Page 1

The photographs are of the Garden of the Gods Wi l d e r n e s s , w h i c h i s situated in southeastern Illinois.

In this volume:

CR AB ORCH AR D •

REVIEW

published by the Department of English

Dawn Manning Bridget Menasche Mary Meriam David Mills Christina Misite George Moore John Morgan Leah Nielsen Jude Nutter Frank Paino Rachael Peckham M.H. Perry Mary Pinard John Poch Iain Haley Pollock Marielle Prince Billy Reynolds Helena Rho Paige Riehl Emily Rosko Clare Rossini Emily Schulten Rob Shapiro Molly Spencer Neha Srivastava Jessica Temple Alison Townsend Afaa M. Weaver Gabriel Welsch Lesley Wheeler Ruth Williams Keith S. Wilson Margot Wizansky Mary Wysong-Haeri

in print 1995–2018 final print issue

ISSN 1083-5571 $20.00

Double Issue

CO R

Annie Finch Susan Finch Kate Gale Nicole Caruso Garcia Katherine Gordon Vince Gotera Carrie Green Benjamin S. Grossberg Paul Guest Carmella de los Angeles Guiol C.G. Hadsell Marina Hatsopoulos Laura Haynes Elise Hempel Lisa Higgs Anna Claire Hodge Karen Paul Holmes Elizabeth Hoover Rob Howell Michael Hurley Christina Hutchins Julie Swarstad Johnson Rodney Jones Jen Karetnick Kara Krewer Kasandra Larsen Paige Lewis Paul Lindholdt Moira Linehan Allison Linville Nancy Chen Long George Looney Tenley Lozano Kristine Langley Mahler

Volume 22

Dilruba Ahmed Kaveh Akbar Jeffrey Alfier Christopher Todd Anderson Linda Ashok William Auten Mary Jean Babic Sara Baker Stacey Balkun KB Ballentine Julie E. Bloemeke Eileen M.K. Bobek Marion Starling Boyer Judy Brackett Amanda Brahlek Kim Bridgford Charles Clifford Brooks III Leila Chatti Kelly Cherry Charlie Clark Tiana Clark Andrew Collard Clare Cross John Crutchfield Carlos Cunha Tricia Currans-Sheehan Tatum Cush Allison Pitinii Davis Ann V. DeVilbiss Nancy Wayson Dinan Chelsea Dingman Rachel Edelman Nausheen Eusuf Kerry James Evans

Crab Orchard Review

Cover: Six photographs by Jon Tribble © 2017

Crab Orchard Review $20.00us Volume 22


A B ORCH AR R C D •

REVIEW


CR AB ORCH AR D •

REVIEW

A Journal of Creative Works

Vols. 22 Nos. 1 & 2

“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 Bartosz Dziegielewski

Assistant Editors Isiah Fish Ira Kelson Hatfield Anna Knowles Meghann Plunkett Nibedita Sen

SIU Press Intern Chelsey Harris Board of Advisors Ellen Gilchrist Charles Johnson Rodney Jones Thomas Kinsella Richard Russo

2018 ISSN 1083-5571

Web Developer Meghann Plunkett

The Department of English Southern Illinois University Carbondale


Address all correspondence to:

Crab Orchard Review

Department of English Faner Hall 2380 - Mail Code 4503 Southern Illinois University Carbondale 1000 Faner Drive Carbondale, Illinois 62901 Crab Orchard Review (ISSN 1083-5571) is published once a year by the Department of English, Southern Illinois University Carbondale. We are currently transitioning from a print subscriptionbased publication to a online-only free publication. This transition will take place in Fall 2017. Single issues of our last two print editions, both double issues, are $20 (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 is moving to an online-only publication in the Fall of 2017. Crab Orchard Review accepts no responsibility for unsolicited submissions and will not enter into correspondence about their loss or delay. Copyright © 2018 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,” 6 December 2017, 2400 copies printed, order number #180990. 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:

CrabOrchardReview.siu.edu


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, Lana Fritsch, Lynanne Page, Angela Moore-Swafford, Wayne Larsen, and Kristine Priddy of Southern Illinois University Press Bev Bates, Heidi Estel, David Lingle, Patty Norris, Joyce Schemonia, and Bernadette Summerville Dr. David Anthony, Pinckney Benedict, 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 wishes to express its special thanks to our generous Charter Members/Benefactors, Patrons, Donors, and Supporting Subscribers listed on the following page whose contributions make the publication of this journal possible. Address all contributions to:

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 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

Dan Albergotti Carolyn Alessio & Jeremy Manier Anonymous Pinckney & Laura Benedict Edward Brunner & Jane Cogie* Linda L. Casebeer Noel Crook Dwayne Dickerson* Jack Dyer* Joan Ferrell* John Guyon*

PATRONS Eugenie & Roger Robinson Nat Sobel Betty Tribble David & Laura Tribble Clarisse Zimra

Robert E. Hayes Chris Kelsey Jesse Lee Kercheval Lisa J. McClure Anita Peterson

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


CR AB ORCH AR D •

REVIEW

General issue

Volume 22, Number 1

Fiction Mary Jean Babic Carmella de los Angeles Guiol

Long Meadow

12

Mango Season

38

Marina Hatsopoulos

Road out of Damascus

63

Rob Howell

The Spillway

86

Nonfiction Prose Eileen M.K. Bobek

The Field

114

Tenley Lozano

Submerged

121

Kristine Langley Mahler

Slight

143

Helena Rho

Parallel Universe

152

Lesley Wheeler

Women Stay Put

170

Mary Wysong-Haeri

Alashtar

179


Poetry Dilruba Ahmed

When Are You Afraid?

1

Kaveh Akbar

Wake Me Up When It’s My Birthday

3

Jeffrey Alfier

How You and I Forget Reno Foreign Fool in Andaluciá

4 5

Linda Ashok

When You Talk about a Dead Deer Promises We Make

6 7

Stacey Balkun

Variations on Honey

8

Amanda Brahlek

In the Raw

11

Kim Bridgford

Why People in Their Fifties Read Mystery Books Over the Hill The Suicide Realizes That Reincarnation Is Just This The Suicide’s Soul Finds Itself Inside a Snowglobe The Suicide’s Soul Rests on a Fox Stole in a Vintage Clothing Shop

25

Charles Clifford Brooks III

The Shadow of Blue Crawford Contains a Man Gaudí

30

Leila Chatti

Cousins

32

Andrew Collard

Car Crash in Reverse

34

John Crutchfield

Black Locust

35

Chelsea Dingman

How a Woman Uses the Wind Stillborn

36 37

Nausheen Eusuf

Nocturne on a Winter Night

47

Kerry James Evans

The Chicken Pot Pie Ballad

48

26 27 28 29

31


Annie Finch

Elegy at the Blood Moon

49

Kate Gale Nicole Caruso Garcia

Terrible stories

50

The Pope’s Vagina Annual Giving

52 53

Paul Guest

Personal Philosophy I Want

55 57

C.G. Hadsell Elise Hempel

Winter 1946,

59

The Misplaced Girl

61

Lisa Higgs

Unfamiliar Country From a Wealth of Hearts

75 76

Anna Claire Hodge

How to be Fabulous

77

Elizabeth Hoover

The Birds of Pennsylvania

78

Christina Hutchins

Sappho to the Man from Gdansk

79

Julie Swarstad Johnson

What the Susquehanna Tells Me about Blood

82

Rodney Jones

The Association

84

Kara Krewer

Away from Wind Street Call Center Sleepover On the Way to See Chinatown

97 99 101 102

Paige Lewis

The Crowd

103

Nancy Chen Long

Saving My Mother

104

David Mills

Murder’s Milk Assignment Deem Me: Piter/Pater

106 107 109

Leah Nielsen

Aubade

112


Jude Nutter

Ianua: My Father’s Rhythm Strip

129

Paige Riehl

Restraint

133

Emily Rosko

A Phase

134

Clare Rossini

The Artisanal The Field, June The Boy Who Spent a Day in a Tree In the House of My Childhood, I Waken

135 137 139 141

Emily Schulten Rob Shapiro

Murmuration

160

Photograph: Massachusetts, 1994

161

Jessica Temple

Picture of Two Girls Reading Ondria Tanner and Her Grandmother Window-shopping, Mobile, Alabama, 1956

162 163

Afaa M. Weaver

Never the One Thing Pet Store on Milton Avenue Exhibit of the Invisible, Item A

164 165 166

Gabriel Welsch Keith S.Wilson

At the Department of Transportation’s Public Meeting

167

God Particle

168

Contributors’ Notes

350


CR AB ORCH AR D •

REVIEW

Special Issue

Volume 22, Number 2

Fiction William Auten Sara Baker

Cloudbreak

191

A Change in the Weather

200

Tricia Currans-Sheehan

The Tornado Spotter

223

Nancy Wayson Dinan

Let Darkness Overtake You

232

Susan Finch

Everybody Has a Flood Story

250

John Poch

Luck

259

Nonfiction Prose Carlos Cunha

Happiness in Winter

275

Paul Lindholdt

My Climate Change

279

Rachael Peckham

In Patches: Of Fog and Flying

299

Neha Srivastava

Petrichor

313

Alison Townsend

My Life in Rain

326

Ruth Williams

Storm Chasing

336


Poetry Christopher Todd Anderson

The Weather and Other Reports

211

KB Ballentine

Rain, in Parallel Lines

213

Julie E. Bloemeke Marion Starling Boyer Judy Brackett

Pulse Storm

214

Old Ben, Smacksman

216

Avalanche Country

217

Kelly Cherry

Meterology

218

Charlie Clark

Mr. Dreamy

219

Tiana Clark

Freelove in Retrograde

240

Clare Cross

Baby Born During Tornado

242

Tatum Cush

Hypothermia

244

Allison Pitinii Davis Ann V. DeVilbiss Rachel Edelman

The Neighborhood Girls Watch the New WKBN Meterologist

245

Spell to Bring the Fall

246

Dungeness Spit

247

Katherine Gordon Vince Gotera Carrie Green

Christmas Pudding Made with Snow

249

How Clara Met Santiago: A Pantoum

266

Lagette Experiences a Northern Rain

268

Benjamin S. Grossberg

“Cold Is Very Hard on Mechanical Systems�

270

Laura Haynes Karen Paul Holmes

The way she runs in rivulets down the windshield,

272

Jesus Crows in Georgia

273


Michael Hurley

A Persimmon,

274

Jen Karetnick

Plexiglass Suburbia Slough Slogging in the Dry Season

286 287

Kasandra Larsen

Neptune Direct, under Cloud Cover

288

Moira Linehan

Let Me Come Back in September Storm Line No Rain Allowed

289 290 292

Allison Linville

Obligation, North Obligation, East Obligation, South Obligation, West

293 294 295 296

George Looney

Psalms on Sheet Metal with Margaritas

297

Dawn Manning

Map Making for Ex-Missionaries

316

Bridget Menasche

Fugue

317

Mary Meriam

Hot and Cold October

319

Christina Misite

A Little Scared of Wind

320

George Moore

South Shore Weather The Marble Towns Ruins Near Neรฐri-รs, Iceland

321 322 323

John Morgan

Stray Thoughts on Aging

324

Frank Paino

Skeleton Lake

338

M.H. Perry

Reconfiguring the Borders of the Inhabitable World

341

Mary Pinard

Driving to the End of the Storm

342

Iain Haley Pollock

The Properties of Solid Phase Materials

343

Marielle Prince

September

345


Billy Reynolds

Still Life in a Jerry Garcia Crossroad Tie

346

Molly Spencer

Four Views of November

347

Margot Wizansky

Southwestern

349

Contributors’ Notes

350


A Note on Our Cover This cover features six photographs by Jon Tribble. The photographs are of the Garden of the Gods Wilderness, which is situated in southeastern Illinois.


The 2017 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 2017 Richard Peterson Poetry Prize, Jack Dyer Fiction Prize, and John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize. In poetry, the winning entry is “Ianua: My Father’s Rhythm Strip” by Jude Nutter of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The judge, Allison Joseph, selected two finalists in poetry, and they are “The Misplaced Girl” by Elise Hempel of Charleston, Illinois, and “Sappho to the Man from Gdansk” by Christina Hutchins, of Albany, California. In fiction, the winning entry is “The Spillway” by Rob Howell of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The judge, Allison Joseph, selected two finalists in fiction, and they are “Long Meadow” by Mary Jean Babic of Brooklyn, New York, and “Road out of Damascus” by Marina Hatsopoulos of Boston, Massachusetts. In literary nonfiction, the winning entry is “Submerged” by Tenley Lozano of San Diego, California. The judge, Jon Tribble, selected two finalists in literary nonfiction, and they are “Tracking Foxes” by Cate Hennessey of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, and “Alashtar” by Mary Wysong-Haeri of Portland, Oregon. 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.


The Winners of the 2017 Richard Peterson Poetry Prize, Jack Dyer Fiction Prize, and John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize

2017 Richard Peterson Poetry Prize Winner

“Ianua: My Father’s Rhythm Strip” by Jude Nutter (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

2017 Jack Dyer Fiction Prize Winner

“The Spillway” by Rob Howell (Houston, Texas)

2017 John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize Winner

“Submerged” by Tenley Lozano (San Diego, California)


The 2016 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 Amanda Brahlek (McNeese State University, Lake Charles, Louisiana) is the winner of the 2016 Allison Joseph Poetry Award for her poem “In the Raw.” Carmella de los Angeles Guiol (University of South Florida in Tampa) is the winner of the 2016 Charles Johnson Fiction Award for her story “Mango Season.” Kristine Langley Mahler (University of Nebraska Omaha) is the winner of the 2016 Rafael Torch Literary Nonfiction Award for her piece “Slight.” The entries for this year’s COR Student Writing Awards were outstanding and we wanted to mention the other finalists in each category: In poetry— “How to Stay Awake on a Training Exercise” by Graham Barnhart (The Ohio State University) “Father” by Lesya Bazylewicz (Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars) “Volver, Volver” by Ariana Brown (University of Texas at Austin) In fiction— “Aid Station” by Mason Boyles (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) “Pushing Back” by Kelly Dalke (University of New Hampshire) “The Shuffle” by Katrina Grella (New Hampshire Institute of Art) “Groundhogs” by Tanya Smith (University of Southern Mississippi) “Peeling Doves” by Faerl Marie Torres (University of New Mexico) In literary nonfiction— “Basketball Dreaming” by Ayendy Bonifacio (The Ohio State University) “Only a Memory” by Susan Lerner (Butler University) “Indian Summer” by Susan Triemert (Hamline University) “Fubar” and “To Hope” by Kathryn Wilder (Institute of American Indian Arts)


The 2016 COR Student Writing Award Winners

2016 Allison Joseph Award Winner

“In the Raw” by Amanda Brahlek McNeese State University (Jacksonville, Florida)

2016 Charles Johnson Fiction Award Winner

“Mango Season” by Carmella de los Angeles Guiol University of South Florida (St. Petersburg, Florida)

2016 Rafael Torch Literary Nonfiction Award Winner

“Slight” by Kristine Langley Mahler

University of Nebraska Omaha (Ralston, Nebraska)


The 2017 COR Special Issue Feature Awards in Poetry, Fiction, and Literary Nonfiction We are pleased to announce the winners of the 2017 COR Special Issue Feature Awards in Poetry, Fiction, and Literary Nonfiction. The winners were selected by the editors of Crab Orchard Review. In poetry, our winner is Frank Paino of Berea, Ohio, for his poem “Skeleton Lake.” In fiction, the winner is Susan Finch of Nashville, Tennessee, for her story “Everybody Has a Flood Story.” In literary nonfiction, the winner is Rachael Peckham of Huntington, West Virginia, for her nonfiction piece “In Patches: Of Fog and Flying.” The winner in each genre category—Poetry, Fiction, and Literary Nonfiction—is published in this issue and received a $2000.00 award. All entries were asked to fit the special topic section of the last print double issue, “Weather Reports: All About the Weather.” We looked for work that covered any of the many possibilities in how we think about and experience the weather through science, history, popular culture, art, and our own lives.


The Winners of the 2017 COR Special Issue Feature Awards in Poetry, Fiction, and Literary Nonfiction

2017 Special Issue Feature Award Winner in Poetry

“Skeleton Lake” by Frank Paino (Berea, Ohio)

2017 Special Issue Feature Award Winner in Fiction

“Everybody Has a Flood Story” by Susan Finch (Nashville, Tennessee)

2017 Special Issue Feature Award Winner in Literary Nonfiction

“In Patches: Of Fog and Flying” by Rachael Peckham (Huntington, West Virginia)


Dilruba Ahmed When Are You Afraid? Sometimes the rising pellets of someone shouting in the dark. The shriek of tires, the rattle of scattering cans. Another yard with overgrown vines savaging the side of a house. The boarded up windows. The traces of life—a stray light in the attic, starved cat on warped steps. I fear my new neighbor: the too-shiny car, his habit of smoking on his porch while my children strike shovels against dry dirt. When the windows are open. When the windows are shut. When the park is empty and I stroll there with my infant among twitching bucket swings, the too-full cans of trash. When the man near the bank calls from a stalled van Smile pretty lady and I try to make my face as ugly and and as mean as possible, glaring into his eyes until he says with hands up that he didn’t mean nothing by it. Listen: I do not want to smile. This strange man calling out

Crab Orchard Review

u

1


Dilruba Ahmed to me, his friend silently watching from inside the rusted door. On highways, in parking lots. Unlocked doors, locked. When I am walking. When I am sleeping. When I’m in the world. When I am not. When I am with a crowd. When I’m alone. When I watch the nightly news. When I don’t. The shadows lit into motion near my garage, the smell of toxins in my home—

2

u

Crab Orchard Review


Kaveh Akbar Wake Me Up When It’s My Birthday Brow-wrinkling beloveds—shhhh. What I do to my body is nobody’s business. Practice ignoring whatever you’re able: the names I forget, my mistimed erections, teeth marks I leave in your gold. It’s amazing what you can find if you just dissect everything. Once I pulled a glowing crystal from my beard and buried it in the earth. The next day I went to the spot and dug up a silver trumpet I still haven’t learned to play. Jealousy, sexual or otherwise, begins with touch— tears fall on a stone and the stone suddenly wants eyes; a countess is fished from the ocean and her pearls slip quiet into the captain’s pocket. Take it all out on me. Or, take it up with my maker, who is right now stiff with guilt sitting in heaven, chainchewing whitening gum. In the first language, the word for bridge translates to death by water. The iron law of congestion: traffic expands to flood any available space. Keep a soul open and it’s bound to fill up with scum. It’s all I can do to quiver in and out of my jeans each day, to keep my fingers out of the wrong mouths. A man creates the most joy in the abstract, when you can remove his actual body, its shear carapace and bleeding gums. Cut it away, the entire boring envelope, and marvel at what remains: a pulsing vacuum bag stuffed with rubies and bone spurs, a pink lighthouse only barely heavier than its light.

Crab Orchard Review

u

3


Jeffrey Alfier How You and I Forget Reno This is the spring for archery, for harvesting drowsy rattlesnakes — clubbed in granite shadows, not for bucket list holidays on the Seine or Rhine. It’s time for power hikes up the Amargosa range, switchbacks rumored home to pumas and burros, not for boardroom sermons that never end. Let’s flee the internet, Facebook’s overloaded circuit. Time to break in the knockoff boots, bought on the cheap in Chihuahua. Forget the city, your brokerage schemes, the crack in our swimming pool, Fernley Speedway where you crashed, the eyesore whores dressed devil red downtown. Call our escape a miracle. We’ll settle for protein bars downed with heady sips of mezcal at some mill, ore bin or flywheel, rusting under clumps of desert willow. We could spend our life in free refills. But we dare to harness what’s wild, cut our own paths to breathe this cathedral of blue air. We’ve already found jimsonweed and ghost-flowers, the inviting dark of abandoned mines. I bet you’re thinking, This is the trouble with love. I have to go with him. Come on. We need to grow a few footprints. They didn’t name it Last Chance Mountain for nothing. Here: take this bottle. Break it in. Then tell me where I should take you beyond all this.

4

u

Crab Orchard Review


Jeffrey Alfier

Foreign Fool in Andalucía My tack was south—Huelva and the bay of Cádiz, sunlight wild on my back. April redressed winter, bled unhindered over Rio Tinto, through orchards weather leaned on with storms, nether roads of wildflowers crazed with light, the simple map of a farmer’s face, his hands gnarled like ancient truths. On the coast, I found no hotel with a vacant room, so spent the night in oleander thickets a mere hundred yards from shore. Deadfall leaves buffered me from hard earth. I woke untold times, dreamt heavily toward morning. Bone-sore and muscle-haggard, I gathered myself, found a bus back to Seville. You can bet I was the only foreigner ambling the coast that early, anonymous as a frigate bird. But I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s how a fool falls in love with a foreign harbor.

Crab Orchard Review

u

5


Linda Ashok When You Talk about a Dead Deer

for Kelli Russell Agodon

The buds in my garden respond to such grief with a refusal to open up their petals in full light. Air, dank with sorrow, makes my garden smell like a cemetery. Ghosts juggle in the bath under feet and I can only hear a trombone, a devastating note grafted by the wind on my broken cello still living with a heart and two kidneys. The flowers in my garden (once a forest till my last lover made me this tomb of four walls here to beat the snow and reach the last breath with as less anguish for death possible) were untamable, they chased the deer and the lost alike. The lost dropped one by one, so did the deer. Grief stilled their bloom until my wild hands relieved them of the guilt, and they became tamer. When you talk about a dead deer, it reminds me of the builder of my nest who sailed tons of musk pods down the Yangtse to a bustling metropolis and wondered how someone’s horror, someone’s pain can be sold for money. He then died here, in redemption, and in his body was impermanence sculpted of regret, of a lifetime measured by dead deer.

6

u

Crab Orchard Review


Linda Ashok

Promises We Make for A.B. I’ll send you over the moon, and you’ll break the stars and bring to my dark body the milk of heaven. I’ll send you over the planets, and you can read to the cosmos stories of our bodies dumbfound, dead, after a night long laceration of the waves. I’ll send fireflies to the lighthouse to be able to signal the world that you aren’t alone and your flesh will soon be phosphorescence, eaten by me, bemused. I heard you. Read all the messages. Then marked them unread so you think and still hope for my response some day when I am around. I am already in it. I just do not want to tell you that I am waiting, waiting for the musk in your belly to press against mine and squash the pods and release the dizzy essence of belonging. I have heard you. Just waiting for your battle to be over to begin a new ours where I’ll be your candy and you, my rogue.

Crab Orchard Review

u

7


Stacey Balkun Variations on Honey …The fault of the body and the soul —that they are not one— —Charles Olson, “Variations Done for Gerald Van De Wiele”

I. Fireweed Apiarists use forklifts to raise boxed hives wrapped in packing tape, my heart all over the place as the bees are loaded onto semis. The New Year has come early here in the Central Valley with a warmth that pinches my wings, pushes me to fly south to an ex who has a wife now, who owns a house far from the freeways flocked with trucks full of produce. I move through the gridlock orchards and fields, my past now shared with a stranger while the lost ones buzz against truck exhaust.

II. Mad It’s where the rhododendrons blossom, where past intersects present. Staring

8

u

Crab Orchard Review


Stacey Balkun at the ceiling fan, I concentrate on time travel: grip my fists so I can see the maps of my forearms and then I’m in so many cities at once: yes that garden apartment still exists with wood paneling and an old cabinet TV. Yes, he’s there and we’re watching Children of the Corn, still static with New Year’s champagne and the madness that made us want each other as bodies, as mouths that would touch but never speak. I hear all this thrumming, all at once, the taste of apples, our madnessgrappled bodies furious in their borrowing of each other. The mileage signs keep proving how far I am from home. It stings. Maybe we make honey with what’s left.

III. Manuka What’s left? I gave up his body when he gave up on me one February and the orchards bloomed all at once like we bloomed

Crab Orchard Review

u

9


Stacey Balkun into each other with the whir of my small heartbeat, or the bees left behind, pollen scattered against the freeway dust.

10

u

Crab Orchard Review


Amanda Brahlek In the Raw Chalmette Sugar Refinery Let our bodies crack like cane that spills sweet water over mouths and tongues. Let them eat the cake of our intercourse— boiled breath of sugary burnings: a third course of moans and cries. Let me welcome you to the circus of my body-refinery The children tour my curves and conveyors. The children do not smile. Let them smile. Let the beetle bone fling from your throat as the machine calls for more, the gears grind for more, more scorched syrup, more thighs. Let the chambers of your heart choke with sorghum. Nothing is stored there, anyway. Blood is brown, here. Let real men love Jesus and Texas, but in Louisiana, real men love sweets and hips that sway like cane fields. Let me stalk your stalks. Let me quiver for your sugar. Let me steep in your syrup. Let me steam from your chimney. Let me cloud like crows over your red brick buildings.

Crab Orchard Review

u

11


Mary Jean Babic Long Meadow He materialized in the middle distance like a dragonfly, all at

once there and in motion, bobbing across Frisbee games and napping couples toward the edge of the grass where Susan sat next to the stroller in the only unoccupied patch of shade she’d been able to find. Bodies covered the Long Meadow like solar panels absorbing heat for the winter. It was the last golden afternoon of the year and all of Brooklyn, it seemed, had flocked to Prospect Park for one last idyll. The man’s oversized, jerking movements were not of a piece with his unmoving eyes. With each pounding step he picked up speed. Susan, peripherally aware of the man’s approach, remained seated with her book, wary but confident that, like all city walkers, even the crazies, this one would pass by. Only at the last second, detecting an ionic sizzle in the air, did she throw an arm across Owen, who was slumped forward against the stroller’s restraints, asleep. The next instant the man was upon her. He grabbed her shoulder, half-lifted her off the ground, and struck her in the jaw, all the momentum of his meadow-crossing poured into the force of the blow. The next blow smashed her cheek, the crunch of bone like a bicycle chain dropping on concrete. There were blows to her chin, the other cheek, her collarbone, each one a crushing removal, a negation: no more of this. Fully ten witnesses later reported that, after appearing out of nowhere, the man had lunged at Susan and pinned her down with his knee. Yet she would always recall a cushion of space above her, as if the man had hovered in the air while raining down blows with freakishly long arms. That would stay an intractable memory, as would the neatly buttoned cuffs on the man’s yellow shirt. It took three grown men to pull him off—two brothers and their father, who’d been tossing a ball with the brothers’ kids one blanket over. Susan awoke in the hospital. “Owen! Owen!” But no words came out because her mouth was wired shut. A nurse appeared at her bedside. Behind the nurse, the goings-on of an emergency room, glimpsed through a gap in the divider. Beside the nurse, Ben, his face marbled with fatigue. It was the memory of a man that had awoken her. Not her attacker: a second man, short, hunched over, wearing a brown fedora. And this second man had, while Susan was being beaten, reached into the stroller, lifted Owen out, thrown him over his shoulder and scuttled off across the

12

u

Crab Orchard Review


Mary Jean Babic meadow. Through her attacker’s thrashing limbs Susan spotted her son’s red, howling face receding into the slanted green light, his arms reaching hysterically toward her. Then a fresh hit obliterated the picture. “Oh my God.” Ben crumpled into a chair and pressed his hands to his forehead. “Oh God, Susan.” “Wnn.” Her fingers fluttered lightly. Ben took a deep breath. “You’re going to be fine.” He spoke slowly. “You’ll be in pain for a while, but you will be fine. You were—” he swallowed, “attacked, you were attacked, but the police already have the guy—” The drugs had blunted but not eradicated the pain. She perceived the throbbing in her head and upper body like low, distant lights on a foggy waterfront. Susan tried again to speak, but only a throaty wheeze came out. “—gone off his meds—” “Gnnn!”   Ben stopped. Susan opened her eyes and beamed the word “Owen” into the air so hard that tears seeped out. Hopefully Ben would get it. Hopefully the assumption of shared parental devotion, at least, was still there. And Ben did get it. “Owen is fine,” he said while the nurse checked Susan’s blood pressure. “My mom is with the kids.” Susan closed her eyes as Ben outlined her journey to the hospital: While her rescuers were subduing her attacker, their wives had pushed Owen’s stroller to safety. Someone called 911. The EMTs had carried Susan on a stretcher from the meadow to the ambulance waiting on the park’s outer drive. One of the wives hopped into the ambulance with her, while the rest of the family pushed Owen, still asleep, the several blocks to the hospital. “They didn’t want to wake him,” Ben said reverently. The wives had also gathered up Susan’s blanket, book, and bag, which now hung like an ancient relic from a hook by the door. They’d found her phone and deduced from texts that Ben was her husband. When Ben showed up at the hospital, he’d found Owen sitting on one of the women’s laps, placidly eating Ritz crackers. “They were amazing.” Ben looked out the window. The muscles worked along his neck, biting back emotion. “A fucking amazing family.” When she next opened her eyes, she had been moved to a room. Darkness was advancing outside. Ben stood next to the bed, holding Owen. “Mama!” Owen lurched eagerly at Susan’s wired, patched body. “Whoa, Bud-Bud.” Ben caught him right before he fell onto Susan. The sight of Owen made Susan feel weaker, which she would not have thought possible. Born in the tenth year of their marriage, raised without siblings or nearby cousins, Owen had always breathed the air of mature surroundings. But this: he seemed fundamentally different than he had that morning, as if childhood, adolescence and young adulthood had been compressed into a few hours, landing him in middle age while still saddled with a three-year-old body.

Crab Orchard Review

u

13


Mary Jean Babic “Hi, Mama,” he said. “I’m sorry.” She tried to pull her face into a smile, but she had no way of telling what actually appeared there. The next morning a detective came to her room, carrying a book of mug shots. Mostly a formality; her rescuers had IDed the man. And the man himself, a well-known local schizophrenic with more than a few priors, had confessed at once. He’d told the police that Susan was the landlord who’d evicted his family when his father lost his job thirty years ago in Ohio. The detective assured Susan that he was going in for a mental health eval and would be off the streets for a while. At some point there’d be court proceedings in which Susan would have to take part. The detective showed her a photo of the man everyone agreed was her attacker. Susan felt no shock of recognition. The sun had been behind him, leaving her with only the image of a hazy, jumpy silhouette. He was older than she would have thought, mid-sixties, with close-cropped graying hair and a forehead deeply carved by a life of evals and priors. The ravenous eyes that stared out were rooted in another time and place, entirely divorced from the room in which someone was pointing a camera at him. Other than the buttoned cuffs, she couldn’t recall much about him. But all the other witnesses had said this was the guy, so she leaned back, closed her eyes and nodded: that’s him. What was not hazy was the memory of the second man. Short, hunched inside a shapeless brown jacket, a brown fedora topping his rodentlike face. He had scuttled up to the stroller, lifted Owen out and dodged off across the Long Meadow. Scuttle, lift, dodge; scuttle, lift, dodge—the sequence played in Susan’s mind on a continuous reel. And Owen, screaming and red, disappearing into the light. Susan sat up slightly and gestured for something to write with. Ben handed her his phone with an open text window. She tapped out The other? and lifted the phone for them to see. The detective squinted at the screen. “Other what?” Ben, standing next to the detective, read over her shoulder, his bottom lip overlapping his top one. Man who took Owen, she wrote. The detective glanced at Ben. He shrugged and cast a wary look at Susan. “Ma’am,” the detective said, trim and sharp in her beige pantsuit and diamond-patterned blouse, “there were no accounts of anyone else at the scene. Or anything involving your son. Ten eyeballs and their stories all line up.” “Those women found Owen in his stroller,” Ben reminded her. “He slept through the whole thing. You saw him yesterday. He’s completely fine.” She closed her eyes, longing to sleep through everything herself. “Ma’am,” the detective said, not unkindly, “you were being severely attacked at that moment. The brain, under duress, it sees things sometimes. But thankfully it didn’t happen that way. Right?”

14

u

Crab Orchard Review


Mary Jean Babic “I’m relieved,” Ben said, retrieving his phone. “Definitely.” Another interval. She awoke again, full daylight, closed her eyes against it. The pain had settled in, made itself at home. She could feel the colors of bruising—red, blue, purple—pooling under her skin, waiting their turns to blossom on the surface. Like perfume masking a rotting carcass, the pain medication worked just enough to stave off total agony. There were people in the room—Ben, his mother, Owen. Everything felt far off, as though the room were enormous. She absolutely could not open her eyes. She didn’t hear Owen but she heard Ben whispering to him, Mommy’s sleeping. A week later she was going home. In her room, a nurse untied her hospital gown and slipped it down her arms. Ben stood behind them, with a view of Susan’s back. From the bag of clothes he’d brought, the nurse withdrew a bra. It was her worst one, all stretched out with one hook missing. Susan hadn’t worn it in months. The nurse positioned the cups against Susan’s breasts and grunted over the misaligned clasps, finally fastening them diagonally. Then she pulled out a sweatshirt and tugged it over Susan’s head, stretching the fabric to guide Susan’s arms into the sleeves without raising her shoulders too much. “Couldn’t have brought a button-up shirt?” the nurse muttered. If Ben heard her, he didn’t say anything. When an orderly showed up in the room with a wheelchair, Susan tried to wave him off. She could walk out on her own. The orderly closed his eyes and shook his head “Hospital regulations.” “I’ll push,” Ben offered. Susan wanted the orderly to push, hoping that was also a hospital regulation, but he said nothing when Ben took up his position. She gripped the handlebars as, unseen behind her, Ben piloted the chair down the hall, into the elevator, and down six floors to the lobby. He went too fast, barely slowing even over the bumps and gaps on the edge of the elevator. She couldn’t tell him to stop and she hurt too much to turn around and gesture to him. By the time he slammed her to a halt in the lobby, her heart was pounding. Ben’s mother was waiting with Owen, who immediately climbed into Susan’s lap. His corporeality still felt fleeting, unreal. She ran her hands through his wavy blonde hair, over his gourd-shaped head, along his arms, down his bony back, scanning for signs of distress. He didn’t seem to remember anything about the attack, but was that really true? What unseen damage was lying in wait to surface years from now, like her bruises in super slow motion? They sat just inside the automatic doors as Ben got the car, late November air blasting them each time someone walked in. With Owen squirming on her lap and her bra riding up her breasts, Susan could hardly sit still from discomfort. Finally Ben came around with the car and she was riding home. Seven blocks, a distance barely noticed before, now unwalkable.

Crab Orchard Review

u

15


Mary Jean Babic A “Welcome home, Mommy!” banner with pictures of a robot and what looked like fireworks hung on the entrance below the stoop. Inside, the house sparkled with her mother-in-law’s competitive housekeeping. The first thing Susan did was dash straight to the bathroom to remove her bra; she did not want Ben to have to help her with it later. Slowly, gingerly, she withdrew her arms from her sleeves and, with the sweatshirt bunched around her neck, slipped down the straps and then turned the bra so the clasps were in the front. Then she undid the bra and threw it in the garbage. After a celebratory meal—for Susan, a can of Ensure and a straw— and many thanks and reassurances that everyone would be fine, Ben’s mother was packed off back to New Jersey. Susan deposited herself onto the couch. Owen promptly climbed onto her lap and probed the metal armature in her mouth. “Can you brush your teeth?” he asked. She seesawed her hand; so-so. “You’ll be good to tell secrets to. Mommy.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “What if you have to throw up?” Susan lifted a finger and stood; they had instructed her on this in the hospital. She hooked her fingers into the sides of her mouth, pulled her cheeks apart and bent over at the waist, then with swooshing hand motions traced the path of vomit out of her body. The liquid vomit from her liquid diet, they’d told her, should gush right out through the gaps between her teeth. But she should keep wire cutters handy, just in case she started choking. Owen toppled over laughing. “Mommy, that’s crazy!” It still was hard to be with him. Her relief at his safety was indistinguishable from the dread of losing him again. “But you never throw up,” Owen said, nodding to himself. This was true, legendary in their family. Susan had not thrown up, from a bad hot dog, since she was eight. Neither alcohol excesses, nor pregnancy, nor medicine-soaked hospitalization had broken the streak. Thirty-one years. Susan had once, privately, checked to see if it might actually be a world record but found that it wasn’t a category Guinness tracked. After he got Owen to bed—it had taken seven books to wind the boy down from the day’s excitement—Ben came downstairs and settled himself on the other end of the sofa at the very minute Susan was about to get up and go to bed. She was exhausted and desperately looking forward to a night not spent in the hospital. Ben, she knew, wouldn’t protest if she went up to bed. He was very good at not protesting. Which was why she stayed on the couch. They hadn’t been alone together since before her attack, coming home from that last disastrous session with Dr. Fong. Not that the previous four sessions had been anything other than run-ups to the disaster. It could hardly have gone otherwise when, the first time they sat down opposite Dr. Fong’s aircraft carrier of a desk, Ben had been shocked to discover that Dr.

16

u

Crab Orchard Review


Mary Jean Babic Fong expected them to do most of the talking. “But we’re paying you,” Ben had said. “To help us. Like, you know, doctors do.” “Oh, I can’t X-ray your feelings,” Dr. Fong chuckled. Susan had found the man online. Ben agreed to go only because his office was on the Upper East Side, where they almost certainly wouldn’t run into anybody they knew from Brooklyn. Every week Susan, largely from nerves, filled up more and more of the hour while Ben sank lower and lower into his chair, gradually subtracting himself almost down to zero. “Ben, so quiet always,” Dr. Fong finally said toward the end of what turned out to be their last session. He leaned forward. “You have nothing to say to Susan?” Ben shrugged. Susan picked at her knuckles, wanting to throw something at him. “Ben,” the doctor prompted. “Susan is right,” Ben shot back. “Susan is always right. Whatever she says.” Susan turned to Dr. Fong, fully expecting him to challenge this clear bullshittery. She’d done all the talking at these sessions, for Christ sake; she deserved someone to speak up on her behalf. But Dr. Fong just nodded. “Yes, I see.” Then their fifty-five minutes were up. They stepped out of Dr. Fong’s office into an intoxicating fall day. On the subway home, silence engulfed them like a soundproof booth. The next day, a Saturday, the weather was even more glorious. Susan tossed snacks and a book in her bag and, without a word to Ben, who was bent over his laptop on the sofa, headed with Owen to Prospect Park. Owen pushed the stroller himself most of the way; he was at the age when the stroller was equally hindrance and lifesaver. Just inside the park he climbed in, of his own volition, and by the time she’d pushed the stroller to a spot under a tree on the edge of the Long Meadow, he had slumped forward, deeply asleep. Ben stretched his arm along the back of the sofa. Susan sat pressed into the far corner of the sofa, beyond his reach. “This is strange,” he said, lightly drumming his fingers on the cushion. “What, am I supposed to have a onesided conversation?” Wouldn’t that would be just terrible, Susan wanted to say. “Why don’t you go on up to bed?” Ben said. “Go on. You’re beat.” He instantly slapped his hands over his face. “Tired.” He ground his palms against his eyes. “I meant tired.” Having a wired jaw was, Susan found, not so entirely bad. She kept pen and paper with her most of the time, but shaking her head, nodding, and pointing sufficed for most situations. She lost three pounds the first week, on top of the five she’d lost at the hospital. She even was able, by pointing

Crab Orchard Review

u

17


Mary Jean Babic to her mouth and shrugging, to fend off her doctor’s suggestion that she get a post-trauma psych consult. Exempted from all responsibilities, Susan had only to sit like the family pet as Owen rolled trucks and cars around her. Ben labored among them like a pack mule, shouldering all feeding, shopping, cooking, cleaning, childcare duties without complaint. Susan protested via note that she could mash her own bananas. She could fold laundry. Her hands were functional. Her shoulders, though still stiff and bruised, mostly were too. “You heal,” Ben told her. “Just heal.” But one evening toward the end of the second week he plunked down an overflowing basket of clothes onto the dining room table with a faint air of “oh all right.” Then he stepped over to load the dishwasher and attack the pots and pans. He had made chili and cornbread with a salad for dinner, and the wreckage was impressive. Susan’s dinner had been two cans of Ensure. The ground floor of their three-level house was one big area vaguely demarcated by appliances and furniture into kitchen, dining room and living room. At the dining room table, Susan was centered between Ben, standing to her right at the kitchen sink, and Owen, tearing around the living room in some private game to her left. Her head bent over the laundry basket, Susan surreptitiously gave Owen his daily scan. He seemed OK. He did. The old-man Owen from the hospital had not resurfaced. Three through and through, protected by the present-tense self-absorption of three. Thank God he hadn’t been older when it happened. But how messed up is that, Susan thought, to be glad that when you were assaulted your child was too young to remember it. Victimhood made nonsense of gratitude. Susan stood, moved the laundry basket to a chair and, standing flush to the table, plunged into the clothes. Ben scrubbed away at the kitchen sink, wearing headphones as always to ease the post-dinner slog with music or podcast. Susan did not begrudge him his nightly escape for three quarters of an hour, especially not these past weeks, though she never thought to put headphones on herself. She didn’t think it was a good idea for both parents to be entombed. Steadily she plucked shirt, pant and undergarment out of the basket. These she smoothed, folded, and stacked around the outer edge of the table. Socks, as always, were left at the bottom of the basket to be paired last. No bras; those had fallen by the wayside these past two weeks. It felt good to handle her family’s clothes, soft and warm and fragrant from the dryer. She took a deep breath and noted the progress of her healing: only a dull ache, no sharp pain. Ben, in his audio cocoon, noisily rinsed the pots and pans. Owen had moved on to quieter, more absorbed play and Susan, reintegrated into the neural pathways of her home, pressed her palm down on a teetering pile of his Superman underpants. She suddenly became alert to a changed tenor in Owen’s game. She

18

u

Crab Orchard Review


Mary Jean Babic looked over. Owen, kneeling, was pummeling away at a stuffed horse lying in front of him on the carpet. His fists traveled steadily, mercilessly from head to tail. Then he grabbed the horse by its neck and shook it to make it talk. “Help! Help!” cried the horse-Owen. “Stop!” “I’m gonna get you!” Owen screeched in his own voice. Susan dropped the socks she was balling. “No! Help!” the horse-Owen said. “And your little boy, too!” “No! Not my little boy! Please, someone help! Save my little boy!” The laundry basket went flying as Susan stomped into the living room and loomed over Owen, radiating wire-grilled, appalled silence. Owen looked up at her with curiosity. Over at the sink, Ben had popped out his earphones. He was watching her too. She could have used his voice just then. She could have used a booming voice demanding to know just what the hell was going on here. But Ben stayed at the sink, watching. She bent down and grabbed Owen’s arm. She still was too sore to pick him up. But she could yank. Owen let out a little yelp. Ben came over at last. He took Owen from Susan and led him upstairs. Later, Ben came down to the kitchen, his navy blue bathrobe cinched tightly over sweatpants and a white V-necked undershirt. His face looked like it had inflated rapidly and not quite gone all the way back down. Susan was sitting at the table, the laundry meticulously stacked in the basket in front of her. Alongside, her ever-present notepad and pencil. Ben sat across from her and rubbed the knuckles of one hand against his mouth. A pair of glasses, Susan had always thought, would have lent some much-needed definition to his round pale face, but his vision was excellent. Through the window just beyond his shoulder she saw the year’s first snow falling in their backyard. He pushed the laundry basket to one side. “How did he know about that?” She had been sitting there rifling through her memory to answer that very question. Had Owen been in her hospital room the day the detective visited? No, he would have been with Ben’s mom, certainly. But he had been at the hospital other days. Which days? Had she mentioned the second man then? She couldn’t remember. Everything from those first few days in the hospital was medicinal, gauzy. I don’t know, she wrote. Swear to God. Ben stood and paced the room, out of sorts with nothing to scour. It was his nature to drill into things. He was never so serene, his face so unpursed, as when boring into complicated code for a client, rooting out redundancies, scrubbing algorithms. Then he sat back down, across the table from her, as if he were the therapist now. “Susan. There was no second man.” I don’t dispute that. Ten witnesses had all said the same thing. The scuttlelift-dodge was too fluid to allow for the clunky unbuckling of stroller straps. And as the detective had pointed out, she was being beaten at the time. A

Crab Orchard Review

u

19


Mary Jean Babic hallucination made complete sense. Ben glanced at the notepad. “But you don’t believe it,” he said. She didn’t believe it. She knew what she had seen. It felt nothing like a hallucination. How could a hallucination fall in perfect sequential order with actual events? There had been a blow, then the scuttle-lift-dodge, then Owen’s terrified face over the man’s shoulder, then the next blow. She clearly remembered being hit while watching Owen being carried off, and no one denied that the beating was a fact. How could the same piece of film be part reality, part invention? When it came down to it, it was impossible for Susan not to believe her own eyes. She felt this must be true for everyone. “You remember this nonexistent second man, but you don’t remember how Owen would have heard it. And now Owen is playing—Susan.” Ben’s voice dropped like a blade. “You always convince yourself.” She shook her head, squinting. “You couldn’t have gotten out of the way?” Ben exploded, like a horn blast, and it was this, Susan knew, that had been the relentless drumbeat in his head, drowning out everything else, this whole time. “At least gotten Owen out of the way? At least tried?” ????????? Scribbled wildly. “He crossed the entire meadow first! It’s not like he jumped you from behind. You saw him coming; you had time to do something! But you just sat there.” He shook his head and breathed forcefully through his nose, like a racehorse. How even to defend against this? She willed her lips to part, her jaw to open, speech to flow out, but her tongue only pressed uselessly against the back of her teeth. Nuts she wrote, meaning He was but she was too rattled to be coherent. Her hands went up to her jaw, which now throbbed insistently. Maybe they had set it wrong. Maybe it had been healing wrong all this time. “I just have to wonder if, at some level, this —” He wouldn’t. No. “If by sitting there and letting it happen, this was some way of creating —” “Mmmmm!” She waved her hands “—more drama in your life.” She slammed her palms on the table. Once she wrote, stabbing the word with her pen. She had said that once. At the very end of what turned out to be their last session with Dr. Fong. As soon as the word was out, she’d known her mistake. And now here it was at last, plucked out of the air where it had been hovering over them for weeks. “Dr. Fong sure was interested to hear it,” Ben said. Someone had to say something! You weren’t going to! Ben waited with infuriating patience for this lengthy retort to spool out onto her notebook.

20

u

Crab Orchard Review


Mary Jean Babic “Or Dr. Fong. Sure, why should he ever talk? He might accidentally help.” Susan took a breath, tried to stay calm. She wrote shakily, After I lost my job— There was no patience this time. “You were laid off for three months! Three months! Nothing! And it’s not like you’re a steelworker. There are lots of marketing jobs in this city. Or, I don’t know, maybe stay home with Owen for a year or two? Until he goes to kindergarten? Save us a fortune on pre-school? But no.” He turned his face up, closed his eyes, and clasped his hands under his chin. “There’s no fire, no drama, in my life. I just don’t know the way forward anymore.” He snorted. “You all but said you needed to go find yourself.” Susan’s pen couldn’t keep up with the disavowals reeling through her mind. Those were her words, more or less, but they hadn’t sounded the way he made them sound, ridiculous like that. What she had been getting at— clumsily—was the basic matter of maintaining interest in your own story. But she hadn’t come to any conclusions yet and she had gotten nervous, that’s all, in that nondescript office under Dr. Fong’s unmoving gaze and Ben sinking down next to her. She had gotten nervous and spoken stupidly and now she’d exposed herself to Ben’s scorn when she still was figuring out herself what she’d meant. Her stomach twisted; a putrid taste rose in her throat. Without thinking she jumped up and bent forward and yanked her mouth open with her fingers. Ben arched back, horrified. Susan wanted desperately to puke out the sopping, dyspeptic mass in her gut, for the hot flow to sear through her nostrils and splatter on the floor. But nothing came up. The streak stood. “I bet Fong would love to be listening in on us right now,” Ben said, glancing toward the doorway as if at any moment the doctor might stroll into their kitchen. Then he looked back at her. “Of everyone I know,” he said, “you’re the only one I can imagine this happening to.” He glanced again at the doorway. Why did he keep doing that? Nobody was coming. “At some point, Susan, you just became that person.” In the dark entryway she put on her coat, grunted into her boots, opened the door and went up the two short steps under the stoop. There she paused, reflexively waiting for a voice to call her back. None did. Ben was getting Owen down for a nap, and Susan had seized her chance to go out for the first time since she’d come home from the hospital. She opened the gate and stepped onto the sidewalk, the whole time feeling the house behind her like an eye. Most of the snow from the night before had already melted. Her boots bombed one puddle after another as she strode to the corner and turned left toward the park, which spread like a great lake three short blocks ahead. The wind picked up; she tugged on her gloves and flipped her hood up over her ears. Above her the sky was a thick gray blade.

Crab Orchard Review

u

21


Mary Jean Babic There was no question of her destination, though she wasn’t deluded. It wasn’t like she truly thought she’d find a brown fedora lying on the ground, untouched for weeks. She supposed she was drawn by the same, simple impulse that brings visitors to Gettysburg or the sidewalk in front of the Dakota: to stand where something momentous happened, as if traces of history still floated in the air and could be absorbed through the skin. She cut up the south end of the Long Meadow, the muddy grass sucking at her boots. Some kids were laboriously sledding down a slushy hill, but otherwise the park was the most deserted that she’d ever seen it. The wind gusted again as she veered around a slight rise topped with a grove of trees. On the far side of that, an archipelago of dirty snow mounds hopscotched across the empty expanse in front of her, rounding to an end at the two arches that lead out to Grand Army Plaza. She picked her way left, to a lone tree that stood alongside a footpath on the edge of the meadow. And there she was. She stopped to catch her breath. She’d been walking harder than she’d realized. Carefully, she sat, pulling her puffy coat down over her backside for a barrier against the damp. Then she stared out across the field. Everything now was the opposite of that day, of course. Cold, gray, desolate. No Owen napping beside her. Where had the man been when she’d first seen him? Where had he been when she’d finally realized he meant her harm? Her alone, of all the people in the park. Could she point to the spot on the grass? Could she mark the distance, gauge the interval of time she’d had, might have had, to get out of the way? But no. No. He’d gone past everyone else and done nothing to them, so why should she have thought he was coming for her? Ben had it all wrong. It was because she thought she was nothing special that she hadn’t gotten out of the way. How could she have possibly known? And she had, at the last minute, tried to protect Owen, though in the end it wasn’t Owen who’d needed protecting. Damp cold seeped through her clothes—she hadn’t been thinking when she’d pulled on yoga pants—but Susan didn’t move. She knew now what she’d come for. She stared hard into the cold air, willing a hazy, hunched shape topped with a brown fedora to coalesce into existence, scuttle up and declare itself so that it could be acknowledged and then finally dismissed. It would require concentration, but she knew how to do that. When she was young she used to make herself very quiet and serious inside to try to become invisible. As she got older she did the same thing for actual results: to call up an answer on a test, to get through childbirth, to withstand Ben’s scorn. She half-closed her eyes and concentrated on pushing away the cold and the darkening tree branches and blowing in the unseasonably warm air of that November day, plastering the sky deep blue, and scattering red and orange leaves over the ground. And as if with a half-turn of a kaleidoscope, the world in front of her broke into fractals. Susan almost could feel the warm breeze on her cheek, hear the light rasp of Owen’s breath as he slept, detect

22

u

Crab Orchard Review


Mary Jean Babic the weight of the book in her lap. She closed her eyes and concentrated, serious, still calm. When she looked up a man in a brown fedora stood in front of her. The fear that tore through her was unpracticed and real. Instinctively she ducked down, covered her head with her arms, and curled in her legs. She didn’t move or run off because she simply could not. Oh God. Oh God oh God oh God. There was the crinkle of a winter coat as the person crouched down. Susan balled herself up tighter. “Susan? Is that you?” At the touch of a hand on her shoulder, a scream rose and strangled in her throat. She hurled herself away. “Susan! I’m not—it’s Jim. Your neighbor, Jim.” By degrees, Susan registered the voice. She lifted her head and saw Jim Kassel, who lived a few doors up the block from them, crouched down and staring at her intently. She hadn’t seen him coming at all. As her eyes readjusted to the actual world, she took in his mud-encrusted hiking boots, black puffy coat that was not unlike hers, enormous scarf that reached up to his ears, and a Yankees baseball hat on his head. No brown fedora. Jim Kassel. He and his wife, Alma, had a son—Rumi or something ridiculous like that—who was Owen’s age. His wife had dropped off food while Susan was in the hospital, some baked mushroom thing with cheese and breadcrumbs that no one had eaten. Susan, sitting up, gave him a little smile, as if they had just casually bumped into each other. “Jesus, Susan, are you OK?” Then he shook his head, acknowledging the stupidity of the question. He yanked his scarf away from his mouth. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. I just saw someone sitting kind of frozen on the ground, and it’s such a crappy day to be in the park I just thought I’d check it out.” Susan was frowning at his hat. Following her eyes, he touched the brim. “Yeah, not the best headgear for a day like this, is it?” He shrugged with a confused, apologetic smile and disappointment flooded her as powerfully as fear had a moment earlier. Groaning lightly, Jim straightened himself and held out his hand. “Let me help you up.” Despite the cold that had hardened around her like a cast, she politely waved him off. “Are you sure?” She nodded and did her best to smile reassuringly. He stared at her blankly, then looked up at the tree and then, turning, out across the meadow. That was when it seemed to dawn on Jim exactly where they were. He knew what had happened to her, of course. Knew enough of the details. He could put two and two together. When he looked back at her, his expression of confused accommodation was gone.

Crab Orchard Review

u

23


Mary Jean Babic “I’m taking you home. You shouldn’t be here by yourself.” She smiled again and shook her head. There was no way she was going to let Jim Kassel escort her home and deliver her to Ben like a truant child. “Come on, Susan. Up you go.” He spoke with the tone of a parent who had had enough nonsense. She crossed her arms. Let him drag her if he was so concerned. There was a history of violence on this spot, after all. He had only to sniff its scent. He lifted his arms and dropped them with a helpless puff of his coat. “Are you sure?” She nodded. He sighed. “All right.” And off he walked in his baseball cap, the only second man she would be able to conjure, despite several more hours of trying. Trying, while the cold numbed her legs and the white sky dimmed and while Jim was surely knocking on their door to let Ben know what his wife was up to now.

24

u

Crab Orchard Review


Kim Bridgford Why People in Their Fifties Read Mystery Books Because the world is solvable; because Human complications have a glow When they are not your own; because what is Finds all its shameful roots in what you know, But you don’t want to know. Spite, envy, and greed: They run the plots the way they do in life. (You trick yourself into thinking that to read Is to escape; here you just see the knife.) Because the habits in a character— Like drink, or infidelity—enliven, Don’t bring the horror that they should. Ah, layman, Because of sex, cash, settling an old score. Because true evil is a predator. In middle age, these reasons all mean more.

Crab Orchard Review

u

25


Kim Bridgford

Over the Hill I never knew where the hill was, —a remark made in passing. Because there never was a hill, You never knew just where it was. It could have been that stone, that pebble. But first you had to make life level: To go to school, get work, not pause. Because you thought there was a hill, You had your child, sent him to school. You followed all the cold, gray laws. It could have been that stone, that pebble, That made you fall. An obscure rule. This setback made you realize— Don’t worry so about the hill!— That sometimes it’s inconsequential What you prize and do not prize. It could have been that stone, that pebble, Or maybe it was monumental. You couldn’t tell with clouded eyes. What was that thing? Was it a hill? From here, it looked more like a pebble.

26

u

Crab Orchard Review


Kim Bridgford

The Suicide Realizes That Reincarnation Is Just This A dawning. She wants to stay young forever, Like a Victorian heroine, her clothes wrong For the occasion, but that’s part of her charm, Twirling her dimple, wearing her Penelope Pureheart Guise. You wouldn’t believe it, but she even has An Easter hat with ribbons, swaying in the breeze! You couldn’t make it up, how people take things At face value, the Easter clothes you can see through, On sale on a Saturday special. You see, That’s how people think they can sucker her, And yet they don’t think: how has she survived? How has she gotten so far on a candy cane Personality? When you bite down, There is a taste like straw; chew, it’s a paste. Ain’t she sweet? When people think of the Last Supper, They don’t think of her. Who is Jesus? Who is Judas? How would she fit in, how would it be re-cast? Because the story of betrayal moves back and forth. That’s it’s genius. Not just who does something wrong, But who does something almost-wrong, the dusty Skirting of the edges for a friend, and goes on That way almost twenty years. It’s the dawning. The others are all smug, Wearing their disciple collars. How would the story Change if you knew she had been abused? How the pretty box she is carrying, tied up With a beautiful white ribbon is her innocence? She flames with her rightness. Who is going to take That box?

Crab Orchard Review

u

27


Kim Bridgford

The Suicide’s Soul Finds Itself Inside a Snowglobe Even this world has its pleasures: The tiny house, the tiny trees Plumed with delicate featherlike asides, The metal gate. Her soul, too, feels smaller: Which would make sense. (The travels of the soul Are proportional.) Here she is not sure She wants to go outside, and yet she puts on Her hat, scarf, and coat—of course, not literally— And goes into the yard, where it’s snowing, Where God has picked up the toy and shaken it To its lavender horizon. Oh, pleasure, oh, pain, It’s all here. She pulls her scarf a little closer To her face, feels a tingle of cold. It doesn’t Take long to find the edge of the world. When she goes in later, to have tea, even the china Seems smaller. Much past midnight, she is too tired To take off her clothes; she pulls the quilt Over her head, to keep out the sound of the wind. Finally, she gets up, goes downstairs, pours herself A glass of red wine, and looks out. It’s still snowing. If she were to run outside And pound and pound, if she were to take A hammer—crack the surface— What would happen? She has to pretend The curved plane is not there. In the mystery book She is reading, they have almost found the killer, Carrying a grudge out of envy, from twenty years Before. She would like to buy the ribbons That tie these horrors up with a bow.

28

u

Crab Orchard Review


Kim Bridgford

The Suicide’s Soul Rests on a Fox Stole in a Vintage Clothing Shop And thinks, These clothes would never fit me, Forgetting, for a moment, she has no body, forgetting she is invisible, And is, for once, capable of a new perspective. When you commit suicide, your soul feels like ash, Because just as traveling reorients, readjusts, With a new compass, so does death. She is strangely not-sad—curious— Moving through the past like a voyager in science fiction, Wondering about these people who used rotary phones, Wore nylons, lived as if the world were made Of materials like fur and gigantic sunglasses. She admires the film people who come here, To enter the script they have in their head; The shoppers, who want to be new, That is to say, old, that is to say, costumed, That is to say, the past. Perhaps that was her problem. The present felt terrible. So many times, she imagined a knife Slitting open her body like a roast chicken, Exposing her insides, the burst fragrance of relief. Now, sitting in this stole, a fox biting its tail, Horror refashioned into a furry noose around the neck, She thinks, This is who I was alive.

Crab Orchard Review

u

29


Charles Clifford Brooks III The Shadow of Blue Crawford Contains a Man In the indention left by the impression of goodwill, there is the last Southern son left to languish, perished for lack of purpose. Inspiration is the dopamine-induced dilation of the eyes, frontal lobes, and causes otherwise civil men to make themselves a hurricane. The poem: A battle hymn that sums up the good intentions and inevitable sin of revolution. Not metaphor, but an explosion throughout the nation that incinerates inflation as well as man’s unquestioning tendency to pay it. The New War of Home is planned by the same men who meet success with the reward of a hard reception. For centuries this social maturity has sat stagnant. No more. The madhouse is open and all the devils revel at your windows. I would stay inside if your mind is not inclined to meet dishonor with sword and armor. The bright, jagged brains have brought all the guns. There is no need for a conspiracy. The oppressed and those who believe they are free both become bound to their heroes once before dispensable. I do not blame lazy Karma or the lackluster dharma of an alarming majority of blank faces and clogged arteries. You see, when the few who know how the machine may find its magnificent end, it is not a point to defend that they are martyred. That is murder for the survival of not the fittest, but the sickest. As an angry roar of nature, there is nothing made mortal that can spoil the uprising of furious wolves curious how many they can maul before the night’s last call. To the previous protectors: You will not prevail as the death nail is set against your temple. Your younger generation will ask us to save the nation, but we will say, No. This atom bomb of common sense has no soul or sinew enough to empathize. This unrest is not yours to execute. That honor is mine.

30

u

Crab Orchard Review


Charles Clifford Brooks III

Gaudí Hungry, devout, architect, eyes on a bizarre deity, your last attempt to erect a temple is a castle cast of comedic figures. It stands like an insect’s chapel, a dying beehive. Spires and serpent scales twist the mind to turn one way, then another; your construction doesn’t come off as Christian, but the place of pagan prayer. Eating lettuce and bland nuts, you used nature to sculpt outrageous shapes. Crosses and bejeweled windows singe the Spanish skyline.

Crab Orchard Review

u

31


Leila Chatti Cousins Summers, we became wild or believed this, scattering like sand once the moon took like a hook in the sea’s dark mouth. Our parents swished smoke on the balcony, doled out dinars silver as sardines and kissed gentle warnings past our cheeks. We entered the streets’ unspecific dimness, bodies bumping to be close, arms linked and our skin smelling like jasmine and salt. We poured gossip into the cups of each other’s ears, sticky breath in three languages. At the port, we wore dappled light in all colors, lapped palms sugared by cacahuètes and crêpes bought from carts, dipped

32

u

Crab Orchard Review


Leila Chatti toes in shallows like minnows and sipped shisha tendrils and Cokes brown as heaven. When finally we headed back home, the stars lit above us like cigarettes between the late-night lips of uncles, the moon like our grandmother pale and tucked in, we sang club hits to each other like lullabies, whispering Ces soirĂŠes-lĂ ! as the bougainvillea nodded in the breeze, vivid as dreams, and the strays slunk from our shadows and laid down to sleep.

Crab Orchard Review

u

33


Andrew Collard Car Crash in Reverse Pay no attention to the ’03 Mustang drifting across the median at 2 a.m., to the engine light denoting nothing but faulty wiring. Pay no attention to the cigarette butts coating the curb of the on-ramp, to the tent beneath the overpass, or the way cattle imitate flyswatters with their tails, watching the cars go one direction, then another. Pay no attention to the lack of cellphone signal, to the Methodist church, to the Lutheran church, the Non-Denominational church, and the local dive, the way On The Rocks glows in neon from the building’s only window—to the way a sickness never knows that it’s a sickness—and the way the roads are named with only numbers. Pay no attention to the vine that’s risen up the back of the crumbling house’s garage, inching across the telephone wire toward the neighbors’ impeccable garden. As a car rattles from the driveway, I lie awake beneath a comforter stitched with the image of a beach resort, thinking of the years-old trumpet dad has always said he’d like to learn to play, but buries deep inside the closet with our winter coats and baseball gloves, and the mysterious shelf of bottles above them that once seemed out of reach, descending by inches every year.

34

u

Crab Orchard Review


John Crutchfield Black Locust Too tough & fibrous for finer work but good for fence posts & rails word is will last a hundred years if cut before the borer tunnels through to heartwood, since left alone it’s damn near rot-resistant —even furred with moss & lichen or wrapped in matted shawls of leaves & left to weather in some lost cove the sun has never heard of, which explains why even now, ten years since the blight blew whole mountainsides to ash, you’ll find these slate-gray sentinels long shorn of bark & foliage standing still as half-crazed pickets in a war they dream might yet be won, but ranks of dollar-signs to firewood poachers or to any man with a cast-iron mouth to feed in winter. But keep your whetting stone or file on hand: the saw no sooner bites than blunts its teeth or breaks them, & even once you’ve got it down you’d best have help: the stuff’s not only hard as iron but weighs as much, packed tight with blesséd BTUs as rich as coal. A seasoned piece clenched up with knots will burn all night & smokeless, white-hot, leaving just a shift of dust to scrape out with the shovel.

Crab Orchard Review

u

35


Chelsea Dingman How a Woman Uses the Wind Bones & ash collect in the weeds & I want to tell my mother how it is to live without sleep. How I dream while awake. These two parts of myself, inseparable. How I want her to be alive to see the things I will survive. But she’s somewhere hefting her own ashes. The names of gods I’ve disobeyed. My daughter, with her, as thin as our breaths in winter. I learn to hold onto heaven & feel rain fall against my cheeks. I swear to do everything right. But no matter who I lie to, no one listens. The wind swirls around my body, wanting as I want. To remake our bodies from ashes. Wanting to be healed by turning away.

36

u

Crab Orchard Review


Chelsea Dingman

Stillborn In the end, I don’t know the miles my bones will travel. A hollowness moves in me like water weathering a cave’s walls. As everything contracts and lets go. As it rains. I would’ve drank the debris, had I known. Had I been aware that I could swallow. We couldn’t bury her amid this thick season. This winged southern wind. Hallowed holes in the earth let water seep through, but I couldn’t give her back the months she breathed only fluids & feces. I couldn’t give her a god who let her breathe. I dreamt a bonfire, her body surrounded by feathers in a field. All these months. I knew she would end in flames, the raven’s claws of my heart.

Crab Orchard Review

u

37


Carmella de los Angeles Guiol Mango Season “Good night!” Josie called toward the back of the sub shop, her

hand on the glass door. Fernando stuck his head out of the storeroom. “¿Te vas?” he said, his voice even and nonchalant. But his searching eyes gave him away. “Yeah, I gotta go meet Marisol. I finished mopping and rinsed out the bucket.” She didn’t wait for his response. “Bye!” she said, pulling open the door and stepping into the steamy night. She was grateful for the warm Florida air; her hands and feet were frozen from spending the last eight hours in an air conditioned bubble. She heard Fernando lock the door behind her but she didn’t turn around. She’d received a text from her best friend Marisol an hour ago with one word—Narnia. While she undid the lock on her bike, she watched Fernando through the glass windows. He was wiping down the blade on the meat slicer, the same blade she had already disinfected twice that evening. Whenever they closed together, Fernando always seemed to find last minute things for Josie to do around the shop. Refilling the dressings, cutting banana peppers, slicing meats—all the things the prep crew did when they came in the morning. He was her boss so she couldn’t complain, but she also didn’t know what to say when he told her that he loved the yellow flecks in her green eyes, or that he didn’t love his wife anymore. Tonight, she’d been in the walk-in fridge putting away the stainless steel pot of leftover soup when Fernando came up behind her. They spent a few moments bumping around the small space, and then, she felt a warm hand on her aproned hip, that soft place where bone meets flesh. Josie smelled liquor on his breath, which wasn’t unusual. He’d offered her sips from his cup in the past, but she hadn’t noticed him drinking out of a Styrofoam cup tonight. “Josephina,” he said, his voice a hoarse whisper. He spoke her name the Spanish way, where the J became an H, and his hand on her hip pulsed with possession. Josie stared down at the ground, focusing her gaze on the tubs of salad dressing lined up along the bottom shelf. If she looked up, their lips would meet, then their tongues, and then what? She knew that Evelyn and Yolanda, the other women who worked at the sandwich shop, would have loved to be squeezed in the walk-in with

38

u

Crab Orchard Review


Carmella de los Angeles Guiol Fernando. They were always giggling about him when he wasn’t around, commenting on his musculos and thick dark lashes. Even though he was two decades older than Josie’s sixteen years, she could see his appeal. “I still have to clean the bathroom,” Josie said. She swallowed hard, heart hammering in her chest, and stepped past him and out of the cold, dark room. He didn’t follow her. Her cheeks burned as she wiped the sink in the bathroom. Getting upclose to the mirror, she examined the parts that made up her face: a squat nose that was dotted with blackheads, muddy green eyes that sat too close together, eyebrows with a mind of their own. She pursed her lips at her reflection. What harm would there have been in a kiss? She knew what Marisol was going to say when she told her what had happened: “Wow, Josie. You really want to die a virgin, don’t you?” The Thursday night streets were nearly empty as she made her way north on Marti toward Narnia. She crossed the canal and made a right, following the concrete waterway for five blocks before making a left on 60th Avenue. She did this out of pure habit, not because the canal was ever anything but depressing. There were parts of the city where canals meandered like jungle rivers through verdant neighborhoods, but Josie’s neighborhood was not one of these places. Josie’s neighborhood was peeling paint and patchy lawns. Wroughtiron bars on dirty windows. The occasional McMansion squeezed between houses a third their size, no yard to speak of. Nighttime made this place somewhat demure, but daylight meant Daddy Yankee blasting from idling cars and the constant drone of vendors yelling out of megaphones as they sidled down block after drab block: Frutabomba! Carambola! Aguacates! When she got to the dark space between houses that had been their sanctuary for years, she threw her bike down in the dirt and walked into the darkness. Even though the house had been torn down a long time ago, the lot was littered with junky leftovers—a rusty wheelbarrow, the remains of an old sewing machine, an assortment of sandy green bottles. Narnia. “About time,” Marisol called out, a spot of red ash glowing in the darkness. “Fernando kept me late,” Josie said, picking her way across the yard. “It’s fucking hot,” she said, taking a seat beside her friend on the mosaicked table, fanning her shirt to dry the damp sweat from the ride. “That’s why I texted you, actually,” Marisol said. “To tell me it’s fucking hot out?” Marisol rolled her eyes. “No, loca. To celebrate.” “Celebrate what?” “Summer.” “Yeah? And what did you have in mind?” “I was thinking of riding out to the stadium. You down?”

Crab Orchard Review

u

39


Carmella de los Angeles Guiol Neither of the girls said much as they biked down the middle of roads that bustled with relentless traffic all day but were blissfully empty now. The streets were theirs. They didn’t wait for the light to change to cross Galicia. El Castillo, the cafeteria on the corner, blazed with lights even though the chairs were chained together and the patio glistened with streaks of mop water. The industrial-sized outdoor fans that roared all day stood like soldiers guarding their cafeteria castle. Through the window, Josie spotted the trays that held yucca frita and ropa vieja during the daytime stacked under bright lights, upside down like aluminum turtles vying for a spot on a sunny log. Miyares dead-ended at Waterside, the glittery main artery of downtown. High rises glared down at them, glass-faced and razor-edged. They made a right, heading south toward the Rickenbacker. About a mile or two later, downtown ended abruptly at a massive intersection where I-95 spilled down from the sky and became US1, traveling overland (and water) all the way to Key West. The girls waited for three stray cars to pass, headlights high, and then crossed the six-lane intersection. They flew through the tollbooth that was the entrance to the Rickenbacker Causeway and crossed the first bridge toward Key Biscayne. It was not meant for boats to pass below, although plenty of people found shelter on the narrow lip underneath, tying fishing lines to heavy rocks in hopes of scoring a late-night catch. The causeway was empty. They rode in the middle for a while and then joined the left side of the street, the side with the skyline view. Ahead of them, the road rose into the sky, like a dark rollercoaster at Disney World. As they drew near, Josie brought her body closer to the frame of her bicycle, bearing down on her handlebars in preparation for the climb. Ahead of her, she saw Marisol do the same. They could have shifted down their gears, but neither of them did. At the concrete crescendo, when the work was done, they stood up on their pedals, halos grazing gray sky, salt air kissing sweaty skin. Here, they were taller than the buildings that had towered over them a few minutes ago. They were bigger than this bridge—bigger than this city. The world lay at their feet, a magic carpet of lights. And just as quickly, they were hugging their handlebars again, chasing wind down the mountain, pony-tailed birds in flight. Back at sea level, they let their wheels spin and spin until they had spun out all of the energy collected by gravity. About a mile after the bridge, they slowed to a stop and squeezed their bodies between a gap in the chain-link fence. Carefully, they pulled their bikes inside, too, spirals of barbed wire quivering above them. The marine stadium on Virginia Key had been abandoned for so long that no one remembered what its purpose had been once upon a time. In a city that feeds off of bright lights and beauty, this place was a haven for the

40

u

Crab Orchard Review


Carmella de los Angeles Guiol citizens of Miami’s underbelly. A dark maze of looming concrete structures and long shadows, the stadium was a museum of ancient spray bottles and beer cans. Every still surface was coated in layers upon layers of chemical color. The smell of cigarettes and piss mingled in the salt air. Low tide brought with it the ripe stench of rotting seaweed. The girls leaned their bikes against a wall and scrambled over concrete walls and benches until they found a place where the maze opened to the bay. Josie and Marisol sat down on the low wall, feet dangling like they used to when they were little girls, jumping out of swings too big for their bony bodies. Marisol took off her backpack and rummaged through it until she found her offering: a sunrise-tinted mango. “Una chupeta!” Josie said, plucking it from the palm of her friend’s hand. These mangoes were not as big and meaty as store-bought varieties. They called them suckers because that was the best way to eat them. Chewing them meant dealing with tough fibers between your teeth; better to skin ‘em and suck ‘em. “My first of the season!” Josie bit into the yellow fruit, using her teeth to strip away the smooth skin, unveiling the juicy pulp beneath. Next to her, Marisol did the same, working steadily to free the meat from the pit. The girls laughed as juice dripped down their chins, in between fingers, onto bare thighs. They sucked and scraped the last of the mango off the pit until white bone was revealed, and then tossed the slim seed into the sea. “There’s no easy way to do this,” Josie said, giggling, licking each finger one by one to get the last of the stickiness off her hands. But Marisol had already wiped her fingers on her cutoff shorts and was digging around her backpack for something else: an Altoid box and a small notebook. She opened the tin case and set to work freeing marijuana buds from their stems. Josie watched as Marisol licked the thin paper like one would an envelope and rolled the joint into place. She examined her handiwork and licked the other side of the seam for good measure. A twist at one end and a few taps to seal the deal. Producing a lighter from her pocket, Marisol brought the joint to her mouth and married flame to paper. “To freedom,” she said, inhaling deeply. Five, four, three, two. Slowly, she exhaled, sending smoke out to sea. She took another hit before passing the joint to Josie, who held it up to the starless sky, an offering for the city’s bedazzled skyline, before bringing it to her lips. The joint passed between them a dozen times. Marisol sucked hard on it one last time and tossed the frayed stub into the dark water below. “Cashed,” she said. The word lingered in the air for a moment before going out with the waves at their feet. The girls stayed silent for an eternity. Left to explore the wilderness of their minds, the soft whisper of water against concrete was their anchor to this world, this moment. Josie stared at the shoreline, memorizing the rise

Crab Orchard Review

u

41


Carmella de los Angeles Guiol and fall of light against dark. She liked seeing it from across the bay, the way it came into focus like a Monet painting. A rattling sound brought her back to the stadium. Josie grabbed Marisol’s arm and turned around. In the glow of a lamp, they watched a woman pawing through the trash. Her hair was brown and stringy. Her clothes were also brown, but you could tell they had been another color altogether, a long time ago. “We should go, no?” Marisol whispered. Josie nodded. Her high had worn off, and a thin moon had appeared behind the skyline. Back on their bikes, the girls retraced their steps, up the mountain and down again. Turning onto Seventh Street, they let the wheels coast to a slow roll. Calle Siete was the heart of Cuba in the middle of Miami. Unlike the rest of the city, Little Havana came to life at night. Even now, nearing midnight on a Thursday night, the street was bustling with people honking horns, eating dinner, chismeando—talking shit. Biking down the divided thoroughfare, the girls passed botanicas selling Santeria supplies, restaurants serving medianoches and congri, bars blasting Celia Cruz. “Hold up!” Marisol’s brakes squealed to a stop in front of Azucar. The night club was pulsing with salsa-induced energy. The wall of glass doors was open to the street and many of the dancers had spilled out onto the sidewalk, spinning and shimmying to the beat of the band on the stage inside. The dance floor was crowded, a wild blur of hands and hair, feet and fabric. Leaning their bikes against the wall, the girls got closer to the scene. “Las Culebras,” Marisol said, nodding toward the musicians. The stage could barely fit them all, this rowdy assortment of men blowing into brass and banging on drums. In the middle of the mayhem stood a woman, lithe as a tendril of smoke, skin the color of burnt caramel. Her slim hips made wide circles and a halo of kinky curls bounced with the music. The woman stepped up to the mic and brought a slender flute to her lips. A flute! Josie was nearly undone by the perfection of it all: the way the sounds collided against one another, the way the music steered this ocean of shaking, shivering bodies like a conductor does his orchestra. All of a sudden, Josie was nearly knocked over by a pair of twirling salseros. “Hey!” she shouted, but her voice was lost in the sea of sounds. She watched the dancers moving together, like flowing waters in a wild river. They were in their own world, eyes locked on each other, feet and hands moving too fast to keep track. Marisol nudged Josie and pointed to a tall guy in a navy t-shirt standing at the bar. “Check this guy out,” she said. “He’s here for one thing.” “And what’s that?”

