Crack the Spine - Issue 68

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Crack the Spine

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Crack The Spine Issue Sixty-Eight June 18, 2013 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2013 by Crack the Spine

Contents Tobi Cogswell The Macbeth Tree Eleanore Lee Recycling Day Anthony Ward Must Have Experience Hilary Sideris Hail! Hail! Mush Mouth Ryan Mohr Depression’s Biography Holly Combs Jinx Before Turning Blue May Through December Anya Lichtenstein Caution: Children at Play Helen Wickes Reminders to My Biographer Shame

Cover Art Karen Boissonneault-Gauthier Karen Boissonneault-Gauthier is a writer and a photographer who has developed a real love for capturing life and forms with her camera. Her work has been featured in many different forums, from national newspapers to heritage museums. She began her career in the field of news journalism and it was there she excelled at the art of photography; with film, negatives and endless hours in a darkroom. This appealed to the artist in her. She likes to say she has a trained eye for what the camera loves and that's why she rarely turns the lens onto herself. Enjoying experimentation with the camera has allowed Karen to broaden her photographic experiences to include portrait, fashion and style portfolios, lifestyles, sports, horse racing, military life, news, education and entertainment work. Presently, she is an online magazine columnist and photography contributor, putting her journalism/photography and mass communications degrees finally to good use. She has always found a place for her photography in print and online, being featured in Jaw Dropping Shots, and at literary magazines such as The Canadian Vocational Journal, Crack The Spine and Zen Dixie to name a few.

Tobi Cogswell The Macbeth Tree Tallahatchie County, Mississippi Lightning-struck and prematurely twisted in the middle of fallow land with no camouflage stands a Devil’s bargain, its knobbed and threadbare branches reaching up a plea for deliverance. Naked and black-burnt lesson in deformed humility, with no safe surface to carve initials in a heart or rest a weary back, these witch branches left to smolder in an open field, a silent prayer of witness, thin as a hag’s finger, warning the sky.

Tobi Cogswell is a three-time Pushcart nominee and a Best of the Net nominee. Credits include or are forthcoming in various journals in the US, UK, Sweden and Australia. In 2012 she was short-listed for the Fermoy International Poetry Festival. Her fifth and latest chapbook is “Lit Up”, (Kindred Spirit Press). She is the co-editor of San Pedro River Review (

Eleanore Lee Recycling Day

Tuesday’s our day. The day the diesel monsters fart and roar up the cold morning street, The big men hoarsely shouting and banging the cans— Union men. The poor, they get here first Ahead of the trucks. Tired, bundled up against the cold, You can tell they’re out there in the dark By the rattle ching ching of their clanking bottles. They haul their black shopping bags Of purloined glass—and some plastic. (They know which kind sells.) They’re called scavengers. Unneeded people, They live on waste. Dumpster divers, they see deep inside our bins. They know what’s down there. The night before, we line the bins up at the curb— Bottles and cans Mixed paper Green for compost—that’s new— And yes, there’s still the plain old garbage like in the olden days. Four neat bins lined up

In front of our tidy stucco house: Stuff sorted, bottles rinsed Categories respected, orderly. You’d never know: I’ve worked to get it ready: New green bin: Meat bones allowed, corn cobs, slime, and slop. Ratproof but not hungry-homeless-proof. It’s processed into official City Dirt— I mean compost—available to us homeowners. But now there’s identity theft. Be very careful. Did I tear up the old checks? Rip our names from the catalogs? Used diapers, tissues, who knows? Our privates exposed.

A graduate of in English from Barnard College in New York, Eleanore Lee worked for many years as a legislative policy analyst for the University of California system, writing reports, speeches, legislation. Now she is retired and is writing what she wants to write. Her poetry and fiction has been published in such journals as The Atlanta Review, CQ (California Quarterly), Clackamas Literary Review, Compass Rose, The Distillery, Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, The Portland Review, The Rambler, and River Oak Review. She was selected as an International Merit Award Winner in Atlanta Review’s 2008 International Poetry Competition and won first place in the November 2009 California State Poetry Society contest. She has a particular interest in writing about the workplace, social class and the invisible people in our society. She is currently finishing a novel, an academic satire.

