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Cover: Four photographs by Jason Holland Š 2002 Jason Holland is a student in Cinema and Photography at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

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ISSN 1083-5571

Crab Orchard Review $8.00us Vol. 8 No. 1

AWP Intro Winners

Including Our 2002 Fiction & Nonfiction Prize Winners

,77108-DFFHBh:r;m

Andrea Scott Peggy Shumaker Maurya Simon Susan Sterling Myrna Stone Maria Terrone Eric Trethewey S. Brady Tucker Gale R. Walden Patricia Jabbeh Wesley Carolyn Beard Whitlow Eran Williams Lisa Williams Robert Wrigley Lyndane Yang

Volume 8, Number 1 Fall/Winter 2002

Nin Andrews Elsa Arnett Chi-Wai Au Doreen Baingana Ned Balbo Lory Bedikian Heather Brittain Bergstrom Amy Bleser Bruce Bond Tara Bray Sharon May Brown Bethany Edstrom Ryan Fox James Gill Elton Glaser Iris Gomez Kevin A. GonzĂĄlez Marilyn Hacker Dennis Hinrichsen Doris Iarovici Antonio Jocson Tayari Jones Kasey Jueds Jesse Lee Kercheval Trevor West Knapp Bonnie Wai-Lee Kwong Gerry LaFemina Karen An-Hwei Lee Amy Lingafelter Cris Mazza Jeffrey McDaniel Ricardo Pau-Llosa Jon Pineda Rohan Preston Joanna Smith Rakoff Nicole Louise Reid Jennifer Richter Nicola Schmidt

Crab Orchard Review

In this volume:


A B ORCH A R R C D •

REVIEW


C RAB •

ORCH A R D •

REVIEW A JOURNAL OF CREATIVE WORKS

VOL. 8 NO. 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 Anne Clarkin Barbara Eidlin Reagan Hanley Keith McElmurry Kevin McKelvey Emily Ostendorf Steve Sawyer Crystal Schroeder Mark Vannier Courtney Wilson Jason Vaughan

Assistant Editors Tabaré Alvarez Curtis Crisler Melanie Dusseau Melanie Martin Mary Stepp Krista Marie Vondras Fred Von Drasek

Book Review Editor Jon Tribble

Spring/Summer 2003 ISSN 1083-5571

Board of Advisors Ellen Gilchrist Charles Johnson Rodney Jones Thomas Kinsella Richard Russo

The Department of English Southern Illinois University Carbondale


Address all correspondence to: CRAB ORCHARD REVIEW Southern Illinois University Carbondale Carbondale, Illinois 62901-4503 Crab Orchard Review (ISSN 1083-5571) is published twice a year by the Department of English, Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Subscription rates in the United States for individuals are $15 for one year, $25 for two years, $35 for three years; foreign rates for individuals are, respectively, $20, $35, and $50. Subscription rates for institutions are $16 for one year, $32 for two years, and $48 for three years; foreign rates for institutions are, respectively, $21, $42, and $63. Single issues are $8 (please include an additional $3 for international orders). Copies not received will be replaced without charge if notice of nonreceipt is given within four months of publication. Six weeks notice required for change of address. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Crab Orchard Review, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Carbondale, Illinois 62901-4503. Crab Orchard Review considers submissions from January through April, and September through November of each year. All editorial submissions and queries must be accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Please notify the editors of simultaneous submission. Crab Orchard Review accepts no responsibility for unsolicited submissions and will not enter into correspondence about their loss or delay. Copyright © 2003 Crab Orchard Review Permission to reprint materials from this journal remains the decision of the authors. We request Crab Orchard Review be credited with initial publication. The publication of Crab Orchard Review is made possible with support from the Chancellor, the College of Liberal Arts, and the Department of English of Southern Illinois University Carbondale; and through generous private and corporate donations. Lines from Thomas Kinsella’s poem “Crab Orchard Sanctuary: Late October” are reprinted from Thomas Kinsella: Poems 1956-1973 (North Carolina: Wake Forest University Press, 1979) and appear by permission of the author. Crab Orchard Review is indexed in Index of American Periodical Verse. Visit Crab Orchard Review’s website:

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C RAB

ORCH A R D

REVIEW

FALL/WINTER 2002

VOLUME 8, NUMBER 1

FICTION AND PROSE Sharon May Brown

Beautiful Things

1

James Gill

The Haunting of Glenn Earl Horton’s Teeth

6

Doris Iarovici

Facts

17

Tayari Jones

Leesha

52

Cris Mazza

Homeland

63

Nicola Schmidt

What She Isn’t: An Excerpt from the Novel Penelope Jones

76

S. Brady Tucker

In the Beginning

108

Eran Williams

The Helpmeet

118

Lyndane Yang

The Red Sarong

131

Doreen Baingana

Scars

174


Ned Balbo

Walt Whitmanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Finches: of discretion and disclosure in autobiography and adoption

180

Nicole Louise Reid

Careless Fish

222

Susan Sterling

Taking Apart the House

228

Gale RenĂŠe Walden

Discerning Demons

233

Book Reviews

Recent Titles by Richard Burgin, Jennifer S. Davis, Laura Pritchett, Luis Alberto Urrea, Dorothy Barresi, Beth Ann Fennelly, Major Jackson, A. Van Jordan, R.T. Smith, and Natasha Trethewey

248

POETRY Nin Andrews

Southern Accent

32

Elsa Arnett

Inside Boiling Point

34 36

Chi-Wai Au

In Winter Sunday in Little Taipei

37 38

Lory Bedikian

Night in Lebanon Chameleon

40 42

Heather Brittain Bergstrom

Columbia Basin Child

44

Amy Bleser

Distance Atmosphere

46 47

Bruce Bond

Palimpsest

48


Tara Bray

To Joyce Howard, a girl from third grade who comes to me in dreams

50

Bethany Edstrom

Elegy for the Set of Mint-Condition 1944 Britannica My Mother Threw Away

89

Ryan Fox

At the Lapin Agile

90

Elton Glaser

Lip Prints Poets in Posterity

91 92

Iris Gomez

Madrigal for Gardenias

94

Kevin A. Gonzรกlez

El Juego

96

Marilyn Hacker

Almost Equinoctial Square du Temple Ranns

98 99 100

Dennis Hinrichsen

The Body of a Deer, the Body of Jesus

102

Antonio Jocson

Early Morning under Persimmon

103

Kasey Jueds

Entering the Bath

106

Jesse Lee Kercheval

Enter Mecca Magdalena at the Prado

150 152

Trevor West Knapp

The Doctor to His Apprentice, 1727 154

Bonnie Wai-Lee Kwong

Sisters

156

Gerry LaFemina

A Few Days after Halloween

158

Karen An-Hwei Lee

Cosopt Catalpa

160 162


Amy Lingafelter

The Grandmothers

163

Jeffrey McDaniel

The Benjamin Franklin of Monogamy

164

Ricardo Pau-Llosa

For the Cuban Dead

166

Jon Pineda

My Sister, Who Died Young, Takes Up the Task

168

Rohan Preston

Sendaga

169

Joanna Smith Rakoff

Late-Talking Children

171

Jennifer Richter

I Am the Woman in Dong Xuan Market They Name Each Other Jesus

196

Andrea Scott

Elegy for the Breath in a Broken Lake

199

Peggy Shumaker

Smoke Nests, an Elegy Just This Once

200 201 203

Maurya Simon

Conversation with a Friend in Mourning

205

Myrna Stone

Call Up the Dead and They Come to You

207

Maria Terrone

Compass

208

Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

My Neighborsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; Dogs Until the Plane Drops

210 212

Carolyn Beard Whitlow

Basement

214

198


Lisa Williams

Expulsion

215

Robert Wrigley

Show and Tell The Snake in the Trough

217 218

A Note on Our Cover The four photographs on the cover of this issue are the work of Jason Holland, a freelance photographer and a student in Cinema and Photography at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Announcements We would like to congratulate past contributor Carol Spindel. Carol Spindel’s nonfiction piece “Plot Turnover,” which appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Volume 6, Number 2 (Spring/Summer 2001), was selected for a 2002 Illinois Arts Council Literary Award. This issue of Crab Orchard Review includes several winners of the AWP Intro Journals Project 2002. Sponsored by the Associated Writing Programs, the Intro Journals Project is a literary competition for the discovery and publication of the best new works by students enrolled in AWP member programs. Judges for 2002 were Dinty Moore, nonfiction; Aaron Roy Even, fiction; and Mary Ann Samyn, poetry. The other journals participating this year are the Bellingham Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Journal, Mid-American Review, Puerto del Sol, Quarterly West, Shenandoah, Tampa Review, and Willow Springs. The 2002 winners published in Crab Orchard Review are: Doreen Baingana, “Scars” (nonfiction) Ryan Fox, “At the Lapin Agile” (poetry) Antonio Jocson, “Early Morning under Persimmon” (poetry) Eran Williams, “The Helpmeet” (fiction)


The 2002 Jack Dyer Fiction Prize & John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize

We are pleased to announce the winners and finalists of the Sixth Annual Jack Dyer Fiction Prize and John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize. In fiction, the winning entry was “Facts” by Doris Iarovici of Durham, North Carolina. In literary nonfiction, the winning entry was “Walt Whitman’s Finches: of discretion and disclosure in autobiography and adoption” by Ned Balbo of Baltimore, Maryland. Finalists in fiction were “Current Events” by Francine Almash and “Summer Ashes” by Nikol Watson. Finalists in literary nonfiction were “The Road to Buffalo Bill’s Grave” by BK Loren and “Exhuming Abuelita” by Angela R. Morales. The final judge for both competitions was Carolyn Alessio, Crab Orchard Review’s prose editor. Both winners will receive $1000 and their works are published in this issue. Congratulations to the winners and finalists, and thanks to all the entrants for their interest in Crab Orchard Review. Please note the details of the 2003 Jack Dyer Fiction Prize and John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize in the back of this issue of Crab Orchard Review. Crab Orchard Review’s website has updated information on subscriptions, calls for submissions, contest information and results, and past, current and future issues. Visit us at:

<http://www.siu.edu/~crborchd>.


Sharon May Brown

Beautiful Things

Chantha’s mother always told her that when you are pregnant, you must look at beautiful things so that your child will be beautiful. Chantha wishes her mother were here now as she eases herself onto the bamboo bed that creaks under her weight. Her cousin Heang has gone with her children to the black market on the east edge of the refugee camp, so today Chantha is alone for the first time in weeks. She rests her head in her hands, listening to the couple argue in the next hut, feeling nausea press against her like cold current. It gnaws at her like the hunger of her unborn child. Sometimes it seems to Chantha that this is all there is: nausea, hunger, and her body growing impossibly heavier although she can hardly eat. She doesn’t know what this child is subsisting on—air, water, memory. She rubs her fingers against her temples and then opens her eyes to look through the doorway at the sewage ditch that runs parallel to the road in front of her hut. Beautiful things, her mother had said. When Chantha first learned she was pregnant, just before they left Cambodia, her husband Roeun took her to see Angkor Wat. When she protested, saying it was too far out of the way, he told her, It is the only time in our lives we will be able to see this. We may never come back. They had only one afternoon, and it rained. The place was deserted except for a few soldiers. Chantha remembers how the clouds boiled behind the towers of Angkor Wat and the drops fell into the reflecting ponds, making furious circles that spun outward, colliding with each other. She recalls, too, the damp sampot that stuck to her skin as they entered the temple to look at the stories carved in relief on the walls. It was quiet except for their footsteps and the rain. She liked the outer galleries best, sheltered but still open to the surrounding fields. She inhaled the bittersweet smell of wet grass and the pungent odor of the bats that lived in the high, arched roofs. She couldn’t see the bats clearly, but sensed the shifting of wings in the darkness above her and heard the shrill chi chi chi as Crab Orchard Review ◆ 1


Sharon May Brown

they called out, disturbed by the storm but not distressed enough to leave the safety of the roof cavity. Chantha listened to the bats as she and Rouen stopped in front of a long wall to look at the Churning of the Sea of Milk. The panel was divided into three layers. The bottom held the sea and its creatures—fish, turtles, crocodiles. The middle showed the giant serpent, Vasuki, curled in the middle around Mount Mandara. The gods and demons gripped opposite ends of the snake, pulling him back and forth to turn the mountain and churn the ocean. Chantha could see the strain in their shoulders and the effort in their clenched jaws and furrowed eyebrows. In the layer above them danced the celestial apsaras, so high up she had to crane her neck to look at them. Their bodies arched in exquisite angles, and Chantha wished her mother could have seen this place before she died. When Chantha was a child, her mother had told her the story of how the gods and demons, exhausted by their long war, had finally agreed to join forces to churn the sea for what they had lost. The apsaras were born from the violent waves, flung up from the foam along with other treasures, which her mother listed in a voice like chanting. Chantha remembered only the apsaras. They were one of the last things to leave the water; no one had expected to find them there. She watched them dance now on the wall in both directions, the sea frothing below their heels. She stared, trying to impress them on her mind—the supple backs and slender fingers; the perfect limbs, bent at the knees and elbows, like wings poised in flight. If this child is a girl, she told Roeun, we will name her Apsara. He didn’t disagree. She will be as beautiful as the dancers, he answered, and free. He whispered this last word “free,” serei, so that it hung in the air, mixing with the hiss of the rain and the startled cries of the bats. If he is a boy, Roeun added after a pause, we will call him Kambu. Yes, she said. And then she was quiet. That was the right name, Kambu, the hermit who fell in love with an apsara, and from this marriage created Kambuja. Cambodia. This home they were soon to leave. This child will be born in a new country, Chantha thought. As they stood there, she felt Roeun’s hand brush against hers. He had never before touched her in public; it would have been improper. But now he let his fingers linger too long to be an accident, caressing the back of her wrist. They were alone, but even so, Chantha noticed 2 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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heat sting her cheeks as she reached for his hand, entwining her fingers in his, her body soaked by the rain. She felt then as if she were rising out of the sea, her skin wet and flecked with foam, caught in that moment of lightness. Beautiful things. Chantha hopes the dancers are still impressed on her mind. She doesn’t want to think about the other things she has seen while carrying this baby: Roeun’s footsteps as she followed him through the minefields across the border, the back of his head, his soft black hair, the sweat trickling down his neck and bare shoulders like the rain at Angkor Wat. She studied his calves, the long scar behind his left ankle, the imprint of his footsteps in the soil. Step. Step. Step. The way his body froze for a moment after the quiet click. And then, the sound that left no sound. His body fallen on the ground, blood streaming from his thighs. His eyes, fixed on her, as if he were trying to remember. His hands, slippery with his own blood, cradling her belly. She should have lost the baby that day. She should have died with him. She doesn’t understand why she survived, and not her husband or her family. She wants to know why it is her fate to cross the river alone. This is how people say it—not giving birth, but crossing the river, because it is a difficult journey, and many don’t survive. Chantha knows what it’s like to cross the water, not knowing if you will reach the other side, like the night she crossed the Mekong. She had lost the members of her family one by one. First, the Khmer Rouge took her father and three older brothers away to “plant bamboo” in the middle of the night. Next, her younger sisters, twins, grew so thin their two bodies seemed to shrink into one; they died on the same day. Soon afterwards, her mother collapsed in the rice fields and never got up. It was then Chantha decided to escape across the river to a different district, where they might have food and where the Khmer Rouge might not know her. That was years ago—before she married Roeun and became pregnant—so she thinks that night on the Mekong can’t affect her child, except that now she sees it in her mind. She is afraid that this is as bad as viewing it with her physical sight. She shuts her eyes, but still she sees the water’s dark surface, stained with blood, slick as oil. In the light of the thin moon, she sees the bodies, eyes glazed like dead fish. She does not know who they are. She remembers the shock of the cold water, the constricting of her heart, the reaching Crab Orchard Review ◆ 3


Sharon May Brown

for flesh that gave way, soft as dough, under her fingers. She gathered the bodies that floated near the shore and tied them together with strips of cloth she ripped from their clothing. She tried not to look at their faces. When she pushed off the bank, the current was stronger and swifter than she imagined. She couldn’t see the other side as she clung to them, rising and falling on the waves, praying silently for the dead who had saved her. She still recalls the smell—like spoiled meat in the market, fermented fish, the metallic scent of blood. She wonders why the water didn’t wash the stench away. Beautiful things. In the musty darkness of her hut, Chantha wonders if she must also inhale beautiful smells. She thinks of mangoes fallen from trees in ripeness. She remembers as a girl finding mangoes in the morning with small bite marks that bats had left in the tender flesh. She’d pick them up, her hands becoming sticky with the juice that oozed from the punctures. Since Chantha has been pregnant, she has craved mangoes. That’s why Heang has gone to the black market. Sometimes Chantha dreams of mangoes; she dreams of soaring on stiff wings through the darkness, guided by scent, searching for the fruit that lies bruised on the ground. But there are no mangoes here, and she knows Heang will return empty-handed. There is nothing but rice and canned fish, and the rancid smell of the fish makes her sick. Chantha stares at the plank that spans the shallow ditch full of sewage in front of her hut. Whenever she must cross this plank, the stench rises up and surrounds her, permeating her hair, clothes, skin. She can’t wash it off. Even from here where she sits on the bamboo bed, the ditch stinks. Chantha tries to close her sense of smell, as she did that night crossing the Mekong. Then she stares at the ditch without scent or taste or sound. Only sight. On the top of the stagnant water lies a skin of green slime. The color is startling. It doesn’t exist anywhere else in the camp, where there is only pale thatch, red dirt, the blinding tin of the water containers in the sun, the blue plastic supplied by the foreigners, the brown cardboard boxes the canned fish arrives in, which she uses to patch holes in the thatch. There is nothing green here, except for the pumpkin vines growing outside the section chief ’s hut. But even that color is not so brilliant as this—it reminds her of rice seedlings planted in the 4 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Sharon May Brown

fields around her home before the Pol Pot time, when her mother and father and sisters and brothers were still alive. She has always loved the color of new rice emerging from water. Chantha will tell no one this, but she thinks the slime is beautiful.

Crab Orchard Review â&#x2014;&#x2020; 5


James Gill

The Haunting of Glenn Earl Horton’s Teeth

When Glenn Earl Horton’s neighbor, Tanya Swain, came home drunk in the early morning hours to find her Jack Russell Terrier in the backyard chewing on Mr. Horton’s false teeth, she had no idea of the struggles he’d been through up to that point. It began when he started losing his teeth shortly after he married Masil Wright, the girl he’d always run into at the well his family shared with the Wrights who lived in the next farmhouse up the road, and by the time she died twenty-eight years later, he was down to a pair of molars, his canines, and a single incisor. He wasn’t an old man, but he had never taken much care with his teeth. And it wasn’t that he didn’t recognize the importance that they played in his life, but when he started working in the coal mine at sixteen, driving mules to pull coal cars up the long slope toward the sunlit world above, the concept of dental hygiene seemed small and insignificant compared to the risk of methane explosion and roof collapse. So he never did anything more than brush his teeth once a day with baking soda, which kept them clean enough, but didn’t keep them from rotting. Finally, at the age of forty-eight, he visited the dentist for the first time since his school days; the doctor’s verdict was to pull the handful of teeth that he still had left and make a set of dentures, but Glenn Earl wouldn’t have it, and he walked out of the dentist’s office with no intention of ever returning for the rest of his life. His family berated and bothered him about the empty spaces in his mouth, started calling him Snaggle, even gave a big jar of peanuts as a birthday gift, hoping he’d get fed up and go back to the dentist, but he never budged on the matter. Then, once again, the significance of his teeth took a backseat when Masil came home from a doctor’s appointment that she’d made because of a head cold with the news that she had ovarian cancer. Countless doctor’s visits, specialists, chemo, and radiation followed; even so, the disease moved through her body quickly, and she was gone within the year. But in her last few days, as she lay in the hospital bed looking much older than her husband, more like his 6 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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mother than the girl he’d married at twenty-one, she told him, being very much of sound mind till the end, she said, “Glenn Earl, after I’m gone, if you fix those teeth for another woman I’ll come back and haunt you both.” Their two daughters who were there to hear it tried to laugh it off, and even Glenn Earl kidded about the matter, but Masil had never been more serious about anything in her life, and deep down Glenn Earl knew it. Masil’s passing caused him to push what she had said far back in his mind with the rest of his memory of her in an attempt to move on with his life, but after four months of being alone he still had no concept of what moving on meant, and then one Sunday he found himself noticing Wilma Partee, the woman who played the piano at his church. When she had first arrived in Christian County twenty-two years before, Glenn Earl wasn’t yet attending church regularly, but his wife was, and she soon learned that Wilma had met Danson Partee in a roadhouse in the county-line hamlet of Mannington, where she and two friends from college had snuck away from school to drink and dance with men who made the boys their dormmates were lavaliered to seem more like younger brothers than potential mates. So, after meeting Danson Partee in the Wildcat Lounge on the night of Good Friday, and then staying with him until the morning of Easter Sunday in a twelve-room motor lodge behind a tavern simply called The Motel Bar, she hurried back to Murray State and quit school first thing Monday morning, and the next weekend she and Danson drove to Clarksville, Tennessee, and were married. They set up housekeeping in a small bungalow back in Christian County, and he started working for his father in the feed store; and because of the circumstances in which he had met his wife, he didn’t trust Wilma to hold any job except working for the church. By the time Masil finally convinced Glenn Earl to go to church with her, she had become friends with Wilma Partee and so introduced them one Sunday morning during the coffee hour between Sunday School and Worship. After that he was always friendly to Wilma— complimenting her on the selection she’d played for offering, or the way she’d fixed her hair; sometimes he even went as far as to talk to her husband after the service, who had quit his years of being a drunk to become a church-going man for the sole purpose of keeping an eye on Wilma; or to escort Wilma’s mother to her pew when she visited, who would then sit reading the Sunday paper through the entire sermon without looking up once because she had become so hard of hearing Crab Orchard Review ◆ 7


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she didn’t feel like pretending anymore—but his relationship with Wilma Partee had never been anything more than an innocent flirtation, nothing less than two people being friends. About the time Masil had become sick, Danson Partee went off the deep end, some said from a severe and delayed case of the DTs, and began talking about government conspiracies and keeping a list of all the men he was sure had slept with his wife behind his back. He even went so far as to set up a video camera in his and Wilma’s bedroom so he could keep better track of what she was up to when he left the house. Wilma tried to hang on, but after going to the store one day and coming out to find that her husband had followed her on foot and stole her car from the parking lot, leaving her no way to get home, she packed her things and moved out. So four months after burying his wife, on an unseasonably warm November Sunday when Wilma Partee appeared in the sanctuary wearing a light yellow spring dress that matched the color of her hair, it wasn’t a matter of being neighborly or Christian—Glenn Earl took notice of her in a way that he hadn’t noticed anything in over fifteen years. The next Sunday he purposely sat in her pew, and when she left the piano after the choir sang and before the sermon began, she had no choice but to sit with him. The following week he did the same thing, but afterward he asked if she would like to go out for Sunday dinner. And the week after that they were an item. There was never any talk of marrying, or even moving in together, but Glenn Earl and Wilma spent every evening with each other: eating supper or going shopping or playing cards or working a puzzle, always finishing the night by sitting on the couch holding hands during the ten o’clock news until the late night talk shows came on, and then they’d stay there in the dark, talking and kissing, cuddling together in the quiet of the house. After a while she’d get up and straighten her hair and he’d walk her to the front door where they would kiss goodnight and part ways until the next morning when he would call her to see if she’d slept well. They could be completely happy doing nothing more than that same ritual, but they also liked to have fun, and their relationship became more than just a life of simple domesticity. They drove up to the horse races at Ellis Park, placing bets and eating steak dinners, and they took day trips into Illinois to visit relatives or shop, always stopping on the way home in the same little diner for all-you-caneat frog legs. They even planned a three-week trip to Colorado for 8 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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the coming summer. Some of the people at their church whispered about the shame of the whole thing, saying things about her gold digging and him not even letting the sheets get cool before bringing another woman into his bed; even their own children put on fake smiles and gave icy farewell hugs after family get-togethers. Still, none of it phased Glenn Earl and Wilma—they enjoyed themselves without much thought of the consequences, because at this point in their lives they realized that even with all the worrying they’d done over the years, it didn’t stop tragedy from falling on them, so why waste the little bit of life they had left doing the same. Now during the entire course of their being together, Wilma had never said one word about the condition of Glenn Earl’s teeth, but one day, while he sat playing a hand of solitaire at the kitchen table, it suddenly dawned on him, as if all the teeth that had fallen out of his mouth had lodged into his brain and had now been jarred loose so that everything became clear, that it was ridiculous he didn’t have dentures. Then again, maybe it was one of those steak dinners that first got him thinking. But whatever it was, he called right then and there to make an appointment for the coming Friday. The rest of the week he thought constantly about the notion of being able to enjoy a good meal without looking like such an old man, about his mouth holding the right shape instead of caving in on itself, and about flashing toothy smiles at Wilma. The day came and he had a set of dentures made and fitted, and afterwards he took Wilma out to eat barbecue ribs. She told him how nice he looked with his new teeth, not that it made a difference in the way she felt about him, but because she didn’t want him to feel self-conscious about them now that he’d taken a chance and gotten the durned things. And for about a week, Glenn Earl would think about his obstinance over the years toward getting his teeth fixed, and would simply shake his head, and say, “Glenn Earl, you’re one stubborn sonofabitch.” But on the eighth day, after taking his dentures from the glass at his bedside and going up to eat breakfast, they started hurting him. Now at this point he had buried his memory of Masil’s death so far back in his brain that her threat of haunting him never found its way to the surface. So for the rest of the morning he slid the false teeth around in his mouth, trying to find the right fit; after lunch he drove uptown to the drugstore and bought every medication—cream, gel, and otherwise—hoping for a little comfort. But nothing worked. That evening, when Wilma came over, she found him sitting on Crab Orchard Review ◆ 9


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the back steps with a four-inch hunting knife paring away at his top plate as if it were a willow branch. He looked up at her with an empty-mouthed smile and blew a fine white dust from his knees before standing to show her how he’d created what he thought would be a better fit. But later that night the pain was worse than it had ever been. So he took the false teeth out to his garage and ran them against the bench grinder for over an hour, shaping them smooth and fine against the stone, then finishing them with the wire wheel; and after that, he took them straight inside to soak, knowing that when he put them in his mouth the next morning, life would be as satisfying as it had been the first seven days he’d worn them. But it wasn’t. In fact, the pain was so bad that he couldn’t stand to have the teeth in his mouth, and his gums were so irritated that he could barely stand having a mouth at all, with teeth, or without. He made another appointment and when the dentist saw the state of his dentures he asked Glenn Earl what had happened. “Well,” Glenn Earl said, “they was kindly hurting me, so I whittled them down right smart to get a better fit.” The doctor narrowed his eyebrows. “Whittled them?” Glenn Earl nodded. “And when that didn’t work, I put them to the bench grinder.” The dentist closed his eyes, shaking his head back and forth slowly, and then said, “All right, Mr. Horton. I’m going to make a new set for you, but if they get to hurting again, call us first.” The dentist paused for a moment, as if he were wanting to ask something more, and then he spoke. “Did your wife know that you did this with your teeth?” Glenn Earl became pale and felt the blood sinking down his body. His skin tingled. A bead of sweat ran down his ribs. When Glenn Earl didn’t answer, the dentist thought that the look of fear and regret on his face at the mention of his wife was simply an indication that the poor man had already been reamed out once for ruining his dental work, so he left Glenn Earl waiting in cold stillness, going straight back to make the man a new set of teeth. But the seed had been planted in Glenn Earl’s head, and driving home from the dentist, his new set of dentures stuffed into his coat pocket where he’d put them as soon as he left the office, he tried to think of logical explanations for why his teeth had started hurting him, but no matter what he came up with, he couldn’t help but believe the cause of his trouble was that Masil had kept her promise and come back to haunt him. 10 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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When Wilma called that afternoon to see how things had gone at the dentist, he told her that he wasn’t feeling too good, and thought he’d just go to bed early. But he didn’t get to sleep that night until nearly four AM, staring up at the ceiling and remembering the twentyeight years he’d spent with Masil. The small apartment they’d started out with in Tampa, Florida, where Glenn Earl worked for the Ryder Trucking Company for two months, until one day he came home and told Masil to pack, that they had to leave because he truly felt that if he stayed another day in the state of Florida he’d surely die. So they packed their things, all except for the iron because she’d been pressing clothes when he’d come home, but he was in a hurry and picked the iron up in his hands, telling her it was cool enough to pack; still, she told him to sit down and wait, they’d leave soon enough. He sat turning the iron in his hands for a bit, whistling a little tune while she checked the apartment to be sure they hadn’t left anything behind. Then to prove its coolness, he put it against Masil’s bare leg just below the hem of her skirt as she walked by. Within a split second of the metal touching her skin she hauled off and slapped him across the face, knocking him out of his chair. The iron was still hot enough to raise a red whelp on her leg, and Masil’s swing busted Glenn Earl’s lip against a tooth, and then they began apologizing to each other over and over, and got in the car to drive straight from Florida back home to Christian County, Kentucky, where Glenn Earl found work once more in the coal mine. There they had two daughters, Masil working as a hair dresser in a small shop that Glenn Earl built onto the house, while he learned to operate every piece of new machinery the mining company brought underground to replace the picks and shovels and mules he had known from his first work there at sixteen. Soon he made his boss’s papers, and life was good. But lying there alone in his bed, Glenn Earl also thought of how many nights he would leave Masil and the girls after he finished supper, and drive down to Mannington, which was built along the boundary where the surrounding three counties, all of them dry, joined Christian County. The narrow tar and chip main street of Mannington was lined with eight or nine cinderblock taverns, each one full to capacity every night, where people bought as much booze as they could carry out with them, then drank as much as they could and still walk. It wasn’t uncommon for someone to be shot or stabbed or beaten two or three times a week. Glenn Earl had favored the Wildcat Lounge, where Wilma later met Danson Partee, but on that particular Easter weekend Glenn Earl had worked double shifts because the face-boss on midnights Crab Orchard Review ◆ 11


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had to use some vacation time to take care of his sister who had washed down a hundred sleeping pills with a bottle of gin after realizing she was pregnant for the fifth time. Glenn Earl worked hard in the mine and drank hard in the taverns, and for as tough as Mannington was he never had any trouble there and was never afraid, partly because of his character and partly because of the whiskey. Even so, he still set aside time for his family—never spoke harshly to his wife and daughters, never raised a violent hand toward them, and for the most part, this was his life for the next twenty-five years. Then on the morning after his youngest daughter’s wedding, he found himself truly alone with Masil for the first time since those early days in Florida; and realizing that, he wondered if he really knew this woman at all, because between raising kids, and working in the mines, and rousing around Mannington looking for a little reprise from the first two, he’d come to take her for granted. So with the girls on their own, and retirement drawing closer, it seemed that he’d been given a second chance to right the wrongs he’d done to Masil over the years, because the fact was he still loved her dearly, and he was pretty sure that she still loved him too. But before he could ever come up with how he would do this, much less act on it, she came home with the news that the cancer had been growing inside her for years, and because she hadn’t been to the doctor in over a decade, it had advanced unchecked, moving into her spine on a direct course for her brain. The doctors said that maybe she had a year, but the cancer only needed half that time to finish its work. After a restless night of drowning in the memories he’d tried so hard to forget, Glenn Earl got up the next morning and walked around his quiet empty house holding his dentures in his right hand, trying to decide on whether or not to wear them again. He cooked a big breakfast of bacon, eggs, and toast, but his gums were too tender to finish more than three bites. “Surely,” he said to the false teeth, “Masil wouldn’t want me to spend the rest of my life eating oatmeal and soup,” but the dentures just lay impotent on the table next to his plate, and gave no reply. After staring at them for a moment longer, Glenn Earl slid the teeth into his mouth, and wore them the rest of the day with caution, expecting the pain to become so great he couldn’t stand to be alive any longer, which he felt would be a just punishment for the wrong he’d done to Masil by never caring enough about her thoughts and ideas to get his teeth fixed in the first place. 12 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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But they didn’t hurt. At least not right away. And then it had nothing to do with how the teeth fit in Glenn Earl Horton’s mouth, but instead on how they fit into his love life. Winter had gone, but spring wasn’t yet in full bloom. It was the time of darkness and wind and rain that falls between February and April—damp chilled air, the sky colored like dusk all the daylight hours, suicide weather. And if Masil had died during this time of year, Glenn Earl might have chosen that option. But she had died in the summer, and in the last weeks of the heat that killed the rows of Vinca that she had put out in May before she died, Glenn Earl wondered if he’d ever see another spring. When winter set in he bordered on hopelessness. But then Wilma Partee showed up to church in that yellow dress, as if she herself were the sun, her eyes the color of the springtime air, and Glenn Earl found a reason to keep on. By the middle of this dark and rainy season, he and Wilma had come to depend on the other, felt a sadness when they didn’t see each other every day, and some might even say they had fallen in love. She began to stay overnight sometimes if they had been out late, or sometimes even if they hadn’t. And on one of these nights, while Glenn Earl and Wilma were engaged in something a little more active than sleep, Glenn Earl’s denture glass was flung from its place on the nightstand, landing square in the middle of his back. He rose straight up from the shock of the water and leapt from the bed, looking around the room, as if he expected to see the culprit who’d soaked him standing there bathed in moonlight. But there was no ghost, only the door leading out into the hallway, pale yellow light slanting against the shadows along the wall from the tear-shaped bulb burning in the wall socket. Wilma giggled at him as he tried to get his bearings, and Glenn Earl laughed too, standing naked at the side of the bed. Then he saw the empty glass and the teeth lying on the floor, and a cold dread seized his body. Wilma sat with the covers pulled shyly up to her neck and waggled a finger for him to come back to bed. Glenn Earl hesitantly crawled beside her, and she kissed him, hoping to pick up where they had left off, but regardless of how hard he tried to focus on Wilma and her soft lips and warm skin, those dentures sat on the floor within his line of sight, and he couldn’t help but feel like they were being watched. After fumbling around with each other like teenagers in the backseat of a car for a few more minutes they gave up. The distraction Crab Orchard Review ◆ 13


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was too great for Glenn Earl. He apologized over and over to Wilma, who only smiled and touched his cheek, telling him that they were way beyond being sorry about such things. And it was her gracious manner that pushed him over the edge with it all; he jumped from the bed, saying goddammit to himself, first in a whisper, then louder, and stomped around to where the teeth lay, picking them up and holding them directly in front of his eyes. He shook his head and cursed, then marched to the back door and stepped onto the screened-in porch wearing nothing at all. The night air slapped his bare skin, and without ceremony, he opened the back door and hurled his dentures, one plate after the other, into the blackness of the yard. When he came back to bed, Wilma didn’t say anything about what had happened. Of course she never suspected that Glenn Earl believed his former wife was haunting him because of his false teeth; she just figured it was yet another peculiarity of the middle-aged man. She had certainly seen them do stranger things than throwing a pair of false teeth into the back yard because of sexual dysfunction, so she wasn’t concerned. She simply kissed Glenn Earl sweetly on the lips before rolling over to go to sleep, knowing that in the morning he would be himself again. All the same Glenn Earl didn’t sleep well, battling in his head between the two women in his life: one dead and one alive. But when he awoke the feelings of dread he’d had during the night were gone. He whistled in the kitchen while he made coffee, and when Wilma appeared at the table, her robe untied and her hair tousled, he sat a steaming cup in front of her and reached over to touch her hand. “Morning sunshine,” he said. “You’re awful chipper,” Wilma said. “Did you get things straightened out last night?” “I think I might of.” He grinned at her, and went to the back door. “Believe I’ll see if I can find those teeth.” He began to figure in his head how far he’d thrown them and where he ought to start looking, but when he opened the door, sitting there on the back steps smiling up at him were his dentures. He jumped back as if he’d almost stepped into a nest of copperheads. The clouds had broken in the east and the early morning sun peeked around the corners of the house, falling on the pale white set of teeth misted over with water drops, and Glenn Earl just stood there looking at them with his heart beating in his ears. Now at this point, Glenn Earl believed that Masil had come 14 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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back from the grave to torment him about his false teeth as sure as he believed that she had passed away the previous year. But the way those teeth found themselves sitting on Glenn Earl’s back steps waiting to be found had nothing to do with Masil, but with his ejecting them into the backyard the night before. Sometime around three-thirty in the morning, while Wilma slept soundly beside Glenn Earl, and he went back and forth in his head between the two women that he loved, the neighbor’s Jack Russell Terrier, Twitch, wandered into Glenn Earl’s yard and found both the top and bottom denture plates resting in a rotting pile of gumballs that he had raked up to the edge of the garden just before Masil had died. Twitch carried the teeth back to his own yard and played with them joyfully as if he’d found a ham hock. But not long after Twitch had settled in with his new found treasure, his owner and Glenn Earl’s neighbor, Tanya Swain, pulled in her driveway from being out all night at the taverns in Mannington, where she had danced the two-step with a half-dozen men fueled by thirteen shots of bourbon before deciding on one, who then took her out to his pickup where he had a bed mattress set up under the camper shell. There they enjoyed four minutes of drunken lust before she left him passed out with his pants still down to drive herself home. When Tanya found Twitch chewing on Glenn Earl’s teeth, although she couldn’t have passed a simple motor skills test, her inebriated mind found a clarity that it had never possessed when sober, allowing her to know exactly how her dog had claimed ownership of her neighbor’s dentures in the middle of the night. At least she had a general idea— she knew that Mr. Horton must have somehow dropped his teeth in the yard and that Twitch had found them—and that was all she needed to know. But the deductive reasoning she acquired through her drunkenness was not accompanied by the knowledge of how best to deal with the problem at hand. So Tanya bribed the dog with a menthol cigarette, which Twitch eagerly took and ate, dropping the dentures on the ground. She knew she couldn’t return the teeth covered in dog slobber, dirt, and bits of rotted gumball, so she lay them down on the gravel in front of her car and sprayed them with the garden hose. Then she crept as silently as she could, tripping only once, to Glenn Earl’s back porch, and set the teeth down carefully on the top step where she thought he would be most likely to find them. And so now he had found them, and he stood for what seemed a long while, staring down at his teeth as his heart slowed to its Crab Orchard Review ◆ 15


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normal pace, and finally he bent over and carefully picked them up. He felt tired and desperate, maybe something like what Job must’ve felt after being tried by God for so long, and standing there holding his set of false teeth in his hands, he leaned his head back, looking up into the sky, and said out loud, “I’m sorry, Masil. I’m so sorry about everything. But I think it’s time we both had some peace.” When Glenn Earl went back inside, he didn’t tell Wilma about Masil’s deathbed threat against him getting his teeth fixed for another woman; in fact, he never mentioned the idea of Masil haunting him for the rest of his life, even after he and Wilma married later that summer and took the trip they’d planned to Colorado as a honeymoon. His teeth still hurt after that, but he didn’t seem to mind as much—didn’t go out into his garage to run them against the bench grinder or get fed up enough to send them flying out the back door—he just simply kept going, living out his days and dealing with the pain. And before long the pain lessened, or at least seemed to lessen, becoming so normal that he couldn’t remember life without it. So on the day that he had found his teeth lying on the back steps where Tanya Swain had put them, Glenn Earl Horton walked into the house holding his dentures in front of him as if they were some living thing that he was afraid to set down for fear of causing it harm. Wilma gave him that soft caring look of hers, and said, “Glenn Earl, do you not like wearing your teeth?” “It’s not that,” he said. “Not that at all. They’ve just been giving me some trouble.” Wilma smiled, and Glenn Earl saw her sitting there in her bathrobe, her eyes still puffy from sleep, the same way he had on that November day when he took notice of her walking down the aisle of the church wearing a spring dress the color of jonquils. “Well,” she finally said, “if they’re hurting you, don’t wear them. I fell in love with you when you were toothless, I sure ain’t going anywhere now just because you don’t wear your falsies.” And with that he nodded his head and grinned, then went straight into the bathroom and cleaned the dentures with great care, going over each crevice and stain the way a surgeon or a craftsman might, ensuring that the work would have a lasting quality and wear well over time, and when he finished he walked back into the kitchen smiling wide with his mouth full of white.

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Doris Iarovici

Facts

Before she was ever born, Lisa’s parents had a major philosophical difference. This difference kept them from getting married in the first place. Lisa’s mother, Shelly, wanted children, while Bruce, her father, did not. Shelly never failed to point out that Bruce had been honest and up front about this. He’d told Shelly on their second date about the mental illness he did not want to pass on to a child. Shelly understood; Shelly agreed. But for her everything changed with the first unexpected bouts of morning sickness late in her thirty-eighth year. When her mother spoke to Lisa about her father, her voice softened and her eyes drifted beyond Lisa’s right shoulder, up, to a point far away. Sometimes a dreamy smile played on her lips. Hearing about Bruce as a four-, five-, six-year-old, Lisa felt a nose-pricking yearning for the tall man with the long black hair pulled into a ponytail whom she knew from the three-by-five photo in the heart-shaped ceramic frame on her dresser. But by the time she was eleven, twelve, a hammering fury filled her chest at the mention of Bruce’s name. So began her campaign to prove he didn’t matter in her life. She’d cut her mother short when his name came up, leave the room, curse him. By the time Lisa was fourteen, she had won. Shelly no longer talked about Bruce. And Lisa made sure no one else in her life knew he existed. Yet here she was being taken to meet him. Curled in the passenger seat of Gabe’s Honda Civic, going seventy up Interstate 95, Lisa kept her icy hands tucked into her armpits. The flash cards she’d made the night before, index cards covered with microbiology facts she needed to memorize by Monday, lay untouched, rubberbanded on her lap. “Hungry?” Gabe said, flicking his eyes from the road to Lisa. She jumped, drawing a sharp breath. “Oh—sorry,” he said. “I just thought you might be hungry by now. You skipped breakfast. I packed you an egg sandwich on an English muffin.” “You’re so sweet.” Crab Orchard Review ◆ 17


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“And there’s a carton of orange juice in the cooler, by your feet.” She blinked and noticed the red and white container for the first time. “I’m not hungry, but thanks.” “Maybe you should eat a little anyway. You know how you get when you skip meals.” She turned toward the loblolly pines flying past her window so he wouldn’t see her roll her eyes, but at the same time she told herself, he’s right. You do get bitchy when you’re hungry—he’s only stating a fact. Turning back toward him, she noticed that instead of his usual flannel shirt over a T-shirt, he wore a denim button-down tucked neatly into black jeans. His dark curls were flattened and slightly frizzy, meaning he’d run a brush across them. She skimmed his cheek with her fingertips. “You shaved.” A smile flickered across his red lips: the reddest lips she’d ever seen on a guy. Sometimes for a split second she felt the urge to turn her face as his came toward her for a kiss—but of course she didn’t. She kissed with her eyes closed. “I shaved in honor of meeting your dad,” Gabe said. “I wish you wouldn’t call him that.” “But it’s a fact. That’s who he is.” “Oh—I thought a dad was someone who did more than donate sperm and disappear,” she said, then bit her lower lip. “Leese. We’re mending fences, remember?” “There’s nothing to mend, really. My mother didn’t need him. I was fine without him.” “That’s what you’ve said.” “It’s true.” Facts. Normally facts were her friends, so why was nausea rising into her throat? Gabe was humming along with a Dead song on one of his CDs. This was just an ordinary conversation to him. He glanced at her, his brow smooth, his green eyes completely unperturbed, and winked. The nausea in her throat tightened into a knot and she couldn’t speak. You can’t argue with facts, she told herself. Not that she and Gabe argued. Hadn’t they compared facts about what they each wanted out of life as accurately as computers match answer keys to bubble sheets? Hadn’t they both said, three kids, a house with a huge yard out in the country, a stay-at-home parent—with Gabe agreeing to play that part? 18 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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“I’ve never been the ambitious type, into the rat-race thing,” Gabe told her their first date, and then listed the things that occupied his time instead. “Well, that’s refreshing,” she’d said, laughing. “Now my turn to give you the dirt on me,” and then her mouth went parched and she swallowed. She recited: “My friends might say I am into the ratrace thing—that I’m a workaholic—but they don’t see me going to Wellspring to get special ingredients to cook up special dinners Friday nights. Then again, um—sometimes I worry that I got into med school by mistake—that I can’t possibly belong there. That they’ll figure it out and send me packing. So I work really hard to make sure that never happens.” Gabe’s forehead had remained smooth, and the languorous smile that had trickled across his lips hadn’t wavered. He’d watched her with his face slightly upturned and his eyes narrowed, as if savoring a glass of good wine. She cleared her throat and kept talking, her words spilling out faster and faster. “And…let’s see, more dirt. More dirt. I’m a restless sleeper. I kick without meaning to.” She’d flushed and turned her eyes to her lap. “And…ah. Ready for the big one? I’ve never told a guy this. My, um, parents, were not married. My mom is a sixties throwback, a space cadet but an absolute sweetheart. My father did not want me to be born.” She’d flinched, looking back up at Gabe. “He’s crazy—” “He’d have to be, to not want—” “No, I mean crazy, really—please let me finish. Certifiable. He’s been hospitalized a bunch of times. So far I haven’t had any breakdowns but I’m still young—it could happen. Like a—time bomb. Not that any of it matters to me—but you should know, if…” She’d locked her eyes onto his placid ones, thinking, okay, leave now, go ahead, I can take it. I don’t need a guy and never have. But his expression remained unchanged. He reached across the table and stroked her cheek with the backs of his index and middle fingers. “Is that all the dirt?” he’d said, eyes twinkling, the dimple in his cheek deepening, and Lisa’s chest had expanded with elation and she’d grabbed his hand and kissed the square knuckles, and they’d gone back to his place and made love quietly in the bedroom while his roommate watched Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in the next room. Gabe moved into her place two weeks later. They hit D.C. around ten, and sailed through without any traffic. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 19


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In the same way that he planned their dates and was planning their wedding, Gabe had arranged their entire drive to avoid major city rush hours. Lisa ate her egg sandwich and drank Tropicana straight from the carton, not noticing the flowered Dixie cups Gabe had stacked next to the cooler. She began to flip through her microbiology cards. Shigellae: gram-negative rods. Ferment glucose but not lactose. Lactose. “I forgot to tell you I had colic as an infant,” she said, continuing to flip cards without looking up. “What?” “You know. When I was giving you the facts. On me. I left out colic.” “You poor thing.” She stole a rapid glance at him but there was no sarcasm in his expression. “It’s not like I remember it or anything. Must’ve been hard on my mom. You know, having a baby that doesn’t shut up for a minute. Who knows—maybe I cried and cried when—Bruce—met me too. Maybe he thought it was a sign—of mental illness.” Gabe’s eyes darted to Lisa, and back to the road. “Leese, tell me you’re not worrying about what he’ll think of you. You know he’s going to love you. You’re the perfect daughter. Beautiful, smart, accomplished. Think how neat it’ll be, getting together. Finally getting closure.” “Closure?!” He smiled. “Hey, I took two semesters’ worth of psych!” “I don’t know,” she mumbled. She noticed the musty smell of the car upholstery mixing with the citrus scent of juice, and rolled down the window, closing her eyes against the slapping breeze. She decided now was not the time to tell him how she always kept an eye on herself—for signs. Not that she thought Bruce was right about her—but still. The possibility filled her veins with ice. She worked hard to not let herself get too angry, or too loud, or too sad—or even too happy. “Lisa, man. Duke Medical School…really, what more could any father want? You know how psyched my parents are about it.” Lisa wanted to say that was the whole point: that Bruce should not get to meet her now, when she was a somebody, if he never wanted to meet her as a regular kid. But Gabe seemed so excited. His eyes 20 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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gleamed and he drummed his hands against the steering wheel in rhythm with the Dead. She kept her thoughts to herself. Lisa had never been to Queens. As the highway fed into narrower congested roads and Gabe thrust maps onto her lap, she bent all her thoughts to matching the street signs with the map, and then with the yellow post-it on which she’d scribbled Sarah’s directions. Her hands began to warm, color returning under her fingernails. She hardly noticed the red brick buildings pressing in on them. Traffic lights blinked from green to yellow to red so rapidly that several times, they found themselves midway through an intersection against the light. Finally, they were on a narrow street lined with small houses that looked so similar, Lisa wondered if people accidentally wandered through their neighbors’ door at the end of the day. Gradually she picked out small differences here and there: a screened-in porch instead of a patio. Stucco or vinyl siding instead of bricks. Gabe slowed the Honda and painstakingly maneuvered into a very tight parking place. Lisa took a deep breath and stepped out of the car. Her right leg tingled from having been tucked underneath her the last half-hour, and she shook it out and winced as she put weight on it. Gabe sprang around the front of the car and put an arm around her, giving her shoulder a squeeze. “Ready?” he asked. “I’m fine,” she said, surprised because it was true. “I don’t really feel a thing. It’s like I’m watching myself approach the house, watching myself touch the buzzer—” But before she could finish her sentence, the white wood door of number 67-30 swung back then the paneled glass door opened and out came a middle-aged woman, slightly plump, with short hennaed hair. She wore a navy cotton dress that Lisa recognized as Lands’ End, and a beige-and-navy silk scarf knotted around her neck like a flight attendant’s. “Lisa?” she called. “Welcome, welcome, Lisa! I’m Sarah—we spoke when you called?” To Gabe she added, “I’m Sarah, Bruce’s wife. Please, please come in!” The woman’s bright green eyes crinkled in a warm smile, and she stepped into the house while holding the glass door open with one arm and beckoning to Lisa and Gabe with the other. Lisa noticed that Sarah was plumper and taller than her mother, better dressed, and younger-seeming. But as she stepped closer, she could make out the web of fine lines around Crab Orchard Review ◆ 21


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her eyes, as well as a deep vertical groove just above her eyebrows into which some makeup had caked. Lisa stepped through the door as if she were leaving a dock for a canoe. The door led directly into a small living room crowded with fading furniture and stacked with books. There were bookshelves built into the walls across from the sofa, bookshelves on the wall beside the front door, and then more books piled on the end tables beside the sofa, and in stacks on the floor next to the chairs. Abstract oil paintings with heavy brush strokes adorned the book-free areas of wall. The coffee table was set with a tray of Milano cookies, cut vegetables and dip, and four empty glasses. As Gabe handed their coats to Sarah, Lisa’s eyes scanned the empty room. She let a breath out through pursed lips, then froze when in the next moment a tall man strode in from the back of the house. He wore a black long-sleeved T-shirt with faded jeans, and his hair was thin and gray but still pulled away from his face in a skinny ponytail that dangled down his back. The skin on his face hung loosely and his mouth curled down at the edges. Lisa noticed that his hands were trembling. His black eyes darted from Sarah to Lisa, and then rested on Gabe. “Who’s he?” were his first words. His voice was gruff. Lisa felt a stab of disappointment. “Bruce, this is Lisa, and—” Sarah began, her own voice even and calm, but he cut her off. “I know who she is. Looks just like Shelly did, years ago. But who the devil’s he?” “Gabe Sutter,” Lisa said, finding her voice. “My fiancé.” “Nice to meet you, sir,” Gabe said, extending his right hand, which Bruce gripped firmly after an awkward moment’s hesitation. “What’s he doing here?” Bruce asked Sarah. “Why don’t we all sit down?” Sarah motioned to the sofa. “I’ll make some herbal tea.” “You can offer them coffee. They’re not on lithium, they can have it,” Bruce barked, and Lisa noticed Sarah’s nostrils flare momentarily. “I’d love some coffee, thanks,” Gabe said. He sank into the sofa and stretched his arm along its back. “It was a long drive. I thought I might drop off several times.” “Thought you said she was going to be in town,” Bruce said to Sarah, who gave an insouciant shrug and disappeared into the kitchen. He was still standing, as was Lisa, who suddenly found it 22 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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difficult to move. He frowned at Lisa. “Thought she said you said you were going to be in town. You didn’t make a special trip just to see me, did you?” Lisa swallowed and glanced at Gabe. He had helped himself to a cookie and looked as if he were settling in to watch a football game. “In fact, it was Gabe’s idea to—ah—give a call,” she finally said. “We’re getting married in a couple months, so he—um, we— thought it was a good time to come.” “Six weeks,” Gabe said. Lisa looked blankly at him. “We’re getting married in six weeks,” Gabe said to Bruce. Lisa’s skin tingled with irritation so she drew in a long, deep breath, silently through her nose, and held it. When the feeling passed, her skin was covered in goose bumps and she felt jumpy, unsettled. She crossed the room and dropped onto the couch into the space left for her by Gabe’s arm. She exhaled. Next to Gabe, her muscles slackened, started to warm. Bruce stood frowning at them for a moment, and then he too sat, on the edge of the armchair across from them. He kept his knees apart and rested his elbows on them. His hands dangled between his legs. The tremor was still there. He caught Lisa’s eyes examining his hands, and barked out, “Lithium.” “Excuse me?” “That’s the god-damned shaking. The lithium.” Lisa nodded, looking at the carpet. The room went silent. “You need money?” Bruce asked after a while. “What?” Lisa said. “Money? For the wedding?” “No sir, we certainly don’t,” Gabe said quickly. “But thanks.” “For what? I wasn’t offering any. Just trying to figure out why the devil you’re here. Maybe to check out the old man? Make sure he’s—” Sarah hurried back into the living room and perched on the arm of Bruce’s chair, pressing her right hand against his left shoulder, rubbing gently. “Bruce, your daughter wanted to meet you, like we’ve already discussed,” she said, her voice soothing, smooth as satin. “Ever the social worker,” Bruce snorted. Sarah colored. Bruce continued, “Did she tell you that’s what she does? All day long, social work, fixing people’s lives. That’s how it is, the fixers and— fixees.” He laughed a gruff laugh. “She fixes, fixes, fixes at work, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 23


