ix | Fall/Wint ue S e r Iss 20
Embodied Effigies Summer 2016
Embodied Effigies, a creative nonfiction literary magazine, publishes truth in all forms. The magazine proudly gathers work from around the world, thanks to the curiosity, interest, and sharing of our contributors. Information regarding future issues, submission guidelines, and archives of Embodied Effigies can be found at: http://effigiesmag.com Please email us with any questions or comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright ÂŠ 2016 Embodied Effigies, John Carter, and Catherine Roberts. The works presented in Embodied Effigies are licensed under a Creative Commons AttributionNonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Typefaces: Trajan Pro, Minion Pro, Cambria, Bookman Old Style, Helvetica, Engravers MT, Znikomit, Courier TT. Cover, Verso, Masthead Images: public domain license, obtained from vintageprintable.com. All rights revert to author after publication. The views and opinions expressed by authors featured in Embodied Effigies do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the editors. Publication of Embodied Effigies is made possible by the out-of-pocket, not-our-day-job workings of John Carter and Catherine Roberts. We would also like to extend our unending thanks to everyone who made this issue possible: our contributors, our advisers, our families, our friendsâ€”Thank you.
Embodied Effigies Masthead Managing Co-Editors John Carter Catherine Roberts
John Carter is a graduate student at Ball State University, where he is earning an MA in English: Creative Writing. His most recent chapbook, At the Edge of the Fence, was completed in 2013, and his work can also be found in Volumes One and Two of The Ball State Writers’ Community Chapbook Series, as well as The Broken Plate. He lives in the cornfields of Indiana with his wife, Chelce, and cat-child, Emerald, both of whom tolerate the stresses of living with a writer far better than they ought to. A more extensive list of his writing blood, sweat, and tears can be found on his website—jekcarter.com
Catherine Roberts teaches Creative Writing at
Ivy Tech Community College. She received her MFA in Nonfiction Writing from Ashland University and her BA in English: Creative Writing from Ball State University. She works primarily in her hometown’s library, helping the community to better access the written word. She lives in Indiana with her husband, Dan, and their son, Gray. Some of her work is available through Ball State University’s libraries and published online at The Prompt.
Table of Contents
The Alligator C. Cimmone
A Brief History of Children’s Literature Glen Armstrong
Talking to Cats J. David Bell
In Praise of Simple Living (just add ice cream)
Into the Canyon
Lily Iona MacKenzie
A Brief History of Cupid
What’d I Say?
Pounders Beach, 1968
M. Courtney Hughes
Sneakers Bare the Soul
Mara A. Cohen
Table of Contents
Long Walk Home Mara A. Cohen
The Walrus and The Curator Bill Schroeter
Ripe Figs Won’t Keep Jessica Seymour
The Summer Etan Patz Went Missing
One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Trash
A Brief History of Margaret
Me and My Friends
Africa Refuses to Rise
How We Endure (Divorce)
Finley J. MacDonald
The Alligator C. Cimmone
I’ve eaten a lot of worms in my lifetime. Little, white, crinkly, wiggling worms. Most of my childhood summers were spent eating worms. I never knew I was even eating worms until Charlotte Boykin raped my blackberry bucket like the US Food & Drug Administration. + “You aint eat’n these out there are ya?!” she asked. Her dirty nails were all I saw as she reached into my bucket and taunted me with her tomboy haircut. “No.” Lie. You tell a lot of lies when you are young. Mostly for staying out of trouble, but partly because you are trying to figure out what is acceptable to others. Without lying, you are prone to being the butt of someone’s harsh joke and never knowing why – and never knowing how to fix the ‘butt.’ “You know all them damn blackberries have worms in ‘em, don’t cha?” And as Charlotte laughed and cut up, I remained wide eyed and grinning in denial. After all, I had seen her eat her fair share of them and I politely assumed that Denice and I would have been dead three summers ago if this tall tale were, indeed, true. No matter how many potentially life threatening species resided in the bucket, my daily adventures of picking blackberries never ceased. My dirty feet and square toes snuck me into almost every square inch of Hanly Road. Ditches and hay field fence lines expected me most frequently and patches of shady oaks swayed to let me shop around. Every evening, my fingers were sad with purple stains. My bucket would pull on my arm, “Let’s go home,” but I would re-do my ponytail and re-walk the ditches just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. I would watch Denice walk to her front porch, drop her bucket and head inside to help her Embodied Effigies | 1
grandfather roll cigarettes. And every evening, as I watched the sun burn down Haggerman Road, across the hay field, I would walk the Service Road. The Service Road was a calm road. Quiet. Unpaved. White, jagged pebbles and pale dust. No discount oyster shells or broken concrete. No traffic. Right at the corner of Hanly Road was a break. A relief in the road itself. A gravel road that chose not to round the corner and a road that took you away from the danger of Ms. Houston’s flying red Oldsmobile and the 484 school bus. It was a pin needle of a road, lined with a leaning barbed wire fence and pepper weeds. It was a road that took me the furthest from my parent’s house. It was a road that, if walked just far enough, took me clean out of their sight. I walked the Service Road more sinfully than I did my own road. I listened more carefully for a car, and watched more strenuously for a crossing snake. And when I rode my bike on its gravel, I was more careful with my braking. I would hate to leave a line on the Service Road. The crickets sang louder on the Service Road and the locusts, although nestled by the thousands in the oaks, were more respectful. The wind blew softly on the Service Road, yet just strong enough to throw up white dust on the pepper weeds. There were no beer cans or dry Kroger grocery sacks for collection on the sides of the Service Road. The ditches were shallow and grass grew where I would have thought mud should appear. There was an occasional raccoon out on business. I would pause. He would pause. And we would both go back to our walking. There was a small patch of trees. Pecan. Oak. Hackberry. There was poison ivy, I had been told. Some cow itch, I had heard. But they were tucked neatly away from the edge of the road and were at peace with my visits. There was a broken culvert, waiting to be hauled away. There were sleeping hay bales. And at the end of the Service Road, there was an alligator. Although I had never seen the alligator, I had heard quite the stories of his shameless existence. Large and dark, with his rough edges and his long nails, he guarded all of what was unknown at the end of the Service Road from his den under the cattle guard. The DEAD END sign at the entry of the Service Road was intimidating, but my road had one too. My road, however, did not have an alligator. Across the alligator’s cattle guard were two houses. One was white and tight with straight boards and clean windows. The other was tall and dark and its triangles were grand and ghostly. It set further back from the white house and was surrounded by many trees, while the white house had one, large, grand oak standing watch. 2 | Embodied Effigies
I knew that on the other side of the dark, lonely house slid the river. I had heard that many blackberry vines ran wild along the skirts of the river. I could only imagine what lived on the other side of that cattle guard. Every evening, I stood at the edge of the cattle guard. The cross bars, thick and bubbled with rust in places, were spaced a few inches apart. My eyes jumped from side to side, across this bar and that one, past a weed and over another cross bar, looking for a sight of the alligator. The light of the sun was never a match for the great alligator. Between the bars and the weeds and the rust, I would never find him. I knew that he slept during the day, and I knew that he was fierce and bold and wild. I knew that he had snapped at Charlotte and I knew Denice had seen his tail. I knew that he was fearless. I knew that he had no mercy for trespassers and I knew that Donnie Joe fed him every night. Denice had told me that Donnie Joe lived in the tight, white house and he was quite the stranger. His diesel truck only grumbled first thing in the morning and about 5:30 in the evening. His tractors were hard and loud. He had guns. She had told me about an incident where he had shot towards her as she peered over the cattle guard one afternoon. She said he had yelled at her. She said he fed the alligator. And I should stay as far away as I could from the cattle guard and Donnie Joe. For years I took the warning with ease. I knew I would never cross the cattle guard; therefore, Donnie Joe and his alligator were not my burden. Donnie Joe kept driving his diesel truck and the alligator did his job. I kept with my blackberry picking. And the Service Road kept its peace.
“Uh, huh. No, no. That is polite of you to ask, but no I don’t think that is a good idea. Yes, and thank you. No, no. Alright. Ok, then. Bye-bye.” “Who was that?” I asked. My mother’s green eyes twitched and jerked, “Miss Evans.” “Who is Miss Evans?” I asked. My mother was aggravated. She usually was in this position. I wasn’t sure if ‘Miss Evans’ had brought on the problem or I.
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“She lives across the road there—down across the Service Road—and she was calling to ask if you could babysit for her. She has a little boy. He rides the bus with you and she asked me if I would let you go over there in the afternoons to watch him until she gets home.” “Oh.” ‘Miss Evans,’ upon later investigation, was Donnie Joe’s wife. She drove the blue Corsica. I would watch her from my stilts of the school bus. Each day, the Corsica waited patiently at the beginning of the Service Road. Her arm rested inside the door of the Corsica and her head kept the same tilt every day. Maybe she was tired. She never smiled. When I thought about Miss Evans, I realized her behavior was understandable. She was married to Donnie Joe. I was certain her ill character was no different than his, based on the simple fact they had hired an alligator as a security guard. Her son, Dustin, did ride my bus, and I paid extra attention to him that Monday after my mother received the phone call from his mother. He was well kept. He was as straight and as tight and as orderly as the little white house across the cattle guard. He was quiet. Pretty eyes and always had a haircut. Clean. Wore a clean back pack. And right when 484 stopped at the blue Corsica, his feet shuffled with great determination, to make it off of the bus as quietly and as unnoticed as possible. His back pack was stiff and BANG BANGED into the other seats as he scurried away. He was tiny. His head hung low most days and I attributed this, on this day in particular, to the fact that his father was a bit of a harrow. I watched him scurry, brown bangs down, towards the Corsica. His entry to the passenger seat was well articulated and woooooommmmm the Corsica would go. Backwards. I watched Dustin’s eyes dream ahead as he was sucked back across the cattle guard. I could only hope that I would see him the next day, unscathed. My stop was the next, and I was sticky and frizzy from the day. My backpack was wailing for help and its zipper was hanging on just long enough. Micah Bohon talked to Mrs. Rosenover about his dad, or fishing, or whatever he thought of, and I was sure he had hardly even noticed Dustin or the blue Corsica. What a story he would have if he knew about Donnie Joe and his alligator.
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The shrill and the shriek of 484 came to a stop as quickly as it had revved its engine and the smell of used diesel and rubber filled the air. The tall narrow doors opened with the POPP and SLIDE of Mrs. Rosenover’s thumb on the trigger. She paid no attention to my messiness. She kept on with Micah and mumbled a GOODBYE HAVE A GOOD AFTERNOON out of habit, I’m sure. With a swift slide and pop, 484 closed up and pulled away too quickly. My crunch on the driveway was customary but Micah Bohon’s story trumped my safety and Mrs. Rosenover was gone. I stared at the warped wood frame house. The rusty Oldsmobile sat in front and its pointy edges made me nervous. The metallic tape outlining its windows was not flawless; everyone knew about the rusty, broken bubbles underneath. There was no mistaking that I lived here. I was as messy and wild as the crooked house and the car wrapped in metallic tape. The broken Ford truck slept off to the left and when the bus kids passed back by, they could see the ’37 Cadilac in the back yard – a Titanic wreckage imposture. Denice and her brood, off to the right, were just as much my claiming as my own residence. The broken lawn chairs, the potatoes growing in old tires, and the metal shack full of trash and freezers were my extended territory. I was certain Micah Bohon would stare down from his tower in 484 and eyeball me and this place and never skip a beat on his story telling. He was a Haggerman Road kid – a kid that lived in a pointy topped house and whose dad was related to everyone. The type of ‘everyone’ that my family only told stories about. I think my sister had been married to his uncle and I secretly considered us cousins. That would make Renee Bohon and me cousins, too. And she was pretty. My evening ritual in that rickety wood frame house was usual and disturbed. My mother would cook the hamburger helper with her pointy lips and her cigarette. Her perm would sit so tight on the top of her head that I imagined the sound of it SNAPPING if it ever was tousled. The shhhhhhhh and haaaaaaa of the frying hamburger meat along with the roar of the newly installed vent-a-hood made the kitchen quite the factory. My mother would churn out the food and the orders and the questions to my father and I, while he and I kept our own spaces. My father’s space was the living room by default and stereotypical culture, as my mother owned the kitchen. She took her morning coffee, her Days of Our Lives, her dinner and her romance novels all in the broke-backed pine chair at the kitchen dining room table. Woman’s Day and lottery tickets were also welcomed guests. Invitation only, please. Embodied Effigies | 5
My space was the best available to non-paying tenants: outside. There was no hill or sinkhole that I had not surveyed. I was immediately notified of new crawdad holes by Denice and every stray cat had a name – and a nickname. Sticks and buckets were strategically placed throughout the property. There was a Poking Stick. There was a Dog Stick. There was a Water Bucket for hauls. There was a Frog Bucket. There was a Brick—origin unknown, but was used habitually as a tool of defense and conquer. My space extended further than the grass. My space was the ditches. The Boykin’s lot. The street. The corner. And the Service Road. The Service Road found me that evening, caressing its edges. Poke Stick was the stick of choice today. There were no more blackberries and the snakes were hiding more and more. The need for Poke Stick on the Service Road was minimal. There was nothing odd on the Service Road to poke. There was no carcass to examine. There was no dirty shoelace. I made my way to the cattle guard. The beastly alligator, exhausted from his day of protection, was nestled deep within the weeds and the grass. The sunset was falling onto Haggerman Road. I thought about Micah Bohon and Renee. I thought about their fair skin and their blonde hair. I thought about the warm yellow lights glowing in their pointy topped houses. I imagined they were smiling and with their mothers and their fathers. I was certain they weren’t outside. The cattle guard lay silent. Stiff. The weeds were straight and strong. I stared. He has to be in there. And why does he not come out? I could coax any stray animal into my small hands. I could pick up birds who didn’t peck and I could walk with snakes who didn’t pounce. I could lure the most embarrassed frog out into daylight with a bucket of water. I could catch craw-deads with yarn and a bit of ham from my mother’s fridge. The Miller’s wild dog had never bitten me. And the shrimp, in my dad’s bait bucket, had never thumped me with their horns. “Hello.” I whispered. “Are you in there?” I continued.
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The wind blew slow and the weeds answered me, “shhhhwaaaashhhh.” “Alligator?” I whispered. “Are you there?” I could see Donnie Joe’s diesel truck and the tight, white house. No one in sight. Just me. And Donnie Joe’s alligator. I inched my right foot towards the cattle guard. “Hellllllo?” I whispered. “I will not hurt you. I heard about you.” Shhhhwaaaaashhhhhh. Swooooooooooo…… I stared at the tight, white house. The blue Corsica sat quietly. And I thought about Dustin and his haircut. I saw the warm, yellow glow of the little white house. Donnie Joe was nowhere to be found. Denice was in her house. Charlotte wasn’t taunting me about my blackberries. My mother wasn’t yelling to my father about the broken wood frame house. My eyes burned as I stared down at the cattle guard. My eyebrows were stumped. My heart was sighing. “Please come out, Mr. Alligator. I am not going to cross the cattle guard. I am not going to hurt Donnie Joe or his little boy. I just want to see you.” I spoke.
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“I am not like the other girls on Hanly Road.” I advised. “I am not afraid.” I urged. The tears from my eyes were gentle and cool. My parents were out of reach. I was the only thing between the cattle guard and the alligator. “Please let me see you.” I begged. I dropped my Poke Stick in between the rusty pipes. Into the darkness of the weeds. Into the great alligator’s den. “Cimmone!” I heard someone call. “Cimmone, is that you?” My feet spun round on the white rocks and the dust and my neck STOPPED. In the distance was a woman. She was walking closer to me. Closer to the cattle guard. Her walk was smooth and soft. “Miss Evans…” I whispered. It was her. Donnie Joe’s wife. The woman who drove the blue Corsica. The Miss Evans that never smiled, was there. Right in front of me. Smiling. She walked closer and I could see her white Reebox and fair skin. Her hair was thin and blonde and golden. Her eyes were gentle and her cheeks were full. Her teeth were clean and white. Her lips. Soft. I looked up at her. She smiled. “I called your mother the other day. Did she tell you I called?” “Yes, she told me.” I replied. 8 | Embodied Effigies
“I was just finishing my walk for the night. Would you like to come in and meet my son, Dustin?” “Sure.” I answered. My afternoon had shifted. My tears were dried up and Miss Evans walked towards the cattle guard. I stood still and determined in my stare. I watched her feet balance on the bars of the cattle guard. One. Two. Three. Four steps and she was crossed. She was on the other side of the cattle guard. She turned. And waved COME ON. I threw a shallow smile at her and walked towards the cattle guard. She waited. And I walked. One. Two. Shhhwwwooooooossssssssss….. Three. Wooooossss….. Four steps. I landed on the other side of the cattle guard. The alligator was quiet. The sound of the Service Road was closed now and the opening of the long drive to the tight, white house was new and fresh. The land was open and bright. The grass was thin and clean and patient. The dust of the long drive way was kind. Embodied Effigies | 9
The blue Corsica waited. And the straight white house was glowing. The drive way was thin and long. We walked towards Donnie Joe’s house. I felt my stomach clenching and my frizzy hair blew across my face. CLUNK. CLUNK. CLUNK. Miss Evans walked up the stairs of the house and I followed quietly behind. The click and pull of the metal hurricane door warned with its clean glass. The white door pushed open and there I stood—in the presence of Donnie Joe, himself. I wanted to ask him about his alligator. I wanted to ask him why he shot at little girls. I wanted to ask him why he was so mean and why his truck was so loud. I wanted to ask him everything. “Donnie, this is Cimmone. I’m may have her sit with Dustin in the afternoons for me,” she explained. And like an alligator leaving his den, Donnie Joe un-wound himself from his brown recliner. He stood before me, finally.
