Crab Orchard Review
In this volume:
Jessica Rae Bergamino
Beth Woodcome Platow
Andrea Witzke Slot
Mary Ann Davis
Rebecca Morgan Frank
Jennifer K. Sweeney
M. Ayodele Heath
Ming Lauren Holden
Emily Van Kley
Patricia Jabbeh Wesley
Terrance Manning Jr.
published by the Department of English
$14.00us Vol. 20 No. 1
Featuring the Winners of Our Annual Fiction, Poetry, & Literary Nonfiction Prizes & Our National Student
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ISSN 1083-5571 $14.00
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CR AB ORCH AR D
Holly Teresa Baker
Volume 20, Number 1 Winter/Spring 2015
Crab Orchard Review
A B ORCH AR R C D •
A B ORCH AR R C D •
A Journal of Creative Works
Vol. 20 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 Teresa Dzieglewicz Chelsey Harris Toni Judnitch
Assistant Editors K Brattin Cole Bucciaglia Emily Rose Cole Alyssha Nelson Laura Ruffino Mary Kate Varnau
Board of Advisors Ellen Gilchrist Charles Johnson Rodney Jones Thomas Kinsella Richard Russo
Winter/Spring 2015 ISSN 1083-5571
SIU Press Interns Philip Martin Alyssha Nelson
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 $25 for one year, $40 for two years, $50 for three years; the foreign rate for individuals is $40 for one year. Subscription rates for institutions are $28 for one year, $56 for two years, and $84 for three years; the foreign rate for institutions is $48 for one year. Single issues are $12 (please include an additional $10 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. Please visit our website, CrabOrchardReview.siu.edu, for the latest guidelines, calls for submissions, and contest information. Most of our submissions are now through CrabOrchardReview.submittable.com, so please do not send submissions via postal mail unless you are certain we are open for postal submissions at that time. Crab Orchard Review accepts no responsibility for unsolicited submissions and will not enter into correspondence about their loss or delay. Copyright © 2015 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. “Printed by the authority of the State of Illinois,” 03 April 2015, 4100 copies printed, order number 117496. 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 Humanities International Complete. Visit Crab Orchard Review’s website:
Crab Orchard Review and its staff wish to thank these supporters for their generous contributions, aid, expertise, and encouragement: Barb Martin, Karl Kageff, Amy J. Etcheson, Bridget Brown, Lynanne Page, Angela Moore-Swafford, Wayne Larsen, and Kristine Priddy of Southern Illinois University Press Heidi Estel, Kathy Reichenberger, Joyce Schemonia, and Bernadette Summerville Shaylin Carlton, Rebekah Durig, Chloe Hesler, and Sarah Jilek Dr. Elizabeth Klaver (chair), Pinckney Benedict, Beth Lordan, Judy Jordan, Scott Blackwood, and the rest of the faculty in the SIUC Department of English Division of Continuing Education SIU Alumni Association The Graduate School The College of Liberal Arts The OfďŹ ce of the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost The Southern Illinois Writers Guild
Crab Orchard Review is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.
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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
CHARTER MEMBERS*/BENEFACTORS Carolyn Alessio & Jeremy Manier Pinckney & Laura Benedict Edward Brunner & Jane Cogie* Linda L. Casebeer Dwayne Dickerson* Jack Dyer* Joan Ferrell* John Guyon* John M. Howell*
Rodney Jones Richard Jurek Joseph A. Like Greg & Peggy Legan* Beth L. Mohlenbrock* Jane I. Montgomery* Ruth E. Oleson* Richard “Pete” Peterson Peggy Shumaker
PATRONS Dan Albergotti Noel Crook Robert E. Hayes Chris Kelsey Jesse Lee Kercheval Lisa J. McClure
Anita Peterson Eugenie & Roger Robinson Nat Sobel Betty Tribble David & Laura Tribble Clarisse Zimra
DONORS Lorna Blake Chris Bullard Heidi Czerwiec Charles Fanning Jewell A. Friend John & Nancy Jackson Reamy Jansen Rob & Melissa Jensen Elisabeth & Jon Luther
Charlotte and Gabriel Manier Lee Newton William Notter Lisa Ortiz Ricardo Pau-Llosa Lucia Perillo Angela Rubin Hans H. Rudnick William E. Simeone
SUPPORTING SUBSCRIBERS Joan Alessio Joanna Christopher K.K. Collins Corrine Frisch John & Robin Haller Zdena Heller Karen Hunsaker Lee Lever
Charlotte McLeod Peggy & Albert Melone Nadia Reimer Lee Robinson Catherine Rudnick Peter Rutkoff Victoria Weisfeld
A B ORCH AR R C D •
Volume 20, Number 1
Kathy Conde Matthew Dougherty
The Generous Universe Shipyards
Nonfiction Prose Allison Coffelt
Ming Lauren Holden
The Surest Way to Survive
Terrance Manning Jr.
We’d Step Away from the Night
How Much for That Pair of Shoes?
Poetry Idris Anderson
The Swamp Root of the Matter
Holly Teresa Baker
Apothecary for the Brokenhearted
Jenna Bazzell Jessica Rae Bergamino Rebecca Black
Waiting for the Burial to Begin Dieback
Imagining the Tin Man
Gold Bee Ice Station Zebra The Cherry Orchard
47 50 53
In Search of the Least Abandoned Constellation
Kyle Dacuyan Mary Ann Davis Blas Falconer
Epilogue from Never
City of Ends
Rebecca Morgan Frank
How to Look at Pictures
Kim Garcia Diane Gilliam Andrew Grace
Objects of Desire
The Naming of the Scars
Said Gun’s Confession Said Gun’s Fear
M. Ayodele Heath
All Day I Hear the Noise of Waters
The Power of the Quote
Sita in Exile The Goddess Re-Made We Are Always the Girls
113 114 115
This Earthly Paradise First Night
From This Distance Toward
Starfish Prime Pantone-mime
The Nymph Imitates Sleep
Studies Toward a Unified Voice
The Drowned Church of PotosĂ, Venezuela
Beth Woodcome Platow
The Land of the Small
All Right, Good Night
My Mother Folds Herself In
Your Boom and Treble Silence
Self-Portrait as a Shard of Glass
Andrea Witzke Slot
Talking to a Room
The Raising of Lazarus
What Made Azrael Laugh
Snowstorm, Central Valley
Jennifer K. Sweeney
The Treadle and the Light
Coming Through Fire
Elegy Written as a Dense Nest of Past Tenses Elegy Preserved by the Salt Breeze Inside It
Emily Van Kley
Patricia Jabbeh Wesley
Burn This Marlboro
A Note on Our Cover This cover features the nineteen previous general issue covers and Crab Orchard Review would like to thank Richard Lawson, Fern Logan, Trina Kyounghui Yi, Ian Mitchell, Jason Holland, Andrea Behrends, Gary Kolb, Tommy Jonq, Scott David Gross, Allison Joseph, and Jon Tribble for images which have made our covers unique and memorable.
Announcements We would like to congratulate two of our recent contributors, Abby Geni and Elizabeth Klise von Zerneck. Both authors have been awarded 2014 IACA Literary Awards from the Illinois Arts Council Agency. Each author received $1,000.00 award. Abby Geni’s story “In the Spirit Room” and Elizabeth Klise von Zerneck’s poem “Rainforests of Illinois” appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Volume 17, Number 2 (Summer/Fall 2012).
The 2015 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 2015 Richard Peterson Poetry Prize, Jack Dyer Fiction Prize, and John Guyon Literary Nonﬁction Prize. In poetry, the winning entry is “Gold Bee” by Bruce Bond of Denton, Texas. The judge selected two finalists in poetry, and they are “The Drowned Church of Potosí, Venezuela” by Frank Paino of Berea, Ohio, and “Coming through Fire” by Jeanie Thompson of Montgomery, Alabama. In fiction, the winning entry is “The Generous Universe” by Kathy Conde of Superior, Colorado. The judge selected two finalists in fiction, and they are “Elephant Teeth” by Colette Sartor of Los Angeles, California, and “Roman Road” by Rebecca Starks of Richmond, Vermont. In literary nonfiction, the winning entry is “We’d Step Away from the Night” by Terrance Manning Jr. of Monroeville, Pennsylvania. The judge selected two finalists in literary nonfiction, and they are “Trapped Heat” by Allison Coffelt of Columbia, Missouri, and “The Surest Way to Survive” by Ming Holden of Santa Barbara, California. The final judge for the all three competitions was Allison Joseph, Crab Orchard Review’s editor and poetry editor. All three winners received $2,000.00 and their works are published in this issue. All of the finalists also chose to have their works published in this issue and each received $500.00. 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:
The Winners of the 2015 Richard Peterson Poetry Prize, Jack Dyer Fiction Prize, and John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize
2015 Richard Peterson Poetry Prize Winner
“Gold Bee” by Bruce Bond (Denton, Texas)
2015 Jack Dyer Fiction Prize Winner
“The Generous Universe” by Kathy Conde (Superior, Colorado)
2015 John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize Winner
“We’d Step Away from the Night” by Terrance Manning Jr. (Monroeville, Pennsylvania)
The 2014 COR Student Writing Awards in Poetry, Fiction, and Literary Nonfiction The COR Student Writing Awards in Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry honor the exceptional creative work of undergraduate and graduate students who are enrolled at least part-time in a U.S. college or university. Each winner receives $1,000.00 and publication in Crab Orchard Review.
The 2014 Allison Joseph Poetry Award winner is “Orbital” by Jocelyn Heath (Georgia State University). We would also like to congratulate the finalists for the 2014 award: “The Glenn Hotel, Colbert, Georgia” by Jo Brachman (University of West Georgia); “Camphor” by Julia Carino (University of Virginia); “The Crows” by Lawrence Eby (California State University, San Bernardino); and “The Blues” by J.P. Grasser (The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University). The 2014 Charles Johnson Fiction Award winner is “Shipyards” by Matthew Dougherty (Ohio University). We would also like to congratulate the finalists for the 2014 award: “Pool Party” by Michael Angel (University of California, Irvine); “Underwater Bells” by Lee Conell (Vanderbilt University); “Errands” by Ryan Habermeyer (University of Missouri, Columbia); “Perchance to Dream” by Jake Patin (University of Arkansas at Monticello); and “Fifteen Ways to Lose a Mother” by Kate Stoltzfus (Goshen College). The 2014 Rafael Torch Literary Nonfiction Award winner is “How Much for That Pair of Shoes?” by Caitlin McGill (Emerson College). We would also like to congratulate the finalists for the 2014 award: “A Certain Kind of Man” by Mardi Link (Queens University of Charlotte); “Identify Yourself ” by Erica Sklar (University of North Carolina Wilmington); “Work of Art” by Diana Trapp (Northern Kentucky University); “Yield” by Chris Wiewiora (Iowa State University); and “Carrara Marble” by Talya Zax (Washington University in St. Louis).
For more information about the COR Student Writing Awards and the past winners, and about Allison Joseph, Charles Johnson, and Rafael Torch, visit:
The 2014 COR Student Writing Award Winners
2014 Allison Joseph Award Winner
“Orbital” by Jocelyn Heath Georgia State University (Decatur, Georgia)
2014 Charles Johnson Fiction Award Winner
“Shipyards” by Matthew Dougherty Ohio University (McAllen, Texas)
2014 Rafael Torch Literary Nonfiction Award Winner
“How Much for That Pair of Shoes?” by Caitlin McGill Emerson College (Boston, Massachusetts)
Kathy Conde The Generous Universe Raney and her brother were in front of his trailer on the
outskirts of Cheyenne. The October sun glittered off busted windshields in the auto graveyard across the road. The air was so cold and clear it seemed it could obliterate all traces of her and everything that ached. “You can’t just drive around and sleep in the back of this thing.” He eyed the old Datsun pickup. He had always been tall, but now he was heavier, his angular face softer. “Why not?” Grady was twelve years older than her, and he had always acted like she was a weakling. He had been a father to her after their parents died, and a mother for that matter. He still acted like she couldn’t take care of herself, even now that she was thirty-four. But she was stronger than he knew. “Where do you think you’re going to park it?” “Rest areas?” She couldn’t have thought it through if she wanted to. When she heard Derek had died in a car wreck, it felt like the car had smashed into her life. “Raney, there are lunatics out there.” He kicked one of the tires. “I have to,” she said. “And don’t kick my truck. The bumper might fall off.” Grady had been furious at Frank for selling her a thirty-year-old clunker with an equally old topper, a three-foot-high shell that fit over the truck bed. The Datsun had two blue pinstripes down its sides and a line of rust holes below that, making it look like it had been shot with an automatic. “There are six hundred twenty-seven murders on the highway every year,” he said. “Where did you get that?” He ran his big hand along the topper and sighed, his barrel chest softening into the paunch at his belly. “I read it somewhere.” “I’ll have Caddis with me.” She reached down and scratched Caddis behind the ears. Crab Orchard Review
Kathy Conde Caddis wagged her tail. When she made eye contact, the wag went into her whole body. She was a mixed breed. She had all the features of her Akita mother—soft fur, curled tail, wide forehead—and the pitch black color of her Labrador father. Raney had fallen in love with her at the shelter. She was two, but wise for her age. “Yeah,” he said. “She’d scare the hell out of a murderer with that tail wag.” Caddis was jumping in place now. She knew they were talking about her. “Derek will look out for me,” Raney said. Grady held his tongue, pulled himself in like he was dealing with a pain somewhere. “How long you think Frank will hold your job?” he said. When she had pulled back into town six months earlier, he had talked Frank into hiring her to keep the books at the auto shop. Grady had been working there forever. “I already quit.” Better to just say it. “You what?” He looked like he was going to choke. He’d been telling her for days that she had to go on with her life. He never said get over it, but she knew that was what he was thinking. Caddis stood beside Raney with an understanding look in her eyes. She would help Raney navigate what had come, and she would never say hurry up and get over it. “I need some time.” Raney went over and gave her brother a hug. “I’m not leaving the planet.” She had bought a few things from the general store and fit them into the back of the pickup along with a foam mattress. The topper was duct-taped at the corners. She’d stashed a tarp under the mattress in case it leaked. A produce box held her clothes—a few jeans, T-shirts, and socks. To simplify things, she gave up underwear and bras. A milk crate held a small gas burner, an iron skillet, a tin coffee pot, several cans of spinach, and a loaf of bread. Grady pulled a Beretta out of his pocket and laid it in her palm. “I don’t need this.” She pushed it back at him. “For bears.” He put it in the glove box of the Datsun and gave her his parenting look. “Let me get you a cell phone.” “I don’t want one.” She stepped back and stood taller. “Here, you can have mine.” He reached into his other pocket. “I’m not budging on this one, Grady.” She opened the passenger door for Caddis. “How will I know you’re okay?” 2 u Crab Orchard Review
Kathy Conde “There are still a few pay phones out there,” she said. “I’ll call now and then. It’s not like it’s my first time out of Cheyenne.” “I know, but this is different.” “I have to go,” she said, with a softness only possible because there was no way she was going to change her mind. She pulled out of the driveway slowly to keep the dust down, but it rose anyway. Grady stood there in it, his hand up, barely waving. He stayed that way till she could no longer see him in the rearview, just dust. She went east. She needed to get away from everything she knew. She’d never been east. Caddis sat in the passenger seat and looked at her approvingly from time to time. The interstate offered miles of nothing, just sitting, letting things sink in. It offered rest areas with travelers who shared her love of blacktop and cement slab, of miles ticking past. And truck stops with menu items like roast beef sandwiches and chicken fried steak. The first night, when she was too tired to keep driving, she stopped at a rest area. She got out, locked up the cab, and crawled into the back, closing the tailgate and topper behind her. She told Caddis to keep a lookout as she curled up next to her, then turned it all over to the universe and went to sleep. In the morning, the topper was frosted up on the inside. Studying it from her sleeping bag, Raney felt affection for it, the foggy, disconnected kind of affection that comes after life has made it clear that it will ultimately rip everything away. The sharp autumn rays cut the frost on the back window into abstract art. Caddis thumped her tail on the truck bed. Raney drove all day, the cab growing on her in that same foggy way. Behind the seat she had a down coat, a fly rod, and a small tackle box filled with flies and tippet. She didn’t intend to use them. They were the only things she still had from the Wind River cabin, and she kept them like sacred objects. Under the floor mat on the driver’s side, she had cut a slit in the worn carpet where she hid a thousand dollars, all she had. On the passenger floor was a CD case filled with music Grady had given her—Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, George Jones. Grady, with his engulfing pillow hug and his total acceptance of her as long as she did what he wanted her to. In the glove box was the Beretta. It looked like a toy gun and was so small she could conceal it in her hand. In her imagination, it had a mind of its own, shooting her finger off or shooting her in the foot if she jiggled it the wrong way. She never took it out of the glove box. Crab Orchard Review
Kathy Conde Sometimes on long stretches of highway, she would think of Derek on the river with his slow cast and his patience. He would wade to his knees in jeans and tennis shoes, the bill of his baseball hat adorned with flies. He never used a fishing vest, kept tippet and clippers in his pocket. He taught her to fly fish, though she ended up without the patience, always eager to get to the next hole upstream, full of her desire to take the river first. The two of them were so different, and she loved his cool poise, but it was that very patience, silent as it was, that made him seem unreachable when she needed him most. She took a two-laner up to the Badlands in South Dakota. On a long stretch of road, she felt the pickup listing toward the passenger side, then a jarring and grinding that had to be a flat tire. Caddis held her head high, ears up listening for danger. “Don’t worry.” Raney rubbed the soft fur behind Caddis’s ears. “We got this.” She hoped it could be fixed or she’d have to find a used one to replace it. She pulled to the shoulder and got out to inspect the damage. The front tire was flat but still in one piece. An occasional car or truck went by a few yards from her and buffeted her with their wind. Caddis went off the shoulder into the scraggly grass to explore. Raney pulled out the tire iron that was wedged in the milk crate with the coffee pot. She paused for a minute to let the land and sky inform her. The open scars of earth were beautiful here, with spires and pinnacles in shades of yellow, pink, and rust, and eroded buttes that gave way to steep draws. For a moment, she felt like everything she’d ever done was okay, even what she’d done to Derek. Caddis came over to her and confirmed this, wagging her tail and pushing her forehead into Raney’s thigh playfully. Raney walked around to the flat tire, fit the tire iron onto a lug nut, and tried to turn it. It didn’t budge. She huffed a few times to build up steam and gave it all she had. It was rock solid, fused on. A car went by like nothing was happening. She was already nostalgic for the road rolling by under her wheels and the privacy of her small cab. She held on to the rail on the topper and started jumping on the tire iron. Nothing. She kept jumping, rocking the Datsun back and forth, and then tried it the other way, and still it didn’t budge. Not even the slightest creaking. Grady would have a product for this, some kind of miraculous spray. She waved the lug wrench like a white flag at the few cars that raced by. No one stopped. She threw it down and swore. She thought of Derek. Anything that made her want to cry made her think of him. 4 u Crab Orchard Review
Kathy Conde Caddis came to her side again, gave her a worried look, and got very still. She was looking down the road where something moved. It was on the horizon, smaller than a car, and it was on the shoulder coming toward them. It moved with a rhythmic side-to-side rocking motion. Raney sat on the tailgate with Caddis beside her and waited for it to get closer. After a while, Raney could see that it was two-legged and tall. The rocking motion was a limp. Caddis stared with an intensity that made it seem she was trying to pierce it with her eyes. As the figure got within a hundred yards of them, she tensed and began to growl low in her throat. Raney didn’t try to hush her. It was a man, tall, lean, and weathered, with a very long braid that swayed back and forth as he walked. He had a flat look in his eye. Raney gripped the lug wrench tighter. “What are you doing with that T-bar?” he called. “Gonna kill somebody with it?” His voice was hoarse. Caddis stood, sniffing the air in the direction of the stranger, her tail down. She could be intimidating if you didn’t know her. She looked a little like a black bear. Raney wondered what Caddis would do if the guy tried anything. Caddis had never so much as curled her lip in a snarl. There wasn’t a car in sight now, just dirt and rocks and grassland busted up by the jagged earth. The guy walked up to them, hardly changing his pace. “You think you’re gonna get those lug nuts off with this?” He took the lug wrench from Raney and looked it over. “No,” she said. He had surprised her, taking it like that. She didn’t like him having it. His flat look was replaced by the look of his mind at work. His eyes were dusky green like the sparse grass. “I saw something up the road.” He handed her the tire iron. “I’ll be back.” He turned back the way he had come. He limped up the road, his braid swishing back and forth. She stood there with her knees shaking. She thought about getting the Beretta out of the glove box. This made her shake more. It seemed a stupid idea. He would just take that away, too—there was no way she was going to shoot him. About two hundred yards up the road, he walked off the shoulder a little, bent down, and picked up a long pipe. He returned, using the pipe like a walking stick. It made a clang each time it hit the ground. Crab Orchard Review
Kathy Conde Caddis was growling in her throat again, low and quiet. As the man approached, he smiled and it softened not only his face but his whole body. His teeth were stained and chipped, but his smile was beautiful. Caddis stopped growling and her tail wagged slightly. The man took the tire iron and fit it onto a lug nut on the flat. He picked up the pipe and fit it loosely onto one of the T-bars. He stood on it, but still it didn’t move. “Here, step on this with me,” he said. Raney took his outstretched hand. It was warm and strong, his skin like saddle leather. They stepped onto the pipe together. With a loud creak, it slowly bent down to the ground and the lug nut was freed. They did the same with the others. She got the jack and the spare from the underside of the truck—easy compared to the lug nuts. He jacked the car up and pulled the flat off the bolts. He put the spare on, tightening the lug nuts with a spin of the T-bar, as if he’d been doing it all his life, though he had no car. Caddis spied a ground squirrel and chased it. Others popped up in the field, and she ducked under the fence and ran from hole to hole. The man smoked a cigarette down to the filter and snubbed it out by scraping the hot coal off with his callused finger. The air had that spent feeling of late afternoon, waiting for the renewal of night. “Where do you want this?” he stood the flat tire upright. “You’ll need to get it fixed.” Raney spread the tarp over the mattress and he threw it on top. “You want a ride?” she said. He glanced at her face. “No thanks.” He turned and started down the road. “Hey, thanks for the help,” she shouted. He waved without turning around and walked on. The sun was lowering toward the road in the west and giving new color to everything. She was so glad to have four good tires, she just stood there a minute and let that feeling spread out over the painted rocks and sky. She felt better than she had in weeks, better than she’d thought she ever would again. She drove back down to the center of the country to take I-70 east. As she approached St. Louis, all the mind-stretching, spacious feeling of the interstate disappeared when the exits started coming at less than a quarter mile apart. She had to slam on her brakes when a semi pulled in front of her. The car behind her swerved by on the right, 6 u Crab Orchard Review
Kathy Conde the driver flinging her the bird so wildly he seemed to forget he was driving. There was no shoulder on either side, just cement walls that worked like a funnel to get them all through the densest part of the city. She was in the left lane, traffic so thick and fast she couldn’t get up the nerve to get into the right. She finally stopped trying, gripped the wheel like she was going to take her machine skyward, and floored it to keep up with the flow. She went through yelling to keep from shaking. Caddis put on her wide-eyed stoic face. The bridge at sixty miles an hour was worse than the city. When she crossed the Mississippi River, she was so unnerved she felt like jumping out the window. Caddis seemed to feel the same way, rocking back and forth on her front paws the whole way across. When they got to the other side, Raney took one hand from the wheel to let blood back into it, then the other. For a month after that, Raney had recurring dreams where she was driving across a bridge that was endless and enveloped in fog, and she was about to swerve into the water. She was gripping the wheel and sweating. Caddis always became serious when things got tense, but in the dream she was bathed in equanimity, telling Raney, telepathically, “Let go of the wheel.” She drove to the east coast, stopping to eat and shower at truck stops and campgrounds and sleeping at rest stops. She reached the Atlantic, the end of eastward road, and decided to spend the short winter in the southern Appalachians, parking her truck like a camper in deep woods whose trees stood on soggy ground, where wisps of mist rose like fleeing angels from bogs and holding ponds. The place mirrored how she felt, the heavy mystery she’d been swamped by when she lost Derek for good. She stayed as long as she could because she wasn’t ready to head back west where everything would remind her of him and their place on the Wind River—the sun glinting off clear rivers, antelope jumping fences, sagebrush. Especially the sagebrush. But her money got low after a few months. She couldn’t imagine what work she could do in this strange, dense place, so she drove back to Wyoming, on I-80 this time, through the heartland where early spring was creeping into the fields in splotches of green. She stopped in Cheyenne and looked up a friend who had a landscaping business. He put her to work planting pansies at a new upscale subdivision. Thousands of them. All day long, she dug her finger into the loose, prepped soil, shoved pansies in, and snugged them up. She slept in the Datsun at an empty lot on the outskirts of town and showered at a campground down the road. She was glad to be so Crab Orchard Review
Kathy Conde busy during the day and so exhausted at night that nothing could keep her awake, not even the smell of sagebrush. The second week on the job, she looked up to see Grady coming toward her like a guy who’d had about enough foolishness for one lifetime. She waved hello. “Breely told me you were here.” His voice was on the border between a shout and a plea. “Why didn’t you call me?” She had called him from the road every few days at first, then less and less. He kept trying to put fear into her, to get her not to trust the universe. She didn’t want him to know she was in town—she knew she wasn’t finished driving. “It’s time to get over it and get on with your life.” He folded his arms on his chest. The sun was behind him, making a dark silhouette of him. All she could see clearly were the grease stains on his boots. Once he said that, she didn’t even look at his face again. She just kept shoving pansies into the earth and firming up the ground until he finally left. Grady had never liked Derek. Seven years ago when she took Derek to meet him, Grady had held out his hand, but she could tell. “Why don’t you give him a chance?” she said that first night in the kitchen when Derek was out on the porch. “I’m not doing anything.” “I’m crazy about him, Grady.” “He doesn’t even have a permanent address.” “You’re just jealous.” She wiped the table like she was waxing a shine onto it. The whole two days at Grady’s place had been like that. She planted pansies another week, then picked up her pay and headed east again. She drove hours without stopping, which put her in a trance-like state where she felt empty and confident. She didn’t care if she ever got anywhere. She stopped at a truck stop near Omaha and carried a change of jeans and a shirt along with a bar of soap to the register. The racks beside it were filled with things a traveler might need—gum, flashlights, crossword puzzles, cheap plastic toys, lidded coffee mugs. “Can I get a shower here?” she asked the girl behind the register. “Sure, hon.” The girl pointed toward a door at the back. Her fingernails were long, painted black, and she wore a large silver skull ring on her middle finger. Entwined snakes were tattooed on the smooth skin of her forearm. 8 u Crab Orchard Review
Kathy Conde Raney held out a five and said, “For the shower.” The girl shook her head, her earrings swinging. “It’s coin-op.” Her teeth had a dark tint around the edges. Raney made her way to the back, past engine oil, freeze-dried coffee, and toothbrushes. Truckers walked unhurried in the candy aisles. Their glances held a certain respect—she was part of the trucker world just by choosing to be here. At the back wall, she went through the door that said Cowgirls. Inside, there were women brushing their teeth and fixing their hair. She had always paid for a shower at the register, and she never timed her showers so she had no idea how much time she would need. She put in six quarters, all she had without going back to the register for change, and closed her eyes, warm water pouring over her. She was all soaped up, including her hair, when the water stopped. She rushed to rinse her face and crotch with the last drops. She stood there, soap running down her arms and legs, and her mind went back to what ached the most every time she remembered it—the look on Derek’s face when she made him drop her on the side of the road the day she left him. That, finally, was even worse than all the miscarriages and the silences. Now he was dead, and there was a nauseating rebellion in her blood against the finality of it. She wanted to wail, right there in the shower stall, to make sense of her feeling by ripping her skin somewhere. Soap ran from her hair into her eyes and the sting snapped her back. There was a row of sinks outside the stalls. She didn’t care what the others thought. These were women truckers and truckers’ women, after all, living on the road like her. She ran from the stall to a sink and stuck her head under the faucet to rinse the soap out of her hair. She splashed water under her armpits and over her back, then stood up, dripping. A middle-aged woman at the next sink, fully clothed and putting on lipstick, had stopped in mid-swipe and was staring at her. Raney went back to the shower stall and dried off with the clothes she’d worn in. She put on the clean T-shirt and jeans. Coming out of the stall, she slipped on a soapy puddle and landed hard. A little girl with antenna pigtails stood watching her blink back the shock that went up her spine. Raney got herself up and, clutching her dirty clothes, limped out into the store. She made her way through the aisles, truckers staring at her soaked pants, and managed to get to the Datsun. It never felt so good to close a door. Caddis leaned into her with her head down. Suddenly, it was all there, like she was part Crab Orchard Review
Kathy Conde of the ocean and it was coming out of her and would not be held back. Caddis leaned into her harder, holding her up while she cried. She went from one coast to the other a few more times, picking up odd jobs along the way. It felt like the only thing she could do. The dead feeling, the numbness, hung on, but the road was soothing. She gave up calling Grady at all—he couldn’t understand. She alternated interstates each time and made her way between them on two-laners. She came to know which state she was in by the feel of their highways. Georgia’s were curvy and mysterious with dense vegetation at their edges. California’s were orderly and geometric. Wyoming’s were straight and as vast as the sky. On a pitch black night in Indiana, almost a year after she left Cheyenne that first time, she got off the interstate and drove down a two-lane road looking for a place to pull over. Cornfields bordered the road on both sides. She turned onto a smaller dirt road, hoping to find a turnout or a wider spot where she could park and sleep. For a couple miles there was nothing but narrow road, deep ditches on either side, and freshly cut cornfields. She tried a three-point turn to get back to the interstate. The road was too narrow. The pickup lurched when the rear tire went into the ditch, and the Datsun was left sitting on its frame. On both sides of the road were fields of cut corn like beds of nails. She thought she’d be safer there than in the pickup, which sat steeply angled like a ship with its nose up before sinking. She reached through the small window at the side of the topper, pulled out the sleeping bag, and carried it out into the field, cut corn stalks crunching under her feet. She leveled the stalk stubs with her boot in a swath big enough for her and Caddis to lie down in. She got into the sleeping bag and Caddis curled up beside her. There was a haze around the moon that suggested a lack of real lines. She lay there thinking about Derek disappearing from the world. When she finally got to sleep, she slept deeply, the smell of cornstalks pressing on her dreams. Caddis woke her at dawn, growling. There were two men up on the road doing something to her truck. Iron chains clanked. She jumped out of the sleeping bag, bunched it up under her arm, and ran to the road. An old man with tobacco juice running down the creases at the sides of his mouth glared at her. A younger man with muddy work boots was on his knees trying to get a chain hooked to the front of the Datsun. A big Ford pickup sat facing it. 10 u Crab Orchard Review
Kathy Conde “Did you sleep out there?” This was spewed out along with tobacco juice through the old man’s teeth. “Um.” Her toes curled in her boots. The corn fields stretched out on all sides like an impossible ocean. “You can’t sleep here,” the old guy said. The younger man stood up and jerked the chain tight. The sun coming up behind him gave a gold glow to the edges of his silhouette. He walked to the Ford, jumped in, and threw it into reverse. The roar of the engine seemed to need the whole sea of corn stubs to hold it. The Datsun snapped to, like the tip end of a bullwhip. The chain popped loud as a gun going off. Her heart was beating so fast she felt the centrifugal force of the blood in her fingertips. The tires of the Ford flung dirt and rocks toward her and the old man. The old man jumped down into the ditch and pushed up on the back of the Datsun to free the frame. It lurched up onto the road. The trucks, one big, one small, sat there on the narrow road grill to grill. The smell of burning rubber tinged the night-washed air and a fine cloud of dust sparkled in the slant of sun. The two men unhooked the chain from both trucks and heaved it into the back of the Ford. The old man walked over to her and pulled the Beretta out of his pocket. She felt like she’d just woken up with her hands tied and a sock in her mouth. He turned it over a few times, examining it. Caddis must have sensed something. She started growling low and even seemed to curl her lip. The old man just laughed at her. “Found this on the floorboard,” he said. Now there was black dirt stuck to the tobacco juice in the creases that ran down from his mouth. He squinted at her. She tensed. She was so scared she was suddenly beyond fear. She glared at him. The old man met her eyes and grinned, his stained teeth slimed with brown saliva. He handed her the gun. “Be more careful.” The younger man was right behind him. He looked at her from under his hat brim and said, “It’s too small to stop something big anyway.” He smiled. They climbed into the Ford and, without another word, backed up down the road. She stood watching them until they were out of sight. The sun was getting intense for late September and made the Beretta burn in her hand. The gun seemed heavy for such a small thing. She heaved back and threw it into the field. She got behind the wheel and saw the glove Crab Orchard Review
Kathy Conde box open, its contents spilled onto the floor. She backed the Datsun in the opposite direction two miles to the paved road. On her last trip west, she went all the way to the coast. When she pulled into Mendocino, she missed the whine of the interstate. She drove to the house she’d been to a few years earlier with Derek. She stopped in front of it, unable to get herself out of the Datsun. It seemed criminal that the palm trees and sandy yard looked the same. Finally she told Caddis to stay, walked to the house, and rang the bell. Derek’s mother opened the door. Her hair was gray now. She looked hard at Raney’s face, the vertical lines between her eyes drawn sharp and deep. Raney thought she was going to slap her. “I hope you don’t mind me coming.” Raney was going to go on, but Derek’s mother turned away, leaving the door wide open. She crossed the room, and stood looking out a window through sheer curtains. Raney stepped inside. The small living room was cool with its tile floor. It smelled like the sea. A soft light filled it. A clock ticked loudly on the wall. On an end table was a framed photo of Derek and Raney at the Wind River cabin. Raney picked it up, hugged it to her chest, and sank down on the sofa. “He was devastated when you left,” Derek’s mother said, still looking out the window. She was gripping the curtain as if she were holding herself there. “He couldn’t get over it.” Raney nodded. She tried to look at her but her eyes hurt. She had to squint. “He wanted you back.” Derek’s mother turned her head to look at Raney. “That’s the last thing he said to me.” Her eyes flashed with anger. Raney’s fingertips tingled as if blood was coming back into them. “I hated you,” Derek’s mother said, her voice flat. The pain in Raney’s eyes subsided with the movement in her blood, and she looked at Derek’s mother, saw more lines on her face. A black cat came over and brushed Raney’s shins. She put her hand down, and the cat jumped into her lap. It was so soft she wanted to wipe it across her eyes. “I miscarried four times,” Raney said. “The last one put me over the edge.” She went on even though she couldn’t tell if the statue at the curtain had heard her. “I thought life wouldn’t give you anything you can’t handle. But it does.” Derek’s mother let go of the curtain. “You left.” 12 u Crab Orchard Review
Kathy Conde “I couldn’t handle it.” Raney put the photo back on the end table. “And Derek wouldn’t talk about it.” Derek’s mother pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and wiped her eyes. She came and sat on the other end of the sofa. Raney could see she’d been worn down by the grief but not crushed. “I left,” Raney said. “But I loved him.” They sat in silence, the ticking clock the only sound. Raney finally picked up the frame again and touched Derek’s face in the photo. “I don’t remember this.” “He put it there when he came to stay with me,” Derek’s mother said. “After you left. I broke my ankle and couldn’t walk.” She went out and came back with a box. “Here.” She held it out to Raney. Inside were more photos of the Wind River cabin and a small bundle of letters. Raney picked up the letters and pulled on the string that held them together. Her hands seemed like someone else’s. “They’re to you,” Derek’s mother said. “Never mailed. I found them when I had to go through his things.” Raney looked down at the box. It made her think of a homeless person. Her heart seemed to be barely beating. Derek’s mother sat beside her in silence. She got that still look people get when the grief has done its work, as if she’d gone beyond the sharp edges, beyond the blessed shock, the million regrets. When Raney left, Derek’s mother stood at the door watching her drive off. She headed back toward I-80. From there she would make her way to Cheyenne. After that she didn’t know. She waited till she got into the hills outside Mendocino and stopped by a river that ran along the road. The river was a living thing, she could see that, running to its destiny with song and glimmer and the steady wearing away of rock. The fall color in the trees was astonishing—a thousand shades of red, yellow, orange, and green vibrated all around her. It must have been there when she drove through on her way to Mendocino, but she hadn’t noticed it. Caddis sat tall in the passenger seat looking at Raney with adoration. No matter what Raney did or would do, Caddis would love her this deeply. Raney reached out and rubbed her gently behind the ears. She picked up the box and lifted the photos out of it. She couldn’t remember who took these photos of the two of them at their cabin on the Wind River. She couldn’t remember anyone else ever being there. She held up a photo where they were standing in front of the porch with Crab Orchard Review
Kathy Conde their arms around each other. Derek had a look in his eye like he was ready to do whatever it was he came here for. She had the look of a girl who had woken up to find the sun was out after ten solid years of rain. In a corner of the box was one of the flies sheâ€™d tied those last days at the cabin. It was matted with something reddish-brown that had dried like lacquer. She closed it in her hand, brought it to her heart, and caved in around it. She squeezed and the hook dug into her palm. She threw her head back and howled.
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Idris Anderson The Swamp I have gone the other way in winter, slipping down this root-ragged bank on a sled of leaves to the low bottom of the swamp. Hunting squirrels in brown weather always began with this narrow maneuver of muscular balance, tricky enough to make me lock my jaw and set my thumb tighter on the safety latch that I not shoot my cousin in the back accidentally. We still call it The Swamp, though the last green patch of stagnant water dried up a century ago. Now your foot springs back from soft unpacked layers of leaves that cover your shoes everywhere. A step can draw you to the thigh. A man once, following his eye, gray-squirrel movement in a nest high and hidden in the leaves, turned all of a sudden and snapped his leg clean. His holler ruffled the air like wings. I never understood the silence of Indians, no matter how soft the leather of moccasins. There is always the shuffle of leaves, the dry crack of a twig. There is no bare, level ground anywhere. I take the summer way with others, pushing through scrub oaks that have already half reclaimed this ridge of earth. For years I took for granted how unnaturally straight it runs across the swamp. I was twelve maybe when it puzzled me, “Why?” We carried canepoles and baitcans. It was hot. We wore faded denim and long sleeves, traveling light, just the poles and what tackle we could fit in our pockets. Hooks, corks, sinkers, a spool of black line, a knife and pliers—
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Idris Anderson in case we caught a catfish, a turtle, an eel— the swallowed hooks we’d need to yank out. The path leading to nowhere, little or nothing, stub of a post, the old mill place, wholly reclaimed by water and trees, a tumble of planks furred moss green, collapsed long since, the wood waterwheel rotted away, disappeared, the great gears dismantled, carted away long since, the stone foundation sunk, vanished. The high path puzzled me, “Why?” Bottom land below us on either side tangled brown-green with brambles, wild running swamp vines, summer flowers blooming. Uncle Virgil slung his long legs over fallen-down trees I crawled under. “Old rice fields,” he said. “Right here.” We were walking two logs over a deep, sunken, dried up place. “The sluice,” he said, “caved in.” He was walking in front of me, not turning around to look after me when I asked: “What’s this?” and “How could it happen?” “Back a ways,” he said, “your great, great grandaddy’s slaves built this dam.” That’s all he said. No change in his voice. Just a fact. Numb walking and inattention. No reckoning. An empty dryness, a dim, inapprehensible, vague complicity. I had no vision for this place except as a realm of wonder, desolation and fecundity. I walked the dam. For more than a mile there is no good resting place. You either go in or go out. We were going in, toward the secret middle of these thousand acres, toward millpond waters teeming with fish. My cousins carried bait: red stable worms, crickets, yellow-and-black Catawbas they’d robbed from a tree, a fat strip of backporch bacon—they’d sneaked that too. They took dibs on the best fishing spots, and I could, then, for the first time, almost see them, their black, 16 u Crab Orchard Review
Idris Anderson caked-with-grime backs, bare muddy feet bleeding, the heat and sweat, the shiny muscular shoulders. Nothing to drink but green scummed-up water. Log stacks of oak, hickory, and pine they’d cut and cleared out, their digging and piling of foul watery earth, the stamping down of dirt for the path I walked on. I didn’t see the faces, the raw insides of their hands, the long gun loose in the arms of the man with the hat. I imagined blue sheen of the lake-field, tender shoots set evenly in rows. Men hoeing, chanting work songs to take their minds off. I wanted labor to be beautiful and the girl in the book not to be me. Hard evidence: gravestones and a photograph in an oval frame, thick convex glass over brows and cheekbones, his eyes like mine, his hair combed and parted. She in her black bonnet stern, resilient, enduring; he with a string tie, a stiff collar up his neck. Just the raising of an arm commanding this or that, his finger reading names in a leather account book, columns for dates, weights, when born, acquired. And tucked inside the back cover: a bill of sale, “One Negro Girl, thirteen, October 17, 1847.” For what, I thought when I found it, but to own something in a wilderness? Make something of it. Not to starve or get shot. Not to marry the wrong woman, the wrong man. Or run off the road drunk in the middle of the night. The standards were, well, not very high. Hymns. Piano in the parlor. Breadboard, milk bucket, quilts. Greasy stone floor of the smoke house. Pretty little thing to cook and sweep—she wouldn’t talk much. Bible and clock on the mantel. A kind of peace, everything right in its time. To cut out a dry living place in a wilderness of snakes, mosquitoes, annoyances that madden. The property of water is to lie down in a swamp Crab Orchard Review
Idris Anderson unless forced by machinery upward, sucked through the pipe by the pump behind the house on the hill. I was remembering stories of lying to myself. I’d dropped in the slop bucket a good egg I’d broken. I didn’t mean to. What I do and how I am has little or nothing to do with who he was and what he did. I looked away. I denied. I petitioned for redemption, for expiation of my fathers’ fathers’ ignorance and crimes. Not theirs now so much as mine. No help for the shamed, for the girl who isn’t me. I can only give her my name, a story and a feeling, a kinship. At night I walk the hardwood floor, planed smooth by hands I didn’t know or don’t remember. The shallow dents of hobnail boots echo in the house. There are no ghosts in the woods, they have lain down in the leaves. Only the trees sigh, heartwood. Humid air steams up shafts of weak light. The sky opens roundly. Light teems with gnat swarm, mosquito hum, water-bug hiss. Everywhere the presence of water, the unmistakable presence of fish moving, sidling under the bank, pausing at the thunder of our feet. The smell of fish breeding, breaking the water, their lips feeding. The secret middle of the swamp, black and deeply unshining, rumored to be unfathomable, proved by us to be inexhaustible. We aren’t startled by the shape, the color and texture of humanity. His khaki shirt-back to us, my mother’s father sits motionless in his natural seat, the stump of an old cut tree worn to fit his thighs, the old, irrepressible oak growing, pushing new limbs around him, half-concealing him. He has come alone, craving the quiet of the day. Fishing for him is an act of serious meditation, a discipline and a ritual almost sacred. He waits for the Big One, whom we only half believe in. 18 u Crab Orchard Review
Idris Anderson If he lives, as he must, having grown wise, nibbling my bait clean, tangling my lines, running my cork in circles around snags and cypress knees—if he lives, I say, he carries a rusty hook in his lip where I hooked him good that one time. You wouldn’t remember. You weren’t even born yet. His nod reminds us of the fisherman’s code. Silence. Stillness. A blue dragonfly on the tip of his rod. We choose our places around the pond and pull in little fellers: red-breasts and bream, stumpknockers, silvers and red-finned pike. My cork pushed up high for deep water. A revised watery dreamlike memory of the self unreckoned with. None to blame now. Just a numb, worn-out lingering pity for what’s past and not done with, for the graveless and voiceless. Wing-beat. Murky water. A weight or sinker to the bottom, a swallowed bait. And he, the oldest whom I knew—except once the shadow of his mother keeping warm by the woodstove in her flickering kitchen—I remember her small hand pushing a poker in the black iron door, her white dishcloth steaming on the handle when she opened the hellmouth eating oak— she’s almost gone from memory. He survives, his part dwindled to a hundred acres. He looks up across the black pond water and meets me eye to eye.
