Richard Lawson is a Professor Emeritus in English at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
In this volume: Jacqueline Guidry
Brenda Sparks Prescott
Kristen Staby Rembold
Bryan Tso Jones
Jesse Lee Kercheval
Ruth Ellen Kocher
Karen An-hwei Lee
Susan B.A. Somers-Willett
J. Michael Martinez
Mary M.Y. Fung
Amina Lolita Gautier
Mary Michael Wagner
Kevin A. González
Mary Lee Myers
Crab Orchard Review
published by the Department of English Southern Illinois University Carbondale
$10.00 ISSN 1083-5571
$10.00us Vol. 11 No. 1
Featuring the Winners of our Fiction, Poetry, & Literary Nonﬁction Prizes & the Charles Johnson Student Fiction Award
Volume 11, Number 1 Winter/Spring 2006
Crab Orchard Review
Cover: Four photographs by Richard Lawson © 2006
Crab Orchard Review
A B ORCH AR R C D •
A B ORCH AR R C D •
A JOURNAL OF CREATIVE WORKS
VOL. 11 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 Jacob Boyd Jason Brown Tracy Conerton Desiree Dighton Ingrid Moody Rebecca Oliver Jan Presley Elisabeth Randall Lainie Thomas
Assistant Editors Chris Bryson Debra Jurmu Kevin Kainulainen Jan LaPerle Elisabeth Meyer Elena Pearson
Special Projects Assistant Renee Wells
Winter/Spring 2006 ISSN 1083-5571
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
Department of English Faner Hall 2380 - Mail Code 4503 Southern Illinois University Carbondale 1000 Faner Drive Carbondale, Illinois 62901 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, $40, and $60. Subscription rates for institutions are $20 for one year, $40 for two years, and $60 for three years; foreign rates for institutions are, respectively, $25, $50, and $75. Single issues are $10 (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, Department of English, Faner Hall 2380 - Mail Code 4503, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, 1000 Faner Drive, Carbondale, Illinois 62901. Crab Orchard Review considers submissions from February through April, and August through October 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 © 2006 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 The American Humanities Index and 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: Arthur M. “Lain” Adkins, Susan H. Wilson, Karl Kageﬀ, Barb Martin, Carol Burns, Larry Townsend, Sarah Henry, Kathy Kageﬀ, Bridget Brown, Mona Ross, 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,Faner Hall 2380 â€“ Mail Code 4503, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, 1000 Faner Drive, Carbondale, Illinois 62901.
CHARTER MEMBERS Edward Brunner & Jane Cogie Linda L. Casebeer Dwayne Dickerson Jack Dyer Joan Ferrell John Guyon John M. Howell
Richard Jurek Joseph A. Like 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
Lillian Peterson Eugenie & Roger Robinson Betty & Ray Tribble David & Laura Tribble Clarisse Zimra
DONORS Lorna Blake Tawanna R. Brown Charles Fanning Jewell A. Friend John & Nancy Jackson Reamy Jansen Rob & Melissa Jensen Jon Luther
Elisabeth Luther Jeremy Manier Lee Newton Lucia Perillo Angela Rubin Hans H. Rudnick William E. Simeone Lissa Winstanley
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
The editors and staff of Crab Orchard Review dedicate this issue to the memory of two individuals who enriched our lives:
DR. JAMES E. WALKER President, Southern Illinois University
HERB SCOTT Poet, Professor, Editor
A B ORCH AR R C D •
VOLUME 11, NUMBER 1
FICTION & PROSE 1
Amina Lolita Gautier
How to Make Flan
Kevin A. González
Mary Lee Myers
An End to the Drought
Brenda Sparks Prescott
The Messenger or Woman Waving to the Future
Mary Michael Wagner
Tapping a Flower
The Deep Middle
Recent Titles by Brian Leung, David Lloyd, Benjamin Percy, Douglas Trevor, Funso Aiyejina, Francisco Aragón, Diane Gilliam Fisher, Nathalie Handal, Karen An-hwei Lee, and Amber Flora Thomas
Poetry Dilruba Ahmed
In Brussels I Learn to Love
Fog on Skyline Drive Foxgloves in Late August
Clyde Tombaugh on His Discovery of Pluto
Bian Zhilin translated by Mary M.Y. Fung & David Lunde
To Coal Miners
Elsewhere Oﬀ Eastham Edisto From Ocracoke
30 31 32 33
The God of Our Understanding Big Bang Theory
In the Time of the Smoking Mirror November of the Plague Year
Before Edison Invented Lights Lopez Island
God Measuring the World with a Compass Ontology of the Miniature Room
In the Hospital
Ninth Grade Girl, Circa 1970
Walking the Ashes
How to Shave a Man
Bryan Tso Jones
Jesse Lee Kercheval
Ruth Ellen Kocher
2. 3. 15. 19.
98 99 100 101
Karen An-hwei Lee
Uses of Telescopes
Granite from Sugar Water
J. Michael Martinez
The Water’s Elegy for La Llorona
Synth Composite Basketball: No More Leather Language Mixology
A Natural History of Remembering
It Remains That I Speak of the Air
Kristen Staby Rembold
Three Months After
for my father, who will not read this poem
Susan B.A. Somers-Willett
Cow Song The Boy Who Would Be Achilles Decorum
167 168 170
Out of a Dream of Blue Water A Woman Lies Face Down in the Sand Long Before I Enter the Gate The Day Comes as I Knew Sleek-Finned and Black, Hooded
172 174 176 177 178
An Ex-Nun Resurrects the Dating God
Again, the Fields Southern Gothic
Taipei Each Season Harvest Final Letter Before
182 183 184 185 186
Index to Volume Ten – 2005
Index of Book Reviews 1997/2005
A Note on Our Cover The four photographs on the cover of this issue are the work of Richard Lawson, a Professor Emeritus in English at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. In 1995, he was the cover artist for the ﬁrst issue of Crab Orchard Review.
Announcements We would like to congratulate two of our recent contributors, Teresa R. Funke and Richard Newman. Teresa R. Funke’s essay “Una Hija Americana,” which appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Volume 9, Number 2 (Summer/Fall 2004), was listed as a “Notable Essay” in the Best American Essays 2005. Richard Newman’s poem “Briefcase of Sorrow,” which appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Volume 10, Number 1 (Winter/Spring 2005), was selected by Billy Collins for inclusion in Best American Poetry 2006.
The 2006 Richard Peterson Poetry Prize, Jack Dyer Fiction Prize, and John Guyon Literary Nonﬁction Prize
We are pleased to announce the winners and ﬁnalists for the 2006 Richard Peterson Poetry Prize, Jack Dyer Fiction Prize, and John Guyon Literary Nonﬁction Prize. The winning entry in the poetry competition was ﬁve poems by Sandy Tseng of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The two ﬁnalists in poetry were ﬁve poems by Rebecca Dunham and four poems by Jody Rambo. The winning entry in the ﬁction competition was “How to Make Flan” by Amina Gautier of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The two ﬁnalists in ﬁction were “Escape” by Nam Le and “Accomplice” by Patricia Stiles. In literary nonfiction, the winning entry was “Radiation Blooms” by Susan Sterling of Waterville, Maine. The two ﬁnalists in literary nonﬁction were “Stop” by Erica Bleeg and “Handing It Down” by Nate Lowe. The ﬁnal judge for the poetry competition was Allison Joseph, Crab Orchard Review’s editor and poetry editor. 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 information on subscriptions, calls for submissions and guidelines, contest information and results, and past, current and future issues. Visit us at:
Amina Lolita Gautier How to Make Flan I was settled in for the evening, comfortably watching early evening game shows when my father called. “Come home,” he said. “How’re you doing?” I asked, pretending as if hearing from him were not a rare, rare thing. For the last four years, I’d been living in West Philadelphia, in a converted Victorian house on a quiet treelined street just blocks away from campus. I had not seen my father in all this time. “How soon can you come?” I looked at the books stacked on my coﬀee table. Most were overdue at the library. A few had been recalled. I had been meaning to start my paper for the last few hours, but had somehow managed to postpone it in favor of dinner and Jeopardy! I was only two and a half hours from home, but I thought of my poverty, my debt, and my courses, and made excuses. I reminded my father that this was the fall semester of my last year at Penn, a delicate time. I told him I was in the middle of writing a paper. That I couldn’t aﬀord it. That I had enough credit card debt to make a grown man cry. That I had neither the time nor the money to come to Brooklyn right now. I ended with, “It was good of you to call.” “Not so good,” he said. “Is something wrong?” “Your abuela is in the hospital.” “Why didn’t you tell me?” “I just did. That’s why I called. She wants to see you.” “Is she okay? I mean, what’s wrong with her?” He said, “Everything.” The Final Jeopardy! subject was “Twentieth Century U.S. Presidents.” Alex Trebek asked the contestants to make their wagers. This could be a trick, I thought. Only I couldn’t guess why my father would want to see me so badly that he’d resort to this. I would not come back home for him, but I would for Abuela and he knew it. My father moved back in with Abuela once my parents divorced. Had it not been for that, Crab Orchard Review
Amina Lolita Gautier I would have seen more of her. I listened as my father predicted she wouldn’t recover. I promised to see them in the morning as Alex asked the contestants to name the only president whose ﬁrst middle and last name all had the same number of letters. Who is Ronald Wilson Reagan? I silently guessed. I lifted the shade of my window and looked out onto my front porch, idly watching the brittle leaves pile up on the railings. The wind was swirling them, lifting them, hinting at snow. Despondent security guards nod as I walk past them. Receptionists don’t even lift their heads from the latest magazines. No one asks me for ID or makes me sign in. I ﬁnd my own way down hallways painted in muted colors and retro designs. I hear my father’s voice as I near Abuela’s hospital room. “Mami, try to be reasonable.” “But I don’t want a TV. Why do you come here to bother me?” Abuela is swathed from neck to toe in layers of thick white cotton sheets, topped by a beige blanket. She looks as if she is being prepared for burial. My father sits by her side, looking older than he did when I saw him last. “Dios mío, who is this?” she asks. “You did this for me. You are my favorite son.” “Mami, I’m your only son,” he says. When she smiles, I see that her face is frozen on one side. The left side of her smile slides downwards into a frown. When she talks, only one side of her face moves. “Nieta,” she murmurs, “Ven acá.” Abuela struggles to sit up, stretches out a hand to me. I can’t help but think that this woman is not Abuela; that someone has switched her with a bad fake. Abuela chases people with wooden spoons and smacks them hard on their hands. She bangs pots and pans. She is always standing, always on her feet. Her hospital bed is the old-fashioned kind with a crank at the foot of the bed to raise or lower it. It is closer to the window than it should be. I walk to the head of it and press her hand to my lips, kissing the paper thin skin. “How’s my abuelita?” I ask. “How are you feeling?” “Like a prisoner,” she says and then bursts into a ﬁt of coughing. A nurse, standing just outside the door, runs in with water. Soon Abuela settles down. She sits up against her pillows, stronger and more alert. “Mami, be careful,” my father says, holding her arm. “Are you okay?” I ask. She tries to shake my father oﬀ. “They’re just trying to impress 2 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Amina Lolita Gautier you. They won’t even give me water when I ask for it, only when they want me to have it. I can’t drink when I’m thirsty and when I’m not they try to drown me.” “They have their reasons,” my father says. She curses in Spanish and my father rises from his seat. This is more like her. “Mami!” She waves him oﬀ. “You can go now. I just want my nieta. Wait outside.” Once he is gone, she says, “I missed you. Why did you stay away so long?” Before I can answer, she says, “Men and women divorce, not families.” “I’m sorry. I—” “It’s okay,” she says. “You’re here now. My nieta. You’ve grown so beautiful.” Then she motions me closer. “They won’t let me go home. I tell them I’m ﬁne and they say ‘let’s see.’ These doctors are crazy. Do you understand that?” she asks. “Maybe they want to make sure you’re one hundred percent,” I say, not wanting to take sides. “How can I get better in here? The food they feed me is not ﬁt for a pig.” She grabs my hand and tugs me down so I am looking into her eyes. They are cloudy, the irises milky gray; her left eye threatens to close. She searches my face. “I want you to bring me something. Will you?” “What did the doctors say?” “Do you think I listen to crazies?” she asks. Although we are the only ones in the room, she pulls me down even closer to her and whispers, “Nieta, I want you to make me some ﬂan.” “I don’t think the doctors would want you to have anything they haven’t given you,” I say. “Flan is not going to kill anybody,” she says. I shake my head to let her know I mean business, but she doesn’t let go of my hand. “I want some ﬂan,” she says. “You remember I used to make it for you when you were sick?” “I remember.” “You don’t want to deny my last wish?” “Don’t talk like that,” I say. “Trying to give me a guilt trip won’t work.” “No guilt trip,” Abuela says. “Blackmail. You owe me.” She turns Crab Orchard Review
Amina Lolita Gautier onto her side and pulls the cover over her thin shoulder. “You can go now, too.” “What did she want?” My father is waiting for me when I leave the hospital room. He takes my bag and hefts it over his shoulder. “She wants you to bring her something, doesn’t she?” “Just to talk.” As soon as we leave the hospital, he lights up. We walk to the subway together and he ﬁlls me in. He has a new job, higher pay and more responsibility. He has been dating a woman from Panama, but she is more serious than he is. He hands me a token, and we go through our separate turnstiles and go down the stairs for the local. “How’s school?” “It’s ﬁne,” I say. “We’re about to go into ﬁnals.” He nods, ﬂicks his cigarette onto the tracks. “How is your mother?” my father asks. “I haven’t seen her yet. I came straight to the hospital.” My father nods. He says, “The train is coming,” and this closes the conversation. Something I never could understand, my parents. Two workaholics. They loved their jobs more than anything else. Including each other. Including me. I remember Abuela yelling at them to slow down. She once told me, “All of this money and hard work, but your parents are missing out on the most important thing.” “What’s that?” I had asked her. “You,” she said. So busy working towards the next promotion, putting in overtime, going in on holidays and weekends to build up their time, they couldn’t have a marriage, let alone raise a daughter. So they got divorced and I went to boarding school. I get on the train. He doesn’t. He will catch the express on the upper level. “Say hello to your mother for me,” my father says, as the silver doors close between us. My mother is in the kitchen making her lunch for work when I let myself in. “So how is she doing?” she asks. I hang my coat in the hallway closet and drop my bag onto a couch. “She’s ﬁne.” 4 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Amina Lolita Gautier “How does she look?” I join her in the kitchen and kiss her cheek out of habit. “Fine.” My mother mixes tuna ﬁsh with mayonnaise in a plastic bowl. “Fine? Is that how they teach you to talk at that Ivy League school? I’m paying all this money for ﬁne?” “She doesn’t like the food in there.” “Who could blame her?” My mother spoons tuna ﬁsh onto bread and makes two sandwiches. “Dad doesn’t think she’s coming back out.” She drops the spoon and bowl into the sink and begins to wash them, shaking her head sadly. “What a thing for him to tell someone. God, I hope that’s not true. She’s always been good to us. You especially.” “She threatened me.” “With what?” “She wants me to make her some ﬂan and sneak it in to her.” “She knows she can’t have that. And you know you can’t make her that stuﬀ. It’s way too rich. She should know better. Don’t even think about it,” my mother says, as if her opinion is one that carries weight. “Dad asked how you were. He said hi,” I tell her. She pretends not to hear me. She ziplocks her sandwiches into bags and slides them into a lunch bag that can keep food hot or cold, depending. “The next time you see her, give her my love.” I drop my stuff off in my room. I barely recognize it. My mother has taken my posters down and has mounted all of my academic awards on the walls. She has taken my books oﬀ the shelves and replaced them with row upon row of my old dolls. Bald-headed Barbies lean against the shelves, Kens with their hands and feet bitten and disﬁgured, and Skippers without heads preen on the shelves, sit, pose and lean into one another. Plastic hands that I had slowly chewed on waiting for my mother to come home from working overtime. Blonde corn silk strands of hair that I had pulled out one by one each time she broke a promise. Heads that I had popped oﬀ when I had ﬁnally had enough for a time. The dolls were my mother’s way of assuaging guilt. Every time she took on another shift, worked more hours than she was scheduled to, stayed at work rather than come home on holidays and weekends, she brought me an eleven and a half inch Barbie doll that I had not asked for. They were supposed to make me feel better about not seeing her. As I pull on my pajamas, I remind myself that I am an Crab Orchard Review
Amina Lolita Gautier adult now, that I have matured. I resist the urge to twist Ken’s plastic head oﬀ, and I try to get some sleep. My father and grandmother are arguing when I get there the next day. They stop when they see me. “Look who’s here,” my father says. I ask, “How are you feeling, Abuelita?” “Not so good.” “What’s wrong?” “Tengo más hambre que maestra de escuela,” she says. Then she looks at me. “You don’t understand me?” I tell her that I stopped taking Spanish after my sophomore year. She rolls her eyes in disgust. “This is your child,” she says to my father. My father explains, “She said she’s hungry.” “As hungry as a schoolteacher,” Abuela adds. “But I’d be better if your father here would stop trying to make me eat.” The table by her right arm can be wheeled closer or further for her convenience. On it are a Styrofoam cup of ﬂat ginger ale, a small ramekin of pudding, and a clear container of fruit salad. Chunks of watermelon and pineapple sit in their own juices. “But Mami, you know what the doctors said. You have to eat. You have to build up your strength,” my father says. “You’re too weak.” Abuela waves him oﬀ. “Ya, mijo. Ya ya. Déjame en paz. I’d have to be a pig to eat the food they give me here. You know that I can’t eat that stuﬀ. It makes me go to the bathroom.” He says, “You’ll never get better that way.” Abuela looks at me like a supplicant. “It’s so greasy. Who could eat it?” “Mami, it’s not that bad,” my father says. Abuela’s hand comes down on her tray. “You like it so much you can eat it!” She knocks over the ginger ale. My father grabs tissues and kneels to clean up the mess. He apologizes, “She’s been like this since she got here. She won’t listen.” “Am I dead yet? I still have ears,” she says. “What’s wrong with your food?” I ask. “That fruit is older than I am,” she says. “What about the pudding?” She looks at it suspiciously. “Want to try it?” “Maybe a little bit.” 6 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Amina Lolita Gautier My father throws his hands up. “I just tried to get you to eat that!” “You’re not my nieta,” Abuela says, a crafty smile on her face. “Give me the slop. I’ll taste it.” She tries to hold her cup with her bad hand, but she cannot steady it. The ramekin wobbles. Each time she dips her good hand with the spoon into the container, the yellowish pudding slides out. “Here, Abuela, let me,” I say as I take the ramekin from her. I spoon the pudding out for her and feed it to her. She is like a greedy child, gobbling every bit I give her as my father watches, unspeaking. “How is that?” “It’s slop, but it’s better than nothing,” she says. She tries to grab my wrist with her weak left hand. “That’s enough. Thank you.” “You’ve got to keep your strength up,” I tell her. “We don’t want to lose you,” my father says. She makes a face at him. “I’m not going anywhere.” I go home with him to find her comb and brush. We don’t talk about my mother. In my grandmother’s house are many candles, knickknacks, and saints. She has tried to cram a whole island into her overcrowded apartment. Elephants march across the coﬀee table, trunks up. Coasters bear the faces of parrots and coquis. Large wooden spoons in three diﬀerent sizes hang from the wall in the kitchen. A green can of soda crackers sits on a counter, and I know it is ﬁlled to the brim with rice, not crackers. A pilón, mortar and pestle, wait above the refrigerator for her to come home and mash cooked green plantains with fresh garlic to make mofongo. A large aluminum pot with its blackened bottom sits on the back burner of the stove, ever ready. My father takes me to her bedroom and opens her door, leaving me to ﬁnd the comb and brush. Everything is just as I remembered it. Over her bedroom door, a palm leaf is twisted into the shape of a cross. It will remain there until next Palm Sunday. A bust of Jesus adorns the end table in her bedroom. Four near-empty bottles of prescription medicine sit on her dresser. Next to them lie her brush and comb, still ﬁlled with long strands of her hair. I see Abuela here, vital and alive, dusting oﬀ her dresser mirror, allowing me to help brush her hair, showing me which of her medicines thinned her blood, kept her pressure down, or helped her to breathe, and which ones protected her Crab Orchard Review
Amina Lolita Gautier from all the other ones. Her bedroom is a walking botanical. Scientiﬁc medicine jostles for space with Santería concoctions. Catholic remedies and vials of holy water and holy oil are lined up next to health food store medicines in clear plastic pouches. These medicines were toys to me when I was younger, things to be suspicious of when I was older and forewarned by my mother and others who didn’t believe in that stuﬀ, things to make fun of once I went to college and learned to know better. Now as I look at them, I just see an old woman’s attempts to prolong her life as creatively as she could. The next day she is arguing with my father over the television in her room. “It’s wasting your money, I don’t need it.” “But Mami, you might change your mind. You might want to watch some shows.” “I’ve seen enough Phil Donahue and Jerry Springer to last my whole life.” “How about if I just turn it on so you can see what there is to watch?” “Do you think I want to be watching things that aren’t real?” “Mami, just look at—” “Leave it!” My father moved to turn the TV on. “Just see—” “Get out of here! ¡No me molestes!” “But Mami—” “I don’t want to see your face anymore. Go!” My father walks to the door slowly as if waiting for her to call him back. She pretends he is already gone. She pats the bed and I go to her. “Did you bring me what I asked for?” “Not exactly.” She makes a face at me. “But I did bring your comb and brush, Abuela.” “Okay,” she nods. “But tomorrow, I want ﬂan. Is your father standing outside my door?” Now he is my father, not her son. I go and check. The hallway is clear. “No. He’s gone.” “Good.” “He was just trying to help,” I say. Sitting on the edge of her bed with a comb and brush, I work out the snarls and kinks in Abuela’s hair. “Help me put my foot in the grave!” 8 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Amina Lolita Gautier “Don’t you think you’re being a little harsh on him?” I ask. “He loves you.” “I know,” she says, breathing like it’s hurting her. “I love him too. No mother ever loved a son more, but he’s killing me.” She looks at me, imploring. “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to eat that food. I want to go home and be in my own bed. I don’t want to die here.” “Don’t say that.” Something in me trembles. “You’re not going to die. Remember what you said? You’re not going anywhere?” Tears slip from her eyes. “Tell that to my son. Every time I look into his eyes, I see death looking back at me.” “Abuela.” I take her hand. She doesn’t look good. If at all possible, she seems smaller and weaker than a moment ago. “No more talk about that,” she says. Her face brightens momentarily. “Tell me about your school and Philadelphia.” I have been happy and comfortable away in Philadelphia. I tell her about Clark Park and the Farmer’s Market. I tell her what it’s like to have a porch instead of a stoop. I try to explain the diﬀerence between a water ice and an Italian ice. “I would like to visit you,” she says. “Anytime,” I say, glad to talk of her getting better. “But I’ll have to clean up ﬁrst.” She laughs and falls into a ﬁt of coughing that lasts too long. Her cough rattles in her chest and leaves her spent. She won’t let me call the nurse. I oﬀer her water. I hold her hand. I wish for my father to come back and take over. “Let me get someone.” The hand that I am holding tightens on mine with surprising strength. Her hands squeeze, but I don’t pull away. “No me dejas,” she says. Don’t leave me. It’s easy for me to forget how sick she has always been when I hear her arguing and yelling. She’s been this way for so long that sometimes I take it for granted. Her voice trembles and she squeezes my hand harder and harder. I have never seen her afraid. “No,” I say. I swallow hard. “I won’t leave you.” I have no idea how long it takes before her breathing has calmed. Too long. Finally, she looks at me and pats my hand, smiling weakly. “Tell me, nieta, would I like Philadelphia?” “You would,” I tell her. When I say this, I am thinking of the vegetable stands between Chestnut and Locust. The large white trucks the Senegalese men drive, the rickety wooden stalls they erect to sell their fresh vegetables. The long snaking lines of people crowded onto the Crab Orchard Review
Amina Lolita Gautier curb and spilling out into the street, thumping melons and inspecting yams, arguing over the price of overripe produce. I remember Abuela taking me to market and inspecting mangoes, avocados, guavas and breadfruits, arguing with the vendors and loving every minute of it. She wants me to continue to brush her hair. I scratch out the tiny white ﬂakes of dandruﬀ that nurses have ignored, pulling her long hair out from behind her and brushing it all the way down to the straggly ends. Each stroke relaxes her a little more, making her sleepy, just like it used to. Yawning, she says, “My hair is from Spain and my face is from Africa. And you, nieta, you look just like me.” I laugh at our old joke. When I was younger, I didn’t know who or what I was. I had a black mother and a Puerto Rican father, and I didn’t know what that made me. By fourth grade I had learned that in this country, it was neither possible nor desirable to be both. Kids teased me, calling me “elstupido.” Girls pulled my hair, wondering if it was a weave. Grown men approached me in Spanish on my way to or from school, angry when I didn’t answer because I couldn’t understand. There were two sides of me and one of them was always getting in trouble. My mother blamed the Puerto Rican side of me and my father blamed the black side. I don’t remember what caused it, but I came to my grandmother in tears one afternoon, asking, “Abuela, what am I?” She didn’t ask me what happened. She just shook her head at me. “Don’t you know who you are?” She laced her ﬁngers through mine. “You are my granddaughter, my nieta. You are everybody’s daughter. You are the conquistador, the Indian and the slave, struggling to be one. You are three kings bringing gifts. You are a fortress. You are chains and shackles. You are the ocean. And the sand beneath the waves. You are the pride of the sea. You are the breeze that blows from the shore. You are my granddaughter, my nieta. You are me, nena. You are me.” As my grandmother drifts oﬀ to sleep, I pull the comb through her hair and think of how much I still need her. I want to lie down beside her on her hospital bed. I want her to wrap her arms around me. I want her to give me all her answers. I find my mother and father necking on the couch. One shamefaced, the other daring, they partly detach, long enough for my father to help my mother sit up. Long enough for her to smooth her skirt, blow hair out of her eyes. Long enough for him to drape his arm over her shoulder and leave it there. 10 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Amina Lolita Gautier “Will I see you tomorrow?” I ask him before either of them can speak. He shrugs. “What diﬀerence does it make? She only wants her nieta,” he mocks, sounding like a small child. Once he has gone, my mother tries to explain. “He told me what happened. He said he didn’t know where else to go.” “So he came here?” I can’t keep the sarcasm from my voice. “After not stepping foot in this apartment since I was what—twelve—he decides to drop by today?” “It was the one place he knew he wouldn’t have to face you.” Suddenly, miraculously, my mother has become an expert on my father. Suddenly, she knows so much. “Except here I am.” “We kind of lost track of time.” “I see,” I say, although I don’t. “He was very hurt. He pouts when he doesn’t get his way,” she says. “She threw him out, but kept you. He was jealous of you.” “That’s ridiculous.” “He’s always been like that.” I don’t know how he has always been and I don’t want to know now. “So am I supposed to be sorry that—” “No, no. Of course not. He should have understood. You’ve always been special to her. She was always willing to take you when you were young and your father and I were so busy with everything.” She changes the subject. “Do you think she would mind if I came to see her?” “No,” I say. “You should.” “If I could change the past—” my mother begins. She stops, seeming to stare at something in the corner of the kitchen. “We were so young and stupid then. It’s a good thing you spent more time with her than us,” she says, the closest she will come to an apology. As I lay out the ingredients for the flan, I remember one winter when I was eleven and Abuela made ﬂan to cure my strep throat. She said that the ﬂan would be good for my throat, that it would soothe the soreness and that it wouldn’t hurt me to swallow it. Her tiny kitchen was just a rectangle of space sectioned oﬀ from the large open living room by a tall counter. I remember the comfort of the living room. From the hi-riser, I could see the back of her, her head and back and shoulders bent over a small saucepan, stirring sugar over Crab Orchard Review
Amina Lolita Gautier a low heat until it caramelized. I could close my eyes and listen to the hushed steps she made in the small square of kitchen space, the sound of metal hitting aluminum as she scraped the clinging bits of caramel from the pan, the crack and spill of eggs, the ﬂourish of water running in the sink to set the mold, the creak of wooden cabinet doors on old iron hinges as she opened the cupboards and pulled out her custard cups, the ping of milk in a glass bowl, all the ingredients of my ﬂan, all of the steps she took to let me know that she was with me and she was making my cure. No matter how high my fever or how dry my throat, the pain all seemed lessened by those safe secure sounds of someone seeking my welfare. After she’d made the ﬂan and I’d eaten it, she’d settle me once more on the hi-riser to sleep. She’d brush back the hair from my forehead and lean down to kiss me, and I’d feel the dry press of her lips against my hot, feverish skin. At that moment she’d say, “Te quiero, nieta.” I love you. Tomorrow, whether or not my father decides to show up, I will go and sit with my grandmother. Tonight I make the ﬂan. In my mother’s kitchen, I pour sugar and a bit of water into a saucepan, stirring it over a low heat until the caramel forms. I pour the caramel out into my mold and set it to the side. I beat eggs until they are frothy. Then I add condensed milk and vanilla, mixing well. Finally, I pour the custard over the caramel. I place my mold inside a larger pan and ﬁll the larger pan partway with water, putting it in the oven to bake. Tomorrow, my grandmother will be better and stronger than she was today. Tonight I take my ﬂan from the oven and invert it on a dish. I leave it in the refrigerator overnight and wait for it to take its shape.
12 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Kevin A. González The Current We were on our way to the longest pool in the world, and
some American kid two years younger than me kept whipping my shoulder with his seat belt buckle in the back of my father’s Bronco. I held my hands out to block it, but I didn’t hit him back. I tried to stare him down, which usually works with younger kids, especially gringo kids, but he wasn’t budging. My father was driving, and some American girl he’d met the night before, the kid’s mom, was riding shotgun. We had a deal: I’d get the kid oﬀ his back and he’d buy me a brand-new Blind Reaper skateboard. When the kid whipped me again, and got me hard on the knuckles, I told my father in Spanish that I was starting to get pissed oﬀ, encojonado. My father scoped things out in the rearview and asked the kid in English to put on his seat belt. The kid spoke back something about how my father was not his dad and couldn’t tell him what to do, and then the mom cut in and made him buckle up. I saw in the rearview my father roll his eyes, so I rolled mine too. I understood English okay, but I didn’t like to speak it. The nuns at school had been stuﬃng that language down our throats since kindergarten, belting us with their rosary beads whenever our tongues twisted the words wrong. There was no one to speak English with outside of class anyways, except my father’s American girlfriends and their kids, and it’s not like I had anything to say to them. I asked my father how much longer till we got there and he said ya mismo, not much. The kid kept trying to sneak in some body punches, and I pressed my eyelids together and imagined that new skateboard spinning in the distance like a slow propeller, getting farther and farther with each spin. The longest pool in the world is at the Cerromar Hyatt in Dorado, about an hour outside San Juan, and you have to be a guest to swim in it. Just to get inside the resort, you have to go past three security cabins, and they all ask you the same goddamn things. My father always spoke well to guards and workers like that, and he was the type of nice that people remembered. He’s good at making shit up, though Crab Orchard Review
Kevin A. González he didn’t need to make up any shit to get into Cerromar, since his law ﬁrm represented the hotel and he could make a call and get a free room any day he wanted. All he had to do was say his name and they’d let him in, but he always asked the guards how they were doing and made small talk about weather or politics. Sometimes he lied for no reason, like when the guard asked about how traﬃc was on the new expreso, my father bitched about how expensive the tolls were, and said that it was the Governor’s fault that the traﬃc was backed up, even though the traﬃc wasn’t really backed up at all. It always pissed me oﬀ, those stupid lies, and one time I asked him why he did it. He said because he lived alone and he was bored, and talking to anyone was like an escape. I told him he didn’t have to do that when I was with him, he could just talk to me instead of lying to people he didn’t know. But he kept doing it, he said people just love being lied to, they just don’t know it. It pissed me oﬀ, because it wasn’t true, but I knew better than to argue with a lawyer like him, even then I knew. At Cerromar, the guards always agreed with whatever he said, and they seemed happy to talk to him, I guess since most of the people that go through there are tourists, and tourists are fucking snobs. After he parked the Bronco, my father walked ahead with me and reminded me of the deal: I was to leave him and the girl alone and make sure the kid didn’t fuck everything up. Because he hadn’t expected the kid to be such a pain in the ass, I’d also get a couple of videogames to go with the board. If I ever punched or tried to drown the kid or anything like that, the whole deal was oﬀ. I wished my father good luck; he said he wouldn’t need it. After the divorce, my father only dated gringas. He said they were easier to deal with than Puerto Rican women. Most of them were ten to twenty years younger than him. Some were freshly divorced from Navy men who’d lugged them to Fort Buchanan or Roosevelt Roads years before; others were just waitresses or bartenders who skipped the mainland for reasons they kept to themselves. The divorced ones with kids were the worst. My father called them the women on a mission—the mission was to catch a man and get him to marry them and take care of their kids. He had no intention of marrying ever again, he said to me, he just wanted to sleep with them. And I, who only saw him on weekends, was his hired accomplice. Watch and learn, he always told me. The pool wasn’t just one pool, it was a bunch of pools that were connected by canals and waterslides. They called it the river-pool because it had a strong built-in current, and if you just ﬂoated, the 14 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Kevin A. González current would carry you under wooden bridges and caverns, past waterfalls and wetbars and grottoes with Jacuzzis, even past some grassy islets that had some peacocks living on them. I’d been going there since I was ﬁve, when my parents were still married, and I knew the whole thing by heart. There were white lounge chairs arranged just outside the water, running along the entire border of the pool, and I always imagined that if you looked down from a helicopter, you’d see this great white outline, like in a coloring book, ﬁlled-in with blue, only that it was done perfectly, without any of those crayon lines that stick out and screw the whole thing up. My father and the mom found a couple of lounge chairs right by one of the wetbars and set up their towels. She called the kid over and started to rub suntan lotion all over his chubby red face, and he started to bitch that it stung his eyes. My father asked them if they wanted something to drink and walked over to the part of the bar that wasn’t in the pool. Typical gringos, they wanted piña coladas—hers with 151, his a virgin. My father got what he always got, a Cuba Libre. I got a Pepsi. I’d started to make a point of ordering Pepsis instead of Cokes. That was the year Madonna came to Puerto Rico, and the nuns at school decided to boycott Pepsi because it was Madonna’s sponsor. They told our entire seventh-grade class to stop drinking Pepsi, that Pepsi was evil. I liked Coke better, but switched to Pepsi just to spite them. I only took two or three sips before diving into the pool. There were signs all over the place that said NO DIVING, but I knew what I was doing. Those signs were there for kids like the one I was supposed to be taking care of, for tourists who don’t know their way in the water. In case some idiot banged his head on the bottom and then sued the Hyatt, then the Hyatt people could say they have those signs and didn’t have to pay. I mean, they’d still pay my father, because that’s the type of case he handled for them. It’s amazing how many people fall like retards and then have the balls to ask for money. My father always said if I go to law school he’d set me up with a good job. He said I was good at keeping my cool and tolerating people I disliked, that I was discreet and diplomatic, and that a good lawyer has all those qualities. I humored him: whatever he wanted to teach me I learned or pretended to learn. Diving was one of those things. My father was most proud of me because, when I was three, I would toddle along the edge of the deep end of our building’s pool, and just when some old lady noticed me and started screaming that the little boy was gonna fall in and drown, he tossed his keys into the deepest part and yelled my name, and then I dove in, swam all the Crab Orchard Review
Kevin A. González way down and came up with the keychain in my hand. It was twelve feet deep, and I’d come out gasping, and the shocked old ladies would clap and congratulate my father. We did that routine for hours, he would toss his keys and I would fetch them like a goddamn dog. No fucking way was I going to law school. The kid knocked back the entire piña colada in one gulp, and when he cannonballed into the pool, it splashed so far that a man sitting at the wetbar had to put his hand over his drink so water wouldn’t spray into it. When he surfaced, all the white lotion had slipped oﬀ his face, and his blonde hair was spread ﬂat down the side of his head. He dipped his red cheeks in the pool, then spit out a mouthful of water at me, but I went under before it hit. I let myself go with the current. There was no way the kid would get me in the water. Both my parents had swum for the Puerto Rico Team in the Pan American Games of ’67. They taught me to swim before I could walk. I wasn’t the fastest runner, or the raddest skateboarder, or the best shooter in the basketball team, but no other kid was in the same league as me when it came to swimming or diving or holding my breath. I was the only person I knew who had swum the entire length of the river-pool against the current. Every time I went, there were dozens of people trying to do it, swimming for a few seconds, then holding on to the side of the pool, then trying again, but they always gave up. That current wasn’t a joke. It was heavier than the current out at Piñones, where I surfed with my friends from the building, where there were even warning signs posted on the beach because a couple of kids had drowned. There were several tourist boys playing Marco Polo, and the kid crashed their game. I hated the way he yelled out Polo, stretching the vowels so it sounded like Poe-loe, in that stupid gringo accent he had. The other boys didn’t seem to care that he joined their game without an invitation. They asked if I was playing too, and I shook my head and grunted, like saying I was too old for that shit. I stuck around though, because I had to keep an eye on the kid. I was not immune; I wanted that fucking skateboard. When my father called us from the edge, we had already traveled over half the length of the pool. When we got out, we had to walk a couple of minutes to get back to the lounge chairs where the towels and the mom were. My father was going to check in at the front desk and get the room, and he told me to hang out with the mom and the kid while he did that. Then, he’d be taking the mom to the room, and it was up to me to look after the kid while they were gone. 16 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Kevin A. González The kid ran up to the mom and begged to go back in the water, promising that he’d hold on to the edge of the pool so the current wouldn’t take him. He said he wanted to look at the peacocks that were on one of the islets in the middle of the pool, and I thought it was funny because it was the ﬁrst time I heard the English word peacock. She told him to put on more suntan lotion and not to go far. She slurred her speech, and I realized she’d had a few of those Piña Coladas with the 151 proof. I knew how that stuﬀ could fuck you up, even then I knew. One of the kids from the basketball team had a retarded older brother who we’d send to the 7-11 to buy rum for us. The nuns, who knew nothing about it, let him hang around the school, since he went to church every Sunday and they felt sorry for him. They even let him be the oﬃcial school mascot. During home games, he’d waddle around the court in a white and blue Seahawk suit, and the crowd would chant his name during the pep rallies, “Fer-nand! Fernand! Fer-nand!” After the games, regardless of us winning or losing, when he’d come out of that suit, he always had a tilted smile running through the middle of his face, even despite the torrent of sweat that ran from his forehead and pooled inside his mouth. It was the most satisﬁed face I’ve ever seen, like being inside that suit allowed him to be someone else for two hours; like it was a kind of escape, I guess. “It’s not easy, Tito,” the mom said to me. I looked at her and didn’t say anything. She was lying back on the white lounge chair, a white towel between her and the plastic fabric. The top of her breasts jabbed out of her bikini, and I could see some subtle freckles that ran all the way up to her neck. She couldn’t have been older than thirty-ﬁve. She had the same accent as the kid, though her voice was not annoying at all. She pronounced my name Tee-toe. It sounded almost like singing. “You know what it’s like,” she said, looking at her kid, who clung to the pool’s edge. “I wish he was more like you. I mean, you know how to deal with these things, you know?” “What?” I said. “Your father’s a nice guy, but it’s like I’ve met him before, you know.” She squinted. “Are you having a nice time?” “Yes,” I said. “You’re a handsome boy. I wish he...” She stopped. “I—” I started to say something but had no idea what it was. “How is your mother?” she said. “Good,” I said. “Good.” She took a sip from her piña colada. There was a tiny Crab Orchard Review
Kevin A. González paper umbrella in her cup, and I imagined a single raindrop could rip through it. She said nothing else until my father came walking towards us. “Ready?” she said, and got up without even looking at me. My father told the kid and me that whatever we wanted to eat or drink, we could charge it to Room 1126. He said to stay around the pool, that they’d be back in a little while. He looked at me and I nodded with my eyes, pressing my eyelids together, to tell him I had it all under control. The kid immediately went up to the wetbar and ordered a cheeseburger and a piña colada. I got into one of the Jacuzzis from where I could keep an eye on him. I don’t know if my father had told the mom anything about my mother. I mean, why else would she have asked me that? My parents weren’t even speaking to each other anymore. The ﬁrst weekend of every month, my mother would tell me to ask my father for the child support check and he would bitch while scribbling it out against the sunburnt steering wheel of his Bronco, always right before dropping me oﬀ. After she married another lawyer, my father thought it was pointless that he still had to pay her. My mother said my father had changed a lot after law school, though it wasn’t because of the money, since he’d always had that because of his family. It was her who had changed, I thought—serving her new husband a glass of milk every night in one of the expensive crystal glasses, turning every light switch on and oﬀ exactly twenty-two times before she could sleep, ﬁxing all the wire clothes hangers that did not need to be ﬁxed. After the divorce, she claimed my father just wasn’t the same guy she’d fallen in love with during those Pan American Games in Winnipeg. He had this air about him that was just diﬀerent, and his inﬁdelities had become too obvious. My father told me that he’d gotten bored with my mother. Neither one of them beat around the bush, they always told it to me like it was, and it pissed me oﬀ, though sometimes I loved them for it. Before she remarried, my mother told me she wasn’t really in love with her new husband, that they were more like friends doing each other a favor, which I never really understood. The new husband was pretty quiet. He had a bunch of riﬂes that he kept under the bed, and every six months or so, he’d take a trip to South America to hunt quail or some shit. My father said the new husband was a pussy, that real hunters went after bears and alligators and real animals like that. He also said that the new husband had a raja, which meant he was part black, which wasn’t a good thing to say about people with money. My father’s always been a racist, but then 18 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Kevin A. González again, most people in Puerto Rico are. Everyone knows that lesson the nuns taught us in ﬁrst grade about how we’re all one third Taíno, one third African, and one third Spanish, is total bullshit. All the kids in my school were white, except for the Dominican janitor’s son who got to go for free, but he didn’t even make it past fourth grade because he kept failing English. When the kid ﬁnished his burger, he swam over to the islet where the peacocks were. He pulled himself out of the water, and stood on the grass that had signs nailed to it that said NO DIVING and DO NOT DISTURB THE ANIMALS and DO NOT STEP ON GRASS. He started towards one of the peacocks, and when the bartender from the wetbar noticed him, he started screaming at him to get down from there. I got out of the Jacuzzi, and when I jumped back into the pool, it felt like a mob of cold needles had stabbed me all at the same time all over my body. “Hey!” I yelled, but the kid turned his back and kept chasing the peacock that had just dodged him. He was a slow kid. His belly jiggled like water someone had just dove into, little waves of skin disappearing beneath his trunks, which he wore all the way up to his belly-button. He stretched his hand trying to grab the peacock’s tail. The peacock was startled, and it moved fast. It seemed to relax only when the kid tripped on the NO DIVING sign, hit his head on the edge of the pool, and rolled into the water, bleeding. Suddenly, that perfect white outline colored-in with blue wasn’t perfect anymore. A small speck of red hovered in the middle and fucked the whole thing up. Between the bartender and a lifeguard, they lifted the kid out of the pool. He wasn’t unconscious or anything, just bleeding from the forehead. It wasn’t even a big cut, but he was crying for his mom, and some guy in a suit asked where she was, so I told him. Room 1126. The peacocks had all gathered on the islet, facing the side of the pool where the kid lay crying, a small crowd around him. Their tails looked like the paper fans the nuns used to cool themselves with at school. I remember how in ﬁfth grade, I asked about divorce, and a nun just sat there, fanning herself, and told me that my parents were still married in the eyes of God, that if they had sex with anyone but each other they were going to hell. It pissed me oﬀ, how she just sat there lazily, shaking her little wrist, how condemning someone to hell was as easy as fanning her holy sweaty face. The mom came running, still in her bathing suit, and my father trailed behind her, looking for me in the crowd. When he found me, Crab Orchard Review
Kevin A. González I kind of shrugged, like saying there was nothing I could do, the kid was just a fucking retard. Even once the mom was there, the kid kept crying. Some sort of resort paramedic was cleaning his wound and putting a small bandage over it. The mom was drying him oﬀ. When she was done, she hung the towel over her neck, so that it draped over both her shoulders, covering her breasts. It was similar to what Madonna did in her concert, when she came out on stage topless, with the Puerto Rican ﬂag pressed tight against her chest. People made a huge deal about it, saying that she disrespected the ﬂag or some shit like that, and she’d been banned from performing in Puerto Rico again, but I thought she looked ﬁne, ﬁne just like the kid’s mom. My father’s face turned red when the mom said in front of everyone that they were going to sue the Hyatt for neglect. It was the most innocent thing in the world. She knew he was a lawyer, but he hadn’t told her he was the Hyatt’s lawyer, or that the room and the food and everything had been free that day. She’d just thought he’d really rented a room for the day. My father just said no, the kid shouldn’t have been doing what he was doing, that it was the kid’s fault and not the Hyatt’s, which was true, but she kept insisting. She said she knew someone who had fallen down stairs at another hotel and gotten money, that the Hyatt had to be responsible. My father just kept telling her she was wrong, she was wrong and he wasn’t going to discuss the matter. He just kept telling her not to worry, the kid was going to be ﬁne. The mom didn’t say anything else. The kid just needed a couple of stitches. I sat in the waiting room of the Dorado Hospital with my father, while the mom and the kid were inside with the doctor. My father kept saying he couldn’t believe how I’d fucked everything up. I kept saying it wasn’t my fault, which seemed to make him angrier. “You just made me waste the whole fucking day,” he said. His voice was cutting, but not loud. He was too diplomatic to shout in a hospital waiting room, or any public place for that matter. “I’m sorry,” I said. “And now there could be a goddamn lawsuit,” he said. “You’re a little selﬁsh shit, you know that? You only care about your fucking skateboards and your fucking video games, and now, because of you, everything’s fucked, it’s all fucked. It’s not enough that I give your mother a grand every month, I also get you all kinds of shit, and this is how you pay me back.” I didn’t say anything. 20 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Kevin A. González “Fuck,” he said. “You don’t know how much you owe me, you know? You have no fucking idea.” “I’m sorry,” I repeated. “I should’ve just listened to her. To your mother. She didn’t want to have you.” He looked me straight in the eyes. “You know, I told her she had to.” I got up from the blue plastic seat and walked outside. I don’t know if he was lying. I always loved him more than I loved my mother, because I thought he needed it more, though anyone could see my mother was the better of the two. I knew he couldn’t help who he was, and that whatever he said to me would hurt him, in retrospect, more than it hurt me. Even then, I knew this shit. On the way back to San Juan, the kid was his old self. He started whipping my arm with the metal buckle, and I stared at him and said, “Stop.” The mom and my father were silent in the front seat. The kid started mimicking my voice, yelling, “Sto-op! Sto-op! Sto-op!” When he whipped me again, I pulled back my right arm and punched him hard in the face. Before he had opened his mouth to cry, I had punched him twice more. When he heard the cries, my father turned around and started screaming my name, “Ti-to! Ti-to! Ti-to!” I still didn’t stop. I didn’t stop when the stitches opened up and blood started ﬂowing into the kid’s eye. I didn’t stop when my father pulled the car over on the paseo and hurdled into the back seat to restrain me. I kept punching until my father pinned my head against the window with his forearm and I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a reﬂection of the mom. She sat straight, silent, staring at the dirty dashboard of the Bronco. She could’ve written her name with her ﬁnger on it, there was so much dust.
Crab Orchard Review
Dilruba Ahmed In Brussels I Learn to Love the rain, the way wet streets grow dark and expectant, mercury puddles looking back at me, each silver building shivering in its own height. A dampness in my toes, I arrive by train armed with practiced phrases: s’il vous plaît, je voudrais. Tonight, the world feels clean and alive, lush ﬁelds crouching under a steamy milk of fog, blanched sheets ﬂapping in the wind, a stump shoved along a fence like a bull’s ﬂank. Under my feet, anywhere, the River Senne pulses below cement and stone, bricked away like a midnight demon, a muﬄed voice, an ink blue vein, as if that which gave the city life could not sustain it. Above, in this world, rain-slapped streets glisten with candle-lit restaurants. I buy scraps of lace
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Dilruba Ahmed or tissue-wrapped chocolates, the taste of a new language alternately sweet and unwieldy on my tongue. At the cathedral, I struggle with my phrasebook, foolish and free with the shopkeeper, her skylight smile and translucent skin framed by a drab scarf, both of us laughing at our limitations, humbled by the student who oﬀers to translate, a Canadian girl in wild curls, a black jacket, and a stinging sense of ﬂuency. The bus coughs and swallows blue hats, striped scarves, backpacks through one swift door. A rain hesitates at my shoulders, so soft it feels like snow. The roaring of the bus ﬁlls me, ﬁlls each slow traveler: the woman with the crooked bits of straw teeth, the man who stands alone on cement islands, selling newspapers to the wind. Silent ﬁres blaze behind glass, the pubs’ facades encrusted with statues and cannonballs. On the indigo road back to the countryside, wildﬂowers open petals, and for the ﬁrst time, try their small dark voices.
Crab Orchard Review
Alison Apotheker Fog on Skyline Drive Because what I say must be said silently, a hushed gathering of lip readers practicing an imprecise articulation, and also because all you can do as you grip the wheel this evening and steer against the white line that leaves you dizzy in its trailing oﬀ, lost mid-sentence, a verb feeling for its object, I will have you trust that this night will unfold in the same order it does on any night, that you will, more slowly, yes, but all the same— Let me explain it this way: All that is indecipherable is what I am. Trees become their shadows and their shadows’ shadows the faces you’ve tried hard to remember not to forget. You will come to know faith as a white ﬂag you wave to the road and night, the deer and opossum waiting just beyond the dimmed lights. Your body calls this grace. Now, you see it clearly in your mind: a warm room, the sleeping dog. 24 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Alison Apotheker I give you the chance, curve by curve to practice what is necessary to say and to hear it being said.
Crab Orchard Review
Foxgloves in Late August Soon, the foxgloves will lose whole columns of their shocked thimbles one by two by one at a time, a litter of unsounded bells on the ground, and also the trees’ green tongues will skitter to a halt, their rhythm in the air lost to a faulty translation. (The robin’s red then made more red from the suggestion of what isn’t.) Look how the world pleads to be contained and everlasting: wind entwines itself in moon vines which, too, tie themselves in knots along the braided leaning fence. The sun insinuates itself upon the dragonﬂy’s wing tips, hovers above the road glassy-eyed and giddy, and refuses to give the evening right of way. Its light turns each needle-ﬁne hair on the foxglove’s stalk into the translucent song we hum ourselves to sleep with.
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Amanda Auchter Clyde Tombaugh on His Discovery of Pluto February 18, 1930 All night I’ve orbited this room around tables and telescopes, cup of coﬀee in hand. It is not night everywhere, but inside this stretched plane, black is not enough to describe the landscape. Tomorrow, ﬁre may leap from a shell of starlight. We may burn in our houses. Women may hang their linens on the line and come away charred. Tonight, the galaxy continues to expand. I stand in the backyard and wait for the moon to rise over a hemline of trees. Somewhere a supernova is born, a planet folds in on itself, absorbs its own dust. A distant body spins in these badlands of rock and ash, approaches the cusp of our own blue air. For years it has hidden in darkness, farreached from the sun, an echo of forgotten twilights. If I were this hermetic, I too would oﬀer myself in shadow, continuing as if never stirred from slumber, pushed along by the windswirled tide of a solar ﬂare.
