In this volume: Jeffrey Alfier
Emily E. Bright
Hannah Faith Notess
Teresa Cader Karen Carissimo
JoLee G. Passerini
Jonathan Rice Susan Robison
Dent Rebecca Dunham
Mary E. Fiorenza
Lauren Goodwin Slaughter
Luisa A. Igloria
Shanna Powlus Wheeler
Taemi Lim Sandy Longhorn
Crab Orchard Review
published by the Department of English Southern Illinois University Carbondale
$10.00 ISSN 1083-5571
Volume 12, Number 1 Winter/Spring 2007
Jennifer A. Howard
Crab Orchard Review
Cover: Two photographs by Gary Kolb ÂŠ 2007
Crab Orchard Review $10.00us Vol. 12 No. 1
Featuring the Winners of our Fiction, Poetry, & Literary Nonfiction Prizes & the Charles Johnson Student Fiction Award 00121
A B ORCH AR R C D •
A B ORCH AR R C D •
A JOURNAL OF CREATIVE WORKS
VOL. 12 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 Hope David Jorge Christopher Evans Andrew Lewellen Alexander Lumans Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum Rebecca Oliver Will Tyler
Assistant Editors Helena Bell Jacob Boyd Jason Brown Sara Burge Tracy Conerton Desiree Dighton Shanie Latham Timothy Shea
Special Projects Assistant Desiree Dighton
Board of Advisors Ellen Gilchrist Charles Johnson Rodney Jones Thomas Kinsella Richard Russo
Winter/Spring 2007 ISSN 1083-5571
The Department of English Southern Illinois University Carbondale
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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 © 2007 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:
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Crab Orchard Review is supported, in part, by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.
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&#x20AC;&#x201C; 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 Kent Haruf Jesse Lee Kercheval Elisabeth & Jon Luther 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 Chris Kelsey
C. P. Mangel 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
Lee Lever Jessica Maich Charlotte McLeod Peggy & Albert Melone Nadia Reimer Catherine Rudnick Peter Rutkoﬀ Judith Vollmer Paul & Lisa Von Drasek
The editors and staff of Crab Orchard Review dedicate this issue to the memory of two former contributors who enriched our lives:
PHEBUS ETIENNE Poet
SARAH HANNAH Poet and Teacher
A B ORCH AR R C D •
VOLUME 12, NUMBER 1
FICTION & PROSE Julie Benesh
Catherine Zobal Dent
The Hobart Chronicles
Jennifer A. Howard
What I Bring to the Table
Counting in Tongues
Eating an Elephant
My Own Revolution
The Cat Is a Haunt
Poetry Jeﬀrey Alﬁer
The Cotton West of Hockley County Blues Despite the Odds
The Wounded Angel, 1903 Visiting Hour Afterimage Eve, Fall
18 19 20 21
Genes My Mother Is a Small Submarine
Emily E. Bright
In an Unfamiliar City, a Painting of a Church
Pretty Little Rooms
Reading a Biography of Akhmatova at 30,000 Feet Terra Incognita
Romare Bearden’s “Farm Couple”
Mary E. Fiorenza
From My Kitchen, a Recipe Charting the Last Constellation
Why Somebody Wrote a Novel About the College Chase, Called Getting In Ironic Distance Thanaversary Poem
Luisa A. Igloria
Your Hand in My Side Dolorosa Bypass Rainy Day
105 108 110 112
On Robert Frank’s “Beaufort, South Carolina” Lepidoptera
The Night Chorus
Acoustics of the Fall
Fourteen Lines About Landscape Some Afternoons Cassandra in Iowa, 1952
121 122 123
Half-Day Blues. Barnegat Light, NJ Existence Luxury
156 158 160
After You’re Gone Elegy Ending with Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians
High Lonesome Dinosaurs
Bless Their Hearts Home
Hannah Faith Notess
Pallas Athena Landscape with Acacia Tree Haight Street, Halloween
172 174 176
Wyoming Highways Slow Progress on Chickasaw Ridge
JoLee G. Passerini
Eating Locusts New World Landscape
Heart of Learned Removal 209 Rumor of a Girl They Knew with a Boy 210
Arranged Marriage Maid Potter’s Son
211 212 214
The Ghosts I Want
The House of Death The Greeks
Lauren Goodwin Slaughter
Air Show National Park
Right Lane Must Exit Triptych for Jeremiah’s Son
Shanna Powlus Wheeler
Spectacle on the Susquehanna
Creative Nonﬁction Thing with Feathers Sometimes the Trees
265 266 268
A Note on Our Cover The two photographs on the cover of this issue are the work of Gary Kolb, Professor, Acting Dean the College of Mass Communications and Media Arts, and Director of the college’s New Media Center at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
Announcements We would like to congratulate two of our recent contributors, Kevin Stein and Emily Gray Tedrowe. Both Kevin Stein and Emily Gray Tedrowe have been awarded 2007 IAC Literary Awards from the Illinois Arts Council. Each author received $1000. Kevin Stein’s poem “Middle-Aged Adam’s and Eve’s Bedside Tables” appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Volume 11, Number 2 (Summer/ Fall 2006). Emily Gray Tedrowe’s story “Claudia Leaving” appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Volume 11, Number 2 (Summer/Fall 2006).
The 2007 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 2007 Richard Peterson Poetry Prize, Jack Dyer Fiction Prize, and John Guyon Literary Nonﬁction Prize. The winning entry in the poetry competition was four poems by Luisa A. Igloria of Norfolk, Virginia. The two ﬁnalists in poetry were ﬁve poems by Amanda Auchter and four poems by Rebecca Dunham. The winning entry in the ﬁction competition was “Diversity!” by Ron Tanner of Baltimore, Maryland. The two ﬁnalists in ﬁction were “Eating an Elephant” by Taemi Lim and “For the Balance of Their Union” by Matthew Pitt. In literary nonﬁction, the winning entry was “My Own Revolution” by Aria Minu-Sepehr of Corvallis, Oregon. The two ﬁnalists in literary nonﬁction were “On Losing America” by Laura Distelheim and “The Cat Is a Haunt” by Maureen Stanton. 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. Several of the ﬁnalists also chose to have their works 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:
Julie Benesh Cami Chicks August of Lila’s forty-fifth year, a cold Chicago summer like
a perpetual spring, Cami Chicks everywhere, females of unequivocal, indeterminate youth, uniformly glossy and gold-toned, taut or slender or plump. They diﬀered only in their complicated colors of coiﬀure, pastel palette of spaghetti-strapped, tiny tops, sea-shell shades of toes, semi-precious stones complementing ears, and varied blues of bootlegged jeans. They spoke in color and communicated through hair, which functioned as antennae. Four swirled in front of her in the hot deli line, throwing stiﬀ, imperious smiles in the general direction of the counterman. Their orders would take forever, Lila knew. They would ask questions about carb content and degree of spiciness, and change their respective minds and their Collective Mind. In the end, they would all end up sampling one another’s food anyway, or not eating, or perhaps throwing up after the meal. The caramel sundae blonde peeked over her shoulder at Lila and smiled an indulgent smile, like a mother shrugging away the behavior of a spoiled toddler, an aren’t we incorrigible, don’t you wish you were us sort of smile. They were the age of Lila’s daughter, that is, the age Lila’s daughter might be if Lila had had a daughter instead of having a Ph.D. in marketing and a better job than she had ever imagined needing. Some of her friends had daughters that age of whom they said, “You don’t understand, Lila. It’s so hard to live with creatures so pretty.” For Lila, pretty seemed the least of it, pretty was common— which they absolutely were—but also ordinary, which they absolutely weren’t, not any more than a nest of ﬁre ants, a swarm of locusts, or an army of mannequins come to life who landed in your suddenly foreign backyard. Lila had to pee, and this was as good a time as any. By the time she got back maybe the Cami Chicks—Jenna, Jennifer, Heather, Crab Orchard Review
Julie Benesh Haley; Cindy, Mindy, Linda, Brenda; Bethanie, Stephanie, Marjorie, Merrilee—would be through the line. Washing her hands, Lila faced herself in the mirror. She was pretty—“for her age.” Perhaps she had some reversed distorted body image disorder, an olderexia, that made others her age look much older than she, who looked fabulous by comparison, merely a slightly weathered version of her younger self improved by more assurance and better taste and means. Not having children is a little like living where the seasons don’t really change. Time passes and you hardly realize it. Back in line, Lila considered the Cami Chicks, now perched on the edges of chairs around a small table in the food court, spinning in unreasonable patternless patterns, sucking on straws and licking their ﬁngers. In Lila’s day, back in the eighties, they didn’t have camis, not really. Because they didn’t have microﬁber. Or shelf bra technology. No, they had leotards and sports bras for exercise, and teddies for seduction. Nothing worn like a uniform in public spaces, like a burka in reverse, designed to reveal instead of to conceal. And so they didn’t really have Cami Chicks. They had wannabe Madonnas. And Goth girls, rare, and mostly conﬁned to college campuses and dance clubs, hardly ubiquitous. Where did they all come from? Ipanema? From the aerobics class, cheerleading camp, the hair salon, the cosmetic counter, from their jobs as nannies and waitresses and cashiers, arriving like angels to redeem the city of its concrete torpor, a garden swelling from a grim and gritty desert, slowing traﬃc and speeding hearts. They were not the entertainment but the backdrop for it, the blue of the sky or the ocean, squandered and fragmentary, diluting the dirty city full of dizzy tourists. The Cami Chicks were like religion, ﬂawed and precarious, but the best, most inevitable alternative. Lila found herself at the faux-French store, her old shopping grounds. A sign in the back said SUMMER’S LAST HURRAH. The merchandise was shop-worn, clearance priced. Lila chose the mint green, closed herself in a dressing room. She pulled her T-shirt over her head and replaced it with the cami. It looked sloppy over her bra straps, so she unsnapped her bra and pulled a strap down one arm, then the other, dropping the undergarment on the ﬂoor. She adjusted the built-in cami-bra over her breasts and evened the straps. 2 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Julie Benesh Her shoulders gleamed around the green knit fabric like a picture frame. The cami wasn’t immodest; not that diﬀerent from tank tops she wore to the gym. Lila put her bra in her handbag and exited to the mirrored hallway just outside the dressing rooms. Sales clerks chirped and twittered as a customer sank to the vinyl sofa, her arms doubled around her midsection. Lila looked at the young woman on the sofa. She wore a jean skirt with a frayed bottom, a black cami with a tiny rosette to one side, her “Impossibly Auburn” hair falling over her shoulders and into her eyes. Her face was pale and tight. Lila felt a jolt of recognition. She knew the look, if not the young woman herself. A crampy Cami Chick. “Are you o.k.?” The young woman’s face trembled with hope. “Do you have a Tylenol?” Lila dug in her purse, pushing aside her bra. “Tylenol is the least eﬀective. You want ibuprofen. Aspirin, in a pinch, if you aren’t allergic. Next time take it a couple days ahead; it inhibits the prostaglandin production that causes the cramps. And take calcium every day. And do aerobic exercise. And yoga. And stomach crunches…” Lila had been having periods for thirty-ﬁve years, ﬁve days a month, twelve months a year, multiplying out to between ﬁve and six solid years of periods, an investment roughly equivalent to her graduate studies. She qualiﬁed as mentor of the menses. She had, as they say, skills. The young woman looked politely at Lila as she dispensed the caplets, but Lila felt, more than saw, her conﬂicted temptation to roll her eyes. “Thank you,” she said, her lips parting sweetly. “You’re a lifesaver.” She looked at her watch, oversized, with a white leather band, then bent forward, bracing with her arms to ease her way to her feet. In the checkout line, Lila yanked and handed the cami-clad cashier the tags, paid for the top, and wore it out of the store, stuﬃng her knit T-shirt in the black plastic shopping bag. Outside “Impossibly Auburn” Crampy Cami was leaning against the window. “Thanks again,” she said, smiling. A passing man of around forty turned and grinned, nodding and waving at the young woman as if she had spoken to him. She rolled her eyes at Lila. “I hate when they do that,” she said. “Don’t worry, it doesn’t last,” said Lila. “Well, I won’t miss it.” She frowned. “I don’t think…” Crab Orchard Review
Julie Benesh “What’s your name?” asked Lila, imagining cities in Europe or South America. “Jane,” she said, extending her hand. “Dr. Jane Emerson.” A doctor, to whom Lila had given medical advice. “What kind of doctor?” “Veterinarian.” Lila pictured an adolescent bedroom replete with statuettes of horses. If Lila had a daughter like that, she’d give her a rainbow sherbet of camis for her birthday, with little matching shawls, amulets to protect her from men and menstrual distress alike. A woman in a salmon cami passed them, freckled shoulders, older even than Lila, as Dr. Jane slipped away. The woman’s chin was raised, her smile relaxed. Lila turned and looked after her like a luststruck man and saw the spandex outlining every tiny bulge-to-be in the terrain, like a map, a calendar, a compass, a clock. The next spring the camis would be fancier, embroidered silk tunics, contrasting prints with princess seams and sashes, the Cami Chicks in them, the Cami Chicks they wore! somewhat faded by comparison. The prettier ones, the smarter ones, would opt for less distracting layered tanks. But now Lila stood in the sun on the sidewalk and watched the Cami Chicks parading through the shadowy Water Tower Park, graduating from summer, their powers of hair the ﬁrst to falter, communication snapping like split ends under heat of daily back-toschool blow-drying. She watched them ﬂop open their shopping bags and pop on blazers and jean jackets, moving on to smart sleeves to calm the shudders of autumn arms, easing gravely like ripened fruit. She watched the crowds swirling around her like multicolored leaves, the traﬃc light changing from red to green to yellow and back to red, as if, as if, she had…all the time in the world.
4 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Catherine Zobal Dent Half Life Every morning for five weeks, Amber ate cornflakes at the
white plastic table on a white plastic chair with her hard, single-issue, white plastic spoon. She ate cornﬂakes and drank strong coﬀee and thought on the chain-link fence that subdivided C-Pod. Her six pairs of underpants. Her two bras with underwire removed from the cup. The forest-green of uniforms, the sanitized rubber of slip-on shoes, the window in her cell with its four horizontal bars. She used to contemplate her cellmate Fran, hunched over her toast on the far side of C-Pod, but for the past three days, since the shower incident, she’d tried to just ignore her. This morning, Amber looked into her bowl and considered how she had never, ever, given cornﬂakes to her daughter. She and Lizzie were strictly donut girls. Thinking about Lizzie took her mind oﬀ C-Pod, oﬀ the scowl on Fran’s loose jowls, and brought her to what was, before these ﬁve weeks began: their home and her bedroom, the blue shag rug, coﬀee at night, the glass sugar bowl with music notes painted on it. She wondered nervously about Lizzie. How she, and other things, might change over the next year and nine months. Her ﬁrst morning in the Oningo County Jail, with the smell of disinfectant in the air, she had asked her cellmate, “So what’d you do to end up here?” That was before she knew anything. The ceiling was a blank beige. Her cellmate—Fran—was tall, large-headed and paunchy. Fifty-ﬁve, maybe sixty, judging from her wrinkles and frizz of gray hair. They were both still lying in bed after the CO’s call. Fran had sat up straight without saying a word. Their cell, the size of a bathroom, had two bunks, two shelves, one porcelain sink, an open toilet, a ﬂuorescent light, a vent, and a barred window looking out on a factory that no longer made anything. When Fran stood to change her underwear, Amber tried not to stare at her proﬁle. Boobs like pancakes. Abdomen like a water balloon. “Cat got your tongue?” It was something she might have said to Lizzie. Crab Orchard Review
Catherine Zobal Dent Fran, her back turned, snorted. Her hunch called attention to her height. “Forty girls here,” she barked, “all innocent.” Five words. Later, in the exercise room, the TV blared some soap opera and the female inmates were allowed in by ﬁves. Amber heard rumors. How Fran started doing time at the maximum-security state prison. Killed her husband in Oningo County—not in self-defense— she had gone nutbar. A woman named Elsa told Amber this by the free weights. After seventeen years, all that time, Fran had gotten transferred back here for an appeal, to get second-degree lowered to criminally negligent homicide. Her chances looked poor. If the appeal didn’t succeed, Fran would head back to Bedford Hills to wait it out, twentyﬁve to life. Amber met other women of C-Pod later in the day during dinner in the common area. Everyone agreed, Fran was bad news. But that ﬁrst morning, as she tucked hospital corners, imitating Fran, Amber had persisted, “Well, how long you been here?” It had been so early, only six a.m., morning darkness visible through the bars on their window, ﬂuorescent bulbs brightening the cell while the CO rounded. Amber thought how, on the outside, alarm clocks were ringing, coﬀee dripping, school buses roaring to life in the still-dark. Here, inmates yawned under scratchy blankets, coughed and spit in sinks, slapped water on their faces, urinated in stained cell toilets. Fran stood at the door, waiting for the correction oﬃcer to do the headcount. “I’m only wondering how long you been in.” Fran bent her head, cracking her neck. “Six months, here.” “Here? Where were you before?” “You like jabbering? I killed a girl like you. Fuck, shut up.” Amber imagined then that somewhere in Oningo County, a morning streetlamp died. Flickered, then burst out, canceling its circle of light. Frequently, when she passed under streetlamps, they dimmed, or blinked oﬀ. Oningo County Correctional Facility, ﬁve years new, had lights and video cameras at every angle. There were three televisions in the main section, one in the exercise room. The shining chain-link fence created four smaller areas. Glass observation rooms lined the walls. Clean, concrete walls. There was always the smell of new paint, but beside Amber’s narrow bunk, under the fresh cover of oﬀ-white, she could read the etchings of previous inmates. A December calendar, all the days X’d out. Fuck Harv. You Lame ass. Fran is a bitch. That ﬁrst day, she learned the rigid schedule: making up bunks and straightening cells; breakfast carted in to C-Pod’s main communal 6 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Catherine Zobal Dent area; clean-up, free time, and outdoor rec; dinner and dinner cleanup; afternoon lockdown for the CO shift change; supper and clean-up; ten p.m. lockdown for the night. Most of the inmates ate the midday dinner of carrots and roast chicken with their hands. Amber ate with the only piece of tableware, her hard plastic spoon. Before lights-out, despite the other women’s warnings, Amber still wanted to break the ice with Fran, so she got out her photographs, both of Lizzie. Seven years ago, Lizzie’s ﬁrst day home from the hospital, her face all newborn shiny and red, and this year at Oningo Elementary School, upside-down on a swing, long hair sweeping the dirt. She kept them both in an envelope on which Lizzie had printed, FOR MOM. But before she could say anything about the pictures, Fran had kicked the ﬂusher on the ceramic toilet. “Keep away from me,” she snapped. She lay down, blanket piled on her head. Fran spoke a total of twenty-one words to her that ﬁrst day. Amber kept count. Now, ﬁve weeks had passed without more than ﬁfty. The longer Amber was here, the more she focused on numbers. Her cornﬂakes were gone. Across the room, Fran buttered toast with the back of her spoon. Amber added sugar to her coﬀee. Her sentence was for twenty-one months. It was actually two consecutive sentences, one for a year, one for nine months. It had taken a while to ﬁgure the full meaning of all that time, how next month was April, and she would turn twenty-ﬁve, and it would be two birthdays from now before she was out. Lizzie was seven and then she would be nine. The public defender said it could have been worse. The judge could have found her guilty of felony rather than serious misdemeanor, could have ruled three to six, with incarceration at a state prison, a hundred sixty-six miles away. Worse? Amber chewed over this. Let her catch that DA now. Lizzie had been placed in a foster home, as there was no one else to take her, to live with people Amber had never seen. They’d lost their apartment, all their belongings. The county’s wealthy homeowners were country club friends, or political, or church friends, Amber didn’t know, but no one would trust her in their houses after this. And even with ﬁve weeks gone by—thirty-ﬁve whole days—seventy-nine weeks of her sentence remained. Amber doubted that public defender had a clue about worse. When she got out of jail, she and Lizzie would move. Amber repeated this plan to herself so frequently, she almost believed it would come true. They’d ﬁnd a new apartment. They’d ﬁnd a new corner store Crab Orchard Review
Catherine Zobal Dent that sold donuts. They’d have new nights of blankets and reruns, Lizzie curled up on the bed. But: seven hours in the cell per day. Weeks of seven days. Seventy-nine weeks. Seven times seven times seventy-nine, this was a number that expanded upward and outward like jail, cells upon cells upon cells. Above them all towered twenty-one. Twenty-one months. Steel, brick, concrete. The boundary of twenty-one turned out to be not where it touched sky, but where the fences began. Fran was always in their cell, lying on her blanket, mouth closed. Any number of her personal habits had started to grate on Amber’s nerves. Each day, before stretching into her green uniform, she scratched herself. Three itches for every inch of sagging ﬂesh. One, two, three, on the right upper arm. One, two, three, on the elbow. One, two, three, on her forearm. One, two, three, on her wrist. Then there was how Fran squeegeed water from her body before using her towel. She did this in the cell when she washed her face and underarms, and in the shower, which made her take twice as long as the other women. Two splashes equaled four squeegee swipes. At night, Fran snored. Amber usually fell asleep around two hundred snores. Thirteen more of Fran’s ﬁfty words had come one night after lights-out, before the snoring began. Fran had shifted suddenly, and hissed, “I didn’t kill any girl.” Amber rolled over, “What?” “Got life because I raped my shitty husband.” Fran snickered, and Amber envisioned another streetlamp blinking oﬀ. The forty women in the jail lived in close quarters, as C-Pod had been designed to house only twenty-six. Oningo County had a variance to double-cell the women until another men’s unit was built, at which point they would split the women, moving half over to BPod. Pretty quick, Amber recognized all forty. She assigned numbers to the women according to the number of months in their sentences. Elsa, in for possession, was 21, like her. This was her third time in jail. Patti and Robin, next cell over, were 8 and 10. There was a gang of meth-heads wearing orange uniforms, which meant they hadn’t been sentenced yet. Instead of numbers they got question marks. Only Fran was in for so many years. When Amber asked a CO, he told her there were seventy thousand inmates in New York. Nineteen million people total lived in the state: that was four-tenths a percent behind bars. She asked about 8 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Catherine Zobal Dent Bedford Hills, where Fran would be sent back to. Someone—it was 2, a pregnant woman whose name was Rolanda—said there were eight hundred prisoners there. “What are you here for, anyway?” Rolanda asked Amber. “Fraud.” Amber didn’t bother to go into details. Rolanda’s sentence was so short. She swallowed lukewarm coﬀee and looked up. Now Fran spread jelly on her toast, stopping to itch her head, gray hair spilling in her face. Not long ago, Amber told a CO, “If I get lice from her, I sue.” “Don’t go messing with Fran,” the CO laughed. Amber checked herself over every day in the shower, a wet, white box. There were four showers in the housing unit. The water sprayed hot and hard, much better than the pressure in Amber’s own bathroom, the one she’d never see again. Her thirty-second morning in jail, she had been ﬁrst in line for the shower, after Fran. Fran was inside, swiping her wrinkled ﬂesh. Seven swipes, eight. Amber thought of her shower curtain, the white butterﬂies, Lizzie’s blueberry-colored comb. Nine. Ten. Eleven. She missed her so much. Were the foster parents good to her? Were there a mom and a dad? Twelve, thirteen, fourteen, ﬁfteen—suddenly, Amber felt herself slipping. She fell forward, into the opening shower door. At that moment, an attendant in Control pressed the wrong switch. The main lights in C-Pod blacked out. “Watch it,” someone yelled. A strong grip, ﬂesh on ﬂesh. Someone had caught her from falling, but the bright lights shutting down had left the rooms in dim green emergency light, and Amber couldn’t see anything. It didn’t take them long to recover the overheads, only seconds. But whoever was supporting Amber let go before the lights came back on. In front of her she saw only an empty shower. Later she learned from 3, a sentenced crystal meth kid, that it had been Fran. Her cellmate had stepped out just in time to catch her. So that day in the exercise yard, she decided to try again. Fran stood by the perimeter fence, looking toward the defunct factory. Some women—10, 11, and 18—were playing a game of basketball. Amber coughed once. “Thanks,” she said. “I know you caught me this morning. Anyway, thanks.” A basketball rolled toward them. Fran bit at a hangnail on her thumb, her pocked skin even worse in the full sun. “When I get out of here,” Amber said, “I’m gonna take my Crab Orchard Review
Catherine Zobal Dent daughter and move south to Florida where I was born. You ever been to Florida?” Over their heads, electric barbed wire coiled. Two pigeons roosted on the roof. 10 retrieved the ball, threw it back into play. The bell rang, and the oﬃcers called them in. Fran walked toward the courtyard door, Amber close behind. When Fran stopped suddenly, she almost bumped into her. “You know, my husband wouldn’t leave me alone, so I killed him,” Fran snarled. Then she called to the two oﬃcers and motioned toward Amber. “Check her. She just threatened me. Filed-down steel. Snapped it oﬀ the coﬀee vat.” She told Amber under her breath, “You better watch out.” Fran’s head shook as she disappeared with the other women and one of the guards. Amber wondered, was she laughing? Her skin went rubbery as the female CO patted her down. Don’t give us any trouble, the oﬃcer warned, next time it would be a strip search. She counted squares on the ﬂoor and came to a new, ﬁrm decision: don’t talk to Fran. The common area walls were the color of cornﬂakes. She drank the last of the milk from her bowl. One, two, three women got up from their tables, cleared their places, wiped down chairs. One, two, three times the CO scratched her chin where she was growing a black hair. It would be easy to move down South, maybe they wouldn’t go to Florida, maybe some other state, Virginia, Georgia. Find a city with lots of rich people with fancy houses. She would be smarter and work harder as soon as she got out of here. She would tell Lizzie about the horizontal window, the fence, the right-angle corridors, the concrete walls. How jail tightened you in. How numbers could be friendly, or they could hit with sharp edges. Four o’clock rammed your stomach. One stabbed your foot. Eleven pounded your head with two bars. She’d tell Lizzie how stretching arms or legs was like performing an act of ﬂesh against math. She’d make sure Lizzie didn’t end up like her. Overhead, the morning television droned. Two weeks ago, the local news had done a feature on Lizzie’s school. Amber had watched with her breath held, but her daughter hadn’t appeared. The foster parents hadn’t brought her for a visit, either. Lizzie would be getting taller every day. Had they cut her hair or would those bangs be hanging in her eyes? Amber had shown her how to add and subtract with donuts—a dozen donuts, what happened when you took out one. How was she doing in school? A sudden rage gripped her. How dare Fran lie to get her in trouble, 10 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Catherine Zobal Dent and after only ﬁfty words? Across the room now, she met her cellmate’s eyes. They were dark eyes, sunken in bad skin. While Amber thought about what stupid thing she could do to retaliate, one of Fran’s eyes winked. Amber stared. Fran was holding in her right hand, like a ﬂag of truce, her plastic spoon. She waved the spoon twice in front of her eyes and then drew it forcefully down and across her bicep. An angry red mark appeared, a line of blood. Amber stared at Fran as she stood and went over to the breakfast cart. Then walked to their cell. Left hand holding the spoon, right cupped over her upper arm. Amber took her tray to the cart. She counted twenty-three dirty mugs including her own. She counted the coﬀee stains on a dishtowel. She counted the seven cornﬂakes someone had spilled on the ﬂoor. When she went to her cell, Fran was not there. Fran’s towel was gone. On the ﬂoor were three drops of blood. Amber rummaged through Fran’s belongings. One bra. Three soup packets from the commissary. Five pairs of socks. No plastic spoon. From under her own bed, she pulled out her photographs. She spent the rest of free time studying them, looking for details she might have missed: the reﬂection in her newborn’s eyes; the swing at school; hair in the dirt; the envelope marked FOR MOM. When the hour came for outdoor recreation, Fran still hadn’t returned to the cell. Amber got in line. Outside the shower area, hair wet, wearing ﬂip-ﬂops, stood Fran. “I’m not going out,” she announced. “I need to lay down. The shit you feed us.” The CO led her back to the cell. Out on the yard with the other women, Amber didn’t say anything about the blood or the spoon. Above, stainless steel looped against the sky. She craned her neck to see the pigeons—the sky, through helical coils of tape, formed the number eight over and over again, the blue crisper through the spiraling steel. Her daughter would be eight soon. In twenty-one months, a quarter of Lizzie’s life would pass. Amber felt her neck constricted, the eight noose-like, and pulling up. The midday meal was roast chicken, which Amber ate with her hands. Fran did not come out of the cell then, or later, for supper. Amber sat in the common area by herself. She would have liked to use the payphone. But there was no one to call. Finally, after supper, she told 21, Elsa, about Fran’s arm. Elsa whistled. “Girl, she must be ﬁling that spoon on the walls,” she said. “That woman’s crazy, stay away from her.” The bells rang for lockdown. Fran sat cross-legged in bed. Amber Crab Orchard Review
Catherine Zobal Dent crawled under her covers without a word. She stared at the beige ceiling, waiting for lights-out. Outside the cell door, women shuﬄed, readying C-Pod for headcount. The overhead lights bore down. “What’s wrong with you?” Amber’s neck snapped toward her cellmate. For the ﬁrst time since she’d met Fran, the woman’s face looked relaxed. Like the muscles had sprung loose. She couldn’t answer fast enough before Fran spoke again. “Don’t answer then. Let me tell you something. Nothing was my husband’s fault.” Fran’s voice sounded like a hinge. Amber didn’t know what to say, looking at the older woman, who stared back, the skin around her eyes puﬀed, her mouth tight. Amber chose her words quickly. “Then why’d you kill him?” “Didn’t kill him, he killed me.” As if it were the ﬁrst day they had met, Fran asked Amber, “Why are you here?” “I stole ten thousand dollars,” she said. It seemed like she had been waiting to say this to someone, anyone, for a long time. “Took checkbooks from people I cleaned for. I forged signatures.” The other woman’s shoulders shuddered. The shudders caught her under the arms, and her lips curled like a dog’s. She was laughing. “I can see you,” Fran said. “Little house cleaner. What’d you make, about nine thousand a year? Shows in the photos. Those bruises your daddy gave your mother are showing in the photos too. Still sitting under your skin, showing in your baby’s eyes.” Amber, open-mouthed, sucked in like she’d been punched. Fran’s voice ﬁlled the cell. “You get pregnant in high school? Probably you were drinking. I bet he said he loved fake blondes. Blue mascara. New shoes from Kmart. Yeah, I see it. Boy disappeared, you had your baby, you sat around watching television at your momma’s house then ﬁgured you had to work so you started cleaning houses.” Fran leaned ﬁercely toward Amber. “Proud of your daughter, aren’t you?” The CO knocked. Amber, shaking, leapt out of bed. Fran hissed, “Let me tell you about my husband, Hunk.” The CO on the other side of the glass window nodded at them and continued on. “Hunk, he played softball. He loved softball. He had plenty of friends before he got laid oﬀ. But when he was at home, even when he still had his job, he’d just lay there, doing nothing. Can you imagine? Nothing.” Headcount complete, the overhead lights snapped oﬀ. Fran stopped talking. Amber stumbled to her bunk. She waited to adjust 12 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Catherine Zobal Dent to the light from the moon, coming in the quadruple-barred window, and the faint green of emergency bulbs. She counted seconds, one Mississippi, two Mississippi. “Hunk never touched me. The only time we ever touched was all me, reaching to hit him for doing nothing. Which I got sick of. It started small, I’d pinch his arm, make him get up oﬀ his ass, but I got sicker and sicker of it. When he quit work, the only time he got oﬀ the couch was if one of his buddies called. Otherwise, he’d sit there on that white couch like he was made of it. Once when I was yelling, he put a pillow over his head so he didn’t have to hear. I grabbed what was next to me and took it to him. It was a lamp. I swung it and broke his ankle, he was on crutches after that. So you see how he did nothing. I mean, to me. But I got so mad I couldn’t breathe.” When Fran stopped talking, there was zero sound in the cell. Amber felt like the concrete walls were sweating. There were no numbers. No thoughts at all. “One night, him sitting there on the couch, bent, like he was holding his head on with his hands, I picked up his softball bat next to the door. I just meant to shake him up, you know, shock him out of his misery. But he didn’t wake up. I retched and retched. The police came before I could call them. They said murder. I thought they were saying Hunk killed me. Nothing ever hurt me like him just sitting there.” That idiot DA was so wrong. It was worse. Fran was right. It had been worse since Amber was four, and they had to get away from Florida and her father. It had been worse from New York City to Poughkeepsie to Syracuse, where it was worse, her mother working at a club she wouldn’t let Amber visit. It was worse when Amber got pregnant, and it was worse yet when her mother passed away. “Since then,” Fran said, “it’s just got so fucking old. They’ll move me back to Bedford Hills any day now, and by the time my case comes up again, I’ll have been in half my life. Do you know how long since I touched another person? Just my own skin. And yours, when you were falling into the shower.” Amber remembered herself pregnant, as big as a house, her mother dying of cancer. She envisioned these things: losing her fulltime at Kmart, moving to the Pennsylvania border with her baby, getting work cleaning large, vacant estates, stealing all that money, buying a blue shag rug, a butterﬂy shower curtain, a sugar bowl made of glass. “In the shower, I practiced with the spoon. Cutting, you know. It’s sharp. I hid it in my cunt.” Crab Orchard Review
Catherine Zobal Dent Amber waited. “It’s under your bed where you keep your pictures. When I need it, I’ll get it. I could puncture a jugular with that thing.” Amber waited. On her bunk over a sharpened spoon next to a woman who’d killed her husband for doing nothing, Amber waited. Fran didn’t say more. Imagine the darkness that night. Imagine Fran creeping out of her bunk to retrieve her strange weapon. Imagine her kneeling by the cell door. When the oﬃcer rounds, imagine that Fran knocks. The oﬃcer opens the door. Both her arms swoop in a move that is violent, ungainly, like an old cat pouncing at something in the dark. The edge slips into the oﬃcer’s neck, into the softness between esophagus and ear. He crumples. Fran has stolen his keys. She dashes to the door. The video cameras do not pick her up in the dark. The door is open, and she disappears down the hall. The CO is on the ﬂoor. He shudders, and Amber… Amber lay there and waited. Soon, Fran was snoring. The blanket over her chest rose and fell in the moonlight. She counted Fran’s snores. She thought about seventeen years already in jail. She thought about twenty-ﬁve more. She thought about life. In the morning, after the CO unlocked the doors, 11 reported blood on one of the white plastic chairs. There was lockdown, and immediate questioning. 21—Elsa—said, “Better check Fran.” When they searched Fran and Amber’s cell, the sharpened spoon was found in Amber’s personal box. “What’s going on here? What’s this?” Fran’s eyes, dark zeroes, blazed. She was rolling up her sleeves. “You fucking idiots,” she said. “You think you know it all, well, here’s a surprise. Here’s what you like to miss.” Amber was disgusted by Fran’s ﬂabby arms. On them bled fresh scrapes, long, red trails. Before the COs could react, she jerked down her pants. The wounds on Fran’s legs reached north and south, with evenly spaced crossbeams like railroad tracks. Amber gasped. One of the oﬃcers grabbed Fran. The other moved toward Amber. “She didn’t have nothing to do with it,” Fran said. Eventually, they took Fran to the upper deck: twenty-eight days of keeplock. No television. No commissary. No blanket or sheets during the days. One shower a week when the other women were outside on the yard. No contact with anyone but correction oﬃcers. A week into the sequestering, Amber asked one of the CO’s about Fran. He said she wasn’t eating. She just lay in bed. Amber asked if he’d take her a message, but he said that was against the rules. 14 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Catherine Zobal Dent “Is she going back to Bedford Hills?” “She pulls another stunt like this, she will,” the CO said. “Yeah, I guess she will. Her appeal fell through, you know.” Fran returned to Amber’s cell in May. It was the nighttime glare just before lights-out, and Amber was in bed, looking at Lizzie on the swing, upside-down. She rose to her feet at the sight at the door. Fran’s bad skin gleamed. Her eyes were recessed, and her mouth closed like the cell. Amber helped Fran to her bunk. She pulled back the blanket and stretched it over the old woman’s tall frame. Out in C-Pod, the oﬃcer rounded. Thirty-nine women curled beneath blankets. One coughed three times. Another got up to vomit in the toilet. Amber knelt on the ﬂoor next to Fran with her spoon-cut scars. Lights-out. A low humming sounded. Fran’s head nodded. In the yard the number eight noosed, and beyond, the bulbs in streetlamps expired, got replaced, expired, got replaced, expired again.
Crab Orchard Review
Jeﬀrey Alﬁer The Cotton West of Hockley County Some say it’s grace to inherit this land, ﬁelds having all the labored memory of a god. When the droughts came, my uncle choked back blasphemy rising in his throat. His life wore out for three bales per acre. Fickle storms often failed to soak to depth and minds schemed hard to ﬁnd hope of harvest. He’d lay phosphorous and deep-break the soil, spray for aphids just to see new blights come. Fretting the longevity of worm gears in the pivots of irrigation arms, technology fees ﬁnally drained him. Not far oﬀ, hawks coast on thermal circuits, their cries pulling day back into being. They touch the earth through the sweltering air, the deed to the land now fresh in my ﬁst.
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Blues Despite the Odds Silenced cotton gins and screened-in porches line dusty arteries of hardpan roads ﬂayed into earth by frenzied hoof and tire. Guitar riﬀs moan through the thick summer air to breach the weather-beaten window sills of the unpainted frame house my aunt owned, buzzing beveled glass and dark varnished wood. She tells the photo of her dead husband that ﬁfes, ﬁddles, and drums are devil’s play, gospel sounds twisted by bands of foul tongues, those penniless vagrants blighting our roads to ﬁlch the ears of the weakest sinners, leading good folk astray for a buck dance. She died and never got the band names right— how long could you screw up “Memphis Millie”? We buried her with her husband’s photo, taking it oﬀ the mantelpiece. She swore that man had the brightest eyes ever seen.
Crab Orchard Review
Amanda Auchter The Wounded Angel, 1903 after Hugo Simberg Walk the treeline, higher than before, where the frost covers each rootbed. Dig for the rotten fruit, lay it in your hand. Touch the red berried hips of the branch’s cradle. Dusk, and the sky irons. Listen: a bird-stir and the build of God in your breath. In the garden, the wind knocks you into blind slumber. Each torn wing folds into the arms that rescue it. Two children wait for the earth to grow back into you, bring your sorrows to the shore. There, they reed-wash your halo, tie onion blooms to your wrist. There is nothing they miss— how the current moves through you, sweeps mud into your throat, brightens each bruised eye. Look away from this, your riverlocked voice, the threat of the far bank.
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Visiting Hour What you want is to hold her, press her back into you, hear her say this is how dying is, my breath slipping under everywhere at once—see the balloon you brought, how it lifts and sags, this is what I’ve become on the other side. Pray to the sheet you wrap her in, the knot of her ﬁst against her heart. That you can set the glass back into the windshield, brown bottle into its paper bag. Feel this in her swallow of air, the machine’s hum, everything the dawn blooms with her.
Crab Orchard Review
Afterimage My eyes will not stop their dark look. They follow each shadow I cast oﬀ. Night passes into the red morning ﬁre. The window light splits my face into still & alive. You watch for this— (how this dying opens us to each other—the watch, the watched.) The sheet is neck-high. The nightstand as I left it: pill caps, open book, thumbprinted glass. I do not ﬂy or ﬂoat, no wing-beat, not harpstrung, but ﬁeld & skyline moving. Now, gutters full of twigs, a seed’s white push.
20 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Eve, Fall At my voice, the sea slides back into God’s ﬁst, holds my face in its white knuckle rock. Where each tide laps against the shore, ﬁsh leap the moon. Imagine: I am hiding in this darkness when the Godlight burns the fruitstain from my lips, my garden cheeks. The only way back to the tree is through the thunder break. The ground between here and there is light-struck, branched to the sudden split sky. In it, star of the eye I turn from. Blink and my face is shadow: tongue, leaf, bitten core. My breath, the scattered seeds.
Crab Orchard Review
Tina Barr Thieves I look for the crooked “g” in the word Sirgany, a shop on the corner of Al Muezz, pass a man selling bouquets of mint, pyramids of olives, their black glitter oiled in sunlight. As I walk north the tower of Suleyman’s mosque falls back, my landmark; I can’t read Arabic, so that’s how I ﬁnd the right shop, a black marble arch incised in a necklace of gilt letters. I climb chunks of stone stolen from a ruin; Aziz leans over my hand, threatening to kiss it. Two of his shop boys sort disks of agate. In one corner, a thousand strings: trade beads’ stratas of color, pressed clay, lapis, opaque glass, pinned or hooked to the walls, cases housing six-inch daggers, Siwa silver collars, Bedouin face masks, their worn fabrics sewn with coins, cowrie shells, carnelian. Trunks cover the ﬂoor, ﬁlled with silver. I sift through earrings press-cut with the name of Allah. Aziz hides his old Nubian gold, his Venetian beads. After ﬁve years of my coming here, he can aﬀord to tease me, call me Morticia for the look I give him, when he bends over my wrist, in a city where touch is a crime. Before I buy tomb-looted scarabs, he shows me pictures, small men with sidelocks in skullcaps, wearing hand-sewn clothes. Until this century, the Jews of Yemen refused 22 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Tina Barr to teach the Arab tribes to sand cast, even hammer silver to sheath their hooked daggers. Aziz teaches me to look at the resolution of the beading, tells me about the guild El Toggar, the shahabander, their leader. For centuries camels trolled the sand from Yemen to Arabia, packing the guild’s silver. Aziz admires their craft, although there are no more Jews in Cairo. His hands animate, he describes coins found in a tunnel in Fayuum oasis. He took them out of town in a false bottom he’d soldered on a gas can. The whole village, a clan, was in on the con. They’d come to Al Muezz, found his shop, shown him three gold coins, Graeco-Roman. Back in Cairo, disinterred from the gas can, the rest, for which he’d paid a hundred thousand dollars, in their acid bath turned not gold, but black.
Crab Orchard Review
Nicky Beer Genes I visualize them suspended in a tepid bath waiting to be fastened around a child’s neck in a doubled strand, like the red beads encircling the throat of Rembrandt’s young woman at the open half-door, her body monochromed and shadowed, a single band of light illustrating a sidelong glance full of distrust. According to faultless Dutch taste, these are her only ornament and inheritance, a scattering of blood once idolized at her mother’s breast. I imagine the woman as a girl on her lap, reaching up to caress the luster of the cool pellets absently, hardly feeling each one’s little gram of death. And the ﬁrst time the daughter saw her laid out while Father received the neighbors’ hard hemispheres of bread, the only visible thing was a length of red in the dim room, quietly coiled in the hollow of one clavicle, modestly satisﬁed with the day’s work. And although now she hardly senses their weight at all, she will sometimes feel at her back, when turning too quickly from the stove, a distant, heavy tug, as if she were harnessed to a dark line of those thunderclouds which thickly crowd the lip of the horizon, but do not shed their rain.
24 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
My Mother Is a Small Submarine The hospital room at night is the bottom of the ocean. Knotted lengths of clear kelp tether her to the bed, and the electric thread of her heart on the screen becomes a restless eel questing the coral fan of the horizontal blinds’ shadow. A half-dozen lionﬁsh, spines bright with toxins, have the slow drift of deﬂating helium balloons, their sides inscribed with the rueful maxim Love Me, Love My Danger. She clicks the morphine drip, counting oﬀ fathoms. By dawn, a whale the size of a housecat will have nestled itself in the crook of her arm, conjuring a song she’ll follow into a lightless trench, a doorstep to the center of the earth.
Crab Orchard Review
Emily E. Bright In an Unfamiliar City, a Painting of a Church Let me crawl inside here. Let me curl inside and sleep inside this church which so resembles mine: walls arising from the dirt, the rock of coast upholding it, (there, I spent my childhood, with every face familiar) its steeple like the lighthouse tower we would climb to watch the ship masts rocking. (When the allegations rocked us, we thought the walls themselves would splinter.) I miss its beacon now. Coast eroding, congregation limping on in place. I’ve searched through painted vaults and glass cathedrals, each approximating scenes we’ll never fully capture. I fell asleep outstretched and someone shook me from the pew. True-white, the color painters never use— Don’t we always seek analogies for God? I see so many pieces; I negotiate refractions. Everywhere, the world’s constructions are broken by the world. Sanctuary, ever forming, spilling out and then retracting, let me crawl inside you till I understand again.
26 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Teresa Cader Krakow Blues Not the Duke and not Bessie, not Nina or Charlie, in sulfur-dense, humid wafts oﬀ the Vistula; a boy maybe, a girl, wandering the Rynek, cobblestone alleys, past striped umbrella tables, clotted with Czechs and Hungarians, into the bare-shelved food shops, nodding to the butcher with his one side of stringy beef, an old man maybe, white-haired and dumbfounded as he reads We shall overcome in the Polish daily, sees pictures of African-Americans in food lines; a raven-haired aunt maybe, in heels that clack on the stones, out for scarce tins of mackerel and jars of pickled herring, mussed from cooking, her white sleeve singed at the cuﬀ; not Billie in one-down love, or James doing the Funky, not so tangible really as a wail or a swagger or a down-dirty-tub, a twenty-year-old oﬀ soon to the army, college kids organizing for the shipyard workers, (another killed by police in a stairwell); a young woman who smuggles fur coats from Russia, reading Hemingway on a bench; hubbub of summer tourists in the market, free to buy and leave, mispronouncing the three words they’ve learned, but proud, friendly, eager to barter for bright woolen shawls; a young poet maybe, or a musician, hard to know—ﬁlling erasures of history and self with down-under syncopated tin-pan-alley riﬀs in the coﬀeehouse where lyrics are tickets for trains pulsing on tracks no one can see.
Crab Orchard Review
Karen Carissimo Vigil We dressed her for sleep, ďŹ rst washing her skin loose as cloth on her bones, traced cream along her bruised arms, removed her rings, pinned an opal to her robe. We prayed a rosary, a song murmured in a whisper and sorrow of dirge. Wake up, her daughter said, an absurd plea for she had coughed and sighed a ďŹ nal surge of breath to join the lost ones she could now see. How we wanted to witness and follow her to that shaded world, meet again the beloved husband, son, and mother circling our home, sure they would stay with us, descended from above. At last we left her, slept in the early hours of light as spirits hovered, her body gone cold in the night.
28 â&#x2014;&#x2020; Crab Orchard Review
Katie Chaple Pretty Little Rooms The remains of who was thought to be the Renaissance poet Francesco Petrarch are instead those of two diﬀerent people, DNA tests have conﬁrmed. The skull was unexpected, a surprise in the pink marble tomb. In 1873, the old doctor of Padua claimed it had crumbled, as though too injured to live outside that rose room. Did he keep it on his desk? On his shelf as a specimen, an exemplar of perfection, the knitted plates a symbol of all that we cannot know of love? The doctor was not the only man who needed—a friar ﬂed his cell, hacked oﬀ the poet’s arm, spirited it back, a drunk friar in such grief for the world, so moved as to steal the physical. And where and how to keep it— this limb that had once moved to love’s measure? And now, these scientists with their test tubes, their milliliters and tweezers are used to wounds and hairs, blood and shatter. In their white coats and labs, they don’t ask questions they don’t know the answers to. They measure the circumference, count the alleles, and approximate the years—all equating female. Nobody asks: Whose body was not loved enough that her skull could travel like a pebble, could be used to punctuate the line of a man’s body?