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Root of the Matter 1 In the earliest landscape painting, of a hilltop town in Tuscany, the cliff is dominant, its trees, water falling to a river, and everywhere visible roots, Leonardo’s fine ink squiggles as if he learned to draw—muscles, feathers, hair, the aortic root—from studies of roots in crevices. Vinci the town, Arno the river. The heart of anatomy is the aortic root.
2 Rough seed dropped in red dirt by the hot brick steps. When it bloomed, I plucked it root and all and held it in my hand and wondered, not about God or the world or any other vagueness. Flower and root afresh each spring, green-tender, orange-blossoming— puzzle enough. Nasturtium its name.
3 What’s the matter, mother? So the hero impertinent begins his blitz of questions, scours family secrets, letters in a shoebox in the attic, the perfume left. What your mother did and did not, what she endured, and how she suffered. It was a tinker who tapped the root of the matter. 20 u Crab Orchard Review
Idris Anderson Your grandmother, potting up a pink geranium, fingering soil from its roots, the old washand-sugar house leaning in the background— cleanliness, sustenance, a touch of beauty—the tin man in the tattered coat Bid you ravel all this matter out. In public records your sister searched, notations in the margin, a marriage annulled. Your mother nulled. Your lost sister. Mender of pots, meddler, the batter and matter of your bricolage, listening is a kind of root.
4 The root of the matter is a mandrake, pulled from the earth shrieking. Femme fatale, the witch, the bitch, woman is, naturally, to blame. Tie a dog to her, drown her in a ditch. Give her to drink mandragora.
5 Heart like a fist, like a pump, like a root, the root of the matter is a heart. The heart of the matter is a root. And by this declension or ascension, a tree. That tree. Or the early or late ones. Adam. Christ. Two tramps near a ditch, by a rock and a tree. Their stories and emendations, variorum, marginalia, monk scratch. Bears fruit, bleeds, leafs out. One leaf. Who knows what is true? Or the oak my father hung a rope from. Swinging high, I memorized “To be or not to be,” declaiming lines to mosses and leaves, roots running everywhere over ground like muscled arms of old men seeking love in their sleep, Crab Orchard Review
Idris Anderson tendrils of a girlâ€™s fair hair, curling feeders on which Iâ€™d catch and kick my heels, discover my voice, the abyss. The meditative young man, brooding, vulnerable, verbalized every ramification. Decided. Against. I havenâ€™t decided. Yet.
6 I saw all the nerves of a lamb abstracted from the body, no flesh, no bones, just a fine red cage of roots. Yes, the secret after all, Mrs. Robinson: transform all that lives into plastic, faithfully, through miracles of chemistry. Root without its coat. The thing itself, stripped of clothing wooly bright. The idea or the plastic idea? Beautifully anatomized in a glass box in the bizarre exhibition in the clean museum, the nervous network of a little lamb, the size of a lamb, because it was.
7 Leonardo, still, now, cited by cardiologists in academic papers: It is well known that the vortices forming inside the sinuses due to the narrowing of the ST junction are of paramount importance in regulating the closing mechanism of the valve leaflets. Although Leonardo da Vinci understood and illustrated these vortices long ago, only quite recently has the sophisticated relationship among the various components of the aortic root in controlling valve motion been demonstrated experimentally.
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Idris Anderson He cut it out and laid it on a table to figure on paper its branching into veins like roots of a tree pushing into stratifications. Studied its sinuses, caves in the hillside, the secret, irresistible spaces that beckoned the boy.
8 When the endodontist drilled into roots of number 14, his shiny machine sang with the aria on the classical station. He inspired confidence, talked of his daughter, her first day at school, hummed along with the tenor, a masculine sweetness. His first and last names Arabic, his speech thoroughly American, his Harvard credential displayed. Una furtiva lagrima negli occhi suoi spuntò: Quelle festose giovani invidiar sembrò. His fingers dialed the microscope hanging from the ceiling, delicately turning, highly competently. I wasn’t worried, distracted by the aria, the high-pitched whirr—all that shiny machinery, drugs in the needle rooted in the roof of my mouth. Pinpoint of pain, the oboe yearning, the otherworldly singing. Che più cercando io vo? Che più cercando io vo? I’d come early, waited in the parking lot and listened to the news— chemical weapons attack in Syria, missile’s pinpoint delivery, 426 children The chair in which I sat massaged my lower back. I was at ease in its octopal arms, the surround sound system, my mouth full of blue fingers— all sympathy with the singer, exultant in his hope. One calcified root extracted not bloody at all, a white Crab Orchard Review
Idris Anderson dead root, he held it up with tweezers. I could say nothing, the ache of my jaw stretched open, his pleasant on-key humming. I was numb to everything, everything but listening, and the speculation of killing in absentia. The bodies cool now, in rows laid out. God, God, may it have been quick. I felt no pain of the matter. I saw two bloody nerves in the stainless tray, bleeding on paper, tiny watercolor feathers.
9 Ghost to Hamlet— And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf, Wouldst thou not stir in this.
10 The chemical that goes to the root of the nerve and switches off its on-off switch so that one can’t control one’s breathing, one’s muscles, heartbeat, the body convulses and seizes. Babies, children in Syria whose names I name here— Syed, Aman, Zainab , Ayesha, Amir, Essan, Akbar, Saleem, Amani, Farid, Masoud, Basil, Shayeen— I give you the names of children in my classroom in America. I enroll you, call you, and listen for Here, Here, Here . . . The toxin will not be named. Name is a habitation.
11 In the churchyard after the storm a large hickory had blown over, its roots pulled up the grave of old Aunt So-and-So. 24 u Crab Orchard Review
Idris Anderson Coffin lid askew, view down in of her skull, shoulderbone. The old and young men took off their Sunday ties, took shovels from their trucks. One down in the grave with his ax hacked a big root, the coffin settled into place, the lid replaced, the shovels gently, gently shifted dirt. I stood by the cars in my little blue coat.
12 Sidebar on a news webpage: lost mural by Leonardo discovered beneath layers of whitewash, monochromatic sketches unseen in 500 years. Digital photograph of a small portion uncoveredâ€”the work of lasers, which is slow and underfunded. Images of trees and their roots, one sturdy horizontal bursting foundation blocks. Restoration unfinished.
13 Where do roots go? Priapic, prepositional: before, behind, between, above, below. Rockstacks, hilltops, cliffs, clefts, crevices, ravines, foundations, ditches, gravestones, faults, sewer pipes, in darkest loam. Secretly into secrets.
14 To bonsai a tree, I tend to roots, cut the thick, the ugly wiry black. Crab Orchard Review
Idris Anderson Untangle knots, the nest, the rot. Rake out. Snip. Keep moist the tiny feeders. Allow and trim. Allow and trim. What is visible will ramify and flush if I grow old enough.
15 Iâ€™m older than my mother standing in the photograph under the pecan tree by the screen-door of the riverhouse, hands in her pockets. Happy in her last flourishing decade. Her red shirt mine now. I wear it in the garden in a warm autumn, not listening to my heart.
16 Sleepy lazy quiet root, youâ€™ve broken your pot.
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Holly Teresa Baker Apothecary for the Brokenhearted Chamomile, because you didn’t sleep last night, waiting for the crunch of tires on the gravel drive, your eyes burning with digital green, the deepening hours of midnight, each time you wake the silent phone. Steep for five minutes, and fill the cold hollow sip by sip— Yerba mate, tonight, to keep you awake on the neonatal ward as you gentle the prick of the needle, soothe the undergrown bodies with touch and drug, remembering the child at home, wondering if he is again forgotten on the sunken couch, his lullaby a television yawning— Wild ginger, because your eyelids fall like dead leaves, not butterfly’s wings, and the day’s only just begun, but your son doesn’t understand a body drained or a mind wound taut as a violin string, and you need to feel blood push through your veins to know you’re alive— Mistletoe, a tincture of stems and leaves, because your friend saw him, she swears she saw him, through the window at a downtown bistro, his hand warmed in a strange woman’s hand, and because you don’t believe this time he lied, but the fear bends you earthward— Coltsfoot, for when your chest is a mangled birdcage, and each breath draws up your body like a barbed shank in a body betraying the wounds of a neglected heart, for the bird in panic beating wings against your skull, scraping talons. Relieve the pain. Grow a garden in your body. Put on the kettle—
Crab Orchard Review
Jenna Bazzell Waiting for the Burial to Begin May 20th, 1999 A willow drags its knuckles across the blonde grass where the graveyard frays out to a raised welt of railroad tracks. White-throated swallows chitter in a Bradford pear tree; black crows gorge on burst figs in a shrunken creek. The sun staggers above the clay-packed cliffs cascading with kudzu as load-heavy bumblebees lower themselves to the sun-swollen lupine and trumpeting honeysuckle; a brush-footed butterfly lifts and sets down, lifts and sets down, unable to carry its shadow.
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Dieback Honey-eaters flit from the whorls of the dense sheafed center of banksia clusters— their brush-tipped tongues grow long to gorge them, to lick the walls, a chamber built of scent, this moment of fullness and indulgence, followed by the return of hunger— It couldn’t last. Nectar flowed glacially from wounds in the cone and pinned the birds upon their entering as the orchids opened wider. First, liquid, the color of the sunrise. Not one minim dropped to the ground. They braced for the rain to fill the striae, this arid land flooding— purple loosestrife choking the border stretched on that thin wire of shadow between murk and sky. Water mold, swarms of dayflies, all in limbus in this moment that felt like sleep the taste of nectar souring to vinegar, the water gum’s branches protruding north.
Note: Phytophthora dieback is a devastating disease of native plants. The death of native plants decreases the biodiversity of valuable bushland and has the potential to drive rare plant species (including banksia) and their dependent fauna to extinction.
Crab Orchard Review
Jessica Rae Bergamino Imagining the Tin Man You could have been a quiver braided with leather across the huntress’ muscle-marbled back, could have been a B-29, torpid and propeller heavy, or the bomb saddled inside it. You could have been the motor of a sewing machine or a cola can’s tab, flicked and plucked to determine the first initial of your true love’s name. You could have been any part of the city you spent your whole life working towards— your alloy dampened by emerald— or the ax swung beside you, enchanted to hold desire at bay. When I wanted a father I turned to your story, but you were already an echo, a not-quite man, a shivering hollow. Biology was a glitch for leaner times: organ an anagram for groan, ear for era, skin for inks. You’d grown to love dead things: the pelt of an otter, its flippers undone; rough feathers from a pheasant’s belly oiled prism green. Underbrush gathered to watch your body prune the delicate away, your voice a rooting growl in an empty torso. Some people aren’t meant for loveliness,
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Jessica Rae Bergamino others, to leave an inheritance. But what I wouldnâ€™t want to take from youâ€” the certainty of being impenetrable, the blush of spring rain bringing you to your knees.
Crab Orchard Review
Rebecca Black Bernal Hill A final rogue colony of bees secretes its hive in the garden trash bin as Smallcross walks through the fuming mint and exhausted gasoline, remembering the old gods said to have borrowed the bodies of bees to lead processions to the grave, swarming burials along with the women paid to act as mourners, griefâ€™s mercenaries. Now simple mites burrow into the larval cells in this community plot. The bees sink in flight, weak with shivering wings. No one knows how to save them. Every 32 u Crab Orchard Review
Rebecca Black Tuesday noon the disaster sirens drill her from her chilly room. She walks up Folsom past the datura’s megaphone bloom to build her body heat. Is there some Arcadia between nectar and sting? Her vision blurry, multiple from reading in the sublet set with a curtain instead of a door. Her musician always out. Layers of chipping paint. The sloping floor and waxen walls— almost hexagonal— collapse.
Crab Orchard Review
Matthew Dougherty Shipyards I.
Wool sweaters and deer jerky were the main items in her
dad’s duffle bag. Wendy put a picture of the three of them—mother, daughter, and father—inside one of his books. She had helped him pack little by little in the weeks past, and in that time they had temporarily forgotten about their shyness toward each other. With their task now finished, they sat in silence. The bag lay before them like a sleeping dog. Wendy’s mother wasn’t due home for an hour, maybe more because of the snow. She was taking classes toward her master’s in education up at Orono, an hour from where they lived in Belfast. In eastern Maine, 1980, your choices for higher education were slim and often a good drive from home. Wendy grew restless on the couch next to her dad, who wore a tattered red and gray flannel. Often times she’d seen it on her mother, hanging off her like a cloak. She was tempted to grab hold of the sleeve and rub her cheek against it, but then looked up at the man with sharp stubble on his face and thought otherwise. Besides, her father was most likely thinking about his journey ahead at sea. Even at age ten, she knew he wanted this. Tucker Crowe was a man who reread Treasure Island on his side of the bed while Wendy and her mother played stuffed animals on the other. Yes, she was sad he would be leaving for a month. But she also felt a peculiar excitement in the pit of her stomach at the thought of just the two of them—mom and daughter—occupying their warm home, having sleepovers every night and watching movies on the old TV as snow fell outside. She decided to go stand watch out the front window, clumsily hauling a kitchen stool over for a better vantage point. Except for the occasional splash of yellow lamplight from a house nearby, everything was a grayish, sleepy white. The falling snow hypnotized her. After a while she focused her gaze on the flakes that descended in the patches of light, the rest now too dark to see. Suddenly, the 34 u Crab Orchard Review
Matthew Dougherty thought of her mom crept into her mind and broke her trance. She began to worry. The sound of her dad rummaging through the kitchen drawers meant he was thinking about it too. Wendy left her post to see him. She didn’t help, just stared, as a young child would be expected to do. “I’m tryin’ to think who I could call…” he said. “Her class got out at five.” He seemed to continue his search around the kitchen because he was on display, trying to appease the eyes of a young girl wondering where her mother was. The same phone book had been flipped through twice, papers above the fridge taken down and examined. Wendy went back to the window, but the scene outside felt different. The falling snow didn’t matter to her now; what she wanted was the two headlight beams from their station wagon to pierce through the flakes and appease her the way sunbeams appease a sailor in a storm. Wendy hadn’t heard him come into the living room, but now her father’s silhouette cast a strange gloom upon the wet glass. She wished he’d keep looking for numbers to call. There had to be other numbers. She said nothing. Together they waited and watched, listening to the heat quietly hiss through the vent.
II. Next, a dream. Of her father. He’s freshly shaven, with dark hair that matches his clothes. He sits alone on a cold step, the only one outside, but others glance from the window, talking and eating. “The girl’s gonna be spending a lot of time at daycare,” a cousin says. “No grandparents to help out either.” A large man with a beard just recently trimmed pushes open the double doors and sits down next to him. His name is Buford. “Jesus it’s cold.” Tucker Crowe says nothing, so the large man goes on: “These pea coats just don’t cut it up here. We’re down-feather men, aren’t we?” Cars drive by. The funeral parlor is on the busiest road in Belfast. “I met her across the street,” Tucker says. “When I bus-boyed at Three Sides Pub. She was on a New England road trip.” “I remember you first telling me about her,” Buford says. Tucker’s mind is already elsewhere, not wanting to stay in one place for long. His eyes are dry, like the craters on Mars. “If I could go on Crab Orchard Review
Matthew Dougherty this trip,” he says, “like I was supposed to. I know it would help. Catch swordfish the size of buck. Let the water wash it away for awhile.” Buford’s thinking carefully of what to say. There’s a lot of empty space between their words. Tucker’s staring longingly into the bushes, as if some magical solution is hiding there. It’s then his gaze hits Wendy hiding on the cold dirt, watching the two men. You shouldn’t be listening to this, his look says. A wind blows. You shouldn’t be here.
III. Wendy couldn’t remember if her dad had woken her. She sat up in bed, feeling out of place in her dark, slumbering room. Faint light seeped through the outline of the door, but she could hear no movement. Why’s that matter? she thought. Her dad was a quiet man—she never knew when he moved about the house. For the past few years it’d been just the two of them, filling corners of rooms with wooden ship models they’d built together. Wendy put her head back on the warm pillow and curled up beneath her haven of blankets. She wished time didn’t move so fast while she slept—she preferred it to move slower than real life. The prospect of more rest was too blissful to be real. The image of her father minutes before now solidified in Wendy’s mind: a solemn but broad shadow in the doorway, staring in at her. He never entered, only said her name. As fatigue disappeared like dew in sunlight, details began to congeal in her mind and they told her to get moving. It was Saturday morning. October 15th, Belfast, Maine. They were heading to the dock to watch a ship sail off into the Atlantic Ocean. Since her mother had died they tried to make it to the docks to see a boat off whenever they could. She peeled the covers off herself and got dressed in the morning chill. Downstairs, she found her father making toast for the both of them. An image of him in the kitchen years before. Both of her parents, actually. They are dancing to Led Zeppelin on the stereo. Wendy watches secretly from the family room. First, her mom is playing the guitar with the broom, and her dad’s laughing at her. “Your turn,” she says, and holds out the broom to him like it’s a sword. Her dad just laughs and shakes his head. 36 u Crab Orchard Review
Matthew Dougherty Her mom walks closer and hugs him and forces it into his big hands. “You know you love this song,” she says. “Come on, let me see it, Tuck!” And as if she turned a switch on his back, her dad starts to jam away. First, his eyes are a little wet and his face is red. He’s embarrassed because he doesn’t do things like this. But as the screechy-voiced man sings, her dad starts to get into it, and all of a sudden he’s shed his selfconsciousness, his motions nice and fluid. He sticks his tongue out and bends into a pose that looks kind of like a lawn gnome. He even imitates the growl coming from the stereo. Her mom is laughing, a deep belly laugh, and she’s hunched over. Wendy, on the couch, can’t help herself. She’s laughing too because she’s never seen him act like that. Now his hair was graying and messy from sleep, but his brown eyes looked aware, as if they’d been open for several hours already. He came over to Wendy and kissed her on the head, but it seemed staged, like someone had whispered the idea in his ear right before she’d come downstairs. She didn’t like it. “How’d you sleep?” he asked. “Good.” She didn’t add: If only for another month, even though she thought it. It was her first year at the junior high in Belfast, which started at seven fifteen in the morning. To get up even earlier on a Saturday made Wendy’s heart drop a little further in her chest, and even though her eyelids always drooped on the car ride down to the shipyard and her body yearned in the cold months to be back beneath her quilts, she never complained. He needed someone to stand next to, like a first mate. Her father had a way of acting like a lone wolf, but Wendy didn’t buy into it at all. Even yesterday he’d asked her three times if she was sure she didn’t want to come with him to Jack’s Grocery. He’d made it sound like he was offering a favor, and it had made her smirk, but not while he was looking. Finally she’d said, all right, I’ll go. Or maybe she didn’t want him to go to the docks alone because she was scared of something. But what? Him never coming back was the answer, but she shook it out of her head. Everything was mist that morning. The air felt heavy but clean, mostly rid of the dead fish smell which was sure to return. The great hull looked like an unnatural gray mass, as if a mountain had been lackadaisically placed on the water. Wendy and her father found a spot on a pier not far from the dock and watched as the crew talked Crab Orchard Review
Matthew Dougherty amongst themselves, untying the thick ropes that kept the boat near land. “It’s almost ready,” her dad said, rubbing his hands together like it was Thanksgiving dinner. He smiled boyishly at Wendy and she smiled back. “How long has it been, Dad?” she asked him. For some weird reason it felt risky asking him this. “What do you mean? Last time a boat left?” “No…I mean, I don’t know, when’s the last time you went out on one?” “Well,” he said, taking a breath. “Probably with you and your mom, when we went to Bar Harbor.” Wendy barely remembered that trip. She wanted to ask him how long ago they’d gone and how old he was now. Thirty-four or thirty-five? There were more splotches of gray in his hair and they hadn’t been there for very long. A horn sounded and the boat’s engine began to churn. Anticipation awoke like the start of a race. The gush of water meant the beginning of a journey. Slowly the boat began to drift from the dock. Here was the farthest they got. Wendy thought about her father poring over maps of coastal Maine and beyond. She could not help but glance at him now—his eyes so fixed upon the structure he’d helped build for months as it shrank in the distance. Wendy’s face flushed with unwelcome heat. An image materialized on the screen inside her head: him reaching out his arm as if to grab hold of a cleat on the ship and shout, “Wait for me!” A deep, raspy voice came from behind them, which made Wendy sigh in relief. “Wouldn’t wanna be those poor souls,” it said. “Their balls so cold they probably shot right back inside ’em!” It was, of course, Buford, another shipbuilder who worked with Tucker and was her father’s closest friend in Belfast. He cackled, sounding like a car with no muffler. “The size of raisins, I bet!” Wendy prepared herself for a smothering warm hug from the grizzly bear. His thick brown beard tickled her forehead, but she imagined it felt better than her father’s prickly stubble. When was the last time she’d been bear-hugged by her father? she wondered. “You know,” Buford said to her, “Jimmy’s been talking about you. Says you didn’t wanna work with him in school.” Wendy’s face became even more blushed. Jimmy was in her grade at Belfast Middle. She thought he had a crush on her. She also thought 38 u Crab Orchard Review
Matthew Dougherty he looked too much like a younger version of his father. He was a strange but good friend, nothing else. “We couldn’t work together because we got assigned partners in class,” she said. “Otherwise I would’ve.” This was the truth. After the period was over, Jimmy had gone up to her and said that they were above the rules of the class and that their special bond meant they should both ditch their partners. “I’m only ruffling your feathers. Besides, who’d want to work with my son? He’s lazy. Gets into trouble too much.” “Hey, he’s a nice kid,” Tucker chimed in, arms folded. “I’d be his partner.” “That’s because no one would be your partner! You’d take anybody!” Wendy laughed at Buford’s remark, encouraging him. “Your dad!” He pointed his thumb toward Tucker mockingly. “He’d probably go cry to the teacher: no one will work with me!” Wendy loved when her father legitimately laughed because it was very contagious. She watched the two of them closely now, trying to pick up pointers from Buford on how to do it. Sure, he chuckled at her, but it was never like this. Buford went on for another minute before he ran out of steam. As they walked back toward the parking lot, Tucker asked Buford what really brought him here on a Saturday. “You guys aren’t the only ones who like to bid a ship farewell,” he said. “Just wish I could persuade Jimmy to get up with me, the lazy bum.” Buford clumsily retrieved a pack of Chesterfields from his coat pocket and removed one. Then he found a match pad from another pocket. “The boy’s got it too easy. No work ethic. And he eats too much.” “Look who’s talking,” Tucker said. “You remember me when you first started working at the docks?” Buford asked defiantly, his chest puffing out some. “I was built like a brick shit house! It’s Linda who’s been cooking too many unhealthy meals.” They reached their cars. Wendy couldn’t wait to get the heat blasting, although the air had to warm first, which took a while in her dad’s truck. “Celtics game tonight,” Buford posed. “Am I coming over?” “Seven thirty,” Tucker said. In the car, conversation died down, and Wendy thought about what the rest of her day had in store. On Saturdays she would often go on hikes with her father, but today a nap and reading sounded better. Jimmy would probably come over with Buford later. Wendy looked at her father, who drove with one hand gently guiding the bottom part of the steering wheel. She could tell his friend Crab Orchard Review
Matthew Dougherty had calmed his nerves. Still, she knew he thought about the boat as he drove, delimited by the same pine trees he’d known for thirty years. Maine woods have a way of closing in on you, she had begun to realize. Her father’s eyes were on the road, but she could tell his mind was on the deck of the vessel, where there wasn’t a tree in sight.
IV. Jimmy was a portly seventh grader, who, like his father, claimed most of his girth was hard-earned muscle. “Next year, I’m gonna make the basketball team,” he said. “I’ve got the bulk. Now I’m just waitin’ for my growth spurt.” They were playing rummy in her room. Wendy picked up an ace and sorted it into her hand. “You ever think about going out for a different sport?” One that requires less jumping ability, she thought. And stamina, while we’re at it. Jimmy looked up from his hand and gave her a subtle shake of his head. “No way, José. Born to play ball, this guy was.” “I’ll come to a game of yours,” she said. “If you make the team next year.” Her remark clearly made Jimmy’s heart pick up its pace—Wendy could even see the pulse in his neck—but he attempted to keep things cool. He rearranged his cards, cleared his throat. “Yeah, sure. That’d be fine.” After Wendy won the hand, she went to the kitchen to get glasses of milk for the both of them. Buford and her father were watching the Celtics, who were losing badly. She knew this not because she had glanced at the screen but because they were talking about other things. Buford’s unmistakable gravel-like tone drifted into the kitchen: “I wonder if there’s anyone who’d take her for a couple months. I mean we would. I’m sure Jimmy and Linda’d be thrilled.” There was a pause. Then her father’s voice: “No, no, forget it.” “All right. Be no trouble…” Once they fell silent Wendy didn’t know what to do. Part of her wanted to let the milk carton drop onto the floor and spill everywhere. Another part of her wanted to go stomping into the room with the two of them watching their game and turn it off and stare at the both of them and yell. She didn’t know what she would yell but she’d yell all right. The wind was pestering the window, making it whine and groan. The sound had scared her before, but now it sounded like a calling. 40 u Crab Orchard Review
Matthew Dougherty She waited in silence, trying to control her brooding until the Celtics went on a lucky run. As Tucker and Buford focused again on the game, she slipped past them. “Where’s the milk?” Jimmy asked. Wendy didn’t respond. What had her dad said to prompt such a response from Buford? It didn’t matter—he’d spoken, given it voice. She had always known that if her father’s desire to go to sea went beyond his looks of longing at boats, she’d disappear. And that’s what she planned to do. She searched her closets for warm, non-cotton clothing that would keep her dry. She was confident that she could build fires, but food was an issue. She couldn’t hunt, and there weren’t any berries to be picked, not this time of year. Doesn’t matter, she thought, enjoying the steady, strong punches in her chest and the electric current that pulsed through her arm hairs. She was ready to be out of his way. Nothing would stop her. “Wendy,” Jimmy pleaded. “What the heck is going on?” It might be smart to have someone with her out in the woods at night, she decided. Even if it was Jimmy. “Wanna camp out for a few days?” she asked him. “Sure,” he said. “When?” “Tonight. Before the game’s over.” Jimmy’s eyes widened as if he’d seen an apple pie being tossed in the trash. “Tonight?” “Yeah, spur of the moment.” “But…it’s cold. Weather man says snow might come!” “I know a great place not far from here. A small cave right by the water. We could build a fire.” He looked at the cards on the floor and seemed to anxiously savor the warm air around him, as if thinking this was the last time he’d have such luxuries. “Just us,” Wendy said.
V. The night was cold and blank, no moon and few stars. She could see her boots bullying little water droplets in the grass as she walked. The backyard quickly gave way to brush and swaying trees that looked like dancing giants in the white rays of their flashlights. Crab Orchard Review
Matthew Dougherty Behind her, Jimmy was attacked by a pricker bush. “Son of a… mother of frickin…God blessed…” He never completed the curse, and it made Wendy chuckle, slowing her mind down so she could attempt to get a bearing on which way they needed to walk. She knew there was a path around here, one her father had made years back that eventually reached the ocean, but finding it at night was proving to be impossible. Owls began to hoot from different directions, and it disoriented her. Wind picked up and slowed down sporadically. There was an ethereal buzz in the woods and it made her feel like an intruder. She trudged on and Jimmy followed. “If we get to the top of this hill we should be good,” she told him at one point. “That’s a big ‘if.’ I thought you knew these woods, Wendy!” “It’s different at night when—” Wendy’s foot caught a root beneath the leaves, and she suddenly felt the top of her body surge like a loose hand of a clock. Her ankle twisted awkwardly and she felt some strand inside it tear. Jimmy was there in an instant, crouched like a catcher beside her. “Are you ok?” “Fine,” she said. Her ankle throbbed and the skin on her palms burned from bracing herself in the dirt. “Let’s go back,’” Jimmy said. “No.” “We can’t see anything in here, Wendy!” “Well you can go back then,” she said, and saw him instinctually consider the idea. It frightened her because she needed him. There was no way she could take on the woods at night all by herself, at least not yet, and so she added, “If you wanna leave me, go ahead.” Jimmy took a breath and looked at her, thinking. “No way, José,” he said, his favorite phrase, and helped her up. Pain slinked up Wendy’s leg, but she didn’t say anything. Instead she turned from him and trekked on, hoping the throb would dull as she kept moving. It didn’t. Her ankle was either broken or badly sprained. “You’re, uh…kinda limping a lot,” Jimmy said after what seemed like twenty minutes. She hadn’t wanted him to voice it. Up to then she’d been tricking herself to keep going, concentrating on spreading the distance between her and her father, but now the secret had been let out about her ankle. She let herself fall down on some pine needles. How long had they been out here? An hour? Probably less, she thought. Time always moved 42 u Crab Orchard Review
Matthew Dougherty slower in the woods. But she knew they were close to the top of the hill, and after that it was just downward until rocks and water. Once she stopped moving, she realized how cold it was. Jimmy looked at her cautiously from a few feet away. She could see his heavy breaths in the air. “That means it’s freezing, right?” He asked, waving his hands through the vapor before it vanished in the dark. “Think so,” Wendy said. They sat in silence for a while. Wendy’s flashlight started to flicker so she turned it off to save whatever energy it had left. She could barely see anything. Eventually Jimmy snuck his arm around her, telling her it was so they would keep warm. Wendy thought about unrolling the sleeping bags or building a fire. She doubted Jimmy could start one. She tried to remember her dad’s method of gathering little sticks into a teepee and building on from there. She could start one on her own, she was sure. On her own. The words echoed in her head. Jimmy would not follow her forever, and once he left that’s how it would be. I’ve got to go south, to Portland, she thought. In a city, she could do anything, get a job maybe. She’d have to lie about her age for a few years. The realization was starting to creep in. A few years of existing as a kid without a home was like voyaging the Atlantic on an inner tube. What was she doing here? It was as if Jimmy was reading her thoughts because now he was asking her the same question. “What are we gonna do, Wendy?” There was a little more desperation in his voice. The cold forest had sedated them for a bit and now they had awoken, but it almost seemed too late. Goosebumps crept onto Wendy’s skin and it was then that she noticed her feet were becoming numb. Some of her pain had subsided but that didn’t reassure her at all. Plus Jimmy’s heart was beating fast and she didn’t think it was because his arm was wrapped around her anymore. “Don’t panic,” she told him, but she regretted saying it because Jimmy began breathing even faster through his nostrils and his eyes looked watery. “We aren’t even on the path,” he said. “And it’s getting so cold.” It had rained earlier, Wendy remembered. All the wood would be wet and difficult to burn. “We’ve got to go back,” he said. He helped her up but when she tried to walk her foot screamed in protest. It felt both broken and frozen. Crab Orchard Review
Matthew Dougherty “Get on my back,” Jimmy said, and clapped his hands together a few times, psyching himself up like a linebacker going in for the sack. He even gave out a little roar. She knew he’d kill them both if he tried to carry her. “Jimmy,” she said. “Our dads probably went out looking for us after the game. I think you should head back the way we came.” “What?” His eyebrows raised a good couple inches, up near his hairline. “Just walk forward, in as straight a line as you can.” “What about you?” Wendy felt a shiver ripple through her. The forest had always been her friend. Just because it was dark in here now didn’t change anything, she thought, and tried to believe it. Besides, somewhere inside of her, she felt a tiny yearning to be a true lone wolf. If they didn’t do something they’d freeze to death. Jimmy clenched his fist determinedly and said: “I’ll return for you.” Wendy watched his flashlight beam slowly bob its way down the hill until it vanished behind all of the pines. It was only once she was by herself that she realized how intimidating the woods were at night. She felt swallowed, like she was inside a giant whale. Noises she couldn’t really place swirled all around her. Courage was leaking out of her and she thought rapidly of ways to clog it up. The flashlight didn’t help. The flickery splotch of light only kickstarted her imagination. Every branch looked like a mangled hand trying to grab her. Something was moving in the blackness not far away, stepping on dead leaves. Wendy thumbed her flashlight off, not wanting to see it. She bunched herself up like she was about to cannonball into water. She felt her spine sink deeper into the cold muddy ground. “It’s probably a squirrel,” she said to the dark. Another crunch. And another. She didn’t know why, but the noise made her think of bones snapping. “Jimmy?” she said. Wendy, it’s me. The voice came from her head. But could she hear it with her ears too? She wasn’t sure. It was a woman’s voice. Wendy hadn’t really listened to another woman’s voice in years. It felt so strange to listen to it now because she’d been thinking so hard about her father that she’d completely forgotten about her mother. And it sounded like her, didn’t it? That same honey, singsong way she had of talking. If she turned on the flashlight and shined it in the direction of the 44 u Crab Orchard Review
Matthew Dougherty voice, Wendy imagined she’d see her mom floating there, staring. But she didn’t look. Too much time had passed, and none of this concerned her mother. A ghost was a ghost, no matter who it might try to resemble. Why’d you run away, Wendy? it asked generically. This was not her mother. Wendy was already hunching up onto her legs, ready to keep moving. She thought about answering the voice, tempted to talk with it for just a few minutes so she could make sure. Wendy stood up straight, clenched her jaw, and ignored the pain. She navigated through more brush, picking up speed as she distanced herself from that voice until she was dashing through leathery wet leaves and pointy branches. The more she moved, the more her ankle loosened up. The ghost didn’t call after her and Wendy was grateful for that. The water was getting closer—she could tell by the saltiness of the air now. The ground had leveled out and now it was quickly sloping downwards. She was gaining momentum, too much of it. Her shin caught some extra-tight vine, one that would not give way against her stride and then she was tumbling downwards, getting scratched, knocking into wood and tiny rocks, but still glad to be moving. She wished she’d keep on rolling until she passed into nothingness.
VI. Wendy woke up shivering. The wetness of the ground had seeped through her pant legs. This must be how waking up blind feels, she thought. She also couldn’t remember when she’d fallen asleep. She took attendance of her body. There were new, pulsing bruises and scrapes and her head throbbed dully, but her ankle seemed to be all right. Not far off, she could hear the rhythmic wash of water hitting rock. She lifted her head and shined her flashlight from where she’d come. There was no sign of anything but the black trees that ascended the hill. Wendy took a deep breath. If she’d tumbled down a forest hill at night, escaping whatever it was she’d encountered back there, she could make it on her own. Her ankle probably wasn’t broken, either, because how could she have run on it like that? And why wasn’t it killing her now? She pressed both palms onto the dirt and propped herself up. To her surprise, there was no protest from her ankle. She flicked on the flashlight and took a step. Still the pain slept. Perhaps it had been popped into place at some point during her tumble? She refused Crab Orchard Review
Matthew Dougherty to think about it more, just pressed on, and quickly the trees panned out until she no longer needed the flashlight. The terrain changed from twigs and leaves and mud to smooth gray stone. Wendy looked up. She was standing on a great flat rock, one of the thousands that stretched down the coast each way she looked, jutting out of the foamy water. The waves sparkled with moonlight, and they shushed the sounds of the forest back from where she’d come. And who was that standing on the edge? The figure had broad shoulders, and it was tying some rope in its hands. Instead of running, Wendy clenched her fist and stepped further out onto the stone. Tiny specks of water landed on her face. “Who are you?” she shouted. Her eyes were getting used to the light. It didn’t answer, just drew closer to her. Wendy stood her ground. The image of her father materialized out of the shadows, wearing his reading glasses. He only wore them around her. A moonbeam reflected off one of his lenses, making him look ghostly. But you’re no ghost, she thought. This parent was very real, the only one she had. “This isn’t a rescue mission,” she said. “I’m going away.” Her father was silent, thinking. Finally, he said: “I’d like to come along.” His voice meshed well with the sound of the waves. He turned around and looked down below the rock. Wendy peered that way too, curious. Floating on the water was a white canvas sailboat. It bobbed, waiting for them, roped to the last tiny tree nearly waded in the water. Wendy was having a hard time mustering the resilience she’d felt toward him back in the woods. Everything in her felt dulled. She looked out at the little star of the lighthouse further down the coast. Beyond that was the shipyard, she knew. He must have sailed over from there, Wendy thought. She followed him down the side of the rock, using the smaller boulders as steps, and hopped into the boat. She felt surprisingly balanced and confident standing on deck. The wind blew. It sounded like a triumphant horn. Her father untied his knot and they began to drift away from shore. The branches of the trees were waving their goodbyes. “I’m glad I’m with you,” he said. To Wendy, it seemed he’d said it of his own accord—not because he was on display or because he was supposed to, and at least in the moment she believed him.
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Bruce Bond Gold Bee Invention is the mother of invention, and so the bee coated in gold, arrested in flight, pays homage to the lens that sees it, to the microscope of the new century that made this gilt a necessary thing. For gold loves an electron, carries it along the bloodless vein of the wing, thrilled in stillness, to make a sharper image. What then are these electrons if not beebound for the hungry flower of the eye. A bee like that is everywhere you want to be: everywhere the whir of wings that halo the hidden violence of attraction. If this is one more music of the spheres, it goes unheard because we always hear it. Like those first few months when we were tiny. The eye too is a haloed thing, an angel gilded in the light of foreign objects that come and go, and the eye burns on. Likewise the meadows that are the mother
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Bruce Bond of bees who give, in turn, birth to meadows that pull at heaven and earth to be seen. Their corruption is everywhere, as blooms that pay the boatman to ferry their gold away. Or so says the thrum of petals no one hears, the blurred wings of ghost essentials we coat in the flown colors of spring. Can you blame us if we sweep the floor of bees and sing to see them fly a little. Those in mourning know what it is to occupy a space of great stillness, an ideal that’s never perfect for good reason. It’s ideal. Sealed in honey like the sad bells and cathedrals of Prague. Or the pharaoh’s coffin glazed in metal for the journey. Gold dreams the long dream of an underworld economy. It would stabilize the terms of give and take, the forces of impoverishment and fortune that litter meadows in their season. Nature envelops nature and calls it new as death is new and violent and still and never still enough. If you look hard there, you can always see something moving. It is your eye looking hard, moving in. In as in the word invention: in venire,
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Bruce Bond an entering. Always a child inside us, grown small, a steeple and the thread of day, poorly remembered, that passes through. Inside every memory there is another, a place that waits with the patience of heaven. Always a speck of dust, quick as music, and made things that would make the maker. Theyâ€™re in there, the powers of invention that open something: the bee the blossom, the blossom the eye, the eye the bee-gold eye of bee.
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Ice Station Zebra In the winter of his enigmatic years, when he lay naked in the theater dark, the peas on his plate laid out in rows according to their size, Howard Hughes watched one movie, a Cold War spy flick set in fields of ice, a hundred fifty times. Easy for us to judge, to make light of the license of pain to create pain, to break one problem into many, each with its own habits of seclusion. Out here, a movie is spiritual, the way it leaves the body that burns. Like hoards of cash, it is a beam of dust and promises that falls and falls, never touching down. Easy to underestimate the power of a broken object. The slightest touch and his nerves caught fire, his skin so thin, his backbone so abused, it took the structures of curtained glass and rituals to hold him in. The Mojave was ground zero then.
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Bruce Bond Imagine the wind of a thousand wings exploding from the violence of a crash. What this world needs is a conspiracy to stitch the bony fragments back together. Or tighten its belt like an anorexic in the mirror who cannot quite look back. Out here on the Arctic of a mystery he watches to extinction, no snow falls. Too cold for that. Too late for America to take back the cruel measures of panic and greed that purged his personal Hollywood, his RKO. The Cold War just got colder, more exciting, more like a favorite movie made better in the distance on the big screen. Call it the future out there, where money makes money the way a great electric gate makes demands, because it is dull, free, and does not have the imaginationâ€” or is it courageâ€”to make a conversation. Call it the codeine-pallor of the season, the chill of entitlement that fathers itself amidst the fictional suspense of spies. Compulsion finds comfort there, no doubt, in the fear that gives focus to the man, no, the whole cast of men, whose lives end when the screenplay ends, and live again
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Bruce Bond like excavated gods who have no choice. No actors calling for a script, a line. Once there was a man they called the Master of Time who flew faster than the speed of angels. You see him still in early newsreels. He repeats what he said a million times because, for him, there is no time to speak of. He cannot see you. He cannot die or not die. He is abstract, as countries are, and ice, if you get enough of it. Once he was a god and thus a nightmare in his old age. He was an incantation moaning softly in pleasureâ€”or was it painâ€” in his sleep, with no one there to hear.
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The Cherry Orchard The stage is winged in dark or not at all where the ropes and pulleys are lowering a window and the scent of cherry trees, a sky from the sky we do not see. The dove-white light in the rafters swells into a Russia whose century has fallen deep in debt and the opiates of spring. The stage is winged in a bright-black music: intimations that are the caprice of all we have abandoned to regret, to hope that pours its vodka on a mantle of flowers, as if it were water of the new regime. One must lift the fire curtain to see the old world ablaze with skirts, daughters who take back their sick and former lovers, for they cannot help themselves, suspended as trees and the disbelief above them, ropes that soon will feather them away. What this act needs is a soliloquy to keep us company, a governess
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Bruce Bond to clean the family rifle, as she waxes nostalgic for the mother she did not know. She remembers the way music remembers badly, just enough to ache a little, to be that foster-child of lost things who polishes the silver of a doomed estate. Call it escape. Still she holds a rifle in a breakable place where nothing is hers. The stagehand knows: there is no theater for the blind eye of the true believer, no loneliness for those immersed in it, beneath a sky made of houselights fading. Death has a pair of wings, dark as music that lifts the drinks and daughters of Russia, leads them through the doves of cherry blossoms that cannot last. To every fin de siĂ¨cle, its broken clock of axes, however distant, its crackle that makes a fiction of reverie, a future of regret. We all have debts. Which is why this orchard summons us to pay them, to pay attention to the poor health of a writer in his mother country who tends his garden as the woodland falls. Death has a pair of hands that feed the wishes of some to make their vodkas larger, stronger. It makes of progress the luminous fiction
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Bruce Bond that raises a glass of hope, or worse, a bottle we know could break us if we let it. But it is fiction after all, out there in the distance, beyond the stagecraft and machinery, the cough in the audience, the childâ€™s cry. It is discouragement disguised as music, the rifle as polished brass, the governess as a meadow full of blood and flowers. It is all out there, the progress that swells, the chirp of pulleys that feather our estate where trees stand in the way of something, someone whose great lie is they never stood at all.