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then comes home and tries to fix me.” He laughed again. “Well, it’s worked pretty well for fifteen years!” Sarah said. Lisa cleared her throat. She felt as if she were watching a movie starring an actor she had heard of but never before seen. “You—you’ve been married fifteen years?” she said. I was eight then, she calculated. “Yes, next month,” Sarah said. “And don’t you let Bruce’s manner put you off. This grumpiness keeps people away, but it’s really just his way of protecting himself. He’s a softie on the inside.” Bruce snorted and shrugged his wife’s arm off his shoulders. “God’s sake,” he said. “See? There she goes, counselor mode.” A kettle screeched in the other room, and Sarah sprang up and disappeared. Lisa’s eyes flitted all around the room, trying to read the titles on the spines of the books surrounding them, taking in the faded prints on the walls, and finally coming to rest on a framed eight-by-ten photo of Bruce, Sarah, and two young girls. “You doing all right?” Bruce said, so abruptly that Lisa jumped. She turned to find Bruce’s narrowed eyes on her, but his eyebrows were angled slightly up, deepening the creases in his forehead, as if that was his customary expression. Gabe patted her thigh. How warm and solid he felt beside her, like a massive oak or an immovable outcropping of rock! “I’ve been doing pretty good,” she said. “She’s in medical school,” Gabe said. Bruce’s furry eyebrows inched up, and he nodded. His eyes slid across the sofa and came to rest on Gabe. “Good for her. And you—you in medical school?” “Me?” “You.” Lisa’s eyes were drawn back to the photo on the wall. The girls were dark-haired and looked about ten and twelve. She heard Gabe say, “I work the specialty cheese counter of our local organic grocer, Wellspring—” “Cheese? You sell cheese? And you’re how old?” “Twenty-four.” “You’re twenty-four and you sell cheese?” “It pays the rent, and gives me time to do—” “And how long have you two known each other?” “Who are the girls in the picture?” Lisa cut in, turning back to them. All at once she noticed Gabe’s flushed face and Bruce’s intense 24 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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stare. She wanted to stand and place her body between those raptor’s eyes and Gabe. But she only inched closer to Gabe, stroked his arm. “Who are those girls?” Lisa repeated, hearing her voice brittle as ice. At that moment Sarah returned, carrying a teak tray with four steaming mugs on it. “Those’re our daughters, Ashley and Eleanor,” Sarah answered for Bruce. “Maybe next time you can meet them, Lisa, but today I thought it would be best if it was just your father and you and—” “She’s gonna marry a twenty-four-year old clerk in a grocery store,” Bruce muttered to Sarah. Gabe reached for a cup of coffee. Lisa shot to her feet. “I think that’s our cue to go,” she said, cheeks burning. “Leese,” Gabe said. “Just for your information, though, he’s not a clerk but the cheese buyer for one of the most upscale organic grocers in the entire Southeast, not that it would matter one bit to me if he were a clerk, and furthermore who the hell are you to—” “Leese,” Gabe whispered, tugging on her arm. At the same time she saw the corners of Bruce’s mouth curl upward in a smile, and a rage began to whirl in her head like a cyclone, making everything around her go white. “No—let me finish! You—a—stranger—with no effect on my life, somehow feel you have the right to pass judgement on the man I’ve chosen? The decisions I make have absolutely nothing— nothing—to do with you.” The angrier she felt, the softer her voice got, until she could only squeeze out a hoarse whisper. Bruce pinned her with his dark eyes. “I’m trying to figure out what you two have in common. Whether you’re equals. Whether he’ll make you happy,” Bruce said. “You been hospitalized yet?” Now Lisa felt her knees fold under her, and she sank back next to Gabe. “No,” she said weakly. “Good. See? By your age, I’d already had my psychotic break. Good.” The creases in his forehead softened. “Bruce—” Sarah cut in. “She should know these things. He—” Bruce motioned with his tea cup toward Gabe, “he should definitely know these things. I don’t know how much her mother told her. But here she is, so she must want information. Facts. Him too.” Crab Orchard Review ◆ 25


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“Facts aren’t everything,” Sarah mumbled, but Bruce went on as if he hadn’t heard. “You know she’s got insanity in her genes, my side of the family?” he said to Gabe. “Lisa’s told me everything, sir.” “I believe in complete honesty—” Lisa began, but the word evaporated from her lips just as Bruce’s eyes widened slightly in surprise. Then Bruce squinted again and looked her up and down. Without warning she felt a burning in her nose, and bit her upper lip until it went numb. “Your mother tell you how I used to parade up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, back when we lived in D.C., stark naked? How I thought I was the son of Elvis, and would show up at recording studios demanding they cut my next record? How my mother had me committed three times? No? Shelly didn’t tell you all that, did she, Lisa?” “Didn’t stop you from having two other kids,” Lisa spat, and to her horror she felt tears stinging her eyes. She looked at the floor and tried to recall names of anaerobic bacteria. “Those are Sarah’s daughters,” Bruce said, and his voice softened. “Those girls aren’t stuck with an iota of my DNA. They’re lovely girls. Eleanor just started college. I adopted them because they needed a daddy.” “Bruce is making it all sound much worse than it really is, his manic-depressive problem,” Sarah said brightly. “We all have strengths and weaknesses. There’s no guarantee Lisa inherited what you have. And besides, you’ve been so well on the medicine.” She turned toward Lisa and Gabe. “Not a single hospitalization the entire time we’ve been together. Really. So don’t you believe it’s as bleak as all that.” “Devil’s bargain. Gave up the pottery, the painting, the university professorship. Teach high school art,” Bruce mumbled. He frowned into his tea. “But—that’s really cool, sir,” Gabe said. Bruce said nothing, but tilted his frown up toward Gabe. Lisa’s stomach spasmed with irritation, and then a wave of guilt as she realized the irritation was again directed at Gabe, not Bruce. She pictured the three-foot-tall ceramic urn which her mother used as an umbrella stand, which Bruce had made twenty-five years before. As a little girl, she’d stare at the fiery red and gold swirls that ran across its surface, and run 26 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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her fingers across the ceramic cherubs that stood out in relief. It was beautiful. She wished she could make something like it. She’d imagine disappearing into the urn—had once tried to fit inside it after an argument with her mother, but it was too narrow. “So, back to you. How long have you known him? What do you see in him?” Bruce asked Lisa, again fastening his eyes onto hers. A wave of fatigue washed over her, and her stomach tightened. Gabe twisted to face her. He too seemed interested in her answer. She tried to swallow the lump in her throat. She heard herself say, “We’ve known each other only a few months, but—talk about love at first sight! I mean, he’s the sweetest, most thoughtful guy. He anticipates my every need and—” “What do you do, besides sell cheese?” Bruce shot at Gabe. “Well, I—I play ultimate frisbee, and I’m trying to get in a band, and—” “Graduate from college?” “Well—yes, sir, of course—” “And you.” To Lisa. “You play frisbee? You into rock?” Lisa slapped the couch. “What is this, the third degree? This visit is not about Gabe’s qualification to be my husband, so let’s leave him out of all your interrogations. What do I see in him? He—he’s a great guy. His every thought revolves around how to best take care of me. No one’s done that before. Okay? That’s enough. None of this has anything to do with you.” “You sure about that?” Bruce asked. The white rage burning in Lisa’s head brought words from her lips without a moment’s hesitation. “Yes, I’m sure. You know nothing about me, what I might need or not need, and that’s been exactly how you wanted it so you should be happy.” A violent trembling started in her chest as the thoughts of all Bruce didn’t know flooded her brain. How in high school she’d avoided bringing friends to the cluttered apartment Shelly rarely cleaned because she was too busy working two jobs. How her mother’s mouth used to pinch when Lisa pointed out that her pants again skimmed an inch above her ankle bone, and they needed to go shopping. “Gabe, I think it’s really time to go,” she said. “You’re the one wanted to come here,” Bruce grumbled. “I’m not the one who wanted to come.” “Really? So he says ‘jump’ and you say, ‘how high’?” Crab Orchard Review ◆ 27


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Lisa was on her feet, tugging on Gabe’s sleeve. She was trying to pull a boulder. Gabe mouthed something at her. She flushed, and shrugged as if she didn’t understand. Gabe rose at last, leaned toward her. His breath was warm and damp against her earlobe. She shivered. She shook her head once at Gabe, widening her eyes in an attempt to send a panicked message to him beneath the radar of Bruce’s gaze. Of course Bruce noticed. He watched them both with a frown, squinting. In her ear, Gabe whispered again, “Ask him. We came all this way. Invite him.” Two weeks ago they’d been at the dining table of their tiny apartment, addressing the creamy wedding envelopes, when Gabe casually said, “I thought maybe we should invite your dad to the wedding.” She recalled her sense of incredulity, the strangled silence. Gabe’s calm voice continuing, “Y’know, I’m not used to the messedup-family deal. The way I see it, we try to mend fences, get your stuff resolved before starting a family of our own. A clean slate. Plus—I thought if we get both your parents walking you down the aisle, it could be like—my wedding present to you.” And he’d smiled his expectant, hopeful smile, and before she knew it she was agreeing to everything, to anything. Now, in Bruce’s living room, she stepped away from the red mouth, the soft lips. She stared at Gabe. “You’ve got to be kidding,” she whispered. Sarah was on her feet now too, but Bruce remained seated, his lips curled in a smug grin. “Lisa, believe it or not, Bruce is a loving father who wants so much for his children. He wanted so much for you—but—well, it’s not always easy to see. He has tried to do what he thinks is best for you, in his own way—I mean, staying away, he thought that would help you, since he has such trouble seeing himself as someone who can have a positive influence—” Bruce grunted, but Sarah continued. “So please don’t take—” Gabe put up his hand, stopping Sarah. “There’s no need to apologize, really,” he said, and his voice was even, mellow, too smooth. “Lisa and I are planning a beautiful wedding. Picture this.” He framed the air with his hands. “It’s gonna be on the beach, at sunset. Guitars strumming in the background. People barefoot in the sand. Lisa’s totally excited about it. She’s very happy, Bruce, sir. She’s not messed up or anything like that. 28 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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She doesn’t dwell on the past—she looks forward, always forward. Nothing in the past matters to her. But she’s getting married in six weeks, and starting her own little family—well, hopefully it won’t be little for too long—and she came here because she’d be—she wanted—that is, we’d both be—honored—if both her mother and her father could be there, sir. You know—start us off on the right foot. We’re all one family now.” Everything in the room went still, miniaturized in the glassy expression in Bruce’s eye. Then Lisa felt the room bend and begin to rotate and she glanced longingly at the couch, but Gabe’s arm around her waist held her propped up against his side. His hand caressed her hip. She was the bride doll pinned to the top of a cake and looked at Gabe, saw the smile on his lips as he waited for Bruce’s reply, and she tried to bend her own mouth into an expression to match Gabe’s and found she could do it, she could smile. The words unified front flashed irrelevantly across her mind. She didn’t want Bruce at her wedding because he was everything that was bad in her life, everything evil, and what had today proved but just that? She felt vindicated in wanting to leave him far behind. She wanted Bruce to have nothing at all to do with her adult life, her life as a competent, mentally-healthy wife and doctor. But if Gabe wanted Bruce at their wedding, if he thought it would fix things…fix her…well, she’d just grin and bear it and get on with things after. It was just a day, after all. Just a drop in the bucket. She tried to block out everything but the touch of Gabe’s fingers against her jeans. In the same slow, gentle way, his fingers sometimes caressed her throat, her shoulder, her breast. Sometimes they massaged her temples as she read late into the night. All at once Lisa realized her eyes were glued to the coffee table. She lifted them and scanned the room. Everyone was silent and everyone was looking at her. She put her hand up to smooth her hair, and looked at Bruce. “I said, do you want me at your wedding?” Bruce said roughly. Images flashed through her brain like a slide show: Shelly pouring cake mix into a bowl the morning of Lisa’s sixth birthday, gray shadows under her eyes after her double shift; kids on the playground asking if her father was dead. Shelly saying, “I’ll make it up to you— I’ll be both mother and father.” The extra ticket at high school graduation; the empty chair at her college science award dinner. Her mother’s face when Lisa told her, over an expensive lunch at Crab Orchard Review ◆ 29


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Fearrington, “I have found a man who will always love me, Mom, so don’t you worry about me anymore.” Did she want Bruce at her wedding? They were all waiting for her answer. She was so tired. How could she tell what she wanted, today? If Gabe thinks you should be there, she wanted to say, come. Instead she said, “If you want to come.” Gabe reached into the backpack she hadn’t even noticed him carry into the house, and produced a cream-colored envelope. Sarah took it from his hand, with a sunny smile. Gabe beamed back at Sarah. Bruce ran his hand over his mouth and ignored the envelope Sarah pressed on him. Instead he studied Lisa, head cocked to one side. “You really love this guy?” he asked. His voice had dropped in volume, speaking to her as if no one else was in the room. Something in her chest released. Gabe’s fingers tightened their grip on her hip, and she heard him say, “I’m going to take really excellent care of her, sir,” and Lisa knew he would. “What I’m asking is, do you really know him enough to love him?” Bruce said to Lisa, as if Gabe hadn’t said a word. “Do you know yourself ? People go through their lives blind as bats. Thumping into walls, pretending it doesn’t matter. I know a thing or two about the world, and how things can turn out, if you’re not careful.…” Careful, Lisa heard. Her heart clenched, cooled. Her voice rose. “Of course I love him,” she answered, and she believed it. At the same time her throat constricted as she caught something in the way Bruce’s forehead furrowed, in the way the light vanished from his eyes, that she would remember years later, after the short walk down the makeshift beach aisle lined with flaming torches, escorted by Gabe’s father because Bruce did not come after all. Bruce’s expression was nothing in that moment if not mournful, aching with sorrow, and Lisa would wake up one morning eight years later, after a busy night on call in her rheumatology practice, and hear Gabe humming to himself as he cooked her breakfast (eggs and sausage, which she’d told him she did not want but which he insisted were good for her energy post-call) and she’d hear the humming interrupted only when he rushed off to pick up their baby, who had awoken and was crying in his crib. Lisa would swing her legs over the side of their bed, pause on the edge, and think, when was the last time I paused to think about anything? Bruce’s lost, hooded eyes would flash into her mind, accompanied by Sarah’s 30 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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words, facts aren’t everything. Caught in the frenzy of days at the hospital, rushing from one place to the next, stomach already heavy with baby number two, as planned, Lisa would sit on the bed and think, what do Gabe and I really have in common? The thought would knock the wind out of her. She’d rush into a steaming shower and let the hot water run down her face, trying to melt the thought and the slow, heavy rise of sorrow in her chest. She’d tell herself, you’ve got a husband who is devoted, reliable. A man who is everything your father was not, and nothing that he was. You’ve proven that Bruce doesn’t matter, that you can be a success in spite of him. Everything’s going according to the plan you and Gabe set up when you first met. And for the first time she would let herself wonder if that was enough.

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Nin Andrews

Southern Accent

The day I came home with a busted lip and two black eyes, my mother said the problem with me was my southern accent. Get rid of that extra y in Dayaddy, and you’re talking about your father, not some deity. I tried to tell her it began with a dayare, but my mother said it was dare, not dayare, and besides that, she didn’t want to hear one thing about it. A girl is supposed to act nice. And speak like a lady. If you’re going to fight like a boy, you can have your hair cut like one, too. What’s more, that stuff growing on top of your head is not hay as in hayer, it’s hair. Driving to the Watson’s Beauty Salon downtown on Jefferson Park Avenue, she instructed me to open my mouth nice and wide, say ahhh, not ayyy. It was just an accident. I didn’t mean to, I can explain. Not everything rhymes with Bayer, my mother commented. She was from New England. She wasn’t like me. And I never could get it right. No matter how I tried, I’d hear my father’s voice, his Memphis drawl in the back of my head: You being about as helpful as a crawdayaddy under a rock? When was the last time you peeled your mama spuds or washed your hayands and said something sweet with a smile on those rosebud liyips?

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I knew how to answer him, keep my eyes cast down, my voice soft as a wisp: No, Sir. Yes, Sir. Or, if I dared: Can I please be excused? No ma’am, he’d answer just as quick as a blink. You can. But you may not. Not as long as you don’t know which word is proper, and what kind of excuse you might be. I’d wait, keep my mouth shut tight. But there were always those thoughts circling my mind, sassing like a beginner’s violin, the slow ache in the middle of each word I’d never lose: You think you’re as bright as a rock on a rain-soaked night? When was the last time you were anybody’s wish? And my best one: You say you’re my daddy. Well, what if ?

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Elsa Arnett

Inside

They are there, always, the men languishing behind tinted windows that transform 10 A .M. into that netherworld before dawn. Sorrowful Vietnamese ballads mollify this outpost of old Saigon along Route 50 in Falls Church, where smoke from unfiltered Pall Malls hovers like skeletal mist over the Mekong. The graying heart surgeon who now stacks mulch sacks sits silent with the old mathematics professor who validates parking stubs. Behind them, the former colonel, alone, plots counter insurgencies in his head. A waitress comes to their tables, brings each a dented tin coffee filter, steaming. Potent French Roast drips just the way it did at the café on “Freedom Boulevard,” before the Communists renamed it “Rise Up for the Revolution Street.” Their children, even their wives, urge them to brush aside the past, but they do not see what these men see:

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trampled bodies strewn on the city’s docks like discarded dolls, moaning quadriplegic children who imbibed Agent Orange like breast milk. And from the wounded man’s ribs blood spurting like scorched wax that singes their eyes, even now.

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Elsa Arnett

Boiling Point

How long does it take to boil a cup of water? For grandmother, roused out of bed that night, hands trembling as she minced ginseng root to take in a plaid thermos to grandfather’s hospital bed, the water lay flaccid in the kettle, so long, it seemed, tiny bubbles gurgled faint, like last gasps. By the time she got to him, her arms coiled around the clammy thermos, it was too late. For mother, sorting through mail that afternoon, pink swollen eyes read and re-read the hotel bill: her husband’s and another woman’s, only a mile from their home, only a week ago; afternoon slumped into night, forgotten, the saucepan on the hot stove liquefied into a molten lump of beautiful, useless metal, like the platinum band on her finger. For me, it boils as it should, just over a minute, high heat, as I wait, expecting nothing.

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Chi-Wai Au

In Winter

My mother notices the pale sunlight on the dresser where Kuei-Luan’s letter from Taiwan opens. All morning, it has been quiet, except for doves, their small cries flown to the window-edge of her ears. In her green robe and slippers, she’s perched on top of the mattress, uncapping the bottle of clear White Flower Oil for her knees. She tips it. Down there, in the yard, the shaded, orange hearts of persimmons lie bruised with the blind seasons passing.

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Chi-Wai Au

Sunday in Little Taipei

Driving through the crowded channels of the shopping mall, senses confronting the loud brass, the honk and flash of new immigrant money rolling in on the silver wheels of a Mercedes— Families flowing in and out between the archipelago of teeming neon lights: 99 Ranch Market, Pho 79 Restaurant, the rich florid glare reaching down from pink- and cream-plastered buildings— What motion and commotion mixed up at the intersection of Del Mar and Valley, the knotted accents of Chinese so fresh and familiar floating down the narrow walkways!— Here, old cooks like my father beat their greasy woks, while waiters unload steamed carp, jumbo shrimp, and lobster onto red lacquered banquet tables. Children, unconcerned, peer and toss coins into a shimmering fountain, grandparents standing behind them as they shout with each arching spray of water. O, nothing stays put with the wide suburban boulevards

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rededicated and rebuilt, the human buzz of the parking lot shot through air, and the bright flares of business set off like spitting fireworks each year.

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Lory Bedikian

Night in Lebanon

The youngest boy, with his ulcer, sleeps. His lower lip pulsates, a small fish breathing. A bed of torn pillows, cradles four of them, two brothers, two sisters— curved, quiet on the living room floor. Buzzing, the open window has its mouth full of street lights, mosquitoes, those who stay awake. Peeled paint on the ceiling, the door sheds the skin it wore through a drawn-out, twenty-year civil war. The parents sleep in a room full of faith hammered to the walls. Posing, a copper cross, its inscription in Armenian asks for blessings of God upon this home. Through the mother’s sleeping lips a prayer slips, rises, drifts and hovers above the boy who dreams: he’s a grown man spinning yarn around their home until it’s as thick as a bomb shell. Then, cane in hand, walking through a cedar grove, he drops his string of worry beads into a well. Cracking a pumpkin seed open with his teeth, he tastes childhood in each closed casing. In the morning, a thin scroll of bread filled with tomato paste, oil, mint will start the hurried day. But now, he sleeps as he did the day he was born. Stillness enters his lip, his mouth finally rests, 40 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Lory Bedikian

breathing as he will when he is older than this war whose finger has carved a scar in him, the size of an eye that will not close.

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Lory Bedikian

Chameleon

I learned to live in the willow but did not succeed as others did at keeping cold-blooded ways. My plates were made of hammered tin and I wore them just before the wind grew in the shape of a lion’s mouth. Blue for my brothers, the color of a bruise learning its name, this is what I became under the arched arm of bark. And I was a girl, I’ll admit, just the same. One who had learned to raise a palette to the sun in the painter’s pose. Teal for the morning mint tea, yellow to find the sour grass just below the apricot’s bloom were my robes, my pleated veils. What was the color of that day when I turned amber against its brow? How dark was my shade and how deep had the fossils gone? It is good to speak in my own tongue. Not the wrinkled olive, the guttural sigh, not the straight-back chair of stiff sonnets, but the mouth knowing the words behind it move in lavender, in tangerine, in a black so black it has taken its own wings and moved

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Lory Bedikian

beyond the willow’s space. And why can’t I speak this way? Who cannot understand this speech? It’s as simple as my skin. It breathes in the air and knows the temperature of hate, as it knows gold, the perfect color of pain. The apricots knew this color. They knew that the willow was not far from my window. I was only the memory of green in my grandmother’s arms, in my grandmother’s arms, she knew the willow and how it became…

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Heather Brittain Bergstrom

Columbia Basin Child For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground; I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring.—Isaiah 44:3 I grew up in a desert where church doors closed as tightly against dust as wind-blown sin from cities across the Cascades. No one had to pray for rain like sweat down a lover’s back because the dammed river gave water to all Christians willing to dig potatoes from sand and sing WPA songs like Gospel: Roll on, Columbia, roll on! Your power is turning our darkness to dawn… I swam in slackwater canals with cousins who left for the Army or married local and stayed to rent houses on the closed-down Air Force base where my father grows heavy in his armchair still waiting for Mother to return (this time from the dead), 44 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Heather Brittain Bergstrom

still waiting for his youngest daughter to visit Sunday afternoons while her husband fishes on the dammed river where beer cans and barges swim instead of salmon and Indians scrape empty nets across concrete shores of the American West. Roll on!

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Amy Bleser

Distance

And she knows she is alone. After years of searching, she is simply a big-boned, strange-eyed girl climbing Cathedral stairs in the mist, as if she created each step from the vapor beneath her heavy black boots— rising into history, artifacts, candles, prayers, rising in a red cape high above the buried infrastructure as real as any dream held standing in any primarycolored plastic suburban playground, as real as her rock star heroes, real as night, day, water, gravity. She has been everywhere by now, and every place wars: cold, hot; arguments in pubs, cafés and eyes. Only the light changes as it rises and sets between the pillars of the day, the air, the pillars of the night, all of it both vaster and more infinitesimal than expected— the stars, the grains of sand. In the desert she forgets why she set out to begin. Again and again, she loses the thread, the point, the story. She misplaces her notes, her motivation, the names of the other actors; always there are vague, sepia memories of nightgowns and snow falling endlessly outside the mountain cabin. Off-stage— the silence, the emptiness here at the edge of the old new world. Nothing can be said, she says out loud, as the sun sets outside the window on her mother, flattened by twilight, walking away like a shadow on that unreachable horizon.

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Amy Bleser

Atmosphere

Catch us as we recede into sleep, and catch hold of us as we disappear against the sky—slippery, mercurial as the back of the hand in moonlight, swallowed by the clouds and spit back out. Always spit back out into the weightless crush of gravity: the life of crashing back to earth. The life of sunlight and long, aimless walking beside ourselves like preachers or coaches or therapists, like lovers at the start of the story, or friends at the end of the life, beside the bed, the frail hands held loosely, the careful, unbroken interest—the final naming of desire for eternity, just the word eternity— the blue sky beyond the windows, broken into panes, and the clouds beyond the silent drumbeats, beyond the body, aging and breakable as bone (with nothing on it, stripped, bleached— caught) in the light and gravity we breathe.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 47


Bruce Bond

Palimpsest

In the film Hiroshima, with each bloom on our horizon a subtitled English pales under the blanch of light, infused, so what you hear, the musical blur of the foreign tongue, suddenly floats its story above the burning planet, over the heads of most spectators here, lost to a white shock, if only briefly, then the script emerges blazing its way out of the underworld, bearing cinders. And it keeps happening, blast after blast bannered in music, each word an Orpheus descending into the burial flash, each lamp blinded in the open flame. We too sink in our hypnosis, our own cold current that is the body, watching. There is nothing that it turns away, this light, no lock so small it would not pick it, the cloud’s brainstem swelling in the mind. You would think the brilliant arm of God broke out of the earth’s core, like a man drowning in solid ground, his voice gone under. 48 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Bruce Bond

There are nights so still they are breakable as glass. As silence. A body knows this. A body knows and moves beneath its knowing. The credits rise. We wake our distant feet. And as we leave under the iron-red trees, our mouths so much colder now, breathing smoke, we walk the stone theater stairs in clusters, reluctant down the stunned October path.

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Tara Bray

To Joyce Howard, a girl from third grade who comes to me in dreams

You’ve rambled in my head all these years, your round face and wiry hair, my guilt caught up in those blond strands. You walked to school bragging on the Holy Ghost who bit your neck while you danced for Him in a church I’d never see, a church tucked back in woods out on Jakin Road. “No,” my daddy said. “Those roads out there are tangles in the dark.” You cried for me, swore I’d burn in worthless fields. I’d call the girls to steal your dirt-cheap barbie dolls dressed in tattered clothes—their crayon-marked arms hollow, their hair rugged as your own. We’d rip them from your hands, tearing limb from plastic limb before we buried them, marking their graves with stones. Still you smiled. We didn’t understand the scriptures you sang out, as we dug for the deeper dirt of our burial ground. Your face seems almost pretty looking back. In dreams sometimes you come to me, walking fields of brown, wearing that paisley dress hanging loose as skin behind the arm of an old woman who is always there. She turns the soil, pulling out lemon rinds, a patent leather shoe with a buckle and a strap, the kind your mama made you wear when you were much too old. We mocked your mama and her broken teeth. Still there was always your defense, your smile, the sound of verses on your tongue, drifting

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Tara Bray

down to calm me after all these years. In my dream I’m walking into your mouth. It’s soft. I’m sitting down and suddenly I’m sleeping there inside your complicated grace.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 51


Tayari Jones

Leesha

Leesha Anderson was the kindest of the Kappa Pearls. She wasn’t nice enough to invite me to her Sweet Sixteen party; I’d panted watching her send the burgundy-and-white invitations around in homeroom. Why I can still recall things like the little slips of tissue paper inside each envelope? I’m not still hurt about those exclusions. Leesha was nice enough to include both of the twins, which is more than could be said for the other girls in her clique. They had decided, for some reason, that one of the twins was insufferable. How they chose which one to hate, I couldn’t figure. But whichever one of them had fallen out of favor did not receive an invitation to Brigette Hensley’s Sweet Sixteen. But Leesha had invited both of them. There was a rumor that she was especially sensitive to the plight of twins because she herself had a twin sister somewhere living with their real mother. Leesha was being raised by her grandmother, who owned a beauty parlor on Cascade Road. I don’t believe the separated-at-birth nonsense now, but it seemed romantic and perfectly credible in 1987 when I was seventeen years old. That was the year I took woodshop. My midterm assignment, a mug caddy for my grandmother, was giving me fits. I was ready to scrap the whole project and make something easy like a pencil holder when Leesha stuck her pretty little head in the door. “Marcus isn’t here,” I said, rubbing the mug caddy with number twelve sandpaper. She eased into the room and shut the door. “ I know.” I paused with the sanding. If she wasn’t looking for her boyfriend, why was she here? “Don’t know when he’ll be back,” I told her blowing dust from the caddy. It was always best to avoid eye contact with girls like her. If you looked at them and smiled, they would think that you were proposing friendship and they would let you know in a New York minute that they were not interested. 52 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Tayari Jones

“Okay,” she said. “You can sit over there and wait.” I wasn’t glad to see her. Lunchtime was my time. My hour-long reprieve from the plans, schemes, crosscurrents and bedfellows of high school life. I always ate a huge breakfast and hoped it would tide me over until after the three o’clock bell, but it never did. Leesha wore the floral perfume, Anaïs Anaïs, that all of those girls wore. I think they liked it because it was hard to pronounce. I looked up. She was standing about two feet from me. “What,” I said. “I wanted to ask you about something, Aria.” Leesha looked at me with an anemic little smile. Her hair, as usual, was beautiful. Word was that her grandmother styled it for her every three days. And of course, she had a much better grade of hair than most people. I could sit in the beauty parlor every day that God gave, and my hair would never look like Leesha’s. “What,” I said again. My heart revved its engine. The only time a girl wanted to talk to me alone was if she wanted to ask me if I had been messing around with her boyfriend. And I really wasn’t in the mood for it today. To tell the truth, I was a little bit disappointed in Leesha. She didn’t seem the type to corner me in the woodshop room. Maybe Marcus had brushed up against me a couple of times after school, but it wasn’t worth fighting over. Leesha didn’t say anything. I could feel her looking at my clothes, thinking that my jeans were too tight. Her friends had lately taken to calling me “ghetto booty,” because of the shape of my rear end. I would never confront them about it. My best defense was behaving as though girls didn’t exist. Besides, with my figure, I could come to school wearing a croaker sack and still be a bad mamma-jamma. “I just wanted to ask you something.” She wore her Kappa Pearls jacket, even though the school building was overheated. It was January and all the Kappa Pearls sported their paraphernalia reminding everyone that the Sweetheart’s Ball was just a few weeks away. Each KP could bring her date, naturally, and she could invite one couple. Usually, an invitation signaled that the girl would soon be asked to join. Freshman and sophomore years, I held my breath in January, hoping that one of the upperclassmen in pink-and-white would see some potential in me and “request the honour of my presence” at the ball. But I was a senior now, and had stopped believing in made-for-TV endings. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 53


Tayari Jones

“Alright,” I said. “What is it?” I put down Nana’s mug holder. It was sadly asymmetric. Pressing my palms on the table, I leaned over until I was close enough to kiss her. “What’s that you’re making?” she asked me, stepping back. “I would have liked to take shop, but my mama wanted me to take Home Ec.” “My mama wanted me to take Home Ec too,” I told her. This was true. “But I wanted to take shop. There’s no guys in Cooking and Sewing.” I couldn’t help adding this on. But the real reason I took shop was that there were no girls there. It wasn’t quite the same thing. Leesha smiled again. She swept her hand across the front of her pink jeans, brushing off imaginary crumbs. “I know this is a weird question, but I thought that you might know the answer to it.” I walked around and sat on the table beside her. Wood shavings would cling to the back of my pants, but I liked putting myself so close to her physically, making her nervous. I smelled her perfume and I knew she could smell the English Leather I dabbed on my neck so I would smell like I had only recently been released from some passionate embrace. “What.” “You know,” she said. “You know if you’re a little late?” It clicked then. And it didn’t even make me mad, like it should have. This was like when people assume that because you’re black, you know about drugs. But I actually enjoyed it. “There’s still plenty of time for lunch,” I said. “You’re not late.” “I mean,” she said, “if your period is late, is it true that if you start taking birth control pills, it’ll come?” I shook my head. “Sweetheart, it don’t work that way.” The shop teacher, Coach Dixon, used that term whenever I misassembled something. Sweetheart, that’s not how it go. “So there’s nothing that I could do?” she asked. “Now there’s something,” I said. “You know what it is.” I leaned forward, put my elbows on my knees and propped my chin in my hands. Leesha wore a slim gold necklace that was decorated with gold balls of various sizes. I wanted a necklace like that but each one of the beads cost between fifteen and forty dollars. You needed at least ten to make it look alright and I couldn’t make that sort of investment. She fiddled with the largest beads. “I have money,” she said. I figured she did. “Marcus give it to you?” She shook her head. “I didn’t tell him.” 54 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Tayari Jones

“Don’t,” I cautioned like I had been through all this before. “You didn’t tell your girlfriends did you?” She shook her head. “Don’t tell them either. They’ll have it all over school before sixth period.” She gave me an obedient nod. We sat there for a moment in silence. I picked up my strip of sandpaper and swiped at the mug caddy. “So why are you telling me. It’s not like we’re friends.” She shrugged and looked at her pearl polished nails. “I don’t know.” “I could run out of this room and tell everyone.” She jerked inside her angora sweater as the bell rang. “We could get to be friends.” I knew then why she’d picked me. It wasn’t just that I’d made quite a name for myself since the eighth grade. I wasn’t the only girl in our class with a reputation. I was the only one who didn’t have anyone to tell her secret to even if I’d wanted to. There was my boyfriend, but he was in the army and didn’t care about high school drama. I tore the corner from a sheet of notebook paper on the table. I wrote my phone number in small pinched letters. “Call me tonight.” She took her hand from her throat to take the paper and the gold necklace broke, spilling filigree beads to the nasty floor. She slid my number in her pocket before bending down to retrieve them. I got on my knees too and helped gather the delicate spheres. Leesha recovered all of them but two. One I crushed under my shoe and the other, I hid between my fingers. She called me a lot after that and we became phone friends. My mother would answer the phone and smile to hear a feminine voice for a change. “Is this Leesha?” she started saying after only the third day. And of course, it was. I didn’t have any other girlfriends. Not even my sister Jeanine, since she was in college by this time. I didn’t call Leesha one time in the three weeks that we were planning her abortion. If she wanted to talk, she had to call me. And she told me secret girlfriend things. She told me that her real father was white. “One of the rich ones?” I asked. “No,” she said. She was calling from her grandmother’s beauty shop. Curling irons clicked in the background against the noise of grown women’s laughter. “Po white trash.” She sighed. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 55


Tayari Jones

“You ever met him?” I wanted to know what it was like to see somebody white and have them be kin to you. I didn’t really know any white folks then, not well enough to say hello. We only had two white people at our high school. One was a child prodigy named Jon Marc O’Malley and the other one was a big goofy white boy named Ian who wore dirty socks. “No,” she said. “But Big Mama says he is broker than black folks that live in the projects.” “It’s a lot of broke white folks out there,” I said, fingering the gold bead I took from her that day. “They just don’t show them on TV.” “She says that my real mama went and found the only broke white boy in Druid Hills to have a baby with. That’s why Big Mama can’t hardly stand to talk to her.” “So you don’t really get to see your mama either?” I knew this already. She had told me the week before. But I liked to hear the little waves in her voice when she was trying not to cry. The gold bead between my fingers was warped with tiny dents. “She calls me though,” Leesha said. “Big Mama sends her pictures of me when I do stuff. Like when I get my picture made for the Sweetheart’s Ball.” “Oh,” I said. “I been three times,” she said. “You ever been?” She knew good and well that I hadn’t been invited. “Never wanted to go,” I said. “I haven’t decided what I am going to do with my invitation this year. I’m sick of hanging around with freshmen, trying to figure out who is KP material. I might just ask a friend this time.” I sucked in my breath. Was this an invitation? A verbal contract? It was possible. After all, I was about to keep Leesha from ruining her life. “I know you and Marcus are gonna be decked out this year.” Then I told her about how my daddy and mama went to the prom together back in the day and how he was dead now. I embellished the story some. “My daddy died at home, in my mother’s arms. She never did get married again because she loved him too much to ever get over losing him.” I wanted my voice to have that wavy, choked-up quality that Leesha’s did, but my sadness didn’t affect me like that. “Oh Aria, that’s so sad,” Leesha whispered. “True love is forever.” “But he left us a lot of insurance money for us to live on,” I added. I wanted her to know my daddy wasn’t broke. 56 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Tayari Jones

“Ma’am?” Leesha called. “I gotta go shampoo somebody,” she said. “I’ll call you before I go to bed.” When she did, I wouldn’t accept the call. On the Saturday before Leesha’s appointment, I took the train to Rich’s downtown. I looked at party dresses. The best ones were pink so I didn’t touch them; only the Kappa Pearls could wear their signature color. The plan was more complicated than it needed to be. I took the bus to my mama’s job at ten in the morning and borrowed her car. This, I had done this before. Mama had an assigned parking place so there was never any time wasted looking for the car and I had a copy of her key. The only problem would be if she decided to go off-site for lunch, but it was the end of the month and I knew she didn’t have money to throw around like that. Leesha and I could have both taken the bus north to the clinic, that’s what I did when I went there once a month to get my birth control pills, but I liked the idea of driving the getaway car. My mother drove a ten-year-old Volvo, the color of egg yolks. The brown interior was slightly stale from the previous owner’s cigarettes. Leesha waited for me a block north of the school, buttoned into her KP jacket. “The Best of The Best” stretched across the pocket in a loopy script. “Hey,” I said. She got into the front seat and fastened her seat belt. She smelled of hairspray and lye. “Hey.” “Ready?” “You don’t have to sound so happy.” “I’m not happy,” I said. “I’m just ready to take care of this.” She looked out of the window. “I don’t feel like talking.” “I’m just trying to help you,” I said. “My mother would kill me if she knew that I was in her car. I just didn’t want you to have to catch the bus today.” “I know,” she said. “I should have told Marcus. He could have took me in his Jetta.” How could she even think about Marcus at a time like this? He was the whole reason this thing was happening in the first place. I had been out with some trifling guys, but not one of them had been careless enough to get me pregnant. “Yeah,” I said. “You could have Crab Orchard Review ◆ 57


Tayari Jones

told Marcus and everybody in school would know about your appointment. Don’t be stupid, Leesha.” “I didn’t tell him,” she said. “I’m just saying. I just wish he was with me. He’s my boyfriend.” She had that wavy voice again. She was looking out the window. Her profile was beautiful and tragic. She was going to be the best-looking girl at the Sweetheart’s Ball, no doubt about it. I felt myself getting mad at her for being so pretty when she was sad. When I cried, I balled my face up like a dirty napkin and snot was everywhere. But Leesha cried like Erica Kane on All My Children. “This is ridiculous,” I said. “We can go up to the school and you can pull him out of class and get him to take you. The appointment is already made, it doesn’t matter who goes with you.” We were stopped at a red light. I put on my blinker like I was ready to make a U-turn. Leesha chewed her lip and fiddled with her add-a-bead necklace. “Okay,” she whispered. “You want to get him?” I squeaked. My eyes went hot and wet. How could she boot me out at this last stage of the game? I was the one who had been holding her hand for the last three weeks. I had listened to her boohoo into the phone because she didn’t have sense enough to take the pill. And I guarded her secret as if my own reputation were at stake. Even still, Leesha didn’t speak to me at lunch, but I was helping her anyway. “No, Aria,” she said. “Just drive.” She blew her bangs out of her eyes, a mannerism of hers that I’d spent an hour in the mirror trying to imitate. “It’s okay, Leesha,” I said. “I’m here. I’m your friend.” She pulled her pink and white jacket around her. “I know.” The clinic was just a slot in a strip mall in Buckhead, nestled between a TV repair and a beauty parlor. Were it not for the sign in the window, it could easily be mistaken for a low-budget tax preparation center. The windows were tinted to save the patients from the wrath of passersby, but it didn’t have the sinister blackened windows that suggested shame. I came out here all the time to get my birth control pills. I went here the first time because I didn’t want to run into anybody that I knew. I kept coming back because I suspected that they probably gave out fresher BCs out where the white girls live. I mean, I knew that medicine wasn’t the same as milk, but it might could still go bad. 58 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Tayari Jones

I stopped the car in an angled parking space that was close enough to the door so that Leesha wouldn’t have far to walk, but far enough that someone might think we were headed to the TV repair shop. I was pretty sure that everyone in the immediate vicinity knew what happened here on the second and third Tuesday of every month. “You ready?” I asked her. She nodded, looking over at the three white people carrying picket signs. Choose Life and all of that. “Don’t worry about them,” I said, but I was concerned. I usually came to get my BCs on Wednesdays and hadn’t ever seen these folks in action before. Would they throw a bucket of animal blood on us? I had seen that on 60 Minutes. I put my arm over Leesha’s narrow shoulders and steered her in the direction of the door. The three protesters came toward us. An older woman with a creased face screeched Don’t kill your baby. It was a potential baby and we were here to make sure that it wouldn’t become a real baby. Right now, it was just a dividing cluster of cells. Lurking. Biding its time. But still. When an old white lady tells you not to kill your baby, you know what she’s talking about. I pressed my lips to the top of Leesha’s soft, straight hair. A younger woman said in a softer tone, “Please don’t murder your baby, we can help.” Leesha stopped walking. Her eyes were on the young woman whose lank brown hair hung on either side of her kind eyes. I pushed Leesha to get her moving again. But she was stuck to the spot. The women walked past us to a skinny white girl about five paces away. Her short skirt exposed knees as pale as uncooked biscuits. “Oh.” Leesha turned her head as they passed. It was like returning a wave only to realize that the person intended to receive the greeting is behind you. We watched them surround the helpless white girl. What was she thinking to come here by herself ? She was tiny like Leesha but older than us. She pulled her cheap coat around her like the people in her face were bad weather. The old lady was hollering murderer and the young one had a calm voice like Blind Mary on Little House on the Prairie. “We can help you,” she promised. Every time we heard her voice, Leesha would click her tongue against the top of her mouth. “Bitch,” Leesha said. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 59


Tayari Jones

I was surprised to hear her use that kind of language. I cussed from time to time, but I was me and Leesha was Leesha. “Look at them,” Leesha said. “All over her, trying to bring one more po ass white baby in the world.” She was pissed. And, I realized, jealous. I covered my smile with my hand, pretending to cough. Leesha took a step forward like she was going to go over to the cluster of people and set them straight. A man had joined them. Clean and pressed, he thundered from a Bible. I held her shoulders. “Don’t worry about them,” I said. “They don’t know you.” “I hate them.” She cried in her pretty way. I pushed her toward the door and she came with me, but she kept her head twisted to watch the skinny, sad white girl receive the protesters’ attentions. I turned and looked at her too as we approached the door. Her hazel eyes looked right back, wishing, I know, to be unpregnant and invisible like me. Leesha filled out a stack of forms attached to a clipboard, taking care to put one letter in each small box. When she finished, I held her hand. “They didn’t even care about me,” she said, looking down at her shiny pennyloafers against the coffee-stained carpet. She seemed surprised, as though she had never been ignored before. I squeezed her fingers. “You need to be glad.” Leesha seemed spoiled, ridiculous, and lucky. “It’s like my baby doesn’t even matter,” she said. I didn’t say anything. We had agreed not to use the word baby. “Well, it doesn’t matter, does it?” I said. “Not after today.” She untangled her damp hand from mine. “That’s not what I mean,” she said. “Let’s think about something else,” I said. “Tell me what you’re going to wear to the Sweetheart’s Ball.” She shifted her weight in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest. Her sleeves were lettered with her KP Nickname. Precious, it read like a pageant contestant’s banner. “Something pink,” she said without enthusiasm. “What about you?” So it was official. “I saw this pretty lavender dress at Rich’s. Lavender is not too close to pink is it? It’s a Gunne Sax, so it cost a pretty penny, but I think my mama will let me have it.” Leesha turned away from me in the worn chair. “Is that all you 60 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Tayari Jones

can think about?” She let out an annoyed exhale. “Do you know where we are?” She turned and looked at me for a brief moment, before turning again to the wall. A poster there stressed the importance of an annual well-woman exam. “I should have brought Marcus.” “I was just trying to change the subject,” I said. Leesha didn’t answer. The skinny white girl walked into the clinic. She paused at the door like she expected to be thrown out. “May I help you?” the woman at the desk said with kindness. “Yes,” the girl said. “Thank you.” “Bitch,” Leesha hissed. The girl sat so close to me that I could see the pink scars on her shins like she had been chased through a blackberry patch. This white girl had never been invited to a Sweetheart’s Ball either. I could tell from the mold-green eye shadow smeared across her swollen eyelids that she wanted to be included as badly as I did. She squinted at the forms. Was she having trouble seeing or was she having trouble reading? I would have helped her, but Leesha would have never forgiven me. “Po. White. Trash,” Leesha whispered loud enough for the girl to hear. The skinny girl snapped her head in our direction. Was the fear in her face left over from the incident in the parking lot, or was she frightened because that is just how they think of us? I couldn’t tell, but I could afford to feel sorry for her and I did. “Come on now,” I said to Leesha. “That’s not right.” “Whatever.” Leesha didn’t speak to me again until the nurse called her name, and then she said only, “You wait out here.” I watched the back of her pink and white jacket as she disappeared behind the locked door. I took the bus to Rich’s downtown and rode the escalator to the Junior’s section. The saleslady gasped when I emerged from the dressing room. Lavender satin accented by lace the color of chardonnay draped me from throat to ankle. “It’s not too pink, is it? I can’t wear it if it looks pink.” “You look like an angel,” she said to me. And maybe I did. I bought it, handing the saleslady the soft, thick wad of my babysitting money and the crisp fifty-dollar bill my mother had given me. That dress hung in my closet like a talisman or a curse, until Crab Orchard Review ◆ 61


Tayari Jones

high school was over. I took it with me to college, still sheathed in plastic, but I finally threw it away when I was twenty, and much too large to wear it.

