬀ balance. I open it to check on them. Pink, yellow, and blue lights ﬂicker through the white suds, an oddly beautiful light show down here in my basement in the middle of the night, incongruously festive, like ﬁreworks through the mist that hangs low over the mountains early on autumn mornings. After the shoes batter the dryer for a while, I’m pleased that they still work. Except one shoe won’t stop lighting up on its own. Pink, yellow, and blue lights chase each other nonstop, like a Las Vegas marquee. Rocking and waiting for dawn, I imagine another mother’s losses so that I can put my toe in the water of my own griefs, ﬁltering anguish into manageable doses of sorrow and compassion. In a bit I will shower, help Sophie get dressed, pour our cereal, and go on like someone not in mourning, someone whose greatest joy may be someone else’s greatest sorrow. At dawn I hear the animal stirring in the ceiling above me, stretching, then scurrying oﬀ on its morning patrol of my walls. Squirrels are a big problem here, says Carys, my division chair. She suggests that I get a Havahart trap and set it out with some peanut butter to nab my intruder. I ﬁnd it sort of comforting to imagine this squirrel stocking up with inspiring industry on pine cones and nuts, leaves and twigs inside my walls, insulating them, then dreaming nearby through the long winter. “Maybe I’ll just let it live there,” I say. “What’s it going to hurt?” Carys warns me that my little friend could bite through my electrical wires. I go oﬀ in search of a Havahart trap. I’m pretty sure that the squirrel’s entry point is somewhere above my bedroom, the area where I frequently hear a tumbling sound and then the thump of a body and the rush of small feet. I decide to crawl out a front window onto the balcony and leave the trap there. But the windows stick and when I try to force them, the wood feels rotted, ready to splinter and snap. I ﬁnally give up and check the Crab Orchard Review
Nancy McCabe other upstairs windows, but none are close enough to the roof’s front slope. It’s either the roof above the kitchen door or one of the porches, none of which appear to be in the animal’s direct path. I ﬁnally set up the trap, baited with peanut butter, on the front porch, two storeys below the animal’s hangout, too far away. It sits there for days, untouched. At a party, Sophie generously doles out M&Ms to all the other guests, but she won’t give me one. “You won’t let your own mommy have an M&M?” I ask. “Her second mom,” the ﬁve-year-old daughter of friends corrects me. “You’re not her mom, you’re her second mom.” Well, yes, I answer, Sophie did have another mother before me, but I’m not just her second mother, I’m the only parent she’s ever known. I’m Sophie’s mommy, I tell Alex. Period. And I wonder if these conversations will ever feel less unsettling. Only days later, Rene’s six-year-old brother Henry confronts me with visible hostility. “She’s not yours,” he says. “You bought her.” We have had trouble with Henry before. He likes to snatch Ozzy Osbourne and run oﬀ. I told Sophie to tell him that if he was going to be a bully, she wouldn’t play with him, but instead she yelled at him that he was a bowling ball and a cotton ball also, insults that were lost on him. “She is mine and it’s illegal to buy people,” I tell Henry. Sophie looks, as always, absorbed, this time in a dandelion bouquet she’s collecting. I wonder whether she’s as serene as she appears, how many questions, how much turmoil, will stay hidden from my view. I write down a story she’s been demanding that I tell again and again, about a little girl named Sophie. It’s after bedtime, but Sophie’s still awake, so I sit down cross-legged on her bed and say, “I want to read you a story.” She listens intently to the familiar narrative about a girl who wants to stay a baby. She jumps in to supply some of the dialogue. When I ﬁnish, she says, “Again.” “Tomorrow,” I say, tuck her in again, and return to the enclosed porch that I have turned into a sitting room. A while later, Sophie marches in, notebook in hand. She plops down cross-legged on the coﬀee table. “I want to read you a story,” she says. 178 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Nancy McCabe She has drawn squiggles across several pages, ink rising and falling like ocean waves, taking ﬂight like small birds, spiking and dipping like a heart monitor. “Once upon a time, there was an animal in the walls,” she says. On cold nights I sleep in the middle bedroom, away from the creature’s skittering and scratching. But it, too, discovers that the middle room is warmer, and late one night I hear it scrambling through the walls beside my bed, racing and bounding and leaping and somersaulting. I dream of the rasp and scribble of small claws. Cartoon squirrels tumble merrily head over tail, vault over ceiling joists, ﬂip and dive and cartwheel. I wake exhausted from all the activity and from under the closed door of the closet, the lights on Sophie’s shoes pulse like the furthest moon of Jupiter. I ask one of my colleagues if he can help me ﬁgure out where I should put the trap. “I’ll bet you have one of those Havahart things,” he says, amused. He oﬀers to bring some other kinds of traps, too. I’m not sure about this. I want the animal to be alive. I harbor the kind of aﬀection that I can only muster toward rodents with which I have no actual contact. I want for Sophie and me to be able to set it free in the woods near campus. I don’t really want to kill the creature, but even more than that, I don’t want to have to explain death to a threeyear-old. My insurance agent advises me to purchase more life insurance. “You need enough to cover your daughter’s college,” she explains. “OK,” I say. “And your mortgage.” “Why?” I ask. She raises her eyebrows as if the answer to this question should be obvious. “So your house can be paid oﬀ.” “But why? Is my three-year-old responsible for my debts?” “Well, no, but do you want your heirs to have to deal with them?” “My heirs?” I have only one heir, and she is three years old. My father is dead and my mother is in no condition to deal with my estate. I’m generally not cavalier about ﬁnancial matters, but this conversation is rubbing me the wrong way. Maybe it’s just that I won’t Crab Orchard Review
Nancy McCabe let myself envision dying, missing watching Sophie grow up, leaving her alone in the world. Maybe it’s recalling how every possession my dad collected and treasured was sold, tossed, or parceled out between us, just objects in the end, useless except that through them we remember him. “Can’t my house just be sold?” I ask the agent. “It takes a long time to sell houses around here,” she says sternly. “That would put a lot of stress on your mom.” “Couldn’t the bank repossess it?” I ask. She peers at me over her glasses. “I don’t know about you, but I just don’t live that way,” she says, her voice icing over. “I take care of my debts.” “Well, yeah, me, too,” I say. “But I’m not living that way. I’m dead, remember?” “But you still owe the money,” she says. “But I’m dead,” I reply. She purses her lips. I feel shocking, wildly irresponsible, criminal, and at once amused and uneasy at this new identity. Disapprovingly, the agent begins to make calculations. Then we both relax: it turns out that the policy I’ve already agreed to will maintain my credit rating even beyond the grave. September 11. I’m teaching when the planes hit. During the next class, the twin towers collapse. Up and down the hall, there’s an eerie stillness, colleagues and students congregated around TVs somewhere. I’m new here and don’t know where the TV lounges are, but I stand in the Humanities oﬃce listening to radio reports. A plane crashes in Pennsylvania and the university shuts down. I drive by Sophie’s school but I don’t pick her up. Instead I go home and try to work, distracted by repeated images on the TV of lives and buildings crumbling to dust. My own griefs seem frivolous. “Planes crashed into buildings?” Sophie asks me whenever I turn on the news in the car. “People died?” She doesn’t know what this means, really, and I don’t know how to explain loss to her, or death, or murder or tragedy or destruction, or anything. “Planes crashed into buildings,” I agree. “People died.” I go upstairs in a daze to change my clothes. Back when my dad was dying, everyone in my family walked around with stunned faces, frozen into the blankness that deﬂects a barrage of shocked 180 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Nancy McCabe recognition. Now, all day every day, I pass face after face that looks like this, wiped free of expression, our animation dissolved into slow, careful navigation of an uncertain world. Above my head, the ﬂoor rattles rhythmically. In the attic crawl space, I ﬁnd that the Havahart trap has closed its doors on a frantic red squirrel. It whips around from one end to the other, lunging with bared teeth at the metal bars. As I carry the trap down to the porch, the animal heaves itself repeatedly against the door. It’s so small, this creature whose presence has consumed so much of my energy, so small and yet so powerful; later I will discover that these panicked attempts to escape have bent the lever that trips the door. The trap will never work properly again. After eight hours in a trap, they die of heart attacks, I’ve heard. We’re starved, but I won’t be able to eat till the squirrel has been freed. My friend Kyoko comes over to help. We upturn a laundry basket over the trap in my car trunk, double assurance that the animal won’t escape. Then we drive to the woods on the edge of campus. When I open the trunk, the squirrel is still. “The fumes must have killed it,” Kyoko says. But when I set the trap on the ground and release the door, the squirrel shoots out, one long muscle, bullet-swift into the woods. Watching, my tension lifts a little. “It’s getting cold out,” Kyoko says. “The squirrel hasn’t had a chance to prepare for hibernation. It will probably die anyway.” On Monday our secretary tells me she heard an animal scrambling in the ceiling of our building. I secretly hope my squirrel has found a new refuge. My secret hopes backﬁre on me when some small animal devours an entire bag of Hershey’s kisses I left in my desk. The next day, I ﬁnd a drawerful of silver foil wrapper crumbs. One Saturday, a chipmunk leaps out at Carys, and we spend an entire week chasing more chipmunks out of our oﬃces, classrooms, and the computer lab. Caution: Chipmunk Inside, say signs on classroom doors. Do Not Enter: Chipmunk Inside, says the bathroom door Carys has gleefully slammed just in time to barricade in another small animal. This is nothing. Some people sight bears and mountain lions in their yards. I’m not used to living with wildlife, not like this. I’m used to an illusion of control over my territory, not to these sneaky little creatures ﬂitting across my oﬃce ﬂoor, munching my chocolate, or rustling above my bed. Crab Orchard Review
Nancy McCabe Once again alone in our house, we sleep through the nights, no longer disturbed by our nocturnal companion. I watch the news each night, listen to it obsessively in my car, recovery eﬀorts, anthrax, smallpox. Around me, faces remain intent, braced for more disaster. When I hear the tick tock of rain, I scan the ceiling for leaks; I hold my breath waiting for the furnace to kick back on each time it takes a rest. I have done these things since I moved here, alert to my house’s creaks and cracks, the new aches and pains that develop in my knees, my hips, these intimations of mortality. But now I sometimes dream that my house, everything I’ve saved up, blows around in the yard on a foundation heaped with nothing but rocks and pine cones and twigs. Sometimes the swish of my own skirt or the plop of a dropped toy on the hall carpet causes me to stop and listen, waiting for a new stirring inside my walls. Nothing. Numbly I wait and watch the news. I put it oﬀ, but ﬁnally I tackle the attic crawl space, crouching there to suck up squirrel droppings with a Dustbuster. It’s dark in there under the sloping roof; I inch across the ﬂoor crab-like, easing a Coleman Lantern along beside me. When I ﬁnally rise to my feet in the attic room dangling my grocery bag of squirrel poop, I can barely straighten my cramped legs. Later, a friend ducks into the claustrophobic space and nails a board across the chimney’s missing brick, the squirrel’s likely entrance. Sophie’s supposed to be in bed that night as I sit motionless again in front of the news, struggling against the baring of my illusions: that grief can hibernate and stock up provisions against more grief. That this alarmingly ferocious creature parenthood has turned me into is anything but terrifyingly defenseless to protect my child. The news drones on, an airless, sunless space closing in tight. Then an inhuman high-pitched sound emerges from Sophie’s room. A thump, then a bang, a staccato screech, laughter. I peer around the corner to spy unseen. Sophie’s wearing a pair of shoes from China. Squeaky shoes, they’re called; our cousin brought them back for her. The pink canvas shoes have sat on her shelf for months. Now I understand where they got their name. With each step, they sound like a chorus of angry rubber duckies. Sophie leaps, stomps, jumps, intent face collapsing into delight at 182 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Nancy McCabe the variations of squeaks and screeches her feet can make, loud and soft, abrupt and elongated. I remember how, when we ﬁrst moved here, Sophie and I exchanged wide-eyed looks each time a door opened into another previously undiscovered space. I watch her face now, focused on her shoes. Somewhere in China, a woman’s stretch marks remind her daily of the baby she once carried. Not far away, not long ago, hundreds of lives were obliterated in the instant between a period and a capital letter in a morning e-mail, between a sip and swallow of coﬀee. But for this moment, Sophie’s shoes can make noise, and so she springs onto the bed and oﬀ again, vaulting over her toy box and sailing through the air, shoes squealing like happy animals. For the ﬁrst time in days, my heart opens up into whole new lightﬁlled rooms I didn’t know about, chamber after chamber.
Crab Orchard Review
Christina Pugh City in the Air They wrote all over the rocks, the ones who came before and come still; choicer than graﬁtti, their paint cubed and letters blocked like epitaphs: Acid or small groove or baby cakes. And the primary colors whet the schools of foam the lake makes, its mobile cursive less serene, while the tall city wells above the rocky trace of sociability— its steeples snuﬀed, or nearly, in the mist: this could have been Christminster, or these the moral rocks Tess read on her journey home in terrible, delicate boots: the shores mirror us always, but the city transpires.
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Embouchure What are these dreams: tough, lyric, mosaic; moving, if they move, in the manner of the husk or the transitive: a ﬁn lifting in the water, or now the accordion’s reduction. In the dream I’m alone with a voice that cannot sing or stutter, and shards of the story clatter, magniﬁcent as porcelain. If I try to row my mother to the open sea, I’m locked before mountains, my hand cut by a cascade’s knife. The falls tear me from the open. I have to lie still in the canoe, to map with my burned eyelids or the compass of my toes. My dream is a cripple. And we won’t make it back before nightfall.
Crab Orchard Review
The New Retina is little more than a sequin in the doctor’s palm, dull as sterling spoons passed among the generations, but magic as the chip or the quark, promising to net the world for this man, who returned from the war and married, and felt a fog ﬁltering the faces in the pews. Years later, he thinks he’s forgotten the shape of his daughter’s eyes, though he’d guess her forehead’s low and broad as his own.
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Christina Pugh If he could, he’d ask the doctor for perimeter— not the vein’s streak, the changes in the hair: the landmarks he remembers are adobe or paper, like the strips her scissors made years ago: doll legs, two short arms— he wants to say at his age, he’s through with the scintillant, the sealing of spirit over dirt: what would he do with light dappled frantic on water, a girl swaddled back to him as nimbus,
Crab Orchard Review
Christina Pugh all her edges given up the ghost?
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Emily Raabe Milestone Yesterday is not a milestone that has been passed, but a daystone on the beaten track of the years and irremediably part of us, within us, heavy and dangerous. —Samuel Beckett We arrived at this place in the woods: green, quiet, no peaked roof in our line of sight. Our hearts were silver in our chests, our bodies as good as though we had four legs and slept in the thickets of soft branches at night. The blood in our veins was the whirring warning of hurried wings over slowing rivers, but we didn’t know to head south, so what we conjured answered, gathered like clouds in front of thunder and arrived. Then the dark house rose like mud on a riverbank, windows yellow ovals in night. We waited at the knob and were let in, a single mercy for the cold and frightened— You were there so long; a favorite long after I had sold my knucklebones for bread. Given one small window, you could see the forest but it was stripped and bare, receding in a shrinking aperture towards language; poor mimic. You gripped memory like a stone in your ﬁst, clenched it to make what might have happened speak to you. But remember? Memory is water when held in a ﬁst—runs out, heads for earth. Crab Orchard Review
Maxine Scates Coming Home in Autumn God spoke to Mother Teresa and then the silence, the next ﬁfty years listening for his voice says her biographer on NPR this morning, ﬁrst morning back on the way to buy bread when everything, cold sky streaked with sunlight, kids with backpacks strapped, the bright scrum on the bus stop bundled in overcoats and parkas, is haloed with aﬀection as if I still saw this moment, this ordinary town in its ordinary life from afar…though standing before a museum case staring at Achilles kneeling next to slain Patrocles, his spirit departing from a black ﬁgure vase, I didn’t think of home, or, like Keats, even what lasts, but Donny next door on a Saturday practicing the same three notes on his trombone, my father cursing him as trouble, tone for the day, settled into place, the past the tip of an isosceles meeting over the Atlantic. And the present? It’s etherous, a BBC documentary of summer in Iraq on a hotel TV in Sicily, Naxos-Giardini to be exact, the harbor where the Greeks ﬁrst landed, khakied soldiers, terror and bluster on their faces, searching a family’s home, the women weeping, a man taken away, disappeared like the bodies we don’t see when they’re ﬂown home 190 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Maxine Scates deep in the cold belly of a plane. On the train to Rome I looked up from an essay about the great capital, streets like spokes leading to its center, the Axis Mundi they were sure the world turned around and saw the crumbling walls of failed empire— time passes, not much changes. Some people say the only life free of it is the animal’s: time stops when you, so godlike, leave your dog, begins again when you return. On a streetcorner I saw a man command his dog to stay and hours later the dog still sat there—neck arched in the direction of his master’s departure.