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Sass Brown No Tableau I didn’t drive you to the train the day you left. Months before we’d wake to its clang, the rush of rails, and draw closer. Time clicked by as in a theater: suspended, a series of stills we took for motion. Now I stand on the platform, my bag stuffed with brochures and trinkets, waiting to board for home. People with round-trips kiss goodbye around me, and one by one each window boxes a new face. Even now, I hear you narrating: In 1896, the Lumière brothers screened the first motion picture, “The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat,” but these windows aren’t a film strip. There is no persistence of vision to keep the past printed on my eye. This is no tableau: the train is leaving the station.
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Chen Chen In Search of the Least Abandoned Constellation The rain falls on & off in the western city. The train slips in & out of tunnels throughout the city. The reader falls endlessly into her book. The train is an accordion, playing the silence of adult waiting. The train is a giant ant, wearing an exoskeleton of polite faces peering out. The reader’s face is not among them. The reader’s face is a child’s rapt face. The book is her imaginary friend, disguised as a more or less acceptable concrete object. The child is happy. The afternoon, a novel. The open page rains & creates another, softer city. The child is held cool & weightless in the arms of the novel, while the parents are so classic with worry—How will our child be a doctor &/or lawyer now? Support us when we are old? The parents watch people run, rushing to catch the train. The people’s faces deer-like with panic, relief. The child reads & reads, does not understand completely. She has no need. The parents wish for stillness, then movement for their child, then themselves. They peer over their child’s shoulder & catch the words, They were in search of the least abandoned constellation. The parents wait for the child to become a western bird, but the child keeps leaking into northern lake. In the novel a main adult is writing a strange letter because her parents have died. A deeply impossible thing to the child reading, but she manages to suspend her disbelief. The adult in the novel reads over her letter, unsure of the words— Now that you are not even the rain, what train can I take? Remember when we were morning after morning of such ordinary waiting, of hair still wet in the April light & suitcases held tight?
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Adam Clay Northern Lights Light or even a phrase or two erased from the mind like a once familiar street razed: buildings destroyed, moved elsewhere, tucked into the folds of a tornado (you hope)— one thinks many times not burdened by but along with the clock of course, it’s a pleasure to arrive most anywhere these days filled with the desire to earn but once the mind’s dwelling place becomes an ice cave love defines its own tributaries with pine needles or another way to say let’s only speak in the absolutes of morning free of comparison, of a drifting scale tipped to an almost perfect balance: none of that language needed now between meals, between the forecast departing from disaster— and once the mind slows to the point of regression, then what to make of the first memory arrived upon or within for you what would it be and know you cannot know what it would be for others even in their telling there’s an orbit of masquerade around which no moon
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Adam Clay could ever exist nor would it want toâ€” no perfect circle or symmetry to dwell within: once the trees did not need their names and the night needed no voice, it needed no knot to unravel, it needed no one to explain its madness to
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Gillian Cummings Dentellière Don’t tell: draped in mist, I never guessed one day I’d be famous for dressing in less. And what mother would say if she knew, if her eyes hadn’t blued from blindness. Year after year she made lace in the style of Alençon. Cap backs and lappets to tidy a lady’s hair, a layette for a christening, fine shawls and bridal veils. Her needle looped gossamer into blooms and birds. A saint would float in a tree. A spider at her web, we’d say, and wait for her lace to fall from the pillow it was pinned to, ethereal, constellated, comme une toile des étoiles. To wear mother’s lace was to wade in a wash of milk, to bathe in smoothness. To wear her lace: skin caressed by feathers and the breathing bird a swan swimming in pools of swoon. One time it happened, I stole the veil meant for a wealthy patron’s wedding. Took it to the woods outside town, the leaves silver with dusk, stuttering in wind, a protestation that ends before it begins. Naked, I wrapped the veil around me. Bride of Christ. Épouse du Christ. Dirty Bride. The devil would take me now—
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Kyle Dacuyan Epilogue from Never My mother never forgave my father for dying only almost. The pistol in mouth, an eclipse not quite. Half a click is all it takes to squall the optic nerve with possibility: the half about to happen—always happening, still—like a jimson weed offering its white throat each night to a sphinx moth. Morning after morning, the bloom seems always, once, not yet to have been. In one version, this one, Never always happens. My mother never leaves her first husband. He never marries his first wife, and she never drowns in the Election Day Floods. I go on unbeing and unspeaking, no secrets to accrete: I have not even words yet. Have not been made to kneel before my father, a King James in each hand. Never know an evil to be delivered from, nor a goodness into. Bring me to the brink I never say, for I am all already brink. I forgive you, I never say, never do—not, at least, as such. I, who have no brow. No fever for you to touch.
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Mary Ann Davis City of Ends To enter is simple: I tell you stories as Puerto Nuevo twines down our throats with lime, agave flame, bougainvillea vine. This one—harvest of avocados so erotic the Aztecs locked away their virgins— is neither true nor untrue, flickers through a day we might slow, only to turn the night, once we’ve arrived, into a tantric suffering, a nut splitting to core, splitting to night, inner suction, word of mouth. All paths to the beach corded around our wrists, salt-waves like doors opening and closing against the shore: open—
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Mary Ann Davis here is the ritual act—close— here the story— open— The pure sleep on. We swallow them, too.
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Colette Sartor Elephant Teeth Elephants have six sets of molars, I learned the summer that
I made Gerald move downstairs. They use the front set to eat. When those wear down, the back molars push forward, ejecting the dull ones and leaving fresh ones for chewing. Once the final set wears down, elephants die. That summer, I related these facts to my daughter, Lucy, whenever I brushed her teeth. She was seven years old, but our dentist claimed children aren’t dexterous enough to do it themselves until they’re at least eight. Brushing her teeth had been her dad Winston’s job before he moved out of our duplex’s lower unit to make room for Gerald, whose insistence on an open relationship prompted my request that he live downstairs. What I couldn’t see up close wouldn’t hurt as much, was my reasoning. Before then, Gerald and I had lived upstairs with the kids for two years, since the birth of our son, Tate. Winston and I had a much longer history, dating back to college. He was my dearest friend, my confidant. After he and his husband divorced, we’d decided to have Lucy, fulfilling our freshman year pact to have a baby together if we were still single and childless as middle age loomed. We’d bought the duplex so we could co-parent while maintaining separate lives. Which we could still do. Lucy would adjust to Winston living a few blocks away. I would adjust to Gerald sleeping around. We would survive. The first time I brushed Lucy’s teeth was the morning she started zoo camp. I was alone with the kids. Gerald had been downstairs a week, and Winston had just left for Vancouver to produce a movie. Winston always made brushing Lucy’s teeth fun, singing silly songs or sharing animal facts to keep her attention. She was crazy about animals. “We’re lucky you’re not a chinchilla or water would make your fur mold. I’d have to use volcanic ash instead,” I’d hear him say sometimes while I changed Tate’s diaper in the kids’ room. “Teeth don’t have fur,” she’d giggle. I sat Lucy on the tub’s edge and started brushing while I recited 64 u Crab Orchard Review
Colette Sartor what I knew about elephant teeth. I had to yell over Tate, who stood beside me babbling an off-key lullaby and grabbing for the toothbrush. Lucy squirmed, her lips frothy with toothpaste, and glared at him. The tiny bathroom felt sweaty, close. I strained to hear noises from downstairs, but there was nothing, no flushing toilets or clearing throats like I heard sometimes when I was up late trying to write. Gerald was probably still asleep. Alone, I hoped, though I couldn’t object if he wasn’t. We had agreed: no asking about visitors; no spying on backyard activities; no policing the other’s comings and goings. To successfully navigate an open relationship, we had to respect each other’s privacy. Tate hugged my knees, making me sway. “Go asleep, sweet noodle,” he sang and yanked the toothbrush out of Lucy’s mouth. “Ow!” She poked him hard. “You’re so annoying.” He shrieked, hit her. “Dammit, enough!” I yelled. Immediate silence. Then, scowling, he started singing again. She stayed put, watching me. I took back the toothbrush and kept brushing. “Teeth are important,” I said brightly, as if this were so much fun. “We can’t eat without them. If we can’t eat we die. So brush, brush, brush to keep on living.” Lucy stood to rinse, then pushed at her glasses with one small finger tipped by chipped blue nail polish. “I’m not supposed to sit on the tub,” she said. “I could fall and hit my head.” I dropped the toothbrush into the sink. “Why didn’t you tell me?” “Why didn’t you know?” She stomped out. Tate grabbed the toothbrush and sucked on it. I leaned against the counter, too tired to move. That first week of camp, we were late every day, racing Tate’s stroller through the massive parking lot to camp headquarters near the zoo’s entrance. Lucy and I were always so breathless and frustrated that we barely said goodbye. Afterward, Tate and I would wait for the zoo to officially open, Tate napping in his stroller while I pulled out my iPad and pretended to work on my overdue novel. Better to pretend there than in my campus office, where colleagues might catch me surfing the web. Some mornings, I could hear the elephants trumpeting to each other from their faraway hilltop habitat. Occasionally, my phone buzzed with texts from students, or Gerald: Shirts still at cleaners? or No milk in downstairs fridge. I longed to reply, What’s your point?, or, better yet, You’re Vivian’s problem now, but I was trying to be civil. Crab Orchard Review
Colette Sartor The second week of camp, Lucy decided to set the alarm clock that Winston gave her when he moved. It was a little, wheeled oblong robot that rolled around if the alarm stayed on too long. I didn’t hear it go off the first morning. Tate and I were sprawled on my bed, finally asleep after hours of toddler nightmares. Suddenly, a blaring thing crawled across me. I screamed and swept it away from Tate, who giggled sleepily. It crashed against the wall. “Mo-mmy, my clock,” Lucy wailed as she scooted from beside the bed to the robot’s now-silent pieces. Tate kept giggling, his curly hair sticking up like a fright wig. Lucy shook the pieces at him. “It’s not funny. Make him stop!” She was already dressed in typical Lucy fashion: a polka-dotted sundress worn over purple leggings despite the summer heat, along with mismatched Crocs (one orange, one yellow) on her feet. Her long, straight hair veiled her eyes. “It’s not fair, Skye. You broke my clock and now you’re letting him be mean. Winston wouldn’t do that!” Her little back rigid, she marched into the bathroom. “It’s ‘Mommy’ not ‘Skye,’ smart mouth,” I called after her. She was seated on the closed toilet holding her toothbrush when I rushed in with Tate, who wore only his diaper. I was barely dressed myself. “Hurry up,” she said. “I’ll miss the condor hunt.” “I overslept. It happens.” I sat Tate by the door and snatched the toothbrush from her. He yelled, “Mine!” and held out his hand. She folded her arms across her narrow, polka-dotted chest. “We’d never be late if Winston still lived here.” I rummaged in the vanity for the toothpaste. “He’s gone all summer anyway, and I need Gerald around to babysit when I teach.” A poor excuse for our new living arrangement, since I was only teaching an Intro Fiction class that summer. I was barely even writing. My productivity had slowed to a trickle since I’d discovered Vivian’s thong wedged between our pillows the previous month. “Just send some chapters,” my agent kept emailing me, “to show the publisher you’re close.” Lately I could only focus at night while everyone else slept. Even then, I often found my fingers poised over the keyboard as I listened, breathless, for some bump or sigh signaling what Gerald was doing—who he was with. Lucy picked at her nail polish. “I want Winston to babysit.” I crouched so we were face-to-face. “When he gets home. And you’ll have two weeks together every month.” 66 u Crab Orchard Review
Colette Sartor “It’s not the same as having him here.” I stood, impatience rising like bile. “Should we argue or get to camp?” She pointed at Tate, half-naked by the door. “If he takes off his diaper, we’re screwed.” “Lucy Pearl Copeland-Hills, unlearn that language. Monkey see does not mean monkey do.” Arms outstretched Tate stood and toddled toward Lucy. I smiled before turning for the toothpaste. It happened so fast I barely saw her grab his chubby arm and chomp down. “What the hell, Lucy?” I yelled as I gathered up Tate, who sobbed, “Mama, Sissy bite!” “He deserved it,” she said. “He’s always in the way.” The other campers were just finishing their sharing circle when we ran in, red faced and huffing. Tate kept rubbing his crescentshaped bruise with its gap from Lucy’s missing front tooth. Lucy stepped away from me when her favorite counselor, Rune, a freckled redhead with a can-do smile, walked up to greet us. “I heard the 110 is nuts,” she said to me before turning to Lucy. “You’re just in time for the condor hunt.” Lucy was tall and slender like Winston but had my wide, full mouth that lent itself to scowling. “Tate broke my clock and made us late,” she told Rune. “That’s not what happened,” I said and glared at Lucy, who glared right back. Rune touched Lucy’s shoulder. “What matters is you’re here.” She waved at me and Tate—“Enjoy the day!” she said, annoyingly chipper—then led Lucy across the room. “Later there’s a bird show,” I heard her say. “You’ll meet their trainers too.” Lucy stared adoringly at Rune, the way she used to at me. I picked up Tate, who curled against me, and watched them walk away. Tate was an oops baby. Gerald wasn’t interested in children or monogamy. Which hadn’t bothered me when I’d met him, a renowned sociologist twenty years my senior whose piercing intelligence had gutted me when he’d asked a question at one of my readings that showed he understood the subtleties of my latest novel. Lucy was plenty for me, I decided when he made his views known, and I’d come to prefer casual relationships. Why open myself to the hurt and tumult that love inevitably bred, especially when I had a daughter to take Crab Orchard Review
Colette Sartor care of? Then, three months in with Gerald, I got pregnant despite two forms of birth control, and suddenly monogamy mattered a lot. Not because I cared about him having sex with other women—of course I didn’t, ours was a casual relationship, emphasis on “casual,” I reminded myself often—but because I hated the time those women took from our family, time Gerald could have spent helping me with the kids, or at least Tate. A knock at the front door made me hurry with my lipstick. I stood by my bedroom mirror. It was my night to teach, when Gerald came upstairs to babysit. Since his move, I’d taken to wearing makeup and flowy dresses that hid the little paunch that defined my midsection after two pregnancies. But I only dressed up to go to school. Only to teach. Only for the few minutes before I left the house, when I instructed him how to take care of the kids and prayed that he’d notice me again and decide he missed me more than he wanted Vivian or anyone else. “Mommy, Gerald’s here,” Lucy called from the living room. She sounded mad, but that had become her norm, especially around him. When I walked in, he was sprawled on the rug tickling Tate’s belly while Lucy frowned from her burrow on the couch. Gerald and Tate looked up, their smiles so similar that I let out a little gasp. Gerald gestured for me to help him stand. “I’m getting creakier every second,” he joked. I resisted smiling with him, but his hand felt comfortable in mine as I pulled him to his feet. He picked up Tate and took a deep sniff of his head. “Fountain of youth right there,” he said and looked at Lucy. “Right, Lucy? Take a whiff of this guy.” She held a throw pillow close. “No thank you.” I slung my computer bag over my shoulder. “Dinner’s in the oven. Make sure they’re in bed on time.” I lingered by the door, waiting for him to notice my carefully made-up face, the sarong dress that he found sexy. He sniffed Tate’s head again and finally looked at me. “How’s the novel?” I leaned against the doorjamb. “Still struggling with revisions.” He stayed quiet a moment. “Push forward, Skye. It’s too good to let go.” Not good enough to keep your interest, I almost said. Instead I took a breath. “With all these changes, there’s not much time for anything besides the kids.” “Lucy’s at camp, and we can afford some daycare for Tate. You’re happier when you’re writing. More yourself.” 68 u Crab Orchard Review
Colette Sartor His smile held such understanding; his rich, dark eyes were tender, transfixed. I found myself moving closer, touching his chest. He knew me. He kissed my palm and stepped back. “By the way,” he said, tickling Tate again, “I thought Vivian could help babysit sometime, so Tate gets to know her. You too, Lucy,” he said, his gaze finding her on the couch. My hope drained out in a sickening rush. That woman. In my house. All I knew about her was that she was in her mid-forties like me and a sociologist like him, though not nearly as well known. That she was divorced, no kids. I’d resisted the urge to Google her picture. Sometimes I heard her downstairs. Her voice sounded husky but distinctly feminine, and her footsteps were light and springy, which made me imagine her as petite with sculpted arms and legs from exercising in all her child-free time. That must have been what attracted him to someone my age instead of a dewy young teaching fellow; Vivian must be fit, athletic, childless, able to devote herself to him in a way that I couldn’t, and didn’t want to. At least there was that. “I’m surprised she’s still around,” I said, trying for a bantering tone. “I thought you wanted variety.” Gerald regarded me steadily. “Not now.” “Then when, dammit?” I clutched my bag. “After she meets my kids?” “There’s that nastiness that puts people off.” It took all my reserves not to hit him. Lucy stood, the pillow shielding her. “Is Vivian who visits downstairs? I don’t want her here.” Gerald raised his bushy eyebrows, gently removing Tate’s fist from his cheek. “You don’t run this household, young lady.” He turned to me. “If you can’t handle this, Skye, we need to make some changes.” “No,” I said, a hand on my tense throat. “Lucy, you may as well get used to her.” “You can’t make me, you can’t!” she shouted and threw her pillow at Gerald. It barely grazed him. His lips drew back as if he’d smelled something rotten. “Control your daughter,” he said and stalked from the room carrying Tate, whose small face flushed with confusion. I whirled to face Lucy. “Dammit, be quiet, for once!” She plopped back down on the couch, her eyes wide, her mouth bunched with—what? Anger, frustration, fear. I should have apologized. Crab Orchard Review
Colette Sartor How could I not have apologized? I should have said everything would be okay. But I couldn’t tell her what I didn’t believe. Tate liked the chimp exhibit best, with its grassy hills and huge rock structures where the chimps showed off their climbing skills. Sometimes they ambled over to us and bared their teeth in ghoulish ape-grins or squished their puckered, hairless asses against the exhibit glass while Tate pointed and yelled, “Mama, poop hole!” He would spend hours watching them if I let him. Monday morning, the third week of camp, I only stopped there briefly to indulge him on our trek to the elephant exhibit: six acres of prime real estate centered with an enormous, bright red barn that housed Billy, a magnificent, six ton, twenty-five-year-old specimen who’d been the zoo’s sole elephant for most of his life; Tina, with a fringe of dark bangs hanging in her eyes like a shy teenager; and Jewel, named for the jewel-shaped tuft at the end of her tail. According to my internet research, the girls were recent additions, forty-something-yearold former circus animals who were too old to breed and therefore good companions for Billy, who’d been alone so long that it was too dangerous to introduce him to a young, mating-age female. The sides of his head were usually streaked with an over-secretion of hormones caused by his proximity to females for the first time in decades. He was kept separate, introduced to his exhibit mates slowly so he didn’t become violent. He and the girls trumpeted to each other, and they were allowed to touch trunks through a metal gate with bars as thick as my torso, but that was the extent of their contact so far. Deprived of companionship and left to his own devices, he’d forgotten how to behave himself, resorting to brute shows of strength as his only means of self-expression. The observation platforms surrounding the exhibit were expansive with good viewing angles. I chose the one centered by a shallow fountain, closest to Jewel and Tina. A few people were scattered about. Holding Tate, I leaned against the railing. It soothed me to watch the girls’ slow, confident steps, the gentle way their trunks grazed each other’s flanks, linked together, then curled down to the hay strewn at their feet. Tate pointed at them. “Sisses,” he said before snuggling against my shoulder and rubbing the spot where Lucy had bitten him. That’s how they should act, I wanted to say. Instead I kissed his hair and agreed, “Yup, sisters.” My cellphone rang. I almost didn’t answer. It might be Gerald, wanting something. That weekend while I had been up late working, I’d 70 u Crab Orchard Review
Colette Sartor heard voices murmuring in the bedroom below, Gerald’s mellow drone, a woman’s husky chuckle, then muffled yelps of pleasure, headboard smacking wall in short, sharp bursts. Those taut thighs spread beneath him. “Stop it,” I found myself whispering. “Stop.” I started surfing the net. Elephants eat three hundred pounds of food a day; their skin so sensitive, they can feel a fly landing; their herds almost solely female, mothers, sisters, cousins; males implant sperm, wander on. Chuckle, yelp, smack, spread. Stop it. Stop. Stop. It was Winston on the phone. “Lucy just called,” he said when I answered. “She claimed she was sick and wanted me to pick her up, but she knows I’m away. What’s up?” I put down Tate, who toddled to the fountain. “Nothing,” I lied. “I’ll get her.” “She decided she felt better when I said I couldn’t come.” “That figures.” Rustling on his end, like he was shuffling papers, biding his time. I pictured his long, lean face, so serious and calm, measuring how best to say something he knew I didn’t want to hear. “I’ve been meaning to tell you. Before I left, she asked to live with me, just until you figure things out with Gerald.” I inhaled sharply. It hadn’t occurred to me that she would want to leave. “Why didn’t you say anything?” “She asked me not to. She’s afraid to hurt your feelings.” Tate splashed in the fountain. I hurried over and held his waist so he wouldn’t fall in. He was small yet sturdy, a determined, cheerful child, so different from Lucy. Even as a baby she’d been more inclined to scream than smile. She’d been a biter at Tate’s age, though usually as a way of experiencing the world’s tastes and textures. Still, whenever she bit my shoulder as if sampling a peach, I could barely keep from biting back. “It’s not the worst idea,” Winston said. “If she lived with me, you could focus on resolving this Gerald stuff.” He said Gerald’s name like it left a bad taste. “You’ve never liked him.” “No newsflash there.” More rustling papers. My body clenched, waiting. Finally, he said, “You’ve been distracted lately. Lucy feels it.” “Are you saying I’ve been a bad parent?” “I’m saying let’s think about what’s best for her.” I sat on the fountain’s lip. My chest felt tight and hot. “I know. I’m sorry,” I said, one hand on Tate as he splashed. “Why does everything have to be so hard with her?” Crab Orchard Review
Colette Sartor “She’s seven. She’s looking for attention.” “Well, she’s getting it.” Tate tried to dive into the fountain. I pulled him away, but he kept struggling, emitting little grunts of effort. “Please don’t let on I told you,” I heard Winston say, but I was too busy with Tate to pay much attention. Lucy seemed peaceful when we picked her up that day. In the car, she even offered Tate a few of the animal stickers that the camp gave out for contests and good behavior. Kids could use them like money at the zoo gift shop. Lucy was saving for a stuffed elephant. She’d never given Tate a sticker. I glanced at her in the rearview mirror while weaving through dense traffic. She turned to the window. “Good sharing, honey,” I said, braking for a minivan. “Rune says I should try harder to be nice. Nobody at camp likes me.” My gaze flew to the rearview. Lucy kept staring outside. “Of course they do,” I said. “I don’t like them either, except Rune.” Her tone was matter-offact. “But I like the animals. Rune says if I feed them and talk quietly and don’t move around too fast, they’ll like me too.” I gripped the steering wheel, focused on Tate’s sandals toeing my seatback. Friends were overrated, I wanted to tell her. All you needed were a trusted few like Winston. Better to be guarded than to risk disappointment’s bitter fallout, like I had with Gerald. I glanced at Lucy again. That stubborn, wide mouth so much like mine, now set in a grimace. Her eyes looked shiny. My difficult child, my little anarchist, always searching for something to resist. I maneuvered past a slow truck, waited until my throat unclenched. “I’m glad you’ve got the animals,” I said. Later, after the kids were in bed, I emailed Rune. Did Lucy really have no friends? Rune’s prompt response was carefully worded. It was only the third week. Lucy was shy with kids but great with animals. She’s so intuitive, particularly with the babies, she wrote. I’ll bet she’s a fab older sister. A lot she knew. Keep me posted, I wrote back. Then, I snuck into the kids’ room and sat beside Lucy’s bed listening to her breathe. The rest of the third week, I set my own alarm so we’d be extra early for camp. Maybe Lucy would settle in if she got there before 72 u Crab Orchard Review
Colette Sartor everyone else. Instead of fleeing to try and write while Tate napped, I hung out to watch the other kids arrive. Camp headquarters was in the California Condor Rescue Zone, an expansive discovery center that helped kids experience the world from the viewpoint of a California condor, an endangered vulture species. In one room were fake rock formations, caves, and other recreations of condors’ preferred terrains. Kids could climb the rocks before camp or play in another room set up like a veterinary hospital, complete with fake scalpels and stethoscopes and several stuffed condors whose lace-up bellies contained removable organs. Lucy liked to don a stethoscope and examine the condors on the metal exam tables, but as soon as other kids showed up, she retreated to a darkened cave, making sure her feet—encased in their mismatched Crocs—stuck out. The other kids stayed away when they saw her Crocs, which made me think she was right about their dislike of her. Still, she always emerged from camp with a slew of new animal stickers, which she solemnly counted while we drove home, saving some for Tate. One morning, she walked up to where I was helping Tate climb a fake rock. “Time to go, Mommy,” she said. I glanced at her. “You just got here.” “The other mommies left already.” She took my hand and led me out. Tate trailed us whining, “Wanna stay!” At the door she waved and marched back inside, where I imagined her playing alone in the vet clinic or sitting in a cave dreaming up stories about the animals, or the friends she didn’t have. Maybe if I went back and talked to her about making an effort, convinced her she didn’t need to be alone. Then again, I was no expert at keeping people close. I stood holding Tate’s hand and staring at the empty doorway. That Friday was so blisteringly hot that I decided to brave a restaurant dinner by myself with two small kids. Lucy trailed me down the front stairs while I lugged Tate and the diaper bag. My hair stuck to the sweat trickling past my ears. Gerald’s front door opened as we reached the bottom. There was no avoiding him and the woman who emerged. He smiled, squinting in the early evening light. “How’s my boy?” he said and walked over to kiss Tate. I barely paid attention. I was too busy staring at the woman. According to Google, she was my age, but she looked older, with frizzy Crab Orchard Review
Colette Sartor gray hair lopped off at the chin, a gentle face nested with wrinkles. Her loose dress didn’t hide her generous curves. She looked more like someone’s mother than I did. Behind me, Lucy said, “Mommy, are you okay?” Her small hand slipped into mine. Gerald saw me staring. He stuffed his fists in his pants pockets. “Skye, meet Vivian.” She stepped forward; her kind smile revealed wide-gapped teeth. “What beautiful children,” she said. It wasn’t that he wanted someone more fit, more free. He just didn’t want me. “You bastard,” I said to Gerald. “Jesus, Skye, don’t make a big deal.” “Get out. Get the fuck out.” I fled down the walkway, hugging Tate so tightly that he started crying. Dimly I heard footsteps tapping as Lucy ran behind me calling, “Mommy, Mommy, wait!” Tate and I had just reached the elephants on Monday morning, the fourth week of camp, when Rune called my cell phone. I needed to come immediately, she stated in a clipped voice. Lucy had bitten another camper. Rune and Lucy were waiting outside. Rune’s freckled face looked uncharacteristically stern. Lucy stood turned away from her, which otherwise might have secretly pleased me. I trotted up pushing Tate’s stroller, heedless of the uneven pavement. Biting was one of the most serious offenses, Rune explained. Lucy needed to write an apology to the boy in order to return, and even then she’d be on probation. Another incident would get her expelled. “We talked,” Rune said, “and Lucy knows how serious this is. Biters don’t get stickers, right?” Lucy stared stubbornly into the distance. “Answer her.” I turned her chin toward me. She was scowling but her eyes were moist, which made me want to hug her. “He deserved it,” she said. “He stole some of my stickers.” I gripped her chin harder. “Dammit, I don’t care what he did. You. Don’t. Bite.” “So you don’t care about me,” she said and jerked away. At home she wrote her apology at the kitchen table while I made her a snack. Every now and then, I checked the front windows to see 74 u Crab Orchard Review
Colette Sartor whether Gerald was walking up with Vivian. I hadn’t heard anything from below all weekend, not even when I sat up late typing and deleting sentences, paragraphs, pages. Maybe they were staying at her place, which I pictured as dimly lit and filled with heavily carved Indonesian relics and colorful wall hangings, cluttered with books instead of toys. I had let myself love him, and he didn’t want me. By the time I brought Lucy some cheese and apple slices, she’d drawn a sturdy set of fangs surrounded by zoo sticker drawings, below which she’d written “I bit you.” I clanked down the plate. “You were supposed to write ‘Sorry I bit you.’” She pushed at her glasses. “But that’s lying.” “Do you want to stay in camp?” Slowly she nodded. I took away her note. “Then lie.” Lucy started carrying her stickers in a pouch around her neck, and she stopped sharing with Tate. When I dropped her at camp, she sat alone by the door. The kid she’d bitten—an aggressively snub-nosed boy named Michael—sometimes pointed her out to his friends when we arrived, usually late. I stopped setting my alarm clock after Gerald emailed me, the evening of the biting. He would find me a babysitter, come by to pack. Let’s keep things amicable, he said. Whenever we picked up Lucy, she climbed in the car and ignored Tate, who chattered away. She only spoke if I asked about the animals. Then, she became animated, authoritative. A week after the biting, she sat on her bed counting stickers and told me about some komodo dragon babies in the zoo nursery who’d been taken from the mother right after hatching since komodos often ate their young. “That’s why the babies live in trees, so their mommies can’t kill them.” “How awful.” I sat on the floor handing Tate stuffed animals. He threw them at his crib and belly-laughed when one landed inside. Lucy kept counting stickers. “It’s true. Maybe I’ll buy a stuffed baby komodo instead of an elephant. I got more stickers, so there’s enough.” She glanced up. “Who was that lady with Gerald?” I’d braced myself for this question, but it still winded me. “A friend.” She peered at me from the shelter of her hair. “Do you hate her?” Tate batted Lucy with a tiger. Quickly I pulled it away. “I was just surprised to meet her,” I said. Lucy considered this before returning to her stickers. “Maybe I will get an elephant. The gift store has one bigger than me. We could Crab Orchard Review
Colette Sartor keep him in a window downstairs to scare away burglars until Winston moves back in.” I gripped the stuffed tiger. “I’m not sure what will happen.” “But you told Gerald to leave. He can live with that lady you hate.” I clutched the tiger tight, tighter, until Tate grabbed it from me. “It’s complicated, Lucy,” I said. Though it wasn’t. Gerald didn’t love me. He had to go. He was already gone. “I thought—” She considered her stickers. Her trembling lips formed a frown. She looked at Tate. “There’s three missing,” she said. “Maybe you dropped them at camp.” She hopped off her bed and stuck out her hand to Tate. “Give them back.” Giggling, he batted her with the tiger. A primal growl rose from her; she shoved him so hard he toppled backward, hit his head on the crib. He started screaming. Blood dripped from a gash above his eye. Into the bathroom, him kicking, howling; I wet a washcloth, wiped the blood, pressed the cut hard, cradled my crying boy. “It’s okay,” I murmured again, again. He nestled close; his sobs slowed to hiccups. There was a lump, but the gash was actually small and shallow. Still. He could have lost an eye. “Mommy, I’m sorry,” I heard Lucy say, but I didn’t turn around. His eye. His beautiful, dark brown eye. “I’ve had it, Lucy,” I said. “You want to live with Winston? Go ahead.” Something thumped behind me. When I looked, she was sitting in the hall, her legs splayed. “He told you?” she said in a hollow voice that made my throat catch with shame. I wasn’t supposed to know, I remembered. I beckoned to her. “Forget it, okay? I didn’t mean it.” “You don’t want me,” she said. “Only Gerald and Tate.” She stood and trudged to her room. The next morning Lucy rose early, got dressed, even brushed her own teeth. She barely spoke to me, even when I crouched down and whispered, “I won’t ever let you go.” She hesitated before briefly hugging me back. “We’re late,” she said. At camp, I asked Rune about replacing Lucy’s lost stickers. “I’ll pay for them,” I said. She tugged at her fiery hair before shaking her head. “Then we’d have to let everyone.” 76 u Crab Orchard Review
Colette Sartor I rocked Tate’s stroller, considered my words. “Look. I think that boy Michael might still be taking her stickers.” “‘Still’?” “That’s why she bit him, remember? Maybe you can keep an eye out, make sure he leaves her alone.” Her bright smile tightened into place. “I’ll try, but Lucy needs to control herself, no matter what other kids do. I hope you understand.” Then she walked over to the campers. I strode out, thrusting the stroller ahead of me. Someone had to cut Lucy a break. Someone. Me. I headed straight for the elephants, ignoring Tate’s pleas to stop at the chimps. Once there, I let him play in the fountain while I watched the animals. Within minutes, he was soaked, but I didn’t care. There was Billy across the way, solo still, the girls in their separate habitat bordered by those thick metal bars that kept them safe from him. The girls walked slowly to a hay bale, their flanks touching. The dependability, the comfort of each other’s presence. What I should have been offering Lucy instead of focusing on dismantling the barrier between me and Gerald. My dogged, difficult girl who kept trying to be strong for me. I needed to tell her how sorry I was, that she was my darling, she and Tate. Nobody else. When I called camp headquarters, a counselor said the kids were watching Billy’s feeding on the observation platform across from me. I strapped Tate’s wet, squirmy body into the stroller and trotted along the fence skirting the elephants, down the hill past the gorillas, then uphill again to the other side of the elephant exhibit, the map of the zoo ingrained in me. As I got closer, I saw kids wearing camp shirts on the platform overlooking Billy’s habitat. I paused when I spotted Lucy standing alone at the far corner. In her arms was a stuffed condor from the vet room. She whispered to it and pointed at Billy, who stood close by. He pawed the ground, the sides of his head streaky with fluid, then trumpeted to the trainer who stood in a long concrete trench cut into the habitat and fenced by massive steel bars. The trainer was emptying crates of cabbages and yams into Billy’s side. Billy snuffled around eagerly with his agile trunk, searching out the yams. Lucy kept whispering to the stuffed condor, maybe describing the scene. “The trainer has to feed Billy from a safe place,” I imagined her saying. “Billy doesn’t want to hurt anybody, but he’s so big he might by accident. Or maybe he doesn’t know how else to show what he wants.” Crab Orchard Review
Colette Sartor My sad, smart girl. That’s when I noticed some kids pointing at her. Michael, the boy she’d bitten, broke off from the group, walked over, and grabbed the stuffed condor. She snatched it back. Soon, they were both tugging. “Leave her alone!” I yelled and started running, shoving the stroller forward. Tate twisted to look at me. “Mama, Sissy mad.” In my periphery I saw a flash of red hair, heard Rune call, “Lucy, Michael, that’s not okay!” Rune would smooth things over without solving anything; maybe she’d even make this Lucy’s fault. I had to get there first. “Hold on, sweetie!” I yelled, running faster, almost there. Lucy looked over. Michael ripped away the condor and waved it overhead. I jerked to a stop, almost hitting him with the stroller. He stared at me, shocked, and held tight when I grabbed the condor. Dimly I heard Rune shout, “Ms. Hills, Skye, please!” and Tate’s little voice, “Mama, Mama, toy!” I kept tugging. Just as Michael’s grip loosened, Lucy lunged at him. They toppled down; the condor flew out of my hands and sailed into the elephant exhibit, hitting Billy in his large, rough ass. Behind me I heard Michael scream—“Ow!”—and I knew, even as I focused on Billy’s dulling molars steadily chewing yams. I turned around as Rune reached us. “Strike three, Lucy,” she said, huffing and red-faced as she helped Michael up. I took Lucy in my arms, held her shaking little body tight. “Good girl, honey,” I said, loud enough for everyone to hear. “Good girl.”
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Blas Falconer Communion They open their mouths because the body’s hunger speaks for the spirit. You know this by the way they close their eyes, how they push the world away, all that light through the window. It is unbearable to watch as watching two people say goodbye at the airport is— almost—the public display of grief, how they hold each other in their private dark, which is its own silent prayer.
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Rebecca Morgan Frank How to Look at Pictures Title after Robert Clermont Witt, 1906 Refuse to make eye contact with the subject. He has been following you around the gallery. You are certain that he can see down your shirt. Look at other subjects, but know that they, too, are not of primary interest. Even when they watch you. Try not to consider what happened to the small girl staring furiously, the thin-faced woman wanly looking away. Do not think about what they had for breakfast, if the bread was hard. Certainly do not consider the odors underneath their arms and skirts. Do not allow a breeze into the room they sit in. Do not assume I am talking about any painting: step away from the subject. All subject. Was the painter in love? Do not ask The question. Imagine you are the painter, blocking out everything you donâ€™t want to see. Everything is out of the picture. Stop looking, stop seeking what isnâ€™t there. Tuck your narratives back in your pocket. Look for perspective, light, shade. Let your eyes wander back to the girl. She is trying to say something but her mouth has been painted deliberately shut. Her lips, thin.
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Kim Garcia Objects of Desire 1. a lipstick-red begging bowl on the stone steps where a candle, queen of heaven, lifts her skirts and hides the children between her knees— a tent, a bell, a fern written on slate, a path between pines, scent of the sea, balsam, cedar shingle, scar-seamed touch, the endless stinking hooks, and a bruise in the mind—small matter— spilling roses. Again roses. And again, roses.
2. first the dark wood, then limbo. Where is the water all the feelings are foretelling? The birds are quiet. The air is green and gray with rain. In the house someone’s weeping so hard it sounds like retching. All times are wonderful times, the saints say, crabapple intertwined with thorn, the look of Lilith, the cold, a hundred stones whistling with cold. Reader, these are honest books.
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Diane Gilliam The Naming of the Scars 1. Just above the right eyebrow where I missed, getting into the family car. White crescent moons on my forearms where my sister’s fingernails pressed in hard. The silvery blur at the crinkled edge of the backyard black and white is me trying to get myself out of the picture. It’s a problem, where to go to cry in a very small house. My sister’s eyes and ears quickened after me. I can swallow anything now without making a sound.
2. The dent around the finger from the twenty-five year ring. Glassy skin of the bathroom mirror where you could not feel your face before you went downstairs and let him get away with everything.
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Diane Gilliam The made bed, the unmade kitchen the lamp slammed to the floor the stain on the rug, the stain on the sheet the broken wall. The skin gone soft and pocked around the mouth is how worry taps and taps at the face and keeps the mouth from what it would say. There is a posture of shrinkage in which it all draws in and the husband and the sister win.
3. In the waiting room before they can tell you what has gone wrong, they give you a drawing of the body, like an outline drawn in chalk on the floor, only this one theyâ€™ve made is straight and strong. Mark in blue, the instructions say, the places that are numb.
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Andrew Grace Said Gun’s Confession I tried not to know the women, which was simple, as I knew no one. I picked them because of the way they left church: alone, furtive, cowed by God. Thin skirts and thick shoes. The only weapon I brought was the butter knife I used to jimmy the door. If there was a man in the house, I could smell it right away. A man smells like bread, baby powder, fire, wet cotton. I always went in at 3:30 am, the hour in which the deep choral moan of the nervous system sings back to the evangelical? vowels of the darkness. The point was never to touch the women, but to come close enough. To be in the room with a sleeping woman you don’t know is to imagine yourself in another skin, another gift of sage and fleabane, another storm that threatens its caveats of fire across dry timber in which you could draw her close. Those bedrooms were the only places where I didn’t feel like a criminal. The point was to remind myself 84 u Crab Orchard Review
Andrew Grace itâ€™s not safe to feel nothing. I stood in the warmth of her ignorance as her body struggled with itself as if rest was a kind of work. They never knew I was there unless as a feeling, the next day, that the stairs had creaked or that the air felt shakenâ€Ś a nameless sense that one life, undetectable, ceaseless, is going on right beside yours, or underneath, or inside.
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Said Gunâ€™s Fear You call it cruel, but when my wife had her menses, I would make her sleep in the spare room. Lord help me I was so afraid of her blood. I was afraid of how the moon called to her. I was afraid my wife and the moon shared knowledge about death and birth and sang to each other in their blank skins. I laid awake as goats fought in my head. I was afraid the moon would tell my wife about the ocean and she would want to know what a field of salt tasted like. I was afraid at the ocean my wife would wear a crown
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Andrew Grace of gray feathers and learn to speak to death without fear while I was in bed, listening to termites lick open the walls or to the bronchitis in the trees or to my heart as it shunts another palmful of blood across the vast interior of my body.
Crab Orchard Review
J.P. Grasser Shed Though you tore the old farmhouse down and reclaimed its lumber for new rooms, the shed remained. The shed was drowned in knick-knacks—scooped up at random, so it seemed—a menagerie of riffraff. Lead fishing weights, pliers, Depression glass still shelved stiffly on the splitting sills. By the time I came along, the windows were webbed by rimed glass, like light below water. Cobwebs downed the corners. Field mice tunneled into the cedar, blanketed their young with cottonwood seeds. Wasps spit-jailed into the eaves, breathed out six-sided columns—cells filled with pollen. It’s tempting to excuse it, easy to say that Nature overcame nailed-down logic. That life remade architecture as use, refuse as potential. On a nail above the door hung not an iron-wrought horseshoe, but a snakeskin. When I saw it, I knew the house still held parts of you, sloughed into dust and cowering in the corners of rooms, as if even your cells refused your whole being, and would not leave the world intact after you left it.
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Katie Hartsock Western Reserve At a crossroads where the frontier once stopped stands a falling down house, a family history, happy to have you for the night. Please disregard the mess, their floors that creak like prophets of rottenness, the piles of scat shaped like ammunition for Cousin’s BB gun, the half-collapsed columns of ceiling beams like so many elbows a chin leans on. Be not afraid of the shambles, for all of your travels in this country will lead you to shambles, but some are spruced up. Mostly the ghosts will make no fuss—the Great Depression chickens Great Grandmother kept in the yard and let in the kitchen, the hired hands retired with their scythes to the barn, the men who spent hours in blackberry thickets and the women whose flour, sugar, and butter waited for those buckets to fill. Oh hello, Sister, Grandma greets her only daughter. You can hear her tonight, weeping why pioneers ever left, while you wonder when you’ll leave. The illusion of your rented room, the same as some illusions of the land—that what you pay for is yours—secures you to sleep.
Crab Orchard Review
Jocelyn Heath Orbital The world encased in celestial glass: Godâ€™s mobile on a high shelf, whirling. Taken down, set in the sky and buoyed across space-time. Man inside, hand pressed to glass, and in the hand, a microscopic calculus of shells spins a matched rhythm. Clustered spheres at the centers framed like berries on a vine by silvery speed-loops, elliptical leaves of air linked into endless flesh hedgerows, growing the very gardens of us. Or tiny solar systems refracted infinitely across the body, their galactic turbulence compressed the way Krishna parted sandy lips to show the universe perched on his tongue, half-moon and planets circuiting his palate. Somewhere, satellites spin into the black, snapping neon afterbirth of stars growing fast, as gas giants veer closeâ€”then depart on their known orbits, leaving only moons to keep each other company. On a street, people push-pull to destinations, flick open half-spheres of umbrellas or fall into the metal flow of transit, joining and separating like shared electrons. As on a laptop screen, moons swing around planets made of variables, equations swinging fast or slow, large and small bodies 90 u Crab Orchard Review
Jocelyn Heath in wide or narrow circles, some close enough to crashâ€” others far off and cold, never to touchâ€” a thousand tiny gears wound to run the universe. Love is the orbital no math can predict.