Crab Orchard Review
Bian Zhilin To Coal Miners Translated by Mary M.Y. Fung and David Lunde A black thread led the way, I recall, twisting and turning until we reached the source of heat and energy— the coal mine. Falling straight down, two hundred feet into dark night, I sat in the bamboo basket that carried both men and coal. If Night were the mother, here was her womb, and I experienced the birth-pangs of Morning. Hold fast the lamp: this is no place to raise your head. Bend down; walk like this. What animal is that coming toward me, rumbling, dragging a basket, fully loaded, then passing again, from behind, pushing an empty basket, rumbling? On its forehead a sparkling horn, in its black face two stars, the gleam of light makes clear there’s no wild nature here— Thirty times a day you go back and forth like this, dripping black sweat. The cave roof also drips black sweat like a cave in Mount Emei dripping swallow’s droppings. At the bottom of Jiulao Cave, there’s an altar of the God of Wealth…. Here’s the end!—gods of wealth smile at my sweaty face, several of them, not riding black tigers, but holding iron shovels. You have to keep digging forward, like opening a window! Smoking long-stemmed pipes, you think it’s good to watch thick smoke pass by the car window; good also to watch through the glass dense smoke nestling the waves; good, you sigh, happy that this hand has not been useless. But digging deeper and deeper, you work in inverse proportions; a mile and a half is far enough, yet you go on and on! No! The ﬁst-blow from outside has stirred everything up. Those already awakened have provided millet gruel for those just waking. Your dark night is already shortened by a little: 28 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Bian Zhilin every day you have three hours set aside for study, to survey a new world from the window of the written word, and to arm yourselves you have forged the quba. A counter current may be rolling in again at this moment, but you contend with it, forcing back tidal wave with tidal wave; or else you must be swinging your iron shovels more vigorously, now that you’ve found your direction. Little chicks inside the egg peck at the shell. The perturbed stars tremble as if sending me telegraphic messages of the hardships you endure. 15 November 1939
Note: The quba is a simple weapon, shaped like a pistol, with room for one riﬂe bullet.
Crab Orchard Review
Joelle Biele Elsewhere Where did we think we were going and why were we driving against the wind, the bridge rising over the reedy water, a cold stream that never comes clean. The chalky cliﬀs, they took in the sun, and the trees, were they steps, did they go up or down? Little towns, little pumps, stores that stayed closed, were there vines or ﬂowers like cloudy streams? Here the tide swallows everything whole, rocks, walls, wells, whole islands, roads and rotting fences under branches that never meet. Was there smoke, a front swing, beams and joists, unlocked doors, corrugated barns, all we could believe, as if words could be the thing itself, the blackbirds their red wings, and everything a literal description of what we mean? We drove over one inlet, then another, scraggly woods, ﬁelds hemmed by pines, rust and tin, as if time could split like rails and the sandy air lead us nowhere. The road rose over the shallows somehow bright in the late fog, a few birds ruﬄed like plastic bags. We didn’t stop. It was as if we’d come to the edge of ourselves, as if the beach, long and narrow, were only light and silver, and the sea, stone and broken shells. I do not remember the sound. We closed our eyes, we lay on the sand, we could not sleep.
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Oﬀ Eastham That day we hid our shoes, stepped over the rocks, and walked into a bay of ﬂat sky and crumbling shells, long channels of green ribbon, pools darker than jade. The water was clear and gray and warm, and behind us, the sandy lanes were thin, orange lilies, moppy hydrangeas, must and mold threatening rain. We waded to where the ﬂoor dropped and a few boats rocked on the waves. We stood there, maybe a minute, before turning back, and I could almost believe nothing mattered but sea and night and moon, stiﬀ dunes and empty houses, briny meadows and salty woods. If the stars came in with the tide and the wind was cold stones, we didn’t see it, only clouds swept by brooms and birds reeling overhead. Was this the moment to choose? Did we feel the water lift, or was the sky beyond repair? I want to believe in moments when the world is as luminous as the sea, when looking over the water everything is lit from within, when light becomes language transformed and the sun is a marsh gone gold, a tide laid bare, night rising like a river and your breath sharp and warm when we wake on the dark and rocky shore.
Crab Orchard Review
Edisto You’d think we drove all day to get here, think we chose this place, marked its low swamps and oak alleys on the map, think it chose us, that we’d ﬁnally been claimed, that we could step from the car and ﬁnd a house far back in woods of palmetto under pine, think we could see who we were, standing in grass, the moment before we knew there was no going back. The road was low, dug in, splashed with moss and lichen plastered on bark, and the sky, what we could see, was spent needles, ﬁelds gone wild, young trees growing in the dark. Did we think we could live here, that we could change our lives, that we could drive down these sandy roads and pull to the side, ﬁnd a salty river and watch the tide run the marsh green, ﬁnd in the brackish water a bird balanced on a reed or memory runs deep in the genes? If it’s true a single place could teach us how the body becomes a stream clogged with weeds, how it scars itself over, how in its dying it ﬂowers like yellow iris before burning out, then looking over the water we knew to be saved we had to become something else and if we opened our mouths what would come out was song.
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From Ocracoke The sky was gray and sharp, a rusted hinge, and the boat was the size and color of a taken-down door. We left without books or maps, we had no plans except sea on one side, bay on the other, and a guide who’d steer us by an island of birds, one of shells, and leave us on a beach of grass and muddy ﬂies, boards perched on rocks and no trees to ﬁnd a town of empty houses, its one church locked. Did we think we could walk away from everything we knew, walk into words, the way he said out, dip between the o and the u, swing into time like a hand in water, be so completely out of ourselves we’d walk from a cove of stale and sandy streams to a town swept green, gloves on the rail, the table set, the curtains up? Over the dunes the beach unfurled like a line cast too long, and the wind curled over the drying rims. The boat was only a spark on the water, and the sky, bleached and frayed, held nothing but clouds and the smell of gasoline.
Crab Orchard Review
Jacqueline Guidry Patience He devised an elaborate code. Two flashing lights meant pit
stop. One light, look for the next exit. Two lights, space, two more lights—you’re following too closely. Too complicated, she argued, teased. But he insisted, always a man of systems. So now Anita was alone in her car, the only cell phone either of them owned on the passenger seat, following him across the unending ﬂatness of Kansas, trying to remember the rest of the code she’d promised to memorize before they left St. Louis. But they left sooner than she expected, robbing her of the time she needed for this scheme. That’s what she should have told Evan, her ﬁancé, when his nose turned red from swallowing too many angry words because she pulled to the side of the road at his three ﬂashing lights when she was supposed to speed up. There were too many signals in his code, too many ways for her to go wrong, mistake his instructions. As long as he had his systems, he was ﬁne. But she could not accept reassurances bought with such an easy price—ﬂash, ﬂash, everything is ﬁne—and could not match his enthusiasm about this move to Utah. The job oﬀer was too sudden, had not allowed time for adequate adjustments. But he was too excited to hear her protests, too taken with his triumph to bother with her misgivings. “Do you know how many applications they received? How many people wanted this job I got?” He had leaned across the table at Mama Rosa’s, his hands buckling the red checked oilcloth. His pupils dilated, maybe from the wine, maybe from the headiness of so much success come his way. She thought about the question, tried to formulate a reasonable answer. But he didn’t wait for her response, wasn’t interested in her guesses, no matter how reasonable. He was the one blessed with truth. “Seven hundred thirteen.” He strung out the number, giving each word its earned emphasis. Anita wondered whether “thirteen” carried a dose of bad luck, but was wise enough to keep the question to herself.
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Jacqueline Guidry Evan raised his right hand, ﬁngers splayed as if in an odd Dr. Spock salute, then his left hand, only pointer and middle ﬁngers raised. “Over seven hundred,” he said, the raised ﬁngers thrusting towards her. “You were lucky,” she said, thinking thirteen might bring good fortune, not bad, when associated with job applications. “Luck nothing.” He started to lower both hands, then kept the left one raised to motion the waiter for a second bottle of wine. “We can aﬀord it, Babe. We can aﬀord lots of things now,” he said as if she’d protested the extravagance of two wines at one dinner. But she hadn’t said a word. After the waiter brought the second bottle and poured into both glasses, though hers was still half full, Evan speared a stray mushroom from her plate. “Not bad. Could use more garlic.” She oﬀered quick agreement on this. “This is it. The big time now. Me and you, Doll, we’re going places.” He puﬀed an imaginary cigar, gave her a wink. “Movers called when you were out. They’re arriving at 3:00 next Thursday. Can you believe they’re moving our stuﬀ? Not that we have much. But still, paying to have it moved?” “Imagine that.” She forked chicken, mushroom, pasta to her mouth, disguising the sarcasm with an eager assault on food. “Yeah. Imagine that.” He grinned, oblivious as ever to her secret messages, her hidden signals. Between bites of lasagna, glasses of wine, he reminded her the company was also looking out for her, sending her those application packets for nursing positions from every hospital and a lot of clinics within a thirty-mile radius of Salt Lake City. That was her opening, the time she should’ve said she didn’t know whether she wanted to nurse in Utah, a state ﬁlled with Mormons who only a few years ago decided blacks were welcomed into heaven. Picture the stampede through heaven’s gates when millions of black souls, waiting all those long years for Mormon permission, entered God’s Kingdom. Would they allow hands as dark as hers to nurse them back to health? Had they barred brown people from eternal salvation as they had black ones? Was she now as welcome in heaven as the black brethren? Evan was too white to carry such worries. At home that night, they made love with the bedroom shades raised. A bilious half moon speared their bodies with yellow light as Evan proceeded with his systematic approach to orgasm which Anita had well memorized but which did not serve her well this night. After he fell asleep, she padded into the darkened kitchen, ﬁxed Crab Orchard Review
Jacqueline Guidry a cup of apricot tea sweetened with three dollops of honey, a treat she had not earned but felt she deserved anyway. At the counter, she spread open the map of Utah Evan had been studying. In the dim light of moon glow, she could not make out much. The state was indistinct, a place too amorphous to be real. In Salina, they stopped at the Prehistoric Indian Burial Grounds Museum. Evan’s series of ﬁve lights with three-second pauses between ﬂashes had signaled a tourist attraction. They walked around the small hills covered with grass. “Do you think people are really buried here?” she asked. “Of course.” He held her hand, pulled her to another mound. “Why would they build a museum, then announce this is a burial ground, if it isn’t?” “Tourists like us would stop and buy things. I don’t know.” She freed her hand and stooped to the ground, separated blades of grass at the foot of a mound. “Always the skeptic,” he said. “Do you think tourists will visit our graves in a thousand years?” She stared up at him from her crouch. “Will they be mesmerized by what we did with our dead?” “Sure. Why not?” “Doesn’t that give you the creeps? Strangers walking over your grave and making comments. ‘Wasn’t that interesting’ or ‘How quaint.’ They couldn’t know who you were or how you lived or died. They couldn’t know anything about you.” “Why should they? I would’ve been dead centuries. Nobody cares about people dead that long.” He looked towards the horizon where the sun was still about an hour from setting. “You have a tendency towards the ghoulish. Did you know?” She stood, stretched her arms above her head, to her left side, then to her right. “Tired of driving?” “Just tired,” she said. “We can stop for the night.” “If you want.” He wasn’t in any particular hurry now that he’d beaten out 712 other applicants. He didn’t report to work for another ten days. The plan, his plan, was to meander to Salt Lake, arriving at least two days before work started, but, in the meanwhile, stopping when the spirit 36 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jacqueline Guidry moved him. “Salina it is then.” He turned toward the parking lot. “Wait. Let me get a picture.” She posed him in front of a particularly green mound. “Must be extra bodies, more fertilizer,” he said when she commented about the color. “Hey, I’m the most respectful guy you know.” He grinned as she snapped the camera, preserving forever the image of his happiness against a background of dead people reduced to feeding grass and bearing the weight of strangers. “You filled out any of those applications yet?” he asked as they stretched on a too soft mattress in a Motel 6. “Not yet.” “No rush. I was just wondering.” He ﬂipped channels, stopped when he saw a John Wayne war movie. “We don’t need the money. Not now.” John Wayne’s plane was shot and looked as if it might crash. But it didn’t because John Wayne was the pilot and he never crashed. “Do whatever you want.” She fell asleep with those words echoing in her head. “Whatever you want. Whatever you want. Do whatever you want.” She woke to an empty room and a note on his pillow, still dented from where it had cradled his head through the night. “Hunting breakfast. Back soon as I can.” He had not signed the note or said he loved her. But who else would brave the dangers lurking behind the Salina, Kansas street signs to hunt down breakfast? And she knew he loved her. Why else would he have insisted on her moving to Utah immediately, not later when he was settled properly, knew for certain the move wasn’t a mistake? At the window, she parted the drapes smelling of mildew covered with pine spray. A light drizzle promised to last all day and into the night. Driving would be slow, signals even harder to remember today than yesterday. Across the street a Dunkin’ Donuts sign blinked temptation. She hoped he had resisted, not given in to immediate impulses. The sweetness on his tongue would be replaced by a heaviness in his stomach, worsened by the monotony of driving. For a man of systems, he often wasn’t able to see beyond immediate pleasure. She peered through raindrops, but couldn’t see his car or him. A good sign, she thought. She showered, dressed, packed her night case before he returned. Crab Orchard Review
Jacqueline Guidry “You’re up,” he said. “You’re back,” she said. “Back from the hunt.” He raised an eyebrow, having forgotten his note, the dangers of the breakfast quest disappearing with his safe return to the lair. “Bagels, O.J., apples and grapes. How’s that sound?” “Good. Sounds good.” “Had some trouble ﬁnding those bagels.” She envisioned small town dangers blocking his way. “But I knew that’s what you’d like.” She couldn’t answer, her mouth full of hard-earned honey whole wheat bagel and a single grape. “You’ll like Colorado,” he said, knowing her travels had been east of St. Louis, into Illinois and places beyond, never west. “The mountains. They’re something else. You’ll like that.” “Utah has mountains too,” she said, remembering the map spread across the moonlit kitchen counter they’d left behind. “Probably better than Colorado’s. But I’ve never seen them, so I couldn’t say for sure.” Then why are we going there, she considered asking. Why aren’t we at least going someplace one of us knows? He held an umbrella over her head while she slipped into her car. “Signaling will be trickier with the rain.” He bent through her opened door, kissed her lips so lightly, it might’ve been the tickle of a single feather. “Pay close attention.” He slammed her door shut. The interstate wasn’t far from the motel, so soon they were back on I-70, leaving farther behind every crevice of every place she’d ever known, abandoning everyone she knew. She didn’t have to go. That’s what her friends said, her mother and aunt, her two brothers and one sister-in-law. They weren’t married yet, though they would be soon. That’s what Evan said when anyone asked. Soon. But soon wasn’t now and that meant she did not have to go with him. A wife has obligations. A girlfriend, even a ﬁancée, has choices. Ahead, he slowed as the drizzle transformed into a harder rain. He turned on his lights. She squinted, trying to detect a message, but there seemed to be none, at least none she could read. So, she turned on her lights too, safety having become more important, even to Evan, than messages. She cracked her window. The smell of rain mixed with earth from the tilled soil of farms they sped past. She was a city girl, the smells as strange as the ﬂatness of Kansas, a state that seemed destined to never end. 38 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jacqueline Guidry “We love each other. I have to go.” That’s what she said each time a friend or relative suggested otherwise. “I’ll ﬁnd a job soon. Meet people. I’ll be okay. You can visit.” They folded their arms then. No matter the person, folded arms accompanied their words, as if what she said demanded some physical sign of protest. And there had also been those unspoken words. You can ﬁnd a job, meet other people, but you won’t ﬁnd us, meet us for dinner or a drink after work. “You’ll visit,” she repeated, a weak answer to all they left unsaid. They smiled at that for, like her, they faced the rising sun, not the setting one. Habits of perspective were hard to break. So were habits of love. Now she was in her car, following a man halfway across a country so much larger in real life than in the conﬁnes of a map stretched across a kitchen counter, and she couldn’t remember why she loved him enough to do this. She concentrated on the road, ignored the queasiness in her stomach reminding her she’d abandoned her old life without knowing whether she had chosen a proper new one. As they drove farther west, traﬃc thinned. She watched her odometer when a car passed from the opposite direction, measured the distance elapsing before the next one appeared. Nearly two miles. Soon, she and Evan would be the only drivers on this road, the only remnants of a civilization that knew enough to stay put, detested wandering to unknown places. The west would never have been settled if the settling had been left to Anita or her ancestors. She smiled, thought of Evan agreeing with her, enjoying a laugh not quite at her expense, but almost. What was the signal for I’ve got something funny to tell you? She couldn’t remember if there was one, so maybe there wasn’t. Then again, the system was so complete, surely there must be a signal that substituted adequately. She turned on the radio, but could only ﬁnd two stations with clear reception. One was a farm report, the other a local talk show. She wasn’t usually interested in talk shows, found the hosts boring, the callers even more so. But she left the station playing anyhow, a reminder that beyond this highway, these numbing raindrops, were other humans, many of whom left families and friends, ventured to unknown places, found niches of contentment. At least that’s what she told herself. “Takes a village to raise children. That’s a good one. Who came up with that one? Somebody tell me that.” His voice was thick, probably from too many cigarettes. Crab Orchard Review
Jacqueline Guidry She couldn’t tell whether the speaker was caller or host. “It’s an African proverb or so I’ve heard.” The voice was a woman’s, soft and melodious, promising wisdom, understanding. “Tell me this. Are we living in Africa? Does somebody know something I don’t?” The soft voice was silent, letting listeners supply the obvious answer. “I guess that’s all I have to say. We don’t live in Africa.” “That’s right. We don’t.” The voice was untroubled, settling. “I’ll hang up now. Give somebody else a chance.” The belligerence was gone, left defenseless in the face of this balm of agreement. “Thank you for calling, Jack. Always good to hear from you.” Anita searched for cynicism, an undertone of disparagement, but found none. “We’ve time for one or two more callers. Today’s open forum on KXKY. Anything you want to talk about, I want to talk about.” Evan turned oﬀ his headlights. Anita stiﬀened for a signal, then relaxed when none came. She turned down the wipers so they swiped the windshield only sporadically, the drizzle having nearly stopped, at least for the moment. “The number is 744–1819. I’m waiting for your call.” The voice was so patient, so inviting, so promising. “744–1819. Dial now.” Anita picked up her cell phone. 744–1819. The voice was waiting, waiting. “You’ve reached Sonya at KXKY. What’s on your mind, caller?” “I’m just passing through. I’m moving to Utah with my boyfriend, ﬁancé. He got a great job there.” She wondered whether Evan was tuned to the same station and watched for the signal that meant what the hell are you doing? But his lights stayed oﬀ. “Utah is a beautiful state.” “You’ve been there?” “It is beautiful.” “I’ve never been. Neither has my boyfriend.” “Fiancé,” Sonya corrected gently. “Right. Fiancé.” He’d be insulted, if he were listening. A stranger, a talk show host no less, having to remind her what he meant to her, what he was to her. “You’re nervous about the move. Worried about what Utah will hold for you, whether you’ll ﬁt in there.” Was this a psychic talk show? Those were the worst kinds. But 40 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jacqueline Guidry Anita didn’t care, didn’t want to hang up before getting some of the wisdom Sonya’s voice promised. “That’s it. That’s it exactly.” “You’ve left your friends, family, everyone,” Sonya said. “Everyone,” Anita echoed. “Your ﬁancé has a job waiting, but you don’t. You have nothing.” “Nothing,” Anita said, reduced to repeating what radio Sonya, psychic Sonya, knew. She took a deep breath, steadying her voice for the question Sonya surely knew was coming. “Should I continue to Utah or go back home?” There was a pause long enough to allow Sonya to tally the votes of the universe before she answered. “What’s your name, caller?” “I’d rather not say.” “Of course not.” How could Sonya know Evan might be listening, that withholding her name was the only peace oﬀering Anita could tender him at this moment? “Do you mind if I refer to you as Caller X?” “That’s ﬁne.” She spoke quickly, the snap of her words matching the static increasing in the phone connection as she drove farther from Sonya. “My question, though. Just answer my question, if you can.” “Patience is always a virtue, Caller X.” The voice was an invitation to relaxation. Anita inhaled deeply, knowing she must wait. A minute elapsed in silence. But the silence was nearly as comforting as Sonya’s voice. Anita suspected regular listeners, and surely there must be legions of them, were very familiar with these pauses, looked forward to them as healing oases in days that, even in the middle of this vast emptiness, must have been ﬁlled with too much. “No one can predict the future,” Sonya said at last. “We’d all be millionaires, if we could.” “That’s right, Caller X. So instead, we must each of us, you too, learn to follow our heart’s desire. Look into your heart, Caller X.” “I love Evan. Really I do.” She spoke quickly, forgetting any duty to protect his identity or her own. “I’m a nurse or at least I was a nurse back home.” “Still a nurse. One of the great caring professions. You are a caring person. I could tell. My listeners could tell.” Anita ﬂushed, embarrassed by how pleased she was with this compliment from a radio stranger. If she lived around here, she’d be a faithful listener, probably call on a regular basis, be a constant source of shame to Evan. “I’m Hispanic.” Crab Orchard Review
Jacqueline Guidry “We are sisters, Caller X.” The voice was encouraging now, reaching out to lift Anita over this mountain of doubt. “Mormons. I’ve read about them. They hate blacks, dark-skinned people. Me. In addition to everything else, there are the Mormons.” “No, no, Caller X. No one hates you. Mormons don’t hate you or blacks or anyone of color. No. That’s not the world any more. It’s not what my listeners think and it’s not what you really think either.” “It isn’t?” “No, Caller X. Do you want me to tell you the real concern you have?” “Yes. Tell me quickly.” Sonya was fading rapidly. The drizzle returned to a steady rhythm. Evan turned on his lights again. Anita couldn’t bother with lights. “You are afraid the love of this man, this Evan, will not be enough to sustain you. That without your friends, your kin, you will wither and die. You must not…” The phone crackled twice, then Sonya was gone. Anita jiggled the phone, pressed the talk button twice. Nothing. She hung up slowly. You must not… Must not what? Go to Utah? Go home? Keep driving? Follow Evan? Drizzle changed to rain. She twisted the wipers to faster speed, turned on her lights. The rain answered with a heavier pounding. Water pelted the car until, even with the wipers at their fastest speed, the lights their brightest, she could not see where she was going. Evan had disappeared. Everything had disappeared. She pulled to the side of the road and waited. After a few minutes, the rain stopped suddenly. Far ahead, a car blinked frantically, signaling “Where are you? Where are you?” She turned oﬀ the engine but left the lights on, waiting to see how long it would be before he came back to her, willing to wait a long, long time, a well of patience growing in her heart.
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Carolyn Megan Blue Lament At night Francis Barrios walked the broken cobbled streets
along the harbor from his home to the museum. The moon cut a path of bronze light across the water, and he heard the boats rock back and forth in the small scalloped waves. Out in the harbor, one hundred feet down, the bones of a blue whale lay in steel cages where plankton and ﬁsh fed oﬀ the remaining ﬂesh. The ﬁsh became so engorged that each week the ﬁre department’s rescue squad dove down and opened the cages so that the ﬁsh could swim free. When the bones were clean, Barrios would piece the skeleton together. Palatine, vomer, pterygoid bone, occipital condyles, baleen plates: each night the whale’s skeleton took shape in Barrios’ thoughts as if the act of piecing the blue together could bring it back to life. At night, Barrios felt the same widening aloneness he imagined that sailors felt out on the ocean. All the stories of sailors caught in their boat’s hull hearing the haunted cries of other sailors, mermaids, ghosts calling them to the depths. But they were high pitched whale songs—humpbacks’ long whistles, piked whales’ thumps, songs that vibrated through corridors of water for minutes or hours. The blue made the loudest sound of any living creature, vibrating the width of the Atlantic. Barrios wondered whether there was a song of death stretching across the wide expanse. There was too much death and destruction in the seas. Whenever Barrios walked along Great Isle, he saw bodies of dolphins with their eyes already poked out by the seagulls, ﬂippers and ﬁns caught in netting, seals with ﬂippers torn oﬀ. It was too much for him. In the past, he would put his hand into the sand, and dig to ﬁnd the bones to ﬁgure out the cause of death. Other times when the body was swollen and covered with hundreds of ﬂies, he would puncture the skin with his pocket knife releasing some of the fetid gas, then reach for his handkerchief and cover his mouth. He cut through the leathery inches of blubber to search for parasites, sliced into the stomach and emptied the contents. But now since Eleanor’s death, he had lost his will for it, Crab Orchard Review
Carolyn Megan though he barely let himself acknowledge this. Sometimes it took a shock in order to see things afresh. “Imagine,” he said to the frozen darkness. “I’m seventy-one. I’ve outlived my wife. I am alone.” It was in early March, one month after Eleanor’s death, that they discovered the whale caught across a tanker coming into port. Barrios got the call from Dan Coughlin who was with the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “Turn on the news, Frank,” Dan said. “There’s a story of interest to you.” Barrios watched the footage of the crane lifting the whale to shore. “Blue,” the pilot captain said to the reporter. “I don’t know my whales very well. But if I had to guess, it would be a blue.” Then there was a cut to Dan. No longer a boy, Barrios reﬂected, in his mid-forties now. “I wouldn’t want to say for sure,” Dan told the reporter. “But it seems to me that it did have the blue mottled sheen to it. And if it is a blue, it will be the ﬁrst since 1891. Our plan is to do a necropsy to discover why this young juvenile died.” Like his old man, Barrios thought, leaning back in his chair. Never committing fully, playing it safe. But Barrios felt it in his gut, knew clearly that it was a blue without having seen it. It was as clear to him as knowing that Eleanor was dead that winter afternoon when he arrived home from work. She died in late February. He had left the museum at ﬁve o’clock after spending a day piecing together a seal skeleton that had been found along Surfside Beach. He had to recast part of the seal’s ﬂipper and after spending hours with the mold, still didn’t have the right dimension. There had been a cold front and the air pressed in, but that day, as he walked back up from the museum, he felt a lightness. The days were a bit longer, the sky’s blue seemed to lift, and he saw a robin in one of the trees. It ﬂew and landed on a branch and a dusting of snow fell down in small crystals, its feathers downy and puﬀed, trapping the warm air to its body. Still, he read it as a sign of spring, a small whisper to remind him that winter couldn’t have hold forever. But later, after it all, when he returned to work and told his assistant Lee, she said, “You know that the robins were coming down from the north— they hadn’t migrated. They don’t migrate because of the temperature, they migrate because of the food supply.” But he wanted to associate the robin and the lighthearted feeling to the turn of a season, to good things coming. So when he walked up to his house, he was caught oﬀ guard by the lack of lights, the lack of smoke in the chimney. A heart attack. He found her sitting in the wing back chair, her hands still on the arm rests, her head leaning to one side. He walked 44 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Carolyn Megan through the door and said her name. “Eleanor, Eleanor.” The sun coming into the room, the dust ﬂoating on the air, the grain of the gold pine ﬂoor: time seemed suspended. He looked at her foot turned over awkwardly on its side and wanted to go over and set it straight as if to make this decent for her before the police came. “Eleanor,” he whispered, stooping down in front of her. “You’ll never guess what I saw walking home today.” He touched her hands and her face, which seemed softer, now at ease—as if she were only sleeping, might hear his voice and then open her eyes to him and smile gently. After the police and coroner left, Harry Summers came to take her body. “Been a cold stretch,” he said. “Won’t be able to bury her until the ground lets up.” Summers said this while he and his assistant moved Eleanor to a gurney. Her skirt rose well above her knee and before Barrios thought to rearrange it, Summers had thrown a sheet over her body. But it stayed with him, and now, even months later, he worried about not having reached over to pull her skirt down, to smooth it over her knee. It would have been such an easy and quick gesture—a way to have seen her through. Maybe he should have gone with her, accompanied her body back to Summers’s funeral parlor. Later, when he told Lee she said, “But you were in shock.” And he thought, Yes, it was the shock of it all. How could he have gathered himself together to smooth Eleanor’s skirt? How could he have known that he should have gone with Summers? But days, weeks afterwards when Summers began to call, Barrios didn’t answer; he wasn’t ready for a ceremony or burial. When Summers called him at work, Barrios heard Lee speak in a whisper, “Yes, Harry,” she said. “Yes, I’ll try.” She hung up the phone, looked at him and said, “You know Francis, it won’t get any easier.” Late at night, through March and April, he walked through the abandoned streets while the bones soaked on the harbor ﬂoor. Mandible, hyoid, thorax, sternum, thorax, digits. The trees held their buds in tiny green ﬁsts and he could still see his breath in the air. “It was the shock of it all,” he whispered. When cars came, he hid behind trees and bushes like he did when he was a boy. He felt a disquieting security that only the darkness could provide; only the night could hold his sadness. “I may not be up for this project,” he had told Lee and Dan Coughlin the day after the whale had been discovered. “I may not Crab Orchard Review
Carolyn Megan be the man for the job.” But Dan had persisted, “You know that you are the best person in New England to come up with a theory for the whale’s death. You know the blue is a chance of a lifetime.” Finally, Barrios agreed to conducting the necropsy and then later to piecing the skeleton together as part of an exhibit for the museum. On the morning of the necropsy, Barrios woke to his phone expecting it to be Dan. “Look, Frank,” Harry Summers spoke quickly into the phone. “It’s been a month. It’s seems like a good time now that you’ve got your mind on something new. Let me set up the ceremony, just tell me what you want.” “Not yet,” Barrios replied. Barrios could hear Summers slow intake of breath. “Listen, I can’t keep holding her body here. I’ll need to start charging.” “Then do,” Barrios replied hanging up the phone and staring out the window. The sky was a mottled gray that reminded him of the inside webbing of dolphin intestine. He remembered the story Lee had told him about a bottlenose dolphin who lifted her dead calf to the ocean’s surface repeatedly, whistling while the calf dropped to the ﬂoor and then repeating the process again while other members of her group fed nearby. “For ninety minutes, the mother continued her ritual,” Lee said. “It was only when two adolescent males swam into the area that she dropped her infant and took oﬀ. Francis, maybe you just need to ﬁnd a way to grieve.” Over breakfast, Barrios contemplated the cause of the whale’s death. He had never worked on a blue; no one had. For the most part, they had disappeared. Factory ships killed thousands of blues in order to collect the twenty tons of oil from each carcass. In a blue, the measurements and weight were estimates by the old whalers and those could never be exact for some measured from head to ﬂuke. Position of the whale, shape of the ﬂukes which were often cut oﬀ for towing: there were no clear records for the standard measure of the blue whale. The stomach alone would be the size of a large desk, Barrios considered while piling his breakfast dishes into the sink. As he left the house, he noted that Eleanor’s crocuses were up; the dust of purple startled him. On the ﬁrst cut through the blubber, Barrios observed four to six inches of healthy fat: no immediate signs of parasite. He cut into the tissue at the laceration broadside, to see if the whale was alive when it had been struck. There, in the muscle, he found the bleeding. Barrios made a series of long parallel cuts across the whale’s body with his ﬂensing knife; his arms and shoulders tired from sawing through 46 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Carolyn Megan the thick blanket of blubber. He moved carefully, measuring and measuring again, the layer of blubber, the length from head to tail. When he punctured the stomach, partially digested krill spilled from the gut onto his pants and boots. Barrios felt queasy; the whale’s stench ﬁlled his head, the pieces of dull red tissue stuck to his boots. Eleanor would have sent him oﬀ with a thermos of tea to calm his stomach. “Even the professionals have their tricks,” she would have said as he walked out the door. “Any ideas yet?” Dan asked approaching Barrios at the whale’s head. Barrios cut into the bone around the jaw: it helped him to come back to the facts. Pure facts. There along the rostrum, he noted the break, the crushing blow of a boat’s bow. And in that same weighted way, the truth bore down, heavy, fetid, hanging. The whale caught its mouth on the propeller and the jaw shattered. The hard facts of the ﬁrst blow. “Yes, a broken jaw and then struck broadside by a diﬀerent ship, splaying it across the bow for days slowly dying,” he said out loud, stepping out of the whale’s mouth and moving towards Dan. “Stunned by a broken jaw,” he said again. As if learning the facts for the ﬁrst time. She was dead, he found her in her chair, the light was coming into the room, he hadn’t pulled her skirt down over her knee. “Yes,” he said, as if saying it out loud over and over made it true for the ﬁrst time. In late June, when spring had finally let go her grip and melted into hotter days of summer, the bones were ready. Barrios gathered with a crowd on the dock and watched as the bones were pulled to the surface, and the large jaw swung by a crane to the ﬂatbed of a truck. Back at the museum in early July, he was careful with his measurements and with handling the bones. He would have to recast some of the bones and had already contacted an old colleague at Harvard’s Peabody to borrow a few vertebrae for the molds. There were barnacles to deal with too. The tides hadn’t ﬂown as freely over the bones as he had hoped and the lack of current allowed the barnacles to grow. As part of the museum’s working exhibit on the whale, he and Lee spent their mornings slowly scraping away the crusty barnacles with ﬁshing knives. At times, the intensity of concentration allowed him to shut out the children pressing in from behind the barrier rope, but sometimes he answered the children’s questions. He listened to the museum guide state and restate the blue’s details: “The largest living mammal on earth; pleats in their throats which expand when they feed; use a gulping method to catch their prey; plates of baleen Crab Orchard Review
Carolyn Megan ﬁlter their prey; no teeth; baleen used to make corset stays, perfume, cosmetics, pet food, oil; voice the loudest noise in the ocean echoing across the stretch of the Paciﬁc; maximum length—89 feet, Weight— 209 tons, Life span—90 years.” It hadn’t begun this way. He had been working as a researcher at the Oceanographic Institute, studying skates, their ﬂoaty wings as they moved through the water. Tucked away in an oﬃce with old textbooks, magazines, and an old mimeograph copier. On the top shelf there was a box of bones from a juvenile dolphin discovered along a Cape beach, and Barrios decided to rebuild it in order to make space in his oﬃce. In one week, he pieced it together part by part, bone by bone, attaching the ﬁns, wiring the jaw. They hung the dolphin in the main lobby of the Institute and soon Barrios’ reputation grew. Museums from all over the world called upon him to reconstruct skeletons for their permanent exhibits. He drew the ﬁsh faithfully, counting the scales, recording the color. But there was more to discover: lungs, liver, how it laid eggs. Peeling back the layer of skin, he traced the delicate arc of bone and lungs. He repeated the names of ﬁsh until he knew them all by heart: red trout, shadowy horseman. His resume read of his reconstructions all over: a pilot whale for an aquarium in Hawaii where he and Eleanor had lived for six months, a ﬁn whale and bottlenose dolphin for an oceanographic institute in San Diego. He preferred to work with invertebrates whose bodies could take many forms and functions, each one a new puzzle. The challenge of the mammals was more of engineering, of size and girth and how to hold it together so that it could be displayed. But the blue was diﬀerent. Each day when Barrios and Lee opened the door to their workshop, they were overwhelmed by the smell of oil. Seeping out of the larger bones and puddling onto the ﬂoor, the bones had taken on a ghostly grey where the oil still lingered. They spent the ﬁrst few hours of each morning swabbing the bones and wiping down the ﬂoor. And it seemed to Barrios as if the blue was still alive, some part of its spirit still permeating the bone’s inner honeycomb, spilling out to the cortex. He wondered whether they should have towed the whale back out to the depths and let it sink to the ocean ﬂoor. “You know,” he said to Lee on an early July morning as they ran oily cloths over the rostrum. “This blue will probably be the last project I do.” That afternoon, without a good deal of thought, Barrios gingerly stepped over the blue’s ribs and found his way to the backbone serpentining along the workshop ﬂoor. He reached down and slipped a vertebra fragment into his pocket. Walking home, he 48 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Carolyn Megan ﬁngered the bone fragment and reconstructed the blue again in his thoughts: rostrum, ribs, digits, 209 tons, 89 feet. How quickly we are all reduced to the small sad facts of ourselves, he thought. When he arrived home, there was a message from Harry Summers. Barrios stood at the kitchen sink and looked out into the backyard as he let Summers’s voice spool out into the room. “Six months, Frank. It looks bad that you haven’t even acknowledged her death. It’s embarrassing to keep calling. I know that Eleanor would be surprised….” Barrios pulled out a sleeve of Saltines and spread the last of Eleanor’s raspberry jam over the cracker’s surface. Each bite contained a carefully placed amount of jam. “Call me, Frank,” Summers’s voice stopped and the silence ﬁlled the room. She would have understood, he thought. Stepped in and taken charge in her pragmatic way. The way she prevented him from sliding too far into his thoughts and into his work. Sometimes when he held Eleanor, he thought of her rib cage, the full expansion of her lung, her clavicle’s ﬂexibility, the rotation of her humerus in the scapula as she extended her arms to hug him. When he brushed her hair back from her face, he contemplated the line of the mandible ﬁtting perfectly with the maxilla, the plain of the zygoma edging the eye socket. But Eleanor understood that it was part of his loving her and she called him back. “Francis,” she would say. “Where are your thoughts roaming? Just stop thinking and give me a good strong hug.” And he would soften, smile and pull her in close. As he stood at the kitchen sink, Barrios felt the weight of all the skeletons he had pieced together. Otters, herons, dolphins, mice: each one presenting its own challenges. Snakes, ﬁsh, turtles: how to best piece them together so that the viewer understood movement, understood life. All of them, now, came back to him—moving and sliding over the kitchen ﬂoor, pressing up against his back, whirling around his head. He stumbled back from the sink dropping a Saltine, the raspberry splatting against the white linoleum. The snake circled up his leg, the heron billed at his ear, the mouse ran over his foot. If only he could touch her, he thought. Run his ﬁngers along her sternum, ﬁnger the turn of each rib, wire her vertebrae through the curve of the lumbar spine, align her transverse process. After he made the call, he lowered himself into the bathtub and let the sound of the running water ﬁll his ears. He leaned over for his jacket and removed the vertebra fragment and set it on the edge of the tub. Eleanor had always taken baths but they had seemed impractical Crab Orchard Review
Carolyn Megan to him. “Do you have to take a shower and clean oﬀ before you actually take a bath,” he had once asked her. “And then afterwards, shower oﬀ again?” “Poor Francis,” she had said, laughing and pulling him in with her, sending the water splashing up and over the tub’s edge. Barrios poured the soap under the running water and watched as it began to loft and foam; it reminded him of the bubbly spume before a whale surfaces. He turned oﬀ the water and listened to his heartbeat. A small current of water rippled around him when he moved his legs and he let out a sob. A guttural cry grew inside of him. The foam reached the tub’s lip, and Barrios put his head in the water and sent his cry reverberating out. The next day, Barrios helped Summers pull the pine box from the back of the hearse. Crematorium, cremains: Summers had been careful with his language. Fire, incinerator, Barrios thought. Body, bone, ash, dust. “Are you sure, Frank?” Summers had asked on the phone. “It’s not even legal for me to let you into the crematorium. I’m going to have to oﬀer something extra to the workers to look the other way.” They slid the coﬃn onto a gurney and rolled it over to where the oven was open and a small ﬂame fed in from the back. “You don’t have to stay and watch this,” Summers said. But Barrios didn’t reply. The ﬁre swooshed in from the back and he watched as ﬂame engulfed the casket. “Here,” Summers said, carrying a collapsible chair into the room. “You may as well sit. This will take hours.” “Thank you,” Barrios replied. He had imagined that he might think about her: review how they ﬁrst met when he interned at the Oceanographic Institute, how he had appeared for their ﬁrst date unaware of the seal gut hanging from his pant leg, the rain soaked tarp falling on the guests during the wedding rehearsal, the two miscarriages, how she pulled and knotted her hair each morning, how her ﬁngers worked a sticky pie dough. Instead, he thought about a camping trip years ago when they ﬁrst married and the young family with two girls at the adjoining site. Late into the night they had sat by the ﬁre with the family watching the logs hiss and sputter sparks up into the trees. When the girls protested their mother’s request that they get ready for bed, their father had answered simply, “Be reasonable, Sarah and Jessie. Be reasonable.” Later in the day, Summers returned. “I need to open it, Frank, to see how the ﬁre is burning. Do you want to stay?” They stood back to let the ﬁrst blast of heat emit. Then Barrios moved to peer inside. The box was gone, and in the pure light, Barrios could see Eleanor’s skeleton fully framed: Foot, ﬁbula, tibia, patella, femur, pubis, sacrum, 50 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Carolyn Megan spine, rib cage, manubrium, clavicle, teeth, skull, humerus, radius, ulna, carpals. Her wedding band loosely circled her ring ﬁnger. The ﬂame jumped from the pelvis and the crown of her head, and it struck him as the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. The smooth line of bone, the ivory white. All of it: her life, her death contained there, in the ﬁre. How small and beautiful and quick it all was. He stepped back from the oven door and walked outside to the late afternoon light. The sun had begun its descent and its colors bled across the sky. The birds stilled in their trees and Barrios let the silence of the gloaming fall around him. He reached into his pocket where he discovered and ﬁngered the blue’s vertebra. He shut his eyes and imagined throwing the whale bone back into the ocean and spreading Eleanor’s ashes along the shoreline. He heard the hush of waves breaking, the troubled bit of white water, the tingle of air, rush of seawater, as the whale breached coming up into the air—coming up into the full shimmery light.
Crab Orchard Review
Anthony Butts The God of Our Understanding The facsimile of a stark white mushroom looms above the scrubby landscape behind display glass at the Carnegie Museum, a destroying angel responsible for ninety percent of deaths by mushroom poisoning—a man, his wife, and her thin white friend gazing upon its likeness. The clear panels guarding each landscape do not resemble God’s eyes peering into the panopticon. In the bathroom mirror, so nearsighted he often stands millimeters from the surface, his brown eye reﬂects the panorama of his face seemingly ﬂoating over that disk of coﬀee blotted out by the iris like a black hole sucking up what might have been the rest of his face. God does not reside at the center of such crushing weight, He must stand over this experiment in progress watching gravity connect it all together—the weight of their relationship, the gravity of the universe a stronger force than scientists had previously imagined, a symphony of strings down there beneath deceptively smooth and tidy surfaces of subatomic particles laying beneath the atomic structure that we had thought of as elementary— neutrons, protons, and electrons that mirror our solar system within each element now only the visible remnants of what used to be truth. Gravity might be a way of communicating to the Great Maker all around us, attraction more important than even Newton had thought—the apple falling with no display there in that western Pennsylvania museum. It wasn’t the atomic bomb dropping over Nagasaki, just in case
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Anthony Butts the Japanese commanders didn’t get the ﬁrst message—that ours is an awesome God, that we could drop it on them whenever we saw ﬁt like the man before the mushroom thinking back to his dream where he was the force of light in the midnight black of his childhood living room—the force of darkness speeding down steep stairs with an ominous ﬂashlight as if heaven spat out another inhospitable soul. He yelled: Drop it on him! Drop it on him! just before his wife roused him from his warfare. He thought he’d won because the dream did not start over again, as his dreams often would. It was now just him and the mushroom. His wife and her colleague had faded from view. He wondered if that ninety percent knew what they were getting into, if they had sought out the destroying angel on purpose, or was it all some grand façade? Was it like the spell that he demanded God drop on the enemy of light? Was it like a sleep that might never come to an end? Now fully awake, he thought, far from that apocalyptic place, wondering if in another realm that gravity might really be a means of communication, that every steady footfall was more like a Morse Code of the psyche in God’s sleep?
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Big Bang Theory White streetlights lined up like the constellation Streetwalker, the double lane progresses steadily uphill into the other less glorious assemblages of stars—his dark mass passing beneath, a hokey pokey drunkard bumbling. The rain withheld, his spare ﬂask-shaped bottle of vodka pressing against the side of his vestments bore no precipitation—an eﬃcient drinker, a new glass to down every forty minutes, a diﬀerent set of people to talk to at the party so that no one would notice his principal role in depleting the Absolut on the liquor table: bottles like minarets in Red Square or the vaguely Klingon skyline of Cleveland, Ohio (Lake Erie like the suitably burning remnant of some Star Trek war where the victors swig like conquering crusaders who’ve come home ready and willing to unlock the chastity belts they’d left in tow). Its ornate craftsmanship, devoted metal above the human mechanism waiting to break back into the real lineage of Adam and Eve, a faulty universe of bumps and bruises with which she makes do and ﬁnally calls “love” because no other word would suﬃce, no other deﬁnition allowing for it to keep on happening—the universe a grand accident, theorists speculate, this realm just the result of some Big Bang of one lonely existence against some other unfulﬁlled reality. And now we all move, in our own alternate realities. The drunkard, walking home from the party, calls it verisimilitude when the Absolut 54 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Anthony Butts has run out and he switches to bourbon, its color like a Bronze Star dangling in his bottom-heavy drinking glass—inexpensive lead crystal turning what might be one star, upon ﬁrst glance from above as he swishes the liquid around, into several points of light as he cases it from the side. A soldier would not know killing on such a predictable level—only a sniper this intimate with leading a death into the crosshairs. Another one sidles up to him, in the way that drinking buddies do as if to say I too am slick like you, their glasses bumping into each other as they toast the beginning of another new experiment in the passing of time, to that starry slice of highway heading toward the chastity of a well-made bed.
Crab Orchard Review
Tom Clark In the Time of the Smoking Mirror A heaven invented as supposed for the beneﬁt and solace of the dispossessed, but always occupied in fact by the rich—the chiefs, and those with the best tricks— “Only a moment here on earth. It is untrue that we have come to live here on earth.” The hand and foot prints on the rock suggest the presence of unseen beings who have been here before us. The air, god-charged. The words, cut from the same stone that will lie over us, have been given only a moment to prepare that place to which we have been sent.
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November of the Plague Year Unwilling to turn and glimpse the blind exorcist’s face, Unconditional suspenders of disbelief, Back-to-Normals shop to live, drive to shop So a busy world spins by my window again Till buying hour stops, and night noise Falls through the white rain and hangs there. Sky glows red with last few searching tracer lights, Infant tenement memories and other spectral Mystery silhouettes, shifting in the mind Between the ﬁrst and last breaths, a blank disassembling. Between the ﬁrst ﬂashback—a brick airshaft, Carlight Zero diving, wartime voices distant— And the evaporation of the tribe, replaying The great mobilization of ghosts In the grey area, somewhere before dawn. How long? The shadow of a doubt moves Across a door in the imagined dark Of the ancient cranium, under a patriot sky.
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Peter Cooley Testimony Poetry is the way the tide hurls in, slowly retreats but ﬁrst a moment stalls revealing to us how the land and sea are one and not—that great mystery. It’s dawn and nightfall, too, that same divide along a season always mending, rending. Or it’s a man and a woman trying to talk. Why is there always misunderstanding, their bad child, the one they’re most ashamed of, interrupting, demanding to be heard, just after their wild spasms, their one cry? I don’t know what I’m saying. If I did I’d be a mathematician or a saint, not this wind coming toward me, going outside. It’s cold, it’s dark, it changes direction even revealing me, becoming light. I think I’ll follow it, it’s poetry.
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Jeanine DeRusha Health (Mary Magdalene meets Christ) He wanted to see a woman’s form but saw only my sickness, seven ailments bundled like sticks and tied with twine, the beating glow through birch tree ribs, a tree trunk grown through stone until one can’t distinguish wood from wall. Picking up a body’s language permitted no rest. Some days, he stayed inside the cool room, refusing visitors, reviewing anatomy in his head, considering a place deeper than the middle of the chest. What he saw inside my body unraveled and I thought I was cured. I followed him through cities, watching him heal—the prophet, the doctor. Of course, it’s useless— death so much a part of life. He once said if illness made noise, cities would vibrate loose Crab Orchard Review
Jeanine DeRusha from their foundations. He named this health: the delicate placement of candles on parchment, cast into water current.
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Katy Didden Before Edison Invented Lights if you stood outside at night at a moonless hour you could mark your place in the universe by how you ﬁt among the ﬁeld of stars. The world was colder then, and the distances between one family and another were bigger by an exponent, which meant people traveled more, if they didn’t go as far— a man hitched his ox, and bundles of spun wool trembled like cobwebs as the cart rolled down the rutted road. Anyone who watches a bird ﬂying— a small bird especially— and sees it rise in full ﬂight, like a voice in song shifts octaves, knows that you can get anywhere if you only imagine the connecting line between where you are and where you’d like to go. A stone on a stone makes a wall, an arch in a tower holds a bell, the air in the bell catches sound and the wind carries it
Crab Orchard Review
Katy Didden over the lake where it ﬁlls the white sail. You navigate by stars. Between the stars are more stars you can’t see and between all stars is a dark silence and the great pull we only understand as longing, to which we’re tuned like bells, over which our eyes draw lines between the bright places. We give the blackness shapes with names of gods. In a ﬁst-sized glass dome, in a vacuum atmosphere not unlike the universe, Edison, after many trials, suspended a ﬁlament of straight bamboo whittled down to its threads then charred by heat until it resembled the stuﬀ of stars. It burned for six hundred hours, and the ceilings of our dreams lost their dim ﬂickerings to the steady glow of incandescence. And now, whole cities shine up like planets, and most stars, to our eyes, have gone out. Unless you travel. In the North Cascades, on a ridge overlooking a white volcano, the only thing darker than the night is the gliding shadow of a great owl. When you sleep with your face to the sky the stars are not so much above 62 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Katy Didden as around you. Stare long enough and you begin to feel you could lift your body oﬀ the earth and hover in the black night on the web of your awe at a billion suns, towards which everything you’re made of yearns.
Crab Orchard Review
Lopez Island When I should have left oﬀ grieving, I carried you with me across the water. I listened to the rock crabs burrow in the sand. They scritched their claws along the underbellies of rocks— the sound of lines. The tides’ sound rolled, was round, refrained. The crabs were green— like the sea— with oily shadows at the joints like the backs of waves. I’d lift the rocks and ﬂood their homes with sun. Above a violet band of fog, the ridge was the jagged graph of a heartbeat. In my lap, I cradled a blank page. Where are words for what’s gone? the waves’ obsessed repeating, and out of this the sharp attempts of language wearing away at the stone.
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Katy Didden From darkness, a scraped alphabet, like a voice, sails for an ear. Against heaven ever-approaching, the small industries of living: breathing, the body moving, the hinged motion of my wristâ€” the same gesture to write as to erase. My arm through fog drew rain. The claws of crabs turned the rocks, grain by grain, to sand.
Crab Orchard Review
Rebecca Dunham God Measuring the World with a Compass —illumination in a moralized Bible, c. 1250 Blue-ﬂeshed ﬁngerlets, uneven as a shoreline, reach up into dark space from wavy rind. If God must needs have made things according to number, weight, & measure, then he must be troubled by the chaos cross-sectioned beneath his instrument’s sharp points, the curved contours of this planet’s bulging body, cosmos circumscribed by two hinged legs like a cantaloupe halved upon my counter. I scoop sticky seed & ﬁber free. We are so small. Beauty’s daily disarray of vine straggles my garden’s weed-pocked patch. Sun-glazed, the irregular globes of melon swell.
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Ontology of the Miniature Room If life is a stage, then props are its truest players: minuscule harpsichords strung with moving keys, tiny books splayed open. It is best to hint at habitation, but not insist. Let the slight indent of a bed’s neat coverlet conjure the prim & purring cat, how it will sleek between candlesticks, claws hooking the hand-stitched rugs. Our proof of existence lies not in action, but in the traces we leave behind. That chair pulled out, just so. A satin-green pillow elbowed askew. To enter a room is to be ﬂooded by departure, by impressions ﬁxed upon cushion & wood in silent palimpsest.