Anthony Ward Must Have Experience

‘“Could you tell me how you’d be best qualified for this job?’ asked this kid you wouldn’t know whether to wipe his nose or whip his ass. ‘Well what do you want to know? Can I be polite on the phone? Do you think I’m rude and obnoxious when I answer at home? It’s what I do on a daily basis. How hard can it be?’ ‘Have you any experience working in an office?’ he said. ‘I have experience of workin’ that’s for sure,’ I said, which is more than I can say for him. He should try workin’ in a steel factory, see where that gets him. ‘Do I have experience of talking on the phone, dealing with people? I deal with people all the time, ringing me through the day, at night, first thing in a morning, an’ I always tell ‘em where to get off.’” “So did you get it?” “Course I didn’t. But if first impressions last I’ve left a lasting impression.” “These days you got to be subtle Frank,” said Bill the barman picking up a cloth. “Let them drink their subtle tea. I like to tell it with whisky. If they don’t like me the way I am they can fire me.” “They got to hire you first.” “They expect me to act the part, but I can’t act enough to warrant a smile to do it.” “I thought you were talking over the phone.” “You still got to smile while you’re doing it. People can hear whether your smiling or not, an’ I can’t smile because I know how they feel—like how I feel when they ring me up.” “The worlds on the move Frank, you got to move along with it or you’ll get left behind.” “The world’s in too much of rush if you ask me. Once people would knock and knock and you had to wait for them to go, now they can’t wait to get away before you get to them. I remember a time you’d go into a store and they’d be happy to welcome you in. Now they’d rather help you out, but not in the right way. You go into a convenience store and you’re the inconvenience. Rather than serving you right away they carry on sorting the shelves. You wait on them rather than the other way around. A few years back you’d go to the doctors and the doctor knew what was wrong with you. Now you walk in with your eye hanging out and they ask what can I do for you? It’s just one long conveyor belt with us

getting pulled along and pushed off by administrators cutting costs so the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, with bureaucracy passing the buck until it’s no-one’s fault but your own.” Bill eyes began to droop onto the bar into pools of spilled beer. He knew Sean was a sound guy but he didn’t always like the sound of the guy. “It’s not the skills of the job you need now it’s the skills to get the job. You have to know the craic without thinking the craic‘s crap. You have to talk crap. Well I can’t talk crap. I say it like it is. They expect you to bullshit them into hiring you. Either they can’t see through the bullshit or they think I can’t bullshit them. Years back you could just go an’ get a job. You’d go down to the site and they’d ask if you could do this or that then tell you to get on a pair off overalls there and then. Now they look to see if you’re suited, wondering whether you’ll fit in at the office party; an’ I’m like an old square screw drive that don’t fit no more. It’s a young man’s world today—too much arrogance and not enough empathy. They know nothin’ about life. It’s all about personality these days, about image and status an’ about how you look. It’s all about the brand.” “It was all about the brand before—probably more so,” young William piped up. “At least we knew what we were getting’. These days people are wasting money on nothing but hot air. They buy somebody’s ego to inflate their own. The labor and materials probably don’t come to a tenth of the price an’ they’re out buying nine tenths of a name, bragging about how much money they’ve wasted. Society is like a spoilt child that wants for nothing but wants everything. Goes without saying if you’ve more money than you need you end up buying things you don’t need. It’s all false and artificial, it’s bullshit. There’s so much bullshit these days they have no idea who they are anymore. Commercials tell ‘em who they are and ought to be an’ they buy it. They think their clothes define who they are?” “What about you an’ your hat?” said William. “A hat’s different. It’s a hat that makes the man. A man ’d rather lose his hair than his hat.” “What’s the difference?” “The difference is,” replied Frank pointing at William, “you like to think you make yourselves happen, but you really make yourselves happen directing your own company an’ managing the impressions others have of you, all trying to run your lives and govern your state of mind. You fake sincerity in order to be successful, you’re unable to be who you truly are, having to be something else, all full of yourselves, wishing you could escape your little lives and find yourselves on tv. I remember when famous people were someone you could never be. Now you think you have a chance of being them because there’re so many people who’re famous just for being famous.”