42

u

Crab Orchard Review


Carmella de los Angeles Guiol “To dance!” “How do you know?” Josie asked, staring at the man in question, looking for a sign. “He’s drinking water! “So?” Marisol rolled her eyes. “He’s not drinking beer, tonta.” Ignorant to the fact that he was being watched, the guy eyed the crowd of dancers over his glass. “His shirt looks really dry, too. He probably brought one to change into.” “Really? People do that?” “Only the guys,” Marisol said, voiced raised over the music. “They sweat so much that they bring two or three shirts of the same color and switch throughout the night.” Josie’s laugh was drowned out by the timbales. The two girls watched the guy gulp down his glass of water before tapping a woman on the arm. She was wearing a red dress and strappy tacones with long, skinny heels. He offered his hand and she took it delicately. They found a spot on the dancefloor while the rest of the dancers scrambled to pair up as the next song built in tempo. The couple began to step in unison, their hips swaying to the beat. “He’s Colombian,” Marisol said. “How do you know?” “You can tell from his step. You see the way he dances on two?” Josie had no idea what dancing on two looked like but she nodded anyway. Marisol had grown up on these dancefloors, tagging along with her mom to one salsa social after another. As a kid, she passed out on plastic chairs while sweaty bodies churned around her like whirling dervishes, lulling her into the kind of subterranean sleep that is only possible in the middle of a party. But when she was old enough to stay awake, she started learning the cha cha, mambo, salsa—lo que sea. “She’s an amazing dancer,” Josie said, her eyes transfixed on the woman’s movement, the edges of her body both sharp and soft at the same time. “She might be a good dancer, but he’s doing all the work.” Beneath her, Marisol’s feet tapped in time to the music, stepping in and out as if they had a mind of their own. “She’s just following his lead.” They watched as the man dipped and spun her, while barely moving himself. Josie tried to focus her attention on the man, watching what his hands and feet did. Even though it was she who was making the grand movements, Josie began to notice his seemingly insignificant gestures: a palm against the small of her back, little brushes of the hand guiding the woman’s body one way or the other. Sometimes, he’d send her off to spin away on her own while his feet did their own dance, but she always found her way back into his arms. It dawned on Josie that it didn’t matter if these two had never laid eyes on each other before: their bodies spoke the same language.

Crab Orchard Review

u

43


Carmella de los Angeles Guiol “You ready to go?” Josie said, turning toward Marisol, but the space beside her was empty. The dancefloor was already filling up for the next song, and Josie scoped out the crowd in search of her friend. The band picked up and the couples began their rapid-fire dance. It took her a minute to realize that one of the bodies she was watching belonged to Marisol. The man she was dancing with was barely taller than her and he had dark chest hair showing through his white guayabera, transparent with sweat. He was built like a brick, and yet, he moved with grace and what her tias would call ritmo sensual. Marisol’s mermaid hair swung behind her, an ocean spray of dark curls. Tan legs emerged from denim cut-offs that hugged her ass in a way Josie was sure men enjoyed. Her steps were sure-footed and sexy, even though she was wearing a pair of scuffed Converse. An elegant twirl of her fingers decorated every move, hushed exclamation points. Every now and then, Marisol ran her hand through her curls, a sensual gesture that surprised Josie. All of these years and she had never seen her friend in her element like this, in control and yet totally free. Something about seeing this strange man’s hands on her friend made her heart squeeze in her chest. Josie watched the way he maneuvered her body like a ribbon, his hands trailing her lower back, palming the place wherer spine meets sitz bone. Marisol beamed, her body leaning into his, their hips—la cadera—moving as one. He twirled her around and wrapped her in his arms so that their bodies were facing the same direction, pelvic areas fused together with an invisible electrical current. Marisol’s hands were in his, her head looking back toward him as they moved across the dance floor. It was a marriage of improvisation and control, and Josie couldn’t take her eyes off of them, their hips gyrating in unison. Suddenly, someone grabbed Josie’s arm. “No, no,” she said to the dark man smiling at her, a white brimmed hat perched on his head. “Yo no bailo.” “Te enseño.” “Pero I don’t want to learn,” Josie said with a shaky laugh. But this man was determined. He led her by the hand into the fray and faced his new dance partner, laughing off the look of terror on Josie’s face. Placing one hand on her waist, he took a step forward. Josie instinctively stepped backwards. “Asi,” he said, giving her an encouraging squeeze. “Relajate.” But Josie couldn’t relax. Her body remembered the weight of Fernando’s hand on her hip, the tannic smell of alcohol on his breath. The look of watery desire in his eyes. Josie gave herself a shake and brought her attention back to her own two feet. “¿Lista?” the man asked, giving her a gap-toothed smile. But Josie didn’t

44

u

Crab Orchard Review


Carmella de los Angeles Guiol have time to ask what she was supposed to be ready for. Before she could say a word, her dance partner stepped out and swept an arm to the side, twirling her like a Cuban curlicue. The turn stole the breath from Josie’s chest. She didn’t feel dainty and agile the way the other women looked when they danced. Plus, there was something unsettling about being out of control, at the whimsy of a stranger. Across the dance floor, Josie caught sight of Marisol grinning at her partner between turns. Soon, the song crashed through its finale and expert arms dipped women low, their hair grazing the dancefloor. Josie’s partner gave her an extra spin and caught her in his arms. “Muchas gracias,” he said, bowing his head and giving her hand a kiss. “Wasn’t that awesome?” Marisol asked, sidling up beside Josie. Josie nodded, pasting a smile on her face. “You ready to go?” she asked. Marisol glanced around the emptying dancefloor. On stage, the band announced a break. “I guess so,” she shrugged. “Wanna stop at Regal Palms on the way home?” “Yeah, sure,” Josie said. The girls retrieved their bikes and met in the street. As they neared the high rise, they dismounted their bikes and crept along the dark sidewalk. The front of the building had a driveway with an intercom and an automated gate that opened when residents pressed the right buttons on their clicker. Beside the gate was a tall wall covered in dark green vines separating the pool from the street. They tossed their bikes into the bushes and used a low tree branch to hoist themselves up and over the wall. The deck was beautifully arranged with plants lit up by strategically placed bulbs. The pool was also illuminated with underwater lights, a glowing oasis in the dark night. Side by side, the girls began pulling clothing off of their sticky bodies. Josie pushed down her polyester shorts, folded them, and placed them on a lounge chair. Turning back toward her friend, her heart began to beat faster than the timbales. How many times had they undressed beside each other? And yet, somehow, Josie had never noticed the graceful curve of Marisol’s back as she bent forward to untie her shoes, or the way her hair fell like waves between her breasts. “What?” Marisol asked when she saw Josie standing there in her T-shirt and tennis shoes. “Aren’t you going to get in?” She reached back and unsnapped her bra, releasing her soft breasts from their cage, a shade lighter than her coffee-tinted arms. Gingerly, Marisol stepped toward the water’s edge, bringing her arms over her head in a pointed arrow. Josie watched as Marisol bent at the knees and propelled herself forward, diving in with barely a splash. She resurfaced at the other end of the pool, body splayed out on the surface of the water like a weightless star, her dark hair a floating halo, toes and nipples pointed toward the starless city sky.

Crab Orchard Review

u

45


Carmella de los Angeles Guiol While Marisol floated, Josie stared up at the forest of buildings surrounding them, the trees that made up the skyline from afar. In the eastern sky, the moon peeked between low-flying clouds, a sliver of lemon suspended between high rises and highways, and a gentle reminder that what is dark tonight does not always remain so.

46

u

Crab Orchard Review


Nausheen Eusuf Nocturne on a Winter Night

An icicle gleams by the porch light, hanging like fruit from the pear tree. Ice melt glitters from the pavement with wildflower precision, and twigs poke like saplings through the snow. But the tracks left by neighbors’ kids begin to fill again. Soon, the snowplows will patrol these slumbering precincts. You shift and sigh in your sleep. The sky has sunk to half its height and turned a luminous orange hue, and the stars extinguished, though we know that they are there, shining in their spheres, quietly nonchalant about our paltry human affairs. A car approaches, its lights sprung in ghostly portents above our heads. A door opens and shuts, a dog barks, and the night envelops us once again. If only we could let the seeming be in love’s endless mise en abîme until the scraping of shovels at dawn.

Crab Orchard Review

u

47


Kerry James Evans The Chicken Pot Pie Ballad I walked through puberty empty as county court on Sunday, its art-deco railings framing a yellowing marble floor, whose veins keep a vigilant watch on the footprints of all visitors, but no trial was needed the summer my brother stole the chicken pot pie from the oven after I waited an hour for the infamous buzz of the timer, after I had just returned home from football practice, where I’d worked up the hunger of a soldier standing under Caesar’s banner, crashing through those Oklahoma drills like a centurion who tosses his shield and runs bare-assed into a wall of enemy spears, and I wanted my brother to feel this kind of pain when I saw the empty oven, heat still spidering out on its invisible rope, a literal-damn crumb trail leading from the house and through the yard, my brother stuffing every last spoonful of scalding gravy into his mouth. I wanted justice. That was the last morsel of food in the house, and it was mine. Mine like I’d claimed a country. If I had a flag, I’d have jammed it into the flaky, buttery crust and through the pie tin, but not even this could’ve stopped my vindictive sibling hell-bent on seeing his own blood fall to the floor of the kitchen eight miles out on a pig trail of a gravel road so far from civilization the only hope for rescue would be if one of those goliath eagles mystically left a Tolkien novel and swooped down with food and water. To my brother’s credit he did say that we’d split it, though I don’t remember anything about that conversation— besides, who splits a chicken pot pie? There’s hardly enough there for one person, and even that leaves one hungry.

48

u

Crab Orchard Review


Annie Finch Elegy at the Blood Moon for Reetika Vazirani (1962–2003) In a pink silk shirt, her head held tall, Reetika danced at the poets’ ball And no one knew, no one at all. The moon, bearlike and angry, wild, moves hard shadows around the child­— Reetika Reetika, sharp as milk, Which is the thinnest? Blood or silk? (Who comes into this world like a martyr? Who comes into this world like a thief?) Reetika, Reetika, sharp and worn, Which is most beautiful as it is torn? Which rips the hardest, love or pain, Silk or a body? The first, or again? Who comes into this world like a woman? Who comes into this world in grief? Reetika, Reetika, sharp as milk.

Crab Orchard Review

u

49


Kate Gale Terrible stories Don’t tell me terrible things my grandfather said. Tell me nice things. Don’t tell me if you’re lonely, cold or homeless. Don’t tell me if you’re out of work. Or without a boyfriend. Don’t tell me if you have a boyfriend. Or if you have a boyfriend living with you. I started a journal. To have someone to tell When I went hungry. When all the boys bought me Happy Hour. That scrape with the police. When my dog got run over. The crow I rescued. The guy with the knife. All the terrible stories. My grandfather watched birds. Who am I when I shut out the dark? The stories? My children hold stories for years. The cops, the parties, the break-ups. The breakdowns, the mad love. They give me what they think I can hold. We have baskets of stories. Some writhe like snakes.

50

u

Crab Orchard Review


Kate Gale I put my stories in my lover’s basket. Except this one terrible story. Which I won’t tell anyone. It’s the story that made my grandfather shut the door. I began to tell him. He shut me down. If I were Scheherazade, he would have cut off my head. I’m all alone if there is no God. And he’s left me. I’m afraid of dying alone. I’m so afraid I’ve made a party, then a mess of my life, So someone’s with me. They’re laughing, but they’re with me. Watching me create this topsy turvy world Where change is the only constant. I’m living in a party now; I’m not alone. You should see me making up stories. You should see me out here in the rain.

Crab Orchard Review

u

51


Nicole Caruso Garcia The Pope’s Vagina after Sharon Olds’ “The Pope’s Penis” It relaxes beneath her cassock, muscular walls of a sovereign city-state. It has unknotted the last beads of cardinal blood. A grotto in a patch of dandelion white, a hooded figure oversees its almond-shaped gate, a pink cowrie shell retaining the tang of Eden.

52

u

Crab Orchard Review


Nicole Caruso Garcia

Annual Giving Don’t ask me for an annual donation When I fought daily for my resurrection. What would he have to do to face expulsion? Would he have had to violate your daughter? Would he have had to desecrate your altar? I dropped the class we’d planned to take together. You had a reputation to protect. Rape is a prickly word; thus, the verdict: Responsible for Sexual Misconduct. You levied sanctions—flimsy, every one— Mere inconvenience. Hampering his fun. He didn’t break a rule; he broke a person. To live off-campus senior year? No loss. Kicked off the golf team, no more captain status. Banned from buildings where he had no classes. To see his Judas face kept trauma fresh: His force the day they nailed our Savior’s flesh. And now you call me up and ask for cash. What shepherd says, Oh injured lamb, be healed: The wolf is just a dog. He’s not expelled— We’ll keep him to one corner of the field. Was it because I hadn’t told my parents, And his—despite their lack of affluence— Hired lawyers? Asked to verify the contents Of a file compiled by those strangers, I saw there, held by wire fasteners, A punctured stack of all my love letters.

Crab Orchard Review

u

53


Nicole Caruso Garcia What insult, that instead of social justice Your therapist put crayons in my fist. Well, color me an insurrectionist. I’d hoped. Yet at the time, it had to be Enough to know Authority believed me. I carried on my studies quietly. I kept high grades while lying in my grave. My shroud I tore to poems, each a votive Wick. O, oily rag. O, Molotov. Don’t ask for giving when you pardoned taking. Don’t sell me snake-oil justice for my aching. A punishment needs teeth, and then it’s speaking. To what now could my money testify? You found him guilty, yet you just stood by. We threw our caps into the same blue sky.

54

u

Crab Orchard Review


Paul Guest Personal Philosophy One must have a philosophy in all things. In disaster, how the antique hutch in the dark hallway dissolves like an apparition. One must think on ruin in grave seriousness.  One must be vigilant while waiting for deliveries.  At the door, close to the glass fogged with hot breath, tired down to the soul, aching from abstract exertion, sing.  Just a little. A few bars of a forgotten show tune. Lyrics from regrettable epochs. The Seventies, of course.  Nixon sweating through polyester. All things made beige.  All things mere phantoms of other devices.  One must weep, rend, rack, realizing the rain will never, ever go away.  Nothing yet has been said of dancing— how the body in flames can go up and up and up. How gravity becomes a bad joke. Nothing will be said of grief. Of the cat run over in the road, and spinning out of life. Of the defused bomb. Of the weather of implicit malice that seems to be everywhere.  These words will be forgotten, deleted, ignored. One must not fear erasure’s warm embrace. One must look before leaping, the wise have whispered

Crab Orchard Review

u

55


Paul Guest in hushed boredom, and its difficult to consider counter-arguments which make sense. Time, now, to invoke the chilled spectrum of the stars above. To seek from them direction whenever lost, to know whatever is left to say.

56

u

Crab Orchard Review


Paul Guest

I Want to suit up and rush out on to the field: impossibly lithe, a perfect animal. I’m open. I’m waiting. Untouched and unseen. I want to tumble into gravity’s embrace. I want to pull the cord. To float back down to this intolerable right now planet with the wind in my ears. I want to speak to the dead thing on the side of the road, unidentifiable in the gloom except that it is too large. I want to wake up in Macedonia, if only to learn the sting of the new. I want to vote again. I want to consume this brokenness that is all over. I want to jitterbug and dance the Charleston and contort my body into defiance of every natural law. I want to tell you that marble is a metamorphic rock. I want to be correct. I want to research nothing whatsoever. I want to set fire to cold Pittsburgh. Not really. I’ve never been, but now I desperately want to arrive. I want to be unannounced. I want to be your friend. I want to sidle. I want to amble. To ambulate. To grow terrified of the night. But not this one. It is precious beyond math. Look how the moon grows. Look how the rain darkens the earth. I want to be drawn into an argument

Crab Orchard Review

u

57


Paul Guest with a flat stone. I want to push my lips up to a burning match. I want to speak a magic word. I want to vanish. I want socks because it is so cold. I want everything.

58

u

Crab Orchard Review


C.G. Hadsell Winter 1946, I was all in black, but boots— my boots—boots I lived in on muted ground and put holy thoughts through with those wet thick socks that hoped for snow but never got it—more than an inch or two— because winter 1946 the only thing I got was a shadow chase, and a dead aunt and a tenth birthday, and a black hat to match my pants and Grampa’s coat that I was told fought in the Civil War for North, for Union, for Yankee fence builders and industrialists— yes, yes, that coat that fought starched up and buttoned gold or bronze on tan split earth hills like mine back then. And when I wore it in winter 1946 I was warm—yes, warm all over, save for my free, fatherless hand and my sad tempera face that stung and looked on, unswaddled by coat as I ran—tumbled forth by that long shadow mine with limbs like new ghosts attached to my soles, screaming me away from the thin endless expanse of canvas yank sky that hung unpainted, undulled by brush and hill, and old barbed fence, ancestor fence —that lockjaw partition that kept me out of wheat field— field of weeds then in January or February—can’t recall which, which is strange because I do remember, mind like fresh grave trap, the foot thump of stale hollow earth, the crunch of dirt snow, and the portrait bones of landscape cold

Crab Orchard Review

u

59


C.G. Hadsell that made me shiver and point sharp with crooked arm to the padded familiar ground, hoping that there was something under all this. Something beneath my boots-not-black-but-leather, and my Wyeth winter 1946.

60

u

Crab Orchard Review


Elise Hempel The Misplaced Girl That girl in my farm set, the only one without a chore, just standing there in a gingham dress, a bow in her hair, arms flat at her sides, her mouth open in an endless O as she mutely called all day long to her father atop his yellow tractor, who never stopped plowing some invisible field, or to her mother, forever stuck in a half-kneel, a permanent apron, doling feed to the bent chickens, her brother, lugging two buckets fused to his fists. Or had she been tossed in the wrong box at the factory, a girl from some other family, a different, far-away farm, just lost and waiting for her cat that uncurled at dusk, her own green gate that had hinges, a latch, her house of red wood, not plastic, her opposite world where the chickens would ruffle and peck, and all the cows unstiffen, begin to graze, the spotted prancing horse would always lower her hoof, be led to her stall, where her real father would finally climb down from his tractor, take off his cap, her mother relax her hand, stand up, untie her apron, calling Time

Crab Orchard Review

u

61


Elise Hempel for supper, and her brother, enough milking done, would ungrasp the handles of his buckets, set free his perpetual stare, the straight line of his mouth, and laugh, her world where each day the sun sank, the pitchfork loosened from the bale, the dog let wag his icicle tail, a light came on in the window’s blank, where night would fall and lift the silence, bring dishes to the empty table and smoke to the still chimney, make her able to raise her arms and turn and dance, where she could once again belong, herself at last, no one to please, throw off her bow, wear dungarees, and then release her frozen song.

62

u

Crab Orchard Review


Marina Hatsopoulos Road out of Damascus The problem with telling entrepreneurs that anything is possible

is that they conclude that their mobile app for tracking cat moods could land them on the Athens Stock Exchange. So, even though I’m an investor, I avoid the pitches at this startup conference and instead study the photos of sailboats lining the sun-drenched yacht club walls. It’s all good until my heart kicks into high gear when I glimpse the keynote speaker on the agenda: a dark face with almond eyes looking sideways. I’m the one who took that picture and brushed away the scar under his full lips. I scan the room, then collapse in a wooden chair by the stage with my café frappé, whipping my head around like hunted prey whenever there’s movement. During the panels, I check the pitches in my inbox from scientists in Thessaloniki and Crete. I contract my rejection and torpedo a swath of emails. Efficiency is critical; they multiply like fundamentalists if I don’t pick them off snappy. A lot of the startups are in energy, and I like science, but looking for investments is like house-hunting; I may say I want a white villa on Mykonos, but then fall in love with a modern refurb in Kolonaki. When I was a video-game entrepreneur, before defecting to the dark side, I looked at shrapnel and saw possibility: what could I build from that? Now, removed from the creative process, all I see is risk, so I shoot down ideas like a sniper in one of my games: fast and furious, boom boom boom. My spotting of an email from Aliki, a gallery owner, dissolves all the shards scraping at my peace. Since selling my startup, Javelin, I’ve poured my creative energy into taking photos of the immigration crisis. Greece had its own problems before a million refugees washed ashore, but what can we do; you don’t turn away from a drowning child. Nevertheless, I choose to depict the lighter, everyday moments: families sleeping on the beach, eating at the bakery or playing in the park. Aliki hasn’t committed yet, but neither has she rejected me like all the other galleries. I need quiet, so I put my laptop in my backpack, which is already weighted with my camera and papers. I lug it outside, where a big guy in a suit—rookie mistake—corners me to pitch his startup. I wish it were as easy to delete a conversation in person as it is in email. Before even explaining his business, he says he’ll exit with a sale in a few years for 10x, like it’s easy, anyone can do it. This joker has no clue how much grit he needs. He’d be an easy mark in Javelin.

Crab Orchard Review

u

63


Marina Hatsopoulos “I’m not interested,” I say. Clear and concise. It’s not that I enjoy snuffing the flame of these entrepreneurs’ egos, but euthanasia is often best. Kinder to kill than to let them suffer. Building a technology startup is hard enough, even outside Greece. He’ll need more than that smile and his little man bun. He exits my space, which is likely the only exit he’ll ever see. Liberated at last, I sit on dry dirt under an olive tree facing the Aegean to read Aliki’s email, but it’s not pages of analysis like her last one. “Thank you” is the red flag, the cigarette before the execution. She’s mastered brevity, so in just three lines knocking my pictures for being emotionally removed, it’s all over. Thank you but no thank you. I bare my soul to the universe, which shrugs, “Not quite.” My personal currency nose-dives like the old drachma. I need a plan, but there’s no planning after you hit the wall at the end of a flat world. Game over. I should stick with investing, where I have the puppet-king’s power to be doing the rejecting. A heavy gust of air blows hair into my mouth. My life, I see now, has been a series of turndowns. After Athens Polytechnic denied me, I slunk to the Technical University of Crete. But who knew that a degree in Engineering wasn’t enough to land a management position? So I returned to Athens to start up Javelin. Before I heave my body up to leave, Yesoph appears, black T-shirt draped over his swimmer’s chest. Three diamond studs in his ear provide an offset to his testosterone. His goatee is new—I thought he hated facial hair—and I wish my body didn’t react, but I can’t keep from smacking my lips to check they’re still goopy with gloss. While I was the one to disengage last Spring, I’ve been on the lookout for him around every corner, as if he might be riding his motorcycle past my apartment on Lycabettus, lurking at the outdoor indie movie theater, or checking out his shoulders in the mirror at our favorite bookstore in Syntagma Square. He’s holding an espresso, which they don’t serve at this conference, but he always gets what he wants, whether it’s women opening doors or traffic lights turning green. Yesoph was an ocular surgeon before he became a serial entrepreneur— or, rather, a “cereal” entrepreneur: snap, crackle and pop to get the party started, before the boredom sets in. He’s perfectly cast for this role, with his nose for novelty. His olive eyes, only partially open, miss nothing. Earbuds drip out of the front pocket of his jeans, which are too expensive to show a label, paid for by his surgical device startup in Syria that he sold back when there was opportunity, before the civil war. The scar below his lip came from jumping out of the dinghy after crossing over from Turkey to Greece. The resilience that flared in his bright eyes like a superpower inspired me to start my immigration portfolio, and he became my muse. While we ate langoustines under the trees after that first shoot, he pointed out the fishing net billowing under the morphing colors of the sea, the beauty of its flowing, erotic motion driven by the laws of science. Yesoph’s technical

64

u

Crab Orchard Review


Marina Hatsopoulos skills and his small stash of cash were enough for him to build a new business and a new life here in Athens. Two startups later, he’s made a name for himself, but that’s all been here in Greece, and I still have no idea who he was in Damascus. “Ariana...” The particular way he rolls his R’s gives away his Arabic accent when he speaks Greek. His voice is lower than you’d expect from a man his size. He’s not exactly short, but he seems taller from far away. It’s all part of this package designed to fit women. He’s the one man I don’t stand on tippy-toes to kiss. A few people pass by to compliment him on the keynote speech, which I missed while I was reading my rejection. He squats in front of me, shading his eyes from the sun. His belly looks a little thicker, still all muscle. Far behind him, refugee children scream and run around a dirt patch by the sea. I button my shirt to hide my necklace, a circular pendant of blue glass with a painted eye—a talisman to counter the deadly rays sent out by certain people through their eyes. He tells me about his painting and his latest startup which is taking off, but that isn’t what’s bothering me. What’s eating at me—what’s been gnawing at my serenity for months—is our lack of closure. I’ve been waiting for this, considered and reconsidered my words, but now I don’t know what to say. I want to feel anger, and I’d be justified, but I can’t find it in the familiar smell of the sea from his early morning swim. “You’re not eating well,” he says. He never misses the nuance in my skin—shiny spots, pallor, splotches, or rosacea—which reminds me that I am seen. “You seem to be eating fine,” I say. I look in my backpack, presumably for lip gloss, but really to buy myself a moment. Inside is the brown envelope, stuffed full and slightly crushed from the months it’s been in there, waiting for light, waiting for flight… waiting for my clarity and strength, which keep calling out, “Coming…just a sec, almost there!” “I have the papers,” I say, to test my own reaction as much as his. His eyes flash sadness, but he’s not one for remorse; he says everything happens for a reason. Funny concept from a guy who had to flee his homeland. “Send them to the lawyer,” he says, turning away. “Like this is my fault.” His breath quickens at my response, which is its own little gift. It’s not that I couldn’t use his calm, but I’d gladly give up mine to explode his. “You’re the one who brought lawyers into our relationship, so tell me what you want,” he says. “This isn’t about money. Your Syrian pounds are as worthless to me as your hand-crafted Bösendorfer.” He doesn’t even play piano, but he needs to live among beautiful objects.

Crab Orchard Review

u

65


Marina Hatsopoulos The conference organizer interrupts to steer us toward the cocktail cruise. I close my backpack, stand up and brush the dirt off my legs, pleased that I wore this short dress. Yesoph and I walk side by side to the dock, behind the others who are just extras in our play. Our proximity spews a cocktail of chemicals in my brain—comfort, danger, and desire in equal measure, shaken with ice. I never knew my body was capable of such betrayal. We walk along the shore, where a blue-domed church is protected by a parapet, which reminds me of the haiku that I wrote for our wedding, the only haiku I ever wrote. (It was his idea.)

You, My Water My wall breaks strong spears. But through the cracks in the stones, Warm rainwater flows.

The church is about the size of a photo booth, barely bigger than the postbox beside it. I’ve already signed the papers in my backpack, and the envelope is labelled. The appearance of the mailbox is a sign that I should send it, but then again “should” is one of those words that should be banished. We follow the crowd to the dock and onto the sailboat. Yesoph leads me inside and hands me a sweet cocktail, a token of feigned optimism for our shattered economy. I can’t guzzle it fast enough. The conference sponsor, a billionaire ship owner, thanks Yesoph for his keynote about the impact of the immigration crisis on the economy. We sample grilled octopus, which sits heavy in my stomach, and then find a corner out of the bright lights. When electric guitars and drumthumping fill the air, he winces. He’d rather be strumming bouzouki, which he learned for our wedding. “How does a person walk away from what we had? Hm?” he asks. Yesoph’s voice is soft, like his eyes, but it doesn’t subdue my agitation. The boat’s low ceiling holds in all the sweat and chatter of the conference attendees, cutting any flow of oxygen through the stale air hanging overhead. I bite my lip, unable to formulate a response because I obviously have no answers. All I did, three quarters and four investments ago, was walk my body away. The rest remains in suspended animation. Then I remember Aliki’s email, and because the thought of rejection cuts to my core, I blurt out, “I just got another brush-off.” I don’t tell people about my rejections because the sheer volume is the shame I carry with me. But I trust Yesoph to tend to this secret, caress it and hand it back to me wrapped up in shiny paper with a silk bow, as a gift to my self-image. Yesoph is unique that way; he doesn’t judge. He tilts his head and

66

u

Crab Orchard Review


Marina Hatsopoulos gazes at me. Only after a hundred photographs over those first three days did I see through the spark in his dark green eyes to the compassion beneath. “So this one gallery in all the world isn’t going to represent your photography. Does that mean those pictures don’t exist?” “Maybe I should drop the dream so it stops dropping me,” I say. “Did you expect this to be easy?” He knows how to do this, how to make me see the world through his eyes. It’s a beautiful form of manipulation that I accept with gratitude. I look up at him. I ache and I smile. He hands me his bag of Turkish figs, a staple when we used to go out spearfishing for octopus. I pick through his cache to find a fig that’s squishy, and I hear the tiny seeds break as I chew through the skin into the sweet flesh. It tastes like ouzo, exploring remote villages, waiting on the boat for the branzino to bite, and sandy sex in hidden coastal nooks. When we were together, we admired the art of life: scraps of marble in the sea, abandoned fishing boats, or the leathery old man on a donkey with a cigarette hanging out under his moustache. The sugar perks me up. Yesoph has well-defined lips, darker than pink. I feel a pull to move in closer, which is more than physical. He knows my inner workings, and he accepts me. He understands why I value a single viewer of my photographs more than a thousand paying Javelin gamers. I reach for another fig, if only to keep my mouth from making a mistake, but this one isn’t soft. The inside is darker and the seeds are harder. It doesn’t taste fresh, so I flush it down with another drink. The sails deflect the air to propel us forward, up and down, front then back. “I’m sorry,” I whisper. I should’ve said it months ago, but I was afraid to lose control of the situation. “It was harsh to run out like that, but I thought a clean break would be easier.” I figured some things are best left unsaid, especially when they make no sense, when they’re internally inconsistent. My logic, which is my bedrock and pride, chose to pick up and skip town. So I did the same, without taking into account his ongoing presence in my consciousness. “I never loved her,” he explains. “That’s not the issue,” I say, trying not to raise my voice. “Our parents set it up. She wasn’t my choice. I never knew what it was to fall in love until you and I had our first fight.” When he was teaching Syrian children Greek, I insisted on taking photos, over his objections that it negated the charity of his act. “I love you, Ariana. I chose to be with you.” “You chose to marry me without telling me you were still married to someone in Syria.” I never knew Yesoph’s family or friends, whether he really did go to med school at Damascus University, or anything about the middle class town where he claims he grew up. I had no context for him, so I simply

Crab Orchard Review

u

67


Marina Hatsopoulos invented the pieces that were missing. Finding the marriage certificate folded at the bottom of the wooden box holding his acrylic paints shook all my assumptions and rocked the foundation of my world. So I wrote him a note and I left. I realized the life we’d built was a façade—a picture formed by lit electrons on a computer screen with nothing behind it. Who knows what other secrets he’d kept from me? I couldn’t triangulate my perceptions with those of someone else who knew him. Perhaps he was an escaped criminal. I had no way to know. “I told her it was over when I left,” he says. “The rest is just paperwork. I’m not going back. This is my home now. Syria is five years and a thousand miles in my past.” “All you had to do was tell me. I don’t get it. You’re not stupid and you’re not insensitive. I can’t figure out why you would’ve done this. Was it ‘screw you’ to her or to me?” “It was nothing like that. The essence of marriage is love, not a piece of paper. You’re totally missing the point,” he says. “Why couldn’t you tell me the truth?” “I was living the truth,” he says. “What truth? You never talk about your home, your family or your trip over here. How many times did you fall in love along the way? I mean, it’s a long road from Damascus, right?” I hold a pole to steady myself, wondering if my question was too cruel or not cruel enough. His lie of omission is a simple deal-breaker like any other. No need to over-analyze it, and nothing to be gained by trying to rationalize ways around it. It’s like lamenting the color of my eyes. No point. It just is. Yesoph’s face falls. He’s gazing at my chest, a boyish understatement which never attracts any interest from the world, but my necklace has popped out from under my shirt. My blue eyes, a rarity in Greece, can unintentionally bestow a curse, so the evil eye medallion had been his gift of protection for the baby we tried to conceive. “You loved me the day before you found the paper,” he says. “I did.” “You either love me or you don’t,” he says. “My feelings, like you, aren’t trustworthy. They’re often wrong.” “Wrong or fickle?” he asks. If this relationship can be measured by the blood his fingernails gouge through my skin, then we still have something. He’s made the accusation before, but this time I’m prepared. “Fickle is clouds from a steamship floating this way and that, not a boat pulling away with engines full throttle while it’s still anchored to the sea floor.” “I love you, Ariana. I think about you every hour, every day,” he says. “Fine line between love and OCD.” I know, because I share his disease.

68

u

Crab Orchard Review


Marina Hatsopoulos Outside the window, the sun is setting over the water. It’s the same sun we used to watch from our boat on Lesbos. I try to breathe, but it’s disjointed. “You’re spinning,” he whispers. And it’s true; I am. The boat careens up and to the right, throwing me into Yesoph’s chest, but I need to get out of here, escape these people and the noise. I weave through the bodies to the door that leads up the stairs, away from the smell of fried cheese and sausage. When the boat tips, I reach to the railing to catch myself. Up on the deck, the night air is cool, propelling drops of salty water onto my face. The only sound is the wind and the waves. I take a breath. Yesoph has followed me, and when I rub my arms, he takes off his jacket to put it around my shoulders. We’re heading nearly straight into the wind, away from the dots of light on the mainland, so my hair flies all over my face. “Why are you doing this?” he asks, as though I hold all the cards. I don’t respond. “So that’s it, eh?” he asks. “It must be nice to be able to recover so quickly. I’d like that.” “I never claimed my emotions match my actions.” “That’s not an honest way to live, is it?” he asks, like this sin of mine compares to his. “You’ll regret this.” That’s my worry. It’s the same sinking feeling I have every time I hang up with the bank after transferring funds into a new startup. “Did you tell your parents?” he asks. Mom was so thrilled to finally have a son—and Eastern Orthodox at that— that she invited him to church. He went every week. Crafty move on his part. “Of course I told them.” “That wasn’t your secret to share,” he says, round lips tightened. “Effie’s a mother to me.” But she’s my mother, the source of my heart-shaped hair line and ankles too thick for my frame. Her unconditional love belongs to me and, forced to choose, she’ll turn away from him. He looks down at the ground, pondering something. It’s part of his mystery, all those unspoken thoughts. But a wrapped box can reveal anything: a new, state-of-the-art camera or a Molotov cocktail. When we turn 45 degrees, the sails flop around until they catch the wind from the other side. He wipes the bench dry with his sleeve so we can sit. I forgot to eat lunch, so I reach into the bag for another fig. I squeeze the fig between my finger and thumb to soften it before taking a bite. It’s not satisfying, but I finish it anyway. Yesoph sits with his arms widespread on the back of the bench like we’re out sunbathing. The boat tips to the left as it catches a wave, which makes me hold my stomach. He knows I get seasick, so he starts singing Nami Nami, a Syrian lullaby that he sang when I was anxious about not getting pregnant, and again later whenever I was stressed for any reason. This song always carried

Crab Orchard Review

u

69


Marina Hatsopoulos significance to me, as one of his only keepsakes from his homeland. I still believe his story about his grandmother singing it to him as a child. The lullaby reminds me of the baby we never had, which would’ve been a tangible product of our time together—an unbreakable connection. I’d always know his coordinates, I’d know when he got his thick hair trimmed, and every new dripping bathing suit. I’d be set apart from the girls on the beach who untie their towels and shake out their ponytails for him. Yesoph’s voice is deep and grainy, soulful and accurate. He sings with eyes closed, strumming the air with his fingers. The boat turns and sways side to side as if trying to throw us off. Keeping him just out of reach all these months, papers unsigned, has left me longing. So what—what’s the harm of his presence in my psyche? When a cloud passes, or life’s magic is missing, I shoot up an image of him lying in twisted sheets under the morning sun, eyes half-closed, and my spirit settles. He reaches into my backpack and pulls out my camera. He’s the only one who’s ever photographed me, and he’s always careful about the lens perspective on what he charitably calls my Venus de Milo nose, a perfect—but not small—Pythagoras triangle. He’s never taken time to learn all the camera buttons, but he likes to play the Renaissance man. In fact, his painter’s eyes see things that I miss. Whenever I’m overwhelmed by his absence, I look through his photos and discover detail, like the out-of-focus girl in the corner of the frame with sad eyes on the boy who’s fallen off his bike. As Yesoph removes the lens cover, I’m struck by his body language. He’s sitting back, legs apart, not touching any part of me. There’s no sexual urgency. How did I miss that? “Are you dating?” I ask, drawing away. He waits a beat before answering, then smirks. “If that’s what you want to call it.” He snaps my picture. I appreciate his lack of filter. It’s a form of honesty, something I can hold onto. I smile for the camera. “Good for you. Action is good.” I picture those shipwrecked girls on the beach, with their snarled, dark mangles on the root to thin frays of bleached blond at the bottom. I want the best for him, as long as it doesn’t allow others to see him as I do. I want his happiness, but of course I want mine more. “Nothing wrong with a little novelty. You’ll have much better stories for your therapist now.” Yesoph doesn’t react. I turn toward the lit houses on the shore which shrink as the night darkens. We’re moving forward, which is what I’ve wanted, but my stomach feels like a bag of crawling worms. Maybe I’m overthinking his lapse in judgment. His face softens when he sees my struggle, and he reaches out to me. I can’t help myself. His familiar fingers, intertwining with mine, are rough from the solvent he uses to wipe off his paints. A little girl in a pink dress and flip flops tugs my arm to offer me a

70

u

Crab Orchard Review


Marina Hatsopoulos carnation. She’s wearing a crown of laurels in her curly black hair. I wonder where her parents are, or if she slipped onto this cruise alone. She has high cheekbones and sunken eyes, like the woman I’ve looked up on the internet, my husband’s wife. I wonder if this girl could be Yesoph’s daughter. It’s a crazy thought. They never had kids—well, so the story goes. The girl juts the flower toward Yesoph’s chest and says something in another language. “I don’t speak Arabic,” Yesoph replies in Greek. She can’t tell that his Greek has an Arabic accent. She believes the lie which rolls so easily off his lips, and she walks away, dejected, as another wave swells and rocks the boat to the side. I disengage and stand up, but the swaying knocks me off my balance, and my pumps lose their grip. The chill of the splashing water does nothing to cool my burning body. I have to get off the boat, but there’s nowhere to go. I tell Yesoph I’m queasy and hand him his jacket, then grab my camera and backpack. He reaches toward me, but I know his cure is my poison, so I put my hand up, fingers tingling, to keep him from speaking or following me, and I grope my way around the boat to the railing, which is covered with a film of water. The boat sways in simple harmonic motion, up and down, and the noise of the splashing takes on its cadence. My fingers are clammy and my stomach tightens. I resist the impulse to heave, but my will isn’t as strong as my body, which starts convulsing to extract the figs. The people standing beside me move away as I lean over the side of the boat and let it all out into the water below until my stomach is void. Cold and wet, I count the minutes until we reach land. I stare at the shore to keep from seeing Yesoph. When we dock, I rush to the plank to get onto firm ground. The girl in the pink dress flees past and runs off by herself like a Javelin guerilla through the disarray of taxis maneuvering around the pedestrians. As I pat my backpack to be sure the papers haven’t fallen out, the big guy with the man bun catches me. “Hi again,” he says, jacket and tie in his arms. Relieved to find refuge from Yesoph, I nod and half-smile. I strain my neck to look up at him, which seems incongruous with our power dynamics. A group passes us, and one of the men turns back—it’s Yesoph, who shrugs at me like it’s my turn. He hangs back a step before turning the corner. I’d run up and grab his rough hand if that weren’t a little like chugging one last shot of whiskey on the bus to rehab. The entrepreneur and I weave through the crowd and the trucks, while the earth moves under my feet. My legs are still shaky, and I know the feeling won’t right itself until morning. The tiny street has been constricted by cars parked on both sides, half up on the white-tiled sidewalk. I look to the end for the postbox, but I can’t see it behind a three-wheeled mini-truck. “You were a gaming pioneer,” the entrepreneur says, ducking under the branch of an olive tree. “Why’d you sell out?”

Crab Orchard Review

u

71


Marina Hatsopoulos It takes me a moment to bring my mind to the topic of Javelin. “I was burned out.” I wrap my long black hair into a loose bun. Maybe we shouldn’t have sold the business. I was somebody, and now what am I? The weight of the papers is hurting my shoulder, so I sling my backpack to the left. I think about Aliki’s email, which was constructive and kind, but still a rejection. She said my images lack emotion. The question is whether I’m lacking the technical skills to transmit feeling or whether my life experience is simply shallow. Man-bun lights up when he explains his technology, like he’s talking about a girl he just met—something about tracking messages. His eyes are the color of the water in Lesbos. His startup is risky and all he has is an alpha prototype. I prepare an explanation for why I won’t invest, but I try to think of words to soften the message. I remember now that he’s emailed me several times. I want to reward him for his tenacity, so instead of walking away, I articulate the problems with his business model. He listens and takes notes. “Everything takes a lot longer than you think,” I say. “We had to rework the pitch, over and over. Our first sales took a year to close. It was scary; we really needed the cash.” As we walk under the street lamps, I can’t help but eye the approaching mailbox on the corner, beside the domed church. “Why didn’t you raise more money?” he asks. “We got turned down by every VC in Boston, New York and San Francisco. There was no funding here in Athens back then. We almost went under, but we trudged through until we found a speckle of light.” I run my hand over the jasmine which billows over an iron fence, then smell the sweetness on my palm. “Maybe the failures don’t matter so much if the journey’s fun,” he says. “It’s hard, but I love it.” And I love photography: creating beauty from a blank sheet. Even as we’re walking, I can’t help but think of new ideas for my portfolio. The church bell rings. It’s like the closing clang at the end of a round in Javelin, when the winning gunshot is replayed and frozen on the screen to the sound of the bell’s resonance tapering off, just before the game restarts. “Any advice?” he asks, which is code for asking if I want to invest. “Stick with it. We never gave up when people said our product was crappy.” The immigrants in my photographs would never give up either. Maybe I could get the Javelin developers—bored and underutilized since the acquisition—to design a website for my pictures so I’d have a better shot at landing a gallery. My drive for audience is visceral. An act of creation only has value if it’s experienced; the power to move another person requires another person. Man-bun smiles. He’s fearless. He could be the next great CEO. He’s

72

u

Crab Orchard Review


Marina Hatsopoulos exuding hope. I remember that feeling and I want it back. We talk over strategy and my stomach starts to settle. “It must be nice to be you,” he says. It’s a funny joke after the ride I’ve just been through. “Better to be you. You’re making it happen. Customers are going to be consuming your product; you’re creating something from nothing. You’re the one with the power here. It’s all on you.” We pass an apartment building made of lemon-colored concrete. A Greek flag flaps in the wind, blue stripes rippling like waves of the Mediterranean, which adds weight to my words, as if he owes it to our homeland to build a business and create jobs. I could never abandon my country the way Yesoph did. Startups are just taking off here in Athens; we have work to do. We approach the tiny white church with candles flickering through the windows. I stop and open my backpack for my camera, which I see is bending the papers. I pull out the manila envelope and check the address. I’m not the kind of person who waits for things, especially intangibles like “resolution” which have no delivery date. I turn to the post box and open the little door before reaching in with the envelope. All that’s left is for Yesoph to sign his sloppy scrawl. I might not see him again for months, and his life will proceed without me. But the color of the sea won’t change. Gravity has its way, and the envelope slips out of my fingers, hitting the bottom with a thunk. This isn’t counter fire, it’s surrender. As I pull up my backpack, which is lighter now, the smell from corn grilling on a street cart reminds me that my stomach is empty, but the vendor is nowhere to be seen. “Can we chat over coffee next week?” Man-bun asks. First I need to get to my computer to sift through galleries and find five new names. I lean toward the stand and sniff the smoke, so he picks up a cob of corn and hands it to me, leaving 5 Euros on the cart. The oozing kernels are crunchy, full of salt and butter. “Yes to the coffee?” he asks. His doggedness is delightful. That vitality reminds me of Yesoph tasting a sea urchin that he’d caught by the lagoon of the uninhabited island near our home, insisting I try it. I glance back at the postbox. Zambeta’s crooning over bouzouki starts blaring from a bar. “Show me how your product works,” I say. He downloads the app onto my phone. “Just input a phone number—but you also need to know the phone’s password. The app will transmit all their messages to you: whatever’s on the phone plus anything that comes in while the app is open.” Without even thinking of other options, I input Yesoph’s phone number and password, which was the date we met. I wonder when he’ll

Crab Orchard Review

u

73


Marina Hatsopoulos fall in love again and remarry. Even then, and always thereafter, he’ll still occupy beachfront property in my psyche. My eyes are transfixed on the app, waiting for it to deliver on its promise, until I hear a rant from a woman in a headscarf. All but her eyes are hidden, so for a flash of a second she looks like one of the masked warriors in Javelin. She’s scolding a little girl—the girl in the pink dress, whose crown is crooked now, its leaves half-broken. I don’t need to speak Arabic to understand the fear of loss in the woman’s aching eyes. I hand Man-bun my phone. “Delete the app.” “Don’t you want to see?” he asks. “Delete it. I’ll introduce you to an expert in the space.” I drop my backpack and start rummaging. It’s a lost feeling, not a lost object or person, which would indicate a different place and method to find it back. I pull out my camera. The woman grabs the girl’s hand to pull her in, and then slaps her face. The girl cries out, and soon blood is running out of her nose. She lifts her hands to stop the flow. Her recessed eyes look up at the woman in dismay. The mother, redeemed by her evident shock and guilt, kneels on the ground as the weight of her anger lifts, and she removes her headscarf to wipe her daughter’s nose. She wraps the child in her arms and rubs her hair as she consoles her with small words. I’ll never forget the time Mom explained that she always loved me, even when she was angry, and it took me a while as a child to understand that. The mother kisses the girl’s cheek, but I wait to focus the lens until I catch the girl’s face, blood-stained and shiny, reflecting neither anger nor remorse, but simply relief from her mother’s embrace. I push the button, and that’s when I feel my power.

74

u

Crab Orchard Review


Lisa Higgs Unfamiliar Country wind on water on ice apparitional the lake floating on itself giving air a body that races mirror-backs half serpent half silk scarfing pulled from this winter’s inverted hat everything dull but the tree-howl gray branches clacking near black against brackish cloud-cover the nubs of leaves swollen like purple hives or pustules nearing break the way a country can be so unfamiliar to itself its bones retained like some relic moving to museum floor to be showcased with informative signs and all the best lighting its innards spirited away in the cycle of wet things rain-logged to rot and mold driven down to earth becoming earth below the surface of the earth lake and root sharing a bottom unfathomed unechoed

Crab Orchard Review

u

75


Lisa Higgs

From a Wealth of Hearts All day this restless spring has shifted face— clouds rising from lake bed to a whipped yellow yolk amassing like ingots across vaulted sky cooling toward this pale drizzle of dusk. All day such migrations along shoreline: crowds of geese, ducks, bufflehead merganser, even three deer crossing their final width of ice refining its form’s new borders. Zugunruhe: the pull of poles, magnets drawing the wealth of hearts who must travel aloft meridians. Some instinct points north, and wings lift. The compass clears beyond spheres of human influence. Listen, a needle hums, its thread aligned from birth infinitely.

76

u

Crab Orchard Review


Anna Claire Hodge How to Be Fabulous

Dubai Let the crimson-swathed flight stewards teach you a little Arabic. The plane’s ceiling will blink with LED stars. When you wake over Egypt, they’ll bring newspapers, and dish after bone china dish. The gold will not be as cheap as you’d heard, so let the bangles that teem the windows stay where they are. Haggle for brass lamps and ceramic camels that will disappoint your mother. No one will know why you’re there. When they ask, order another drink or gasp at the throaty call to prayer. When a man guesses you’re a Russian hooker, don’t correct him. The spice monger will lift his hands to your face until you’ve guessed what each fragrant barrel holds. Photograph a fist of saffron, the fiery tendrils caged in a jar. Here, no one knows that for a year, you slept through the daylight, took pills, wept until the vomit came. Stare from the top of the world’s tallest building, watch its tiered shadow swallow a water park, rug market, islands in the shape of the world.

Crab Orchard Review

u

77


Elizabeth Hoover The Birds of Pennsylvania All those dioramas in the Natural History Museum concerned with certain death—the seal’s snout just below the ice where a mannequin waits, spear ready. Or the suckling fawn lifted by invisible string as her mother buckles in the wolf’s embrace. Here the Bedouin reaches, fingers splayed like a lily, his camel crumpling into the roiling pack of lions. He tries to unhook his boot from the stirrup, but where to go? There’s nothing in the display to suggest escape. What did we learn—my sisters and I—those afternoons wandering the exhibition halls? Certainly not the Latin names of all the beasts or that the world is a place of constant peril. We knew that already. My older sister cornered at the bus stop when a man spread the wings of his coat, the mangy security guard at school left notes in my other sister’s locker, and I kicked free from a pack of boys who trapped me on the jungle gym. Our favorite, or at least the one we returned to the most, was The Birds of Pennsylvania. Sparrows and jays, two doves and a cardinal, all clustered at the feeder, scattering seeds for squirrels waiting on fresh snow. Part of a house with a pitched roof and flowered curtains in the window. Not a cat in sight. We wondered, seeing each other though the glass, if, by magic, one of us entered that little red house, would she let the others in.

78

u

Crab Orchard Review


Christina Hutchins

Sappho to the Man from Gdansk

Dear, how lovely your anticipation of swimming must be, this late in spring. Your letter brought me the small froth at a clear, clear edge of the Baltic. You bent and rose to lift seaglass to light so I could look through it, & I am so grateful. You asked me to sing you the changes, & so you might wander your beach turning my pages, I will do my very best. I am, after all, the daughter of Cleis & the gentle Scamandromymus, & my letters travel well, so come, ears, to my mouth. You know it was a bit odd we came to each other at all. I mean that it was you, a shipbuilder & man of a world I know so little of. I’d been many years with women in bowers built, often, of the neighbors’ stolen roses. You were like the lithe girl who will slip among the boys on their ladders at Alexandria: you run in your soft sandals along the tops of the stacks, fetching me volumes. If only you could acquire one for me now.…Come to California! The muses thatched my house & our grassy roof blooms! Evenings I watch the swallows dip & pack their mud nests. Though it may seem so, even the bottlebrush starlings did not choose their lives. When you & I met, not many months had passed since Atthis had betrayed me. When one spring night she sang to our guests what she would not tell me in our bed: of a bourbon & lemon kiss, & of the berries she set on her lover’s tongue. Blind fish in the salt mine! A salamander’s slick in her riparian world, & my heartbeat jabbed the dark. Every time I thought on Atthis, some vision or memory—her small ears below the tied, silver hair— hurt me afresh. She’s long since gone, entire, to Andromeda. They are household to one another, & I wish them well.

Crab Orchard Review

u

79


Christina Hutchins I think of you, sometimes, swimming in the summer Baltic, skating the rivers of Gdansk last winter, & it does not pain me to remember you. No, not even our loss hurts, exactly. We’re sinew & scupper & together we turned our arms through the plunge of the sea. Of course, if you are squeamish, don’t prod the beach rubble. Do you remember the breakfast table & our friend? We were an easy trio of three different lands. Did you feel me across the table & still in your body? I watched him touch the doorframe on the way out, a deliberate linger, a moment on the molding & the latch. Would you were the timpanist we watched here last night, & instead of reading this, you might bend mid-concert, as he did, tuning, to lay an ear on my chest! Before Atthis, I had Hero prying the hook from the mouth of a muscled fish. It was she, upended the jar I told you about: a torrent of cold in midsummer’s unbearable heat, her laughter a dictionary of water. Is this the account of changes you wanted? In the spirit of your request, before Hero, came the chance heats of men, & the one I married.…It lasted many years, was long ago. You & I, our love is such I know you will rejoice when I tell you I have fallen into bed again. With sweet Anactoria, & I may never rise! This is what you were asking, isn’t it? She is beautiful, younger by decades & was my student, her eyes blue as the underlit sea of a white sand beach. We forget to eat! Forget to place both our hands, hers on the moments, mine on the days! Even Anactoria’s dogs are eager at the waterbowl. From our nap we awaken to the music of their tongues. We forgot a season: stems & roots, solid trunks under the seasway of treetops wild in winter’s first lashings. Now it is spring in her rooftop room where the hill rises its steepest. We can see the sailboat races but never watch them. Two nights ago, she & I thumped down Battery Street, & my hand was not in her pocket as ever it was with Atthis. For Anactoria is music itself & loves me.

80

u

Crab Orchard Review


Christina Hutchins She & I are giddy. Behind us are so many lost days, we laugh seventy times an hour. Passersby smile. Someone has whistled. Yes, giddy. But still, & more than it was, the lyre’s in my lap, my small boat adds a shadow to the stream. We work, a volume open on the low table between us. I’m glad to know there will be trumpets in Krakow. Whether music or light, love everywhere is preserved by its dispersion. My lover, I won’t forget the children’s voices, how they called to us from the playground, nor our curious circumambulation of the fountains. You have become me & I, you, so we continue.

Note: The line, “Of course, if you are squeamish, don’t prod the beach rubble,” is taken from the real Sappho.

Crab Orchard Review

u

81


Julie Swarstad Johnson What the Susquehanna Tells Me about Blood Surely the trees still hold the image of my mother’s father moving, paddle in hand through all this shade. The sun stills above the river, crowns me, returned daughter in the place her parents left. And look, what summer’s done to make these valleys Eden restored. They never told me evening was endless, how strawberry scent warms roadside stands, how the breeze fusses every surface gold. How all that glint can cover over every loss, transform it into lit ripples and rocks, a sheen off the water’s bulk. I could drift off on it. Here, on the bridge, time’s ignored for elbows pressed against steel beams, for a soothing sulk in a story half known, misremembered, shored up by longing to know myself, certainty that origin tells me all I need to know. A trip down the river, the body cradled by the canoe’s tender shell. The danger in the blood, not the water. Shiver sent through the body by damaged cells, present or still years off. The disease has nothing to do with his trip or this river, but what a form the water’s lent to my unmet grandfather. It’s enough, that canoe clumsily tied to a tree, little boat enough to spark a world from a remembered sentence: “He floated the Susquehanna from Sunbury.” One remark, and I can taste the metal’s warmth. One drifting boat— the living body for the dead. The water can tell me what has stayed unsaid: four teenaged children’s grief. Surely I’ve heard the date, what it was that attacked his cells, disaster’s pale ghost. But it’s become belief:

82

u

Crab Orchard Review


Julie Swarstad Johnson stilled hospital rooms, absence filling the house, how young my mother felt, how old the afternoon. I think she must now love the lap of water on a hull, the hum a voice makes caught in the hemmed-in space, the slowed thrust of the river against the bridge, the river against my hands braced on steel, something more than fruit in the summer air. The wind reverses course. My little vision withstands it—no, it’s made to drift, made for the river’s ceaseless repair.

Crab Orchard Review

u

83


Rodney Jones The Association Mrs. Lionel Spence, agency of one indivisible, speaks Long in such a low voice, Luck must lean toward her To catch the drift and, leaning close, risk offending. But since she owns the building where he sells videos And the entire block of stores from Main to Purchase, He sits front center with other grinning effigies of attention Early Saturday morning, gazing out the window at minivans Flocking toward grocery stores and soccer fields, And he thinks, at this instant, as Mrs. Spence wobbles And veers from the course of her remarks about the need To gussy up downtown with marigolds and cherry trees, That there are two kinds of leaders, shouters and whisperers; That there may be a plot in each; the shout implies Dangers far off and immediate while the whisper Relates more to proximity. But there’s not always a plot, Or the plot fades beyond malice and enters history. Snow piles up in drifts as the German tanks roll out of Berlin. On the light pole in front of the closed movie theater The announcements for fire sales, revivals, and tractor pulls Have formed a hard, white laminate of papier-mâché. As she speaks, Mrs. Spence is fading, too. How pleased She seemed at the end of summer: for two whole weeks He called her Marie; he imagined she warmed to him: Golden mornings, coffee and bagels, vignettes of gazebos, And then one day her assistant rolling up behind him In that golf cart she rides downtown, tooting the little horn, “Oh fellow, Mrs. Spence does not wish to be called Marie.”

84

u

Crab Orchard Review


Rodney Jones Now as she introduces a koi pond and fountain, Luck Thinks: “I will not. Will not.” But darkness fills him. And then a rolling tray, off to the side, clatters—tips, Only a bit, but two melon balls with toothpicks in them Hover, drop to the carpet—as the caterer spears them And repositions them on the tray, he meets Luck’s eyes, winks. And in that alteration it dawns on him that he is here, A dues paying member of the association, and sees Around him, the other significances: eyes locked down, Fingers in laps pecking at smart phones like chickens, And knows that the speech that had been a distant wave Has reached the early susurrations of beginning to end. Some meaning comes through the portal between the words. Luck doodles a few words with pearls, beards, and ears: Bill Moyers. Joseph Campbell. Vase. Flower. Rent. How great it will be to speak to everyone in normal tones. There are singers here; a talented dwarf, a champion swimmer— Janine, the florist, comes out each time she drinks a beer. Later when Mrs. Spence gets Luck alone, the flower Comes out of the vase. “Benjamin,” she says, though His name is not Benjamin—“this great beauty we share, This garden; we are blessed.” And gives him then her back To contemplate along with the mystery of the infundibulum: We know what we don’t know would be one way to put it.

Crab Orchard Review

u

85


Rob Howell The Spillway A half-day of service calls meant a half-day of pay, and Graham

Johnston, desperate to occupy himself, ripped through an afternoon set of bench-presses. He pushed rep after rep toward the garage ceiling, the bar frowning under the weight of the steel plates. Beads of sweat quivered on his forehead, his upper lip. When the load refused to move from his chest, muscles worthless and burning as if they’d been taken to with a cutting torch, he rolled from side to side, dumped the weight to the cement floor. He racked the empty bar and gagged through a swallow of cheap protein. After a minute of panting, he reloaded the plates and started over. He was on his fifth set, right at the edge of something like meditation, when a dirty SUV pulled into the driveway next door. Callie Anderson, his neighbor, wore a tank top and a pair of yoga pants, her blonde hair gathered in a wild bun. She leaned into the car, kicked out a thin, muscled calf. When she came back up, she had a toddler hanging to her neck, a Party City bag, and bunch of helium balloons in primary colors. Graham settled under the bar and measured his fingers along the knurling. Callie and Beth, Graham’s wife, had planned a combined birthday party for the kids that Sunday. Beth wanted Graham to mow the yard and hose the dust off the pop-up canopy. She wanted him to boil crawfish for twenty people. She wanted him to be decent and kind to the Andersons. She’d said he didn’t know a thing, not really, about Callie and Elliot’s marriage, and he shouldn’t pass judgment. She quoted Bible verses about the throwing of stones, one lawgiver and judge, splinters in the eye. Beth would’ve wanted Graham to wave, make small talk, and help Callie carry the party supplies into her house. Instead, he tightened his fists around the bar and closed his eyes. He struggled blindly against the weight for ten, fifteen, twenty reps. That night, Graham hopped the ground cover marking the property line—a wild run of monkey grass spiked with volunteer pecans and oaks— and walked through the Anderson’s weed-choked St. Augustine. He pressed the doorbell, rapped his knuckles against the wood. All that is to say, if there were anyone else he could’ve asked, Graham wouldn’t have come to his neighbor’s door. Elliot had a good haircut, a jaw like a catalog model. Two or three inches

86

u

Crab Orchard Review


Rob Howell taller than Graham but half as wide, arms hanging limp as garden hoses, he answered the door in sweatpants and a yellowed undershirt. Graham was used to seeing him in khakis, pen and notepad in the pocket of his buttondown, as if at any second he might be called away for an actuarial emergency. “You need to get a handle on that crown vetch on the side of your driveway,” Graham said. He’d started work on a six-pack of Coors tallboys, and between the beer and Elliot’s sloppiness, he was suddenly full of righteous anger. “Get some Round-Up. Pulling it won’t do shit.” “What?” Elliot whispered. He held the door and looked past Graham into the yard. “Callie’s putting Ava down.” “I don’t need your weeds in my lawn.” “Sorry about that,” Elliot said, and moved to close the door. “I’ll take care of it.” “That’s not what I came over for.” Graham smacked at a mosquito, considered the maroon splotch on his hand. “This little birthday party our wives are planning. Beth wants to boil crawfish for twenty.” “Let me know what it costs. I’ll write you a check.” “I’m not paying for mudbugs when I can pull them out of the swamp myself.” “I saw a place.” Elliot pointed toward the road noise just outside the subdivision. “The sign says 3.99 a pound, hot and boiled. I don’t mind covering it.” “I’m not asking for money.” Graham took a step forward, wedged himself into the doorframe. “That’s not what I meant.” Elliot turned his head, offered a smooth cheek, but otherwise did not move. He smelled of sweat and stale body spray. The men stood inches apart, vibrating with unknown purpose, like actors who’d run out of script. After a minute, Callie sang out from the back of the house, something about goodnight prayers. Graham thought of his own wife coming upon him in that moment, and the liver-punch of embarrassment almost sent him to his knees. “Anyway, I’m leaving at 5:30, Saturday morning. Come if you want,” Graham said, and took a couple of steps back. “It’s easier with two sets of hands.” Elliot drew his mouth tight, nodded. “I can probably do that,” he finally said. “I like fishing. I haven’t been since we moved here.” “Well, if you’re coming, be at the truck at five.” Graham said. “This isn’t like fishing you’ve done. Wear long pants and shoes you don’t care about.” On Friday, after her regular shift at the hospital, Beth showered and put on fresh scrubs, rubber clogs, and wrist braces for her carpal tunnel. She kissed Graham and Lucas on their foreheads, told them to behave, and drove sixty miles to moonlight in a Mississippi emergency room. After waving Beth down the driveway, Graham entertained his son with wrestling maneuvers. Suplexes, powerbombs, and a spinning crucifix toss that left Lucas and the bedframe squealing. The pediatrician said Lucas was

Crab Orchard Review

u

87


Rob Howell off the growth charts for a two-year-old, and Graham already had dreams of Division One football scholarships and guaranteed draft bonuses. At a quarter to seven, he gave Lucas a bottle and a half-teaspoon of Benadryl for his runny nose, then fell down with him in front of an episode of Spongebob. Beth’s extra shifts and “Lucas-Daddy Time” had been the weekend routine since Charlie’s Plumbing, LLC, lost its largest service contract—a builder out of Baton Rouge specializing in custom-built tract homes with five floor plans and trim options—and Graham lost half his hours. He found a little side work, snaking toilets for pocket money, but he spent most of his afternoons lifting weights and flipping a tractor tire from fence to fence in the backyard. Two months into the partial layoff, the Johnstons started buying groceries on a new credit card with an interest rate that must’ve been a misprint. After Beth’s mother rescued them from a final notice at the electric company, Graham lied about filling out an application for late-night delivery driver at Hungry Howie’s. He never could’ve told his wife how he walked in, took one look at the zit-faced assistant manager, and placed an order for a pizza he wouldn’t eat. “There’s nothing good out there for me,” Graham had said, as Beth explained figures in the budget spreadsheet. Now, on these nights when Beth moonlighted, Graham couldn’t deny the brief comfort in living like a stranger. With Lucas snoring fatly in his crib, and Beth busting her ass across state lines, he could almost drink enough to be important. Standing in the bathroom, he dug his key into his fourth tallboy. He held the dripping can to his lips, cracked the tab to send the beer shotgunning down his throat. Shirtless and half-drunk in front of the mirror, he hunched his shoulders into a most-muscular pose. He’d always been strong, though he hadn’t always looked like it. As a nineteenyear-old apprentice he’d won a bet by throwing a cast-iron tub on his back and marching up a flight of stairs. Now, a decade later, he’d made the sort of body to stand up to the Apocalypse. A body to survive the collapse of economy and society, for growing vegetables and kicking cannibal ass. It wasn’t until almost midnight, the buzz dull and pounding at the back of his eyes, that Graham remembered to be ashamed. He’d killed the rest of his tallboys, and chased some Benadryl of his own with Beth’s cheap chardonnay. Watching teenage baboons tear at each other on the TV screen, maniacs for the red-assed rapture of monkey sex, he winced and thought of his wife at the hospital. He thought of those divorced Mississippi surgeons, sewing people back together, whining about repairs to their BMWs and the endless upkeep on their camps at some private lake. He thought of the black thumbprints beneath Beth’s eyes, as if he’d reached out with dirty hands and marked her himself. At five the next morning, Graham dragged himself off the couch and found Beth and the baby curled together on top of the comforter. He wanted to carry Lucas from the bed, undo the cotton drawstring of his

88

u

Crab Orchard Review


Rob Howell wife’s scrub pants. Match the fronts of his knees to the backs of hers, and love her through his hangover and dry-mouthed Benadryl haze. “I’m taking off,” he said, and she cooed back nonsense from a dream. With one hand shielding his eyes from the garage light, he loaded a tangled pile of set nets, a seventy-quart cooler, and a wheelbarrow into the bed of his truck. The day before he’d left five pounds of beef melt and some old frozen catfish spines to ripen in the sun. The smell drove Graham to retch, bile roiling into his mouth only to be swallowed back down. He tapped the horn of his truck, splintered the pre-dawn silence. He wouldn’t honk again, and he’d decided on leaving alone when Elliot marched through the glow of the headlights, a travel coffee mug in each hand and a paper sack tucked under his arm. “Callie sends this,” he said. “French press.” Graham sniffed at the mug, and caught himself thinking of his neighbor’s wife. Callie in a silk nightgown, boiling water before the sun came up. “You’re late,” Graham said. The men hardly spoke during the trip to the spillway. Graham drove mindlessly down I-10, then the pot-holed two-lanes, trusting the wheel to remember the turns, trusting the gas pedal to guess at the speed limit. Elliot slurped his coffee. The sun climbed pink behind the mist-soaked hardwoods. The mortgage was a stretch, but Beth loved their little house. The granite countertops. The schools. The strip mall two miles west with the Hobby Lobby and the new Panera Bread. After the showing, the realtor introduced them to the Andersons. Callie hung on Elliot’s neck in the driveway, called him “babe” over and over again. They’d just come down to Louisiana from Minnesota. Elliot was a junior actuary for some kind of offshore drilling company. Callie was staying at home for now, with a Master’s in Art History and thoughts of teaching at the community college. Funny enough, they had a baby girl with a birthday only two days after Lucas’s. After the Johnstons moved in, Callie carried over a dessert, a French pie with a fluffy top, and offered to help unpack boxes. Within weeks the women were talking most days, watching the kids play, sipping herbal teas that sometimes turned into wine. They read the fiction bestsellers together, joked about plans for a costume jewelry store on the Internet, a bar in Costa Rica after the kids were grown and the husbands were dead. “Giggle Farm,” Beth had said to Graham. “Who wouldn’t want to go to a bar named Giggle Farm?” Graham and Elliot had spent plenty of time together at barbecues and potlucks. There’d been shared babysitters and double dates at the movies. Graham had always gone into these nights with some resentment—he figured the Andersons were slumming, that they’d probably rather be doing whatever it was people with graduate degrees and decent savings accounts

Crab Orchard Review

u

89


Rob Howell did. Still, the wives had a way with each other that he couldn’t deny. They’d whisper inside jokes and fall over laughing like sisters, but they were usually careful not to let the men sit quietly for too long. Callie would say how Elliot was getting interested in carpentry, that he should show Graham the new table saw. Beth would bring up Graham’s garden, the tomatoes cracking on the vine and better than anything at Whole Foods. Early on, thinking it would please Beth, Graham dug his golf clubs out of the closet and invited Elliot to the nine-hole golf course on the LSU lakes. They sliced drives into the water, four-putted every postage stamp green. Without the wives around to justify a conversation, they puttered along in the golf cart mostly without speaking. Graham tried to say something about a freshman running back with the Tigers, and Elliot drifted off in a comment about Roth IRAs. Graham was relieved when they ran out of balls on the seventh tee and decided to call the round off early. A couple of weeks after the round of golf, a woman in an Audi drove up and down Theroux St., stuffing neon leaflets into every mailbox. The leaflets told a story about Callie, a married lawyer from New Orleans, a string of motel rooms, and a blowjob in a Circle K drive-thru carwash. The South Farm was a cultivated patch of the Morganza Spillway, good for hunting and fishing when it wasn’t too high with runoff from the Atchafalaya. Graham hadn’t been since the last time he’d hunted with his father, more than three years earlier. They’d shown up at four a.m. for the duck lottery, dropped their limit of birds before most people had woken up. A month later, just a couple of days after the sonogram said he was having a grandson, Graham’s father fell dead of an aneurysm in the driveway. He’d left a package of the duck meat defrosting next to the sink, vegetables for soup chopped and waiting in the refrigerator. Graham had never been much of a sportsman, but he missed hunting with the old man. The quiet, simple camaraderie and the rhythm of things. Caked with mud and dried sweat, sipping beers on the drive home. The way his father could squeeze a life’s worth of advice—work hard, take care of your family, don’t complain—into a grunt and a nod. But now, Elliot wouldn’t shut up with the questions. He asked if he needed a fishing license, if there was someone to pay, who ran this place anyway. He tried to help as Graham dropped the tailgate, lifted the wheelbarrow out of the bed of the truck, and loaded in the gear. “So you’re sure I don’t need a license?” “I don’t know. Do you need a license to swat mosquitos off your arms? We’re here to get a couple sacks of mudbugs. No one gives a shit.” Graham pointed to an information sign at the edge of the parking lot. “Fill out one of those little forms if you want to.” “No, if you say it’s OK, it’s OK.”

90

u

Crab Orchard Review


Rob Howell “OK. Let’s get moving then.” Graham pushed the wheelbarrow as fast as he could manage, a couple of times nearly losing the load to bumps in the limestone footpath. Elliot asked for something to carry and Graham shook his head, said he was handling it just fine. Pockets of swamp began to appear just past the parking lot, and Elliot wondered aloud if they could expect to see any alligators. Past the tree line, the spillway was all right angles, predictable and sculpted, as if a team of German engineers had flown in to pour the perfect bayou. A grid of fecund water, the pools identical and two or three times the size of a football field. The levees had the landscaping and width of a highway median. Each clump of cattails, each stand of Rosseau cane, looked to have been transplanted and fertilized by hand. Ibises lurched through the shallows, tested the muck with sharp, red bills. Mississippi Kites swooped down to steal dragonflies from the humid air. A bullfrog hid somewhere in the grass. His moans rolled across the swamp and crashed into Graham’s head like a forty-five-pound Olympic plate. Graham pushed the wheelbarrow past a pair of bikini-clad teenagers in a pirogue, pulling traps and singing about their luck to a boy on the bank. A black man sat on a bucket and watched his young son glide through the swamp in a pair of hip waders. An old couple in lawn chairs held cane poles at the edge of the levee. The woman—legs splayed and covered with blue veins as fat as extension cords—lifted her pole as Graham and Elliot passed. A muddy crawfish clung to a piece of meat. The woman dangled the creature over a plastic bucket, thrashed her pole back and forth, and smiled. “Can’t stand to touch them when they’re living,” she said. Elliot slowed to stare off into the water. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “We’re not stopping here. Too many people.” Graham hunched his shoulders, sped up to a slow jog. The wheelbarrow sprayed limestone pebbles and clumps of mud in its wake. “What the hell!” Elliot said. Graham jerked to a stop. The cooler flew five or six feet and crashed to the ground. Free of its broken hinges, the lid tumbled down the levee like a playing card lost to the wind. Flecks of mud dotted Elliot’s neck and face, as if he’d been cursed with terrible moles. He opened his arms to the sky. “Why the fuck did you even bring me?” Graham had never heard his neighbor swear. He could only think of the obvious answer to his question. “It’s easier if I have an extra set of hands.” The lid of the cooler floated just off the bank. “I could ask you the same thing, anyway.” “Callie wanted me to come,” Elliot said. “She thought it’d be nice.” “Callie,” Graham said. “Sure. Grab that lid. You’ll have plenty to do when we stop.”

Crab Orchard Review

u

91


Rob Howell He’d been sent home early on the day of the flyer. The woman in the Audi drove down the wrong side of the road, peeling out and slamming her brakes between each mailbox. Graham stared at her from the sidewalk. When their eyes met, she shook her head as if to say “No” to everything he thought to be good. Her face was round and glistening, the color of a bloodied yolk. He read the flyer and shoved it into his pocket. He wondered if he should run down the street, open every mailbox, and destroy all the evidence. He wondered if Beth should know the truth about her friend. Then something carried him to the garage and his weight bench, the counting of reps and sets a stand-in for prayers he’d forgotten or never learned. That evening he cooked his specialty: breakfast for dinner. Beth didn’t notice that he picked at his fried potatoes, left bacon on his plate. Scrubbing egg off the dishes, his hands shook so much that he dented the sink with the cast iron skillet. He watched through the kitchen window as Callie drove away. She’d packed a suitcase, but no baby. Hours later, Graham found himself suddenly terrified of sex with his wife. Where should he put his hands? Had he ever really pleased her? He confessed to Beth the flyer, the woman in the Audi. “Every mailbox? That’s terrible,” Beth said, and groped for her phone on the nightstand. “You should’ve done something.” “The flyer’s terrible? Did you hear what I said? Callie’s cheating on Elliot.” Graham measured his voice, as if reading important numbers off blueprints. “Your friend’s a whore.” Beth flicked on the lamp and stared at Graham, her face and neck raw from his stubble. “That’s hateful.” “She cheated on her husband. She’s a whore.” “Don’t say it again.” Beth left the bed and wrapped herself in Graham’s bathrobe, held the threadbare collar at her chest. “Things aren’t that simple.” “Put down the phone. You can’t talk to her anymore. I forbid it.” “You forbid it?” Beth said. “Let me know how that works out for you.” She started dialing before she’d left the room. “You knew this was going on, didn’t you?” Graham yelled. She didn’t answer, and he was afraid to ask again. They came upon a pair of shirtless men working nets with poles from the bank. An ATV sat parked on the levee, a full sack of crawfish in the trailer. One of the men adjusted his ratty UL baseball cap, bragged of the haul in a heavy Cajun accent, offered extra beef melt. There was no one else in sight. Graham and Elliot slogged another quarter-mile, their shirts translucent with sweat. The levee ahead was untrampled, all tall grass and virgin mud. The Cajuns were ants on the horizon.