Crab Orchard Review
Caitlin Horrocks The Hobart Chronicles The first October Janet and Mark spent in Iowa they visited a local corn maze, where a man up on a wooden platform with a spotlight and a bullhorn shouted at miscreants. “No running!” he yelled. “No throwing the corn!” The farmer’s wife took tickets and rented spelunking helmets with lights for after sundown. When Janet and Mark emerged from the corn she gave them buttons that read, “I Solved the Maize Maze.” Later that year they learned how corn looked in winter in the ﬁelds, the stalks crackling and segmented and hard, like dried bamboo. One night in late spring when Mark was teaching his special topics seminar, Post-Colonial Ireland: 1920-1985, Janet taught herself how to blanch the ears, plunge them into cold water, and scrape the kernels into doubled-up freezer bags for long term storage. She wrote the date and the word “corn” with a black permanent marker on each pouch. When Mark came home she asked him to carry the bags down to the basement deep-freeze that had come with the house. He couldn’t tell if she wanted to be complimented, or apologized to, or simply taken far, far away. Janet had begun dating Mark Hobart back in Chicago, in college. He had had a rakish way of referring to campus beneﬁt events by the social problems they opposed. “Hey,” he would ask. “You want to check out the date rape carnival? What about the discrimination fair?” Janet laughed at all his jokes, and when he asked her to marry him, during his second year of graduate school, her ﬁrst, she laughed then too. She had at least two kinds of laughter Mark could discern—one for humoring him, and one for joy. They felt they could talk to each other, only to each other forever, and never get bored. After four years in Evanston, where they’d both grown up, they spent eleven months in a one-bedroom apartment almost on the south side, just to say they’d done it, they’d lived in the city. Mark’s single job oﬀer after his Ph.D., after eighty-seven applications and two interviews, was at Mergrim College, a sort of outpost, the hiring committee had explained, where students studied and drank in
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Caitlin Horrocks rural seclusion. Janet came with him, left her dissertation unﬁnished and jobs unlooked for, and they had solved the Maize Maze together. They bought a house and Janet began to ﬁll it with furniture. When she got pregnant at the end of that ﬁrst year, Mark felt that he should let her name the baby anything she wanted. Janet’s academic specialty had been illocutionary performative speech acts. She had written about words that did not just describe an action, but performed the action itself: “You’re ﬁred,” “He’s out.” When it came time to name her son, Janet picked Goodman. “I nominate Goodman Hobart for the presidency of the United States of America,” she announced over spaghetti one night, her voice booming. This, she explained to Mark, could be considered perlocutionary, or predictive. Say it, and it will be so. Janet had very deﬁnite expectations for her son, and to name him John or George or Peter seemed a great waste, a profoundly missed opportunity. Ambrosia came thirteen months later, close enough, Janet decided, to raise them almost like twins, given the slower social and mental development in boys. Their third child was stillborn. Janet wanted the girl buried, and again Mark felt that it was not his prerogative to say yea or nay. Janet busied herself with the arrangements, and Mark had no idea until they visited the gravestone that his dead daughter was named Clemency Hobart. He didn’t know what Janet intended by it, whether it was a plea for more children, despite what the doctors had told them, a plea for the health of the children they already had, or whether Janet thought the dead girl needed exoneration from some invisible crime. The name made him angry, but he couldn’t ﬁnd a way to tell his wife. Goodman and Ambrosia grew up with the strange, slippery knowledge that their very identities were perlocutionary acts. There were expectations riding on them. There was destiny to be fulﬁlled. Their toys were introduced, utilized, and set aside following a speciﬁc timeline. “I am too old for this now,” his mother pronounced. “Say it, Goodman. I am too old for this now. I am putting it away.” “I am too old for this now,” Goodman repeated dutifully. “I am putting it away.” His heart howled as his mother set aside the clear half-globe with the colored plastic balls inside that popped and shot around when he pushed it by the handle. Janet laid the toy in the large wicker chest that had been large enough for Goodman to climb into before it became ﬁlled with cast oﬀ toys, objects deemed too babyish, things that might retard his development. Crab Orchard Review
Caitlin Horrocks “I am giving it to Ambrosia, for when she is a little older,” Janet said, lowering the lid over the bubble vacuum. “I am giving it to Ambrosia, for when she is a little older.” “I will play with my new crayons and my new coloring book.” “I will play with my new crayons and my new coloring book.” “I will learn new colors.” “I will learn new colors.” “I will improve my manual dexterity.” Goodman gave his mother a blank look. He had become suspicious of repeating things he didn’t understand and this both disappointed and delighted Janet, because while it meant that her son did not entirely trust her, it also meant that he believed, like she did, in the power of proclamations. He did not want to make something happen when he did not fully understand what it was. When Goodman was six and Ambrosia ﬁve, Janet ﬁled paperwork with the state and local school district to homeschool them. She and Mark had discussed it in a spare, perfunctory way, the way they increasingly discussed many things. Mark had read in an article somewhere that stay-at-home mothers grew desperate for adult conversation, that she would cling to his workplace tales and push him for debate, but he came home everyday to a house thick with narration, his children’s lives ﬁlled with voiceover. This ferocious, incantatory mother bewildered Mark, and he was convinced that it was his fault. He had made this stranger of his own wife, he had brought this clever woman to a cornﬁeld, and this was the life she’d made for herself. It was not his place to contradict her, to take more from her than he’d already taken. Having denied her children trips to the school bus stop and the soccer ﬁeld Janet seemed eager to send them on jaunts to the moon, to Timbuktu, to Barbie’s Dream House or the Fortress of Solitude. Goodman loved to look at maps, and when he discovered that their last name was also the capital of Tasmania, home of the spinning, toothy, devils, he was ecstatic. He invented a family dynasty of explorers, shipbuilders, hunters, Tasmanian royalty, and an adventurer who had somehow stumbled onto the secret shores of Iowa to start an American branch of the famed family. Janet helped him and Ambrosia create The Hobart Chronicles, a coat of arms emblazoned above period journal entries on paper stained yellow with cold tea. They constructed relics of storied journeys: a piece of broken glass from a Hobart pirate’s spyglass, a vial of poison that had been fed to a Tasmanian dragon by 32 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Caitlin Horrocks a Hobart prince, an earring that had been worn by a Hobart princess, a girl so beautiful men shook when they looked at her. The more time Mark tried to spend with his wife and children, the more they made him feel like the appendix of the Hobart household, the tailbone or the tonsils, something pointless and protruding. It was easy to stay away, to absent himself from the strange world they’d woven around themselves. He was teaching a 4/3 course load and was up for tenure. He had publications to produce, committees to serve on, students to advise. He did insist Janet enroll the children in group music lessons and an after-school art program. They both played, badly, on a co-ed softball team the summer Goodman was nine. Watching Goodman strike out and Ambrosia miss an easy grounder, Mark felt he had at least done his part. The year Goodman would have entered the sixth grade, and a new middle school, gave Janet pause. She did worry sometimes, watching her children; it was obvious from the way they acted around other kids that there were lessons they hadn’t learned, things she hadn’t been able to teach them. But she convinced herself that these were lessons not worth learning, not yet, not in the way that eleven-year-olds taught them. Her children were diﬀerent creatures altogether; odd but smart, good-hearted and impossibly trusting, they would not last a day in the open air of adolescence. Janet kept Goodman at home with his sister where there was no one to disabuse the siblings of their absolute, unquestioned trust in their mother, in the gospel of her speech acts, her ﬁerce and isolated love. That winter, with Goodman eleven years old and Ambrosia ten, Janet left the Christmas rituals unchanged. Holidays brought out her most frenzied parenting and the entire month of December was choreographed in detail. The tree went up on the ﬁfteenth, weekday or weekend, and was decorated with Janet’s album Yule B. Swingin’ playing in the background. There were certain kinds of cookies Janet baked on certain days, and a certain way she arranged them on paper plates for the mailman, the paper boy, the neighbors. In the evenings they would call Mark into the living room and perform Christmas carols for him. Janet researched and purchased educational toys online. She wrapped up the family presents and put them under the tree on the twentieth. Christmas Eve she put both children to bed. “Santa’s coming,” they would recite, Ambrosia ﬁrst in her bedroom, Goodman next in his, making it so. Janet knew they only pretended to be asleep but it didn’t matter; those nights she sneaked through the Crab Orchard Review
Caitlin Horrocks house so silently she made Mark nervous of her, of the obvious relish she took in her deception. The children left food for Santa and the reindeer; Janet ate the carrots while Mark ate the cookies. On December 21st, the whole Hobart family attended a Christmas party at the home of Mark’s department chair. Goodman and Ambrosia drifted oﬀ to the basement with a herd of older children. Janet stood beside Mark, in a circle of people with wine in one hand and paper plates of hors d’oeuvres in the other. The other guests were discussing college politics, something contentious and ongoing, and she could tell from the way they tried to include her in the conversation that it was something they assumed Mark would have told her about. Janet could not think of anything Mark had told her about work all semester. When her children came up behind her and cleared their throats she was happy to step outside the circle of adults and face them. “What have you been up to?” she asked. There was a crowd of other kids behind them. “Samantha said she wanted to go hunting for her Christmas presents,” Goodman said. Janet dimly remembered the name of the hostess’ eight-year-old daughter. “She said she knew where they were hidden,” Ambrosia added. “But when we looked in the basement closet, the family presents were all wrapped up.” The brother and sister shared narrative duties, speaking in complete, alternate sentences, never treading on the other’s words. Janet thought how strange they must sound to anyone but her. “So then she said she wanted to look for her stocking presents,” Ambrosia said. “And we said that her stocking presents weren’t in the house yet, obviously.” “Because Santa hasn’t brought them yet. He doesn’t bring them until Christmas Eve. Everybody knows that.” “Even an eight-year-old should know that,” Goodman said, with an eleven-year-old sigh. Janet balanced her paper plate on top of her wine glass and stretched her left hand out, palm down. She wanted to stop this, wanted to stop her children from saying anything more, but she had so rarely quieted them, they had no code. All her parenting had been for speech; all she could think to do to stop them was lift her hand inexplicably into the air and her children had no idea what she meant by this. “Then they asked us if we were joking,” Ambrosia said. 34 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Caitlin Horrocks “Or if we were retarded,” Goodman said. “And we said we weren’t either.” Janet became more and more aware of the absolute silence of the other children lined up behind her son and daughter; there was no commentary, no snorts or snickers. Janet realized that they were waiting for something even better. “They said that there was no such thing as Santa Claus.” “That he didn’t exist.” “That parents put the presents in the stockings.” “Parents eat the cookies and the carrots and the milk.” Janet decided to just wait for it, wait for the ‘Mom, is it true?’ Then she would pull them aside, take them somewhere quiet, into the foyer or the guest bedroom, and tell them that these other children, these savages, were correct. That she had assumed they knew; she’d assumed that they’d ﬁgured it out, though now that she thought about it, how could they have? Janet’s fantasy-making was seamless; her son and daughter watched so little television, saw so few movies, spoke with so few other children. They lacked social sense, like being colorblind or unable to smell. But Goodman and Ambrosia did not ask her if she’d been lying to them all this time. They did not ask her to explain herself. “Tell them,” Goodman insisted. “Tell them about Santa Claus.” “Tell them it’s true,” Ambrosia said. Janet was dumbfounded. The conversation behind her had stopped entirely. She turned slowly toward her husband, and urged the stem of her glass between his third and fourth ﬁngers, dropped her paper plate on top of his. “I’m going to take the kids out to the car for a minute, honey,” she said. “Let’s go out to the car for a minute, kids.” She put a hand on each of their shoulders to rotate them toward the door. The guests parted ways to let them pass. Janet didn’t bother to stop for their coats, and it made her feel worse to see her children outside in winter without them, walking through the snow to the street in their dress shoes, Ambrosia shivering in stockings. She pulled the car keys out of her purse and unlocked the doors. She turned on the engine and the heat. Goodman and Ambrosia pressed toward the center of the backseat, pushing between the two front seats, spilling toward her. They knew something was wrong now, and Janet felt slightly relieved, that there was ﬁnally a point at which they doubted her, at which they knew she could not help them. “I’m so sorry you had to ﬁnd out this way,” she started, and Ambrosia Crab Orchard Review
Caitlin Horrocks whimpered. Janet shut her eyes. “Santa Claus is imaginary,” she said. “I’m the one that puts your stocking presents out. I buy them like I buy the family presents and then I put them in the stockings on Christmas Eve.” “Why?” Goodman asked, and Janet stared at him, how his face was small but harder, how his limbs had already begun to lengthen. She thought perhaps she had not really seen him for several years. “It’s fun,” Janet began. “It’s a bit of fun—” “For you?” Ambrosia interrupted. “No, sweeties, for you,” Janet said, knowing as she said it that this was not quite true. “But why?” “Because it’s a nice story, just a nice thing to believe in.” “But why would you lie to us?” “It’s not like that. This isn’t like lying. It’s a story for children. All children believe in it for awhile.” It had snowed while they’d been at the party, and ﬂakes clung to the windows, a layer of paste that damped out the streetlights outside. The inside of the car was dim and pale and made her children’s faces seem to shine above their collars. “When did they ﬁnd out?” Ambrosia asked. “The other kids? Earlier,” Janet swallowed. “Probably because they go to school. One kid ﬁnds out and tells everyone. You can imagine how it would go.” But her children couldn’t imagine it, couldn’t imagine the speed with which rumors traveled through a room of thirty children. They had no experience of such a place, such a language, in which things were said but not seriously meant. They looked at her angrily, and Janet dropped her head down to look at the snow from her shoes melting on the ﬂoor mat. “What about the Easter Bunny?” Goodman ﬁnally asked. “What?” “You heard me. What about the Easter Bunny?” “Oh, honey, no. No, honey.” This was far worse than she’d thought. “He’s not real, either.” “No, he’s not.” “You’re the one who hides the eggs,” he said, and she nodded. She watched them as they processed this, re-evaluating their memories of a decade’s carefully-planned festivities. The boy and girl looked at each other, and Janet saw how bits of them were like bits of her and Mark, 36 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Caitlin Horrocks Goodman’s brown hair that fell across his forehead and Ambrosia’s eyes, round and wide-set. Ambrosia drummed her ﬁngers across the back of the driver’s seat. Janet could hear her ﬁngertips tapping the vinyl. “What about the Tooth Fairy?” Janet leaned her head against the seat. She could feel the car vibrating underneath her and she wished it would take her somewhere, just propel them all forward onto safer ground. “Santa and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy were all lies,” Ambrosia tried to clarify. “Yes. Those were lies. Those people are imaginary.” “You give us presents and hide eggs and take our teeth and leave quarters.” “Yes.” “It’s been you the whole time, pretending it was someone else.” “Yes.” “Everybody else knew. Everybody else in the world, but we didn’t.” For once Janet had nothing to say, she’d put so much weight on all her words that now they held down her tongue. She reached up blindly and turned on the dome light to look more closely at her children. They seemed stunted to her, caged and veal-tender, shining only in a certain light. “Yes,” she said. “I lied to you. I’ve been lying the whole time.” “Our whole lives,” the children said, and Janet wanted to laugh at the way it came out, shrill and in unison. She’d bred these rareﬁed beasts. They breathed bottled air and bleated. “Your whole lives,” she said, and wondered whether the statement was illocutionary or perlocutionary, descriptive or predictive. She couldn’t tell and it didn’t seem to matter. “I’m sorry,” she said. The car was warm now, and humid from their bodies. Janet lowered her head and sniﬀed the air. She was reeking with love.
Crab Orchard Review
Jennifer A. Howard What I Bring to the Table Ruby lost her eye not long after she found out she was
pregnant, but she sews her own eye patches and they look good on her. Today’s is lilac with gold embroidery, and with the matching kerchief holding back her curls that twist like orchid roots, she is so beautiful any sympathy is unnecessary. If anything, her new look only accentuates the unfairness of it all. The rest of us lovingly point forks at each other’s faces, wishing bizarre accidents where we too might run into a branch of a hawthorn tree or swing inelegantly out of a hammock so we might become pirates like Ruby. Ruby’s baby will be the ﬁrst born into Group. Sparky’s daughters are full-grown and gone, and my own little girl lives with her father miles away from me. But this is our ﬁrst pregnancy together. We all hope it will be a girl, except Ruby herself, who imagines boys have it easier in the world. Plus, I think she’s stuck on the romance of taking this little boy out to capture bullfrogs. We’ve assured her that if it’s a girl and she asks for makeup advice at some point, Ruby can wing it. There are magazines that she can turn to. Like every Friday, we are sitting around Ruby’s ﬁve-sided table. Buck-Ann shuﬄes the tarot deck, her green eye and her blue eye both gray in the dim light of the candles. Michelle still isn’t here. Her spot two seats counterclockwise from me is empty, but we can start because Buck-Ann, the youngest of us and the only one who can operate a chainsaw with any grace, has brought the box of wine. Sparky, though, drinks seltzer from a liter bottle. She has just recently returned from the taping of Domestic Diva. Of the ﬁve of us, we always knew she had the best chance of joining the cast of a reality TV show. When she failed to take the application seriously, sketching her face and her long red hair with colored pencil rather than attaching a snapshot, we worried she’d be disqualiﬁed. But CBS brought her back for the next round. Asked in an interview how she had handled a mishap at a dinner party she hosted in the past, she told them, “Are you fucking kidding me?” Nothing goes wrong at Sparky’s 38 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jennifer A. Howard dinner parties. She was in. They ﬂew her oﬀ to live in the same house used in For Love or Money with eleven other women and two men. The vacuum was never not running for the whole length of the taping. When we realize wishing an eye patch on Buck-Ann presents a quandary, we set down our forks. Which eye to lose: the blue or the green? Michelle, who is always late, who in fact needs cajoling oﬀ her comfy couch, ﬁnally comes through the door, and Ruby’s mastiﬀ jumps up. She carries four pots of her bees’ honey in her arms and tumbles them gently, along with the snow that they caught on the short walk from the car to the door, onto the glass-top table. A tarot card falls to the ﬂoor and lands face up: the Three of Cups, women in robes toasting the sky. Michelle has photos in her bag of the pink convertible she drove in Florida last month, a lucky upgrade, just returned to the rental place by a man who drove his daughter, Miss Orange Blossoms, in a local parade. All the way down I–75, Michelle and her beekeeper boyfriend plucked candy out from between the seats. In the pictures, her pretty northwoods skin glows lemon-white in the panhandled sun. Buck-Ann scoops up Ruby’s tabouli with a piece of bread. “In the afterworld,” she says, “all the forks are four feet long.” “Are you sure they don’t use the metric system?” Sparky asks. Her Zippo plays “Hotel California” as she ﬂicks it, but we’ll wait to light up until later, maybe on one of Ruby’s frequent trips to the bathroom. “I mean, the U.S. is really the only place still clinging to the idea of feet.” “Longer than your arm, anyway,” Buck-Ann says. “Long enough you could never hold the end and feed yourself.” My arms twitch as if I want to try this out, to be holding an imaginary arm-plus-long utensil. They twitch like they did when I read an e-mail that claimed that nobody can lick their own elbow and I wanted to test the claim, wanted that at least for the second before I realized it was a suggestion that I stretch my tongue armward and stopped. 96% of people who read this e-mail try to lick their elbows, the e-mail said at the bottom. Sparky feeds the dog bread under the table. I rip open the box so I can squeeze white sangria from the Mylar bag into Buck-Ann’s travel mug. “Why?” I ask her. “The long forks?” “Because,” Buck-Ann says, “in hell, everybody’s trying hard to eat with the forks, skewering food and turning the fork around, but nobody can get it in their mouths. It’s falling on the ﬂoor, getting in their hair. Everybody’s hungry and cranky.” A band-aid covers a cut clear across the lifeline on Buck-Ann’s right hand, her future hand. Crab Orchard Review
Jennifer A. Howard She cut herself on a nail washing the walls of her new cabin, out on a small lake outside town. Once it heals, we will divine how the scar signals a change in her life. Before Michelle spent a year in a cabin in the woods, she couldn’t get enough of people; now, we can only get her out of her house on Fridays. Ruby squints with her good eye at the pamphlet that came with the tarot cards. Her hand presses against her still-small belly. “But in heaven,” Buck-Ann says, “everybody sits across the table from somebody. That way, you can feed each other.” We take this in, the idea of tables in heaven. The idea of heaven itself. As if an afterlife might actually be disappointing compared to Fridays at Ruby’s. Here, I know which one is my chair. But I don’t have a reservation for after I’m dead, let alone a date. Ruby has Paul, and Michelle has Mark, but who will be sitting across from me in heaven? I have been divorced for two years but am still unused to sleeping alone, most nights preferring the snug of the couch to my bed, half again too big with its two sets of pillows, right and left. I don’t even believe in heaven, I don’t think, but now I have to worry that if it exists, I may have to head into eternity stag. Sparky will have David there to feed her. He played his lovinghusband role when the cameras came to visit. Week 13 of Domestic Diva, all contestants were ﬂown home and instructed to plan, prepare, and host a dinner party for a panel of six judges. Sparky had spent all day feng shui-ing her dining space, trimming ﬂowers, folding and draping linens, selecting the perfect balance of mismatched silver and tableware. She shaped a simple spinach pie that made its way into the oven before you’d even notice the ingredients being assembled. With time to spare, she ground cocoa with a heavy pestle and grated fresh ginger, the kitchen counters obscured by ingredients, spatulas and spoons. All this for only three cups of dark batter. In a signiﬁcant departure from the other contestants, rather than serve coﬀee in the dining room, Sparky invited the judges back to the kitchen for after-dinner tea. The judges perched on stools and admired her samovar and forgot to be critical. Not that there was anything to criticize, but until then, they had accepted the role of critic as their sworn duty. We can’t imagine she didn’t win them over. Michelle drinks amaretto and lemonade she brought in a Tupperware pitcher. “Not feeling better yet?” she asks me. I hadn’t realized it but my hand has slid inside my V-neck sweater 40 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jennifer A. Howard to rest upon my chest, like I am saying a topless pledge. I had made the same unconscious gesture at the coﬀee shop earlier today. I had my laptop and I was trying to ﬁgure out what was wrong with me, but try googling “hot breasts” and see how much medical information you come up with. My crush, Rocco, sat next to me at the table. He could have assumed, me with my hand down my own shirt and the search results of that badly worded query on my screen, that I was feeling a little randy. Sparky laughs when I tell them. “At least you have sensation. I say enjoy it.” “No,” I say. “This is freaking me out.” They don’t feel warm to the touch, but inside, they ﬂame. Too young for hot ﬂashes, I imagine I must be dying. I might need to get worrying about my dinner partner in heaven. I picture myself sitting across from my daughter until I realize I will arrive much sooner than her. I wonder if maybe I can wait in the lobby till she gets there—my grandfather must have frittered away twenty long years before my grandma showed up—but that won’t work either as with any luck she will come escorted herself. “Just ask him,” Ruby says. “Say, Rocco, are my breasts hot?” Hers are so much bigger already, even this early on, transforming her from the Page of Wands into the Empress. “It wouldn’t be my worst come-on,” I say. I remind them of a drunken game of truth or dare with a guy from work last summer. Back at my place, we had moved from chairs to the couch, from the ends of the couch to the center cushion. The vodka was gone and we were putting hands on each other’s legs to emphasize whatever it was we were saying. When he ﬁnally stopped choosing truth, I leaned in all pretty and questioning: “I dare you to sit still.” My hand was just about to reach his chin and turn his face up to me, kneeling tall on the couch, when he said he had to pee. He stood up, kiss averted. I’m not faring any better with Rocco. I tell them about yesterday when he and I went to Target. The whole store had been remodeled, so we couldn’t ﬁnd the oﬃce supplies anymore, but then we did, after wandering our way through pillows and shoes and electronics. “We were leaving,” I tell them, “and I pushed against a door that didn’t used to be mechanized, but now it was automatic, so just as I went to lean on it, it opened on its own, and I tumbled out into the street.” I show them the hole in the knee of my jeans. They insist it’s only a matter of time now before he falls in love with me. But this morning, Rocco had asked only if I was having heart Crab Orchard Review
Jennifer A. Howard palpitations. Not even a screen full of XXX and a girl feeling herself up in public was enough to incite a little ﬂirting. It might be time for me to move on. Luckily I have a hummingbird heart, and there is always another boy to be wooed. “I’m trying to learn how to be friends with boys,” I say, but I don’t know how important that is to me, really. Not all boys are a problem, of course; it’s easy to be friends when I’m not attracted to them, or when they’re married to a Group member. It’s the arrogant, dark-haired boys who I know are surprised to like me at all—a girl in ﬂannel shirts and a sloppy ponytail—who trouble me. The ones who ﬁnd out that a selfconfessed lack of discrimination about variations of lettuce doesn’t mean I don’t have a certain charm that even a city boy can fall for. Sparky asks, “Why would you want to be friends with a boy?” She points at Ruby. “Look what can happen.” We all consider her eye patch for a moment until we realize she means the baby. I know Michelle will back me up when I claim Rocco would love me if my hair were a less ambiguous color, if my stretch-marked belly were more suitable to low-rise jeans. “And my nose,” I remind them. I pinch its sides, showing them how my face would look if my nose were more birdlike. “I didn’t know you worried about your nose,” Ruby says, reading the side of the wine box. “Is it worse to drink early in your pregnancy, or later?” “I didn’t used to,” I say. It’s always been a little upturned, a little too wide, but when I was thinner, that was cute. “But I think it’s still growing.” I pour Ruby a glass of the sangria, though we know she will merely smell it all evening, and we consider which surgeries we would have if we could aﬀord them and which are ridiculous and vain. Though we never would have thought she needed them, Michelle wants butt implants. “Really?” says Buck-Ann. “I’d get Lasik eye surgery.” The rest of us tell her that self-improvement for the sake of reading doesn’t count. I would apply to be a Swan contestant if I thought they could carve me into a quirky kind of accidental pretty like Ruby, but I’d rather be the kind of imperfect I already am than the big-lipped, shockeyed women who walk out of that reality show. Not that I don’t have fantasies about a kind-faced masked man sliding a tube in and out, faster and faster, frantic, under the wall of the skin of my thighs and upper arms, liposucting me into a size 10. Granted, there could be more unattractive about me than my body, 42 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jennifer A. Howard but it’s easy to pretend that’s why I don’t have a boyfriend. To blame it on male pattern blindness rather than my own weaknesses—my inability to sometimes leave the house, the crying jags that come like clockwork in the shower. The way I miss taking care of my daughter so much that I can’t even be kind to other people’s children. My own wish to be taken care of, which must come through in the fact that I invite people over for dinner and then make them do the cooking. Michelle has news. “I read somewhere that that Jello Biafra would spend the night with whoever could…something.” “Could what?” we ask. We already know her life-long goal of bedding the lead singer of the Dead Kennedys. Her boyfriend wouldn’t even mind. But she can’t remember the speciﬁcs. “It was big,” she says, “changing legislation, eradicating homophobia, something signiﬁcant.” “We could look it up,” I say. “You must have read it somewhere. Jello didn’t whisper it in your ear. We could ﬁnd it.” But to her, that isn’t the point. Jello will love her more for remembering, so we let her keep trying. We all have ways of not getting what we pretend we want. I sometimes tell people I’m writing a self-help book about relationships, just because the answer to “what color is my parachute?” is boycrazy and supposedly the money will follow. The advice in my make-believe manuscript is solid because it’s all lifted from these Friday nights, but any woman following my actions instead of my words would ﬁnd herself waiting for really cool gay friends to catch the girl-bug or unconsciously attracting old married men. I imagine my next book will be aimed at correcting men’s biggest problems, each guy I interact with getting some space in the notebook I carry in my coat pocket. Like the other night, when I went home with a bartender, after one of my crushes had left to tend to something other than me. The kissing was torture—all push, no pull—but I had company until morning, which matters, and even bad sex can leave me with a new bullet point. Tip #8: Once is a spanking. More than that is just hitting. Buck-Ann’s advice is probably the best. She broke up with her girlfriend last year, but of all of us, she is the one who can best survive alone. She goes camping by herself. She revels in long afternoon naps, and she wakes up entranced by how the setting sun has transformed her hand-sewn curtains into a darker shade of red while she slept. And yet, it’s not only Group who loves her; she’s also the one most likely to have forkfuls of curry chicken or baked beans, or whatever they serve Crab Orchard Review
Jennifer A. Howard at suppers in heaven, held out for her to bite. She needs less, especially compared to me, and so, I suppose, she is given more. Me, though, I’m mad for the company of boys. And I can’t be satisﬁed with knowing some boy likes me enough to spend lazy afternoons driving through the woods or long nights sharing cigarettes on the end of the ore dock, if they stop short of wanting to get it on. Even more than actual making out, though, I want a good story for Group. I want to e-mail them at the end of a good night, or better, the next morning, and say, he kissed me. The kissing itself, the wet mouths on skin—sometimes I’m too busy narrating in my head to even appreciate. Michelle rummages through her bag. She ﬁnds and passes out ﬁve instant lottery tickets, one to each of us: Jingle Bills, The Big Cheese, Double Doubler Dough, Wicked Winnings, Kisses & Riches. We start looking for nickels, but when Sparky tosses hers to Ruby, we realize she’s right. Despite the eye incident, Ruby is the charmed one. We all pass our tickets her way. I hold my glass against my sweater, switching sides until I can no longer tell if my breasts feel hot or cold. “Remember Paul’s back problems?” Buck-Ann says, watching me. We’ve talked before about how ailments can be emblematic. How Ruby’s boyfriend couldn’t even get out of bed for weeks because he was spineless, afraid to marry her. How Michelle’s crusty eye meant she was scared to see something. I knew my breasts burned because I missed my daughter, because her move downstate with her dad had left me without her tiny warm body to spoon while I told her stories at night. Because as much as I grieved the loss of the day-to-day with her, my body was telling me to feel it even deeper and that no amount of waking up with my breasts covered in little bite marks from some guy would make me feel less lonely. “I know,” I say. “I miss her.” Group knows this. Sparky gathers empty dishes from the table, heads into the kitchen. “Rocco’s too old for you,” she calls back. “And he’s not a good e-mailer.” “And he gets hives from the cold,” I say. “You can’t take him outside.” “You need someone who’s not afraid to play charades,” they say. “Someone who reads, or at least watches Survivor.” And I agree. But Rocco makes a mean balsamic dressing, even in my kitchen, which has no whisk and no spice rack and only one big bowl, probably already full with peanut shells, so until somebody else comes 44 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jennifer A. Howard along, they know I won’t be dissuaded. In Group, I’m the lovestruck one, a title I’m happy to wear. Not having a man in my bed is so much easier to explain than just how I became a mother with no kid to tuck in. My wine glass has become empty, so I gather the tarot cards and pass the deck to Ruby. She has scratched oﬀ a winning ticket every time—$18 total. Enough to buy the wine for next week, and cranberry juice for Ruby, and one more lottery ticket; we’re suddenly ﬂush. It is time to ﬁnd out about the baby. When Ruby chooses her card and hands it, face down, to Sparky, the rest of us think girl, girl, girl. It is the Moon card—dogs, or coyotes, howling skyward—and we breathe happy sighs, even Ruby. She worries that the world is hard on girls, that the pressures to be pretty are too much. She imagines a boy could more easily be himself. But we tell her, “Look around, Blackbeard. Girls are allowed this.” They’ll read my tarot cards next, to divine when and through whom the universe will send me love. I’ll get the Tower card, of course, which should remind me of the ﬁery disaster that I’m sure to make of a relationship, but I’ll read it some other way—as a thorough destruction of my past mistakes or the more literal burning that manifests itself in my body. I’ll see Rocco or the cute butcher at the meat market in one of the Cups cards and imagine the universe is just about ready to send me someone. They’ll see it too, mark their words, although it may be a long time before their wishes for me come true. But once in a while, on Friday nights in particular, I can be clear-eyed enough to realize the universe already has sent me love by the bushel. That it’s not what Group sees in my cards that will make the diﬀerence, but the fact that they’ll read them, read me, week after week, toasting with me the world as it is. At our ﬁve-sided table, nobody sits exactly across from anybody else, but I’ve got all of them within a long fork’s reach of my mouth.
Crab Orchard Review
Gimbiya Kettering Counting in Tongues In dreams, the colors of Africa are intense, almost pliable.
The desert soil is a reddish gold that sparkles with glassy grains. The termites turn this sand into mounds that rise like gilded gravestones from the ﬂat ground. It is always Sunday in my dreams. I’m in Church, and Dad is preaching. His voice is the breeze that moves under the thatched roof, lifting my hair from my face. In my dreams it must be November, so I can be home for the holidays while the sky is the same pale, soaring blue of airmail letters. I have almost completely forgotten the Turkana language, but in this dream my agemates have forgiven me. They sit close to me, welcoming me back from school. When we were young we played a wordless version of hide-and-go-seek together at the edge of the village, mindful of the acacia thorns. It was then that my feet became leathery and brown. In this dream, my agemates tease me in a broken language that is the Turkana I have forgotten mixed with English words like shards of glass over their tongues. They pull faces at me, wrinkling their dark skin. Their skin is like nuts or bark or wood. It is not like any of these things, it is a color that breathes. They smile at me, their teeth violently white against the peaceful, ripeness of their black lips. They tease me by grabbing my long, straight hair. Even though I know it is a dream, I can smell them. They smell of adulthood, saltiness polished with moisturizing fat. In my dreams, one comes to me: a girl who used to be my friend before her family arranged a marriage for her. Before my father sent me away to the Kijabe boarding school for missionary kids. She holds her hands cupped before me, smiling. I pry her ﬁngers apart and she is holding a grasshopper with hidden, rainbow wings. In an orange ﬂash, the grasshopper ﬂies into the sky, melting into the blueness. The alarm buzzes. A mechanical insect. “You getting up,” Melanie asks. It is not really a question. I groan, rolling further into the stale warmth of too many comforters. The air in the dorm room is dry and heavy with the
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Gimbiya Kettering artiﬁcial smell of berries from my roommate’s body lotion. I close my eyes, trying to recapture the blue of the sky, the face of the girl in my dream. Suddenly I remember her name: Logilani. It hangs alone in the darkness behind my eyelids. Africa has become a mirage. “You promised to come to church,” she reminds me. “Okay, okay.” I still don’t move. “Reggie’s going to be there,” she tells me. As if I care. “What does that have to do with me?” “I thought you liked him,” Melanie smiles. She is in love and thinks the solution for everyone is being in love. “You seem like the type that likes older guys, and he is certainly that. As much as the two of you ﬂirt, you might as well admit it to yourselves.” “Why is it that whenever a woman is capable of intelligent, conﬁdant conversation she is accused of ﬂirting?” I ask her. Reggie is heartbreakingly handsome, but not as pretty as the sun setting like a burning coin over the verdant waters of Lake Turkana. I’m in love with a place and no one can compete with that. I’m homesick. “Um-hmm,” she murmurs deep in her throat, determined to get the last word. “Which do you think looks better?” I roll over and open my eyes just barely. She has already turned on every light in the room and is standing at the mirror applying moisturizer to her face. She is wearing only a full-body slip, beige, satin that glows white against her nutmeg skin. “You look ﬁne,” I tell her, not actually sure what she is talking about. “No,” she says, gesturing across the room. “Which of those?” She is referring to the two dresses laying out on her bed. They look the same to me, or rather there is not enough of a diﬀerence for me to guess which would be better. “The purple one,” I guess. “I thought so too,” Melanie says. “But if Darren wears his blue suit, the other one would match.” “I guess,” I say. What I don’t say is that I don’t understand why someone would want to go to church looking like a matched pair of salt-and-pepper shakers. Darren is her boyfriend. He is a religion major and thinks God is calling him to work as a missionary in Africa. He asks me about what it was like growing up in the mission ﬁeld and what Africa is like. I tell him Africa is a big place. I don’t think he is missionary material, but I don’t tell him this. “You going to get up for church?” Melanie asks. Her voice is insistent. Crab Orchard Review
Gimbiya Kettering When she says going, it sounds like gonna. Her southern, black accent, which she uses when she is talking to Darren and occasionally with me, is sometimes beautiful. I go to church out of habit and because she insists each Sunday. If I had a diﬀerent roommate, I would have stopped going. “Don’t ask me that again,” I tell her. “Why not?” “In my culture it’s considered very rude,” I tell her. “What?” “According to the Turkana people to ask someone a question three times is rude,” I explain. This is a lie. I am not Turkana. The tribe that I grew up among saw me only as a foreigner, the daughter of a missionary, and a child. A rather ignorant child. Here, I am an expert on all things African. Here, I can say that I have cultural traditions belonging to the Turkana tribe that others must respect. But the truth is this is not a Turkana tradition; this is a tradition among some tribe in West Africa I read about. I watch Melanie’s face as she swallows this lie. Sometimes lies become truth. When I come out of the bathroom, Melanie is on the phone with Darren. She looks at me critically, and I know what she is thinking. “Are you going to shower?” she asks, covering the mouthpiece. She notices how often, or rather how infrequently, I shower. She thinks this is strange, that it somehow makes me less sanitary than she is. “There isn’t time,” I tell her. If there were time, I wouldn’t shower anyway. I don’t believe in showering every day. It seems like a ﬂagrant waste of water. Perhaps it is too many years of washing, bent over a small basin of warm water, washing as high as possible, washing as low as possible, washing everything possible. Perhaps it is living in the desert. I don’t tell Melanie that she showers often enough for both of us. I open my closet and run my ﬁngers over the dark clothes, trying not to hear the closing endearments that Melanie is uttering as if Darren were about to leave the country. Not only is she about to see him in a few minutes, he was hanging out in our room until visiting hours ended last night. I don’t know how Melanie does not get sick of having him hang about her, like a tick-eating bird riding the back of cattle all day. “He is going to wear his blue suit,” Melanie tells me. She pulls the blue dress over her head. It is a bright, manufactured blue, a color that would never appear in nature. I choose my favorite skirt, a dark brown wraparound skirt, long to my ankles, which drapes evenly with the weight of cloth. It reminds 48 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Gimbiya Kettering me of the long skirts sewn together from several large leather swatches and tied at the waist with an ornate, beaded belt, traditionally worn by the Turkana women. When they walk, the skirts waft around their thighs, gracefully swaying from their narrow waists. Their muscular torsos and soft breasts, brown to a uniform color that almost blended to the tanned leather, never looked naked. I hated the way the bright cotton shirts Mom wore made her look stripped and pale. “I’ve got a dress you can borrow,” Melanie suggests. She holds up a bottle-green dress that has a lacey collar. “This color will brighten your face.” “No thanks,” I tell her. Sometimes she is too much like my mother, trying to encourage me to wear bright colors, trying to get me to wear make-up, trying to make me more of an American woman. Melanie watches with disapproval when I wrap a traditional beaded belt around my waist. I carefully thread the leather tongs through the loop at the end and tie it tightly around my waist. The belt was a gift from Logilani. With the belt cinching my waist, I walk more gracefully. I hold my back straight enough to balance ﬁrewood on my head. Part of the reason I don’t think that Darren is called to mission work is the way he drives. I sit in the back seat and cower and pray. Melanie sits serenely in the front passenger seat, holding his hand with her left and her right hand ﬂipping through the Bible open on her lap. Occasionally she reads passages aloud, as if discovering them for the ﬁrst time. She listens to Darren’s interpretations as if he were God. I nervously pick at the beads on my waist. “Whassup?” Darren asks, mocking his own accent, mocking my inability to understand much of what he says. He thinks my English is too formal. I might think he is joking, except from the way he is looking at me in the rearview mirror. “Fine,” I tell him, avoiding his gaze. “Have you heard from your parents?” “Not recently,” I say. I don’t want to talk to him about this. Besides, he would know, Melanie seems to tell him everything. “You must miss them,” Darren continues in his ‘pastor’ voice, which he means to be soothing. I ﬁnd it patronizing. “You know you are my sister,” he has said this before. “So we’re your family in America.” “Thank you,” I reply, because I don’t know what else to say. “I’m your brother,” he says again, cutting across two lines of Crab Orchard Review
Gimbiya Kettering traﬃc to catch the exit for the church. “You should come home with me during the long weekend. My family would welcome you.” Melanie doesn’t believe him any more than I do. If I were Turkana, they might accept me as a true African. I would be welcomed as heathen, exotic, distant family and poor. Instead, I am the daughter of American parents, missionary white, and diﬃcult to explain. The service is already crowded when we get there. The ushers dressed in white, give us thick bulletins and lead us to a pew near the front. I slide in ﬁrst, scooting as close to the wall as possible. The rest of the congregation is standing singing, and I feel awkward as I try to ﬁnd the song number in the bulletin and open the hymnal at the same time. Reggie is at the front playing the piano, he is wearing all white that makes his ebony skin glow. He seems to sense us enter and turns to smile at me. I smile back and drop the hymnal. Melanie hands the hymnal back to me open to the correct song. She is smiling, “I told you…” she starts to whisper. “Hush,” I hiss. Darren nudges her in the ribs and shoots me a stern glare. His displeasure amuses me, tempts me to giggle. But Melanie takes him seriously and faces front. She grew up in a church like this, and she seems to know all the songs by heart. When she sings, her whole being seems to ﬁll with the music, the meanings of the lyrics, the grace of God. During the singing, I always miss home. I miss being able to feel the sunshine on my back when I sit in church and sway instinctively to the Turkana hymns that I know only phonetically. I miss leather-clad drums. At least in this church the clapping of hands provides me with the rhythm I crave. At ﬁrst, I attended a Methodist church that had sponsored my family through their tithes and oﬀerings. They were kind and all felt sorry for me since my family was so far away. But I could not get used to the staid services and orchestrated music. Melanie invited me to church with her. It was the same way she shared the care packages her mother sent to her because she knew my family couldn’t send things to me, and the way she invited me to the cafeteria, to sit with her at the black table. I listen to her rich alto voice, surprisingly full since she is actually very petite. I just mouth the words and don’t actually sing, but no one seems to really notice. No one seems to notice I’m the only white person in the church, either. In Turkana, it was just my mother, my brothers, and I sitting in the front of the church while Dad preached. 50 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Gimbiya Kettering At this church I thought I saw other white people in the congregation. Or rather, they looked white to me, but Melanie assured me they were black. I didn’t believe her until I talked to them. It is their English that marks them, a language so diﬀerent from mine. “I feel the Spirit,” Melanie says. She always says this at this point in the service. Darren is rocking and sweat is pouring from his forehead. He is probably about to start speaking in tongues. I don’t feel the Spirit. I never do. Melanie thinks it is strange that I’ve never spoken in tongues. She worries that it means I’m not properly saved. I wish I could speak in tongues just for her. I could count to ten in Turkana very loudly. Epei. Ngaarei. Ngauni. I could shake my head back and roll my eyes and chant: Ngomwana. Ngakan. Ngaikan-ka-pei. I remember the Turkana numerical system, the way it repeats after ﬁve. This makes sense to me because there are ﬁve ﬁngers. To help me count, I press each ﬁnger into my thigh the way Logilani taught me. I am half-afraid that I could pull it oﬀ and halfafraid that an interpreter of tongues will call me on blasphemy. Darren starts speaking in tongues and Melanie sways in his shadow, as if being pulled by the force of the Spirit. I move closer to the wall. I can’t help but think of the scriptures about false prophets that my father preached from. In the Book of Acts, the Apostles had spoken in tongues, a tongue of ﬂame resting upon them, making their words intelligible in the ears of foreigners. Only later did humans begin to speak the tongues that were believed to be the languages of angels that required translators and prophets, and bring with them charlatans. I wonder what my father would think if he found me here, sweating and dancing and counting: Ngakan-ka-arei. Ngakan-ka-uni. Ngakan-ka-omwon. A subtle change of emphasis in the vowels and the words change, twisting into something unintelligible. My childish tongue had mimicked the Turkana people around me, picking up the language with graceless ease. I take a paper fan from the pew and begin to beat the air in front of me, wishing I could reach to open the window. Reggie is pounding the piano keys and the music that comes from it is alive with the energy of the congregation. When he pauses to wipe the sweat from his brow, the congregation keeps the beat with stomping of feet that comes through the ﬂoorboards. He picks me out of the congregation and smiles like we share a secret. Ngatomon. After the sermon, there is a couples’ fellowship. Darren convinces Melanie that they need to stay. I agree to wait in one of the Crab Orchard Review
Gimbiya Kettering side rooms of the church, wishing I had brought something other than the Bible to read. “You sure you don’t mind?” Melanie asks, because she wants to make sure I’ll be ﬁne. Darren has already left us, trailing after the pastor and the elders of the church like guinea fowl. “It’s ﬁne,” I tell her, because she really doesn’t have much choice. She will do what Darren thinks is best, and he is determined to stay. “Whassup,” Reggie calls out casually as he saunters up to us. He has shed his suit jacket and tie. The top few buttons on his shirt are open. “You guys want to come over for lunch?” “We can’t today,” Melanie says. “Darren and I are going to stay for the couples’ fellowship.” “What about you?” he asks me. “You should go,” Melanie says. “It is better than waiting here for us.” “I’ve already bought the food,” Reggie says. “And you really don’t want to wait here. Those fellowships can go on for hours. I’ll take you back to campus.” “Okay,” I agree. Anything seems better than waiting with only the Bible to read. Besides, Reggie is a better driver than Darren and a decent cook. After lunch, I sit on Reggie’s couch reading a book I have pulled from his bookshelf. Marginally I can at least justify that I’m doing homework. The couch sags a little as Reggie sits down next to me. He smells of lemon dishwashing liquid and sweetish cologne. I pretend to ignore him, though I can feel him studying my face. Finally he pulls the book away from me. He is smiling teasingly. “Hey! I was reading that,” I scold, even though I knew he was going to do that. “Seeing as I cooked and did the dishes, the least you could do is talk to me,” he says mournfully so that I know he is joking. “You’re the one who invited me.” I grab for the book. Reggie holds the book over his head and laughs. He has a laugh that spurts like water and makes him open his mouth wide. I can see that his teeth are crooked and that he has ﬁllings in the back. “Fine,” I say pretending to pout. “What do you want me to say?” “Say something in your language. Not English, your other language.” “Mam.” 52 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Gimbiya Kettering “What does that mean?” “No.” Reggie rolls his eyes. “Did you enjoy the service?” “You are not my father to be grilling me to see if I was paying attention!” “I have no desire to be your father,” Reggie says. He holds the book tantalizingly close, but I pretend not to notice. “Despite what Melanie tells you, I’m not that old yet.” “She doesn’t tell me anything,” I tell him, suddenly defensive. “She tells you everything. You’re friends like that.” “Yes,” I agree with him, and realize that this is very true. “How does she feel about Darren sweating you,” Reggie tells me. He looks at me expecting some kind of response. “I haven’t noticed his perspiration.” I feign ignorance of the slang to avoid this topic. Reggie laughs. “Sweating means he likes you.” “We’re friends,” I say, ignoring the suggestiveness in his voice. “Besides, he and Melanie have been dating since, like, the ﬁrst week of classes.” “That doesn’t mean he doesn’t like you.” I shrug, feeling a blush crawl up my neck. To distract him I say, “Give me that book!” I lunge towards him to grab the book. Reggie jerks the book away as fast as a lizard, holding it behind his back just out of my reach. I catch myself on the back of the couch to keep from falling onto him. We are so close that I can feel his warmth. Our faces are only inches apart and I can see the rough stubble along his cheeks and the pores across the bridge of his nose. “You are much better looking than Melanie,” Reggie tells me, his voice so smooth that I almost forget that he is speaking English. “Why do you think that Mr. Darren is always hanging around? He’d drop Melanie, if he thought he had a chance with you.” “I doubt that,” I tell Reggie. I hope that my voice sounds more convincing than I feel. “Do you date black men?” “I don’t date,” I say. “Why not?” I think of Logalini already married. “Why not?” If a Turkana man had approached my father and oﬀered a bride Crab Orchard Review
Gimbiya Kettering price—even one camel—even a single goat!—I would have gone with him. Even against my father’s wishes. American men come emptyhanded, as if dinner-and-a-movie replaces camels. As if they will never bring uncles to sit with my father, drinking beer in the thatched shade. “Give me the book,” I say, reaching around him for it. I have to lean towards him, but with the tips of my ﬁngers I can feel the edge of the book. My arm is stretched against the ﬁrmness of his chest under his soft shirt. Reggie puts a ﬁnger under my chin and lifts my face to him. I have to look into his eyes that are the same woody color as his skin, light and reddish like untreated mahogany. The dark lines that rim his iris are like the grain of wood. The eﬀect of this is eerie, but not ugly. The air between us changes, becomes heavy as if it is about to rain. “You’re very beautiful,” he tells me, his voice only a little louder than a whisper. “Please, give me the book,” I say. My voice is a strange, weak whisper. I wish my skin was dark enough to hide my blushing. Reggie kisses me. I pull away but his lips follow mine. This is my ﬁrst kiss—ever. He probably does not know this. I hope he cannot tell. The warmth of his mouth and the softness of his lips fascinate me. His eyes are closed and his lashes are dark crescents. I don’t close my eyes. Our noses rub against one another and he pulls away. “I’ve been dreaming of this for some time,” Reggie says. His arms are around me, suddenly pulling me towards him. “You’re beautiful.” Instinctively I put my arms around him. He starts kissing me again—this time his tongue pushes against my lips, then ﬁlls my mouth. I’m not sure what to do next, but he doesn’t seem to notice. Deep inside me there is fragile weight, heavy and pocked, like an ostrich egg. I kiss back, my tongue into his mouth. When he lightly bites it, I gasp, push against him. His hands move over my breasts. I’m certain he can feel my nipples through the fabric of my bra. He runs his hands down my chest, then up under my shirt. His hands are cooler than I expected and I imagine that I can feel his sandy ﬁngerprints. “Reggie,” I whisper. “Please…” “Hmm,” he murmurs, not really listening. He is already unhooking my bra. His hands against the bareness of my back feel ﬁrm and comforting. “Reggie,” I say a little louder. 54 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Gimbiya Kettering He kisses me. His lips are damp, full and soft. My body’s response is immediate. This is instinct. Reggie smiles as he pulls his hands slowly away from me. It feels like a spear being pulled away from my ﬂesh and my skin immediately misses his touch. He unbuttons his shirt and slips it oﬀ. His skin is even, except for the slight shadows created by his muscles. I’m surprised that his nipples are dark, almost black. He takes my hand and places it on his chest, and I feel the rise and fall of his breath. It is as though I am hypnotized as he pulls my shirt over my head and pulls my bra from my shoulders. Then he pulls me closer to him, teeth scratch as I return his kiss. His hands slide down my hips and I feel him untying my skirt. The knot slips out easily and the skirt falls away. I am suddenly exposed as he pushes my shoulders gently back and I ﬁnd myself leaning on the couch. He is over me, on me, and through what remains of our clothes I can feel his erection pressing against my thighs. He is sighing in my ear, one hand half tangled, half caressing my hair. When I try to sit up, I ﬁnd myself pushing against his chest. He is stronger than I am and keeps me pressed down. I am not as strong as the Turkana women who bend doum palms into huts. I push against him harder, but it is like pushing against stone. “Reggie,” I tell him, my voice is breathless. “I can’t do this.” “You’ve been leading me on since we ﬁrst met,” he says. These words mean nothing to me, and I focus on his mouth close to my ear and moving like a hot brand against my cheek. “I thought you liked me…this.” “I do, but….” I didn’t know that I was leading him on. I am afraid. It is as if he reads my mind. “Don’t be afraid.” Gently he untangles his hand from my hair and runs his ﬁngers along the side of my face. I force myself to breathe deeply, calmly. The sunlight coming through the blinds makes stripes along the carpeting, the furniture, and our skin, making us look like zebras. Somewhere in the back of my mind it dawns on me that this is probably a sin. The contrast of his skin against mine is beautiful. He kisses me again. Our bare skin presses together. His knee is between my thighs when I clamp them together and turn my head away from his kisses. I trust the strength of my legs from walking miles behind camels, trying to keep up with the tribe that Dad had chosen to accompany into the bush. Tomorrow I will be inked by this struggle. Crab Orchard Review
Gimbiya Kettering “No,” I say. Strength seeps slowly into my muscles. I struggle to sit up, but Reggie pins me. “Hold still,” he says through gritted teeth. He is stronger than I am. I continue to push against his chest, scratching at him with my tooshort nails. A part of my mind wishes that I had stayed at church reading the Bible, waiting for Darren and Melanie to go back to campus. I wish that I had never gone to church this morning. I wish that I had never left home. If I get free I will leave here. I will walk back to Turkana—and for a moment I imagine that I can walk across the ocean. Reggie adjusts his weight and my leg is going numb under the pressure of his knee. “Jesus,” I whisper, ready to bargain with my father’s God. “Dear Jesus.” I feel the Spirit. Reggie freezes his eyes wide. “Shut up,” he says. His voice is hoarse. “Jesus.” The Spirit is a dry heat. Akuj. Everything in the room becomes wavy, like trees in the distance on a hot day. “Get oﬀ me,” I say. The words sound strange, powerful, as if spoken by many tongues at once. He silently rolls to the side. If I had been praying, I would believe this to be an answer to prayer. But, I am not praying. These thoughts are small and scratchy like sand as I reach for my clothes. I know that I will be able to walk back to the dorms. It will be a long walk, but I have walked farther balancing a clay jar water-heavy on my head. It is said that there are twenty-three words to describe walking in Turkana. I remember Logilani teaching me these words, repeating the lilting musical sounds again and again, each time she would change her pace to demonstrate what the words meant. She was teaching me how to walk. Akilalab, she told me, stretching her legs so each step seemed to swallow the ground. I had to run to keep up. She made her steps small and made me repeat after her: Akirunyuny. I stopped her and held her hand, forcing her to walk next to me and waiting for her to give me this word. She had smiled and put her hand in mine. There is a word for walking together, but I have forgotten this. I’m left only with her voice and the knowledge of how to walk. Back in the dorm I stand in the shower and let the water run over me. As I had expected, patches of my skin are beginning to 56 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Gimbiya Kettering darken with tender bruises. My muscles are sorer than any walking has ever made them. The water drumming against the tiles sounds like rain. I hear other girls come into the bathroom, but they sound far away like a bad connection of an international call. It is easier to listen to the static patter of the water. I close my eyes and duck my head under the stream. I don’t know how long I stand there. I don’t think about the water wasting into the drain. “Hello? Hello?” It is Melanie. Her voice is echoing loudly oﬀ the bathroom tiles. “I know you’re here.” I know that I must say something to her. “Epei.” “You all right?” She does not actually need to ask this question. By the depth of her southern accent I know that she is worried about me. Too worried to care about proper enunciation. She is guessing at what happened. “Ngaarei.” Because there is no tongue of ﬂame protecting me. “You want to talk about it?” she asks, her voice is soft and I can see her silhouette through the shower curtain. “Ngaarei. Ngauni. Ngomwana.” The numbers bubble over my tongue easily. “Please, speak English.” “Ngakan.” Even in Turkana I would not be able to explain Reggie’s foreign weight over me. Or how it felt to walk away. “Ngaikan-ka-pei.” “I don’t understand you,” Melanie says. “Ngakan-ka-arei.” Logilani did not understand why I was leaving, without husband or children. She had promised she would be my tribe, that her ancestors would be mine. And I would have milked her cows, sleeping like sisters in a woman’s hut. “Ngakan-ka-uni.” I can hear Melanie’s nervous pacing in the bathroom, her footsteps ring loudly on tile. In the Turkana, steps are sand-quiet, blown away by wind. “Ngakan-ka-omwon.” “Please, speak English.” “Ngatomo.” I feel as if I’m speaking in tongues.
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Rebecca Dunham Reading a Biography of Akhmatova at 30,000 Feet I drift amid ridges of cloud. You won’t be able to remember much about me, little one. My young son picks his way toward me below, I know, along some dark lash of road. Up here, though, it is still light. Immense white masses swim past, whale-like. I didn’t scold you, I didn’t hold you— the plane tips & all is blue, the small underbelly of a plane overhead, pitch as another boat’s shadow must seem to a sinking ship, there on water’s far surface. Its black cross. Motherhood is a bright torture, she said. Soon I’ll rise from my seat, drag arms & legs through air heavy as water, & ﬁnd my son. I was not worthy of it. None of us are. We are made to resist. We fall, pressed as if by an oaken slab, down through gray into night.
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Terra Incognita one: the harmonic body Does beauty require ﬂesh slip beneath geometry’s blade, the bisected breasts ﬁtted to divinity’s grid? All projections of the body distort it by pressing it ﬂat— Miss Helen Wills stares out of the page in harmonic proportion, black & white, her Peter Pan collar’s scalloped edges neat as her ﬁnger-waved cap of hair. Miss Wills is passive, is patient, her ﬂesh prepped for the scalpel of a gaze. Thick lines ink ratios & radiate from each deep-set eye’s soot bore. Her jaw curves, halved like orange segments stripped from a ﬁery globe. This face: a map of golden sections.
two: mappa mundi A girl sits in lime-washed walls, asylum window barred, one mat’s slight rectangle her only relief. O, hate. Its thin mercy cushions hip & shoulder bone. Such care deserves a fuck you, a body laid on hard tile. Label the landmarks: Mt. Purgatory, Job prostrate & erupting in a spill of boils, or Lot’s wife turned to cylinder of salt. Pilloried, gypsum-soft: the past as both cured & punishing. A single hemisphere will suﬃce. Ocean rims the world & ﬂows round its back as wind whitecaps the coin’s Crab Orchard Review
Rebecca Dunham shifting blue. She wants to hold its sea in the palm of her hand, to be true center to this solitude, surging like a continent, lithospheric plate punching plate until mountain ranges wrinkle up, until a new white room opens its four-petaled bloom.
three: white 1. The point at which all narrative breaks. 2. Arthur Gordon Pym, aﬂoat on Poe’s milky sea under a shower of ash. 3. Of this frontier, Captain Cook wrote: “its ice extended beyond the reach of our sight.” & that “the horizon was illuminated by rays of light reﬂected from the ice to a considerable height.” 4. the blank page cartographers populate (whales & sea monsters, legends unscrolling in cartouches large as a country, & a single compass rose petaled indigo, cochineal, & gold). 5. “The ultimate limit of a series of shades of any color.” Syn.: mute, meaningless, implacable, dread. Etymol.: n. from point of fear, terra incognita (past its pale curtain, a giant the perfect white of snow rises up).
four: datum point It is standard modern practice to relate excavations to a datum point, a ﬁxed locus, on or near the site, that will not disappear through the years. —James Deetz, In Small Things Forgotten Winding into a layback spin, the skater pumps her legs & frozen swags of reed whip by; she rotates over the same spot of ice: her head, shoulders, & spine 60 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Rebecca Dunham ﬂower open, arms curving stamen-like, right leg lifting, hips stretched wide & heart served up, a girl getting her ﬁrst kiss—she holds as long as she can, spin tracery unspooling loose as a careless apple peel as she hauls in, gathering herself, arms crossed over chest like a body prepared for its ﬁnal rest, faster & faster, blurring until she breaks, the world reeling white white white
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Chanda Feldman Romare Bearden’s “Farm Couple” With sun no longer the ﬂint ﬂaming the back like tinder, a sharecropper’s turned to the blues painting the interior of his shotgun house—the place where black hands master a guitar and horn to contain the daily coaxing of dust to yield a portion. The man can stroke the frets, the woman tremble brassy moans. With bent beats, they let black ease into its bluest hues, bearing the face’s multitudes of shades. No longer a crop of hands reaping cotton, but a family’s theme: sharp and ﬂat chords stomp and break the workday’s refrain, render time insigniﬁcant. Their lyrics cry as easily as lullaby the child. A baby who’s begun to understand hands won’t grow strong enough to clutch all they need to hold. The blues—a liturgy, ushers the family through
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Chanda Feldman the crossroads of each season, mending a home’s frayed curtains, scrap beams, and clothes of make-do into piecework’s rich composite.