To Frank this modest town was his world. The rest of the world was only a fiction in his life. It didn’t exist within what he called home. To him his town was The Big Apple, his life his movie, all the people he knew we’re real characters. He would often look at them and wonder what they had done with their lives and what he’d done with his. Although he wasn’t old, he was brand spanking old. He lived for the moment though not in the moment; looked forward to things as happened as opposed to happening. Liked to reflect; to contemplate; turn things over in his mind until he was satisfied everything was sunny-side up. His idea of memories was to make them up as he went along. Yet the more he tried recreating sentimental moments the more he didn’t feel anything for the present. Frank took one long look at his drink. “Pretty soon they’ll be having drive-thru weddings they can annul by text.” “You got something against progress?” asked Bill jabbing at the screen of his phone. “There’s nothin’ wrong with progress, but we’re losing our sense of purpose. Convenience has made us all the more conventional.” “Convention,” William put in, leaning his head to one shoulder as if the behaviour of the elders had washed up on him, “convention’s what keeps us grounded. People today want to take off an’ fly.” “Ay, that’s the problem with you an’ you’re flights of fancy. You’ll discover when you get older you need to be grounded. Have a routine.” “That’s when you need to get a life. I mean you’re going on now as if your life is over and you’re only, what, early fifties?” “A life,” spluttered Bill, “What do you know about life? You haven’t had one to know about. Aint nothing’ wrong with routine lad, don’t you think its people who have routines that have a life, while those who are constantly searching for the next thing are the ones who don’t? Don’t you see the irony in calling people sad who are happy when you’re constantly searching for happiness. Who’s sad really? Only people who use the term sad are sad; who think it’s sad to know about somethin’. Well I tell ya it’s even sadder not knowing. You young un’s are so self obsessed you can’t see anything but yourselves. You’ve become more and more self centred you’re being pulled in by your own gravitas. You need to get over yourselves an’ find somebody else. You spend too much time worrying about what others think of you you don’t think enough of yourselves, then wind up thinking too much of yourselves selves and not enough of other people, topping yourselves up with self worth. You need to get over yourselves an’ find somebody else. Praise is what you do for others, not yourself. Other people give you your worth. You think everyone’s looking at you going wow I want to be like you? They’re slagging you off. That’s

what people do, slag everyone off. People don’t praise other people behind their backs any more than they do to their face.” Old Tom spluttered which caused Bill to wonder whether something ‘d gone down the right way or wrong, “You aright Tom? Feelin’ any better?” “Don’t ask,” said Tom, “you’ll tempt fate.” You could describe Tom as being petrified, but only in that stone remains rigid to the spot. He was trembling like paper, precariously resisting the forces acting upon him, and, like a dipping bird, leant forward, like a tumble dryer shaking, taking a stab at the drink, picking up the shot, spilling more than it held, then placed his drink on the bar, picked it up again, down, and...up went his arm, his body titled as if pivoted, while he practically threw himself into it. This spectacle would’ve been both funny and unfunny to those who hadn’t seen it a thousand times. “I’ve been meaning to ask you about Jerry, is he still Alive?” “I don’ no I haven’t seen him to ask,” said Tom dryly if not sincerely. “I think he’s died...” “He’s died?” “Dyed his hair white,” replied big Eric walking and talking away with his head turned back over his shoulder. “White, why white?” “Because he was turning white as it was.” Eric bore the size and stature that garnered respect. It just came naturally. He was born of a heavy constitution that meant his life style was his own and not the affair of others. Yet he was self consciously lanky to the point that he never knew what to do with his arms, and on this occasion gestured provocatively to William. “Why is it that supposed hard men are so intimidated by those they deem to be so weak?” moaned William. “Because you young un’s are so self righteous. You think you know all about the world and you’re big enough to take it on. You’re too busy chasing after life you want to get to where you’re going without wanting the trouble of getting there. You want your lives plated up for ya. Back in my day you had to work your way up the ladder. Now you can’t work your way up the ladder because of all those working across it, who know nothing about the company they’re trying to run except how they think fit to run it.” I bet when you’re watching a film you just go along for the ride, you don’t take in the scenery. You got to look around an’ take in the view. The world’s much more important than what you think you are. When you’re young you’re only interested in yourself and your place in the world; as you get older you