92

u

Crab Orchard Review


Rob Howell “No one’s fished here,” Graham said, and eased the wheelbarrow to a stop. “As good a place as any.” He showed Elliot how to untangle the set nets, position the wire legs, yank the contraption from the water without losing any crawfish. The sun had cleared the eastern tree line, and every insect on Earth hummed in the full light. Graham felt his hangover draining out through his pores. He peeled off his shirt, fell to one knee, and opened his pocketknife. Holding his breath, he tore through the membrane of the rancid beef melt, the spleen leaking a rich maroon soup. He pierced a wallet-sized hunk of organ with a rusted safety pin and attached it to the center of a net. “See?” Graham said, and stepped off the levee and into the brown swamp. He waded ten or twenty yards, until the water came up to mid-thigh on his jeans. He lowered the net, and once all four points found purchase in the muck he called back to Elliot. “All there is to it.” Before Graham made it back to shore, Elliot had cut and pinned bait of his own. He waded carefully into the water, eyeing the filmy surface, testing the mud under his feet. He dropped the net at a spot ten yards to the left of the first, and then turned back toward dry land. Graham was almost impressed that Elliot hadn’t asked a question about urethra-swimming amoeba. They pulled more than a sack—forty, forty-five pounds—in less than two hours of running traps. It would’ve only been easier if the crawfish had climbed onto the levee, scuttled through the mud and grass, and waited at the cooler. With the frenzy, Graham and Elliot could afford to be discriminating. Weird albinos, juveniles, and the grimier bugs were thrown back. The men kept only the bright red dinosaurs, meaty claws aimed skyward, nipping at the air. Since his father wasn’t around to schedule hunting and fishing daytrips, Graham only got outside to turn the compost pile, weed the garden, and dig up the occasional septic tank for work. Her didn’t realize how much he’d needed this sort of thing, and after a morning on the spillway, he’d almost forgotten himself, almost forgotten Elliot. They made low hoots and whistles at swollen nets, took turns dragging the cooler. The bait went gray in the water, and they ripped the meat to expose fresh blood. They could’ve been any two men in the swamp. Quiet, soaked and filthy to the groin, on their way to getting sunburned. They stood gathering themselves for the next run when a cottonmouth slid off the bank, knifed through the still surface of the water. The snake had the kind of thickness, the kind of head, that meant fangs. The men jumped back in unison. “Black watersnake,” Graham lied. “Not poisonous. They mate in a ball. One female in the middle, and all the males trying to get at her. Thrashing around, biting and crawling all over each other. Rolling across the swamp, like a thing from hell.”

Crab Orchard Review

u

93


Rob Howell At around noon, they sat on the cooler and shared Elliot’s lunch. Their jeans were heavy with slime, streaked with spleen from where they’d wiped the knife. Graham peeled a hardboiled egg, flicked the shell into the water. “Goddammit!” he yelled, fired up with the mass of crawfish thrashing beneath him. “I should just do this full-time.” Elliot kissed a bit of chicken salad from his thumb. “You can make a living this way?” “When my Dad was younger he did crawfish, sugarcane, masonry, depending on the season. Before I was born he got into sheet metal, commercial HVAC. Hated it.” Graham’s stomach clenched when he heard what he’d said; his father had never talked about hating anything, not really. “You like plumbing?” “Everybody has to shit and shower. People will quit buying groceries before they go without a water heater.” Graham’s fingernail dug into the egg, exposed the graying yolk. “I read those lists on the internet about good jobs. Actuary’s always at the top.” “I saw those lists. I’m not at the top of anything. I still have to pass these tests.” “I don’t even know what an actuary does.” “Predict death and failure. Believe me, it’s a real blast.” The wind had died, and a high cloud came to rest in front of the sun. The sounds of the swamp were muffled and distant, as if a thick quilt had been draped over the spillway. The men stared into the quiet. “I wanted to tell you thanks for the way you and Beth handled everything,” Elliot finally said. “The other people in our neighborhood, after that flyer—” He picked at the crusts of dried spleen on his fingernails. “They want Callie to know that she’s hated.” Graham considered the mangled egg in his palm, unsure of what to do with the thing. He knew that whatever good they’d found in the water had just been ruined. “Don’t know what you’re talking about.” “Beth’s been there for Callie.” Elliot said. “For both of us, really. It’s been tough.” “Sounds like something to keep to yourself.” Graham shoved himself to his feet, closed his fist around the egg. The smell of sulfur fought its way through the air. “Leave my wife out of it.” “Things just happen. You start in one place, you have to be careful not to end up somewhere else.” Elliot spoke toward his feet, as if looking to hide his words in the mud. Graham took as much of a crow hop as the narrow levee would allow, threw the egg mash into the water. “I’m putting out the catfish spines. I’m ready to be done.” After the flyer, Graham spent a couple of evenings lurking at the side of the house. He unthreaded morning glory vine curled around the

94

u

Crab Orchard Review


Rob Howell electric meter, the drainpipe. He plucked weeds from the flowerbed, from the cracks in the foundation. He trimmed and shaped a young azalea. At sundown he sat with his back against the A/C unit, a beer warming between his legs, and stared at the light in his neighbors’ kitchen window. Elliot was a good looking man, a man who’d made arrangements for his daughter’s college fund. If this could happen to him, how long until Beth left Graham forever, or stayed only to pity him? He needed to hear wailing. He needed wedding china smashed against granite. Clothes strewn across the yard. Spark plugs yanked from the car. The thud of a body thrown into sheetrock. Something from television or the movies. Instead, nothing but the clinking of dishes, a flushing toilet. Some baby toy singing out colors and letters. Graham choked a clump of weeds and watched the edge of the curtains as Callie wiped down the granite countertops. The soft curve of her shoulder, red bra strap peeking out from a tank top. A flash of golden ponytail, like a fistful of straw thrown at his face. He could have been spying on his own wife. On the new bait, they lifted another twenty pounds from the swamp. The early afternoon sun beat their shoulders, hunched their backs. They kept their eyes down like forced laborers. At the end of a run, Elliot held the mesh sack open while Graham scooped in the crawfish. The animals clutched at his skin. He shook his hand until they opened their pinchers, left droplets of blood shaking on his fingertips. Five or six crawfish staggered in the grass like cheap wind-up toys. Graham spun the bag, tied it off, and dropped it into the cooler. “If you don’t pack them tight, they’ll kill each other off,” he said. They trudged through the final run. The last net sat near a tangle of dead shrub. Detritus had collected around the gray branches—cane and broken cattails, planks from a rotten duck blind, an empty pint of Evan Williams. Scum floated like a scab on the water. Graham’s sweat turned cold. He sat on the cooler, abandoned the order of things: the net was his to pull. “I’m going to catch my breath,” he said. Elliot waded into the water like a man at a motel swimming pool. His thighs sent ripples to bother the scum and debris. Graham lifted himself off the cooler and walked to the levee’s edge. His father had always believed catfish spines attracted snakes, that it was better to stick to beef melt and come home with less for the boil. Graham cupped his hands around his mouth to call a warning, and then he stood silently, unable to find the breath. Elliot lifted the trap and for an instant the water frothed violent and alive. A scream like a cut-off saw tore the air into two smoking pieces. Later, Graham would say that he didn’t need to see the snake to know it was there. He’d say he understood it as he understood all evil. Not as a voice in his head, a shiver through his body, but as if the bleeding truth of the world had been scratched onto his heart.

Crab Orchard Review

u

95


Rob Howell The men met where the water came to their knees. Elliot staggered, his left hand under his shirt. The net shook from his right arm. Empty, except for the pale bones of the catfish dancing in the air. “Something bit me,” Elliot said. His teeth chattered. Graham peeled Elliot’s fingers off the net. He wrapped his arms around his neighbor’s waist and lifted him out of the swamp. “I can walk,” Elliot said. He retched, and vomit ran down Graham’s back, crawled into the waist of his jeans. For the thirty feet to shore, Elliot felt to Graham as light as a shoelace draped across his shoulder. “Don’t worry, you’ll be good.” He dropped him onto the levee and opened the knife. “What was it? What bit me?” Graham slit Elliot’s T-shirt down from the neck. The pink wound throbbed below his ribs, a living thing that might crawl off his skin and disappear into the swamp. Dark blood swelled from a pair of round holes. Graham wiped the blade on a clean piece of shirt. He closed his eyes and thought of praying. Elliot screamed, tried to sit up. Sweat poured down his face. His eyeballs were everywhere, as if snipped from the nerve. Graham laid a hand across Elliot’s chest, stretched the fingers wide, and pushed him to the ground. There was no reason for this, Graham thought. No one with any sense dealt with a snakebite this way. They could be at a hospital in a half hour, or sooner. Elliot screamed again, and the Cajuns shouted a response in the distance. A small engine roared to life. “Trust me, I know what I’m doing,” Graham said. The blade was sharp, and Elliot’s skin was tight. Graham marked the holes twice with his knife. A pair of X’s bloomed and poured red. He dropped the knife into the mud, stuck a finger into each gash. Elliot went limp, and Graham dug for the poison, the blood thick and warm on his hands. The ATV growled closer. Graham opened his mouth, held it inches from the damaged flesh. The wound bubbled slower now, gently, like an air pump in a fish tank. How could he ever tell the venom in Elliot from the rest of him? Graham stayed that way until the ATV slid to a stop. The shouting, the click of an engine, the squelch of boots. His wife and child, his failures like soft static in the air. The insects. That bullfrog. One hundred dollars’ worth of crawfish scratching in the cooler. Elliot’s beating heart. The cottonmouth swimming guiltless through the spillway.

96

u

Crab Orchard Review


Kara Krewer Away from Wind Street Something gives you away, your ragged nails or undressed face, that edge of masculinity in your voice, and the man you’re dancing with in Swansea feels it on you, steps lightly back: You’re a dabbler, aren’t you? What you’ll think to say much later is: Aren’t we all though, in some way, just splashing our feet through the stones and silt? So you walk away from the club where pink lights skitter across damp bricks, to the beach where you alone wet your ankles in the bay. The air smells green tonight, and the full moon turns the water to tin. Mumbles Lighthouse shines atop its rocky islands,

Crab Orchard Review

u

97


Kara Krewer named jokingly by French sailors who saw the twin stones and were reminded of breasts— les mamelles—jutting from the sea. And after years of sailors’ boats coming in too close, being dashed against the rocks, they gave the islands a beacon to go with the name. Then, your knees in the surf, some beam of light hits a school of fish just right, and they’re being chased, driven out of the sea. Countershading, you think, the fish’s back dark, its belly a clear silver, so when the bigger fish looks up, it should see only a wrinkle in the bright expanse.

98

u

Crab Orchard Review


Kara Krewer

Call Center On the way to the bus each day we walk past the erotic bakery with its fondant dicks in a glass case, the baker’s everboredom, visible misery, as she squeezes icing on a pair of marzipan breasts. God, any job is terrible. Five days a week, we go to separate cubicles and put on black headsets with microphones that curl fingerlike in front of our mouths and take calls from desperate daughters whose mothers fall in the shower, fathers found standing in boxers by a mailbox blocks from home. We ask them about mobility, incontinence, medication. One man tries to start his car with a steak knife, one woman stabs a nurse’s hand with a fork at dinnertime.

Crab Orchard Review

u

99


Kara Krewer A few people call the toll-free number to ask what you’re wearing, but even more call just to hear a voice on the other line, and they can’t be shut up, Ma’am, I can’t help you, and click End Call. Compassion’s hard to muster and on Friday nights we sit on a public dock in the city’s nicest neighborhood, eat fried chicken and throw the bones into the lake. You can see the tech magnate’s compound glow brightly across the water, a home we’ve heard can recognize your face and play your favorite song when you walk through the door. We ignore calls from debt collectors because we know it’s just one call in a queue and someone hopes we don’t pick up. Monday the manager might choose one of our calls to record, bring us into her office with its wall-sized window and play our voices back, make us listen to the way we say Have a nice day or May I speak to…? with the snowcapped mountains behind her.

100

u

Crab Orchard Review


Kara Krewer

Sleepover My friend told me not to be afraid if I heard a woman screaming, it was just her mother and her stupid night terrors. Already I couldn’t sleep, little snores and the linoleum click of the dog’s nails, a thump waking me from whatever sleep. My breasts were still small enough then that I wasn’t shy to be seen in a nightshirt, the pilled fabric pulled over my knees. And I jumped at the quick sneeze, the monster finally showing itself and all the movie’s percussion. But what if I woke to a woman’s scream? Would I be called to some undiscovered bravery— no, her father would shake her mother’s shoulders. She would lash him with her long hair. She would claw his arms, and he wouldn’t flinch.

Crab Orchard Review

u

101


Kara Krewer

On the Way to See Chinatown Driving by: it seems like every woman on the street is walking an old black dog. Or at least they’re the only ones I see— such blindness from lazy staring so my eye reads only woman, reads only dog. That one color, deep blue black refusing to blend into the panorama of earth-toned houses, the sky descending over us as a drab wing, the gas stations and lines of gray SUVs waiting at the drive thru, one hand grabbing a grease-speckled bag. But constantly that repeat of black dog upon black dog, until we’re at the movie we’ve seen before, pay to see again, though we know how it ends. The woman dead in the front seat of a white car which continues to coast down the darkening street as we get up and leave.

102

u

Crab Orchard Review


Paige Lewis The Crowd The crowd gathers around two men who are crouching and taking lazy swipes at one another. Neither man makes contact, and the crowd grows antsy. No one wants to be the first to glance at their watch, to take their mind off this moment and place it on home, on warmth, on lovers back east, but no one wants to be caught gawking at nothing. A woman approaches the men, pulls off one and then both of their shirts and skips back into the crowd. Now, in the middle of everyone—two shirtless men crouching without touch. Another man steps forward and offers his knife. Another woman, her mace. The crouchers, with these new weapons in their hands, are pushed closer together. Close enough. The sidewalk sparkles with spit and glass.

Crab Orchard Review

u

103


Nancy Chen Long Saving My Mother Before he made his pilgrimage to the mountains to become a Buddhist monk, before his red robes flapped like prayer flags in the wind, before he embraced his own neediness and raised his begging bowl to receive another person’s largess, my father was a generous man. So begins my mother’s story of how religion saved her, the story of her father’s pre-monk generosity. He donated their clothes, shoes, leftover food, sometimes the entire meal. And once, even one of the family members. My father was good for giving, my mother would say, so generous with his property, which is how she repeatedly came to be the property of another man. Over time, the story has changed. When I was younger, her father had given her to a certain man when she was six— old enough to work—a gesture of kindness, her father told her, towards someone unable to have a child. Time and again, she managed to get away, returning home only to be carted back. And as my mother recounted the story, I pictured her dropping grains of rice, marking the trail back home. When I was older, it became commerce—the selling of my mother. And each time she returned, before sending her back, her father would beat her with a bamboo cane to remind her how much better off she was in any place other than home. Over time, I came to realize that, unlike Hansel and Gretel, my mother never did find her own way home. Always, a man delivered her: the old fisherman who found her one night stranded on a rock

104

u

Crab Orchard Review


Nancy Chen Long in the sea, the quick passerby who snatched her off of railroad tracks, train barreling down, moments away. When she refused to work, the man himself would occasionally return her, the way one might return a defective plough. Her father would have to convince the man to take her back. And so it went until the day her father found religion in the mountains, the day he lost his generosity, the day my mother said God heard her pleas.

Crab Orchard Review

u

105


David Mills Murder’s Milk New York City African Burial Ground Burials 142, 144, 149 Head left. Jaw hovering above that same shoulder. Right shoulder pressed against my coffin one baby’s casket just ‘bove my heart. Another baby on my right— coffin waist high, reachin’ for an ankle that no longer is. Trinity. (Three coffins: one grave.) (Snug.) These infants mine as we told time it was time to go, and in they own sweet time, relic inspectors tell me I’m ’tween 25 and 30. Say: one of my children never knew two months. Say: the other between half a dozen of those and a year. See: all of us now mothered by mother earth and murder’s milk.

106

u

Crab Orchard Review


David Mills

Assignment Columbia Medical School Graverobbers, 1788 There’d been the donated, the unclaimed, the criminal. At times when the North fell short, the South packed slave bodies in hogshead casks. With enrollment swollen on Robinson (the once one-room schoolhouse joined at Trinity Church’s hip) King’s College became Columbia: new name and address for the new Republic, the hitherto now the hereafter. So how do medical school students ply their jarring art and crafts when the student body has grown but the dead bodies have not. The city’s graveyards: off limits to paupers and Negroes and seldom pawed by resurrection men. There those that loved those who’d left visited regularly, had mortsafes and guards. (Death separates men by salt and class: by tears and tiers.) February third: a freedmen’s petition: Most humbly, sirs, young students of the physic, under the cover of the dual darkness—the night and the heart’s—during merciless sallies repair to our grounds. We know we are not to congregate at night but take risks to cloak loved ones in cerements. These students too often interrupt our Earth. Our fallen— infant, elderly, in between (no mere specimens but deeply cared for, deeper than the graves they are buried in. If students cannot cease, we seek decency.) Short-lived plea: for white men in wool

Crab Orchard Review

u

107


David Mills suits skulked cold, moonless streets at obtuse angles, past hunched sacks of rubbish to the bone yard—grave riflers’ seeking recently-turned earth, the newly deceased in winter, when death intends to keep bone and organ banded. In haste, they filch knowing decay works nearly as fast. So stones won’t cry out, they uncork coffins with wooden shovels, return the earth, then lug their borrowed quarry to class. This was sure. This was cheap. This was studying. This was hit these bodies as if they were books. This was Matthew 27 verse 7. This was an open secret anointed by the elite (autopsy’s insights, like New York’s expansion, built on captive backs) no telling how many Negro cadavers those too-young sons of Galen harvested when the city’s sole medical school was just muddy cobbles from the burial ground. Here, the nearby—and, in life, the neglected—were anatomical fodder. Columbia’s labs and classes or New York Hospital’s not-for-credit courses might have been their final resting place. Here were no postmortems to pinpoint conditions loved ones could shirk. These were anatomical abattoirs garlanded with black cadavers, corpses mangled by curiosity and sternal saws, bubbling in bakekettles, harpooned genitals, bone spurs sandwiched between the headboard and linen of a student cot. Sacrilege for Christians who believed only an unbothered body could gleam in the Kingdom of G-d. But if the deceased no longer need to accost the blood’s troubling sugar, so what if a gallbladder’s gone, a pancreas pawned. Why should the legislature pass a “bone bill”? The dead had no standing as property, only two-legged real estate could properly be considered property. Hell at the end of the day, they were just homework.

108

u

Crab Orchard Review


David Mills

Deem Me: Piter/Pater to suggest Jupiter Hammon

I Deem me distant. Jupiter. “Ju/ Zeus.” Shared root. Piter is of Latin’s pater (father). Piter/Pater: Zeus the father. Pitter-patter. Make sound light. rapid. repeat. Neptune/ Poseidon. Dis/Pluto. My siblings. Hell and seas. (Cosmic: our parcels.) Heaven: my realm.

II But I’m adrift in America’s atmosphere a wanderer, spinning yet held in this colonial orbit, this gravitational pull, this solar system: one of billions. III With his telescope glommed on flickering mysteries, if only Galileo could have discovered me, there on the shores of his surname (Nazareth nestled in the foothills)

Crab Orchard Review

u

109


David Mills between the Jordan and Mediterranean where what I covet of fishermen and G-d where sudden calms and violent storms of wind and wave are normal, like my surface where there’s a brick-red tempest 30,000 miles long: that infidel, that stellar dervish

IV Stars are the sky’s twinkling preachers. The firmament: Galilee’s vertical sea. Something my savior can walk upon. If Galileo could prove things helio, I figured, as a child, I could pray to my Lord to crack the crust of my icy core.

V Deep Space: mere sea where the splash vanished. Ganymede, Callisto: (my ardent moons: one a maiden). Me: a heavenly body fettered to this system: colonial, solar. Yet I’m the largest planet: craw vast enough to hold eight others (including the one I’m on); but I lack a solid surface (this, what happens to a man who never questions his servitude.)

110

u

Crab Orchard Review


David Mills

VI Think of the orbit between an Oyster Bay Estate and New York City as the orbit between Jupiter (me) and Mars. An asteroid belt. Galactic scraps, the sky’s parasites, slapdash residue, a surfeit of genesis and suffering that brought me about thousands of millions of years ago. My people unable to gather (become a planet) because of my presence, my words (their gravity/their vast magnetic field) so much hydrogen and helium; my hot, defeated air keeping them from coalescing.

VII Snag in the fabric of space-time. Everywhere. Invisible. Baffling. I neither absorb, admit or reflect. Dark matter. 95th percentile. Recognize a situation’s gravity learn to influence things indirectly affect how bodies seeking and meting out freedom move, stand before me, encourage your eyes to adapt, in a matter of minutes you’ll glimpse heaven: the cosmos: its snarling, displaced, dark majority.

Crab Orchard Review

u

111


Leah Nielsen Aubade Here, the blue-black hour of little movement. Here, the first birdsong sung too spirited.     Here, the infomercial and world news, the not-even-the-right-kind -of-bad bad movie, and the one on after it.  Here, the tea kettle empty and cold, and the mind on stumble and sputter,   on the dead father puttering  about the yard,    and how that puttering became the playhouse, the one with heart-shaped windows too precious   to put in a poem, and it’s just like the dead father    to work his way in, to get me humming the folk song about the hunter who shoots down the cawing,

112

u

Crab Orchard Review


Leah Nielsen crafty crow, the chorus— sim sala bim bam ba, saladu, saladim— that lacks translation, but the hunter, he eats the crow, and the song ends on yum—and yum is like cancer  and tickle and playhouse— silly, ill-suited words for any poem on any morning. Here, I shift to my side, adjust the blankets, loosen my grip on the remote, and let the dog curl up in the crevice behind my knees—   it is a small and simple comfort for us both, while we wait for light enough to walk in. 

Crab Orchard Review

u

113


Eileen M.K.Bobek The Field I.

The field where they found her was like any other in the middle

of a Midwestern summer: overgrown, brittle and bleached of color. On the edge of those fields, I’d stand and pinch the wheat buds with a satisfying papery crunch. I’d look out over their expanse, watching the wind blow paths through the thigh-high brush, listening to the swaying stalks and imagine myself gliding through them. Sometimes I’d envision my brother’s friend, the boy I loved but who would never love me, finding me there. Fifteen years old, I’d fantasize myself into a white cotton dress, the breeze lifting my hair as a handsome stranger emerged from the crackling prairie. I never left the sidewalk. They found her body at 11:15 a.m. on July 22, 1985, a Monday—less than twenty-four hours after she’d gone missing. When her mother first reported her disappearance, a deputy searched the vacant thirty-five acres a few blocks from her home but found nothing in the darkness. After a grocery clerk said he’d seen a girl taking a shortcut back to the nearby subdivision, a detective followed the same path in daylight, discovering an area of broken and matted grass. On some leaves beneath two trees: a partially clothed teenager curled on her side, raped and stabbed eight times in the chest. Without a portable radio, the detective ran to the nearest pay phone to call the station. “It could have been a random killing,” he later told a reporter, “but I think it might have been thought out, maybe in a dream world, by someone who knew what he wanted to do—maybe not to her, but to somebody.” We were the same age, but I didn’t know her. She was the freshman class president of the public high school just over a mile away from where she was killed. I attended Benet Academy, the Catholic high school in a town fifteen minutes south. When the story broke, The Daily Journal ran a photo of her taken at a Glenbard South football game: her teeth blistering white, eyes crinkled with laughter, head tilted up toward the sky. Feathered dark blonde hair, arms resting on a metal railing, legs dangling over the side of the bleachers. A fifteen-year-old Farrah Fawcett. Development rolled through Illinois farmland leaving behind acres of deserted crops, making it possible to still see the spires of city skyscrapers twenty-five miles away. A long row of back porches, sliding glass doors and backyards faced that field like so many other neighborhoods did then; the crime site shrouded between a subdivision known as the “Valley” and a

114

u

Crab Orchard Review


Eileen M.K.Bobek shopping center anchored by a Jewel supermarket. Before her death, my family sometimes visited the McDonald’s drive-thru that shared the concrete lot. That August after her murder, I went with my best friend to get her hair cut on the other side of the grocery store nearest the field. As she sat in the stylist’s chair, I walked over to the glass walls and doors, stared at the cracked white concrete and rusted shopping carts. Leaving the salon, I turned the corner toward the well-worn path kids from the Valley sometimes took to get home. The path near where they found her body. At fifteen, it seemed almost thrilling to approach death, to stand so close to its edge. Later, I learned some people in the neighborhood were throwing a party in their backyard as she was being raped and stabbed less than twenty-five yards away. Nobody heard anything.

II. Cornell’s clock towers gonged, their echoes reverberating through my body like a tuning fork as our tour guide directed the group’s attention to the university’s Blue Light Service. “This is wonderful,” my mother whispered, leaning into my arm. “You’ll always be safe.” At that time, in the late 80s, two Blue Light buses ran from early evening until the middle of the night, stopping to pick up anyone with a college ID, then delivering them close to campus housing or the libraries. More than one hundred blue lights encased in metal cages radiated across Cornell’s treelined acres on giant swan-necked metal poles, marking the presence of Blue Light phones and bright red Emergency buttons. Pick up that receiver, the guide assured us, and the Cornell Police Auxiliary would provide directions, respond to an emergency, or rush to help if you were being followed. Two trained escorts from the Auxiliary were always available to chaperone you home, he added, or wait with you until the bus arrived. Within days of saying goodbye to my parents, I walked everywhere alone: home from parties where I did not drink, did not smoke, did not do drugs, or wait to go home with friends after the kegs ran dry. Home from Uris Library where I studied until closing time. From Collegetown restaurants and bars. From the golf course across the road from North Campus townhouses, my Walkman headphones deafening the sound of the wind whipping across the open fairways. Wooded shortcuts beckoned, no blue lights marking their paths like neon lily pads. Emergency phones book-ended the Suspension Bridge over Fall Creek Gorge whose plunging water could muffle almost anything. Nights, my eyes focused on the lighted beacons. My pulse bounded, but still I hiked from one end of the university to the other watching the Blue Light bus pass by, close enough to see the faces of the few young women inside entombed in silence, staring back. Sophomore year, I lived in a townhouse with four roommates on the far

Crab Orchard Review

u

115


Eileen M.K.Bobek north end of campus. My 80s movie crush, John Cusack, was starring in Say Anything, a film just out in theaters but playing miles away. I could have taken a cab, asked for a ride, or invited someone to go with me. Though I wasn’t a runner, I threw on the dark blue University of Illinois shorts my older brother gave me before I left for college, laced up my sneakers, grabbed just enough money to pay for the movie, and took off. It was late afternoon as I jogged three miles, slapping leaves from low-hanging branches, pulling crisp spring air into my lungs until my chest burned. Breathless, I arrived at the end of the previews and grabbed a seat in the back. As the film played, I scanned the half-empty room. No one else was alone. Two hours later I emerged from the theater and squinted in anticipation of sunlight that had instead surrendered to dusk. I ran, each footfall pounding the ever-lengthening road back to campus as every bright tree-lined street I had taken darkened in shadow. A vehicle raced by, horn blaring, whooping male voices swallowed by the wind. The car swerved to the right twenty yards in front of me near an open field, its tires spitting out pebbles and dust in a cloud. The brake lights burnt red and my eyes reflexively scanned for a different color though I had traveled miles past the boundary of the Blue Light system. My heart thundered in my chest. My ears filled and rang. As I looked up at the sky poked through with stars, my head vibrated with one word: No. I thought someone called my name but hesitated, hunching over and approaching from an angle until I saw the face of a junior who lived in the townhouse next to mine. Faces of other boys I knew emerged from the car’s interior as I inched up to it. “Want a ride?” Long hair, blue shorts and sweatshirt. I didn’t ask what made them recognize me in the darkness. “What the hell are you doing way out here?” the driver asked as I wedged myself in the back with three guys. “I went to see a movie,” I said, biting the insides of my mouth to stop my teeth from chattering. “By yourself? That was pretty fucking dumb.” “Yes.” I gripped my thighs, stiffened each time my bare legs brushed one of theirs. Relief would come later, when I scrambled out, mumbled “thanks” and ran to my front door. But for those ten remaining minutes I said nothing, letting the conversation and music surround me like a vapor as I waited for the first blue glimmer in the blackness.

III. In my written statement for the police, I recognize my handwriting at thirteen: each letter is small, distinct, easily readable—unlike the slurred

116

u

Crab Orchard Review


Eileen M.K.Bobek and hurried words of my adult script. “We told him to go straight ahead,” I wrote, “but he acted like he didn’t know what we were talking about.” The summer before eighth grade, I’d sometimes leave our subdivision and ride my bike past the house of my brother’s friend, hoping he would be outside or that he’d spot me from his window and watch me rush by, my long strands of hair trailing behind like streamers. Butterfield Road was the main drag—one seemingly unending line that stretched and undulated like a centipede, side roads extending out from it like so many legs. That July afternoon, a friend and I cruised the mazed subdivision until we reached Prince Edward Road, eventually dead-ending into Park View Elementary. Across the metal slides and rubber swings, the unclouded sun burned. Our bikes clanged to the ground as we dropped them. For twenty minutes, we sat on the playground’s green bouncing turtles, rocking ourselves dangerously forward on the springs, our knees lifted close to our chests, out and away from the blistering plastic. When the stranger in a sleeveless top and shiny pair of shorts peddled toward the playground, there was time to get away but instead we stayed, the turtles’ movements slowing beneath us. On the sidewalk just in front of us the man stopped, straddled his 10-speed and asked if we had a bike pump. My eyes darted toward his inflated tires. When we said no, he instead wanted directions to a gas station, so we pointed to Park Road, the street where we saw him leisurely riding before noticing us and circling back. He asked if there was anywhere he could get a glass of water, said he had far to go. I remember that I didn’t believe him, that his questions seemed rehearsed, that he should be sweating a lot more for someone who claimed to be lost with a long way to ride. As he lifted his left leg out and away, asking again for directions, exposing himself, erect, I froze. I wanted to believe his nakedness was an accident. It all seemed unreal—how he adjusted the angle of his stance, rotated his hip just enough so the fabric of his shorts lifted up, revealing more of himself. I can remember the sound of cars rushing past, the pinged crack of a golf ball from the course behind the school. The way he fixed his eyes on my face.

IV. When I receive an email invitation to my 25th high school reunion I’m no longer a doctor, but can still picture the ER’s trauma bay: the gurney, blanket warmer and cabinets holding medical equipment pushed against every available wall space. I can hear the heavy sliding glass doors open, the metallic rings those nights when I shoved aside the faded blue curtain that obscured the trauma inside. The people I cared for were often young. Their days unremarkable before they arrived in the ER. They didn’t expect

Crab Orchard Review

u

117


Eileen M.K.Bobek what happened. No one does. And though it’s been six years since I worked in rooms with empty plastic syringe wrappers and step-stools for CPR, my patients’ stories still bury me: if he hadn’t turned that corner, stopped to get a donut, answered his cell phone. If she hadn’t dived in that lake, ordered one last drink. If he’d refused or taken that ride. In the ER there were times, if a person arrived soon enough, if I listened to my gut, if the ambulance reached the hospital in time, I could help them. Most times I couldn’t. There have been other gatherings for Benet alumni but I stayed away, even when pressed by former classmates. After high school I couldn’t wait to leave, to disappear. Like many teenagers I craved a chance to get out from under the self I had constructed, to become someone else, some better version of me. I don’t know why I email my brother now to ask if he’ll take me to the reunion. Maybe I want to see people I once felt some connection with, or I’m ready to revisit my old life. Maybe I’m feeling nostalgic about Illinois, the chance to drive around my hometown, to spend time with my best friend. Whether it’s one or all of these things, I’m not sure. I only know I don’t want to stay gone anymore. After twenty-eight years, Kristy’s murder remains unsolved. I look up her name as I have so many times before and discover an online memorial site created by her family: The Daily Journal photo of her from that Glenbard South football game set against a background of red roses. The site links to an article with her mother’s picture taken three years after the crime. In it, Mrs. Wesselman’s hair is graying, her eyes rimmed in darkness, the corners of her mouth drawn down as she clutches the files she’s kept of her daughter’s case. Kristy’s mom, the story says, is in her forties. I remember seeing the same photo in 1988, the summer before I left for college. Mrs. Wesselman seemed ancient to me then. Now I am forty-three.

V. The field where they found her is gone. The day of the reunion, I ask my younger brother to take me there. He was eight the summer it happened, doesn’t remember the way I do. Still, we drive down Butterfield Road on a cool September morning only a few miles from where he now lives with his wife and children. McDonald’s is there but Jewel didn’t last— replaced by an off-white pillared wedding hall. At nine a.m. the black-topped parking lot is empty. I walk under the banquet’s vast portico, imagining a revolving line of limousines, women inside veiled in white. Turning a corner where the field once was, I face the side of Wal-Mart cordoned off by plastic orange construction fencing. My brother drives me around the back so I can walk closer to the tree line, listen to the still-green leaves rustle in the wind. He stays well behind, but I know

118

u

Crab Orchard Review


Eileen M.K.Bobek he is near. The mature pines have been cut back and fenced into the edges of the neighborhood’s backyards. Seeing the field’s tall grass and wildflowers paved over fills me with a sadness I can’t explain. There is no path through anymore.

VI. White lines mark the grassy boundaries of my son’s soccer game, families lined up and down its sideline. Grey clouds roll across the sky, scattering a few heavy droplets of rain. Above the resounding clang of the soccer ball striking the metal crossbar, parents call out their children’s names. My phone vibrates in my pocket. Across the dark screen flashes a text: There’s been an arrest. I look up, watch my son cut toward the other side of the field where patches of late September leaves have already turned red. When the high-pitched double tweet of the referee’s whistle signals halftime, I search Kristy’s name, follow the most recent link online. Required to provide a DNA sample after a felony arrest for aggravated domestic battery a few months back, the suspect’s profile—“expected to occur in 1 in 1.5 quadrillion Caucasian unrelated individuals”—matches autopsy evidence entered into a national database after Kristy’s murder. Next to her photo: a mugshot of a disheveled sixty-two-year-old man—black framed glasses, his right eye turned inward, his lower lip retracted. Shuddering, I imagine him thirty years younger, think of Mrs. Wesselman, wonder what it means for her to see this face, to know any news report about Kristy now will be tied to this man. The Deputy County States Attorney suggests that the defendant’s arrest brings the full measure of justice one step closer. I wonder if something like justice can ever be measured. It disturbs me that Mrs. Wesselman may find out details about her child’s death no mother would want to know. I worry that some people in DuPage County have kept Kristy’s memory alive at least in part because her killer was unknown. For more than thirty years, the case remained open; Kristy’s online footprint evolving and alive. She didn’t choose to disappear in 1985. “I didn’t want to leave her,” remembers the detective of that morning in the field. What will happen to her now?

VII. Summer evenings when I was young, I knew it was time to go home when I saw the first glimmer of fireflies. Following the points of light through the darkness, I’d cup my hands around their fleeting brightness. Some kids locked them in mason jars, making lanterns. Each pulse dimmer than the last. Frantic, I’d grab the jars and let them go, trailing their paths until I knew they were safe.

Crab Orchard Review

u

119


Eileen M.K.Bobek After I moved to the Pacific Northwest I waited when darkness fell, but saw no pulses of light. I didn’t know then that only some species glow, that those that do have what’s known as a “flash footprint.” I did find one once, only it was early afternoon—the firefly, curled on the burning metal of the bleachers at one of the local high school stadiums where my fifteenyear-old plays soccer. Seeing it, I remembered something I’d read: that if a place where a firefly lives is paved over, it doesn’t move but disappears. I thought about my own children then, and of Kristy, imagining those who have walked similar fields but made it through to the other side. When I was young, well before Kristy’s murder, I rode with my brothers in our parents’ car on the way to everywhere. Those days I recognized the signs of danger, but didn’t feel real threat. Even after her death, I assumed nothing bad could happen to me, though I thought of Kristy often—while in bed at night, passing through the halls of my high school, riding my bike. I imagined her walking the path over and over, wondering if she sensed someone else was near, what she thought of last, who she most wanted to be. I imagined all the times she had chosen that path before, believing it safe. Each time I passed the field’s yellowed grasses I turned my head, looking for a flash of color that didn’t belong, or the figure of a girl just moments before being swallowed by the high grass and shadows of trees. Decades later and thousands of miles away, I still drive past that field, looking for the part of her that will always be there, so close to the sounds of car doors slamming, the silvery clatter of shopping carts, of babies crying and the laughter of children playing nearby, their mothers’ voices calling them home.

120

u

Crab Orchard Review


Tenley Lozano Submerged At the Mexican border, the rusty brown corrugated metal fence behind me, I pose for a picture with Elu, my dog. We stand in front of a simple statue of five wooden posts, painted white and rotting with age, marking the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. I plan to hike the Southern California portion of the trail in sections alone with my dog, starting with day trips and working our way up to backcountry camping and more miles per trip each weekend. The trail spans 2,650 miles—through deserts, over mountains, and into the wilderness—from where I stand at the border fence in Southern California to the Canadian border in Washington. But I’m not thinking about all of the places the trail will take me; I’m stuck in the places I’ve been. Over a year has passed since I was in the ocean, freediving with a friend in search of leopard sharks. It’s been fourteen months since I jumped into a pool during a swimming and weightlifting competition in La Jolla. Sixteen months since I wore SCUBA gear for my last operational dive in the Coast Guard, diving on an oilrig in Ventura. This might not sound like a long time to be out of the water, but during the last ten years I hardly went a week without swimming, diving, sailing, rowing, fishing, or living on a ship at sea. When I left the Coast Guard, I lost a part of my identity. I don’t want to be in the water anymore. A year before I will begin hiking the PCT, I’m sitting by the edge of a community center pool. I smell chlorine and, for an instant, forget where I am. My heart starts pounding. I unconsciously hold my breath as I remember the feeling of tanks on my back, the struggle to hold onto my gear as an instructor rips it from my body, the sting of skinned knees and elbows on the concrete bottom, the blurred underwater vision of bare eyes, hands gripping straps that tether me to life support equipment, a blow to my midsection that knocks air from my body and the voice in my head that says, Relax. I look at the edge of the pool, release my breath, unclench my fists, and will my neck muscles to release. Sitting on the side with my feet in the water, I put on goggles. I’m not in diver training anymore, haven’t been for years, but my body doesn’t always know that. I remember hanging onto the concrete edge, body and gear submerged up to my chin, the instructor—a Chief in the Coast Guard— asking, “Do you know what happened there, Barna?”

Crab Orchard Review

u

121


Tenley Lozano “I didn’t hold onto my gear tight enough, Chief.” “That’s right, Barna. That’s why I punched you. Don’t make me do it again.” I recall telling my dive buddy, a man twice my size and a Lieutenant in the Navy, what the chief had told me. He was shocked and said, “He punched you?” I don’t think the hit is anything unusual until I see his reaction. The punch itself doesn’t bother me so much as who it came from, a man that I will potentially deploy with as a Coast Guard Diver, someone who I need to trust has my best interests in mind. I justify that he’s enforcing a higher standard upon me because I’m a Coastie, but know that it’s likely that he’s treating me differently because I’m a woman. I try not to think about what it might mean that this chief punched me underwater on a breath-hold specifically because I’ll never fit in “The Brotherhood.” I slip into the water and begin swimming laps, feeling the cool liquid on my skin and focusing on the timing of limbs and breathing. The movement helps me shake off anxiety. Flashes repeat in my mind, and I try to figure out why they bother me so much. Why does the smell of chlorine cause my body to lock up? Why do I feel amped for a fight? Later, I will read that MRIs have shown that when people suffering from PTSD experience a flashback, part of their brain recognizes where they really are, but most of the brain experiences the memory as if the person is living it in real-time. After my workout, walking through the parking lot to my car, another unwanted memory resurfaces. I’m standing in a different parking lot by a different pool and a man is in front of me. He is tall and thin, looking down at me with dark eyes and black hair slicked back in a pompadour. Chief O’Donnell lays the ground rules for our working relationship, saying, “You will not speak when I am speaking. You will do whatever you are told, without question. You will not disagree with me or argue. You may be an Officer, but I am a Diver. Your rank doesn’t matter because you don’t know anything.” I want to argue, but he cuts me off, raises his voice: “As a female officer, you must never curse or tell dirty jokes, and must always be reserved.” As he lectures, I picture a 1950s housewife in a pretty pink dress with frilly apron, high heels, and a brass Mk V Surface Supplied dive helmet turning wrenches underwater. I want to roll my eyes, but if I show disrespect, he will make me pay. “You will have to do dirty jobs, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a lady at the same time.” My throat tightens with anger and frustration. Shaking off the memory, I am alone in the community center parking lot, no longer an officer, no longer in the Coast Guard, but still I want to punch Chief O’Donnell in the face. I want to know what would have happened if I had done something, anything, differently. If I had been more forceful, more persuasive, more aggressive, would he have treated me differently? Just a few months after leaving the military, I have mixed feelings about many of my experiences at the unit—fond memories of surfing or working

122

u

Crab Orchard Review


Tenley Lozano out with junior enlisted divers that are tainted by the presence of the men who refused to work with me because I was female or because I was an officer. Every positive experience was subverted by a lecture afterwards. Chief O’Donnell retired years ago. I separated from the Coast Guard in January of 2014, but my mind keeps reviewing these moments, trying to fit the pieces together. I run the scenarios and find flaws in my reactions, faults in my leadership, my willingness to please backfiring. Looking for patterns, I add situation after situation to the list of experiences that I wish I could forget, and can’t help but relive. Driving home from the pool, I feel like I’m being pulled deep underwater into the past, as if I’m holding a heavy weight and sinking fast. “I am so sorry, Elu. I didn’t think it would be this hot. Oh, nugget. Drink some more water,” I say as I hold the collapsible bowl out to my dog. Later, I will ration our water, pouring three ounces at a time into her bowl then drinking what she doesn’t finish, ignoring the slight taste of dirt in the drool water. But for now, I let her have as much as she wants. We’re at mile sixty-four of the Pacific Crest Trail and Elu is lying under the shade of a creosote bush, her short blond fur dusted with dark red soil as I rest on the dirt path next to her. We started the hike at dawn twelve miles back where the trail passed a road, and we’ll be picked up tomorrow when we reach the next paved road. I’m hiding from the sun beneath pants, a long-sleeve hooded shirt, a hat, and sunglasses. It’s 3 PM, and I’m dismayed that I underestimated the desert heat and miscalculated how much water we would need on our first overnight trip. I tried to balance our hydration needs with the weight of the pack, but failed. A gallon of fresh water weighs eight pounds, and we began the day with almost three gallons of water. This twenty-six-mile stretch of trail doesn’t have any creeks, water tanks, or spigots; there isn’t anywhere to refill our water jugs, and we have to carry everything we need for the weekend. This is my first solo-backpacking trip, so it’s the first time that I have to haul all of my own water, Elu’s water, my sleeping pad, sleeping bag, our tent, and our food. I don’t even know if I can fit more water into the pack, but I’m feeling a tightness across my forehead that signals the beginning of a dehydration headache and wishing for sunset to hurry up and get here. Elu wears her own pack, which has her kibble and high-calorie dog treats. She also carries trail booties and Musher’s Secret paw wax, to protect the pads of her paws over miles of rocky terrain and coarse granite sand. Stuffed into one of her pack’s pouches is a trowel in a Ziploc bag for digging catholes, my pStyle in another plastic bag (so I can pee standing up and keep my boots dry), and a red pouch holding her compressed sleeping pad. As soon as the temperature began creeping into the eighties that morning, Elu’s pace began to slow from our usual two miles per hour and

Crab Orchard Review

u

123


Tenley Lozano I removed her pack, attaching it to the top of mine. By that point, we had already consumed a gallon of water, so the added weight of her small pack wasn’t overwhelming. I felt grateful for all of the hours I’d worn dive gear with a 45-pound steel tank strapped to my back and lead weights in the buoyancy vest’s pockets. At least now my gear fits snugly, unlike the men’s medium sized equipment I wore as a Coast Guard Diver. Now I’m not worried about weight, instead I’m worried about Elu cooling down. “I shouldn’t have brought you here,” I say to her quietly. Elu’s rhythmic breathing begins to slow and I relax, leaning into my pack that sits on the dirt trail, propped up by its fullness. I close my eyes and feel the warmth of the sun through my layered clothing. Listening to the buzzing of an insect circling my head, I stay still as a rock and look toward the erratic flying bug. It’s a fly with multi-faceted electric blue bubble eyes, its wings a vibrant blur. The creature quickly tires of me and darts towards Elu’s nose. She appears asleep but doesn’t hesitate to chomp her teeth at the fly, nearly biting a wing off and scaring it away. I chuckle to myself and shift my weight backwards, tipping the pack over on the trail. I’m facing the sky now and I notice that it’s a beautiful bright shade of blue, with big fluffy pure-white clouds being blown by the wind. I’m dehydrated, tired, and despite all of the water I’ve been drinking, it’s been too long since I peed. We’re miles from what will become our backcountry campsite and even further from a road, but somehow I’ve found a moment of clarity. As Elu naps under the creosote bush, I realize I’m not anxious. This is where I need to be right now. I meet the resident psychiatrist at the Veterans Affairs clinic and shake her hand. She is young and pretty, with long dark hair tied neatly at the back of her neck. I learn that she is at the end of her year as a resident at the VA and that she will be transferring within the month. I’m disappointed because I already like the woman; she seems genuinely dismayed that the system failed and I wasn’t contacted for several months to complete my mental health evaluation and begin treatment. I trust her instinctively, but I promise myself not to like her too much, since I won’t see her again. I separated from the military nearly a year and a half ago, and since then, I have been in a cycle of rejections and appeals to receive VA disability benefits. She ushers me into a small office filled with a desk, computer and three chairs, where I am thankful they’ve seated me facing the door. I’m better able to focus when I can see an exit route. The resident psychiatrist runs through a list of initial evaluation questions in a kind voice as my Service Dog lies at my feet. I started training her a year ago, and I bring her to all of my VA appointments. She’s a relaxed dog when she’s on duty, and her ease calms me. I reach down and pet her soft ears as a painful memory threatens to overwhelm me. I explain how I

124

u

Crab Orchard Review


Tenley Lozano feel when I’m in a crowded room, that I want to escape and when I can’t, my body tenses up and I get panic attacks and migraines. I tell her how my dog helps, that she blocks people from standing too close, and she calms me down when I panic. It was tough for me to decide that I needed a Service Dog, since bringing my dog to public places makes my invisible disability obvious. But I feel more myself when she’s beside me. The woman asks if there is one main event that has caused my symptoms, if there is one time that I don’t talk about, that seems bigger than the others. My throat tightens up, and I hold back unexpected tears as a memory overtakes me. A man is whispering something so that only I can hear, his body too close, the smell of beer on his breath, his hand on my shoulder, my skin crawling under his touch. “He was one of my most trusted allies at the unit, but he was different when he drank. I tried to avoid his advances but I couldn’t always do that, especially on deployments,” I say. I try to figure out why this memory is so vivid, when nothing really happened beyond casual touches and his sexual advances. He wasn’t the only enlisted man to drunkenly tell me how beautiful and sexy I was, but the nature of our jobs required us to trust each other with our lives. When I was a Surface Supplied Diver weighed down by my gear and hanging on a tether, I relied upon the people at my unit to physically pull my body up to the surface of the water. If I didn’t feel safe with him at a group dinner, how could I believe he would have my back when I was underwater? “Did you ever feel physically threatened? As if your life was in danger?” she asks. My mind flits through a series of experiences, and lands on one. I’m working underneath a Coast Guard ship, using a metal scraper to clean sea-grass off of a propeller blade nearly as long as I am tall. I’m tethered to the surface by an umbilical that feeds me a steady supply of air. On my back is an emergency tank, but with this set-up, the tank is attached to the regulator on my full-face mask. I know that if my mask fails, I will have to bail for the surface in order to breathe. My dive buddy, the same man who let me down again and again by hitting on me in front of our teammates, is out of sight scrubbing the other propeller. A new unit policy dictates that all divers will rotate using the same equipment, not a specific set of gear fitted to each of our needs. The fullface mask that I normally wore leaked on almost every dive, but I’d gotten used to pressing my jaw into the bottom of the mask to keep it sealed. I had asked the Chief in charge of equipment and the Warrant Officer before him to order the military approved full-face mask that fit smaller faces without leaking, but they’d refused, saying, “No one receives special treatment around here. We can’t afford to buy you fancy gear just because you like it

Crab Orchard Review

u

125


Tenley Lozano better. Besides, you’re a supervisor; you won’t be in the water much anyway.” Working on the far side of the ship from the pier, I look down at the propeller blade and my mask shifts. Water flows into it and I press a hand to the front of the clear plastic, holding it to my forehead. The air flowing into my regulator sprays the water across my face. I can’t see anything, and the noise of the air rushing over my ears overpowers the sound of voices coming through my earpieces. I spit water out, and breathe in, filtering the spray by holding my tongue to the roof of my mouth. I taste salt and try to adjust the straps on my head, but they’re already yanked down as tightly as possible. I try to shift into a position where the mask won’t leak, but no matter what direction I look, water sprays across my face and I’m blinking frantically but can’t see. I feel like someone has their thumb over a garden hose and is spraying me across the eyes. I don’t think, just react, swimming blind. I’m spitting out seawater and moving under the stern of the ship by feel, making sure not to tangle my umbilical on anything, including my partner’s line. I hear the comms unit sputtering, and I hold my breath but can’t make out what they’re saying. I reach the edge of the ship’s hull and kick to the surface. I pull the mask away from my chin to let the water drain and breathe deeply, tears of relief mixing with the salt water as I fill my lungs with fresh air. I’m frustrated and embarrassed that I couldn’t finish the dive. Alone in my hotel room that night, I’ll be angry when I realize that I almost died, and all because I wasn’t given gear that fit properly. I pack the memory down tight and store it in the back of my mind. I hide it from myself, knowing that I can’t let it affect my job as a Dive Officer. A couple months later, during a November deployment to Alaska, for the first time, I will turn down the chance to dive. I’ll glimpse beautiful and shockingly white sea anemones through the choppy surface of the clear blue water and pass up the opportunity to view that alien world up close because every cell of my body will tell me that it’s too dangerous. I’ll try to talk myself into getting in the water, but my chest tightens up, my breath shortens, and I feel like I might throw up. I quickly try to figure out why I’m so afraid of diving, when I’ve never felt this way before. I don’t know if I can take the spray of frigid water on my face and complete the pier inspection, so I act like I don’t want to dive and let another take my spot. I try to ignore my shame at believing I can’t do the job, and rationalize that no one will respect me less for turning down a dive this one time. At that moment, I will know that I’ve changed, but it will take me years to understand how much. To the psychiatrist, I say simply, “There were a couple times where my dive gear didn’t fit and I almost passed out underwater, or I had to abort the dive because my gear malfunctioned.” She types the note into my record.

126

u

Crab Orchard Review


Tenley Lozano I’ve been reading a lot about PTSD and a prominent psychiatrist in the field, Bessel Van Der Kolk, who wrote about restoring the mindbody connection and reclaiming the emotional brain. Some of his research was focused on how yoga can help patients who lived through traumatic experiences. I regularly took yoga classes when I was in college and throughout Dive School, to unwind and balance the stress of never quite fitting in with the people around me. When I recently tried a session, I was disappointed to discover that I couldn’t relax because there were too many people in too tight a space. I couln’t focus on the movements when I didn’t know what was happening behind me. I quickly gave up on yoga, and hoped backpacking with Elu would help me rewire my brain. On the Pacific Crest Trail, a jackrabbit nonchalantly hops in front of us, black oversized ears sticking straight up. Elu’s body vibrates with excitement as she watches the tall grasses where the hare disappeared. “Leave it!” I say sternly and she whines, wanting to chase. “Aaaaye- looo!” I tell her in a singsong voice, and she sits down on the trail in front of me, tail wagging. “Let’s go!” She springs to the end of the short leash, tugging at the waist strap of my backpack, where I’ve attached her lead. The fur on her back stands up, and her right ear is perked, left flopping and bouncing lazily as we hike. I take in the details of the trail: rough salt-and-pepper sand under my boots made from crushed granite, short dark green greasewood, and the skeletons of long dead trees burnt in a wildfire years ago. I am learning to love the chaparral ecosystems of Southern California. Out here, I feel again like my body is my own, as if I had been trapped inside a twisted simulacrum of myself, wanting to claw a way out of my skin. My past is always there, but now I’m not consumed by it. Elu keeps me present on the trail. I watch her for signs of heat stress, and am vigilant that if I am starting to lose concentration we need to stop for water and food. I talk out loud to her, telling stories and singing made-up songs, listening for the slurred speech and watching for the balance issues that precede a migraine. She tells me how she feels with her body language; ears perked, eyes alert, tongue lolling, lingering in the shade. Elu always lives in the moment and I’m learning from her. The constant movement allows me to stay focused. Elu relies on me; she believes that I know where I’m going and that we’ll get there together. She’s teaching me how to trust my instincts again, to follow impulses that I had to ignore in order to do my job. Sometimes I don’t say a word for miles and instead listen to the crunch of my boots on the sand, the rhythmic panting of my dog, the soft swoosh of my backpack as it shifts with every step. A black-chinned hummingbird’s wings whirr in my ear as it investigates my brightly colored shirt. A cicada clicks a pattern that sounds eerily like a rattlesnake and I scan the ground

Crab Orchard Review

u

127


Tenley Lozano in front of us for danger. I almost enjoy the feeling of blisters growing on my heels, and the weight of the pack on my waist and shoulders is comforting. I don’t mind carrying Elu’s water, because she is excellent company. Alone on the trail with my dog I am happy, and the pain I feel is welcome because my body is mine again. At the edge of the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, having walked the last seventeen miles without sight of another human, I suddenly feel the pull of the waves again and have a powerful urge to swim in the ocean.

128

u

Crab Orchard Review


Jude Nutter Ianua: My Father’s Rhythm Strip To you, line unforeseen or always known. —Rafael Alberti

I Tracked across the paper the line reveals nothing resembling a rhythm: it’s like a profile map of the Atlantic floor, maps you’d loved— trenches and ridges and abyssal plains— across which, when asked, you’d plot your route to Newfoundland from the coast of Eire: from Rockall to Lorien to Isengard Ridge; then on to West Thulean; to Orphan Knoll and Flemish Gap. The Grand Banks. Running all through my life, this chain of names. The longest range of mountains, you’d said, in the world, there beneath the ocean’s indifferent preening; guyots and seamounts, and trenches five miles deep. A darkness, you’d said, that is not simply an absence of light, but an element even older perhaps than light—the black vise of matter before time. But the beauty of those names: who could fail to fall in love with darkness when it held such sounds.

Crab Orchard Review

u

129


Jude Nutter

II Imagine a man strolling through the smell of smoke and horses and the loose, gutted bodies of the morning catch to board a ship that departs with the ebb under a chorus of sails; a man who climbs the ladder to ride the yaw in the crow’s nest. How long, on observing some small change coming over the curve of the Earth—land rolling towards him, needle of a mast, hand of a sail—would that man have remained silent, unwilling to relinquish his uniqueness; secluded and alone in his discovery? Even after your death something kept coming into being along the paper. But it was only a machine revealing that your blood had fallen finally silent inside the walls of its prison. It was after all, then, a single moment— your death: not a place of continual arrival; not the apparent juncture of sky and water.

III Think of that flare deep in the gut—love’s visceral engine—when our lines match up with the shapes of our longing. Because love exists before logic or language. Why else would the painters of the caves, aware perhaps

130

u

Crab Orchard Review


Jude Nutter of the mind’s growing brightness, hide their animals in darkness. Think of the lines we have drawn between stars so the emptiness they outline is, for a while, diminished; so the darkness we inherit is familiar. And what of the daughter of Butades the potter, in love with a boy from Corinth, a boy who would vanish into the extremis of war; that night she traced on the wall the outline of his shadow as he lay sleeping on the slender catafalque of her bed. There are several versions: that his shadow was cast by a candle, by a lantern, by moonlight reflecting off the Gulf of Corinth. It makes no difference.

IV Every boundary, every outline, even when it’s given a name, contains its emptiness to the end: auroch, lion, bison, deer; The Net, The Archer, the body of the beloved. As a child I drew nothing but horses—in outline, in profile; on test papers, in notebooks, in a novel’s margins: chin groove, throat latch and the mass of the gaskin, the slope of a hoof’s front wall for which there is still no name. I drew them life-size in dirt, in mud; I wanted an open solitude, another life, a body

Crab Orchard Review

u

131


Jude Nutter I could step into and inhabit. Which I did. I have eighteen feet of paper— a narrow strip. I choose a circle. I join each end with tape. A corral large enough to enter. Which I will. I could even lie down and sleep and safely dream inside the final moments of your life. And I will. Yet what are dreams if not memory at work inside the body, which is flesh and knows only the moment. When I wake there will be nothing but the mouth of each empty doorway; each empty doorway’s line of threshold. The rooms, empty. Your empty bed. And the flimsy paper circle of your absence. And, in the end, what else is emptiness if not passive waiting: think of all the words there must be, even now, waiting for a language; of a lake’s mirror ready for cloud and birds; of how the bereaved empty themselves of themselves in the hope that their dead might enter and discover proof of their own existence. Or the solid quiet of a field in summer emptied of cattle, who have followed each other into the still coolness of the milk barn: the lure of a pasture, briefly abandoned, light still burning in its one green window; the temptation of a gate standing fully open.

132

u

Crab Orchard Review


Paige Riehl Restraint The guide warns us not to touch the fragile coral, urges restraint. That first leap into the salt, the clear sea, the flash of fear for what swims beneath. My flippered feet are clumsy, my breathing stertorous. Beside me lovers hold hands and float, their bodies like starfish spread on the water’s surface. Beneath is silence and gentle movement—stoplight parrotfish, blue tang, and stingray. I float with the current, short-sighted in the blue kaleidoscope. Can anyone help but hear the thumping heartbeat when, head finally lifted to summer air, the sea suddenly so vast, the white boat and other snorkelers are just glittering specks windward? The sea urchin have gathered below upon the coral—their spikes just inches from belly. Float carefully in this liminal space. This must be what it’s like, the moment right before what could, what might be, before the shrill whistle and an arm waving us all in.

Crab Orchard Review

u

133


Emily Rosko A Phase Say it plainly: we will hurt each other. Your voice across dry cornfields drifts resignation into the phone line. Whisperthin as lace, sister of cobwebs, mal-fed by crumbs. You empty your midnight into my dreams, and I am not prepared. And so I sink into the one platitude you hate most, sharpening an edge of you I would not allow, drawing you back to the electric backfeed of whatever deafening noise a misfiring brain makes. I knew then, but dismissed it. Some excuse to disconnect. Outside the compost pile steamed through the new layer of snow. The one star visible between the mulberry’s branches told me it was okay. And then, for once, you—we—were full of the wildest noise. Now, I have learned to grow less quiet. It’s my turn to call to you as you would to me: sister with the garland of lice, girl packed sheet by sheet under tissue-gown, girl who is marblestill within the sunlight. Please answer me when you are ready.

134

u

Crab Orchard Review


Clare Rossini The Artisanal In the end, we’re all naked as plucked chickens. —A. Vanderah You’ve got your complex world view, I’ve got my complex world view. We trade them casually Over glasses of wine. Yours, inflected by a taste For post-modern physics. Mine, inflated

By a weakness for merlot.

We cherish our ironies, wear them Like sodden ruffs. You laugh. We clink. The evening Fashionably darkens. As we low together About the man aspiring To take us all, leashed, Into the next apocalypse, A June bug batting at the streetlight Just beyond our table Tumbles me toward telling you About my brother, a man You don’t know,

The merlot surrendering

Crab Orchard Review

u

135


Clare Rossini Us both to the wheel chair He’s strapped to, his pinched face, Can’t even cry, I say. The meds suppress tears—. I raise my glass, tilt my head back, Sip, ashamed. You stare worriedly At the savaged rind Of local goat-farm cheese. Everything had been bright As the slip of stems on the table, The polished knives. Then that fat winged bug Bumbled its way to the light, Banging against it, fluttering Haplessly back, and again Hurtling against the vacant glow.

136

u

Crab Orchard Review


Clare Rossini

The Field, June Furious to know, hadn’t I, a young Empiricist, pinched the chrysalis From the milkweed stem, cracking It open Flooding my hands With splotches of orange-brown wings

And the fetal antennae’s Limp curls? Wondering then

If those tiny dark rounds were the knobby Specks of its

Soon-to-be eyes? (Though the whole of it seemed

One oozing dislocated eye Beholding me from my palm.)

What sapiens mood took me then, Was I ashamed

Or triumphant? The church song Playing in my head, the one about

The sovereign king The victor—

Crab Orchard Review

u

137


Clare Rossini I had seen what had been Hidden, and in seeing

Made it mine, The whole wet, crushed

Mess of butterfly Spent.

138

u

Crab Orchard Review


Clare Rossini

The Boy Who Spent a Day in a Tree for Tony, post-diagnosis When I glimpsed your T-shirt red at the top, slashed across the sky’s Annunciatory blue I called up, using your earth-given name No answer The second time, I heard a faint Hello With my third, petulant Are you there? your voice Fell branch to branch Dislodging a bird I can see China from here Then a long silence grew and leafed As I stewed in my abandonment Caught a swallowtail Let it go Shadows growing from the lilac bush The bells of the Angelus ringing Dad declaring at dinner-time Leave him be. He’ll eat his cold I’ve waited too long to ask how it was, little brother, to stare Into bluish distances Until you could see rice paddies Steaming? And when the sun’s livid eye Was halved by the west

Crab Orchard Review

u

139


Clare Rossini Your house of tree merged with the shambling dusk To hear night wind Moving through Until the now-invisible branches Above and around you wheezed Like opening doors?

140

u

Crab Orchard Review


Clare Rossini

In the House of My Childhood, I Waken A bird screeches and I blink open to a view of rooflines, decks Lines of wash hung out the neighbor’s rustic Chevy

But there was a field

where those houses are now

There was clover burdened with scent and Tony and I Perched on the bank of the pond that appeared each spring

One of those glimmerings

that lie scattered across memory

We poked and shoveled turning up the pink That speckled erotic warming our palms

No names for the rocks

Votaries digging them out To the sky’s cerebral blue

we were without nomenclature offering them up

I scratched out my first tune

in the cellar

Footsteps crossing the floor above my head From the sunlit world

the gray with white stripes

I clung to my pencil, worm-blind

cries and echoes

wending my way

Even then, the iambic failed me a girdling too strict For one who lifted herself to the oak’s low branch

Made an errant path

past the limb lightning took

Until among birds she hummed Clouds, her souvenirs

Crab Orchard Review

u

141


Clare Rossini

Is it too late now

to breathe among wind-swayed branches

Almost too thin to bear my weight When drought singes my father’s garden

And one can see something of all endings

in one ending?

In the kitchen downstairs my father drinks warm milk his legs gone soft The nerves shot

My mother on the couch

staring quizzically at the wall

Her mind finds the present sufficient And I in the back bedroom, roused My notebook open A kind of songster

on my chest, pen somewhere am I?

Or raconteur?

Solving herself with words Who once dug stones from sand

142

u

by May’s unnatural heat

Crab Orchard Review

lost to the floor—


Kristine Langley Mahler Slight 1.

When I was six years old, Edwin grabbed my wrist and squeezed it tightly as he pulled, trying to make me play with him. But I twisted and turned and when I finally broke free, I ran to my friends at the swings, holding out my white wrist with the red fingermarks and declaring that he made my wrist get even smaller. They marveled over my famous little wrist, the smallest in both first-grades, and I told everyone it hadn’t grown since I was two-and-a-half. When I was eight years old, we did a class unit about the human body and measured the width of our wrists, the length of our thighs, the distance between our noses and our foreheads to see if we measured up to the mathematical idea of beauty. My wrist was an inch-and-a-quarter wide and I was all leg and no torso, with disproportionately long thighs and tyrannosaurus arms that could never quite touch my toes, no matter how much I stretched or cheated by bending my knees at the sit-and-reach in gym class. When Mrs. M wrote our measurements on the chalkboard and, surprise, surprise, I had the smallest wrists, I glared at Edwin sarcastically, “Thanks a lot! See! I told you my wrists would never grow again!” My friends still gathered around me during recess to exclaim over my wrists, palpating them with their chubby fingers, playing the game where we estimated how many boys we’d kiss by how many times we could fit our fingers around our wrists, once over the wrist bone, moving up the arm, again and again and again up to my elbow and everyone laughed because I was going to kiss NINE BOYS, and they all settled with their fates of two, three, four. When I was fifteen years old, awkward in the too-big jeans I wore because my height and waist never agreed to grow together, their eyes followed the baggy t-shirts on my shoulders down to my bony elbows, made a turn and rested on my slight wrists, on my childish FlikFlak watch, and they smirked, whispered, hid their hands under the lunch table. When I was six, eight, fifteen, twenty-one, they picked my wrist off my lap with their fingers like tongs, pincers, holding my wrist away

Crab Orchard Review

u

143


Kristine Langley Mahler from my body and turning to their friends with angry wonder, the tired old words, “Look how small her wrist is!” like they were the first, like I didn’t already know what they’d say next: the brittle, worn-out rhetorical question, “Do you know how small your wrists are?”

2. I offer a handful of measurements, though no one trusts reported numbers, referencing the old saw that everyone lies about their driver’s license weight. I offer them anyway. I have been testifying with my numbers for years, uselessly displaying them as both explanation and defense; the jury’s already made up their minds before I speak. I was born into the 18th percentile for my weight, the 85th for my height: I was a long, skinny baby who stayed long and skinny as I grew—not freakishly tall, but freakishly skinny. Freak, skinny, skinny. Skinny. Such a demeaning word, to be reduced to skin with nothing beneath. Magazines might sussurate slender, slim, sylphlike, but in the halls, the hiss prevails: “Scrawny skank. Skinny slut.” My BMI is 17.0, which is underweight; significantly underweight, still ducking under the Normal bar of 18.5. Good old Body Mass Index, that great calculator which had assured me, when I piled on almost forty pounds for my pregnancies, that I was finally healthy; good old BMI, ignoring body frames and relying on statistical height and weight measurements to judge us all. It’s a sham, it’s a shame. When I began high school at fourteen, my BMI calculated a gasping 14.1; it grew to 16.0 by the end of college. A decade and three childbirths later, I have grown another inch taller and gained five more pounds. If I say I am Normal, will I be believed? Does it matter if I believe me? To be underweight is to be below, beneath, submerged, surface tension humming overhead, lungs so filled to bursting that they surely require an oxygen gasp. But infants breathe fluid until they are pulled from the environment where they’ve grown. Until that arresting, gurgling transition, they did not know they were below.

3. I never understood what went wrong, surreptitiously consulted Seventeen and the health book at school, didn’t want to ask my mom

144

u

Crab Orchard Review


Kristine Langley Mahler because I was long-boned and lanky, and her short, smushy, comforting curves clearly told me I couldn’t count on my genetics for an answer. I watched closely after I started needing deodorant at ten because the change was supposed to happen within the next two or three years; I stuck out my flat little chest in the shower and imagined I could see something growing if I thrust it out far enough but ultimately knew I couldn’t make others see the potential I saw. The humiliation of the sixth-grade gym locker room after I’d made my mom buy two white sports bras that still puckered in front of my chest, the other girls beginning to sport pink satin-cupped bras from Victoria’s Secret; trying to get used to the horrible tight feeling of something against my ribs, running an errand for my social-studies teacher and stopping on the empty staircase on the way back, hurriedly tugging the thing off and trying to stuff it in my jeans pocket—who would notice if I stopped wearing it, anyway? Waited through seventh grade, wearing my dirty white sports bras because I never asked for new ones, thought I’d get new ones when I grew. Waited through eighth grade with all those girls complaining with pride about cramps, the hassle of pads, the discomfort of underwires. I stared at girls like boys stared at girls, marveling over their breasts, unable to imagine what it must be like to see your body growing into your future. When my first period finally happened, I was six days away from turning fourteen—old among my generation of genetically-enhancedcow’s-milk-drinkers beginning their red reigns of terror at eight, nine, ten years old. My pediatrician muttered something about underweight girls but I didn’t listen and dismissed it as one more BMI insult. My period came irregularly and erratically for five years until I’d had enough of the unexpected bleed-outs and started taking birth control pills to force an artificial schedule, artificial ovulation, artificial period; some way to appear normal. The boost of estrogen affected my breast size about as much as my entire menarche had: unnoticeably, unfortunately.

4. I’m just another skinny girl complaining about being skinny. Another skinny girl who deserves the scorn of anyone average-sized; everyone over-sized. No one’s as cruel as an average-sized girl who thinks she’s overweight, thinks she’s the first to confront me in a public place—the cafeteria was best,

Crab Orchard Review

u

145


Kristine Langley Mahler and preferably after I’d already thrown out my brown paper bag after eating lunch—demanding, “Do you know how skinny you are?” watching for a cringe, a self-conscious blush, holding up my wrist as proof for the crowd. And I’d go limp, let her do her routine—it wasn’t for me, and it wasn’t for the crowd, it was for herself—I’d say my lines, I don’t know; I’ve always been like this; yeah I guess I am, shamed but with a gnawing feeling of pride. I was someone another girl wanted to be, even just for a moment.

5. When I was in fourth grade, I qualified for free school lunch. I was a picky eater—I literally didn’t eat vegetables, and told anyone who’d listen that I was allergic to them—and I hated the hot lunch choices. There was a salad bar option, which I picked most days, though not for the salad, obviously. If I chose salad bar, I’d get a big yeast roll and a cookie on my tray, and then I was supposed to fill up the big plastic rectangle with salad. Well, I’d do a tong of shredded cheese, a tong of bologna strips, a tong of Chinese crispy noodles, and I’d get my chocolate milk and head back to the classroom. At a school conference, my teacher confided to my parents, uncomfortably, that she was concerned I had an eating disorder. My parents, who’d seen me cram down cookies, plow through pizza, yet airily avoid actual nourishment, nevertheless relayed her apprehensions to me. I was mortified; I had to admit to my parents what I usually ate for lunch. They were mollified by my explanation—PICKY EATER—but I was embarrassed beyond belief because they didn’t have a way to save me from the shame of salad bar lunches, and I didn’t have a way to prove to my teacher that I didn’t have an eating disorder. So I started filling my tray with salad-bar foods I knew I’d never eat, mandarin orange slices and hard-boiled eggs, and I learned how to push my food to the edges of the tray to make it look like I’d originally laden myself down with a huge mound and had just tunneled into it, eaten outward from the middle, I was eating—I was “eating.”

6. Everyone already thought I had an eating disorder. I wore loose clothes in high school to try to hide my undeveloped body, but it only exacerbated my skinny arms, only outlined how the belts didn’t have enough notches to draw in towards my real waist. A boy approached me once and asked how often I smoked crack. You know, because I was so skinny. I was astonished because I didn’t even know that anyone at my school ever

146

u

Crab Orchard Review


Kristine Langley Mahler smoked crack and certainly not ME, an honors student who would never, ever disappoint her parents or the Smoke-Free Class of 2000. But he didn’t take no for an answer, thought I was being coy and avoiding a narc bust. When our health teacher discussed anorexia and bulimia, I squirmed in my seat, cheeks blushing, shifting uncomfortably. As he listed all the markers for eating disorders—female, teenage, low BMI, amenorrhea, perfectionist, the need to please others, the need to be in control—I was bewildered because he was describing my self; I couldn’t defend myself. I had a mysteriously knuckle-scarred middle finger on my right hand, and when I learned it was a tell-tale sign of bulimic stomach-acid, I was so embarrassed; I rubbed lotion onto it nightly to make the rough skin go away, but it didn’t. I had eight cavities filled during my high school years, a result of my daily packs of Winterfresh gum, but the dirty looks from the dental assistants told me they thought otherwise. I started to wonder, wildly, if I had dissociative episodes where I made myself throw up—everyone already thought I was bulimic, I had all of the signs, could I TRUST MYSELF TO KNOW MYSELF? So I wrote a poem called “hollow image” about a bulimic girl because I was drawn to the concave image I imagined a body would form as she arched over a toilet—a visual representation of the hollowness inside. I wasn’t sure I was describing a bulimic episode accurately, but I knew everyone would assume I’d gotten the details from personal experience, no one would question me. And no one did. The poem was published in my high school literary journal alongside a drawing another student had done of a thin, sexless human: an editorial editorial on me. I started to leave for the bathroom immediately after finishing lunch. I’d sit on the toilet, waiting for most of the crowd to leave, and then I’d turn to face the toilet, standing up, pause for a beat or two, and flush twice. If everyone thought I had an eating disorder, I’d give them the presentation of an eating disorder. I was fed up with trying to deny it; it seemed easier to just pretend I was who they thought I was, even as much as it was someone I would never, ever actually be. I hated throwing up—HATED it, could recount my only three bouts with stomach flu as a child and even regale the number of times, in each round, I’d actually thrown up, so momentous, so horrible. I would have never considered doing it on purpose. But I’d go in the bathroom at parties and lock the door, sit on the floor, wait five minutes before coming out. You want a bulimic, I’ll pretend to be a bulimic.