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Choleric Meth labs dot the countryside, our cottage industry, lives junked like abandoned cars bleeding rust in the fallow ﬁelds and blind as he still is Teiresias sees what can’t be seen, predicts what we don’t want to know. What can you do? You try for balance but out on the interstate you’re not much diﬀerent than the guy in a red Toyota four-runner who pumped six bullets into a pickup truck after it cut him oﬀ. Vigilante, you watch for the dangerous ones, see them in the rear view heading toward you darting in and out of traﬃc. You box them in, won’t let them pass. You want to keen, the highest whine, the sorriest lament. On the best days, the days when you pretend none of this is your fault, you hold your hand out and the red-headed songbird alights on your ﬁnger, its tiny webbed claws so delicate you’re touched by something from another world and for a second you forget the scientist will dissect its brain to trace the route of song.
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Barry Silesky The House of Her He who does not accept this world builds no house here. —Henri Michaux Depending what’s meant by house. Depending what’s meant by here. Winter, for instance, descends with the usual white. A day later it rains, the snow’s gone, it’s cold, then it’s not. Or it’s the alley across from the stadium, lined with garbage cans, brick buildings millions pass each summer. Years of collecting, and none have brought me the nods of “in charge,” the yes I’ve always wanted to this seeing. In the end, the story contained in the words’ arrangement rises, calls: how many rooms have we made? Maybe it isn’t a house; but it’s what there is. Call it beginning? Time to add the lover? The dream? The one with black, red, long, short hair. The one the one the one the one. I was burrowing up from the cave where the people I loved reclined at home. I was driving alone on an empty street, steeper and steeper, until the car stopped, pointing up. Broken stone ﬁlled every direction. I was scared. I woke. She was never there. I didn’t think of her at all. Crab Orchard Review
The Catacombs The carved lion is under repair; only the slab where it stood remains in the street. The human bones lie underneath, the line to see them curled around the corner in the rain. Most come from our country, speaking that language where death is barely admitted, though many here know Baudelaire is buried nearby, and Rimbaud, and Jim Morrison. You loved his music, and it keeps coming. And here you are again. We were going to bring you with us, and the brother you left, who’s become you, sure as I hear him yell, No way! Loud as you would. But no sound is foreign enough to disguise the voice that could be yours, the sounds nowhere we go can stop. If only I had a scooter, I hear it say, a new machine, legs faster than air. It’s your voice in a language so familiar we think we know it, though we don’t understand. The city has never heard of you or your absence.
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Barry Silesky The stench that once came from the bones is another story I’m left in this café to imagine, as your brother walks underground with your friend, staring at skulls. They’re shouting, thinking of jokes, stories they’ll tell when they come back. They’ve already passed me. They’re climbing up stones, heading toward the day.
Crab Orchard Review
Circus after Kenneth Koch I remember reading “The Circus,” the one about the ﬁrst the poet wrote with that name, that he thought was better. This one remembered his time in Paris, and friends he loved, a life millions like to imagine, and never existed, and everyone must leave. Some of them had died by the time he wrote the new one, but nostalgia wasn’t the point, though the longing was there, and sadness, and I looked at the frayed couch I sat on, next to the ﬁreplace that didn’t work, the aquarium where bright ﬁsh I used to stare at stared back while headphones blasted rock ’n’ roll; and I cried. I was young. I don’t know why. I never wanted to go to Paris. Sun poured over the back porch where I took the paper to ﬁnish reading, then walked back through the kitchen where I made bread each week. The next year we left the city for somewhere else. We didn’t know where it would be, which was the idea, and that it could only happen once, though we didn’t know what that would mean either. In woods up north,
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Barry Silesky we bought some land and cleared it, built a house with our own hands, heated with oak I cut and hauled. I loved the place, but there wasn’t enough work that paid, and my wife left. Then I did. I was lost. Now I think they were all good days, which is what memory makes of so much history for those lucky enough to read it, and not trouble too much about the details. What I wanted was the thing I have; what I’m trying to learn each day. The woman I married after that one left. The sons I couldn’t imagine. The one whose absence we keep trying to understand and seems to change the subject completely. But then, it doesn’t. Two years since he died, I could be talking to him now. Something about the sky, so clear it sparkles. The rain that takes over. The cat he loved, asleep on my lap.
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Louie Skipper Childhood Documentary The Granger Seed and Feed Calendar is 1945 on the pine wall of my grandfather’s pantry, the year he lost his footing under a combine and died. Over his mantle hangs the long photograph, the Reunion of tried and true Confederate Veterans shot at the county fairgrounds in ’02. They have all been dead longer than I have been alive. It is my birthday today. It is November 5. I am ten. Everyone’s old again in the hickory frame, survivors lined up on bleachers with a blue ribbon and a rose, in uniform, little cocked hats and jackets buttoned tight at attention. Just before the shot, his daughter helps what looks like an addled colonel to his feet in front of a wooden wheelchair. She does not smile or seem to care for this, lifting him by the elbow and holding up his raised sword with a tassel long as her hair under the draping battle banner, the cue the General Nathan B. Forrest Fighting Raiders High School Band must have taken, striking up “Dixie” with a drum roll I suppose. She is surely dead by now. “Amazing Grace” is sung, it says. A few caps ﬂy as the photograph’s caught and hung. The house is cold and I cannot remember why my father tells me to wait inside. Overhead, soon caught by a change in fortune, I hear vultures with small downturned faces of Christ beseeching, circling lower as though reaching, crying out now and again. A riﬂe cracks over and over in the shrieking hog pen.
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Cassie Sparkman In Your Movie Star Dream You get the part, feel the world shift beneath your feet. You ran late for the audition but the director loves your hair, the way your eyes dart from camera to ﬂoor, your lips pouting so red. On the storyboard in feathery charcoals you run full tilt frame to frame, shoot a laser gun behind you at some sexy beast. Shivers circle your elbows. You step outside to smoke and three pimpled boys thrust pens at you, pull down their jeans. You sign big as tattoos your name across six pink cheeks. The stunt double shakes your hand and ﬂips fast over your head. No, you can’t do that. Good thing the action ﬁgure will still have your face. Pump up, the director commands, latex forgives a woman nothing. You leave with a check folded in squares. Your purse grows heavy, the money multiplying stupidly before you spend one dime. Two sleek limos purr, waiting. You choose indigo leather and snap at the driver. At the restaurant the best table preens, empty. The chef faints. You sit and the patrons stare. You think to wave, knock ﬂowers over instead and everyone stands, clapping wildly.
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Adrienne Su In the Maternity Shop Just when we feel least like ourselves, our selves are remade in the image of fourth graders, as if what we did to get here took place in immaculate ignorance, as if our impulses were for dandelion-picking or the purchase of lace for a sunbonnet. Look at us: We were never in charge of anything. We never threw away a packet of pills or knowingly accepted an invitation from a stranger who had no references. All our early crushes were on movie stars. When one day out of ether we got married, we blithely accepted the symbolism of the dress, on which we spent the money some other woman might have spent on books or airfare, then discovered conjugal life. Although our wardrobes spent some months providing for neither schoolgirl nor matriarch, it wasnâ€™t long enough to be worth an overhaul, so we went from giggling to cooing in the same forgiving overdress, which concealed a shape that was prenatal until the day it was postnatal, the shape of one for whom to give life is to live it.
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Anna Mitcov The Violin “How many of you have studied the violin?” Mr. Guardino
asks on the ﬁrst day of class. In the back of the room a small girl raises her hand, while the rest of us stare at him with blank expressions. I have never met anyone who listens to classical music, much less plays the violin. Everyone in my neighborhood is into funk or Motown, although one girl reputedly likes Peter Frampton. At this point in my life my favorite group is KC and the Sunshine Band. During the next hour Mr. Guardino demonstrates how to hold the violin so it rests comfortably on the shoulder. He plays a short, mournful tune, then points to the girl who raised her hand. She is so ordinary as to be hardly noticeable, but when she begins to play we are stunned. “Bravo,” Mr. Guardino applauds, “bravo.” The girl shrugs, while the rest of us clap our hands. After the demonstration Mr. Guardino distributes the violins. I imagine myself performing for my parents that night in our living room. But when I place the violin on my shoulder and lower my chin, my neck clenches with tension. How can anyone possibly play in this position? “That’s enough for today,” Mr. Guardino says, shouting above the din. “Come back next week and don’t forget your violins!” By the time the lesson ends it is already rush hour in midtown. Since the ﬁscal crisis, the school has been located on the thirteenth and fourteenth ﬂoors of an oﬃce building. We don’t have a real library, a gym, or an auditorium. New York is on the verge of bankruptcy and President Ford has told the city to go to hell. Outside on the street thousands of people are pouring out of the buildings. As I walk toward Grand Central the violin bangs into the legs of the other pedestrians. During the entire ride home I don’t get a seat; I end up wedged in the corner with the violin standing next to me. That night after dinner my father wants to know what I learned in school. I show him the violin, but when I attempt to play I produce a series of high-pitched shrieks. My father winces, while my mother looks on with skepticism. “That’s as far as we got today,” I tell them. Crab Orchard Review
Anna Mitcov As the week goes by it becomes painfully obvious that I don’t ﬁt in at school. I have nothing in common with the rich girls from the Upper East Side, or the hippie girls with their bandannas and Levis. Mostly everyone comes from Manhattan, Brooklyn, or Queens, although a couple of girls take the ferry from Staten Island. But I don’t meet anyone else who lives in the Bronx. No one from school ventures above 96th Street to the upper reaches of the Bronx and Harlem. By default I fall in with two girls from Brooklyn: Marta and Hallie. They both wear thick-rimmed glasses and childish clothes, but their intellects are formidable. “All the tragedies, including Timon of Athens,” Hallie tells us over lunch when the topic of Shakespeare comes up. “But I haven’t read the comedies—at least not yet.” “Not even Midsummer? Everyone has read Midsummer,” Marta says. “Well of course I’ve read Midsummer,” Hallie answers. “Who hasn’t?” It’s abundantly clear that I could never invite Marta and Hallie to visit me in the projects. “When are we going to meet those fancy new friends of yours?” Lucy asks me when I run into her in the neighborhood. Since she started attending the local junior high school she has picked up a Puerto Rican accent. “So those girls don’t mess with me, you know,” she says. I have heard the stories about Junior High School 113, how some girls poured gasoline on another girl’s hair and set her on ﬁre in the bathroom. Now that I attend school downtown I no longer worry about who might be lurking in the stairwells. The following week I show up for the second lesson. This time Mr. Guardino progresses more quickly; he hands out sheets of music and teaches us a simple scale. While the other students begin to play clearly recognizable notes, I manage to produce only tentative whines and high-pitched wails. No matter how hard I try I cannot get used to the chin rest, the necessity of playing with a bent neck. By the end of the second session I hate the violin. Deep inside I know I will never make progress with this or any other instrument, but throughout most of the semester I doggedly continue Mr. Guardino’s lessons. As it turns out the violin is the least of my worries. Every night I am up past midnight trying to ﬁnish the assigned reading. In English 202 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Anna Mitcov I’m having trouble with Richard III; hands go up to read the parts, but I can barely follow the dialogue. “This isn’t good,” my mother says one night when she catches me sleeping over my books. “This is too much, they give too much work.” Never in my life have I had to struggle in school; from the ﬁrst day of kindergarten I was a straight A student. I colored inside the lines and received perfect scores on all my tests. While the other kids counted the minutes until three o’clock, I happily solved math problems and practiced penmanship. In the afternoons when the other kids swarmed the playgrounds, I sat on the benches with the old people doing homework. Every Saturday I went to the library to check out a pile of books. “This isn’t normal,” my mother complained. “All this reading is no good for you. You need to get out there and play with the other kids.” In truth I had lots of friends in the neighborhood. On summer nights we stayed out late playing games of manhunt and double dutch. But from the very ﬁrst time I walked into the library, I fell in love with books. By the age of seven or eight I was already leading two lives. At school I was the overachiever, the teacher’s pet. “What a smart daughter you have,” crooned my teachers: Mrs. Metzger, Mrs. Birnbaum, Mrs. Steinman, Mrs. Rosenblatt—outspoken Jewish women who encouraged me to read the New York Times and go to college. At home I was the spoiled ingrate, the hysterical child prone to angry outbursts. I never understood what triggered those scenes; usually they started with my mother mocking me—nothing I did ever pleased her—and ended with me screaming. “My teachers say I’m special,” I’d yell at my mother in the heat of an argument. “They say I’m the smartest girl in the class. At least they like me.” “Pffth,” my mother would say, dismissing Mrs. Metgzer-BirnbaumSteinman-Rosenblatt with a wave of the hand. “They don’t know you. They don’t know what you’re really like.” During the month of October I seriously consider giving up Mr. Guardino’s lessons. More than anything, I dread Wednesdays when I have to drag the violin with me to school on the subway. As the train careens through the South Bronx past the empty lots and burnt-out buildings, I count the stops to Simpson Street where a Puerto Rican boy of about ﬁfteen gets on and stands by the door. He is markedly cuter than any of the boys in seventh grade. For most of the semester his appearance on the train is the highlight of my day. Crab Orchard Review
Anna Mitcov Usually the Puerto Rican boy—whom I have named Julio—gets oﬀ a few stops later at 149th Street. Every morning I fantasize that Julio will stay on the train and pursue me to the city where we will make out in an underground passageway. In reality Julio never even looks at me. I don’t wear tight, revealing clothes and I’m completely ﬂat-chested. Undoubtedly the violin balanced next to me does not add to my image. By now the violin has become the hated younger sister who follows me everywhere, the albatross around my neck that reminds me of my failures. Every Wednesday I emerge from the violin lesson utterly defeated. Outside it’s already dark, but I still have the subway ride ahead of me. One evening I fall asleep on the train only to ﬁnd myself at the end of the line at 241st Street. The station is deserted so I hurry downstairs and walk home. When I arrive at our building forty minutes later my mother is silhouetted in the window. “Where were you?” she asks frantically. “It’s almost nine o’clock.” “Mr. Guardino made us stay late,” I lie, not wanting to admit that I fell asleep on the train. “I told you this was a mistake,” she yells at my father. “She’s only twelve years old. She shouldn’t be alone in the city all day.” “It’s really not so bad,” I say. I don’t tell her about the groups of teenage boys who roam from car to car blasting their boom boxes, or the beggars who stick their outstretched hands in my face. I don’t tell her about the Vietnam vet whose legs were amputated and who propels himself through the car on a skateboard, or the man who jumped in front of a moving train. I don’t tell her about the preachers, the Black Muslims, or the Chinese vendors who sell cheap plastic toys and batteries out of metal carts. And most of all, I don’t tell her about the hands that roam up my legs when I am standing by the pole on a crowded train. “You have to promise to call if you’re late,” my father says. I hastily agree. I am completely miserable, but until now academics has been my entire life. I know I can’t return to school in the neighborhood. For years my teachers predicted I would pass the entrance exam for Hunter, one of the best high schools in the city along with Stuyvesant. When my mother and I emerged from the subway on the morning of the test, we discovered thousands of children from all over New York standing in a line that stretched around the entire block. Later my mother said it was the sight of the line that unnerved her, that made her realize just how slim my chances were. 204 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Anna Mitcov The ﬁrst question involved a three-dimensional cylindrical object. I stared at the diagram for several seconds, hoping the answer would become obvious. Until now all the tests I had taken had been easy; I could usually spot the right answer without much eﬀort. But this question was unlike anything I had seen before. It was conceptual in nature and required an agility of mind that I had yet to develop. While the other children rustled the pages of their tests, I struggled to hold back my tears. When I received the acceptance letter my teachers were not at all surprised. “You’ll be moving on, meeting new people. You’ll ﬁnd you no longer have anything in common with girls like Lucy,” Mrs. Rosenblatt said. “But why can’t I stay friends with Lucy?” I asked. Lucy and I were blood sisters; she was the one who taught me where babies come from. “That’s just the way it’s going to be,” she said. “You’ll make new friends at Hunter with diﬀerent people. In a couple of years the two of you won’t have anything in common. You’ll see.” The acceptance letter from Hunter shifted the power dynamics with my mother. The test administrators had validated my intelligence; now my mother stood on uncertain territory. Everyone in the neighborhood congratulated us and told her how proud she must be. And then my mother did the unthinkable; she threatened to enroll me at the Immaculate Conception. “The subways are too dangerous,” she said. “No daughter of mine is going to go to school in the city.” For six years I attended catechism every Wednesday afternoon at the local Catholic school. We memorized prayers out of books with pastel-colored pictures of Jesus while an ancient nun patrolled the aisles. The lessons were dogmatic and unbearably dull, and questions were seldom welcomed. The other option was to move to one of the working class suburbs on Long Island where so many families had already ﬂed. In the end my father prevailed and it was decided I would attend school in Manhattan. By early November after just two months, I begin to fantasize about leaving Hunter. I am lonely and overwhelmed, but more than anything I am physically exhausted. I don’t know how I’m going to get through the ﬁrst semester, much less make it through the next six years. Just after Thanksgiving Hallie throws a slumber party at her house in Brooklyn. Marta is there, along with two other girls from the seventh Crab Orchard Review
Anna Mitcov grade whom Hallie has befriended. After a dinner of hotdogs and beans, we climb upstairs to Hallie’s bedroom on the fourth ﬂoor. I am shocked to realize that Hallie’s family occupies the entire brownstone; in the Bronx the building would have been subdivided into several apartments. Over the course of the evening I learn that Hallie’s father teaches history at Columbia and her mother is a doctor. We stay up late into the night munching popcorn and comparing grade point averages. The girls are extremely competitive; they berate themselves if they receive 97s or 98s instead of 99s and 100s. After we toast marshmallows in the ﬁreplace Hallie brings out the dolls her mother brought back from Europe—brightly-colored hand puppets with porcelain faces and medieval garb. Hallie assigns us each a character and instructs us to crouch behind her bed two at a time and put on a play while the other girls sit in the audience. During the next hour I alternate between intense boredom and embarrassment; the puppets are child’s play and I feel silly playing make-believe at my age. In the projects many of the girls I know are already tweezing their eyebrows and wearing makeup. They are all boy crazy; in just two years my best friend from kindergarten will have her ﬁrst baby. At one point Hallie bops Marta’s puppet on the head so hard that I wonder if she’s cracked its porcelain face. As I sit in the audience I feel like I am the sole spectator of a play in which the Hunter girls are the characters. The following Wednesday after Hallie’s slumber party I arrive at Mr. Guardino’s classroom ﬁve minutes early. “I’m giving up the violin,” I say, relieved that I won’t have to drag it with me to the Bronx that evening. The intense conﬂict that has bound me to the instrument no longer possesses me. I now see my limitations: I will never master the violin and, no matter how hard I try, I will never ﬁt in with Marta and Hallie. During winter break the school relocates to the old armory on Park Avenue and 94th Street. Finally we have a real building. And without realizing it, I have grown accustomed to the subways. The commute is markedly easier now that I no longer have to ﬁght the crowds in Grand Central. One afternoon I begin reading Jane Eyre on the uptown local. As the train winds its way past the underground stations, I read about the deprivations Jane endures at Lowood. Never in my life have I heard a voice that resonates so deeply, and I am struck by Jane’s ability to speak the truth of her experience. At the beginning of the spring semester I befriend Naomi, a 206 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Anna Mitcov Jewish girl from Queens whose parents are both social workers. Naomi is bold and adventurous; together we roam all over the city. We visit the museums that are just a short walk from school: the Met, the Guggenheim, the Frick, and the Whitney. On the weekends we hang out in Greenwich Village. We go to poetry readings and attend dance performances for free. In the summer when the temperatures soar into the nineties, we go swimming at Far Rockaway. “You’re never home anymore,” my mother complains. It is obvious she doesn’t like Naomi. We have since left the projects and moved north to a neighborhood that is predominantly Italian and Irish. When I walk home in the afternoon I pass cliques of girls wearing high-heeled Candies with their Catholic school uniforms. “Why can’t you be more like those girls in the neighborhood?” my mother says one afternoon as she complains about the hole in my blue jeans. Over the past few months my hair has grown long and my clothes have become vaguely bohemian. I look at my mother in disbelief. After all I have been through, I am still not the daughter she wants me to be. Many years later, when my mother is almost seventy, she will tell me about a dream: “I am lost in the city running an errand. The streets are so narrow and the buildings so tall—taller than I’ve ever seen them. I have no idea where I’m going, but still I keep running. At some point I come upon a school building and there you are, standing in the doorway holding a key. You are just a little girl, no older than three or four, all by yourself in the city. “‘Where are you going with that key?’ I ask you. The key is almost as big as you are. You tell me you need it to get to the classroom across the street. That doesn’t make sense, I think. I begin to panic, but then I notice you are with some other girls. You seem very calm as if nothing is out of the ordinary. I know you’ll be ﬁne, so I continue on my journey. “By the end of the dream I am at the river’s edge asking some strangers for directions. The entire time I never ﬁgured out what the purpose of the errand was, but there you were in the doorway—just a little girl with a key.”
