Crab Orchard Review Vol 9 No 1 W/S 2004

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In this volume:

Including Our 2003 Fiction & Nonfiction Prize Winners

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ISSN 1083-5571

AWP Intro Winners

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Mary Quade Sara Quinn Rivara Nicholas Samaras Sean Serrell Neil Shepard Betsy Sholl Taije Silverman Maggie Smith Liz Stefaniak Kevin Stein Alexandra van de Kamp Latha Viswanathan Sophie Wadsworth Braden Welborn Gabriel Welsch Kathy Whitcomb

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Yahya Frederickson Elton Glaser Luisa Igloria HonorĂŠe Fanonne Jeffers Anne Keefe Steve Kistulentz Elizabeth Knapp Melissa Kwasny Jacqueline Jones LaMon Lisa Lewis Linda Mannheim Debra Marquart John Minczeski Missy-Marie Montgomery Paula Nangle James P. Othmer Donald Platt

Volume 9, Number 1 Winter/Spring 2004

Danny Anderson S. Beth Bishop Bruce Bond Amy Knox Brown Joel Brouwer Anthony Butts Stacy Gillett Coyle Melissa Crowe Jim Daniels Traci Dant Oliver de la Paz Matt Donovan Kevin Ducey Nancy Eimers Robin Farabaugh Beth Ann Fennelly Vievee Francis

Crab Orchard Review

Cover: Four photographs by Fern Logan Š 2003. Fern Logan is Associate Professor of Cinema and Photography at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Crab Orchard Review


A B ORCH A R R C D •

REVIEW


C RAB •

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REVIEW A JOURNAL OF CREATIVE WORKS

VOL. 9 NO. 1

“Hidden everywhere, a myriad leather seed-cases lie in wait . . .” —“Crab Orchard Sanctuary: Late October” Thomas Kinsella Editor & Poetry Editor Allison Joseph

Founding Editor Richard Peterson

Prose Editor Carolyn Alessio

Managing Editor Jon Tribble

Editorial Interns Scott Beem Jon Friedler Teresa Kramer Steven Leek Kandace McCoy Keith McElmurry Dave Neis Steve Sawyer Crystal Schroeder Josh Vinzant Courtney Wilson Jamie Walczak

Assistant Editors Curtis Crisler Barbara Eidlin Melanie Martin Kevin McKelvey Mary Stepp Mark Vannier Board of Advisors Ellen Gilchrist Charles Johnson Rodney Jones Thomas Kinsella Richard Russo

Book Review Editor Jon Tribble

Winter/Spring 2004 ISSN 1083-5571

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 © 2004 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:

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


Crab Orchard Review and its staff wish to thank these supporters for their generous contributions, aid, expertise, and encouragement:

Rick Stetter, Susan H. Wilson, Karl Kageff, Barb Martin, Carol Burns, Larry Townsend, Jonathan Haupt, Jane Carlson, Kathy Kageff, and Kyle Lake of SIU Press Division of Continuing Education SIU Alumni Association The Graduate School College of Liberal Arts The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost The Southern Illinois Writers Guild

This issue is partially funded by the Illinois Arts Council.


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The editors and staff of Crab Orchard Review dedicate this issue to the memory of four individuals who as students, colleagues, writers, and friends enriched our lives:

In Memoriam

WENDY BISHOP SERGIO GARCIA TRISH IRELAND BRAD YOUNKIN


C RAB •

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REVIEW

WINTER/SPRING 2004

VOLUME 9, NUMBER 1

FICTION AND PROSE Amy Knox Brown

In the Field of Cement Animals

1

Linda Mannheim

Dropping

14

Paula Nangle

The Last Day at Nyadzi

48

James P. Othmer

Modular

90

Latha Viswanathan

Traveling

103

Robin Farabaugh

Annual Light

136

Debra Marquart

Pilgrim Soul

145

Shara McCallum

Naming the Birds

179

Liz Stefaniak

Julie’s Brush with Death

183

Rafael Torch

La Villita

212


Book Reviews

Recent Titles by Tracy Daugherty, 228 Lee Gutkind, Mary Baine Campbell, Deborah Cummins, Paul Guest, David Jauss, Adrian Matejka, Ricardo Pau-Llosa, Don Share, Reginald Shepherd, and Jerry Williams

POETRY Daniel Anderson

At Three A.M.

30

S. Beth Bishop

Long and Short

32

Bruce Bond

The Ghost of Weather Transparencies

34 36

Joel Brouwer

Mandelstam Capriccio in the Crazy Mountains

39 40

Anthony Butts

Enigmatic

41

Stacy Gillett Coyle

Break in the Storm

42

Melissa Crowe

Bruise

43

Jim Daniels

Holy Week

44

Traci Dant

Out of Motown

46

Oliver de la Paz

Epitaph for the Musculature of the Neck Aubade with a Thistle Bush Holding Six Songs On Motions of Death

67

Matt Donovan

Trenton, a Solmization, Two Rivers, a Few Tells

68 70 71


Kevin Ducey

Dien Bien Phu

74

Nancy Eimers

Occasionals Handwriting in America

78 80

Beth Ann Fennelly

Latching On, Falling Off

82

Vievee Francis

The First Stone

87

Yahya Frederickson

Sacrifice

88

Elton Glaser

Interior Lighting Nude in Oils and Sand

118 120

Luisa Igloria

Manifestations

122

HonorĂŠe Fanonne Jeffers

Reunion Scripture Two Hard Grace

124 126

Anne Keefe

If I Could Enter Your Spine as a Fish Mosh

128 129

Steve Kistulentz

Against Roses

130

Elizabeth Knapp

Spider-Man Considers a Career Change

132

Melissa Kwasny

Jasmine

134

Jacqueline Jones LaMon

Moss

135

Lisa Lewis

Travel Plans for Social Outcasts

158

John Minczeski

Thieves of Warsaw

164

Missy-Marie Montgomery

Knowledge of the Body

165

Donald Platt

Provider

166


Mary Quade

Bats

168

Sara Quinn Rivara

Blessing

169

Nicholas Samaras

Saints of Ire

170

Sean Serrell

Intersection

174

Neil Shepard

Sunflower Sutra Oh! On an April Morning,

176 178

Betsy Sholl

To Walt Whitman in Heaven Impediments

190 192

Taije Silverman

First Love

194

Maggie Smith

Singular

196

Kevin Stein

Found in a Shoe Box Labeled “Keep” 197

Alexandra van de Kamp

Charcoal Study: Dancer with a Fan

Sophie Wadsworth

Two Poems from Letters from Siberia: Roxanna Lord Pray The Walnut Tree 202 Five Thousand Miles from 205 Maine, 1898

Braden Welborn

Shape Note Singings

207

Gabriel Welsch

Pennsylvania

208

Katharine Whitcomb

Love Letters

210

Contributors’ Notes

200

250


A Note on Our Cover The four photographs on the cover of this issue are the work of Fern Logan, Associate Professor in Cinema and Photography at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Announcements We would like to congratulate past contributor S.L. Wisenberg. S.L. Wisenberg’s nonfiction piece “Irving Berlin, the Margin and the Mainstream,” which appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Volume 7, Number 2 (Spring/Summer 2002), was listed as a Notable Essay from 2002, chosen by Robert Atwan, series editor, in the 2003 Best American Essays. This issue of Crab Orchard Review includes three winners of the AWP Intro Journals Project 2003. Sponsored by the Association of Writers & 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 2003 were Sue William Silverman, nonfiction; Dan Leone, fiction; and Sandra Kohler, poetry. The other journals participating this year are the Bellingham Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Journal, MidAmerican Review, Puerto del Sol, Quarterly West, Shenandoah, Tampa Review, and Willow Springs. The 2003 winners published in Crab Orchard Review are: Matt Donovan, “Trenton, a Solmization, Two Rivers, a Few Tells” (poetry) Kevin Ducey, “Dien Bien Phu” (poetry) Liz Stefaniak, “Julie’s Brush with Death” (nonfiction)


The 2003 Jack Dyer Fiction Prize & John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize

We are pleased to announce the winners and finalists of the Seventh Annual Jack Dyer Fiction Prize and John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize. In fiction, the winning entry was “Dropping” by Linda Mannheim of Miami, Florida. In literary nonfiction, the winning entry was “Pilgrim Soul” by Debra Marquart of Ames, Iowa. Finalists in fiction were “Abacus” by Francine Almash and “Builder of Bridges” by Ron Tanner. Finalists in literary nonfiction were “Good Friday” by Betty A. Christiansen and “On Other Shores” by Holly Leigh. The final judge for both competitions was Carolyn Alessio, Crab Orchard Review’s prose editor. Both winners will receive $1500 and their works are published in this issue. Congratulations to the winners and finalists, and thanks to all the entrants for their interest in Crab Orchard Review. Please note the details of the 2004 Jack Dyer Fiction Prize, John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize, and the new Richard Peterson Poetry 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>.


Amy Knox Brown

In the Field of Cement Animals

AND I WERE IRISH TWINS. We’d been born in the same year, me in January, Debbie ten months later in November. Now that we were fourteen and thirteen, everyone thought Debbie was the oldest. She was taller, for one thing, and she had a certain confidence, a way of walking right into situations or groups of people without any of the gestures that signal fear—lowered eyes, nervous smoothings of clothes, the tentative smile. All my life, it seemed, I’d followed behind Debbie: she was the first to walk, the first to talk, the first one of us to stroll up to a boy, tilt her head and narrow her eyes in a way that made him swallow and step back. The day I saw her render Tommy Wycoff almost mute, Mom and I had spent the morning canning tomatoes. Mason jars lining the counter glowed in sunlight. Peeled, the tomatoes were slippery as soapy dishes. Juice and seeds coated my hands and trailed along my forearms. Red strips of tomato skin were stuck to the sides of the sink. “How about BLTs for lunch?” Mom asked. “I’ll have a BL,” I said. “I’ve had enough of Ts today.” “Me, too.” Mom screwed lids on a row of jars and used tongs to set them in the big kettle of boiling water that bubbled on the stove. Working together like this invited confidences, and I was on the verge of telling her what I’d been noticing the past few weeks about Debbie. My sister had always been prone to illness—her allergies kicked up this time of year, then she usually caught a bad cold or strep throat after school started. Last Christmas she’d been hospitalized with pneumonia. At breakfast this morning, there were dark circles under her eyes, and Mom told her, “Deb, you look like you’re coming down with something. You need to rest. Connie and I can take care of the tomatoes.” Debbie had nodded. In the bright morning light, her lips were pale, bloodless. What I wanted to talk to Mom about was the way Debbie’s vision had seemed a little off lately. Occasionally when I handed her

DEBBIE

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something, her fingers would close over empty air a few inches to the left or right of what I held. Other times, when our bedroom was dark and I asked her a question, she would look toward the bed where I slept, even if I was hanging clothes in the closet or standing by the window, hoping for a breeze. Seeing her stare at the bed, nodding, as if someone were actually there, made the hair on my arms stand up. It was like watching a person talking to a ghost. I slid two big whole tomatoes into a jar and packed them down. You had to cram them into the jar that way; the tomatoes shrank when they cooked in boiling water, and if they weren’t packed tightly, you’d end up with jars that were half watery juice, half tomatoes. “Mom?” I pressed two more tomatoes into the jar. “Yes?” I glanced out the window and saw Debbie walking across the back yard. She wore a dress, the one she’d gotten for Easter, and was carrying sandals in one hand. Sunlight shimmered off her long blond hair. She was headed east, toward the road that led past the big field of cement lawn ornaments where we’d played hide-and-seek when we were little. Automatically, my hand reached for another tomato. I could feel myself frowning. Where was she going, dressed up, when I was here working and she was supposed to be getting some rest? Normally I didn’t resent Debbie being excused from chores, but the fact that she was sneaking off somewhere—that she hadn’t at least included me by whispering her plans before she went upstairs—rubbed me the wrong way. Tomato juice stung in the little nicks left by the paring knife, steam rolling off the kettle had turned the kitchen air humid and sticky. If Debbie had been helping, we’d have finished hours ago. Watching her cross the lawn, I thought, If she’s well enough to get dressed up and go for a walk, then her blurry vision or whatever is wrong is probably nothing. The words I’d decided on—I think Debbie might need glasses—were on the tip of my tongue, but I bit them back and said, “Do you want me to start the bacon when I’m done with this?” “Sure,” Mom said. I didn’t tell on Debbie, that she wasn’t resting now, that there might be something wrong with her eyes. A breeze ruffled the hem of Debbie’s dress and she disappeared around the corner of the house. Loyalty, I would have said right then, if Mom had asked me why I kept it all secret. Respect for privacy. But there were other reasons, I suppose. There always are.

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I TOOK A TRAY with a sandwich and a glass of lemonade up to our room for Debbie, who, of course, wasn’t there. “She’s sleeping,” I told Mom when I went back downstairs. We ate lunch without talking; it was pleasant to sit quietly in the cool dining room, waiting for a breeze to blow through the screens. “Maybe I’ll take a nap,” I said after I scraped the crusts into the trash. I wasn’t sure how long I could conceal the fact that Debbie was gone—and that I’d lied about it, earlier. But when I stepped into our bedroom, she was sitting on her bed, eating the sandwich I’d left. “Where have you been?” She chewed and swallowed, looking right into my eyes. “What happened to the tomatoes? You left them off.” “We were sick of tomatoes since we’ve been canning them all morning.” I sat down, hard, on my bed, making the springs creak. “I saw you in the back yard. Where’d you go?” “I went to meet Tommy Wycoff in the cement animals field. He was supposed to be there at noon, but he didn’t show up.” “Tommy Wycoff?” I knew Tommy Wycoff—at least, I knew who he was. That fall he’d be a senior at Langley High, four years ahead of Debbie and three years ahead of me. His family owned the grocery store in Langley and acres of land outside of town. He was handsome in a grown-up way, but he was so much older than we were, it was like Debbie had told me she’d arranged a rendezvous with one of our teachers. “Why were you meeting Tommy Wycoff?” “I ran into him when Mom sent me to the grocery store yesterday, to get some lids for the Mason jars. He said he’d like to talk to me some more and I should meet him by the cement animals today.” I sat on the bed, blinking. Was Tommy Wycoff interested in my little sister? “So let’s go back this afternoon.” Debbie rattled the ice in her lemonade. “Maybe he’ll show up.” We explained to Mom that Debbie was feeling better, that we’d decided to take a walk, and left the house. Dust hovered above the road. Gravel pressed into the soles of my sneakers. Debbie hummed to herself, a tune I didn’t recognize. Ahead, in their field, the cement animals stood stunned by the sunlight, their grey backs and shoulders the color of the road we walked on. Before I was born, the cement animals were part of a lawn ornament business run by a man named Lloyd Triplett. These animals, along with some dinosaurs and statues of saints, were display figures. Eventually Crab Orchard Review ◆ 3


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the business went bankrupt and Lloyd Triplett moved, leaving the figures behind. The Catholic Church adopted the saints for their courtyard, and the city moved the three dinosaurs to the park and painted them green. The animals, however, remained in their original spot, years of snow and hail, then blazing summers, barely pocking the cement skin of their backs. There was a yawning rhino; three lions standing with their heads raised, scenting the air; a bear with a fish caught in one of his lifted paws. Two elephants, a mother and her baby; a Clydesdale stallion; a circus seal balancing a ball on his nose. The one I liked best was an enormous gorilla on his hind feet, arms raised, an ambiguous expression on his face that could be either greeting or threat. Every one of them was life-sized, cast in concrete, heavier than anything you could imagine. Winters, when snow covered the ground, each animal appeared lonely and distinct, but now, with the weeds growing up around them, they seemed to be members of a friendly but mismatched herd. Debbie followed the overgrown driveway into the field. Grass brushed my knees. I squinted against the shimmering light. Then Tommy Wycoff stepped out from behind the mother elephant and leaned against her side. He wore a white T-shirt and jeans, smeared with streaks of grease. He folded his arms across his chest. “Hey, Deb.” He looked at me and dipped his head. Debbie walked right up to him. “I came here earlier,” she said. “You said noon, didn’t you?” “Might have.” “You did.” Debbie gazed into his face, hands on her hips. “You lied to me already.” “Something came up.” “Like what?” The air smelled of scorched grass. Sweat gathered along my hairline and in the crooks of my elbows. I wished I were home, sitting on the front porch with a glass of iced tea and a magazine. “Like my dad sent me off to get a new alternator for the pickup and it took longer than it should of—” “That’s okay.” Debbie’s voice dropped from the shrill questioning tone to something lower. A hot breeze lifted her hair. She put her hand on Tommy’s arm and gazed into his eyes. I didn’t know how she could do it: the sun was behind his head, she must have been blinded by all that light. And she was only thirteen—who had showed her how to act this way? She and Tommy stood absolutely 4 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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still. I saw his throat move when he swallowed, and then he looked down at her hand, at the spot where their skin touched. FOR THE TWO WEEKS WE WENT to the field of cement animals to meet Tommy, every time seemed identical to the time before: Tommy’s pickup parked at the back of the overgrown driveway, the sun blazing overhead, or, if we went to the field after dinner, hanging lower in the sky like a balloon leaking air. Tommy stood behind one of the animals, smoking. He stepped out, said, “Hi, Connie, hi, Deb.” We talked a little, then Debbie would reach for Tommy’s hand, and they’d walk off into the weeds together. A long, low building stood at the back of the field, where Lloyd Triplett’s office had been. The doors had been torn off their hinges and the two windows along the south wall had been broken so long ago that not even shards of glass in the corners of the frames remained. Inside the building, a few small cement figurines lay tipped on their sides or hidden in corners. While Tommy and Debbie were off in the field, I explored the building, slowly, making myself focus on each detail to have something to do. I collected the lawn ornaments I found and set them in the middle of the room: two turtles, a gargoyle, a rabbit, a tiny baby duck that must have been one of several molded to follow after a mother duck. A few of the ornaments were chipped, but not badly, and I decided I’d take them home, one by one, a reward to myself for waiting around while Tommy and Debbie did whatever it was they did. On the walks home, Debbie’s cheeks were flushed. The skin around her mouth looked pink. Sometimes I reached over and removed a piece of grass from her hair. We’d hurry up the stairs to our room, and I’d hide whatever ornament I’d brought home in the closet. Debbie went into the bathroom, washed her face, and came out looking the way she always looked, unkissed. At night, lying in bed, I asked her what she and Tommy did when they went off into the grass. “We talk,” she said. I could hear Dad in the bathroom, running water. We kept our voices low. “We kiss, you know. He wants to—he wants—” she cleared her throat. “To do other things. Take off my shirt.” Outside, cicadas hummed in the trees. The breeze that came through the screen held the slightest touch of coolness. Floorboards creaked under Dad’s feet when he moved down the hall. I thought I should have been the one telling Debbie’s story, since I was older: I Crab Orchard Review ◆ 5


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should have been the one to experience things first, explain them to my little sister, conscious of her in the bed a few feet away from mine, propped against the pillows, listening, waiting for my next words. This is what it’s like, but you have to be careful, you can’t believe everything a boy might say to you. I said, “Be careful,” and I sounded exactly the way Mom did when she watched us use sharp knives. “Connie,” Debbie said, and I waited for her to continue, but she got up and went into the bathroom, and by the time she got back, I was almost asleep. THE FIRST DAY OF THE COUNTY FAIR, Debbie and I got up early. We showered and dressed in floral skirts we’d made a few years before for 4-H projects. Debbie’s hem was a little crooked because she’d only pinned it, not basted it the way you were supposed to. But on Debbie, a crooked hem wasn’t something you’d notice. The fairgrounds sat on the outskirts of town, three big metal Quonset huts and a barn for the animals. Fields of wheat waved on either side of the road. The car’s tires churned up dust. In the backseat, Debbie sneezed and sneezed. Mom glanced in the rearview mirror. “Did you take your allergy pills this morning?” “Yes. Of course.” We parked and crossed the gravel lot to the Quonset hut where, two days earlier, we’d left our entries for judging. Then, the hut had been a mess of contestants’ boxed entries, floor gritty with dust, the women writing out tags looking sweaty and tired. Today, the cement felt swept and smooth under my feet. White butcher paper covered long tables, with the different classes of items arranged on top. Canned goods gleamed in sunlight. Carefully folded quilts hung on racks behind the tables, ribbons dangling from some of them. Pies and plates of cookies sat in straight rows. Framed paintings lined the Quonset’s back wall. Debbie had made some strawberry jam and a pink halter-top. She got a red, second-prize ribbon on the jam, nothing on the halter. We walked up and down the aisles, talking to people we knew, admiring a tiny set of doll clothes, a lavender wool jacket with silver buttons, searching for the crocheted tablecloth Mom had been working on all year, the baby blanket I’d knitted, my jar of tomatoes. “That’s too bad about the halter-top,” I said to Debbie. “I thought it was cute.” Debbie shrugged. “I don’t care.” 6 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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A horse neighed from the barn. A little boy in overalls led a sheep past the windows. I spotted Mom’s tablecloth, a blue ribbon attached to its entry tag. “Look!” The baby blanket had gotten a red ribbon, and I felt my heart clutch with disappointment. Only second prize. I rubbed my fingers over the slick ribbon. “Sweetie,” Mom said. “There’s a lot of entries in that category. Lots of things that didn’t win a prize at all.” “I know.” “Let’s find your tomatoes.” The tomatoes made up for the baby blanket—a purple ribbon, first prize, gleamed against the jar. “Good job, Connie!” Mom squeezed my arm. I waited for Debbie to say something, but she was looking toward the door. A shadow fell into the room, followed by the body that cast it: Tommy Wycoff. “Oh, Tommy Wycoff ’s here,” Debbie said. Her voice was as casual as if she’d noticed our neighbor, Mrs. Peters, or one of the teachers from school. “I think I’ll go over and say hi.” “That’s fine.” Mom sounded a little distracted; she was looking at the other jars of tomatoes, the ones I’d beaten. “You really did a good job with yours,” she told me. “I know some of these belong to people who’ve been canning for years.” “Mm.” I was watching Debbie approach Tommy. His face transformed when he saw her. His head lifted, he smiled, the corners of his eyes turning up. A person couldn’t stop herself from thinking how handsome he was. Tommy spoke, and Debbie nodded. She left him standing by a table covered with cookies and pies and came back over to us. “Is it okay if I go over to the sheep judging?” she asked Mom. Mom looked at her, and then across the room at Tommy. “Well, all right. For a little while.” Debbie and Tommy moved through the Quonset’s door and into the sunlight. Mom sighed. “Now who is that boy?” “Tommy Wycoff.” “That’s right. He’s the nephew of the man with the lawn ornament business.” Mom was still staring at the door. “He’s a little older than you girls, isn’t he?” I swallowed. Tommy Wycoff was seventeen, old enough to drive, almost old enough to vote. If Mom knew exactly how old Tommy was, she’d probably want to go after Debbie, snatch her back, and I supposed there would be a little scene in the livestock judging arena, Debbie’s Crab Orchard Review ◆ 7


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voice going shrill: But you said all right—! “Oh, a little older,” I said. Mom sighed again. “I was hoping Debbie would wait awhile before she started…being interested in boys.” Did she mean, wait until after a boy had showed some interest in me? In our town, siblings were often identified by a particular trait—the lazy one, or the redhead. Debbie and I were still young enough to be distinguished by our birth order, but I imagined that a few years down the road, Debbie would become—what? The pretty one? The wild sister? And I’d be known as a Good girl, or—worse— Mannerly but plain. Looking down at my jar of tomatoes, I felt as if my whole summer had been wasted on useless projects, an accumulation of objects that I’d created for no real purpose. I’d donate the baby blanket to the church for its Christmas basket campaign. We’d eat the purple-ribbon tomatoes that would taste no different from all the other tomatoes at home. And the ribbons themselves were poor mementos, nothing like pictures: they wouldn’t help me remember what these things looked like, what they’d meant to me while I was making them. IT WAS ALWAYS THE SAME: Tommy’s pickup parked at the back of the driveway, the weeds in the field no taller or shorter than the time before. I walked around the office building, collecting the abandoned ornaments. At home, Debbie and I called hello to our parents and hurried upstairs. Debbie washed her face; I hid whatever ornament I’d brought home with me on the floor of our closet, back in the corner. Years later, the day before I got married, when I was taking my clothes and shoes out of the closet to pack them in boxes, my fingers brushed one of the turtles and I sat back on my heels. What on earth? Debbie sat on her bed. By then, she could only see shadows. I took the whole collection of ornaments out of the closet and arranged them around her on the mattress. Even after all these years, I could remember the order in which I’d brought them home, the baby duck first, then the gargoyle, then the two turtles, which were the heaviest. “Here,” I said, and set the baby duck in her lap. She stroked her fingers over his cement back, his little beak. “A bird?” she guessed. “Right.” She reached out and touched the other ornaments, one by one. “They were in the closet?” “That summer, you know,” I said. “The summer you first got 8 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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sick, when we’d go to the field where the cement animals are—I brought them home then.” “Oh.” She lifted one of the turtles, pressing her fingers into the spot where his shell was chipped. “That summer Tommy Wycoff was there.” I nodded, then realized she couldn’t see the gesture. “Yes, that summer.” A WEEK AFTER THE FAIR, school started. On the second day, Debbie fainted in the hallway between classes. My parents were called to come to the nurse’s office, and I sat next to them on a hard wooden chair whose varnish had turned sticky in the heat. A ceiling fan turned tiredly above our heads. The nurse stepped out of an adjoining room and shut the door behind her. “She’s resting right now.” She pulled up a chair and sat facing us. “I think you need to take Debbie in for some tests. She’s fifteen pounds lighter than last year. That’s not normal for a girl her age.” My father pressed his lips together and looked down at his hands. Mom was holding her purse on her lap, and she lifted it up and then set it down again. For some reason, they looked at me. “Debbie doesn’t—” The nurse cleared her throat. “Debbie doesn’t make herself vomit after she eats, does she?” “No,” I said. “No, but—” They waited, heads tilted warily. I realized I should have said something sooner, weeks ago. “It seems like there might be something wrong with her eyes.” “Eyes?” the nurse prompted. “The past few days,” I said, though it had been longer than that. “It seems like she can’t see very well.” The nurse nodded. She appeared relieved by this information. “Maybe Debbie needs glasses. You know sometimes vision impairments can bring on headaches, and that might have caused Debbie to faint.” “But the weight loss,” Mom said. The nurse nodded, opened her mouth to speak, and then remained silent. LATER THAT WEEK, Mom and Dad drove Debbie to Madison for tests. I had school; I had to stay behind. All day I kept looking up at the clock, trying to imagine exactly what they were doing. Was Debbie on a raised hospital bed, her arm stretched out for a nurse to insert Crab Orchard Review ◆ 9


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a needle and draw blood? Were Mom and Dad standing next to her, or waiting outside the room? Maybe the tests were over quickly, and they were having lunch now, or even shopping. Maybe they were already home. “Well, we were lucky,” Mom said that night at dinner. She’d made a roast. I watched Dad carve the meat. Debbie was upstairs, sleeping. She’d been in bed since they’d gotten back from Madison, sleeping or pretending to sleep whenever I was in the room, not responding when I whispered her name. “The tests came back, and even if the results aren’t what we’d hoped—” “She’s diabetic,” my father said. He set the knife, carefully, against the plate. “She’ll have to take insulin for the rest of her life.” I’d heard of insulin, and I thought it involved needles. “You mean, she’ll have to get shots?” “She’ll have to learn how to give herself shots. And she’s going to have to take it easy, watch what she eats.” He handed me the platter with the sliced roast on it. Potatoes and carrots arranged around the meat rolled together as I took it; I realized my hands were shaking. Debbie was really sick. “Does she know?” Mom nodded. “She’s upset, you know—” “I know,” I said. “But it could have been worse. If she hadn’t fainted, we wouldn’t have had the tests done, and there’s a chance—” Mom lifted her napkin to her mouth, suddenly. Her eyes filled. I looked down at my plate. I’d never seen either of my parents cry, or even close. “There’s a chance she could have just suddenly gone into a coma. This way, at least, we can take care of her.” “Of course,” I said. “Connie, it was so good you noticed that her vision was blurry— that’s one of the symptoms.” What if I’d said something sooner? I wanted to ask, to have the answer absolve me, but I knew the truth could go the other way, too. As it was, Debbie’s diagnosis and treatment occurred before anything terrible happened. By fainting, she’d been the one who offered up the clue, not me—even though I’d known for weeks that she wasn’t seeing very well. But I’d kept this information to myself, along with the nightly meetings with Tommy Wycoff, as if the two were connected. The blindness, the boy. I swallowed and looked down at my plate, at the slices of meat and bright orange carrots. 10 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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Mom reached across the table and patted my hand, giving me comfort when I should have been scolded, sent to bed without supper. Forced, even, to hear the words: You’re jealous, aren’t you? That’s why you kept it secret? E ARLY EVENING , the day before Debbie fainted, the day before everything changed, Debbie and I went to the field to meet Tommy. The sky had faded to a pale, washed-out blue and the sun hovered above the horizon, a ball of fire. We stomped down the weeds around the gorilla and sat on the ground, resting our backs against his legs, Tommy and Debbie against one leg, me against the other. Tommy had his arm over Debbie’s shoulders. He talked about his classes, how people had changed over the summer, a fat girl becoming so thin in only three months that he didn’t recognize her at first. Did Debbie not like listening to him talk about another girl? She stood up, suddenly, and brushed off the seat of her shorts. “Let’s play hide-and-seek,” she said. “Tommy’s it.” He looked up at her. “Deb, that’s kid stuff.” “I don’t care. Count to twenty, and Connie and I will hide.” “Deb—” “Count,” she said. “Cover your eyes. Don’t cheat.” Tommy sighed, but did what she said. Debbie and I moved off into the field together, then separated. I went to the office and sat on the floor by the remaining ornaments, the ones I hadn’t brought home yet. I figured Tommy would find Debbie first, he’d press her back, laughing, against whatever animal she’d hidden behind, no thought of anything but my sister in his head. I pushed one turtle closer to the other turtle. Its base scraped against the floor, and, seconds later, Tommy poked his head in the door. “Caught you,” he said. He kept his eyes on mine and stepped into the building. How did Debbie feel when he looked at her this way? Did she grow conscious of her blood pulsing in her wrists and behind her ears, a sensation that made me, finally, turn my head away? “I haven’t been inside this place in years.” “My mother said Lloyd Triplett was your uncle,” I told him, standing. “Yeah. Great uncle, actually.” I picked up one of the turtles, and we went out into the field, searching for Debbie. The sun was halfway concealed by the horizon. For twenty minutes, Tommy and I stumbled around the field, catching our feet Crab Orchard Review ◆ 11


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on big clumps of crabgrass. “Debbie!” he yelled. “We give up!” We waited for her reply. Cicadas hummed in the trees that circled the field and tall weeds rattled when the breeze pushed them together. “Jesus, she’s stubborn,” Tommy said. A streak of dirt bisected his cheek. What would happen if I reached out to wipe it away? What would such boldness feel like? But Tommy belonged to Debbie. I kept my hands to myself. “Debbie!” Her name filled the field. “I’m leaving,” he yelled, as if that would make her appear. I knew she wouldn’t come out from wherever she was. That would be breaking the rule of hide-and-seek, the rule that we were supposed to look until we found her, and not give up. “I’ve got to go,” Tommy said. “Tell her I’ll see her tomorrow.” “All right.” I watched Tommy jog along the pitted driveway to his truck. The engine growled. His arm came out the driver’s window to wave, and the brake lights winked twice. Then he was gone, dust rolling in the air behind him. He left then, and a few weeks later, after we’d found out about Debbie’s diabetes, Tommy was never in the field when we went there after supper. Maybe the needles scared him. The day he’d paid an actual visit to the house and the three of us sat on the porch, Debbie lifted up her shirt and injected insulin into the skin of her abdomen, right in front of him. Maybe it was the words chronic illness, all the risks that might be lying in wait, her new thick glasses. People in town had started referring to her as the sick one, their voices grave. Tommy might have told himself he was doing the right thing. After all, she was only thirteen and he was four years older. It was the kind of situation that could get you in trouble with the law. He might have thought, I came to my senses! I did it for her! I don’t suppose Tommy thinks about Debbie now at all. Standing alone in the field after Tommy left, I yelled, “Debbie!” The land was so flat my voice didn’t echo a bit. “Debbie!” My throat felt raw from screaming. Methodically, I circled the animals closest to me, the bear, the seal. The setting sun turned his ball into a globe of fire. When Debbie was little, she’d silently travel from one hiding place to another, so spots I’d already looked had to be checked again, over and over. I moved through the weeds, as quietly as possible, listening hard for any sound of movement. We needed to get home soon or Mom and Dad would worry. 12 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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She wasn’t by the Clydesdale, or the lions, or the baby elephant. Hours seemed to have passed before I finally found her. She stood behind the mother elephant’s back leg, a shadow. At last, I heard her breathing, a little click in her throat each time she inhaled. “Connie?” she said when I touched her arm. The sun had set. Dusk surrounded us. All over the field, the animals stood quietly, their weight holding the earth in place. It was so dark I could barely see.

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Dropping

DOESN’T WANT HIM anymore. He sees it in shreds through the window of the plane, through the netting covering the window. The nylon web bisects the heavens. Another Ranger’s cropped head blocks them. The moon over Afghanistan is not yet half full. His skin, in this October chill, at this latitude, is heating. Even that first time, dropping down to Iraq, his skin didn’t heat like this.

THE SKY

C-130 rolling down the strip Hit a rock, now watch it flip All those Rangers still inside Now they’re all Kentucky fried The C-130 has always reminded him of a subway train—the men crammed together on benches sitting forward because of the parachutes on their backs, the roar of the engines drowning out everything but shouts, the avoidance of eye contact, the deep inner monologues you get in dim light, the stripped down metal and the cargo lying like packages picked up in Herald Square—even the Jumpmaster tensed like a mugger waiting for his mark. It’s the slumversion of military jets, thinks Squire. Squire has always loved to jump, has always loved those first moments of descent, has always loved the sky when there is nothing but him, the stars, the dim outlines of the other Rangers dropping. He has always loved that moment, too, of the parachute opening, lurching him back, catching him, of the drift down, and, especially, landing, his body back on earth, the nylon behind him. It is not danger he loves so much as the moment of averting danger, the stomp in his stomach that comes when he’s destined for safety, the roaring of his blood when he’s escaped. This is something he has explained only to Tima. It didn’t start that way. What he’d told her, at the time, was, I don’t get the rest of that tuition money unless I take on a military specialty. And if I’m 14 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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gonna be in the military, this is gonna give me some value. Slamming things into her messenger’s bag, books grabbed off her desk, braids bobbing as she moved. You’re getting yourself in deeper and deeper, she accused, there in the big unheated apartment on 145th. Bad timing. She was late for class. He tried for logic: Look, I’m tired of doing grunt work for them, cleaning floors. You see what I’m saying? She saw, she said. But I think what’s happening here is the difference between us is just getting too big. The difference between them: her Student Liberation Action Movement versus his Minority Engineers Society; her marginally middle-class childhood on shabby end of Riverside Drive versus his marginally poverty-filled childhood near Lenox Ave; the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque versus the Abyssinian Baptist Church. Actually, they had grown up within blocks of each other. He had boyhood memories, he told Tima, of being fascinated by the women who covered their hair with scarves. His mother, undone by the armies of roaches in their buildings, the tumbling of rats, used to tell him, as he stared, Those are Muslims. And they’re very clean. It’s part of their religion. At this, Tima, sitting on the floor, back up to the wall, knees to her chest, had laughed, dark eyes glinting. She was wearing tight faded jeans, a big nubby sweater. She put down a mug of tea that she seemed to have been nursing for hours. Have I disappointed you? she asked, gesturing around the haphazard bedroom. There was a double mattress on the floor, a desk, a wooden chair, a brick and board bookshelf, a poster of Che Guevara, piles of books, piles of papers. It was early on in their acquaintanceship, his first time in her bedroom. She had invited him in and promptly sat on the floor, holding the mug that never seemed to empty. Yeah, you let me down, he teased, and leaned forward. Then he kissed her for the first time. Later, her hand against his naked chest, him pulling the sheet back over them, they spoke in whispers, asking the things they were afraid to ask, voices breaking, as if someone would overhear them and shame them. Sed, she said softly (she couldn’t bring herself to call him by his given name, Squire; she’d formed a name from his initials). Hmm? She traced the stubbled crown of his head with her fingertips. You really used to kill rats when you were growing up? His poverty fascinated her, embarrassed her. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 15


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I got one with my baseball bat. He leaned back, and she rested her cheek against his chest. Gently, he pulled one of her skinny braids between his fingertips. My mom used to pray for the rats to go away. I just figured I’d kill them. NEITHER OF THEM had much use for the rituals of religion. That was one of the first things he learned, as soon as they met, introduced by mutual acquaintances from CCNY who had run into one another at Margie’s Red Rose. It was 1988, just before Christmas—Least I don’t have to get ready for that. My family’s Muslim. Used to answering questions, so she did, patiently. Uh huh, the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque, the one that Malcolm X started when he left the Nation of Islam. No, it’s different than that—it’s traditional Sunni Muslim. But that’s them, you know. I don’t think God needs us to do any of that. They had been lovers for months before he got up the nerve to ask her anything else about the mosque. He was spending almost all his time at her apartment—all his time outside of classes and Reserves. They were putting away groceries, the bags on the old formica table with its metal edge. He was taking the tin foil from the bag, suddenly asked, What do you do in there? I mean, when you’re in a mosque? She raised her brow slightly in surprise, amused. What do you mean? You mean praying? She looked as if she was going to laugh, and he darkened, turning back to the groceries. You want me to take you there? she offered. No, he answered, bringing cans of soup to the shelf. GOD IS GREAT, she said, as he lay with his head in her lap, later that night, and she looked down on him, touching his temple. God is great, she said softly. I bear witness that there is no God but God. I bear witness that Mohammed is a messenger of God. Come to Prayer. Come to success. It was so late, and they were on the sofa, Aaron Neville album on—she had a lot of old LPs. That’s the call to prayer, she told him. You put your hands up like this, and you tilt your head back like this, but you have to look down, because if you look at the sky while you’re praying, you’ll go blind. MANHATTAN

IS AN ISLAND

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filled with things he can’t have—clean


Linda Mannheim

apartments in well-kept buildings in neighborhoods he can only visit, shops where he is watched as he lifts a tag to stare at the price, restaurants where suburbanites who’ve returned to the city jostle to get inside. This is not his town. New York belongs to Tima—Fatima—who has never lived anywhere else, who has never been anywhere else for more than two weeks. And Tima, who now works out of an office in her brownstone duplex in Park Slope, who is “an organizational consultant” for nonprofits, who has married an annoyingly affable lawyer (white, Jewish) with so much humor he’s impossible to hate—Tima owns New York. And if he were with her, if he had been able to make their love work, he would have New York again. He would have the little kids running down Seventh Avenue; he would have the late-night taxis crossing the Manhattan Bridge back from Soho; he would have the plays her friends performed in Off-Off. He would come home to this woman who, at thirty-two, was still amused by everything, giggling on the phone, dressed almost the same as she did when they were kids only in more expensive sweaters and jeans. And though it has never been stated, they are not—either of them—unaware that the real difference between them was what she had and he did not. Tima, mostly far from him over the years, became an almost palpable presence to him during times when he felt a roaring sense of possibility. So, there she was, as he dropped over Iraq for the first time, the stars laid out as if they’d been spread by a three-card-monty street hustler. And there she was, at the base in Dhahran, during the first Scud missile alert, as he huddled in a foxhole in his chemical warfare suit, his face lifted as he watched the trails of light left by the Patriots fired back. And there she was, in the desert as all the traffic on the highway stopped, and the Azan called everyone to prayer, and the Saudi troops departed for the roadside mosques. There were American soldiers converting by then, signing their names to the register in a tent set up near the base and declaring their faith: God is great. God is great. I bear witness that there is no God but God. SHE HAD NO PATIENCE for his stories, whipping around the kitchen, fixing dinner for them while he talked. Mhmm, mhmm. She turned her back on him half the time. Another shared apartment, only this one in a brownstone touched up with 1970s stained glass and turnof-the-century stone. She wasn’t married yet. Why’d you move yourself all the way out to Brooklyn? Park Slope still had a little bit Crab Orchard Review ◆ 17


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of dumpiness to it back then, crack dealers on corners. She didn’t want any of the beer he’d brought. Her housemates weren’t sure what to make of him when they walked in and saw him in uniform. They stood there in their frumpy-but-hip black clothes, talking to her and trying not to look at him, while he teetered on the chair’s back legs and lifted and looked at his beer. He traded polite goodbye smiles with them. Uhuh, nice meeting you too. You wear that uniform everywhere? she asked, when they were alone again. You want me to take it off? Only if you got something else to put on. He watched her pull a mason jar of dried green spice from the cabinet, watched the way her sweater skimmed her slim hip as it lifted. She half-closed her eyes after she’d taken the lid from the steaming pot and pinched in herbs, and the fog was joined by the smell of oregano. People treat me better when I’m in uniform. Except for you, Tima. She smiled at this, stirred the sauce in the pot, refused to look at him. The phone kept ringing during dinner. Calls for housemates, calls about meetings, calls to see whether she could take over someone’s shift at the food co-op. Sorry, I’m working on the video that morning. He rolled his eyes as she stood behind him, taking messages while he waited and drank beer. Once the dishes were finished, they went into the living room. There was something about the thick-woven lumpy chair and sofa that made him feel as if he was sitting on furniture brought back into use after years in someone’s suburban garage. With its stained rug and dust-tinged corners, cold old radiators and the empty space left by high ceilings, the room seemed clammy to him. He eyed a stereo on a cinderblock-and-board shelf, her old LPs under it. On his knees, he pulled out the Aaron Neville album. He put the record on, singing along with the first few lines, then reached to the coffee table for his beer. She watched him as he lifted the bottle to his mouth. He swallowed and pulled the bottle back down, met her mouth set hard in reprobation. It’s no big thing, he said. I don’t get drunk from it. You never used to drink. I started in Saudi Arabia. You can’t drink there. 18 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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We did. We managed to get rum onto the base. There was this thing in the middle of the tent that ran off a generator, for airconditioning. We used to keep our soda cold in there so we could have rum and Cokes. She turned away, not quite annoyed, but resigned somehow, brushed something from the cushion with her hand. Sounds like you saw a lot of action. He took another pull of his beer. Yeah. Sed, I’m sorry. I got a lot of work I still need to do tonight. Work? There’s this report I said I’d read. He looked at her, shifting and impatient in her big sweater, just about ready to get up from the couch. Okay, he said. He was still on the ground, on his knees, when she stood. Tima? he asked. She looked down. When I was in the Gulf, they had me doing a secret mission. A what? And there he was, beer in his hand, on his knees, realizing he sounded like a street lunatic. They had—forget secret mission. I mean, what I did there, in Iraq. It was secret. She sat. What did you do? We parachuted down into Iraq, and we’d go find targets, and we’d shine a laser on them so they could drop the missiles down. He had her now. She fidgeted with something, but she looked straight at him. She asked, Smart bombs? The way they find the target is from the heat of the laser, so you—you paint it. You paint the target with the laser. You just hold the laser right on the— Hold it. What kind of fucking target? Military targets. Scuds, barracks. You’d hold a laser there so they could drop a bomb? Her mouth was open slightly, eyes wide. It wasn’t quite anger he was reading on her face. She was trying to wrap her mind around it. He said, We hid during the day and we worked at night. If we saw any Iraqis, we were supposed to kill them. And then, he saw it was registering. She understood what he’d done. Her eyes grew dark and moist, and her jaw was set so firm, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 19


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the corners of her mouth pulled far down. It was the only time he would ever see her look ugly. And when he began to weep, that was why—it was the expression on her face, it was the way she reached for him anyway. It was that one moment when he could see, so clearly, all the possibility and impossibility of their relationship. He put the beer down. He crumpled there on the floor, his face in his hands. He felt her hands on his back, on his shoulders. He told her everything: what it was like to discharge (he used that word, discharge) his weapon, what it was like to see the body drop—just like that—because of something he’d done. A boy with a new beard, lying in the dirt. It was not, you understand, seeing a body for the first time. No, it wasn’t that. You think I didn’t see any dead bodies growing up? It was knowing that he had done it, knowing that as he watched the body crumple. And how easy it became after that. Pull the trigger, watch it go. Just like it was meant to go. Just like it was meant to happen. That’s what I’m supposed to do, isn’t it? Break things and kill people. It’s just…Part of him liked it. Part of him felt more powerful when he killed than when he’d ever done anything. Well, what’d I think I’d do? Pull that trigger, and bodies drop. Shine the laser, and paint the building with that unearthly color. Drop the bomb, it’s gone. Just like that. It made him feel like God, he said. She listened to him talk. She asked him for details. Sometime during the course of the night she took away his beer and brought him a cup of tea. A housemate came home, who she greeted with polite annoyance. I don’t know. I wrote everything down. Just call him back and ask. She brought Squire up to her room. When he undressed, he wadded up his clothes and threw them to a corner. He slid into sheets that smelled like her. He watched her undress as if she might disappear. Don’t look at me like that, she protested. Playfully, he turned away, until she climbed into his arms, stroked her palms against his chest. Now that she knew what he had done, she regarded him gingerly, as if he might have death on his skin. He held her so tightly then, she couldn’t even shift in his arms. He pinned her down for a minute when they were making love. He thought she was turned on by it. And later, when they lay facing each other and whispering, when there was nothing but tenderness between them, when she smoothed his brow with her fingertips, she pleaded, You don’t have to go back there, Sed. All the possibility and impossibility. 20 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Linda Mannheim

WHAT HE LOVED was proving he could survive—the nights of hiking after sleep-deprived days, communicating through hand signals to escape a simulated ambush, dodging the dust that rises when a Claymore mine erupts during practice maneuvers in the desert. During each of the trainings, especially when the weapons were hot and the air was cut by live ammo, his fantasy came stirringly to life—the power in his hands, and the bad guys falling. He treasured the camaraderie with the other men: the way, without thinking, he would reach to pull another Ranger out from a ravine; the unspoken loyalty—how, unquestionably, they would cover his ass, and he theirs. What he hated was the sentimentality: Hooah! and Rangers, lead the way! and Sua Sponte (which, Tima felt obliged to inform him, was bad Latin—saying the same thing twice over). He hated the men who stripped their shirts in sweat-shaky bravado after a maneuver. And some of the men back at the base after a certain number of drinks, well, most white people would say something dumb at some point. What did he expect? He was one of a handful of black soldiers in the mostly-white elite forces. Yeah, it would have been different if he’d been in the regular military, which was one of the few places—they used to joke—blacks routinely got to tell whites what to do. But it was what you did in combat that counted. He had never been able to depend on people like this before. He had never had permission to have enemies. HE MARRIED A GEORGIA GIRL the year after he returned from Iraq. Her voice was so soft he always seemed to be asking her to repeat herself. She was terrified of New York. She and his mother liked each other fine, but when he got his wife up North, she kept the kids under tight watch—he could barely get her attention. A lot of his Gulf War buddies were getting sick by then. He didn’t know why he’d been spared whatever they had. He was waiting for something to hit, edgy, nervous, especially the time he got the flu while they were in New York visiting. Didn’t help when his wife ran out to get some last minute thing they needed and was held up on her way back from the bodega. Didn’t help when he found himself roaring at her that she had to fight back—her in a corner sobbing that he could go out himself next time. After that, his mother visited them in the house they’d bought in suburban Savannah. He liked Savannah fine, with its willow trees and its miles of coastline. He liked its Victorian mansions and its Crab Orchard Review ◆ 21