Crab Orchard Review

u

147


Kristine Langley Mahler

7. I loved my hips. I’d drop my arms directly in front of me and they’d line up evenly with my hipbones. I loved my hipbones, my jutting little lighthouses, and the hollow between them; I’d lay one arm on top of my hipbones and slide my other hand underneath, the space between my arm and my tummy inches deep. I would lie in bed and run my hands over my hipbones, down into the valley of my abdomen, suck in air and see how flat I could make myself, how close I could come to feeling my hand against the mattress. I could press places on my abdomen and make them gurgle, organs within my reach. I was fascinated by my hipbones, my knobby bookends, the cruel way they stuck out like the prows of shipwrecks. I’d grip my hips and see if I could spread them, thinking maybe my ovaries needed room to breathe, let the eggs start their descent. I knew I’d always have that valley, my secret cave, the place no one knew, the power of melting into the bed frame, my hips, my stomach, mine. I spent years assuming I had a “boyish figure” because my breasts were so resistant to femininity. When Seventeen would present its annual swimsuits-for-every-body-type article, I’d immediately lock onto the suits for boyish-girls, the only body type with small breasts. I bought my first two-piece under those directives, a halter top and boy shorts, and I couldn’t understand why the swimsuit didn’t look the same on me as the model; it took me years to realize it was not my type after all. For all the people who declared, through my teen years and my mid-twenties, that I should be a model because I was “tall” and “skinny,” no one seemed to recognize that my breasts were still too small, even for a model; my waist and hip measurements were too similar, my short waist was a permanent barrier, no matter how flat my stomach was. I was eighteen, trying on a pair of jeans in a dressing room, my younger sister trying on the same pair of jeans in the same size because we were both long-legged, small-waisted opposites of my mother. My sister came out and my mom told her she looked great, the jeans resting on her hips, but when I opened the door to the dressing room, they fit around my waist. I said, “Yeah, this store’s sizes fit me weird,” and my mom declared, “I always said you had child-bearing hips,” and I was so horrified, so shocked that the first person to betray the universally agreed-upon definition of my body was my mother that I hissed, “You never told me that! You never said that!” and I slammed the door.

8. At fourteen I was appalled to discover that there was a clothing size called “0”—what did it indicate, that you weren’t even a person, not

148

u

Crab Orchard Review


Kristine Langley Mahler even a real size?—and it was MY size, at least some of the time. I’d wear a 0 in shirts, 0 in dresses unless they were fitted around the waist, a 2 or 4 for jeans or skirts, though sometimes a 6—length was an issue. Listen to the average-sized girl sneering, “Oh, what a problem—you couldn’t find clothes small enough to fit you. Boys like curves, not stick figures.” Like I didn’t already know that. My adolescence crested during the height of Kate Moss, the waif movement in full effect, but that desire didn’t translate out of the magazines to the boys in my high school. The dateable girls thrust their boisterous breasts against their boyfriends’ biceps, dipped their low-rise jeans to thrust thong Ts like arrows pointing to their assets, approved by Sir Mix-a-Lot since middle school. I pulled a holey sweater over my t-shirt to add another layer of disguise. I was nineteen the night I first made out with my future husband. As he started to tug my shirt off, the only boy who’d cared what was underneath, I actually apologized for my small breasts. He stared at me, wondrously confused, “Are you kidding? I can’t believe I get to touch your body!”

9. The line everyone pressed into me, senior year, as we got ready to say goodbye, was, “Oh my God, I really hope you’re pregnant at our reunion,” not because they cared about my desire to have three children by the time I was thirty, not because they wanted to see me flushed with pride at having found a husband who considered my angular androgyny sexy, but because OH MY GOD WOULDN’T IT BE FUNNY TO SEE ALL THAT WEIGHT ON HER?! The thing was, when our ten-year reunion came around, I actually was pregnant—a nice, round, eight-months-pregnant with my second daughter. I didn’t go—I couldn’t go, too far to travel when I’d given birth to my first daughter a month early and presumed I would have another premature birth—but I wouldn’t have gone to the reunion anyway, not pregnant; I would not give them what they wanted any more.

10. Twice, when I drank too much in college and couldn’t handle the thought of going through the spins all night, I knew I’d feel better if I threw

Crab Orchard Review

u

149


Kristine Langley Mahler up, and I forced my finger down my throat until it all poured out as I cried, bawled like my heart was breaking, doing the one thing I’d pretended to do but had always known, in my heart, I never would. Drunk and heaving with sobs, rinsing my finger in the sink, racked with shame.

11. I was pregnant three times, and each time, I gained exactly thirtyeight pounds, a trick of my body pulling to a full-stop when it hit capacity. My breasts swelled to a B-cup (!), and my stomach was huge but taut, a showpiece; I was one of those pregnant women that all mothers approach, proclaiming, “You’re so cute, you’re all belly!” But I was like YOU MEAN ALL TITS. I loved my pregnant breasts; I’d lie on my side and watch gravity pull them together so they’d touch. I had cleavage! I wore V-neck t-shirts just to see my breasts drawing closer; shirts I’d never worn before, what was the point? My breasts! My glorious WOMAN breasts that fed my three daughters for a whole year each; I’d grab my breasts in my hands and squeeze them while my girls drank my milk—milk I halfheartedly repeated the joke “must be skim” because my daughters were all underweight, scaling beneath the lowest curve on the growth charts, less than 1%, little zeroes. My first daughter weighed fifteen pounds at one-year-old but was declared, by her pediatrician, to still be healthy—not underfed—presenting no loose skin, no sunken frenulum. I went to my La Leche League meetings and I knew they got the rich, fattening hindmilk, but my daughters only flopped back onto the growth charts after they turned a year old, after I stopped nursing them. My breasts deflated back to an A-cup, then with the next postpartum a little below that, and after my third daughter, I was just grateful my bras had built-in cup liners that hid how small my breasts really were, smaller than I’d began, while I was left with a stomach swollen further than I’d ever seen it. Postpartum, my tummy deflated into loose skin and a clump of organs obstinately nesting between my hipbones, weight that disappeared within nine months (“Nine months to grow the baby, nine months to get back to normal!” everyone chanted), but I was left with a diastasis recti—a separation of my abdominal muscles to accommodate the growth of my uterus, a separation that didn’t stitch itself back together like most women’s. Instead, my abs remained bowed-out into a curve of flesh that, by the end of the day, would swell until I looked four months pregnant again, though I was back to literally the same weight I’d been pre-pregnancy.

150

u

Crab Orchard Review


Kristine Langley Mahler I couldn’t lose weight to change the problem—not that I’d even known how to “diet,” having spent each pregnancy trying to eat as much as possible just to put on weight—YES, THAT SKINNY GIRL!—so I changed my clothes to baggy empire-waisted shirts, wore my pregnancy jeans with the stretchy panel to flatten my stubborn stomach, though they had to be retired eventually. It revolted me to see my huge postpartum gut, a repulsion that frightened me. This pooched-out stomach resting on my child-borne hips, and breasts smaller than they’d been in high school: this was the body I “earned” by the time my metabolism had naturally elbowed the pregnancy pounds off, this body that now, strangely, sheltered me from the skinny accusations that used to follow me around like rainclouds—this body no longer appeared to be skinny. Same height, same weight, same BMI, that lie.

12. Nobody grabs me by the arm anymore, nobody pays attention to my bathroom habits. Nobody has noticed that I have stopped wearing loose-fitting clothing; my body has become unremarkable, just the remains of another once-skinny girl. Once they could not control their desire to hypothesize aloud; now there is silence, a trial concluded. I still crave the feeling of my little hipbones. I lay down on my bed, play the game, but I can’t find my gurgles, the melody of my adolescence; my valley has filled with age. I stand up and try to hold my little breasts, try to push them together, try to push my belly flat. I consider that exhausted moment when I first lifted each of my birth-slicked girls to my swollen chest, their perfect weight unknown, unjudged: my wrists were slight, but strong enough.

Crab Orchard Review

u

151


Helena Rho Parallel Universe I am standing in an ice-cold mountain stream in Muju, Korea, on

a hot summer afternoon. The sun, scorching down, cannot combat the goose bumps on my legs. My toes feel like icicles whenever I lift them out of the water and rest them against the back of the opposite leg. The chill is refreshing, but I flinch from the shock. I watch my ten-year-old daughter and six-year-old son play with their second cousins. They plunge into cold water and come up immediately, sputtering but smiling. They climb over huge rock formations to crouch under miniature waterfalls, shivering, as water cascades down the side of this vertiginous mountain, into a final torrent that forms this rock pool. Grays and charcoals against a backdrop of lush green. My children look back at me and vigorously wave. As if they are checking, to make sure I am still here. I smile at them and lift my hand in a gesture of reassurance. My daughter’s blue surf shirt with white hibiscus flowers blends into her brother’s solid blue shirt as they huddle together, their faces obscured by a wall of water. For a moment, they are in repose, instead of chasing their cousins, splashing and laughing with wanton abandon. We have come to Muju with my mother’s sister and her son, my first cousin Joon Seuk, and his family. My other first cousin, Dae Shik, the son of my mother’s brother, and his wife and two children have also joined us on this holiday. My aunt has rented a condo in this popular winter skiing resort to accommodate all six adults and six children. We have hiked down a steep path to reach these waterfalls with a modest picnic lunch, passing other Koreans far more ambitious with their provisions—portable charcoal grills and still warm rice in rice cookers, raw bulgogi beef in large plastic containers, lush peaches in baskets. “They’re having a great time, aren’t they?” My cousin Dae Shik says in Korean. “They play together like they have known one another forever,” Joon Seuk says, marveling at the ability of children to adapt to any circumstance. I want to say that I wish Erin and Liam had known his and Dae Shik’s children all their lives. Instead, I nod. I voice none of my yearnings. “Your children don’t speak Korean and our children don’t speak English well, but they still manage to understand each other and have fun. Nothing stops them,” Dae Shik says with amusement.

152

u

Crab Orchard Review


Helena Rho Joon Seuk, Dae Shik and I stand side by side in the frigid water, under a cloudless sky. Watching our children. Just passing time. If I close my eyes, I can imagine a parallel universe. I can pretend we have known each other all our lives. Dae Shik, the father of three-year-old Jae Won and five-year-old Min Jee, is an affable, self-effacing man, deeply rooted in the Confucian traditions of respect and obedience. He calls me Noona or “older sister,” as Korean culture demands, even though he has met me only a week before. He wasn’t born yet when I left Korea and I have just returned to the country of my birth for the first time at the age of forty-one. Joon Seuk, younger than me by five years, is not so formal. He calls me by my American name. And he speaks in English to me, frequently changing from Korean to English, whenever I have difficulty understanding his more complex sentences and ideas in Korean. Joon Seuk did some graduate study in America and is facile in English—my brilliant cousin has his PhD in electrical engineering and works for Samsung. Dae Shik understands English, but speaks only in Korean to me, and in the more deferential form of speech, rather than the familiar or colloquial. Korea is a hierarchical society structured around the relationship of a monarch to his subject. Its language reflects its Confucian culture and values. There are six different ways to say something in Korean. The form you choose depends on whether you are speaking to the President or your grandmother or your boss or your parent or a stranger or your friend or your child. These honorific forms strictly adhere to a tiered system of respect. And this hierarchy even exists in the actual words Koreans use, not just in the sentence structure. There are two different words for “sleep” in Korean. The word you use depends on whether you are wishing your grandmother good night or your child goodnight. And “sleep” is far from the only exception. Dae Shik doesn’t call Joon Seuk by his given name, even though he has known Joon Seuk all his life. Dae Shik is younger than Joon Seuk so he uses the respectful term of Hyung or “older brother” with his cousin, separated from him by only two years. I am older than Dae Shik by over seven years, so I do not think he can even conceive of calling me by my given name. I find Dae Shik’s traditional Korean ways endearing. I wish I had been around to hear him call me Noona as he was growing up. He tries to correct me whenever I speak Korean to him in the formal honorific conjugation, repeatedly reminding me to use ban mal. Ban mal literally translates to “half talk,” but means an informal way of speaking. It is how Koreans talk to their children or younger siblings, not older relatives or strangers. Dae Shik is pained by the fact that he is younger than me, but I address him as though he is older, showing a respect he feels he does not deserve. I tell him it is the only form I am comfortable with when speaking in Korean. He winces but forbears.

Crab Orchard Review

u

153


Helena Rho Forbearance is a hallmark trait of Koreans. Korea is “the shrimp between two whales.” The culture and people have survived for over three thousand years between two countries intent on conquest—a behemoth China and a war-driven Japan. Koreans have had to possess an enduring patience and forbearance. When Dae Shik was driving me from Gwangju and the tree farm where our grandmother lives, to Muju to meet Joon Seuk for this sojourn, we talked as my children slept in the back seat of his car. He told me that his father and Joon Seuk’s mother were the two closest siblings of our grandmother’s five children. While growing up, he spent many holidays with Joon Seuk. “I wish I had grown up in Korea,” I said in Korean. “I think we would have had a great time,” Dae Shik agreed. “I would have teased you and made you do things for me,” I smiled at him. He glanced away from the road and smiled back, “Noona, of course, that is a given.” “Did you always listen to Joon Seuk?” I teased. Dae Shik’s face became serious. “Hyung was a good oldest sibling. He looked out for the rest of us. He was kind and good. He still is.” I shook my head, “Maybe, my mother’s sister is right, I am not Korean. I don’t understand this business of being the oldest. I think Joon Seuk is burdened by being the oldest cousin.” “The oldest has responsibilities the younger ones do not have, especially the oldest son,” said Dae Shik. “My father was the oldest son. My mother hated my grandfather. He blamed her for not having any sons. We moved to Uganda.” I thought about my mother, who traversed oceans and entire continents to get away from her father-in-law and the fact that her husband was the last jangsohn, the last oldest son in his family lineage. Yet she could not escape her self-imposed shame. I knew Dae Shik’s mother had also married the oldest son, my uncle. I turned to Dae Shik, “What was it like for your mother?” “My mother had to live with our grandmother because she married the oldest son. Our grandmother was not a kind woman. I saw how brutally she treated my mother,” said Dae Shik. “And that didn’t make you angry?” I switched to English in my surprise. “At the time, it did. But our grandmother is an old woman now. She has lost her husband. She is losing her mind.” Dae Shik’s voice was calm. “You have no anger towards her?” I said, probing beneath the surface. “What would be the point? She is an old woman,” he said, no trace of resentment in his tone. “So you forgive her? After what she has done to your mother?” I am still skeptical.

154

u

Crab Orchard Review


Helena Rho “We are Korean. We must forbear.” What Dae Shik said reminded me of a conversation Joon Seuk and I had, when we went to Seoraksan, one of the most beautiful mountains in Korea. Joon Seuk’s wife had put their two children down to bed and gone to sleep herself. Joon Seuk and I sat drinking beer at the kitchen table of the condo they rented for that weekend trip of hiking and playing in water parks. “Are you happy as a writer?” he had asked. “Much happier than when I was a doctor,” I answered in Korean. “I think I could have been an artist,” Joon Seuk said. “Don’t you like being an engineer?” I asked in English, surprised. “My father was an electrical engineer, so there was pressure for me to be the same. I didn’t resist. But now, I wish I had done something different. I think you are brave for leaving medicine and becoming a writer.” “Brave or stupid. I can’t decide which,” I said. “What would you have done if you could do it again?” “Maybe a violinist?” he suggested in English. “I didn’t know you played the violin.” I was taken aback by his revelation. “When I was young, I liked playing the violin but I gave it up. Maybe I could have been really good.” “And you could have been a concert violinist?” I smiled. He laughed, “Maybe. I’m not sure I want to be an engineer anymore.” “There’s always time to do something else if you want,” I urged. Joon Seuk looked pensive. “It is too late. I have a wife and two children. I have responsibilities.” I sighed, “Joon Seuk, I think sometimes you are too responsible.” “I am the oldest sibling to my sisters, and all of our cousins. I have to set a good example.” “I’m sorry, my sisters and I left Korea and stuck you with this terrible job.” “Many times I wished you had not left Korea. I’m glad you have come back. It has been very comforting to have an older sister around.” “I wish you had been my actual younger sibling. I think we would have gotten along well. Not like my sisters and me.” “Why is the relationship so difficult between you and your sisters?” I didn’t tell Joon Seuk that there were so many resentments my sisters harbored towards me. The fact that I was taller than them. That they felt I was smarter, and a show off. That it was an unfair competition my mother forced upon them, when I was clearly her favorite. That I became the doctor in the family and then abandoned it all. When I told my sisters I was leaving the practice of medicine, one sister said with outrage, “You can’t stop being a doctor. It’s not something people do!” Another sister said, “Of course, you decide one day that you want to be a writer and it happens. Life isn’t as easy for the rest of us.”

Crab Orchard Review

u

155


Helena Rho I didn’t know how to tell Joon Seuk all this, in Korean or in English for that matter, so I responded with a quip, “They’re mad at me because I’m taller than they are.” “And you are the prettiest?” he teased. I laughed, “Of course!” Koreans have a saying: “In a house rich with daughters, the third is the most beautiful.” In olden times, during the height of arranged marriages, a wedding could be brokered between a man and a woman with the woman sight unseen, if she was the third daughter because of the prevalence of this belief by Koreans. Once, when all of my sisters and I were gathered together around the swimming pool of my sister Sophia’s country club, a Korean friend of hers said this upon meeting us: “It’s true what Koreans say about the third daughter being the most beautiful.” My sister Clara was irate in her response, “I completely disagree!” My sister Sophia nodded with resignation. My sister Susan just shrugged. I laughed and pretended her comment was a joke. “I suspect you are the most accomplished and articulate of your sisters. It is not your fault.” Joon Seuk looked at me. His eyes had a depth of kindness that I had never seen from my own siblings. “Now, I really wish we had grown up together.” My eyes prickled with impending tears. I took a sip of beer, to stop myself from crying. After we return to the condo from our afternoon at the mountain stream, we scatter. My cousins and I agree to meet for dinner with our families at one of the many restaurants in the resort complex. My mother’s sister is going back to her home in Daejun with her husband. She says she has had enough excitement and she is letting the young people enjoy themselves. I walk her down to the parking lot, my arm linked with hers. I will miss her when I return to America. For the past two months, she has called me in Seoul every Sunday morning to ask how I was doing. I am already nostalgic for those phone calls, even as I know that she will call me tomorrow before my departure. “I want to tell you something,” my aunt says in Korean. We are standing next to her car. Her husband has stowed the luggage and waits in the driver’s seat. She takes both of my hands in hers. “I am so happy you came to Korea. I have wanted to see you for so long.” I smile, but a part of me wants to cry. “I’m glad I came. I’m sorry to give you the news about my mother.” I give my aunt a hug. “I hope she will get better soon and both of us will come back to visit you in Korea,” I say this with an optimism I do not feel.

156

u

Crab Orchard Review


Helena Rho I remember the first time I saw my aunt, after returning to Korea. I had written a letter, asking if she would see me while I was studying Korean language at Konkuk University in Seoul for the summer. She called the front desk of the International Guest House, where I was staying, and came looking for me. I remember walking down the ramp of the oddly shaped, circular, language-learning building on Konkuk’s campus to find my aunt at the bottom. Even in the sea of Korean faces, I recognized her immediately— her face a diminutive, softer version of my mother’s. She and her husband took me on a tour of Seoul that lasted well into the night. At one point during that day, we were wandering through the grounds of a palace, home to the emperors of the Joseon Dynasty, on a dusty path under a blazing blue sky when my aunt suddenly stopped and gripped my arm. Earlier in the day, she had asked me how my mother was doing. I had told her that my mother had been very sick but was no longer in the hospital. I had wanted to say more but didn’t know how, and my aunt had not pursued the matter. “How your mother chose to live her life has nothing to do with you or your sisters,” my aunt said, her voice low and urgent. We were alone standing under the shade of a tile roof that was blue-ish appearing from the angle of the descending sun. “Your mother was willful and spoiled. She was our mother’s favorite. Whenever I argued with my sister, our mother always made me apologize, no matter whose fault it was.” My aunt sighed with regret. I did not know that my mother had been the favorite child. And I had not considered the burden of expectation that she carried, even as she enjoyed the benefits of that role. My aunt and I talked again about my mother at her home in Daejun. She had been cooking a Korean feast of bulgogi, jhap chae, and so many other dishes, just for me. She and Joon Seuk’s wife were stuck in the kitchen for most of the day. While she chopped vegetables, I finally told her about my mother’s suicide attempt. I wept copiously. Even cutting onions, she did not cry. But later that evening, after dinner, we watched a Korean drama together, in which a woman protagonist loses her lover and is heartbroken. My aunt started crying and could not seem to stop. In Muju, my aunt says, “I hope you will come back to see me soon.” “Don’t worry, you can’t get rid of me so easily,” I try to be flippant. There is so much kindness in my aunt’s eyes as she looks at me. She is wise and compassionate with her advice, “Live a good life. Don’t let the tragedy of your mother’s life ruin yours. You deserve a good life.” I lean back against the red wood siding of the building after my aunt’s car has disappeared from view. I allow the tears to fall down my cheeks. I don’t try to stop them. I take deep breaths and wait for them to subside. I step back inside and head for the stairs up to the condo. In the lobby,

Crab Orchard Review

u

157


Helena Rho I see Dae Shik’s son standing in front of a vending machine, seemingly mesmerized. “Jae Won, what are you doing?” Only minutes before, all the second cousins had been watching the animated movie Cars together in the living room. His miniature form, the top of his head barely reaching my thighs, turns to face me. “I want juice. Can I have it?” “I’m not sure. Where’s your father?” I look around for my cousin. “Upstairs.” Jae Won stares at the tiny can with a picture of a peach, his hand tapping on the glass. “Can I have the juice?” “I think we should ask your father first,” I answer, although I’m pretty sure my cousin won’t have a problem with his son having peach juice. He pulls himself up to full height, throws his head back and shouts for his father, “Ah-paa!” “Jae Won, he can’t hear you.” “Ah-paa!” he yells louder. I put my hands over my ears, “Okay, okay, you can have the juice.” Jae Won smiles at me. My cousins and I go out to dinner with our families, and we fight over who gets to pay the bill. Koreans take it as a point of honor to pay the bill, especially when they consider themselves the hosts in the situation. I finally win for the first time this weekend. But then I cheated. I took the waitress aside and gave her money in advance. Joon Seuk and Dae Shik both shake their heads at me and say that I should not pay. I tell them that I am not their guest but their Noona, their older sister, so I should have paid the whole weekend. After dinner, we meander through the various souvenir shops and boutiques in the resort. Dae Shik’s wife buys stuffed animals for my children—a Scottie dog for my daughter and a brown bear for my son— despite my objection that they are too old for such things. My children are happy that I have been vetoed. We walk in the warm night air towards multicolored lights and the sounds of a carnival. Our children run ahead, begging for sweets. We buy them cotton candy. We wait for them to be finished with their Ferris wheel rides. Dae Shik’s wife says that it is getting late and the children are tired. We take one last picture. Joon Seuk, Dae Shik and I stand next to one another, among our children, and laugh into the camera. We are saying our goodbyes when five-year-old Min Jee bursts into tears. It is almost eleven o’clock at night and I assume she is overwrought. First, her mother tries to hold her but she sinks to the ground, inconsolable. Dae Shik crouches down, puts his head next to hers. I cannot hear him clearly, but I can tell he is asking his daughter questions, and when she responds, he sounds like he is scolding her. He picks her up, holds her to his chest and speaks softly to her, “It is going to be alright. You are going to be fine.” She cries even harder. I walk over to where he is gently rocking his daughter, patting her back.

158

u

Crab Orchard Review


Helena Rho “Is something wrong? Can I do anything to help?” I ask. “Nothing is wrong,” he waves away my concern. “I am a pediatrician, not just a writer,” I offer. “Min Jee is being silly,” he says. “She must be tired,” I suggest. Dae Shik smiles at me. “Min Jee is upset because she doesn’t want Liam to go home. She says she is in love with your son and she wants to marry him. She is crying because she doesn’t want him to go back to America.” I can’t help myself. I laugh, “Does she know that a five-year-old and a six-year-old can’t get married yet?” Dae Shik pretends to be chagrined, “I told her that cousins cannot marry. That only upset her more. She says she loves Liam and they must get married.” “She is already so sure of her love? After only a few days? Maybe, she should wait a little while longer.” Dae Shik shakes his head, “She says she is absolutely certain. They are going to get married.” In a parallel universe, Dae Shik, Joon Seuk, and I stand side by side in the same ice-cold stream in Muju and talk about our children. We go out to dinner. Our children ride the same carnival rides. We take the same picture together with our families. Min Jee still wants to marry Liam. Dae Shik drives me back to Seoul late at night. But I don’t leave the next morning to go back to America. Instead, I live in Seoul, in a neighborhood close to my cousins. My children go to school with their second cousins. I visit my mother in Gwangju on weekends. She is happy; she is not in a psychiatric hospital. She scolds me to come visit more often with my children. Sometimes, I go to Seoraksan with Joon Seuk and hike a trail with stunning vistas of waterfalls and timberline. We talk about our careers as a writer and a violinist. We stop and stare at the face of Buddha carved into the mountainside. We drive back in the stream of weekend traffic on a Sunday night with all the other Koreans returning to Seoul.

Crab Orchard Review

u

159


Emily Schulten Murmuration for Dakin If we move with the fluidity of starlings, like a puddle of clippings in the air that shapeshifts but never falls hard to the ground, if we sense enough of each other to know in which direction to fly away from being preyed upon, but never from one another, in swirls and with the unshakable faith that wherever we turn we will be synchronal, miming in a language only our bodies comprehend the intention of our design, the spaces we will fill up and disappear from. We will be spirals and domes, we will make mountains and geysers and open mouths in the sky, an unnoticed eclipse at twilight as our bodies thrum and flutter without leading, only the sense of same direction, of how moving together this way makes us impenetrable to hawk and falcon, how having no intention of place or time allows us to tighten our formation, but leave space enough not to tangle feather or wing.

160

u

Crab Orchard Review


Rob Shapiro Photograph: Massachusetts, 1994 It’s still spring there. Elms fill the backwoods, black-capped chickadees nest and feed. Pants cuffed to his knees, my father wades deeper into the pond, catching bullfrogs the way he did as a boy on Long Island. My grandfather is still alive and takes my small hand in his at the water’s lip, the pond’s skin thick and glinting, olive and gold scum gathering at the surface. His shirt is pressed, his arms tan and strong, and I want to remember what happens next, why we’re turning around to walk back up that hill, head home— I want to piece those hours back together, watch the afternoon break: bluebells waving in the tall grass, my father’s waterlogged steps following us, leaving the schools of tadpoles to scatter beneath plumes of silt and algae. My grandfather lifts me to his chest and a breeze picks up from the east; a fawn bolts through brush at the field’s edge, its young body disappearing into the deep thicket just behind us, just now beginning to bloom.

Crab Orchard Review

u

161


Jessica Temple Picture of Two Girls Reading Untitled, Mobile, Alabama, 1956 by Gordon Parks Behind the girls, bare plank walls and a mother in a doorframe. She leans back, arms crossed at her waist over thin cotton skirt, eyes nearly closed. She is falling asleep this way, watching. They must be about five years old. One sits in a high-backed plain wooden chair her plaid dress scooting up above her knees from how she’s wriggled up into the seat. Her left arm is extended, gripping the edge of the heavy red book in her lap as she smiles down at it, holds it open for her friend, in pale pink, who has left the other chair vacant to stand nearby. The second girl coos down at the words, her mouth a little o, a tiny pucker of amazement.

162

u

Crab Orchard Review


Jessica Temple

Ondria Tanner and Her Grandmother Window-shopping, Mobile, Alabama, 1956 after a photograph by Gordon Parks The store window displays an array of plaid on a forest of frozen children, plaster skin the color of cream, arms outspread as in welcome. Ondria, do you remember the mannequins, their blonde waves and perfectly cuffed bobby socks? That morning, were you craving crinoline, begging for its scratch around your little thighs? Or were you content in homemade cotton, bare feet slapping hot pavement all the way through town? The camera catches you, mouth open, one finger raised against the glass, as if you’ve decided I’ll take that one. As if you had the money. As if you’d ever been inside. Just over your grandmother’s shoulder is a reflection of a mother and daughter, both well-dressed, both with well-placed hair, though whether they are real or not is hard to say for sure. You must be in your mid-sixties by now, but here you’re knobby-kneed, no more than seven. Behind you, stiff women in dark, sensible colors, nothing like the soft dresses your mother wore.

Crab Orchard Review

u

163


Afaa M. Weaver Never the One Thing In the semicircle of some kind of lust, lame eyes of old men watch women on the weekends in downtown parks on benches where sagging flesh on bones is a last man standing anthem, a push against deathwatches, the sudden falling down, spirits fired upwards, bodies falling down like dirty clothes, or the proud way the young abandon clothes to be naked, to push and rub and tug at the heart until the bursting together, the shoutout they call a union, and have it blessed, let it be named for the wishing well between silences. In a club in old Baltimore Freddie Hubbard kept us all waiting three hours for his trumpet, to hear him say he was worth waiting for, as if we did not know the tapping foot keeps time, the round face of want makes a rhythm.

164

u

Crab Orchard Review


Afaa M. Weaver

Pet Store on Milton Avenue Three goldfish in a bowl by my mother’s pie, radiant eyes narrowing to absent noses, slung over themselves the way fish swim, as we time the up and down trips from sprinkled food to crumbs that get torn away in the light that turns the water dirty, or is it their shit I ask my mother who says never to say shit, and I agree not to say shit like that again, the fish arcing now in beautiful gold scales, fancy tails we paid extra for in the pet store there by that piece of old broken chair that is always there, the one no one sits in now, now that the store is a center for heroin recovery with big signs saying Johns Hopkins is really a plantation and we are all not as free as we think, and I think “aw, shit” which is not to confess I say words mama thinks will turn me into a goldfish.

Crab Orchard Review

u

165


Afaa M. Weaver

Exhibit of the Invisible, Item A If we did not care might have been a song, a lullaby to a cute puppy, a puppy like the one we all had, the Lassies and Rin Tin Tins that ran up and down the alleys when they broke loose from the yards, or they jumped the fence to find a young Billie Holiday, Thurgood Marshall, Eubie Blake, the children that played the game of Being Invisible, the tag-me-you-it-now-run around our lifetimes game that sealed the world away from us, with glue drying on our fingers fixing flat tires on English racers in backyards paid for with hitting illegal lotteries in the street. At night we sat and watched the street, playing games of make believe, seeing things we did not see, using invisibility the way sculptors use fresh clay, this clay the clay made by hands of nothing stirring up an Eden in Africa to raise up tall humans, great humans, the perfect inside us.

166

u

Crab Orchard Review


Gabriel Welsch

At the Department of Transportation’s Public Meeting The uniforms speak the rural. Rural men who go to college gravitate to engineering, construction, the sophisticated path to turning around to make things. They stand by streams, nametag and hard hat, making pictures and notes for what road or bridge or culvert will be built there. They talk little, having found the way to make reticence pay. This morning they sit not talking, watching their hands or the wall, faces dour as fog. The news is about what to build, the change in season for when the fish run, the bears start to move, the deer appear in the roads, when the boys return for the fall, and their fathers read the paper to see whose boy is starting for which team. Whose boy has gone overseas. They watch their sons for signs of elsewhere. They sign the book, keep their tools clean, stay versed in the price of stone, know talk is best done low and quick, in platitudes that pass for sociable. These are men to whom you will always be son. Unless you’re not, and you will be ma’am, no matter how young or elsewhere you may be, however far you may drive on roads they and their brethren have hewn from the only earth they care to know.

Crab Orchard Review

u

167


Keith S.Wilson God Particle You were the smallest thing. Think of the terrified play of rabbits in the grass before the street: fractional, they are ants reverse-engineering the desperate flapping of the land. Even less. They are mindless atoms unaware of themselves or the heart between matter and time. You were smaller and more precious than that. If you imagine them littler than eyelashes—their tissue paper carapace, thorax—all of it—the bones of ships under glass—if you can imagine the elements of those atoms, of those ants and rabbits, as not the skin of the observable universe, but the whisper upon which we built a hearth, you’ll understand. Call it want, or dependence or sleep. Call it eventide or home; how to summarize a galaxy with a night —we are impossible

168

u

Crab Orchard Review


Keith S.Wilson to fix. Dust motes and a million paths of light. I know. Eventually it all comes down to an admission. Whatever my failings—didn’t I come to it, eventually?

Crab Orchard Review

u

169


Lesley Wheeler Women Stay Put I.

“He told me I was your companion pony,” Claudia said.

In the fall of 1994, Claudia Emerson and I worked in a neoclassical building whose three-story white columns were annually draped in black crepe, to commemorate Robert E. Lee’s birthday. “He” was another youngish professor employed by our department, and when you teach at a small college in a small town, your colleagues are inescapable. More than two decades later, the grocery store is still jammed with faculty members surveying the contents of each other’s carts. Claudia joked that if you ducked into Harris Teeter on a Tuesday to buy tater tots and beer, you’d better be prepared for the Dean on line behind you, registering your lack of ambition for the evening. “You know how they keep a pony around as company for the racehorse?” the guy asked, maybe in the freezer aisle. “Well, Lesley’s the racehorse.’” He and I were both tenure-track in English. Claudia, senior to both of us in talent and experience, was “visiting.” Her position, that is, came with fewer resources and no future prospects. Friendships are always a tangle of stories—tales you confide to each other and, eventually, tales you tell about the friendship itself—but I don’t remember where Claudia recounted this one. In one of our Payne Hall offices? In her basement apartment in the Hollow, or at a picnic table where we shared lunch on sunny days? Did she whisper the details while we sat together in the back row of a lecture? Maybe, but Claudia’s frank, loud voice carried, and this was not a public anecdote. I am struggling now over my right to repeat it. I do recall my sick, slow comprehension of the grocery jester’s metaphor, and Claudia’s mingled hilarity and outrage. At best, our colleague’s disrespect sprang from panicky, hoof-in-mouth jealousy. At worst, it bubbled up from a well of meanness, a desire to put a fellow striver into what he perceived as her rightful, minor place. A woman’s place. I was presumed to need her company because we were both women in a bowtie-rich old-boy fiefdom. What I could not admit, even to myself, was feeling flattered. Somebody ranked me with the racehorses? Camaraderie between two people in similar fields can be volatile. When an affinity crosses zones of power, it’s even more fragile. Claudia

170

u

Crab Orchard Review


Lesley Wheeler died of cancer late in 2014. I’m still contemplating what her company meant to me in those early days and in the intervening years, after she moved on from my college. What it means today, as I read and reread her books, recognizing her intelligence in the sure-footed lines. Slow, short-legged, I pace a circuit around a hushed green interior.

II. On New Year’s Day 2015, I picked up the book she had been assembling bone by bone during those early years. I had forgotten so much about Pharaoh, Pharaoh: the mirror motif, how often she shifts persona. What strikes me most now is the exactness of her measures. The iambic pentameter pulses strongly, but by “measure” I don’t mean rhythm only. Every joint is finely fitted; no materials are wasted. The numbering of poems and sections conveys order and economy, although she doesn’t advertise her organizing principles. You have to read every syllable—no cheating. The book’s single epigraph consists of one cryptic line from scientist Robert Watson: Everything we cannot see is here. The back cover contains one dazzling endorsement, one sentence long, from Fred Chappell. Whereas most first-book acknowledgments lavish thanks on mentors, grantors, lovers, parents, and workshop buddies, Claudia lists only magazine publications in a trim paragraph on the reverse of the title page. I had also forgotten how the book is pervaded by loss. As I turn pages by the window of my hundred-year-old home, the light is already failing. Four o’clock. Buzzards wheel over Lexington—I count at least ten. Once fresh from defending my dissertation on women’s poetry, academic pedigree mixed, resume bare of promising early wins, I have become a middleaged Department Head, achy in hips and heels, senior now to the striving Claudia of 1994. My students, well-coiffed children of the elite who sprawl imperially across classrooms, once skeptical even of my right to grade them, now defer to my lengthening curriculum vitae. My life is patterned by love and meaningful work, but winter’s dark days make me low and antisocial. Lavender clouds pile onto House Mountain.

III. Claudia won a coveted fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1994, not long after the pony incident, but what impressed me most powerfully was her dedication in the face of disappointment. When I met her, she was beginning her third year as Visiting Assistant Professor, covering the sabbatical leaves of our senior creative writers. On weekends,

Crab Orchard Review

u

171


Lesley Wheeler she commuted through the Blue Ridge Mountains in a four-hour loop to her hometown of Chatham. She was a generous teacher besieged by family obligations, yet she made time for her own poetry with steady diligence. Watching her taught me how to be a poet-professor. I was too owlish to cultivate her habit of writing first thing. But I did observe and imitate her persistence, and not just in composing, revising, and revising again. At the end of the twentieth century, seeking publication meant stuffing hot-from-the-copier manuscripts into envelopes over and over, until your tongue became tacky with glue. Claudia said she owed this service to her poems. She had a knack of constructing art’s obsessiveness as a caretaking responsibility, sidestepping, as best she could, the guilt people impose on determined women. Claudia’s first husband, back in Chatham, was cranky about her absence, and her parents were aging. Her commitment to poetry never seemed to waver, but her loyalty to family was strong, so she doubted the rightness of continuing at our college. Claudia’s tenuous position, even as the department hired a bouquet of new Ph.D.s, offered constant insult. Claudia’s terminal degree was an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, sometimes viewed suspiciously by literature professors, and the prejudice was worse twenty years ago. Plus, experienced people with local ties, like Claudia, often seem less exotically attractive to hiring committees than recent graduates of far-off institutions. Those biases were surely in the mix, but they weren’t the sole reasons English felt inhospitable. Our workplace was pocked with toxic waste sites. When people labor together in close quarters for decades, you expect enmities, but these had been aggravated by a contentious search just before my time, then by the nonrenewal of the first tenure-track woman English had ever hired. By the turn of the century, various retirements would clear out most of the effluents. In the mid-nineties, we were choking on pollution. The terrain was especially hazardous for someone on a year-to-year contract. I confided some incidents, ones involving Claudia and me, to two mid-career men I trusted. They worked hard to abate damage, but it was too profound, too grounded in the structure of the profession. Pharaoh, Pharaoh contains no descriptions of those struggles. It offers no poems about her marriage, either, although she published then as Claudia Emerson Andrews—using her husband’s last name—and the cover photograph of an elderly pair at an auction is his. Behind the couple’s patient poses of resignation, two mirrors flash, offering a tantalizing glimpse of younger folks waiting their turn. Likewise, Claudia’s poetry from this period offers only glimmers of a grown-up person sifting her inheritance, projecting achievements unlike those of her ancestors. Yet for all its autobiographical elisions, Pharaoh, Pharaoh’s theme of disenfranchisement strongly resonates with Claudia’s academic experience

172

u

Crab Orchard Review


Lesley Wheeler in the mid-nineties. Somehow she had emerged from a grief-afflicted history into a career built on inequity. The book begins in a courthouse with the author, meticulous student of the archives, searching the title of lost family land. In the fourth line, she feels cheated and bitter; by the middle of the next ten-line stanza, she wanders as a displaced ghost; in the poem’s third and longest section, nonetheless, she recognizes that “What I know, I own.” Words and images belong to her, even when nothing else remains. I hazily recall Claudia musing about whether or not to place this poem first, outside of the book’s four-part architecture—maybe it was a late arrival and she was negotiating with her editor about its position—but “Searching the Title” tunes the whole collection indispensably. I retain clearer memories of the singular triumphs that justified Claudia’s long struggle, because they sustained my own hopes for the next decade. Her first acceptance from Poetry was a yelling-in-the-hallway victory, but the call from Louisiana State University Press was better. That changed everything. Always conscientious, Claudia followed up by withdrawing her manuscript from the contests she had entered, phoning each office one by one. The woman who answered for the Yale Younger Poets Prize kept asking, “Are you sure you want to withdraw the manuscript? Are you sure?” Claudia later reported difficulty restraining the retort, “Don’t fuck with me, lady.” She was about thirty-nine, the last year one qualifies as “younger,” but she had battled a rigged system and won on merit. Except that, despite poetic triumphs, she lacked a secure, wellremunerated teaching gig, and she truly was an outstanding teacher. Claudia left Washington and Lee after my second year. She would return to her family and serve a stint as academic dean at Chatham Hall, the girls’ preparatory school she had attended. Administration was exhausting work that didn’t leave much time for poetry, but at least she was home. A tenuretrack job offer from the University of Mary Washington, also in Virginia, came later. When her obituary in the New York Times conflated Mary Washington with Washington and Lee—after all, both schools stand south of that newspaper’s zone of relevance—I snorted. Her time in Lexington was unhappy. She might have appreciated the erasure.

IV. Claudia returned to give a reading at Washington and Lee in 1999 and I assigned Pharaoh, Pharaoh to my poetry class. My copy is penciled with notes in tiny penmanship, reflecting a vanished person back to my endowed-professor-self. Who was that green beginner who had to look up “loblollies”? Arrowheads signal connections between poems; brackets and

Crab Orchard Review

u

173


Lesley Wheeler wavery underlinings bind the phrases that sung to me; question marks hover in the margins. On the back inside cover, I scrawled in ink: “women stay put, tend past/ men leave/ speaker therefore androgynous/ =ambivalent about staying.” Next to the poem “Plagues” I asked, “what release desired here?” Judging by the notations, I led discussion on the book’s third poem, “Cleaning the Graves.” “I am descended from this loss,” the speaker tells us, trailing her mother to the home site, “all she has left of land she hated/ losing.” It’s not a warm scene of women coming together to help one another. Instead, generations scrape along at the margins, learning to be ruthless. I scribbled at the bottom of the poem: “inheritance: death, coldbloodedness.” Claudia, then a vegetarian, describes a grandmother who trapped birds and wrung chicken necks: “‘Your blood is that cold,’/ she tells me, but you don’t know it yet, never/ had hard times. Hard times could never kill one/ of us.’ The old lie.” That echo from Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est,” the old lie, reminds me that when Claudia sat in an office downstairs from mine, she taught a course on war poetry. I later asked her to guest-lecture on World War I to my British poetry students. I was trained in international modernism— fragmentary, knotted, infamously difficult music—and my knowledge of Georgian-influenced formalists was flimsy. She began by reading aloud a Rupert Brooke sonnet and asking students to underline its many abstract nouns. This prepared them, by striking contrast, for the radical, overwhelming specificity of Owen. I still follow her plan: it’s revelatory. I wondered at the time what attracted her to war poetry—I was writing about women poets, and Great War verse is all about the lads—but now I perceive literary inheritance. For Owen, land was a site and instrument of betrayal. French fields reminded him powerfully of similar English meadows not far to the north, and yet war perverts pastoral tropes. Sunrise and birdsong signify not refreshed hope but the recommencement of shelling. In a sad parallel, the country that inspired Claudia’s poems, the Southside Virginia farms and impoverished people to whom she showed fealty, inspired but also trapped her. Perhaps, she speculated over breakfast years later, the land was literally killing her. Her father and brother died of cancer, and she had, by then, survived multiple bouts of her own. The largest uranium deposit in the United States lies under the Piedmont; corporations itch to mine all seven billion dollars’ worth. As uranium decays, radon forms—an invisible, scentless radioactive gas that accumulates in buildings and poisons soil and water. Everything we cannot see is here. “Cleaning the Graves” expresses skepticism, as Owen’s poems do, of inherited pieties, but it isn’t a cold-hearted poem. Its long verse paragraph breaks mid-line about three-quarters down, separating the daughter from her maternal heritage. “I have asked after her happiness/ as if it were closer kin,” she muses, earning one of my penciled question marks. The antecedent

174

u

Crab Orchard Review


Lesley Wheeler of “it” is ambiguous: is happiness closer kin to the speaker than her mother or grandmother? Claudia tries to translate a relation of necessary coldness into a kinder one: the speaker wishes her mother might be content, and implicitly wishes permission to seek her own joy.

V. I hinted job inequities tainted our friendship. That’s my guess, but Claudia and I never cut to the chase. A distance just opened up before she moved back to Chatham. A student reported Claudia and another professor were making fun of me behind my back. Hearsay, unreliable, but I believed I’d come to irritate her. The tenure-track breeds paranoia. Its contenders believe they deserve elite status, and often do, but so do other hard-working, talented strivers in their peripheral vision. Yet whether or not I misjudged Claudia, I wasn’t always misreading everyone, and there was disregard in the air. I had enough confidence to persist—to anticipate dark-horse victories if I kept working—but I had to keep fighting through my own misery. The once-precocious child disconcerted by serious competition, maybe. I fear now, remembering the racehorse and pony crack, I said something awful to Claudia, speaking from oblivious privilege. But there were other minefields. Claudia and I were in the throes, in the middle nineties, of major decisions, and not only professional ones. I was and am married to a man who relocated for my career with no recriminations. Claudia didn’t find that support until her second marriage and was aware of fissures widening during long-distance calls. She knew when her husband was lying, she informed me once, because he had a tell. Over the phone, she detected him sucking one corner of his moustache. I also became pregnant in 1996, and few things divide women like procreation. Child-free women are made to feel inadequate; mothers are taken less seriously on the job. Again, no argument polarized us—there wasn’t even a whiff of disrespect. Just difference, hard to bridge. Claudia and I discussed motherhood in a philosophical way as she approached forty and I considered the timing of my own leap. She expressed her firm decision not to bear or adopt children. An earlier bout of cancer suffered in her twenties would have made pregnancy difficult, but she also chose to prioritize poetry. Claudia’s decision, a fierce commitment to art over nurture, might underlie “Hawk,” one of the final poems in her first collection. Claudia wrote about birds often, but not as Romantic emblems of lyric transcendence. Hers are predator and prey, their light bodies plucked by cold women in rural kitchens. In “Hawk,” she speaks as a raptor, addressing a human watcher behind a window. A woman admires songbirds fluttering after

Crab Orchard Review

u

175


Lesley Wheeler seed. Then the hawk swoops in hungrily to lift a little feathered singer “from its precious nest/ deliver it of its cooling eggs.” The poem closes with the hawk’s unapologetic announcement:

These bones are not my bones; I spit them out. This song is not my song, mine this denial, unmeasured, unsung; I hurl it, unfeathered and bone-hollowed, down.

“Hawk” refuses iambic pentameter, or at least deranges it into uneven lines. Its speaker refuses domesticity, prettiness, and obedient brooding over the next generation. That songbird life is too small, too low to the ground.

VI. In 1999, Claudia wrote on the flyleaf of my copy of Pharaoh, Pharaoh, “for Lesley—poet with heart.” The inscription might be a lefthanded compliment. In the poetry of my twenties and early thirties, I showed heart for sure and some interesting turns of language. A good teacher, Claudia valued those qualities. Yet I had little skill in shaping flashy bits into meaningful structures. I was settling into teaching and university service, writing scholarship, raising a toddler; I wouldn’t dedicate myself to becoming a stronger poet for a while yet. And Claudia would have entertained opinions on the worth of my efforts. She was an encouraging person, but also a brainy one, and I’ve never known a very intelligent writer without a coolly judgmental side. She could eat me for lunch. I want to tell a story of women’s friendship strained by environmental factors, but struggling into blossom anyway. At first, scarce resources made our unlike likeness a sort of stressor or toxin. Later, when my work improved and Claudia won a better job, it became a relief to linger together in a hotel restaurant, talking about how isolated writers can feel in a teaching-focused department, with few colleagues who understand what drives you. I was now defined, at these professional conferences, not as a racehorse with a degree from a highranked research institution, but by the rural college on my nametag. Yet I was still writing, still showing up. And once a Pulitzer committee internationally anointed Claudia a thoroughbred, the last obstacles fell away. What good fortune, to be able to talk poetry with someone pondering that success, which was also, like all big victories, a cataclysm. I felt not envious, but lifted. Although I updated her about Washington and Lee—who had died or gone batty or ascended to the administration—we talked mostly about

176

u

Crab Orchard Review


Lesley Wheeler present and future. The personal past had come to seem trifling. Some grudges against other people remain attached to my bumper, a string of tin cans; they clank behind me. My differences with Claudia, however, obscure as they’d been, felt flimsier, quainter, ill-fitting the person I’d become. I was glad to give them away. I think she felt similarly, but what do I know? I’m not sure what’s on the minds of friends I speak with daily. Her books, too, may give me the illusion of knowing her better than I did. I understand, by reading them, some of her preoccupations and intellectual habits, even her murkiest emotions, but any reader is receiving a constructed, artful version of a changeable self. This is especially true when poets explore a variety of personae, and Claudia was as much a dramatic poet as a lyric one. During her illness, Claudia posted on Facebook about burning her journals. She didn’t want her poems read in light of baser moments. A general outcry persuaded her archiving them under a long embargo would be better. I’m so glad she spared them, but I’m also grateful to be saved from the temptation to act like a scholar, or a gossip, and read the mid-nineties years. This might seem to contradict my fierce belief that we read and write poetry as human beings. Our grocery-store clashes, underwhelming paychecks, and other ordinary circumstances inform the work and our reception of it. Memoir and criticism intertwine. It enriches my encounter with Pharaoh, Pharoah to remember its author was underappreciated and striving against long odds. Yet whatever Claudia was thinking or saying about me then matters less than how the broader conditions of her life shaped her work. I have constructed characters for those two young women. Their complicated friendship dipped into the underworld and rose up saved. This story has uses, although it probably remains embroidered with unconscious fictions. My only relationship, now, is with the poems, their strategies and dodges, contexts and subtexts. The woman behind the window never knows what the hawk is thinking— intimacy is smoke and mirrors—but there’s poetry in reaching toward understanding. I’ve written this essay with the hawk as my interlocutor. This is what I’d say to Claudia about those early years, if I could post a letter to the afterlife. I know, Claudia, you didn’t want life to matter to the poems, but it does, for me. I’m embedding your fine and much-laboredover verse not just in your dejected moments but in my own, and I’m not sorry. My anxious rivalries with other writers, and my desire to outstrip that pettiness, will continue to suffuse my readings. Isn’t it better to admit that pollution, since it can never be purged? And don’t we study how to live and how to write by watching each other, learning from mundane details, and shouldn’t those lessons be handed forward, with as much possiblyirrelevant information as we own?

Crab Orchard Review

u

177


Lesley Wheeler I wish for a living argument with Claudia—that voice I won’t hear again, explaining how I’m being obtuse, the exact woody nature of the splinters all this fence-sitting must have delivered to my behind. I might not agree with her, but I’d learn from the exchange. She didn’t stay put, so I can only read and speculate. So much friendship ends up being imaginary.

178

u

Crab Orchard Review


Mary Wysong-Haeri Alashtar It started snowing halfway up the mountain. Miles from anywhere, bare peaks around us, a storm so thick I could barely see out the car window. I didn’t want to look anyway, not over the edge of this one lane gravel road traveled by two-way traffic, not down the side of the mountain that seemed to drop into a black abyss. It was only afternoon but it might have been night. Huge lorries—decorated as bright as Indian elephants, strings of pompoms and brilliant, mirrored ribbons, large black and white photos of Khomeini taped over old photos of the Shah—traveled fast down the steep grade toward us. Though with their high sides I couldn’t see what the lorries carried, the trucks were heavy enough to be confident, horns blaring as they approached. I repeated little prayers to myself. Ali drove Jamshid’s luxury Peugeot and could barely stay on the road. He spun the wheel right and left, fishtailing, always correcting a skid that threatened to send us either careening into the abyss or smashing head-on into a lorry. Ahead of us, Isabelle and Malik traveled in their little front-wheel drive Renault, hugging the slope and easily squeezing around the trucks. I dug my fingernails into my flesh as the Peugeot once again skidded toward the cliff. Only five months ago, after the miscarriage, I’d wished for oblivion. Now I cringed in my seat, terrified by the thought of death as the dark mountainside with its boulders and scree disappeared beneath a blanket of white. Jamshid, Ali, and I hardly talked. We were on our way to attend a wake. The deceased had been a young friend of Malik’s and Isabelle’s, one of their local hosts when they’d worked in Alashtar, and they’d invited us along on this trip to see what a Lur village was like. The young man had died in a car accident, perhaps on this very road. It might serve us right, dying the same way the young man had: we were attending the funeral of someone we’d never met. Again and again, I pinched the inside of my elbow. I pinched it raw and still the mountains seemed to go on forever and it was almost night. Then, gradually, after what seemed like hours of steep inclines and worse descents, the snow finally stopped falling and the car quit slipping and the road, while no wider, flattened out. Without moon or stars, the sky was heavy and dark. Only the beam of our headlights on the muddy gravel road and the Renault’s tail lights showed the road ahead. It was late, much later than planned because of the storm, and I saw, in the dim half-light of the Peugeot’s interior, that Ali’s eyes had begun drifting shut. Crab Orchard Review

u

179


Mary Wysong-Haeri “Are we almost there?” I asked. Jamshid, who’d been asleep with his chin on his chest, immediately perked up. “We must be. Malik said Alashtar was not far beyond the pass.” I leaned forward, grasping the back of Jamshid’s chair. “Exactly how big is Alashtar? Do you know?” I asked trying to make conversation so that Ali would stay awake. Jamshid twisted around in his seat. He was an odd man, with chubby cheeks highlighted by a thick Hitler mustache and heavy glasses. “It’s the biggest village in these parts.” As a new hire Jamshid was still under the sway of Malik’s charisma and quoted him with enthusiasm. “But not so big as when Malik’s project was going. Back then people actually moved in from surrounding areas.” I already knew the story of Malik’s doomed Alashtar project. For several years the program flourished, a great multi-faceted community development in the heart of Luristan that had introduced the newly sedentarized Lurs to sustainable technologies as well as education programs which helped preserve traditional culture. But Alashtar’s success also drew greater scrutiny and the project was ultimately shut down, judged by the authorities to be seditious. Malik and Isabelle never said how they managed to avoid prosecution—or if there had ever been any threat of arrest— everyone assumed that legal difficulties had been narrowly avoided but such situations were best not discussed. However, the revolution had brought freedom of speech, and Jamshid’s rendition of the Alashtar project had grown quite animated. “It’s the real reason they’re returning,” he said of Malik and Isabelle. “Not for the funeral but to see what’s left of the project.” “There’s no work in Alashtar these days,” Ali said, bored with the rehash of an oft-told story. “Most families have returned to trying to scrape out a living farming land without irrigation. There won’t be much left. “This man who died was on his way back from Khoramabad,” Ali went on, his voice quiet but solemn. “I heard he’d been looking for work.” A week before, when Malik and Isabelle had proposed we visit their former home of Alashtar, it had seemed like a lark, a chance to see village life, experience the nomads. Here in the wild, miles and miles since we’d passed through any village, the ground frozen and white with snowdrifts, it amazed me that I could have thought I was ever anything but an intruder. The first sign of the small town was in the headlights; there were no streetlamps, not even a moon to cast shadows, just khaki-colored mudbrick walls. We were to stay with a family on the outskirts of town, acquaintances of Isabelle and Malik. When we pulled up beside a single story mudbrick house, a dog barked nearby but never appeared. An older man, rough and weather-beaten, came out of the darkness with a lantern that lit the lines of his face. He stopped in

180

u

Crab Orchard Review


Mary Wysong-Haeri front of the Renault and waited. He didn’t smile when Isabelle and Malik got out and greeted him and they did not kiss cheeks, instead they stood and talked. Isabelle turned toward us, her slightly bucked teeth showing in the lamplight. With a quiet gesture of her hand, she signaled for us to join them. Ali shut off the engine. Jamshid opened his door and struggled out, bending over his belly. He asked, “So this is it?” but nobody answered. The ground was uneven with stones and scrub and packed earth made slick by a light dusting of snow. My feet slipped and twisted as I made my way along the rutted drive. Somewhere in the dark, animals jostled. There were snorts, the bleating of sheep, the shuffling of hooves. The grizzled old man in his cap, earflaps folded up about the brim, lifted his lantern. He wore a too large coat. As Ali and Jamshid approached, he nodded but then turned to leave before I had time to enter his circle of light. I walked behind and reached the steps leading into the house just as the old man and his lantern disappeared indoors. I slipped off my shoes and entered. The man in the cap was no longer to be seen, but his lantern was on the floor of a long, low room, its ceiling dark with exposed rough-hewn beams. The floor was covered with rugged, geometrically patterned kilims. Five thin singlewide futons were spread out in a row, each neatly made up with sheets and quilt but no pillow. A single kerosene space heater that barely warmed the room stood in one corner. None of us had thought to bring a flashlight and Isabelle and I left the lantern on the porch, half lighting the room, half lighting the path, as we each slipped and stumbled our way toward the outhouse. The sounds of a flock of nervous, shuffling sheep were muffled by the dark. The dog was not seen or heard. “I don’t know if we ought to be here,” I whispered, unwilling to disturb the silence. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I know the dog. He’s friendly.” “I didn’t mean the dog. I meant here in Alashtar. Ali and I, we don’t even know these people.” Isabelle took her turn in the outhouse, leaving the door open for light. “Not to worry,” she said. “The family will be honored that you’ve come. They’ll think Malik and I really respect them, we’ve brought a foreign guest along.” Isabelle came out and I handed her her toothbrush. The outhouse didn’t stink, but it was difficult to see the hole in the ground where we were supposed to squat. “Are you sure?” I called through the door. “Positive,” Isabelle answered over a mouthful of toothpaste, her voice so loud the sheep baaed and trotted off. It was late morning, close to noon, and there were no shadows in the courtyard, nothing but radiant winter light. From inside the house came the sound of mourners, wailing and moaning, women’s voices mostly,

Crab Orchard Review

u

181


Mary Wysong-Haeri though the occasional deep bass or broad tenor rang out. Dizzy with guilt and sweating nervously, I bowed my head and licked my lips, my conviction that I was an intruder not assuaged by Isabelle’s certainty that I would be welcomed as an honored guest. With deep reservations, slow step after slow step, I followed the men and Isabelle indoors. There were two rooms, one for men, one for women, and Isabelle and I entered the women’s room on the right. There was no furniture, nothing but the occasional bolster against the wall and a floor covered with deep red and blue kilims. I stopped inside the door, wanting to run back to the car. With my pale skin, blond-brown hair, dressed in a black blouse and khaki pants, no headscarf because Isabelle said it wasn’t necessary, I looked as out of place as I felt. Honored guest or not, I didn’t want to be here. I could not have looked more different. The room was full of dark complexioned women in traditional Lur dress. Their long flowing hair, veiled by short black scarves wrapped with black turbans, was covered with dried mud. Their wide full skirts billowed about their bodies like elegant pillows, contrasting dramatically with their faces, dazed and inward, muscles slack with grief. Ali had told me about the ritual of a village wake, how people wailed and moaned until it became a cathartic experience. I was a bit contemptuous. Wouldn’t such a demonstration of so much emotion be more performance than true grief? Now, the actual sight of these women, their tear-streaked faces, made me lose my breath. There was such enormous sorrow and I was a spying intruder. But Isabelle boldly walked into the center of the room, assuming I was behind her, and not one of the women looked at me. No one spoke; no one seemed to notice my existence. Instead, the women’s bloodshot eyes stared blankly at the floor, most moaned, some wailed; all of them clutched themselves and rocked back and forth. Many of their faces were bruised. Some were covered with cruel bloody scratches. A few had torn their dresses, showing undertunic and the layers of skirts beneath. Isabelle touched my arm. “Come,” she said and led me to a silent, dazed woman who was rocking a baby on her lap. “This is his wife,” Isabelle whispered. I didn’t know what to do, kneel or squat or sit beside her, outstretch a hand, kiss her cheeks. A deep circle of purple, red, and black surrounded one of the widow’s eyes; there were bruises on her throat and cheeks. Dried mud caked her turban and shoulders, and her face, weathered from wind and sun, was full of dried-blood scratches. Though I knew she must be young, her face looked a million years old. She did not try to stand or even tip her head toward me. Around us the women groaned in low mutterings of incoherent words. They did not seem hostile. Honored guest or intruder, the women seemed unaware of me. I crossed my arms, grabbing my elbows, and tried to decide what to do.

182

u

Crab Orchard Review


Mary Wysong-Haeri Isabelle was not helping. She simply stood beside me, waiting for me to make the first move. I couldn’t tell why. If I was honored, she should introduce me, though it was obvious none of these women cared to know me, least of all the widow. Gradually, I loosened my arms and bent toward the young, old looking widow. “Tasliat migam,” I mumbled, barely able to speak loud enough to offer my condolences. Isabelle’s hand brushed my shoulder. “She’s Lur,” she said in my ear. “She doesn’t speak Farsi.” Isabelle gently motioned me aside and spoke a few words I didn’t understand. Then, turning away, she whispered. “My Luri is not very good but she knows we’re here to mourn him.” Then she nodded toward a clear space on the rug. As we moved toward it, an aged woman bent double over a tray wandered about the room, stopping to offer cups of steaming liquid to those who weren’t in the trance of mourning. She stopped at me, muttering unfathomable words. “Turkish coffee,” said Isabelle. “We drink coffee at funerals, because it’s bitter.” I sipped. Though the liquid was strong, it was also terribly sweet. Isabelle took a cup, sipped, and then leaned toward me, “You see how they’ve beaten themselves. The mud,” she nodded slightly toward the widow, “the bruises.” Though we spoke Farsi together and the women appeared to all be Lurs, she kept her voice low, almost whispering. “Those are from mourning at the gravesite. The women wail and cover themselves in dirt. It’s to show their grief.” Over the top of the tiny coffee cup, I watched the widow. She was exhausted. This woman looked as if they had had to hold her back from the grave. There were deep scratches on her hands and in places her dress was torn. I finished the last sip of my coffee, savoring its bittersweet taste. I remembered attending my uncle’s funeral. The family was invited into a special room curtained off from the casket and from the main congregation. I’d supposed we’d been separated so that we could cry but I’d barely known my uncle. Once, at a gathering of my mother’s family, after my uncle been diagnosed with cancer—he must have known he was going to die—he’d cornered me and tried to ask me how I was, what was I doing. But he scared me, his big bulk, his balding head, his red eyes and puffy cheeks, especially the way he’d loomed over me, his low voice trying to coax more than one syllable answers from me before finally he patted my shoulder, stepped aside, and let me pass. I couldn’t cry for him. But neither did his family. In the front rows, close to the sheer curtain veiling the casket, in the row of widow and sons, shoulders barely shook; no one sniffled or wiped their cheeks. My mother did not cry. She dabbed her eyes with a tissue but didn’t really weep. The room was silent but for the droning of the preacher we could not see and the hymns of the congregation. I set my empty coffee cup down on the kilim. The room was warm

Crab Orchard Review

u

183


Mary Wysong-Haeri with the press of bodies. Long, anguished calls came in waves, silence and then wailing, silence, then wails. Without thinking, I found myself rocking rhythmically. I imagined what would happen if Ali died. I didn’t know what upper middle-class Iranian funerals looked like, but I didn’t want to mourn for him at a funeral parlor the way my uncle had been mourned. If Ali died, I wanted to collapse. I wanted to scream and cry, to throw mud on my head and beat my face. I wanted to fall to the ground and rend my bosom. I wanted to crawl into the grave beside him, be part of the dirt. I looked over to the widow with her blank expression. The baby on her lap was bald and chubby. There was no way of telling if it was a girl or boy from the nondescript, dirty white swaddling. Its sleeping arms twitched. At least she had a baby, I thought. Though her beloved was in the grave and her hair covered with mud and her face bruised, at least she had the child in her lap. I rubbed my face. I sniffed. I murmured in English under my breath. “Oh, no. Oh, no.” If Ali died tomorrow, I’d go back to the States with no remnant of our love, of our life together. “Oh no, oh no,” I said, a low sound that coincided with the rhythm of my movement. This widow was lucky I thought, a bitter vein of emotion running through me. I clutched my chest. “Oh, no,” I murmured and stared out into the middle distance, mourning my lost child, my miscarriage, as if it were an abyss greater than any we’d seen in the mountains, greater than anything real except my grief. Following the funeral, the five of us huddled together inside the Peugeot to listen to the BBC on Jamshid’s shortwave radio. Isabelle held the radio on her lap. The broadcast was short, full of static, and hard to hear, and she turned the radio’s volume up, but not too high. We didn’t want any chance passersby to suspect what we were listening to. It was not likely that anyone in Alashtar would report us, though such things were hard to predict. The broadcasts issued by the Iranian National Television and Radio Ministry only told stories of a sympathetic, contrite Shah, one who exchanged one prime minister for another and abolished the loyalist Rastakhiz Party, the official national party all citizens of Iran had been obliged to belong to as a prerequisite for employment. They said nothing about demonstrations or killings or arrests, just gave the latest concession by the government before switching to stories about the gas shortages in America and Prince Charles’ latest romance. For news of the revolution, we had to listen to the BBC. Normally I loved grouping around a shortwave radio getting the latest news. People leaned forward, hands on knees, eager to sense the words caught in the crackling static. If someone got so excited as to exclaim or comment, he was immediately hushed. Though I’d never marched in one of the protest demonstrations, listening to the BBC made me feel part of the revolution, part of the group. Except for today, I felt too numb with

184

u

Crab Orchard Review


Mary Wysong-Haeri grief to care much about the news. While Jamshid pressed his knee against Isabelle’s, and Malik and Ali leaned toward her from their front seats, I hugged the window, the sadness of the funeral sticking to me, clinging to my insides. I didn’t care about the revolution. My eyes closed, remembering the wake, I jumped when Ali, Malik, Isabelle, and Jamshid all cheered at once. “What? What is it?” I asked. “The oil workers,” Malik said in a voice that filled the car. “The oil workers have gone on strike. Now there is no hope for the Shah. He has to leave. Zendehbad Khomeini!” Everyone raised their fists. The excitement of the oil workers’ strike had expelled everyone else’s sadness, yet I couldn’t get rid of mine. It stuck to me as hard as glue. Music played and Isabelle switched the radio off. “What now?” she asked. “Now,” Malik said tucking in his chin and wagging his beard “In Shah beyad beravad.” He mimicked how Khomeini’s deep, resonant monotone kept repeating ‘This Shah must go’ over and over and over again. “No,” Isabelle said, waving her hand at her husband, “I mean what do we do now? Head home? Or show them the project, what’s left of it?” “The project, of course,” said Malik, his buoyant voice filling the car. “They need to see. Hamadan will be even better. With this revolution we will have the freedom to do exactly what we tried to do in Alashtar.” The next couple of hours were spent touring Alashtar’s small network of streets, Ali driving from one boarded up storefront to the next as Malik laughed and pointed out the various sites of his former projects. Alashtar might have been a busy town once, but now it was deserted. Most of the shops were boarded over; the flap of the tent of the greengrocer was down, the bread bakery was open but without customers, the street was empty of children, beggars, and even stray dogs. Isabelle suddenly jerked forward. “That’s where the day care center was,” she cried. She leaned between the driver and passenger seats, pointing to a boarded storefront that looked no different than any of the other storefronts we’d visited. “The young girls were able to go to school because of the center. They didn’t have to stay home to take care of their siblings.” She grabbed a handful of pumpkin seeds from the bag that sat between Ali and Malik. Malik chewed seeds and threw the shells out the crack of his window. The cold air from Malik’s open window blew back on me. I hugged myself. Malik broke another seed open: two snaps with his front teeth, then a wet inhale of breath as he sucked out the seed. With a quick flip of his wrist, he threw the shell out the window. Malik and Isabelle were as animated as if they could see the sidewalks full of laughing and running children, crowds of hard-working women and busy men, lorries and sedans and small trucks packed with supplies

Crab Orchard Review

u

185


Mary Wysong-Haeri traveling from one project to the next. They talked and pointed at abandoned, empty buildings: the former weaving center, a solar powered cooking stove workshop, a wind ventilator cooling design office, the unfinished public bath. “That’s where the native dye workshop was,” said Malik. His thick hand-knit sweater clung tight about his round figure and he seemed impervious to the cold, while the wind blowing through his open window had me shivering, despite my coat. “You haven’t met Abbas,” Malik said, “but Isabelle remembers him.” Malik tossed shells out of the car. “You remember him, don’t you, sweetheart?” “Of course,” she said, her voice a sprightly chirp. “How could I forget Abbas?” Malik chewed. “Abbas will come to the University. I will bring him. You’ll see.” We’d pulled over in front of the boarded window that apparently used to be the place that Abbas had worked. “Abbas restored native dyes to Alashtar. Before he came, all the women were using Western chemical dyes. They’d forgotten their tradition. Abbas reeducated them and now they are no longer dependent on imports.” Malik picked up the seeds to offer them around. “Anyone?” he asked, holding the bag out. Jamshid took a handful. So did Isabelle. I did not feel like eating any more than I felt like talking. Malik held the bag out to Ali. “Pumpkin seeds?” he asked as Ali pulled the car back out onto the empty street. Ali reached in to take a small handful that he set in his lap. He nibbled the end of a seed then unrolled his window to toss the shell out. The temperature of the car plummeted and my knees shook. “Self-sufficiency.” Malik munched on seeds as he spoke. “That’s why they shut us down, you know. The Shah and his people were worried that the Alashtar project was becoming a communist enterprise.” Malik gave a big belly laugh. “What’s communist about tradition? You wait, after the revolution, in Hamadan, we’ll do it all again and everything will be different because now look who’s in trouble, the Shah himself! There’s no going back now that the oil workers have gone on strike.” We drove a short way out of town to where the road ended in a large fan of gravel halfway up the hillside. Everyone got out. Ahead of us was a roll of hills. A cold wind blew across the empty expanse. I tucked my hands into the armpits of my coat. Malik and Ali, Jamshid and Isabelle stood a few feet off, crowded together talking. Ali watched Malik, his eyes keen, his gaze focused. Their excitement carried on the wind, but I kept myself separate. I thought of the old man at whose house we’d slept the night before. How he’d held up his lantern and left before I’d even walked in the door. That’s what I wanted to do, leave and be on my own. I stood at the edge of the gravel, the uneven rocky ground rough beneath my feet. These were wild hills. A goat path, dusty and well trodden, wound its way between the gentle, sloping crests. Clumps of dry grass and low thorny shrubs pocked the hillside.

186

u

Crab Orchard Review


Mary Wysong-Haeri I was always indoors in Iran. Sometimes I felt like I lived in a box. I walked home from work, despite the trail of the boys calling out whore and cunt in Farsi slang they thought I couldn’t understand. Sometimes they tossed rocks or firecrackers at my feet. Head bowed, I kept walking. It was the only thing to do. The boys would run off once I turned into my alley, but I never felt safe enough to put on hiking boots and strike out for the hills. Instead I waited for Ali, though he always wanted to drive. We took our little tincan Citreon and went on picnics up on the mountainside above Hamadan. We’d buy kebob wrapped in flat bread and then head for the long grassy slopes above our apartment where I watched Ali fly his homemade kites. I loved our outings but it wasn’t the same as feeling part of the earth. That was why I wanted a child. A child would be a part of me in union with the earth and the sun and my love for Ali, a beloved being that would help me feel a part of the world, as important in my own small way as the revolution. I hugged myself and looked up at the mountains, the winding goat path leading into the wild. I wasn’t pregnant, but we were trying again. A baby would bridge this half-life and the whole one I would lead after they were born. A cold wind blew across my face, carrying the conversation of the others away from me. Its chill bit into my cheeks. I stared out at the open land, a land without fences and full of possibilities. Ali and Jamshid and Isabelle followed Malik, but I kept to myself. I did not need anyone because soon there would be me and Ali and a child and the world would no longer be so remote.