62 â&#x2014;&#x2020; Crab Orchard Review


Cris Mazza

Homeland

The shotgun hangs over her father’s bed, above one aluminum safety rail that’s jammed to no purpose against the same wall. Decorations from home are recommended to cheer displaced geriatric patients. Ronnie had mounted the gun within easy reach, but her father has never once stretched his unimpaired hand to touch the stained wooden stock. In the late 70s, a lot was sold adjacent to their three-acre farmstead on one of the hills outlining Dictionary Valley. Within a year, a two-story Spanish-style suburban house was assembled. Then a family moved in: added swingset, sandbox, treehouse built on stilts without a tree, basketball hoop over the garage, bikes always in the driveway. But, not too long before her father’s first stroke, the unfamiliar, and disheartening, sounds of boys playing capture-theflag and touch football mutated into something far more disruptive: a stereo that detonated rapid-fire booms like machine-gun cannons. The little boy next door, Shane Murphy, had turned fifteen and was a wigger—a phenomenon explained once on Phil Donahue, then Ronnie never again heard the subject on radio nor television. Blond hair pleated into thin braids all over his head, colored beads swinging at the tips; his jeans mustard yellow or royal purple, big enough to fit a butt three times his father’s; shoulders hunched and spine bowed, head bobbing as he sauntered off to the high school busstop with no books nor lunch sack. Then Shane was home again by one in the afternoon to begin the daily large-weapon assault with his stereo. One day a crack appeared in the plaster above the kitchen sink while Ronnie was washing dark green Swiss chard leaves in cold water. Her father glowered at the buzzing pane of his bedroom window. But didn’t fetch the shotgun from the closet until another day when he and Ronnie climbed the steps from one of the lower terraces—where they’d been setting up homegrown bamboo poles in rows for climbing green beans—and saw Shane and two friends, one riotously freckled with an orange mohawk, the other Black with an unremarkable hairstyle, holding baseball bats and surrounding two Crab Orchard Review ◆ 63


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workmen who’d been hired by the residents on the private dead-end lane to repair eroding asphalt. Something had happened, the foreman explained, when he’d finally found other workers to come finish the job after the first two had refused to return. At first the workers had tried to claim it was the color of their sweatshirts and ballcaps that had inspired the boys to threaten them; but apparently, they’d finally admitted, there’d also been some words exchanged between the workers and Shane as he’d swaggered down the lane, so Shane had proceeded to round up his homies—the wigger on Phil Donahue had used that word—and they came back to stand their turf. What the foreman didn’t know was that Ronnie’s father had clumped into the house straight to his bedroom, without removing his dust-crusted work boots, and retrieved his shotgun from the closet where it had stood upright in its zipped leather case since his last hunting trip to Mexico many years earlier. The boys had dispersed— one holding his pants up as he ran—and the workers had vaulted into their truck then squealed down the lane, when Ronnie’s father peppered the leaves of the lane’s biggest eucalyptus tree, right over their heads, with a blast of pellets. Now, at forty-one, Ronnie spends days in a geriatric hospital, then sleeps in a bed in her father’s room. Her father is one of the lucky ones, rooming with family. In most cases, the facility pairs one bedridden patient, man or woman, with a more mobile resident, man or woman—one who is still able to use the bathroom on his or her own. That way the ambulatory patient can have an ostensibly private bathroom. It might almost seem luxurious, their own soap and teeth in a glass on the sinkshelf with no danger of personal items being jumbled, and somewhat less threat of theft. Still, as always, she’s doing what comes next, the next thing that has to be done. Curbs, at least hinders herself from wondering what she could’ve been doing if she wasn’t changing soiled hospital beds, spoonfeeding puréed babyfood into pink toothless ninety-year-old mouths, or wheeling withered bodies into a shower big enough to accommodate both an occupied wheelchair and one or two plasticcapped nurse aides. Reminding herself she chose her sentence—not this exact outcome, but chose to doggedly follow the life her parents started, always doing what’s next, the next thing to be done. It’s actually a decent facility. The shape of an X, four long wings 64 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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radiate from a central area with lobby, receptionist, gift shop, hair dresser and barber, recreation room, dining hall, nursing stations— one for each wing—and an abundance of genuine tropical foliage, kept alive and robust by a two-woman enterprise that visits every other day to water and prune and, due to artificial light in the hospital, rotate certain plants with fresh ones from the showroom. A local grade school class painted several wall-sized murals of a rain forest, curling vines and purple snakes, bunches of bananas, monkeys, butterflies, and huge orange orchids. To complete the tropical atmosphere, there’s also an aviary, a real one, filled with cockatiels, Amazon parrots, even a macaw. The birds belong to a Dictionary Valley pet shop. The owner stops by before opening in the morning and after closing in the afternoon to replenish the feed and clean the aviary. Sometimes one of the birds is sold and a new one brought from the store. It’s a good thing the residents have to be up at 5 AM for breakfast service because that’s when the birds start screaming. Outside, it’s still Dictionary Valley, Southern California, thousands of miles from the tropics—sturdy, scrubby Bermuda lawn between most of the wings, and rows of drought-resistant mockorange shrubs along the stucco walls, under the windows beside the sidewalks. At the ends of the wings glass doors open to small concrete patios with benches. Except the Medicare wing. The glass door at the end of that wing is kept locked and chained because it’s the door closest to a tumbleweedy gorge with a small creek at the bottom. Migrant workers sometimes come up from the gorge. A landscape company, which not infrequently hires migrants, runs mowers over the yellow-green grass once a week, year round, and trims the bushes once a month. A sprinkling system clicks on only at night, 1 AM, every other day. Sometimes, if she catches one of the landscapers, and if he speaks some English or understands her hand motions, Ronnie can get them to turn the sprinklers off when rain is expected, and for several days afterwards. Needless watering makes her pulse hot, her head throbs with the rhythm of the Rain Birds. And when rain is pattering from the eaves and her father stirs in his bed, she half expects him to slip from the blankets and shuffle to the door pulling on a robe, to go down to the basement and turn off the automatic watering timers. A week before they’ll both have to leave the hospital, Ronnie is tending to business as usual, up before the birds scream, so she’s Crab Orchard Review ◆ 65


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dressed, her father clothed and washed by the time she must begin tending to eight other patients assigned to her. In the smaller hours before the aviary wakes, the night can still sound like Dictionary Valley, especially with the window open: a breeze rattling thick oily eucalyptus leaves, a lonely dog barking, bray of a backyard pet donkey, crow of a rooster long before dawn. Until the shrieks of the birds become part of the daily institutional white-noise. At the first screech her father covers his ears with his hands, actually one hand and the other wrist because the curled arm has a hand he can’t much control. Before opening their door, Ronnie cooks orange potpourri on a hotplate, tinting the air with thin acrid citrus. Her olfactory senses haven’t been totally cauterized, the odor in the hall and other rooms does jostle her, but gently, every morning. The smell is pure institution, oatmeal and coffee, disinfectant, permanent-wave chemicals, a thin fume of dust leaked from heavy duty janitorial vacuums and a trace of oil from their motors, recycled air, only occasionally bodily fluids. The residents need to be roused from their beds, helped to the bathroom or supervised in the use of toilet chairs or bedpans, washed, dressed, assisted into wheelchairs or handed their walkers or propped slightly upright in bed. Then Ronnie fetches breakfast trays for those who can’t or won’t go to the dining hall. Those who can’t will need to be spoon-fed. Those who won’t will eat from rolling table-trays in their rooms. The dining hall can be a rough neighborhood. Owning a particular place at a specific table has evolved as part of the residents’ customary code, and newcomers are educated with shouts, curses, sometimes a blow to the head with a cane or serving tray. In fact Ronnie began wearing spandex bike pants under her nurse aide dress because one old guy—one who’s known to swing a fist—also pinches butts. So with the spandex he can’t get a hold of any flesh, his fingers slide over the surface and snap together with nothing between them. He hasn’t yet started trying to pinch above or below the spandex, and Ronnie is agile with quick reactions, even though she never played schoolyard dodging games—in fact never went to school, instead was home-schooled by her mother whose death became Ronnie’s high school graduation. She doesn’t presume the old man’s attentions have anything to do with natural beauty. She hasn’t been young for a long time. Although her body is in good shape, not fat, still muscled from the natural work on the farmstead, the rest—her skin and face—she 66 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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can tell, is ravaged. And she’s going bald, has been since her early thirties. Would her brother be going bald now? He would be thirtynine. When she shampoos and dries her hair in front of the mirror in the bathroom she shares with her father, she sometimes wonders: is she going bald for her brother, because he can’t? After breakfast, bedpans need to be washed and replaced, laundry needs to be gathered and put in the cloth-bin on wheels parked in the hall, residents need to be sent to daily engagements: bingo or beauty shop or doctor’s appointments, or “social time” in the lobby watching staff and nurses come and go. Then Ronnie will have time to begin packing, dividing things into a pile for the Salvation Army and another pile consisting of whatever necessary items will fit into the canvas rucksack and deep-pocketed hunting vest and hand-made pushcart she’d salvaged from the estate sale. Her father is able to walk although one leg drags; it’s possible he could even maintain a pace wearing the faintly blood-stained hunting vest packed with toiletries and undergarments. He also hears, but she hasn’t yet told him that the hospital is turning 100% private, eliminating the Medicare beds. Six months ago one of the administrators told her they would help her make other arrangements, the most likely facility being the VA hospital. Ronnie had said, “I’ll get back to you when I decide what’s best for my father,” but never had gotten back to the administrator, who likewise never again inquired. Today she’ll give notice of her departure to her nurse supervisor. She also now knows her father can converse more extensively than brief questions and one-word answers. Proof had come a while after the administrator’s offer of relocation assistance, and just before her subsequent decision last week. The television on her father’s nightstand was turned on. He had woken from his after-lunch nap, was propped up in his bed wearing, as usual, sweatpants, a sweater and slippers. Ronnie had just retrieved his undershirts from the laundry before they could be stolen, and was putting them into his drawer. The midday news reported the discovery of a decomposing body in a shallow grave somewhere in the county—she hadn’t caught the location: canyon, ditch, pasture, hillside, dry river bottom, or backyard. The sound on the television was abruptly louder, the reporter’s voice suddenly broadcasting on a blaring electronic buzz, when her father mumbled, “It ain’t he.” Then everything had quieted again. Except her heartbeat. Only if her father has a lucid memory, and only if he’s willing to exercise Crab Orchard Review ◆ 67


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it, can she have her questions answered or acquire some measure of absolution, but—another pact with herself—he had to be first to bring it up. “Who, Dad?” Already knowing who. “Our brother. I hear her. Still—know about her.” “I haven’t forgotten either.” “They. Were too. Almost baby.” “You mean me? No, I wasn’t too young. I remember some—” “I do a— Tell I will. Say for me— When I tell I will do. Say it. P. P—” He looks at Ronnie’s mouth. “A promise?” “Promise. Promise our mother. To come back at.” “My mother. Your wife. Your pronouns are bad again today. Okay, where do you mean? Go back…where?” But he’d fallen into silence again, eyes still open, magnified behind glasses that also reflected the flashing lights of the television. A second dialogue had followed that same afternoon. She was in the next room feeding two invalid octogenarians, then returned to pick up her father’s tray and said, “I wonder what those two geezers think about, lying there all day like two pieces of driftwood under sheets.” Immediately she wondered why she would ask such a question of her father. As though in embarrassment, she’d busied herself with his tray, sponging his table, tugging the cuffs of his sweatpants down to cover his white, chalky ankles. He hadn’t mustered a direct answer, but her father had responded: “Before sun. At—the place. No— Blue, yellow, green. Say it.” Again, his eyes on her mouth. “Color.” “Color. No color out. Air is clean through. The—wet place. Say for me.” “Pond?” “No. But okay. Thing like a pond. Blue below sun. Everything is— Like sleep. But not-sleep.” “Rest.” “Birds on rest. Before sun. Mockings. Meadows.” “Mockingbirds and meadowlarks.” “Shake our f—” “Feathers.” “Yes, and calm and no noise. We do there to. Bang. Gun for dumb.” “For dove. Hunt for dove.” 68 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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“Dove. Dove wings make—” His lips and tongue produce a soft trill. “Whistle.” “Wh— Wings whistle when— Flee— Go in air.” “Fly.” “Fly from field. Where we feed.” “They feed. We don’t eat in fields.” Then, her hands still on his ankles, she’d settled to her knees and looked into his blurry eyes. “Dad, what are you thinking about? Is this because you remembered Chad earlier?” “Maybe shouldn’t. Go do with the kids. So little. Like baby.” “But you had to take us hunting if you wanted Mom with you to raise your limit.” “Four people— All us—the people— Us eat. Only do—bang. Say for?” “Shoot.” “Shoot. Just shoot what they—do at dinner.” “Eat. We just shot what we could eat. Except…that time Mom shot the hawk. Remember? It scared us.” “Our sister crying. Everyone crying. Hang on mom, waaa waaa. Someone. A person had to do it. We…they…Too much a baby too …rem-ber…rem—” “I think I do remember, Dad. Shooting the hawk…and…And a lot of other things too. But I need your help to know for sure.” We screamed. Kept on screaming. Someone was screaming. Shoulders grasped and body shaken, STOP IT, STOP IT, then a dreadful silence, the sun growing hotter as the hole was dug in dry hard-packed dirt—the day our mother shot the hawk. SOMEONE was screaming. But was it the same someone and the same screaming? The same savage sound and same raw throat. Also the familiar awful silence. Chad lay on the hard-baked ground below the huge pepper tree with slippery but flaky, easily peeled bark where our father had built our treehouse. Really just a platform bordered by eight-by-two-inch boards as edges, like curbs. No ladder necessary to climb up there because the crotch of the tree was low enough, the branches fat enough to make natural steps to the trap-door hole in the floor of the platform—enough room on the landing to spread two sleeping bags, but, to keep dirty shoes off the bedding, little space for walking except acrobatic balancing, tightrope style, on the Crab Orchard Review ◆ 69


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two-inch-wide wooden edges of the platform’s imaginary walls. An initial reprimand—for pushing him from the tree or at least not watching him or not protecting him to keep him from falling—could’ve been a slapped face or at least a wrist shackled in a big, tight fist, and dragged along, also crying, to the car, to be alone in the back seat for a violent ride, presumably to the hospital, but, with continuous hysterics, it almost seems maybe the car didn’t stop until once again in the driveway. And for days, possibly weeks, didn’t our father stay out in the gardens longer, later, even after dark, chest grunting with each drop of the pick-ax or heft of the shovel, then finally come in dirtier than usual? We screamed. Kept on screaming. Weren’t we screaming? He was four or five. A mistake, an accident, a compound lapse. Dove don’t ever glide— besides their feathers’ telltale whistle, their continuous wingbeat is a second giveaway. Prowling hawks sail on air currents, but this hawk wasn’t gliding, not searching the ground for prey, beat his wing too swiftly, too regularly, too low to the ground, too similarly to the dove he may also, another time, have pursued. On immediate sight of a game bird—or when the guns were raised—instinctively, reflexively, those without guns were to let our knees buckle, crouch low to the ground, squat at our parents’ feet, wait for the shots, this time a double crack from our mother’s gun—hers alone—while our father shouted, NO, AL, but too late. Perhaps only one of us made the misinformed recoil to squat at our mother’s feet. Heart pounding at the appalling outlawed deed now done, to kill songbird or heron or raptor. “WHY DID YOU—” our mother’s voice resounds. A misdemeanor, nothing more, a ticket, perhaps a small fine, none of that would undo the shot, best to bury the mistake, let coyote come sniffing and turn it to carrion. Or bury it deep enough so it’s gone forever. Checking over shoulders, watching the bright, hot midday frontage road for the county sheriff or game warden or some kind of official, none of which had ever actually been seen on or near any hunting site. Ten o’clock sun flaring, ninety degrees already, only sticks and pocket knives for digging, for cutting the clay, only hands for scooping, it seemed the hole would never be deep enough, would take forever to excavate. But who was screaming? Wasn’t someone screaming? Would the mockingbirds learn and imitate this sound as song? HOW COULD YOU— WHY DID YOU—? MOMMY— 70 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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SHUT UP, STOP IT! His limp body scooped up the way we would lift a dead cottontail with one hand—or was he screaming too? “Dad, why did we— Why did she stop hunting?” “Laws for shoot. Got different. Could only gun for bird. In— Other place. Other country.” “Mexico.” “Yes and he stayed. Back with sister—you.” “You mean she did. Chad wasn’t—when you hunted in Mexico. Mom stayed home with me. Your pronouns are awful today. But why did she stop going with you?” “Danger.” “How was Mexico dangerous? Like disease or the water?” “Want you on home. Always.” “I guess she got her wish.” “He— Our mother— Hard to say you. Sad person. Even if on ax— Word for thing not did right. Ax—” “Accident.” “Ax-dent. Even that. She just couldn’t— Couldn’t not think on. F— Couldn’t— Like look above. Say it?” “Forgive?” “Forgive? Maybe. No. For—” “Forget?” “Maybe that’s right. He—our mother— Was not be his-self. Never the same.” “It was an accident, Dad. I swear it was. Did you think I’d do it on purpose?” His eyes, confused, bewildered, focused on hers. She sighed. “Sorry,” she said, standing, “Why don’t you take a walk before bedtime?” “Please. Help me. To give back.” His good hand clutched her smock. “To do it. To come. Back at—the place. I promise. Our mother. I will take back. Then I. Can’t never did it.” “Sure, Dad,” turning away, gently removing his hand from her smock, “we have nowhere else to go. Maybe I need to go back with you. Maybe it’s what we should do next.” It took another couple of days, with no further substantial exchanges of conversation, for Ronnie to decide: that’s exactly what they’ll do, right away, as soon as they leave the hospital. If he is Crab Orchard Review ◆ 71


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ever going to be able to remember anything, tell her anything, share anything, then finally resolve anything, perhaps he needs to be stimulated by the real sights, the sounds, the smells that can arouse a memory. So if doing whatever he promised her mother will serve to invigorate his recollection, she’ll help him do it, maybe just consider it another part of her atonement to do so—if indeed she still owes reparation. Or if, in fact, she ever owed. Maybe if she knew for sure, either way, she wouldn’t need to go back, unless it would count as a final stage of her redemption. But as long as he’s alive, if his willingness to think, to dredge up, is revived, then she has a chance to get free of it, the doubt, the guilt. She might discover the assumptions she’s carried since she was seven are true and therefore her choice of atonement has been just—and perhaps he’ll say he knows she’s done as much as humanly possible to make it right. Or the memories of a seven-year-old will be proven as undependable as her most churlish bitter moments try to suggest—and in that case she’ll simply put aside her decades-old guilt and finally have a life. She can’t remember permitting herself to imagine an if-then string, but now all of this one depends on his ability to remember lucidly, and to communicate what he knows, and it could be the places—the old farmstead plus the marsh fields and back-country canyons they hunted and gleaned—that will stimulate him to make the effort. From sometime in late summer, through fall and into early winter— this was hunting season for dove, quail, duck and cottontail rabbit. All were plentiful and legal to hunt in undeveloped parts of the county. Our father would scout terrain outside Dictionary Valley, looking for good places to hunt, often finding caches just as valuable. One site was in the Tijuana River valley. There was nothing but waist-high parched vegetation, sandy arroyos, native barrel cactus and century plant, fragrant sage and ocotillo and anise, coyote and foxes, rabbits, snakes, hawks, owls, meadowlark, roadrunners, horned toads, wasps and tarantulas. On this hunting ground, our father came across an abandoned farm. Rusted equipment—an old well-pump, a hand plow—a dead falling-down tree near a house foundation, and one lone live fig tree. While we played below, he climbed the low, thick branches and filled a bucket with ripe figs. Always had a bucket in the trunk, with other necessary tools to keep at hand. With cuttings from that tree, our father eventually established several fig trees on our property, then grafted them with branches 72 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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from other varieties—three different types that ripened different months—and we had as many ripe figs as we could want. But back when any trees on our farmstead were mere sticks, this tree was like an island paradise in the brown chaparral. In addition to the fruit, there were bugs and lizards to catch, old tools to pretend to use, a house foundation to pretend to be building. We were the only people on the face of the earth, in a pristine prairie of brown, waving grasses interrupted only by the dusty dark green dome of the old fig tree, no sound but the mournful cry of dove, intricate piping of meadowlark, rustle of mice, wind chime of rattling leaves or creaking branches. Probably sixty miles north of the old fig tree, where the original El Camino Real was two parallel ruts going up a hill—almost invisible in weeds and non-native mustard, descendants of the trail of seeds left by Father Serra—our father found huge beavertail cactus bearing fruits called nopales or cactus apples. The growth our father located had been eaten bald to head level by cattle who free-ranged in the area. He harvested as many cactus apples as he could bring home. After the thick cactus skin is cut away, cactus apples are about the size of a small fist and extremely juicy. A little like watermelon but with pleasant differences: the flesh is not as mealy, the seeds just chewy bumps, a deeper, brighter flavor. Our father also cut several lobes from the cacti and planted them on our property. In time they became as huge and gnarled as the 80-yearold stand he’d found. Part of an impenetrable barrier on the southern property line. Still in North County, but further east, away from the coast, where the droughty foothills begin, our father found an abandoned grove of walnut trees. Another hunting trip had us knee-deep in wild oats and buckwheat, picking up the walnuts our father shook from the trees, the black, leathery outer casing still wrapping the light brown shells. We brought home several full burlap bags, then helped to shuck the nutmeats which would be frozen for year-round use in brownies, cookies, salads, and candy. Back down south, he looked for hunting areas in the vicinity of a farm packing warehouse and loading dock where local truck-farmers brought produce to be shipped to grocery stores. Behind the dock they dumped rejects. From piles over eight feet high, we salvaged boxes of culled celery—taking only the hearts from the waste the farmers had cast out. There were also loose tomatoes scattered all over the ground—fully ripe, not squashed but unable to travel to a Crab Orchard Review ◆ 73


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store without bruising. In a huge caldron on a Coleman stove outside, our parents turned boxes of tomatoes into jars of tomato sauce. Near the produce dock we discovered a trash dump. Perhaps an unofficial landfill used by the few local residents, perhaps a site where migrant farm workers had been encamped. While our parents sorted through tomatoes, we picked up soda bottles. By the time we finished, we had several boxes of those as well, some needing to be scrubbed with bottle brushes at home, but at a nickel each, we had almost four dollars. It was when our mother joined our father hunting, when we were two and four, that they began bringing us along. Partly to expose us to the philosophy: Shooting was something you did with concern for safety as well as preservation of the terrain, including mindfulness of game limits and which birds were strictly off-limits. And it was an activity you did as calmly and quietly as possible, except for the report of the shotguns. Partly also to teach us the techniques: We padded softly in their footsteps, trained to stay behind them, to stop and squat down as soon as we heard the whistle of dove wings, so our parents could raise and aim their firearms and follow the flock in their sights, in a complete circle, over our heads, and pull off the four shots allowed them by two double-barrel shotguns. The practical reason for taking us hunting was that we were the bird dogs. Dogs qualified to not only find the downed game, but to first locate and collect the spent shells which could be refilled at home. While still the only people on the face of this terrain, we did occasionally find other shells and picked them up too; sometimes our father could reload more shells than he’d spent. After gathering up the four shells, after tramping into the underbrush to where our conditioned eyes had marked the exact spot the game had fallen, we decapitated and drained blood from the bodies before the retrieve was completed and the headless bird slipped into the back flap of our father’s hunting vest. Slow-cooked in a wine sauce, the little bodies stayed whole but melted apart when touched. The dark meat slid easily from the fragile bones, drumsticks smaller than a toothpick, wings the size of bobbypins. We ate with our hands, licking our fingers, sucked the tiny skeletons dry. Quail—the same size as dove but all white meat— was fried with oregano. Cottontail rabbit was stewed with tomatoes. Sometimes our teeth hit shattered bone and we would stop chewing, feel with lips and tongue or use a finger to locate the tiny shot pellet that had been embedded in the muscle. 74 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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But the entire activity—being pulled from sleep hours before dawn…the tranquil, liquid chill before sunrise…the swell of dusty heat as soon as a September sun rose…the soft traipsing in our parents’ footsteps…the retrieving, the decapitating, the de-feathering and dressing, the cooking, the dining—was not experienced without a twinge of…not guilt, not exactly. Maybe some sort of contrite sigh. Helping our parents hunt, breeding domestic rabbits for their meat, seeing adolescent roosters go into the burlap bag…there was always some trepidation during the volatile flash of death.

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What She Isn’t: An Excerpt from the Novel Penelope Jones

Once she was a girl in England. Her first eighteen months in America, Pen grew four inches, and her period arrived, and then she stopped growing. Pen’s third summer in America, (She was thirteen, it was the summer she saw Star Wars four times, and her sister Isabelle met Bo, the one with the strawberry blond ponytail, and one morning their father stood in the driveway and shouted, Isabelle come here explain yourself where the bloody hell do you think you’re off to this is the limit I’ve had it up to here with your bloody insolence who do you think you are you unwashed bone-idle gutter-gypsy where on earth do you think you’re going I said No you cannot go to Vermont for the weekend with that filthy good-for-nothing long-haired layabout overgrown socialist boyfriend of yours— and as Bo’s black Falcon backed out of the driveway Isabelle in the passenger seat yelled through the window, I’ll go where I want and be what the hell I want and you can’t make me listen to you damn it you make me crazy maybe I’ll never come back.) her grandmother came from England for a six-week visit (without her third husband Simon Fish). And Grangran said to her granddaughters, You’re like me, Isabelle. You take after me. Your sister’s more her father’s side—more serious, aren’t you, Pennydear? (And the man says, I thought you were so serious.) When I was in my teens I had lots of young men, too, and my father yelled at me, too, and sent me to my room. What’s in the blood can’t be helped. But your father won’t understand that. Your mother was the same way, even when your father met her, and afterwards, too. I know. These things can’t be helped. Some people don’t see that and they yell and bully and carry on as if 76 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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that will help, but I understand. It was like that with Tommy my first husband your grandfather. Sometimes he did things he couldn’t help, but what was the point of carrying on at him? I understood him. I always did. And that’s why he liked me better than all those other girls and that’s why I was the one he danced with at the May Ball and then eloped with because his father wouldn’t stand for it, simply didn’t want to see him happy. Tommy’s father was a terrible old man, an ogre. He had a head— a temper, and he was—you know, a bit funny. You’d see him striding down the middle of the streets in Nairobi yelling and shaking his cane, and at home on the farm (he had one of the biggest farms in East Africa, heaps of land; he raised dairy cattle, and coffee; he had pots and pots of money, but what good did it do him?) he’d throw things at his family: bottles and silver and footstools, and he told the servants that if they got in his way he’d eat them. Once at a dinner party he told his wife, Put your head back on. Everybody heard about it. We all knew what he was like. He had whims. He told Tommy he’d rewrite his will to leave Tommy nothing but the Persian cat. He said he could turn into a lion. He’d roar, and then sometimes but not always he’d laugh as if he were playing a great joke. He was horribly ugly, too, Tommy’s father. Now that was something Tommy didn’t inherit, though I heard Tommy’s mother say it was a stroke that did it all, the old man’s funny head—both inside and out, you see. He had a big purple twisted face. I used to call him the Old Water Buffalo. The buffalo is the fiercest beast in all Africa, you know, not the lion or the leopard or even the rhino. Buffaloes will attack out of nowhere. For no reason they run at you from behind and trample you. And that was how Tommy’s father was killed in the end. And serve him right. Nobody was sorry, I know, and if they said anything nice at that man’s funeral it’s only because people are liars and like that, but I was already back in England at the time. Tommy and I had our divorce by then, but they contacted him through me anyway, and I had to telegraph his mining company in Australia to let him know the old beast was dead and hadn’t even left him a cat not that Tommy by then deserved anything himself I say though I could have used some. Oh they hated each other, those two, all their lives, and it was because they were alike. Just like me and my father and like you and your father, Belle, they were both damned strong-headed. (You’re not at all like what I thought you were like, the man says.) They both had hard heads, bad heads, but Tommy’s wasn’t as bad as his father’s. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 77


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Tommy just had fits. But his father never helped him. Time and again with all his pots of money his father threw him out with only enough coins for a train fare wrapped up in a handkerchief. He called Tommy a good-for-nothing-scoundrel, and truth was other people said the same about Tommy though not as loudly. I wasn’t deaf. I’d heard about him long before I saw him. But you see I could tell better as soon as I met him. There were just certain things one had to allow for. And Pen asked, What was it that happened with Tommy at the end, Grangran? Oh you don’t want to know, I wouldn’t trouble you with what’s past and gone. And Pen said, Tell us about the ball in Nairobi when you met him, and Isabelle said, Yes tell us Gran please, I don’t remember this story. Elizabeth was tall and thin with thick black hair in a bob, as was the fashion then. She was just a young girl but was bold for her years and laughed and danced with every man who asked and every young man there wanted to ask. Tommy was tall and strong and sunbronzed from his seven-year travels; thrown to the world by his father to fend as he could, Tommy had been student and soldier and merchant’s apprentice, both goatherd and companion of princes. But as soon as they were introduced, there was no man there but Tommy for Elizabeth, and no girl but Elizabeth for Tommy, and they danced with each other without stopping from nightfall to midnight and on and on and on. The music from the band on the dais encircled them, and reading the words of the songs in Elizabeth’s eyes Tommy swayed and dipped and twirled her, his palm against her shoulderblade guiding her, his bare wrist pulsing against hers (for unlike all the other ladies present, Elizabeth Southmead was not wearing gloves). The satin bow of her white muslin dress untied, and the ribbons streamed out and fluttered behind her, as around the ballroom tireless they danced, and when the band stopped playing, Tommy and Elizabeth did not stop dancing but whirled together out through the lace curtains flying through the open French windows, and they spun together on the croquet lawn until the sun rose over the thorn trees.

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Pen’s fourth summer in America, (She was fourteen, it was the summer she found in the wicker trash basket in Isabelle’s room the four postcards Bo sent of the Washington Monument and the Arch in St. Louis and The World’s Biggest Gopher and the Sierra Nevadas, and they all said on the backs, Please I love you I want you won’t you come following me?) Aunt Margaret and her friend Terry Bunthorpe came from England to visit. Pen slept on a camp bed in Isabelle’s room. Margaret slept in Pen’s room, and Terry Bunthorpe used the guest room. Terry Bunthorpe was 5’4” and had a pink bald spot with a dent in it. He was a Cub Scout leader and president of the Dorking Lions. Aunt Margaret called him Bunny. They stayed for two weeks before setting off to see the States. Margaret told her brother, Nev, you and Amanda look tired. Go away for a few days. Bunny and I’ll watch the house and the girls. So Pen’s parents went to Martha’s Vineyard. While Margaret and Terry walked the Freedom Trail one afternoon and looked at Boston from the top of the John Hancock building, Isabelle found Love Without End in Terry’s suitcase. She called Pen and showed her the book. In a bramble bush, a man with a ponytail tied by a black ribbon kissed the neck of a woman with a pink shawl slipping from her pink shoulders. Isabelle and Pen sat on the bed which Terry had made that morning before leaving (his gray and maroon striped pajamas were folded on top of the pillows), and Isabelle read aloud scenes on the clifftop when the wind blew and their hair flew, and her white arms and his black eyes, and the rain swept and her heart leapt, and his rearing stallion Dionysus and her hopeful and mournful and thankful sighs. Pen fell back giggling until she shook, and Isabelle, laughing in high-pitched gusts, tucked the book back beneath Terry’s swimming trunks and found a thick, dull-gray-covered magazine. What’s this, the Lions Club Quarterly? and Isabelle flipped through it and said, Oh my God. What is it? You don’t want to know. Yes I do, let me see it. You don’t want to see it. I’m putting it back. But Pen reached out and took it from the suitcase and opened it to a page of small printing and a black and white photograph of a Crab Orchard Review ◆ 79


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huge-breasted woman squatting in the middle of a circle of wild mushrooms. Then there were more pages of text and then a man on his hands and knees sniffing a woman’s naked white bottom. Pen could not tell if the magazine was what it seemed or if it was just about it, but without looking at any more, she handed it back to Isabelle, who hid it in the suitcase again, and then they crept out of the room and closed the door. Margaret and Terry came back with pizza and a bottle of red wine for supper. They ate in the living room. Terry used a knife and fork, but Margaret said, When in Rome! and so Terry ate the rest with his fingers, too. We’ll be starting with New York, Margaret said. I’m dying to go up the Empire State Building. Then we’re headed out West. Bunny can’t wait to see the Grand Canyon, can you Bunny? and I’m determined to climb a Rocky. We’re taking the train because Bunny doesn’t like flying. I can’t stand it, Terry said. You practically had to hold my hand the whole flight over, didn’t you, Mar? Margaret loves planes. Terry sat on the floor looking up at Margaret. He said the floor was better for his back than the sofa. He said, But we’ll see so much more of the country from the ground, won’t we? Gosh I think you’re lucky living here, Penny, Aunt Margaret said. Terry said, Ha ha, lucky penny! I wish I’d grown up in America, Margaret said. I’d have become an astronaut. Land of opportunity, Terry said, holding up the bottle. Have some more plonk? Margaret gave him her glass and said, I’d better watch it or I shall get squiffy. What’s that fizzy stuff you girls are drinking? Pour them some wine, Bunny, it’s good for the blood. Got a date tonight, Isabelle? Isn’t Is the image of her mum, Bunny? (The man says, where did you get eyes like those?) I tell you what, you and Penelope and I’ll get up a good game of Scrabble, and you’d better look out, because my niece is a killer when it comes to word games, just like her aunt, aren’t you, Penny? Pen sat on Isabelle’s bed and watched her sister dress and make up for the party with Guy. Pen said, Aunt Margaret isn’t going to marry Terry Bunthorpe or anything, 80 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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is she, Is’belle? I mean, is he her boyfriend or just a friend-who’s-aman? Do you think Aunt Margaret’ll ever get married? Do Aunt Margaret and I have the same mouth? And Isabelle changed her jeans, and changed her bra, and changed her earrings, and chose a blouse (Which one? she asked, and Pen said, The cheesecloth one you embroidered the butterflies on), then brushed her hair and put on lipstick and rouge and mascara (It’s dark green—see? But you can’t really tell when it’s on, it looks almost black, but it brings out the green flecks in my eyes—see? And Isabelle fluttered her eyelids at the ceiling lamp), and said, I don’t know, I haven’t the faintest (God what a thought), I don’t know, let me see—maybe. The next morning, a day before expected, Neville and Amanda came home from Martha’s Vineyard. Neville said, It bucketed rain nonstop. The nearest restaurant was a scrofulous grease joint where your mother for God only knows what reason insisted on eating twice, and the motel was a scandalously overpriced rabbit hutch in a swamp. The whole thing was a bloody farce. How about a cup of tea? I’ll be in the garage when it’s ready. Pen put the kettle on and took the tea and teapot from the cupboard as her mother said, The motel was the sort with those little cabins, and ours was the one at the end, facing right out to sea, and it was foggy and windy and stormy, but the place was perfectly snug, like a fisherman’s cottage. Yesterday morning a red-tailed hawk swooped right past our window and landed on a pine tree. I know what it was because the little man in the restaurant had a bird book and I looked it up. He was a sweet old man; he and his wife have run that place for over twenty years, and we had it all to ourselves, too, I suppose because of the weather. There was a jukebox with Glen Miller tunes, but your father was only interested in his liver and onions. Isabelle padded downstairs carrying her sandals and her fringed suede shoulderbag. She said, Hi Mom. You’re back early. I’m going out. Guy’s coming to pick me up. I’ll be back later. Bye. The kettle whistled, and Pen made the tea, as in the driveway her father shouted, Isabelle what the hell have you been up to come here and explain yourself where the bloody hell do you think you’re off to I’m talking to you what are these bottles I found in the garage I don’t drink this Crab Orchard Review ◆ 81


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beer this American cow piss this is the limit I’ve had it up to here with your bloody insolence who do you think you are where on earth do you think you’re going— and Isabelle, as Guy in his bronze Barracuda pulled into the driveway and the car door slammed and they drove away, yelled, I’ll go where I want and be what the hell I want and you can’t make me listen to you damn it you make me crazy maybe I just won’t come back. As Pen took mugs from the cupboard and poured the tea, her father came back into the kitchen and gestured with oily hands at his wife and the window and the ceiling and himself. He said, Where does that unwashed bone-idle gutter-gypsy daughter of ours think she’s going with that vain vacuous good-for-nothing muscle-headed overgrown scoundrel of a boyfriend of hers? Oh for godssake are you still moping about whatever the bloody hell it is I’ve done wrong? Why won’t you just tell me? You don’t understand the first thing, do you? Pen’s mother said and jerked up from the table and ran upstairs with a red face. Pen’s father sat down and said, No. I don’t. Pen set a cup of tea on the table in front of his hands, which were clasped on top of a newspaper so as not to dirty the cloth. He said, Thanks, Dimples, what on earth would I do without you, hm? (And I thought you were so nice, the man says.) How would you like it if we got a dog? You’ve been wanting a puppy, haven’t you, yes? Now that we’ve got this big house and the big garden—you like it here, don’t you, living over here? Let’s just you and me go this afternoon and pick out a puppy. One that will grow up to be a great big friendly guard dog. What do you say? Let me buy you a puppy, Penny, I can do that, can’t I? He’ll be yours, you can think up a name for him. Galahad, Pen said, and then she carried a cup of tea upstairs for her mother. Her mother’s face was wet but she wasn’t crying anymore. She said, Come in and sit down, sweetie. How were things while we were gone? Oh Penny, your father’s pretty stupid when it comes to some things, isn’t he? There are some things he’ll simply never understand. Why won’t some men even try to be romantic? while others—I’ve known some who just naturally—Take Anthony. Now he was romantic. No man I’ve met since has been quite so perfectly 82 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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romantic. Anthony was the first man I was ever in love with, and I’ve never found any man I could love in quite the same way. Oh, he was Richard Burton, Cary Grant, Dirk Bogarde, Kenneth Moore, and better than all of them put together. Who was Kenneth Moore? asked Pen. Oh, he was lovely, we all loved Kenneth Moore, and I saw him in the flesh once, just strolling down Regent Street. They gave student nurses free tickets for some of the matinees, and theater tickets at a tenth of the price, but the theater tickets were always in the stalls, or the dress circle, and we had to dress up. I had a group of eight special girlfriends, and between us we only had half a dozen or so decent enough dresses at a time, so we could never go out all of us together. We took turns. After a while we forgot whose was whose. But I remember I was wearing the bottle-green off-the-shoulder taffeta at Salad Days (I could be happy with you, you could be happy with me, her mother sang in her small girl’s singing voice) when Anthony approached me during the interval and asked if he could buy me a drink. And I was like Isabelle, never shy when handsome men approached me, and a sharp quick judge of character, too. I knew right away that he was an all right lot, I fancied him immediately, and the gang couldn’t believe my luck—I was standing with them and he walked right up to me. But not to be falsely modest my friends always called me one of the prettiest of us, and certainly Cara and I were the best developed of the lot. Back then I had even more in that department than your sister has, and believe me most of those dresses were a squeeze. Not that the audience seemed to mind, and sometimes you know I think that’s why the nursing school got all those cheap seats at the front of the house in the first place. And we got the most out of it, believe me. We weren’t bashful—but we were always careful not to get in with a bad lot. They were fun—oh lots of fun—but they were all very nice. London was wonderful then, we had a ball. And Penny the exhibitions—You’d have lived in the British Museum, sweetie, you’d never have wanted to come out. (And I thought you were so serious, the man says.) And the concerts— Anthony introduced me to all of the music. He was a concert oboist. And after him was it the one who was Dad’s friend and introduced you? said Pen. Monty, you mean. No, Anthony was long and many before Crab Orchard Review ◆ 83


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Monty, who was really just a chum. He was good fun and let me ride on the back of his motorbike. So yes, then one day I was at his place and there was this young man on the pavement in front of the house Monty shared with two French boys, and he was surrounded by a heap of oily black motorbike parts, and Monty said, Oh that’s Neville, he’s tinkering with the old Triumph for me, the old thingummybob’s gone funny, say Hello to the lovely Amanda, Jones, and then he looked up and wiped the grease away from around his eyes and smiled at me and I noticed his dimples I remember, but I wouldn’t shake hands, because of the oil, but later he came out to the pub with us and bought my drinks all night, and I’d never met anyone so shy and tongue-tied and awkward and funny in an unconscious sort of way, and so polite even after all we both drank, and his blue eyes reminded me of Anthony’s, only they seemed more sensible, and slowly I’d come around to sensible, although you never do if you ask me ever really get over your first love, at least my friends have told me I’ve never forgotten Anthony, and really part of Neville’s initial appeal was how different he was from him. Did you have many boyfriends before Dad? Pen said. Oh lots and lots, well, some, anyway, but I was like Isabelle, I was always popular, (You know you’re really very sexy, the man says, surprisingly so.) and always in control, I always had at least one waiting in the wings—after the first time, anyway. Monty Montague rode a motor bike. Rudy was an actor, insolvent at the time, who later went on in a certain September to understudy Peter O’Toole. Cass wrote poems in restaurants and coffee houses, sent Amanda sonnets on menus and beermats, on wine lists and napkins and pieces of tablecloths; they arrived in large brown envelopes marked Private and Urgent and Most Confidential. Lance was a lecturer in Medieval Literature, and lecture her he did at every opportunity—Malory and troubadors, and the art of courtly love, of course, his special course has Chivalry in Chrétien de Troyes. Don and John were third years at University College. Don read English, while John read Latin. Come live with me and be my love, said Don, and we will all the pleasures…and Amo Amanda, said John; Amanda mihi amanda est—you ought to be loved by me. And before all these came Anthony the Oboist, Anthony the Tall 84 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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and Lithe, the musician with the black-and-silver beard; on Wednesday nights he played in a skiffle band at a coffee house called Jason and Medea’s off the Tottenham Court Road. And he took her to the opera, her very first Verdi, and he opened her ears to Vaughan Williams and Humphrey Lyttleton and Beethoven. At Hampton Court he led her through the maze and stole roses for her from the flowerbeds. He rowed her up the Serpentine; they flew a kite on Hampstead Heath, he showed her where the gypsies lived who danced round rubbish-heap bonfires at night on the Heath. And they dined at the Café Royal and they dined and danced at The Dorchester and they danced at a ball at the Royal Festival Hall. And his oboe serenaded her on night-duty nights. But one night, after a particularly late and long dinner at an Italian restaurant across the road from a brothel in Soho, Anthony gripped Amanda’s shoulders, and, his blue eyes glancing between her brown eyes and the window, he told her that there were certain ineluctable somethings about which he could not, or could not bring himself to, tell her—but that he wished and hoped and knew she would one day soon find someone better finer more deserving than himself—and Amanda never ever saw Anthony again. Pen’s fifth summer in America (She was fifteen, it was the summer her mother and father came back a day before expected from a vacation in Quebec and Dad said, Your mother went and curled up into a little ball inside the closet again, and I thought we’d better leave, and Mum ran up the stairs to her room crying, You’ll never ever understand will you.) was the summer before Isabelle went away to UMass and never lived at home again. Pen asked her sister, Are you and Guy in love? and, Do you and Guy have sex? and then, Was Guy the first one? And Isabelle said, Bo was the first. I was sixteen but he was twenty-two and wanted to and he loved me. He asked me to marry him. He said he’d wait for me to graduate and then we’d move to New Mexico. Guy wants to marry me, too. Don’t you think Guy’s gorgeous? You know he’s over six feet tall. He says after college we’ll get married or maybe he’ll transfer and marry me before we’re through. But I don’t think Crab Orchard Review ◆ 85


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so. I love him but not really as much as that, I don’t see it happening. I guess I’ll break up with him some time in August. I mean, he’s going to UConn so it’s not like we’ll even be together, though maybe I could see him and guys at UMass too. But listen, Loppy, because this is serious, and maybe it’s something you don’t even need to hear, I know Mum and Dad don’t worry about you the way they do about me because of what we’re each like (You’re not at all like what I thought you were like, the man says.) but listen anyway, because I know Mum doesn’t talk about these things, at least I know she never did with me, I think when she was our age things were different, you know, and in some ways she was sort of naive, not innocent but naive, but any time you want to you can talk to me about these things, maybe you can visit me at school and we’ll have fun let you go crazy for once but believe me, it’s good for the first time if it’s someone who loves you really loves you, OK? That’s all. But you’re smart you’ll be smart I guess except you’re innocent you know and you could end up trusting the wrong type that’s what you’re like. I’ve told you about the first time Bo told me he loved me, right? It was the very first time we met, on Boston Common. And Guy told me he loved me on our very first date which was the Junior Prom, and I’ve told you about that, too, haven’t I? I could just never imagine Bo at the Prom, and that was when I knew I had to break up with him and say OK to Guy. Guy wasn’t the only one who asked me, either, but he was the cutest, which wasn’t, well OK maybe it was the reason I said yes, but there’s more to it than that now, lots more. And that’s his car now and I have to go, Lop-ears, how do I look? She met Bo on a sunny day in Boston. He sat against a tree strumming on his red guitar and singing Mr. Tambourine Man. He said, Dance for me baby beautiful. His strawberry blond hair was tied back by a shoelace. He said, I dropped out of college and transferred to Life University my major is Love I make pizzas for a living. They sat against a tree drinking cans of ginger ale and eating hot dogs (extra ketchup). He said, Talk to me baby beautiful I think I’m in love. Will you come following me to Santa Fe? Guy told her he loved her as they slow-danced at the Chateau. Isabelle, he whispered, as they swayed beneath the kickline of red and orange disco lights, the streamers the colors of a Caribbean sunset, I love you as they leaned against each other on the dance floor, I love you as they held each other closer on that close May night, I love you I 86 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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love you as the band stroked final chords, and Isabelle and Guy were the last two to linger while the mirror ball kept spinning as guitar notes faded and one by one the lights came on. Once she was a girl in England. Now she is sixteen. Without moving she feels where she is lying, where she starts. There are her bare feet off the end of the bed, and the round inside parts of her knees against each other, and her bare left arm across her stomach—the bottom of her tee-shirt, the tops of her jeans, under her palm the fly undone—and her right arm on the bed cover which is bumpy with French knots—her right fingertips touch nodules of cotton—and her head not on a pillow but flat on the hard mattress. The man sitting on the floor beside the bed says, Has any boy done that to you before? Did you like it? and the man says, You know you’re really very sexy, surprisingly so. Where did you get eyes like those anyway Penelope? There is the bed against the back of her head—her head is tilted toward the right—and against her shoulders upper back upper arm elbows bum backs of her thighs right calf. The ceiling is white and smooth. The wallpaper is white but textured with a pattern of bamboo shoots. The light is dim and blue from a lamp she cannot see. Outside this room there is a party. She is lying on the double bed in the guest room of the house of a friend’s friend whose parents are spending the summer rounding the world on the QE2; they left their teenaged sons and their house in the care of Mr. Orlandello, the nice new young Latin teacher at the high school, who also substitute-taught French while Madame Foster had her baby. There are records and dancers downstairs. There are drinkers and basketball players and a radio among the cars in the driveway. Mr. Orlandello says, You know Penelope you’re not at all like what I thought you were like. You know I like surprises. Were you surprised? In the corner of her left eye he rises back to his knees and leans against the bed and looks at her. Then his nose and mustache brush her left ear and he says, I thought you were so serious, so nice—but then you are nice very nice. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 87


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Then he stands, and leaves the room. Once she was a girl in England. Pen wonders, Does what just happened count? And if the absent parents/houseowners returned unexpectedly from the world, and stood in the doorway wearing an article of clothing from every port of call and said, Who are you and what are you doing here? (A man with a mustache and a Roman nose led her into this room, led her from the dark living room down the dark hallway and up the stairs and into this room. There’s the crowded living room, the bodies dancing the way they do now without touching because now of course they don’t need to dance to touch, and in the corner four quarters-players at a card-table, and the man with the mustache asks what are they doing? You see you bounce a coin into the beerglass, as if into a fountain, and then the boy across the table makes a wish, and then the man leads you, you follow him upstairs the man with the mustache and the nose and the tongue, you sit down on the edge of a bed, you lie back, and the man disappears.) she would say, No one nobody in particular nothing really. But nobody can ever be doing nothing, so— I don’t know I’m not sure. Or— I’m Penelope Jones and I’m just sort of lying here. Or— You know I was just asking myself the same thing. Which of course is true.

88 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Bethany Edstrom

Elegy for the Set of Mint-Condition 1944 Britannica My Mother Threw Away

Here’s to five kids’ worth of school assignments you were never used for, because even in 1960 you were too old to be useful, with your chaste anatomical drawings, your inconclusive reports on World War II, your failure to mention television. Here’s to the way you sat, gold-leafed and venerable, as the shelves around you filled with self-help books, bestsellers, dozens of school yearbooks. Inside your dark museum, FDR is paralyzed but still president, and the bombs that changed your century still sit as unexploded secrets. A wartime document, you always put a positive spin on things like Mom with her crocheted afghans, the doilies that cover every table scratch. Like Dad, you throw around words like Jap as though they were weightless, and could float from your pages to some other atmosphere. But no one has to tell you about space. You’ve catalogued eight planets, and suspect there might be others out there; you know a lot about mystery and the way things have to change. They say at death all thoughts shrink to one volume, and you’ve gone the way of our orange braided rugs, old coffee pots, the extra set of knives, and stacks of children’s drawings of slanted houses in my mother’s slow descent to weightlessness.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 89


Ryan Fox

At the Lapin Agile (Picasso, 1905) There, at least, one could be among the clowns. And the song-and-dance man, with his old Dutch shoes. Numbered among the three who gravitate To endless circles of a dark guitar, There one could, hollow-minded, memorize Fleetings he had found there, or anywhere… Even here, when a vagrant swallow dips too low Or loves too brightly the deep-headed earth, When the black cat, slinking nightly out of sight, Tonight has turned to flash her eyes— Raincircles widen on the puddled walk. A quilted silence grows, and renders here Such longings for dark as once had prodded Hooflike tramps across the nighthall’s floor, Though they aren’t ever heard of anymore.

90 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Elton Glaser

Lip Prints

If you signed each letter Only with your lips, in ovals of vermilion On paper smooth as a pickup line Long before midnight in a bar, Before a last martini dry enough To make the words bend And pucker like this kiss, I wouldn’t need your name to tell me Who you were, Bright paint of your mouth Pressed on the page, A lickerish print Of curve and crevice, ridge and pout, Giving up all your secrets— Tang of a tongue That says you’ll Love me without stint or hindrance, In a night of no no.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 91


Elton Glaser

Poets in Posterity

It’s too much, you complain, too parvenu, too crude, This jockeying for position, and the slow among us Putting our two dollars down on the darkest horse. But who lives in the everlasting? Who has reserved A permanent address beyond the grave? It’s here we breathe, and now. The line starts here. And posterity helps those who help themselves, Those who build the shaky scaffolds of the future Into another network for climbing to the top. It’s a dog-eat-pony act, hares’ feet leaving smoke For every tortoise to taste on its bitter tongue. Even Gabriel had to blow his own horn. You can let time sift out the reputations, winnow The brazen mediocrities from the shy immortals, But how does that pack your pockets today? If fame is fleeting, who won’t the wise man Step on the gas and shift into passing gear? Shrewd women don’t pose for the pages of history books. You scratch my palm and I grease your back. The prizes go to those who know their way around The mentor and the entry form, the hot licks of the age. Everything momentous comes from the moment, and all The transitory pleasures are the most intense. Why waste your wicked midnights staring down

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Elton Glaser

The dead stretches of the afternoon, or gazing forward to The con man promises of dawn? The end will always Take you by the throat, like a weasel on a wolverine. There’s nothing wrong with your Romeo dreams, not after Those melancholy accordions on the boulevard, or those Little plums from Tuscany they call the thighs of nuns. But the mean months, and the years that shadow you Like a terrorist rigged to explode—what do they care For patient language, an eye in love with the least look? Tomorrow may stall in clouds or ripen under sun; Old verse may unravel, and the new name sputter in the dust; But this day will never wait for what we want.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 93


Iris Gomez

Madrigal for Gardenias A tribute to the Bolero Breezy nights, after picadillo, rice, and patacón, the parents would rise in couples for the obligatory bolero, melancholy cheek-to-cheek my father dangled my mother from in one hand, while intoning the low perderte, perderte después of Bésame Mucho. When I was old enough to dance with him, he two-stepped out of time. No one to lead then but a figment of his youth, tall strand of grass, entwined in the hot fields of his Guajira. I waved him good-bye— dreaming petals, not petrol from the rough criollo sand that salted the Atlantic to the immortal pleas of Consuelo Velázquez. My mother’s tribute to lost love was to teach me how to follow. Para que te defiendas, she said, to defend myself—

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Iris Gomez

as if I might fend off heartbreak with a dance. And, after the lesson, taking our lawn chairs to the porch, acacia leaves raining down into our cups of tinto, she let Sabor A Mi drift out over Miami, sad and homeless as the kiss the song released that, mingled in gardenias or acacia, coffee whiffs of air and everything that could be savored— then or ever—left behind its residue of longing.

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Kevin A. GonzĂĄlez

El Juego

My mother left my father on the easy stitching of a chair, our living room silent as a funeral mass where nobody stands to give the eulogy. The phone calls from casinos and heated clients piled up like the chips he gambled, the motions he never filed. On weekends with him, I learned the properties of scotch, the precise color of its apt mixtures, the way it puts the tongue to sleep like a pale stingray on the ocean floor. I ordered my fatherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s drinks as he squandered bills into the pouted mouth of a slot machine, bartenders familiar as uncles and aunts, handshakes and kisses at the end of shifts. At nine, I believed in the random lines of fruits rolling inside the buzzing monitors, in the bonus rounds of cherries filed in a row,

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the different contours of our fingers on the buttons of el juego, the game. It was something we did together as padre e hijo, wishing we could gamble the tropical stars on our sky as we surfaced from the bar, ten dollars saved for the drive-thru. Not to say we never won, on nights sporadic as hail in the highest regions of our undulating island. Quit while you’re ahead, I pleaded, not knowing how far behind we truly were.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 97


Marilyn Hacker

Almost Equinoctial

The banks of the river are covered in water. It’s rained that much: plane-trees up to their waists, the stairs going down from the quais step onto water, not footpaths. It’s rained through March, daily, on crocus and jonquil, on outthrust brown red-tipped branches, on market-stall awnings. It’s rained on the barges, stopped boat traffic, houseboats are tethered at sea. The path that leads to the Jardin des Plantes down the Quai St-Bernard, past willows and post-cubist bronzes, is drowned for the day, week. The riverbank amphitheaters are under mud-colored water, no dog-romps, no kids playing drums with their Arab or Gallic or Jewish hair twisted in dreads. The benches are stranded on landspits or islanded. Where do the pensioners sit, has some café absorbed the clochards? Will the moon pull the tidewash to sea tonight, will the sun uncrumple the grass, bake the mud back to footworthy clay? The Saturday strollers dig their Vibram soles in single file on the seeping green hummock that clutches the unlikely edge of the swollen Seine. Holding a cellophane-wrapped bouquet of orange and white multi-petalled ranunculi I muddy my good black loafers too. There’s no cause for alarm yet, no new one, only a usual passage turned strange in the middle of March on a day when it hasn’t rained yet, that’s no longer a relevant anniversary, on my way to lunch in the south end of the cinquième.

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Marilyn Hacker

Square du Temple

Moon on late daylight: green fruit plucked from a stalk. Almost July; almost the end of cherry season. I walked out of a literary cocktail early, because I couldn’t make more small talk and because it’s a pervasive Joy to walk across the square at not-yet-dusk. Its tutelary geniuses, preadolescent, very slender and supple African children, hawkswoop on skates around the resting lawn. (The toddlers and their guardians have gone home.) A breeze flies from their shoulder-blades, loquacious and invisible, in banners. The duck pond is refreshed by small cascades, as silence cures an overdose of manners.

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Marilyn Hacker

Ranns

When will some tutelary image come spinning in brief silhouette past the window, blown brown leaf that’s not grief, vagrant, ragged, cold and stiff ? All the noises of work-day commerce, cars, children’s voices filter up from the street, crescendo, drop to an undertone. Now it’s mid-afternoon. Couperin harpsichord’s song-settings (I know the words): oh, nameless, impossibly fair and fickle shepherdess— who was not any such thing, but some witty courtesan, who gossiped with Madame de Montespan. My good friend knows the passages, could find, as the measures rise and fall, a balance that she treasures.

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Marilyn Hacker

Knowing more of grief than she bargained for; sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d say again: make black tea, run a hot bath, read Montaigne.

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Dennis Hinrichsen

The Body of a Deer, the Body of Jesus

Sometimes the body of Jesus is no more remarkable than a branch of water held suspended as if on a roof-line’s edge—a frozen, bloodless torso—so it can hover in our minds awhile, and not fall down and not fall back, and we can linger in the stalled crystal measure of its spill. Though when the sun flares, the vision is insubstantial: smell of jet fuel from the coal plant, wafer-thin sheets of it evaporating on the back of the river. Once, canoeing, a different season, I saw it flash—a tawny flag among pink and purple grasses, so quickly gone all I glimpsed was a blur of wheat and stutter of reeds. Not one thing could I say then, the body of my boat in thrall to current, wrong way against the pull of wind. And yet I believe I saw it, believe my eyes touched the loft and whip of the close-cropped chamois. As on that winter midnight, the full heavenly creature arced onto the pavement— a single buck—who just stood there, mid-lane, contemplating my speed and headlights, the elegant feather of my car’s careening. Some day I know I will go crashing straight to Jesus, become His one good nail a back-road night, Jupiter and Saturn bright specks along the ecliptic. No longer will I startle Him at prayer, hear His harsh cry of astonishment—in the distance: marsh; late summer twilight; that time of day when even the air is three-dimensional and falls so easily gold and the small fires the grass is burn perpetual and clean. He will lay down hard against my fender, puncture glass, and bleed, a foreleg striking at air like one of God’s beautiful branches; or perhaps the entire length of muscle—twice a man’s—will shudder and convulse, finally stilling as the moon stills and drops its powdered horn into the treetops. It will, regardless, decompose for days, until somebody comes and lays a fine coat of lime about its head and haunches so the deer is angel then, debris all around it stressed to diamonds. One driver, me, passing by for weeks, thinking how the body of Jesus is like the body of a deer and how all along this roadside is cardboard trash—so casually tossed, so easily rendered—hunched up in the shapes of men and deer.

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Antonio Jocson

Early Morning under Persimmon

Am the shape posed by the snowwhite percale, and under it’s his body being abolished in plain sight. He sleeps like a heap of kindling which daylight burns to no effect: nothing disturbs the stillness of the sick or changes the terms. What can make the bones go back to life, the man to his wife speaking to her saints in the chapel? Candlelight falls on bad times: no longer can he come to her even as dust carried by the most careless wind that wants to remove her blouse. All day I watch this, the pace of this and hear the ringing solitude, the sound dreadful seconds make when they have nowhere else to go. ●

No delay along the ladders of heather and its lavender detonations. Each bee saying to the flower’s ear, I am not the hand descending to pluck you. Trees all around were leafed with starlings, and in my bewilderment, I could not see a single source of the shrieks. This could have been the Inferno, the wood where if I snapped a branch it would cry out, dark with blood and speak—a soul wounded and glimpsed in poetry. I thought about these bees sniffing for the powdery essence in the heather—Whatever they found they still couldn’t tell me if the depths were transitive,

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if the last steps were pallid as dry grass, or suffused with expectation, honey for the sting. ●

The night is, the dew is, hours with no one but rabbits, their backs flashing in the grass. They flee hearing what wishes they’d freeze in the middle of the moon’s gaze, moon so far it’s useless to talk about distance. When he lay down at noon I knew there’d be no morning. If there were signs, I direct you to the grass whose green supplanted the pool’s intensity as though rain had been falling through the hours without disclosing its presence; a bird would not leave the sill, sparrow which found a home near the lord’s altar, but no lord was visible; the dog ran in circles as each of us whispered into an ear of air, to the imperceptible sacred heart, to the mask, the oxygen. ●

Though I knew it could not last I hung on to it like an addiction—was secretly full of pleas as they propped you up, flipped you over, laid your body low after a kiss. Our goodnights had been a loss: you were never the man again, always reaching for what once resembled— Did your eye ever deploy its imagination to flush out what used to be recognizable, a cheek, mouth now like a crater? At the end the quiet deepened without attack, the inhalations turned toward a calm that held no more surprise and was not so terrible: his hands peacefully opened to receive the hours that were filled with shapes—a nurse, a wife beside, a space where a son was supposed to be. ●

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Antonio Jocson

Morning. An explosion: it’s the sprinklers. The news opens its jaw and my head dips into the text of catastrophe—Turn the page: the fire’s burned out, and you, like a hero, will glean the fruit from under the persimmon and you will eat but cannot share, not least with Dante who walks among the lost in the story. On our knees we try to eliminate the history: scrubbing pitched to the deepest registers of memory. Foamy water spreads its calm now that the dreadful’s done: the body burned, bedding and clothes. No traffic, no barking dog, only dead road; no one but us amid the hours and hours, counting you among the missing. ●

Who can forget when the sky was vacant, no jets but the black backs, black breasts wheeling out of trees as if to chase the Trojans with sad foretelling? A pair of tail-lights. A tossed can of beer joins the lush haikus of crickets as the cells labor toward their full weights, bending the branch. Even the worm pursues its design that begins with a wound bitter to the bite, and still I swallow it. Your hand will not climb to that which you’d like to hold; you are insubstantial. Constellations radiate through your shoulders, cobwebs billow where you stood as dew amplifies on fruit after fruit after fruit that come to us from beyond destruction.