“Hello.” I said reluctantly. “Well, hey there,” he giggled. His dark brown curls peeked out from under his ball cap and his denim work shirt was thin and worn. His jeans were worn fresh, besides the paleness of their knees. His smile was loose and his mustache was thick and friendly. He didn’t look mean at all. He hadn’t even yelled at me. I scanned the room for guns and anything that may appear to be alligator food. I smelled Pledge and new linoleum. Donnie Joe returned to rest his body into the recliner and Miss Evans continued drinking her water. 10 | Embodied Effigies
I stood there. I stood in the tight, white house with straight windows and the big oak tree. I had crossed the cattle guard. Walked right over the alligator. And stood in Donnie Joe’s house. I was sure my dirty toes would leave a mark on the clean linoleum and my hair was filling the clean house with the smell of fried hamburger meat and cigarettes. I wiped my face and I could feel the grit of my palms. I looked down at my dirty fingernails. Thank goodness I didn’t bring my Poke Stick. As Miss Evans went on to tell me about her thoughts on me watching her son, I couldn’t help but stare at the grand, oak cabinet to my left. It was tall and smooth and shiny. Its glass was clear and happy to do its job. The knobs were shiny and engraved and delicate. The cabinet was beautiful. The Pledge bottle and a droopy paper towel sat on its ledge. And as the cabinet stood smiling, and as Miss Evans talked and Donnie Joe sat curled up and patient, the inside of that grand, smooth cabinet took form. I leaned forward to get a closer look. I squinted my eyes and held my breath. I stared. I stared the way my mother always scolded me for doing. I stared at something else while someone was talking to me. Teacups. Neatly placed inside the grand cabinet were ten porcelain teacups. With matching saucers. I had heard about porcelain teacups. I had seen them in cartoons being broken and smashed. I had seen them on my mother’s Days of Our Lives. My mother had no porcelain teacups of her own. I had a teacup once, in a plastic play set my father had bought for me at Eckerd Drug. But my nieces had broken the saucer and I had kept the teacup in my room. I had put tadpoles in it once. One time I had filled it up with some sugar from my mother’s canister and eaten it all in the back yard. I had dug in the yard with the teacup more times than I could remember. I had even used the teacup to scrape dried mud off the sides of my feet. I had never, however, displayed my teacup. I stared at the ten teacups and their saucers. Each one had flowers, different patterns, respectively, and each one sat at a perfect angle – displaying a handle to the right, one to the left, one to the right. Dainty yet fearless, the pretty teacups smiled at me. I smiled back. Embodied Effigies | 11
I noticed the evening shadow peering through the straight windows. The house was cool and warm, soft and yellow. And past the house with its teacups, over Miss Evans’ fair skin, and around the other side of Donnie Joe’s dark eyes, slept the alligator. There slept the wise alligator with his patience and his worn hide. There was the alligator doing his job and keeping his space. There was the alligator who rested at the end of the Service Road. The alligator that guarded the teacups and their flowers. The alligator that made sure Dustin and his back pack made it to 484 and back, each day. There slept the alligator, under the setting sun, next to the hayfield and leaning barbed wire fence, who had watched me every day, and waited for me to say, “Hello.”
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A Brief History of Childrenâ€™s Literature Glen Armstrong
We invented the fairy tale to counter the unspeakable, to do so gathered at the hearth, to obscure deathâ€™s perverse need for young flesh with less efficient abductors. Here we find, instead of fever and dystrophy, a purgatory populated by satyrs, snakes, twisted matriarchs and their huntsmen lovers. Though the child disappears from our embrace, he grows wild and fearless in this Neverdom, outwitting, with acorns and whittled sticks, the creature that longs for his body.
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Talking to Cats J. David Bell
Our cat, Loki, stretches on the living room rug, his back arched, his fingers and toes flexing. A sound escapes him: a grunt, a moan. reermrhr We talk to him all the time. Who doesn’t talk to their cat? We ask him simple, direct questions. Like, “Are you hungry, Loki?” Or (walking in the door), “How’s it goin’, Loke?” He almost always answers. eergmr Other times, though—I can’t be the only one who does this, can I?—I ask him about more serious stuff. Stuff I really want to know the answers to. Usually it’s when we’re alone, Loki and me. I’ll pose a question to him in frustration, or in earnest. Sometimes both. “Why is the world such a mess?” “How hard can it be to pass a climate change bill?” “What’s it like to die?” Loki returns my gaze, his eyes big and black. He has a ready answer. rrmo How’s it goin’, Loke? eemau Loki’s yen to communicate is inversely proportional to the sense he makes. In this respect, he’s something like Fox News. The week before she started high school, my daughter blew out her knee in pre-season soccer practice. Torn ACL. Surgery then seven to nine months of rehab. My brother, who suffered the same injury more than thirty years ago, assures me the arthroscopic procedure has been refined, perfected. Embodied Effigies | 15
Talking to Cats
When I watch my fourteen-year-old hobbling around in a leg brace, I’m less confident. Loki sneezes, stretches. urrwo My eighty-four-year-old father deteriorates by the day. He hunches an inch from the TV, casting about for one slim ray of light to puncture the fog that’s descended over his eyes. His hearing is shot. He teeters on his walker, taking a full three minutes to relocate from front hall to kitchen. You can’t tell his arms from his canes. His mind still sharp except for the occasional flutter, he tries ever harder to detain us, to lay some claim on a world that’s rendered him obsolescent. When he visits, he can’t see Loki underfoot, can’t hear the voice from beneath the dining room table. grmwa A Facebook friend tells me of a family who lost their twin boys one year, their infant daughter the next. In the face of such bereavement, what does it matter if I like their page? irmroo The Middle East burns. So does the western U.S. I write checks to charities, letters to Congress. I march, I advocate. The more I care, the more things burn. amoh My wife and I fight, our twenty-year marriage feels suddenly precarious. How can something of such long standing seem to melt and slide at a touch? Loki answers, cheerfully, insouciantly. growu The veneer slips only once each fall, when we take him to the vet. He extends his rear claws (the front are gone), flailing for the plastic lip of the cat carrier as we lower him inside. On the car ride there, he yowls piteously. In the waiting room, his ears flush red, ginger fur lofting from his back in fuzzy 16 | Embodied Effigies
tufts. It’s the one time in his waking life he’s perfectly quiet. The stink of dog must drive him to panic, though they’re utterly silent too. If Loki ever dreams of his own demise, it’s now. But when we return home and ask him how he’s doing, he eyes us sidelong and responds, offhand. mruhr The world, I find, is less cruel than indifferent. It’s there, it’s real, it seems, from a certain distance, like it’s engaging you in a give-and-take. But it’s the student in the back row of the classroom nodding over his smart phone while you solicit his undivided attention. It’s God, maybe. It pronounces, but it’s never troubled itself to attend. mneu The world talks to us all the time. It’s just a really bad listener.
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In Praise of Simple Living (just add ice cream) Alice Lowe
I bought my 1920s bungalow in 1994, just ahead of the housing bubble’s swift ascent. I was thrilled to snag the smallest house in this upscale San Diego neighborhood I love and where I’d been renting for the past two years. The tiny kitchen/dining area came furnished with modern appliances that overwhelmed the space—a full-sized range that filled the one short wall and a massive refrigerator relegated to the dining area. When two people sat at my compact drop-leaf table, one was backed against the fridge and had to move if someone needed to get into it. I replaced them with apartmentsized units that fit side by side where the stove had been. The refrigerator’s only drawback is its almost useless freezer. Frozen foods get waterlogged, caked with ice inside sealed packaging; ice cream melts in minutes. It makes ice cubes—so why not ice cream or even sorbet? The answer must lie in physics or chemistry. When the freezer compartment is wedged shut by ice formations, I bow to the inevitable. I pull the plug to neutralize its juddering and chittering, line up rubber gloves and excavation tools. I play music—Puccini arias, the volume cranked up high, or Cole Porter-era standards with catchy lyrics I can sing along to. Often I burrow into silent meditation. My hands and eyes address the job at hand, but my mind drifts to an uncluttered horizon. When I tell people I defrost my freezer, contemporaries say, “I didn’t know they still made ‘em that way.” Young people say, “Huh?” It’s the kind of thing their mothers or grandmothers talked about doing in olden times, as clichéd as trekking ten miles in the snow to a one-room schoolhouse. Middle-class Americans live in a frost-free world, spoiled by abundance and labor-saving devices. We expect as our due more than most of the world’s people dream of. I’m conscious of my privileged status, a bourgeois American with a home of my own, no debts, and few worries. I live simply, but even my modestly-equipped kitchen has luxuries I take for granted: microwave, toaster, coffee maker, blender. No dishwasher, and until a few years ago I didn’t have a washer and dryer. Every two Embodied Effigies | 19
In Praise of Simple Living
weeks I would stuff clothes and linens into pillowcases and haul them to the laundromat. I’d bring a book or skim Pennysavers and AutoTraders left lying around, munch on a bean tostada from La Posta next door. Once I ran into a friend’s daughter—20-ish, starting out on her own—who acted startled to see me and asked, “What are you doing here?” My laundry, I replied. “No,” she said, “what are you doing here?” To her I was too old to be living like an impoverished student. Didn’t respectable grown-ups have laundry rooms of their own? When another friend upgraded to newer, bigger, “greener” models, she gave me her mini-stackables, and I joined the modern adult world.
I set a bowl of boiling water inside the freezer. Condensation forms on the compartment walls, unyielding at first, then in intermittent drips. I help it along with spatula and long-handled wooden spoon, scraping at the solid mass. I try to work quickly; there are perishables in the fridge. My contemplations aren’t wintry—no sleigh rides, Arctic expeditions, or penguin migrations—but more random, itinerant threads. A banana on the counter—how did people discover they were edible inside their rubbery casings? And pineapples—maybe one fell on someone’s head, cracking open and revealing its sweet hidden treasures. What did I do with that Mark Bittman article on twenty-some ways to use pineapple? No, that was grapefruit. Yellow fruit exhausted, I mentally retrace a chalky trail on the Sussex Downs and ponder the culinary inclinations of crows as I chip away. I scoop out sno-cone-worthy slush, then bigger and bigger chunks. When I pull away whole sheets of ice, I’m back in the moment, hooting like the Yankee fan I am—“Whooee! Yeah!” I wipe up the puddles, stand back and admire the result. “Thank god that’s done,” is my first thought, followed by a satisfied glow, appreciation of the zen-like experience, the joys of simple living. Still, if this machine ever crashes—after twenty years I’m convinced it will outlive me—I’d like its successor to be the same discreet size … but maybe frost-free? Such an indulgence wouldn’t compromise my values; it’s just for the ice cream. 20 | Embodied Effigies
True Companion Mara A. Cohen
My husband sat beside me on the couch. He’d left work early to pick me up, and our daughter was with the sitter. I wore a clingy black dress and strappy stilettos, an outfit I’d chosen to feel sexy and strong, one designed to command his attention. I’d known my husband nearly half my life. No point wasting time with small talk. Besides, the therapist charged by the hour. “What’s the goal here?” I began warily. “Why are we here? Do we want to have a good marriage? Do we want our daughter to grow up in a happy home and marry a good man someday?” “There’s plenty of mistakes on both sides,” my husband replied. “And certainly, there are things that could be better. But overall we have a pretty good marriage.” With that, a trap door opened beneath me, sending me plummeting down a dark well. “We have the worst marriage of anyone I know,” I heard my voice say from somewhere far away. We were all surprised. After a stunned silence, my husband was the first to speak. “Oh, come on!” he countered. “What about that couple at the school? The guy who had the affair, and now they’re getting divorced?” “I don’t know them!” I shot back. “Of all the married couples I know, ours is the worst!” I had, in fact, taken a mental inventory of every married couple I associated with, and each union seemed more content than ours: The bread-winning wife whose do-nothing husband couldn’t make a bed or mow the lawn? Their intertwined pinkies that day at the pier spoke volumes. The verypregnant woman at the potluck whose movie director husband could have had his pick of starlets? Embodied Effigies | 21
He’d gazed at her with moon eyes. I’d considered couples on their second marriages, gay couples, straight couples. My marriage was the worst of them all, so bad it was a source of shame. The marriage I ached for was nothing extravagant. I saw examples everywhere. Like the couple I’d spotted through the passenger-side window while we were stopped at a red light on our way to the therapist’s. They looked to be in their early 70’s and were casually dressed. The man carried a bag of takeout. The sun was sinking low, and their long shadows preceded them as they ambled down the sidewalk. The woman was at least a head shorter than the man, but they’d walked along together, their strides perfectly in-sync. Although I didn’t know them, I could imagine I did. They reminded me of my parents and my parents’ friends. I imagined their house, like the one I’d grown up in, cozy but uncluttered. Like couples everywhere, they argued. Sometimes they slammed doors and said things they regretted. But then they apologized. And then they hugged. Maybe they laughed about it later, or maybe they just forgot and moved on. Most times, though, they got along. One washed while the other dried. Sometimes they talked from the heart about things that mattered to them, and when they did, each knew the other understood. Other times they were quiet together. Most times, things between that couple were normal, ordinary. Comfortable. Easy. Picturing that couple my husband and I were nothing like, my eyes welled with tears. Did I really need to detail the ways our marriage fell short? “I’m the last thing on your list -- your job, your mother, whatever’s on your Blackberry. It’s like you don’t see me. I’ve always excused it, but at this point in my life I feel entitled to better.” I’d never be able to get through a statement like that at home without my husband erupting like a volcano, resonding to my concerns with anger, blame or withdrawl. I struggled against habits I’d acquired during our long marriage—back-peddling, placating, equivocating, apologizing. In the relative safety of the therapist’s office, I took a running leap onto what I knew was perilously thin ice. “It’s almost easier when you’re not around—stuck at the office or away on business because you get so bellicose and domineering and physically withholding. Now my doctors check my weight and my blood pressure and then they ask, ‘How’s your marriage?’ My marriage,” I declare, my voice rising, “is literally making me sick! I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around divorce. That concept’s just not part of my world. But this is so bad for me!” My husband had remained stone-faced throughout my litany. Arms crossed and mouth set in a 22 | Embodied Effigies
tight line, he sat less than a foot away from me on the therapist’s couch, but the gulf between us felt unbridgeable. He gave no indication he wished to speak, so I continued. “After all these years, I’m on a hair-trigger, watching your moods, absorbin your sarcams, your shouting, always wondering how I could say things differently, explain things just so—all so you’ll understand. But nothing I do, nothing I say makes any difference!” I was really sobbing now. “I don’t want a divorce! I don’t want a divorce! But I just don’t know what to do!” My nose was running and my mascara was too, and I didn’t care. “Our daughter is growing up with this!” I wailed. “She sees it! And I tell her, ‘It doesn’t have to be like this.’ I say, ‘My parents weren’t like this. Most marriages aren’t like this.’ And she says, ‘I know, Mommy. I know. It’s different with my friends’ parents.” Tears rolled down my cheeks. I swiped my nose with the back of my hand. My husband plucked a tissue from a box and handed it to me. *** “May I ask you a question?” I said from the doorway. My husband stood at the bathroom sink, a towel wrapped around his waist. He stared at the Blackberry in his hand while hot water streamed from the tap. “Okay,” he replied, his eyes fixed on his Blackberry. “You don’t need to answer this right away. Just think about it.” I waited until my husband put down his Blackberry and met my eyes in the mirror. “How do you envision your life in 10, 15 years -- after you retire? How do you see yourself spending your time? You don’t need to answer right now,” I repeated. I wanted him to weigh his response carefully, but he plunged right in. “I’d like to learn to sail,” he said. “Study Torah. Collect cars.” I had not one iota of interest in any of these things, a fact he knew. Or should have. Embodied Effigies | 23
“Oh, good to know how I fit in.” My tone was biting to cover my sadness and disappointment. “You can learn to drive a stick shift,” my husband added, but I’d already turned away. *** Our daughter had already cleared her place and was drawing in the other room by the time he joined me at the table. He pulled out his Blackberry soon as he sat down and started scrolling through the little screen. Didn’t even acknowledge the meal I’d prepared, barely acknowledged me. It was less consideration than he’d give a stranger on the street. So I asked him to please not look at his Blackberry at the table, and he stormed at me for being critical, and things spiraled down from there. I’d pleaded for him to listen and tried to rephrase my request, but it was futile. Each time I tried to speak, he interrupted with fresh recriminations until in frustration, I shouted to be heard. I should have known better. It was all he needed to stomp off and slam a door. I was so rattled that the half-tablet of Ambien didn’t do the trick. I needed the whole 10-milligrams before I finally drifted off to sleep. But more than an hour before my alarm was set to go off, a chilling thought jolted me awake: Have I squandered too much time already sticking with a marriage that will never leave me anything but alone? My husband’s side of the bed was undisturbed, his pillow still fluffed. So right there in our bed, in the faint glow of dawn, I did a thing that felt taboo. I put myself through a fantasy divorce. Knowing my husband as I did, one thing was sure. There’d be no settling things rationally, amicably. The entire enterprise would be a bloodbath. He’d lawyer-up and be as vindictive as possible. Child custody, financial assets, the whole nine yards. He’d see to it that everything would be a battle. So my first step would be to find a top-notch attorney. I went round and round on that one. How would I get a referral? My imagination got me no further than an office with an oriental rug on the floor and a brass lamp illuminating a mahogany desk. If it came down to it, would I be willing to give up the house we’d devoted so much money and energy to remodeling? In a heartbeat. It was just another asset to be divided. What about the furniture, the books, the art, the dishes -- all those material things we’d amassed over the years, objects of beauty 24 | Embodied Effigies
and utility? None of them mattered. Not even that Japanese screen hanging opposite my bed I enjoy every morning when I open my eyes. The one thing I really wanted was a photograph of my daughter hanging at the end of the hall. She’s pictured with her legs in the air and a pair of my fanciest highheeled shoes on her little feet. But the portrait hanging outside the bedroom of the three of us laughing? Let him keep that one—a reminder of what he’d lost. *** I crept downstairs to the kitchen enjoy my coffee while the rest of the house was still asleep. Groggy from the sleeping pill, I craved the caffeine. Shit, I thought when I saw the fluorescent glow of the under-cabinet lights leaking out from under the door. He’s up. I braced myself for what I might encounter on the inside—piles of mail and periodicals on every surface, assorted personal electronics devices glowing away. I knew the drill. He’d shoot a little sideways glance at me when I came in and hope that if he behaved as if everything was okay I’d forget about his tirade from the night before. I knew my part too. Don’t mention that the empty bottle of wine on the counter or the fact that he never came to bed. Just play along like all the whole sorry evening’s been forgotten no or risk another fight. Shit. “Hi,” he said over his shoulder when I opened the door. He was standing at the granite counter near the kitchen sink, focused on the glowing LED screen of his iPad, his Blackberry an arm’s length away. My morning sanctuary was bathed in the eerie glow of fluorescent lights and LEDs. “Hi,” I replied flatly. I flipped off the fluorescent lights and turned on the overhead incandescents. I could see the display my husband had open his iPad, an application to control the giant “disk vault” containing “uncompressed audio files” of what must be his 50,000 CDs, not to mention hundreds of DVDs and Blu-Rays. Maybe thousands. From across the room, I could see he was scrolling through a list of titles illuminated on the screen. Typical. Totally immersed in his electronics. “How’d you sleep?” he said, his eyes glued to his iPad.