know your place is in the world around you. You know if they were to make a movie of your life they’d leave out all the interesting bits. Life becomes exceptional when you stop treating it as your own. When you’re young you think you’re right about everything, when you’re older you know you’re right about everything because you accept you used to be wrong about things.” “I guess you’re all wise then.” “It’s not that I’m all that wise, but nobody can fool me except myself.” William studied Frank like he did when he was young—for he was now getting on in his youth— when he was asked to observe a silence, he did so, but without participating, merely watching bemusedly at how you could observe a silence and studied himself to watch and find out, as if in retaliation to such nonsense. But he didn’t make a sound either. That’s the way he was, observant without ever seeing anything, which meant he was always looking. “You got plenty of spirit in ya lad, but as you get older you’ll find people keep downing it and then the angels take their share.” Frank began swishing the ice around into a vortex. “Your soul hardens with the soles of your feet an’ you have to keep paring down the calluses with acceptance and appreciation. Things never turn out as wonderful as you imagine but you learn to appreciate things all the more and end up appreciating the way things turn out. Life’s unfair until it becomes fair enough.” Frank gestured Bill for a refill. “We often fail to live the life we want while succeeding to live the life we have. But if you keep feeling sorry for yourself no-one will feel the need to be sorry for ya. If you begrudge other people’s happiness you’ll never be happy yourself. Nice things don’t happen when you’re miserable; you got to try an’ stay happy. It’s no good saying life’s shit ‘cause it ain’t going your way, you got to accept shit the way it is.” “It doesn’t have to be the way it is,” said William shaking his head in agreement. “We all got our ambitions going in the opposite direction kid. When I was your age I wanted to be a writer. But to be a writer you got to keep pecking until you’re fat enough to be invited to the table where they’ll eat you up. They’re too stuck in their ways. If it’s good it won’t be good enough an’ if it’s too good they’ll fault it’s quality. You can’t win. You can’t win in life either, unless you’re a major.” “A major?” asked Bill imagining a general. “There’s the majors and the minors and we’re definitely low key. We’re completely out of synch with the tune of their thought.” Frank pitched the drink to the back of his throat. “It’s like the world today’s a joke and we don’t get it.” “Just like the past’s an anecdote that we don’t get,” struck William.

“Except you don’t need worry about the past, you only need to learn from it. But the future, that’s a different matter. It’s a different language an’ I can’t keep up. An’ they make you feel worthless, like you’ve nothing to contribute—as if you’re a piece of shit scraped off the shoe they’ve just stepped all over you with. Making you feel worthless for not having a job, but not worth giving a job too at the same time. They’d be happy if you just crawled off somewhere an’ died, like a dog. We’re just I the way of those who have and those who haven’t. There’s the have’s and have-nots. Those who have have it all while those who have not have nothing. If you’ve got money you can make a whole lot more; if you haven’t any money you can’t get any more.” “There’s the can’s and can nots as well Frank,” said Bill mopping the bar as if it were his brow. “There was a time I felt like you Frank,” “I used to think everyone was making a success of their lives while I sucked at mine. But look at me now. I’ve got my own bar.” “Don’t give me that if I can do it you can shit. Good for you. But I can’t. If I could I would. Unless you have an epiphany, you remain intellectually impotent. You’ve got to know what you’re doing. Have an idea. And until that light bulb goes on you’re left in the dark.” “It’s no good tip toeing around life Frank, you got to bear your teeth—smile like you mean it. If you show a fear of life it will snarl and growl, bite an’ claw you to pieces.” “There was a time I was a big man in a little world, now I’m a little man in a big world,” said Frank. “You should know it’s not the size of the dog that triumphs, it’s the fight within the dog that comes out. You’re too stuck in your ways. You need to take a chance.” “I need a bit of luck.” “Yeah, an’ maybe if I keep my fingers crossed I won’t get arthritis. Look I didn’t expect to get to where I was going. Like you, I didn’t have any destination, I was just wandering aimlessly. What you need’s some direction.” “What direction. I’ve been in many directions an’ I don’t know whether I’m coming or going.” “I bet you haven’t tried anything different from what you know.” “I’ve tried, I’m just no good at anythin’ else.” “Maybe you’re coming down on yourself too much. If you expect to be good at something right away you set yourself up for doing nothing. But you’ve also got to sell yourself.” “That’s exactly what I’ll be doing.” “It’s much more of a competitive world out there Frank, you got to be in the race.” “That’s just it! I’m too passed it to race. There’s too much thinking on your feet. I don’t know anything when you ask me. I only know when I tell you. My grasp of something is like water draining in