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Kasey Jueds

Entering the Bath after Bonnard By the time she [Maria Boursin] met Bonnard on a Paris street in 1893, she had left home, moved to Paris, found a job and changed her name to Marthe de Méligny…Not even Bonnard learnt her real name until their marriage in 1925, nearly thirty years after they began living together. —Sarah Whitfield, “Fragments of an Identical World” Her face is not visible, not here. Here, she is simply glimmer and skin, naked, released even from the green slippers she wears in a different painting. It is 1932. For years, she has turned away from people in the street, has kept even from Bonnard her real name, as now she keeps her head bent, her face in shadow. For years she has been the painter’s wife, Maria, Marthe, the quiet one, lover of unlit corners— but not here. Here, she is neither name nor face, but balance on one bare foot, press of hip into enamel chill. Here she is the way her whole skin glints, a fish’s riverbottom shine, her lit breasts, her shoulders and knees pink and brown and blue, the orange curtain and purple tile 106 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Kasey Jueds

absorbed in her, reflected and cast back, the room’s ordinary objects, clock and washcloth, bottle and brush, sliding together, losing their edges, letting their own names go. Here, she is nearly the fish she imagines, glittering scale, magical lung, stippled every color in this intimate late light. She waits as water rises in the tub— patient, released from her green slippers, her heavy names, she waits for evening to arrive, for the painting to be finished, for the bath to be full.

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S. Brady Tucker

In the Beginning

In the drowsy and silent dark of guard duty, I thought the white shadows clumsily trodding past my position were Wyoming elk. In my darkened dreams, they seemed graceful and full of purposeâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the cows following the bulls in file. I thought I could see the huge muscular chests of the bulls heave and shiver, the sharp sound of hoof on rock, a calf stumbling up against the legs of his mother, her nose righting him.They moved like clouds in the Saudi Arabian desert. They were like planets in their hugeness, they belonged among the stars. They seemed to orbit the galaxy in careless patterns. In the end they would disappear like an oasis in a sandstorm. I knew these were not elk. These shadows grunted and farted, hacked like old men at cards. The illusion was a symptom of the desert, an undiagnosable misery caused by the days and nights of heat and sand and flies and dead men searching the sky for nothing. These elk were camels. This was the purple and cold of a desert sky. These nights were blank dreams folding in on one another, a repetition of hopes that froze time into one simple wish: Take Me Home. The icy night felt like a vacuum, like the spinning of the earth would toss us off into the sky in an agoraphobic nightmare. The camels came to a stop in front of my guard post. Their smells mixed with the chill air and enveloped me. One mangy camel stood on three legs and bit at a growth on his other raised leg so that he looked like a huge dog gnawing at his privates. The smack of his lips sounded dry like the mouth of a drunk man leaving a bar at closing time. Nuchurch was asleep next to me, his mouth open and gaping, his head stuffed uncomfortably into his Kevlar helmet. The war was four days over. Officially it was nearly two weeks over, but we had encountered the last resistance only the past Monday. Our guard watch served mainly an anti-terrorist purpose. The weapons we had embraced like frightened children were once again just metal and fiberglass. Gone was the sense of comforting warmth they had once possessed in the huge loudness of terrible firefights. 108 â&#x2014;&#x2020; Crab Orchard Review


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The sky was lightening to black, blue, and gray. The camels seemed to be dozing off in front of me, and I knew that I would have to move them soon so that I could have a clearer view of the desert. The camel that had been chewing his leg clumped closer to my position. There was a gassy, wet gurgling sound, and he began to chew a wad of cud. He stared at me with the dumbest eyes in existence. The desert wind turned and I could smell his breath, his coat, and his feet. He turned and shuffled away, his thin tail swishing around a crusty hind-end. They all began to move then, and soon their ghostly images faded into the desert, and I was alone again with a faceless and empty sky. When they were gone, it felt like I was missing them. The sun would be up in an hour and a half. I pulled the nightvision goggles out of their case and flipped them on. The heatless nuclear-green ocular pieces turned the blurry dark into a twodimensional picture of black and green contrasts. Far off, I could see the twisted remains of two Soviet tanks, a personnel carrier, and a flatbed truck. Scattered around the destroyed vehicles were the remains of about eight soldiers. I shifted in the cool sand and looked again. Something was moving down there. It looked like someone was going from body to body. I reached over and shook Nuchurch. “Hey man, wake up.” He glared at me from under the helmet, then looked at his watch. “It’s only 0330. You said I could sleep until 0400.” “I know, I know. Something’s moving down there.” I squinted my eyes down over the ocular pieces. “I can’t quite make them out…” There were maybe six of them moving about the mangled wrecks. “I’m gonna go down there.” Nuchurch began to gather his gear, clumsily putting his flak jacket over his fatigues and web gear. “I’m coming with.” I handed him the PRC-140 radio. “No, you call down to CQ. Tell them we have some intruders. Let them know I am going down to get a better look.” For weeks I had been trying to do something brave, maybe something risky or foolish or mad; I wanted to make up for those times in combat when I had felt worthless or weak, or worse, cowardly, but Nuchurch always seemed to be there, hanging over my shoulder to protect me. “I’m coming with you.” Nuchurch continued to don his equipment. He was careful to slip his cross over the top of his flak jacket, and he carefully folded the section of Revelation he always kept on him into the rubber band of his helmet. Nuchurch was a Crab Orchard Review ◆ 109


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handsome man—the marriage of a black man and a hispanic woman gave his skin a golden hue, and his open and innocent brown eyes were so kind that it often made me feel cheap in comparison. Somehow, he seemed cleaner than any of us—like he was above it all looking down. Before the war, I wondered if his kindness wouldn’t kill him. But his eyes were deceiving—they concealed an incredible toughness, an anger, a strength that redeemed him. He often said it came from God, his strength. He said that God was on our side. We didn’t agree on this. It sounded too much like what athletes say when they are asked how they ran an interception back for a touchdown and the win—God blessed us today on the field. HE wanted us to win. For some reason, I couldn’t believe that God would want to be a part of any of this. I wasn’t going to argue, so I pulled what little rank I had on him. “Look Nuchurch, I’m just gonna go take a look. If it is something major, we need to get a jump on them anyway. If it’s too big for me I’ll come right back. I promise. I’ll be invisible.” I said this as a joke, using his own catchphrase against him, but Nuchurch didn’t smile. Nuchurch’s skin looked pale and gray in the dim light of the stars. He was squatting in the sand and he had his hands over the top of his M-16 as if he were baptizing it in the sand. In spite of his devotion to Jesus, Nuchurch was a pure killer in a firefight. He was the best of all the Rangers in our company and had racked up the highest total of confirmed kills in the combat arena. When the ground war started our platoon was positioned miles from any support. We were supposed to come up on a known fortified Iraqi position from the north while the rest of the French and British troops and tankers would come from the west. It didn’t work out that way. We were where we were supposed to be, but our support was nowhere to be seen. All the intelligence we had received for the mission was wrong. Instead of a ridge for us to fire down from, we ended up coming up a hill completely naked. The Republican Guard knew we were coming somehow, and they were waiting on us. Nuchurch took point and I followed with my M-60. Lieutenant Cerberus took ten paratroopers to the right of the position while me and Nuchurch and a team of seven Rangers hit the bunker head-on. A 50-caliber machine gun began beating down upon us immediately. Nuchurch went down first; a round bounced up from the desert sand and hit him full in the chest. I pulled him behind a granite outcropping. I thought he was most certainly killed, but he was just writhing in pain and I could see no open wounds. The round was wedged permanently into his flak jacket, but it had not gone through. It broke 110 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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four ribs however, and blood was slowly oozing from holes made by the sharp splinters of bone. That round remained wedged there for the rest of the war and for the rest of his career. It was his trophy and a symbol for the power of God’s chosen children. I took out two tampons (which we had discovered were the best field dressings ever invented) from my field pack and taped them to the contusions. He calmed down after a few moments and reattached his flak jacket over the wound. I began laying down fire in huge spurts from my 60, trading fire with the 50-cal on the hilltop. The thick granite outcropping shuddered from the power of the 50-cal, and my return fire seemed pitiful even with the powerful recoil of my weapon thumping into my shoulder. Nuchurch was on the other side of the rock sending off little faggoty-sounding spurts of M-16 fire. Then I heard his grenade launcher pop off, and seconds later a cloudy explosion shook the Iraqi position. I could hear someone screaming from within the bunker, but the 50 kept hitting us. I returned fire until I burned off a whole belt of ammunition. The barrel of my 60 was giving off heat waves in the powerful 115-degree heat of the desert, and I knew that I only had about two more belts left before it would overheat. I pulled a belt loose from the ammunition box, and under a shower of stone chips, fed my weapon the leaden morsels. I heard the pop of the grenade launcher again and Nuchurch was up and running toward the Iraqi position. I could only watch. The 50 swung across the desert in huge splashes of fire. He danced between the rounds as they washed over and past him. He kept running, and I could see his injury was hampering him. He fell once and the 50-cal washed over him again. I slapped down the fiberglass cover on my 60 and without thinking I threw the belt over my shoulder and began running too. My M-60 was heavy and awkward, and the first burst of fire from it nearly knocked me over. M-60s were meant to be fired from a tripod—not from the hip, which I discovered immediately. I ran another twenty yards and threw myself down as the hum of 50-cal rounds surrounded me in a blind and sandy rage. I began firing again, really letting the 60 rip, and Nuchurch was at the lip of the ridge and he let his grenade launcher pop two quick times and then he was over the top. The 50-cal was leveled on me now, and the gunner and I were staring down the long barrel of each other’s weapons as we let fly with everything we had. It seemed like it lasted forever, and I waited for one of those big four-inch rounds to tear me from head to asshole. Then there was a huge explosion from within the fortification that literally jarred my Crab Orchard Review ◆ 111


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bones and made my teeth clatter. The 50-cal continued to roar, but it was pointing mercifully to the sky in a cookoff, as the barrel itself became so hot it spontaneously burst the rounds in the chamber. I could hear the tiny sound of Nuchurch’s M-16 coming over the ridge, and all at once we were all running again. On the other side of the fortified position Nuchurch was just plain killing. He came to a bunker with his weapon blazing, popped off a fragmentation grenade in the opening, waited for the explosion, and followed it in. To the east I could see Lieutenant Cerberus and the others slowly making their way down a rocky decline. The rest of us poured fire down upon those poor Republican Guard soldiers like heavy leaden rain. When we reached the floor of the wash behind the 50-cal, which was still firing its meaningless hatred at the sky, it was all over. Nuchurch stood huffing and stumbling around the area with dark blood on his chest and fatigue pants, yet he was untouched except for the broken ribs. I had a gash across the back of my calf from I don’t know what. In the end, Lieutenant Cerberus recommended him for a Silver Star for Valor, but we were just glad of him then. In all, he killed nineteen Iraqi soldiers in those few minutes, and I think that if he wouldn’t have been there with me, that I would have died on that hillside, four thousand some miles from home. I owed him one big one, and I looked futilely for a chance to pay him back, to be the courageous soldier I had always imagined myself to be. In the darkened solitude, under the black desert sky, I had begun to doubt myself. Nuchurch was looking at me skeptically from under the brim of his Kevlar, and I could tell he wasn’t about to let me go down for a look if there was any danger. “Look Nooch, I need you covering me. If you see any signs of a firefight, you come in with the 60 from above. We have a perfect angle—it’ll be all right. Just let me do this one thing.” “OK. But I’m calling CQ right now.” “Fine.” I gathered my M-16 and three extra magazines then began a slow descent down the broken decline to the vehicles. It was cold that night—the cold of the gulf desert always dug into the seams of your clothes, freezing you slowly, so that when you stood it didn’t feel like you had any feet. The heat of the day left as soon as the sun set, and the breeze had turned to a dry and frigid wind. I rolled over onto my belly in the dirt and held up the NVGs to my face and looked over the barren landscape, keeping an eye open 112 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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for any movement. I was about a hundred meters away from the dead vehicles, yet I couldn’t see any signs of the intruders. Then I saw someone slipping behind the Iraqi troop carrier. Whoever it was down there seemed to be going through the dead soldiers’ pockets. It occurred to me that it could have been someone from our compound. I thought of all the criminals in Delta Company. I turned to wave up to alert Nuchurch, but his position had been swallowed up by the desert. There was no sound but my own breathing, which seemed huge and loud against the empty hollow of the desert’s silence. I attached the NVGs to my helmet and flipped them on. Still, Nuchurch’s position was nowhere to be seen. I began to low-crawl across the coarse sand toward the black hunks of Iraqi wreckage. I crawled past the sour-smelling body of a dead Iraqi soldier, about seventy meters from the wreckage. These were the remains of our final conflict with the Iraqi Republican Guard. These were the last true soldiers of a broken machine, fighting to the end, when all was lost. They had come upon us when we were tired, at night, when we were broken by what we had seen that day—the awful chaos of the dead and split and exploded bodies on the road to Baghdad. After the first conflict with the 50-cal, we had fought for nearly a month with the Republican Guard, encircling them, pinching their movements from the north near Baghdad down to the south near the Pipeline Road. Every day, we took miserable prisoners, we watched skinny men fall under fire, we covered their disbelieving faces under black rubber body bags. The world around us was complete devastation—an Armageddon so complete that horror seemed mild and out of place there. After it was all over, when I was home, I would realize that my most hated memory was not of the firefights, the noise, the blood, the smell of burning flesh, the total eclipsing dark dread, or the guilt. It was the bagging of the bodies that followed me, it was the bodies zipped up under black rubber that remained. The sun-scorched earth and the bodies of the startled dead became a familiarity to us, and the revulsion that I had felt in the beginning was just a dull sense of disgust and sadness in the end. We would space out over an area like ghosts from the wreckage and begin to bag the dead. This was death in such incomprehensible, colossal numbers that no one could be expected to understand. We didn’t talk much. We retreated into an oblivion so pure and rare that we were untouchable. We learned quickly that speech would often Crab Orchard Review ◆ 113


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end up sounding pitifully sentimental and clichéd, and that it mostly just made us feel worse. After each skirmish with the Iraqis I would snap on my rubber surgical gloves and cover my mouth with a moist cup to keep the disease and stink out, and begin. We would join together at the boxes of green-black bags, then move off in pairs, being sure to never wander out of earshot of the others. We became masters of “policing bodies.” We were adept and able, we became cold and ghastly specters— wandering from body to body, stuffing the broken, the burnt, and the bloody dead into their final sleeping bags. In the end, we talked while we worked, using language to turn our attention from the chore that so often broke us down when we were alone. In the beginning we had either cried or threw up or fainted, but now I would sometimes hear myself telling a joke as I carried another human being to the pile. My own smile felt like that of a dead man—stretched tightly across my teeth like a rubber band on a newspaper, and the rusty sound of a laugh would croak like the dry wind around machinery. In the end, in the final battle of a dead war, the Republican Guard finally flanked us. The final battle of a war that was already over was the bloodiest and most brutal for us. The tanks had been bait—we had moved on them expertly, low-crawling as the tanks moved forward, up and running when they turned their backs to us. When we were close enough, Lieutenant Cerberus called for air support. He was speaking when the first round tore through his jawbone. He looked surprised that he had lost the power of speech. The second volley hit his left arm and it pinwheeled backward out of control and jointless. A bullet clipped the top of my flak jacket, near my neck. The force of it turned me completely around, and I fell on my back clutching at a pain beyond anything I have ever known. I thought I was killed, and for a moment I lamented my short life. I did not once think of anyone else, and for that I am ashamed still. My eyes were spouting tears from the pain, and I could see the Lieutenant on his knees, holding his face with his good hand while he stared incredulously at his mangled left arm. Bullets were humming by us and I could see tracers fizzing and spurting in the sand all around. The sound of choppers surrounded us, and an Apache screamed by our position and disappeared over a ridge. The tanks were booming in terrible harmony. Lieutenant Cerberus still gazed uncomprehendingly at his arm, and his good hand held his face tenderly, as if in reaction to a slap. I reached up and pulled him 114 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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down by his destroyed arm, and I could feel the wet emptiness of his shirtsleeve, could see the abnormal length of his twisted arm. He collapsed next to me, still holding his face, while his jaw moved grotesquely around silent words. I took his 9mm pistol and rolled away from him. The dust from the helicopter enclosed us, and I searched desperately in the storm of debris for a clue to where the rounds were coming from. My throat pulsed in purple agony. The red gleam of tracer rounds seemed to be coming from every direction. I touched my neck and could feel the hard lump of a broken collarbone under the skin. The noise was complete and huge, like a separate being altogether. In the dark eclipse of dust and sand I saw a figure stumble by, then another. I couldn’t make out if they were from my unit or if they were Republican Guard. The second one stopped and spun around in confusion. I heard the unmistakable sound of a bullet hitting a chest and he was falling, a red explosion of man. The dust storm washed over us, and then was gone. I still had the unused 9mm in my hands. The dead man was an Iraqi and I turned to look for his partner, but he was dead as well—face down and missing most of his hip and belly. A tracer hissed from the gaping red hole of his wound, then sputtered and died—a swirling black cloud of smoke rising from the wound, then the smell of burning flesh curled around me like a kind word. Nuchurch was about fifteen yards past the dead man. He was looking down the barrel of his M-16 at me, his kind eyes open wide. Behind him, the rest of our unit boiled in confusion. Below us, the tanks smoldered and Iraqi men burned, some of them still running around for water that would never come. The personnel carrier seemed to be limping away from the devastation. The noise of gunfire exploded around us again, everyone glad for a target. The bullets did nothing to the carrier. It limped on in metallic agony. I could hear the Apaches returning, and the sound of their blades hissing in the air seemed to come from everywhere. I never saw them again—I only saw the enormous explosion of the carrier, saw the anthropomorphic rain of metal and flesh. We didn’t go down there after that. We attended to Lieutenant Cerberus, then policed up the bodies of our dead and injured and set up a watch on the ridge above the tanks. The Lieutenant recovered his speech but never found use for the arm again. I saw him years later, a politician in Colorado with a lisp and a hand stuffed uselessly into his front pants pocket. He kept trying to engage me with talk Crab Orchard Review ◆ 115


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about the glory of it all—I felt compelled to remind him that we only killed people who tried to kill us—that there was no sense of duty, no honor involved. I didn’t remind him. Instead, I wished him good luck and I shook his good hand. I think he lost in the next election because I haven’t heard of him since. Sometimes, in my terrible dreams I see him mouthing words around a bloody hole of flesh and bone, I see him swinging his useless arm in an attempt to wave, I see the arm stretching and stretching. I was within twenty yards of the wrecked tanks, and the shadows beneath were on the move again. It had taken me nearly twenty minutes to creep undetected to this position, and I could see the intruders for who they were—a group of skinny and scabby dogs. They were pitiful and weak, darting back and forth between the dead forms, taking quick and paranoid bites before retreating behind the tanks. One dog had an extremity to himself and was gnawing away at it under the flatbed truck. The flanks of the dogs were mangy and thin, and their ribs poked out in sharp angles. I flipped the safety switch on my M-16 and quietly pushed a magazine snugly into the chamber. I fired the first burst into the hull of the tank, hoping to create as much noise as possible, to maybe scare the dogs away without hurting them. My second burst I fired at the flatbed truck. The dogs darted about in confusion, tails between their legs and hind ends lowered. As I prepared to fire again I heard the hum of bullets and saw the red flash of tracer rounds ripping into the target area. Then I heard the thumping of the M-60 from above as the hard sound of each round caught up to the spinning lead bullets. I flattened out on the ground as well as I could. I could see the spouts of flame issuing from the muzzle of Nuchurch’s weapon. The dogs were in a panic, some of them frozen in place, some running in circles. One of the dogs was watching the orange flame as well—he cocked his head in curiosity, his left ear perked and his right ear flopping down over his eye. Then he turned to look back at the other dogs and a bullet ripped through him, completely separating his front from his rear. The other dogs stood in confusion, perplexed and frightened, caught between flight and hunger. They didn’t understand what was happening and none of them fled. One padded over to the fallen dog and sniffed him while bullets whizzed by, tearing holes in the ground in great splashes. His head disintegrated in a flowering explosion. Then Nuchurch had the range and they were all 116 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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falling in pieces. One dog was pissing down her legs, howling a throaty and solitary dirge that raised bumps on my arms and legs, and then she too was gone. Then they were all dead, but still Nuchurch fired on them—the dogs’ corpses were almost indistinguishable from the soldiers’ bodies. I waved my arm above my head until Nuchurch finally stopped. I removed my NVGs and lay there for a moment, hoping that I could finally put this weapon away, that I could finally go back to the night, back to some fine illusion. After a few moments I decided to go down and make sure they were all dead and not suffering needlessly. The sand was soft and powdery under my feet—it was ground down into baby powder by a million years of wind and weather. Somewhere, one of the dogs was whining and I thought that I should make Nuchurch come down there to finish him off. I walked around a couple piles of gore and could not find where the sound was coming from. The sound was low, anguished and foreign. It took me some moments to realize that it was not a dog. I circled the Iraqi soldier. He was badly burned and I could see a brown hole in his lower leg where blood had dried around the wound. He didn’t see me yet, so I came around to face him. He was unarmed. I poked him with the muzzle of my weapon, but he didn’t react. He was humming and muttering in Arabic. I nudged him again with my boot. He looked up at me finally and I laid my weapon down in the ancient cradle of sand and pulled out my med-kit. I poured water from my canteen over the wound to get the sand out of it, then administered a field dressing because I was out of tampons. I could smell the cheesy festering of flesh and I knew he would lose the leg anyway. I soaked another bandage and wiped his face clean. I gave him water to drink, and I fed him a chocolate protein bar. He only whimpered when I poured water over his burns. The wounded soldier and I watched the bloodiest sun rise above the charred earth. I could hear the sound of rocks being displaced as Nuchurch slowly made his way down from our position. The sun was the color of a diseased wound—red and brown and black from the oil fires to the southeast. Today, when I think of my time in the desert, I usually think of only two things. Most of it is forgotten or hidden away somewhere in my head. Mostly I try not to think about it. But when I do think of the desert, I think of individual and unique dead men and I think of that ugly sun rising over us like a rewritten history of bones and teeth and metal.

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The Helpmeet

My first conversation with Karamba, because of my whiskey and his English, was incomprehensible. Still, it was pleasant to have someone on the other side of the table, leaning towards me, putting all his youthful energy into getting something across. I say “youthful energy” because I assumed he was young. I couldn’t be sure; I hadn’t yet learned to read age on an African face. When he finally left the bar after what must have been an hour I understood this much: He had used the word “wife” many times. I asked a few times that night for clarification: “You have a wife?” “You are getting married?” “You are looking for a wife?” but after none of my questions clarified things I dropped that strategy and just started nodding and throwing out “uhuh’s.” Not understanding what was being said gave me plenty of time to examine who I was dealing with. The young man had a shaved head that looked as though it had been sculpted by careful hands. The eyes and teeth set into it were shocking in their whiteness. He never looked me in the eyes. Instead, he looked down at the table between us. Once, when my glass was empty, he called the bartender over to fill it. Naturally, I asked him if he wanted a drink but he gestured “no.” When I was next in the bar I asked the bartender what had happened. He told me the young man’s name, Karamba, and his place of origin, Sierra Leone. He was one of the refugees. The barman said Karamba worked across the street at the soda shack and had seen me a couple times and just wanted to be my friend. The bartender didn’t know how old Karamba was, or if he was married, but he assured me Karamba was a decent man. The soda shack, constructed out of corrugated tin, stood on the corner next to the National Post Office. Approximations of American cola logos were painted on the tin walls. The shack’s awning was a blue plastic tarp taken from the UN refugees program. It carried the emblem of people sheltered under cupped hands and was tied down at the corners to heavy auto parts so the wind wouldn’t blow it away. 118 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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There was no plumbing in the shack. Instead, the employees carried water in large yellow jugs from a pump two blocks down. Electricity for the heating coil and the refrigerator was got by way of a long extension cord run through a window of the post office. They had an understanding with the postmen—free Nescafé in exchange for electricity. The first time I went to the cola shack Karamba wasn’t there. I ordered a tonic and watched the boys at the corner selling phone cards. I knew tonic water wouldn’t keep malaria away but I still drank it when I was in West Africa. Most of the people at the shack bought nothing. They didn’t have the money. Still, they were nice, saying hello and good-bye at the appropriate times. They asked me if I was American and when I said “yes” they seemed pleased. I concluded that the soda stand would be a good place to sit after or before the bar. Every time a car pulled up the boys would rush to its open windows and thrust their phone cards upon the passengers. What I wondered was why the boys didn’t cooperate. They all seemed to be friends and yet when a car pulled up they all raced and pushed and shoved. Why didn’t they just take turns? Surely the customer would prefer a calm purchase without the pressure of five boys sticking their arms through every open window, insisting on their card, identical though it was to every other card? Later the next evening, after the bar, I met Karamba for the second time. He was pleased to see me. In between demands for Coke, coffee and sandwiches he sat down next to me. He said “How da day?” and I said “Fine.” I said “How are you,” and he said “Small small.” He said “How da body?” then gestured over his whole body and repeated the question three times quickly as though I was crazy not to understand. “Fine,” I finally answered. Karamba explained that he worked the graveyard shift, sleeping in the day in a threestory building that had almost been built but for the walls. He liked to sleep up there, he told me, because of the breeze, but thieves were a problem. “You wan chop?” “Chop?” “Chop, chop. You know, chop.” And he moved his right hand, half-clenched, forcefully towards his mouth to show me what he meant. It looked to me like a pitcher starting his windup. But then, I don’t eat with my hands. I told him I was full but would have a tonic. Karamba wasn’t like the other young men I had met. He was Crab Orchard Review ◆ 119


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proud but his pride wasn’t like a land mine. He was quiet and kind and after he shook my hand he touched his heart. Karamba wanted a white wife. When he noticed me going into the bar across the street on more than two occasions he suspected I could help him; I was white and I spoke and wrote English, the language of many white women. What he had asked me that first night over whiskey and what he asked again and again was if I could get him a white wife. In my two months in Guinea I had gotten used to being asked for things: I was asked for money every time I went out; often I was asked if I could help people go to America; women in clubs asked me if I wanted to pay for sex and boys came up to me on the street and asked if I had any work for them, but Karamba was the only person who ever asked for help finding a wife. He had already given it a go on his own. Someone in the market had sold him an address and helped him write a letter to a woman in America. Karamba had sent money in the letter, money for the wife. “Fifteen dollars?” I asked. “Jesus Karamba, you should never send cash in the mail. Fifteen dollars? That’s a lot of money.” “Yeah, is much money.” “Did anything happen? Did you ever get a response?” “Can she write here? No. The man can say he write but lose it.” “Karamba, you can’t find a wife through the mail. It doesn’t work that way. I don’t know. Who is this guy who…” I was interrupted when a man who had ordered a canned-meat sandwich on what they called Lebanese bread opened it up before taking a bite and complained there weren’t enough tomatoes. He and Karamba argued back and forth over the normal amount of tomatoes and then Karamba had to go back in the shack and repair the sandwich. I saw it happen over and over during my time at the soda stand: There wasn’t enough water in the cup; the order was taking too much time; the Coke wasn’t cold enough. Along with their food these customers were purchasing the right to complain. They were not buying products as much as paying to have their way. When Karamba came back I had it all ready to explain to him. “If you want an American wife you have to go there. You have to be around the woman you are going to marry. There are even lots of people in the States who have lived there all their lives and they still haven’t found the right person. It takes a long time. You have to date the person. You know date? You can’t do it by writing one letter 120 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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and fifteen dollars. Look at me,” I pointed my hands at my torso, “I have been surrounded by white women all my life and I’m not married. I’m thirty-five. I don’t have a wife.” “You?” “I’m not married.” “Why you no married?” It was a question only I had dared to ask of myself before Karamba vocalized it. I took the humorous way out. “I don’t like American women. They never do what you tell them to. I want an African wife. I’m here in Africa to get a wife.” Karamba laughed and translated what I had said for the other men at the shack. They laughed and wanted to shake my hand to share the joke but then they started calling to some of the women nearby and the women started coming over. I told them seriously that I was kidding. I didn’t want a wife. “The truth is, I never felt like it,” I said to Karamba and the people at the shack but that didn’t sound true so I tried another explanation, “You are supposed to be in love before you marry. I was never in love. Or I may have been but it’s more complicated than just being in love.” It was the simplest summation I had ever given myself and it left a lonely silence in my mouth. Karamba looked at me confused or disgusted, I couldn’t tell which. I looked up at the sky and found Orion, the only constellation I know, right above me. I told Karamba that in America, in the capital, you couldn’t see stars in the sky. “Even in the country you can’t see the stars this well. Too many lights,” I explained. “In America you can love before you marry?” Karamba was still weighing this idea. “That’s right. Before. Here it’s not that way? When else are you going to be in love? After?” Karamba looked like I was scaring him. “In Gambia I can love the white woman.” “You were in love with a white woman? Ah, so that’s why you want to marry a white woman.” But then I realized, by the way he said the word “love” and the way his eyes got wide when I told him you had to be in love before you got married that he heard “make love” when I said “love.” “Wait a minute, what do you mean when you say love? Are we talking about the same thing?” Two young men sat down in the red plastic chairs next to ours and demanded sodas and sandwiches. I told them to say “please.” Crab Orchard Review ◆ 121


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They asked me if I was from America and said that America was good. I asked them if they were from Guinea and gave them the same compliment. After about forty more minutes of watching Karamba fill orders and watching the boys push phone cards I walked the two blocks to my apartment. The next night, after thinking about it over a beer, I asked to see the address. Karamba had it with him, tucked in with his identification card. The possible wife was in Rochester, NY, an address unlikely enough to be real. There was a phone number and the area code looked right, even though I had never called Rochester. I offered to look the address up on the internet and call the number when I went back to Washington. But I didn’t encourage him. I told Karamba flat out that you didn’t get wives this way, by writing a letter or calling them up. I mean what are you going to say? I told Karamba to marry a black woman. “If I don’t marry the white I don’t marry nothing. I can leave like so.” “So you never marry? You have to get married.” “My small brother can marry.” “How old is he?” “This time Freetown.” “No. How old is he?” “‘Old’? I don’t know this.” “You don’t know how old your brother is?” “‘Old’? I don’t know this.” I tried another approach, “What is his age?” “My small brother can have like twelve, thirteen years, fifteen years.” “And he is married?” “Yeah, my father can say marry. After to tell me let him marry. I say I will not marry to take that woman to give my small brother. To say when your big brother can not marry you you can marry.” “Your small brother married the woman you were supposed to marry? Wow. How old are you?” “Old?” “What’s your age?” “At this time I can have twenty.” I looked around the intersection. There were no white women. “Twenty is young.” The only advantage of being thirty-five is that you are just old enough to tell twenty-year-olds they are young and 122 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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so can afford to wait. “You’ll get over it. You’ll find a nice woman here. White women and black women are the same. Did you have a bad experience or something? Why does it have to be white? They are the same, Karamba. A woman is a woman.” Karamba translated this, too, so that the others sitting around drinking Nescafé mixed with condensed, sweetened milk, could laugh. But I insisted, “White and black are the same.” I rubbed the skin on my forearm as if that was proof of it. “If I can marry the white woman? Ah, I don’t know. I don’t marry black. I say why make. I say I don’t like.” “But why?” “Why make I can like to marry the white woman? One, I can like to have him in my life. Two, in the day when I have to see my mother I can have to tell to give my mother so because then when I move in Dakar. I can live in the village in Dakar. The place where they can call Tunger at that time I can learn. So I can come Conakry here to take my mother the village. In this time they can tell him to leave the compound house building in Freetown to come here. The best they can have to leave him in the building there. But they can have to tell him let him leave the village. So, some of lorry when my father can have. They can have to take the lorry to leave him like that.” There wasn’t a third reason and I never asked again why Karamba wanted the kind of wife he did. I saw Karamba every night. It felt like something that had to be done, like watering the garden. When I heard that there was to be an important soccer game between Guinea and Morocco I invited Karamba over to watch it on my color TV. I put all the stuff I usually let lie on the dresser into the top drawer: the loose bills; my passport and embassy badge; my wallet. The security officer, in his initial orientation, had advised against bringing Guineans into the house. There had been many armed robberies of State Department homes, especially since the influx of refugees. Still, the guy slept in a building with no walls and worked all night making sandwiches, it would be cruel not to let him watch a football game. But when Karamba came over we couldn’t find the game. The one Guinean TV station was consistently unreliable. Instead of the match Karamba watched a movie as I did the little bits of work that get done on Sunday. He watched TV as though he had entered it. As I was looking up my lengthy return address to put on a package of Crab Orchard Review ◆ 123


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indigo cloth for my aunt, Karamba asked, “Is there dust in America?” I looked at the TV to see what had inspired such a question. It looked like the scene was in a prison yard and Richard Gere was a prisoner. “Dust?” “Yes. Is there dust in America?” I thought about it. “Yes.” “But in the country. Not in the town?” “That’s right. We keep our dust in the countryside where we can visit it if we want to.” “What?” “No dirt. No dust in America.” And later, when there was a shot from high above a golf course, Karamba noted, “Lot of grass carpet in America.” “Right,” I said, looking over his shoulder at the green with the sand trap and the pond carved out of it with as much art as was ever mustered in Arizona. “Right. In America we have grass carpet instead of dust.” “You have?” I thought about it. I had inherited a lawn. It came with the house like the front door did. I had never considered myself as the owner of a lawn, but yes. “Yes.” I was moving glasses from the dish drainer to the cabinet when the movie got to the part with guns. Karamba asked, “What do you call this gun,” pointing to the screen at a gun whose bullets were longer than cigarettes. “I don’t know,” I answered, thinking he didn’t know either, but he informed me that it was what they called an AA gun, Anti-Aircraft. Bruce Willis was aiming it by means of a laptop computer. He used it first to shoot off the arm of a man and then to kill the man and finally to blow up the man’s station wagon. “You have seen guns like that?” I said, impressed as any non-gun user would be. “Yes,” he said the same way I had said “yes” about my lawn. “In Sierra Leone?” “Yes.” I tried to think of what they would use a gun like that for in Sierra Leone. But then I remembered hearing of ECOMOG planes that had accidentally bombed a section of Freetown where the people were out dancing, celebrating the ECOMOG forces’ victory and hoping for rice. Of course you would want to shoot at planes in such a place. 124 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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And then when Richard Gere was jumping out of a helicopter with a gun so large that I assumed it was a thing swollen by Hollywood, Karamba offered its name as well. “You know that gun?” I asked in shock. “Yes,” and the ease of his response led me to the next question. “Have you ever fired a gun?” “Yes, of course.” “That gun?” It was so big that Gere was not even carrying it as he ran across a roof. Instead, he had his own military gunbearer, running along beside. “Yes, I shoot this gun.” In the movie this gun, too, was used to blow up a car, this time a red minivan. Karamba had told me the week before that his brother had died in the recent fighting. I couldn’t tell if his blasé recital of this news was due to war weariness, or a larger definition of “brother” than I was used to. I even entertained the possibility that what I heard was not what he meant. But what else could he have meant? I looked at the back of Karamba’s shaved head. He was sitting in my chair but I didn’t know him. “Karamba, were you in the army in Sierra Leone?” “Me? No.” “But many young men like you are in the army, right?” I figured there were two choices for a young Sierra Leonian man: You could be in the army or you could be with the rebels. Many were both, I had heard. “Yes, plenty.” “So why weren’t you in the army?” “I no like the work.” “Killing people?” “Yes.” But I never asked the question, the one that comes after the question, “Have you ever fired a gun?” and the response “Yes.” The movie was dubbed in French so Karamba could understand nothing of what was being said. Still, he understood all of the movie. Thus the global success of Hollywood: It is an Esperanto of moving pictures. In any money-making Hollywood movie, language is superfluous. My own French, created by a six-week crash course in Washington D.C., was good enough to watch dubbed American movies with, but not pure French films. In French films, if you got behind in the conversation you were lost. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 125


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After the movie was over Karamba stayed. His rapt expression did not change when the world weather report came on, and continued into a history show in which professors discussed something that happened a thousand years ago in Turkey. Though I didn’t have any idea what I was going to do with the rest of my Sunday, I knew I wanted to do it alone. There was something about the way Karamba sat in the big chair in front of the TV that told me he felt no sense of obligation to leave me alone. In fact, he probably felt obliged to stay with me, a man with an aunt in Ohio and one friend, him. I moved from one piece of furniture to another, inventing things to do. It was an activity that would have communicated to most Americans, I am busy, please leave. But Karamba blithely watched the roundtable discussion about Turkey a thousand years ago. It could have been a French film. I finally, after forty-five minutes of building frustration, turned to my guest and said, “Tomorrow I will help you with the phone call. OK? Tomorrow we can call the woman? The one you said was going to marry you?” “You can meet me here to call?” He didn’t sound as surprised as I expected him to be. It was as though he had been waiting for me to offer for two months, knowing better than I that I would offer. “No, we can call from the phone booth. I’ll meet you at the Coke stand. You have a card, right?” “To phone? Yes, I have.” And while he was still sitting down I shook his hand and told him that I would see him then. I didn’t even walk him down to the street. When I am in a foreign country I always assume people aren’t rude, they are just foreign. I hoped Karamba could see from that same perspective. When you are going to call a possible wife you have never met it is best to get her just before she goes to bed. With the six hour difference that meant we would have to call from the middle of the Guinean night. I had never been very good with phones. I couldn’t remember more than two phone numbers at a time and on the phone I was significantly less charming than in person. I needed to see a person to know what to say. I forced Karamba to come watch me drink whiskey as we strategized. I would start the conversation and if things went well I would pass the phone to Karamba. We worked on his English. I told him to say “I am twenty years old,” rather than “At this time I can have twenty.” I 126 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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told him to describe himself as a cook in a restaurant. “If she asks you anything she will ask you what you do. If you say ‘I’m a cook in a restaurant in downtown Conakry’ she is bound to be impressed.” And what was I going to say? I looked at the proposed groom. Karamba was handsome. His eyelashes were graceful. He looked like he might not be done growing. He was a respectable young man whose smile burst onto his face. I would tell the woman on the phone that I had known Karamba for two months, that he was a close friend, my closest friend in Conakry. He was a trustworthy young man who was serious about marriage. Me? I was with the State Department. That sounded better than being an auditor. Or did auditor sound more honest? The phone card Karamba showed me was good for 150 units. I needed to know how long that gave us. Karamba went out to find a phone card boy who could tell us how long we had to arrange the marriage. I was already halfway through my second double. Karamba came back with a boy who looked at the card, asked if it was new and told us “four minutes.” I wasn’t wearing a watch, I never did in Africa, but the phone card boy told me the units would tick down and at the end there would be a beeping. “Four minutes? How much did this cost you?” I asked Karamba, knowing how much he made a month. In the little green phone booth, the phone card boy and I stood face to face while he inserted the card and dialed the number. He handed me the receiver. “It’s ringing,” I said to Karamba hopefully. Me, I hoped it would ring forever. But after three rings the machine kicked in. An answering machine. I had forgotten about those. A few months away from the U.S. and already I was forgetting its technology. “It’s a machine,” I informed Karamba. The message was anonymous, it only gave the number, no name, no music. In between the two beeps I had to decide what to do. We had already used twenty units just listening to the brief message. And then the long beep came and I talked. “Hi, this is Neil Kaub.” As usual when talking to strangers’ phone machines my voice came out deeper, more serious. “We haven’t met, actually, and actually I’m calling from Guinea. That’s the Guinea in Africa. Uh, I should say who this message is for. This is a message for Tess Blankenbaker.” I read the name off the slip of paper even though I had it memorized. “I hope this is Ms. Blankenbaker’s phone because this call is costing a whole lot. I’m actually calling on behalf of a friend of mine. A good friend who is standing right here but since he is not Crab Orchard Review ◆ 127


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from the United States he is a little shy about just calling you out of the blue. I’m helping him.” The units were ticking down, not one by one but in blocks of ten. I still hadn’t made my plea. “This sounds funny, I know, but Karamba, my friend, really wants to marry you. We are calling to see how you feel about that. I mean, you should have gotten a letter that he sent. I think he put fifteen dollars in it so I don’t know if it got there. Maybe I’ll just put him on the line so you can hear his voice.” The sentence “He has graceful eyelashes” came into my mouth but I stopped it, saying instead, “He is a nice guy. Handsome, reliable.” I passed the phone to Karamba as though it was a jar I couldn’t open. I whispered for him to introduce himself but he just said “Hello? Hello?” Finally he said “Tess?” and hearing nothing, hung up. We had thirty units left. Karamba looked at me as though I had tricked him. He must have thought I was talking to the air, using up his phone credit just for fun. I explained, “Karamba, she wasn’t home.” This didn’t improve his expression so I continued, “But there was a machine that takes messages. A tape recorder. It recorded what we said and Tess will hear it in the morning or when she gets home.” It occurred to me that I hadn’t left a number for her to call. I always did that with message machines. I’m not very good with phones. “Karamba, this was a bad idea. Forget it, there is no way. This isn’t going to work. I have no idea why I thought, why I offered…Bad idea, Karamba, I’m sorry. You can’t just call a woman and ask her to marry you. It doesn’t work that way in America.” He looked straight at me for a change and said, “You want to make me like fool person?” before he started back to the shack where he would make sandwiches until dawn. I followed him. It seemed to me that if he was already hurt this would be a good time to kill the whole white wife idea. I sat up on the bench under the refugee tarp and told him how bad things had gone. “If someone called me and left a message like that…” I shook my head as I tried to imagine. “I’d call the police, maybe. For sure I would never call back. A guy on another continent I’d never met before. Unlikely.” Karamba was splitting thin loafs of bread, spreading mayonnaise on them with a wooden spatula. I had ordered a sandwich once. It had made me sick. “Karamba, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have gotten your hopes up. This is never going to work. There is no hope.” Karamba leaned over so that I could hear him over the blaring of the little transistor radio. “Hey, Kaub,”—he called me by my last name 128 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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because he couldn’t pronounce my first name—“there is always hope. God is great. It is God who decides. Today I am poor and I have no wife, but tomorrow…” and instead of finishing the sentence he smiled. When my contract was done I didn’t tell anyone on the corner I was leaving. Not the barman or Karamba. Saying good-bye always took days and involved presents and promises. Better just to slip off the continent. In the airport in Paris and then again in New York, I was surprised at the number of single white women. At least I assumed they were single. They were alone. They were beautiful: well-dressed, educated, clean. They had briefcases and computers and cell phones that they talked on while they walked in almost high heels. I could see why Karamba would want one of these. I envisioned him with each one. And black women, too. I didn’t think Karamba cared about color. What he wanted was an American. Even a French woman. Karamba had just wanted something else. He wanted to be doing exactly what I was doing, leaving my life behind with the help of an airplane and an American passport. At home in my cold apartment I did what I usually do after changing continents, I watched TV for days straight, me on one side of the bed and bags of chips on the other. I thought of Karamba, especially, when the phone numbers came on the screen, the phone numbers late at night accompanied by young women. I never called them so I don’t know if they were for sex or just talking. I plugged her address into the map search on the internet. The street where she lived was there, in Rochester. I did a search for her name and found her at the Fulbright grantees page. She had photographed Baga rituals on the coast of Guinea. Probably she had given her address to someone who then sold it to Karamba. Plenty of people had asked me for my address while I was in Guinea. I hadn’t even given it to Karamba. I didn’t like the thought of him showing up and wanting to stay with me the rest of his life. From the web page I couldn’t tell if Karamba’s possible wife was married. American women do so little to give off their marital status. “Ms.” is probably the most revealing of American inventions. Rochester wasn’t as ugly as I thought it would be. The snow was new and hadn’t gotten dirty yet. I found a flower store downtown and sat in my car with the heater running, thinking and watching the house until the smell of roses almost made me sick. I knew what Crab Orchard Review ◆ 129


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I was doing was right because I felt like I was being filmed. I felt like I was acting out a movie. If not one I had already seen then one I would soon see. After all, she had already gotten a letter and a phone call, the next step was this visit. The house was big and near the university. It was obviously the kind students shared so they could afford the rent. A four-bedroom house with at least one person in each bedroom, that’s what it looked like to me. I imagined Karamba happy in it. “God is great,” I whispered to myself. When a young, brown-skinned woman with tightly braided hair walked by my car and into the house I knew it was Tess. I opened my car door as she was closing her front door. I was shaking as I introduced myself on the porch. I sat down on the couch as she found a vase. Her fingertips were hennaed, I noticed, as she put the flowers down on the coffee table. She was getting her Ph.D. in anthropology. It was more complicated than that but I understood it as a Ph.D. in anthropology. We talked about Guinea. She showed me her photographs. I thought maybe I recognized some of the people in them. I asked her if she wanted to go get something to eat. Over Chinese we talked of all the ways that Africa was better than the States, how there were no strangers there, the way there were in America. I repeated something Eleanor Roosevelt had said about Africa being poor but America being poor in spirit. Tess told me the story of how her car broke down in a village on the coast and she ended up staying there three months. She ended up doing most of her photography there. Tess told me that she knew, no matter what else happened, that village would always be there to accept her as a daughter. I flew back up to Rochester for Thanksgiving and had turkey with Tess and her housemates. She came to Washington for Christmas and stayed at my apartment. After New Year’s, when she had to go back to school, I called her every night. We laughed about how dumb I was on the phone, but even if I had nothing to say, I called her.