Crab Orchard Review

u

187


Weather Reports All About the Weather


William Auten Cloudbreak And when it does finally happen, it’s a welcome interruption, the summer solstice less than one week away, more sunlight now shining through, the sky turning blue, and the look and feel of a spring day in the Midwest is present all over again, coming back, returning to the front, having been always present but obscured. And it is the weather that has been the talk of the town of Lincoln, Nebraska, the weather and its effects taking no responsibility for its actions, falling down in dramatic fashion without absorbing any of the guilt, rain having pelted the roofs of houses and farmlands, the long smoke-drawn clouds in the sky, back roads washed out, ditches flooded. Recent forecasts have been promising something other than rain, which has overfilled each day in the month of May, breaking century-old records for spring precipitation, the little squares on everyone’s calendars, found hanging in kitchens or on the soft-padded walls of office cubicles or inside smart phones, spilling over with rain chased by more rain, rain dominating all of May, every single day. It was everywhere, but then such is the weather, inescapable, observable, described as it happens. The rain has been like this—grey, hard, consistent—and ten of the first fourteen days in June have been nothing but that. The rivers have risen, and water drowns the sidewalks and touches the metal tops of the benches in the public parks. Corn crops won’t be elephant-eye-high by July, and the soybean fields remain green sprigs in soggy land. But the clouds are dissipating, and when the weather moves across, it moves as a whole, pulling with it pieces of heat and cold, pockets, patches and spots, the surprises that tie them together. Sunshower out there, bone-dry less than a mile away from here, the weather falling and then passing onto somewhere else as another shape. Which is what’s happening as a pebble-beige Corolla cruises west on highway I-80 from Omaha back to the outskirts of Lincoln. The state capital’s downtown is under a blanket of grey, even though blue sky cracks open around it and over the flatlands leading into it. The statue of the sower on top of the capitol tower is stepping forward into marbled grey air. Turn signals blinking on and off, the pebble-beige Corolla weaves in and out of slower cars on a Sunday afternoon, which was the heaviest and slowest on the way into Omaha, especially around the exit for the stadium and the College World Series. But the car, with droplets of water rolling off the windshield and faded paint and rusty holes, is headed away from that and towards downtown Lincoln, billboards, BoneFish Grill, Barnes Crab Orchard Review

u

191


William Auten & Noble, Home Depot, campuses for tech companies, and shopping malls blurring by, the tires spinning up water from the black wet pavement that is starting to look like a rainforest floor as the warm sun emerges a little more and lifts up the rain in blankets of steam. The driver has a box of bivvies in the trunk, which is rattling and ready to pop open, the lock busted by rabid and drunk fans on the street outside her apartment during a season-ending game against Oklahoma two years ago, but the trunk is pulled down by bungee cords secured to the bumper. In the rear-view mirror, Kimmie Chung keeps an eye on it when the car’s tires hit every bump and pothole on the highway. So far so good. She’s anticipating that the main box will be damp, rain finding its way into the trunk because of the small, oxidized holes, and the fact that she and Scott from Omaha Outdoors, not the tall Germanic Scott but the short Native American Scott, loaded it in what was then a steady drizzle. But each bivvy comes in a smooth, satiny zipper pouch, as well as its own box no larger than a brick. Besides, they’re bivvies, and to coddle them too much would turn them into one-use, fashion items better suited for pamping and would defeat tonight’s purpose and show-and-tell demonstration at Kimmie’s store. As the manager and public outreach specialist at Great Plains Outfitters, located in Lincoln’s historic Haymarket District, Kimmie was self-conscious having to leave after a late afternoon lunch, setting down her turkey-andsprouts pita and stopping her payroll numbers and employee schedules for the upcoming week as well as finalizing the slideshow JPGs and text for tonight’s class, in order to buy the bivvies, with her own personal credit card because she left GPO forgetting that Taylor took the store card to make copies of tonight’s handouts at FedEx Office a few blocks away on Q Street. Kimmie knows Ruby Gerhardt, one of GPO’s owners, will pay her back, plus mileage, but buying $900 worth of the latest and redesigned bivvies from one of the leading outdoor-goods manufacturers stings when she’s two years out of college and trying to get a little traction on personal finances, debt, and life as a new adult in general. But here she is in the expanding sunlight and growing humidity, westward bound, the skyline of downtown Lincoln a little closer, having accomplished exactly what she needed to accomplish for the store and tonight’s class. Ever since Bob Gerhardt died last year of lung cancer and handed full ownership to his wife and son Jack, craters have emerged in GPO’s analog-by-hand invoicing and purchasing system, which isn’t really a system, as Kimmie has kindly and incessantly pointed out after her promotion from floor sales to manager a week after the funeral, researching modern options and hoping that, now that things have settled down a little more at the store since Bob’s death, they will be seen as valid solutions. But she also knows that the loyal customers (generations’ worth) and the store itself (its long-standing reputation in the community as a mainstay of familyowned small businesses) come first, and that often means, as it did today

192

u

Crab Orchard Review


William Auten when she realized the bivvy she needed for the camping basics class was not on hand, having to swallow some type-A pride, placing orders through Amazon or REI, personally driving to the small, direct competitors, such as Omaha Outdoors, or walking into the behemoth big-box big boys, such as Bass Pro and Cabela’s, and buying what’s been inquired about but is missing from GPO’s floor and stock room, increasing the price by a few percentage points, and hand-delivering it back to GPO and to a devoted customer who is satisfied that the local ma-and-pa store came through once again. And yes, she knows that buying from one competitor and selling at her store doesn’t help GPO with the long game, but it’s a way to stay afloat for the time being. Besides, she’s an optimist, and seeing Brian from Omaha Outdoors, with his Buddy Holly glasses, hours ago was also an opportunity to reconnect with an industry colleague she had met at a trade show in Kansas City last September. Kimmie takes great pride in all that. But deep down inside, down past the responsible manager and employee always going above and beyond, she really loves talking about enjoying nature via the classes GPO has offered to the public long before she started selling clothes and tents and water bottles twenty hours a week five years ago as a sophomore who had changed majors from elementary ed to special ed, with a minor in environmental science, at UNL. Her boyfriend at the time, Glenn Kovich, was always talking about his childhood trips to some of northern California’s greatest camping sites and hiking trails, describing areas to her that contrasted the level horizon and open spaces she grew up with across the Missouri River in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and when they went together to Humboldt County during their freshman summer break, it was unforgettable, the mountains and the cool nights and the rock formations and the groves of giant redwoods thickening the cliffs along the ocean. She got her first taste of true camping and outdoor knowledge and the myth of the American West, its sunset- and coast-lined edge, where it begins and ends, where raw wonder remains, where stones remain hard and water wet even within habits of a different weather, and she was hooked. For the class tonight, she could just mention the bivvy, describe it, mention that it’s perfect for rain or wind no one expected, emphasizing its use invisibly in her hands, but the morning’s weather made her think of it, that the weather can throw anything into a forecast, turn in an instant, that it’s better to touch what can be brought into the weather, and that’s reason enough. And with steam rising from the highway’s pavement, Kimmie’s Corolla dragging little wisps of humidity on her rear fender and tires, swirling in the tire wells like cigarette smoke, west I-80 swerves right and parallels the minor league ballpark and Lincoln’s new pedestrian bridge, with its slim art-deco letters spelling out the city on the support beams, connecting revived and historic areas. Behind it, Memorial Stadium ascends row by row, white grandstand by white grandstand, black glass upon black glass,

Crab Orchard Review

u

193


William Auten the empty seats a quiet sea of red until the first home game and 90,000 loyal Huskers fans turn the giant bowl into a rolling sea of red. Kimmie sails off the highway, turns right on R Street, turns left on 8th, and cruises past the many squat and square red-brick buildings from the late 1800s of the Haymarket District, all of them recycled and renewed now with restaurants and breweries and boutique stores and professional businesses and condos. And on the corner of 9th and P, heading towards a crimson façade and flat roof, she turns into the back lot, a small parking area for Great Plains Outfitters and its single-story home inside what was McPherson and Schneider Fur and Trade, Est. 1896 in faded white paint, crouching between an old saw mill, now Morning Star Café, and the old creamery that perfectly transitioned into Sir Cone-A-Lot Hand-Cranked Ice-Cream. By the time she parks her car, Kimmie has less than fifteen minutes to finish getting ready for tonight’s camping basics class starting after the store closes at 6. She jogs into the store and grabs Taylor, who’s in the middle of setting up all the extra chairs GPO has in its storage room. Back out they go to her Corolla, unhinge the bungee cords, and lift out the box full of bivvies. Sure enough it is damp, and one of the corners is squashed like an accordion, but they carry it into the store’s back room, setting it down next to the wire shelves, scooting it as close as they can to the stacks of tent poles and women’s fleece jackets. Kimmie sighs, knowing that the second quarter’s main project was to inventory what’s back here and to organize it all, now that the major holiday and spring sales are officially over. She reaches in her shorts’ pocket and pulls out a hefty Swiss army knife, looping out the main blade and slicing it through the layers of tape on the box. Taylor high-fives her, grabs his stainless steel coffee mug from another wire shelf, walks back out to the main floor, moving some clothes racks and a few floor displays, and opens up the space so that the class’ chairs, table, and samples all fit within. Kimmie holds up one brick-sized box and looks it over: no water damage; the half-moon cardboard with an image of a couple cozying up to a fire on a mountain top, red bivvies wrapped around them, blueblack sky with its purplish stars glowing behind them, is as smooth and glossy as it was when she watched Ponca-tribe Scott from Omaha Outdoors load the main box with the twenty boxes of bivvies. Satisfied again, she places the one bivvy under her arm, grabs her own stainless steel coffee mug, with its dark grey compass etched on the front, from the desk littered with invoices and to-do lists and Please Call notes, and walks into the heart of the store, twisting her shoulders sideways to squeeze past chairs, Taylor, and a customer who’s asking him about a quote for tent repair. Once past, Kimmie heads into the office supply room and rolls out the projector screen into the main area with the chairs and sample products, hooks her laptop into the projector, and boots up PowerPoint. Seeing Lisa walk from the gear section of the store into the clothing and shoes section

194

u

Crab Orchard Review


William Auten reminds Kimmie to confirm with Lisa that she pasted the JPGs into the file while Kimmie was on the road picking up the bivvies. As Taylor walks the customer to the main counter, takes her name, and waves goodbye to her, Lisa says, “I sure did,” high-fives Kimmie, who beams a mouthful of polished teeth, and starts closing procedures, including tallying the day’s transactions, reviewing the summaries the registers spit out, counting the bills and coins, and double-checking the credit card receipts. When she’s finished setting that in motion, Lisa grabs the guest list that Kimmie printed off hours earlier shortly after the store opened at ten in the morning, jumps on the computer next to one of the registers, and confirms in GPO’s Microsoft Outlook that there are no outstanding, cancelling, or last-minute guest e-mails for tonight. After check-marking the last name on the list, Debbie Fontineau from Lincoln, Lisa, snapping the list tight onto a clipboard, key chain wrapped around her forearm and the tattoo of a horse rearing up into a starry night, steps outside into the sun that is starting to slowly emerge as the clouds evaporate, and leans against the brick storefront until the first guest arrives. Kimmie takes one hand off her hip and points to a first-aid kit and then to a lamp on the floor before pulling them from the second table reserved for the product samples. “Tay, get the smaller ones,” she says, throwing her head at them. “Smaller?” Taylor arches his back from the men’s pants rack until his orange wicking shirt billows at his back, a few stringy strands of black hair flopping in front of his face. “First aid?” “Yeah…one notch down.” Taylor bends back closer to the rack, moves a small from the extralarges back with the other smalls, and walks his skinny legs up the slight ramp leading into the gear section. “Under twenty, Tay,” Kimmie yells, turning her scarred chin to the store’s main window, the shadows of downtown Lincoln lengthening since she’s returned. “Thirty for the lamps.” Taylor walks back to her, gripping a smaller first-aid kit and a lamp that looks like a sugar shaker from a 1950s diner. “Good?” “Perfect.” She hands him the higher-priced gear and props up the redand-white satin square that is the smaller first-aid kit. Frowning as she double pumps the lamp, “Batteries,” she smiles at him. “Batt’tries,” Taylor chuckles, unscrewing the bottom, looking inside for the correct size, and mimicking a thick accent belonging to a customer who came in two weeks ago and, in a jam with his daughter’s graduation ceremony, asked if GPO sold any batteries. Taylor lifts a pack from behind the front counter and holds them in front of Kimmie. “Yeh, I gots some batt’ries,” he answers, lifting his upper lip away from his teeth like a chimpanzee and keeping his jaw perfectly still for a paltry David Beckham impersonation.

Crab Orchard Review

u

195


William Auten Laughing and shaking her head, Kimmie pops the batteries in, reseals the bottom, and double-clicks the lamp. A yellow ball slowly gains ground against the opacity enclosing it inside the plastic tube. She turns it back off and sets it down next to a camp stove that could be mistaken for a toy spaceship from a science fiction movie. The front door chimes, held open by Lisa, who waves to Kimmie and Taylor, and in walks the first guest, followed a few minutes later by another guest, and another, until it’s eight after six, the flow of guests has stopped like summer rain, and six of the ten chairs are filled. And so there they all are, circling Kimmie who stands off to the side of the projector screen, laughs and smiles with them, is so happy to see all of them here tonight, as she introduces herself, her colleagues Taylor Hubler, who teaches basic trail running in another free class that’s coming up next month, and Lisa Twombly, who teaches canoeing and kayaking, meeting down at the Missouri every Saturday morning from Memorial Day until Labor Day, and talks a little about the store and how she wants them to ask questions, and “Be sure to check out the samples,” she says, pointing to the table with products and the two-person tent Taylor assembled on the floor. Diving into the first slide and its bulleted list, she talks about the basics, of respecting nature, how great it is to just observe, she emphasizes, and she walks over to one corner of the table to pick up Barry Lopez, Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, and Thoreau’s Walden, a slight gimp in her left hip because sitting in the car too long has caught up to her, but also because in November 2012 she backpedaled onto a jagged rock in Yosemite just as Glenn scared away a bear that was interested in the Luna bar she left unwrapped by the tent. Kimmie laughs with the class. “You’re on their turf,” she reminds everyone, blushing. “Speaking of,” she continues to the next slide devoted entirely to the weather and how, no matter what the forecasts say or the Farmer’s Almanac has said, the weather does what it wants to do, a mind of its own. And the first product Kimmie grabs is the bivvy, unzipping the side until the soft content bulges out like a mollusk from a conch, and she talks about the quick changes in the air the weather brings, temps dropping or rising in the blink of an eye, and she demonstrates the bivvy as a shield against UV rays or rain or wind, that predictions can be tossed by the wayside once they get out in the elements. After she’s told this and moves on to the last few bullet points on the weather before moving on to campground essentials, the guests sitting in a circle watch her hand the bivvy to Brian O’Halloran, sitting in the front row, who, once he has the bivvy in his hand, nods and interjects, saying that when he turned eight, he and his dad went hunting south of Lincoln, and although there are no bears in Nebraska like there are in California, one old buck came rushing towards him, arrow sticking out from its neck, irritated and confused, and glanced his shoulder, at which point in the story Brian rolls up his green polo shirt and drags his right finger across a cream-colored patch ending in the gap between his bicep and armpit, before passing on the bivvy to the man next to him.

196

u

Crab Orchard Review


William Auten This causes Natalie Mendez to crane her neck over her husband, who is focused on the bivvy, its weight and texture, and she cranes her neck towards Brian O’Halloran not because his bicep is fat free and belongs on the cover of Men’s Health (it’s not and it doesn’t), but she cranes her neck up because the arm is so white and looks like her neighbor’s house across the street on Dorn when the sun blasts it in white light. But Mark, her husband of twelve years, reading the back of the bivvy’s box, catches her catching a peek at Brian O’Halloran’s arm, and Mark Mendez frowns slightly because he and Nat have been talking about their lack of sex, how to spice it up, or in their case, get it back, now that they’re in their late-thirties and raising two kids, funding college tuitions, and paying a mortgage, all while working high-demanding careers, respectively, at the accounting department for the city of Lincoln and in the patient-safety division at Stanley HealthCare. Mark’s brain can’t help but feel that maybe Nat looked at this Lucky Charms guy to his left and that maybe a small spark fired in Nat, that he shouldn’t be worried but briefly is. He composes himself by dropping anchor in this storm of insecurity by touching Nat’s smooth knee with the top of his rough knuckles, to which his wife responds by reaching for and touching his hand, rubbing her gold wedding band over his knuckles, but stopping only because he hands her the bivvy. She takes one quick glance at the bivvy, contemplates its use for their upcoming getaway at Lake McConaughey, shrugs in agreement with Mark that it’s something they should have on hand, just in case, smiles at him, and hands it to the woman a few empty seats down from her. Diane Fontineau hoists the bivvy in the air, testing its weight, and knows she’s here to try something exciting and new and that maybe she needs to unplug from the world as much as possible for a weekend, having just about enough with the men she meets on Tinder, swiping left the majority of the time, the majority of them lying about what they really look like or really do or their real age but also knowing that her profile lists her at 26, mainly because of the age she feels she really is, according to MyRealAge.com, or should be, because she’s making up for that “one year” in San Diego when living with Northwestern Mutual new-hire Peter Merritt, but when it’s said and done, she doesn’t want to pay extra for Tinder Plus. She simultaneously weighs the near-weightless bivvy and watches Brian O’Halloran’s doughlike arm bubble on and on after he reenacted the deer point scraping him, as well as having watched the Mendezes touch hands. I want that her body pumps upwards into her brain and her brain sends it back down into her body, but it’s been repeated so many times that the gossamer of oxytocin is quickly ripped apart by the blades of last month’s dates with Jack, an attorney and avid Game of Thrones fan, so much so that his free time, including time in bed, was spent on fan sites logged in as LittleAppleLannister; and Tyson, originally from Orlando and who spent one summer in college as Person in Crowd #3 at The Living Passion and its outdoor production of the Passion of

Crab Orchard Review

u

197


William Auten Christ, wherein Tyson’s two lines to Pontius Pilate were, “Let the criminal Barabbas go! Take this man Jesus instead!” Jack had the greenest eyes Diane Fontineau had ever seen, and she thought it was cute that together they could be Jack and Diane, signing in as that name at luxury vacation bed and breakfasts along New England during the peak season of autumn leaves, but there was something sleazy about him: Chest hair is fine for her, but he wore his shirt unbuttoned below his sternum. And though Tyson said he was an “actor,” she found out after his second serving of gin and tonic, that’s really code for teaching Intro to Drama at the local community college. But the Midwest man of Irish decent, Brian O’Halloran, jumped out to her, and as soon as she thinks this and her brain and body pump a little more, an apple-shaped brunette sits next to Brian, hands him a set of car keys, and sets her purse next to her, and now it’s game over for Diane Fontineau. And realizing she’s had the bivvy too long, not really caring about its practicality, she passes it to John Shushulsky behind her, three-tour Afghanistan vet, sitting with freckle-faced Bentley, his nine-year-old daughter, who really, really, really wants to go camping this year, and John has promised her they’ll do it, now that mom (Amanda, maternity nurse) has her schedule in place at the hospital and that he has a solid gig with the construction company building new condos across from the old textile mill that’s in the process of becoming a gastropub focusing on local farmers. Bentley also really, really, really loves the bivvy swishing in her hands, “Like a kite!” she gasps, and raises her skinny arm, several rings of hot pink and neon green and yellow bracelets sliding down to her skinned elbow, asking if it comes in any other colors. “No, sorry,” Kimmie answers before turning back to the image of a campfire gone awry because it didn’t have the correct distance from a campsite. Bentley’s eyes diminish at the sound of “red only,” and her acquiescing mouth reveals a complex network of metal bridges and brackets and rubber bands. Dramatically she sighs and squeezes it one last time as intensely as she hugged her b.f.f. Mckenzie at last week’s year-end school party, telling her that she’ll write to her every day while she’s staying for the month at her Grandma Mary’s house in Dallas, where she and Granny M will hit Old Navy at the Cottonfield Mall and Grandpa Dean, picking her up at the airport, will hand her the CD case and she’ll find the one that’s her favorite, and Gramper Deaner will slide it into the CD player and skip straight to number four, “my favorite ever,” and Bentley will wait until the end of “Thriller” when Vincent Price laughs, and will cackle with him and Gramper Deaner. Bivvy now in her hand, Debbie Hinton smiles at young Bentley and places it firmly on her lap, squares it, in fact, just right on her varicose-veined thighs. She uses her phone to photograph the box, the UPC, and writes down all the specs listed on the outside, double checking the price and lifting her ginger eyebrows at it. “And this is good for any weather?” she asks, cocking

198

u

Crab Orchard Review


William Auten her arm as though she was being sworn in, to which Kimmie spins, as much as her tight hip allows, from a bullet point of proper food storage, and confirms. All this gear and the prices and the investment for such an outdoor activity reminds Debbie Hinton of her time at DMASC two summers ago. Her son Jacob, ten at the time, wanted to skateboard, and all he talked about was a summer camp devoted to teaching kids skateboarding and BMX. Debbie posted a few comments on mommy blogs, asked about safety and the costs, asked the parents of Jake’s friends, did a little Googling, and found the Des Moines Action Sports Camp. Bonus point for the camp? There was a session mid-August for both children and parents. Why not? Debbie Hinton thought to herself, but quickly found herself asking Why did I do this? at the camp’s last day that culminated in all participants dropping in on a half-pipe no deeper than a kiddie pool. “You got this, Mom!” Jakey’s voice squawked to the GoPro camera on her helmet as her pink fingernail–polished hand waved to him and as she stumbled up a small flight of stairs to the metal coping outlining the edge of the half-pipe, her legs quivering so much that, once she reached this point, the skateboard tapped feverishly against the metal edge of the coping, her other foot stepping on the board’s grip tape, then off, then back on, then back off onto the concrete, then back on, and Debbie Hinton breathed out a silky smooth repetition of the f-word, like vulgar birds flapping in the night, but she dropped in, pulling off a very basic but very reputable roll up onto the opposite side, pulling this off without a scratch or a fall, as had been practiced, arms celebrating in the air, and at the first day of school, Jake told all his friends about how awesome it was, all of them focused more on repeating the curse word Sk8tr Mom had dropped before dropping in. And Debbie Hinton seems satisfied with all the information provided to her, so much to look into after the class is over, questions she has scribbled down on a scratch piece of paper Lisa was kind enough to get for her, that she sets the bivvy next to her on an empty chair and will hand it back to Kimmie who wraps up the class by mentioning some of the everyday, ordinary things everyday people can fall in love with simply by getting outside, the streams and rivers coursing through willows and elms and box elders, the occasional walnut, chokecherry, snowberry, wild rose, and the shelterbelts in the east, miles of them, used for cover by animals, especially deer, good for humans too, when the sky circles back to be being covered again, no longer bare, clouds gathering again, the evening having to wait inside afternoon until all is clear.

Crab Orchard Review

u

199


Sara Baker A Change in the Weather I drove my battered yellow Beetle up the rutted road to Aunt

Mimi’s Maine camp, just as I had done every summer for the last five years. The sky ahead was a clear royal blue, and the golden afternoon light suffused the wild grasses of the abandoned field that marked the last open area before entering the old growth forest where the camps were. Arrival day at camp was always like this—bright and full of possibilities. It was as if I were coming on the same day, year after year. No matter how I had changed, camp never did. I’d been coming since I was twelve, the year after my mother died. Before I could drive, Dad took me. He’d been glad to offload me, and I’d been happy to be offloaded. During the rest of the year, living with my dad and brother, I felt like a fifth wheel in their male world. Mimi, on the other hand, made me feel the sun rose and set on me. Aunt Mimi had no children of her own and, uninitiated in parental behavior, she didn’t set bedtimes or have agendas for me. Instead, she folded me into her life, teaching me to swim, play cards, identify birds and swear. We’d pick wild blueberries if the mood struck, or make a picnic to take on the boat for a day of exploring. Mimi was every kid’s dream aunt. She made me forget, each summer, that I was motherless. Now, as the familiar cedars with their shaggy, down-sweeping branches, the overarching oaks and stately maples surrounded me, I felt the old excitement. Through the branches, I glimpsed light glancing off water, the white triangles of sails as boats tacked peacefully back and forth, and bright orange, yellow and blue lobster buoys floating gaily in the distance. The air was heavy with the scent of fir and brine, and I could feel the stresses of my sophomore year—my incomplete in Physics 101, and the break-up with my boyfriend—begin to lift. When I entered these woods, time stopped and expanded. I was looking forward to lobster and beer, to swimming every morning, to the wood stove and paperback novels in the evenings. I bumped along until, finally, at the very end of the road, there it was— Mimi’s modest, cedar-shingled camp, the closest thing to a real home I had. My aunt waved from the kitchen window as I pulled up, and then, as I got out of the car, she was in the doorway—slim, tan, athletic, wearing jeans and a polo shirt, a cigarette in hand, arms open wide. “There you are, Doll, I was beginning to worry!” she said, rubbing the cigarette on her heel and waving away the smoke. She kissed me lightly on

200

u

Crab Orchard Review


Sara Baker the cheek, then stepped back and regarded me, pushing a stray hair off my forehead. “You look pale.” “I’m fine.” This was our dance. I counted on her to cluck over me, and she knew my ferocious independence was a sham. “Leave your things and come in and have a drink. Then we’ll walk over to Mag’s and pick out lobsters. We’ll let Harold carry your bags.” “Harold?” A man’s name, so casually dropped, jarred me. Mimi had been divorced for years, a huge scandal in our Catholic family. It had never occurred to me that she might have someone in her life. Someone besides me, that is. I followed her into the dimly-lit kitchen where she had all the usual fixings for whiskey sours. I hoped she wouldn’t notice how the casually dropped name affected me. Mimi read me better than anyone. Mimi was unusually quiet as she made our drinks. Her hand shook slightly as she poured the whisky into the jigger, slopping it over the edge. Apparently, she was nervous as well. “Here you go,” she said too brightly, handing me my drink. “Let’s go sit on the dock.” I waited until we got settled on the dock, our bare feet plunged into the icy crystalline water, before asking her about this Harold. I had so much to tell her, so many momentous things. But the awkward fact of this man hung there. “Who is this Harold, anyway?” I finally said. I could hear the petulance in my voice. “Oh, just someone I met. A friend.” The weathered wood was still warm from the sun, but a brisk wind came off the lake. Small waves lapped the dock’s posts. Heavy, gray-bottomed clouds scudded by, their shadows sliding over us. The weather changes fast on the lakes, but these clouds took me by surprise. A loon bobbed along, ducking its head in the darkening water. It was the same familiar scene and yet not. For a moment, the woods and water were alien. “Just a friend?” She turned to me so that her blonde hair fanned out from her face. Just then the clouds parted, and we were bathed in sunlight that gilded my aunt’s face. My aunt was still an attractive woman, I saw, despite the gray at her temples and the laugh lines around her eyes. And there was something else I had never seen before, a flushed softness. It dawned on me she was sleeping with this Harold. I wasn’t sleeping with anyone, but my aunt was. It was almost more than I could take in. She turned away from me, as if sensing I had guessed he was more than a friend, and lit a cigarette. “Yes. Anyway, he wants to meet you. He’s coming for dinner.” She leaned back on her elbows, blew the smoke out of the side of her mouth, her eyes focused on some distant point above my head. “OK.” As if I had a choice. I knew my aunt had dated a bit, but never in the summers, never when

Crab Orchard Review

u

201


Sara Baker we had been together. She had only made passing, joking references to failed dates. Her personal life had been in the background; so far back that I never gave it a thought. I hadn’t thought of her as having a life, really, except in the summers, with me. We sipped our drinks, commenting on an osprey flying low over the water, on the flashing wings of a kingfisher, on a lobster boat she didn’t recognize. She told me about the lobster poachers still at large. Poachers were a pet peeve of hers. I could see she was trying to put us back on familiar footing. I looked at her sideways, this suddenly unfamiliar woman. She asked me about school. I began with the incomplete in physics, how daunted I felt by it. I could feel tears of helplessness start up, but she didn’t seem to notice. “Oh, you’ll be fine,” she said, almost dismissively. Where was my attentive aunt, the one who hung on my every word? What I wanted to tell her, what I was brimful of, was the raw state of my heart. I wanted her to hear my rage at Jay’s sudden desertion, at the fact he’d been cheating on me, but I couldn’t find the words. The conversation trailed off. The sun began to slip behind the trees. “Well,” she said abruptly, toweling off her feet and putting on her deck shoes, “we need to get to Mag’s before all the good lobsters are gone.” I followed her, putting on my own deck shoes, the pair I kept at camp. I was relieved to have something to do. We tramped through the woods on the familiar mossy, fern-lined path that led to Mag’s. Mag was an ancient fisher-woman, taciturn and lumpy in her woolen cap, denim overalls, boots and slicker, which she wore no matter the season. When we got there, she was pulling traps from her boat onto the dock. My aunt climbed down to greet her. I hung back. Mag didn’t stop what she was doing, but I heard her say, “So, yo-are niece is he-are, eh?” and then “I got some nice ones he-are.” I had always been a little afraid of Mag. She had been nothing but kind to me, and I knew she adored Mimi. But her weathered face betrayed no emotions, which was disconcerting, and at the best of times she was brusque. “Come on down, Rose, you need to pick your lobster.” My aunt waved me down. “Hi Mag,” I ventured. “Hi ya, kid.” I pointed to a fat lobster frantically banging its blue claw on the cage. Mag started to wrap them up. “We’ll take three tonight, Mag. Can you pick out another?” Mag straightened, gave my aunt a considered look. So she doesn’t know, either, I thought. “Three?” My aunt nodded, blushed slightly. “Ah. OK, there you go.”

202

u

Crab Orchard Review


Sara Baker “Thanks Mag.” My aunt gave a jaunty wave, and we started back on the path. The light had thinned to a pale gray beyond the trees, and the air had grown colder. I hugged myself, wishing I’d worn a sweater. Mimi didn’t seem to notice the cold. “You can’t get fresher than this, Rose. These will be wonderful tonight,” my aunt said, her voice lilting unnaturally. That night I set the table out on the deck while my aunt got dressed. I’d been instructed to put out a linen tablecloth, candles and a bunch of wildflowers in a vase. Mimi had strung up Japanese lanterns. Shubert wafted from the stereo. I put a fisherman’s sweater over my jeans and passed a brush through my hair. I wasn’t going to get dressed up for this interloper. A car drove up and pulled in next to my aunt’s compact. It was a large, expensive looking silver car, the kind I was against on principle but loved riding in. The man who got out was not at all the Lothario I expected—he was of medium build, wearing khakis, tasseled loafers, and a navy blue blazer. I was glad I could observe him before he saw me. He carried a bottle of wine and went to the front door, passing a hand over his half-bald head three times before ringing the bell. I heard my aunt’s voice pitched higher than normal as she greeted him, and then he disappeared into the house. I busied myself outside, not wanting to find them kissing or something. “Rose, dear,” I heard my aunt say as the screen door opened. I turned just as they stepped through the door. She wore a red dress and white cardigan, and had on lipstick and mascara, which made her look like someone else, someone I didn’t recognize. She held onto his arm. Harold took a step towards me, his hand outstretched. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you, Rose—Mimi has told me so much about you.” I shook his hand stiffly. “Nice to meet you,” I said. “Why don’t you two get acquainted while I finish getting the food out?” Mimi pivoted, heading back into the house. I panicked, suddenly awkward. “Would you like a glass of wine?” He brandished the bottle, popping the cork with a flourish. “I thought Prosecco would be nice to start.” He handed a glass to me, smiling. He had a pleasant face, ruddy, nice blue eyes—a bit bland maybe. A bit opaque. “Thank you.” The bubbles took me by surprise, tickling my nose, making me cough slightly. I drank beer mostly, and whisky sours. “So, Boston U.?” I nodded. “Going into my junior year. If I pass physics.” “Ugh. You’ll get no help from this quarter.” I laughed. “I know, right? I really try, but my eyes just glaze over.” “I felt the same about chemistry.” “What did you study?” “Pre-law. At Yale.” “So—you’re a lawyer?”

Crab Orchard Review

u

203


Sara Baker He shifted in his chair, looked past me out to the water. “Naw. Real estate. Wasn’t cut out for law. Much to my father’s disappointment. What is your major?” “Art. My father isn’t too happy about it, either. He wants me to be a social worker or dental hygienist.” Harold snorted, leaned over, and clinked my glass. “Here’s to fathers!” “Here’s to fathers,” I repeated, taking another sip. The stuff was growing on me. Maybe Harold wasn’t so bad. Mimi backed through the screen door, carrying the platter of red lobsters, her face pink from the steam. Harold jumped up to take it from her. “Rose, can you get the salad and bread?” she asked. “Sure,” I said, happy for an escape. I felt as if I had passed some sort of test by not letting my true feelings show. As I gathered the food in the kitchen, I heard their voices murmuring, thought I heard my aunt say, “How did it go?” but couldn’t hear the answer. I banged the screen door to let them know I was coming. They were leaning in towards each other across the table, and both turned and smiled at me when I came out. The rest of the evening passed in a blur. We ate and drank and Harold told funny stories and I had the peculiar feeling of being the much loved daughter of two doting parents, a feeling I only half remembered from before my mother’s illness. And it was odd—Mimi and I had been more like sisters, she had given me my first drink, talked frankly to me about sex, and was unshockable —but here she was with some man I didn’t know beaming at me as if I was her darling daughter. The candles flickered, sending warm light across our faces, and I remember not wanting the evening to end. I slowly came to accept Harold as part of our lives that summer. Of course, he, unlike Mimi, had to go to work every day in his real estate office. Mimi taught at Colby and had her summers free. So we still had the weekdays to ourselves, and we fell into the familiar rhythm of past summers. We got up early, took a bracing swim in the bay, got breakfast, packed sandwiches and coffee in thermoses and took off in Mimi’s little Tanzer 22. Mimi had said that trading in Jack, her ex, for the camp and the boat was the best deal she ever made. She’d man the tiller, and I’d trim the sails; we were a well-oiled machine. I loved reaching fast first thing in the morning, exhilarated by the wind in my face. Then we’d find an island, a cove, and moor there for most of the day. I brought my damned physics book with me and made myself work problems for an hour every morning. We’d have lunch, and afterwards, I’d take a nap on the deck. Sometimes I read a trashy paperback romance, and sometimes I just let the gentle rocking of the boat lull me into a trancelike state. What I loved most was the sensation of floating, especially when it was foggy or the sky was gray and the briny lake water reflected that grayness, so that you couldn’t tell where the water stopped and the sky began.

204

u

Crab Orchard Review


Sara Baker Mimi and I were alike in that we could entertain ourselves very well and didn’t expect the other to entertain us. Easy with each other, we didn’t have to talk. But I still felt I hadn’t exhausted the subject of Jay and the break-up. I was a little bruised that Mimi hadn’t been more curious about it, had simply accepted it as a piece of information. We were into the second week of my stay before I had my bearings enough to bring it up. It was late afternoon and we were both reading, the boat rocking gently. I looked over at her, her Red Sox hat pulled down over her forehead, her reading glasses on the tip of her nose, her book propped on her knees, an ashtray balanced on the rim of the boat. Every now and then she chuckled quietly at whatever she was reading. “Mimi?” I started. She looked up, but I could see she was still in the book. Finally she focused on me, sitting up a little. “Yes, doll?” “This thing with Jay.” I paused. “It was the worst. Except for Mom, I mean. I couldn’t sleep or eat.” I saw a satisfying spasm of concern cross my aunt’s face. “Well, you are eating and sleeping now.” “I almost dropped out of school.” She looked at me kindly for a long time, then said softly said, “But you didn’t.” “No, but I—I felt destroyed. Like I couldn’t breathe, like I didn’t know who I was anymore. Do you know what I mean?” With a rueful little smile, my aunt said, “You don’t get to my age and not know how that feels. But you’re tough, kiddo. You’ll even surmount that damn physics, I’ll bet.” “I’m not as tough as I look,” I replied, smarting. Mimi burst out laughing, lit another cigarette. “You don’t look tough.” She inhaled deeply, looking out over the still water. “I hate to tell you, Rose, but women from time immemorial have been giving their hearts to bastards. It feels like it will kill you now, but it won’t. Believe me.” She peered up at the sky. “It is getting late; we’d better get going.” She glanced over at me, reached over and gave me a brief hug. “Cheer up, honey. It will be all right.” She started the motor, moving our little boat out of the shelter of the cove. I sat there unmollified and silent, all the way across the lake. During the week, Harold often came round for dinner and maybe a card game afterwards. But he left early, saying he had paperwork to catch up on. I wondered if he was being circumspect on my account. Everything was different on weekends, though, when Harold joined us. He loved to go places, do things. He took us to antique fairs and flea markets, to local theater groups and yacht races. He found art shows and galleries for me. We went to outdoor

Crab Orchard Review

u

205


Sara Baker concerts and watched lightning bugs glow in the dusk as the musicians tuned their instruments. He seemed to be a man who took pleasure in life, who savored whatever he was doing. He laughed easily. He was leisurely, unhurried. Unlike my father, who would never be caught drinking wine or lolling on a lawn or listening to classical music. It was odd to me at first, but then I just went with it. I even started looking forward to weekends. Harold and Mimi played tennis at least once a week. As she tripped down the front steps in her tennis whites, my aunt looked like a girl. Evidently, she had been on the team in high school and had been quite good, I learned. I was seeing a side to her I’d never noticed before—flirtatious, quick to laugh. Since her divorce, Mimi had lived carefully, close to the bone. I knew she was proud of managing on her own, but I also knew it was hard. She watched every penny. She had a reputation in the family for being severe. Dad said she was defensive, prickly. Harold brought out something in my aunt that had lain dormant for a long time, an easy fun-loving nature. One Sunday Harold made a reservation at a new restaurant. I told them they didn’t have to include me in everything. “I’m fine by myself,” I said, shooing them out the door like teenagers. “Are you sure?” Mimi protested, mildly. “Yes! Go on,” I laughed. I watched from the window as Harold held her elbow, opened the door for her. I liked the old-fashioned way he treated her. I felt oddly protective of her. Still, after they left, the quiet intensified the deep loneliness I felt most nights. In the daytime it lay below the surface, and I could fend it off. But not at night. I felt stale, beside the point. I missed Jay; I couldn’t help it. I missed us painting into the early morning hours, his scent of cigarettes, turpentine and musty sweat; I missed him spooned behind me, his arms wrapped under my breasts, the love we made half-asleep, our morning coffee; mostly, I missed how we made our own world, reading each other’s expressions, the books and Art News reviews we passed, dog-eared, between us. Evidently, it was that very world that drove him off. ‘Two artists,’ he’d said, pulling on his jeans and tightening his belt, ‘should never be together. It contaminates their style.’ He was feeling claustrophobic, he said. Within days, I saw him striding across campus with a leggy blonde, her hair flowing behind her like a flag, her stack of silver bracelets shining brightly. Friends told me she was a grad student, and that the relationship was not a new one. At first I was numb with shock, then I exhausted myself with rage. I stayed up every night painting violent, lurid Lucien Freud style paintings of men and women. Finally, I just slept around the clock. My friends had to make me get up, go to class, eat. I lived on Sudafed and coffee and whiskey. I cried at anything—the sight of other couples, cheesy commercials. Worst of all, living with Jay had been an act of defiance, a way of staking a claim on adulthood and sticking it to my overprotective, hidebound father.

206

u

Crab Orchard Review


Sara Baker To admit defeat to him was impossible. Yet pretending that I was okay was also impossible. I could see he was worried about me, and I was tempted, for the first time in a long time, to throw myself in his arms and cry. I got into my cold narrow bed and opened my novel half-heartedly, but the words lay inert on the page. The slapping of the water against the dock provided a familiar backdrop, but it offered no comfort. Nor did the ticking of the grandfather clock. Outside, animals—squirrels, chipmunks, mice— rustled in the woods. I imagined their small furry bodies curled together in warm dens. A pair of owls called back and forth, back and forth, their melancholy hoots finally fading into silence. Everything was going on with its life; only I was left behind. The weather turned unexpectedly, becoming cold and rainy. The rain didn’t let up for a week, and there was no boating or swimming. I hit the physics, but found it hard going. We all came down with colds; Mimi’s was the worst, with a hacking persistent cough. I was impressed that Harold still came in the evenings. He brought food, even if it was only Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. He made Mimi countless cups of tea, spiking them with bourbon, and coaxed her to drink them, saying they were good for her cough. He had to keep relighting the fire in the stove, as he wasn’t nearly as adept at it as Mimi was. Inside, it smelled of wet wool and smoky air. We all had cabin fever. I was glad that I had the job of keeping the wood dry—it gave me a chance to get out of the house. I put on my slicker and boots and trudged out through the mud to bring wood from the pile to dry under the eaves on the deck. The rain beat on, weighing down the cedar branches, and it was like breathing underwater. Once, while I was out there, I could hear Mimi and Harold arguing, and Harold left shortly afterwards. When I asked Mimi if everything was all right, she shrugged it off. “This weather makes everyone cranky,” she said. One evening was stormier than usual, with great thunderclaps and waves crashing over the dock. Harold had come and Mimi had managed to roast a chicken. She insisted on cooking, even though she looked and sounded worse than ever. I was feeling better myself and so was Harold. After dinner, we cleaned up while she sat by the stove, knitting. She looked really bad. Her nose and eyes were red and her stringy, unwashed hair was scraped back from her face. Beneath her fading tan, her face was pallid, and her eyes sunk into bruised looking wells. Always thin, she looked bony now. She wore an old worn bathrobe with a fraying collar that had once been pink but now was a dispiriting tan color. My youthful, spirited aunt looked old, I realized. I hoped Harold didn’t take it in, that he adored her enough not to notice. Mimi loved Scrabble and I set up the board for three. But she demurred, saying she didn’t have the energy. Soon she retired, wishing us a hoarse

Crab Orchard Review

u

207


Sara Baker good-night. Even with the storm outside, we could hear her hacking away in the bedroom. “I’m worried about her,” I said, putting “QI” on the board. “I told her to go to the doctor,” Harold sighed. “She’s damn stubborn.” “She doesn’t trust doctors since my mother died.” None of us did. They had told us the operation was a success, had waved her home as if she were on holiday, had never warned us about sepsis. Harold gave me a quizzical look, as if he were about to ask a question, but then looked down at the board. “I think you are cheating,” he said. “Challenge me,” I said, throwing him the Scrabble dictionary, “and lose a turn, sucker.” He looked it up. “Darn. Snookered.” “What does that mean?” He laughed. “Oh, you are so young. It means, ‘I’m in a bad place’ or ‘you got me.’” “How do you spell it? I need to remember it for future games.” He spelled it for me, then I took my extra turn, making a double word that earned me fifteen points. We were sitting on cushions around the coffee table. Harold groaned, pushing himself up. “I fancy a nightcap, what about you?” “Sure, I have nothing against nightcaps.” While he was away, I studied the board. I had too many consonants, I decided, looking for open vowels. There was an “a” with some possibilities, as well as an “ie”. Harold startled me, putting the drink in front of me on the table. “A whiskey sour on the rocks for the lady, straight up for me,” he said, lowering himself gingerly to the floor. “I’m too old for this.” “What? For Scrabble?” “For Scrabble on the floor.” I ignored his whining, neatly making a word on a triple square. “Ha ha! Now the score is 216 to 253.” I sipped my drink, noting that Harold made it stronger than what I was used to. “OK,” Harold jiggled the ice in his glass, “time to get serious. Not going to let myself get beat by a juvenile female Scrabble shark!” He squinted at his letters. Just then a huge clap of thunder shook the house. I jumped, and screamed involuntarily. Lightning lit up the woods like a stage set. The lights inside flickered, and the radio, which had been playing softly in the background, shut off. Wind screamed around the house, and I could hear the waves pummeling the shore. Luckily, the stove glowed redly, casting enough dim light to see. “I know where the candles are,” I said, jumping up and feeling my way into the kitchen, then along the counter to the pantry. Mimi had drilled me

208

u

Crab Orchard Review


Sara Baker on where the emergency candles and matches were, since power outages were a constant on the lake. I gathered them, and feeling my way back, set them on the coffee table. The match flared blue in the dark. “We should be able to see enough to finish this game,” I said, settling down in front of the board. I was trembling a little, but tried to concentrate on the game. I took another sip of whiskey, turning an ice cube over in my mouth. The drink was doing its job, warming and loosening me, and the irritations of physics and being cooped up began to melt away. The candles softened Harold’s outline, and everything beyond him grew indistinct in the dark. Only the board was lit clearly. I could feel the advantage I held over him in this game. He was good, but I was better. I was secretly glad my aunt wasn’t here to scoop me. For once, I would be the victor. I played my “ZA” word, he protested, and spelled “FAQIR,” unexpectedly getting double points. “That’s a word? I’ve never heard of it.” “You’ve never heard of lots of things, I suspect, m’dear.” “Don’t patronize me!” I was only half-kidding. He smirked. I threw a cushion at him, just missing his head. “Not hard to get a rise out of you, I see.” He laughed, glancing at the tally. “Hmm, I’m beating you now. The old man isn’t as dumb as he looks. Better up your game, sweetheart.” There was something edgy in his voice, something I hadn’t heard before. “Damn!” I said. I studied the board, but my focus was off. A draft blew through the house, making the candles shudder. My need to win faltered. I glanced at Harold over the flickering candles. He stared at me, then looked away. The atmosphere of the room was suddenly charged, as if the lightning outside had electrified us. I picked up a tile, and Harold leaned over, clasped my wrist, and looked right into my eyes. Startled, I returned his gaze. Gone was his habitual opacity. He looked at me with such naked desire that I couldn’t move. I knew in that moment I could have him, that he would do anything for me. I didn’t wanted him, I hadn’t summoned this, but there it was. For the first time since Jay left me, I felt desirable. I felt powerful and alive. I held his eyes, blood humming in my veins. I heard my aunt’s bedroom door close softly. It was a small house, the living room right off the bedrooms. That small click brought me back to myself. How long had she been there? What had she seen? As if on cue, the lights came on, the staid classical music resumed. Harold let go of my wrist. He sat very quietly with his half-bald head bowed. The silence between us was enormous. He pushed himself up, his blue oxford cloth shirt half coming out of his khakis, and found his jacket. He didn’t look at me, didn’t say anything, just left. I watched the water condense on the

Crab Orchard Review

u

209


Sara Baker outside of the two glasses of whiskey, watched it pool on Mimi’s pine table. How careless of us not to use coasters, I thought. How careless. The next day, I called the ambulance. Mimi’s fever was 104 degrees and she was spitting up blood. I went with her in the ambulance, and stayed in her hospital room, sleeping in the chair. It turned out Mimi had pneumonia. Harold came with a huge bouquet of flowers, and I left to give them their privacy. I was polite to Harold, but avoided him. I had thought he was a good man, trustworthy, but he turned out to be like Jay. Were all men sexual opportunists? I desperately hoped Mimi had not registered that moment between us. She was in love with him; nothing should spoil that. Mimi was just out of the hospital a few days when it was time for me to leave for school. Weak as she was, she insisted on helping me pack. She threw my last bag into the back seat, shut the door, and then leaned on the hood. “I have to ask you something,” she said, lifting her sunglasses off her nose, looking me straight in the eye. My stomach clenched. “Of course,” I said. “The night of the storm? Would you have—if I hadn’t come out?” Tears started up—of anger, hurt, defensiveness? It was too much. “No. How could you think that? I would never—” She looked at me coolly, as if from a distance. As if she had never seen me before. Finally she said, “I didn’t think so.” “I don’t know what happened; he just, all of a sudden—” “I know what happened. It was too much for him, a beautiful young woman within reach.” I was shocked by the word beautiful. I didn’t feel beautiful. But I was young. I wanted to say—“It’s not my fault.” I said, “I don’t want anything to change between us. Or between you and Harold. I want you to be happy.” She took my face between her hands, looking at me with such searing love but also such sadness I had to lower my eyes. “Darling, everything changes.” She stood in the driveway, waving, dwarfed by the cedars and pines and oaks, growing smaller and smaller in my rearview mirror as I pulled away. I was always sad when I left her, when I left camp. But this was a new grief. Along with the familiar sensation of leaving paradise, was the new knowledge that there was a snake in the garden. And the snake was me.

210

u

Crab Orchard Review


Christopher Todd Anderson The Weather and Other Reports May cold, May cold, spring snow sobbing rain among flurries. If the dead could lick their lips and slaver like hounds, their mouths wouldn’t water coldly as this rain. Tulips shiver. Thyme and rosemary gossip nervously of frost. I slosh through asphalt rain puddles at Dillon’s Grocery. Their advertising circulars feature a grandfatherly butcher-man: white hair, white apron, meat-pink smile. Their baker is a friendly black woman with a chef’s hat floating like a cloud above her head. You imagine she loves loaves and dough like her children. But inside, everything’s manufactured by Kroger’s. Sunflower oil labeled with goldsun Kansas Helianthus was imported from Ukraine. The fish sleep in cans. Apples ride three hundred gallons of diesel to get here, bananas are gassed with ethylene, peanuts coffined in glass jars miss the soil. When I walk to my car carrying three bags of plastic —yes sir, yes sir—it’s raining harder. On the drive home, Pop Tarts and cans of root beer jostle in back, rowdy as third-graders. Visibility’s poor. I can hardly see the broken yellow lines that perforate the highway as if coming and going could be torn apart. What if resurrection came on a day like this? The dead would stand at the doors of their graves, peer outside, then turn and go back in. Earthchill is better than pure raw rain. Rain turns to sleet, sleet goes solid; driving wind turns rain-slash into white flurries that drop to the ground like a tribe of nomadic angels bedding down. Everything is out of season. The May-night moon

Crab Orchard Review

u

211


Christopher Todd Anderson hides her face in dark hands. Snow worries it’ll never get to sleep. The world’s charmed life is over; not even the weather knows which bus to take. In my backseat, fish swim round and round in their 5-ounce tins. At every pause in the wiper-blades’ sloosh-tock, I hear them pray.

212

u

Crab Orchard Review


KB Ballentine Rain, In Parallel Lines Rain sheens buildings, streets, bits of light fissuring the clouds. Sky, horizon stitched with mist, scales balanced on the equinox— morning dusted in frost, afternoon blushed with heat. My layers are on, then off, and on again. Seven years of cells twisting, sloughing, flaking before your touch disappears from my body. Masked, unmasked—an implosion of days, starbursts coalescing, expanding and I am chained to this reality: this chair, this room—the memory of you. This air, this breath. An empty cup waiting to be filled. And rain still licks the panes, fog thick and gathering.

Crab Orchard Review

u

213


Julie E. Bloemeke Pulse Storm Windows open, crack of Georgia thunderstorm, rain-dense needles dropping, and us: curled to naked in this heavy bed. Your hand rests on the cleave at the base of my spine, your home place on my body. How you have loved me in my ugliness, which could be beauty. And still you see more, turn me to the chapters of light, how you claim I turn you too. This deep root: ours. The wound: mine. Why are we never enough? Why does the chimera come, wound as ache, empty knock at my chest, as one person, taunting me in my uninhibited half-awake? What was left undone? For years I rolled over, woke up, denied him full entry, but still the persistence: song on the radio, catch in my voice, parallels of handwriting in the mailbox, the scent of eucalyptus that yanked me to aching girl, to inner voice, to why. All these years of no are rising in my throat.

214

u

Crab Orchard Review


Julie E. Bloemeke And under this storm I climb within myself to tell you the truth: that my brain has begun otherwise, seeking out the memory of him, triggering itself, going over and over the scenes again, burning in want. I’ve tried it all: distraction, the gin, the prayer, the patient therapists, the meds. I am left with another possible pearl: contact. The price of this. And you turn to me, kiss my forehead, my lips, take my face in the cup of your hands as you have so many times over our fifteen years. You say: find him. Write him. We will love each other even through. And then, after we make love, after the rain stops her rivulets on the glass, you bring my hand to my chest, speak further: Write truth. You are called for this. And before I can answer: You think he is the story, but the book is you. Neither of us can know what doors we will unleash, what bodies of water we will undam. But now we’ve invited the lightning.

Crab Orchard Review

u

215


Marion Starling Boyer Old Ben, Smacksman A North Sea smacksman will call bad weather a breeze. If it’s a real smashing snorter, he might let himself go and say it’s a smart breeze with a big lump of sea. It has to be phenomenal before he’ll say gale. The great March gale was the worst any smacksman can recall. I went skipper of the Uncle Tom and we were trawling far out on the Dogger, an immense stretch of sand, rising up in the middle of the North Sea. Good fish there, but it’s shallow, so if a gale blows, waves drive against the Dogger and make a deadly smother. We call that gruesome edge The Cemetery. Something was queer in the weather all that day. The sea was showing her ivory but by eleven that night we’d shot the nets and three hours later had a fair catch. Then an amazing lot of sea began rolling up the bank. I ordered the haul in, but, right smart, the trawl warp snapped like thread and the whole of the gear and fish was gone. In the dark I saw waves tearing towards us like mad things. Only thing to do was run for deeper water. The men hollered Water’s coming! and we were swept over. With every wave I expected the sea would bury us. The Uncle Tom plunged, rolled, pitched. I stuck to the tiller. It was perishingly cold. We were smashed and smothered all night, well into the next day. Once, through the freezing wind, I saw another smack. It was just a dark speck, but she was making a grand fight of it; then, she fell into the trough of an enormous wave, right into the hollow, and was crushed to matchwood. The seas came from everywhere at once.

216

u

Crab Orchard Review


Judy Brackett Avalanche Country The midwestern relatives ask— How can you live in earthquake country, avalanche country? I ask them about their own avalanches, horizontal ones—whiteout squalls and knife-sharp, across-the-plains winds. Blizzards. Remember frozen cows and chickens. Remember Rolvaag’s Per Hansa found in the green springtime against a still-frozen haystack, his still-frozen body leaning west. Remember farmers’ lives swept away in landslides of dry seasons, moribund crops, locusts. Tornadoes. Remember grabbing water, blankets, pillows, flashlights, batteries, books. Remember swimming and crawling through the gale to the storm cellar, hunkering there in that maybe grave, eating last summer’s green beans and applesauce, waiting for the muffled howling, thumping anarchy to stop or for the earth ceiling to cave in— Grimes Golden apple juice the last taste you know before the taste of wind and dirt and then the taste of nothing.

Crab Orchard Review

u

217


Kelly Cherry Meteorology Today the sky looked like a sketch of the sky, Like a sheet of white paper with charcoal clouds. It would be fine to think that God drew it. He didn’t. We have meteorology To thank. And when a blue sky sails over Us, blue schooner tacking on blue sea, or When the sky is smeared with rain or blizzards white Out the horizon so there is no up Or down, that too is meteorology. But when the sky catches fire from a flash So blinding that it turns your eyes to ashes Or rains acid rain or traffics in toxins That strangle to death every living thing We’ll have ourselves, and only ourselves, to thank, Or rather, won’t.

218

u

Crab Orchard Review


Charlie Clark Mr. Dreamy Now when I see a night that’s weak with clouds, it makes me nervous. All those rings wrenched around the moon. There are rhymes I don’t remember that say whatever it is such a sky’s rising supposedly portends. Whatever it is, I feel it. Sometimes I wish the night were unnecessary. Most nights that I feel that way I feel the same about day come daybreak. See the sun bleeding through the trees? Not being a sailor doesn’t make you any safer from it. I used to think being left-handed meant I was more likely to die

Crab Orchard Review

u

219


Charlie Clark in a car wreck. Turns out the biggest risk is living. There is a grimness to that thought; something shallow and permanent. When I want to be better than that, I give myself one of Whitman’s catalogs to chew on. It doesn’t last, that first, capacious bubble of patience. However well he may have wandered and adored it, Whitman knew the world is a livid vale of dust, also that it’s insane with blood, and he never even wept in West Virginia. When snow surprised everyone in late April in New Jersey, 1890, did Whitman’s neighbors roll their eyes at all of his raw praise? Even if they weren’t farmers, they likely knew what damage spring snows can do.

220

u

Crab Orchard Review


Charlie Clark Did he? One book I’m reading makes the claim that “Whitman disliked farming with some passion.” In my one year as a farmhand I laid fire pots between orchard lines whenever it would snow. Everything about those hours— the limbs’ frigid, fractal beauty, briefly outgrowing my discomfort with the open— I detested and desire. Even sipping schnapps between the rows, how the darkness gave everything the gauzy, aquatic depth of the impersonal and alluring. Going through, setting down the tiny burning bowls, I was as slow about that as I was everything. My boss called me Mr. Dreamy and meant it as an insult. I haven’t gotten over it so much

Crab Orchard Review

u

221


Charlie Clark as tried to sculpt my life such that my being dreamy isn’t going to cost anyone’s bottom line. One harvest day that year I forgot which way the road knifed and flipped the truck and walked away. When the ambulance arrived, I smiled and tried to wave it by. When my boss arrived he threw a wrench at me. It was dark by then. I’d been sitting there for hours. The sky was clear. The moon blew through it. The road below was lit bright with our tremendous apples. My whole life I have wondered what’s become of me.

Note: Oliver, Charles M. Critical Companion to Walt Whitman: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts on File, 2006.

222

u

Crab Orchard Review


Tricia Currans-Sheehan The Tornado Spotter Lucy and Eldon lived above the used furniture store called the

Almost New Shop on Main Street. Lucy ran the shop. Eldon used to help out, but once he got the part time civil defense job and started speaking at schools on safety, he didn’t have time anymore. He had an old Ford van, painted red, with the words Tornado Spotter on his front doors. When storms were predicted, he’d gas up his van so he had a full tank in case he had to outrun a tornado. He’d put in a jug of water and box of graham crackers in case he got hungry while watching. He always had his binoculars, which were good ones. Lucy’d gotten them at an auction when the Sporting Goods Store had gone out of business. As storms approached Eldon drove his van to the highest spot in Palo Alto County, called Washington’s Hill near Ruthven, and surveyed the area. He had a walkie-talkie so he could contact KICD weather station in Spencer. He never felt so important as those times when he was giving his handle— Tornado Spotter here. Watching a big one. Its tail is down and twisting. Only seven or eight miles away. Got to run. Ten four. Over and out. Then he’d set his siren on the roof, plugging it into his cigarette lighter so it would pulsate and screech, and he’d head back toward town to warn everyone. When working as a spotter, he wore an official-looking outfit—a khaki Army shirt that had belonged to his daughter. She’d been a big girl, standing five foot eight and 200 pounds. Eldon was only five six and 150. When he wore her shirt, he said he felt close to her. He had taken up this job after her death in Nam. She had been an army nurse, a good one, and could lift those soldiers like they were bales of hay. But one day she’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was hit by incoming shrapnel. It severed her jugular, and she died instantly. He’d always felt good about that. Not much pain. That’s what another nurse had written them in a letter. Lucy never got over her death. She kept Cecilia’s framed photo in her uniform on the counter near the cash register. They’d always run this shop even when Cecilia was little. But in those days it was a neater shop and more people came in to buy. Furniture moved faster. Now Lucy was more interested in going to auctions and buying boxes of junk. She waited until the end of the auction when the auctioneer was tired and most of the people had left. He’d point to a box, and she’d bid on it for a dollar or two. And she’d come home with doorknobs, pliers, enema buckets, mildewed books,

Crab Orchard Review

u

223


Tricia Currans-Sheehan watches, salve for cows’ udders, eye glasses, lampshades and sometimes a treasure like a Delft plate or a Haviland cup. The store was so filled with junk now that there were narrow aisles you had to walk sideways down. And Lucy didn’t know anymore what she had. She also bought old magazines and went through them and cut out articles on Vietnam. She had five bulletin boards covered with pictures of nurses in Nam. She was happy that Eldon was a tornado spotter. It kept him out of her hair. And speaking of her hair, she’d let it grow since Cecilia had been killed. She said she’d never cut it. She wore it wrapped around her head and pinned with bobby pins. But it was strange to see how dark brown her hair had been in 1973 and ten years later it was gray. From a distance it looked like she had a dark beanie on her head. When she attended mass alone at St Thomas, she’d wear a black coat, black lace mantilla and a pair of black onyx earrings she’d found in her first junk box at her first auction. She figured they were good luck jewels, and she wore them every Sunday. But she changed her mantilla and coat and earrings to white at Easter and wore them until Labor Day. Her relationship with Eldon changed After Cecilia’s death (AC, she called it). They didn’t talk much or go out much. But BC, Before Cecilia’s death, she was a fireball. She would go into rages at him, and he’d leave for a few days and sleep in his van near the north end of Five Island Lake. She used to joke to customers that their marriage was like a tornado. She was the tornado who’d whip through and stir things up. Then she’d have to clean up afterwards and bake Eldon some banana nut bread, and they’d hop in bed for a quickie and he’d be okay. Now all that was over. They didn’t touch or kiss or have any more quickies. She slept on her side of the bed, and he slept on his. Many nights when he was coming in and out checking for storms, he slept on the couch. Then something sparked her to action. Some said it was a book she read about Vietnam nurses and others said it was her four day trip to Washington DC with the Rotary that started the change. Near the Vietnam memorial, Lucy had seen the just-erected sculpture of those Army nurses, one was cradling a wounded soldier and another, standing, had her head raised as she watched and waited for the helicopter to arrive. Both nurses reminded her of Cecilia and Lucy went back each day, walking slowly around the sculpture and touching both women on their feet, arms and face. A National Park Ranger came up to her and told her to keep her hands off but she cried out, “That’s my baby. I’ll touch her if I want to.” And the look he gave her said he thought she had a screw loose in her head and that scared her more than anything. After that trip Lucy got it in her head to clean up the apartment across from theirs, which meant she had to have a sale. A dollar sale. The last tenant, a Deputy Sheriff, had moved out shortly after Cecilia died. Lucy hadn’t wanted anyone next door snooping in on her grief. And pretty soon she was filling that apartment with boxes of junk.

224

u

Crab Orchard Review


Tricia Currans-Sheehan She advertised the sale in the newspaper. She spent four dollars. Every piece of junk would sell for a dollar. Big pieces of furniture, like couches and desks, would go for three. She called it the One and Three Sale. It caught on when Sam Hamilton bought a fancy whiskey bottle that was a collector’s item for a dollar. Soon he was back buying every bottle he could find. He even went up to the apartment she’d unlocked and came down with three more bottles. Then others came in, and she sold enough stuff in one week to finally see what junk was underneath everything. And when she saw how things were getting cleaned out, she had a 50-cent sale. Everything smaller than a breadbox was 50 cents. She didn’t care what she made. And her place was packed with people buying toy tractors and flour sifters and false teeth for 50 cents. Eldon didn’t say much. He was glad she was busy and junk was getting carried off. Then Lucy went to work fixing up the one bedroom apartment. She bartered with Emmet Molloy, the hauling man, to haul everything away but the wood bed frame, dresser and rocker in exchange for that antique oak secretary his wife had had her eye on for years. It took Emmet two full days to haul all the stuff out of that apartment and sweep it out. Mice had gotten in the couch and mattress and nested there. White stuffing and batting were all over the place. When it was finally empty, Lucy went in and sat down on the rocker. Her shoulders went slack, and she felt her body deflate. If it had been soft fabric, she would have gone right through to the cushions. Instead she felt her body shrink and she pictured herself like that little girl in the big rocking chair in Laugh In. But she wasn’t laughing. She cried for her girl Cecilia, and she cried for that part of herself that had gone away on that day the two soldiers, walking stiffly, had come to the store. She knew as soon as she saw them. Something had broken then, and she knew she’d never be the same again. Years had gone by and she hadn’t died from the hole inside of her even though she thought she would. And that hole had spread to Eldon, too. They both had tried to fill up the hole with doing things. He had his van and his spotting job; she had her store of stuff. But now it was almost gone and she could see what was left—bare space on the floors with mouse droppings, dead moths and beetles and little scraps of paper from old magazines and books and dust. Lots of dust. And all she could think was ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Then she wiped her eyes and went to work. When folks came into the shop, they couldn’t find her. She left a sign on the counter to come upstairs if they needed help. So folks in town knew she was painting the walls pale pink. She’d read an article in Good Housekeeping that pink was the most relaxing color. It made you feel warm and comforted. She painted the kitchen cupboards, doors, and windows white. After everything dried, she went to the real furniture store and bought mauve carpet for the living room and bedroom and mauve and gray

Crab Orchard Review

u

225


Tricia Currans-Sheehan speckled indoor-outdoor carpet for the kitchen and bathroom. She painted her rocking chair and nightstand white. She placed a small crystal lamp on the stand with a pink shade, and then she set Cecilia’s picture on it. One day Eldon, sitting in their apartment, with the door open, called over to her, “Are you going to rent it?” She was rocking on her rocker in the living room. If she kept both doors open, she could see right into Eldon’s Laz-y Boy in their living room. “Nope. I’m going to live here myself,” she called back. “Are you going to sleep there?” he asked, getting up and walking to apartment door. “Yup. The mattress is coming this afternoon.” “Well, I’ll be damned. So you ain’t going to sleep in our bed anymore?” “Nope.” “I ain’t going to sleep over there.” He pointed into the apartment. “I never asked you to,” she said quietly. She rocked and looked at him. He was wearing Cecilia’s shirt and camouflage pants and black boots. A storm was coming. That made him feel good when he could act like he was in battle with the weather. Well, this apartment made her feel good. She was in battle with her grief. She’d watched a show on Iowa Public Television a few months ago about an English lady writer who said every woman needed a room of her own. And she’d thought that was a good idea. This would be her place. She needed space but she wasn’t sure for what. Was it space for the sadness to roam around in and settle in or was it for moving past that sadness and giving herself space to find something? But what? When her full mattress came at four that afternoon, she closed the shop. She’d gotten the best mattress that the furniture store sold. It was soft yet firm. And she’d gotten four new pillows and a pink comforter. She’d ordered sheer white panels from Sears and put them on the windows along with new white shades. She’d painted the headboard and dresser white. She was on the lookout for a small round table with a chair for the kitchen, but she hadn’t been able to find what she wanted. She wasn’t planning on cooking or eating there, so she didn’t get a stove or refrigerator. But she set a percolator on the counter in case she wanted to make herself a cup of coffee. That night when Lucy got ready for bed in her apartment, Eldon was out spotting tornadoes. She left a note on the kitchen table that said: Am next door. Lucy. And she walked across the hall to the apartment and crawled in bed. The white sheets had been Cecilia’s, and she thought they still smelled like Cecilia even though she’d washed them. And what a treat to have four pillows to herself. She put two under her head and the other two on each side. And she just lay there with the lamp in the living room shedding pink light through the doorway onto her. It was quiet and no breeze was coming in the window. She could smell it. A storm was coming.

226

u

Crab Orchard Review


Tricia Currans-Sheehan Fifteen minutes later she heard Eldon’s megaphone and saw the flashing light. “Seek shelter. Tornado sighted. Hightail it to the nearest basement.” She wasn’t going to move. How many times had she gone down to the basement and sat with the mice and spiders and nothing had happened? Nope, she wasn’t moving. Five minutes later she heard Eldon outside on the street. “Seek shelter. Go to the basement. And that means you, Lucy,” he called out on his megaphone. Right then the civil defense siren on the courthouse went off. It was a shrill sound that didn’t change in tone. Just a straight high-pitched screech. She stayed put. The bed with the soft pillow top felt so good. Then she heard his steps on the stairs, and she heard him pounding at the door. “Lucy, open up.” She knew he wouldn’t stop so she got up and walked to the door. “Come on,” he said. “It’s coming.” Eldon pushed his way past her and ran to the window in the living room. It was open but the curtain barely moved. “Hear that?” “I don’t hear anything,” she said. “You fool, that’s the silence before it hits.” He reached out and grabbed her wrist and began pulling her. She pulled back. He’d touched her, and he hadn’t touched her in years. “I’m not a fool.” He let go of her and looked at her like he’d never seen her before. He was scared. She could see it on his face. “God dammitt, do you hear it now?” She heard it. A roar like a train coming toward them. He took off, and she followed. They stumbled down the steps just as the window on the outside door burst, scattering glass all over. He kept going, and she felt glass under her feet. And then she smelled the mold of the basement. It was dark down there and filled with junk. He carried a flashlight and flicked it on. She saw her usual spot—a dining room chair next to a dented trunk that someone tried to pass off as an antique. She rubbed her wrist. She was chilled and listened to the train overhead. She expected the floor to cave in on them because it rattled and creaked. She wished for once he would sit next to her and put his arm around her, but he wouldn’t do it. He shined the light on her and said, “What you got on there?” “A nightgown,” she said. “Where’s that Snoopy shirt of Cecilia’s?” She realized that he knew what she wore to bed. She didn’t think he paid any attention. She didn’t want to tell him that this nightgown was a present from Cecilia, who’d gotten it in Singapore on her R & R. It was 100% silk, and it was supposed to keep you cool. It had been in tissue paper in Lucy’s bottom drawer for eleven years now. “Well, I’m making some changes in my life.”

Crab Orchard Review

u

227


Tricia Currans-Sheehan “Oh yah, well, you’ll be making a lot of changes upstairs when you clean up after this thing.” She hated when he talked this way. Always negative. Then the sound was gone; it was gone. It just lifted up and went into the clouds. He shined the light back on her face. “I’m going up. If you want to sit down here, you can.” He raced up the stairs, and she hobbled behind after slipping her feet into a pair of snow boots. She’d gotten a shard of glass in the ball of her foot coming down the stairs and didn’t want another cut. God, she didn’t want to go upstairs and see the damage. All her work for weeks and weeks, and she hadn’t even slept one night in her place. He was outside her apartment door. “Can’t believe that,” he said. “Just a cracked window in that bathroom. But our place has a shattered one.” She smiled and said, “I’m going to bed.” “And I’m going to survey the damage. Won’t be back for awhile.” He left. Just like always. She hurried inside and went into the bathroom where it smelled like White Shoulders perfume because she’d sprinkled it around a few hours earlier. Yesterday she’d found a Christmas gift set that had never been used in a box she’d bid on last March. She’d left the bottle of perfume and the peach box of dusting powder on the counter next to the bowl of fancy pink soaps. She’d splurged and put in a white sink cabinet with a pink porcelain bowl, pink bathtub and stool. Just three cracks in the bathroom window. She pulled the shade down and then lifted her injured foot into the sink. She ran water over it and felt gingerly. She needed tweezers and was glad she’d put one in the drawer. She thought of Cecila digging shrapnel out of a soldier’s foot and saying soothing words to him as she calmly worked. After a few tries Lucy pulled a small sliver of glass from the ball of her foot and put a Band Aid on it. And then she looked at her hair. One braid had come undone, and it hung over her shoulder. She thought it looked like brown yarn at the ends but as she moved her hand up the braid the hair turned salt and pepper until all the hair on her head was gray. She glanced at the scissors in the drawer and back at her hair. She loosened the other braid and let it fall. God, no wonder kids acted afraid of her; she’d heard one call her a witch. She studied the last two inches of the braids, and she knew damn well why she had held onto them. Right before deployment, Cecilia had been home for a week, and she’d massaged her mom’s scalp and brushed her hair 100 strokes, saying she was making it silky. Lucy just remembered leaning back into her daughter’s chest as they sat on the couch together. She savored that scene. Ceclia sat on the arm of the couch, and Lucy sat on the cushion with her legs out on the other cushion. Her daughter was behind her and Lucy rested against her chest. At the time she remembered thinking—shouldn’t

228

u

Crab Orchard Review


Tricia Currans-Sheehan it be the other way around. Shouldn’t she be rubbing her girl’s head? But they hadn’t said anything. For ten minutes they had sat there in the quiet— no TV on—and they had just been…just been with each other. Had they known it would be their last would they have stayed for twenty minutes? And Eldon had broken their moment together by stomping up the stairs and barging in with a milk carton of Whoppers because Cecila loved them and couldn’t get enough of them. And when he handed them to Cecila, she let go of the brush, and she never came back to Lucy’s hair. Lucy had been angry at Eldon ever since—for breaking that moment. Lucy took the scissors and cut those braids. When the hair fell to the floor, her head felt free. She shook her head and felt light-headed, and then she crawled into bed and slept hard. At seven she awoke and went to their apartment to make coffee. She saw that their bedroom window was shattered and glass was all over the spread and floor. She peeked into Cecilia’s bedroom and the window was okay. Eldon was sleeping on the couch in his uniform, so she quietly walked past him with a full mug of coffee and went across the hall to her rocking chair. At eight she slipped on a jacket and walked out the back door, stepping over the glass and water from last night’s damage, and headed down the alley to Carol’s Beauty Shop. It was spitting like it wanted to rain but it wasn’t. It was cool for June. “My god, did the tornado do that?” Carol asked. “Decided I need to get rid of the old.” “About time, Lucy. Get up here and I’ll see what I can do.” Lucy watched as Carol cut and trimmed and soon she had a head of white hair. Carol washed and blow dried it and used a curling iron. Lucy didn’t recognize that lady with the soft curls. Lucy walked back to her shop and unlocked the front door. She hoped no one would come in. She didn’t want to talk to anyone today. She kept looking in the mirror in the back room and then she found some Maybelline liquid makeup in a box where she threw all the cosmetics she collected. She rubbed it on her skin to cover the brown spots. She thought they were depression spots because they appeared in the months right after Cecilia’s death. They looked like freckles but grown women didn’t get freckles. She dabbed some pink blush on her cheeks and she looked…better. Alive. That was it. Eldon slept until eleven and came down to the shop carrying a cup of coffee. He did a double take when he saw her at the counter taking the clippings off the bulletin board. “What the hell?” he said, looking at her. “It’s all white.” He walked around her like she was some mannequin.

Crab Orchard Review

u

229


Tricia Currans-Sheehan “Been that way for three years now.” “Damn,” he said, scratching his thinning sandy hair. His crown looked bare since he hadn’t combed the few strands over it and plastered them down with Brylcreem. Just then the door opened and a customer came in. Eldon looked like he wanted to talk but when the customer asked if she had baby beds, he left and walked upstairs. Ten minutes later, he came downstairs two at a time. She wondered if another tornado was coming. How lucky they’d been to have it jump over the town and land on the John Deere lot and only wreck a few plows and a combine. He stormed up to the counter and said, “Okay. Enough’s enough. I want to know why?” Lucy paused from putting the clippings in a shoebox. “Why what?” “You know. The apartment, the bed, the hair. What’s this all about?” She set the photo of a helicopter in the box. “It’s about letting her go.” “Damn, she’s been gone for ten years.” “Not to me,” she said softly. “Well, folks don’t know that. Hell, they say we’re getting a divorce. Is that what you want?” “I don’t know anymore. Right now, I want to know who I am. I used to be Cecilia’s mom and I always thought I’d be that and then a grandma.” “Well, God damn, you’re my wife, and start acting like it.” “When you start acting like a husband. How long has it been?” “You know.” “Well, if you’d act like you cared I might act differently.” “I saved your life last night. Doesn’t that show it?” “You called me a fool and about killed me going down the stairs and I stepped on glass. And you didn’t even notice I needed shoes to go back up the stairs.” “Hey, I had to go out and report on the damage. That’s what they pay me for.” “And do they pay you to dress in that army getup of Cecilia’s? Look who’s holding onto her. People laugh at you when you parade around in the stupid van looking like some general.” “Hey, I’m keeping them safe.” “Oh, sure.” She shook her head and liked how that felt. The heaviness was gone. She walked out from behind the counter and went to the front door of the shop. She turned the Open sign to Closed and headed upstairs. It was noon. She made a tuna salad sandwich, cut it in half, and went into the pink apartment and sat on her rocker. She left the door open. Soon she heard Eldon huffing as he came up the stairs. She couldn’t figure out what he was doing, but he seemed out of breath and he was moving slowly.

230

u

Crab Orchard Review


Tricia Currans-Sheehan He carried the black rocker that was in the back room, the one she sat on to do her bookkeeping. She watched him sit down on it right outside the apartment door. He just sat there and rocked while she sat and rocked in hers. “Are you eating that?” He pointed to the sandwich. She looked at the sandwich on the plate and got up and took it to him. He stayed out there eating and rocking and glancing at her. She took a nap that afternoon in her new bed. She didn’t feel like opening the shop. She slept and when she awoke it was five and she smelled something cooking. She walked past the black rocker in the hall and through the open door and into their kitchen. In the oven a jumbo pizza was warming in its box. She opened the lid and it was a “junk” pizza—the kind with everything on it. They used to get that kind before Cecilia started to eat pizza and only liked cheese with Canadian bacon. He wasn’t around and she looked in the bedroom. The glass on the spread had been picked up and plastic was taped over the broken window. She didn’t say anything but went to the closet and got out a clean blouse and pants. She walked back to her apartment and took a bath. When she got out, he had pizza on a platter on her end table. The lamp and Cecila’s photo were on the floor. The black rocking chair was across from her chair. She sat down and waited. In a minute he came in the door carrying two frosted mugs of beer. He handed one to her and sat down. He had on a white T-shirt and jeans and bare feet. “I guess we’re too old to make another one,” he said. She nodded. She was 48 years old. “But maybe we could pretend,” he said. She glanced at him and he saw her glance and lowered his eyes like he was…shy. That was it. Or was it? No, it wasn’t. It was something else—it was a look of asking forgiveness. And she knew she had to give in and do it. She had to forgive too and only then could she let go and move on. She reached out for his hand, and he reached for hers.

Crab Orchard Review

u

231


Nancy Wayson Dinan Lest Darkness Overtake You They’d evacuated last time and it had taken 28 hours to drive the

180 miles to his mother’s house. That had been just after Katrina—Rita, maybe?—and everyone had been skittish with the media still airing the images of the throngs around the Super Dome. Now she considered herself an expert, weathered if you like, and she had no intention of leaving Crosby, even if Josh pressured her to take the kids to his mother’s. They nailed plywood over their windows like normal people, laid in a fair stock of water and canned goods, and they waited for the storm. Even the people on Bolivar Island, the ones being told that evacuation was mandatory, were ignoring the orders. Melanie and Josh and their two children were far, far inland, by almost an hour, and besides, she’d never been through a hurricane before and might not get another chance. Melanie’s brother Thomas had left for Ohio two days before and he’d called to tell them about the utility trucks they had passed, Thomas and his family driving north, truck after truck headed south to the storm. Thomas and his wife had told them they had a bad feeling about those trucks. A lot of trucks heading south, Thomas had said. They were expecting a lot of damage. But of course there would be damage. There was damage lurking in everything, even in unremarkable summer thunderstorms. Even in a decade’s worth of drought. They lost power before the storm hit. Melanie was on the couch with Josh, their two children playing on the floor with cars and army men, and on the television was one of those shows where a couple sees three houses and then chooses one to buy. A flicker, an audible, concussive thump as of a basketball on a gym floor that Melanie assumed was a transformer going, and then the insectile whine of the electrical world winding down. Cara shrieked in pleasure, knocking over her brother’s carefully placed army men, but Noah started to cry, and Melanie didn’t know if it was fear or only the lost work of an hour’s worth of meticulous placement that had summoned the tears. Melanie picked him up, even though at four he was getting too big for that sort of thing, and she laid him on the couch next to her and she clutched her husband’s hand and suggested they tell ghost stories. Josh let loose her hand and put the boy between them. “Maybe not ghost stories, not now,” he said. She heard in his tone a deference, an aversion to confrontation that made her reluctant to insist.