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Michele Morano Grammar Lessons: The Subjunctive Mood Think of it this way: learning to use the subjunctive mood is like learning to drive a stick shift. It’s like falling in love with a car that isn’t new or sporty but has a tilt steering wheel and a price you can aﬀord. It’s like being so in love with the possibilities, with the places you might go and the experiences you might have, that you pick up your new used car without quite knowing how to drive it, sputtering and stalling and rolling backward at every light. Then you drive the car each day for months, until the stalling stops and you ﬁgure out how to downshift, until you can hear the engine’s registers and move through them with grace. And later, after you’ve gained control over the driving and lost control over so much else, you sell the car and most of your possessions and move yourself to Spain, to a place where language and circumstance will help you understand the subjunctive. Remember that the subjunctive is a mood, not a tense. Verb tenses tell when something happens; moods tell how true. It’s easy to skim over moods in a new language, to translate the words and think you’ve understood, which is why your ﬁrst months in Spain will lack nuance. But eventually, after enough conversations have passed, enough hours of talking with your students at the University of Oviedo and your housemate, Lola, and the friends you make when you wander the streets looking like a foreigner, you’ll discover that you need the subjunctive in order to ﬁnish a question, or an answer, or a thought you couldn’t have had without it. In language, as in life, moods are complicated, but at least in language there are only two. The indicative mood is for knowledge, facts, absolutes, for describing what’s real or deﬁnite. You’d use the indicative to say, for example: I was in love. Or, The man I loved tried to kill himself. Or, I moved to Spain because the man I loved, the man who tried to kill himself, was driving me insane. 208 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Michele Morano The indicative helps you tell what happened or is happening or will happen in the future (when you believe you know for sure what the future will bring). The subjunctive mood, on the other hand, is uncertain. It helps you tell what could have been or might be or what you want but may not get. You’d use the subjunctive to say: I thought he’d improve without me. Or, I left so that he’d begin to take care of himself. Or later, after your perspective has been altered, by time and distance and a couple of cervezas in a brightly lit bar, you might say: I deserted him (indicative). I left him alone with his crazy self for a year (indicative). Because I hoped (after which begins the subjunctive) that being apart might allow us to come together again. English is losing the subjunctive mood. It lingers in some constructions (“If he were dead…,” for example), but it’s no longer pervasive. That’s the beauty and also the danger of English—that the deﬁnite and the might-be often look so much alike. And it’s the reason why, during a period in your life when everything feels hypothetical, Spain will be a very seductive place to live. In Spanish, verbs change to accommodate the subjunctive in every tense, and the rules, which are many and varied, have exceptions. In the beginning you may feel defeated by this, even hopeless and angry sometimes. But eventually, in spite of your frustration with trying to explain, you’ll know in the part of your mind that holds your stories, the part where grammar is felt before it’s understood, that the uses of the subjunctive matter.
1. with “ojalá” Ojalá means I hope or, more literally, that Allah is willing. It’s one of the many words left over from the Moorish occupation of Spain, one that’s followed by the subjunctive mood because, of course, you never know for sure what Allah has in mind. During the ﬁrst months in Spain, you’ll use the word by itself, a Crab Orchard Review
Michele Morano kind of dangling wish. “It’s supposed to rain,” Lola will say, and you’ll respond, “Ojalá.” You’ll know you’re confusing her, leaving her to ﬁgure out whether you want the rain or not, but sometimes the mistakes are too hard to bear. “That Allah is willing it wouldn’t have raining,” you might accidentally say. And besides, so early into this year of living freely, you’re not quite sure what to hope for. Each time you say Ojalá, it will feel like a prayer, the “ja” and “la” like breaths, like faith woven right into the language. It will remind you of La Mezquita, the enormous, graceful mosque in Córdoba. Of being eighteen years old and visiting Spain for the ﬁrst time, how you stood in the courtyard ﬁlled with orange trees, trying to admire the building before you. You had a fever then, a summer virus you hadn’t yet recognized because it was so hot outside. Too hot to lift a hand to fan your face. Too hot to wonder why your head throbbed and the world spun slowly around you. Inside, the darkness felt like cool water covering your eyes, such contrast, such relief. And then the pillars began to emerge, rows and rows of pillars supporting red and white brick arches, a massive stone ceiling balanced above them like a thought. You swam behind the guide, not even trying to understand his words but soothed by the vastness, by the shadows. Each time you felt dizzy you looked up toward the arches, the ﬂoating stone. Toward something that felt, you realized uncomfortably, like God. Or Allah. Or whatever force inspired people to defy gravity this way. Ten years later, after you’ve moved to Oviedo, the man you left behind in New York will come to visit. You’ll travel south with him, returning to La Mezquita on a January afternoon when the air is mild and the orange trees wave tiny green fruit. He’ll carry the guidebook, checking it periodically to get the history straight, while you try to reconcile the place before you with the place in your memory, comparing the shadows of this low sun with the light of another season. You’ll be here because you want this man to see La Mezquita. You want him to feel the mystery of a darkness that amazes and consoles, that makes you feel the presence in empty spaces of something you can’t explain. Approaching the shadow of the door, you’ll each untie the sweaters from around your waists, slipping your arms into them and then into each other’s. He will squint and you will hold your breath. Ojalá, you’ll think, glimpsing in the shadows the subjunctive mood at work. 210 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
2. after words of suasion and negation In Oviedo, you’ll become a swimmer. Can you imagine? Two or three times a week you’ll pack a bag and walk for thirty-ﬁve minutes to the university pool, where you’ll place clothes and contact lenses in a locker, then sink into a crowded lane. The pool is a mass of blurry heads and arms, some of which know what they’re doing and most of which, like you, are ﬂailing. You keep bumping into people as you make your way from one end of the pool to the other, but no one gets upset, and you reason that any form of motion equals exercise. Then one day a miracle happens. You notice the guy in the next lane swimming like a pro, his long arms cutting ahead as he glides, rhythmically, stroke-stroke-breath. You see and hear and feel the rhythm, and before long you’re following him, stroking when he strokes, breathing when he breathes. He keeps getting away, swimming three laps to your every one, so you wait at the edge of the pool for him to come back, then follow again, practicing. At the end of an hour, you realize that this man you don’t know, a man you wouldn’t recognize clothed, has taught you to swim. To breathe. To use the water instead of ﬁghting against it. For this alone, you’ll later say, it was worth moving to Spain. Stroke-stroke-breath becomes the rhythm of your days, the rhythm of your life in Oviedo. All through the fall months, missing him the way you’d miss a limb, your muscles strain to create distance. Shallow end to deep end and back, you’re swimming away. From memories of abrupt mood shifts. From the way a question, a comment, a person walking past a restaurant window could transform him into a hunched-over man wearing anger like a shawl. From the echo of your own voice trying to be patient and calm, saying, Listen to me. I want you to call the doctor. In English you said listen and call, and they were the same words you’d use to relate a fact instead of make a plea. But in Spanish, in the language that ﬁlls your mind as you swim continually away, the moment you try to persuade someone, or dissuade, you enter the realm of the subjunctive. The verb ends diﬀerently so there can be no mistake: requesting is not at all the same as getting.
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3. with “si” or “como si” Si means if. Como si means as if. A clause that begins with si or como si is followed by the subjunctive when the meaning is hypothetical or contrary to fact. For example: If I’d known he would harm himself, I wouldn’t have left him alone. But here we have to think about whether the if-clause really is contrary to fact. Two days before, you’d asked him what he felt like doing that night and he’d responded, “I feel like jumping oﬀ the MidHudson Bridge.” He’d looked serious when he said it, and even so you’d replied, “Really? Would you like me to drive you there?” As if it were a joke. If you knew he were serious, that he were thinking of taking his life, would you have replied with such sarcasm? In retrospect it seems impossible not to have known—the classic signs were there. For weeks he’d been sad, self-pitying. He’d been sleeping too much, getting up to teach his Freshman Composition class in the morning, then going home some days and staying in bed until evening. His sense of humor had waned. He’d begun asking the people around him to cheer him up, make him feel better, please. And yet he’d been funny. Ironic, self-deprecating, hyperbolic. So no one’s saying you should have known, just that maybe you felt a hint of threat in his statement about the river. And maybe that angered you because it meant you were failing to be enough for him. Maybe you were tired, too, in need of cheering up yourself because suddenly your perfect guy had turned inside out. Or maybe that realization came later, after you’d had the time and space to develop theories. The truth is, only you know what you know. And what you know takes the indicative, remember? For example: You knew he was hurting himself. The moment you saw the note on his oﬃce door, in the campus building where you were supposed to meet him on a Sunday afternoon, you knew. The note said, “I’m not feeling well. I’m going home. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.” He didn’t use your name. You tried calling him several times but there was no answer, so you drove to the apartment he shared with another graduate student. The 212 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Michele Morano front door was unlocked, but his bedroom door wouldn’t budge. You knocked steadily but not too loud, because his housemate’s bedroom door was also closed and you assumed he was inside taking a nap. If you’d known that his housemate was not actually home, you would have broken down the door. That scenario is hypothetical, so it takes the subjunctive—even though you’re quite sure. The human mind can reason its way around anything. On the drive to your own apartment, you told yourself, He’s angry with me. That’s why the door was locked, why he wouldn’t answer the phone. You thought, If he weren’t so close to his family, I’d really be worried. If today weren’t Mother’s Day. If he didn’t talk so aﬀectionately about his parents. About his brother and sisters. About our future. If, if, if. When the phone rang and there was silence on the other end, you began to shout, “What have you done?” In Spain, late at night over chupitos of bourbon or brandy, you and Lola will trade stories. Early on you won’t understand a lot of what she says, and she’ll understand what you say but not what you mean. You won’t know how to say what you mean in Spanish; sometimes you won’t even know how to say it in English. But as time goes on, the stories you tell will become more complicated. More subtle. More grammatically daring. You’ll begin to feel more at ease in the unreal. For example: If you hadn’t gone straight home from his apartment. If you hadn’t answered the phone. If you hadn’t jumped back into your car to drive nine miles in record time, hoping the whole way to be stopped by the police. If you hadn’t met him on the porch where he had staggered in blood-soaked clothes. If you hadn’t rushed upstairs for a towel and discovered a ﬂooded bedroom ﬂoor, the blood separating into water and rust-colored clumps. If you hadn’t been available for this emergency. As the months pass in Spain, you’ll begin to risk the then. His housemate would have come home and found him the way you found him: deep gashes in his arm, but the wounds clotting enough to keep him alive, enough to narrowly avoid a transfusion. His housemate would have called the paramedics, ridden to the hospital in the ambulance, notiﬁed his parents from the emergency room and greeted them after their three-hour drive. His housemate would have done all the things you did, and he would have cleaned the mess by himself instead of with your help, the two of you borrowing a neighbor’s wetCrab Orchard Review
Michele Morano vac and working diligently until you—or he—or both of you—burst into hysterical laughter. Later this housemate would have moved to a new apartment, just as he has done, and would probably be no worse oﬀ than he is right now. You, on the other hand, would have felt ashamed, guilty, remiss for not being available in a time of crisis. But you wouldn’t have found yourself leaning over a stretcher in the emergency room, a promise slipping from your mouth before you could think it through: “I won’t leave you. Don’t worry, I won’t leave you.” As if it were true.
4. after impersonal expressions Such as it is possible, it is a shame, it is absurd. “It’s possible that I’m making things worse in some ways,” you told the counselor you saw on Thursday afternoons. He’d been out of the hospital for a few months by then and had a habit of missing his therapy appointments, to which you could only respond by signing up for your own. She asked how you were making things worse, and you explained that when you told him you needed to be alone for a night and he showed up anyway at 11:00, pleading to stay over, you couldn’t turn him away. She said, “It’s a shame he won’t honor your request,” and you pressed your ﬁngernails into the ﬂesh of your palm to keep your eyes from ﬁlling. She asked why you didn’t want him to stay over, and you said that sometimes you just wanted to sleep, without waking up when he went to the bathroom and listening to make sure he came back to bed instead of taking all the Tylenol in the medicine cabinet. Or sticking his head in the gas oven. Or diving from the balcony onto the hillside three stories below. There is nothing, you told her, nothing I haven’t thought of. She said, “Do you think he’s manipulating you?” and you answered in the mood of certainty, “Yes. Absolutely.” Then you asked, “Isn’t it absurd that I let him manipulate me?” and what you wanted, of course, was some reassurance that it wasn’t absurd. That you were a normal person, reacting in a normal way, to a crazy situation. Instead she said, “Let’s talk about why you let him. Let’s talk about what’s in this for you.”