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The Red Sarong

Marion had to stop and rest every few minutes on her walk to Sule Pagoda Road. The sunlight was blinding. Perspiration trickled down her forehead and the nape of her neck beneath her braided hair. Her legs brushed against the damp folds of her red sarong. If only she could forget about the intense heat. She carried a water bottle, but still her throat was parched. Along the sunlit road were clumps of banana trees and palms, but they offered little shade. She wished her new sarong would stay put. It had bunched up around her left hip, where the draped end was as limp as wilted lettuce. A twisted longyi would give her away. She stopped and adjusted her sarong in the shadow of a large palm frond. Take smaller steps, she reminded herself. When she reverted to her old happy-go-lucky American stride, the narrow hem caught her, with a tug of resistance. Still, she preferred going incognito. With her dark skin and Asian face, she could blend into Burmese crowds, especially in the lanes and markets where everyone was packed together like dried shrimp in a glass jar. In open spaces, the locals picked up on her odd differences in demeanor. Marion covered her nose with her right hand to ward off a billowing cloud of dust from a motorcyclist. Pedestrians and bicyclists overflowed the street at this hour. Sweet-cake vendors called out prices in clear bright voices. Uniformed school children slurped coconut juice under a tree. They were too busy to notice her today. But she noticed them and admired their gleaming brown skin, smooth brows and contemplative smiles. She quickened her pace and composed an imaginary letter home. The Burmese beguile me. Their gentle eyes gaze on me without judgment and I sense a deep spiritual connection. A strange sense of calm and belonging passed over her when she joined the locals in simple meals and rituals. Something she hadnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t felt elsewhere in Asia. Whatever it was, it sustained the people like a healing balm made of herbs, bark and tropical oils. It wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t yet within her grasp, but it was close. Crab Orchard Review â&#x2014;&#x2020; 131


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When she arrived at American Express, it was two o’clock and a line had formed for the foreigners picking up overseas mail. The AMEX office was a marvel compared to the post office. Instead of vanishing, mail actually arrived. Marion stood behind a white woman in a straw hat. A ceiling fan swirled slowly above her. Marion was grateful to be indoors, away from the sun’s glare. Last week, she waited over an hour and a half. Today it only took thirty minutes. The clerk handed her an aerogramme from Steve in Redwood City. Steve and his girlfriend would arrive in Yangon soon. No doubt his aerogramme held more details. Marion lingered by the door, eager to break the seal and read it. The glass doors opened, letting in a whiff of oven-like heat. Mrs. Kennard, one of the American corporate wives, entered. With her neatly cropped auburn hair, starched blue shirt and Bermudas, Shirley Kennard looked like she’d stopped at a suburban mall stateside. She carried a straw tote stuffed with brown packages. Her keys jangled. She barely gave her compatriot’s face a glance. But Marion caught her eye just as she brushed past her. “Oh, Mary Ann, you’re passing for a local girl,” Mrs. Kennard said, with a look of genuine surprise. I can’t exactly pass for a white woman, Marion wanted to say, jokingly, but she ended up smiling and nodding. Last time, Mrs. Kennard had also called her Mary Ann. Marion thought of correcting the mistake, but she let it go. “Yes, I like the customs,” she said. Mrs. Kennard looked down at Marion’s cheap rubber sandals and batik sarong. “Yes, I can see that all right. You look authentic to me, but what do I know?” Mrs. Kennard’s husky laughter filled the air. Marion didn’t know what to say. Though she was part of the American contingent, their lives hardly intersected beyond chance meetings. “My God,” Mrs. Kennard added, gazing with amusement at the jasmine blossom over Marion’s left ear. “Soon they’ll mistake you for Aung San Suu Kyi.” The real Suu Kyi had a long face with sad eyes and a delicate mouth. Marion knew her own face was sharper, her mouth more petulant, though she wasn’t under house arrest. “You flatter me, Mrs. Kennard,” Marion said, “I’m just a meditation student living among the people.” Should she mention her milestone, having survived six months? When Marion quit her accounting job in Menlo Park to study Theravada in Burma, she’d encountered much hand wringing and head shaking. Congratulations were due from the skeptics back home. 132 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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“Please, call me Shirley,” the other woman said. Then she mentioned an open house at the YWCA. “Don’t be a recluse, dear,” she said. “Join us one of these days.” After shutting herself up at the ashram the first three months, Marion had stopped getting invitations from the expat crowd. Now Shirley was rattling off names of couples attending an American Chamber of Commerce dinner. Marion tried to listen patiently, but a whiff of hot air grazed her cheeks. Win Hla had entered, letting in heat and musky odors from the street. Mrs. Kennard’s back faced the doors, but Marion could see him. He wasn’t tall, but he held his head high, his jaw protruding. His burgundy-striped sarong was draped like a tightly wound spool of thread. Since the end of Water Festival rites last week, she’d been keeping her distance from him. He looked out of place among the foreigners. But he exuded dignity beyond his twenty-four years. Now Win Hla walked toward her, his shining brown eyes seeking hers, a gentle smile curling his lips. For Water Festival, crowds swarmed the streets. Revelers cavorted on rooftops and trucks. She recalled the endless drenching, squirting, hosing down. Even now, it astonished her how things escalated, her gentle neighbors taking advantage of purification rites to level assaults—spraying that stung and slapped her skin. In a second, everyone was soaked, garments clinging like a second skin to their perspiring, heaving bodies, laughter rising from white teeth and pink tongues. Oh, the stinging pain! Someone’s hose was turned on full blast. It hissed and throbbed, releasing arrows of shooting water. Undulating like an angry water serpent, it had found her again. Then Win Hla pulled her out of the line of fire. To show her appreciation, she kissed him on the cheek. His skin was soft, smelling like warm rain on a humid day. His face had lit up, but he said nothing, though the crowd scattered as a shelf of water descended. It was only an affectionate peck, not a romantic overture. He realized this, didn’t he? And today, it wouldn’t do to insult him. They’d made eye contact. The Burmese New Year had just started. Better for Marion to exchange greetings, introduce Mrs. Kennard, and then run off. If he pressed his company on her, she’d say she had errands. Win Hla greeted Marion in his native tongue. She returned his greeting, glancing sideways at Shirley. She wasn’t used to showing off her Burmese to someone outside her meditation circle. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 133


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Marion introduced him as a good friend who’d shown her “places only locals know about.” Mrs. Kennard said hello, her pale round face taking in Win Hla’s sarong and his sharp-featured face. “Just call me Shirley.” Her blue eyes dilated. Marion read her unspoken reaction: So much younger! How did they hook up? Yet she continued with introductions. As Win Hla shook hands with Mrs. Kennard, Marion felt a tremendous surge of pride. “If you’re the reason Mary Ann’s too busy to spend time with her fellow Americans, you must be a very good guide, indeed, Mr. Win-Win—er, how do you say your name again?” Marion’s cheeks felt warm. Win Hla repeated his name, contorting his facial muscles, as though he were stretching dough for handmade noodles. Mrs. Kennard wrestled with his name, her Burmese even worse than Marion’s. She asked him how they met. “Bus depot,” Win Hla said, before Marion could stop him. An awkward silence ensued. “How interesting,” Mrs. Kennard said with a raspy laugh. The upturned corners of her lips froze, as if she imagined derelicts accosting arrivals at a Greyhound bus depot—the wrong picture! So Marion summed up how they met, although no explanation was due. That first day at the bus depot, Marion couldn’t pronounce her hostel’s name. Her inability to reproduce tongue-twisting Burmese phrases had drawn guffaws from the depot staff. But Win Hla had been polite and friendly, volunteering to carry bags and escort her to the right address. At the hostel, she tried rewarding him. “Thank you so much. Here, for you,” Marion had said, stuffing bills in his hand, but he pushed them away—as if they were the wrong currency. “No, thank you,” he had said, “Please, let’s be friends, and let me practice English with you.” He’d show her the city and teach her Burmese in exchange for English conversation. And so their crosscultural friendship began. “Amazing,” Mrs. Kennard said. Marion knew her band of expat wives rarely socialized with locals. At last, Mrs. Kennard waved goodbye and got in line. Marion was relieved. Win Hla followed her onto the hot pavement. “Why aren’t you at work?” she asked. They’d reduced his shift at the petrol station, so he had lots of free time now. Marion was alarmed. She knew he barely earned enough to cover living expenses. “Spend your time finding work,” she said. “Don’t spend it on me.” 134 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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Where was she going, what she was doing today? “Let’s go together,” he said. Marion detected too much eagerness in his voice, and this made her cautious. Oh, he was so young—ten years younger. And he had almost no education—only one year of high school before he left his village to work in the rice paddies. He’d been living in the city five years now, but he was as lonely as she. His warm breath passed over her face like steam. “No, not today,” Marion said, “I have many things to do alone.” She added stress to “many” and “alone.” And “no.” The young man stared at her with his wide-set eyes, shining and brown. His dark smooth face tightened for a moment, but his smile didn’t disappear. “I can keep you company,” he said, not blinking. She shook her head. Her voice was firm. “No, Win Hla. Not today.” At last, he turned and merged with the crowd. Even so, crossing Sule Pagoda Road, Marion felt his eyes fixed on her back. There were more cars today, jeeps carrying soldiers and trucks carrying soda. She needed a wet washcloth to wipe her face, but she’d have to wait. Her sun-scorched lips felt chapped. When she sipped from her bottle, the water was lukewarm. She stopped to buy mangoes. Her fruit vendors greeted her. The younger woman, who spoke English, mentioned a pottery sale today. “Good prices.” The older woman pointed at a distant corner of the market. “I will take you,” she said in Burmese, revealing her missing teeth and gray gums. This was not the first time she’d offered. Once she led Marion to a café where the owner greeted Marion like a VIP. It was never clear to Marion if the café owner had hired the fruit vendor as a tout or whether they were good friends, since they greeted each other with deep sonorous tones and respectful smiles. Another time she led Marion to a sale of batik sarongs in a parking lot, where she managed to find three beautiful pieces at bargain prices. Marion was wearing one today, a brilliant red one that reminded her of crushed chili peppers. “Thank you, but not today,” Marion said, waving goodbye. Back at the flat, she opened Steve’s letter. It overflowed with flight arrival info, places to visit. But today’s aerogramme also held Crab Orchard Review ◆ 135


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a change of plans. Steve was coming alone—Louise had backed out. He didn’t say why. Marion felt a rush of excitement she hadn’t felt since she first saw the Shwedagon Pagoda. She visualized the tall, sandy-blond American with the scruffy beard standing in her apartment. Five years ago they’d been lovers, but they stayed friends afterwards and their bond grew stronger. In fact, Marion was the one who introduced Steve to his new girlfriend, Louise. And she’d been helping him plan his first trip to Asia. When Steve first proposed traveling together, she’d said, sure, why not? She expected him to bring Louise. As she gazed at her barely furnished flat, the naked light bulb suspended above her living room, the muddy and pockmarked walls, she wondered whether Steve expected to stay here, now that he was coming alone. Marion couldn’t see Steve comfortably camping out here. She liked to think there was no danger of a romantic relapse. But was that true? If she hadn’t broken it off years ago and asked to be friends, would they still be together? Marion jotted a reply. “Better for you to stay at a hotel. You wouldn’t like my flat—too cramped, plus there are rats.” Yes, the beady-eyed rodents would scare any American tourist away. Every night she whacked them with her broom, but they wiggled away like eels. Too bad—when she moved out of the ashram two months ago, things were supposed to get easier. At the ashram, Marion would get up at five A . M . for the procession to the dining hall and she’d finish her two only meals before noon. She wore a brown longyi with a white top and brown sash. She grew accustomed to using her hands to eat her rice and vegetables. But her stomach rebelled. Marion also chafed in silence against communal rules. Why did men and women have to be segregated in the hall? And why did former monks act so distant? Why the ban on talking? Her growing unease led to moments of self-doubt and frustration, but she hoped this would pass once she mastered a higher level. Wasn’t this part of a cycle, too? Now Marion studied with her teacher U Aye five days a week, returning to her flat afterwards. “I’m still on the right path, just a less rigorous one,” she wrote her mother last month. She didn’t tell her how she worried about lasting a full year. Even now, away from the ashram, it was tough, living native-style in her flat with no telephone and only one outlet other than that for the fridge. After sealing her letter, she lay on her cot, sipping a bottle of 136 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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coconut juice. Again, she pictured the rites at the Water Festival. She shouldn’t have kissed him. That evening, Win Hla showed up at Marion’s doorstep. “Hello, Mari,” he said. Just as Mrs. Kennard kept calling her “Mary Ann,” Win Hla kept calling her “Mari.” He said he wanted to adopt an American name, perhaps Winston, Winthrop or William. They’d often joked about finding him an American name. She never thought he was serious. “Oh, no! ‘Winthrop’ and ‘Winston’ are stuffy British names. You want to be mistaken for an Englishman? And ‘William,’ that’s common in the U.S., and you’ll end up ‘Bill’ for short.” Win Hla’s face brightened. “Good enough for your President, good for me,” he said. “But Win Hla is so much better,” Marion insisted, “Why give up an original name for one millions of others have?” Still, Win Hla repeated the name, pleased with its presidential ring. He stood in the doorway, beaming. Then Win Hla asked her to join him for dinner. “Ya, le-le,” he asked. “Yes or no?” For a second, she considered going with him. For months, they’d walked together to their favorite stalls for cheap bowls of mohinga. After the old lady ladled the rice noodle soup, they’d sit on plastic stools at low makeshift tables, savoring the tangy mix of sliced bananas, eggs and fish spiced with coriander and leeks. Just the thought of the piping soup noodles made her feel like giving in. Then Marion recalled their kiss at the Water Festival. Her feelings swerved off course. She hadn’t told him about Steve’s visit. “No, sorry,” she told him. “No thanks.” She listened to his receding footsteps and thought of what she hadn’t told him. She made instant noodles using her hot plate. The air was hot and muggy, but she ignored her beads of sweat. She promised herself a decent mohinga tomorrow. As she sat down to eat, she heard rustling. A gang of four rats— a big gray geezer with long whiskers and tail, three younger ones with sleek torsos—scurried past her, diving into the floorboards. Perhaps they were searching for rice crackers, their bounty the last time she forgot to tighten the lid on her tin box. This time she didn’t bother to find her broom. She’d add mousetraps to her shopping list. The next day, she left early for class. After meditation, she felt cleansed of worries and regrets, her pulse and breathing slowed down Crab Orchard Review ◆ 137


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to a kind of suspended animation. This was how she wanted to feel all the time—renewed, at peace with her life. But then Win Hla materialized three times by her side, at the bank, the noodle stall, and the market. “Don’t you have other things to do?” she asked, her voice quavering. But he didn’t leave. In the end, she rushed away, dissolving into the crowd. Marion stole a departing look. He stood by the rows of fruit and vegetables, indifferent to the haggling. He took a few steps forward, then yielded to a slow-moving cart laden with earthen pots. The following day, she stopped by the travel agency at lunch hour to look up places Steve wanted to visit, such as Mandalay. She didn’t like package tours, but she liked looking at the glossy brochures, then basing her itinerary on theirs. Now it would be her turn to play tour guide, showing Steve the green valleys and rice terraces. Win Hla had taken her on short day trips. Day excursions raised no eyebrows. But he was unable to lead her farther, where she wanted to go. The travel agency was empty at this hour. Marion only wanted to browse, so the clerk left her alone. Seated in a chair, turning the pages of a Burmese Dreams brochure, Marion felt a warm presence at her side. Win Hla leaned over her shoulder. He smiled and straightened up when their eyes locked. “Hello, Mari,” he said. “Where are you going?” “Win Hla,” she said, feeling her heart beat faster. Marion told herself to stay calm. Win Hla pointed at the color spread of Mandalay and recited some place names in Burmese. His voice vibrated and hummed when he spoke his native tongue. Then he switched back to English. He said he’d never gone there, but someday he would go. Just as he would go to America and learn her culture the way she was here learning the Burmese culture. Win Hla was fiercely ambitious, she realized. Win Hla wasn’t part of the educated elite and he had no connections to the military. His chances of going abroad were nil. Where did he get his fancy idea about going to America? She couldn’t recall encouraging him, but couldn’t be sure. (Wasn’t that what Americans always said to foreigners—“Look us up the next time you come to the States”?) He asked if she was traveling alone or with a guide, adding that he didn’t think she should travel alone anymore. “Win Hla,” she said, shifting in her chair. Under his penetrating gaze, she struggled for the right words. “My friend Steve is coming. He’s never been to Burma, or Asia for that matter. So I’m going to 138 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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show him Yangon. Then we’re going to Mandalay.” She paused and sipped from her water bottle. Would he recall her old wallet photo— a close-up of Steve and her, arms intertwined, the shining Pacific Ocean behind them? Win Hla’s smile wavered. He squinted at her, as if facing the glare of noonday sun. If he was surprised, he kept his composure. His dark smooth face showed no disapproval, but he shook his head, as if he were a revered village elder. Win Hla cleared his throat. “Mari,” he began. In a deep stern voice, he reminded her that the Burmese didn’t approve of unmarried men and women traveling together, that it was bad for the reputation of a single woman to make overnight trips with a single man. “I will not let you travel with him alone,” he said. “Not overnight trips.” Marion stood up, glad her red sarong didn’t trip her up this time. “Thanks for telling me what you think,” she said, “but I’m American and I can take care of myself.” She moved to the door. But he followed her and stood in her way, his face darker than ever. His smile had vanished. He now looked rigid and solemn. She reached behind him and jerked the door open. For a second they sized each other up, sensing a shift in the air. Then he let her go. The afternoon heat was stifling. She had left her water bottle. But she wouldn’t go back. She walked as fast as she could. She didn’t turn to see if he was still watching her. If she’d worn jeans, she might have walked faster. But Marion was wearing a sarong and had to measure her pace. Marion made her way through the rows where fruit vendors sat with their baskets of durian, rambuttan, jackfruit, and papayas. Her fruit vendors waved at her. Then she walked by heaps of dried foodstuff—floppy black mushrooms and shriveled orange shrimp, coarse seeds and thick-skinned nuts, seaweed laver, bulbous hairy roots. Their pungent odors overpowered her. The aroma of fried rice noodles and chili peppers wafted through the air. Clouds of smoke billowed above a makeshift kitchen. But she wasn’t tantalized. She stopped to wipe stinging hot tears from her eyes. In the evenings, she heard knocks on her door. She listened to heavy breathing, after which an all-too-familiar voice called her truncated name. “Mari,” Win Hla said. An electric fan whirred in the corner. But she didn’t care. She wouldn’t open the door. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 139


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Mornings brought normalcy, as she stuck to her meditation routine. But now, although she adhered to form, her concentration failed her. Thoughts popped into her head. What if he doesn’t stop? Should I report him? No matter how hard she held her position, she couldn’t ignore the sensation of warm air circulating around her face or a fly tickling her arm. One day, while U Aye watched, she stood in enforced stillness, controlling her breathing, ignoring an itch on her mosquito-bitten elbow. For months now, she’d worked her way from thirty minutes to two hours, then to three hours of immobility. Staying silent was easier for her than staying motionless, especially when her legs cramped. But today her teacher had instructed her to assume a standing position instead of a sitting one. About an hour into her session, she spied a familiar face peering from the verandah. Win Hla! Who did he think he was to trespass here, to interrupt her moments of concentration? Her first impulse was to shout and ask what he was doing here. Only she couldn’t— she had to stay silent and motionless for two additional hours. She hovered between keeping her face blank and glaring at him. Her throat felt dry and constricted. Perspiration trickled down her forehead. She rolled her eyeballs to establish where U Aye was, to see if he noticed anything amiss, but his back was turned. No one else seemed to notice. She decided to finish meditating and then complain about the gawking trespasser. Later, stopping outside the program office, she was shocked to see one of the supervisors, a former monk named U Jat, telling Win Hla where to find the brooms. “We will try you for a few hours a week,” he told Win Hla. “If we like your work, we will consider your request for free classes.” Stunned speechless, Marion turned and went home. The next morning she went to the office and learned more. He’d been hired part-time, twice a week early in the morning. If she wanted to avoid him, she could attend afternoon classes on those days. Marion wondered whether to protest his hiring. But she didn’t. She hated sharing her personal matters with U Aye. It would only make her feel exposed. The last time she spoke at length to U Aye was when she approached him about moving out of the ashram. If she told him about Win Hla, wouldn’t she come off as a maladjusted American? ◆◆◆

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Now Marion couldn’t sleep. She watched for Win Hla everywhere. She locked her door as soon as she got home, keeping her curtains drawn. A week later, she was waiting at an intersection and two policemen came out of a shop and walked in her direction. She peered at them through her Ray Bans, noticing how proud they looked in their faded olive uniforms. Sunlight glinted off their brass buttons. The black leather of their boots and holsters gleamed. They marched forward, their arm and leg movements synchronized. She picked up her pace. Still, they seemed to follow her. Where were their motorcycles? Didn’t they usually hop onto motorcycles and zoom away? She glanced over her shoulder, determined not to show fear. Sweat trickled down the nape of her neck. Her stomach churned as if she’d eaten too many chili peppers. Marion hoped they wouldn’t catch her staring. If they tried to bully her, she’d speak up in her American English, just so they knew she was a foreigner. If she used her third-grade Burmese, they’d think she was slow. But the cops didn’t notice her. They talked in rapid spurts. Marion’s Burmese was poor, but she understood snatches: “Go” and “problem.” She thought she heard the word for “hit.” A block later, they changed directions, leaving her alone. If she were to tell the cops, what would happen to Win Hla? In a flash, she imagined the worst: Win Hla dragged in handcuffs, beaten and interrogated, then coerced into signing a confession. She trembled, as though it were a cold, foggy day in San Francisco. One day, as Marion shopped for papayas in the market, she glimpsed Win Hla leaning against a sack of cabbage under a vendor’s tin roof. She pretended not to see him. Another day, she stopped at a newsstand to read the English headlines and he was standing in the shadows a block away. He wouldn’t make a good spy, she noticed—he always gave himself away. The next day, she finished class early and went to the stalls. Marion had begun eating lunch at a new place. Win Hla glided toward her and stopped. He gazed at her with his broad mysterious smile— the smile that could mean anything or nothing. “Hello, Mari,” he began. “Many days we do not talk, not eat together. Many times you not open door to your friend.” “Oh, Win Hla,” she said, “Please stop. Stop tailing me!” Crab Orchard Review ◆ 141


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He looked puzzled. “Sorry? Tail?” “You’re following me! And you’re not good at it.” Win Hla argued it was no secret he cared about her welfare. “Everyone knows I am your friend, you are mine,” he said. “No secret!” “I don’t mean it is literally a secret—” Marion said, and then stopped. “Literally” was a word he might not know. She started over, explaining she didn’t like his tagging along and didn’t like his finding a job at her meditation center. Win Hla’s glazed smile looked like that of a bronze Buddha in the temples. He didn’t acknowledge tailing her. He mumbled something about protecting Marion. He even turned and explained it in Burmese to the cook, who nodded as if in sympathy. Marion felt her mouth tighten, her heartbeat quicken. Win Hla switched to English and offered to accompany her and Steve on their travels, so she wouldn’t have to be alone with him overnight. “I will be guide for you,” he said. “No, no, no,” she said. Her voice began to rise, although she knew it was bad form in this culture to reveal anger in public. “I don’t need you to chaperone, I want to be left alone.” She found it hard to contain the vehemence in her voice. No one at the stall said anything, the silence broken only by the sizzling of chopped vegetables in the tiny makeshift kitchen. Win Hla’s face looked uncertain now, she noticed with satisfaction. “Leave me alone,” she said, “or I will tell the police about you.” “Okay, sorry,” he said, bowing. Then he left her alone. She heard no knocking that evening. For the first time in weeks, she slept well. The next few days also passed without incident. No more knocking. Even better, in the streets and market, she no longer saw Win Hla trailing her. Soon a whole week had passed. The next day was a Saturday. She left the flat early to run errands, but got sidetracked outside her apartment. Her fruit vendor—the woman with the gray gums—waited for her, pointing toward the river. She uttered a stream of Burmese words, none of which Marion could decipher. Whatever it was, it sounded urgent. The old woman clung to Marion’s side like an affectionate toddler. Marion asked her what the matter was, but she got smiles, grunts, and nods. All she could do now was follow the old woman 142 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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behind rows of fruit and vegetables and through awnings and discarded signage to a passageway that led them past boarded shop-fronts and wooden shacks. Five more minutes passed. They were close to the river. Marion looked behind her and saw no signs of Win Hla. She relaxed, feeling the sunlight on her shoulders. This was such a circuitous route, even if Win Hla were trailing her, he couldn’t keep up today, she realized. Still, had they gone too far? She asked, “Where are we going?” But she couldn’t understand the old woman’s reply. At last, the old woman opened a gate, then walked toward a two-story colonial building, whose white pillars stood shrouded in dust. The front doors were open, so they entered. Then the old woman pointed at a flight of stairs. She wanted Marion to ascend, but she hesitated. “Why up there?” The stairs looked as if they might not hold. The railing sagged. Chunks of plaster had fallen off the ceiling and old paint was peeling. Marion paused, thinking about the standard warnings to travelers venturing into unfamiliar territory. Should she turn back? Should she demand an explanation? But if she did, she’d only reinforce a cliché about Americans in Asia—how they asked too many questions and needed everything spelled out. And now she recalled her last words to her family before she boarded her plane from SFO to Yangon via Bangkok. “Don’t worry,” she had said, “I can take care of myself. The only adventures in life worth having involve some risk.” Marion lifted her hem above her knees. She put her right foot on the bottom step. Then she kept pace with the old woman, who clambered upstairs with remarkable agility. Once they reached the landing, the old woman ushered her into a room at the end of the hall. Marion saw only a few rattan chairs. A door to another room was slightly ajar. “What’s going on? This place is empty,” Marion said. She got no response. The old woman slipped out the first door, while a familiar face emerged from the other. It was Win Hla again. He closed the door behind him, turning a lock. “Mari,” he said in a soft, lilting voice, his eyes fixed on her face. “Thank you for coming. Let’s talk. Please, you sit.” He gestured for her to take a seat. “We didn’t finish talk last time. Today, you must listen.” He sat down, waiting for her to do the same. Marion didn’t hesitate. She moved fast and placed her hand on Crab Orchard Review ◆ 143


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the doorknob to the hallway. But the heavy door refused to budge. Marion knew then she’d have to stay. “Let me go now!” she said. How dare you, she wanted to scream. “No, sorry,” he said. “When I come to your country, you will teach me American custom. Then I will listen to you. But now you’re in my country. You listen to me.” Marion’s throat was dry. Her lips felt pasted together. Win Hla handed her a bottle of drinking water. She broke the seal and gulped a few mouthfuls. “What is it you want?” Win Hla hardly stirred. His back stood straight and supple, like a blade of lemongrass. “Please, drink water first. Then we can talk,” he said. He looked down at his hands, brown with long slender fingers. When he looked up, his eyes fastened onto her face. “What about? Why not talk someplace else?” Her palms felt damp. “Mari, you forget how you behave in market?” How could she forget? She got up and paced the room. This house was far from the main roads. All the windows were sealed or boarded. If she screamed, would anyone hear? She felt cold again, although sunlight streamed into this room. Her breathing was shallow and irregular, not the kind she used for meditation. Win Hla mumbled a stream of disjointed words. He lectured her on Burmese customs, repeated his objections to overnight travel with Steve. Hours passed, how long she didn’t exactly know, and her stomach gurgled. Hunger pains erupted. Win Hla scrutinized her face, as though she were a recalcitrant child resisting his authority. He asked her what day Steve was arriving, whether there was still time for her to change plans. She nodded. Play along, she told herself, at least until you get out of here. There was a rap on the door. Win Hla stood up and let in the old fruit vendor. She carried in two bowls of mohinga—from a local stall, no doubt. Marion didn’t return the old woman’s smile, even though she waved. The old woman left them to eat in silence. When he tried chitchat (“Spicy and hot!”), Marion pretended to be busy chewing. She waited for the old woman to return, but she didn’t. Win Hla belched with an exaggerated look of satisfaction. Then he resumed holding forth. Again she heard his refrain: “Someday, when I come to America—” Was he planning to leave Yangon for the green lawns of suburbia USA? Did he really think he would 144 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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escape from his life here? And then he admitted his feelings for her had grown. As still as a leafless tree on a windless day, she sat and listened. She saw her new life ebb away, retreating like low tides from a riverbank. “Okay,” she finally said, in a voice she barely recognized. “Let me write to Steve, change my plans.” Win Hla’s smile widened, his thin eyebrows danced upward. When he got up to open the door, she followed him. “Now everything’s settled,” he added. His breath tickled her face. Marion gazed into his dark shiny eyes, a dull ache spreading in her chest. To her surprise, he was leaning over, lips pursed, eyes closed. She’d never know if it was only intended as a peck. Marion flung her water bottle into his face. There wasn’t much left, but it still stunned him. “Leave me alone!” she said, “Didn’t I warn you I’d go to the police? Ya, le-le?” She didn’t wait for a reply. She fled downstairs, raising her hem so as not to stumble. His voice followed her. “Mari, friends do not go to the police.” “True friends don’t lock each other up!” She barely noticed the people on the streets. Her legs felt like sacks of lead. Then Marion saw the two cops. Their heads were bent down, their hands on their hips. They huddled together like cranes in a river. She raced toward them. They turned and scrutinized her. “Hello,” she said in English, more loudly than usual. “Can you help me?” “Yes, Miss?” the taller one said. Her words poured forth like cascades from a waterfall. “What if I told you someone’s stalking me, even going so far as holding me—” Then she broke off. She had glimpsed herself in the cops’ eyes—to them, she was no different than a tourist who’d missed her air-conditioned bus. And the officers were amused by her native dress. Was her sarong bunched up again? “Sorry, Miss,” an officer said, “Please say again, more slowly?” He cupped his right hand to his ear. “And please, will you give us your name?” She froze. The officer took out a pad and a pen, his eyebrows crinkling as he waited for her to reply. “Miss, please say your name?” he asked. “You are American, yes?” “Yes,” she said in a low voice. “I am American.” Crab Orchard Review ◆ 145


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Marion paused, recalling how Win Hla had locked her up. Something ached within her, but she ignored it. Slowly, deliberately, she began to speak. After Marion greeted Steve at the airport, they took a taxi to the hotel and spent hours sipping drinks from the mini-bar, catching up on their lives. Steve had booked an old riverfront hotel with views from its rooftop and balconies. “Jesus, Marion, why didn’t you immediately tell the authorities?” Steve said, frowning, “Or get a restraining order? This guy sounds positively psycho.” He wandered across the wooden floors, opening the closet to search for hangers. His sandy hair was shorter, his beard trimmed neatly like a professor’s. Even so, he acted the same way—opinionated, bossy, and vocal. “Not so simple,” she replied. “This is a different system. Would you want someone’s beating, or worse, on your conscience?” she added. “I didn’t. I couldn’t face that possibility.” Steve said she was justified complaining to the police, just to protect herself. Why, if she could tell off strange men pestering her on the streets back home, he asked, was it such a crisis here? It was easier to dismiss strangers, Marion replied, harder with someone who was once a trusted ally. And she had to be sensitive to the local culture, didn’t she? “Like I said at the airport,” Steve said, “you’re welcome to stay here for the time being. It’s better than going back there and worrying that he’ll return.” “Well, maybe.” Glancing at the two beds in the room, she considered his offer. She probably had nothing to worry about. The dark fruity undertones of merlot teased her tongue, making her feel giddy and peaceful. She hadn’t had alcohol since she began meditation. How many more rules would she break? Steve’s voice dropped to a murmur. Louise had asked for time apart, he said. A time-out, since they’d been together three years, but couldn’t agree about the future—whether they had one together. Marion nodded. Then he asked about her red sarong. Earlier, at the airport and during their taxi ride, he had admired it. He’d agreed that this batik looked like crushed chili peppers. As though the skins were flattened out, he said, the juices flowing. Could she help him find one exactly like hers for Louise? Marion hesitated. She hated to imagine Louise 146 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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or any other American tourist donning her sarong. Hers was one-ofa-kind, she said, but she’d help him find something just as nice. Later, while Steve napped, she returned to her flat and gathered her things in a duffle, her clothing, her passport and her travel research. The hallway was empty. No one stopped her as she left the building. Marion took Steve to visit the temples and pagodas. By the end of the third day, Steve claimed to be “all templed out.” So she substituted a garden for the next temple. The next morning, they wandered around Mingaladon Garden, enjoying the rare orchids. She was drawn to the bright purple and fuchsia flowers, not the pale pastels. Some orchids had flat white petals that yawned like the broad faces of children, while others curled inward like languid lovers in repose. “Amazing anything so fragile can endure this heat,” Steve said, mopping his forehead with a wet cloth. Before exiting the garden, Marion went to the ladies room. She normally avoided public toilets, but today, armed with her own tissue, she had to go. Steve said he’d wait for her by the gate, but he was gone when she came out. Perhaps he’d gone to find a trishaw? She walked past the gate to the corner where trishaw drivers congregated. A crowd had gathered, a cloud of dust rising from the ground. Steve lay on top of Win Hla, their arms locked in a tight embrace. Win Hla’s fingers clung to Steve’s jaw, pushing him up, while Steve’s heavier torso pounded down on the young Burmese. They flipped over, kicking up dust and gravel, their teeth bared in grimaces. “Hey, stop it!” she shouted, racing over. They flipped over again. Both heads turned her way. “Mari,” Win Hla said. “Tell him you don’t go to Mandalay!” “Is he the one?” Steve asked. She nodded. This wasn’t a case of mistaken identity. Only there was a familiar glow in Win Hla’s eyes, piercing her like a shaft of light. She drew closer, holding her breath. The young man looked up, as if waiting for her to pull him up. But Marion didn’t touch him. She knelt down, her sarong sweeping dust. With a throbbing pain deep inside her chest, she saw him now as if she were studying her own face in a mirror. “Win Hla,” she began, but he shook his head, raising himself on an elbow. “William,” he said. “Call me William.” In his shining brown orbs, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 147


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her face flickered to the surface, blazing with shadow and light. On their last night in Yangon, they dined at an Indian restaurant and walked along the riverbank. Marion asked if Steve wanted to go on a boat ride, something she hadn’t done since she first came as a tourist. They strolled up to the embankment and waited quietly for the next boat to arrive. A few minutes later, it came, huffing and puffing, depositing heavy-set Aussie tourists armed with shiny cameras. Steve held out his hand and helped her into the rocking boat. “Hey,” he said, “you look like yourself again in those jeans and tee shirt.” It was true. Earlier, she’d tucked her red sarong in Steve’s carry-on to be passed on to Louise. “Are you sure?” Steve had asked her. “Yes,” Marion said without hesitation. The sky was dark as smoke, but the faint lights of the city rimmed the other side of the river, magnifying the gap between here and there, and the crew waited a few minutes longer in case more people wanted to join the river cruise. As latecomers boarded the boat and the engine wheezed and roared, Marion huddled closer to her friend and bent over the edge to watch the frothy waves. She smelled his mint aftershave, so antiseptic compared to the incense in the evening air. “It’s damn quiet here,” he said. She nodded. Then she turned to view the pier where they had embarked. It grew blurry, fading like watercolor brushstrokes diluted with excess water. Once again, her thoughts drifted to Win Hla in the locked room: the way his warm breath passed over her skin like steam, the way his bright eyes drained her. Then to his scuffle with Steve on the dusty ground, his eyes glowing as he repeated his new American name. Then to the police rushing in, blowing whistles, waving batons, asking who struck the first blows. They descended in a flurry of high-pitched voices, like a typhoon sweeping a quiet cove. They’d demanded the Americans’ accounts of what happened. They took Win Hla aside, asking, “Ya, le-le?” She didn’t stop them. She would always regret it. “You were only protecting yourself,” Steve had insisted. “You were justified.” But Win Hla’s absence was too much to bear now. It loomed over her, merging with her shadow. It took on a weight of its own, as palpable as his physical presence. These days she no longer checked the faces in the crowd. No one trailed her. Something else followed her, like a hungry spirit that had to 148 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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be appeased. It was here even now, hovering above the waves. Magnifying her view of each orange sunrise, each pink sunset. It ached within her, too, like a terrible secret. Leave now, it whispered. Along the river, throngs of children waved from the shore. A few shadowy figures turned to watch the boat’s progress. Those on board glimpsed an illuminated Shwedagon Pagoda, as well as other gold-leafed landmarks. Marion felt like a tourist again, but she didn’t chafe against her new status. The water rippled and surged, carrying the boat further down the river. At last, the boat turned back to the pier where it had started. Though she wouldn’t say it, she wished to linger offshore, buoyed by the undulating waves, draped in dusky darkness. But once the boat docked, she had no choice. She climbed back onto land with an unsteady gait.

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Jesse Lee Kercheval

Enter Mecca

Not the center of the Islamic world, but a sandwich shop across from the red brick towers of a Southern university. I was nineteen, an English major, and every day we slouched toward this Bethlehem of lunch counters, ordered our BLTs or cheeseburgers from the black short-order cook, paid the black cashier, both dressed in white like house slaves and not much better paid, though this is 1979 and civil rights marched here a decade earlier. In the far booth sat Dr. Rubenstein, famous for a book declaring God was dead. Now, he taught courses on the Holocaust. I looked at him and thought—How can a man study Auschwitz and Buchenwald and Treblinka every day with no God to pray to and still eat tuna on whole wheat for lunch? I had no answer. I still don’t. Though I have come far enough from that humid Southern believers’ air to doubt God’s existence, it’s beyond my powers to imagine the holocaust that killed him. When I was a minister’s wife, briefly and too young in rural Florida, someone shot a dog and pushed it through the window of a neighboring town’s church. There’d been a split in doctrine. Members marched angrily down the aisle one Sunday and out into the hot sun and their waiting cars. 150 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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The dog crawled the length of the church, trailing his blood and feces down the aisle, to die alone, underneath the altar. Who could do that to an animal, I asked the God I prayed to then, just to show how much they hated other humans? Years after I watched Dr. Rubenstein eat his tuna sandwich, a friend called to say she’d seen my book in the gift shop at the Holocaust Museum. She heard my silence, caught herself, It’s not a gift shop, really. More a book store. But, really, why should I be shocked to hear the words “gift shop” and “Holocaust” in the same sentence? In French, language I was born to, souvenir means to remember. And Dr. Rubenstein, wherever you are now, I promise that I do. My daughter, struggling through the dyslexia of kindergarten, once wrote doG loves U on an Easter card to her grandmother. Maybe that’s what happened. They shot Him and pushed Him through the open window of His own church. God is dead, but he bled and bled and did not go easily. The next time, the angry congregants were less subtle. They set their church on fire and burned it to the ground. God, that Dog Angel, looking down.

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Jesse Lee Kercheval

Magdalena at the Prado

We are rushing, our children in tow, to see what we’re supposed to see, Goya’s Saturn Devouring One of His Children, Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. But Magdalena, ten, whose Nikes never stop— stops, transfixed before a triptych of Jesus’ life. 15th Century Dutch, my eye tells me, not the highlight of this collection, but a clear rendition of a familiar subject. But not to Magdalena, raised by a Unitarian and a lapsed Episcopalian. In Wisconsin, she asked me if the Buddha at our local Chinese restaurant was Christ. Now, her father takes time to explain the Immaculate Conception, how the word of God, a ribbon of ecstasy, winds from the Angel’s trumpet into Mary’s gentle, upturned ear. Magdalena nods, approving—finds this more believable than the penises and vaginas she’s been taught since kindergarten. God signs his name, a son is born. Like cashing a check at the drive-thru window, word turned to golden flesh. But she is drawn more to death, neglecting the baby Jesus in his high Gothic manger for the tiny, dashed bodies of the Massacre of the Innocents. For Jesus on the cross, all muscled agony, the bleeding thieves beside him. 152 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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And Jesus risen, poking a single, curious finger into his gaping side, as if searching for a coin lost in his pocket. In the triptych, he steps out of his cold tomb like Magdalena escaping onto the playground after a long, grey day at school. She heads home to her parents, baby brother. Jesus ascends to his father, knowing his mother will come home later. To her, it makes all kinds of perfect sense. Then sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s on the move again, rubber soles squeaking against marble. If I cannot hold her, my Magdalena, how, possibly, could Hell? She flits past the gilded portraits of the saints and their glorious demises. Stephen being stoned, Catherine broken on her wheel. What is death but a night when you sleep long and well and wake, taller, stronger, ready for fifth grade or the next life, whichever gets here faster. Stop a sec, sweetie, her father says, in this gallery of portraits, let me take your picture. Magdalena throws wide her arms among the gold and painted glory, St. Andrew dying on his cross behind her, the X that marks the spot.

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Trevor West Knapp

The Doctor to His Apprentice, 1727

First, know your syrups: Horseradish and sugar for kidney stones; for scrofula, sow bugs in white wine; colic requires the flowers of London pride. Dose at four hour intervals until improvement is divined. Anoint cancers with juice from the woolly-headed thistle. For itch, 1 qt. fish worms (washed); 1 lb. hogâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s lard (stewed); 1/2 pint turpentine; dash of best brandy: Simmer before use. For dropsy, parsley; basswood for swelling. Should this fail, plaster of egg yolk with honey. For jaundice, saffron: Yellow plant for yellow skin. To ease the pain of bee sting, summer savory; for scalding, an ointment of Linseed, beeswax, resin. For burns, add rum. In the case of nosebleed, tighten the garters. If persistent, immerse the head in water, ammonia, and salt or pack the genitals in ice. To cut the pain of childbirth, a knife beneath the pillow; to halt hemorrhage, an ax beneath the bed. Should it seem the mother must fail to be delivered, pulverize hair from a virgin half her age with one dozen ant eggs, oven-dried. Mix with milk, one pint from a red cow. Should the cow be black, the cure may not suffice. To deliver a child already dead, water of marigold 154 â&#x2014;&#x2020; Crab Orchard Review


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and snakeroot. Worms will be expelled through tansy, or pink root and senna, mixed. When fever strikes, draw inflammation from the inside, out. Apply onions to the feet, a poultice of cobwebs with a burnt wick, crushed. Alternate plaster of horseradish with pepper sauce. Dog bite, gout, epilepsy, asthma and measles may be eased through bleeding, 1 pint a day into a pewter cup. For melancholy, the vein must come from the foot. When vision fails, shave the head. A horseshoe boiled in grease will make bad luck run smooth though despite all efforts some patients will be obliged to depart. Donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t despair. Accept payment how it comes: Cash will be rare; take rum instead, or tea, a load of clover hay, the labor of a patient or his family, one day spent spinning linen, one day spent shoveling dung.

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Bonnie Wai-Lee Kwong

Sisters for Sister Rosemary of Maryknoll Convent School, Hong Kong Fair daffodils, we weep to see You haste away so soon â&#x20AC;&#x201D;Robert Herrick Sister, so small, always stooping as if to whisper in my ear, you let me borrow English books about skies blue as forget-me-nots not found in Hong Kong, where the sky itself is scarce. My only references: the opaque color of your eyes, the lavender print on your dress. In your library, poetry was weeping for fair daffodils I never knew, the same flowers mother called narcissus, sui seen, water nymphs rising from swollen bulbs each Lunar New Year. I never wept for sui seen, it was the waiting, the final release of sweetness in open air. I thought all daffodils had petals the color of crayon sun.

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It took twelve years, another country: El Salvadorâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;four Maryknoll missionaries raped and murdered by soldiers the same year I was taught to weep for fair daffodils that haste away so soon, not knowing their names: Ita, Maura, Dorothy, and Jean.

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Gerry LaFemina

A Few Days after Halloween

Carved pumpkins on front porches shrivel, their teeth rotting, these Indian Summer mornings— scent of burning hardwoods risen through chimneys; already they’ve been forgotten, dribble of dried candle wax, features like those of a woman I once saw buying beer & cigarettes while breathing through a hole in her throat. She paid with the rattle of silver coins & smiled when the cashier said Have a nice day as if saying: Honey, I’m alive & it’s lovely outside though November. I am having a nice day, but really that’s just what I think today two or three years after that checkout line when I shunned looking at her & so focused on the headline of the Weekly World News heralding another end as forecast by the talking skull of John the Baptist which was wrong. I’m sure that old woman is dead & the cashier today smokes outside the automatic doors of the supermarket glad for this weather because she knows it could be snowing right now but she would still be out there, trying to cup warmth 158 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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from the glowing end of that Marlboro. If she’s not thinking about that old woman, forgive her. If she’s not thinking about any of her customers she’s seen in the past six years, what does it matter? Let her, instead, think of that boy she dated in high school who kissed her deeply beneath the shaky projector light in the Rialto Theater with its cracked plaster ceiling, remnant taste of popcorn on his tongue. How she might’ve thought, This must be love, that shiver, when he touched her hand, exiting into street light, light snow falling, each flake resplendent as she blinked back into darkness. She can’t recall what film they watched or their second date, but that feeling still resonates, somewhere. Let her think of it as she takes a Hershey’s Kiss from her purse & opens it, glad the trick-or-treaters left a little behind this year; in her fingers: foil’s silver sound & wrinkled light.

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Karen An-Hwei Lee

Cosopt

A certain wood, thrown into bitter waters, would sweeten them. I confused it with ringstraked branches of hazel, or were the sheep and the skies streaked? Who was the one kneeling by the bitter waters— the youngest cast out, sold into slavery by his brothers; the one in the desert, with child, after the wife threw her out; or the one leading the desert exiles, wandering forty years, who struck a rock to draw forth water? Or did the man of sorrows kneel there, place of seventy palms and twelve springs, one, yesterday, who removed a gold cross and cast it into bitter waters issuing underneath my house. Gold clarified the stream, sweetening trails of bitterness, vinegar and gall, a man and woman fighting, gunfire, nails, humiliation, and the alchemy of pain transmuting bitter into sweet. I returned to the walls of the mission, the ivied garden where a marble lamb the size of your palm still exists beyond the aqua mosaic outside the basilica; dark wood and white stucco, the prayers provided healing drops for the blind woman’s cabinet, prescription tag still attached, as well as the memory leaf for her mind; she had already counted the medicines twice. If I were another woman who’d slipped into my life as one slips into novel clothing, or another aesthetic skeleton of a living, I would harbor no memories I have; not bitter, for the sweet, and glad to lace my hands with these words, to cover the letters where I’ve run the dustcloth time and again. I would set aside my wish list 160 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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and its ensnaring complications of selfâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; I would be at peace. I would not bury bitterness under the house, and the memory leaf, soaking rich waters, would revive me.

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Karen An-Hwei Lee

Catalpa

I wanted to know what a catalpa was. Etymologically, it’s a head with wings; literally, a small genus of Asian tree with cordate leaves and pale showy flowers in terminal racemes. This didn’t tell me much. I needed a photograph. Who has a catalpa? What do you do with a catalpa? Under whose roof do you find it? Indeed, a tree is a head with wings; rambunctious thoughts are entangled up there—beware. Cleanse with alcohol; anoint with safflower oil from the cabinet; massage with tiger balm, menthol, and cloves; use cocoa butter so the skin won’t darken. Use bleaching cream only if cocoa butter doesn’t work. When a scab begins to form, let the wound breathe. Then cover it up, cordate, like a scar on a Kentucky coffee tree. Leaf scars exist in five forms— probably more, but it’s curious to use the comparison of the five-tone Chinese scale or to invoke healing happening in the cut of a diamond. Pear, solitaire, square, marquise— or does the heart cover a shivering side of the tree?

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Amy Lingafelter

The Grandmothers

If you can’t accept the fact that you’re human, then maybe you aren’t human. Take the grandmothers whose eyelids no longer work, no longer blink voluntarily, and who have begun asking for whiskey. Just because you can ask “How” doesn’t mean you have to ask “How.” And don’t think “When” is what you should be asking either. Don’t think if you ignore this and ask anyway, and if you happen to get an answer, it will be satisfactory or correct or satisfactory. Take the grandmothers, who have only just begun asking for whiskey, but who began having babies at 14 in a time when and a place where they were neither teenagers, nor pregnant. So if you can’t accept the fact that you’re human, then the answers don’t matter. Maybe I am too young to be explaining the grandmothers, explaining it to the grandmothers, who cannot swallow, or blink to scoff at the idea. This fact of listening means nothing.

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Jeffrey McDaniel

The Benjamin Franklin of Monogamy

Reminiscing in the drizzle of Portland, I notice the ring that’s landed on your finger, a massive insect of glitter, a chandelier shining at the end of a long tunnel. Thirteen years ago, you hid the hurt in your voice under a blanket and said there’s two kinds of women—those you write poems about and those you don’t. It’s true. I never brought you a bouquet of sonnets, or served you haiku in bed. My idea of courtship was tapping Jane’s Addiction lyrics in Morse code on your window at three A.M., whisky doing push-ups on my breath. But I worked within the confines of my character, cast as the bad boy in your life, the Magellan of your dark side. We don’t have a past so much as a bunch of electricity and liquor, power never put to good use. What we had together makes it sound like a virus, as if we caught one another like colds, and desire was merely a symptom that could be treated with soup and lots of sex. Gliding beside you now, I feel like the Benjamin Franklin of monogamy, as if I invented it, but I’m still not immune to your waterfall scent, still haven’t developed antibodies for your smile. I don’t know how long

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regret existed before humans stuck a word on it. I don’t know how many paper towels it would take to wipe up the Pacific Ocean, or why the light of a candle being blown out travels faster than the luminescence of one that’s just been lit, but I do know that all our huffing and puffing into each other’s ears—as if the brain was a trick birthday candle—didn’t make the silence any easier to navigate. I’m sorry all the kisses I scrawled on your neck were written in disappearing ink. Sometimes I thought of you so hard one of your legs would pop out of my ear hole, and when I was sleeping, you’d press your face against the porthole of my submarine. I’m sorry this poem has taken thirteen years to reach you. I wish that just once, instead of skidding off the shoulder blade’s precipice and joyriding over flesh, we’d put our hands away like chocolate to be saved for later, and deciphered the calligraphy of each other’s eyelashes, translated a paragraph from the volumes of what couldn’t be said.

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Ricardo Pau-Llosa

For the Cuban Dead

Once they were men fully because they belonged, and everywhere they looked and chatted and sipped a bit of coffee, whisked away a fly with a wrist or jolted a newspaper readably straight, or flirted, or worried about the world and where the damn country was going as a trolley rolled and curtains dipped and bulged breast-like and hid again in the proper window. They were home and citizens of it and dared and loved and were decent and stole and killed and loved again. They were home. How like the root in the earth, the crease in the linen, the wind rending the cloud, the growl in the hunger, the pavement sprayed with waves crashing against the sea wall. How like all right things in the mind of place, they jostled and failed, learned and betrayed. Like coins in pockets made for them they cried stridently or simply tinkled in murmurs, and it didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t matter if talk or life had substance. Right of place was substance. There is no enough in exile. Not enough anger, and the blanket of safety always leaves the feet bare. And it is here, no matter how clean and golden, that one learns how different the wrist and the fly and the shot of wave, how once never stops calling although the law of distance deafens. Memory is the heartâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s gravity. The accent of their children becomes unbearably alien, a dampness from the sidewalk creeping past the thin sole

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and into the ignored sock. Now nothing escapes notice and the balance is always against. And it hits them, these never again composed, that the time to see and hear was then, when rightness held even the stormy evils of the quotidian in the same palm with the trash of years of seconds and the kissed joys. Then, as we have come to know, was the proper place to gaze at the dust of butterfly panoplies, ponder the calligraphic crud on china, relinquish decorous ears to taut goatskins, wash in the lace of Sunday clouds, and otherwise pay attention with oneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s whole life to shadows knitting five centuries of incomparable capital, fieldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s antique jewel, and the cradling shore. God it was who let them die filled with late understanding, so who dares say we the innocent lurk unpunished in the works and days?

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Jon Pineda

My Sister, Who Died Young, Takes Up the Task

A basket of apples brown in our kitchen, Their warm scent is the scent of ripening, And my sister, entering the room quietly, Takes a seat at the table, takes up the task Of peeling slowly away the blemished skins, Even half-rotten ones are salvaged carefully. She makes sure to carve out the mealy flesh. For this, I am grateful. I explain, this elegy would love to save everything. She smiles at me. Before long, the empty bowl she uses fills, Domed with thin slices she brushes into The mouth of a steaming pot on the stove. What can I do? I ask finally. Nothing, She says, let me finish this one thing alone.

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Rohan Preston

Sendaga

Sendaga Market is a vortex, a black hole trapping light. Thirty vendors swirl around you, clockwise and counter, until you are dizzy with negotiation and offer, until bazin and bouba, silk and satin are mainsails dragging crosses to America. They would sell you the shirt sweated to your belly and back, these men who speak one hundred languages and will exchange francs and marks, dollars and yen, who take CIFAs against their bodies like offertory papers, like passports to Paris or passages to heaven. Curry-colored dust peppers tears into pearl-sized drops and their spittle salt sores. Outside, buzzards have found a seal not yet dead, but they jab and jook until it froths with salt and old blood, until it caws for air, surrender drying in its throat. They would sell you the flies out of its teeth, the pus welling in childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s eyes, and the tadpole-like children themselves. They will sell you polio and amputations, then tell you that you are welcome, brother,

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returning from the no return—in through the out-door—not a ghost, but upright with a shadow. How about some pretty pictures, made from glued-together butterfly wings?

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Joanna Smith Rakoff

Late-Talking Children

Explain the dark and the air that fills it past all suffering. Explain cruelty, memory, words— or how they take a shape within—if they float or dangle and we grab at them, hold close the ones our mouths can make, the ones not stopped by tongue or palate, those not drowned in spit. We are not even that— we use our mouths to eat and scream or just cry but we speak in unison against you and the world you made. I shout in unison with the sheep in the meadow and I think that some thing far from here is all

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that ‘meadow’ means. They keep us all in one class and when you see us at the bus stop—start or end of a trip—you must think we are so good and quiet, how we never fuss. I wonder do they tell the school inspector what we are or why we sit as we do, the pink lights dimmed to make us comfortable, or does he just think such workers, such busy bees. Last year he did not come in—he looked in through the glass beside the door. We busied ourselves, began to copy things from the wall—the shapes and things, things like the sheep— his words were mostly lost in the glass—not lost but separated— I heard him say we are affectionate

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and see he saw us put our cheeks to each other’s cheeks, saw our hands in our hands, we put the crayon in, and I see the man beyond the skinny glass as my sister, speaking help me before she ever walked. She crawled toward a garden snake and had it crawl to her and flick its tail or tongue to her. Imagine the whole muscled body—its one long intestine—the dark inside the darkness—dry scales against the scales— and the sound of it—all near and not much below and I ask you, we ask you, what do you say?

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Doreen Baingana

Scars

My skin is not very friendly to me. I’ve always had eruptions of one sort or another. When I was growing up, back in Uganda, I had to put antiseptic liquid into my bath water to avoid getting numerous small boils, bironda, all over. I grew up feeling my skin was a problem. I remember the torture of peeling off my socks every evening after school because the yellow-green pus from the boils had congealed, sticking the white socks and bruised skin together. Each time I pulled off the socks the boils opened afresh, and out trickled bright red blood. The skin eventually dried into gray scabs, which itched madly, sweetly. Nothing could stop me from scratching the new skin off and eating it surreptitiously; just like how I chewed my tasty fingernails after biting them off each finger, down, down to the quick. I was growing myself from myself, like chickens fed on their own crushed-up eggshells. The scars, black spots scattered all over my brown arms, legs, belly and bum, gave me what my sisters teasingly called leopard skin. I, needless to say, was harmless. The bironda have mostly faded, except in my mind. I dream about ugly, disfigured skin. It is the worst nightmarish feeling, worse than dreams about being attacked or losing something that I look for and look for and never can find because I have forgotten what it is. I dream my skin turns rough and gray, crumpledlooking, or forms dry scales that crack off. The dream has no story except that I am ugly and turn uglier. I have an evil smile. Ugly equals bad. When I wake up, there is residue ugliness in the air like a bad smell. I know my scars aren’t that horrible; hardly anyone notices them. Why am I so disgusted, even afraid, of ugliness? My skin is like my mother’s: it reacts to everything. She knows it and she gets mad, as though it’s hers, when I don’t treat it with utmost care. At about eleven, I became aware I was female and needed to look attractive. I realized women work at it. Or maybe I 174 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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was simply following the whims of fashion, or was still childish enough to change my appearance for fun. In any case, a neighbor’s daughter, Harriet, offered to pierce my ears and I agreed. She had pierced her own with no experience and nothing had gone wrong. Luckily. “Would it hurt,” I asked her. “Just for a minute,” Harriet reassured me. I noticed girls coming to school with swollen earlobes like tiny fruit. They had small green sticks cut from the thorns of aloe vera leaves poking out of the front and back of the earlobes. The thorns were used to keep the holes open until they healed. I crept down to my friend’s apartment like a thief, but the daring part of me rebutted the guilt with, well, they’re my ears, aren’t they? Harriet got a needle and thread, turned on the gas cooker, passed the needle through the flame once or twice, to kill the germs she said, then blew onto it to cool it down. I sat on an old wooden soda crate, watching the needle. Harriet said, “Close your eyes,” and was quick. It was an injection, a sharp pain, and then the feel of thread running through raw skin. Another sudden sting of the other earlobe, the pull of the thread, and it was over. My ears throbbed as she tied the black thread into knots to form small black rings: my first earrings. Harriet instructed me to wash them with antiseptic liquid three times a day, and move the thread back and forth through each hole so that the thread wouldn’t stick to the skin as the earlobes healed. There I was: a woman. Back home, my mother’s shock and shouting was worse than the headache caused by my bruised, swollen ears. “Don’t you know what your skin is like? Just look at all your bironda!” I didn’t answer. I wasn’t supposed to. Her shouting fit helped her recover, as it usually did. I understood; my skin was hers. We used to plait her hair very gently, loosely, because of the softness of her scalp. She oiled her skin constantly, smoothed her hands and feet with cream, massaged her swollen ankles with petroleum jelly, rubbed our chests and noses with Vicks. Delicate skin needed much attention, like a child. My earlobes healed, but a small keloid grew at the back of one ear. It hangs like a tiny black earring. A shadow earring. My mother didn’t have to say, I told you so. Instead, she bought me earrings, and even more of them when I got confirmed and received my first communion. Dainty gold pieces to make a woman of me. Beauty and scars working together. I have four nipples. That’s right, a freak. I can’t remember when I first noticed them, which is strange because I watched my breasts grow, or rather not grow, obsessively. Since I was one year younger Crab Orchard Review ◆ 175


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than most of my classmates, when they sprouted little buds that pressed against the green cotton of their uniforms, my chest remained as flat as a board. My stomach protruded out further than my chest. It was only in high school, when my classmates wore bras and couldn’t run fast anymore because of the burden of breasts and buttocks, that my breasts finally perked up and began growing. After a half-hearted effort, however, they stopped. No desperate prayers or sheer will could make them budge. My friends said if you rubbed them they would grow, but I couldn’t do that; God was watching me. I prayed to him instead. He answered with an extra set of nipples. Two tiny bironda scars that happened to be directly above each nipple surprised me by growing. They are much smaller than my nipples, thankfully, but are the same black whorls. The twins are conversation pieces to ease awkward moments, when a hook or zip gets stuck in the trembling hands of a lover. Scars masquerading as sex objects. I was born with the map of Britain stamped on the inside of my left leg. A birthmark. The light brown patch on my coffee-colored coating has grown with me. I am glad it’s on the inside of my leg, hidden, to be discovered only by a curious child or exploring lover. The birthmark tells me I am who I am, and have always been so, at least physically. No one else has this mark. Its shape, that of the British Isles, is entirely coincidental, despite the poetic connotations. We were taught in geography that Uganda is about the size of Britain, our former colonizer. It is not coincidental that my name is Doreen, and I am writing this in English, not in Runyankore. The scars of history are permanent. Considering the number of wars we have had in Uganda, it’s surprising I have no scars. Visible ones, that is. Except for one on my leg, facing my birthmark, which is more of a side effect than a war wound. It was 1986. The UPM guerrillas had been fighting ‘in the bush’ for about four years. A few relatives had disappeared, that is, no one would say they had secretly joined “The Movement” and were training in Mozambique or Tanzania or Eastern Europe. Or fighting in Lowero Triangle. During the long break between my second and third year in college, I got a clerical job at a clinic on Luwum Street, in Kampala. Every day, there were rumors the guerrillas were moving closer and closer to the capital. Rumors that they had reached Bombo, were only 100 miles away from the capital, were even closer than that. Rumors that they were right there in the city, in disguise, waiting. Whispers 176 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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upon whispers. The government soldiers got desperate as news of defeat up-country mounted. Some ran away from the army, stealing and looting as they made their way to their home villages to hide. In Kampala, we knew we would have to run too, when the fighting reached us. But when? As had happened each coup before, there would be a battle over control of the parliament building, and then over the national radio station, so that victory could be announced nationwide. But when? We had seen war before, had lived through Idi Amin’s days, but fear still beat inside like fast light fingers skittering across the tight snake-skin surface of a drum, engolobi. The rumors dashed through the streets from kiosk and parking lot to shop front to hotel, from bartender to bank manager. Repeatedly. Softly at first, soft drumming, then loud, louder, harder, bombastic, out of our heads to screams round street corners: They’re here! We’re dead! And we ran. How many times did we run out of town for nothing? One lunchtime, I was eating with the nurses in the courtyard at the back of the clinic. The cook, fat and deft, with a yellow face and black arms and legs, served us matooke and juicy meat stew. Suddenly, gunshots. Heads sprung up and hung stiff in the air like watchful, frightened birds. Hands stopped midway between plates and mouths stuck open. Eyes moved from face to face seeking confirmation, did you hear that, did you, was it—more shots, louder, closer. Plates fell off laps as we shot up together and confusedly rushed to…the bathroom? To lock ourselves in there? No, it would take only one kick of the soldiers’ gum-boots to get in. Outside! We bumped and shoved each other as we rushed to the door, lurching, screaming, bags forgotten. It was finally here. People poured into the streets from every doorway and ran. There was relief too: finally, finally the tension of waiting was over. Katonda wange!—Oh my god!—filled the air, which with the irregular beat of gunshots made an awful music for the human rush down clogged streets. The army soldiers would loot, rape and kill as they fled. Run! The rebels too would loot and riot in the streets to celebrate victory. Run! Run! This government army was the rebel group the coup before. Run! I joined the stream of people down the road to Wandegeya, heading to my room on campus. I heard a call from a passing motorbike and without thinking, my heart thudding, I jumped onto it as it slowed down, and held tight onto a strange boy’s warm body. He shouted at me through the hot wind, “I’m going to Livingstone,” Crab Orchard Review ◆ 177


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the men’s residence hall next to the women’s hall, Africa. I shouted, “Africa!” and clung on. The fear of being on a motorbike for the first time was completely overtaken by the collective panic. Dry air rushed through my head as we wound through the throbbing, screaming crowd. If it weren’t for the gunshots, we could have been part of a lively street festival, shouting excitedly, thrilled, all together as one. The children screaming and crying, struggling to catch up, some women vomiting, young men pushing others aside as they moved ahead strongly, old men tottering, pleading for help, cars honking desperately as they moved as slow as the bicycles and crowd, which refused to move out of the way. I and my motorbike savior swerved safely through and got home. I still have a scar to show for it. Hot air from the bike’s exhaust pipe burnt a perfect circle on the inside of my lower right leg. I was too scared to feel the burn then, and was surprised to see the dark bruise later that day. It swelled and swelled that night as we girls, forgotten on campus, grouped up in one room to talk and recover. My wound seemed to drink up the stories of who was where when and how did we escape, as we laughed so as not to cry. I called my motorcycle story an act of God. Who was that boy? I didn’t know. We sat in the dark, too scared even to use candles, and leaned against each other. Here we were, girls alone, who knew what could happen? Much later, my swollen skin burst and cried watery mucus. The round patch still has not turned back to its original coffee color. It is my war wound, my personal map of history. Scars don’t always show. The only time my mother slapped me, because I wasn’t washing my underpants regularly, was such a shock it is stamped in my memory. My father, for all his drunken neglect, did not mean to hurt us; all nine of us and my mother. He did not mean to forget our names, to curse, to bang on our bedroom doors night after night. He did not mean to teach us fear. Some of us have faithfully followed in his footsteps, drinking up, pouring our lives down the drain like smelly urine. And we have wrinkles too, from smiling, from childbearing, from living long in the sun. Much later, a man I knew here in America slapped me once. Well, okay, a boyfriend. There is no scar. He did humanitarian work in various danger zones around the world: Haiti, Somalia, Kyrgyzstan. He accepted an assignment to Bosnia during the conflict in the nineties. I told him 178 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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he would get killed there, and he slapped me. He was afraid. I went home and cut off all my hair. He went, of course. Many months later, he came back to Washington and had a motorcycle accident, racing down Wisconsin Avenue. He will limp forever. Why do we scar the people we love? Why do we scar ourselves? Once, in San Francisco, I saw an exhibit of Japanese materials at the Museum of Modern Art. It was a celebration of the tactile: there was the cool hard sheen of metal, feathery flightiness, material that looked and felt like nothing else. Pure invention. Rubbery soft or sharp as barbed wire, bristles and pebbles stuck together, tight puffs of hair, kinky or straight or in chains. Material so full of holes it made empty space solid. I was completely astonished and elated at how different surfaces can be, beyond anything I could ever imagine. The realization hit me like a fist in the face that there will always be startling surprises, ingenuity, newness beyond belief. I had thought nothing in life could equal the sensation of dreams, but I was wrong, and gladly so. The crumpled, ugly surfaces of my dreams were made beautifully tangible and gorgeously colored: burnt orange brick, clotted blood red, the red of anger, green like the first shy leaves of spring, silver moon, beige, mauve and more. They were fantasy realized. I can string together long strips of scars into a wild scarf to wrap tight around my throat and squeeze. I can wear it proudly.