Crab Orchard Review
Rebecca Starks Roman Road After an hour’s drive to a town on the coast—later Shelly
thought it was probably Sesimbra, too small to have been Setúbal— and after they had eaten a lunch of fish soup and farmer’s cheese on a porch overlooking the ocean, Rafael parked the car by the side of the road and the five of them, two couples and a seven-year-old girl, went for a walk in the hills, looking for the old Roman road that would take them up along a ridge with another view of the ocean. It was meant to be a fun excursion, Rafael showing his American friends the sights, all of them getting out of the city in the nice weather, the first really sunny day in March. But after a week spent under Rafael’s tutelage, Shelly was ready for time alone with Chuck, time to figure out who they were together now that their relationship was public. She could feel how the other four were comfortable, if not fluent, around each other, and how her presence introduced constraint to the point of making the day unenjoyable. Things felt better out of the car, at least, where they could spread out a little and let the unspoken tension dissipate into the natural world. Shelly looked out at the view they would leave behind, at the alternately bright and muted turquoise of the water, the rim of light sand; and closer in, the dark scraggly green of the trees, more like shrubs. Beautiful, not so different from California, though the thought of Roman legionnaires marching here, wheeling supply-laden carts, gave it a subtly different, more storied feel, and made Shelly think not of fresh beginnings but of what lasts and what doesn’t. Her eyes lit up with the ocean’s blue, but as someone who grew up in a small tourist town in Tennessee, near the Smokies, she was most drawn to the mountain backdrop she imagined riding her childhood horse through, seeing everything from above, free to look about her, leaving Missy the painstaking task of choosing her footing. The way, if she was honest, she had let Chuck chart her path for her in grad school, smoothing her way through the rite of passage so that it never served its purpose. But here in Portugal Chuck was letting her fend 92 u Crab Orchard Review
Rebecca Starks for herself—or so it felt—now that the wife and child he’d left behind needed his protective attention more than she did. Shelly felt their presence here in a way she hadn’t in California, felt herself trying to fill in for both of them at once. In the car the men had sat up front, talking to each other, and in the back Shelly had tried speaking to María, who had her window open a few inches to help with motion sickness, but she’d shaken her head to indicate she couldn’t hear. So Shelly had asked the girl Olalla questions in Portuguese. “Do you like school? Do you have good friends there?” Olalla had ignored her, playing with her paper dolls, while María looked on without prompting her daughter. At last the girl answered. “I like recess and writing stories and drawing. Anna is my best friend. Her hair is straight like mine, not curly like yours.” “I like your hair,” Shelly said. She hadn’t been around children since she was one herself, and in the intervening years she had somehow forgotten how to enter into their world. She had been the ringleader, when she played with her younger sister and brother, but now she tried to follow this child’s lead. She felt a little afraid of her, the way she used to be of adults, because they seemed to know something she didn’t. “Did you make these dolls?” “Mama made them with me.” Shelly had felt the men listening, and when Rafael praised her pronunciation she got quiet. Olalla started talking to herself. “Olalla!” Rafael had laughed, with an edge of reprimand, and then glanced back at Shelly. “Do you understand what she’s saying?” His daughter was giving the news broadcast on the radio, in just the right tone—the shocking news of the child pornography ring uncovered at Casa Pia, the state-run orphanage; ten members, two high-ranking politicians. Pious House. National disgrace. Shelly had caught bits of it. Shelly was sitting behind Chuck and couldn’t catch his eye. What she wanted to ask was, “Does she?” Earlier Olalla had been rolling her eyes at a man in his thirties, a friend of her parents’ they had seen at the restaurant. María had explained that Olalla, thinking he looked like her soap opera idol, had used the phrase “lady killer”—María had translated, with her husband’s help. As they arrived at their destination Olalla had muttered about the woods, mata—making a dark pun on the word “murder,” Rafael explained to Shelly. The parents’ pride in their child unnerved her as much as the child did. Crab Orchard Review
Rebecca Starks Now that they were on foot, there was some uncertainty and debate about where the beginning of the Roman road was. Rafael thought it might be a little farther up the hill, or maybe down to the right, and to work it out in his mind he went ahead, while the others continued up the long hill at a more leisurely pace, Shelly holding Chuck’s hand and Olalla holding her mother’s. Chuck spoke no Portuguese other than the male version of “thank you”; Shelly spoke some Brazilian Portuguese but was trying to harden her consonants and shorten her vowels now that she was on the continent; María spoke English but not idiomatically; and Olalla knew an indeterminate amount of English— either she pretended to know less than she did, or she frequently surprised herself with what she did know. The language limitations relieved the burden to say much to each other. It was Rafael who was fluent in both languages and could translate for all of them, and once Rafael went ahead of them for good— at first he kept circling back, out of breath, swinging his arms, his hair and pant cuffs moving a little too much as he walked, like someone who has aged impatiently, not keeping up with himself, thinking he would catch up later—they fell into their natural pair bonds and held hands in place of speech. Shelly’s hands were typically cold, despite the warmer day, and Chuck rubbed a little at the one he held. When they laced fingers she felt the bump of gold, the wedding ring he still wore. He had picked it out, he said, and liked it. She pulled her hand away to put her hair up in a twist; she could feel her curls getting frizzy in the ocean air and wished she’d worn her hair differently. It took them about an hour to reach a grove of strawberry trees, some twenty feet tall, with their twisted limbs and shredded reddish bark, where they found Rafael perched in one, sitting on a wide branch low to the ground. “He looks like a leprechaun,” Shelly said, “with his green shirt,” and Chuck repeated it for Rafael, who frowned slightly and looked behind them, where his wife and daughter were straggling up the last bit of hill. When they had joined them there was a brief lesson in language and botany. The Latin name of the trees meant “I eat one,” as no one would eat more than one of the red knobby fruits—globular drupes, flavorless and mealy, nothing like a strawberry. No one spoke of trying one, though Shelly was tempted. There was a longer art history lesson on Hieronymus Bosch’s painting “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” It was at one point identified by the Spanish as “The Painting with Strawberry 94 u Crab Orchard Review
Rebecca Starks Tree Fruits,” though none of the outsize fruits are being eaten in that picture. Years later, when Shelly stayed with her future in-laws for the first time, it felt like a bad joke to recognize the painting hanging above the bed in the guest room. When she looked closely among the acrobatic arcs of naked flesh, she saw the fruits were instead used like titillating exercise balls, the people depicted trying to consume them with their whole bodies—as elsewhere, consumed themselves, they were crawling inside hollowed-out fruits. She wondered how anyone took the painting seriously. There was speculation about this—why a mealy fruit was portrayed as a delight: Chuck positing that perhaps it signified a lost paradise, a time when the fruits tasted good; Rafael that perhaps it was the point of the fall—that it required only one taste, a disappointing one. María waved an arm, saying that since the other name for the painting was “Lust,” perhaps the taste wasn’t the point. Shelly remembered how Chuck had told her he didn’t trust María, and she hadn’t known what he meant—that she might be having an affair? That she didn’t seem to like him? That she was a communist? Shelly had been surprised to learn that María and her husband were at the opposite ends of the political spectrum—but where Rafael would have had disdain for a leftist male, he tolerated his wife’s communism as something even perhaps appropriate for a woman and a mother, and to be expected in a dancer who wore flowing skirts and scarves. Chuck seemed to shrug at this, as Rafael shrugged at his wife’s differences. There was more debate, as to how late it was—after three—and how long the walk was. Rafael decided that he should head back, get the car, and drive to meet them at the end of the road, as otherwise they wouldn’t have time to hike; the walk there and back would be too long for Olalla. They couldn’t get lost, Rafael assured them. They should just follow the topology the way the Romans had, in short sections of straight lines. Chuck offered to keep him company, and so Shelly watched them go, with a slow mirroring nod, and turned to follow María and Olalla onto what was left of the Roman road—a few old paving stones, bumpy, in the hard dirt. This was the moment when Shelly should have felt herself on the spot, left alone to defend and prove herself, to acknowledge tactfully her tacky role as a woman who has taken a man away from his wife, and to show both her repentance about the past and her commitment to the future: to show her maturity—that at twenty-six, Crab Orchard Review
Rebecca Starks she was able to meet Chuck’s near-forty as an equal. It was the moment she should have been left with Chuck’s mother, or his daughter, but instead she was with the wife and daughter of Chuck’s best friend. And from María Shelly felt no challenge or resistance, only something like the bemused tolerance she would feel for someone else’s child who was playing with hers, making castles on the beach—the way she’d tried to with Olalla, earlier, until she had felt too self-conscious, too much a child herself. María no doubt had liked Chuck’s wife, the summers they had spent together, but she didn’t make Shelly feel that she was being held up for comparison. And if Shelly didn’t last, well, what sand castles did, when they were built at low tide? That seemed to be her attitude. And so for the first time since she had come to Portugal, Shelly didn’t feel like she was on trial. Rafael was the one she needed to impress during this trial period—though Chuck would never have put it that way; had in fact assured her that it was not. Not a trial, then, but at least a trying out, a trying on. Lisbon was his dressing room. Shelly made him look ten years younger, thirty pounds trimmer. He had never looked so happy. And Shelly…brilliant, beautiful, his soul mate whose understanding of him shone in her every word and glance. This is what she tried to keep being for him. She hadn’t been at her best— had started a few quarrels, even—but was grateful that he absorbed them easily, still feeling the release from two years of duplicity. There had been debates, before he told his wife, before Shelly had flown with him to spend two weeks with his Portuguese friend’s family. There had been long emails exchanged between him and Rafael, warnings about Eros and its ability to deceive, strenuous denials that this was a case so mundane as that. Shelly had looked over Chuck’s shoulder at some of the exchanges, reading with a strange, slightly anxious indifference, seeing how they missed the point. She was a person, not a feeling; at the mercy of a person, not a feeling. It was the person, not the feeling, that it was important to get right. Rafael was the one she needed to impress, but she found she was reluctant to, to the point of rudeness. It was almost as if she were daring Chuck to judge her through someone else’s eyes—immature, spoiled, thin-skinned—the way you might dismiss a piece of fruit. In their first week all together, though their schedules had been busy and they had not overlapped more than for a few meals, she had gathered that, even if she had wanted to impress Rafael, she had no need to impress María—that María was not Rafael’s confidant, that 96 u Crab Orchard Review
Rebecca Starks Rafael would never turn to a woman for that kind of companionship. Even his daughter got compartmentalized in this way, which explained what had at first made no sense to Shelly, that someone so teacherly would leave Olalla’s rearing to her mother, who more or less let her run wild. She’d learned from Chuck that Rafael had wanted another child, hoping for a boy, but María hadn’t agreed. Chuck had become for him something between a peer and the grown son he would never have. It was during that conversation that Chuck had said he didn’t quite trust María. Now, walking with her, Shelly thought she knew what he meant. There was a carelessness about her, the way she swung her arms, even, that made it hard to pin her down, though Shelly felt no need to. Around María, Shelly felt less scrutinized but more exposed, as if she would now have to speak for herself, not simply be exhibited like a princess: her curly blond tresses and long slender limbs, her horseback riding prowess, her grace in the language arts. They spoke in English, since María’s English was slightly better than Shelly’s Portuguese, or at least her confidence greater. She didn’t mind making mistakes. If Rafael had been there, there would have been a history and geography lesson, for Chuck’s benefit, and language lessons, for Shelly’s, but the two women and the girl were left to wander the Roman road and pay attention to flowers and insects and note the long rectangular stones only when they were hard to walk on. María pointed out where a stone was marked by the wheel of a cart, and Olalla did a few cartwheels until she got a cut on her hand. Olalla kept it to herself, but Shelly noticed. “Does it hurt you?” she asked in Portuguese, reaching in the direction of the girl’s hand. Olalla held it up but shook her head and ducked away, next to her mother, who hugged her to her side as they walked, and said something that Shelly didn’t catch. After a few minutes Olalla skipped off again. “She seems to like being alone,” Shelly broke the silence, and then asked, because she knew the answer, “Did you want more children?” “Olalla is great, but no, I wouldn’t want to do it again. All the diapers, and feeling like a cow!” She held her hands out in front of her breasts. “And not sleeping. I need to sleep. Things are good now.” “I haven’t been around children for so long, it’s strange, I almost can’t remember what it’s like to be a child.” María turned to look at her, visibly amused, as if to say: But you’re not so far from it! Crab Orchard Review
Rebecca Starks Shelly stumbled on. “It’s just—college, then work, then grad school— and I’m the oldest one, even of my cousins. And none of my friends have kids. Most of them aren’t even married.” “You know Rafael and I met when we were babies. I hit him on the head with a sand shovel!” María laughed. “We grew up like cousins. Then we met again when we were older.” She stopped to pick bits of a burr out of her skirt, and shook it out. When they were walking again she asked, “Do you like grad school?” Shelly was so glad for the direct question that she surprised herself by answering honestly. “It’s a little lonely,” she said slowly. “I’ve realized I like working with other people more. I had a job in Nashville before, and even though I didn’t care much for the work, just having colleagues was nice. Maybe if we’d had a bigger class—there were just four of us to start, and two of them have families, and then the other one left.” She didn’t say that the other one had had an affair with a professor, taken a psychiatric leave of absence, and transferred to a different graduate school. “What was your work?” “Oh, paralegal work for a financial company. Boring. But everyone had other aspirations and had just gotten stuck there for a while. We’d share books and talk about the news and go out to lunch together. I felt like I was back in my family again, with my siblings. Part of it was that we had a terrible boss, so we bonded over that.” “Where are they, your siblings?” “We’re all spread out now, Tennessee, D.C., California. But we talk all the time.” Except they hadn’t, not really, not for the last two years, not until a month ago when she’d told them. From their reactions she could tell that what they heard, more than her news, was that she had kept it from them. “You are a close family.” “It can be hard to grow up when you’re so close.” Chuck had told her that once, remarking on her relationship with her siblings, and it had upset her. Now from a distance, an ocean between them, she could see it, and offered it to María half as an apology. “But it’s why I liked my job so much—recreating that closeness.” As Shelly talked she could see how she was showing María her real self, not the one that had since attached itself to Chuck like a male anglerfish and lost its integrity, but the one she would pick up as again when she left Portugal and left grad school without a degree and when Chuck’s wife and child came with him the next summer instead. 98 u Crab Orchard Review
Rebecca Starks Showing her so that when María walked with them, on the beach or on this road, she would remember Shelly as someone real, with a strength and purpose to her, who was able to be happy and would find happiness again. She sensed she was admitting she wasn’t happy—that she knew it wasn’t happiness, what she’d had with Chuck, and that she didn’t know how it ever could be—but it didn’t feel like a betrayal. She felt María respond with a new friendliness. “How did you meet Chuck? Were you in a class of his?” Shelly blushed, relieved to be able to say no. “No! I do comp lit— languages, mostly, translating poetry. My second year we were both on a hiring committee—our departments share a few hires—and met that way.” She found she couldn’t make it into a public story— how he’d noticed her doodles, how the things he had said gave her a foothold in the bog of academic politics, how she’d run into him offcampus, at a coffee shop, and they had talked too long. Or that she’d broken up with her long-distance boyfriend the summer before, while studying for her qualifying exams, because when he came to stay with her for two weeks he had suddenly seemed frivolous, always wanting to do something fun, annoyed that she was always working. Having an affair had felt serious. Olalla turned to look up at Shelly with wonder and the first spark of interest, her voice eager with excitement as she asked, “Is Chuck your boyfriend?” María laughed, so Shelly said, “Yes” and let herself smile back, as if smiling at some past foolishness, though her heart beat faster. She wondered what use the girl would make of the knowledge, if it would corrupt her in a way the news and soap operas hadn’t been able to. Her very own scandal, in real life. Personal disgrace. “How old is he?” Olalla asked, with a curious smile, and Shelly balked at the question. “Olalla,” María warned, and the girl shrugged, skipping ahead to pick at foxtails. “She’s precocious,” Shelly said. “Ahead of her age,” she clarified, but María knew the word. “It’s a what-do-you-call-it, a ‘friend’—the same in Portuguese. Precoce.” “A cognate,” Shelly nodded. Of shared blood. From co-, the same, natus, born. She remembered how Rafael and María and Chuck had talked at lunch about their only children and how they were so imaginative, the ringleaders, bigger and stronger and smarter than the others. And Crab Orchard Review
Rebecca Starks Shelly had thought, they are the children of academics, born knowing too much, more than she ever would, but she would never trade her childhood for theirs. She would rather be outside of the world than on top of it. “I was just like her,” María said, and Shelly nodded, said that she could see it. When they came to the end of the path the three of them sat on a grassy outcropping and watched for their ride. Car after car came into view and vanished as quickly. Even when the time under the late afternoon sun had stretched on almost unbearably, they couldn’t stop watching each car as if it might be theirs. Shelly’s legs stung a little with sweat where she’d shaved them too closely that morning, and itched from the tall dry grass. When a car with an elderly couple in it went by, Olalla called out, “Idiosas!” Her mother laughed. Shelly turned a questioning face to her. “Old people!” she explained, laughing again. “It’s not nice.” The next car to appear was theirs. Rafael used the dirt pull-out and honked the horn. As she got in the back of the car Shelly looked to Chuck, feeling a need to be next to him, to know what they had talked about, what he was thinking—looking for signs of strain, the creases deeper by his eyes. He inclined his head to smile vaguely in their direction, and she slid behind him, to where all she could see was the tuft of his hair that stuck up boyishly. Her heart was beating faster again—she couldn’t have said why. She looked out the window as Rafael pointed out the little stone hermit huts that made a spine along the hillside, and then kept looking as if the view would yield the history lesson she hadn’t heard. Who laid the road, where did it lead, who traveled on it, when was it abandoned—her only sense of history a permeating sadness. She hadn’t meant to declare her love when she wrote to Chuck, one day, how sad she felt to think that he would die. It was just true. She still felt that way—that there was something noble about him, like an ancient Roman, a Stoic, whose feelings were so strong he had to rein them in, in such a way that they made themselves felt more strongly. She realized she thought of him the way he thought of his child, somehow greater than others, of another order. It was the way he amassed things that made him seem to carry more weight, amassed books from which he soaked up knowledge of history, culture, literature, art, music, current events, so that more of the world was in him than in other people, and more would be lost when he died. He seemed to have a greater capacity to enjoy, to absorb, to want. To want her. 100 u Crab Orchard Review
Rebecca Starks And now she felt guilty to think of the way, when she had walked around Lisbon on her own the day before, faces of young men had popped out at her, before their catcalls. It had never happened to her before, she had always been chosen before she had looked around, and she wondered if it was the way men always saw the world, the attractions of youth in sharp relief. Circling, mounted on horses and other strange beasts, around the women standing naked in the round shallow pool of Bosch’s painting. She missed the history lesson, heard just the odd words—theodolites, portable sundials, smoke lines—because she was thinking over her conversation with María, as you might think over an interview and realize it has gone not well, as you’d first thought, but fatally badly. Because Shelly realized she had wanted something more of María, whose easy friendliness had briefly staunched her loneliness. She had wanted María to ask her if she wanted a child of her own. Of course María wouldn’t have—such a private question to ask of a near-stranger, even if you thought she would become a fixture of your summer vacations. Even if you were someone who could get away with asking anything and meaning nothing by it—not the type to avoid stepping on cracks, or fault-lines. She didn’t, she could have, she wasn’t. But Shelly had wanted her to. Not that she would have had an answer, or dared to say it. She wanted to be someone for whom that wasn’t a question, someone so on the inside no questions could reach her from outside it. It took her a moment to hear the question addressed to her, though Rafael didn’t have to repeat it. Would she like to ride horses with him tomorrow morning? There was a place not far from the city, scenic, for a couple hours. Shelly wanted so badly to go riding, to feel in command of something, to feel like she was back home, really home, that she said yes. Even if it was hell. She would love to.
Crab Orchard Review
D.J. Thielke Substances We were all inhaling the vapors, but Francine, plainest and
truest of us, was the only one turned soothsayer. For most of us, the insights given were of snack foods that didn’t exist but should and illuminative realizations about the perfect band name for us, were we ever to create a band. We were half-singing songs about other people’s mothers and describing documentaries we could film on our phones and piecing together poems we forgot we had learned—Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day! Love is not love that! What is your substance! Whereof are you made?—when, as only the plain and true can, Francine spoke plain and true: The substance of Lila is mold, so spoke Francine. She breathed before the pipe, her eyelids wilting with lazy intent, and continued: The substance of Lila is mold. When looked at from afar it seems like clouds, but it is a puffy parasite gnawing on heartier beings, limbless, voiceless, centerless, ever gnawing away from the sun. We stopped our inhaling, our jaws too limp in their sockets to purse and puff. Ouch, said Lila. She spun herself to standing from a lotus position and ran out to cry in the bathroom; it was not the first time she had done so, but, for the first time, no one male or lovelorn followed with comfort. Instead, struck as we were, we stared speechless at Francine. Was it true? Lila? Before that moment, we had called Lila nymphic, we had called her dreamy; at our most critical, perhaps, we would have said flakey or flighty. On so many nights like this, Lila would get tipsy and say, Hey, listen! Listen! she would stop one of us, backing us accidentally seductively against a wall, a doorframe, the dishwasher; Listen, she would say, her eyes wet in a baby animal way, Do you think I’m pretty? Of course! we would coo, the women pointing out her enviable collarbones and pop-star-sized breasts, and the men stroking her hair. Of course, we would say, You? Lila, whose childish good looks made us hunger to heft her around the middle and toss her about with playful 102 u Crab Orchard Review
D.J. Thielke sexuality? Lila, who scratched her belly, bedazzled with a ring, when she stretched? Lila, at her core, moldy? But then, it was Lila who was always latched to the arm of someone or someone else. We had complained about that, casually—Lila always needs someone paying her attention—but didn’t think anything about it except that she just needed it, needed people. And those people? Kissing Lila, many of us knew, was like holding ants in your mouth. She didn’t move her lips right, she didn’t move her lips well. We had assumed she didn’t know how and took this as further indication of cuteness, of charm, of innocence. It made us feel guilty about our own knowledge of better kissers and made us want to look after her, take care of her—but then, didn’t she know how to pout when not kissing? To pout and purse and blubber when she wanted something? Did she really have to giggle like that? Wasn’t it kind of annoying, actually, her kiddy act? Francine’s eyes started to focus, started to round at the insult she had just announced, but we pushed the pipe back in her direction. More, we said. More. Tell us more. Francine took another hit and drifted back into sight. The substance of Jacob, she said. No, thanks, said Jacob, smiling, but we all leaned closer. The substance of Jacob is mercury, Francine said. Jacob visibly relaxed. Cool, he said. But Francine held up a forefinger, a forefinger with power. The substance of Jacob is mercury, she repeated. Quicksilver and fleetingly beautiful, he dazzles as he drips from your fingers, but he is ever divisible, he is an infinity of smallness, and even the smallest of the small can be toxic. Jacob laughed, but his body returned to tense as our gaze returned to him. Jacob, mercury? When we talked about him behind his back, we called Jacob good-natured, we called him accommodating. If we complained—which, really, was only rarely—we complained that he let himself be taken advantage of, he let himself care too much, wanted to help too much. Poor Jacob, we might have said at other times. Or, Awww, Jacob. But Jacob, toxic? This was a new light. This was a new light and didn’t he look a little menacing in it, with shadows under the eyes, eyes that darted, darting shadowed eyes red—and not just stoned red but red red? The pity we once felt for Jacob, who we had all seen slapped by not one but four drunk girlfriends, for his uncanny ability to find crazy girlfriends Crab Orchard Review
D.J. Thielke who slapped him while drunk, was evaporating from our systems, we were sweating him out like a fever dream. Because who, after all, got hit by not one but four different girlfriends? Who found only crazy girls—and were they always crazy or driven so? Jacob, his crisp purple polo, wasn’t there something too clean about it? Jacob, his smile, wasn’t it too friendly, friendly like a pedophile in a van friendly? Even his stubble seemed artful and false—Jacob! Mercury! Toxic! We turned to Francine, all traces of a party game lost, all desperation exposed and abandoned at her feet. Tell us more, we begged, we pleaded. Tell us our centers, our substances, the truth! Francine drew strength from our hunger. Her face limp in a pleased way, she took another hit, and another, and another, and just when we thought there was perhaps no more truth to be told, Francine exhaled a pent up breath: Sammi. Sammi went still, so still we could see the quivering of one strand of hair. The substance of Samantha is flint, Francine said. Strike flint and it shatters sharply, strike it and it sparks, but strike it and it gets smaller, strike it and it veins deeply, and what, after all is the difference between shattering sharply and crumbling if both end up in dust? Sammi broke down promptly, efficiently, and cried. Sammi we had called a fireball, a spitfire, a firecracker. We didn’t think of these terms as racist but perhaps we would not have been able to call her these if she had been anything but white. Plenty of us had slept with Sammi—sexy Sammi, we sang to her in erotic harmony— mostly men, though Sammi was not above some women, for spice. Sexy Sammi, spicy Sammi, shattering Sammi? Still, after bragging rights on taking her home had been so bragged, after we embellished stories about her talented interior and its muscular intricacy, after we walked home whistling or in a state of satisfaction where we could have whistled—still, if we had to be honest, wouldn’t we admit that Sammi seemed excited only until she was taken to bed? And then, if we were still being honest, or would have been with each other, wouldn’t we have noted the frankly bored manner in which she cupped lube into herself, a chemical camouflage of her utter disinterest in any of us, all of us, had we been honest enough not to clear our throats and look away? Oh Sammi, we said, petting her arm. Oh Sammi, how could we not have seen the fragile stone at your center? And Sammi sighed into each of our shoulders as we had imagined 104 u Crab Orchard Review
D.J. Thielke she would during more intimate acts, and let us finger-comb her hair and tickle her back, and we knew then that we would protect her, protect her as a little sister or a youngest daughter or an orphan in a fairytale, protect her from ourselves, our rotted, rotten selves, starting with Jacob, who had to scoot a little further outside the circle, that’s right, right now, scoot. Don’t stop, we moaned to Francine. Not now. Tell it all. And she did. More vapors, more convening with the other side of her eyelids, and the curtains from our centers were torn back, ripped down, burned and disintegrated: The substance of Cory is rust. The substance of Amanda is fish scales. The substance of Saul is a smaller Saul shouting Look at me! in whom there is a smaller Saul shouting Like me! in whom there is a smaller Saul shouting I hate you anyways! in whom there is a small Saul, the smallest Saul, who is screaming, just screaming, because the substance of Not Saul is silence. Hello? said Lila, returning from the bathroom. I’ve been crying? But Francine spoke plain and spoke true: The substance of Piper is the tread of a boot in wet leaves. The substance of Minerva is a half-skinned grape. The substance of Greg is that movie, remember that movie, that movie you loved when you were little? And Francine lifted her arms as though to hold the screen from hand to hand, and from hand to hand we saw the story of a dog and a cat and the love of their children and remembered the love we used to feel for that movie. Our hearts beat faster when she reminded us of the first scene where the dog and cat spoke to the children; our hearts rose to our throats when we were told of their cruel separation by the villain, unseen as such by adults but obvious to children by the rigidness of his moustache; our hearts almost broke at the animals’ bravery, and almost broke again when they were reunited with their owners. How we had loved that movie! How we had loved those animals! How we had tried to make our own dogs stop panting, our own cats stop yawning, tried to will them into speaking to us, into loving us in that movie way. We looked at Greg, his blush apparent even under his acne, and knew he wasn’t just the friend of a friend who came over uninvited and smoked our weed and was tolerated not because he was fun but because he was too harmless to come up with Crab Orchard Review
D.J. Thielke a reason why he shouldn’t be invited—no, he was that movie we had loved! Hello? said Lila again. She looked like a child still, but a petulant one, one foot raised not cutely but ready to stomp. There was nothing innocent in the snide upturn of her nose, nothing sweet about her sharp little baby teeth browned by coffee, something moldy about the color of her hair. Sorry, but are we just not going to notice that she’s done everyone but herself? Lila said. Are we just going to be OK with that? And yes, we realized, surfacing slightly. The only unknown substance was Francine. Francine? What is your substance? Whereof are you made? Francine, at this point, was really stoned. But suddenly she was acting much more stoned than she really was. Her eyes drooped lower than the lowness of honest stonedness; her mouth hung looser than the looseness before. It is not for me to speak my own substance, she said, but she said it in a voice you would imagine belonging to a soothsayer, a less honest voice than the voice we had just heard soothsay. Oh, no, we said. You see your substance. You see it, you speak it. Francine kept up her stoned act for a while—blinked in long, dishonest stretches; chuckled in a raw throat; shook her head until her hair was a shaggy face-hiding film. It was painful, watching her shirk and sway, watching her dim, watching her cower before the words she had once channeled. But we had to know. We had to. She had to tell us, tell us, Francine. What is your substance? And Francine, plain and true, could not be anything but plain and true, even about herself. She started to cry. The substance of Francine is a vacuum the size of a pinhole in a child’s pool floatie, she said, smearing snot on the back of her hand. Instead of air leaking out, the substance of Francine slowly sucks everything in. She looked up at us, eyes leaking, lips twitching, snot, slug-like, reappearing and inching down her lip. Was it true? It was true. And—what a relief. Hadn’t we always said this—Francine is so honest, but Francine is so plain, but also, Francine is kind of sad, we’ve always said. Francine, her hair cut to the chin like Prince Valiant. Francine, her legs kind 106 u Crab Orchard Review
D.J. Thielke of weird. Francine, largely excluded from our many configurations of coupling and recoupling unless someone was really, really drunk. Francine is great, but Francine needs us to make her life interesting, we’ve said, we’re sure we’ve said. And didn’t she hate Lila for some slight years ago? Didn’t she lust, unrequitedly, after Jacob? Who knows what manner of things she could have held against Sammi! Francine the gossip, Francine the drama monger, Francine the vacuum! And then we laughed. We laughed at mold and mercury, flint and fish scales, our insides described like the city dump. We laughed at how The City Dump could be our band name, if we wanted to have a band. We laughed at our substances—the substance of Lila is vodka Red Bull! The substance of Jacob is Coors Light! The substance of Francine is a fuck ton of weed! We laughed at Francine, with Francine, even Francine—the substance of us, all of us, nothing but sound and smoke.
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M. Ayodele Heath All Day I Hear the Noise of Waters
after James Joyce
Fanm bezwen ti gout dlo pou change lavi. —from an ad for a Haitian clean water project The one who is thirsty? Or the one who is dirty? I balance this bucket in the bowels of the slum: Is water they’re drinking, water that’s killing? According to John, Jesus turned water to wine. Father, where is our miracle if water poisons? The one who is thirsty? Or the one who is dirty? With a dishrag, I dampen each eye that needs washing and wring out what’s left to boil the bouillon. Is water they’re drinking, water that’s killing? My tears cannot cool them, so the twins keep crying, Tout ko mwen cho. Fevers burn like the sun. He, who is thirsty? Or she, who is dirty? This village is a nightmare where zonbis are bathing while I, twice a day, fill this five-gallon drum. O water of drinking, water of killing. In ditches, in alleys, mosquitoes I’m fighting. I hear graves yawning as I choose one: The one who is thirsty? Or the one who is dirty? when water for drinking is water that’s killing.
Note: (Creole) Women need a little bit of water so life can change.
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Rodney Jones The Power of the Quote 1965 The day Portis was assigned the free paper he saw three things that interested him: a hawk carrying a snake, a letter John Keats wrote to John Hamilton Reynolds from Scotland in 1818, and a woman in the outhouse behind the church, peeing standing up. Then he went, as ordered by his grandmother, to help collect rent from the Ledbetters and waited with his granddaddy on the porch. A long time. A pig ran out the door and then three chickens. A wasp got after him, and all the time, the smell from inside made a racket. â€œCat,â€? thought Portis, not pig or chicken, and sure enough, out sauntered a little towheaded girl dragging a kitty by its ears.
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Rodney Jones Then the old lady, Rosellen, who always got his grandaddy’s goat, emerged, studied him a piece, cackled, tousled the young’n’s hair, and said, “Annky, thay oddam.” And when that didn’t bite, paused and cackled, then said it again, “Annky, thay oddam.” “Mizz Ledbetter,” said Portis’s granddaddy, “if you’ll be so polite as to get shed of that snuff, I’ll try and consider precisely what you’re meaning.” And then she did, she spat, if spitting is not a pit or coop, but a cathedral: a swallow that gathered an insweep to a cleansing hawk that squeaked the springs and set the red wad flying between them to resolve against a rusty sheet of tin. Whereon Mizz Ledbetter repeated, but this time cleaner, “Nancy,” and rubbed the little girl’s towhead, “Say goddam for these
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Rodney Jones nice gentymen,” and when the little girl complied, the old lady smiled, winked at Portis’s granddaddy, raised her dress, blew her nose on the hem, and cackled again. A funny thing occurred to Portis then, with darkness over it, the madness of an old man and an old woman who might have kissed long ago at a Christmas party under mistletoe, and maybe it went farther. In any event, there would be no rent, there never was, and grandma Portis didn’t like it. And mumbled as she fried their tongue. Then sat a spell in solitary, and dragged a ball and chain of silence to the organ and pumped on “Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling” for a little more than an hour. Then was restored herself again. But back to the paper Portis had intended to write. In bed, he thought about it, and two parts stirred: not the hawk and snake that D.H. Lawrence might handle; or the Keats’ letter, which sounded like Mark Twain;
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Rodney Jones or what occult ecclesiastical hygiene might warrant a Christian woman peeing standing up. More what was meant by free? And if it was, he felt the spiders in those marks he hated, that hung there in the air, stung what people said, and spun the web around it. And felt the secret labor press upon the paper. A rainy night. He was alone. And tried on words like shirts. And scratched the loneliness of the burden. Then went down to the kitchen to make himself some coffee and saw the words all shining in the cupboard. Some waited for company that never came. Mainly these stayed clean. But others rattled against the ice and woke him late at night. This was the goddam south. Some words heâ€™d need to put in other peopleâ€™s mouths.
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Vandana Khanna Sita in Exile Before the forest, giving in was easy: my hands for your prayers, my skin for your mouth. But once your doubt grew taut, it was all fire: my ruin begun in dirt and rubble, fourteen years of leering branches, of stars plotting against me. Now, I sleep alone in the sweat of the afternoon, waken to an evening of peeled purple. I bless all that is seen and unseen with river water and bucket: under the rough rope of my hair, in the quiet between arms and thighs. Gaunt as a paper fan, I wander the walled garden in naked feet, pull my melancholy close, my numb shawl. I beckon the tiger to come and lick my ankles free of ash.
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The Goddess Re-Made You found me with night in my teeth— a cheap date in need of a heart, a story, a glass bangle in green. Any small mercy. And I took it, leaving behind those moaning cows, the thatched roofs one lightning storm away from igniting. You took inventory—breath and pulse, cells and teeth, a numb womb. You couldn’t shake the river out of me, so there it stayed, muddying my blood, blurring the blink of my eyes. Build me better—a girl with a spine stiff as bark, a mouth refusing to part, caged by the brittle twig of ribcage. Build me until there is nothing soft left, nothing pink.
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We Are Always the Girls Our goodness measured, laid out at night for the animals to practice on. Our hurts hung from the trees. We are always the girls, hushed, hatedâ€”daughters born of some monster. Nothing to recommend us, with instructions hennaed on our backs, a trail of wants that curves and hooks around the long finger of our spines. They chant for us to go away, to die with their prim lips pursed, the shudder of our stories on their tongues. Our blood runs the green of tangled vines, heartbeat of a thousand blackbirds. Our veins opened by flame. We turn away from their eyes to do our sin, lick the salt from our palms.
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Gerry LaFemina This Earthly Paradise There’s a gate that leads into a glade & a fence to keep deer from the garden, a green mesh barricade barely visible. A thin path braids among the woods. Earlier she took me to the lake where we’d hoped to feed the geese & ducks but the water was still as a blank page. Sunlight filled it with bright ideas. Whatever we spoke of, as we broke the crusts & cast away our crumbs, only the small leaves of sweet gum heard for they bent their heads to eavesdrop. The surface rippled slightly & some might call soothing how the thinnest branches riffled. Not even fish rose for that bread. A man of secrets all my life, I’ve surrendered the confessional, traded it for something akin to intimacy this afternoon: ninety degrees. August approaching. That pond. That brocade of trees. It doesn’t matter the fence, she said, the deer still get in & it’s hard to complain when they’re so beautiful. Driving home, I see a buck standing by the roadside & think of her as that deer leaps back into the underbrush all grace & strength. How my hands shake. How hard it is to catch my breath.
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First Night The muscles of sleep flex & extend. She snores. Snow descends as it has for centuries onto this city, onto the low brownstones & potholed asphalt, onto the hunched hardwoods planted here when the houses were still new & promise lit their windows, onto the parked cars & onto the last neighbors returning home to domestic insecurity. For an hour I listened to her breath the way I listened to Monk the first time, his hesitant, powerful piano notes that were, after all, the early sentences of a seduction. How I got lost in its aural radiance, the way it bends around gravity & breaks down into color. Between me & the cold world, a thick glass pane icy to touch, & the neighborhood aglow in its whiteness, lit up thanks to Edison. I woke to this long before dawn & wanted to sleep again but wanted more to not sleep, transfixed by her staccato breaths, the occasional movement outside like notes being struck in what might be an early riff in a torch song & then—is it an ambulance?—like a horn burst shattering it all, that’s someone else’s emergency.
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Moira Linehan From This Distance Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig Co. Monaghan Rows a tractor cut into the hillside across the lake. From this distance: ridges of ribbing, the first rows of an afghan. Or—shadows in the furrows—a washboard. From this distance across the lake: ridges cut into grassland too soggy to seed. A furrowed washboard of shadows. Ghost lines. Ditches where the Famine dead lay, grass-stained mouths. Bogland too soggy to seed, famine or not. Such hunger’s cycled back and back through this land. In the ditches, the dead with grass-stained mouths while some shipped oats and corn to England. A hunger’s cycled back and back through my life: family dead on family dead, in grief gnawed to bone. While some shipped corn and oats to England, how did my father’s grandfather survive? Famine’s bones—my family’s buried stories— eat at the lines I can, and cannot, write. How could my great grandfather have survived? What’s the hunger that now lives on in me? Surrounding the lines I do, and do not, write: ribbing, first rows of what may, or may not, comfort. The history of a hunger. From a distance: rows a tractor cut into a hillside.
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Toward Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig Co. Monaghan I walk a mile down the road to Newbliss, walk a mile away, walk the wooded path along the lake and out onto the lane winding between muddy green hills. I’m nowhere but among mournful cows, their eyes bottomless wells that know a soul’s dark nights. All their lives cows stay put. One foot to the next I keep moving, an end point always in mind: village, next hillock, rounding the lake’s loop. On I walk without being able to say why I must. The language here has been lost, words like woods cut down, hauled off or abandoned. Yet something remains of those who spoke it. What has always been beyond words, even when they had their own. That’s where I’m headed.
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Margaret Mackinnon The Postman perhaps we exist neither for the one thing nor for the other, but to give consolation… —Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother, 1889 As was his habit, he painted the view from his window, omitting only the asylum’s iron bars. He caught the dissolving blue of early morning, the knotted, crooked trees with their long shadows mirrored in the grass, a single cypress tremulous in a field of sunken wheat— just as, years before, he’d recorded what he saw from Theo’s apartment— Parisian roof, lavender in the light, a line of red shutters, the mottled sky— just as, years before that, he’d marked the landscape visible from his parents’ house— unkempt edge of orchard, familiar spire of his father’s church, a row of pollard willows, looking, he said, like a procession of almshouse men. He was grateful, then, for this saffron light, even on those days when the paths the other patients walked felt haunted, the courtyard’s measured garden filled with ghosts. Because I am ill at present, he wrote, I try to do something to console myself— and so, he remembered the postman, Joseph Roulin, whose portrait he’d first painted as a gift, made resplendent in his uniform, the cobalt jacket with its trim of polished brass. This man aglow with the birth of another child, companion of absinthe and small cafes, 120 u Crab Orchard Review
Margaret Mackinnon who’d visited him in another hospital, at Arles. He painted him with uneven, red-lidded eyes, gave him a great beard with independent strokes of purple, green, and blue— the children taunted Vincent in the streets of Arles, threw stones, called out Le fou— but this postman has a kind face, was a kind friend, with his scratched brows, cheeks marked pink by drink, a face lit as if Vincent’s narrow room might open wide enough so that the past, its failures, might one day loosen its long grip. And I, too, thought of the postman— when I drove my daughter on summer evenings to see her father at the hospital, not the elegant institutions of years past, but this one county-run, where a guard would check her phone, check her bag, and she’d walk toward the door of the locked ward, with its tinted green glass, the same deep green Vincent gave the wall behind Joseph’s head. He made the background an otherworldly swirl of lines that always led him back to flowers, the pink dahlias of his mother’s garden, colors gleaming like another scheme for happiness. And I watched my daughter watch her father’s face behind the glass, his lit with that same longing to hear the visitor say— Good news! Good news! words that might echo down the long fluorescent halls.
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Tyler Mills Starfish Prime Pantone-mime Starfish Prime detonated in space on July 9, 1962 Monarch orange. Creamsicle tones. The purple a chicken bone pulls off of fat. The stratosphere has been soaped ginger and tangerine. I’ll wash until it’s clean: orb orbing another orb mottling like fruit that wets your fingers and lingers like being fucked. Pool marine, dynasty green—golf this sky into a hole. Colonial is a color. So is blue atoll. How the radio waves cut out voices still speaking into the black. Gone is the oysterwhite rocket. You can’t take it back.
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Karissa Morton The Nymph Imitates Sleep Who can say why fathers love one more than the next, or why I, bodiless girl, still breathe—though burdened, though swollen & dumb in the throat—why I’ll always move toward the voice I knew, still clutching a tongue in mouth, still gifting myself with moan to twist & cull my shame into light. For now, all I know is that I am dirty-haired, am unraveled & dying half-born, my arms deserted like the cold shanks of dreams. And in this guttural fugue, this sometimes-heart, my desire is dulled in his stead. It’s here that I hold him in stammer & augured blink, that I ache for his kingdom of ruin, for father again given permission to enter.