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5. after verbs of doubt or emotion You didn’t think he was much of a prospect at first. Because he seemed arrogant. Because in the initial meetings for new instructors, he talked as if he were doing it the right way and the rest of you were pushovers. Because he looked at you with one eye squinted, as if he couldn’t quite decide. You liked that he was funny, a little theatrical and a great fan of supermarkets. At 10:00, after evening classes ended, he’d say, “Are you going home?” Sometimes you’d oﬀer to drop him oﬀ at his place. Sometimes you’d agree to go out for a beer. And sometimes you’d say, “Yeah, but I have to go to the store ﬁrst,” and his eyes would light up. In the supermarket he’d push the cart and you’d pick items oﬀ the shelf. Maybe you’d turn around and there would be a whole rack of frozen ribs in your cart, or after you put them back, three boxes of Lucky Charms. Maybe he’d be holding a package of pfeﬀernusse and telling a story about his German grandmother. Maybe it would take two hours to run your errand because he was courting you in ShopRite. You doubted that you’d sleep with him a second time. After the ﬁrst time, you both lay very still for a while, ﬂat on your backs, not touching. He seemed to be asleep. You watched the digital clock hit 2:30 a.m. and thought about ﬁnding your turtleneck and sweater and wool socks, lacing up your boots and heading out into the snow. And then out of the blue he rolled toward you, pulled the blanket up around your shoulders, and said, “Is there anything I can get you? A cup of tea? A sandwich?” You were thrilled at the breaks in his depression, breaks that felt like new beginnings, every time. Days, sometimes even weeks, when he seemed more like himself than ever before. Friends would ask how he was doing, and he’d oﬀer a genuine smile. “Much better,” he’d say, putting his arm around you, “She’s pulling me through the deathwish phase.” Everyone would laugh with relief, and at those moments you’d feel luckier than ever before, because of the contrast. Do you see the pattern?
6. to express good wishes Que tengas muy buen viaje, Lola will say, kissing each of your cheeks before leaving you oﬀ at the bus station. May you have a good Crab Orchard Review
Michele Morano trip. A hope, a wish, a prayer of sorts, even without the ojalá. The bus ride from Oviedo to Madrid is nearly six hours, so you have a lot of time for imagining. It’s two days after Christmas, and you know he spent the holiday at his parents’ house, that he’s there right now, maybe eating breakfast, maybe packing. Tonight his father will drive him to Kennedy Airport, and tomorrow morning, very early, you’ll meet him at Barajas in Madrid. You try to envision what he’ll look like, the expression on his face when he sees you, but you’re having trouble recalling what it’s like to be in his presence. You try not to hope too much, although now, four months into your life in Spain, you want to move toward, instead of away. Toward long drives on winding, mountain roads, toward the cathedral of Toledo, the mosque at Córdoba, the Alhambra in Granada. Toward romantic dinners along the Mediterranean. Toward a new place from which to view the increasingly distant past. You want this trip to create a separation, in your mind and in his, between your ﬁrst relationship and your real relationship, the one that will be so wonderful, so stable, you’ll never leave him again. Once you’ve reached Madrid and found the pensión where you’ve reserved a room, you’ll get the innkeeper to help you make an international call. His father will say, “My God, he can’t sit still today,” and then there will be his voice, asking how your bus ride was, where you are, how far from the airport. You’ll say, “I’ll see you in the morning.” He’ll reply, “In seventeen hours.” The next morning, the taxi driver is chatty. He wants to know why you’re going to the airport without luggage, and your voice is happy and excited when you explain. He asks whether this boyfriend writes you letters, and you smile and nod at the reﬂection in the rearview mirror. “Many letters?” he continues, “Do you enjoy receiving the letters?” In Spain you’re always having odd conversations with strangers, so you hesitate only a moment, wondering why he cares, and then you say, “Yes. Very much.” He nods emphatically. “Muy bien.” At the terminal he drops you oﬀ with a broad smile. “Que lo pases bien con tu novio,” he says. Have a good time with your boyfriend. In his words you hear the requisite subjunctive mood. 7. in adverbial clauses denoting purpose, provision, exception How different to walk down the street in Madrid, Toledo, Córdoba, to notice an elaborate fountain or a tiny car parked half on 216 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Michele Morano the sidewalk, and comment aloud. You’ve loved being alone in Spain and now, even more, you love being paired. On the ﬁfth day you reach Granada, ﬁnd lodging in someone’s home. Down the hallway you can hear the family watching TV, cooking, preparing to celebrate New Year’s Eve. In the afternoon you climb the long, slow hill leading to the Alhambra and spend hours touring the complex. You marvel at the elaborate irrigation system, the indoor baths with running water, the stunning mosaic tiles and views of the Sierra Nevada. Here is the room where Boabdil signed the city’s surrender to Ferdinand and Isabella; here is where Washington Irving lived while writing Tales of the Alhambra. Occasionally you separate, as he inspects a mural and you follow a hallway into a lush courtyard, each of your imaginations working to restore this place to its original splendor. When you come together again, every time, there’s a thrill. He looks rested, relaxed, strolling through the gardens with his hands tucked into the front pockets of his pants. When you enter the Patio of the Lions—the famous courtyard where a circle of marble lions project water into a reﬂecting pool—he turns to you, wide-eyed, his face as open as a boy’s. “Isn’t it pretty?” you keep asking, feeling shy because what you mean is: “Are you glad to be here?” “So pretty,” he responds, taking hold of your arm, touching his lips to your hair. The day is perfect, you think. The trip is perfect. You allow yourself a moment of triumph: I left him so that he would get better without me, and he did. I worked hard and saved money and invited him on this trip in case there’s still hope for us. And there is. Unless. In language, as in experience, we have purpose, provision, exception. None of which necessarily matches reality, and all of which take the subjunctive. On the long walk back down the hill toward your room, he turns quiet. You ﬁnd yourself talking more than usual, trying to ﬁll the empty space with cheerful commentary, but it doesn’t help. The shape of his face begins to change until there it is again, that landscape of furrows and crags. The jaw thrusts slightly, lips pucker, eyebrows arch as if to say, “I don’t care. About anything.” Back in the room, you ask him what’s wrong, plead with him to tell you. You can talk about anything, you assure him, anything at all. And yet you’re stunned when his brooding turns accusatory. He says Crab Orchard Review
Michele Morano it isn’t fair. You don’t understand how diﬃcult it is to be him. Your life is easy, so easy that even moving to a new country, taking up a new language, is eﬀortless. While every day is a struggle for him. Don’t you see that? Every day is a struggle. He lowers the window shade and gets into bed, his back turned toward you. What to do? You want to go back outside into the mild air and sunshine, walk until you remember what it feels like to be completely alone. But you’re afraid to leave him. For the duration of his ninetyminute nap, you sit paralyzed. Everything feels unreal, the darkened room, the squeals of children in another part of the house, the burning sensation in your stomach. You tremble, ﬁrst with sadness and fear, then with anger. Part of you wants to wake him, tell him to collect his things, then drive him back to the airport in Madrid. You want to send him home again, away from your new country, the place where you live unencumbered—but with a good deal of eﬀort, thank you. The other part of you wants to wail, to beat your ﬁsts against the wall and howl, Give him back to me. Remember: purpose, provision, exception. The subjunctive runs parallel to reality.
8. after certain indications of time, if the action has not occurred While is a subjunctive state of mind. So are until, as soon as, before, and after. By now you understand why, right? Because until something has happened, you can’t be sure. In Tarifa, the wind blows and blows. You learn this even before arriving, as you drive down route 15 past Gibraltar. You’re heading toward the southern-most point in Spain, toward warm sea breezes and a small town oﬀ the beaten path. You drive conﬁdently, shifting quickly through the gears to keep pace with the traﬃc around you. He reclines in the passenger’s seat, one foot propped against the dashboard, reading from The Real Guide open against his thigh. “Spreading out beyond its Moorish walls, Tarifa is known in Spain for its abnormally high suicide rate—a result of the unremitting winds that blow across the town and its environs.” You say, “Tell me you’re joking.” He says, “How’s that for luck?” Three days before, you’d stood in Granada’s crowded city square at midnight, each eating a grape for every stroke of the New Year. If 218 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Michele Morano you eat all twelve grapes in time, tradition says, you’ll have plenty of luck in the coming year. It sounds wonderful—such an easy way to secure good fortune—until you start eating and time gets ahead, so far ahead that no matter how fast you chew and swallow, midnight sounds with three grapes left. In Tarifa, you come down with the flu. It hits hard and fast— one minute you’re strolling through a white-washed coastal town, and the next you’re huddled in bed in a stupor. He goes to the pharmacy and, with a handful of Spanish words and many gestures, procures the right medicine. You sleep all day, through the midday meal, through the time of siesta, past sundown and into the evening. When you wake the room is fuzzy and you’re alone, with a vague memory of him rubbing your back, saying something about a movie. Carefully you rise and make your way to the bathroom—holding onto the bed, the doorway, the sink—then stand on your toes and look out the window into the blackness. By day there’s a thin line of blue mountains across the strait, and you imagine catching the ferry at dawn and watching that sliver of Morocco rise up from the shadows to become a whole continent. You imagine standing on the other side and looking back toward the tip of Spain, this tiny town where the winds blow and blow. That’s how easy it is to keep traveling once you start, putting distance between the various parts of your life, imagining yourself over and over again into entirely new places. Chilly and sweating, you make your way back to bed, your stomach ﬂuttering nervously. You think back to Granada, how he’d woken from a nap on that dark afternoon and apologized. “I don’t know what got into me today,” he’d said, “This hasn’t been happening.” You believe it’s true, it hasn’t been happening. But you don’t know how true. You think: he’s ﬁne now. There’s no need to worry. He’s been ﬁne for days, happy and calm. I’m overreacting. But overreaction is a slippery slope. With the wind howling continuously outside, the room feels small and isolated. You don’t know that he’s happy and calm right now, do you? You don’t know how he is today at all, because you’ve slept and slept and barely talked to him. You think: if the movie started on time—but movies never start on time in Spain, so you add, subtract, try to play it safe, and determine that by 10:45 your fretting will be justiﬁed. At 11:00 you’ll get dressed and go looking, and if you can’t ﬁnd him, what will you do? Wait until Crab Orchard Review
Michele Morano midnight for extra measure? And then call the police? And tell them what, that he isn’t back yet and you’re afraid because you’re sick and he’s alone and the wind here blows and blows, enough to make people crazy, the book says, make them suicidal? This is the when, the while, the until. The before and after. The real and the unreal in precarious balance. This is what you moved to Spain to escape from, and here it is again, following you. The next time you wake, the room seems brighter, more familiar. You sit up and squint against the light. His cheeks are ﬂushed, hair mussed from the wind. His eyes are clear as a morning sky. “Hi sweetie,” he says, putting a hand on your forehead. “You still have a fever. How do you feel?” He smells a little musty, like the inside of a community theater where not many people go on a Sunday night in early January. He says, “The movie was hilarious.” You ask whether he understood it and he shrugs. Then he acts out a scene using random Spanish words as a voice over, and you laugh and cough until he ﬂops down on his stomach beside you. Here it comes again, the contrast between what was, just a little while ago, and what is now. After all this time and all these miles, you’re both here, in a Spanish town with a view of Africa. You feel amazed, dizzy, as if swimming outside yourself. You’re talking with him, but you’re also watching yourself talk with him. And then you’re sleeping and watching yourself sleep, dreaming and thinking about the dreams. Throughout the night you move back and forth, here and there, between what is and what might be, tossed by language and possibility and the constantly shifting wind.
9. in certain independent clauses There’s something extraordinary—isn’t there?—about learning to speak Spanish as an adult, about coming to see grammar as a set of guidelines not just for saying what you mean but for understanding the way you live. There’s something extraordinary about thinking in a language that insists on marking the limited power of desire. For example: At Barajas Airport in Madrid, you walk him to the boarding gate. He turns to face you, hands on your arms, eyes green as the sea. He says, “Only a few more months and we’ll be together for good, right sweetie?” He watches your face, waiting for a response, but you know this isn’t a decision, something you can say yes to. So 220 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Michele Morano you smile, eyes burning, and give a slight nod. What you mean is, I hope so. What you think is, Ojalá. And what you know is this: The subjunctive is the mood of mystery. Of luck. Of faith interwoven with doubt. It’s a held breath, a hand reaching out, carefully touching wood. It’s humility, deference, the opposite of hubris. And it’s going to take a long time to master. But at least the ﬁnal rule of usage is simple, self-contained, one you can commit to memory: Certain independent clauses exist only in the subjunctive mood, lacing optimism with resignation, hope with heartache. Be that as it may, for example. Or the phrase one says at parting, eyes closed as if in prayer, May all go well with you.
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Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie Her Voice for Dr. Nina Simone Bowl of crushed blueberries, knife edge, cracked calabash, heavy truth, ancient wine and renegade bones, rise up white wings of doves, tapestry of nerve, daughter of well-aimed lightning Blinded compromise nail like tongue bitter root, burnt honey tornado blackness bent-backed women walked up her throat, ďŹ‚ew straight arrow from her mouth, Mississippi, Gullah, baptism, the Nile, Congo, belly of slave ships, Harlem potent cocktail of her pitch black notes divined riots on piano keys, exiled, and passion 222 â—† Crab Orchard Review
Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie and turbulent ritual. She was that sound in the racing heart of thunder
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Amber Flora Thomas The Killed Rabbit In its eye a universe: the white sea of a cutting board, the gray muﬄed fringe of a foot, and the whiskered spikes converging in there, intruding equally on one another; a knowing endless with the moment of the room. No longer able to look away, or gaze past, or see into, yet obligated by depth and unfailing light. Fixed with all that is far-gone. Distilled to believe all at once in geographies. Electric with repeating the truth, not blinking away from the blades of a ceiling fan churning the steamy kitchen air. Renewed in the execution of being seen. Then the head’s chopped oﬀ, eclipsed by the need for disregard: the necessity of ﬂesh and the crude jarrings of meat being stripped down to a stasis of red. The eye assuming the transﬁxed nature of water when engulfed in the black plastic lining a tub. Vision is in fact a reckless understanding displaced in the tide of all that knows itself held there.
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Amber Flora Thomas
Migraine Confessional I’ve been seeing cubist all day, the human-shape a hazard, assuming too much light. Your lips a piece. Your tongue an instrument of static. Don’t look at me so carefully. Inside my head, I hear expulsions. I can’t speak. My temples hold sound verbatim: ocean, ocean and sea-grass, wind rush. Sun heat in my lap. I can’t look at you. Loneliness hurries through me, bellying up in terror the mess I make. Point of light or point of dark, the fault eddies between my eyes. Seeing won’t let up: a white bird thrashing. I’ve got to name the ghost something other than crimson, knife. If I could just undo the loneliness… The truth is, I will break myself to see.
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Amber Flora Thomas
Unattended Prayer Love a ribbon, love a kite tail, and love a feather that has known its season on the wing. It’s a prayer I don’t listen to, as the curtain fans its ﬂoral arm into the room and I hold a woman who cannot ﬁnd her way into feeling. I call her birds into my branches and she ﬂoods my mouth with escapes. I sense the hollow in my thoughts. My throat wrecked by all the not saying. I will attend to an eternity of “I.” I want to ask if there is an origin for the scent, a body for the bloom. I reach for her and the consequence is feeling. I know I’m not hungry enough for this afternoon’s psalm.
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Amber Flora Thomas
The Get Away In the October accolade of green, I run a red trail further into its dirt. Pine needles blur in the canopy, the sky in a puddle explodes with me. I cannot be accountable for depth. I breathe in and shadows fall under the quickness of my feet. A stick snaps and another runner plummets along the north trail, also certain that here, here the transience is spectral and determined by epiphany. I need not know my accomplice. Wind-swept, my jacket zipper makes cricket notes against my stride. I am alone again. Inside, the surprise is gone. What is coming will not be comprehended. I can never catch its eye around a tree. Air is a dry pinch, holding long ﬁngers around my neck. My ponytail ﬂings cool tears of sweat on the backs of my hands. I lose the trail and myself only to ﬁnd the rough leaping of a shadow shaped like a horse that also makes its way through the forest. Its canter is careless and impossible to escape.
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Samantha Thornhill Ode to Joy Keep your mouth shut sky, as I drive down the ribs of this land; don’t break into your melon hymn, not yet. Just me and you Joy, and this bugsplattered glass. A bright ribbon of traﬃc coughs north. But my road’s dark, wrenches like love. I’m the world’s candy, brightly-wrapped sin. I watch the miles slip under my heels, and the sky loosen its lips in song. How the sun rinses night with its yellow gloves! So immense with you
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Samantha Thornhill in my lonely skin. Itâ€™s 6 a.m. Why do I feel so achingly alive? How? How long will you last?
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Lice First day in an American school, I imagined Ms. Benvenuti’s dark Italian hair on my head, wished it down to my knees. She introduced the class to me and they went right back to cutting whatever they were cutting. I thought it was strange, the white lady ﬂoating from one head to the next— parting curtains of hair and scratching scalps with the tip of a ballpoint pen. They didn’t seem to notice her either. The lady didn’t tap me with her blue wand; I didn’t mind. Ms. Benvenuti seated me next to an Indian girl and said she was from Trinidad too. I said hi. Her eyelashes were so long I thought they would ﬂy away. Hi, she said and went back to cutting. She didn’t sound like home.