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big square parks everywhere. He liked the drive out to Richmond Hill by himself in the car with the radio on. He liked coming home to his scruffy ranch house, his wife and kids, the toys on the floor, even the dishwasher that kept breaking. He liked the normalcy of it. But sitting in a movie theater watching something filmed in New York, he saw a street he knew and something inside him slid into place, and then everything came back—the murmur of street sound and smell of sun on concrete, and even the air feeling heavy from bus exhaust. He started going back to the city by himself. She wasn’t happy about this. He spent a lot of time away on maneuvers, already. Just for a weekend, baby. C’mon, my family’s still up there. Tima never got mentioned. Tima he saw for drinks, for meals sometimes, often with her husband. He watched how much he drank around her. She’d end the evening quickly if she thought he was having too many. He didn’t mind coming out to Brooklyn, he told her. In truth, he liked it, and always waited for that part of the trip when the D train crossed the river, for those minutes when he could look out at the inky dark water and, above it, the lights of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan’s skyline. And once in Tima’s neighborhood, once on Seventh Avenue, once in the entrance hall of the brownstone she lived in, he’d wish he could bring home part of her life in a paper bag—the way she ran down the steps still talking on the cordless phone when he rang the bell, the coat-laden rack in the big mirrored hall, the pretty justmoved-from-suburbs middle-class kids stoop-sitting for the first time in their lives and waving at neighbors who passed—he just wanted a portion of that safety. You, Tima roared when, in not so many words, he had made this confession. You live waiting for disaster to strike. That’s not it, he countered. They were on the street, slowing their walk while her husband, who’d been held back by a last-minute phone call, caught up to them. He arrived huffing in the middle of their argument. What’s the matter? Tima grinned wickedly, too jovial about the disagreement: You wouldn’t believe what he said. But she wouldn’t disclose it. You just spent the last two months acting out some big damned scene where you’re gonna swoop into some country, rescue who knows what, and blow up a whole bunch of damned people in the 22 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Linda Mannheim

meantime. He was blushing, but she kept going. Out there doing your little survival tests, playing war games. They were standing there, all of them, in the middle of the sidewalk. It was cold out, and her husband was the only one wearing a hat. Smoky, shallow breaths punctuated the silence. Come on, Tima, her husband laughed finally. That’s exactly the kind of thing you’d love doing. You just don’t want to do it for the United States government. SHE WAS RIGHT. He was always waiting for disaster, waiting for the shoe to drop, the egg to break, the clock to stop. On the day it happens, he is in New York. SOMETHING’S FALLING FROM THE SKY and then Squire realizes, people are jumping from the burning buildings. The TV doesn’t show the bodies—it shows a cardboard-flat woman’s face lifting, eyes widening, while she cries, My God, my God. It shows the slight drop of her glasses when she turns her head to avert her gaze. Smoke rolls across the TV screen, pours from the Towers, drops down the side of one of the buildings, and then it looks as if there is smoke everywhere, smoke rising and churning, nothing but smoke. This is incredulous. Incredulous, the reporter’s voice says. There’s some kind of explosion! Her voice ends in a loop of terror. The video image swings crazily, as if the camera has been dropped. His mother’s neighbor, the one who pounded on their door that morning to tell them what had happened then joined them in their vigil, rushes for the television, as if he will be able to adjust the image they receive. Squire’s mother sits with her eyes closed, lips barely moving, in the old brocade chair near the window. This is how she prays. Squire’s skin heats, prickly beats of fire. Something, we know not exactly what, has happened at the Pentagon, announces Dan Rather from a far-away news anchor’s desk. There are unconfirmed reports that a plane has crashed into the Pentagon and started a large fire there. The ground distends beneath Squire’s feet. The walls slip slightly. Then he is on solid ground again. So this is what all those guys mean when they talk about hallucinations, how the battles they’ve been in follow them around. He actually believed, for a little while, that terrorists had crashed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He thinks he may even have tried to call his wife, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 23


Linda Mannheim

but he can’t recall a conversation. He’ll talk it over with someone later, even go to a psychiatrist if he has to. Right now, he just has to take a deep breath and act like everything’s okay. He’s going to go outside to take a look at the Towers. I’ll be right back, he announces to the others in the room. And then he climbs the stairs to the roof, six stories above the ground, up to the tarred flat surface with its low little wall around it, where a group of people have gathered as if watching a battle from a medieval castle. Smoke is pouring out of the Towers. Smoke is exactly where the Towers should be. A wind gust pushes the smoke. Where the second tower should be, there is no tower, only sky. The man next to Squire starts to cry, Oh fuck, fuck, fuck. HE LIFTS A PIECE OF BROKEN CONCRETE and hands it to the man next to him, thinking he’ll find another body part. The first time it was a hand white with ash, which was difficult for him to see with the gas mask on. And it is hot—a warm evening already, but hotter from the fire, hotter in the gloves and protective suit. And then he sees it, in the tangle of steel and concrete—a boy’s face with a new beard. He stops. He doesn’t go any further. The man next to him puts a hand on his arm. You alright? he asks Squire. The roar of the generator smudges his words. Squire stares into the rising dust, the twisted steel, the jagged edges of concrete. He doesn’t see a face. There is nothing but rubble there. Go take a break, the man next to him suggests, almost shouting it as an order, which pisses Squire off so much he starts working harder, even harder. He has walked down here from Harlem after the morning of enforced immobility and failed phone calls, the morning of sirens wailing their way downtown, the church bells ringing over and over and over from every direction, all the phones in the building ringing at once as soon as a circuit opened. He has been recalled to Hunter Army Airfield, expected back as soon as commercial flights begin again, which the newscasters are announcing will be on Thursday. He has been told to get his personal affairs in order. He has managed to get through to his wife, has reassured the children. I love you, baby. Your grandma and me are safe. He has tried phoning Tima and has heard again and again the announcement asking that, as all circuits are busy now, could he please try again later. The smell he has not smelled since Iraq, the burn. His lungs feel as if they’re reddening with each breath. Suddenly, he hears F24 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Linda Mannheim

18 fighter jets overhead. They ghost-fade into the smoke, and their sound dissipates as they fly away. He looks north and sees the Empire State Building. The ground beneath him distends again. He remembers he’s in New York. WHEN HE WAKES UP THE NEXT MORNING, the sky above his mother’s apartment building is tauntingly blue. Pink cotton-candy clouds float over the low, sepia-caked buildings to the high-rises and smoke downtown. He aches everywhere. When he smells his forearm, he smells everything that burned. He rushes into the shower and washes once, then twice. He dresses: a T-shirt, good dark pants. He won’t go back there today. The President has declared the attacks were “acts of war.” The President has said there is no difference “between the terrorists and those who harbor them.” The President has announced there will be “a monumental struggle between good and evil.” Squire goes down to the bodega. No muggers nearby. Is it a reprieve because of the attack? Or Harlem’s gentrifying streets? Everyone he passes says hello or nods. Everyone he passes makes eye contact. He reaches in the back of the cooler for milk, avoiding the out-of-date containers. He wants some chips and soda, and he realizes how long it has been since he’s bought in the neighborhood—he’d forgotten the only brand they carry is Utz, and the bright orange bags of cheese curls make him queasy; the Utz girl looks as if she has radiation sickness. When he returns, the phone is ringing, and just after he picks it up, as soon as he hears Tima’s voice, something in him loosens. He can move more easily now. There’s more air for him to take into his lungs. You’re still there, Tima says. Squire answers, I can’t leave. Then: Is everyone all right? As far as she knows, she says. There’s a long pause and heavy breathing, and he realizes she’s crying. He has never heard her cry before. Her husband’s stuck in San Francisco, at a conference. She’s in the house by herself. She says, The ashes are coming down here. THE SUBWAYS, RUNNING AGAIN, are crazy. Squire hears the bleating of unintelligible announcements on the A train and watches passengers turn to one another, shrug. Some get out. No one laughs about the predictable incoherence. No one shouts to an invisible conductor to ask what his intentions are. Squire figures he can change for the D train Crab Orchard Review ◆ 25


Linda Mannheim

at 4th so he can cross the Manhattan Bridge and see the wounded skyline once more. But the A train whizzes right past 4th Street. Squire stiffens in his seat. The train halts at a stop he doesn’t recognize. Squire can’t see the sign. He’s ashamed to ask anyone. This is where he’s from. Across from Squire, there are two teenage girls, plump and pretty, hair straightened and dyed and pinned ghetto-high. They have long nails, with decals of flowers on them, and wear factory-faded denim clothes. There is a tall, thin man in his early twenties, wearing too-large overalls over a maroon T-shirt. He has a ’70s Afro so big it flops over and leaves gaps. He leans over and says something to one of the girls, and she moves away, jerks back. You get away from me, she tells him in Bed-Stuy staccato. The train stops again. Squire looks at the sign. It means nothing. He has no idea where they are. The doors opens. Then, suddenly, he hears someone sing: I ain’t going to Viet Nam, because the US Army is the Klu Klux Klan. The tall man is looking straight at him. The doors shut. Squire’s not wearing a uniform. But people always guess. It’s the way he sits, the way he moves. He stares ahead. The subway train moves out with a jerk. The tall man leans over and says something to the girl again. You ain’t Soldier, the girl screams. But the tall man leers at her, leans down, whispers to her. He looks as if he’s about to kiss her neck. She shouts, You ain’t Soldier, you motherfucker. You hear me? Soldier’s dead. And now he says something. Squire can’t catch it; it’s swallowed by the rumble of the train. I told you, says the girl. You leave me the fuck alone. Soldier’s dead. Squire gets out at the next stop. It’s Jay Street, Borough Hall. He’s in Brooklyn. He climbs the steps, up to the street. Smoke is rising from the southern tip of Manhattan, ashes falling. The burning smell clouds here; he can’t see the sky. Downtown Brooklyn is silent. He walks two miles to Tima’s house. HE DOESN’T WANT TO SEE HER BODY. When he looks at it, all that appears 26 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Linda Mannheim

are parts: an arm, her torso, a calf. He closes his eyes and feels her fingers touching his eyelids, feels her palms move down to his chest. He tries not to smell the burning anymore. He turns his face to the pillow. There is the smell of her in there, but also a less familiar smell—the sweat, hair, and skin of her husband. He wants it to be over, and then they can just hold each other, the curtains drawn to shut out what little daylight is still there. She’ll be huddled next to him, the air between them trapped under the sheet, and then he’ll be able to talk to her. He’ll say: I’m not really that different from what you want. I’m not really that different from you. He’ll tell her: You know, all those movies, where people fall in love during wars, and it looks so pretty, so great that you almost wish you could do that? Well, now I know. It really feels like shit. He’ll ask: What do you think it was like, those last seconds, when they flew the plane into the building, when they saw the building get closer? That must have been a thrill, don’t you think? Instead, the phone rings. He wants to pull her back when she crawls over him to answer it. He hears her voice fall in kindness when she begins talking. And he waits for her to get off, and waits, and waits. She manages to slip a robe on, with the phone hugged between her shoulder and cheek. She paces out into the hall, down the stairs. How are the kids handling it? Not her husband, definitely not her husband. He peeks downstairs. She is sitting on the leather couch, knees folded up and feet pivoted on the coffee table. Uh huh. Uh huh. Yeah. Things are gonna get worse. He lies there for a while, listening to the timbre of her voice and eyeing the photograph on the antique wooden dresser, of her and her husband. Squire rises and dresses: the T-shirt sweat-stained after the fast walk from Borough Hall, the dress pants all rumpled. And he still smells the acrid, burning smell. He imagines the possibility that everything will smell this way from now on. He hears her say, Just call me whenever you need to. I’m right here. But she’s not saying it to him. She comes upstairs, eyes him standing there in his clothes, apologizes. That was Maia. Her older sister. She lives in Detroit now. She had to talk. She’s scared to go out of the house in hijab. She’s scared of letting the kids out. Sed, are you leaving? I’m sorry. Everything’s just gone crazy. I don’t even know where they’re sending you. Please stay so we can talk. Are they going to bomb Afghanistan? He can’t help himself. He tells her, Don’t be stupid. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 27


Linda Mannheim

I wanna be an Airborne Ranger Live a life of sex and danger I wanna go to Afghanistan I wanna go kill Osama bin Laden SQUIRE EYES THE SKY separated into drooping squares through the airplane windows covered by the thick-webbed net. By now they should be coming to the drop zone, and though Squire tries to picture the map he has been shown, the aerial photos, he finds he can come up with nothing but a Chris Rock joke: The terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center. What are we going to do, kick around a few sand castles? You drop a bomb in Afghanistan, you’re liable to make a building. Or Squire replays bits of the briefing: Cruise missiles are interesting, but they don’t go and knock on doors. They tend to blow up the whole building. A strategic studies professor named Doug Johnson said that, Rangers. And you’re not going to be knocking on any doors either. His last argument with Tima: You have choices. Me, I have to jump. The red light comes on. His skin is heating. Get ready! shouts the Jumpmaster. Outboard personnel, stand up! Hook up! And Squire does. Shaky, almost stumbling from the vibration of the plane. He takes the static line made from bright yellow nylon, and he snaps it onto the steel anchor-line cable overhead. Check equipment! He passes his hands over the chute of the man in front of him and feels the tugs on his, just like someone is trying to pull something out of his backpack on the subway train. Sound off for equipment check! Behind him, someone shouts out a number and slaps his hand onto Squire’s shoulder. It leaves its warmth there, just for a second, and he wonders if that’s the last time he will be touched by another human being. Then he cries out his number and he slaps his hand down. The doors of the plane open and the night air rushes in, cutting the plane’s sweaty smell. Get ready! the Jumpmaster yells. The red light turns green. Go! Hooah! shout some men ahead just before walking out of the 28 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Linda Mannheim

plane, tumbling out into darkness while Squire makes his way to the front, static line slipping along the cable. Don’t look at me that way, Tima says. He jumps. And beneath him, there are the circles of nylon. And above him, there is a flapping noise, like a kite starting to rise. There are stars. There is no opening canopy. The static line has failed him. He reaches for the ripcord of the reserve parachute, but fumbles. The ground is coming up. He looks up at the sky. God is great, he thinks. God is great. I bear witness that there is no God but God.

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Daniel Anderson

At Three A.M.

The acorns from the storm-tormented tree Rain down a kind of madness overhead, Exploding intermittently, As if, what else, to wake the lazy dead. But it’s three A.M. And nothing now is rousing them. It’s only me instead Who hears the rapid hammerwork, That wrathful smack of seed against the roof. And it is clear, To lift the blind, to draw the curtain back And scan my tranquil street from here, That all or most are still at rest. There doesn’t seem to be a reading lamp Or a faint, blue television glow In all the houses down the row. No, they’ve chosen different shade. Maple. Maybe pine. I’m certain they’re not sleeping under oaks. But surely, if they were, They’d understand this mad desire of mine, To take a freshly sharpened axe, And flail and swing, swing and thrash. I’d rage and split, Take each fragrant, meaty log, Halve and quarter it. And then I’d cinder each last log to ash. I’d watch that tree Ride skyward in its noiseless smoke, On a night like this, all wind and fog, Until that oak, And all my raging too, would seem 30 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Daniel Anderson

The blowsy, velvet substance of a dream. A mile away, Someone, it may be you, would catch the spice Of wood-smoke on the moist air, And think, or even start to say To someone else, how nice The night would be beside a fire, The wriggling, radiating flair And all that crackling, bright hypnotic heat. You wouldn’t spend a thought On why that fire came to be, And scarcely could you comprehend the plot. How inconceivable, how strange, Having seen the other side of rain, Of parching heat and downy snow, To know and somehow still not know That weathers change, That I will surely sleep. And when I do I won’t think much of fire, The axe, the varnish of its helve, or you— I’ll dream-drift in the ankle-deep Of acorns on the autumn ground, And the only sound Will be the silent grinding of their thought, That stoic, utterly baroque And patient genius for becoming oak.

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S. Beth Bishop

Long and Short

1. Day Al-Qamari words click separate from their articles, belonging to the moon like bits of herb in a salad, while Al-Shamsis are the sun’s and blend like lemon. He teaches me while stirring coffee, pretends to make a feast of leftover cashews as I repeat the sounds, ignoring breakfast. On TV a man in a headwrap staggers as if from a blow, spits teeth and blood onto dusty grass; another is heaved out a window, swings from a tether. I choke on Qamar, its K nearly swallowed, with no equivalent tune in English, and he laces shoes and corrects me, clicking his tongue. But I’m already dividing the day into lists in my head, drawing lines through Laundry, scribbling in Make Love as I rinse my contact lens. The stock market talk is lower than yesterday, and suitcoats and ties are scrambling around with men inside them, cut off by a BBC advertisement. A long kiss, and he’s halfway to work, already forgetting to buy the meat, and I’m dressing and missing appointments, regretting deadlines I haven’t met. On my way out I stop, fiddle with a hinge in the door that sticks, its frame settling uneven, the wood moist and dark.

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S. Beth Bishop

The bell on the ice cream truck pulls children from nowhere as my tires squeak, my bumper just missing one Popsicle-gnawer. The radio music repeats itself, disappears into the whistle of a train, and I continue the song as a solo, accustomed to the transfer.

2. Night Our mess is where we left it this morning, it seems, and we scurry back into it, possums. Back into last evening’s clothes from the creeping floor pile, their smells of each other familiar, their worn edges supple. He caves on the couch and his hands find my face within reach, my mouth moving around all my news too fast. He laughs and kisses me, and I hear my name in his accent, his voice warm against my hair. There are only three vowels, and each of these may be either long or short, a thigh or a thistle. On the back porch the cat cries and we, used to his demands, ignore him until it pleases us. Then we slip out back to feed and pet him, watch the lake move the porch light in ripples away from us, let our muscles slack. We hear each other’s sounds first, then behind them the spray of a fountain, a turtle splashing in a shadow’s watersprawl. We may eat, or smoke, or may just sit, our fingers tracing o’s in each other’s palms, uncalculating daytime and the cost of what remains: leafhook of mint on a plate, one wooden bead clicked left on an abacus, loose sheet tossed sideways on the bed.

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Bruce Bond

The Ghost of Weather

My father takes smaller steps in his eighties, his body leaning slightly forward as if against a continuous wind. He turns and the wind turns with him, the impoverished rumor of it always in his face, blearing his eyes, bothering his ears. There’s no way around it, this ghost of weather thrown out of the world, rushing through the gape of doors, so much farther than they were, over the still flowers of curtains and chairs, through the window sealed like an anxious letter, so that floors expand, the way years between the stars expand, taking on the dimensions he remembers as a child. It’s as if all things, retreating from each other, return to a nameless place, light as paper boats, as prayers. Words too have a way of scattering in the mind, of coming loose, burning in the night’s great sea of ink. Look, there, where the jaws of the book open to yawn 34 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Bruce Bond

or swallow, to take him in. Look, as he dips his sleepy head with only the wind to catch it.

Crab Orchard Review â—† 35


Bruce Bond

Transparencies

On a stone disk palette from ancient America you see a carved hand with an eye in its palm, sparked with sight, awakened there to hold us to it, and ringed about the rim an afflatus of snakes, their heads drawn back, tongues distended—they too are snakes— so long they seem the body’s lining blown inside out. The whole mandala wavers still as if the eye were the mind’s island lathered in vital tides and poison were its power, the crown of being lit up at the body’s limit, keeping watch, in the picture-book of skin we read our lives in.

If you look into the stone’s tiny flecks of lime and mica, you can still make out the faded stain of flesh-paint, still conjure a dim spectacle of hands that worked the surface with chisels and pigments, that dipped their boar’s hair brushes and tattoo needles to illuminate the pages of their bodies, blood rising to the color of blood, their skin littered in a rash of eyes—less a second skin than a new transparency, as if the needles made them more permeable to naked sight. The prick of seeing grazed the stone, zeroed in from eye to eye.

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Bruce Bond

When I first saw Christ with an eye in his hand it came as eerie comfort, to think he was less alone out there, pinned to his cathedral wall, his body pierced by the gazes of accusers. It made me think of blood as light welling up out of underworld rivers, or, if not light, then the corporal mind that lets it in: red as the wound’s iconography and swoon, the desert drink passed among thieves and untouchables, the color of breaking forth, emergency red, the April garden littered with aches and blossoms.

Poor the mind that feels love for all mankind and nothing but contempt for its neighbor. Better to descend from the temples, to travel the pipeline of the throat like drink itself, down the furnace of the shoulder, its anger and char, the breastplate shivering like a railcar window, through bruise-colored corridors to the world at hand. So it was kindness looked out from darker reaches of flesh, blind tissue awakened by the blind to see, as if something broke the skin, some bloodless shine of palms surrendering their phantom gold.

Any man’s end has an eye at the center. Night raises its giant hand and scoops back the body, not lost exactly, but seeded in that ritual closure. Never was flesh more the miracle-stranger, never closer to the radiant gore of birth. Out of the meaningless dirt the palettes of stone.

Crab Orchard Review â—† 37


Bruce Bond

We come to a place where even rocks have a face and back, a name to forget. Even rocks keep watch. Somewhere below, a corpse sheds its blaze of worms as if earth had pierced the insensible remains to light them on their solitary journey.

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Joel Brouwer

Mandelstam

At the Soviet photography show, between a pyramid of Young Pioneers and a gleaming jet, Mandelstam’s NKVD mugshot from May ’38. His second arrest, and last. After the first he tried twice to suicide: once with a razor, once jumping from a first-floor window. In eight months he will be dead in a freezing freight car 4000 miles east. I want so much to see something incalculable in this face—rage, terror, insolence, his genius somehow erupting from under the torture like a salmon leaping up against rapids—that I almost decided to lie. Blank as snow on the steppe. Chalkboard. Milk. Take a piss. Scrawl a formula. Drink this.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 39


Joel Brouwer

Capriccio in the Crazy Mountains

With a Marlboro-yellowed fingertip, Chief Plenty Coups traces his vision in the scrim of mildew left by the truck stop waitress’s rag. His coffeepot is bottomless, but he’s seen the end is near: plains paved, mountains chopped to ore. The Space Invaders machine bleats like a lost calf, or a settler gone mad in the mountains and shoved from the wagon with a duffel of hardtack and blankets. Not yet midnight. The interstate’s a smear of margarine on a wet black plate. Sleet turns to snow on a young couple’s windshield, their wipers clog, their manifest destiny again obscured. They pull off for coffee, take seats near the cashier’s bunker of cigarettes and gum. The big Indian lights up. The blizzard stutters purple across a monitor, the screen goes dark, the storm repeats its motion. Alone in the deepening, starlit snow, the pioneer sees a lantern that’s not there.

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Anthony Butts

Enigmatic

Trees nearly denuded, sky a platinum blue, there is complete silence in the too-white clouds hovering over like campers before the insects which they’ve collected. Leaves tumble over the ground like kites, their brown skins an agreement on the necessary color of contentment and contemplation. The chewed-out pomegranates of installation art hang from strings upon an oak tree, many of its leaves still present, photographs tied around the trunk and splattered with red as if the tree had been bleeding out in its captivity. Past lives are endlessly revisited in the symbols of today, the hoary image of a woman seemingly kissing a man splotched in pomegranate juice like a new kind of sinning when no woman has ever kissed a man just like that—or so I was told by another onlooker. When you’re looking, a particular kind of love is rare just because it is particular. Everyone wants the apple to be that symbol when others abound about our truer selves.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 41


Stacy Gillett Coyle

Break in the Storm

The clouds are squid-like beautiful: black ink unfurling into seahorse gray and the moment the wind calms, his painting will restore them, the clouds and the plains below in stubbled gold with thousands of hairs of brown. He will capture this and the break in the storm, and the Prussian green tornado sky because his hands calm at the thought of foul weather, even as warming summers introduce dragonflies, moose and Chinese sailors to the melting Arctic passageways, and his Parkinson’s fingers release themselves to hold the tail of his cat’s-tongue brush until he must navigate the narrow doors that lead away from the room of storms, an anxiety he skeletal strokes into the stuttering gait of his name.

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Melissa Crowe

Bruise for Annabelle, walking It’s almost beautiful what the skin can do: bloom. A stain like a violet opening its blue on the silk of your cheek. Once an organ of mine, born you’re a lost lung and me, half breathless. You’ve fallen from some height and your journey marked you. I can’t ignore what has risen to the surface: tenderness, your body’s reminder there is only the skin’s distance between here and gone.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 43


Jim Daniels

Holy Week

I watched Nehru’s funeral pyre burn on our fuzzy b & w tv while water gathered and dripped into a dirty pink plastic bucket in the living room. A man’s body in the middle of that huge pile of crackling wood. I was eight. I picked at the faded green rug. Outside, rain flooded the streets, sluiced out the downspouts into concrete streams. The priest flicked holy water onto the kneeling sinners with his magic silver wand and we crossed ourselves in turn. Purple cloth muffled all statues. What made it good Friday if that was when they drove the nails in? The softest thing I owned was my rosary’s satin pouch. I fingered the soft lining for pleasure. I loved pure b & w. Easier to adjust. No flesh tones. No. Everyone on tv seemed happy till I saw them burn that Indian guy with the cool hat. In the yard I wove a crude crown of thorns from my mother’s rose trimmings. My fingers bled. I sucked at them and swallowed. Every year He rose 44 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Jim Daniels

from the dead while we just got older. I choked my brother till the rosary broke. I kept joints in the pouch. It only rained that hard once. My first girlfriend died in a fire. The world blistered. Eventually everyone got color.

Crab Orchard Review â—† 45


Traci Dant

Out of Motown

We run out of Motown. And before we can make a request, my uncle turns the dial, finds us some country music. We, we the restless backseat moan in a chorus drowned out by banjo and fiddle and steel guitar. We don’t know who we’re with. Proud Black farming men who know the ground and how to treasure it. We don’t know everybody’s daddy can’t gentle no horse. We don’t know how few faces was brown in the Ralls County 4-H. We don’t know how hard it was to hold land back when Black men were asked if they knew—how many bubbles are in a bar of soap. We don’t know how to pull milk warm from a cow or how to sit low and dodge her mean tail. We don’t know nothin about milk work butter work cheese work 46 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Traci Dant

egg work feed work slop work barn work seed work plow work plant work weed work can work pickle work fence work hay work truck work day work night work work work work. And we don’t know the rest the rest that comes when the work is done. They pulled round Mom Mom and Papa’s good table. Two small land working boys. Each with one hip in their grandmother’s lap. Her hands still smelled like tomatoes. She’d cut and stewed and canned all day stopping only to make supper with gravy and lots of biscuits. Now, Papa carried out his treasure. A battery-powered radio. Charged up and ready for the Grand Ol Opry. They pulled tight tight round that table. Mom Mom and Papa and two small landworking boys. Stitched in place by banjo, by fiddle, by steel guitar.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 47


Paula Nangle

The Last Day at Nyadzi

VAIDA MOYO’S SON WAITED at the kitchen door with a pail of mangoes. “Vaida wants you to come for tea,” he said in recited English, and I recalled the demanding nature of her requests. The boy’s teeth dominated his growing face, and he breathed through his mouth. He had his mother’s gap, though Vaida’s had long ago been filled with gold, her one act of vanity. I’d seldom admired it because she never smiled outright. “I can make mango chutney with all these.” I patted my cupped hands together in a thank you gesture, without thinking, and then said, “Mazvita,” as if I had not been gone six years, 2000 kilometers away at university in the Cape. These Highlands—Chimanimani, Vumba, Nyanga—were better known back then, before I left, as the operational area. Sometimes I felt as though I’d fled, I’d joined the exodus. Rhodies, the South Africans called us. My father stayed, maintaining his coffee farm with Mapipi and John. He liked to brag that he never drove in convoy. He left his curtains open at night. He didn’t own a security system, or even the fashionable 9mm hand carbine. My father met me each Christmas at Jan Smuts International. We’d stay for a few days out there, at any hotel with a good bar, rarely visiting Joburg. “Why can’t I just go home to Nyadzi?” I would ask my father during these holidays. “I won’t spend all that money to send you home, only to have you blown to smithereens,” my father would say. “The mines are bad, I’m telling you.” I scoffed at him until the year he rung me, weeping. I had not heard him cry since my mother died. The dog had accidentally leaped upon an anti-personnel mine. He’d been fighting with a baboon on the dry Wiri riverbed. There was little left of either animal. “I do have his collar,” my father said. Kim was our retriever-shepherd mix, who’d managed to stay alive after years of curfew, when security forces shot at anything that moved after dark, especially the Africans’ goats and 48 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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cows. The valley would stink of rotting carcasses, the skins, the meat salvaged every daybreak by enraged herdsmen. Vultures would swoop down from the orange escarpments and make their way up again. I FOLLOWED VAIDA’S SON along the footpath. “You have grown tall,” I said. I’d never before seen him stand. He had always been on his mother’s back, or a sister’s, regarding me sideways. We walked, single file across the valley, past the mission schools and clinic, the rows of boxlike grocery stores, purple and pink against red clay ground. We passed Mhapisa’s Bottle Store, dark beyond its screen door, the corrugated iron roof dazzling in the sun. Marimbas and xylophones competed with static on a shortwave radio. A group of children played marbles in the dirt. It was a quiet afternoon. Heresekwe will not be here, I reminded myself. I’d forgotten about all the loose rocks, their perpetual chipping, the rubble, and slid down as the path narrowed. The boy handed me a branch. I removed my sandals and smacked them against a slab of limestone. I could see Vaida’s house above me, an Nyadzi Mission building. Vaida stood in the courtyard plaiting a daughter’s hair. Perhaps it was Rindai, the one they sometimes called Choice. The girl’s head tilted backwards over a rusted kitchen chair. Vaida was still large, from years of sadza and meat and childbearing. Her ankles were swollen. She wore a pair of men’s shoes without laces. We exchanged Shona greetings. She put down the metal comb and clasped my hand. Rindai dashed away, her unplaited hair, heavily oiled with Canola, tapering to a thin pointy tip. She reminded me of a unicorn. “You’re still too thin, and wearing pants too, all dressed like a Hillbrau girl.” “I am not,” I said, laughing, and tugged absently at my beaded earrings. “What would your mother have thought?” Vaida led me into the house. I listened closely for her wryness. Sometimes she teased. Her face—what I could see of it in the sudden dimness—was heavy and guarded. Vaida had admired my mother’s ascetic ways. Nyadzi had been shocked when my mother married the coffee farmer across the valley, a worldly man, already divorced. I’d been born five months later. My mother lost her foreign support money. “You are no longer a missionary,” the field director told her. But they needed another midwife at the clinic and she returned, timid, never bossing the Africans around. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 49


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She had survived Vaida’s scrutiny. “Why did you like my mother?” I would ask Vaida. “Why? Because when you are in the middle of a breech birth, you have a baby coming out of you backwards, and she is there, you not only begin to like her, that person is the only one in the world.” Before my mother died, I had often seen the two of them on the back steps of the maternity clinic. They stared ahead beyond the clotheslines, the flapping diapers, the rinsed-out sanitary pads. It was difficult to interrupt them. “We are talking, Colleen. Go play.” VAIDA LIT A GAS BURNER and adjusted a kettle onto the single plate. “What do you think of Independence?” she asked casually. We used to speak of Independence in hushed voices. “And now, here it is— 1983, a few years already passing. I do not like one of the Ministers, but for the most part I am very pleased.” “I’m sorry to have missed Bob Marley at the ceremonies,” I replied. Anything I said would be subject to attack. Vaida removed her cat-eye glasses to clean them. “Zimbabwe doesn’t exactly roll off my tongue yet,” I admitted. “I keep thinking about the Zimbabwe Ruins. Stone corridors. It’s strange, it’s like the name of somebody’s new baby. I want to just say Rhodesia.” “Then you want to pay tribute to Cecil John Rhodes. Remember we have knocked down his statue.” “That isn’t what I meant,” I said. “Anyway, I’m moving back. I have two interviews in Harare next week.” “Don’t expect them to be impressed by your extensive study of Afrikaans.” “My project,” I said pointedly, “was about the positive influence the Cape Coloured have had on the language, all the innovations…” “Colleen,” Vaida said. “Afrikaans is Afrikaans.” “I hate how defensive you make me feel,” I snapped, but dropped my eyes, remembering she was my elder. Vaida measured the Tanganda tea into a sieve and poured water. Her glasses steamed. She steadied the teapot with its brightly colored tea cozy. “Have some Marie biscuits,” she said, shaking the tin. “It is good,” she said. “Yes, it is good to see you again. All the years you were growing up, we became used to seeing you every April and August and December. I would think to myself, The rainy season has begun. It’s time for Colleen to be home from boarding school.” 50 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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“Well, I haven’t missed your drills in Shona tenses.” “Someone had to teach you the grammar. They didn’t do it in your white school. I couldn’t have you talking that pidjin of your mother’s. Chilapalapa kept her a colonialist. If one didn’t know her, they felt patronized. I told her once, ‘I am not your kitchen help. I am a schoolteacher.’” We munched on the biscuits, and I drank my tea, and felt warm, and almost secure. I suppose it was the sort of moment I’d come home for. In Grahamstown, it was no longer my mother that I missed, but Vaida, bartering over a sack of mealie meal, picking me up for weddings in her 1966 Ford Cortina. My mother, around Vaida, remained a presence. I would long for this, for the way Vaida could speak about anyone who was not there—dead, in the city, at the mines—as if they mattered, as if they were still around unseen. “They believe in spirits,” my mother once told me, inside Vaida’s house, the same two-room standard teacher’s house, although all the mattresses had been pushed up sideways against the wall. We were at Vaida’s first husband’s funeral. Maybe it was some kind of viewing; the coffin had been surrounded by mourners. Occasionally a woman wailed. “To them, he is not really dead,” my mother said. I was seven at the time. Vaida and her children, the ones older than me, had been gaunt and thin from TB prevention medicine. Their eyes were a dull yellow. I could not see the man’s body. There was a smell of rot, like the rodents our cat lined up on the verandah. No one seemed to notice. It appeared to be just another odor, part of what the summer dampness brought out, a vapor, in the air with other vapors—old paint and Dettol and kerosene. I wanted to cover my face and stayed by the open door. I concentrated on the courtyard, on mist swirling past Vaida’s banana tree, and beyond that, on the segments of tribal trust land adjacent to the mission and the farm. Low clouds moved between mud huts and small terraced patches of maize. There was a sudden flash, and people stepped away, startled, from the coffin. Gordon Beck, the Station Head, elbowed through the group, pulling glistening paper from a Polaroid camera. I was used to seeing him with a camera, selecting exotic photographs for his supporters in America. He was often poised in the rock gardens, looking for flowering cacti, or unusual species of snakes. I had never seen the Polaroid. “We don’t take pictures of the dead,” Vaida told him, as he lay Crab Orchard Review ◆ 51


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the picture on the kitchen table. Yet she picked it up and watched it. I came over to the table. “Careful, it’s wet,” Beck said. He held a sunburned arm out in front of me, but I peered over it. First the poinsettias developed, freshly cut from bushes along the footpaths. A face emerged, like the carvings on Mapipi’s drums. The necktie turned grayer, blacker, stripe by stripe. I wondered when it would stop. My mother pushed my head away. I felt her skirt against my cheek. “This isn’t a spectacle, Colleen,” she said. But she examined the picture with Vaida. “It’s the wrong angle, don’t you think?” “The best angle is at the head of the coffin,” Vaida said. People moved aside for Vaida, and we followed her. Looking down at Vaida’s husband, lengthwise, we could not see the rigidity in his face. It seemed easier this way, where the smell was strongest, to consider him alive. He’d built his own coffin, my mother told me. “It’s too small for him,” I whispered. He was twisted sideways at the shoulder. “I don’t think he measured it right.” “He wasn’t himself the last few weeks.” I turned my face back into the gray weave of my mother’s skirt, feeling, against her hip, an assurance that this would never happen to her, to us, a strange, early racial security: We were exempt. Vaida stood beside my mother. I stared at their legs in nylons. Their heels scraped the cement, changed positions, mashed little clumps of tracked-in clay. They whispered above me. AFTER MY MOTHER DIED, Vaida, always a zealot about Shona, said she was determined to formally teach it to me. Her interest in this project was sporadic. There were school holidays when I never saw her. She’d remarried and had more children. Her husband worked outside Umtali, and one year she lived there, translating the Old Testament with Canadian missionaries. Vaida had given me a Shona coursebook, and whether she was there at Nyadzi or not, I studied the conjugations like rules of an elaborate game. I loved the sound of Shona, the long words with their repeating vowels. When I was fourteen, Vaida decided that local weddings could improve my tone. We’d drive up the mountains in her crowded car, beyond the wattle plantations, where tribal trust lands bordered Mozambique. The air was always cold there. The brides wore long sleeves. Even on clear days, water dripped in orange lines down the whitewash of the clay brick schoolrooms. I’d begin to feel anxious 52 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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when the singing started up, and the ceremonies were over, and Vaida disappeared into the crowd. I’d wander around with a Shona dictionary, searching for the color of her bandana among the others, and people would coax me—“Say it this way”—laughing when I used slang, and clapping my hand. Sometimes Vaida took me to evangelistic services at the mission church, long monologues of rapid dialect in the afternoon heat. I complained to Vaida that the African evangelists hardly paused to breathe. But I never refused to go. The church would be full to capacity—men on one side, crouched forward on benches, a dark blur of sport coats, and women on the right, knitting. Children crossed the aisle from one parent to another. People would dance during Shona hymns. I tentatively stomped my feet. Much time was spent shaking hands. I walked in and out with other children. We occasionally passed crossword puzzles and comic books. When the African church leaders first included ZANU in the services, the only sounds in the audience were the echoes of coughs. I was sixteen then. I’d begun to understand parts of the speeches, especially the liturgical-sounding chants: The people of Zimbabwe are many The settlers are few. I started to wish I was not white, or at least not a farmer’s daughter. The other whites at the meetings, American missionaries—scattered around the church with blond hair or conspicuously bald heads— supported Independence. But Gordon Beck was still the Station Head. Gordon Beck volunteered for Rhodesian Defense Force reserves, and sometimes wore his uniform around the mission. He was gone on weekends, touring the country with white teenage singers from Umtali Baptist Church. The singers were to accompany him on his next furlough to South Carolina. He’d organized scholarships for them at Bob Jones University. Beck’s group sang inspirational songs on a Sunday radio program for the security forces. While Beck was away, Rhodesia was called “Zimbabwe.” Terrorists were “freedom fighters.” They were guerrillas, vakomana, the boys. “HOW IS HERESEKWE?” I asked Vaida, carefully peering outside at the children over by the maize patch. They were collecting red peppers in their shirts. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 53


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Vaida answered slowly, watching me. “He’s an ambassador now, or an assistant of some kind. Overseas. Someplace in Europe, I’m not sure.” She scooped crumbs off the table into her hand. “You know he joined the boys. You were with him the night he disappeared.” “I didn’t know,” I said blankly. Vaida’s foot moved sharply across the cement and began to tap. “I mean, he didn’t tell me his plans. Tambudzai told me afterwards.” “How? You were already on the train the next day.” “She wrote to me.” Vaida did not answer. “He did talk about it that night,” I said. “I didn’t think he was serious. It was exam time.” “Some teachers believed that Heresekwe wanted to avoid end-ofschool exams,” Vaida said. “That it was a convenient time to go. We were all divided about him. And the missionaries were there, in the conference room. We could not talk openly.” “It’s true that he would have failed a few exams,” I said. “He was always leading those political meetings. Always talking to people.” “Yes. And up many nights. Guiding people across the border to training camps. Every third night.” “What?” “You didn’t know.” Vaida seemed pleased. “There was a rumor,” I said. “How he actively recruited for ZANLA. The security forces were paranoid. They even thought I was involved.” “He never told you then?” “He never spoke of it directly.” I sipped my tea, embarrassed, even ashamed that Heresekwe, my first lover, could have concealed so much from me. I floundered, readjusting all my memories. I thought of him, shouting in the assembly hall, benches lined with Nyadzi students and adults and small children. Stray dogs trotted down clay aisles sniffing Heresekwe’s feet. He would be frenetic and sweaty, shifting between Shona and English, suddenly leading everyone into an a cappella song like We Shall Overcome, a dense sound, bouncing oddly off the mountain, low notes punctuated by shrieking ululations. “You’re so much hot air,” I had said once to him. “Why don’t you do something about it instead of gaaning on all the time?” Heresekwe had evaded the question. I could see that now, in retrospect. He’d taken my wrist and examined the inner part. “This 54 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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is where you are truly white,” he’d said, and ran his fingers along the veins. THE TEA KETTLE WHISTLED. Vaida spooned white sugar into her second cup. I looked at the place where her husband’s coffin had been, a single mattress there now, with a faded Bugs Bunny sheet. “I guess I only knew what I wanted to know,” I said. “I liked the idea of people just sitting around here talking rhetoric. I must have.” “We kept many secrets back then, Colleen. I sometimes think it may have been best to have told you more. Though it is not our way.” “Oh, right, the tsumo,” I rolled my eyes. “What belongs to a white man, eat it while you are on your haunches.” “And do you remember what that idiom means?” She might have been at the front of her class, expecting a memorized response. “If you want to be friends with a white, you must be very careful in what you say, because these words can be used against you.” “Spoken as though you are one of us,” Vaida said, and I saw a brief glinting of gold. “You could have trusted me,” I said. Vaida lifted a cast-iron pot from her styrofoam cooler and relit the gas burner. She shook the match. “Do you remember the ride home from the Ngani wedding? Think about that ride. It was getting dangerous for everyone. I hope you never told your father about it.” “No,” I said. “I never told him anything.” There had been several people in the Cortina’s front seat, men in suits. Vaida had been driving. “You were furious about the helicopter,” I said. “You were outraged.” “‘Maybe it’s just following the road, patrolling the road.’ Remember you said that?” “I couldn’t believe it.” I’d been in back with the women, holding Vaida’s baby. He bounced on my knees as the car lurched. Air blasted through the open windows—dust, orange, we were coughing. Another baby pulled her mouth from her mother’s breast and cried, and the mother pressed her hands over the baby’s ears. The baby wailed, although no one could hear her over the helicopter: it hovered above us and veered sideways as the road curved into the mountain. The man in the passenger seat drew his head back in and looked at Vaida. “They were following us,” Vaida said now to me. “So were those men in the front seat guerrillas?” Crab Orchard Review ◆ 55


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“No, but there was quite a ZANLA presence at the wedding. Many of the boys were there. In my car, you were riding with mujibas and chimbwidos, all of us. We were very frightened that RDF would take us in for questioning.” I knew more now, especially after the war, about reconnaissance, how mujibas kept the guerrillas informed about RDF activities, and chimbwidos carried supplies on their heads, weapons underneath their dresses. The RDF would respond by bulldozing villages. They moved people into patrolled compounds with barbed wire fences. “You weren’t here at the end,” Vaida was saying. “Everything closed down. The stores in the business district. Everything got boarded up. It was so quiet most of the time.” She stared outside. The door had been left open by Rindai. A goat stood on the step, and his horns tapped occasionally on the face brick. Flies buzzed. The lenses of Vaida’s glasses shone pale blue. She talked, casually, about war strategies, targets—district commissioners, or the white farmers who walked with machine guns in their fields. “You could see them all at the Leopard Rock that last month. Civilians. They would shoot at anyone black outside, while the waiters served rounds of Castle lager.” I thought about the Leopard Rock Hotel, especially in winter, with its fireplaces, and white tablecloths, and serviettes crisp and triangular, Nyanga just the other side of the glass, and Mozambique beyond. “Would you like a drink? You are old enough now.” Vaida removed an old milk carton from the cupboard. She filled two jars with Maheo. It was frothy and smelled of yeast. I swallowed mine hard. “Quite strong,” I commented, and blew my nose. “Colleen,” Vaida said, refilling my glass. “What do you remember about your last day at Nyadzi?” There was a friendliness about her. But the question seemed rehearsed. “I wish I had known it was my last day.” I’d been home from Salisbury for a fortnight to prepare for endof-school exams. Classes were over, except for the public exams right before Christmas. But after a week at home, my father had dropped me back at the train station. “You’re not getting any studying done here,” he said irritably. He was preoccupied, furtive. I spent the next week alone at the hostel with the boarding mistress. I could still hear her echoes in the halls, the solitary bang of my toilet stall, the pounding of water in a bathtub. My friend Tambudzai wrote me. “Heresekwe is gone,” she said. 56 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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I wondered, What does that mean? I obsessed about it. I paced in the empty courtyard. I had stared blankly at my textbooks. “On that last day,” Vaida said, “What did you do?” “The usual thing, why?” I looked at her. “We were studying. Up at my house.” “You and Tambudzai Ndima?” “Right, and then we took a break. The bottle store sometimes turned a generator on if the heat was bad enough.” “THE AIR CONDITIONER DOES NOT KEEP UP. It could be broken,” Micah says. We are alone in Mhapisa’s, except for Micah. I hear him cutting boxes in the back, and Thelma Houston, close, then distant, on the short wave, “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” We compare Biology syllabi. We joke about sexual reproduction, as if this is not a sensitive subject, a cause of many sleepless nights. We practice words—gamete, zygote. We write the same Cambridge exams. They can’t judge by color in England, though they must be able to differentiate among names. Tambudzai has stopped using Ambi Cream. Her face is quite brown. It lacks a mask-like chalkiness. We discuss boys. For me, this school term, it is a prefect at Cranborne, a terrible rugby player, B team, with academic stripes on his blazer. He dates me, but also a girl from Queen Elizabeth. Tambudzai is being two-timed as well. This word, two-timed, is hardly used in Salisbury, but at Nyadzi all of the students say it. They admire English slang; they love euphemisms. I fall right back into it. I forget about Salisbury when I am here. The smells are so different—no mown grass, or chlorine. I think of the Cranborne boy, whether Tambudzai really believes that I care about the other girl—up there I seem to—but now those feelings are without intensity. I have no loyalties to my own concerns. I drink my beer. I try to recall last week, when I’d been with the boy in a Portuguese café high up in the SANLAM building. We saw, beyond the city, a maze of blue pools and red-tiled roofs blended into dry beige savannah, rolling, bluer and grayer and darker: the plateau, under low, creeping shadows of clouds. I think about his face, his low voice, the way he wants to explain laws of physics with useful analogies, his need for me to understand. But the thing that seems clear is the view from the window, how we’d turn our heads from our coffee to stare out, watchful. I never talk about Heresekwe. I have no words, I think, but besides this, I wonder somewhere, is it the covertness that I love? He is using me…am I using him? Crab Orchard Review ◆ 57