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“Fine,” I replied without expression. I took out a mug, poured it ¼-full with milk, and zapped it in the microwave. Still not looking at me, he carried his iPad to the touch panel mounted on the wall by the light switch and began pressing buttons on the display. My irritation rose with each “beep” of the touchscreen. The deep circles under my husband’s eyes looked to me like those of a junkie. I wondered if he’d slept at all. I figured he’d dived down some internet rabbit hole of wine enthusiasts or forums for Audi car owners or online shopping. Probably he’d started watching some car movie after I went upstairs. Maybe he’d spotted some miniscule blip in the picture and started fiddling with the system and firing off emails to those smelly techs about his stupid, most expensive-ever, never-functioning home A/V system. Probably could have retired on what that thing cost. Now he’d start telling me about the system’s latest problem and expect me to stand here and listen to him go on-and-on about it, and if I said one bad thing about this idiotic stereo setup or told him that I couldn’t wait around for his stupid technicians, it would be another fight. Just go away, and let me drink my coffee! He wasn’t going anywhere. Resigned, I poured hot coffee from my automatic coffee pot over my mug of warm milk then headed for the door. “Hold on,” he said before I could leave. “Just listen to this.” I sighed. “I’m sorry, but I really don’t feel like it. I just came in here for my coffee.” “This’ll just be real quick,” he said. I sighed again, resentfully. My husband fiddled some more with the touchscreen of his iPad. Music began playing out of the speakers in the kitchen ceiling. He turned to look at me, one hand behind his back, anchored to the counter. “That’s not too loud, is it?” he asked, motioning toward our daughter’s bedroom upstairs. His prominent brow protruded over his squinting eyes, an expression I knew signaled the onset of one of his migraine headaches. But the rhythm drifting down from the ceiling took me by surprise. Instead of some avant-garde 26 | Embodied Effigies
classical piece or new jazz recording, the song was from one of the few CDs I’d contributed to my husband’s vast trove. I’d bought the entire disk just for one song, “Silver Thunderbird,” the singer’s reminiscence about his dad. But that’s not the song my husband had selected. Sometimes I’m an angel and sometimes I’m cruel / But when it comes to love I’m just another fool Probably, my husband was trying to demonstrate something with his speakers and after last night’s fight had picked a CD he thought I wouldn’t mind. I wrapped my fingers around my mug and wondered what was the point of this exercise. But as the warmth of coffee seeped through me, I gradually became cognizant of the song’s refrain. My arms are reaching out, out across this canyon/ I’m asking you to be my true companion/ True companion My husband’s exhausted eyes met mine, and I saw his forehead was furrowed with worry. As despair eased its grip, I became aware of my heart beating in my chest. The lyrics washed over me, and a stone caught in my throat. I imagined him toiling in the hours before dawn, harnessing the technology I deemed a distraction to convey tender emotions. My lips trembled, and I closed my eyes to hold back tears. I was grateful he’d undertaken his effort even as I hungered for the quotidian stuff that renders grand gestures unnecessary. The two of us remained anchored to our two separate counters, him watching and me listening. My husband was the first to leave his perch. He crossed the kitchen to put his arms around me. I leaned into him then, and his cheek felt damp against mine. After a moment, he began to sway, but he stopped when I stood planted in place. I didn’t want to dance. I wanted him just to hold me while I enjoyed the song. The song he’d chosen just for me.
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Into the Canyon G. M. Monks
My dear husband has polite doubts about my perfectly reasonable assumption that a mule ride will be as enjoyable as the horseback ride I took as a child. Supporting my position is my fond memory of my mother asking me, when the ride was over, if I would like to give the horse a sugar cube treat. When I said yes, she laid one in my hand and said to hold my hand out flat. The contrast of a large horse and a little sugar cube so fascinated me that I kept giving the horse more until my mother said, “That’s enough.” Based on those two childhood experiences and my desire to see the Grand Canyon from below, I suggest to our visiting friends, Roger and Stella, that we take a mule ride half way down the Grand Canyon. They readily agree. My husband advises that there is a skill to riding horses and mules and he doesn’t have it. He declines and asks, “Are you sure you want to do this?” “But, of course,” I say. I then make reservations for three. The decision to not go all the way down is based on time constraints, as that would involve an overnight trip. The day before the ride, Roger, Stella, and I check in and sign an agreement saying we understand we could get injured, even die. We’re assured no one ever died and the only injured were those who dismounted their mule without the wrangler’s help. I’m unfazed. Early next morning Jack, the chief wrangler, dressed in superb cowboy attire, greets a crowd of about thirty eager riders. We’re gathered outside a paddock, full of mules. He demonstrates how to control mules using a motivator. He says it’s really a whip but that’s politically incorrect. Everyone laughs. We practice motivating. He says, “You’ll have to keep your mule close to the one in front of you. Don’t let it lag behind. They’re pack animals and they’ll suddenly gallop at breakneck speeds to catch up with the pack.” Jack wallops Embodied Effigies | 29
Into the Canyon
his leg with his motivator. “Keep practicing,” he tells us. “And trust your mule. I trust them more than I trust most people.” The crowd ripples with more laughter. I conclude this is going to be a good day. “They’re surefooted and can walk easily along edges of cliffs so don’t worry about falling to your death.” Jack talks like he has known us all since we were children. “Someone always loses something—a wallet, a camera.” He scans the crowd and selects a pretty teenage girl as the likely candidate. She blushes when everyone looks at her. He warns us that it’ll be painful, and at the end of the day our wrangler will have to peel us off our saddles. We’ll walk funny, smell bad, and people will laugh at us. He offers a full refund to anyone with second thoughts as long as we’re still in the paddock, but once on the trail there’ll be no refunds. With no takers, we are divided into five small groups. We enter the paddock, where we are assigned to mules and a wrangler. My group consists of my two friends, myself, and three others. Our wrangler is named Victor. He’s tall, tan, good looking, trim, and seems unflappable. I’m assigned to a mule named Joy. She’s very big. I ask Victor, “How do I get my foot in the stirrup? It’s so high.” He helps me as if it’s the highlight of his day. With left foot in place, I still need to get into the saddle. I don’t notice what part of me Victor pushes up on. Who cares? I have to get up there and can’t do it myself. With finesse, he lands me into the saddle. However, I suddenly have a whole different perspective. My legs stretch painfully across Joy, who now seems enormous. I’m not designed for splits. I can still bail out and get my money back. I want to bail. I want to stay. But how can I bail in front of a large crowd and Victor? I stay. My group leaves the paddock and the movement intensifies the pain. Victor leads us to the edge of the Grand Canyon and the start of the Bright Angel Trail. I see a steep, rocky and unending descent. Can I do six hours of this? My stomach tenses. My naivety becomes palpable. I feel every bump, step and rock. Some of the step-downs look a foot deep. I wish that Joy had shock absorbers. After what seems like an hour, but probably only twenty minutes, we take a welcomed break, lined up sideways along the path with everyone facing the canyon and the steep cliff below. I wish that I could dismount to stretch my legs, even briefly, but that’s not possible. Joy then puts her head down and munches weeds, giving me an unobstructed view of the precipitous drop-off. I fear, if it weren’t for the fact that I’m sitting on a saddle that’s strapped on her, I would slide down Joy’s neck and tumble into the canyon to my death. 30 | Embodied Effigies
Victor reminds us to put part of our weight in the stirrups. He gives other advice, but I barely hear what he says because my butt stings from the endless jolting against the saddle. He passes down a sheet of paper and pencil for us to write down our names and our mule’s name. The woman directly ahead of me has written that her mule is named Daredevil. Is it dangerous to ride behind a daredevil animal? When Victor gets back the list, he tells Daredevil’s rider, “That’s not his name.” He briefly studies the animal and then says, “His name is Giant. Someone was joking with you.” I don’t join the laughter. We start again. Victor extols the beauty of working outdoors. He points out the eagle flying overhead, and talks about something else, which I don’t hear because my attention is focused on Giant, who just stumbled somewhat over a large rock. How is this being surefooted? Giant lags behind. His rider whips him to no avail. Will he start galloping? Will Joy? I say, “Whip hard. They said it doesn’t hurt.” Eventually, Giant decides to catch up with the others. Joy doesn’t want to be left behind so she gallops. I hold onto the saddle as if my life depends on it. She stumbles. My butt knocks against a saddle that has become bumpy steel. A thorny bush scrapes my leg. Joy stops to chew on leaves. I whip to get her going. Giant often lags behind. I learn to anticipate gallops, but my back, knees, and feet have begun to ache. Am I putting too much of my weight on the stirrups? I wish Victor would tell me what I’m doing wrong, but he’s in the lead. I ask Roger, who is behind me, “How much farther?” “Down there. It’s the end of that trail out there,” he says. I see something that might be a tiny trail on a wide plateau below us. It’s impossibly far so I refuse to believe that’s where we’re headed. I say, “I don’t see it. Where is it?” I scan the steep rocky cliffs nearby expecting to see something closer. I ask again. Back and forth we go. Roger says, “Turn around. Let me take your picture.” It hurts to turn around. He wants another. “Give me a smile,” he says. I feel ornery, but smile. I glimpse a grove of trees and a building ahead. I melt with relief, thinking we’ve reached our destination. It turns out to only be a toilet break. Victor peels me off Joy. I sit alone, avoiding everyone. They all seem to be having a good time. Doesn’t anyone feel pain? We remount and set off. I try to forget this trip was my idea. There can’t be any flesh left on my butt because it throbs. I study the red-haired young woman riding Giant. She looks relaxed. So does the young man in front of her. Is it age? But Stella is only ten years younger than me and her cheerful talk gives me no comfort. I feel some relief when the rocky downhill trail ends and we head out on a plateau. Embodied Effigies | 31
Into the Canyon
After what seems like hours, I see a railing in the distance and feel the sweetness of hope. Yes. It’s our destination. Victor rides up to the railing and we follow. It’s lunchtime at Plateau Point. After helping everyone dismount, Victor hands out the box lunches. I limp off and find a flat stable rock to sit on. Stella sits by me and chats about the view, the cloudless sky, how fun it is. I attempt conversation and reluctantly agree to let Roger take my picture and even manage to fake a big smile. We finish eating and remount. As we set forth, I cringe. I fear I won’t be able to complete the return trip. At one point, two horseback riders pass us. Joy tries to leave our group, to follow them. I frantically get her back in line. I feel competent, but then lose my hat. I yell, “I lost my hat.” Victor stops the ride and hobbles his mule’s front feet. He walks back; retrieves my hat. “Thank you. I’m sorry,” I say. The apology seems unnecessary as Victor is a perfect gentleman and says nothing about the prediction that someone will lose something. We continue. I try to listen to Victor talking about the Grand Canyon he loves. “It’s the best job in the world,” he says. I find myself willfully tuning out what he says, but then think I’d better not, for safety’s sake. We leave the plateau, and the trail heads back up, steep as ever. I focus on the sounds of hooves, on breathing in and out, on the color of bushes—pale green, dark green, lime green—on gray plants growing out of old rocks. How does anything live down here? Talkative hikers smile as I pass them. “Having fun?” one asks. I grimace. “It’s torture.” “It’s great,” Roger says. “Must be a male/female thing,” the hiker says to his friend. In addition to hours of inhaling mule flatulence and urine odor, my mouth now feels coated with dust kicked up from hooves. An exhausted hiker, gasping for breath, offers me $600.00 for my mule as I pass him. I so want to dismount, I’d do it for free but Victor would never allow it. I look up and think I see the top. Hope resurges, but when we circle the bend, it’s more of the same. And again, and again. Has some demon lengthened the trail? I want to give up, but a helicopter ride out would be very costly, and I would slow down the line and mess up schedules. Plus everyone would think I was a wimp.
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My only option is to force myself to embrace grit. But the question is how. The most physical challenge I’ve ever done is lugging a heavy suitcase up five flights of stairs. Grit now requires me to accept my pain and endure another hour or two of more pain. Plus Joy periodically stops when she finds something interesting to eat. I use the whip, but she doesn’t care. Eventually I get her going. I don’t think she likes me. I’ve tried to like her. Finally, I see the paddock. It takes every bit of the ounce of energy I have left to keep from collapsing in tears. I fake a smile and head in. Victor peels my exhausted body off Joy. I barely move. My joints are stiff. I throb as I walk like I’m a hundred years old. Our group gathers together and Victor congratulates us. He hands out our Master Mule Skinner certificates, on which he has written our names and our mule’s name. He says we’re a very select group as we have seen the Grand Canyon as it should be seen. I tell Victor, “You did an excellent job, but I hate mule rides.” He laughs. When my smiling husband greets me, I tell him he was right. He made the better choice of spending the past six hours taking his creative pictures along the rim of the canyon. When we return to our hotel, I slump into bed and don’t bother to eat dinner that night. My husband says I’ll feel better tomorrow and perhaps be glad I did it. He’s half-right. Three days later, I no longer feel I’m sitting on a steel saddle. It takes two more days before I decide that I’m glad I did it. Plus, the few photos I took tell me the view was beautiful. All names of people and mules have been changed.
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Sneakers Bare the Soul M. Courtney Hughes
For some people, the eyes are the window to the soul. My route to another person’s essential being is less traveled and more grounded; I start at the sneaker. “Do you play tennis?” I asked the athletic looking boy sitting next to me in the 450+ seat lecture hall during my first semester at college. “Yes, I do.” He smiled. I’m friendly, but not usually that outgoing, especially with cute boys I don’t know. It’s just that he was wearing the Nike Air Resistance sneakers—worn by my entire Varsity tennis team and, of course, American standout at the time, Jim Courier! As it turned out, the boy wasn’t on the Men’s Varsity team nor had he played all that much tennis, but he did recognize a good deal when he saw those kicks on sale the previous summer. See, the Nike Air Resistance was built with Kevlar (stronger than steel) and guaranteed to withstand six months of constant tennis. Reading into his purchase, this guy was economical, committed and knew quality. Take my dad, who wore the same sneakers throughout my entire childhood. It’s not that he didn’t like running around; it’s just that if he was going to spend $40 on something, it had better be red, come from a cow and served in its juice. I saw my dad as a guy who loved sports, cared little about attire, enjoyed saving money and ate well. You’re probably thinking, ‘Okay, she knew her dad since birth, and his sneakers didn’t exactly reveal his frugality or carnivorous proclivities.’ However, my ponderings as a young kid watching Dad lace the same sneaks year after year and order expensive steak dinners month after month opened my eyes to his values. Moving onto my daughter. She’s five years old, but Zappos is the name, sparkly is the game. I’m pretty sure the entire color spectrum appears on her sneakers. Don’t get me wrong, she ferries these bright shoes across fields and through mud puddles fast enough to make her tomboy mama proud. Her sneakers simply say, “I’m gonna play hard and look darn good doing it!” When it comes to friends and acquaintances, I’ll admit to sneaker profiling. I have my ‘department store fashion sneaker’ friends. These are sweet gals who prefer their ballet flats, but vanity and Embodied Effigies | 35
Sneakers Bare the Soul
advertisers force them into laced up leather athletic shoes. When we’re heading out, they might ask me to hand them their “tennies.” Mind you, this does not prompt the query from earlier, “Do you play tennis?” I know actual tennis players don’t refer to their sneakers as “tennies.” My ‘apparatus sneaker’ friends have a few pairs of sneakers each, with at least one pair featuring a performance-enhancing special component. The bikers have cycling shoes with clips that attach to their pedals for efficiency. The soccer players have cleats allowing additional traction on slippery fields. I recruit these comrades when I get crazy ideas like competing in a Half-Ironman Triathlon or biking across the western U.S. Next up, my ‘khaki-pairing sneaker’ buddies. They are the academically wired set with whom I spent my grad school years, trudging through quads and campus buildings wearing our white sneaks, khaki pants, and flannel jackets. Our look showed those North Face bundled, UGG-stepping undergrads that we were smarter, better (and already married to a spouse or our dissertations so didn’t care about fashion). What, say you, no sneaks? Not a problem! Maybe you are a rugged hiker and wear only mountain boots. If so, I wonder what trails you trek. Perhaps you have never owned a rubber-soled sports shoe. This wardrobe void is interesting, too. Does exercise scare you? Do you spend all your waking hours painting masterpieces? Do tell! For me, sneakers are the conversation starter. I ask myself, “Who is this person? What moves her? How is she like me? Different than me?” A question surfaces that I might blurt out. “Do those racing flats help your performance in 10Ks?” A comment, “Cool lights on your shoes, little guy!” Sneakers, or lack thereof, trigger my curiosity and spark interesting social exchanges. Twenty years ago, I asked a boy about his sneakers. That conversation moved from tennis to homework to parties to friendship. Now he and I discuss sneaker purchases for our three children. Maybe your route to a person’s essential self starts at his car, religious affiliation or Netflix queue. No matter what the characteristic, take notice, wonder ‘why?’ and start a conversation.