232

u

Crab Orchard Review


Nancy Wayson Dinan “Okay,” she said. “Let’s imagine what happens to the people on the show.” She hated the electricity cutting out right then, during the final commercial break of the show, right before they’d seen which house in the French countryside the young couple had chosen. They’d needed a yard—a garden, they’d called it—for their two toddlers, a view for the wife who felt as if she would suffocate without something beautiful to look at, and a modern kitchen. The wife wanted a dishwasher even, and Melanie had watched enough of these shows to know that dishwashers were few and far between in these bucolic rural paradises. But Melanie didn’t need a dishwasher and she ached with the stupidity of the woman, this woman who was being given the world and couldn’t even recognize it. “I bet they picked the first house.” This house was in the tiny village, with a stone gate and a rooftop view, and the kitchen had also been tiny, but it had had the aforementioned dishwasher. “No way,” Josh said, as Cara came to sit on his other side. “They needed a yard for their kids, not a rooftop terrace. Only an insane woman would let two toddlers play on a rooftop. I bet they choose the third, the one with the garden and the creek.” She could see his point, and nodded. “Which would you choose?” she asked him, knowing they would never leave this suburban neighborhood now that he’d made assistant principal at the middle school and now that they’d paid off enough of their mortgage so that they didn’t have to pay the private mortgage insurance every month. He laughed at her joke and didn’t even really consider the question. “You know my aunt has a bed from a hurricane,” she said, as they heard the wind whistle around the crannies of their house and send its secret spies into the attic. “Washed up from the hurricane that hit outside of Galveston in the early 1900’s. The bed’s just beautiful, wrought iron painted white. It came from the town of Indianola.” “Never heard of it.” “No, you wouldn’t have. It’s no longer there. It was destroyed in that hurricane. They rebuilt it once and then the next hurricane destroyed it again. After that, they gave up.” He gave her a look over the top of Noah’s head, and it was hard to read his eyes in the light of the electric lantern, but she knew he would want her to stop. “That bed’s haunted, you know.” “Jesus, Melanie, is this really the time?” She shrugged, defensive, and she said, unable to help herself: “If you sleep in that bed, you wake up to somebody scratching your back, leaving big red welts and gouges, and you get up screaming and you show everybody, and everybody in the house can see them and they’re on your back, so you know you couldn’t have done it to yourself.” He sighed and heaved himself off the couch. “I said no ghost stories so

Crab Orchard Review

u

233


Nancy Wayson Dinan of course the very first thing we talk about is ghosts.” He disappeared into the kitchen and she followed him, untangling herself from Noah. “It wasn’t a ghost story. It was a hurricane story.” “Right,” he said, dismissing her, tapping the air with his finger to count the number of gallons of drinking water they’d laid by. “No ghosts whatsoever.” “A ghost is a person,” she said, refusing to give up even though she knew she wasn’t right. “There’s no person in this story. Only big giant claws that get you when you’re asleep. That’s not even that scary.” Cara had followed them in to the kitchen, unperturbed, but Noah stood at the doorway, big-eyed and lost, and Melanie told herself that it was because he didn’t like to see his parents argue. “Honey,” she said, kneeling beside him and tucking the top of his head under her chin. “Mommy made it all up. Right?” she asked Josh. She hoped he could see how worried the child was. “Right,” he said, not looking at her, now fetching the hurricane lamps from the counter and lighting them, setting one on the floor of the kitchen and one on the floor of the hallway. Outside, they heard the first rain pelting the roof and the rain wasn’t that scary but the wind was, and there was a smell, tropical almost, salt and rot and seaweed, and the rain now pocked the drainpipes of the house with a metallic and hollow sound and the taps came close together. They knew this was just the beginning, that there would be hours of ramping up to some crescendo, and he looked at her and said: “You should have gone to Austin.” She thought about Noah and Cara and she did not disagree. But it was too late at that moment to do anything besides what they were doing. She vowed to herself to tell no more ghost stories but it was too late for that, too, because she wanted to put the kids to bed—it was their bedtime, after all—but she had scared herself with the story of what a storm carried and what it left behind. She walked them back to the couch, positioned one on each end, heads on couch pillows and a blanket shared between them. She kissed them on their foreheads and thought that it was just one night, and in the morning the storm would have passed. The children would never know how worried she and Josh had been, how worried they were right now as the wind gathered momentum and swept past them, right now as they were committed to something they maybe hadn’t understood. After an hour of wishing they’d evacuated after all, she pinpointed what had made her stay, even though Josh had wanted her to take the kids to Austin: the eye. She’d wanted to see the eye. When the storm had been coming, she imagined pretty clearly what the eye would be like and she had no reason to doubt that bit of imagination. They’d been outside bringing in lawn furniture, bringing in anything that the storm could use as a projectile, and she’d felt a supreme stillness on the air and struggled to place it. The air hadn’t truly been still—the light breeze had raised the leaves in the pin

234

u

Crab Orchard Review


Nancy Wayson Dinan oaks, the needles in the loblolly pines—but there had been some texture to the normal world that had been missing there in the path of the storm. It took a moment and then it hit her—no birds. When she realized that the birds were gone, all the grackles and sparrows and cardinals and jays that usually haunted their back yard, she began to notice what else was missing. Squirrels. The green anole lizards, usually on top of the fence line, inflating their throats and doing their little lizard push-ups. Stray cats. But there had been the sounds of dogs and this difference was not a subtraction from the world but an addition to. She heard the next door neighbors’ King Charles spaniel ranging over their backyard, barking, yes, a bit, but mostly whining, and the whining was a cowering, submissive sound that made Melanie wince. Across the street, Buddy Patrick’s pit bull howled inside the house. It was a sound that was the leading edge of some unnamed feeling, some panic deep in the seat of her chest, but she had not been truly panicking, not yet. And the eye—she’d heard such stories. She’d heard a story about a man who’d gone out in the eye of a storm (Hurricane Andrew, maybe?) and who’d seen a giant parrot sitting on his front step. He’d never seen the bird again. Another man had told her about waiting out a storm in a hotel downtown, about going out front and seeing things float down the flooded streets. He’d known he had about half an hour, and he’d pocketed a set of fishing gear and a Waterford crystal vase, and then the calm had seemed to change and he’d hurried back indoors. It might be the only chance in her lifetime to see the eye of a storm. It was such an improbable thing, really, this calm in the center of a maelstrom. And the name, the image of any eye, like the storm could see them. She had no intention of missing it. And she hadn’t truly believed that there would be any danger. They were forty miles inland and there would be no storm surge for them, and already the strength of the hurricane would begin to dwindle, and there would be winds and there would be rain, but maybe instead of fear there would be that unequaled sense of exhilaration she used to feel on her father’s front porch when the August thunderstorms rolled in. The front porch she shared with her husband in Crosby had never witnessed one of those thunderstorms. She understood what made a person become a tornado chaser, but of course she would never chase a tornado, and certainly not with her children. Now they were sleeping on the couch, lulled by the white noise of the storm outside, but the white noise was becoming increasingly high-pitched and Josh couldn’t sit still, flitting from lamp to lantern to kitchen. “Should we start the generator now?” he asked her. She looked at him, her mouth slightly open. “In the house?” He caught her tone. “But what about the refrigerator? Or the freezer?” “Don’t open them. They’ll hold their temperature for a couple of hours.” It was nine o’clock. She opened a bottle of wine and brought it and two glasses to the living

Crab Orchard Review

u

235


Nancy Wayson Dinan room. They sat on the floor and played cards by the light of the electric lantern, but they soon grew bored with War and couldn’t remember how to play anything else. “I used to like a game called Phase 10, but we need different cards for that.” “Or Uno. Uno was fun.” He said it as if she wasn’t even there, as if he were talking to himself. “Sure.” Uno was a kid’s game. At eleven o’clock, the rain took a harsher turn, strafing the sides of the house and pounding the plywood. Louder crashes came sporadically; after a while, she realized it was debris. An almost unbearable urge to open the door overtook her and she put her ear to the glass in the living room window, unable to hear anything different. The plywood was terrible; she couldn’t see a thing through it. “It’s been three hours,” she said. “Has the eye come?” “We’re supposed to know the eye for a sure thing.” At midnight there came a quiet that was worse than the stillness before the storm and worse than the heavy pounding of the storm. She ran to the door and unlatched it, opening it to darkness. Well, of course. It was the middle of the night and there was no power. Behind her, Josh held the lantern and the thin ring of light it cast separated them from the outside. “Oh,” she said, looking around. “I can’t see a thing!” She took the lantern from her husband and stepped forward, her foot coming down in a puddle right in front of her door. Her socks were wet. She hated that. She walked farther out, shaking her foot, looking for exotic birds, for anything really. There was no flooding like her friend had mentioned. Here, forty miles in, the flooding was in the low spots, not widespread. But she could see even in the skimpy circle of light that they had lost a crape myrtle by the front of the house and the ancient live oak across the street had splintered apart like a head of broccoli. It broke her heart, the loss of that tree. But still, the most disappointing thing was the darkness, the fact that the eye was a once in a lifetime thing and this eye had had the nerve to come in the middle of the night. She headed back to the house, feeling deeply that something was wrong, thinking though that this feeling was a trick of the air pressure, that this must be a barometric lull so low that her body and soul could not cope. A physical dread. She listened, hard, to the silence around her and she realized she was expecting the phone to ring, that she was expecting some bad news, some report of her parents falling finally ill or of a friend being caught in a car crash. She could not handle the feeling and a moan escaped her and she bent and rested her hands on her knees, her hair hanging around her face, and she set the lantern down on the ground. Josh asked her: “You all right?” and she waved a hand at him to tell him to be quiet, that the phone was going to ring and she would not be able to hear it if he was talking. A shape on the ground beneath her. A mound. Colorless in the dark,

236

u

Crab Orchard Review


Nancy Wayson Dinan but furred. A dog. She kicked it with her foot and moved the lantern closer. A King Charles spaniel, not moving. She looked back at the house and imagined the wind carrying such a small animal, dashing it against the house. “Josh, it’s Carol’s dog.” He came forward, stood beside her, toed the dog with his sneaker and then drew his foot quickly back. “Josh, what do we do?” He looked up at the dark sky. She couldn’t see his face but recognized the movement. She’d spent eleven years with him now, and knew some things by heart. There was something to be said about eleven years, although that was sometimes all they had together. Just that time, saved away like a bank account, but it was more than they would have with anybody else. That mutually passed time was a strand of spider silk, wrapped around the two of them imperceptibly, stronger even than the bond of creation that had resulted in the two children on the couch. “Leave it,” Josh said finally, blowing out a big breath and resting his hand on her shoulder. “If it’s still here in the morning, we’ll deal with it. Otherwise there are bigger fish to fry.” The wind was picking up so he directed her back to the house, his hand on her elbow. “Well,” she said before they closed the door and while the rain started to fall around them, splashing wet and thick in to the mud. “That was a disappointment.” They turned on the battery-operated radio, thinking they would soon see the end. An AM station, news reports, preliminary and incomplete, of the destruction. An actual DJ, a person behind some desk somewhere, taking calls from eyewitnesses about the storm’s reaches, about the things the storm had done. A caller from Bolivar Island. “Another one,” the DJ said, as if this wasn’t the first, and Melanie wished they had turned the radio on earlier. “Gail from Bolivar Island, you’re on the air.” A woman crying. Melanie looked up at Josh, and she knew they were both thinking of the dog. “I’m on the second floor,” she said. “Me and my husband. He’s on oxygen. The water’s up to the middle of our calves. Nobody’s answering 911.” “Yeah, it’s not done rising,” the DJ said. “You might be okay yet.” The woman still crying. Melanie feeling that unbearable dismay, that trick of the air pressure. “No,” the woman said. “The water’s coming up. My husband’s in a chair. Please send somebody. Please.” “Ma’am, Bolivar Island’s been evacuated. It was mandatory evacuation. There’s nobody there to help you. The National Guard won’t come after mandatory evacuation.”

Crab Orchard Review

u

237


Nancy Wayson Dinan “How’s she calling?” Josh wondered aloud. “But there must be something we can do. We have time. The water hasn’t covered us yet. Send somebody please.” “I’ll tell you what I told the last one. Christ, it pains me to say this. This is what they told us, what the authorities told us. Find a marker, ma’am, a permanent marker or a Sharpie. On your husband’s left arm, write his social security number. On his right, write a relative’s name and phone number. Do the same for your two arms. That’s all we can do.” A silence from the woman. The DJ took the opportunity to end the call. After a quiet so long that Melanie thought they’d lost the radio, the DJ said: “Listen up, all of you people on Bolivar Island who didn’t leave when you were supposed to, listen to me. This is what the authorities say when we try to call them about you: social security number, contact person and phone number. That’s all there is.” A silence again and then the tinny voice of the National Weather Service, a recording and not a live person at all. Melanie reached out and shut the radio off. “We should have evacuated,” she said at last, even though they were forty miles inland. Josh, his features shadowed sharply because the lantern was on the floor, nodded. “I still can. I can fill the car with water bottles and blankets and canned goods and we can take Cara and Noah right now. It’s just rain right now, Josh, it’s not flooding.” “Melanie. We’re not on Bolivar Island.” He took her hands in his and pressed his thumbs in to her palms and she knew it was to ground her, to calm her down, to offer this pressure as ballast, and the only way she knew this or would ever know this is because she had spent so much time with him and knew him in a way that she had never known anybody else. Their days together—how many? Eleven years times three hundred and sixty five, give or take a few, and it seemed a lifetime, and every new day added to the sum and took from them their ability to ever be with anybody else in this way. How was it possible that people had golden wedding anniversaries? “That dog.” She sobbed now, tears skimming down her nose and onto his thumbs and on to her palms. She imagined them leaving seared, burnt spots where they traveled, spots on her palms but trails on his thumbs and her cheeks, marking each of them as surely as if they’d slept in her aunt’s bed. “I think we have a full tank of gas.” The rain winding up now, a rain engine revving, the strafing sounds more frequent, the feeling that they were being hit by enemy aircraft. “I need to go, Josh. I can’t stay here.” He let her go and poured a glass of wine. Behind her head, her daughter slept, and two feet away was her son. When they’d been born, she hadn’t really loved them, not right away. Instead of love, there had been instinct, an animal sense of protection that had been as unbearable as the lack

238

u

Crab Orchard Review


Nancy Wayson Dinan of pressure in the storm’s eye. She couldn’t handle that either one of her children would ever suffer pain. “You’ve never listened to me, Melanie.” His words were measured, even, as he swirled the wine in his glass. “Stop.” She gulped the wine, filling her mouth with its gunpowder taste. She did not want to talk about that, and he was letting the storm go too easy. She wasn’t going to let him. Her brother Thomas, driving to Ohio, marking the gravity of the storm by the trucks heading south, and Melanie, dead in its center, ignoring her brother, the trucks, the evacuation warnings, waiting. In the morning, they would walk among the debris. The dog would be gone and the only trees they would lose would be the crape myrtle and the neighbors’ live oak. Maybe a few days without electricity, but they had the generator. They were self-sufficient. And Josh would say nothing about the permanent marker on the children’s arms, nor of what had possessed Melanie to put it there as the dawn broke humid and heavy and she’d realized with dismay that the storm was over. She would think he was asleep and he would catch her at it, him rolling over and reaching for her and her hovering with the pen over Noah, and he would know the marks as a clear sign, clearer than if she’d removed her wedding ring. But for now, she drank the last of the bottle and decided that next time she went to the store she would look for a pack of Uno cards. Something. Something to fill all this time.

Crab Orchard Review

u

239


Tiana Clark Freelove in Retrograde She asks the boy—Is it cloudy or clear? He mews half asleep in the bluing drag of dawn. The great-grandmother glares through ten miles to Miss Austin’s house, but the house is gone. No wet laundry to wring and clean but her own. In the corner lies her battered bible and shotgun. Autumnal wind whistles fierce through the shotgun house. Great-grandmother looks through the clearing to find the Tall Fescue path she walked and owned. North Carolina breaks the navy back of night over dawn. She is alone, except for the boy. The family has gone to war, fighting in Negro battalions, so many miles from home. Miles from Warrior—miles from miles, the distances milked from her twelve gauge shotgun, blasted drunk Uncle Leroi in the foot, pinky toe gone. She asks the waking boy again—Is it cloudy or clear, boy? But. The answer doesn’t matter anymore. Dawn cracking the glistening frost on drying tobacco, to own a simple thing: the used Maytag machine she now owns. If it rained that day—she didn’t have to walk for miles to Miss Austin’s house to clean her soiled clothes, dawning pickled fingers against a washboard—pain like a shot gunning through her palms. Her hands huge inside clear water, now on the boy’s back jostling him awake—gone is the rain. She knows the answer, still wants the boy gone— to walk out the door and testify if the day is for their own. He emerges from cool sheets, makes the bed, clearing

240

u

Crab Orchard Review


Tiana Clark dreams of his dead mother from his head. Warrior is miles from nothing, pinned under Black Mountain’s shotgun tip. Blue Ridge blankets the state in sheets of restless dawn. In the beginning she reads from Genesis. How the dawn of man came from the good dirt. The dirt road now gone and paved. Now, I want the gun. Who has her shotgun? Her black finger on the trigger, Freelove, holds her own without a man for provision, holds the miles, blue-white miles of cotton, hiding old Uncle Vernon from the KKK. The clear clean horizon doesn’t show any chance of storm. Her own glaucomatous eyes, dirt brown like mine. I carry her for miles in my blood—she is the weather—cold rain, thick in me, clears.

Crab Orchard Review

u

241


Clare Cross Baby Born During Tornado Piner, Kentucky, March 2, 2012 In being born, he saved them. This is the story they will tell, how they drove to the hospital, mother, father, grandmother, how the lightning flashed and pellets of hail like shot hit the car’s windows and hood, how in the delivery room, lights flickered and dimmed, how the doctor told the nurses to open the windows, then go to the basement, how the baby’s first cries echoed the howls of the storm. They will tell how his father drove home, passing first branches, then trunks of trees in the road, how he saw dead chickens, dead dogs, a dead cow, how he finally had to pull over and walk the rest of the way, how the roof of the neighbor’s house had blown off, how their own house was gone. Just gone, they will say. They will tell of the moment he knew that none of them could have survived. They will use words like miracle and grace. His grandmother will tell

242

u

Crab Orchard Review


Clare Cross reporters that he is her hero. But later, they will be careful who they tell the story to. They will search with their neighbors for furniture and photographs. They will set shingles, hammer nails. The father will go to the funerals alone, shake people’s hands. Months will pass. They will take the baby outside. People will lean down and smile, speaking bravely of their own lost. It was her time, they will say. God called him home. On his birthday, they will keep to themselves, tell the story again to each other, wondering, awed. They will use words like angel and blessed. And every birthday after that, they will tell and tell. When he is an old man, his children, grandchildren will know, and when he dies, they will tell the story at his funeral, how all of these people, mother, father, grandmother, dust now, would have been dust sooner if he had not been born. They will use words like holy and praise. They will give thanks to their God.

Crab Orchard Review

u

243


Tatum Cush Hypothermia I watched her make a snow angel and marveled at how different it was from the angels that fought their way across the walls of the Sistine Chapel. Her angel was no Michael or Lucifer, but the way snow hugged the ends of her hair like bees on a flower was certainly heavenly. She guided me into the ivory flakes where I flailed my arms and legs to make an angel that held hands with hers. I felt warm as if the snow was sand on a scorching beach, and I ignored the purpling of my lips and shivering of my thighs. She looked like a cherub With the way her round red cheeks Glistened, and her tight blonde curls Bounced around her eyes. We littered the blanketed yard With angel after angel after angel, And decided together That this was our masterpiece.

244

u

Crab Orchard Review


Allison Pitinii Davis

The Neighborhood Girls Watch the New WKBN Meteorologist The Dairy Queen is dead. We adjust our visors and eye the TV above a table. And now we bring you the local forecast. That was the last time we changed the channel. That was the last time we refilled napkins. Would you believe the heat we’re having?—not for the tinsel moonlit above the car lot. Not for the old man demanding sprinkles. He wraps a fist around a pattern forming outside of Ashtabula, and boom, it’s broken with our boyfriends. We make Blizzards for an entire dance class, the construction crew comes in for Coneys. This time of year, the heat’s a killer. Their orange vests align in orbit. You’re watching WKBN First News, 11. He runs a palm down downtown Youngstown. One of us sweeps up the back. One of us turns out the lights. We steal our raise in Raisinettes because we sense the system shifting: his radar picks us up as warnings.

Crab Orchard Review

u

245


Ann V. DeVilbiss Spell to Bring the Fall First, a binding: this heat will tumble. Enough stone will weigh down anything. Gather what is orange to remind the sky, spark the ochre oath. Whisper soft into the right ear of the weather: tongue-conjured spirits, the creeping chill, the knife of October cleaving away the green world. Every day turn away from the sun a little earlier. Loosen the gateposts at cliff’s edge, scatter acorns, round things to unsteady the ground. A fall is not always the same as an accident. This heat will tumble.

246

u

Crab Orchard Review


Rachel Edelman Dungeness Spit A seagull struts through the trailhead parking lot. There you go, says a woman to a worm as she sets it on a wood chip. I’m here where I was told to go, going alone. Three-dollar entry, family-friendly. No risk of getting lost. Keep Off The Bluffs says the sign at the switchbacked descent. Careful: once down, best mind your step, slick as it is over beach cobble. The spit curls asymptotic from current’s grip on coastline. Zoom in: how grain by grain by glitch attracts. How it packs to foot the driftlog spines that line high tide, their facets achoke with andesites, granites, and blueschists— volcanic mélange all overdosed on olivine (the mineral so plentiful in the mantle is first to weather in air or water). Here, the greeny glow has paused beneath the peak that likely birthed it in a thrust up from below. Turn back, look up: hanging, the apex

Crab Orchard Review

u

247


Rachel Edelman of a nipple cased in snow. Summit of Mt. Deception, or is it Mystery? Pan right: this, I know, is Olympus West. Adjacent, a sunbreak through low cumulus…or yet another shade of vapor? A ferry whales its white against the charcoal sea and murk. Wonder when it’s gonna rain on us, a woman muses to her small son, his shirttail full, his little hands made for collecting tchotchke rocks. If I had any chutzpah, I’d walk down Dungeness Spit showing the hikers in raincoats what they’re walking on and where it burst from; that the strait surrounding us washes out the active plate boundary. Where will I be when it slips…here, there’s nowhere to run. Socks soaked, I schlep back to the hunk of higher earth I came from, to my beloved in bed with bronchitis just as a truck marked Keeper Transport begins its trek to the lighthouse.

248

u

Crab Orchard Review


Katherine Gordon Christmas Pudding Made with Snow By accident she finds the recipe one August afternoon in the New Hydropathic Cook-Book after its praise for the water cure: one pound of wheaten flour, raisins without stones, currants, cream, and potatoes mashed not with eggs, but snow, for “in the winter season,” “eggs are dear and snow is cheap.” There on her counter now she sees the chipped blue bowl with its shiver of gathered snow, a frost-flecked spoon at its side. Then, the kneaded batter bundled into a bag for boiling, the stove in its shimmer of steam. Falling snow makes the window screen a bolt of vivid lace. She thinks of it fat and gleaming on the Christmas tray, a sprig of holly for its crown, as she walks home from the library in the wet cling of late summer with those pressure-cooker clouds, the pavement boiling underfoot.

Crab Orchard Review

u

249


Susan Finch Everybody Has a Flood Story The first time you meet Marshall, you don’t know he is married.

It is four months before the flood, and you’re drinking with three of your girlfriends, all married, who are in the middle of a serious bitchfest about their husbands. “All we do is lie in bed together and look at our phones,” Tara complains. “We are closer to roommates than anything.” That doesn’t sound so bad. At least there’s a shoulder to rest your head on. A warm body to reach for in the middle of the night. You take the shared bottle of wine and refill everyone’s glasses, save Felicia who is pregnant. Jackie says, “My husband won’t stop talking about sports. I got a blowby-blow about the basketball game last night—down to the minutest crap. I told him, You can keep telling me this story, but you know I don’t care, right? And he kept on anyway.” Your friends laugh, but you think she sounds bitter. “Steve watches Hawaii Five-0,” Felicia chimes in. She can’t keep her hands away from her belly that has only recently “popped” into a cantaloupesized protrusion. “Who watches Hawaii Five-0? Much less shushes me during Hawaii Five-0? As if he’s going to miss some important plot point?” You all laugh this time. When the waitress comes, another bottle of wine is ordered. You’re in for the long haul, but you’re not sure how much more you can take. You were a bridesmaid in all three weddings as each woman cried and pledged love and kindness to her groom. The pastel chiffon dresses still hang in the back of your closet. “Ethan picks his toenails in bed. I found one under my pillow the other night.” Everyone groans, and Felicia laughs so hard that she snorts. “Be glad you’re single, Lynn.” “To the single life,” you raise your glass and toast the air. Your friends see being single as a miraculous power you carry, enabling you to spend money and time however you see fit and allowing you to make all of your own bad decisions. Ignore the weight of loneliness you feel pressing against your chest and the emptiness of the generic one-bedroom apartment expecting you at the end of the night. Look instead at the bar where a man is gazing at your table. He’s wearing a baseball cap so his face is a little shadowy, but you can see he’s smiling and you smile back. None of the other women notice. “And my mother-in-law,” Tara says. “She’s a gem.” Your friends all groan

250

u

Crab Orchard Review


Susan Finch and roll their eyes. “She keeps bringing casseroles. With cereal flakes sprinkled on top.” “We get drop-ins,” Felicia says. “I swear she cleaned my bathroom the other day. My husband claims he did it, but when was the last time he cleaned anything spontaneously? Most of the time I stand behind him pointing out all the places he’s missed. That sink was just too clean.” Felicia looks at her stomach as if expecting her unborn child to agree. She runs a hand over the fabric of her maternity shirt. “I wouldn’t put it past her to secretly hire a maid.” “That could be a good thing, right?” you offer. “A little extra help? Especially with the baby on the way.” “Trust me,” she tells you. “Be glad you’re single, Lynn. Enjoy it.” You produce a half-hearted smile. “Except I haven’t had sex in months.” Your friends all laugh. “I haven’t either,” Tara says. “Marriage doesn’t guarantee it.” “Steve and I did it last night, but it was a bit of a chore.” “Ethan loves doing it in the morning before work, but good lord, I’m tired. Honestly, I’d rather go to yoga.” The last time you had sex was fall semester with a guy from your Brand Management in the 21st Century class. You went to his place to work on a project, and the next thing you knew you were rolling around on the living room floor of his apartment with your skirt hiked up around your waist. You’re not even sure you liked him, but it was exam time and you were lonely and he complemented your ideas. It was pathetic that that was all it took. Marshall approaches the table, and the conversation stops abruptly. He takes off his hat and bends the bill in his hands. He’s wearing a plain black T-shirt that clings nicely to his chest, a pair of dark jeans, and faded brown boots. The first time you meet Marshall, you realize you’ve actually met him before. “Lynn, right?” he asks. “I’m sorry to interrupt.” Marshall smiles and you recognize him from the museum. He works in publicity and this semester, you’re interning for the Frist Art Museum as part of your MBA. You don’t work directly with him, so you don’t remember his name, but you do remember that he held the door for you at the elevator. You believe these small gestures are the most telling. You’ve been looking for a man to show you an act of real kindness. “I don’t want to interrupt girls’ night,” he says. “I just wanted to say hello.” Before he can walk away, Jackie scoots over on the booth seat, making room. “You’re not interrupting,” she says. “Come join us. I talk to these bitches all the time.” She shoots you a look and raises her eyebrows. You fight the urge to look for a wedding ring, but you succumb to it. He’s not wearing one. The first time you meet Marshall, you don’t know he is married. Years later, you like to hold on to this sliver of truth as if it matters, as if it makes you any less of a liar and a cheat than it does him.

Crab Orchard Review

u

251


Susan Finch Felicia’s flood story begins with Law and Order. Her husband Steve has fallen down the rabbit-hole of a cable channel’s all night marathon of the crime show, but Felicia feels she couldn’t watch another episode of Law and Order if you paid her. The rain has trapped them in the house for what feels like days. “These shows are all the same,” she tells him. She heaves herself up from their couch by placing her hands on the cushions on both sides and rocking to get momentum. She’s due in four weeks and stands by the window watching the rain race down the pane. “I bet you it’s the mother,” she says. “It’s always the mother. I’m going to bed.” When Felicia reaches the door to the bedroom, the baby flips and kicks, and when her water breaks, she swears she can hear it pop like a cork exiting a champagne bottle. She stands stunned in the doorway for a minute before liquid pours down her legs. She waddles as fast as she can to the bathroom and calls for her husband. It takes an hour to get ready for the hospital as Steve hustles around the room jamming clothes into a bag. Felicia is shivering and worried that he’s taking too long to pack. She feels no contractions yet, but fluid pours out of her, and like the storm outside, it feels like it will never end. The roads are much worse than they expect, and when they get to their first major intersection, a creek has overflowed its banks and swamped the path. A silver sedan in front of them hesitates at the edge of the pool. The rain obscures everything but the red of the sedan’s brake lights and the muddy streak of water where the pavement should be. The car eases slowly forward like a reluctant swimmer dipping in a toe. Steve lets his foot off the brake and their truck edges closer to the water. “Wait,” Felicia commands, putting a hand on her husband’s arm. “Wait until he makes it to the other side.” She’s not sure why she asked him to stop, if it was a premonition or just good common sense. Halfway through the intersection, the dark water quickly rises along the doors, burying it three feet deep. The car is floating. It tilts, dips on one side, and in slow motion, skids across the intersection pushed by the power of the flood. Brake lights flicker, and a man emerges from the driver’s side window, clambering onto the roof of his car. Steve reverses away from the flooded intersection, throws their truck into park, and then tells Felicia, “Stay put.” Outside, he yells to the man, who is now spread-eagle on the sedan’s roof, holding on with the tips of his fingers. Water fills the open window and froths and bubbles up from the interior. The car is sinking with incredible speed, the water now only inches from the top of the roof. “Swim,” Steve shouts to the man, “swim!” The man is only twenty feet away, but as Steve walks into the stream, the murk climbs rapidly, up to his waist, his chest. “Swim! Leave the car!” he screams again. The water is

252

u

Crab Orchard Review


Susan Finch at Steve’s shoulders now. The man has not moved. He looks at them with a dazed expression, his glasses askew on his face. Felicia climbs out of the passenger seat. “Steve,” she calls, hoping he’ll turn away from the stranger, hoping this is all some horrible dream. The rain is torrential and she can’t tell the difference between the rain and the amniotic fluid sliding down her legs. “Swim!” They both plead, and then the car submerges. The man slides from the top, caught in unseen current. He comes back up, his glasses missing from his face, and goes under again just as quickly. Steve fumbles forward, the water over his shoulders, up to his chin. Felicia is screaming now, begging her husband to come back, but the shadow of the man is just under the water. Steve reaches down one more time, and finally, the man surfaces like a horrible gasping fish and is tugged toward the shore. The two of them straggle out, arms wrapped around each other’s waists like war-heroes. By tomorrow at this time, Steve and Felicia will be watching a new episode of Law and Order in the hospital. They are both safe with their new baby girl swaddled in nursing blankets and a tiny cotton cap, but Felicia feels like she can’t get warm. Her body rattles and shakes under the layers of blankets the nurses have provided. She closes her eyes, listening to the familiar music of a new episode starting up. She tries to get the image of the flailing man out of her head, but she can’t. She can only take comfort in the sweet baby on her chest, her husband’s warm palm resting on her forearm, and the fact that when she watches this show, she will know exactly what is coming next. The water is coming—up the banks of the river, murky and frothing and full of debris—garbage cans, trees, basketballs, floating styrofoam docks, and even a propane tank. The river exceeded “normal” flood stage five feet ago and has now reached a place Jackie has never seen it touch, creeping its lapping tongue onto the lip of her riverfront yard. Ethan places sandbags at the edge of the patio, and Jackie hurries to fill new ones, but the water is coming too quickly, soaking the edges of the lawn, swallowing the spring’s fresh carpet of grass like spilled coffee. Even then, Jackie refuses to believe they are in trouble until her husband tells her they need to move the furniture upstairs. “Just in case,” he says, but he doesn’t take his eyes off the brown sheet of water relentlessly rising in their backyard. A year ago, Ethan had yelled at her when they were moving in. He told her to watch the walls, to be sure not to scratch them, and it was the first time he ever cursed at her. “Dammit, Jackie,” he said. “Be careful with the fresh paint.” She’d wept and called him a bully, and she told him that next time she’d leave the heavy stuff for the professionals, vowing never to lift another piece of furniture again. Now, in their race against the rain, they leave a rainbow of scars on the

Crab Orchard Review

u

253


Susan Finch walls—a brown streak from a coffee table, a yellow ribbon from a kitchen hutch, and a ray of copper from the mirrored antique buffet. No one yells. Instead, they move in silence as the water tiptoes closer to the patio and kicks delicate springs through the cracks in the sandbag barrier. The backs of Jackie’s knuckles are bruised from where she has scraped them time and time again on the final turn at the top of the hallway, moving an armchair, the kitchen table, even a brief attempt at the sleeper sofa until it is clear that they can’t bear the weight. They ditch the couch wedged halfway up the staircase, hanging like a half-pulled tooth. They abandon all of the pictures on the walls, hoping they are hung high enough to be considered safe. The water is now eight feet over flood stage. They have run out of time. When they evacuate for higher ground, Jackie says a little prayer for her home, the only place she’s ever lived with her husband. She wishes they’d had a better first day in that house and that her husband had carried her over the threshold like a new bride, but on the first day, they were already hot and irritated and they began the morning by bickering about the best way to get the moving truck into the driveway. Traditions felt silly then, and no one was in the mood for romance. Jackie wishes she’d taken those early hours in the house to run her hands on the perfectly cream and ivory walls, that she’d stretched out on the dark hardwood, letting her cheek rest on the cool, clean planks. She wishes she’d said something nice to her husband that day instead of falling asleep with her back to him. They’d been too tired to set up the bedframe so their mattress was still on the floor, and her fingers ran angry trails through the flawless beige carpet. In three days, the river finally recedes, having crested at fourteen feet over typical flood levels. The water has pushed its way through the panes of the French patio doors and tracked its paws across every floor, every countertop, even the basin of the toilet, murky and dank. The flood has ruined the prints Jackie brought back from her study abroad in Paris, but it has spared the oil painting of a sailboat Ethan’s aunt gave them for their wedding, the one Jackie’s always hated. The flood has watermarked the first story of the house, a wavy tarnish dark as dried blood. But Jackie and Ethan don’t know this yet. When the cops remove the blockade of cars and blue police sawhorses they’ve set up in the streets, Jackie and her husband and their neighbors are finally allowed to return home after three nights of sleeping on cots in a church gymnasium. Jackie and Ethan stand at their front door, ready to survey the mess the river has left behind. They push a key into the lock, and this time, they cross the threshold together. Beware of Snakes, the sign reads. The air is foul with the smell of rot and mildew, and Tara flaps a hand under her nose as if she could wave away the stink of sewage, chemicals, and whatever else flooded into the

254

u

Crab Orchard Review


Susan Finch massive warehouses of Soundcheck, a storage facility for dozens of working musicians, including both small players like her and the big guys like Keith Urban and Vince Gill. “What the hell does that mean?” her husband Leo asks, pointing to the snakes-sign. Tara recites the rumors she’s heard about angry water moccasins marooned in the warehouse complex and an insurance assessor getting bit. “This is messed up,” Leo states the obvious, and all Tara can do is nod in agreement. A week ago, she couldn’t imagine the devastation a thunderstorm could cause, but now, a warehouse full of her friends and colleagues are pouring over the remains of their livelihoods. Instrument cases have been pulled from the wreckage, a line of them organized and open like dark coffins at a mass funeral. A yellow acoustic guitar is as wrinkled as a prune, a stand-up bass has collapsed in the middle, the hole gaping like a toothless mouth, and drums are disassembled, the heads cut out, the shells drying in front of industrial fans. She’s heard Brad Paisley lost everything, over 60 guitars and his entire road rig, but some of the smaller musicians have it worse. They won’t be able to afford to replace their gear. She was one of the lucky ones because she was out on the road. She had four of her basses with her on tour, but she still had six here in storage along with some other equipment. A week ago, when the rain started, Tara was in Pennsylvania and she was busy flirting with the guitarist for the band. Her husband didn’t know she was flirting with the new guy, but the drummer knew, the keyboardist knew, a few of the back-up singers knew, and most importantly, she knew. She’d spent most of the spring touring with a fairly-well-known-but-gettingup-in-years singer, crossing the country from Nebraska to New Jersey, and she found herself staying up late to share a few beers with her new friend, Anthony, nearly every night. She told herself that it was a harmless road crush, that it made the miles go by faster, and soon, she’d be back with her husband, sitting on the couch, watching some boring baseball game or even worse, attending some high school event, so her husband could scout players for the college team he coaches. When she first met Leo, the idea of dating a university athletics director seemed so wholesome and pleasant compared to the alcoholic, narcissistic musicians she’d been involved with. She wasn’t even sure she could call what she’d done with the musicians dating. Those encounters were more of a series of poor choices fueled by the dregs of adrenaline from a performance and too much whiskey. When she was with her husband, she was charmed by the way people called him Coach Leo, the way strangers clearly admired his expertise, and the way he could communicate with players and their families without stress. He wasn’t egotistical; he was easy. Plus, his body had the lingering lines of a college athlete. He wasn’t quite in the same shape as he was twenty years prior,

Crab Orchard Review

u

255


Susan Finch but she imagined he was pretty close. The musicians she’d hooked up with had the soft beginnings of potbellies, hard callused fingertips from playing, and deep rattling coughs from too many nights late at a smoky bar. A week ago, Leo told Tara about the rain when she had a few hours to kill before their show in Pennsylvania. Leo yammered on and on about the weather, “Seriously, babe. It’s crazy. It’s just not stopping.” Tara hated it when he called her babe. The tour was almost over, and she wasn’t feeling the same flitter of excitement she used to get returning home. “I’ve never seen rain like this,” he said. “Seven inches in the last six hours.” Tara knew she was supposed to react to this statistic, but she didn’t really know what to say or how to imagine what this weather looked like or meant. Instead, she spotted Anthony coming out of the bus, and she decided to ask him if he wanted to walk into town with her. When he descended the steps and gave her a great big smile, she cut off her husband by telling him she needed to go. “Love you, babe,” he said, and she returned, “Me too,” but as she stuffed her phone in her back pocket, she felt relieved to be free. Now, at Soundcheck, she leads her husband to her storage unit, stepping over instrument cases, displaced and scattered throughout the space. She doesn’t recognize any of them as her own. She opens her unit, and though she’s tried to expect the worst, nothing can prepare her. Her cases are all leaning against the wall, and there is a distinct watermark at the top of each one like they’ve been dipped in a thin layer of milk chocolate. She takes a step forward, slipping in the un-nameable sludge, the smell as overwhelming as a portable toilet, and without even opening the cases, she feels like she will weep. Behind her, her husband takes a sharp breath in, and she wishes she hadn’t brought him. Tara knows Coach Leo’s about to say something inane like it will all be okay or we’ll get through this or when the times get tough, the tough get going. She wishes another musician were here. Someone who understood what it meant to lose the first guitar you’d ever purchased with money you made from playing music. Someone who knew what it meant when a fret board fit your hand perfectly. She wishes Anthony were here, and the guilt she feels is electric—a shock crackles in her heels, vibrates through her bones, rises up through her neck and scalp, unfurling like a wave. Your flood story starts with the truth. The rain started two days ago, the same night Marshall admitted he was still married. Since you met at the bar, he charmed your co-workers and your friends, he attended a wedding with you where you held hands and let your shoulders fall against one another in what felt like a promise of a future, and then when the rain came and the city was submerged in turmoil, he confessed. “We’re separated,” he says. “She knows it’s over.” He promises it’s all over except the paperwork, but right now, he has to go home to the house he still shares with his wife. He has to sump-pump their basement.

256

u

Crab Orchard Review


Susan Finch Since his admission, the rain gauge has filled itself to twelve inches and the excess now pours over the top. There is no point in emptying it. The rain is relentless. The radar map in the corner of your muted television indicates that the rain has no plans of stopping. The weather woman looks startled, giving you news of historic river levels. A one thousand year flood, she says. We’ve never seen anything like this before. The governor has declared a state of emergency. She encourages people to stay home, to hunker down, and to stay off the roadways. Marshall keeps calling, but you are in no mood to answer. He calls to apologize for not telling you sooner. He calls to promise his never-ending love. He calls to check on your safety and whether you have electricity and food. He calls begging you to answer. In his latest message, he rambles, trying to be light-hearted and funny. “I’m going to the grocery store,” he says. “To buy the scraps of what’s left—canned artichokes, lima beans, and Pumpernickel bread. I miss you. I won’t give up on us. You are my future.” You turn up the volume on the television where a portable classroom floats down the middle of the interstate, bumper-car-slamming its way into abandoned cars and tractor-trailers. The anchorman narrates what’s happening, but it’s clear he doesn’t know what to say as it unfolds live. The portable is crushed by the weight of the water, and in less than a minute, it caves in on itself like a rotten melon. “This is amazing. Wow,” the anchorman says, “This is amazing.” On another channel, a house is on fire in the middle of a lake of brown water. On another, you see shots of teenagers who have abandoned their car, struggling in the waist high water to reach higher ground. Wakes of water spray up from their bodies like comet’s tails. One of them slips and is pulled away, zooming past the camera at incredible speed, and someone screams. The city unravels on camera. You wish Marshall wouldn’t go out. You wish he would stay in his house with his angry soon-to-be-ex-wife, and even though you don’t want him to be with her, you want him to be safe. You are amazed at your ability to be simultaneously angry and worried. Finally, the rain stops. You haven’t heard from Marshall in over six hours and you’re anxious and you need a walk to shake this feeling. Your neighborhood is not near a river and therefore, it is relatively untouched, but still there are lakes where there should be lawns, intersections with pools of muddy water, and drainage ditches bubbling with debris. You walk and think about Marshall, about how you would tell him this story, about how he should be here with you, about how this might even be romantic because you would always have the story of the flood to share. At the end of the street, a church parking lot is empty except for an old yellow school bus and an elderly man pushing his walker across the swamped pavement, leaving currents behind him, swirling with dark eddies. He waves you over, and you obey. Your tennis shoes are already waterlogged, and your feet make sucking sounds as they squish through the water. “We can use help,” he says.

Crab Orchard Review

u

257


Susan Finch Startled, you ask, “With what?” He takes you inside and leads you to the church kitchen where a handful of volunteers are concocting a giant pot of chicken noodle soup. Other folks unload crates of crackers and giant jars of peanut butter and jelly, some organize rows of disposable bowls and spoons, and others are peeling vegetables and potatoes. The man, whose name you’ve learned is Ivan, puts you to work making coffee. “Fill these,” he instructs as he hands you four giant thermoses. You brew the coffee, holding the massive thermoses against your chest as they fill, the heat rising against the plastic, almost burning you. A thin rolling screen shields you from the gymnasium. Through the aluminum slats, you see movement, flashes of color, but you can’t see the people behind it yet. On the news, dozens and dozens of houses were under water, the brown murk swallowing everything but the tips of the gables. In a few days, these people will return to mud-caked living rooms and kitchens and bedrooms. Their yards will fill with the debris of their old lives. These people lost everything, but right now, they are hungry and you can help. Ivan returns to the kitchen with more volunteers, a couple who are instructed to slice and butter bread. Ivan assesses the work that has been done, and thanks the kitchen crew. “We are Nashville,” he says, “And we’ve got people to feed.” He goes to the aluminum screen and raises it. The crowd in the gymnasium turns their haggard faces to the window, moving like zombies toward the food. You work for hours, until your fingers are numb from filling coffee cups. You make hot tea for the elderly and hot chocolate for the kids. People take coffee cups from you and cradle them between their palms, soaking in the warmth. They look dazed and tired but almost everyone still says thank you. They sit on their cots together. They pull their children into their laps, wrapping arms around them as if they can’t imagine ever letting go. They lean heads on each other’s shoulders. One couple pushes their cots together and lies down, bodies touching gently at the feet and at the hands and at the foreheads. They do not want to be out of arm’s reach. You can hardly stand to watch the way they love each other. A baby is crying—a wail that rises and falls for longer than you feel like you can endure. You are thinking of Marshall. You are feeling like you too have lost everything in this storm. You will call Marshall as soon as you get home, and you will ask him to come to you. The baby’s sorrow enters your chest, expands against your lungs, and you struggle for breath while you wait for the coffee to fill.

258

u

Crab Orchard Review


John Poch Luck Sue had shot and killed an intruder in our home a month before,

and we were trying to get over it. It was Tuesday, and for a change of pace I picked her up at the insurance office where she works and took her out to lunch. When we were done, we came out of the restaurant and paused on the sidewalk, letting our eyes adjust to the glare of the Lubbock afternoon. We looked at the cars and the vehicles in the parking lot. HORSESHOEING was printed on the side of a trailer. One of those trailers that you can fit three horses in diagonally. It was empty of horses, devoid of horses. Barren of horses. “I like the sound of that. HORSESHOEING. Or the look of it. The word, I mean. It’s got a palindrome feel to it,” I said. “They are the barons of horses, no doubt.” “A palindrome is a word that reads the same forwards and backwards,” said Sue. “Oh,” I said. “Maybe I mean something like lyrical. Or something like that. You could sing it. Horseshoeing.” I sang the word like a tenor with my hand in the air. “The sound of it’s good,” Sue said, trying to humor me. “Horseshoeing.” “Why do they do that diagonal thing?” I asked her. “Putting the horses in diagonally, I mean.” “For kicking?” she guessed out loud. “You mean for not kicking?” I said. She nodded yes. We looked at the trailer for a little bit. Sue stared off into the noonday sky somewhere to her right and behind us. We got in the car. We’d just eaten subs at a little Italian place, and I was enjoying that hot car feeling you can feel for a few seconds when you come out of the air conditioning and get into a hot car. “I think it’s for space considerations.” I said. “They would step all over each other and get hurt if you just put them in without separating them. And you can’t fit three straight. They could bite each other.” “Or kick,” she said. “That’s what I meant.” Beneath HORSESHOEING there was a horseshoe not like a U but upside down. “Is it bad luck if it’s that side up?” I said. “It’s like Omega. THE END.” “Jimmy, it’s hot,” she said. “Let’s please go.” “Sue, you’re hot,” I said and rubbed my hand along the inside of her

Crab Orchard Review

u

259


John Poch thigh without looking over. I just smiled straight ahead and turned the car on. I figured she smiled, too. Before we pulled away, a couple came out of the restaurant and got into the truck. They were both dressed like farmers: jeans, boots, Western shirts. He wore a big straw cowboy hat all dirty from hard work, I supposed. The woman disregarded the seat belt law and sat right next to the man. We envied them as they drove off with their lucky trailer. “We’ve got to get us some hats,” I said. “We’ll wear them when we make love.” I squealed the tires coming out of the parking lot, just a little. She gave me a stern look, at first, but then she was smiling. It was good we were talking. We’d been coming to terms with it, fighting with words or long silences since the shooting, and that was about three weeks before. One night she said to me she felt dirty. Like a terminal illness, she was rotting on the inside. I told her I would make her get better. “Dr. Love,” I said, joking, but she pushed me away. It was my fault. I had made her sick in the first place. It was my .38 and I’d been showing her how to use it, even taking it apart over the dinner table to oil it, showing her how the action worked and how each piece fit. I’d been taking her to the range. For weeks after the shooting I tried to convince her it was a simple question of survival, of him or her, that she’d done the right thing. But she said that the kid probably just wanted the stereo and didn’t expect anybody coming home for lunch. He probably would have left if she said leave, but when he came out of the bedroom and startled her, turned toward her, she had already pulled the gun out of the drawer. She had sensed something was wrong. Somebody was in the house, and there he was, and she started shooting blind out of fear. “But you told me he moved toward you, right?” I’d said. “I don’t know any more. I just want to forget everything.” She’d missed a couple times and hit him in the chest once. I don’t know how she could have missed from that close, but they say a real life trauma blows your stability all to hell. She had the presence of mind to call the police, and they took a few minutes getting there. By the time they arrived, Sue was on the floor with him, holding him and telling him it would be all right even though he was already gone. I thought it was pretty crazy that she had approached him at all, that she even touched him and was trying to help. Everybody agreed she was in some kind of shock. She explained the whole thing over and over. She was drawn to him because she thought by being there with him that he would be OK. He was just a kid, she said. I know, I said. The black hole in his chest—she felt this all the time in her own chest. I told her I understood, but I really couldn’t. I had never held death so close. I told her she had to get past this. You can’t keep dredging this up forever, I said. At some point…, I said. I’d killed plenty of deer and birds and even an antelope. I worked as

260

u

Crab Orchard Review


John Poch an editor for a bunch of game and fish magazines all put out by the same operation. Guns had become a part of my life, and now I was trying to figure how to keep them hidden at every moment of the day. Even guns that weren’t mine. If I was with Sue and I saw a picture of a gun somewhere, I would try and divert her attention. I never took work home any more. Otherwise, if she saw a gun even in a magazine, she would get quiet and not talk for the rest of the day. You don’t realize how many gun show billboards there are until something like this happens to you. Even if you are really into gun shows. I was thinking about looking for another job, but what could I do? We stayed away from the house a lot, and that probably didn’t help things. The place had been cleaned up, but it wasn’t the same. Even though the stain was cleaned completely out, you can stand in the entryway of our living room looking back toward the kitchen and see the spot where the kid bled all over our floor. And all over Sue. I swear you can look at the carpet and see the shape of the bloodstain, even though once you get up on the spot, it’s not visible. The same with the holes in the walls where Sue missed. And the blood on the walls. We can see a ghost of what happened. We do, but nobody else does. I’d gotten new living room furniture, taken the old stuff to the dump. Blood spatter. I was looking for a new house, and I assured her we were moving. But in the mean time, we couldn’t get any rest. We were constantly on the go, avoiding death, avoiding life. It wasn’t fair. We’d only been married a little over a year. And then, this kid. Last week one night when Sue was crying on the bedroom floor and I was holding her, the both of us in a sorry heap, she blurted out that at this point in our lives we should have been thinking about having kids. But she couldn’t be intimate now. At night when I tried to touch her, she said she was sorry. I can’t, she said. I just held her and tried to make her believe that her sadness would one day just get up and walk away. That kid didn’t just get up and walk away. They had to carry him out. The local NRA chapter was trying to make Sue into a hero. They wanted her story, her permission to write up something in one of their newsletters about how to save your own life with a gun. They called a couple different times. I finally told them if they ever called us again that there would be hell to pay. “They mean well. They just don’t understand what it’s like,” I told Sue. “They have different ideas about justice. Everyone does, until they have to face facts. You faced the facts, Sue.” I tried to let her know she was a different kind of hero than what they could imagine. I almost said she took it to heart. You have to be so careful to say anything when this happens. So we had gone out to lunch, and there we were watching the lucky horse trailer drive away. After that, we headed to the movies, in the middle of the day, and I didn’t feel guilty about skipping out on work one bit. Our bosses assumed we were at the doctor’s office like we said.

Crab Orchard Review

u

261


John Poch During the movie, we kissed a little in one of those moments when nothing is really happening with the plot. Like old times. I could tell she was coming out of it, out of her hatred of herself, because she could still get lost in me. It was good kissing. There were only about five people in the theater. The movie was about kids falling in love and doing stupid things but then making up. No guns in the movie. When we got out of the theater, she said she liked it, but I said I thought it was OK. The story fell apart at the end. Sue said she liked it, even if the last scene was a sunset. It was OK to disagree. I felt things were changing for us. I said I liked the part where the couple was kissing in the back of the movie theater. Of course she knew I meant us kissing. She rolled her eyes in a good way. While we were inside, the weather had changed. It had turned awfully humid and the smell of moist dirt was all around so we wrinkled up our noses. “Tornadoes,” I said. “Nah,” she said. “Could be,” I said. “You feel that air getting warmer, then colder? We’re on the edge of the dryline, baby.” We walked to the car holding hands, happy to be out of work on a day full of possibilities. “Let’s name our first child Tor Nader. Little Tor the Terrible.” We had talked about maybe starting a family, maybe next year. She rolled her eyes. As we merged onto the highway, I looked around at the other cars. “Where’s Aaron?” I said. Aaron is a friend of ours from high school who started stormchasing just last year. He’s got all kinds of radios and instruments and a computer loaded into the front of his Blazer so he can be hot on the trail of something if it happens. He’s been out chasing two dozen times and seen eight bona fide tornadoes and a funnel that didn’t quite touch the ground called a gustnado. Aaron’s the size of a football player. 6’3”, big chest. Plain big. He doesn’t have a gun, and he was against me taking Sue to the range and such. One night when he was over at our house, he said “I’m against guns,” right in front of Sue. “Except for hunting, of course.” He remembered my job. I told him after that, when he was leaving, it wasn’t right to undermine my authority. “Authority?” he said and tried to laugh it off. I shrugged. I realized I sounded bossy. I told him just to go on. Forget it. Just go home. But he didn’t get it. He didn’t have a wife and a home, so how could he know about protecting someone you love more than yourself. How could he possibly feel that sort of insult from someone who’s coming up with all the answers but not having to live out the trials and consequences. And then that kid died a couple weeks later. Aaron was right, in a way. But it might have been Sue, and I’m glad she shot the little scumbag, although I don’t tell her that. On the news they said the boy was a good kid. Never really got into much trouble and kept to himself. They said that about Jeffrey Dahmer, if I remember it right. They say it about most of them.

262

u

Crab Orchard Review


John Poch That week after Sue had shot the kid, Aaron came over a lot more than usual. Even though he was our friend, it made me irritated to have him coming around. I didn’t want him comforting Sue if I couldn’t. It seemed to me he was watching us get worse and worse, like a bad storm, waiting for the funnel to drop down so afterwards he could come and pick through the pieces. But he didn’t mean any harm, and he probably did some good for cheering up Sue. He always had lots of good stories, something funny happening to him, even tornado stories. Overall, we both like him. “I bet he’s chasing without you,” she said. “I heard on the news today there’s potential,” I said. I have told Aaron a dozen times I want to go, but our schedules (and the bad weather) are always in conflict. He said we were going to connect one of these days this summer. He kept his chasing a secret for a long time because he didn’t want people thinking Twister made him want to stormchase, but that’s what it was. The movie. That was pretty lame, I had to admit, but Aaron is humble enough to tell people, and I guess it seems charming. Last spring when the tornado hit Fort Worth, we saw him on TV helping with the cleanup. We knocked over one of the beers in front of the TV, and danced around screaming, “There’s Aaron! Yes! No way! Yes!” We were both screaming, “Aaron!” at the TV, but he couldn’t hear us. We were astonished he couldn’t hear us. He was talking to two guys with white hard-hats and he was pointing them in the direction where they could help save people. “You rule!” Sue screamed at the TV. “You rock!” I added. Then he looked straight at the camera, not smiling. “A really good actor,” I said. “Good, nothing,” she said. “More like a freaking hero.” Then we cleaned up the mess on the floor and couldn’t stop talking about Aaron on TV. We had a hero on our hands. “I bet you’re right,” I said. It was getting darker and darker outside, even though it was about three. “He’s chasing. But how would he get off work on a Tuesday?” We smiled at each other. Most of the time when Sue smiles, she squints like she’s almost going to cry from the happiness. And it makes you want to cry with her. To smile that way. But lately she’d been crying without the smiling. A couple times I cried with her. I felt lucky to have such a stunning girl. Two months ago, she got all her hair cut off without telling me, which made me upset at first, but she was right. She’s even more pretty when you can see her shoulders. I could lose her, she’s so pretty. Her face is like the sky in a country where the inhabitants don’t realize the beauty above because they’re so taken with the landscape around them, so they sort of mill about the valleys wondering what it is about their lives that’s so good. She has a little girl face, plain, not hiding anything, but not explanatory either. I suppose I’m not exactly one who notices all the particular details he should notice. I’m far from a hero, but I try. After lunch and the movie, and

Crab Orchard Review

u

263


John Poch back on the road headed home, her smile was coming back, and that was a relief to me. We were going to be ok. The past is the past, and what we don’t want in our lives can disappear. “Aaron,” I said out loud and hit the steering wheel with satisfaction. “Aaron,” she said. “The sky’s green over there,” I said. “No it’s not. It doesn’t really turn green.” “Look.” Huge drops of rain and small hail were splattering and spitting on the windshield. “That’s not green,” she said. “Green to me,” I said. “Look for the mesocyclone. The supercell.” The sky was getting darker by measurable degrees. “Where’s the wall cloud?” I had picked up enough lingo from Aaron to act like I knew what I was talking about. “It’s dropping out here,” she said with her hand out the window. She had an intent look on her face as if she were trying to guess the temperature within two degrees of the fact. “Ooh, it’s getting cold.” She rolled up the window. We were right on the edge of the front. Pressure was pushing the cold air down from thirty five thousand feet. She looked a little frightened. A few minutes passed. Pea-size hail started popping all over the hood and the windshield and the roof. “Green,” I said. We were on the highway at this point, and people were pulling over. At the overpass, cars were crowded underneath hoping not to get dinged up. My car was beat up already from a hailstorm two years earlier, so there was no point in us pulling over. The hail stopped anyway. There was a lighter band of sky over to the left of us about half a mile away. It could have been five miles. I don’t know. But we were on the edge, I could tell. Where the swirling currents can do their thing because of the fronts hammering at each other. “Pull over,” she said. “No way. It’s really black up there. A little green, too. Look for rotation. Somewhere along this line of lowering.” Sue knew I didn’t know a thing. I was a chaser poser. Not even a chaser chaser. Aaron had told me about these people who followed him around once they found out where he was in the chain of chasers. Which was pretty high. They had radios and computers and equipment like him, but they didn’t know as much as he knew. He seemed to almost always be in the right spot. Some said he was just lucky, and he said that might be true. How humble! He had become an expert in only a year of chasing. And he was serious, chasing the entire month of May. “Pull over now,” she said. “We’re dead if we pull over,” I said. “Remember that thing on 60 Minutes where the woman pulled over? Her kids having to watch her die when her side of the truck got smashed.”

264

u

Crab Orchard Review


John Poch I looked over at Sue. She had gotten quiet and started pouting. “Anyway, Aaron said they’re easy to outrun,” I said. I tried to put her at ease. He never said that. “You just have to be on the right side of it. We’re west of this, so we’re good. We’re probably not going to see anything.” And there it was. The lowering, the rotation, and then the demon itself. It dropped. It whipped its tail along the ground like a slow motion cat the size of a mountain, strangely upside down, ready to pounce. It looked like little flecks, maybe boards, were swirling in it, but I knew from Aaron that these were not little boards. They were the sides of buildings and telephone poles and the roofs of houses. In all that rapidly twisting junk were horses and fifty gallon drums picked up from the fields. Maybe somebody had just shoed their horses that day, and what for? For the strangest, most humiliating death. Then the wind was shaking the car, so I slowed down. You could see it up ahead, the churning. Sue was whimpering now, looking up and then not looking. Then looking up again. Whatever was out there, it was a magnet for our eyes. For our car. We were creeping along. Sue was crying. The inflow was coming in behind us at least sixty miles per hour, and our antenna was bent forward. I couldn’t stop driving toward it, inching forward for just a little better look. How far away? Sue was beating on me to “stop, stop, stop, you sick sick—Stop!” I pulled over to the side because I couldn’t drive with her hitting me and grabbing the wheel, pulling it toward herself. I couldn’t keep the car on the road. We were stopped and both of us were scared and crouching toward the floorboard. Little rocks from the side of the road and other debris were pelting the windshield like it was going to crack. Then everything turned dark, dark gray, the wind died, and it was raining a light muddy rain. Mud and straw strewn across the windshield and the hood of the car. The tornado had lifted into the cloud. It could come back down again, but no. We were neither lucky nor unlucky, it seemed to me. We sat there with her crying, pulled against the door, to her side of the car as far as she could go, and I didn’t dare reach over to comfort her. “We’d better see if we can help somebody,” I said. The sirens were calling us in, and it was going to be awful. It was sprinkling. I pulled the car back on the road and turned on the wipers. I was thinking about Aaron being there, being a hero ahead of me. I’d be his little sidekick, and he’d point me where to go and what to do. I’d leave Sue in the car and wonder if she’d be there when I got back. There would be death somewhere, and I’d find it. I had heard about babies in trees, people crushed or electrocuted in their own homes, wires fallen on them. I would save no one, I thought to myself. I looked over at Sue. She wouldn’t look at me. I was trying to figure out what to do, if I could do something.

Crab Orchard Review

u

265


Vince Gotera How Clara Met Santiago: A Pantoum —Cutud Village, north of Manila, 1936 So there’s Santiago de la Cruz in his bedroom, sleeping. I’d been watching Tiyago from a distance for many days, so handsome, his black hair glowing in the sunlight when I would see him at market selling his vegetables. I’d been watching Tiyago from a distance for many days, and tonight I decided I would visit him, see him at home, and not just when he’s at market selling his vegetables. So I split my body, breaking in half as usual at the waist, since tonight I decided I would visit him, see him at home. I stood in my bedroom, slowly unfurling wet black wings as I split my body, ripping in half painfully at the waist. Then I looked towards the wide beautiful moon, so free after long minutes in my room, unfurling my wet wings. I launched myself into night air and headed into the sky, then flew towards Tiyago’s house, so beautiful, so free. The village was lovely, candle lamps glowing in windows. I turned myself toward the earth, falling out of the sky and alighted gently, so gently, on his woven thatch roof. His house was lovely, a lamp gleaming in his window. I took care not to upset even the flame as I entered and floated gently, so gently, up near the woven roof. Now I watch Tiyago, his sweat glistening as he lies in bed. I took care not to awaken or disturb him as I entered, but now his eyes open, dark brown irises glowing. I watch Tiyago. I keep very still. He lightly stirs in bed. I stay as still as I can, my wings softly fluttering. His eyes are open and staring, brown irises growing. And then I see he has spotted me. He can see me.

266

u

Crab Orchard Review


Vince Gotera I stay as still as I can, slow my wings’ fluttering. From the way Tiyago’s brows knit, his arms tensed, I know he has definitely spotted me. Can he see me trying to blend into dark ceiling, blend into black? Then his brows grow more black, his arms tensed with spreading darkening fur, his teeth growing long. I try to hide in the ceiling. His body grows black and blacker—his body contorts into a giant dog with thick fur, feet and hands clawed, fangs long. And then I realize the truth: we’re both aswang! We both start to laugh and laugh, this huge man-dog and I. Waving blithely to him, I turn to fly away. This truth will open up our lives: we’re both aswang. He’s so handsome, black fur shining in the moonlight. Knowing I will see him again, I turn to fly away. And there’s my Tiyago, head up to the sky, howling.

Note: This poem is part of an ongoing novella-in-poems about two aswang, Philippine mythical monsters. These two fall in love, marry, and try to live as ordinary humans despite their monsterly natures and instincts.

Crab Orchard Review

u

267


Carrie Green Lagette Experiences a Northern Rain —North Adams, Massachusetts, 1898 When it rains here, it rains all day. The cold drizzle locks me inside with flat vines climbing walls and dried petals pressed beneath glass. I help Jenny sweep hearth and kitchen. I dust shelves crammed tight with books and seashells and taxidermied birds— finches and cardinals that stare with beady eyes. When Phebe hints that Fannie may want tea, I climb the stairs, tea set balanced on a silver tray. Cynthia meets me on the landing, fussing, don’t wake her. I oblige, carrying the full tray back down, mindful of steps that creak, of china cup clinking against saucer. Sometimes I escape to the greenhouse, where Lue tends a pleasing jumble of hybrids and exotics. I water poinsettias and prune yellowed leaves from ruffled pink camellias. He whispers in Chinese,

268

u

Crab Orchard Review


Carrie Green his tone shifting while the rain chimes upon the windowed roof. On sunny days the greenhouse is warm and humid as home. I hide inside, tucked between bamboos and palms. My hot breath condenses against glass. Even the orchid enclosed within a Wardian case must long for summer’s quick storms.

Crab Orchard Review

u

269


Benjamin S. Grossberg “Cold Is Very Hard on Mechanical Systems” This was the nature of his truth. But it served, on frigid nights, to draw me out of my house. I drained pipes, shut the water, closed houseplants in a closet with a space heater, and drove south, imagining the cold behind me as I went, a resinous body pressing into the walls through cracks, rolling from room to room. I had a place to go— so I could without shivering picture the old house alone in its cornfield, could think of a blue darkness expanding inside it, the sofa no different now than if it were outside, its legs amid the winter stubble of corn stalks, of leaves beaten brown. That would be my lesson the next day, when I came back to sunlight through those long, single panes giving only the appearance of heat. But I had a place to go; I’d be warm and experiencing the softness warmth makes possible, and the light: the glow of a rangetop clock, of Christmas lights, a single strand left on a plant in the foyer all year, of a nightlight, plain sheath over a bulb, in the longest hall. I’d have the sound of forced air to enter my dreams like a sibling’s breathing. And beside me,

270

u

Crab Orchard Review


Benjamin S. Grossberg I’d have him, his sweet, gravelly sleep. So what if my own house would become a cornfield, if I’d return to a day spent indoors, wrapped in my heaviest coat?

Crab Orchard Review

u

271


Laura Haynes The way she runs in rivulets down the windshield, the way she tastes like water. The salt and sweet of her. The well, mossy and deep. How such large  beings undulate underneath. Each lock, each canal  that connects the interior to the sea, each kettle pond  of an ancient glacier. All the teeming marshlands and  gorged creeks the children seek out with their toy boats. Each beachside pool and swift anenome; the heavy  drip of fog-glazed trees. How she builds, crests and  reaches the shore, amniotic gush or a steady drizzle,  snowmelt rush of her, the wet peat of her, the drenched  sheet. How she finds her way into crevices, how such  tiny drops are held to the sun as offerings. How she  blacks the earth with her drip irrigation’s steady seep. The stars and moon, alive in her hot spring, neck deep. 

272

u

Crab Orchard Review


Karen Paul Holmes Jesus Crows in Georgia Crows walk on water today. I do a double take— then notice most of the lake still; the black-robed birds peck at blue ice. In binoculars, white specks grow into January gulls huddled on a rippled patch. I’m wondering at the window: Do they think their leader backtracked to Canada? Lake Chatuge froze last year too— old timers don’t recall a time before. Some say the poles will reverse in a thousand years. My Michigan sister seems smug, as if she’ll benefit when her mitten becomes the Sunshine State. Recently in Florida, cars crashed on Tamiami Trail, slick with crushed bodies of walking catfish. Once I saw those, dead, half a mile from water, stinking the lawns and steamy sidewalks of a chi-chi cul-de-sac. What next? Suppose crows will join bass and brim to picnic on my grass? Sipping from stemmed glasses Chatuge turned into Shiraz?

Crab Orchard Review

u

273


Michael Hurley A Persimmon,

when ripe, can be used to predict the weather. The flesh should be soft, cheeklike. Slip off the skin like skin and set it to the side. Cut the fruit width-wise, exposing its face of seeds. Pinch one with your two small fingers, and with the nail of your thumb split the seed in half length-wise like sliding the lid off a wooden box. If there is a spoon inside, the snow will be heavy, will pack tightly in your hands. A fork means dust, snow you can burst with your feet. A knife means wind that finds your skin through stitches in your coat. A persimmon, unripe, can cause bezoars. Diospyrobezoars are the persimmon-specific kind. The skin and tough fruit clog your intestinal tract and collect hair, sand, fiber, bone; the things you eat without knowing. The bezoar thickens and grows: Imagine a corn-husk doll or the long corn fibers of a tightly wound broom. When they remove it with a knife they will show it to you; you will think it is true there are things this body has hidden.

274

u

Crab Orchard Review


Carlos Cunha Happiness in Winter We had just mentioned our respective origins—she had grown up in India, I in South Africa. Now we were both in New Bedford, Massachusetts, working for the same newspaper, she in advertising, and I in editorial. We were chatting during a break in a meeting, and since it was a dismal day out, I perfunctorily told her that I missed South Africa’s sunny skies. She surprised me with a strongly contrary view. “Oh, no,” she said. “I love gray days. They let you think. They’re good for the mind.” She was right. I also often got more out of gray days than sunny ones. Why, then, had I said I missed South Africa’s sunny skies? A fraudulent banality. In truth, I could not have cared less about South Africa’s sunny skies. I had, in fact, often hid from them, those tyrants who ever bullied me outdoors, trying to shape me into another rugged South African brute. I soon came across another appreciation of gray skies by an Indian, this one from Trinidad. In “The Enigma of Arrival”, V.S. Naipaul writes approvingly of the gloomy weather and light that he discovered in New York after leaving the Caribbean: In Trinidad, from seven or eight in the morning to five in the afternoon, the heat was great; to be out of doors was to be stung, to feel the heat and discomfort. This gray sky and gray light, light without glare, suggested a canopied, protected world: no need, going outside, to brace oneself for heat and dazzle. Yes, give me dull gray days, especially now that I am living in perennially hot and sunny Florida. Even better: give me winters full of persistent rain or driven snow—winters such as I found in New England. I filled with longing for them recently after taking up Thomas de Quincey’s “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater” and coming across this paean to “winter in its sternest shape”: This is a most important point in the science of happiness. And I am surprised to see people overlook it, and think it matter of congratulation that winter is going, or, if coming, is not likely to be a severe one. On the contrary, I put up a petition, annually, for as much snow, hail, frost, or storm of one kind or other, as the skies

Crab Orchard Review

u

275


Carlos Cunha can possibly afford us. Surely everybody is aware of the divine pleasures which attend a winter fireside,—candles at four o’clock, warm hearth-rugs, tea, a fair tea-maker, shutters closed, curtain flowing in ample draperies on the floor, whilst the wind and rain are raging audibly without,… De Quincey associates a long harsh winter with happiness. Not only that, he calls it “a most important point in the science of happiness.” Happiness as a science? The notion is not as farfetched as it might seem. Consider the existence, since 2012, of a World Happiness Report that reveals the sociological measures of happiness in 156 countries. De Quincey would not have been surprised to see that, consistently topping the list of happiest countries, are those where winters are even more severe than in his native England: Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Canada, Finland and Sweden. Denmark, for one, is acutely conscious of its singular degree of happiness, which it attributes to something called hygge. It is a term that is not easily translatable, according to “The Book of Hygge” by Louisa Thomsen Brits; but it sounds like it might amount to the Danes’ particular science of happiness, one that agrees with De Quincey in having much to do with cold weather and the opportunities for coziness that it proffers. Danes attach great value to their cold, their hygge, their happiness in winter with its blankets, tats, muffs, mittens and fuzzy slippers. “We have a saying in Denmark that there is no truly bad weather, just bad clothes,” another English writer, Helen Russell, relates in her memoir, “The Year of Living Danishly”. It is a happiness others are trying to emulate. Hygge, as I learn from The Guardian newspaper, has been undergoing something of a vogue in Britain, one perhaps not unrelated to the earlier wave of popularity enjoyed by snowbound Scandinavian mysteries. Germany, too, is granting new recognition to the chilly virtues of winter. A book that looks at the cultural history of the season, “Als die Winter noch Winter waren” (“When Winter Was Still Winter”), by Bernd Brunner, closes with a reflection that may help explain what all this new nostalgia for winter is about: it is a season that may well be endangered, because of climate change. We have to enjoy winter not only while it lasts but while winter still exists. Not that I would find a world without winter terribly strange. I grew up in such a world. Winter in South Africa was barely categorizable as such, being merely a matter of early morning hoarfrost on yellowed suburban lawns, somewhat windy afternoons, excessive coal smoke above the outlying black townships at dusk, a lasting dryness all around under cloud-starved skies. By noon it was often warm enough to strip off your sweater or blazer and walk around outside in your shirtsleeves. True winter, with its gales and blizzards and bone-chilling cold, was the stuff of storybooks. It was an

276

u

Crab Orchard Review


Carlos Cunha old-fashioned thing from the cold old world. There could be no place for Old Man Winter in a young, modernity-loving country like South Africa. Cold was virtually synonymous with the word it contained, “old”, whereas modernity was neat, sleek, vibrant; it was light, bright, perpetually youthful; it was best matched with places of endless summer, places designed to be peopled mainly by the young and their comic-book optimism. When I arrived as a young adult in a place of true winters, New England, it looked creakingly, bitterly, mournfully old to me: gaunt wooden tenements with peaked slate roofs, Cape-style cottages, saltbox homes, leaning wooden utility poles with sagging, untidily crisscrossing wires, battered mailboxes on wooden stakes beside patched roads, stonewalled fields with mossy, rotting barns, creaky Eiffel Tower-vintage ironwork bridges and rusty fishing fleets, Industrial Age redbrick-walled mills…It was as if I had moved not to the United States, but to some wretched earlier century. And this was never more the case than in the depths of winter, when it seemed impossible that a vibrant, open-skied, sun-kissed modernity was simultaneously available for human living elsewhere on the planet. And for much of their lives, New Englanders do act as if their coldly cloistered old world of winter is the only possible world. I did, too, after a while. New England not only has a true winter, it gives itself wholly over to it. Winter completely rules the way the region looks and feels year-round. (Only the flimsiest and most ramshackle of structures are devoted to the routines of summer, and these too are old-fashioned: shacks and cabins and the like.) Winter makes New England terminally anti-modern, committed to being not “new”, as its name would have it, but “olde” with a quaint “e”. So New England has loads of homey hygge, perhaps even more hygge than Denmark, which, like its fellow Scandinavian countries, does resist the oldness of winter with a devotion to modern design, even if it be a modernity that, in its arctic starkness, echoes the bleakness, simplicity and iciness of winter (quite the opposite, I would say, of the coziness of hygge). But even New Englanders can grow weary of winter. Its oldness does eventually get old. This is most likely to occur when you have begun to grow old yourself and thus less inclined to see as much quaint charm in oldness. You may have even begun to regard those long harsh winters balefully, as if they were to blame for turning your hair gray or white, or at least for the rate at which that is occurring. I observed this in myself: in Connecticut in my forties, I would feel all but certain that it was in winter that I most aged, turning back the wheel a little during the summer. Yet it was for reasons of employment that I left and came to Florida, not, as is the case with older folk, out of a desire to finally pull free of the New England winter-world’s powerful, old-age-accelerating gravity. To Florida they come, the elderly refugees of winter, the so-called snowbirds. They are ostensibly in search of milder winters, of a lifestyle that

Crab Orchard Review

u

277


Carlos Cunha is kinder to their reduced capacities. But I strongly suspect that they are also in pursuit of the fantasy of a fountain of youth proffered by Florida’s perennial modernity, by its pools and beaches, by its endless-seeming summers with their promise of making your own life endless. Florida is to the elderly akin to an infinity pool, an illusion whereby the horizons of their lifespans blend into an ocean of time. Illusions are thought to be the province of youth, but the old, by way of trying to ignore the breath of mortality, do fiercely cling to illusions of their own, as feeble as these might be. Feeble enough, perhaps, to be ultimately unconvincing, so that the elderly end by feeling merely exiled once in Florida or a similar place. They miss their old home and, if they do not miss Old Man Winter, they at least miss the time when they were young enough and vigorous enough to contend with him and even to find him a source of cozy happiness. Old, cold New England is no country for old men. The old have to leave it to the young. For the old, it is best to be where it is warm, modern, delusively youthful.