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“I think Joe will reject me for the other one,” Tambudzai says. “He put inside with her. She was getting fat, but now I am certain of it. She is pregnant.” “At least it’s not you,” I say, then see her face, try to reassure her, disprove it somehow. “Didn’t Joe cross the border months ago?” I ask. “How could it be him?” Tambudzai shrugs, looks at the floor. I assume that all his relationships are over because he’s at a camp, he’s a freedom fighter. Tambudzai orders another beer. “No, he is near Cashel,” Tambudzai says quietly. He is probably a fruit picker, I think. I’m supposed to meet Heresekwe at the dip tank. It’s almost five. But we drink some more and decide to leave a message for Joe with somebody in Cashel Valley. We go outside. We try to figure out how to call long distance from the ticky box. Micah comes to help us. Joe isn’t worth it, I think, a huge flamboyant chap who kisses everyone’s hand. Micah smacks the box again and I’m connected to Cashel exchange. “Hello,” I say to a voice, to static. “I can’t believe this is just the other side of the mountain range,” I complain to Tambudzai. “Here.” I pass the receiver to her. The sun bores into my head. I shield my eyes. Tambudzai puts down the receiver. Three security force guys stand on Mhapisa’s concrete steps. They wear khaki and guns. I see a jeep down the road at Cheriwa’s Grocery. The Portuguese soldier is gorgeous. We have eye contact. I figure he was conscripted. The other two are older, around twenty-five. The big blond one speaks with an Afrikaans accent. He wants to know why Tambudzai and I are wearing the same skirts. He speaks without levity or flirtation. Tambudzai explains. We bought several meters of fabric on sale in Umtali. “When?” he asks. “April,” she replies. The soldiers look to me for validation. I turn away. The big chap grabs my chin and jerks me next to his face. “Stupid girl!” He pushes me backward in pure disgust. Tambudzai steadies me. He scans the bottle store where Micah is trying to retreat. “How is your mind?” he asks. He tells me we are connected with terrorists. I am quite righteously convinced that this is not true. He asks why Tambudzai hung up the telephone, who were we calling? I feel quite cheeky. I have been studying A Tale of Two Cities as a setbook. “It is a far better thing that I do, than I have ever done,” 58 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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I want to say to him, heroically. Maybe this is how it feels, to be brave. My skin tingles. But I know I’m not afraid because he won’t hurt me, I am white. I don’t answer him. “I thought you were an albino the first time I watched you. I could not believe it. Do they give you dagga? Do they drug you? Do you realize this is the operational area? Has your father disowned you? Ach, I can tell you think you are quite clever. A kaffir suster.” The blond soldier grins now at me, a baring of teeth. He accepts a bottle of Castle from one of the others, drinks it down. The beer bubbles churn, orange in their brown-filtered sunlight. Micah has turned the music off. The business district is empty. “Where did you call? Who did you call, you bliksen se hoer?” His voice rises to the pitch of an evangelical minister, chastising, enraged, without a pulpit to slam, and I cringe. I try to breathe. All this over phoning Joe. Ludicrous, even if he did cross the border. They don’t know that. A romantic call to Joe Mutema. Tambudzai could do a lot better. “We just called Cashel Valley,” I say. Who cares. They can run their asses off on some empty lead. Cashel, fruit farms. I provide a fake male African name. The blond is calm now. He runs his fingers through his hair, beneath the beret. “The terrs sodomize their own people’s children. They are going to kill you. And fuck you. They will all fuck you over and over after you are dead. And before you are dead too. But you will like that, hey?” He pushes his beer bottle hard into my abdomen. I clasp the bottle against me, mindlessly, as he strides down to the Jeep. The other ones follow. Tambudzai is stoical next to me. She doesn’t blink. Music is back, crackling on the verandah speakers. Voice of Zimbabwe, shortwave from Maputo. People appear from hiding places throughout the business district. Micah serves a crowd in the bottle store. Women waddle purposefully, with babies tied to them, and on their heads, parcels, pots, kindling. Nyadzi students cross the road. Low exclamations, aiwa, filter out of tightly packed groups as they pass us. We walk slowly, silent. Heresekwe is leaning against the shed by the dip tank. He meanders toward us, steps over the cattle grid. “I see that you were delayed,” he says to me. “You two have been drinking again.” He laughs. “What about exams?” But he squints at the Jeep, grinding distantly up the pass. He opens a pack of Berkeley 30s and strikes a wooden match on a rock. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 59


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He listens to us, suddenly talking over each other. “How did you evade them?” Tambudzai asks him. “That time last winter when they kept you in jail?” He says he never answered. Or answered indirectly. Or perhaps he would tell harmless things. “I did that,” I say, with a relieved feeling of having completed a checklist. “You need to know what is harmless though, and what is not, shamwari.” Heresekwe seems troubled. We hobble over the footbridge. The Wiri’s water is muddy, rushing around great pale stones. We talk for awhile in the courtyard behind Tambudzai’s dorm. The dinner bell rings, and Tambudzai leaves for supper. Heresekwe and I forget about curfew. After the warning shot, he runs down to the business district to call my father. “He can pick you up in his Combie.” It is too late to walk home. I wait in the dorm with Tambudzai, who moves aside on her bed and passes me one of our Action Comics. A girl washes her uniform in a corner basin. She wrings a blouse in her hands. Water drips. It is dark outside. The mission generator roars on. Glaring white light permeates the room, and we blow out the candles. Loud voices and footsteps start in the distance, then subside and cease. Tambudzai’s roommate perches at the curtain with her head cocked, eyes bulging. I watch her. Outside a pebble scatters. A pebble drops down the retaining wall. Tambudzai squints up from her comic and pulls the lightbulb’s string. We hear nothing. Then a cowbell tinkles, and a cow groans and stumbles over the rocks. There are several of them, cattle wandering around like usual. I don’t bother to decipher their shapes. I wish Tambudzai would turn the light back on. There is a new sound now, a type of whispering near the window. It begins like rasping respirations. The cows must be sick. They are never healthy. “Get under the bed, Colleen.” Tambudzai’s voice is a tiny shriek. I obey. My face is pressed into the bottom of her mattress. I recall something I’d read in the Herald, that the guerrillas move with the cows before attack. Whispers become shouts in Shona. An argument of some kind. Then Heresekwe’s barrage of pressured Chindau, his cryptic dialect. Finally I make out “Endai! Endai!” and the noise of people and animals dispersing. Tambudzai shivers. Her teeth chatter. “It’s OK,” she says to me. I stand bewildered in the middle of the dark room. “Did you get what they were saying?” I ask, curious. 60 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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“It’s OK,” she utters again, in a monotone. I hear the rattle of my father’s diesel engine struggling up the hill. VAIDA LADLED GRAVY INTO BOWLS and asked me to dish up the sadza. I tapped the spoon hard onto the rusted brims. There were several children besides Rindai and the boy—her nieces, Vaida said, and school friends. Vaida sent them into the courtyard. Rindai, the oldest, scuffled out slowly, balancing the smaller ones’ bowls in the crook of her arm. Vaida pushed a plate toward me. “Eat something, Colleen,” she said. She watched me tear the sadza into pieces and dip it into the gravy. I took my plate to the sink and washed it in a ceramic dishpan half-filled with water. I dried my hands. There was one window in the room, pushed outwards with a stick, and high—one could only look out standing. Down it, from this side of the house, were the long roofs of the mission school, the classrooms, as if I were in a tree directly above them, birds’ nests in the gutters, and flat-topped savannah trees filtering voices. People were calling to each other in the courtyards. Someone practiced with a squealing microphone in the assembly hall. There was the occasional pound of feet. Christmas beetles drummed erratically. HERESEKWE AND I SAT on the retaining wall behind Tambudzai’s dorm. Heresekwe was hunched forward over his bare knees. I wanted to touch the coarse black hair along his calves. His white shirt was damp and plastered to his skin in places, the school uniform shorts threadbare, his pockets weighted down with his calculator, cigarettes, the bird whistle he carried. We sat close. He smelled of Sunlight soap and sweat. “Nothing will come of their interrogation, Colleen,” he said. “Cashel is a big place, a lot of land.” “I can’t imagine Joe even interested in being a freedom fighter. He was always such a yes-boy.” Standiwe, Heresekwe and I had called Joe, “the giant baby,” back in the days when we used to mock and joke, before Heresekwe’s detention. “All that time you spend in Salisbury, you only see the domestic help, those polishing the floors, spraying and mowing your netball fields. You forget to know us. How we pretend to agree. But deep down, even Standiwe is boiling.” It was true. The students who had absconded, the ones I had known beforehand, never seemed very interesting. But then, they Crab Orchard Review ◆ 61


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never talked to me, beyond polite greetings. They did not care whether we understood each other. “Do you ever see any of them now?” I asked. “You know. Julius, Kudzai, Blessing Dhube?” I wondered what they talked about: AK47s, methods of ambush? “Kwete,” Heresekwe denied in Shona, bowing his head and reaching for my single braid. He brushed the end of it against his open palm, back and forth, as if sweeping with a straw-colored broom. “You do,” I said. “You must.” He let go of my hair and turned to me incredulously, speechless. “You say to me, ‘You need to know what is harmful and what isn’t,’ but you don’t tell me,” I declared. “This is a guerrilla war.” His pupils were huge in the dusky light; they blackened his dark brown eyes entirely. “We are trying to take over a country. What do you expect from us?” “Always us.” The sun was down. The foothills had begun to silhouette. It was almost time for curfew. I scrambled up off the concrete. He stood too, and reached for me roughly. He kissed me, but we did not open our mouths. Our mouths were grim lines, stubborn and sealed. “I don’t know how to talk to you anymore,” he said. His breath was warm on my neck, and his lips moved across my throat. “When I write to you, I sit for long times pausing. I hold the pen, I lie in bed and write my letters in my mind.” He faced me. I could see myself inside his eyes, distorted. “But what I send is already censored, even by me. My letters sound like the Sunday Herald. We learn to speak, we learn to write in this country in the very tone of propaganda.” “I like the poems you copy.” “Written by Europeans.” We stood against the back wall. A toilet flushed in the lavatory. I heard water in a pipe. His pelvis pressed against me. My hands ached to unzip him. “You could go with me,” he said, against my ribcage, a suggestion. “To join ZANLA?” I gasped, mid-breath, desire reversing itself backward, as if someone had suddenly shone a bright torch onto our bodies. Heresekwe might begin to trust me, I thought. My mind flew with new possibilities, another life, exchanging everything. He half-laughed, standing back. He was sly, he was teasing. We stared at each other. His face was shiny with sweat in the dim light. 62 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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We both smelled of him. I would go home and study, sit on my bed with the setbooks, and practice review questions. I’d rub my fingers along my neck and up to my nose, inhaling his scent of musk, corn, salted meat, fire. My stuffed dogs would be there, and a dressing table strewn with make-up. “Girls go to ZANLA, they get raped and abused,” I said, for argument’s sake. I had seen this on RBC. They interviewed girls who had escaped the guerrilla training camps. Their faces were dark on the black and white screen, and averted. Someone instructed them to look at the camera. One had a swollen eye. Another breathed roughly through a crooked nose. Dark black scabs encrusted her nostrils. “Did the terrorists beat you?” “Yes,” the girls replied together. I wondered, Who really gave them these wounds? Perhaps they had been threatened by the Ministry of Information. I did not know. “There are many female combatants,” Heresekwe said coldly. “But this is what I mean, Colleen. You don’t know whose side you’re on. You think I would do that. Take you to Mozambique, and then act as a kind of pimp.” “We’re talking nonsense,” I heard myself say. Heresekwe was silent. “I guess I’d think about doing anything to avoid exams,” I said brightly. “Crossing the border, that’s the best yet. Right up there with driving off Skyline Junction.” A bell rang. We heard the warning gunshot of the curfew. Heresekwe always ignored curfew. He had never been spotted by security forces while out after dark on foot. “I’ll call your father from the ticky box,” he said. “He can pick you up in his Combie.” Two people had been shot in the last week. I had heard funerals in the valley, screams, wails, roaring unified songs. “You’ll wait inside with Tambudzai?” I nodded. I did not want to listen to myself saying another trite thing. But Heresekwe paused. He was still bristling. He stood with his arms crossed and rocked on his feet. Pebbles crunched under him. “I read in Time about rape,” he said. “It is a traditional war act. A way to control the enemy’s women and spread one’s genes to the other side.” I started to make my way around the building. It had become quite dark. I could feel my face, hot, flushing. I had listened to him speak enough to know when he was prefacing something. “Don’t even say it,” I ordered, in the clipped, the forceful tone of my headmistress. “Is that what it is with us, not rape, but a war act?” Crab Orchard Review ◆ 63


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“Get out of here with your stupid speeches,” I said in a high deranged way. VAIDA WAS BUSY REMOVING A SPLINTER from her niece’s foot. The child gripped the sides of her chair while her aunt poked at the tough whitish heel. “Go pour water over it,” Vaida said. She dipped the needle in Dettol and put it back in a tomato-shaped pincushion. I could hear the girl outside at the pump. “I should probably go,” I said. “No,” Vaida said. She bent to peer into a shelf, and the material of her housedress swung like drapery. The pincushion was placed on the shelf among other decorations. I recognized a gift my mother had given her, a Delft cup, which had belonged to my greatgrandparents. I studied the blue and white pattern of the Delft for some presence of my own family. “I have something yet to tell you,” Vaida said. She came over to the table. “About that day. Ninth December.” Her face was set. It seemed as if parts of it were dead. I thought I’d seen this look before, and the long breaths also, the way she paused before telling her African myths. I used to sit on my mother’s lap, staring at Vaida’s face as if it might be something else separate from her, discarded by her, and then her voice would come from her mouth, a monotone. I’d feel hypnotized. I’d blink and begin to nod. When I was older, Heresekwe would talk about Vaida’s lively class dialogues, how students distracted her from her lectures: “Otherwise she will make the people sleep.” I would say, “I know what you mean.” I was not blinking now. Her sighs were different, labored, maybe because of her weight—she’d been at least forty pounds lighter when I was a child—or the heat, or her certain restrained agitation. “The connection cannot be definite,” Vaida said. “But there was a village near the fruit farms, Mhakwe, the other side of this range. It supported our cause and provided the boys with food and shelter between attacks. Tambudzai’s boyfriend stayed there when he wasn’t at the camps. An idiot. He’d call girls from the chief ’s telephone. He spoke on party lines. “Security forces rampaged Mhakwe that afternoon. They killed children, raped and killed my sister and others. They even strung up the chief. Chiefs were their lifeline, you know. Big informers as long as the money was right. Every chief was made rich by the Rhodesian government. 64 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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“I fed my group of freedom fighters that night, here in my kitchen. We had just heard the curfew shot. A messenger child arrived. ‘There has been a massacre, vanobaya,’ he said. I was told about my sister, Angelina. Security forces, RDF, had been in our business district that day. Everyone had seen them, or by then heard of it. You had not done anything intentional. You tried so hard. Such an earnest child. ‘She is dangerous,’ I told the boys. ‘She is a loose cannon.’ “‘She can no longer be exempt,’ the leader said. “So they found you. They moved with the cows. They were not going to harm you there. They would have taken you away from Nyadzi where no one would hear. ‘Do not torture her,’ I had called out after them. My mind was in an odd form of shock. It seemed as though I were refereeing them in a game. “Heresekwe intervened. Actually, he saved your life. ‘Why did the security forces pick Mhakwe?’ he asked them. ‘She never told the soldiers about Mhakwe. They must have known something else.’ He became quite angry. There was not a boy who crossed the border who would not listen to Heresekwe. ‘She knows nothing,’ he had said. ‘You destroy an advocate of unity and freedom. Is that not what we are trying to obtain?’ “So you left us. You went to the exams early. You left for Salisbury the next morning. Choice saw you at Sekundiri Grocery buying Fantas for the drive to the station. You were giving cheek to your father. He at least realized you were no longer safe. You could not live between two worlds. “Mapipi perhaps told him something: your life had been threatened, you were at risk. Mapipi was a good drummer. The RDF would think nothing of it, an African playing his drum. They would not suspect. Many times Mapipi saved the boys with his warning messages. This is why he survived. But we were certain on some points he was a sell-out. We knew that Mapipi was loyal to his white boss. “Heresekwe is still an enigma. Everyone has a story about him. He did go to Mozambique. No one would kill him just because he sabotaged a European’s execution. He had a promising political future. But we never saw him back around these parts. He was one of those who went to Russia for special training. That is what I’ve heard. “I believe he shocked himself that night. He realized he did not have the priorities right. He needed a new role. He needed to be free from such distractions of civilian life.” “How do you know?” I said, swiping at tears. “Who do you Crab Orchard Review ◆ 65


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think you are?” I couldn’t speak further. I stood and clutched the table hard. There were gray swirls in the formica, and I concentrated on them. There were marks from a cutting knife, and one of the children had drawn a smiley face in blue ink. Vaida remained aloof. Her glasses sparkled orange in the western sky. “I must tell you how it was. You have to understand the psychology of war. Friends, family, even one’s own survival become secondary to the cause.” She sat there rubbing the back of her ear with a forefinger. “Your sister, the one who sold doilies outside the Leopard Rock?” Vaida nodded slowly. “I didn’t do it,” I said, sniffling. “It cannot be proved, one way or the other, who was responsible. The village may have been a planned target for quite some time. Or perhaps it was random. And the press ignored it, one tiny column in the Herald. What does that tell you? Of course they blamed ZANLA.” “Say I didn’t do this, please.” Vaida was silent. She seemed to be searching for words. I was trapped. I closed my eyes. I must get away, I thought. This village, Mhakwe. To be trapped, to not escape. Children ran, they hid, they were found. Adults, alive longer, there may have been hope, with that the fear, shock, limpness, a limp arm was tugged, a lifeless face nudged. VAIDA SAT NEXT TO ME ON THE FLOOR. A kerosene lamp now burned shrilly on the table. Children chattered in the bedroom. I must stand up on my feet and go, I told myself, but I could not move. I could never think about being alive. Vaida clutched her glasses and rubbed red, swollen eyes. “I go back and forth about this,” she said. “Asking how I could have arranged for you to die. I argue to myself about the circumstances. I remember how our minds were in a separate mode. I have blamed you. Then I blame those of us who kept you ignorant, our traditional secrecy.” I murmured something about going home. “Here’s a torch,” she said, flipping the switch. “I’ll pick it up tomorrow, or sometime next week. I’ll be down that way.” I opened the door to smell cooking fires throughout the valley, gold flickers behind thick evening mist.

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Oliver de la Paz

Epitaph for the Musculature of the Neck

I can tell you they were strong, that they bore the weight of the head and of the eyes. I can tell you force and of the light hairs. More fully, the cold and the grip of scarves. Can tell the paths of the muscle from the clavicle to the skull like rails, rails and the sputtering wheeltrack. And I can speak of their age and of their descent: bearded palm trunk, black snag, laurel bush.

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Oliver de la Paz

Aubade with a Thistle Bush Holding Six Songs

A man told me that he had wasted his life. I did not know him. We were on a train moving from one trespass to the next, the fields in the windows shifting utterly into daybreak. He told me about the guitar he bought with a little cash saved at odd jobs, how he could not play but kept the thing as a symbol for failure. All I know about this man was that his hat sloped over his eyes and the way he kept his hands close, as if holding a sparrow with few songs left in its throat. The rails below us were making comparisons as if they were saying look at the thorn tree gone wild, look at the gravel kicked on the ties. I wondered about the hollow of the guitar and of the voice of the man. It’s always like this on trains—the burn of your ear when a stranger speaks over the sun cutting through windows. I was like ashes without feeling. I was like the worse wrong of pity, like rain on metal railings. I didn’t listen to his story, though that was his gift. He wanted something brave and so passed a breath through my ear, too warm for the hour. I looked past the man through the window and saw three birds on a thistle bush blur by, then another three flying from somewhere and thought of the six strings on this man’s guitar. Each note the name of a stranger who’s asked me for an ear. Each note like dawn pouring through the windows. Some names rise.

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Oliver de la Paz

Some names are left at the station. They can wear cheap suits or drink sweet wine, but it’s the story of the name—those birds stuck to a thistle. And how they sang, how they sang.

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Oliver de la Paz

On Motions of Death The heart is the central organ of the blood vascular system, and consists of a hollow muscle… —Gray’s Anatomy Upon death, gravity begins to work itself into the body and the blood’s current slows then settles, gathering in small colonies, stagnant pools. The front of the body lying on its back turns the color of stone while shoulders bruise. A man, minutes from death, told me he could hear his blood leaving his ears. I could see the retreat from his eyes, the cornea fading to smoke. The body does not die all at once. The hair and the nails, though always dead, continue their growth. Some tissues live for minutes, hours on the cellular level. Even the skin rises, piloerection. Other muscles contract, and in a last animal act, the fingers of the hand bend, claw-like, resisting the body being dragged away.

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Matt Donovan

Trenton, a Solmization, Two Rivers, a Few Tells

The woman seated behind me on the train hums the same notes again & again. There are only two pitches in the pattern she’s latched to & for some reason can’t let go. It’s been the same through six towns now—just two notes distilled, emphatic & hushed, with only a small flux between them as if a pattern of ascension, pause & return were somehow melody enough. I glance back & see her eyes are shut, that her hands move in rhythm, too. They open, palms up, hesitate & clench. Pause, then open again. A voice from the speakers announces the next stop & once more clips short the name. Now arriving in Lin—is all any of us hear before static stifles it out. Today, in Trenton, in a poker game, I will sit & lose piles of plastic chips, & as I listen to this woman repeat once again something that’s barely a song, I wish there was something else to tell you, that this moment might somehow clasp a weight that has more than this frivolous game. I could be moving south on this train because of a note I pulled damp from the trash, a room at the Starlite Motel, or perhaps some implacable loneliness I won’t explain or even understand. Because it’s not enough, is it, to hear a woman hum, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 71


Matt Donovan

that some of the names I pass through are trimmed to Rah & Tol, that I’ll lose hands of Anaconda, Guts? In Düsseldorf, in a winter storm, in 1849, Emanuel Leutze began to paint George Washington crossing the river into Trenton. To ready himself he studied the Rhine alone for whole afternoons, & sketched for hours surface & crest, its illegible flow & surge. The slabs of ice he carted in & arranged on mats of straw softened slowly by the oil lamps as he practiced catching a glistening that was beautiful & meant nothing. By the time it was finished, it nearly killed me, Washington’s stand-in moaned, & at the end, no longer able to grip his spyglass, he collapsed drunk into the makeshift boat. Once, I even saw it—the crossing—reenacted in a Sea World tank our bicentennial year: the whale trainer grinning in his gray wetsuit, his black colonial chapeau, one arm waving a plastic flag as he balanced on the back of Shamu. Someone who beats me at poker claims we all have consistent tells. An ice cube clink, a jawbone clench, a finger tap, a sigh. He means, I suppose, the body’s compulsions give voice to our lies. One night, he phoned me, panicked, stoned, sure he grasped language at last. What if words, he asked, were invented to lie? In Leutze’s painting, it is morning, the day after Christmas, 1776. Washington, taut, regal in his whaler, is fixed on the opposite shore. Leutze, of course, knew the real crossing took place

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in a battered shallow-draft scow, that the river had only a thin crust of ice & that, given where his sun rises in the dawn, the men are lit with an impossible light. He had his methods, his reasons. Would it matter if I told you there was no card game, that I made most of this up? That even if it’s true the woman sang a few notes that was months ago, & it’s only now I swear they seem like a reply to something I’ve never managed to ask? Concise. Irrefutable. In the eleventh century, Guido of Arezzo, a Benedictine monk, broke each phrase from a hymn to St. John & assigned each syllable a note. Ut, he began, then inscribed Re, each pitch progressing from the one before. The rising, the exactness, the Mi & Fa & Sol—all arranged for what he called a passing through, like one moves through the days of the week. Which is to say, yes, it is Sunday again, a day resembling any Sunday before only in resonance & name. & if it’s true the monk later chose the human hand to map out a place for each pitch, then perhaps I don’t need to say anything more of rivers, or ice, or whales. Of lies, of names ending too soon. Even of those notes repeated & hummed that never reached towards a melody, but lingered as a moment within one, absolved from constraints of song. Then perhaps I could stop & point to this knuckle, this fingertip here, & you’d know exactly what I mean.

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Kevin Ducey

Dien Bien Phu The danger of dualist religions…is potential reversion to polytheism, to multiple and local gods, always a threat to Imperium. What follows in the name of the Word is Crusade, Auto-da-Fé, religious war… —A Gathering of Proper Names, Brooke Bergan

1. He had gone (one chieftain to another) carrying his flintlock. The Secret Service agents hadn’t noticed until he was finishing the nickel tour of the East Wing. The French called them Meo, or sometimes Yeo—they being so unprepossessing they didn’t bother to correct the name.

2. A river winds through the fortress and at night during the siege we could always go down to trade with the Greeks. How else to maintain this uneasy war? 74 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Kevin Ducey

Ten thousand deserters have settled here this narrow zone of the Scamander or Nam Yum. They’ve put up tents, dug caves, sell food from the black market—stuff we can’t get up on the walls. Many of us still in retreat from Stalingrad, avoiding an interview with Wiesenthal.

3. The Vandals beyond the Rhine were largely runaway slaves, dispossessed freemen, seniors unable to afford prescription drugs— Rome had it coming. The old poet implied things might change and ended under a helmet on the walls of Tomis on the Black Sea. His sergeant: Those hooligans out there, pal don’t care much for your poetry— They zooming round in them shaggy pony chariots (celts?) with .50 caliber mounted on back. Go tell it to the Geats. (Though Ovid did grow fond of the people of Tomis, learned their depraved tongue and before he

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Kevin Ducey

died wrote a few poems in that Greekish. “You gotta live w/ yr people as well as yr ghosts.” She liked these American things we sold out of the shop on Steinentor Strasse. We went for a drink across from the LälleKönig. I love you Americans, she said. You’re so happy; no sense of history.

4. The back of the panel truck rattled open at the open air market in Minneapolis and the press of Hmong shoppers pushed me forward. The truck was full of some fresh, green plant. Something I’d never noticed before, long stalk, with single leaf—shaped like an ancient spear-head. They were tied in bunches and the people all around me waved their dollars shouting out their need. Was it ceremonial? I tried to imagine an American plant I’d desire so much. A French fry? The particular is what you eat. The old cheesemakers of Gloucestershire

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Kevin Ducey

can say which side of the hill brings the best milk. (Though cheese was not always so sedentary— it was Odin’s food, the nomad’s accident of milk carried from the Rhine crossing to Augustine’s city. Only here could someone say, ‘I don’t care about food.’ Or, as the meat inspector said on resigning: I don’t care if it is irradiated, it’s still shit.

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Nancy Eimers

Occasionals —Moundville, Alabama Grass blade constellations, tribes of them, tributaries, continents, now-to-then carpeting, galaxies the green rolls out, up and over the mounds, bodies hugged by other bodies, last words inside last mouths. They lived on top. Or they gathered up there. Openness is left of whatever built them. As if up is how or why each of them could reach back around themselves, reach back of each other, unzipping, to help each other out of their bodies. Of course we were occasional too. Walking shadows there. That green was all the verbiage left now, up and over the mounds, the chattering grass was no voice at all. Not even voiceless, that number I couldn’t arrive at, little campfires of chlorophyll. They didn’t warm us, we were cold and we withdrew our hands into our sleeves and clutched the ends. Clutched against the openness grass-swells seemed to broach or somehow ride over. At the museum all would be explained. Why earth was piled over nothing. Who put the grass back. Pressed it down over any faltering dirt when time tried jumping over itself. We occasionals passed like clouds over the face of grass, toward the museum that would explain everything. 78 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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And the light seemed old, clear. You could see far into it. Tiny fervent bits at picnic tables: kids. You could hear their brightness like the tiny perfect far-off v’s of birds. Much was said by the hand-cast modern building, the reinforced concrete. Inside were placards and implements of stone just a tick apart in time. But there was a night, behind display glass, kept darkened, way before towers and palisades, before mounds— a little village of families winding down for bed, huts and scattered pottery and a fire, a little art and a little religion—there was a night— but the fire, the tiny fire had been rushed out of a cotton ball, pulled by somebody’s hands, not to scale, big hands, recent, into wisps, a little snow-fire made in our minds, brief spot of cold, daubed then with paint, neon-orange, by someone who could see how things might look from far away— there was a night that asked for this, so little, fire sunk to a whisper so no other whispers could blow it out.

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Nancy Eimers

Handwriting in America

My father speaks of a world of things about to disappear. Libraries. Books. Letters by mail. “It won’t be long.…” In the meantime his hand has a quaver, his penmanship is unravelling and his numbers break up like the stencilled numbers on train cars. Spaced wide apart, meant to be read as the train goes rattling down the tracks. He doesn’t seem to mind the thought of airports full of business men and women all lost before their palm-sized laptops open like clamshells in one hand. And maybe he’s the true visionary, seeing words as things not of this world— as neither things or nothings but a kind of upper air, their physical presence the very least of them and so to be lessened, stored as close to zero as language can bear. In this, a tossing out of what takes up too much space. The bulkiness of paper, cardboard, ink become as the blink of an eye. And if our mailboxes should rust at the hinges of their jaws, maybe that will be a matter of no weight, or maybe this will, handwritings become antique as Latin textus prescissus—barb-wired, so tiresomely mysterious, unreadable to each other, even to ourselves when in some future any of us happens on a stray hand-jotted grocery list and wonders what did I want that day? In 1894 A. N. Palmer urged on us children and businessmen conformity to a model, a “plain and rapid style,” a penmanship for the “rush of business,” “real, live, usuable, legible, and saleable.” On this October night Walgreens is brooding over us 80 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Nancy Eimers

in cursive, backlit red some graphic artist dreamed would be to us as someone’s true unstudied autograph. There is something furtive about a true autograph the Victorians said. It must have been written in a careless or confidential moment. All one lost afternoon my friend and I practiced copying the autographs of Paul McCartney and John Lennon— we wanted to travel over and over up and down the hills and inkblots of their names, I was the P and l and t and y, she was the J and h and L feeling glorious as they soared above and below the line. I’d like to retrace my own handwriting back to the first time I ever signed my name, follow the path of the hand on the pencil— the touch, say writing masters, should be light— press the pencil down and follow the loops wherever they’d go, veering wildly, illegible, unsaleable, back to the first cursive n I ever wrote across the page, all the way back to heedless n driving forward, endless, into itselves.

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Beth Ann Fennelly

Latching On, Falling Off

I. When She Takes My Body into Her Body She comes to me squirming in her father’s arms, gumming her fingers, her blanket, or rooting on his neck, thrashing her mouth from side to side to raise a nipple among his beard hairs. My shirt sprouts two dark eyes; for three weeks she’s been outside me, and I cry milk to hear my baby—any baby—cry. In the night, she smells me. From her bassinet she wakes with a squall, her mouth impossibly huge, her tongue aquiver with anger the baby book says she doesn’t have, aquiver like the clapper of a bell. Her passion I wasn’t prepared for, her need naked as a sturgeon with a rippling, red gill. Who named this letdown, this tingling upswing? A valve twists, the first opalescent milk spurts past the gate, then comes the hindcream to make my baby creamyfat. I fumble with one hand at my bra, offer the target of my darkened nipple, with the other hand steady her too-heavy head. She clamps on, the wailing ceases. No one ever mentioned she’s out for blood. I wince as she tugs milk from ducts all the way to my armpits. It hurts like when an angry sister plaits your hair. It hurts in that manner, and in that manner you desire it. Soon, soon—I am listening—she swallows, and a layer of pain is kicked free like a blanket.

82 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Beth Ann Fennelly

Tethered, my womb spasms, then, lower, something shivers. This pleasure piggybacks the pain, though it, too, isn’t mentioned, not to the child, drunk and splayed like a hobo, not to the husband, sleeping innocent beside us. Let me get it right so I remember: Once, I bared my chest and found an animal. Once, I was delicious.

II. First Night Away from Claire I forget to pack my breast pump, a novelty not in any novelty shop here at the beach, just snorkel tubes, shark teeth necklaces, coconut-shell bikini tops. Should we drive back? I’m near-drunk from my first beer in months. We’ve got a babysitter, a hotel room, and a meteor shower later on the horizon. We’ve planned slow sex, sky watch, long sleep. His hand feels good low on my back, tracing my lizard tattoo. And he can help— he’s had quick sips before—so we stay, rubbing tongues, butter-dripping shrimp. Later, he tries gamely, but it’s not sexy, not at all—he needs to suck a glassful from each breast. The baby’s so much better. He rests. It’s hot, he says, and sweet. We’re tired. We fall asleep. I wake pre-dawn from pain. Those meteors we forgot to watch— it will be thirty years before they pass this way again.

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Beth Ann Fennelly

III. After Weaning, My Breasts Resume Their Lives as Glamour Girls Initially hesitant, yes, but once called into duty, they never looked back. Models-turned-spokeswomen, they never dreamed they’d have so much to say. They swelled with purpose, mastered that underwater tongue, translating the baby’s long-vowel cries and oozing their answer, tidal, undeniable, fulfilled. For a year, they let the child draw forth that starry river, as my friend Ann has termed it— then, it was time, they stopped the flow. They are dry now, smaller, tidy, my nipples the lighter, more fetching pink. The bras ugly as Ace bandages, thick-strapped, trap-doored, too busy for beauty— and the cotton pads lining them until damp, then yeasting in the hamper— all have been washed and stored away. So I’m thinking of how, when World War II had ended, the factory-working wives were fired, sent home to care for returning soldiers, when my husband enters the bedroom—

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Aren’t you glad? he asks, glad, watching me unwrap bras tissue-thin and decorative from the tissue of my old life, watching, worshipfully, the breasts resettle as I fasten his red favorite— Aren’t you glad? He’s walking toward them, addressing them, it seems— but, Darling, they can’t answer, poured back into their old mold, muffled beneath these lovely laces, relearning how it feels, seen and not heard.

IV. It Was a Strange Country where I lived with my daughter while I fed her from my body. It was a small country, an island for two, and there were things we couldn’t bring with us, like her father. He watched from the far shore, well-meaning, useless. Sometimes I asked for a glass of water, so he had something to give. The weather there was overcast, volatile. We were tied to the tides of whimper and milk, the flotsam of spit-up, warm and clotted, on my neck, my thigh. Strange: I rarely minded, I liked the yogurt smell trapped beneath her chinfolds. How soon her breath bloomed sweet again. She napped, my ducts refilled like veins of gold that throb though lodged in rock. When she woke, we adjusted our body language. How many hours did she kiss one breast or the other? I told her things. She tugged my bottom lip, like sounds were stones beneath my fascinating tongue.

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Beth Ann Fennelly

We didn’t get many tourists, much news— behind the closed curtains, rocking in the chair, the world was a rumor all summer. All autumn. All winter, in which she sickened, sucked for comfort, a cord of snot between her nose, my breast. Her small pillows of breath. We slept there, single-bodied. Then came spring and her milk teeth and her bones longer in my lap, her feet dangling, and, rapt, she watched me eat, scholar of sandwiches and water. Well, I knew the signs. I held her tight, I waded in, I swam us away from that country, swam us back to my husband, who was pacing the shore, who was yelling and waving, baby spoons in his man fists, spoons that flashed, cupping suns. It was a strange country that we returned to, separately— strange, but not for long. Soon, my breasts ceased simmering, leaking, the child ceased wailing when sighting my cleavage, ceased vampire-sucking my arm. How quickly we assimilate. How quickly we go native, our bodies growing outlines, the old tongue unfamiliar. How quickly we adopt the kiss of acquaintances. We’re all exiles, flexible, fickle, forgetting our motherland or finding it quaint or barbarous, in time, in exchange for time. It must be a kindness.

86 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Vievee Francis

The First Stone for the Nigerian mother The law is plain— bury her to her neck in soil. Her belly has betrayed her. It speaks in gurgles and whimpers. Just look at the child on her lap. The child on her lap is the consequence of nights outside her husband. Who knew until her belly spoke. For honor we’ll break her. Gather the stones. She’ll crack, admit her wrongs to the sun above, to the stones, to the earth baking around her, to the circle of women, to men with the village to consider. Consider the consequences— if allowed to live. Her example will lead to further betrayals until the soil is pregnant with women. The law is plain— have her buried to her neck in sand. Put the first stone in her husband’s hand.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 87


Yahya Frederickson

Sacrifice for Sameer No better place to slaughter than your bathroom. After Eid prayer, you rented the young butcher, knives and all. Now, his skirted knee is poised on the sheep’s shoulder. Bismillah, and the blade will dissolve flesh. As he cups the sheep’s muzzle, exposing its long, soft neck, for just a moment I don’t believe in death. But the lurch of blood comes, the spastic hooves skittering to silence. Blood coils, lugubrious, across the pink-tiled floor, fades down the drain. I remember your stories about Hama, your hometown until your president shredded it like a stomach: 50,000 citizens disappeared into the tan earth. I hear so little news. He works methodically, dismantling the legs, spreading the rib cage open to reveal organs dangling like glass ornaments. He rinses the intestines, twines them between his square hands. Your own son is a knife: Al-Muhannad, the Prophet’s strong Indian sword. When he grows up, what will he strike? How will he sound? During nightly power outages, you offer food: cold kibba, salad flashing with onion and mint, Turkish coffee. You stand a candle into the drop of wax on the tabletop, echo ’Antara and Poe through your apartment’s barren corridor. When your wife left through it, her heels cursed in code. For such reasons, I never memorize poems.

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Yahya Frederickson

The butcher boy gets paid in brains and hide. We divvy the meat: one sack for neighbors, one for the bold poor whose knuckles test the patience of wood, one for ourselves. What we give we’ll regain, we believe. Your son will visit. You will marry again. We’ll hear the explanation of every severed nerve.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 89


James P. Othmer

Modular

THEY SHOOT MORE THAN 75 commercials a year in our house. It was my father’s idea to transform it into a camera-ready location conveniently within driving distance of the big New York ad agencies. He gutted the ceilings in the living room and kitchen to accommodate overhead crane shots, upgraded to 400-amp electric service, and installed moveable walls so they can reconfigure the first floor layout a variety of ways. Some days we have a stately great room, others a cozy antique-filled parlour, others a teched-out family room with a Cineplex-like multi-media center. Three days ago it was a midwestern farmhouse with fake snow frosted on the windows. Last week I went to bed in a gleaming spare post-modern contemporary. In the past three months, no less than 25 perfectly happy families have broken bread in my kitchen, chowing down on everything from takeout chicken to honey nut munch-and-crunch cereal to soy-based burger patties. During those same three months, my perfectly unhappy family has gathered for a meal in this same kitchen a grand total of zero times. Today I live in a stylish southwestern hacienda. There are Navajo throw rugs in the vestibule, cactus landscapes and Georgia O’Keefe rip-offs tacked on the living room wall, and the kitchen is a rainbow mosaic of reds and greens, oranges and yellows. Orange Spanish tile on the floor; brass pots and pans dangling from the ceiling. On the fake granite counter top is every imaginable kind of prepackaged Mexican taco party ingredient, from boxes of shells and bags of soft tortillas to salsas of every temperature on the spicy thermometer. Hanging from a string over our kitchen sink is a waxy red bunch of jalapeno peppers that looks like it’s been there forever. Like it’s a staple of my family’s diet. I rub my eyes and think something along the lines of What in the fuck is this? just to see if I too have been transformed. But it doesn’t sound Spanish, the voice in my head. Not even a trace of an accent. It just sounds like a sixteen-year-old trying too hard to be cool. The truth is I’m used to it by now. Used to waking up to the 90 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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sight of a 250-pound grip walking by with a 10-amp flood, used to location trucks lined up and down the street, used to tortillas warming and beans refrying on the stove, and used to the misguided ambition of my mother, coming at me now in a frilly, low cut, white person’s idea of a Mexican blouse. My mother accessorized with a disturbing amount of turquoise and silver “Native American” jewelry and wearing jeans too tight for anyone to ever have to see their mother in. Dangling from her right ear is a huge Canadian Goose feather, not quite indigenous to the Southwest, but close enough for Mom, who is doing whatever it takes short of wearing a sombrero and fighting a bull in the family room to be “accidentally” discovered as the perfect Hispanic American casting solution for the Tres Amigos Taco Sauce client. Even though she’s of Polish and Irish decent, a natural blonde and completely covered with freckles. TURNING THE HOUSE INTO a camera-ready commercial location was Dad’s idea. Throwing him out after he started boinking a twenty-four-yearold agency producer was Mom’s, just about a year ago. That was right after they’d had this big 20th anniversary party where they renewed their marriage vows. If anyone you know is planning on renewing their marriage vows, hold off on the fancy gifts and don’t bother going to the party because their relationship is as good as dead. I’d always thought a vow was a promise, that a vow was non-negotiable. Doesn’t the fact that you have to renew what was supposed to be forever sort of mean you didn’t get it right the first time, or broke that vow, or you never really bought into the concept of a vow in the first place? Maybe they thought it would do the trick. Or they just liked throwing big parties. All I know is I should have seen it coming. The agency producer in the belly shirt, Dad’s subsequent move to the apartment in the city, Dad trying to talk to me about some new song by the Strokes; and now Mom, dressing like a Tijuana hooker just to get a little attention. But I saw nothing, knew nothing until the final night. It was July and our house was decorated for Christmas for a sappy I-miss-you-mom-and-dad phone company spot that was gonna wrap the next day. Dad was standing droopy shouldered in front of the best Christmas tree we ever had, a 12-foot blue spruce with about 50 gorgeously wrapped empty boxes arranged just so around it. It was about 600° outside but there was a gas-fed Yule log cranking in the fireplace that no one had bothered to turn off. “Your father won’t be living here anymore,” my mom told my sister and me. She looked Crab Orchard Review ◆ 91


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down as if checking her next line on an index card, as if there was a teleprompter embedded in the coffee table, before laying this gem on us: “Apparently, he thinks his marriage is as modular as this house.” With that Dad shook his head, picked up his skateboard and left us, on Christmas Eve, a year ago this July. “HOLA SEÑORITA,” I tell Mom, touching the feather in her ear. “La cucina está muy bonita.” “You better not be insulting me,” she says. “It’s enough dealing with your wise-ass American mouth.” She’s looking around, trying to figure out which of the 17 pony-tailed freaks marching around our kitchen is the director. I’ve told her it never works, parading in front of the agency dweebs, the tight-assed clients with cell phones stuck to their heads, and especially the director. The way I see it, if the focus of your artistic vision is a bunch of people taking bite after bite of preservative-filled taco shit and spitting it off camera into a bucket, you’re not looking to discover anyone or anything but a way to get your shots, do the dirty, make sure nobody messed up the take, check the proverbial gate and get the hell out of there to work on the script for the artsy indy film you know you’re never gonna get backing for. Two grips carrying a gigantic papier-mâché jackass piñata are trying to pass and someone with a pissed-off voice yells for all nonessentials—i.e. me and my mother—to get off the set. “Don’t worry,” I tell her while grabbing some free eats at the craft-service table in our driveway. “It’s a cable spot. Spanish speaking. Telemundo. Univision. Small change.” She looks at me, trying to figure out if I’m talking truth, and she smiles. She knows I’m full of shit but this kind of shit she can tolerate. YOUR AVERAGE SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD’S summer job is life-guarding a bunch of condo brats or mowing lawns, flipping geneticallyengineered burgers or hauling block for an alcoholic mason, some dad’s genius idea of making a man out of his boy. My summer job is to take the most formative and supposedly memorable year of your life and boil it down to a theme line on a T-shirt, a five-hour-long medley of ten-, twenty- or thirty-year-old songs and a cheesy booklet filled with vintage cultural references and assorted memories and life updates supplied by several hundred of the people who either made your adolescence blissful or irreversibly traumatic. This is what an assistant class reunion designer does. Beats wearing khakis 92 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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and a nametag and saying “Welcome to Blockbuster.” Today we are deep into the psyche of the class of 1982. I’m doing the headline capsules from the era for the commemorative book. Gunman Wounds Pope John Paul II. Natalie Wood Drowns. Sadat Assassinated in Cairo. AIDS Identified for First Time. Rosa is looking over my shoulder, shaking her head. She’s my age, from El Salvador. In school we would never talk to each other, but the last couple of months we’ve been talking almost every day, because we have to. I am in love with Rosa; she just doesn’t know she ought to be loving me back yet. “Cliff isn’t gonna like this,” Rosa says. Cliff is our boss. He’s thirty-five but looks ninety. He tells us what to do today, what we did wrong yesterday, then goes to the OTB. “Too negative. Look. Here: 4150 married by Sun Myung Moon at Madison Square Garden. And here: ‘Cats’ Opens on Broadway.” “Cats? That’s positive? Besides it opened in October of ’82. By October they were out of high school and already in college neck deep in drugs or starting the first of many, many dead-end jobs. How about this: John Belushi Dies of Overdose. Or, Argentina and Britain in Falkland War. How can they ever forget that?” Rosa doesn’t look up from her copy of Chronicle of the 20th Century. “Here,” she says, reading a photo caption: “Charles and Di Wed at Buckingham Palace.” “Fine,” I say and begin to type. “But wait till you get a load of ’72—Watergate, Vietnam. Not to mention Helen Reddy’s ‘I Am Woman.’” “I’m not saying that stuff didn’t happen,” Rosa explains. “I’m just saying Cliff has like a vision for how it all has to play out. A particular kind of balance of the tragic and the happy. Cliff says people don’t want to dwell on too much heavy stuff at their reunion.” “Oh, that’s right. I forgot. Cliff ’s a genius. In fact I bet right now he’s sharing his superior intelligence with all his genius friends at the OTB.” “He’s paying us,” Rosa says. “No need to be disrespecting him like that.” I watch her walk back to her desk. She sits in front of an obsolete Mac Classic with her back to me and starts typing: Lionel Ritchie, Truly; Kim Carnes, Betty Davis Eyes; Ghandi by David Attenboro; First Blood: Rambo. Rosa’s black hair shines in the jittery fluorescent light, stretches down her back onto the ratty old lumbar support on Clifford’s second-hand office chair. Down deep I think Crab Orchard Review ◆ 93


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she may like me but closer to the surface she’s thinking I’m just another arrogant white kid who resents the fact that her and her friends ever moved into our town, let alone our side of the cafeteria. It’s not like West Side Story (ring a bell, class of ’62?) or anything, but there’s tension. Still I’m trying. But it’s hard pulling off cool and sensitive at the same time. I look back at my screen and replace 111 Die in KC Walkway Collapse with MTV Changing Face of Music. At three o’clock Cliff comes back. By the hunch in his back, the downward facing angle of his head, I’d say the ponies weren’t buying into his grand vision today. He looks at my printouts. I added a little curlicue border to the layout and played around with the fonts. He’s looking for something not to like, but anyone can see that this is an improvement on the hack clip-art he’s been using forever. “How’d you do this?” “Quark and Photoshop. From home. It’s easy.” He grunts, which from Cliff is the highest of compliments, especially on a day when he clearly lost his shirt. I get up from my chair and grab my cell phone. “Gotta go,” I tell Cliff. Then to Rosa, “Need a ride?” She looks at Cliff and shakes her head. “No. I want to finish this.” “Oh,” I say. Then low enough so Cliff can’t hear: “They’re filming a commercial at my house today—Tres Amigos Taco Sauce— I thought you might want to check it out or something.” Her eyes squint like she’s trying to see if I’m messing with her. Then I make the Hispanic connection and wonder if I offended her. I try to think of something to say but only come up with, “That’s alright. It’s a stupid commercial, anyway.” SULLY’S PARENTS ARE AT THE DINNER TABLE when I arrive to pick him up. His tanked-up old man looks at me for the millionth time in the past ten years and I know he still has no idea what my name is. Sully’s mom knows who I am, though: the reckless, deviant punk who’s out to kill her baby boy. In the car Sully rubs his hands together and calmly tells me, “Drive as fast and whack as you want tonight, my very good friend. Because you’re the king. You’re It. And if we die in a flaming, hideous, wreck, so be it. No hard feelings.” I wave goodbye to Mrs. Sullivan looking out the front door. She waves back, but she’s not buying any of my good-mannered baby-faced wholesomeness. She’s waving at the kidnapper of her son’s adolescent soul. Satan with a learner’s permit. 94 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


James P. Othmer

IF YOU SEE A D ODGE DART flash by on the road, there’s a good chance it’s me, since Chrysler stopped producing them in 1976 and there’s like two left on the planet. And if it is me, you’d better get home fast and reinforce the post on your dollhouse-shaped mailbox, hide your tacky lawn ornaments, your black-faced jockeys, your papier-mâché leprechauns, your lucky frogs and water-spitting gargoyles and those pretentious lion heads atop the columns of your 6000 square-foot McMansion. Because to sixteen-year-old boys living in the sticks who have never been laid and are eight bottles into a 12-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, that shit’s just screaming to be smashed, bashed, or abducted. Playing classical music while we do all this is Sully’s idea. He says he saw it in some thriller flick and liked the juxtaposition with the gore, though Sully would never say juxtaposition even if he knew what it meant. So we’re listening to perhaps the world’s only internetdownloaded bootleg of Tchaikovsky as we’re busting down the dirt road alongside the reservoir. Sully’s reading the names on the passing mailboxes: “Serino. Baker. Sobieski. Reilly. Hold it!” He puts his drink between his legs and pulls out an imaginary list. “Ah, yes. Reilly. Says here that despite multiple warnings, Mr. Reilly continues to be very naughty, as evidenced by the unforgiveable painting of daffodils and multi-racial children holding hands on his mailbox.” I shut off the lights and ease over to the gravel shoulder as Sully hangs out his window. He hits Reilly’s mailbox three times with a 32-ounce Louisville Slugger, caving it in and knocking it half off its post. “Say what they will about aluminum,” Sully says, as I speed away with the lights off. “But nothing feels better than making good solid contact with wood.” Sully opens another bottle and offers it to me. I say I’m good. He shrugs and chugs. Almost finishes the full bottle. I laugh but I’m watching him. Sully has diabetes. Has to inject himself with insulin three or four times a day. Despite what his mother thinks, I’ve told him many times that I would never bust his balls for being a lightweight but he always waves me off. Tells me to mind my own business. When he finishes the bottle, he takes out a hypodermic, lifts his T-shirt, and starts poking around for a good spot on his belly. WE’RE AT THE LAKE NOW. Parked in the middle of the bridge to Fairy Island. The air’s gotten cooler than the water; fine helixes of fog Crab Orchard Review ◆ 95