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Bloody Mary Lizz Schumer
I’ve been afraid of mirrors for as long as I can remember. Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. Middle school Girl Scout at camp, frizzy haired with glasses and braces, the trifecta of unpopular, and wearing a uniform to boot. Mine had patches for arts and crafts, expressing kindness, writing, animalloving, all facets of my personality I expressed like breathing, without noticing their contribution to a society I’d already decided wrote me off at birth. The other girls wanted to play Bloody Mary, the game in which we’d lock ourselves in the dark, Daddy Longlegs-filled bathroom, the one that always smelled like brown paper towels and industrial soap. We’d stare into the mirror and recite “bloody mary” until she appeared in the mirror. In some versions of the story, the bloodied specter would reach out and grab the person reciting her name. In others, she just stared back at us, or spoke. We were fuzzy on the details, but wanted to be scared of something less real than the undercurrent of terror that lives within each girl reaching puberty without choice or clear understanding of the weapon her body is becoming. Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. I sat in class and compared my wrists to the Fat Boy’s, two rows of desks away. My twig-like fingers wrapped around mine, overlapped at the fingernail. Imagining wrapping my fingers around his, I wondered if they’d fit. They would, the back of my brain told me, they would and that meant I was Fat too, that I should eat just the salami and mustard from my sandwich, because white foods make you Fat. Says Redbook, the ultimate authority on Womanhood, with pictures of hot pants that made me blush and twitch Down Below at the same time. Sixth grade and I avoided mirrors if I could, brushing my teeth with my eyes cast down at the sink. Bloodied gums, every time, because I scrubbed hard enough to get between the wires, to get to my teeth that I didn’t want to emerge yellow like popcorn kernels. Fat Boy had Popcorn Teeth. And anything he had, like the plague his Fatness seemed to me, I didn’t want. And so I bled, with my eyes cast away from the reflection I was consistently afraid to see. Embodied Effigies | 37
My parents had a mirror in the foyer at the foot of the stairs, hung at just the right angle to spy on the adults in the kitchen, when we were supposed to be asleep. Tim and I, we’d sneak out of bed and crouch on the landing, six stairs up and out of sight, peering at our mom and dad swirling wine in their glasses with worry painting their eyes. “They found a tumor. Said it’s incurable in a woman her age. That treating it doesn’t make much sense, but she wants to try anyway.” “How long does she have?” “A year, maybe. Six months. Hard to say. They start chemo tomorrow. I’ll try to get out of work to—” My dad’s voice broke like concrete shattering on the sidewalk. I’d seen it once, when a crane dropped a panel from the office it was constructing, and it crumbled as easily as glass. My mirror dad covered his eyes with one hand, his head bowed like the crane that lived in the pond behind our house, in wet seasons. It seemed to me we were entering a wet season of our own. Aunt Rita appeared in the mirror, I thought, squinting to remove her hair, her carefully painted on eyebrows. Chemo was a word both foreign and sharp-edged. It changed lives, like mine. Bloody Mary. Aunt Rita died too soon to see me graduate, too soon to see me take over as head of the newspaper where she used to write. That was the year my parents painted the foyer, took down the mirror my brother and I hadn’t used since bad news poisoned our spying spot. We didn’t want to hear it in hiding, although we never talked about it. Some things don’t require conversation. That was the year my dad started going to the gym, taking me with him as his workout sidekick. The upstairs ladies workout room was lined with mirrors, to check your form, to check your shame if you bulged over your spandex more than the woman next to you. To check if you had the courage to stare yourself in the face as you lifted weights in pursuit of something, something none of us were brave enough to name, but all knew as essentially as our own hateful bulges. I didn’t have the courage, but I learned that shame tastes like coppery water from the upstairs fountain. It tastes like sweat running down my face as I look at my feet, a safe place, or my hands. A woman spent her life on the elliptical, it seemed. Her limbs were skeletal, that was the only word for it. She reminded me of Jack from A Nightmare Before Christmas, always dressed in black pants 38 | Embodied Effigies
and a black wife-beater. The name seemed appropriate, with her wedding ring hanging off her finger, a stick I feared might snap one day. Self-flagellation is another word for it. I always wanted the machine next to her. To match her strides, as if to say, “I know you.” I wasn’t skinny, not yet, but the seeds were waiting for me, in the pants sizes I cut out with a fury I didn’t summon, the nutrition facts I learned like arithmetic. I learned her body like a model, and yearned for it, as I caught glimpses of my bulging self in the mirrors that multiplied our sins. Bloody. My apartment has no full-length mirrors. I check myself in portions, digesting only what I can survive. My thighs, touching in places that make me shiver with regret, my stomach that endures the pinch of waistbands like the penance I was raised to crave, a Catholic daughter’s leftover guilt from years of indoctrinated fear. I still turn on the bathroom light with fear in my chest. As kids, we never finished the bloody mary rhyme, interrupted by our leaders who taught us about blasphemy, about summoning spirits and the evil that lurked behind the veil of the living. The veil that, for all we knew, lives behind the mirrors we use to check our mortal trappings, waiting to snatch us when we least expect it. But mostly, I catch my reflection in the computer screen that explodes with fat acceptance, then top 10 tips to get thin this season. I suck in my gut and push out my chest, a silhouette homage to the body I remember from the days of multiplying mirrors. My skin is stretched over the vestiges of memory, and I can’t escape the little girl wrapping her fingers around her wrist, looking sidelong at the boy she didn’t want to be. Spitting blood into the sink as her eyes avoid the mirror, washing the evidence away until the sink, her conscience, is clean.
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Pounders Beach, 1968 Kirby Wright
It’s 8th Grade Class Picnic Day. Our destination is the south shore, a kama’aina coastline known for shaved ice stands, manapua trucks, and old-timer restaurants like Pat’s at Punalu’u and the Crouching Lion. Barry, my big brother, rides behind me on a blue bus exiting the school parking lot. I turn around and say, “Pounders Beach or bust!” Barry winces. My brother shares his bench seat with Chuck Marsland, the DA’s son. Chuck has a transistor and listens to KKUA, a rock station halfway through its Top 40 countdown. My bench mate is Cecily Mayne, a track star with skin the color of koa and auburn hair spilling down to her waist. She told our history teacher her birth country was Argentina and that English was her second language. She’s the only girl I know with pierced ears. This morning Cecily wears a green camisole over a white bikini and her lobes glisten with turtle shell studs. She shifts and her leg bumps mine. This is the first time a girl has touched me. We pass the Makapu’u Lighthouse and enter the jagged shadows thrown down by the cliffs. Chuck blares “Bad Moon Rising.” Pastor, the Filipino driver, spins his head. “Turn dat damn racket down.” Chuck lowers the volume and flips the bird. I hear my brother joking about how easy it was to tackle Wendell Westlake, a bruiser on a rival team. I know Barry’s jokes are a bluff. He’s secretly miserable. Low admission scores forced him to repeat and he’s in my grade. Students think we’re twins. We look nothing alike. I have our hapa haole father’s thick nose and dark skin. Barry shares our Irish mother’s complexion and refined features. Dadio hates it that his son is repeating but doesn’t think he’s dumb. On the contrary, he believes my brother is as smart as or smarter than me but needs Punahou to fire up his ambition and drive. “Proud Mary” plays on the transistor. We make Laie by ten. Pastor pulls up beside a school tent and we all get out. Barry accepts an invitation from Cecily. Seems she and her friends are challenging the boys to a game of football, on a crab grass field beside the shore. “Touch?” I ask my brother. “Tackle,” he grins. The boys vote him captain. Barry decides on key positions, filling our front with the heavy guys and sticking the scrawny ones in the backfield. He tells me my job is rushing the quarterback. Some of our challengers are cheerleaders, such as the brunette fox Evelyn Twigg-Smith. Most wear Embodied Effigies | 41
Pounders Beach, 1968
bikinis and exude the sexy aromas of coconut oil and Coppertone. Tops and bottoms have patterns of orchids, hibiscus, and torch ginger. Barry flips a nickel into the sky. “Heads,” calls Evelyn. The girls win and want the ball. Mr. Meecham, our swim coach, accepts Evelyn’s invitation to referee. Chuck kicks off. Debbie Curley, a cropped blonde, fields the bouncing ball and returns it five yards before getting tripped. Meecham places the ball near their goal. Barry crouches down opposite Ernette Cabrinha, a Portuguese girl. Ernette’s their center. Her thighs are thick and her woman-sized breasts make her top resemble a Band-Aid. Lisa Yamashita, a Japanese girl in my English class, is their quarterback. She’s the first wahine who made my heart thump. Lisa’s got the best legs on campus and wears micro skirts to show them off. Today she has on a black one-piece. Two blockers flank their quarterback: Debbie Curley and Lacy Johnson, the principal’s daughter. Lisa calls out numbers and colors. Barry drops into a three-point stance, his right plant hand becoming a fist. I recognize the wildness in his eyes, a kind of anger that makes him want to punish the weak. It was this wildness that caused him to strangle me in my crib. I crouch but avoid the three-point. “Blue!” says Lisa. Ernette hikes the ball underhand. Lisa looks downfield while Barry bulls forward. I pretend to rush. So do most of the boys. We’re floating in lusty clouds brushing up against nearly naked females. My brother hustles into the backfield and knocks Debbie down. Lacy grunts trying to block him. Lisa fakes a throw—my brother leaps up to knock down a nonexistent pass. Chuck races toward Lisa but she sidesteps him and zips away. Barry catches up. He slams into her, his hit as ferocious as the ones he used to halt the fullback rambles of Kealoha “Big K” Williams. Lisa drops beside a row of rubber slippers marking the sideline. She clutches her belly. Meecham jogs over and says, “Got the wind knocked outta you.” Teammates swarm their injured leader. Evelyn glares at the boys. Lacy says, “Fuck.” Barry hides his hands in the pockets of his trunks. “They wanted to play,” he mutters. A few boys nod. Chuck rubs his face with both hands and laughs. Most of my teammates rest their hands on their hips and keep their eyes fixed to the ground. I feel lousy. How could my big brother hit a girl like that? I pray for his transfer to another school or for Punahou to expel him for bad grades.
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It takes Lisa time to recover. She finally accepts an outstretched hand and gets pulled to her feet. She wobbles into their huddle. They break and the ball is hiked. Barry charges again, this time waving his hands like a madman. Lisa drops back to throw. I rush in but Cecily stands in my way. She lowers a shoulder and drives it into my chest, sending me backwards. Our impact makes a breast pop up over her top. She slips it back under. I wrap my hands around her warm belly to keep her from running out for a pass. Cecily presses hard into me as though we were dancing. She spins and escapes. I spot a shadow the size of a bird sailing over the field and Cecily reaching up. She snags the pigskin and weaves through would-be tacklers, her koa thighs flexing. Meecham signals “touchdown” and her teammates cheer. I know scoring first is something these girls will always remember. They charge past us and celebrate on our end of the field. The boys, including my brother and me, gather at mid-field. “Shit on us,” Chuck cusses. We all stand numb in silence as the waves pound the shore mercilessly. hapa haole: part Hawaiian and part white kama’aina: local koa: reddish-brown hardwood manapua: pork-filled bun wahine: girl
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What’d I Say? Lily Iona MacKenzie
Anyone who grew up in the early 60s and followed the rock scene knows of Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins, though he’s slightly more famous in his adopted country, Canada, than in the U.S. Originally from Fayetteville, Arkansas, Hawkins, a vocalist and bandleader, had an ear for promising musicians and an eye for good-looking women. His group “The Hawks” gave birth to many celebrated instrumentalists, including Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manual, Garth Hudson, and Levon Helm, all of “The Band” fame. By the time I moved to Toronto in the late 50s, Ronnie Hawkins and his Hawks had already left their imprint on Le Coq d’Or, a major venue then for rock groups. Conway Twitty, Jerry Lee Lewis, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and many others passed through those doors. Fresh from the West (Calgary), my three girl friends and I strolled into Le Coq d’Or on a Friday night to catch a dynamite band we’d heard about. A smoky blue haze hovered and “Hey Bo Diddley” blasted from the central stage, set up so it was viewable from all parts of the place—a bar on one side, a restaurant on the other. We stood in line, waiting for a table. But from there, we could watch the group. Ronnie Hawkins leaned over the stage’s lip, holding the mike with one hand and crooning into it, eyes closed, face crunched up in orgasmic ecstasy, his dark brown hair curling onto his forehead. All eyes were riveted on “Mr. Dynamo.” In constant motion, he ripped around the stage, urging on the musicians, performing somersaults or doing the camel walk, lending his own unique signature to songs whose roots were in folk, country, and the blues: “Mary Lou,” “Forty Days,” “What’d I Say?” His performance was explosive, astounding, charismatic. We were hooked. We finally found a table in the crowded club and managed to scrape money together for the minimum drink requirement. During breaks, Ronnie and the other musicians circulated, chatting and drinking with customers, resembling undertakers more than rock artists in their black suits, white shirts, and skinny dark ties. Ronnie and Levon stopped by our table and gave us a big “How y’all doin’.” Their Embodied Effigies | 45
What’d I Say?
southern accents—so out of place in Toronto—added to their intrigue, especially for me: everything American seemed to shimmer, and Ronnie was no exception. I was eager for him to shake a little of his glitter on me, but he kept moving. Of course it was Ronnie who interested me, not Levon or the others. Infatuated from the moment I first saw him, I’d found someone who encapsulated everything America represented to me then: potent extroverted energy, lack of inhibition, incessant motion, humor, boldness, and power—all that Canada (and I) seemed to lack. For the next year or so, my friends and I became regulars at Le Coq d’Or, or wherever else Ronnie appeared in that area, including the Concord Tavern. One night, he and Levon sauntered over to our table during a break and slid into the two empty chairs. He took one of my hands and fondled it: “Hey, Indian Lil, y’all wanna come back to the Warwick with us and party?” My long hair, dyed black then, and my deeply tanned skin, made me resemble a native. Levon—he had an infectious giggle and laughed and talked non-stop—hit on my girlfriend Anne. Both of us leaped at the chance to get it on with these guys. I don’t know if the Warwick Hotel still exists, but then it was in a seedy neighborhood, the building a reflection of its surroundings, a hang out for traveling musicians and those who were down on their luck. It was all the band could afford, but the guys in the group didn’t seem bothered by the place, and the excitement of being there with them overrode any misgivings Anne and I may have had about it. To me it was Parnassus. We trudged up the stairs to the third floor. The guys huddled on the landing outside their rooms, drinking Molson’s X and practicing their numbers, trying on rhythms and phrases they’d heard Jimmy Reed and Muddy Waters do. Other than Ronnie and Levon, the only one I remember well is Robbie Robertson. At 16, intense and quieter than the others, he was new to the group; he lounged on the floor, long lean body curled around his guitar, going over and over various licks, he and the guitar having it out, Robbie seeking its limits. As I spent more time with Ronnie and the other band members, my feelings for him only intensified, though not because he showed me any special attention. I was just one of many young women who threw themselves at Ronnie and “the boys,” as he called them. Ronnie attracted me because he never lacked something to say, onstage or off, and what he said was usually original: a true Southerner, he was an oral poet, making metaphors as easily as some people 46 | Embodied Effigies
sleep. Nor was he afraid to speak his mind. No wonder he fascinated me. I coveted his charisma and ability to transfix a room full of people. But most of all, I wanted his body, still muscular and fit from the boxing he did when he was younger. Ronnie embodied the unrestrained world of rock and roll, and sex was the only way to get closer to him and that world. I wanted to rock and roll with Ronnie; so did every other woman in the vicinity. And he knew it. He also tried to accommodate as many of us as possible. “Bogging,” he called it. It was my initiation, my coming of age. I’d had sex before. But I’d never had sex with a god. And Ronnie was just that. Groupies have been around forever. The charioteers must have attracted female followers because of their feats. So too the knights doing battle for their sovereign. Sinatra and Presley’s female fans didn’t have only handholding in mind. While the word groupie seems to have been born in the late 50s and early 60s, ardent camp followers were not new. Yet I think something fresh did get injected into the rock groupie scene. For those of us who were pursuing rock performers, sex took on a new dimension because rock was all about raw sexual energy turned loose on the world—an urgent, expressive, driving force. It was a major deviation from what we were used to at that time in music and in its performers. This wasn’t swing or the fox trot. The music was Dionysian, inspired by the God of wine. Libidinal and aggressive energy, both bed partners, became unleashed, and rock ushered in a new era, which included the sexual revolution. Rock, of course, also became associated with the kind of drugs that opened their users to the vagaries of the unconscious—pot, LSD, mushrooms. Suddenly young people became aware that there was more to reality than their one-dimensional view. Rock shook things up, really rattled and rolled, knocking the lid off Pandora’s Box and opening up many to new ways of thinking and being. Sex also came out of the closet, all of those hips and pelvises grinding and rotating, and women as well as men no longer waited (assuming they ever did) for marriage before they sampled it. Rock liberated many of us from the inhibitions we’d grown up with, and Ronnie Hawkins was a major liberator. I didn’t know it then, but these musicians were priests, initiating us into a new world order through their music, messengers from on high. The times they were a changing, only the religion of rock skipped over the churches and temples and mosques. It turned concert halls and clubs and stadiums into places of worship, sex being one of its major channels, a newly reborn ancient pagan rite. My time in Toronto initiated me into the larger world and also marked my entry into the revolutionary 60s. Ronnie and the Hawks were my guides into the collective shift that was taking place, crossing borders, both geographical and psychological, pushing limits in their music and performances, leading us all into a new era. Embodied Effigies | 47
What’d I Say?
Eventually I moved to the States myself, settling into the San Francisco Bay Area and becoming a U.S. citizen. But there are times when I think about those earlier days and the potent urges propelling so many of us. And I remember Ronnie, prowling the stage, pointing at some woman in the audience, and singing directly to her, “See the girl with the red dress on, she’s gonna love her daddy all night long.” The rest of the group would join in on the chorus, the women would shriek, and Ronnie would just nod his head in time with the music, aware of the power he had over us all.
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A Brief History of Cupid Glen Armstrong
When first committed to words, the myth spoke as much of the death of myth as of erotic love, the gods having grown so aloof and arrogant that they would dispatch this dumpling child, this doughy eunuch. His arrow shadowed the common type, its design hardly a prototype. The shadow-love that this little nudist meddled in had already been written down. He was a sequel to something that never existed, a metaphor born prematurely to a teenager who had disrobed in a field of clover.