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Bradford Tice Silver As with everything, there is a need for a beginning. Catalysts of rainwater and earth-mulch, inﬂuences of tide fetch silver-bellied frogs to the muddy lips of ponds, their skins an oil slick of poisons, the savor of bitter loam. They make of their lives something barely decipherable— undersides of leaf, gray-lichened robes of the trees. Each are diminished at the swampy margins, mislaid to view, acknowledged only by their voices. Yet you do not doubt their attendance in the congress of the ﬁeld. They are the reedy ideas of song. Consider what this means, the loss of oneself to ambient camouﬂage, your homeland any soft element of earth.
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Fire You remember the smell of paste, vivid ﬂares of construction paper—Mrs. King instructing you which shapes to cut from what color. Now, whenever you think oval, you’ll think pink. In kindergarten, lessons are made simple and primary. You learn about life on the day of your ﬁrst solar eclipse, the light leaving you with a Styrofoam cup of dirt, a handful of gritty seeds—marigolds. Mrs. King directs you and your fellow classmates to plant the granules deep in the earth you’ve contained. Afterwards, you set them on a dark windowsill, and as a boyish girl dares you to look at the absence of the sky, you imagine pleated heads blazing from the loam and silt. Bigger than you, she grabs the back of your skull, forces your gaze out the window. Look at it, someone instructs. Now, whenever you think circle you’ll think black with burning edges. And the moment shortly after, when your head is released and the circle goes white— negative to positive. Your comrades will crowd around you, peer into your dulled eyes and ask, what did you see? You won’t be able to answer, having learned blindness is a state of mind where no radiance enters and recognition begins. Weeks later, marigolds will push their lion-heads from under their crusts of soil—all but yours. You’ll take home your cup of unnourishing earth, toss it in the bed of elephant ears beside the door. Come next year, something bright will bend its way 232 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Bradford Tice around the shields of heart-shaped, green fronds. This is another lesson you will learn. Loss can also be gain. That though we be broken and sightless, somewhere within us something springs from a dense core, races toward the edges and its light.
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Daniel Tobin Ghazal After the end the calm endurance of things, As if life had lapsed into a dance of things. What did he pray when all was taken from him? To live at the pleasure of the chance of things. He loved good books and inhabited their spells, Believed they could cure his ignorance of things. Once, dining at a restaurant on the coast, He mistook heaven for the dalliance of things. Race Point at daybreak, its tidal conﬂuence… Ocean blended to sky: the seance of things. One is one, mon semblable, yet one is many. O to live at the heart of the France of things! The poet courted death; though what is poetry But a line to get inside the pants of things? Only a slave would mock Job in his distress, His raised ﬁst, his plea, his deﬁance of things. Narcissus blooming, the secret he bestows, To keep the mind whole inside the glance of things. What he silently wished was what he most feared— That there was no hope, no transcendence of things. Daniel means “God’s judge.” His best self longed for God, A home within the extravagance of things. 234 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
False Spring after reading “An Appeal to Abolish War” This morning in surprising light last fall’s ﬁsted cluster of leaves appeared earth’s new growth, delicate as baby’s breath, the blaze of lace on a wedding gown’s frilly cuﬀ, as if bare limbs could change to sleeves that waver in the wind’s chill scarf. The eye, unseasonable, gleans its wish—rose blossoms from gun-scopes, a world more real in sibilance than scorn—but mindful of a stain like the mote at the root of a glance: this sky’s gray, unbroken stone, the burden of tomorrow’s snow. for John F. Deane
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Elegy Where does it come from now—disturbance of the air, your voice a breath of wind, muﬄed hum strained for through years like gauze, or sound waves caught in skull’s resonant bone? My voice or yours? If yours, barely audible, still it breaches the passage, thrums inside, takes its shape at the ear’s forge and hurtles for the curled shell of sound, for the labyrinth: Once you had a brother, that child at prayer in the old print you kept on your dresser, forever posed in his ﬁrst communion suit, black hair combed back, his face so like yours he could be my brother, his hands a church, folded temple from which rosaries hung their given cross. You held those small hands rounded by life that were surface to me. What you could not see was the bone’s process, the knot of poison in the honeycomb where temporal plate meets cartilage, and his absent future like a depth-sounding through fathoms of your life, incessant tune played and played again in some dark chamber. Did you blame yourself? Did I become him, crammed in the carriage, belated infancy?—
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Daniel Tobin how you’d wait up nights for your grown son I thought you were killed to return home, though I had moved away, had turned away from hands that would hold me tight as bottles hidden under chairs, or that raw cruciﬁx you’d press into your palm to make the wound palpable, to make your body the host of the speechless thing that consumed you. After you died, I found the police blotter among the safe deposit scraps, your ﬁngerprints the ham-ﬁsted stain of your father’s punishment for running away—were you ten years old?— unable to stand the loss. Then the weeks kept from home at relatives, then the years with their refusals and failures of love, with their trials of forgiveness falling deaf. I hear what I can never know of your pain like imagined rumblings from that fenced-in lot where you said they’d kept the ape Gargantua, its huge form stalking through the wilderness. Mother, that name you never taught me to call you, that echoed like embarrassment, what frequency will carry it to you now who are less than a whisper, a hiss of tides, this amplitude, this silent drumming in my ears?
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Jennifer Tseng Prayer for MS Cardinal in snow, blood with wings, ﬁst of ﬁre in winter sings. Sparks from twigs of bodies touching, heat we make for others. Elegant marks made in secret on ether. Healing fever, map of ﬂaws, map of one’s salvation. Here inﬁnity attends to measure; the hungry ﬁnd transfusion. Birds in formation across the sky, cave for dreaming, nest for sleep, wind, bee’s breath, tree’s sigh. Rain pouring upward, water that leaps at the mouth of God, a drink, a scrawl, leaf that loves the wind too much to fall.
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Charles Harper Webb She Is or Isn’t Wishing won’t help. Worry won’t help any more than shoving my hands to the side and corkscrewing my body will turn a foul ball fair. The sperm has swum up the right tube, or it has not. A fertile egg was there, or it was not. The sperm did or didn’t penetrate the egg, which did or didn’t make it without breaking down the fallopian water-slide, and did or didn’t implant in Karen’s uterus, triggering production of human chorionic gonadotropin, which is in her urine, or is not. Either way, we have options: Make love more frequently, at more fertile times. (Tests can show these.) Play Bach to the foetus in the womb. In either case, the Yes or No aria has been sung; now we must dare to play the tape. Two days we’ve stalled, stuck in the quantum world where a box can hold a cat which is simultaneously dead / not dead, and stays in that state of possibility until the box Crab Orchard Review
Charles Harper Webb is opened, and the cat observed. We want to hug our youth tight, and embrace maturity—to stay diaper-free, and cheer Little League games which have already occurred and not occurred. That’s why my heart stammers, and Karen won’t get up. She knows she’ll ﬁnally ﬁll her plastic cup, collect the product in a dropper, drip four times into the SAMPLE hole, then—as I grip the stopwatch— wait ﬁve minutes while a purple line appears, or fails to. Not deciding the case; stating the verdict. One door opens; millions shut. We are two gods, bringing life into this world. Or we are not.
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Lesley Wheeler One World Only Killer Dolphins, the headline squalls. I scan past accounts of eco-tourists dragged underwater by those blunt-toothed smilers. My friend in neuropsych had urged another piece, new science on alien abduction. Called sleep paralysis, this disorder— the result of a disconnect between brain and body as a person is on the fringe of sleep— is turning out to be increasingly common. The writer catalogs contact tales from diverse cultures, quotes a doctor on the symptoms: A sensed presence, vague gibberish spoken in one’s ear, shadowy creatures moving about the room, strange immobility, a crushing pressure, sensations of ﬂoating… Disappointingly, reassuringly, the story tapers oﬀ in seems, either, murky. Those who believe in alien abduction drown like eco-tourists in absurd denial. I believe in (and with) a physical mind, but what about the fringe of sleep routes visitors to nearly half of all people at least once? Lacking, I admit, much science, I still say the scoﬀers might as well join cults—their pose seems just as rational and far less sexy. My friend, no scoﬀer but gently skeptic, shares my club sandwich; water condenses on our cups and my sweaty clothes stick to the chair. “No one confesses abduction to me,” she observes over gazpacho, so our talk paddles casually into déja vû. “Neurons misﬁre,” she hazards, perhaps Crab Orchard Review
Lesley Wheeler in a tiny version of the madly blinking lobes of epilepsy (I see a berserk Christmas tree). Later I wish I’d asked how a memory, more neurons consorting, diﬀers from a misﬁre, except that no one challenges the data. She would have sighed at me, straining to explain a process she scarcely kenned to the belligerent. Instead, to mollify her lunch date, she recites her best uncanny dream. “I prayed to God for a baby sister; I dreamt of a toddler with my real sister Beth’s sleek pageboy, but gabby and grinning and knocking her legs, in casts, against the low stone wall she perched on. Two years later, my mom delivered Lynn, Beth’s twin, but gregarious. The doctors soon locked her legs into braces.” A wishfulﬁlling vision, surely; she dips a white hand into an eddy of curls and explains how badly she, the rambunctious child in a quiet house, needed a partner in crime. “I can’t explain the casts, but I had worn corrective shoes.” Our ﬂesh pricks in reluctant bumps as we chat about memory, how the prescient dream stays while twenty false prophecies melt into dew. As we drive home, we seem to raft along the surface of a wave that winks and webs the light, one world only, cool nothing beneath.
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Matt Zambito Just Today Columbus, Ohio, May 4, 2000 There’s just no reason not to be alive today. The city’s sewers are keeping their stink to themselves like an opinion; the cardinals won’t stop singing something you could never feel the need to alter; the sunrays shine so wonderfully warm they burn beyond cliché. I’d love to raise the dead today, to wake their bony souls out of whatever they’re stuck in forever. Civil War nurses, Warren G. Harding, the Aztecs, Nancy, my high school sweetheart, whose corpse has moldered for ten calendars—today, they’d all come back like boomerangs, like letters lacking postage, like the quiet answers to prayers. Suddenly, a trillion, trillion, trillion people would be wandering around Columbus, which is hardly Heaven, in heavenly harmony, shocked they’d been gone for a week or an eon. I’d keep munching my apple & watch the living & the just-now-not-dead enjoy the smell of cut graveyard grass, alley cats curling around their legs, the pound of pavement as they bound down Broad Street. They’d beg me all at once to have two days, but of course, I can’t make any of this true, & I’ve fallen too in love with this breeze blowing like the mint-fresh breath of God, & the way it can evaporate my body’s heat & ﬂick ﬂecks of me away.
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Chuck Berry Knocks Us Dead Geneseo, New York, 1995 Halfway through the set, more than halfway through his life, his arthritic ﬁngers fumble, like this is his ﬁrst time, across the long neck and big body mid“Maybellene,” but my mother, ever-loyal, applauds, elated. His brain’s losing the rock he invented the way the light bulb above Edison’s head surely started dimming toward the end. But Chuck churns electric tonight, crooning to “Nadine” as if she could still walk toward a coﬀee colored Cadillac and the alliteration had a chance to matter. Like my father, the back-up band grew up playing along with vinyls, and the men only met the man tonight, so when Berry points his guitar like the ﬁnger of Yahweh, they solo as nervous as Noahs. When he wails his Gibson on “Louis to Frisco,” I bounce my head toward my parents who, I hope, are reminiscing listening into love in ’58 at one of his gigs. Like this song knows, I know I’m here today and gone tomorrow, and they must know he can’t sing forever, must know one of them will disappear ﬁrst. Just then, “Johnny B. Goode” duckwalks across the stage, the crowd, adoring in agreement, ﬂips out, the littlest kids and oldest original fans turn sixteen, and later, when he screams to Beethoven’s corpse, any kind of aging in us can’t help but roll over and die. 244 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Morrill, Donald. The Untouched Minutes. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. 99 pages. $21.95 At 4 p.m. on February 4, 2001, Don Morrill’s life as he had always lived it slowed to a faltering stop. In The Untouched Minutes, he recounts in resounding detail the home invasion that did not actually kill him, but did take some part of his life. Cast between the fatal home invasion of Suzanne and Half Zantop of Dartmouth College and the national tragedies of 9/11, Morrill’s nonﬁction book examines the process of investigation, therapy, and meditation—all in an eﬀort to understand his own home invasion, the enacting of violence upon the innocent, and his own feeble reactions to his personal violation: Those minutes had beggared Don, and so he needed to understand what that begging had been for. His life was part of it— most vividly and elusively the life he had been allowed since that afternoon. But as an answer, it was clearly insuﬃcient. Months later, a way to begin came to him. Through the act of writing The Untouched Minutes, Morrill is able to live again. It is a diﬀerent kind of living, one in which the very safety of his life and the life of others is questioned. The book is composed of two main parts, nonﬁction memoir writing, in which Morrill recounts the episode and the events surrounding it, and a letter from Morrill to “Gregory,” the pet name Morrill and his wife gave to their perpetrator. Interestingly, Morrill only uses ﬁrst person in the letters to Gregory, preferring to use the distancing third person throughout the rest of the book. The result is a disjuncture between the narrator as victim and the narrator as writer. Running through this narrative is Morrill’s guilt at having done nothing in the face of this home invader. Morrill begged for his life, but did not have the courage to look Gregory in the face. His guilt at doing nothing to protect his wife—just letting his head sink into Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews the bed where they were kneeling instead—is echoed again and again throughout the book. He quotes a friend who hears his story and responds, “…with a chuckle at the truth of her wayward expression, ‘You could live with being dead easier than not having done what might have helped someone not be killed.’” In writing this account, Morrill does ﬁnally act. He ﬁnally immortalizes the event, his shame and all. It’s an attempt to separate himself from his own character in the story, an act of therapy, a confession of sorts. But what he makes perfectly clear is that for a writer, nothing is sacred. The most personal events can become the subject of the public’s literary interests—especially in the arena of creative nonﬁction. Though Morrill’s wife protests this activity, Morrill drags out all of the details and repercussions for the entire world to read. The Untouched Minutes is a search for identity from a man who lost his sense of security and self in the few minutes after 4 p.m. on February 4, 2001. The result is an interesting insight into the psychology of a victim, but with one big diﬀerence: This victim is a writer, and he is looking to write himself back into his own life. —Reviewed by Karen B. Golightly Weaver, Gordon. Last Stands. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2004. 170 pages. $19.95 Last Stands, the latest collection of stories from author Gordon Weaver, is a touching yet unsentimental volume where the old truths of life and mortality take on a fresh and eloquent dimension. This nine-story collection acquaints the reader with people facing critical moments in their lives, moments where they seek (and sometimes challenge) the clarity and insight that could set them free from themselves. These are stories that explore the long and laborious path towards self-discovery, our innate hesitation to see that path to its end, the devouring eﬀects of unresolved history, and our prevailing compulsion as human beings to uncover who we really are, how we came to be that way, and what we might yet have time to become. It is this impulse which Weaver gracefully yields to his characters— a colorful mishmash of unsatisﬁed individuals whose unusual circumstances bring them face-to-face with their diﬃcult pasts and not-so-distant futures—and whose attempts at making sense of these things remind us not only of where our stories come from, but why we 246 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews tell them at all. As Weaver writes in “Looking for the Lost Eden,” the collection’s ﬁrst story: I don’t confuse ﬁction with reality—the latter’s a series of fragments connected only by time and proximity. The former always yields meaning under study. Reality’s a bone I like to chew, but never leads me to anything sustaining. Set in the “intolerably oppressive” July heat of southern Mississippi, “Looking for the Lost Eden” is the story of a college professor who ﬁnds a vague but compelling solace in a state of transition. While moving his family out of their home, the narrator confronts both his attraction to change and the childhood troubles which have inﬂuenced him. It is by this internal altercation that he comes to recognize, and ultimately accept, his semi-nomadic nature, and to which he discovers that memory is merely “man’s curse”—one that can only be escaped by embracing the unknown future. What carries us along is Weaver’s style—his smooth voice and ﬂuid narrative rhythms supply a certain lyricism to the generally crude and tiresome process of relocation: Back and forth, I load my children’s clothes and games, I load fabric and extra bedding and small utensils and glassware fragile. The moving begins to feel like an end in itself. There’s no purpose, no destination, just this work, and it feels right to do it. We pass, all of us, into a silence that further unites us in the routine of tedious work. There’s a rhythm now, and rhythm is what gets things done, staying with the job at hand. The stories that follow are written with no less acuity or perceptiveness. At the heart of some of these is the eﬀort to ﬁll the void of loss through their telling. In “Dirt,” a despairing son struggles through his mother’s funeral; while in “Psychic Friends,” a desperate cynic speaks with the dead and encounters the ugly truth about the life he has led. Vindication is the theme of “Elder’s Revenge,” whose prosperous but embittered protagonist attends his high school reunion bent on obliterating his past. And in one of the darker, more surprising stories of the collection, “A Dialogue,” two early-morning assassins discuss the pleasures and purpose of existence. Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews Though the title does not suggest it, “Learst’s Last Stand,” the volume’s ﬁnal story, is Weaver’s most optimistic work. It begins with Learst, a wandering Vietnam vet, stopping for the night at the outskirts of Tucson in order to “get his bearings” and “lay out a more exact course for his third bug-out since Nam.” Tired and lonely, unsure of what to do next, Learst befriends “the gang,” a community of old people whose adolescent tendencies help him discover not only a new home, but a new philosophy—that all we really have is today. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, there is always a poetry to truth, certainly to pain and discovery, and in this collection Weaver ﬁnds it with an utterly distinctive voice that is both assured of what it knows and unafraid to pursue what it doesn’t. Last Stands is a considerable achievement that sustains the status of a long-time talent. —Reviewed by Tim Marsh Golos, Veronica. A Bell Buried Deep. Ashland, OR: Story Line Press, 2004. 75 pages. $14.00 Veronica Golos’s A Bell Buried Deep, the 2004 winner of the Nicholas Roerich Award, is a collection of poems that narrates the untold story of Biblical Sarah and Harriet (Golos’s Hagar, Sarah’s handmaiden), in which the younger Harriet, a slave, is chosen to bear Abraham’s child, Ishmael. Blooming with vivid, sensual imagery, the poems chronicle the subtle ache of the psyche and follow several narrative arcs to explore the grief of A Bell Buried Deep as it is carried throughout generations. As descendants of the original sacriﬁce, sharers in the cultural past, and as human beings who experience grief, wrestling with the logic of gods who bring suﬀering and sacriﬁce, we, too, are invested in the story of these women. Imaginatively conceived, the book recalls Virginia Woolf’s search for the woman writers in the 16th century in A Room of One’s Own. Finding none in the history book, she brings to life “Judith” Shakespeare, and in doing so writes the book—the history—the story—the woman—absent from the shelf. In “Creation,” the ﬁrst section of A Bell Buried Deep, Golos delivers us to the landscape of the narrative in carefully composed, contemplative lines —not just the ancient desert land, but the landscape of the mind, its thick heat and its psychic burdens from the past. 248 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews The poem “Mami Wata” describes the world we have inherited, a world from which we are estranged: “We have lived far from the ocean, / far from the cries and shapes of men, / their wild hearts tamed to the size of a thumb.” The African sea goddess of the poem’s title symbolizes a wellspring, a water which can reclaim for us the world. “Mami Wata” suggests this hope: How good then to feel Mami Wata, rolling and pulling; breathing her wet breath beneath this sand—this uwa mmadu—this human world. Golos not only brings emotional respect to her subject; her poems are meticulously researched. In the second arc of the book, “Genesis,” the poem “The Casting of Stones” seems to acknowledge the diﬃculty of ﬁnding “her.” The lyric images of sand and water reappear, as do many of the thematic images of the book, including “bell.” The repetition becomes, indeed, like a bell ringing. She is gone beyond us, where dust is water and water, sprinkling sand. We have walked with our sandals upon her; we have leaned into her void. We have called out her name in the desert; we have found twelve polished stones. “Ha’gar’s Birthing” is one of many painfully brave poems we are compelled to read. The poem declares in Ha’gar’s voice: “I was the ﬁre / in which the meat is seared; / the ember, blazing; / the bottom of a blackened pot.” In “Exodus,” the third section of the book, the story is re-imagined in the slave-holding American South. There, Sarah is the mistress of a plantation, Abraham the master, and Harriet the slave. The collective voice of the slaves cries out: “…we are the black ships / come to port, to pick, and take, / breaking the white waves / in our wake.” The details drawn from Harriet’s life are chilling, as we see in “Sale”: “The yolk of my soul broke / when that auction man came near / and tasted my sweat: / The nigger wench is clean! he said.” In “Bell,” we see Sarah as a woman suﬀocated inside a dress, the whispery skirts layered like a cake. It is another transformation of the “bell” tolling. It is also told Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews so simply, in such a calm, understated tone that we feel uneasy, even faintly haunted: “Sarah is dressing. / She is gathering her silk, her lace, her ribbons, / layer upon layer, till she is / the center of a bell, // the tongue inside / the inverted cup / of lace and ribbons and silk.” “Coda,” the ﬁnal section of the book, ﬁnds “Hattie” and “Sadie” as “two ancient women” watching a Wonder Wheel in Coney Island. Time has blended them: the skin of their arms, the cotton, the ocean, all are one. They are healed, though the bell of grief does not completely disappear from memory. By sounding the bell of Sarah and Harriet’s sorrow, Golos shows us, too, our exile from and return to the human world. —Reviewed by Elisabeth Meyer Harvey, Matthea. Sad Little Breathing Machine. St. Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2004. 80 pages. $14.00 Sad Little Breathing Machine, Matthea Harvey’s second collection of poems, follows a sometimes whimsical investigation of the large philosophical conundrums of the super-modern era. The exploration of grandiose topics generally feels tipped on either side of the dramatic and comedic scales, but in true fashion Harvey clears the nearly impossible feat of ﬁnding the middle and balancing her delicate and intimate words like an army of acrylic collectibles on a nail head. Wit is the new wow as Harvey tries to unknot her personal and generational jumbles by outlining her explorations in short, clever lines, a device that lends the illusion of simplicity. This is not to say that Harvey’s mode of writing is the newest form, freshest syntactical arrangement or even oﬀers the smoothest ride, but Harvey excels in her work based on the sheer authority of her voice. Her lines are arranged like happy accidents, and her topics are sometimes cryptic, but Harvey’s speaker owns the page, and in turn, the reader for the arresting experience of understanding the importance, and inevitability, of desire in our lives. In the opening poem, “Introduction to the World,” Harvey utilizes a seemingly forced ﬁrst-person wisdom that compiles giant thoughts and disguises them as tiny ﬁgured-out puzzles. She writes: Like thoughts, the geniuses race through. If you’re lucky 250 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews after a number of revolutions, you’ll feel something catch. The cyclical form of drop-downs and enjambments leaves so much room for breathing, it becomes a race to get back to suﬀocation. This comes with the compounded interest of the wanting and gaining of insight into the pronunciation of the principles of honesty for a struggling generation desperately seeking the cyclonic excitement of being a part. Harvey’s method reveals itself in this section of “Introduction to the World” as she admits to the horror—and simultaneous comfort—of repetition and the importance of determination as the last great frontier left for a generation with only words to make anew the struggles with their needs and desires. A common theme in Sad Little Breathing Machine is Harvey’s personiﬁcation of literary devices. She has a subtle way of developing honest and surprising relationships between the phantom and intangible usefulness of poetic device and a solid counterpart arising from the narrative structure. Though there are several uses of this throughout the collection, one of the most intriguing is the prose poem “Once upon a Time: A Genre Fable,” a postmodern aesthetic allegory in which the third-person narrator recounts a story of delightful representation, and also, intimate honesty. The last line of the poem reads: In time they had a child whom they named Memoir, a baby girl who somehow seemed to be taking notes from the ﬁrst moment her mouth clamped onto Narrative’s nipple. Harvey’s understanding of the imitation of life in poetry and vice versa is outlined several times throughout the collection, most eﬀectively in “First Person Fabulous” and “Introduction to Narrative.” The “introductive” theme most clearly ties the collection together and works as an internal sectioning device. Though the book is actually divided into six unnamed sections, the real division comes with the intermittent appearance of ‘Introductions’ throughout the book. This goes to the author’s original statement of endless revolutions. The ‘Introduction’ poems act as beginnings and endings. The entire work interacts as a living and connected organism with seamless tactile functions subtly tying everything together. Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews The title poem, “Sad Little Breathing Machine,” creates a selfcontained environment of thought and sound and play to sort through some of the more cryptic areas in the collection. The ‘sad little breathing machines’ that the author proposes we are—independent systems acting proportionately and disproportionately to our equivalents—are really just reactive bundles who have been overexposed to the indignations of want in the face of evidence that says to desire is to be wrong. Sad Little Breathing Machine acts as the perfect platform to launch Matthea Harvey’s sincere concerns for her generation as it comes to terms with its function, its future, and the underlying misunderstood value of dysfunction for those who are yearning. —Reviewed by Melissa Cossey Humes, Harry. August Evening with Trumpet. Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press, 2004. 62 pages. $16.00 One of the most rewarding aspects of Harry Humes’s most recent collection of poems, August Evening with Trumpet, is that he ﬁnds a way to awaken readers to the familiar, to remind us of the beauty of the most ordinary, everyday moments, as can be seen in the ﬁnal poem of the collection, “The Movement of Ice”: It softens all edges,
its entrails gray-blue outlines of what was once familiar, the back of your hand, a path behind the shed, a ridge of pines. It moves in all directions. It moves the way you remember a girl in a shimmery dress moving as she walked toward you through music, laughing. It was summer 1968, and she was holding out her arms. In August Evening with Trumpet, Humes ﬁnds a way, again and again, to distill both the lyric and emotional essence of each moment, spooling 252 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews out lines that slip with unpretentious grace from the tongue. Humes’s poems speak to and speak of the world that we all inhabit, a world he somehow makes beautiful, a world that seems suddenly to beckon. Most striking about this collection of poems is Humes’s ability to convey the astonishment he feels in every moment he describes. I never doubt the sincerity of his descriptions, nor do I ﬁnd myself wondering what’s at stake for him, why he bothers to write these poems, or what his investment is in the moments he chooses to bring to life on the page. In the poem “The Mountains,” Humes recreates for his readers what for him must be sanctuary—the land rising beneath his feet, the sense of solitude and awe that comes from being alone in the wilderness: where we hear the voice that says we have never gone far enough, that we should never go back down, that we should just vanish up here like fog in the morning over the notches. . . . . . . . . . . . We will not listen to that voice. We will remind each other that people once wore blindfolds against mountains they believed would drive them mad. Listening to Humes’s voice, I can feel the sacredness as he breathes in the land, only to breathe himself back out into it. His presence in this poem is so inescapable it is haunting. I can almost hear the sound of his breath between them. Like his description of the landscapes that surround him, Humes’s poems are ﬁlled with a richness of imagery and sound. The rhythm and language of his poems wrap around you like fog rising over the mountains. Take, for example, the poem “The Relocation of Rattlesnakes”: …beneath the porch, slats of light over a ﬂat head with its fangs and ﬁssures and sacs of poison. We learned how to walk lightly through that slow gathering of mottled skin sliding soundlessly over dry leaves. Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews Or these lines from the poem “Adultery”: I imagine her opening buttons, zippers, clasps, clips, stepping out of the circle of slip and panties, moving like a drift of absence through the half-light of attic and basement. Humes’s uncontrollable impulse to oﬀer us the polished slivers of his world is what makes him a poet, and what whispers to us what’s at stake for him in each moment he paints for us on the page. The lushness of his language and his ability to reel in his readers—to open his hand and reveal a microcosm fully intact on his outstretched palm—is what entices his readers and conveys a true sense of place. August Evening with Trumpet is a collection ripe with beauty, with lines that show us what a keen eye and ear can accomplish on the page. Humes is a poet who has honed his voice; he speaks with a lyric softness that seems almost a whisper, while sustaining a strength of conviction that carries like wind. —Reviewed by Renee Wells Pugh, Christina. Rotary. Cincinnati, OH: Word Press, 2004. 82 pages. $17.00 Most striking in Christina Pugh’s new book Rotary, winner of the Word Press First Book Prize, is the poems’ richness of image and sound. Poems about paintings, a strange dress, ﬂowers, and her mother’s youthful body imagined reveal a poet concerned with presenting the beauty and mystery of the world in its material existence, while examining the ways that language aﬀects our experience of it. Many of the poems in this collection examine the interplay between the senses and the intellect. In “Lesson,” the poet studies a word, drawing together the meaning of the word with the way the mouth feels in saying it: “So repeat after me: / Venn diagram./ Hunker / in that consonantal cave.” She then directs us to draw the word—“Loop a large oval / on another”—and then to forget what we know of the word, to let it take over our body’s senses:
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Book Reviews But let your body yearn for a moment— you might hear the ovals’ astral hum,… In this poem, as with many of her poems, Pugh takes us beyond words as conveyors of meaning to make us aware of the physicality of language, asking us to call upon the most intuitive and sensual parts of ourselves. Another delight of Rotary is its plentitude of apt metaphor and image. Here, too, the poems are physical, sensational. The heart becomes a ﬂower, a “Lady’s Slipper”: “…two rose kidney- / chambers, furled / in the grass….” A man and woman meet in a hotel room, in the “Blue” fading early evening light, “…his hands a mass / of brushstrokes on her waist….” In “Crown,” a poem that conjures Whitman’s “beautiful uncut hair of graves,” the speaker’s hair falls from her “…letter / by cursive / letter, each strand / slenderer // than thread….” Images such as these unfurl throughout the book, palpable pleasures. In the poem “Rose City,” the reader again experiences the connection between the material world and language. Here, Pugh likens roses to words, describing them in the terminology of language itself. In the poet’s “failed photographs,” roses are “blank,” they are a “foil” to other sharper ﬂowers, they “won’t articulate.” The act of looking more closely and trying harder to name their beauty further blights her eﬀorts so that, ultimately, the roses defy deﬁnition: I can hear them tear at the earth’s precision: quicksand, blind road, the siren sheen of the magnifying glass. This tension that arises when the poet attempts to deﬁne the world she lives in is central to Rotary. In these attempts, Pugh tries language and ultimately dismisses it. This is as if to say that the world, objects, and reality that she gestures at translating into language, into poetry, are most meaningful and most whole in their original tongue: wordlessness, the unknowing, the unknowable. And here Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews lies the irony, the paradox, the unclosable loop: her language is gentle and probing as she bends it to dismiss itself; and in this dismissal, the language not only illuminates the ways in which the material world is mysterious and strangely beautiful, it makes it more so. —Reviewed by Ingrid Moody Shumate, David. High Water Mark. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004. 69 pages. $12.95 Winner of the 2003 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, David Shumate’s High Water Mark is an impressive ﬁrst book—impressive for its consistency of strength and the range that Shumate is able to display within a single and stereotypically limiting form: the prose poem. All of the poems in High Water Mark are prose poems, yet Shumate manages to push this form to unexpected lengths and depths, and to provide the most damning of evidence against critics who argue against it. Through the varied tone, from whimsical to meditative to surreal, the attention to lyricism and detail, and often unforgettable last lines, Shumate gives us a refreshingly witty and original voice, while breathing new life into an all-too-often stagnant form: I unlatch the stall door, step inside, and stroke the silky neck of the old mare like a lover about to leave. I take an ear in hand, fold it over, and run my ﬁngers across her muzzle. I coax her head up so I can blow into those nostrils. All part of the routine we taught each other long ago. I turn a half turn, pull a pistol from my coat, raise it to that long brow with the white blaze and place it between her sleepy eyes. I clear my throat. A sound much louder than it should be. I squeeze the trigger and the horse’s feet ﬂy out from under her as gravity gives way to a force even more austere, which we have named mercy. The poem above, “Shooting the Horse,” reveals Shumate’s ear for language, for rhythm and sound. It also illustrates the dark and quiet ironies that give poetry its depth, where the sound of a throat clearing is louder and more haunting than that of a gunshot, where the dark spirit of man overshadows even the force of gravity. Above all else, though, High Water Mark is memorable for its surprising leaps and turns, and, within its pages, Shumate proves that 256 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews he is nothing if not a poet of imagination. Take these lines from “The Machinery of the Soul,” for example: I close the drapes, sit in a chair, and let the air around me settle. When only silence remains, I reach into my chest and try to dislodge my soul.…Soon the fragile bubble is resting in my palm. I place it in the air and it ﬂoats in front of me. I walk around it, aware of its papaya scent. The hum of the invisible machinery within. Its gears and pulleys.…Deep inside I detect the faint outline of laborers loading bundles on wooden carts.…Once in a while a worker stops, comes to the edge, wipes his brow, and squints out at the darkness beyond.…Today it is an aboriginal ﬁgure with a dark, broad face who stands there for a moment as if wondering why he is spending his time keeping my soul in good working order. Then he takes a deep breath, climbs back on his forklift, and drives oﬀ, his luminous cargo in tow. Shumate’s is a mind cluttered with pieces of puzzles just waiting to be put together. His poems often create a logic of their own, beginning as theorems of a sort that spiral out, refusing to be proven, taking on a life of their own. Again and again, the poems in High Water Mark take us to places we weren’t expecting to go—often to places we never knew existed, places that exist only in one man’s mind. A master of suspense, Shumate keeps us waiting with held breath, ever eager, always uncertain of what he’ll do next. —Reviewed by Renee Wells Sowder, Michael. The Empty Boat. Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 2004. 77 pages. $14.95 The Empty Boat, Michael Sowder’s ﬁrst book of poems and the winner of the 2004 T.S. Eliot Prize, is inspired by the eighth-century poet of the Tang dynasty, Li Po, who posited (in Sowder’s words) “the aspiration of emptying the mind in order to perceive the universe in an open way.” Sowder’s own graceful, lyric poems lift us gently into the empty boat, guiding us to pay attention to the world around us. The ﬁrst section of the book, “The Glittering Bodies,” transforms the universe Sowder wishes to show us into the miraculous parts which Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews make perception whole. In “At the Rehabilitation Center,” the world is a one-footed crow endearingly named “Ahab.” With great pathos and humor, he describes feeding the injured crow, who teeters between suspicion and trust. Sowder renders the creature tenderly, with imagery nearly magical in its imaginative power. The crow accepts the proﬀered “star” of hard cat food and ritually drops it in his bowl of water: Then he waited, one eye cocked toward the softening red star, dipped his beak, threw back his head, and swallowed with a shuddering of wings. In this poem, Sowder transforms for the reader an encounter between a wild, captive animal earthbound in the small conﬁnes of a cage and “the great white limb” of its human caretaker into a beautiful and rare moment of understanding. Sowder is a delicate, sensitive translator of such moments. Again and again, Sowder calls us to observe, as Richard Wilbur called them, “the things of this world.” Often, Sowder chronicles the landscape of the country that surrounds him—a careful, ﬁne-tuned habit of awareness, a way of listening to nature not unpracticed by the ancient Chinese poets he admires, and not unlike William Wordsworth’s dialogues with the natural world. In “Driving to North Carolina,” one of several elegies in the collection, Sowder describes “hurtl[ing] across Kentucky”: Lime-green sprays fountain over hillsides, orange ﬁre drips down banks, dark cedars gilt-edged, last year’s beech leaves still holding on.… In the midst of grief, Sowder notices, and compels us to notice, using active, vivid imagery and emphatic, deliberately stressed words. With him, we “…start to understand / the elegiac turn, the heart’s sense / of the fallen risen in translucencies / of spring.…” The second section of the book, also titled “The Empty Boat,” opens with a quotation of the eighth-century Chinese poet Tu Fu, who pines for a lost love and sees himself as “An empty boat, ﬂoating, drifting.” The book continues to surprise our Western conception of emptiness, 258 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews for empty does not necessarily mean desolate or irretrievable; empty is as openness, a precondition to being ﬁlled. In “Watching Orion,” Sowder notes the violence of Orion’s sword, Castor and Pollox, thinks, like Tu Fu, of a far-away love, and brieﬂy dwells on the emotional trauma of a divorce. Then Sowder seems suddenly to remember what allows him, and us, to transcend pain and loss: But eventually one day you wake up, and feel your legs, and think, I’m walking—and start looking around, see rocks, hickories, slate-colored juncos, orange lights around highway trucks, ordinary people at the neighborhood market. Sowder’s poems are gifts that elucidate the human heart in the human world; they are redemptive in their power. “New Snow, Ann Arbor” returns us, with Zen-like simplicity, to the wonder of experiencing snow: I stood staring, snowﬂakes swirling through sun, landing on me, melting into my coat like arrows loosed from a thousand invisible bows. Sowder is a skilled poet and a gentle guide, a narrator to whom we must listen eagerly. In The Empty Boat, he rewards us for our attention. —Reviewed by Elisabeth Meyer