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twist just above the surface. I tell Sully I’m thinking of asking Rosa out but I’m not sure where to take her. “Take her to Chili’s.” “That’s Mexican. She’s from El Salvador.” “I thought you said she doesn’t like you.” “That’s why I need a good place.” “Take her to a Shakira concert. Ricky Martin.” I turn to answer. Sully’s leaning over the railing, staring at the place between water and air, where fog is born. I’m trying to see if his is the gaze of a drunk or a diabetic about to float into a coma. Whenever I go out drinking with Sully, I always make sure to shove a few Snickers under my seat just in case. I open the trunk of the Dart and take a look at the night’s haul: a ceramic elf with a flowerpot wheelbarrow, a plastic cow from a local steakhouse and a black-faced, lantern-holding lawn jockey that weighs about 200 pounds. One by one we take them out onto the bridge and hoist them onto the railing. For each I make up some mumbo-jumbo Latin eulogy—e pluribus unum ipsum probiscum—replete with signs of the cross and palsied, evangelical gestures, and one by one we dump the sundry inanimate freaks into the abyss. Burials at sea with full military honors. Last week we gave a plastic cherub an authentic Viking funeral. Sailed it out into the middle of the cove on a flaming boogie-board pyre. Watched it slide with a hiss into the mirror of the lake. Sully stares out the window. I used to think he was clueless. That the Latin benedictions and mock funerals were lost on him, but the other day when I was driving him home from some party the police had just busted up, we passed the bridge and out of the corner of my eye I saw him bless himself. WHEN I GET HOME the production company trucks are gone. Other than the maroon Chrysler Cordoba in the driveway our house almost looks normal. Inside I hear a rustling by the fridge and head down the hall to see my mom. But standing there instead in the blue thrum of fridge light, chugging OJ right out of the carton, is some dude with no shirt and a ponytail. “What’s up?” “Who the fuck are you?” He wipes his mouth with the back of his right hand, which he now holds out for me to shake. “Thor.” I look at Thor’s hand. On the back of his palm is tattooed a blue 96 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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bolt of lightning. The God of War just had sex with my mother. “Where is she?” Thor lets his hand fall to his side, screws the top on the OJ and puts the carton back into the fridge. “I’ll go get her,” he says. “Have you been drinking?” She’s wearing a black Metallica T-shirt. “Yes. But not enough to sleep with someone who drives a Cordoba.” “I forbade you to drink while driving my car, mister.” “Forbade? Please, Ma. Stop. Not in that shirt, anyway.” “Sully’s mother called. She says you’re turning him into a demon. She’s scared he might do something terrible.” “Maybe Thor should have a sit-down with him.” She starts to say something but stops. Her fingers curl up under the bottom of the shirt and stretch it down. A line on the back says Ride the Lightning. For a second I feel like the parent. “Is he the director?” She shakes her head. “Did you get in the spot?” She almost smiles, half nods. “In the background. Kind of like a guest at the party.” Then, “He’s nice. He’s a lighting guy for now, but he’s trying to direct.” I walk past her and open the fridge, looking for anything but orange juice. I grab one of 279 leftover tacos that fill the shelves and peel away the plastic wrap. When I turn around she is gone. STRIPPER POLES IN THE FAMILY ROOM. 72-inch plasma screen on the dining room wall. Yellow HumVee in the driveway. I wake up in the gold-plated, platinum-selling bling-bling world of a hip-hopper’s crib. Gone are the Spanish tiles, the jackass piñata, the chili peppers and terra cotta cookware. Gone, too, are Thor and my mom. Soon to be here is some new R&B crossover pant load to do a video for a song that is doing “modestly well in Japan.” They’re rolling open the walls, shag-carpeting the floors. Hoping this will be one of those videos with a lot of big booty backup dancers, I ask a grip if he’s seen the shooting board but he knows nothing. Outside, the African-American version of Siegfried and Roy are supervising the movement of a cage containing two Bengal tigers into our garage. On the lawn, from the back of a production van, two men are struggling with a plastic sculpture of two beautiful round, brown butt cheeks, each the size of a Volkswagon Beetle. Neighbors are on their lawns, hands on hips, standing at the edge of driveways, peeking Crab Orchard Review ◆ 97


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from behind curtains, all hoping to witness the infraction that will shut down the production and get us kicked out of here for good. From the looks of it they’re gonna get their way once the cameras start rolling tomorrow, cause this ain’t no Taster’s Choice commercial. WORKING ON MEMORIES FOR THE CLASS OF ’62—the Amazin’ Mets, JFK, Space Stuff, Cuba, Hoover, the Beatles—makes me wonder what some geeky kid will be compiling for my reunion 10, 20, 40 years from now. Ground Zero. Tora Bora. Survivor in Thailand. Amber Alerts. Martha Stewart. Enron. Attack Iraq. Britney Spears. The Belly Blaster. Makes me wonder which memories will survive and are they memories in the first place? Did we really experience these things or did they just kind of ooze out at us from the TV? I ask Rosa what she thinks should be in her reunion book and she just looks at me. I tell her some of my ideas and she shakes her head. “This is just context,” she says. “The world outside. The ones that mean most are in here.” I nod and smile, trying not to stare too long at her perfect hand upon her perfect chest. “And who knows,” she continues. “We’ve got almost a whole year left to make new ones.” Indeed. I close out 1962 and offer to help her finish 1972. ROSA: Erich Segal’s Love Story Tops Bestseller Lists. ME: Attica Prison Revolt. ROSA: Led Zeppelin Releases “Stairway to Heaven.” ME: Jim Morrison Dies of Overdose. ROSA: Sylvia Plath Publishes The Bell Jar. ME: Stanley Kubrick: A Clockwork Orange. ROSA: Don McLean’s “American Pie.” ME: Lieutenant Calley’s My Lai Massacre. ROSA: You’re too negative. ME: March, ’72. Colonel Benjamin Mejia launches a failed coup in El Salvador. Kidnappings and attacks on government targets are daily occurrences, most claimed by the People’s Revolutionary Army. ROSA: (Open-mouthed silence with the possible hint of attraction in her eyes.) ME: They’re going to shoot a hip-hop video at my house tomorrow. ROSA: Who of? ME: You can’t tell anyone. Some new dude. Song’s called “Whajaget?” ROSA: I know that song. 98 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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ME: I can swing by when I’m done doing Cliff ’s job. Like five o’clock. ROSA: (Still staring, not sure if she’s seen a redeeming quality in me or further proof of the extent to which a sixteen-year-old boy will go to get in a girl’s pants.) Sure. (Turning back to 1972, she types into her computer): Olympic Massacre in Munich, 11 Dead. LATER AT FLANAGAN’S, a burger place on the lake, for my weekly touchyfeely session with Dad. Sitting next to the aquarium, by request, because we had an aquarium once and Dad thinks I still give a shit. “So she’s okay, then. I mean what does she do with her time?” I stare at the fish tank. A Samurai fighting fish is trying to maul a big old goldfish. The goldfish has ick. Better off mauled to death than give ick to the rest of the fish, right? “She’s doing good. Lately she’s been into mythology. Gods and stuff.” While Dad ponders this, I pick at my waffle fries. You can see it in his face, that he’s intimidated by the thought of his ex-wife going all scholarly on him. If he only knew. A month ago I probably would have dropped the Thor bomb on him without blinking, but now it’s enough just to know I have it in my arsenal. He asks how my job’s going, and I tell him about Cliff and Rosa and the memory books. After a while, I ask what events would be in his memory book, and he looks down, like he doesn’t hear me. We move our food around, sip our drinks and try not to look at each other. The Samurai backs off. “Look at that big old goldfish,” I finally say. “His ick’s killing everyone but himself.” I’M LEAVING THIS MORNING as the backup booty dancers are arriving. I have to. Cliff ’s swamped and he’s got me running all over the place. The office, the deejay’s house, the party supply store, the printer. Doing all the stuff he should have done if he hadn’t spent the week shaking his fist at losing horses on a video screen. But it’s okay. The sun is out. It’s payday and come night-time me and Rosa should be at my house dancing to the beat of a song that is vaguely familiar to her. Around four o’clock, Cliff gives me one last job. Drop off the memory books for the Class of ’62 at the Holiday Inn. On my way out I tell Rosa I may be a little late, but no worries because the shoot’s supposed to go till midnight. IT’S FUNNY, WATCHING ALL THESE OLD PEOPLE reading what you wrote. Or plagiarized. Watching them get all goofy-looking and teary-eyed Crab Orchard Review ◆ 99


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over some basic newsreel-type headlines. Then I see it’s not just the words that are moving them as much as the feelings they conjure. Who was I with? Where were we that day? That’s the night so and so broke my Bazooka Joe original-flavored heart, and damned if it isn’t still broken. For a while, I sit watching these fifty-eight-yearolds squinting to read name tags and crying and embracing, talking about hip replacements and grandchildren, and holding onto handshakes like they’re not gonna let go for another ten years. I think in a whole new way of the 24 names on the In Memoriam page that Rosa and I compiled. Then I watch them dance. Old ladies running across the floor to seek each other out. One woman in bobby sox and pigtails, still the life of the party. Guys reluctantly twisting, shuffle-dancing. Ornery husbands from some other class who should never have come, moping by the bar. Some dude near the deejay still stewing over something that happened or didn’t happen forty years ago. On my way out, when no one’s looking I grab a copy of their memory book for myself. IT’S A LITTLE BEFORE FIVE when I pull into the parking lot. A little early, so I’m thinking maybe Rosa will want to grab some food or something before the festivities at my place. My treat. I park in the side lot because I want to sneak up and surprise her. To tell her what a big hit our books were and how I got it, the crazy connection between the universal and the personal memory. I ease open the back door to the storeroom. Out front, “American Pie” is playing on Cliff ’s shitty boom box. I smile. Boxes of extra memory books from years past are stacked all around me. Part of me wants to read all of them. To collect them. To critique them. I promise myself I will. This is what I see as I quietly enter the front office: my empty chair next to Rosa’s; our computer screens filled with useless information. To the far left I see Cliff ’s hyperextended back. The copy machine hides him from the waist down. He’s bucking and moaning. For an instant I hold onto the hope that he’s whacking off, that Rosa’s waiting for me out front, but then he puts both hands behind his head and keeps bucking, groaning something that the music thankfully obscures. The line of course is “This’ll be the day that I die.” Or at least that’s how I’m remembering it, looped in my head, skipping like a CD with pizza prints on it. Outside I get Sully on his Nextel and tell him I’ve got a quart of Southern Comfort and I’m on my way. Of course this is the one night that Sully’s old man, blotto in 100 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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the barcolounger, invites me in for a chat before we go out. “What you boys need is a job.” “I’ve got one, Mr. Sullivan.” “Right.” He looks from me to his son and you can see the dimmest light bulb flicker. “Anyway, what you ought to do,” my best friend’s father tells his son, “is strip. Goodlookin’ kid like you. Cripes, I’ll help. We’ll post a flier on the board at the ShopRite. A coupla lines in the Pennysaver. Get you a boom box. A bow tie. A home page. Maybe start with a gig at the retirement village.” “Yeah,” I hear myself saying as my hand spells out the words on an imaginary marquee: “Male Stripper. Inexpensive, but not cheap.” This silences Mr. Sullivan, who’s not sure if I’m mocking him or truly on board with his big idea. From the parlor down the hall a floorboard creaks, and you can sense Mrs. Sullivan trembling in the shadows, trying to figure out how to do a citizen-exorcism on all of us. Sully and I rise together. “Drive safe,” his father tells us. “You’ve already fulfilled your accident quota for the summer.” “Yes, sir,” I say as Sully pushes me out the door. Accidents are a sore point with the Sullivan’s since Sully totaled the family car in July. We were playing car tag. I was it. He was trying to get away and hit a parked minivan. While the police were in their car calling in registrations and stuff, I inched the Dart up behind Sully’s wreck and tapped his bumper with mine. When he looked over at me, I mouthed the words You’re it. He smiled as I drove away. IT’S NOT LONG BEFORE the quart of Mountain Dew chaser is gone and we’re just banging down the Southern. We don’t talk much at first. Don’t do anything but nurture the buzz and watch stone walls race by on the sides of crooked roads. At night in a car that’s all this town is— old walls, old trees and telephone poles pinching in from both sides, waiting for you to fuck up, to get busted or become another teen tragedy headline. Sully brought along one of his old man’s Dean Martin tapes, a cha-cha-cha thing. After a while, I see a big white mailbox coming up on the right. It’s got a bunch of sagging party balloons tied to it. Even Sully’s surprised when I veer over at the last second and level it going forty. Pulling back onto the road I turn to Sully and say in perfect synch with Deano, Cha-cha-cha. This is how it goes for a while, drinking and mailboxing and not talking. It’s like each mailbox represents a topic we’ll never Crab Orchard Review ◆ 101


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have to discuss: Rosa, diabetes, drunken dads and slutty moms, Thor in the kitchen, Cliff ’s ass against the copier. It’s like the opposite of a memory book, the book of smashing and forgetting. But the thing is, it’s the stuff you want to forget that will stick with you forever. I’m holding out the last slug in the bottle for Sully, but he’s not grabbing it. I assume he’s looking out the window, but when I turn he’s looking straight through me and I can see his sugar levels are all messed up. I take back the bottle and drive. Deano’s singing about cowboys, of all things. Rosa’s house is dark except for a blue TV flicker in an upstairs bedroom. A plastic kiddy slide is on its side on the front lawn. A beat up old F-150, her father’s landscaping truck, is alone in the driveway. I turn off the lights and roll to a stop. I wonder if she’s in there, or still with Cliff. I wonder how long she waited for me if she waited at all. Soon we’ll be back in school in our respective sides of the cafeteria, mastering the art of ignoring each other. We’ll all be wearing our jeans some new kind of way for the new year, hanging off your ass, shredded, dirty, hard, soft, embroidered, up to our chests. Who knows. And she’ll be pissed at me, the asshole white kid, for standing her up, and I don’t know what I’ll be toward her. What bothers me is that if she were here I would still like her. Still want to kiss her. I close my eyes and imagine her walking out her door right now, sliding over next to me and driving off together, off the cliff of a memory. When I open my eyes I see that Sully has passed out. Before I take him home, I will have to get a candy bar in him. Some orange juice. In front of me is Rosa’s mailbox, painted the blue and white of the El Salvadoran flag. It even has a gold seal in the middle. I put the car in drive and inch toward it. I get close enough to see the red paint drips of her last name. I let the bumper barely touch the post of her mailbox. I rock it gently, then pull back, as if from a kiss.

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Traveling

THE EDGE OF THE WING sliced a cloud. Pauline leaned back like the man in front, grateful for the window seat, slipping off her shoes, looking at the sky. The flight would take more than twenty-four hours, stopping at Honolulu and Guam before reaching Manila. Until today, she only read about faraway places in books, listened to stories from friends. She thought of the adventure ahead, she and Ray in exotic Manila, discovering new sides of each other after all this time. She had said no to the smiling stewardess when she came round with plaid blankets. Her own favorite shawl covered her lap, ivory with turquoise embroidery, tassels flying, doll’s ponytails, attacked by gusts from the vent above. She watched her husband bend over, dip into his attaché case and come up with a sheaf of papers. Two years before retirement and Ray had landed an overseas assignment, a fitting finale to his curriculum vitae. She must have dozed for a few hours. The movie was over, most of the lights were off. Outside, the sky was a canvas of black. A baby was crying at the back of the plane. Pauline’s mouth felt filmy. She reminded herself to use the bathroom in the early part of the journey, later was dicey business—people wet the seats with water, God knows what else. She prolonged the walk along the aisle by taking small steps, Japanese style. It felt good to stretch her knees. The baby that had been crying before was sucking from a bottle. The mother looked terrible, eye mask dangling like a bib, eyes glazed like she couldn’t believe she had produced the weight on her lap. Pauline remembered Jesse, her daughter in Maine, her baby granddaughter she wouldn’t see or hold for a whole twelve months. Outside the airport in Manila, Pauline stared at animated brown faces, belching cars, traffic, noise. The air was humid and heavy. There were blending odors of sweat and rotting fruit. The driver piled their luggage in the office car. Compared to Ray, the driver was small, his inky hair pomaded into place. He must have felt her eyes on him, for he turned around, raised eyebrows and smiled. She Crab Orchard Review ◆ 103


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saw that he had a few gold-capped teeth. Tucked into the airconditioned coolness of the car, they drove away past all those lively brown faces. New England was a world away, the endless winter, the weight of wet snow on the shovel. She saw herself there, hugging the burn of thawing ears, swearing to get away from it all, dreaming of tropical nights, iguanas, sweat trickling between breasts. IN THE HOTEL ROOM, she sipped pineapple juice. She looked up at ginger flowers on the dresser. The base of spikes the color of onion skin, climbing to watery coral, ending with a jolt of striped peach or pink. In the hotel lobby, they had walked past men skating on coconut husks, spreading wax on parquet floors. Glancing at her watch, she realized the country club in Connecticut would be just opening at this hour. Back in the States, most weekends, they played golf with friends, Mike and Sandra. The weekend before they left, the four of them got into the cart outside the clubhouse. Ray was telling Mike about the Asian Bank, how he had landed the plum assignment for a year. Pauline told Sandra that her application for sabbatical had been approved; the principal of the private school where she taught English had found a substitute. “Does it hurt?” Mike had asked, seeing Ray rub his swollen arm, the spot where he had his cholera shot. “What about Pepto-Bismol, tetracycline, fly paper?” This was Sandra to Pauline. She had memorized checklists from travel magazines. “I hear the women are fine,” Mike winked at Ray. “It’s the skin and hair. All that fish they eat,” said Sandra. Pineapples and papayas, Pauline thought, flashing a dreamy smile. “Bound to be interesting,” Ray said, squatting, appraising the distance to make the putt, tugging at unruly blades of grass. Sandra said to Pauline in a stricken voice, “Traveling to Europe for the holidays is one thing, but a year—twelve months—in the Philippines?” Mike and Sandra went to Ireland every year. Their idea of travel was limited to the temperate zone, the comfort of the familiar. “A LOVELY BUNGALOW WITH A SWIMMING POOL,” Mrs. Carmen Santos, the landlady, said. Peeking into the changing room nestled under a tree, Pauline was impressed. She entered a Somerset Maugham story, the lush vegetation alluring and unnerving at the same time. The 104 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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previous tenants had had a cook, driver and a maid. “If you like,” Mrs. Santos said, “they can come with the house.” Pauline brushed up on local history from books she’d bought, discovering Filipino freedom fighters, Rizal, his Noli Me Tangere, the underground novel that started it all. She was moved and impressed by it, the photograph of the tiny author in a tuxedo on the book jacket, his European education, his shrewd technique of tucking Spanish colonial hypocrisy in the pages of a novel. She wondered if she should take lessons in Spanish. There were good mestizo teachers around. The following week, at an afternoon coffee party, surrounded by international expat wives, she couldn’t hide her enthusiasm, questioning non-stop. “Have you seen Fort Aguinaldo? Wonderful, isn’t it? And the Lent processions I hear about. Are they really something to watch? Tell me, is it true they whip themselves?” Her German hostess assumed an amused expression and leaned forward. She related a frightening incident that had happened months back. “Headlines in the Manila Times,” she said. “Two men, strangers, watching each other in the lobby of a hotel, InterContinental, if I recall. Suddenly, one of them whips out a gun and shoots the other. Said the man had been staring too hard. Imagine! I’d always thought this cosmopolitan suburb, Makati, at least here it was safe—who knows, terrible things happen everywhere. Just luck, I suppose, that one is still alive.” “You mean the man killed him in the lobby, in front of a lot of people?” Pauline asked. “No. It happened well past midnight. There were hardly any people around.” Surely it didn’t apply to her and Ray, Pauline thought, their life. People had no business going out at all hours. They had always lived quietly, even in the States, not socializing much except with Mike and Sandra. “We wouldn’t dream of venturing out at such hours,” Pauline said. These women have been away from home too long, she thought. One lost perspective being away, made up things to console oneself. The headlines in the States didn’t comfort or deny dissolution. Didn’t they know it wasn’t safe to step out anywhere? By the time she looked up and tried to catch the eye of the German hostess, Pauline could sense she was tuned into the peripheral talk, so many tanned women yakking about shopping in Hong Kong. What did one say to Crab Orchard Review ◆ 105


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them? She racked her brain and gave up, walking towards the dining table, nibbling at olives, pineapple bits, admiring the floral arrangement with cropped palm fronds. When she joined the women again, talk centered around the locals—it became them and us. RAY TRAVELED CONSTANTLY, overseeing feasibility studies, supervising dams and power plants. He peered at numbers in the evenings. “Budget figures,” he said. Then he lay exhausted, the way he did now, flopping by her in old Bermuda shorts. His paunch seemed to be growing. When did his skin turn leathery? Pauline glanced at her own hands. Her freckles scattered all over. Inside or outside, the light here never held anything back. Ray blew a nasal whistle, beginning to snore. Watching him lying in bed next to her like that, tucked within himself, she hated him just a little but the feeling passed. She wondered if he left the air-conditioned rooms when he traveled, discovering something else? SITTING ON A WROUGHT-IRON CHAIR Sunday evening Pauline asked, “What do you do on your trips, I mean, other than work?” “In Bangkok, I played some golf. And I went shopping for Thai silk, you know that. I almost got up the nerve to drink some snake blood, then I chickened out.” Pauline was half listening, remembering that length of silk. It had hit her the moment he unpacked—Ray’s idea of her was so far off. Didn’t he know she hated anything shiny, something that announced? She’d end up recycling it, she thought immediately, disturbed by his choice. “Did you hear what I said?” he repeated. “I heard. You couldn’t bring yourself to drink snake blood.” She could see the whiskey was getting to him; he embellished badly at this hour. THEY HAD PLANNED A LONG WEEKEND in Baguio, a hill station north of Manila. In the fairway, the caddie and Ray walked together, she followed behind. The caddie wore stark white clothes next to chocolate-colored skin. He walked gracefully, almost skipped, as if he was a dancer, as if his feet didn’t quite touch the ground. Her eyes began to hurt from the glare. She would have liked to tell Ray she was thirsty, she felt a stitch on her side. The iced water the caddie carried looked slightly brown, she felt unsure. Ray took long steps when he walked, 106 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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playing seriously, shushing her when she tried to talk. She didn’t see what the fuss was all about, squatting and peering, appraising clubs, it would be easier if they’d hurry up, get the damn thing in. It wasn’t as if daring or swiftness was involved, like skiing or jai alai. Ray looked self-satisfied. Perhaps he thought the caddie was awed by his shots: the solid drives, swiftly tumbling putts. “Your grip is all wrong,” he pointed out to her. He recommended easing up a little, stop her elbows from flying so much. “Feel it like a buggy whip,” he said. After eighteen holes, Ray asked the caddie to join them at the bar. “What is a buggy whip?” he asked Ray. Pauline laughed. As empty amber bottles of San Miguel beer piled up, the caddie became animated, talking about politics, the American military bases, Subic and Clarke. Pauline sensed something in his dark, intense eyes. She saw that Ray was gulping his drink too fast. The caddie rocked rhythmically; rock, rock rock, calming himself down. He told her about history courses at a Manila college he had attended part-time. Reading sharp, cynical writers, he said, he felt a fervent awakening, an insight into the past. His profile was like Rizal’s, Pauline thought, mentally adding the national hero’s Hapsburg chin. What an unusual and seductive country this was, their national monument a novel. Later, Ray sat in front of the television, watching Trevino hit a perfect drive on the screen. She was surprised at how unreal the grass and flowers in California looked. As if someone had taken a cloth to each blade and petal and wiped it clean of the smog. Must be the camera. Filtered through the lens, only the grandeur came through—the lushness of the grass, the azure of the sky. It never looked that good when you were actually there. B ACK AT THEIR BUNGALOW IN M ANILA , she finished reading the newspaper in the lanai. The Peninsula Hotel advertised a Filipino feast coupled with Tinikling: A spectacular show. A feast for the senses. Eat sumptuous adobo and pansit while you watch exotic Filipinas in dazzling, traditional costumes. How wonderful, she thought, and walked towards the bedroom where Ray was taking a shower. Behind the shower curtain, she saw her husband’s soapy silhouette. “Let’s go out for dinner tonight. What do you say?” “Okay Paulie, sounds fine to me.” “Hmm.” The sound came out of her mouth but her eyes went fuzzy. Paulie. How long since he used that endearment. In the mirror, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 107


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a blurred, soft face. That woman, Pauline thought, why she was still a girl playing grown up. Steam from Ray’s hot shower made her freckled cleavage red. There was a time she used to tease him in the shower. With sudden energy, she opened the hot water faucet as if to wash her hands. “Hey, stop that!” Ray shouted, cursing at the gush of cold water from the shower. She shut the door, grinning to herself. “THE NATIONAL DANCE OF THE PHILIPPINES,” the hotel emcee announced. Accompanied by the roll of drums and tinkling sounds, dancers in festive costumes filled the limelight. Two men knelt on the floor of the stage, lifting, clapping poles of bamboo. The women moved gracefully, sticking thin ankles in and out—darting, agile movements, hypnotic to watch. Pauline loved the predictability of the rhythmic sound. Baronged men and women in butterfly sleeves offered trays of bibingka—sticky rice cooked in coconut milk. Pauline took one and felt the rice adhere to the roof of her mouth. Ray shook his head at the waiter, immersed in the show. Pauline wondered what he admired best about the dancers. They had proud, slender necks. Their glossy hair was pulled back in chignons. Perhaps he found their small waists erotic, alluring and fragile. A big man like him could crush these women like tender stalks. Ray turned to her suddenly and said, “Why don’t you join me next week when I go to Penang?” Her eyes blinked fast—it happened when she was surprised. “That would be fun. I’ll read up so we won’t miss the important sights.” THEIR ONLY WEEKEND IN MALAYSIA and Ray was still lingering over the hotel breakfast. “Will you write to Mum or shall I?” she asked, bringing out the postcards, stamped and addressed. Ray’s mother lived in Des Moines. Pauline knew she loved hearing from them, collecting postcards from afar. Des Moines was so dreary this time of year, all damp and miserable like a wet sock. Beyond a wall of windows was a view of rolling lawns; sunburned gardeners weeding flower beds. This is what it must have been like, Pauline thought, remembering historical photographs of Raffles, the famous hotel in Singapore. The book she had seen showed men staring grimly in the days of the Raj.

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ALONG WITH THE TOUR GROUP, they arrived at the snake temple in Penang. From the outside, the temple seemed ordinary. The light held you and you looked in, seeing only a small room, sleeping snakes. You had a choice to go in or stay out. Along with some of the others, Ray was being foolish, waiting to be photographed. The tour guide offered each of them a snake, wrapped it around Ray’s neck like a scarf. “I think it’s a bad idea. What misplaced trust,” Pauline said. As if the essential nature of the thing would lie low so long, out there in the open, away from the intoxicating incense. Ray laughed and stood in front when the guide took the group photograph. What was he thinking, really feeling, standing there like that? How annoying that he should take it all so lightly, as if she was the only novice there. Inside the temple was a different matter. The snakes were small, black with brown patches, clumped here and there, dozing. The air smelled sickly sweet, the slimy green of tarnished incense burners blanketed by smoke, rising like humps from the gray stone floor. Thick with still shapes, the floor, the smoky space above, waited for a collective hiss. If you stood there long enough, Pauline thought, in that band of clear ground in the middle, the corners reached out and pulled, blue-black tentacles behind the fog. The movement of the smoke, curls thinning out, gave the impression of moving snakes, slithering darkness rushing to feet. It was like vertigo, the ground flying up to your head on the twelfth floor, pulling you down. You fell, a stillborn scream in your mouth, the plunge your only awareness for the moment. Back at the hotel, Pauline soaked in the tub. Ray handed Pauline a glass of juice and undid the top button of his shirt, slid the knot of his tie. She saw red threads quiver in the whites of his eyes. “Better go easy on those, ” she said, pointing to his whiskey glass. The American orange juice smelled metallic, can on her tongue. The images of the day replayed in her head: the filthy streets the taxi had driven through, the ripe smell of strange foods and ditch water, the monotony of the landscape, brown faces everywhere. So different from the words she had read. How real reality was. How it surprised. WEEKS LATER, IN MANILA, on the day of their first office party, the cook was ill in bed. The driver, Torio, had brought his wife to help. Pauline was tucking ginger flowers into a big brass vase when screams emerged from the garden. Torio’s girls. When the children arrived this morning with their mother, they smiled shyly at her. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 109


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Drawing close to them, Pauline noticed their little dark heads were covered with nits. Wrapped in her robe, flower clippers in hand, she walked towards the pool. Near the sprinkler, the girls danced and screamed, wearing only panties. The mother was frying shrimp wafers and chicharones on the barbecue. Torio leaned against the table under the santol tree, lining bamboo baskets with banana leaves. His trouser cuffs were rolled up. He had a straw hat on his head. Pauline saw that he talked with his wife as he worked. She watched them for a few minutes. As the girls slipped into sundresses she saw herself and Ray: a summer picnic, their daughter Jesse, a toddler, sitting inside Mr. Turtle, a baby pool in the yard. The memory stretched and tingled— she aroused by poetry on her lap; Ray tracing the whorl of her ear with the tip of his tongue. She was reading Kubla Khan, preparing for a unit on poetry in her British Lit class. Ray was dozing beside her on the blanket. He was recovering from a stomach virus he had brought back from his week in Ethiopia. He joked about meals from a communal plate, food that tasted like gym socks. She had stared at him shocked. From the kitchen, Pauline grabbed a plate, toothpicks, olives, pineapple, cheese. She walked towards the children and held the plate out. “Please,” she said, “take one.” “Like this,” she showed, stabbing a toothpick into an olive, then a cube of cheese. The girls bit into olives and made hideous faces. When the plate was empty, she hugged the girls, not caring that a louse could easily crawl up her arm or jump onto her head. In the afternoon, a phone call from the States, from Mike and Sandra. Long distance calls made Pauline nervous. She talked faster than usual in a breathless voice. “We’re having a luau this evening. Bamboo torches in the garden, the whole bit.” “We’ve mailed you a little something, ” Sandra said. “Cranberry sauce,” Mike interjected. “We thought you might find it difficult to get there.” “We’re having lechon, roast pork. Like they have in Hawaii, a whole pig with an apple in its mouth,” Pauline said. Mike and Sandra said that was nice. “Do you need anything?” This was Sandra. “Can’t think of a thing,” Pauline panted in reply. She heard Mike tell Ray about their trip to Palm Beach. They had played a few rounds of golf, he said. Sandra said thanks for the postcard from Penang. 110 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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Before Pauline knew it, they were all wishing each other Happy Thanksgiving, saying the same thing, over and over. After the party, she and Ray sat in the garden. The driver, Torio, and his wife were removing lawn chairs. On the pool were candles, floating in coconut-husk cups. The fragrance of ylang-ylang, the smell of rain hung in the air. “The typhoon season is coming,” Torio said and wrinkled his nose towards the clouds. “Are they very bad?” Pauline asked. “Sometimes not so bad. Sometimes we have brownouts. No water. But this house has big pool…maybe many people come here for water.” Ray scowled in pain. “My back is killing me,” he said, getting up, walking towards the house. “I’ll get the cream and tablets,” Pauline said, watching him wince when he tried to turn his head. In the bedroom, she saw that his face was flushed. He stiffened his arm as she unbuttoned a cuff. “This will help,” she tried to soothe. She drew circles below his neck with the fleshy part of her thumbs. To play it safe, she had the medication from his doctor in Connecticut, a glass of water on the side table. She planned to make him swallow the tablets before they slept tonight. “It’s the hotel beds, damn soft pillows that are never the right height,” he said. Pauline squeezed out gel from the tube. She rubbed it in with vigor this time. “Stop it. It’s starting to burn. I’ve had enough.” Ray knelt on the bed making her drop her hands. Pauline recalled that his last check-up showed nothing. It had been attributed to tense muscles, stress. Pauline worried Ray’s problem was psychological. He had slept badly last night, kicking a restless leg. “Damn fool,” he had yelled at himself. “Fucking mind won’t stop the replay of what happened at work. I can’t seem to relax, unwind. Maybe I’m too old for this stuff.” She had opened her eyes and reached for his hand. He looked so vulnerable. A child throwing a tantrum. He punched the pillow trying to shape it the way he wanted it, the way it sat in his mind. “Stop worrying so much. Nothing can be done in the middle of the night. You’ll be no good in the morning this way,” she had said. Perhaps they had been wrong. Coming here this way, so close to retirement. She should have remembered his passion for perfection. But it was supposed to be different, more fun this time. Why did he have to make a battle of things all the time? Earlier, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 111


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when the guests arrived, he had put on quite a show. He charmed and flirted, dancing again and again with two or three of the local women. Pauline saw that he was having a good time. Without an audience, he displayed nothing of this public side for her, his wife. SITTING IN THE CAR, Pauline looked out at the veering jeepneys, their colorful streamers tied to antennas. Her right thumb absently stroked the knobby ridges of the hand-woven Ifugao fabric on the seat next to her. Braille against skin. Yesterday, the coffee-party German hostess, now an almost-friend, had dropped by for a visit. She suggested that Pauline go to her seamstress in Angela Arcade near the department store, Rustan’s. “Take your favorite wrap-around skirt. My seamstress Dolores, why, she’ll make you one just like it,” she had said, waving a hand suddenly, making Pauline blink. Later, clearing their calamansi juice glasses, the maid said to her, “Ay nako, ma’m, my tiya Anching, she can make you same skirt for less than half-price. She is very good. Sayang, all that money, big waste ma’m. In Makati, everything too expensive.” Pauline felt clever, she had discovered a bargain. The driver, Torio, looked at her face in the rear view mirror. “Quiapo very crowded near the market.” “Oh. Really?” She heard an edge of anxiety in her own voice. As they slowed down for a red light, she saw children, mostly boys, dart between cars. They were selling sampaguita strands—jasmine leis—cigarettes, chewing gum. Torio rolled down the window a couple of inches and whistled at one of the boys. As he pressed coins into palm, the boy turned to her in the back seat and fanned sticks of gum. She shook her head. Before the boy hurried away, a glob of saliva splattered on the ground. She patted the sweat on her nose with a folded tissue. A few more minutes, having reached Quiapo, the car came to a stop. Torio shifted the gear to park and locked his wallet in the glove compartment. Hugging her pocketbook, she asked, “Why are we stopping? Is this the seamstress’s house? Is this place safe?” “This road okay,” he said, pointing to a lane beyond. “That one very small, no good for big car. It’s okay for me here. Okay for you. Walking is okay. No need to worry. I stay here nalang. Childrens coming and bothering car. Maybe scratch with stone. It’s possible. Maybe Torio get mad.” Getting out of the car, he spoke in Tagalog to a woman carrying 112 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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a baby. “You give him fifty centavos,” Torio said to Pauline. “He will take you to Anching. Fifty centavos. That’s okay.” He repeated himself, as if she didn’t understand. It was charming the way he confused gender when speaking English. Pauline had read that they used only the neuter in Tagalog. The woman and the baby led the way, and Pauline followed in sandals, flimsy straps and all. A thin stream of soapy water raced down the side of the lane. Pauline’s toes curled. “My tiya,” the woman announced, nodding at an old woman squatting and washing clothes under a gushing tap. Hearing the younger woman’s voice, the huddled shape turned the bucket on the ground. Pauline attempted moving but it was too late—her feet were soaked. She cursed inwardly at the wetness on the road, her sandals, her lack of foresight. She walked a few more steps. A man urinated into the gutter. Babes Stop Here, the back of his T-shirt said. He turned his face and winked at her. Pauline tried to avert her eyes. But it was as if staring at him, she had frozen, turned to ice. She should not have hesitated. She should not have looked at him at all. The sound of a child’s insistent cry jolted her from her trance. Two other men had appeared from somewhere and they stood in the middle of the alley. They blocked her way ahead. She told herself to be calm, there were others about. As she walked, she looked sideways and past the men, focused on following the woman and baby ahead. Something she had written to her pregnant daughter Jesse in an old letter popped into her head. Pain belonged to the body, she had said, fear stemmed from the mind. She walked closer to the men. They were hardly six feet away. “Hello ma’m! From USA?” one of them asked. The other one sang and played an invisible guitar, thrust out his pelvis, mouthing, “I’m so lonely baby, I could die.” A cluster of half-naked children watched and clapped. The man who had been urinating joined the others and they let her pass. After they had walked for a while, the alley forked out ahead. There was a big crowd to one side. She noticed the woman leading the way walk straight ahead, pushing her way efficiently past spectators, swallowed by the crowd. Nearing the huddled circle, Pauline tried to squeeze through ahead, but the lane was narrow, too many people shouting and waving fists at something going on in the middle. Men and women around her shoved and pushed, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 113


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somebody stepped on her feet. What if she was trapped in a stampede? What a ridiculous, absurd thing to happen. Flattened like roadkill. To dream of travel and end up smashed like a cartoon character. Through gaps dividing tense shoulders, Pauline caught glimpses of the action. A black bird was scampering towards its opponent, coral comb rippling as it ran. There was a humming din of voices. The fight seemed to have taken over the people around her. They seemed in a neighborhood fiesta mood, some secret rage transferred into the tiny knife that flew again and again with the bird’s leg. Only Pauline saw the cruelty, smelling the sourness of birdshit on the ground. She felt a slow nausea rise. Turning, she pushed her way out of the sweating bodies. Someone elbowed her chest. That feeling of being hemmed in a strange dream, she couldn’t trust herself to find her voice. Her guide and the child appeared suddenly in front of her. The woman pushed and jostled and reached for her hand. She led the way to seamstress Anching’s house. “Where were you?” Pauline heard her own fear, her voice whine like a child’s. “Ma’m. Cockfight exciting no? Come inside, meet my tiya,” the woman said. “Who?” Pauline asked. “Anching. Yes madam. Anching also my tiya,” the woman confirmed. Was it possible that most of the women in these shanty houses were related somehow? Perhaps it was a bond based on their common condition in life, a kinship which allowed them to enter each other’s lives. “Don’t worry ma’m. My tiya will do good job for you.” The woman tilted her head to one side as she spoke. “You will be happy. We Filipinos, we are good at making happy, no?” Pauline paid the woman and saw the way she smiled. In seamstress Anching’s house, the odor of dried fish invaded everything in the room. There was an altar above the old sewing machine—Mary holding baby Jesus, wearing plastic flowers. Baskets of spools, fabric remnants in folded triangles littered the linoleum floor. Anching pointed to the makeshift changing room at the corner, instructed Pauline, “Ma’m, wait there nalang.” Minutes later, Anching entered, waving the curtains aside. “Magandang,” she exclaimed, “That means beautiful. The color is very nice.” She wrapped the fabric around Pauline’s slip, removing pins from a grimy cloth apple to mark the hemline. “Matching blouse?” Anching asked as she measured wrists for cuffs. Anching’s eyes rested on the lacy 114 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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cups of Pauline’s underwire bra. “Imported ma’m? Sexy like bomba movie star.” Pauline smiled and reached for her dress, facing the mirror this time. “You give deposit, fifty pesos now.” Why that commanding tone? Anching reached out to adjust the twirl of Pauline’s bra strap. Sandpaper fingers. She jerked back. Anching laughed and closed the plastic curtains that bordered the changing area. Before Pauline could slip into her dress, a brown hand tugged at the curtains and parted them wide. In the mirror, a red-eyed man, tails of a bandanna framing his face like Arafat. Where was Anching? Who was this man? She suddenly recognized him as the same man she had seen urinating into the gutter. He took a step towards her; his face loomed over her shoulder in no time. The dress in her hand fell to the floor. She felt a heaviness, something stone-like spread in her chest. Anching’s voice shouted at the man from somewhere, perhaps outside. He yelled something back. It all seemed to happen in slow motion, not nearly fast enough. Pauline saw herself hunched over slightly, bra strap loose, a band over her arm. The unbearable smell of his sweat. She opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. Something gushed, whirred, a strange disturbance in her ears. His dark eyes darted from her face to her breasts. In the mirror, she stared at the stain of her tan over her throat and neck. Finally, she managed a childish, whimpering sound. Behind her, the man bent down. She recalled the image of the altar in the room. Please. Dear God. He was standing with her wallet in his hand. Rummaging for something, he found a wad of pesos bound with a rubber band. “Anching say fifty, okay?” Pauline watched as he pocketed a wad of fifty single notes. Before closing the empty wallet, he noticed the photograph—Jesse and the baby. He looked at them and then at her. “Lola?” he pointed at her and laughed. “Anching my lola, granma,” he muttered, tossing her wallet against the mirror. He picked up her dress and put it around her shoulders like a shawl. In the mirror, she saw the starched linen dress gathered like a ruffle over her bra. Then he was gone. Only the smell of stale fish, his sweat, the curtain swaying to the gust of a table fan. She had not seen that framed picture on the wall above the mirror—Imelda Marcos in stiff organdy butterfly sleeves, mouth beginning to crack a knowing smile. OUT IN THE ALLEY, THERE WAS ONLY TORIO. He walked towards her to tell her he had moved the car nearby. She saw that he was holding a Crab Orchard Review ◆ 115


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book in his hands. Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. She remembered the title meant do not touch me. “Everything okay?” he asked after they drove out of Quiapo. She found herself nodding into a crumpled tissue, fighting the nausea, a lemon LifeSaver spreading tartness in her mouth. There was a knot in her throat from the effort it took not to cry. Sweat was pooling at the base of her back. “Ma’m, typhoon is coming. I hear it on the car radio.” Torio turned up the volume. She heard the radio announcer suggest stocking up on candles, batteries, bottled drinks. This was followed by news about a ferry sinking off the China Sea. Every day, she thought, in countries she had never been to or read about, there were people who suffered and survived. AS THE CAR TURNED INTO THEIR DRIVEWAY, she noticed Ray’s car. In the kitchen, “Is he home so soon?” she asked. The cook nodded and said, “Sir is lying down ma’m.” When Pauline opened the bedroom door, a very small woman leered back. Two coarse and stiff hairs stuck out from a mole poised like a legume on her chin. Pauline noticed her teeth were shining and yellow in the dark of the room. The curtains were drawn to keep out the glare. The woman’s toes squished the flesh along Ray’s spine, the fuchsia of cheap nail polish popping like fake blood. “What the hell…” The cook was behind her in an instant. She lay a hand on Pauline’s shoulder and drew her back. “It’s okay ma’m,” the cook said. “She knows what to do. I phone her because sir is suffering.” Pauline barely whispered, “But she’s…” “Midget?” the cook asked. “But very good masseuse. Sir will be better soon, promise ma’m.” In the living room, Pauline gulped from a glass of gin. It burned all the way going down. Ray’s eyes had been closed, his face serene. Why did he have to look like that? Her husband, a dancing midget on his back. Mike and Sandra had been right. Europe was one thing, but this. All those years together in the States, did she know all there was to Ray? SHE CAME OUT OF THE HOUSE and stood under the carport. Studded on the bush beside her were ylang-ylangs. The flowers were drooping and brown. 116 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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She did not remember how long she had been standing there. “My tiya,” she heard the cook say to Torio, introducing the masseuse. “He is small but looks very strong,” Torio said. The wind picked up in strength, hissing shrilly through trees, hurling a wave of dust. She could smell the moisture in the air—it would rain any minute now. Everyone began to move: the masseuse and Torio fetching bags, preparing to leave for home; the cook and maid running to get the clothes on the line. Ray appeared with a towel around his waist, raised his right hand, a visor to shield his eyes. Pauline heard the people around her, felt her eyes close as the dust swirled about her face. In her head, she saw Ray again, his fleshy, pink-skinned profile. She was still in the carport after the others had left. Ray was calling out to her from inside the house. She shivered slightly; the nausea had returned. At the club in Springfield, she watched herself step out of the cart. Ray stepped out too, rubbing the small of his back. She tilted their glasses of water, lots of ice, into the flower bed by the clubhouse. The water transformed into rain, dramatic and tropical, falling around her in Manila. Ray was calling her again from inside the house. His voice made her nausea rise. It moved snake-like through her body and heaved itself from her mouth.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 117


Elton Glaser

Interior Lighting

I’m sending this to you In leaps and staggers, in the beaten-down Remorse code of the heart. But no more opulent apologies, no more Debauches in the dim confessional— I hate the arrogance of truth. Here, in the lost month of February, Leftover snow and raw coughs Under the amniotic reveries of light, It’s a constant wonder to me I’m not dead already, like a stuffed Angora With a Goodyear wrapped around it. You won’t find God by theodolite, Or a blizzard of angels Sweeping eastward on the weather map. There’s only the mind immediate Among the running shadows, the mind shining with The unnecessary beauty of the bottlefly, A swarm of ruminations on the real. Whatever you call me now— Jack of few trades, rickshaw boy For the tourists of unnatural philosophy, Sly ambassador To the marble halls of hell—

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You must admit I’m no stranger rattling on Like a field of nervous cornshucks, But a cousin of The feuds and scruples trapped inside you, Bulging at the belt. You know the mission of the trees— To heal their hurt and Stand voluptuous against the wind. What April do you seek Beneath the stubborn ice, what Sweet alohas of the soul? I’m not sending next-day notes To a scented dowager, or droning on above Obsequious pencils in a lecture hall. Nothing clears the dark away Like a pipe bomb and a monkey wrench. And if there’s damage done, Where’s the crime in that, When the squalls of inner limit Come to calm?

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Elton Glaser

Nude in Oils and Sand

Hot, but no adobe; damp, But far, in all its slippery simmerings, From any cornbelt claustrophobias of sweat; Seedy, without the smear of winter streets, The jitter of cities, newborns abandoned In the spoon-and-spike hotels— Here, in the bonefish Floridas Of football and hibiscus, Cuban coffee And blue herons screaming from a green jaw, Pompom shadows of the palm trees Fall on the sugared sand, waving In a wind that smells of slow rot and money. Never too near the bulging trunk, Or under the crown, the fronds fanned out, Whetting their blades against the sun, She paints herself in pungent oil, Facing the day and the day’s desire, open To the bland fantastic of the beach. Alone, or almost so, she never hears The sea sizzling at her feet, the distant Whisper of my brush across the canvas, Pale skin like a sail’s blown pulse, or feels The heat that aches in every grain, my hand Smoothing the soft hair in softer shades.

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What is she now, half-asleep on her back, Love songs drifting from the radio? Limbs that glisten with a silky tint, A clot of curls, and high breasts rising In the clear exhilarations of the air, tinsel That turns each flicker into sheen— Shapes in space at the end of the world. In soliloquies of grit, the swollen sea Drags back its tide, solvents that leave Everything in ruins. Around her, the crabs Stagger off on their bowlegs like drunken cowboys. I put them in: the blue shells, the coriander eyes. I put the gulls in, static breaking the white silence, And the stones of beautiful abrasion, And flotillas of japonica at the tree line. (Outside the frame, other women are practicing The waitress dip and the slut strut; the boys Rack their automatics at the rental cars.) In this paradise, this glass image Made molten again, mud of original crystal, She needs no ornaments beyond The diamonds of the water drops, the glaze Of golden unguents under the sun. And what do I need? Only these pristine anarchies, A nakedness that’s next to nothing, kin To the mind shining its own light, before the colors Thicken on the cloth and cover her, before Clouds from the latitudes of language Come down and darken and drench, A hazing rain that slurs my words away.