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Long Walk Home Mara A. Cohen
From the blue spruce tree in front of Holly Hills Elementary, I could see the big yellow school buses lined up around the traffic circle. The shouts and laughter of children boarding the buses drifted on the thin, crisp air of a Denver winter to where I waited for my ride, Elaine Krakauer, Josh’s mom. I felt unsettled when school let out, and her blue Volvo wasn’t there. But you never know with grown ups. Maybe she’d run late at dentist appointment or something. Riding on the bus, it didn’t seem that far to East Cornell Avenue where I lived. The bus made several stops before mine, so I always had plenty of time to look out the window and think or to talk to Hein Lee or one of the other kids until they got off. Our front door was never locked. Mommy was usually there after school, but I liked the days when I beat her home, and I could pour my own glass of milk and not have to answer any questions about my day. Probably she’d had to take my brother Danny to one of his doctors’ appointments. Some of them took a long time. Probably that’s why I was supposed to play at Josh’s house after school. His mom usually had cookies. The kids who lived close enough to the school to walk home were long gone. The buses were nearly full. There was still no sign of Elaine Krakouer or her blue Volvo. Diesel engines roared to life and giant brake drums squealed. My heart pounded as one by one, the buses pulled away, big tires crunching over salted pavement. I gently pressed the bottoms of my clutter boots so they formed designs in the snow, doing my best to keep calm. I must have given a convincing performance, because none of the teachers’ aides or ladies from the office came out to ask how come I was standing there alone, or to tell me to come wait inside the building. The chirping of a lone robin pierced the eerie silence of the depopulated schoolyard, and I realized I was cold. I struggled with my zipper, and by the time I’d gotten it zipped all the way up over my chin, my fingertips were red and numb. My left knit mitten was clipped inside my left sleeve, but the right one was missing. I burrowed my hands inside my jacket pockets and conducted an archaeological investigation using my sense of touch: Balled-up Kleenex. Pilled acrylic from the lining of the jacket.
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Long Walk Home
The sharp edge of a fingernail. Bits of playground sand. A bottle cap. I stood there by the tree for what felt like an eternity. The sky’s deepening cast of violet matched my mounting sense of dread. It’s not as if it never occurred to me to go inside to look for a grownup who could help me. I considered walking around to the main entrance to try the doors. Maybe the school building was still unlocked. Maybe one of the ladies would still be in the office and could call my mother to tell her what happened. Or maybe I could find Mr. Russell, the custodian, to help me. But supposing Elaine Krakauer came along right when I left? Then she’d think I’d forgotten she was picking me up and that I had ridden my bus home. Plus, the doors to the school might all be locked, and the blue Volvo might come and go without me ever knowing it. One thing was certain. I had to get home so my mother would know I was safe. I didn’t want her worrying about me like she had to worry about Danny, especially times when he got sick, but other times too. I had to hurry so Mommy wouldn’t worry. My boot treads crunch-crunched over the shoveled sidewalk as I began my trek home. I didn’t know the names of all the streets, but I knew every turn by heart. I walked as fast as I could because it was already late. I trudged past the first three smaller streets that wound their way through to other neighborhoods. Distances were greater than they’d seemed from the window of my bus. The journey would take me longer than I’d calculated, and for the first time, I began to panic, not for me but for Mommy. What’s she doing right now? Did she think I’d gotten on the wrong bus and that now I was lost? Maybe she thought I’d run away from home. Or that I’d been kidnapped! “Hey, kid! What’re you doing?” The girl marching along in my tracks looked to be about a year older than me. Bundled up in a hat and scarf, I couldn’t see her whole face, but I didn’t recognize her from school. There was something odd, something intimidating about her. I hoped she’d go away. “What’cha doing?” the girl repeated. “Walking home,” I replied flatly. “Oh. Are you a girl or boy?” she demanded. I said nothing. “Hey!” the girl insisted. “Is something wrong with you?”
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“I missed my bus,” I shrugged. The girl considered this for a moment and then asked, “Do you have pets? I have a Labrador Retriever. Also two guinea pigs. And my brother has a snake. You have to feed it crickets. And mice.” I imagined my interrogator and her even more intimidating big brother. Where did he keep the crickets? In a bag under his bed? What if the crickets escaped? I envisioned the brother grinning diabolically as he dropped live mice into the snake’s cage. Did the girl help him? Most menacing was the possibility that the girl might delay me from getting home before dark. My heart pounded in my ears as I envisioned Mommy, frantic. I hoped the girl would go away if I crossed to the other side of the street. Instead she followed me, chattering along behind me as I gingerly picked my way over the slick, packed snow to the other side of the road. I had to cross a wide swath of ice covering a drainage ditch separating the road from the sidewalk. Ordinarily, it’s fun to stomp the heel of your boot over the edge of the ice or step down on it with just enough weight to make it crack. But I had no time for play. I was nearly at the sidewalk when the ice gave way under my right foot, plunging the hem of my corduroys and rims of my boots under the frigid, slushy water. But the big girl was still tailing me so I acted as if nothing had happened. She finally left me where the sidewalk ended, leaving me to finish my journey on my own. Here, I could either traverse several inches of snow that covered the houses’ front lawns, or pick my way over the uneven heaps of harder snow pushed there by the plows. The latter seemed like the easier option, so I climbed onto the mound of packed snow. Every now and then, my foot sank down, landing me calf-deep in snow, and then I had to lift my knees really high to get out. Realizing I couldn’t feel my toes, I wiggled them vigorously inside my soggy socks. I concentrated on my mother, attempting telepathy to let her know I was safe and doing my utmost best to get home. It was a quiet street, but when a car approached occasionally, I’d watch to see if was Josh and his mom or even my parents’ burgundy Peugeot. After a time, a car with familiar-shaped headlights came into view. A blue Volvo! But it zoomed by without even slowing. I had just enough time to catch a glimpse of Elaine Krakouer in her pointy-rimmed glasses at the wheel. Had she forgotten she was supposed to pick me up from school, or did she just not see me? I turned back in time to see the face of her big brown dog in the rear window looking back at me as the Volvo receded in the distance.
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Long Walk Home
The road stretched ahead as far as I could see. I knew that further on was Yale Avenue, the busy street that led down to my neighborhood. To my left, beyond the row of houses, I could see the tops of cottonwood trees, naked in the winter except for a few squirrel nests. I knew the trees lined the canal and that the packed dirt trail on the opposite side of the banks meandered past my very own backyard. After a heavy snow, my father sometimes strapped on his cross-country skis or snowshoes and set off along that trail. Where the trail reached the end of my block, the steep easement next to Mrs. Swenson’s house was the perfect hill for sledding. Happy times like those felt impossibly far away. It was twilight by the time I reached Yale Avenue. As headlights flipped on, my anxiety surged. My mother’s panic coursed through every sinew of my being. I saw her standing at the kitchen counter, dialing telephone numbers from her flip-up Rolodex. Had Daddy’s students at the university formed a search party? Maybe Mommy had called the police! If only I could cross the open fields and then transport myself over the canal to the trail. But that was impossible. The banks were too steep to climb. I imagined my mother’s devastation if I slipped and fell through the ice and drowned. The sky was completely black by the time I rounded the corner of my block. My heart turned a somersault at the sight of patrol cars parked in front of my house. I hurried up the driveway and through the front door. All eyes were on me. Everyone looked dismayed -- my parents, my brother, even our white standard poodle tentatively wagging her tail. A pair of towering police officers held their notepads while their tinny-sounding walkie-talkies broadcast coded messages. I knew that some concerned a little girl gone missing, and I felt ashamed. Mommy’s face flashed relief, then anger as she swept me up in her arms. “Where were you, God dammit! Where were you?” she cried, carrying me down the hall and into my bedroom. “Josh’s mom!” I blubbered. “The bus -- (gasp) I -- (sob) -- walked home!” Pulling off my wet clothes and helping me into a pair of warm pajamas, my mother shhh-shhh-ed me, assuring me that I was safe and everything was all right.
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The cheerful yellow of my bedroom glowed golden in the lamplight, and lace curtains hung on my window. But beyond the glass, red and blue lights pierced the blackness, and this time Dannyâ€™s disease wasnâ€™t the reason. There was a knot in my throat because of the emergency. The emergency that happened over me.
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The Walrus and The Curator Bill Schroeter
My friend Dave DeNardo is one of the two Curators of the New York Conservation Society. Based at the New York Aquarium, Dave’s particular specialties are marine mammals, which include sea otters, turtles, walrus, and others. He is very knowledgeable about the chemistry of sea water, and builds filtration systems to ensure that his charges are in homelike abodes, chemically speaking. I first met Dave through our shared hobby—scale model building. Like most hobbies, ours has a national organization, The International Plastic Modelers Association. This is a good thing, because being a modeler is fairly solitary. Dave and I belong to one of two New Jersey groups, the Central New Jersey Chapter, CNJIPMS. As the Newsletter Editor, I give all of the members’ nicknames, just for fun. After I got to know Dave, and what he did for a living, I tagged him as Diver Dave. Dave grew up in California and has a degree in Marine Biology. His stories of helping to build new aquariums all around the world, and in the USA, amaze me. It’s very obvious that Dave really loves the animals he cares for every day. His wife Diane is an animal trainer, and their home is usually not only populated by their own dogs, cats, and birds, but quite often includes other animals that Diane is taking care of for a while, or training. During a recent visit to the New York Aquarium, I was lucky enough to get a close-up look at the walrus that lives there. Her name is Nuka. She was not in her enclosure of rocks and water, so Dave took my daughter Victoria and I behind the scenes to meet Nuka. Victoria had joined me on this trip, because she likes aquariums, too. Inside the tiled and plexi-glass tank behind her outside home, Nuka enjoys quiet, and cold water running underneath her. Nuka is a Pacific Walrus, Odobenus rosmaris, who was born blind and orphaned in an Eskimo hunt. Her mother had been killed for the use of the indigenous peoples of the North, as allowed by United State, Canadian, and Russian laws. The hunters discovered the calf too late, and contacted the Wildlife Conservation Society. After what Dave described as “a blizzard of Embodied Effigies | 57
The Walrus and The Curator
paperwork, pun intended, of course!” Nuka became a New Yorker six years ago. Dave had been part of the crew that had travelled to Alaska to bring her back. “Being blind she was a very docile little walrus. Without her mom, she relied on us for everything. We kept her cool as needed, fed her, and monitored her health. I couldn’t help thinking that even a baby walrus must be more than a handful. “How big was she then, and how exactly did she get moved?’ “Well, we had to sedate her just a little. At over two-hundred pounds, even a baby walrus can be dangerous if frightened or feels in danger. We had a special sled with a large rubber pool constructed. She basically floated in the pool as we sledded to the airport. The veterinarian was along every step of the way.” “So where does a baby walrus fly? You can’t just buy a row of seat! Or can you?” Dave laughed. “No, no. We use Fed-Ex 727’s to move large creatures. We just attached wheels with brakes to the bottom of the sled and into the aircraft loading bay. We put the brakes on and also used springtension webbing to tie the system to the planes’ floor and walls. The team rode in jump seats. Let me tell you, a flight from Alaska in a jump seat is not first class!” Dave was rubbing his behind in memory of the flight. As Dave explained this to me, Nuka had been slowly edging our way from the far wall. The enclosure was about fifteen feet square, white and blue tiled walls about four feet high, topped with plexi-glass for about another foot, with a little bit of cage in the plexi-glass on the door that is used to access the area. Dave smiled again and called out. “Nuka, Nuka girl.” Darned if a really large, dark brown blob that resembled a bean-bag-chair for three didn’t shuufle across the floor toward us, and stick her nose over the cagetop. I was astonished.
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“She knows you and comes when you call?” “Oh sure. My responsibilities here are for all of the living things. The better the creatures with higher intelligence get to know me, and the staff who take care of them, the better they adapt when they arrive—they seem to feel more at home that way.” At that point Dave was petting and scratching Nuka’s head, which she stretched upward to allow him to include her neck as well. Dave invited me to do the same. The skin of a walrus feels smooth, yet pebbly. The white haze that covered her eyes was sad to see. Not thinking to ask at the time, I wonder now what would lead to a walrus being born sightless. Possibly a certain percentage suffer such an affliction naturally, like people. The concern at this point in time must be that these types of effects upon creatures who live in the sea are causally related to the actions of the billions of people on the globe, their effluence and waste. I’d almost bet on it. Dave then ran his hand over Nuka’s stiff bristles, the whitish ‘hairs’ that make it seem as if walrus are auditioning for a spot in a barbershop quartet. These ‘hairs’ are called Vibrissae. Running my hand over them at Dave’s insistence, I was shocked to feel them to be very hard, like fingernails, and very sharp! I found out that the vibrissae are actually extraordinarily sensitive organs, designed to identify shapes. They are attached to muscles inside the mouth, and each sharp ‘hair’ is full of delicate nerves and each receives blood. They are more alive than our own teeth. Dave explained. “Walrus dive to seventy-five or eighty feet deep, and their favorite food is clams. Their eyesight does not do well in the murky waters they live in, so they use their vibrissae to feel for clams just under the seafloor. Then the walrus can actually vacuum the clam right out of its shell, chomp a few times with their molars, and swallow the clam. That really amazes me.” Me too, Dave. A little more research led me to understand that the roof of the walrus’ mouth has evolved into a shape not unlike a domed cathedral ceiling. This amplifies their ability to generate a very powerful suction. Result: Raw clams a la Pacific! This was like my voice teacher explaining how we should lift our soft palate, the roof of our mouths, to better project sound and make specific vowels more clearly heard. But people can certainly not vacuum clams, or anything else, off the floor with our mouths. Dave was now holding each of Nuka’s tusks and playfully shaking her head a little. “Nuka’s tusks are small, just a foot or so each. They’re teeth of course. Originally marine biologists Embodied Effigies | 59
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thought that the tusks were used to dig in the sea floor for food. But it’s been discovered that the tusks are more usually employed to help the walrus climb out of the water onto an ice floe, or to dig and maintain breathing holes in surface ice.” As I listened to Dave, I realized how enjoyable it is to listen to someone speak this way. And how glad I was to get the opportunity to listen to him. It seems rare in many of our lives that we hold conversations with people who are experts in a field of study, or a career that is vastly different and much more scientific than I know mine was. It’s too bad I didn’t meet Diver Dave till our middle fifties. He must have been a lot of fun to know when he was younger, in college and just after. Those years contain epic kinds of experiences for a lot of people; experiences that mold us, and mar us, in a lot of who we are as people later on, like Dave and I now. As I get to know Dave better, I’m finding out that he had his wilder years as well. Working different jobs to keep going to school. Getting bitten in the…uh…rear by a sea turtle, while cleaning tanks at the Monterey Aquarium. Studying the stomachs of tiny little clams for some reason I still don’t quite understand. He’s come all the way across the country to work at the New York Aquarium. I was glad he was the one I was learning from about walrus. But walrus using their tusks to pull themselves out of the freezing polar seas and onto nice cozy ice floes? Nuka weighed about fourteen hundred pounds. Most Pacific Walrus weigh between eighteen hundred and thirty-seven hundred pounds. So pulling such weight up by the teeth is no mean feat. Really big males can weigh forty-five hundred pounds. They will also, perhaps unsurprisingly, have the biggest tusks. I imagine finishing a lap in the pool where I swim three times a week. Approaching the end as a walrus, I would have to arch my back and neck, extend my jaws a bit, and use my front teeth on the edge of the pool to hoist myself out of the water! I don’t think any of that is possible for a human, but I’ll put up the challenge. I really hope there’s no ‘Human Walrus’ out there who will be making an attempt. Prior to meeting Dave, my hands-on wildlife education came from books and television. My semiaddiction to televised nature shows began, like many of us, with Marlin Perkins watching and describing poor Jim Fowler getting tromped on, bitten, flipped around and snarled at by all sorts of creatures. Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom brought incredible scenes to us in suburban America. 60 | Embodied Effigies
Later the magnificent photography of PBS’ Nature, combined with George Paige’s wonderful voice was entrancing. Today’s plethora of digital and detailed nature shows on television and even as feature films provide superb educational opportunities. We can see animals on land and at sea hunting, jumping, even mating. But I can never recall seeing any film of walruses mating. My research has informed me further that the process to make little walruses begins when the mating season starts in late winter, February. Big males will battle one another, but in a very genteel manner, some pushing and shoving and shouting. The winner gets to choose a few choice females for his harem. Most mating occurs in a more group oriented manner. Small packs of cows gather in the water, or on a convenient ice floe. A somewhat larger group of males will gather nearby and vocalize boisterously. The females first choose to mate, in the water, with the loudest and largest-tusked fellows. After that it becomes more open, and everybody seems to get a piece of the action, depending on whom you’ve chosen to boisterously vocalize for. I wonder what’s walrus for “Yo Babe.” Not unlike Jersey Shore Summer Dance Clubs and bars, just a lot colder. And the women are a tad better looking.