the bath, with the only eureka moment being the final plop as the final rush empties out. But once I know somethin’ I know somethin’” Bill knelt down on the bar until his eyes were level with Frank’s. “Look Frank...I may be looking for someone to help out behind the bar, you up for it?” “Sure, I guess...if you can put up with all my crap?” “Well,” replied Bill throwing down the cloth, “it’s a good job I know ya.”

Anthony tends to fidget with his thoughts in the hope of laying them to rest. He has managed to lay them in a number of literary magazines including The Faircloth Review, The Pygmy Giant, Shot Glass Journal, Turbulence, Underground, The Bohemyth, Torrid Literature Journal and Crack the Spine, amongst others.

Hilary Sideris Hail! Hail! It was something about the total brilliant sound— it flew off the needle the first time I put his record on— that made me love the man, let me put up with him in years to come—the only bastard I didn’t punch back. I was just proud not to go down. He’d sidle over midsolo, the sonofabitch, & whisper in my ear, “After this chorus, let’s switch to B flat,” to shake it up, give Keef a problem to work out—nothing malicious, just Chuck being Chuck.

Hilary Sideris Mush Mouth

I’m told there’s a Jimmy Reed church & I believe the soul craves catchy tunes, two-string turnarounds. So what if he stumbled onstage, mumbled the words? Why stress about his ungreatness, the way he stripped laconic down to slur? Chess never got it—that’s their loss!— his lack, his slacker’s lope that gave us hope to jelly roll. Sometimes the boss man ain’t that big, just tall.

Hilary Sideris's Keith Richards poems have appeared in Acoustic Levitation, Houseboat, Manila Envelope, Spinozablue, Wild Violet, and Yes, Poetry. Her new chapbook, Sweet Flag, is available from Finishing Line Press. She lives in Brooklyn and works for The City University of New York.

Ryan Mohr Depression’s Biography He enjoys stories when the antagonist wins; movies ending in heartbreak. At six he sucked the tip of a Crayola marker, its color bright purple on paper, but rotten plum on his tongue. As a boy, he would light plastic wrestling figures on fire and watch their peach flesh turn black. Years later, he will wonder if the heart can be charred from so many years of sin. He has recurring dreams where Jesus dresses in khakis and cross-trainers, and sits cross-legged in a dusty Des Moines farmhouse living room with a giant puzzle of the earth shouting, Yes!, it is finished! He has yet to witness a murder, but once saw a friend get sucker-punched into unconsciousness at a local dive bar over a Dolphins-Browns bet gone bad. Football should be played without rules, he told police after they arrived for questioning, and before he denied knowing the victim. He knows every rule has sub-rules, but why should the greater good dictate allowable pleasure? Throughout his early twenties, he believed the ultimate act of chivalry involved holding a woman’s hair back as she blew chunks. Twice he hid naked in his married girlfriend’s closet after her drunken husband slammed a post-hole digger through the living room walls. After the love affair soured, he wrote her a letter, shattering a bottle of Beck’s over his brother’s skull and signing his name in blood. A farmer found him naked in a summer cornfield with the green glass crown jammed into his forearm and an ear of corn clenched in his fist. Abandoned by love, he became a fisherman. Love is like working on this Alaskan fishing boat, he told a shipmate, the waves are sometimes beautiful, but you have a fucking three to one chance of survival. Eventually, he failed to fall overboard and got canned after crawling into an empty net. In Vegas he sniffed a stripper’s pink thong and played her saline tits like trumpets. Minutes later, in a frenzied, cocaine-fueled high, he was handcuffed and dragged out by three security guards while he proclaimed a Tijuana prostitute the true jazz fanatic. Strapped to a cot in a Cleveland psyche ward, an IV dripping into his veins, his sister, two years younger, stood at his bedside in her blue nurse’s scrubs, question-mark shaped teardrops running down her cheeks. As doctors slapped electrodes to his forehead, he wondered if his half-sister, twenty-seven years younger and wearing diapers, has learned to walk. He figured he’ll never see her again after he moves to Colorado, Maine, or Singapore. Maybe at the funeral he thought, remembering Dad smokes two packs of Chesterfield’s a day and will probably die before she graduates high school.