Crab Orchard Review â—† 121


Luisa Igloria

Manifestations

In a book I’m re-reading tonight, a poet questions any plenitude that seems to come too soon, or easily. She calls it false spring—premature flowering, heady proliferation and thrust of blooms where yesterday there were none. What should I call abundance that takes place in summer or winter, or in this case at the beginning of autumn? Even in this season which is the other signature of the inevitable, unstinting foliage tethers itself to trees along the edges of highways so that one week, the world’s fed as if by its petroleum flares, and the next is what falls nearly weightless to the ground through open arms. Instead of dogwood, crepe myrtle, apple or cherry blossom: leaves of five colors, leaves that blush deep scarlet, leaves like tongues after a first kiss, that quiver in the light’s brave faltering between coolness and fire. Even then, it does not occur to the leaves to ask what strikes each alight and strokes every surface with the same blinding gold—Every manifestation bears the message of itself, then passes; no less true, though it does not stay. Tracery of milk on thigh, script of frost on windowpane. In the darkness preceding the arrival of morning, my husband turns in bed and enters me the way a boat enters water and finds a familiar current. He rows and I lift

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my head too from the pillow, knowing the self meeting the light that bursts upon the shore of pleasure both is and no longer is my self. How to explain the detachment of composure, the same detachment that gives itself without judgment or holding back— How the heart’s agitated muscle flutters invisibly, but yokes itself to the smallest finger that the mouth has kissed in order to keep from completely flying away from the room, from this world.

Crab Orchard Review â—† 123


Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Reunion Scripture Two

Service is out at Flat Rock Primitive Baptist, the first house of God I ever knew, when Mama drove me down here each June so I wouldn’t turn heathen. I’ve come back here for someone to embrace me. I want to feel the Jesus swaying like years ago when my grandmother took me and my friend, a poor neighbor girl, to worship here with my family. I want to hear somebody pray at the huge rock the church is named for—where I hope the spirits still ride. I’m going to belt out my loudest voice. I just know I’m Mahalia reborn when I remember the rock is gone, dug up a while back and busted into gravel. My friend still lives in that rickety house across the way, and says she loved my grandmother, now dead, who used to bathe and dress her, comb her hair before Sunday services. Never failed to feed her plenty after. 124 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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She doesn’t blame my grandmother for my great-uncle, a regular at Flat Rock, who would catch my friend wrong in the back bedroom after church. My friend doesn’t blame my grandmother, either, for sitting right up in the living room every time it happened, singing spirituals to cover up the noise. All my favorites—real loud. She sang Soon One Morning or Wade in the Water, or sometimes, I Know I’ve Been Changed.

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Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Hard Grace After you are through writing about being a victim, what else are you going to write about? —A young black male poet Outside my door is a sullen landscape, the pastoral plowed by grief. The wide spaces cramp my sanity and it is sorry consolation that Keats whispered the frail truth about beauty. Yes, to me. Sometimes, there is joy found in my low notes as well, though I will admit to you, brother, this is barely a comfort. I am afraid: What if the clock calls out my moment before I do right by Keats, by Cullen, too? I am afraid: Why is there such small wisdom in my woman’s blues, hard grace of reconciliation? Outside your door is a brick city you transformed

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into grumbling paradise. The discordant turned careful hipness, opening bars of a trickster’s avant-garde. Tell me what history of yours forced you onto the page, then I’ll tell you my awful truth: I can’t ever sleep through the night— I gained these verses from dirty meetings at the crossroads.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 127


Anne Keefe

If I Could Enter Your Spine as a Fish

One night, with each thumbtip in the well on either side of the bone, I split the skin at the base, and swim. My once-lungs sift strange particles, salts of carbonate and phosphate of lime, where desire accumulates, like acid. The current is thick. Up over the rocky fissures, I learn to move in the new form. I curve the roped ligaments of neck, carried by the flux until I wedge myself between the stone marrow and thin skin of your chest. Tight, you feel the pulse of my breathing, gills and flutter of scales, their knife-edges drawn along the grain. I am still. You move as if by instinct, or a memory, to cover the spot where I bulge from your collarbone. You feel the beat under your hand as a heart. Your fingers define the edges of fish body, search the skin, widening crevices toward the web of fin, the white curve of underbelly. For a moment, it seems that you might push me deeper, unhook me from the crag and send me fluent to the core. But you open the flesh with your hands, flush rising to your cheeks as you take me from you, hold me to light, between finger and thumb, silver fish of dreams, red, gasping against the foreign air.

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Anne Keefe

Mosh

The lights cut like breath in ten thousand ribs expanding. You and I are in the pack, as the music begins to run, we push, hundreds, trying to see his face. The singer, naked, allows only his profile. He’s painted, forehead to chin. He stands bent, hunkered at the spine, each muscle twitching with a tense calm. A space behind us begins to gape. There’s a howl and we’re thrown, forward, teasing the edge of sound, as if we might crackle over into some white space beyond. There, our lungs and ears full, drowned, we might see the dance as if from above: men, boys, fighting without the connection of their eyes, instinct pulling their chests against another. Air snaps back and you’re a wall of the pit. You spread your arms, flex shoulders, protecting me, because you’d never hurt me. Although, these past few months, it’s felt as if you could, as if you’ve wanted to beat it out on my skin, lie with it raw against you, that numbed nameless pain. Your sister is dying, it will be any moment now.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 129


Steve Kistulentz

Against Roses

There will be no flowers this time of year, and I am afraid to make predictions of how I will feel later this spring, though already, in the year’s first seven weeks, I have a strong conviction I will feel exactly the way I feel now—hating roses, hating the way all men do when they learn they cannot be the first to give a woman champagne, chocolates, or even poems. And so spring will still mean roses on every corner, men in fatigue jackets giving them away like government surplus, five dollars for a dead or dying dozen. For her, I was thinking tulips, covering her windshield with a huge, odd number of yellow petals, and filling the backseat with another six dozen stems, so much choking beauty she would drive to work in January with windows down, heat and radio full blast, her fresh face out the window like a young dog, breathing the purity of a northwest wind that two days ago carried the year’s first snow. When I was thirty, I gave stargazers in forty-dollar handfuls to a woman who should have been the last I ever handed flowers to; now we are seeing how that turned out. Like the men on the corner, I’ve learned to hate so many flowers, but it’s the rose, 130 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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and its colorful speech, I cannot master. No flower can say what I want, in a language of color and intention more inarticulate than I am after four drinks. The best I ever hope is for a new language, someone inventing a code to send the message I must send, someone who does not suffer, as I do, from a thickness of heart and tongue.

Crab Orchard Review â—† 131


Elizabeth Knapp

Spider-Man Considers a Career Change

Just ask Man Ray, and who was it who said, “Tears are liquefied brain”? Rodin knew it, and so did Van Gogh, Picasso and his Demoiselles d’Avignon were in on the secret so cloistered even superheroes couldn’t unlock it: Artists have more sex. Let’s face it, hanging upside down from a web isn’t the most attractive position, and those graphite hairs that grow thorn-like from his arms, his legs aren’t helping the situation— hot nights spent sleepless in his queensized bed, morning a sticky reminder of his aloneness, a hunger beyond art, beyond reason. He dreams of painting the autumn-haired waitress who pours his coffee every morning, the sleek seam of her throat running down to the shadow between her breasts, down to where

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his brush can’t reach, a suffering so sweet it’s addictive. Each night he paints her over— spread-eagle on the afghan, in the bath, in fishnets, under a full-fleshed moon.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 133


Melissa Kwasny

Jasmine

Bring me something rare—what seas are here are frozen—a fume to force the bud of my heart. My heels are scraps. My friends’ mothers are dying. The trough is narrow and I sleep in it. Relax. I ask for nothing dangerous—pink tips and lacquer, the small green worm of a tongue. Jasmine. It is the white-flocked hem of a secret lifted, a confidence breached, packed into its sleek dress, the one that darkens before it opens—a frill, a subterfuge, the wound rain makes in the snow. Look, I don’t know what love is, or what damage it has done to women. Our lips painted red to resemble labia. Love as not that. The petals I ask for are tender, opaque, doused in the clay of their perfume. What they are is what I want from you—heliotropic—to disrupt me with your lavish will.

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Jacqueline Jones LaMon

Moss

I am without accent or geography, no date of death, or even birth, unmentioned in our family tree: below the crackling branch of uncle who slashed someone over crossed-eyed jacks— now remembered for his recipes, beneath the crumbling limb of cousin who fondled during lullaby— then won the race for mayor, the memory of me pruned more than of aunt who loved softness of womenfolk in the hushhush world of spats and surreys. Tell me what I did to you… I am moss now: clustering densely the side of your face, no veins and no story, just surface on this gnarly trunk unsuitable for bouquet.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 135


Robin Farabaugh

Annual Light

I

FIVE DAYS BEFORE WE LEFT for a sabbatical year in Sweden, my father died. We had come to New Hampshire to say goodbye to my family, and on impulse, I went with my mother that afternoon as she was leaving for her daily visit to the nursing home. When we arrived there, we found my father dying from a stroke that after ten years of small vascular assaults had finally been too much. The nurses, once we were with him, gave my father morphine to ease his struggle. He died with his hands in our hands. It felt very different than it had with my first son, Andrew, whom I had held as his life left his body fourteen years before, whom I had sung to as a corpse. FROM THE MOMENT HE ENTERED THE WORLD, Andrew threatened to leave it. He had a diaphragmatic hernia, a developmental misfire where the diaphragm fails to close, leaving a hole through which the abdominal organs can drift as the fetus grows, head down. What starts as a specific, local glitch becomes a systemic disaster. He was otherwise strong and beautiful, with red-brown hair and hazel eyes. My water had broken two days before he was born, and I walked, barefoot, up and down the street in front of our apartment to bring on labor. Delivering him had been hard; between pushes I had fallen asleep, dreaming, I thought, of Crete, the blue Aegean, the sun-baked fragrant shrubs and rock. I was, during those naps, on as real a journey as I have ever taken, though I have never been to Crete, or even Greece. I remember him being wheeled away from me, the transport team from a distant hospital already waiting, the doctors running, bagging him, delivering oxygen by hand without pause. He was alert, his eyes bright, his face not pained, but curious. I couldn’t understand why they were lingering there with him, nor could I understand why 136 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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they were telling me about the high mortality rate of his abnormality; from the beginning I believed they’d entered the wrong room. Only later did I realize that they had paused to let me see him because he was likely to die en route. For three months we lived with Andrew in the intensive care unit. He underwent surgery to close the diaphragm immediately; then the hard part began. Always the game was to keep Andrew’s one and one-tenth lungs functional and the rest of him oxygenated, which was done with a constantly varying mix of drugs and minor surgeries, ventilators and chest tubes. My husband and I learned to read the monitors and charts; we joked about designer chest tubes: clamping off Givenchy to boost Klein. We took up our perches on the radiator next to his tray-like bed, which lay under a heating element and held hooks and poles for IV bags, tubing, suction machines and monitor cords. We learned to check priscoline dosages, and to debate the significance of arterial blood gas readings. We knew the nurses by name, checked up on their social lives, read out monitor numbers like basketball scores, and gossiped amid the profoundly compromised infants as though it were normal life. We sang along with songs on the radio, and once, only because I had to or forgot that I could, I danced. The bright-eyed baby I’d said good-bye to in my hospital room rested inert, a drug paralyzing him to aid ventilation. His eyes were almost always closed. I hoped he could dream. FIFTEEN YEARS LATER, on our Swedish sabbatical, I thought of Andrew often as we discovered how daily life in a new culture meant that even the smallest tasks were novel and sometimes hard. Andrew’s ICU had also been a foreign land, where every detail, no matter how small, took on significance. In Sweden we learned how to stand in line Swedish style: take a number, sit politely, and wait for the number to appear on the electronic screen suspended from the ceiling, the modus vivendi in post off ices, liquor stores, and pharmacies. We learned to say hej, the universal greeting, breathing out the diphthong through its unique ascent to a shrill “ee” before drawing it back into silence, finishing with our lips and mouth open in a half-smile. We learned to carry groceries on bicycles, coasting downhill with one leg perpendicular to the frame and bent at the knee, balancing the beer in the opposite side basket, the milk in the front, the baguette bolt upright in the corner. Slowly I found use for all of the seven kinds of flour my landlady, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 137


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a baker like me, had left behind in the kitchen, including the potatismjöl, or potato flour, which they use as we use cornstarch. There was rye, cracked wheat, whole wheat, white flour, rolled oats, muesli in bulk, and seeds of various kinds for topping bread. There were spices whose names I needed to learn: ingefära for ginger, kanel for cinnamon. And then there were the objects, and the lack of objects. No pie plates, layer cake pans, muffin tins. No loaf pans. No bundt pans. Nothing I recognized. I baked pies in shallow oval dishes, bread in a long narrow pan that held two loaves’ worth. I learned how to use a rolling pin with teeth for making tunbröd, a flat whole wheat bread cooked on the griddle that we wrapped around meatballs, tart lingonberry jam and sour cream. Walking by a group of boys playing soccer outside our apartment in UmeaΩ, I watched the ball leave the field and make straight for me and wondered, what should I do? In America the ball would have been followed by a boy; here, they stopped and stared. What was it they expected? Finally, I picked up the ball and heaved it back to them, and the one nearest me nodded his thanks. A few months later, on winter solstice, I stood on that same soccer field, now frozen over, which covered the rise behind my children’s Swedish school, toes pinched in my thirty-year-old skates, watching the sun set. I marked the time so I could tell my friends at home: 1:35 P.M. I watched the glowing ball nip below the horizon it had barely risen over at 10 A.M. The sky retained light for nearly an hour and fifteen minutes more, losing it slowly, like heat from a stone. I marveled that we, or anyone, could survive in such a place. IN THE MONTHS THAT FOLLOWED Andrew’s death, I accompanied my husband to work. He cleared a space for me in his office, put in a second desk, and there I worked on the dissertation I’d barely begun when I’d learned the year before that I was pregnant. I could work for only an hour or so a day before grief closed in like fog. I had lost not only my son but my motherhood. There were no toys on the floor, no laundry, no bottles, no walker; no pediatric appointments, physical therapy appointments, social service worker appointments, no neurology appointments. My husband’s lab stood thinly by, patching the loneliness. One day I found Andrew’s footprint on the window in the living room. I had often held him near the glass to look out, and he liked the cool of the panes against his feet. That day the normal became a 138 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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horror: there was the chasm between what was and what would never be again; I stood on one side of it, the world on the other. Six years after Andrew died, my husband was denied tenure at his first job in the medical school where we had arrived when Andrew was four-and-a-half months old. One tenure committee member was quoted saying that a six months’ slowdown after the death of a child made sense, but not six years. I thought only how close our terror and grief had come to them all, how it coated the walls, how they wanted to be rid of it, and us. My husband applied for sixty positions, interviewed for six, and was offered two. We moved to Baltimore, exiles in a foreign land. MOST PEOPLE BELIEVE the darkness of the long Swedish winter is the hardest thing to endure. Darkness muddles our understanding, and where darkness is long lasting, it affects even our ability to feel accurately. Suicide rates skyrocket in the far north after the sun has begun its return, people finding themselves worn out with hanging on in the dark. Winter’s long night is nearly total. In UmeaΩ, by winter solstice, there is almost no sun at all, and what sun there is is white and thin. If December is snowy, the light falls filtered first through clouds, then through swirls of soft abundant snow, so faint one can go for days with no more than the weakest of light, the lines of one’s world endlessly blurry and undefined. It is in no way bizarre to imagine that the sun is going for good, and all of us on the verge of a terrible abandonment.

II THE SECOND WEEK IN UMEAΩ, I’d bought accessories for the desk in the kitchen, among them a bulletin board where I tacked up a postcard showing a 19th century woman painting in her studio. I brought in from its original place in the darkened hall an etching of a doorway covered with trellised roses. I had my own laptop and a picture window which showed me a large corner of pure Swedish sky. This was an unimagined pleasure: time completely my own, free of every possible lien. I wrote a lecture on the history of American women for an English language culture class that I would give in a month, and memorized the angles and stretch of the topmost Crab Orchard Review ◆ 139


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branches of a delicate birch that grew next to the building in front of me. I stared at the files of notes I’d brought to finish the academic work I wanted to do, especially a paper on the translation work by Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke and sister of Sir Philip Sidney, one of the best known literary critics and poets of the Elizabethan age. But, while studying the behavior of the magpies that occasionally squatted on the sharp orange roofline that divided my view precisely in half, I understood suddenly that I was really free: free from anything connected to my American past. Tucked away just south of the Arctic Circle, unemployed, grantless, poised like a falcon hovering in the air, I found myself not ready for loose ends, but for the hunt. In the waning light of my Swedish December, I wrote a story. The woman in the story was dimly seen, her persona too flat. I threw it away and began it again. The woman’s outline emerged, her energy darker, her world curved with her. I threw the next draft of the story away too, but I kept the heroine. She talked to me: about choices and loss; about claiming what she could. THE DEEPEST PART OF A SWEDISH WINTER meets its match in the energy of Christmas. The holiday lasts from St. Lucia’s day—December 13— to Tjugondag Knut—January 13—when they “throw out” Christmas and the light has just perceptibly begun to return. Lucia was the savior of the poor and hungry. There are stories from old Scandinavian myth re-formed with this Italian saint at the center, riding in the lanterned prow of a boat laden with food, lighting the way to relieve a starving village. She is the bringer of light in the dark. Each city picks its own Lucia, and she proceeds around town the night of the thirteenth swathed to the chin in coats, furs and blankets, her head bare except for the dramatic crown of candles and greens that distinguishes her from all other saints. School children throughout the town sing in their white St. Lucy costumes, for the old, the unwell, or for parents’ workplaces. The boys in their conical hats and white shirts, the girls, all but the red-sashed Lucia, dressed in white with tinsel around their waists and hair. St. Lucy’s night we drove downtown in hopes of catching the parade, only to find the city startlingly empty: It was too cold for the parade to last long, and the revelers had adjourned inside; no one remained on the streets. We didn’t know where they had gone, and suddenly, too, it seemed very late and very dark, the snow 140 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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swirling through air inhabited by nothing at all. I recalled then that long ago, before our own calendars were rearranged, St. Lucy’s day was the shortest day of the year, and that its very blackness made John Donne write one of his most somber poems, mourning the death of his wife, on the feast of St. Lucia. He says “I am every dead thing…re-begot / Of absence, darkness, death; things which are not.” His sorrow defies the energy of returning light, his nadir designed to illustrate the absolute agony of his grief. No Swede, offered the image of being re-begot of darkness rather than light, could doubt such a grief. Neither could we. On the streets after Lucia was over, staring at the emptiness of storefronts shuttered in the whirling dark, “begot of absence” took on a shape the humming street lights seemed only to throw into relief. Disoriented by the absence of light, I abandoned the story I was writing to concentrate on a second lecture, this one on Mary Sidney’s translation of Petrarch’s Triumph of Death. I thought about her lyricism, about her own losses, a brother, mother, father and daughter within two years, the young daughter dying the day her last son was born. Yet she had risen from her mourning some two years after the last death and taken her place among the literati of late Elizabethan England. In the years immediately following the loss of so many of her family, she translated works from French and Italian, all of them dealing with unbearable loss, all of them seeking to rob death of its terror. I thought again about how we live after someone dies. IN SWEDEN THAT YEAR, Christmas mostly meant things missing: there was no It’s a Wonderful Life, no holly, and no “Night Before Christmas.” Instead of our usual trip to a tree farm, saw in hand, we drove to a tiny lot half a block from the university and bought a tree so long cut that it was nearly bare of needles by Christmas day. But I found I remembered enough to make my grandmother’s anise butter cookies even without their cast-iron molds; I gathered greens knee-deep in the snowy woods with my son as I had done in my childhood and made cardboard ornaments covered with tinfoil. We came to enjoy the peppery gingerbread with white icing, the sugary burned almonds hot in their paper bags, and bought three tiny figures of jultomten, the Christmas elf in Sweden who does the work of Santa Claus, and set them, one for each living child, on the piano.

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T HE C HRISTMAS AFTER A NDREW ’ S DEATH we spent in my parents’ summer house, where they had moved the July after his funeral. It was cold in northern New Hampshire, deep with snow. We dealt numbly with the fact that there were babies in mangers, cradles, backpacks and toy commercials everywhere we turned. It was so quiet, there in the woods by the small lake we’d floated on, swum in, sat by. When the lake froze hard, people would walk across its snowfall, the white of it startling after the black velvet surface of summer. The winter lake recorded the tracks of little birds and mice on its surface, traces of lives gone elsewhere. A few months later I went on fertility drugs to regulate a cycle skewed by anguish. My daughter was born five days after the next Christmas, arriving so rapidly, so surely, she crowned in the falling snow of the hospital parking lot. Two and a half years later, I carried our second daughter through the winter into spring, another redhaired child with green eyes. And three years after that, conceived during the bleak midwinter, our second son came early, wide-eyed and luminous, happy to be here.

III AFTER OUR FOREIGN CHRISTMAS the children settled in with a tutor once a week, and began tentative conversations, in Swedish, with their new friends. We subscribed to the local paper, Västerbottens Kuriren, and thought ourselves clever to read one article in the morning, passing the dictionary like milk, before we went to work. We bought tickets to a local jazz festival, planned a trip to Stockholm for April. In January, clementines from Morocco appeared in the grocery store. They arrived in wooden boxes under nylon netting, little orange globes from near the equator, exotica like those brought back to Europe on the boats of explorers, those never-imagined species that generated wonder. We hadn’t seen them before, and I brought them home. Then they were everywhere. Kids ate them on their way from school, leaving glittering peels in the snow, like Hansel and Gretel’s white stones in the forest. These fruits were sweet and juicy, with no seeds, little suns in a box, full of light and air. The woman I’d begun writing about months before now began cutting her way out of my prose, her voice electric with release. The story grew like a vine, her home a composite of those places I had 142 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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loved, small worlds no longer eclipsed. Soon, too, the sun came back, inexorable as my heroine, climbing in one single moment midday in March over the roofline of the three-storey apartment building in front us. It was the first time since September. We leaped up from half-eaten flatbreads buttered and buried in cheese and peppered salami, and threw our napkins in the air. “Look! There! The sun! Come see!” Mindless, joyful monosyllables. We all jumped up and ran out to the balcony, as if seeing the sun out there was seeing it closer too. BY MID-MAY we could no longer see the stars. The sky would turn turquoise and fade into a dark royal blue and stop before slowly lightening. No black, no navy. At the end of May, tulips, daisies, lupine—blooms that emerge in sedate sequence in Baltimore—burst on the scene together, all of summer in a day. The grass grew nearly overnight; inches taller from Monday to Friday. The sun, which now barely dipped below the horizon in the north for four hours every night, left its light behind like a residue, whitening the blue cast of the sky. Stories of 1 A.M. bike rides, late night picnics at Nydala Lake, even the need for heavy black shades in the children’s bedrooms, all proved true. During all hours of the night, ten-year-old girls came calling for our daughters to come out and play, neighbors repaired their roofs, people gardened and partied. Our neighbors slept on the beach, went berry picking. My husband and I walked late in the night over the web of local paths into the forest, through the neighborhoods, along the Ume River, talking first about my writing, then about his sabbatical project, about our lives when we returned. It had been like this while we waited in the approaching spring of 1981 for Andrew, the child who would transform our identity simply by being, long before he transformed it by being not. I would, in those cloudless Swedish days, during the full sun of early evening, sit at my desk between dinner and dessert to amend something on the laptop while waiting for the kettle to boil or for one of the children to clear the table. Where have you gone, they would complain, and they were right. I had vanished into the light. I wrote all day, and as the days lengthened, I wrote into the evening, and as the evenings lengthened, I wrote later and later, stopping only when the sky had taken on the turquoise cast of deep summer night. The story had become a novel, a woman’s life. I came to the end of the rough draft of my novel the second Crab Orchard Review ◆ 143


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week of June, a few days before the summer solstice, Midsommar. It was a strange feeling, that afternoon, knowing it had ended, not only the story but, in this foreign light-filled world, our—my—long exile in loss. A WEEK AFTER A NDREW’S DEATH we scheduled a memorial service at the hospital where they’d tried to save him. Ten inches of snow fell the night before and drifted all that morning. No one should come, the chaplain said, although we had managed to walk there. “Wait until next week.” Many of the medical staff of the intensive care unit turned out for the rescheduled service. It felt appropriate, all of those people with stethoscopes, scrubs, white stockings. Andrew’s army. The young apprentice minister read the poem I had chosen, stumbling over the Renaissance English, meaning well. I have the candles from the service in my top bureau drawer. The burial waited until May, when the ground in New Hampshire finally thawed. We buried him halfway up an old hill pasture, now a cemetery, just inside a fallen stone wall, under the protective arms of an old white pine. We stood around the very small hole, read the 23rd Psalm and said good-bye. It was black fly season, and we left the cemetery bitten raw. A year and a half later, pregnant with our first daughter, we bought a headstone. Fourteen years later, two days before we took the plane to Sweden, we buried my father’s ashes next to my son. In Swedish there is an expression, det som göms i snö kommer fram i tö, which means, literally, “that which is hidden in the snow reappears in the thaw.” Everything in Swedish life is invested with the pull of the seasonal sun and the weight of the long-term. There is less chafing at doing what needs to be done when it is time: the Swedes know there will be a moment for everything, and that things are best done in season. These are the truths of Sweden’s annual light.

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Pilgrim Soul Like many Americans, I will never recover from my sparse childhood in Kansas. —Meridel LeSueur, “Corn Village”

I.

FARMBOYS. HOW WE AVOIDED THEM. Like the plague, when they came around, their hands heavy with horniness, their bodies thick with longing. Be careful of farmboys, we warned each other. They know how to plant seeds. And who could say where their hands had been? On pitchforks, mowers, inside swathers, combines. They were patient boys, those long hours in the saddle of the tractor, plowing dark furrows in the fertile earth. They might be killing gophers in the morning, grasping the teats of milk cows in the afternoon, and be on you by evening. No, no. Best to stick with townboys, their soft saliva mouths, their round corduroy shoulders, their talk of plans for college. We were farmgirls—all of us, beautiful, strong. Jolene and Jovita, who were first cousins. One was dark-haired with a delicate porcelain face; one was dark-skinned and blond, with a wild laugh that never led to wild actions. And Kathy and Shirley, also cousins. Both with long, straight, auburn hair, parted exactly down the middle. One was mellow and sweet; one had a big laugh and a mean streak. There was Sandy, whose hair hung heavy as gold, straight along the angle of her jaw line. She had an older sister who was promiscuous and got in trouble and had to be sent away, so Sandy made sure not to be. We farmgirls lived north, south, east, and west of town. In the middle of all this was me, the girl that I was then, the watcher, leaning toward the periphery.

II. GROW WHERE YOU’RE PLANTED, that poster I had on my bedroom wall as a teenager, I know I never believed it. Was it the image I liked Crab Orchard Review ◆ 145


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that made me duct tape it to the wall—a daisy with a bent stalk growing out of a square pot. Two other posters, Label Jars, Not People and Make Love Not War, I believed. But Grow Where You’re Planted, never. In my childhood, like those people with suitcases packed waiting for the mother ship, I prepared myself for transplantation. “In my youth,” Meridel LeSueur writes about growing up in Kansas, “I looked for sustenance, something to live on, to grow, to come alive.…The blackness, weight, and terror of childhood in mid-America strike deep into the stem of life.” Sustenance, how to nurture oneself to maturity in a place that yields fifteen inches of precipitation a year? We lived on the narrow margin of life; no extravagances allowed. Large houses, nice clothes, shiny cars, loud talk, excessive attention to one’s appearance—all unnecessary expenditures of limited resources. Anyone who did so was gossiped about. She’s beautiful, but she knows it. He thinks his shit doesn’t stink.

III. WE FARMGIRLS WERE HIP-HUGGERED and tight-sweatered and navelexposed. We wore bell bottoms and platform shoes. It was the times. We had long, shiny hair and peach-fresh skin. We wore heavy streaks of eyeliner; we smeared raspberry gloss on our lips. We walked around town like the James gang, tossing this and flashing that. We had strong white teeth. We shone them on the world. We spoke the international language of beauty. All the old grandparents smiled and conversed with each other in German about us. We were best in show, the cream of the crop. We were the pick of the litter—too good for this place, everyone agreed. We were programmed for flight.

IV. THE STATE FLOWER OF NORTH DAKOTA is the wild rose, almost a desert flower. It crops up along roadsides, draws little attention to itself— prickly green foliage, tiny pink blossom bent low to the ground. A wallflower rose for a wallflower state. In North Dakota, we had very little spring and no fall. Three months of blistering summer packed between eight full months of winter. Only the toughest grasses survive: buffalo and gramma 146 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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grasses, little bluestem, switchgrass, crested wheat grass. Even sweet corn can’t reach full maturity in this short growing season. Farmers grow the heartiest, most resilient crops—flax, oats, and Marquis Russian wheat transplanted from Siberia for its ability to ripen early. Drive through the plains states west of the hundredth meridian in summer, you will see the fields shot through with crops of gold and yellow and tan. No deep verdant green like that of corn and soybeans. “The prairie expresses itself in bronze,” William Quayle writes in The Prairie and the Sea. “In no other material does it care to be sculpted.…Wolf, prairie dog, prairie-chicken are all lighter or darker bronze.” Plants that grow west of the hundredth meridian must learn to survive on less or die.

V. N APOLEON , THE TOWN WHERE I GREW UP —1200 people, two grain elevators, three bars, a post off ice, a drugstore, and farmland stretching out for miles around. The only occupations I saw around me were farmer, banker, housewife, teacher. I wondered, what would my place be in this world? I watched television for clues: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, about a beautiful single girl who twirls around and flings her hat in the air in a public square she’s so happy to be young and living in Minneapolis. She works in an office. That could be me. I watched That Girl, about a pretty, single girl living in New York. She had a boyfriend, Ted, who came around almost every day. Her father lived nearby; she saw him occasionally. I watched A Family Affair, a show about a teenage girl, Cissy, and two freckle-faced, strawberry blond kids, Buffy and Jody, whose parents died in some way that we are never told. The program is a sitcom, and it would be too sad to know how they are orphaned. The children are sent to stay with their only living relative, their Uncle Bill, a city-dwelling bachelor played by the actor, Brian Keith. It’s unclear what he does for a living. He’s far too busy and preoccupied to raise three needy children, and he is rich, rich, rich. Fortunately, he has a butler, Mr. French, who is good with children, who can cook and clean and care for all their needs. Mr. French is gentle and rotund and always ready with food. The children warm to him. Each episode centers around the ways in which the Crab Orchard Review ◆ 147


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two men are constantly perplexed by the strange emotional world of the children who have been put in their charge.

VI. THE FARMHOUSE THAT I GREW UP IN was once an icehouse, a thick concrete foundation where ice was stored for people to buy in slab form before there was home refrigeration. People say my great-grandfather, Joseph Marquart, bought it from the creamery in town and dragged the icehouse with oxen across the lake that stands between our farm and town during the coldest part of winter when the lake was completely frozen over. He dragged the shell of the icehouse up the hill of our farm and set it on the basement foundation. He added a second floor with rooms for all his children and a balcony that ran all the way around the exterior of the second floor. My older cousin, who grew up in the house, told me that Great-Grandpa liked to imagine how many generations of his family would live together under this roof for many years to come. It was a big, drafty farmhouse, wood floors, one bathroom, a large kitchen with a round table in the center, a coal furnace in the basement. The windows blew like saxophones in the continuous winter wind that swept across the plains. The bedrooms were freezing in the winter, hot and airless in the summer. By the 1960s, when I was growing up, four generations of my family had already lived there. My great-grandparents and my grandparents had died in those rooms. As a child, each day of the winter I woke up cold in that icehouse, my red nose peeking out from under the blankets. I dreaded setting my bare foot down on the freezing wood floor.

VII. FARMBOYS. BEST TO AVOID THEM, with their forty head of Angus cattle, their prize bulls for breeding, their sixty acres of wheat. A few years ago in the state of North Dakota during a campaign to raise money for family farms, the state produced a calendar of hunk bachelor farmers—gorgeous, four-color photographs—one shirtless bachelor farmer for every month of the year. They came in all kinds and sizes. They were big-armed, muscular, and deep-tanned, or they were small, well-toned, and scrappy, but they were all, each 148 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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one of them, the calendar assured us, extremely lonely for women out there on the plains. The same year, an article in the Wall Street Journal reported that multitudes of dairy farmers lived the same lonely life on the rolling, lake-pocked ranges in Minnesota. The article asked, where had all the big Minnesota farmgirls gone? To the big Minnesota towns like St. Paul and Minneapolis. Sustainable agriculture. Farmboys stay with the land; farmgirls run away to college, or to good jobs in the city. The Journal article reported that the lonely hunk dairy farmers were looking for wives, just like in the movie Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

VIII. AS A CHILD I REMEMBER my mother mostly as angry, slamming doors and cupboards. She was overworked and preoccupied and always distant. I have no memory of being held on her lap, of the warmth of her skin, her breasts against me, holding me in. She was always busy with her hands, milking cows, washing dishes, canning, sewing, gardening, working with the farm bills, the messy pile of receipts, her worried fingers on the calculator. She was always running from place to place. In the barn, she would throw a milker on the cow, then run across the yard into the house to put dinner in the oven. From my upstairs bedroom, where I was reading or listening to the radio or playing my big Kay guitar with two squiggly Fs for sound holes, I might be singing protest folk songs or Negro spirituals about suffering and endless hours of labor in the fields, and I would hear her fling the door open downstairs and then the house would shake with the stomping of her angry feet. She’d throw open the refrigerator and tear the roast from its wrapper. She would clatter a pan on the kitchen counter, then throw the roast in with a loud thump. She’d tear open the packet of French onion soup, sprinkle it over the roast, run a little tap water into the pan, throw the whole thing in the oven, and be out the door and back to the barn in time to take the milker off the finished cow and put it on the next one. One day, I remember she stopped to listen to me singing in the upstairs bedroom. I was a soloist in the choir, and it was my only chance to practice without someone else in the house listening. I didn’t hear her come in; I was singing at the top of my voice, testing its limits. “The Lord’s Prayer,” I remember I was singing: for thine is the Crab Orchard Review ◆ 149


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kingdom, I was climbing to the crescendo, and the power, I was building to the climax, and the glory, approaching the rarified atmosphere only the first soprano can inhabit, for-e-ver, I was holding and holding the second syllable, the high note—for-e-ver— I was stretching time, losing meter, my voice shaking the windows with its power, and before I could bring it down to the Amen, settle the song gently to the ground, I heard another voice break through, a louder voice, screaming from downstairs, I could barely make it out, the word, shutup, I heard, and my mother’s voice screaming louder than I could sing, shut-up, and yelling up the stairs, don’t sing in the house, my mother’s voice yelling, just stop singing in the house.

IX. MERIDEL LESUEUR WRITES about her childhood in “Corn Village”: “I knew I must keep the stem tight and spare, withhold the deep blossom, letting it sour rather than be blighted.” The tragedy of blight—nothing sadder than the sight of an unblossomed bud. As a child growing up in North Dakota, I felt myself wanting to grow tall and wild. When you’re young, it’s natural to be green and vivid. I heard cautions all around me. You’re not so hot. Don’t get too big for your britches. Even in this dry place, I knew I must find a way to bloom; I must never allow myself to be blighted. If I were a flower, I would want to be a hollyhock, a sturdy, tall stalk, opening large flowers everywhere, or a tiger lily, bright orange and black petals blooming shamelessly. I could be the pampered rose, unbridled beauty accompanied by thorns, or the hothouse orchid, a fragile thing that everyone fusses over.

X. SOMETIMES TOWNGIRLS who don’t know any better marry farmboys. It’s a farmgirl conspiracy, not to warn the towngirls. They deserve it, the farmgirls whisper to each other behind cupped hands. It’s retribution, a farmgirl payback. Towngirls had apron-wearing mothers waiting for them with trays of freshly-baked cookies at the end of a school day. The towngirls had soft, cushy childhoods— 150 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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noon lunches at home while the farmgirls were sitting on hard school benches eating not-so-hot hot lunches. Towngirls got to be cheerleaders, school newspaper editors, homecoming queens. Farmgirls got to pick rocks, haul bales, shovel shit, milk cows; they worked alongside their brothers, the farmboys, like equals in the cold winter nights and the hot summer sun. Each year on the last day of school, the farmgirls mounted the steaming row of buses on the curb for the long ride home. They were going far from town—east, west, north, south—sometimes hour-long bus rides deep into the country. Goodbye, farmgirls. The towngirls rode by on their banana bikes and waved, not in a mean way, but in a towngirl way, oblivious to any hardship around them. See you in three months, the towngirls sang, thinking of picnics and swimming pool summer afternoons. The farmgirls glowered at the towngirls through the bus windows, thinking of spreading straw with pitchforks when they got home. The farmgirls knew that in the summer, they might make it to town three or four times—a few Friday nights, Fourth of July, the Corn Show.

XI. OF ALL THE CROPS MY FATHER GREW on our land, only alfalfa sustained its leaves—oily, deep green, almost deciduous—through the dry, hot summer in central North Dakota. Alfalfa blooms purple, yellow, or fuchsia, but it bloomed a soft violet-blue in the spring where I grew up and sprouted leaves that held a bitter olive color through the growing season. Botanists say that the body of a plant has two major parts: the biomass we see above ground (the stalk, stems, leaves, blossoms); and the biomass we do not see (the root system below the ground). Plants strategize their survival in different environments and distribute their biomass accordingly. In drier climates, more biomass is dedicated to the root system—to what is underground and unseen—so that plants can forage deep for water. Some desert plants, by contrast, spread their roots long, above ground, to catch the water as it falls, before it runs away, off the hard-packed desert floor. In semi-arid climates, such as North Dakota, where the ground is dry and porous, the roots go deep underground and spread wide in search of water. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 151


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In the quiet aisles of the public library, I search through The Handbook of Plant Morphology. I have followed this trail, into one of the most remote tiers of the library, to find this handbook. I pull the manual off the shelf and search the index. I find it—alfalfa, Medicago sativa—listed as number seven on the chart of the ten deepest root systems in the world. With roots that can grow to depths of 40 meters in search of water, alfalfa is the only plant on the list whose habitat is an agricultural field. The other plants on the list are some of the heartiest plants in the world—the Eucalyptus (45 meters) which grows in places like Australia and the Jarrah forest, and the Acacia (60 meters) which grows in the Kalahari desert. No wonder alfalfa thrives in North Dakota. In a good year, it can be cut twice in one growing season. Sheared to within inches of its roots and harvested in mid-summer, alfalfa will grow back to a full height to be harvested again. When farmers are cutting the fields, alfalfa’s acrid sweetness announces itself everywhere—in your clothes, your hair, your nostrils. Once alfalfa is cut, the leafy stalks are bound up into bales. Straw bales, by contrast, are light to lift and dry to the touch, a soft yellow even on the day they are taken from the fields. But alfalfa does not fade; it does not go easily. Alfalfa bales are the greenest, heaviest you will ever lift. As you heave the bundles onto the flatbed, the twine binding will cut your hands. You will sweat and swear over alfalfa in the hot sun; its weight will destroy your back. Once the bales are stacked in high piles in the hayloft, the sweet sick smell of alfalfa fills the barn. The bales take months to let go of their moisture. Even when you break a bale open to feed the cattle in mid-winter, you will see that inside alfalfa never truly loses its green.

XII. THERE IS A GRAVEL ROAD that leads out of my parents’ farm about a half-mile long that leads to another gravel road about a mile long that eventually meets up with Highway 3, a paved two-lane highway. When I was a kid, I sat for hours in my brother’s bedroom facing the highway, and I kept a running tally of how many cars and trucks passed our farm—color, make, model, and whether the vehicle 152 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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traveled north or south. I yearned for movement back then, for escape from this dry place. “I grew up in a dung-heeled sagebrush town on the disappearing edge of nowhere,” Wallace Stegner writes in Wolf Willow, a memoir about his childhood in rural Saskatchewan. “But I am not sure that I would trade my childhood of freedom and the outdoors and the senses for a childhood of being led by the hand past all the Turners in the National Gallery.” When he left home, he found he was ignorant of the things of the larger world. About culture—art, music, literature—Stegner writes, “I was charged with getting in a single lifetime, from scratch, what some people inherit as naturally as they breathe the air.” Yet there are certain advantages “to growing up a sensuous little savage,” Stegner writes. Plains people carry another kind of culture inside them. “You must not be in the prairie,” William Quayle writes in The Prairie and the Sea, “but the prairie must be in you. He who tells the prairie mystery must wear the prairie in his heart.” In my childhood, I spent a lot of time walking—restless, aimless pacing, down the gravel road, along the section lines, always kicking stones, walking with my head down, searching for some remnant, some trace that something had happened here on this barren strip of land that was now my family’s farm. I drew maps with large Xs on them, marking the spot where surely treasure would be found. I looked for chipped arrowheads, a stone carving, an agate, an unusual rock formation—anything to prove that someone or something, a nomadic tribe or an ancient glacier, had passed through before me. “The grasslands is ruled by motion,” Richard Manning writes in Grasslands, his book about the demise of the prairie. “All its inhabitants learn to move or die.” He continues, “the plains are as hostile to agriculture as they are to literature, but they nonetheless produced an agriculture.” In order to survive, Manning argues, many plains artists must leave the plains to tell their stories. “Children of the prairie…learn the quiet and sad poetry of the land so well they must leave it.”

XIII. THE FARMGIRLS VOWED not to warn the towngirls about farmboys— about their horny hands and their uncanny ability to plant seeds. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 153


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Rude awakening time for the towngirls. Somebody has to stay on the land, the farmgirls think, and it better not be us. Sometimes the towngirls trap themselves, get all soft and romantic at the sight of those rugged farmboy hands. It would be nice to have some animals, the towngirls croon, maybe a horse or two. Soon enough they’ll be hauling milk, feeding calves, weeding acres of carrots and potatoes. It’s best they not know what’s coming, the farmgirls decide. Some of them, like my mother and sister-in-law, make the best of it—take up gardening, canning, rosemaling. They get really good at it. They buy old dressers and learn to strip and revarnish them. They dig antique clay pots out of junkyards and decorate their homes with them. But many of the towngirls break under the pressure and run away from their tanned, muscular husbands, leave behind toddlers and teenagers. Many farmboys get left behind like this, even the choicest ones such as those from the hunk bachelor farmer calendar.

XIV. I READ VORACIOUSLY AS A CHILD, everything from Dr. Seuss to Nancy Drew. What else to do with all that time? Wallace Stegner writes in Wolf Willow, “I read whatever books I could lay hands on, and almost everything I got from books was either at odds with what I knew from experience or irrelevant to it or remote from it. Books didn’t enlarge me; they dispersed me.” Like Stegner, I found books confounding and exhilarating. On Fridays, when the green-and-tan Bookmobile pulled up to St. Philip Neri, we filed in threes from our classroom to the van parked on the curb. I ran my fingers along the leather spines and took in the smell of glue and old paper. I imagined the gray-haired librarian who drove the Bookmobile to be a secret hell-raiser, taking wild turns and careening around corners, the elastic safety cords straining to hold the books in the shelves—just to bring us this news from the outside world. I loaded myself down, negotiating the three steps off the Bookmobile with a stack of books taller than my eyes could see. Friday nights after the school bus dropped us off, I crawled into bed, the smell of clean sheets and the comforting weight of books around me. All those words and the images they implied were proof of the larger world connected to the gravel road outside my bedroom. In Wolf Willow, Stegner returns to his hometown on the remote 154 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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frontier of the Cypress Hills in southern Saskatchewan. Looking for some clues about his childhood there, Stegner visits the town dump which contains discarded artifacts that read like a history of the small town. He finds a melted safe from the fire at Joe Knight’s hotel years before, and melted glass in curious forms. He finds smashed buggy wheels, and a collapsed perambulator once pushed by the French wife of one of the town’s doctors. Everything floods back to him. “If the history of Whitemud was not exactly written, it was at least hinted, in the dump,” Stegner writes. As he sifts through the rubbish, he’s shocked to find relics of his own life tossed out there— volumes of the set of Shakespeare that his father had bought before Stegner was born. “We had so few books that I knew them all; finding these thrown away was like finding my own name on a gravestone.” Like Stegner, I grew up in an almost bookless house. I went to Catholic school where, in my memory, the only books in the library were The Baltimore Catechism and The Lives of the Saints. The Bookmobile saved me, but it seems strange to admit now that I do not recall the plots or the details of any of the books I read until I discovered Carlos Castenada. Who in my small town could have recommended these books on mysticism and psychotropic drugs? I recall being about thirteen when I went to the Kirkwood Mall in Bismarck and asked the person in the bookstore for anything by Castenada. He showed me Journey to Ixtlan, The Yaqui Way of Knowledge, A Separate Reality—books that chronicle Castenada’s apprenticeship with Don Juan, a Yaqui sorcerer knowledgeable in matters of personal power and all things unseen, as well as an expert in medicinal plants and herbs.

XV. WATCHING A FAMILY AFFAIR AS A CHILD, I coveted most the high-rise apartment that Buffy and Jody and Cissy got to live in. The elevators were nice, I thought, as were the friendly doorman, the large windows overlooking the lights of the city, and Mr. French waiting with a tray of cookies. I watched The Bob Newhart Show and admired the urban apartment and office where Bob Hartley, a mild-mannered psychologist, worked in downtown Chicago. I liked Bob Hartley’s offhand, gentle nature. All around, he was surrounded by strange people, but no problem Crab Orchard Review ◆ 155


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presented by a client or a friend seemed too outrageous to him. At night he went home to his beautiful wife, Emily, played by the actress, Suzanne Pleshette, who had a deep, sexy voice and a horsey laugh. They cooked dinner together and smiled at each other as they sat at the table, drinking wine from fluted glasses and discussing their day. They were childless. I had never known anyone who didn’t have children. At the end of the night, Bob and Emily would plump up their pillows and sit in bed, talking and reading books. They had night tables with lamps on both sides of the bed. Before they went to sleep, they gave each other a kiss, then they leaned over and turned off their lamps. I wanted to live with Bob and Emily in their city apartment instead of in my old, dead, great-grandfather’s icehouse on the windblown edge of nowhere. I wanted to live with Uncle Bill and Mr. French in a high-rise apartment with an elevator. Secretly, I wished for my parents to die.