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Nick Narbutas Studies Toward a Unified Voice I. Not the bowl but the hollow of the bowl or something more original, like—maybe the plastic beckoning cats in the bodega window are waving back at me and I’m the one left out to gather luck, silt, and sunstains for some unseen practitioner of commerce. When I practice commerce, I bleed from my fingers until I’ve stained the good furniture with red identity. When I practice identity, I turn on my black plastic metronome and hope the ghost of my cat Clancy sinks down through the ceiling, fiery trumpet toot tooting in his fangs. The first time I said I’m sorry against my will was the first time I heard my own voice unfiltered by my teeth, a sound like a seatbelt unbuckling just before the black ice hits.
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II. It sounds like a seatbelt unbuckling just before the black ice, which means it still can be prevented. Yes, even now, our nation’s leading scientists are cloistered in the converted missile silo inventing desperate measures to capture and neutralize this obnoxious habit of mine. When I practice science, I make chimeras from vintage automobiles and the smell of an empty subway car. I step into the empty car and it does not fill with water from an ex-icecap. I stand with my nose against the doors, waving one arm at whatever sees me through the window. I bring luck wherever I go. People always ask me to please take it with me when I leave. This isn’t a charity. It’s a converted missile silo, shh, science is happening.
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III. Shh, science is happening at an alarming rate. I stick my hand out the window to check the weather and it comes back covered in leeches. Someone asks from the kitchen Is it raining? I respond There’s no easy way to say this but I think Bill Nye lied to us. It’s a sad day to call yourself a ’90s kid, even if you only half-remember the decade. Even if you intended to play those cards, they were never worth half of what we paid for them. If I had my way, I’d die by wrapping my hand around a sea urchin and squeezing until you believe me that this doesn’t hurt. I’m lucky enough not to worry about what happened to the body of Clancy or what misfortune taught him to play a trumpet so hard it erupted in flames. I open my laptop and search weather nyc. I try to dress accordingly but jesus man these leeches—
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IV. Jesus man these leeches are sharp. They bleed my blood straight into the hollow of the bowl. Straight into the sun I throw my opponent. He comes back looking like my portrait drawn with the not-so-brightest crayon in the box hidden under my bed with the words DEATH TO SPIES scrawled on the lid. My opponent and I are evenly matched. He takes his coffee black as a metronome set to stutter but I know better than to let my blood grace the dial of any device that does not belong to me. One must always be vigilant against the theft of oneâ€™s vittles and vitals. The sun descends into the missile silo like a Roman god disembarking from his chariot. No one is happy to see me in a fiery gown. Iâ€™m the half-life of the party.
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V. No one is happy to see me. I am the afterlife in a fiery gown which does not belong to me. I unleash my new chimera on the world but the world is busy heralding the arrival of the grolar bear. In Utah, a man with a plywood face baptizes an infant in melt-water while my lifelong opponent plucks a harp off-screen. Everything I know I learned from TV. How to build a garden. How to plant a fence. The appropriate moment to defuse a neutron bomb. My chimera reminds me Clancy isnâ€™t coming back, so I silence the metronome and step into the weather. When the weather practices commerce, a trumpet extinguishes itself and returns to the hands of its blind master. Ghosts dissipate and I, resigned, wipe the blood off my face. A grolar bear observes its place in the newfound world.
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Allison Coffelt Trapped Heat The dogs in Haiti are skinny. So skinny. Two or three hang
around where I’m staying. It’s hard to tell their age. One is chestnut brown while the other is lighter, taupe-brown, and a little rounder. The chestnut brown is a female mutt; she has a dark spot near her eye and floppy ears. She stands about a foot off the ground. She won’t touch your hand. Kirsty, the Clinical Director at Maison de Naissance, a birthing home I’m visiting, says many people here don’t treat dogs well. They’re afraid of your hands. Emilie, the other blan who’s visiting Maison de Naissance, tells me that dogs she’s seen here won’t eat anything but meat. We call the chestnut brown girl over with little snippets of Creole, broken French commands, and small click-kiss noises. I am half crouched as she inches nearer, just beyond reach, sniffing and wondering what I want, what I have. She won’t move closer. When I reach, she scoots twice as far back. I wonder if Emilie tried to feed the dogs the vegetable scraps from her hand, and the only thing they’d risk it for was for meat. I wonder if they would have scavenged them later if she’d left them out. The cows in the fields here look like the dogs. Skinny. So skinny they can’t be cows. I am from the Midwest, where we raise cattle, the beef, and house the memory of the old stockyards and train cars and the myth of the good old days. We know Bar-B-Q and we eat corn and drink milk with supper. It doesn’t matter that much of our country gets beef from abroad or that we sell almond and quinoa and rice milk alongside dairy. The Midwest has an identity regardless, and part of that identity is cattle. So to me, the cows I see here aren’t cattle because cattle are big and thick. The cows here are like big dogs loping through the fields with visible rib cages and protruding haunches moving up and down and tails switching back and forth. Many of them drag a rope, a leash, from their necks. Crab Orchard Review
Allison Coffelt A white crane hovers, flapping, and lands on the shoulder of a cow. It catches bugs while the cow grazes. Breakfast for two. At the public market, donkeys walk by. Their backs are loaded with goods piled on wooden saddle trees. A merchant finds her place to unload, takes off the donkey pack, and flips the saddle over. The small stakes—the top “v” of the saddle’s X—push into the mud as she sits and arranges her starfruit, eggplant, cherries, melons, and pineapples on the tarp. Women pass holding one or two freshly dead chickens by their feet. One woman has a chicken dangling in each hand and a live turkey sitting in a basket on her head, unaware of his fate. His wattle is loose and gangly, a purplish gray. I hear screaming. A small child throwing a tantrum. This is the first time, I realize, aside from the infants in the birthing home, that I’ve heard children yelling in public. I look around for the voice as the squealing grows louder, angrier, and piercing. I don’t see a mother dragging a hand. I see two men walking toward me with small dark pigs in brown burlap sacks. They hoist them by their armpits and the heads of the pigs peek out of the sacks. Their squeals reach higher. In the livestock section of the market, you can buy a goat for about 30 U.S. dollars. I’m not sure about a piglet. A tap-tap, a truck converted to a taxi-bus, idles on the market’s main loop while people hop onto the bed with their goods. One or two of them have live lambs. Lambs will go on the tap-tap, but not in the tap-tap. The truck bed is half full as two men begin to tie up the animals on the outside of the truck. They string their front and back feet together and loop the rope cords over the top of the bed near the right back wheel. The lambs, upside down, hang like a woman’s purse from her shoulder. I can picture them ten minutes from now as the driver shifts and brakes, navigating street potholes and crevices, and fifteen minutes from now, swinging as he accelerates and bumping up against one another as he changes lanes. Right now, though, the lambs just blink with their big black eyes and narrow, curly fleece heads. Their flat circular tails can’t beat gravity and their stump falls upside down. They hang exposed. Mackenzie, our friend who took us to the market and Kirsty’s husband, sees me watching them. He says, “It’s very bad, the way we treat animals here in Haiti. Very bad. It’s hard to see it.”
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Allison Coffelt Saying “I want to go to Haiti” took almost as long as saying “I want to be a writer.” I stutter on the words, fumble the sounds on my tongue, questioning, in the milliseconds as air ascends through my vocal chords, what goes into that statement. A writer is a thinker, a philosopher, a poet, a dreamer. A taker, a thief, an egotist, a copycat. “That is one last thing to remember:” Joan Didion says, “writers are always selling somebody out.” Bearing witness. What discoveries are yours? What discoveries are your obligation to tell? I am terrified of the mission-trip essay. The college-admittance or finding God essay. You know the story. The one I heard featured on This American Life as the archetypal high-school coming-ofage story. I turned up the radio volume to hear an interview with a college admissions officer who was explaining how a a student goes “somewhere in Central America” and her group “gets off the plane and it was really hot” and they take a bus to a village, and the bus breaks down, and they get help from a local, and at the end of the week, that glorious week, when all this time she thought she would be teaching them, she really found they taught her. I do not want that story. In those pigeonholes, that stereotype, the danger is over-simplicity and singular narrative reigns king. When someone “goes down there,” it’s usually in pursuit of some kind of selfdevelopment. There are the rare occasions when it’s a true win-win for the travelers and the community they’re visiting. Mostly there are times when the trip feels helpful but is questionable in the long-term— this is a messier, more common reality. What’s at stake, though, isn’t only to place trips on a spectrum of efficacy. It isn’t only to ask if we’re doing more harm than good, though that’s a crucial piece. The other, very real danger with these kinds of stories is that they forgo complexity. Many times these stories feature the narrator’s growth and development without including the part that showed how messy and complicated the whole thing was. These stories oversimplify. When we neatly wrap things up to show how much we’ve learned, we miss a chance to reflect on what our expectations were and how we characterize the people we meet. Maybe when we retell our trips, we talk about “them” all being poor or kind or desperate or hungry. We gravitate toward a single narrative or a handful of adjectives to describe what we saw. It’s easier that way. It’s the short answer to “How was your trip?” We want the story to sound like one we’ve heard before and know so well. We seek patterns. Crab Orchard Review
Allison Coffelt To refuse to simplify, to acknowledge complexity: that is the challenge. It turns out this is much harder than telling the story we know already. It asks us to look at uncomfortable things, like what our expectations were and are—our status, privilege, wealth. It asks us to think about justice. Perhaps most difficult is that rejecting the cookiecutter narrative asks us to remember our default setting, where we are at the center of our own worlds, and choose a different option. When we pay close enough attention, we can begin to notice moments when what we’d see isn’t what we thought we’d see. We can ask questions about what we find curious. If we choose to at least try for a reality where the self is not perpetually foregrounded—and keep trying again and again and again, because it’s hard, probably impossible, and it’s what we’re programmed to do— then do we practice placing ourselves in others’ reality and begin to see at a different depth? When I began planning my trip to Haiti, I contacted a few different groups, requesting to go under their auspices. I wanted to plug into a pre-existing structure in a community. I’d pay my own way, and in exchange for hosting me, I’d write them a development document for fundraising or help with some other task. I went to Maison de Naissance, a birthing home whose Foundation I’d encountered in college, and Organizasyon Sante Popilè (OSAPO), or Public Health Organization, that I’d learned of through a friend of a friend. I may always be waffling, caught in a stasis of uncertainty. I think of Keats, who talked about negative capability. Uncertainty is sometimes the most uncomfortable place to abide, but it also keeps me open to learning the most—continuing to expand, adapt, and question the narrative; to not get stuck on one story—because I’m unsure of a “right answer.” The wheel’s still in spin. Haiti was the first to teach me that. Questions of efficacy and justice float around me; I have the luxury to think about them, so I do. I want to look closer. I hope to expand the narrative, to offer another voice as I share my own discovery process. I hope to bear witness; I hope to add something. I take my glasses off, fold them, and set them by my left hand on my desk. I see myself do it, but the glasses are still on my face. I feel the morning sun on my hand. I was nervous about the car ride. I didn’t know what Dr. JeanGardy Marius and I would talk about for four hours as we drove up to 132 u Crab Orchard Review
Allison Coffelt Port-au-Prince from the southern city of Les Cayes. Dr. Marius spoke some English, I knew, but I wasn’t sure how much. I come back to language. Again and again, it is language. The unspoken and spoken hover and bounce between us. Messages and thoughts and needs and wants. How do you think? I think in English. I was raised thinking in English. I like to remember the time, after a decade in the classroom, when I lived in Central America and finally began to think in Spanish. Then I came home. We’re built for the path of least resistance. Anything else requires active effort. Sentence structure, whether it’s learned automatically or a repeated exerted effort, informs the way I think about possessive and possession. Order reflects the process of my mind. My vocabulary is part of history’s shadow. When I speak another language, the emphasis changes. The order and importance alters. Most formal languages are colonizers; they do not quite belong to el pueblo. When I muddle through a few Creole phrases, though, the dynamic shifts. I am acknowledging—honoring—place. When it comes to recording Haiti, journalists typically speak English or French. So do the Haitian elite. These are the languages of privileged and gilded tongues, the ones who tell the story. Haiti’s two official languages are French and Creole. They are listed in that order. But if French is learned, it is not first for most. Patois, literally “rough speech,” is a divide embodied. It’s a dialect, rooted in class, and seen by many as a “stepchild” tongue, a butchered adaptation, and not its own pure language. What language would be pure, really? We are ever informed by what came before. Creole’s roots in Haiti are steeped in French and blood. The French called their half of Hispaniola island Saint-Domingue. It was as big as the state of Maryland. Through slave labor it became the biggest producer of coffee and supplied the world with 75 percent of its sugar. Creole was raised between sugar cane and slaves, between different African languages and everyday French. It was born out of desire for solidarity, need for communication, and desire for freedom. To produce such immense quantities of exports, the plantations relied on cruelty. “Haiti’s slaves were worked to death so quickly that even rapid expansion of the transatlantic trade over these same years was unable to keep up with demand,” writes Peter Hallward in Damming the Flood: Haiti and the Politics of Containment. In August of 1791, one slave rebellion led to more rebellions—even white plantation owners were involved in the uprisings, though their Crab Orchard Review
Allison Coffelt purpose was to further their autonomy from France and keep freed slaves from having so many rights. In an attempt to settle the uprisings with the white landowners, French commissioner Léger Sonthonax offered the slave armies permanent freedom in exchange for their help. Toussaint L’Ouverture, a freed slave himself, headed the growing army of liberated slaves and, after the white landowner rebellion had been quelled, slowly rose to control the colony. L’Ouverture was a staunch abolitionist and wrote his beliefs into the Constitution four years after his initial rise. In 1801, with the revolution in France over, Napoleon sent an enormous force to Saint-Domingue. To anyone who asked, General Leclerc and his troops arrived to fortify defenses in the case of attack from other colonizers. Their actual job was to overthrow and capture L’Ouverture and reinstate slavery. Through bribery, coercion, and trickery, Leclerc was successful in the former, but when the Haitian troops realized his plans for the latter, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a Lieutenant of Toussaint, drove out Leclerc’s army and asserted Haitian independence. Haiti’s revolution succeeded where America’s and France’s did not—it successfully spread the beliefs of liberté, egalité, fraternité to all of the country’s people. Another brutal year of conflict for freedom followed, ravaging the countryside and the population. “Independence…was won after an armed struggle against the greatest European army at the time led by Napoleon Bonaparte,” writes Dany Laferrière in The World Is Moving Around Me: A Memoir of the Haiti Earthquake. “My childhood was filled with stories of slaves whose only weapon was their longing for freedom and a senseless kind of bravery.” In January 1804, the newly named Haiti celebrated its independence. “For years, the country had been recognized as the first black republic in the world, and the second to win its independence in the Americas after the United States,” writes Laferrière. Hallward compares Haiti’s revolution to those in America and France: Of the three great revolutions that began in the final decades of the eighteenth century—American, French, and Haitian— only the third forced the unconditional application of the principle that inspired each one: affirmation of the natural, inalienable rights of all human beings. Only in Haiti was the declaration of freedom universally consistent. Only in Haiti was this declaration sustained at all costs, in direct 134 u Crab Orchard Review
Allison Coffelt opposition to the social order and economic logic of the day. Only in Haiti were the consequences of this declaration—the end of slavery, of colonialism, of racial inequality—upheld in terms that directly embraced the world as a whole. The declaration of Haitian independence thereby dealt the myth of white supremacy a mortal and unforgivable blow. “Only in Haiti,” writes Hallward. There was a demand for an “unconditional application” of human rights. This always makes people uncomfortable. Because, of course, an absence of natural rights means a withholding; it implies a power structure wherein someone benefits from withholding and someone is withheld from. “Only in Haiti.” Yes, only in Haiti were the fights for these inalienable rights won for people—indiscriminately— in a country. If only it could have held in Haiti. Had history paused, had the frame zoomed out on a battered but triumphant country after a vicious and bloody war, we may have had a very different today. But what followed was a familiar tale, a story of oppression, racism, and repayment of debts that were never justly accrued. Haiti’s poverty as a cycle directly inflicted and driven by wealthy nations, that is, the reason Haiti is poor is because other countries are rich, began just a few years after that Independence Day in 1804. Slaveowning countries (particularly the United States) dominated trade in the global economy and were unsettled by the successful Haitian revolt. What if slaves in the American South heard about Haiti and got the same ideas? An uprising would tank the U.S. economy. France, still reeling from its defeat, lobbied its allies to block all trade with Haiti. For the first time in over a century, the resourcerich, export-heavy former colony became an island of isolation. The Haitian economy’s legs were cut out from under it. Bustling, rich countries refused to do business with blacks, with former slaves. Breaking the boycott to resume essential trade would come at a steep cost and be negotiated while staring down the barrel of a gun. In 1825, the entire French Atlantic fleet sat just off Haiti’s shore as the Haitian government agreed to “compensate” France 150 million francs to pay for the former colonizer’s economic loss when its slaves, that is, the Haitian people, declared their freedom. One hundred and fifty million francs. How much is it? At the time, it was almost as much as France’s annual budget. About twenty years earlier, the U.S. had paid France a bargain price of 60 million Crab Orchard Review
Allison Coffelt francs for the whole of the Louisiana purchase. Adjusted for today, with inflation and compound interest, former Haitian President JeanBertrand Aristide calculated the modern equivalent to be $21 billion. Though the 150 million gold francs was later reduced to 90 million, Haiti had no one to borrow from to even begin to repay the debt except for French banks with exorbitant interest rates. Nearly a hundred years later, at the turn of the 20th century, eighty percent of Haiti’s national budget was still being paid to France. Eighty percent. In the early 1900s. Today, eighty percent of the population lives on less than two dollars a day. Out of 187 countries, Haiti was ranked 161st for Human Development in 2012 by the U.N. Development Program. The shackles are heavy. In 1947, 143 years after its Declaration of Independence, the country paid the final installment to its colonizer. “Haitians have thus had to pay their original oppressors three times over,” writes Hallward. “Through the slaves’ initial labor, through the compensation for the French loss of this labor, and then in interest on the payment of this compensation.” “Only in Haiti.” From the very beginning, Haiti was forced into an unjust debt whose complications and ripples spilled over centuries into the loans and structural adjustment policies of today. Only in Haiti. Haiti’s history is unique, but the themes and driving forces behind it are not. Someone is withheld, someone is withholding; someone is gaining, someone is losing. It could be France, it could be the U.S., it could be Belgium. It could be a company or an organization or an alliance. We use terms like “compensation” and “border protection” and “tariffs.” Words emerge on every side. We give birth to language to explain it all. In the morning at Organizasyon Sante Popilè, or Public Health Organization, Dr. Marius’s hospital, I write: To hear Creole first thing in the morning, trickling in from the big open wooden window with the river rushing and mumbling in the background, is a treat. People say it is a patois, a choppy cheap version of French. And it is choppy. But cheap? No. Creole’s cost is measured in lives and labor and a way of life. To me, Creole sounds like a ship on rocky waters. Sometimes, the waves slow down and the syllables sing up. A little longer and drawn out, the words meet the crest of the wave and find themselves dipping back down, tongue lolling over and water 136 u Crab Orchard Review
Allison Coffelt slapping the hull. There are quick breaks and stops, dips and highs, before the song comes in again through the static radio. But they could be talking about donkey shit and I might think it is a song. Out here on the veranda the rooster crows, the lambs ba, the birds call, the motos honk, and all begins to blend together until it’s hard to see or hear who does what. Gardy, as he says to call him, speaks English very well. And Creole. And French. And Spanish and German. He learned Creole, French, and English growing up here in Haiti, Spanish in the Dominican Republic where he went for medical school, and German when he met his partner, a German aid worker. “It’s good to learn languages when you’re young. You can do it now. For me, now I’m getting older, I sometimes mix them up.” Gardy is just reaching his mid-40s. He shaves his head. His lower jaw juts out a touch from his oval face and his serious expression melts when he sees someone he knows, which happens everywhere. A slanted scar reaches across the right half of his forehead. When I see him, he wears dark wash jeans and either a navy OSAPO T-shirt or a button-down dress shirt. As we drive through the streets of Les Cayes on the only twolane highway that connects the South with the capital, we chat about the city. He grew up in Les Cayes. He points to his mother’s house as we pass. We talk about my time at Maison de Naissance. To get there every morning, we would pass rice paddies, farmers with hand tools, fires of burning brush, donkeys, and thin cows. Gardy and I begin to talk beaches as we curve in and out, heading for the mountains. I had spent the day before in Port Salud, which Gardy tells me is one of the best beaches. We had piled nine people into our friend’s Nissan Pathfinder and drove an hour out of town. White sand, cerulean water, and tables and chairs under big shade trees at the water’s edge. Port Salud is a public beach with some souvenir stands and people snapping photos, but also other Haitians relaxing on a Saturday. Relax is a saying. “It is Relax,” my translator would tell me. “Relax in Haiti means everything is fine, everything is good.” I kicked a soccer ball with young boys in the surf, took our friends’ kids into the ocean, and drank Prestige, the Haitian beer that claimed to be “American Style Lager.” We ate fish on checkered table cloths in the shade. I floated on my back while the warm waves cradled my body, rocking me. Crab Orchard Review
Allison Coffelt When I am with Kirsty and Mackenzie, the friends who took us to the beach, I am comfortable. Kirsty and Mackenzie speak Creole, French, and English. When I play with their nieces and nephews, I trip over a few words, knowing my vocabulary belongs to someone younger than the girl I hoist above the sea and splash back into the water. She giggles, clings to me, and gets ready to go again. Her swimsuit print is American stars and stripes and her water wings are bright orange. Beads dangle from her little braids. The water and wind and waves muffle my muteness. “It was beautiful,” I tell Gardy, “Port Salud was great.” “Have you been to Île à Vache?” “The island south of Les Cayes? No. I thought it might be fun to take the ferry, but the timing didn’t work out.” “You have to go. It is so beautiful. It’s the most beautiful.” He is shaking his head, mouth turning up, eyes squinting. Convincing me. “When I come back,” I say. “Yes, you’ll have to.” Gardy’s mind travels south and hops the ferry—ocean, wind, and salt, while we head north to Port-au-Prince—concrete, crowds, and trapped heat. At Gardy’s clinic, Organizasyon Sante Popilè, three other blans in medical school at Michigan State were visiting to shadow doctors for a week. We all bunked in the rooms above the clinic with doctors, nurses, and staff. The wide metal staircase outside led to a big, high-ceiling tiled hallway that inched around the building’s perimeter. Off the hall were square meeting rooms, a kitchen, three or four sleeping rooms, and a long office for the accountant and an administrative staff member. In the center of the floor plan, a bannister guarded a square dropthrough where the absent floor revealed the clinic below. The open-air design connected patient space with staff space. At dusk, we’d walk down the gravel road that would, miles later, meet a tiny settlement, then a larger seaside town, then somewhere, a hospital. One evening the other blans and I veered off to take a footpath up one of the mountains. It was not quite a trail. Men, women, kids in flip-flops, and donkeys climbed the dry, fine gravel, navigating the steep slope and drops. We were in hiking boots and tennis shoes, with sweaty palms, feeling too near to a tumble. We kept our eyes down and climbed. 138 u Crab Orchard Review
Allison Coffelt A roar erupted far behind us. There, past the road and river, on the plateau, was a soccer game, lit up by the dying rays of the sun. The field glowed as if under stadium lights. The crowd framed the field along the perimeter, standing room only, cheering for the scored goal. Men in two colors darted back and forth. A few afternoons earlier, when we were tossing a frisbee on the plateau, we had seen light dirt lines on the ground and sturdy stakes rusting red on each side of the field. Now the field breathed. Thumped. Players zipped like flies over the grass whose bare spots were hidden by the distance. Hundreds of bodies pivoted, following the ball. You could see and hear and feel the hum. Ritual. Ritual is what we hold sacred and what we repeat. Rituals can bring calm, meditation, and mindfulness to repetition. We keep our rituals close in the habit of the every day. They are in a cup of coffee in the morning, in listening to the news, or in spreading out a tarp with wares at the market. They are the beauty and importance of minutia. We allow rituals to bring meaning to drudgery or the ordinary. I look across the valley at the game: rituals can be entertainment that amplifies a commonality. They can be an escape or a time machine. I think the important thing about rituals is the attention we bring to them. It is to acknowledge what you’re doing as important, if only to you, because of the peace and comfort it brings. Recognizing how we practice our actions, our lives, is a way of recognizing our humanness. Jean-Gardy Marius was born in Les Cayes, the first of several children, and his father died when he was very young. I rarely hear conversations about death in Haiti. I hear conversations with death in them—mothers or fathers left to take care of their children—but it’s mentioned in passing. Gardy’s mother remarried and soon more children were born. “This man wasn’t good,” Gardy says of his stepfather. “He would beat my mother.” His stepfather didn’t care much for him, either. Gardy got a little older and a little bigger. He couldn’t stand watching his mother being beaten. As the oldest, he felt a sense of responsibility. But he was too small, he says, what was he to do? When Gardy was 11 or 12, there was a day he saw his stepfather abusing his mother and he decided to hit back. After Gardy struck him, the man fell, hit his head, and was knocked unconscious. He was taken to the hospital where he laid in a coma for a few days. When he awoke, he decided that after his discharge he would return to Gardy’s mother. Crab Orchard Review
Allison Coffelt Gardy knew if he was at home when his stepfather returned, he may not survive. He didn’t have much time to make a decision. He had an uncle and cousins in Port-au-Prince, so he ran, thinking surely they would take him in. As we wind out of Les Cayes, I picture a young Jean-Gardy Marius, around 12, driven from his home and headed for the big city. Supposedly there were jobs there. Certainly there was transience there. The friend who introduced me to Gardy and OSAPO, a Haitian nurse now living and working in the U.S., once told me that all roads lead to Port-au-Prince. Chances are, she said, if you live in Haiti and have a higher education, worked for a big company, or in some way had to interact with the government, you’ve been in Port-au-Prince. No one, it seems, can advance here without honoring the city’s pull, if only briefly, though many Haitians I meet talk about how much they dislike the place itself. The city’s too hot, it’s too crowded, they say. I ask why they live there. They say because everything is there. After hundreds of times driving the route from South to North, now as a successful doctor, I wonder if Gardy can help rewinding to the first time he took this road. I doubt it. That first trip is probably seared into remembrance by the doubts over surviving in Port-auPrince and the fear of starting anew, not yet a teenager, on his own. In Port-au-Prince, Gardy moved in with his uncle’s family. He hoped to re-enroll in school and attend with his cousins. He turned to his uncle for help, but his uncle put him to work in the house. “I did all the work of the house,” Gardy says. Laundry, cooking, cleaning, repair work, errand boy. Whatever it was—Gardy did it. He had to walk his uncle’s children to school every day to make sure they got there, but then return to their house to work. Gardy hoped that if he worked hard enough and well enough, his uncle would pay for his school fees. He held onto this hope for two years, but when he realized that his uncle had no intention of helping him get an education, he ran away again. He was 13. He lived on the streets of Port-au-Prince. “We slept in the streets, we ate in the streets, we lived in the streets,” Gardy said. It was the first time I’d hear him say it, but I would learn that he invoked this refrain every time he told his story: “We slept in the streets, we ate in the streets, we lived in the streets.” He would say it again, sometimes in outrage, sometimes imploring, sometimes challenging you to look at him now and know his history and 140 u Crab Orchard Review
Allison Coffelt see that Haiti can be a place of transformation: “We slept in the streets, we ate in the streets, we lived in the streets.” When he said it to me in the car, his gaze went from clear to cloudy. Gardy got by with help from a group of young homeless boys. There were groups like that everywhere in the capital. They would scrounge for food, find temporary cheap labor, and scout places to sleep. One weekend, a new friend of Gardy’s was going to Rousseau, a small village about 100 kilometers north of Port-au-Prince, to visit his family. Why a boy with family would be living with Gardy on the city streets was something I didn’t understand until I saw Rousseau. The town is tiny: paths and homes carved into mountains. The families are big, the food is small. Thirty years had passed since Gardy was first there and many of the one-room houses still didn’t have more than dirt floors or paper-thin walls. With not enough food and no jobs here, the big city and the potential for economy had a strong appeal. A camaraderie of boys scraping together a life on the streets might be more fruitful than many brothers and sisters without enough rice. Gardy drove the Land Rover as he talked, but he was in a time machine, his vision fixing on a younger self. “He asked me if I wanted to come with him to see his family in Rousseau. I said okay.” In Rousseau, Gardy joined a community game of soccer. After the match, a man came up to him. Gardy was new in a small town and the man wanted to know who he was. He asked Gardy where he was living and what he was doing. “I told him I was working in Port-au-Prince. I told him I was working because to say you are living on the streets…” he paused. “It’s—it’s shameful.” Maybe young Gardy had a look about him, or maybe the man had seen enough boys in Port-au-Prince to know a street kid. Perhaps he didn’t know Gardy was lying about having a job in the city. Whatever it was, the man asked Gardy, “How about you stay here? I will give you a job. Work for me, and you can go to school.” Gardy agreed. The man, Dr. Ronald Charlestin, a higher-up in a hospital not far from Rousseau, put Gardy to work in the pharmacy. The then fifteenyear-old began helping fill orders and organizing medicine and found he was good at it. He did well at school again. After about a year in the pharmacy, or laboratoire, Dr. Charlestin Crab Orchard Review
Allison Coffelt asked Gardy if he would like more responsibility. Did he want to start assisting in the hospital with him, under surgery? Gardy was fascinated and elated; his job was to help hold the tools, assist with the tray, and follow the orders of anyone in the room. When Gardy tells me this, I can’t help myself. I jump in. “Wait, you worked in a pharmacy? And then you were allowed in the operating room as an assistant at, what, 16?” It sounded unbelievable. “Yes,” Gardy says. “I know it sounds crazy to someone from the U.S.” Haiti is full of paradox. A permeating absence of opportunity weighs heavy, yet, sometimes, there are golden ones. For just a few people. On those rare occasions, if you tilt your head and squint just right, you see the missing standard give way to a situation where a sixteen-year-old can help pass a doctor his instruments. Gardy served as an assistant with surgeries for another few years. Slowly, with time, Dr. Charlestin let Gardy assist further and he began to show him how to perform, how to cut. It was small; it was supervised; it was taught. But Gardy was doing surgery. And he was excellent. When he was 18, Gardy would meet Dr. Stuart Smith, a retired doctor from Michigan and a devout Christian in his 60s, who had been coming to Haiti on medical missions for years. Dr. Smith was at the hospital where Gardy was working and he saw Gardy assist in a surgery. Afterwards, Dr. Smith approached Gardy. “Are you in medical school,” he asked. “No,” Gardy said. “Have you ever considered medical school?” “No,” Gardy said. “No, medical school? I could never afford medical school.” “You have such potential,” Dr. Smith told Gardy. He said he had seen more potential in young, untrained Gardy’s surgery skills than he had seen in many of his former U.S. medical students. “The most potential I have ever seen,” he repeated. The doctor started to get to know Gardy. He returned home to eastern Michigan, but kept thinking about how Gardy could access medical school. Dr. Smith only saw one way. “He offered to pay for my medical school using his life savings,” Gardy said. After years of mission trips to Haiti, Dr. Smith had seen in Gardy what he believed Haiti needed most—a Haitian with the potential and 142 u Crab Orchard Review
Allison Coffelt desire to contribute to his own country. He only lacked access. And Dr. Smith had the means to provide access. When I heard this part of Gardy’s story, I thought it seemed wild. A complete stranger paying for someone else’s medical school? But I remembered that Dr. Smith got to know Gardy before he made the offer and he had been coming to Haiti for several years as a missionary. He saw his work and commitment to the country as part of his devotion. Gardy accepted Dr. Smith’s offer and they remained close through the rest of Dr. Smith’s life. They eventually established partnerships between the medical school at Michigan State, not far from Dr. Smith’s home, and OSAPO, the clinic in Rousseau Gardy would found. At the time of Dr. Smith’s offer, Haitians pursuing medicine had essentially two options for school: the Dominican Republic or Cuba. “But,” Gardy said, “you have to realize the year was 1992.” “Oh,” I said. He paused. “Oh,” I said. “Yes.” “The coup?” “Exactly.” Two years prior, Haiti had held its first fully free and fair election since the country’s independence. After three decades of suffering under a family of dictators, François Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier—Papa Doc and Baby Doc—the Haitian election of 1990 was a convergence of forces. A young priest working in the slums of Port-au-Prince and practicing liberation theology had been rising in popularity, alongside the Lavalas populist party. To the dismay of the Haitian elite and U.S. business interests, Father Aristide won the election on December 16, 1990 in a landslide. In a race with several candidates, Aristide earned just over two-thirds of the vote. During his first few months in office, Aristide invited the poor to come eat on the lawn of the National Palace where soldiers served them rice and beans. “The palace is the center point around which all dreams of grandeur and all the nation’s hopes collide,” writes Dany Laferrière. “Every mother dreams that one day her first son will sit in the ‘presidential armchair.’ The fact that dictators have squatted there, more often than not over the last two hundred years, doesn’t make that piece of furniture any less desirable. People have never mistaken Crab Orchard Review
Allison Coffelt the building for its occupier.” Aristide also opened up Fort Dimanche, the torture chambers where thousands were murdered under the Duvaliers, to let the public see where their loved ones had died. Aristide’s other initial changes were more than symbolic. He reformed tax and trade policies, military and state violence structures, and focused on a few key problems that he thought were plaguing the poor, explains Peter Hallward. With the Lavalas party in power, many of the poor finally saw their voices realized through political representation. Yet, what about the people who had benefitted from the previous status quo? Several of Aristide’s changes directly impacted the Haitian elite and U.S. business interests. When it became clear that the new Aristide government was not planning to comply with the unelected, elite groups in Haiti through patronage, nor were they going to accept the U.S. requests to replace some ministers of state with more conservative candidates the Americans had handpicked, something had to give. You don’t rock the boat and not expect a wake. Powerful interests from both within the country and outside of it “backed Aristide into a corner,” by funding and supporting the Haitian military, writes Hallward. “So long as the U.S. supported it, the army was too powerful to dislodge; without an armed wing of its own, the popular movement could not confront [the army] directly.” On September 30, 1991, there was nothing Aristide’s small personal security league could do when the U.S.-supported Haitian Lieutenant General Raoul Cédras and his supporters came in the night. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the first fairly elected ruler in Haitian history, was in exile after occupying his office for less than year. After the coup, some governments, like Cuba, refused to recognize the new U.S.-backed Cédras military regime. If you were Haitian, this made obtaining a visa to Cuba, even for medical school, nearly impossible. “So, I studied medicine in the Dominican Republic,” says Gardy. Gardy lived in Santo Domingo for almost a decade. Most of his classmates were wealthy Dominicans and Haitians who assumed, because he was a peer at their medical school, he was elite as well. Gardy decided not to correct them. They wondered, he told me, why he didn’t have a fancy car or apartment, but it wasn’t impossible to pass as one of them. “But when you compare me to the other Haitians working in construction and other economic activities in the Dominican Republic, 144 u Crab Orchard Review
Allison Coffelt they would treat them like they’re nothing,” Gardy said. “They thought since I came from high class, my money talked for me. My money gave me value. It’s very sad. People really evaluate you for what you have.” Gardy finished in the top of his class and earned a job in the Dominican Republic after graduation. Coming back home to Haiti wasn’t a given for him. “It was a hard decision, to come back to Haiti. In Haiti, as the oldest child in the family, you have a lot of responsibilities.” In addition to being the eldest, as a doctor he was expected to help provide for his siblings, mother, and other family members. “But when you’re living in another country, there is some distance from that.” He sent money home, but the miles offered space from responsibility. Eventually, though, he returned. “I decided to come back to Haiti because I felt it was the right thing to do.”
Works Cited: —Hallward, Peter. Damming the Flood: Haiti and the Politics of Containment. Brooklyn: Verso, 2007. Print. —Laferrière, Dany. The World Is Moving Around Me: A Memoir of the Haiti Earthquake. Trans. David Homel. Vancover: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2011. Trans. 2013. Print.
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Frank Paino The Drowned Church of Potosí, Venezuela In 1985, the town of Potosí was deliberately flooded to create a reservoir for a hydroelectric power plant. The citizens are all gone to higher ground, having gathered what’s essential and left the rest to breathlessness. Nothing remains but to watch as the dammed river backs into the valley to await its churning rebirth into light. Let the elements exchange their mantles… fertile jade for an unquiet umber that will, in time, settle to a blue-green equilibrium. But for now, a quiet chaos as arched doorways, tiled roofs, acquiesce to the insistent stroke of unnatural tide. Evenings, after the children have been put down in unfamiliar beds, the women gather to weep, share visions of the catacombs beneath the church backfilled with the heft of all that was left behind. Here, a cache of frankincense sifts down like amber snowfall. Here, a table too frail to endure such rough exodus catches in the corridors of the dead, who, for their part, turn and rattle against the stones. The displaced mothers speak of worn wooden pews that once cradled them, bearing now the weight of
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Frank Paino silt and plunging shadow. The scarlet curtains that muffled their sins drift like veils of wanton brides, while the carved altar with its relic stone flashes white in deepening currents that lick the chiseled thighs of the man who hangs lifeless on a cross too heavy to shoulder into the mountainâ€™s anoxic atmosphere. Soon, the silken hair that adorns his head will lift, then tangle, in the thorns that weave his crown. Soon, the ribbed vault of ceiling which once called back a host of hymns will echo only the distant whine of turbines past the penstock, the buzz of outboards which will carry the curious above the ruins. Rain and rain. The terrible hulk of water setting a new high mark each hour. On the final night, the refugees gather against a clamoring storm, pull capes close to goose-bumped flesh as the swollen reservoir hoists itself up toward the towerâ€™s cross-tipped steeple where the tongue of the ancient bell hangs mute as its throat begins to close, though the women swear one solitary toll thunders from the rising black, as if to beckon a cold-blooded congregation to enter and praise the power that is descending.
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Sarah Pape Foul Hook He let me thread the eyelets, sort iridescent lures, slip sinkers, and jerkbait. Avocado boucle carpet and the chipped sill where I watched him slip through the fences. Yes, uncap the florescent marshmallows that are not for eating, wind monofilament and hold, for a moment, a minnow from the sieve-topped bucket. He has shown me how not to kill or touch eyes. He left before sun and returned long after with rainbows, black and bucketmouth woven on a simple strand. I would only recognize him now if he had two arms raised with gills open. He spilled guts into dirt, cats circling, clipping the fishâ€™s frond tale, scrape of scales, and a dark stain on the tawny grass. Once, at the creek edge, he tasked me with gathering hellgramites and damselfly nymphs, their ghosted forms under rock, faint pool of water forming as I revealed them. He stands slender on granite, casting out, reeling. The zip and gasp of Coors. He hooks me in the places his hands went wrong and pulls the translucent strings tight. Ties the fibers to the tow hitch, drives slowly away. How far will he go before they break like some wild net, a severance.
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Beth Woodcome Platow The Land of the Small The order is new, a decree pasted onto those lonely lamp posts that used to burn oil the way bodies burn skinny fires inside their thin skin borders. My skin has cutouts of pre-cancer, here, and here, and here in my lifetime people call a body. The marks pucker from stitches like someone rammed their car into my post, marking my lifetime, like I was some metal pole, both a beacon and something to avoid. The new order is ordered just right, so when I read about it I was glad I had lost chunks of myself. My loss was documented, weighed, studied. It made me smaller. I’ve never been a thin person, so to say I’m like a pole is unfair to the pole, unfair to trees, to model orders. To claim I’m small would only worsen my claim, due next week, to the registry of survival. You see, the order says the rules say the ruler ruled we need to be smaller, proven with empirical evidence only. I can’t say I didn’t panic when I read it. I can’t say my feelings burned many calories, though I created an East Berlin sort of light. My husband told me the lamp posts there were dim, in order to reserve fuel. Everything was skinny compared to the West, and I am so western. Still I had to hide my fear, I monitored my burn so the orders wouldn’t report back to the ruler I was scared. I was so scared. It was a win-lose situation, my reaction had to be controlled so well no one paid attention to me and no one paid attention to me. O new order, why don’t I fit into your decree? Why was I born this way? When I lost my father or my lovers I would step on a scale to see if that loss was measurable. In the way of science it wasn’t. I was as heavy as I’d ever been, despite feeling limb loss, lobotomized, lonely. I don’t know if loneliness is a void or a rock Crab Orchard Review
Beth Woodcome Platow placed on the chest. Is it light or heavy? What did it do to me? I know people were watching my gain even during these losses, marking it down, making me a number, math, an index of failure. One would think of failure as depletion. Somehow it adds more weight to the meaty part of my upper back. I hunch, seeming smaller, yelling with my body, You see I am tiny! But the rules say to stand tall when measured. The order pushes my chin up and my head back. The angry orders smile while marking the chart. I am quite something to track, because I’m the kind of kind who won’t be allowed. It’s important to spare the winners from that. I cling to my husband at night, thinking he can save us because he was saved once, but this wall is a different one. We’re expensive in our combined weight and the state is poor. Soon people like us won’t be people like us. The thing I’ve been avoiding—rambling on about the lonely pole, the skin cancer, the love loss—is my daughter. She was blessed with a small head. The doctor even measured our heads saying a child takes after one parent in this matter: brain size. Everything matters, the orders say. I’ve gone off again, shying away from the heavy topic of her. She’s small now, thank God. Her body fits into my lap like a joey. We try to raise her by holding her high. Chin up, chest out, stand tall. I can’t keep my eyes off her small back when she bathes. Her beautiful shoulders collapse my chest when I think of the order. I don’t want anyone to touch her with those rules. We teach her to push against the order, which is confusing for her when she sees me small myself in the presence of small presence. She sees that I want to be someone else. If I were someone else then she wouldn’t be mine. I rarely fly on planes with my husband and daughter. They weigh us before the flight, they charge us for our bigness. Sometimes I want to joke that it’s my heart, my goodness that tips the scale. But the order doesn’t care about those things, they don’t even smile. They point to the scale like a target. I fold my shame into a pocket note 150 u Crab Orchard Review
Beth Woodcome Platow I tuck away. I know it adds to the ounces, but for once I just want to pay the fine, look at my family, who has just passed through the checkpoint, and float my heavy body towards them like I am as fearless as a feather.
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Jennifer Richter All Right, Good Night
…the last verbal message to the control tower— “All right, good night”—came after a crucial signaling system had stopped transmitting…. —Malaysia Airlines flight 370, nytimes.com, March 16, 2014 All we know for sure is that you’re gone. We’re looking up; we’re searching. Once before I saw a face—a stranger’s—turn to sky: ice storm, the black oak limb’s death rattle. Crash. Last words are rafts. Are facts. The hospice girl leans in; your mouth won’t close. The ear hangs on— Tim, hear our pings. We check the monitor: Departed Early. This is ground control, we’re standing by. Goodnight, mute moon. Hush, clocks. And goodnight box. Here below, may we find peace. Let the sea and all that lies in it resound. Let those who have a voice lift up: We believe in unexpected sharp turns at the end. Praise the certain, swift ascent.