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Jeﬀ Friedman In the Hospital When my mother opens her eyes, she’s at the 1904 World’s Fair, eating an ice cream cone for the ﬁrst time, pressing her left hand into her mother’s palm, an immense heat breathing into the park. Vanilla ice cream melts down her chin onto ﬁngers, which she licks one by one. She and her mother saunter past show tents pegged into soft, damp ground, past Igorots sprawled in dried grass, bodies gleaming like polished leather, spears ﬂung down like broken sticks, past glistening ores, columns of bees, past the ark on Mount Ararat and the cage that holds the last unicorn. Mosquitoes hatch in standing water and swarm over the crowd. Her mother swats them, but she can’t stop the mosquitoes from biting. She can’t stop the typhoid bacillus from spreading through her daughter’s blood. Now she sits at bedside, singing lullabies and telling stories, massaging her daughter’s face and chest with cold cloths. When my mother opens her eyes, breath gathers in the tube plugged into her throat and the digital readout blinks red in the dark. Pumps sigh, and the nurse’s cart clatters over the vinyl ﬂoor.
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Jeﬀ Friedman When she opens her eyes, speckled blackbirds wake in the crevices of old buildings. The air rests on her soft, still cheeks. When she opens her eyes, hope rains from the sky. The ark rises onto dry land. Shadows of doves ﬂy out at dawn into the cool light.
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Kate Gleason Ninth Grade Girl, Circa 1970 Every day you had to run the gauntlet of cool aloof boys ﬂanking the hallway to Home Room with their dark good looks, their dangerous gasoline and cigarette scent, those boy-men who could—with a glance—erase or ratify you. Every day you had to try to walk the line between the incomprehensible chemistry of the student body and the self’s fragile alembic. You didn’t have any free periods, every eye a mirror you checked yourself in: the gushing oil well of your hair, your pores, the viscous sheen reappearing no matter how much concealer you put on, how much blender. All the while exuding the medicinal perfumes of Stridex, Clearasil, Bonne Bell Ten-O-Six Astringent. Every day you had to navigate that hallway, the cosmetics in your pocketbook knocking like the wooden halyards of a moored sailboat, all your war paint: foundation and blush, highlighters and shadows, the wand for separating and darkening your lashes with Maybelline, CoverGirl, Max Factor. How did you become this creature? Wasn’t it only seconds ago that you were one of those guys, a member of their tribe, a prepubescent girl who conducted herself like a boy: loitering with them in the halls of seventh grade, a forged permission slip in your pocket? Weren’t you that girl who was more of a boy, who moved through the world in a raring, barely containable way, loving dirt and dares 70 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Kate Gleason and the delicious stretch of your growing abilities, the animal joy of the body in motion or the imagination fully engaged? Hadn’t you once transformed in your mind the underside of your mother’s kitchen table into a make-believe space capsule with you at the helm, contacting Houston, your voice crackling with traveling over such a great distance, telling Mission Control you knew all the risk factors and still were going to unseal the hatches, walk among the stars? Wasn’t that you stepping into the new frontier of outer space, into the realm of anti-gravity? Weren’t you that boy who used to sprawl on the living room ﬂoor for hours with your chemistry set or your magician’s kit or your rock collection, taking up all the room you needed? Then something happened. Your body began to change. And you started to take your measure from the glossy cover of Seventeen magazine with its anorexic typeface, the tall condensed letters squeezed into a space that was far too narrow. You put the heel of your hand on that boy’s head as if he were a child-proof cap you have to push down and twist to undo, the weight of your hand pressing him down as you turned— irrevocably—into a girl.
Crab Orchard Review
Mary Lee Myers An End to the Drought Doctor Helen Richards stood in the doorway, staring at the
rain. Just yesterday, dust had ruled the air—marked every footfall, billowed around scratching chickens and enthusiastic goats, gave shriveled cornstalks an impressionistic ﬁlm, coated every hair, clogged every pore, rode into lungs on oxygen molecules—today, gone, every grain. Silver sheets fell relentlessly. The water swirled outside the doorway, moving in every direction at once, creating rivers ruddy with mud, rearranging the land. It was as if, overnight, an unknown force had pushed the small hospital underneath a waterfall. She thought, how typically Africa. No partial measures. Never showers…monsoons, birthing the bugs, spawning gigantic, infectious, bloodsucking, poisonous monsters to ﬁll the beds with sick Tanzanians. She had spent a wakeful night at the side of a child, who, in spite of her best eﬀorts, died of typhoid fever. She was keeping score—Bugs, ﬁfty-six…Helen, forty-ﬁve. She closed her eyes to savor the pungent scent of freshly washed air. She inhaled deeply, picturing a scene out in the bush. In her imagination, like a developing black and white photograph, a cluster of dwellings appeared in the watery medium. A dozen homes encircled a central clearing, each colored by the earth from which they had been formed, each tall enough to hold a standing man. An umbrella of banana leaves diverted the water oﬀ each roof. Smoke tried to rise from a hole in the center of each roof, but disintegrated in the rain. She let the picture sharpen…a small herd of goats crowded under an acacia tree, futilely seeking shelter. Inside one of the homes, a drama had surely unfolded that morning. She watched the parents sponging down a feverish child— no longer eating or drinking. The time had come to take the child to the clinic. The mother, one child at the breast, and others sleeping, would remain at home. The father lay the child on a large, worn katenga, its once brilliant colors muted, tied the ends together to form a sling which was arranged across one shoulder, then under the other arm. The child’s head resting on the father’s chest, his stick-like legs secure under the
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Mary Lee Myers opposite arm, the duo set out…rain overhead, mud underfoot. Helen opened her eyes. How far had they traveled? After six months in Africa she knew they were out there…somewhere. Mail had arrived the previous day. A long one from Mark. He’d been to cities on both coasts, and across both borders—he was generous with details as always. But the last paragraph had caused ﬁngers of anxiety to tighten around her heart. He said he was “…lonely. I miss you, Helen”…the ﬁrst time in six months of letters. He begged her to set the date she would return to Chicago. He’d circle it in red on the calendar, and count oﬀ the days. “David can’t come back, but you can.” She read the letter slowly for the third time, folded it and slid it back into the pocket of her jeans. After initial awkwardness, their letters had settled into a comfortable formula. She wrote about the events of her life out in the bush, never running short of experiences. He wrote about his travels wooing clients for his advertising ﬁrm. Three months ago, after successfully landing a contract with a pharmaceutical company, he began to send her samples of their antibiotics—at last a common interest. Now, just as she got her footing, the ground shifted. She bent and rolled her jeans up to her knees, and pulled on a moss green slicker, holding the hood under her chin. Her sneakers were already wet and muddied from the morning trip. She stepped gingerly into the swirling water, hunched over, watched her footing. The rain snuck in at her neck, ‘dry’ being an unused word during the rainy season. She sloshed onto the veranda. Made of concrete, and raised about a foot oﬀ the ground, it circled the entire building which housed the clinic, lab and hospital. Covered by a corrugated metal roof, it was packed with people sheltering from the rain. Waiting patients sat on benches against the wall on either side of the clinic door. Family groups cooked over small ﬁres, women nursed children, people huddled in wet clothing, or slept on the concrete. “I’m back, Marie,” she shouted to the nurse just visible inside. She scraped her sneakers, heavy with mud, against the edge of the veranda, and shook the water from her slicker. Afternoon clinic was about to get underway. “The rain has kept the number of patients down,” Marie said, holding the door for the dripping doctor, her words muﬄed by the drumbeat of rain overhead. Over the six months of working together, Helen had come to treasure working with Marie, who had been a nurse here for four years. With patience and unexpected humor she had eased Crab Orchard Review
Mary Lee Myers Helen from Chicago medicine to 1978 African medicine. A member of the Mangati tribe, Marie was tall, slender, and strikingly beautiful with the smooth ebony skin and ﬁnely chiseled features of her tribe. Closely cropped hair accented a graceful neck. Large metal hoops dangled from her ears, framing a ﬂashing smile. Separated by a generation, born and raised worlds apart, they had discovered a friendship solid enough to hold together no matter what the day brought in the door. The outpatient room was furnished in bare bones décor. A naked bulb, lit by a diesel generator, dangled from a cord in the center of the room, its light struggling to penetrate the gloom in the corners. Against one wall stood a cast-oﬀ wooden exam table; a tall metal cabinet was on the opposite wall. The top half contained three shelves, laden with brown plastic medicine bottles. Locked doors covered the bottom half, and a box of gloves and assorted metal basins sat on the shelf between. A small wooden desk and two chairs were pushed up against the third wall. Mud droppings and puddles combined in a moving carpet across the concrete ﬂoor. Marie assisted an mzee, revered elder, from the veranda onto the exam table. Draped in a red print katenga, tied at one shoulder and hitched up at the waist with a piece of rope, he was barefoot and completely drenched, including a large gauze dressing over his left knee and thigh. “Hello, Cosmos,” said Helen in English as Marie translated into Swahili. “Let’s get this dressing oﬀ to see how that burn is doing.” Just as they started to unwind the bandage, a commotion on the veranda and cries for help penetrated the noise of the storm. Helen ran to the door. Several people had gone into the rain to help a ﬁgure struggling toward the hospital. At the edge of the veranda, a man carrying a child handed his waterlogged burden to the doctor who carried the child into the clinic. Cosmos eased himself oﬀ the exam table and moved to one of the chairs. The two women lifted the boy to the table, removed the wet clothing and covered him with a dry sheet. Helen began to examine him while Marie talked with the father and translated his story from Swahili for the doctor. The child, Paul, had been sick with fevers for four days. He got worse the day before and stopped eating and drinking. The father started out at dawn. “He’s been carrying this child for hours,” said Helen as she ﬁnished taking the child’s blood pressure. Marie nodded. Helen continued, “Tell the father he did the right thing to come. Paul has a high fever, 104.6, his pulse is 160, and I can’t get a blood pressure at all.” She sent Marie 74 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Mary Lee Myers to get the lab technician and continued to examine the boy, who lay whimpering with his eyes closed. Helen moved his head and found that his neck wasn’t stiﬀ…now she always did that ﬁrst—she hadn’t done it with David…so she knew Paul didn’t have meningitis. She listened to his lungs and heard no sounds of pneumonia. His heart sounds were so rapid and faint she could not be sure if there was a murmur or not. His abdomen did not seem tense or tender, which would be the case with appendicitis. Then she found it—a huge spleen. The spleen, plus the high fever, and the whiteness of his eyes made malaria the likely culprit. She let Marie and the lab tech next to the boy draw blood and start an IV. She leaned against the cabinet and watched. David was sleeping when she looked in on him. Good. The ﬂu was rampant at his college and the inﬁrmary doctor had sent him home. Another hour. Another check. He hadn’t moved. David? David…she touched his shoulder…touched him again…shook him… “I’m in,” said the lab tech. “Do a blood count, a malaria smear, and type and cross. Good job, getting that vein.” Helen returned to the boy’s side. She got ﬂuid running through the IV, then told Marie to ﬁll a dropper with liquid Tylenol. The boy’s father had been standing quietly while they worked on Paul. Helen beckoned to him, gave him the medicine dropper and pointed to the child’s mouth. He took over, supported the child’s head with his arm and shoulder, and slipped the dropper into the side of his mouth. The paramedics had pushed her aside to work on David. She had felt useless. She couldn’t even see her son as the rescue team crowded around. She ﬁxed her gaze on the picture over his bed, the state champion football team. David smiled right at her from the center of the second row. Helmet in hand, shoulders massive under the pads, her thick-necked running back looked invulnerable. Ten minutes later Paul was on a stretcher, father at his side, on his way to the ward. Helen washed her hands in a basin, and drying them turned back to Cosmos. She thanked him for his patience. Where did Tanzanians learn such patience? No magazines, no TV, no vending machines. Marie helped Cosmos back onto the table, and the two women ﬁnished removing the dressing. Marie and Cosmos talked while the burn was cleaned, an antibiotic ointment was applied and a fresh gauze dressing. Helen felt Mark’s letter dig into her thigh as she sat working on Cosmos. She pictured Mark writing it at the cluttered kitchen table. The Tiﬀany lamp hanging from the ceiling gave the Crab Orchard Review
Mary Lee Myers table a ruddy glow. Mark’s tie hung over the chair opposite, his shirt collar was loosened, his Grecian-formula black hair drooped over his left eye. A martini, three olives, sat in front of him—he must have been drinking or he would never have revealed his feelings. It wasn’t that he openly blamed her for David’s death, he just never reached out to lift her from the hook of her guilt, or even to touch her. Helen came back to Africa as Marie said, “This may help a little.” She was wrapping saran wrap around Cosmos’ rebandaged leg. Cosmos slowly got oﬀ the table, picked up his walking stick and headed into the rain, promising to return in two days. The lab tech returned, results in hand. Paul’s blood smear was positive for malaria; his red blood cell count was only nineteen, extremely low…life threatening. “He needs blood as fast as possible,” Helen said. “Type his father’s blood, and if it matches go ahead with a transfusion.” If it didn’t, they would go through the staﬀ cards in hope of a match. She turned to Marie. “I wrote an order to start anti-malaria meds if the smear was positive. Could you tell the ward nurse to go ahead?” The afternoon wore on, crisis free. It was dark when the last patient got oﬀ the table. Night fell at six this close to the equator. Helen sat to make some notes while Marie straightened the room and locked the medicines away. The usually raucous insects were silent in the rain. Helen remembered the night she had been reading by candlelight, and suddenly the insects stopped, all at once, like a radio had been turned oﬀ. The silence had startled her. Then she felt herself trembling, the candle fell over, and the ﬂoor moved under her feet. How relieved she was when she realized it was only an earthquake, and not her bones falling apart. Holding herself together was such an eﬀort. The lab tech paused at the door. “The father’s blood was a match, so I started the transfusion an hour ago.” “Thank God,” said Helen, “he still has a chance.” Helen walked into the ward, down to the bed where Paul was getting the blood. It seemed to be running well. The child’s pulse was still 148, and his fever still high at 103.8. He moved when touched lightly, but did not open his eyes when his name was called. She turned to the father, sitting at the bedside, changing wet towels on the boy’s hot forehead. “Helen,” she said, pointing to herself. 76 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Mary Lee Myers “Sylvester,” he said, rising and making a bow. Sylvester, Cosmos, Damien. She had gotten used to these old Christian names in the bush country. Some zealous missionary must have ticked oﬀ the litany of the saints when baptizing the natives. She wondered what his native birth name had been—the child was named whatever the father said ﬁrst. She had met, “Shut the door,” “Little one,” and “Loud cry.” With Monica, the ward nurse, interpreting, she told Sylvester that Paul was holding on, but still in a lot of danger. Just then Marie shouted from the door, “Doctor Helen! An emergency.” Helen ran back to the clinic. A woman had arrived in the rain. Across her back, wrapped in a katenga, was a child. The three of them positioned the soaking bundle on the exam table and unwrapped a little girl. Marie found out the child had been sick with a rash for three days—this morning became very ill. Around noon, the mother began the journey to the hospital, carrying her daughter, who now lay motionless on the table. Helen listened to the heart—nothing. She rolled the child over to listen to the lungs—nothing. She searched for a pulse in the neck—not a single beat. The body was still warm…so close…Helen closed her eyes and slowly put the stethoscope into her pocket. She had ridden in the ambulance with David to the hospital…siren screeching the whole trip. Thirty minutes later the doctor stopped the code…put his stethoscope into his pocket. The ER ﬂoor was littered with gauze, plastic packaging, latex gloves. The beeping machines went silent. People in white coats slowed to a halt, parted to let her in. She reached for David’s hand…still warm. Across the table Marie bowed her head. Helen put her arm around the mother, almost a child herself, while Marie told her the awful truth. Helen felt the mother’s body stiﬀen. No movement, no sound. Helen wondered if this was her only child…had other children died before this one. Eventually the rain pounding steadily overhead penetrated the silence of loss. The mother reached in and cradled the child’s head and shoulders in her arms, rocking back and forth. So many mothers and fathers around the table. Some wore saris, some skins, some grass, some blue jeans, leather jackets, cowboy hats, burkas. So many children on the table…all the hues of the human race, blonde hair, kinky hair, straight black hair, red hair…short, long, curly. The same ﬁnality, the same pain. Helen, child after child, had relinquished her claim to exclusive grief. The mother loosened her grip on the child. She started to wrap the child, ready to start out in the darkness and Crab Orchard Review
Mary Lee Myers rain, back to her home in the bush. “No,” said Helen, touching her arm and nodding toward Marie. Marie led the young woman out to get something to eat. Helen ﬁlled a basin with water and began to wash the child. In a short while Marie returned and began to help. They worked in silence. Then in a voice so low it was almost a whisper, Helen asked, “Do you and your husband plan to have children?” Marie stopped toweling the child, and said, “We hope to.” Helen started to wrap the child in a clean, dry sheet saying, “Aren’t you terriﬁed of what can happen to them? We see it here every day. I couldn’t get back to sleep last night after the little girl died of typhoid, and now this…” “I know,” said Marie, touching the child’s cheek with the back of her hand. “When I started working here,” said Helen, “I was afraid to touch the patients. Afraid I would catch something—even with all the shots I had before coming. I was days getting over that.” Wordlessly they ﬁnished their task. Marie left to check on the mother. “If she won’t spend the night,” said Helen, “give her my slicker.” Overhead the rain continued to beat on the roof, but the ward itself was quiet. The generator had been shut down. A single kerosene lantern on the nurse’s desk in the middle of the ward sent quivering ﬁngers through the moist air. Sleeping forms were everywhere—patients on the beds, family between the beds and even under the beds. Each was wrapped head to toe in clothes or sheets, the only protection from the mosquitoes ﬂitting for food in the warm, damp and screenless room. Helen sat in the shadows. A second unit of blood, this one from a nurse, was almost ﬁnished. She had been watching Sylvester. When his son had been restless he murmured to him, massaged his arms and legs, changed the cool compresses on his forehead. He got him a bedpan, watching the IV carefully as he used it. Helen watched him with his son, while, cast by the kerosene lamp, the drama played out in larger than life shadows on the wall behind them. She studied Sylvester and Paul; she thought about David and Mark. She ﬁngered Mark’s letter, still in her pocket. He’d been in San Diego, ﬁnalizing a lucrative advertising account when David got sick. He hadn’t answered when she’d called his room to let him know that the college physician had recommended that David come home—hadn’t answered at suppertime when she’d returned and tucked their son in bed. Her next 78 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Mary Lee Myers opportunity came after midnight Paciﬁc Time. Half asleep, he’d been told that the son he left in perfect health was dead from meningitis. Having lost that ﬁnal chance to father, he fell back on his other role, manager. As with an advertising account that didn’t come to fruition, someone was to blame…someone got ﬁred. David was dead—he blamed the college, the inﬁrmary, the doctor, the paramedics, and the emergency room. A team of lawyers initiated lawsuits. The words of blame for Helen…you were there…you are a doctor…you let him die…while never spoken, ﬁlled their house, gradually crowding out everything else. Flowers, friends, coworkers, music, laughter, ﬁnally even conversation—all forced under the doors and out the windows. No room, no air. In the end Helen had slipped away to Tanzania, on sabbatical. Paul had fallen asleep. The transfusion had ended. The night nurse told Helen, “His fever is down to 100.8, and his pulse has slowed to 112. I was able to get a blood pressure of 80 over 40.” Helen picked her way around the sleeping bodies to the child’s bed. Light from the lantern behind her cast her shadow on the wall—head bowed, ponytail disheveled, shoulders sloped. Sylvester was sleeping with his son, his arm hugging the little boy; Mark never had this moment. “Helen,” Mark shouted as he arrived home the next day. She sat at the kitchen table, cold coﬀee in front of her, scum on the top. She hadn’t moved. She couldn’t bear to look at him, fearful of what she would see in his eyes. What if she had gotten up at the sound of his key in the door, had met him as he put down his bags, had put her arms around his chest and felt his around her…Helen stood motionless at the foot of the bed watching the sleeping pair, hope tugging at the blanket of sadness that had weighed her down for months. Paul might make it. The Bugs may lose this one. Wearily, Helen got ready for bed. She held a picture of Mark and David up near the candle. Mark had his arm around David; both were holding a huge ﬁsh and laughing because the ﬁsh was still squirming. She spent a long time looking at Mark. She touched his face lightly. She blew out the candle, climbed into bed, and closed the mosquito netting. In the dark, rain still pounding, she remembered nights in bed with Mark. He would lie on his back, left arm around her as she rested her head on his chest…a comfortable ﬁt.
Crab Orchard Review
Brenda Sparks Prescott
The Messenger or Woman Waving to the Future “Come help me,” Art whispers in the late night darkness. I
turn my head on the pillow and smell Dial soap and Old Spice. The few times he’s had to leave like this, he’s always awakened me as soon as he’s started to get ready. He likes the company, even if he’s in the shower and I’m making coﬀee and heating leftovers in the kitchen. Something’s diﬀerent tonight. The weight of him sitting on my side of the bed pitches me toward him. As I roll nearer, I open my eyes. In the spill-over glow of the bathroom light I can see the perfect crease of his midnight-blue pants and the sheen of his spotless black shoes. “Come on,” he says. His touch glances my shoulder before he stands and walks toward the hall. “What?” I say. “I have to go in,” is all he says before leaving the room. I get up and slip into the fuzz of my chenille robe. Two years ago, we were so proud to tell our family about Art’s assignment to a base right outside of Washington. It was a plum Air Force assignment. President Kennedy had just moved into the White House, and Jackie showed us all how to dress and entertain. We wrote letters to our friends, boasting of day trips to monuments and ﬂying kites on the Mall. Now, though, these ex-tobacco ﬁelds near D.C. have lost their charm, and I would welcome the arid safety of the California air ﬁelds. I shuﬄe into the kitchen as I loop the pink belt of my robe and pull it tight. Art has taken out the can of Maxwell House coﬀee and is holding the basket from the percolator. I take it from him and turn on the water to ﬁll the pot. He goes into the living room while I make the brew. He returns with a pack of cigarettes and the brass ashtray he got in Tokyo. Neither of us speak. I open the fridge and take out the makings for ham sandwiches while he taps out two cigarettes and lights both. I spread Miracle Whip on four slices of bread and open the mustard 80 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Brenda Sparks Prescott jar. Everyone has noticed the extra ﬂights moving through our base and has felt an unspoken frenzy. “Is this it? The Big One?” I ask. “No, of course not. I told you already about the exercises coming up. I’m sure I’ll be back for dinner tomorrow. Or the next day. There’ll still be plenty of ham, right?” I wonder how routine exercises would pull him out of bed in the middle of the night, but don’t ask. He tries to give me a reassuring smile but we know each other too well, and he can’t get it right until I give him my own false face. He moves next to me as my hands stay busy with his sandwiches. He holds out a cigarette and I take a drag. I don’t even smoke, really, and never touched a cigarette before I met him. My life is diﬀerent now. He pours the coﬀee and takes a sip. “You going to be all right?” he asks. “Don’t worry about us,” I say. He nods that tight little shake he uses when there’s more to say but he’s not going to say it. I take out his lunch box as he launches into his ﬁnal preparations. What I meant was, don’t worry about me. After Brenda was born eight years ago, I stopped talking and hit a low point, but Art brought me back with a pastel crayon. The day I stopped talking, he treated my silence as a joke. Then he yelled, just once, startling the baby. None of that mattered to me. I just sat in his recliner. Though we were newly assigned to the base in California and didn’t know any folks yet, surely some wife recognized the desperation of a man looking for emergency care for a toddler and a newborn. I don’t know where he took the babies that day, but at some point the air pressure changed and the small noises of other resident lives ceased. Finally I had no burden of taking care of them. After a while, Art returned and sat on the ottoman in front of his chair. “Talk to me,” he said. I didn’t bother to look at him. “I’m listening now. You can say whatever you want.” I wasn’t even there. He left the room, and someone with my eyes watched a rectangle of sunlight move across the ﬂoor. Art reappeared. Already in front of me lay a tray of pastel sticks and a large tablet of drawing paper that I had bought early in the pregnancy but never used. He set a cup of tea on the table beside me. Then he knelt and picked up the red pastel. I watched the light crawl across the beige carpet. He took my hand and placed the pastel in my palm. “It’d be nice to have a picture,” he said. “Maybe you could draw the Crab Orchard Review
Brenda Sparks Prescott house across the road.” He stood up and left. When I ﬁnally reached for the cooled tea, I still had the bright red stick in my hand. Art’s a good man, but his request felt like one more order I didn’t want to follow: draw a house. The California sun shone on the ﬂat top duplex, the kind that line streets with unrelenting regularity on military bases all over the world. You can let their monotony overwhelm you, but when I glanced across the street, I saw that the wife had recently planted some asters in a handmade window box. I knew it was the wife because the husband didn’t do anything outside; he didn’t even mow the lawn. The ﬂowers stood out against the pale green aluminum siding. Red asters, a standard cheap decoration. Of course they weren’t the pure red of the pastel I held. There was a blue, and some orange, and maybe a little brown to muddy it. By the end of that thought I had started to sketch. I never told anyone about that day, so that wife across the way never knew how her asters saved me. Sarah was her name. I was so grateful to her that when I ﬁnished, I gave her the picture. She giggled and protested, but I could see her delight. She invited me over for coﬀee with a bunch of other wives the next week. They all admired my work. Sarah had mounted it in a used gold frame that made it look substantial, even in my eyes. She called it her house portrait and you could tell it was the place you had just entered. One woman asked if I could do a picture of her living room with a Japanese chest and a red wedding kimono on the wall. Of course I could. Other women wanted to place orders. Sarah stepped in and said, “Barb has two little ones to take care of. We all know about stretching an Air Force salary.” “I’ll pay,” the woman with the kimono said. “It can’t be much, but I’ll pay. And I’ll baby-sit while she’s doing it.” Right there, a new business was born. Art had his wife back, and we had some extra cash to boot. My mom had said my artistic life would die if I married a military man. It almost did. When Brenda was three months old, Sarah’s husband got an assignment to a base in Frankfurt, Germany. They moved away and I never heard from her again. Now, with both of my kids in school, I’m able to take more serious commissions and work in oil. I always oblige the military wives, though, and I keep talking. Usually. There isn’t much to say tonight, though, since Art used that line about scheduled exercises again. The guys can’t tell us exactly what’s going on, and we can’t let on that we know or our system will be thwarted. Their military work is need to know, it means life or death. Our work could mean the future, if there is one, as Betty Ann said last 82 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Brenda Sparks Prescott Thursday. She’s something of a sass, but she usually gets away with it because she delivers her stingers with a light laugh. I like her—she’ll say what you’re thinking but wouldn’t dare utter—but some of the wives don’t. They’re the ones who have to worry about their husbands’ wandering eyes. For those women, her curves, dimpled smile, and fullon gaze are trouble. That and her martini habit. She oﬀers husbands a wide-mouthed treat instead of their usual Pabst Blue Ribbon. Like I said, trouble. I had the coﬀee cups ready when Betty Ann walked into the kitchen last week, but she said, “Let’s have some gin.” “I don’t know, I usually wait for Art.” “This is serious: we’re preparing to be attacked,” she said. She opened the liquor cabinet and got out a bottle. “Wait a minute. What are you talking about? We’re always preparing. Look at those everlasting exercises.” I pushed aside the coﬀee cups and took down two tumblers. “No, I mean a real attack,” she insisted. “Missiles, A-bombs.” The skin on my forearm prickled, because I knew she was right, but didn’t know why. “What makes you think that?” “Two things I overheard the guys say last night.” She and Buddy had come over with the kids for hot dogs and beans. “One. As I stood right there with the coﬀee,” she pointed to the swing door leading into the dining room, “I heard Art say that there were no dummies this time. Everything’s live. Everything.” She dropped ice into the glasses and ﬁlled them with gin. Now I remembered her silence, the swing door held slightly ajar by her elbow. “Two,” she continued. “When I was going to the bathroom, Buddy said everything is steaming south. Why south? Why not over to Germany, where they’re building that wall?” “The only thing south of here we’re interested in is Cuba.” I took a sip. “But we wouldn’t attack them now. That would be like a direct hit on Mother Russia.” “Exactly. Despite all this clamor for action, Kennedy’s already been burned once there. I bet he wouldn’t make these kinds of moves unless there was a real threat down there.” “Any other possibilities?” I asked. We debated as we sipped. News about Berlin dominated our papers, but we were on the front lines with our Air Force husbands, and knew other hot spots must have been simmering. I didn’t mean to ﬁnish such a tall drink, but kept slurping it up as we speculated. At the end of an hour we were both clutching reﬁlled glasses. “A-bombs,” Betty Ann said. Crab Orchard Review
Brenda Sparks Prescott Could we survive a nuclear war? If we launched, the Russians would, too. I glanced at the clock. “Oh my God, the children.” “Yes, the children,” Betty Ann said. All I meant was that Tony and Brenda would be home any second, but my friend slumped in her chair, as if much worse were about to happen. After a moment, she rose, swept up the glasses, and dumped their contents into the sink. “We have to try to save the children,” she said. “First, we have to stop drinking gin in the afternoon. Lord, it’s only three o’clock.” She grimaced at me. “Second, we’re going to call a bunch of gals for a meeting tomorrow morning to decide what to do.” “If we last that long,” I said. I wasn’t usually that dramatic, but it was Betty Ann’s style and she had me plenty scared. We made a list of mothers, all Negro Air Force wives like ourselves. Neither of us mentioned the scarcity of fallout shelters on base. We were in Maryland; we knew the few spots in the shelters were not going to anyone who drank at the colored fountain. Betty Ann mentioned Rosie. “Not Rosie, we need allies,” I said. Rosie’s husband, Manny, was one of Betty Ann’s more attentive followers. Several times when her husband wasn’t around because of duty, Manny escorted Betty Ann home from a party and returned far later than he should have. His petite wife was not amused. “Oh, come on. She loves her kids more than she hates me. Besides, we need her. Manny’s in the supply depot.” Rosie and Manny were Mexican, but we thought of them as colored. We went on until Brenda tumbled in with her usual demands for attention. The next morning Betty Ann and I stood in the corner in front of the hi-ﬁ, so everyone in both the living room and dining area could see us. I peered around and marveled at the turnout we’d gotten on short notice. All the women we invited were there, most on the folding chairs we used for canasta. Dorothy, Gladys, Debbie, Shirley, Linda, the other Gladys, Peggy, Pepper, Judy, May, and Lavonia. Dorothy, feet planted wide, watched the youngest kids in my back yard through the dining room window. She was formidable. Even the MPs thought twice about tangling with her. Rosie was there, too, with her back against the far wall and knees pressed ﬁrmly together. We had to work fast since the morning kindergartners had an 11:30 pickup time. Still, you couldn’t get that many women together on a weekday morning and not oﬀer them something to eat. I had gotten up early today to make a coﬀee cake; Betty Ann had done the same. I folded my arms and let my co-leader speak ﬁrst. She recapped 84 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Brenda Sparks Prescott our conversation from the day before. Twice a jet roared overhead as she spoke, as if underscoring the urgency of her talk. When she ﬁnished, there was silence. The sideboard clock tocked out ﬁve beats. On the ﬁfth, the women all chattered at once. Betty Ann let the sound crest, then held up a hand. We quieted. She said, “Dorothy, what does Mac hear in the oﬃcers’ mess?” Her husband was a cook. “He does not speak out of turn,” Dorothy said. “Of course not,” Betty Ann said. Dorothy rapped on the window to get some child’s attention. She wagged her ﬁnger, no. “I did, however, happen to overhear him comparing notes with another cook. The other guy said we’ve lost a plane over Cuba.” “Oh, sweet Jesus,” someone said. “Maybe it’s just a rumor,” Rosie said. “Don’t count on it,” Betty Ann said. Rosie ducked her head. Betty Ann continued, “Okay, there are a couple of things we can do. First, we must show faith in our husbands and our country. Agreed?” “Agreed,” we said in unison. “However, we must be prepared to act if the situation becomes dire. Agreed?” “Agreed.” “What’s next?” “How long would it take a missile to get here?” Dorothy asked. We all knew the answer: not long enough. But we had to hope. We had to have faith that our smart, beautiful president had learned the right lessons in dealing with the Cubans and the Russians from the Bay of Pigs. We had to hope that, if he couldn’t avert war, we still could do something to save our children, and so we planned. “We need some kind of early warning system,” I said. “Does anyone have radio equipment?” Betty Ann asked. No one answered. Dorothy said, “Even if we did, we wouldn’t know what to listen for.” Heads nodded. Then Rosie came through for us, in her way. She sat up straighter and said, “Manny supplies the specialty aircraft.” “Yes, we know,” I said to keep Betty Ann from asking what that had to do with warning systems. Rosie went on, “He always stocks the choppers for the foreign ministers that visit the White House. He had to ﬁnd special bottled water for that guy that came from Algeria.” I heard Betty Ann rustle next to me and put a hand on her arm. Crab Orchard Review
Brenda Sparks Prescott I got the feeling that Rosie was easily derailed, and we couldn’t aﬀord that. We needed every bit of information on the table, relevant or not. “Anyway, have you noticed the Sea Kings on the apron on runway 31L, you know, at the end of Cedar Street?” Most of us nodded. “Manny said that he had to put diapers and baby formula in one of them. ‘Diapers, are you sure?’ I asked. ‘Sure,’ he said. ‘Why?’ I asked.” She took a sip from her coﬀee and looked around the room. (Lord, help the poor, that girl could milk the spotlight.) “The supplies are for families of White House personnel, if…you know.” For a moment I imagined a mad dash of police cars and limousines through our neighborhoods. Of course, the choppers would just take oﬀ for the White House lawn. I said, “Wait, so if they don’t go anywhere.…” “We don’t go anywhere,” Betty Ann said. We looked at each other. The simplicity of the warning system was perfect. “Rosie, you’re a genius,” Betty Ann said. She threaded a path to the dining table and slid a piece of coﬀee cake onto a saucer. She turned to Rosie and said, “Sugar, I do believe you haven’t had any of my world famous cake.” Rosie smiled without showing any teeth, but giggled when the rest of us clapped and cheered. Betty Ann curtsied to her, coﬀee cake held high. We set up a schedule of patrols down Cedar Street and devised a variety of signals. The logistics came easily to us—our husbands would have been proud—but it was harder to decide what to do in the event we discovered an empty apron at 31L. Dorothy asked from her post by the window, “Who’ll go with the children?” No one volunteered. Gladys said, “I’d rather be with Ted, if I knew the children were safe, or at least in good hands.” We nodded. “My mom lives in Cincinnati,” I oﬀered. “I know she’d take in anybody who had her grandkids in tow.” It was also Dorothy’s hometown. She said, “Yeah, and who would bother to bomb Cincinnati?” Soon we were all talking at once: “How many cars do we need to ﬁt all the kids?” “Should they all go to one place?” “My family has a farm in West Virginia.” “We have a bunch of those big water jugs from when we were stationed out at Alamogordo.” Dorothy wanted to practice actually getting the kids out of school. The guys always said practice eliminates mistakes in combat. Then she 86 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Brenda Sparks Prescott said, “Naw, wait a minute.” She folded her big arms across her ample chest. “Someone might notice that all the colored kids were gone and think we were about to riot. Won’t work.” All we talked about were logistics, for we were all veterans of military moves. Even our youngest children sensed that they shouldn’t get too attached to anything or anyone that didn’t ﬁt in the family car. We’d learned to make friends quickly but not to love too deeply. “How many of us drive?” Dorothy asked. She counted the raised hands. Mine was not among them. “Six. Sure would make assignments easier if we had an even seven—each one could take a day of the week.” Betty Ann stared at me, her face dimpled into a puzzled smile. “Hon, you didn’t raise your hand.” “I can’t.” “Why not?” Betty Ann asked. “Yeah,” Rosie said, “I just learned to drive last year and I’m doing it.” They all turned their faces to me, waiting, but I couldn’t say anything. Betty Ann said, “Dorothy, you go ahead while Barb and I get that other coﬀee cake.” She headed towards the kitchen as Dorothy passed the empty cake platter up to her. I followed her into the kitchen and felt the slight push of air as the swing door closed. She took the knife oﬀ the plate and rinsed it. I uncovered my coﬀee cake and carefully folded the crinkled foil. Betty Ann slid the knife next to the cake and backed up. “So,” she said. How could I tell her about my silent days? “Your husband,” she said in such a way that I knew I’d been too trusting. I picked up the knife and started slicing. “He came to me.” “For what?” “Not what you think.” Betty Ann moved away. I glanced at her but she turned her back to me to examine the pictures and alphabet magnets stuck to the fridge. She touched a photo of me and the kids in front of a rocket monument. I dropped the knife in the sink. “Anyway, he wanted to talk.” “That’s how it starts,” I said. “I know, believe me, but not this time. He just asked me to keep an eye on you. Never said why.” I picked up the cake platter but had to set it down again. Betty Ann meant to comfort me—if any of her motives were that simple—but I recalled her cat feet and bat ears and wondered how I ever thought I could trust her. I looked down at the knife. Crab Orchard Review
Brenda Sparks Prescott She said, “All I’m saying is, I’ll try to be there, and if I’m not, you’ll do what you have to. I know it.” I glanced at the knife again. It was for cutting bread with a rounded tip and a serrated edge. It would’ve left only a small, pretty scar and a good cocktail party anecdote. She stood between me and the real knives, I noted, but not seriously. Besides, who else was always there, always made you feel alive and likeable? “I’ll say yes,” I said. “For now.” Betty Ann said, “That’s all we have.” I picked up the cake platter and held it steady, while my ally led the way back to the gathering. “I’m in,” I said. “Good,” Dorothy said, “an even seven.” Finally we devised a schedule to share the load so that any woman could be chosen purely by circumstance to evacuate the children. No one questioned another woman’s ability to take care of the kids. We even planned for a return. The guys can’t tell us exactly what’s going on. As I carry a stack of Look magazines into the unlit living room, I see Art frozen in the hallway between the children’s rooms. He remains there as I go back to the bright kitchen. I can’t say anything, either, I think, as I sit at the table. Art joins me for one last shared cigarette. “I’ve been thinking,” he says. “Since I’m going to be extra busy on base the next few days, maybe you want to take the kids to see your mother.” I know more than he thinks I do. Sure, I could say, I can be on the road in twenty minutes, but I don’t. I give him an answer he expects. “What, are you talking crazy, Arty? The kids can’t miss school.” “Yeah, you’re right.” He holds up the cigarette again and I take it from him. We hear a soft knock on the back door. Coﬀee drunk, sandwiches made, clothes packed into a ﬂight bag, too many butts in the ashtray for too short a time to say goodbye. “There’s Buddy,” he says. We both stand. He gives me his usual goodbye peck, then squeezes me until it hurts. “Stay by the phone,” he says. “Why?” He cups the side of my head and presses his forehead against mine. He walks the pads of his ﬁngers down my face, as if for the ﬁrst time. I inhale his coﬀee breath and the stink of cigarettes. The sharpness of his after-shave cuts through it all. 88 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Brenda Sparks Prescott “Just stay by the phone.” He picks up his gear and reaches for the door. A list of names tacked to the message board catches his eye. “New car pool?” he asks. The key to deception is honesty. “Some of the mothers don’t drive yet. Thought I’d help out.” “Good,” he says. “Glad I’m not taking the car.” He opens the door and leaves without a backward glance. I wander into the living room, turning on lights and looking for a distraction. My work table is in the corner with a big gooseneck lamp. I ﬂip open the box of pastels. The red is missing. I wonder if Brenda has gotten into the box again. She likes to use what she calls Mommy’s crayons. None of the mothers of her friends have their own colors. I glance around the ell of the living room and dining area and see the stick lying on the dining table. Underneath it is the phone bill’s envelope. Big block letters say, “LOVE YOU, A.” He never said those words before he left. I fold the rough paper and stick it in the pocket of my robe, and return to my work table. It’s been five hours and seventeen minutes since Art left in the middle of the night. I’d fallen asleep at my work table, my latest piece pushed to one side. The living room’s lucent in the dawn as I look out the front window. The early morning street is empty but for a few yellow leaves gliding through the crisp Maryland air. I think of the emergency evacuation plan disguised as a car pool schedule. The camouﬂage is brilliant. Art saw nothing unusual about that roster of mothers, but, then, he had other lists on his mind. I open the front door onto the bright promise of our tree-lined street and retrieve the two glass bottles of milk. I take them to the kitchen. Art’s cup sits in the drain alone and the percolator still holds the dregs of the coﬀee I made for him last night. I empty the overﬂowing ashtray. The aluminum canisters with the copper-colored tops need to be wiped down and ﬁlled. I take out two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper and put in the milk. I need more ketchup for tonight’s meatloaf. Housework sometimes makes me want to hurt someone, but today I’m glad for these mundane tasks. It’s my turn to check runway 31L today. I won’t have to wait like a good military wife for a phone call or telegram. Today I’ll be the messenger. Today I’ll gather the children with Betty Ann and run, ﬂat out, if it comes to that. I check the kids for the last time. If all is well, they won’t miss me for the few moments I’ll be away. Crab Orchard Review
Brenda Sparks Prescott I put on my red sweater and pass through the living room. I reach past the telephone for my pocketbook but draw back. Stay by the phone, he said. Its mute presence and the quiet comfort of the arm chair invite me to stay, to obey. The drive to the end of Cedar Street takes two minutes, but so much can happen in no time at all. What if Art calls, the phone ringing and ringing, my sleepy-eyed son bewildered by its unanswered insistence? Betty Ann can take that risk, would go for me. I know her number by heart. No. I reach past the phone and pick up my pocketbook. I go out to the carport and get in our station wagon. Even though the day will warm up, the cool night has left a chill inside the car. As I settle into the driver’s seat, my breathing slows and my shoulders drop. I’m ready for this, whatever it is. My mission takes me along the fence at the end of 31L. I see the three choppers huddled as if for warmth. A truck speeds away from them, but the blades remain silent. The threat still exists but we must still be talking. I loop back around to our street. As I round the bend at the far end, Betty Ann’s porch light comes on. Gladys turns on her light, as does Debbie. I stick my arm straight up out the window and wave broad sweeps. The lights go oﬀ, one by one. I imagine a snapshot of my mission, my brown hand above the white top of our Rambler. After the kids leave for school, I’ll sketch out a painting. The title of the piece will be “Woman Waving to the Future.” After parking, I go inside and stand in the hall between my children’s rooms. “Tony! Brenda! Time to get up.” I knock on my daughter’s door and wait until she passes, trailing her blue blanket. It’s not a security blanket—she’s too old for that—but she uses it as a pillow because she says a regular pillow gets too hot. She drops it on the ﬂoor in the hall but doesn’t seem to notice. My girl is not a morning person. I go over to the blue heap and point down at it. “Brenda, come pick this up.” She turns at the bathroom door and gives me a look of pure annoyance. I choose to ignore it. “Mommy, can’t you pick it up? You’re right there.” I don’t move. She comes over but at the last moment sticks out a foot and swipes the blanket away and hobbles down the hall, sweeping the blanket along with her foot. “I said, pick it up.” “Okay.” At the entrance to the living room, she kicks her foot and sends the blanket sailing into the air. “It’s up,” she says.
90 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Mark Halliday Walking the Ashes When I picked up my father’s ashes at Crestwood Memorial Chapel downtown the box was astoundingly heavy just as everyone always says about human ashes and besides he was a big man—but still I wanted to walk with him for a while— to see how it felt to walk with his ashes through streets he walked so vigorously in the Thirties, the noisy exciting Thirties which were the present then so we set out in the sunshine. A restaurant on the corner of Spring and Mott had Specials on a sidewalk chalkboard and the top Special was Salmon Aﬀumicato with Vodka Cream and I said “That sounds good” but the ashes said “Maybe a little too fancy.” My father liked his pleasures bold and clear and decisive; he used to say the way to throw a good party was to roast a big ham and put it on the table with a sharp knife and let everybody just hack oﬀ chunks and he made me feel sort of eﬀete at times; but he also inspired me to love my own opinions. The sun blazed and my arms began to hurt but we kept walking for at least thirty blocks, comparing notes; I kept suggesting that the day was bright with meaning but the ashes suspected it was all absurdly blank, all drained of something grand that Benny Goodman once expressed. We agreed in admiration of certain women on their lunch hour, Crab Orchard Review
Mark Halliday but the ashes muttered something about beauty being an intolerable trick in a world that turns you eighty-nine years old. “Well, Daddy, I’m still on my feet” I said, but it was hot and my arms did hurt so I hailed a cab. The ashes on the back seat of the cab were quiet and I was quiet, we let New York stream past the windows, let it go, because even the most vigorous walkers with the most emphatic opinions will eventually need a break from the world.
92 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jennifer Johnson How to Shave a Man This morning in the shower, water curls in his dark hair, follows his body with its strange tongue, licking at his belly, his thigh, like ﬂuid chameleons traveling the length of his skin. This same water, slicking over the soft white of my breasts, rains from the tips of rose nipples. Razor in my hand, his hand on my hand, pressing blade against his stubbled cheek, he teaches me how to shave a man. The small knife I hold to his face, beaded with our bodies’ water, scratches hair coarse as sandpaper. Press harder, he whispers. He could play this body, taut as a blade of grass that shivers beneath his lips. He knows how his touch bends me, bares me down in drops on bluestem waves of shadow and light. He could buckle my knees, if he wanted, my body still slick with birth, the thrum of his breath like wings against my ear. Instead, he bares his cheek to the slim blade, guides my ﬁngers, shows me how to be reckless with my skin, his skin, and this new wonder of blood. His teeth nip the lobe of my ear, and I feel the damp breath of his whisper as an ache born somehow in the small of my back: You won’t cut me.
Crab Orchard Review
Bryan Tso Jones Sichuan Pork Peeling away this skin of garlic in the way taught to me reveals the clove’s smooth roundness. My knife ﬂashes up and down like the tapping of a wand before this is set aside and the brown arms and legs of ginger are chopped, smashed into a pulp with the fat side of a cleaver. The silence in the afternoon breathes when I open the cupboard with its jars of secrets. How grandmother gathered the ingredients as if it were a day at the market digging into spices heaped like graves because Mao was coming. Brittle jars rattled or clinked in their place as others were set on the counter: hot bean paste and hoisin, the ﬁre of one plum-sweetened by the other; soy sauce to mellow the jingle of jade she rolled into silk packed next to grandfather’s brushes. The little space in two suitcases was lonely
94 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Bryan Tso Jones as a bamboo ﬂute playing in a tavern of tea cups, half-eaten dishes, its southern melody swallowed by night. Not enough for an entire house and its rooms. The sun slants low across the counter, follows the red and green curves of peppers as the wok is set heavy to the stove. Peanut oil wells, a sea along ﬁre-black bottom. Sliced pork sizzles as it is stirred, my spoon held as she did her daughter half-dragged and half-running towards the spinning ﬂash of propellers against blood-purple sky, the plane that would lift them across to Kai-Chek’s last hold. Peppers splash, meld with ﬁre plum stir-fry, their aroma brings a hotness boiling up to my tongue and cheek— spicy, and sweet and bitter.
Crab Orchard Review
Jesse Lee Kercheval Dormition Listen, how much would you spend to be happy? To be saved? To enter heaven—if there is such a place. To escape hell—if it can be escaped & is not Alcatraz, Auschwitz, Devil’s Island, Detroit—this life which—I should point out—no one has ever left without dying. Except Mary—or so the pope says. She slept 40 days then rose straight to heaven, feet dangling, still alive— If I sleep late, will you call it my dormition? Paint a picture of me, using plenty of gold leaf, then smuggle it into the Vatican museum & leave me behind for the Baptist/ Jewish/ Buddhist/ Atheist tourists to puzzle over, for the paid guides to explain? I once spent 10 days in the hospital with my jaw wired shut. It was hard, not chewing, not talking, but I learned to savor both food & words. What did you learn tonight over dinner, chewing & talking at much the same time? I thought the sticky rice & mango was to die for. I got tired of talking about dying. Death dressed in cashmere. Death walking across new grass in bare feet.
96 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jesse Lee Kercheval So handsome. So beautiful. Skin like milk. Lips pale as oysters over teeth like mother-of-pearl. What kind of dead person do you want to be? A rich one? Or a kind one? I think our death is predetermined—we are designed to die when we do. My mother was a Calvinist & she believed this was true. She died. I will soon too. Besides, I don’t want to live without God, I’m afraid. Though I sometimes forget for long stretches there is one. Still— Imagine the sky when he’s gone. Imagine the sky evaporated by our overheating sun. Imagine dark nights that are not nights, but the everlasting black of no more day. Yes, I am sleepy. Yes, I’ll shut up. I’ll close my eyes & pray, I’ll close my eyes, I’ll, I…
Crab Orchard Review
Ruth Ellen Kocher 2. i imagine my death as anyone’s death. satellite image of a torn car, a hospital sheet creased carefully around my feet, its lovely tucked corners, a bleached resistance to the wet echo my lungs ﬁt into the wanting room. in this moment you will hate me, the way truth crouches to drink from the clear surface of my face, free from any rippled disturbance and yet, beneath, algae’s density increases exponentially. i cannot help but become you and so, imagine my death as yours. in that moment you will hate the grass. you will despise the trout silvering an imagined stream, reject the stoic agency of apricots to realize your beautiful ﬂaw— each pit, a perfect loss. the ground rises, the fruit, yellowﬂeshed and remembering: earthworm, compost, fall.
98 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Ruth Ellen Kocher
3. i would give up anjou pears for you, and their cousins the bosque, which are more beautiful, wrapped ochre, wrapped gold around their small deaths—wrapped securely as though they know an old friend will call, say love, say no. and this old friend, he would die for a crust of earth peeled back to reveal some buried bliss, a dance of bees singing out the ruined pleasure of their battle, their lavish avenues of forsythia, their swank arias of roses, inked roses, sung roses that want most to be the silk worm’s slink and cower. pity them, their faithless world, their bruised and darkening red. i would give up anjou pears for you. i would peel away their splendorous backs to reveal the equation we build our hunger upon, the dank musk of decay turned sweet, the soil’s woebegotten centuries mulched into pollen, nectar. think of the silkworm’s desire—its dreams of mulberry leaf, its singular drive toward the green silhouette of rapture.
Crab Orchard Review
Ruth Ellen Kocher
15. he dreamt last night i sang a languid hymn in a church glazed with shimmering epiphanies i wore a satin robe stained by hive-colored light cast through the glass cross above—a windowed liturgy, and there, that poor boy king tacked down in vespers seemed to vibrate the pitch of each exaltation, my throat opening in that divine swarm of service and need. in this dream, he reached to touch the pallid face of him, to pass his hand over the broken ribs, ﬁnger the gashed spleen as if from blood rose some reﬂex of red’s bright apology. he’ll dream again i sing the martyr’s hymn, the pitch of his dying my throat’s exaltation, the weight of his knees, the taste of that crying my mouth’s consolation— yes, the taste of him, imagine. buttered light transﬁgured, coiled against each scapula bent in prayer, sweet as a honey buzz of voices summoning a cohort of wings, humming their wild grief.