XVI. WHEN I THINK OF MYSELF AT THIRTEEN reading Carlos Castenada, I wonder what I could possibly have understood of the world—seen or unseen? Yet when I look back at the actual copies of those books, I see my underlinings and check marks were astute, that I recognized important passages when I saw them: taking death as an adviser; stopping the world; finding your power spot; losing your personal history. I remember studying these lessons, willing myself to master them in my own life. “It is best to erase all personal history,” Don Juan advised Carlos Castenada, “because that would make us free from the encumbering thoughts of other people.” Don Juan explained that you strengthen the hold of your personal history by telling your parents, your relatives, and your friends everything you do, which locks one into a personal history that is binding. “Little by little,” Don Juan advises Castenada on how to escape the limiting hold of personal history, “you must create a fog around yourself; you must erase everything around you until nothing can be taken for granted.” At thirteen, I remember how I pored over these passages late into the night with only the darkness outside and the sound of crickets, fervently vowing to someday erase myself into the larger world, to escape the place where I was born. 156 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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XVII. THE FALL AFTER I GRADUATED from high school, my parents drove me to the junior college where I would be attending school and dropped me off at the front door of my girls dorm with my few boxes of clothes, records, and books. The goodbyes were not tearful. I was the youngest and wildest of their five children. I won’t say they were glad to be rid of me, perhaps they were just glad to be on their own for the first time in twenty-five years. I imagine I stood on the steps and waved goodbye to them as they drove off, and I suppose they waved back. They’re not the kind of people who wouldn’t wave back. The half-mile stretch of gravel road leading out of my parents’ farm is framed on either side by cottonwood trees that are over seventy feet tall. They were planted by my great-grandfather after he came to this country from Russia. He took up the land that became the farm where I grew up over eighty years later in the 1960s and ’70s. In my childhood, the trees loomed like giants over us, ringing the northern edge of our yard. I was frightened of their height. I had nightmares that the cottonwoods would come down in the heavy wind; that they would fall the whole length of our big back yard, break through the roof, and crush me in my bed. I did not understand then about the deep tangle of roots underneath that holds some things in place. The day I left home for college, I took a photograph of that road leading out of our farm—the long driveway stretching out to the open wheat fields and the giant tops of the cottonwoods reaching up to the sky. The picture must have been taken in late afternoon. The shadows are long. The light is cast in gold and bronze, the sweet color of memory. I got myself on that road as fast as I could and I did not look back, not for many years. I was only seventeen. In the end, the harshest critic of life in the plains, Meridel LeSueur, is the one who defends it most vehemently. “I’m not going to Paris or Morocco,” she writes, casting her lot with the prairie, “for your life is my life and your death is mine also.” What is the sound of a pilgrim soul singing? About the farmgirls—not one of us stayed with the land. “I think the prairie will die without finding a voice,” William Quayle writes with sadness in The Prairie and the Sea. “Its democracy may be against it.” Crab Orchard Review ◆ 157


Lisa Lewis

Travel Plans for Social Outcasts

There’s no good in this, I thought each mile Like onionskin the Toyota’s tires unpeeled— But I wanted home. Asheville’s naked bikers Leering out motel room doors froze forever In the rearview mirror and time sped Like a scooter. I imagined Sara coursing back The opposite direction, due east to my 40 West, Sun drenching us both after our innocent Rendezvous, married homeschooler and Escaped academic believed to be too mean For men, odds are, closeted lesbian—this insight Thanks to undergrads who don’t know not to Talk. It’s sad at the center of an empty Universe, i.e. university gossip, small town, Rightwing state in need of unholy martyrs. I burn like any saint or better. God knows what the desk clerk thought, In Asheville, aristocratic Indian beauty With perfect British articulation, and though I intended to complain about the biker Strutting the parking lot in ass-crack shorts, A man at the counter seemed likely His friend so I abstained. Sara and I Shared a cheap room and watched serial killer Shows on the Learning Channel Until I fell asleep on top of the remote And she switched off the set so its red eye Glowed a warning next morning when I woke, Anxious about the weather, and flipped Through newscasts till Paula Zahn’s clenched Tooth professionalism informed of the latest Videotape: a woman guilty of child abuse, 158 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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Slapping her daughter at a shopping mall. I might as well have been a cop myself When Sara said the bitch deserved Everything she got and I stopped That talk fast with feminist analysis. What a way to treat my oldest friend. I’m too mean for men, but Sara took it Well, briefly wide-eyed, later thankful I teach new perspectives. She said so, Verbatim. I could get it on videotape. Anyway, it was great to breakfast on waffles And scrambled eggs with my friend Who enjoys my corrections. We smoked Cigarettes and compared notes on losing Weight and progress towards menopause, Hers unguessable due to birth control shots. Not me, I rely on plain meanness to prevent Sperm entering the system or even my front door. Whatever works: that’s how I see it. We said Goodbye at a convenience store where She bought Bit O’ Honey and I chose Diet Coke, Caffeine for the road, and tested the air In my tiny tires because the rims jut, not like A biker’s belly overhanging shorts But that’s what comes to mind once you’ve faced That vista, swallowing metaphor like vaginas Of misogynistic myth. What swallowed time As I drove west? Rolling Stones CD—remind me To get rid of that—or joint I smoked or need To sleep in my own bed or fear of strangers, Like the toothless white-shocked interloper Who approached me smirking God Bless At the gas pumps, West Memphis—Arkansas Side—with a predictable lie about an alternator, A family stranded, and twenty-six more dollars Needed. I handed over a ten to buy my peace, But the other women he pitched smiled big And begged off: My husband holds the money. At least I scowled. And did not lie. Which Enchanted my thoughts five hundred miles Crab Orchard Review ◆ 159


Lisa Lewis

Driving me past West Memphis before sunset, Mountains behind like a dream in the sky I’d drifted down from, winding right, left, South, west, sinuous ribbons of interstate, Eighteen-wheelers lumbering loud giants Decked out in lights like a gay bar But don’t tell the drivers, who think When a boy gives them a blowjob They’re all just desperate. They’re right, Too. Anyway, I thought if I ached Too much I’d pull off for the night, But when my gas pedal foot throbbed I rubbed the tendon on the bony top And when my sides cramped I leaned As if still sticking the curves of the Great Smokies and when my head pulsed I rustled a roach from the ashtray And hunkered behind the steering wheel So no truckers would get ideas. You can’t Trust them. They’re all conservative. I shoved the poetry CD in the dash machine And clicked until cut 17, Robert Lowell Intoning “Skunk Hour,” and his choked voice Had me in tears by the second stanza, Undoubtedly why he’s loathed by scholars Everywhere I’ve been, which isn’t far. The academic equivalent of a West Memphis Gas station and miles of irrigated soybean Fields, landing strips, and billboards, Girls’ photos captioned DO YOU KNOW WHO MURDERED ME? And me sailing Through the ribs of the plains, burning Like a Comanche arrow, my face wet With Lowell’s stoic jokes and the loss Of my ten dollars and pride at my refusal To lie, worth at least that much: to be female, Unmarried, and forty-six is to give up Money to lying men. Lie back and enjoy it, They used to say, I was never sure who, Having felt it when it seemed I might say no 160 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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To anything. The other women at the gas pumps Said no but lied. I said yes but did not. They smiled, I scowled: I work this equation To the story of our defeated lives, intricate Hairdos, thighs we try to work off And have since youth, we fail and will Till death melts them: there’s no good In this, I thought, and was right, but I sped Anyway, and where did the day go? I imagined with a start that I was dead, Killed shortly after emerging from Asheville In a collision I’d never remember, Now returning home in dream, Bearing down too fast for mortal fact. Here, already, was the Muskogee Turnpike. How would I prove myself dead or alive? If I glanced into my lap and saw bare bone? If I tossed five quarters in the toll basket And heard no clink of change on wire But the light smiled green-ball anyway? Lying like married women who want to keep The cash? Paula Zahn’s cruel eyes flashing DEATH TO ALL WOMEN BUT ME? No, there are no reliable tests for life. What’s known can be dreamed In the afterlife, if that’s how it works, And who knows until they’re there? Who knows they’re back in Oklahoma When the wind blows everywhere? With those options, one only knows to go, So I drove, headlights exploding In the rearview like punk fireworks, They’ll blow your head off, my body’s Murmured pains mapped all over thought On the grand scale, invisible inside My short-clipped head—students all say I’m a lesbian—and thirteen hours down, Fourteen, I tracked it in one day, Like a reincarnated trucker who cannot die Again because I wanted home so badly Crab Orchard Review ◆ 161


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I didn’t care how I needed to be away, The storefront churches harboring Damn fool cowboys who’ll ride a bull Till he breaks their skulls with cloven hooves, Sunflowers blooming wild in August, The Osage orange hurling its threat To spiders, knuckled green grenades You stash behind your toilet to freshen Your house of webs, or so it’s sold, the sky To whose first star I wish each evening, always The same hope, same embarrassing secret, The sky, rusty earth, ragweed, groundnut, Cedar, whatever makes my eyes itch, The reek of skunks, even the armadillos, The sorry spectacle of my life cloistered In the talk of the lonely and smug who need Someone, something, to hold themselves Above—like mountains. Like Gatlinburg, Dollywood, tourist traps, talk’s cheaper Than a room there, so you might as well Stay in Oklahoma and fix your eyes On the moving target, what’s her problem? Why is she so mean? She wants to be home. I wanted it, and was close, and I was careful On 51 not to speed through Yale where so many Have been ticketed and harassed, And not one light shimmered inside The Housing Authority complex, Not one light blinked on at any farm Or in any doublewide, not one car crawled The two-lane besides mine, and home, Hateful when I’m there, terrifying me The seven years it took to turn me into it, Each cell of my bones and skin, each doomed Handful of organ meat in my belly, Turned over like the odometer on an old car, A junker, home was the junker, home was me, Home was what I hated but could not leave For long. Then I pulled into College Gardens, My neighborhood, with its brisk toy houses 162 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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And sleeping dolls, breath caught In its throat on the cusp of summer and fall, And I parked my car in the driveway, I unfolded my legs from the cramped compartment, I must’ve been a living body, I walked To my front door and twisted the key in the lock, And the sound could not have been anything but True, the pressure of the stiff lock the force Of material reality, and the friend waiting there, Who had made me soup, simmered it all night Waiting for me, was not a phantom, Not any of the names I’ve heard her called, And for a while I could be glad about my place, Feeding my hunger, resting my living marrow Inside my living bone, until the boredom And the grief started over again next morning, And I had to write a poem to kill it, or keep it Alive, or both, like now. This is the surge Of my perennial death and reliable resurrection, And you who listen are a trucker who bears down In my mirror blinding me, or an abuser Of children, a venomous newscaster, an old friend, Or someone believed to be unlike anyone else: You catch my drift. I don’t trust anybody. I make sure to tell the truth against the common Background of anguished mimesis, everyone Unselfconscious in drag, learned books Directing us towards it as surely as bad tv In motel rooms where bikers refuse to shut Their doors and women anachronistically Coiffed, bulging, bludgeoning blonde Bouffant, pace the sidewalks wondering, Who is this stranger, how does she bear up Under our longing looks and our loathing? And, whoever she is, maybe just me, suffers The close embrace of the automobile’s Tight cell racing the nation’s rough arteries Where so many before her have died.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 163


John Minczeski

Thieves of Warsaw

The stories surrounded you like the minuscule heart of cyanide in photographs: how you work the train station like angels sweeping the initials for sinner off Dante’s forehead so he could reach paradise free of earthly baggage. The paper cups of beggars are empty; there is no espresso, no more Nescafé. The cypresses have finished their annual striptease, and you wait at the train station for a taxi to arrive, a plump American and his wife. Thank you, Jesus, if they argue with each other, squabbling like telephones on the station escalators. You flip your cigarettes to the curb and follow them past kiosks to the lowest level, the flickering lights as a train pulls in, and only you can see in the dark.

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Missy-Marie Montgomery

Knowledge of the Body

I go back to the early morning after a night of sobbing, how you arrived at my door in the blue middle of where the mind loses its hold. Your willingness to come there and find me. It is possible that the things we live through do not make us stronger. I think of the ways I am more fragile now. The blueness larger, the heart a well-damaged muscle. The way my mind and heart must sometimes close their eyes upon meeting. The blind woman I read about who, after her surgery could only move through a room with her eyes shut, her hands out to touch what was familiar, textures that easily led her from one doorway to another. I must touch you to feel my way on this earth.

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Donald Platt

Provider for Tom Andrews, 1961–2001 Your life is the caked black dirt beneath my fingernails that I can’t yet bear to wash off. I struggle to extricate the fuzzy, red-tinged stems and serrated leaves of the strawberries from the nettles, dandelions, wild parsley, and crab grass that have grown around them. The root systems of weed and fruit are so intertwined I have to separate them from each other with a safecracker’s touch, and often the strawberries get pulled up with the weeds and have to be thrown onto the same pile. It’s useless to explain a death like yours. You died too young. Your early poems emerged full-formed and sweet to taste as the knuckle-sized strawberries two months ago, on which I gorged and gorged red-mouthed. I prune the strawberries back so they will come again next year. Now, on the day before my own forty-fourth birthday, I pick the first

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green beans of the season. They hide beneath the large, veined, heart-shaped leaves, which still bear small purple flowers. My wife says this particular variety is called “Provider.” I snap off one of the young beans thin as shoelaces. Nothing’s more tender. We eat them raw. They are crisp with juice. Along with the sweet dissolving fiber, there are always a few grains of the dirt’s grit. Tom, I wish you too might taste it. It’s like eating water.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 167


Mary Quade

Bats

I want them badly, their erratic swooping, their wings finding the air’s whistling resistance. Their silhouettes absorb them, slips of night falling from the holes stars leave in sky. I want their featureless dark. All day, they hang themselves, a soft penance. I could gather them, each a fruit ripe with syrupy sin. Have you ever held a bat? I killed one once. People are always asking me to finish things off—mice squeaking in traps, a cat-gnawed bird. No one wants to do what might be right. The bat, awake and grasping in the light, ill, made us feel unlucky. A dustpan works well—the bat still beneath my smack. Now outside we’ve hung a house to lure them in, and yet they never come; they sense my sin, my blight of good intentions. Who am I to make decisions in the day? What am I to night?

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Sara Quinn Rivara

Blessing

The field’s feral snow-humped grass, brown buntings huddled in dark clumps: the days grow short, dusk slipping between pitch-pine, spicebush, the rustdark creek: autumn: season of dusk and bone. The soul comes home—staghorn sumac, bare-limbed oak, house that broods over the white-stippled yard— such grace: the body’s wet-warm song, vanguard desire: of husband, bare field, seed-urn, stillborn season of rock and rood. The trail winds slowly toward our house, the laundry wind-struck and stiff, rope of chimney smoke; O, such luck to have this: swamp-meadow, the fallow field of seed and dun-colored birds; my small life that clings, tick-tight, heart-full, to this hard earth.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 169


Nicholas Samaras

Saints of Ire for Bobby Sands, starved to death Thin. The time was thin of mercy, of hands that weren’t interned. Down a warren of little streets, past the lives of ordinary people, wee fellows and feelings boiled like food for supper—and strangers at the linen table. Till in a land of ire, there were saints of anger and the time was thin with those who went on the blanket, giving up the weight of clothing, the criminal status of a prison stripe. In Long Kesh Prison, they did the dark and the light, a man dabbing the wall with his body’s shadow,

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a man memorizing the Trinity. The dark and the light. The screws in the wall. Breakfast a paste of porridge, watery milk, a coin of pan bread, razor meat—that thin. Until their own bodies foraged on themselves, fed to light and vanishing. The distance between their visible ribs was the distance between speech and truth. In a land of ire, there were saints of anger. Wings of coarse woolen blankets. No food, not even the seasoning of language in their mouths. Though the get of Irish was a Godsend, they did the dialect of the dark and the light, this to deface history, to write their heavy silence upon it, to turn Crab Orchard Review ◆ 171


Nicholas Samaras

their bodies’ weight to newsprint and the brief generation to remember. I remember. The pity for people who have never been alive enough to believe in anything that much. Public morality. It was all I could do to work the privacy of myself. I cry the world by the life I live apart from it. So, I walked away from the full kitchen, to briefly turn thin with a fast of remembrance, turn muteness to light, to vanishing, to a realest witness. The real tragedy is that we are a moral world. In a land of ire, there were saints of anger saying, everyone at once sit down. Don’t participate in 172 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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even the word, even the very language of collaboration. Far back as 1916 or 1981, we want a shallow history. We go for shame, not valor. Saying, we are dispossession in shoes. And then, walking out of even the shoes. The way there has to be this light, this vanishing, a poetry for the world, a voice that may deafen in its thinning away

Crab Orchard Review â—† 173


Sean Serrell

Intersection

I am held by the last light before home. After midnight, nothing moves here but drifting cop cars and the compass of foglight beyond the fields. It brushes this way, a lazy swath to soften the rhythm of bitter white the red light flicks from its middle slit: sounding the highway deep with stop. I recognize this chill: I’ve burnt magnesium strips in the dark to watch the room’s shock then alien shift, all the furniture washed in skeletal spectrum, flashfossilized. Their shadows smudged the walls with exit. Once the flare died, I’d hold the grid in mind, steer through the dark and remnant heat, and know precisely how to leave. When I get home, I see our neighbors left their garbage on the stoop, and then I see the raccoon, its maskless face as white as the bag it fidgets with. It watches me (never its hands) as if civil, saying, You can have what I leave. The air is dull: above, the moon scans hasty, thin clouds for substance, something to absorb the light it can’t digest: my wife’s granular shadow suedes the blinds. I draw near the stoop, and the raccoon

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drags a pear core down the stair, then leans into a spruce and disappears. It moved as though the only thing to fear would be to have nowhere to go: trafficking in instinct, the needful that and there, it faces every instant meekly, mere.

Crab Orchard Review â—† 175


Neil Shepard

Sunflower Sutra

Pre-dawn behind a cloudbank, Rockies gray. I walk past Motel 6 and out of town. Thirty years ago, these plains were wind and sagebrush, diamondback and washout. Now Hewlett-Packard, UPS, and Western Bell corral the land, high-tension wires surround high-walled cinderblock. The clouds descend from peaks, down hogbacks bristling resistance before rain falls uniformly on the plains. I wander past warehouses where sunflowers loop the barbed wire, loll gray-green in pre-dawn. Two ragged figures, guzzling wine, loaf on a trash-heap beside a dead-end railroad line where boxcar doors are open, half-loaded with the latest gimmickry. Allen? Jack? They’re drunk and not with poetry. They’re reading invoices, not “in voices,” reciting the math by which men die daily: 666 machines, 33 megabytes of memory.… They’re drunk but dutiful. And now a sunrise wind rips papers from their hands. The ragged figures scramble after them like stumbling monkeys… Back, back past Rent-A-Wreck and villages of U-Store-It. The nightclerk I left snoring is sober-gray. The bellhop empties ashes from the tray. The yawning maids stare into filmy coffee, await the day’s stripped sheets, the stains, the come-towels. A few hunched forms vacuum the lobby, pulled along by a suction invisible as the pursuit of happiness. In this high country,

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clouds dissolve in tracts of sun. Gray dawn’s forgotten. Heavy machinery busts sod for another lot, and billboards hail the clear air here. Though sun rises and lights up the Mummy Range, I feel this cloudbank still upon the world and cannot see my way, though sunflowers wave their brilliant heads as if the world had found its soul again and phantoms once more solidified as men.

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Neil Shepard

Oh! On an April Morning,

I’m ready to murder the flowers. The allnight wordfest, verbal festschrift— which, notice, I do not hyphenate because Coleridge warns us against invented compounds bound by hyphens— left me in some indeterminate schwa of sleeplessness, neither long on yawns nor persnickety and testy, but stunned, stoned, seemingly systematically taken apart by human sounds—verbs, nouns, the little modifiers, expletives, pronominals, signs and referents, all, all part of human grammar (that thing I love) and “human drama” (that thing I hate) which kept me listening, listening for their rhetorical flourishes— lean in for the sweet sotto voce, then gradually lean out for the rising tonal babel, snickers, snorts, giggles and guffaws, interrogatory, exclamatory, imperative, imperious, ablative, declarative, hortatory, denunciatory, importuning, simpering, sniveling, wheedling, whining, oh!— it kept me up all night, allnight long while the flowers closed their ears and slept. I’ll murder them! I will!

178 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Shara McCallum

Naming the Birds

MY FAMILY LIVED FOR A TIME on a Rastafarian commune when I was a child. There, we raised goats and chickens for food. While I could always be counted on to eat the animals, I was never so dependable when it came time for them to be killed. I would run away and hide underneath the house, or behind the cherry bushes that lined the property, or in the old slaves’ quarters that were still standing, even though they had for years gone unused. I wanted to escape the squawking and bleating that grew shrillest the moment right before the sudden quiet and unsettling stillness that accompanied a kill. Other than helping my mother to scatter handfuls of corn or to change and refill water bowls, I was not usually responsible for the care of the animals. Only once do I recall being forced to help in any real fashion. A goat had been slaughtered for a feast to be held that evening in celebration of the birthday of Haile Selassie, our messiah, and my mother insisted I assist with the task of cleaning out its insides. Through gritted teeth and tears I did as I was told, vowing never again to eat even one mouthful of curry goat. Despite my lackluster performance with that task, I’ve found myself now wanting to say I grew up on a farm as can so many of my neighbors in this small, upstate New York town, where cows seem to outnumber people by a ratio of ten to one. But even if I’d been a natural farmhand, a few hens pecking the ground in a yard in the city of Kingston doesn’t compare to the huge dairy farms that populate this countryside. Lowing beasts graze in open fields alongside haystacks, seemingly artfully arranged in contrast to verdant hills. A perennial red barn, divided into feeders and stalls, lies yards from silver silos arcing toward the sun. Sitting on my deck overlooking these farms, a racket of bird song draws my attention to the smaller world within my back yard. Goldfinches, cardinals, song sparrows, blue jays, and other birds I can’t name descend to feed, then shift to stay upright on the telephone wire, on the slender branch of the nearby poplar, on the spires of Crab Orchard Review ◆ 179


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my downstairs neighbor’s elaborate bird feeders. All the while, they chatter away in a language I don’t understand. Living here just barely a year, a stranger to this landscape, what do I know with enough accuracy to describe this summer dawn? WHEN STEVE AND I MOVED to this house, at the top of a hill, on a stretch of dirt road a mile long with only four or five other houses for company nearby, it had then been late summer. Unaccustomed to the drastic temperature drops at night, I would don a sweater, delighted by the absurdity—or so it seemed to me at the time—of needing one in August, not recognizing the scent of winter already in the air. With fall’s onset, burnt sienna, vermilion, copper, and rust flared in the trees, smoke from burning firewood spiraled out of chimneys, giving off a distinct odor I would learn to recognize sight unseen. The evidence of fall was giddying, and I failed to understand what I was seeing everywhere around me for what it was—a quickening, headlong rush toward death. By mid-October, leaves had fallen from trees, patterning the ground beneath my feet. By October’s close, we had shoveled two snowfalls and the land—only weeks before deceptively alive—was replaced by this new, alien thing. Tree branches, muddy brown to mottled gray and shorn of their leaves, only worked now to highlight the barrenness of space. Unlike the blistering colors of fall, I had no counterpart of beauty in my mind for this scene. Born and raised in the tropics, I was from a place where winter is only a word. I could not help but see the changed earth as unfathomable, desolate, and treacherous. Earlier in the fall, ladybugs had been clamoring to enter my house. Orange backs, speckled with black, their wings were hidden— so flight was sudden, an unexpected hum as they glided across the room. My neighbor told me they were coming indoors to escape the cold, and I should put them back outside or they’d die. But I reasoned they’d die either way and also remembered my grandmother’s warning: “Ladybugs are good luck. If one chooses you, you must not shoo her away or run her off.” What’s more, I wanted to believe the ladybugs were a talisman, something to help me ward off protracted days of gray. Yet once inside my house, they paced window frames, bodies pressed up against glass, only deviating from their obvious attempts at escape to nowand-then lunge for the globe of light overhead. Thinking back to 180 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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this perplexing invasion, I realize that I had even then failed to notice the obvious. The ladybugs must have thought all light was the sun. C HICKADEES , USUALLY LOUDEST , are not quite audible amidst the coteries of the other birds this morning. A strong breeze shakes the branches of the birch and the quivering of the leaves is like that of the silver disks inside a moving tambourine. This music, though, is a quieter one, a rush of air that reminds me of the sea. No matter how far we travel from our place of birth, it is that first landscape which haunts us. It is our original idea of place that we transplant onto every new one we see. Even here, listening to the wind move through trees, hundreds of miles from any ocean, I am a child again, standing on that part of the shore where water and sand meet. I can almost hear the drag and suck of the wave, can almost detect salt in the air. What is the function of memory? Is it what binds us to the past or what allows us to find ourselves in the present? E ACH DAWN I AM AWAKENED by the calls of birds filling the woods that surround our house. Since winter’s snows and spring’s rains have come and gone, Steve has pointed out that I have no more excuses and has been gently prodding me to get out of the house on the days I spend the longest hours alone. You can take walks, explore, and gather material for your poems, he suggests. Given the bouts of depression I’ve faced recently, I think he also means, you can get outside of yourself, though he would never say this. But my idea of woods comes from all the fairy tales I heard and read long ago and I can’t bring myself to enter these woods on my own. I don’t want to chance meeting a wolf. I don’t want to drop breadcrumbs for blackbirds to eat. Most days now, instead, I sit inside at my desk or outside on this deck, inspecting the world from a distance. I work on poems geographically and temporally removed from where I live, while shadows lengthen over these hills and not another human comes up or down my road. By the time Steve arrives home each night, I am ravenous for the sound of his voice. THE SMALL CLEARING OF WOODS in my back yard transforms itself from day to night. At dawn, the birds claim dominion. Dusk into nightfall, the frogs, nowhere visible now, reign. Last week, I waited by the shore of the pond, squatting silently in the reeds, to discover Crab Orchard Review ◆ 181


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Peep, a black frog the size of my thumbnail with a voice the size of the moon. He who must be many things, I’ve reduced to the sound he makes. My own name, Shara, means “she sings” in Hebrew. In Swahili, “a bright shining star.” Can a name determine the casing of a soul? In ancient times, the singers were also the poets. If I say, “I am Shara,” does that make me one? Am I then a part of the heavens? Lying awake in my bed, through my open window I hear Peep singing across the dark waters and imagine that he is calling to his parents, siblings, lovers, and friends. The night, so cloying here, becomes less thick around my skin. EVEN WHILE I DON’T YET KNOW IT, this morning this essay is already assembling. Years from now, I will remember this house, the scene visible from this deck, and the birds will again flock into view: the cowbird with a deep gurgling low in its throat; the chickadee, darting across the lawn, dipping and rising as if in answer to its name. For now, though, here, in this present, I am watching these creatures and listening to the sounds they make with hopes of learning how to be rooted to the things of this world. Whizzing by my ear, a hummingbird momentarily leaves me with the trace of its mechanical whir. An owl too has now joined the chorus of birds I notice, as his incessant tolling asks, who? who? who? I want to answer: Me. Me. Me.

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Liz Stefaniak

Julie’s Brush with Death

I’VE JUST FINISHED THE HOMEWORK I had in my French workbook and I leave it in the middle of my desk so I won’t forget it when I go to class tomorrow morning. I head for the door, which is unfortunately closed, so I’ll have to touch the doorknob on my way out, but I’m trying to get out of here before my roommate gets back from the shower so I won’t see what she touches and where she puts her stuff. I already know where she keeps her towel and dirty clothes and shower caddy, so those places are dirty. I figure, though, that she’s got intermediate places for some of those things and I don’t want to know where they are. As everybody knows, it doesn’t count if the umpire doesn’t see it, and that works for me, too. I roll up my sleeves because I know I’m going right to the bathroom to wash my hands after I touch the doorknob and my shirt can stay clean if I don’t have to push up my sleeves with dirty hands in the bathroom. As I reach for the knob, I hear Julie’s voice in the hallway. Shit. I’m too late. At least I can avoid physically touching her if I’m not in the doorway, so I run over to the window-seat. Now she won’t have to get too close to me on her way to her dresser and I can slip out when she opens the door before I see her touch anything. I pretend to look out the window. There’s nothing out there. There is only the looming mass of contagion about to come through my door. In the hall, the girls in 308 are talking to Julie. They’re laughing, joking, touching whatever they want to touch. I feel like I’m in jail. Why did Julie think I wanted to know that she’d had scabies last summer? She knows I’m obsessive-compulsive. I told her about the Chapstick, right? I suppose she doesn’t know that my worst fear is being infested with bugs, and it’s a little late to tell her now. Still, why did she tell me? Why would she tell anyone? I hear her say, “See you later,” and I brace for her entrance. The door opens and she comes in, wearing her pajamas already, carrying her towel, shower caddy, and dirty clothes. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 183


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“Hi, Liz,” she says. “Whatcha doin’?” She tosses her clothes directly into her laundry hamper. One point for Liz. “Just procrastinating,” I say with a smile. I’m casual, casual, no big deal. “I think I’m going to go to the store,” I lie, knowing she won’t want to come because she’s already in her pajamas. “Ooh!” she says, setting her caddy down on the dresser in its usual place, not quite touching my desk as she walks by it. I need to get out of here. “Will you get me some ice cream? I’ll give you some cash.” She walks toward her wallet, which is on her desk by the window-seat about twelve inches from my left hip. She’s still carrying her towel. Why won’t she hang up her towel? “No problem, I’ll spot you,” I say, so I won’t have to touch her money, but mostly so she’ll stop moving in my direction. “Are you sure?” she says. “I’ve got cash.” Why won’t she stay the fuck where she is? “That’s okay,” I say, shifting my weight to my right foot and taking a tiny step back toward the window. “I’ll probably eat some, anyway.” This lie will haunt me later, I’m sure, when I have to turn down offers of ice cream for no reason, but my head is feeling very hot and I’m running out of ideas to keep myself from screaming, “Stay where you are!” or throwing something at her head, anything, anything to stop her from moving. “Okay, thanks, Liz,” she says, and backs off. I let out a quiet breath of relief. I wipe my sweaty hands on my pants, knowing I’m stuck going to the store and buying her ice cream now, but my head still feels much too full of blood and I am ready to do anything to get the hell out of this room. She’s almost to the closet now and I take a couple of steps behind her toward the door when she reaches out and pushes the door shut to look at herself in the mirror on the other side. The sound reverberates in my head like the clanging of a cell door. I take a step back to recover as Julie watches herself rumple her wet hair with her towel. Okay, I say to myself, you figured you’d have to touch the doorknob anyway. As long as she keeps the towel in her left hand, you’ll be able to fit through the doorway without touching anything. Go now, before she moves again. “Chocolate or vanilla,” Julie says, without looking at me. “Whatever’s on sale.” And then, with a natural, casual, clearly customary air, she drops her wet towel on the desk next to the closet. My desk. My French workbook. My god. My windpipe closes as if she’s got her hand clenched around it. Suddenly there is no blood in my head at all, and my left knee 184 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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buckles. I shift my weight to my right leg and stumble, my head swimming, my heartbeat pounding in my skull. I grab my bedpost to regain my balance. Julie looks over, her eyebrows raised. She picks up her brush calmly, as if her hand hadn’t just held the towel. “Are you okay?” “Head rush,” I say, and smile. “I’ll see you later.” My voice sounds like it’s coming from very far away, and I wonder if I’m actually smiling. Maybe I start to hallucinate, because I can hear a voice-over now, saying: How will Liz escape? Will she have to throw away her French book? Will she fail French and flunk out of school? Tune in next week, folks! I walk to the door, hoping Julie will see me coming and move out of the way, but she’s looking in the mirror again, smoothing her hair, critically examining her rail-thin profile. Am I really going to have to push her out of the way? I look around for my ten-foot pole, but, as always, there isn’t one. I’m already too close to her. I see my face in the mirror over her shoulder. I’m flushed again, like I’ve just run up the stairs. I’m a little blurry. Julie is studying a new zit, her eyebrows scrunched in concentration. Then she sees me behind her and my face switches back to the smile. There, there was a smile after all. “Excuse me,” I say, pushing out a little laugh, as if being stuck between her and her god-forsaken towel destroying my desk were just a funny roommate situation—Oh, look! You forgot that you’re in my way. Isn’t that funny? You’re forgetful, roomie. Excuse me, please. Get out of the way. Get out of my fucking way, you filthy fucking bitch. Julie laughs too, says “Duh!” and moves to her left. I reach past her, slowly, carefully, not touching anything, and open the door. I slide through it as close to the center as possible to ensure that I don’t touch either side of the doorframe. “Be back soon,” I say as I head down the hall and hear the door to our room shut behind me. I go to the bathroom and wash my hands, breathing hard. I didn’t bring my towel with me so I wipe them on my pants, which is probably going to end up being a bad idea for some reason that’s not in the front of my mind right now. Then I lean against the wall to catch my breath. My desk! She puts her dirty-wet-stinking-scabies-infested towel on my desk! I hear a tiny voice say, “She only used to have scabies, right?” but that voice is much too small to make an impression on the shaking heap of me in the bathroom. What am I going to do? I mean, after I go to the fucking store? What about my French book? I have to throw it away. Maybe they still have them in the bookstore. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 185


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Or maybe I can ask my friend Jason if I can photocopy his pages before he does the assignment. Tomorrow I’ll just have to tell my professor that I forgot. What’s “to forget” in French? Okay, okay, calm down, it’s just a textbook. My brain starts spinning a little slower, and my breathing goes along with it. You’re fine. You’re out of the room. Now go to the store. You’ll feel better once you’re outside. You made it. But did I touch her on the way out the door? I would have noticed if I touched her, right? But what if she just brushed up against my clothes and I didn’t feel it? Or what if I brushed up against her towel? I start pacing around the bathroom, breathing harder again, my hands shaking. Someone could come in here any minute. I stop and look at myself in the mirror. My face is red and wet with tears. My mouth is open a little. It feels like that’s the only way I can get any air. Stop it! I only mouth the words at myself in the mirror, but if you were watching me in a silent movie, you would definitely know I was screaming. Just fucking stop it! Leave me alone, you crazy fuck! You didn’t fucking touch her and you know it so just shut the hell up! You don’t need to take another shower, all you do is shower! Go away! I’m really crying now, and I shake my fist at the girl in the mirror, whom I hate. I lean back against the wall and close my eyes. I need to pull it together before someone comes in here, and I do it in the only way I can. Okay, I give. I’ll take a shower. It won’t hurt; it won’t take very long; I’ll just do it. Okay? Okay. As I admit that I’ve lost, the vise around my chest gives a little, and my breathing slows. I’ve been in here for ten minutes now, so maybe she’s done with her preening and I’ll be able to get through the door with my clean stuff to the shower. I splash some water on my face and let it drip onto my shirt as I look back into the mirror. My face gradually recovers from crying, and I walk back down the hall to my room. The door is shut. She’s probably still looking at her stupid ass in the stupid mirror. If she is, I’ll have to walk right by her again. I roll up my sleeves, put my right hand in my pocket, and turn the knob with my left hand, so my dominant hand will be clean to pick up my shower caddy and towel. Julie is reading at her desk. Her towel is hanging quietly on the towel rack where she keeps it, as if nothing has happened. My French workbook has an almost radioactive glow, and both my hands feel heavier when I think about touching it. “That was quick,” Julie says, looking for her ice cream in my empty hands. 186 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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“I decided I’m too tired,” I say. “Sorry.” Smiling, smiling, nothing’s wrong. “That’s okay,” she says. “I shouldn’t eat any ice cream anyway.” We both laugh—Julie thinking about the freshman fifteen, me thinking that she should eat herself to death as soon as possible. “I’m going to take a shower and go to bed,” I say, picking up my towel with my right hand, holding it next to my body with my left elbow. I pick up my shower caddy with my right hand and pull off each shoe and sock with the opposite foot. “Have fun,” Julie says, and goes back to her book, mercifully without getting up. I turn sideways as I walk through the door, willing myself to be narrower, begging my towel not to reach out and touch anything. I go to the bathroom and take a look at the showers. They’re both wet. That means I don’t know which one Julie just used, and I can’t be the next one to use her shower. I make a mental note to be at least third in line for the shower tomorrow morning so I can be sure that Julie wasn’t in it last. I go upstairs one floor to use one of their showers. Evidently, I do this too often to be discreet, because a fourth-floor resident in the bathroom asks me if I’ve moved onto her floor. I lie and tell her the third-floor bathroom is crowded right now, hoping she won’t check—knowing she won’t—because what possible reason would I have to lie? As I take my shower, I hate Julie for having had scabies, but mostly for telling me about it. Sometimes I feel badly that we can’t be friends. She’s just a regular person, and I’d been looking forward to being friends with my college roommate, but there’s no hope now. It doesn’t matter if she’s fun or boring or nice or mean—now, she’s just my roommate with imaginary scabies and I have to stay alive until I can move out of that room. So sometimes I feel badly that my problem makes me hate her, but not on a night like tonight. Tonight, I’m on my second shower in twelve hours. Tonight, screw her. I need to go to bed. I really am tired now, worn out from hating me and hating Julie. I usually bring clean clothes with me into the shower stall because it’s easier to get dressed there than in my room, but I have to walk back down to my room in my towel because I couldn’t carry everything to the shower with only one clean hand. The door is shut again, so I shift everything to my right arm and open the door with my left hand. Julie is gone. Her towel is still on the towel rack. I squeeze Crab Orchard Review ◆ 187


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through the open doorway and set my shower caddy down on my dresser. I put my clothes in my dirty laundry basket, then squeeze back through the door into the hall. I rush to the bathroom and wash my hands, then run back to my room, hoping that Julie hasn’t come back and closed the door in the meantime. She hasn’t. A break. I slide one shoe on and carefully push the door shut with it. I put my towel in the dirty clothes after checking that my stack of clean towels is big enough to get me through tomorrow, when I can do some laundry. I walk over to my dresser and pull some underwear out of the drawer very smoothly. I’m moving very carefully now, since my dresser is only about two feet from my desk, and even less from Julie’s dresser. As I pull the underwear toward my body, I decide it got too close to the desk. I put it in the laundry basket. I pull out another pair, just as slowly. I get one foot through it, but I’ve been standing on one foot too long now and I lose my balance. Luckily, I catch myself without having to touch any furniture, but due to the fast movement, I can’t be sure my underwear wasn’t momentarily too close to Julie’s dresser. I stand very still, with my underwear halfway on, looking back and forth between the dwindling clean pile and the growing dirty one. Come on. It’s not like your underwear flew off your leg, touched the dresser, and jumped back on. If it had touched the dresser, your leg would have touched the dresser, and you would have felt that. It would have felt like a dresser, which is very different from thin fucking air. Come on. I’m proud of my reasoning, but it’s failing me just the same. My back hurts from bending over, holding up my underwear while I decide. I’m so tired. I close my eyes to take a break, but that makes me lose my balance again so I open them quickly and manage not to fall over. Damn it, I think. I take off the underwear and throw it in the laundry basket. Julie could be back any minute and you do not want to still be naked when she starts throwing her fucking towel in your face again. I pull out another pair, and slowly, slowly, carefully put in one leg and then the other. Success! Tomorrow’s headline: College Freshman Puts on Underpants! The pajamas are tough, too, but they don’t have to be quite as vitally clean as underwear, so I manage them on only the second try. I’m so tired. Julie walks in while I’m climbing up into my bed. As I set my alarm clock, I move too much and my teddy bear falls down onto her bed. Shit! Not only do I have to throw away my teddy bear now, 188 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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but if I don’t get to it before she does, I know she’s going to hand it to me, and it’s way too dirty to touch without being able to wash my hands right away. I start to get up, but I’m too late. Julie sees my teddy bear and picks it up. “Here you go,” she says, as she sets it on my bed. “Thanks,” I say. She turns around and heads for the light switch. My breathing is suddenly very loud, and I realize I’m forcing air through my clenched teeth. I breathe through my nose and try to get enough air to calm down and think…except there’s nothing to think. Now my sheets are dirty, my pajamas are dirty, I’m dirty, the teddy bear is dirty. I can’t sleep like this. I can’t take another shower and change all my sheets tonight. I just took a shower—how could I make an excuse for taking another one? And my spare sheets are in the dirty laundry from when I had to change them yesterday because Julie leaned on them. “Good night,” Julie says as she turns off the light and gets into bed. I lie in my bed until her breathing is rhythmic and I know she’s sleeping. I’m trying not to shake too much so she won’t notice that anything is wrong. Then I climb down out of bed and go sit in the window-seat, wide awake and trembling. My French book glows from across the room, and her towel hangs from the towel rack, deceptively still. When I walk by, it always jumps out at me, trying to touch me. I hate her. I watch her sleep, curled up on her side, her mouth slightly open. Her face is very pale against her dark-green pillowcase. I could pick up that pillow, I think. I could pick it up and put it over her face and smother her and no one would know. It would be quiet and I could just say she was fine when she went to bed and I have no idea what happened—but no, the door wasn’t locked last night—but no, I didn’t hear anything, either. I could pretend to be upset and no one would have reason to think I had anything to do with it and then her mom would come and take all of her dirty shit out of this room and she would be gone, dead, gone forever, just like my fucking French book. I don’t kill her. But I watch her all night, and I seethe, and I tremble, and I wonder what would happen if I weren’t afraid to get as close to her as smothering would require.

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Betsy Sholl

To Walt Whitman in Heaven

Things that look good and aren’t: high fashion, Manifest Destiny, limp wires the electrician thinks are dead till he grabs hold and then, O Infinitecoursing-through-finite—thank God his spastic dance was only a shock—one yelp and he shook it off. Not so easy for the girl next door feeling her first kiss begin to fester as the young man’s buddies drive by hooting and one calls out, how far did ya get? Whadda we owe? It’s enough to make everything look bad. So, a list then of what turns out to be good: the loud-mouthed parrot down the block that scared off two robbers, the junior prom I spent alone in my room reading you, Walt Whitman, your great barbaric yawp entering my mind like salt water coursing through fresh, stinging my wounds, till every image was sharp—the lunatic, the lily-faced boy in the makeshift hospital, contralto, runaway, cloud scud, your voice whispering through sea spray to ferry crowds, just as you feel, so I felt…What doesn’t change and remain, remain and grow strange? The lace bodice from my mother’s slip my daughter

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now sews onto the cuffs of her new jeans, the crooked front tooth that has traveled through how many kisses from my mother’s mouth, to mine, and on to my son. What is a list? The neighbor girl goes through her catalog of moves under the hoop—sky hooks, lay-ups, fall-away jumpers. Long after dark, she’s out there dribbling her heart on the asphalt, tossing it up, nothing but net. Painful, yes, but how else will she get to that sweet agony within, your great loitering contradictions? She dodges and spins, as if shedding a skin, steps around the driveway to keep the motion light flaring, as she passes from shadow into Technicolor, banks a shot, jabs the air to cheer herself on, point guard, center and crowd all in one, and I almost see you, Walt, in the dark, on the fringe, though I can hardly say what you mean, in the sweet mysterious night vapor hovering over blacktop and lamp-green lawn.

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Betsy Sholl

Impediments

After all those years of throat lock and panic at the lips, roadblock, detour, paratroopers balking—what if you just said, Yes now, softly, or shouted Amen, agreeing with the preacher like the Hammond B3 that answers him, phrase for phrase? No more stammer and ruse, quick switch to a safer word, slippery mind faster than the mouth, so the world’s all translation. Think of dreams and their fluid dynamics, how craziest things make sense, consonants connect, tongue twisters of impossible events flow like rivers. In one you rose on foam, up through the narrow neck of a Coke bottle, emerging to applause in a mink coat, then let it drop and stepped into a galvanized tub. Was it meaning you carried all these years, or that flattened then fluffed out fur, the ribbed bottle’s pale enclosure opening to sun glint on stippled gray—each detail a variation on getting “saved,” though that word’s too simple. It needs unpronounceable roots, syllables that don’t quite mesh, suggesting questions of usage and stress, old coats to be shed,

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Betsy Sholl

resentments dropped, enemies coaxed out and coddled, and—ah, the enemy within, that stymied child unable to say a word without foot stomps and blinks, unable to let a thought come easy and smooth. So much feeling coiled inside her, a mouthful of sparks, and everything outside combustible— one amen away from bursting into flame.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 193


Taije Silverman

First Love

In this poem there will be no dreaming of spiders. In this poem there will be no light snow. It wasn’t winter, winter had been cut to shreds and fed to wolves, they had devoured winter. There will be no back yards, nothing will be kept by fence in this poem, there will be no windows to see the light snow in the back yard, sudden, without question although there would never be winter again. Do you hear me? Never. In this poem no small hands no cold hands. Don’t ask me. My hands are not cold your hands are not small. There will be no green cowboy boots in this poem. You never walked beside me you never smiled no. There won’t be poetry you won’t read to me. There won’t be beautiful in this poem. It was taken on the train with winter. Yes, on the train. Though there are no trains in this poem and no girls. No cowboy boots, no rolling windows, the tenements won’t flash blood color through the long afternoons behind laundry the trees won’t shake the fields will not shine and wait in this poem, no girls. There will be no letters. The mailbox is being held without ransom, the white door hangs open all day on the loose street where winter will never arrive. Your handwriting will never arrive, not my name made real by it, no.

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Taije Silverman

There won’t be a kiss. No reeds in the marshland and was it cold, I don’t remember. We won’t walk back. There will be no lemon tea, steeped too long, we pour it down the sink, the cold tea is dark and strong, my body is being held without ransom. No not in this poem. There will be no Nina Simone, songs will not enter songs will not break. No bedrooms, no postcards on the walls no tulip petals dropping. There will be no waiting in this poem. There will not be waiting. Winter is lost forever here, the kidnapped mailbox long forgotten. The train is an idea, like the moon. My heart, searching the street those hours for your tan car, is a fingernail. Is a hard, shiny, small thing.

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Maggie Smith

Singular

Panes of wheat overlap for rusted miles in this country. With a trick distance performs on the eye, suddenly they’re one sheet the color of singed hair, the dog fur texture of harvested grain. Even forest is singular standing in for plural—a loose bundle of trees, the white elbows of half-lit birches multiplying. A cloak of birds rises and falls in unison. Even chimney smoke, the gray spools of hay blanched in the fields are a pattern repeating, a printed fabric on which the sloping necks of horses become one infinite curve. We crave what resists duplication, the red fox racing alongside the car. The one picket standing in a field, the rest fallen, carted away. The moon sharpening its white edge against our eyes.

196 â—† Crab Orchard Review


Kevin Stein

Found in a Shoe Box Labeled “Keep”

1. A Father’s Letter to Corp. Everett Stein, U.S. Army ● 31 August 1918 You ascked that I may send you a few lines in my hand, son. I hope these will not try your head, my words worse mispelled than your last, you now three years out of skul. I will tell you we are allways glad to hear from you, and that most I leave this writing to mother, our secratary at home, and to sister Agnes, herself one year out of skul. I never forget you anyday in my prayer. When I work my mums, they bloom white for you. All the times I was glad to hear a Soldjers life appeals to you. No mispelled lettur lessons your duty and the hardships I honor you for. I am also glad to lurn you are promoted to Corporal, and as you have wit and talent enough, you should try to bring it to Sargent. Not for better pay but for the honor also, and for the future. Yours. I am sick with a bruced knee, and so when you ascked for a few lines

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Kevin Stein

you get them from bed. My bumped knee has swollen and the doctor has bed rest and flaxseed poulters on it. No blood poisen or stiffness has come of it, but these lines have oshun and waves in them like those you crossed back over. I thought our family done with those cold waters, and with Germany. Shipped to France, your brother Joe will try to find Leo in all that mud. With Job we say: The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. If the Berlin train is not blown up, take the run to Salzbergen, where Aunt Trilling will spell your hardships with a kiss. These few lines asck God to bless you in field and trench. Try not to shoot your cousens. Have I mispelled? You boys are but a few years out of skul.