Crab Orchard Review
Mary E. Fiorenza Disobedience She is the child who strips petals oﬀ tulips, makes up a story, denies what she’s done. She is the child who runs into the street, the one who takes oﬀ, the girl who gets lost. This girl won’t wear dresses, chases her sisters, tugs at their long braids, and tears oﬀ their bows, shouts at the neighbors, punches the blond boy, pulls the clean sheets oﬀ the line. In school, she’s the student they call to the oﬃce, the girl who steals quarters and whistles in church, who lies to her mother about where she’s going, lies to the teacher and says that she’s sick. You never could leave her alone, though she spits at your manners and ﬁghts your restraints, pushes and curses and bites at your ﬁngers— she runs out the door and you follow. Who slams the door? Is it you, is it her, is it anyone else that we know? All the mothers and neighbors, the priests and the teachers rebuke her. They tell her to go.
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Mary E. Fiorenza Just you on her side, will you call her back home? Will you run with her into the street? Your ďŹ st, smeared with blood, holds the petals and coins. Your stories deny her defeat.
Crab Orchard Review
Lindsey Gosma From My Kitchen, a Recipe for Timothy I’ve decided you are beautiful. My word makes it so, my tongue rolling out beauty like dough, one motion at a time. I’m gradually thinning the whole mound to cut, to parcel out in circles (identical) pressed close, edges overlapping, each following in the bounds of the last. You are beautiful, I’ve said but not like each ﬁnished piece of dough. You’re the beauty of the scrap, the net of what can never be coddled into the cutter, serpentine path around the easily pulled out. And even when I try to collect you, re-work, re-roll, to cut again something with mathematic proportions, you emerge against my eﬀorts, endlessly outside my work to shape you.
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Lindsey Gosma Even the last cut, the dough rolled smooth to a single circle. You remain, silhouette of a circle, showing me beautiful and how youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve slipped through, stolen the beyond.
Crab Orchard Review
Charting the Last Constellation In the corner of our room, cloaked and sagging, the mattress points itself like a ﬁnger, charting two hundred days without water. The lips’ dream (glisten back to us) is caught, a constellation strung between our tiny walls, stretched like a ghost. Framing our reﬂection, a heavy branch between stars. Each green-guided willow leaf, stiﬀ bows back-to-back, slumped and lost. This I know. The tired chair, the blacked curtains, weight my ﬁngers. Your formal hand over the shoulder of my coat and I, like the willow, mute. Reach love, then follow. Drag myself toward each new-chasing. With touch itself, we try to own: a willow, the sky, a heavy mark on a globe and the soft bed hidden from it, too. I am touch, the negation of negation, the last of dust turning into moon.
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Peter Harris Why Somebody Wrote a Novel About the College Chase, Called Getting In My son is downstairs mostly plagiarizing an essay on Human Traﬃcking in Kazakhstan and I am up here reading a crib on the Heart Sutra, the holy sutra, the luminous sutra, the hard sutra. The “commentary” is by Red Pine, a guy, a scholar, who must have changed his name, but why? He wears a beard. I’m clean shaven, wear the mask of false innocence. Whereas my wife can’t conceal her naked worry lines now that my son has stalled on his essay. How can he not feel dirty? Aren’t his parents procurers, lining him up for liaisons with college, when his truest Harvard is a skateboard, his truest essay is a backward kick-ﬂip down a rail? I feel like Mara, the creep who promised Buddha a summa cum laude then a bling-bling kingship of the world. Buddha turned him down, got enlightened, freed from pain, and greed, and fear, from thralldom to appearances which, judging from appearances, is widespread, horrible, yet engrossing, funny sometimes, like TV— the smiling Judases of Seinfeld or even ER, those early years when everyone felt competitive but had good hearts, that kept getting broken, and lusts that popped up like ads for pills that promise a spell of well being, an end to pain.
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Ironic Distance There’s something Satanic about irony. —Melville I, too, dislike it, the knife in the brain, the step back from the altar of allthe-heart, the turn askance to cut down target area, the wink that wants to make us complicitous in dissing. The curdle, the undersnicker, wit’s scythe hissing its elegy of an emotion. I’ve spent un-ironed time, felt gusts of love streak me straight through, praised vacuuming the stairs, the taste of Clementine, King’s words from jail. Even now, through the perforations of my mask I feel a pinprick of sadness for my son. Dad, he said, you gotta see this video online: a curly-headed, twanging guitar guy sings the phrase “America, we stand as One,” over and over, as he descends a bluﬀ on the Western shore and wades, still singing, into a Paciﬁc morphed by I-Movie into a Jell-O-y American ﬂag. A bubble-insert in the sky shows four proud soldiers, one from each branch, suddenly turn to gold dust, swoosh oﬀ, like Tinkerbelles, but dead, zipped
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Peter Harris into the borderless national imperium. At this, the singer’s chest pulses out gasmic blobs of auroral light as my son hops around in glee. In his naïveté, he thinks he’s seen a parody. He cannot believe anyone could be so naïve, churn out such cheese. We have a talk about the turds and the ﬂeas, the teeth in every smile, the upward ﬁzz of fascist kitsch, about how powerful, even Satanic it can be to live in a head-space free of irony.
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Thanaversary Poem You’re back again, still standing ankle deep in red-tinged moss by the edge of the lake, your buddy Clint, your girl Virginia and you, sixteen, drinking beer, laughing should we go to the ﬁreworks show? Trust in this, your forty-ﬁrst retelling, trust I’ll take you somewhere new. Even if you do go, you make it home because, instead of Clint, Virginia sits next to you. So when you stomp the throttle she touches your right wrist, whispers, “We don’t have to speed. We’re better when we go slow.” Which is to say, you don’t scream around that corner, your buddy doesn’t yank the wheel, you all don’t hit the tree, Virginia, sixteen, doesn’t die. You grow to actually love her, to receive fully what she said one night after a drive-in, “Loneliness has made us victims of desire.” Receive what’s true: her wisdom, her gift at dowsing the sweetness that runs in all beings, even you. Way far better yet: you don’t drive anywhere, Virginia says, louder, “Let’s not go.” Speaking through her body, through her eyes,
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Peter Harris she says, “Why so much thirst for oblivion? Come, sit with me on the moss. This is my chance to show you what it’s like to be alive.” She blows a breath my way. I breathe it in, feel the yen for death loosen its noose. Soon it’s evening, the sky explodes with stars, the beginningless, the endless, so close we can feel them on our skin as we perch on the mossy lip of the black lake now a night kingdom of ten thousand pyres.
Crab Orchard Review
Taemi Lim Eating an Elephant My mother directed my driving with the crook of her middle ﬁnger. “Go left here, take a right on Hillhurst, and then straight onto Los Feliz all the way into Glendale.” She leaned forward into the sunvisor mirror and adjusted her eggplant-colored hat adorned with a spray of peacock feathers. “If something should ever happen to me, I want you to keep this hat. Don’t get rid of it like my other things. Don’t drive in the center lane either. I’m not ready to die today.” She kept a long list of instructions on what to do when she died. Two months earlier, a casket had been made to my mother’s speciﬁcations. A pine box with a peacock carved lengthwise along the side was kept in our garage next to the Subaru. Our boxer, Cassius Clay, got inside the casket one day and chewed away at the lavender satin lining. Now it looked like an oversized cigar box, the kind my mother used for storing sewing notions with clusters of loose threads hanging over the lip. She got out of the car at the front entrance of Glendale Medical Plaza. I parked the Subaru in the lot across the street and walked what felt like miles to the entrance of the building. “You’re the picture of health,” said Dr. Singh as I slipped into his oﬃce. He removed the stethoscope from his ears. He was bald today, but sometimes he wore a turban, and sometimes he didn’t. “I haven’t been sleeping well,” my mother said. “She always says that.” I picked up a plastic human heart and held it between my hands. Dr. Singh made notes in my mother’s medical ﬁle. It was hard not to stare at his shining globe of a head, like a miracle ball that could tell fortunes. “Is there something you can give me? Something to calm my nerves, so I can get a good night’s rest for once,” my mother said. “She sleeps like a baby,” I said. “Mrs. Yi,” said Dr. Singh, “there’s not a thing wrong with you.” “You don’t know the half of it,” I said. The heart slipped from my hands and made a cracking sound as it hit the ﬂoor.
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Taemi Lim “Well, since there’s nothing you can do,” she said, sliding oﬀ the examining-room table. “See,” I said with my hand on her shoulder, “the worrying alone is going to send you to your grave.” I turned to Dr. Singh as he reached for the door. “Can you prescribe something for her anxiety? Klonopin? Vicadin? Percocet?” “I’m not that kind of doctor,” he said, shaking his head at me. Two of my uncles had died from cancer—stomach and prostate— and we were still bereft over my father’s sudden death when his lung collapsed. He hadn’t complained of fatigue, shortness of breath, or discomfort. He didn’t smoke. He wasn’t even sick. He was the picture of health, as Dr. Singh would say. The lung held for ﬁfty-seven years until one day it collapsed. “Hurry, Lela,” my mother said. “There’s a lot to do.” I held her coat open like the wingspan of a crane so she could slip her arms into the sleeves. She picked up a handful of cotton swabs for no apparent reason and shoved them into her purse before putting her hat back on. She was throwing a party. A ﬁnal farewell for friends, family, and neighbors. My Aunt Mena said she was making a mockery of my father’s death. His death was real and matter-of-fact and nothing could be done for him now. She said my mother wasn’t right in the head and my father would never rest in peace with all the nonsense that had become of our lives the past three months. I didn’t have time to mourn myself because my mother and aunt were ﬁlling all the empty space in my life with their petty battles. Who could suﬀer the best? they seemed to be saying to each other. I didn’t want to lose my mother so soon after having already lost my father, so when my Aunt Mena told me to keep a close eye on my mother, I listened to her. “If your mother wakes in the middle of the night to mow the lawn one more time, go see a specialist,” she said. Aunt Mena gave me the names and numbers of a Chinese herbalist, a Korean acupuncturist, and a Hmong shaman. “See the Chinese ﬁrst, and then the Korean. If that doesn’t work, call the shaman.” I was in my second year at Glendale Community College while most of my friends had gone oﬀ to real college. I didn’t even see the ones who’d only gone ﬁfteen miles west to UCLA. No one liked hanging around death. I wondered if people could smell it on my skin or see it in my eyes. Kyle Rich, who sat behind me in Anthropology 225, said I had the blackest eyes he’d ever seen. Crab Orchard Review
Taemi Lim “How would you know?” I’d said to him on the ﬁrst day of class. “All you’ll ever see is the back of my head.” I thought it was the sort of thing a guy said when he liked a girl, but that wasn’t the case. He just went back to reading the newspaper while Mr. Rossmore took his time charting the evolution of man on the blackboard. When I dropped oﬀ my mother at the house from the doctor’s oﬃce, she sent me out again to pick up a few things from the B&I. They sold a little bit of everything. There was a food court, an international bazaar, a shoe department, a creamery, an arcade, and a barbershop. But Ivan the Gorilla made the place famous. He was a silverback who lived inside a glass cage. Aside from Ivan, there was also Mick the Chick, a real-life chicken in a glass box. If you slipped a quarter into the coin slot, a neon tic-tac-toe board lit up behind the glass. His spindly chicken feet padded around the sensory game board, and everyone pretended he had a strategy behind his wins. That day, I found Kyle watching Ivan pace inside his twelve-byeighteen glass cell. It was dizzying to watch him go round and round. There were old banana peels strewn about the ﬂoor and piles of shit in the corner. The ﬂoor receded into a shallow pool at the other end of his cell. Ivan was often seen bathing and grooming for people who passed through, hoping to see him pound his chest or swing from the banana trees that had long ago faded on the painted jungle murals. Ivan was known to ﬂing handfuls of shit at gawkers who’d tap the glass that said Please Do Not Tap On Glass. Kyle saw me watching him watching Ivan. “It’s you,” he said. “What are you doing?” I asked. “I’m going to save him,” he said. “From what?” “From death.” My black eyes stayed ﬁxed on Kyle as he watched Ivan chase his monkey ass in circles. A woman with sun-bleached blond hair and a stethoscope hanging from her neck walked into Ivan’s cage. She tossed him a banana and kneeled on one knee. She peeled a second banana and shoved horse-sized pills into the ﬂesh. “Is this your project for Rossmore’s class?” I asked. I slipped one hand into my back pocket and swung my hip to the side. Our assignment was to identify extraordinary living conditions in contemporary settings and assess their cultural implications. Did the conditions of the environment have positive or negative outcomes? I guess Kyle had already found an answer to the question. 76 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Taemi Lim “Do you want to be my project partner?” he asked. “How do you plan on saving a ﬁve-hundred-pound gorilla?” I felt around my back pocket and found a slip of paper. The one Aunt Mena gave me with the names of the herbalist, acupuncturist, and shaman. “We’ll organize a protest. Power in numbers,” he said. “The San Diego Zoo is one of the largest in the country. They must have space where the wildlife can roam.” “So you’re not trying to free Ivan into the jungle?” “No way. The other primates would eat him alive. He wouldn’t last one day in the wild.” If anyone could be saved from death, I wanted to be there to see it. “Want to come to a party this weekend?” I asked. Maybe Kyle could do something for my mother. “Who’s the party for?” “My mom,” I said. “It’s kind of a pre-wake death celebration.” “That’s not funny,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be.” When my father died, I missed a full week of school. Kyle let me copy all of his lecture notes without my having to ask him. He just handed me his notebook after class one day and apologized for his bad handwriting. As I left Kyle alone with Ivan in the B&I, Mick won yet another game of tic-tac-toe and the strobe lights of his glass cage lit up and spun. My mother was rolling out sheets of dough for the hundred or so dumplings we’d need for the party. White ﬂour was smudged all over her face, blouse, and the countertops. When she forced the dough to roll ﬂat, a cloud of ﬂour dust bloomed all around her like the wings of an angel. “Thank God you’re home,” she said. “I need to show you something.” She grabbed my hand and walked over to the dishwasher. She reached inside and pulled out what looked like a silk scarf wrapped around a brick. “You’re the only one who knows about this,” she said, unwrapping the cloth. It was a brick of cash. “They’re going to tax bank accounts, the insurance payout, and the house, but they can’t tax this,” she said, handing me the money. “Your father worked for everything we have.” She held my face between her hands, leaving a coat of ﬂour on my cheeks. “You’re all grown up now,” she said. I wanted to hurl the money through the kitchen window, but she ripped it out of my Crab Orchard Review
Taemi Lim hands, wrapped the money inside the scarf, and shoved it back inside the dishwasher. “How do you know you’re going to die?” I asked. “It’s a fact of life,” she said. “So we’re throwing a party for an occasion that’s not an occasion?” “When the occasion arrives, I won’t be here for it. Who would make the dumplings?” She shrugged and went back to stuﬃng and folding the wonton wrappers into perfect little triangles. Nothing about the party or the brick of cash in the dishwasher struck her as strange. I walked into the living room and collapsed onto the sofa. My mother’s peacock-feathered hat was hanging from a coat rack. Cassius kept circling the rack, barking at the hat as if it were a squirrel perched up on a tree branch. I thought about Kyle and wondered if he could indeed save a silverback gorilla by setting him free in San Diego. If Ivan was used to being locked up in his glass cage, did he care about being saved? It was time to see a specialist. The herbalist had an ad in the yellow pages: Helen Pinyin, Ph.D. A tall woman with short blond hair came out to greet me. She wasn’t what I’d expected. A framed certiﬁcate on the wall showed that she had received her degree from the Oregon School of Oriental Medicine. The scent of dried herbs and something much worse made my eyes water. “Welcome,” she said, motioning me into her oﬃce. A large, wooden abacus hung like an oil painting on a bare, white wall. The charms on her bracelet jingled like wind chimes. Her hands instructed me to sit down, so I did. “What brings you here today?” she asked. “It’s my mother,” I said. Her big, blue eyes stared into me like a set of magic crystal balls. “She thinks she’s going to die,” I said. “Is it her heart?” She put her hands to her chest. “That’s just it,” I said. “She’s as healthy as an ox.” “So it’s here,” she said, touching her ﬁnger to her temple. “She’s not crazy. Maybe under a lot of pressure since my father died.” I kept wringing my hands over my lap as the smell got progressively worse. “What’s that smell?” I asked. “Sliced deer horns,” she said. “Simmering in bear-bladder oil.” I nodded as if I’d heard of this before. 78 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Taemi Lim “So your mother isn’t suﬀering from anything?” she asked. “Not physically, but she’s suﬀering.” The herbalist got up and walked over to an empty desk. There was nothing on it except for a pad of white paper, a number two pencil, and a framed photograph of her standing beside an elderly Asian man. She handed me the name of a licensed therapist. “Don’t you have a herbal concoction I can take with me?” I held the paper in the air to hand it back. “How about some of the stuﬀ you’re cooking up back there?” I pointed with my thumb over my shoulder. “A little bit?” The herbalist appeared like a giant standing over me, shaking her head and mouthing the word No. When did bladders and horns become herbs anyway? She wasn’t even Chinese. When I pulled into the driveway of our house, my mother was kneeling in the front yard with the lawn mower tipped on its side. At least it was still daylight. She had taken apart the blades. “They need sharpening,” she said. “Go to Victor. He’ll know what to do.” I took the old, rusted metal and went to see my cousin, Victor, at his auto body shop. The grinding of metal against metal made my teeth ache. Victor had on green plastic goggles and ﬂame retardant gloves that looked like oven mitts. When the grinding stopped, he sat up and slipped the goggles oﬀ his face and fastened them to the top of his head like a birthday hat. “I went to see a herbalist today,” I said. “Why? What’s wrong with you?” “Not me. For my mom.” “Who told you to do that?” Victor was like a brother to me. Since my father died, he was the closest thing I had to a father. “What do you know about shamanism?” I asked. Victor shrugged and his lip curled as if he were trying to answer a question I hadn’t asked. He must’ve felt obligated to have an answer for anything I asked since my father died, and I suppose that’s why he curled his lips these days. “I’m a mechanic,” he said. “Your mom told me to see a shaman.” “I once saw a shaman do something with chickens.” “Where?” “On the Discovery Channel. The shaman was performing a ritual in a parking lot of an apartment complex somewhere in central California.” Crab Orchard Review
Taemi Lim “What for?” “Curing tumors, I think.” He yanked the goggles back over his eyes and spun the wheels of the tool sharpener. Sparks ﬂew from the blades and I clenched my teeth to keep them from falling out. “So what happened?” He lifted the goggles over his head and scratched his chin with the back of his gloved hand. “The shaman poured sand onto the pavement as if it were a sandbox. He raked it like a Zen garden. Then he brought out a chicken and held it upside down by its feet and cut him loose.” Victor’s lip curled, and he looked up like he was willing the goggles back over his eyes. “The chicken squawked and ﬂapped around until an elaborate pattern appeared in the sand. The shaman caught the chicken and grabbed it by its feet again and raised it over his head. He closed his eyes like he was praying and stood over the sand for a while, waiting for a message or willing away evil spirits. The last thing I saw was the shaman chopping the head oﬀ the chicken and plucking its feathers.” “Why?” I asked. “They made chicken soup.” “Did they eat it?” “Yeah, it looked pretty good. And then I remember seeing the shaman read the track prints like a palm reader. He pointed to this and that.” Victor pointed left and then right with one gloved hand. “Did it work? Did he cure the tumors?” “I don’t know,” he said. “The television was on mute.” When Victor was done sharpening the blades, he gave me a Coke from the fridge in the employee breakroom. I didn’t want to go straight home, so I read Popular Mechanics on an oil-stained table and listened to Victor pumping motor oil into a Ford Escort. The beat of pumping oil sounded like blood ﬂowing into the chambers of the heart. And then all at once it stopped when the hose wheezed out a gush of air. A couple of the other guys Victor worked with were watching Oprah on the television set in the shop’s waiting room. The night my father’s lung collapsed, we were watching the Buster Douglas vs. Mike Tyson ﬁght. It was a battle between heavyweights and their punches pounded the ﬂesh and shook every muscle to the bone. My father had kicked the walls and pounded his ﬁsts into the sofa. He was beside himself, a tantrum of pure excitement. “Do or die,” he’d shouted at the television. Buster Douglas never let up. He’d jabbed at Tyson’s left eye until it swelled up to the size of a closed ﬁst. Tyson started playing dirty, hitting below the belt and taking shots to the back of Douglas’ 80 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Taemi Lim head. “Did you see that?” my father said when the camera closed in on Tyson’s good eye. “Pleasure and pain wrapped up in one.” When the heavyweight champ hit the ropes and fell to his knees, my father leaped oﬀ the sofa. “When a man goes down,” he said, “he’s at his most virginal state.” Tyson had the look of disbelief on his face. And then all of the ego and ferocity drained from his eyes. “Is that shock or something worse?” I’d asked. “It’s sincere,” he’d said. Later that night, while brushing his teeth, my father fell on the bathroom ﬂoor. We thought he was having a seizure, but it was the whirr of his electric toothbrush, vibrating against the tiles. I would’ve done anything to save him. He was gone before the ambulance arrived. Kyle was in the parking lot of Glendale Community College passing out “Free Ivan” buttons. Someone from across the lot yelled, “What about Mick?” “Chickens are for eating,” he shouted back. I walked up behind Kyle and tapped him on the shoulder. He shoved a box of buttons toward me and pointed to the other side of the parking lot. “We have a lot of work to do,” he said. “Don’t forget to mention the protest. Today at two.” I was prepared to accost the ﬁrst person to cross my path. “Free Ivan,” I said, holding up a button to a woman walking past me. “Get a life,” she said, stepping around me as if she were walking around a pile of Ivan’s shit. By two-thirty, Kyle and I were the only ones at the B&I wearing “Free Ivan” T-shirts and buttons. The protest was all in vain. No one but Kyle and I thought Ivan was worth saving, and even I wasn’t completely sold on the idea. “I could call my cousin Victor. He’d come if I asked him to,” I said. We were sitting on a curb in the parking lot when a car drove by and some kid leaned out the window and threw a banana at me. “It’s a fruit,” Kyle said. “And how would you feel if someone called you a fruit?” I asked, holding the over-ripe banana between my thumb and foreﬁnger. He tore up his protest sign and shoved it into a garbage can. “Come on, let’s go see Ivan,” I said, dropping the banana on the pavement. Ivan was cowering in the corner. His massive shoulders heaved Crab Orchard Review
Taemi Lim with every baiting breath. The same woman with blond hair and stethoscope from last time walked past us with an ice cream cone. “Hey, is that for Ivan?” Kyle asked. “He’s on a diet,” she said. “You put a ﬁve-hundred-pound gorilla on a diet?” I asked. “Ivan’s not doing so well,” she said. Ice cream started to drip over her knuckles, and she disappeared behind a door. Under the dim lights of the B&I, Kyle’s eyes looked like black marbles. “So are you coming to my mother’s party tomorrow?” I asked. “Sure, what else is there to do?” We watched Ivan pass the time in the corner of his cement cell. His breathing was belabored like he’d given up before anyone knew. “Everything dies,” I said. “Don’t worry, your dad’s in a better place now,” he said with one hand on my shoulder. The closest Kyle and I ever came to talking about my father was when he let me copy his lecture notes. I wasn’t ready to talk about it yet. How would Kyle know anything about losing a father? His parents were Mormons and they wore magic underwear. “You’re beginning to sound like your parents,” I said, wanting to take back my invitation to the party. He thought he was consoling me, but his pat answer annoyed me. His mouth was gaping open like he wanted to take back what he had said, but had forgotten how in mid-sentence. He stuttered and swallowed hard, and his Adam’s apple ﬂoated up and down his neck. It bugged me the way some people tossed oﬀ answers to things they knew nothing about. The way Pastor Kim came to our house the night my father died, waiting to be invited to have our dinner and oﬀered warm tea. We didn’t even drink tea. He was the only one who felt better when the night was over. He’d assumed that his presence was enough, that a warm body in my father’s chair would take the sting out of our misfortune. I didn’t know why my father had to die. Why his lung collapsed, and why he didn’t get a second chance at life. My mother could be on to something. Maybe the only way to understand death was to embrace it. Maybe she was protecting me, so I wouldn’t have to stand in an empty kitchen weighed down with the memory of her the way she clung to my father’s lawnmower in the middle of the night, grasping at what little was left of him in our lives. “I better go,” I said. “There’s a lot for me to do if my mother’s going to celebrate death tomorrow.” 82 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Taemi Lim “I could come along and help,” Kyle oﬀered. He was standing so close to me, I could feel his breath on my forehead. If I leaned forward on the balls of my feet, I could probably touch my forehead to his lips without having to look him in the eye. “Thanks,” I said. “But if my mother’s going to die, I want to be the one to do this for her.” I picked a spot of lint from his shoulder and put it in my pocket. “The party starts at ﬁve,” I said, turning and walking away into the double, sliding glass doors. I didn’t know Mr. Sung from church was Mr. Sung the acupuncturist. It was hard to imagine him poking needles into strangers’ bodies. He had a good face for a Korean, with all that compassion in his eyes. “Lela,” he said when he opened the door to his house. “Hi, Mr. Sung.” “I haven’t seen you in church lately.” “Did my Aunt Mena tell you I’d be coming?” His head always leaned to one side when he spoke. It was a look of understanding as if he were always thinking about what the other person was saying. “She mentioned it last Sunday.” “Church isn’t for me,” I said. Mr. Sung showed me inside where his son, Jin, was watching television and eating Doritos. “Hey,” we said to each other. I took oﬀ my shoes and stepped onto the plush carpet and let my feet sink into the wool pile. It felt good. We walked down the hall into his oﬃce. There was nothing there except for a tatami mat on the ﬂoor and a tray full of glass jars. We sat on the ﬂoor, Indian style, facing each other in the middle of the room. “Mr. Sung, I thought you imported toys from China or something.” “That’s how I earn my living. This,” he said, gesturing to the empty room, “is something very diﬀerent.” I slid my hands under my knees and let my palms stick to the tatami mat. “There’s nothing wrong with your mother,” he said. “That’s exactly why I’m worried.” “But you shouldn’t.” “There’s a casket in our garage, Mr. Sung.” “Think of it as a box. Nothing more, nothing less.” “The dishwasher,” I said, but thought twice. What if Mr. Sung decided to poke around the dishwasher during the party? Crab Orchard Review
Taemi Lim “We should all be like your mother,” he said. “She thinks he’s coming back,” I said. His head dropped to one side. “She kept his shirts, and when I asked why, she said he would need them when he came back.” Mr. Sung put his hand on my shoulder. “Ah, I think I’m beginning to understand,” he said. “So I asked her why she didn’t keep a pair of pants around, too. He can’t wear a shirt and no pants, right? So why shirts and no pants?” “People don’t always understand the things they do,” he said. “But he’s not coming back.” Mr. Sung sat up straight and cleared his throat like he was going to tell me something I would be glad to hear. “Your mother has made me realize a few things about my own life. I’ve increased my life insurance policy so I won’t have to worry about Jin and his mother when I’m gone. I’m looking into purchasing a burial plot as well.” “But I’ve already lost my father,” I said. “You have all the people you need.” “I wish there was something I could say,” said Mr. Sung, shaking his head. “It’s better if you didn’t.” Mr. Sung didn’t understand a thing. I was becoming more like my mother. The disappointment she’d felt in Dr. Singh’s oﬃce when he’d done nothing to help was beginning to take its toll on both of us. All of her visits to the doctor and my visits to healers added up to a whole lot of nothing. I stood up to leave and noticed a box full of needles. They were in bundles, wrapped in gauze then plastic like tiny mummiﬁed bodies. What was the use in trying to prolong life? “It’s like eating an elephant,” said Mr. Sung. “Do it one step at a time.” Victor was helping my mother move the furniture around in the living room when I arrived home. He lifted the sofa to one side so she could sweep up those hard-to-reach places. Cassius was barking at the lopsided sofa, leaping into the air as if he, too, could defy gravity. “Bring down the folding chairs from the attic,” my mother told me. “Were you able to save the monkey?” Victor asked with one side of his face pressed against the arm of the sofa. “He’s dying,” I said. “We’re all dying,” my mother shouted from beneath the sofa. 84 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Taemi Lim I had to bring each chair down from the attic one by one. My father had bought the chairs and a matching folding table for nights he’d spent with my uncles playing poker, drinking soju and smoking cigarettes. I traced the outline of a cigarette burn with my ﬁngertips. Sometimes my father would squeeze a lime into the soju bottle to kill the taste of alcohol. He’d let me try it every once in a while by putting his ﬁnger to his mouth. “Don’t tell,” the ﬁnger said. Then he’d pour one for me and one for him, the way he did for my uncles. He’d hoist the little cup with his thumb and foreﬁnger, look me square in the eye and fold his other arm across his chest and take down the soju in one big gulp. I liked it. I didn’t feel like his child, I felt like his friend. I’d wanted that feeling to last in spite of the drowsiness that overcame me. The attic was where my mother kept dad’s shirts: two big garbage bags of golf shirts. Only a month had passed since she’d asked me to go through my father’s things. I’d spent an entire weekend sorting through his stuﬀ only to have her pick through every bag and haul it up the attic stairs. It was getting dark when I ﬁnished stringing together the lights in the backyard on the old clothesline. I planted tiki torches along the redwood deck and around the edge of the garden where my mother insisted the coﬃn be placed. It looked like a church pew in the dark. I found Victor and my mother sitting under the lights, drinking iced tea with cocktail umbrellas ﬂoating in their glasses. Victor was pointing at the lights, saying, “Look there, the Little Dipper. Oh, and there, Orion’s sword.” My mother’s head followed his ﬁnger from left to right. Her eyes were wide-open as if seeing for the ﬁrst time. They looked black from where I stood, and yet there was not a trace of death in those eyes. She saw me standing there and called me over to her, grabbing me by the waist and pulling me onto her lap. She pointed at the lights. “See there,” she said. “The Little Dipper. And there, Orion’s sword.” I followed the lines of her middle ﬁnger and let my body sink into hers. I was the first one up in the morning, so I went to wake my mother. I knocked on her bedroom door, but she didn’t answer. What if she were dead? I held my breath, pressed my ear against the door, and let the blood rush to my head. I let myself in and found her curled up with my father’s shirts spread out on the ﬂoor. “What are you doing?” I asked. “It sneaks up on me,” she said. “Something always sneaks up on Crab Orchard Review
Taemi Lim me.” She talked about losing her husband as though I hadn’t lost a father. I kneeled on the ﬂoor across from her and began folding the shirts. “You’ve got to stop this,” I said. She held out her hand, but I didn’t take it. “If I have to fold one more shirt,” I said. My teeth ground down on each other and the noise grated my eardrums. “They’re going to kill me,” she said. “These shirts are going to be the death of me.” “How do you always manage to forget that your husband was my father?” I yelled. “He was my father, and he’s dead.” I threw an armful of shirts on her. “Don’t talk about your father that way,” she yelled. “Here,” I said. “I’ll bury you in these shirts since you insist on dying.” I covered her in yellow shirts, striped shirts, and blue shirts. She wiggled around on the ﬂoor and ﬂung the shirts oﬀ as quickly as I piled them on. “Stop it,” she yelled. “You’re not a child anymore.” “And you’re not dying,” I said. “Aunt Mena’s right. You’re disrespecting all that’s sacred about this family.” “That’s enough.” Her chest was heaving from shortness of breath. “I’ve had enough,” I yelled. The phone rang. It was Aunt Mena. “Get ready,” she said. “The shaman is coming.” The dumplings were steamed and ready to eat. Pyramids of oranges and apples were arranged like a wedding cake. Egg rolls, noodles, and chicken satay from a local restaurant were on chaﬁng dishes. Victor was dressed for the party in a Tommy Bahama shirt and lei. Kyle was tending to the rice steaming in giant rice cookers. There must have been twenty pounds of rice altogether. The only thing missing was the guests. My mother walked down the staircase with three gift-wrapped boxes. “One for each of you,” she said. “But it’s your party,” Victor said. “We should be giving you presents.” “I won’t be needing gifts where I’m going.” I opened mine ﬁrst. It was the deed to the house in a shoebox. “Where will you live?” I asked my mother. She pinched my arm and said, “The hat.” She pointed to the coat rack. “Don’t forget about the hat.” 86 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Taemi Lim Victor got a spare key for the Subaru. “You’re so good with cars,” my mother said, squeezing his cheeks the way she did when he was a little boy. “But Aunty,” he smiled. “How will I ever ﬁnd a girlfriend in a family wagon?” My mother rapped her knuckles on the back of his head. Kyle opened his gift and found a random assortment of tools. Used ones that once belonged to my father and had come in handy from time to time since his death. A Phillips screwdriver, vice grips, hammer, wrench and a can of WD-40. “I know it doesn’t seem like much,” she said. “But it’s the kind of thing you always need and never have.” “Thank you, Mrs. Yi.” Victor showed Kyle how to work the vice grips. They went around the house together tightening screws and greasing cabinet and door hinges. It wasn’t long before the guests arrived. The Kirazians from next door were the ﬁrst to arrive with a tray of kofta, Armenian stuﬀed meatballs. Mr. and Mrs. Sung came with a box of Korean pastries and I could see Jin had already eaten one. Pastor Kim arrived with a smile that spoke of needless hunger. Dr. Singh came with his wife and left his turban at home. Kyle and I were stationed at the bar, making iceblended cocktails and cracking caps oﬀ beer bottles. The pastor came snooping around and asked for a virgin margarita. “Coming right up,” I said. I nudged Kyle and spiked it with a shot of tequila. Aunt Mena arrived with an elderly man on a cane. “Who’s that?” Kyle asked. The shaman appeared to be as blind as a bat. His cane battered against other people’s ankles and Aunt Mena kept pulling at his elbow. I ﬁnished blending the margarita and handed the pastor his drink when I saw Aunt Mena and the shaman standing in front of me. I looked over at Victor imitating the blind shaman, stumbling across the yard like he was walking an imaginary dog. “Pastor Kim,” Aunt Mena said. “This is Por Lao, a Hmong shaman.” Por Lao raised his hand as if taking an oath. “Ah,” the pastor said. “You are a healer from a long tradition of healers.” “I am a messenger of spirits,” said Por Lao. “That makes two of us,” said the pastor. Crab Orchard Review
Taemi Lim “Make that three,” Mr. Sung said, poking his head from behind Aunt Mena. “I thought I felt another presence,” said Por Lao. “But can you heal?” I asked. Por Lao followed the sound of my voice. “Who speaks?” he asked. Aunt Mena put her hand on his elbow and said, “Por Lao, this is my niece, Lela. She’s the one I told you about.” I raised my hand and said, “I am Lela Yi.” Kyle raised his hand and said, “I’m Lela’s friend, Kyle. My parents are Mormons.” “Oh?” said Pastor Kim. He puckered his mouth, excused himself and walked across the yard to the buﬀet table. Aunt Mena looked at me through the tops of her sunglasses as if to urge me on. “Por Lao,” I said. “My mother has lost her will to live.” “How can you tell?” he asked. “This party is for my mother.” “Yes,” he said. “I know.” “And there,” I said, pointing at the casket to see if I could make him look. Guests were gathered around the pine casket, examining it the way people shop for cars. “The mother?” Por Lao said. “She’s in the kitchen,” said Kyle. Aunt Mena stepped in. “Por Lao, my sister-in-law is not well. She bought her own coﬃn. She goes to the doctor hoping they’ll ﬁnd something wrong with her. She’s making a mockery of my brother’s death.” “I see,” said Por Lao. “There is much to consider. Is there food at this party?” Spiritual healing must be hard work. Por Lao’s cane puttered across the yard while Aunt Mena led him away by the elbow. Victor walked up to the bar and set his glass down. “We have to wait for nightfall,” he said. “The sand. The chicken. The stars have to align.” Several hours later, after everyone was fed and people’s faces were red from too much to drink, my mother took the stage. “I want to thank all of you for coming. Some of you I’ve known for many, many years. Others, I’ve known even longer.” She’d had one too many drinks, but I was glad to see she was having a good time. “You’ve been good friends.” The heel of her shoe caught the lawn 88 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Taemi Lim and she nearly tipped over. “Some worse than others. Lela, be a good girl and bring Mommy another one.” She held up an empty martini glass. “Mena, I know you mean well, but you put stupid ideas in my daughter’s head.” Victor was standing beside Aunt Mena with one hand in his pocket. “No oﬀense to you, doctor,” my mother said to Por Lao. He looked like he’d acquired a tumor in his mouth the way he ate kofta ball after kofta ball. “I’m sure you’re very good at what you do. A medium for the spirits. But unless you can bring Lela’s father back, you’d better hold onto your chickens.” Kyle took my mother another drink. “Such a handsome young man. Lela, you listen to Mommy and don’t chase away this handsome boy.” Please, please, please shut up, I said to myself. Will you please be quiet? My mother sat down on the grass in the middle of the yard. “My feet are killing me,” she said. Victor and Kyle helped my mother to a lounge chair beneath the lights. Por Lao and Aunt Mena were talking privately when I saw Por Lao look down at his plate of food to pick up a kofta ball. Aunt Mena was too busy airing her grievances to notice. Mr. Sung and a few others were inspecting the casket, tapping their knuckles against the wood surface the way people tapped on Ivan’s glass cage. Everything about the party made me want to go lie down in the attic. I went inside the house and found Jin on the living room ﬂoor with an empty box of Korean pastries watching the ten o’clock news. Ivan the Gorilla was dead. The news feed was streaming live from the B&I. A crowd had gathered around the news camera, and some boy on a bicycle zipped in and out of frame. “What an awful way to go,” I said. “How do you mean?” Jin asked. “Locked up in a box for all those years.” “It’s better than where he’s going now,” he said. If Mr. Sung couldn’t answer my questions, how could Jin? “Ivan’s headed to a rendering plant. He’ll go in as Ivan the silverback gorilla and come out as dog food or carpenter’s glue.” “What’s wrong with you?” I said. “Ever seen an auger-grinder?” “A what?” “It’s bigger than Ivan.” The boy on television leaped oﬀ his bike and mooned the camera. My problems must have been a joke to all of those people strolling Crab Orchard Review
Taemi Lim around in my father’s backyard, eating up all of our food, and standing around my mother’s coﬃn like it was a water cooler. It was a coﬃn. My mother and Aunt Mena were too busy being the martyrs, and everyone else seemed entertained by the foolishness. I went into the attic and tossed the two garbage bags of Dad’s shirts from the top of the stairs. They hit the ﬂoor like dead weight. I grabbed them by the handles and dragged them into the backyard. Nobody noticed. “Coming through,” I said with my eyes on the ground. “Excuse me. Watch out, please.” “What’s going on?” Kyle said. I couldn’t look at him. “He’s dead,” I said. “I know.” He put a hand on my shoulder. “We all do,” he whispered. “No,” I said. “Ivan is dead.” Kyle’s lips were moving, but no sound came from of his mouth. “You don’t have to say anything. What is there to say?” I pushed opened the casket and emptied each bag. The party fell silent. My mother and Victor stood from their chairs and watched. “He’s dead,” I shouted. I looked around at each of the guests to make sure everyone heard me. My mother wasn’t moving. Her eyes were sparkling, but I couldn’t tell if they were watering or if they were glistening from the lights that shined brightly over her head. Victor brought over a stainless steel scoop from the bar and handed it to me. “Go on,” he said. “Do what you need to do.” It was no wonder that everyone in our family loved him. I shoveled a scoop full of dirt and tossed the ﬁrst load. It hit the coﬃn like a knock at the door. Kyle handed the scoop to my mother and everyone took turns. Victor, Mr. and Mrs. Sung, Pastor Kim, Por Lao, Aunt Mena, Jin, Dr. and Mrs. Singh, and the Kirazians. The party was back in full swing. People were complaining about having eaten too much food, but they continued to pick the platters clean of crumbs. Por Lao and Aunt Mena were holding court over a live chicken. He pretended to blow air into the wing, while the others, including Kyle, Mr. Sung, Dr. Singh, and Pastor Kim, lined up to catch a glimpse of the shaman in action. Victor and my mother were dancing beneath the lights to the crow of the bird. I thought about Mick the Chick at the B&I. I imagined his glass cage lighting up with screaming sirens. Inside the house, Cassius was whimpering and pawing at the sliding glass door. His prints left streaks on the glass like tiny little daggers to my heart. 90 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Susan Robison Idiolalia When Seamus biked into his front yard the evening of his last day as a camp counselor, his mother was sleeping in the near dark, slumped against the ancient pine tree. Dried-out wild beach roses and pine needles had piled in her lap and had settled on the barrette that held the twist of her long blond hair. He had stayed longer than he meant to at Aaron’s, playing Magic with him and Scott, losing track of when he was supposed to come home. His brothers, Mikey and Matthew, ﬁve-year-old identical twins, were jumping on the trampoline his mother had bought them at the beginning of the summer. They both had curly blond hair—too long, too tangled. Matthew shouted to Mikey, “Nomi bah.” Mikey answered him with a long string of words Seamus couldn’t decipher. It troubled him that the twins were returning more often to the private language they had devised when they ﬁrst started talking. The speech therapist for the school system called it “idiolalia.” She had warned his mom that they should have outgrown it by now; their speech was delayed so they’d have diﬃculty with language and social skills in school. Seamus and his mom should demand that they use their “good words.” Seamus laid his bike on the lawn. “Mom,” he said. And again louder, shaking her shoulder, “Mom.” She opened her eyes with a start. She brushed oﬀ her lap before looking up at him. “What’s the matter? You okay?” he asked. “I guess I dozed oﬀ.” She stood up slowly. “God it’s dark. I didn’t even…” She rubbed her eyes with the heel of her hand. “I didn’t make supper or anything. The twins must be starving.” It could have been a trick of the fading light, but the skin under her eyes appeared bluish and stretched so taut it almost shone. He remembered that blue. Five years ago, after his dad had died in a car accident, she’d fall asleep at the kitchen table, on the couch, anywhere. The twins were just a few months old then, and she’d sleep Crab Orchard Review
Susan Robison right through their crying. Then one day she didn’t struggle out of bed at all. Her own parents were already gone, so it was his dad’s mother who had moved in for two months, bottle-feeding the twins, cleaning the house, and getting him oﬀ to school. Early one morning, Seamus heard loud, angry voices from his mother’s bedroom, after which his grandmother brought her into the kitchen, gripping her arm, propelling her forward. He remembered seeing that strange blue under her eyes. Gradually, she started taking care of things again. Sad as Seamus had been all those months, more than anything he had been scared. And right then, by that ancient pine in the gathering darkness, the fear rushed back so strongly it was an acrid taste in the back of his throat. “It’s diﬀerent from when Grandma came to help before, Seamus,” his mom said as if he had just spoken his memory aloud. “I’m feeling down again, but nothing that bad.” She paused then said, “I’ll get dinner going.” Observing his mother stiﬄy walking to the house with scraps of tree bark clinging to her T-shirt, he realized that he’d been so preoccupied mastering new spells and strategies so he could lead Scott and Aaron into higher levels of Magic game play, that he hadn’t been tuned in enough to tell that something was increasingly oﬀ with her. He always used to enjoy talking to her about every little thing that went on when he was away from her, at school, but when she had asked him about his new friends and his Magic cards, he chose to keep them to himself. Over the years, she had often said that they had an unusual ability to read each other’s faces, gestures, moods. Seamus had agreed with her. It was “uncanny.” That was her word for it. Except for the times he’d get plunged too deeply into her sadness, he used to love that they had a channel between them he could plug into. So he didn’t mind so much that all through elementary and middle school he’d get invited to the occasional birthday party, have the occasional boy over, but nobody who turned into a friend. During the school day, he preferred spending time in his own head, especially after his dad died and it became more of an eﬀort to pay attention to what everyone was saying. It was when he’d step oﬀ the bus at three that he’d ﬁnally come alive. He and his mother got totally absorbed watching and tending to the ﬁsh and corals in their large saltwater reef tank and playing video games that she worked at learning while he was at school. But since the start of high school this past fall, he longed for friends and was deeply embarrassed that he had none. He spent lunch time 92 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Susan Robison on the move. He’d eat a sandwich from home and walk around the school—to the bathroom, his locker, outside—anywhere to avoid sitting in the cafeteria, alone. He had pushed himself at the last moment to apply for a summer job at a day camp. Scott and Aaron, who would also be sophomores at his high school, were counselors with him in charge of the sevenand eight-year-olds. The three of them spent so much time with each other that Seamus loosened up some. One day he mentioned Magic cards he had recently gotten into and Scott and Aaron were curious about them. So he brought to camp Magic: The Gathering, a fantasy game involving mythological creatures, casting of spells, and complex trading card strategies. They played a few times on the bench by the parking lot after all the kids had been picked up. Scott and Aaron got hooked. For the last several weeks of the summer, he’d often bike over to Aaron’s house after camp, and the three of them would play Magic for hours. “Summon, Welkin Hawk,” they’d say. “Untap swamplands. Cast a Hurloon Minotaur.” Seamus walked over to the twins on the trampoline. Mikey poked Matthew and said to him, “Meesey hut, Shay Shay.” Matthew nodded and laughed. “Mikey. What did you say?” Seamus said sharply. “Use your good words. And stop calling me Shay Shay.” Matthew turned to Mikey and shouted, “Babba hooshy,” and they burst out laughing. Seamus grabbed them both and shook them, hard. “Stop that. Don’t be babies.” Matthew was the ﬁrst to twist out, saying, “Ow.” Then Mikey butted his head into Seamus’s chest. Seamus held him oﬀ with one arm. “Just quit that stuﬀ. You guys are bigger’n that.” Mikey tried one more head butt. Seamus let go his grip on him. “Look guys, let’s just chill. I’ll hang out with you until supper’s ready.” Mikey started doing jumping jacks. Matthew stood still, bobbing on the waves of his brother’s jumps. Matthew climbed oﬀ the trampoline and bent down to pluck a blade of grass, which he held close to his eyes. Seamus recognized what he was doing. He, too, used to pick up a seashell, pine cone or twig and hold it just that way. In school, a pencil. A vehicle to get into another world. Daze your eyes out on it so you could slip away. Seamus had seen Mikey call to Matthew or shake him when he’d do that. It was the only time his twin would take oﬀ somewhere he couldn’t follow. Crab Orchard Review
Susan Robison Seamus turned around to see what Matthew was looking at. Their mom had only gotten as far as the doorway. She had turned the porch lights on and stood there motionless, a silhouette in the doorway, watching them. Seamus went over to Matthew, tapped him lightly on the shoulder. “Let’s help mom make supper. You hungry?” Matthew nodded, turned to Mikey and yelled, “Mi Mi. Hefee shoosh,” and ran into the house. Seamus had made plans to go into Boston the next morning with Scott and Aaron for a big Magic trading show for which they’d prepped intensively in the past week. He had put oﬀ telling his mom he wouldn’t be joining her for their Labor Day ritual of going to Folgers Farm to buy blueberries for pies she would bake, followed by a picnic at Crane Beach. But when Seamus awoke and started to get dressed, the acrid taste welled up in his throat again. He took it as a warning. Seamus went downstairs. His mom was peering into the ﬁsh tank. “You going to be with Scott and Aaron today?” she asked him. He knew she was trying to keep her voice sounding light, but when she turned to face him, there was something in her dark eyes like that of a wounded animal, a concentration of pain and fear. He had the strong feeling she was picturing him not only taking oﬀ with his friends, but zooming oﬀ to college and his future, leaving her far behind. Her sadness made some sense, but it bothered him that she was so afraid. He didn’t answer. He felt her eyes boring into him as he checked the water temperature and sprinkled plankton for the ﬁsh. Then he walked upstairs and sat on his bed for a few minutes. His hand felt unnaturally heavy when he ﬁnally picked up the phone to cancel with Aaron. “I don’t believe this. You’re cutting out at the last minute. To go to the friggin’ beach with your mom?” Seamus actually started stammering. “It’s just…something I have to do. My mom…I’ll explain later.” “Whatever,” Aaron said curtly and hung up. Seamus went back to the kitchen. “Let’s go to Folgers.” His mom smiled broadly and was about to say something, but Seamus banged out of the screen door and sat down on the steps. He heard his mom putting together their picnic and humming for a few minutes, but then heard no sound other than the refrigerator and cabinet doors being opened and closed. When they got into the car with the twins, her sadness had clearly 94 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Susan Robison returned and started to envelop him, but he deliberately pushed it away. He kept jabbing at the radio buttons until he found the classic rock radio station his mom often had on. He sang loudly with Jimi Hendrix, drumming, then pounding on the dashboard. He glanced over at his mom and immediately stopped singing. She was wiping tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand. She pulled into Folgers’ gravel lot, parked the car and reached into her pocketbook. “Go on in and get them,” she said tonelessly, pressing some bills into his hand without looking at him. He took the twins in with him. He got them red candied apples and picked up two quarts of blueberries. When they got back into the car, his mom started the short drive home. Seamus turned on the radio again, but this time very low. Abruptly, his mom pulled over onto the grassy shoulder of the road. She started to sob and buried her face in her hands. “Mom. Mom. What’s going on?” Seamus snapped oﬀ the radio, patted her arm over and over. His chest tightened; he had trouble drawing breath. He saw with what a great eﬀort she tried to stop crying. Her sobs stopped, but tears continued to stream down her face. “Seamus. Take over. There’s hardly a car on the road.” In the spring, during his Wednesday early release days when the twins were still at nursery school, she’d taken him several times to learn to drive in the parking lot of the abandoned Raytheon site and the road encircling it. He was a pretty good driver and had gotten his learner’s permit, but it had been several months since he’d been on a road with traﬃc. “Mom, no. We’ll wait. You’ll feel better in a minute.” “I. Can’t. Do. This.” The deadness in her voice ﬂattened him against his seatback. He turned around and saw Mikey chewing on his ﬁngernails, Matthew sucking noisily on his sweatshirt sleeve. Their candy apples were in their laps, untouched. Matthew was leaning far forward toward his mom, straining at his seatbelt harness. Mikey said something to him and tried to pull him back, but Matthew shook him oﬀ. “We’re ﬁne,” Seamus told them. “Just ﬁne.” He got out of the car, came around to his mom’s side and she slid over. The tightness in his chest intensiﬁed. He drove slowly, speeding up slightly near their house as a car had come up and stayed too close behind. He pulled into their driveway and sat there for a minute after his mom and the twins got out. He watched his mom disappear into the house. Crab Orchard Review
Susan Robison Seamus knelt in the grass with the twins and got them started setting up their armies of soldiers on the lawn before going into the kitchen. His mom was sitting at the kitchen table making circular patterns with her index ﬁnger in salt that had spilled on the table. She pulled the curtains aside and stared vacantly out the window. Seamus stood with his back against the cabinets. “The thing is,” she said after a minute, “I remember how the most vicious of cycles sets in.” “What do you mean?” She continued staring outside so it felt like she wasn’t talking to him so much as addressing the air. “When you’re tired all the time because you’re sad, you don’t get up. And then you start feeling even worse.” Seamus had no idea what she wanted him to do. To say. He was afraid he could get pulled into the force of her downward suck. He felt like putting his hands over his eyes and ears, but that felt childish. Instead, he willed static into their channel. He jammed all the lines. Seamus looked at his watch. It was still early enough that Scott and Aaron probably hadn’t taken oﬀ yet for the trading show and Scott’s mom could swing by and get him on her way to dropping them oﬀ at the railway station. But he knew the twins were outside babbling their strange words and would soon come in. He didn’t make a move. “I’m just going to lie down for a few minutes,” she ﬁnally said. The rest of that steamy morning and afternoon she lay on the living room couch. She got up to unpack the picnic basket and laid out sandwiches and peaches for them, but then she stretched back out on the couch. When it got dark, Seamus dumped the blueberries into three bowls. He and the twins ate in silence then went into the living room. No lights were on and his mom had unplugged the timer that automatically turned on the blue nightlight ﬂuorescent tubes on top of the ﬁsh tank. Shards of moonlight streamed through the window blinds, slicing across her. Seamus turned the room lights on dim and switched the tank lights on. He and the twins played endless rounds of Pokémon cards on the living room rug, huddled in the blue light. He wanted to call Scott and Aaron, see how they’d done at the trading show and try to smooth things over. But for reasons he couldn’t untangle, calling them would somehow make his mom worse. He willed the phone to ring because answering it would be okay, but it didn’t. That night, his dad came to him in a dream. He kneeled beside him as Seamus lay in his bed. Ruﬄed his hair. He showed him a new 96 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Susan Robison birdwatching guide he’d brought back from his trip. “Where did you go?” Seamus asked. “You’ve been gone so long.” “There was a lot I had to do. But I’m back now.” Seamus awoke feeling disconsolate in the dream’s aftermath. When he went downstairs, his mom was frying bacon, her eyes red and puﬀy. “I dreamt about your dad last night,” she said. “We were all kayaking over by Crane Beach. Funny, the twins were there too, the age they are now. We had the binoculars and Dad was pointing out the herons and piping plovers. It felt so real; I actually woke up believing for a few moments he was back in the house.” Seamus was upset that his dad appeared so similarly to both of them. He walked quickly out of the kitchen, pounding the banister on his way upstairs. His mother managed to make lunch and dinner, but spent the rest of the day in bed. She asked Seamus if he’d get the boys ready that evening for their ﬁrst day of kindergarten. He helped Mikey and Matthew line up pencils, boxes of crayons, rulers and scissors and placed them next to their new zippered plastic cases and Pokémon backpacks, one blue, one yellow. A few times, Matthew stopped mid-action and would stand there, looking like he forgot what he was in the middle of. Mikey repeatedly nudged him. “Come on. You gotta help.” Seamus woke in the morning to his alarm and heard his mom downstairs. When he went into the kitchen, she had toasted frozen waﬄes and heated up maple syrup. She looked like she was moving through something thick. He felt thick himself. Matthew and Mikey were excited and kept yanking at her blouse. “I’ll be all right,” she told Seamus. She hesitantly put her hand to his cheek. “Enjoy your ﬁrst day. Don’t worry about me.” When his bus came, he sat down in the rear and turned back to watch his mom and the twins recede to three little dots. The warm breeze felt so good swooshing by he stuck his arm out the window and cupped his palm into the wind. At the beginning of lunch block, Seamus walked into the cafeteria, hoping to see Aaron or Scott. He spotted them with a bunch of soccer kids. He turned away, bought two granola bars and left. In Biology, he took a chair toward the back of the room. Scott ambled in and sat next to him. “We’re both stuck in Chaney’s class. My Crab Orchard Review
Susan Robison brother had him. He said he’s pretty much of an asshole and a really hard grader.” Scott was tall enough to use his long legs to pull over the chair in front of him and settle his feet on the rungs. Seamus was so glad Scott chose to sit next to him, acting cool with things. He got a lump in his throat. “How’d you guys do in Boston?” “Well, we decided to bag it after you called.” Scott’s attention was caught by a kid who sat down on his other side. “Hey, how’s it going, Doug?” Seamus bit down on the inside of his cheek as he listened to them talk about the prior day’s practice. Over the next few weeks, Seamus didn’t see Scott and Aaron after school or on Saturdays because of their practices and games. But one Sunday, he went over to Scott’s house for a few hours to play Magic and check out online Magic chat rooms. Scott and Aaron didn’t seem as avid about the game as they did over the summer. Scott kept getting interrupted by instant messages that popped up on his computer screen to which he’d immediately type back a response. A couple of times Aaron added something to Scott’s messages and they’d both crack up. After Scott logged oﬀ the Magic site, he and Aaron talked about the football game they were going to the next weekend; they didn’t even glance over to Seamus as they were making their plans. Seamus packed up his cards, fervently wishing he could invite them over, keep their interest in Magic stoked, but it would be too weird for them to see his mom sleeping during the day. The house was looking bad, too. Every night he and his mom cleaned up the dishes after dinner, but mail and newspapers were piling up; toys were scattered everywhere. His mom used to hire people to come in and do repairs, but even that seemed like too much eﬀort for her now. A hinge on the front screen door had broken and the door hung askew. “Well, see you around, Seamus,” Scott said, getting up to walk him to the door. “Yeah,” Aaron called out. Seamus hadn’t made any other friends yet and still walked all around the school during lunch, but he joined in with a group of kids who played Magic before homeroom. Though he still felt self-conscious, he was good with the cards and hoped they’d be his way in. He began sitting next to a girl, Sarah, whose hair was dyed a purplish-red and cut short and spiky. Freckles dotted her face and arms and she had a tiny butterﬂy tattoo in the crook of her elbow. He wanted to talk to her but was paralyzed at the prospect of starting a conversation. They only spoke through the language of the cards. She’d extend her arm 98 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Susan Robison to hand him a card and the butterﬂy wings would open up. “Untap Sprites,” she’d say. “Launch an attack on Dragon Whelp,” he’d respond. She had a really nice smile. Tenth grade was hard; he had three to four hours of homework a night. After dinner, Seamus would hear his mom bathe the twins and read to them in bed. Afterwards, he’d sometimes stand in the archway to the living room and watch her lie on the couch. One night without opening her eyes, she said, “You know, Seamus, don’t you, how much I’m trying to be able to get up? And to, you know, deal with things again.” As he lay in bed that night, he wondered if even when his dad was alive his mom had ever been able to deal with things on her own. Did she always rely on his dad to prop her up? Although they rarely had anyone over to their house, he remembered one night he was in bed and through his open window he heard his dad talking to some people he worked with who had come over for a barbecue. He was telling them how he had rescued his mom after she dropped out of college. Everyone had laughed like it was a funny story, but afterwards he had wanted to ask his dad, rescue her from what? But it was only a couple of weeks later that his dad died, so he’d never had the chance. Seamus arrived home from school late the next day after walking into town and going to Cutters, where Scott told him he got his hair cut. Seamus had his long brown hair cut short like Scott’s, and had it bleached platinum blond, just on top. The wind had picked up and had a cold bite for October. He was only wearing a light sweatshirt and he was freezing. As he pulled the door open, the aroma of meat roasting in the oven overwhelmed him. It had been so long since they’d eaten anything but soup and sandwiches that his eyes welled up. The newspapers and junk mail which had been piling up were gone and the kitchen counters were clean. His spirits soared; he felt almost giddy. Mom’s back; she’s going to whip up her mashed potatoes for dinner and then after we eat, she’ll sit the twins down and teach them the alphabet or how to write their names or something. I’ll invite Scott and Aaron over; we’ll check out the new website I found. But then Seamus noticed the vacuum cleaner leaning against the refrigerator and crumbs and dust balls still littering the ﬂoor. He Crab Orchard Review
Susan Robison closed his eyes. When I open them, she’ll be feeding the ﬁsh. She’ll tell me she’s just about to make the potatoes. He counted slowly to ﬁve and walked to the archway. She was sound asleep on the couch. A blanket was partially covering her, but most of it had fallen oﬀ and was trailing on the ﬂoor. One arm was angled so it covered her face, and her shirt had hiked up, exposing her stomach. All the hope pooled out of him. He told himself, ﬁercely, don’t ever expect anything from her again. He walked over to the ﬂoor lamp and ﬂipped on the light. She startled awake. “Wow, look at you. Your hair. I hardly recognize you.” When he didn’t answer her, she said, “But I guess that’s the point.” “I guess,” he said, tersely. He turned abruptly and started up the stairs. She called after him, “I’m making roast beef. I set the timer. It probably has a half hour to go.” He bolted the rest of the way upstairs and slammed his door. He sat down at his desk to start his homework but couldn’t keep his mind on it. He tried to puzzle out whether it was ever true that he and his mother had a special channel between them. Or was it more that you can get too good at reading someone’s tiniest signals when that’s the only person you’ve been looking at? The timer went oﬀ and kept up its incessant clamoring. Seamus ﬁnally descended to the dark kitchen, rummaged around in the cabinets and replaced the light bulb that had burned out. He opened a can of corn, dumped it in a pot and snapped on the burner. She’s not in a coma; why didn’t the racket wake her? She’s right there in the living room. She probably heard it but ﬁgured why bother getting up; she had him to take care of whatever she didn’t. Or a minor eﬀort like cooking and a little bit of cleaning knocked her out ﬂat. Either way, how was she ever going to get up and stay up? He wanted his dad so much that he had to grip the counter for a minute. His grandmother had moved out to Arizona, so he couldn’t call her to get his mom going again. There was no one. He heard footsteps on the stairs. He dried his teary eyes with a dishtowel. Matthew walked in and stood next to Seamus, noisily sucking his sweatshirt sleeve. “Give me some help, Matt. Put these dishes on the table and get out the silverware.” After Matthew ﬁnished, Seamus said, “Go see if Mom wants to come in and eat.” He watched until Matthew ﬁnally poked her on the arm and she said something 100 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Susan Robison quietly to him. Matthew came back into the kitchen and sat alone at the table until Mikey joined him. At their bedtime, he helped them get on their PJs and noticed, again, how long their hair was. They probably get some serious shit for that from the kids at school. Maybe he’d take them to Cutters. Maybe he’d tell the haircutter to buzz cut their blonde hair and dye it brown on top. He read Winnie-the-Pooh to them; they nestled in so close he had to keep moving their elbows or feet oﬀ him when they’d dig in too much. Matthew was sweaty and although he had just brushed his teeth, he had a sour smell. He went to his bedroom to study for his ﬁrst big U.S. History test of the year. He spread out his textbook and study sheet, but couldn’t concentrate. He’d have to try again in the morning. The wind had picked up even more outside; the ancient windows rattled and the doors creaked from the force. The whole house felt ﬂimsy. He sat down on his ﬂoor. He tried to conjure up Sarah’s freckled face and arms, have her join him in his room with his cards piled all around her. He attempted to beam his full focus into having her stretch out her arm to him so her butterﬂy would open its wings, but he couldn’t. He felt so disappointed and lonely, drained of life force. Some of the Magic cards had life forces so you could replenish a diminishing supply. He picked up his decks of cards. “Summon Hawke. Summon Minotaur.” He carefully fanned his cards out on the rug. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Summon Dad.” He sat still, barely breathing, hoping for a sign. Open my closet door a chink, rustle my curtains. Do something. You gotta help me. After a few minutes, he closed his eyes and visualized rising up so that he was looking down on himself, hunched over his cards. He zoomed back farther and could see his bed and posters on the wall. He kept going until he could see his whole house, with his mom pinned to the couch in the fake blue moonlight, and the twins in one bed, lying face to face, talking in their tongue. “This is stupid,” he said loudly. He picked up his cards and ﬂung them as hard as he could. His hands were shaking as he set his alarm for 4:00 so he could study. He slept ﬁtfully, with intermittent strange dreams, the memory of which vanished when he awoke to the alarm. Just the feelings remained which he couldn’t dispel. He fell back asleep and awoke with just enough time to dash out of the house and make the bus. History was the last period. His teacher handed out the test. He Crab Orchard Review
Susan Robison managed most of the multiple-choice items, but the three-part essay question on Jeﬀerson muddled his mind. He looked around the room. One or two kids seemed like they were done or hadn’t bothered much, but from everywhere else he heard the scratching of pens and saw blue books ﬁlling up. He tried to organize his thoughts and write, but he ﬁnally put his purple transparent pen up to his eyes, narrowed them to slits until everything blurred and became purple. He set the pen down on his desk and leaned back in his chair. Seamus had made plans with Scott during Biology class to go over to his house after school as it was a rare afternoon without soccer practice. But when his bus passed the stop for Scott’s, he felt much too jangled to get oﬀ. And what power did magic have anyway? Life forces, summoning spells. All a crock. When he walked up his driveway, Mikey and Matthew were in their jackets, playing with their armies in a patch of lawn on the front yard they had cleared. The rest of the lawn was piled high with leaves. He listened to them speaking their language. Why didn’t they ever have play dates? At camp, the mothers were always arranging them. If he ever did invite over Scott and Aaron, or Sarah or anybody else, they’d think the twins were beyond strange. They’d think everything here was beyond strange. He banged through the kitchen door and heaved his backpack on the counter. He picked up the phone to call Scott and tell him he couldn’t make it over, but then hung it up and walked into the living room. His mother was sitting on the couch, reading. She set her book down on the coﬀee table. “Hi, hon. I got us some swordﬁsh I’m about to grill. Thanks for ﬁnishing supper and taking care of the guys last night. I want you to know how much I appreciate—” “Why don’t you just go up to your bedroom? And shut your door?” “So I can listen to the twins.” She paused. “I know why you’re so angry with me but things have been much harder for me than you could possibly know. I’m feeling better and better. It takes time, Seamus.” “You have no clue why I’m angry or if I’m angry. And what listening are you doing? They’re outside. You’re in here.” “I can hear them, honey.” “Don’t you think it’s totally messed up they’re talking like babies again and that you didn’t get up last night at all? You should be going to a shrink or taking pills or something. You know that.” His voice 102 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Susan Robison was getting increasingly shrill. “I’m reading you loud and clear right now. And you know what I think? You want us to travel back in time or something. You want me to give up having any friends. So it’s just you, me and the twins.” She squeezed her eyes shut tight. When he saw her do that, wires twisted in his head, white hot and sparky. He turned around and headed to the kitchen. “Wait, Seamus,” she called to him. As he pulled open the broken screen door, he saw her keys and grabbed them. Outside the twins were still babbling in their awful tongue. “Stop talking like that,” he shouted. Mikey and Matthew looked at each other and stood up. “Let’s get in the car. Hurry.” The twins climbed into the back seat, leaned forward and watched him. His hands were shaking on the steering wheel. “You’re gonna drive Mommy’s car?” Mikey asked. “She’s a screw-up of a mother.” The car ﬁlled with their stunned silence. “Mi Mi,” Matthew said. He said a string of words so fast it was almost a squeal, then started sucking hard on his sleeve. Mikey leaned over and tried to yank it out. “Oosy,” he said to Matthew. “What’s oosy?” Seamus demanded. “Na, Na,” Mikey said warningly to Matthew. Seamus slipped the key in the ignition and turned the car on. If you’re listening so well, hear this. “Put your seat belts on,” he said. “We gotta go.” He crunched over the gravel of their driveway. Pulled into the road. He had no clue where he was taking them. An air pocket, a cloud, billowed in his head, making him lightheaded. He clenched the wheel tightly. Leaves were skittering across the road. A car approached over the rise of a narrow, twisty hill. It seemed to be bearing down too close to him; he yanked over to the right and swerved against a mailbox, scratching the side of the car. He pulled into a driveway and turned the car oﬀ. He was shaking all over now. He had a crazy impulse to ring the doorbell, let whoever was in there take over. Matthew said loudly, “Shay Shay.” Seamus turned around to face him. “Ba me shoosh,” Matthew said ﬁrmly, looking directly into Seamus’s eyes. Neither he nor Mikey had ever spoken their language to anyone. Seamus and his mom had tried many times to get them to, but they wouldn’t. And they never slipped up. “Matthew. What does ba me shoosh mean? You gotta tell me.” Crab Orchard Review
Susan Robison Matthew leaned back into his seat. Now he looked strangely peaceful. His head was cocked and his eyes were narrowed as if he were listening to something coming from far outside the car. His ﬁngers ﬂuttered in his lap. “Ba me shoosh,” he said again, this time in a whisper. Mikey was looking at Matthew and started whimpering. “Mikey, Matthew. This is totally serious. Do you get me?” He wanted to shake them both. “We have to be able to understand each other. You must use your good words.” Mikey was the one to speak up. “He wants you to take us home.” “Okay, guys. Okay. I didn’t mean to scare you.” His burst of rage evaporated as fast as it had come. There was, of course, nowhere to go. All he felt now was exhausted. “Let’s go back.” Seamus turned on the warning blinkers and drove at ten miles an hour. He took the key out of the ignition, got out and opened the rear door and unsnapped the twins’ seatbelts. Mikey climbed out and turned around for Matthew who continued to sit with his eyes almost closed. Seamus got on his knees in the back seat and stroked Matthew’s cheek. “Don’t be this way,” he whispered. “You gotta stop it.” Matthew shook his head as if he was clearing it, and got out of the car. They all turned at the scrape of the screen door. “That was so dangerous, Seamus,” his mom yelled. She ran down the steps and over to them. She lowered herself to a squat, put her hands on the twins’ heads as they burrowed in. “I was just about to call 911. I was scared out of my wits. What were you thinking?” In the long silence that followed, Seamus watched her squatting with the twins, trying to keep her balance as they clutched at her. The three of them were so wobbly that Seamus had to turn away from the sight. But one thing he now knew. She was going to have to ﬁgure out on her own how to get up and stay up. He wheeled around to the house to call Scott and tell him he was about to bike over. Try once more to patch things up, hoping it would hold.