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Suzanne Roszak My Mother Folds Herself In By then it was clear that we were speaking different languages. You, piling wool in every corner of the house. None of the furniture safe. Me, raking fibers in the later moments once you slept with both eyes open, like little moons refusing to dim. This I felt while sweeping up the remnants of your shredded blanket, the offal of your unraveled scarf. This I felt as long as the moons hung around, and for hours they did, the air lit like midday. Only unkempt patches of floor managed to turn black with wool and night, lonesome in the way that I eventually wanted for myself that morning when lines of parishioners filed around the foundations of our silence: jangling and bowed, perched and praying. Men staggered while women stole stillness beside them, with their cold hands full of each other, waiting to collect what you had gathered inside.
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Wesley Rothman Your Boom and Treble Silence for Jake Adam York As your broadcast reaches through the void now beyond the Milky Way—that hulking band of loud light in silence—streams of teargas in Missouri fire the memory of your eyes, rubber bullets bruise the August dusk. The night is most honest to these bodies, their voices martyred. Canisters hiss, muzzles crack the air. Your absence is the crackle of vinyl between tracks, the final spins of a record.
From the lectern you transmit and receive the word of this warfare world. You, a transistor for history, for scratches and cracks in the vinyl. You, calm captain of a way downriver, to the gulf’s mouth— open water. Your elegy of mellow seas and a low radio. Your steady echo, its pulsing transmission enlisting listeners. Listen! your quiet pauses blare. Listen for the voices, the fading pulse, the growing rift.
Two years, twenty, some centuries down the line, the human strings your fingers fluttered hum the wood of memory a little longer. Poplars bear the marks of knives, ropes, the shouts of mobs and lovers. You sound the rings of a poplar’s age, token that history grows wide in us, that our mouths drink language of the past, and barbs are ever sharp in the gut. Hollow spin of your ended record, calm sea in your aftermath, you call in silence booming, ellipsized—
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Amanda Silberling Self-Portrait as a Shard of Glass These are the broken things: feathers escaping a blackbird, the memory of a dream sequence. This is how we remember it. A girl shatters mirrors, a bird’s nest of eggs, unripened. I unraveled you like a seam and this is how we remember it, or so you say—Wind carries your words sometimes, takes it into someone else’s dream. Weather has a way of doing that. Of taking a seam and plucking out each stitch like a feather, separating where the ground touches the sky. A girl cuts herself open like a horizon, a mirror and all of its edges, still reflecting what’s not yet ripe.
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Andrea Witzke Slot The Incubator Worldworn sleeper, what is tied inside branches of sapling lungs? Tell me to try again. To believe in what cannot be seen. Or touched. That story. Our fingers lean against your walls of caged glass, and, inside, mere ounces of flesh showcase the perfect specimen of something even stranger than love. And in what hour of what night was a second bow pressed to your case, looped around a name I cannot speak? Who arrived and did I sleep? No need to tell me, you were born to keep still as buried faith. Sunbather, go on doing what you must. Which is to say—do nothing at all. I’ll keep watch as you soak in sun’s rays, bask in an artificial summer that shines day and night in your bottled world. Let roots unfold in a climate of change, as warm as maternal soil. What else can hide beneath carbon’s septic stealth? Your chest answers with a twitch. A whole self responds. Don’t tell me what could have been or explain what’s wrapped inside oxygen’s thin exchange. Just teach me to expect more—not less— from this unwrapped bundle of earth, bone, flesh.
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Monica Sok Talking to a Room You don’t have mouths. You are so silent, drifting as I sleep. Some mornings I don’t open my eyes. Come from the killing fields, come. Drifting as I sleep, skull towers and bones in mud. Come from the killing fields, come. (Your daughters and sons are still asleep.) Skull towers and bones in mud, show me Angkor Wat floating in the lake. (Your daughters and sons are still asleep. Lok Tha, forgive me for where I was born.) Show me Angkor Wat floating in the lake. Tell me of wars carved on temple walls. (Lok Yay, forgive me for where I was born. I only know Srok Khmer for the fields.) Tell me of wars carved on temple walls. Some mornings I don’t open my eyes. I only know Srok Khmer for the fields. You don’t have mouths. You are so silent.
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David Starkey The Raising of Lazarus The last time Jesus came to Bethany he’d been stoned by a disbelieving mob, but this is the Magdalene’s brother, a man he’s come to love. On her knees, sobbing, she brings tears to the eyes of Jesus, who realizes love is as simple as death. Four days in the tomb, Lazarus smells like last week’s fish. Swaddled, infantile, he opens his eyes, blinks twice, then struggles from his graveclothes, asking for a cup of wine. It is his greatest miracle yet, and Jesus revels in his witnesses’ regard like a Las Vegas magician who has just swallowed a jackhammer after sawing himself in two. What is death like? friends inquire after the Master has left, but Lazarus tells them they are asking the wrong question. Oblivion is the default, the gravity we are drawn to. It’s life 158 u Crab Orchard Review
David Starkey they ought to beg him to describe: this warm desert morning, the taste of earth, the far-off scent of baking bread.
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Ming Lauren Holden The Surest Way To Survive I.
First, there’s the warm air. Then the strong sunlight. Then the
quiet balcony, shading a long white plastic table. Then the shapes and colors of the food: bright red cuts of tomato, cucumber, hummus, dark shiny olives. Then the garden outside, a modest plot with hopeful green stalks. A block away, next to a paved road, rises a hill. The hill is a summer sort of light brown. Shuffling and murmuring. Bread coming in wide discs and torn off by hand. Then the hands doing the tearing, some young, some scarred, some old. A handsome young man sits to my right, with a smile like my old childhood friend Gabe. He laughs at me trying to fit too much into my mouth at once. A quiet man with white hair leans back, looking at his hands grasped in his lap. Four more guys in their late twenties dig in, pouring Coke for everybody and passing plates, conversing quietly in Arabic. The silence presses in, as though the sunlight itself enforced it. When it isn’t very windy, it’s very still. A cat noses the crumbling sidewalk below, near a pile of plaster limbs. Only now do I feed myself another bit of the story. The man my age who looks and grins like Gabe, who asks for a picture with me, adjusts his torso in his wheelchair. He shakes the stump coming from his hip as though he usually tapped his foot, as though it were a habit of his, before his legs were blown off by one of Assad’s shells. His hands are that graceful because he was a barber, standing in front of his shop when the shell hit eight months ago. The quiet, white haired man? Give him eight years in a cell in the ’80s. Add that history to him, unseen and unverified. And make the hill a few hundred feet off, the one that looks like it could be California wine country: draw a border, an invisible border, halfway up the hill, and call the country beyond Syria.
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Ming Lauren Holden I am in Reyhanli, a tiny town in Turkey right on the Syrian border that only became known to most worldwide news outlets when two bombs went off here in a coordinated attack in May 2013. Because it is meters from the border, Reyhanli has doubled in population. The man who sold me the green patterned dress I am wearing crawled the last of the way through sewage pipes to Reyhanli from Syria. His shop is not far from the seedy hotel where wealthy Gulf country donors come to meet and pass along funds to FSA agents. Abu Faisal, the man who offered to take me into Syria, asks me to lock the metal bar above our knees into place, securing us in our seats as best as we can be secured. Across from us his cousin, Abu Abdo Al Halabi (recognizable by his serious unibrow), does the same in the seat he shares with a surgeon who fled Damascus after being forced to treat six of Assad’s soldiers at gunpoint. The engine clanks to life and my heart begins racing. It thumps harder when the huge contraption of metal and tires under us begins to move through the evening breeze. “I’ve never done this before,” I breathe to Abu Faisal, though I suspect that’s obvious. I grip the bar and look around, wondering what to focus on so I don’t get more sick as we pick up speed. “Looks like I chose the wrong night to wear a dress,” I say. Abu Faisal chuckles. I tuck the fabric on either side of my thighs as best I can, then let out an involuntary whoop as the ride picks up speed, rocking us up and down through the air, above the game booths and the children’s car carousel and the pepper trees shuddering in the wind. Dr. Mahrouz spent around six months smoking and playing cards with Bashar Assad a few decades back when they were both in medical school. “Med school?” I ask when Mahrouz tells me this. “Assad’s a doctor?” “An ophthalmologist!” he says. “How did you not know Assad is an ophthalmologist? You know nothing.” “I don’t know anything,” I agree. “I’m not a journalist. I haven’t researched much.” The quiet older man to my left, who was part of the Muslim Brotherhood before becoming disillusioned with it in the ’80s and spending nearly a decade in jail, says something to Mahrouz, who translates: “He is saying you should cover up in the camp.” Crab Orchard Review
Ming Lauren Holden “I brought scarves and long sleeves,” I say. “I didn’t think I needed to wear them today. Would you prefer I put them on?” “No, no, we don’t mind,” says Mahrouz. “In fact we are thoroughly enjoying it.” Mahrouz, a Syrian cardiologist based in the U.K., has never met a vegetable he doesn’t like. He keeps dashing off when we’re walking to or from dinner in Reyhanli to buy or uproot one (or three). He tells me that our motley crew’s Muslim guys are lucky I don’t understand Arabic. He explains the Muslim afterlife thusly: “A river of wine! So many women, and the ugliest one is more beautiful than Angelina Jolie!” Mahrouz goes into Syria once every one or two months to deliver aid. His mother still lives in his village of Maaret Al Nouman. He and his brother Ahmed, who is the commander of Maaret’s Free Syrian Army unit, are carrying the village on their shoulders. Today in the upstairs portion of a prosthetic limb center in Reyhanli, where the families of amputees stay while their loved ones are fitted and rehabilitated and where we are all sleeping, Mahrouz hands me a passport-size photo of himself in uniform. In it his hair is darker, but he has remained handsome even in his middle age. The problem is, he knows it. When he hears I am undecided about crossing the border into Syria, he sits next to me and lowers his voice to a suggestive level. “You know,” he purrs, “once you go into the camp you might realize that you like it and are not as afraid as you might think. The feeling when you go further into Syria, with everything happening, can be…well, it can be exciting.” He raises an eyebrow, smirking. For perhaps the first and only time, he’s actually waiting for me to talk. I’m a creative writer and not a journalist, with no conflict zone experience and none of the street smarts required for it. I have no poker face and all the diplomatic discretion of Honey Boo Boo. Even to cross the border about fifty meters into Atmeh “Olive Tree” refugee camp is a technically illegal move, and as America cut diplomatic ties with Syria, my government could do nothing for me if I were captured. Even to cross the border at all is, technically, to enter a war zone. Outside, the voices of children, slow shifting of stalks. The glass of tea in my hand is translucent and amber, shaped like a woman. An hourglass. “I’ll think about it,” I tell Mahrouz.
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Ming Lauren Holden
In the office/spare room of my cousin Cliff’s house in Oakland, California, the woman with the eyes is there, watching me as I sleep, watching me like a hawk. She watches over the wonderful guest bed, the bed that has a memory foam mattress and is covered in Siamese kitty hair (and sometimes the kitties themselves, if I am lucky). I have woken up by the woman with the eyes in Cliff’s house at least once a year for a decade now; I first visited him and his partner Dorothy when I was eighteen, after my first semester of college. These visits to them became a mainstay. I watched their lives arc through engagement to marriage to child number one and child number two; I helped them move from a little house in the Castro to a slightly larger one in Oakland; I watched Cliff’s garden grow a little bigger every year, the wee greenhouse pungent with tomato plants. Their children, Penelope and Brian, are the first ones I’ve known well since they were born as I myself am the last cousin in my generation to come along. Penelope, who is six, is a big-emotion-haver and also brilliant at everything from backflips to thousand-piece Lego sets; her little brother Brian, who’s four, is a mellow dude with a wicked sense of humor and a perfect accent when he pronounces Spanish words. Their parents met in college and feed them food from Trader Joe’s and work excessively as engineer and consultant to give their children what all children deserve. You’ve probably seen the woman with the eyes, who has been made an example of. Her eyes are green. There’s a rust-colored headscarf lightly wrapped around her head but not covering so much that we can’t see her brown hair. The photo of the woman with the eyes, known generally as “The Afghan Girl,” has always been in the guest room, since 2002 when I started visiting Cliff and Dorothy. It’s framed and I remember Dorothy once called her “stunning,” which about summed it up. If one day I returned and the photo had gone, I would miss it. I can’t remember if I saw the photo before that, but I saw it years after, in a lesson plan in graduate school. We were to show it to our elementary composition students for their photo analysis lesson. The woman with the eyes was the example of “demand.” There is offer, and there is demand. If the subject is staring at the camera, the subject is demanding something. The photo was taken in Pakistan in 1984 by Steve McCurry. There was “a haunted look” in the girl’s eyes, McCurry would say later, so he got her permission to photograph her. She was twelve or Crab Orchard Review
Ming Lauren Holden so. She’d made the two-week trek to Nasir Bagh refugee camp on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border after the Soviet invasion that killed her parents. She had come with her siblings around the age of six here on a trek that was often itself a fatal journey. It was snowy and they would beg for blankets, hiding in caves if jets came. Her haunted look seemed representative of her struggle and that of the refugees McCurry saw in the camp. His photograph of her became the most recognizable one in the history of the National Geographic, and letters arrived in a stream over the next seventeen years. Some people committed to work in Pakistan in refugee camps because of that photo. People wanted to adopt her. Sponsor her. Marry her. The photo was used on promotional Amnesty International materials during those seventeen years. The image is so iconic it was featured on the cover of the commemorative “Special Members Edition” of National Geographic. The young woman herself had no idea, for almost twenty years, that she was famous. She didn’t see the picture until 2002. (Perhaps she is not a Special Member.) By 2002, when she saw the only photo ever taken of herself, she had borne four daughters, not all of whom survived. She had been called the Mona Lisa of the Twentieth Century. But her name isn’t Mona Lisa. It’s Sharbat. This is all to say that in the Atmeh “Olive Tree” Camp, in Syria, there was a girl. In her poem “Trillium,” Louise Glück wrote: I knew nothing; I could do nothing but see. As we crossed the border into Syria, I remembered those lines, which seem to me like birth, like what babies experience. If I had known nothing of the violence erupting unpredictably that had brought these people here, to a baking-hot day in July, the children hoping for photos and candy, the men with arresting sea-green eyes and dirt-tinted skin—would I have sensed war and tension? How much was I imposing a story onto a group of people standing in the sun—the story I’d been told in tiny bits that didn’t always add up, bits I’d been fed by news sites, by articles, by Americans, by Turks, by Syrians, by Twitter feeds? I felt nervous, thought “war zone,” made an association that was not based on my experience at all, nothing I could see. Atmeh “Olive Tree” Camp is about fifty meters over the Turkish border into Syria. The olive trees are such a bleached, dusty green, like 164 u Crab Orchard Review
Ming Lauren Holden original Wrigley’s chewing gum, that the whole scene is whitewashed— the pale clouds and pale sky and pale trees and pale grayish makeshift tents of a city of 25,000 people who weren’t here a year or two ago. In it live some of the poorest Syrians, but the luckiest of the poorest: the ones who could get out of Damascus, Aleppo, Homs. And yet they are the unluckiest of the lucky: unable to afford paper documentation, they cannot legally get over the border because by the end of 2011 Turkey had closed its borders to paperless refugees. Atmeh Camp has yet to be shelled, but Assad’s jets did fly overhead late last year. “Olive Tree” because there are olive trees in every direction—and for me they are what make this land different from the land I came from, wine country in southern California, because the olive trees are different than the oaks when nothing else is different about the land, not the color of the grass or its dry-oatweed smell. As Atmeh Camp is on the Syrian side of the border, its UNHCRemblem-stamped tents are kind of contraband. The UNHCR can’t enter Syria except at the request of Assad. Assad doesn’t want to shelter these people—he wants to kill them. When Angelina Jolie visited Syrian refugees as an official UNHCR envoy, she visited them in Jordan. So did John Kerry. The tents that Maram Foundation founder Yakzan, who tours the camp with us, secured for the camp he had to secure by creating the Maram Foundation in the first place, then receiving the tents in Turkey via a network of other aid agencies, ultimately bringing them over the border himself. The tents, the ones with blue UNHCR-stamped emblems, are what constitute the classrooms of the makeshift camp school, like the makeshift camp school in which McCurry found twelve-year-old Sharbat with the haunted look in her eyes that came to symbolize the plight of the refugee. He didn’t describe her as “demanding.” She was, in fact, shy, and so he approached her last, there in the school tent. The universal blue UNHCR emblem stamping the contraband tents looks like this: a person shielded by two hands. And around this, the person and hands, a ring of olive tree branches. What I mean to say is that the girl, who was the most beautiful girl, she carried a candy bar next to me in the heat for two hours as we toured the camp. I stole glances at her often, beside me. Thick brows, brown skin, brown hair, deep brown eyes, pointed chin. Her face might be the most gorgeous face I’ve seen on someone her age—she’s probably not older than six or seven, around Penelope’s age. But she’s Crab Orchard Review
Ming Lauren Holden not cute, she’s gorgeous. Like the models on Fashion TV. She wanted me to buy the candy bar. I didn’t. I could have. More children would have come, perhaps started to fight. It happened when Dr. Mahrouz gave them chocolate. We spoke with some of the young people at the school. Their faces were expressive, mischievous, shy. They wanted to practice English. They wanted to know why we weren’t Muslim. The littlest children sang for us. Deeper into the country, on bombed-out streets, their peers roamed the streets in their third year without proper schooling. More and more of them were joining various military factions (read: any people with weapons) that dissolved and attributed loyalty to whoever could pay them a salary and decisively arm them, chiefly wealthy private donors from the Gulf countries (read: very religious). Family dead, danger, bombs, nightmares daily, broken promises, no routine: phenomenally damaged nervous systems affecting for the worse the lifelong ability to settle down, to sleep, to digest, to think things through, to be functional citizens in any way. This bleak future is settling in as though it is an inevitability. It is not, but to admit that I must admit how I take painkillers for my headache after the day in the sun, after seeing her and enjoying her gorgeous face as I refused her a coin, after I take a long hot shower and wash the dust of a place with no sewage system off of my shoes. Words like “suffering,” we say in writing workshop, stand in for something else. Go for an arresting image, we advise each other, like the picture of the refugee woman on the cover of National Geographic, who is not offering, she’s demanding. I will not forget the girl I gave no money to. I did not ask her name. I did not take her picture. Her life is too likely not to benefit from how compelling her marble-dark eyes and pointed chin and brown hair are. If I take her photo and show it to you, we will witness her beauty, and it’s not that we’ll be without compassion. It’s that Sharbat’s skin turned leathery, her daughter died, she had to walk three dangerous hours and drive another six from her remote Afghan village at the turn of the century to be reunited with the lauded photographer who took the heretofore only existent photograph of her, the one millions of people had seen that she herself hadn’t. It’s that whatever Sharbat’s green eyes demanded, in the photo we all consumed, we did not give to her. I realize, slowly, what it will take. And I am afraid to tell you. I am afraid to ask this of myself. 166 u Crab Orchard Review
Ming Lauren Holden I realize it when I ride in the early morning with Abu Faisal away from the airport in Turkey toward the Syrian border, and I am reminded by the nature of the sunlight and the geological landscape of Santa Maria, the closest city to my childhood home in California. And then when I am walking with the larger-than-life Dr. Mahrouz, the Syrian cardiologist who now lives in the U.K. and comes back monthly to deliver aid, on our first night all gathered in Reyhanli, in a high breeze on the main road in and out of town—it’s after dinner, the breeze smells familiar, even the road is familiar, and we’re headed back to the prosthetic limb center where we sleep and where there is being rehabilitated a handsome young Syrian man who looks like my childhood friend Gabe and who lost his legs to Assad’s shells—Mahrouz is telling me by the roadside, after trotting to catch up with us because he stopped to investigate an opportunity to buy tomatoes and cucumber at a little stand, he’s telling me of his time at school with Assad and the nature of Assad’s megalomania: that Assad will raze his own people, crazed, until none of them exist before he surrenders because they are all his, the country is his, he is entitled to it and he won’t stop—and I think of Highway 101, how this road is the Highway 101 of this place. And I will have to make this road the 101. I will have to make it my family. My home. I will have to tell you—by which I mean tell myself, to understand it—that way. I am going to have to pick my favorite children in the world—Penelope and Brian, who before I left San Francisco (I left out of there and not LAX in part so I could see them, before and after), piled on top of me in the hammock in the sun by their dad’s garden in Oakland, who brought me raspberries cupped in their fingers: Penny with her impish eye gleam and Brian with his face-creases in the morning, who draw with sidewalk chalk in matching tie-dye outfits and lay hands on my forearms as I read them stories—and you’re going to have to pick yours. And, in a place over and over again, a place only you can see that repeats like a mirrored tunnel: they’re going to have to die.
III. There was only one pair of eyes I was sure I didn’t like. As we got near to the place in Atmeh Camp where Karam Foundation built a playground—the fence around it had been robbed by residents of the camp by that time—a car approached. It’s wasn’t a very nice car. Crab Orchard Review
Ming Lauren Holden The guy in the car had bad eyes. They were empty. He spoke briefly with Abu Faisal from within the car. Abu Faisal stood with his thumbs linked through the straps of his backpack. “What was that?” I asked as the car pulled away. “Nothing,” Abu Faisal said. “Nothing to worry about.” I asked again, and again, he brushed me off. It’s the only time he ever did so in the days we spent in Reyhanli and the day we spent in Syria, which is probably why it annoyed me so, and why I paid attention to it. At some point, Abu Faisal did explain a little more. The guy was doing his own patrol. He saw foreign people in the group, saw the chance to gain something. He patrolled not because anyone else wanted him to, but because he had decided it was his area. That, like the open sewage stream darkening the dust two feet outside the camp kitchen, where huge silver tureens housed one meal a day for the camp’s residents, is perhaps what lack of infrastructure looks like: a river of shit and a pair of empty eyes. I was at the border crossing between Syria and Turkey weeks before the chemical attack in Damascus and subsequent global attention not on the suffering of Syrian people as much as the political theater of what President Obama was going to do about it. That border crossing, Abu Faisal reports, is now closed for the most part. Over the weeks since we were there together, since we made that crossing and toured Atmeh refugee camp, it had become so dangerous that Turkey clamped down on the crossing points once controlled by the FSA. Humanitarian aid is even harder to deliver, now that the FSA is fighting Assad and extremist jihadists. The secular members of the FSA are the ones whose families were killed for protesting peacefully for a more democratic government. The jihadist factions are there because Assad is too liberal and modern for them. He is, in their eyes, not a ruthless dictator slaughtering his own people but an apostate, and that’s why he needs to be done away with. I was at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, typing up notes for this writing, in the week before al-Shabaab terrorists responded to the presence of Kenyan armed forces in Somalia by storming that mall and slaughtering innocent men, women, children, and babies. There was blood where I sat and typed, blood and screams everywhere, and the waitress I liked to talk with might be dead. Westgate’s Israeliowned cafe is the one the al-Shabaab terrorists targeted. I would sit on its patio and order the grilled halloumi cheese salad, chatting with a 168 u Crab Orchard Review
Ming Lauren Holden waitress there who had very nicely groomed eyebrows about my work doing theater with Congolese refugee ladies in one of Nairobi’s slums. I would put headphones in my ears and listen to the interviews I had recorded with Abu Faisal and Dr. Mahrouz, trying to type up Abu Faisal’s hilarious summing-up of Thomas Friedman (“I think this! My moustache says this!”) or Dr. Mahrouz talking shit about Assad’s strange power plays with land and landmarks (“fucking bitch, we don’t need the lake!”), remembering the cups of strong, brown tea we drank together. At the border crossing near Atmeh, in Syria, had Assad’s forces or jihadists attacked, as in the cafe in Westgate, my privilege would not have kept me alive; in fact, my blonde hair, blue eyes, pale skin, and lack of street smarts would probably have gotten me killed within the first minute. Instead, I flew to the United States on the 19th of September, two days before the mauling at the mall. The surest way to survive an event, after all, is not to attend it. I spent a weekend in Oakland with my cousins Cliff and Dorothy, and their children, who had not seized, defecated, suffocated, and foamed at the mouth until they were dead from nerve gas, but who had instead grown at least a half-inch each over the summer. I drove down the 101 in the sunshine, arriving at sunset at my new place, which I share with another PhD, who was gone that evening. I wandered the place alone, amazed that for the first time in over ten months I wouldn’t be couchsurfing. I could see the stars. I could hear the crickets. I was less than an hour’s drive from the ranch where I spent my childhood, where my parents brought me the day I was born. I woke up at sunrise and when I parted the curtains, there were two baby deer across the way under the oaks. As I drove from the mountains to campus on the beach, I remembered Syria; I remembered Nairobi. I remembered the Charles Wright poem “Black Zodiac”: What can we say to either of them? How can they be so dark and so clear at the same time? In my ears, Abu Faisal’s letter, the one he sent after the chemical weapons attack outside of Damascus, rings like a bell: “The media and some world governments have even side-stepped the human loss of life all together, not even addressing it and jumped straight into ‘The FSA bombed themselves with chemical weapons for world sympathy’ story. The fact that supposedly educated people would even contemplate this much less propagate this ‘narrative’? If I debate this issue with ‘them’ then they already won. The massacre is forgotten and we’ve already gone academic.” Crab Orchard Review
Ming Lauren Holden Like George Oppen, I cannot distinguish meaning from narrative. I think story is central to the human mind, and the stories we hear and tell about the world are the way we make sense of it. I’m not sure how to give words to the response humans have to such horrors that did not happen to them. It did not happen to me: there is nothing to say about it. I kept the nondescript messenger bag I’d brought into Syria at the gym in Nairobi, stuffed with the cheapest running shoes I could find after my old black ones floated away from me somewhere in Istanbul. I noticed their absence as I unpacked the big gray bag that Egypt Air lost for two days, the bag I had gone back to the Nairobi airport to fetch in the international terminal, the one that caught fire less than two days later, the terminal’s blaze making world headlines. There in the locker room, in September, in Nairobi, I’d put black duct tape on the shoes whose velcro strips fell off in my hands the day after I bought them. I’d run on an elliptical. I’d ask to change the channel to CNN. I watched the Syria drama unfold because that’s what it was: political theater. I accepted that words would always be part of that, that even my speech is that: a violent reduction of any uniqueness, usable to justify wars that aren’t worth fighting and to avoid wars that are. It’s malleable, and we can use it to skate around difficult issues: we don’t sugar-coat things with sugar. I turned twentynine on September 30th, and it was the first day of my PhD seminar. Theories of embodiment. We had to bring in a video or photo of something that would necessitate our giving undergraduate students a disclaimer. I brought in a YouTube clip two days old, a clip from Raqqa, where a school had been bombed. The disemboweled bodies loaded into a truck aren’t recognizable as human. And yet, there is always the contingent of people who believe that this was, in fact, staged, as I explained to my graduate seminar. And we study performance, so let’s pay attention to what convinces us. We’ve already gone academic. Let’s talk about citizen journalism. My birthday came and went, new friends swam with me in the Pacific, I got sand in my hair and my car. I jogged up the mountain roads and made it to the mouth of Rattlesnake Trail, sat on a rock with a top shaped like a dish that fit my body when I lay down and curled up in it, watching sideways as leaves fell in little gold bits down into the creek bed. I drove my dented van to a compound off the grid in the mountains at the edge of Los Padres National Forest where my Chumash surrogate dad lives with his family in houses they built. This man, T, was also my Aikido instructor when I was in high school, and he’s known me over half my life, since before I ever 170 u Crab Orchard Review
Ming Lauren Holden left America, since before I ever had sex or participated in a protest. I bring T carved owls from each country I work in. They live in nooks in his earthen house. I am technically agnostic, but I do believe that I’ve survived my sometimes-dicey experiences abroad because T sends a pack of guardian angels to watch over me, bouncer spirits with the brawn of Mr. Clean. We call T’s home “the mountain,” and there on December 21st, T led the Winter Solstice ceremony, informing the twelve of us gathered there that his work was difficult, but that he was the only one around who knew how to do it: how to open the West Gate to the valley of the shadow, where the spirits of the dead live. He warned us that the spirits of the dead would heed our prayers but especially because we were speaking in English we needed to be very specific. “Don’t just ask for every person on earth to have water,” he told us, “because you might end up with a monsoon. And sometimes the spirits can be frightening when they visit, so be prepared for that.” Over the course of the first five hours of the circle (which were all I stayed awake for), after we all stood and threw tobacco into the flames, the fire burned and people drummed and we could come and go from the circle at will. Inside the cook shack, we feasted. I asked T whether I could bring my journal by the fire and write what I had to say to the spirits. I was thinking of what I wished for the children at Atmeh, specifically, the girl with the dark eyes whose picture I had decided not to take. I didn’t want to get it wrong. In response, T held up a mason jar and looked at me through it, so he blurred. “That would be like this,” he said. “Why make it harder for the spirits to hear you?” That night, my phone downloaded a message from Abu Faisal: Mahrouz, the larger-than-life cardiologist who was always absconding with vegetables for us to eat during our days in Reyhanli, whose booming voice made lewd jokes and who, along with his brothers, was a de facto leader of the village of Maaret al Nouman, had been kidnapped by ISIS eight days prior. He had not wanted to give in to them because if he did, the civilians of Maaret would be subject to the law of ISIS, one of the Al-Quaeda affiliate “rebel” groups. I had no context for what might be happening to Mahrouz at that moment— were they torturing him? Was he cold? Did he have shelter?—and thought mainly of his fifteen-year-old daughter, one of his three girls, who had come with us into Atmeh, who was so recognizably teenage in her beauty and awkwardness, and who probably was much less Crab Orchard Review
Ming Lauren Holden young after this week. He was meeting with ISIS to suss out some conflicts between them and the civilians of Maaret, and when things got heated, the ISIS bodyguards took him. Dr. Mahrouz is stubborn, with expansive hospitality and expansive humor and a belly laugh, and he chose not to give in to the “rebels” whom the media know as the now de facto face of the opposition. I crept to T’s stepdaughter’s house, and slept in one of the little nooks in the corner, somehow unable to bring these ghosts to the fire. Dr. Mahrouz’s booming voice. The warm sun shining through the leaves of vegetables in his hands. His jokes about Angelina Jolie. I slept until the blue of dawn, falling to sleep in a jumble of images of the doctor and the night before Solstice, when one young man, another “child” of T’s who lives on the mountain with his wife and two sons, made a fire as part of his monthly fasting ritual on the patio. A few of us joined him, warming our hands and feet as the stars appeared beyond the oak branches. The young father’s youngest, who is two, clambered onto his dad’s lap as we talked and Bamboo, the kitty with a dog’s personality, puddled into purrs in the boy’s lap, so they were a father-son-kitty pile melting together by the fire. I looked at the clear night sky, and at the boy sandwiched between a purring cat and his father bending over him, and I thought this is what every child deserves and so few of them get. And so I was already thinking of them, of the children who followed us around in the dry heat at Atmeh, with dirty skin and fathomless eyes, with candy bars to sell us or empty bottles to jump on and frighten us with the gunshot noise that only we weren’t used to, when the young father asked: what’s the most intense experience you’ve ever had? What is intensity in human life, and how is it measured? I wondered when an experience begins and ends. I could say, the day I went in for an IUD insertion at Planned Parenthood and they couldn’t put it in because I was twelve days pregnant, the feeling I had then, or the poem I wrote to the unborn child I wasn’t ready for, whose mother wouldn’t have a house, a viable income, or a spouse. But where does that experience begin and end? Sex is an intense thing, and it’s what caused the fertilization, so would that experience begin there, and end with the writhing on a gurney and a mound of blood in a dixie cup? Or would it end with the work I ended up beginning in 2011 with refugee women from Congo in Nairobi, and how I believe the spirit of the person I asked to wait and come back again when I was better able to provide for children is what guided me and made me able to do that work, work with 172 u Crab Orchard Review
Ming Lauren Holden girls who don’t have mothers of their own anymore and whom I wouldn’t have traveled to Africa to meet if I’d had a ten-month-old? Where does the most intense experience of my life begin and end? I went to Atmeh Camp just inside Syria on the three-year anniversary of my due date. I went into Atmeh and looked into the eyes of these children, some of whom may now be dead of explosives or hunger or cold, on the due date of the baby I didn’t bear. Does the experience end there? Does it end in the marble-dark eyes of the most beautiful girl I have ever seen, who reminded me of Sharbat? At the fire I didn’t speak of my own child. I spoke of the ones who already came into the world, and who might already be dead. I said that the knowledge that I would leave and continue living a comfortable, rewarding life and that these children could not leave that place among the olive trees engendered a feeling I don’t think there are words for. The next morning in the blue of dawn I awakened and walked to the cook shack, where T sat with some coffee. He had charcoal smeared on his face, and explained to me: “At first light, just now, I performed the ceremony that closes the gate once again, the one to the west, and I had to disguise myself, so I’m not taken.” My professor explained a few things about Descartes and Ponty to me when I came to his office hours: phenomenology’s attention to the process of getting to the point when we realize we’re in a body, when we realize that we’re thinking. After leaving his office I put on my duct-taped shoes. I aimed for a run around the lagoon right by the theater building and got about fifty meters, and then the ocean was there. The shoes came off. I went in, slowly, level by level of cold banding my body. The breakers were a little relentless, but beyond them there was calm—suddenly deep water, the dark suggestions of kelp. The mountains beyond campus, which I could see from my spot in the water, were striped with vegetation. When we were little, a friend called them ice-cream mountains because the plant matter looked like chocolate syrup on the mountains from far away. I paddled, I did what I do when I try to meditate, and felt the swaying to and fro of my body being carried along by the sea. The sun hammered down, chinking the water with points of bright. I recited my name and the date to myself, wiggled my fingers and toes. The swaying was easy. What was it like before you realized you were you? my professor had asked. I remember the first moment I thought, ‘I’m me,’ I had answered. And before that? Nothing. I didn’t know I was like other people. That inside of the Crab Orchard Review
Ming Lauren Holden people I saw were consciousnesses like mine: that I was in something that looked a lot like them. I didn’t know I looked like a person. Being inside my own body was so different from looking at someone else’s. Easy, sway, kelp, calm.
dedicated to Kayla Jean Mueller (08/14/1988 – c. 02/06/2015)
Note: I misunderstood the note from Abu Faisal: it was Abu Mahrouz, the commander brother of Dr. Mahrouz, who was captured by ISIS, not the doctor himself. The commander, whose children are even younger than his brother the doctor’s, was released a few days later. He now heads what’s called “The 5th Corps,” an amalgamation of five FSA squads, at the request of the US government.
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Celisa Steele What Made Azrael Laugh Before time, before anything had fallen, before he’d thought to think what he might become—that he could become— he heard the innate hilarity of tub, the word so bright, so clean, he laughed to shout it as he thwacked his stick against the trimmed shrubs that marked the end of heaven’s watered lawn. Tub he’d whisper in God’s ear or yell from the trees he’d climb. He grew fluent in the nuance of that single word, learned speech as untethered sound. Practice, in the end, for what was to come, the angel of death reading from the script his inalterable lines, slower sometimes, an extra breath, or a rush to the end, but never a joke. Never a smile or laugh. Always the same truth he hates to tell but tells: death, the invisible hub of all living things. Death scrubbed raw until it only means what it sounds and nothing more.
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Melissa Stein Snowstorm, Central Valley Chevron sign glows like a red, white, and blue moon. Radio went dead twenty miles back so we’re whistling our repertoire of Beatles tunes, the fat mopey ones and chirpy Prozac ones. Night air’s soft as pillows and I just want to lie down and sleep on it, it smells so damn good, clean water, clean hay. I’m down to the last few Twizzlers which I whittle like a rabbit, baring my front teeth, making little smacking noises. I crumple up the fake-strawberry-smell plastic and toss it in the backseat, waiting for that sideways look from you that I’ve grown expert at. The headlights carve out tunnels for us to slip through, blurred at the edges. Like me these days— seems there’s always something I can’t reach. You say you love that, darling scatterbrain, but I’ll protest my brains are bigger than yours and then some, orderly as the rows we’re coasting through. This is some kind of orchard, maybe apricots, and I just have to stick my head out the window and breathe in the night-breath of apricots. It’s about then you tell me you haven’t seen a sign in miles. Road’s gone curvy as Dorothy Lamour’s hips and I can’t say I care, lost here with you in your battered blue Toyota, night sealing up behind us like a Ziploc. We pass the same trees over and over, it goes on like that for a while, may as well not be moving. The way, come to think of it, you and I aren’t moving, 176 u Crab Orchard Review
Melissa Stein same events year after year, V-day, July 4, Blue Angels on Columbus Day, without much to show for it. We don’t even have a cat. I’m falling down that hole again when the tires sweep up whirlwinds of white butterflies, a veritable massacre of wings, thousands of them, and something opens and breaks in me. I hum the first few bars of “Honey Pie,” and you join in.
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Jennifer K. Sweeney Tornado Siren I will remember clutching the ice packs to my breasts, the way the milk came in, throttle and burn, so suddenly present it was a kind of action lunging my body forward, and how the Midwest sky was swollen with humidity, the cumulonimbus gone green-black by evening. Four days old, your body all liquid and howl I gathered awkwardly in my arms and rocked past midnight, which meant nothing to you, tornado sirens spinning blue circles across the city and the ground churned beneath our dilapidated craftsman. I will remember how we carried you down to the rickety cobweb dark where you nursed next to the hundred-year boiler as the sky wailed and the bare bulb cut on and off. To have given everything we had to get you this side of earth and the wind funneling up a destruction with no god in it, how terribly small we became in a throwaway lawn chair waiting for a freight train to snatch the house like a dry husk or pass us by indifferent. I never rested easy in your pre-life and here, throbbingly new, the world continued to bleat forsake nothing. I saw the way anyone would scream after what they loved in the moment before the roof fell up or in as I later watched the faces of Joplin, Missouri of those who had stashed themselves in salvaged 178 u Crab Orchard Review
Jennifer K. Sweeney corners peering out in the wrecked silence of morning. I will remember how I understood nothing of what I saw, the splayed neighborhoods and flattened depots, love spared or taken, and how we were raw with beginning, the sobriety of motherhood anchored me inside where a white fortress of love and milk began to shudder into place.
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Wally Swist The Treadle and the Light The spirit is the treadle, often with a foot to the floor Making up for lost time. The soul is the memory Of the last time you saw your mother happy, while Picnicking with you and a friend of hers From New Jersey, on a beach in Miami, two weeks Before she died after walking you to school On the first day of third grade, only a week after Having arrived with your father in a move north To New England, where she thought you would have A better life. The soul is what you have seen In the face of your lover. It is the light that floods out Of the face of one of the women you have loved In your life, whose radiance fills you, then fills you Again, and in whom you find what is oceanic. It is what you discover in the brimming and singing, And the singing and brimming in that. The spirit is The feeling of the push and pull of our oars In the water; how the strokes of our favorite pen Sound, scratching across a sheet of paper; the cut Crystal that holds that one glass of bistro wine that You savor after dinner. The soul is more renown, Since we seem to hear more talk about it, 180 u Crab Orchard Review
Wally Swist But the more we talk about it, the less it appears. It is the cartographer, who is an exile, in the vastness Of a country without a name. The soul enjoys Sleeping in; although if you reach for it in the middle Of the night, youâ€™ll discover that it has risen early To take a walk, or to go fishing, or to just pace, With its boots thudding on the porch, in deciding Upon which one to do, or both, or neither. The spirit wants to have finally made a selection Of which diamond sparkling in the case is the one To choose. But the soul, when it is time to turn Around, and to access the presence in order to look Into the perpetuity in your loverâ€™s eyes, is the Puccini In our lives. It is the Nessun Dorma playing without A tenor and an orchestra. Although it is the music Of the vision, it is also the vision of the music.
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Kenny Tanemura Tokyo Blues Tomoko, my mother’s cousin, aged brown-dyed, red-tinted hair shows me pictures of grandparents. Do you remember them? Shows me pictures of her son who suddenly died at 39, his wife & child will join us for dinner in Ueno. She shows me pictures of her husband gone long ago, red-faced alcoholic I last saw in 1996. Please, she says, leading me into a room in her new Tokyo house, the one with a Buddhist altar. I kneel on tatami, ring bell, put hands together, close eyes, think of the memory of the dead, for proper Japanese time— 1 minute—maybe 2—incense fills the room. She’s got little love for me. Staying in her house every year summer vacations 1980s fondest memories I don’t know the words: natsu is summer, & uchi is house, how to put it all together? Soon her daughter arrives, the shy girl Shizu who used to play the piano in her room down hall from guest room where I slept on futon under portraits of ancestors. Now 45, outgoing, English-speaking, mother of 2 daughters. Not pretty in a country 182 u Crab Orchard Review
Kenny Tanemura of beautiful women. Why did you come to Japan & in this summer heat? Tomoko says. I wanted to dig down & find my roots. But sheâ€™s too practical for that, has never crossed seas, felt lost on both sides. At the restaurant, tall Japanese women in tight Chinese dresses glittering, embroidered, slits at the thigh bring us dish after Chinese dish. They place the plates in front of us like itâ€™s a muffled invitation to make love, like placing a dying flower back on its stem. Come to America, I tell Tomoko, almost elderly still a twinkle in her eye. How to say: I want you to be a part of the family? Watashi means I, family is kazoku, how to assemble the pieces?
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Caroline Tanski Anchor Bend I warned you about this coastline. Charts show water depth at mean low, at best a strong suggestion of what lurks, what waits to rend hulls, snag keels, tangle and drag as tide shifts. I warned you can’t see ahead. You couldn’t know how the water takes hold, how that shapes a person always ankle deep. Couldn’t see the mooring lines pulled to bedrock, pulled tight with tide and slick with algae, see the anchor bends holding. Full round, half hitch, half hitch; first hitch may loose, second holds firm no matter the strain. Could you feel that rip, the eddy-swirled current, below buoys and chop? You, the adventurer from deep clean shores, wanted to push ahead. I tried to warn I couldn’t steer; found shoals before I found the words.
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Jeanie Thompson Coming through Fire
Hands so quiet, folded on a book— Hands forgetful of words they have read all night, Hands asleep on the open page. —Fragment of poem by Anne Sullivan Macy, quoted in Teacher, Helen Keller’s biography of Macy
1. Hunger I…think of her as a spirit giving warmth, a sun of life. —Helen Keller One morning at home by the Tennessee River, that giant, she said I am going to show you light, a gull wing in a mussel shell. A silver slip of mussel shell beneath my fingertip telling me the glint of summer light. Numberless shells on the shoreline washed up where we walked. Hold this, she spelled, and dropped the rough halves of a pebbled shell, broken open, into my hand (Gray, she said, like old men, crustaceans of inner life). We rinsed the shells, dried them in our petticoats. Mud, she said, blackening the white linen. We didn’t care, grit beneath fingernails quickened touch. Turn it over, touch here and feel the opal, she said, the satin curve where the animal grips. Swipe past the sharp edge that cuts. The smoothness you feel, Helen, is how light presents itself, that sudden. We touched that secret side of mussel shell warming in Alabama sun. How it drew us there, spreading bounty on flat rocks. ✴✴✴
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Jeanie Thompson Another time, opening the door to a screened porch on Mobile Bay, facing west, we breathed the hot sponge blur of briny air, lemon-scent from last night’s shrimp boil rising up. She saw a gull winging. A slip opening, wings catching light, Helen! she spelled. Remember the mussel shell, that smoothness? That is the gull wing, opening, catching light the way your fingertip caught the opal fire. Word-hunger, light-hunger haunt me without you, my teacher.