This is interesting to me. The male walrus possesses a large penis bone, the baculum, up to twentyfive inches in length. This represents the largest such symbol of virility in length to relative body size, of all the animal kingdom. Homo sapiens’ fascination with the length and rigidity of the male’s reproductive organ would lead me to believe that exhaustive studies of walrus’ manhood would by now be commonplace. We would expect Oriental and Natural markets to offer highly priced, and prized, vials of ground walrus penis as nature’s answer to Viagra, or the types of vacuum pumps sold in the classifieds of AARP magazine, and “Men’s Health”. But no, the walrus is left to his well-hung ways without too much disruption. A year ago Nuka was artificially impregnated using the sperm from a male walrus at another aquarium. This procedure was performed in the state-of-the-art, spotless, completely equipped medical and surgical facility down the hall from Nuka’s enclosure. I asked Dave if he had to vocalize boisterously during the process! He laughed. “No, no. All of the mammals we have are trained to be medically receptive.” Embodied Effigies | 61
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“What does that mean?” “We train them to accept our touch, to be amenable to having blood drawn, or to taking medication orally, things like that. We sedated Nuka, and put her on the table with the hoist. Then we made sure to monitor her systems just like in a hospital OR, while we performed the impregnation procedure. Ten months later, voilà, We got Keeta.” Keeta was a ‘little’ blob of a bean-bag-chair, in the corner of the enclosure she shared with her mom. Dave called to her. “Keeta, Keeta, come here girl.” Her head came up a little but she did not move. Nuka “eyed” her daughter from under Dave’s scratches. “Keeta’s just a baby, six months old. So she is still very apprehensive. As she gets used to myself and the rest of the staff, and sees how familiar mom is with us, she’ll become more and more amenable.” I asked if Keeta was blind like her mother. “No, she sees just fine.” I joked about the little walrus sitting in a chair with a flipper over one eye, reading a wall chart, or a fish and clam recognition poster. Dave laughed again. That’s one thing I really like about Dave, he laughs at my weird sense of humor. “The optical vet made a really thorough examination, considering Nuka’s handicap. Everything was great.” Keeta will be nursed for a year or so, during which time her mother cannot be impregnated due to suppressed ovulation. Females cannot mate while raising a youngster, so walrus have one of the lowest reproductive rates of all the marine mammals, except whales. Toothed whales like sperms and orcas would be thought to view walrus as large, plump treats, and some do fall prey to the Killer Whales. But film footage has shown walrus actually fighting with orcas, and seriously injuring their attackers with their tusks. Walrus are also, despite their clumsy 62 | Embodied Effigies
demeanor, superbly lithe and eel-like swimmers. They are capable of astonishing evasive maneuvers. Walrus like Nuka and Keeta inhabit the cold Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia, from way up above the Arctic Circle to as far south as the immense archipelago of the Aleutians. In centuries past, the herds, as groups are called—the Inuit word is Ugli—were heavily hunted for ivory, blubber and meat, after they were discovered by Whalers and Explorers. Serious population in-roads occurred. Now, through international treaty, only the natives are allowed to hunt them, as they have for many centuries. Walrus skin is used for the covering of kayaks and oomlaks, bones for tools. Beautifully carved tusks are true works of art. This is called scrimshaw. Very old examples fetch huge prices at auctions and antique dealers. Prior to the sale, it must be absolutely determined that the piece of scrimshaw in question pre-dates the treaty date. Or the “provenance” of the piece must meticulously prove its legal acquisition. I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to actually pet an adult walrus, feel the bristles and tusks. It helps me to realize that there are so many parts of our world to learn about, to find out where we fit, if we do at all. While the developed nations continue to provide ever more comfortable accommodations for the people living in those countries, the poorer parts of the world contain huge numbers of people who languish in poverty, hunger and disease. I thank heaven for people like Diver Dave, and others who work for better appreciation of nature, people, and the world within which we try to survive. Hopefully we can come to terms with the questions about people, waste, nature and the entire conundrum of earth’s environment today. My appreciation for Diver Dave keeps growing. I’m glad he’s my friend.
Nuka died this past June; a bacterial infection that could not be contained by Vets best efforts took her life. Dave was very upset. “After Superstorm Sandy, all of our tanks were flooded with contaminated water from Jamaica Bay, Brooklyn, and who knows what else. The Aquarium lost over 25% of our creatures. Maybe something sneaked into Nuka’s system, and only now flourished enough to kill her. We can tell Keeta really misses her mom.” My friend Diver Dave recently attended a walrus conference in Alaska. He has begun the process of getting a new walrus to live with Keeta. I hope it doesn’t take too long.
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Ripe Figs Won’t Keep* Jessica Seymour
Because there’s nothing worse than the inevitable ‘what’s next?’ that follows each new accomplishment. Complete a Bachelor and a Graduate Diploma in three years—what’s next? Get back from a semester abroad in England—what’s next? Get a Doctorate at twenty-five—what’s next? There’s a hole in my chest that gets wider with each hoop I jump through, and no matter how hard and long I work I’m surrounded by lips and tongues and teeth making words that tell me I’m not finished yet. Figs splitting open and baring their seeds like teeth. What’s next? Even now, as I’m typing this, the words won’t quite stick to the page. I keep hitting the wrong letters, pressing backspace too quickly—or not quickly enough—trying to erase the mistakes before they happen. Hitting ‘=’ when I mean ‘–’. I learned to touch type years ago. It was a requirement for that journalism degree I got after I moved to Sydney at seventeen and landed an internship at the Sunday frickin Telegraph. Figs were landing in my lap faster than I could catch them, all sweet and ripe and thick with promise. It’s as if my fingers don’t want this written down. Like my muscles and ligaments are conspiring to keep these thoughts in my head and off the sharp, burning screen leaning against my thighs. What’s next what’s next what’s next what’s next And as my fingers trip and stumble over the keyboard, the whispers in the back of my head tell me I shouldn’t be doing this at all. Not when there are so many other things that need my attention. I should be working on the article due in a few days, applying for another job—I’ve only had twentythree rejections; I should work harder—finishing one of the novels I’m meant to be writing or reading or reviewing. Which reminds me. I promised to review a movie for a friend’s website. Add it to the ToDo list with the assessments waiting to be marked, the lectures to be planned, and the emails to be answered. Don’t take a breath there’s no time for it.
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Ripe Figs Won’t Keep
The house is filthy. When was the last time I vacuumed? Eve’s apple was probably a fig. At least that’s what it says on Wikipedia. I looked it up just now, on the smart phone I keep near me at all times set to vibrate whenever I get a work email. Sometimes I have to turn it off, just so I can take a twenty minute nap. The apple could also have been a pomegranate, or an orange, but personally I prefer the fig. The first lovers used fig leaves to cover up after they’d realised how sinful it was to stand uncovered before their life partner. It makes sense that they would have grabbed the nearest thing to hand – and if they’d been standing under the apple tree at the time… well. You see what I mean, right? We’ve all done that ‘oh shit’ grab for the towel when we realise that we’re not alone in the changing room, and apple trees just don’t make good loincloths. My ToDo list used to be in a notepad on my desk, but I had to move it to an Excel spreadsheet. It’s easier to manage that way. Figs go great with focaccia bread, apparently. I’ve never tried it, but I had to double-check how to spell ‘focaccia’ about half-way through typing the word. I tried to search for ‘figs in literature’ and got distracted by ‘figs in liquor’. Now that’s something the first lovers would have put to good use. What’s next? Well, I’ve been applying to postdocs. That’s something every PhD student does while the ink is still drying on their thesis. Of course I’m twenty-five, so I have to wonder if potential employers are eyeing my uterus suspiciously through the hopeful lines of my CV. They don’t know that I’d never let that fig never grow. I plucked it off as a flower and let the wind carry it away. Figs do have flowers, but they’re not very pretty. I like sakura flowers better—Japan is next on my travel list; it’s important to travel when you’re young—and orchids too, when I can get them. I could get a TESOL certificate. Another qualification to hang on my wall and never use, because I’m too busy chasing the next what’s next. I just misspelt qualification; I spelt it qualitification. I’m not sure if that’s ironic or sad, but I’m gonna laugh anyway, because what is there to do at this point but laugh? The problem is not that the figs are dying. I’m not Sylvia Plath with her crawl space and her bottle of pills. I’m young and brilliant and brimming with the kind of potential which I know makes other people hate me and want to be me. There are so many figs on my tree, all ripe, waiting to be plucked. 66 | Embodied Effigies
They fall into my lap when I’m not paying attention. The branches are coiling around my wrists, digging into my skin, leaving long tattoos of what I could be, burning like jam rubbed into a wound. I could do anything, and so I must do everything. I’m tangled in the leaves, choking on the bark, pushing and clawing my way up through the canopy to touch sunlight, but my skin is too pale. I should stay inside. There’s a hole in my chest. Let’s throw the figs in, see if they’ll fill it up. What’s next? What’s next? I don’t— I’ll let you know.
* Borrowed from the D.H. Lawrence poem “Figs” (1923) Embodied Effigies | 67
The Summer Etan Patz Went Missing Luanne Castle
Your table at the front of the tunnel-like bar was too far from where James Taylor sang at the rear, so you’d drawn closer. You still hadn’t spotted Carly when the manager told you and your boyfriend and his cousin to remove yourselves from the aisle and return to your seats. You decided to leave. The cousin, a native of Queens, ate only tuna fish sandwiches and didn’t know how to find fun in the city. That afternoon, you’d dragged him into a Chinese restaurant where he’d ordered tuna. Then he slumped there plateless while you and your boyfriend fed each other moo shu wrapped up like blankets. When you came under the streetlights from the dark bar, you felt like dancing. The sidewalk was almost as empty as the streets back home. But the cousin said it was late, and Flushing Meadows was a long way. You should follow him down into the subway station. You’d already heard about the Bronx burning, seen damage from the riots, and read about the murders. Everyone knew that Etan Patz had disappeared. The station seemed endless north and south, but cavelike. Not that long ago, you’d partied in your college town with a friend and her boyfriend, an ugly drunk. When he got you alone in the kitchen, he’d blown rum breath in your face and fingered your long brown hair, the hair you straightened with giant rollers, and said you’re the kind of white girl black men want to rape. You didn’t tell your friend because they were both drunks. In fact, you’d been drunk. Honestly, you were embarrassed for him. And a little frightened. Earlier that day, noise had filled the subway station like helium. Now all you could hear were echoes of young male laughter and running feet. Embodied Effigies | 69
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Your boyfriend glanced about, as if he were searching for the source of the sounds. He rushed you into the car. You expected to see an old man, asleep, a teen couple making out, stragglers. But the car was empty. The three of you hunched together on a bench, you in the center. Under the overhead light, you felt a faltering in your chest. The cousin’s eyes flickered back and forth. He said maybe we shouldn’t have come. That’s when your boyfriend said what the fuck Irwin why’d you bring us here? He shrugged not that used to bringing a girl. Suddenly you heard the feet, coming fast, and something banging against the exterior. Then they were inside, surrounding the three of you. One two three four five. Your lungs screeched as you tried to breathe. The stocky one in charge tapped his red beret and glanced at the others, all in red berets. He said we’re Guardian Angels, ma’am, and we’ll ride with you to your destination. You pulsed with the beat of the daytime crowd, the melody of Taylor’s your smiling face. You might have danced in the center of the car.
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One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Trash Michael Gentry My wife had a dog when she was young—a miniature schnauzer. So, when we moved into an old farm house on a couple of acres and a dog became part of the discussion, we found ourselves the proud owners of a miniature schnauzer puppy. She was aptly named Joni after Joni Mitchell, and like her namesake, she yapped and wailed. Despite the racket and destruction, we grew to love our puppy. Over time, either the high squealed bark and shredded stuffed animals became less frequent, or we simply grew accustomed. Either way, she scooted her butt right into the family. We adored her so much that when the circumstance arose to get another, we jumped, blindly. Some friends offered us their schnauzer puppy—purebred and papered. And, our love for Joni launched us into adoption without proper consideration. This new puppy was named Bella. And she was the devil. She had a short, stout body and a pretty face. Her big, brown eyes begged for love as her tail whipped violently behind her. But, inside her, possessing her soul, was something evil. Her yippy, constant bark made Joni seem like a mute with her mouth duct taped shut. It was high pitched enough to burst a blood vessel in your temple and non-stop, as long as she was awake. I racked my brain and searched the internet for humane ways to make her sleep more, much more, perhaps all day, every day. She looked so peaceful when she slept—like she was dead. It made me wonder, would I love her any less if she were dead? She could be stuffed, just as she now lay peacefully on the bed. This way, we could always remember her at her best, sleeping. But, my wife informed me I was bordering lunacy, so I put those thoughts to bed. My wife is good at redirecting me. Sadly, the only time I felt any desire to touch this dog was when she was sleeping. And even in her deepest of REMs, the slightest touch would result in four puncture marks and slight blood trickling Embodied Effigies | 71
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on the affectionate hand. It became a chore to keep our young children far, far away from her when she slept. With this newfound sleeping behavior, she was despised even during the only moments we had felt a pulse of love for her. We wanted to return her. But, having lived with Bella for about a week, we fully understood why our friends had given away their puppy, their purebred papered puppy. I met with my friend from whom we’d got Bella, and he had no interest in discussing a reunion. “Do whatever you want—sell her, give her away, drop her off in a field. I don’t care,” he said, shaking his head side to side, eyebrows raised high on his forehead. I considered selling her. At the very least, a hundred dollars would compensate for some of the misery endured in the past week. Once again my wife helped me to understand that selling a dog that was given to us would be in bad taste. “Much worse than pretending the dog was normal when giving it away?” I questioned. Our tiny farm house had a tiny chain linked fence. It looked funny on such a big property to have such a small section of yard fenced off. This section became Bella’s home. We’d let her sleep inside, away from small children, and once the sun even thought about cresting the horizon, we’d send her out. I really felt like I was doing her a favor. Outside she could zip back and forth, yipping incessantly at anything, or nothing, like an alarm clock buried in the insulation of your attic. Our nicely manicured back yard became a warzone of crap piles and bunkers. It seemed that everywhere she didn’t crap, she’d dig a hole. And it didn’t take long for her flax seed sized brain to realize she could dig out. Every morning, she’d disappear. I imagined she was wandering the country, darting in and out of fields, bathing in the irrigation ditches, and eating nature’s sweet treats. Really, I didn’t care, as long as she was not here. Yet, every evening, she’d reappear, sleep inside, and begin the same process the next morning. It was apple harvest, and my uncle’s orchards behind our property were buzzing with the La Campesina radio station and the chatter of Spanish conversations. I was always amazed at how quickly and efficiently the orchard could be picked clean. One day the crews were marching through, a few days later the trees were silent, and barren. The apples were loaded into one ton bins and the music blared through blown speakers. For once, something could drown out Bella’s bark. She found company amongst the apple trees and would 72 | Embodied Effigies
follow the crews up and down the orchard rows, resting in the shade and cool earth trenches. The sun set, the music stopped, and the workers went home. That night, Bella didn’t come home. I told my wife it was for the best—all dogs need a family that loves them. I didn’t even have to post an ad. It was a miracle from the heavens. I was genuinely grateful that someone had stolen from me. I considered walking down the dirt road to my Uncle’s house to deliver her papers. He could pass them along, and this way the new owners could have the only thing that held value—her pedigree. The two days that followed her disappearance were abundantly quiet. My morning and evening rituals involving her ceased, and my life was given back to me. Not even my children cared. I expected questions and subsequent sobbing. Yet, my children’s reactions further validated my original assumption—everyone involved is better off because of the merciful disappearance of the dog. I was fairly certain I knew where she was. There was a small trailer park a couple of miles away where many of the orchard workers lived. I imagined driving by to find her happy with her new family. But, I didn’t even want to drive by and risk the chance of completely messing up the blessing of her disappearance. It was just after midnight, and I was scrubbing vomit from the depressing green indoor/outdoor carpet loosely lain in our family room. Our two-year-old son was not well. His tiny, diapered body lay uncomfortably on the floral couch against the back wall, a blanket half on him and half on the floor. A familiar shriek pierced the mostly quiet morning. I jumped to my feet, attempting to determine the direction of the noise. Dropping the vomit towel, I darted through the narrow hall that doubled as a laundry room, into the living room and to the front door. Through the old single pane window I could see a cloud of dust giving way to two disappearing tail lights. I cracked open the door, and on the front step, with her tail in overdrive, tongue hanging to the side as she panted excitedly, sat Bella. She yipped to let me know she was back, sending a painful jolt of electricity through my body. Not even the thieves wanted her. They wouldn’t have returned my TV or my car. Why did they feel they had the right to return Bella? I reluctantly let her in and directed her to the empty back bedroom, then returned to my sick son. First thing the following morning I called the Nickel Saver and placed an ad for a free, purebred, papered miniature schnauzer. The ad ran a few days later and several calls came in. We sifted through prospective owners and chose one that seemed a good fit. Embodied Effigies | 73
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Later that day, we loaded our small family into the minivan and drove Bella out to her new home. As the young children ran and laughed with their new dog, I handed the woman the packet of papers. “If you don’t mind me asking...” she started, looking back and forth between me and my wife. “Why are you getting rid of her?” I looked at my wife, and it was clear she wasn’t going to answer. I looked back at this woman’s questioning eyes. “Because she’s evil,” I said with a trailing chuckle. Her eyebrows furrowed, and her eyes adopted a look of concern. “Welp, have a good one,” I said, directing my wife by the arm back to the van. I fired up the engine, gave the woman a big smile and wave, and drove away, my tail lights disappearing through a cloud of dust.
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A Brief History of Margaret Glen Armstrong
Margaret’s biographer, Cystic Fibrosis, made its presence known, saying very little but with such a flair that the storyteller became the story: She dated boys. Her doctors did what they could. She was brave. They cleared her lungs. The overdone prose bound by the fragile spine of her paperback makes much of these events. But what isn’t so clear is just how beautiful she was when her story wasn’t being told, how the illiterate boy kissed her when she was fifteen. He knew nothing of Margaret’s midnight dealings with mermaids. He knew everything.