Crab Orchard Review
Jhoanna S. Aberia is a graduate student in the MFA program at California State University, Long Beach. Her poems and reviews have appeared in Pearl, Nerve Cowboy, and Chiron Review. Candice Amich is a recent graduate of New York University’s MFA program in creative writing, and is currently teaching English composition and literature at St. John’s University. Her poetry has been published in Slipstream, Three Rivers Review, and Pittsburgh’s City Paper. Dargie Anderson is an MFA candidate at the University of Michigan. Her work has been published previously in the Yale Literary Magazine. Kathleen Balma was born in Southern Indiana, raised in Southern Illinois, and currently lives in the heart of Hoosier land with her husband and two cats. A student and aspiring librarian, her poetry appears in recent issues of Good Foot and Mid-American Review. Laure-Anne Bosselaar is the author of The Hour Between Dog and Wolf (BOA Editions) and Small Gods of Grief (BOA Editions), winner of the Isabella Gardner Prize for Poetry. Her fourth anthology, Never Before: Poems About First Experiences, will be published by Four Way Books in 2005. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College. Brian Brodeur will receive his MFA in creative writing from George Mason University in spring 2005. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in New Orleans Review, Meridian, Smartish Pace, and Gettysburg Review. Ralph Burns’s most recent collection is Ghost Notes, published in 2001 by Oberlin College Press. Kathryn Stripling Byer has published four books of poetry, including 260 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes Catching Light (Louisiana State University Press). New work will appear in Cortland Review and The Atlantic Monthly. Marcus Cafagña’s poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, most recently in Like Thunder: Poets Respond to Violence in America. He is the author of two books, The Broken World (University of Illinois Press) and Roman Fever (Invisible Cities Press). Shannon Castleton’s poems have appeared in Kansas Quarterly/ Arkansas Review, Literature and Belief, Ellipsis, and Northwest Review. She currently works as the advisor to the editorial staﬀ of Ellipsis at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. Deborah Cummins is the author of Beyond the Reach (BkMk Press) and From the Road it Looks like Paradise (State Street Press). Since 2001, she has served as Chair of the Board of the Poetry Foundation (formerly the Modern Poetry Association), publishers of Poetry. Jarita Davis earned a BA in Classics from Brown University and both an MA and a Ph.D. from the creative writing program at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She was recently the writer-in-residence at the Nantucket Historical Association and has received fellowships from the Mellon Mays program, Cave Canem, and Hedgebrook. Her work has appeared in the Southwestern Review, Historic Nantucket, and in two Cave Canem anthologies. Adam Day currently works as a writer for Atlantic Records. He recently earned his MFA from the creative writing program at New York University. Born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, he now lives in Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in Fourteen Hills, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, and Florida Humanities. Rae Gouirand received her MFA at the University of Michigan. Her poems have appeared recently in The Journal, Bellingham Review, Barrow Street, The Canary, Columbia Poetry Review, Epoch, Smartish Pace, and Spinning Jenny. The winner of a Hopwood Award for poetry, a Meijer Fellowship, and awards from the Academy of American Poets, she lives in Northern California. Andrew Grace is a recent graduate of the MFA program at Washington Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes University in St. Louis. His ﬁrst book, A Belonging Field, was released by Salt Publishing. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, TriQuarterly, Boston Review and Iowa Review. He currently lives in Tucson, Arizona. Philip Graham is the author of two story collections, The Art of the Knock (William Morrow) and Interior Design (Scribner), the novel How to Read an Unwritten Language (Scribner), and is co-author (with Alma Gottlieb) of a memoir of Africa, Parallel Worlds (University of Chicago Press), winner of the 1993 Victor Turner Prize. Graham’s ﬁction has been published in The New Yorker, North American Review, Fiction, Missouri Review, and Western Humanities Review. He is Professor of English and Director of the creative writing program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and is the ﬁction editor of Ninth Letter. Kelle Groom’s ﬁrst collection of poems is Underwater City (University Press of Florida). Her second collection, Luckily, is forthcoming from Anhinga Press. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in AGNI, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Florida Review, Luna, The New Yorker, Poet Lore, and Witness. Teline Guerra currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she writes, teaches composition, and studies at The Second City, a theatre company specializing in sketch comedy and improvisation. Her work has appeared in Beloit Fiction Journal and New Delta Review, and a short ﬁlm she directed was screened at the Fort Myers Beach Film Festival. Elizabeth Harvell teaches literature and creative writing at the University of North Texas. She has recent poems appearing in Passages North, Tulane Review, and 32 Poems. Michael Heﬀernan has work in Hotel Amerika, Southern Review, New Orleans Review, Margie, and Kenyon Review. His seventh book of poems, The Night Breeze Oﬀ the Ocean, will be published this spring by Eastern Washington University Press. He lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he teaches poetry in the MFA program at the University of Arkansas. Mimi Herman teaches poetry in the Lesley University M.Ed. program, 262 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes and holds an MFA in creative writing from Warren Wilson College. She has worked as an arts and education consultant since 1990, engaging over 20,000 students and teachers in writing residencies, teacher workshops, and curriculum transformation. The author of The Art of Learning (North Carolina Arts Council), she has published stories in Shenandoah and Rosebud. David Hernandez’s ﬁrst collection, A House Waiting for Music, was published by Tupelo Press in 2003. His poems have appeared in TriQuarterly, Southern Review, Epoch, Indiana Review, AGNI, and Mississippi Review. His website is www.DavidAHernandez.com. Dennis Hinrichsen’s most recent works are Cage of Water, a full-length collection of poems (University of Akron Press) and a chapbook, Message to Be Spoken into the Left Ear of God (Mayapple Press). His previous collection, Detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights (University of Akron Press), won the Akron Poetry Prize. New poems have appeared in American Literary Review, Black Warrior Review, Field, Terminus and Willow Springs. He teaches at Lansing Community College. Elizabeth S. Hogan lives in Syracuse, New York, where she teaches at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Her ﬁrst published poems recently appeared in Sycamore Review. Rose Jenkins recently served as writer-in-residence at Washington University in St. Louis, where she received her MFA in 2003. She has been published in Delmar. Her work has also won an Academy of American Poets Prize, a Virginia Press Award, and the Jackson Morton Broadside Award. Jennifer Johnson wrote “To Eat a Mango” and “Concepcíon” after living in Querétaro, Mexico for six months in 2002. A native of Kansas, she is pursuing an MFA in nonﬁction at the University of Minnesota. Her poems and essays have appeared in Borderlands, Flint Hills Review, The Journal, and others. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with her ﬁancé and two cats. Melanie Jordan is working on a Ph.D. at the University of Houston, Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes where she teaches and is a poetry editor of Gulf Coast. She is also an associate editor with Lyric and lives in Houston with her small, gray cat. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Iowa Review, Black Warrior Review, Adirondack Review, DIAGRAM, Born Magazine, Spoon River Poetry Review, and others. She was the recipient of the 2003 Black Warrior Review Literary Prize. William Kloefkorn’s collections of poetry include Drinking the Tin Cup Dry (White Pine Press), Welcome to Carlos (Spoon River Poetry Press), and Treehouse: New & Selected Poems (White Pine Press). Two memoirs, This Death by Drowning and Restoring the Burnt Child, were published by the University of Nebraska Press. He lives with his wife in Lincoln, Nebraska. Sandy Longhorn’s poems appear or are forthcoming in Boulevard, Hotel Amerika, Sou’wester, and 88: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry, among others. Al Maginnes is the author of two full-length collections, Taking Up Our Daily Tools (St. Andrews College Press) and The Light in Our Houses (Pleiades Press). His new collection, Film History, is due from Word Tech Editions in 2005. He has recent poems in Poetry East, Appalachian Journal, and Sow’s Ear Poetry Review. Alana Merritt Mahaﬀey teaches creative writing and theatre history at National Park Community College in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Gregory Mahrer lives and writes in rural Northern California. His most recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in New England Review, Florida Review, and Cream City Review. Nancy McCabe’s creative nonﬁction has won a Pushcart Prize and twice been listed in Best American Essays. Her books include After the Flashlight Man: A Memoir of Awakening (Purdue University Press) and Meeting Sophie: A Memoir of Adoption (University of Missouri Press). Lydia Melvin lives in upstate New York wih her partner and pet. She’s completing her MA in African-American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her Ph.D. in creative writing at Binghamton University. 264 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes Anna Mitcov grew up in the Bronx, New York, and studied literature at Barnard College. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Calyx, Salamander, and Lifeboat: A Journal of Memoir. She currently lives in Northern California. Michele Morano has published essays in Georgia Review, Missouri Review, Under the Sun, and Fourth Genre. She is recipient of a 2004 Rona Jaﬀe Foundation Writers Award and is currently completing her ﬁrst essay collection, Grammar Lessons. She lives in Chicago, where she teaches creative writing at DePaul University. Richard Newman’s most recent poetry collection, Tastes Like Chicken and Other Meditations, appeared this year from Shark Publications. His poems and stories have recently appeared in Boulevard, 5AM, Meridian, The Sun, and others. He edits River Styx in St. Louis. Miho Nonaka is a bilingual writer born and raised in Tokyo. Her ﬁrst book of Japanese poems, Garasu no tsuki, was a ﬁnalist for Japan’s national poetry prize. Her poems in English have been published or are forthcoming in Quarterly West, Drunken Boat, and Prairie Schooner. William Notter’s poems have been featured on the radio program The Writer’s Almanac, and are forthcoming or published in Midwest Quarterly, Poet Lore, Alligator Juniper, The Formalist, and the chapbook More Space Than Anyone Can Stand (Texas Review Press). He teaches writing at the University of Nevada, Reno. Chris Pexa was born and raised in Rapid City, South Dakota. He received an MFA in creative writing from Arizona State University and is now attempting to live somewhere besides Tempe, Arizona. This, along with a prose piece in Hayden’s Ferry Review, is his ﬁrst real publication. Christina Pugh is the author of Rotary (Word Press), which received the Word Press First Book Prize. Her poems have recently appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Ploughshares, Poetry Daily, and in the anthology Poetry 180. She is currently a visiting assistant professor of English at Northwestern University. Emily Raabe holds an MA in literature from Sussex University and Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes an MFA in poetry from the California College of the Arts, where she was a graduate merit fellow. She has twice been awarded wait-staﬀ fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and spent a year as a staﬀ artist at the Vermont Studio Center. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Antioch Review, Brooklyn Review, and the National Poetry Competition Anthology 2000. Jeﬀrey Rubin is a staﬀ editor at The New York Times. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Bellevue Literary Review, Prose Ax, and Powhatan Review. Born and bred in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, he now lives in Keyport, New Jersey, with his wife, Carolyn. Maxine Scates’s new book, Black Loam, was published by Cherry Grove Collections in 2005. She’s also the author of Toluca Street (University of Pittsburgh Press) and co-editor, with David Trinidad, of Holding Our Own: The Selected Poems of Ann Stanford (Copper Canyon Press). Jason Daniel Schwartz is an MFA candidate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. This is his ﬁrst published story. Barry Silesky’s poems have appeared in journals such as Poetry, Boulevard, and Tampa Review. He was honored with grants from The Fund for Poetry in 2001 and 2002 for his “contribution to contemporary poetry.” Jason Skipper’s story “Tangled in the Ropes” is excerpted from his novel-in-progress Hustle. Other stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Cream City Review, Faultline, and Red Rock Review. He has received awards from Glimmer Train, Touchstone, and Zoetrope: All-Story. Currently the assistant coordinator of the creative writing program at Western Michigan University, he is ﬁnishing the ﬁnal year of his Ph.D. Louie Skipper is an Episcopal priest in Montgomery, Alabama. He is the chaplain to Auburn University Montgomery, Alabama State University, and to Huntingdon College. The author of two books of poetry, he has recently completed a trilogy of poems, A Final Vision of Unaccomplished Things, and a lyrical memoir, Men Like Trees Walking. “Childhood Documentary” is from the ﬁrst volume of the trilogy, Friday Night Fights. 266 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes Cassie Sparkman received her MFA in poetry from the University of Washington. Her poems can be found in recent issues of Story South, Laurel Review, and Clackamas Literary Review. Her work is also included in the play Identity. She lives in Athens, Ohio. Adrienne Su, author of Middle Kingdom (Alice James Books), is poetin-residence at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Her work is anthologized in Poetry 30, Poetry Daily, The New American Poets, and Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation. In 2003 she was the resident poet at the Frost Place in Franconia, New Hampshire. New poems are published or forthcoming in Poet Lore, Prairie Schooner, and MiPoesias. Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie’s work has been published in a number of literary journals and anthologies, including Paris/Atlantic, Bomb, Drumvoices Revue, The Body Eclectic and Listen Up. She received her MFA from Mills College in 2001 and currently teaches creative writing to high school students in New York City. Amber Flora Thomas is the recipient of several major poetry awards, including the Ann Stanford Prize and the Rella Lossy Award. Her poetry has appeared in Calyx, Gulf Coast, Bellingham Review, and Southern Poetry Review, among other publications. She has an MFA in poetry from Washington University in St. Louis, where she won an Academy of American Poets Prize. Her ﬁrst collection of poetry, Eye of Water, won the 2004 Cave Canem Poetry Prize and will be published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2005. Samantha Thornhill is a past recipient of the Henry Hoyns Fellowship at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where she completed her MFA in poetry. She is also a Cave Canem fellow. Bradford Tice recently received his MA in poetry from the University of Colorado, and is now at work on his Ph.D. at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. His poetry and ﬁction have appeared or are forthcoming in such periodicals as North American Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Nimrod, Poet Lore, Mississippi Review, and the anthology Gents, Bad Boys, and Barbarians 2. Daniel Tobin is the author of two books of poems, Where the World Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes is Made (Middlebury College Press), co-winner of the 1998 Katherine Bakeless Nason Prize, and Double Life (Louisiana State University Press). His third book of poems, The Narrows, is due out in 2005 from Four Way Books. Jennifer Tseng’s ﬁrst book of poems, The Man with My Face, was recently selected as the winner of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop ﬁrst poetry competition and will be published in spring 2005. Charles Harper Webb’s most recent book of poems, Tulip Farms and Leper Colonies, was published in 2001 by BOA Editions, Ltd. In 2002, the University of Iowa Press published Stand Up Poetry: An Expanded Anthology, edited by Webb. Hot Popsicles, his book of prose poems, will be published by the University of Wisconsin Press in 2005. Recipient of grants from the Whiting and Guggenheim foundations, he teaches at California State University, Long Beach. Elizabeth Wetmore lives in Chicago, where she is currently at work on a novel and a collection of short stories. Lesley Wheeler’s poems are forthcoming in Nimrod and Elixir and have recently appeared in Louisville Review. She teaches at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. Lynna Williams’ short ﬁction has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly and other magazines. Her ﬁrst collection, Things Not Seen and Other Stories, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. She is an associate professor in Emory University’s creative writing program. Matt Zambito, originally from Ransomville, New York, currently lives in Ransomville, New York. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Gulf Coast, West Branch, 32 Poems, Minnesota Review, and Barrow Street. He is the drummer for Furlough.