2. Trilling Stein Writes Her Brother in America ● Salzbergen, Germany, 14 January 1935 Dear brother, many say it could come to war again. The days dawn black as coal and hot with fire from throats of little brown men with hearts of tin. You know from your newspapers how things conspire to make days dawn black as coal and hot with fire. Many here are sickly because of unhealthy weather. You know from your newspapers how things conspire. It freezes for a couple days and we get better, though many here are sickly because of the weather. We haven’t had winter, no pink cheeks or snow. It freezes for a couple of days and we get better. No one starves much any more. Food grows around our toes. 198 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Kevin Stein

We haven’t had a winter, no pink cheeks or snow. Brother Gerhard says he eats enough but other things go bad. No one starves much any more. Food grows around our toes, for we’ve spiced soup with old shoe leather. Don’t gag. Brother Gerhard says he eats enough but other things go bad. Elizabeth Gronefeld suffered cancer of the hand and died just after dinner soup spiced with shoe leather. Don’t gag. In poverty she sickened so quick her finger fell off while bathing. Did I write how Elizabeth had cancer, oh yes, and died? Her boys went down in the Great War. Her daughter married a drunk. Elizabeth sickened so quick her finger fell off while bathing. I’d like to send you new year blessings, but my heart’s sunk. All the good boys died in the war. Our daughters married drunks who limp, smoke too much, and curse the mustard gas. I’d like to send you new year blessings, but my heart’s sunk. If you were here, your sister Trilling would crawl to Sunday Mass. Our streets fester with old soldiers who curse the mustard gas. My name in English, you say, is like a bird’s sappy song. If you were here, I would kneel all through Sunday Mass. “Trilling” is what birds do when they’re happy. My name in English sounds like a bird’s sappy song. You know from the newspapers how fire heats hearts of tin. “Trilling” is what birds do when they’re happy. Dear brother, many say it could come to war again.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 199


Alexandra van de Kamp

Charcoal Study: Dancer with a Fan —Degas, ca. 1880 All alone on this beige, she is a girl-island, her hair caught in a bun, her only prop a fan, which flares open against her bodice. Comprised of charcoal blades, the fan acts like a flower-armor between ourselves and her. Still, I can’t help but stare: she floats, girl-kite drifting on a beige paper-sky. Grief guides the stubborn wisps (charcoal here, then there) her skirt becomes. Grief of knowing any background is on loan, and what we love most: the gorgeous exuberance of trees (so baroque in their chandelier-greens), the masterful, gray-black of paved streets, would leave us behind easily if we were to leave them. Better this: admit our aloneness and float gladly against ourselves and nothing more, like this girl, who can lose everything and still stand on whatever ground is given her. Charcoal, like God’s hands, streaks away from her feet, then her head, conjuring her up out of an emptiness. “This and this again,” says each smudged stroke, “is good.” Meanwhile, she’s tired— her head lifted up, her eyes closed. A line subsumes her lips, so full 200 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Alexandra van de Kamp

with what she’ll never utter. She billows in the winds of a particular silence. Her legs, the darkest, most precise part of her, ground her into this beige. Could I rub her away? No, she’s precisely placed. Endless soliloquy, smudged pearl, a prop waiting to be of use (which she eventually will be: half the size she is now in the final painting). But she consumes my attention, as if Degas had erased the whole world, leaving her abandoned, and instructed her to bear it, to stand a dance in which she conducts the prayer of herself to an empty universe— the whole context she once knew, all familiar references, gone, except for that fan. Unafraid, she dignifies it—the shape wide and unapologetic in her hand.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 201


Sophie Wadsworth

Two Poems from Letters from Siberia: Roxanna Lord Pray The Walnut Tree

1 Before the bay freezes, the last California schooner brings a shipment—hundreds of pounds of black walnuts. We stack the crates in the storehouse. They won’t sell since the Chinese merchants import cheaper ones. We’ll eat walnuts for months, barter for crabs at market, give them away at Russian Christmas. We ship boxes home: sables, a china tea set, pearl bracelets. Nothing for Father. I cannot believe he is dead. All his frowning at what he called our “Siberian extravagance,” stiff-lipped letters, thick with questions— but didn’t he mention me before he died?

2 In Maine, when the dusky smell of leaves thickened the air, Father found his way by fence rails to the walnut tree. What did he see? Starry red suns on his eyelids? Or the barn’s blackness 202 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Sophie Wadsworth

when you step in from noon’s blaze? We leaned on its trunk, its ridged bark black as plowed earth in the rain, and listened to its waterfall of leaves. Once grandfather planted a hatful of walnuts in rich bottomland soil. One husk, overlooked by squirrels, took root. Deep taproots, Father liked to say, won’t stand a transplant like pine or cedar. A grandfather-granddaughter tree, the first crop of walnuts fattened the year I turned ten.

3 A walnut ripens in the dark, its shell tight as a soldered box inside a stubborn husk that breaks only in a corn sheller or under loaded wagon wheels. We smashed with hammers, picked out the meats. The taste, at last—crush of bitter oil between the teeth, half sweet, and a black flavor at the back of the mouth.

4 When I read to Father The History of Rome, we both saw the soldiers rippling behind hundreds of round leather shields. Through the ice months, we fed the wood stove while the old rich empire rotted from the inside. He liked to test my memory, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 203


Sophie Wadsworth

though I forgot the generals’ names and battlegrounds, and failed to please him. But I could render that walnut tree. The bark looks like alligator skin, I’d begin. Even blacker this year, some grooves nearly purple. The green husks lie strewn in a wide circle that reaches beyond the shadows of the longest branches.

5 The bay is freezing us in. We filled the storehouse with enough tinned fruit to sell until spring. The crates of walnuts are unbearable. I want to ask my sister about Father’s will. Would she give me a strip of pasture along the east fence, instead of the money he left me? She’ll have to sell a few acres to pay his debts, maybe timber too. I fear she’ll say I’m asking too much. Would she give me just the corner, the one with the walnut tree? More than anything I long to have that old tree Father was so fond of.

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Sophie Wadsworth

Five Thousand Miles from Maine, 1898

Dear Folks, We buried dear Charlie on a ridge overlooking Vladivostok’s harbor. He must like to gaze on his young whaling days. You ask the cemetery’s size— impossible to guess, so overgrown with cedars and scraggly oaks. A dozen of our graveyards might easily fit inside. Awful, so many British, Polish, and Germans buried thousands of miles from home: worst of all, a French officer, a young father, strangled by convicts for his uniform and pistol. I can’t tell the distance between the cemetery and the house—perhaps the scant mile to Auntie’s, but the roads at home are straight, and you’re free to cross the neighbors’ fields. Here, nothing lies straight: the steep hills are crisscrossed by cow paths, and we risk arrest unless we skirt the admiral’s groves of tamarisks. Market days are different, too, not like fetching salt or maple sugar in Somersworth. Here it’s an Oriental Bazaar where you can buy silk, salted cabbage, even pearls. Farmers sell milk frozen in blocks all winter, while gypsies peddle sweets Crab Orchard Review ◆ 205


Sophie Wadsworth

(still my weakness) by the pound. I like to peer behind the kiosks heaped with ginseng where old women smoke pipes or crack sunflower seeds between their teeth. We can’t see the Pacific, eclipsed by a massive hill, but I can watch the harbor from my bed: five steamers anchored here this morning and a schooner just now gliding in, the water like milky glass.

206 â—† Crab Orchard Review


Braden Welborn

Shape Note Singings

I told him we sang fa-so-la each May— he thought I meant our notes were fossilized: melodic trilobites in granite, staid and ancient voices, frozen so’s and la’s preserved between our lips, the bleachers packed with skeletons delivering the beat, their elbows hinging in measure, chop and hack, through early summer’s bake and earth, a feat of patient angling into soil, to soul, our rock of ages: listening grey graves, the gravel parking lot, tunnels of coal dust beneath us, minerals that gave the dark its waiting shapes of songs and seams— each note and cough: compression, record, dream.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 207


Gabriel Welsch

Pennsylvania after Elizabeth Bishop The state with the prettiest name and the ear of an ancient ridge— its runnel of stone cluttered with the wet trees that hold taut the devastating brown in winter, the state with air cluttered by the noise of more miles of road than any other state, its cities rarefied by steel and freedom— the state of deer hungry and baffled, twisted on its roads, tufted on its fenders, swinging husks on the porches of tight homes crowded on the Susquehanna, the Juniata, the Allegheny— the state where roads of chicory rattle through the weight of August out of the mountains and onto the slow limestone slab that runs to the Chesapeake— the state hollowed out in its wood-dense middle, rusted in a line from Scranton to Monroeville, slag heaps stand sentry over ridges pillaged bald— the state on fire at its core where stories slide into the maw of hell each time another house groans its way into the earth— the state abutting the Great Lakes which feels their force with each gush of winter that rakes over the ridges— the state where mud sings, its telepathy gritty and familiar, its voice a particular shade of its character, given roundness with sweet lime— 208 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Gabriel Welsch

the state of forests that beckon with trails of shadow and distance and great disappearance, tied to its deliberate stretch toward winter, when this state is all smoke and the gray reaches of trees, all darkness and fire, all ash and water and the salt-worn roads that lead all thoughts to home— the state where to talk of soup is to talk of God and Sunday bundling and bazaars through the countryside and gravestones laid over with flags and wax begonias— the state with pierogie sales and funnel cakes and cheesecakes and soft pretzels and the ruddy faces of corpulent railroaders— the state that is everywhere and here, made distinct by its bunched mountains and hidden towns, how it lays demolished under leaves, resting on ground that grows hollow and more hollow year after year, burning and sinking— the state with the prettiest name, a name that is both lie and promise, adjective and mystery, history and fable, one man’s woods. We hear robins in the laurel, semis jake-braking into town, the sudden snap of deer hooves on tomato stakes. And always, highways building and seething with our weight, pushing on limestone, building and building on this softening ground.

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Katharine Whitcomb

Love Letters

Travelers in shoreless countries always write love letters as if they were the first to do so. During the long-syllabled hours of June and July, they write cramped in their tiny penzions, at rain-splotched café tables, on the steps of the cathedral. They write of swallows screaming like children in the purpling air, they write from the middle of the continent that all cities are common in their dailiness. Travelers lean into the learning of practical rituals—currency, tram stops, aperitifs— the way a drunk woman leans against a doorframe to watch the rain, easily, so that soon the motions become habit. The crowds on the subway part to let them in and no one looks up when they speak. Old buildings blacken in the haze of history. Strange groceries relax in their dark shopping bags, their money flutters to rest in many different pockets. So many heads have lain here before that these pillows find no mystery in their particular soft hair. Across the miles every love letter has wind in it, the travelers have to work hard to make the words stick. From this distance, they have to weigh them carefully. Why are they here, each of them, alone? Why do their bodies frighten them, so they refuse comfort again and again? The ocean that separates lover from lover says to be filled you must first make yourself empty, but the travelers are too deep in the ancient city’s heart to hear anything except the hour sounding across the cobbled square.

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Katharine Whitcomb

The words they write, meant to transfigure the past, come out gray as confusion, cursive as smoke in the sun’s last rings of light. The fine and terrible truths of the landlocked float with swans down petal-flecked rivers.

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Rafael Torch

La Villita for Sergio

1.

THE GARCIA BOY is gunned down on a dark street, somewhere in the 2700 block of S. Hamlin, off the beaten path, early morning, a Saturday. La Villita. Somewhere in the dark, the gunman runs out into the deliberate streets just beyond the shadows that are laid down by the neighboring playground, lightless homes, and still barren trees of early spring. His two friends (one, the driver; the other, a passenger) are surrounded by the police in minutes. One Garcia, Rolando (no relation), 16, of the 2500 block of N. Sawyer. One Sanchez, Jose, of the 3000 block of S. Kolin, 20. The blues and reds swirling over the houses, an ominous sign, a usual sign. All’s the same. Nothing’s the same. A dead Mexican in the beaten-up back seat of a cheap car bought with someone else’s savings. They radio it in. This is procedure. Standard Operating Procedure. Canvas the area. Talk to anyone. Knock on doors. The people open and close their doors. Look out the shades, past their dirty curtains holing in the secrets of the hooligans in colors. They are a chorus from a Greek tragedy with their wordless mouths and veiled faces. They know everything. No one knows anything. La Villita. 2. I’M A DEAN at the local Jesuit high school where the Garcia boy attended. My biggest problem is gangs. I’m a 27-year-old Hispanic male, more specifically a Mexican American originally from the neighborhood. I was moved out at a young age due to divorce and the friction between a white mother 212 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Rafael Torch

from New Castle, PA, and a father whose own father was killed in a gun battle somewhere off the maps of Mexico. I’m a 27-year-old male who gangsters flash signs at because I’m bald and fit the description. I am a professional. I move in the world you move in. I wear a shirt and tie. I have an expensive leather case to carry the essentials of my work in: lesson plans, curriculums, and the classics. I have subscribed to the American Dream and the residuals have been fairly lucrative. I live in a nice apartment with an antique tin ceiling in the dining area, a backyard garden that has won prizes in Chicagoland garden competitions, and highly polished hardwood floors. I am no longer at that age where I have to watch my back. I no longer am a kid who is pressured into leaving the city for the summer when the heat comes down. I am no longer a young Mexican with an attitude and something to prove. I used to be. I used to run wild. I used to carouse and cajole and make a general mockery of the “white man’s” world and America.

3. SUNDAY, MARCH 16, 2003—I’m driving down 18th Street to drop off some rental videos at Blockbuster, before noon. The weather has broken. The sun is hot. The streets are jumping. Pilsen is Pilsen again. The fiesta feeling has come back to the neighborhood after a long, hard winter. It’s this fiesta feeling that we, as Mexicans, take in. We get drunk on it. It’s these warm weather fiestas that are the most dangerous. It reminds me of Octavio Paz’s book The Labyrinth of Solitude: “There is nothing so joyous as a Mexican fiesta, but there is nothing so sorrowful.” A fiesta, he says, is also a time for “mourning.” The optimistic Pilsen is present. The nihilistic Pilsen, the Pilsen all the white folks are scared of and lock their doors driving through (me too, being half white) is here as well. There’s a furtive, restive air coming to some critical mass. Maybe it’s always been this way, bordering on violence and pure joy. MAYBE IT’S ALWAYS BEEN HERE in this tiny immigrant community on the near Southwest side of Chicago. Pilsen was once a gateway for peoples of Eastern European descent, the name itself a nod to Bohemia and all things past. It gained a stronghold in the sixties as strictly a Mexican neighborhood. Thousands of immigrants come Crab Orchard Review ◆ 213


Rafael Torch

here to this weigh station of sorts before settling in, for better or worse, into the American Dream and all its dizzying complications and rewards. It is here where half a million people trace their roots back to the motherland of Mexico. It is the most densely populated area in the city, awash with newcomers and old timers, well-oiled Americans still clinging, like it or not, to their mexicanidad. THREE OR FOUR CARS DEEP, I’m at a light. My window is rolled down. Something good is on the radio. It’s loud. I’m happy to be out of the house early, while the sun bakes my community and the people come out into it. “Hey, vato. ¿Que pasa?” I hear from my right. I stare straight ahead and that familiar pain comes to me. Deep in the stomach it starts. It’s controlling. Somehow I’m guilty. I’m a member of the rival gang. I know it. Deep inside, I’m a King, a Disciple, a Vicelord, a Two Six Boy, an Ambrose. In my mind, I wear the Pitchfork. I paint inverted pitchforks over upright pitchforks. I write on the walls of the stalls in public bathrooms—King Love. The same act I expel kids for I metaphorically produce and envision for myself. I am a six-pointed crown. It all comes back to me. I’m guilty. “Hey, vato!” I feel sick. I say to myself, Don’t look to your right. Don’t look. I look over and two guys are staring at me. One has a beer can in his hand and his head is shaved. The other is tall and sharp. The beer-can man is short and ferocious. They are middleweights. They are fierce. They are a vanguard. Together a battalion of hate, purged, out because the sun is hot and the beer is flowing and it’s Sunday. “¿Que necesitas, homes?” the short, ferocious one says. The other reaches behind him underneath his shirt, tucked into his pants, something worthwhile, violent. The short, ferocious one throws a cold, incoherent symbol into the air. Yet everyone around me knows what this means. I look in the rearview and the woman in the car behind me rolls up her window and looks for a way out before the bullets begin to fly. Nearby, people on the street wrangle for places out of sight, out of mind. I say, out my window, into the magical tragedy that is 18th Street, “Just passing through.” Ironically, I can get by because I don’t speak Spanish. I can get by because there isn’t violence in my actions, my movements. I’m more 214 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Rafael Torch

North American, Anglo-Saxon, in my subtlety. I hate myself. I want to rub the white out of me with a scouring pad. Knowing no Spanish has saved my life once or twice. I want to pour more of that guero (white, literally translated, blondie) into me. I think they think I am an undercover. I’m a strange entity to them, one they cannot figure out. I’m an alien, a foreign object in a neighborhood full of people that look like me, that have the same blood coursing through their veins. I’m a six-pointed crown. My adversary says, backing up with his hands in the air, “Cool, ese. Cool.” There’s a certain amount of wisdom in his words. He has no idea who I am. Does he take a shot? Does he risk it or go back into the shadows of the sunny day, take a sip of Tecate and roll on with his homies? Does he take that shot? The tall, sharp one moves him backward onto the sidewalk, him and his mean cloudy eyes and tough cowboy posture, some ancient pose made for all the right and wrong reasons.

4. THE GURNEY IS ROLLED OUT of a misshapen ambulance, indifferent, an inferno of sorts with all the red lights and wires, medical boxes of noise. The Garcia boy sits slumped in the back seat of the Chevy 4-door crime scene. Bleeding and slackjawed. A curious bull’s-eye. Shot in the lungs. Shot in the head. Blood in the backseat, the boy dangerous and a plain message to someone or another in some other hood or gang. Eyes are closed. White sheets are draped over the boy, now a corpse. Cold and somehow deserted. Though he sat in my 2nd period American Literature class for five months, he’s as mysterious to me now as ever before. Somewhere in the dark he must have resembled somebody important to the Latin Kings. Then again, maybe it wasn’t a terrible mishap, a joke, a case of mistaken identity. Maybe the Garcia boy was for real, a made man, a Two Six (the gang that is named for the street which they haunt, 26th Street, a chaotic and wondrous place). Maybe, for the Garcia boy, this was always going to happen. It wasn’t about how it was going to happen, it was only a matter of time.

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Rafael Torch

5. THERE ARE SOME OF US, his teachers, who think that it is impossible for the Garcia boy to be a made man, like his brother. You couldn’t script it this well. Hollywood doesn’t have a handle. You couldn’t ask Shakespeare or John Singleton of Boyz N the Hood fame to give the City of Chicago a better tragedy, one that goes unnoticed, one that never makes the headlines. He was a made man, the Garcia boy. Or maybe he was a case of mistaken identity. But being from the neighborhood, I think it was a little of both. For all of us young Mexican-American males, it’s a little bit of both. We are a generation of mistaken identities and made men.

6. AS HIS ENGLISH TEACHER, I can’t help but think of the last lines from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men,” the lesson he never got, the lesson his peers will get, despite his empty seat. This is the way the world ends This is the way the world ends This is the way the worlds ends Not with a bang but with a whimper. I wonder what he would have thought of that. He was quite a student, an average student on paper, but in the abstract, a terrific mind. His test scores—1300 SAT—indicated a mind we would defend as educators. The kid didn’t study. He was one of those kids I would have been jealous of back in the day. He was the kid who screwed off in class, but when the teacher asked the real important questions like “What’s the nature of Twain’s humor?” or “Why is Moby Dick white?” or “Why?” he would pipe up with some crazy fucking answer that would guide the class back from mystery and near defeat to being a band of intellectual warriors, war-painted with sharpened spears aimed at the chest plate of truth. The Garcia boy was a tall, lanky kid who was terribly awkward in his body. Something wanted to get out. He always leaned back in his chair, to the edge of some oblivion, almost falling but obviously being careful to avoid not falling. His bony, sick knees would scrape 216 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Rafael Torch

the edge of the desk and from there he would wrangle an answer about Emerson. From there, near oblivion, he would wax poetic. I forget what he looks like nowadays. Sometimes I force myself to remember that silly little face, all childhood and naiveté: a dab of grownup somewhere around those high cheekbones and heavy eyes, bored and musical. I can’t forget his mind. I CAN’T FORGET THE TRIP I took the class on to the Art Institute of Chicago where they spent a good part of the day wandering around taking in examples of Romanticism, and later, the great chaos of Rothko, Pollack, and Picasso (purely because they need to witness such canonical heartbreakers). The Garcia boy was enamored by the lonely, broken down men and women of Winslow Homer, the hard, steel cowboy sculptures of Remington (a nod to the Mexico we all knew somewhere in the back of our minds, no matter how long we had lived here), and the great ferocity of the alien, abstract Rothko canvases that vibrate and hum like a Coltrane solo. He searched them out and stood staring at them, head tilted to the side, reading every inch, moving in closer, zeroing in to the coarse texture of the paint against the old canvases, measuring the artists’ worth stroke for stroke. He was holding the hand of a girl in class, both of them laughing and oddly in love in the art museum, they themselves a work of art, carrying on in the most innocent of ways, a laugh here, a smile there, a quick kiss behind an Edward Hopper, the artist whom he said, “touched him.” At American Gothic, they stood together shoulder-to-shoulder taking in that entire Midwestern, white Puritan ethic and tried it out for size. They said, “Mr. Torch, look.” I turned to see them act out the Grant Wood painting. What made me laugh as hard as I did was that it was two MexicanAmerican kids standing there with their whole lives in front of them, at stark opposites to the people in the painting: The Garcia boy and Tristeza, hand in hand, the complete symbol of the new American West, always defining itself again for the first time. Little did I know that their American West would play itself out on some dark street in La Villita a few weeks from that moment. A more appropriate painting would be just a woman standing before a bare, beatdown house, to the left a glaring void where there should be a husband.

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7. T HE G ARCIA BOY ONCE WROTE , in a Write-A-Poem-Using-Emily Dickinson-Themes assignment days before his death: As if it were measured out perfect, step by step, piece by piece like blueprint, all planned out Death unfolds. I got around to grading these poems after the funeral and had almost forgotten he was even in my class until I read these first few lines that left me blank and laughing almost. I wanted to dig him up and pull him in by the shirt collar and make him look at his poem. I wanted to ask him a serious question, only one: “How do you know such things, you little, little boy?” He knew he was going to die. Maybe he dreamt it or saw it in the way the winter sky moved over Chicago, embracing a new joyous sky, a sky of spring and warmth, and with it guns, drugs, and mindless cruising up and down 26th Street, looking for that one guy who looks at him and his homies the wrong way. It is this sort of prophetic timing and plugged-in-to-larger-ideas that made him a shoe-in for a literary redemption of sorts. It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s total and truthful. What else is there?

8. THE GARCIA BOY WAS PRONOUNCED DEAD at Mount Sinai by a Doctor Macasasart at 0222 hrs and then the long journey to now began.

9. THE GARCIA BOY WROTE in the poem he handed in before his death: Sudden, yet without a sound to so many beautiful things, the end slowly coming Death unfolds.

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10. MARCH 21, 2003—Friday, 26 hours before the Garcia boy is fatally wounded. According to an article published in the Chicago Tribune, March 24, 2003 (a day after Garcia is gunned down), there have been three shootings this weekend. One man, unidentified, at midnight, was shot at 31st and Pulaski. On Friday morning, another man is killed at 23rd and Trumbull Avenue. A month earlier a man is killed at 27th and Pulaski. On the Southside, the same morning Garcia is shot to death, two men are killed and two are critically wounded. Gunmen shot at them during a car chase. The surnames of the two fatally shot are Spanish. It has been confirmed that on March 22nd and 23rd, the opening hours of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 15 soldiers died in combat, not by friendly fire but KIA—only a sobering seven more than the southwest side of Chicago.

11. IT HAS COME TO MY ATTENTION that the Garcia boy was involved. I have learned that he was Two Six. He was, according to el chisme, gossip floating through the air in the neighborhood, as everybody knew, a gangero. Has this changed your opinion of him? Should it? Does it matter? This might explain why he was in the wrong neighborhood— something the kids are conscious about all the time—at two in the morning. Was he just passing through? Do I look at this differently? Was I betrayed by a kid? Am I as naïve as I think I may be? MONTHS BEFORE THE GARCIA BOY’S DEATH, I called him into my office to talk with him about his grades (they weren’t terrible, just not great). We talked informally about what his plans for the future were. The future in this case was, “What are you doing over the summer?” I had this feeling deep down inside that we had to get him through the summer months. If we could get him out of the neighborhood, he would be fine. This is the prime age, 16 and 17, where the Crab Orchard Review ◆ 219


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proverbial shit hits the fan. I had a deep sense that something tragic was going to happen to him. I recommended him for a summer program at the College of William and Mary. It was going to be a three-week, intensive study program learning about the earliest social communities of American History. He would have loved it. I showed him the information and his face lit up. He was a bit turned off though by the pictures, but something intrigued him about all those happy white faces and drummers and fife players of Colonial Williamsburg. He said, “They’re all white.” He tried to mask the deep sense of awe—not at the white kids—but the idea of being away from other Mexicans would be odd and possibly unnerving. He smiled. “Yes,” I said. “They are. They’re white. They don’t bite though.” He laughed. I laughed. He continued to stare at the pictures. His eyes grazed the glossy surfaces. White kids hold old, pre-Betsy Ross flags, dressed in the rigid black and white of the ferocious Salem he read about in The Crucible only months earlier, terrifyingly the only representation of white folks, for him, in early America. “They look like the characters in that Miller book,” he said. “Weird. Is everyone like that?” “What do you mean?” “Are all white people like this?” “There they are. They hire people, normal people, actors, who do this as their jobs. They present a real life account of life in the colonial days of America,” I told him. White kids doing minuets. White kids visiting Monticello. Someone dressed like Ben Franklin. White Folks! White kids boarding replicas of the ships brought from Britain. White kids laughing in the stocks. White folks eating Carolina Fish Muddle. “Would I have to do this? I mean, there weren’t even Mexicans then, there at least.” “No there weren’t. And no you don’t dress up like whites, or colonial people. You study. You study them. You study it.” Catching the irony he said, “It’s about time.” I knew, still, that somewhere inside him he thought that this might mean, if he went there, he would mysteriously and abruptly become white like all the teenagers lighting gas lanterns along the dirt roads of Williamsburg or the white kids stamping down hot iron ore, making tools, devising methods to mold iron into a certain 220 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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utility. I should have told him he would have added a little sabor, flavor. He told me over and over again he wanted to go. But he was fooling me. I know it. He was really good at giving party lines. He grew up having to give them to parents and police, other gangbangers in the hood. A born liar he was. He was a shoe-in for a history summer program at the ultimate amusement park of irony, Colonial Williamsburg. There were hints and rumors swirling about that his brother was involved. Over the pictures and program descriptions set out in black and white, over the grand pullout picture of a white girl jubilantly holding on to the ropes of sails of a colonial schooner in Chesapeake Bay, I asked him, “Is your brother involved?” He smiled shyly. He looked off. I looked for violent traces somewhere in the eyes. I wondered what this one hundred and ten pound (max) little boy could do to anyone. He couldn’t jack up some rogue on the corners of 26th Street. The kid could barely stand it if I told him to shut up in class if he was talking too much. I looked for any sort of tense muscle under all that sinew and bone of his forearms and long, strange hands similar to mine, innocent and writerly, vaguely feminine. I looked for bruises or any tell-tale mark on his neck that would reek of promiscuity or “walking the line” (gang lingo for initiates who attempt to walk through a line of their “new brothers” who violently beat them into the gang for 30 seconds). I looked for anything that would point to the rituals of urban hoods and their second families, clueless neighborhoods. I told him about my family because this is what we try to do nowadays in education—connect on personal levels with kids. I don’t know about this anymore. He is in a grave in some cemetery outside the city with a gravestone the parents could not afford. He remained vague about his brother, something like, “Well, you know, Mr. Torch.” And he shook his head from side to side, alluding to the truth, alluding to nothing whatsoever except pulling at the taut strings that made my anger dance. I told him about protection that day, using rubbers. I told him he better be careful with sex and drugs and with the violence of each act that he was not able to comprehend as a teenage boy on the cusp of adulthood. I was so stupidly vague and dumb and predictable. I was a Michelle Pfeiffer movie with a moral about urban youth and their resiliency. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 221


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He told me, “I know. I know.” He shrugged me off and all that hard evidence that was there, right there, in my eyes staring at him if he just looked at me seriously for one moment in the eye, deeply and without shame. He would have seen it: pregnant girlfriends (the subsequent abortions), drunken stupidity, the cocaine, the heroin of my past, the fist fights, the guns, the tears of my mother, my dirty fingernails, the ruined and forlorn jail cells I learned the hard way in, the helplessness of true despair, the agony of addiction and the cold-weather nights wandering around the streets of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cleveland and Chicago not knowing when I would get another f ix, my bones like glass, my mind a nail across a chalkboard. If he would have just taken the time, I could have given him a little bit of all that misery he seemed to be so hard-up about. We could have moved past all the stupid innuendos of history and the uncomfortable formalities of personal revelation. I should have given him the hard options. I should have closed the booklet right then and there and grabbed him by the chin and made him look me in the eyes. I should have pulled rank and told him the bare bone facts. “Jail or death, kid,” is what I should have said, my hand gripping his chin with a decent amount of force (nothing else was working, contrary to the popular opinion of many of my colleagues). I should have said it to him, man to man, eye to eye, no tricks or corny “new-wave educational techniques” we learn in faculty meetings or conferences. The connection should have had me saying, “Listen, kid, if you don’t get out, if you don’t make a conscious decision to walk away, to take this stuff, your life, seriously, you will be locked up. You will die.”

12. THE GARCIA poem:

BOY WROTE

in the fourth stanza of his Dickinsonesque

Fearless evil in the night Never still, always dancing rhythmically to a mysterious melody And never, a single insight, to what its plan could be Death unfolds.

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13. THERE IS AN ALLEY OUTSIDE THE SCHOOL that at least four or five classrooms face, 1st and 2nd floor. During the day the shades are open to it. One day, while I was talking with two colleagues about the Garcia boy, I looked outside into the sunlight and the alley and saw two guys, not much older than 20 years old. They were leaning hard over the railings of their back porch. They were unshaven and shirtless, their young chests sculpted, tattooed and proud. From their view they could see us. Symbols erupt into the air. Hands make pitchforks. It’s fairly obvious who it’s aimed at. It’s a lazy gesture almost, like a dog sniffing another dog’s urine or behind. It’s a measure of who I am to them. The gesture is aimed at me, Dean of Students and English teacher, and it’s as stinging and revelatory as anything I have seen in the days since the Garcia boy passed. “Did you see that?” I asked still staring up into the light, towards their faces and rank symbols, being defiant almost because someone, Dear God, needs to be. “Yeah,” said Mr. —. “I wonder what they do to my kids during class.” He was awe-stricken and rocked. I told a police officer about it later in that day and he told me to call the police every time it happens. I said, “Call for what, throwing gang signs?” He said, “No. Tell dispatch they’re selling drugs. That’ll get a unit over there quick. Enough calls and they label it a ‘hot spot.’” The alley outside the school.

14. AND THE GARCIA BOY BRINGS ME HERE to this place I no longer thought I would have to go, writing eulogies and prayers for the dead—dead friends, dead homies, dead everything. Some days I ride along and blast 50 Cent. I know I have this manuscript sitting at home. I know I have a great job, and I know I have a great girlfriend who is afraid I will die by some stray gang bullet or the hands of bangers who’ve mistaken me for someone else, but I say fuck it. I blast the music and roll slowly down 19th Street. I cruise heavy and despairingly up 18th Street, cut over to Crab Orchard Review ◆ 223


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Loomis. I pass alleyways and gangways, garbage cans and cheap thrill bums. The bass pounds above my ears, through my reality, and there’s really nowhere to go, but I go. The Garcia boy is an urban myth now, one of those sad stories to add to the repertoire of sad American communities at the edge of the 21st century. I see long cold cinematic shots of the dangerous remnants of buildings and broken glass and hungry murderers and hunted prey that resemble people. The Garcia boy and the music give me images of empty, half-torn-down buildings like the ones that line Roosevelt, near Blue Island, and those on North Halsted, near Division, near busted, rotted-out, steel rust bridges creaking in the ferocious summer wind sweeping up all the dust and settling it skimming across the top of the Chicago River. Reality sets in and the wrecking ball waits for no one. I see empty warehouses, boarded-up homes, and gutted lots where yards used to define themselves. I see desolate stretches of factories sending sulfur into the air and making the sky go black, whichever way the wind blows. At the edges of mi barrio, I see sterile hands meet other abortive hands at blank corners, crack cocaine in balloons the point of handshakes and greetings in a world gone idle. Over on Roosevelt, at the edges of mi barrio, I watch a whole generation of miscarried men and women just barely functioning in and out of lanes of traffic, washing windshields with dirty rags, panhandling, and looking for quick fixes from fallow dealers in stolen cars following the parched American Dreams that have, at least on this side of town, gone dreadfully wrong. I see the profitless, almost impotent, faces of men and women lining the dull landscape of Chicago, at save-me-save-me-oh-lord-save-me CTA stops along all the major avenues, at the feet of the rising glass homes and office buildings at the city’s center where stones are thrown daily. I sing into the faint joyous dusk of Pilsen, wild and soft pinks and purples on this Western horizon, past the railyards and burnedout tortillerias, busted homes and bombed-out cars, I sing, hard as fuck and defiant, past cop cars and the menacing barbed-wire stone walls of Cook County Jail. I sing despite the faint, sickening smell of chicharrones and past all the paleta carts ringing emptily in a strangled Chicago summer afternoon, past the elote men and women selling sick corn and bastard mangoes with hot sauce and chili powder. I sing. I sing as I slow up to a group of cholos who turn to stare at me. Their guns are drawn and I sing to them, straight to them. Somewhere in the distance, like always, I can make out the faint, 224 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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vain pops of Glocks, somewhere over the worn-out, sun-soaked rooftops of La Villita. Somewhere in the distance you can hear a weeping woman, La Llorona of the new age, the mythical mother who sacrificed her kids and spent eternity exiled from real time by the gods, searching and searching for her children. Somewhere in the distance all the myths come true and some jacked-up baller thinks he’s hard ’cause he just smoked somebody. Past weeping women, past all the little myths of my ancient bloodlines and my new American future, always ahead of me in the way of catastrophic sunsets and world-weary billboards, I chant slowly at first, but steadily, the real chorus of my hood: Viva! Viva! Hijos de la chingada! Viva! Viva! Hijos de la chingada! Viva! Viva! Hijos de la chingada! Que Viva? Viva, los hijos de la chingada. Pure and simple, ese.

15. I SEARCH FOR ANSWERS. I search for stories, something to make sense. His identity has moved past the rambunctious smile and the deep, bony laugh that irritated me more than let me in on his private jokes, his sarcasm, and fierce wit. His identity has become a hodgepodge of eschatological wisdom, stupid stories we teachers tell, and company for lonely driving sessions down the Dan Ryan through the dizzying Chicago night, pulsing and reckless in all its neon and skyscrapers. His identity becomes more than his face, it becomes that lame attempt at memory and ceremony that hangs on the walls of the school’s second floor art room where he has become a mode of symbolism and gross thematic exercises involving paint and watercolor. Every time I pass it I want to either weep or spit at it. Because all of it’s fake and all of it’s hopeless. And then some days, I say hello under my breath as I walk back to my office midday and the sun is shining through the long, clean windows overlooking an alley facing Cermak because he, I have just learned, was invited to apply for early admissions at Georgetown. His mother wants to know what this means even though he is dead and buried. Someone, another teacher, tries to make her understand that Georgetown, an elite Jesuit school in the United States, invited him to apply for entrance into its academic world of theory and safety, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 225


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ivy-covered granite buildings that rise into the sky scratching God’s kingdom with their spires, these spires the metaphoric minds of our greatest intellects. The mother always weeps and weeps and the father asks how could have this happened. These are how these things go now. He goes on and on in broken English, “I come here from Mexico. I come here for una buena vida and mi’jo. Mi hijo. Who would do this?” SAM, THE CHEMISTRY TEACHER, stopped me one day during lunch. “You would enjoy this,” he said. I was curious. I fiddled around with a bunsen burner. I turned on and off the gas as he began the story. As it turns out, it was one of those stories that defined the Garcia boy for me and for Sam. He told me that the Garcia boy had come up to him one day after class and told him he knew why he had the class do all those experiments. Sam replied, “Oh, yeah?” The Garcia boy said, “Yeah. I know why you make us mix all those chemicals together.” And Sam said, “Ok, tell me.” And the Garcia boy told him, “Because you want us to see all the beautiful colors they can make.” It’s a very left-brain thing to say. Yet, we rarely, as educators, have students come up to us and tell us why they think they are learning X and Y. Some teachers might take it as an affront to them, their lesson plans, and their intellects. Yet Sam was floored, ecstatic, and entranced. I was numb when I heard it. It made me sink into that despair I had the days following the shooting. The Garcia boy saw the wonder that the class was allowing him to witness, the wonder of creation. His statement allowed one teacher to see he was thinking about the method of the class. The Garcia boy, whether he knew it or not, was an active participant in his own education. He is what the Jesuits wanted, someone who will see their education as a way to get closer to witnessing that higher being, that living freaky organism that is bigger than us. I’m convinced he thought about all of this riding the bus, or loping self-consciously around the neighborhood, stoned and paranoid, gun battles still rhyming and rolling around in his head. “What the hell is Mr. Finnegan’s chemistry class about?” he might have said to himself. The Garcia boy wasn’t doing very well in that class, he was failing, but the active thinking that was happening 226 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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was superior to anyone in his class. On paper, he was average, oftentimes riding the fence between passing and failing. Intellectually, in the abstract, he was superior. A warrior. An enigma. We all thought he was a wonder boy, one of those kids that will—with a little guidance—throw off the ferocity and tumult of the street and become something. Funny, if you think about it, what does that mean—Something? Become what? Something? Something what? Other than this. What? Dead. “Maybe a historian,” one of my colleagues would have said before all of this happened and changed our lives as teachers, as parents, as people working and trying to breathe what little life we have into a community that is so optimistic, but seemingly on death’s doorstep. I was holding out for a literary guru of sorts. Maybe a poet. The next Eliot. Or the Mexican-American Denis Johnson. He felt the tinge of despair that was wrapped up in the lives of his friends. Every time I hear the strange refrain of our young Mexican-American lives, pop-pop-pop, or see pre-adolescent Chicano boys taking to the streets armed with vulgarity and suspicion, I get a little more cynical about it all, about the outcome of this immigrant neighborhood “so far from God.”

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Book Reviews

Daugherty, Tracy. Five Shades of Shadow. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2003. 286 pages. $27.95. Though nearly every essay in Five Shades of Shadow is a personal narrative, to call the collection “a memoir” would be misleading. Tracy Daugherty writes about his life—his family, his politics, his love of literature and country music, his migration from Oklahoma to Texas to Oregon—but in every piece his chief concerns are the political, geographical, and cultural forces that have created this country. And so the story of America is told through the history of a man. Like so many Oklahomans before him, work takes Daugherty west. At one end of the road lie his roots—Okie roots, working-class roots that he believes shaped his sensibility—and at the other, a comfortable professorship, a divorce, a heart attack, and a profound sense of displacement that is worsened by the Oklahoma City bombing. In a strangely sweet and masochistic way, Daugherty assumes the guilt of the nation. He attends a Day of the Dead ceremony with migrant workers. He cruises dilapidated Portland neighborhoods and imagines his ancestors, the Okies, once living in such squalor and discrimination. He visits Nicaragua and Yemen and reports on anti-American sentiment. He never experienced Vietnam or the Dust Bowl or the Oklahoma City bombing—except as a spectator. Preparing for a trip to view the devastated remains of Murrah, he thinks of all the comments he’s read on the Net: “None of these travelers, nor I, had tasted the grit of buckled concrete in his mouth; none of them bled from her ears, struggled to free a trapped leg, or watched his own hand fly, severed and on its own, across a street.” His own life is apparently too light for him; he would prefer to take on the weight of the aftermath of thousands of pounds of explosives, and by doing so, is overwhelmed by a crippling depression that ultimately ends his marriage. The book is a search for identity—personal and American—a point of view from which Daugherty, and his reader, might find orientation “in a disorienting world.” He glances “back in order to look ahead more clearly” and in his exhaustive search for meaning travels from the oil fields of Texas to the migrant camps of Oregon, to Ruby Ridge 228 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Book Reviews

to Waco to Murrah. And though he struggles with answers, his intentions are clear: “My relationship to crafted language, then, is rooted in the tradition of American oratory. The sermon. The soapbox speech. The call to arms.” Indeed, when it comes to his writing, the line between politics and art is a hazy one. For this same approach many critics slammed Steinbeck—from whose work Daugherty quotes extensively— and as a defense he claims “aesthetics and ethics [are] inseparable.” Individually, these essays are beautifully crafted and powerful, but when you crowd them all under one roof, topics are revisited to the point of feeling redundant. Toward the end the reader may grow weary of Daugherty pondering the Oklahoma City bombing while yet another metaphorically convenient Merle Haggard song warbles from a pickup radio. I also got the sense that he wanted me to think of him as an intellectual, sure, but in an I-came-from-the-same-dirt-as-the-Joads sort of way. Which is hard. When an academic shouts from his ivory tower about how deeply he connects with the disenfranchised among us, I can’t help but raise my eyebrows. But these are small complaints, and Five Shades of Shadow is a strong collection of passionate, humorous, tragic, and ultimately hopeful essays, a country song writ large. —Reviewed by Benjamin Percy

Gutkind, Lee. Forever Fat: Essays by the Godfather. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2003. 177 pages. $26.95. The essays collected in Lee Gutkind’s Forever Fat: Essays by the Godfather deal largely with the search for and understanding of identity. As the title suggests, the author’s journey of self-identity goes from his childhood as an overweight Jewish kid with low expectations to his present status as the relatively self-taught “Godfather” of creative nonfiction. Throughout these essays, Gutkind offers his readers some very intimate glimpses into his life that are in turn quite funny and quite dark, yet always identifiably human moments. Besides looking at his own self-identity, Gutkind uses these essays as an opportunity to clarify the identity of creative nonfiction. In the book’s introduction, “Becoming the Godfather,” he explains the source of his “Godfather” status as a springboard to explain his often-misunderstood genre of practice. His unofficial title comes from a Vanity Fair article that berates creative nonfiction and dubs Crab Orchard Review ◆ 229


Book Reviews

Gutkind its “Godfather.” Gutkind embraces this identification, subsequently praising several authors and innovators of creative nonfiction (John McPhee, Annie Dillard, Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, etc.) who have helped solidify the genre. Near the end of the introduction, Gutkind offers us his idea of “the essence and the meaning of creative nonfiction”: …the ability to capture the personal and the private and to make it mean something significant to a larger audience and to provide intellectual substance that will affect readers—perhaps even incite them to action or to change their thinking—in a compelling and unforgettable way. Several of the essays, from those about his childhood to those of his adulthood, deal to some degree with his physically and psychologically abusive father. The most direct of these, “A History of My Father,” looks at some of the details of his father’s younger days in an attempt to figure out how he became the hostile father the author came to know, a father who hit him, threatened him, even locked him in the basement of their family shoe store. The greatest result of his father’s abuse, though, is Gutkind’s resolve to be a completely different father himself. While it is obvious that he does become a more loving father to his own son, we do get a glimpse of his own fatherly mistakes in essays such as “Low-Clearance Story,” where the author realizes that the intense drive that is an asset to his career is not always so useful in his relationship with his son. Other essays find Gutkind identifying with relative strangers. In “Clarity,” he ends up spending an evening in a hotel lobby bar during a blackout with a woman who wants to refer to him as Angelo. “Desperately Seeking Irene” takes the author on a cross country trip to spend an entire day with a woman with whom he had apparently had a close relationship, but, despite his efforts, he can not recall. Throughout his lifelong journey, from his stint with a group called Judo and Karate for Christ to his realization that his therapist was a junior high school classmate who caused him personal torment, Gutkind constantly considers how what he does will affect who he will become. He finds in his essays that the search for identity is an endless task, and one that is enriching and rewarding for both himself and for his readers. —Reviewed by Mark Vannier 230 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Book Reviews

Campbell, Mary Baine. Trouble. Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2003. 64 pages. $12.95. With fiery relish for the ordinary and pragmatism for the transcendental, Mary Baine Campbell gives us her latest collection of poems, Trouble. In topical and timeless pursuits, Campbell’s meditations explore a range from Michael Jackson to eternity. Her attention finds meaning in the smallest detail and she turns traditional poetic subject matter into a modern problem to reconsider. In “The Wound in the Persian Miniature,” a poem which might remind readers of poets’ fascination with the timelessness of art, Campbell focuses on a painted wound which she sees as “a gash in heaven,” where: the sun slices The skin at the horizon line And slips through on a slur Of bloody cloud.… And a later poem in the first section of the book, “To Autumn,” starts by rejecting the poeticization of nature, while the speaker sits: As the saying goes, by the window— Looking for the dirty bits in The Best American Poetry, 1994 I am indolent, in a writerly way, Having been up late last night, trying To understand The Golden Book Astronomy,… With its conscious evocation of Keats’s poem, Campbell’s “To Autumn” finds its meditative home in an image recalled from popular culture: Sometimes a window is just a window. As always, I want something more. Like the fist that shatters it Over and over In Terminator And Terminator II.… Ultimately, she rejects the self as pristine monument, taking a wonderfully messy view of experience. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 231


Book Reviews

Love and war intertwine throughout, and merge in the title poem, a three-part sequence linking romance and cataclysm. The first section, “The Kiss” delivers us to a dark hill, where the speaker chills in the aftermath of another man, reading “the diary / Of the woman he really loved.” In her dream landscape, we find ourselves ready to follow her advice, overwhelming the fear of untrustworthy lovers: “go and get kissed again.” Her passion emanates from fleeting encounters, where the kiss is all, and offers “the tongue of an angel” in a human vessel. In the next section, “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” she prepares for “the war of all / Against all,” facing a nameless apocalypse where starvation competes with yearning for mastery of the embattled self. In a marvellous turn reminiscent of Bishop’s “The Art of Losing,” she breaks the courageous, steady pace of the poem in the last lines, letting the unbreachable mask slip: …I forget what else I packed. Only what I needed Out of all this, only what I had To have. No land, no money. You Were halfway across the end Of the world; did I pack A photograph? What did I do? The only war that remains here is hers, continued in the third section, “Trouble,”set in a forest “So beautiful we lost our minds.” Gritty preparations, the bold assertions on the transience of romance, the tallying of supremely concrete supplies, all bolster the speaker to escape, with the parting wisdom that “…It’s hard / To reach safety, or even to be on the way.” Every war yields dreams, and that, in itself, is a victory. Campbell’s narrator wins more, embracing transient experience. In this setting, references to pop culture deliver both the depth that so many poets mine myths for and the down-to-earth, gritty philosophy of editorials and cartoon characters. While no single view of the world couches all of the poems, one finds a consistent voice, both intensely sure and sensually lyrical, and its owner emerges as equally grounded in both the now and the timelessness of seasons, where troubles come repeatedly, and never mean doom except for the sweetest kind. —Reviewed by Chad Parmenter 232 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Book Reviews

Cummins, Deborah. Beyond the Reach. Kansas City, MO: BkMk Press, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 2002. 82 pages. $13.95. “Reach, noun: a continuous stretch or expanse (as of water); an individual part of a progression or journey; a reachable distance; extent of knowledge or comprehension.” This is the definition of “reach,” according to Webster’s Universal Encyclopedic Dictionary. According to Deborah Cummins, the definition could be expanded to encompass truth, the honesty of power, certainly passage and the subtlety of intersection. Who’s to say what exactly Cummins means to convey through her title? It could be merely the situational application of this beautiful noun in the final lines of her book’s concluding poem, “Salt Marsh”: And out on the reach, where intersecting sea and sky appear as a seamless spill, the lighthouse, vigilant guardian, keeps careful watch. In fog, in steely mist, its blinking beacon warns against, or, like the stars, the moon, beckons. But even here, “reach” implies more than its nautical utility. The book’s many themes are hinted at: wisdom in nature; unique personifications; spiritual questioning; the processes of death, of endings; the dogged will to hold courage up against fear. Cummins’s first book is an abundant pleasure for the reader. It is warm, accessible—the sort of collection that could be read cover to cover, beside a fireplace in an oversized leather armchair. Her narratives are clear and intriguing, keeping a reader’s curiosity level high, and are interspersed with her philosophical questioning—ideas that sneak up on the reader, that are never forced or trite. And there is play, as in “My Mind’s Eye Opens Before the Light Gets Up,” in which Cummins describes calculations that run through her head as she lies awake, before rising—thinking of finances, of dinner guests, of pounds to lose, of men not married—and ends with this loveliness: “Soon now, the sun will report the morning’s weather // I have no say in. With another day, / another chance to balance the books, only a fool wouldn’t be // grateful beyond measure.” “[T]he sun will report the morning’s weather…”: Such refreshing personifications characterize the work throughout this Crab Orchard Review ◆ 233