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Luisa A. Igloria Your Hand in My Side Yes, there are things that would make a believer out of even you: apparitions, the sun dancing in the trees, a hail of rose petals, each bearing the pointillist impression of a bleeding heart like a message written in invisible ink, held up to the light. A whole stadium ﬁlls with worshippers, armed with candles thoughtfully stuck in cardboard discs to catch droppings of melted wax. The crowd leans forward as if on one breath to catch a glimpse of the evangelist’s pure white tuxedo, its sateen panels glinting like carved ice. Now come forward and witness, booms the voice on loudspeakers, and you want to ﬂing yourself on your knees and hobble all the way to the altar, where an old man is scrambling upright from his wheelchair, and another has thrown away his hearing aid. Someone has fallen prostrate, babbling in tongues— and you want to be close enough to hear if what’s said is lucid, without need for translation. But at the communion rail, people steer clear of you because you forget to stick out your tongue at the right moment; you hesitate to take the scented hanky for wiping the public spittle oﬀ the statue’s base before bending to reverently kiss the plaster foot that grinds the serpent’s head to chalky bits. Are you your own worst undoing? Still, there must be some use for that uncertain ﬁgure Crab Orchard Review
Luisa A. Igloria in all the books and sacred pictures, the one we don’t see clearly because all our attention, till now, has focused on the hero who’s blessed surely not just with faith but with nerves of steel to act on it. Choose, says the voice; unerringly, the hand touches one of only two doorknobs and, voilá, it opens onto the herb garden, not the one that yields a pit of snakes or den of hungry lions. Who is that ﬁgure, hanging back a little and shifting her weight from foot to foot, the one who asks too many questions like what was the name of Lot’s wife anyway, and why did she look back? There must have been a compelling reason, not the least of them the knowledge that she had daughters, so how could she just walk on, leave them behind in that rain of sulfur and ﬁre? But for her betrayal, she’s turned into this handful of crystals I swirl and swirl in a salt cellar, a rhythmical music that’s ﬁtting accompaniment to my own examinations of conscience. And there is Thomas, demanding empirical proof, wanting to poke and probe the punctured ﬂesh; to measure the distances traveled by the body in its fall and resuscitation. What gives me hope is that he’s dealt with more gently, suﬀering only a mild public rebuke after satisfying the need to mess with evidence, like a child who just wants to ﬁnger-paint when all the rest have graduated to the mysteries of cursive writing. For all we know, he is there still, among jars of bread-colored Play-Doh, turning the cleverly-modeled limbs, now clean and without blemish, over and over in wonderment. I feel him here, too, as your hand in my side, traveling the length and breadth of me in the night like a compass verifying latitudes and the presence of land, an anchor for the otherwise errant heart. I dream of Thomas and his mission, Thomas the not completely faithless. 106 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Luisa A. Igloria True to the habits of this world, he ﬁddles with pendulums, spectroscopes, and light meters, muttering without guile under his breath about ways to capture the movement of alpha particles on ﬁlm. Sometimes I worry about him. Spying a ﬁeld of mushrooms, perhaps the prized Royal Agaric which occurs in a genus containing some of the most poisonous gill fungi known, he’ll probably want to test each one himself. He’ll sprint ahead of the joggers and nannies pushing strollers, gather the slender yellow stalks and their smooth, beautiful cups in one hand, even as he nibbles chunks of the Destroying Angel in the other—stumbling up the walk, gasping warnings that passersby will fail to read as ungainly testament of love, that struggle with the unruly chaos of matter and belief.
Crab Orchard Review
Luisa A. Igloria
Dolorosa after Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s “Death of the Virgin” (c. 1601–03) Death may have taken its time coming, lending a slip of pallor to the clay, idling among the stones and furrows in the orchard, wringing the towel with the body’s water and eﬄuvia into the pewter basin—It’s still here, in this room where the light tenders its departure, a weight that causes Magdalen to double over. Her coiled braids make me want to sob, her dress the moldering tint of peaches in summer, her nape caught in the last rays of sun falling from a high window. Grown men with balding pates and pilgrims’ beards stand under a canopy, leathered red muted with sienna, that Caravaggio paints as an inverted triangle suspended from the ceiling. They know whose death they grieve, who were themselves expelled from out of that ﬁrst small paradise between their mothers’ ovaries. And so they weep open-mouthed or into their hands, forgetting shame. John the Younger can barely hold up his head. The body in death, so diﬃcult to behold— the seamed bodice (also red) drawn tight over the liver’s cloudy ampules and perforated kidneys. Her peasant’s feet, unshod and 108 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Luisa A. Igloria bloated with edema. Here is the brown and careworn face, the tangle of hair and its brittle halo, the thickened arms outstretched along the plank, exhausted ﬁngers— Fingers still shapely like my mother’s, many years ago when she held me before a camera after Sunday mass, smoothed her skirt of cotton voile and tossed her veil and rope of hair behind one shoulder —so young, so unafraid of what it meant to have conceived her child out of wedlock.
Crab Orchard Review
Luisa A. Igloria
Bypass Vancouver, British Columbia A scar in the middle of her chest just below the collarbone, shaped like the body of a dragonﬂy. The pucker where stitches used to be, uneven lines radiating to form the shadow of wings. She shuﬄes to the kitchen to pour oil into a pan, moistens the dayold rice, pauses for a breath. A freezer magnet holds the photo of her husband, dead eight years, buoyed by tiny plastic roses. She gestures at the backyard that will need seeding, the marks along the ceiling of this new house where her son will lay decorative molding. A great room, foyer, den, plus two rooms on each ﬂoor. She ﬁxes it so like all the houses she has owned (four) and sold (three); downstairs there are separate apartments—mortgage helpers. She’s taken in only those moving between worlds: house painters waiting for their papers, women who cannot return to wherever it was they left in a hurry. Yesterday at the harbor front, the loudmouth selling bottles of metal polish singles her out for the awkwardness of her tongue.
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Luisa A. Igloria She steers me away saying, It’s not true, Surrey’s no more crime-infested than the city. They dump the bodies in our neighborhoods, then blame foreign scum. The water slides under the ferry like a plate of milk. A woman with a knapsack turns to smile before her brown face disappears into the crowd.
Crab Orchard Review
Luisa A. Igloria
Rainy Day after Gustave Caillebotte, 1877 No, I haven’t been to those streets the caption says intersect near the Gare Saint-Lazare, where gentlemen and ladies step out into the falling rain. They stroll down a boulevard at the end of which rises a brand-new building—geometric in pearlescent light, it houses what I imagine to be modern apartments, a ﬁrst-ﬂoor row of burgeoning cafés, ﬂower shops, patisseries, confectionery and milliners’ stores. In one, the couple in the painting’s foreground might have purchased cuﬄinks for him, some eau de cologne, even the short-brimmed bonnet she wears with its discreet mesh veil shading her eyes. Rain being what it is, rain falls all day today as well in the south— not south of Paris but through the Blue Ridge Mountains, over the Chesapeake, in the Bible belt—where mildewed cornﬁelds, vehicles stalled in ﬂash ﬂoods, a child’s bright green umbrella with frog eyes snagged in a bush, might suggest divine retribution. The deluge, once more undoing the constructed world. And so I admire the way rain sometimes looks decorous; how pavement stones have the sheen of well-scrubbed oysters in “Paris Street: Rainy Day.” Nothing suggests the more familiar pell-mell scrambling for any open doorway, awning, or bus stop. Somberly attired, passersby walk seemingly without hurry, with restraint, though the hems of their good wool trousers and skirts must be waterlogged. After all, what could one do to avoid what will fall of its own accord and as if without mystery? Rain thins to drizzle beyond the kitchen window; the world outside looks strangely distant, like a place that could
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Luisa A. Igloria forget you at any moment. In Caillebotte, even the brittle ribs and paneled seams of silk umbrellas sigh in the rain just a little; and, unless you look very close, the tiny teardrop sheen of the womanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s earring is hardly even there.
Crab Orchard Review
Subhashini Kaligotla On Robert Frank’s “Beaufort, South Carolina” from The Americans, 1958 Why this woman on the edge of a cornﬁeld one cheek to the sun the other turned to the Swiss man and his lens left arm akimbo leading the gaze outside the frame like the tip of an arrow legs splayed under the stripes of a skirt white between her breasts more chiaro than the sun For three days the Arkansas police locked Frank up: dirty, unshaven, without a picture in his passport
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Subhashini Kaligotla And carrying letters from New York Jews Why photograph reﬁneries and Detroit factories How could he use lighted jukeboxes, ﬂags and funerals, rodeos and roads, drive-ins, and lonely lunchrooms Did they look at her the colored woman on the edge of a cornﬁeld and its cruciﬁx— a telephone pole— inclining from the sun shining less brilliantly than her open-jawed smile Could a mouth be anything but pressed shut sucked inwards Were such people allowed to look like this?
Crab Orchard Review
Lepidoptera after El Greco’s “The Cruciﬁxion with Two Donors” You can’t stop trawling his belly for the navel pooled there like a ﬁsh; the eye now follows the fallow cloth yoking the hips to the swell of calf on the lifted and twisted leg— twisted (you remember) in pain; the mind considers mounted, recalls the display of Blue Morpho in a shop on Valencia Street, the one you ﬁrst walked away from, where row after row of glass cases lined the walls, a phalanx of moths; but then you stepped in (had anybody noticed?) as if to stroke one arrested head and another, staining your ﬁngers lapis to compliment the dead, fooled by mere simulacra: straining thigh muscles, pinned arms reaching skyward, and the body already rigid from the ache.
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Autumn Konopka Sixteen Perhaps it was the rain. Perhaps the slow insistent drizzle, the humid air, the windshield wipers’ steady tempo: back and forth and back. The words swelled in your belly, and broke like water: I’m pregnant, Mother. Driving you and your boyfriend in the wood-paneled wagon, she spent no eﬀort on parental reprimands. Okay, we’ve got less than nine months to plan your wedding. She decided how and where, while in the back you silently held hands, palms sweating, turning past the corner store where you would often kiss goodnight. She said, Of course, you will wear white. Just like I did.
Crab Orchard Review
Laura Koritz The Night Chorus I wanted to comfort him, the way I know to comfort horses in a pattering voice, the way the horses meet me in the black pasture beyond, the sure-footed strikes of their hooves as they step measured steps toward fresh growth, disrupting chirps of black crickets with their soft searching lips. I sat on the road that runs beside him and spoke, said There will be no laying on of hands, said The stars are thick above you, said The road is still warm, the grass must feel cool. He rolled to his back, his breath loud and agonal against the steady chirps of crickets, the hard hooves on the heavy earth.
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Melissa Kwasny Acoustics of the Fall In the low place, after the purging, pollen in the runnels, aureate rim of puddles. No smell save what was picked up from the chokecherry, laid down to blossom, sex-change of the forest, alive now with its tremendous will. From the high place, the pines ﬂap out their tent of sheer linen. They choose the shifting green door. Could the heart ﬂoat like this—antinomian— without ultimatum? Could it let go its grievances, its demand for destination? No. Though water at night without a moon slows. Under the falls, there is still thunder. If the work of intimacy is to externalize the internal, the external must be abstract. Splattering, loud as rain, hits the large leaves. A softer sieving under the needled. But what about waste? Surely the heart is not
Crab Orchard Review
Melissa Kwasny this large. And what about faith? All preďŹ x. We want it to be music, organized into pattern. We want the changing world to change with us. Yet, if the heart could? Caesura, this glaze laid between the forest we have come to know and what we will learn later of it.
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Sandy Longhorn Fourteen Lines About Landscape Telephone poles dwindle to hashmarks, and you are stationary at the crest of a hill, still trying to prove that comfort is only a matter of balancing the extra weight. The ﬁelds have been stripped to stubble, and a heavier body than yours stenciled this imprint of a boot sole in the berm. Birds and the wind upset this still life. The sky is all whisk and stir and thirst. You labor on through this southern soil that clings like lunar dust, your feet seeking the horizon, that swimming, ﬂuid thread, where trees soften the edge of the world and a ﬁeld ﬂush with clover waits.
Crab Orchard Review
Some Afternoons In this cabin surrounded by tall-grass prairie, I could survive with just a book and this insistent crow, though from time to time I am compelled to shut the windows and dust the shelves, rooting out the thick layers. I’ve been known to throw away the frame to rid myself of the picture—sterling silver and a row of too-white teeth. All of the teas in this cupboard begin with hibiscus and rosehips, desiccated bits revived by water. And now, I have given the crow a secret name, tossing out strips of foil with the breadcrumbs. Together we begin to build a refuge, a place to huddle, feather to skin, when the time comes again for thunder.
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Cassandra in Iowa, 1952 The girl on the carousel with the pink cotton candy has never seen the ocean but thinks she smells a coastline in the burnt sugar, one she can trace with her ﬁnger, sticky and glazed. She thinks of Brazil, Argentina, rounding Cape Horn in a storm— voyages read from her father’s books. As she whirls, the girl sees a cargo ship striking rock but doesn’t tell, keeps silent ever since she tried to tell her mother she knew the hired man was sick, knew because she’d listened to the red of his hair. When he died of a seizure, her mother took the books away and the music box made of tin. Later, with pink glistening on her lips, she will ride the Ferris wheel, its spindly web groaning under the weight of all the things the girl will never tell, the carnival masking the sound of metal tearing away from metal, masking the miracle of a girl climbing out of the debris unscathed.
Crab Orchard Review
Anne Sanow Hayloader Three weeks into June, and the Sri Lankans all want to know when they’re getting their vacations. I drive out to the canteen a little late, at a quarter past six. Usually we’re going by ﬁve or so, to get a halfday in before the heat comes up on us. Today when I walk in they all look up from their breakfasts and stop talking. The pure shit dinginess of this place is a thousand times worse when it’s quiet: the fake wood paneling on the walls seems to stare right back at you, the plastic chairs and card tables shift and the linoleum tiles creak, and the one window, with its view straight out into sandlocked nowhere, wheezes in its frame. Back in the kitchen, the stove coughs and there’s the thud of the freezer case that Bo has to weigh down with supply boxes so it will stay shut. He’s working on lunch now, trying to make time in case the generator goes out again. I go over to the tray of eggs and potatoes, shovel what’s left of the mess onto a plate and sit at the small table in the corner. When we started up three years back it was just Robbie and me, sitting in here— Sheikh Halim gave orders that the workers should pick their food up from the window. They didn’t seem to mind. “Mister Todd,” one of them says now. I can tell they’ve been waiting. The way they wait is almost regal—like I’m here to do something for them. I wish I could tell him what I know he wants to hear, but I can’t. “Mister Todd,” he says again. “We wonder—” “I haven’t heard from the Sheikh, P.J.,” I say quickly. I don’t say that I don’t know if the Sheikh’s in Riyadh, or even in the country. It’s all I can do to meet the eyes of the expectant group of men sitting there. Mister. Like I’ve done anything to earn it, aside from being the white guy who’s running things, although the Sri Lankans know better than that. P.J. nods and looks like he’s about to say something else but doesn’t. He wipes his ﬁngers on the end of the turban that trails from his head. The rest of the men go back to their plates, spooning up the greasy bits around the rims as if that’s just what they’d been waiting to do. 124 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Anne Sanow P.J. isn’t P.J., and by now he probably knows that he’s the third guy to come through in as many years of crews who’s been bestowed with that moniker. For that matter, Bo isn’t Bo—although he picked the name, when he saw that we weren’t ever going to be able to get our brains around his. He ﬁgured us out quick. Maybe because he’s been here the longest—since we got the farm started up in ‘83—he feels comfortable coming out and clapping twice, politely, to let the crew know that it’s time to move along. They ﬁle out to the ﬁelds, where I know they’ll be cursing the Sheikh, and me. While Bo moves around collecting the plates in a trash bag, I wonder whether Cal’s been able to raise Halim from the land line in Al-Kharj and when the hell anyone’s going to give me a hint as to what’s going on. Last month when harvest was about to start, the Sheikh trotted out a whole merry entourage of his friends to bear witness to the glory of fertilization we’d made happen in the middle of the desert. All credit to him, of course. Although it was a bit ridiculous—we’d had a rare rain, and the rich city Saudis were splashing through the mud puddles like kids, thobes hiked up around their knees—I had to admit to myself that it looked pretty grand. Amber waves of grain, and all that, making the view from the red-rock escarpments look like golden silk on the desert ﬂoor for as far as you could see. I remember thinking that it was too bad Dee Dee never got to see it like that. “There’s this today too, Mister Todd,” Bo’s saying. I look up and he’s standing by the table with a plate of bacon. “Hey, well that’s great,” I say. “Water buﬀalo,” he says, shrugging casually. “You know.” “Thanks,” I say. The stuﬀ’s actually all right: if you can’t get pork, for some reason the canned water buﬀalo from India—labeled simply “beef,” which gave Dee Dee a shock when she read the ﬁne print— ends up tasting like the closest thing to it. Bo does something with the spices before he fries it. He says he has to talk to me too, and joins me at the table where I’m sitting. Here’s where I should say that Bo is probably the bestlooking member of the human species that I have ever seen. Don’t get me wrong. Even out here, without decent female company, it’s not like I’m about to make the switch to the other team. It really just doesn’t happen here like you might think it would. But Bo’s beauty is ridiculous: the ﬁnest bones, lips like a high-school sweetheart-cumporn star, skin that looks like it’s dusted with gold powder even when the rest of us are sweating like hogs. Crab Orchard Review
Anne Sanow I chew on the bacon and he tells me pretty much what I’m expecting. Of course I know that he is very happy here. He has been happy to be here since the beginning, when it was nothing and now it’s something. It is not a problem that so many diﬀerent crews come through here, from all over the world, wanting food he has to improvise from a limited supply. No. And it is not the money, not really. But he thinks that maybe it is the right time to take another job, what with things feeling uncertain. “My wife can come,” he says. “It is not so much more money, but if it is guaranteed then I will be able to bring her.” I try to imagine what the wife looks like: probably just as beautiful. More. They’ll have the most ethereal, gorgeous children on the planet. “Where?” I ask him. He waits a beat at this, looking down a bit uncomfortably. “Well,” he says. With his impeccable manners, this might take him awhile. He shifts in the chair and the early sunray coming in through the smudged window falls across his face, and now he can’t lie. “Over at Mister Cal’s,” he says. “It’s—very much larger place.” “Yeah. That it is.” Bo gives me a wan smile. What a bastard Cal is, I’m thinking. Now I know for sure I’m on a sinking ship. Bo gets up. “Sheikh Halim will call you soon?” he asks. I say I’m sure he will and Bo nods and backs away deferentially, as if any of this is going to make a diﬀerence. I grab the rest of the bacon in my hand and go outside. Standing on the steps of the trailer is like being a very primitive king surveying his ﬁefdom: the way the desert slopes and pitches, you don’t need a rise any higher than the one we’re staked up on to get a good feel for the land. At seven in the morning in June there’s still that last bit of cool wearing oﬀ in the air. Since it’s technically still spring the brutal haze won’t come until a bit later; for now I can see acres of ﬁeld stretching away, the mist from the watering pivots giving the unharvested plots a last drizzle, and the reaped parts—that’s most of it by now—looking rich and brown and ready to turn under again. The ﬁelds are ringed by escarpments, and we haven’t needed the fences since Sheikh Halim paid the Bedouin oﬀ to move farther out into the desert. They no longer graze their sheep and camels on the seed sprout. I can see a group of nomad women, though, squatting at the base of the rocks a quarter-mile oﬀ. They’re scanning the scene like I am, deciding when they can gather what’s left over from the piles of wheat we’ve moved. We leave them alone; it’s a truce of sorts. 126 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Anne Sanow I can still look at all this, sometimes, and think how we made it from nothing. One more time with the combine. There’s just the far north ﬁelds left to clear, and we’ve only been delaying for the sake of giving the men some more work to do while we wait: Sheikh Halim still refuses to pay them on salary and compensates each man by the hour. “Never the fuck mind,” Robbie said before he left last year, “that we’d all have shorter goddamn days if they knew they could knock oﬀ after getting it done.” I haven’t had the chance to revisit the issue since I’ve been on my own again. Efram still hasn’t gotten used to the machine. If you do it right you can clear a ﬁeld in four hours, but he’ll spend half that just maneuvering back and forth, back and forth, and getting it stuck in good between the muddy pivot tracks. The other guys are there to help out: Manuel shouting directions, Jimmy and Rico moving the pivots out of the way and getting doused with water when one of them unexpectedly spurts. Rico’s quick to address anything mechanical that can go wrong and will—just this one ﬁeld will take them all day. The Sri Lankans, meanwhile, are piling up the harvested grain from the other ﬁelds, stacking it high on tarps. We’re going to have to pray there isn’t a freak spring storm to soak through the top layers while it sits there. Bo has taken a break from the canteen and stands between the ﬁelds, watching the scene with a grin. He thinks the Mexicans are hilarious: “No can fucking drive, eh?” he’ll say to me sometimes. “How many for screw in light bulb?” He tries to talk to them though, evenings, to ﬁnd out what he can do to the food to make them like it. Maybe they don’t know how to farm in sand, but it’s not like Bo came out here knowing he’d have to cook the way he does, either. A dirt plume barreling down the road in the distance has got to be Cal. When he pulls up he swerves the truck to a stop like he’s skiing it, one hand on the wheel. He’s scratching the back of his neck with the other. “There you are,” he says. As if I might be anywhere else. He steps out of the truck. It’s an oversized Ford, one of those models that looks like it belongs in a dust bowl ﬁlm. Cal’s six feet six and has managed to convince Sheikh Halim that no way was he going to be able to fold himself into a white Toyota pickup like everyone else. “You heard from Halim?” I ask him. When he sighs and walks over, he takes his hand away from his neck and wipes blood on his jeans. Crab Orchard Review
Anne Sanow “What the hell did you do now,” I say. “Fucking sand ﬂy.” He ducks his head around to show me the sore, red and angry and oozing pus. “Jesus, Cal, that’s looking rude.” He shrugs: he’ll probably just let it fester for awhile, until it gets so bad he has to lance it or it just dries up. Cal thinks there’s a certain level of disgusting shit you should just be able to deal with, out here. He prides himself on it. Back when Robbie and I ﬁrst got here, when we found out Halim hadn’t even bothered to have anyone assemble our trailers, we slept in a tent for a month. When we complained about the scorpions and tarantulas we had to beat back all night, Cal told us that we were bigger pussies than any Bedouin girl he’d seen. His words did have an eﬀect, but who knew how far we’d go to prove it? I know from the way Cal’s staring oﬀ at the workers that there’s stuﬀ he’s not telling me. Why, for example, Sheikh Halim hasn’t sent out the appraiser to calculate the worth of the harvest, and why I’ve been summoned twice, late at night, to drive the sixty miles to AlKharj to await a phone call from Halim that hasn’t come. The crop’s piling up and there’s no money coming in—not for any of us. No wonder Bo wants to bail out. “Looking good,” Cal says. “Real good, Todd. This place is ﬁnally getting up to speed, producing something.” I say, “You want to cut the shit here, Cal? That’s sounding like a golden handshake, if you know what I mean.” “That isn’t it,” he says. “Then you want to tell me what?” “I’m going to.” He’s cool about it: meaning, whatever it is, it’s a done deal, something he’s worked out with Halim that he now has to pass on to me. “All right,” he says, “it’s like this. You don’t have the silos up out here—” “No shit,” I say. “And whose fault is that? Halim told those guys from Texas to fuck oﬀ after one month. No way was it going to get done.” “I know it, I know it,” he says, keeping his voice level. “But since all that happened”—and here he looks at me carefully—“Halim’s decided to put it up in the silos at my place. There’s room and we’ll be able to wait out the glut until the goddamned Agricultural Ministry ﬁgures their shit out.” 128 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Anne Sanow I wonder how the Sri Lankans are going to feel, having to load up everything they’ve just stacked and then unload it again into the silos. Looking out at the dull gold piles, taking on a reddish hue as we get on toward the higher noon sun, I calculate: three days. “They need to get paid,” I say. “They want their leave.” “It’ll happen. Halim’s releasing the funds and everyone’s passports just as soon as it’s stored and he knows what he’ll get for it.” “And I need to get paid, Cal. It’s not like Halim doesn’t have the money. You know this is bullshit. I spec’d out the yield last fall the way he wanted it—screw the surplus problem.” “Halim’s in the same position as everyone else,” Cal says. “Ain’t like he’s gonna get a special audience with the king about it.” I’m supposed to laugh at this but I don’t, so Cal says, “Fahad, His Royal Highness, that fat fuck,” and laughs himself. He walks back over to the truck and takes a paper bag out from under the front seat. “Here,” he says, tossing it to me. “Christmas in June. Robbie’s coming down for the weekend, and I’m bringing my crew, and we’ll let them blast through the work and pay them overtime and make one last big party of it.” I look in the bag: no surprise, it’s a brick of hash the size of an Ivory soap bar. “What else,” I say. Cal pats the back of his neck again, coming away this time with a smear of yellow in the blood. “Shit. I guess it’s infected,” he says, laughing. “Got your jackknife on you?” I take it oﬀ my belt and whip the blade open. “Just a sec, here,” Cal says. He reaches under the seat again and pulls out a bottle, takes a big gulp, and splashes some of the liquid on the sore. He hands over the bottle and I start to shake my head. “Come on, Todd—code of the desert,” he says. “Gentlemen’s honor.” “Fuck you.” I take it and the pure one-hundred-eighty-proof’s like a spear in my throat. But I’m glad I’ve swallowed it when I cut into the bite on his neck: the blade slices distended purpling ﬂesh, and a mess of infection gushes out all over my hand and down the back of Cal’s checkered shirt. “That’s it,” he shouts. “Goddamn!” He takes another swig and wipes his neck with the stuﬀ again, making a big show of hollering and pounding the sand with his boot. I wipe the blade oﬀ on the seat of his truck. “What else,” I say. “There’s something. You’d best just tell me.” He climbs back into the driver’s seat, holding a dirty torn ghotra Crab Orchard Review
Anne Sanow rag to the draining wound. “Consolidation,” he says. “Halim wants one farm—diversiﬁcation, he wants grass, he wants alfalfa—this one’ll be under mine, all the crew based there.” He starts the engine. “Look—I’m working it out so there’s still a place for you. You know that.” All this, all this. Cal’s squinting in that wise-man pose he likes to take, though I guess he’s earned it after all these years out here, making his way. He looks like an old cowboy who’s genuinely sorry that I’m the punk who has to get screwed. “Get my money,” I yell as he rolls up the window and guns the motor. He nods and goes from zero to sixty in record time as he heads back to the main road. I toss the hash brick into my bottom dresser drawer with the wool sweaters I’m not wearing this time of year. I’ll know it’s there, but I won’t have to look at it tonight. Not that Cal would mind if I chipped a piece oﬀ and smoked myself into oblivion: better than getting amped up on my own, which I’ve done too many times before on coke. He came back once after he’d been gone a week and took one look at me, then said, “Jesus fucking Christ, Todd—that was supposed to be for the next month, you know?” There had been a sandstorm that lasted for days, and I’d been stuck out here with no truck while Robbie hunkered down in Riyadh. By the time Cal got out to me it wasn’t clear who was the bigger banshee, the storm or me: while it sailed ice and rain down furiously, making the trailer groan and shake, I’d gone half-mad tearing up the carpet to have something to do. The windows were blasted over with red sand and I couldn’t see out. I’d scratched marks into the livingroom paneling to track the time. Sometimes I just refuse to keep the stuﬀ, and I let Cal think it’s because I need to come down from the jag and sober up, but it’s a diﬀerent kind of clearing I’m after. I’ll spend the whole weekend on the rim of the escarpment by day, looking for signs of some other life. Nights I’ll confront the cracked walls inside the trailer and think aloud. Out here you always think that it just might come to you. You just might sit and try to ﬁnd things to listen to and let the silence do its work, let it tell you something about where you are. Maybe, even, if you sit out here long enough, some higher voice will come out of nowhere and tell you what the hell you should do. Robbie is the Man with the Plan. Turns out, he lied his ass oﬀ to get here, not that he felt one second’s shame over it. He’s from 130 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Anne Sanow Virginia, like me; we both showed up the same day at some hotel out by Dulles Airport for the interview with Sheikh Halim’s missive, and Robbie’s so smooth he has us both convinced he’s seen and done it all, farm-wise. Halim’s guy was skinny and bald. He wore a suit in shiny tan wool and a huge diamond ring, no joke. His head, minus the customary ghotra, was pale pink. You could tell he couldn’t wait to get out of that room and out on the town: he took at least four calls while we sat there, all to arrange where “the nice young ladies” would be for the evening. He couldn’t have known less about who to hire for a farm. So Robbie ﬁlled him in. Only later—months later, actually—did I realize that everything Robbie told him was a souped-up version of the scant details I’d provided while we waited for the interview. But Rob was cool: he did the work. He had to be told what to do—sure, maybe he’d done a little bush-hogging one summer, that was it—but he managed. I couldn’t say that I faulted him too much for stretching the truth about his qualiﬁcations. It’s not like I didn’t do a little stretching myself: sure thing—sand, clay, whatever. It’ll work. Robbie and I both convinced Halim’s guy. The Man with the Plan—Rob said it a lot. It might sound stupid, but sometimes in a place like this hearing something familiar over and over sounds good; it makes you think you know someone. Robbie had plans. And talking about them sure didn’t hurt his chances getting laid, when he had the opportunity. Me, I’m just the foil. My plans were a little money, Dee Dee, a few years out here and then we’d go back home. You’ve heard this one before, right? Here’s Robbie, hauling seed oﬀ the back of a truck, joking around with the ﬁrst crew we had, Sri Lankans all, in pidgin Arabic and English and whatever else made them laugh. At that point we were both a little giddy with our good luck, which seemed to come in spades after that ﬁrst awful month of not knowing how we’d ever make it. Halim was practically throwing money at us at that point. Here’s Robbie picking up the sandy dirt in his hands: he smells it, declares it’ll bring a bounty. Everyone laughs and agrees. A month later, when one of the crew—our ﬁrst P.J.—wants to quit, Robbie tries sweet-talking him and when that doesn’t work, says he’s sorry, but he can’t ﬁnd the guy’s passport. And here’s Robbie pulling the lid oﬀ the septic tank; it’s always backing up, and there’s no one else to deal with it. There’s a tool to pry the lid oﬀ but Robbie heaves and tries to yank it. The muscles on his back are huge by now. When he gets it halfway open he lets out a bull-like yell and it slides into the sand. “Dumb as a box of rocks,” Cal Crab Orchard Review
Anne Sanow mutters, watching. “But he works hard.” He’s shaking his head when he says this, but he can’t hide his admiration. Robbie says, “Down the shithole!” He’s gone. He starts taking oﬀ for a day or two, here and there, and we’re understanding. Cal’s around a lot these early days, supervising—it’s his head on the line, with Halim—and anyway Cal’s married and my wife’s on the way just as soon as we get things really going strong. Every time Rob comes back he makes a big production out of working round the clock, fueled with coke and amphetamines. The day I pick Dee Dee up from the airport we get to the farm at six in the morning— the ﬂights in arrive at all ass-end hours—and here’s Robbie, out in the ﬁelds, screwing a sprinkler back on to the pivot. “Camel knocked it oﬀ,” he says when we walk over. He gives Dee Dee a bashful smile while he looks her freely up and down. She ﬁngers the little gold cross hanging around her neck, like she’s just remembered it. And Robbie, later, with the parties he’d get up for us, the women he’d drive hours away to get and then leave stranded out here until he drove them back home. He’s good-looking; maybe that’s it. Or it’s the taste for adventure those girls have, any adventure, when you realize that the exotic they promised you doesn’t provide enough adventure on its own. Here’s Robbie in his trailer, where he’s built a rendition of a tiki bar in the front room and thrown pillows around the ﬂoor by the television. We’re watching a video he’s rented, which sucks power we need out of the generator, but with the booze and the lines Robbie’s supplied we hardly care. The movie is awful—some cheap sci-ﬁ thing starring grown-up Erin Moran from Happy Days, only here she’s unhappy because her space crew is getting picked oﬀ one by one, and when a crew member with an ugly face but a hot body is raped by a giant space slug, it’s funny. I look over at Rob, laughing his ass oﬀ; he’s lying on the ﬂoor next to a girl with big teased bangs and fuchsia lipstick. There’s an afghan over her legs and Rob’s hand is under it, right in the vee of her crotch, and the girl is squirming while she concentrates on the screen where the spacecrew girl is now completely naked, covered with the giant slug’s semen while it fucks her to death. And here is Robbie in the kitchen of my trailer at four in the afternoon on a workday, talking to Dee Dee. By now, six months in, she knows the ropes out here: she’s given up jeans on hot days and keeps those long cotton Indian-print dresses to throw on over her shorts or miniskirts. She sunbathes sometimes, in a lawn chair out in front of the door, when it’s late morning and she knows that none 132 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Anne Sanow of the men will be around. She’s brown as a nut. Afternoons she’s got her Jane Fonda tapes, and even if she looks a bit silly with leg warmers around her ankles the workouts really do something for her thighs. The leg warmers match her shiny pink leotard, cut high, a uniform she refuses to give up half a world away. Today she’s been out in the sun again—the strap marks are redder around the edges—and when I come in she’s stretching one leg behind her, hands on her hips. I smell something she’s baked: another activity she’s latched onto. “Looking for you,” Todd says right away, when I walk in. Dee Dee takes her time glancing around to me, her face set in an expression of boredom. So I think nothing of it, not really. Even if there might be other little signs that Dee Dee isn’t quite as happy as she says. There’s a party that night, people in from the city: our bona ﬁde cure for all the boredom we pretend we’re not facing. We all get fucked up once again and Robbie’s experiencing a personal record, taking one girl into the bedroom for awhile and after she passes out, pulling another onto his lap back in the livingroom, daring her to say anything about his messed-up hair and untucked shirt. This girl doesn’t say anything to him but she starts leaning over to whisper in my ear, her breasts level with my face, and I can’t hear what she’s saying with the music and the other voices so loud. At some point she gets dumped oﬀ Rob’s lap and she’s still talking to me, darting looks back and forth to the kitchen, and eventually I get up myself and leave her there, and here’s Dee Dee backed up against the stove, Robbie nodding at her as she talks and his right hand on her waist, thumb tracing a line up and down to her belly. Dee Dee watches me come in and she says, “I’m mad at you.” She bursts into tears and runs out of the room. Robbie says, “She’ll get over it.” He gives a wink and goes back to the couch. All over the goddamn world. That’s what I think tonight: I’ve been working with the crew all day, ﬁnishing up what’s left to get out of the ﬁelds, and I’ve explained how we’re going to load it all up for transport. P.J., in particular, looks wary. He wipes the sweat oﬀ his face while I’m talking, staring straight at me. This is my last chance to do right by them and he doesn’t believe it’s going to happen. It’s still hard to know how I feel about losing this. I could leave right now, and by the time I got to the airport it would be two in the morning, prime time for Saudi international departures. Somewhere up on the board would be where I would go. Crab Orchard Review
Anne Sanow You leave or you stay. One time Cal and I were picking up supplies in Al-Kharj, which is basically a shithole—every can in the grocery’s covered with dust, but we buy it anyway, and they have produce in the market stalls, even if it’s not fresh and you’re not sure what it is. We get bread. Cartons of bleach, cigarettes, and Kleenex tissues that we use for everything because they’re cheaper and more abundant than toilet paper and they don’t seem to have heard of actual napkins or paper towels. While we were waiting for the diesel to be fueled up a couple of Bedouin men walked by us, coarse brown robes trailing in the sand and wound over with ropes and ties, and Cal asked me, pointing, how old do you think that one is? The man’s weathered face looked ancient to me, but Cal said no: he’s probably thirty, if a day. You see that? Cal said. That’s how you get, if you make it out here. That’s what you want. Cal’s forty-three and his complexion says sixty. I’m twenty-seven. Here, that isn’t supposed to be young anymore. Another day with the crew shooting me mutinous looks: they used to like me, more or less, and now I’m just another asshole. Why should they care if it’s not my fault? Nine o’clock at night and Cal’s back, with a quarter of my month’s pay from Sheikh Halim. I ask him where the rest of it is. He slaps his visor on the wall to get the sand loose and doesn’t look at me. “You’re getting yours,” he says. “Better’n I can say for them.” So the Sri Lankans are still screwed, and the Mexicans—all of us, basically, our whole little patchwork tribe out here in the dunes. I shove a pile of dirty clothes oﬀ the easy chair and Cal sits down to roll a joint. The couch is the only place I spend any time these days—it’s just easier. I can stretch out and pile anything I need on the coﬀee table where I can reach it without getting up. I kick some more stuﬀ oﬀ and try to ignore the shreds and stains of my living here. The copies of Newsweek on the ﬂoor must be over six months old. Last time I looked, Princess Diana had had another baby; then again, that would have been Dee Dee’s turf, not mine. “You know, I should be more pissed oﬀ than I am,” I say. “I would be,” Cal says. “You don’t have to be.” “I’ve never had to be,” he acknowledges. “There was that one time, though—ten years back when Halim thought he wanted to do chickens and then tried to cancel the whole game after I’d imported the fuckers and set everything up. No money, of course. I told him ﬁne, but within 134 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Anne Sanow half a day I could sell oﬀ the whole goddamn stock to the ﬁrst passing Bedouin tribe so I’d get my money one way or another. Spooked the shit out of him, for some reason.” He laughs and passes me the joint. “Those chickens smell bad, Cal.” It’s his wife, Jaidee, who comes out from the kitchen. His third wife, to be exact: he met her on a business trip to Thailand. Her footsteps, in socked feet, are surprisingly loud for a woman her size. She’s tiny and doll-like, the tails of one of Cal’s blue-and-white striped shirts hanging down past her knees. You can just tell that she’s pregnant, a bulge like a taut little cantaloupe brushing up against the cloth. “Yeah honey, those chickens do smell bad,” Cal says. Jaidee ignores him, brandishing a container of salt in my direction. “How old,” she demands. I ask her where she found it. “Refrigerator,” she says. “But it’s sticky on the bottom.” “I have no idea,” I tell her. “Ha, well, you don’t cook,” she says, smiling. “Honey, you want to make us some iced tea?” Cal says, passing the joint again. “Oh yeah,” Jaidee says. “First I clean, then I can make it for you.” “Shit,” I say. “I’m sorry. You don’t have to—” “Well, okay,” Cal says. Jaidee shakes her head at us like we’re mentally deﬁcient, and disappears behind the refrigerator that serves as the partition to the livingroom. “You know,” Cal says, “you could have knocked Dee Dee up.” “I believe her exact words on the subject were, ‘fuck that noise,’” I say. We don’t talk about it much. Cal said he was sorry, though, when she left, and once explained earnestly that if I wanted to stay and not go crazy, an Oriental woman might be the only reasonable thing to consider. It’s either that or the occasional fuck with the expat girls, he said. Which is Robbie’s preferred route. I hear his truck pull up outside and there’s a lull during which I hear muﬄed voices. Then he’s pounding on the door. I open it and he’s holding a carton of bottles, not even wrapped up in clothes or stashed under food or anything. “Man, you didn’t even cover this?” I ask in response to his shouted greeting. It’s been a good three, four months since I’ve seen him last. Behind him are three women, one thirtyish and a British nurse, I’m guessing from the tone of her hellos, and the other two younger, probably Army brats from one of the compounds outside of Riyadh. Crab Orchard Review
Anne Sanow “Shit, Rob, you know that’s not cool,” Cal says. “Especially with them.” He nods at the women, and the one who looks the youngest, a bubblegum-lipped little blonde thing, rolls her eyes. “Aw, fuck it,” Rob says. He puts the box on the card table by the refrigerator and smiles at the women while they remove their abayahs from over their jeans and T-shirts. They give us little waves and ﬂoat into the kitchen to join Jaidee. “It’s late, and anyway coming out from Palace Road some poor asshole hit a camel with his truck, it was backed up for fucking miles and we just went oﬀ-road past Al-Kharj all the way here. No one to see us.” Robbie also has a shitpile of cocaine, which he removes from his jacket pocket, and then reconsiders when Cal tells him Jaidee’s making Thai food, and we should all eat ﬁrst before we get too fucked up. So we light another joint, and Robbie starts telling us about the latest goingson at the new catﬁsh farm where he’s working now. “I was kicking ragheads out of the pools every day until we put the ﬁsh in,” he says. “They think it’s fucking bathwater, you know?” We’re smoking and I’m starting to think the haze makes it look a little better in here, kinder and less in-your-face awful. A little while later Jaidee’s got the food out, good spicy stuﬀ, and she sits on Cal’s lap in the easy chair while they eat. Robbie’s talking up the Brit and the other girl, who has sort of a pudgy face but major tits going on, which is the obvious attraction. By the time he starts talking about “the plan”—which by now has morphed into the idea of running his own septic business—the chubby girl is next to him on the arm of the couch, and Rob’s hand is shoved right underneath one massive breast. The British woman gives me a once-over but I beat hell out of range. I end up in the kitchen scraping out the bowl of peanut chicken and then the blonde comes in, asking for another drink. “You are?” I ask. I splash grapefruit juice and grenadine in with the grain sidiqui to take the ﬁre oﬀ. “Kim,” she says. She takes the glass from me while I mix another for myself. Now I think I can place her: the daughter of Colonel What’s-his-name, the lifer on his third or fourth wife who can’t keep his hands oﬀ each new crop of nurses and ﬂight attendants who come through Saudi every year regular as swallows. “And who are you,” she says in a bored tone. No aﬀected sigh: this one talks out of the side of her mouth for real. “Todd.” 136 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Anne Sanow “Really.” She gives me a scorched-earth look. We hear Robbie yelling, “Smells like money, baby,” and the chubby girl squeals. Kim leans against the counter and frowns. When Robbie shouts up again—this time, it’s “Your shit is our bread and butter,” which releases further appreciative squealing—Kim performs the exact same eye-roll she did earlier. I consider that she’s probably slept with Rob and doesn’t want to get caught acting jealous. And she’s cute, if laughable, when she swigs her drink like a pro and tamps down a cigarette before lighting it. Virginia Slims. She throws the lighter back down on the counter with overcalculated nonchalance and it skids oﬀ into the sink. She laughs at this. “Sorry,” she says. “I think I’ve seen you before,” I say. “Yeah, party at Mike Diﬀ’s. Everyone saw me there.” Now I remember it. “Shit, that’s right. Your father was in a bad way.” “Whatever.” She shrugs. The T-shirt she’s wearing is faded lilac, cut oﬀ over her tanned stomach. It says Honolulu in curlicue letters over her breasts. No bra. “My dad takes me out to the desert a lot,” she’s saying. “We just hang out. You know. It’s good to get away.” “Well this,” I say, “this, Kim, is away. Very fucking far far away.” I start laughing. “Yeah,” she says. “I suppose it is.” “Darlin’, you have no idea.” She looks at me with a thoughtful expression, like she’s deciding how maybe the night could go. I don’t know. “The fuck you are,” Robbie shouts from the next room. Jaidee and Cal come in and say that the girls are going over to Robbie’s old trailer to set it up for the night. “No one’s gonna want to sleep in here,” Cal points out. Kim gives a little half-smile, mouth closed and one corner of her lip quirking up in a way that makes her look like she knows more than she should. “So I’ll see you later,” she says, going out with Jaidee. I hear everyone getting up and moving around, and the door opens so that the still desert night comes at us like a blanket. It swallows everyone up. Robbie lets the girls go ﬁrst and says loudly that he’ll be back to crash on the couch, but gives me a hammy wink as he says it. Cal pats Jaidee on the ass as she’s leaving and then ﬂips something to me from his back pocket. “Here,” he says. “Almost forgot. Picked it up from Halim.” Crab Orchard Review
Anne Sanow It’s my passport, wrinkled and creased, with the photo of me inside pouting like the pretty-boy jackass I was when I got here. Yes like an animal, no like a man: I can look around the inside of my trailer and sometimes it’s like walking into a mess that just happened, and I don’t know when. You’d think I wouldn’t be so disoriented. The way it’s gotten anything wild could be penned up in here, plenty of crap and musk and god knows what else to root around in. It’s all mine. Back in the ﬁrst six months when I was waiting for Dee Dee to get here I know I kept it clean: sure it was a piece of shit, this place, but it was still going to be the ﬁrst one that was just ours. I nailed down the carpet and pushed foam into the cracks around the windows and under the door to keep the sand out. Robbie and I took two days oﬀ to get into Riyadh and ﬁnd a real mattress for the bed, an extravagant thing from Switzerland that cost a week’s salary, but I knew she’d like it. “Yeow, honey!” she said when she saw it. “Get me down there right now. Let’s start oﬀ our Little Shack in the Desert right.” She was all pink from the heat, and dopey-eyed from days of traveling, but her hands were on my waist and down my pants like always, even better after so long apart. And after that fast year, for a long time when I thought she’d still come back, I know I kept it up looking all right. I used the broom that she’d used, and when Robbie and Cal were over dropping their ashes everywhere I pushed saucers at them to make it neat. Once Robbie said wifey, but Cal told him to shut up. “Just calling it like I see it,” Robbie said. “What?” Cal managed to keep a straight face for a full minute before he said, lazily, “Well, Todd, you know—you have to admit, she was a great ﬁrst wife.” That was the only time. A month or so later, the divorce papers wended their way to me across continents and I fooled around with one of the city chicks who’d come out for a party, this nurse who’d made it over from some little town back in Michigan and whose way of posing her hand on her hip reminded me of Dee Dee, enough. “I just need to check in on what this is,” she said the next morning. “Where are we, exactly?” I looked around the bedroom at anything but her and decided to let it all go to shit, the whole place, right then. You don’t ask that, I thought. You either know what things are or you’re just looking for what isn’t there. There’s all that familiar rush of things, the movement of men and machinery, like the last part of a long journey. Crews go back 138 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Anne Sanow and forth, pushing now that there’s an end in sight. Efram and Manuel get the last ﬁeld cleared; the stacks of wheat get loaded into trucks. Cal’s crew drives the thirty miles to his place and then back. It doesn’t let up. At the canteen Bo’s working nonstop. It’s all the same, just more of it and all day, into the night. Grilled beef with canned jalapeños for the Mexicans, and with curry sauce for the Sri Lankans; french fries, as always. We’ve gone through twenty loaves of white bread in thirty-six hours. Robbie comes in around noon and starts swearing that unless someone drives out to the grocery in Al-Kharj to ﬁnd some fruit or vegetables, his dysentery’s going to kick in again and he hasn’t got time to be shitting in the ﬁelds. We sit out on the back steps and drink coﬀee. Robbie pops open a vial and does a quick line oﬀ the back of his hand. I ﬁgure I may as well. “So what’s up with what’s-her-name, Ginny,” I ask him. The ﬂeshy girl. Robbie snorts. “We’re just having fun,” he says. “She informed of that fact?” “I doubt she’ll argue, you know?” “Kim?” He looks at me. “Why, you care?” I tell him no, just asking. He says she’s a handful and gets too intense. “I mean, she’s fucking nineteen. Been here since she was in grade school or something. She’s a weird kind of lifer.” The girls are all still here, sticking mainly around Robbie’s old trailer and spending time with Jaidee, doing god only knows what all day, I can’t imagine. Who knows if they’re even friends. Not that it matters; you make do. They can’t leave until Robbie or someone drives them the three hours back to the city, which won’t be until tomorrow at the earliest. Of course, I’ve lost countless hours on my own, with nobody to help me do it. “What’s Halim paying you,” I ask Robbie. I’m sure he’s been waiting for this. “Enough,” he says. “Cal told you. He wanted it done fast.” “He could have at least talked to me,” I say. “Well you shouldn’t fucking have expected that. I hardly talk to him—Cal’s got his ear, let him deal with it.” He empties the rest of his coﬀee out into the sand. I say, “He’s trying to fuck me over. I’ve only got part of my money Crab Orchard Review