268 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Announcements Crab Orchard Review publishes a Winter/Spring general issue and a Summer/Fall special issue each year. Please check the Crab Orchard Review website’s “General Guidelines for Submissions” for more information:
<http://www.siu.edu/~crborchd/guid2.html> For writers interested in submitting work in 2005: Crab Orchard Review will continue reading for our 2006 Winter/Spring general issue until the end of May 2005. We will announce our next special issue topic in April on our website and in the 2005 Summer/Fall issue, and we will accept submissions for the 2006 Summer/Fall special issue through November 2005. Thank you.
Crab OrcharD Series In Poetry 2004 FIRST BOOK AWARD Announcement Crab Orchard Review and Southern Illinois University Press are pleased to announce the winner of the 2004 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Our ﬁnal judge, Julia Kasdorf, selected A. Loudermilk’s Strange Valentine as the winner. His collection will be published by Southern Illinois University Press in Fall 2005. We want to thank all of the poets who entered manuscripts in our Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award Competition.
Crab Orchard Review’s website has all of the updated information on subscriptions, calls for submissions, contest information and results, and past, current, and future issues. Visit us at:
Crab OrcharD Series In Poetry FIRST BOOK AWARD BEAUTIFUL TROUBLE Poems by Amy Fleury “The minute I ﬁnished Beautiful Trouble, I wished I had copies to give to all my friends: To the poets, of course, who will admire it for its art, but also to those who don’t read poetry. Fleury proves that a book of poems need not be bafﬂing or condescending or selfabsorbed. With ordinary words placed with perfect precision, this book throws open dozens of windows onto fresh new ways of seeing, and loving, the world.” —Ted Kooser, author of Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps “These are troubles beautiful as plain days distilled to the wonder seed.” —Kim Stafford, author of The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer’s Craft 67 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2598-5 $13.95 paper
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Crab OrcharD Series In Poetry FIRST BOOK AWARD Consolation Miracle Poems by Chad Davidson “Reading each poem in Consolation Miracle is like watching a seine net pulled onto the beach at sunrise: the arc of poetry revealing its haul, one by one, and then suddenly, a multitude of sleek, puﬃng, shiny things full of fear and trembling. The tight curtail sonnets, ‘Almost Ending with a Troubadour Line’ and ‘The Match,’ are every bit as beguiling as the longer, meditative lyrics, ‘All the Ashtrays in Rome’ and ‘Cleopatra’s Bra.’ And the longest poem in Davidson’s striking ﬁrst collection, ‘Space,’ stakes its claim as one of the benchmark long lyrics for the new century.”—Ruth Stone, author of In the Next Galaxy and Ordinary Words 64 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2541-1 $12.95 paper
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southern illinois university press P.O. Box 3697 • Carbondale, IL 62902-3697 • 800-346-2680 • FAX 800-346-2681 www.siu.edu/~siupress
Crab OrcharD Series In Poetry FIRST BOOK AWARD WHITE SUMMER Poems by Joelle Biele “In White Summer, Joelle Biele exhibits a Roethke-like afﬁnity with nature and nature’s creatures. …These pitchperfect poems are written with a delicate, meticulous attention to craft and music. Like the joy she takes in her subjects, this collection is a joy to read.”—Elizabeth Spires, author of Worldling “The ‘sprung rhythms’ of Gerard Manley Hopkins are ghostglimmerings that spark White Summer’s ﬁnely glossed, soul-breathy, delectably lyrical poems…a bravo debut.”—Wanda Coleman, 2001 National Book Award nominee for Mercurochrome: New Poems 67 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2468-7 $12.95 paper
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Crab OrcharD Series In Poetry FIRST BOOK AWARD TRAIN TO AGRA Poems by Vandana Khanna “Vandana Khanna’s sensual, evocative poems sweep the reader away on a journey of family, culture, and spirituality. In Train to Agra, Khanna’s deft language and bright, revelatory imagery bring both physical and emotional landscapes to life. Khanna’s gifts as a poet are many, and she uses them to cross borders and countries, to bring alive ‘The India of Postcards,’ to ﬁll in ‘colors, the smells, to translate to English / To translate into the present, into beautiful.’ Vandana Khanna is not only a poet to watch; she is a poet to savor.”—Allison Joseph, author of Imitation of Life, In Every Seam, and Soul Train 55 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2405-9 $12.95 paper
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the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2004 Editor’s Selection
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
Twenty First CENTURY BLUES Poems by Richard Cecil “Twenty First Century Blues speaks to all of us whose lives fall short of the triumphs we had planned. Yet the jaundice in Richard Cecil’s eye is offset by clear vision. This book tells bitter truths, redeemed by memory, by wit, by craft, by accurate and resonant details. These poems say ‘I came, I saw, I did not conquer, exactly, but I understood, I laughed, I celebrated by writing this down.’”—Charles Harper Webb
Praise for Richard Cecil “Richard Cecil’s most distinguished poems range persistently along, accumulating data until patterns and conclusions that have been latent become apparent. Again and again a faith in the lurking signiﬁcance of things pays off, and the early particulars add up to revelation.”—William Stafford “Cecil’s poems are powerful, moving, and original. There is clarity, honesty, and delightful quirkiness. He captures—he recaptures—the human situation. He is just as shocking, radical, and aggravating, in his way, as language poets, for instance, are in theirs. He makes it almost possible—let me say possible—for a well-educated generalist to read poetry again.”—Gerald Stern
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96 pages ISBN 0-8093-2597-7, $13.95 paper ISBN 0-8093-2596-9, $27.50 cloth
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the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2004 Open Competition Award
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
American Flamingo Poems by Greg Pape “My happiness is the poetry of Greg Pape. He’s Lorca’s demon in Frisco Jeans and a Chino shirt, praying on a Tejano squeezebox a poet of work and cantinas, love of place and family, and a spirit that redeems all sorrow in its plenitude. I can as easily do without Greg Pape’s poems as the high deserts and mountains of which he writes can do without rain and lightning. His American Flamingo is pure splendor.”—Garrett Hongo, author of Volcano
“You want to be the poet’s friend, because he makes you cry and laugh, to share his shadow and nuanced eye.…Greg Pape celebrates the delicate and daily exchange living beings make with each other. This is a beautifully compassionate book.”—Sandra Alcosser, author of Except by Nature
Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 96 pages ISBN 0-8093-2622-1, $13.95 paper ISBN 0-8093-2621-3, $27.50 cloth
Available at bookstores, or from
the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2004 Open Competition Award
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
Circle Poems by Victoria Chang “Nothing’s too large or small for this alchemical poet, from a KitchenAid mixer to Eva Braun at Berchtesgaden to the most serene rendering of an oceanside landscape. Her technical skills are ﬂexible and powerful, her voice is fearless yet capable of great lyrical tenderness, and her vision—global, principled, sympathetic—is a gift to contemporary poetry in America during a needful time.” —David Baker, author of Changeable Thunder
“Victoria Chang… is a master of the thumbnail narrative. She can wield a dark eroticism. She is determined to tackle subject matter that is not readily subdued to the proportions of lyric. Her talent is conspicuous, and this book a most impressive debut.—Linda Gregerson, author of Waterborne
Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 63 pages ISBN 0-8093-2618-3, $13.95 paper
Available at bookstores, or from
the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2003 Open Competition Award
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
Birthmark Poems by Jon Pineda “Birthmark is brimming with a wisdom that seems not contrived from literary ambition, but born of a joy for life quite incidental to such ambition. It is the wisdom of Telemachus, the prototypical son, gained from long hours contemplating the missing father, then reconciling to the father’s return. It is a wisdom that begets tenderness and broadcasts, with strength and humility, a vision of contraries reconciled at the core of longing.”—Richard Katrovas, author of Dithyrambs
“Jon Pineda’s strength lies in an unusual music and his feel for tidewater Virginia and the marvelous stories it tells him. … Birthmark is, like its namesake, tender, bright, lasting, and ﬁlled with identity we are called to remark is, if not our own, close enough to feel our own.”—Dave Smith author of The Wick of Memory: New and Selected Poems, 1970–2000
Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 80 pages ISBN 0-8093-2570-5, $13.95 paper
Available at bookstores, or from
the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2003 Open Competition Award
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
Year of the Snake Poems by Lee Ann Roripaugh “This is Lee Ann Roripaugh at the height of her powers. Precise and unforgettable images about family and community make these poems sing and stay with you days after you have gently put the book down. She is a ‘ﬁsh with a third, wide eye’ delivering unﬂinching truths. I believe that Roripaugh is one of the dozen or so best poets writing in America today.” —Nick Carbó, author of Secret Asian Man
“What lyrical gems. Poems like diamonds faceted with the Japanese-American diaspora, our lives scattered and thrust into Lee Ann Roripaugh’s utterly exquisite canvas of sky and pen.” —Lois-Ann Yamanaka, author of Heads by Harry
Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 80 pages ISBN 0-8093-2569-1, $13.95 paper
Available at bookstores, or from
the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2002 Open Competition Award
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
Pelican Tracks Poems by Elton Glaser “Elton Glaser’s Pelican Tracks oﬀers us an intimate and intricate portrait of gritty down-home life in Louisiana. The characters and places that populate this book reveal lives thoroughly lived and remind us that whoever and whatever surrounds us quietly invades us—in the best and perhaps worst sense of the word—and, ﬁnally, becomes us.” —Tim Seibles, author of Hammerlock and Hurdy-Gurdy
“These beautifully made poems—rich as redeye gravy, crystalline as Ohio ice—will delight anyone seeking a fresh understanding of the American soul.…Glaser is a national treasure. His poems are at once gritty and reverent, profound and comic. If you worry for the fate of literature, read this book and take heart.”—Alice Fulton, author of Felt and Sensual Math
Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 91 pages ISBN 0-8093-2516-0, $12.95 paper
Available at bookstores, or from
the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2002 Open Competition Award
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
Becoming Ebony Poems by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley “The poems of Patricia Jabbeh Wesley are fearless, eye-opening, breathtaking, and compassionate. She writes of a homeland devastated by war and violence, of a culture’s survival beneath the ﬂames of that war, and of the everyday courage of people whose stories would be lost if not for these poems. …These are political poems in the best sense of the word—wise, necessary, undeniable.”— Allison Joseph, author of Imitation of Life and Soul Train
“In ‘Requiem for Auntie,’ Patricia Jabbeh Wesley writes, ‘the mysteries of this world are…in the silence that the dead refuse to take along.’ Her new book is a translation of that silence into the vital song of poetry. Wesley epitomizes the poet as compassionate witness, and with such poets the answer to the question—Did this poem demand to be written?—is always a resounding yes.”—Stuart Dybek, author of The Coast of Chicago Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 79 pages ISBN 0-8093-2517-9, $12.95 paper
Available at bookstores, or from
the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2004 Open Competition Award
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
MUSE Poems by Susan Aizenberg “Clearly Susan Aizenberg has chosen to serve the most demanding of the nine muses, Clio, the muse of history. Aizenberg honors her with rich and vital poems of personal history, elegy, and what could be called Lyrics of the Long Haul—poems of the middle years, poems which testify to the difﬁculties of grace and the precious arrival of wisdom. This is an elegant and sustained volume. More importantly, it is an instructive one.”—David Wojahn, author of Spirit Cabinet and The Falling Hour
“…Aizenberg forces us to confront disturbing questions about how the aesthetic can be reconciled with the ethical. She faces these questions unﬂinchingly. They are the heart of her enterprise. A real, three-dimensional human being emerges out of the phrasing, the images, and the thoughts of these memorable poems, shaped out of words but entangled in the gritty detail of ordinary life.”—Maura Stanton, author of Glacier Wine Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 63 pages ISBN 0-8093-2443-1, $12.95 paper
Available at bookstores, or from
the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2004 Open Competition Award
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
FABULAE Poems by Joy Katz “Joy Katz is the quintessential storyteller, spinning her marvelous tales out of the gossamer of the imagination, but always with the goal of capturing the ﬂash and ﬂicker of the real world.…But the pleasure of reading Fabulae comes also from the way the elements of narrative, from the simple to the fabulous, are compressed into beautifully crafted poems.…Katz combines the art of the fabulator with the art of the sculptor. Hers is a distinctive and original voice.”—Maura Stanton, author of Glacier Wine
“In poems shot through with grace, intellect, and control, Katz considers the history and culture we all stand, ﬁnally, as heirs to: from Dachau to the deceptively still surfaces of American suburbia, from Proserpina to Plath, from the subjugation of women to the lust for empire—the result is a collection as rich as it is ambitious, announcing an already accomplished new voice in poetry.” —Carl Phillips, author of Pastoral Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 59 pages ISBN 0-8093-2444-x, $12.95 paper
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the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2000 Open Competition Award Winning Titles
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
MISERY PREFIGURED Poems by J. Allyn Rosser
“J. Allyn Rosser’s poems are savvy close-readings of her daily experience. She knows how to balance cynicism with the hope for love in language that is freshly minted and full of local surprises. In the words of her own metaphor, she writes with heart and wit about the friction inside the machine of her life.”—Billy Collins, author of Sailing Around the Room and Picnic, Lightning 75 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2383-4 $12.95 paper
This Country of Mothers Poems by Julianna Baggott
“Julianna Baggott has a ﬁerce imagination which probes the ordinary details of a woman’s life and lights up both the sacred and profane. In a poem called ‘Blurbs,’ she half-facetiously hopes for the words ‘sexy,’ ‘elegance,’ and ‘bite’ to be applied to her work. Happily, in this book, she earns all three.”—Linda Pastan, author of Carnival Evening: New and Selected Poems 1968–1998 80 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2381-8 $12.95 paper
Names Above Houses Poems by Oliver de la Paz
“Names above Houses points to a new direction in Asian American poetry in which the creative genius of Oliver de la Paz hangs in the sky as luminous neon verse. He takes the urbane colors of John Berryman and mixes them with the sensuous hues of Arthur Sze. This is a book enriched with unexpected shifts of language, vertical and horizontal perspectives, and a full spectrum of emotion and insight.”—Nick Carbó, author of Secret Asian Man 78 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2382-6 $12.95 paper
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For more information on the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry: www.siu.edu/~crborchd
the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 1998 & 1999 Open Competition Award Winning Titles
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
The Star-Spangled Banner Poems by Denise Duhamel
“[S]o overwhelming is her relish for life that embarrassment, or titillation when the subject is sexual, just doesn’t stand a chance.”—Booklist 67 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2259-5 $12.95 paper
In Search of the Great Dead Poems by Richard Cecil
“[T]he technical skill and humor on display in this collection make it likely that Cecil’s poems will be read long after he joins that ever-longer roll call of poets who have passed on. . . . [A] remarkable book.”—Quarterly West 111 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2260-9 $12.95 paper
CROSSROADS AND UNHOLY WATER Poems by Marilene Phipps
“[T]his collection embraces awe and woe through curses and praise that unearth a meeting place for the unspeakable as well as culminant beauty —a book of acknowledgment and ritual.”—Yusef Komunyakaa 71 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2306-0 $12.95 paper
WINTER AMNESTIES Poems by Elton Glaser
“Elton Glaser’s poems are classic in the best sense of the word: he achieves stateliness without stufﬁness and form without conﬁnement. ”—Lucia Perillo 77 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2305-2 $12.95 paper
For more information on the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry: www.siu.edu/~crborchd
Copublished with Crab Orchard Review Available at bookstores, or from
General/Awards Issue for 2005, Featuring the Winners of Our Annual Fiction, Poetry, & Literary Nonfiction Prizes
Published on Feb 1, 2005
General/Awards Issue for 2005, Featuring the Winners of Our Annual Fiction, Poetry, & Literary Nonfiction Prizes