2. Teacher The numberless mussel shells, mother of pearl slip under my fingertip, the shimmering Alabama summer heat, the pull of white gull wing on Mobile Bay in that swipe of fingertip opal. The numberless branches of blue fir rising above me at Wrentham in summer, lifting up and up. Body of the Southern Magnolia, the exploded fragrance of its bloom, heavy as philosophy, its flesh-like petals real as birth. I wanted to run my hands over the whole tree—the blooms wide open books, offering their cool white. The color of rich cream, she said, of my lover’s neck. ✴✴✴ And there was the fire poured into me, the words searing my palm as gently as a trapped bird whirring, a vibration I felt at Ivy Green when the swallows beat their wings against the stone chimney in Mother’s house. Teacher said, Strike that fire of knowing, Helen, your mind wants to fly free. Does knowing bring an echo to silence that refuses? Bird trill, she said, is the pulse here, pressing my fingertip to my overturned wrist. That beating point is the note. Bird cadence when dawn erupts, like fingers on your bare shoulders, breeze movement in hair, at your elbow. I knew it true as fire. Later, at Wrentham, there was a whiff of charred paper from the fireplace. Teacher said, I have burned my journal. (Words erased by fire after they’d burned from a pen?) Years later, a blaze took everything 186 u Crab Orchard Review
Jeanie Thompson at Arcan Ridge—letters, diaries, the first draft of Teacher’s life— all melted into unchanging blackness. I was glad, even as I fumbled to tell again, say no, no, across my palm, urging tinder to spark, the word-hunger she held out to me, igniting. Lifting me out of myself. Like the newborn’s eye cleared by drops of silver nitrate, waging God’s war against darkness.
3. One word My fingers across your face moments after the temperature in your palm dropped below the life line—knew you were gone. This is not Teacher! I cried to anyone who could hear. In our attic study, I held that touch of soul-empty flesh. In bright sun by the window where you read to me, I wanted to speak you back to warmth, soft contour of the soul’s shadow. Alone then, I knew the opiate fog returning, a slow movement through water when light first receded, my ears closed over stone. You had opened all with one word: first doll, then water claimed me and I was yours.
4. Our hands The words you burned, words lost at random, none catch your particular fire, the cadence of letters spilled to words I cupped, a gift, your vision. No one recognizes the light, you wrote. I know when I cross over, I will find you alive, sighted. You who never dreamed your life would be leading a deaf-blind girl to names, things. You gave me the world, myself—
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Jeanie Thompson How can I bear the burden of this sacrifice, Teacher? I see us: the dip of a gull wing glints opal in sunlight where we walk out holding words in our minds, our hands touching what they will.
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Terrance Manning Jr. We’d Step Away from the Night In 2001, my friends and I found out that we were old enough
to quit school and we planned the drop out. None of us were any good in class. We raced motocross, most of the time skipping to ride, and figured hell with it. Chris, my older brother, was the best of us. He’d barely gone to school that whole year and twice he’d been to Nationals in Tennessee. Around home people admired him as a natural talent, local kid up from nothing who didn’t give a damn about getting hurt— and soon he’d make it out. I figured we could ride that talent out of Pittsburgh, into warmer weather and faster tracks down in Virginia, Carolina, all the way down into Florida. We could drop out and ride all day. Get faster. Go pro. Leave the city behind us. I was sixteen, worked construction with my uncle most weekends, and drove a truck that was disintegrating in rust-hunks a little more every day. In the morning, sitting in traffic—outside of Pittsburgh—I’d keep the engine revved just enough to keep it running. Otherwise it stalled, and I’d have to ask someone to start the truck while I crawled under with a crowbar to tap the starter. But I loved it. Had a loud radio, a driver-side window that rolled down all the way, and I’d listen to country music those mornings in traffic, singing as I looked up into Highland Grove at the houses peppered across the hillside, dilapidated or torn down, bushes and trees reaching out like they were trying to pull them back to earth. The hill was cliffed, and without a road to connect them, most of the houses looked unreachable, hidden around the backside of the mountain—as if they were trapped, or closed off. And of course: the two little ones that sat nearly next to each other, abandoned, one black from burning, rotting away on the hill. They were our houses—my father’s, mother’s. Our first houses, or at least the earliest houses I remember living in. The first was cramped, but built from brick. When my parents separated—or tried to—in ’90, my dad moved across the yard and into the second place. But it didn’t last long. The city condemned the brick house the same year, and we moved in with him. Crab Orchard Review
Terrance Manning Jr. When we were kids, my brothers and I roamed that landscape, climbed the oak tree growing between the houses, dragged couch cushions up the hill, muddy, laughing as Chris positioned them beneath the tall branch and did front-flips from the tree, landing each time on his back, unafraid, and cheering for Jonny (our younger brother) and me to jump too. Just jump, he’d say. Let go and jump; you’ll live. And we jumped. We lived. We’d ivy-stick-fight across the yard, climb down the hill into a tangle of vine that twisted in and out the trees. When I think of it, of the yard and the way it seemed then—grassless, a muddy meadow from my father’s digging every day farther into the hillside with his friend’s backhoe, carving room for the houses—it is never raining. Sun is always hot. The dirt and the mud are always drying up, turning to dust in the heat while my father works, and my mother sleeps, and my brothers and I are doing our own carving: names in the tree, the alphabet in the mud, claiming ownership of a place that seemed giant then, like beyond the trees and the creek, the world was all the same, opening up forever into the Allegheny. But those days in the truck, when I was sixteen and looking through the window, my cigarette smoke clouding the cab, it seemed so small— the hillside, the houses, even the tree. I’d watch them, try to peer into them as I hummed to my music, and when traffic sludged forward, I’d move on and think of something else. Before we decided we were finished with school, I drove into Highland Grove with some friends. We were skipping class and bored. The street stopped by the yard and the old houses were tucked over the hill, past the dead end. We parked and walked down into the field. Grass reached our hips and the houses stuck out like broken boxes, collapsing. “Fucking spooky, man,” my buddy said. The yard I remembered—that had stretched on forever—was suddenly a small patch of land on the hill. I couldn’t believe my memory had allowed the place to become so large, sunny even. The brick house was caved in now, the second house boarded up. I stood in the grass, wind climbing up from the valley, thinking of copperheads biting my heels, and told my buddies that before the house burned down in ’91, my father had begun rebuilding the steps. He ripped the old ones out and left a hole in the middle of the kitchen for nearly a month before he set runners. Originally, a wall had surrounded them. But he wanted to open it up, string a railing across, handmade, so we could slip in and out of the basement like one giant room. He started many projects, but some— 190 u Crab Orchard Review
Terrance Manning Jr. when he was home long enough—he finished quickly, expertly. Like the sliding glass door in the basement: knocked out the block, pulled back the aluminum siding, and put a new door in before the weekend. He stripped walls in the kitchen, left naked two-by-fours nestled between pink insulation, some hanging like dog tongues from the wall. But the steps would somehow transcend the house. He’d sand them smooth, stain them cherry. Maybe then our family would visit, or our cousins might stay over. We could have a picnic on the 4th of July. My friends nodded, saying, “Let’s go inside. Let’s see those steps.” My parents fought over those steps until my father left. Mom locked him out and he’d sneak back into the house in the middle of the night through the kitchen window. Their marriage, I think, was over by then, and after the house burned, they separated—put a payment on a place with money my father had gotten from a car accident, a place my mother later lost to the bank, and we’d refer to as “the Summit Street house”—the only place we almost owned. The one that burned was “the White House.” Mainly because it had white aluminum siding. Before that we lived in “the Brick House.” Before that: “the old Apartment.” And later, living so many places, we kept naming: “the Tattoo house,” “Aunt Jennie’s,” “the Shop,” “Bethel Park,” “Bynmaver.” I kicked through the kitchen window, crunching broken glass as I stepped inside. There was a terrible stink of burned wood, burned countertop, carpet, burned blankets and couch. Everything damp: a musky thickness in the air making it difficult to breathe. I could hear my friends crunching glass as they climbed in behind me. “Crackheads, get the fuck out,” my buddy yelled, his voice disappearing into muffled silence, a drip leaking somewhere in the darkness. We laughed. My eyes adjusted. And I was standing in the kitchen, where the fire started, where my mother had put a hundred-watt bulb in a forty-watt lamp, where the flames must’ve started in a simmer, crawling up the kitchen wall, into bedrooms, down my father’s stairs. Inside, everything was black: walls, coffee tables, shelves, tin kerosene heater. The couch was twisted, melted, moldy. A pile of insulation lay open, half-unraveled—five bundles, burned now, where my brothers and I had hid when my father turned thirty. We’d stayed up late and wrapped his tools in newspaper, burrowed shirtless inside the rolls of insulation. For his birthday, instead of fake presents or sleep, my father came home to three crying, itching boys in hot baths needed to let their pores open enough for the fiber-follicles to fall out, a wife begging them to stop screaming. Crab Orchard Review
Terrance Manning Jr. Most of what we’d left behind, the things ruined by the fire or the water that put it out, the things we’d lost, what seemed not to matter anyway then, sat the way we’d left them. Ten years passed and the city had boarded doors and windows with cheap OSB particle board, but everything remained captured, stuck in the image of the burned up, charred, and blackened still-frame of a single day or night from the years before. There were dishes in the sink, cabinets left hanging open. Some toys were kicked aside in the hall to the bedroom. And the steps, my father’s unfinished unstained steps were waterlogged and leading into a black basement. “See what I mean,” I said to my buddies. “See how wide open they are.” “Hell yeah, man. That standard?” “Nothing’s standard here,” I said smiling, thinking of my father. “We were supposed to knock this wall down, supposed to build a railing.” “Yeah, man, we should chill here. Clean it up, bring some fucking bitches.” “Drinks too,” my other buddy said. “No one’s looking around this Hell Hole. No offense, T.” He smiled at me. They moved around the house as I sat on the top step looking down into the darkness, remembering how long the steps had taken my father, how some nights it seemed he drove only a single nail. He and my mother fought about the money they’d cost, the time. She called him a low life, screamed, If you’d come home from the bar, you’d finish, and later, You’d see these kids are out of control. Sometimes they fought through my brothers and me. You see how your father treats me. See it? Or, She’s lost her fuckin’ mind. See that? Once, when Dad was working and my mother was sleeping in the room with the lights out, my brothers and I made mud-blocks, twenty of them, thirty. I couldn’t have been more than six years old. We used the clay from the hillside, from the deep cut where my dad had dug with the dozer, and we spent hours shaping perfect rectangles. Chris said we could turn them into blocks of solid gold if we cooked them in the oven. So we finished. We cooked them. Turned them into golden mudnuggets and divided them among us. Thought we were rich, couldn’t wait to tell my mother, who—when she found the oven ruined—beat us all the way into the bedroom, or my father, who—when home from work that night—pulled us from bed and beat us again. And days later, I fought with Jonny for throwing them back into the yard, called him Cry baby, cry baby and pushed him, by accident, down my father’s steps. He 192 u Crab Orchard Review
Terrance Manning Jr. gashed his head open on a strip of corner bead at the bottom, from his forehead back into his hair a few inches. Made me sick, and ashamed. I whispered, Shh, shh, be quiet, bud so my mother wouldn’t hear. Chris held him, laughing, Got you, didn’t it, but looked sick himself when he called my father at work, and together we waited for my mother to wake. All that remained were those damn steps: black, burned up, and nearly ten years old—still unfinished, still waiting to transcend the house in some way, to lift it from the white aluminum pile poking from the hill, my father’s progress fading into the musky stink left from the fire. But all that faded and I stood up. My friends laughed, joked from some dark room in the house, smashed things as if it was any abandoned house, any dump. They raided it like looters, opening drawers, making plans to set up a fuck bed, battery-powered lighting, to break back in and keep their things, to get drunk or high, to hide from police. In September, Chris was invited to the RM Cup in California, a showcase event that gathered the best amateur Suzuki riders from across the country. Top riders were offered factory rides, free bikes, sponsorship, money and time to chase down a dream. We’d already decided to quit school, so when Chris was invited to the Cup, we loaded our bikes and left. There was a group of us, but local riders wanted to ride in California, too—the exhibitions. My best friend’s dad owned an eighteen-wheeler Kenworth and offered to drive the bikes. Everyone else would meet us there. Chris had raced for four years by then. Most kids were bred to race, cropped up from the time they could balance on a peewee bike to pull the throttle and ride. Chris got his first bike at twelve, an old CR Honda my dad bought for two hundred dollars from a Summit-Street kid: Ryan, the neighbor—used to start the engine, come tearing up around the side of his house, and jump off a well-worn lip in the road. Chris loved that. We all did. Ryan was older, probably sixteen, and had a lot of nicknames for Chris. At first, just “Manning.” Then “Little Man.” “Little Crazy.” And eventually, just “Crazy” because Chris liked to show off. He’d climb a phone pole or throw a rock through the deli window. So when Ryan brought the bike out, revved the engine, and Chris asked to jump it, we all cheered, expecting he’d wreck. And in some ways, we were right. Chris wrecked. Not because his feet hardly touched the ground, or because he leaned against the house to keep his balance while Ryan helped him start the bike. He wrecked after throttling back and lifting off the lip in the road like he’d planned Crab Orchard Review
Terrance Manning Jr. to take off and never come back—had the thing panic-revved in the air, jumped the whole damn street, collapsed in our yard nearly forty feet away, and popped up laughing. When my dad bought the CR, my brothers and I shared it. Chris was the fastest. I wrecked most, and Jonny was stiff when he rode, tried racing, but never picked it up. Chris and I were the racers—him the grace, the finesse, and me the light-spirited, the I-just-want-to-ride kid. I’d even say I was fast, won races. But Chris: people idolized him and so did I. Depended on him. I used to wait for him to ride down to the Line when I was sitting at the Gate, ready to race. We’d say a prayer and wait with our engines turned off until the guy with the two-card walked onto the track. My stomach used to roll. My fingers numbed. I’d try to laugh, but couldn’t shake the nerve that was forty engines starting at once, smoke filling the air. Everybody’s wrist rolled back, the sound of engines steadying, a multiplied roar, oil cooking two-stroke, eyes focused forward on the card, waiting for it to turn, and when the gate dropped, we’d full-throttle to the first bend—relentless. Chris was always most relentless. I broke my elbow in ’99 and Chris qualified for Nationals. We sold my bike to buy him a spare engine—a necessary sacrifice, I’d imagined. Besides, I loved watching Chris ride. We all did. Standing on the side of the track, leaning over the two-rung wooden fence or on a rock for a better view. I didn’t mind chasing him screaming, Go, boy, and, That’s my brother, even though everybody at the races already knew that. Even though I wasn’t the only one cheering, the only one enjoying his fearlessness. And I would keep cheering. Until Chris would win, get a factory ride, his segue into the professionals, and I could ride again, buy a bike again, buy as many bikes as I wanted. Until then I’d follow him. So when we left for the RM Cup in ’01, we stagger-strapped forty-seven bikes down in the bed of my friend’s dad’s truck and headed out for the race the week we quit school—the four of us: me, my friend, his dad, and Chris. My dad was working in New Jersey and planned to take a plane out for the Cup. Jonny stayed in school. He was good, the smart brother, the high marks and AP classes. He would fly out and meet us in California the day of the race. We slept in and out on the highway, taking turns sitting shotgun in the truck, playing video games in the back of the cab. Chris was quiet, crawling inside of that headspace he crawled into when he raced, 194 u Crab Orchard Review
Terrance Manning Jr. preparing himself for the pressure. I wonder sometimes if I could have handled that: expectations, people cheering, rooting for me like a ticket out. Everyone had counted on him, believed in him, told him that one day they’d see him in the magazines, in Racer X, riding on ESPN with Ricky, Jeremy, and Windham. Takes guts, people said. And Chris got fuckin’ guts. Chris was reserved. He’d win, and he knew that. He’d be the first into the corner. He knew that. But he was brave, too, and unafraid. When most felt nervous, Chris controlled it. He held his calm like a secret, the way he did when we were kids, when the city condemned the Brick House, or fire burned the White House. When my parents were smashing up the kitchen—Mom breaking plates and Dad punching holes in the wall—Chris talked to me and Jonny. He’d tell us things. We could disappear you know, he’d say. We could close our eyes and leave here. And we believed him, closed our eyes and tried to disappear. Of course, that was before he got crazy, before he became the Fuck-it-I-don’t-givea-damn-anymore kid who led us into fights in the neighborhood, who hated school, and teachers, and everything save his bikes, save riding. Once, before the fire, he called the police. I don’t know why he called, don’t remember the fighting being worse than other times, or louder, scarier, but Chris called the police. When they arrived, my dad was drunk—still fighting with my mother. He tried to fight the cops and they beat him down in the front yard, a pack of them, me and my brothers watching from the bedroom window. My dad was a fighter, always had been, and in the yard, with the police, he fought too. They wrestled him to the ground, pushing him, punching. My mother screamed, shoved an officer who turned around and hit her in the face. My father roared then, a terrible sound. Neighbors came out of their houses and watched. I remember being afraid the police would come inside and find us. Chris closed the blinds. We never said much, I think, because we didn’t understand how to juggle anger and fear, the sound of it, the waiting. Jonny and I relied on Chris to tell us how to feel, to smile so we could smile, get mad so we could get mad. When I think of him back then, I always feel sad for him. How afraid he must have felt, alone. Angry with himself for calling, like if he hadn’t we’d have gone on: my father would have left early, morning dark, swing-shift welder at Vincent’s; my mother would have slept; and my brothers and I would have gotten up and left the house, gone out into the sunlight, digging our toes into dirt like we’d done all of those days when waiting for the rain—we’d step away from the night. But Crab Orchard Review
Terrance Manning Jr. right then—the blinds pulled shut—we closed our eyes, the sound of my mother, my father shouting, Pussy motherfuckers, fight me, fight me, chaotic outside the window as we tried again to disappear. In the beginning, my father told Chris, Ride fast and keep moving, so my brother did. He rode faster than everyone else in his class. He picked up on everything, every angle in the bends, every gear needed to clear distances only beefed-up and modified bikes could clear. He won races with a stock engine. Won every weekend—charged forward with a fury. People took him seriously, but still called him Crazy, as if he’d won by accident. It wasn’t until regional qualifiers in Virginia, his second year—with Chris’s first bike, a little cash, and my father’s ’89 conversion van that the four of us had been sleeping in for weeks—that things had changed. We rode into the races with one bike and a three-rail trailer on the back of the van. Must have looked real funny brushing our teeth and laughing as we set up five-gallon-bucket seats, unloaded the bike, and helped Chris get his boots on beside motor homes and sparkle-rimmed trucks. Top seven qualified for Nationals, and that’s all we hoped for. But when they left the gate, Chris got caught in a pile-up in the first bend. Jonny and I ran along the fence by the track screaming like my father for him to get up and move, knowing Chris was probably spilling swear words into his helmet. By the time he took off, he was one of the last to leave. For many years we didn’t have much that was worth much. Cheap bed sets, a forty-dollar couch. Things never mattered. What was lost in the fire, or lost between moves, between padlocked eviction-notice doors, was all replaceable, and temporary. What had value, like my father’s mig-welder, the Miller, or his heavy-duty machines and power tools, he’d mostly sold to keep Chris’s bike running. We all knew that. So when he piled up at Regionals that year in the red Virginia dirt, as Jonny and I ran as far as we could run until we couldn’t see him anymore, and my father smoked cigarette after cigarette, eyes squinting, we had a kind of understanding, I guess, that everything we had was Chris and this opportunity. Together we waited. Watched the empty track, the sound of engines echoing from the valley. Chris was the first over the hill—came up over that hillside like he was materializing from the dirt. And we went crazy. Screaming, laughing. We turned and ran again beside the track cheering for him, my dad hollering what he’d always called his rebel yell. I remember Chris 196 u Crab Orchard Review
Terrance Manning Jr. was going so fast he was standing up and dropping himself onto the seat, throttle pinned, to get more traction to go faster. His back fender was broken from the pile-up, dangling beside his back tire, number plate bent sideways. People must have been real surprised by that. For us, the sight of it, the feeling—like victory I guess. Feels so good that all that’s left to say is, Goddamn, good for you. He won that day. He’d keep winning. And I expected much from him, expected him to prove something for us—that maybe we were more than kids with knuckle-scars, more than fearless, or hardened from nights spent hurting, waiting for the next move. Maybe we could become great, too. We could be more than where we’d been before then. We’d been out of school nearly a week, gone from Pittsburgh for four days, and were driving through Oklahoma on our way to watch Chris win the RM Cup when the towers went down. My friend’s dad got the call on his cell phone. Looked frightened suddenly, confused, or angry. “The Twin Towers just fell,” he said. None of us knew what that meant. Embarrassing now, looking back—that we were so involved with everything that we hadn’t realized what happened, that we’d rather not have ever even heard, that we’d, for a moment, figured whatever the problem was, it would pass, and we could pull away from the side of the highway and keep moving, pushing forward toward California. We pretended to understand. “They cancelled the Cup,” my friend’s dad said. “What’s that mean?” “Means the race is over.” My dad called. He was in Newark, working on an airplane hanger, had watched it happen, and on the phone I remember he sounded a little frantic, not yelling or angry, but confused. Said, “I’ll see you boys soon. Jonny’s at your mom’s. Just come home. I love you.” That night, driving back, we ate dinner at a truck stop, in a booth in the back, and though the race was cancelled, nothing was changed for us yet. Later we’d understand, but at the truck stop, we laughed. We talked about how Chris would’ve won, would’ve gotten a ride with Suzuki, would’ve become the rider we’d dreamed of him becoming. He loosened up, no need for the calm, started swearing again like always, Fuckin’ Jones boys were invited, too, you believe that? We made spit balls, shot them at each other from across the table. In Pittsburgh, American flags sprouted up and down the streets— as they did across the country. My dad stuck one from the back window Crab Orchard Review
Terrance Manning Jr. of the conversion van. We told our friends about the trip, how we’d made it to Oklahoma, Okla-Goddamn-Homa. We decided to go back to school, and I nearly failed Chemistry, along with other classes. Who knows—maybe we were bored. Or wanted to be near people, surrounded. Or needed a place to run to, a place to wait around for the next race, for summer. Maybe we were never serious in the first place, though I’m sure I was. I’d imagined never walking those halls again. No more sneaking out between periods, or running my Geometry book down locker handles, hanging beneath stairwell D until World History was over. No running past the security guard to climb into my buddy’s car, the one with a cracked exhaust, that smoked and roared while he turned up the radio as loud as it went, Beastie Boys screaming treble all the way down Eden Park Boulevard. Maybe we went back expecting something from the place that never came, waiting for something to dream about, to hunger after. Maybe it was later that year, when Chris tore his knee backward in a race. When I tell the story, I make sure to list each tear, remembering a perfect order: ACL, MCL, LCL, and Meniscus. It didn’t ruin him. He only needed time to heal, time to work through physical therapy. But he became stubborn. Stopped going to therapy. Tried to ride and reinjured it. Another surgery, staph infection. Again, when he stopped going, we pushed him, Just go back, man. You can ride again. But he fought. I’m no pussy, dude. I don’t need therapy. And we backed away when he demanded it. We raced, but not seriously, waiting always for the big return—when Chris would ride, knee healed, faster than he’d been before he hurt it. A year passed and his age required a bigger bike. He’d have to practice longer, compete with more qualified racers, healthier, with more years invested. Of course, we knew he would—when he rode again. Then he hurt the knee a third time—playing basketball. Scheduled surgery. Pain pills did their job, and in a quiet way, his riding became a story that we talked about, a memory, a rehearsed, As soon as his knee’s better he’s gonna’…finish everything we’d imagined. Chris became a welder, like my dad. A damn good welder—the both of them. Out of high school, he worked with high-pressure steam lines, boiler work. He picked up fast on the codes, regulations, techniques. He moved forward, rapidly, gaining confidence, and we referred to him not as a steam fitter, or a fabricator, but a beautiful welder. Beautiful—at least I did. Because it was true—still is true—that he could weld one hell of a weld, like an art, with precision and patience. When we talk about 198 u Crab Orchard Review
Terrance Manning Jr. his future, we talk about welding, running his own company some day. Sometimes, we speak of racing. We tell stories that are sharp and faded at once, locked away somehow, hanging still in the two-stroke smoke from the exhaust no longer run at the races. And sometimes, when we talk, Chris speaks of riding again, even at twenty-seven. That he might get a bike again, some new gear. He could practice at the dumps like the old days. Them young fuckin’ kids don’t know what it takes to ride fast, he’ll say, and he’ll imagine the color of his helmet, the most expensive helmet, the way it might look with his name, with Manning flapping like a flag from his jersey when he comes back, finally, to take his place and win again. When school ended, I went back to working construction, sitting in traffic those mornings outside of Pittsburgh, keeping the truck engine revved enough to keep it running. I can’t remember when it happened, or if I hadn’t looked up in a while, but one day I glanced into Highland Grove and the houses were gone. There was a muddy gouge in the hillside, a bald spot in the grass and trees. I drove into the neighborhood and stalled the truck at the deadend. Stepped out and the hillside was muddy. Everything was gone—the brick house, the white house, even the tree that grew between them. I stayed for a while walking all the way to the edge of the muddy land that had been ours. From the hill I could see the traffic snaking along Fifth Avenue, stretching far into the valley toward the Duquesne Bridge. Trees down, houses gone, I could see the river, morning fog still on its surface, headlights across the bridge and into Homestead. Everything was wide open, but empty. Dozer tracks crossed one another from the leveling process, and I remember wondering if the neighbors had watched, if they came outside to witness the collapsing houses broken down, dug away, left like a scar in the hill. Wondered if they remembered us, if they laughed or cursed us. Wondered if the sounds had changed the houses, if the snap of a support beam, a roof truss, breaking glass, aluminum crunching, or the steady, obnoxious beep of the backhoe filled the streets that day. Or had it taken longer? How long had it been since I’d recognized the houses on the hill? Weeks, or days. I wondered if the steps crumbled quickly, if they clung together with the nails my father had driven, or had to be dragged out of the yard and tossed into a dumpster by hand, broken down stubbornly, piece by piece—I would’ve liked that. And what of the Crab Orchard Review
Terrance Manning Jr. things I could’ve taken when I broke back in: a baby shirt, half-burned and still folded in the drawer that Jonny had worn, it seemed, every day; a few pictures saved by the glass in their frames; a tin toy car on the window sill in the bedroom; Chris’s old guitar beneath the bed; a Tonka truck; a model plane. But I was too embarrassed in front of my friends, afraid of feeling silly or looking uncool walking from the house with all that junk, charred and stinking in the car. “It was a dump,” Chris said when I told them. “Property value just went up,” my father laughed. Jonny didn’t care either, though he remembered the sawdust on the kitchen floor, insulation hanging from the walls, even the stairs, but for him it’s Chris teaching him addition on the bottom step, the smell of the wood. “You remember the smell,” he said. “Smelled like shit. You don’t remember?” I didn’t. I only remembered the steps, his falling down them. “You don’t remember Mummy trippin’ about that stink, Daddy tellin’ her to shut her mouth. Fuck that place, man.” And in some ways, I want to say, Yeah, fuck that place, but often I’d like just a little more—from his perspective. Or from Chris’s. Maybe he’d remember the basement, all musky-bricked and chilly. Hardwood floors in the living room, worn out in the middle, gray. Or the plastic stapled to the far wall to keep the heat inside that first winter. The smell of kerosene soaked in the pillows and blankets. The sound of Buzz, the old dog barking late into the night. My father laughing, singing Johnny Cougar and Boss songs in the kitchen those nights he’d come home late from work, middle-night, whiskey-voiced. Maybe then I could bring it back in some way, reconstruct the place, from the steps and into the kitchen—the bedroom—through the sliding glass doors—to the yard. I could build it again from the muddy hillside, the empty space left looking out into the valley as the morning spills down into the Monongahela.
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Caitlin McGill How Much for That Pair of Shoes? What the son wishes to forget, the grandson wishes to remember. —Marcus Lee Hansen
I am gazing through thick, obscuring snowfall, each sheet
another barrier I must see beyond, push out of my way. I am creating a path through these ivory slips of memory and time, intuition my only guide as I blindly shuffle through powder, ice hardening beneath my boots. I am peering into a time before my own life—before my mother’s—and into my grandmother’s childhood. It’s 1933, and she is four years old. Her grandfather, Aaron, sits beside her, the two of them leaning over a table in her New Jersey home, the alphabet strewn out before them. Claire, who will become my grandmother, is teaching Aaron—my great-great-grandfather—how to read and write in English. Curls hang at her shoulders. She has only begun to learn herself, but still she is ahead of him. He speaks fragmented English during their lessons, Yiddish words rolling out of his memory and onto his disobedient tongue. “Ach,” Aaron says, scratching out the words on his paper. “I cannot get right.” “It’s okay,” Claire says, looking into her grandfather’s blue eyes. “We can try again tomorrow.” Aaron takes her chin in his hand, runs his finger over her long, pointed nose. He forgets about the English words on the page and reminds her that we do not speak of our religion if we want to survive Russia. He reminds her of his time in the Czar’s Army, of his shoes, made only from cloth and string. He talks of Ellis Island and not looking back. Never look back. Claire doesn’t quite understand what this means, but she’ll remember his words. She sticks a gold star on Aaron’s paper. I wonder if he is proud or if he thinks only of Russia, of his home, of the place where once, long ago, he was allowed to let his Yiddish tongue run free. It’s too Crab Orchard Review
Caitlin McGill early to imagine he is ashamed of that gold star on his paper; the Nazis have only just begun to force the Jews in Europe to wear stars and my grandmother’s cousins—the Moskowitzs and the Horowitzs—have not yet stepped into the gas chambers. Claire stacks papers together as Aaron scratches his black beard. “Oy,” he says, thinking again of the English words on the page. “Oy. I cannot get right.” Aaron’s blue eyes are fading now, my grandmother’s curls growing straight with time, and the wind is whipping the snow into squalls, pushing me away, away from them. Into 1934, 1935, 1936. Into the moment when my grandmother’s mother, Lillian, suggests that my grandmother should attend Hebrew school—the moment when Aaron shakes his head no, no religion for the girl. Lillian doesn’t resist because, although she was raised Orthodox, although her family observed all of the holidays and kept Kosher, she believes that the Jews in their New Jersey town are snobby, that they only attend temple to show off. She believes that she is a better person for not flaunting her money. And she believes, then, that Judaism is not for them—not for her husband, whose father, Aaron, scorns his own Jewishness anyway; not for her daughter, who will not become one of those trashy temple women; and, although she does not know how far her disapproving hand will reach, certainly not for her grandchildren—my mother and my uncle—whose father will also ignore his Judaism. Lillian could not have known that ignoring her family’s Jewish identity would last for generations. She could not have known that over twenty years after her death, her great-granddaughter would sit before her computer screen, searching for the moment when Judaism was eliminated from our family’s consciousness, trying to regenerate our history from the few live, remaining pieces. Aaron could not have known that I would imagine him, barely ten years old, marching through the snow in Russia, or that I would think, ah, yes, this is the moment; this is the moment when one of the connections was severed, our Judaism cut loose, the cloth come undone from his bloody foot.
II. The boys walk in the snow, frayed strings wrapping their bare feet in cloth. They fall in line between Russian officers, praying for the string to remain tied around their bony feet. If those cloth shoes slip off 202 u Crab Orchard Review
Caitlin McGill they cannot stop; they cannot bend down to save their cracked, bloody toes from the frozen ground. There are hundreds of them, these young Jewish boys, repeating to themselves don’t speak in Yiddish, don’t speak in Yiddish. They don’t want to starve for three more days. They don’t refuse anymore when the soldiers feed them only pork; they eat to survive. Snow falls onto their eyelashes. Some try to blink it away before the liquid runs down their dry cheeks, before an officer shouts at them, the pathetic boys, for crying for their mothers, but most of their lashes are already encrusted in frost and it’s too difficult to blink. They hope it’s cold enough that the snow won’t melt. They march on. One boy, his eyes glazed and blue, suddenly drops to one knee. “You!” the leading officer shouts in Russian. “What do you think you are doing?” The boy hangs his head at his feet. He ties his string in a bow around his cloth shoe and slowly uncoils his spine to stand, his black hair now tousled before his eyes. “I’m tying this scrap of cloth around my bloody foot, Sir,” the boy says in Russian. Then, in Yiddish: “Do you want to do it for me instead?” The officer grinds the toe of his right shoe into the snow, stomps toward the boy and slams him to the ground. “Yiddish?” he says. “You want to speak Yiddish?” He kicks the boy in the ribs, stands him up, shoves him down, and kicks him again, this time in his back. The boy rolls over in the snow and curls his legs into his chest. The others watch as he crawls to sit on his behind and reach for the cloth that’s now detached from both feet. The boy wraps the string and cloth around his feet again. He does not lift his eyes. The soldier huffs, pivots, and crunches ahead to lead the children of Czar Nicholas I’s Army. It is 1850, 1853, 1855. Each year, each scene, is the same. Jewish mothers wail for their babies’ return. My great-great-grandfather, Aaron Sussman, defies the soldiers. In 1827, Czar Nicholas I enacted a law that forced all Jewish boys, ages twelve to twenty-five, in Russia, to serve in his army for twenty-five years. Nearly 50,000 Jewish boys served between 1827 and 1854. Thousands were as young as five years old. Rabbis were forced to swear that these five- and six-year-old boys were really twelve and thirteen. Some Rabbis pretended to be thieves, snuck into army quarters, and blessed the boys. Mothers begged their sons to remain Jewish men forever. Russian soldiers forced boys to dip their heads in water, to be baptized. Crab Orchard Review
Caitlin McGill Prayer was strictly forbidden. Speaking Yiddish or Hebrew was strictly forbidden. Children hid in forests, in Christian homes, in shadows. An old folk tale describes Czar Nicholas I’s visit to the Russian city of Kazan, where a group of Jewish boys were to be baptized in the Volga River. The water lapped at the boys’ toes and, as the Czar approached, they jumped into the water. “What is this?” the officers shouted. “Pull yourselves out of there.” But the boys did not emerge from the river. Instead, the boys kept their heads below the water and drowned themselves. In these tales lingers a myth of young boys who cut off their fingers. Desperate families hoped that without pointer fingers to pull the trigger of a gun, their sons would be useless to the Czar’s army. Now I imagine these mothers and fathers laying their children’s hands on long, wooden tables, stretching their little fingers out, and slicing them away. I imagine villages of them, these young, Jewish boys, running around with missing fingers, shrieking in Yiddish. I imagine some were young enough that their fingers healed, grew back. But I imagine those fingers were never the same.
III. The earliest years of my life often return to me in segmented memories, the most vivid of those memories serving as time posts, sectioning the years into “the times before Grandpa died” or “the times after my niece was born,” acting as scaffolding and holding together those that feel too distant and too blurred to accept as true. This should ground me in the past, I find myself thinking, but—there are so many stories that feel too distant and too blurred—I cannot discern memory from re-memory; I cannot see clearly the past. How truthful is my memory of waiting in an emergency room, I wonder, the rough lining of my blue party dress scratching my thigh? As the memory exists in my mind today, I was two years old when I sat in that emergency room. I was two years old when, just hours before arriving at the hospital, I was playing dress-up with my sister in our living room. My thin, brown bangs stuck to my forehead as I crawled into the cabinet below our bookshelf and, acquiescing to my stubborn curiosity, slipped my left pointer finger into a hole. As Lindsay, my four-year-old sister, closed the cabinet door, a sharp, metal hinge entered that hole and carved off the tip of my finger. While 204 u Crab Orchard Review
Caitlin McGill my mother, a nurse, bagged the severed tip in ice, Lindsay wiped blood from the tile floor. I can still feel the nurses coating each of my fingers with some sort of antibiotic. I remember thinking the antibiotic looked like brown paint. They brushed either side of my hands with the paint, knuckle to fingertip, knuckle to fingertip. For weeks after my fingertip was severed from my hand, I stuck that finger into cups of hydrogen peroxide that my mother poured, the liquid fizzing up toward the rim, my feet dancing beneath me in pain. On my first day back at preschool after the accident, my mother dropped me off and drove to work, worried that I would play on the playground even though I wasn’t supposed to, that I would get an infection from the dirty sand that would inevitably creep into the bandages she’d so meticulously wrapped my finger in. Was it when she closed her eyes to pray that this wouldn’t happen that she slammed into the car in front of her at the four-way intersection? The airbag burned her forearm and neck, but I never got an infection. My mother tells me that because I was so young and still growing, my fingertip slowly grew back. Now I find myself wondering: what happens when too much has been lost, when the fingertip has been severed too far back, the wound forever sealed? Ed Yong, award-winning science writer, explains in a National Geographic article titled “Why Fingertips Might Grow Back but Entire Limbs Won’t,” that “children can sometimes regrow the tip of an amputated finger, as long as there’s a bit of nail left over and the wound isn’t stitched up.” Stem cells underneath the base of the nail are responsible for the regrowth of a partially amputated finger, so if the finger is amputated too far back—too much lost—regeneration is not possible. My finger was never the same. I look at all ten of my fingers now and stop at the left pointer. Its tip is rounded, the hard nail curved down unlike any of the others, the skin beneath exposed and fleshy. I often wonder what would have happened if it’d never grown back. Would my childhood have been drowned in self-consciousness, in more self-doubt and embarrassment and insecurity than I already felt? And what is different about me now? What was lost with that fingertip, replaced by new tissue and skin and that hard, hard nail? What happens when we lose a piece of ourselves—of our families— and something else grows in its place? As for the memory of the scratchy blue dress, its significance lies not in what I’ve recalled or how I recalled it but rather what Crab Orchard Review
Caitlin McGill understanding it has led me to. Perhaps the ability to remember—the ability to regenerate the past—should not be scrutinized, and the way in which my mind does the recalling can vary—should vary—the paths to the past innumerable and interdependent. Perhaps there is no such thing as misremembering. If there is something, anything, left for us to cling to, why not begin regeneration, seizing what little has been left behind? Does it really matter how much of that memory my mind has reconstructed from stories told to me by my mother? And does it really matter if the details I recall are true? Perhaps the answer lies in how we define truth. If we equate truth with meaning—if truth is simply what we discover upon exploration of what we believe is real, what we believe happened—then it doesn’t matter whether my party dress was blue or purple or red; it doesn’t matter whether my mother told me that story or if it’s been accurately etched in my memory since its occurrence; it doesn’t matter unless, perhaps, you can’t shake the sense that a memory should count, unless you’re pushing your grandmother to remember the color of your great-great-grandfather’s eyes as he looked into hers and said, his words cloaked in Russian or Yiddish or both, we hide to survive.
IV. David walks all the way home through the New Jersey snow. Why, I will ask my grandmother years later. Oh, my father was a stubborn man, she’ll say. Kind and quiet, but a stubborn, stubborn man. He does not work in New York City’s Garment District as his father, Aaron, did. He is a successful jeweler—learned the trade by sweeping jewelry shops as a boy—but his wife, Lillian, ensures they don’t flaunt their money in synagogues like the other Jews she despises. In fact, they don’t enter synagogues at all. They never took their daughter, Claire, to services, never observed holidays, never kept Kosher. They certainly never hung mezuzahs—encased parchment scrolls that are nailed to the right side doorpost of Jewish homes— outside their doors. Claire is already twenty-eight years old on this particular night when her father trudges through the snow again as he has since she was a girl. She is home with her husband, her oneyear-old daughter, and her infant son. As a child, she prayed for her 206 u Crab Orchard Review
Caitlin McGill father to walk through the door, boots covered in slush, and release her from Lillian’s wrath. When he walks into their home, he must be shivering, his fingernails turning blue. He must think of his grown daughter and her baby boy, and when he asks for them, Lillian calls for an ambulance instead. At the hospital his wife berates him for walking through the snow—at least I had shoes, he says—and commands Claire, her grown daughter, to fetch water from the hall. Pneumonia, the doctors say, but they’ve caught it early and he’ll be just fine. Penicillin to cure the infection, and he’ll be just fine. Claire goes home to her family for the night, and when she returns in the morning he’s already gone. I imagine Lillian, my greatgrandmother, presses her thin lips into straight lines and yells for my grandmother to fold the blankets and sheets in the hospital room. David leaves much of his savings to Claire. Allergic to penicillin. Dead from his long walks in the snow.
V. My grandmother hated her nose. Some time after marrying my grandfather she had plastic surgery, hoping to change her nose from pointed and long to round and unrevealing. But plastic surgery was far from advanced. Techniques were still developing. Though her nose is no longer pointed as it once was, it still calls attention. Her nostrils flare up a bit too much—a bit too exposed—and when I look at a picture of her and my grandfather before the surgery, her hair pulled back, her dress ruffling at the shoulder, my grandfather’s dark features accentuated by his black suit, I think that she was stunning, that she never should have changed her nose at all. The nose job, my grandmother tells me, was a birthday gift she gave to herself, paid for by the money her father left her. Over twenty years after that surgery, she moved in with Ed, her third Jewish husband. He was unpacking boxes, hanging clothes in the closet, pictures on the wall, their towels on hooks in the bathroom, when he pulled his mezuzah from a box and ran toward the front door, eager to hang it outside their new home. “What do you think you’re doing!” she yelled. She didn’t yell often. Her mother had done enough yelling. “I won’t have that thing on my door. Get it out of here.” Crab Orchard Review
Caitlin McGill He complied, afraid to upset her more, and explained that mezuzahs had hung outside his home since he was a boy. Now she lives with her Christian boyfriend, and I think she is more ashamed of being a Jewish woman than she was when she was married to Jewish men. (Her mother, the very woman who stopped my grandmother from growing up in the temple, demanded that she only marry Jews. She obeyed.) And she says there’s no point of getting married at this age—I’m eighty-four; it’s too complicated—but perhaps something is stopping her from marrying a Gentile man. Perhaps she doesn’t believe her boyfriend when he tells her he doesn’t mind that she’s not Christian, that he’d marry her anyway. Perhaps she’s afraid to taint his life. Or perhaps she prefers to handle the burden of hiding her identity on her own as she always has, concealing the evidence one perceived blemish at a time, ignoring the truth so well that when she lays her head on her pillow each night, she can hardly remember who she is at all. Between my grandmother’s urge to hide our past and the fallibility of memory, I wonder: how much of our history can I ever truly resurrect?