Anne Sanow for the month, and he’s been holding up the crew’s pay longer than that. That’s what I’ve had to deal with.” “Shit, Todd—it all gets worked out. Soon as everyone’s moved over to Cal’s, everyone gets paid. Don’t fucking worry about it.” “It’s a raw deal.” “Hey,” he says. “Not my doing.” “Is that right?” “Jesus.” He stands and lights a cigarette, walking down the steps and stretching a bit. When we came over from the States we were both green, and we worked together all day assembling machinery from parts that didn’t match and we had one truck between us to go anywhere and that ﬁrst crew of Sri Lankans who’d never seen wheat. We threw dirt clods at camels to scare them oﬀ the freshly plowed ground while their Bedouin owners laughed at us. There was the sand in our tent until the trailers went up. You have to talk to someone when things are like that, and I think we did talk, then. “You got money?” he asks me. “Bank, yes. Ready cash, just a couple months’ pay lying around.” “Well,” he says. “Are you telling me to use it?” He’s not looking at me, doesn’t want to. Then he says, “Well, if it were me—” He gives a low whistle, shaking his head as he lights another one. For what seems like long minutes we listen to the belch of the trucks in the ﬁelds, smell the tang of gas in the hot sun. He wants me to say—what? That he’s somehow responsible for the fact that I’m getting screwed over now? That he’s dealing with life as it is here and I can’t? Or that I think he tried to fuck my wife? How pointless it all seems, suddenly. Looking at him standing there, he’s trying to pull oﬀ a rendition of Cal, the Early Years, or something else that I can’t quite believe because it just doesn’t convince me enough. It’s like he wants to see if I’ll just let this all go, lose it. What he knows he can’t do is give the ﬁnal push. Finally he checks his watch. “Gotta get back out there or something’ll be messed up,” he says. I could be wrong, but he looks a bit ashamed. “Check the diesel levels, will you?” I tell him. “We need enough for at least another day.” He gives me a salute and goes back in the canteen. I’m still thinking about this when night rolls around. Efram and his crew have departed, taking a slow caravan of combines and water 140 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Anne Sanow trucks down the road to get them to the other farm. Heading back to the trailer I catch sight of P.J., walking with the other guys back to where the showers are set up behind their quarters. I wave, feeling like shit, and he gives me a look letting me know exactly what he thinks of my failure to pull through for them. It’s no comfort to know that they’re more indentured than I am. I can hear everyone over at Robbie’s trailer; the party’s already in progress. Light comes out from the cracks around the frame, and the window—the one just like the canteen’s—pulses with a weird glow. The thing looks like it was dropped out of the sky from somewhere. You can hear people stepping around, and Cal and Robbie’s lower murmurs punctuated by the higher pitches of the women. Dee Dee used to come sit outside on our steps whenever the claustrophobia got to be too much; she said it was like being in a waiting room, only there was nowhere you were waiting to go. It’s like that now. I could stand here for a long time if I weren’t so fucking tired. When I get into my place Kim’s lying on the couch, reading a paperback. Some spy-novel thriller, if it’s anything she’s picked up from the ﬂoor. “Hey,” she says. “I hope you don’t mind. I needed to chill a bit.” “Not a problem,” I say. “Drink?” She shoves up and goes into the kitchen, which from my view is looking at least partially clean, probably Jaidee’s eﬀorts. Cal’s place is spotless, every track and drip wiped away as soon as he makes it. Kim comes back out with cocktails in some kind of vase, which I recognize as part of a wedding gift Dee Dee always thought was ugly, and two glasses. Some of the drink slops out as Kim pours it. “It’s my special recipe,” she says, and seems embarrassed. “You add apple juice. It really cuts the sidiq.” She hands me mine and waits for my reaction. “Okay,” I say. “My dad taught me. He tried every kind of fruit juice—” “It’s ﬁne.” I look at her watching me and she’s a bit stung, I know it. Nineteen, Robbie said: right now she looks it, edges not yet there where she’s trying to make them. Even though she’s got that practiced aloofness in her eyes, her cheeks are still too soft and her face can’t catch up when she tries to shift her stance to look less friendly. She sits on the edge of the table and picks up a cigarette, tamping Crab Orchard Review
Anne Sanow it down in a movement that already seems familiar. With the other hand she pulls her skirt out from where it’s crept up underneath her thighs. The skirt’s pink and stretchy. She lights up and blows smoke. She sizes me up: this time the look is part question, part challenge. We’re both trying to ﬁgure out if there’s anything to say. Then we hear a truck horn blare outside. I can make out Robbie and Cal cursing and someone else trying to say something, maybe Jaidee, and Cal’s yelling something back and she shuts up. I open the door as Cal lays on the horn again. He’s pulling the truck around and Robbie’s in the seat with him. The air’s balmy and it carries the stench of people packed together for too long. Cal revs the motor and sticks his head out the window. “Some fucking problem out by the worker quarters,” he shouts. “Follow us.” “What?” I ask. “I don’t know. Some asshole kicked over a lantern or something and Bo says it’s ﬂaring up. Probably not a big deal, but it can’t turn into a bigger one.” “Yeah,” I say. They tear oﬀ and I see Jaidee standing outside, arms crossed, watching them go. Kim’s leaning on the table smoking, arms crossed, with an expression that looks oddly satisﬁed. When she asks what’s the matter I tell her it looks like there might be a ﬁre. “Shit,” she says. “Serious?” “Hell if I know,” I say. I start looking for my keys. In the bedroom I fumble around on top of the dresser. More shirts, used tissues, riyal coins, and a scattered row of little brass camels from one of our trips into the city long ago to shop in the souks. That’s the sum total of my collected cultural artifacts from this place. Nothing here seems to be worth anything. I sweep it all onto the ﬂoor and listen for a jingle—I’ve been on foot today, and I can’t remember where I dropped the keys last night. And now here’s Kim at the door. “Looking for these?” she asks. She stands there like a stork, one foot resting up on the opposite calf, balancing like that as she dangles my key ring from two ﬁngers. There’s that little lopsided smile again. It’s so appropriate I could cry. I come over and she drops the keys in my hand. “Thanks,” I say. I’m standing pretty close; for a minute we both hold our ground. “Well,” she says, smiling brightly. “Always business.” She slides 142 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Anne Sanow her foot down her very tan leg and swivels herself around, then out the door. I go back to the dresser and rummage around in the top drawer, where I keep my socks. Underneath is the wad of bills stashed in there for expenditures. I count it quickly: several thousand riyals. I jam it all in my pocket. Now is the time to think. If I go anywhere, what else would I take? Probably nothing. In the livingroom Kim has moved back to the couch, and looks like she can’t decide quite what she wants to do but she’s making a big show of being back into her book. She’s lying on her stomach with one knee bent, circling her foot in the air. When I tell her I’m going she says, “So maybe I’ll see you later, maybe I won’t.” The truck starts up and when I back away from the trailer there are two directions I can turn. One way puts me in Al-Kharj in under an hour, on a night like this: the summer moon is up and there’s no haze, little wind, and you can see your way through the desert for as far as you’d want to go. There’s that way and the money in my pocket and the shit I could leave behind for good. Then there’s oﬀ down the road to the ﬁelds, where I see a glow. I can’t tell how large the ﬁre might be—the escarpments play a trick of perspective, jutting out and dwarﬁng everything we’ve built below. All I know is that way it’s some fucking mess to deal with, something huge or maybe something puny and ridiculous, who knows till I get there, and after that I’m back here again and the only thing waiting is this place and these people and this girl. It’s all I’ve got for right now. And she might be pretty—hell, some years oﬀ she’ll likely be beautiful—but she isn’t Dee Dee and she isn’t my salvation and she can’t be any kind of answer for very long. She isn’t anyone.
Crab Orchard Review
Ron Tanner Diversity! Nora and her four fellow Diversity Delegates know not to
say aloud what they are thinking as the noon ferry chugs away from Echo Pier on its way to Ebeye, three nautical miles north: they will smell Ebeye before they see it. Garbage always smoldering from one end or the other, the entire island, which is about half the size of American-occupied Kwajalein but with four times as many people, seems little more than a dump. Mr. Norman, the Advisor to the Diversity Delegates—he’s escorting them on this outing to deliver discarded computers to Ebeye High—has explained the cultural reasons for this. You see, nobody owns land on Ebeye. In fact, all of the islands, every little sand speck of land, are owned by only a handful of families. And most of those families live on Majuro, the capital island, which is far from here. Everybody else—the 13,000 Marshallese living on Ebeye—are just renting space. So there’s no motivation for the Marshallese to build nice houses or plant pretty gardens. As far as they’re concerned, they’re just passing through. The ferry is a decommissioned barge-like Army transport with a white tarp strung overtop to keep the sun oﬀ. Passengers sit on wooden benches that remind Nora of church pews, the Marshallese women and girls dressed in the most colorful muumuus: big bright ﬂowered prints. To sit among them is to smell their coconut oil, which apparently they use as hair dressing, perfume, and skin lotion all at once. Mr. Norman, a big-bellied sunburned man who has “gone native,” paces at the front of the boat, pausing now and then to peer ahead. Nora imagines he’s rehearsing his next lecture. The way he talks, you’d think he hated Americans and thought the Marshallese were gods. He married a Marshallese woman who got pregnant by another American twenty years ago when they were all in the Peace Corps. Or so the rumor goes. Rumor also says that his wife stands to make a lot of money if her family can win its suit against the American government for having suﬀered in the Eniwetak disaster, when the Americans’ nuclear fall-out drifted over in 1954. Some say maybe that’s why Mr. Norman works so hard to make Americans look bad.
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Ron Tanner He and his wife and their many children live on Jaluit, an hour plane ride away. Nora’s been to Ebeye only once since she’s been dating Jeton and that was at Christmas when she and Jeton didn’t get a moment alone. Not that there’s any place to go on Ebeye. It has no trees to speak of. The “town” is an uneven grid of mostly paved streets; there is shack after shack, only the smallest yards, if any at all, dirt and sand at your feet and overhead a web of electrical wires and phone lines slung from low poles. Stray dogs, cats, and chickens dart past, and stray children, so many children, and idle men, so many idle men, the air smoky from burning garbage or other ﬁre, and Japanese motorbikes speeding by dangerously close. Some have called this the Calcutta of the Paciﬁc. According to Mr. Norman it is, in fact, more crowded. That’s why visiting Ebeye, and bringing gifts especially, makes Nora feel good—like she’s putting herself on the line somehow. Most Americans wouldn’t dare come here, even though it’s only two miles away and the Marshallese people, really, are very nice. “We go for the wrong reasons,” Mr. Norman says of the Diversity Delegation, “and we do the wrong things, but it’s better than not going at all.” He’s hilarious when he talks like that. Nora’s parents have no idea she’s on Ebeye this afternoon because they can’t keep up with her many co-curricular activities. She’s planning to surprise Jeton, who hasn’t been able to get near her since she got grounded after her parents caught them fucking on the patio last week. God, did that freak them out! As soon as the DDs step oﬀ the boat, Todd Williams and Stef Galen wheeling the computers on a freight dolly, a crowd of children swarm after them. Mr. Norman’s taught the DDs how to say the oﬃcial greeting: “Io àkwe!” Which sounds like “Yuck-way!” “Don’t you surrender a penny!” he warns—because the children are always asking for money. Even a quarter’s a big deal to them. He calls the Republic of the Marshall Islands “a nation of children” because the average age of its citizens is, like, sixteen or eighteen: a fact that made Nora and the rest giddy with fantasies about how diﬀerent life in the States would be if the teens ruled! “Sup?” the little kids are saying. Most don’t have shirts; none have shoes; and a couple of the smallest don’t even have undies. Playing in puddles, dragging sticks and palm fronds behind them, chasing dogs, they look happy enough. And certainly nobody appears hungry. Crab Orchard Review
Ron Tanner “Who looks after the children?” Nora asks. “Their parents are working or looking for work or ﬁshing,” Mr. Norman says. “There’s probably a cousin or aunt nearby.” The causeway construction is the biggest employer now. It will connect Ebeye to the several islands just north of it, which will create more room for all these people. Mr. Norman says that space is so precious out here in the Marshalls a California company has been trying to get the Republic to build a landﬁll with American garbage. “If that’s not the most fucked-up proposal you’ve ever heard, I don’t know what is,” he said. “But, hell, why not? We’ve already dumped all kinds of atomic fallout on these people, haven’t we?” He went oﬀ for about an hour on that one. Mr. Norman’s leading the way right down the middle of the street, which has been paved recently. The shacks on either side are painted as varied and brightly colored as the women’s muumuus. And every ﬁfth house seems to be a small church. Mr. Norman’s walking so fast, Todd and Stef can’t keep up, pushing that heavy cart. “Mr. Norman, slow down,” Nora calls. He stops. Then a motorcyclist speeds by, nearly swiping him. “Eājāj wōt!” he shouts. Nora assumes this is a curse, though it could mean anything, like “thanks a lot!” “Sup? Got a quarter?” a little boy asks Nora. She shrugs in response. “Quarter?” he repeats. Then Mr. Norman shoos him away. Suddenly the sky opens up, a pile of afternoon thunderheads having tumbled in. Nora and her companions are drenched within a minute. Leaving the cart of computers at the curb, they seek shelter under the corrugated tin overhang of the Independent Baptist Church, which at a glance looked like another shack. “See that?” Mr. Norman says, nodding like the know-it-all he is. “That’s why I had you secure the computers under a plastic tarp.” Then, like a message from God, a Toyota pickup roars down the street in the torrent and slams full into the cart, computer parts spilling and spinning like shrapnel—and making such a loud smack! that Nora, Stef, and Britney scream “EEK!” in unison. The truck screeches to a stop, sliding several yards, the rain still gushing like whitewater. 146 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Ron Tanner “Serves us right,” Mr. Norman says in disgust, stepping into the torrent. “Serves us fucking right!” The driver clambers out. “Very sorry,” he says. He looks Indian and he’s young, of course, but not a teenager. Like most Marshallese men, he’s wearing those khaki trousers and a T-shirt. Why do they so love American T-shirts? This one says “AC/DC” across the front. Then the rain stops—just like that—and the sun comes out, rays glinting from the blue-oily puddles on the asphalt, and the children are playing again, dogs barking after them, and the air is smoky again with the smell of burning garbage and maybe barbecued pig. The driver helps Mr. Norman and the DDs pick up the wrecked computers, many of the pieces disappearing with the children, who dart in and out, grabbing what they can as if this were a game. They load the junk into the back of the man’s pickup, then the man drives Mr. Norman and the DDs to the high school. But no one at the high school seems to know that the computers were coming. A stout middleaged Marshallese woman nods “yes” to everything Mr. Norman says but she can’t tell him anything he wants to know. All the while, with Nora and the others’ half-hearted help, the driver is unloading the broken computers onto the sidewalk. “There might be something to salvage here,” Mr. Norman says, shaking his head sadly at the mess, “but I don’t know the frigging word for ‘salvage.’” The sun so hot, they are almost dry from the downpour already. Nora is beginning to panic because she thought there’d be a ceremony or some gathering where she’d see Jeton, who’s a senior at the high school. He doesn’t even know she’s here! Still, it’s two hours before the next ferry, so she’s got some time. But she can forget trying to ﬁnd his house because there are no street numbers, no directories, no maps that will show her where he lives. “You’re wasting your money,” Jeton tells his cousin Mike. Mike is on the video machine, playing Space Spiders. He says, “I got money to waste.” The machine goes Ka-blam! ka-blam! ka-blam! as Mike muscles into it. Jeton slugs down half the Tsing Tao Mike has just bought him, letting the foam burn his throat. They are at the Lucky Star Bar and Restaurant, where Jeton hopes Mike will buy him a lunch of shrimp lo mein. The Lucky Star is dark, Crab Orchard Review
Ron Tanner like all the drinking places, with only a single plastic window up front and a few light bulbs strung over the bar, which is a painted countertop made of chipboard from the Philippines. A few young men Jeton doesn’t know sit at a table near the window; they are laughing and seem to have money. Maybe they are from Majuro. Two old men sit at the end of the bar watching the TV, which sits on a box behind the counter. The program—something in Spanish—comes by satellite from Manila. Jeton should be in school and Mike should be at the causeway, but, “Fuck it,” Jeton said when Mike met him this morning. Mike told him that they would take the “day oﬀ,” as the Americans put it. Mike is two years older than Jeton and much lighter-skinned— wūdmouj—because one of his grandfathers was Japanese. Mike also has a ﬁne black mustache that Jeton admires. And, unlike Jeton, who is short and has thick legs, Mike is tall and has an easy stride. Jeton thinks sometimes that Mike is the man he should be. But it is becoming clear to Jeton that he will not be like Mike, who has a high school diploma and has traveled as far as Japan and now drives a loader for the construction crew at the causeway. Mike’s plan is to sell electronics on Ebeye, ship them direct from China, he says, and make a “fuckin’ fortune.” Jeton’s plan is—or was—to love Nora forever. Since their trouble with her parents last week and Nora’s surprising announcement about returning to the States, Jeton has felt jebwābwe, like doing something crazy. Nora’s parents made the American police ban Jeton from returning to Kwajalein. Americans can do that to the riM àajeļ because the Americans have paid the Republic a lot of money to build their missiles on the island. In three days Nora ﬂies away. Jeton met her for the ﬁrst time when his high school soccer team played the American high school soccer team. Jeton was the riM àajeļ goalie. Already he had lost one tooth up front from protecting the goal. Nora said the missing tooth made his smile look “cute.” “You hungry?” he asks Mike. Ka-blam! Mike is already at level twelve, alien spiders raining from the video sky: ka-blam! ka-blam! ka-blam! blam!blam!blam! So much noise, Mike’s handsome eyes expertly scanning the screen, his thumbs pummeling the joysticks. “Sounds like one of us is hungry,” Mike says at last. Jeton wants Mike’s money but, at the same time, he doesn’t want to see Mike spend so much. If Mike keeps spending what he makes, 148 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Ron Tanner he will never open his electronics shop. This is a frustrating thought because it is so American, worrying about what hasn’t happened yet. Jeton suspects this comes from spending time with Nora. He says, “Mike, what happened to your electronics business?” “I’m saving for it right now,” Mike answers. “Right now?” “Fuck you, Jeton. Least I got a job.” Ka-blam! Level 15. The game is over. Without glancing at Jeton, Mike feeds the machine more dollars and starts again. Jeton looks with envy at the custom chopsticks Mike carries in a leather case from a loop at his belt. The chopsticks, carved from whale bone, he got from his Japanese grandfather before the old man died. “Let me try,” Jeton says. Mike glances at him and smiles. “You don’t got the reﬂexes.” Jeton sputters his indignation. “Best goalie on Ebeye—I got reﬂexes!” Mike lets him have his seat. The blue-green alien spiders drift down from the yellow video sky like ash Jeton has seen raining over the Ebeye landﬁll. When the pretty spiders touch Jeton’s fat little space ships, the ships explode. “You got to blow them up,” Mike instructs. “Fire, man!” Jeton thumbs the joysticks, jerking them as he ﬁres with both barrels. Ka-blam! ka-blam! ka-blam! so loud it hurts his ears, spiders splintering into shards like glass against rock, rockets streaking red lines across the screen, more and more spiders falling, his ships exploding until Jeton pushes himself away from the machine. “Fuck it!” he says, his face burning. He wants to slam the video screen with his ﬁst. “You don’t have to get angry, man. It’s a game.” “Fuck it. I never liked these bwebwe machines.” “You’re like a old man, Jeton. These machines gonna make me a million dollars.” “You don’t got enough to buy a machine like this.” Mike sits again at his machine, then feeds it more dollars. “Not today.” “When?” There it is, Jeton thinks. They’re talking like the ripālle. “Tomorrow? Next week? Next year?” “What do you care, Jeton?” Ka-blam! Mike starts ﬁring. He is steady, relentless, his eyes focused. Maybe he can do what he says. Maybe Jeton needs to be like Crab Orchard Review
Ron Tanner Mike when he plays video. See the alien spiders and shoot, see them and shoot. Shoot shoot shoot. No letting up. “I don’t care,” Jeton lies. “I’m gonna—” His sudden assertion stops him because he’s not sure what he’s going to do or be. It seems everyone else has a plan. “You gonna?” Mike goads. “I’m gonna be goalie on the national team.” The national soccer team trains on Majuro. They ﬂy to Manila, Tokyo, and Sidney to play other teams. The star goalie, Abbetar, wears no shoes and has lost ﬁve of his front teeth saving the ball. Who could be tougher than Abbetar? Mike laughs once. “You replace Abbetar?” What is it the Americans say? “Stranger things have happened.” “You come over to the causeway,” Mike says, still ﬁring, alien spiders splintered into purple bits. “Maybe I can get you work.” “The causeway’s a mistake,” Jeton says. He watches Mike’s face to see what happens. “I heard all about it when I was on Kwajalein.” “What you hear?” Mike is up to level 10 already. “It’s gonna ruin the lagoon because it blocks the waves.” Ka-blam! “Nothing can ruin the lagoon,” Mike says. Ka-blam! Jeton ﬁnishes his beer. “It blocks the waves.” “It doesn’t block the waves. I work on it. I see.” “Ibwijleplep. Storm waves. The American engineers say so.” “They say that because they aren’t building it.” “RiM àajeļ don’t know how to build anything,” Jeton says. “We’re stupid.” “I’m not stupid,” Mike says. “And I’m building the fucking causeway.” That’s better, Jeton thinks. He’s got Mike mad. “Causeway’s gonna ruin everything,” Jeton continues. “You should quit.” The spiders are coming so fast, Mike can’t stop them. Suddenly he loses the game, his ships disappearing in a black-and-blue video cloud. “Fuck you,” Mike says. “Fuck you!” Jeton isn’t sure if he’s saying this to the machine or to him. “Good reﬂexes,” Jeton mocks. Mike stands up slowly, wipes his hands on his blue jeans, then— without looking at Jeton—turns away and walks to the door. He has the kind of intent, closed-up look on his face that Jeton has seen on men who ﬁght cocks. 150 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Ron Tanner “Your causeway ruins us!” Jeton calls after him. As soon as Mike is gone and the door has shut out the bright sunlight again, Jeton feels terrible. Why has he treated his cousin so badly? He hears the young men laughing from the front of the room. Maybe laughing at him. He hears the Spanish program speaking its trilling language from the TV set behind the bar. And somewhere at the back of his mind he hears the video game blowing up spiders and spaceships. None of it is worth hearing. None of it makes sense. When he gets outside, to the rain-puddled street, the air thick with lunchtime aromas—bwiin-ennoà—of fried leeks and sausage, he does not see Mike. Small children who should be in school are playing tag, darting from and through the narrow paths between the hunched-up houses. Like shrimp in tide pools, Jeton thinks. Several young men and a few older men are sitting in the shade of a breadfruit tree nearby, sharing cigarettes. Men and women are walking away from him, each carrying a straw or plastic bag, on their way to catch the two o’clock ferry to Kwajalein. Jeton knows that when he sees Mike again Mike will have forgotten that Jeton was so kajjōjō, hateful. That is how it is with the riM àajeļ. Americans are diﬀerent: they will not let you forget anything. Jeton could jaba, hang-out, with the men by the tree but they’re going to talk about women and Jeton doesn’t want to talk about his. Maybe he’ll go to the pier, where there are a couple of bars and restaurants. Maybe someone will oﬀer to buy him a bowl of fried egg and rice. He could go home, but no one’s there. His mother is a maid on Kwajalein, his sister a checker at the Americans’ supermarket. His younger brother and sister are at school. His older brother is on Majuro working with his father, who makes soap in the copra factory. They visit Ebeye every three months, bringing with them samples from the factory and smelling of coconut that seems to have gotten into their breath and become a part of their body sweat. “These are the only places you’ll find authentic Marshallese food,” Mr. Norman instructs. “We should try some jukjuk, coconutrice balls, and bwiro, preserved breadfruit.” He’s treating them to lunch at one of the “take-out” shops, a plywood shack, about ﬁve-by-four feet, with a single large open window for service. The woman inside looks to Nora like every middle-aged Crab Orchard Review
Ron Tanner woman she’s seen so far on Ebeye: heavy, her hair pulled back but messy from the humidity, her face broad and friendly and without a dab of makeup. She wears a cotton shift of a brightly ﬂowered pattern. Her take-out is well-provisioned, the shelves behind her displaying stacks of Huggies disposable diapers, cans of Starkist tuna, boxes of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, piles of Snickers candy bars, and stacked tins of SPAM, the national favorite. None of it cheap. Mr. Norman pays for the “real food,” as he calls it, then passes it around. Britney grimaces at the brownish paste on her pandanus leaf. “Is this gonna make us sick?” “It’s a miracle the crap you eat every day doesn’t make you sick,” Mr. Norman answers, downing a handful of raw papaya strips—which are so crunchy they sound like potato chips. Nora pretends to enjoy the Diversity lunch but all she can think about is how she wants to ﬁnd Jeton and walk with him on the beach. They have so little time left together! She wants every moment to count! She’s not big headed or anything but sometimes, really, she thinks she’s super blessed for some bizarre reason. Honestly, it’s not like she’s especially good or holy or anything like that. But sometimes the greatest things happen to her. Like she’s standing here, eating this Marshallese paste with her Diversity Delegates and Mr. Norman is luging on one of his bobsled rants about nuclear fallout, how America tested H-bombs in the Marshalls forever—sixty seven bombings in all—and the fallout was horrible and the Marshallese got all fucked up and deformed and the money the Americans gave hardly covered the cost of relocating people to diﬀerent islands and nobody but nobody can clean up the places that were bombed, it’s gonna take, like, a million years….So Mr. Norman’s going on the way he does—Nora calls his lectures “the Norman invasion”—and then, out of nowhere, Jeton walks up to her and says, “Hi, lijera.” And Nora nearly fucking faints! It’s a Hollywood moment that the senior class is going to be talking about for weeks, she is sure! So Nora takes Jeton in her arms and plants a big one on his gorgeous lips. And now Jeton looks like he’s about to faint because, as Mr. Norman will tell you, the Marshallese just don’t “make displays of public aﬀection.” Then, as if announcing she’s going down the hall for a drink of water, Nora says she and Jeton are going to take a little walk. 152 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Ron Tanner “That’s ﬁne,” Mr. Norman answers. “We’ll be right behind you.” Nora is so high on the whole incident, she says, “Okay!” She and Jeton walk on the oceanside, the best place Jeton can think to take her because everywhere else is too crowded. He once told her that Ebeye is the most wonderful place on earth, describing the sweet scent of fried onions, the smoky aroma of grilled chicken, the muddy alleys, the crowds of giddy children, the bright blues, reds, yellows, and greens of painted plywood , the laundry ﬂagging on lines behind every home, the sputter and stink of motorbikes, the chaos of radio music, the yelping of dogs….But he is sure now that she cannot appreciate these things. There is too much garbage, he realizes—disposable diapers washed up like dead ﬁsh and plastic Coke bottles and bright white chunks of Styrofoam from broken beer coolers. Just beyond the garbage-strewn sand, four small children are aﬂoat in a doorless refrigerator. Their arms raised, they shout in triumph as shallow waves push their boat to the shore a few feet, then suck it out a few feet, back and forth. The tide’s going out, the reef exposed in high places, sun glinting from trapped water. Carefully, Jeton says, “The best islands are to the east in the Ralik chain. Everybody says so.” “Really?” she says, though he can tell she is only being polite. “There’s one called Wotje. The Japanese brought dirt from Japan to make a grand garden there.” “You mean during World War II?” “Yes, long ago.” Gingerly he toes aside a disposable diaper. “It is very beautiful.” “Are you going to move there?” she asks. “With you,” he says, wanting this to sound like a promise or a proposal. But it sounds so much like a question he secretly berates himself: Bōkāro! “I told you I have to go to college, Jeton.” “You don’t have to. Nobody is making you.” “I want to!” When he doesn’t answer, she adds: “You could go too.” “I am no good in school.” “You could start with junior college—they’ve got one on Majuro.” It tires him to hear her talk like this, pretending that he is as smart as she. “Why do you say these things you know are not possible?” Crab Orchard Review
Ron Tanner “Because I believe in you,” she says. “Because anything’s possible, isn’t it?” Anything? No. It is not possible to make Nora stay in the Marshall Islands, even though she has said that she loves him. It is not possible to make her realize that he cannot follow her, that he will never be like her. He promises himself that he will not be a baby—eokkwikwi—who cries for her attention or a baka fool who believes she will do whatever he wants just because he says she should. He understands for the ﬁrst time what she has meant by the expression “get real.” Money is real to Nora. Plans are real to Nora. The future is real to Nora. So he will give her all of that by letting her believe that he agrees with everything she says. It is the curse of the riM àajeļ to be so giving, so polite. How else could they have survived together for so long on so little land? As the ferry chugs away from the Ebeye dock, the air fusty with diesel exhaust and the stink of dead coral, the world seems too beautiful to Nora. Behind the big cotton-ball clouds on the horizon, the sunset sky is lit up with huge ﬁngers of orange, yellow, and fuchsia. On the pier-end, Jeton stands among a crowd of small children, everybody waving. This seems a sunset of a diﬀerent sort—so touching she feels the ﬁrm hand of grief tighten around her throat. She may never see Jeton deGroen, her handsome young man, again! Smiling broadly like nothing is wrong, he waves and waves. She thinks of his fearless saves at the soccer goal, how proud he is to have lost a tooth from playing hard. He would have saved her just as ardently, she decides, if it had come to that. The many small children around him continue waving frantically, even though they can’t possibly know anyone on the ferry back to Kwajalein. Everybody here is ripālle, after all: ri, meaning people; pālle meaning pale. The pale people. It is one of many words Nora has learned from Jeton. Then, like the distant rumble of thunder on a cloudless day, she hears Mr. Norman behind her saying: “You broke his heart, didn’t you?” Puzzled, she turns to him. She can’t tell whether his look is one of disgust or profound sadness. “We loved each other,” she says. “See what I mean?” he says in his know-it-all voice, “already you’re talking past tense. Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” She wants to answer yes, of course, she knows—she fell in love and loved as hard as she could, her every cell and synapse aﬂame with 154 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Ron Tanner passion, Jeton never doubting that she was his and he was hers, but now it’s over because she’s growing up, she has college waiting and a life to make, she can’t stop now, she certainly can’t stop here in the middle of the ocean just because she’s in love with a beautiful boy, Jeton understands this, that’s why he’s smiling, wishing her the best, because he knows that he’s got a future too, that she’s not limiting him, that the Compact of Free Association allows him to travel to the States, where he can attend college and make his own way, and who knows? she and he could meet again, it could happen, anything could happen, and wouldn’t that be proof ﬁnally that they were meant for each other—but this brief time together during their senior year, this isn’t proof of anything, this is just a sweet interlude before better things, Jeton knows as well as she, so back oﬀ, you sour old fuck, why are you so intent on making people miserable? Within an instant, she is ready to say all of this evenly and intently to Mr. Norman, who is still shaking his head sadly and looking at her as if she were the root of all the world’s problems. You are so ignorant, she wants to tell him. But, to her surprise and sudden shame, she ﬁnds herself instead bawling into Britney Losinger’s shoulder and smelling the girlish scent of her classmate’s sunscreen, which somehow makes her wonder if, really, she—Nora Marie Collingswood—is still just a child who hardly knows who she is or what she’s doing.
Crab Orchard Review
Campbell McGrath Half-Day Blues. Barnegat Light, NJ Someone is making a shopping list at the counter by the window. Someone is peeling cucumbers, drinking a blue margarita. Someone rubs a thumb across the tip of a new tooth. Someone is skidding their bike in the stones at the harbor beneath the signs for the party ﬁshing boats: Half-Day Blues, All-Day Fluke. Someone throws his pencil down angrily, someone is sneaking potato chips on the sly, someone is not eating their Cocoa Krispies. Someone is picking broken crayons from the washing machine, someone is clicking bottlecaps in a palm. Someone checks her email. Someone cries. Someone dives into a huge green wave. Someone is licking dry salt from a shoulder, shuddering. Someone feels very alone, and scared. Someone is expecting FedEx to deliver a new contract, keep your eye open. Someone is too small to ride the rollercoaster, maybe next year. Someone is throwing pinecones at toy soldiers, someone goes crabbing and catches nothing but eel grass. Someone is lying in the hammock, reading a wonderful book. Someone’s hand shadows an egret, lifting olives from a porcelain plate, believing the evening swifts are whistling just for him. Someone detects the ﬂavor of ﬂint in the sauvignon blanc, ﬂavor of mint, lemon, cool river gravel. Someone is studying the Audubon Field Guide, someone is missing the jingle of absent keys. Someone is choosing the blueberry over the strawberry-rhubarb pie. Someone deadheads the begonias, someone waters the new pink hydrangea, someone’s back aches from planting. Someone ordered from the wrong pizza place! Someone stacks and unstacks clamshells in the darkness. 156 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Campbell McGrath Someone wants to hear another story. Someone pushes the baby stroller down to the inlet, buys a coﬀee at Andy’s, watches the boats sail into the distance. Someone wakes in a sweat—it was only a dream! Someone is in the shower, shouting—can you bring me a towel? Someone waits for the beach tractor, kicking at sand, bored and happy. Someone has had the best year of his life, someone is wrestling tempestuous angels. Someone wraps a smooth rock in seaweed and imagines it is a dragon egg. Someone is listening to thunder resound oﬀ the ocean after midnight. Someone watches her mother’s brow, creased with the labor of memory: was there a shopping list, what was on the list, where is the list now?
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Existence 1. I had forgotten what it was like to exist this way. I am a diﬀerent person in Chicago, a little deeper but sadder, melancholic, less supple within my own skin. Strange sense of slippage, returning here, revisiting former lives and past estates, as if the ﬁlm had jumped its sprockets and the gears of the clattering projector spun to no eﬀect. Exist in the moment, yes, but the past is inescapable, the past is oxygen to the blast furnace of being, uranium to the reactor of consciousness. Should I say human consciousness? Is it so diﬀerent for bees, lemurs, longhorn sheep? Are consciousness and self precise synonyms? Can we imagine one without the other? Can we conceive of consciousness outside of time or is it a projection of time within us, consciousness my temporal expression as my body is my expression in three-dimensional space?
2. Driving from Miami we stopped to watch the manatees that shelter all winter in the Homosassa River and happened upon an island inhabited by monkeys. There was a sign explaining how they had been pets of a local eccentric but lived without interference on their mangrove-shrouded refuge now, kept healthy by a diet of fresh mangoes and Purina monkey chow. 158 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Campbell McGrath So the myth of a benevolent, all-providing god. But what was the monkeysâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; opinion of their captivity in the midst of that astonishing, spring-fed river? Were they aware how much their predicament resembled our own? Could they feel the current of time swirling past and around them? Did they even exist? The sign was hand-lettered, the morning silent, the story preposterous though hardly impossible. We saw no monkeys, but what does that prove?
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Luxury Word-skeins, ropes of language, ﬂaxen cordage, what luxury to coil its supple circumference in spools, rolls, bobbins, reels, weaving and looping, knotting, untangling, slipping a blade to its ﬁbers— instead of history this entitlement, this private wonder, this poem.
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Claire Millikin Park I keep walking backwards into memory, pushing the child’s stroller too far until we reach, north of Union Square, Gramercy, geography of atonement. A man shakes out a drop cloth. Onto it he has knelt all day, sanding and scraping. Lead dust silts across our mouths, sealing us with blankness, a kind of harmony. We cough then settle, the child strolled where white petals of lead dust crown shoulders, hair, our wings of beautiful scars. I keep walking as toward a cold window toward the park, hearing our spheric breathing, ghostly ash from the building’s refurbishment. It stops thought, lead dust, stigmata of memory, ﬁlling bones and eyes,
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Claire Millikin until I’d see only lead white— bearing again the hour of your departure into the whitening trees of evening, wings I carry without mercy.
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Keith Montesano After You’ve Gone Because hair will not grow slowly as ﬁngernails yours is found everywhere: blowing into streets, onto bus station benches, stranded on blouses in downtown shops, drifting into tulip glasses in ﬁne restaurants, through car windows, and snared in spider webs between rusted mailboxes. We all shed skin, constantly renewing our plot among the living, while your waning you refuse, never waiting, always yearning to stretch your arms like pretzel dough, your legs like rubber bands: hair the equivalent of spun ﬂax, gold straw, wheat whittled until it grows so ﬁne it drifts like pollen through the air, swatted, brushed oﬀ clumsily, and always swept away.
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Elegy Ending with Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians I. Pulses (0:00 – 5:30) First, a noose. Then the exhaust, fumes billowing through the attic. You exit the garage, close the door. Speakers all over the house. There’s a clarinet and you think the voice of just one woman. Ten hours have passed; your wife’s not coming back. Repetition, staccato breathing, maybe more than just one woman: the liner notes say four (and all these years you never thought to look).
II. Section I – Section IV (5:30 – 27:30) Today you will do it while the music is playing. You recall the story of another husband who waited and could bear it no longer, though the garage was connected to the house, his wife and daughter sleeping soundlessly upstairs. These women are Sirens—but where’s the voice and marimba, metallaphone and cello? Now the gas from the stove as you refuse the pills, drugs she left in the cabinets
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Keith Montesano (only grabbing moisturizers, skin creams). You can’t tell a voice from a piano—tighten the noose hanging from the chandelier, then loosen, light it on ﬁre in the backyard, early morning dew snuﬃng the ﬂame. Then you cut the ignition, as the garage is not the ideal place. At 27 minutes in, you’re sprawled on the kitchen ﬂoor, the hiss of gas falling short to what heaven’s like: those Sirens howling, muses shedding clothes, your wife twenty years before, the hill above St. Michael’s graveyard, cans of beer in both of your hands. There was no full moon then—you couldn’t glimpse her body.
III. Section V – Pulses (27:30 – 67:00) Age 16—your doctor told you: only marry if there will be no divorce, talk it through, love should be a sealant. Now the pace quickens—pianos, metallaphone, voice— and everything is percussion, unlike your slowing heart, head on the only pillow she left. And sex, he said, make sure it’s because of love; it can also be the cause. Then you root through a drawer ﬁlled with tools, ﬁnd the electrical tape. It will be quicker if the cracks are sealed: all windows and doors. Now your breathing and the pulses slow. The instruments and your own pulse blur. You think Reich made the music for this—
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Keith Montesano remember again, it was winter, she was freezing. Some snow covered the plots and graves below. You held her hand, shivering. She told you she was afraid, but you never asked her why.
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Rick Mulkey High Lonesome It’s the hammered notes of rainwater over dry October; lost voices conjured from the polished grain of poplar, the mandolin’s tight strings pressed into the memory of wood. It’s the song of wind in laurel, the shifting sun above the chicory of June. Song of the banjo, sweet loss thumb-picked and bone-strummed. Songs we don’t hear so much as know in heartbeat, toe-tap, and blood-thrum. Songs hummed in kitchens and bedrooms, in backseats rollin’ in our sweet baby’s arms. Songs of pickups at dusk turning home, the AM radio broadcasting light on the blackened faces of men heavy with the work of grief. Songs of the barbed wire fence, the salt-cured sow, the chicken coop, the stray hound. Song shaped by hands breathing over gut-string and hog-hide. Songs of towns whose names imply they might hold light. Song of stone and storm, weary hymn of the woman above the ironing board, the shucked corn, the straw-haired child dancing ’round the apron strings. Song of creek-cut valley, wind-hewn ridge. Song of the Chevy abandoned to thistle, the plow gouging the wet pasture. Ballad of the worm working the heart’s deep cave, the shrill a cappella of starlings in a winter ﬁeld, wind on a timbered hillside, the owl oﬀering the half-eaten world on a bed of bones. Songs that ﬁll the sky above rail yards with the scrolled promises of falling stars.
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Dinosaurs They’re still here, only in microscopic form: the red velvet mite, the wingless ﬂea leaping many times its height, bacteria whose Latin names blend into one inescapable snare, and now, I’m told, to consider Martian rods, dark microbial forms of both inner earth and outer space, and all of these no less frightening to me than the Jurassic Park-induced clones the neighbor’s kid hopes one day to recreate. I don’t want to overstate the case, but I really do hate them, fear them crawling in my bed, mites feeding on my body ash, lurking in the ductwork. There are those even smaller, subsurface dwellers starved of sunlight, carving out lives in volcanic vents, deep mines, Antarctic ice, feeding oﬀ sulfur, iron, radioactivity from the earth’s deep core, breeding over eons until now their mass is greater than all of ours. Right now the only ones I’m worried with are building nests in the caves of my mother’s lungs and breasts. Their kind have been doing this, devouring the body’s sweetbreads, at least since the Cretaceous. And this is why I ﬁnd myself curled in my mother’s room. Great beasts click with pleasure over that body which loved a man, bore ﬁve children, and longed for something more than this fanged and grunting kingdom. Below the hospital window, mowers prowl and gorge luxurious lawns. Even the trees bend to plea
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Rick Mulkey against such savagery. Each of us hoping for the sweet ignorance to dream the dreams of predators and not of prey.
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Richard Newman Bless Their Hearts At Steak-n-Shake I learned that if you add “Bless their hearts” after their names, you can say whatever you want about them and it’s OK. My son, bless his heart, is an idiot, she said. He rents storage space for his kids’ toys—they’re only one and three years old! I said, my father, bless his heart, has turned into a sentimental old fool. He gets weepy when he hears my daughter’s greeting on our voice mail. Before our Steakburgers came, someone else blessed her oﬃce mate’s heart, then, as an afterthought, the jealous hearts of the entire anthropology department. We bestowed blessings on many a heart that day. I even blessed my ex-wife’s heart. Our waiter, bless his heart, would not be getting much tip, for which, no doubt, he’d bless our hearts. In a week it would be Thanksgiving, and we would each sit with our respective families, counting our blessings and blessing the hearts of family members as only family does best. Oh, bless us all, yes, bless us, please bless us and bless our crummy little hearts.
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Home I like my hometown more the longer I’m away. Memories, like trick candles, ﬂicker as I pull in. The longer I’ve been away the less I recognize. Stars ﬂicker as I pull in. Where are the woods and ﬁelds? I barely recognize the stars. Home is where my boyhood woods and ﬁelds now oﬀer beautiful new homes. Home is where they said Leave now so we might miss you someday. The beautiful new homes say We’re better oﬀ since you left. We might miss you someday— yes, that would be my wish. Home is where they’re better oﬀ since you left. Blow into town and blow right out. Yes, that would be my wish— that I liked my hometown more. Blow through town. Blow out memories like trick candles.
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Hannah Faith Notess Pallas Athena Standing before my father’s bookcase, I pretended I had sprung from his head able to read it all—Hesse, Norse Sagas, my great-great-grandfather’s Russian apothecary texts. The shelf below these ﬁve browned volumes (now bound in wood-print contact paper) held the same man’s chess set. They said he often confused the king and queen, since Russian men were short and fat, their women tall and queenly. I wanted to be the girl who skipped everything girlish, to be born grey-eyed, clear-skinned, to yell with the raspy voice of a boy. In this dream, I was moving troops and surly heroes from square to square of my gameboard Greece. They besieged the best cities. My face ﬂoated above the place philosophers came to die. They brought me wreaths and metered hymns. Later, I learned the Parthenon was once painted, gaudy golds and reds
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Hannah Faith Notess daubed its famous frieze. Then I learned parthenos was virgin, feminine noun with a masculine ending. In the templeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s center a squat idol sat, fed on the prayers of frightened soldiers. Now I know how its pillars bow, an optical illusion framing the square womb where all day tourists wander in and around.