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How We Endure (Divorce) Brett Ashmun
While it was still dark in her two-bedroom apartment, my mom would wake me up, wake my brother up, and then return to wake me up again. The three of us would walk out to the frigid apartment carport in our pajamas and parkas, and along with the car, start defrosting. For two months, while I was just beginning my teenage years, my mom drove my brother and me three miles to drop us off at my dad’s new residence—our grandparents’ house. My favorite part of leaving my familiar bed in order to lay on a light and dark grey sectional at three thirty in the morning was the blanket I clutched until I could fall back asleep. It was a white Major League Baseball comforter bordered in two inches of red satin. One side was covered with a complicated pattern that included all twenty-eight team logos, and the opposite side was pure white. I could find the San Diego Padres’ logo immediately. It stood out because I was born in San Diego, and when we lived in southern California, my family was all under one roof. My parents met in El Cajon, a ten-minute drive east of San Diego on highway eight. They met at Perry’s, a coffee shop my mom, Cathy, worked at and my dad just happened to frequent. Rick, my dad, was ten years older than the young lady he was flirting with, but age was not a factor for my dad. His family and friends knew him as “Simon the Likeable” because even after a break-up, his exes would stay friends with him. Much like the San Diego weather, he was easy-going and consistent. His days mainly consisted of drinking coffee in the morning, working out in his garage, body surfing down at Ocean Beach, working on one of his cars (it seems like he has had every car ever made), helping his father down at the family-owned Vacuum and Sewing Machine Repair Shop, and drinking some Miller Lite at night. Nobody was able to stay upset with him. My mom took to him because she had a similar personality, but much more… bohemian. The best example I can give to explain her bohemian personality is when we look at old pictures of our family and my uncle’s family at the beach. My uncle’s three girls (ages 1, 3, and 4) always wore bathing suits. My brother and I (ages 17 and 19, just kidding. Ages 2 and 4) always ran around the beach without Embodied Effigies | 77
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inhibitions. My mom’s response to anyone who had a problem, “It’s not like you’ve never seen one before.” In one of my favorite pictures of my mom, a black and white picture I see when a family member moves to a new house, my mom is shining her love on a crowd with her smile. She is leaning over a glass partition as the original Shamu is giving her a kiss on her cheek. Her straight blonde hair is the longest I have ever seen it, and if she was born sooner, the sun-kissed dirty blonde shade could have been the passion behind James Maxwell’s first color photograph. In San Diego, she always seemed happy. She would let me shift her Toyota SR5 Hatchback when we would drive anywhere—it didn’t matter the situation, she would wind the car high with RPM’s and push the clutch to the floor and wait. Once I learned to listen for that forced momentum in need of another gear, we stopped pissing other drivers off. She would take my brother and me to empty parking lots and let us practice actual driving (I won’t disclose our age at that time, but we were far from a learner’s permit). On the way back from one of our “driving lessons” my mom stopped and bought us ice cream cones. On the last straight away until our apartment, my mom glanced up in her rear view mirror and saw me about to take a bite out of my McDonalds’ vanilla ice cream. In front of her was the only speed bump on our street. She timed it perfectly, and before I knew it the car was full of laughter, and I was wearing that ice cream cone. The San Francisco Giants’ logo also stood out on the blanket, but for all the wrong reasons. If the San Diego design was like a first love with whom you shared endless nights laughing, learning, and relaxing, then the San Francisco logo was the rebound relationship that you hoped for so much out of, but invested little, and eventually spent a good portion of your formidable years trying to get away from. My mom’s family lived in northern California. My mom, having her own family, naturally wanted to be closer to her parents. After many trips up and down highway ninety-nine, our family eventually decided to move north. I loved San Diego, but I knew I would eventually come to love Modesto. Wherever my family moved, we always had each other. Plus, now I had time to spend with my new family—my mom’s side. In the beginning, my mom, brother, and I all stayed in Modesto while my dad tied up loose ends in San Diego (as an adult looking back, I can’t imagine how difficult this was for him). For my dad, the move to Modesto was founded on a lie. One weekend during the fall, my mom, brother, aunt, and I all went looking for houses to buy or rent. We were striking out at every house we visited. Then my aunt told my mom to just tell Rick that you found the perfect house, it is within our budget, and to hurry up north to see it. 78 | Embodied Effigies
Needless to say, the arguing between my parents started the first day they were both in Modesto. The moment my dad found out there was not a house, that it was a lie, marked the beginning of a spiraling effect downward like a deciduous leaf falling off a Modesto Ash branch. Once we were all settled in Modesto, the arguments continued. My mom would leave and not tell my dad where she was going. My dad would refuse to go anywhere other than work, the baseball field, and the coffee shop. When my mom could get him to go to a dinner with her family, the dispute would continue in the ride over to my grandparents. Once there, my dad would spend as much time as he could away from the dinner table. To avoid conversation with my grandfather, a successful social worker and minister, and my grandmother, an accomplished attorney, my dad would clear the plates as soon as the last bite was taken and spent the rest of his time in the kitchen doing dishes. After the fake smiles, handshakes, and hugs ended on the way at the front door, the arguing resumed until I escaped the two of them and reached for my bedroom door. From the beginning of April until the end of September, my grandparents spent every weekend in San Francisco. They would drive to Candlestick RV Park for Friday’s night game and stay through Sunday’s day game before heading back to Modesto. Since my grandparents were huge San Francisco Giants’ fans, my mom would eventually become a Giants’ fan. My brother, dad, and I stayed loyal to our San Diego Padres. My mom began to spend weekends in San Francisco with her parents, and eventually, leaving my dad home alone, my brother and I started enjoying the baseball weekends also. My mom was different during those weekends. She laughed on the Friday night drive in the RV up to San Francisco. During the games on Saturday night she embraced my brother and me to protect us from the bone-chilling wind swirling inside Candlestick. She spent Sundays reflecting in an orange stadium seat with her northern California white legs stretched out on the seat in front of her. She was the woman that my dad first fell in love with. On the drive back Sunday night, she prepared for her workweek as a phlebotomist and as a wife. Two-inches of red satin bordered the loud blanket. This had to be the color both of my parents felt when they were beginning their courtship. Red must have controlled her hurried heartbeat when, in the parking lot of the coffee shop she was a Embodied Effigies | 79
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hostess at, my mom watched as my dad would step out of his ’67 fastback Mustang and change into a clean shirt. Red colored the passion that influenced my dad’s constant need to make my brother and me sick when he would sneak up behind my mom in front of the kitchen sink, grab her hips, and kiss her behind her lifted ear. Red was the color both of them saw when heated arguments took place in the Toyota SR5, 4Runner, and the Tercel. The shade of the red became darker during silent arguments that took place at baseball games and pizza parlors. Red must have burnt deep inside my father when my brother and I told him our mom was going out on a date. My dad made a decision early on in the divorce to not date until my brother and I were eighteen. His main focus until then was his boys, and nothing else. Red concerned my brother’s junior high art teacher to the point that my parents had to be called in to speak with school staff. Once my brother was unable to act out in school, he used a red sharpie to write a note to my mom that he skewered on her bedroom door, “You are no longer an Ashmun. Stop using the Ashmun name!”
The shine of the two-inches of red bordering the blanket was similar in sheen as the ribbon of a first place baseball medal my parents placed around my neck. My dad was coaching my brother’s traveling pony league all-star team, and, for the summer, I had to take the back seat to fifteen of my dad’s newly acquired boys, my brother’s achievements, and my mom’s task of having to handle all the stress that comes with being a baseball mom. The night before the championship game, I was feeling like an ice-cube on the bottom of a freezer full of frozen ice trays. My bitter cold quickly melted away when I heard my parents discussing how my dad would present me with his championship medal if they won the next day. After they won, my dad made a speech thanking me for being supportive throughout the summer and explained to the crowd that I was essential to the team’s championship. The shine of that two-inch border was prevalent in the gleam of pride emanating from my smile, it was clear in the whites just below my brother’s rolling brown eyes, it was obvious in the medal on my dad’s boastful chest, and that shine was rolling down my mom’s cheeks as she grinned and shook her head at me.
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With SportsCenter at a whisper in the background, I was embraced in that blanket at four in the morning. The only parts of me left uncovered were my feet (just like my dad), and my eyes would stay open until I saw my brother fall asleep (just like my mom). I learned recently that the average time it takes someone to fall asleep is fourteen minutes. During my parent’s divorce, I was above average. I would sometimes stay awake until the sun rose above my grandparent’s back fence, and sometimes I would doze off for twenty or thirty minutes. But every once in a while, when I could situate the Padres’ logo near my heart, close my eyes long enough to not see the Giants’ logo and the passionfilled red border, I was able to only feel the calming satin against my neck. On those quiet mornings, I slept like someone else. I slept like a child.
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Africa Refuses to Rise Scott Warren
I see Nathan walking up the ornate, Village Market steps—his right arm using a cane to steady himself, and his three children close behind, as if waiting for a misstep. In the three years since I last saw him, a brow had settled on his forehead. He looks many years older. I walk up to him. We both smile as we shake hands—not smiles in a way that high school best friends might smile when they see each other for the first time in years, smiles in the sense that we both thought we would probably never see each other again. Nathan and his family, comprised of three children and his wife, are dressed in their Sunday best. I have just emerged from a 15-kilometer run, so look worse for the wear. I take stock of our surroundings—Village Market is one of the nicest malls in Nairobi, Kenya, and would be one of the nicest malls in the United States. An outside food court, buffered by flowing fountains and blooming flowers, offers Chinese and Lebanese and Italian, an Apple electronics store hawks the company’s newest watches, and a health grocery store advertises its avocado-flavored smoothies. As we settle at our outside table, we seem out of place. But Nairobi has become a perpetual exercise in seeming out of place. Without settling for small talk, Nathan fills me in on the last three years of his life. Nathan had been my parents’ gardener for three years, in their second tour of duty with the U.S. State Department in Kenya, and became their most dependable employee. It is sometimes exhausting to pause and explain to friends and peers how, despite the seeming absurdity of a white family from America employing black Kenyans to clean and garden and drive, it is incredibly common, and in fact, offers stable employment to Kenyans who might otherwise be jobless. Does that excuse the fact that the exercise potentially only perpetuates harmful colonialist-created inequality? Who knows. Three years ago, Nathan was returning from his tribal home in a matatu, an undersized and overstuffed van that serves as public transit for the vast majority of Kenyans. The matatu rounded a corner and, attempting to avoid a pothole on the notoriously unkempt Kenya roads, crashed into a truck. There were eight passengers. Seven died. Nathan was the one survivor. He remembers the crash, and then Embodied Effigies | 83
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he remembers waking up in a hospital, my mother looking over him, every bone in his body aching. The doctors, Nathan tells me, did not think he would make it. He had too many broken bones. His lungs were punctured. My parents were determined to do everything that they could. They made sure he transferred to the best hospital in Nairobi. They are not exceptionally wealthy, but they spent thousands and thousands of dollars to make sure that Nathan received the best care possible. At this point in the story, despite the fact that I know many of these details, I can barely look at Nathan. Tears are welling in my eyes. Partially because of this personal hell he has suffered. Partially because of what his family endured—his three-year-old son barely born when the accident occurred, oblivious to this story, is currently yelling out at passers-by, smiling. Partially because Nathan is telling me of the type of benevolence that one hopes parents possess, but rarely hears from the mouths of others. Nathan has tears cropping up as well. Nathan tells me that one day, after many surgeries, my parents came to the hospital to see him packed in a filthy room stuffed with six other patients even though it probably could safely house only one. The conditions were so deplorable, Nathan says, that my parents immediately saw him, and began to cry. I have seen my dad cry twice in my life—when his best friend died, and when our first dog died. Even the thought of him in tears produces a similar reaction for me. My parents tried to get him out. At this point, Nathan says, the hospital has caught onto the fact that my parents have some money. After all, they are mzungus. They are white. They must have limitless supplies of cash. At every visit, the officials ask for more. My parents vacillate between giving to a corrupt system and knowing that they are needed to save Nathan’s life. My dad, potentially abusing his role as a Foreign Service Officer, takes the case all the way up the chain of command to the Minister of Medical Services, a man named Peter Nyong’o. Peter’s daughter, now known in my country simply as Lupita, wins an Academy Award the next year for her depiction as an American slave. But in this case, Peter is unsympathetic to the less fortunate. Nathan remains in the unsanitary room with six other people, wasting away while the hospital slowly decides the next course of action. My parents then left Kenya. Not out of choice. My father faced mandatory retirement at the age of 65, and, much to his frustration, left the country where they had lived for seven years, and left Nathan trapped in a hospital. They also left Nathan the equivalent of $3,000 to help with the dozens 84 | Embodied Effigies
of procedures that remain. I did not know this. Over the next two years, Nathan is in and out of the hospital, in and out of countless surgeries. First, they thought he would not survive. He did. Then, they thought he would lose his leg. He did not. His hope never wavered. His family never wavered. Nathan left the hospital, intact, determined to make a better life for himself. For his family. In August of 2013, two and a half years after the accident, my father receives an email from a new US Embassy employee who is interested in hiring Nathan as a gardener. This would be his first job since the accident. My father replies to the email. â€œIn 16 years living overseas, he was without doubt the best employee we had. I cannot recommend him highly enough.â€? He is hired. As Nathan finishes the story, it is clear that he sees my parents as his saviors. Which, in my Northeast liberal arts education ways, seems beyond problematic, since my parents are white westerners. The whole reason that Africa is in the plight that it is in, my education has told me, is white westerners. Africans needs to save themselves. Yet, Nathan is right. He would not be alive if not for my parents. Problematize that. Nathan is alive. But he is still a gardener, making menial wages. He has a difficult time supporting his son, Palmar, in university. Palmar wants to be an agronomist, he tells me with a smile, in order to support Kenyan farmers. I get up to order two plates of fries. I go because I asked his family if they wanted food, and they told me that they wanted fries. But I also need a minute, or three. I take a deep breath. I am in Kenya because I was exhausted running a non-profit in the United States, and I wanted to come back to the magical land that had been home for the formative years of my childhood. This conversation is more emotionally exhausting than donor cultivation and team meetings and writing endless proposals. But at the end of the day, I will go home, to New York City. To a good life. I will be fine. What will come of Nathan and his family? Three weeks after we get lunch at Village Market, Barack Obama visits his fatherâ€™s homeland of Kenya for the first time as President, and gives a speech miles away from where we are sitting. He Embodied Effigies | 85
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boasts of Kenya’s new crop of entrepreneurs and its impressive economic growth and how, with better governance, the country is poised to be the new breadbasket of Africa. Indeed, I look around the mall, and I feel as if I am back in the United States. But tell that to Nathan. To his family. To the millions of Kenyan families still wrestling with extreme poverty. In numbers strikingly similar to my country, the top 10% of Kenyan households control more than 40% of the wealth, while the poorest 10% control less than 1%. As I walk back to the table, I reflect on the “Africa Rising” narrative that the West so loves to focus on as an antidote to the common Africa narrative of black people machete’ing each other to death. It is far too narrow of a narrative. Africa is rising for the rich. Nathan, in post-surgery life, is still suffering. We eat fries. I talk to his smiling children. We take a picture. They leave in a matatu. I walk away, and go to a corner where no one can see me, and I sob. I don’t really know why. Maybe it is guilt. Maybe it is mixed with some joy that Nathan is alive. Maybe I wish I could do more. Maybe I can. My parents might have saved his life. But they cannot give him life. The happy ending to this story is that Nathan is still alive. He has a beautiful family. He is grateful. But I want him to thrive. To rise.
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Yogi #1 Michael Gentry
It seems every pet we’ve owned has been an impulse decision. I was outside of our small farmhouse fighting the never ending battle with the koshia weeds when my cousin Nathan pulled into the drive. He was on his way to get a puppy. We weren’t in the market for a dog, but the opportunity to get a baby animal of any kind is hard to pass up. One minute I’m inducing hay fever by uprooting weeds the size of trees, the next I’m lifting up puppies to get a good look at their genitals. There is nothing in this world like picking out a puppy— the mother, ladled with sucking pups, nervously eyes me as I lift each of her babies from her to closely examine its privates, only to take what is rightfully hers. The puppies were a mix of lab and German shorthair. There was a fairly even mixture of chocolate and black puppies, me selecting a brown and Nathan choosing a black. As a family we decided to name him Yogi. And unlike all of our other puppies, Yogi was loyal at a young age. He marched alongside me as I worked on our two acre property. When the curiosities of his youth would indulge him to wander, his name and a leg pat brought him immediately back. I built him a straw house on our back patio, a structure far superior to any of the other dog houses our previous dogs were provided. This straw house had two purposes: 1) keep the young pup warm when the early winter winds started to whip, and 2) keep him contained. It was about 1 a.m. the following morning when I realized it had failed to accomplish both. In between gusts of the early November wind, I could hear a whimper outside our thinly insulated wall. His home was intact and looked warm. I could not see one place where a puppy could have escaped, yet magically, he was twenty feet from the comforts of his home, huddled up against the cold of the peeling, old blue siding, uncontrollably shaking like a maraca mid-song. Embodied Effigies | 87
I lifted his tiny body up against my chest. His wet nose nestled into the nape of my neck, leaving a small wet stamp, and his quivers became more sporadic. He slept with me that night. And, he slept inside until he was too big to squeeze through any magic portals in his straw condominium. The months turned the winter over to spring, and Yogi had grown up. He may have still been classified a puppy, but he was fast and agile and kind. Usually, with some luck, a dog grows old and becomes the perfect dog. Yogi skipped some steps and grew into a perfect dog for our family without growing old. He was gentle with our young children. We had two, a four-year-old girl and a two-year-old boy. They would tug unforgivingly on his ears and lips, ride him like a pony, and painfully shower him with their affections. And through all this, he loved them. He tolerated them. It was late summer. The sun fought the urge to set early and illuminated the farm country deep into harvest. Late in the evening, as I tidied up before bed, I noticed stationary high beams on lighting the road outside my bedroom window. There was a truck stopped about twenty feet from my driveway, headlights beaming onto the road. A figure knelt above a small mass, examining it. My chest tightened, and I fought the urge to cry. I turned to my wife and said, “Yogi just got hit.” I pulled on some sweats and hurried out to the road. Yogi lay there, still. My neighbor from a mile up the road was now standing above him, hands on his hips. “I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head. “My daughter didn’t see him until it was too late,” he continued. “She’s a mess up at the house, truly sorry.” I moved in and knelt next to Yogi. I’d seen him sleep just like this many nights. Only, now he was perfectly still, no rise and no fall of his chest. I put my hand on his still warm body and closed my eyes, allowing a few tears to sneak out in the dark of the night. After a few deep breaths, I rose and faced my neighbor. He was short man with a thick mustache, and he was always wearing a baseball cap. “It’ll be ok,” I said, placing my hand on his shoulder, still staring down at my dog.