VI. My grandmother clears her throat and I press the phone harder against my ear, impatient for answers. “What color were his eyes? Was he tall?” “No, no,” she says. “He was a small man. Blue eyes. Fair skin. When I was a girl, he worked all the time doing—” “What? What’d he do?” I ask. “He sewed flies on men’s pants,” she says, laughter slurring her words. “Oh, Grandma,” I say. “You’re too funny.” “And you know what else?” she says. “We called him Harry sometimes. I don’t know why, but we called my grandfather Harry.” We hang up, and, again, I try to imagine that small man. There he is, Aaron, sewing zippers on men’s pants somewhere in New York City’s Garment District in 1896. It’s been five—maybe six— years since he left Russia with his wife and children and settled in Union City, New Jersey. Some of his cousins followed, their last names changing to Susselman or Zussman as they journeyed through Ellis Island. Aaron’s oldest son, David, would be thirteen now, working 208 u Crab Orchard Review
Caitlin McGill in the Diamond District, his birth in Russia never recorded. All they know is that it was snowing when he was born, so each January, when the snow returns, his mother bakes his favorite cake. Aaron hunches over a long, wooden table, his back aching from day after day in the factory, wrinkles lining his forehead and curving around his mouth. His feet are warm in his leather boots. Men and women— other immigrants—work beside him. More than eighty percent of these factory workers are immigrant Jews. Most of their bosses are Jewish, too, and allow them to observe the Sabbath. But Aaron would rather work and get paid. He does not perform religious duties. They work just inches apart, elbows bumping. In their native tongues they grunt and groan, but Aaron—Harry—practices English words in his head. Hello. How are you? How much for a coffee? He continues sewing, pausing for the cramps in his hands, spreading out and stretching his ten fingers. Good morning. Good night. Good day. His stomach rumbles. He’s almost finished installing his last zipper of the day. How much for that pair of earrings? That pair of pants? He repeats. How much for that pair of shoes?
Crab Orchard Review
Brian Tierney Elegy Written as a Dense Nest of Past Tenses Once, after the tax check cleared, & the ice-skin cleared quickly, that year, from Poquessing Creek— surrendering its syringes, & its needles with no secrets: when its matchsticks of rodents, which foxes plucked apart, were laid bare then, on the banks, as if with purpose, or disgrace, & when sullied cotton panties, pleasurably shed, rose up their soggy ghosts near shells of red-eared sliders we never kept as pets— my parents packed the burgundy, two-door Cougar & took us into north-central Pennsylvania to forget. At Danville, everywhere new corn the color of off-green welfare cards, my brother & I rode the wooden coaster said to be America’s oldest: The Phoenix, built by hand by immigrants who are footnotes now, in the dense nest of past tenses— who no doubt still obey the ground & what the Earth tells our marrow about inertia & vanishing & ecosystems & rot: 210 u Crab Orchard Review
when one thing dies another thing eats.
Like the deathbed dream: worms building cities in soil, where Nana waited, again, with her brothers in the bread lines, she said.
After, we ate hushpuppies, staring at bum sockets
in the carousel’s lighted crown, wanting a prayer or wish or vision to stuff into the hole
of that moment, to give it a chance—
just as farmers plant stones inside a dug spot for air, so the sorest roots can breathe in wetter-than-expected seasons. I have asked aloud to no one, & to which no one answered: What if things do not die but go out of themselves seeing the white mist that stunned Homer? What if the eyes of a gutripped leveret open inward, small French windows beneath the basilica of red blossoms swaying
like the Lord in his lantern?
What if the birds plaited nests with her tufts?— black-tar Jen, from Tacony-Palmyra, who froze in a Camaro, spoon to the candle, while her children clawed at the handle… And each time, it was tomorrow already— & crows cawing was was was… Crab Orchard Review
Elegy Preserved By the Salt Breeze Inside It My mothers lifted many stones in the old days of Montescaglioso: their brown hands dusted with bread-flour, forming loaves flecked with off-greens of near-spoiled olives repurposed for brute husbands even St. Roch would not forgive—& all this, only after morning trips to chapel, lighting white novenas for the imperfections of men. They understood pain does not pass as easily as a sixth or eighth child who never did savor holy purple eggplants plucked from the slopecut gardens, plotted as carefully as lines of text in the town scripture book, & for the same doomed but nourishing purpose: because one less yield meant one less person. None of this can be known for sure. But their ciòcero clack the hard ground of my dreams, like hooves that carried rag-washed still-borns, or flu-killed infants, past the Adriatic vineyards dying into themselves like brain cells once a life’s been beaten so long on its anvil. They sawed parched tangles into barn snakes & burned them, smoke offerings to the unrepeatable days, watching ghost ropes climb the clouds’ violet, & the stars waking there already long-gone, yet arranged in beast shapes with which we’ve made our lasting myths. I can guess how, to them, the salt water sounded like God’s phone off the hook. Perhaps in the dolphinic static a voice urged: dearest, Anna—even noon-tides change by subtraction, & survive.
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Emily Van Kley Lacustrine I. The pain that comes with thaw metallic, a struck tuning fork in the blood’s lull. Thumbprints mooned in cold-waxed skin. Whatever the body seems to understand, here it has been shamefully fooled, having allowed sensation to seep out unremarked past two sets of socks, past the boots’ felt linings & cast rubber soles, having drawn up the frozen lake’s perilous breath like praise— while offering no protest, nothing at all, until in the warm car, under the hands’ earnest chafings, a blotched pink
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Emily Van Kley returns. Only then, deliverance all but assured, do the nerves assemble their factory of grind & ache.
II. On the frozen lake, take your turn with the auger. Score through the plane of the caught world to one still animate below. Fish are wary. The hours do not have names. Ice cataracts each cut place & nothing moves until one walleye flaps up slow & stiff as barely-worked leather on a bobbed line.
III. Lakes freeze but do not die, like the goldfish one winter vacation we left & turned the heat so low the pipes froze, the tap froze, the aquarium became a brick of cliffed & reaching ice. Our pets terrible sculptures of themselves, orange scales undimmed, eyes caught bored-open 214 u Crab Orchard Review
Emily Van Kley in the midst of their daily ministrations, black suckerfish printed like apostrophes to the tankâ€™s sides. Furnace called back to life, we watched the ice begin to sweat, watched it feather back, hang branched & skeletal in returning water. We expected the fish to upend & float like bath toys, to lump the slushed surface, instincts decommissioned, hearts unspurred. Instead they unperished. Budged their gills. Cupped tails one way & the other until no worse for the wear they swam up past fern & dayglo arch to kiss the edge of their universe, credulity intact, no reason to doubt the heavens would open & food begin to fall.
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Chelsea Wagenaar Poison Thrash of feet through thorns, mangled undergrowth, away from the voice calling one, two, three— we shattered out from base, the seeker’s cantor ascending the numeric scale, we hiders seeking vine enclave, chokecherry cloister, fox hollow, a banishment we exulted in, to see but not be seen. Days later, my mother would know where I’d been—archipelagos of red hived along my arms and neck, fleeted across my belly, ankle, thigh. I was an agony of skin and calamine, yes— how I longed in the damp nights for my sheets to snuff my body’s interminable guttering— but I would suffer again that trinity of leaves—its honest touch— to yours, traceless and secret, incurable.
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Patricia Jabbeh Wesley Losing Hair It’s June 9, my sister Nanu’s birthday, and I am losing my hair. The girl from Tugbakeh with all that hair, her body so full of hair, hair down her shoulders, hair almost shutting her eyelids, the girl that could have made a living selling hair strands, now losing it all to the poisonous venom of Chemotherapy. To keep life in my veins, they must purge all life out of my veins. Life for life, hair strand for hair strand, all the cells of my body, crying out ‘don’t kill me,’ but dying still, so killer cells can drown themselves in the war for life. I feel like I am again at war, where, in a refugee camp, Peace Keepers cannot keep peace without war, cannot save life without the taking of life. To rescue us, they shoot and kill, and all around, we lie dead. The cells of my fine body, all dying, and if there is a resurrection of dead cells, my cells
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Patricia Jabbeh Wesley will again rise out of nothing, and all these black strands of hair now falling with the grey will know the solitude of losing, the solitude of the survivalâ€™s story, the solitude of cancer, will know the absoluteness of fighting cancer.
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Nicolette Wong Pilgrimage Sutras of these plaited nights, this sorrow that I hold walking barefoot in the snow. Words of a ghosted-out invocation, embers of a coda glinting from my throat. On the hillside, the trees ride into cold fires as idols, and I tear into the chorale of weeping leaves. I call on the deities to revive the mnemonic of your hair, splints of moonlight on my shoulders and the untangling of voices before flesh. Your rise a fricative shadow, gliding past. I pray for it to stop. Thereâ€™s no answer from the gods. Only the slow grasp of wind as it blinds. The swish of coming undone.
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Bro. Yao banned books In Africa, when an old man dies, it’s a library burning —Hampate Ba Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime —Common Proverb fall into the lake’s mist. this September, cool the air over and under a silver line attached to a weight, and a hook, into water, to find the bottom, rest there a minute, not far from here my father on the edge above the plane of the water, looking down, and looking out, on a bank where earth shows its guts, roots of trees and the deep dark tone of what lies underneath, singing silence: fake worms, lures, hands arching to fingertips threading, twisting, moving in early light. did he know the November he died: his tackle box, his denim overalls, the 220 u Crab Orchard Review
Bro. Yao small spray can-catfish bait, the smell of dried spam, rotting, preserved, the shriveled worm pasted to a rusted hook? did he understand the great metaphors when he taught me the art of watching water, of pulling out the tangles in a line, of singing want with its subtle distinctions. when he taught me waiting he did not wait. he did not teach. messy man with dirt caked into the ovals of his nails, blood and guts smeared across his waist, cigarettes dangling out of his mouth, smoke rising, killing and dying, raising his voice without patience. tone I took as hate, then I was afraid, the ghost of his eyes thunder and impatience over tiny things, watching a rod, a line bending, throwing rocks into the water, not paying attention. did he know of the burned Egyptian libraries? did he know himself as the sages proscribed, man with a bamboo rod walking into the tall plants trying to find a good spot? if man is a symbol my father is a penny, brown, copper, Crab Orchard Review
Bro. Yao and abundant, everywhere. he is use, used and useless. did he know that writing is not a moment, dusk is not really black, human is not flesh, that we are really impossible and believe in less? I banned his booksâ€”in grief, my God, Iâ€™ve forgotten those mornings like nights, those nights like mornings.
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Javier Zamora Burn This Marlboro after my uncle Burn my father triggering the secret of killing in the rambutan forest when I was nine. If you shoot hummingbirds, you can shoot anything. When my leather glove snickers at the sniper rifle, the scope’s mouth stares back at my left eye and my burning Marlboro. That’s how. You are what you wear, father said, don’t be like scum. I’m not dead. Not in fields, not in rivers, not in trunks, not in the middle of the street like a run-over dog. I’m proud of these chevrons, my M1 Garand .30 Cal., and I confound the American reporter in a shallow grave, but death had to be photographed ¿didn’t it? As though they had a clue of what breathes in my nation. I’ve matched countless pictures of guerrilleros to faces and yet, there’s something about closing my eyes for the first shot and the first shot only. When I see a crowd, I hear my father. The first shot and the last kick the same. Not one drop of sweat when I fire and yet, I must repeat—Rogelio, inhale. Feel your eyes— it’s another ruby-throated hummingbird.
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Contributors’ Notes Idris Anderson’s collection of poems Mrs. Ramsay’s Knee was selected by Harold Bloom for the May Swenson Poetry Award and published by Utah State University Press in 2008. She has won a Pushcart Prize and a Pushcart Special Mention. Her poems have been recently published or are forthcoming in the Hudson Review, Southern Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Plume. She was born and grew up in Charleston, South Carolina; she has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than two decades. Holly Teresa Baker is a writer currently living in South Dakota. Her work has recently in appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly, The Mackinac, Eclectica, Blue Earth Review, LIT Magazine, and You. An Anthology of Essays Devoted to the Second Person (Welcome Table Press). She is the 2013 winner of the Heather Campbell Award for Excellence in Writing. She will graduate with her PhD in creative writing from the University of South Dakota and is currently writing a novel. Jenna Bazzell is a PhD candidate in poetry at Oklahoma State University. She received her MFA in poetry from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She won a 2010 AWP Intro Journals Project award for her poem “Wet Field.” Her poems have appeared in Saxifrage Press, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Naugatuck River Review, Southern Indiana Review, Sou’wester. She is the associate editor of Cimarron Review. Jessica Rae Bergamino’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in So to Speak, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Booth, and CALYX. She is the author of The Mermaid, Singing and Blue in All Things (dancing girl press). Rebecca Black was an inaugural Fulbright professor in 2011 at the Seamus Heaney Centre in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A former NEA and Wallace Stegner fellow, her book, Cottonlandia, won a Juniper Prize. Poems from a new manuscript are published or forthcoming in AGNI, New England Review, Blackbird, Shenandoah, Crazyhorse, and other magazines. Recently, she’s been on the MFA faculty at the 224 u Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Originally from Albany, Georgia, she now lives in Albany, California, with her family. Bruce Bond is the 2015 winner of the Richard Peterson Poetry Prize from Crab Orchard Review. He is the author of nine published books of poetry, most recently Choir of the Wells: A Tetralogy (Etruscan Press) and The Visible (Louisiana State University Press). In addition, he has six books forthcoming: Gold Bee (Southern Illinois University Press), The Other Sky (Etruscan), For the Lost Cathedral (LSU), Sacrum (Four Way Books), Immanent Distance: Poetry and the Metaphysics of the Near at Hand (University of Michigan Press), and Black Anthem (Tampa Review Prize for Poetry; University of Tampa Press). Presently, he is Regents Professor of English at the University of North Texas and poetry editor for American Literary Review. Sass Brown is the author of USA-1000, a winner of the 2014 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition, to be published in 2015 by Southern Illinois University Press. She received her MFA from Indiana University, where she was the Ruth Lilly fellow in poetry, and attended the Vermont Studio Center and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference as a poetry scholar. Her poetry has appeared (under the name Susan Brown) in Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Quarterly West, and Hayden’s Ferry Review. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband, the composer Jamie Kowalski. Chen Chen’s work appears or is forthcoming in the Massachusetts Review, Poetry, Narrative, DIAGRAM, [PANK], and Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts. He is a Kundiman Fellow, a University Fellow in Syracuse University’s MFA program, and a poetry editor for Salt Hill. Visit him at chenchenwrites.com. Adam Clay is the author of A Hotel Lobby at the Edge of the World (Milkweed Editions). He co-edits Typo Magazine and teaches at the University of Illinois Springfield. Allison Coffelt is a graduate student in Creative Nonfiction at the University of Missouri. She has a particular interest in writing on social justice and sense of place. Her work has appeared in the museum of americana, Prick of the Spindle, and The Higgs Weldon humor website. She has written for The Missouri Review blog, where she also worked. Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes This past summer, she was selected as the Nonfiction Fellow at the 2014 Tinker Mountain Writers’ Workshop. She is currently at work on a book about Haiti, the act of looking, and language. Kathy Conde is the 2015 winner of the Jack Dyer Fiction Prize from Crab Orchard Review. Her fiction has appeared in Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, South Dakota Review, Underground Voices, Word Riot, and others. She has won prizes and scholarships from Salem College International Literary Awards, Munster Literature Centre’s Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Competition, and the Aspen Writers’ Foundation. She earned an MFA from Naropa University and is past fiction editor for Bombay Gin. Gillian Cummings is the author of two chapbooks, Spirits of the Humid Cloud (dancing girl press) and Petals as an Offering in Darkness (Finishing Line Press). Her poems have appeared in Boulevard, Colorado Review, Cream City Review, Denver Quarterly, Laurel Review, Massachusetts Review, The Paris-American and other journals. She A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College’s MFA program, she lives in Greenburgh, New York, and is also a visual artist. Kyle Dacuyan is currently completing his MFA in poetry at Emerson College, where he also teaches in the First-Year Writing Program and serves as the poetry editor of Redivider. He is the recipient of a Davidson Fellowship in Literature and a scholarship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in VISIONS, The Round, and RHINO. Mary Ann Davis earned an MFA in Poetry from the University of Michigan, where she was awarded a prestigious Avery and Jules Hopwood Award. Her poems have appeared in In Posse Review and Prism Review. She lives in Pasadena, plays in Los Angeles, and teaches Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Scripps College in Claremont, California. Matthew Dougherty is the 2014 winner of the Charles Johnson Fiction Award from Crab Orchard Review. He is from Cleveland, Ohio. His writing has been published in Sphere, Backdrop, and Generation Next Magazine. He is at work on a novel titled “A Way In.”
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Contributors’ Notes Blas Falconer is the author of The Foundling Wheel (Four Way Books) and A Question of Gravity and Light (University of Arizona Press). The recipient of an NEA, the Maureen Egen Writers Exchange, and a Tennessee Individual Artist Fellowship, he teaches in the low-residency MFA progam at Murray State University. His poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Poetry Northwest, and Witness. Rebecca Morgan Frank’s first book, Little Murders Everywhere, was a finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and her poems have recently appeared in New England Review, Ploughshares, and Southern Indiana Review. She is an assistant professor at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Writers and the editor of the online journal Memorious. Kim Garcia, author of Madonna Magdalene, received the 2014 Lynda Hull Memorial Poetry Prize. Her work has been featured on The Writer’s Almanac, and has appeared in Mississippi Review, Crazyhorse, and Cimarron Review, among others. Diane Gilliam is the author of three collections of poetry: Kettle Bottom (Perugia Press), One of Everything (Cleveland State University Poetry Center), and Recipe for Blackberry Cake (Wick Poetry Chapbook Series Two; Kent State University Press). She is a graduate of Warren Wilson College and is currently writing full-time as the most recent recipient of the Gift of Freedom from the A Room of Her Own Foundation. Andrew Grace’s current manuscript-in-progress is titled “The Last Will and Testament of Said Gun.” Other sections of the manuscript are forthcoming or appear in a recent issue of The New Yorker, Kenyon Review, Missouri Review, New England Review, Poetry Daily, Shenandoah, Guernica, Poet Lore, and 32 Poems. J.P. Grasser’s poetry explores the diverse regions he has called home, most persistently his family’s fish hatchery in Brady, Nebraska. He studied English and Creative Writing at Sewanee: The University of the South and received his MFA in poetry from Johns Hopkins University, where he currently teaches. His work appears or is forthcoming from Quarterly West, Ecotone, Salt Hill, West Branch, Wired, Ninth Letter Online, and Redivider, among others. Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes Katie Hartsock is the author of a chapbook, Hotels, Motels, and Extended Stays (Toadlily Press). Originally from Youngstown, Ohio, she received a MFA from the University of Michigan, and is currently a doctoral candidate in Comparative Literary Studies at Northwestern University. Her poems appear in Southwest Review, Southern Indiana Review, RHINO, Beloit Poetry Journal, Iron Horse Literary Review, Measure, and elsewhere. Jocelyn Heath is the 2014 winner of the Allison Joseph Poetry Award from Crab Orchard Review. She is a PhD student in poetry at Georgia State University. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Poet Lore, Sinister Wisdom, Bellingham Review, and elsewhere. She has reviewed poetry for Lambda Literary and serves as an assistant editor for Smartish Pace. M. Ayodele Heath’s TEDxTalk, “Poetry 2.0: Verses for a Technology Age,” highlights his most recent project as curator of the global collaborative poetry project, Electronic Corpse: Poems from a Digital Salon (Svaha Paradox Salon). Recipient of fellowships to Caversham Centre for Artists and Writers (South Africa) and Cave Canem, his work has recently appeared in such journals as RHINO, Muzzle, and Chattahoochee Review. His full-length collection, Otherness, is available from Brick Road Poetry Press. He lives and writes in Atlanta, Georgia. Ming Lauren Holden most recently won Chattahoochee Review’s Lamar York Prize for Nonfiction, Glimmer Train’s Family Matters Short Story Contest, and the USAID Frontiers in Development worldwide essay competition. Her first book, The Survival Girls (Wolfram Productions), is a work of nonfiction about her experience founding a theater group for refugee women in a Nairobi slum. Her nonfiction, literary translations, photography, and poetry can also be found in The Best American Poetry blog, The Daily Beast, Arts & Letters, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Passages North, The Poker, and others. Rodney Jones’s most recent poetry book is Imaginary Logic (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). His eight other books include Salvation Blues, which won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and was shortlisted for the Griffin International Poetry Prize; Elegy for The Southern Drawl, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Transparent Gestures, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. A professor and distinguished 228 u Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes scholar emeritus at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, he is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers and teaches in the MFA program at Warren Wilson College. Vandana Khanna’s first collection, Train to Agra (Southern Illinois University Press), won the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award, and her second collection, Afternoon Masala (University of Arkansas Press), was the co-winner of the 2014 Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming from the Missouri Review, 32 Poems, and Prairie Schooner. Gerry LaFemina’s latest books are a book of prose poems, Notes for the Novice Ventriloquist (Mayapple Press), and Little Heretic (Stephen F. Austin University Press). Recent work appears in The Sun and APR among other journals. He is an associate professor of English at Frostburg State University where he directs the Center for Creative Writing, and he serves as Executive Director of Poets at Work. He divides his time between Maryland and New York. Moira Linehan has two collections of poetry, both from Southern Illinois University Press: If No Moon and Incarnate Grace. Margaret Mackinnon’s work has appeared in many journals, including Image, Poetry, and the Georgia Review. Her first book, The Invented Child, won the Gerald Cable Book Award and was published by Silverfish Review Press. The Invented Child also received the 2014 Award for Poetry from the Library of Virginia. Terrance Manning Jr. is the 2015 winner of the John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize from Crab Orchard Review. He has an MFA from Purdue University, where he served as fiction editor at Sycamore Review. Recently, he received first place in the Boulevard Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers, and the David Nathan Meyerson Prize for Fiction, as well as the National Society of Arts & Letters Literature Competition. His work appears or is forthcoming in Boulevard, Southwest Review, and other magazines, and has been selected as a finalist in the Glimmer Train Fiction Open, the Cincinnati Review Schiff Awards, Colorado Review’s Nelligan Prize, and the American Short Fiction Short Story Contest. He lives and writes in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes Caitlin McGill is the 2014 winner of the Rafael Torch Literary Nonfiction Award from Crab Orchard Review. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Digital Americana, Solstice, Southeast Review, Sphere, Spry Literary Journal, and several other magazines. She is a writing instructor at Emerson College, where her students continually remind her of the power of language. Tyler Mills’s Tongue Lyre was the winner of the 2011 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award (Southern Illinois University Press). Her poems have recently appeared in the Believer, Blackbird, Boston Review, and Poetry. She is a PhD candidate in creative writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Karissa Morton is originally from Des Moines, Iowa, and currently lives in Denton, Texas. Some of her recent work can be found in Indiana Review, Guernica, The Paris-American, and Sonora Review, among other places. Nick Narbutas is the Diana & Simon Raab Editorial Fellow at Poets & Writers and a Creative Writing Teaching Fellow at Columbia University. His poems have or will appear in Gulf Coast, ILK, [PANK] Magazine Online, The Pinch, Birdfeast, and Massachusetts Review. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. Frank Paino holds an MFA from Vermont College. He has poems upcoming in North American Review and Catamaran Literary Reader and has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a Pushcart Prize, the Katherine and Lee Chilcote Foundation Award for Excellence in Poetry and The Cleveland Arts Prize in Literature. He recently completed work on his third manuscript, Swallow. Sarah Pape teaches English and works as the managing editor of Watershed Review at California State University, Chico. Her poetry and prose has recently been published or are forthcoming in: Ecotone, The Nervous Breakdown, The Brooklyner, decomP, The Collapsar, Pilgrimage, Prick of the Spindle, the Squaw Valley Review, the Superstition Review, and Hayden’s Ferry Review. She curates community literary programming and is a member of the Quoin Collective, a local letterpress group.
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Contributors’ Notes Beth Woodcome Platow has published poems in Ploughshares, AGNI, Harvard Review, and Gulf Coast among other journals. She received the Grolier Prize, the PEN/New England Discovery Award, and the Beyond Baroque Poetry Prize. Her book of poems, Little Myths, will be published in 2015 by the National Poetry Review. She holds an MFA from Bennington College and is an assistant professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. Jennifer Richter’s second collection, No Acute Distress, has been named the 2014 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Editor’s Selection and will be published in Spring 2016 by Southern Illinois University Press. Her first book, Threshold, was chosen by Natasha Trethewey as a winner of the 2009 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition and by Robert Pinsky as an Oregon Book Award Finalist. She is currently Visiting Poet in Oregon State University’s MFA program. Suzanne Roszak’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Ecotone, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Poet Lore, Redivider, and ZYZZYVA. She is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of California, Irvine. Wesley Rothman’s poems and criticism have appeared in 32 Poems, New England Review, Prairie Schooner, Post Road, Vinyl, and American Microreviews and Interviews, among other venues. Recipient of a Vermont Studio Center fellowship, Rothman is widely involved in publishing, and teaches writing and cultural literatures throughout Boston, Massachusetts. Colette Sartor’s stories have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including the Chicago Tribune, Kenyon Review Online, FiveChapters, Carve, Prairie Schooner, and Colorado Review. Among other awards, she has won a Writers@Work Fiction Fellowship, a Reynolds Price Short Fiction Award, and has received an honorable mention in Best American Short Stories. Learn more about her at colettesartor.com. Amanda Silberling is an undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. Her recent work has appeared in the Louisville Review, SOFTBLOW, the Los Angeles Times, and [PANK] blog. She is the blog editor for the Adroit Journal and writes concert reviews for Rock On Philly. Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes Andrea Witzke Slot writes poetry, fiction, essays, and academic work. She is author of the poetry collection To find a new beauty (Gold Wake Press), and her recent work can be found in Mid-American Review, Poetry East, Southeast Review, Bellevue Literary Review, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and in academic books published by SUNY Press and Palgrave Macmillan. Monica Sok is a Khmer poet from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and is currently pursuing her MFA in poetry at New York University. A Kundiman fellow, her poems are forthcoming in Narrative Magazine, Ghost Fishing, and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. David Starkey served as Santa Barbara’s 2009–2010 Poet Laureate and is Director of the Creative Writing Program at Santa Barbara City College. His poetry has appeared in many journals, including The American Scholar, Georgia Review, and the Southern Review, and in seven full-length collections, most recently Like a Soprano, an episode-by-episode revisioning of The Sopranos television series. Rebecca Starks is editor-in-chief of Mud Season Review, a literary journal run by members of the Burlington Writers Workshop, and she teaches part-time for the Osher Institute of Lifelong Learning at the University of Vermont. Her poems have most recently appeared or are forthcoming in Mezzo Cammin, Antiphon, Raintown Review, Crab Orchard Review, Slice Magazine, and Carolina Quarterly. This is her first fiction publication. Celisa Steele is originally from Arkansas, and now lives in Carrboro, North Carolina, where she serves as the town’s poet laureate. Her poetry has appeared in Anglican Theological Review, Tar River Poetry, Comstock Review, South Carolina Review, Broad River Review, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, and other publications. In 2011, Emrys Press published her first chapbook, How Language Is Lost. Melissa Stein is the author of the poetry collection Rough Honey (American Poetry Review), winner of the APR/Honickman First Book Prize. Her work has appeared in New England Review, APR, Best New Poets, Harvard Review, and many other journals and anthologies. She is a freelance editor and writer in San Francisco, California. Her website is www.melissastein.com. 232 u Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes Jennifer K. Sweeney is the author of three poetry collections: Salt Memory, published by Main Street Rag; How to Live on Bread and Music, which received the James Laughlin Award, the Perugia Press Prize, and was nominated for the Poets’ Prize; and Little Spells, forthcoming from New Issues Press. The recipient of a Pushcart Prize, her poems have appeared in The Academy of American Poets’ Poema-Day series, APR, New American Writing, Poetry Daily, and Verse Daily. Wally Swist has published many books of poetry, including Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love (Southern Illinois University Press) and a new interpretation of The Daodejing of Laozi, with David Breeden and Steven Schroeder (Lamar University Press). Some of his recent poems appear in Commonweal, North American Review, and Rattle. Garrison Keillor read his poem “Radiance” on the daily radio program The Writer’s Almanac. Kenny Tanemura has an MFA in Creative Writing from Purdue University. His poems have appeared in Best New Poets 2013, Iowa Review, Rattle, Chicago Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. He is a PhD candidate in Second Language Studies/ESL at Purdue University. Caroline Tanski is a writer and library assistant in greater Boston, Massachusetts. She earned her MFA from Chatham University, and her work has appeared in Knee-Jerk, Permafrost, burntdistrict, and other publications. D.J. Thielke’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Arts & Letters, New Ohio Review, The Pinch, and Cincinnati Review, among others. She holds an MFA from Vanderbilt University and was the 2013–2014 James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. Jeanie Thompson’s most recent of four poetry collections is The Seasons Bear Us (River City Publishing) and she has published poems in Kenyon Review Online, Southern Women’s Review, The New Sound, Southern Review, and Louisville Review, as well as other journals. “Coming Through Fire” is included in the forthcoming collection, The Myth of Water: Poems from the Life of Helen Keller (University of Alabama Press, 2016). Founding director of the Alabama Writers’ Crab Orchard Review
Contributors’ Notes Forum and twice a Literary Arts Fellow from the Alabama State Council on the Arts, Jeanie Thompson teaches in the Spalding University low residency MFA Writing Program. Brian Tierney is a Wallace Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford University and earned his MFA from the Bennington College Writing Seminars. His work has appeared in the Kenyon Review, AGNI, Best New Poets 2013, Narrative, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and others. He was named as one of Narrative’s “30 Below,” and was first runner-up in the Ploughshares 2013 Emerging Writer’s Contest. He lives in Oakland, California. Emily Van Kley was raised in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula but now makes her home in the Pacific Northwest. Her work has appeared in the Iowa Review, Mississippi Review, Best New Poets 2013, and Floating Bridge Review, among others. She is the recipient of the Iowa Review Award and Florida Review Editors’ Award, and a participant in Tupelo Press’s 30/30 project, September 2014. Chelsea Wagenaar is the author of Mercy Spurs the Bone (Anhinga Press), winner of the 2013 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry, chosen by Philip Levine. Her poems have appeared or been accepted recently in the Southeast Review, Meridian, Plume, and Fugue. She is a doctoral teaching fellow at the University of North Texas and lives in Denton, Texas, with her husband, poet Mark Wagenaar. Patricia Jabbeh Wesley’s exploration of her experience in the Liberian civil war has won the hearts of poetry and peace lovers internationally and in the United States. Her four books of poetry include Where the Road Turns (Autumn House Press), The River is Rising (Autumn House Press), Becoming Ebony (Southern Illinois University Press), and Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa (New Issues Poetry & Prose). She is also the author of a children’s book, In Monrovia, the River Visits the Sea (One Moore Book). Her awards include a 2002 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition Award for Becoming Ebony and the Irving Gilmore Emerging Artist Fellowship, among others. She teaches creative writing and English at Penn State University Altoona.
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Contributors’ Notes Nicolette Wong is the editor in chief of A-Minor Magazine & Press. Her writing has appeared in Thrush, Escape Into Life, E.ratio, and other fine venues. Visit her at http://nicolettew.blogspot.com. Bro. Yao (Hoke S. Glover III) received his MFA in poetry from the University of Maryland at College Park. His work has been published in African American Review, Soulfires, Testimony, and Mosaic. He teaches at Bowie State University and resides in Glenn Dale, Maryland, with his wife and three children. Javier Zamora was born in El Salvador in 1990. When he was nine, he migrated to the United States. He is a CantoMundo fellow and has received scholarships from Breadloaf, Napa Valley, Squaw Valley, and VONA. His poems appear in Best New Poets 2013, Narrative, Ploughshares, Poetry, and elsewhere. He is the recipient of an Olive B. O’Connor Fellowship, an NEA fellowship, and Meridian’s Editor’s Prize.
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The editors wish to thank all of our editorial and production staff, who have made twenty years of publishing the magazine possible with their hard work, intelligence, insight, and good humor. Thanks for everything,
Allison Joseph Editor & Poetry Editor
Carolyn Alessio Prose Editor
Jon Tribble Managing Editor
And our special thanks to our Founding Editor, Richard Peterson.
Crab Orchard Review’s Editorial and Production Staff 1995 – 2015 Tabaré Alvarez Anne Arthurs Ruth Awad Katy Balma Philip Balma Jenna Bazzell Kaitland Beard Scott Beem Helena Bell Diana Bernhard Janelle Blasdel David Bond Mark Borrelli Jacob Boyd K Brattin Mark J. Brewin Bryan Brower Jason Lee Brown Matthew Brown Chris Bryson Timothy W. Bubenik Cole Bucciaglia Stephanie Buffman Sara Burge Allison Campbell Clint Cargile Jung Hae Chae Sean Chapman Anne Clarkin Emily Rose Cole Tracy Conerton Melissa Cornwell Heather Crego
Curtis Crisler Azizat Danmole Ruth Ann Daugherty Hope David Stephenie DeArcangelis Chris Dennis Aaron Deutsch Desiree Dighton Lesley Doyle Melanie Dusseau Joan Dy Teresa Dzieglewicz Jessica Easto Aron Efimenko Barbara Eidlin Jessica Eslinger Bryan Estes Jorge Christopher Evans Kerry James Evans Renee Evans Mark Farnsworth Marc Finch John Flaherty Terri Fletcher Mike Fontana Sandy Fontana Loren Elise Foster Jon Friedler Rachel Furey M. Brett Gaffney Mackie Garrett Camille Gebur Marji Gibbs
236 u Crab Orchard Review
Jim Gill Jennifer Gold Maggie Graber Eric Greenwell Brett Griffiths Joey Hale Reagan Hanley Andrew Harnish Chelsey Harris Douglas Haynes Kelly Heideman Clay Held Justin Herrmann B. Melinda Holmes Margaret Howard Michael Hughes Michael Hulyk Anton Janulis Melanie Jordan Toni Judnitch Deb Jurmu Kevin Kainulainen Martha Kallal Mary Keck Aaron Kellerstrass Chris Kelsey Chris Kennedy Vicky Kepple Jeannie Kernaghan Kathryn Kerr Brenda King Austin Kodra Teresa Kramer
Crab Orchard Review’s Editorial and Production Staff 1995 – 2015 Amy Kucharik Ingrid Moody LaRiviere Shanie Latham Steven Leek Charlie Lemmink Andrew Lewellen David Lott Samantha J. Lopez Cathy Lucas Pete Lucas Alexander Lumans Zach Macholz Tim Marsh Philip Martin Adrian Matejka Jan Matthews Linsey Maughan Sarah McCartt-Jackson Kandace McCoy Keith McElmurry Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum Dalton McGee Kevin McKelvey Amy McKenzie Nancy McKinney Andrew McSorley Elisabeth Meyer Michael Meyerhofer Delaney Mitchell Shawn Andrew Mitchell Lena Mörsch Travis Mossotti Jen Neely Dave Neis Alyssha Nelson Hannah New Season Oesterle Rebecca Oliver Terry Olsen Nick Ostdick Emily Ostendorf John Stanford Owen Lynanne Page
Chad Parmenter Elena Pearson Richard Pechous Benjamin Percy Patty Dickson Pieczka Jan Presley Emily Pruitt Josh Pugh Melanie Richter Adrienne Rivera Cynthia Roth Laura Ruffino Steve Sawyer Max Schleicher Staci R. Schoenfeld Crystal Schroeder Greg Schwipps James Scoles Elisabeth R. Shake Elise Shalda Timothy Shea Courtney Shelby Maggie Shelledy Rachna Sheth Morgan Siewert Ashley Sigmon Alberta Skaggs Kari Skalleberg Luke Skoza Anna Maria Soloff Sara Sowers Brigette Stegall Kristy Stevens Mary Stepp Melissa Stoltz Ira Sukrungruang Mariko Suzuki Lainie Thomas A.K. Thompson Ron Timmons Jonathan Travelstead Will Tyler Mark Vannier
Mary Kate Varnau Jason Vaughan Josh Vinzant Krista Marie Vondras Fred Von Drasek Andrea Wagner Timothy Wagner Jamie Walczak John Wallace Renee Wells Rachel White Elizabeth Whiteacre Amie Whittemore Jamie Wild Jenni Williams Lesa Williams Nikita Williams Courtney Wilson Danny Wilson Sam Wilson J. Dillon Woods Derand E. Wright Desiree Young Melissa Scholes Young Brad Younkin Katie Zapoluch
Crab Orchard Review
the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2010 Editor’s Selection
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
Heavenly Bodies Poems by Cynthia Huntington “This is a poetry of woundedness and defiance. Heavenly Bodies has a stark integrity in its refusals to beguile or comfort; no one could call it uplifting. Yet there is something bracing, even encouraging, in the hungry survival of this sister of Sylvia Plath and in her self-insistence: I do not give up my strangeness for anyone.” —Mark Halliday
“Cynthia Huntington’s Heavenly Bodies is the most searing and frightening book of poetry I have read in years. The poems arise from pain and illness, from the body’s rebellions and betrayals, and yet they are also curiously exhilarating, even redemptive: perhaps because they are utterly free of selfpity, and find the means—through the sustained ferocity and invention of their language—to transform suffering into a vision so bold it must be called prophetic. Heavenly Bodies is a remarkable collection, on every level.” —David Wojahn, author of World Tree
2012 National Book Award Finalist! Copublished with Crab Orchard Review
88 pages, $15.95 paper, ISBN 0-8093-3063-6 978-0-8093-3063-8
Available at major retailers and independent bookstores, or from
southern illinois university press Orders & Inquiries • TEL 800-621-2736 • FAX 800-621-8476 www.siupress.com
the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Series Editor, Jon Tribble
2013 Special Selection
Abide Poems by Jake Adam York “In his body of work, poems of sheer beauty, grace, precision of image, and technical skill, we find a profound intervention into our ongoing conversations about race and social justice, a bold and necessary challenge to our historical amnesia. Jake Adam York is one of our most indispensible American poets, and the presence of his work in the world—his vision, his enduring spirit—is for me, and I think for us all, a guiding light.” —Natasha Trethewey, United States Poet Laureate 2012–2014 “Jake Adam York was the finest elegist of his generation, and his ongoing project, an intricately layered threnody for the martyrs of the civil rights movement, also made him one of the most ambitious poets of that generation.… Abide is, in short, a marvel.” —David Wojahn
2014 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist! Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 96 pages, $15.95 paper ISBN 0-8093-3327-9 978-0-8093-3327-1
Available at major retailers and independent bookstores, or from
southern illinois university press Orders & Inquiries • TEL 800-621-2736 • FAX 800-621-8476 www.siupress.com
the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2013 Open Competition Award
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
Millennial Teeth Poems by Dan Albergotti “Albergotti’s poems are passionate and yet skeptical of the things they are passionate about. He writes of family, love, poetry, and the world around us from the perspective of history, even the perspective of the cosmos, and that knowledge imbues his poems with a cool understanding of the limitations and strengths of his warm heart. Millennial Teeth is a wonderfully ambitious collection of poems that soar while still remaining grounded in the world…” —Andrew Hudgins, author of A Clown at Midnight
“Albergotti… is by turns a religious poet, a formalist of great inventiveness, and a subtle wit.… Even heartbroken, even schooled by loss, Albergotti sings of love. In an age of flash and chatter, this is a book of soulful, serious poems.” —Patrick Phillips, author of Boy
Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 88 pages, $15.95 paper ISBN 0-8093-3353-8 978-0-8093-3353-0
Available at major retailers and independent bookstores, or from
southern illinois university press Orders & Inquiries • TEL 800-621-2736 • FAX 800-621-8476 www.siupress.com
the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Series Editor, Jon Tribble
2013 Open Competition Award
Zion Poems by TJ Jarrett “In Zion, TJ Jarrett maps a new language for reconciling racial and cultural tensions that few poets would have the courage to approach, much less subvert and transform into a conversation of equals. She has a compelling story, she has the ear to make the language sing, the alertness to metaphor to make it interesting, and the drama to make it stick.… TJ Jarrett is a name that we should remember.” —Rodney Jones, author of Imaginary Logic “One simply must relish the superb light and a captured sense of darkness as avenues of lyric survival, the exemplary wealth of both human suffering and wise knowing in these poems that make reading Zion as much a warding off of spirits as it is a celebration of language and remembrance.” —Major Jackson, author of Holding Company Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 88 pages, $15.95 paper ISBN 0-8093-3356-2 978-0-8093-3356-1
Available at major retailers and independent bookstores, or from
the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2013 Editor’s Selection
Series Editor, Jon Tribble
Incarnate Grace Poems by Moira Linehan “If you’ve had breast cancer, breathing while reading these holy poems is difficult, sometimes impossible. If you’re a poet, their breath inflates your lungs with pure pleasure. If you love brilliant poems, you’re a reader. Please read this book!” —Hilda Raz
“Incarnate Grace is a book to cherish.” —Betsy Sholl
“I must be satisfied with my heart, wrote the aging Yeats, who well understood this vow to be a fraught and even terrifying one. Moira Linehan writes of transience and mortality with a Yeatsian delicacy and a Yeatsian ferocity. And in response to the imperiling mysteries of cancer and aging, she offers lyrics of hard-won insight, clarity, and astonishment. The nervy purpose of these poems is to celebrate, as she puts it in one poem, ‘this body, here for the inevitable / disappearing and . . . soothing / a throat left raw by the unspeakable.’ This is a superbly crafted book by a wise and fearless maker.” —David Wojahn
Copublished with Crab Orchard Review
88 pages, $15.95 paper, ISBN 0-8093-3389-9 978-0-8093-3389-9
Available at major retailers and independent bookstores, or from
the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Series Editor, Jon Tribble
2013 First Book Award
Salt Moon Poems by Noel Crook “Crook gives us close-ups of overwhelming desire, deepest tenderness, terror, and stunned love. Salt Moon ranges wide, taking us through contradictory landscapes into instantly recognizable human frailty and bravery. And all of it is singing.” —Betty Adcock, author of Intervale: New and Selected Poems
“I feel carried away by these rapturously perfect poems. Hold any line or stanza in your mind—it bears the exact weight, energy, and detail needed to create the scenes and worlds inhabiting this most potent, tender collection.” —Naomi Shihab Nye, author of Transfer
“From Carolina woods to Texas canyons, from motherhood to slaughter, Noel Crook’s Salt Moon startles with its reach and gratifies with its depth. Don’t miss this exquisite book.” —Barbara Ras, author of The Last Skin
Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 80 pages, $15.95 paper ISBN 0-8093-3387-2 978-0-8093-3387-5
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General/Awards Issue for 2015, Featuring the Winners of Our Annual Fiction, Poetry, & Literary Nonfiction Prizes & Our National Student Writ...
Published on Jul 1, 2015
General/Awards Issue for 2015, Featuring the Winners of Our Annual Fiction, Poetry, & Literary Nonfiction Prizes & Our National Student Writ...