100 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Ruth Ellen Kocher
19. the ďŹ rst red leaf has fallen from an old maple buckling the sidewalk, the concrete risen to its bark, circling the base in the angle of praying hands, or shifting ice breaks on the lake, or logs rearing one over another in their last journey down river. it is the way our passing makes itself known in the geometry of simple things. i imagine you in a faraway city instead of here next to me and wonder in which place i would love you more, or less, imagine each red leaf fallen a testament to the way we rise and circle our place of origin, rear our backs to one another so that we breathe the downy nape of neck and shoulder. in the depth of that tree is a sweet goodbye: a plank, a wood-block, a heartbreak, waiting to be felled.
Crab Orchard Review
Karen An-hwei Lee Uses of Telescopes 1. Focusing upon objects of interest. A glass eye turned out of a man’s head, blindness as an auburn iris opens in space, the sun rising over worlds without ether, how did the ancients learn to make glass, natural ﬁres melting sands or watching gold ice ﬂow molten through winter ﬁelds, mineral wealth fused for things of beauty in vessels and bowls, curved hair ornaments, burnished sand kilned in slow iron urns for pure lenses suspended in telescopes on individual spider threads, stationary to focus on objects of interest, hills of pleasure, unscrolled map of surfaces held to the eye of an astronomer, seas imagined aglitter with civilizations silvered by consciousness in an eye.
2. Rayed light bending in a quadrant. This physical surface is mottled by maria, not oceans once perceived by eye, nor a hare resting underneath the Asian cassia, rather, what is thought to dwell inside, past surface, conceptually alive in stone, the observer questions whether an unvoiced thought sheds a lone shadow in the universe, whether a thought has shape and mass like a cannon, or emits light at high speeds in a perfect vacuum, occupies space and volume, even paper 102 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Karen An-hwei Lee made with a light weave is not transparent, not a pure plane, casting a shaded cylinder in space, this is the quandary of an observer failing to perceive an interior salvageable or concealed underneath, in the body, sealed by opaque bath waters, equinoctial rains not of equal day and night but seasonal rains brushing the equator, light rays bending in a quadrant visible at a distance far from this point, endeavoring sun brushing an equinoctial point, one imagines ﬂaring, this point incinerated inﬁnitely, meadow dark, basalt as a shadowed ocean, lustrous crater of soft lead, graphite maria, a body drumming with quiet lunar rains, oblique as a modest bather rises in the night.
3. To magnify a detailed topography. In the direct eye line of an observer sighting a physical surface too distant or obscure to perceive by unaided eye, angle of light refracted to magnify detailed topography, motion of a hand lifting a brass instrument to the eye, unstirred terrain of the lunar surface imperceptible to an old selenographer whose sight fades as the round oil lamp rises in the window, dark matchbox of the night, a ﬂint drawer of cartographies, paper terrae or highlands more obscure than basalt seas on the near side of the moon farther than apparent in a series of aerial photographs pieced through the wide end of a telescope in orbit, rising over autumn hills or past a bare shoulder in the mirror.
Crab Orchard Review
Karen An-hwei Lee
4. To draw oﬀ dross from the surface of memory. Lift a circle of blotting paper, lay it on the surface of memory, take a round mirror cleaned with water and lay it face down on the paper, press gently with one hand, then let the memory dry on a slight incline. While waiting, look at rayon dresses rippling on the clothesline, spring aspens shivering open like books in the bright distance. This is what happens when an image blanches in the light of raining years, an old ﬁlm stutters, softens on the edge, fades to blindness, goes quietly to bleeding white, forgotten. Forms of absence or dark spots on the moon, how memories are like old mirrors, why a tarnished surface attempts to resilver itself in the night as dream is an eye beam turned inward, studies surfaces magniﬁed by curved planes, a round mirror inside a scope is a soul observing the self in a state of detachment, assembling a code against chaos, out of harm’s reach, out of the day’s anarchy. Say my name and a prayer of supplication or use a single red drop of sealing wax in wine spirits and a drop of mercury solution, lift a circle of blotting paper and lay it on this body.
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Daniel Luévano Bright Houses In reds the red of the vena cava or Mexican chalk, pollution and dust rupture sunset back over us. Behind us, the Guadalupes, once stunned to late life, go blank. Then, after the power grid grows rich with amphetamine orange, kids make impromptu parties in bright houses we knew as vacant lots good to drink in. Pheromones, if not drugs, make them glimmer. We are driving to sleep in my teenage bedroom, carpet its own tint of drugged-up still-life pumpkin, the house pixilated with bulbs for Christmas, Dad’s new reindeer faltering electrically. Months later, all that attention to illuminating the shortest light of the year —against this spring sun re-lighting bare trees and grasses—is welcome. Morning lowering a nebula of pollen, I walk my baby to sleep in the sun. All that is mine this morning makes not even a little body. The cancer cut out of me,
Crab Orchard Review
Daniel LuĂŠvano what of it? Errors of mass do not eclipse me. Under the unforced light of sunup, how can I not accept radiance? Upstairs, curling my daughter in pillows, her eyes reopen, and I must start all over again.
106 â—† Crab Orchard Review
Richard Lyons Granite from Sugar Water On “Purple Shades,” to Johnny Griﬃn’s sax, Monk plays percussively, stabbing at the keys as Hardman’s trumpet hesitates—the ironic ash recognizing the loss accomplished—then comes back in on the beat, and there is nowhere else to go but on, ﬁlling in the gaps, lifting the inarticulatenesses, the way the small brown birds lift, not to abandon something, but to own it, here on the bark, there, sensed somehow, almost unperceived, surely not by the antennae nerves inside the ear, blood blowing across the synapse. You’re the kid with his lips pursed at the mouth of a bottle sweating cold, leaning back one of those kinds of chairs a handler jabs at a lion when, peevish, it strikes out, the way a trombone goes out and back, out and back, though, in this number, there surely is no slide to slide, so you have to be vigilant when you suck the air, distrust raised to art, the way mercury salts the gills of garﬁsh hovering against a current that ought to be able to sweep everything out of sight, but doesn’t, can’t, those sheaths of cartilage ﬂexing, working hard to simulate stillness, Monk’s missing note, a seventh, suspending the taste of the imminent, suspending breath, though the end is on its way sure as everything resists it.
Crab Orchard Review
J. Michael Martinez The Water’s Elegy for La Llorona You parted my body in narrow bands, the chords of entry ringing outward. You dipped and held your hand within, touched the center— sand and grit, rounded stone, the breathing ﬂow, the plant’s green tangled growth. Your cupped hand ran through the curls of my current, my streaming hair. I traced the lifeline on your palm— the record of the body’s swell. Insects danced on the surface: stoneﬂies, mayﬂies, and caddis. Diving beneath, you folded—
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J. Michael Martinez contracted, contorted, until movement broke, exhausted of breath. Deposits carry through the currents the histories held in the bodyâ€” unmoving, on the silted shallows of my thigh, like sand, like stone, hair tangling upward, your lungs full with my weight as if you would become the water-life the surface light makes known.
Crab Orchard Review
Alex Shapiro That’s You Half an hour before our descent into Logan, the flight attendants got hostile. They wanted me to return to my seat. There’s a new federal regulation, said one attendant. Or maybe there always was this regulation, like the other attendant said, and they were just now starting to enforce it. Either way, they could not seem to listen for just one second to me and maybe try to understand a bit about my condition—about what I, Eli Sugarman, a paying customer, was going through at the moment. Yes, perhaps I did look like a loon pacing the aisles, but what could I do? This was akinesia, I told them, a panicky form of motion sickness wherein the suﬀerer has trouble sitting still in moving objects. Think of vertigo, I said. Or think about being afraid you’ll jump. If I could just roam freely about the cabin for a few more minutes, I would try my best to remain coolly strapped into my assigned seat for the last ﬁve or even ten. They then presented me with two choices: sit down, or they would sit me down and have me arrested at the gate. I sat. They gave me an enormous green pill to keep me calm, but I hid it under my tongue for later, as I was about to see my family for the ﬁrst time in a long time. My little sister Carol had gotten engaged. When the attendants were gone, I undid my seatbelt and the top button of my pants and began breathing deeply. Of course, Dapper Dan sitting next to me in his pressed khakis and his navy blazer immediately put down his Wall Street Journal and went for the help button to rat me out. “Relax,” I said, my hand on his arm. “Please.” “Who are you telling me to relax?” he asked. It didn’t feel confrontational, though, or condescending. By the loose skin around his sort of shrunken looking skull, I’d say he was pushing seventy, but his tone was strong and sure. He coughed into a fancy handkerchief. I was worrying myself, the way I was acting. The old-timer had been reading about biotechnology. Which came ﬁrst, I wanted to ask him, the conﬁdence or the money? 110 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Alex Shapiro “Sorry guy,” I said. “I’m just a little tense today. Little unsteady. Got a lot going on.” “Little unsteady,” the man repeated, tucking the kerchief in his chest pocket like a crazy rose. “Lot going on,” he continued. “Believe it or not, I’ve got a trick for that. It’s an old sailor’s trick my father taught me. If you’re ever feeling seasick, or unnerved, or whatever it is you’re feeling now, try staring at a ﬁxed point on land. Really put yourself into staring at this ﬁxed point, don’t even blink if you can help it, and eventually you’ll forget all about the boat. May sound far-fetched, but it’s a matter of what’s called ‘perceived equilibrium.’” What the hell, I ﬁgured. I looked out the window, ignoring the wing, through a wispy layer of cloud, and locked my eyes on what I determined in the distance to be a nice waterside cemetery. I focused and concentrated all I had into seeing it as clearly as possible. Waves crashed into the rocks. Fish were jumping, birds were singing and then sure enough I was there, sitting on a hill with my toes in the grass, salt air in my nose, cooler full of ice, twelve-pack of beer and who else by my side but my old high-school buddy, Tommy Sullivan. Sully. There wasn’t much sun, but the day was warm. I cracked a beer, sipped the froth from the top. A seagull came by and dropped a crab on the rocks, then swooped down to eat the meat. As the bird feasted, a plane ﬂew idly by, leaving a pencil-thin line of exhaust. “That’s you, Sully,” I said, pointing to the crab under attack. “That’s you.” What was strange, though, was that Sully didn’t look like Sully. Not as I remembered him. He was all grown up and professional looking in a tweed suit, smoking a pipe like Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys. And he wasn’t reacting to me. I took a long pull of my beer and could actually feel the coldness run down my throat into my stomach and tingle through my ﬁngertips. The seagull was really going to town on that crab. No blood, just pasty olive guts. “That, sir,” I said a little louder, “is you.” I felt the wheels of the plane dropping out from under me. Dapper Dan chirped up again. “Are you okay?” he asked. “I wasn’t talking to you,” I replied. I had to take a bus and a train just to get to the bus that went to Marblehead, then walk a couple miles from the ﬁre station where the bus dropped me oﬀ, so I was a little late to Carol’s engagement party. A little late, and a little disgruntled. Not that I’d expected balloons, but it’s an eight hour ﬂight from Montana—a ride home would have Crab Orchard Review
Alex Shapiro been nice. Once I got settled, though, and had a couple glasses of champagne, it was very pleasant. The bubbly ﬂowed, there were doilies and toothpicks everywhere, trays of lobster rolls and bowls of green olives—the whole aﬀair was very sophisticated. Carol was out of her mind with happiness, pale as ever, but polished. She looked like she’d been treating herself right. Her friends looked like supermodels. I suspected from the way they avoided me they’d been forewarned. Carol got a B.S. in psychology from Brandeis and discovered some strange things about herself along the way that she somehow blamed on me. I was the big bad brother. Beware. Hey, she turned out ﬁne. She’d found love. Dad was out on the deck talking business with some colleagues, Mom was busy fussing over everything, and basically I was just standing there in the corner of the living room, beginning to wonder why I’d been invited at all, when Carol’s ﬁancée strolled over and introduced himself. Rick was a big guy with iguana eyes and very small hands for such a powerful handshake. Was he making a point? Or making up for something? I didn’t want to rock the boat, so I just congratulated him on his good taste in women. “I’m jealous of you,” Rick said. “I was in Montana a few years back visiting a college buddy. Caught a big-mouth bass on Seeley Lake, ﬂyﬁshing. It was like a religious experience. Always dreamed of going back. Tried to convince Carol to go there for our honeymoon—Glacier, as a matter of fact—but she had her heart set on Iceland.” “See that?” I said. “Life’s funny. I haven’t really gotten into the Big Sky ﬂy-ﬁshing thing, but I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland. They’ve got the three B’s, I heard: beers, babes and barbeque. Or maybe it’s bonﬁres. Beers, babes and bonﬁres?” “But no big-mouth bass,” Rick said. I liked this guy. He was quick. I could see us being friends. I knew from talking to my mom that Rick was a lawyer of some kind. Lawyers make good friends, I bet, because they’re quick and they know there’s always two sides to a story. “You want to play a fun game?” I asked him. “What’s the alternative?” he said. “It’s called ‘That’s you,’” I said. “You look around the room and ﬁnd funny things going on, then you say ‘That’s you,’ to the other person and it’s a good time.” An older woman I guessed was Carol’s boss started a coughing ﬁt across the room and I seized the moment. “That’s you right there,” I said. 112 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Alex Shapiro “That’s my mother,” Rick said. “She’s not well.” “Yep,” I said. “That’s you, bud.” “That’s not funny,” Rick said. “I’m sorry your mom is not well,” I said. “But that’s how you play the game. It’s all or nothing. No holds barred.” “Okay,” Rick said. “I guess I’d rather not play right now.” “What was Carol like as a little sister?” he asked me. “The best,” I said. “Allergic to a lot of things, and a little slow on the uptake when it came to jokes or fun games, but that never stopped her from enjoying herself.” “Says you didn’t pay much attention to her,” he said. “Hey,” I said, “that’s her memory and I’m sure it’s true for her. I wasn’t paying much attention to anything back then, Rick, to tell you the truth. It’s a matter of perceived equilibrium, I believe.” I grabbed one of the li’l smokies my mother was carrying around in a crock pot. “She was a real gassy kid, I recall. Pineapple was the culprit, we thought. She still gassy?” “What do you do in Montana?” he asked. Apparently Rick didn’t like to talk about gas. “Biotech,” I said. “It’s good stuﬀ.” “I saw that in the Journal today,” he said. “Didn’t know they had biotech in Montana.” “Well they do,” I said. “Matter of fact.” I saw his game. He knew I was lying. I could tell by his eyebrows. Guy like this probably hates liars, I thought. I hate liars too. If he didn’t ask such intrusive questions, I wanted to tell him, I wouldn’t have lied. “Carol told me you disappeared for a while,” he said. “No one knew where you were.” “Again,” I said, “that was her experience and I’m not here to disagree. Sounds a little magical, though, ‘disappearing.’ For the most part, I was just moving around.” Rick checked his nails. He was dismissing me, I thought. I was losing him. “You’re lucky,” I said. “Lawyer’s a good gig. I keep trying to put something together like that—write something, start a little business—but nothing ever pans out. It’s like the things I think are getting done aren’t anything at all, and sometimes a couple years go down the drain before I realize how messed up and wasted my eﬀorts are. I don’t ‘disappear,’ though. I always know where I am.” Another li’l smokie for emphasis, then Rick’s mom started coughing again and he excused himself to look after her. Crab Orchard Review
Alex Shapiro Mom and a hired helper made a massive broiled cod dinner dripping with butter and homemade bread crumbs for the families, and Dad was singing and dancing around and going on about what a momentous occasion it was and how great it was to have a lawyer joining the clan. Rick’s extremely ill mother told a few kitschy jokes, we all laughed quite a bit and I squeezed lemon on my ﬁsh and felt human. That night the house creaked and I couldn’t sleep. It was strange to be home in my old room, like a trespasser, an intruder, like the kid who really lived there was going to come home and ﬁnd a hairy walrus sweating in his bed. I scrambled through my old boxes of crap and found Sully’s number in a little blue book with a seagull-shaped blotch on the cover. It occurred to me that one a.m. was a late time to call, but I’d already dialed, the phone was ringing and I didn’t want to be rude and hang up. His wife answered. I was happy to hear her voice, it felt familiar. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember her name for my life and she didn’t seem to remember me at all. She seemed bothered. “Try the Bunghole,” she said. Then it sounded like something shattered in the background, and kids were screaming and she was swearing and I just hung up. The Bunghole is a bar in Salem, Massachusetts, about ﬁfteen miles north of Marblehead, the worst bar ever in the history of bars. Burnouts, thieves, junkies, animal abusers, over-the-hill prostitutes—that was the clientele. Legend had it that a kid named Hubert Pallhuber went in the Bunghole once on a scavenger hunt and lost a testicle to a blind dude with a fork strapped to his cane. Sometimes the story went that the blind dude ate the testicle and laughed maniacally. Sometimes Hubert rushed with his severed ball to the hospital and had it sewn back in. It wasn’t a place you called to inquire after an old friend. I walked around town the next day thinking I’d revisit the old haunts. But I didn’t really have any old haunts, except for Big Tony’s Pizzeria, and Big Tony’s was gone. Some jerk took a torch to it, according to an old lady I stopped and asked. She said the whole town smelled like burnt cheese for a week. I ended up sitting on a bench down by the docks, breathing in the harsh ocean air, throwing left over breadcrumbs to the seagulls and hoping none of the stupid ungrateful bastards would defecate on me. I was thinking about Carol and the time I went into Big Tony’s and she was sitting there with Sully chatting away all excitedly, and how after 114 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Alex Shapiro that she asked me about him all the time. She always pretended she didn’t remember his name. She called him “your friend with peanutbutter breath.” I was thinking, too, about how Big Tony used to spin dough on his ﬁnger like a Harlem Globetrotter, and how it really sucked I’d never get to see that again, not to mention the loss to future generations, when “Fabulous” Fredric McGregor came out of nowhere and sat next to me. “What’s up, dub?” he asked. “Nothing much,” I said. “You?” “Just hanging out.” We nodded and looked out at the harbor. Senior year of high school, our football team had ﬁve co-captains: Paolo Buckmaster, Keith Ketterer, Mick and Roger Beecroft and “Fabulous” Fredric McGregor. Somehow, this was the crew I hung out with. They called each other “Captain.” They called Sully and me “dubs,” because even as seniors we were part of the mostly freshman and sophomore “dub squad” on which the varsity guys used to practice their cross-ﬁeld tackles. McGregor hadn’t changed much. He looked real healthy. Big smile. Shiny, expensive looking sunglasses. Turtleneck sweater and gray slacks straight out of a Banana Republic catalogue. Somehow he’d even managed to make a receding hairline look cool. “You still in Missouri?” he asked. “Montana,” I said. “Just here a few days for a family thing.” “Everything okay?” he asked. “Everything’s cool,” I said. “Carol got engaged.” “Hey,” McGregor said. “Congratulations. Who’s the lucky guy?” “Some lawyer named Rick Soloway.” “No shit?” “I shit you not. Why?” “God-damn,” McGregor looked excited now, “If it’s the Rick Soloway I’m thinking, we played lacrosse at BU, then he went oﬀ to law school and I never saw him again. I actually got a message at the oﬃce two weeks ago from him, but my secretary didn’t get any contact info. Rick Soloway is a good man. Good to hear things are going his way.” More nodding. Then McGregor started tapping his foot like there was music playing and I could see his mind remembering how hard they used to pound on me at practice and that picture of me in the yearbook where I’m being dunked headﬁrst into a garbage can. “How is it,” he asked, “living out in the middle of nowhere?” “It’s pretty good,” I said. “Get a lot of thinking done.” Crab Orchard Review
Alex Shapiro “I bet,” he said. “I bet…Like what?” “Like what what?” I asked. “Like what kind of thinking? You going Kaczynski?” Kaczynski? I thought of socking him in his pretty throat and seeing what he thought of that, but instead I laughed it oﬀ and did what I could to make a save: “You know what McGregor?” I said. “Did I say thinking? I meant drinking. Drinking, not thinking, you know? Get a lot of drinking done in the middle of nowhere. Not thinking. Drinkin’ like a ﬁsh. Fishing a lot, too. Hunting. Fishing. Hiking. Got a horse. Big cabin out there with a whole basement full of guns and ammo and meth I make myself. Drinkin’ and dinkin’, I should say. Met a nice girl, sorta settlin’ down in a way, you know? Me and her out there, captain, I shit you not. That’s me. Drinkin’ and dinkin’. No time for thinkin’.” McGregor laughed in a cool sort of way. I wished he’d go away. “I’ll call the guys,” he said. “See what’s going on tonight. Maybe grab a few beers.” He drew a little silver phone from its holster on his urban utility belt and walked away so I couldn’t really hear what he was saying. I caught something about “too much Buﬀalo,” and “tweetie bird” along with a laugh that made me wish I was wearing a hat. “How’s ten o’clock tonight for you?” McGregor asked me. “Fine,” I said. “Who’s that?” “Ten is cool,” he said to the phone. “Call around, okay?” He hung up and came back to me. “Ketterer says ‘What’s up?’” We decided to meet at The Landing, a bar with candles instead of light bulbs. I got there a little late and found them at the “Admiral’s Table,” a great thick slab of oak with yellowed charts pasted under the glass and a big old-fashioned compass poking out the middle. Paolo was the ﬁrst to see me walk in. “Sugarman!” he yelled. “Holy crap! Is that you?” “Correct,” I said. “You look like hell,” Ketterer said. “You get laid in Montana looking like that?” I laughed and ﬁlled a glass from their pitcher. “Well,” I said, but McGregor jumped. “Forget laid,” he said, leaning in toward my face. “When was the last time you cleaned the wax from you ears? It’s insane, man. Can you even hear me?” It was going to be a long night. 116 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Alex Shapiro “What can I say?” I said. Somebody brought up kids and the photos started ﬂying from all directions. Buckmaster was married with two, a boy and a girl. Ketterer’s wife had recently passed away after spending a year in a coma, leaving him three, two girls and a boy with bad asthma and huge ears. His wife got nailed by a drunk driver going 105 the wrong way down I-93 and Ketterer was organizing a big anniversary fundraiser to raise awareness. McGregor turned out to be a homosexual in a committed relationship. Everyone was begging him to come “queereye” their houses and asking what his “gay-dar” said about Red Sox second-baser Mark Bellhorn. Mick and Roger Beecroft had taken over their father’s Audi dealership on 128. They both had serious tans. They smelled like coconuts and said they kept too busy skiing, sailing, and “bangin’ little hotties left and right” to settle down. When it was my turn, everyone turned to listen like they cared. I gave them the biotech spiel. I had to. “Seriously,” Ketterer said. “What’s up, Sugarman?” “Come on, Sugar,” McGregor said. “Where you been? I heard you were dating some chick with a prehensile tail.” “Seriously,” I said. “Okay. Short story long: I traveled a bit and then I got this job doing biotech in Montana and I met this great girl there, Jody, a grad student, and no, she did not have a tail. We had a kid and got married. Yes, in that order. So, Katy’s the kid’s name. She’s ﬁve, but I don’t have pictures because of various reasons. Sorry you guys didn’t get invites to the wedding, but it was a long time ago, and it was real small. Plus, it was in Africa. Big jungle safari thing. Got married right next to a giraﬀe. Jody’s an anthropologist, always oﬀ digging up dinosaur bones, and I went back after the honeymoon to Montana with Katy. I was doing the biotech thing, like I said, losing my mind, of course, because I never saw my wife. Loneliness is so bad, man. I don’t know how people live alone their whole lives. It’s really hard. I didn’t handle it well. I can’t even tell you what really happened, because I honestly don’t remember. Let’s just call her ‘the biggest mistake of my life.’ Then Jody swooped back through and took Katy oﬀ to someplace and they write every now and then, but mostly it’s over. I miss them. I really do. Just to forget about things I took oﬀ and worked on a ﬁshing boat in Alaska for a summer and ended up making a shitload of cash. If you’re ever up for a good time, take a trip out to Alaska. Those mind-blowing northern lights? I rest my case. It’s really dangerous work, though, ﬁshing. The advantage being, you don’t do it alone. Tell you what, too: when you’re Crab Orchard Review
Alex Shapiro totally weeded and knee deep in ﬁsh guts and slop, it’s like you’re too busy getting beat up to be worried about anything else. Just don’t eat the bacon. Food’s bad, man. You get on that ship, do not eat the bacon. It’ll rip you a new one. I made it, though, barely. Then it was back to Montana for more biotech. Add it all up and you get me. That’s what I’ve been up to, more or less.” Buckmaster had gotten up to get another pitcher and take a leak about halfway through my story. He got back just as I ﬁnished. “What jungle’d you say you got married in?” he asked. “Borneo,” I said. “Crazy monkeys there. Lemurs.” Finally, thank god, McGregor coughed “bullshit,” they all laughed, and we moved on to the life of Sully. Last Ketterer heard, Sully was working on a tugboat. I tried to imagine Sully on a tugboat, oﬀ at sea for months on end tugging tankers around, writing coordinates in a log. Sully wasn’t even strong. He was weak. And he hated the smell of sea water. McGregor said he heard Sully had changed his name to some strange Indian-type deal, kidnapped and killed a little girl and either got sent to jail or was somehow released for some random reason. “But I may have dreamed that,” he confessed. Buckmaster conﬁrmed the rumor, adding that it actually made a lot of sense, because he’d heard Sully was adopted and his real dad killed some guy in Maine. I remembered hearing about the Maine thing once myself, way back when, but I’d shrugged it oﬀ as a lie. I mentioned Sully’s wife said I could ﬁnd him at the Bunghole. “Ex-wife,” Ketterer corrected me. “Nora, right? Total nutbag, it turned out. Absolutely toasted. Out of respect for Sully and the kids, I’m not even going to say what I’ve heard about her.” There was no way to know what was what without going to the Bunghole and seeing for ourselves, which none of us were willing to consider. “Sully wasn’t a great looking guy,” Roger said, “and he smelled like an overripe banana, but he could pound beers with the best of us. Poor bastard caught some bad knocks. That’s the long of it and the short of it.” Around midnight, the guys started answering their phones and talking about boats, golden parachutes and 401(k)s. I started feeling a little panicky, like something was wrong with my spine. I still had the enormous green chill-pill from the plane, so I chugged that down with the end of my beer and went outside to get some air and maybe try that perceived equilibrium trick again. A taxi was 118 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Alex Shapiro idling there, which is extremely rare for Marblehead, so I decided to go home. I ended up in the bathroom at the Bunghole. It smelled like someone killed a goat in there and then splashed not enough lemon Clorox around to clean it up, and there was no light except whatever glow made it through a few holes in the wall from outside, so it took a minute for my eyes to adjust enough and ﬁgure out where to aim. I was just getting started when the door slammed open and a guy staggered up next to me at the trough. I can’t really relax enough to keep it ﬂowing when there’s someone standing next to me, but this guy didn’t share that problem. He leaned against the wall with one hand and let loose right away with a loud, splashing piss. “Hell’s bells, this place smells,” he said. I recognized the voice immediately. How could I not? He was bald but for a patch above each ear, and slightly shorter than I remembered, and maybe it was the patchy light and the shadows, or the pill, but he was wearing short sleeves and I could have sworn his thick arms were covered in ﬂames and curse words, skeletons and swastikas, dice and demons. “Hey Sully,” I said. “Hey,” he replied. “How’s it hangin’, buddy?” He smiled in my general direction, but I couldn’t tell if he knew who I was. “Like an anchor,” I said, hoping he wouldn’t notice that I was just standing there holding my willie with nothing coming out. “Too bad about Big Tony’s,” I said. “That place sucked,” he said. He slapped me on the back and surprised me by walking over to the sink and pumping soap onto his hands. He ﬂicked a light on above the mirror and laughed. “I tried to get a job there and that big fat Tony wouldn’t even give me an application. How that guy even is still alive is a mystery to me.” With the water running, my ﬂow resumed. “You know what I’m saying?” Sully continued. “How many slices does a man have to eat?” “You certainly had your share,” I replied. “I certainly did, pal,” he said, wiping his hands. “Seems like I’ve been alive forever. Nobody ever kills me. They piss in my cornﬂakes every morning, but they don’t ever kill me. It just keeps rolling.” He was staring at me now, and his face looked mean. His brow was worried. His nostrils ﬂared out with every breath. His eyes were set deep in his skull and inﬂamed, the skin underneath purple and lumpy. I wondered if my old voice lived in his head like his did in mine. Crab Orchard Review
Alex Shapiro Constantly comparing, taunting, teasing, tormenting, gaming around. That’s you. That’s you. That’s you. “Hey Sully,” I said, pointing at his slack face in the mirror. “Yeah?” I still couldn’t even tell if he knew who I was. What if I said it— two little words—and he didn’t even know what I was talking about? “Good bumping into you,” I said. “Always a pleasure,” he said. I was doing up my zipper when Sully turned back from the door and swung at my face like he was going to knock my block oﬀ. The breeze from the punch alone almost knocked me down. He could have ended my life there, and maybe I’d have deserved it for some sick reason in his mind. Or maybe he wouldn’t have knocked me out. Maybe I would have taken the punch standing and then torn him limb from limb in that dark bathroom. Hard to know what will happen in such situations. But his ﬁst stopped ﬁve inches from my eye and then dropped. “Hey Sugarman,” he said. “Don’t let your meat loaf.” There was a good one I could have said about chickens and eggs, involving a cock and the break of day, but I was thinking about the punch. I never was as quick as Sully. “I won’t,” I said, but he was gone. I washed my hands and ran cold water on my wrists to relax. I was afraid to look in the mirror—the things inside it were moving fast— but I did it anyway. I had a strong urge to see my eyes. They looked spooked, and I looked like hell, as expected, but even with the spin and chaos of the Bunghole, it was a familiar spook. A little shiver went through me. It was a warm shiver instead of a cold shiver, though, and I felt almost good. Sully was Sully. Home was home. “That’s you,” I told the door, staring hard. That’s it. That’s all.
120 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Mary Michael Wagner Einstein’s Son [Son]
He used to visit me in my room sometimes at night. Albert
Einstein climbed down from his poster on the wall. Sometimes he wore my father’s face, but his own fantastical hair. He’d hop up on my desk, making my chemistry set test tubes clink together. He liked to swing his legs and ask me about my day. It wasn’t like the fantasy father-son relationship of other boys, who imagined their fathers were Mickey Mantle or the Green Lantern. No, I suﬀered. I suﬀered Einstein’s tiresome biographers lounging about the house, peeking into silverware drawers and sifting through reams of discarded papers in the oﬃce waste cans. People would say, “So, you’re Einstein’s boy.” But every night he came to me, even if it was late and he’d been oﬀ somewhere. His clothes smelled of adrenaline; his thumbs were smudged with carbon paper. He wanted to hear about my day. He wanted to hear about the shard of zinc I dropped into the hydrochloric acid. What else? he liked to ask. What else? “The test tube was too hot for me to touch. The acid bubbled.” Yes, but what else? he asked. “The zinc dissolved, got eaten up.” Hmmm.…(He knew which side of my body I slept on. He knew the way I got very still when thinking.) What else? What else? “The zinc was obliterated. Honestly. I thought of those gangster movies, where they throw a guy in a vat of acid. There’s a bunch of ﬁzzing, then clean white bones ﬂoat to the surface. It frightened me.” Good, he said. He asked me questions until I fell asleep. I never remembered his leaving my room, but I awoke with the sawed-oﬀ sentences in my mouth. Sometimes, Einstein only wanted to hear me play the violin. I had played since I was four; my teachers called me a prodigy. My room was at the end of the hall next to the guest room, so my playing disturbed no one. Crab Orchard Review
Mary Michael Wagner Einstein would say, Play for me. He’d close his eyes and peace would come to his furrowed face. My own father forbade me to play my violin during his work hours. He made us go around the house in our stockinged feet so we wouldn’t disturb him, and ordered us to keep our doors open during the day, claiming that closed doors were aesthetically repugnant. He was an architect who had designed six churches in our county. When he taught me to ride a bike, it wasn’t in the cul-de-sac at the end of our street. Instead, we trundled the bike into the back of the station wagon and drove to Saint Anthony’s Cathedral, his most celebrated work. On Saturday the parking lot was an empty, wide-open space. Maybe he wanted me to learn to ride against the panorama of the building so he could watch the two of us, his creations, ﬂoat before his eyes. As a child, I stood under the vaulted roof, the stained glass, the ribbed ceiling of St. Anthony’s. I remember thinking how all of it had been erected in a room somewhere in my father’s head. I actually imagined a room, with bay windows, where his creations existed, before they came to rest on the large tissuey sheets spread across his drafting table. Only Einstein knew how much I loved the violin. He understood how the music consumed me. He did not talk to me as if I were a child; he’d say, Of all the arts, music is the most pure. Not merely a reﬂection, but the creator himself. I’d nod solemnly. I was eleven years old the last time I held a violin. On a Sunday evening, after giving a recital in Saint Anthony’s Cathedral, I decided I would never play again. I did not do anything violent, break strings, or damage the beautiful wood of the instrument. Instead, I laid my violin neatly in its velvet compartment, and closed the leather case. After the recital reception, I snuck out of the house and drank a six-pack of beer with the boys who lived in the house behind me. We spraypainted underpasses and the sides of water towers, scrawling slurs we imagined were terribly clever and stinging. SAM RADFORD HAS JOCK ITCH. TRINITY HIGH SCHOOL SUCKS. Or our code name, LOOSE MAN WAS HERE. I slunk away from them, though, making my way down the wooded trail, then across a ﬁeld that the neighborhood kids used as a shortcut to Saint Anthony’s. The parking lot was quiet and eerie. The church wavered in the dark as if it wanted to speak. Its windows were black. Every Sunday my family stood in the front pew, here inside my father’s creation, our voices rising up in song. I felt the weird lightness of the can in the palm of my hand—sent a single arc across the parking 122 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Mary Michael Wagner lot before I took aim. The paint showed up against the night air, then seemed to seep deep inside the porous blocks of sandstone. It was Father Eimer, awake in the rectory, who phoned the police. They took me to the juvenile detention center and locked me in a room which had a bunk bed, a sink, and a narrow slit in the door where I could squeeze my face and feel the breeze come in whenever the front door opened. I tried to wash the paint oﬀ my hands in the sink, but it remained in the grooves of my knuckles and under my ﬁngernails. I wanted to lie down on the mattress, but was afraid it was infested with lice. I sat in the corner and waited. In the hall I heard the soda machine dropping cold cans from its metallic innards like the sound of a riﬂe being cocked. It was Einstein, not my father, whom I imagined coming for me, so it was jarring when I heard my father’s voice in the corridor. I could hear him joking with the police oﬃcers, putting them at ease. He had designed the new library across the street. He told the oﬃcers he’d eaten lunch on the juvenile center stairs many times when he was called in to consult on the library’s progress. “Never imagined I’d be here under these circumstances.” My father sat in my room while I lay in bed that night. My violin sat in its corner like a mute person; I could feel its presence, its soul, but it couldn’t speak. I would never play again. “Why?” my father kept asking. “Why would you want to hurt me so badly?” Finally he realized that, though he could ground me or hit me, he couldn’t penetrate the bulwark of my silence. I was already forcing myself to put what had happened behind me. The city orchestra had issued me an invitation to play with them, but I would turn it down. “What did that mean?” my father asked, “what you wrote?” Finally, he left me there feigning sleep. Late. Late that night Einstein came. I lay in my bed, dry-eyed and unremorseful as he heaved himself onto the desk, sending the test tubes jingling like wind chimes. His face seemed more worn than I had ever seen it, and what were my problems really, compared to his? Perhaps that bomb had just been dropped. Something he never wanted. Perhaps he had just realized how all his good intentions and the purity of his curiosity had come to some twisted, horrible end. His face looked beyond comfort. Well, kiddo, he said in the dark. Son. He didn’t ask me why. He just sat swinging his legs, until I fell asleep. Though from that time on I devoted myself to science, he stopped coming. I saw him only one more time. Crab Orchard Review
Mary Michael Wagner
[Father] What would Michelangelo have done if his son had thrown rocks at the Sistine Chapel? I had held the design for Saint Anthony’s in my head for weeks before I attempted any drafts. It existed in such perfection, I was afraid I could never translate my vision into concrete fact. But I succeeded. Late that summer night after the police called, I drove over to the church. The letters were three feet high: EINSTEIN’S SON. I touched the grainy stones with the back of my ﬁngers. I knew it was reparable, but it was as if my son had done something to my body, while I was sleeping. Usually when he misbehaved, he was grounded or did extra yard work. But for this act, nothing. I couldn’t even make him go out to the church the next morning and scrub the building with bleach. The idea of his hands on the stone made me shiver. Instead, the church janitorial staﬀ handled it. What does it mean—Einstein’s son? He was stubborn and quiet that night, unwilling to explain the words’ meaning. The bare fact of the defacing unnerved me, as I imagined my son’s half-grown hand gouging the imported granite. I’ve woken from dreams in which my boy holds a rusty knife to my face. I’ve wondered if the vandalism was linked to his recital, but I am unable to ﬁnd the connection. It should have been a happy day for him. There were lines of people waiting to shake his hand and congratulate him. Back at the house, we had a reception for him with shrimp cocktails and sparkling cider. There were local reporters and an invitation to play with the city’s orchestra. Maybe cockiness overcame him that night. How can I describe his performance? It is said that after Michelangelo ﬁnished his ﬁgure of Moses, he struck it on the knee with a mallet and demanded that it speak. Listening to my boy, my son, I expected nothing less miraculous. His music stripped us of our desires. It was so beautiful, so fragile and sad, I saw the buildings, the walls of the cathedral and everything I had designed turned to sand. I had to stop listening. I counted the numbers of my watch…1, 2, 3, 4, 5,…trying to blot out the music. My father, a famous composer, insisted that his son master an instrument. I tried violin, piano, trumpet, as my father, his foot tapping, gave me lessons. I practiced long hours. Only afterwards was I allowed to build my intricate castles out of sugar cubes, with 124 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Mary Michael Wagner functioning drawbridges and ﬂags that raised and lowered. My father’s music moved through the house, though, diminishing all my creations, and even my siblings, my mother and me. In my dreams I played a saxophone so sadly that the trees drooped and my father cried. But when I awoke, my hands could not speak the language of music. When I was a kid I built mausoleums in my head. In my mind I tried to create a place of silence where I could rest in the presence of marble and stone, but always my father’s music wound its way through these inventions like smoke. Years later, when my father died, people crowded into his memorial. His casket lay in the center aisle of the newly built Saint Anthony’s, before the statue of Mary, who gazes through the high sweeps of stained glass. The small orchestra played one of my father’s arias and people wept. The walls dissolved like sugar in water. The night of the recital, after I picked up my son from jail, I slept. In my dream I was dressed in velvet and standing in the Sistine Chapel, my hands splattered with paint, scaﬀolding towering around me in the cavernous cathedral. My son ran through the aisles heaving up rocks at the stained glass. He was so angry, I knew he’d tear down the roof and God himself, if he could. When our children are young, they are easily comforted. We take them in our arms. It is almost like comforting ourselves. But then they gain the weight and solidity of separate people, their wants grow complex and impossible to decipher. I took my son on a ﬁshing trip when he was younger. We sat for hours in the ice house, side-by-side, in stained goose-down jackets. My own father had been dead for many years. An eerie green light emanated from the holes. Sometimes the ice groaned or sighed. When my son got his ﬁrst bite, I felt the life of the ﬁsh travel up the slack nylon line. “I’ve got one! I’ve got one! I’ve got one!” he shouted, cranking the reel wildly. “Steady,” I cautioned. “Keep it steady.” Through the murky water I saw the silver glittering ﬁsh moving towards us. But it had not been hooked, and when my son lifted the tip of his pole from the water, the ﬁsh let go of the minnow and fell into the water with a splash. My son belly-ﬂopped onto the ice and shoved his arm into the water, up to his armpit. When he lifted his arm he was holding a slick, fat northern pike. Looking into his face, I saw uncertainty and excitement. I believe he expected me to yell at him. After all, his coat was sopping, and we’d probably have to go inside. But his excitement made me laugh. “Well done!” I said. “Well done.” Crab Orchard Review
Mary Michael Wagner In that moment, my feelings for him were clear and uncomplicated. I wanted him to yank a thousand ﬁsh oﬀ the muddy lake bottom just to keep that expression on his face forever. I am not sure why my son stopped playing. His violin is still in the attic. When he was packing up boxes for college, I laid the violin on top of a pile, but he shrugged and said, “Why’s that still around? Give it to someone who’ll use it.” But I couldn’t. It was odd how much I missed his playing. After all, I’d been the one to insist he practice in his room with the door closed, but I missed the vapor of the music drifting quietly through the house. One sleepless night, years after he moved out, I climbed the attic stairs, slipped the instrument from its case, laid it on my knees and dusted the surface with my pajama sleeve. I pressed my ear against the violin’s hollowness, certain that I heard playing, though I was unsure whether it was my son’s or my father’s music.
[Son] Einstein’s next and final visit came many years later. I had been married for ten years. My wife had just given birth to our third child. During her entire labor, my wife had not called out once, only squeezed my hand hard when the contractions came. Her face was ﬂushed with exertion. She had been a tomboy as a girl, and I saw a scrappiness and determination as she bore down. The doctor asked me to step out while he sutured where there had been tearing, and the nurses weighed and measured my son. His ﬁngernails amazed me—the tiny perfect ﬂecks brought tears to my eyes. As I paced out in the hospital waiting room, Einstein appeared in the doorway, his clothes rumpled, his hands clean, as if he hadn’t worked or written for a long time. I thought perhaps he would want to ask me about science. I was participating in intricate genetic research on cystic ﬁbrosis. Saving lives was within our grasp. I was certain he wanted to congratulate me or say that he was proud. Even though it had been many years since we’d seen one another, I was not surprised to see him. He didn’t dispense any pleasantries, but instead asked, Tell me about that night, that night you painted the church. I was so exhausted that, instead of surprising me, the request opened a door. Time accordioned, and seemed vivid and immediate as it sometimes will when you are tired. I began by telling him about the 126 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Mary Michael Wagner violin recital. I described the smell of polish and wood when I opened the case, the hollow feel of the instrument in my hands. In the hospital waiting room, my hands cupped the empty air. What else? Einstein wanted to know. What else? “The church was ﬁlled. Saint Anthony’s, my father’s church. But it was ﬁlled with the sound of my music, music so beautiful tears collected in my eyes. When I looked out at my family, I wanted to see in my father’s face how exquisite my playing was. I needed to see proof. I found my father staring at his watch. I could tell the way his lips moved that he was composing something in his head, and could not wait to get home so he could put it on paper.” What else? Why did you paint that on the church? “How should I know?” I answered, then I cried like a boy— weeping full of humiliation and sound. Einstein laid his gnarled hand on my shoulder, and whispered, Play for me. My father told me once that Michelangelo believed his creations were trapped in their blocks of marble, and he was merely freeing them. Somewhere inside me, like those slumbering ﬁgures ensnared in their stone houses, was my music—dormant and quiet as a seed. Silent afternoons, hours and hours of missed practice had pushed the music deep inside. The musculature of my hands and forearms had softened. My neck was free from the life-long calluses violinists build from gripping their instrument. I felt my music beating and fetus-like inside me. Play for me, Einstein asked again. But through the nursery door, I heard my son’s wailing begin. “I’ve always answered your questions. All of them,” I said to Einstein. “Now you tell me something. Michelangelo, da Vinci, they had no children. But you, you barely saw yours. I have learned that about you. Why on earth did you have them?” From the other room my son’s cries grew louder, a beautiful and pitiful sound of need. Einstein smiled at me. It’s nice, he said, to be put in such good company. Perhaps someday you will ask that question of the right person. Then Einstein lifted his shoulders into a shrug. I stood and kissed his wasted face. “Good-bye,” I said, shaking his frail hand. Then I walked toward the notes of my crying son.
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Adrian Matejka Synth Composite Basketball: No More Leather This sorry mulatto of homemade leather and rubber now named a “basketball” hyperventilates from concrete to palm like a little kid, bitched out on time out. The bounce bounces according to pressure and rotation, but this isn’t basketball. Even with punks who jump high enough to disrespect physics. Even with Jams revisited as athletic shorts. Basketball as I remember it had defensive stance, two hands on the rock, jumper elbows at angles like nose caricatures. Socks pulled up and short shorts. Maybe that’s why rust makes my hands hurt, busts jumpers and lungs. Basketball theories and stamina are left in the Gus Macker we almost won. No ‘I’ in team phonetics left on the outside courts at Ben Davis High School, where dudes who talked that When I balled in school got Statue of Libertied by Terrence Stansbury or shook by Vern Fleming’s behind the back dribble. That’s basketball, as pure as Dr. J saving Pittsburgh. Or Jim Chitwood
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Adrian Matejka hitting the game winner even though he didn’t make Cathedral’s varsity team outside of Hollywood. He couldn’t make the same team we beat like Rock’em Sock’em. That was before I was rubbing my half-moon gut under a half-moon backboard in the parking lot of this elementary school. Back before touching one toe then the other needed an outline. Basketball works like carbon dating on spine and handles. Not love handles—hands trying to work the dribble with something missing. The same way a bad comic works the funny.
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Language Mixology Half brother of the same halves, simulacra is fancy for “absent.” Like banging means “good” or oﬀ the chain means “good.” The same way oﬀ the hook forgets the phone, I’m forgetting the space between Oregon and North Carolizzay, daylight savings time, and the addition of the “-izzay.” So silly that suﬃx, verbed blackface for black folks. So here you are writing unmasked, bouncing verbs without face paint like empty rooms bounce echoes: “The Mulatto Question,” a question of remixing our name or re-envisioning our cliché like Bonz Malone saying, Life is beautiful, it’s just the shit in it that’s fucked up over vocals, keys looped like a ﬁshhook. Didn’t he know piano is a necessary part of any Mulatto blues? Black key 130 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Adrian Matejka for one woman or white key for two women when you should be writing and that combination is feminine. We’ve got a disputed lineage, like Arizona before Estavancio named it. We got all kinds of folks acting like Estavancio. Mixed man, mixed man, that state wasn’t called a state, but the pedigreed mountains and lizards were already in place.
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Melanie McCabe Genesis In the beginning is a word and the word is in. This is the word that holds like hands around a stone, the word that contains the gleam of mica beneath sun-dazzle or cuts the arrow from ﬂint. It is the word that raises calluses on a palm clenched ﬁstly. Beginning is also in the beginning and presupposes nothing—(airless white noise of not-something—windless vacuum that cannot dream divinity or alphabet)— but gypsy-wise, conjures future from the concave of its own connotation. Beginning brings forth word which turns in ﬁrst breeze as a spiral mobile of glass. This is also the shape of the helix. Word is the ancestor, the tribal one that tinkers in the blood, that guides ﬁngers mapless across the dark archipelago of keys.
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Melanie McCabe Darkness must crawl from the lexicon before it can move across the face of the deep. In the roil of blackness over chasm, even God must wait to be named.
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Dress-Up I will try on grief like an indigo fedora, tipping my head to cast its shadow over a painted eye. Here is where its moody triangle of sorrow will fall; here is the yang of light I will tilt up and call bravery. Rakish, the slant I will make with this hat. The mirror will perfect me before I oﬀer myself to the air. Look for me in the corner of smoky bluelit juke and jazz, at a wobbly table posing behind a long stem of wine. Around my pale neck I will loop a scarf like Isadora’s—not once, but twice, its onyx piped with vermilion—and wear it only for its brash panache, its innuendo of fringe ﬂuttering through the open window, my careless hand on the wheel. I will shed sequins through dawn’s pink streets in a spangled gown, and the baker and the newsboy will know where I have been. Across the caprice of grates I will teeter in ankle-strap stilettos—calculate an artful toe-heel-toe-heel over lattices of steel and despair.
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Kimberly Meyer A Natural History of Remembering He strode through the garden in the cool of the day, a breeze oﬀ the river ﬁlling the cottonwoods like breath. In a ﬁeld somewhere the lambs cried to one another. Swallows lifted and fell against the sky as if on strings. He pulled at a spent bloom on the tree in the center, thinking absently of light on branches, the coming darkness. He thought of the earth and the deep waters, the creeping creatures, the plants bearing seed. Why had they done it when they’d had perfection? Skimming the notches where the branches had been pruned, He remembered the scar on Adam’s side, how He’d pressed His hand to heal that ﬁrst wound. He’d been wrong, He saw it now, to try to keep them from knowing. They’d never have recalled trees hung with little worlds of fruit, an illuminated sky, days without the anguish of the body. They’d never have noticed the signs of earth’s redemption if He hadn’t sent them out to roam, there, among thorn-covered hills and purple thistle, they’d remember now, which was the cost of tasting.
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Melissa Morphew It Remains That I Speak of the Air Midnight, the snails write upon grass, trees, malva leaves, wooden porches; in the morning you read their translucent silver hieroglyphs, stories of their hunger, a moon-pale syntax made up entirely of verbs, untranslatable, but loosely nautical or mandibular— sailing or chewing nuanced by color, texture, sound, i.e., little-wave-rose-bite-leaf mold-wind-voice-gullet. But this literal inscribing cannot capture the implied movement, delicacy of pinprick, electro-microscopic morsel. And the snails are simply an aside, a diversion, because I want to tell you something of denotation, connotation—risk—because love is mutable, depending on orange blossoms or honeysuckle or prickly pear, tasting sometimes of mayhaw jelly, other times of watercress and grit. And Eve invented a language of milk-song, baby smells, woof and warp of cool green kisses, sweet-sour-sweetripening-apricot-desire, and Adam thought he understood, after all it was the fruit of the tree of knowledge, but God is a trickster-god, and here I am, leading you down the primrose path— oenothera speciosa, iridescent cups of palest pink, self-seeding, invasive, besieging the garden with a hundred thousand petals, to some—wildﬂowers, to others—weeds. 136 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Kristen Staby Rembold Meteor Shower We rise early the coldest night we’ve had so far and go out into the yard where it’s almost surprising, almost strange to see everything still in its place: upended wheelbarrow, mulch pile, desiccated vines, raised beds swelling, one after the other, like dark waves. How we were just ﬂoating in our dreams, and when we came to, the familiar had shifted away, one-half turn. I ﬁnd my husband and daughter where they lie, on the grassy slope, by their voices. Norway spruce sentinels point to the sky. Too cold to lie, I stand, my back to the western horizon where blazing full moon sinks, counterpart to day. I strain my eyes to see the stars, always so distant and diﬃcult—my senses blunt, unperceptive. But there comes a streak of light, and then another, the meteors burning and ﬂaming to nothing in the atmosphere, zipping like strange electricity, leaping the chasm, Crab Orchard Review
Kristen Staby Rembold following a comet that won’t come this close again for 99 years. By then, we witnesses, even my daughter in sleeping bag and pajamas, will be wherever we go next. Each one is small as a comma. A few might ﬁt in my pocket while I’m doing my chores on the other side of dawn, raking maple leaves tangled in a bed of thyme. Indoors, dates and black walnuts, slightly burned sugar, scent the air. I move back and forth between kitchen and desk, forgetting one task for the other, contemplating work still undone: vines to be pulled, shrubs to tuck in, words I’ll write to myself. Then comes the sense, again, of hidden, underlying movement, of having to hang on— to what purpose? Leaves tap on the windows, crisscrossing as they fall.