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“You know, we just lost our dog not long ago,” he said, nodding his head at my dog. I knew this, but I didn’t respond. I felt like he was accusing me of something. One of my uncle’s Hispanic workers had shot a couple of dogs attacking his goats. I knew one of the dogs was this neighbor’s. I also knew that he didn’t know what had happened to his dog. So, I kept quiet, shaking my head slowly back and forth. He spoke up again, disrupting the somber silence. “I can bury him, if you’d like.” It was nice of him to offer, but I knew I needed the closure. “I can do it, but thanks,” I said, finally looking up at this man. He nodded, patted my shoulder, and climbed back into his truck. I walked slowly back to the house to get a shovel, and he started his truck and carefully drove around Yogi and out of sight. I thought about going inside for some gloves, but couldn’t find the energy. I walked back up to the road, letting the shovel drop onto the gravel with each step. The thud of the shovel changed as it hit the asphalt. I slid the shovel under the body of my dog, but he was too heavy to lift this way. I tossed the shovel to the side of the road and dragged Yogi’s limp body off the asphalt and onto the dirt. The moon was bright, tinted slightly red. I over-dug the hole, hoping to bury him deep enough to spoil the chances of coyotes finding his decaying flesh. When the hole was deep and wide enough, I slid his body into it. The fit was surprisingly good. I scooped a shovel full of dirt on top, then stopped. I felt like this wasn’t sacred enough. But, the coyote howls in the distance prodded me to continue. Shovel full after shovel full of dirt was piled onto my dog until a slight mound was formed. I looked up at the moon again, shook my head in disbelief, and then walked back to the house, clanging the shovel all the way. I leaned the shovel up against the house and went in. My wife could tell it was a painful, solemn time, so she encouraged me to sleep. In the morning, I woke as the sun sprayed its light across my bedroom walls. I knew I had to tell the kids. I hollered for them to come into my room, and tiny, rapid footsteps followed. They climbed onto my bed, far too happy for this moment. I thought about starting with a discussion about life and death, or trying to quell the agony of death Embodied Effigies | 89
with a metaphor or analogy. But, that was all too much work. I took a deep breath and placed each of my hands on one of their legs. “Yogi died last night,” I said, staring into their hope filled eyes. The room was silent, too silent. Then, they both collapsed into my lap, sobbing. I held them, resting my head on their backs, allowing the tears to flow freely. We huddled, and cried. After a while, they wiped their tears away and asked to see where he died. I was reluctant to show them the blood stained road, so we went out into the front yard together to mourn from a distance. In the road, at the place of his death, sat my parents’ dog, Sadie. Her and Yogi were close. I pulled my kids in close to me to keep them warm in the cool of the early fall morning. Sadie sat there and cried at the heavens, a doleful, questioning howl.
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Me and My Friends John Richmond
He stood there, not quite in a dumbfound state, but literally “…dumb…” enough—mute—until he “… found…” a way to “replay” his last exchange with the Customer Service Rep at the Amtrak counter. “How’s the noon train from back east doing?” he asked when it was his turn to approach the counter. The Rep looked up quickly and then just as quickly looked away. “The Lake Shore Limited? It’s running a little late.” He looked past the Rep to the clock on the rear wall. It said eleven forty-five, still in the AM. “A little late, huh?” he asked with a constant nodding that betrayed his gut-level feeling that there was going to be a problem. “What does ‘…a little late…’ mean in Chicago?” “Three-o-five,” was the answer that ricocheted up off the paperwork in front of the Rep. As he stood there, so many things were vying to be voiced. Things like
(1)“…what kind of railroad are you running?” (2)“…do you know how long it took me to drive in from Lombard?” (3)“…what am I suppose to do for three hours?”
But all he did was shake his head, mutter a sharply worded and incredulous, “What?” and then left. He walked out of Union Station, looked over the Chicago River and thought about what he was going to do. “I might as well get something to drink,” he advised himself and surveyed the promenade on the other side of the river. There, off to the left was an outdoor café. He made his way there by way of Embodied Effigies | 91
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the West Adams Street Bridge and waited at the hostess’ station. He watched her walk up to him. She was cute and petite, two attributes which were high on his list. Her name tag said, “Barbara.” “A table for one?” she asked with a smile. “Yes,” he said and then added, “could I get one at the railing, next to the river?” She glanced briefly at the available tables and then turned back to him. “I’m sorry, we don’t have anything by the railing.” He looked past her, then pointed and asked, “How about that table over there?” After a hesitating moment, she finally asked, “You want me to seat you—by yourself—at a table that seats six?” “Yes, I do,” he replied confidently. “I—see,” she said slowly and then paused before she upped the ante when she said, “Tell me a good story.” At this point—no doubt—any perceptive person in the café would had to have been blind not to notice the complementing twinkle in both of their eyes. She was game and he was ready. “Would you believe,” he began and then shifted his weight to bring him ever so slightly closer to her, “would you believe that I have multiple personalities and they all need their own seats?” She smiled a wide smiled and then looked back at the tables. “Oh, look, there’s a couple getting up from that table for two at the railing. Do you think that all of your people could squeeze themselves into those two seats?” He looked over at the table, found it to be satisfactory and then said, “I don’t know, let me ask them.” 92 | Embodied Effigies
With that, he turned away from her, took a step back and began an imaginary—and hushed— conversation with his personalities. Finally, he straightened up, stepped back toward her and announced, “They said that it would be all right.” “Wonderful,” she said and smiled, “please, if you would all come this way.”
He spent the better part of the three hours sitting there at the railing and drinking wine. On his way out, he gave her a sixty dollar tip. She looked at the money and said, “I can’t take this, it’s too much.” “Yes you can and no it’s not,” he countered and paused. “Look,” he continued, “when I said that thing about the personalities, you could have written me off a complete jerk. But you didn’t. You played along. It was fun. You deserve it.” She thanked him and then excused herself to attend to new customers who were waiting for a table. He then made his way back across the river and into Union Station to meet his arrival coming in on the Lake Shore Limited.
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Watercourses Finley J. MacDonald
Crook County’s a chest of gray light and cowpokes and roustabouts and busted, gnarled fence posts casting long shadows, an achromatic steppe upon which my mother, a mountain girl, gradually suffocates. One January morning, she will bundle my brother and me in army blankets, and our homestead will slip away in the Power Wagon’s side window. Today, she is arranging bum-lamb bottles in a canister of water on the stove. Her hair’s the color of penny, and the sleeves of her jacket are taped. On the wall beside the stove roosts the black, thirties-style phone box. She zeroes in on my shoes. “Take those off. Where were you?” I have been in the barn. Spilling rolled grain from a Dixie cup to grunting, gobbling snouts. Feeding the pigs is forbidden. I deflect. “Saw some antelope.” “Antelope? Are you telling a story? Where?” In the next room, the rattling of the coal-burning stove ceases. “What’s that?” “Antelope, he says.” We live on antelope. For more than a year, the landlord has failed to pay my father for looking after the cattle. Just tell him directly, tell him to pay you, says my mother. Lately, we have gotten by on jackrabbit. Evenings, I get to sit beside Oshoto, our heeler, while the GMC pokes along and the oval of light glides over brush and barbed wire. When they are shot, the rabbits do summersaults and Embodied Effigies | 95
flounder or their white legs stretch and tremble. Some carry tularemia, and my father feeds those to Oshoto. My father strides past the kitchen entryway, pulling on his Mackinaw. He stomps across the kitchen floor in his socks and leans the rifle. It is from the Spanish American war, a bolt-action 30-40 Krag. He stands on one foot, jerking a boot. “They still there?” “Yeah, Dad.” He lays in cartridges and snaps the magazine. The bolt clacks like it means business. “Can you point them out?” “You going to shoot them?” “You bet I am.” There’s an image of my father crabscooting from Ford on blocks to line of heaving cottonwoods. For a very long time, he kneels behind a tree. I creep up. Keep down, he whispers. The breeze blows his hair and hisses in dry thistles. On the hilltop, the windmill is groaning homage to the gaunt and gray Wyoming spring. I tremble. I’d like to see the antelope. Horns of jacks. Jennies snatching buffalo grass. “They still there?” “Hush.”
The Krag cracks and echoes.
In a river valley nearer mountains, I chop mortar with a sawed-off hoe, and my father, whose legs have failed, scoots on his rump, fitting river-smooth stones into the wall of a deep flower bed to wrap around our double-wide trailer and additions he has constructed with studs at random intervals. He fashions knives with resin-sticky handles, artless gifts contradicting a saga of loss and broken faith: 96 | Embodied Effigies
futile—and inessential. We, these watercourses which for a season make their way to the broad rivers cannot be convicted by arroyos we carve—those stories that carry us—and so we wind in due time as blessing. My father, having laid out a dialectic of life and death by his own hand and Jesus on the plywood wall with his heart on fire, slumps in his wheel chair, hanging onto the barrel of the Remington. I had been called as a witness to night rides and jackrabbits and brook trout and yarns about “Big Ponkey”, the slow, colossal, bandoliered cowpoke who, one blistering day, drank the Powder River dry. Averse to pleading that it all meant something, I elect to stand aside, to leave the matter between my father and Jesus, insensible of the breathless consequence if my father were to murder himself with the 30 Remington I gave him Christmas morning. Thank you for leaving that as a passing temptation. Years later, his second daughter, who suffered his disesteem, lay beside him on his deathbed and wrapped her arms around his thin body and told him that he was a good father and that she loved him. My father works the bolt and fires again. “You missed,” I say. “Didn’t you, Dad?” My father plants the iron-plated butt among thistles. “Seems so.” But that day, he did not miss. With a cottonwood gnarl as a stand, on a windy, Wyoming morning, he shot two antelope at a glorious distance—so far away he never saw them drop in sagebrush.
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Contributors’ Notes Glen Armstrong
holds an MFA in English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and teaches writing at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. He edits a poetry journal called Cruel Garters and has a new chapbook titled Set List (Bitchin Kitsch,) and two more scheduled for 2015: In Stone and The Most Awkward Silence of All (both Cruel Garters Press.) His work has appeared in Poetry Northwest, Conduit and Cloudbank.
Brett Ashmun recently received his M.A. in rhetoric and composition. He teaches first-
year composition at his alma mater, California State University, Stanislaus and feels very fortunate to have the opportunity to shape the lives of young adults. He is engaged to his best friend, and he loves writing while Rivers, his black Labrador, is resting by his feet.
J. David Bell is a recovering academic whose fiction and creative nonfiction appear in
numerous publications including Queen City Review, Terrain.org, and Toad Suck Review. As Joshua David Bellin, he writes Young Adult science fiction, including the novels SURVIVAL COLONY 9 and SCAVENGER OF SOULS. As J. D. Belyi, he writes other weird stuff. All of his various personae come together on his website, joshuadavidbellin.com.
Luanne Castle’s poetry and prose are forthcoming or have appeared in CopperNickel,
Blast Furnace, Phoebe, Six Hens, The Antigonish Review, Grist, TAB, River Teeth, Lunch Ticket, The Review Review, and many other journals. Winner of the 2015 New MexicoArizona Book Award, Doll God, Luanne’s first collection of poetry, was published by Aldrich Press. Luanne studied at the University of California, Riverside (PhD); Western Michigan University (MFA); and Stanford University. She divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina.
is a North American writer specializing in short fiction and narrative nonfiction. Her prose was featured in The Penmen Review and recognized as the Judge’s Choice in Heart and Mind Zine literary magazine. Print publications showcasing her narrative nonfiction include the 2015 Story Shelter anthology and Jokes Review inaugural issue, both currently available on Amazon. Cimmone’s most recent chapbook publication, “When I Was Alive,” was released in August 2016 via Underground Voices and is available on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Her poetry chapbook, “MidnightSchizophrenia,” is currently seeking publication rights and upcoming publication with Belle Reve Literary Journal is forthcoming. To read more about C. Cimmone, please visit https://ccimmone. com. Cimmone is currently seeking North American representation for future projects. 98 | Embodied Effigies
Mara A. Cohen is a writer and storyteller in Los Angeles at work on a memoir. Her
stories have been featured in Alimentum, BioStories, Entropy, Hairpin, Jewrotica, Mothers Always Write and Pentimento. She holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from UCLA, and she served on the urban studies faculty at Loyola Marymount University. Her research and op-eds on ethnic politics, and urban affairs have been published in various peer-reviewed journals and general media outlets including the Los Angeles Daily News, La Opinion, New American Media and Los Angeles Business Journal, and she has appeared on radio and television public affairs programs. Her proudest accomplishment and greatest joy is her 12-year old daughter. Visit Maraâ€™s website at http://maracohenmarks.com/.
Michael Gentry lives and works in Eastern Idaho. He received a B.S. in English Education
from Brigham Young University-Idaho, an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from National University, and an Ed.D. in Education from the University of Idaho. Michael teaches basic writing courses at BYU-Idaho. His work is forthcoming or has been published in Animal Literary Magazine, The Casserole-Literature and Art Magazine, Apeiron Review, Embodied Effigies-Creative Nonfiction Literary Magazine, Outside In Literary and Travel Magazine, The Great Books Challenge, and The Research in Developmental Education Journal.
M. Courtney Hughes is a health care researcher who lives in Chicago. She holds a PhD from the University of Washington School of Public Health, an MS from the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology, and a BBA, Summa Cum Laude, from the University of Notre Dame. Her writing has appeared in Stymie, The Prompt, The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, and several academic journals. Visit her at courtneyhughes.com.
Alice Lowe reads and writes about life and literature, food and family. Her personal essays
have appeared in numerous literary journals, including Crab Creek Review, The Millions, Permafrost, 1966, The Tishman Review, and Lunch Ticket. She was a national award winner at City Works Journal and winner of an essay contest at Writing It Real. Alice is the author of numerous essays and reviews on Virginia Woolf â€™s life and work, including two monographs published by Cecil Woolf Publishers in London. Alice lives in San Diego, California and blogs at www.aliceloweblogs.wordpress.com.
Finley J. MacDonald grew up in Wyoming and Montana, and in 1999, graduated from Montana State University-Northern in Havre, Montana. He has self-published a book of poems entitled House of Violence and a work of speculative fiction entitled Angels, Delirium, Liberty. For a number of years, he split his time between areas of Montana and New Mexico. For the last decade, he has lived in China, initially, teaching English in Northeast Normal
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University in northern China. He currently lives with his partner Mandy Yang in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, where he teaches English speaking and writing.
Lily Iona MacKenzie has published reviews, interviews, short fiction, poetry, travel
pieces, essays, and memoir in over 150 American and Canadian venues. Fling!, one of her novels, was published in July 2015. Bone Songs, another novel, will be published early in 2017. A third novel, Freefall: A Divine Comedy will be released later in 2017. Her poetry collection All This was published in 2011. She taught writing at the University of San Francisco for 30 years and was vice-president of USF’s part-time faculty union. When she isn’t writing, she paints and travels widely with her husband. Visit her blog at: http:// lilyionamackenzie.wordpress.com.
G. M. Monks has been published in GFT Press (twice), Kaaterskill Basin Literary Review,
Kansas City Voices, Picayune, Alehouse, Bathtub Gin, and elsewhere. She was a semifinalist in both the 2014 and 2015 Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards, and in the 2014 Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize. She is a graduate of the Tucson Festival of Books Masters Workshop and the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference. One of her poems was reviewed in the New Hope International Review. She lives near San Francisco with her husband.
has “wandered” parts of North America for a good portion of his life. These “wanderings” have taken him from a city on the Great Lakes to a small fishing village, then on to a larger city on the Great Lakes—Chicago—then, eventually, New York City. Most recently, John Richmond has made his way to a small upstate New York hamlet where he divides his time between writing and discussing the state of the world with his coonhound buddy, Roma.
Bill Schroeter is a sixty-three year old aspiring writer. He concluded a thirty-five year
career as a Social Worker and Youth Mentor in 2011 by surviving a fall off a twenty-five foot ladder while building a Challenge Course. Schroeter holds a BA in Literature and Education from Fairleigh Dickinson University, and an MA in Human Services and Administration from Vermont College of Norwich University. From 2011thru 2014 he was a student in the Creative Writing Program at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey. He has studied with Laura McCullough, Suzanne Parker and Colleen Lineberry. Creative non-fiction, poetry and narrative fiction are the genres he enjoys working in the most. Schroeter’s work has appeared in COLLAGE, EMPIRICAL, and GREY SPARROW. He lives at the Jersey Shore. His wife Rosemarie, is a Spanish Teacher. His son Eric is a twenty-eight year-old aspiring film maker. His daughter Victoria is a Health Care Consultant. They all think Schroeter is crazy for wanting to be a writer. He yells at his keyboard too often. Schroeter loves to garden
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and build military scale models. He is a tenor in the Brookdale Conchordia Chorale, and has sung at Lincoln Center. This summer he will perform at Carnegie Hall. Schroeter is also a bass, guitarist and vocalist in a reasonably competent cover band, Haznat’s Crew. He is absolutely thrileld to be included in this publication!
Lizz Schumer is a writer, editor, poet and artist living and working in Buffalo, N.Y. Her
first book, “Buffalo Steel” was published by Black Rose Writing in October 2013. Other works have been printed by Salon.com, The Manifest Station, Buffalo.com, Wordgathering, Connotation Press, Minerva Rising and many others. Lizz’s work most often deals with the individual’s relationship to society and society’s impact on the individual’s sense of self. Lizz received her MFA in writing from Goddard College and is professor of journalism and mass communications at Canisius College.
Jessica Seymour is an Australian researcher and freelance writer based in Utrecht, the Netherlands. She loves travelling, petting strangers’ dogs on the train, and taking naps, and her creative work can be found in Voiceworks Magazine, Short Fiction Break, and Meniscus.
is the co-founder and Executive Director of Generation Citizen. He is a current recipient of a Draper Richards Kaplan Fellowship, a former recipient of an Echoing Green Fellowship, and was named one of Forbes’ Top 30 Social Entrepreneurs under 30. Scott graduated from Brown University with a degree in International Relations. Scott’s passion for activism stems from his experience growing up abroad. After his father joined the State Department, Scott lived throughout Latin America and Africa, learning about diverse cultures and peoples. In 2002, Scott served as an observer in the first truly democratic elections in Kenya’s history, where he began to recognize the transformative potential of democracy. During college he served as the Student Director of STAND, a national student anti-genocide coalition. STAND works with over 800 high school and college chapters to advocate US action to prevent and end genocide, and create a permanent student anti-genocide constituency. Scott also helped lead successful campaigns to divest Brown University, the City of Providence, and the State of Rhode Island from companies conducting business in Sudan. Influenced by his experience in Kenya, Scott founded Generation Citizen his senior year at Brown with the aim of encouraging youth to participate in the democratic process.
Kirby Wright’s first play was performed at the Secret Theatre’s 2016 One Act Festival in New York. He will be a Visiting Lecturer in Helsinki and Stockholm this fall.
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MacDonald, Finley J. MacKenzie,
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