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Ned Balbo

Walt Whitman’s Finches: of discretion and disclosure in autobiography and adoption

It might have been close to Christmas, carols piped in overhead, or any late fall afternoon, the indoor mall a strange new world, when I first stood before Walt Whitman’s finches. The aviary was enormous, a huge caged space of flashing wings, reaching well above the heads of even the tallest passers-by; I’d stare up, fascinated, past the birds to the space beyond, where a lost balloon faltered at the ceiling. The aviary was an Attraction, designed to draw a crowd—to offer respite from mere commerce, to beautify, or to inspire—while mothers and housewives window-shopped before their husbands got home from work: nature idealized, safely domesticated. In those days, department stores sold pets, even Macy’s and A&S before whose doors the birds were stationed, some of them the very species available inside. But the Walt Whitman Mall was more than a place to buy and sell. Dedicated in 1962 at a cost of twenty million dollars, it occupied what had been a sixty-eight acre tract of land bulldozed and built up into nearly a million square feet of retail space and a parking lot for over five thousand cars. If America’s indoor malls are the great halls of consumer culture where we wander, tranquilized, as they efface all sense of time, still they offer the commodities by which we define ourselves: the identities we purchase, props for a future we envision. The cage before A&S was gently sloped, with gilded bars—a giant, buxom hourglass—and its less imposing bookend stood before Macy’s, a mile down. Overhead, birds whisked and fluttered: Cut-Throat Finches with red necks, Zebra Finches of various hues, Orange-Cheeked Waxbills, Tricolored Nuns, Parson and Lavender Finches—even a Pintail Whydah, exotic on its branch, shaking a tail three times as long as the bird itself. Nearby, outside the cage, in one of several Japanese gardens, a fountain bubbled endlessly, coins visible underwater, while across the promenade, keeping her son always in sight, my mother Betty tried on pairs of shoes. I glanced back at the cage: were these 180 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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Walt Whitman’s birds?—grabbing the bars with claws and sliding, spiraling upward in a chase, or murmuring collectively, their endless white noise broken at times by a strident note or string of cheeps. Who, I wondered, was Walt Whitman? That Walt Whitman was a poet—probably America’s greatest, born, improbably, on Long Island—I wouldn’t know for years, and for years more would be a fact to which I felt, at best, indifferent. Even as a teenager, I wouldn’t have thought to visit, not a five-minute drive from the mall, the house preserved by New York State and the Whitman Birthplace Association: a shingled, two-story structure sinking on its stone foundation, wide spaces between its wooden floorboards— the labor of Whitman’s brooding, alcoholic father. When I finally saw the house, my father Carmine at my side cheerful on an expedition I’d invented for the day, what struck me most was how dirty it was, the cramped rooms roped off, filmed with dust, stray brochures discolored or crumpled, strewn or piled in disarray. And at least on that one summer day in 1983, no copy of Leaves of Grass was anywhere displayed. The idea of a life in poetry or prose is, by definition, problematic. Life, for most of us, happens outside of writing, in the so-called “real world” where others press in upon us with their sum of love and grief, their demands and generosities, where events command attention and transform us. But, for writers, life and art are fused in ways that are revealing, even essential, yet seldom chosen. We need only think of Whitman, gregarious yet isolated, a teacher in hometown West Hills or a journalist in Brooklyn, already long at odds with impulse and ambition. Still, tirelessly self-promoting, Whitman lived in the real world, seeking an audience for his verse by any means available. To this end, he actually reviewed Leaves of Grass himself under cover of anonymity, praising, too, an early version of “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking”: “Like the ‘Leaves of Grass,’ the purport of this wild and plaintive song, wellenveloped, and eluding definition, is positive and unquestionable, like the effect of music.” The document, in that distinctive script shared by author and reviewer, appeared in the New York Public Library’s centennial exhibition, only one page among hundreds in a literary reliquary of astonishing range: The Hand of the Poet: Original Manuscripts by 100 Masters. Today, across Long Island, Whitman’s name remains alive, uttered eventually by anyone raised in its suburban sprawl, yet, like my mother Betty who brought me at five to see the Crab Orchard Review ◆ 181


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birds, few know who Whitman was—“chanter of pains and joys, uniter of here and hereafter, / Taking all hints to use them…”—and fewer still would read, or understand, his words. Or, take Georg Trakl, born in Salzburg, Austria, in 1887, dead in November 1914, educated, as far as I know, without awareness of Whitman’s work, his own art’s genesis deriving from the accidents of birth. In Georg Trakl: A Profile, editor and critic Frank Graziano writes, “One can imagine Trakl’s brief, intoxicated life as one that mortifies its flesh only to patch it with poems that bear an uncanny resemblance to scars.” Here is one of those scars, a sonnet imperfectly translated: “Dream of Evil” (in German “Traum des Bösen”). A gong’s brown-golden tones fade, as a lover wakes up in the flicker of dark rooms, his cheek close to the window’s fading flames. Sail, mast, and rope flash on the river. A monk, a pregnant woman in the crush of people—strummed guitars, red blouses shimmer. Chestnuts shrivel in the hot, gold glare; The sad pretension of the church looms harsh and black. From pale masks, a spirit of evil stares. A public square, now gray and dark, grows dreadful. On dim islands, whispers rise— Tonight, the lepers read conflicting signals in the flight of birds. Maybe each limb decays. In the park, a brother and sister’s trembling eyes. Even in my translation, the poem remains uncanny: “Ein Liebender,” or lover, wakes in “schwarzen Zimmern,” black rooms whose windows reflect fire while, along the docks outside, a monk and pregnant woman pass amid the crowd. A church looms, chestnuts roast, the day wanes, and the spirit of evil—“der Geist des Bösen”—stares out from pale faces that look like masks. Voices rise from nearby islands, lepers are baffled by omens read in bird-flight, while anxious siblings meet each other’s gaze: “In the park, a brother and sister’s trembling eyes,” or, in Trakl’s own words, “Im Park erblicken zitternd sich Geschwister.” 182 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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The fourteen lines of Trakl’s sonnet hold the whole unsettling journey from dockside room to fallen world, or worse, while the last line offers a clue to what triggers the darkening mood. But what wound underlies this dream of evil? We don’t need to know every detail of the writer’s life to catch the mood of Trakl’s poem; still, biography is revealing. Georg Trakl was the son of an indifferent hardware magnate and a mother with a weakness for opium and antiques. Despite their affluence, neither parent showed much interest in their children (six altogether) though, from the available evidence, Georg and the younger Grete showed great interest in each other. Too much, in fact: they were almost surely lovers, and if the guilt and damaged psyche their actions brought weren’t enough, Trakl, too, became an addict, later a pharmacist by necessity, and, eventually, a suicide broken by the Great War’s horror. (For him, no “Drum Taps” would bring order out of grief.) With this context, Trakl’s “Dream of Evil” becomes far more accessible, as the poem alone is not—though no poet would say that poems require biography’s support. Still, I can think of few poems besides those of Trakl (or, maybe, Weldon Kees) that so fully evoke the dark mood in all its complex shadings without resorting to confession—that is, the overt disclosure of biography. In “Dream of Evil,” the feelings are already there—in the lines, the unsettling images, the sonnet’s controlled form—without mention of the facts of Trakl’s life. I, too, have a sister in my life, and our relationship is difficult, in part because we were raised in separate households. Indeed, throughout my childhood, family meant only three people: my parents, Carmine and Betty, and myself. It was rare that we three ever went out visiting, and never did my parents leave for the evening as a couple; but weeknight dinners that began at the jangling of my father’s keys, or summer nights spent on the stoop while my parents smoked and talked, gave us the hours together no one else would know. With nights “on call” for plumbing emergencies, Carmine worked a six-day week, while Betty sought in neighbors’ greetings real or imagined slights; these factors left my parents, if not entirely friendless, then largely dependent on their siblings for what social life they had. I was surprised, then, when one night we all went on a drive to Brentwood, the nearby suburb that would soon become our home. Founded as “Modern Times” in its nineteenth-century heyday, a utopian community based on the practice of free love, the Brentwood Crab Orchard Review ◆ 183


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of 1967 held few traces of its past, aside from the white Victorian mansion of the Ross Nursing Home, soon to be razed by fire, the octagonal house on Brentwood Road (a Modern Times construction fad), and the magnificent oaks and pines that then still shaded Suffolk Avenue. The Brentwood of the 1960s was working class suburbia, mostly split-levels or ranches of families Catholic, Jewish, Italian, German, Black, or Puerto Rican, a “village” by legal definition within the larger Islip “township,” all part of the same ongoing sprawl that blurs all borders and distinctions. Together that night, we drove from Smithtown, past the Knight’s Inn at the crossroads, down a dark Route 111, past the stables and silent horses (replaced by state and county offices), then the Wagon Wheel Inn’s orange-and-green neon ring—a dive bar that, for years, would stand in ruins at the roadside, today encased within the shell of some corporate franchise. I couldn’t know that night that I was about to meet my sister, though I wouldn’t know her as such for six more years. Indeed, I wouldn’t find out till then I wasn’t a Balbo at all but a child, through various subterfuges, never even adopted, a legal loose end that still dangles to this day. That night, my father Carmine turned onto Prospect Avenue in a neighborhood where all the streets had been named for streets in Brooklyn, to ensure that, in my childhood, I would get to meet my sister. In mere months, we’d move to Brentwood so Kim and I could become friends and so the women raising us could find some comfort in each other. A sibling is a version of the self, the same dice on a different roll, another set of possibilities. For Kim and me, that feeling runs deeper, the consequence of choice and chance that kept us strangers for seven years and which would keep us apart in other ways long after. Kim was raised as the daughter of Elfie and John Madsen, our German-born paternal grandmother and her second husband; I was raised by Carmine and Betty, our maternal half-aunt and her husband. Growing up, Kim believed our father Don was her half-brother; I knew him as an uncle through marriage. For Kim, our mother Elaine was merely her brother’s wife; for me, an aunt, Betty’s half-sister. And so on, lines of descent and origin later to be revised when Don and Elaine forced out the truth: that they’d conceived then given us up, a choice forced on them, they believed, by fate, limited finances, and family. Anyone who wants to write wonders at some point whether to recount the raw material of a life: is my biography interesting? Would anyone care to read it? But through my teens 184 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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and twenties, I faced the opposite problem: a family story so baroque no one could even follow it. In Yeats’s “The Stolen Child,” the faeries’ summons is a song: “Come away, O human child! / To the waters and the wild / With a faery, hand in hand, / For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” The myth of the changeling holds considerable power: for the human child, the true son or daughter, the faeries substitute their own, a being magical yet troublesome, not of human origin: in short, unnatural. The true child vanishes into “the waters and the wild,” spared human sorrow but also human joy. The adopted child, however, embodies both human child and changeling: cut off from his origin, he strives to adopt a human face, parents struggling to overlook the signs of his inheritance, to turn away neighbors’ suspicions and to quiet rude remarks; but he is also the human child lured from his family’s grasp to find himself brought to a wilderness by strangers. Too soon, our friendship with the Madsens trailed off in petty conflict, though prior to Betty’s death in my first semester of college, the bond enjoyed a brief revival. (Both Elfie and John were dead not two years later; all three were cancer victims and Elfie, tragically, was mauled by a stray dog during her illness.) Whatever their good will, the Madsens were heavy drinkers, a frailty Betty feared might corrupt her son and husband; but with the acquaintance broken, she found herself lonely, again, my father at work all day, the neighborhood not one she’d have selected otherwise: peacocks screaming every morning out of a neighbor’s makeshift barnyard, elsewhere a pigeon coop that trilled and cooed till noon, my father’s “jalopy,” as he called it, stolen and ditched in the woods one night, the BB shots whose target was our picture window. Born “out of wedlock,” a catch phrase then, didn’t apply to us; Kim and I were given away because Elaine was not yet divorced. She feared losing custody of Lance, whom she’d conceived with her first husband—the times were unforgiving of a wife’s adultery—and at her mother and sister’s urging made the arrangements she’d regret. Kim and I weren’t twins (though we sometimes felt we were) but separated by over a year, which means both that Elaine’s divorce was a painful, drawn-out proposition and that she and Don repeated the same mistake. Later, when they married, Don and Elaine would want to see us for visits of uncertain purpose or duration. That we’d become our new identities—the Madsens’ daughter, the Balbos’ son—was an outcome Crab Orchard Review ◆ 185


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they’d not foreseen, and so, they lived a paradox, withholding consent for our adoption, swallowing rage at those who raised us, while zealously hiding our existence from everyone they knew—in effect, erasing us— having convinced themselves they’d acted for our good. In this way, Betty lost the friendship of her only living sister through the very son who should have brought them close. Of Elizabeth Bishop, poet and critic Dana Gioia writes, “For some of us coming to maturity in the late sixties or seventies, Bishop’s personal example deeply influenced our sense of what it meant to be a serious poet. This assertion may seem odd to those who remember how little was known about her life at that point, but her determined privacy was an essential part of her attraction.” By now the facts of Bishop’s life are better known, thanks, in part, to an interview conducted by Elizabeth Spires. There, Bishop described her child-self as “fearfully observant… You notice all kinds of things, but there’s no way of putting them all together.” At only eight months, the poet had lost her father, and she told Spires, “My mother went crazy when I was four or five years old.” Thereafter, various relatives cared for Bishop—“they all felt so sorry…that they tried to do their very best”—until she was old enough for boarding school. In the Winter 1992 Georgia Review, we learned more of these years’ effects from three never-before-seen poems, enriched by Thomas Travisano’s commentary; one of these, “A Drunkard,” describes “a terrifying historical incident, the Great Salem Fire, from the perspective of a three-year-old child. The fire took place on 25 June 1914…[and] devastated 252 acres, destroyed 1,800 buildings, and rendered 15,000 people homeless.…More significantly, it alludes frankly to Bishop’s lifelong problem with alcohol—an admission made nowhere in her published work—and explores feelings of guilt and anger toward her mother more directly than anything she published.” The poem begins with Bishop’s characteristic detachment: When I was three, I watched the Salem fire. It burned all night (or then I thought it did) and I stood in my crib & watched it burn. The sky was bright red; everything was red out on the lawn, my mother’s white dress looked rose-red; my white enameled crib was red and my hands holding to its rods— the brass knobs holding specks of fire— 186 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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Here we find, as in Trakl’s “Dream,” another fire glimpsed from a room, as Bishop beholds a world plunged into conflagration; yet Bishop’s poem, unlike Trakl’s, is the product of an ordered mind: I felt not fear but amazement, maybe my infancy’s chief emotion. People were playing hoses on the roofs of the summer cottages on Marblehead Neck; the red sky was filled with flying motes, cinders and coals, and bigger things, burnt black. The next day, “clouds of smoke” still visible, the beach is filled with “strange objects [that] seemed to have blown across the water: / lifted by that terrible heat, through the red sky?”; but when Bishop lifts up “a woman’s long black cotton / stocking,” her mother reprimands her, “Put that down!” We all recognize this moment: the shame of having broken some taboo never explained, the child’s flush of rage at her own lack of understanding and for the surprise attack of a parent’s sudden scolding. Still, we as readers (and Bishop as writer) see the mother’s point of view: her daughter may have just picked up the stocking of a corpse. It is an image charged with terror: the mother’s sight of her own child touching what’s touched the dead (so intimately, as well), the daughter handling death itself, innocent of this small act’s gravity. The moment the poem selects is poignant: two years later, Bishop’s mother would suffer a final breakdown to begin what would become lifelong institutionalization. This painful memory, then, is one of only a precious few, culled from an age when memory itself is fragmented, imperfect. Bishop’s poem resolves with self-revelation and retreat: But since that night, that day, that reprimand I have suffered from abnormal thirst— I swear it’s true—and by the age of twenty or twenty-one I had begun to drink, & drink—I can’t get enough and, as you must have noticed, I’m half-drunk now… And all I’m telling you may be a lie…

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If so, what kind of lie? The lie inherent in our attempts to reconstruct the past? The imperfections and gaps of memory, the vagaries of interpretation? And if drunkards aren’t, after all, always reliable, so, too, are they known for voicing truths others suppress. I was fortunate to hear, in the last months of her life, Elizabeth Bishop at Vassar College, her alma mater (and my own thanks to a scholarship’s support). She sat in Cushing Hall, habitually smoking, reading and speaking gently before faculty and students. Who can imagine her reading “A Drunkard”? Yet, she was compelled to write it: what we must write, and what we must publish, are matters to consider separately. Anything we write, to some degree, reveals our lives, consciously or not, by inclusion or evasion. A critic decades later may seek to redress the writer’s error: today, we value any insight into Elizabeth Bishop’s work, and a poem as good as “A Drunkard” surely calls for our attention. In our media- and publicity-driven culture, Bishop’s stance seems quaint. Today, we withhold secrets only long enough to expose them; no public figure dares presume the right to a private life, and we have to assume our own secrets will one day face exposure, so much so that we announce them before our adversaries can: the better to guide disclosure, the better to control the “spin.” And yet, this trend offers an advantage. What passed for privacy years ago, with its command to mute our voices, was often used to silence us, to sustain the power of the strong: to silence women, suppress our children, or our neighbors. We were told to turn away, to shut out what we witnessed: the consequences of segregation, the dangers of the workplace, corruption of the environment, the violence in our own homes. In Whitman’s time, the New York Herald, one of Manhattan’s “penny papers,” drew criticism for its then-novel sensationalist approach—its stories of crime, disaster, violence, vice, and murder. Yet in the 1840s, Whitman himself worked at the Aurora, one of dozens of penny papers competing with the Herald. If, as Andrew Ciofalo writes, a number of Whitman’s poems originated in his prose, then generosity of spirit may not be incompatible with knowledge of human nature’s darker facets. Indeed, by the 1860s, having witnessed suffering that no one could sensationalize—the Civil War’s vast casualties— Whitman wrote of his long months tending to dying and wounded men: From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand, I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the matter and blood; 188 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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Back on his pillow the soldier bends, with curv’d neck, and side-falling head; His eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on the bloody stump, And has not yet look’d on it. With the rise of modern journalism and the devastation of civil war, worlds previously hidden, on which so many had turned their backs, rose suddenly to light, forcing us to look upon them. But if the power to expose no longer holds surprise or impact, jaded as we’ve become by all we’ve seen or read, so much the better, after all. As mere shock loses its force, the content and form of what we offer regain primary importance. The impulse, emotional or aesthetic, that compels us to disclose must offer writers and readers something worthy of the telling. Yet for those touched by adoption, disclosure is countered by a powerful opposing urge toward silence. For Betty, as for so many adoptive parents, concealing her child’s origin served a higher purpose: that of fierce devotion, its proofs offered anew each day, more compelling than some account of how I came into her home. Betty and Carmine never thought to question adoption’s secrecy—few back then could envision alternatives, and an illegitimate birth still held its lingering stigma—but, most of all, for adoptive parents, disclosure offered no advantage: telling the truth might cast in doubt their authenticity as parents and so remained a step avoided or delayed. In a culture that reflexively seeks likeness in its children, strangers offering casual verdicts on whom we do or don’t resemble, to live as adoptive parents is to struggle every day with yet another tactless inquiry or ill-conceived assertion, one more reminder of the bond that they experience so intensely, yet find subject to skepticism or contempt. No wonder Betty and Elfie tried to form a friendship: together, free to relax their guard, they could forget, for a few hours, the fear of what some chance remark might inadvertently reveal, as well as the daily, draining effort of regulating what they said. For biological parents, the issues are less clear. Until recently, those who gave up children enjoyed the protection of sealed records, the absolute dead end of any adopted person’s quest; yet birth parents faced that same wall, forbidden to seek out those they lost, a stricture that reinforced the gravity of their choice. The grief of parents who give up a child cannot be overstated, especially that of single women Crab Orchard Review ◆ 189


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with few options or support. But in the absence of formal adoption, as in the case of Kim and me, how does the equation change? Can birth parents who stay together shift identities at will, pretending for years to be uncle and aunt, older brother and sister-in-law, biding their time till they see an opening to take off the masks they wear, only to put them on again at their convenience? Former Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress, Maryland Poet Laureate, short story writer, literary journalist, and celebrated woman of letters Josephine Jacobsen has asked the crucial questions of autobiography and art: “What do I remember, and what is worth remembering? It is important to know the difference. Too often what persists most sharply is something small and intense, while large changes stay merely as cumbersome facts.” Jacobsen reminds us also, in recounting the facts of her life, “It may seem odd that, in looking back, I have spent so much time on the first twenty-five years of my life; but I realized some time ago that it was these formative years which set in motion everything else: who I was, where I came from, what I wanted. The rest is the development of that seed.” Already fatherless at five—a stroke had paralyzed Joseph Boylan a full two years before he died—Jacobsen underwent unsettled years of travel with her mother, like Bishop “fearfully observant” wherever she stayed. How much, then, of Jacobsen’s work attempts to comprehend those events that bring order or disorder to our lives? How many of her stories, ending so often with a death, reflect this early intimacy with grief? A story drawn from “these formative years” by her own admission, Jacobsen’s “Atlantic City” depicts people—indeed, a world—in the act of disappearing. World War I is breaking out, the Great War that broke Trakl, while a child and her mother stay at an Atlantic City hotel; there, its manager, Mr. Zubach, kindly friend to child and mother, is summarily dismissed because he’s German. As a child who lost her father, a fact at which the story hints only through his absence, Jacobsen feels the tug of grief, connecting a vanished cousin missing at sea in the midst of war with Zubach’s exit from their lives and, indeed, the passing of an era: “The last, the final war was out there, on the black water. That was the Atlantic Ocean. Huge and black it came over my mind like the tower of a wave, pulling into itself the patient chair-pushers, my smiling Japanese scorers, Mr. Zubach, my Atlantic City.” And so, too, had the black Atlantic 190 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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drowned the world that Whitman knew—West Hills’ farms and schoolyards, blacksmith shops and Indian trails, to raise, in those years that followed another, second “final war,” both the mall I still remember and the one that stands there now. In today’s Walt Whitman Mall, the aviaries are long gone, as are the commisioned mobiles that once hung over the crowds and cages, designed by sculptor Bogdon Grom with inspiration from Leaves of Grass, elegant abstractions lost on most who passed below. There, Walt Whitman is a brand name as opposed to body of work, less person than pleasing sound, an alliterative convenience for invoking civic pride, a catch phrase used to advertise a market. But that was not always the case. According to the New York Times of May 29, 1905, to the dismay of the local women’s Colonial Society, Frank J. Rogers, then-occupant of Whitman’s birthplace, forbade a tablet honoring him on either the building or the grounds: “‘You can’t advertise any poet by using my house,’ he said,” articulating the insight, however accidentally, that consumerism and poetry cannot easily coexist. But lives evolve, the world transforms, and even a climatecontrolled market, its ceiling space cathedral-high, seems poetic when reshaped by memory. We value the vanished world, whether composed of empty landscape, or dug up and paved over; always, that which is past takes on intrinsic value. Louise Glück’s “Meridian” captures just such a transient moment—“Long Island Sound’s / Asleep: no wind / Rustles down the inlet / In the sagging light / As, stalled at / Vanishing, two Sunday sailboats / Wait it out”—while Marvin Bell’s “The Home Front” evokes the South Shore’s Center Moriches in the shadow of World War II: “German submarines were an idea we watched / off the south shore of Long Island…I spent afternoons at the Bay / watching for unidentified airplanes.…” More recently, Kathy Fagan’s “A Summer Song Cycle” recounts a Fourth of July picnic during the 1960s: “We children squad up to eat with our families, spitting melon seeds, knifing clams, / Holding their grainy meat on our tongues / While flames lick blue through the blackening grill and copters circle, looking for fireworks: / For the first one blowing itself over Hempstead.” For the child who was Walt Whitman, in Justin Kaplan’s reconstruction, “The sun rose in the morning, his father set out for work.…In the evening herds of mongrel cattle and rat-tailed sheep Crab Orchard Review ◆ 191


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were driven homeward from their grazing on the Hempstead plains.…In the quiet after storms he heard the roar of the Atlantic surf. Half a mile from the house, from the top of Jayne’s Hill, the highest point on the island, he could look out over Great South Bay, Jones’ Beach, and the ocean beyond—to the north he saw Long Island Sound and the Connecticut shore.” What would he see now? Today, Jayne’s Hill belongs to West Hills County Park, which includes most of the family holdings, and the highway closest to Whitman’s birthplace is the infamous Route 110, known for its noise, diners, traffic, repair shops, chain stores, corporate offices. And, of course, the mall whose decal—emblazoned on every entrance, vivid green against the glass—is a triple-leafed, cartoonish blade of grass. In Walt Whitman: A Life, Kaplan quotes Louisa Whitman writing of her son, “He was a very good, but very strange boy,” while Whitman himself would recollect, “The time of my boyhood was a very restless and unhappy one; I did not know what to do.” Later in life, Whitman would seek in both parents the seed of himself, altering his personal myth as time and circumstance required: “All through young and middle age, I thought my heredity stamp was mainly decidedly from my mother’s side; but as I grow older, and latent traits come out, I see my father’s also.” But to what parents or predecessors should an adopted child look? To his flawed adoptive mother, reluctant to leave her son unwatched for fear her own sister might come to claim him in her absence? To his flawed adoptive father, dead now almost two years, even-tempered until pushed, more often playful, eager to please? To whom should brother and sister look? To those incomprehensible people who’d never fully call us theirs yet never quite give up their claim, their young lives ruled by love and rage, their middle age and golden years consoled by sons born to replace us, by the prosperity they valued more than blood? Today, my sister is married and still living on Long Island, with two sons of her own who have never met their grandparents—not those who raised their mother, nor those who gave her away—though they knew my father Carmine during his last few years, stopping at his apartment across from Brentwood’s St. Anne’s Church, spreading their toys out on the floor or banging out noise on the piano, wandering outside to the grounds while Kim and I watched from the sidewalk, till Carmine hailed and joined us with his folding chair. Kim, on the whole, is well; a skin cancer survivor, she’s self-conscious about the scar that 192 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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runs jaggedly up one arm, the result of surgery to address the risk of undetected disease. Even before her gentle Teamster husband lost his job (a longtime boyfriend of whom Elaine had vehemently disapproved), Kim worked part-time at a factory to help pay off the mortgage, a full-time mother most of the time, resolved to spend time with her kids, a blue-collar wife who faces parenthood with full determination. For their part, Don and Elaine live not a half hour’s drive away in exclusive St. James part of the year, and in St. Croix when winter threatens. Their two acknowledged sons, born as the sixties waned, graduated from Long Island’s La Salle Military Academy, a boarding school that since their time has given up its mission, thrown open its doors to women, and gingerly stepped into the future, having supplied for Don and Elaine, after their years of trial and error, a form of child abandonment entirely respectable. Neither speaks with Kim nor offers support of any kind, having failed through the years to mend the griefs that joined their lives, or to refrain from criticizing a daughter raised as someone else, who too clearly shows the scars of all the losses she has suffered, whose friendship called for understanding that they’d failed to extend. For Don and Elaine, discretion—what they’d call privacy—was a way to escape the scandal that their fears exaggerated, a way to evade financial support for their own daughter and son during the years a growing business brought them unexpected wealth. For them, disclosure was a tactic meant to reassert their claim once Kim and I had reached our teens and the prospect of raising us had passed. Sometimes I think of our high school days, the bus-frame rattling on bad roads, Kim and I in separate seats, at times glancing at each other: both burdened by our secret, we’d get off at different stops, our paths taking us different ways, to separate houses, separate lives, the flap-door squealing as it clattered, the school bus rumbling into dusk, bright afternoon, or falling snow. To whom, back then, should we have looked? Now only I survive to recall the family that was mine, the first parents I knew before the truth dispelled all trust; not to disclose what I remember is to let it disappear, like those long drives to the mall in a ’57 Buick—Betty’s pride, mint-green and white, in mint condition over a decade—where we’d glide past empty fields, a barn carved halfway into a hill, down Jericho Turnpike with its farm stands Crab Orchard Review ◆ 193


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of cucumbers and tomatos, past the greenhouse where we’d found the raspberry bushes for our garden, Flying A and Esso stations, Sinclair’s big green dinosaur—these, too, I remember, logos diminishing behind us, a restaurant’s tower and looming windmill telling us that we were near, other landmarks still to come, Walt Whitman’s finches just ahead. Years from then, we’d have our own finches, crowded into a cage, their aggression concentrated into a cramped, uncertain space, one Lavender Finch so cruelly dominant Betty felt compelled to drown it—“out of mercy to the others,” she quite reasonably explained, filling a sandwich bag with water, born of an era in which neighbors raised and slaughtered their own game, her better judgement compromised by long hours of isolation, writing letters to Polish cousins or mission priests she’d never meet. But I try not to think of that. Instead, I recall how I’d looked forward to the sight of Whitman’s finches, especially the smallest who’d slip through the bars somehow and fly up wildly toward the ceiling only to fall again and end up clinging hopelessly to the cage. I’d glimpse, on the ride home, through darkness broken by cars and neon, the splendid Huntington Townhouse set far away uphill, spotlights on its stone façade, its chandeliers and central stairway, visible through glass, cascading in light and movement: a wedding reception or senior prom, some purpose past my understanding. Soon, we’d near the Thunderbird Diner and its electric vertical sign, mock totem pole with Old West lettering. What else hovered in the darkness? Next to me, my mother drove, lipstick carefully applied, earrings audible when shaken, both hands steady on the wheel. What would we have talked about? I only remember what I saw: out across the hood, taillights glimmering ahead, the road a river that ran below us, seemingly endless, toward the east. Press close, magnetic nourishing night! Whatever else I might have known but pushed beyond all conscious thought, what more suspected or overheard but not yet fully understood, I knew that Betty was my mother as I knew, too, that we’d reach home, soon to join my father at dinner or to wait till he joined us. And miles behind us, through the dark, Whitman’s finches trilled and whistled—illusory, an error born of small misunderstandings— tumbling from the bars, singing in their cage.

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Ned Balbo Sources: –Marvin Bell. “The Home Front.” Residue of Song. Atheneum: New York, 1974. –Elizabeth Bishop. “A Drunkard, Salem Willows, and Suicide of a Moderate Dictator: Three Previously Unpublished Poems (with an Afterword by Thomas Travisano).” Georgia Review, Vol. XLVI, No. 4, Winter 1992. –Rick Burns, director. New York: A Documentary Film. Order and Disorder. Episode Two: 1825-1865. Steeplechase Films, 1999. –Andrew Ciofalo. “The Muse in the News.” The Writer’s Chronicle, Vol. 34, No. 4, February 2002. –Enjoy your finches. (Earl Schneider, editor). The Pet Library: New York, 1967. –Kathy Fagan. “A Summer Song Cycle.” The Raft. Dutton: New York, 1985. –Dana Gioia. “The Example of Elizabeth Bishop.” Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture. Graywolf: St. Paul, MN, 1992. –Louise Glück. “Meridian.” Firstborn. Ecco: New York, 1983. –Frank Graziano, editor and translator. Georg Trakl: A Profile. LogbridgeRhodes: Durango, CO, 1983. –Huntington; Huntington Bay; Huntington Station; Melville; West Hills; Brentwood. Home Town Long Island: the history of every community on Long Island in stories and photographs. (Newsday: Garden City, 1999). –Josephine Jacobsen. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 244: American Short-Story Writers Since World War II. The Gale Group: Farmington Hills, MI, 2001. –Justin Kaplan. Walt Whitman: A Life. Simon and Schuster: New York, 1980. –Anne Norton. “The Signs of Shopping.” Signs of Life in the USA (Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon, editors). Bedford Books: Boston, 1997. –Rodney Phillips, Susan Benesch, Kenneth Beason, and Barbara Bergeron. With essays by Dana Gioia. Walt Whitman 1819–1892. The Hand of the Poet. Rizzoli: New York, 1997. –Sr. Anne Frances Pulling. Images of America: Around Central Islip. Arcadia/Chalford: Dover, NH, 1998. –Elizabeth Spires. “Elizabeth Bishop” [interview]. Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews (George Plimpton, editor). Penguin: New York, 1985. –Georg Trakl. “Dream of Evil” (translated by Ned Balbo). Verse, Vol. 10, No. 2, Summer 1993. –Georg Trakl. Translator’s Introduction. Song of the West: Selected Poems of Georg Trakl (Robert Firmage, editor). North Point Press: San Francisco, 1988. –Walt Whitman. “A Word out of the Sea,” “The Dresser,” and “Leaves of Grass” (1855). Walt Whitman: Selected Poems 1855-1892 (Gary Schmidgall, editor). St. Martin’s Press: New York, 1999.

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Jennifer Richter

I Am the Woman in Dong Xuan Market

Women row out singing dawn across the waters; to every lotus they tip their boats, sink their knives, bend their chests to every wet stem that hangs its heavy bloom over the edge of the girl’s basket on Quan Su Street. Back when my body was all yours, we walked that street, the Hanoi heat a weight until you saw her, stopped, and picked out six for me. She wrapped the bunch in one fanned leaf, tied it with vine so I could carry the deep pink buds curled tight as our son inside me now. Because the lotuses stayed that way, unopened, expectant, magnificent till our last day, you offered them as we left to the woman at the guest house desk. She opened her palms, bowed her head, then raised it slightly—her face all sun and song. You have always been this selfless though I’m amazed now, the way—another gift— you gladly share my body with our son. Times I can’t get beyond myself to you, when I can only lie by your side, you slowly sweep the hair from my forehead

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and wait, sometimes all day, for my touch that may or may not come. You understand, even those times I am the woman in Dong Xuan marketâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; sun slicking the organs on her chopping block, the air wet with flesh, blood warm on the wood. With one hand she holds up her heart, thrusting it out; the other shoos the flies, waving you off. You, Love, are the one selling lotuses, patient in the shade.

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Jennifer Richter

They Name Each Other Jesus

Through news-flickering rooms again tonight they orbit in tight fists, ravage each other with squalls. They have brought us from bed to the moon making soapstone of our still bodies and from here we can see it all: stroke that sweeps away dinner plates, clock and cross above their sink, TV map of many suns and then the featured man who holds with two fingers a spoon’s neck and stares till it moves, the round face arcing up then back exactly like yours above mine. We will not touch again until they do, your neighbors becoming your father working his words in predictable loops, your bead-fingering mother who taught you faith in repetition: the clock’s arms meeting once an hour, the similar voices of sex and rage when after words bodies lace together like prayer hands. Fog prowls the ridge in this grounded world below stars in the night run riot. Window-lit proof of houses spills down the ravine. They name each other Jesus with their screams.

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Andrea Scott

Elegy for the Breath in a Broken Lake

When the leaf uncurls its papery tongue and opens a skin so thin that it hurts to touch, I turn and you pull me toward you and say nothing at all. And I think how empty the stars are, the moon, pushing off light as they do, waning a surface circularity of water and heat. Or how the week he died, all I wanted to do was make love, to push you through a seam of night so full of seed it might burst. I thought of how the dead lie toe to toe in their insular sleeps, how they must smile a little on their backs as we take each other in and run. An infant forms itself finger by finger in the dark. The birch tree releases its moon. And months later the snow is falling like wild birds who no longer care about danger or tradition. Lately, I have caught myself singing. It hums up slow at first until it catches and swerves. An impossible song, pulling out from a piano like an angel, hoary and restless and absurd. She slips in the heels of my shoes when I walk. Don’t you see? Don’t you see?

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Peggy Shumaker

Smoke

One hundred thirty moose in a single pond suck shallow breaths. Snarls of black spruce boom, flash paper, gone. Two hundred thousand acres, gray batting. Air sears. Wax drips. Cones that need fire crack. Seeds drop while the ashbedâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hot. Shifty wind, deadly blessing.

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Peggy Shumaker

Nests, an Elegy

In a few seasons, willows will reinvade this burn, slender red shoots prime browse. Even scorched earth provides. This burn, the size of Phoenix, didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t touch a single human house. But migrants nest here, returning some of them from Tierra del Fuego to this literal land of fire, their memories

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tribal, alive in every cell. They come back, the goldeneyes forced to abandon this year’s pale green clutch in the hollow just catching. Buffleheads flare higher, their nests tinder twenty feet up. The marshhawk’s bowl of dead reeds, rock ptarmigan’s grass and moss, the snowy owl’s lichens and feathers exposed on bare tundra, the ruffed grouse’s depression lined with leaves, the great horned owl’s open surface, charred, the falcon cleared out, peregrine along rivers of smoke, blind but rising, ashes rising.

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Peggy Shumaker

Just This Once

Everyone else snores. Black nets billow, let in a few mosquitoes. I sneak out, careful to prop shut the cabin door so porcupines won’t be tempted, pull on hip waders folded knee-high, head up the path not singing, not calling out, not jangling bells to warn the one who left tracks bigger than ours at the edge of the water and her spring cub who dawdled behind, clawing up storm clouds of silt— undisturbed and not disturbing I stand still breathing in sphagnum’s mossy sigh quiet after loon calls, follow Crab Orchard Review ◆ 203


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unmarked paths left by stars too wild to show themselves anywhere but here, inhale her nursing musk, the bear I know is there.

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Maurya Simon

Conversation with a Friend in Mourning

You ask me what’s the meaning of our lives: does Death, that deft old necromancer, thrive to sharpen our gaze while he whittles us down each day? And does he cut our smiles with ice to harden our resolve, while grabbing us around the waist, to twirl us, dance us into oblivion, our heartbeats tuned to his? Yes, I say, but isn’t he our debt to love, the price we pay for cherishing the flesh? And what can Self mean now, you ask of me, this so unwholesome, sweet, dark web of being that feeds off others, and that endlessly breeds hatchlings of eight-legged longings in us? For when the body sheds itself, and our ephemeral souls, nameless, voiceless, exit from cells in which each “I” was housed, we fall headlong into oblivion, comets which fizzle out in briefly dazzling light— Please tell me, you demand, how I can live, go on with living, without my husband’s touch? And I say—joy’s the essence death can’t purge, nor life deplete, nor the self unmanufacture: Joy spins itself from dust, reforms its atoms, co-mingles quietly with hope, so that

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Maurya Simon

our slightest touch will scatter its pollen in a cloud of motes, infect the air with reverence, an iridescence that opens up our throats.

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Myrna Stone

Call Up the Dead and They Come to You for Joan Paulus Call up the dead and they come to you in sweet compliance, one after another the heart’s abiding witness renewed in this tangible life—thus we construe the loss of family, of friends and lovers. Call up the dead and they come to you in a sheer raiment of light to review our reclamation of the past, to recover the heart’s abiding witness renewed in its narration, our spirits imbued with the awful grace of their endeavor. Call up the dead and they come to you in a veil of dusk through which they eschew the rapture of this world for that of the other, the heart’s abiding witness renewed even there. And to you, dear friend, who speaks now of despair, I offer this succor: call up the dead and they come to you, the heart’s abiding witness renewed.

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Maria Terrone

Compass

I. August 21, 2001 A week after the silent attack beneath the maple tree, the sidewalk stain has faded from our super’s brush, bleach, and rain. Someone carried off the photo and vigil candles, leaving wax to seal the ground like a letter his friends don’t need to open now, knowing the last lines. I’ve watched shopping carts and roller blades cross that concrete slab. A child pulling a toy wagon. Chinese restaurant workers pedaling to the next delivery, uniforms white as priests’ robes. And New York detectives in pairs, avuncular, who paced the spot, pressing cards into my hand, urging me to stay in touch: all the wheels turning.

II. Early December The last constellation of leaves lies like jagged stars. What did I expect this season of grief but the usual turning?

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One person here never made it home; then across the river, thousands. Thousands of candle flames shook at the sky, demanding to know where they’d vanished. Voids may hold life inside the rubble, experts said, trying to conjure hope from nothing. So they dug and confirmed our doubts: nothing still equals nothing. If I lived in another time, I’d find divine design in every death by plague or arrow, I’d draw lines through the teeming sky to summon centaur and archer, all the gods would point the way. My cosmology is simple: at the center of the universe are these tangled boughs, a cat’s cradle rocking against a cold alabaster sky; at the end of one branch, this spare scattering of gold. I want to name the shape of what remains “Cup of Mercy Major” and use its light to trace every son and daughter lost in the tumult, to call forth eyes, ears, lips, every shining face.

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Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

My Neighbors’ Dogs

All my neighbors have dogs, uncountable breeds of dogs, little leashes around their dog necks. My neighbors train their dogs to bark at dawn like the rooster, to rouse the whole neighborhood out of its sleep. In the evening when I come home from work, these yelping, howling, overweight dogs welcome my car from the street into my driveway. My next-door neighbor’s dog wants to tear down our wire fence. Giant claws and teeth, its elephant body at the fence. Someone needs to speak to that dog. There are people in this world who live on dogs, who will not understand a dog in bed, a dog on a couch, a dog yelping. There are places in this world where kindhearted people eat dog at dinner. But one neighbor keeps hers under her comforter. Another ties her dog to our shared fence, in the rain, in snow or sleet. My neighbor has decided to keep her dog chained to our fence, in case the gas meter reader misses the meter, or the prowler comes in while we’re all gone. All my neighbors share their dogs with me. That bark at 2 A .M., when all I need is sleep, my neighbor’s poodles are on water pills. They pee all night, and my neighbor loves it that her little sweet poodles keep us all awake. At my backyard, I stand in my driveway for my other neighbor’s dog to bark until 210 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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it runs out of saliva. The dog wants to tear down the wire fence that keeps us all apart, our common fence with nothing common between us, its invisible line keeping us from knowing one another. My neighborsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; dogs are so kind. One of these days, they may eat away our fence.

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Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

Until the Plane Drops

At 2 in the morning, I sit at the edge of my bed because I want to see how the world will destroy itself. That’s why some people sleep with their dogs in bed. A dog will bark even at 4 AM, that most solitary hour of the morning. They say it was that same hour during which all of Jesus’ disciples fell asleep, before the Roman guards arrived. A dog will yelp or bark or howl before the atomic bomb falls, before the blast goes off. A dog can see a falling bomb even at midnight. Back in my home country, everyone is fleeing home before Taylor and his men finally destroy us all. But the people in my new town don’t know how the wars we can’t see will consume us all someday. We are hiding underneath our blankets, and at work, we talk about the hot sun and the snow and the trees coming out of hiding after winter. We talk about vacations in the mountains and on the beaches and the new software that will set the pace in today’s world. We love the things that don’t matter at all. My professor says to write poetry about the surreal, about invisible goddesses in the sky, the goddesses we’ll never know. That’s because it is 212 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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an abomination to know the world’s pain. That’s because we’re afraid that when the airline stewardess tells us how to place the air mask over our faces before the air goes out, when all that’s left to us is empty space, and the plane is about to crash, she really is telling us to shut our eyes tight until the plane drops.

Note: Taylor—The warlord Charles Taylor led armed rebels invading Liberia at the beginning of their civil war in December 1989. The war ravaged much of the country, killing over a quarter million and displacing more than a million of the prewar 2.5 million Liberians. In 1997, the chief rebel leader took power despite much opposition from half a dozen other rebel factions; Taylor was supposedly elected by a majority and has since reigned over his country with terror. In 2001, the United Nations imposed an economic and travel embargo on Taylor and his government. Today, Taylor continues to rule Liberia despite continuing human rights abuses, and the international human rights organizations have called on him to end the violence. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 213


Carolyn Beard Whitlow

Basement

Whether empty-handed or with bags, books, at the side door always a decision— up to paper thin or down to cinder block walls. Gravity compels, hauls me down back to where ever the sun is stingy on porous surfaces. Strangle the chain cord of a naked bulb. Behind criss-crossed clotheslines hung with hard dried shirts in the dank, hear the tangled gurgle of the washer empty its font of stagnant water into double-breasted iron sinks, hear the foot-pedaled ironer churn, roll its hissing steam on flat-pressed shorts, table linens, unstained sheets, grapple, strain binding, magnetic force, tensile strength in her hands’ firm hold on the cloth. Once, barely eleven, I toppled the stairs. My mother stood glaring down, her only words that time, “You know you can get pregnant.” Her only words this, “Don’t be an open road split like thighs.”

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Lisa Williams

Expulsion

The serpent was the tongue between them, the lashing tongue as each tree was a gesture as the ground was brooding quiet like a wing laid flat when they lay together murmuring of forbidden fruit, the only fruit they could not cultivate them -selves. Their naked time together stilled all the tongues in the garden: those of sleek parrots, those of insects, those of the quiet, untroubled, stuttering doves, god’s latest gesture and filial guards. The doves’ throats gestured watery trills, rain on the fruit of their longing. When they held one another, quiet slipped through wet leaves and the noises between them, stuff of breath and limbs and carnal tongues, flared holy. But a cry filled the air. They stood up together, made way to the place where gnarled limbs branched together at one trunk like a man’s. The long gestures of the serpent’s body wagged a blackened tongue that shook free the fruit held by the limbs’ arms. There was no face to be seen. Then, after its flame-like cry and twisting ended, the serpent quietly slid to the land as if dead. The two quiet mouths twitched. She touched. A few fingers used to gather fruit were singed. She placed them in his mouth. The great limbs shuddered, bark cracked, and He appeared, ruined fruit at his feet, eyes rolling, no speech but a tongue that spewed flame. Above them, the doves’ tongues changed from trills to trumpets, a gesture that emptied quiet Crab Orchard Review ◆ 215


Lisa Williams

arbors everywhere. They stood ready to burn themselves before the other, limbs slick with the pulp of fallen fruit.

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Robert Wrigley

Show and Tell

Because I was already late, the new, expensive, hi-tech garage door opener—half a horse strong—jammed somehow and folded the door itself in two, which caused it to crash onto the car, that as it turned out had been captive there most of the week anyway, because I’d forgotten and hadn’t yet moved the truckload of firewood off the driveway to the shed where it belonged, for after all, it was raining, and I had hoped the sun would shine and dry everything out first, which, if it had, might have changed everything, might even have kept the grouse from flying half-blind and brought up by our own dogs into the window, the big living room window, shattering it, and I thought, even as I taped a plastic garbage bag over the jagged opening, surely the dump truck of gravel for the viscous muddy end of the driveway will arrive soon, and lo, there it was, a regrettable two minutes behind the glazier’s van, by then stalled, mired in the muck that had gone all summer long untroubled and hard as marble, much harder my daughter insisted than her schoolwork, so dull, so boring, so deadly, she just wants to scream or go to Europe and live the life of an artiste, a word which caused her brother to snort, for he just wants to get satellite TV, so he can watch “Battlebots,” the point of which, I was somehow able to gather, is two very well-made machines going at one another until one is killed, thrashed, done in, and I said, Come here, son, there’s something I want you to see.

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Robert Wrigley

The Snake in the Trough

It must have jeweled a moment or two the troughâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s west edge, that rattlesnake; it must have climbed slow as a stem up the ancient side of cedar planks, over nodules of tar sun-softened and oozed from a seam, to rest on the neck-rounded splintering rim and test the fierce August air with its tongue. Then it would have turned, curled, hunched sidelong at its middle, and leaned at least half its length down toward the water. In a dry season, in a drought most of a decade long, the old spring, the one the locals called everlasting, had slowed to a warble of semi-constant drops, and in the heat of the day the horse in the pasture could drink it dry in one long lap. But this was morning, and maybe the horse hung its head under the only shade tree, and the snake would have gone down then like an expensive machine, like a well-oiled, hydraulic arm toward the low water, so low if you had been there you would have had to move too close 218 â&#x2014;&#x2020; Crab Orchard Review


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to see it dip its slick scaled chin into the sky-shimmering surface, where your own face would have floated too, as the horse’s must have soon. And a snake would not have needed much water—a drop, maybe three or four— but then, its drinking mechanism inefficient, maybe, or maybe just basking in the tepid watery languor there, it stayed and stayed, its head immobile, dreaming, its tense anchoring end relaxed and unclenched, which made it fall —no ooze or elegant peristalsis now, no slitherward unweighting and lunge strike but a wet thud and thrash, and then its rapid esses swimming. The wedge of its head rising at each attempt out would have been no more than the span of a man’s hand toward the top— all of which the landowner surmised after he heard the boom, the kick of the Morgan gelding’s heavily shod front hoof against the trough, and after he saw the old horse rear back, water coursing from its muzzle and a yard-long snake dangling from its upper lip like the strap of a broken headstall. Though the man did not take time to grab a snake-killing shovel or hoe, still there was the wire gate to pass through, the johnson-bar on a chain unslinging the tightly strung closure, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 219


Robert Wrigley

but slowly, so that he only caught on a lucky glance up the snake at a seventh or eighth head whip flung loose into bunchgrass and wild timothy, and the gelding at a dead panicked run take loose the fence’s two top strands—the popped staples dropping down the fence line like a squall of audible rain— and tumbling over headfirst, its neck-broke last thrashes subsiding just as he arrived. That was what he saw then, that, and the punctures of the fangs on the horse’s lip, he said, by the time the rest of us arrived not healed, but not bloody either, and the wounds from the barbed wire not so much different really than a snake’s, so we scuffed the dirt where we stood, while someone fastened a chain around the dead gelding’s hocks and hooked the other end to the tractor’s bucket, so that the carcass might be dragged out and hoisted into the renderer’s truck. This was a thousand-pound useful animal after all, dead, and the dust it would neither be nor raise again mattered less than the knowing, and the knowing did not matter at all, the snake in the trough being everything by now, the myth of it a parable we could keep on living by, as we walked the fields and pastures and killed as we came across it every snake we encountered there, 220 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Robert Wrigley

believing each time we did surely this was the one, the snake we feared, its animal thirst having felled a horse.