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Dwaine Rieves Three Months After Strung about his belly, the scar’s mathematics score their Congo red, suture sockets empty, cat gut dissolved. On this visit he’s ﬁfteen pounds the record says, a boy missing his stomach’s outﬂow, the viscera having twisted blue at birth. Three months post-op, his mother now eyes the scar. The question is milk, the formula a special soy she can’t aﬀord. She talks of case-workers and 20 dollar cans, how the county covers 26 of 30 days. I look up and ﬁnd the boy limp within our numbers, his mother lifting his face to hers. “Little man, you’re something,” she says, pressing her nose into his desiccated skin—the boy’s frog bone legs and two-eyed worlds wandering one to another. His mother cups him on her chest as we walk through a solution to the unpaid four— a performance, an exhibit, a story we’ll take to the Episcopal Women’s Club, our
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Dwaine Rieves presentation following cards, perhaps, a talk on moist skin. They’re the ladies who do such things—smiling women who pool their special collections for the best unfunded ways. And maybe they’ll take him, the boy their next PROJECT 1984. I say the ladies will be kind, a brief visit, picture and plaque. Still the mother’s a question so dry it’s easily blown away. Tell me, I want to say, what is survival if not a spectacle of need? A camera, gardenias, the presidential hug. Four extra cans and she wouldn’t count the forms she ﬁngers before asking, “Little man, ain’t you something?” And the boy dangles skinny within her hands, the two another crowd-pleasing picture, his momma’s smooth, dark hands holding him the way she knows he’ll need to be.
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Kathleen Rooney Doppelganger She’s put on your face like a plaster cast, a plastic prosthesis, a Nixon mask, but nobody asks if she’s really you. Still, she possesses a number of skills you lack: making smalltalk, singing, math— so at ﬁrst, you think this isn’t so bad. Yet when she heads downtown, takes your job, attends a party, wows your friends, you wonder again how you alone can tell she’s only an impostor. Like you, yes, though not a dead ringer—she’s a version of you passed through a ﬁlter: your voice on a machine, your handwriting Xeroxed. When she comes back to your place and chats with the neighbors on her way upstairs, it’s like catching your own image on closed circuit TV. And when at last, she steals your man, it’s your eyes mirrored in the kinky headboard. She’s not identical—she’s actually better: sharper of wit and lighter of heart. You’re not the girl you used to be, Crab Orchard Review
Kathleen Rooney and ﬁnally you see this from the room where she’s locked you: the wooden chair, the bare bulb, and the one-way glass from behind which you watch you. Her. Whichever.
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Sally Smits for my father, who will not read this poem a moon hangs incomplete above the dark road, and i think about ghosts, greek tragedies, family histories with a chorus. agamemnon, oedipus, lear—their daughters dancing round them like garlands, white-ﬂowered, like wreaths of smoke. which ones were angry? which ones killed, which mourned? who was the blinded one? somewhere in illinois, my grandfather is waiting in a house without stairs for his lungs to ﬁll up with pneumonia. his house would smell like the last time we visited: carpet left wet and boiled coﬀee, sugar cookies and old rayon dresses. the arguments over the stock market, the church, the paint colors are all the same argument: my father has not been forgiven for traveling to college, august 1959, on a sunday. my grandfather stayed in his chair, turning the newspaper pages, while my father’s car paused at the end of the driveway. on sunday afternoons, my father used to walk around the block with me, his brown leather shoes in the gutter, my tied sneakers stumbling along the sidewalk. he might say: sometimes it is too late to change. i am the daughter walking alongside a stooping man, who is writhing inside with good calvinist guilt, absolution, and arthritis in his shoulders. i am the daughter dancing wrong, sharpening words on grindstones of arguments. my father loves too much, in deﬁance, maybe, and words blacken to soot in my lungs. i am the daughter walking Crab Orchard Review
Sally Smits unsteady, empty-handed. i am the daughter with snakes in her hair, who cannot forgive, who sits on her knees at the edge of the stage without any lines to say. cordelia, electra, antigone: somewhere in a city beneath the knees of mountains, my father loves too much. a moon hangs incomplete, and each time i write these old stories, itâ€™s always an elegy, itâ€™s always an elegy when i write for you.
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Smita Das Elevators Outside Nathu’s Sweets, the monsoon rain slices through
the heat and lands in dark puddles on the ground. The dirt road in front of the restaurant has softened, like an oversaturated sponge. Inside, we stare out the tinted windows, grateful for the temporary reprieve from drenched, sticky clothing, muddy chapals, and dripping hair. We sit right underneath the blasting AC vent and I rub my arms back and forth until the waiter brings our menus. I get the same item every day, mysore masala dosa with a round steel bowl ﬁlled with steaming sambhar, but I still hold the menu in front of my face and pretend to study it. What I’m really studying are the prices. Why can’t we ever go to a normal-priced restaurant, I think. 150 rupees for puri? I take myself through the process all over again: I roll my eyes to get the frustration out of my system, take a few deep breaths, remind myself of the precious exchange rate that favors the dollar (45 rupees for every dollar), chide myself for my cheapness, and remember the numerous times I go out to eat every week in the States. By the time I lower the menu, I am relaxed and a determined smile is ﬁxed on my face. “So, I hope you’re learning how to cook,” Uday Mamu says from across the table. “You should take lessons from your mother everyday. No one cooks better than the women in Tehta.” He looks at his wife, Shobha Mami, who is sitting on his right. A blush creeps over her cheeks and she is embarrassed and ﬂattered at the compliment. Tehta, a village on the outskirts of Gaya, is where my mother grew up and lived for the ﬁrst eighteen years of her life until she was married. It’s a village embodying many contradictions. On one hand, it seems frozen, containing the same shops in the same locations, the same people living in the same houses, the same maids cleaning the same bathrooms. Even now, when I close my eyes, I can picture myself walking down the main no-name dirt road to my grandmother’s house. I see myself passing my uncles’ sari shop on the right, coming to a narrow side road onto which I take a right, walking down that side road, and then remembering to step Crab Orchard Review
Smita Das over the two gutters that lie in between until I reach the two dark green painted steps that lead into the front of the house. The front of the house is where they used to keep a small calf and where I was potty-trained over a square opening or hole in the corner of the room that leads to some gutter somewhere. On the other hand, the same people have changed. Uday Mamu, though he doesn’t crudely display his public aﬀection for his wife, he does appreciate her. When he thinks no one is watching, he leans over and says something in her ear that makes her eyelashes ﬂutter. He asks for her advice and listens carefully to her soft-spoken words. “I agree.” My succinct reply does not deter my uncle from this line of conversation. “You should wake up early and make him breakfast and have dinner ready before he gets home. Feed him well and keep him happy. If you can’t do that, I don’t see why else he would marry an Indian girl?” “Yeah, why else?? Thanks for the advice,” I say, biting my nails and glancing at the wry expression on my mother’s face hidden behind her own tall menu. I look towards the front to see if I can spot the waiter. “I don’t mean that English bread and butter, but parathas and puris with garama-garam curries.” I wave for the waiter to come over. While I place my order and listen to my family place theirs, I think of how many times I’ve woken up early to ask my husband, Mohan, if he would like a bowl of cereal. I wonder what Uday Mamu would say if he knew I was already married because I had eloped last year. What he would say if he knew I put too much salt in every dish I cooked, splattered oil all over the granite countertops, left the dishes in the sink overnight, and sometimes even left the food out simply because I didn’t get around to putting it away. That Mohan did his own laundry and oftentimes, cleaned all the bathrooms in the house. And what he would say if he knew that I was nothing like the women in Tehta. I practically swallow my lunch whole, ignoring the scorching at the back of my throat. I whisper to my mother that I’m going to the Internet café at the other end of this strip mall and that I will be back in less than ten minutes. I avoid my uncle’s gaze, hoping that my abruptness will deter him from following me again, and hurry out of the restaurant. I maintain a brisk pace all the way down to the café that is ﬁlled with college students and young professionals, both male and female. 146 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Smita Das I quickly sign in and take a seat in front of one of the computers. I’m looking forward to venting, to writing long emails about my annoyances regarding the trip: the hotel room with two full-sized beds that the four of us are sharing, the way I’m awoken at 5:30 every morning by the grating sound of the television that Uday Mamu feels he must watch because he can’t sleep any later, the inability to separate, to have time to myself, the expenditure of the trip. And most importantly, I look forward to speculating about my role reversal from a married adult to an unmarried, dependent girl. As I log into my email, I feel a hand at the back of my chair and a presence leaning in towards me. I look back and see my uncle’s beaming face hovering over my head. His face shows his sign of victory. Once again, he’s managed to keep up, to prevent me from being alone. Unable to conceal my irritation, I tell him that he didn’t need to come because I only needed to use the computer for a minute. I force myself to remember that he means well and can’t help thinking as if he were in Bihar and not Delhi, where women walk freely, or fairly freely, especially in the good parts of the city. He doesn’t reply, instead choosing to chew on the tobacco in his mouth. With the crooked nail on his foreﬁnger, he nudges at something between his teeth, yanks it out, and then ﬂings it somewhere behind him. I shrug him oﬀ and continue to check my email thinking that since he doesn’t know any English, he won’t be able to read anything anyway. I click on new mail from Mohan, fully expecting it to be his usual one- or two-line reply to the previous one I sent him. I ask him how work’s going, what’s he eating for dinner, and what he’s doing on the weekends. I tell him that we are going to ﬁnish our jewelry shopping today. Just as I’m ﬁnishing the email, from behind me, I hear Uday Mamu read in a staccato fashion, “We’re…almost…done. Just…a…few…more… days…to…go. I…miss…you.…” The heat rises to my face at the words on my screen being read out loud, especially the “miss you” part. Of course, they are words less intimate than what I would normally say to him but, right now, the words feel improper and vulgar, leaking through the computer screen to be put on display. They are words that I haven’t even uttered to my husband in the presence of my father. I wonder how many of my emails he’s read while standing over me these past two weeks. I realize that no matter how quickly I eat in Crab Orchard Review
Smita Das order to walk just a few feet over to a café, I will not be able to savor at least two minutes to myself in front of the computer screen. And regardless of the fact that my mother and I have hired our own car and driver, I can’t actually just go to the nearest Internet café without disrupting the unspoken rules assigned to me. I sign oﬀ and without speaking to him, leave the café. Outside, where the monsoon weather is cool after the downpour, my mother and aunt are waiting for us, right in the front, where there is a street merchant selling Tarla Dalal cookbooks. My mother holds two of them in her hands. She says, “Sorry, I tried stopping him, but he doesn’t listen.” Uday Mamu is only a few feet behind us, so I whisper back, “Did you know that he knows how to read English?” There are at least twenty saleswomen scattered about the ﬁrst ﬂoor of P.P. Jewelers, all in their early twenties, dressed in printed purple and black saris, some with short hair, some with long thick braids that swing as they walk across the immaculate marble ﬂoor. Their dark eyes wear a look of sophisticated boredom. While my mother strolls around the jewelry store, built like the inside of a grand mansion, I wait for my saleswoman to bring out a selection of ruby necklaces from under the glass counter. She lays out three sets in front of me and another saleswoman comes up from behind and asks if I would like to try them on. I move my hair to the side and stare into the mirror that is being held in front of me. The ruby necklace lands right at my jutting collarbone, and I am aware of the transformative power of the stones. My head tilts from one angle to another, dangling the matching earrings, brushing them up against my neck. I imagine how they will complement my soft pink gown at the wedding reception and then how they will look afterwards, when Mohan and I are alone with only the rubies situated between us. I tell the woman to put them aside for a ﬁnal selection. My mother sits on the high chair next to mine and asks multiple questions about damages, returns, and exchanges. She is most concerned about whether we can return the sets for their purchase price. The woman calls the manager, a man everyone calls Sanjeev Bhaya, referring to him as “older brother,” who smiles politely and goes into detail regarding their return policies, reiterating that they cater to NRIs, Non-Resident Indians, and therefore, oﬀer the best in quality and service. His English 148 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Smita Das is impeccable and because of that, I feel comfortable asserting myself here in a way that I would never feel in any shop in Bihar. I tune her out to calculate how much it will cost. For the rubies, 85,000 rupees divided by 40 rupees per dollar...around 2,125 dollars for the set…for the pearl necklace, 12,000 rupees divided by 40 rupees per dollar…around 300 dollars…for the gold set.… Uday Mamu comes up behind me and asks if there’s anything else I like. He puts his arm around my shoulder and leans in close enough so that I can smell the tobacco on his breath. I shake his hand oﬀ and shudder at his proximity, at his breach of my personal space. At the same time, I feel ashamed at my own body language that betrays my disgust at his uncouth habits. I notice that he sticks out in the crowd here. His clothes, his appearance, his mannerisms set him apart from the other customers who are also Indian but mainly from Delhi, and very wealthy. His physical resemblance to my mother leaves no doubt that he is her brother, but her foreignness poses irreconcilable diﬀerences. She is no longer a village woman who lives for the men in her family, who is willing to step behind them, but rather a conﬁdent, negotiating, modern woman who can handle any crowd, whether it involves conversing in a rural dialect of Hindi in a subji market in Gaya, haggling in Chandni Chowk bazaar, negotiating the value of gold in an elite jewelry shop in Delhi, or strolling down Michigan Avenue in Chicago. When I look around at the attractive, well-dressed, and educated saleswomen who litter the opulent ﬁrst ﬂoor of the shop, buzzing around their Sanjeev Bhaya’s orders, I am reminded of a king and his concubines. My mother’s negotiating will only take her so far, even with her Americanization, and I look towards my uncle. “Can you just try to bargain with them, Uday Mamu?” I ask, afraid that once again, he’ll give in to the storeowners when he has the power to interject on our behalf. I can’t help but wonder if he thinks we’re more than capable of paying the full price for the merchandise or if he is sincere when he claims that no more bargaining can be done. “Why do you worry about it? It’s your mom’s problem, not yours,” he replies. “It’s your wedding, it’s not your job to think about how much it costs. You leave that to your parents.” He shakes his head, frustrated at my constant interference in the ﬁnancial aspect of our consumption. “It’s just a wedding. I don’t need a zillion diﬀerent jewelry sets. Besides, it’s a waste of money. It’s not like I can wear them all the time in America,” I mutter, wishing I could whip out my credit card and Crab Orchard Review
Smita Das purchase them myself. I curse the archaic traditions stipulating that the girl’s parents are responsible for the wedding, even if the wedding is being thrown for a married bride. Several hours later, we leave P.P. Jewelers after the jewelry has been paid for partially by my mother’s MasterCard and partially by 24-karat gold coins she has saved assiduously over the past ﬁfteen years. Outside the glamour of the store, without the reﬂection of the jewels, the lines and shadows on our faces betray our fatigue. The natural light also emphasizes our wrinkled, out-of-the-suitcase, and suitable-for-travel clothing. As we walk next door to a boutique owned by the same company, I frown at the mud splattered on the bottom of my Levis jeans. Inside, the saris and lehnga cholis on display look too delicate to wear. When a salesman dressed in a black business suit approaches us, we ask to see wedding saris. He leads us towards the elevators saying that the whole second ﬂoor is dedicated to women’s and men’s wedding garments. I am so thoroughly distracted by the sight of the ﬁne clothing, geared towards a very small segment of Indian society, that I hardly notice the other customers around us. Thus, when the elevator doors open and we are thrown aside by a saleswoman leading another family inside, I am ﬂabbergasted. “Hey! We were in line!” I say, holding the door to the small elevator open. I stare at an older woman whose neck is barely visible underneath the layers of her ostentatious gold necklaces and at two younger women wearing western clothing. The closest one to me is wearing a shiny black DKNY raincoat and is gripping a Fendi bag in her right hand. The saleslady moves in front of them, looks me up and down, pushes my hand away, and says, “You can take the stairs.” When the door closes in my face, I spin on my heels with my mouth hanging open, sputtering. Already, my aunt and uncle are following the salesman to the stairs. My face still burning from humiliation, I step in front of them, order the salesman to call a manager, and scream that the only way we would spend another American dollar here was over my dead body. As I storm out of the boutique, Uday Mamu tries to appease my anger. He tells me that taking the stairs is no big deal for him, being in the store itself is a luxury; he rarely gets a chance to ride in an elevator. I stop walking and try to explain why being cast aside like an untouchable matters, why being judged, classiﬁed, and relegated to the 150 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Smita Das stairs is wrong. My chest heaves with indignation as I blabber on and on about respect, good customer service, stereotypes and appearances. As I talk to my uncle, I look at him and wonder how many times he is subjected to the haughty looks of people who think they are better than him. And then, I think back to all the times I’ve judged him as being backwards, or lacking English manners, and wonder if I’m any better than the women in the elevators. “Come on,” I say, grabbing his arm and leading him into the jewelry store, still holding my rubies. My mother and aunt follow us grudgingly. We walk up to Sanjeev Bhaya, who is ﬁnalizing another woman’s account. When he is ﬁnished, I say, “I’d like to return everything we’ve just bought. If there are any problems, I’ll call the credit card company and stop the payment on whatever we purchased with it.” Sanjeev Bhaya’s ﬂustered face acknowledges the anger seething through my calm voice. He shoos the hovering saleswomen away, tells us there is no problem in returning the jewelry, but would like to know why we have changed our minds. I inform him of the events that occurred in the boutique. As soon as I am ﬁnished, he whips out a cell phone and demands that the person on the other line meet him right away. Minutes later, two women and a man arrive, and we discover that they are the main managers of the boutique. The four of us stand awkwardly, listening to Sanjeev Bhaya recount the incident and then reprimand them. As they oﬀer their profuse apologies, my anger dies away and is replaced with uncertainty. I suddenly feel like I’ve made a ruckus out of nothing. Before I even realize what is happening, Sanjeev Bhaya gestures for one of the salesladies to accompany us to the elevators of the jewelry store, which is for private personnel only. He tells us he would like to make amends for the incompetent staﬀ. We follow the saleswoman to an elegant dining room decorated with sandalwood statues of gods and goddesses, elaborate silk paintings, and cultural artifacts. She requests that we take our seats and as I pull my chair out at one end of the table, I notice the plush magenta rug situated underneath the table. I am tempted to bend down and run my palm across it just to feel its texture on my skin. After we are seated, men dressed in white uniforms arrive with trays of water, soft drinks, and coﬀee and chai. I ask for the chai. Sanjeev Bhaya enters the room and says he would love for us to dine in their private dining hall with him tonight to rectify the insult. He sits opposite me at the other end, and we are all handed menus. My Crab Orchard Review
Smita Das mother passes me a look that says she doesn’t know quite what to make of this. Uday Mamu stops smacking on his tobacco and Shobha Mami continues to study the intricacy of the hand-carved wooden table. While we dine, Sanjeev Bhaya makes small talk about Delhi, about his trips to America, about the jewelry business, and about the architecture of the store. While engaging in the conversation, I notice the distant look on my aunt and uncle’s faces and the way they seem to shrink in the high-backed chairs. Their exclusion from our English conversation feels oﬀensive. I wonder if it were my aunt and uncle who had come back, would they be sitting at a dining table eating seasonal, exotic fruits and munching on delicacies? I cut Sanjeev Bhaya oﬀ in the middle of a sentence and turn towards my uncle. In my broken Hindi, I ask him whether he liked the jewelry selections, and if he thinks there’s anything else I’ll need for the wedding besides what I have. Stumbling over my words, I express my regret that he won’t be able to partake in the wedding preparations, won’t see me wearing the clothes and jewelry we’ve bought together, won’t be able to walk me to the mandap before the ceremony starts, won’t meet the groom, and won’t see where I will eventually live. He looks between my mother and me and suggests we send some pictures afterwards, his voice so low and ﬁlled with emotion that I can barely hear him. I nod emphatically, adding half-jokingly that we should set him up with an email account so that we could send them through the Internet.
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Brice Particelli Tapping a Flower It began to dawn on me then that, beyond the teeming romance that lies in diﬀerences between men—the diversity of their homes, the multitude of their ways of life, the dividing strangeness of their faces and tongues, the thousand fold mysteries of their origins—there lies the still profounder romance of their kinship with each other, a kinship that springs from the immutable constancy of man’s need to share laughter and friendship, poetry and love in common. A man may travel a long road, and suﬀer much loneliness, before he makes that discovery. Some, groping along dark byways, never have the good fortune to stumble upon it. But I was luckier than most. The islands I had chosen blindly, for the only reason that they were romantically remote, were peopled by a race who, despite the old savagery of their ways and the grimness of their endless battle with the sea, were princes in laughter and friendship, poetry and love. —Arthur Grimble, We Chose the Islands, (1952) in the islands that would become the Republic of Kiribati
I’m forty feet above the ground hanging onto a palm frond
for my life. Batiota wants me to go higher. From above me, he motions for me to take my right foot from the palm’s trunk and place it on the frond that my hand is on. I hesitate and give him a look that must be something between You want me to put my foot where? and What the hell am I doing up here? The frond is connected to the trunk by nothing more than a thin, brown-red scar. In order to get into the cradle of the tree, into the head of the palm, I have to put all my weight on one of these lower fronds. And while Batiota has just done it himself, I have a good sixty pounds on him. My feet are very reasonably begging to stay jammed into the machete-cut foothold on the palm’s trunk. Batiota is supremely patient, though. He looks down under jetblack hair with a face far too calm for his ﬁfteen years. He is wearing Crab Orchard Review
Brice Particelli only a pair of cargo shorts, breaking from the traditional sarong-like lava-lava, and his right arm is heavily scarred. When he’s on the ground, unnaturally wide hips and a heavy limp cause him to favor his left side, but up here he is graceful and conﬁdent. I’m on Christmas Island, in western Kiribati, a nation of islands spread along the equator in the central Paciﬁc. Like many Kiribati people Batiota is not tall, but he is shorter than someone his age should be in Kiribati. He is also thin, but not for lack of food. There is no lack of food on an island this plentiful in coconut, breadfruit and taro, and an ocean thick with tuna, trevally, and lobster. Batiota climbs this tree and two others every sunrise and sunset of each day to cut toddy for his family, to collect sap from the trees. I take a deep breath and look out at the lagoon. The beach below us wraps white sand to each side, curling to enclose a small bay of multicolored lagoon ﬂats—oversized sand ripples at low tide that are full and ﬂowing under a deep blue sea right now. The air is hot and dry up here, but a strong breeze cuts through the trees from the ocean. Hitting us just before the lagoon, it sways the palm’s trunk back and forth. My hands tighten as Batiota motions a second time for me to step up. Batiota and his family, along with about nine other families— perhaps ﬁfty people in all—live on the other side of this small clump of palms in a row of colonial-era British military housing. Each unit is no larger than twelve-by-twelve and has no kitchen or separate bedrooms. Behind this housing, along the lagoon shore, traditional thatched-roof houses stand to make up for lack of space and a growing population. I’m staying in the corrugated steel shanty next door, renting what used to be the Catholic Church’s mechanical room from its grumpy old French priest for far too much money, and each morning I wake up to the sound of Batiota climbing his trees. Batiota whistles as he climbs, but sometimes that whistling becomes song—traditional Kiribati songs, the sweet and sour tunes of island culture. It has been a welcome alarm clock. Batiota’s voice, even at ﬁfteen, is haunting and deep. I often lie in bed longer just to listen as he dips in and out of the rainfall sounds of palm fronds in the wind. I’ve made friends quickly, particularly among the kids. With an airplane coming in weekly from only one place—Honolulu—tourism is infrequent at best on Christmas, and by living in town rather than at the government-owned Captain Cook Hotel, I’m a bit of an oddity. It makes it impossible to sit and read without being immediately surrounded by four or ﬁve kids. During the day, two ﬁve-year-old 154 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Brice Particelli boys, Aberam and Tiio, come over whenever I’m on my concrete patio to play a game of shells. The game is simple, like kick-the-can. You sit facing each other with a set of shells, drop them in front of you, and take turns trying to ﬂick your shells into the other person’s shells, trying to knock them oﬀ the patio. But the game isn’t as simple as “my shells against yours.” When there are only a few shells on the ground, you ﬂick any shell you want. No one runs out of shells until there are only two left, no matter how “good” you are. And when only one is left, you set it up again. I don’t think there’s ever a winner. I’ve never even seen a prideful smile, only the kids’ continuous grins. At night a diﬀerent group comes over. Bwateti, Batiota’s sister, who is eighteen; Kauriata, Bwateti’s cousin, who is fourteen; and Akineta, a friend of Bwateti’s, who is seventeen. In Kiribati, they are all at an age where they will be getting married, even fourteen-year-old Kuariata, and they all seem to have a crush on me, the twenty-six-year-old outsider. In fact, they will all tell me so at some point, all but Kuariata, who just smiles and stares. Like Batiota, she doesn’t speak English yet, or is too embarrassed to try. English is compulsory in Kiribati, beginning in junior high school, but the people are often hesitant to speak with native English speakers. Last night, Batiota came over with the girls. Using their broken English to translate, I asked him what he does in the trees each morning. He cuts toddy, they told me. He taps the palm tree’s ﬂower to collect the sap. “What do you do with it?” I asked. “You pour it in tea to make it sweet, or you boil it for syrup.” Bwateti explained. “Or you make kaokioki,” she smiled. “What’s that?” “It is like beer.” She began to explain further but Batiota interrupted her, oﬀering to take me up a tree the next day. While I’m afraid of heights, I couldn’t possibly turn it down. This is why I travel, to challenge myself, to experience diﬀerent worlds so that I can see mine more clearly. “Are you sure?” Bwateti asked. “Sure,” I said. “Why?” “It is very high,” she cringed. Then she told me about Batiota’s scars and limp. A year or two ago, Batiota was on top of a palm during a storm when a powerful gust of wind came through. It knocked the tree over. He fell ﬁfty feet, breaking his hip, his femur, and both his ulna and radius. It left Crab Orchard Review
Brice Particelli him with poorly healed bones and two huge scars on his arm. These scars, thick from staph infection, a common problem here due to the ﬂies, run eight inches down each side of his forearm. The scars curve, pock and bubble like he’d had multiple infections before they ﬁnally closed. While Bwateti explained, Batiota pointed to each and then violently away. Those were the spots where bone tore through his skin. I am amazed he survived at all, and it is not only because of the height. The hospital here, the only one for a thousand miles, has no X-ray, no lab for blood work, no ultrasound, and certainly no MRI or CAT scan. This means, as a doctor friend told me later, that “there is no way to ﬁnd out what’s wrong unless they cut you open and look.” In fact, the owner of the only restaurant on the island died of a stomachache soon after I arrived. She was no older than forty, was healthy, but had a stomachache and died three days later. A visiting doctor, visiting too late to help, asked the resident doctor what had happened. Hearing the explanation, she told me that it sounded like a burst appendix. But with no lab to do bloodwork, the doctor could only have found out for sure if he’d cut her open to look. Which brings us to another problem: The hospital has recently run out of oxygen. With no oxygen, they can’t do anesthesia. This means no surgery, even minor, if someone gets hurt. I stretch high to put my hand somewhere besides where my foot is trying to be. I put my weight as slowly as I can on the brown frond. It bends deeply. All the fronds bend. They move under me, they move as the trunk sways, and they move in the wind. The sound of wind through the fronds had once sounded like the patter of a soft rain. Up here though, it is a storm, raging in my ears. My feet are on the lowest branch and I look up, planning to get above the dying fronds, but there is nowhere to go. The fronds grow so tight above that I have no choice but to stand on the lower ones. In fact, the topmost fronds grow so closely together that in order to keep my perch I must lean away from the tree. I look at Batiota standing eﬀortlessly, one foot scratching the top of the other, two ﬁngers on a high frond to keep him from falling backwards, the other hand hanging patiently toward the ground. I look down at my clumsy stance—a foot awkwardly high on a frond that grows too vertically to act as a step, my left hand hanging in feigned conﬁdence and my right, white, gripping a green frond in desperation. And I am on the wrong side of the tree. 156 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Brice Particelli “Come,” Batiota says, motioning. I move around the top of the tree trying to swing as gracefully as he does. Some kids giggle below. There is a crowd gathering. Only a few hundred tourists visit Christmas each year and almost all of them are ﬂy ﬁshermen out to capture boneﬁsh or missionaries out to capture souls. A white man in a tree, particularly one shaking more than the tree, is a bit of a spectacle. I step around and see the ﬁrst spathe, the stem and ﬂower of the coconut tree. There is no good place to sit and watch, palm fronds sticking out everywhere. I settle with my head against a frond, two feet on a dying frond, my hand lightly on a green ready to clamp down if the one below collapses. The tree is moving more than any ship I’ve ever been on. Seasickness crosses my mind. As Batiota works, he exaggerates his movements and works slowly so that I can learn. There are two spathes on this palm, each three feet in length ending in what should be a red, yellow, or pink blossom. To begin using a palm for toddy, Batiota must catch the spathe between blossoms, before it ﬂowers again. Then he has to bind them and cut oﬀ the growing ﬂower. Batiota works on the ﬁrst, ﬂuid in his movements and as comfortable as if he were on the ground. A minute or two later he looks up and motions that we go to the next one. It is my turn. We swing around the tree to another side and I am above the spathe, bent over in a squat. This time, though, I am more comfortable. There are naturally fewer fronds around the spathe leaving a fairly comfortable place to stand. While Batiota is still more comfortable than I was, I feel a bit better seeing that this is obviously more awkward for the spectator than the participant. The spathe is three feet long and bends a shallow curve with the weight of the bottle, mimicking a setting sun. Twine, made from rolled coconut husk, is wrapped around the spathe’s end holding both a bottle and some frond leaves. These leaves, with the pointed ends inside the bottle, are used as a wicking system to direct the sap and keep the bugs from climbing in. The bottle is full with a foamy white liquid and a couple of dead ﬂies. Following Batiota’s hand directives, and remembering it as he had done it, I remove the full bottle, which has a loop of string tied to its neck, and untie the wicking fronds. Batiota hands me the new bottle, which is ﬁlled with a bit of fresh water. I wash the fronds and scrub the sap oﬀ. With the frond leaves oﬀ, the sap-bleeding stalk-end is Crab Orchard Review
Brice Particelli exposed. It bubbles with juices. In such a dry place—less than thirty inches of rain a year—I am amazed that a palm can oﬀer so much liquid. A talented toddy-cutter can collect up to two liters per spathe a day with two or three spathes per tree. It oﬀers another option for an already limited diet. The Kiribati people use every part of the coconut tree. Coconut husks are rolled into twine, shells are dried and used for cups and bowls, timber is used for houses and outrigger sailing canoes, fronds are woven for thatched roofs and sitting mats, dried fronds are collected for ﬁrewood, coconut milk (moimoto) is used for drink, coconut meat is shaved for food, old coconut meat fattens their pigs, and the sap, as Bwateti said, is used for sweetener, boiled for syrup or allowed to ferment into kaokioki. I hang the empty bottle to free my hands and shave a millimeter or two oﬀ of the compressed blossom with Batiota’s knife. This is to stimulate the sap’s ﬂow. Batiota had made it seem easy but I’m having trouble shaving it evenly. The knife is dull and the blossom comes oﬀ like ﬁsh scales. The pattern resembles the cross-section of a beehive. It takes three attempts before Batiota nods his approval. I put on the empty bottle and tie the twine tightly around the spathe. This, I am shown after ﬁrst tying it too loosely, is important to make the sap ﬂow well. I place the wicking leaf inside and put two shielding leaves on top. I wrap the twine around another two times to secure the leaves in place. We’re done. “Good,” Batiota says, smiling at me like I’m ten years younger than him rather than older. “Good,” he says again. It makes me inﬁnitely proud. Moving over to climb down, Batiota points at some green coconuts, asking with his hands if I’d like one. “For you?” “Sure,” I say, and he kicks two from their perch. The tree and fronds shutter and howl. My hands tighten and I ﬁght the urge to hug the tree. Batiota looks up and smiles as the coconuts fall forty-ﬁve feet and bounce along the ground to a stop. I laugh a hesitant laugh but my hands don’t loosen. They stay as red as my face. We climb down and some of the kids I’d been meeting in the last few days have big grins. One asks, “How was it?” obviously expecting a speciﬁc answer. “Good,” I say, “but I was a little scared at ﬁrst.” “Yeah,” laughs Kuariata, the shy fourteen-year-old. Her legs start shaking. She points at my legs and shakes hers more violently. All the 158 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Brice Particelli other kids start laughing with her. She gives me a playful punch on the arm. It’s the ﬁrst time I’ve seen her come out of her shell. Batiota, who has been taking a machete to the tops of the two felled coconuts, comes over and slaps me on the back—a proud and sympathetic smile on his face. He hands me one of the coconuts he’d kicked from the tree. A square hole is cut from the top. The milk inside is sweet and cool. I sit on a dried frond under my tree, sipping it as the kids laugh and talk around me. Batiota pats me on the shoulder with an approving nod, chugging a bit of his moimoto before he heads to another tree, leaving me behind with the kids. I am even more popular than before. A crowd of eight or nine kids, mostly twelve to fourteen, gathers around me speaking in Kiribati. Following Kuariata, some shake their legs in imitation and then pat me on the back to show that they are proud of me; the rest laugh nervously. They are all at the age that—if their family needs it—they are learning, or are about to learn, how to cut toddy or collect coconuts. I feign embarrassment but love the attention. I’ve watched these kids do the same to each other—make fun and then show approval. This is my entry into a culture, through the kids who are also trying to ﬁnd their place in it. Batiota’s next tree is shorter, perhaps thirty feet high, and is slanted at a seventy-ﬁve-degree pitch over the lagoon. “Why didn’t he take me up that one?” I laugh to the kids. “This one is too tall,” I point above us. They all laugh. Kuariata heads over to Batiota and climbs up behind him. Once she’s at the top, she hangs far away from the palm—one foot on the trunk, two hands on the end of the lower fronds. She swings back and forth, pivoting on her foot, nothing but air beneath her. There’s a big grin across her face. I remember that grin from when I was younger—high on a swing, swinging as far as it would take me, worried and thrilled that I could go over, that I could complete the circle. It’s a feeling I still love to search out. It’s why I’m here. I realize that this world, a country I’d not heard of months before, may not be one I easily ﬁt into. But sitting among these kids, even getting laughed at for acting more like a scared child than an adult, I cannot help but feel as if I’ve stumbled upon a bit of the world that most outsiders never will.
Crab Orchard Review
Seth Sawyers Getting Started So I’m a stutterer. There was a time when I thought I had it
beat, like the January bronchitis that stays past its welcome and which clears up only after two rounds of antibiotics that leave you dehydrated and dizzy. But I’ve become a realist. None of that reformed stutterer business here. I’ve still got a case of it, low-grade but chronic. I begin to notice something odd in the third grade. My mom is watching TV and she has no idea that I’m bouncing around so I can ask what Dr. Ruth is talking about. I’ve just heard something I don’t understand and I can’t get the word, let alone a proper sentence, out of my mouth. Something grim and determined, like a thick-timbered wall, sits at the back of my throat and will not let the sound pass. My mouth is struggling even more than my brain. So the rest of me, behind the couch, bounds into the air, stockinged feet driving into the hard tile ﬂoor. I try to give life to that soft sound. Nothing. So I spring and land, hoping the inside surfaces of my mom’s glasses don’t catch my reﬂection. Everyone knows I stutter, but it’s just like Ryan drinking a two-liter of RC until he chatters himself into a laughing stupor or Jake almost failing middle school science because he didn’t feel like doing his science project on tornadoes. I don’t know my mom worries about the stuttering. It feels like a given, not like a problem. Right now, though, she’s thinking of something else, whatever she’s watching on TV. I have an idea. I’ll start oﬀ with something meaty. Nothing soft. A warm sound, one that requires my lips to touch, makes its way down behind my eyes, back to my throat and then through my jaw. I stop jumping. My lips meet up. “Mom,” I say, “what’s ejaculation?” I discover books later that year and for a while forget about everything on TV except MTV, which I can’t get enough of. I fall in love with Madonna and get jealous when she marries Sean Penn, who seems like a nobody to me. I ﬁnd out that my parents will write checks
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Seth Sawyers if they’re for books from the Weekly Reader I get at school. I load up on Encyclopedia Brown, choose-your-own-adventures with monosyllabic titles like Zork, and in a ﬁt of ambition, Tom Sawyer because I like his last name. My favorite that year is Journey to the Center of the Earth, which I later detail in a book report for the rest of the class. I talk about the underground lakes and the mutant men and the other kids gasp when I tell them the book is something like 250 pages. I choose how I want to begin my sentences, a strategy I develop based on which consonants I have the most faith in. The book report goes like water. My dad, a reporter, tells me Jules Verne was a favorite of his, too, and then buys me two thick paperbacks based on The Wizard of Oz. Rows of colorful spines creep across the bookshelf in my room. Once, when I forget to return a dog-eared almanac when it’s due, I worry so much about getting in trouble with the librarian that I almost throw up in the boys’ bathroom. In the fourth grade, I stop reading. Mrs. Lease, a sinew of a woman who wears glasses that make her eyes huge, has us read aloud almost every day. One morning in September, we go around the room, everyone reading a paragraph from Where the Red Fern Grows. My heart races as the boy in the front corner begins with chapter one. He reads fast. Five paragraphs down and I feel dizzy. Five more. My ears feel like they’re on ﬁre when Heather, the girl who sits next to me, races through her paragraph as if she were proving what a good reader she is. I skip ahead to my part, with Billy still remembering the beatup dog. Silently, I read it clearly enough: “What I saw in the warm gray eyes of the friendly old hound brought back wonderful memories.” I’m shaking, concentrating on my hate for this book. I hate these sentences. I hate this upper-case “W.” I want this book, this source of my worry, to go away and leave me alone. Heather is done and then there is silence. Mrs. Lease clears her throat. I dare not look up from my book, but I can picture her sliding her giant glasses up her long, bent nose before she stops pacing to turn and get a better look at me. She is staring at the top of my head now. The other kids at my table look up. Eyes ﬁxed on the “W,” I kick Heather’s chair. Now the whole class is looking. I still can’t get the ﬁrst word out but I know if I can, the rest will follow. The thumping in my chest has moved upward, and is now hammering on my tonsils. My ears are so hot I’m certain they’ll explode like two tiny, coiled ﬁrecrackers. I catch Heather’s eyes following my own when I shoot up from my chair. I tower, oddly, over everyone at the table. I’m standing, but Crab Orchard Review
Seth Sawyers I don’t remember standing up. I pound my foot into the carpet. The trigger works. I read fast. The words are meaningless, just my lips blurring a string of sounds that follow one another by themselves. I ﬁnish the paragraph and sit down, my eyes going all fuzzy as if I’d been holding my breath. I don’t remember if we got back around to me that day. Before I get dressed in the mornings, I stand in the shower and read the back of my mom’s shampoo bottle. I fantasize about my parents rushing to work and letting me stay in there until G.I. Joe comes on at three. I stand in the shower so long the jets of water leave little numb spots on the back of my neck. Sometimes, my dad gets nothing but the cold when he turns the knob, but I don’t care. One day, before my mom shoos me out of the bathroom so she can curl her hair for work, I make three wild wishes to the shampoo bottle that I know are out of bounds for a nine-year-old. I make them anyway: that no one in my family will ever get sick, that someone ﬁnds a cure for cancer because on the news it sounds as if everyone dies from it, and that no kid will ever stutter. I think about these three wishes all the time, not just when I’m in the shower. They seem to me profound things, like secrets. On the ﬁfteen-minute bus ride in the mornings, I hide between the big green seats and draw geometric shapes on the fogged-up window, things like the diagrams of atoms I’ve seen in Jake’s high school textbooks. My friend John, a big, simple kid who hits cleanup on our little league team, sits on the aisle. Once a week, he asks me what’s wrong, if I’m OK. I feel safer that he’s next to me. If any of the bullies up in the front of the bus give me a hard time, I know he’d stick up for me. Later, in middle school, John will sign my yearbook like this: “I hope I know you when you are an artetic and I am a bub.” By this, he will mean “architect” and “bum.” One day, on the bus, I open my math book and read the names of previous owners scrawled on the inside front cover. I envy them for never worrying about reading out loud, wondering if they know how easy they have it. When we get the Weekly Reader in class, I tuck it inside my backpack, behind all my homework, hoping my parents don’t ask about it. When the orders come in, I get permission to go to the water fountain. The shelves on my bookcase gather dust. One morning, my dad pulls up to the school and my little brother Ryan hops out. I stay in the car. 162 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Seth Sawyers “Seth, what’s wrong?” “My stomach hurts.” I try my best to look like a kid with a stomachache, making frowning faces and rubbing my belly. “Are you sure you’re feeling sick?” “My stomach hurts.” My eyes also feel hot. “Why are you crying?” I duck down in the seat. I want to be invisible. I want my dad to take me home, maybe to his oﬃce, where I could make myself useful emptying the wastebaskets. They wouldn’t even have to pay me. I want to be anywhere but here, this place where everyone stares at me when I read out loud. “Seth, you’ve got to face this thing, eventually,” my dad says. “I promise you, just get through it for a little while longer and we’ll get you some help. This isn’t the end of the world.” My dad is my dad, and I know I am not going to win this one so I decide I may as well be on time for the morning announcements. I wipe my eyes on my sleeve and force my feet out of the car. I stand up and lift my backpack onto my shoulders. It’s heavier today. I shuﬄe, head down, to the front doors, and try not to let anyone see that my eyes are red. I make it through math and lunch and, in reading class that afternoon, Mrs. Lease shows a ﬁlmstrip. A week later, I get the mail on the way home from the bus stop. I ﬁnd an oﬃcial-looking letter from the board of education addressed to both my parents. I think I know what it’s about. Mrs. Hanna, the speech therapist, is friendly and asks about my favorite sweatshirt that I make my mom wash all the time because I want to wear it on Wednesdays and Fridays. Later, in a high school art class, I’ll ﬁnd out it’s a Jackson Pollock rip-oﬀ. The gray and white spackles, raised on the cotton, go in all directions: random. But the way the splotches start and stop, over and over again, there’s a strange sense of order. Mrs. Hanna seems impossibly tall for a woman, but she has a nice voice. Her hair is curly and blond, like my mom’s. During the second session, when she gives me something to read, she gives directions softly and slowly. I read a few paragraphs about astronauts and the space shuttle and do well. She pats my hand. Hers is soft. Then I get to the reading comprehension questions at the end and I can’t do them. They’re all “Whats” and “Hows.” Mrs. Hanna asks me questions and after a while tells me that I have trouble with the soft sounds, the ones at the beginnings of sentences. Crab Orchard Review
Seth Sawyers She asks me if I knew that, and because I don’t want her to think I’m stupid, I say yes, I did know that. She asks if I read outside of school. I say that I do. “Where do you read?” “In my room.” “When you’re reading in your room, do you ever read out loud, to yourself?” she asks. “Yeah.” I used to do it a lot. I liked to see how fast I could go. “Do you ever stutter when you read out loud, to yourself?” I’m not sure. I used to go for the cobwebbed encyclopedias in the basement that had the maps and old ﬂags from Japan and Nazi Germany. I read baseball articles from Sports Illustrated. I even read out loud to my friend John and his older brother on sleepovers at their ancient, mazelike house that some people said once belonged to a slave owner. I don’t know when John learned chess, but somewhere he did, and he would teach me openings and then I’d read horror stories sneaked from their dad’s nightstand. I went until my voice grew hoarse or until they’d fall asleep sprawled on top of their sleeping bags. Sometimes I’d go for an hour. But I haven’t done that for a long time. She tells me to go one word at a time, not to rush. She tells me that it’s OK to stutter, that no one thinks I’m weird. I try to believe her. She asks me to invite Robbie and Scott, my two best friends in the class, to the next session. The next week, we begin by talking about my sweatshirt. We talk about how I hate getting picked last at recess. I tell them I know I don’t deserve to get picked last, but I know the captains do it because I’m always the skinniest one out there. Somehow, I have a hunch this is connected with stuttering. Then I read that same paragraph about the astronauts. I start out ﬁne and I get on a roll. Everyone’s patient and I’m aware of Robbie and Scott waiting out a handful of stutters, which come on the soft sounds, like I knew they would. But I get through it and my voice grows louder and stronger by the end. Years later, when I’m in college, my dad tells me that I had met with Mrs. Hanna for just a few months. I thought it had been for the entire year. “So there was a diﬀerence after that?” I ask. “Oh boy,” he says. “Like night and day.” It’s the ninth grade and I have to pick something to do at church so I can get conﬁrmed. I like Sunday school only a little more 164 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Seth Sawyers than the dentist and only the true zealots are teacher’s aides, so that’s out of the question. The only reasonable option is to lector. I mention this to my Sunday school teacher and before I know it, my name appears on the bulletin under “Second Reading” and I’ve got two fat books crammed with scripture passages planned out for masses four years in advance. My turn comes the next Sunday just before Father DeSales gives his homily on abortion, a topic he revisits, red-faced and faithfully, at least once a month. I watch as the sun shifts behind a row of huge stained-glass windows, ﬁrst lighting up reds, then yellows, and ﬁnally the deep blues. The old organ lady grinds through her sad notes and when the parish sits it’s my turn. I wait until the jackets are adjusted and until the coughing stops. Then I wait for the babies in the back room to stop crying. Below it all waits deep silence that I can feel in my stomach. I climb the steps to the lectern and two hundred pale faces stare back at me. I ﬁnd the ribbon holding my place and open the enormous book with an ampliﬁed thump. I clear my throat and it booms back through the speakers hanging from the church rafters. I’m live. I read from one of the letters. The ﬁrst thing I notice is that my voice sounds younger than I thought it would. But it’s clear. Even as I read the letter, the words mean little. Still, I like the proper nouns: the Philistines, the Samaritans, the Ammonites. I like how they roll oﬀ my tongue as if they’re the familiar names on the baseball cards stashed under my bed. I like how the McElwees, constant every week in the front pew, ﬁx their eyes on me and nod as if I know what I’m talking about. I like the way I stumble just once and don’t mind much when I do. I command the words; they do as I tell them. After I say “The Word of the Lord,” and after the church says “Amen,” I walk back to sit with my family. My dad whispers to me that I was better than the ﬁrst reader, bald Mr. Ottmar. In school that year, Mr. Green, the loud geography teacher who doubles as the school’s football announcer, talks about books and movies as much as he does countries and rivers. When he mentions that Ken Follett’s spy thriller Eye of the Needle is the best book he’s ever read, I scribble the title in my notebook, next to a list of the Lesser Antilles. One day after school I ask Wendy, a sophomore girl who lives down the street, to drive me to the public library in Cumberland. I discover I Crab Orchard Review
Seth Sawyers haven’t used my library card since the ﬁfth grade. I retrieve the novel from the shelves. The book is enormous in my hands, impossible. I read three chapters on the drive home. It’s not until Wendy switches sides on the tape that I notice we’re almost to my house. The engine hums harmony. “Must be a good one,” Wendy says. “It is,” I say. I see she is smiling and I realize I’m being rude. I try to make conversation. “There’s already been somebody killed in the ﬁrst thirty pages. A German spy stabbed another guy with a stiletto. It’s pretty cool.” “Wow, sounds like it,” she says, still smiling. Wendy moved to Maryland from Texas with her family a few years ago. The funniest thing about her is the way she says “mail,” which she pronounces “mell.” She laughs a lot, but I know she’s sad most of the time because her dad died the year before. She doesn’t smile as much as she used to and she’s started smoking. I know she thinks I’m smart. “You read a lot, don’t you?” she asks after I go back to the book. “I guess I do,” I say, wondering if it’s true. I read everything the library has by Ken Follett. Later, in college, when I’ve moved on to other writers, the eye doctor tells me I’ll need bifocals if I don’t stop reading with my glasses on. I’m grown up, car running, sitting in a 7-Eleven parking lot, listening to an interview with James Earl Jones on public radio. He’s talking about how he got his start in acting, how he had a stuttering problem but kept at the auditions until he landed his ﬁrst part. The interviewer reminds him that he makes his living now doing voice work. She’s wondering if he thinks this is ironic. He begins to answer, and then halts, stuttering. Pops up every now and then, he says, laughing. Kind of like a cough that won’t go away, I think. I switch the car oﬀ and go in to get the cup of coﬀee, thinking, it’s just something I do, like how my ex-girlfriend used to order imaginary students around in her sleep, or like the halftime show I watched last fall, when Bo Jackson, the retired outﬁelder and running back still strong as an oak, couldn’t talk quite right.
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Susan B.A. Somers-Willett Cow Song My sleep rolls through the hush of crickets’ purr to ﬁnd split girth, birth’s note stalking my dark room. Father slips on boots as her sound consumes our squarish house. I am getting older. I do as I am told. The cow’s tongue slurs, one blue slack leg dangling from her womb. He steps through the springer’s black perfume and palm to belly, checks for breath, the stir. The hooked moon shifts through redwoods as danger lodges, sifts in his hand. Tight lips spill stiﬂed goddamns while dark hooves scrape their lists. He goes in arm-length with slip-noosed hanger to loosen young shoulder from hip. Cow song ﬁlls the silver pail. The shotgun sits and sits.
Crab Orchard Review
Susan B.A. Somers-Willett
The Boy Who Would Be Achilles Until there is something spoken there, the ear appears meaningless, a white, tooled shell. The smiling face is delicate, your ﬁnger on his picture is touch, slip away, like walking wet stone. Hero. If you could say it again, his name would be awful, the hardest to remember at parties. It’s hard sometimes, you know, to look at him the way you do, in the best graces: groomed in a school photo, or as the fat baby industriously at play, or inconsequential against the backdrop of California. Remember that sky? He stood between two houses, head cocked to the left as he once saw in a ﬁlm, not shot like in that dream you had, scalp and bone ﬂapping a botched mouth. You remember nothing from that day but that the cat got out and the toilet kept sighing. He stepped out to war with his impenetrable body, some other country, and never returned. It’s not supposed to be like this you think you said— 168 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Susan B.A. Somers-Willett
he was always the dutiful one, quietly came between his brothers’ conﬂicts and buried the cat’s kill in the yard. No ordinary creature could expect his death sooner than your own right foot would turn left. You wish him thin, out of existence, the weakest archetype in your good story. But then, oh— to dip him headﬁrst in that river, make him call your name.
Crab Orchard Review
Susan B.A. Somers-Willett
Decorum for Sean At the reception, it is humid and the bourbon smokes over broken ice; it smokes on your breath while you talk with tired-looking friends over appropriate music. In his last days, x-rays lit his chest from the interior, bringing the lungs’ tough white knuckles of illness into relief. You catch the eye of the deceased’s lover, then go back to the pile of marbled cheese cubes stacked on a silver platter: a last grasp at decorum. Someone has a moment with the deceased’s bedroom slippers and suddenly the evening has turned silly; the black wool jackets have come oﬀ and no one bothers to admonish the Scottish terrier eating freely from guests’ plates. Your husband pulls a book of wedding matches from his breast pocket and it too is ridiculous: your name and his emblazoned in nuptial script below the sad gold outline of a dove. On the chaise, another new husband is massaging his young wife’s feet for the shoes. You’ve already forgotten the long and academic eulogy, remembering the dead in the bright chipped orange polish on this woman’s toes, the prattle of ice in highball glasses, and your best friend egregiously passed out in the easy chair before midnight. In the snapshot above the door, the dead man is dressed as Marilyn Monroe as potbellied men in chaps
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Susan B.A. Somers-Willett admire each other and carnival crushes around him. You walk the drunk ones home with a ďŹ‚ashlight, drunk yourself. You will change your life.