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Hannah Faith Notess
Landscape with Acacia Tree Masai Mara, Kenya Three quarters of the picture is all sky, a dull cerulean mottled with light in the top righthand corner. That was a cloud, right? And that thickening of blue was the Great Rift Valley? You never were much of a photographer. Look how the foreground grass blurs, like you shot this from the safari van, the van whose door rattled ajar to let your sandal slip into the savannah, while you sat cross-legged, shoeless, absorbed in Fear and Trembling, trying to forget how tired we were of grass, zebras, and wildebeest. At least I was. So let’s say you looked up from your book, found yourself on this tawny plain. Your eyes met this tree that twists on the edge of the photograph like it wants to escape. Then what? I can see this much, but the past grows blurry like blades of grass, like our attempts at philosophy. You don’t know why you took this photo except that you wanted to catch something in it. You missed. Two weeks later, planes would crash into the world, their contrails lining an exit path in the sky. We didn’t
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Hannah Faith Notess even know then your sandal had left you already, tossed itself in a dusty rut, a loss to some Maasai shepherd who’d ﬁnd it, days later, no match for his left foot.
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Hannah Faith Notess
Haight Street, Halloween Over and over, the air blazed, incinerated itself. We were not yet in love. I turned to a shop window crammed with snaky fuschia wigs and acid-trip posters, but watched your face ﬂicker, greyed to an etching in the plate glass. I caught the light on your chin, hardly noticed we waded waist high in little witches and turtles. A pumpkin gaped up at my face, then loped along in search of candy. The teacher who brought up the line ﬂapped by silently, a giant mother bat in striped socks. How many times has the thing I wanted stayed hidden from me, obscured by my longing? Turn, oh turn to me, I said, without opening my mouth. 176 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Ron McFarland Riding Along Although I’m short, the pump-action, 12 gauge shotgun in
the rack overhead barely clears what’s left of my hair. The front seat of the Jeep Cherokee, white emblazoned with a gold star, is cramped with radio equipment and the new radar, which has range better than the old one and can catch speeders from either direction. The deputy driving this rig informs me that a lot of people still don’t realize this fact about modern radar equipment: They think an oﬃcer has to be set up in a stationary position or driving in the same direction as the perp. This oﬃcer happens to be my twenty-six-year-old daughter, Jennifer. She works as a patrol deputy for Latah County here in the Idaho panhandle, and when she invites me, I almost always go for a ride-along with her, perhaps my way of reassuring her that I’m proud of her and think she has made a good career decision, even though I am not at all sure of that, probably the subliminal reason for my forays with her along the back roads of this large and beautiful county. A little larger than Rhode Island, not that that amounts to much by Idaho standards, Latah County ranks just 28th in size in the state, whereas Idaho County is nearly eight times as large, bigger than Massachusetts or New Jersey. Early one winter evening we pull out of Juliaetta (pop. 609) on icy State Highway 3 heading north toward Deary (pop. 550). We notice a pickup down a heavily drifted hill beside an old grange hall. The truck has left deep ruts in the snow, and it’s pretty obvious the guy is stuck, but what’s he doing down there anyway? Jen pulls over and turns on her spotlight. The young guy waves to us. He’s holding a shovel, obviously trying to dig himself out, and inside the cab we can make out the proﬁle of a girl. In the most likely scenario, as I imagine it, he has driven to this secluded spot to make out, and like most Idaho males, he has way too much conﬁdence in four-wheel drive. Jen hits her red-white-blue top-lights and pulls oﬀ the road. She calls in our location, but we can’t make out the license plate from here, so she’ll have to call that in after she comes back. Jennifer hands me a ﬂashlight and asks me to direct any traﬃc that might come Crab Orchard Review
Ron McFarland along, but this road is not heavily traveled even in daylight under the best of conditions, and now my imagination kicks into gear. I’m sure I saw Jen check her pistol before leaving her rig. I begin to sense the possible peril of our situation. What if the guy’s not some innocent high school kid out trying to impress his girlfriend, but a felon on the run? The 12 gauge rests just above me, and I’ve been an avid bird hunter for years, but I have no idea how to get it out of the rack, which appears to be locked. I do make a couple of feeble eﬀorts, though. Then I zip up my coat and strike an oﬃcial-looking pose by the Jeep. I cannot see what’s going on down there as darkness deepens, and the minutes do not pass quickly. I keep checking my watch. How long has Jen been down there? In a few minutes, however, she clambers back up the bank, the kid and his girlfriend trailing behind. They’re stuck all right, completely high-centered. Jen talks with them about a wrecker, but she tells them she cannot make the call. That would involve a conﬂict of interests or something—for her to call a speciﬁc outﬁt—but she can make a suggestion, and they can use her personal cell phone. The couple waits in the back seat, behind the plexiglass screen intended to shield the oﬃcer, until the wrecker shows up. Once it does, Jen exchanges some words with the burly woman who runs the truck, and we stick around until she has hauled the boy’s rig up the embankment. It’s one of those feel-good moments, when the oﬃcer has performed an important public service and the oﬃcer’s father can be proud. On the way home Jen tells me she recognized the young man right away because she had popped him on a drug charge a few months ago in Deary. And what if he’d decided that this was a great chance to exact a little vengeance, I want to say. “Did he do any time?” I ask. “Thirty days,” she says. “And he wasn’t…” “He was ﬁne,” she says. “He was glad to see me. No problem.” One good reason for taking a ride-along would not be the probability of high adventure, danger, or the thrill of the chase. Latah County probably hasn’t witnessed a dozen murders in the past two decades, not surprising, as the population isn’t much over thirty thousand, so the odds would be against burgeoning homicide. The county seat is Moscow, home of the University of Idaho, the state’s small land-grant university, which numbers around ten thousand resident students. The other towns in the county—former logging towns, mill towns, and farming communities (wheat, dry peas, lentils, canola)—number under a thousand residents each, from Bovill (pop. about 300) in the east to 178 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Ron McFarland Juliaetta in the south. Juliaetta’s sister-city, so to speak, is Kendrick (pop. about 370), located approximately 2,141.28 miles from New York City. Some of the towns are more docile than others, some less. How does Bovill manage to support three bars? The town was started up by the youngest son of an English Lord Chief Justice around 1900, but the imprint of aristocracy appears to have been quite delible. Meth and other drugs, my daughter says. The Potlatch Forest Industries mill there closed years ago, and logging is oﬀ and on, always and everywhere. You can buy a great prime rib dinner for a ridiculously low tab, Wednesday nights only, at the Pastime Bar in the farming community of Genesee (pop. around 900), where the volunteer ﬁre department hosts an annual crab feed that brieﬂy doubles or maybe even triples the local census. Troy (pop. around 800), which lies about fourteen miles east of Moscow, seems almost to be built around a mill that turns out cedar posts 24/7, but it was once a thriving logging town settled by Scandinavians around 1892. The mountain that more or less towers over Deary, which lies a dozen miles east of Troy, is variously called Mount Deary, Potato Hill, and Spud Hill. North of Moscow, in the former mill town of Potlatch (pop. around 800), the median value of a house was $76,300 according to the 2000 census, and the median household income was $28,021. You can aﬀord to buy your own home in towns like these, but do not expect splendor. My ﬁrst ride-along occurred in the early 1970s, when I accompanied a neighbor, a corporal in the Moscow Police Department, on his swing shift, which ran from about eight o’clock p.m. till six the next morning. This took place on a July evening, before the University of Idaho oﬀered much of anything in the way of summer school courses, so the town was beyond dead. The population of Moscow then numbered around 15,000 (it’s around 22,000 today), and much of it was on vacation. Dennis and I prowled the streets in his Crown Vic looking for anything, a solitary walker, for example, especially if he’s under the age of thirty—what would he be doing here after nine o’clock on a Wednesday night? Mighty suspicious. And we listened carefully, leaving the windows open that warm July evening so we might hearken to the screech of tires at an intersection, the wracking of gears, the roar of a dissonant muﬄer. Nothing. Ten hours, more or less, of idle talk—this was before I realized that if you took a ride-along, you weren’t necessarily obliged to endure the entire ten-hour shift. Dennis had served two tours as a Marine in Nam, so we could have talked about that, but he wasn’t into war stories. Crab Orchard Review
Ron McFarland We pulled over a car on Mountain View, or maybe the Troy Highway, State Highway 8, near the cemetery, for a burned-out rear taillight. Not terribly stimulating. We spent a couple of hours chatting with another cop in the Rosauer’s parking lot, or at least Dennis talked. I acted the part of a ﬂy on the wall. That was before much of anything stayed open twenty-four hours in Moscow. The poet John Haines wrote in his memoir of the boredom of standing watch in the Navy during World War II, tedium in the midst of great potential danger. No wonder so many cops get hooked on nicotine and ﬁnd themselves drinking to excess when oﬀ duty. The high divorce rate among police oﬃcers may owe less to the stress of the job or the odd hours than to the need for more stimulation than most spouses can oﬀer. Of the initial couple of ride-alongs I took with Jen, the most exciting moment occurred one night in Juliaetta, a town named in 1878 after the two daughters of the postmaster. Jen was working on graveyard shift (LCSO deputies work four ten-hour days on, three days oﬀ, but shifts vary from department to department—some work ﬁve eight-hour shifts). She and three other deputies sneak up on a darkened house where one of the local wife-abusers is reputedly holed up. Sitting in the Jeep across the street, I can see the glow of the television. Jen takes up her position in back, gun drawn. I bought her the automatic after she ﬁnished the ten-week academy training down in Meridian. It’s a 9mm Heckler & Koch, and she’s said to be a good shot, though it took her a while, as she had never pulled the trigger on a gun of any kind prior to her decision to take on police work. Apparently being a good shot is not a genetically inherited trait, as I am one of the world’s worst. An unusual career decision, I often suggest to friends and colleagues, for a woman just a thesis short of her master’s in English. Not what my former wife and I had predicted at all, particularly after Jennifer won an award for graduate teaching assistants at the university. What had we predicted? It’s probably just as well not to make such predictions. Looking back at it, I suppose we could have carefully fabricated the lives of our three children, as some of our friends seem to have done with theirs, but we opted not to do that. Some of those children have turned out quite well, it appears, prosperous and happy, credits to themselves, to their parents, to the system, if indeed there is a system. Suddenly our petite daughter Jen was interviewing for a job with the police department, and the next thing we knew she was undergoing ten weeks of training at the academy, and the next thing after that, she was 180 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Ron McFarland with the sheriﬀ’s department. She did not put on weight with the job, but she reads and writes less, and she smokes and works out more. I miss that in her which her fellow oﬃcers probably tease as “literary” or “poetic,” not that I believe it will ever vanish utterly. I like to think she humanizes the place, and if nothing else, I know she enjoys the role of Liberal Democrat, the gadﬂy, the burr beneath the saddle blanket. While I wait in the Cherokee for gunﬁre to erupt, I wish I’d had the presence of mind to ask Jennifer how I might access the shotgun attached ﬁrmly overhead or perhaps the M-14 she has stashed somewhere in the back. But I suspect it is no accident she has not informed me as to how I might avail myself of a weapon, for my reputation as a handler of ﬁrearms might be described as “notorious,” founded as it is on my having plinked out the radiator of my Datsun PL510 with my shotgun thirty or so years ago while hunting quail, and more recently on my having nailed the TV set (“center mass,” Jen proclaimed upon viewing the corpus delicti) with my 9mm automatic. Retrospectively, I suspect she was concerned about the issue of oﬃcer safety. As it happens, however, nothing happens. The oﬃcers knock and no one responds. They have no warrant, simply a call from someone, probably a neighbor, so they cannot legally enter the residence without evidence of a crime in progress. Later, as I recall, we found out more alcohol abuse than spousal abuse was involved. About a month or so after that, on Memorial Day weekend, we follow one of her partners, a guy named Doug who is nicknamed The Beav, north on US 95, headed toward Laird Park, where campers will have driven like an RV Horde in the name of nature and solitude, presumably, scores of dirt bikers and four-wheelers roaring along the dirt and gravel roads, parents and kids intently depleting the trout-stocked streams. Boom-Box A duels with Ghetto-Blaster B for bragging rights to the air: Country & Western or Top 40? Bits of litter dabble the landscape where the masses congregate at an area known as The Dredges, where small hills and ridges of rock testify to a brief gold rush several decades ago. This time of year in Idaho the weather can be awful—snow, cold rain, hard and steady winds from the northwest—but today is gorgeous. Somewhere outside Potlatch, on State Highway 6, a car rips past us at about 75 mph, a good 20 over the speed limit, and Doug ﬂips on his lights and turns around right away. By that time, a second vehicle has whipped past. Jen clocks him at a little over 65, so she follows Doug’s lead and promptly pulls the other guy over as well. They write out the tickets in tandem. Routine stuﬀ. But it feels strange to ﬁnd Crab Orchard Review
Ron McFarland myself on this end of the situation. Not that I’ve been pulled over very often in the forty or so years I’ve been driving—really just two or three times that I can recall, and probably no more than six or seven times that even my former wife would insist on recalling, if she were to hear my estimate. But as I said, I know what it’s like to sit there and know damned well I was going more than just 3 or 4 mph over the limit and to wonder whether my goose was to be cooked and at what cost. Of course I sometimes pass the unlucky driver with a smug feeling of superiority: Something like, “you probably deserved it, sucker” or “better thee than me.” But as a rule I feel something more like compassion: “There but for the grace of God go I.” This time I ﬁnd myself thinking what I will do if, as happened last year in the southern part of the state, the speeder pulls a gun and blazes away. Of course I think once again of the shotgun in the rack overhead, but by now I know the protocol: I am a civilian, and I am not to get involved, except maybe to call dispatch, if I can remember how to do it, which it occurs to me I cannot. Press this button, I think she said, and talk. Maybe there’s more to it. Of course nothing untoward happens at all. Afterward, Jen says she told the motorist that he’s lucky she only clocked him at 65, as his ticket will cost him about half that of the guy he was following. She says she told him that in the event the drivers were acquainted and the guy in front could not ﬁgure why his ﬁne was so much higher than the other guy’s. Ordinarily, Jen says, she might have just warned the driver, since he was not exceeding the limit all that much, but because Doug was issuing a ticket she felt obliged to follow suit. Traﬃc control does not rate as my daughter’s favorite part of the job, and it’s one of the main reasons she isn’t interested in joining the Idaho State Patrol. “High-paid traﬃc cops,” she calls them. When her new Eagle radar detects a speeder approaching, she usually just signals them with her hand to slow it down—I’ve watched her do that. I’m always surprised to see how few speeders we encounter. It’s nothing like the interstate outside of Seattle, where Jen’s older sister Kim lives. There, to be driving a mere 10 mph over the listed limit on I–5 constitutes a traﬃc hazard. Similarly, when visiting relatives in Ohio and Florida, I ﬁnd myself speculating on what one might call a universal predisposition toward an interstate speed of 80. The highway patrol interferes with the ﬂow only on rare occasions back east, but most of Idaho is devoid of interstates, leaving the bulk of the roads to the tender mercies of sheriﬀ’s deputies. Once we get to Laird Park, we cruise around and “show the ﬂag.” 182 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Ron McFarland The idea is not to swagger, snoop about, or check for drugs or illegal drinking. This is more like public relations: “See? Your local deputies from the LCSO are on the job, on hand if you need them.” That sort of thing. We check a small mining claim that belongs to a family named McFarland from Kennewick, Washington, and ﬁnd out their travel trailer was burglarized last week, a selective robbery that involved a pair of binoculars, a sleeping bag, and junk food (not including the canned tuna). They had already reported it to Matt, the forest patrol deputy, but the family does not expect anything will come of it and are just relieved to have discovered minimal damage, no vandalism, and focused theft. On the way out of the park we encounter a large cow moose feeding in a small stream by the roadside. She ignores us, even when Jennifer slips from the patrol vehicle to snap a couple of photos. Other ride-alongs have been even less momentous: The night we hassled a vagrant of some sort who was living in his car or maybe just sleeping it oﬀ at the base of a grain elevator in Kendrick. The morning we tried to deliver a warrant at a pathetic trailer in Onaway, just outside Potlatch—no one home, apparently. The evening we tried to deliver a warrant somewhere outside of Princeton, which is located somewhere between Troy and Harvard (these reminders of the Idaho panhandle’s delusions of Ivy League grandeur have negligible populations)—no one home, apparently, except for some ferocious sounding dogs. We decide not to leave the Jeep. “If they were here,” Jen opines, “they’d probably come out and take care of their pit bulls.” I assure her she is absolutely correct. “I’m not sure this is the right place anyway,” she says. “Probably not,” I agree. Monotony breeds not simply ennui, but a kind of benign boredom that can become dangerous. The classic Hollywood sentry or night watchman always, but always, falls asleep at his post and gets his throat cut or his noggin blackjacked. It must be a great bit part: Are you a convincing enough actor to pretend to nod oﬀ to sleep and get yourself garroted or clubbed? If so, sign up here. You’ve got to start somewhere. I’m not sure what the classic Hollywood cop’s end of this scenario entails, but I suspect it involves doughnuts or hot dogs from a street vendor. At around four in the afternoon a couple of years ago Jen and I were winding up her shift. I think this was the day we toured the southern part of her jurisdiction, preferring graveled roads that took us through the rolling farmland of the Palouse. I recall winding into Juliaetta on a treacherous, semi-paved series of switchbacks and reminding my Crab Orchard Review
Ron McFarland daughter how unstable Jeeps can be. Since she graduated from the academy, Jen has come to regard herself as an immensely skilled driver; not coincidentally, she does not seek my advice on such matters, and in fact, her admiration for my capacity to steer a vehicle down the road has dipped precipitously. We followed State Highway 3 that day along Big Bear Ridge, a remote and attractive part of the county I’d never visited, and we ended up in Deary, where 3 joins State Highway 8. We get the call just as Jen nears Eighth Street in Moscow to drop me oﬀ: A shooting outside Bovill on S.H.3 near mile marker 43. It’s a code run, so immediately she hits the lights and sirens, which emit a variable melody of polite whistles, angry wails, ooo-gahs, a European-sounding selection of oo-wah-oo-wahs, and locomotive-like horn-blasts. We burn down Blaine, slow brieﬂy for the two intersections, and head east on 8. We hit 70 mph before leaving the Moscow city limits. Notching speeds up to 90, Jennifer expertly steers the Cherokee past motorists who often seem astoundingly oblivious of her oﬃcial and urgent presence behind them. Occasionally, an alert driver pulls over to the shoulder, and most of the vehicles coming from the opposite direction have the sense to slow down or stop, but the traﬃc in our lane ahead of us appears reluctant to yield. We zip past a middle-aged woman hunched over the wheel of her red Ford Ranger as if intent on winning the race. I glare at her from the side window, but she seems locked in her own world. The young guy up ahead, too cool even to be startled when we whip past him, never lowers his cell phone from his sweaty ear. Should I take down license plate numbers of those who refuse to pull over? No, Jen says. They wouldn’t have time to follow up on that sort of thing even though such drivers are defying both the law and good sense. A poky old fart in a beater of a brown Buick that might once have been gold or bronze weaves just across the centerline when we pass. I glare at him in the split second that passes as he looks placidly in our direction, and I mouth, “Move it!” Apparently I’ve said it out loud, because Jennifer laughs. “Dad,” she says, “I don’t think he heard you.” It’s about a forty-mile drive from Moscow to Bovill along a road I take frequently during the summer in order to ﬁsh the Saint Maries near Clarkia, but at this speed the landscape ﬂashes past at a surreal rate. I’m holding on to the “suicide handle,” as Jen calls it, above my head. “Like that would help if we rolled,” she says. “Relax, Dad, I know what I’m doing. It’s my job.” In the rearview mirror I can see another sheriﬀ’s vehicle, but it does not seem to be gaining on us. She slows a little, of course, for Troy (there’s the turnoﬀ to the 184 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Ron McFarland Spring Valley Reservoir, source of many a trout dinner over the years) and Deary (there’s Little Bear Creek—can there really still be a salmon run downstream from here?), but not for Helmer (pop. maybe 20), the Helmer Store, famous locally for its hamburgers, the turnoﬀ to Boulder Creek, where we’ve netted crawdads over the years and where I’ve cut down a Christmas tree or two. We’re ﬂying. Years worth of memories ﬂash past the window. My Idaho life, my life as an Idahoan, now more than equals my prior life, the twenty-seven years I lived in Ohio, Florida, Texas, and Illinois combined. Life cumulates, heaps up at the point, the moment, a sort of critical mass in its own right, irrespective of marksmanship. To distract myself from what I suspect might be the near arrival of oblivion, my own personal apocalypse, now, I ask Jennifer what she knows about the shooting. “Nothing,” she says. Dispatch doesn’t know who’s been shot or who’s done the shooting. It could be a sniper; it could be a trap of some sort, a drug-crazed Bovillite or Bovillian— Bovillain, I allow myself to pun, being an English professor and a poet (I have my rights)—all set up to cap a couple of cops. Or it might (more likely) have been an accident or a suicide. We do not know. We fear and anticipate, almost hopefully, the worst. Surely, it seems to me, at these frightening speeds, we will arrive at the scene ﬁrst. What will she do? What will I do? But it turns out we do not arrive ﬁrst, and I feel relieved. A sergeant, an experienced oﬃcer, was on patrol not that far away, apparently, and he has already taped oﬀ the scene. An ambulance stands by with a couple of EMTs. It’s a sad sight—a nice cabin that a doctor and his family from Spokane use for getaways. They’ve excavated and stocked a small pond, and that afternoon they’d been looking for mushrooms, morels, in the woods near the place. The doctor and his daughter—she’s a dermatologist from the Seattle area—and her husband stand to the side looking somehow both calm and tense at the same time, maybe a mode of appearance that physicians can assume in times of duress. The doctor’s arm supports his girlfriend, a woman in her late thirties I guess, whose son has shot himself in the loft of the cabin with a 9mm Sig Sauer. He suﬀers from depression. When the others went out to search for morels, he stayed behind and said he’d catch up with them. They heard a shot. The daughter’s husband was the ﬁrst to arrive. The girlfriend’s son had shot himself in the head. We learn these details in just minutes. We introduce ourselves awkwardly. Jen enters the cabin with the sergeant, and the other oﬃcer, the one who was following us, arrives Crab Orchard Review
Ron McFarland a few minutes later and joins them inside. The young man is still alive, miraculously, or perhaps unfortunately—consider the likely brain damage, the pathetic life he has led and may be condemned to prolong. Outside, we talk quietly about mundane matters in the warm, pine-scented air. Taking note of the ﬁshing rods propped against the side of the cabin, I ask about the ﬁsh in the pond. A large zebra swallowtail hovers over a bush I think is ninebark, then lights on a stem of pink-blossomed ﬁreweed. Bright red-orange Indian paintbrush blooms nearby, yellow arrowleaf balsamroot, a few tall, fuzzy stalks of mullein, orchard grass, green bristlegrass—it’s a botanist’s ﬁeld day here. A pair of pesky yellow jackets ﬂirts with my bare legs. Nature could not care less about this tragedy. Jen comes out looking grim. It’s her task to talk with the boy’s mother, to check her out for signs of shock, calm her down by getting facts, gathering data, the kind of quotidian details that can distract the mind from the more painful realities at hand. A helicopter is on the way, she says after she’s talked with the mother. She and I will drive the two miles back to Bovill where the chopper will land in what was once the woodlot of one of PFI’s busier lumber mills. We are to set up and secure the landing site. “Mom’s taking it pretty well,” Jen says when we’re back in the rig. “But she’s pretty much in shock right now. It’s lucky the doctor was there, but the kid’s not going to make it.” “How old is he?” “Just nineteen. He has a history of…problems…depression.” Her coolness and poise surprise me, but why? Jennifer was always in control. I ﬁnd myself recalling my own anxiety—not hers—when she ran the mile in junior high track, or played city league softball, or performed on the piano at recitals in Spokane, or tried out for junior miss, or played soccer for MHS as one of two girls on the boys’ team, before they developed a girls’ team. “If we’re lucky,” my daughter says quietly as we pull into the empty woodlot, “we can get him up to Sacred Heart in time for him to be a donor.” While she cordons oﬀ the area, I pose beside the Jeep to keep away any onlookers. Of course I have no oﬃcial status. “Just stand there,” she advises, “and look like you’re in charge.” I spread my legs, standing pretty much at parade rest except that I’ve got my arms folded defensively across my chest. A few locals drive up, but they do not come near her patrol vehicle. Then the ambulance arrives, and soon afterward, the helicopter. They will ﬂy the boy and his mother up 186 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Ron McFarland to the hospital in Spokane, maybe eighty miles as the crow ﬂies, and the boy will die the next morning without regaining consciousness. But his carefully preserved organs might by now have saved a life. This will be my last ride-along with my daughter. In another year she will become a detective and School Resource Oﬃcer, and then, just last year, the department’s Public Information Oﬃcer. She rarely wears a uniform these days, and she doesn’t very often miss patrolling the county. She has just turned thirty, and she likes the new sheriﬀ and loves her work as PIO, writing news releases and applying for grants, performing as spokesperson for LCSO. She teaches workshops on report writing, using something of her college education, and her caseload as a detective centers mostly on crimes that involve ﬁnancial matters— embezzlement, counterfeiting, fraud. “Paper crimes,” she sometimes calls them—not very exciting. She rarely is called in now to witness the autopsies of infants and children or to talk with rape victims or abused wives or children, and she’s glad of that. That’s someone else’s beat. She still has to qualify with her sidearm a couple of times a year, and that can cause her some anxiety, but she knows it’s unlikely she will ever draw her weapon again even though she still wears it to work. My son Jon has recently become a deputy in Kootenai County—about eightyﬁve miles north where Coeur d’Alene is the county seat—so my next ride-along will likely be with him. He did not major in English, but in crime and justice studies, what they call “C-J.” Some of my colleagues who had her in class ask me about Jennifer from time to time, always a bit surprised to come across her name in the local paper or to see her on the TV evening news, KLEW Channel 3. “Why in the world would she decide to do that with her life?” their voices seem to say, as if they think what the world needs are more English professors and poets. I remain proud of her, and of her brother, and I applaud their career decisions. I believe we need more oﬃcers like them in the world, and we may need them even more urgently than we need more professors and poets. “Better a good cop,” I maintain, “than a middling prof or a mediocre poet.” I suppose I’m thinking of myself, just like when we spent those hours patrolling the county. Those rambles never caused Jennifer much stress, after all: The only one who ever felt much anxiety when it came to the ride-along was me. She tells me she’s given up smoking.
Crab Orchard Review
Aria Minu-Sepehr My Own Revolution Moving in with my grandmother in Tehran, in the middle
of the Revolution, may have been senseless, but we were all at least together. And that’s not saying much. I was away at school for most of the day not knowing if my father had been captured. Maybe I’d return home and ﬁnd my grandmother staring at the walls as she was now fond of doing. And her ethereal babbling. “Where is everyone?” I’d ask. “Everyone? Every one is gone. One by one. They haven’t left anyone! Mowed them down. We’re gnats don’t you know? It’s just you, me, and these four walls. Walls so we don’t melt away.” Starting a new school mid-term was a diﬀerent nightmare; how would I even be accepted into a competitive private school after years of absence from the system? Until then my education had been a product of an American program in the mornings, Persian tutors in the afternoons, and Thursdays at the primary school on the Air Force base that was home for the last four years. But admission was a simple process of knowing people who knew people, and here again, as soon as I began, it was clear to everyone that I wasn’t your average rich kid. Good luck ﬁtting in. My father and I met the headmaster of Kiasat the day after our reunion and with the perfunctory interview and tour of the dining hall and some of the classrooms, my father wrote a check and I was to begin immediately. Maybe there were two checks, I couldn’t tell, but I knew from the spirited welcome that it was unusually motivated. In the remaining time in his oﬃce the headmaster addressed me with greater frequency and with undue respect, “You know where my oﬃce is now young man, and I want to be notiﬁed if you have any problems whatsoever. Kiasat is proud to have students of your caliber.” He lavished praise too on my father and showed sanctimonious concern for the political situation, “The mob is out of control, General. They’re after the very throne! Can they recite a line of Hafez to save their lives?” Such was the rooted assumption, that rule was the rightful property of all those who could recite poetry at the drop of a hat.
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Aria Minu-Sepehr I anticipated my ﬁrst day at school with a sense of immense foreboding—I had never really had to prove myself. Being the general’s son had been enough to coat me with instant allure, especially at the base school where I was practically a celebrity. Here, in a city seized by revolutionary zealotry where any authority was deemed corrupt, that association was a liability. Maybe it was better to be an unknown without the privilege of connections, but I knew too well how that panned out. The butt of all jokes. Ostracized and lonely. Judged stupid by everyone, including the teachers. I remembered the kid called Noori, sad face dripping from a permanently lowered head. His shaved pate was a source of constant speculation—“Why wait for a lice infestation?” “He’s already trying to enlist,” “No, he’s trying to accentuate his ears,” “Those aren’t ears, they’re wings!” “Who needs planes when we’ve got Noori?” With his hunched back, droopy shoulders, and tremendous briefcase that barely cleared the ground, the estranged kid reliably played his part. Noori’s big eyes would swell daily when the teacher berated him for his illegible work. The ritual slap in the face would dislodge two full teardrops whose mid-air suspension suggested that it was actually Noori’s head that had been knocked away from them. From the front row I could follow their arc to the ﬂoor. Pools right before my feet. Privilege made it inconceivable that I’d ever lose tears over homework. Noori would shuﬄe back to his bench, notebook held tight to his chest as though to protect something sacred. And why not, with all the beatings he’d received for the work inside, it was his cross to bear. Get him while he’s down was the apparent philosophy of the boys in our row as they one-upped each other with silly rhymes: “Noori, be’par to ghoori” (Noori, jump in the teapot), “Noori, toe mardee ya houri?” (Noori, are you a man or a nymph?), “Cheghadr shoori! Noori” (How zesty you are Noori). Was this my fate for the rest of ﬁfth grade? I shuddered at the thought. At some point I lost count of all the demons that visited me at night. I’d wake up in a cold sweat to ﬁnd my nanny, Bubbi, asleep like nothing had changed—she still made her bed on the ﬂoor, same hard ﬂoor wherever you went. My grandmother’s house was cavernous at night and I dared not leave the room I shared with Bubbi and my cousin, Nazanine. She was the product of my uncle Hossein’s teenage hormones which grandfather had taken as a personal insult, sending newborn and mother right back to the maternal family: their daughter was their Crab Orchard Review
Aria Minu-Sepehr problem. In short order the baby girl was deposited back at grandfather’s house: their daughter may have been their problem but grandfather’s seed was still his seed. There and then, as it was characteristic of Baba Vali to make such unilateral decisions, grandfather announced that he would raise the child himself. As her father! Hossein would henceforth be recognized as the child’s brother, “And that’s that, now get on with your business, all of you.” Imagine the absolute shock when my mother tried to calm a nine-year-old Nazanine in the hours after Baba Vali’s fatal heart attack with the news that her father hadn’t died, that her real father was in fact her brother. The room adjacent to ours was my grandmother’s from which ceaseless snoring raked any remaining peace the night could oﬀer the dream weary. With time, however, I started appreciating the regularity of this earth-shattering noise. If I could just focus on Mamman Ghodsi’s dry, open mouth recreating the devastating sound continents had made when they tore oﬀ from each other, I found I could escape all my anxieties. I’d jolt out of bed to the echo of machine guns, to a dream in which the Revolutionaries take my father away, to a row of sneering students, and there it was, my savior, destroying calm. I don’t know how I managed to survive those ﬁrst days at school. Between the ride from home to the alley that led to the school’s gate, I’d turn into soup, delivered in a glass bowl to the frenzy inside a fencedin yard. The headmaster had made an exception when it came to my uniform—“Not much is left of the school year,” he had said to my father, “Please don’t concern yourself with such details”—and I desperately wished he hadn’t. How much easier it is to pretend to be a bee when you are yellow and have black rings on your tail. As it was, I found that the dress code was strictly enforced at morning line-up. A teacher would grill one of the students four feet away from me who had a plain white button-up instead of the school’s own logoed version, but she’d walk right past me. It was just a matter of time before I heard it, “How come you don’t have to wear one? Think you’re important?” And I had nothing to say. Contemptuous stares followed my every move. The hubris! This was the most inopportune time to advertise one’s might. The buzz on the street, the new fad, and indeed, the entire platform of social unrest was rooted in one complaint: the privileged were supra legal. The ax grinders were drawn from the entire social spectrum, even members of the target class who themselves felt stiﬂed by a group above them, yet another exclusive stratum wielding even greater leverage. And as if to reﬂect all of this, the school ground was charged with the rhetoric of 190 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Aria Minu-Sepehr revolution, of rights and equality. Why didn’t I have a uniform? There was only one answer: party bazee (the aﬃliation game). I should have been beaten, punched in the nose, pummeled at recess by the gang of rowdy students who’d surface like a wave to ravage some unsuspecting kid, dissolving as quickly into a sea of white shirts, gray slacks, and black ties. Minutes later an administrator feigning urgency would rush outside, ask a few questions, round up some people, and the rest would be settled in the oﬃce. It was better just to accept your lot in life and not complain, for the economy of justice merely called for numbers. Any tiﬀ was settled with stamps in demerit booklets, and it didn’t matter whose—the regular suspects, the victim himself—you must have done something wrong—a few passersby. The word was, once your booklet’s dozen boxes were ﬁlled, you were gone. After a week of hell, back against wall, glued to the oﬃce, and making sure I didn’t accidentally look at someone the wrong way, I broke down one morning and realized I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t face the impending doom. I made an impassioned albeit unintelligible plea in the bathroom but, feeling no sympathy from my father, I gave in to hysteria. My father calmly asked his questions again, stopping his shaver periodically to face me, “Is there a cause? Has something happened?” and in between sobs I’d manage to muster a pitiful “no.” “Why don’t you want to go back?” “I can’t.” “Why not?” “Because…I can’t.” “Well, there has to be something wrong for you to want to forego the rest of your education. Imagine you are an adult and you come to me and say, ‘Baba, why didn’t I get beyond ﬁfth grade? Why am I selling cabbage for a living?’ And I say, ‘Well, one day you just couldn’t go back.’ Do you see that your request is a little unusual?” “No!”—it was unthinkable that I’d ever forget this feeling. I stayed home that day and helped Bubbi squeeze peas out of pea pods. I cleaned herbs. We were having ﬁsh for dinner and Bubbi was gutting it. Her meaty hands slid a thin knife into supple tissue, just in front of two little ventral ﬁns. I was expecting the animal to protest. To pop. To expel its innards explosively all over the counter. But nothing happened. It revealed itself to us without a fuss. Bubbi let me scoop out the animal’s organs with my bare hands and as I tore out its slimy viscera, I teetered on shrieking. Bubbi clawed the purple heap of guts I’d excavated clean oﬀ the Crab Orchard Review
Aria Minu-Sepehr counter, leaving a limp carcass on the butcher block, seemingly ﬁsh, but unable ever to be one again. And what wonder lay there. Dorsal freckles a product of calculated placement. Forests of green on its back. Ruddy sunset sides fading to a creamy belly. The seamless transition of skin and scale to tail ﬁn, stuck ﬂat to the counter like a piece of wet newsprint in a papier-mâché project. Eyes, real eyes with opalescent pupils and dark irises and eyelids, not the crude circles I was used to drawing. Lips, chin, forehead. Gills, the feathered pages of a delicate story. “Pull over,” Bubbi said, her cleavered hand chopping oﬀ the animal’s head with one clean swing. The next day my father took me to school and we went straight to the oﬃce. “It appears our initial impression of Kiasat isn’t the hospitable place we had imagined,” he said to the headmaster. “Perhaps it is the impression that has faltered and not the place.” I had no idea what he was saying but the headmaster seemed appositely concerned by this news (which is when I realized that his cut was probably not insigniﬁcant.) With the least delay he began sententiously, “The young are attuned to the most subtle messages, a gift we lack as our senses get more and more jaded, guarded you might say, with age. Mr. Aria’s impressions are doubtlessly correct and we owe him our deepest apologies. You know, General, we aim to see the world as they do and we fall short. It’s a constant battle to maintain that freshness.” Then, in a dramatic gesture that said we are in fact going to get to the bottom of this, right here, right now, he reached for his phone and announced with a voice of God-like authority, “Get Mrs. F from her classroom.” Mrs. F was my teacher. She was a middle-aged Turkish woman who ﬁt the bill of northwesterners with stereotypical accuracy: she was fair-skinned, large-boned, plump, plain, and gullible. Mrs. F’s sense of fashion was expectedly deplorable, favoring dark glimmering gowns, big emeralds glued to her earlobes, a broach pinned too far up or too close to the middle of her chest, and black pumps, always pumps, all painfully deformed to accommodate her enormous feet. Bent at the knees, heels wobbling with each step, she tragicomically chicken-walked the length of the blackboard and back. These crossclass expeditions were so precarious you couldn’t possibly fault Mrs. F for staying behind her desk. But her classroom was the worse for it, unruly and loud the further back one went. As a member of the last row I had to contend with two narrations: Mrs. F’s and the proximal one of my neighbors cooking up one prank after another. If I weren’t careful I could be pinned for their shenanigans; maybe they’d even 192 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Aria Minu-Sepehr frame the new kid, I kept thinking. Then if I seemed too informed I ran the risk of being suspect, the snitch behind Mrs. F’s allegations of wrongdoing, the one responsible for so-and-so’s demerit. With my attention divided between the two worlds, I lived in the perpetual disconcert of not knowing what was happening. What page were we on? Would I be called on to answer something? What were the kids launching now? Would the trajectory implicate me? The leader of the back-row pack was Ali, an irrepressible short kid with longish, bouncy, auburn hair and a puckish grin. Ali was one of the better students, not the least of which had to do with his specious excuses and broadly-plausible answers. Mrs. F didn’t have the patience to call his b.s. and instead commended him for paying attention and having something to say, even if it wasn’t what she was after. There was never a dull moment as Ali contrived various high jinks. He launched paper planes in the middle of a lesson. He booby-trapped seats and door handles and even chalk with chewing gum. His repertoire of sound eﬀects was notorious—not too loud to oﬀend Mrs. F but audible enough to trigger waves of seemingly spontaneous laughter. He would deliver his homework without shoes and take bets as to whether or not Mrs. F would notice. “How much would you give me if I made everyone leave class right now?” he asked one day. It seemed impossible and those around us immediately started digging in their pockets. He wanted to see the money. “Alright, alright,” he made out like they had convinced him against his true will. “Mostafa, take the money” (Mostafa was escrow). Reaching in his bag, Ali revealed an egg, all wiles, casting a glance from eye to eye to make sure we understood that what was about to happen would later be attributed to his singular genius. The egg went ﬂying toward the middle of the classroom, up and splat, a stink bomb that sent us running for our lives with pinched noses and in ﬁre-alarm panic. It took the janitors a good while to clean the mess and we spent the rest of the afternoon in one of the eighthgrade chemistry labs, Ali and his cohorts wasting no time stuﬃng their coat pockets with test tubes and tongs and Erlenmeyer ﬂasks. Why Mrs. F was being summoned wasn’t clear to me, but then our meeting with the headmaster didn’t make any sense either. It was true that I couldn’t articulate my problem, but dragging the administration into this would only make things worse. If anything, I felt I’d been dropped in the middle of a rainforest. My father’s inquiries into the source of the problem amounted to questions like, which of the species is disturbing you? Is it the beetles? The mites? Is it all the moss? How Crab Orchard Review
Aria Minu-Sepehr could I convey that it was the whole damned mess? That I just wanted to go back to living on a secure Air Force base in the desert. Mrs. F knocked and entered with her arduous stride, bent knee and all, already apologetic; she even begged our pardon for sitting. The headmaster opened by saying they needed to do more, and she agreed. She regretted not having done enough. He said we faced a crisis and that our survival was on the line. She couldn’t agree more. Fundamental changes. “Indeed.” A shakedown. “Essential.” One of her students was unhappy, he ﬁnally declared, and I felt her eyes fall on me for the ﬁrst time since we’d met: ah, so you’re the reason I’m here! What had the new kid said? Was it really that bad? She had to change the course of this meeting and quick, “But I love Aria dear like my own son. I swear it! I have his best interest in mind. He can testify to that. There is a connection between us. I felt it the ﬁrst day I met him. I’m sure he agrees. Has anything in particular happened?” The headmaster equivocated, “The details are immaterial. It’s a matter of policy.” The generalities continued. Eﬀusive apologies from Mrs. F. More platitudes. More remorse. And so the matter came to a close, just like one of those facile demerit stamps that settled everything. Mrs. F went back to her unruly class; my father returned to his troubled Air Force; and I was reunited with the back row already steeped in plans for the next assault. At the beginning of lunch hour, Mrs. F asked that I stay behind. Of course she would. Why hadn’t I anticipated this? She’d been reproached by the headmaster for no reason at all and now she was going to let me have it. I started tidying my bench and slipped into an out of body experience which only abated when I found myself at the edge Mrs. F’s desk. I received a well-deserved lecture on how we don’t run oﬀ and say anything to anyone, “Especially not to the headmaster.” In a threatening tone and disposition, Mrs. F proclaimed that in the future we would deal with our own problems, that there was a chain of command in the classroom much like the armed forces, “You should be familiar with that. Soldiers don’t go crying to the general, do they?” Any future mama’s-boy stunts, she guaranteed, would make the rest of my life at Kiasat a living hell, which I wholly believed even without her death stare. This simpleton was no simpleton, I thought—Mrs. Hyde had emerged and she was vastly capable and terrifying. Had Mrs. F continued in this other persona, I would have weakened at the knees and peed in my pants. But she suddenly softened and made me 194 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Aria Minu-Sepehr a conciliatory oﬀer: “From now on you can be the class mobser” (the teacher’s aide charged with maintaining order). Fabulous! Right oﬀ the bat she announced the next day that she had appointed one of us as the mobser but that their identity would remain hidden. “For those of you who are fond of making trouble you should know that my mobser is my eyes and ears. One suggestion that so-andso is mucking up my class and I’ll see to it that you’re gone. Mark my words—things are going to change around here.” Why such a sudden hard line? It was as though I presented the opportunity Mrs. F needed to ﬁx her class. Maybe it was no secret to the headmaster either that our class was a disaster. The picture was becoming clearer and clearer: he too had used me to browbeat Mrs. F. And here, with her announcement, with very little doubt as to who her new incognito mobser could be, Mrs. F was pitting me against all my peers. As much as I detested being used by those who had “your best interest in mind,” there was one beneﬁcial outcome: my new appointment gave me the protective shield I’d been seeking—mess with me and you’re messing with Mrs. F. The beauty was that since I was undercover I didn’t have to deal with the baggage that came with the position. A mobser was viciously pro-order and pro-teacher. They ratted shamelessly. They violated intricate social hierarchies. They walked with a chip on their shoulder. But the chip and the very shoulder it rested on were a product of the institution they served—outside school grounds they turned into loathsome worms. I, on the other hand, didn’t have to succumb to scumhood. I could simply deny that I was the mobser. The only problem was that I could not limit this sphere of inﬂuence to matters that only involved myself. What if I was called to duty? Seated in the back row I faced a predicament, planted as I was in the epicenter of mischief. The dynamics had to change. And they did. For a while there was an unusual obeisance with which I was better accustomed. A rascal is a rascal is a rascal. It wasn’t in Ali to sit still and listen to a dispirited Mrs. F, slouched behind her desk, mumble one thing or another atop a hefty metal chair that rarely got a break. Respect is won in a classroom; it’s rarely a result of coercion. Anyway, Mrs. F had gotten oﬀ too easily and the halcyon days of disorder were much too near. Ali’s mind was probably working overtime. He had most likely reasoned that petty infractions wouldn’t test Mrs. F’s resolve; that if she Crab Orchard Review
Aria Minu-Sepehr asked, I would conﬁrm that Ali had hurled the eraser that bounced oﬀ the board and onto someone’s nose. If nothing else, he would at least get a demerit in a booklet dangerously close to being ﬁlled. Maybe he would confront me, but I’d deny having anything to do with it. And what then? He and his gang still couldn’t touch me. Their next deviation would result in another strike—maybe their last. No, it was better to risk it all in one oﬀensive that would force me to rethink my allegiance: if Ali put his own expulsion, and possibly those of others, on the line, I would be hard-pressed to rat. In the Iranian school system, ﬁnishing ﬁfth grade and passing the year-end state exam is a watershed moment in any youth’s life. Perhaps as Ali saw it, I would soften at the thought of my classmate’s educational demise—the utter shame and derogation that would result if one failed ﬁfth grade. I’d say I hadn’t seen anything and with the resulting impunity Ali would sever the teacher-mobser bond and return Mrs. F to being the pathetic ﬁgurehead at the front of the class. The back row would ﬁnish the year in glory. This scenario demanded certain far-fetched presumptions. Ali had to assume without a doubt that I was the informant. But more importantly, he had to trust that I’d forgo Mrs. F’s invisible shield that had made it possible for me to walk the halls without fear and actually look forward to recess. Why would I lie? I was ideally situated. One morning before Mrs. F’s arrival, Ali and the gang are typically enmeshed in some sort of whispered conference. The class is full and characteristically awash in the white noise of chit-chat. Groups of two or three deep in gab. A ﬂurry of things thrown back and forth. People rushing to and fro. A squawk here. Caw there. Friendless and envious of the various cliques, I notice everything, like I’m hovering above the room watching my own past. Ali waves a latecomer closer: “Hurry! I can’t say it from here, it’s one degree above top secret.” There is no eﬀort, it seems, to keep the plan from me: Mrs. F’s chair has been replaced by a defunct one, decommissioned for its pair of broken legs. Ali explains that the gang has placed it strategically so that Mrs. F won’t have to pull it back, “She’ll plop down ﬁrst, I’m sure of it, she does it all the time, and then…ﬁreworks!” Then, as if to conﬁrm that I’ve gotten it, the mastermind turns to me, “What do you think, will it work?” I’m caught oﬀ guard. Was it that obvious that I’ve heard? “What?” I squeak. Mrs. F hobbles in all wrapped up in a nondescript black dress, feet ﬂesh spilling over tight pumps, one arm cradling a faux alligator-skin handbag, crazy hair ﬂuﬀed only in the front, squashed ﬂat in the back. 196 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Aria Minu-Sepehr She is heavily made up like a geisha, and here too only where it was conveniently visible. I notice for the ﬁrst time that she looks tired and dejected. Why hadn’t I ever seen Mrs. F the woman? I think of the way she squirmed in the headmaster’s oﬃce, of the way he degraded her in front of me and my father. And for what? What had she done? She was right: I was a coward. As Mrs. F nears her desk, part of me leaps to her rescue, the rest paralyzed stiﬀ, watching my own end. Ali looks on, unﬂinching, a gambler who’s put all his chips on one number. The roulette spins. Mrs. F walks around her desk. Drops her purse and stack of papers and books on the desktop. “Hush up,” she grumbles without looking up. Then as if to say this has already been a diﬃcult day, she releases all of herself on the chair. Chair wobbles. Mrs. F tries to recover in a hopeless attempt that sends the two propped legs ﬂying, she and the seat plunging out of sight and against the ﬂoor in a crescendo that infers a conjoining of metal, linoleum, and instructor. In a fraction of a second, the teacher is sprawled under her desk, skirt lifted so that the whites of her inner thighs lie in bare view, encircled each in ﬂattened ellipses of lace. The classroom erupts. Girls rush to the scene. The back-row pack is convulsing. Ali’s in tears. My face drains of blood. Six or so students pull Mrs. F back on her feet and she leaves the classroom weeping, bobbing grotesquely on every other heel-less step. The rest of the day there’s ceaseless talk of Mrs. F spread on the ﬂoor. “Bad bakht-e khar (the unfortunate simpleton), you should’ve seen her face the moment before she went woosh! Grabbing at the air. Rolling on the ground.” At recess the story spreads like wildﬁre. By the day’s end, it’s verging on legend. The next morning I’m plucked out of a busy corridor and brought into the headmaster’s oﬃce. He and Mrs. F are waiting to see me and there’s no preamble. “I understand that Mrs. F has entrusted you with a crucial position,” starts the headmaster. “It’s a testament to your excellence as a student and a measure of how much we value you, Mr. Aria. Yesterday, as you painfully witnessed yourself, an unfortunate event occurred. I call it an e-v-e-n-t and not an a-c-c-i-d-e-n-t because we know that someone replaced the honorable Mrs. F’s seat with another. To embarrass her. To mock this school. To further lawlessness. To bring the streets into the classroom. You can talk to Mrs. F privately and tell her what happened. She’ll report to me and we’ll make an appropriate decision regarding the perpetrators. What do they think we are, turnips? My regards to the General. These are hard times. Your father’s a brave man.” Crab Orchard Review
Aria Minu-Sepehr With this introduction, I’m left alone with a fragile Mrs. F waiting to hear all the details. She begins by telling me about her injury, that she almost broke her hip but that luckily it is merely bruised. She can hardly walk, she whimpers. Thank God luck is on her side and she isn’t permanently disabled. She converses with God too about the fortune of having picked me to look after her, to thwart the eﬀorts of those who want her dead. “What is this world coming to when students want their teacher on the ﬂoor? Where dogs belong! Who was it? Who is the devil’s aid? Who is it that wants to see a mother disheveled and disparaged? Is it not enough that I give ‘em everything I’ve got? The best education. You are all my children.” A moment passed during which I said nothing, listening—as I was—respectfully. The silence was awkward; had I missed my cue? Did I give the impression that I needed to be pressed? Mrs. F recounts her pitiful plight. “Oh the ache,” she groans, shifting her weight on the chair. “I can’t stand, I can’t sit, I’m an invalid.” This time she gives me a list of names. “So who was it? You can tell me. You’re not only my mobser, you’re my son. Just think you’re speaking with your own mother. Those hooligans have done it this time. Tell me, which one of them was it?” I don’t know how it exactly happened and why my choice was so evident. In a split second I had decided to alter the course of my life. From now on I would face my own problems without proxies and without privilege. My eyes rose to meet Mrs. F’s: “I don’t know who did it.” She looked confused, a seasoned poker player misreading a sure hand. A long few seconds passed, our eyes locked, but then, as if to acknowledge my position, she said rhetorically, “You don’t know who did it.” “No,” I returned, meditatively knowing full well that she saw right through me, saw me lying through my teeth. Egregiously. It had become plainly clear to me at that exact moment that I had no respect for the person whom I faced, manipulating her way through life, playing destitute if it got her sympathy, resorting to threats if needed, obsequious if prudent. I had no respect for teachers who seemed only interested in doing the bare minimum. The quick verdicts. The undeserved praises. Above all, my mendacity was fueled by that buﬀoon headmaster whose unbecoming authority I had disdained from the very beginning. But idealism doesn’t give the whole truth. No, it felt good for the ﬁrst time to be uncooperative and ornery. I could look at some person in charge and say, I have decided to be peevish. And there was nothing anyone could do. The most unalienable human quality had awakened 198 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Aria Minu-Sepehr in me, a one-way door to the realization that anything I did was my choice. It was unfortunate that Mrs. F would not meet justice as a result of this discovery. It did not even matter that I would be turned over to a higher authority. Perhaps my father would be dragged in. He and the headmaster and I would sit in a closed room until I named names. But I knew I wouldn’t—I felt proud and determined. I would lie to the end. Nothing could shake me of this resolve. Not even the General himself. Class resumed, albeit more subdued with a sulking Mrs. F at the helm. Ali and his gang walked away unscathed. Maybe they had succeeded in ﬂustering Mrs. F to the snapping point. Maybe they had taken a terrible risk this close to the end—Mrs. F would now watch us like a hawk and destroy us at the slightest provocation. Whatever the case there was an eerie calm in the classroom as we anticipated her next move. There were changes on the playground as well. One lunch period, Ali called me over to pair up with him in a game of cavalry. Two contestants, one on the back of the other, would take on a second pair. There were no rules; your team won if you brought down the opposing rider. I found I was surprisingly good as a horse. Ali would hop on my back, latch on to some part of his counterpart, and I’d start spinning. I’d get an occasional punch in the head. A foot in the ribs. Bruised shins. But I’d hold on like my life was on the line. Sooner or later Ali and I would “roll” them into a “pipe”—a technique so eﬀective it became our trademark and my nickname. “Looleh,” (Pipe) Ali would say with a swagger, “you ready to rip ’em apart?” And we’d charge—“Dig your graves, bastards,” he’d scream, “me and Looleh are gonna show you hell.” We were the reigning champs. Kings of cavalry. Blacktop aristocrats. Sure, there was stigma in being ridden, I wasn’t blind to that. But to go from nobody to Looleh was an achievement I was deeply proud of. Mrs. F wept haphazardly for an entire week and then left. In her place, we were assigned a long-legged (or maybe he was short-torsoed), lean, self-possessed man with a quick tongue and a big of head of thick, wiry hair. He was young and arrogant and sprightly, moving around the classroom with unnecessary speed in tight polyester pants, hips leading the way, always ready to pounce on someone for anything that smelled like a challenge. No doubt he was warned of us. In contrast to a roosting Mrs. F, our substitute lived at the blackboard, a mirror for his narcissism, ﬁlling it energetically, gleaming afterwards. My playground association with the gang proved fruitful in the classroom. Crab Orchard Review
Aria Minu-Sepehr I would congratulate the bunch for successful disruptions and once in a while even engage in some benign but unruly act myself, safe in the company of my new accomplices. “The New One” (as we liked to refer to the instructor) invited confrontation. His general lack of compassion and his apparent disdain for youth foretold of the grilling we’d receive if he ever caught us in any act of insubordination. Maybe he’d give us a good ear twisting too before turning us over to the headmaster. He would keep us all back a year for kicks. Naturally, none of this deterred the wily. Quite the opposite—challenges became the mainstay of life. How exciting to know that you had to be extra clever and resourceful to not end up selling cabbage. In the middle of our ﬁrst English lesson, the New One asked if anyone knew the language. I shot up my hand and announced that I actually spoke a variant, “American,” I announced proudly. I had barely uttered this when kheshtak to koon (loincloth in ass) let out a hysterical laugh and said he hadn’t heard of that language. I would normally have taken this to mean that I had said something unimaginably stupid, that I should shut up and think of a retreat. But instead I declared with great insolence that there was a country named A-m-e-r-i-c-a in which the language was prevalent. The back row burst out laughing—a shortlived victory as zarafeh (the giraﬀe) commenced to make an idiot of me. He told me to go to the board and to draw a map of the world and show the class where “this A-m-e-r-i-c-a” was situated. And so I did, as well I could, which was probably not that bad for a ten-year-old obsessed with maps. But he kept me at the blackboard so that I could take note of my inaccuracies. “How can you call yourself an American when you omit Florida and Alaska? Where’s Indonesi, Hindustan, Escandenavi? Or do Americans not recognize anything else outside their borders?” Then amaleh-ye cheshm chap (cross-eyed manual laborer) gave me a lesson in geopolitics. “America is America because of the English. So you see, that’s why English is spoken there. There is no ‘American’ because your beloved A-m-e-r-i-c-a was nothing before the English settled it. A bunch of bare-assed redskins running around with four feathers in their head. That’s it. Maybe you mean you speak their language. If that’s the case you should be more speciﬁc—what tribe do you belong to?” (“tribe” being the operative word, since in Farsi it’s an insult to refer to someone as tribal, the tribe being the antithesis of culture and civilization). With that I was dismissed and though doubtlessly dog-faced, I received congratulatory pats on the 200 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Aria Minu-Sepehr back as I made my way back to my seat—accolades which mattered more to me than any cartographic or linguistic accuracy. One day the unthinkable happened: the Shah left. Gone. Poof. Pictures on the front page of every newspaper said it all. A tearful king makes half an eﬀort to lift one of his loyal generals who’s thrown himself at the monarch’s feet. Perhaps it was clear by then that the king’s departure would mean the end of anyone loyal to the imperial regime. Some went into hiding. Perhaps the display of allegiance was with the hope that upon the monarch’s return, as it had happened in ’53, the ones who’d stuck it out would be rewarded with rank and position. For a naïve minority like my father, the king’s departure was not indicative of anything; the nation would carry on and he would serve in whatever capacity. “To serve”—as though there were a ruling on the inﬁnitive to which all future regimes would be held accountable. Indeed the greatest lesson of the Revolution—perhaps of all political turnovers—is that the very meaning of service in the interest of the nation is thrown into ﬂux: what seems patriotic now may be traitorous in a diﬀerent order. For the vast majority who were not in the in to begin with, the Shah’s departure was the precondition for new possibilities. And why not? With the immediate dissolution of the secret police and a complete transfer of power to a feeble National Front running on dregs after several decades of persecution, with foreign powers unable or unwilling to intervene, and with the military itself divided and in disarray, real and drastic change was ﬁnally imaginable. On the streets there was a sense of euphoria—the “Revolution of the people” had succeeded. Boundless potential lay ahead. A democratic government. A Marxist society. The reign of Islam. There was talk of a redistribution of wealth. The return of tradition. Freedom of speech. Free gasoline. The end of inﬂation. More jobs than you could shake a ﬁnger at. There were massive demonstrations of joy. Somehow the king’s departure was the catharsis anyone with any discontent was waiting for. The contagion spread through school as well. Anarchy reached new heights with stone-injured windows, more frequent brawls, and riskier pranks. Even the dreaded demerit booklet seemed to turn obsolete. It was a bitter day in winter when I rushed to relieve my bladder during lunch recess in one of the dim and damp bathrooms tucked in the corner of the playground. I would normally have used one Crab Orchard Review
Aria Minu-Sepehr of the stalls inside the main building, but I was desperate; I had waited too long. One outcome of the latest fervor was that of the apparent freedom to piss at will on any given surface. Once inside, the danger of slipping on urine-soaked tile was so great that you’d almost forget the sharp stench. And the administration couldn’t care less—they never used the bathrooms, and for those of us who were unlucky enough to stray in, it was a reminder that order and cleanliness and teachers and banks and ministers and kings were a good thing. I shuﬄed carefully toward a tall urinal, already unzipped, to ﬁnd a soaked, black-and-white picture of the Shah lying over the drain hole. The ripped-out page was one you’d ﬁnd in the beginning of any school book and, as shocked as I was of its placement, I was more eager at that instant to ﬁnd a stall that was free of such desecration—the king, after all, was still the commander of all the armed forces and my loyalty to the Air Force had not changed. No luck. The vandals have defaced every urinal and toilet. Pictures of the Shah ﬂoat everywhere, distorted, already a dream. Bladder is begging. The thought of standing on a ﬁlm of urine, reduced to a shuﬄe, induces claustrophobia. My heart starts to race. I am going to wet myself. It’s certain. The shame. Cold sweat. Facing my peers. One trouser leg soiled. Sopping shoe. I do it: I thrash at my underwear and just make it. Breathing heavily. As steam rises oﬀ the arc ﬂowing out of my body, I face the horror of deﬁling the Shah. I’m lightheaded. I shut my eyes. Endless piss streams out of me. The soothing sound of urine splashing against porcelain. The carnal elation of relief. The miracle of avoiding social ruin. And then I witness a conﬂation I cannot stop: it is joyous to urinate on the king. I open my eyes. Aim.