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Nicole Louise Reid

Careless Fish

There was a boy, once, who dove into our lake. I didn’t know him. No one did. It was years before we ever moved here. Still, he is a boy. He dove from shore, like we all know not to do, and careened into a sunken trashcan lying on its side. The board of directors still pays the lawyers and he still is a stuck boy—smashed and limp, I imagine, in his chair or bed. Lake water is green with all the algae my father says means it’s healthy. Slimy, tangly, tickly. There’s no way to see bottom beyond the first foot from shore. There may be sunken cans everywhere. In the two weeks of enough cold—end of January and beginning February—the water freezes silver and grey: every ripple of water reluctant to freeze, every layer paints the walls of hundreds of trashcans. In winter, I swear never to swim again. In winter, I tell my brother he’s never to dive again. He doesn’t listen. He loves the row of thick pilings along the inlet wall. All summer, he climbs them, then stands straight as they do, and in one breath he’s in the air, a fairy tern finding krill. I watch his splash, smaller, smaller, until I can’t stand it anymore. Until I’m sure he’s lying smashed on the silty floor. But then finally is his surface explosion for air. The lake’s board now chains its cans to willow trees along the beach. But I haven’t any confidence they dredged them all. My uncle has a metal detector for coins and bits of other people’s jewelry. Sometimes I think I’ll sneak it out of his shed, run the weed-whacker end over the lake’s green water. But the shed is padlocked and I haven’t a clue where he keeps the key. Anyhow, this is not the way they found so many old, battered cans sunken deep in the muck. They sent teenaged boys with snorkels and masks and flippers to skim the lakebed, their hands stretched a full foot before them feeling for the large metal things. Each time they sent out a boy, he came back with a can tethered to his ankle—drug down from the waist, only his snorkel and arms and sometimes his mask broke surface. And each time they sent out another boy, he came back with a trashcan, too. But everyone went home when 222 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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the last boy came back buoyant. I knew this boy. He was the one in sixth grade who stood in the back of the bus for the sake of being the one standing, who made Ds on handwriting because his fist tightened so when he wrote cursive that his desk sometimes shook leg to wobbly leg, and who named the squirrels in his yard and took copious notes as to where each one buried a nut. As far as we were concerned back then and still now, he was the nut. It is with total certainty that I know he left the rest of the cans down there, maybe to map in a wicked scrawl on the pages of his notepad. Dad brings home papers from the board, about the boy and the can and how much money he wants. “It’d be cheaper if he’d died,” he says. “Cheaper and quicker if I’d shot him myself. Dumbass kid. Not even a member.” “Everyone knows not to dive,” I say. “He was diving, wasn’t he?” “Survival of the fittest,” says my brother because he thinks anyone good at anything can do it no matter the circumstance. Dad nods, drops a brown-sauced broccoli down the front of his shirt. “Dammit to hell,” he says. “But the can,” I say. “The water’s too dark.” He picks up Chinese food some nights, when Mother—who hates it—is out and he’s tired of me complaining about the tomato guck all over the chicken, or olives hiding in the taco meat. We’re all getting older. I’m in love with a boy who kisses me, who tells me things—one who says he knew me in junior high. He’s tall, years older, is a senior at another high school, plays drums in a band, and never lies. These are the things I love about him. The rest, I don’t see. After beef with broccoli and kung pao chicken—I save a pile of cashews for Mother—my brother shuts himself back into his basement room. No one in the house knows what goes on in there, but for me it’s a land of particular intrigue. Posters and magazines, and I creep in there whenever I’m rattling around the house alone, to know what boys like. The boy I love shows up at the downstairs door and we’re walking down the driveway heading across the road to the beach, both knowing what will go on there. The wide, rock drive in through the trees is always worse than I remember, and I’m only wearing flimsy flats. I should say here that I am a big girl. Almost sixteen years old and wearing a size 22. (I am just about to stop eating and drop to a size 10. But I’ll be back up in the twenties soon, and even bigger.) Crab Orchard Review ◆ 223


Nicole Louise Reid

I’m wearing a loose men’s shirt pulled out over my shorts. I am smart and tender, and I believe that will help. The boy has my hand and he’s nervous, pushy. He’s walking faster than I want to over these rocks that push up jagged edges into my arches and split the skin between my toes. First we sit in the sand. I’m never sure how it happens, something distracts me—a breeze dancing the willow whips, an owl high in the pines backing the row of houses that rims this inlet, a breath—and he’s on me. In a lovely way. In a way I only remember as happening then. Before I knew to climb on, too. When all that happened did so because he wanted it. The purity in singly-intended moments is such a comfort. There is a moon tonight so silvery-wide I squint. I’m not thinking about the sand in my shorts, in my waistband, in my hair. What I’m thinking is that I am a walrus, a sea lion, a thigmotactic beast and I never knew how much I needed to be touched before this night. He pushes and I squirm. He can hardly breathe and every breath I let go is heat. Only a few months later I’ll figure out this rolling, this stifled want, is worlds better than sex; but then it will be too late, a boy won’t go back and a girl like me won’t ask. When he can’t stand it any longer, the way I rub beneath him but keep his hand from unbuttoning his jeans, he rolls off of me and sits up hunched over his knees. Sometimes, when we’re in the car, he’ll get out, walk away from me, around the corner of a building, and stand there like he’s peeing. I’m not supposed to watch, but there are times I see his arm yanking like to unstick his zipper. I loop my fingers in his waistband, tug at his back. “Soon,” I say. I’ve been saying this the two weeks we’ve been driving into the backs of strip malls, or coming to the lake at night. He just breathes real deep and then lets it all out in one big push of hating me. I remember to thank the stars he always lets me know where I stand with him, then feel a little sick brushing off the sand from my belly and thighs, the small of my back, too. The insides of my legs are raw with his denim. I rub at them, hold my skin in a silly little apology to myself. At a party within the year, I’ll go into a master bath to wash myself like this, knowing that boy’s already gone. The coming apart. That is what I hate now, and what I will always hate. I walk the peninsula of goose-pooped grass, see the deck houses— some lit, some dark—who’ve figured it out, the way to keep someone near. I push through woody forsythia and honeysuckle to find the 224 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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turtles’ log. It’s maybe seven feet long, wide, smooth as rock, a tree limb along the marshy shore here. I step onto it. I step again, step until I’m near middle. The boy is watching from up on the beach, smiling, wondering. And I’m wondering, too. About who I am and how he found me. Counting myself lucky again. Any question why isn’t in me yet, won’t be until he’s gone and I think things are clearer. “Don’t fall!” he calls out over the water, more an invitation than a warning. I take another step. The lake surface is black with only halfshimmers of moon like careless fish sleeping on the water. From here I can see the chimney of my house up on its hill. I can see both our tulip poplars though not the oaks. I take another step. “You going swimming?” he says, still watching me, still laughing. I smile, push bangs aside and a bit of hair over my ear. I’ve never been this far out in the water swimming. I may have let a finger slip in from over the edge of our canoe. But where I am on this log jutting out of the lake wall, this is where the snakes burrow, where the water is deep enough for both diving and trashcans. I’m feeling reckless: with every step, a little voice says slip or jump in. It’s enough to catch the energy in my feet, in my legs, but soft enough to keep me standing steady. There are practicalities, too. Of clothing and hair. Of nakedness and moonlight. In a new moon, maybe I’d pretend he couldn’t see me. But only a sliver bitten out of the night is too much light. Maybe. Now I walk the log like a balance beam, remind myself I was a ballerina for eight years. First I merely point my toes, turn out my feet, slip them out in, out in. An arabesque. Petits jetés and grands jetés. I am showing off and it’s silly. Glissade, rond de jambe. A sort of performance for him: I was someone way before you met me, I mean to holler but don’t know what it is yet that makes me feel small. I don’t fall in the water. I could, if that voice were louder. What I do is slip out of my shorts, my shirt. Fashion a pas de bourrée along this log. And then I step into the lake, deeper at first than I’d even expected. I stumble some feeling the slime come up over my toes, then catch my footing. I move one bit farther and there is no floor beneath me, just the brushing of plant and fish against my legs—they’re sniffing me, like my brother always says they do before they bite. I shift onto my back, float an awkward bent-at-the-middle float of girls not wanting water in their ears or for the heap of their bellies to show. But I relax, push flat my middle, feel the lapping in Crab Orchard Review ◆ 225


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and over my ears, in and over, in and over. I slowly spin because the water moves me and the breeze helps, too. I must appear a wet-footed mosquito twirling across the surface. I experience this night like a dream. Something I’m creating and something I will want to remember when I wake. Each thing that happens, I run it through my head, record it for morning. He calls to me. My name. Such a wonderful thing, a name in a boy’s mouth. The sound shouted over water comes in through the shifting of wet holding me up. I don’t change a thing because I am spinning and this is what the boys want, right? It drives them wild to want. “Come on,” he’s saying. His voice is different now; he’s standing, moving around on the beach. “Get out of the water. Come on.” It doesn’t occur to me that he sees what I am, what he can have (and can’t). I am moving with the water, farther into the lake, almost out of the inlet that comes to our tiny shore. “It’s late!” he’s calling. Floating in this night with its moon and its breeze, I know—if I’m honest—that he saw me on the log, half-naked with gravity, and was startled by where the flesh swells. And with my eyes used to the stars, I know he holds my hand and sucks at my ears because he hopes he won’t have to roll off of me later. He wants the word yes and my shorts and undies folded in the willow whips beside us. What I want is for him to dive from the first piling, the most shallow-footed piling, into water just deep enough to sit beneath, just deep enough to never see it coming—the silty bottom and silver can smashed and bent from that first boy who dove into the shallows. “This is stupid!” he shouts. “I’m not gonna wait!” He leaves. I hear him on the rocks already: the gritty shifting of edges to edges under him. I hear the Volvo start at the bottom of my hill. I hear the engine close and then gone. A minute of panic when I notice how far out I’ve drifted into the open water, the water that pushes off every which way to the separate inlets and beaches. I’m not certain which is ours until I see my white denim shorts in the bush. Then I float to shore, kicking some to make it faster. I see nothing but moon and shaggy branches of the sweetgums over me. I reach land and I’m freezing. Slivers of me feel missing like I am the moon and tonight is not my night for being whole. I find my shoes, walk the grass for my shorts and shirt. He is gone. I made that happen. I wring my hair, dotting the sand wet in dribbly dots. I dress 226 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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and walk the rocks, barefoot this time. Something about this night needs to be felt, so I let my feet take it; the rest I lose along the path. I walk our steep drive, go in the downstairs door, see my brother’s door open, the light off. He’s on the stairs, stops a second to look at me drenched and shivering: “What happened to you?” I shake my head ’cause I don’t know. He lifts his eyebrows and shrugs like I’m the one withholding information, and heads upstairs. This is dangerous, but I go in. I kneel before his bookshelf, pull out magazine after magazine: Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler, Oui. I look at anything print. But they don’t understand it any more than I do. They’re way past the moment of decision. They don’t mind because no one’s rolling off in these magazines. No one’s minding the moonlight or the fingers slipped up a shorts leg. No one’s being left spinning in a lake. No one’s choosing the water over him. There are secrets in here. But I don’t know the language yet, of legs spread and fingers slipped inside their mouths, of the differences between them and me standing on the turtles’ log in a bright moon, of what I should want, what I’m expected to want. He was never holding my hand. He was shaking it, trying to close the deal. Once he took me to a suspension bridge over a little river. We lay down on it and he said he loved me. But he said things like that weren’t stable; they were always changing. “For now,” he said, “right now I love you.” And I remember thinking I’d work to hold on to that. That afternoon, the sun fell pink and purple, and the orange was in his hair. There was no breeze and so as we lay on our backs, our feet at opposite ends, our heads side by side, while I grinned and wondered what I’d done to be so lucky, he gripped a rope and pushed his body in the other direction, half-dumping me into the water, to begin us swinging side to side. I knew right then, if I’m honest, that his moment had passed. Tonight I slip the magazines back into place along my brother’s shelf. I go on to my room and am not caught leaving his. I curl in to bed, a soggy mess of tangled hair and sandy feet, of wet underwear clinging to me. But there are some things one shouldn’t have to look at, and so I stay clothed all night. This is the night I stop eating. Not for the reasons my father drinks scoopfuls of vanilla Slim·Fast in milk twice a day. I stop eating because there seems no other way, to be touched, to be held some nights, to be careless. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 227


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Taking Apart the House

On an unseasonably warm Saturday in late February I spent the afternoon alone in the house where I’d lived from the age of eight to eighteen, and where my parents had lived for forty-one of the fifty-two years of their marriage. My mother had died seventeen months before. A little over a year after her death my father remarried and moved in with his new wife. He put our family home on the market; a for sale sign hung now from a post on the front lawn. The day started out still, but as the afternoon wore on, a wind came up, and packing boxes in my brother’s old room, I could hear the sign flapping in a lonely way. It’s a strange thing, dismantling your parents’ home. As common as the experience must be, I found myself unprepared for the ways in which it invaded my feelings and dreams for most of that winter and spring. Although as it turned out I walked through the rooms once more in June, the day of the closing, I believed, that afternoon in February, that I was in my childhood home for the last time. There was little occasion for reflection. And yet I felt a real urgency, a need to choose well, for I knew that what my brother and sister and I didn’t take would be given away to charity or tossed out. Already my father had thrown away the family slides and home movies and the letters written to our family after my mother died. He had, in fact, taken very little with him into his new marriage and was now, anyway, in Mexico for two weeks. My sister and I stayed in the house the previous night. Our brother had come up for a few hours, and the three of us made final lists of family possessions, which our father would ship to us later. Saturday morning my sister and I divided up our old collection of foreign dolls, still arranged in a glass cabinet in the bedroom we once shared. We visited our mother’s grave and then I returned to the house by myself. I opened all the windows. Outside, green was pushing up in the garden, and occasionally I could hear birds twittering, as if it were already spring, and in the distance, traffic, and then the hum of the refrigerator. Mostly, though, the house was empty of sound. All her life my mother, who disliked silence, had kept at least one radio on, often two or three, 228 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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and after her death my father did the same. Growing up, I’d hated the constant music, which seemed meant to drown out unruly feelings, but now the silence made me uneasy. I couldn’t decide where to begin packing, so I stripped the beds and put a wash in. Then I went into the kitchen and threw out old boxes of cake mixes and wild rice from the back of the cupboards. The drawings on these boxes were old fashioned and the colors so faded that I wondered if my mother, who could never discard anything, had brought these from our old house when we moved here in 1954. The basement still contained, at her death, banners from summer camps that my sister and brother and I could hardly remember, boxes of shells from Florida, books and games from her own childhood, and all her own mother’s correspondence. Upstairs, under each bed and in the closets, we had found all the cards and letters anyone had sent her since her marriage, as well as programs from church services dating back to the 1960s, old toy catalogs, newspaper clippings with advice for a more spiritual life, brochures from trips to Europe, and about twenty shoeboxes stuffed with photographs. I cleaned out some of these, then took down two photographs from the wall in my sister’s and my room—my sister in our mother’s wedding gown, me (in high school) leaning against a tree, wearing a circle pin and smiling dreamily. I took the box with my mother’s wedding gown out of the closet where it had lain since my sister and my sister-in-law had worn it and put it with the boxes of dolls. Then I went into my parents’ bedroom. Little had changed since my mother had last slept there: her clothes were emptied from the closet, but otherwise the beds were perfectly made, her perfumes still lined up on the dressing table, framed family photographs nearly covered the flowered wallpaper on all the walls. There were photographs of her parents and my father’s parents, long dead, and her own wedding, photographs of my sister and brother and me as babies and toddlers, our own children as babies and toddlers, of our graduations, our weddings, our Christmas and summer visits. I hadn’t intended to take these down. Ours had been a difficult family to grow up in. Our father had been fond of us, but distant, and in moments of conflict he inevitably deferred to our mother, who, although she loved us and was ambitious for us, saw in our desires to pursue our own lives proof that she had failed as a mother. I didn’t believe I was feeling nostalgic, but it made me uneasy to see all of us still up on the wall, like portraits in a family museum. They Crab Orchard Review ◆ 229


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suggested that our father was leaving us behind with the furniture he didn’t want anymore. The real estate agent was holding an open house the next afternoon, and, standing in the bedroom, I was possessed with the sudden need to take everything down and not leave our photographs there like an open album for strangers to speculate about. I put all the photographs in boxes for my brother and sister and myself, even made a box for my father. “Pictures I think you should take with you,” I wrote on a note I attached. I removed the bureau scarves from my parents’ bureaus, put the knickknacks in the top drawers. It was in this bedroom that I’d first seen my mother after she had fallen ill. She’d had a melanoma seventeen years earlier. An errant cell seems to have remained behind and lain dormant all those years, then suddenly set up housekeeping everywhere. Cancer cells metastasized to her brain, her lung, to several places on her skin—the cancer cells scattered throughout her body like dandelion seeds blown in the wind. Memories of her illness lingered in all the rooms, but as the afternoon wore on I found them replaced by much older memories. Time collapsed, and all the years past, all the years she’d been my mother, became alive again. I brought the sheets and a wash of towels upstairs and folded them in my sister’s and my old room at the back of the house. My mother, too, used to fold laundry there because, she said, she loved the way the afternoon sun filled the room. Sunlight slanted in the west window, and as I sat on my old bed folding the towels, it was as if forty years had disappeared, and I had just walked home from school and she was asking about my day. And then it was even further back in time, and I was in the house we’d lived in after I was born. I was quite small, sprawled across the back of our cocker spaniel, still watching my mother fold laundry. Now there wasn’t much time left—maybe two hours before I had to leave. I’d promised my brother and sister I’d take our mother’s china and the crystal, still in the glass cabinet in the dining room. None of us really wanted them, but we couldn’t imagine their going to strangers. And yet I delayed. I began working even faster upstairs, moving quickly through the rooms, trying to make the house seem like just anyone’s house, not ours. I threw in another wash, then took the boxes of photographs and the boxes of foreign dolls and the box with my mother’s wedding dress downstairs and left them by the front door. I knew I was avoiding the dining room because it was here we’d eaten dinner every night as a family and gathered for Sunday dinners and at holidays with my grandmother and aunts and other relatives. 230 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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Here my mother dropped a coffee cup on a rainy Memorial Day—it simply fell out of her hand—the first indication that something was seriously wrong. It was in this room everyone visited with her that summer as she lay dying. When she was no longer able to climb the stairs, my father had a hospital bed set up for her under the windows. It was her crystal and gilt-edged china she would see, carefully arranged in the glass cabinet, whenever she turned her head to the left. But there was no avoiding it; I’d promised to take them. I made myself go into the dining room and began working with a kind of cold efficiency. I took all the wedding china and the little turquoise and gold cups my grandmother had painted out of the cupboard, set it all on the table, then wrapped everything in paper. I packed the china in two boxes, then wrapped the crystal in paper and arranged that in two more boxes. It occurred to me that they might well have been the last things in this world my mother had seen, and that she would have found it ironic that I, who had never wanted to have bone china or crystal or a proper wedding dress—we’d had bitter quarrels over this—was now taking them. And now, almost as if I were in a trance, I began carrying boxes out to the car, packing them in. The outside world seemed not to be part of my world at all; I was in the past of my childhood, and then even more untethered, about to drift off, off the edge of the world. A woman walking by stopped to introduce herself, and I wrenched myself back to the present. She was a neighbor and acquaintance of my mother’s, she said, and had just come from a funeral. I explained that my sister and brother and I had been taking apart the house, and she smiled. “Isn’t it fun!” she said. Her voice was unbearably bright. “No,” I said. “I think it’s hard. There are so many memories.” “Oh,” she said, as if I’d slapped her. “I meant, you get so many nice things.” She continued her walk; I brought more boxes out to the car. And now dusk was falling; it was getting toward the early dark of February. I had arranged to have dinner with friends who lived about a half hour drive north, and I still needed to get rid of the unused boxes and paper scattered all over the carpets and take a shower. I sensed it would be dangerous for me to be in the house alone when night fell—not physically, but psychologically, even spiritually dangerous. At that moment I believed in a witching hour. As if, now that no one lived there, evil spirits haunted the house at night—malevolent presences, jealous, wishing me ill. I worked at feverish speed—shoving towels into the linen closet, piling the Crab Orchard Review ◆ 231


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unused boxes in the garage, vacuuming the carpets, packing. I flew through the shower, dragged the last suitcase out to the car. Then I set the lights on timers as my father had requested and, one last time, walked through the house. The windows were black, and passing through each room, I felt bereft and alone. As painful as my relationship with my mother had often been, as often as I had resisted coming home, I now was aware only of absence, the sharp loneliness of grief. I heard myself crying out for her—not in a loud voice, but loud enough for anyone who might be in another room to hear. “Mom, where are you?” I kept calling. “Where did you go? Please come back!” I ran up to the attic, down to the basement, through the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, the bedrooms, the porch. I ran through all the shadowy rooms of the house, searching for her. And then, because there was no more time, I put on my coat, turned off the front light, and, as the rest of my family had, locked the heavy door behind me. The wind had come up again. Shivering, I made my way in the dark across the lawn and into my car. A few lights blazed in the neighbors’ windows, but no one else was on the street. I drove off, leaving behind first the old neighborhood, then the town. Heading east, I crossed the river and turned north, then east again. Above the fields, the stars shone clear and promising in the cold February night.

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Discerning Demons

My cousin is an exorcist. At a family gathering, my cousin Rita inserts a tape of an exorcism into the VCR. We watch as a woman’s face contorts, changes into a form almost unrecognizable; she spews out words in her native Spanish—not an ugly woman, her face nevertheless twists into ugliness. We watch as Rita’s assistant physically restrains the woman to keep her from attacking Rita. We watch as Rita puts up her hands and says en el nombre de Jesús, over and over, commanding the demon to leave. It’s a dangerous business this, the demon requires a home—no one wants to go back into the void, and without protection, anyone is game. When we were growing up, no one in my family ever really talked about concrete forms of evil. The devil was not discussed, though I guess there was a quiet nod of religious counterpart acknowledgment, but the devil was treated in much the same way as an obscene phone caller—don’t respond, just hang up. He wants you to respond. If you don’t respond he’ll leave you alone. Which is why, when Rita seems enthused about the devil, we are all uncomfortable; she is responding. This videotape is not my first experience with an exorcism. During my first year of high school, shy, not fitting into cliques, I searched everywhere for more. Unwilling to try the drug route, I started attending a fundamentalist church where people lifted their palms unto the Lord, spoke in tongues, and prophesied. There was a certain democracy to this group—they accepted longhairs; they had, unlike Jerry Fallwell’s fundamentalist following, no overt political agenda; they were a suburban group, well-dressed, holding generally conventional jobs; but they were in search of transcendence. And they got it, it seemed. The language they used when speaking in tongues was musical, fluid, ancient and insistent. It was beautiful, but it eluded me. No matter how hard I tried, how faithfully I prayed, the tongues never descended. I was an outsider and somebody knew it. One evening at a prayer group a man claimed he had been feeling Crab Orchard Review ◆ 233


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horrible—“possessed” with depression. He did not want to go on living. I don’t know exactly what happened, but it seemed to happen very fast. People were suddenly talking about the devil instead of God. The man was on the floor rolling around and people were encircling him. I watched from afar. The man convulsed, he spit, he cursed, his face changed, his voice changed; there was an energy coming out of him I didn’t want to be around. For the first time in my teen years I wished one of my parents would appear and tell me I was too young for this. I was too young for this, whatever it was. I left that church and went back to high school, and I didn’t think about demons or the devil again until nearly ten years later when my cousin, a psychologist, felt suddenly called upon to become an exorcist after one of her patients manifested a personality, claiming to be an ambassador of Satan. The personality spoke in a different voice and language than that of the patient. Rita, the Christian waiting for an opening, felt her only recourse was to pray. This is what I find out about the whole process of possession from Rita: Lucifer doesn’t usually enter into people himself; rather, he sends envoys, in the form of demons. The demons are entities who enter, possess, demand and trap people. They are the dark equivalent of angels, I guess, except that angels don’t possess— they hover, they guard; the demons are more insistent; they enter and invade, and they are not humble. When called upon they will introduce themselves: I am jealousy, I am greed, I am lust. They are dark. They are mischievous. They prey on personal weaknesses. “Oh, you know about difficult marriages,” the demon of adultery says to Rita, and winks. They are not without a sense of humor. As we watch the videotape, Rita translates the woman’s utterances for us, for even in the most basic sense of language, we are a family living in two different cultures. From Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, my mother made her way north to Chicago, while her sister, Beulah, married a doctor, Arturo Cabezas, from San José, Costa Rica, and moved there. Beulah and Arturo had four children, my parents had three, and we began the socialization process of nuclear family, extended family and outer world. Grandparents were easy to define because they were clearly extensions, and siblings were, well, they were there. But cousins and aunts and uncles always carried with them a titillating mystery of relations—you were a part of them and yet separate; physical resemblances manifested, tics even—the holding of the head to one side as if it were too heavy to 234 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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bear, for example—but they had their own unspoken rules, their own nuclear agreement of how the world worked. Despite this and despite the distance between the two families, we managed somehow, awkwardly, cross-culturally to remain a family. The Cabezases visited frequently, and when Rita and Vicki, the eldest Cabezas daughters, came to the States to go to college, they spent summers with us—taking over my room and messing it up. We were more stationary; we first went to Costa Rica in 1966 when I was eight, flying from Miami over Cuba in a prop plane. When we landed, I learned the meaning of foreign—the airport smelled of wood, leather, and musk, a smell I still recognize as distinctively Costa Rican. It emanates from suitcases when the Cabezases come to visit, it is scorched into the trinkets—plates painted with brightly-colored wheels, wooden carvings of the quetzal—it wafts around when people twirl in their brightly-colored Guatemalan ponchos. There were maids and gardeners at the Cabezases’ house; a huge ballroom-type living room with a black-and-white checked floor, a winding staircase leading up to the second level and an enormous amount of light. There were fruit trees in the backyard and a gardener wielding a machete. The landscape that is Costa Rica looked to me like the board game Candyland, the tops of the trees perfectly round, fruit hanging lollipop-like from branches. I learned to eat for breakfast bread with cheese and jam, square tamales with prunes in them. We went on trips with Ivan, the chauffeur, driving. We went to a village where intricately-painted oxcarts transported sugar cane; we walked to the edge of a volcano, standing in a spot where you could gaze out over both the Atlantic and the Pacific. One morning, the newspaper was delivered and we were informed that across the ocean, in our hometown of Chicago, Richard Speck had murdered eight student nurses in a housing facility of South Chicago Hospital, a place I will later, in high school, be employed. I listened as someone translated how a young Filipina nursing student hid under a bed while Speck methodically took her roommates into different rooms and killed them one by one and how she stayed under the bed until she was sure he was gone, until finally she could step out into the early morning, shouting to the air, to the sky, to the neighborhood, to God, They Are All Dead. This is my first experience with evil. This is the first time I feel a chill in a sunny room, and it is something similar but different from mental illness which is Maddie in the alley with her wool coat on in the Crab Orchard Review ◆ 235


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summer. Still, I could tell it was a force that could change weather. I thought about Richard Speck for a long time, we all did, but I didn’t have nightmares; I was protected by parents who loved me and by a God who had been willed to me. Still, when I later worked at South Chicago Hospital, I avoided the building where the nurses were killed. And I understood, years later, when the citizens of Milwaukee demanded that the apartment building where Jeffrey Dahmer killed and dismembered several young men, be torn down. We can’t sleep there, We can’t eat there, repeated the residents. We do not want to look at it, said the neighbors, and perhaps more importantly, We do not want to look at people looking at it. After the first family trip to Costa Rica, I returned several times alone. It became a place for me to go during transitions. I went the summer between eighth grade and high school, accompanying Arturo on one of the medical caravans which took supplies, inoculations, and birth control out to people in towns lacking medical care. We drove out to the jungle passing campesinos bent over in coffee fields, and where there were no roads, we rode horseback into small towns littered with brightly-colored shacks. The poorest of people sent their children to the corner cantina to bring back Coca-Colas for the Americans. Once on a bus I tell a girl in my faltering Spanish how much I like her bracelet. She takes it off and gives it to me and will not allow me to return it, and I learn not to express admiration for objects. I returned to Costa Rica after I graduated high school and then I didn’t return until I was twenty-four, having completed college and my first serious relationship, both belatedly. “Go to Costa Rica,” my mother said, “get out of the country; it will do you good.” And I went to the land where everything was different, where people called me by my middle name, where piñatas hung from rafters in the mercado. This time I traveled to Nicaragua, where the Sandinistas were newly in charge. Men strapped with machine guns controlled the streets and highways. The couple I traveled with had been heavily involved in the revolution, and as we drove through small towns, people with various limbs missing came out of the houses and up to the car. One woman invites us into the house for orchata, a rice drink, and as we talk her narrative becomes clear—she has lost three sons to the revolution and her conversation, though she tries to straighten it out, always veers back to this. When we reach Managua, the city, still recovering from an 236 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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earthquake, is under curfew, and at dark when the streets empty we drive through town with some sort of government pass. Shells of buildings are lit with candles, a beautiful and horrific ruin. In conversations I distance myself politically from my country whenever possible, and because my thinking is dualistic at this point, I set things up to be good and evil. The Sandinistas appear to me pure, clear, visionary, as opposed to my own government which seems deceitful, menacing, and arrogant. But back in Costa Rica, things turn grey. I date a man named Pedro who is a worker at a nearby ranch, and Arturo does not approve. Pedro is the reason I suddenly, and again, belatedly, become aware of severe class distinctions and the way they are perpetuated. We are to help the poor, but we are not to marry them. We are certainly not, in a lesson I have failed miserably, to be them. By the time I am ready to leave, I have noticed several political hypocrisies. Although Ticos, as Costa Ricans call themselves, profess horror at race relations in the United States, they neglect to mention that the social and cultural lines between the “Jamaican Coast” and the “Spanish Coast” are historically tense and remain so. I still manage to organize my politics and, in fact, my entire system of metaphor into a dualistic system which pits the United States against Latin America. Reading One Hundred Years of Solitude on the plane back to the States, I again become enamored with the village, the sleepiness, the slowness of time, all the small bridges of the rain forest leading toward magical possibility until the book ended and we touched down into a place of different dreams—of chrome, neon, and shopping malls. Back in the States my images persisted—hard, dreamy images of houses that opened up to the sky in the middle of a room where a tree grew and birds gathered, everything beyond humid—salt, heat, wet— a place where everything grew without ceasing, and I applied to the Peace Corps checking Latin America as my first choice. I turned down Belize and Ecuador, but when the Peace Corps offered me Costa Rica, I said yes. My leftist friends in Tucson, those on the Committee for Solidarity in El Salvador, were skeptical about the Peace Corps. C.I.A. infiltrated, they said, but I was not as cynical, though I pretended to be. “It’s a beautiful place,” I said. “I can’t work down there any other way.” But in truth, there was a large part of me that still believed the J.F.K. rhetoric of cross-cultural education, of world citizenship. The volunteers were to attend a type of Ramada Inn boot-camp in Miami before flying to Costa Rica, where we would spend three Crab Orchard Review ◆ 237


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months in training. In the hotel, we attended seminars where we played touchy-feely games involving warm fuzzies. While we had been assured the Peace Corps was a non-political organization, during the first film we watched, a volunteer held an American flag as he talked about his overseas experience. I left in the middle of the film. That afternoon a training emissary asked if I would like to go to dinner. He was pleasant, blond, good-looking, and I was somewhat flattered. He seemed kind. Toward the end of the meal, he came clean: “I’m here partially to scout out people who we don’t think are ready for this type of commitment. They asked me to talk to you after you walked out this afternoon.” I told him I didn’t know we’d be required to wave flags. “It’s just a symbol,” he said. Our first attrition took place when a biker harleyed down from Tennessee to claim his girlfriend, Sharon. Like Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman, the biker stormed in, lifted up his tattooed arm newly filled with a smiling Sharon, and carried her off. Even the feminists cheered, as if Sharon had escaped from something worse than being glad-handed. Most of us were already resistant to this organization we had joined, but, on the day we were to leave, we all (minus Sharon) dutifully went to the airport. In Costa Rica we take on new Spanish names: Carlos, Pedro, María. I again become Renée. We live in the town of Dulce Nombre, where the training center, La Garita, will become the delineation point between arriba and abajo. The Center has been around for a while and the town is used to an influx of Americans. Still we memorize customs and try to conform: no wearing shorts, the male always walks on the outside of the street, don’t wear wrinkled clothes. I wear scarves, straw hats, long skirts, combat boots. I live in a house with a Costa Rican family, in a room with a small bed and a worn wooden bureau. The living room, which is immaculately clean, contains only a couch and a shrine filled with Madonnas. At night I light a perfumed coil to keep insects away and I hear rats running in the rafters above as I am going to sleep. My Costa Rican “madre” is a warm woman who cooks me gallo pinto, a sort of national dish of black beans and rice, and who, each morning, washes, irons, and starches my obligatory shirt and skirts. In Dulce Nombre, the Center is a source of economic sustenance—the Peace Corps pays families well to room and board trainees, but apart from that consideration, the trainees also seem to provide a type of soap opera, comic relief for the townspeople. The volunteers are together 238 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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much of the time and it becomes much like high school, we break into cliques, there are jocks and hippies and goody two-shoes; we begin to have people we can’t stand and then people start to fall in love, but there is no place to have sex, so people just have the guilt instead and on the vista overlooking the town, couples wander aimlessly through fog, sit on rocks with heads or hands slightly touching. Almost everyone who has left someone back home is trying to remain faithful, but home seems further and further away. At noon, after spending all morning in Spanish classes, we volunteers rush to our mailboxes. We trade news. While we are in training, Harold Washington is elected to be the first black mayor of Chicago, and in a piece of news I get to relay, Sam and Diane have kissed on Cheers. “Oh no,” everyone groans, “we missed it.” Here, it is not the culture that is so foreign, it is our place in it, but we are also starting to feel like we might have no place at home, as if we had run away. On a bench or a rock in the night someone will lift a shirt, unzipper his or her pants, and another’s head will bow down. From town, the silhouettes in the distant vista often look as if they are in prayer. At La Garita, I am assigned to work in the Cuatro S, the Latin American equivalent of a 4-H group. I am to teach women how to crochet, something I myself have never even once thought of doing but is now a skill I will spend the afternoons learning, in addition to learning how to grow culantro (something the farmers here have done) or building an outdoor stove. After classes, we adjourn to the cantina across the way where we eat bocas, drink Imperial beer and smoke Derbys. Everyone has started to drink too much and the Peace Corps experience has taken on a certain immoral quality. People begin to defect back to the States within the first two weeks. Gail, a nurse from Massachusetts, leaves suddenly to go build a dome house; Carlos decides to go back and ask his girlfriend to marry him; an older couple who have sold everything—their farm, their goats— left children and grandchildren behind, say suddenly, “We’ve made a mistake.” They leave a note wishing us luck. One weekend those of us left are given a map, a name on the map to find, and are told to go off alone for three days. The beaches in Costa Rica on both the Atlantic and Pacific are unique and beautiful—on one coast there is a beach full of monkeys, on the other, a black sand beach—and so, when I see on the map that the town which I am to go to is located near a beach, I am thrilled. It will be an easy three days, I think. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 239


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Costa Rica is a very small country, but traveling even short distances by bus or train can be time consuming. “Horita viene,” people will say when asked when the bus will arrive, which means “soon,” but “soon” means an indefinite amount of time—five minutes, two hours, three days. It takes me all day to reach my destination, which, when I finally arrive, seems to be a town comprised of dust. It’s a ranch town and it looks like it belongs in a different century, a type of Spanish Bonanza. There are no cars—horses are hitched in front of shacks. I locate the only pensión in town and check in. Pensiones, in some small towns, while they do harbor the occasional visitor, serve primarily as brothels, and when, in the dark wood hallway, I see a woman leaning against the wall, one of her breasts exposed, simultaneously bending away from and beckoning a man who is about to encompass her, I deduce that this is the genre I have stumbled into. I go to my room, close the door and begin immediately to experience a type of mad boredom. I try to read but to no avail. I leave my room to find the bathroom, which turns out to be an outhouse at the back of the pensión. In my efforts to avoid touching the opening of the pit, I happen to look down only to see a large snake reaching up. Back in the hallway, I see a fellow Peace Corps volunteer-intraining. She explains that this isn’t where she is supposed to be, but this is where the bus let her off. She is a mousy woman with whom I have had virtually no contact back in Dulce Nombre, but appearing here, she is an answer to an unasked prayer. Unfortunately, I tell her about the snake. “Well,” she says, “that’s it for me.” The next morning she is gone and when I get back to the Center three days later, she has already left for the States. Still believing there is a beach nearby, early in the morning I set out to find it. On my way I meet a series of toothless men who try to discourage me from my destination, and when I get to the “beach” I see why—there is some type of refinery spilling oil into the water, birds lay dead and blackened along the shoreline. I walk the mile back to town under a very hot sun, and at the cantina I order a beer because it is the only cold drink they have. “No hielo, no ice,” is a refrain heard commonly in these small cantinas. I suddenly feel removed from myself, watching myself—I who don’t usually drink—drinking beer at ten A.M., flies encircling me, somebody’s warning about gutters buzzing around my brain. The next morning I don’t return to the Center, but instead take the bus up to my family’s mountain home where I take the first hot shower I have had in a month. Arturo is not pleased when I tell him 240 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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some of the things we have been doing at the Center. “People don’t want to cook on outside stoves,” he says. “They never understand— people here like technology—” and the they has suddenly grown to include me. I am no longer the niece visiting from the States—I am now part of the larger, more insidious government. Two weeks before we are to swear into the Peace Corps, we are given our sites, where we are to live for the next two years. We are then told to go spend a week there, make contact with our host organization and find living arrangements. “Find out what’s there,” the people at the Center say. “Take a survey of the town—a type of informal census— find out how many women there are.” I am given Turrialba, a decision I’m pleased with. In Turrialba, people sit on Victorian porches, women walk around carrying parasols; there are gazebos in the town parks and everything reminds me on the surface of a Seurat painting, a sort of pointillist study on foreign romance. But on the site visit the surface cracks. I spend the first night in another brothel in a tiny room containing only a small bed and a bare light bulb. At night I lay down fully clothed on top of polyester sheets and try to block the moans, groans, and drunken brawls: I fall into restless sleep. I dream that the stained walls of the room are peeled back and, in the center of the next room, a man stands masturbating; every time I try to paste the wall back up, it falls down again, like a faulty window shade. The next morning I knock on the doors of several houses, asking if someone will rent me a room for a week. A very nice family agrees and I move into their house immediately. I then go to the Cuatro S office where a gentleman who has his feet up on the desk looks at me, takes his cigarette out of his mouth and says something that translates loosely into “You’ll work with the women,” pointing me toward the kitchen. In the kitchen, the women don’t seem at all glad to see me, but that afternoon, I find on the outskirts of town a school for the deaf. This is something I have actual training in and I talk to the principal, volunteering to come help out when I move to Turrialba. She is thrilled. Back at the house where I am staying, I am saved from my mad boredom by an eleven-year-old boy who continually wants to discuss philosophy. Given my language restrictions, and for that matter, my knowledge of philosophy, we are limited in our pursuit. One day he brings to me three stone statues an Indian gave to him. They each represent a portion of the world, he tells me. One is art, another science, the third, religion. He asks me to choose my favorite. In truth they all look the same to me, small stone men hunched over, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 241


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but I play along—I choose art. This reminds me, I tell the boy, of icons of three little monkeys I had when I was a child. See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil. “Ah, yes,” the boy says, “that’s the other thing they can be,” and he gives me the statue. The next morning I am confronted, when I walk outside the house, with the sight of American troops drilling in the soccer field across the street. A green helicopter hovers above. ¿Qué pasa? I ask the boy, who has also come out to watch. He points north, in the direction of Nicaragua. Though I’d heard rumors to the effect that the U.S. had troops covertly positioned on the border, I was reluctant to believe them. I try to stay this side of fair as far as conspiracy theories go, as far as absolute governmental evil is concerned. For all my distancing of responsibility from the actions of my country (no, no, there are a lot of us who don’t believe that...I never voted for him), the idea (even after Watergate) that corruption has invaded the Peace Corps, that most idealistic government organization, is inconceivable. Nevertheless my casual assignment to take a census of fairly-near Nicaragua suddenly seems sinister. With this in mind I head to the embassy in San José to report on the Army in the soccer field. I am told nothing. Back at the Center, the training people alternatively come up with a military connection to Panama, and allusions to my (weakened) mental health. “You seem to be exhibiting paranoia,” the director of the Center tells me. “It’s not unusual for people thrown into another culture to experience that.” (“Paranoia,” a friend of mine says, “is only a heightened sense of awareness,” but I’m not so sure.) “Quite clearly you were not ready for this type of commitment. Personally,” the director says, “I don’t think you were ready to leave your boyfriend,” which really does make me paranoid, as I have never discussed my boyfriend with him. In truth, at this point, given a continual nightmarish quality to my perceptions, I begin to doubt the reality of what I saw. I had literally stepped into the unreal, dreamy world of Márquez, but in the wrong direction. My boyfriend Robert was, in fact, on his way down with his friend Dave, traveling by land through Mexico until the urge to jump on a plane strikes, and when I return from the site visit there is a postcard from Robert saying they will be here any day. This, I think, will be my salvation, my translation back into the world where I really live, and each day after I am done with my duties, I take the bus to the airport in Alajuela; the airport closes at nightfall and since I don’t know what country Robert and Dave will be flying in from, I wait until the last plane has come in, but after three months 242 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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apart, when Robert finally arrives, his image is so engraved within me, that I hardly recognize the real him. He is out of context here. Back at the Center I find myself seeing this all through his eyes— how we as a group resemble more than anything campers—it seems as if we are regressing, we act younger than we really are and much more dramatic than the situation calls for—the Elvis Costello refrain “and I would rather be anywhere else than here today…” plays constantly out of people’s boom boxes, indicative of the perverse dramatic weight we give our situation—we have been drilled to believe our actions are having an impact on foreign relations and we carry the illusionary weight poorly. “Maybe this started out as a good thing, sweetheart,” Robert says, waving his hands toward the Center, “but now it’s just turned ugly.” He’s right, it has turned ugly, but he has the luxury of being a tourist. I am now part of the ugliness, incapable of cool observations or distance. On the day before I am to swear into the Peace Corps, I am called into the office of the director. “We are not recommending that you enlist,” he says. “We were told by the Cuatro S office that you did not seem willing to work with them, and went behind their backs to another organization in town.” “One where I could actually be of benefit,” I say. Then in a non sequitur the director says, “I feel for you, you know...you remind me of my ex-fiancée.” “You can go to Washington to discuss this,” he says, “but I don’t think you want to be here. Go follow your boyfriend back.” Dave, Robert and I all move up to the house in San Ramón, and I try to give a quick version of my situation to my cousin and aunt. As I am talking, Arturo comes home. “To what do we owe the honor?” “I’ve been kicked out of the Peace Corps,” I reply. “Tell him quick what happened,” says Vicki, “so he doesn’t think you were dancing naked on tabletops.” Because Robert and Dave are curious about the exorcisms, Rita invites us over to listen to an audiotape one day and we sit in her modern living room, listening to the foreign demons. Afterward, Robert, Dave and I talk about how close the symptoms that define the state of “possession” are to conventional psychological symptoms—obsession, depression, etc. “It’d be easier than sitting through years of psychotherapy,” says Dave, “all you have to do is writhe for an hour.” “Maybe vomit,” says Robert. “Maybe I should have her exorcise me,” Robert says later, only half-joking. It’s true at this point the three of us feel in need of some Crab Orchard Review ◆ 243


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sort of exorcism. Robert and I find our relationship has been contracted in one culture, and that the contract doesn’t necessarily hold up in another. Robert and Dave have, on their way down, bonded in a frightening male way which does not include me and I find myself in an uncharacteristic state of jealousy, acting out toward Dave, who is not exactly behaving as a prince among men either. Robert is trapped in the middle and bridging the gap between us proves wearing. We agree that Robert and Dave will go back by land and that I’ll fly up to meet Robert in Mexico City. I arrive days before him and I wait in Mexico City dreaming of horses, battlefields, Robert caught in some kind of tunnel and then everyone disappearing. When he finally arrived, we traveled by train up to Nogales and when I saw the McDonald’s on the other side of the border, I was relieved. That was fifteen years ago, and I’ve been back to Costa Rica many times since then. But that particular foreign experience has had persistent reverberation. I think about it when it officially comes to light that we had troops covertly formulating and assisting the Contras on the border of Nicaragua. I think about it when, a year after I return to the States, one of the Peace Corps volunteers writes me with the news that the director of the training center has resigned amidst charges of sexual harassment. I think about it when the Sandinistas prove in their treatment of the Miskito Indians that evil will enter into even poetic regimes; I think about it when I wave other people off into the Peace Corps, not exactly cheerfully, but without severe warnings, because my experience is only my experience, and when my cousin Rita shows the videotape of the exorcism, I refer back to that time. I wish that the natures of evil were as concrete as Rita thinks they are. Rita believes that the demons are not part of ourselves, but invaders of the self, and that these invaders do not have to be invited. According to her, they can enter almost genetically, through a grandmother or father who indulged in the occult. Or by the ouija board or tarot cards, or by a curse a witch has put upon you. Many years after the Peace Corps, I began teaching at a small college in Salem, Massachusetts, and although I was aware of the history surrounding the town—stocks and witch paraphernalia are prominently displayed—I was not as aware of the modern-day covens who gather there. One evening I took the Boston train up to Salem to meet some people for dinner, and though I think I know where the restaurant is, I do not. I cannot even remember the name of the restaurant. I had, however, been there before. I knew it was on a corner, 244 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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on a brick street, near the business section. It had recently opened. Bands played after ten o’clock and there was a sports bar in the entry way. Salem is a relatively small town, and I feel that given this information I will be able to locate the restaurant. One man I ask definitely knows the restaurant I am talking about, offers to walk me there, and even though it looks like the wrong direction to me, he is full of such confidence that I follow him. He says he lives in Lynn, that he comes up to Salem to salvage what other people throw out—mirrors and chests. “It’s a historical thing,” he says, but a block later it turns out to be an income thing, as he admits to immediately selling everything he finds. After walking a few blocks we arrive at the (wrong) restaurant. We both know it is the wrong restaurant, but we both, in some chivalrous Miss Manners move, pretend it is the right one. We part and I thank him. Another man comes along and asks if I need help. I describe the restaurant to him. He thinks he knows where it is—we end up near the wharf, where the restaurant is definitely not. We part cordially; I am now half an hour late for dinner, frustrated, and when a third man approaches asking if I need help, I tell him I can’t afford any more help. “You don’t know where you are going,” he says. “I’ll go with you.” “For the company,” he adds. There is something I don’t like about him. “I don’t want any company,” I inform him and begin walking back toward downtown. He follows me and then crosses the street walking along with me on the other side. Because this unnerves me, I duck into an ice cream shop and behind the counter a very fat man looks up from his newspaper and says, “We’re closed. We’re only open in the summer.” I explain my predicament, leaving out the man who is following me, which turns out to be unnecessary as he enters the store and asks the fat man for a job, never acknowledging me. “We’re closed. We’re only open in the summer,” the fat man informs him, leaving a mystery as to why his door is open, and why in fact several vats of ice cream remain in the glass case. The fat man turns his attention back to me, “The place you’re describing sounds like Dodge Street—use the phone in the back and see if your party is there—it’s just a couple blocks away.” As it turns out, the fat man is right, but when I go back into the front and he gives me the directions, I ask him to look outside and see if the other man is out there. “Waiting by the gate.” I explain that I’m being followed. “I don’t like that,” the fat man says decidedly. “I’m not going to give him a job.” Which is all well and good, but doesn’t really help me. The fat man screws up his face and appears to be thinking. He smiles. “The back door will put you on a different street.” Crab Orchard Review ◆ 245


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I thank him and leave, but two blocks away the stalker somehow appears in front of me. He is standing in front of a gateway of a historical cemetery next to a plaque which signifies “The Burying Point.” “You’re a witch,” the stalker says. “Where’s your broom?” I ignore him, note that the fire station is half a block away, and continue walking. “I knew it from the moment I saw you,” he calls after me. “You’re a witch.” “A witch hunter,” said one of my dinner companions. “They still come here,” and I was surprised once again not only by the need to manifest a perceived evil, but also by the need to hunt down the manifestation, rituals which seemed designed not to complement as much as obscure the less blatant demons of the wounded self and society. It seems unfair to me. I once knew a woman who had such an incredible amount of power that upon meeting her I was immediately frightened, but that same power attracted me and little by little I came to know and love her. She knew she had power and she often talked of cursing old boyfriends and other undesirables. Sometimes she would claim she was a witch, but I took it metaphorically and anyway I felt protected because she loved me too. But as years wore on, our lives came too close to each other and our love pushed against itself—I became forlorn, she became cruel, and we distanced ourselves—“I’m sure Roxy’s cursed me,” I said to someone only half-jokingly after a particularly bad day. In truth, Roxy does get crueler and more bitter as time goes on—she pushes at me through other people even from a distance—and though I get very angry at her, I manage, through tricks— a combination of prayer, pity and altruism—to keep myself in check. But she finally crosses a line that I can neither forget or forgive and I find myself labeling what I feel toward her as “hate.” This is a word I was not even allowed to speak growing up, and though I have been very angry with people before, I have never identified this emotion. It feels foreign, it takes form, it twists me up and frightens me. And that, of course, is the curse. Hate, I am “hate”—one of the demons in a client of Rita’s—and I understand the concreteness, the sense of invasion, but I understand too, that the curse requires an access point in order to enter and an acquiescence to remain. We are not divorced from the demons we live with; we are responsible to them—to the courting of them, the naming of them, the acceptance of them, and ultimately, to the exorcism of them. And the demons are not always obvious; the things that twist us, knot us, start battles in ourselves and others are sometimes subtle, are sometimes just loss of innocence gone awry. 246 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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Which is not to say there are not mysterious and blatant manifestations. While I was writing this, the phone rang and when I answered it, there was only a dial tone. I went back to work and about five minutes later the phone rang again. As soon as I answered it, a little girl with a slightly Spanish accent said, “I’m sorry, but I’ve got the wrong number.” I ask if she had just called a couple minutes earlier. “No,” she says immediately. When the phone rings again fifteen minutes later, I pick it up to hear the girl singing a type of carnival song, “minicarratino, mini carratina”— I can’t quite make out the words. They sound Spanish or Italian, but I can’t translate them. I think she probably believes that she has reached her grandmother. “Oh, honey,” I say, “I think you have the wrong number again.” “Me ni carratina. Me ni carratina,” she sings again and again, reminding me of a playground chant, and I am quiet, charmed, until suddenly the little girl’s voice becomes a man’s—“Shut up Bitch,” he says. It is the voice of innocence completely and irrevocably changed. I don’t respond. I do as I’m taught. I hang up.