Ryan Mohr lives in Ohio. His interests include Postmodern theory, Howard Stern, the NBA, and Social Constructionism. His fiction or poetry has appeared in PANK, Word Riot, Mobius, Rubbertop Review, and elsewhere. He sometimes shares things here:

Holly Combs Jinx Before Turning Blue It was not until then that I realized that nothing she'd ever said was to be taken at face value. She wasn't killing herself, just murdering the part of herself that loved me. I'd been reading her like non-fiction, when all along she'd been begging to be read as a poem.

Holly Combs May Through December Despite our mutual disgust for one another, we made love often. It was the only activity during which we could completely allow ourselves to forget that the other was there.

Holly Combs is a queer feminist writer and artist living in New Orleans. Her poetry and fiction have been/are to be featured in From the Depths, The Diverse Arts Project, Skin to Skin, maglit, Calla Lilies (an anthology by Write-on Publishing), 1718: A New Orleans Reading Series, and The New Orleans Queer Writers Showcase. She is currently working on her first novel. More of her art and writing can be found at:

Anya Lichtenstein Caution: Children at Play The alarm clock buzzed, but it wasn’t morning, and none of us were sleeping. All nine cousins crept out of our sleeping bags and shed our matching Cousins Club t-shirts to reveal all black Underarmor. Sara and I bumped into each other in the dark and clasped hands over our mouths to suppress giggles. Asher, our leader, shushed us. Our Aunt Susie and Uncle Carrie were in the adjoining room, he cautioned. The adults can never, must never know. We slipped out the spring door one by one and sprinted down the rust, mustard, and olive diagonal-striped carpet to the North Elevator at the end of the hall. Waiting for the elevator to arrive, I stared at the painting of the rainbow chevron and debated whether this was my favorite piece of a collection that graced the elevator vestibules of every other hotel floor. Down the elevator, past the greenhouse tunnel, out the back door to the shed by the waterfall, where the signs lay. Each cousin took one and we progressed back inside the Nevele Hotel—the Catskills resort we’d been visiting every Passover for the past thirteen years—distributing them about the grounds as we went. Slow! in the grand foyer, where the walker-clad grandparents (not our grandparents—ours were still spry) would mingle around the pickled and matjes herring at kiddish. Tow Zone! in the lower lobby, where the program director Velma passed through on her golf cart to check on the arts and crafting, simcha dancing, and photo-boothing. Caution! Children at Play! in the kid’s camp area that we successfully avoided each year. Deer Crossing! in the South Elevator. It was the last night of our last year at the Nevele—the parents had already informed us we would be attending the Scottsdale Princess in Arizona the following year—and the history of the place fell heavily around us. Nevele is eleven spelled backwards. The hotel, legend has it, was named for the eleven school teachers who discovered a waterfall on the grounds in 1903. Though it had been a popular summer vacation spot for New York Jews since its founding, the Nevele’s spring Passover program dates back to the 1950s, when thousands of Jewish families began migrating en masse to the Catskills, just a few hours north of their enclaves in Washington Heights, Flatbush, and Forest Hills. For eight days, these people attended night club shows featuring acts of the likes of Jackie Mason and