278

u

Crab Orchard Review


Paul Lindholdt My Climate Change

Climate disruption is changing western landscapes and lives.

For two summers running on the dry side of my native Washington State, vast wildfires have seethed upwind of us, smudging our horizons for weeks at a stretch, blackening a thousand square miles and making shut-ins of unlucky breathers who struggle with their lungs. People who choose to live in the hinterlands, subsistence types and country squires alike, had to pay strict heed when smoke and flames arose. Some folks fled to cities and slept with friends, away from the lines of fire. Forests still were blazing on the Colville Indian Reservation 120 miles upwind of us following the 2015 autumn equinox. Not coincidentally in that record drought of a summer, 1,280 homes burned in the Valley Fire in California. Two record-breaking years of wildfires have frazzled everyone hereabouts. The three months from June 1 through August 31, 2015, proved to be the hottest, the driest, and the fiercest on record in Spokane, the arid western town my family and I call home. The city received only 0.44 of an inch of rain that summer at its international airport, the official weather-monitoring site, even though the average for June through August is 2.48 inches. Going back more than a century to 1902, we find the wildfire near Yacolt, Washington, ravaged 370 square miles, reigning as the largest fire in state history for a century. In 2014 the Carlton Complex of wildfires assailed Brewster and Pateros in the north-central region. At 391 square miles, the Carlton outdid the Yacolt Burn: it destroyed 353 homes and caused $100 million in damage. By the time 2015 ended, the Okanogan Complex on the Colville Reservation had surpassed both the Yacolt and the Carlton fires at a total 400 square miles.    In mammalian heads like ours, smell and taste entwine so far that we seem to be ingesting smoke. In certain ways, we are. Pine resins lodge in nostrils. Tar from burnt pitch won’t wash out. To gain relief we take to the water, we rinse ourselves in lakes, we drain a nasal-irrigation solution that feels at first gurgle a bit like drowning might. Two years of summer fires have caused our throats to catch, our eyes to stream, our lungs to cough up stuff. The clear mountain air turns to murk for days, reducing visibility to several hundred yards. Apocalyptic, many of us mutter, peering out windows and paying grim witness to a gloom whose only frame of reference is the end of the world.

Crab Orchard Review

u

279


Paul Lindholdt Wood smoke, comprised of invisible aerosols loaded with carbon and charged with nitrogen particles suspended by the billions, seeps through screens and panes and settles as a film indoors. In rural Winthrop, a few hours away on our dry side of the Evergreen State, several friends watched the hillside flames creep near and panicked when embers began to drift down from cloudless skies. They bundled their most precious possessions and pets and motored away from their wood-frame homes. Weltschmertz and low-grade stress sweep in with smoky weather. The smoldering horizons call to mind humidity’s murk in the Smoky Mountains. But our restricted vistas in the intermountain West prove dusty-dry and toxic, not sultry. Cloudy horizons become the new norm, in a phrase by now outworn. As a motorcyclist, I’m part of the problem. I throttle through Kettle Falls and Republic, then veer south to the Spokane Indian Reservation and Keller. Charred trees greet me much of the way. As one who deploys internal combustion for sport, I concede that I contribute to the selfsame problems I decry. No one’s hands, gloved or otherwise, are clean in this escalating climate crisis. Were I to keep motoring north to escape the smoke, I’d cross into British Columbia and reel along its glacier-fed lakes and streams. More than 700 Northwest glaciers are shrinking fast, says scientist Mauri Pelto of Massachusetts, and each summer’s drought will erode five to ten percent of ice-field volumes. He’s studied glaciation for three decades on the slopes of Mt. Rainier, the most heavily glaciated peak in the lower 48 states. Pelto also has measured the ice fields of Glacier National Park, where ancient forests have come to light as the eponymous ice pulls back. Pelto reckons climate change has stunted the signature glaciers of the Northwest and made them punier than any time in the last 4,000 years. Such glaciers are ecologically essential. They balance out droughts and act as storage reservoirs for in-stream flows during the hottest parts of the year, when sea-run fish are most at risk, most in need of cool water to fin up inland rivers to spawn. University of Washington researcher Wendell Tangborn calls glaciers the canaries in the climate change coalmine. He ties their fate to drought and fires. The so-called mass balance of glaciers, which gauges their health, tests the differences between yearly growth from snow and shrinkage from thaw. That balance now has tipped to the negative for the first time in recorded history. Climate disruption is a kind of ice age in reverse. As the planet warms and ice caps melt at hastening rates, weird weather becomes the rule. Human emissions and exhalations, corroding every crack and rivet in the voyaging spaceship Earth, diminish even those regions still unscathed by humankind. Climate-change skeptics, though, like to claim weird weather is natural. They point to oceanic oscillations, volcanic eruptions, the planet’s wobble on its axis, even to sunspots as probable causes. They point to anything besides human-brewed pollution as a source. Science becomes the refuge

280

u

Crab Orchard Review


Paul Lindholdt of the enemy; counterintuitive counter-science become a creed. To deny that the planet is suffering anthropogenic global warming entails blaming environmentalists. Damn as adversaries the climatologists from NOAA, deniers say. Enviros, they say, vilify industrialists and the petrochemical economies that drive the creation of so much wealth. National leaders including Sen. James Inhofe, named to head the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, claim that climate change is an intricate hoax. In a kind of new McCarthyism, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, subpoenas scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and demands that they turn over internal e-mails related to their research.   Climate craziness has gone mainstream, the skeptics say. It began in 2006 with An Inconvenient Truth, the documentary film to which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave two awards. Liberals in Hollywood sucker the public by touting politicized science. Cultural warriors craft crises from thin air. Greens bent on crippling rural communities, they say, demand set-asides for spotted owls, protections for torrent salamanders, entitlements for a creature called the Bruneau hot springsnail that sucks mud near Boise. Shielding such creatures is insane. Nature dooms some dumb beasts to vanish like the dodo. And nature always kicks the weakest to the curb, as even casual followers of natural selection know. “Watermelons” (Marxist reds inside green rinds) would limit carbon and cut off business at its knees in the name of stymying climate change. Some industrialists declare ranchers and loggers have the answer. Grazing and pruning forests would keep wildfires from stoking up so hot and often. “Public Land: Log It, Graze It or Watch It Burn,” billboards read, an either-or fallacy as facile as it sounds. Old-school legislators approve. Federal largesse, a big incentive, comes into play when resource industries get seats at the forest-policy table.  Lawmakers lay claim to extractive schemes that will put unskilled laborers to work. Imagine a New Deal that pays the rural poor to cut trees and combustible brush instead of building infrastructures and making enduring art. Many of the pundits who live in denial about climate change assert that run-amok environmentalism is thwarting backwoods economic progress. If only the Endangered Species Act were not being misapplied to lock up public lands. If only Al Gore and his technocratic carnival could be disproven once for all. Thunderous bombast often accompanies heat lightning in our western resource wars. Richard Pombo of California, who served the U.S. House from 1993 to 2007, ridiculed allegations of rising extinction rates in his book This Land is Our Land. Pombo argued, all remarkably, “some of these species may carry organisms or bacteria that could be extremely harmful

Crab Orchard Review

u

281


Paul Lindholdt to humans or other life. Maybe their extinction will save us!” Pombo and his heirs say no in thunder. They say that starry-eyed love for bunnies and bugs is burdening public lands with flammable stuff. They argue that we ought to cruise into those wild set-asides and get the cut out, instead of hemorrhaging federal treasure to snuff out wildfires. Such reasoning would lead to more trucks hauling timber to sawmills, I believe, “harvesting” public lands as if the trees had been grown in rows, pruning forests like massive orchards, reaping shekels from the federal estate rather than managing it sustainably. A key flaw in such revisionary economics is that lots of influential citizens have invested in forested lots. A number of those citizens have built vacation homes and cabins on the margins of flammable forests, meaning that no trees are going be razed and hauled out without voluble squawks from rank-and-file taxpayers. Call them NIMBYs: not in my backyard. Nor are controlled burns going to be authorized if they might blight somebody’s viewshed. Prescribed or controlled burns—medicine for overloaded forests— have been used to good advantage in refuges and parklands. But NIMBY values always trump ecological necessity in the picturesque backcountry, no matter how that wild backyard might perform an ecological greater good. Loggers and ecologists have gone head-to-head in my Inland Northwest for decades. More than custom and culture is at stake here. Literal lives are too. “Carbon sequestration” describes natural and artificial ways that carbon dioxide (a substance hazardous to all breathers) can be captured and impounded like the atmospheric renegade it is. Forests naturally sequester carbon, just like oceans do. Oceanic phytoplankton generate twothirds of the planet’s oxygen, trees and other leafy stuff the other third. Photosynthesis ought to be fostered, and the creation of carbon dioxide stalled, to boost planetary health. Global forests are model carbon sinks for renegade carbon. I think of them as absorption organs. Instead of doing their job of sponging or absorbing CO2, forests are burning. Our wildfires start earlier, burn hotter, endure longer and grow in acreage every year. If spent fuels truly are heating the planet, driving droughts and causing hotter fires to devastate more trees, then the causes are reciprocal: pollution produces wildfires, and wildfires produce more pollution. Those who would enlist loggers to combat the fuel loads on public lands, who say private interests could do a better job of keeping fiery cataclysms in check, need to catch a clue from northern Idaho and its most recent record. Wildfire charred fewer federal forests there than any other forests. The largest fires burned on private, tribal and state lands—the same lands that the most regressive legislators would like to identify as management models. Drought conditions linked to global climate change are making tinderboxes of lands everywhere, irrespective of ownership. Just as rust

282

u

Crab Orchard Review


Paul Lindholdt never sleeps, fire never favors one sort of forest over another. The Cape Horn and Clearwater Complex fires in Idaho destroyed some thirty-eight homes adjacent to public lands. Oversight of national forests has become an exercise in backward-looking guesswork. The U.S. Forest Service spent half its budget fighting wildfires in 2015—a record outlay that says much about our crisis times. Projections for the years to come are looking even grimmer for the federal deficit. The anthropogenic argument on climate change holds that petrochemicals are responsible for planetary grief. The argument holds also that carbon pollution is spreading misery beyond the rural-urban interface, where wildfires take the greatest toll. We mine oil and gas beneath the planet’s surface, we destroy cleansing vegetation that grows atop those fuels, we refine crude oil and fabricate flammable stuff in cancer alleys. Then, to make matters worse, we contaminate the air in unsustainable ways when we combust that oily stuff. We are the weather-makers, the future eaters, in the fine phrases of Tim Flannery, too gloomy for the breakfast table. The headache of global warming leaves us concerned citizens scant opportunity to act locally. All of us, sometimes for the first time, must learn to think and act in global terms, long odds that cause even the most optimistic of peoples to grow uncertain where to turn. In my neck of the woods, plans are afoot to triple rail traffic hauling heavy crude from North Dakota, coal from Montana and Wyoming. Transported in closed cars, the crude gets pumped to “crude tankers” and floated to refineries in coastal ports. Ever since the federal ban on exporting crude oil was lifted in early 2016, that oil no longer needs to be refined in the U.S. before exporting. It may be shipped anywhere in the world, a change in legislation that stands to boost drilling and rail traffic alike. The dirty coal gets heaped on open train cars, free to foul water and air on its thousands of miles, before being boated to China and burnt to energize industry. And then free-floating coal smoke erodes ozone in greater proportions than ever before, deteriorating already-vile air in such cities as Xingtai and Beijing. Everyone gets whacked in our global village. In an irony of international trade, Americans are breathing air fouled by the same goods that we ship abroad. Heightened emissions from Asian industries blow back across the Pacific, like so much tsunami debris, to worsen baseline ozone levels in the western states. American climate activists hope to curtail carbon generation in every way. They would curb the coal being transported by trains and burnt to make electricity, slow the highly combustible oil being pumped from Midwest fields, limit the homes popping up so far away from urban cores and necessitating long commutes, generate incentives for automakers to manufacture fleets that surpass miles-per-gallon averages of 23.4 today. Such poor lifestyles choices kick out particulates and erode atmospheric protections on a wheezing planet.

Crab Orchard Review

u

283


Paul Lindholdt Heedless buying behaviors also contribute misery. We have yet to learn the practice and gain the habit of voting with our wallets and tracking corporate malfeasance. Elizabeth Kolbert names the problem “business as usual,” or BAU. Another way to phrase such obstacles is “status-quo bias.” Very few of us are eager to stimulate the changes a needy planet demands, especially if those changes impinge in any way on our perceived entitlements. “Not my motorcycle.” Catastrophic climate change is ours to avert, but it will take more than just a little political will. In excess of eight million acres of the American West burned during the summer of 2015, an area larger than the state of Maryland. Seven hundred thousand of those acres lie in my native Washington State. For weeks, we residents struggled to catch our breaths. We held out for rain. When belated summer showers arrived, raindrops atomized the dust at once and rendered every parched thing pungent. Tender scents lifted from the herbs and forbs. People spun with a bliss they did not realize they had been missing. On a hot day in August, I was motorcycling across the Columbia Basin, stripped to a short-sleeve tee, focused on the dips and turns beneath me, the creeks and coulees unreeling, the cheat grass a bleached hair on the shoulder. From the margin of the piney hill where I live, a column of smoke ten miles away began to lift. Adrenaline kicked in and I wheeled the bike as if it were a wayward horse and goaded it toward home. By the time I panted to a halt in the driveway, the sky had grown opaque. The odd thought fogged me that calamities ought to have an auditory accompaniment—timpani, trumpets, a rain of frogs. My pocket jangled and hands jolted from the bars to unbuckle helmet and extract phone. A friend was shouting. The fire looks close to you. Can you see it? Will you have to evacuate? My worry rose for others who live nearer to the column of smoke on the horizon. If a wind whipped flames toward them, the gate that keeps the world at bay in Erika and Andrea Zaman’s lane would do no good. Winds can cause wildfires to grow legs and vault rivers, roads and lakes. I helmeted up again and throttled from home to the column of smoke. A mile out, a barricade stopped me. A traffic-control car striped with fire retardant sat catawampus in the road to stop inhabitants from going home. Trailers full of shitting horses lined up behind the barricade. Locked dogs smeared car windows and peered out. Folks shuffled and slouched, scanning the horizon for a sign. One rancher in Carhartt shrugged when I asked how the fire began then pulled out his smartphone and found that the media already was dubbing the ordeal the Houston Fire, its hot heart pumping where Grove and Houston Roads conjoin. Grove Road afforded a fine line of sight to the fire. All of us could glimpse the low blaze creeping like a glow-worm through the understory.

284

u

Crab Orchard Review


Paul Lindholdt It hit a pine and nibbled at the low needles before crowning the tree in a feast of flames. A small plane began to whine above the dog-hair stand of ponderosas. The plane dipped low to disperse a rooster tail of slurry above the burn and turned. We owners and builders ought to have reckoned better. We erected dwellings amid those trees, taking risks that ecologists have warned against for decades. Insurance companies readily write flood and earthquake policies, but rarely will they write for wildfires. Actuaries have calculated those risks, even if citizens who choose to build on the piney margins have not. Losses to forest fires or wildfires fall underneath homeowner’s coverage. Later that same week, when a brisk wind was bending branches in the tall pines of my yard, I tightened my jaw to the prospect the flames might gallop up our street. In that event there would be precious little for me or my neighbors to do but clamber to our roofs with a puny garden hose, wet down the structure top and sides and hope for the best. Andrea and Erika told me two of their kids were cringing with the sitter when the fire began to flare across Grove Road. Authorities brushed aside the possibility that the fire could jump the road—until it did. Erika was working in Seattle, a flight away. Andrea was busy fetching older son Noah from the airport but managed to blast back home to scoop up the sitter and the two younger kids. Along with some fifty other residents, they evacuated until helicopters, planes and bulldozers could dispatch the flames. The sitter’s mom took them in for dinner. They were luckier than many have been these two years; no houses or lives were lost. After the Houston Fire ebbed, residents returned home the same day. They breathed their deep relief, offered the firefighters sincere and public thanks. Kept the windows closed, ran the AC, tried to get some sleep. A week later I motorcycled Grove Road, which splits the 60-acre burn site. The scent of ash and phosphates fouled the air. Barbed wire slumped where cedar posts had held it, a guitar with nothing left but strings. One barn had vanished in smoke and another stood scorched. Bulldozers had churned out fire-lines to slow the spread of flames. Orange-clad convicts, mustered to make certain the embers were dead, stamped on tree roots and grass clumps and bent to mop up the mess. On both sides of the rural access, blighted trees and grasslands spread as far as I could see. On the gravel and the pastures, red phosphate from the flame retardant lay. Invasive weeds and grasses, wakened by the shock of the flames, ate up the fertilizing phosphates and stabbed through the ash to rally stronger than before.

Crab Orchard Review

u

285


Jen Karetnick Plexiglass Suburbia In the summertime, when the New Jersey humidity is so thick it can be kneaded like dough, and there isn’t much to do besides taunt and be taunted, everything depends on making the Daredevil Club. Admittance is granted upon a feat of such physical audacity that even a Spartan, even a boy like my brother cannot deny the legacy of red, stippled scars it will surely leave behind, the wheelbarrow of flesh and courage that can be carted away in equal, glazed measures from the site. My turn: At the top of North Ashby with the neon orange skateboard no one knows how to ride, in rain that has been falling for days collecting in the potholes, the water rubicund with clay from half-built housing developments beside our cul-de-sac. In my imagination, I crouch and glide but in the end I sit, knees to chest, and cast off, an unguided blur of white. It’s no use. I arrive clean and whole, to be cast down with chickens.

*after William Carlos Williams

286

u

Crab Orchard Review


Jen Karetnick

Slough Slogging in the Dry Season We plant our poles in Pa-hay-okee peat —some like fragile seeds we wish to see grow, some as if to reach the layer of oolite—and follow with dense, tentative feet dressed in the skins of animals we hope to avoid in the sheetflow where we are not the enabled apex predator. Sun-swaddled, we grapple with poise, grope the air for miniature enemies, wade toward the shadows of the cypress dome, where the panther makes her diurnal home and alligators stake their territories. There we post selfies to prove bravery, leave behind the whiff of chicanery.

Crab Orchard Review

u

287


Kasandra Larsen Neptune Direct, under Cloud Cover Will it even register, mercury thermostat turned up two hairs, bi-metal strip sensing the temperature, the lost sun, exactly how much wind it takes to chill by one degree, deceive? Today’s color is charcoal grey tinted with rain against butternut leaves, newspaper on fire, the last remaining green. Blanket of sky muffles: radar won’t penetrate today. Safe to scavenge. Squirrels leap to the cable wire, scurry toward nests. In bed, we’re not the same body. Every shape clouds make dissolves to dream as we wait for the workmen to leave. Here at a hundred feet above sea level, I carve a trident into the fresh cement of our front steps, laugh like the sky, suddenly cracked open.

288

u

Crab Orchard Review


Moira Linehan Let Me Come Back in September Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Co. Monaghan Let me come back in September when summer’s still in the landscape and autumn’s making only the briefest of forays, in at dawn, then gone till twilight. Nights I will already need a comforter for my bed, but just a light jacket during the day when I walk the wooded path out to the lane. The path will be dry, the trees still leafed out. I long to be walking the lane in September toward the distant hills, their overlapping rises stretching along under clear skies. For two weeks, March weather—wind-carried rain, at times horizontal, at times turned to sleet—has kept me tethered here, those distant hills, far too far when I walk these days, always looking over my shoulder at the ever-approaching rain-fraught clouds. I long not to worry how much time I have before they arrive. In September holly and ivy will twine through the hedges above the ditches. I won’t need this rain gear or waterproof boots. Let me come back to walk in September in each day’s warm hours, arms and legs in sync with long pulls of breath opening wide my lungs, pressing me on toward those hills. What lies beyond? Likely more of them, as green and boggy, singular trees stranded atop their rolling crests. In September the lake will still be brimming with fish. Every hawk will have its fill. Oh, let me come back. Let me say it was so.

Crab Orchard Review

u

289


Moira Linehan

Storm Line Watches and warnings for wind shear and hail. Threats of tornadoes along the turnpike— the Berkshires to Worcester and beyond to Boston— measured in minutes, Massachusetts towns about to be hit and battered by rains. Near dark my town is named. Twenty-two minutes. Charting the course of this storm, a computer in Oklahoma. Okay, now my home’s shaking. Around me winds roar. Tremors like trains off their tracks hurtle along my limbs. I’m praying aloud down in Dan’s darkroom for the dead already numbered on the news. On notice, fifteen minutes, five till the deluge descends. Thunder stays distant, insistent, as winds ride the furious rains. Flashlight and phone, I’m armed. Forty-five minutes I pace as it passes over, over and over. How much longer? Upstairs lightning’s slicing the sky, front yard, side yard and back,

290

u

Crab Orchard Review


Moira Linehan so I’m back in the basement. Seven states away a computer’s still frantic.

Crab Orchard Review

u

291


Moira Linehan

No Rain Allowed Cill Rialaig Project, Co. Kerry It’ll be wet tonight, says one of the painters, one of the Irish painters, I’m among. Aidan leans in and warns me, We’re in for it for a few days. When I ask Michael who tends the grounds here if it will rain, he answers, No. No rain. Aye, showers maybe, but no rain. And Jo, when she returns from Cahirciveen where she’d gone in search of its workhouse ruins, will say it was misting up there. So later in the week, it’s no surprise when locals at the café down below the cliffs talk only of the winds in the hurricane headed this way. They don’t know where it will hit but each one says, Watch out tonight. The winds will be something. The next morning, when Michael arrives for work in the spitting drizzle, he greets me, Lovely day.

292

u

Crab Orchard Review


Allison Linville Obligation, North There were never enough bones to withstand you, the misunderstandings rise from the grass daily; without, with, wither. You haven’t been across the bridge even, where the mountains narrow around the houses, people bike there slowly not knowing it’s an incline. You have balsamroot, you have a view. I’ve seen this view, and it’s lonely. It’s January’s drear and solitary summer mornings. Rumored to be skinny. Meeting no one, in a hallway or in a room. Stand outside with us, eventually travel where they still have snow. Convince yourself it will all be different, knowing you possibly enjoy who you’ve been. You can be there. You can be them. Wearing a collar to dissuade caresses, infiltrate our community with open arms and remind us to be with. To be inclined. To hold a fleck of love in your cloudy mind.

Crab Orchard Review

u

293


Allison Linville

Obligation, East You don’t love it but you haven’t the words for that. There are trees that show affection, spindling branches protrude farther than anyone else would support a cowering bobcat. We have things to learn, here. We have our skies, our altocumulus, and still you do not see it. See the tears slinking down her cheeks in the dark bedroom. She is alone, already, despite remembering how it once was. Don’t remember me, remember us, she thinks but instead writes it on a greeting card. I should get paid for this. I should start my own sunsets. No one can join her other world, just saplings and mountain bluebirds. What a time we would have. If you love it enough. Be there once, but you are allowed to go home. You are allowed to love it again.

294

u

Crab Orchard Review


Allison Linville

Obligation, South Have you ever sensed a connotation? Temperature is gone, but you get that back. You get another everything. Maybe you are early light. Maybe you are memory. I stand in the street, the world swirling in cars and steps. The very water we created is dying and everyone walks to work at the same time. I see other people that never look like you. Other people don’t see me. I go to mountains to be seen, and smelled instinctively by what’s around me. You say that about the ocean. It smells like salt and death of the human race and the warnings we never saw. You will regret this, they say. You will love her again.

Crab Orchard Review

u

295


Allison Linville

Obligation, West You were always a family to sagebrush that quivers low to the ground in desert wind. We live without precipitation in April, we see where the storms develop. A family to weather. We have it all, we have large rooms of sunshine and confrontations with thunder. Reward those who know. Exclusively in it for the land, you have hands that show everything. Not knowing what it means to disappear in concrete. Have something to hold on to. You have a place that knows you, that felt your footsteps when the ground softened in spring. Never let it leave you. Never let the sun remove damage on your skin. Everyone will leave you eventually.

296

u

Crab Orchard Review


George Looney Psalms on Sheet Metal with Margaritas Early morning October rain on the tin roof of a mobile home’s added-on porch is all the dead hear the first few years they are dead. They listen from rocking chairs, sipping margaritas, and remember whatever they have to remember so they can smile, remembering. The dead who’ve been dead long enough not even the taste of raw oysters could lure them into thinking they are alive and smoking stogies under a tin roof on which a steady rain intones psalms, they know history never gets it right, that regret is a parasite that doesn’t die with the flesh. Some not-long dead are out walking in a cold rain the living don’t know. When a couple hears music coming from the cracked-open window of a car trolling by, they do their best to take each other in their lost arms and dance, while those dead longer play cards and smoke under the tin roof rain is trying to turn elemental and dissolve. The dead ignore the living every bit as much as the living ignore the dead. Which means now and then one of the dead is surprised by a woman stepping out of a shower, by how water glistens on her like some foreign language inscribed on her skin. A holy text, no doubt, a dead man says out loud, to no one. Though maybe the shivering woman’s thinking of a former lover a friend’s told her has died, and as she pulls a towel around herself says to no one Who’s there? Say the dead, tallying up points for bridge on the porch

Crab Orchard Review

u

297


George Looney sip their margaritas and turn towards the woman and the water that, clinging to her body and catching what light there is, could be trying to say something that would make everything, finally, make sense. Say no palimpsest of water over skin could record anything the dead and the living could agree on. Say the dead man thinks the towel-draped woman can hear him and, thinking this, starts talking to her about what it’s like to be dead and to know it. The dead trying to bluff each other under the tin roof being rained on shake their heads, knowing any second the dead man who’s talking will stop, understanding the absurdity of trying to stretch out the interstices when being straddles non-being like a lover, and the ragged hermit of his heart will whisper to him that memory’s not to be trusted. October’s music—half-sister to a drummer’s brush on a Hi-hat cymbal, rain on a tin roof—is all about remembering. Not even the viscous memory of oysters sliding down a throat with a hint of lime and the benediction of salt is enough to build a solid bridge over the briny waters that lie between the living and the dead. Let those who can dance in the rain dance. Let the rain finish whatever message it has to finish in crude Morse code on the tin roof. Let both the living and the dead let go of the burden of that message and whisper to lovers who hear the whispers and smile.

298

u

Crab Orchard Review


Rachael Peckham In Patches: Of Fog and Flying My first flight lesson is canceled because of weather. This is how pilots speak. In a language entirely economic in function and purpose. No extra words or descriptors, unless it’s absolutely necessary. It’s a language both highly coded and universal, one transcending decades and regional and international borders and, in this way, time and space itself. It must— for air travel to work efficiently, safely, in good weather and in bad. Leading up to my lesson, my flight instructor, Ryan, and I rehearse the exact language we’ll exchange once we’re airborne, to prevent any confusion: “I have control.” “You have control.” He clears his throat. “Remember, we say it twice.” “Right, sorry. I have control.” “You have control.” Even though I understand the sheer importance of this communication, it feels stilted and silly, the way bad actors sound in medical dramas. But ascending in the air, the runway shrinking to a gray thread on the hillside, I find myself repeating it like a mantra. I have control. I have control. The weather recorded on the NTSB report—the one a local congressman dug up, at my request—shows it was rainy and overcast at 9:13 p.m. on September 16, 1976. The temperature was 69 degrees. The cloud ceiling, listed as “broken,” hovered at just above a thousand feet. Overall, it was a warm and wet night when my parents were awoken to the phone call that would leave my mother to face, with the help of smelling salts, three funeral caskets. Inside the caskets lay her father and brothers’ empty suits. The funeral director had said that in situations like these—with nothing to bury, much less embalm—sometimes it helped the family to place their loved ones’ clothing where the bodies would normally lie. But my mother didn’t care to mourn beside a suit. She wanted only to hold her father’s hands (he had really large hands…). They were recovered at the scene. I know this because my grandfather was identified by his wedding band—a passing line in one of several newspaper articles I dug up in the town library, early in my college writing career. “I remember that crash,” the librarian had whispered over my shoulder, as we stared at grainy microfiche film of the wreckage—at metal so mangled, it was impossible to tell what was a wing and what was the tail; where the shreds of fuselage

Crab Orchard Review

u

299


Rachael Peckham ended and the cornstalks began; and whether the plane was right-side up, or if it had flipped upside down upon impact. It was like staring at a giant Rorschach test, the inkblots clustering to form an uncanny image—one I did not recognize, yet which registered a profound and familiar horror as I read the descriptions of the scene. (Everyone was talking in whispers while they were looking for the bodies. It was just mostly quiet and dark and those cornstalks seemed about eight feet high.1) “Now I’m going to show you how slow this airplane can go and not stall,” Ryan says. The words sound fuzzy piped through a headset, or maybe it’s the buzz of the prop, the vibrations blanketing our speech. Either way, I follow up every comment and command with WHAT? Just the strain required to listen can exhaust a pilot’s concentration, especially when the instruction involves the word stall. The truth is, I don’t want any part of this control. When my younger brother Jonathan, a career pilot, first suggested I take a flying lesson to help manage my anxiety aboard a plane, I said he had to be kidding. “I’m the last person I want flying my plane. Can you even imagine?” I might’ve laughed. But he didn’t have to imagine. Growing up, my fear of flying was inversely proportional to his dream of flying—a dream he articulated at the age of three and realized before he’d even started college, earning his private license at eighteen before going on to eventually fly for the airlines, then corporate business, then the military, and now the airlines again. And all along, my anxiety has waxed and waned, never bad enough to keep me from boarding a plane, but enough that I can’t do it without the help of two Klonopin (one for the outgoing flight, and one for the return). It started in the mid-1980s, when three separate hijackings made the news and triggered a prejudicial tendency in me to size up the adult passengers waiting to board (a nascent form of racial profiling I’m ashamed to admit); then it quieted down a little in my late-teens/early-twenties, when flying meant spring break destinations and trips to see a boyfriend, all happy, endorphin-inducing distractions; and it ramped up again sometime in my thirties, even though this decade marks my quietest period of air travel. I don’t know why I’m having such a hard time with it again, only that it reached a breaking point last Christmas, when my parents took the entire family—all fifteen of us—to a resort in Orlando. Because the discount airline mistakenly cancelled our return flight (a separate story unworthy of extolling), we were placed in the last row on a red-eye that night, our earliest chance to get out during the holiday rush home. I hate sitting in the back of planes, where you’re guaranteed a bumpier ride (the physics of which I’m not equipped to explain, though it has something to do with the center of gravity). More than that, I hate not being able to look out and see the ground through the clouds, proof

300

u

Crab Orchard Review


Rachael Peckham that we are still suspended safely above it. I know this makes no sense. Not being able to see should free me up from my constant surveillance out the window, but left with only my immediate surroundings, where my field of vision shrinks to the seatback in front of me, its monotonous pattern of small geometric shapes, its pocket stuffed with the requisite emergency pamphlet and barf bag—my fear takes on a sharp claustrophobic edge. In a few minutes’ time, I’ll blow through the pages of a gossipy magazine, unable to focus on anything but the pictures, like a young child. And in many ways, that’s what I feel like—a kid afraid of the dark, overly attuned to every mechanical sound and sudden shift in movement (what was that?). Even mild turbulence can cause my jaw to clench, but on that night, the “chop” was bad enough to register audible gasps from the cabin. And it didn’t let up. The plane shivered, then lurched downward, then shivered again, giving me no rest, even in the few moments when everything was still. (In fact, worse than the actual turbulence is the torment of anticipating it—the same feeling I get when I know I’m going to throw up.) After a while, my mother began stroking my trembling leg, and at her touch, I couldn’t help it—I started to cry, the tears pooling in the neckline of my sweater. And then my mother did something I have no memory of her ever doing, not even in my childhood. She sang me a lullaby, a famous one, with German lyrics in a haunting minor key. Daß dich die Engel hüten all’ /die in dem schönen Himmel sind. (That all the angels protect you /which are in the fair heaven.) Hardly anyone in my family speaks of the crash. It happened before I was born, forty years ago this fall, when my grandfather and uncles— Robert, Doug, and Dean Smith—left the cattle farm they operated together in Coldwater, Michigan, to attend a farm implement show in Mankato, Minnesota. It was unusual for them to drop everything—in the middle of the harvest, no less—to attend Farmfest (incidentally, along with Jimmy Carter, poised to win the presidency that fall). It was the kind of thing I imagine my grandfather Bob, mild-mannered and prudent (a Methodist and Midwesterner to the core), quickly vetoed. That is, until his oldest son Doug found a way to expedite the trip, commissioning a local pilot named Clifford Hadley to fly them there and back in a single day. Even then, I’m sure it took some convincing, coaxed by the excitement of Dean, who had just turned eighteen that summer and was already testing his newfound independence, coasting in past curfew to find his mother awaiting him in the kitchen. (In a reconciliatory note, she writes to her youngest, Dean, just remember that when we are too strict, it’s because of our deep love and concern for you. Someday you will have children and look back and say, “Now I know why Mom & Dad fussed and worried about me.”) There’s no question Dean was excited to escape to Farmfest for a day, a perfect endnote to the summer before he headed off to Michigan

Crab Orchard Review

u

301


Rachael Peckham State—finally free of curfews and the weight of his mother’s worry—in Doug’s footsteps. Although ten years separated the brothers, the bookends in a family of four children (with my mother and aunt sandwiched in between), Doug and Dean were good friends and, from all accounts, good sports. They liked to play pranks, scooping up a cow patty from the pasture and slapping each other on the back, stories that took on special resonance after I visited my mom’s childhood home a few years ago, and was told by the current owners—The Wagners, who bought the house a year after the crash—of the strange things they can’t explain: the quarters that suddenly appear in Mrs. Wagner’s jewelry box where her earrings should be. The doorbell that rings with no visitor in sight. The radio that jolts awake in the middle of the night, only to be found unplugged. The car keys that go missing, reappearing weeks later atop the kitchen cupboards—high above eye-level, as though purposefully placed there. At a level only a tall person, like a grown man, would care to reach, say, while pulling off the perfect prank. “First of all, there are no levels,” Jon said, as I described the degree of turbulence that nearly sent me climbing into our mother’s lap (he’d taken a separate flight home from Orlando). I could tell he was walking his dog, muttering commands in occasional sharp tones while we chatted. “It’s rated light, moderate, severe, or extreme. So, for example, a call to ATC would be like, Atlanta center Delta 123 constant light chop.” I switched the phone to my other ear. “I like levels better. Like the pain scale—it’s much simpler. I give constant light chop a three or four. But last night was a nine, at least.” “Hate to tell you, probably not. Somebody would’ve gotten hurt. It was probably more occasional moderate.” “Like I said, a nine.” “You know what you need to do?” He didn’t wait for me to answer. “Take a flight lesson. Look, you need to feel in control for this to get better.” I couldn’t argue with him. But the thought of facing all those meters and levers and spinning dials, when I could barely handle the glimpse of the wing out the window, at that giant surf board of bolted metal—that was supposed to make me feel in control? If I had trouble sitting in the back of the plane, how the hell was I supposed to feel secure in the nose of it? Have you ever known anyone sitting in the cockpit to walk away from a crash unscathed? Not long ago, the New Republic published an article on a provocative breakthrough in neuropsychological research, led by renowned psychologist Rachel Yehuda, whose studies suggest that it’s possible for trauma to be inherited from one generation to the next. I don’t mean this figuratively, as psychiatrists have traditionally thought, plumbing their

302

u

Crab Orchard Review


Rachael Peckham patients’ family histories for early vestiges of dysfunction. I mean inheritance at the molecular level, in that the offspring, if conceived around the time of the parent’s trauma (either the mother’s or the father’s), may struggle to produce enough cortisol needed to metabolize stress, and therefore be more prone to developing anxiety and panic disorders. The technical name for this phenomenon is intergenerational trauma; or more commonly, historical trauma; or (my preference) embodied history; or even still, the Matthew effect (from Matthew 25.29: For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away).2 Whatever the name, it’s a sobering thought for those whose parents have survived profound trauma, either physical or emotional. At the same time, I’m not saying this neatly explains my innate fear of flying, considering my mother had trouble conceiving me two years after her dad and brothers died. (She tells me that when she finally did go to the doctor—not so much because she was having trouble getting pregnant, but because she’d been feeling lousy on top of it—he ran tests that showed she was already six weeks along.) But I do find it curious. It’s curious to me that despite my family’s buffering silence on the tragedy, I grew up feeling haunted by it, to the point where I couldn’t sleep alone from the ages of about eight to ten because I feared ghosts would appear in the doorway the second I closed my eyes—not to do me any harm, but to make their existence known beyond the station they occupied in my imagination. I find it curious that while my older siblings feel largely indifferent toward flying, even though they were alive at the time of the tragedy, it’s Jon and I—the youngest children, both of us born post-plane crash—who have always felt a respective passion and aversion toward flight, in equal measure, without any prompting or influence that I can remember. (We grew up on a farm several hours from the closest airport, with no family members in the military or in commercial aviation.) And most of all, I find it curious that Jon is a dead-ringer for our uncle Dean, right down to their identical handwriting, so much that he grew accustomed to answering to Dean’s name from the time he was little. These curiosities of mine, they may be nothing more than coincidences—or more likely, projections on the part of someone desperate for a narrative to cling to; a story to help me imagine what I cannot: that something as banal as weather, as fog and mist, could swallow a plane and make it reappear three feet in the ground. That it scattered debris and worse across one corner of a cornfield. That nearby, they pulled Dean from a tree. So, yes, the concept of an embodied history resonates with me—that our visceral selves, our bodies, remember what the psyche cannot, though they are inextricably bound in ways we are still—likely forever—discovering; that the most profoundly stressful experiences do not simply begin and end but produce a ripple effect hidden from the eye, encoded in our cells, our chemistry, reverberating in our reactions to present and future stress. If this

Crab Orchard Review

u

303


Rachael Peckham is true, then trauma does not exist in the past, or in the abstract. It’s at once diffusive and material as a cloud. Another truth about the body: it’s fundamentally oriented to the ground. Airborne, the body has a difficult time relating itself to the foreignness of three-dimensional space. That is, nothing about our physical constitution is designed to fly—a truth that, no matter our technological advancements over the past 100+ years, we’ll never be able to change. Yet somehow, millions of passengers fly across the country every day, without event—a remarkable feat not only for aerospace engineering, but for our very anatomies, that our corporeal limitations can be defied. That is, most of the time. According to the NTSB report, the cause of the plane crash that killed my relatives is listed as spatial disorientation—a phenomenon that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines as “any differences or discrepancies between visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive sensory inputs result[ing] in a sensory mismatch that can produce illusions.” In short, it’s a pilot error that the FAA attributes to 5 to 10% of all general aviation accidents. Not a significant amount, though it’s fatal 90% of the time.3 And equally preventable. I don’t know much about the pilot, Cliff Hadley, who allegedly suffered this phenomenon, but I doubt he had much training or direct experience with it. I know from his obituary that he was a former real estate and insurance broker who ran a burger joint before moving to Coldwater to manage a farm implement dealership, where he presumably met my grandfather and uncles, all three farmers. I know that he served on the municipal airport’s board of directors, and that he flew privately on the side. And I know that, although he was instrument rated (certified to fly by instruments alone), he’d logged only 400 hours in his Beechcraft Baron D55, and it’s unknown how many of those hours were spent gaining practice in nighttime and poor weather conditions. What I do know is that he felt confident—or maybe anxious—enough to set out for home, when he knew from the weather briefing that it was overcast and misting in southern Michigan.4 Rather than make the tough call to wait and return Bob, Doug, and Dean to their harvest the next day— as pilots are sometimes loathe to upset their passengers—he’d decided to get home. To press on. To hurry back, anyway. Aviation has a name for this tendency—or, rather, several names. More dryly, it’s called Plan Continuation or Goal Fixation. But more often, it’s Gethome-itis; Get-there-itis; Press-on-itis; or simply, Hurry Syndrome. This is how pilots speak of another’s bad judgment in trying, for example, to out-race a thunderstorm; or refusing to go around or divert on a landing; or flying by Visual Flight Rules (VFR) in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC). This last tendency is one we’ve seen before. When John F. Kennedy, Jr.’s plane disappeared off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard (he was on his way to a

304

u

Crab Orchard Review


Rachael Peckham cousin’s wedding with his wife and sister-in-law, Carolyn and Lauren Bessette), it was later reported that Kennedy wasn’t instrument-rated. It was nighttime, and the NTSB believes he was descending over water when, due to cloud cover and no natural light, he lost sight of all landmarks (the black hole effect, in aviation lingo), and became disoriented. It took divers three days to find the plane’s wreckage strewn across the ocean floor. The Bessette sisters were recovered not far from the fuselage, while Kennedy was still strapped in the pilot’s seat. Our bodies can betray us in a number of ways. Blood goes—or doesn’t go—where we want it to; muscles atrophy or contract when they shouldn’t; the immune system can turn on us and attack. When our bodies fail us, we are usually conscious of it, to a frustrating and painful degree. But for the pilot flying in low to zero visibility, he may not even be aware that his inner ear—where we process vestibular sensory information (i.e. our sense of equilibrium)—is deceiving him. I used to dream sometimes of walking outside, on my way to class or some other mundane activity, unable to open my eyes against the light of day; every time I tried, it was too intense, and I’d have to close them. Yet I continued on my way, fumbling, feeling vulnerable and self-conscious as people tried to talk to me, and I couldn’t meet their gaze. Though nothing really happened in these dreams, I remember them as particularly stressful, leaving behind a residual sense of unease upon waking, even though I could “see” again. Fog is like this—it begets unknowingness, a blindness that is not dark but too bright. Its threat is existential. When we can’t see where we are in relation to the world, the world is not only lost to us—we disappear with it, swallowed in a blankness that goes on forever and nowhere at once. “Drop it down to 1300 knots.” Ryan says this like it’s a natural thing to do, slowing down the airplane to a crawl, mid-air. “I’d rather not.” He glances over to see whether or not I’m joking—and partly I am. But a larger part of me has dreaded this moment all along, the beginning of our descent. When I hear pilots announce this point in the flight, I always feel a mixture of relief, that it will soon be all over, and dread—that it could soon be all over. I pull the throttle back like I’m cutting a wire on a bomb. “You don’t have to go that slowly,” Ryan coaches, motioning for me to pull harder on the throttle. “And relax your grip. You’re not going to do anything dangerous. I won’t let you.” His reassurance reminds me of the typical things parents say, pushing a child’s bicycle before letting go, or holding out their arms, coaxing a shivering child to jump in the water. Just trust me. Meeting him for the first time, I felt myself sizing Ryan up, assessing his demeanor for any sign of unreliability—as though his body language and

Crab Orchard Review

u

305


Rachael Peckham appearance were apt predictors of pilot error. What I was struck by, instead, was the disconnect between the way I’d imagined him, based on his voice (low and somewhat flat, over the phone) and his actual appearance. For some reason, I’d pictured him being taller, with light brown hair and gray eyes—someone, I see now, who resembles Jon. When he began flying for the airlines, passengers used to peek inside the cockpit as they boarded, sometimes teasing my brother for his young age. And sometimes he’d tease them back: This is my first flight! I can’t wait. It was almost a blessing when his hair turned gray in his twenties. Ryan, on the other hand, has reddish hair and freckled, fair skin. Something tells me he will always look young—and he is, just a few years out of school (and eighty thousand in debt for it, he adds). But, like every pilot I’ve ever met, he has a quiet confidence about himself, a level-headedness that borders on stoicism if it weren’t for his eyes—hazel with flecks of gold— warm eyes that immediately put me at ease. Still, when I asked Ryan if he’d had any training or first-hand experience with spatial disorientation—say, in a flight simulator—he’d said no. Instead, his training focused heavily on flying by Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), a practice that can be achieved even in good weather by pulling a hood or visor over the windshield so that the student pilot can’t see out. “If you were to take more lessons,” he said, “I’d have you do that, you know.” I can’t remember what I said back—something sarcastic, like sign me up—but the truth is, I’m curious to know what it feels like to let go of my visual bearings, and to trust the flight instruments over my body. Could I do it? Would I be able to ignore my body and still control the plane safely? When I mentioned this to Jon later, he said there was a way to simulate this feeling—with something called the Bárány Chair (named after the Hungarian physiologist Róbert Bárány), a special swivel chair used in aviation programs to demonstrate the effects of spatial orientation. The Bárány Chair’s design is simple, consisting of a metal handle bar that encircles and swivels with the chair (reminding me a little of the Tilt-a-Whirl ride at the fair), so that the instructor spinning the chair can do so steadily and smoothly with the handlebar, even changing directions suddenly, with more control than they’d have just pushing on the back of the chair. To see it in action, I clicked on multiple YouTube videos featuring a variety of aviation students each taking a turn, spinning around and around, blindfolded. Sometimes they’re instructed to lean forward and rest their heads on the handlebar, or to turn their heads suddenly, or to point their thumbs in the direction they feel themselves spinning. In each case, after twenty or thirty seconds, the instructor stops the chair, removes the student’s blindfold, and instructs the student to perform a task: Walk to the door; Point at the wall clock. They all fail. If they’re told to get up and walk, they stumble or lean in the opposite direction. If they’re asked to hold their arms straight up in the air, like in a touchdown, their arms are angled forward in a dive.

306

u

Crab Orchard Review


Rachael Peckham It’s a troubling illustration, but one that elicits hoots of laughter from the other students. We all know this game. We learned it a long time ago, at birthday parties where the donkey’s tail never finds its proper place, stuck instead to its head or belly—and on the playground, where we spin each other on swings or on the merry-go-round or simply in a game of our own making, dizzy with the fun of feeling unhinged from the world beneath us, its order, its grip loosened for a few seconds, while we teeter along that delicate line between flying and falling. Scientists don’t know why motion sickness often leads to vomiting— as opposed to fainting or some other physiological response—but the most cited theory, espoused by Michel Treisman in a 1977 issue of Science, has to do with toxins. Or rather, perceived toxins. When there’s a disconnect between what the body feels and what the eyes see (for example, in a moving car, where the eyes register movement but the body does not), the brain thinks it’s hallucinating—and more than that, that it’s being poisoned. That’s why we vomit; it’s our way of eradicating whatever the brain thinks is the culprit behind our spatial disorientation. Said another way, it’s how we take back control over the body—of restoring it to homeostasis, which has to do, itself, with balance: the stability and equilibrium between the body’s systems. Like so many things, it all comes down to balance. Among the kinds of vestibular (inner ear) illusions a pilot can suffer in zero to low visibility are the leans—which Jon experienced once in an early morning takeoff through a snowstorm in Pittsburgh. Enveloped in the dark, flying through a driving snow is a little bit like being tossed inside a shaken snow globe. Jon lost all sense of where the horizon was in the middle of a prolonged climbing turn. In this kind of dual movement, both vertical and horizontal, the fluid inside the inner ear shifts in such a way that sends a wrong signal to the brain. Without sight of the horizon, a pilot has no way of realizing it—unless he reads his instruments and sees otherwise. When Jon looked down at the instrument panel and saw that the plane had returned to level, even though his inner ear told him he was still turning (“It’s a powerful feeling. You have to really fight it”), he immediately engaged the autopilot. His other choice would’ve been to transfer control to the co-pilot, just as Ryan had me practice before my flying lesson (You have control/ I have control). But there was no other pilot, and certainly no autopilot, helping Cliff Hadley control the twin-engine plane as he flew my grandfather and uncles home in overcast weather. He was alone, in low visibility and with little experience flying by instrument only. Probably, there were other risk factors I’ll never know—that is, according to the Swiss Cheese Model of accident causation. It sounds silly, but flight analysts think of fatal crashes—whether they’re weatherrelated or attributed to mechanical or human error—a little bit like the holes in Swiss cheese; when there are enough of them stacked together, that’s when the

Crab Orchard Review

u

307


Rachael Peckham layers of safety defense break down, and accidents happen. It’s never because of one factor—or two, for that matter; maybe even three—given the number of preventive systems in place. In short, a lot of things have to go wrong. The timeline that night, according to the NTSB’s report, goes something like this. At 9:01 p.m. Hadley reported the plane was at 7,000 feet over the VOR (the radio navigational station) in Litchfield, Michigan. Shortly thereafter he was cleared to fly south of Litchfield, turn right and pick up a southwesterly beam from the Litchfield VOR into the Branch County Memorial Airport in Coldwater, Michigan. At 9:07 he was cleared to land, around the same time “a low cloud layer with misting rain” was observed, leading to Hadley’s presumed disorientation. Minutes later, at approximately 9:13 p.m., he accelerated toward ground at 300 knots per hour—a speed fast enough for the fuselage to plunge several feet into the field, and all of the fuel to vaporize upon impact, like a cloud. “I don’t get it,” Jon said, looking over the NTSB report and newspaper articles again, as I fact-checked the information above. “The first article published says the aircraft was being flown on instruments, although sky conditions were relatively clear at the time.5 And looking at the NTSB report again, it says he crashed on the initial approach6—not on a second approach, like I thought.” “What do you make of it?” “I mean, the weather wasn’t great, don’t get me wrong—but I’ve flown in a lot worse. Something went really wrong, fast.” “Do you mean with the plane? It says here the engines were operating properly at the time of impact and there was plenty of fuel.”7 “No, not the engines. Possibly with the instruments…But it’s more likely he just got disoriented shooting the approach. Whatever it was, he was in way over his head.” Less than half a mile from where the plane struck, Charles Locke heard his wife—a former airline attendant—shout from the driveway, he’s down, he’s down. They were watching the 9:00 news when they both heard the plane’s engines rev and whine, low and then high—“He was going like a roller coaster”—a noise that froze Charles in place while his wife ran outside. A noise that could only mean there was trouble on board—in their minds, that “somebody else was reaching over from the back seat, trying to get a hold of those controls”; somebody who didn’t know how to fly. Now in his mid-eighties, Charles doesn’t recall if there was weather that night. In fact, he remembers it being clear and dry—one reason he’s confident in his theory. He’s not alone. Several of the neighbors—including Charles’s younger brother Richard (Dick) Locke, whose own field lies directly across the road, maybe 200 yards from where the plane hit—readily

308

u

Crab Orchard Review


Rachael Peckham believe that the pilot suffered some kind of medical emergency, probably a heart attack. It explains, in their view, why “those engines changed in an instant. They didn’t have time to circle.” But there’s one neighbor who disagrees. Judy Beemer had stayed up late canning tomatoes that night. It’s the reason she knows exactly when the plane first circled overhead. “Does your wife can? I asked those agents. Everyone who cans knows exactly what time it is.” According to Judy, investigators had a hard time believing more than her precise timeline; they couldn’t fathom why she “didn’t see any lights” coming from the plane. “You must’ve seen lights, they said, they thought they were landing. But it was foggy,” Judy insisted, “and misting.” (Later, she’d wonder if the pilot wasn’t the one to see lights through the fog, mistaking the mercury lights dotting the neighbors’ farms for the municipal airport’s landing strip. “They weren’t that far from the airport—and there was a line of those lights, you see…”) What she did notice—besides the exact time of night, canning each quart of tomatoes—was how unusual it was for a plane to circle her house that low, twice. She figured it was her brother-in-law—the only person she knew who flew—playing a prank on her while her husband was away on a fishing trip with friends. But when she heard a loud thud—“like somebody had dropped a heavy sack of wheat” on her porch—she knew. She turned off all the lights in the living room and stood at the window, scanning the dark for any sign of fire or smoke while she counted to ten. Everything was swallowed by fog. There was nothing to see. And that’s exactly what the State Police told her when she called: “They said, you’re just hearing swamp gas, Ma’am.” So Judy called Charles, and together he and another neighbor—he’d heard it, too— drove along the fields between their houses, in search of the downed plane. It didn’t take long for them to find it, even with the corn high over their heads. The impact had razed a large swatch of the field, as though a child had folded it in half and cut a jagged heart out of the center. Where the plane had struck, it jutted out from the ground at a sixty-degree angle. (Charles: “Everything drove into the ground. I mean everything.”) The men backed out of the field and tore straight through Judy’s front yard (“We didn’t even use the driveway”). Again she called the State Police—and this time, they responded. Charles led the trooper back to the crash site. I’m told they peered into the fuselage—what was left of it—to try to identify the victims. At the memory, Charles closed his eyes, shook his head. “It was just like reaching into a butcher’s barrel. It was gruesome.” His brother Dick was away, fishing up north alongside Judy’s husband Rex, but he too came home to “a ghastly sight.” The trees bordering his field acted as a net, catching flying debris and other parts in the force of impact. He will never forget that terrible harvest, sifting fragments of bone from the soil. “No one would take responsibility for the cleanup,” Judy sighed. “Not the Coroner’s office, not the authorities or the aviation agencies; they all

Crab Orchard Review

u

309


Rachael Peckham said it’s your land.” Rex wasn’t due home for another two days, and it was still fairly hot in mid-September. By the time the evidence was collected and the cleanup began, the best the neighbors could do was dig trenches in the field and bury what they could, as fast as they could, breathing into their sleeves and handkerchiefs. “But that’s not even the worst part,” Judy said. “It was the gawkers. The line of drivers going by—all trying to get a look. One time I came home, and there were people standing on the roof of my house.” It would prove to be too much. About a year after the crash, she and Rex sold their house and acreage, left Michigan—left a life of farming—altogether, and moved to the San Juan Islands in the northwest, just off the coast of Washington. It takes Judy an hour on the ferry just to get to town. “And the irony is, I hate boats.” Another truth about the way pilots talk: they make it sound so simple (shooting the approach), when my own flight lesson teaches me that landing, more than any other maneuver, takes an incredible amount of finesse. “It just takes practice,” Ryan says, after I hand him back the control mid-descent, my mantra quickly morphing into panic (You have control, right? You have control?). Jon, too, admits that “for a low-experience pilot” like Hadley, landing at night in a low cloud ceiling is one of the harder moves to execute, especially if he was turning, which we know that he was (Hadley was cleared to fly south of Litchfield [and] turn right…8), while at the same time, looking down at the approach plate (the chart of procedures a pilot uses to land by instrument). Chances are the combination of turning and looking down in the midst of clouds and rain disoriented Hadley, so that he thought he was level and climbing. Really, he was turning and simultaneously pitching toward ground. This would explain why some witnesses on the ground heard the plane flying low and fast overhead (to one witness, It sounded like it was going to come right into the living room9) before impact. If Hadley was turning right for twenty seconds or more, as he probably was through the clouds, then what started as the leans probably turned into a graveyard spiral—another vestibular illusion that causes a pilot to think he’s no longer turning, when in fact he is. And if he tried leveling the wings while under this illusion, his inner ear would’ve interpreted this movement as the plane banking in the opposite direction (to the left), which would’ve then caused him to turn back in the original direction (to the right). All the while, the plane would’ve entered into a tighter and tighter right turn, dropping in altitude due to the loss of vertical lift (the force of air above and below the wing that’s disrupted during a turn), until it ultimately impacted the ground. Of course, I can’t know for sure if this theory is correct, and to be honest, that’s not what dogs me. The question I struggle with, the one that haunts me, is whether or not all on board recognized what was happening.

310

u

Crab Orchard Review


Rachael Peckham And if so, for how long? How long, between the plane’s eventual break through the clouds and its impact, did it take Hadley to realize—and with him, the passengers—that they were going to crash? “As low as the cloud ceiling was, and as fast as they were going? Not long,” Ryan says after we’ve parked on the tarmac, when I finally work up the nerve to vocalize the questions that have followed me for years onto every plane, including this one—by far, my most positive flying experience to date. Maybe it’s the mixture of relief and exhilaration I feel at having faced my fear that helps me to broach these questions out loud. “You mean, ‘not long,’ as in minutes?” He shakes his head. “Seconds. If that.” We sit for a moment, listening to the strange language of pilots calling out their positions over the radio, lifting and landing in a tightly controlled choreography. I think about something Jon told me once, about how the body “shuts down” right before sudden death, sparing the conscious mind of those final seconds. I hope he’s right. But recent research at the University of Michigan’s Medical School suggests that the brain does the opposite of shutting down, in such moments; rather than go dark, it’s possible it becomes overwhelmed, sending “a flurry of signals to the heart that cause[s] irrevocable damage.”10 This is significantly different from the way we’ve always thought about the body’s fatal shutdown: that it’s precipitated by the heart, with the brain following—when, in fact, it might be the brain that overloads the heart. My mother told me recently of a story I’d not heard before, of the second time they were awoken by a traumatic phone call in the middle of the night. This time, the State Police was calling about Jon. They asked if he was home. He wasn’t. It was late, well past the time when he should’ve arrived home from Lansing, Michigan—the destination for a nighttime cross-country flight with his instructor, a local beginner Jon had been placed with after his first instructor retired. Back then, no one carried cell phones, and the authorities had good reason for waking my parents; the flight plan had never been closed out with the flight service station in Lansing, and at that late hour, the little municipal airport in Coldwater, their home base, was unmanned, all of which meant that no one—not the flight service station or Air Traffic Control (ATC)—knew the exact whereabouts of their son’s plane. When this happens, the FAA’s protocol is to wait thirty minutes, then to try calling the pilot at home. If he can’t be reached, they call his emergency contact. And if that doesn’t work, they contact the State Police to begin the search and rescue process. My parents paced. They stared out the window, scanning the road for any sign of headlights, watching them pass. They could see for miles in all directions; the night was warm and clear (It was just mostly quiet and dark and those cornstalks seemed about eight feet high.11). Several times they reached for the

Crab Orchard Review

u

311


Rachael Peckham phone, then set it down. Who would they call? Better to keep the line free. Some time (minutes? hours? a lifetime?) went by before the phone rang again, and at the sound of the instructor’s voice, his repeated apology, my parents hung up and wept—just as they had twenty-five years ago, when the call first came—with the difference being, this time it would end in relief. It would end like a bad dream, and not a recurring one. After my lesson, I try playing back the end of my conversation with Ryan (which I had recorded on my phone, for my own reference), only to discover that the recording had stopped, for some reason, right before takeoff. Not a second of my flight had been captured—as though it had never happened at all. All that remains are a few aerial photos I’d snapped of the landscape below, after Ryan had coaxed me to pry my eyes from the instrument panel long enough to take in the horizon, that fuzzy white halo where earth and sky meet—the line that divides all visible direction12—so that I could note the plane’s position for myself. Instead, I tried keeping one eye on the instruments while I snapped a picture of my alma mater nestled in the hillside below—but most of the frame is taken up by the wing, a shiny white sail perfectly parallel with the horizon. This is all that I recorded, my position mid-air, so evenly balanced between earth and sky it doesn’t look like flying at all. For once, it looks to be at rest. Daß dich die Engel hüten all’ /die in dem schönen Himmel sind. Notes: 1 “Six Killed in Branch Plane Crash,” Battle Creek Enquirer and News, Sept. 17, 1976, A1-A2. 2 Judith Shulevitz, “This Is the Science of Survival,” New Republic 245 (2014): 86-95. 3 Melchor J. Antunano, “Spatial Disorientation,” Medical Facts for Pilots, FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, http://www.faa.gov/pilots/Safett/pilotsafetybrochures/ media/SpatialD.pdf. 4 NTSB Identification. Rep. no. CHI76AC091. Coldwater, MI: National Transportation Safety Board, 1976. Print. 5 “Six Killed…,” A1. 6 NTSB Identification. 7 “Report Doesn’t Explain Coldwater Plane Crash,” Battle Creek Enquirer and News, Oct. 13, 1976. 8 Ibid. 9 “Six Killed…,” A1. 10 Tanya Lewis, “Near-Death Experiences: What Happens in the Brain Before Dying,” Live Science April 6, 2015 (accessed Nov. 2, 2016), http://www.livescience. com/50389-cardiac-arrest-dying-brain-signals.html. 11 “Six Killed in Branch Plane Crash,” Battle Creek Enquirer and News, Sept. 17, 1976, A1-A2. 12 “Horizon,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. (accessed Nov. 2, 2016), https:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horizon.

312

u

Crab Orchard Review


Neha Srivastava Petrichor In our three years in the desert, it rained twice. The first time, thunderstruck as we were to see water fall from the sky, what electrified the small fry of that arid village was a real multihued rainbow. We all stood at the corner of the street after which the sand dunes started, and jumped up and down in a row shouting “Rainbow! Rainbow! Rainbow!” waving our right arms in the air. The air tasted metallic and my blue flip-flops kept slipping off my feet. The second time it rained we were older and spent all afternoon looking for lightning behind people’s houses. We did this on the word of a girl who claimed that lightning struck the backyard of her Delhi house any old time it rained. We vaulted over boundary walls and raced across backyards, hoping to catch ourselves some lightning. When I was four we moved to the verdant foothills of the Himalayan ranges, where when it rained, it rained with a vengeance. Like children before us, we made up stories of a lonely giant crying in the clouds. Hail was plentiful in July and once caused some consternation by hitting our doorbell and making it ring without pause. My mother said it must have been a hailstone that hit the switch, but my sister whispered it was a ghost sending us warning. We lived in isolation at the top of a hill in a two-story bungalow that dated back to the British Raj, so it wasn’t hard for me to believe her. Didi delighted in making me shiver. She dreamed up the most pathetic ghosts—a toddler lost on a cold, rainy night who crawled around the hillside crying for its mother; a young woman with long black hair who had walked off the edge of the cliff one foggy evening; two little girls struck by lightning while trying to shelter from the rain under a blackened oak tree. On stormy nights, when the wind wailed through the trees and crashed against the hillside, Didi would whisper, “Do you hear them howl? They’re on the prowl tonight.” She would then turn over and fall asleep while I huddled quivering in the bedclothes, worrying about the lost ghosts on their deathless vigil. One rainy evening when our parents were out, Didi thought she heard robbers trying to enter the house. She took her black machine gun to guard the kitchen door at the back and left me hiding behind the curtain near the front door. My gun was a nifty space laser that could strike fear into any number of alien hearts, but I had misgivings about whether its flashing red lights and sharp pew-pew sounds would intimidate flesh-and-blood humans. I awoke with a start trying to shoot my father on the nose as he Crab Orchard Review

u

313


Neha Srivastava gathered me up in his arms to put me to bed. At some point in the evening, Didi had wandered off and gone to sleep, leaving me on guard. Like other Indian children of the postcolonial era, we grew up reading adventure stories by British writers. The weather in these books confused us. Why was a hot, sunny day cause for celebration and a rainy day dull and dreary? In our world, a good monsoon meant a good year for everyone. It was in our bones to welcome the rains with joy and relief. Some afternoons when we danced in the rain, our mother would join us and raise her sari daintily above the ankles to jump through puddles, splashing herself and everybody else. I thought to myself that when I grew up, I would wear saris and jump through puddles, just like her. At the boarding school I went to in my teens, there was a gigantic rock formation just outside our dorm. At the top was a large boulder with a groove rubbed into it by generations of girls’ bottoms. This rock was in much demand for its view of the beyond. It looked out onto a world of guava fields and goats and possibility, far removed from the school rules and uniforms and exam preps of our reality. We would go there one by one with our music cassettes and letter-writing notepaper, and if we saw a girl already perched at the top, return disappointed to sit instead in the crowded dormitory. When it rained we would risk life and limb to clamber to the top, lie back, and look at raindrops fall in daggers from the sky. In Pune where I went to college, the rain was a gentle mist. The first rain of the season made the city roads oily and slick. We’d watch scooterists skid on the turn into college as we sat in the café opposite, drinking steaming cups of milky chai over shared cigarettes. We spent every monsoon drenched to the bone since none of us would be caught dead carrying an umbrella. We only wore windcheaters, which left us soaked to the skin. People tucked plastic bags down their pants while riding scooters and motorcycles rather than wear a raincoat. A little white-haired old lady sold roasted peanuts on the pavement outside college. A potful of peanuts sat soaking in salt water on her covered handcart. These she would roast over hot coals right before our eyes. She’d then pour a handful into a twisted cone made of newspaper and sell this to us for just a rupee each. Since we were usually as hungry as we were broke, I like to think she made a good living. One afternoon, I woke up hungover all the way through to the back of my skull to look out the window at a world washed clean of its sins. I went for a walk and sat on a bench, watching a child jump through puddles. She must have been about four years old and devoted to puddlejumping all the seriousness it deserved. There were five puddles in a row by the pavement. She would start at one end, jump through each puddle in turn, and then run back up the road to start again. She might laugh while running back up the road, but her expression as she jumped through the puddles stayed unfailingly solemn.

314

u

Crab Orchard Review


Neha Srivastava A couple of years later, it was pouring rain when a man I loved drove me up the winding mountain road on his green Bajaj scooter for our first weekend away. We stopped at a little roadside stall for a cup of tea and a smoke. Our clothes dripped around us while we shielded our cigarettes from the rain. We shared our lunch with a friendly, half-starved dog and continued on up the mountain. The final stretch of road had been washed away by monsoon rain. The wheels on his scooter spun a fine arc of muddy gravel as he slipped and skidded his way to the top. Through it all, he smiled at me as I walked alongside chattering away about nihilistic existentialism, the inadequacy of windcheaters, and the question of evil. We stayed at a little bed-and-breakfast perched on the mountainside. Below us we saw a rainbow in the valley. I thought my heart would burst with impatience for the future. It rains now as it rained then, though there seems to be much more slush. Far as the past is, my heart still gladdens to that first sound of thunder after the long dry summer spell. I shall wear a sari and hold it up above my ankles as I jump through puddles. The rain brings hope, and petrichor.

Crab Orchard Review

u

315


Dawn Manning Map Making for Ex-Missionaries After days on trains patroned by nominal revolutionaries who chain-smoke slogans, oppose hygiene, and nibble chicken feet, we find ourselves in the city furthest from the sea, unanchored in a blizzard come down from Siberia. We hole up in the last room in town, hunker down with time-travel sickness—ailment only rice wine can name—and we reshape faith made malleable by the electric heat of Hong Kong preachers, rework years spent swinging the sword of scripture into trowels. You quench the dross in a snowdrift, bury it in this blind, undulating landscape—the cartography of a frozen desert blank as a new page. Wind howls its call to prayer; I cut off all my hair, trench an oath into my palm with a Uyghur blade—map in a valley of blood with the difficult precision of an engineer rerouting mountains, stripping earth to let the light in— so that years from now, no palm reader or pew prophet can navigate the road I’ve razed along the fate line.

316

u

Crab Orchard Review


Bridget Menasche Fugue The snowmelt is over the creek bank, the rushing water the color of the moss it is drowning; the creek winds between farm and road and burn; I’m cycling below the underpass the way the creek is turning over itself, drenched in shadow below the low-scraping belly of the road. A boy in a wagon is reading Eliot, pulled behind his father’s bicycle; Eliot echoes off the concrete walls of the creek-tunnel, and his pings turn the underpass into a dream, the way a glimpse of the still-iced mountains to the west is a dream, caught for a moment between trees and then gone again. It is hard to imagine that in summer much of this will burn. But the evidence is here along the creek, a miles long stretch of blackened cottonwoods and willows stripped to charcoal. Even the bushes crack and creak; red tip boughs are sprouting, like whips, to speak in the tongue of fire. It must have spread down the surface of the water. Or perhaps the water gave it fuel: the only trees for miles here. But I’d rather someone drove a truck into a side-marsh in a fury brought on by a heat wave like the one that made our grandparents execute the Rosenbergs, the heat that burns green and makes people drive until they run out of gas or spill into the water to watch the slick spread in a million colors. The fires burned too hot and many to name. In pictures at night you can see them, too big to be dotting the mountains as though the earth had been squeezed like a sponge and its core were pouring out between the trees. Tamed by a photographer and brought into the ice-white gallery for our horror, they reminded me of home: the orange glow to the south that all of us from the Hudson Valley know. That never turns off but that turns off the stars as they rotate into the southern slice of the sky,

Crab Orchard Review

u

317


Bridget Menasche glow from an island where it is never really night, or maybe always is. When my mother lived in the West Village the orange light pulsed outside and could not be turned off, not with curtains or music or booze. I think it crept into her, a city-burn, a slow-burn murmur that has not been dampened by the rain and quiet of the suburbs, so much that she seems surprised to see it far away, a corona over the lake. Could Frank O’Hara sleep at night—was the Village awake enough then, or did the streetlights stutter out, the big buildings downtown not yet finished? Now in pictures I see it: the black tower, unfinished, the island being hoisted up by a crane bigger than any building. How did you sleep, Frank, knowing the city as you did? I am afraid to see fire in the summer and remember office buildings tumbling into ash. But here in the mountains fire comes from the forest, from some simmering sap beneath a mat of needles, and once a decade it turns the creek into a blazing highway. Through the ruined cottonwoods, the cracked branches frame a construction site—office buildings, half-open, the warning yellow insulation like an insult to the creek-bed just peaking with green, with lupines on the sides and water green and opaque as moss, trying to reconstruct itself. The windows close their steel eyes. The crane rises, perhaps rusted in place, perhaps frozen from winter, a grand L above the fractured trees and offices, a lintel, the doorway into the office of nature and the funny way she builds things, then tears them down.

318

u

Crab Orchard Review


Mary Meriam Hot and Cold October What could October ever satisfy drinking the dregs of summer’s last heatwave, waking in sweaty sheets—no, that’s a lie. My sheets were cool and perfect as a cave more underground than hell, an icy den where winter waits to kill. It isn’t far to loss, until I go to bed again, as distant as a worm is from a star. I find no one is waiting for me there, and what have I to say besides to her? To her who holds for me a bed and chair making of outer space a loving stir. I’d leave the earth and every place I know— would I? No god can tell me not to go.

Crab Orchard Review

u

319


Christina Misite A Little Scared of Wind Even here, on nice days it makes me edgy, my skin tightens as if waiting. It’s the way the wind cuts through the hard light of day, instead of softening as you’d think. Standing in a field of glaring grass that shakes like the folded surface of a lake, everything bright, a hard shine, I think of this: tornadoes, hurricanes are just cups of breeze just the frenzied jangle of wind chimes on someone else’s porch.

320

u

Crab Orchard Review


George Moore South Shore Weather The old men stand and talk for hours on the wharf as gulls circle thinking there’s bait, some mistake, some leftover wonder to the world, and they dive as if at words raised to counter the crash of the wind, and the voices go on into the lifting light, a horizon just now red enough for a hundred hungry tongues. And it’s the worn Nor’easter words, the substance, the notion that weather carries life through each conversation, each day, the tides, the winds, the coming changes, so sudden across the narrow peninsula, the province, forged like a ship to stay tied to the coast by the North Sea. The lobsters hear it, this chatter as the boats return to the deeper sea, red fingers crawl to pots, to the scent of herring, and the heresy, rumors, the ring of voices of those whose names are carried branded in the delicate shells, whose living depends on this deep reflection of the sky.

Crab Orchard Review

u

321


George Moore

The Marble Towns In Portuguese, the word for cloud, nuvem, is a compliment to the word for marble, mårmore: cracked-white, seized by the sky, the hills of Estremoz rub up against them both, bubble in the smokestack chimneys of abandoned castles, and the round rockcrests of the borderlands. Boys, broken by the haul, by slabs of quarried stone that sit like giants on their haunches in the pits that drop to Dante’s home away from home, rise up at last in the rain to wash their whitened hair and hands, and before them sits the pastime, or secret habits, cut of clouds, billowy, cumulus, in figurines for the mother of God, who lifts the marble towns into her throne room, and stone goes through the refinement of love, and returns to heaven.

322

u

Crab Orchard Review


George Moore

Ruins Near NeĂ°ri-Ă s, Iceland The day we discover ourselves here among the ruins is the day they tell us the farm was really a church, the first for the north shore as it happens. The word first must be unearthed of course. In one sense, all things are foreign. What gives across the icy island is weather, the pure unadultered cut of sleet, the virgin sweetness of snow, the oceans rising to greet the rock, nothing left of the chapel but a stone hole, and the altar where worlds met. In this icy coast of northern surf, the word for time is not a noun but a verb, and the treasure is turf walls and bog. As the weather cured, and the island grew to home the wanderers, monks, lost clans, like letters, the trees are cut down for ships, for the journey back to Ireland, the coast, and on, west, into the stormy front of the unknown. So under this rising signature of sea and wind, this naked land with farm and church, with ancient fields sustained, we find a passage, clouds to stars, to home.

Crab Orchard Review

u

323


John Morgan Stray Thoughts on Aging Fairbanks, Alaska Is everything new about getting old? Spring and the melting snow, friends dropping away— they sift underground, or washed by the wind they circle the earth. Their names like chalk on a blackboard pose the daunting equation of loss. Yesterday I biked past the old beer and gun club, rechristened “Hogwarts,” to the edge of the slough where it joins the big river. No bridge for miles but a flagpole with pennants to summon a boat when somebody needs to cross. These blustery afternoons, deceptive in their beauty—bright hopes leading us on. Fish camp and then a hundred empty miles to the range where mountains like grandparents lounging on hammocks span the horizon. Clouds like winged lions—Assyrian. Is heaven open for business on days like this? And cycling back, a bull moose browsing the roadside willows turns his head and stares. He’s like that difficult cousin you can’t help liking despite his prickly ways. Brain circuits, axon and synapse, maybe we’ve got it all wrong, like those late night sophomore sessions when a light went on and suddenly everything changed. Are we our physical bodies? Are we anything else? If the body’s a river distilling the years, then a time-lapse camera could track this life, recording the snowballing wisps of decay, sloughed skin and hair, like mayflies flitting, having their day, while the waistline spreads like a delta toward the sea.

324

u

Crab Orchard Review


John Morgan It leaves a glow, a whisper, a caress. Remember that dusty floor we slept on before we owned a bed? “But why do they call it sleeping?” you said. Still there’s a pungence to this breeze, a whiff of bliss. Is heaven open for business on days like this?

Crab Orchard Review

u

325


Alison Townsend My Life in Rain I.