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Burgin, Richard. The Spirit Returns. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. 191 pages. $14.95. Richard Burgin writes about so many disturbed, disaffected adults that it is a surprise to come upon his euphoric depictions of children. The best stories in his latest collection, The Spirit Returns, show adults tenuously connected to their daily lives transformed by children who teach them that their souls are not beyond redemption. In writing about children, Burgin skillfully avoids sentimentalism. In “The Liar,” a man who talks an alluring stranger into dining with him ends up describing the imagination of his deceased son. When the child was small, the man says, his son used to refer to maple leaves as “lettuce” and narrow green pine cones as pistachio ice cream cones. The irony of the situation is comic—the narrator is having dinner with a woman he supposedly wants to seduce (she may even be a prostitute), and all he can do is dwell on the memory of his lively son. Similarly, in “The Usher Twins,” a thirty-page story, children offer much-needed ballast for a floundering adult. A woman married to a tyrannical husband has a long-distance affair which makes her believe she is living (at least momentarily) in a far-off, rhapsodic world. When her husband begins to suspect and threatens her with violence, her children serve as a vital buffer with which to re-enter her fragmented, everyday life. The story could use even more about the children, though, as it suffers a bit from its length and emotional sprawl. Even Burgin’s most twisted characters recognize the sanctity of young children. The narrator of the title story specializes in scaring people (costumed, leaping out at them from behind dumpsters, parked cars). His one taboo, though, is frightening little children. In “Hotel,” the collection’s most compelling (and unnerving) story, a narrator observes another man leering at a girl in a hotel swimming pool. The narrator becomes obsessed with the potential pedophile, and in the process, realizes he cannot separate the invidious part of his unconscious with happy, contained memories. The girl in the story is shown most starkly as she races from the pool, ostensibly away from the narrator. 248 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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The Spirit Returns will unsettle readers but also charm them with its unexpected bursts of gentle naïveté. —Reviewed by Carolyn Alessio

Davis, Jennifer S. Her Kind of Want. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 2002. 138 pages. $15.95. The first thing that came to mind as I flicked through Jennifer S. Davis’s Her Kind of Want was an image of Lucian Freud’s portraits of fleshy women with dimpled bottoms and varicose veins. All the girls and women that bare their stretch marks and blemishes throughout these nine stories combine in the reader’s imagination, giving birth to one complete vision of woman—one that is far removed from Botticelli’s Venus. Mrs. Wynbrite, who appears in “Tammy, Imagined,” is perhaps a personification of the woman that Davis has in mind and also the most memorable character captured in the pages of this collection. Mrs. Wynbrite is a woman who wants a man who understands “just how hot her body burned.” She, like all the characters here, represents the female body as being as much a burden as it is a blessing. This woman, who comes home with eyeliner tattooed onto her eyelids, is a heroine more along the lines of Joyce’s Molly Bloom than any modern-day Maid Marian—a heroine thanks to her fleshy humanity and blistering consciousness, a heroine because she is a real woman “suffering hot flashes in a kitchen with her hand up the backside of a chicken.” Her Kind of Want is aptly named: want or hunger are the words that best describe these stories. All of the women Davis creates in this collection are craving some missing element: they are a dehydrated part of the Southern landscape, overworked and misunderstood, their wanting as deep as the Alabama setting of most of the stories. In the small-town America of Her Kind of Want, “Desperation has its own scent....like shoe polish and Old Spice and gasoline and minnows.” The book cover captures something of Sofia Coppola’s film adaptation of The Virgin Suicides, the woman on the jacket looking almost Kirsten Dunst-like with her dusty-blond hair and distrusting eyes. It seems that throughout this collection, suicide—or at least some form of self-destruction—is always lurking nearby and the Crab Orchard Review ◆ 249


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characters have to resist it on a day-to-day basis. Virginity and the loss of innocence also feature heavily, with the young girl in “Rewriting Girl: An Introduction” proclaiming that “Ralph was still hope and I was still girl, before I let it go in full belly instead of spewing warm and stunted on my stomach.” Once the illusion of romance and fulfillment has been destroyed through penetration and abandonment, men come to represent absence, and the only hope comes through the fantasy of imminent rebellion and the strength of the lone female character. Jennifer S. Davis writes like an artist revealing hidden colors of the American South, like Monet brush-stroking the French landscape. Her characters, often written with childlike innocence, are tired mommas and men with “eyes lazy and blue like daytime TV.” In this modern-day Herland, mothers shoo their daughters away with a sweep of the hand and fathers’ voices sting like a slap. This collection is delightful and at times deeply unsettling—like the women it presents, the beauty in Her Kind of Want comes hand in hand with the unsavory. —Reviewed by Anne Clarkin

Pritchett, Laura. Hell’s Bottom, Colorado. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2001. 142 pages. $14.95. An effective device unites the interrelated family stories in Laura Pritchett’s debut collection, Hell’s Bottom, Colorado. A given narrator might try to tell one story only to find that another, more difficult story has insinuated itself—against the narrator’s will— into the foreground. In the first story, “Hell’s Bottom,” Renny, the family’s matriarch, is a witness to the veterinarian and her own husband performing a fetotomy on her favorite cow, Big Mama: the cow’s unborn calf needed to be reversed but proved too large to turn around—the calf has died and now they have to extract its body. The dead calf all too easily mirrors Renny and Ben’s own dead daughter. Renny finds herself thinking about the situation of her marriage: she and Ben now live in separate houses at the ranch, an arrangement arrived at even before her daughter Rachel’s death. In fact, we learn that it was Rachel who first suggested the arrangement, and her sister Carolyn agreed: “Renny and Ben didn’t have the momentum or cause enough for a divorce, their daughters 250 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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counseled, but maybe, just maybe, they’d be happier apart.” Though this living arrangement seems to be working for all of them, we can infer that both Ben and Renny share a connection that they both acknowledge through small gestures, lyrical and mute at once: He sees in her shrug what she intended him to, that she has no words that can begin to close this space. He nods his understanding and offers a sad smile in return. They turn, then, she toward the old farmhouse and he toward the truck, each ducking into the circle of snow. Similarly, the collection’s second story, “A Fine White Dust,” is ostensibly about duck hunting, but in reality is about a girl’s realization that a mother’s love might not be enough to make up for the ugliness of the world. (This is a running motif in the book, how life—things, people—is ornery, bad, painful, and filled with ache.) Fortunately, the epiphany of love’s insufficiency does not make the girl despair: she resolves in the same breath to love her brother as much as she can in a futile but worthwhile effort to “make up for all the bad that comes his way.” In the same way, “Summer Flood” is about the heat and drought of summer, but beneath the surface is about the adult yearning for (and possible reawakening of) the lost passion of first love, manifested here in a brief flirtation with adultery. Carolyn—Renny and Ben’s other daughter—is now grown, married to a decent, intelligent, and dependable man, and has children of her own. When she meets her old flame, Al, at a bar, Carolyn realizes that “this is indeed quite a situation to find themselves in. A drink, perhaps, will settle this buzz in the air and in their spines.” Then, in “An Easy Birth,” Carolyn falls from her horse and lies injured on the snow, miles from the house; she believes she might die, and begins to remember the time when the veterinarian was brought in to assist in a delivery: “a mutt was in labor” and one of the puppies, deformed, had been stuck in the dog’s cervix, so the doctor was forced to save the remaining puppies through actions that struck Carolyn as fierce, brusque, and violent, in contrast to her own belief that “Saving requires softness.” Deeper behind this second layer lies the heart of the story: her concern that her son, Jack, has grown distant, a distance she contrasts with the way he used to seek her when he nursed. Strangely, her current situation—lying in the snow, unable to walk, in pain, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 251


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bleeding—might ultimately offer a (perhaps temporary) return to that lost closeness if Jack finds her. In a situation reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” the couple in “Grayblue Day”—Jack and his girlfriend, Winnie, who is in the early months of a pregnancy—are considering an abortion, though neither ever uses the word. As in the other stories in Hell’s Bottom, Colorado, the real situation is paralleled by another that proves easier for the characters to talk about. While Jack and Winnie are in a park in Denver, waiting out the long minutes prior to her appointment at the clinic, they see a pigeon whose legs have become entangled with red string. Jack, who seems to want the baby, seizes the doomed pigeon and frees it from the string; Winnie is dismayed to realize she would not have given a thought to saving the bird: Maybe I couldn’t have caught it, but I didn’t even try. Didn’t even think of trying. Blank, I am. Blank and cold and nothing, and that’s something to fear. My mind doesn’t have such things occur to it, much less see the options. The author’s tendency to describe one thing through another— the essence of metaphor, after all—transforms these stories from everyday scenes of loss and struggle into meditations on the nature of identity and place. This is captured in an observation Carolyn makes while she watches the veterinarian: As he worked, Andrews also explained about the surgical light overhead. It was made, he said, with special mirrors to prevent the shadows of his hand from being cast into the body, so he could see. Also, this light cast no heat, so his hands wouldn’t get hot. No shadows, no warmth. How strange it seemed to her that a light could be voided of its basic properties. These characters’ basic properties are revealed to us through mirrors as well: memory, place, and relationships all shape the reflections cast by these stories. Though the light and heat of self may be hidden, the shadows cast by the outside world and by memory can illuminate the essence of these lives. —Reviewed by Tabaré Alvarez 252 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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Urrea, Luis Alberto. Six Kinds of Sky: A Collection of Short Fiction. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press, 2002. 146 pages. $12.95. Everyone knows what machismo is, but if you’ve never heard it explained in words, here it is, from the mouth of the young boy in “Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush,” the first story in Six Kinds of Sky by Luis Alberto Urrea: “To be macho, you must already know everything, know it so well that you’re already bored by the knowledge.” Of course the boy in “Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush” is referring to sex, but in this story—which is so well-structured that we hardly notice—a young man of the world requires prior knowledge, too, of such fantastical—let us call them “commonplace” so we can be macho—elements as albino alligators, giant spiders that catch bats in their webs, streets that vanish, and five-hundred-year-old monks that pop out of crumbling adobe walls. Urrea’s magical realism, most evident in the story’s bravura ending, stands on a solid foundation of concrete, carefully-observed details that nail down the village of El Rosario as a real place, such as the “pots of warm milk with the cows’ hair still floating in them.” The distance the author gives his narrator—the young boy, now grown up, reminiscing about his village—also allows for scalding social commentary, though so well-cloaked in humor that we’re happy to receive it: “Across town from the bridge, there is a gray whorehouse next to the cemetery. This allows the good citizens of the village to avoid the subjects of death and sex at the same time.” Ultimately, the story illustrates, in a manner so casual that it borders on fatalistic, the human tendency to adhere to wayward habits even in the presence of bona fide miracles—but offers hope, too, not so much in the memory of innocence, but in the memory of the picaresque naughtiness that, when young (and aspiring to be macho), we took to be its opposite. The collection covers a surprisingly wide range, both in terms of its characters—Anglos, Mexicans, Indians—and its geography. The protagonist of “Taped to the Sky,” the second story, drives his wife’s ’87 Volvo—which he has stolen—from Massachusetts to Virginia, the Carolinas, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado, until the car breaks down in Wyoming, where he attempts suicide and runs into a huge Indian wearing a cavalry hat (Don Her Many Horses, a Sioux appearing also in a later story), who provides a strange sort of salvation involving duct tape. Another story, “A Day in the Life,” follows for twenty-four hours Crab Orchard Review ◆ 253


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a Tijuana family of garbage scavengers whose cardboard-and-scrapwood shack stands in the figurative shadow of the bright city of San Diego, just across the border, just out of reach, whose missionaries—and products, including glazed donuts and Keds—spill oddly into the family’s everyday life, bringing with them dreams of a better life. And in “Bid Farewell to Her Many Horses,” a white man returns to the Sioux Nation in South Dakota for the funeral of his Sioux wife, hoping to make some sort of peace with her brother. And it’s in Mazatlán that “First Light” takes place, arguably the centerpiece of the collection. “First Light” has its comic moments, achieved mostly through voice, tone, situation, character, and dialogue; at one point a character describes over a loudspeaker (to a very conservative audience) the sight of two (imaginary) street dogs which have been caught, shall we say, in flagrante delicto: “I am saddened, my people. […] But it is obvious that someone has tied these dogs together. And the nice boy dog is trying to push the tired girl dog down the street! He’s pushing. Pushing her! […] And… no, wait. Wait a minute, folks.… […] “Oh my God! […] “Is there a priest present? We must marry these dogs immediately. Think of the children!” People were coming out, looking for the dogs. But beyond its comic value, the story shines as an archetypal portrayal of the worst nightmare of a Latin male finding himself in the throes of first love. Here, as in “Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush,” machismo is again well-depicted and shown up in all its contradictions, inconsistencies, double standards, and hypocrisies. Though the protagonist of “First Light” is quick to condemn such behavior in those around him, for our enlightened Henry—a Mexican who has studied poetry in a California university and now returns to Mazatlán, officially to visit his family but more accurately to see his cousin Cristina, with whom he’s in love—awareness might not be enough, especially if he has internalized the society’s machismo so that it weighs on him like Fate in a Greek play. His plight—key obstacles include Cristina’s fiancé, Julio—is rendered with a pathos that is heartbreaking and, in the end—at least for me, a fellow Latin male—absolutely horrifying. Though the story might not be the kind 254 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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you read around a campfire while roasting…(something pan-Latin American: it’s always hard to generalize), it might just scare the manly hair off your chest. This is an essential book, a collection of short fiction that, through the diversity of its portrayals, arrives at the common heart of the human condition. But you knew that already—right, macho? —Reviewed by Tabaré Alvarez

Barresi, Dorothy. Rouge Pulp. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002. 93 pages. $12.95. In her third collection of poems, Rouge Pulp, Dorothy Barresi draws on two very different life experiences—the death of her mother and the birth of her son—as inspiration for poems that transcend the personal in order to comment upon the universals of contemporary life. Poems about politics, physical beauty, and the body never spiral into preachiness, a testament to Barresi’s considerable gifts with language and humor. Her voice is funny because the humor never crosses into glibness; instead, we get an honest and straight-shooting wit. The poem “Bad Joke” pokes fun at the well-meaning but not-sohelpful tactic of convincing the grieving that the dead “see you.” Barresi imagines a heaven of “J. Edgar Mothers” looking down on the living: The elaborate ruses, evasions, the sins that make us who we are: we are not her. Mother, stop bugging me! These wire taps, these thick manila files. All heaven full of mothers at floaty, star-case cubicles with earphones and high-powered telescopes pointed down, and wicked grins. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 255


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Other mother-themed poems touch on the defensiveness and the all-consuming—at times terrible—love that the job entails. Barresi captures perfectly her own giving in to chance (and change) with poems like “Grendel’s Mother,” a showcase for this poet’s Rilke-like grace and unself-conscious ease with getting into her poems: Every mother is a monster. If you don't know that, you don't know anything about love. And what did you think she would do—the great mere-woman under heavy-booted oceans when the deathcry of the boy she made in her own body reached her, and she went marauding along the wolf-slopes, the dangerous fen-paths, because she could not not kill somebody now? Here is a poet whose first lines will not let you not read—no one ever skims a Barresi poem—they grab you too early with both language and content. It is often with a nod (both sincere and nudge-wink) to the 1950s sensibility of “red meat and milk” that Barresi is able to comment upon two decidedly American pastimes: shopping and obsession with the body. In “Body Says,” “At the Posh Salon Called Ultra,” and, especially, “Poem to Some of My Recent Purchases,” she writes of the way we fill ourselves in a world gone spiritually bankrupt and obsessed with image: I buy, not to escape the world but to draw it nearer. To build more world up around me. Bracelet, perfume, lampshade, purse, jewel-hoard, dream-hoard, 256 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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cast your spell. Consume me as you do. Take me home, where I might hold you in my lap a while, now that I am often afraid. It is not, however, without hope and even considerable joy that Barresi turns her words on the spectacle of American life. Her criticisms are tempered with an engaging humor that makes the voice likable, like a close friend who always speaks her mind but also admits her own faults. Admirers of Barresi’s previous collections will be happy for this poet’s continued originality, and new readers will be charmed by the language and unique voice of the poems in Rouge Pulp. —Reviewed by Melanie Dusseau

Fennelly, Beth Ann. Open House. Lincoln, NE: Zoo Press, 2002. 76 pages. $14.95. In her first collection of poems, Open House, Beth Ann Fennelly is a daughter, lover, and writer. Her poems are as playful as they are thoughtful and conscientious in their wordplay. In “The Impossibility of Language,” her tone is sharp as she states, “Synonyms are lies. Answer the question / with stones or rocks:” and then presents a kind of riddle: Q. When Virginia Woolf, on the banks of the Ouse, walked into the water, swallowing her words, with what objects had she loaded the pockets of her dress? A. Stones. Rocks is wrong, as in “She took her life for granite.” Here she is not just being clever, but proving how confusing language can be, synonyms in particular. Fennelly makes interesting use of white space on the page in “Mother Sends My Poem to Her Sister with Post-Its.” Each stanza represents a different Post-It in which the mother gives an explanation, or excuse if you will, for the poem of the title, which the reader must imagine these comments critiquing. The comments become the poem Crab Orchard Review ◆ 257


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we read, the only poem we are given here as we see the fragments and interpretation a mother brings to her daughter’s work. A writer reading Fennelly’s poem will recognize her own mother instantly. Our mothers are either boasting with pride, blushing while giving hurried excuses, or setting the record straight on their own terms. The mother here is quick to attach a Post-It with what she thinks is a crucial correction: She got this wrong it was me, not her father who sang her “Irish Rosie” she was so sick with the measles The poems in Open House are not confessional, but they do draw very closely upon family relationships. In “The Cup Which My Father Hath Given Me,” Fennelly offers her readers a more vulnerable side. In the first section of the poem, Fennelly worries about turning twenty-nine; after all, there are things you should know by then. She wonders that if she were the last person on earth and had to begin a new civilization could she “describe / how an engine works? A radio? A light bulb?” Her frantic thoughts move from one worry to the next. The title of the second section, “My Father’s Pregnancy,” may seem comical, but soon you realize that what grows inside the father is disease. Fennelly accurately parallels the father’s illness with pregnancy; his “body not quite his alone anymore.” He endures “the mornings of vomit and headaches,” and finally as “He was groaning, we were counting his breaths, he was bearing down.” In the third and final section, “Cremains,” we understand Fennelly’s relationship with her father was one that brought pain. She says, “I've burned your beautiful body / to rubble, Dad,” making him “ugly,” unlike his form in life. The book is divided into four sections—“The Room of Dead Languages,” “The Room of Echoes,” “The Room of Paper Walls,” and “The Room of Everywhere”—and third section houses Fennelly’s long poem, “From L’Hôtel Terminus Notebooks.” This poem, although divided into four parts with a prologue and epilogue, does seem like a notebook of thoughts or fragments and sometimes even stories involving animal mating habits. One aspect all the parts share is the presence of the poet, “B.A.,” and the character Fennelly creates to question her, “Mr. Daylater.” Mr. Daylater acts as an alter ego, dredging up issues B.A. would rather not talk about: her father or the color of her underwear. He discourages and criticizes B.A., 258 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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claiming she brags about herself, goading her, and pointing out ideas he says won't work in a poem. These are a writer’s insecurities speaking. The fragmented feel of this poem is no mistake. Fennelly is taking us through the thought process of writing poems: For a poem about touch: 1. A baby who is fed but not touched will die. 2. Waitresses who touch their patrons get better tips. 3. Sociologists observing teenagers say: a. Parisian teens touch each other more, but b. American teens touch themselves, fiddling with rings, cracking knuckles.

The titles of some of the sections of the long poem “From L’Hôtel Terminus Notebooks”—“Ambition, or the Will to Power,” “Love/Sex,” “Religion,” and “Death”—also serve as themes throughout Fennelly’s poems. Her poems are every bit as vulnerable and honest as they are ambitious. —Reviewed by Melanie Martin

Jackson, Major. Leaving Saturn. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2002. 75 pages. $15.95. Leaving Saturn, Major Jackson’s first full-length book of poems, is a pastiche of histories ranging from the personal and musical to the political and sociological. Jackson explores the variations of African-American culture within and without the context of American society. Place is equally important in this collection’s poems. They show that, without physical grounding, history becomes ethereal. The book’s first section, the poetic sequence “Urban Renewal,” is a meditation on growing up in the city as the city simultaneously decays, linking history with place. While Jackson’s own experience may have been one of wonder viewing the degeneration, the poems take the calm approach of a historian. The first part, “Night Museum” begins: By lamplight my steady hand brushes a canvas— faint arcs of swallows flapping over rooftops swiftly fly into view, and a radiant backdrop Crab Orchard Review ◆ 259


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of veined lilac dwindling to a dazzling cerise evokes that lost summer dusk I watched a mother straddle a stoop of brushes, combs, a jar of ROYAL CROWN. She was fingering rows dark as alleys on a young girl’s head cocked to one side like a MODIGLIANI. I pledged my life right then to braiding her lines to mine, to anointing streets I love with all my mind’s wit. The narrator’s pledge is upheld in the rest of the sequence as the sections delve into a variety of aspects of “Urban Renewal”—from block parties and break-dancing to “the teen mother pushing her young / from a project roof ” and children cooling themselves in fire hydrants—all coming together to create a better understanding of the consequences of living in a concrete environment. This motif of urban history manifested through human interaction continues in the second part of the book. In “Hoops,” a ballplayer “flicks his wrist, / the ball arcs through sunlight glare” while a “boom box bobs / & breaks beats on a buckling sea / of asphalt.” In “Mr. Pate’s Barbershop,” Mr. Pate “swept his own shop / for he had lost his best little helper Squeaky / to cross fire.” This activity and violence reinforce both the confusion and the beauty the city houses. Through the narrator’s vision, the reader views not only the urban decay and growth, but also the people surviving within its closeness. The center of Leaving Saturn, however, is a sequence of poems about Sun Ra, the interstellar jazz piano player, and his Myth Science Arkestra. Just as Sun Ra embraces the mythos surrounding Egyptian culture as truth, Jackson celebrates Sun Ra’s authenticity in these poems. The title poem is a dramatic monologue in which Sun Ra finds himself trying to juxtapose the prevailing musical aesthetic with his understanding of jazz: Myth or Generations: Spaceships in Harlem. Instead, vibes from ChiTown, must be Fletcher’s * Big Band Music—oh, My brother, the wind— I know this life is 260 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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Only a circus. I’m * Brushed aside: a naïf, A charlatan, too avantGarde. Satellite music for A futuristic tent…

Sun Ra becomes the embodiment of futuristic sounds, of thinking beyond the boundaries of place. But like the narrator of the poems in the first and second parts, Sun Ra is as out of place as “Spaceships in Harlem.” The true beauty of Jackson’s poems comes from truth. These poems leave little room for doubt. Dedication to truth in metaphor is clear whether Jackson is describing a fight in “Born under Punches”—“When Big Jake threw / A sucker punch, the boy / Fell like a swimmer / Given up breathing”—or making real an infestation in “Pest”—“I heard the terrible laughter of termites / deep inside a spray-painted wall.” In his essay “While the World Sleeps,” Nigerian author Ben Orki says, “Poets need to live where others don’t care to look, and they need to do this because if they don’t they can’t sing to us of all the secret and public domains of our lives.” Sometimes those domains involve geography, sometimes history so personal you hope no one else remembers. Regardless, Major Jackson examines it all with an unwavering eye. —Reviewed by Adrian Matejka

Jordan, A. Van. Rise. Chicago, IL: Tia Chucha Press, 2001. 94 pages. $11.95. A. Van Jordan’s first collection of poems, Rise, revolves around the two most fundamental aspects of human behavior: conflict and response. The poems seek a balance between the social majority and those on the periphery, a symmetry of modern life and history. Rather than dwelling on injustices in America, the poems focus on the anti-matter—adjustments and concessions made to adapt to the climate. Jordan doesn’t focus solely on African-American experiences made mundane in popular culture—encounters with Crab Orchard Review ◆ 261


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police, life in the ghetto, being kept down by the system. Instead, Jordan taps into the rich history of African-Americans for examples of what is possible. He approaches culture as folklore, developing a mythos of African-American history and using those figures as examples of how to live now. There are no soapboxes in Rise, however. The poems act as more of a compass, furnishing beginnings and endings and allowing the reader to decide what the next move is. The four parts of the book are preceded by the poem “Notes from a Southpaw,” in which the speaker is confronted with a type of neo-racism spawned by political correctness: The guy sitting next to me says he’s tired of these niggers like OJ, tired of rappers using the word “motherfucker.” He says how would they like to hear me call them all niggers. While the “guy’s” voice personifies Jordan’s vision of contemporary America, the speaker’s response is indicative of the conflict underlying the poems in the book: Listen, I say, why don’t you take that shit somewhere else? He says, I’m not calling you a nigger unless you feel like one. Note: Try not to feel like one when white people call you this word. Remember history. It is that history—the responses born of that weight—that the poems in Rise try to find some avenue to deal with. The first section, “Part 1: A Small Flame on the Horizon,” presents a tapestry of contemporary African-American life. The poems do not try to generalize; nor do they concern themselves solely with confrontations based on ethnicity. Instead, they deal with the conflicts inherent to being human in all its variations. The poem “St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church” delves into the struggle the saxophonist John Coltrane had with heroin and his subsequent resurrection through spirituality:

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It’s no surprise to see the church, with his face stained in the glass. No questions surround the choir of saxophones, the congregation’s many shades of sound: not the skin but the sound, not the verse but the riff, not the jazz but the spirit. How is this any different from heroin churning a man’s soul? Coltrane’s story of ascension is unique in form but is echoed and revised by many of the subjects of the poems throughout the collection. The second section, “Part 2: Blue Hands,” develops an AfricanAmerican mythos through figures both familiar and invented. The Devil, John Henry, Alan Lomax, and a sharecropper all weigh in on what it means to be living. Of particular note, however, is the poem “The Lifestory of Eddie James ‘Son’ House, Jr. As Told Through His Hands,” in which the musician’s hands become both an explanation for and a way of understanding why he played guitar: A man must live to have a life to sing. He dies to have ashes lifted by hands. Are there no limits to a bluesman’s life? Cotton & guitars: Picked by the same hands. A train’s whistle holds possibilities Much like the backsides or the palms of hands. In the audience, there are more blue eyes Than I recall my hometown had black hands. The hands become both past and present, history and imagination, while maintaining the duality that pervades African-American history: “Cotton & guitars: Picked by the same hands.” The final section of the book, “Part 4: Rise,” contains the title poem, a thirteen-part montage depicting traditional African-American music through history. The forms range from Field Holler—“Dead man, we need water now in the fields / to wash this fist from our Crab Orchard Review ◆ 263


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throats so we can / sing sunshine into our hands and feet”—to Prison Camp Work Song—“Our bloody clothes’ll be left to explain / why pickaxes and hammers sing to stone”—to Blues—“Not a yelp will be heard from a hound in heat. / ’Cause only losin’ a good woman can put a fool in his seat.” But each section manages to maintain the imagistic and lyric necessity to imbue the reader with a better understanding of the African-American experience, which, like the poem itself, circles in repetition, intermingling in the sections. Jordan’s Rise allows for a unique perspective on African-American culture, one that pays homage to the past, while accounting for the turbulence of the present. Through it all, the poems maintain their integrity, their desire to show how it is possible to overcome obstacles, whether they be personal or public; that it is possible to transcend. —Reviewed by Adrian Matejka

Smith, R.T. Messenger. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2001. 75 pages. $16.95. R.T. Smith’s latest book of poems, Messenger, is a meditation that explores the tacit connections between nature and language— the shared cadences, wavering diction—and how commerce between them deepens the cosmos outside our door. The book is divided into thirds. In the first two measures—“savor of moss” and “human salt”—the poet looks to pastoral settings, from youth and adulthood alike, to find meaning and reaffirm his living place within it. Here Smith barely makes distinctions between the eye and ear. Through lines and stanzas that seem incised by a razor, he transcends his subjects, adding amazing depth to the simplest things. For example, in the poem “Hardware Sparrows” the poet observes birds at a mega-plex hardware store foraging seed spilled on the concrete floor. How many times have we seen this? For the poet this is vaguely melancholy, an uneasy meeting of hunger and strip-mall discount culture: …and yet, they soar to offer, amid hardware rope and handyman brochures, 264 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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some relief, as if a flurry of notes from Mozart swirled from seed to ceiling… This seamless flight of association is Smith’s modus operandi. Frequently in Messenger, when the narrator is stalled among the commonplace, the poems look toward a back road “under a sky / of tarnished silver” or a window “embered and fog filling / the willows.” In these poems, no matter how dark the shade, there is always hope, and it is startling how fiercely and consistently these poems, using images of landscapes and animals, establish such intimate (but not sentimental) and reaffirming relationships. The third section of the book, “spectator,” continues its search for hidden music, but now the poems take on distinctly Irish tones. In “The Girls of O’Connell Street,” the poet begins: The brash klaxon of a Guinness lorry shivers the air where the cashiers and salesgirls of Dublin steer swift as a regatta past the Liberator’s lofty effigy and the mossgreen bronze statue of Joyce. “The Girls of O’Connell Street,” like the rest of Messenger, sings itself into being, but with more than syntactic pyrotechnics. These poems offer a rugged and heavy consciousness, touching on political and religious gradations synonymous not just with Ireland but, as the collection approaches its global community, the rest of the world. Again, the poems offer hope, working hard to unite everything in their range. This undertaking requires an unflinching heart, and perhaps this is most evident in “In Jest,” a poem dedicated to Andrew Hudgins, who, like Smith, is a poet who understands the task of turning what is somber into beauty: Man walks down a Belfast alley; it’s night—you’ve heard the story, it has to be a story—and a voice from the dark presses a muzzle Crab Orchard Review ◆ 265


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to his temple: “Catholic or Protestant?” That’s the question, posed in roguish rhythm, and the tourist, fool, daredevil, whatever, protests, “I’m a Buddhist,” but the voice insists: “Are you a Catholic Buddhist or a Protestant Buddhist?” End of story. Or end of joke, but there’s blood staining the cinders in the morning. In an already exceptional book, this is the best of Messenger. The poems refuse to be isolated, to shy away from danger, and they deepen with subsequent readings. Its narrative flights— occasionally surreal, occasioned by the “bitter scent of azaleas” or “the burning” of a dream—are tethered firmly to the senses. It is a book that offers meaningful revelations to the alert reader, a book of music that needs to be heard. —Reviewed by Matt Guenette

Trethewey, Natasha. Bellocq’s Ophelia. St. Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2002. 48 pages. $14.00. Through letters, diary entries, and a ten-poem sonnet sequence, Natasha Trethewey’s second collection, Bellocq’s Ophelia, weaves an engaging narrative of the imagined life of a Storyville prostitute who becomes one of the subjects of real-life photographer E.J. Bellocq in the early 1900s. With tough and honest language, these poems take an in-depth look at looking, seeing, and being seen, and ultimately offer a return gaze from the nameless women of New Orleans’s “colored” brothels. As she did in her first book of poems, Domestic Work, Trethewey builds on her fascination with the stories contained in the silence of photographs and, most importantly, gives the subject in the picture an authentic voice. In her new collection, this voice is often heartbreaking for its matter-of-factness, never allowing the reader to forget the borders that Ophelia dares to test between race, class, and her “station” in life: It troubles me to think that I am suited for this work—spectacle and fetish— 266 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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a pale odalisque. But then I recall my earliest training—childhood—how my mother taught me to curtsy and be still so that I might please a white man, my father. For him I learned to shape my gestures, practiced expressions on my pliant face. You need not be familiar with Bellocq’s photographs to appreciate Trethewey’s dead-on descriptions of them, especially in poems like “Photograph of a Bawd Drinking Raleigh Rye.” What she provides instead is a much-needed context that refuses to let readers off the hook for their own spectacle of looking/reading: “And there, on the surface of it all, a thumb- / print—perhaps yours?” The tone is never accusatory, but maintains an even register of musing, one that startles when Ophelia reports—all the more effectively because it is in this very same tone— on the constant perils of “passing” in the South in the sequence “Letters from Storyville” (August 1911): and many debates occur between them as to whether one can tell, just by looking, our secret. The vilest among them say, I can always smell a nigger. Others look for evidence—telltale half-moons in our fingernails, a bluish tint beneath the skin. What begins to unfold, so gradually in Trethewey’s elegant and direct language, is a reclaiming of the lens through poems that offer “what the camera misses” with an unflinching honesty, especially when Ophelia picks up her own camera and turns it on the world. The lush sonnet sequence “Storyville Diary” follows Ophelia’s transformation through the recollection of her earliest memories to her experiences with Bellocq and her increasing knowledge of the power of photographs: …I’ve learned to keep my face behind the camera, my lens aimed at a dream of my own making. What power I find in transforming what is real—a room flushed with light, calculated disarray. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 267


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In the closing poem, “Vignette,” Bellocq “takes” his subject in a final act of possession: She thinks of her own shallow breath— her back straining the stays of a bustier, the weight of a body pressing her down. Picture her face now as she realizes that it must be harder every year,... By this time we have not forgotten in Ophelia’s face that “dare” from the very first poem, and the final poem turns gorgeously from possession to triumph. Full of nuance and a terrible, quiet grace, Bellocq’s Ophelia captures its subject as surely as a photograph from the past, a woman no longer silent and more than ready to step out of the frame “into her life.” —Reviewed by Melanie Dusseau

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Contributors’ Notes Nin Andrews is the author of several books, including The Book of Orgasms (Cleveland State University Press) and Why They Grow Wings (Silverfish Review Press). In 2003, her chapbook Any Kind of Excuse will be published by Kent State University Press, and a book of translations of the French poet Henri Micheaux, entitled Someone Wants to Steal My Name, will be published by Cleveland State University Press. Elsa Arnett was born in Saigon to a Vietnamese mother and a New Zealand father. Her poetry and personal essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the Sierra Nevada College Review, Asian Pacific American Journal, Pearl, River Teeth, and the anthology Documents of the Reconstruction: Asian American Essays on War & Conflict. Chi-Wai Au received his MFA in poetry from the University of Oregon. His poems have appeared in Seattle Review, James White Review, Asian Pacific American Journal, and Crab Orchard Review. Doreen Baingana is a Ugandan who now lives in Washington, D.C. She has an MFA from the University of Maryland and is a recipient of a 2002 Artist’s Grant from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Potomac Review, The Sun, Meridian, African American Review, and in the poetry anthology Beyond the Frontier. Ned Balbo’s poetry collection Galileo’s Banquet won the 1998 Towson University Prize for Literature. In 2002, he was a Walter E. Dakin Fellow in poetry at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Dogwood, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and in Air Fare, an anthology of poems on flight. Lory Bedikian received her MFA in poetry from the University of Oregon and her BA in English from UCLA. Her work has appeared in Harpur Palate, Drumvoices Revue, Timberline, and Westwind. Heather Brittain Bergstrom has had poems published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Clackamas Literary Review, Baltimore Review, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 269


Contributors’ Notes

Lullwater Review, and Tar River Poetry. She has had prose published in Greensboro Review and Fourth Genre. She is the recipient of the Willard R. Espy Award in Fiction from the University of Washington. She grew up in Washington State, but currently lives in northern California with her husband and two children. Amy Bleser’s work has appeared in Spoon River Poetry Review, ACM (Another Chicago Magazine), Minnesota Review, and Confrontation. A graduate student at Northwestern University, she is also on the editorial staff of Other Voices. Bruce Bond’s most recent collections include Radiography (BOA Editions), The Throats of Narcissus (University of Arkansas Press), and Cinder (forthcoming; Etruscan Press). Tara Bray is in her final year of the MFA Program at the University of Arkansas. Her work has appeared in Atlanta Review, Southern Review, Puerto del Sol, Poet Lore, and Many Mountains Moving. Sharon May Brown’s stories and photographs have appeared in Maµnoa, International Quarterly, and Seeking Shelter: Cambodians in Thailand. She is currently working on a collection of short stories and guest-editing an issue of Maµnoa that will focus on contemporary Cambodian writing. Bethany Edstrom received her MFA from the University of Arkansas and is a former director of Arkansas Writers in the Schools. Her work has appeared in the Chariton Review, Slipstream, Descant, and New Delta Review. She currently teaches and coaches at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Connecticut. Ryan Fox is a senior at the University of Missouri-Columbia. James Gill teaches fiction writing and literature at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. His fiction is forthcoming in Colorado Review. Elton Glaser is editor of the Akron Series in Poetry. With William Greenway, he co-edited I Have My Own Song for It: Modern Poems of Ohio (University of Akron Press). His fifth collection of poetry, Pelican Tracks, won first prize in the 2002 Crab Orchard Award 270 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Contributors’ Notes

Series in Poetry Open Competition and will be published by Southern Illinois University Press in Spring 2003. Iris Gomez was the 2001 second-prize winner of the Chicano/Latino Literary Prize from the University of California, Irvine. Her work has been published in Cimarron Review, Mid-America Poetry Review, Potpourri, Whiskey Island, and Comstock Review. Kevin A. González is a student in the Creative Writing Program at Carnegie Mellon University. His work has appeared in Puerto del Sol, Cimarron Review, Controlled Burn, and Kestrel. Marilyn Hacker is the author of nine books, including Winter Numbers, which received a Lambda Literary Award and the Lenore Marshall Award from The Nation magazine and the Academy of American Poets in 1995; Selected Poems, which was awarded the Poets’ Prize in 1996; and the verse novel Love, Death and the Changing of the Seasons. A new book, Desesperanto, will be published in Spring 2003 by W.W. Norton. She lives in New York and Paris. Dennis Hinrichsen is the author of three collections of poetry. His most recent, Detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights, won the 1999 Akron Poetry Prize and was published by the University of Akron Press. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Field, AGNI, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Passages North. Doris Iarovici’s writing has appeared in the Crescent Review, Parents, Newsweek, and elsewhere. She was a 2002 Borchardt Scholar in fiction at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. She divides her time between writing and practicing psychiatry at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Antonio Jocson received his MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is a student in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston. His poetry has appeared in Spoon River Poetry Review, Ploughshares, and various anthologies. Tayari Jones is the author of one novel, Leaving Atlanta (Warner Books). She is a recipient of the Hurston/Wright Award, an Arizona Commission on the Arts Fellowship, and the L.E.F. Foundation Prize. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 271


Contributors’ Notes

Kasey Jueds received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Women’s Review of Books, Barrow Street, Marlboro Review, Many Mountains Moving, Puerto del Sol, and 5 AM. Jesse Lee Kercheval is the author of the poetry collection World as Dictionary and the memoir Space. Her new poetry collection, Dog Angel, is forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press. She teaches at the University of Wisconsin, where she directs the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. Trevor West Knapp received the 2001 Frederick Bock Prize from Poetry. Her poems have also appeared in Poetry Northwest, Green Mountains Review, Kenyon Review, North Dakota Quarterly, and Laurel Review. Bonnie Wai-Lee Kwong was born in Wisconsin and raised in Hong Kong. She currently lives in Boston, where she teaches piano to children. Her poems have appeared in Bamboo Ridge and Runes 2002. Gerry LaFemina is the author of Zarathustra in Love, Shattered Hours, and the forthcoming Graffitti Heart, winner of the 2001 Anthony Piccione Award from Mammoth Books. He lives in Morgantown, West Virginia, and teaches at West Virginia University and Sarah Lawrence College. Karen An-Hwei Lee lives and teaches in Southern California. Her collection of prose poems, God’s One Hundred Promises, won the Swan Scythe Press Prize. Amy Lingafelter is a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale and of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She lives in Champaign, Illinois. Cris Mazza’s story “Homeland” is part of her forthcoming book, Homeland, which will be released in Fall 2003. Her nonfiction book, Indigenous/Growing Up Californian will appear in May 2003. Among Mazza’s previous novels are Girl Beside Him, Dog People, and Your Name Here:________. She is a professor in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. 272 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Contributors’ Notes

Jeffrey McDaniel is the author of The Splinter Factory, Alibi School, and The Forgiveness Parade, all published by Manic D Press. His poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry 1994, An Anthology of New (American) Poets, The New Young American Poets, and American Poetry: The Next Generation. Ricardo Pau-Llosa’s last three poetry titles—Cuba, Vereda Tropical, and The Mastery Impulse—are from Carnegie Mellon University Press. Jon Pineda has new work forthcoming in Puerto del Sol, drunkenboat.com, and the anthology Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation. Rohan Preston is the theater critic for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Author of the poetry collection Dreams in Soy Sauce (Tia Chucha Press), he is also the co-editor of Soulfires: Young Black Men on Love and Violence (Penguin). His awards include a 1996 Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Poetry and the 1997 Henry Blakely, Jr., Poetry Prize, given by Gwendolyn Brooks. Joanna Smith Rakoff’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Paris Review, Western Humanities Review, and Arts & Letters. A columnist for Poets & Writers, she also writes for the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. Nicole Louise Reid has work appearing in Meridian, Black Warrior Review, New Orleans Review, Indiana Review, and Other Voices. She is the 2001 winner of the Willamette Award in Fiction, and has also won awards from the Pirate’s Alley William Faulkner Short Story Competition and the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Society. She teaches writing and literature at George Mason University. Jennifer Richter is a recent Wallace Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer in Poetry at Stanford University. Her poems have appeared in the Carolina Quarterly, Poetry, Ploughshares, and Puerto del Sol. Nicola Schmidt is a lecturer at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Her work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review and in the anthology Walking on Water. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 273


Contributors’ Notes

Andrea Scott is a graduate student in comparative literarture at the University of Chicago. Her work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Mississippi Review, Salt Hill, Seneca Review, and South Shore. Peggy Shumaker’s most recent book of poems is Underground Rivers (Red Hen Press). Her essays have appeared in A Road of Her Own, A Year in Place, Under Northern Lights, Prairie Schooner, and Ascent. She lives in Fairbanks, Alaska. Maurya Simon’s fifth volume of poems, A Brief History of Punctuation, was published by Sutton Hoo Press. She teaches at the University of California, Riverside, and lives in the Angeles National Forest. Susan Sterling’s essays and stories have appeared in the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Best American Sports Writing 1998, North American Review, and Marlboro Review. She received an MFA in fiction from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers and has taught at Colby College. She lives in Waterville, Maine, with her husband and two children. Myrna Stone is the author of The Art of Loss (Michigan State University Press). She is the recipient of two Ohio Arts Council fellowships and a full fellowship to the Vermont Studio Center. Maria Terrone’s first book of poetry, The Bodies We Were Loaned, was published by Word Works Press. Recipient of the 2001 Willow Review Award, Ms. Terrone has had work appear in the Hudson Review, Poetry, and Poet Lore. The Milk of Almonds: Italian American Women Writers on Food and Culture (Feminist Press) contains a section of her work. S. Brady Tucker served as an Army paratrooper in Panama and the Persian Gulf. His work has appeared in the Mississippi Review, Camphorweed, Pif Magazine, Spoon River Poetry Review, and in the following anthologies: American Diaspora, Like Thunder, and Clockpunchers (all from the University of Iowa Press). Gale Renée Walden is the author of the poetry collection Same Blue Chevy (Tia Chucha Press). She teaches at the University of Illinois. 274 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Contributors’ Notes

Patricia Jabbeh Wesley is the author of Before The Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa (New Issues Press). Her second book of poems, Becoming Ebony, was the second-place winner of the 2002 Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry Open Competition and will be published by Southern Illinois University Press in April 2003. Carolyn Beard Whitlow teaches African American literature and creative writing at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina. Her poems have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, African American Review, Kenyon Review, and the Massachusetts Review. Eran Williams is a Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University. His work appears in the Santa Monica Review, Brillant Corners: A Journal of Jazz and Literature, Cimarron Review, and Beloit Poetry Review. Lisa Williams’s first book, The Hammered Dulcimer, won the 1998 May Swenson Award and was published by Utah State University Press. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in Southwest Review, Poetry, New England Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and Raritan. She is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Robert Wrigley teaches at the University of Idaho. A new book of poems, Lives of the Animals, is forthcoming in 2003 from Penguin. Lyndane Yang received BA and JD degrees from the University of Southern California and the UCLA School of Law. Prior to discovering the lure of fiction, she practiced law in Los Angeles. In 2003, she will receive an MFA in Creative Writing from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. A resident of Pasadena, California, she is working on a short story collection and a novel.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 275


Announcements Crab Orchard Review and Southern Illinois University Press are pleased to announce the 2002 Crab Orchard First Book Prize in Poetry selection. Our final judge, Rodney Jones, selected Chad Davidsonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Consolation Miracle as the winner. His collection will be published by Southern Illinois University Press in October 2003. We want to thank all of the poets who entered manuscripts in our Crab Orchard First Book Prize Competition.

Crab Orchard Reviewâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s website has updated information on subscriptions, calls for submissions, contest information and results, and past, current and future issues. Visit us at:

<http://www.siu.edu/~crborchd/>.


Crab OrcharD Award Series In Poetry — 2001 FIRST BOOK PRIZE WHITE SUMMER Poems by Joelle Biele “In White Summer, Joelle Biele exhibits a Roethke-like affinity with nature and nature’s creatures. …These pitchperfect poems are written with a delicate, meticulous attention to craft and music. Like the joy she takes in her subjects, this collection is a joy to read.”—Elizabeth Spires, author of Worldling “The ‘sprung rhythms’ of Gerard Manley Hopkins are ghost-glimmerings that spark White Summer’s finely glossed, soul-breathy, delectably lyrical poems…a bravo debut.”—Wanda Coleman, 2001 National Book Award nominee for Mercurochrome: New Poems 67 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2468-7 $12.95 paper

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Crab OrcharD Award Series In Poetry — 2000 FIRST BOOK PRIZE TRAIN TO AGRA Poems by Vandana Khanna “Vandana Khanna’s sensual, evocative poems sweep the reader away on a journey of family, culture, and spirituality. In Train to Agra, Khanna’s deft language and bright, revelatory imagery bring both physical and emotional landscapes to life. Khanna’s gifts as a poet are many, and she uses them to cross borders and countries, to bring alive ‘The India of Postcards,’ to fill in ‘colors, the smells, to translate to English / To translate into the present, into beautiful.’ Vandana Khanna is not only a poet to watch; she is a poet to savor.”—Allison Joseph, author of Imitation of Life, In Every Seam, and Soul Train 55 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2405-9 $12.95 paper

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A B ORCH A R R C D â&#x20AC;˘

â&#x20AC;˘

REVIEW &

Southern Illinois University Press 2003 Crab Orchard Award Series First Book Prize in Poetry

$2500 and publication A first book of poems will be selected for publication from an open competition of manuscripts postmarked May 15 through July 1, 2003. Manuscripts should be 50-70 pages of original poetry, in English, by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident who has neither published, nor committed to publish, a volume of poetry 40 pages or more in length. The winner will receive a publication contract with Southern Illinois University Press, will be awarded a $1000 prize, and will receive $1500 as an honorarium for a reading at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. All submissions must be accompanied by a $25 entry fee. All entrants will receive a one-year subscription to Crab Orchard Review. For complete guidelines, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Jon Tribble, Series Editor Crab Orchard First Book Prize Department of English Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Illinois 62901-4503.


Forthcoming April 2003 in the Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry PELICAN TRACKS Poems by Elton Glaser

“Elton Glaser's Pelican Tracks offers us an intimate and intricate portrait of gritty down-home life in Louisiana. The characters and places that populate this book reveal lives thoroughly lived.…This is a singing that is both playfully and painfully desperate—like good blues, an embodied music that knows how to move gracefully between hard times and fat times.” —Tim Seibles, author of Hammerlock and Hurdy-Gurdy

BECOMING EBONY Poems by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

“Patricia Jabbeh Wesley writes of her Liberia with urgency and with artistry, in poems that remain in the mind and heart long after the reader has closed Becoming Ebony. These are political poems in the best sense of the word—wise, necessary, undeniable.” —Allison Joseph, author of Imitation of Life and In Every Seam

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the Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry 2002 title

Series Editor, Jon Tribble

FABULAE Poems by Joy Katz “Joy Katz is the quintessential storyteller, spinning her marvelous tales out of the gossamer of the imagination, but always with the goal of capturing the flash and flicker of the real world.…But the pleasure of reading Fabulae comes also from the way the elements of narrative, from the simple to the fabulous, are compressed into beautifully crafted poems.…Katz combines the art of the fabulator with the art of the sculptor. Hers is a distinctive and original voice.”— Maura Stanton, author of Glacier Wine

“In poems shot through with grace, intellect, and control, Katz considers the history and culture we all stand, finally, as heirs to: from Dachau to the deceptively still surfaces of American suburbia, from Proserpina to Plath, from the subjugation of women to the lust for empire—the result is a collection as rich as it is ambitious, announcing an already accomplished new voice in poetry.”—Carl Phillips, author of Pastoral

59 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2444-x $12.95 paper

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the Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry 2002 title

Series Editor, Jon Tribble

MUSE Poems by Susan Aizenberg “Clearly Susan Aizenberg has chosen to serve the most demanding of the nine muses, Clio, the muse of history. Aizenberg honors her with rich and vital poems of personal history, elegy, and what could be called Lyrics of the Long Haul—poems of the middle years, poems which testify to the difficulties of grace and the precious arrival of wisdom. This is an elegant and sustained volume. More importantly, it is an instructive one.”—David Wojahn, author of Spirit Cabinet and The Falling Hour

“…Aizenberg forces us to confront disturbing questions about how the aesthetic can be reconciled with the ethical. She faces these questions unflinchingly. They are the heart of her enterprise. A real, three-dimensional human being emerges out of the phrasing, the images, and the thoughts of these memorable poems, shaped out of words but entangled in the gritty detail of ordinary life.”—Maura Stanton, author of Glacier Wine 63 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2443-1 $12.95 paper

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the Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry 2001 title

Series Editor, Jon Tribble

MISERY PREFIGURED Poems by J. Allyn Rosser “J. Allyn Rosser’s poems are savvy closereadings of her daily experience. She knows how to balance cynicism with the hope for love in language that is freshly minted and full of local surprises. In the words of her own metaphor, she writes with heart and wit about the friction inside the machine of her life.”—Billy Collins, author of Sailing Around the Room and Picnic, Lightning

“It is Rosser’s splendid articulation that impresses initially, not just that her poems are well written, but that they are so resolutely anchored in the idioms of speech and the necessities of the human heart. …I do not know of another poet so unafraid of the rhapsodic and yet so capable of high wit, of addressing the world’s ‘full frontal mundanity.’”—Rodney Jones, author of Kingdom of the Instant and Elegy for the Southern Drawl 75 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2383-4 $12.95 paper

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the Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry 2001 title

Series Editor, Jon Tribble

THIS COUNTRY OF MOTHERS Poems by Julianna Baggott “Julianna Baggott has a fierce imagination which probes the ordinary details of a woman’s life and lights up both the sacred and profane. In a poem called ‘Blurbs,’ she half-facetiously hopes for the words ‘sexy,’ ‘elegance,’ and ‘bite’ to be applied to her work. Happily, in this book, she earns all three.”—Linda Pastan, author of Carnival Evening: New and Selected Poems 1968–1998

“Baggott’s world is haunted by blood, miscarriage, suicide, and family love—and set against the world of the Bible.…In these large, passionate, compelling poems, the speaker’s family and the holy family merge in love and suffering—wholly family, wholly loved, wholly suffered for.”—Andrew Hudgins, author of Babylon in a Jar: Poems and The Glass Hammer: A Southern Childhood

80 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2381-8 $12.95 paper

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the Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry 2001 title

Series Editor, Jon Tribble

NAMES ABOVE HOUSES Poems by Oliver de la Paz “Names above Houses points to a new direction in Asian American poetry in which the creative genius of Oliver de la Paz hangs in the sky as luminous neon verse. He takes the urbane colors of John Berryman and mixes them with the sensuous hues of Arthur Sze. This is a book enriched with unexpected shifts of language, vertical and horizontal perspectives, and a full spectrum of emotion and insight.”—Nick Carbó, author of Secret Asian Man

“Oliver de la Paz has created a unique work: a novella in the form of a sequence of prose poems; a lucidly inventive allegory of migration, exile, and belonging. With grace and elegance, he evokes the magical, mythmaking culture of his Philippines and brings it to a very real California in the person of Fidelito, a boy who wants to fly, and his parents, Domingo and Maria Elena. Oliver de la Paz has the strength and wisdom to step lightly with the heaviest burdens. He is stunningly good.”—Rodney Jones, author of Kingdom of the Instant and Elegy for the Southern Drawl 78 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2382-6 $12.95 paper

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the Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry 1999 & 2000 titles

Series Editor, Jon Tribble

The Star-Spangled Banner Poems by Denise Duhamel

“[S]o overwhelming is her relish for life that embarrassment, or titillation when the subject is sexual, just doesn’t stand a chance.”—Booklist 67 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2259-5 $12.95 paper

In Search of the Great Dead Poems by Richard Cecil

“[T]he technical skill and humor on display in this collection make it likely that Cecil’s poems will be read long after he joins that ever-longer roll call of poets who have passed on. . . . [A] remarkable book.”—Quarterly West 111 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2260-9 $12.95 paper

CROSSROADS AND UNHOLY WATER Poems by Marilene Phipps

“[T]his collection embraces awe and woe through curses and praise that unearth a meeting place for the unspeakable as well as culminant beauty— a book of acknowledgment and ritual.”—Yusef Komunyakaa 71 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2306-0 $12.95 paper

WINTER AMNESTIES Poems by Elton Glaser

“Elton Glaser’s poems are classic in the best sense of the word: he achieves stateliness without stuffiness and form without confinement. ”—Lucia Perillo 77 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2305-2 $12.95 paper

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A B ORCH A R R C D •

REVIEW The Jack Dyer Fiction Prize and The John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize

$ 1500 prize — Fiction $ 1500 prize — Literary Nonfiction One winner and two finalists will be chosen in each category. Winners will be published and finalists announced in the following Fall/Winter issue of Crab Orchard Review. Contest Guidelines Entries must be previously unpublished, original work not under consideration elsewhere and will not be returned. Name should appear only on the first page of the manuscript. All entries must be postmarked between February 1, 2003 and March 15, 2003. Late entries will be returned. Enclose an SASE for notification of winners. Page Restrictions: up to 6000 words for fiction, and up to 6500 words for literary nonfiction (one story or essay per entry). Entry fee: $15 for each entry. Please make checks payable to Crab Orchard Review. Each fee entitles entrant to a one-year subscription to Crab Orchard Review, an extension of a current subscription, or a gift subscription. Please indicate your choice and enclose a complete address for subscriptions. Entries must be clearly addressed to: Crab Orchard Review Contest, Department of English, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois 62901-4503. Outside of the envelope must be marked “Fiction” or “Literary Nonfiction.”


A B ORCH A R R C D •

REVIEW “A magazine writers admire and readers enjoy.”

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The Fifth Annual

Young Writers Workshop at Southern Illinois University Carbondale June 11 - June 14, 2003 SIUC will hold its fifth Young Writers Workshop for high school students, offering daily workshops in poetry and fiction writing. Some merit-based scholarships are available. For information contact: Young Writers Workshop Division of Continuing Education Mail Code 6705 Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901. ALLISON J OSEPH, YOUNG W RITERS W ORKSHOP DIRECTOR aljoseph@siu.edu

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Crab Orchard Review Vol 8 No 1 F/W 2002  

General/Awards Issue, Featuring the Winners of Our 2002 Annual Fiction & Literary Nonfiction Prizes and AWP Intro Award Winners

Crab Orchard Review Vol 8 No 1 F/W 2002  

General/Awards Issue, Featuring the Winners of Our 2002 Annual Fiction & Literary Nonfiction Prizes and AWP Intro Award Winners

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