Buddy Hackett, Steve Lawrence, and Eydie Gorme. They also attended religious services, and consumed chicken consommé, beef flanken and coconut macaroons to their hearts’ content. My mother’s maternal family had begun partaking of this tradition at the nearby Concord Hotel in the 1960s. I imagine that for my grandmother, this eight-day vacation was a way to reconnect with the New York Jewish community she longed for, having been relocated, upon her marriage to my grandfather, from the Heights to the hick-ish, goyish St. Louis, MO. The family’s sedarim—the ritual dinners observed on the first two nights of the holiday—took place in the communal dining room and were lead by Richard Tucker, the famed American opera singer of Romanian Jewish descent who had a flair for putting cantorial flourishes on the commemorative recitation of the ten plagues. Though we would later secure a coveted, private seder room at the Nevele, my mom and two uncles maintain that their family worked hard back then to make their seder their own. My great uncle Eddie would do his Toscanini impression, for which he would tousle his hair and conduct a rousing chorus of “Chad Gadya.” By the end of the concert, their table would inevitably be the last seder standing. On non-seder nights, my mother, her brothers and cousins would groove at the brand new disco that featured a band called “The Dead End” and perform original cousin plays such as "Snow Greenbaum and the Seven Rabbis" in the Cordillion Room, a grand hall with a red carpet and Greek pillars and statues lining the perimeters. The next generation adopted many of these traditions at the Nevele, whose grounds and interior remained true to earlier eras of the Catskills Passover programs. The shaggy carpets in the Golden Gate wing, the polyester quilts that adorned each bed, the oversized orange couches in the no-longeroperational “ski chalet” created an ambiance similar to that of the decrepit hotel in The Shining. By 1990, the year of my birth and the Fredman/Lichtenstein clan’s first pilgrimage, the Nevele was advancing past kitsch to a state of insurmountable disrepair. The cousins, of course, were not aware of this growing dilapidation. Or if we knew it, we used it to our advantage. We collected the ladybugs that came to live out their last days behind the curtains and under the radiators of our seder room. We caravanned through the closed-off North wing, avoiding loose floorboard planks. One time, we encountered a stray cat that had come in from the deactivated fire escape door. “Cow! I mean cat! Watch out for that cat!” Asher barked at us. We exploded with laughter. Asher, a tall kid with big teeth and heavy lower lip, had a large vocabulary at his disposal but slightly less finesse in his delivery. It seemed, for a large portion of his childhood and well into his adolescence, that the teeth and lip got in the way.

On slow days, the cousins would trundle downstairs to the “Cousin Brucie Room,” a space replete with exposed pipes, dance floor, and a jukebox that played the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” and Elvis’ “Light My Fire” in turn. The girl cousins choreographed eight-counts while the boys attempted the worm and other break-dancing moves. As the youngest girl of the group—seven years younger than Asher—I was notorious for befriending non-cousins during dance breaks and inviting them to sit in on rehearsals of the Cousin’s Club talent show, which wasn’t a talent show at all so much as a sketch comedy routine. “You’re compromising the confidentiality of unrefined and critically vulnerable comic material,” Asher would scold. Then my sister Maia would quit in protest, whereupon the ever reluctant Eli would quit in solidarity, or rather, in unfettered relief. At this point, of course, Tanya, the eldest girl cousin and grand peacemaker, would be called into play. In a gentle, sing-songy tone, Tanya would soothe bruised egos and gently coax each disgruntled member back into the fold for the greater good (and fragile integrity) of the group. “I’ll only rejoin if I can be emcee.” Maia was always the holdout. Tanya reasoned, “Well, except Asher already called it. How ‘bout if you and Asher co-emcee?” “...I’ll consider.” When we finally tired of negotiations and forged tenuous détentes, we’d head down to the mezzanine dining room for a lunch of tuna fish, egg salad, cream of [insert vegetable here] soup, and chocolate milk, especially made for us by our favorite waiter and busgirl, Howie and Cheryl. Howie and Cheryl’s dedication earned them their very own Cousin’s Club t-shirts. In gratitude, Cheryl took us out back and let us take turns climbing on her red Harley. Then, of course, there were the frequent hikes up the Nevele falls, through the creek on a selfmade cobblestone bridge, past the empty shack with “Sparky peed here” and “Summer 1988 forever” etched into its doorposts, beyond the plateau with the buzzing deer carcasses and warnings that read Watch out for flying objects, they might be bullets! and over the steep, loose-rocked ridge, culminating in the grand vista atop the sole ski slope. There we would practice swinging from the empty chair lifts and roll-racing down the mild incline. It was on one of these hikes, in the thirteenth year of the Fredman/Lichtenstein Nevele trips, that we spotted the signs. Had they been there in past years? There they lay, belly up against the empty shack, disengaged from their intended purpose. Begging to be used for something, for anything. And so we devised a plan. On the final night of our final year, we would steal those signs in the still of the night and make our mark on the decaying complex that had granted us some of our fondest childhood memories.