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volume, and they ring true, powerful. Cummins sees a subconscious yet solid reality everywhere she looks and deftly, humbly transports all of this to the reader. Her occasional explorations of powerlessness end not in the lack of power at all, even if the literal words on the page seem to stay there, as in “What the Body Remembers”; something is transformed along the way, simultaneously into art and into the power of will. Her poetry is capable of addressing weighty, secretive issues with believable directness, issues such as a marital affair, which colors more than one poem here; the domestic violence next door, as in “Punching the Air”; and her lack of jealousy over her sister’s motherhood, in “By Choice.” Even the poems that seem focused on natural phenomenon travel to realms that are indefinable. The passing of seasons—nostalgia tinged with hope—and her half-year home on an island are recurring themes. She trusts the philosophical dimension of the untamed, as in her observation of a wave and its journey in “From a Dune Above Herring Cove Beach,” which culminates in the realization: “How, at the final moments, / it tried to take everything with it / in that raking hiss, that yes, yes / of shells, stones sucked from their sockets.” In the preceding poem, “Just When,” she describes her own reluctant journey away from the island every fall, offering a respectful nod toward “the locals” who, after the caravan of cars leaves behind emptiness, breathe a sigh of relief and prepare themselves to brave winters that she could not. These two poems are part of her final section, titled “Meanwhile,” which contains most of her nature-based poems. The middle section, “Relics,” often explores spiritual and family themes, including the most painful of moments. The opening section of the book, “Passage,” includes poems set in hospital rooms and other places of passage, ending, death. In “Mercy,” she interweaves her father’s helplessness with his earlier explanations, to the little girl she was, of why a horse needed to be shot after breaking its leg. She writes: The horse thudded to the ground like a felled tree and slowly thrashed. An image it’s taken years for me to comprehend— those legs never again had to bear the weight of being strong. Cummins, the woman, the poet, fearlessly and intuitively takes on all that weight. Her poems resound with integrity, with clarity, 234 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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and above all with humble, understated courage. She speaks of fear but does not stay in that place, which may help explain why her work is satisfying and approachable. —Reviewed by Teresa Joy Kramer

Guest, Paul. The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World. Kalamazoo, MI: New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2003. 94 pages. $14.00. In his debut collection, The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World, Paul Guest’s lyrical elegance acts as guide to bowling alleys, Jimmy Swaggart, Foghorn Leghorn, Ovid, Love, the Greyhound Bus Origin Museum, Pinocchio, the Muses, Georgia, and countless, surprising others. The irony flooding Guest’s book begins with the title and does not relinquish until the final page. What is absolutely essential to this work is its dichotomy—its ability and achievement in examining the complex emotions of a childhood accident and a life through an immense trove of humor and knowledge and experience. The first section of the book introduces its wide swath of subjects, and also establishes the few details of Guest’s childhood injury—getting hit by a car while riding his bicycle at age 12—that turned him into a paraplegic, most notably in “On the Persistence of the Letter as a Form.” In “Litany,” one of the book’s most narrative poems, which begins with doctors stinging him with wasp and horsefly stingers, when “[he] watched it slide in / and marveled that nothing in me // noticed.” The author is in the hospital, “curs[ing] / the death of nerves // by [his] own stupid luck and life,” after his accident, dealing with his injuries and paralysis and the knowledge that “the medicine, / Heparin, that slowly took / in the thinning muscle of my trunk // was the same as rat poison,” and he was given “Blood-thinner, / they called it // to prevent deep-vein thrombosis, / a clot in the legs / that might travel upriver // to the heart or brain.” “Litany” is one of the very few poems wholly about his childhood accident: Slack and foreign, we feigned what we could not feel. In love with pain, we reported when it bloomed like an orchid, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 235


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calling each to each the litany of the broken: I hurt here. Thus begins one of the central ironies in the book. Paul Guest was paralyzed in a chance meeting with luck and disaster, but he does not squander his poems complaining about his accident: he embraces life’s offerings along with its ever-present problems. The second section, “The Endless Path of Crumbs,” is the strongest in the book. Guest’s immense range of topics combines with humor ironic or self-deprecating, as well as a few bizarrely dazzling persona poems. “Elegy for Qwerty,” for the inventor of the typewriter and its top row of keys begins the section on an offbeat path. “Pinocchio” and “The Ghost of Foghorn Leghorn Speaks of Unrequited Love” are two of the persona poems tinged with humor. As for self-deprecating comedy and irony, “The Sweet, Heroic, Absurd Hope of Me” is the best example in the book. Persona and humor combine most notably in “The Heart that Drove an El Camino, The Heart that Was Nicknamed Bruiser.” The title is funny enough, but this heart is “stopped dead in traffic with the radio” and “ready to swear out dim reports on the missing, / to provide locks of hair, bits of bone, sand from old sheets.…” The persona—and humor— continues to the poem’s end: Good to the last drop the heart was fond of saying. It was its party joke, its way of getting a woman to smile. On diving boards under inert stars the heart made love, tucking itself in cleavage, in tangles of red-brown hair, in echoes of zydeco falling from the windows of cars. These too were errant, the heart pretended, out scavenging the late cravings for newspapers and prostitutes; for milk so cold it was ice; for life, a normal life. In Paul Guest’s world, the human heart is a suave charmer in an El Camino—an El Camino!—with pick-up lines and late-night cravings besides the usual worries of hearts in the world. Guest’s humor combines with his ironies to produce many admirable poems. The third section, “Distant Music,” continues with Guest’s themes. “On the Only Script Ever Rejected by the Three Stooges” shows his penchant for incorporating multiple subjects into a poem 236 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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as well as his love for Love and the Object of You. The poem begins with many references: “Entitled ‘Pillow Talk.’ Maybe / an adaptation of Notes from the Underground, / in which Moe employs a stout twig / to scrape boils set deep in his skin. / But maybe that’s Job.” After that beginning, the poem continues its associative surprises until the end, where Love and You enter: …the stars would pluck me like a tulip bulb. In bed I am a body made of silk or cobwebs, and most of all I need you to tell me the difference. To divine, however you may, hidden bodies of water. Of work. Of heaven. To pick and choose. To wake up and go to sleep. As good as Guest’s first book is, it could be tighter than its ninety-four pages. A few of these extra pages come from pages with only two or three lines on them. The decision on which few poems to cut is a puzzling adventure for a second read. A better, more rewarding enterprise in a second reading is finding more irony, more humor, more strange references, and more of Guest’s extraordinary perspective on life. —Reviewed by Kevin McKelvey

Jauss, David. You Are Not Here. Louisville, KY: Fleur-de-Lis Press, 2002. 64 pages. $10.00. David Jauss’s second book of poems, You Are Not Here, is a mystic’s exploration of the subject of death and a poet’s reflection on loss and grief. In his work, Jauss acts as both shaman and pilot, invoking Heka, the form of God Egyptians called “the power of the word,” who recreates existence by accompanying Re in the Sunboat across the sky by day, and protecting Osiris against the separation of earth and sky in his nightly journey through the netherworld. It is Jauss’s journey through his own netherworld that primarily concerns this book, for the central meditation in this lyric collection is his experience of grieving for the poet Lynda Hull, his friend and former student who perished in a car accident in 1994. From his vantage point in the stern of his boat, Jauss asks us to Crab Orchard Review ◆ 237


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step with him onto the river of our common understanding of grief by invoking his own sense of desolation and abandonment in “Requiem,” the second and central section and the heart of the book. In this poem in five sections, Jauss calls out to Hull with the question bitten back from every mourner’s lips: Who will guide me through this dark if not you? So few of those I’ve loved have made your journey, & their lips, even in dreams, are stitched shut.… Jauss uses these words with hope, placing faith in the supposition that although he may not be able to penetrate the veil between the worlds: “a question travels before it returns / & that changes everything.” Jauss listens for his question’s return with something akin to the sonar of a deep sea creature, bouncing a signal off whatever he can to gain some sense of location. He ends up using the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and the Bible as landmarks by which to navigate as he tries to bridge the gap between elegy and the unspeakable. To help him in his navigation, Jauss introduces a pantheon of priests in the guise of musicians, poets, and philosophers. Theirs are the low chanting voices of the funerary chamber, the sounds the soul hears as it waits to be judged. Jauss shares the experience of listening as “…Coltrane moan[s] the mantra of Chenrazee: / Om ma ni pad me hum,” and shows us photographer Matthew Brady capturing “The intimacy of the dead at Antietam.…” Jauss asks, “Did Brady, that uncivil voyeur, do more than look?” and then imagines the photographer unabashedly posing and re-posing the dead that they might meet the next world in beauty. The references to other creative presences here reminds us of the re-making of the world in each artistic effort. There is humor in this book, though it is wry and black, wrapped in a thick irony and never far from his sober point. In section II of “Requiem,” he writes: …I remember “The Haunted House,” a story Bernadette Shreier wrote twenty years ago when she was my mother’s student. What haunted her third-grade heart? I went into the house 238 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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because I wanted to see if there was a hole in it. No creaking doors or spiderwebs massive as the Milky Way. No skeletons rattling chains. Only a hole.… “I don’t believe in ghosts either,” he tells her: …the winding sheet come alive, booing in the dark. Nor in angels, all blond hair & baby fat. What haunts Death’s house is a hole. Just a hole, & the need to see it. Dismissing the trite clichés surrounding Death, his humor is earned the way a mourner might earn their first griefless laugh, without noticing, and over time. Jauss bookends his elegy “Requiem” with two other sections. The first extends death’s metaphor to include the loss of innocence and hope, offering the picture of a dysfunctional family plagued by suicide and separation. Here, people die from ulcers, pain, or just plain fate. He writes of the thin veneer we paste over Death to disguise it, recalling “the black whorl inside” his dead grandmother’s ear “where the makeup stopped.” Jauss personifies Death, allowing “Him” to play Benny Goodman records and to build a boat in Thailand, only to sink it nineteen years later drowning the young jazzman Art Porter, Jr. This first section simmers with a low-level fury of many dreams deferred, where love and lives have been ripped away, leaving behind gaping holes in comprehension which pocket the landscape left to the survivors. Anger, Jauss seems to say, is a by-product of loss and inevitable. In the third and final section of the book, Jauss returns from his underworld journey with a sense of forgiveness. He has come to realize he is only an echo of something more permanent than language can communicate—that there is love buried in that particular silence we feel rather than hear. And through this silence, there is a strength and passion that asserts itself: …Believe it: the earth is not our grave, it’s our corpse, on which the future feeds. Nature is us,

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its cyclic history our story, condensed. Us leaving, returning, changing our elements like clothes. So death is just a striptease? Maybe to time, or nature. But not to me, who would wait till rain turns to fire just to touch your lips, your hair, once more. It is in this section most of all the book earns the title You Are Not Here, by suggesting that joy might just come from letting go: of needing to know anything, be anything, own anything. Jauss seems to say that the negation of the self is the self ’s refuge, and that the aching vacuum of loss we experience is balanced by love. The book’s final poem, “Four Ways of Living in This World,” seats Jauss firmly in the stern of his ship, gazing with a Buddha-like eye at the state of his world at the end of the journey. Choose where you will spend your time while anchored to this place, he hints, for “…the river / ripples in sunlight, / muscles on the back / of a horse / that cannot be broken.” Death reminds us that, ultimately, Life is the subject and we are the objects; backwards, perhaps, from what we’re accustomed to, but that position lets us rest in what love comes from our awkward passage here. —Reviewed by Barbara Eidlin

Matejka, Adrian. The Devil’s Garden. Farmington, ME: Alice James Books, 2003. 70 pages. $13.95. Adrian Matejka’s garden breeds a formidable range of voices and explorations, all in one groove, both sensual and evocative of the borders of identity where hoodoo turns to music. The title poem takes us into this unexplored landscape, analogous to the body. On the heels of a missionary, we watch as, in the world outside, “volcanoes compacted // trees,…” and “[l]ightning / as fractional as sign language split // trunks into stone thighs.” History, race, sex, and jazz infuse The Devil’s Garden, transformative as a birth or thunderstorm, where the roots of the self intertwine with everything that has come before. With the Devil as figurehead, Matejka draws on a pantheon of predecessors, both artistic and biological, whose voices he delivers with wisdom and style. Among scenes from childhood partings, Al 240 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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Green’s bedroom, and much more, he conjures such icons as his father, leaving home with his copy of Bitches Brew, passing on a mirror as parting gift: “I want / you to have this so you will always / know how good we look.” In the third section, we find “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,” where the archdruid of fusion jazz “hunches / against the spotlight’s weight. / …a fist / of glitter punched up / through the stage.” The garden divines these pieces as metaphor, not only for artistic fertility, but a crucible where autobiography turns into lyrical odyssey and the body merges with the world. From the first poem, “Autobiography as Language,” where the “bilinguality of chance” leads to a beating, “pain, // turning everyone a ripe shade,…” to the mind of Muhammad Ali in “What He Wanted to Say,” a sense emerges of a multifaceted identity, which implies a poet both grounded in his autobiography and willing to play in the raw colors of transcendental questions. Though no single poem could be said to embody the host of themes, figures, storylines, and lyrics that find their fusion in this collection, the first four lines of “Pigment” capture a little of their collective magic: They say the Devil owns all blues, transcendental dream-shaded: indigo heavier than cat-gut when the moon is preening. Cobalt homespun in Zaire… This incarnation of the devil, who appears throughout the book as an opaque, seductive figure, calls to mind, not Dante's representation of Satan or anything close, but the one who met Robert Johnson at the crossroads. To trade him your soul is to live fully in your body and to play. Or, as Matejka puts it in “Contrafact (of an Ars Poetica)”: “…the Devil's in the kitchen / waiting for your mama.” —Reviewed by Chad Parmenter

Pau-Llosa, Ricardo. The Mastery Impulse. Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2003. 96 pages. $12.95. Thanks to Pablo Neruda, alchemist of the mundane, modern readers know to check even cutlery for transcendental potential. Crab Orchard Review ◆ 241


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Where Neruda sees generals in artichokes, Ricardo Pau-Llosa mines pantry, travels, and the past for revelations in his collection of poems The Mastery Impulse. Adventure, curiosity, and wisdom inform pieces on the mundane world, as well as ancient ruins and art museums, casting all in the same exotic glow. From the microscopic landscapes of crumpled papers and sandbags, we follow him to “Nude Bar, South Miami,” where a dancer proves, with “the just-woke toss of gold burnt hair,” how “…This goes into that / like money into the belt’s orbit.” In Pau-Llosa’s hands, an “Eraser” turns into a “furrowed coffin” from which “…the grazing fingers smoke / the residual ghosts out.” A transfiguring spirit inhabits his world at every level. The poem “Teotihuacán” combines still life and geographical odyssey, pulling us back in time via the scent of rotting mango blossoms, their pollen: …shaking down like first sound, like the gold of sex, like the outbreak of nods that must have marked the first sentence. From there, he retraces the fall of empire, where citizens “…loved / no kings wrote nothing but titled human // mountains Sun and Moon,…” how they rose up against their leaders’ godhood. With the ancient temple now in ruins, the speaker looks to his body, where a vein makes a road “…that gods / will hum upon, travelling to us, plumed with mercy.” Though he invokes the dead deities and ether of many poets’ prayers, his lexicon is that of stone and mango, and we gladly echo him in asking the gods’ messenger for a little more time in paradise. “[T]his punctual life” waits on the mainland, beautiful when anchored at once in the holy and tangible, with a vitality “…We will kill to beg for.…” While the first three sections of the book arc from the mite-sized to the megalithic, the last places us on the balconies and backyards of the world, where philosophy yields to frisbee with the dog, a “bat apprentice” relinquishing his natural calling of predator, as the speaker refuses “…the bony / chalk of the target.” It’s the same willingness to eschew the target, the dire goal of work, travel or utilitarian object, but to travel through their ordinary surfaces to the sublime, that infuses these poems with authentic magic. —Reviewed by Chad Parmenter 242 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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Share, Don. Union. Lincoln, NE: Zoo Press, 2002. 67 pages. $14.95. Don Share’s first book, Union, is an honest trip through his Memphis childhood, his adulthood, his divorce, his infidelity, and onward, with an honesty about what was and what is and what might have been. But it is no plaintive whine for the past from a middleaged man with middle-aged problems. With an acute awareness of Memphis history and Sterling A. Brown’s place there, the book is grounded in the traditions of Spanish poetry and its followers and moves easily between forms and subjects. The title, Union, has much weight to bear throughout the book as metaphor and theme for the union and dis-union of man and wife, for the re-union of North and Confederate South, and for Union Avenue, the main street of Share’s Memphis and subject of the title poem. With a short, untitled poem before each of the three sections, Share establishes his connection with two Spanish Golden Age poets of the 17th century, Luis de Góngora y Argote and Francisco de Quevedo y Villegas. Góngora and Quevedo were contemporaries as well as poetic adversaries who inspired the Spanish Surrealists in the 1920s. The Surrealist poets influenced many future generations of poets, notably Philip Levine and Mark Doty. Share announces himself firmly as an inheritor of this aesthetic with these three poems based on Góngora or Quevedo. The first poem of the book, “‘I have seen, my Celalba…,’” provides insight into the rest of the book and which cares Share will contemplate: “shepherds, dogs, cabins, and cattle, / over the waters I saw them, formless, lifeless, / and nothing more than my own cares troubled me.” The honesty in Share’s poetry begins with straightforward titles. From titles such as “Dilemma,” “Faithful,” “Ending is a True Marriage,” “The Story,” and “Divorced,” we can gather the basic details of his divorce and his past life. A poem such as “Refrains,” frankly and truthfully tells about his past marriage: “So I broke our wedding vows, / Which, I realize, / Have no if ’s, but’s or and-how’s..…” Share works to communicate the details of his life while establishing divorce as the common experience of many, many people. The form and subject of each section moves as fluidly as the Mississippi he sometimes writes about in his poems. He moves from a poem of divorce to one of childhood to one of historical significance and back again in each section, eddying between rhyme Crab Orchard Review ◆ 243


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scheme and free verse and lyric. In “At Seventeen” in the third section, he uses lyrically charged rhyming lines about his culture-shock and education at Columbia University, where: Despite the Columbia curriculum, I turned book-smart, but stayed Manhattan dumb Till I tore down, plank-by-plank, the lank and haul, The trill that was not Trilling, the occasional y’all ................ ..... This was my first adult choice. I unboarded the home that was in my voice, Bullheadedly bulldozed its pennynail past. It was not worth the cost. Although this poem would be welcome sooner in the book to show the change that New York City made in him, “At Seventeen” works as a latchkey to the most significant poems of the book’s third section. With the first two sections, Share establishes his current life as Memphis native, divorcee, and East Coast resident. He continues to demonstrate this in the third section. But it is also here where Share makes his most important turn in the book, a turn where Share reclaims his childhood drawl, his Memphis history, and in the process, claims as his own the contemporary poetic voice of Memphis in poems such as “At Forrest Park,” “Dispatches from the McDonald’s on Union Avenue,” and most notably, the title poem “Union.” He begins with an epigraph from the poet Sterling A. Brown, who is known for his poem “Memphis Blues.” The opening section of the poem is based loosely on a poem by another Spaniard, Mario Benedetti. With Share’s two important concerns—Memphis and Spanish poetry—placed, he begins his own 21st-century version of “Memphis Blues.” He moves from the people of Memphis to the Mississippi River and back again, writes of the Mississippi River Bridge pictured on the first page of the book, acknowledges Arkansas as well as Memphis’ Confederate past, and ends this nine-page poem with another call to the river: Now the river swells its wet lungs and threatens to rise again 244 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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In truth all its currents flow like knuckled roots into one lonesome earth Three phrases stand out in this final section from the penultimate poem—“threatens to rise again,” “In truth,” and “one lonesome earth”—and serve as basic themes that reveal themselves again and again in Share’s Union. Love and marriage “threaten to rise again” in the book, and they do. History resurfaces as well. “In truth” explains Share’s intention in almost every part of the book. And “one lonesome earth” works to illustrate Share’s life as a divorcee and Memphis native who comes back to marriage and Memphis. As a first book, Union achieves a welcome connection with past Spanish poets, the truth of divorce, and Memphis, Tennessee. —Reviewed by Kevin McKelvey

Shepherd, Reginald. Otherhood. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003. 99 pages. $12.95. Reginald Shepherd is a man. Reginald Shepherd is black. Reginald Shepherd is gay. But his poetry does not begin there and rarely ends there because Reginald Shepherd is a poet who undeniably attempts and achieves more in each new book than the last. In his fourth book, Otherhood, he continues his project of intersecting the possibilities of history, mythology, and now botany with the language and prosody of the lyric and with his personal history. With the title of the book, he renounces any involvement with anyone or anything and classifies himself only as Other, and from that beginning, dazzles the reader with his most capable book yet. Some of Shepherd’s strongest poems have a similar form: they have nary a period. This lack of punctuation usage may seem inconsequential, but these ten poems scattered throughout the book are sustained by parentheses and colons and hint at personal relationships and emotions. The short lines, short stanzas, and fluid lines act as prosodic metaphor for the instability of relationships and the longing desire inherent to them. Poems such as “Justice: An Ode” and “The Practice of Goodbye” are driven by personal subject Crab Orchard Review ◆ 245


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matter even if we are not privy to the details, as also in the ending of “Unravel:” (So much remains to be seen in other men’s seasons, five and ten night stands of sugar maple, alder, birch) Wet sidewalk blares Now and the days heat up, October dissimulation, Indian giver (orange, melon, cerise, a kiss of seven pomegranate seeds to catch summer’s fall, stammer of nodding poppies) This time of year (air stamped with static, alley of thrum and drone) they’re everywhere The longer poems of Otherhood are Shepherd’s greatest poetic achievements to date. The poem “In the City of Elagabal” is constructed principally with excerpts from sources as diverse as the King James Bible, Joseph Campbell’s The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology, and Robert Turcan’s The Cults of the Roman Empire, among others. Another poem that illustrates his longstanding fascination with ancient history and mythology is “Roman Year,” a poem with ten sections based on the ten-month calendar of ancient Rome. These two longer poems concentrate fully on the possibilities of the longer lyric for narrative exploration and fulfillment. Out of the many poems that actualize Shepherd’s intentions for the poems of his fourth book, another standout is “Lighthouse Wreckage,” a poem grounded in the concrete images of lighthouses and the wrecked boats around them. Written in fourteen numbered sections, the poem acknowledges the lighthouse as metaphor for safety and direction with brief snippets of historical reference, technical data, and metaphorical narrative while not sacrificing any lyric sensibility:

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1 Tanker run aground on shoals of disbelief, pieces of tanker everywhere, oil overturned on television, filming white walls with blue clouds, strangled cormorants. Off-white, 2 stained archipelago, glyph inked across salt water stilled to stone, a myth of maps. A fragment 3 of the Roman lighthouse at Dover survives, shudder of sedimentary rock a bluff, promise unkept: limestone and strait aren’t speaking today. Chalk uplands that form the famous white cliffs, towers fully exposed to open sea, delivered and drowned. With four books in the past decade, Reginald Shepherd has easily established himself as one of great poets of his generation. His masterly skill has evolved and needs absolutely no qualification based on gender, race, or sexuality. The last lines of the final poem “The Anania Butterfly,” provide ample summary to Shepherd’s work: “Mountains, where half-light’s remembered / and world is wed to word.” This alliterative last line epitomizes Otherhood’s accomplishment in illuminating the obscure shadows of history and mythology, and his words’ achievements in the book and in the world. —Reviewed by Kevin McKelvey

Williams, Jerry. Casino of the Sun. Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2003. 79 pages. $12.95. From the summer prayers of green cicadas to miners watching the sky for the last time, Jerry Williams nails a dazzling array of motifs in Crab Orchard Review ◆ 247


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his collecton of poems Casino of the Sun, writing with the deadpan majesty of Raymond Carver and the divine weirdness of Dean Young. In the title poem, we travel to Arizona for Christmas at “one hundred and sixty degrees above zero and rising,” to meet “your old roommate, the Chin.” For these cynical friends, an airport reunion scene of a boy embracing his father turns into “Another chat room dream come true.” The speaker urges us to: Close your eyes, imagine giving birth to a thousand mallard ducks inside a shark cage while some non-union uniform runs a metal detector up and down your leg, up and down your other leg. Welcome to hell. Try not to spill your margarita. From this point on, we’re sold on Williams’s irony and themes: the warm non-solace of booze, the weariness with modern norms, and the infinity of imagination. We enter a hotel room where nothing works except for the TV, where Shaquille O’Neal “smells his fingers,” missing a free throw out of decadent distraction “by his own good fortune.” We are told: “Those guys have it made: ballplayers. / The Chin says they live like dolphins.” After a litany of NBA names, “Shaq, Sprewell, Allen Iverson,” the speaker shifts from second to first person, unleashing a gripping series of self-declarations. The one who welcomed us to hell has already been there, “drunk blood from a leopard print purse,” “been counted on and let down and squeezed out,” until the only refuge is this casino—that is, until next Christmas, which holds the chance: …to pledge my life and mind, my entire troubled essence, to a beautiful cyborg with reliable taxonomy and skin the color of grape soda. If unity with any traditional beauty, such as a woman’s, feels impossible in the same world with electric chairs and resounding rejections, the speaker finds unity with the downtrodden, in the hilarious thought that we, who fight to master channel-surfing, have been given control of our own destinies. Many time-worn tropes flourish in this collection. Ultimately, they bow to the spectacle of the modern television viewer who 248 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


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experiences the surrealism of culture, detachment from heroes, and flight from memories of lovers who “try to end the famine in [the] blood,” without a blink. The survival instinct exists for the sake of watching another show, and, perhaps, for the possibility of romance hidden in games of chance for its own protection. —Reviewed by Chad Parmenter

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Contributors’ Notes

Daniel Anderson’s poems have appeared in The New Republic, Southern Review, Poetry, Best American Poetry 1998, Kenyon Review, and New England Review. His first collection of poems, January Rain, was published by Story Line Press. His second book, Drunk in Sunlight, will be published in 2004. He is recipient of a 2003 National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship, and a Visiting Lecturer in the creative writing program at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. S. Beth Bishop received the MFA in poetry from the University of Memphis. Her award-winning work has appeared in Quarterly West, River City, Icarus, and other journals. She lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee. Bruce Bond’s most recent books include Cinder (Etruscan Press), The Throats of Narcissus (University of Arkansas Press), and Radiography (BOA Editions). Presently he is poetry editor for American Literary Review. Amy Knox Brown received a Ph.D. in English from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and a J.D. from Nebraska’s College of Law. Her fiction and poetry appear or are forthcoming in Shenandoah, Other Voices, Nebraska Review, and other magazines. She is currently working on a novel set during the 1973 AIM occupation of Wounded Knee, and lives in North Carolina with her husband, John McNally. Joel Brouwer is the author of Exactly What Happened and Centuries. He teaches at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. Anthony Butts is on the creative writing faculty at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the author of Fifth Season and Little Low Heaven, both from New Issues Poetry & Prose. He has been published in numerous anthologies and journals. Stacy Gillett Coyle has recently published poetry in Many Mountains Moving, River City, South Dakota Review, and Concho River Review. Her book of poetry, Cloud Seeding, is forthcoming from High Plains 250 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Contributors’ Notes

Press in Spring 2004. She is currently a Lecturer in the Humanities at the University of Denver. Melissa Crowe is a graduate of the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College and a candidate for the Ph.D. in English at the University of Georgia. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Mothering Magazine, Calyx, and Lifeboat: A Journal of Memoir. She lives in Athens, Georgia, with her husband, Mark, and their daughter, Annabelle. Jim Daniels’s most recent books include Show and Tell: New and Selected Poems (University of Wisconsin Press) and Detroit Tales, a collection of short fiction (Michigan State University Press). Traci Dant holds an MFA from Washington University in St. Louis. She is a Cave Canem Poetry Fellow, a MacDowell Colony Fellow, and an Illinois Arts Council Artist Fellowship recipient. She currently resides in the Chicago area, where she is at work on a memoir. Oliver de la Paz was born in Manila, Philippines, and raised in Ontario, Oregon. He teaches creative writing at Utica College. His book of prose poems and verse, Names Above Houses (Southern Illinois University Press), was a winner of the 2000 Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry. His work appears in journals such as The Literary Review, North American Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Quarterly West. Matt Donovan’s poems appear or are forthcoming in Poetry, Threepenny Review, Gettysburg Review, Ontario Review, Barrow Street, Quarterly West, and Poetry Ireland. He currently teaches at the College of Santa Fe, and is the 2003 recipient of Vassar College’s W.K. Rose Fellowship in the Arts. Kevin Ducey is currently a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame. Nancy Eimers is the author of No Moon and Destroying Angel. She teaches creative writing at Western Michigan University and in the MFA program at Vermont College. Robin Farabaugh teaches Shakespeare and poetry at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She spent 1996–97 on sabbatical Crab Orchard Review ◆ 251


Contributors’ Notes

in Sweden near the Arctic Circle, as recounted in “Annual Light.” She is working on a novel set in northern Sweden, a story of love and choices for an Iraqi exile, his children, and their American teacher. Beth Ann Fennelly has received fellowships from the Illinois Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her poems have appeared in the American Scholar, TriQuarterly, Shenandoah, Michigan Quarterly Review, Kenyon Review, The Pushcart Prize XXV, and Best American Poetry 1996. Her book Open House won the 2001 Kenyon Review Prize for a First Book and the GLCA New Writers Award. Her new book, Tender Hooks, will be published by W.W. Norton in April 2004. Vievee Francis was a finalist for the 2002 Lotus Prize and a runner-up for the Grolier Prize. Her work appears in Callaloo and in the 2003 Grolier’s Annual. The poem in this issue is from her manuscript, “Heart of Palm.” Yahya Frederickson teaches multicultural and world literature at Minnesota State University, Moorhead. His poems have appeared in the Lake Country Journal, Al-Masar, Flyway, Quarter After Eight, Quarterly West, River Styx, and other journals. Elton Glaser edits the Akron Series in Poetry. His fifth full-length book of poems, Pelican Tracks, was published in 2003 by Southern Illinois University Press. With William Greenway, he co-edited I Have My Own Song for It: Modern Poems of Ohio (University of Akron Press). Luisa Igloria is the author of In the Garden of the Three Islands (Moyer Bell), and Blood Sacrifice (University of the Philippines Press). She has received the George Kent Prize for Poetry, an Illinois Arts Council Award, and an Independent Artist Fellowship from the Virginia Commission for the Arts. She is Associate Professor of English in the creative writing program at Old Dominion University. Honorée Fanonne Jeffers is the author of The Gospel of Barbecue (Kent State University Press),which was a finalist for the 2001 Paterson Poetry Prize, and Outlandish Blues (Wesleyan University Press). Her work appears in the Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, and These Hands I Know: African-American 252 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Contributors’ Notes

Writers on Family (Sarabande Books). She is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Oklahoma. Anne Keefe has studied classical voice at the Eastman School of Music and completed her bachelor’s degree with honors at Tufts University. She is a student in the MFA program in poetry at the University of Maryland, College Park. Steve Kistulentz is a member of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where he also teaches. He was awarded a 1999 Writers at Work Fellowship in poetry. His fiction and poetry appear in the Antioch Review, New England Review, Quarterly West, and Mississippi Review. His short story “Great Basin Sonata” appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Volume 5, Number 2. He lives in Iowa City, Iowa. Elizabeth Knapp is a graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars. She has taught poetry workshops at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice, California. Her poems appear in the Bellingham Review, Drunken Boat, and Poet Lore. Melissa Kwasny is the author of a book of poetry, The Archival Birds, and two novels. She is also the editor of Toward the Open Field: Poets on Poetry 1800-1950, forthcoming from Wesleyan University Press in Spring 2004. Jacqueline Jones LaMon is the author of the novel In the Arms of One Who Loves Me (One World/Ballantine Books). A graduate of the Cave Canem poetry workshop, she is completing her MFA in creative writing at Indiana University, Bloomington. Lisa Lewis’s two books are The Unbeliever (University of Wisconsin; Brittingham Prize winner) and Silent Treatment (Penguin Poets; National Poetry Series selection). Her work appears in TriQuarterly and is forthcoming in The Journal. She directs the creative writing program at Oklahoma State University. Linda Mannheim’s stories have appeared in the Gettysburg Review, Nimrod International Journal, and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Much of her work focuses on the ways that war and its aftermath affect personal identity and people’s day-to-day lives. She Crab Orchard Review ◆ 253


Contributors’ Notes

is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in prose writing and is at work on her first novel, “Risk.” Debra Marquart is the poetry editor of Flyway, A Literary Review and the coordinator of the creative writing program at Iowa State University. Her books include Everything’s a Verb: Poems (New Rivers Press), The Hunger Bone: Rock & Roll Stories (New Rivers Press), and a second poetry collection, From Sweetness (Pearl Editions). She is currently at work on a memoir, “The Horizontal Life: On Rebellion and Return,” about growing up a rebellious farmer’s daughter on a North Dakota wheat farm. Shara McCallum’s personal essays appear in Antioch Review, Creative Nonfiction, Witness, and elsewhere. She is also the author of two books of poems, Song of Thieves and The Water Between Us, both published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Originally from Jamaica, she teaches and directs the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell University and lives with her family in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. John Minczeski’s poems appear or are forthcoming in Notre Dame Review, Meridian, Great River Review, Sojourn, Rattapallax, and Agni. His book, Circle Routes, won the 2000 Akron Poetry Prize. He lives and works in the Twin Cities, teaching poetry to children and adults. Missy-Marie Montgomery is an English professor at Springfield College in Massachusetts. Her work appears in Passages North, Southern Humanities Review, Hubbub, Phoebe, Cutbank, Fine Madness, and Northwest Florida Review. Paula Nangle has published fiction in Michigan Quarterly Review, Blue Mesa Review, and elsewhere. She recently received her MFA from Western Michigan University. James P. Othmer’s first short story was published recently in the Madison Review. His f irst novel-in-progress, “The Futurist,” chronicles the global unraveling of a popular culture prognosticator who has lost faith in the very future he is paid to sell. Donald Platt’s second book, Cloud Atlas (Purdue University Press), was the winner of Verna Emery Poetry Prize. His poems appear or 254 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Contributors’ Notes

are forthcoming in Shenandoah, Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Black Warrior Review, Meridian, Virginia Quarterly Review, Southern Review, Best American Poetry 2000, and in The Pushcart Prize XXVII . He is Associate Professor of English at Purdue University. Mary Quade’s poems appear in the Iowa Review, Columbia, River Styx, Colorado Review, and elsewhere. Her book Guide to Native Beasts was chosen for the 2003 Cleveland State University Poetry Center First Book Prize. Sara Quinn Rivara received her MFA from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Her work is forthcoming in 32 Poems Magazine. She teaches English and writing at Kalamazoo Valley Community College and lives in Parchment, Michigan. Nicholas Samaras won the 1991 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition for his first book, Hands of the Saddlemaker. He teaches at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Sean Serrell teaches at Cornell University. His poems appear or are forthcoming in West Branch and other journals. Neil Shepard has published two books of poetry, Scavenging the Country for a Heartbeat (Mid-List Press; First Series Award) and I’m Here Because I Lost My Way (Mid-List Press). His poems appear in New England Review, Notre Dame Review, Paris Review, Ploughshares, and TriQuarterly. He teaches in the BFA Writing Program at Johnson State College and is editor of Green Mountains Review. Betsy Sholl’s most recent book is Don’t Explain (University of Wisconsin Press). A new book, Late Psalm, is due out from Wisconsin in Spring 2004. She teaches in the MFA program at Vermont College and at the University of Southern Maine. Taije Silverman is currently enrolled in the University of Maryland’s creative writing program. Her poetry has been published in Ploughshares. Maggie Smith’s poems appear or are forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review ◆ 255


Contributors’ Notes

Poetry Northwest, Gulf Coast, Beloit Poetry Journal, and Passages North. She is the 2003–2004 Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College. Liz Stefaniak received her undergraduate degree from Washington University in St. Louis. She was the managing editor at a St. Louis publishing company and is currently a graduate student in the creative writing program at Creighton University. Kevin Stein is the author of six books of poetry and criticism, most recently the collection Chance Ransom (University of Illinois Press). He also edited (with G.E. Murray) Illinois Voices, an anthology of twentieth-century Illinois poetry. He’s Caterpillar Professor of English at Bradley University and the Poet Laureate of Illinois. Rafael Torch lives and works in Pilsen, on the near southwest side of Chicago. He received a degree in creative writing from Antioch College in Ohio. He is currently working on a book of creative nonfiction about family and being in the cultural hyphen, of which “La Villita” is the lead story. This is his first accepted publication. Alexandra van de Kamp lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, the writer William Glenn. She has been published in numerous journals, including Washington Square, Poetry Northwest, Tar River Poetry, Talking River Review, and Elixir. She has work forthcoming in Whetstone and she won the 2001 Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize from Wind Magazine for her chapbook, The Rainiest May in the Twentieth Century. Latha Viswanathan’s stories appear in Shenandoah, Story Quarterly, Other Voices, and other journals. Her story “Cool Wedding” appeared in New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best, 2003. She lives and writes in Houston, Texas. Sophie Wadsworth’s poetry appears in the Malahat Review, Sycamore Review, and Meridian. She lives in Harvard, Massachusetts. Her poems in this issue are from “Letters from Siberia,” a manuscript based on the life and letters of her great-grandmother, which recently won the Jessie Bryce Niles Chapbook Competition, sponsored by the Comstock Review. The chapbook will be published in 2004. 256 ◆ Crab Orchard Review


Contributors’ Notes

Braden Welborn serves as poetry editor for Black Warrior Review. She attends the University of Alabama, where she is pursuing the MFA degree in creative writing. Gabriel Welsch’s stories, poems, reviews, and essays appear in the Georgia Review, Mid-American Review, 5 AM, Slope, Chautauqua Literary Review, Ascent, Harvard Review, and Rapportage. He is a 2003 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fellowship recipient in fiction. In 2002, he was Thoreau Poet-in-Residence at the Toledo Botanical Garden, a prize awarded by the Garden and Mid-American Review. He works and teaches at Penn State University. Katharine Whitcomb’s collection Saints of South Dakota and Other Poems was the winner of the 2000 Bluestem Poetry Award. She has received fellowships from Stanford University, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. She is currently Visiting Poet at Johnson State College in Vermont.

Crab Orchard Review ◆ 257


Announcements Beginning with Volume 9, Crab Orchard Review will publish a Winter/Spring general issue and a Summer/Fall special issue each year. Please check the Crab Orchard Review website’s “General Guidelines for Submissions” for more information: <http://www.siu.edu/~crborchd/guid2.html>

For writers interested in submitting work in 2004: Crab Orchard Review will continue reading for our 2005 Winter/Spring general issue until the end of April 2004. We will announce our next special issue topic in March on our website and in the 2004 Summer/Fall issue, and we will accept submissions for the 2005 Summer/Fall special issue through November 2004. Thank you.


the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry S

Crab E R Orchard IE IN POETRY S

Publishing new poetry since 1999

The Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry is changing its name to

the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry to reflect a new area in our ongoing project to publish some of the best new work by established and new voices in American poetry. In addition to continuing to publish our First Book Award and our Open Competition Award winners each year, the series will begin in 2004 to publish Editor’s Selections chosen by the series editor to build upon and expand the strengths of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry. We want to thank all the readers and writers who have made the Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry such a success and we look forward to bringing you more new titles in the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry. Series Editor, Jon Tribble

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Crab OrcharD Series In Poetry 2003 FIRST BOOK AWARD Announcement Crab Orchard Review and Southern Illinois University Press are pleased to announce the winner of the 2003 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Our final judge, Judy Jordan, selected Amy Fleury’s Beautiful Trouble as the winner. Her collection will be published by Southern Illinois University Press in October 2004. We want to thank all of the poets who entered manuscripts in our Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award Competition.

Crab Orchard Review’s website has all of the updated information on subscriptions, calls for submissions, contest information and results, and past, current, and future issues. Visit us at:

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


Crab OrcharD Series In Poetry 2002 FIRST BOOK AWARD Consolation Miracle Poems by Chad Davidson “Reading each poem in Consolation Miracle is like watching a seine net pulled onto the beach at sunrise: the arc of poetry revealing its haul, one by one, and then suddenly, a multitude of sleek, puffing, shiny things full of fear and trembling. The tight curtail sonnets, ‘Almost Ending with a Troubadour Line’ and ‘The Match,’ are every bit as beguiling as the longer, meditative lyrics, ‘All the Ashtrays in Rome’ and ‘Cleopatra’s Bra.’ And the longest poem in Davidson’s striking first collection, ‘Space,’ stakes its claim as one of the benchmark long lyrics for the new century.”—Ruth Stone, author of In the Next Galaxy and Ordinary Words 64 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2541-1 $12.95 paper

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Crab OrcharD Series In Poetry 2001 FIRST BOOK AWARD WHITE SUMMER Poems by Joelle Biele “In White Summer, Joelle Biele exhibits a Roethke-like affinity with nature and nature’s creatures. …These pitchperfect poems are written with a delicate, meticulous attention to craft and music. Like the joy she takes in her subjects, this collection is a joy to read.”—Elizabeth Spires, author of Worldling “The ‘sprung rhythms’ of Gerard Manley Hopkins are 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 Series In Poetry 2000 FIRST BOOK AWARD TRAIN TO AGRA Poems by Vandana Khanna “Vandana Khanna’s sensual, evocative poems sweep the reader away on a journey of family, culture, and spirituality. In Train to Agra, Khanna’s deft language and bright, revelatory imagery bring both physical and emotional landscapes to life. Khanna’s gifts as a poet are many, and she uses them to cross borders and countries, to bring alive ‘The India of Postcards,’ to fill in ‘colors, the smells, to translate to English / To translate into the present, into beautiful.’ Vandana Khanna is not only a poet to watch; she is a poet to savor.”—Allison Joseph, author of Imitation of Life, In Every Seam, and Soul Train 55 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2405-9 $12.95 paper

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the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2003 Open Competition Award

Series Editor, Jon Tribble

Birthmark Poems by Jon Pineda “Birthmark is brimming with a wisdom that seems not contrived from literary ambition, but born of a joy for life quite incidental to such ambition. It is the wisdom of Telemachus, the prototypical son, gained from long hours contemplating the missing father, then reconciling to the father’s return. It is a wisdom that begets tenderness and broadcasts, with strength and humility, a vision of contraries reconciled at the core of longing.” —Richard Katrovas, author of Dithyrambs

“Jon Pineda’s strength lies in an unusual music and his feel for tidewater Virginia and the marvelous stories it tells him. … Birthmark is, like its namesake, tender, bright, lasting, and filled with identity we are called to remark is, if not our own, close enough to feel our own.”—Dave Smith author of The Wick of Memory: New and Selected Poems, 1970–2000

Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 80 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2570-5 $13.95 paper

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the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2003 Open Competition Award

Series Editor, Jon Tribble

Year of the Snake Poems by Lee Ann Roripaugh “This is Lee Ann Roripaugh at the height of her powers. Precise and unforgettable images about family and community make these poems sing and stay with you days after you have gently put the book down. She is a ‘fish with a third, wide eye’ delivering unflinching truths. I believe that Roripaugh is one of the dozen or so best poets writing in America today.” —Nick Carbó, author of Secret Asian Man

“What lyrical gems. Poems like diamonds faceted with the Japanese-American diaspora, our lives scattered and thrust into Lee Ann Roripaugh’s utterly exquisite canvas of sky and pen.” —Lois-Ann Yamanaka, author of Heads by Harry

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the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2003 title

Series Editor, Jon Tribble

Pelican Tracks Poems by Elton Glaser “Elton Glaser’s Pelican Tracks offers us an intimate and intricate portrait of gritty down-home life in Louisiana. The characters and places that populate this book reveal lives thoroughly lived and remind us that whoever and whatever surrounds us quietly invades us— in the best and perhaps worst sense of the word—and, finally, becomes us.” —Tim Seibles, author of Hammerlock and Hurdy-Gurdy

“These beautifully made poems—rich as redeye gravy, crystalline as Ohio ice—will delight anyone seeking a fresh understanding of the American soul.…Glaser is a national treasure. His poems are at once gritty and reverent, profound and comic. If you worry for the fate of literature, read this book and take heart.”—Alice Fulton, author of Felt and Sensual Math Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 91 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2516-0 $12.95 paper

photo by Betty Greenway

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the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry 2003 title

Series Editor, Jon Tribble

Becoming Ebony Poems by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley “The poems of Patricia Jabbeh Wesley are fearless, eye-opening, breathtaking, and compassionate. She writes of a homeland devastated by war and violence, of a culture’s survival beneath the flames of that war, and of the everyday courage of people whose stories would be lost if not for these poems. …These are political poems in the best sense of the word—wise, necessary, undeniable.”—Allison Joseph, author of Imitation of Life and Soul Train

“In ‘Requiem for Auntie,’ Patricia Jabbeh Wesley writes, ‘the mysteries of this world are…in the silence that the dead refuse to take along.’ Her new book is a translation of that silence into the vital song of poetry. Wesley epitomizes the poet as compassionate witness, and with such poets the answer to the question— Did this poem demand to be written?—is always a resounding yes.”—Stuart Dybek, author of The Coast of Chicago and Brass Knuckles Copublished with Crab Orchard Review 79 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2517-9 $12.95 paper

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the Crab Orchard 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 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 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 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 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 Copublished with Crab Orchard Review

78 pages, ISBN 0-8093-2382-6 $12.95 paper

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the Crab Orchard 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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southern illinois university press P.O. Box 3697 • Carbondale, IL 62902-3697 • 800-346-2680 • FAX 800-346-2681 www.siu.edu/~siupress


Perfect in Their Art Poems on Boxing from Homer to Ali Edited by Robert Hedin & Michael Waters Foreword by Budd Schulberg “What a paradox that the most brutal of sports is also the most sensitive and the most creative.…These are poems we want to go back and reread because the more they tell us about boxing, the more they tell us about the human condition.”—Budd Schulberg

paper, 0-8093-2531-4, $19.95 cloth, 0-8093-2530-6, $49.95 240 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2

Works by such classical poets as Homer, Virgil, and Pindar are gathered side-byside for the first time with the poems of Lord Byron, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and William Makepeace Thackeray. This provocative collection also features more recent literary heavyweights, including Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Joyce Carol Oates, Ai, Philip Levine, Wislawa Szymborska,Yusef Komunyakaa, Norman Mailer, and James Merrill. Equally impressive is this anthology’s rich sampling of boxing music, including ballads, marches, blues, waltzes, and pop lyrics. Irving Berlin, Memphis Minnie, Leadbelly, Paul Simon, Warren Zevon, and Bob Dylan are only a few of the songwriters in this volume compelled to honor the sweet science.

At bookstores, or from

southern illinois university press P.O. Box 3697 • Carbondale, IL 62902-3697 • 800-346-2680 • FAX 800-346-2681 www.siu.edu/~siupress


S

I

U

C

Southern

Illinois

University

Carbondale

M F A Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing FACULTY IN FICTION

FACULTY IN POETRY

BETH LORDAN MIKE MAGNUSON BRADY UDALL

RODNEY JONES JUDY JORDAN ALLISON JOSEPH

Individualized Course of Study

Small Classes

Support Available for All Admitted MFA Students Contact:

Rodney Jones, Professor Department of English Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Illinois 62901–4503 phone: (618) 453-6841 fax: (618) 453-8224 email: gradengl@siu.edu

For information and application packet, contact Director of Graduate Studies, English Department, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Carbondale IL 62901-4503, phone (618) 453-6894.