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William Notter Wyoming Highways Most of the traﬃc is pickup trucks caked in bentonite from the methane roads, or one-ton ﬂatbeds with dually axles and blue heelers balancing on the back. But the blacktop slicing through rabbit brush ﬂats and weather the color of heated steel is perfect for opening up a highway-geared American car from the days of cubic inches and metal. You could wind that Detroit iron up to a sweet spot well above the posted limit, where torque will casually pull the grades. The car would rock on the springs, and growl from deep in the carburetor throat yanked wide open, gobbling down pure light.
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Slow Progress on Chickasaw Ridge All that Mississippi winter, it seemed, Eddie and I were pumping orange water and trying to frame up forms to pour a retaining wall behind the new apartments. The hillcut sloughed red mud, the footing trench was ﬂooded every morning and skinned with ice. One morning we’re warming our toes at the kerosene heater as we wait for the pump to drain the hole. Eddie built himself a plumb-framed and tight-sided house on the outskirts, a neighborhood screened by kudzu vines where only black folks live. Most houses there are pieced together with scrap tin, blackjack, even paper plates, and thinking of downtown’s ﬁne homes and historic oaks, I ask how things have changed in thirty years. Eddie had a smart mouth, and got sent to live with an aunt up North for the worst of what went on in the sixties. He remembers an old car his cousin had. The generator was bad, and the cousin would drive with headlights oﬀ to keep the battery charged. The battery died anyway, once on a shortcut through the college campus, where the sheriﬀ caught them coasting down Sorority Row. Even a white boy from the High Plains, where blacks were only on TV shows, can understand the tension as the sheriﬀ 204 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
William Notter tossed one end of a log chain to Eddie’s cousin and towed them home. He says it isn’t near as dangerous now and a man can pretty much just live his life. By noon the sky begins to spit the season’s only snow. It snowed the night I heard that Dr. King got shot, says Ed, ﬂurries coming down as he left a Chicago movie house, his date whose face he can’t recall holding half a sack of popcorn, the news drifting quietly through the crowd.
Crab Orchard Review
JoLee G. Passerini Eating Locusts Grommet, socket, sprocket, marriage— lugnuts, lugwrench, stopwatch, truckstop, egret, lake air, picnic, yessir. April, biscuits, camphor berries, smell of doughnuts—hot now—walking streets that smell of treated lumber. Small church, brick walk, birchbark, penance in my arms like ﬂowers held aloft, the whole world wearing broken olive branches and a crown of hazelwood.
* Stopwatch, husband—pulses steady. When you— do I— Drift oﬀ, sleep, the end I see in your throat’s falter. In my dream you’re dead, and all the dishes burn slow as green wood. The house, it’s ash, it falls, when touched. Thumbed cross, forehead, mouthful, dust. Black and tangled, wires on the ﬂoor, frozen vines have nothing in them. Silence. Air. The pulse of bird wings. Bloody moon, driveway molten, leaftips, love disﬁgured. Wish 206 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
JoLee G. Passerini for answers: the sky a cupped hand over us, not a bowl we smother under.
* The heart can beat or not. Wind hushes through the trees. Nothing ever seems to leave or end.
Crab Orchard Review
JoLee G. Passerini
New World Landscape A lizard skitters green on the east wall of the house. The air is so heavy, the trees so lush we could be in Corfu instead of Alabama— olive leaves glistening like insect wings, a goat with a rope of bells, a tortoise ambling up the thick slope searching for berries. This moment is exploding in a chamber, pushing us toward forsythia and quince, which bloomed in February, which we missed seeing together. That was another life. This is the expanding universe: so loud with cicadas, we hold hands— so heavy we might be the only people in it.
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Jonathan Rice Heart of Learned Removal Twice, the tired aide spread with timid fore and middle ceps, the bisected heart in the stainless bowl, until the ﬂaps of his division began to look like lips about to speak. Your fortune for the pain to be abated? The lab will ﬁll in forty minutes with students, and this man is charged to teach them all the lower back and its layered capacity for strain. A cadaver, a still room, and the air in it is chilled to keep oﬀ rot, to discourage mold. And all’s fraught with formaldehyde, as pungent a stain of scent as burnt curls, or melted plastic, or the particular tar of anyone’s cigarettes, when gone far into the skin and eyes and teeth. Assistant of this lab, you may lean in. You may listen to her now, but be brave. Be brave. This woman died alone.
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Rumor of a Girl They Knew with a Boy The principal and the vice principal and that sterile, pale nurse, called her in twice a day for further questions. “When he touched you, did you resist or try to resist? Did you let him cup your breasts? And if so, which one? Or both? And did you allow his hand beneath your shirt? Did he remove your bra ﬁrst?” Their thoughts moved down her body and back up. When they demanded fact on sight, that she pantomime the date, make-believe with the assistant deacon—married and cold and tall and well dressed—he palmed the air over the bruised bud of her body. At her instruction. As though healing was needed, and all she had was to say what hurt.
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Sankar Roy Arranged Marriage Holding an armload of lotus, my would-be bride is returning from the pond, water dripping from her hair. I get a glimpse of her bare chest through wet clothes, rising and ebbing. She looks at me with a naughty grin in her eyes, thinking perhaps I am a lost traveler. A goat, hypnotized, follows her like her shadow and a pair of sparrows circle above her head. I want to ask her what she does to make them so easy around her but I feel frail and giddy. Her heavy breathing is warming my neck, my ears. A lotus bud falls from her hands, and as she bends to pick it up, her sari falls, revealing small breasts. She takes a long time to pick up the lotus bud. I wish I could run far away, holding her hands.
Crab Orchard Review
Maid Lately our mother is growing more distant. She spends most of her time in the puja room. In there, she softly sings Tagore songs while making jasmine chokers for gods who cannot touch our lives. When not praying, she daintily walks around our home’s concrete rooftop with soft feet like a stray bird that is afraid of everything. Below, in the house, our father behaves like a pan ﬁlled with hot oil, sizzling, throwing stuﬀ around—dinner plates, water glasses— giving scars to anyone who dares to come close to him. We three brothers are growing up in a home without a real woman. At night, my teenage brothers masturbate so hard the whole house shakes like a boat caught in a storm. In a home like this, on a lazy summer afternoon, Jaya, our new maid, arrives in a horse buggy from our ancestral village, carrying a tin case tied with braided ropes. A low-caste young girl wearing a nose ring like the dewdrop on the morning grass, with a bust like the ﬁgurines of Khajuraho, eyes like the deities of Ellora, she arrives at our Brahmin home and ﬁts into our lawless world like an old pair of shoes, brilliantly patronizing, full of fables, always laughing like the ﬂap of the pigeon wings in the harvest season. 212 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Sankar Roy Overnight, she takes over our home’s mundane business, mopping, cooking delicious dishes. Once again, I am ready for school on time. Even our father seems to be happier, often smiling at my pranks. At night, he tiptoes like a cat going after a bowl of milk into the space under the staircase where Jaya sleeps, and my teenage brothers follow her into the rose garden like spring rabbits when she is fetching ﬂowers for our mother. Within weeks, I grow concerned that Jaya might leave. What if she decides to go back to escape from all these horny men? So I propose she stay with us and marry our father. Then she can also become my mother. Two women should never marry the same man, Jaya replies, then adds, when you grow up, I will marry you.
Crab Orchard Review
Potter’s Son Am I that boy who takes a bus to return to the gray intersection of love and despair and walks a block or two to reach the spot that we call childhood? For the boy childhood is a rundown house with roof sagging, windows falling, where his younger sister in the home with a sick mother assumes the mother’s role and oﬀers him food over banana leaves. The boy thinks childhood means growing up in a house packed with clay statues, some ﬁnished, some not and mud pots strewn over the yard, under the pumpkin vines, capturing rainwater. While dying on a wood divan, their mother curses her luck, curses her gods. And their father, indiﬀerent, sitting on the porch, turns his potter’s wheel, a clay pitcher spins, slowly taking the earth’s shape. Somewhere an owl cries out for no particular reason as a yellow moon rises behind the house like a china bowl 214 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Sankar Roy and a few trees, dotted here and there, darkening, shake their branches like birds caught in a pale net deliberately spread over the winter ground.
Crab Orchard Review
Maxine Scates Derelict State Rusted troughs stacked in a barnyard, chocolate lab pups for sale, hand-lettered signs atop barren fruit stands, junked yellow Caterpillar cabs, boarded cafés, all of this will pass away. The boy on a bike, stopped at the edge of town staring across a ﬁeld, teenagers who sprawl on porch steps in early darkness, will ﬁnd their way to the city’s astral glow, where on a summer evening in the middle of their lives they’ll remember the quiet nights, how they could see the stars, days when they reached for the dusty shine of blackberries in the August sun, and why they left, the mills shut down, gas stations closed, library gone, life slowed, aqueous, a whole town drowning, submerged by loss. Even the children go quietly hungry, unnoticed, unremarked upon, the way my old aunt who lives here says no one can know if my uncle and father ﬁrst met in the CCC since both are dead and married to the earth just as rivers marry, a conﬂuence of ﬁve rushing into a wave that hit a charter boat broadside on the undredged bar at the mouth of the bay—so much untended— a covered bridge collapsing into a thousand splintered
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Maxine Scates pieces plunging a man and his grandsons broken into the creek below. In Leaburg, you can still see the WPA murals on the wall of the dam, poverty harnessed, the river tamed but the salmon already going in the years when Uncle Carl and my father learned to drive Cat, huge blades upending roots and cutting roads, learned to do what seemed would never come undone.
Crab Orchard Review
Carrie Shipers The Ghosts I Want If we make our dead the way we make our lives, I choose ghosts in case of emergency. I know their stories: the racecar driver who swears his dead father’s hands closed around his ribcage and pulled him from a ﬂaming crash; miners who escaped a cave-in by following the lamp of a co-worker they’d never met; a woman whose life was saved by a housecall from a doctor dead six weeks. How much better than guardian angels, these ghosts who love the living too much to let them die? Each event ends with evidence of its impossibility: video reveals the son’s body jerking backward, nearly falling, as he untangles burning legs from the steering wheel. When rescue workers reach him, he’s standing feet from the ﬂames. The miners gather on the surface, every man accounted for except their savior John, whose death by cave-in is commemorated on a plaque outside the shaft. Fully recovered, the woman ﬁnds the doctor’s daughter emptying his apartment of everything except his leather bag, unused for years. These are the ghosts I want, those able to save me from illness or occupational 218 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Carrie Shipers hazard. Thus far I’ve relied on hauntings by the yet-undead. Driving an icestormed interstate, I imagine my father in the passenger seat: Nice and steady, now tap your brake, good girl. Examining a friend’s minor injury, I echo my mother’s voice: It’s just a sprain. Get some ice and you’ll be ﬁne. Given the demanding schedules of the dead, I’m saving my haunting for a real emergency. I need to know that when the elevator falls or the stairwell ﬁlls with smoke, when my car overturns or my body derails, when the living fail me for the last time, an appropriate ghost is waiting to be my last resort.
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David Shumate The House of Death When you arrive in the House of Death they serve you a dish of purple fruit they chilled the night before. They give you a choice of hats. Pointed or ﬂat. A pair of sandals. A white robe. You get to select ﬁve things to remember from when you were alive. The rest you must leave behind. You have the run of the place. But candles are forbidden. As well as talk of regret. It’s a large house that takes years to traverse. To break the monotony they hold dances out on the lawn and tell jokes. Like the one about the priest and the camel….Or the man who jumped from the plane….There’s only one clock in the House of Death. It runs quite slowly. Each moment carries a delicate cargo. It’s all unloaded by hand. Then carted oﬀ to the cliﬀs and dumped into the sea.
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The Greeks Sometimes I hear them on the outskirts of my memory. Discussing philosophy. Clanking their swords. The lights of their civilization have gone dim. Their gods can’t recall what they’re responsible for. The thunder rumbles unattended. Poseidon wanders the forests. Aphrodite sails oﬀ to sea with the secrets of love stuﬀed in her valise. There’s not much we can do about it. When we leave oﬀerings on their altars, the squirrels drag them away. So we study the ﬁgures they etched in vases. We read the books they left behind. We practice our lessons in logic a little each day. When we celebrate in the spirit of Dionysus and drink too much, we behave as if we too were immortal. We sprout wings from our feet. Snakes unfurl from our hair. Sometimes we take brief trips into the underworld. When an enemy steals our women, we build a large wooden horse and roll it up to their gates. I’m always the ﬁrst to crawl inside.
Crab Orchard Review
Maureen Stanton The Cat Is a Haunt For years, whenever I drove by small, run-down shacks in
Maine with my friend, Nancy, or my sister, Sally, I’d say, “There. That’s all I need. I could live there.” It was a joke to illustrate a point: my desire for home, my need humble, resources limited. After moving ten times in ten years—the decade of my thirties—I wanted to ﬁnd home. A narrow, eleven-mile-long road winds eastward from Maine’s ragged coast, stitching two islands along the way via four small bridges, ending at a lobster pound, where in the summer we eat steamed clams drenched in butter, undaunted by the ﬁsh entrails or piles of salt we must step over on our way to the picnic tables on a dock supported by barnacled pilings. The lobster pound is adjacent to the ﬁsherman’s cooperative, where the lobster men in orange, chest-high oilskins trade in the day’s catch at dusk. Just before the rutted dirt road to the lobster pound, before the woods ﬁlled with cast-oﬀ car bodies (including an old school bus and several rotting boats), before the mobile homes set in mosquitoinfested thickets on tamped mud lots crowded with trampolines and neon-colored plastic play houses, before the sign spray-painted on plywood, intended for tourists, that reads: “Slow Down. Not Indy 500,” before all this, atop a sloping ledge was a tiny, dilapidated bungalow with a rotting plaid couch on the front lawn. “I could live there,” I said. “That’s all I need.” As the old adage goes, be careful what you wish for. Two years later, I bought that house for $17,000—my life savings. The house had every problem you could imagine, and some you couldn’t. It sits on a tiny lot (a tenth of an acre), and the leach ﬁeld and driveway turned out to be located on the neighbor’s property. There were squatters who needed to be evicted, squatters who turned out to be not people but four cats. There was an abandoned car on the lot, and a huge tree branch speared through the bulkhead. The house was in need of a new roof, major electrical work, a new oil tank, new furnace, new septic system. The pièce de résistance was the rotting pine log infested with
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Maureen Stanton carpenter ants that was—miraculously—holding up one corner of the house (discovered, of course, long after I’d purchased the place). The four cats were gone by the time I closed on the house (there was an oﬃcial eviction notice delivered by a county sheriﬀ to the person whose name was on a phone bill found in the house). The house was ﬁlled with detritus and possessions and trash and furniture of several abandoned lives. Left behind were dozens of reeking trash bags ﬁlled with used cat litter, heavy as cement, and board games from the sixties (Aggravation), and furniture from the seventies (leatherette), and rusty cans of baby peas (must we eat the babies?). There were no less than twenty pairs of size 12 women’s shoes, mostly pumps, and I momentarily thought perhaps a transvestite had lived there. There were several patent leather pocketbooks containing wadded up tissues from someone’s long ago colds. Doris Hayes, the owner of the house, went into a nursing home in 1993, nearly a decade before I bought the house. She died in 1999, and the house was taken by the Maine Department of Human Services to pay oﬀ the $60,890 that Mrs. Hayes owed to the state for her care. According to the deed, the house was sold for a dollar to Mrs. Hayes by a Mrs. Mildred McCabe, who left a package in the attic marked, “Sketches of Mildred McCabe.” Mildred’s husband, Carl, left a leatherbound collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets, inscribed in a penmanship of another era and dated 1888, along with a pair of octagonal gold-framed eyeglasses. Setting aside recyclable materials and objects good enough for Goodwill, my mother and my friend, Nancy, and I hauled to the roadside no less than 300 large garbage bags of junk. The pile was taller than me, four feet deep, and spanned the length of the southern boundary of my property. I had to call the junk hauler three times; even he—tsar of trash removal in the county—remarked on the sheer volume of stuﬀ we emptied from the 823-square-foot house. There were bags and bags of rust-stained clothes—hung on hangers for years in a damp closet—and musty books shred to bits by the four bored, trapped cats. Years-old phone bills for hundreds of dollars. A manual for nursing assistants. Bottles of booze, and dozens of bottles of nail polish, and bikini underwear on the ﬂoor throughout the house, and cat kibbles, and half-full liters of Coke and grimy jars of spices, a baby crib, two televisions, several boxes of bullets for a .22 caliber pistol, pizza boxes, and juice bottles marked in indelible ink, “1993 Water.” Two dollars in food stamps, and $1.67 in pennies scattered all over the ﬂoor. And macrame plant hangers, and a sewing machine, and patterns, Crab Orchard Review
Maureen Stanton and spools of thread, and cast-iron shoe forms, and scraps of moldy leather, and videos of classic Hollywood movies (romances with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn). And treasures my six-year-old nephew, Miles, unearthed: a two-foot long potato-shaped pillow with button eyes; a tiny puzzle; and a stretchy, ﬂesh-toned rubber mask with holes for eyes and mouth and nostrils, creepy and featureless like an alien. Like a beating heart, in the middle of all the junk and trash and broken-down furniture was a diary, a clothbound book with a ﬂower motif—peonies and morning glories and forget-me-nots. The diary belonged to Faith, daughter of Doris, the size-12-pump-wearing woman who was given the house by Mildred McCabe*. I saved the diary from the trash bag. Diaries and journals interest me. I’ve kept diaries throughout my life and am fascinated with others’ diaries: Sylvia Plath, May Sarton, Anne Frank, Anaïs Nin, who recorded her life in 35,000 pages, and Thoreau, who wrote seven drafts of his journal, Walden. I’d come to see the house as an archeological site, a shipwreck almost, as if it had been pitched upon this ledge during a rough storm—especially the way the house listed and sunk in the middle. The diary was a historical document, a captain’s log, which I read in one night like an engrossing novel. Faith was a decade older than me, a caring, loving daughter: “Called Ma to make sure she got home okay.” I liked her immediately for her thoughtfulness and because she was someone who relished small pleasures, as I do: “Just took a lovely bath.” Is the burn mark on the edge of my tub from Faith’s cigarette? Was she so relaxed in the hot soapy water that she closed her eyes and passed through time, forgot her smoldering cigarette until the smell of burning plastic interrupted her reverie? I see this stain every time I take a bath, my favorite place to read on cold winter evenings, enclosed by the once fashionable, embossed, ochre-yellow tub surround. In the coldest deep of winter, when the temperatures sink to single digits, I take baths nearly every night, reading sometimes for two hours, adding scalding water as the bath cools. Once, when my electric bill seemed exorbitantly high, I thought about taking fewer baths, but then I calculated that the price of a bath was about a dollar, which seemed cheap for a metaphorical return to the womb. I root for Faith as she details her constant struggles with money. I struggle too, though my penury is somewhat self-imposed. I am educated and capable of earning a good salary, as I did when I had the 224 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Maureen Stanton fancy title of Director of Development for a nonproﬁt organization. But I gave up that life a decade ago and I cannot go back. I have chosen the life of a writer, and there is little money in that. Freelance work keeps me aﬂoat, to a degree. But Faith does not complain, only reports. She is responsible, is trying to keep her life together, to make it on her own. Judging by books I found in the house and clues from the diary, I concluded that Faith took a course to become a nurse’s aide and worked in a nursing home, a job that pays less than $10.00 an hour. “Called the phone company asking if I could pay it next Thursday. By then I should be almost caught up with things,” she writes. I know this feeling of being perpetually “almost caught up.” The catching-up is brief before a sudden car repair, an unexpected medical bill sets you back. I drive a fourteen-year-old car and worry about breaking down alone on the side of the road at night. I am without health insurance and worry that a catastrophic illness could bankrupt me (uninsured medical expenses a major cause—just behind job loss—of personal bankruptcy; I can read myself into the statistics). Faith writes, “Today is Tuesday and it seems like it should be Friday. What a long week already. Probably because I’m so broke. That’s one thing I hate to be.” I pause at her use of “to be”—being broke is not a temporary state, but a condition. Money makes time go faster, Faith realizes. With money you can pass time shopping, seeing a movie or concert, or dining out with friends. Being broke is one thing I hate to be, too. But Faith keeps her sense of humor: “For someone who has no food or money, I sure have a lot of dirty dishes.” “A day oﬀ!!!” is worth underlining with three exclamation points, but even on her day oﬀ, a day for pleasure and rest, Faith is purposeful. “Been busy,” she writes. “Washed kitchen ﬂoor, dishes, clothes soaking, cleaned bathroom tub, sink and toilet.” This list is meant to mark accomplishment, the way I have my “to do” list, and the sense of satisfaction and righteousness when I cross oﬀ a task. Sometimes, I’ll ﬁnish a chore that wasn’t even on my “to do” list, but I’ll add it to the list ex post facto so that I can cross it oﬀ and get credit, from myself I suppose. This is how we mark the passage of time in our lives, how we measure our own success, the things we do, the chores ﬁnished, the chaos brought to order. “Sara and Pete sent a Christmas gift up to me. She gave me an electric pot pourri (black raspberry). It smells delicious. That’s just the type of thing I like.” Faith conﬁrms who she is by acknowledging her tastes, a woman who appreciates the sensual, a sweet fruity aroma in Crab Orchard Review
Maureen Stanton the air. I think of Maine’s famous diarist, May Sarton, who wrote so eloquently about the daily comforts that make up a life, the irises in the garden, ﬁre in the ﬁreplace, the cat, the dog, the ocean: “My life here,” Sarton writes, “is to a large extent composed of such silent or hardly audible presences.” Faith, too, has recorded the hushed presences in her life—blackberry incense, lovely baths. “This morning I am sitting here watching the snow fall,” she pens, alongside more freighted issues like ﬁnancial problems or her love life. Her boyfriend, Ted, is in the “County Alcoholism Shelter for the Homeless,” which sounds like a misnamed place. Is it an alcoholism treatment center or a homeless shelter? “I heard from Ma that Ted called her Sunday night and couldn’t get me so called her. She said that he was in jail…” Was he really in jail? Or is this the mother’s interpretation of the shelter, her disapproval of her daughter’s boyfriend evident in her choice of words? I disapprove too. I want to tell Faith to get away, run away, save your life. You deserve better. But it’s all already happened—her future already scripted in the pages ahead. I was in a relationship with an alcoholic. I was twenty; David was thirty. It took me three years to realize that he was an alcoholic, to realize that love and compassion and forgiveness and anger and threats and locking someone out do not cure alcoholism. Leaving David was one of the most diﬃcult things I’d ever done. I worried that he might sink further, lose his job, become homeless. His mother, in Puerto Rico, was old and poor, separated from his father, whose beatings had driven David to run away from home as a teenager. His brother, in the military, seemed not to care. They spoke only once by phone in the three years I knew David. David was a musician, a practicing Suﬁ, a janitor. In the weeks after I left him, he would call me on my job repeatedly, in a drunken rage, threatening to kill himself. One time, exasperated, I said, “Go ahead.” I consoled myself that David would never follow through on his threat, but in the back of my mind I worried about him, and about myself, the person I was becoming, cold and possibly cruel. David didn’t call for three months. In that time I’d met and fallen in love with Steve, backpacked in Europe, returned to the states, and moved to Michigan with Steve, who would in three years die of cancer. Sometimes you can’t save someone from himself. Sometimes we can’t save ourselves from ourselves. Sometimes we can’t save anybody from anything at all. Faith asks herself several times what she sees in Ted, why she stays. Love trumps reason; desire gets the better of us. Faith has “had sex” with 226 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Maureen Stanton Ted over the weekend, “Friday night, Saturday morning, Saturday night and Sunday night. Wow!” I found some scribbled pages in the house written in the same penmanship as the diarist, homespun pornography, a clichéd fellatio scene, in which it seemed the woman did not receive any pleasure, which made me sad that the woman who wrote the story did not—even in her imagination—fulﬁll her own desires. Still, I admire how Faith keeps on living, how she tries new things, how she engages with the world around her. She gets a dog and names him Detox, takes him to obedience classes. “He will learn to heel, sit, stay, and come. How exciting,” she writes. Maybe controlling Detox is a way of controlling Ted. Detox and Ted, the two creatures in her life in whom she invests love. But Ted, he’s a bad one. “Ted doesn’t like the idea of Detox going to classes. I really think he’s afraid the dog might like me more than him. Isn’t that ridiculous?” Yes, truly it is, I think after reading this, as ridiculous as the time Steve didn’t talk to me for two whole days because he dreamed I cheated on him, as ridiculous as David stabbing our plaid couch with a butter knife one night when he was drunk and we’d argued. (Aesthetically speaking, the couch deserved its fate.) Life has more ridiculous moments than we might expect. Some are only funny years later. Some are never funny. In May of 1989, Faith rents a room to Craig, and Ted falls into a drunken jealous rage. “Ted calls drunk to say he’s going to murder Craig and I, Craig more than me.” Can someone be more murdered than someone else? I suppose if the killer stabs someone once or thirty times, there is some message in that excess. One, perhaps, can be more murdered. In spite of this threat, Faith is still seeing Ted, and Ted is still drinking, “vodka, no less,” Faith laments. Later, though, Faith begins to realize the hopelessness of being in love with an alcoholic. “I don’t honestly know why I continue to seek him out,” she writes. “I wish I knew what I want for myself.” A poignant moment of clarity, of self-realization. We captain our own ships, but where do we sail? How do we avoid the shoals? Which is the course toward happiness? Toward love? The waters of coastal Maine are treacherous, ask any tanker captain or lobsterman, the constantly shifting currents, tides, and waves, hidden rocks, submerged islands. The water is bone chilling; it alone will kill you. On this island, I am surrounded by the ocean, from which we draw sustenance, but which claims lives. Is it a coincidence that two women in two consecutive winters purposefully drove their cars oﬀ the pier, one a wife, one a minister? One day I heard the ambulance wail by, Crab Orchard Review
Maureen Stanton saw it pass my house again without sound or light. Later on my daily walk I saw the ﬂatbed tow truck winching the minivan out of the bay. Last December a mother died trying to save her teenagers, who were being carried out to sea on their surfboards. I can imagine the mother frantic on the shore watching her babies being borne away by the surf, disappearing in the thick winter fog. I can imagine that moment where insanity and clarity became a singular driving thought, a compulsion to act. Rescue boats saved the son and daughter in their wet suits; the cold killed their mother. In late winter, nearly spring, a toddler fell oﬀ a dock the minute his father’s back was turned. The dark water swallowed the boy instantly, the tricky currents pulled him under and away, a mile up the tidal river where he was found weeks later. One fall, there is tragedy in Faith’s life. “Craig shot and killed himself. His body was found in the woods—he had been there about a week. A lot of his things are still here. He talked to me about moving back in the Monday before he did it.” I wonder if Faith felt she could have saved Craig if he’d moved back into her place, if he’d had the company of another human being in his life, a caring person like Faith. I wondered if Ted had forced Faith to evict Craig out of jealousy. Ted didn’t have to murder Craig after all; Craig murdered himself. I think of the bullets I found in the house, a box of shiny gold nuggets, some scattered on the ﬂoor. Were they the same ones Craig had used to take his own life? In spite of Craig’s death, Faith sails on. She writes a few days later, “Looking forward to making cookies with Susie. We have fun doing it.” I understand this simple joy, which I get from my nieces and nephews. Coloring or playing a card game or baking cookies gives the child so much pleasure, and that pleasure is ampliﬁed in me. It is so enormously wonderful to be someone’s favorite person, to be beloved, to have a small child cling to your arm because they don’t want you to leave, the way my niece Stephanie used to do before she grew up, the way her sister Natalie does now, until she grows up. In the span of a week, there can be the awful death of a friend and the ordinary exquisite pleasure of baking cookies with a child, these events side by side. Also that November, Faith’s mother’s health fails. “Ma’s not doing so well with her foot in a cast, an infection in the same foot, and also cardiac problems.” Those giant feet, wearer of the size 12 pumps left in the closet. The tubes and needles and medical supplies abandoned in the house indicated someone was diabetic, and now I see that it was Doris, Faith’s mother. The foot in a cast must mean an amputation of 228 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Maureen Stanton a toe. That’s the way diabetes progresses, that’s the way it went for my grandmother, Madeline: ﬁrst a toe, then a foot, then the left leg up to the knee: then the right toe, the right foot, another leg. Piece by piece diabetes steals a body. I think of the black orthopedic-type shoes my grandmother wore for ﬁfty years to her job as a maid, the arthritis in her toe that I massaged after she returned home from work one of the few times I visited her alone, how tiny she was when she died, head to knees just over three feet long. Maybe it is hard for Faith to let Ted go while her mother is being slowly taken from her; maybe we withstand loss in manageable increments. Just before Thanksgiving Faith visits Ted at his apartment: “His place was a mess,” she records. “It sounds like he’s drinking around the clock (again).” A curious locution, sounds like he’s drinking, as if she can hear him chugging down the booze. Faith longs for Ted, even as she tries to separate herself from his ruinous inﬂuence. “I really do miss him, even though I don’t know why. Probably because he’s got an excellent sense of humor.” He makes her laugh. In this life, maybe that is enough, maybe that is all we can ask for, all we really need to survive—the ability to laugh. Faith writes one day, “Cassandra ﬁnally left the mansion. John, Scott, and Jim told Cricket that Jessica died of an OD (instead of AIDs).” It takes me a second to realize she is describing a soap opera plot. The only diﬀerence between the soap and Faith’s own troubled episodes with Ted and Craig and her mother is one word: mansion. There is no mansion in Faith’s life, though on this island there are several enormous estates owned by wealthy people who summer here. In this long-settled ﬁshing community, mansions stand near trailers, which stand near cottages, and more and more often modular houses that appear in a day, arriving on huge ﬂatbed trucks, instant homes, like instant coﬀee or fast friends. I am suspicious of these homes, the people in them, the seeming lack of eﬀort to build, to create home, the shortcut somehow disturbs me: a lot is clear cut, the foundation poured, the house erected in the span of a week. This is too rapid for me, though the population on the island is growing slowly: we are 1,020 here, increasing one by one. Last year there were eight deaths and ten births. Plus two. The year I moved here perhaps I cancelled the loss of the minister who drove herself into the ocean, equalized things, though I know that can’t be true. I cannot minister to anyone, cannot take anyone’s place. “Ted said he made a run—he picked up some trip. He really Crab Orchard Review
Maureen Stanton wanted us to do it—I didn’t think it was such a good idea, but gave in to 1/2 tab. That was enough for a buzz without getting too fucked up.” I’m genuinely sad to see Faith—caring, sensible if not overly romantic Faith—getting sucked into the vortex of Ted’s dark addiction. I’ve had my own days of drugs and addiction as a teenager. Though the experience is long behind me, the impulse to self-medicate, to drown myself in seeming pleasure, to escape is still in me, and there are days when I can feel it rising. I am absorbed in Faith’s diary, this lived life in the same way perhaps that Faith is absorbed in the soap opera lives. I watched soaps addictively once, during a short period of unemployment after college, after I’d moved to Michigan with Steve. The soap operas were like a drug; it was soothing to get a ﬁx of other people’s problems, their bad decisions. I could feel superior to the characters making ﬂawed choices, even as I secretly doubted my own (did I move to Michigan because I loved Steve and couldn’t live without him or because he presented a ready life?). “Sitting here watching The Young and the Restless,” Faith writes. As I read about Faith’s life, I wait to see what she will do next. Will she go back with Ted? Will Ted clean up his act? Will her mother regain her health? Readers read about my life as I read about Faith’s life as Faith watches the ﬁctional lives on The Young and the Restless. This gives me a sense of being in a set of Russian nesting dolls—I am on the outside looking in and the inside being looked at by others. This circularity is our connection; we watch each other to see how it’s done, or maybe how it is not done, to learn how to make our “one life to live,” to feel, perhaps, not so alone. “Ma and I talked last night. She asked me if I wanted to move in with her. She said $50.00 a week. She had to use the money for the ﬁrst month, and then she would put it away for me to save.” My mother has done this type of thing for one or another of her seven children, provided home, provided ﬁnancial security, helped my siblings to save, helped give me a leg up. My mother bought the new appliances for my little house so that my home improvement loan stretched a little further. My father helped with repair costs, a loan I said I’d pay back but have not been able to yet. When Ted is out of her life, Faith turns to her mother for help, but her heart aches still. “Another Valentine’s Day alone (so far).” I like her parenthetical hope. Maybe she’s wishing Ted will call. She writes on that same Valentine’s Day in 1990, “I called a lawyer today 230 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Maureen Stanton about getting a divorce…” I wasn’t aware she was married. It did not seem that she and Ted were married, but perhaps all this time they were. Or perhaps she was married to someone else but had split, and in the meanwhile was seeing Ted. Valentine’s Day ends with a note of despair: “It seems I have no more now than I ever did.” This year, I turned forty-three. I struggle to make a life as a writer, driving an unreliable old car, foregoing health insurance, living in this tiny, ﬁxer-upper cottage where Faith and her mother lived, this house that needs so much work that at times I’ve broken down and wept. There’s so much that I don’t know how to do—replace rotten thresholds, install new windows, put a vent in the bathroom, drainage in the cellar—so much I can’t aﬀord to pay others to do. I have been living without a steady income, without a full time job for nearly ten years, protecting some of my time to write, sacriﬁcing creature comforts and ﬁnancial security. This is my choice. But at times, it seems I have no more now than I ever did. At times, it seems I have less. Life is more challenging for Faith, though, who does not seem to have the beneﬁt of a college education, who seems stuck in deadend nursing home aide jobs (something I did for two months in high school), or waitressing jobs (did that too), hoping her life will be ﬁlled with love and marriage, ﬁnancial security, material comfort, home. Sometimes I feel guilty because the home of Faith’s mother, Doris Hayes, has not been passed down to her daughter, but is mine instead because Faith’s mother was in a state nursing home, where she accrued a debt of $60,890 for which the state appropriated Doris’s only asset, this tiny cottage. In the two years from the time Doris died in the nursing home and I bought the house, Faith must have known the house would be lost to the Department of Human Services. Maybe that’s why Faith let the house deteriorate, the refrigerator leak rotting a hole through the kitchen ﬂoor, the roof leak saturating the sheathing and rafters so that the entire back roof had to be rebuilt, allowing the cats to tear and shred the wallpaper in every room. And then there were the three hundred or so industrial-strength bags of trash we hauled out. Faith had used the cottage as a large cat house and litter box, a dump and party joint. The deterioration of the house was perhaps just the end of a sequence in Faith’s life, an unraveling. Filling in the white space between the diary entries, I surmise that Faith’s life began to deteriorate when her Crab Orchard Review
Maureen Stanton mother’s did. By March, Faith’s slide into economic despair worsens: “My car’s dead down the road, I’m not working, no money coming in. Looking for work with no oﬀers forthcoming.” Her mother’s health continues to fail: “Ma’s going into the hospital Monday. She’s due to get her toe taken oﬀ Wednesday.” I was right about the toe, the diabetes. Every so often among the record of trouble and illness and worry in Faith’s diary there is a line of poetry: “The cat is now being a haunt in my lap.” I see Faith sitting on the couch, watching a soap opera, stroking the cat’s soft fur, writing in her journal. The cat is restless, “rubbing against the book and pen,” making it diﬃcult for Faith to write. Here in this distilled moment all of life is contained: the animal comfort we crave, the need for another living creature to accompany us on our journey, the desire to listen to and tell stories, the need to examine our lives, to record them, to document. The cat is now being a haunt in my lap. Now six months go by in Faith’s life in the span of a second; that same six months that went by in my life, in all the lives of the world. Things are looking up for Faith: “I can’t believe I found a wedding dress. I love it. Danny’s going to be really proud of me. It’s absolutely positively wonderful.” Six months ago she was alone on St. Valentine’s Day. By September, someone named Danny has entered her life and she is marrying him, her second marriage as far as I can tell, and she is ecstatic. What is her rush, I wonder. Perhaps love has been so ﬂeeting, so impermanent that when Faith ﬁnds romance she must anchor it at once: an introduction, a love aﬀair, a vow. Within a half-year, Faith marries Danny. I have not been able to anchor love in my life, have not had a relationship last more than ﬁve years anyway, though I love them all still, everyone I have ever loved: Ronny and Dennis and David and Steve and Dave and Nancy and Ellen. After her marriage, Faith doesn’t write in her diary for over two years and I think I understand why. When we are content and busy, coupled, we are wrapped up in our lives, the clutter of all that has to be done. There is little time spent alone, little time for journaling. Or perhaps Faith, like me, turns to her journal when she is troubled. My journals are a compendium of misery. If someone were to read my journals, they would conclude that I am self-absorbed, narcissistic, pessimistic. They would be half right. I write in my journal when I’m sad and fearful and lacking hope. When I’m joyful, I am outward and busy and enthralled with all there is to see and do and learn. No time to complain, to brood in my journal. Maybe I am projecting my habits onto Faith. Whatever the reason, 232 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Maureen Stanton two years pass in one thin page: December 9, 1992: “It has been almost two years since I’ve written in here. Danny and I have been married for two years. I’m going to try to start writing in here again on a regular basis.” A vow to herself. What makes her turn to the diary after two years? Did she discover the diary in a box as she was spring-cleaning? Searching for something in the attic? Is something going on in her life, maybe with Danny, that is inspiring her to turn introspective, some unsettled feeling forcing her to think about her choices? She does not keep her promise. Two more years pass with no word from Faith, and then—turn the page—there she is in ball point pen commenting on her absence: June 25, 1994. “I guess this is a more regular basis for me,” she writes. “I moved again. Danny moved out on the ﬁrst. I haven’t really seen him since then. Danny seemed to think that this is just a short separation. Boy is he wrong. Putting a hammer through my aquarium really did the trick.” Five sentences tell the whole story of her marriage, her soon to be divorce to this Danny, this stranger. We don’t need more details. We can ﬁll in that two-year ellipsis that ends in broken glass. How sad her life has been, her involvement with men who are drunks, who are angry, and violent. She is the child of divorced parents, like me. Her father, I can tell from a tiny address book I found in the house, lives in Oklahoma, far away. There is only one mention of him in a diary that spans six years. What was he like? How did he inﬂuence his daughter’s life so that she is a woman who gets involved with the wrong man again and again? Our lives are a continuous struggle for control over our own minds, our bodies, our hearts. Faith writes as if she were a game piece on a playing board waiting for someone else to move her in a direction. “Sitting here doing laundry and wondering what is going to happen next.” So here is Faith and her life before me, the life I have temporarily stepped into, the life I am cleaning up after. With the artifacts in the house and the diary, I have tried to reconstruct her life as I am trying to reconstruct this house, but I am also overriding that past, over-writing that life. I can tell I would like Faith, her name ﬁlled with optimism, blind trust. What promise her parents must have felt when they named her Faith. We have much in common, Faith and I: desire for love, companionship, persistence in spite of despair. We are women without children, alone in the world again and again. I would like Faith if I met her, but she would not be my friend. Crab Orchard Review
Maureen Stanton We do not share superﬁcial tastes, I can tell—books I’ve found in the house, clothes, music, movies. I don’t like potpourri, and wouldn’t keep it in my house, Faith’s mother’s house. But Faith is a compassionate person, and I admire her for this. She cares for Ted, her wayward, alcoholic, jealous, drug-using boyfriend (or possibly husband). She cared for Craig, her friend who shot himself, and Danny, her violent, aquarium-smashing husband. She cared about her mother, diabetic, alone, growing inﬁrm. She cares for the characters on Days of Our Lives, One Life to Live, The Young and the Restless. She cares about herself, has hopes and dreams for herself. “Goodnight Faith,” she bids in her diary. I care about her, this stranger about whom I know intimate details, whose sorrow I have shared by reading her words. This capacity to care about a stranger, to extend love beyond our selves and our families—this is the essence of being human. Should I return the diary to Faith? Should I try to locate her, give her back this piece of her life, this record? Will it help her steer clear of troubled waters, like a map of territory she’s already covered and needn’t traverse again? Lost in the wilderness, humans have a tendency to move in a circle. Lost, we wander until we ﬁnd ourselves back at the point at which we became lost in the ﬁrst place. Lost, we are supposed to wait, to sit still and be found, to be rescued. Did Faith purposely leave her journal behind? She’d had months and months, years actually, to take what she wanted from the house. The last entry was in 1994, seven years before I bought the house. After I’d made an oﬀer on the house, she’d come back for the dryer, and the cats certainly were gone, a large television too. Maybe her journal was a map that had failed her, and thus it was tossed aside, jetsam. Maryjane, a young woman who used to rent the house nearest me, told me one day that she used to work with Faith, that Faith tended the grounds at an inn on the island. I’d heard from another neighbor that Faith had a lawn-mowing business, and once, I saw a tall woman with waist-length reddish blonde hair in a late-model station wagon pull a mower out of her car at a house up the road, and I got into my head that the woman was Faith. I asked Maryjane if she knew why Faith didn’t try to keep the house. After all, the house was on the market for many months, open to anyone who wanted to buy it. “She said she didn’t want it,” Maryjane told me. “Faith’s really messed up,” Maryjane said. “She’s into heroin.” I felt awful and somehow guilty that Faith had slipped since the journal years: Faith, taker of lovely baths, watcher 234 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Maureen Stanton of soap operas, baker of cookies with a girl named Susie, lover of Ted, then Danny, friend to Craig who is no more. I’m still working on this house. It’s been three years since I bought the cottage and I still have raw sheetrock walls inside, Typar on the outside, rotting thresholds, peeling paint. Once I moved into the house, it was diﬃcult to do the repairs, to sand the hardened joint compound and coat the house in white dust, paint the ceilings with furniture in place, strip the hardened linoleum glue oﬀ the kitchen planks once heavy appliances were installed. Many windows need to be replaced. A section of the foundation still needs shoring up. I ran out of time, out of patience, out of energy. I ran out of money. I had to ﬁnance a new car when my 1987 Honda quit. My family and friends gave so much time and labor that I hesitate to ask for more. The shed, now leaning worse than ever—though deﬁantly still standing— has not yet been converted into a writing studio as I once dreamed. I’ve had some health problems and that has set me back ﬁnancially. Still, so far I’ve refused to take a full-time job, refused to sacriﬁce the best hours of my days. It is my choice, my one life to live. Through all this, time has moved faster than I thought. Every January, I am ﬁlled with hope for the blank calendar, hundreds of empty pages. I think of all I will accomplish in the coming fattened year: books written; home repair jobs completed; new languages learned or lost ones recovered; former skills regained, like piano playing; and new skills learned, like ﬁgure drawing; weight lost; bad habits shed and healthy ones formed; parts of the world formerly unknown to me discovered; friends made; relationships deepened; love found. Then halfway through the year I panic, nowhere near my goals. But there is still time if I hurry, if I am disciplined. By late fall, just after daylight saving time starts, I begin to despair of how little I’ve accomplished, all that I’ve lost or failed to gain. But soon, I know, within a few weeks, I’ll be looking at the top of another bloated year with so much promise. It is all circular. We are all connected, our connection being that we seek each other, seek family, seek community, seek ourselves and our place in this world, seek to be the author of our own lives, to navigate the treacherous journey, to chart a beautiful course. Sometimes I wonder what will happen to me when I am old. Will I have to enter a nursing home, following in the footsteps of Faith’s mother, my grandmother? Will my journals be thrown in the trash? Will someone ﬁnd them and read them? Who will live in this house Crab Orchard Review
Maureen Stanton after me? I sometimes ﬁnd myself of the same mind as Faith when she wrote, “Sitting here doing laundry and wondering what’s going to happen next.” Half of the pages in Faith’s journal remain blank. Her story, like mine, like all of ours, is unﬁnished. Nature wants to ﬁll a void; so do writers. Maybe I should try to ﬁnd Faith and return her diary, tell her to ﬁnish her story, to make it good, make it better.