Rain this weekend, the kind that soaks deep into the black Wisconsin earth, washing everything into shades of green possible only in spring—celadon, malachite, chartreuse. On the hill behind my house everything shines, licked into life by falling water. Ferns unfurl their fiddleheads, like instruments for music so delicate I can’t imagine its sound. Ruby bleeding hearts dangle from their stems like Oriental earrings. Violets, purple and white, open their small lamps, tumbling everywhere in exuberant clumps. And Virginia bluebells create their own sea, their pinkedged, porcelain cups lifted to capture the Eucharist of sky. Standing in the midst of it all, I lift my face to rain, letting it trace my skin, recalling a quote by e.e. cummings I had taped inside my high school locker over forty years ago: “nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.” I stand there, summoning rain, every storm I have ever experienced alive in my body, like silver-curtained rooms I can walk through and re-inhabit at will on days like this, when water remembers water and takes me home to drink my fill. II. In my earliest conscious memory of rain I am at outside at Wild Run Farm, the Eden of my childhood, in eastern Pennsylvania, and I am drenched. I wear red rubber boots that go on over my shoes, held tight with a hard-to-fasten loop around a red button, a yellow, Paddington Bear raincoat with brass buckles, and a matching Sou’wester hat. Our yard runs into the woods and fields around the house and goes on forever, no other houses in sight. Everything seems transformed by the storm, and I tour the wet world. Here is the pansy bed, the lion-faced flowers drooping beneath the weight of water. Here is the spring house, washed startling white. Here are the duck and chicken coops, only the ducks outside. Here are the towering pines, dripping like a forest along the driveway, each bough glittering. Every growing thing shimmers—wet, green, and somehow more alive than it is when dry—as if wetness were its natural state. I move slowly from wonder to wonder, listening as the raindrops thrum on my jacket.

326

u

Crab Orchard Review


Alison Townsend Traversing the lawn on my way to the barn, I notice that my boots squish through the grass in a particularly pleasing way. The brief suck-andrelease exerts a primal pull, so that I stamp my feet in order to feel it more intensely. Making my way toward deeper puddles that have collected in the bare earth beneath our wooden jungle-gym, I stamp my feet harder, one at a time then together, thrilled with my ability to create a splash that bounces out around me like a wave. Enthralled, I jump in and out of the puddles, humming one of the nameless little melodies I invent in my head as the rain patters down. Splish-splash, splish-splash. I jump and jump until, no longer satisfied with being shielded by my boots (which leak in one toe anyway), I wiggle out of them, my feet pale as winter potatoes. The puddle is cold, the mud temptingly thick. I tear my hat off as well and jump in, the rain baptizing me with water purer than that of any church I will ever attend. I roll the legs of my pants up. I stamp and sing, Varum-varee, varum-varee! I am a wild thing, born out of mud and water, changed into a warm-blooded girl. With my head thrown back, stubby braids drenched, face wet and shining, feet and lips blue with chill, the exhilaration of rain courses through me, joy made visible. I am unbuckling my raincoat when my mother glances out the kitchen window and sees me. I am retrieved and hauled inside, scolded gently, settled in my black rocker over the brass floor register to dry, a cup of cocoa in my hand. I must look like a girl, sitting there. But I know I am a rainstorm, the memory of water thrumming inside me, my body heaven’s drum.

III. I am ten, home from school with pneumonia, the illness that technically killed my mother a year ago, though her death certificate (which I have seen) reads “carcinoma of the breast.” My chest aches and I cannot stop coughing—great, wracking explosions that make my lungs feel like they have been turned inside out, leaving me limp and exhausted. My skin burns, but I cannot get warm and throw the blue-flowered comforter my stepmother bought to replace my mother’s red and white patchwork quilt on and off. I’m too sick even to read, which makes me feel unreal, words the anchor I use to bind myself to a world that has changed so quickly I can’t keep up with it. Outside the March rain hammers the window as if it wants to get in. I am home alone with Shirley, my new stepmother, who rules the house, her chilly silences alternating with rage. She checks me from time to time, giving me the codeine pills that ease my cough. She must bring me food, though if so, I cannot remember what it is, for Shirley’s treats are nothing like my own mother’s cheering trays. Her actions are perfunctory and our interactions uneasy, fueled by resentment on her part and fear on mine,

Crab Orchard Review

u

327


Alison Townsend though she is all I have to turn to. At one point she enters the room and tells me that she has to go to the grocery store. “I won’t be long,” she says. “Do you think you can stay here alone?” Shirley does not know that I am afraid of the house, an ordinary splitlevel our blended family inhabits until we find a better place. She does not know that it feels full of malevolent spirits—a Frankenstein-like creature who thumps in the basement every night, while a vampire floats outside my window in the form of a bat, waiting to bite me and abduct me to the land of the dead. She does not know any of this and has dismissed my siblings’ and my own night fears as ridiculous, never pausing to consider that they obviously have something to do with the death of our mother, the woman she has replaced. Too afraid to say anything, let alone tell her I am terrified, I nod my head mutely, watching the rain streak the window beside me till it blurs, a rectangle of filtered light. After Shirley leaves, the house presses in on me, dense and brooding, the silence so loud I can hear the blood in my own ears. I lie, rigid, waiting for something terrible to happen, until I can’t bear it any longer. Climbing out of bed, I pull clothes on over my pajamas, donning my tan raincoat and matching hat. I want to run out of the house, but force myself to walk slowly across the slate-paved entry way to the front door and into the rain, which falls, beading up on my raincoat, washing my hot face with sweet relief when I lift it to the sky. I cross the yard and stand near the edge of the dirt road, as far away as I can get from the house and still be seen by Shirley when she returns. I stand there for what feels like hours, the rain slowly soaking into my coat, chilling my body until I tremble with cold. But anything is better than being in that house, where my older stepbrother bullies me daily, where my father and stepmother shout at night, where my siblings wake, screaming, every room ghosted with loss and strife. The rain runs down my face, mixing with tears I have been forbidden to shed because this is out new life and everyone is supposed to be happy. I stand, shivering among the bare trees, the rain soaking into me until it feels like I am part of it, a girl turned into water, her troubles washing away. I’m freezing, but my fear of the house is greater than the trouble I know I will get into. And do, when Shirley’s two-tone Ford Falcon comes around the corner and she leaps out, grabbing me by one arm and hustling me inside, hissing, “What the hell is wrong with you? Do you want to die?” Numb with cold, I follow, leaving behind the safety of rain, which falls in translucent curtains behind us. I feel as if I have stepped from one world to another, entering a stage where each breath is an effort and act. The sound of water vanishes behind me, like my mother’s voice, which I am slowly forgetting.

328

u

Crab Orchard Review


Alison Townsend

IV. It’s the summer I am fifteen and my boyfriend, Randy Grey, undaunted by a forecast for severe thunderstorms, has ridden his old, three-speed bike seven miles from his house, just to see me. A dark-haired, slightly pudgy boy with an easy-going manner and quick grin, Randy is slow-moving and known to be lazy. Impressed by his devotion, I have wandered into the hayfield beside our house with him, eventually lying down in the sweetscented grass, making out, and giving him what I believe is the obligatory hand job, worried all the time that someone will see us. Afterwards, not sure what to do, I suggest a walk up Hunt Mountain. Though not really a mountain by elevation standards, it’s the highest point in Westchester County, and just up the dirt road from my house. We set out, passing fields and stone walls, leathery green clumps of mountain laurel with their candelabras of white flowers, and once, a doe frozen in a clearing with two fawns. The road winds steeply up and we don’t talk much, though we hold hands, mine sweaty inside him, the air thick with oncoming rain. At the top of the mountain there’s a flat rock, a good lookout point over the village of North Salem, the silvery script of the Titicus River, and the bucolic farmland below. A nature girl, mistress of this wildish place, I point sights out to Randy as the first, fat drops splash us with rain, the wonderful ozone-scent all around us. A moment later, the sky rips open zippers of jagged silver light. We are soaked to the skin in an instant. Realizing it’s not a good idea to stand there like human lightening rods, we retreat and begin to run, screaming, down the road. My long hair is plastered to my head, my seersucker blouse soaked transparent. Randy’s is the same. Laughing and bumping into one another, we run, blinded by the torrent, thunder rumbling above us as if it is the beginning of time. The rain is cool and sweet, and falls like benison and blessing on my hot skin, washing away some of the confusion that floods me around this boy. I feel clean and fresh, not the woman I am trying to be, but myself again and somehow much closer to Randy than I was during our bumbling sexual encounter. Back at the house, I make Randy a cup of hot, sweet tea, my family’s antidote for any ill. I loan him my one of brother’s shirts, change into dry things myself, and throw our clothes into the dryer. Our cheeks still pink from our flight down the mountain, we chatter and laugh until his clothes are dry. Taking them out, I pause for a moment when I notice my silky floral underpants, clinging to Randy’s shirt with static. The sight is shockingly intimate, so much more so than our bodies were together in the field before the storm, that it makes me catch my breath. It stays with me—as I kiss Randy good-bye, as he pedals off down the steaming road, as I wave, watching till he vanishes, and as I walk back into the field, lying down in the wet grass, its cool arms holding me in place.

Crab Orchard Review

u

329


Alison Townsend

V. Halfway through my junior year of college in Vermont there’s a terrific ice-storm, followed by freezing rain that paints the entire campus with a silver brush, everything like scenes from The Snow Queen. It’s the coldest rain I’ve ever experienced, elongated drops falling from the sky in tiny, iced stilettos that sting when they stab your skin, leaving behind numb spots. It’s the kind of rain that penetrates, seeming to soak through your skin and inhabit your marrow, making the phrase “chilled to the bone” real. My roommate, Mary Hoberg, and I begin to struggle up the hill from the dining hall, slip-sliding toward Random House, our goofily named dorm. Nestled in the Green Mountains, the Marlboro College campus is nothing but hills. Walking is nearly impossible. Mary and I laugh and scream, sliding around together, our hair and coats soaked. The rain jabs us, needling our skin with icy stitches. It makes a silvery, pinging sound as it falls and we scream louder, flailing about, caught up in the excitement of weather. Mary and I are an odd match. A gruffly brilliant philosophy and classics major (she actually knows Greek) from Chicago, Mary has a petite dancer’s body and a mop of curly brown hair. Resolutely independent, always ready with a quick comeback, and known in the dorm for glimpses of her sexy red nightgown, she seems self-possessed in a way that I understand only years later masks a shyness equal to my own. I’m majoring in American Studies, an interdisciplinary field that intrigues me, having been scared off my original plan to focus on creative writing by a poetry professor who told me my work is “too sensual and imagistic” (words it didn’t occur to me to question). Taller, with long straight hair and a wrist-full of silver bangles, I am known for my romantic escapades and dramas, my heart broken by one boy after another. I can’t imagine why Mary (so quick and smart and witty) would want to be friends with me, let alone inhabit the same room. But somehow we connected and have survived several semesters together, laughing, staying up all night to write papers, and suffering hangovers after nights at The Silver Skates, a bar frequented by students and professors alike. People are important to me; I often accord them more significance than they deserve, but I like Mary a lot. She’s not my best friend at school, but there’s an intimacy that comes of sharing a room with another that’s in some ways even deeper. I know how Mary smells, what she cries about, and that she sometimes talks in her sleep. I don’t know yet that, when I remember college, it will be the women I remember most, not the stupid boys, and that I’ll wish I had known Mary better and kept in touch. As we walk up the hill, Mary’s kept her umbrella furled, using it for balance like a cane. She’s poking her way along, a few steps ahead, when I feel my feet slide out beneath me. “I’m going down!” I shriek, laughing

330

u

Crab Orchard Review


Alison Townsend so hard I don’t feel how hard I hit the frozen path. Turning back, Mary says, “Oh my goodness; indeed you did! Fear not. Your roommate is here!” Proffering the tip of her umbrella, she says, “Here, grab this.” I catch hold, and she hauls me up the hill till we reach level ground. Mary’s laughing the whole time, grumbling at me for being a pain in the ass, saying she doesn’t know why she bothers. Back in our room, both in our bathrobes, our hair wrapped in towels, brewing mint tea, we’ll laugh more, unable to stop, giddy and pink-cheeked, impossibly young. It’s an only instant in both of our lives. Why does it linger, pressed in my memory so many years later, like the small blue flowers we called Quaker Ladies that grew in the grassy knoll behind the dorm, where Mary and I studied together, lying on a blanket in the spring? Decades later, I’ll come across a handful of them, flat and faded, in my Early American Architecture textbook, and remember Mary’s pert, heart-shaped, laughing face, suspended above me in the deluge of silver water that rainy night. What is it about that moment that lives on, as delicate as the blue, flowerimprinted bell from Bennington Pottery that Mary gave me for my birthday that May? Her handmade card, also featuring Quaker ladies, read, “Well, somehow you’ve survived twenty impossible years. I am glad I know you. All my love, Mary.” I haven’t seen Mary for four decades, not since we graduated from college. And in truth, I think of her rarely. But I still have the blue bell, tucked safely on a high shelf in my secretary desk. When I take it out and ring it softly, the clay clapper gives off a sweet, crystalline, sound, like winter rain, pinging on ice. Oh Mary, sweet Mary, with whom I was last a girl. Whatever became of you? Where are you now?

VI. When I moved to Southern California to attend graduate school, I felt as if I’d come to a foreign country, the Mediterranean climate like nothing I’d ever known, growing up back east. I was alternately enchanted and made deeply homesick by groves of sinus-clearing eucalyptus, waving palm trees, hedges of geraniums, enormous jade trees, and rosemary that grew as bushes, and every kind of citrus. The San Gabriel Mountains hunched behind Claremont, jagged as the back of a stegosaurus. A little over an hour away lay the blue Pacific, which I would come to call mother, as if it were my own personal ocean, the sun beating down on me like molten gold. Everyone has a landscape of possibility. California, in all its complexity and paradox, was mine. Even three decades and half a continent away from California, it remains the place that most made me who I am today.

Crab Orchard Review

u

331


Alison Townsend As a newcomer in the Southland, people often warned me, “There’s two seasons in Southern California: summer and January.” They said this with an air of authority I found exasperating. I’d just spent four years in Vermont. Winter didn’t faze me. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the winter rain, or the intensity with which it fell. Years later, in a prose poem called “Pouring,” I attempted to describe it: “the coast battered and beaten, hillsides sliding toward the sea, solid ground suddenly gone,” But that doesn’t capture it, and doesn’t convey either the relief of rain after months of sun, or the way it can spiral out of control in the Golden State, the saturated hills unable to hold any more water. There’s a drought in California as I write this, the rolling, golden hills that so define the state leached sere by sun. But in the years when I lived there, it rained reliably in winter. I was enchanted by what I once called “spring at the wrong time of year.” The San Gabriels were snow-covered, while in the valley below paper whites opened their perfumed stars, apricot blossoms fell like silken confetti, and orange trees glowed like lamps, an occasional old fruit still on the branch falling to make way for new blossoms. There was an orange lying in the street the night David, the man who would become my first husband, and I took a long walk in the rain through the streets of Claremont. We were just falling in love, not even intimate yet, and the streets glistened, everything silvered, polished to a sheen by rain. The oranges, with their sweet blossoms, leathery leaves, and lanterns of fruit still seemed exotic to my Northeastern eyes. I didn’t know that I’d move into David’s apartment like a roll top desk above an old carriage house, or that it would be home to us for over a decade, the yard around it filled with orange, lemon, grapefruit, kumquat and apricot trees. I didn’t know I’d find my voice there and become a writer, that I’d hike the San Gabriels and many other places in the state. I just knew that I was happy with this gentle, wry man with a cleft chin and long blond hair, who ran impossible distances and was studying economics. Referring to himself as a P.K. (preacher’s kid), he seemed like the boy next door. I instinctively trusted him. As David and I began to kick the orange back and forth between us, I kept looking at the trees, shimmering like green maidens and beautiful in their strangeness. Looking up instead of where I was going, I slipped and fell. David, a native Californian, who had been enjoying showing off even this rain-washed glimpse of his state, was at my side instantly. “Are you okay?” he asked kneeling beside me, worried expression on his face. “Are you hurt?’ He pulled me to my feet and made a big deal of examining my non-existent injuries. “I’m fine,” laughed, “I’ve never been better.” And I hadn’t, there in the darkly shimmering streets, the mountains hunched, blackly reassuring at our backs, everything opening before me, the rain falling around us, drumming our skin, pounding inside us, the whole world wet and filled a yearning sense of possibility I remember every time I open an orange.

332

u

Crab Orchard Review


Alison Townsend

VII. I’ve known many different kinds of rain, but there is none like that of the Pacific Northwest. With the exception of one Cherokee greatgreat grandmother, all my ancestry is English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh. So perhaps there’s something in my gene pool that responds to rain, recognizing itself in the misty, mizzling, moody, ever-shifting weather in this part of the country. All I know is that, when I moved to Oregon I felt I had come home, my spirit lining up with the landscape’s in a way that, though I’ve loved other places deeply, it hadn’t since I was a child in eastern Pennsylvania. I don’t know if it’s possible to “come home” to a place where you haven’t lived before. But if so, Oregon was that for me, and I embraced it, body and soul, never even carrying an umbrella. I had broken down a few months before we moved to Oregon, my psyche shattered by an episode of clinical depression that moved through me as unexpectedly as a California earthquake. It had so completely rearranged my known world, that inner landscape we call self, that I hardly recognized it. Glued together as a delicately as a porcelain cup, I was fragile in all sorts of ways. But I was also stronger than I realized. When I got out of the hospital, I pulled myself together for our move, even doing half the driving up I-5, to what we jokingly referred to as the Promised Land. I got us settled in our new home, twelve miles west of Corvallis, on seven acres along the Mary’s River and at the edge of the Coast Range. I looked for a job, securing one teaching writing at the local community college for the winter quarter, while David began his position at Oregon State. As part of my continuing, self-imposed therapy, I ran. In Oregon, this meant that, from September to June, I ran in rain. Every day, for anywhere from three to five miles, I took off, first running down our road, west toward the coastal mountains, then looping out on Highway 20, before turning back up the King’s Valley highway, across the river, toward home. I ran in silky blue running shorts and an old Moosehead Beer tee-shirt of David’s, which I wore over a long underwear turtleneck made from wool. This was before the days of Lycra running tights, and I ran bare-legged, my legs pink with cold, the rain pelting down me on like a blessing. Soaked to the bone, steaming in the cool air, I ran, as the rain washed me clean, and logging trucks I gradually began to recognize individually tooted their horns at me. Go, girl, they seemed to say. And I did. One March day, after a run like this, I was walking around my yard, cooling off, when I felt my inner landscape rearrange itself. There I was, hands on hips, the Mary’s River sluicing past, the rain misting down, stopping and starting, as it does in Oregon. I glanced up at Mary’s Peak, the highest point in the Oregon Coast Range. The “Mary” for whom it had been named was supposedly the first white woman across the Willamette. But

Crab Orchard Review

u

333


Alison Townsend my personal association was my own mother, dead so many years, whose name was also Mary. Whenever I lifted my eyes to the mountain, I couldn’t help feeling I looked also at something of her spirit. I wasn’t surprised to learn that Mary’s Peak was used by the local Native Americans for vision quests. It had that kind of energy and presence. As I looked at the mountain, breaching like a hump-backed whale through torn-chiffon veils of cloud, I felt the blind that had shuttered my mind in darkness and sadness snap up inside me. Standing there, sweaty and rain-soaked, I was suddenly not just in the world, but of it again, a part of the natural order. I was me, Alison, not some starved-looking, depersonalized, ghost-like apparition. I am not conventionally religious, having cobbled together my own idiosyncratic, Quaker/Buddhist/ natureand-ancestor worship kind of faith. But when I felt light shine again in my brain, I fell down on my knees among the mud and primroses of my just-coming-to-life garden. I lifted my eyes to the mountain, watching as it seemed to rise and fall in the mist. Sometimes, if we are very lucky, grace comes to us this way. As it did that for me that afternoon, the Oregon rain the source of my healing, falling all around me, soft as a mother’s tears, soft as my own, as they ran down my face, washed away by the cool, clear water falling from the sky.

VIII. After the F-3 tornado, with winds up to two hundred miles an hour, passed through our small town in Wisconsin, the world lay so still it was hard to believe anything had happened, though everything had changed. The rain stopped, as suddenly as it had begun. Four sandhill cranes, their white feathers covered with mud, rose out of the marsh. The trees were very still, and there was even a rainbow, its spectrum more distinct than any I’d ever seen, hung like a perverse stage drop behind the place where the thing had scoured the ground, churning it up into a raw wound. My husband and I were a mile away, jogging at Lake Kegonsa State Park, when the fat, green leg of the whirlwind touched down, kicking its hob-nailed boot at everything in its path. But all we felt in White Oak Woods was rain, thrilling and exhilarating as it pummeled our skin. I was happy, watching the shape of my husband’s back, his shirt drenched, his long, wet legs taking the hill before me. Scrubbed and polished by water, I glowed, my cheeks red with cold and exertion. It was only driving home that we realized something big had happened, branches strewn across the road, confusing us until they became trees, tangles of downed power lines hissing and sparking around them like nests of dangerous snakes, a whole neighborhood leveled, gone, splintered by this

334

u

Crab Orchard Review


Alison Townsend temper tantrum of air. I looked for things that had vanished—the Tideman farm’s red barn where dolls had stared weirdly out a window, the field where a woman grew gladioli to sell at the side of the road, a small wooden wheel barrow that had spilled red petunias all summer. I passed these things every day on my way to run in the park. Where were they? How was it they were gone? Nearly one hundred houses had been destroyed, though we wouldn’t know that till later. The ten-minute drive home through the country took nearly an hour, as we inched our way through a world lashed flat by rain, not sure our house perched atop a drumlin would still be there. I prayed as I hadn’t prayed in years. The words to the Twenty-third Psalm, which I’d last recited aloud standing around my mother’s grave with my father and my siblings, rose unbidden on my tongue from a place in me that knew and remembered goodness and mercy. As we rounded the curve of our long, dirt driveway, I saw our house, whole and untouched, its wet roof burnished by sunlight, the dog and cats inside, asleep in their favorite places, cloud-mountains scudding overhead, illuminated from within like all those childhood pictures of heaven. And it was. Soaked and dripping, shining and slick, as wet as if it had been freshly made, it stood firm, my place of safety, my refuge, my house of heaven here on earth.

Crab Orchard Review

u

335


Ruth Williams Storm Chasing At its heart, a tornado is a disturbance. The weatherman draws the air in waves; then, he pulls a red cone across the map. Inside, there’s hot air meeting cold, getting tangled. Tonight, he’s projecting turbulence. u

My man is fascinated with tornados. He follows the weather with obsession. I think he must see his stepfather’s hands in the clouds. The romantics called this the pathetic fallacy. Projecting the turbulent emotion of the self onto the dark, low skies. The tornado’s valve of air spinning along with the heart. John Ruskin meant to stamp out this foolishness, but if the clouds feel in communion with some disturbance in him, what can I do, but feel it? u

When he shows me a video of a storm someone’s chased, at first I’m not that interested, but then I pull closer. Storm chasing requires a kind of patience. You have to hold yourself still for so long, then the funnel forms and it’s there, it’s now. On video, the frame shakes and the storm chasers scream in fear, delight. u

Some grow up in houses of turbulence. So it is only natural that they would feel drawn to big, unpredictable storms. But, there are others, like me, who desire disturbance just to know what it feels like when the pressure drops and there’s static in the air. u

Often, near a tornado’s tight circle, you’ll see a thin, rope-like cloud. It is created by air that is sucked, straw-like into the tornado’s mouth. This is an intake cloud, feeding something bigger than itself.

336

u

Crab Orchard Review


Ruth Williams When he throws a chair across my room, it is a disturbance. Something pressing, my hot air gone cold. The room shivers or I do, with fear, delight. u

On the screen, the storm chasers drive into the middle of the vortex. I imagined inside there’d be a still space, but in reality the world is a blur; the sound enormous, but muddy, indistinct. It is the sound of all the sounds in the world happening at once. u

Ruskin considered the pathetic fallacy to be a kind of overlay one put on the world, a way of seeing the world through the eyes of a mistake. But when a boy is afraid, he falls inside the moment and it follows him forever. A spin in the clouds and the danger of a big mouth, a heavy hand. u

In the dream I have of him and the storm, he shows me how to stay safe by crawling under a car. I’m not sure we’ll be able to escape, but I move as fast as I can and wake up feeling grateful for the lesson in preservation.

Crab Orchard Review

u

337


Frank Paino Skeleton Lake In 1942, more than 300 human skeletons were discovered in and around Roopkund, a Himalayan lake in Northern India. It was not until 2004 that scientists determined the remains were those of religious pilgrims and their guides who fell victim to a violent hailstorm circa 850 CE. Where was it they journeyed from and where did they mean to go, these nameless hundreds scattered in mute camaraderie that has wed them, each to all, for twelve-hundred years and counting from that midsummer pilgrimage, warm enough, even at 16,000 feet, to hasten a brief bloom of vegetation, stubby and thick along the valley lip, edelweiss and prune-dark pearls of juniper crushed to incense beneath the leather soles of the faithful who must have reckoned the lake’s diamond light a benediction as they walked or scrambled down the rock’s split face, cupped crystal water in their upturned palms, and drank. And when thunder sounded its first guttural groan beyond the bruised horizon, it must have seemed a trifle. And even still as soft rain shirred their view of the hectic ridgeline. How long before that coin-bright mist descended in a throng of icy fists that pounded the lake to a frenzied foam? How long before the first among them felt his skull break open like a dying star, his final thought a dull incredulity?

338

u

Crab Orchard Review


Frank Paino A few minutes until it was over, until pilgrim and porter were wholly still, slouched or sprawled on the cusp of a millennial silence while the seasons wheeled on above their frozen acquiescence, dizzying white relinquished a few months out of twelve to each lonely resurrection, plant and bone softening to green in the dwindle of summer days until a soldier sent to reconnoiter in the middle years of the Second World War came upon that grizzly tinder. So began a catalogue of conjecture… invaders lost to landslide, plague dead cast far from village homes, a brute propitiation of angry gods. For every century the dead had waited to be known, another supposition to make Ockham snarl in his grave. But some truths are too hard to regard full on. An old mother halfway to forgetting her own history, a fistful of ovoid shadows on x-ray, the way the last Western Black Rhino might have lowered his blunt mouth to drink from a poacher’s poisoned pool, or how we clung to the staccato syllables of accident until the second plane was swallowed by the second silver tower. It was never any secret how they came to be there, slack-jawed in the benthic blue or splayed like brazen brides atop the ice-rimed shale—

Crab Orchard Review

u

339


Frank Paino but it was summer in the mountains and we might be forgiven to conceive their happiness in those heartbeats just before they were no longer happy, just before the sky split along its iron seams and hammered an epistolary braille into each skull and shattered collarbone. “Look,” they scream beneath our finger’s tracery, “the sky is falling.”

340

u

Crab Orchard Review


M.H. Perry Reconfiguring the Borders of the Inhabitable World I could grow to like slow animals and curtainless windows, how the tame sun goes about its work. I enjoy being simple preposition to the scenery, walking among the fields, wading into the pond, and I know the evening clouds pretending to be mountains are all fakes. This is a landscape separate from the self, mappable and unpretentious. The farmer up the lane brings me white seedling peaches. We sit on the porch and watch the birds tightrope the corn. He says he could grow to like a gal who can put snow chains on a pickup truck, but the bullet holes in the driver’s door have got him scared. All moot, since he is not the kind of man I’d care to kill. I worry about the winter, where the mind will go when there’s nothing wild or vertical to ricochet it back, so that it forages on, hungry enough to make a meal from a fascicle of pine needles crushed between its fingers: That scent, the sound of the river, the obliviousness of mule deer and snow falling in the forest named in an attempt to keep it outside.

Crab Orchard Review

u

341


Mary Pinard Driving to the End of the Storm Lightning pitchforks across this pink-black horizon I’m driving into, as slow thunder grips the valley, cracking its seams, then writhing them cockeyed in my side-view, where I seem to be seeing my mind elsewhere: the dull splintering of a dying friendship when it’s lingered too long. Like receding thunderclaps, it’s been splitting away over time. It’s not that I didn’t see it coming to this—long silences, truth held back, the pretending calm, a breath caught—it’s that I haven’t faced what I should have known all along: that what was real was happenstance—a chance meeting, a message sent, signals crossing, and then my penchant for rescue and yours for sadness that gripped my heart as if by your own hand. A lock-tight grip. The effect of forces coincidental: light rain of a passing bluster, that tense air almost green with delay, then a low, distant growl—clouds entering and blowing themselves swiftly into thunder-boomers, a spiraling drama of horns and flashing and mayhem high in the heavy sky. We were a storm once. Now we are over.

342

u

Crab Orchard Review


Iain Haley Pollock The Properties of Solid Phase Materials I. Early Rain All week, ice laid scabrous on the road and rutted where out of necessity cars had made their way. We grew to think, toward the end, this state would last forever. And then this morning, a warmer rain. The runoff thawed channels into the ice and by afternoon washed away the sheet. Only thick puddles bore testament to our earlier fears. For a few hours, we walked steadily, with less concern for shattering our hips. But why did I ever stop my worrying? Why don’t I ever see the darkness gather and spread? Now, the sodium vapor buzzes in the streetlights, and this rain, as I thought I heard it promise never to do, has turned again into solidity, slick and glinting, fixed and hard.

II. Late Snow Last week you and the boy moved out, to New York. We’ll be back together by June, but any absence—the dash out for milk, the walk to the mailbox—carries the threat of permanence. Will distance make us bitter as the beginning of our inclement spring? This morning a cold rain corroded uncovered patches of wrought iron where black paint has flaked off the rail. And the afternoon turned colder still: by dusk snow fell, clotting icy white on the pink cherries come

Crab Orchard Review

u

343


Iain Haley Pollock into tentative bloom at the street corner. I know this is the last snow, maybe one more at worst, and this time tomorrow the coating will be runoff in a storm drain. I know the cherry blossoms will have scattered in a month and given way to a verdure of toothed leaves. And by June, I know, just as today I thought the snow would never end, I’ll let myself believe our days of warm and green could go on and on forever.

344

u

Crab Orchard Review


Marielle Prince September That’s not a scar you feel under my shirt, that,s a letter of recommendation, folded up tight —Yehuda Amichai You accept the sudden death of daylight, but that’s not all. Fallen cicadas rattling underfoot, not a sound from the branches. A heat like it’s summer yet, though a scar in the front yard shade tree, you see, is already healing, makes it feel like the last big storm was under way. Except for the timbre of everything, my sister, you wouldn’t know to bring your best shirt in off the line. Tell me that’s not worth the sky gone skeptical. In a better world, you would not think A is the letter of aching when tomorrow a bunch of kids at a bus stop beset the morning, and this recommendation wouldn’t be an inception of dread, wouldn’t fold you into your stomach, as though somewhere a scepter lifts up and tamps you down tight.

Crab Orchard Review

u

345


Billy Reynolds Still Life in a Jerry Garcia Crossroad Tie At my feet small bullfrogs, little sweet nothings, take cover as the mourning cloak wheels out and I ignore its wine-stained dark robe, that cloak it can’t slip out of. I’m those ribs of wet sand or that crow poised on a limb. I’m an old horse making a comeback somewhere else. I untuck my shirt and loosen my tie. I send more bullfrogs scattering as the redwing blackbird blows its coach’s whistle, as the rose-breasted grosbeak’s squeaky call becomes a 6th grader doing the moonwalk, circa 1984. Silence is not speechlessness. Completion is not a lie. Utility string balled up and caught in the grass, a downy woodpecker making an old knothole better, I’m an old wanderer, one foot in front of the other.

346

u

Crab Orchard Review


Molly Spencer Four Views of November 1. Standing again at the kitchen door of the first house looking out. Blue dusk as the sun fails. On the bridge, cars keep crossing points of no return, Leaving the bluffed edge Of one city for the bluffed edge of another, Their wheels sing a rolling little dirge to the river below, going home, going home, going home. Now the black roof of night nailed down over everything. Street lights and brake lights gleam like scars. Somewhere far from here, fire blooms under someone’s hands. Someone traces the peripheries Of his worn beloved. Step away From the window. You know how this story ends— The cold spot in the kitchen floor Is there whether or not you remember to feed it.

2. This time, dusk again, the blown dune At our backs where the gravel road spills At the shore. I walk out to where the pier used to be— foot on a stone, foot on a stone, what persists

Crab Orchard Review

u

347


Molly Spencer Of the old pilings pricking up out of the water, a broken spine. Already you have turned back toward the car. Already the end of us begins To take shape In your shadow—slanted, shifting, nothing I can touch.

3. I still don’t know what to say about the dawn. How it crawled up from a bled sky, easterly. Four o’clock now and the birches scuff And groan against each other, scuff and groan. The blanched light of the sun admits its ancient frailty. The river slips along as if it will never be stone. In the tangled hush of everything grey and greying, red flare Of winterberry like a last attempt. Tomorrow I’ll wake up on my side of the bed again, Edge-worn. Again I will sweep over The bare floor of my heart.

4. Winter now and the children will be hungry. I will make soup every Tuesday afternoon.

after Charles Wright

348

u

Crab Orchard Review


Margot Wizansky Southwestern —more sky than any place has a right to, show-off sky, show-off mountains  with gold on their peaks, and weather, lightning in one spot, bluer than blue over there.  And the ground, undiggable,  blowable sandy ground, dust-devil, dust-storm ground, wrecked-earth ground. And silver: olive-trees, silver bushes  trying their best to hold down the ground, the powder too weak to hold back the rocks. And thin air and high air, too high to sleep, too high to think.  And big. Scrub-jays, big beetles, big-eared jack-rabbits, symphony of crickets rattlesnakes waiting. Loud wind, loud hissing rain. Adobe here, adobe there, house, church, pueblo,  earth-built, sun-baked, the first builder so right  the ways of building never changed. And faith, healing faith, saints-faith, planting-faith, harvest-faith, faith in the pure rushing stream.

Crab Orchard Review

u

349


Contributors’ Notes Dilruba Ahmed’s book, Dhaka Dust (Graywolf Press), won the 2010 Bakeless Prize. Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Blackbird, New England Review, and Poetry. New work is forthcoming in Kenyon Review, Copper Nickel, 32 Poems, and Ploughshares. Her poems have been anthologized in Literature: The Human Experience (Bedford/St. Martin’s), Indivisible: South Asian American Poetry (University of Arkansas Press), and elsewhere. Ahmed received The Florida Review’s Editors’ Award, a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize, and the Katharine Bakeless Nason Fellowship of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She holds degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and Warren Wilson College’s MFA Program for Writers. Kaveh Akbar is the founding editor of Divedapper. His poems appear in The New Yorker, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. His debut collection, Calling a Wolf a Wolf, is out with Alice James Books. Jeffrey Alfier’s latest works are Fugue for a Desert Mountain¸ Anthem for Pacific Avenue: California Poems, Bleak Music—a photo and poetry collaboration with Larry D. Thomas, Southbound Express to Bay Head: New Jersey Poems, and The Red Stag at Carrbridge: Scotland Poems. Recent publication credits include Spoon River Poetry Review, Kestrel, Gargoyle, Permafrost, and december magazine. He is founder and co-editor of Blue Horse Press and San Pedro River Review. Christopher Todd Anderson is Associate Professor of English at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, where he teaches courses in American literature, creative writing, and popular culture. His poetry has appeared in Tar River Poetry, River Styx, Terrain.org, Tipton Poetry Journal, Ellipsis, Briar Cliff Review, and Chicago Quarterly Review, among others. A recent Pushcart Prize recipient, Anderson has a poem forthcoming in the 2018 Pushcart Prize XLII: Best of the Small Presses. Linda Ashok is the 2017 Charles Wallace India Trust Fellow in Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University Of Chichester, UK. She is Founder/President of RædLeaf Foundation for Poetry & Allied Arts, Linda funds the annual RL Poetry Award (since 2013). Her poetry/essay/reviews has appeared or forthcoming in Vinyl, Mascara Literary Review, The McNeese Review, Expound, Honest Ulsterman, Noble/Gas Quarterly, The Common, Plume, The Rumpus, and other places. More information at lindaashok.com. William Auten is the author of the novel Pepper’s Ghost, and recent work has appeared in District Lit, Oxford Magazine, Sequestrum, Superstition Review, and Solstice. More information at www.williamauten.com

350

u

Crab Orchard Review


Contributors’ Notes Mary Jean Babic’s stories have appeared in The Missouri Review, The Iowa Review, American Literary Review, and other publications. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, two kids, two cats, and a green anole lizard. Sara Baker’s fiction has been published or is forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Cleaver, Confrontation, H.O.W. Journal, The China Grove Journal, The Intima.com, The Examined Life Journal, The New Quarterly, The Lullwater Review, and other venues, and has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and Fish Publishing contests. Her poetry has been published in Stone, River, Sky: An Anthology of Georgia Poems, The 2011 Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine, The Apalachee Review, The Healing Muse, Ars Medica, and in her chapbook, Brancusi’s Egg, from Finishing Line Press. Her novel, The Timekeeper’s Son, was recently published by Deeds Publishing (http://deedspublishing.goodsie.com/the-timekeepers-son and Amazon). Stacey Balkun is the author of Eppur Si Muove, Jackalope-Girl Learns to Speak, and Lost City Museum. She has been awarded the 2017 Poetry Award from the Women’s National Book Association and her work has appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Gargoyle, Muzzle, Bayou, and others. Chapbook Series Editor for Sundress Publications, Stacey holds an MFA from Fresno State and teaches poetry online at The Poetry Barn. KB Ballentine is the author of four poetry collections, including the 2016 Blue Light Press Book Award winner, The Perfume of Leaving. Her latest collection, Almost Everything, Almost Nothing, appeared in late-summer 2017 from Middle Creek Publishing. Her work also appears in River of Earth and Sky: Poems for the Twenty-first Century, Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume VI: Tennessee, and Southern Light: Twelve Contemporary Southern Poets. Learn more about KB Ballentine at www.kbballentine.com. Julie E. Bloemeke’s poetry manuscript, Slide to Unlock, was a 2016 finalist for the May Swenson Poetry Award and has also placed as a recent semifinalist in six other book prizes. “Pulse Storm” is the opening poem in her manuscript. A Bennington Writing Seminars graduate and a VCCA fellow, her work has appeared in various publications including Gulf Coast, Chautauqua Literary Journal, Crab Orchard Review, Four Chambers, and Bridge Eight, among others. She won the 2015 ekphrastic poetry competition at the Toledo Museum of Art where her work was on view with the Claude Monet collection. She recently served as the inaugural poetry director for the Milton Literary Festival in Georgia. Eileen M.K. Bobek is a former Emergency Medicine physician. Her work has appeared in Gigantic Sequins and Hunger Mountain. Marion Starling Boyer has published three poetry collections: Composing the Rain, Grayson Books’s 2014 chapbook competition first place winner; The Clock of the

Crab Orchard Review

u

351


Contributors’ Notes Long Now (Mayapple Press), nominated for a Pushcart Award and Lenore Marshall Award; and Green (Finishing Line Press). She won first place in the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s 2008 international poetry competition. Her poetry and essays have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Folio, South Carolina Review, Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Midwest Quarterly, and The Tishman Review, among others. Currently, she is writing a poetry collection related to England’s eastern coast. Judy Brackett’s poems and stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Epoch, The Maine Review, Commonweal, Catamaran, West Marin Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Miramar, Subtropics, Spillway, The Untidy Season: An Anthology of Nebraska Women Poets (Backwaters Press), and elsewhere. She was born in Nebraska, moved to California as a child, and has lived in a small town in the northern Sierra Nevada foothills for many years. She is a member of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley and has taught creative writing and English literature and composition at Sierra College. Amanda Brahlek is a writer living in Jacksonville, Florida. She recently graduated with her MFA in Creative Writing from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Her work has most recently appeared in The Cossack Review, About Place Journal, and Gravel. Kim Bridgford is the cultural curator of the Poetry by the Sea Reading Series at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the artistic director of the music and poetry series at 30th Street Station, and the founder and director of Poetry by the Sea: A Global Conference, www.poetrybytheseaconference.org. As the editor of Mezzo Cammin, www.mezzocammin.com, she is the founder of The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project, a comprehensive database of women poets, which has been celebrated at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, at PAFA, and at Fordham University-Lincoln Center. Bridgford is the author of nine books of poetry, including the recent Human Interest. She is the recipient of grants from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, the NEA, and the Ucross Foundation. Charles Clifford Brooks III makes a career out of telling the truth, but not outright. His first book of poetry is The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics. Clifford’s second collection of verse is called, Athena Departs: Gospel of a Man Apart. His epic poem, The Salvation of Cowboy Blue Crawford, will slip out in late 2018/early 2019. The Southern Collective Experience is the apple of his eye. It is a company not just “his,” but a cooperative of professional artists who have the right-and-left-brain ability to keep a business in the black, meet deadlines, and thrive as pure artists. Leila Chatti is a Tunisian-American poet and author of the chapbooks Ebb (New-Generation African Poets) and Tunsiya/Amrikiya (Bull City Press), both

352

u

Crab Orchard Review


Contributors’ Notes forthcoming in 2018. She is the recipient of the 2017-2018 Ron Wallace Poetry Fellowship from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, a writing fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, scholarships from the Tin House Writers’ Workshop and Dickinson House, and prizes from Ploughshares Emerging Writer’s Contest, Narrative Magazine’s 30 Below Contest, and the Academy of American Poets. Her poems appear in Ploughshares, Tin House, The Georgia Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, New England Review, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Kelly Cherry has published twenty-five books of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, ten chapbooks, and translations of two classical plays. Her most recent title is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer (poetry). Forthcoming this fall is Temporium, a book of short-shorts and flash fiction. She recently received the Walker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Southern Letters. Kelly Cherry and her husband live in southside Virginia. Charlie Clark’s poetry has appeared in Pleiades, Smartish Pace, Threepenny Review, West Branch, and other journals. He studied poetry at the University of Maryland and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He lives in Austin, Texas. Tiana Clark is the 2017–2018 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute of Creative Writing. She is the author of Equilibrium, selected by Afaa Michael Weaver for the 2016 Frost Place Chapbook Competition. Tiana is the winner of the 2017 Furious Flower’s Gwendolyn Brooks Centennial Poetry Prize, 2016 Academy of American Poets University Prize, and 2015 Rattle Poetry Prize. Her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from the New Yorker, American Poetry Review, Best New Poets 2015, Muzzle Magazine, Thrush, The Journal, and elsewhere. Find her online at tianaclark.com. Andrew Collard lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he attends grad school and teaches. His recent poems can be found in Mid-American Review, Columbia Poetry Review, and Baltimore Review, among other journals. Clare Cross is an Illinois native who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her poetry has appeared in the Bellevue Literary Review and a previous issue of Crab Orchard Review. She is currently working on a novel. John Crutchfield is an American playwright, poet, essayist and translator. He grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, and currently lives in Berlin, Germany. Carlos Cunha’s stories and essays have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Seattle Review, TriQuarterly Online, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. His essays have won the WIlliam Faulkner-WIlliam Wisdom and the Gulf Coast magazine national literary contests. Born in Portugal and raised in South Africa,

Crab Orchard Review

u

353


Contributors’ Notes he lives in Florida, where he works as a copy editor for The New York Times International Weekly. Tricia Currans-Sheehan, Professor of Modern Languages, is the author of The Egg Lady and Other Neighbors (winner of NRP’s Headwaters Literary Competition) and The River Road: A Novel in Linked Stories. She is the founding editor of The Briar Cliff Review. Currans-Sheehan has published stories in Virginia Quarterly Review, Connecticut Review, South Dakota Review, Puerto del Sol, Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies, Fiction, Calyx, and other journals. Tatum Cush studied English/creative writing with a minor in history at Point Park University. This is the first time her work has been chosen for publication. Allison Pitinii Davis is the author of Line Study of a Motel Clerk (Baobab Press) and Poppy Seeds (Kent State University Press), winner of the Wick Poetry Chapbook Prize. She holds an MFA from Ohio State University and fellowships from Stanford University’s Wallace Stegner program and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her recent work has appeared in Best American Poetry 2016, Crazyhorse, and The Missouri Review. She began her doctoral studies at The University of Tennessee in the Fall 2017. Ann V. DeVilbiss has had work in Day One, TAB, and elsewhere, with work forthcoming in Pangyrus and CALYX. She is the recipient of an Emerging Artist Award from the Kentucky Arts Council, the state arts agency, which is supported by state tax dollars and federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. Nancy Wayson Dinan is a PhD student at Texas Tech University, where she serves as a managing editor for Iron Horse Literary Review. She holds an MFA from the Ohio State University. Recent and forthcoming work may be found at Arts & Letters, The Cincinnati Review, Grist, The Texas Observer, and elsewhere. Chelsea Dingman’s first book, Thaw, was chosen by Allison Joseph to win the National Poetry Series, published by the University of Georgia Press in 2017. In 2016–17, she also won The Southeast Review’s Gearhart Poetry Prize, The Sycamore Review’s Wabash Prize, and Water~Stone Review’s Jane Kenyon Poetry Prize. Her work can be found in Mid-American Review, Ninth Letter, The Colorado Review, and Gulf Coast, among others. Visit her website: chelseadingman.com. Rachel Edelman was raised in a Jewish family in Memphis, Tennessee, and has lived in western Massachusetts, Maine, and Colorado before settling, for now, in Seattle. She has received fellowships and residencies from the Mineral School, Crosstown Arts, the Academy of American Poets, and the University of Washington. She writes for the Ploughshares blog, and her poems have been

354

u

Crab Orchard Review


Contributors’ Notes published in The Threepenny Review, Poetry Northwest, the Southern Humanities Review, The Pinch, and other journals. Nausheen Eusuf is a PhD candidate in English at Boston University. She is a graduate of the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins, and her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The American Scholar, Salmagundi, PN Review, Southwest Review, Literary Imagination, and other journals. Her first full-length collection, titled Not Elegy, But Eros, is forthcoming from NYQ Books. Kerry James Evans is the author of Bangalore (Copper Canyon Press). He lives and works in St. Louis, Missouri. Annie Finch’s most recent books are Spells: New and Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press), A Poet’s Craft: A Comprehensive Guide to Making and Sharing Your Poetry (University of Michigan Press), and the anthology Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters (Everymans Library). Her verse drama Among the Goddesses: An Epic Libretto in Seven Dreams received the Sarasvati Award for Poetry. She teaches in the low-residency program at St. Francis College. “Elegy for Reetika” was first published as “Eclipse: Blood Moon” in a special section of poems dedicated to Reetika Vazirani in Prairie Schooner, Spring 2004. Susan Finch is an assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. Her work has appeared in Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry, Carve Magazine, New Ohio Review, and elsewhere. Her fiction has been a finalist in several contests, including the Tennessee Williams Fiction Contest and the Katherine Anne Porter Prize, and most recently, she was the recipient of a Tennessee Williams Scholarship in fiction at The Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Currently, she is at work on a novel and a collection of short stories. Dr. Kate Gale is co-founder and Managing Editor of Red Hen Press, Editor of the Los Angeles Review, and she teaches in the Low Residency MFA program at the University of Nebraska in Poetry, Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction. She is author of seven books of poetry including The Goldilocks Zone from the University of New Mexico Press in 2014, and Echo Light from Red Mountain Press in 2014, and six librettos including Rio de Sangre, a libretto for an opera with composer Don Davis, which had its world premiere October 2010 at the Florentine Opera in Milwaukee. Nicole Caruso Garcia’s poems are forthcoming in PANK and Light. Her work has appeared in Mezzo Cammin, Measure, The Orchards, The Rotary Dial, The Raintown Review, Antiphon, The HyperTexts, and elsewhere. She is a past winner of the Willow Review Award. She earned her B.A. in English and Religious Studies from Fairfield University, and after seven years in corporate industry, she left to earn her M.S. in Education from University of Bridgeport. Residing in Connecticut,

Crab Orchard Review

u

355


Contributors’ Notes she teaches Poetry and Creative Writing at Trumbull High School. She is Assistant Poetry Editor of Able Muse. Katherine Gordon studied at the University of Glasgow, where she obtained a PhD in Scottish Literature. She now lives in St. Louis and can be found teaching, writing, or drinking strong tea (but not all at once). Her work has appeared in the US and the UK including, most recently, in Moon City Review and Arcturus. Vince Gotera is a Professor of English at the University of Northern Iowa, where he served as Editor of the North American Review. He is the new Editor of Star*Line, print journal of the international Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association. Recent poems in The American Journal of Poetry, Altered Reality Magazine, Ekphrastic Review, Eunoia Review, Inigo Online Magazine, and Parody Poetry Journal. Vince’s digital art was recently featured on the cover of Killjoy Literary Magazine. He won the 2017 Veterans Writing Award from Stone Canoe. He blogs at The Man with the Blue Guitar, vincegotera.blogspot.com. Carrie Green earned her MFA at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and has received grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, the Kentucky Arts Council, and the Louisiana Division of the Arts. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Poetry Northwest, Terrain, River Styx, Flyway, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. Carrie lives in Lexington, Kentucky, and works as a reference librarian in a public library. Benjamin S. Grossberg’s books include Space Traveler (University of Tampa Press) and Sweet Core Orchard (University of Tampa Press), winner of the 2008 Tampa Review Prize and a Lambda Literary Award. A new chapbook, An Elegy, was recently published by Jacar Press. He is Director of Creative Writing at The University of Hartford. Paul Guest is the author of four collections of poetry and a memoir. A Guggenheim Fellow and Whiting Award winner, he teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Virginia. Carmella de los Angeles Guiol is a writer, educator, amateur photographer and tropical fruit enthusiast. She is a graduate of Amherst College and the MFA program at the University of South Florida. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Review, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Thought Catalog, The Normal School, The Toast, Bustle, Fiction Southeast, Slag Glass City, Kudzu House, Tahoma Literary Review, The Manifest-Station, and elsewhere. A proud Floridian, Carmella is currently living and teaching in Cartagena, Colombia, as a Fulbright fellow. You can keep up with her travels and her writing at www.therestlesswriter.com.

356

u

Crab Orchard Review


Contributors’ Notes C. G. Hadsell is an author, poet, actor, and musician with publications in Daedalus Magazine, Literati Magazine, and more. He currently lives in Academia—a rural cow-town in Central Pennsylvania where he works full-time at a local vineyard making and selling wine. His influences include, but are not limited to—Jack Kerouac, Andrew Wyeth, Flannery O’Connor, Sharon Olds, Kim Bridgford, Superman, Jules Verne, and James Douglas Morrison. Marina Hatsopoulos has been winner or finalist in the F(r)iction Short Story Contest, the PNWA literary contest, the Prolitzer Prize, and the Glimmer Train Short Story Award for new writers. Her writing is published or forthcoming in Pooled Ink: Celebrating the NCW Contest Winners, Poetry and Business, F(r)iction #7 by Tethered by Letters, and Prole21 by Prole Books. She was Co-Founder/CEO of Z Corporation, a leader in 3D printing out of MIT. Laura Haynes is an ex-screenwriter and 2012 graduate of the Bennington Writing Workshops. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in McSweeney’s, Prime Number Magazine (2014 Prime Number Poetry Prize; Pushcart nomination), Crab Orchard Review, Measure, and Crab Creek Review. She lives in Santa Barbara, California. Elise Hempel grew up in suburban Chicago and has worked as an editor, proofreader, copywriter and university English instructor. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Poetry, Measure, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Tar River Poetry, and The Midwest Quarterly, as well as in Poetry Daily and Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry. She is the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Literary Award and the winner of the 2015 Able Muse Write Prize in Poetry and the 2016 String Poet Prize. Her full-length collection of poems, Second Rain, is available from Able Muse Press. She lives in central Illinois. Lisa Higgs’s second chapbook, Unintentional Guide to the Big City, was published by Red Bird Chapbooks in April 2015. Most recently, her poem “Wild Honey Has the Scent of Freedom” was awarded 2nd Prize in the 2017 Basil Bunting International Poetry Prize from the Newcastle Center for the Literary Arts in the UK. Her poems can be found in numerous literary journals­ —including Phoebe, Water~Stone Review, and PMS: poemmemoirstory—and have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards. Currently, Lisa serves as a Poetry Editor for Quiddity International Literary Journal. Anna Claire Hodge received her PhD in creative writing from Florida State University. Honors include scholarships to both Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Mid-American Review, Southern Indiana Review, and others. Her poems have been anthologized in Best New Poets 2013 and It Was Written: Poetry Inspired by Hip-Hop.

Crab Orchard Review

u

357


Contributors’ Notes Karen Paul Holmes has a full-length poetry collection, Untying the Knot (Aldrich Press). She was chosen for Best Emerging Poets (Stay Thirsty Media, forthcoming). Recent publications include Prairie Schooner, Tinderbox, Tar River Poetry, Slipstream, and Poet Lore. To support fellow writers, Holmes originated and hosts a poetry critique group in Atlanta and Writers’ Night Out in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She also teaches writing classes at John C. Campbell Folk School, Writer’s Circle, and other venues. Elizabeth Hoover’s poetry has appeared in Epoch, The Pinch, and PANK. She received the 2015 Difficult Fruit Poetry Prize from IthacaLit and the 2014 StoryQuarterly essay prize, judged by Maggie Nelson. You can see more of her work at www.ehooverink.com. Rob Howell received an MFA from Louisiana State University, and in the Fall of 2017 he’ll begin the PhD program in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Houston. He’s won runner-up in the Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest, and second place in the Playboy College Fiction Contest. His fiction has appeared in the Kenyon Review. Michael Hurley is from Pittsburgh. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Sycamore Review, New Delta Review, Fourteen Hills, Spoon River Poetry Review, Mid-American Review, Prairie Schooner, Alaska Quarterly Review, North American Review, FIELD, Cimarron Review, and elsewhere. His chapbook, Wooden Boys, is available from Seven Kitchens Press. 
 Christina Hutchins’s awards include the 2015 May Swenson Award of Utah State University Press for Tender the Maker and the 2011 Robin Becker Prize for the chapbook Radiantly We Inhabit the Air. Her first volume, The Stranger Dissolves, was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award and Audre Lorde Prize. She has won The Missouri Review Editors’ Prize, National Poetry Review’s Finch Prize, two Deming/Money for Women Awards, the James Phelan Award, and fellowships to Villa Montalvo Center for the Arts, Saratoga, and Summer Literary Seminars, St. Petersburg, Russia. More information at www.christinahutchins.net. Julie Swarstad Johnson is the author of a poetry chapbook, Jumping the Pit. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Cimarron Review, Nimrod International Journal, Zone 3, and others. She regularly contributes book reviews to Harvard Review Online. She lives in Tucson, Arizona, where she works at the University of Arizona Poetry Center. Rodney Jones is the author of eleven books of poems. His honors include the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Harper Lee Award, and the Kingsley Tufts Award, and he has been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the Griffin International

358

u

Crab Orchard Review


Contributors’ Notes Poetry Prize, and the Pulitzer Prize. His poems have appeared widely in magazines and in nine editions of Best American Poetry. Village Prodigies, his latest book, doubles as a book of poems and an experimental novel. He lives in New Orleans, Louisiana, and teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Warren Wilson College. Jen Karetnick is the author of seven poetry collections, including American Sentencing (Winter Goose Publishing), long-listed for both the 2017 Julie Suk Award and the 2017 Lascaux Prize; and The Treasures That Prevail (Whitepoint Press), finalist for the 2017 Poetry Society of Virginia Book Prize. The winner of the 2017 Hart Crane Memorial Poetry Contest, the 2016 Romeo Lemay Poetry Prize and the 2015 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Prize, Jen Karetnick is a Puschcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee whose work has appeared recently in The Evansville Review, One, Painted Bride Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Prime Number Magazine, Spillway, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Verse Daily, and Waxwing. Kara Krewer grew up on an orchard in rural Georgia. She holds an MFA from Purdue University, and her poems have appeared recently in Prairie Schooner, The Journal, RHINO, and elsewhere. She is currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and lives in Santa Clara, California. Kasandra Larsen has recent poetry in The Writing Disorder, FIVE:2:ONE, The Gambler Magazine, Into the Void Magazine (Dublin), Stoneboat Literary Journal, and Stonecoast Review, and upcoming in 805 and The 2017 Riverfeet Press Anthology. Her manuscript, “Construction,” was a finalist for the 2016 Four Way Books Intro Prize in Poetry, and her chapbook, Stellar Telegram, won the 2009 Sheltering Pines Press Chapbook Award. Nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize, she works as an accountant for the Providence Public Library. Paige Lewis, whose poems are forthcoming in American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, The Georgia Review, and elsewhere, is the 2016 recipient of The Florida Review Editors’ Award in Poetry, and is the author of the chapbook Reasons to Wake You (forthcoming, Tupelo Press). Paul Lindholdt is Professor of English at Eastern Washington University where he teaches literature and researches and writes about the environment. He has won awards from the Academy of American Poets and the Society of Professional Journalists. He also won the Washington State Book Award for his book In Earshot of Water: Notes from the Columbia Plateau, which was published by the University of Iowa Press. A Washington State native, Paul grew up in Seattle and on Vashon Island. He has a book forthcoming on the Spokane River by the University of Washington Press. Moira Linehan is the author of two collections of poetry, both from Southern Illinois University Press: If No Moon and Incarnate Grace. New work of hers

Crab Orchard Review

u

359


Contributors’ Notes appeared recently, or are forthcoming, in Innisfree Poetry Journal (online), Nimrod International Journal, Notre Dame Review, Poet Lore, Salamander, and Tampa Review. Her poem “Entering the Cill Rialaig Landscape” was the First Place Grand Prize Winner in the 2016 Atlanta Review International Poetry Competition. Linehan lives in the greater Boston area. Allison Linville is from Emmett, Idaho. She earned her MFA at the University of Montana, where she also worked as the editor of CutBank Literary Magazine. Her fascination with weather comes from her days working as a remote fire lookout in northwest Montana. Allison’s work has been published in Ghost Town, Tahoma Literary Review, Bellingham Review, Cirque Journal, and more. She lives in Montana and online at allisonlinville.com. Nancy Chen Long is a 2017 NEA Creative Writing fellow. Her first book, Light into Bodies, won the 2016 Tampa Review Prize for Poetry. You’ll find her recent work in Ninth Letter, Zone 3, Alaska Quarterly Review, Pleiades, and elsewhere. She has a degree in engineering and an MBA, worked as an electrical engineer, software consultant, and project manager, and more recently earned an MFA. She works in Research Technologies at Indiana University. More information at www.nancychenlong.com George Looney’s recent books include Hermits in Our Own Flesh: The Epistles of an Anonymous Monk, Meditations Before the Windows Fail, the book-length poem Structures the Wind Sings Through, Monks Beginning to Waltz, and A Short Bestiary of Love and Madness. He founded the BFA in Creative Writing Program at Penn State Erie, where he is Distinguished Professor of Literature and Creative Writing and editor of the international literary journal Lake Effect. He is also translation editor of Mid-American Review, and co-founder of the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival. Tenley Lozano graduated from the United States Coast Guard Academy with a degree in engineering in 2008, and spent five years as an officer in the US Coast Guard. During her tenure, she worked in the engineering department on a ship that patrolled the eastern Pacific Ocean from Vancouver to the equator conducting counter-narcotic missions. She then attended Navy Dive School and spent two years as a Coast Guard Diver with Regional Dive Locker West at Maritime Safety and Security Team 91109 in San Diego, California. She was awarded Crab Orchard Review’s 2017 John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize for an essay about PTSD and finding healing through backpacking with her dog. Tenley’s writing has appeared in the web series Permission to Speak Freely, O-Dark Thirty, The War Horse, in the anthology Incoming: Veteran Writers on Returning Home, and she was featured on the series Incoming Radio. Tenley graduated from Sierra Nevada College with an MFA in Creative Writing (Nonfiction) and she is writing a memoir that combines her experiences in the Coast Guard with stories of traveling with her service dog, Elu.

360

u

Crab Orchard Review


Contributors’ Notes Kristine Langley Mahler has nonfiction recently published or forthcoming in Quarter After Eight, Chautauqua, Storm Cellar, The Bitter Southerner, and Sweet: A Literary Confection. She is currently completing a grant-funded nonfiction project on immigration/inhabitation on native land, tracing her family’s 400-year-old history from Quebec to northern Wisconsin/Minnesota. Kristine is a nonfiction editor at Pithead Chapel, an assistant editor at Profane Journal, and a graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Her work may be followed at kristinelangleymahler.com. Dawn Manning is a writer, metalsmith, and rogue anthropologist living in the Greater Philadelphia area. Her debut poetry collection, Postcards from the Dead Letter Office, was published in 2016. She is a Mona Van Duyn Scholarship in poetry recipient for the 2017 Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Her poetry has received the Edith Garlow Poetry Prize, the San Miguel Writers’ Conference Poetry Prize, and the Beullah Rose Poetry Prize. Her poems have been published in Fairy Tale Review, Silk Road Review, Smartish Pace, Unsplendid, and other literary journals. When the stars align, she travels. Bridget Menasche is a graduate student at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her work can also be found in Fiddleblack, Adroit Journal, PANK, Parcel, Wall-ofus, Science Buffs, and The Ghazal Page. She loves all bacteria that don’t live on her kitchen counters; painting dead things; and humming over cancer cells. Mary Meriam’s first collection, Conjuring My Leafy Muse, was nominated for the 2015 Poets’ Prize. Her second collection, Girlie Calendar, was selected for the 2016 American Library Association Over the Rainbow List. Her poems have appeared in 13 anthologies, including Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters (Penguin Random House). Poems are published or forthcoming in Literary Imagination, American Life in Poetry, Cimarron Review, Rattle, The New York Times, The Women’s Review of Books, Prelude, and Verse Daily. David Mills is the author of two books of poetry: The Dream Detective; and a bookprize finalist, The Sudden Country. He has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (to write about New York’s African Burial Ground) and Breadloaf. He has an MFA from Warren Wilson College where he was a Holden Fellow, and an MA from New York University. He lived in Langston Hughes’ landmark home and has written and recorded two poems for ESPN. His poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Fence, Jubilat, Vermont Literary Review, and Callaloo. Christina Misite is an English instructor and new mother. Her work appears in The Comstock Review, Borderlands, 42opus, and Concho River Review. She lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband and son.

Crab Orchard Review

u

361


Contributors’ Notes George Moore’s collections include Saint Agnes Outside the Walls (FutureCycle Press) and Children’s Drawings of the Universe (Salmon Poetry). Nominated for six Pushcart Prizes, and a finalist for both the National Poetry Series and the Brittingham Poetry Award, his work has appeared in The Atlantic, Colorado Review, Arc, Orbis, Poetry, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. After a career at the University of Colorado Boulder, he presently lives on the south shore of Nova Scotia. John Morgan moved to Fairbanks in 1976, thinking he would stay for a year. He’s still there. Winner of the Discovery Award, Morgan has published six books of poetry. The latest are Archives of the Air (Salmon Poetry) and River of Light: A Conversation with Kabir (University of Alaska Press). Several years ago, he served as the first writer-in-residence at Denali National Park. Leah Nielsen earned her MFA from the University of Alabama. Her first collection of poems, No Magic, was published by Word Press. Her chapbook, Side Effects May Include, which examines the state of permanent patienthood, was published in 2014 by The Chapbook. She has work published or forthcoming in Indiana Review, Rattle, Southern Indiana Review, and online at MotherShould?. She lives and teaches in Westfield, Massachusetts. Jude Nutter was born in Yorkshire, England, and grew up in northern Germany. Her poems have received over 40 awards and grants. Her first collection, Pictures of the Afterlife (Salmon Poetry), winner of the Irish Listowel Prize, was published in 2002. The Curator of Silence (University of Notre Dame Press) won the Ernest Sandeen Prize and was awarded the 2007 Minnesota Book Award in poetry. I Wish I Had a Heart Like Yours, Walt Whitman (University of Notre Dame Press) was awarded the 2010 Minnesota Book Award in poetry and voted Poetry Book of the Year by ForeWord Review. Frank Paino holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College. His poems have appeared in a variety of literary publications, most recently: North American Review, Catamaran, and Gettysburg Review. His first two volumes of poetry were published by Cleveland State University Press: The Rapture of Matter in 1991, and Out of Eden in 1997. He has received a number of awards, including a Pushcart Prize, The Cleveland Arts Prize in Literature, and a 2016 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. In 2016, Marge Piercy selected his poem, “Armageddon,” for Special Merit in the Comstock Review’s Muriel Craft Bailey Contest. Rachael Peckham is the 2016 winner of Indiana Review’s 1/2 K Prize and the Orison Anthology Nonfiction Award. Her work has received notable mention twice in the Best American Essay series, and has appeared widely in journals and magazines, including Brevity, Gulf Coast, Hotel Amerika, South Loop Review, Southern Indiana Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and elsewhere. Rachael is an associate professor of English at

362

u

Crab Orchard Review


Contributors’ Notes Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, where she lives with her husband and son. She is currently at work on a collection of essays about flight and trauma. M. H. Perry is a certified master naturalist, organic gardener, and beekeeper who writes life stories for hospice patients and blogs about the natural world at http:// mhperry.wordpress.com/. Mary Pinard’s poems have appeared in a variety of literary journals, and she has published critical essays on poets, including Lorine Niedecker and Alice Oswald. Portal, her collection of poems, was published by Salmon Press. Her poems have also been featured in collaborative performances and exhibits with Boston-area musicians, painters, and sculptors. Recently, she was awarded Honorable Mention in the 2017 Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize for Poetry Competition, and she was a semi-finalist in the Nimrod International Journal Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry Contest. She was born and raised in Seattle. John Poch’s most recent book is Fix Quiet (St. Augustine’s Press). He has published stories in The Sun, Four Way Review, Carolina Quarterly, Gray’s Sporting Journal, and other journals. Iain Haley Pollock’s debut collection of poems, Spit Back a Boy, won the 2010 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. He teaches at Rye Country Day School in Rye, New York, and in the Solstice MFA Program of Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Marielle Prince is poetry editor at The Collagist. Her recent and forthcoming publications include work in Four Way Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, Nashville Review, Ninth Letter, Poetry Northwest, storySouth, and Yemassee. She received an MFA from the University of Virginia and lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. Billy Reynolds was born and raised in Huntsville, Alabama (“The Rocket City”). He has received awards and scholarships in poetry from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 32 Poems, Bellevue Literary Review, Chattahoochee Review, Crab Orchard Review, Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, Poet Lore, Tar River Poetry, and Zone 3, among others. Currently, he lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Helena Rho, a former assistant professor of pediatrics, has taught at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the Johns Hopkins Hospital, and the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction and Slate. Paige Riehl is the author of Blood Ties, a poetry chapbook published by Finishing Line Press, and her full-length manuscript titled Wait was a 2017 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry finalist. Her poetry has appeared in publications such

Crab Orchard Review

u

363


Contributors’ Notes as Portland Review, Meridian, South Dakota Review, and Nimrod International Journal. She won the 2012–2013 Loft Mentor Series in Poetry and the 2011 Literal Latte Prize for Poetry and was a 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee. She is the Poetry Editor for Midway Journal and an English faculty member at Anoka-Ramsey Community College. Emily Rosko is the author of Prop Rockery (University of Akron Press) and Raw Goods Inventory (University of Iowa Press). She is the editor of A Broken Thing: Poets on the Line (University of Iowa Press) and poetry editor for Crazyhorse. Recent poems appear in Epoch, The Missouri Review (online), and West Branch. She teaches at the College of Charleston. Clare Rossini’s third collection, Lingo, was published by University of Akron Press. Poems in her current manuscript have appeared in such journals as The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, Parnassus, Ploughshares, and Poetry. Her poems have been featured on Connecticut Public Radio and the BBC. She has received fellowships from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Maxwell Shepherd Foundation, and the Bush Foundation. Rossini taught for many years in the Vermont College low-residency MFA Program. She currently serves as Artist-in-Residence in the English Department at Trinity College in Hartford. Emily Schulten is the author of Rest in Black Haw. Her poetry appears or is forthcoming in The Missouri Review, Prairie Schooner, Colorado Review, Barrow Street, and New Ohio Review, among others. She is a professor of English and creative writing at Florida Keys Community College. Rob Shapiro received an MFA from the University of Virginia where he was awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Southern Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, River Styx, and Blackbird, among other journals. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. Molly Spencer’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Copper Nickel, Georgia Review, The Missouri Review poem-of-the-week web feature, Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, New England Review, and other journals. Her critical writing has appeared at Colorado Review, Kenyon Review Online, and The Rumpus. She’s an MFA candidate in poetry at the Rainier Writing Workshop and a Poetry Editor at The Rumpus. Neha Srivastava’s writing has appeared in The Hindu, The Violet Hour Magazine, and The Phoenix Soul, among other places. Black tea keeps her going as much as poetry, even on hot afternoons. She lives in Hyderabad, India, with two wise cats and a husband. Find out more about her at www.neha-srivastava.com.

364

u

Crab Orchard Review


Contributors’ Notes Jessica Temple earned her PhD in poetry from Georgia State University. She writes and voices shows for the syndicated poetry college radio program melodically challenged and teaches at Alabama A&M University. Her work is forthcoming or has recently appeared in Thema; Aesthetica; Blast Furnace; Canyon Voices; and Stone, River, Sky: An Anthology of Georgia Poems from Negative Capability Press, among others. Her chapbook, Seamless and Other Legends, is available from Finishing Line Press. Find out more at jessicatemple.com. Alison Townsend’s newest book is The Persistence of Rivers: An Essay on Moving Water, winner of Jeanne Leiby Prose Award. She is also author of two award-winning books of poetry, Persephone in America and The Blue Dress, and two chapbooks. Her writing appears widely, and awards include a Pushcart Prize, a literary fellowship from the Wisconsin Arts Board, the Crab Orchard Open Poetry Competition Prize and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Chancellor’s Regional Literary Award. Professor Emerita of English at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, she lives in the farm country outside Madison. She has recently completed Nature Girl, a collection of interrelated essays. Afaa M. Weaver’s newest collection of poetry is Spirit Boxing (University of Pittsburgh Press). His recent awards and honors include the 2014 Kingsley Tufts Award, and the 2015 Phillis Wheatley Award. Afaa is a 2017 Guggenheim fellow in poetry. He is a member of the core faculty in Drew University’s MFA program in poetry and poetry in translation. Gabriel Welsch writes fiction and poetry, and is the author of four collection of poems: The Four Horsepersons of a Disappointing Apocalypse (Steel Toe Books); The Death of Flying Things (Word Tech Editions); An Eye Fluent in Gray (chapbook, Seven Kitchens Press); and Dirt and All Its Dense Labor (Word Tech Editions). His work has appeared recently in New Letters, Salamander, Mid-American Review, Thrush, and New Madrid Journal. His story, “Groundscratchers,” originally published in The Southern Review, was named a Distinguished Story of 2011 in the 2012 edition of The Best American Short Stories. He lives in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, with his family, works as vice president of advancement and marketing at Juniata College, and is an occasional teacher at the Chautauqua Writer’s Center. Lesley Wheeler’s chapbook Propagation is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press in the fall of 2017. Her full-length collections include Radioland and Heterotopia, winner of the Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize. Recent poems and essays appear in Cold Mountain Review, Ecotone, Blackbird, and Poetry, and she blogs at “Lesley Wheeler–talking poetry personally.” Wheeler is the Henry S. Fox Professor of English at Washington and Lee University in Virginia. Ruth Williams is the author of Flatlands (Black Lawrence Press, forthcoming 2018) and Conveyance (Dancing Girl Press). Her poetry has appeared in Michigan

Crab Orchard Review

u

365


Contributors’ Notes Quarterly Review, jubilat, Pleiades, and Third Coast among others. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor of English at William Jewell College and an Editor for Bear Review. Keith S. Wilson is an Affrilachian Poet, Cave Canem fellow, and graduate of the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop. He has received three scholarships from Bread Loaf as well as scholarships from MacDowell, UCross, Millay Colony, and the Vermont Studio Center, among others. Keith serves as Assistant Poetry Editor at Four Way Review and Digital Media Editor at Obsidian Journal. Margot Wizansky, a poet and painter, writes on the south coast of Massachusetts. Her poems have appeared in The Missouri Review, Maine Review, Poetry East, Exit 7, Spillway, Lumina, and Salamander. She won a Writers@Work Poetry Fellowship and Carlow University’s Poetry Prize sent her to Ireland. “Don’t Look Them In The Eye: Love, Life, and Jim Crow,” is the oral history she transcribed for her friend, Emerson Stamps, grandson of slaves, son of sharecroppers, her poems and his story. The Central Conference of American Rabbis selected her poem, “Hands”, from Beyond Forgetting, an anthology on Alzheimers, for their revised prayerbook. Mary Wysong-Haeri’s work has appeared in Perceptions Magazine, The Manifest Station, Exposition Review, and Silk Road Review. She lives in Portland, Oregon, where she is finishing a memoir of the years she spent living in Iran.

366

u

Crab Orchard Review


CR AB ORCH AR D •

REVIEW

This volume marks the end of Crab Orchard Review as an in-print journal. We will continue publishing the best new contemporary writing we can find online, but we wanted to take a moment to thank all the subscribers and supporters who have read us over the past 23 years and made it possible to do what we have done; the assistant editors, interns, staff, and faculty at Southern Illinois University Carbondale who have worked alongside of us and done so much of the work that makes a print publication happen; and the writers and cover artists whose invaluable contributions made it always worthwhile. We hope you all will join us as we move forward online:

http://craborchardreview.siu.edu/

For general information, calls for submissions, and the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry.

https://issuu.com/craborchardreview For reading new issues and the archives for Crab Orchard Review 1995 – 2018 for free!

Thank you for all your support! Editor & Poetry Editor Allison Joseph Prose Editor Carolyn Alessio Managing Editor & Series Editor of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Jon Tribble


Calls for Submissions The 2018 online issues of Crab Orchard Review are set and will follow this order, which is a little different from past years. We look forward to reading your work! Issue 1. General issue with COR Annual Literary Prizes $1,250 prize in fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry all submissions are $12.00 for contest through Submittable submission period January 18, 2018 – March 18, 2018 notification of winners and publication queries: April 30, 2018 Free general submissions: March 18, 2018 – April 30, 2018 notification of all submitters: May 31, 2018 publication goal: September 2018

Issue 2. Special Issue: A World of Flavors ~ Writers on Food and Drink No contest for Special Issue Free submission period: May 1, 2018 – July 30, 2018 notification of all submitters and publication queries: August 30, 2018 publication goal: February 2019

Issue 3. Student Writing issue with Student Writing Awards $500 prize in fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry all submissions are free through Submittable submission period August 1, 2018 – October 15, 2018 notification of winners and publication queries: January 15, 2019 publication goal: April 2019

Crab Orchard Review Vol 22 Double Issue 2018  

The last print issue of Crab Orchard Review, featuring General/Awards Issue for 2017, including the Winners of Our Annual Fiction, Poetry, &...

Crab Orchard Review Vol 22 Double Issue 2018  

The last print issue of Crab Orchard Review, featuring General/Awards Issue for 2017, including the Winners of Our Annual Fiction, Poetry, &...