Crab Orchard Review
Cathy Song Out of a Dream of Blue Water Out of a dream of blue water, I awoke, revived, for now there was hope for me and you. Salt diamonds sparkled on my skin. We returned to the water, cold, at ﬁrst light. In the shadows, under hau trees, old men ruminated over past injuries, comforting ailments, predicament of rusty joint, the broken hinges that keep us from opening wide as the sea. The ﬁrst plunge ached, the casting of our bodies in an element close to metal, nearer to ice. Warmth we left on a bed of sand. We splashed toward clouds fanning a plume of feathers along the horizon. The arc of your stroke pulled more water than mine, but you circled around, encouraged me. When I let go, fear, like a pair of old shoes, sank away. The thrashing that had distressed the water stopped, and a blue crescendo, compassionate, immeasurable, swelled beneath us. I climbed onto your back, broad and sleek as a turtle’s. Small waves lapped at my face, licking me. I gripped your shoulders, dug knees into hips, and we dove, gulping mouthfuls of air our lungs would squeeze to the last breath
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Cathy Song as we tunneled through a hole in the current, and entered another stream. We lay across the blue skin, soft rolling hills of bluest water. Pressed between sky and sea, the joyful body emerged. We could drift now, and never lose our way, for the stem of life pulsed through us. Encouraged, we rode out the immensity.
Crab Orchard Review
A Woman Lies Face Down in the Sand A woman lies face down in the sand, exhausted. Her family has scattered—the boy plunging a stick down crab holes, the girl sleeping oﬀ a string of midnight parties in the back seat of the jeep. The husband, last seen with his sketchbook, has turned the corner and won’t appear for another hour. Grandmother, nomad in scarves, squats, hunting the beach for shells. A quick sketch of the red dirt island is what the jeep rental agent drew, a rudimentary map without the ﬁelds of rocks, the abandoned pineapple access links gone to rodent and thistle, the rows of tidy plantation houses that would fry but for the Norfolk pines moaning, creaking, keeping the dust down. All her life she had gazed upon the island in ignorance, the faint outline a pale wash on the clearest day, unknowable as something hard and dry. She thought of a friend who loved this island, rode horses through ironwoods and pines, loved ﬁercely a man who taught her how to use a gun. The likelihood of ghosts as real as the wind. Jostled by the jeep being steered clear of boulders and ruts, 174 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Cathy Song she slept. At the cooler elevations, she awoke to climb with the others into a crevice in the trees. The convergence of islands, volcanic shards lifting through sediment of sea and clouds, broke into view. Unmistakable, unmarked, a place from where the soul departs, she leaned at the edge of a jumping oﬀ spot. She felt the collision of entities, the sensation of bones ﬂying, the way a ski jumper pushes vertical to intersect horizontal, gravity pulling the heart as if out of the body. Back in the jeep, she crumbled under sleep, eyes thrown open as they descended, tossed among the sandwiches, the bottles, the towels, the tanning lotions, and the spare change of clothes they had brought with them. They lurched out of the bush, hit the beach, where a net of stinging ﬂies and biting sand sent the family scrambling to ﬁnd another resting place. Near shore kite surfers ride out toward a rust-ridden hull heaved upon the reef, giving the beach its ugly name. She falls face down in the sand, having dragged her bones to this spot at the edge of the road on the red dirt, wind-scoured island. She can’t move out, caught it would seem like the barnacled carcass towing a load of cargo unseen.
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Long Before I Enter the Gate I enter the valley, drive through late afternoon, the hour of spoons and plates settling on tables, of dogs rising from tired rugs, their master’s key in the door, home now to feed them. The enchanted hour, even on a good day, needs no ﬁltered lens, no special eﬀects, no help from us. Under hedges, under trees, shadows circulate into leafy pools, a turning over of the earth, soilrich, transitional. Deeper into the valley, a combustion of rainbows and soft rain streams out of the green folds. Surrounded by beauty, my mother is dying. Compelled to witness this hour, this sweetness passing—light shifting across her face— I enter the gate to watch my father, holding out hope with each breath, feed my mother.
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The Day Comes as I Knew The day comes as I knew it would when my mother begins to die in earnest. With each breath burning through branches of inﬂamed bronchials, squeezed like sweat from a towel, I pray may this one be her last. A watched kettle, she herself once quipped, never boils. Heartless daughter, who clocks in the forsaken hours, I wait for her to die so that I may go on with the business of living. With each breath I hang the weight of minutes, like pin-encrusted ornaments shaking the injured bough. I watch my mother breathe, and live, our breaths entwined. Hard as we struggle, the harder to burn through the ﬂames of this life.
Crab Orchard Review
Sleek-ﬁnned and Black, Hooded as a manta ray lurking outside the reef, the boyfriend’s car surfaces. Having driven all night he veers, landing softly into the shoulder of pines. What sign lured him to this shrine? Consultations with the old wives backﬁred. Claws of garlic, strung like shells around her throat, failed as amulets. Tales of fallen angels had the reverse eﬀect. While cultivating the rose in veils of misted water to ward oﬀ the restlessness hell-bent on sniﬃng her out, I neglected the marigold’s humble repellent. A spray of gravel and an engine’s light feathering announce his arrival. Out of the embroidered sleep I took pains to weave, she looks up from a book with words that cannot tell her where she’s going, ﬁxing in her mind a room too small, only that something is about to happen. She answers, so willingly, I can’t bear to watch her break— generous and hopeful, willing to give it all away. Inevitable that she should slip from me again, this time the expulsion from the garden mine.
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Annette Spaulding-Convy An Ex-Nun Resurrects the Dating God They give me white roses, never red, and cards with old Sisters on merry-go-rounds. They tell me their mothers light Virgin of Guadeloupe candles, thankful that I’m a nice girl. I answer their convent curiosity: No, there wasn’t a tunnel to the priest’s rectory. A few lesbians, but most were asexual. Not just tea, we had a liquor cabinet. They confess ex-girlfriends who taught tantric yoga, something about legs, incense, orgasms of the spirit. They think I’m Our Lady of Lourdes, my water washes memory. I should say I’m nobody’s salvation, I’ve stopped carrying crosses, rolling away the stone, but I might show them the medal of Saint Anne sewn into the left cup of my old bra. They’d rather enshrine me, sleep with other women because they’re afraid I’ll break. They want me to cook in a black veil— lasagna followed by the rosary. I want the body of Christ on my tongue, not the white wafer, but bread made of dark honey, whole wheat, the way earth would taste if it were ﬂesh.
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Natasha Trethewey Again, the Fields —After Winslow Homer the dead they lay long the lines like sheaves of Wheat I could have walked on the boddes all most from one end too the other No more muskets, the bone-drag weariness of marching, the trampled grass, soaked earth red as the wine of sacrament. Now, the veteran turns toward a new ﬁeld, bright as domes of the republic. Here, he has shrugged oﬀ the past—his jacket and canteen ﬂung down in the corner. At the center of the painting, he anchors the trinity, joining earth and sky. The wheat falls beneath his scythe— a language of bounty—the swaths like scripture on the ﬁeld’s open page. Boundless, the wheat stretches beyond the frame, as if toward a distant ﬁeld— the white canvas where sky and cotton meet, where another veteran toils, his hands the color of dark soil.
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Southern Gothic I have lain down into 1970, into the bed my parents will share for only a few more years. Early evening, they have not yet turned from each other in sleep, their bodies curved—parentheses framing the separate lives they’ll wake to. Dreaming, I am again the child with too many questions— the endless why and why and why my mother cannot answer, her mouth closed, a gesture toward her future: cold lips stitched shut. The lines in my young father’s face deepen toward an expression of grief. I have come home from the schoolyard with the words that shadow us in this small Southern town—peckerwood and nigger lover, half-breed and zebra—words that take shape outside us. We’re huddled on the tiny island of bed, quiet in the language of blood: the house, unsteady on its cinderblock haunches, sinking deeper into the muck of ancestry. Oil lamps ﬂicker around us—our shadows, dark glyphs on the wall, bigger and stranger than we are.
Crab Orchard Review
Sandy Tseng Taipei Winter hardly comes, except to whisper in the steep mountains among the cyprus. Summers, I pick guava from the terrace beside the dragonďŹ‚y and water lily. The land binds the locals to superstition; the ghosts will come if I whistle at night. I do not believe in becoming a god after death. Nights, I lie awake imagining nothingness under the canopy of mosquito net over the bed, where my name evolves from characters to letters and I take two things from the city: the scent of mothballs, the call of the cicada.
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Each Season The island rebuilds itself, leaves just the clothes on their bodies. Years from now the loft will have a new name, the island will have a new loft, a new bed for people like us. A named dolphin has never known the sea that houses her pod. Everything is relative, the lovely L’Esplanada, little blooms at the sink plucked from the roadside by the dusty lolos. Dawn, he touches my braids before leaving to buy bread, a kind of naming, a recovering of words lost in my sleep. I am a reef among families of bony ﬁsh, of yellow jack and queen angel. Here the salt water becomes fresh for drinking, as costly as wine. Still we bathe like Americans, like salmon at the mouth of the stream where they were born.
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Harvest After the tassels have gone brown and the cob begins to form you persuade a city girl to walk barefoot into the damp garden, among the half-runner and habanero, the bean beetle and parsleyworm. The unrelenting wind is a symptom of our failure, as the locusts, as the whitewashed moon too cumbered to rise, lost in these worn back roads. Teach me to hear the voice of my Father, whom I have not loved in years. Long after we have eaten the canned beets and pepper butter, the pickle jars still clutter the shelves. This is our curse: that the garden is a temporary life and we are driven to tend it. The ingenuity of a bell pepper is that it can be chopped for salad or emptied and stuďŹ€ed. These days I am still discerning between the futile and eternal. Father, save me from the state of happiness, a symmetry that blurs one side with the other. The angels gather with sickles above these cornstalks. Since the ďŹ rst silk strands appeared, we have poked and prodded the end kernels, expecting that two people will be in one bed, one taken, the other left.
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Final Letter With it comes the salt that clings to everything: our mouths thirsty for hours afterward. It’s in the food we eat. The meat that wants to return to the bone clumps in the pan, and we sprinkle salt over it to signify ﬁnality. The salt falls over us and we try to clean it oﬀ: the faint dusting over the coat, the gloves, the laces of our boots. We stomp our feet, leave the shoes at the door, but there are traces of it streaked across the hardwood ﬂoor. From the dog’s paws. From the cuﬀs of our pants. It takes a while. Some days the body is so numb, it does not know whether it is on the bone or oﬀ the bone. We press ice to an injury to detach it from the body. To stop the pain, the accident. Although someone is icing the injuries of the city, there is no numbing it. We sprinkle a little salt on the steps. The ice melts in seconds and takes days to freeze again.
Crab Orchard Review
Before there was excess and if part of the muscle died, we functioned without. We gave birth to wind in yellow staircases rainy days we thought winter had ﬁnally arrived, and then retreated. These are the days we cannot tell when. When must we hold our breath while the water laps at our mouth so that we will not inhale at the wrong moment? When is the muscle most likely to fail, in the midst of activity or for lack of? Though once we were healed by the brush of a father’s lips, the body grows too old to heal. Before, we imagined each day afterward would bring something more. Today we have used our excess, we wrap our coats tightly against the soft line of our bones. If the heart ﬂutters, how long does the body live without breath? We practice streamlining down the lane while holding our breath until we get to the other side. To see how far we can go. Our legs ﬂutter kick to the surface.
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Susan Sterling Radiation Blooms On the far wall in the radiation room hangs a landscape of magenta ﬂowers tumbling down the bank of a silvery stream. Lit from behind, the image glows like a projected slide, growing even more luminous when the lights are turned oﬀ and the machine is positioned over the patient’s body. Another luminous garden, of tulips and daﬀodils, glows in the outer waiting room of the oncology wing, while in the area where patients wait in their johnnies, delicate white ﬂowers ﬂourish in three prints. It is always spring or summer in the oncology wing paintings, as it is in the prints in the examining rooms, and always there are paths, or bicycles, or footbridges, beckoning to a world beyond the frame. In some rooms ﬂowers have been painted directly on the walls: a garden of hollyhocks, lupines, sunﬂowers, roses, and daisies travels around a corner by the mammogram machine, and in the simulation room, where patients are measured before they begin radiation treatment, someone has drawn a vibrantly branching tree. This past summer and fall, I spent six and a half weeks undergoing radiation—33 treatments in all—so I passed a fair bit of time with the magenta ﬂowers. I would lie down on the radiation table, and the technicians would position the huge radiation machine over my body, matching its ﬁeld up with the six dots tattooed to mark a rectangle across my right breast. They would leave the room to start the treatment from a bank of computers outside. I was alone then, listening to the grinding whir as the enormous machine delivered electrons and later photons in precisely measured doses to my body, and mostly I was grateful to whoever on the staﬀ had installed the glowing painting. It was so realistic, it looked as if you could step into it, cross the footbridge over the stream, and escape. But some mornings, looking at all the ﬂower images, I felt cranky and annoyed. Where in the oncology wing were the other landscapes, those scenes that acknowledge a cancer patient’s experience with fear, vulnerability, and anger? It’s not that I wanted to be looking at a wintry Crab Orchard Review
Susan Sterling graveyard or the last yellow leaves clinging to a maple tree. I certainly didn’t want a neon sign ﬂashing, “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.” That wasn’t my situation, anyway. But did it always have to be ﬂowers? One of the oncologists had, hanging in his oﬃce, a reproduction of a painting of a city street on a rainy afternoon. The sky was gray, people jostled each other under umbrellas. The painting conveyed a certain melancholy gravity, and I guess this is what I’m talking about; I wanted, occasionally, more of this. Eight years ago, after my mother died of cancer, I came across a quotation from the French writer Albert Camus: “In the midst of winter I ﬁnally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” I wrote these words down on an index card that still sits on my desk, and I love them for their recognition of the stubbornness of diﬃcult experiences, as well as for the hope they convey. It was only ﬁnally, and still during a hard time, that Camus discovered a concurrent brightness in himself. The art in the oncology wing seems to deny the reality of this dark side, as if it were advisable, or even possible, for patients to leap over uncertainty and fear and settle down in hope. Taken individually, the paintings and prints aren’t false, but collectively they resemble a single insistent note, becoming suspect through repetition. On those days when I felt cranky about the flower pictures, I could also feel a little cranky about the cheerfulness of the staﬀ, a modulated sunniness that, no matter how well-intentioned, sometimes felt as if it were trivializing disease. As Alice Miller remarks in her book Banished Knowledge, “Not to take one’s own suﬀering seriously, to make light of it or even laugh at it, is considered good manners in our culture.” “You’re not anxious, are you?” my father asked a few days before I was to start my treatments. Of course I was anxious, how could I not be? The radiation was going to burn my skin and make me tired, and if I was particularly unlucky it would cause a rare secondary sarcoma that is notoriously diﬃcult to treat. And while the treatments would reduce the possibility of a recurrence of cancer, I was still at risk. And yet…some days I wasn’t cranky at all, and always the radiation staﬀ was solicitous and kind. As the technicians helped me onto the table and positioned the alarmingly huge machine over my body, they asked about my weekend, my son and daughter, my dog. “What did you have interesting for dinner last night?” “What are your 188 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Susan Sterling plans for the weekend?” That sort of thing. They were happy to answer questions about the radiation and always treated me like a real person, not just another body with bad cells. Still, nearly everyone needs to believe you are coping well. Over the summer a friend, a survivor of three diﬀerent cancers, warned me of this. “They don’t want to know what they are doing to you,” she said. During her last illness, she received both chemotherapy and radiation and suﬀered an unusual side eﬀect which the chemotherapy staﬀ assured her was caused by the radiation, and the radiation technicians insisted came from the chemotherapy. I was reminded of my friend’s experience when, a couple of weeks into my treatments, one of the radiation nurses asked how I was doing. I explained that my husband and I had made a morning ritual out of my trips to the hospital, which is quite close to our house. “I walk down and get zapped, and then when I get home Paul has coﬀee waiting for me and we have breakfast together,” I said. The nurse looked startled. “We don’t like to think of you as getting ‘zapped’,” she said. “We like to think we’re ‘treating’ you.” But “zapped” is what it feels like. The machine dominates the sterile treatment room, like an elephant in a shed, and makes awful grinding noises as it is moved into position and delivers radiation. The part that hovers over the patient’s body, through which the radiation is directed, is about two feet in diameter and consists of various moveable metal pieces. Some days I felt as if an enormous malevolent camera lens were focused on my breast. (“Photons were used in the phasers in those old episodes of Star Trek,” a friend of mine reminded me. “No wonder you feel you’re getting zapped!”) The radiation is intended to destroy any cancer cells that might have escaped the surgeon’s knife and any irregular cells that might be thinking of multiplying. Patients don’t feel anything during the treatments, but by about the third week, almost everyone experiences fatigue. It’s a little like jet lag, descending mid-day like a wave or wall, forcing rest. The radiated skin becomes red and itchy, as if the patient fell asleep in the sun, exposing only one breast. In the mirror, I thought it looked as if I’d been indulging in a weird kind of sunbathing, with a fondness for rectangles. Even the hospital’s kind and friendly breast cancer coordinator appeared not to want to recognize how diﬃcult the experience can be. Before my biopsy in May, when no one knew whether or not I had cancer, and if so, the extent of it, she accompanied me to an X-ray room where Crab Orchard Review
Susan Sterling a technician struggled to insert a wire into my breast. I was grateful to have her company through the various X-rays that had to be taken, but when she prescribed a light-hearted approach (“I think it’s important to be goofy”), I felt uneasy. After the biopsy, she stopped by the recovery room to see how I was coming along. “Hopefully it’ll be nothing!” she said (though both of us knew this was highly unlikely, given the way the calciﬁcations were clustered on my mammogram). “But even if it turns out to be precancer or cancer. . .a little radiation, a little tamoxifen, will take care of it.” I thought of Miss Clavell in Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline in London, consoling the wife of the Spanish ambassador after a hungry horse has ravaged the embassy gardens: “A little sunshine, a little rain, and it will all be the same again.” And, of course, despite all the cheerfulness, winter isn’t really absent from the oncology wing. As I would be signing in at the desk or waiting in my johnny under the ﬂower prints, I was well aware of who else was going and coming. I would notice the women who’d lost their hair, the men and women who walked with cancer in their bones, the gray-haired couples holding hands and watching television. Occasionally I’d overhear remarks: “The steroids the doctor prescribed aren’t helping.” “The pain is still terrible.” In her study of American and British cultures, Brit-Think, AmeriThink: A Transatlantic Survival Guide, Jane Walmsley surmises that Americans, obsessed with diet and exercise and youth, believe that death is optional. But death is what we’re up against in the oncology wing. “I want my life back,” I complained to my husband a month into the treatments. The early morning walk to the hospital had lost its charm, and I was tired of being so fatigued. “You’re doing this so you can have a life,” he said. Eight years before my illness, my mother was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma and died four months later. The summer she lay dying, I kept waiting for the moment in which we would talk about our sadness that she’d be leaving us soon, but that never happened. My sister and I were puzzled by her silence and shared with each other almost daily our feelings of abandonment. And then, three years later, when my sister was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, she, too, retreated. Her reluctance to talk about what she was going through troubled me even after her death. I didn’t understand it and imagined that I would react diﬀerently. Given a life-threatening disease, I would be open. So my own response to my illness surprised me. A week after 190 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Susan Sterling the biopsy, I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS, an early form of breast cancer. (Some doctors call DCIS “precancer,” because the wayward cells are still conﬁned to the duct and can’t metastasize. Left untreated, though, DCIS is likely to become invasive, and even after surgery the patient is at a higher risk for a recurrence or for a new cancer, which is why it is treated aggressively.) Over the next few months, as my husband and I entered Cancerland, with its rounds of doctors’ visits and surgeries (to ensure clean margins), I found myself lurching confusingly between a need to have my DCIS taken very seriously, and a desire to escape even thinking about it. I never mentioned what I was going through to anyone at the gym where I continued to work out over the summer and fall, nor to neighbors I encountered when I was out walking the dog. I didn’t mention it to an old friend, herself a survivor of breast cancer, when Paul and I ran into her and her husband one evening late in the summer. The sky over the river was turning salmon, and the eager calls of children drifted toward us from a nearby playground, and it seemed too lovely an evening to spoil with medical details, though I found this hard to explain later. Why hadn’t I told her earlier, my friend asked? Until the summer, I had never understood people who had been secretive about their illnesses, and while I didn’t think I was intentionally concealing my disease, I hadn’t been forthcoming. After the diagnosis, my husband and I told our son and daughter and a few good friends and relatives, and then while Paul continued to tell people, it was as if some part of me decided to close ranks. I suspect I wanted to be assured of times and places where phrases like “clean margins” and “side eﬀects of radiation” weren’t likely to come up, where I could act as if my life was going along its usual, mostly satisfying way. Occasionally, particularly at the beginning of the summer, I would talk about the DCIS, but in such a way that it slipped into the conversation and vanished. It was hard to ﬁnd the right tone, the degree of gravity. I mentioned my disease to a cousin and separately, to two other friends, all of whom have no memory of my remarks and were shocked, later, to ﬁnd out I was undergoing radiation. I imagine I must have said something like, “oh, well, here’s something that’s happening to me, not too serious, I’m going to need radiation, but I have a great prognosis.” Often I preferred to listen to other people’s troubles rather than talk about my own. Other times I wanted to talk about the DCIS in detail. It Crab Orchard Review
Susan Sterling was hard to predict what mood I would be in. Occasionally when friends posed sympathetic questions about my disease, the sorts of questions I might have welcomed the previous day, a coldness ran through my body, threatening dizziness, and I’d want to change the topic of conversation. Even with close friends I sometimes felt as if I weren’t so much being myself, as trying to act like whoever myself was. But who was this self? I no longer knew. I questioned important decisions I’d made in my life about work and career, suspecting I’d taken many wrong paths. Some days, I felt as if I were looking out at the world from behind a smudged window, closed oﬀ from everyone. Despite my good prognosis, I ﬁnally understood why people with cancer don’t want to talk about it. It takes energy to deal with cancer. I felt as if I were in a sailboat, buﬀeted about by a strong wind, on a perilous tack. The boat is keeling dangerously, or it’s suddenly becalmed, or it’s caught on rocks. In any event, someone else’s response, whether worried or cavalier, could threaten the stability I was trying so carefully to maintain. My dreams evoked uncertainties. In several dreams I found myself a hapless passenger in cars that were zooming out of control. I dreamt of making wrong turns, of houses falling apart, of being in hotels where I couldn’t ﬁnd my room. In one dream a huge crab-like creature, iridescent green, threatened me from a sidewalk; in other dreams evil men stole books and dogs, and invaded my house. I dreamt of women who were mean to me, and of my mother dying, and then, in another dream, of my dead mother (a non-smoker) enraging me by deﬁantly lighting a cigarette. I dreamt of skiing down a mountain of powdery snow, and soaring on a rope swing over a brook. I made lists. I thought about all the women I’d known who had breast cancer: women with excellent prognoses, women with not so good prognoses who were still doing well, and then (not at all reassuring) women whose disease had metastasized, women who had died. I made lists of family and friends with other cancers. I made lists of friends who called and wrote and brought ﬂowers and books and bread and took me out to lunch. Lists of relatives who were supportive and relatives who retreated. Lists of books and movies. Number of treatments ﬁnished, number of treatments to go. When I was in my twenties I read Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, and after that I imagined being stricken with an illness requiring a prolonged convalescence, but one that would still leave me with the strength to read for hours each day. After my diagnosis, 192 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Susan Sterling when the oncologist spoke about what to expect during treatments, I wondered if the radiation weeks would be the closest my life would come to Mann’s sanatorium. I grew up with a strong New England work ethic, though, so if I was going to read extensively, I needed to include something serious. For a month I talked this over with friends: should I buy the novels of W.G. Sebald, or should I go back to Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, which I had started twenty-four years ago and then abandoned after the birth of my son? I settled on Proust and read 100 pages of Swann’s Way; I read a mystery and a lot of contemporary ﬁction. I went to the movies. But what I really have to show for my six weeks of radiation are the no longer bedraggled ﬂower gardens around our house, which had become embarrassingly overgrown. Many years ago, when a friend was dying of kidney cancer in California, I’d discovered that weeding was a satisfying antidote to anger and sorrow. If I couldn’t tear out my friend’s cancer cells, I could tear out the weeds. During my own radiation weeks, I weeded, and divided the iris, and then the day lilies that had overtaken the rock garden. I dug a new ﬂowerbed and bought myself a new ﬂowering perennial every week of my treatments. (The irony didn’t escape me, that while I was being annoyed at all the blossoming art in the hospital, I was adding ﬂowers to my garden.) I would work outside as long as my energy held, and the moment the fatigue washed over me, I went into the house to lie down. I also loved gardening because I found it so absorbing. A serious disease captures your attention in an obsessive way. During the weeks of radiation, I appreciated anything that shifted cancer to the background of my life. Escape also came from beyond the garden. Books and movies, as I’ve mentioned, and conversations, and events in the world outside and in our small town in central Maine. When anxiety seized me, I would sometimes pick up the newspaper to get a sense of perspective. The New York Times and our local paper, the Morning Sentinel, were both full of grim news on a daily basis. But there was also news that brought excitement and pleasure. Mars, burning golden in the night sky, was the closest to earth it had been in the last 60,000 years. And locally HBO was ﬁlming Richard Russo’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a dying mill town in Maine, Empire Falls. The cast was full of stars: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Ed Harris, Helen Hunt, Philip Seymour Hoﬀman, Aidan Quinn, all of whom walked our streets, ate in our restaurants, shopped in our stores. Waterville, where my husband and I live, and Skowhegan, a small town to the north, were selected for much Crab Orchard Review
Susan Sterling of the ﬁlming because they resemble the down-at-the-heels ﬁctitious Empire Falls—from one point of view, hardly an aﬃrmation. But many nonetheless became swept up by a faith in the transformative power of Hollywood. There were a few letters in the newspaper complaining that the ﬁlming was disrupting business, but most people seemed hopeful that the movie, once shown, would bring riches: tourists ﬂocking to our towns to see the church Ed Harris was painting, and to eat at the “Empire Grill” (once Pat’s Pizza Joint) where many scenes were ﬁlmed. (“Paul Newman ate here!”) Throughout the summer and fall, the Sentinel ran lengthy interviews with the crew, explaining what is entailed in those mysterious jobs whose titles bewilder us in movie credits—like “gaﬀer” and “best boy,” and “grip”—and what was being done with special eﬀects and costumes. Local people worked as stand-ins, drivers, medics. One of our friends was asked to audition for the role of art teacher. Another friend was asked if she’d be willing to lend her old car to be ﬁlmed. Occasionally, people standing around watching would be asked to be in a scene. Despite my skepticism, I found the energy created by the ﬁlming wonderfully distracting. People were hopeful. On the day my radiation treatments began, over a thousand people showed up at the American Legion Hall in response to a casting call. According to my oncologist, radiation-induced fatigue can last several months beyond the end of treatments. And then, as another doctor promised, “we’ll watch you like a hawk.” She urged me to view the DCIS as a chronic disease, like diabetes, that will accompany me through the rest of my life. If it comes back, it can be treated. But this is not really consoling. It’s not as if cancer merely knocks on the door, causing only a temporary interruption each time it appears, a slight detour. A psychologist I know describes such an illness as having “a shadow, or a tail.” When treatment ends, you want to go back to your old life, but you aren’t the same and your life isn’t the same either. As a cancer patient in Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book reﬂects: “It’s like your life breaks into a million pieces and when you put the pieces back together they don’t quite ﬁt exactly the same.” You understand that even if this disease doesn’t end your life, something else will, and you don’t know when. Such awareness lends the post-radiation days a bitter-sweetness, as if you’d just come across a red maple leaf, reﬂecting the late August sun in a still green woods.
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Benjamin Vogt The Deep Middle Eight a.m., mid June, almost too late to be setting out for the
lake. Any novice ﬁsherman knows the best time is just before dawn, when the cool night hasn’t yet begun to evaporate oﬀ the shallows of inlets and bays. I follow my dad down the steep hillside behind my parents’ house, tips of poles snagging maple branches and overgrown saplings. Our feet seem especially heavy on the wooden steps that I helped him build three summers back. They’ve weathered well, the railing warped in only one place that he mentions every time we pass by, as if slinking by a great battleﬁeld, muttering a low and pensive sigh—acknowledgement of the tragedy, failure, guarded hope to make it right some day. I’ve never been a carpenter or a handyman. The noise of power tools and air compressors makes me shrivel like maple leaves held over ﬂame, retracting into a tight ball of buried fear. Such acceptance of the noise, and the power that that noise creates—the forceful ability one needs to control weapons of construction in precise movement—is something I’ve never been able to ﬁnd inside myself. Even when we built the stairs my hammered nails went in at acute angles, Skil saws slipped oﬀ chalk lines like ice. My dad has built houses since he was a boy, studied the business and art under his own father. He knows the name of every tool and architectural technique, knows the capabilities of each, but more importantly knows how to use them as if they were extensions of thought or whimsical intention. The garage is full of hacked pieces of lumber from job sites, long pieces of leftover crown molding, boxes of doorknobs, windows, doors, things too expensive to throw away, things he builds the next house around. When I come home for brief vacations from graduate school, the ﬁrst thing I see are those piles of tools and two-by-fours asking me, in his half-playful, half-condemning voice, “So, how much longer until you get a real job?” Somewhere along the drive from the Hubert H. Humphrey Terminal on Highway 62 westbound, passing marshland and houses Crab Orchard Review
Benjamin Vogt snug tight against the reeds, he asks me how things are going. I tell him about a poem, a book, a reading, trying to talk fast enough so he can’t get bored. “It must be nice,” he says as a segue from the necessity of our conversation. “Must be nice being a writer, doing what you want, how you want, when you want.” A rolled-up house plan whispers its slide along the backseat of his Jeep. With my right foot, I push a tape measure away that’s tumbled from its perch on a paint chart. Does he wonder if he’s failed in convincing me to carry on the family business, to feel comfortable around his construction sites he always asked me to visit? Was there anything of him in me?—Is this what he asked late at night, mentally exhausted, the last unanswerable question in the day, silent, grasping for unconsciousness? I had to convince him to get up this late. I’m on vacation, I told him, I’m not getting up any earlier. He’s ﬁshed all his life in the farm pools of Oklahoma stocked with bass and the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota, he can surely ﬁnd the ﬁsh with the right bait at any time. We thump out across the wooden dock shared by a conglomeration of neighbors, built only a few years ago as part of an eight-house initiative to create decent access to the murky north end of Lotus Lake. Neither one of us has said anything. The sun on the glacially smooth water is akin to how deer must feel on a snow-blown highway in December, the sudden fragmentation of light focused and upon you in a divine instant of serene terror. I’m going to spend the next four hours on a boat with a man I really don’t know. We stretch across the slip, undo the snaps on the cover and roll it up; he jumps in and catches the tackle box and rods from me: two bait casters, two old-school casters, a plastic bag ﬁlled with new lures, and twelvepound test line just in case we run into some good action. He lowers the hydraulically-powered prop, stutters the ignition of the four-year-old Fish ’n’ Ski Larson as the aft water foams and bubbles like a sauna, stirring up the damp-sweat smell of mud, moss, and Eurasian milfoil. We pull out the rear seats, slide them into poles in the front and back so the boat, from a distance, looks like a Mississippi steamship from behind, two smokestacks balancing the center. In a matter of minutes the sleek ski boat has metamorphosed into an awkward platform, no longer aerodynamic, a necessary change on which hinges a potentially good day. My dad moved the family up from Oklahoma to Minnesota in 1986 in hopes of a stronger economy, a better market for the size 196 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Benjamin Vogt of house he wanted to build—new homes for the upwardly-mobile suburban manager looking to escape the noise of Minneapolis, Golden Valley, and Edina. Every day I think he wakes up wishing he could do something else with his life, step back and evaluate what it means to build four-hundred-thousand-dollar houses, what that might do to the social fabric of existence. I think he looks at me with part disdain, part guarded admiration: why don’t I get a job, settle down, choose a path and stick to it like a man? I’ve moved four times in three years, searching for the place that can help me become a better writer, teach me more, open some opportunity to continue the dialogue of creation and discovery in language. These are things my dad has never had a knack for, but hints at on rare occasions, out of the blue: “I wish I could write like you.” Somewhere in the middle is where I think my dad wants to be, to ﬁnd the balance in his work, to make it become a contribution to something larger than himself, larger than the world. Maybe it’s a midlife crisis, to a degree. His children all but grown; his house remodeled and landscaped to a T; a wife whose body has begun to grow away from itself in a drawn-out ﬂurry of menopause, further from him, at times unrecognizable and painfully unapproachable. “You don’t know how close she’s come to dying,” he’ll suddenly say on the phone. “Her blood pressure was once so high the doctor said he didn’t know how she was still alive. It shouldn’t be like this. Sometimes, I don’t even want to come home.” Then he’ll talk about the Vikings, the Twins, running out of the words that could bridge who he is and who I’ve become, the silence between still avoidable. But it’s easier to ﬁsh than talk; and deep down, looking back, I don’t think he knows or sees anything for what it really is but, rather, identiﬁes every object in terms of shelter, structure, usefulness, and longevity. Once he settles in behind the wheel, eases out past the lily pads and lotus bulbs peeking through the surface, he turns around, having let me settle into the fact of being vertical. “Where do you want to start?” he asks. “Wherever. You’ve been out here more than me this year.” “Not really. I wish I could have been, just too busy. Your guess is as good as mine.” He looks forward, scratches his moustache between thumb and palm, then half-turns his head to me. “Well?” “Fine. Let’s start over there in the shade line. There’s no breeze at all there. Where you caught that nine-pound pike a few years ago.” Crab Orchard Review
Benjamin Vogt I remember he was out one afternoon by himself, the year I took oﬀ after college and had no choice but to move home. He called me on the cell phone to come down to the dock, bring a camera, get Mom, get anyone, he had something to show us. I’d never seen a bigger ﬁsh, and not one with real teeth. It’s the kind of ﬁsh you reel in for thirty minutes praying he’s hooked well, that you can get to the net and balance the rod, the kind of ﬁsh you have to grab by the gills with two hands. I asked him what kind it was. “Northern pike,” he said, smiling underneath a face that was stolid in its excitement, steady and taking stock of the moment, logging it into memory. Looking back, it almost seems like that’s the time, thirteen years after moving, he ﬁnally felt like a Minnesotan, that he conquered the land, harvested something tangible like the wheat his family brought in every August as a boy in western Oklahoma. I don’t think he’s caught one since. “Nah,” he says. “Some people put a dock out there, killed the pads with chemicals so there isn’t anything over there but a few sunnies. You want to hit that spot where I think the bass usually are?” Sure, I tell him. As far as ﬁsh go, in my family at least, bass are like rich supermodels with book-smarts who don’t mind funding weekly vacations and responding to every physical whim. Sunnies are not quite like unemployed trailer trash, but they’re easier to catch than the milfoil which is choking every lake in the country. Still, they’re ﬁsh, and you’re thankful to think you’re at least ﬁshing, doing something right. Lotus Lake isn’t very big, a thin northern-pointed sprawl just around 250 acres, but it has a watershed of almost 1,400 acres, and that’s mostly houses built on tall slopes behind the tree lines. At any one moment, someone could be sitting on their deck giving you the once over; in summer, as you drift by a ﬂoating platform following the beeps of the depth ﬁnder, you try not to snag the glossy teenagers in bikinis, and only glance, not stare. Bays and coves aren’t anything like Lake Superior; an isthmus is a pile of discarded rocks or a shallow point where cattails and reeds harbor spawning bass, and that’s where we start. The breeze is beginning to make landfall here, along a stretch of three-hundred feet; theoretically we both know the small ﬁsh are being pushed into the jaws of the waiting big ones, so we ought to catch something substantial. My dad eases oﬀ the throttle, makes a tight turn to parallel the shore, straightens out the bow, and waits for the wake to catch up with us. The engine stops, jostles me, and he moves to the front picking up, then carefully dropping the trolling motor into the water. Suddenly, he’s ﬁshing. 198 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Benjamin Vogt After ten minutes I realize I’ve lost my touch. There’s no ﬁnesse in my cast, no wrist action. My ﬁngers keep getting caught in the bail; I’ve already got two knots in the line that are restricting the distance I can throw. I turn around and can see the ripples of my dad’s one-of-a-kind Rapala topwater lure, one that probably belonged to his father, within six inches of the lily pads. It’s something the bass should be jumping at. I’ve got my trusted assortment of beetle spins, all diﬀerent colors and shapes of spinners, the ﬂat gloss of the reﬂection underwater which is supposed to mimic the sheen of helpless minnows adrift in the current. A few years back I used them to catch thirty crappies in a little over two hours as we trolled back and forth over deep water. That was before the great, mysterious kill of ’98, and the summer before I moved back home. I try casting sideways to slide in just in front of the pads. I end up ten feet short, but if I throw too hard I’ll snag the pads and we’ll have to maneuver in, waste time, and commit a felony—in Minnesota any aquatic life in public waters is property of the state, and any removal or transplantation is forbidden. If you get caught. I’d only seen marshals on the lake a few times in ten years, but they’d stopped us once to make sure we had life jackets out within reach, that we had an extinguisher, ﬁshing licenses. We’ve slid ﬁfty feet in ten minutes, the slurping hum of the trolling motor and the taps of my dad’s feet on the ﬂoor control constant, calculated like digital rain on sound-soothing machines. The trees become thinner, scattered between small houses and manicured lawns that spill down to the shore. Adirondack chairs and citronella lanterns are staked into the ground in crescents, inner tubes and inﬂated loungers weighed down by ﬁrewood near tied up boats. Willows rise and explode, fade branches down to the water like ﬁreworks, tease the surface with leaves that draw “S” traces in the moving water. Geese land across the cove without calling directions, falling almost inaudibly like snow. My beetle spin pulls back through the water. I vary speed, let it sink for a second after it lands, coast it out from the pads and jerk through the weeds that separate my steady attack like the Atlantic Wall, then slow it down again in case something has followed the lure all the way to the white ﬁberglass hull, in case something was thinking seriously about the bait, but waiting for the right moment, the open door of pensive movement. I remain frozen, looking into the dark chocolate water, willing the olive drab shimmer of a bass’s Crab Orchard Review
Benjamin Vogt topside, knowing that they don’t follow but hit the bait at the moment of impact, and thinking today could be diﬀerent, today averages could be outweighed by telekinesis. That’s how long it had been since I last ﬁshed. Averages always hold. We make it across the shoreline in thirty minutes and are precariously close to the east end where the lake ﬂattens out to a shallow mineﬁeld of moss, weeds, and half-sunken driftwood. “Want to try a diﬀerent spot?” Dad asks. “Whatever. I had a few nibbles back in there.” “Yeah, so did I. Should we try it again?” I thought nibbles were the next best thing to catching something, better than getting nothing. “Sure.” I replied, reeling in my last cast. “Are you trying the white with red eye?” “Yeah. I switched to yellow since it’s so bright out, tried orange too, but had more action on the white.” He starts up the engine and begins the ride back to where we had ﬁrst cast, then stands up awkwardly from the driver’s seat and does a 180 degree survey of the water looking for debris, jumping ﬁsh, patches of deep weeds that might hide a large bass, northern, walleye, something wall-worthy. “How’s Mom doing?” I ask, knowing that the last ﬁve years had been rough on them, her health in constant ﬂux as hormone treatments changed in intensity almost weekly, headaches that drove her into bed for days, a hysterectomy—all of which left my Dad alone, alienated, dissolute. “It’s tough,” he said. “I don’t know. I just want your mother back.” He pauses, sits down, looks over to another boat gliding by, interrupting our solitude. “She yells a lot. One minute I think everything’s ﬁne, the next I can’t do anything right.” He looks further away, past the trees, the hillside, the sky. I want him to talk to me like I thought fathers should talk to sons on open water, communing with nature. We’d never had one of those clichéd TV after-school-special talks—I’d give anything for just one as a sort of consolation prize. But I could see his hands gripping the wheel, his balance ﬁrming up on the waves like he was born with no emotion. He came from a family of German immigrants, hard workers, people who on their deathbeds wouldn’t complain if only not to bother those around them, not to make more of a scene. Sensing all of this, I knew I wouldn’t get anywhere, not this way, so I changed the subject. “How are the houses? Any new leads?” He looks at me, pulls his 200 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Benjamin Vogt hair back from his thinning hairline, puts on a John Deere cap and rubs his thick driving arm underneath the shirt sleeve that’s catching wind. “It’s how it’s always been. I’m losing money on the Parade of Homes model from last fall. Started framing the new spec house last week. There might be some new land your mom and I looked at in Mound on Lake Minnetonka,…we’d have to tear down a junker though. We could sell the lot then too. There’s nothing cheap left on Minnetonka.” In Minnesota, having a lake lot is more important than having a good house on it. And Lake Minnetonka is the lake to be on. Multimillion-dollar homes with huge yachts docked in back; whole houses with nothing but glass to get the best possible view; trendy bohemian restaurants that you can pull your boat up to, sit down in your trunks, and eat a ﬁlet mignon or fresh walleye. If you could get a lot there, someone would buy the house, if not just for being able to answer the question “Where do you live?” with a sort of modest bravado. He cuts the throttle, parallels the shore, waits for the wake and steps up to his chair at the front. His line is in the water before I grab my pole. I’m beginning to get more daring with my casts, attempting to get in behind the pads like I used to be able to do—the bass usually just lounge back there, hopefully startled by the opportunity I could provide them. I get caught under the water line on a lily shoot and begin to yank furiously, not wanting to show lack of raw talent or vague artful potential, so I try to keep as quiet as possible, being the son I thought I need to be. “Hey,” my dad calls out. “Give me that, let me have a try.” I walk up to the front, helplessly feeling childish as he tugs the line, bows the rod, sways left and right like a windshield wiper. “Hell!” he stammers, rising to his feet. He can’t get it loose. His body is contorting in strange ways, almost as if it were a reﬂection in the water bending and diﬀusing, slipping from familiarity. He steps on the trolling motor pedal, angles the bow in so he can reach over, but the breeze has picked up and slid us in too fast over the line. “Get to the back, see if you can grab it before it gets tangled in the prop!” I dive toward the back feeling an empty gulf in my stomach I hadn’t experienced since I was a teenager. The boat swung around so the line was now on the left side—I couldn’t tell where the bait was. Dad is suddenly swearing now. “Fucking wind!” “C’mon you little shit!” “I can’t take this mother-fucking crap today!” It’s almost as angry as I’d ever seen him—trying to get the boat to go straight back with the trolling motor, but the pads had caught us, angled us broadside Crab Orchard Review
Benjamin Vogt against the current. He tells me to grab the rod, to keep letting line out as he puts both feet onto the pedal, his hands a web of eight-pound test line. I hunker down in the back, not sure what to do anymore, how to respond to the loss of the calm I had expected from the water this morning, from the man who used to handle my C’s in high school English and history with a didactic, commanding serenity. “Damn, just get the knife, I’ll cut the line and re-string the reel,” he yelled. “Where is it?” “It’s in the top drawer.” I fumble through his tackle box, undoing clasps and lifting containers of plastic night crawlers. “No! Over!” I can’t ﬁnd the knife, but he comes down pushing me away, insisting it’s there, only to turn back around and ﬁnd it on the ﬂoor under his seat. He cuts the line furiously, starts yanking as if he’s pulling in a drowning swimmer, swearing how it better not be on the prop because then he’ll have to get in the water. After a few minutes we have enough of the line that it points to the lure, which is now loose in the water— white, pure, innocent in its re-entry to the air above. “I’m sorry,” I said. What else could I do. It’s a sheepish thing for a person to say at twenty-six in front of his father. “It’s OK,” he sighs, calming down as he yanks line oﬀ the reel. “It happens. No big deal.” I couldn’t tell if he meant what he said or was just trying to believe it, that his son made what was now an egregious oﬀense in a family of ﬁsherman. Had he failed in teaching me this art? Was this an extension of his failure in teaching me how to use his tools, to be the next link in the building business, to be comfortable with what had become so comfortable and expected for him? He gives me a clump of sky-blue line, tells me to make sure it doesn’t blow out of the boat, then he opens the package of twelve-pound line, begins tying one end to the spool. I thought we’d head in, give up, recognize that we’d tried our best. Bent over now, he’s quietly intense as he ties knots he once tried to show me but that I could never master. His hands move like branches in a straight-line wind, suddenly ﬂat and bent back, then swing forward straight again, deﬁant to the moment. I ﬁgure this must be how he is while hunched over a house plan in his oﬃce, on the phone with sub-contractors who don’t show up on time, eating grilled cheese for dinner alone in the kitchen while watching ESPN. The Larson had wedged itself into the lily pads now—several that we’d pulled up were ﬂoating in towards shore. The current couldn’t push us out, couldn’t do anything but reinvent the silence, the shallow 202 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Benjamin Vogt wind against our ears as if they were submerged in water, the leaves of willow and birch recast in the undulation, losing their reﬂection in small whitecaps. I stretch out the line, put a pencil through the spool as Dad reels it in. He looks up, smiles beneath that stolid, weathered frame of his moustache and round face, then concentrates on the line again. “You want to try one of my top-water baits?” he asks. “I don’t know—I might get caught in the pads.” “You might. But you’ll never catch anything bigger than a sunny if you don’t use one.” He rummages through the top drawer of his tackle box, pulls out a long, hollow plastic minnow with hooks in the front, middle, and back. I stretch to get it, both of us holding it between loose ﬁngertips, careful of its potential to cut deep beneath the skin. He ﬁnishes re-stringing the reel then works us out of the lily pads as if we had purposely maneuvered into some tight, rocky cove exploring for hidden bass, the boat moving eﬀortlessly as if on calm water. Everything exudes a quiet conﬁdence: my dad at the bow working the trolling motor, our lines in the water, whitecaps sipping the air beneath the rise of the hull. For two hours we ﬁght waves and the inability to get in close to the shore. We settle for the deep middle where the big ﬁsh hunker down until night when the ﬁreﬂies, traversing the expansive dark, will exhaust themselves, falter into the top water, then give themselves to the unconsciousness that brought them here.
Crab Orchard Review
Nicole Walker Going Native The weight of a contour feather is not nothing. Smooth and ﬁrm. Solid. More like marble than spider webs or pollen or dandelion seed. It takes prying ﬁngers to separate the individual barbules, unknit their hooks, separate the whole vale into wiry hairs. To rub a feather backwards is to undo its featherness. The possibility of its ﬂight is now as likely as that of yours or mine. Even if you slide your hand back up the shaft, smoothing out the barbs, they don’t reweave properly—now you’ve turned a crane into an emu.
A boy I know little about climbed the fence that bordered Tracy Aviary. The sole of his shoe left marks like chalk against the brick wall. Nothing else took note of the scaling or the wall, not the circling security guards, not the sleeping birds. Brick is easy to scale, the wall was very silent, and he was very fast. Did he choose the ﬂamingo because it was the ﬁrst bird he saw or the ﬁrst to awaken? Did he choose it because the bird was closest to the boy’s height or because its pink feathers were as close to the color as his skin as any bird there? Or was it the bird’s utter diﬀerence—the plunging of his hands between feathers that was not hair. The reedy, ﬂeshless legs. Its monomorphic genitals—the not knowing whether it was a boy bird or a girl bird he was opening? Did the walnuty cleft dissolve when he touched it? Did he stroke the bird’s head or its cottony neck? Did the bird try to ﬂy as the boy came inside it? Did his wings stretch toward the tree branches, over the gate, past the telephone wires? Or was that great lifting done by the boy—the bird light as dust in his hands, the bird pinned into itself, barb crossing barb, leg crossing leg, the bird closing at the boy’s insistent opening? Were his wings already clipped or was this the last night he knew how to ﬂy? I do not like the way the words “I love you” hollow out the air around you. How sometimes, when you hear those words, you think of pickles or stubbed toes or the time your dad was late to pick you 204 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Nicole Walker up from practice, but don’t think about the person saying the words. “I love you” is a placeholder for all the things you used to know. The letter “U” at the end of the phrase leaves you oﬀ at the place where you turn toward what you’re never going to know. Tracy Aviary is in the middle of the city park. The park is half a mile long and a quarter mile wide. They have boat shows on the lawns. Family reunions, which, in Utah, can run into the hundreds, settle into every pavilion. There’s a carousel and a big pond on which you can take out paddleboats. It’s like a small Central Park, but simultaneously less classy and less seedy. Sometimes the carousel works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the pond is drained of water. But the aviary is always there and open daily. Even in the winter. Some of the birds there are native—the red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, golden and bald eagles. The geese and ducks. Even the swans, who at least twice a year migrate through the wetlands oﬀ of the Great Salt Lake. But there are some true aliens there. Emu and scarlet ibis, toucan and ﬂamingo. After everything came out, my mom told me the neighbors had said I’d seduced their son. They’d found Playboys scattered across their backyard. They said I must have done it. I imagined them waking up, taking their coﬀee outside, and looking down from their deck onto what should have been green grass but was instead was ﬂeshy pink rounds of women, staring back up at them. Maybe it was another neighborhood girl. Maybe it was his sister. Maybe even, after it all, my dad had become fed up with it all and dragged his boxes of Playboys out of the attic, hauled them down the street and plastered them onto their lawn. I said it hadn’t been me. But at this point, no one was believing me anymore. Sometimes, I picture my friends who live in other cities. I picture other city streets and my friends walking along them. I impose myself in those pictures. Fogged street lamps. Rain falling horizontally. Cities with hydrangeas and rhododendrons. With iron rings to hook your horse to wrought into sidewalk. The space between where I was—hot, sand, desert—and where I thought I should be—wet, ﬂoral, heavy—was slippery. I cast my anchor far and deep but could never ﬁnd my purchase. The area below me ﬁlled with gravity. Gravity made me cry. I longed for moving trucks. Crab Orchard Review
Nicole Walker Emus, like flamingoes, have long necks and legs. The similarities seem to end there. The ﬂamingo ﬂies. The emu does not. But it’s not weight that keeps the emu earthbound. It’s its feathers. Each feather has two shafts, with barbs so widely spaced that they do not interlock to form ﬁrm vane as they do in most birds; instead they form a loose, hair-like body covering. Feathers, unbarbed, cannot lie down. They cannot streamline. They cannot loft. They’re less than a tenth the length of the emu’s body. He’s more bone and skin than bird. His feathers pillow and puﬀ. They cotton out. Stick your head deep in the duﬀ of emu feather. His feathers will tickle your nose and your ears, but his wings will not contour. The emu as chameleon. The emu barbless. The emu without a sex until it’s reproductive. Are you sure you’re pregnant? They always ask. But every girl knows that when the blood stops, the “something else” has begun. He asked me as we sat by each other on the piano stool. It was the closest we’d ever appeared in public. It was the closest our bodies had ever been outside of either the basement, or, when I had sleepovers at his sister’s, his room. He was an ugly guy. I didn’t like seeing him with so much light. Blackheads on his bulbous nose, brillo-pad hair. No, that’s not true. I did like seeing him. He was older. Cooler. I wanted to be his girlfriend but he had started driving and now brought other girls home from church. He was working on getting a girlfriend. Such work had nothing to do with me. I did like seeing him up close. Because he sat beside me so closely I thought that meant something. Because he whispered in my ear everything will be OK, I, beautifully, thought it would be. I used to think that things connected like trains. One boxcar coupled to another and then those thoughts and ideas would add up to mean something. One long train like a strand of DNA would translate to something. I started at this station and I ended up at this next one via this ton of metal, this axle, this track brought me from here to there. Now I think connections are more like Virginia creeper or spaghetti. It all touches, but where one vine or strand begins and another ends is a knotted question. We told no one, but my mom guessed. How a mother could guess her daughter was pregnant, I don’t know. She asked, I nodded. We called Planned Parenthood. I did not want her to know. I didn’t 206 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Nicole Walker want her to know about my insides, the way they were newly pink. I didn’t want her to know that I had, greenly? sagely? bravely? crazily? thought that I was dating this guy. That he could love me. The way she shook her head—all the webs that held what I knew to be true came ﬂuttering down. She shook her head so hard the lying webs that held me up came crashing down on top of me. At the clinic, upside down, held down by the stares of nurses and doctors and IV bags, by the words of the doctor who asked “how could you? you’re so young,” I laid there. The heavy webs like ﬁshing nets, turning wet and reedy, made it hard to breathe, let alone hard to say, “what the hell do you know?” The body wants to be pregnant. That’s normal. Not being pregnant, that what’s weird. Blood is never a good sign. I spend what I think is an inordinate amount of time trying to fake myself out. I tell myself there is no mail with good news, that there is no phone call with the job, that the drought is not over, that democracy will never return to the White House. I’m not pessimistic. It’s the opposite. I so believe that there will be good news in the mail, a job on the phone, that today is the day it will rain, that democracy rules the world, that, somehow, I have to guard against disappointment. Sometimes I get confused though and don’t remember what it is I want. Maybe I don’t really want a job. Maybe I like the sun and the parched ground. A year before I got pregnant, he had sex with me for the first time. The night after it started—not the night he babysat, but the next night, when I’d recovered from the surprise, when instead of feeling embarrassed and heavy, I felt light and womanly. I could hack this, I ﬁgured. We played truth or dare. His sister went to bed. We stayed outside. Truth, he answered. Do you love me? I wanted to ask. Instead I asked, who was the ﬁrst person you kissed? Dare, I answered. Take oﬀ your shirt. Dare, he answered. I dared him to tell me who, besides his family, ﬁrst saw him all the way naked. Truth, I said. He told me to stick my ﬁnger in my underwear and tell him if it was wet. Dare. I dared him to run inside and steal a beer. He shook his head and told me to take a dare. Show me the pinkest part of you. I opened my mouth to show him my tonsils. His eyes ignored my face. His hands followed the trace my ﬁnger had left. He left my clothes outside and had me lie down on an old mattress in the basement. His ﬁngers Crab Orchard Review
Nicole Walker felt more like barbs than feathers. I scooted around until the barbs stopped. I tried to smile. I tried to make my face look like the face of a happy lover. Like a Playboy bunny. Like a beautiful bird, on the edge of a lake, waiting for the air that would lift me up. By the time I got the smile on, he had stopped lying on top of me. He told me I better go. Outside, I got dressed. Man Sees Salt Lake as Flamingo Haven catherine s. blake Associated Press SALTAIR, Utah – Long-legged, pink ﬂamingo seeking same to share friendship, food and freedom. That’s the personal classiﬁed ad that a lonely ﬂamingo living on the Great Salt Lake may have been thinking about for the last 15 years, said Jim Platt, who has made it his mission to acquire friends for the bird, nicknamed “Pink Floyd.” Since Floyd ﬂew the coop from Salt Lake City’s Tracy Aviary, he’s been gloriously free, but painfully alone. His only pals are a pack of seagulls and the tourists that snap his picture. Floyd’s become a local legend, appearing frequently in winter as a ﬂash of pink on the otherwise drab horizons of the lake. “I know what freedom is, and I think Floyd is having that experience,” Platt said. “I’d like him to be friends with others who are having that same experience. They could breed and be a wild ﬂock.” …………………………………………………………………… Because Floyd’s gender is not known, releasing birds of either gender isn’t practical, said Patty Shreve, Tracy Aviary curator. And it’s diﬃcult to neuter birds. She stressed that a ﬂamingo ﬂock would overwhelm the natural environment. Things that don’t fit: Clothes, squares in round holes, atheists, rain in Utah, interrogative sentences, the letter “U,” steam engines, buﬀalo, wine at a pub, the color pink, the idea that what you believe aﬀects the outcome of events. Pink stands on one leg and then the other. It is winter and he has most of the brine shrimp to himself. The algae in the lake keeps 208 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Nicole Walker the shrimp pink, which in turn, keep Pink’s feathers pink. He looks around at the intermittently arriving birds. Snowy plovers, seagulls, the occasional tundra swan. Their white, white coats match the falling snow. As far as Pink can see, snow covers lake and reed and mountain. Even the sky is heavy with white snow. His feathers are a target. His feathers are ﬂeshy, open, obvious. Out there. No one who drives by would miss him. They might roll their eyes, wondering why he hasn’t taken oﬀ to Chile with the rest of his ﬂock. His beak scratches at his underwing. He stands alternately on one foot, and then the other. He looks around at the white plumage of the other birds. He plucks a pink feather. He plucks another.