Note: *The names in the diary have been changed. 236 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Lee Zacharias Morning Light 1
It begins in darkness. Before dawn, before the laughing gulls
wake, before the Governor Edward Hyde, which departs the island for Swan Quarter at 6:30 every morning, sends a smudge of smoke skyward and sounds its deep horn. While the hull of the moon is still caught in a black sky freighted with stars. At the ocean, breakers will be spilling their thunderous white spume, but here at the harbor the water is calm, glass at the surface, a bottomless sheen the color of jet. Across the harbor a few yellow bulbs still burn, but already there is a faint bluing at the horizon; the skyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s black ink is dissolving into indigo, its brilliant plot of stars disappearing. The light is as swift as a swallow. You cannot go to it; you must wait for it to come to you. Always I am up early here. For years I have crept through a dark cottage and across the screened porch with my camera and tripod to wait on a deck built high above a shelf of shallow water across from the Coast Guard station just inside the harbor. Nearly always it is May, and though the summer season is another one, two, or three weeks away, vacationers have begun to crowd the village. By noon the road from the ferry dock to the foot of the harbor will clog with bicyclists and pedestrians strolling from motel to museum to the Slushy Stand and shops, the Pelican and Jolly Roger, but at this hour I am the only visitor awake. Hidden inside the sleeve of night, I might be a spy. All photographers are spies. Across the harbor, below the widening scrim of blue, a band the color of brick spreads along the rim of the land and low cluster of buildings. The water stirs with the faint sound of a motor as a crab boat putters toward the Sound; the darkness has thinned just enough for me to make out the crossbars in the stern and the crabber standing at the throttle in his yellow rainbibs. When he reaches the channel at the mouth of the harbor, the engine roars to life and the boat spurts past the rocks into the great basin of water that lies between here and Crab Orchard Review
Lee Zacharias the mainland twenty-three miles away. Next door at the ﬁshing shack, another motor begins its low rumble. Just as the skiﬀ pulls away, a dog leaps from the dock into the bow, startling a great egret feeding in the shallows. The bird emits an irritated croak and takes ﬂight with the sound of an umbrella opening. O’cockers, these commercial ﬁshermen are called, hoi toiders for a brogue that dates back to Elizabethan England, practitioners of a way of life that is rapidly being supplanted by sportﬁshing and eco-tours, just as their red and white wooden skiﬀs have been replaced by ﬁberglass in the last decade. Along the edge of the harbor, called Silver Lake, though to the O’cockers it is neither the harbor nor Silver Lake but always The Creek, a scattering of motels occupies the space where seine nets once hung to dry. The new nets, nylon and polypropylene, are left heaped in the boats or near the docks with their pocked ﬂoats of orange and yellow closed-cell foam. The ﬁsherman now gliding toward the channel, retriever posed like a ﬁgurehead at the prow, will troll the Atlantic for Spanish mackerel with an electric reel. When he passes on his way back into the harbor, he will call up to me, then reach into the bottom of his boat and ﬂing me a ﬁsh, the Spanish long and graceful, glinting white and yellow as it swims through the clean morning air. I will ﬁllet it and put it in the refrigerator for dinner while the sun is still kissing the screens at the windows of the bedrooms where my husband and son lie sleeping. The sunrise is beside the point. Once, at the Grand Canyon, I rose more than an hour before dawn to station myself at Mather Point, wedging my tripod into a crevice between a boulder and the guard rail while it was still so dark that I could not tell the sky from the abyss, shooting four, ﬁve, or six rolls of ﬁlm as the sky woke from periwinkle to magenta, then ﬁre and gold, and the canyon emerged from night’s black cave into tiers of jagged purple shadow. Just as the sun was about to lift above the rim, a vanload of tourists swarmed the overlook. Within seconds the sun cleared the canyon wall, pouring a sheet of glaring white light over the point and washing the color from the rock. The visitors clapped, and with a few snaps of their pocket cameras they were gone, matin cousins of those snowbirds who pack the Mallory Square Dock on Key West to cheer the sun into the sea every evening. I crossed the empty ledge and aimed my camera westward while honey-colored tentacles of light pulled stripes and pockets of the cracked-open land from its plum-colored vault. Candy light, the great landscape photographer Carr Clifton calls it. Here on Ocracoke the rising sun sends a shaft of orange across 238 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Lee Zacharias the water, silhouetting two ﬁshermen in a net boat. Some mornings I trap its ﬁre behind a low cloud of lavender just as it traces the puﬃng at the upper edge with ﬂame, gilding the harbor and streaking the sky. Others the sky is plumed with clouds that ignite along the bottom; sometimes there is only cirrus ﬁlmy as peach and mauve chiﬀon, but if the day is cloudless by the time the sun climbs above the wall of live oak and cedar beside the Anchorage Inn it will have paled to a yellowwhite ﬂare that trails sunspots across my lens and bleaches out the sky. Once the sun has risen, the place to be is on the other side of the harbor, Around Creek, where the tender morning light laps against the sailboats at anchor, warming their white hulls, the painted white bricks of the lighthouse, and the gables of the Barksdale house, rising from its wreath of peppervine behind a row of private docks whose weathered gray wood the early sun tints hazel. To the northwest the Coast Guard station glistens behind the Community Store dock, where masts as tall as tapers dip a wobble of lines into a shining pastel sea. Stand in the same place at noon, beneath the tyrannical light of midday, and the scene turns hard and ﬂat, not worth the price of a single roll of ﬁlm, though that is the way most visitors will view it. And I am grateful to them, for always I am alone with the morning on this island, here at the harbor; in the salt meadow and marshes oﬀ South Point Road; wading into the warm shallows at Teach’s Hole, where a rookery in the hammock sends a stream of white ibises across a china blue sky; or at the North End, where the gulls ﬂutter and cry behind the Chicamacomico making its way across the inlet to Hatteras; on the ridge of the dune where the light ripens in the sea oats and turns the sand a pale pink; or at the ragged line where the surf breaks on the beach as the sun pulls itself up from the ocean, a ball of ﬁre ninety-three million miles away—so many light years away, I think—it is impossible to comprehend how old this new light really is. The calculations make my head spin. Even the reference librarian gets it wrong. By his math, on the day this light set out from the sun the earth was still in the Ice Age. Woolly mammoths and sabertoothed tigers roamed North America, where man had just arrived, trudging across the Bering Land Bridge from Asia. New England and the upper Midwest lay frozen beneath a glacier, and the Outer Banks, this narrow ribbon of sand oﬀ the coast of North Carolina, were still mainland, a ridge upon a vast coastal plain more than twenty miles from the sea. By the time I ﬁnd out that he is wrong, his miscalculations have become my facts. I want to believe that it has taken this light Crab Orchard Review
Lee Zacharias thirty thousand years to reach me, to imagine how it traveled all those millennia without pause, for as it spins it is the earth that creates its own darkness. The only diﬀerence between the soft light of morning and the steely light of noon is the angle of vision. It is less diﬃcult to comprehend the age of the land, for it is there beneath my feet even when I cannot see it, its own proof that it has not sprung from nothing but endured. The earth has weight and surface; I can take a piece of it in my hand, ﬁll a vial with this sand and carry it back across the Sound inside my pocket. But though I walk upon the land, what I see is landscape, which is not the land itself but the interaction of land and light, and what I photograph is not the weight and surface of the earth but the light that it reﬂects. When I try to take that light in hand, it slips between my ﬁngers; if I put it in my pocket, darkness closes in. To make a photograph is always an attempt to hold that which cannot be held, to keep that which cannot be kept, to preserve, to save, to make permanent the passing of a moment. It’s the hedging of a bet against memory’s faulty circuits. Each year I return to this island because I have found something here I did not know I’d lost and do not wish to lose again. I photograph its landscape because to do so is a ritual in paying attention. Like the sunrise, the photographs are beside the point, not because I have already made so many, drawer after ﬁle drawer of transparencies in archival sheets, portfolios of prints, albums full of snapshots, but because the island has etched itself into my memory, not in the power of recall but as a presence that lives inside my body. It is printed on the lining of my eyelids and collected on my skin; my nostrils hold its salt, my tongue its windy dampness; the willets nesting in the marsh call inside my ear. I carry its landscape with me even when I am not there.
2 I came to Ocracoke for the first time in the summer of 1972. My ﬁrst husband and I had set up camp for the month on Hatteras Island, at Rodanthe, which was then just a ﬁshing pier, restaurant, mom and pop motel, and the brand new cinderblock showers of the KOA— hard to imagine now that Rodanthe looks like a theme park and Route 12 like the commercial strip leading into any mid-sized city. Hatteras then was much like Ocracoke now, for outside the village the entire island of Ocracoke is protected by the National Park Service. From the 240 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Lee Zacharias Hatteras ferry at the North End to the village, the thirteen miles of Route 12 travel a topography so unencroached that in the mornings one can often spot a pair of oystercatchers strutting along the saddle of the dunes. More than once I have stopped my car in the middle of the highway, turning oﬀ the ignition to steady a long lens on a beanbag laid across the window. Sand dribbles across the pavement, and the only hint of human habitation is the hum of the electric lines that run along the highway. One year in a drought they sparked a wildﬁre in the marsh; as my ferry approached I watched a small plane sucking water from Pamlico Sound. When I went up in a plane myself the next day, the big blackened patches were raw sores, though a year later they had healed as the land renewed itself. The ﬁrst time I crossed the seven tidal creeks, their names a poem I know by heart—Try Yard, Parkers, Quorks Point, Molasses, Old Hammock, Shad Hole, Island—the highway was little more than ten years old, the ﬁrst stretch of pavement in the village barely over twenty. I still have a few faded slides of the beach and Silver Lake before the water tower and new motels gave it a skyline, but no memory of my impression. The following summer, when we returned, we passed from ferry to ferry, traveling from Hatteras to Cedar Island without stopping, driving the scenic route from Richmond, Virginia, to Myrtle Beach and Charleston. I did not return again until the spring of 1990, when a group of my students rented a cottage for the weekend and we held our last workshop at the beach. That fall I came back with my husband and son to visit friends in the small cottage at Windmill Point that I would return to for many years. Its appeal is location, not comfort. During World War II, it was a barracks at the naval station that operated on the other side of the harbor; the big wrap-around screened porch and dock were added when it was moved Down Point for a ﬁshing shack. Inside it has a shipshape look, with ceilings of knotty pine and two bedrooms barely large enough for a pair of twin beds each. The owner has framed the window at the end of the small living-dining room with shelves that hold a set of glass dishes and the same collection of tattered paperbacks and faded jigsaw puzzles that can be found in every cottage on the island. There are two rickety wooden folding chairs that can be pulled up to an equally rickety gateleg table, a bench with three thin foam cushions, and an armchair with a broken spring. All four mattresses are furrowed; one of the bedframes lists above an impaired leg. The ﬁrst time my husband and I made breakfast we fouled the rooms with an unspeakable stench and found a melted rubber Batman Crab Orchard Review
Lee Zacharias on the bottom of the toaster oven. Occasionally the tides deposit a bloated, reeking ﬁsh beneath the house; at night, big black palmetto bugs crawl up through the pipes and huddle near the drains. But we sleep to the sound of Silver Lake lapping against the pilings underneath us and wake to the cry of gulls and a salty breeze wafting through the open windows. When I come back from the beach each morning, I wash the sand from my hair in a wooden shower stall at the end of the deck, where I can watch the harbor traﬃc as barn swallows dip and turn around me, ﬂashing their golden bellies. It’s heaven. I resumed photography about the same time that I returned to Ocracoke, having given it up shortly after the time I ﬁrst visited, nearly twenty years before. I had begun making photographs when I was a junior in college, the same year I signed up for a class in writing ﬁction, though I would not have known that photography was a class one could take had not an art major told me. I didn’t even own a camera, but I bought a cheap twin-lens reﬂex and prowled the streets. Like many young photographers, I was smitten with Diane Arbus, whose exposé of the grotesque inside the ordinary life of the middle class is irresistible to a jaundiced teen-aged eye. For a time I dated a grad student who shot only landscapes, but as a subject the land did not engage me then. I admired Ansel Adams, though whether because I responded to his photographs or because I was taught to I can’t say. In any case, the Midwestern landscape around me lacked the drama of Yosemite or a moonrise over Hernandez, New Mexico. I was a city kid. The rolling hills of Indiana’s limestone country were pretty enough, but pretty was not what I wanted. In my attempt to emulate the seeming matter-of-factness of Arbus’s voyeurism (which was of course anything but matter-of-fact) and reductive focus of her vision, I looked for the debased, diseased, and deformed. Like most novices, I thought photographs were all about their subjects. It did not occur to me, nor did anyone tell me, that photography is about light. It is about light in the same way literature is about language. Though I made a few good pictures, enough to exhibit and win an occasional award, I knew scarcely more about what I was doing when I stopped than when I started. I quit because I was poor. At the time I was printing color, then more expensive than black and white. I had run out of paper and gone to the store for a new box, but when I saw the price, in one of those ﬂashes of self-knowledge that occasionally overtake the young, I understood that almost none of the photographs I had made was worth the paper it was printed on. There was nothing technically wrong with them—I was 242 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Lee Zacharias a good printer, and I had mastered the chromogenic print’s painstaking formula of addition and subtraction—but I didn’t know why I was using color any more than I had known why I used black and white. It was simply the next step in the classes I had taken. My images were routine: Anyone could have made them; there was nothing compelling in my vision. I wasn’t an artist—I couldn’t draw, I couldn’t paint, I had no visual training. Nor could I pretend to be practicing a trade. I not only wasn’t making money with my camera, I wasn’t even trying. I was writing ﬁction, which seemed a more aﬀordable art. Typing paper was cheap. It didn’t matter if The New Yorker and Esquire didn’t want my stories; it didn’t cost me much to write them. I put my camera away and enrolled in a graduate writing program. But I had no idea on the day that I left the big communal darkroom at VCU in Richmond, a room whose murky shadows and amber glow were as familiar to me as my kitchen, that more than twenty years would elapse before I entered another. By the time I picked up my camera again, I was middle-aged and comfortably middle class. I had published my ﬁction after all and established myself as a teacher of writing. So it would seem purely a coincidence of economics that Ocracoke should lie at either end of that long hiatus. And yet I had come to the Outer Banks in 1972 with the intention to take pictures, for a friend of a friend who had an advertising agency that had done some work for the National Park Service, and I set oﬀ with a vague assurance that if I got any good pictures of birds, the Park Service might want them, though the longest lens I owned had a focal length of 105 millimeters and no birds seemed inclined to come within its range. That was the last summer I attempted to make photographs. I felt as if I’d failed an assignment. A decade later, when my son was born, I bought a point-and-shoot. Only when I went back to Ocracoke with my workshop in the spring of 1990 did I take my old Nikon out of the closet, perhaps because I’d just ﬁnished a novel about a photographer and writing it had made me nostalgic for the smell of the darkroom and the way the photographer stalks the world. One of my students also brought her camera. She was not a photographer by training, but her pictures proved so much more carefully composed than mine I was ashamed. It didn’t matter that my training had been more in name than fact—for in the 1960s the prevailing pedagogy in art was “go and do,” and the only actual words of instruction I recollect are “The darkroom’s across the hall.” That September, when I went back to Ocracoke with my husband and son I had even more reason to want to please myself, for in the summer of 1990 my second novel, ten years in the writing, Crab Orchard Review
Lee Zacharias had been rejected by my publisher. When our hostess bragged about the secondhand teleconverter she’d picked up for ten dollars, doubling the length of her 100-millimeter lens and allowing her to shoot birds, it seemed a small price to pay for a little artistic redemption. It turned out that the camera store didn’t have a used teleconverter to ﬁt, but for a hundred dollars the dealer sold me a used 400-millimeter lens. That winter, in the Everglades on our way to visit my husband’s brother, I focused on a white ibis just as a drop of silver water fell from the red, decurved beak into a still pool and was hooked.
3 To make a photograph you must learn how to read light. You must develop a feel for its chemistry, its texture and color. Its purity must become palpable. But to read light is to experience ephemerality, to know your own mortality in a concrete way most prefer to avoid. One winter dusk during the many years we spent Christmas with family in Florida, as I strolled with my husband along Deerﬁeld Beach, a banner of light the color of burnt sugar lay unfurled along the horizon, separating the deep teal of the sky from the verdigris of the ocean, a palette at once so subtle and intense I longed to bolt back to our room to fetch my camera, though I spoil so many walks that way I promised myself that I would wait and capture it the next evening. But of course the light is never the same, and in the morning when I read the paper, I discovered that burnt sugar was exactly what that band of smoky sienna along the horizon had been. A swath of wildﬁres had consumed the sugar cane ﬁelds to the south. And though a scorched smell still lingered in the air, the ﬁres were out. You cannot make today’s photograph tomorrow, just as tomorrow you will no longer be what you were today. My husband does not read light. To him one dusk is as exquisite as the next; he sees no diﬀerence whether I reach my subject in the buttery light of an early summer evening or the impossible glare of noon. To walk the cliﬀs above the Paciﬁc on a late summer afternoon when the light saps the landscape of its color and blinds my lens seems no less desirable to him than to linger while the rocky seaside warms and the dying sun stains the ocean. My disappointments puzzle. My pokiness annoys. “You’ve got enough pictures, let’s go,” he says invariably just when the light turns sweet. I can’t blame him. It’s no fun to travel with an addict. Photography is a solitary art. 244 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Lee Zacharias And so while he sleeps, I slip from our bed into the maw of night to wait the morning. I trap rabbits in my headlights, racoons, opossums, now and then a fox; deer spring across the road before me. Once at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, positioning myself for a sunshot mist rising oﬀ the marsh, I waded into the reeds beside the road at 5 a.m. and heard the warning stomp and hiss of an alligator in the ditch. At the Suwanee Refuge, an alligator charges my four-wheeldrive, tail lashing so furiously as he runs I think he is a dervish; it’s no joke that they gallop. I’ve watched one eat a coot, seen a crocodile devour a jacana. In Costa Rica, a bull with horns like scythes emerges from the morning fog with the suddenness of a drunk driver, and as I back away he raises his head with a startled stare. In the Rocky Mountains, I maneuver a rental car up dirt-road switchbacks at the edge of a cliﬀ in the dark; in the Smokies, I slip on rocks beside a raging river. At Santee, the dark swamp chirrs with hidden menace while branches snare my clothing and webs trawl at my face and I swear no sunset picture is worth this prickling terror, though the next night I am back. As dusk settles at Virginia’s Back Bay, a snipe’s wing brushes through my hair; at Cumberland Falls, it’s bats. More than once I have accidentally locked myself into the wilderness of a wildlife refuge overnight. And one breathtaking morning in Mason County, Michigan, I follow a winding path up through a woods so wet and green and diaphanous with mist that I forget I am a woman alone who has left her car at a deserted rest stop. The photographs are stunning. It doesn’t matter that they will be hidden away in drawers. It is the act of making them, the act of writing, that matters—the act of living, I remind myself, and not the life.
4 I learned to read light because there was a time when I needed to be without language, when I needed to travel back to that place where nothing is named and everything we dream is light and color. When I failed to publish my second novel, I believed that words had failed me. I didn’t want to write another novel just because I was expected to. If I was to write again, it would be because I needed words, not because I was a writer. I did not write for two years. Then I wrote another novel, and when it was done I failed to publish that one too. Crab Orchard Review
Lee Zacharias How, without whining, is one to describe the way her world goes dim? It’s as if she’s been a member of a club, and one day she tries the door to ﬁnd the clubhouse locks have been changed. “You write well, but you won’t sell,” the editors and agents tell her. “There’s no market for literary ﬁction. Today’s reader wants a high concept plot and an upbeat message.” But when she repeats the things they say, the words sound false. After all, some literary ﬁction still gets published. There are plenty of grim novels on the bookstore shelves. So everyone knows— her colleagues, her department head, her dean, her students, or maybe it’s herself who knows—that she must deserve her luck; her work must be no good. She doesn’t get raises; invitations to read stop coming in; the promotion she has to ﬁght for comes years too late. She needs the money, and so she teaches summer school instead of writing. When her students and colleagues win awards, she oﬀers congratulations, when they complain about sub rights, pub dates, reviews, sales, and page design, she commiserates, but her heart is black. Think of war, she tells herself sternly, think of natural disasters, there are others who endure so much worse; think of famine, think of murder, the cruelty of diseases, do not wallow. But the language of luck has no power to convince. Good and bad both, it’s all clichés. And so I taught myself to speak another tongue. For a decade marked by the failures of my career, my father’s suicide, my son’s troubled adolescence, the decline of our remaining parents, friendships lost to mid-life crises, others lost to death, and the sudden irreversibility of aging, I made photographs. Some were published, some were purchased, many hung in shows. For six months, a series made on Ocracoke hung in the hallways of its Preservation Society Museum, the David Williams House. When it was time to take them down, I traveled to the island to attend the village Christmas party. It was quiet; most of the restaurants and motels had closed for the season. At the Island Ragpicker, I bought my Christmas presents half-price. A cold front was moving in, and at the end of the docks gulls puﬀed and huddled. Near Wayne Teeter’s ﬁshing shack, a great blue heron fed in the shallows—one never sees a great blue in May, for they leave the island to breed. The constellations in the dome of the sky had shifted; the sun set not behind the Coast Guard station where I expected but near the lighthouse, streaking the heavens with ridges of violet and gold, as if the clarity of the winter’s light allowed me to see all the way to the mountains. When it was dark, I walked along the village lanes looking at the Christmas lights that seemed to 246 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Lee Zacharias be strung up into the sky, where they mingled with stars such as I never see at home, though by morning rain had come, and the world had been swallowed by heavy gray clouds. Angry waves crested and spilled in the harbor, the boats heaved on their anchors, and the wind drove so sharp and wet I could not walk along the beach. There was nothing to do but stay inside my room. Still, I was glad to be there, because that is where I learned to look at darkness and see light.
5 It has been years now since I have stayed at Windmill Point. For a decade, my husband and son no longer came with me to Ocracoke. My son has grown and gone, and though he enjoyed watching the black skimmers on the tidal ﬂat and the redwing blackbirds in the marsh, my husband never loved the island as I do; for him it is a place of day-old ball scores and bad weather. The last year I stayed in the cottage alone, and then because there was no phone and it seemed unnecessary to rent an entire cottage for one person and I grew too busy to plan far enough ahead and instead just stole away, I moved Around Creek to the Silver Lake Motel, where I watched the harbor every morning and evening from an observation deck up a steep circular staircase from a second ﬂoor porch that oﬀered a roof for rain. Year after year, Ed Wrobleski, the burly proprietor, who sat on the porch at the top of the steps just outside the oﬃce door, greeted me with the words, “There’s a breeze,” as he tipped his face back to savor the air. Then one winter his wife died; when I came back the next spring he was gone too. When his heirs doubled the rates and turned the porch into a bar, I moved to the Island Inn. Until the harbor was dredged for the naval base in the decade before World War II, the land in front of the Island Inn was marsh, but now the view of the harbor is eclipsed by the new two-story Ride the Wind. Even the open strip of sand at the foot of Silver Lake, where I often set up my tripod in the evenings, is closed oﬀ. A new marina is in place, and the network of docks is fenced oﬀ with no-trespassing signs. From the ferry, far out in Pamlico Sound, when the ﬁrst shimmer of land appears, a thin, dark thread at the horizon, a shadow upon the sea so faint it might be an apparition, it is no longer the lighthouse that conﬁrms the sighting but the water tower and the Sprint. Perhaps because change came so slowly in the past, I failed to foresee just what kind of record I would make when I began to photograph this Crab Orchard Review
Lee Zacharias island. It was 1938 before electricity arrived; until 1956 the only phone was at the Coast Guard station. At the beginning of the ’80s, islanders still collected rainwater in cisterns. Still, I might have guessed. Even in 1990, the village I ﬁrst saw in 1972 had been transformed; for once the water tower was built, development took oﬀ. Already the incongruous brick Anchorage Inn had heaved up its four stories, and the village had grown suburbs, great cottages that sleep twelve crowding up against the marshes. By 1991, Papa Howard’s, the big old island house with a crooked chimney that my students and I rented in 1990, was a chic shop full of windchimes and handmade tchotchkes. A few years later as the Cedar Island ferry chugged into Silver Lake, I spotted new green shingles and freshly-painted trim on the dormers of Sam Jones’ Castle, the derelict cedar-shake mansion that had presided over the bottom of the harbor vacant, leaking, and for sale ever since Sam Jones was buried with his horse in the woods near Springer’s Point. Where gaillardia and pennywort used to push up through the sandy cracks of his cement parking pad, there was a lawn so chemically green it looked radioactive. Next door the old ﬁsherman’s motel had been torn down; in its place a brand new inn with private balconies, aqua vinyl siding, and a fancy wedding tent out front. O’Neal’s Dockside, where my son used to buy bait, is no longer dockside but relocated to the highway, and the wooden archway on the dock that promised bloodworms and fresh mullet has lost a leg and faded. The harbor and the creeks are jammed with neon-colored kayaks, and the beaches where I used to walk for hours without encountering another person are criss-crossed with the tracks of four-wheel drives. The Coast Guard station is empty, its crew sent to Hatteras; from the lookout tower, once as trim and white as a sail, aluminum siding in pied shades of gray and dirty white ﬂaps loose. The cedar shakes of Wayne Teeter’s ﬁshing shack have been re-faced with planks the raw red color of the clay soil back in the Piedmont, and between it and my beloved cottage at Windmill Point, where a pastel wooden skiﬀ used to lie rotting in the sand beside a pile of crab traps, there is a brand new dock with a big fancy screened gazebo. An island is not meant to progress. To watch an island develop is to know your own diminishment, to mark the years oﬀ your life like days oﬀ a calendar, to count not what has been added but what has been lost. And yet in the mornings, when I watch the ﬁshing skiﬀs glide toward the Ditch at the mouth of Silver Lake, when I ride my bike through the clear and sparkling air around the curve of marsh up past Back Road 248 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Lee Zacharias and see the ﬁddler crabs scatter as I cross the little creek, when I pedal Down Point and coast past Styron’s Store, past the ibises bobbing in the boggy lighthouse yard, around the loop where the chickens behind a little white house with a porch swing set up a squawk from their pen next to the family graveyard, when I follow an overgrown path through the woods among the graves that are tucked everywhere in the village (for Ocracoke is a place where death is just another part of life and the dead are not banished to their own city), when I walk the grassy lane at the end of the fork oﬀ South Point Road through the marsh into the Sound and the terns wheel and cry overhead, or when I come up over the dune and the untamed beach spreads before me, a blue ocean lapping at my feet, I feel such happiness, such joy in the earth, I listen close and hear its spangled heart beat.
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Lauren Goodwin Slaughter Air Show They took their free popcorn and marched oﬀ into the ﬁeld suddenly as if there’d been a pulsing light signal. I saw them all ﬁnd someone waiting to stand next to. The land was wide, weedﬂowered. Assemblies of pinwheels shone against sky and a boy blew ﬁsts of phantom dandelions, spilled red Kool Aid on his shirt. I watched parents lay out blankets in self-contained squares, weighing the edges with shoes, knapsacks. One family linked hands, tumbled down (sparklers ﬁzzed) as the camouﬂage 250 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Lauren Goodwin Slaughter man rose up from his lawn chair pointing too soon, as two punk rock teens made out in the sun—Super star—her cotton top swore, silver glitter loops moving as if the pilots took a vote then shrunk, preferring the bend of something smaller; one body instead of whole —atmosphere— one skin’s own plain ﬁxed spot. (Soft.)
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Lauren Goodwin Slaughter
National Park White goats scramble up the hill while on the bus we blunder cameras out the window, point to the tracks of what may have been something—sticky kids eat, play miniature games, their bee-beep synchro-tuned to our slow reverse into the designated moose sojourn. Everyone sunscreens, plods out, shields eyes, sighs and huﬀs back in. Since nothing. Except the woman in her pink cartoon Florida visor taps my shoulder, asks could I please just run down quick, go down to take a picture of that moose— her husband’s never seen one —his heart and he’s too hot — and oh how her knees are killing (will I be a hero)? There’s zero but take this—I’m suddenly a blanket of white fur movie ﬂowing 252 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Lauren Goodwin Slaughter bolt oﬀ the lot into the stretching ﬁeld before us—glide long eyelashes soaring. Find the embankment, clamber it. Go down to the river to wait. Eat berries I know about, investigate plant leaves, my hooves, ticks, lick. Centuries kaleidoscope as I forget pillows, vehicles, handheld games; I’m simply in this forest to eat, wait, eat, wait, sleeping sometimes in vivid orbs glowing until romance goes out and night falls as memory again, lead (no moose exists). What but to gather these bursts in my mouth—sour and ﬂowing— and tongue. Make my way (to it) home.
Crab Orchard Review
Adam Sol Right Lane Must Exit In Canton I bought a carton of Camels to show I was prepared to die. Here, orange smoke over the ﬂavor factory could remind me of safer houses. Pigeon scat streaks the overpass as these words stain my chin. Where have you been, o my comforter? Who knows me better than you in your wet wool sweater? For a while I fancied myself a paper crane— I was intricate and prone to luck. Now even my arches are fallen. What I have seen in my once-proud towns could turn a brick brittle. Look— the Ohio hills have gone blue like a cold lip. The boys I loved have collapsed themselves in shame. They see now how they proﬁted from prophets. Yea, I could tell tall tales about our fancy wagons and cracked chins. I could belly up and bend dimes for spite. But no— I’ll keep to this frantic caravan. So long as my alternator holds, I will blitz borders with the best. Workmanlike, I shift and scan. 254 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Triptych for Jeremiah’s Son I. First Words Everyone at the Sunday ﬂea market thought he had come to sell his son’s things. He had it all piled in his truck—concert T-shirts, rolledup posters, baseball equipment. We all thought it was a good idea for him to get rid of it, though none of us were going to buy a dead boy’s gear. But instead of unloading it onto a table and settling into a deck chair like his neighbors, he moved to the middle of a crowd that had gathered around a juggler from Batavia. He waited until the man was ﬁnished with his show and dropped his wallet in the hat. The juggler was too busy encouraging us to bring him in for parties. J asked if he could declaim in the sacred space he had created. That’s just how he said it. The juggler said, Sure, knock yourself out. And he did. Started declaiming or whatever that was, giving away his boy’s clothes to anyone who would nod at his raving. Myself, I went up and smiled for a pair of size 10 skates. When it was all gone, he picked up a pack and started walking. Hey, I said, your house is that way. He said, My house is broken down for mounds and ramparts. That was the last we’ve seen of him, though I suppose he’s slipped in and out to clear his boy of fallen leaves. It was true about the house. Smashed to kindling, though how he did it is one of Mt. Orab’s new mysteries.
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II. Confession There were ﬁelds, and there were folds in the ﬁelds. There were geometric adventures and theoretical ﬂowers. The boy was born broken from the womb of our Chevrolet. Said, Don’t tell Dad, then slipped. Into. The folds of his coat, far oﬀ in the ﬂax, hid a ﬂask half full of coﬀee. I nearly laughed to taste it, still warm in the morning. I have seen my ﬁll of suﬀering—slash-backed terriers, and broken-cheeked wives, men watching their own deaths approach up a creaky escalator. I have watched a catravaged ﬁeld mouse convulsing in confusion: why can’t I run? But why should I be born to labor and sorrow in this land of rusted barnyards and collapsed school buses if all my hopes would skid across the asphalt to bury themselves in rows not yet in bloom? Yea, the jackals cackle on my stoop. You have not seen the worst, they tell me. If this is so, then how can I be silent? How can I not shout the only way I know how?
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III. Villanelle My only son had a scar on his cheek in the shape of a Nike swoosh. I am wretched. I will not be consoled. He earned it on his Norco mountain bike in a state which has no mountains. It was Ohio slate that marked his cheek. From the glowing porch, I watched him ﬂip over the handlebars onto his face. He was furious. He would not be consoled. His death, too, was crammed with brands. Logos on his T-shirt, hat, Camaro— peeled bottles in the trunk lying cheek to cheek. Even the hospital had its sympathetic logo that gazed warmly in the lobby’s light. I paced awry. I would not be consoled. Their words were shorthand for failure. It was the “nothing we could do.” I identiﬁed him by the scar on his cheek. I gave his eyes to Iowa, his kidney to an angry diabetic from Duluth. She didn’t want it. She would not be consoled. At the home, I stayed until they all were gone. The boys wore their father’s suits, and I kissed them on their oily vibrant cheeks. I have lost my olive harvest. I have lost my magic touch. My only son had a scar on his cheek. I am empty. I will not be consoled.
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Sara Talpos Jellies The Black Sea, 1987 One day they just appear, thick and ﬂoating like a sea of condoms among the trawlers. A swimmer feels one squelch against his palm. Farther out, dolphins whistle while a sonar counts the seconds it takes for an echo to return. Pull one from the water: transparent, malleable—nothing to it. Watch the ship’s dredge carrying them upward with a mysterious pair of freshwater shells, milky as anniversary pearls—evidence, perhaps of ﬂood. Rain breaks against her rented shack, fracturing a dream of arrival home to her husband: behind him, a sign, Caution, Deaf Child at Play. And beyond, a Yield, the dove making its empty-beaked
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Sara Talpos return. No one foresaw how quickly they’d multiply, feeding on plankton until the sea bloated. See how the children squeeze their ﬁsts, hurl the glistening jellies at one another, dodging the quick sting.
Crab Orchard Review
Jonathan Watson To Winchelsea A maritime village in Sussex (like neighboring Rye and Alfriston), Winchelsea is the smallest town in England. Much of Old Winchelsea (“Winchel’s Island”) washed into the English Channel during the Middle Ages. My brother has been clutching the Chunnel brochure since Alfriston, convinced he can Dover-to-Paris—and back— in a single afternoon. “I am like a Lab scenting water,” he says. “I can smell the Champs-Elysée.” It is our last full morning in England, & we are sitting on the garrison wall at Rye, pleased with a pause of coﬀee & fatback, the rough chop of the Channel before us. “Come,” I say, “let us go to Winchelsea— there’s a single lane there that bends through rubbled gates, and a millrace that moorhens follow to the sea.” “Mudhens is what we call them on the Coast,” my brother replies, “coots that shy in the reeds.” Then he imitates their crooking call, & spills out the grinds of his drink. As teenagers our parents had oﬀered to send both of us to Europe, but David had balked: he was seventeen & wanted to soup up a Thunderbird engine. That summer his friends would stop by, spit chaw tobacco & talk to Dave’s feet jutting out from beneath the chrome fender. Words would echo through the engine block, 260 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Jonathan Watson rising up with the smell of Havoline. I went to Paris, of course, & met a girl with a pink Vespa. She showed me how cobblestones butter in a handlebar mirror. “Come,” I say, “let us go to Winchelsea— there’s a single lane there that bends through rubbled gates, and a millrace that moorhens follow to the sea.” After high school Dave split for Laguna Beach. He raced dragsters with noses lifting as ﬁne & light as a compass needle. Now Dave and I are forty-something: He is a pit-stop mechanic; I, a teacher. Every ﬁve years, we travel together to reconnect; or rather to measure the distance between. Our mother named us for the ancient story she loved: Jonathan taking his quiver to the ﬁeld & shooting an arrow—over a boy running—to David in the wild. “You’ll need to go through customs,” I say, “& convert your money to francs.” “Cm’on, what can you get out of Paris in an hour?” “Come,” I say, “let us go to Winchelsea— there’s a single lane there that bends through rubbled gates, and a millrace that moorhens follow to the sea.” Dave hoists up his rucksack & hands over mine. “We could be travelers there,” he says, “but not brothers; it is the arrow’s shadow that would divide us.”
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Jonathan Watson And for the minute, we are like those swimmers poised, who stare at the Channel’s breadth all greased in blubber—snapping their goggles tight, trying the water with a toe.
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Shanna Powlus Wheeler Spectacle on the Susquehanna Lock Haven, Pennsylvania From the levee’s river walk I saw three ﬁgures walk like gods atop the water, march the river’s middle water where no rapids gesture to depth, not a ripple rats out the depth. Roving in three directions (up river, towards the levee, to the far bank of the river) they meant to awe. And I watched in awe, cursed by their spectacle. They spread wide their spectacle on the Susquehanna, its water cursed to buttress their feet like the levee’s buttress of asphalt below mine. But the sun shimmered as it set, and near their feet the water shimmered in patches of gold leaf. Stones, I thought, a mound of stones must nearly break the surface, their feet trekking not the surface
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Shanna Powlus Wheeler but the riverbed, only daring the shallows, only boasting across the shallows to the awe of passersby. Half-released, I walked downriver, fool-spirited, gawking back as I walked.
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Laurie Zimmerman Creative Nonﬁction To live now, I’ll tell my own story this way. I grew myself well, yes. I get to say I stopped midway the hands that raised me. From now on, I lifted myself—I did not cower like a child, mumble sorry for my mouth, I felt no thud at the back of the head, the shouts at last dimming and everything whirring down to a tin buzz till I awoke into the overturned furniture of my limbs. No, this time, god help me, I arose like a furious wind and when I hit my father he paused. I was pith and gall. I detonated, slammed out, didn’t wait the requisite eight more years. I’m saying I did not just survive—I burst like a cardinal ﬂower. He didn’t crack a board with my clavicle, toss me, bent nail, from the overwrought Victorian porch, I tell you, he never held me, clenched and wanting, like a father should not hold a daughter to a wall.
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Thing with Feathers for Jason Shinder Last night, elation—I mention because of the dark, waning moon and how rare—awake, pacing, to know your diﬃculty but feel this strange change-up of joy. You had called, yes, your voice a thing I imagine an addict feels when the sweet junk is sent directly to the vein, but it wasn’t that. Earlier I’d slept in the sun, dreamt weirdly I’d sent you a carrier bird you hadn’t returned, and you so ill, beloved, declining…. I woke drowsy, burned, half-crying, for a moment wondered if you’d died, convinced my dream was the message. Later, meditating, bowed on the rug, I heard scratching—the window—raised my eyes. This is no lie—a gray dove hovered, trying to walk up the pane, ﬂurry of feathers, wings, —you’ll think I’m insane—it looked at me, kept looking, seemed to hang on the glass an inﬁnity before it arched back,
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Laurie Zimmerman back and back—before it swooped free, then ﬂew fast toward the airy and radiant trees.
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Sometimes the Trees Sometimes the yellow leaves are just so… and nothing, not even wind, can touch the quiet of gold radiance emanating from them into the warm air around each green vein. Then someone, maybe this exuberant doublet of students bursts in—heavy eyeliner, pink dreads, jeans low enough they show nothing comes between them—whirls round my desk with their brisk scowls, their kisses. Liz leans on my shoulder, Caitlin squeezes onto my chair, tells secrets I in my teachery love wish not to hear. She’s 17, tugs my sleeve, the other, 15, already swigs the half-light of fall. I’d bring them home like perfect pears for my counter. Sometimes the trees outside my room shed their leaves one by one, as if autumn were a stylized routine. Sometimes they strip their gold robes at once, as if trying to say, We don’t tease, this is it, everything. Sometimes the shed gowns of the trees are umber, ochre, they’re like old grocery bags kicked under cars. Sometimes I imagine my favorite maples are angry, point their emptying arms at my desk, hemmed these days by a lemon, tube-lit ﬂuorescence, or maybe they’re laughing heartily at all my ideas about love. And like a teacher, I stare back through the text of the window and ask, What are you really saying? But they’re too busy releasing all their leaves, not holding onto them, not even with the cold that’s sure to come.
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Jeﬀrey Alﬁer lives in Schwedelbach, Germany. His publication credits include Birmingham Poetry Review, The Cape Rock, Concho River Review, Georgetown Review, and Red Cedar Review. His ﬁrst chapbook, Strangers Within the Gate, was published by The Moon Publishing and Printing. Amanda Auchter is the editor of Pebble Lake Review and the author of Light Under Skin (Finishing Line Press). She is the recipient of the BOMB Magazine Poetry Prize, the James Wright Poetry Award from Mid-American Review, and the Milton Kessler Memorial Poetry Prize from Harpur Palate. Her recent work appears or is forthcoming in Best New Poets 2006, Columbia Poetry Review, LIT, and Pleiades. Tina Barr’s collection of poems, The Gathering Eye, won the Editor’s Prize and was published by Tupelo Press. She received a fellowship from the Tennessee Arts Commission in 2004. Poems and reviews are current or forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Antioch Review, Harvard Review, and Blackbird. Nicky Beer received her MFA from the University of Houston and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She is a recipient of a “Discovery”/The Nation award and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her poems have been published in Crazyhorse, Indiana Review, Kenyon Review, and Notre Dame Review. She is married to the poet Brian Barker. Julie Benesh’s ﬁction has appeared in Tin House, Bestial Noise: The Tin House Fiction Reader, and other places. She lives in Chicago, Illinois, and teaches writing classes at the Newberry Library. She has an MFA from Warren Wilson College. Emily E. Bright is working on her MFA in poetry at the University of Minnesota. Her work has recently been published in North American Review and Mid-American Review. Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes Teresa Cader is the author of two collections of poetry. Guests (Ohio State University Press) won the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award and The Journal Award in Poetry. The third section of her second book, The Paper Wasp (TriQuarterly Press), won the Poetry Society of America’s George Bogin Memorial Award. She is on the core poetry faculty of the Lesley University Graduate Program in Creative Writing. Karen Carissimo’s poems appear in North American Review, Western Humanities Review, Atlanta Review, Puerto del Sol, Cimarron Review, and Calyx. Her ﬁction appears in Fourteen Hills and Green Mountains Review. She lives in San Francisco, California. Katie Chaple serves as co-editor of the literary magazine Terminus. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 32 Poems, Antioch Review, Southern Humanities Review, Poet Lore, and Chattahoochee Review. She teaches writing at the University of West Georgia. Catherine Zobal Dent’s short stories have appeared in The MacGuﬃn, Portland Review, and Paterson Literary Review. She is an advisory editor for Harpur Palate, the online journal Elsewhere, and the undergraduate publication Reﬂector. She teaches creative writing at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. Rebecca Dunham’s ﬁrst book, The Miniature Room, won the T. S. Eliot Prize and was published by Truman State University Press. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in FIELD, Antioch Review, and Iowa Review. Chanda Feldman received an MFA in poetry from Cornell University. She is a Cave Canem Fellow, and her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in The Journal, Northwest Review, and Poetry Northwest. She lives in San Francisco, California. Mary E. Fiorenza teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Until recently, her published work has been nonﬁction. Her story “The Woman Who Became Her House” appeared in the ﬁrst issue of Avery: An Anthology of New Fiction. She is working on a book about the writing life of Brenda Ueland (1891–1985), author of If You Want to Write.
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Contributors’ Notes Lindsey Gosma recently completed an MFA in poetry at Arizona State University, where she taught creative writing and composition. Her work has been published in Painted Bride Quarterly, Dos Passos Review, and as a part of the “Moving Poems” project at ASU. She is currently co-directing “The Visual Text Project 3,” connecting artists and writers through the process of collaboration. Peter Harris teaches at Colby College in Maine. He has published a chapbook, Blue Hallelujahs. His work has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Epoch, Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares, Seattle Review, and Sewanee Review. Caitlin Horrocks lives in Tempe, Arizona, where she is the 2006–2007 Theresa A. Wilhoit Thesis Fellow at Arizona State University. Her stories appear in Blackbird, Cincinnati Review, and Passages North. She is co-prose editor of Hayden’s Ferry Review and the 2005 ﬁction winner of The Atlantic Monthly Student Writing Contest. Jennifer A. Howard teaches English at Northern Michigan University, where she also serves as ﬁction editor of Passages North. Her work has appeared in Redivider, Blue Mesa Review, Smokelong Quarterly, and the W. W. Norton anthology, Flash Fiction Forward. Luisa A. Igloria (previously published as Maria Luisa A. Cariño) is the author of nine books, most recently Trill & Mordent (WordTech Editions). She is an Associate Professor in the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University. She is recipient of the 49th Parallel Poetry Prize from Bellingham Review, the James Hearst Poetry Prize from North American Review, and the 2006 National Writers Union Poetry Prize (selected by Adrienne Rich). Subhashini Kaligotla is a graduate of Columbia University’s MFA program in poetry and a 2006–2007 Fulbright scholar to India, where she is translating poetry from Telugu, a South Indian language. She is a former poetry editor of Columbia Journal, and her poems have appeared in Catamaran and Western Humanities Review. Gimbiya Kettering won a 2006 Maryland State Council of the Arts Individual Artist Award for work on her novel-in-progress “Cool Waters.” Her ﬁction will also be appearing in Kwani?, HLLQ, and Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes Aethlon. “Counting in Tongues” was inspired by her experiences returning to the United States after growing up in Nairobi, Kenya. She holds a BA from Maryville College and an MFA in creative writing from American University. Autumn Konopka’s poems have appeared in Ekphrasis, Mad Poets Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Re)Verb, and Hinge Online. In addition to her work as a grant writer, she has taught communitybased poetry classes for children and adults. She earned her MFA at Antioch University, Los Angeles. She lives in south Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with her husband and two cats. Laura Koritz lives in Sidney, Illinois. Melissa Kwasny is the author of two books of poetry, Thistle (Lost Horse Press; winner of the Idaho Prize) and The Archival Birds (Bear Star Press). She is the editor of Toward the Open Field: Poets on the Art of Poetry 1800–1950 (Wesleyan University Press). She lives in western Montana. Taemi Lim received an MFA from the University of Michigan. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Sandy Longhorn is the author of Blood Almanac (Anhinga Press), selected by Reginald Shepherd as the winner of the Anhinga Prize for Poetry. Recent poems have been published or are forthcoming in Blackbird, Black Warrior Review, MARGIE, and Meridian. Ron McFarland rides along in the Idaho panhandle, where he teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Idaho. His most recent book is a sequence of essays on growing up in Florida in the 1950s and 1960s, Confessions of a Night Librarian & Other Embarrassments (Chapin House Books). Campbell McGrath is the author of six books of poetry, most recently Pax Atomica (Ecco) and Florida Poems (Ecco). A MacArthur Fellow, he lives in Miami, Florida, and teaches in the MFA program at Florida International University. Claire Millikin is originally from Georgia, and was raised in Georgia, 272 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes North Carolina, and overseas. She currently lives in Maine and teaches at the University of Maine at Farmington. Aria Minu-Sepehr lives in Corvallis, Oregon. “My Own Revolution” is part of a memoir entitled, “Something to Declare,” which chronicles the 1979 Islamic Iranian Revolution from the eyes of a ten-year-old brought up in a progressive, elite, and pro-West class. Along with his family, Aria Minu-Sepehr took refuge in the United States after the fall of the Pahlavi Dynasty. Keith Montesano is an MFA candidate at Virginia Commonwealth University. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Copper Nickel, DIAGRAM, 42opus, Pebble Lake Review, Redactions: Poetry & Poetics, storySouth, and Verse Daily. Rick Mulkey is the author of four poetry books and chapbooks, including Toward Any Darkness (Word Press), Before the Age of Reason (Pecan Grove Press), and Blueﬁeld Breakdown (Finishing Line Press). His poems have recently appeared in Shenandoah and Poetry East. He currently directs the Creative Writing Program at Converse College. Richard Newman is the author of the poetry collection Borrowed Towns (Word Press) and several poetry chapbooks, including Monster Gallery: 19 Terrifying and Amazing Monster Sonnets! (Snark Publishing). His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in “American Life in Poetry,” Best American Poetry 2006, Boulevard, Poetry Daily, Poetry East, The Sun, and on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri, where he edits River Styx. Hannah Faith Notess is working on her MFA in Creative Writing at Indiana University. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Image, Rattle, The Cresset, Ruminate, and The Christian Century. William Notter’s chapbook More Space Than Anyone Can Stand (Texas Review Press) won the Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize. His poems have appeared in Ascent, Chattahoochee Review, Southern Poetry Review, Willow Springs, and on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac. He has taught writing in Arkansas, Nevada, and Michigan. JoLee G. Passerini holds an MFA from the University of Alabama. Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes She lives in Merritt Island, Florida, with her husband, Ed, daughter, Rebecca, and three cats. She teaches English at Brevard Community College. Her work has appeared in Rattle, Nimrod, Spoon River Poetry Review, Spillway, Puerto del Sol, and DIAGRAM. Jonathan Rice’s poetry has appeared in Colorado Review, Sycamore Review, Potomac Review and is forthcoming in Nimrod. An MFA poetry candidate at Virginia Commonwealth University, he has received an AWP Intro Journals Award. Susan Robison’s short stories have appeared in New Letters, GSU Review, and The Ledge. She studied creative writing in the MFA program at Emerson College and resides outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Sankar Roy is an engineer, MBA, poet, translator, essayist, and multimedia artist living near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is originally from India. He is a winner of a PEN USA Emerging Voices fellowship and the author of two chapbooks of poetry from Pudding House Publications: Moon Country and The House My Father Could Not Build. He is an associate editor of the international poetry anthology Only the Sea Keeps: Poetry of the Tsunami (Rupa Publication (India) and Bayeux Arts (Canada)). He is a co-founder of Poets for Humanity. Anne Sanow’s ﬁction has appeared in Shenandoah, Other Voices, Malahat Review, and New Orleans Review. She has completed a collection of stories set in Saudi Arabia and is currently working on a novel. Maxine Scates is the author of two books of poems, Black Loam (WordTech Communications) and Toluca Street (University of Pittsburgh Press). She is also editor, with David Trinidad, of Holding Our Own: The Selected Poems of Ann Stanford (Copper Canyon Press). Carrie Shipers has published poems in Southern Poetry Review, Meridian, Pleiades, Quarterly West, and Southern Humanities Review. She is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. David Shumate’s book of prose poems, High Water Mark (University of Pittsburgh Press), was awarded the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize for a ﬁrst book of poems. His work appears regularly in literary journals 274 ◆ Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes and has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac and in Garrison Keillor’s anthology Good Poems for Hard Times (Viking Penguin). Shumate lives in Zionsville, Indiana, and teaches at Marian College in Indianapolis. Lauren Goodwin Slaughter holds an MFA from the University of Alabama. Her work has been featured on Verse Daily and has appeared or is forthcoming in 42opus, Blue Mesa Review, Fugue, and Faultline. She lives in Missoula, Montana, where she continues her work as prose editor for the online journal DIAGRAM. Adam Sol’s second collection of poetry, Crowd of Sounds (House of Anansi Press), won the Trillium Award for Poetry. He lives in Toronto, Canada, and teaches in the Laurentian University at Georgian College program. The poems included here are part of a book-length series of poems entitled “Jeremiah, Ohio.” Maureen Stanton has published essays in Creative Nonﬁction, Fourth Genre, American Literary Review, Iowa Review, Riverteeth, and The Sun. Her essays have received a Pushcart Prize, the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award, and the Iowa Review Award. She teaches creative writing at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Sara Talpos has published poems in Shenandoah, Poet Lore, Florida Review, and Rivendell. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she teaches writing courses at the University of Michigan. Ron Tanner has published stories in The Literary Review, Iowa Review, Massachusetts Review, and StoryQuarterly. His work has been anthologized in Best of the West, The Pushcart Prize, and Twenty Under Thirty: Early Work of America’s Inﬂuential Writers. His ﬁrst collection of short stories, A Bed of Nails, won the ﬁrst G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize, and was published by BkMk Press at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Jonathan Watson is an associate professor of English at Manchester College and a former Fulbright scholar to Iceland. Shanna Powlus Wheeler graduated this May from the MFA program in Creative Writing at the Pennsylvania State University, where she Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes taught undergraduate writing courses in the Department of English. She lives in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania with her husband. Lee Zacharias is the author of a novel, Lessons (Houghton Miﬄin), which won the North Carolina Sir Walter Raleigh Award, and a book of short stories, Helping Muriel Make It Through the Night (Louisiana State University Press). She has published numerous short stories, essays, and photographs, and she is a recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the North Carolina Arts Council. She is a professor in the Creative Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Laurie Zimmerman’s work appears in Mid-American Review, Orion, Rattle, 5 AM, Image, and Paterson Literary Review. Her poems have been featured on NPR in New Hampshire, where she teaches at Proctor Academy, Andover. She is a graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars.
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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.siuc.edu/~crborchd/guid2.html> For writers interested in submitting work in 2007: Crab Orchard Review hopes to have editorial decisions made for our 2008 Winter/Spring general issue by August 1 (the submission period for that issue closed April 30). We will announce our next special issue topic in July on our website (and in this issue), and we will consider submissions for the 2008 Summer/Fall special issue from August 1 through October 31, 2007. 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.
Announcements Crab Orchard Review is moving its indexes for all recent and future volumesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;beginning with Volumes 11, Numbers 1 & 2â&#x20AC;&#x201D;from the pages of the journal to our website:
<http://www.siu.edu/~crborchd/> We will begin by continuing our single volume year indexing, but we hope by December 2007 to have created complete Title, Author, and Book Review Indexes for the entire publication history of Crab Orchard Review.
Crab OrcharD Series In Poetry 2006 FIRST BOOK AWARD Announcement Crab Orchard Review and Southern Illinois University Press are pleased to announce the winner of the 2006 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Our ﬁnal judge, James Harms, selected Mary Jo Firth Gillett’s Soluble Fish as the winner. Her collection will be published by Southern Illinois University Press in Fall 2007. 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 Dark Alphabet Poems by Jennifer Maier “Jennifer Maier’s colloquial language settles you comfortably into the passenger seat for a journey full of surprising turns. The poems are triggered by ordinary events: a friend’s asking why she doesn’t write novels; the sight of ducks in mating season. Dark Alphabet is a sophisticated blend of wit, intellect, feeling and perception, as mysterious as nightfall and as fresh as daybreak.” —Madeline DeFrees, recipient of the Lenore Marshall/The Nation Prize for her selected poems, Blue Dusk
Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 80 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2726-0 $14.95 paper
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the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2006 Open Competition
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
Red Clay Suite Poems by Honorée Fanonne Jeﬀers “Honorée Fanonne Jeﬀers drives her dark poetic vision through America, gathering what she can that will sustain, suﬃce. From the deep south of Georgia where peaches ‘liquor’ the air and ‘the clotted sounds of lament... / cling to the roots,’ to Oklahoma where she reﬂects on the Tulsa Riots, and on through to Ohio, ‘Underground Railroad country,’ looking for ‘the truth of this land….’ Red Clay Suite is a long perilous song: one woman’s confounding history, and the untold history of a nation vibrating on every page.”—Dorianne Laux, author of Facts About the Moon “Honorée Jeﬀers leads with her ear and follows with her rigorous intellect, then adds an emotional depth and fearlessness that make her poems uniquely powerful. This brilliant third book is a thinking woman’s blues that continues to challenge, delight, and terrify.”—Elizabeth Alexander, author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated American Sublime Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 73 pages ISBN 0-8093-2760-0, $14.95 paper
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2006 Open Competition
If No Moon Poems by Moira Linehan “What a welcome and brilliant debut is Moira Linehan’s superb If No Moon. This moving and luminous volume contains profound meditations on loss, on the rituals of mourning the beloved, and on the poet’s diﬃcult pilgrimage from ‘grief ’s labyrinth’ to an eventual willingness to embrace life again. Linehan’s lyrical and precise poems honestly enact and reveal our paradoxical natures, our mystery enshrouded lives —our human frailty, and our surprising strengths and resilience.”— Maurya Simon, author of Ghost Orchid
“What I admire about this book of soulful poems is their willingness to engage in the deeper aspects of melancholy while at the same time remaining fully anchored in the world of the generous everyday. Honest, tough, questing and questioning, these starkly elegiac poems are made not only from the pain of grief, but also from grief ’s simple rewards: awareness, forgiveness, clarity of being.” —Dorianne Laux, author of Facts About the Moon Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 69 pages ISBN 0-8093-2761-9, $14.95 paper
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the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2006 Editor’s Selection
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
Lizzie Borden in Love: Poems in Women’s Voices Poems by Julianna Baggott “With crispness and casual elegance, Baggott inhabits a startling variety of personalities and idioms. These monologues are always humanist, poetic without being poeticized, and unpreachily feminist.”—Daisy Fried, author of My Brother Is Getting Arrested Again and She Didn’t Mean to Do It “Baggott’s positively oracular channeling of voices as diverse as Camille Claudel and Monica Lewinsky is so canny and artfully authentic that it seems possible that the poet here has truly acted as a spiritual medium for the muted and misrepresented voices she illuminates. This is a brilliant book and an essential read for both lovers of poetry and scholars wishing to understand the inheritance of silence that is the complicated birthright of contemporary women artists everywhere.”—Erin Belieu, author of One Above and One Below and Black Box “Julianna Baggott amazes with the scope of her imagination…. Lizzie Borden in Love is a dangerous and elegant collection from one of America’s ﬁnest young poets.”—Beth Ann Fennelly, author of Great with Child and Tender Hooks Copublished with Crab Orchard Review
Lizzie Borden in Love
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MFA in Creative Writing ~ Southern Illinois University Carbondale FACULTY IN FICTION Pinckney Benedict Beth Lordan Mike Magnuson Jacinda Townsend
FACULTY IN POETRY Rodney Jones Judy Jordan Allison Joseph
A 3-Year Program in Fiction or Poetry Financial Suppor t Available for All Students Admitted to the MFA Program
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