Sneaking back upstairs after we completed the mission, it occurred to me that this could have possibly been the most dangerous, most gutsy act I, a cautious child, had ever perpetrated. As we safely re-entered the room we were sharing for the annual Cousin’s Sleepover, I pictured the look on the adults’ faces as we passed by Deer Crossing! on our way to breakfast the next morning. I practiced my poker face as I stole back into my sleeping bag and drifted off into long-awaited sleep. At seven o’clock the next day, we quickly dressed and bolted to the South elevator. No Deer Crossing! We exited the elevator at level M and made a beeline for the grand foyer. No Slow! No Children at Play! No Tow Zone! All gone. Lifted at the crack of dawn by the maintenance team. How did we not see this coming? Our grand finale obliterated, thwarted by lack of foresight. I looked at Sara, who looked to Maia, who looked up at Asher for consolation, for deliverance. He stood taller than usual, and instructed slowly and clearly, “The adults can never, must never know.”

Anya Lichtenstein recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where she received the Rittenberg Prize for Best Undergraduate Student in English. Her essay, Beating Ploughshares into iPods, was recently published in Cleaver Magazine.

Helen Wickes Reminders to My Biographer IIIb Above all, I hated lists. If you’re reading this, you’ve stolen it from my left front pocket, and what were you doing there anyhow? Cii A few lovers, ex-lovers, might-have-beens, will-not-have-beens, should-never-have-beens, and some of the best your definition won’t fit. vi That my heart was more than once a hornets’ nest, I regret the inconvenience. 23 I preferred the hours of twilight, black silk, fine hairs on a wrist, a bag of salty corn chips. Footnote Oh sure, go ahead, write what you will, and remember, I’ve a long memory. I’m a hellhound and will dog you to your grave. Addendum to Footnote Although last week I did admit that I forgot your birthday, your middle name, and what,

if anything, I meant to tell you. 7 Carve this on my tombstone: another wayfarer. 2A Despite what I already knew at seven, the Vatican now concedes: that Hell is not the burning nor the freezing, but the unendurable absence. 46 Not Monday’s nor Tuesday’s child, neither full of nor fair of, which would have been an entirely different blessing.

Helen Wickes Shame This is about how our father dealt with a chicken-killing dog. No way could she hide from him. He saw red feathers dangling from her black lips and found the plump body stashed behind the woodpile. He whistled, Some enchanted evening, you will meet a stranger, while uncoiling the twine, and with infinite gentleness, he tied the limp hen around the dog’s neck and stared until the dog lowered her eyes. Then he actually invited the kids, the other dogs, grown people, and even the cats to join him in staring. Not one of us, praise be, were that stupid or that complicit. Bad dog, he said, you made me do this. The dog, not escaping the yellow dangling feet, the smell, the crush of feathers, the bloody beak, the dog whined and groveled. Night took too long to arrive and with it came disrupted sleep. In the morning no one told about hearing a brush of wings on the windowpane or seeing the half-moon spill itself out across the fields and the pond. All that cold, clean light the moon can’t take back.

Helen Wickes' first book of poems, In Search of Landscape, was published in 2007 by Sixteen Rivers Press. The two poems in Crack the Spine are from her unpublished manuscript, Single Thread. She lives in Oakland, California and is a retired psychotherapist.

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