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Leung, Brian. World Famous Love Acts. Louisville, KY: Sarabande Books, 2004. 202 pages. $14.95. In the title story of Brian Leung’s World Famous Love Acts, winner of the 2002 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, the narrator stands in front of a New Orleans crypt where “facades have crumbled, revealing simple brick and mortar.” In these eleven, semi-connected stories, Leung similarly exposes his cast of characters, which include a smalltown diner owner who is being visited by a pair of praying hands that ﬂoat over her shoulder; an African-American boy who, along with his friend, invents ways to torture and kill handmade dolls; and a married man who is waiting for his wife to arrive at the apartment where for years he has brought his male lovers. Several of the collection’s stories take place in or involve characters from the town of Blue Falls, Washington, where “in dry years, in autumn, water slips over a ﬂat edge, sheer and perfect, a wide liquid sheet reﬂecting a clear day—blue as an unraveling bolt of satin.” A few of the characters have, in fact, slipped over the edge of Blue Falls: In “Who Knew Her Best,” the Asian-American daughter of a Blue Falls egg-farmer is a porn star in Los Angeles; in “Desdemona’s Ruins,” a former local hero is an archaeologist in Xi’an. Leung, a ﬁrst-time author whose stories and poems have appeared widely in literary journals, unravels his stories in a daring, yet conﬁdent manner. Though a few of the stories are told in a straightforward, linear fashion, Leung often begins in the dramatic present but allows the narrative to evolve via back-story and ﬂashback. In “Fire Walk: An Old-Fashioned AIDS Story,” a sick man has ﬁnished his last hospital stay and is ready to go home to his mother to die. The story begins like this: Gideon dials slowly, leaning against the wall of his empty kitchen. He closes his eyes, allowing everything around him to fall away. The ringing on the other end of the phone sounds like the reverberation of a hammer on nails. When 210 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews it stops, his mother is on the line. Gideon takes a breath of warm autumn air. She waits silently—and he says, ﬁnally, “Mother, it’s time. I’ve gone as far as I can go.” The linear story that could evolve from this phone call would be a strong one; however, rather than proceed from the initial phone call with Gideon’s mother coming to pick him up, the story presents a ﬂashback of a family reunion that Gideon attended at his mother’s house, and the story ends before Gideon’s mother ever reaches him. “Good Company” begins with the narrator, the woman who is being followed by a pair of “African hands,” rolling out dough for biscuits. She has invited all of Blue Falls to her diner for free biscuits so she can state her case against a developer who wants to “buy up the whole street above the river and put in a fancy new hotel. Just wipe out Blue Falls all together.” Again, the tension in the dramatic present is strong, but the story the narrator chooses to tell ends where it begins, with “just [her] and those hands and the diner and [everything] perfectly quiet.” While it is not hard to imagine Leung receiving criticism from an MFA workshop for forsaking the dramatic present for back-story, the vision behind these stories is clear-eyed and compassionate. Leung does not avoid the dramatic present because he is unsure where he is going. Rather, like the archaeologist working in Xi’an in “Desdemona’s Ruins,” Leung “understands every grain” of his characters’ stories. He “can read the stratum” of their lives “like a map.” By breaking through his characters’ surface levels to reach their depths, via back-story and ﬂashback, Leung is able not only to provide more weight to the stories’ dramatic present but also to reveal exactly what lies beneath his characters’ crumbled facades. And what he often ﬁnds there, uniting the vast array of characters in this collection, is their hopefulness in the face of loss, their utter humanity. —Reviewed by Chad Simpson Lloyd, David. Boys: Stories and a Novella. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 2004. 192 pages. $14.95. In Boys, David Lloyd tackles the world of male adolescence in twelve interconnected short stories and a novella, all set in upstate New York. The boys take shortcuts, dabble with voodoo, wrestle, endure dodge Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews ball, and confront bullies and friends as they struggle to understand the adult world and cope with the uncertainties of their changing lives. Stories about adolescence run the risk of romanticizing this phase of life, but Lloyd, an accomplished poet as well as prose writer, avoids this trap by using quiet, forthright language and by focusing on ordinary events that touch the core of these characters’ lives. The stories begin on a Monday in the winter of 1966. That morning, Greg, the narrator of “Shortcut,” gets ready for school. His mother piles his outerwear by the front door so he will not “see Dad’s things still stacked in the closet.” On his way to school, Greg gets whacked in the head with a snowball. The culprit pins him down and demands to be told a secret, and Greg is forced to decide if he will betray his grieving mother. Each successive story, told from a diﬀerent character’s perspective, moves through the day. The morning bell has sounded when “Touch” begins, and “As Always, Jason” starts with ﬁrst period where Jason writes notes but not ordinary ones. He matches the ink color and the message to the personality of the recipient. Later in art class, the young narrator of “Voodoo” swipes clay and uses it to fashion a voodoo doll of his mother whom he describes as being “scared of most things.” One question that arises is the author’s choice to switch to the perspective of adults in several stories. In “Touch,” Mr. DeSantis, a teacher, grapples with a bully in his classroom and fears if he does not win control, he will be ﬁred. In “Stain,” the vice principal essentially gets caught “passing a note” when a student happens upon his love letter to a teacher; and in “Portraits,” the janitor, who has been labeled “slow but sure,” must cope with being ignored because of this perception. Lloyd may have switched perspectives to show that the classic struggles of boyhood continue beyond adolescence. But it is the ﬁnal story of Boys that sticks out. “Snow” is from the point of view of a woman, Greg’s mother, and shows her struggle with her husband’s death. While this story supplies a sense of closure by returning to the household where the day started, it is unclear why the author deviated from the theme of Boys. The book closes with the novella, “Boys Only,” also set in 1966. The narrator Chris says, “I guess you’d say I was part of a gang—if three kids can make up a gang. It was Joey and Frank and me.” “Boys Only” covers familiar territory for thirteen-year-olds—the swagger of youth and its façade, the energy and tension between boys and girls, the secrets and bonds of families, and the testing of friendship. Central to Chris’s story is the introduction of girls: he falls for Lisa who is in his English class and discovers pornography when Joey swipes a 212 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews magazine from his older brother. These girls complicate the “Boys Only” world. Before long, Chris becomes embroiled in conﬂict with other gangs and within his own. In this collection, Lloyd reminds the reader about the true nature of adolescence—the heartbreak and trauma that go hand in hand with the excitement of self-discovery. The only drawback of Boys is the length; readers will wish they could tag along with these characters for a while longer. —Reviewed by Deb Jurmu Percy, Benjamin. The Language of Elk. Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2005. 184 pages. $16.95. Benjamin Percy’s debut collection, The Language of Elk, is a ﬁrst book that sounds as if the author has been treasuring it up all his life. At the heart of these stories is a voluptuous release of language, imagination, conﬁdence and energy—and a rustic eccentricity that reveals not only the weird and wistful landscape of Percy’s early youth, but a mystically morbid roadmap through a part of America rarely explored by contemporary western ﬁction. This is Percy’s Oregon, an alien place whose exact location lies somewhere among the piney breezes of the Paciﬁc Northwest and the author’s delightfully bizarre imagination. Isolated, intense, hilarious and heartbreaking, the characters in these stories brim with epic yearning as brightly brooding as the Cascade Mountains. Yet Percy’s ambition is not limited to the uncovering of an unknown place. Typical of these stories is the attempt to redeﬁne the age-old struggle between man and nature through the twisting, and sometimes outright demolition, of those old romantic myths characteristic of that struggle—the tall-tale distortion of western American ﬁction. Here, among the small-town taverns and rimrock canyons of central Oregon, the heroes of American mythology are sympathetically reincarnated as creatures of lesser glory, their separate environments less a challenge to be conquered than pensively endured. It is this deglamorizing redeﬁnition that allows the author the freedom to create such a genuine array of characters and circumstances. Each of these stories is an authentic construction that reﬂects the Oregon country through the creation of lives whose central dilemmas evolve, in their various ways, from the pressures imposed by their environment. In this way, the Oregon of The Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews Language of Elk is less an identiﬁable place than a series of chapters in the social and emotional history of a community of characters. These are stories whose critical moments are irrational outbursts and desperate gestures, moments that oﬀer the characters a sudden illumination into their fractured lives, and a fragmentary glimpse into the meaning of life as a whole. This eﬀort, however, is not always easily identiﬁable, mainly because of Percy’s uniquely mystical narrative, which retains the same romantic nuances of the style it is attempting to redeﬁne. Percy’s declarative attention to detail, his exquisite descriptions, draw the reader’s focus to the physical Oregon—the wildlife, the rivers, the shadowy mountains. But while it is his rich depictions of that unique landscape, his ability to use expressive, well-ordered words in an enchantingly straightforward way, that separate his world from the consciously ludicrous distortion typical of the tall tale, it is his attention to that world’s spiritual components that make it worth reading about. Percy’s literary technique is richly colored by poetic symbolism. Nature, which incites his characters’ irrational behaviors, also inspires their desire for transcendence. The consequence of this is all too palpably illustrated in “The Iron Moth,” the story of Big Boy, a small-town linebacker ten years removed from his high-school glory, whose static life is haunted with thoughts of faded potential, and whose greatest fulﬁllment comes now in homemade ﬁrework spectacles and the launching of anvils. Circumstances are further complicated for Big Boy by a chance encounter with an old highschool crush who’s returned to town after a divorce, and whose polite repulsion of him forces Big Boy to confront the condition of his life. Little of his discontent is ever actually expressed however: the pitiful desire and resigned heartbreak is painfully implicit in this small but aﬀecting passage in which Big Boy explains The Iron Moth: You need two anvils to accomplish the feat, and the same as any relationship, their ignition works only if they are well-matched. The lower anvil, it’s not going anywhere. It’s heavy-as-hellimmovable, turned upside down with the natural cavity at its base exposed. A sleeve of high-strength steel, wherein I pour gunpowder and direct the fuse, lines this cavity. Next I lay a few playing cards over the powder hole. This helps build up pressure, acting as a gasket and a cushion on which to set the shooter anvil, a slimmer little number called The Iron Moth. 214 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews The symbolic value of this is eventually clear. After witnessing his high-school crush kissing his best friend, Big Boy retreats to the solace of the Iron Moth. Realizing his impossible incompatibility with both the modernizing town and the girl of his dreams, the hulking protagonist launches the “two-horned missile” from a butte overlooking the town, wistfully tracking its path across the black Oregon sky. The climactic gesture is closely identiﬁable with the protagonist’s immediate desire. The ascending Iron Moth is what Big Boy might have become had he fulﬁlled his potential, and the closing paragraphs are a kind of resigned valedictory. At times, Percy comes dangerously close to over-sentimentalizing his characters. The subjects of his stories—the frustrated ex-jocks, the adolescent rejects, the lonely widowers—naturally invite this. But the author knows his task far too well to allow that. From his characters and their situations, Percy gracefully detaches himself. Yet the frustrated little people, especially the young, always enlist his sympathy. In “Swans,” an ostracized high-school boy electrocutes a lake full of swans for the sake of a sun-bathing cheerleader he can never have, while in “Unearthed,” a lonely anthropologist ﬁnds an emotional surrogate for his dead wife with an excavated Indian corpse. Other stories in the collection are not so outlandish and rely more on sensitive observation than any fantastic gesture or action. The slower, more uneventful storylines adapt themselves to the characters’ experience. The fact that so little happens, apart from the expected routines, connects form with theme: the spiritual paralysis to which the modern frontier reduces the lives of its citizens. As Percy writes in “The Language of Elk,” the collection’s title story: The Cascades are always exactly the same. Even if I turn around in a circle or swear or shake my ﬁst at them, they won’t care. Not like the frigid wives or freaky daughters. The Cascades don’t blame or hate or love or give a ﬂying fuck. Things eat and ﬁght and screw and die and who cares? Not the Cascades. They are BIG! They are reddish in the mornings— as if capillaried with blood—bluish in the twilight—like smoke ghosting into the dark. They happened so long ago. They happened before emotion. They happened before words—though the language of elk seems a ﬁtting voice: old and strong and singing from the cavities of its woods.
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Book Reviews “The Language of Elk” is the story of a petulant rancher who runs a hunting lodge and whose daughter is severely autistic. Set in the shadows of the Cascade Mountains, the rancher ﬁnds himself competing for his daughter’s aﬀection with Mangold, his stud bull, of which his daughter has struck a mystical kinship. At the heart of this story is a father’s struggle to connect and communicate with his child, his longing to be the hero of her life, and the lovely though diﬃcult truth that you do not need to understand the ones you love to want to love them completely. With this debut collection, Benjamin Percy leads us into the high desert mountains and moss-laden wilderness of a country no less fascinating than the skewed perceptions of the people he writes about. Comically morbid, heartbreaking and brutal, The Language of Elk shines with a breadth of vision as wide as the state of Oregon. —Reviewed by Tim Marsh Trevor, Douglas. The Thin Tear in the Fabric of Space. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 2005. 168 pages. $15.95. The Thin Tear in the Fabric of Space, the debut book from author Douglas Trevor and winner of the 2005 Iowa Short Fiction Award, is a deft, ambitious collection that fuses both historical and scientiﬁc fact with bold, acrobatic narration—narration that runs, jumps, and sometimes performs miracles in the air, and ultimately succeeds in capturing the sheer pleasure of language. At times brooding and brutal, at once honest and evocative, these nine stories serve as a reminder of why we read serious ﬁction in the ﬁrst place and what patient, inquisitive storytelling can still say about modern life. Victims of tragedy, disease, and their own devouring ﬂaws, the lives of his characters seem more interesting and full of thought-provoking dilemmas than the lives of many real people. With near surgical lyricism, Trevor dives headlong into their stark, emotional wounds, exposing not only the pathos and hesitation that ﬂow beneath, but that yearning to absolve—and sometimes abandon— their old and current selves. Indeed, the common theme that ties these stories together is that of our becoming, our instinctive urgency as human beings to transcend our failures and realities, as well those inabilities that stiﬂe our deepest aspirations. The Thin Tear in the Fabric of Space displays a variety of modes from 216 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews diﬀerent schools, but is essentially an assortment of expressionistic works, stories that seek the representation of a unique human mind rather than the material world it observes. In this sense, there are just as many styles of narration as there are narrators. Several of Trevor’s stories more than slightly depict his own creative experiences, frustrations, impulses and mental processes. As he writes in “Girls I Know,” the collection’s most interpersonal and perhaps selfeviscerating piece: How odd to think that it was me standing on the precipice that summer even as I did nothing. How odd that the inaugural moment for Girls I Know would mark my own entry into that unappreciated demographic of single men who—rather than be invited to the Cape with young families squirting up like daises all around—are instead pent in glass and sent ﬂoating through Boston to gaze all too surreptitiously on the unknowable gaggles of the city’s borrowed beauties. Set primarily during a south Boston summer, “Girls I Know” is the story of Walt, a dejected Ph.D. student whose artistic devotion to his own self-disgust leads him down the same confessional footpath as poet Robert Lowell, the subject of his stalled dissertation and the regrettable model by which he shapes his life’s outlook. At the heart of this story is Walt’s unwillingness to resolve that conﬂicted impetus which bids him to both embrace and deny the companionship of Ginger, an emerging young novelist of upper-class blood whose ﬁrst book receives a six-ﬁgure advance at the end of the summer. Told in hindsight from Walt’s perspective, the story explores the solitary upshot when artistic pride mixes with artistic failure, and its ﬁnal few paragraphs are some of the ﬁnest you are likely to read. But while it is the elegance of Trevor’s prose that grabs our attention, it is his depth and spread, that despondent dreaminess in which he weaves about his characters that elevates his work. In “Saint Francis of Flint,” a shy, social paralytic dilutes the realities of his unglamorous life with fervent reveries of a book he will never write, while in “The River,” the only story set outside the United States, Trevor utilizes a salvo of soft, spare sentences to dramatize a young man’s disconnection with the world as he studies in France a year after his sister’s death. Yet the circumstances imposed on these characters are nothing new. The old familiar conﬂicts—death of loved ones, death of dreams, Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews and the struggle to cope—are at the core of each of these stories. Where Trevor prevails, where his stories excel, is in his ability to breathe new perspectives into conventional tensions. “The Thin Tear in the Fabric of Space,” the book’s ﬁrst and title story, is the story of Elena Gavrushnekov, a lesbian professor in feminist poetry who, dying of a rare neurological disorder, is overtaken by the keen compulsion for one last sexual encounter. Bursting with an inexhaustible life energy, her senses failing, Elena shamelessly befriends a naïve, simple-minded secretary and, using the promise of a recommendation to lure her out for coﬀee, makes her ﬁnal attempt at sexual connection, discovering in the process the secret of all secrets—that love is simply “a biological force…a green fuse that drives the ﬂower.” With this ﬁrst collection of stories, Douglas Trevor steps into the literary scene with work both assured of what it knows and unafraid to imagine what it doesn’t. Entertaining and aﬀecting, these stories stand on their own, and are an example, now rare, of the splendor of imaginative ardor. —Reviewed by Tim Marsh Aiyejina, Funso. I, The Supreme and Other Poems. Ibadan, Nigeria: Kraft Books, 2004. 73 pages. Funso Aiyejina is engaged in an ongoing exorcism of evils plaguing his home country, Nigeria, and much of the rest of the continent of Africa. Michael S. Harper has written a poem, “Nightmare Begins Responsibility,” whose title pinpoints the motivation of writers such as Aiyejina who combat the corruption, incompetence, and megalomania typifying much so-called government in the postcolonial era. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is the current poster boy for this absurd drama, but “I, The Supreme” represents the self-deluded boast of dictators world-wide. (I, The Supreme is in fact the title of a novel by the late Paraguayan author Augusto Roa Bastos portraying the Latin American version of this phenomenon.) This is Aiyejina’s second collection of poems. His ﬁrst, A Letter to Lynda and Other Poems, won the 1989 Nigerian Authors’ Prize, while a gathering of short ﬁction, The Legend of the Rockhills and Other Stories, won the Best First Book Award for Africa in the 2000 Commonwealth Writers competition. The volume has six sections: “Of Generals and Kings, Priests and 218 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews Poets,” where misleaders are speciﬁed and opposed by the poet, “our peddler of parables”; “Victorious Victims,” honoring martyrs such as Ken Saro-Wiwa; “Memorials” to the author’s father, grandmother, and others; “Future Continuous,” celebrating Aiyejina’s two sons and the hope embodied in “the dreams / beneath our plains of dirges”; an “Epilogue,” with its “Elegy for my land,” and a “Pro/epi/logue” that is a praise poem for Melvina Rodney, “spiritual head of the Orisa Movement of Trinidad and Tobago.” For Aiyejina, “Poetry is rebellion & the poet…product of the miracles in our subsoil.” That “subsoil” signiﬁes the cultural stratum that remains unpolluted by the eﬄuvia of various villainies and malformations. If, in these poems, Aiyejina expends a good deal of anger/imagery assailing a nation and continent where “wayward elders scorched the land with their arrogance” and “wayward priests pranced to the rhythms of false chants,” it is because—foreign interventions and outrages notwithstanding—his primary focus is on indigenous problems and betrayals: what Africans can do for themselves versus what they have done to themselves. Once upon a time, Aiyejina notes, “our ancestors sent strings of collective curses” against the tormentors and deceivers of the people. Contemporary African authors undertake this task individually. But despite the fact that some of the “curses” in I, The Supreme are indeed personal, Aiyejina’s deep consciousness of, and concern with preserving, time-honored wisdom and inherited strength (embodied in the oral tradition he frequently draws upon) proclaim him as a writer whose work resonates with community. He recognizes that his obligation today is the same as it always has been for the griot: “Return to the marketplace to sing the story / Of the evil horns under the king’s crown of glory.” —Reviewed by Robert Elliot Fox Aragón, Francisco. Puerta del Sol. Tempe, AZ: Bilingual Press/ Editorial Bilingüe, 2005. 136 pages. $12.00. Francisco Aragón’s bilingual book of poems Puerta del Sol is a warm invitation into a celebration of languages we share—speaking and singing, celebrating and mourning—in a world which has grown smaller in its distances and larger in its possibilities. The Spain of the Madrid plaza the collection takes its title from is on center stage here, but in his introduction, Aragón writes: Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews I would like to think the poems are those of an American in Spain—a Latino of Nicaraguan descent, in Spain. When it came to making linguistic choices, however, what most held sway was sound—the pleasure of sound, not subject. I am deliberately avoiding the term “translation”…I prefer the term “elaboration.” And in the scenes Aragón explores in the ﬁrst section, the pleasures of the collection become immediately apparent. In “Plaza”/“Plaza,” in a “circle of shade a scarce coin”/“círculo de sombra una moneda escasa,” an exchange with an old man prompts the description of his voice as “a ball of twine”/“una bola de hilo enrollada.” And in “City Moon”/ “Luna urbana,” Aragón describes the evening unfolding: The sky above Puerta del Sol turns a darker shade of blue. Who says it doesn’t become night’s one eye as it scales the heavens, paling and shrinking before it moves across a late June sky? And below, men persist and circle the plaza, twin fountains brimming over their brilliant waters.… And in his Spanish “elaboration” the scene is equally striking: El cielo sobre la Puerta del Sol toma otro tono de azul. ¿Quién dice que no se convierte en el único ojo de la noche al escalar: palideciendo y menguando antes de cruzar el cielo de ﬁnales de junio? Y abajo, hombres persisten, dando vueltas por la plaza, las fuentes gemelas rebosantes de aguas luminosas.…
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Book Reviews In the three poems without “elaborations”—“Rubén Darío As Prelude,” “Mi Corazón Is a Bilingual Mirror,” and “Veo lo que dices When You Write:”—the poet’s commitment to both languages becomes even more apparent. The playful exchange of tongues in “Veo lo que dices When You Write:” is eﬀortless in its graceful movement: “…you stroke the back of his neck / whispering, ‘I study Mandarin thinking // of you.’ Yes, I see what you’re saying / cuando escribes: Mi nueva lengua, / pequeño triunfo.…” “Mi Corazón Is a Bilingual Mirror” enacts its title line by line, declaring: “So right for me to draw it Un acierto para mí dibujarlo / like this, in these times: así, en este clima: / It gathers lint in your pocket Recoge pelusa en tu bolsillo / For him, these rhymes. Para él esta rima.” And in his notes on the opening poem to Puerta del Sol, “Rubén Darío As Prelude,” Aragón writes: This is a free version of Rubén Darío’s poem “Lo fatal,” which ends his collection Cantos de vida y esperanza (1905)…. Although he was born and he died in Nicaragua, where he is buried, Rubén Darío (1868–1916) spent most of his adult life abroad, including extended periods in Madrid, Spain. And now, a century later, another “Latino of Nicaraguan descent, in Spain” struggles with the essential questions “of where we began, / where we go.” Bringing his collection full circle, Aragón adds his own ‘songs of life and hope’ to the chorus of those who have come before him as he points the way across borders of language to those who will follow him. —Reviewed by Jon Tribble Fisher, Diane Gilliam. Kettle Bottom. Florence, MA: Perugia Press, 2004. 88 pages. $15.00. In her author’s note to Kettle Bottom, Diane Gilliam Fisher provides a candid overview of the life miners led both below and above ground in 1920s coal camps—from “the unwillingness of coal operators to slow production for safety reasons” to the use of “gun thugs” employed by mining companies “to spy out union activity, to evict miners connected to the union from company houses, and to provide general, often violent, intimidation throughout the camps.” It is the brutal, and often all too Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews short, history of these West Virginia coal miners that Fisher recounts in her latest book of poetry—a history that seems disturbingly not-sodistant in the wake of the recent series of mine tragedies. In a world where “You can’t have nothing clean,” poems like “Violet’s Wash” build from the common image of worn men with soot-covered faces to reveal the depth that coal invades even the women’s lives: “His coveralls is stripy / with black and gray lines, / ankles of his pants is ringed around, / like marks left by shackles.” Or “Sheepskin,” where the speaker of the poem challenges the company doctor’s diagnosis of her husband’s illness: “You come home / with us” and “read my pillowslips, grayed / with dust, sprayed with coal-black / ﬂecks of coughed-up muck.” And most convincingly in “Explosion at Winco No. 9”: It is true that it is the men that goes in, but it is us that carries the mine inside. It is us that listens to what all they are scared of and takes the weight of it from them, like handing oﬀ a sack of meal. Us that learns by heart birthmarks, scars, bends of ﬁngers, how the teeth set crooked or straight. Us that picks up the pieces. Like so much of Fisher’s work, these poems reveal a world where daily life is about endurance above all else—endurance of fear, endurance of danger, and endurance of endless days overshadowed by a sense of impending death. Of course, “it is the men that goes in,” and it is the men who must face the darkest realities of camp life. More than anything else, Kettle Bottom is a constant reminder that these miners are driven by desperation and need, and the lack of any viable alternatives. In “Raven Light,” a haunting, ten-page poem that comprises the middle section of the book, we see the worst of the mines through one man’s eyes, trapped by a cave-in several miles back in the tunnels. We wait with him as he struggles to hold out hope, thinking ﬁrst of Jonah caught in the belly of the whale, then of his own fate, and, ultimately, of his wife: Pretend. Pretend it’s just you closing your eyes and not this god-awful dark. 222 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews You’re napping by the creek with Gertie. She’s smiling, doing that thing with the daisy—he loves me, he loves me not. Then the poem turns, reminding us that what the earth takes in, it doesn’t give back: But it’s Jesus I see, instead of her, plucking petals oﬀ that ﬂower like a boy pulling wings oﬀ a ﬂy. And him not even looking at me while he makes up his mind. Both surprising and pleasing is the duality of this collection, the beauty of Fisher’s language and imagery held up against the painfulness of context. So many lines beg to be remembered—like the men and women they describe—that we can’t help wanting to return, again and again, to the place where the “alarm of coal trains” sounds like “Wild creatures” that “shriek” in the night like a chain drawn up from the center of the earth, weighted with a cage from Hell, like a woman dragged up into the woods and bruted to pieces.… What is most compelling about this collection, however, is its oftenexpressed second duality: the feeling it gives that the men’s second home—beneath a mountain of coal—is both a place of exile and escape: …The rocks down here, they don’t expect nobody to love them and they don’t never need shoes, nor get all big-eyed and hungry, looking at a man. After an hour or so down below, a body gets to thinking, a mountain on your back, hell, that ain’t nothing. Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews Fisher’s poems do more than describe the days and nights of these miners and their families: Kettle Bottom brings each man, woman, and child back to life, endowing each with emotion and a personal story, giving each a humanizing combination of bone-weariness, coal dust, and grit. Speaking loudly in often silent—and silenced—voices, Fisher takes us into the mines, shows us the truth of these men’s lives, asks us to look beneath the soot and sweat, and, above all else, oﬀers us these pages in hopes that we cannot, ever, forget. —Reviewed by Renee Wells Handal, Nathalie. The Lives of Rain. Northampton, MA: Interlink Books, 2005. 67 pages. $15.00. Palestinian poet Nathalie Handal’s recent collection The Lives of Rain confronts the diﬃculties of exile and loss through lyric poems that move through landscapes shaped as much by the homeland of memory as by the experiences of the present. This book is both elegy and rebuke, speaking with hope and anger for what is cherished and what is challenged in a rewarding and troubling world. The dedication of the collection is “For those who give us voice,” and the struggle to make such voices heard through the poems is evident throughout the book. In “Ephratha” (which takes its title from the Canaanite name for Palestine, meaning “the fruitful”), Handal addresses the very nature of this endeavor: “Poem / is exile / a guest made of stones / a thin line between our voice and heaven’s throat?” Such a line is the point of demarcation for this work. But it is a diﬃcult place for the poet to ﬁnd herself, a place where the inadequacies of memory and utterance are not easily set aside: Poem are our memories ﬁlled with pale notebooks, fading paint, falling walls to understand this place must we understand its howls, to understand its howls must we understand its verses, to understand its verses must we understand agony? The questions arising from the poet’s eﬀort to speak for those who have been silenced, displaced, murdered and forgotten is a recurring theme, as in these lines from “The Conﬂict”: 224 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews They came to tell me that I do not understand the place I inherited so they will help me leave, and I realize—we are far from each other, and grow farther still, smaller still like broken glass shattered in our throats, our breath abandoning God. And though Palestine is central to the concerns of The Lives of Rain, the poems venture beyond the poet’s homeland to Morocco (“Une Suele Nuit à Marrakech”), Paris (“Orphans of Night”), Mexico (“El Almuerzo de Tía Habiba”), New York (“Caribe in Nueva York” and “The Lives of Rain”), Iraq (“Around My Body, Lost Songs”), Croatia and the Balkans (“Dalmatian Coast,” “Kolo,” and “Goran’s Whispers”), and the Dominican Republic (“Pequeñas Palabras” and “Presidente”). This international exploration culminates in the book’s closing sequence, “Amrika,” an eight section poem which moves through “The Curfews of History,” “The Tyranny of Distance,” “The Cry of Flesh,” “Opening,” “El Color del Inmigrante,” “Another Sun,” “Incantations,” to its end, “Debke in New York,” a traditional Arab dance adding its music to a new land. Handal asks: “…why we are obsessed / with diﬀerence, / our need to change the other?” And it is that question The Lives of Rain leaves us with, the exile’s challenge: “my voice still breaking into tiny pieces / when I introduce myself to someone new / and imagine I have found my way home.” —Reviewed by Jon Tribble Lee, Karen An-hwei. In Medias Res. Louisville, KY: Sarabande Books, 2004. 72 pages. $13.95. Winner of both the Kathryn A. Morton Prize and the Norma Farber First Book Award, Karen An-hwei Lee’s In Media Res stands out as an imaginative and innovative approach to poetry. Incorporating elements from a variety of outside sources, this cycle of small poems, structured as a series of dictionary entries, reminds us that no one thing ever exists in and of itself, that meaning is always dependent on time, place, and circumstance, and that all knowledge is understood with respect to something else. Like the translation of its title, In Medias Res feels always in the Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews middle of things, taking a nonlinear approach to individual entries and to the shape of its manuscript as a whole. Images, phrases, and scraps of memory reappear throughout the text, casting over each new thing shades of earlier meaning. Take the ﬁrst few lines from “Eidetic,” which begins with the word’s actual deﬁnition then leaps into a series of examples: “Accurate and vivid recall of visual images. / Photographs or ﬁlm of her father folding a paper plane. / Her mother, young, riding a bicycle for the ﬁrst time.” It is easy enough to follow this train of thought, a train that travels through other poems, like “Asterism,” as well: “A ﬁrst bicycle, her father folding a paper airplane, her mother’s history books, her daughter asking, how long did it take you to write a hundred pages, sapphire star hiding inside my heart, asterism, the widening and questioning look of the blind woman when I say, it’s over there; now it’s gone.” Like the deﬁnitions of “asterism”—“a cluster of stars” or “a sixrayed star-shaped ﬁgure seen in some crystal structures under reﬂected or transmitted light”—the entry appears “star-shaped” when held up to scrutiny, a “six-rayed cluster” of ideas that remained tethered only in a particular light, that resonate with each other only because we are asked to see them through the speaker’s eyes. Lee’s collection positions itself in the tradition of poetry concerned more with process than product. Her poems are a journey, a struggle toward understanding, and they remind us that there is beauty in the experience of things—and words—themselves. Lee makes music and meaning simultaneously, shifting her focus back and forth from everyday, concrete objects, to sensory moments and even mystical ideas. Her range is astounding, from a poem as simple and unadorned as “Names of Grass”—“orchard / rye / canary / reed / timothy”—to the ﬁnal entry of the collection, “Zoe,”: A man is raised to life. He is breathing slowly, gently, imperceptibly, a wheel of breath in the body, and then his eyes are moving right to left, right to left. Alive in the darkness, a man moves his hands. Over a hundred pounds of spices. Anointed ﬂesh and a sacramental fragrance of roses. A man is folding up a linen cloth. We are made in God’s image. The angels have moved the stone. These words are translated as life. 226 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews —which is almost an ars poetica for Lee’s aesthetic, starting and stopping and perpetually leaping in its inexorable desire to see in and through things. In Medias Res is a stone to be held in the hand and turned over again and again, its color constantly changing in the light. Never predictable, often ethereal, it oﬀers us not the substance of life, but its breath— slow, gentle, and imperceptible. Reminding us that life is inherently fragmented, it begs the eye and ear with its music and insight, as in the poem “Clicking Sounds,” with its one evocative image, “The whispering of barnacles closing with the ebbing tide” or the entry for “The Past Tenses of God’s Word,” which says simply, “Imperishable I AM.” —Reviewed by Renee Wells Thomas, Amber Flora. Eye of Water. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005. 74 pages. $14.00. Amber Flora Thomas’s Eye of Water, winner of the 2004 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, opens with a quote from Pablo Neruda: “I saw, I saw, and seeing, I came to life.” This statement preﬁgures the intensity with which Eye of Water examines the burden of consciousness. To this weighty task, Thomas brings with her a deep attentiveness: a devotion to follow the line of sight, to capture the detailed imagery of things, and to divine its possible meaning. In the words of “Dress”: “…this habit of proceeding toward the smallest task / unhurried.” The titles of the poems preview the subjects of Thomas’s scrutiny. There is the world of natural phenomena (“Oak Leaf,” “Vultures,” “Lake Shore Deer”), a hint of the mythic, mystic, and religious (“Pomegranates,” “Magdalene Speaks,” “Oracle,” and “The Divined Shore”) and of psychic or metaphysical concerns (“The Fault of Memory,” “Love Seen,” “Unﬁnished Gaze,” and “Possible Endings”). In the ﬁrst poem, “Chore,” which is prefaced with a line from Genesis, this burden of being and seeing is put in the context of so-called ‘women’s work,’ and the “impossible balance” such labor demands: “…Always, some creature needs / its back stroked.” “The bleat of pink tongues” seems to conspire “…to drag from her / the suspicion that this was always the plan: / wet and muddy work.” This reluctance is echoed in other poems. “Pomegranates” have “…a sweetness // that won’t fasten whole to ecstasy.” Feeling also seems a danger. In “Woman at a Grave,” the speaker asks, “Must I / disperse Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews into my corridors of feeling // and love her?” and notes she has “no abyss of stone to save myself // from feeling.” The burden of being includes complicity with death. This is in a world in which “Running through the ﬁeld / is what damages” (“Field Song”). In “A Bird in the Hand,” the reader feels the ambivalence and power of a fragile, terriﬁed bird: “Was it a claw cut my wrist? I blow feathers / away from its chest, smelling pennies and rain.” Or in terrifyingly objective detail, as in “Spasm,” in which the speaker beheads a snake with a hoe, and, then wraps the headless, still-wriggling body around “your forearm,” where “Its copper and gray diamonds quiver / toward an absent jaw.” “Oﬀ-Season” is a beautiful and haunting portrait of a goat: “His great mothlike eyes, luminous in their turning,…” that cannot spare the pathetic detail of his awkward state of longing: “His goatness is camouﬂage // for a more hideous state, discovered when he lifts a back leg / and urinates on his own face.” It is diﬃcult to read such poems, and questions arise for the reader: Can one bear the burden? Is to be a diviner only to be haunted? Is revelation even possible? As “Harvest” asks: “Is there a knowing / that recovers the ﬁeld, the blossom opening / at the sun, that very day of harvest?” At times the reader may be frustrated by answers that border on the inscrutable, such as in “Marlboros at Dusk”: “We are invented / by what we let pass through us.” In “Last Tenant,” the speaker ponders whether to remove a green apple, the “last tenant” of a dirty shelf. The speaker’s decision to leave the symbol-heavy apple on the shelf may suggest an aﬃrmation of the burden of being and seeing: “I am a holder-on of faith,” the speaker asserts, noting, in a celebratory image, “…rice grains like confetti on the ﬂoor.” At times this intense devotion to detail can seem to obscure meaning, but elsewhere the appeal of Thomas’s poems lies in their directness. “Tree House” is a great comeuppance for anyone who was afraid to climb up the ladder as a kid. In “Falling Asleep with a Pen in My Hand,” a poem refreshing in its whimsy, a forgotten pen scrawls abstractly on the bedsheets: “…the cryptic designs replace the need / for a grammar of downward slipping,” and “The meanings are more tame, to recover a branch, / an arm thrown loose of the dream.” Moreover, “The clues do not give away the dream.” The monologue “Magdalene Speaks” is refreshing and startlingly direct: “The ﬁrst time someone called me whore / I thought, so that’s what / I felt all along. Consumed. / Holy as a naked woman….” 228 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Book Reviews “Magdalene Speaks” takes on the challenging themes of Eye of Water with an unambiguously aﬃrmative voice, and the poem broadens into a sort of battle-cry for those of us who feel (some days perhaps more than others) born to the burden of seeing and being to participate in a ﬂawed and fated world: Put a wounded hand in mine. You’ve seen beneath the skirts, to the body in its complex ritual, never free of want, subdued by a more dangerous need, God. Memory is not replaced, oh Lord, but gone through when the lonely have no other salve. I have been on the other side of this. My body knows your greatest sigh. I’ve healed the bruised eyes now give to me that body.
—Reviewed by Elisabeth Meyer
Crab Orchard Review
Dilruba Ahmed’s poems have appeared in the Asian Paciﬁc American Journal, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, and Crab Orchard Review. She received a B.Phil in English Writing and M.A.T. in Instruction and Learning from the University of Pittsburgh. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Alison Apotheker teaches creative writing and composition in Portland, Oregon. She has poems published in or forthcoming from Prairie Schooner, North American Review, Mid-American Review, and many other national literary magazines. Amanda Auchter is the author of Light Under Skin, forthcoming from Finishing Line Press, and the editor of Pebble Lake Review. Her writing has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Born Magazine, Cimarron Review, Smartish Pace, and elsewhere. She received a 2005 Bucknell Younger Poets fellowship and the 2004 Howard Moss Poetry Prize. She is also an editorial assistant at Gulf Coast. Bian Zhilin [Pien Chih-lin in Wade-Giles romanization] (1910–2000) has been recognized as one of the most original voices in 20th-century Chinese poetry. In China he was also well known for his translations of western literature into Chinese, in particular his brilliant renderings of the French Symbolist poets Verlaine and Baudelaire, by whom he was strongly inﬂuenced. A book-length collection of his poems, The Carving of Insects, is currently being translated by Professors Fung and Lunde, and will be published by the Research Centre for Translation at The Chinese University of Hong Kong in December 2005. Joelle Biele is the author of White Summer, winner of the 2001 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. She received a 2005 Individual Artist Award from the Maryland State Arts Council, and her edition of Elizabeth Bishop’s correspondence with The New Yorker is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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Contributors’ Notes Anthony Butts is the author of, most recently, Little Low Heaven (New Issues Poetry & Prose), winner of the Poetry Society of America’s 2004 William Carlos Williams Award. He has new work currently appearing in Callaloo, Black Warrior Review, 5 AM, Christianity and Literature, Journal of Poetry Therapy, Xavier Review, Paper Street, and Cimarron Review. He has been a member of the creative writing faculty at Carnegie Mellon University since 2001. Tom Clark’s Light and Shade: New and Selected Poems will be published by Coﬀee House Press in April 2006. He is a member of the core faculty in Poetics at New College of California. Peter Cooley has published seven books of poetry, six of them with Carnegie Mellon University Press. In 2007, that press will bring out his new book, Divine Margins. He has taught creative writing at Tulane University since 1975. Smita Das is a doctoral candidate at University of Illinois at Chicago. She is currently working on a collection of creative nonﬁction essays illustrating the multiple contradictions that arise from traversing borderlands. Jeanine DeRusha’s poems have appeared in the Cortland Review, Seattle Review, Laurel Review, and Faultline. She received her MFA from the University of Washington and teaches English at Manchester Community College in Connecticut. Katy Didden received her MFA from the University of Maryland, College Park. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the D.C. Poets Against the War: an Anthology, Nimrod, and bottle rockets. Currently, she teaches at Loyola University in Chicago. Rebecca Dunham is a 2005–2006 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. Poems are forthcoming in the Indiana Review, North American Review, and Mid-American Review, among others. Jeﬀ Friedman’s fourth collection of poetry, Black Threads, will be published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2006. His poems have appeared in the New Republic, 5 AM, American Poetry Review, Poetry, Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes The Forward, and Literary Imagination. He is a core faculty member in the MFA program in Poetry Writing at New England College. Dr. Mary M.Y. Fung taught Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literature and Translation in the Department of Chinese, University of Hong Kong, from 1966 to 1994. She is the author of The Poet as Thinker: A Study of Pien Chih-lin’s Early Poems. Other publications include translations such as One Hundred Modern English Poems, and Amadeus by Peter Shaﬀer (with C.L. Chan), as well as papers in journals. Amina Lolita Gautier is an Assistant Professor at St. Joseph’s University and a ﬁction editor for StoryQuarterly. Her ﬁction has appeared in Crab Orchard Review, North American Review, and Shenandoah, among other places. She has been a Bread Loaf work-study scholar and a Sewanee Writers Conference scholar, and she holds a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Award. She is a native of Brooklyn, New York. Kate Gleason’s work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Best American Poetry 1997, Green Mountains Review, Sonora Review, Midland Review, and in many other publications. A recipient of writing fellowships from the NEA, the Ragdale Foundation, the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, and the Vermont Studio Center, she is the author of two chapbooks of poetry: Making As If To Sing (Amherst Writers and Artists Press) and The Brighter the Deeper (Embers). Kevin A. González was born in 1981, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. His stories appear in Playboy and Virginia Quarterly Review, and his poems appear in Poetry, Callaloo, Hotel Amerika, and North American Review. Currently, he is a graduate fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Jacqueline Guidry continues to enjoy participating in the Pen/Faulkner Writers in Schools program with her ﬁrst novel, The Year the Colored Sisters Came to Town. In addition to completing her second novel, Blue Candle Blessings, she is working on a short story collection and a memoir exploring her Cajun heritage. Her work has recently appeared in Rosebud, Out of Line, and Kansas City Voices. Mark Halliday teaches at Ohio University. His books of poems are Little Star, Tasker Street, Selfwolf, and Jab. Recent essays have appeared in the Georgia Review and Pleiades. 232 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes Jennifer Johnson is a graduate student in the MFA program in Creative Nonﬁction at the University of Minnesota. Recently her poetry and nonﬁction have appeared in Isotope, Ascent, Borderlands, and The Journal. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she and her husbandto-be are taking ballroom dance lessons and remodeling their ﬁrst home. Bryan Tso Jones recently completed his MFA in Creative Writing from California State University Chico. His work has been published in the Peralta Press and Watershed. He currently teaches literature at Shasta College. Jesse Lee Kercheval is the author of the poetry collections World as Dictionary (Carnegie Mellon University Press) and Dog Angel (University of Pittsburgh Press). Her new chapbook, Chartreuse, has just been published by Hollyridge Press. Ruth Ellen Kocher is the author of One Girl Babylon (New Issues Press); When the Moon Knows You’re Wandering (New Issues Press), winner of the Green Rose Prize in Poetry; and Desdemona’s Fire (Lotus Press), winner of the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award. Her work has appeared in the Gettysburg Review, Callaloo, Cimarron Review, Ploughshares, and African American Review, among others. She has also worked as a fellow in the Cave Canem Workshop and Retreat. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, and teaches literature and writing at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Karen An-hwei Lee’s ﬁrst book-length collection, In Medias Res, won the Kathryn A. Morton Prize from Sarabande Books and the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award. Her chapbook, God’s One Hundred Promises, received the Swan Scythe Press Prize. The recipient of fellowships from the Yoshiko Uchida Foundation, the Beinecke Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, she holds an MFA in creative writing and a Ph.D. in literature. She lives and teaches on the West Coast. Daniel Luévano’s poems have appeared in journals including Fugue and River Oak Review, online at Rio: A Journal of the Arts, and in the chapbook The Future Called Something O’Clock. He lives in Greenville, South Carolina, with his wife, daughter and son. Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes David Lunde directed the creative writing program at SUNY-Fredonia from 1967 to 2001. His poems and translations have been published in the Literary Review, Poetry, TriQuarterly, Chelsea, Iowa Review, Poetry Northwest, Northwest Review, Chicago Review, and in many anthologies. His most recent book is Nightﬁshing in Great Sky River. Richard Lyons has published poems in The Nation, Poetry, New Republic, Paris Review, and North American Review. He is the author of These Modern Nights, a Devins Award winner in the University of Missouri Press Breakthrough Series, and Hours of the Cardinal, published in the James Dickey Contemporary Poets Series at the University of South Carolina Press. He currently teaches in the English Department at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Mississippi. J. Michael Martinez is completing his MFA at George Mason University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Bitter Oleander and Word/For Word. Adrian Matejka is a Cave Canem fellow and his work has appeared in Callaloo, Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, and Painted Bride Quarterly. His ﬁrst collection of poems, The Devil’s Garden, won the 2002 New York/ New England Award from Alice James Books. Melanie McCabe is a high school English and creative writing teacher in Arlington, Virginia. She recently completed her MFA in poetry at George Mason University. Her work has appeared recently in Barrow Street and Lake Eﬀect. Carolyn Megan’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in MS, Kenyon Review, South Dakota Review, Bellevue Literary Review, and Boston College Magazine. She lives in Maine. Kimberly Meyer’s poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the Georgia Review, Natural Bridge, Spoon River Poetry Review, Tar River, Third Coast, and other journals. She received a Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry from Nimrod International Journal and has produced work for Public Radio International’s This American Life. A Ph.D. student in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston, she lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and three daughters.
234 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes Melissa Morphew has work forthcoming in Shenandoah, Florida Review, and Iron Horse Literary Review. She is the recipient of the 2005 W.B. Yeats Society Award in Poetry, and her latest book, Fathom, is due out from Turning Point Press in spring 2006. Mary Lee Myers graduated from Tufts University School of Medicine in 1967. The oldest member of her graduating class, she didn’t start to write until her retirement in 2001. Her experiences as a doctor in Mississippi, East Africa, and the inner city in Boston have enriched her memories and imagination. Brice Particelli is currently working on a travelogue about Kiribati that explores the nature of people’s desire for discovery. “Tapping a Flower” is an excerpt from the beginning of this book. He recently received his MFA in Fiction and has been published online at travelmag.co.uk. Brenda Sparks Prescott lives and writes in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her ﬁction has appeared in Portland Magazine and is forthcoming in the Louisville Review. She has an MFA from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine and is currently working on a novelin-stories. Kristen Staby Rembold’s poetry has been published in Southern Poetry Review, Green Mountains Review, and other journals. She has published a novel, Felicity (Mid-List Press), and a poetry chapbook, Into This World (Hot Pepper Press). She is currently an MFA student in the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Dwaine Rieves practices public health medicine in Washington, D.C. His poems have appeared in the Georgia Review, Callaloo, Chelsea, Virginia Quarterly Review and other publications. He was a winner of the River Styx International Poetry Award and a recipient of a fellowship from the D.C. Arts Commission. His manuscript, When the Eye Forms, was awarded the 2005 Tupelo Press Judge’s prize. Kathleen Rooney is the author of Reading with Oprah (University of Arkansas Press). Her poems have appeared recently or are forthcoming in 5 AM, Coe Review, Comstock Review, and Florida Review. Seth Sawyers, a former reporter, has an MFA from Old Dominion Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes University. His personal essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the Jabberwock Review, River Teeth, Fourth Genre, Fugue, and Ninth Letter. He has recently completed a memoir, Young White Male. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Alex Shapiro received his MFA and served as a Fiction Fellow at the University of Montana. His work was nominated for America’s Best New Voices 2006. He currently resides in Chicago, Illinois, and he is the non-ﬁction editor for identitytheory.com. Sally Smits currently studies in the MFA program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her poetry has appeared in the Penwood Review, Northwords, and Seedhouse; her nonﬁction will be included in a forthcoming anthology, Home Is Where You’re Going. In 2004, she was awarded the Biennial Greensboro Award in Poetry. Susan B.A. Somers-Willett’s poems have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Cream City Review, Connecticut Review, and Beloit Poetry Journal, and she is winner of the 2005 Ann Stanford Poetry Prize. She currently teaches at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she is an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities. Her debut collection, Roam, is forthcoming in March 2006 as part of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry. Cathy Song is the author of Picture Bride (Yale University Press), Frameless Windows, Squares of Light (W.W. Norton), and School Figures and The Land of Bliss (both from the University of Pittsburgh Press). She lives with her family in Honolulu. Annette Spaulding-Convy lives on Puget Sound in Washington State. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, North American Review, Seattle Review, and Pontoon 8: An Anthology of Washington State Poets. Susan Sterling received her MFA in ﬁction from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Her ﬁction and essays have most recently appeared in two anthologies, The Way Life Should Be, Stories by Contemporary Maine Writers and The Berkeley Literary Women’s Revolution: Essays from Marsha’s Salon. She lives in Waterville, Maine, with her husband, Paul Machlin, and is currently working on a novel. 236 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes Natasha Trethewey, author of Domestic Work (Graywolf Press), Bellocq’s Ophelia (Graywolf Press), and Native Guard (Houghton Miﬄin), is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEA, and the Rockefeller Foundation. An Associate Professor of English at Emory University, during the 2005-2006 academic year she is the Lehman Brady Joint Chair Professor of Documentary and American Studies at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Sandy Tseng teaches writing at Duquesne University. Her poems have appeared in Guernica Magazine and have received ﬁnalist status for a number of poetry competitions, including The Nation’s “Discovery” Prize and the Indiana Review Poetry Prize. She received her MFA from the University of Pittsburgh and is currently working on her ﬁrst book. Benjamin Vogt is pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of NebraskaLincoln. He has received the Louise VanSickle creative writing fellowship and an award from the Academy of American Poets. His work has recently appeared in Cream City Review, Puerto del Sol, and Verse Daily. A poetry chapbook, Indelible Marks, is available from Pudding House Publications. Mary Michael Wagner’s ﬁction has been awarded an O. Henry Award and a Pushcart Prize. Her writing has appeared in the Southern Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, StoryQuarterly, Cream City Review, ZYZZYVA, and Spoon River Quarterly. She was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and currently lives in San Francisco, California. Nicole Walker is currently working toward her Ph.D. at the University of Utah where she teaches and edits Quarterly West. Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, Black Warrior Review, New American Writing, Fence, Seneca Review, and Iowa Review.
Crab Orchard Review
INDEX TO VOLUME TEN — 2005 Title Index Adorna (fctn). Mimi Herman After Hurricane Isabel, Residents of Public Housing Interpret Signs (ptry). Remica L. Bingham After Reading of Timothy McVeigh’s Last Hours (ptry). Elizabeth Klise von Zerneck After the Concert (ptry). Lesley Jenike Albino Horses (ptry). Brian Brodeur Ali, Zaire, 1974 (ptry). Dargie Anderson Almost Thanksgiving (ptry). Jacqueline Jones LaMon Always Danger (ptry). David Hernandez Amusing Ourselves to Death (ptry). Shannon Marquez McGuire Animal in the Walls, The (prose). Nancy McCabe Apologia…Anyone? (prose). Brian Leung Are Not All Things Lovely Far Away? (ptry). Chris Pexa As Human As You Are Standing Here (fctn). Kelly Magee Ashbah (ptry). Brian Turner Asphyxiation (fctn). John Moss At the Outermost Shrine of the Narrowmost Road (ptry). Andrew Grace Atlantic Coasts (ptry). Jarita Davis Avon Calling (ptry). William Kloefkorn Behold (ptry). Rae Gouirand Bethlehem After Arafat (prose). Diana Spechler Bitterroot (ptry). Kelli Russell Agodon Blessing of Throats, The (ptry). Elizabeth S. Hogan Body After Diagnosis, The (ptry). Deborah Cummins Book of Stars, The (ptry). Al Maginnes Brezhnev’s Eyebrows (fctn). Wendell Mayo Briefcase of Sorrow (ptry). Richard Newman Campaign Speech (ptry). Erika Meitner Caravan (ptry). Brian Turner Careless at the Crematorium: Georgia, 2002 (ptry). Susan Grimm Catacombs, The (ptry). Barry Silesky Cherry Blossoms (ptry). Brian Brodeur Childhood Documentary (ptry). Louie Skipper Choleric (ptry). Maxine Scates Chuck Berry Knocks Us Dead (ptry). Matt Zambito Circus (ptry). Barry Silesky City in the Air (ptry). Christina Pugh 238 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
10(1): 17 10(2): 46 10(2): 271 10(2): 10(1): 10(1): 10(2): 10(1): 10(2): 10(1): 10(2): 10(1): 10(2): 10(2): 10(2): 10(1):
123 37 31 131 107 184 171 204 158 10 269 93 102
10(1): 10(1): 10(1): 10(2): 10(2): 10(1): 10(1): 10(1): 10(2): 10(1): 10(2): 10(2): 10(2):
74 139 78 259 26 110 73 142 50 150 190 266 83
10(1): 10(1): 10(1): 10(1): 10(1): 10(1): 10(1):
194 36 198 192 244 196 184
INDEX TO VOLUME TEN — 2005 Citywide Curfew, April Riots, Cincinnati, 2001 (ptry). Kevin Honold Clinic Technician Volunteers, A (ptry). S. Beth Bishop Coins (ptry). Richard Newman Coming Home in Autumn (ptry). Maxine Scates Concepción (ptry). Jennifer Johnson Contemplating Disaster with the TV Oﬀ (ptry). Timothy Liu Creation, 1996 (ptry). Sandra Kohler Daily Willa, The (fctn). Philip Graham Dawn (ptry). Deborah Cummins Dawn at Dulles Int’l (ptry). Beth Simon Day Jam Master Jay Died, The (ptry). Kevin Coval Dead Guy and the Evangelist, The (ptry). William Notter Devachan (ptry). Rae Gouirand Dictator’s Wife, or Mildred Aristide Prepares to Address the Congressional Black Caucus, The (ptry). Cherene Sherrard Diocletian’s Palace (fctn). Tanja Pajevic Dragonﬂy, The (ptry). Ralph Burns Dream of the Anxiety Clinic (ptry). Shannon Castleton Driving Oklahoma (ptry). Ralph Burns Easter 1997 (ptry). Peter Marcus Education of Girls, The (ptry). Alana Merritt Mahaﬀey Electric Girls (ptry). Erika Meitner Elegy (ptry). Daniel Tobin Elegy for Anthony Hecht (ptry). Nola Garrett Embouchure (ptry). Christina Pugh Epistle to Unrelenting Days (ptry). Robin Behn E-Signature (ptry). Raymond Luczak False Spring (ptry). Daniel Tobin Feathered Monsters (ptry). John Morgan Field, The (fctn). Rose Jenkins Fire (ptry). Bradford Tice First Morning on Another Planet (ptry). Diane Holland Front Pages: October 2002 (ptry). Eleanor Berry Georgia on My Mind (ptry). Joseph Millar Get Away, The (ptry). Amber Flora Thomas Ghazal (ptry). Daniel Tobin Ghost Season (ptry). Melanie Jordan Goldﬁnch After Rain (ptry). Elizabeth Harvell Good Friday (ptry). Cynthia Reeves Grammar Lessons: The Subjunctive Mood (prose). Michele Morano Greatest of These Is Fire (ptry). William Notter Guest Appearance (fctn). Karen Heuler Heart of the Awl (ptry). Lesley Jenike Heavy Breather Zoo (ptry). Jeﬀrey McDaniel
10(2): 89 10(2): 10(1): 10(1): 10(1): 10(2): 10(2): 10(1): 10(1): 10(2): 10(2): 10(1): 10(1): 10(2):
48 151 190 114 142 126 1 72 235 76 156 80 233
10(2): 10(1): 10(1): 10(1): 10(2): 10(1): 10(2): 10(1): 10(2): 10(1): 10(2): 10(2): 10(1): 10(2): 10(1): 10(1): 10(2): 10(2): 10(2): 10(1): 10(1): 10(1): 10(1): 10(2): 10(1):
103 40 71 39 180 144 188 236 81 185 42 174 235 219 25 232 87 45 191 227 234 116 105 231 208
10(1): 155 10(2): 1 10(2): 124 10(2): 183
Crab Orchard Review
INDEX TO VOLUME TEN — 2005 Hello, I’m Johnny Cash (ptry). Stacey Lynn Brown Her Hair (ptry). Kathryn Stripling Byer Her Voice (ptry). Kelle Groom Her Voice (ptry). Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie Heritage (ptry). Anthony Butts Hole (ptry). Ryan G. Van Cleave Holy Law (ptry). Timothy Liu Horse, Rider (ptry). Gregory Mahrer House of Her, The (ptry). Barry Silesky Humor Me (prose). Teline Guerra Hurt Locker, The (ptry). Brian Turner In the Absence of Sleep (ptry). Jonathan Moody In the Maternity Shop (ptry). Adrienne Su In the Palace Parking Lot (fctn). Lynna Williams In Your Movie Star Dream (ptry). Cassie Sparkman Inshallah (ptry). Liz Ahl Instructions for Vigilant Girls (ptry). Erika Meitner Invisible Church, The (ptry). Ed Bok Lee Invitation (ptry). Dilruba Ahmed Just Today (ptry). Matt Zambito Katyusha Rockets (ptry). Brian Turner Killed Rabbit, The (ptry). Amber Flora Thomas La Huelga, 1970 (ptry). Marcus Cafagña landscape (ptry). Annemarie Kattan Jacir Laramie (ptry). Melissa Kwasny Late August Song (ptry). Miho Nonaka Lehinch (ptry). Brian Brodeur Lice (ptry). Samantha Thornhill Looting of the Vase, The (ptry). Barbara Leon Madrileño (ptry). Sharon Olson Mag Mano Ka (prose). Jhoanna S. Aberia Mahmud Al-Qayed, the Songbird Catcher (ptry). Barbara Leon Man in the Photo, The (ptry). Candice Amich Mapping the Lover (ptry). Adam Day March 2003 (ptry). Maggie Anderson Matter-of-Fact (ptry). Dawn Lonsinger Meditation for a Century Barely Begun (ptry). Susan Sink Memory Mall (ptry). Laure-Anne Bosselaar Mercy for the Ghost of Karla Faye Tucker (ptry). Melissa Frederick Michael Jackson Dreams the Elephant Man (ptry). Arlene Naganawa Migraine Confessional (ptry). Amber Flora Thomas Milestone (ptry). Emily Raabe Milk of the Muddy (fctn). Holloway McCandless Monica Lewinsky Thinks of Bill Clinton While Standing Naked in front of a Hotel Mirror (ptry). Julianna Baggott 240 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
10(2): 10(1): 10(1): 10(1): 10(2): 10(2): 10(2): 10(1): 10(1): 10(1): 10(2): 10(2): 10(1): 10(1): 10(1): 10(2): 10(2): 10(2): 10(2): 10(1): 10(2): 10(1): 10(1): 10(2): 10(2): 10(1): 10(1): 10(1): 10(2): 10(2): 10(1): 10(2): 10(1): 10(1): 10(2): 10(2): 10(2): 10(1): 10(2): 10(2):
74 42 104 222 75 270 141 147 193 159 265 193 200 118 199 28 186 134 34 243 268 224 69 90 128 154 38 230 138 223 134 140 29 77 37 143 236 34 79 220
10(1): 10(1): 10(2): 10(2):
225 189 63 40
INDEX TO VOLUME TEN — 2005 Monks at the Pool (ptry). Michael Heﬀernan More So (fctn). Jeﬀrey Rubin MP3 (ptry). Raymond Luczak My Life (fctn). Maura Stanton New Retina, The (ptry). Christina Pugh Nine Days Before Kirby High’s Senior Prom (ptry). Jacqueline Jones LaMon No Longer Kraków (ptry). Miho Nonaka No One Gets Hurt (ptry). Stephanie Lenox October 25, 2004 (ptry). Susan Ludvigson Ode to Joy (ptry). Samantha Thornhill On Position, The (ptry). Marcus Cafagña One Word for Rachel Corrie (ptry). Ed Pavlić One World Only (ptry). Lesley Wheeler Pan-American Epistolary Record, A: Franco Valentini, Spencer Tunick, and the Nakeds (prose). Liliana Loofbourow Persephone and Demeter in Ethiopia (ptry). Carolyn Moore Pie of the Month (fctn). Jean Thompson Poem to an Unknown Fireﬁghter (ptry). Kelli Russell Agodon Poetry’s Obituary (ptry). Deborah Moreno Practice (fctn). Elizabeth Wetmore Prayer (ptry). Jennifer Tseng Rain for Days (ptry). Diane Holland Rain in Two Hemispheres (ptry). Jeanne Larsen Recitation During the Storm (ptry). Sandy Longhorn Remembering Rabin (ptry). Davi Walders Rough Notes (ptry). Elizabeth S. Hogan S-21 (ptry). Peter Marcus September 7, 2004, Rock Hill, SC (ptry). Susan Ludvigson September 10, 2001 (ptry). Aviya Kushner Setting Up (ptry). Denise Bergman Shadeland (ptry). Andrew Grace She Is or Isn’t (ptry). Charles Harper Webb Sign. Signiﬁer. Signify. Signiﬁed. (ptry). Lydia Melvin Silver (ptry). Bradford Tice Snow in a Gdansk Courtyard (ptry). Adam Day Snow in a Season of War-Talk and Drought (ptry). Jeanne Larsen Sonnet for Strummer (ptry). Michael Waters Sounding Restoration (ptry). Cindy Williams Gutiérrez Styx Concert (ptry). Liz Ahl Swimming in the Gulf (prose). Margaret MacInnis Tangled in the Ropes (fctn). Jason Skipper These Last Ten Years (ptry). Gary J. Whitehead To Dolly, Born 1997 (ptry). Candace Pearson To Eat a Mango (ptry). Jennifer Johnson To Sand (ptry). Brian Turner
10(1): 10(1): 10(2): 10(2): 10(1): 10(2):
106 44 175 145 186 130
10(1): 10(2): 10(2): 10(1): 10(1): 10(2): 10(1): 10(2):
152 136 177 228 70 224 241 240
10(2): 10(2): 10(2): 10(2): 10(1): 10(1): 10(2): 10(2): 10(1): 10(2): 10(1): 10(2): 10(2): 10(2): 10(2): 10(1): 10(1): 10(1): 10(1): 10(1): 10(2): 10(2): 10(2): 10(2): 10(2): 10(1): 10(2): 10(2): 10(1): 10(2):
195 158 27 217 95 238 88 132 141 273 111 179 176 127 44 103 239 148 231 76 133 276 84 32 249 82 279 229 112 264
Crab Orchard Review
INDEX TO VOLUME TEN — 2005 tourist-attraction.com (ptry). Cindy Williams Gutiérrez Trading Spaces: The Intersection of Reality TV, the WWW, the Meat and Brick & Mortar Casinos in the Late Age of Print (prose). Sandy Huss Trust Me (fctn). Lois Taylor Trying to Channel (ptry). Frank Matagrano Unattended Prayer (ptry). Amber Flora Thomas Under the Eaves (ptry). Fleda Brown Undressing a Tree (fctn). Jason Daniel Schwartz Violin, The (prose). Anna Mitcov Waiting for Jane Austen in Walnut Creek, Ohio, at the End of the Twentieth Century (ptry). Maggie Anderson What’s Mine (ptry). Kathleen Balma Where It Is Written (ptry). Steﬁ Weisburd Why We Make Love (ptry). Lee Newton Word, The (ptry). Roy Jacobstein Words to Say It, The (ptry). Alison Townsend
10(2): 86 10(2): 196 10(2): 10(2): 10(1): 10(2): 10(1): 10(1): 10(2):
155 181 226 72 59 201 38
10(1): 10(2): 10(2): 10(2): 10(2):
32 277 221 92 238
Author Index Aberia, Jhoanna S. Mag Mano Ka (prose) Agodon, Kelli Russell Bitterroot (ptry) Poem to an Unknown Fireﬁghter (ptry) Ahl, Liz Inshallah (ptry) Styx Concert (ptry) Ahmed, Dilruba Invitation (ptry) Amich, Candice The Man in the Photo (ptry) Anderson, Dargie Ali, Zaire, 1974 (ptry) Anderson, Maggie March 2003 (ptry) Waiting for Jane Austen in Walnut Creek, Ohio, at the End of the Twentieth Century (ptry) Baggott, Julianna Monica Lewinsky Thinks of Bill Clinton While Standing Naked in front of a Hotel Mirror Balma, Kathleen What’s Mine (ptry) 242 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
10(1): 134 10(2): 26 10(2): 27 10(2): 28 10(2): 32 10(2): 34 10(1): 29 10(1): 31 10(2): 37 10(2): 38 10(2): 40 10(1): 32
INDEX TO VOLUME TEN — 2005 Behn, Robin Epistle to Unrelenting Days (ptry) Bergman, Denise Setting Up (ptry) Berry, Eleanor Front Pages: October 2002 (ptry) Bingham, Remica L. After Hurricane Isabel, Residents of Public Housing Interpret Signs (ptry) Bishop, S. Beth A Clinic Technician Volunteers (ptry) Bosselaar, Laure-Anne Memory Mall (ptry) Brodeur, Brian Albino Horses (ptry) Cherry Blossoms (ptry) Lehinch (ptry) Brown, Fleda Under the Eaves (ptry) Brown, Stacey Lynn Hello, I’m Johnny Cash (ptry) Burns, Ralph The Dragonﬂy (ptry) Driving Oklahoma (ptry) Butts, Anthony Heritage (ptry) Byer, Kathryn Stripling Her Hair (ptry) Cafagña, Marcus La Huelga, 1970 (ptry) The On Position (ptry) Castleton, Shannon Dream of the Anxiety Clinic (ptry) Coval, Kevin The Day Jam Master Jay Died (ptry) Cummins, Deborah The Body After Diagnosis (ptry) Dawn (ptry) Davis, Jarita Atlantic Coasts (ptry) Day, Adam Mapping the Lover (ptry) Snow in a Gdansk Courtyard (ptry) Frederick, Melissa Mercy for the Ghost of Karla Faye Tucker (ptry)
10(2): 42 10(2): 44 10(2): 45 10(2): 46 10(2): 48 10(1): 34 10(1): 37 10(1): 36 10(1): 38 10(2): 72 10(2): 74 10(1): 40 10(1): 39 10(2): 75 10(1): 42 10(1): 69 10(1): 70 10(1): 71 10(2): 76 10(1): 73 10(1): 72 10(1): 74 10(1): 77 10(1): 76 10(2): 79
Crab Orchard Review
INDEX TO VOLUME TEN — 2005 Garrett, Nola Elegy for Anthony Hecht (ptry) Gouirand, Rae Behold (ptry) Devachan (ptry) Grace, Andrew At the Outermost Shrine of the Narrowmost Road (ptry) Shadeland (ptry) Graham, Philip The Daily Willa (fctn) Grimm, Susan Careless at the Crematorium: Georgia, 2002 (ptry) Groom, Kelle Her Voice (ptry) Guerra, Teline Humor Me (prose) Gutiérrez, Cindy Williams Sounding Restoration (ptry) tourist-attraction.com (ptry) Harvell, Elizabeth Goldﬁnch After Rain (ptry) Heﬀernan, Michael Monks at the Pool (ptry) Herman, Mimi Adorna (fctn) Hernandez, David Always Danger (ptry) Heuler, Karen Guest Appearance (fctn) Hinrichsen, Dennis Train Stopped Along an Embankment (ptry) Hogan, Elizabeth S. The Blessing of Throats (ptry) Rough Notes (ptry) Holland, Diane First Morning on Another Planet (ptry) Rain for Days (ptry) Honold, Kevin Citywide Curfew, April Riots, Cincinnati, 2001 (ptry) Huss, Sandy Trading Spaces: The Intersection of Reality TV, the WWW, the Meat and Brick & Mortar Casinos in the Late Age of Print (prose) Jacir, Annemarie Kattan landscape (ptry)
244 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
10(2): 81 10(1): 78 10(1): 80 10(1): 102 10(1): 103 10(1):
10(2): 83 10(1): 104 10(1): 159 10(2): 84 10(2): 86 10(1): 105 10(1): 106 10(1): 17 10(1): 107 10(2):
10(1): 108 10(1): 110 10(1): 111 10(2): 87 10(2): 88 10(2): 89 10(2): 196
INDEX TO VOLUME TEN — 2005 Jacobstein, Roy The Word (ptry) Jenike, Lesley After the Concert (ptry) Heart of the Awl (ptry) Jenkins, Rose The Field (fctn) Johnson, Jennifer Concepción (ptry) To Eat a Mango (ptry) Jordan, Melanie Ghost Season (ptry) Kloefkorn, William Avon Calling (ptry) Kohler, Sandra Creation, 1996 (ptry) Kushner, Aviya September 10, 2001 (ptry) Kwasny, Melissa Laramie (ptry) LaMon, Jacqueline Jones Almost Thanksgiving (ptry) Nine Days Before Kirby High’s Senior Prom (ptry) Larsen, Jeanne Rain in Two Hemispheres (ptry) Snow in a Season of War-Talk and Drought (ptry) Lee, Ed Bok The Invisible Church (ptry) Lenox, Stephanie No One Gets Hurt (ptry) Leon, Barbara The Looting of the Vase (ptry) Mahmud Al-Qayed, the Songbird Catcher (ptry) Leung, Brian Apologia…Anyone? (prose) Liu, Timothy Contemplating Disaster with the TV Oﬀ (ptry) Holy Law (ptry) Longhorn, Sandy Recitation During the Storm (ptry) Lonsinger, Dawn Matter-of-Fact (ptry) Loofbourow, Liliana A Pan-American Epistolary Record: Franco Valentini, Spencer Tunick, and the Nakeds (prose)
10(2): 92 10(2): 123 10(2): 124 10(1): 25 10(1): 114 10(1): 112 10(1): 116 10(1): 139 10(2): 126 10(2): 127 10(2): 128 10(2): 131 10(2): 130 10(2): 132 10(2): 133 10(2): 134 10(2): 136 10(2): 138 10(2): 140 10(2): 204 10(2): 142 10(2): 141 10(1): 141 10(2): 143 10(2): 240
Crab Orchard Review
INDEX TO VOLUME TEN — 2005 Luczak, Raymond E-Signature (ptry) MP3 (ptry) Ludvigson, Susan October 25, 2004 (ptry) September 7, 2004, Rock Hill, SC (ptry) MacInnis, Margaret Swimming in the Gulf (prose) Magee, Kelly As Human As You Are Standing Here (fctn) Maginnes, Al The Book of Stars (ptry) Mahaﬀey, Alana Merritt The Education of Girls (ptry) Mahrer, Gregory Horse, Rider (ptry) Marcus, Peter Easter 1997 (ptry) S-21 (ptry) Matagrano, Frank Trying to Channel (ptry) Mayo, Wendell Brezhnev’s Eyebrows (fctn) McCabe, Nancy The Animal in the Walls (prose) McCandless, Holloway Milk of the Muddy (fctn) McDaniel, Jeﬀrey Heavy Breather Zoo (ptry) McGuire, Shannon Marquez Amusing Ourselves to Death (ptry) Meitner, Erika Campaign Speech (ptry) Electric Girls (ptry) Instructions for Vigilant Girls (ptry) Melvin, Lydia Sign. Signiﬁer. Signify. Signiﬁed. (ptry) Millar, Joseph Georgia on My Mind (ptry) Mitcov, Anna The Violin (prose) Moody, Jonathan In the Absence of Sleep (ptry) Moore, Carolyn Persephone and Demeter in Ethiopia (ptry)
246 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
10(2): 174 10(2): 175 10(2): 177 10(2): 176 10(2): 249 10(2): 10 10(1): 142 10(1): 144 10(1): 147 10(2): 180 10(2): 179 10(2): 181 10(2): 50 10(1): 171 10(2): 63 10(2): 183 10(2): 184 10(2): 190 10(2): 188 10(2): 186 10(1): 148 10(2): 191 10(1): 201 10(2): 193 10(2): 195
INDEX TO VOLUME TEN — 2005 Morano, Michele Grammar Lessons: The Subjunctive Mood (prose) Moreno, Deborah Poetry’s Obituary (ptry) Morgan, John Feathered Monsters (ptry) Moss, John Asphyxiation (fctn) Naganawa, Arlene Michael Jackson Dreams the Elephant Man (ptry) Newman, Richard Briefcase of Sorrow (ptry) Coins (ptry) Newton, Lee Why We Make Love (ptry) Nonaka, Miho Late August Song (ptry) No Longer Kraków (ptry) Notter, William The Dead Guy and the Evangelist (ptry) Greatest of These Is Fire (ptry) Olson, Sharon Madrileño (ptry) Pajevic, Tanja Diocletian’s Palace (fctn) Pavlić, Ed One Word for Rachel Corrie (ptry) Pearson, Candace To Dolly, Born 1997 (ptry) Pexa, Chris Are Not All Things Lovely Far Away? (ptry) Pugh, Christina City in the Air (ptry) Embouchure (ptry) The New Retina (ptry) Raabe, Emily Milestone (ptry) Reeves, Cynthia Good Friday (ptry) Rubin, Jeﬀrey More So (fctn) Scates, Maxine Choleric (ptry) Coming Home in Autumn (ptry)
10(1): 208 10(2): 217 10(2): 219 10(2): 93 10(2): 220 10(1): 150 10(1): 151 10(2): 221 10(1): 154 10(1): 152 10(1): 156 10(1): 155 10(2): 223 10(2): 103 10(2): 224 10(2): 229 10(1): 158 10(1): 184 10(1): 185 10(1): 186 10(1): 189 10(2): 231 10(1): 44 10(1): 192 10(1): 190
Crab Orchard Review
INDEX TO VOLUME TEN — 2005 Schwartz, Jason Daniel Undressing a Tree (fctn) Sherrard, Cherene The Dictator’s Wife, or Mildred Aristide Prepares to Address the Congressional Black Caucus (ptry) Silesky, Barry The Catacombs (ptry) Circus (ptry) The House of Her (ptry) Simon, Beth Dawn at Dulles Int’l (ptry) Sink, Susan Meditation for a Century Barely Begun (ptry) Skipper, Jason Tangled in the Ropes (fctn) Skipper, Louie Childhood Documentary (ptry) Sparkman, Cassie In Your Movie Star Dream (ptry) Spechler, Diana Bethlehem After Arafat (prose) Stanton, Maura My Life (fctn) Su, Adrienne In the Maternity Shop (ptry) Tallie, Mariahadessa Ekere Her Voice (ptry) Taylor, Lois Trust Me (fctn) Thomas, Amber Flora The Get Away (ptry) The Killed Rabbit (ptry) Migraine Confessional (ptry) Unattended Prayer (ptry) Thompson, Jean Pie of the Month (fctn) Thornhill, Samantha Lice (ptry) Ode to Joy (ptry) Tice, Bradford Fire (ptry) Silver (ptry) Tobin, Daniel Elegy (ptry) False Spring (ptry) Ghazal (ptry) 248 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
10(1): 59 10(2): 233 10(1): 194 10(1): 196 10(1): 193 10(2): 235 10(2): 236 10(1): 82 10(1): 198 10(1): 199 10(2): 259 10(2): 145 10(1): 200 10(1): 222 10(2): 155 10(1): 10(1): 10(1): 10(1):
227 224 225 226
10(2): 158 10(1): 230 10(1): 228 10(1): 232 10(1): 231 10(1): 236 10(1): 235 10(1): 234
INDEX TO VOLUME TEN — 2005 Townsend, Alison The Words to Say It (ptry) Tseng, Jennifer Prayer (ptry) Turner, Brian Ashbah (ptry) Caravan (ptry) The Hurt Locker (ptry) Katyusha Rockets (ptry) To Sand (ptry) Van Cleave, Ryan G. Hole (ptry) von Zerneck, Elizabeth Klise After Reading of Timothy McVeigh’s Last Hours (ptry) Walders, Davi Remembering Rabin (ptry) Waters, Michael Sonnet for Strummer (ptry) Webb, Charles Harper She Is or Isn’t (ptry) Weisburd, Steﬁ Where It Is Written (ptry) Wetmore, Elizabeth Practice (fctn) Wheeler, Lesley One World Only (ptry) Whitehead, Gary J. These Last Ten Years (ptry) Williams, Lynna In the Palace Parking Lot (fctn) Zambito, Matt Chuck Berry Knocks Us Dead (ptry) Just Today (ptry)
10(2): 238 10(1): 238 10(2): 10(2): 10(2): 10(2): 10(2):
269 266 265 268 264
10(2): 270 10(2): 271 10(2): 273 10(2): 276 10(1): 239 10(2): 277 10(1): 95 10(1): 241 10(2): 279 10(1): 118 10(1): 244 10(1): 243
Crab Orchard Review
INDEX OF BOOK REVIEWS — 1997/2005 All Saints: New and Selected Poems by Brenda Marie Osbey. reviewed by Jon Tribble All Shook Up: Collected Poems about Elvis edited by Will Clemens (with photographs by Jon Hughes). reviewed by Jon Tribble And Her Soul Out Of Nothing by Olena Kalytiak Davis. reviewed by Maria McLeod Archetypal Light by Elizabeth Dodd. reviewed by Douglas Haynes August Evening with Trumpet by Harry Humes. reviewed by Renee Wells A Bell Buried Deep by Veronica Golos. reviewed by Elisabeth Meyer Bellocq’s Ophelia by Natasha Trethewey. reviewed by Melanie Dusseau Beyond the Reach by Deborah Cummins. reviewed by Teresa Joy Kramer Blues Narratives by Sterling D. Plumpp. reviewed by Jon Tribble Born Southern and Restless by Kat Meads. reviewed by Kathryn Kerr The Broken Bridge: Fiction from Expatriates in Literary Japan edited by Suzanne Kamata. reviewed by Betsy Taylor Cabato Sentora by Ray Gonzalez. reviewed by Jon Tribble Casino of the Sun by Jerry Williams. reviewed by Chad Parmenter Celebrities in Disgrace: A Novella and Stories by Elizabeth Searle. reviewed by Tabaré Alvarez Chick-Lit 2: (No Chic Vics) edited by Cris Mazza, Jeﬀrey DeShell, and Elizabeth Shefﬁeld. reviewed by Beth Lordan Cornbread Nation 1: The Best of Southern Food Writing edited by John Egerton. reviewed by Curtis L. Crisler Crossing the Snow Bridge by Fatima Lim-Wilson. reviewed by Paul Guest The Dance House by Joseph Marshall III. reviewed by James Gill
250 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
4(1): 240 7(2): 255 5(1): 250 7(2): 260 10(1): 252 10(1): 248 8(1): 266 9(1): 233 5(2): 232 3(1): 247 3(2): 264 4(2): 261 9(1): 247 7(2): 249 3(1): 245 8(2): 252 3(2): 267 4(2): 258
INDEX OF BOOK REVIEWS — 1997/2005 The Devil’s Garden by Adrian Matejka. reviewed by Chad Parmenter Dialogue for the Left and Right Hand by Steven V. Cramer. reviewed by Josh Bell Dipleasures of the Table: memoir as caricature by Martha Ronk. reviewed by Mary Stepp Donkey Gospel by Tony Hoagland. reviewed by Cynthia Roth Dry Rain by Pete Fromm. reviewed by Greg Schwipps The Empty Boat by Michael Sowder. reviewed by Elisabeth Meyer Fakebook: Improvisations on a Journey Back to Jazz by Richard Terrill. reviewed by Adrian Matejka Fire From the Andes: Short Fiction by Women from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru edited and translated by Susan E. Benner & Kathy S. Leonard. reviewed by Jenni Williams Five Shades of Shadow by Tracy Daugherty. reviewed by Benjamin Percy Forever Fat: Essays by the Godfather by Lee Gutkind. reviewed by Mark Vannier Funk Lore: New Poems (1984-95) by Amiri Baraka. reviewed by Robert Elliot Fox Galileo’s Banquet by Ned Balbo. reviewed by Melanie Jordan Rack Girl Reel by Bonnie J. Morris. reviewed by Brett M. Grifﬁths-Holloway Hammerlock by Tim Seibles. reviewed by Adrian Harris (Adrian Matejka) Hell’s Bottom, Colorado by Laura Pritchett. reviewed by Tabaré Alvarez Her Kind of Want by Jennifer S. Davis. reviewed by Anne Clarkin High Water Mark by David Shumate. reviewed by Renee Wells The Hour Between Dog & Wolf by Laure-Anne Bosselaar. reviewed by Kathryn Kerr How We Came to Stand on That Shore by Jay Rogoﬀ. reviewed by Curtis L. Crisler Humor Me: An Anthology of Humor by Writers of Color edited by John McNally. reviewed by Adrian Matejka
9(1): 240 3(1): 242 8(2): 243 4(1): 239 3(1): 244 10(1): 257 7(2): 246 4(2): 264
9(1): 228 9(1): 229 3(1): 239 5(1): 249 7(2): 245 5(1): 256 8(1): 250 8(1): 249 10(1): 256 3(1): 241 9(2): 239 7(2): 251
Crab Orchard Review
INDEX OF BOOK REVIEWS — 1997/2005 It’s Only Rock and Roll: An Anthology of Rock and Roll Short Stories edited by Janice Eidus and John Kastan. reviewed by Alberta Skaggs Last Stands by Gordon Weaver. reviewed by Tim Marsh Leaving Saturn by Major Jackson. reviewed by Adrian Matejka Living On the Edge: Fiction by Peace Corps Writers edited by John Coyne. reviewed by Chris Kelsey Lost Wax by Heather Ramsdell. reviewed by Paul Guest The Mastery Impulse by Ricardo Pau-Llosa. reviewed by Chad Parmenter Messenger by R.T. Smith. reviewed by Matt Guenette Middle Ear by Forrest Hamer. reviewed by Adrian Harris (Adrian Matejka) The Milk of Almonds: Italian American Women Writers on Food and Culture edited by Louise DeSalvo and Edvige Giunta. reviewed by Melanie Martin Miracle Fruit by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. reviewed by Jon Tribble Misterioso by Sascha Feinstein. reviewed by Adrian Harris (Adrian Matejka) Muscular Music by Terrance Hayes. reviewed by Adrian Harris (Adrian Matejka) Naked by Shuntaro Tanikawa. reviewed by Kathryn Kerr Near Breathing, A Memoir of a Difﬁcult Birth by Kathryn Rhett. reviewed by Kathryn Kerr Never Be the Horse by Beckian Fritz Goldberg. reviewed by Melanie Jordan Rack News from Down to the Café: New Poems by David Lee. reviewed by Brett M. Grifﬁths-Holloway Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam edited by Linh Dinh. reviewed by Joey Hale Notes from the Divided Country by Suji Kwock Kim. reviewed by Melanie Martin The NuyorAsian Anthology: Asian American Writings About New York City edited by Bino A. Realuyo. reviewed by Terri Fletcher Ocean Avenue by Malena Mörling. reviewed by Ruth Ann Daugherty
252 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
5(2): 234 10(1): 246 8(1): 259 5(1): 258 4(1): 242 9(1): 241 8(1): 264 6(2): 229 8(2): 249 8(2): 247 5(2): 227 5(2): 229 3(2): 266 3(1): 248 6(1): 266 7(1): 229 3(2): 263 9(2): 235 6(2): 238 5(1): 254
INDEX OF BOOK REVIEWS — 1997/2005 Of Flesh & Spirit by Wang Ping. reviewed by Paul Guest One Above & One Below by Erin Belieu. reviewed by Douglas Haynes Open House by Beth Ann Fennelly. reviewed by Melanie Martin Otherhood by Reginald Shepherd. reviewed by Kevin McKelvey Peninsula: Essays and Memoirs from Michigan edited by Michael Steinberg. reviewed by Ira Sukrungruang Prospero’s Mirror: A Translator’s Portfolio of Latin American Short Fiction edited by Ilan Stavans. reviewed by Michael McGregor The Ressurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World by Paul Guest. reviewed by Kevin McKelvey Renaming Ecstasy: Latino Writings on the Sacred edited by Orlando Ricardo Menes. reviewed by Kevin McKelvey Rise by A. Van Jordan. reviewed by Adrian Matejka Rotary by Christina Pugh. reviewed by Ingrid Moody Rouge Pulp by Dorothy Barresi. reviewed by Melanie Dusseau Sad Little Breathing Machine by Matthea Harvey. reviewed by Melissa Cossey The Secret History of Water by Silvia Curbelo. reviewed by Kathryn Kerr Selfwolf by Mark Halliday. reviewed by Cynthia Roth Sherpherdess with an Automatic by Jane Satterﬁeld. reviewed by Fred Von Drasek Six Kinds of Sky: A Collection of Short Fiction by Luis Alberto Urrea. reviewed by Tabaré Alvarez Sixty-Seven Poems for Downtrodden Saints by Jack Micheline. reviewed by Robert Elliot Fox Smoke by Dorianne Laux. reviewed by Melinda Yeomans So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water until It Breaks by Rigoberto González. reviewed by Adrian Harris (Adrian Matejka) Song of Thieves by Shara McCallum. reviewed by Curtis L. Crisler
3(2): 270 6(2): 228 8(1): 257 9(1): 245 7(1): 239 4(2): 266 9(1): 235 9(2): 242 8(1): 261 10(1): 254 8(1): 255 10(1): 250 4(2): 259 6(1): 272 7(1): 234 8(1): 253 7(1): 231 6(2): 233 6(2): 224 9(2): 237
Crab Orchard Review
INDEX OF BOOK REVIEWS — 1997/2005 The Spirit Returns by Richard Burgin. reviewed by Carolyn Alessio Stand Up Poetry: An Expanded Anthology edited by Charles Harper Webb. reviewed by Melanie Dusseau The Stars, The Earth, The River by Le Minh Khue (translated by Bac Hoai Tran and Dana Sachs; edited by Wayne Karlin). reviewed by Vicky Kepple Tell Me by Kim Addonizio. reviewed by Amy Kucharik Trouble by Mary Baine Campbell. reviewed by Chad Parmenter The Truly Needy and Other Stories by Lucy Honig. reviewed by John Wallace Turn Thanks by Lorna Goodison. reviewed by Kathryn Kerr Turtle Pictures by Ray Gonzalez. reviewed by Jen Neely 25 New Nigerian Poets edited by Toyin Adewale. reviewed by Robert Elliot Fox Under the Red Flag by Ha Jin. reviewed by Katherine Riegel Union by Don Share. reviewed by Kevin McKelvey The Untouched Minutes by Donald Morrill. reviewed by Karen B. Golightly Urban Nature: Poems about Wildlife in the City edited by Laure-Anne Bosselaar. reviewed by Adrian Harris (Adrian Matejka) Vereda Tropical by Ricardo Pau-Llosa. reviewed by Terri Fletcher Walking Back from Woodstock by Earl S. Braggs. reviewed by Terry Olson What Happens to Me by Chuck Wachtel. reviewed by Fred Von Drasek Whitman’s Wild Children: Portraits of Twelve Poets by Neeli Cherkovski. reviewed by Robert Elliot Fox Wild Greens by Adrianne Kalfopoulou. reviewed by Jon Tribble Winning the Dust Bowl by Carter Revard. reviewed by Linda Lizut Helstern The Women Carry River Water by Nguyen Quang Thieu (translated by Martha Collins). reviewed by Terry Olson 254 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
8(1): 248 7(2): 257 3(2): 261
6(2): 227 9(1): 231 6(2): 224 5(1): 252 6(1): 268 7(1): 236 3(2): 260 9(1): 243 10(1): 245 6(2): 236 5(2): 230 4(1): 237 6(2): 234 7(1): 225 8(2): 245 7(1): 227 3(2): 268
INDEX OF BOOK REVIEWS — 1997/2005 Work Done Right by David Dominguez. reviewed by Danny Wilson You Are Not Here by David Jauss. reviewed by Barbara Eidlin You Come Singing by Virgil Suárez. reviewed by Adrian Harris (Adrian Matejka)
9(2): 232 9(1): 237 4(2): 263
Crab Orchard Review
Book Review Policy Crab Orchard Review’s staﬀ considers for review collections and anthologies of poetry, short ﬁction, and literary nonﬁction published by small independent and university presses. Please send titles for review consideration to: Jon Tribble, Book Review Editor Crab Orchard Review Department of English, Mail Code 4503 Southern Illinois University Carbondale 1000 Faner Drive Carbondale, IL 62901 All reviews are written by Crab Orchard Review staﬀ. In the past seven years, the following presses have had titles reviewed in Crab Orchard Review’s pages: Anhinga Press, Tallahassee, FL The Asian American Writers’ Workshop, New York, NY Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, Tempe, AZ BOA Editions, Rochester, NY Carnegie Mellon University Press, Pittsburgh, PA Cinco Puntos Press, El Paso, TX Cleveland State University Poetry Center, Cleveland, OH Coﬀee House Press, Minneapolis, MN Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA Curbstone Press, Willimantic, CT David R. Godine, Boston, MA Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh, PA FC2, Normal, IL FMSBW Press, San Francisco, CA The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, NY Graywolf Press, St. Paul, MN Green Integer, Los Angeles, CA Hanging Loose Press, Brooklyn, NY Ishmael Reed Publishing Company, Berkeley, CA Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD Limelight Editions, New York, NY Littoral Books, Los Angeles, CA Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, LA Lumen Editions/Brookline Books, Cambridge, MA Lyons & Burford, New York, NY Milkweed Editions, Minneapolis, MN Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, MI New Issues Press, Kalamazoo, MI
256 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Ohio State University Press, Columbus, OH Red Crane Books, Santa Fe, NM Red Hen Press, Los Angeles, CA River City Publishing, Montgomery, AL The Roundhouse Press, Berkeley, CA Seven Stories Press, New York, NY Steerforth Press, South Royalton, VT Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley, CA Story Line Press, Ashland, OR Tia Chucha Press, Chicago, IL Truman State University Press, Kirksville, MO Tupelo Press, Dorset, VT University of Akron Press, Akron, OH University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, AR University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA University of Illinois Press, Urbana, IL University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, IA University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, MA University of Missouri Press, Columbia, MO University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, NM University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI Washington Writersâ€™ Publishing House, Washington, DC Word Press, Cincinnati, OH Zoo Press, Lincoln, NE
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 2006: Crab Orchard Review will consider submissions for our 2007 Winter/ Spring general issue until the end of April 2006. We hope to have editorial decisions made for that issue by August 1. We will announce our next special issue topic in June on our website and in the 2006 Summer/Fall issue, and we will consider submissions for the 2007 Summer/Fall special issue from August 1 through October 31, 2006. Our two submission periods each year will be February, March, and April for the Winter/Spring general issue and August, September, and October for the Summer/Fall special issue. During May through July and November through January, we will be working to complete the editorial work on each of the issues and would appreciate writers waiting until the beginning of the appropriate submission period before sending new work to Crab Orchard Review. Thank you for your consideration and understanding.
Crab OrcharD Series In Poetry 2005 FIRST BOOK AWARD Announcement Crab Orchard Review and Southern Illinois University Press are pleased to announce the winner of the 2005 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Our ﬁnal judge, Jason Sommer, selected Jennifer Maier’s Dark Alphabet as the winner. Her collection will be published by Southern Illinois University Press in Fall 2006. 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 Strange Valentine Poems by A. Loudermilk “Like many ﬁrst collections concerned with the broad categories body and place, Strange Valentine carries a sense of urgency: these poems had to be written. But unlike many urgentfeeling ﬁrst books, the language in these poems is playful and interesting. A vernacular sensibility traces back to the locations the poems depict— trailer parks, bedrooms, hospital rooms, church—and there ﬁnds the sources of a ﬁerce love.…They come at you like a country song, layered with cockiness, longing, raw sweetness, heartache, and just plain heart. Unafraid to go over the top or to dig deep, they are honest without being too earnest.”—Julia Kasdorf, author of Eve’s Striptease 96 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2661-2 $14.95 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
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 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
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For more information on the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry: www.siu.edu/~crborchd
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 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 $14.95 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
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 $14.95 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 $14.95 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
the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2005 Editor’s Selection
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
For Dust Thou Art Poems by Timothy Liu “Liu excels at the short oracular lyric that seems to erupt from a primal cave, whether a pagan sybil’s or that of St. John upon Patmos. He is like an unnervingly wise child singing in the presence of elders who grow less skeptical and more awed by the minute.”—Harvard Review “A gifted poet, an apostate who cannot stop praying, Liu strives to make secular sacraments out of actual experience, creating outward signs of inward grace.”—Library Journal “Timothy Liu is too often reduced to being a poet of sexual audacity. He is audacious, but perhaps in his baroque architecture, his ﬂuency, his intricacy, and his unwillingness to reduce himself by dogma or theory or design. I love his growing, growling work, and his violent soft hints about the whole body politic in progressive zooms. Nothing is more learned than these fugues of ideas, these ‘racing thoughts.’ Moreover, because he is such a builder, some will be attracted to one window or one door and ﬁnd single joys throughout. But the permanent, complicated delight is Liu’s poetry itself: uncontrollable melancholy and music.” —David Shapiro, author of A Burning Interior and Mondrian: Flowers
For Dust Thou Art Copublished with Crab Orchard Review
66 pages ISBN 0-8093-2652-3, $14.95 paper
Available at bookstores, or from
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
Twenty First Century Blues Copublished with Crab Orchard Review
96 pages ISBN 0-8093-2597-7, $14.95 paper ISBN 0-8093-2596-9, $27.50 cloth
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the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2005 Open Competition Award
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
Roam Poems by Susan B.A. Somers-Willett “Susan Somers-Willett’s Roam is not so much a debut as a laying of claim: Poetry is her birthright by virtue of a spiritual bloodline that makes her the child of Whitman and Rukeyser. On these roads of our country, she tells us, the soul is a beautiful thing that can, after so much horror and mischief are unearthed, grid the land with compassion…. I am thrilled by the joy she conjures, and the grace of her accomplishment.”—Khaled Mattawa, author of Zodiac of Echoes
“There’s a breathtaking, sly intellect at work in the luscious poems of Roam. Susan B. A. Somers-Willett spins an elegant geography of vast terrains and intricate histories. Her poems make unexpected landings and linkages everywhere. And I’ll bet you want to keep reading “In Memory of a Girl” over and over again as long as you live. I do.”—Naomi Shihab Nye, author of You & Yours Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 96 pages ISBN 0-8093-2690-6, $14.95 paper
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the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2005 Open Competition Award
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
Always Danger Poems by David Hernandez “Fierce and swift and crisp, David Hernandez’s poems drill their way into the real and always ﬁnd something alive and surprising there. There’s plenty of cleverness here, but what is special about these poems is an unusual quality of determination. Hernandez’s imagination goes at the world in attack-mode—not to show oﬀ, but to discover its human depths.”—Tony Hoagland, author of What Narcissism Means to Me: Poems
“Always Danger blends a sense of menace, of ever-present harm, with almost painterly devotion to the images central to these poems….Hernandez’s achievement is the double witnessing of violence and beauty, the one unavoidable and the other, by the end, earned.” —Bob Hicok, award-winning author of Animal Soul, The Legend of Light, and Insomnia Diary Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 63 pages ISBN 0-8093-2618-3, $14.95 paper
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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, $14.95 paper ISBN 0-8093-2621-3, $27.50 cloth
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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, $14.95 paper
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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, $14.95 paper
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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, $14.95 paper
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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, $14.95 paper
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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, $14.95 paper
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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, $14.95 paper
Available at bookstores, or from
the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2001 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, $14.95 paper
Available at bookstores, or from
the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2000 Open Competition Award
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
NAMES ABOVE HOUSES Poems by Oliver de la Paz “Oliver de la Paz creates the legend of Fidelito—a boy whose yearning to ﬂy becomes a metaphor for immigration, sexual awakening, religious passion, and the imagination of a poet-in-the-making. As Fidelito’s family trades Filipino omens of baby teeth and rats for those of the ‘moonlike glow’ of American television romances and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, de la Paz’s deft storytelling— part magic realism, part Aesop fable— seamlessly pulls us from one adventure to the next. ”—Denise Duhamel, author of Queen for a Day: New and Selected Poems “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.” Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 78 pages ISBN 0-8093-2382-6, $14.95 paper
Available at bookstores, or from
the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2000 Open Competition Award
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
MISERY PREFIGURED Poems by J. Allyn Rosser “J. Allyn Rosser’s poems are savvy closereadings 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
“It is Rosser’s splendid articulation that impresses initially, not just that her poems are well written, but that they are so resolutely anchored in the idioms of speech and the necessities of the human heart. …I do not know of another poet so unafraid of the rhapsodic and yet so capable of high wit, of addressing the world’s ‘full frontal mundanity.’”— Rodney Jones, author of Kingdom of the Instant and Elegy for the Southern Drawl Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 75 pages ISBN 0-8093-2383-4, $14.95 paper
Available at bookstores, or from
the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2000 Open Competition Award
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
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
“Baggott’s world is haunted by blood, miscarriage, suicide, and family love—and set against the world of the Bible.…In these large, passionate, compelling poems, the speaker’s family and the holy family merge in love and suﬀering—wholly family, wholly loved, wholly suﬀered for.”—Andrew Hudgins, author of Babylon in a Jar: Poems and The Glass Hammer: A Southern Childhood
Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 80 pages ISBN 0-8093-2381-8, $14.95 paper
Available at bookstores, or from
the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Series Editor, Jon Tribble
1999 Open Competition Award Winners
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, $14.95 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 , $14.95 paper
Copublished with Crab Orchard Review Available at bookstores, or from
the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 1998 Open Competition Award Winners
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
The StarSPangleD 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 , $14.95 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, $14.95 paper
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A 3-Year Program in Fiction or Poetry Financial Suppor t Available for All Students Admitted to the MFA Program
For information and application packet, contact Director of Graduate Studies, English Department, Faner Hall 2380 â€“ Mail Code 4503, Southern Illinois Universit y Carbonda le, 10 0 0 Faner Drive, Carbondale, IL 62901, or call us at (618) 453â€“6894. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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General/Awards Issue for 2006, Featuring the Winners of Our Annual Fiction, Poetry, & Literary Nonfiction Prizes & the Charles Johnson Stude...
Published on Feb 1, 2006
General/Awards Issue for 2006, Featuring the Winners of Our Annual Fiction, Poetry, & Literary Nonfiction Prizes & the Charles Johnson Stude...