Issue Seven | Summer 2018
Embodied Effigies Summer 2018
ISSN Number: 2572-2573 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: email@example.com Copyright ÂŠ 2018 Embodied Effigies, John Carter, and Catherine Roberts. The works presented in Embodied Effigies are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-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-ourday-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 2018 graduate of Ball State University, where he earned his MA in English: Creative Writing. His work can 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, Sansa, 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 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 is currently pursuing her Masters of Library and Information Science from IUPUI. 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 Artificial Lantern
Black Girls Are Dirty
Death and the Photo Studio De Luxe on an Infinite Fifth Power Avenue
Table of Contents
The Empty House
Hobble and Dance
Answers to All Questions but One
Foolâ€™s Gold, Ocean City
Eric D. Lehman
The Artificial Lantern Kirby Wright
The apple-red lantern on the table fakes a flame. Its hood is cold. Open the swing panel on the bottom—it reveals a clutch of fat batteries. This unreal light is missing a tickle-flicker. Still, it serves as a centerpiece for the artist’s dinner. Tonight, he eats pork-and-broccoli stir-fry with his wife. The silver anniversary approaches. The artist’s spouse knows tonight’s the night because he gets hot whenever he blends meat with vegetables. She hates how he chews and has become an expert at faking love. She will fake it again when their lantern glows cold, smiling knowing he knows nothing about her.
Embodied Effigies | 9
Boys’ Lake Gary Kidney
Earlier than the collective memory of the boys, the town of Mt. Ayr build a new lake. When it happened might be something their fathers or grandfathers remembered; but what did that matter to a boy? It was prehistory—time beyond their ken, like dinosaurs, conquistadors, and minutemen. The lake had a name— Loch Ayr, a highfalutin Scottish name for a lake stuck in the middle of rolling hills Iowa. The townspeople called it the New Lake. Of course, there had to be an Old Lake. It was a hundred yards away from the Loch, across the new dam and fish hatchery road. The old lake was unkempt and surrounded by weeds. Dilapidated buildings that used to be restrooms stood beside rusty playground equipment steps away from the mud beach. An aged fishing dock, moss covered and missing many planks, stubbed into the lake. A sturdy oak grew through the water with wooden steps nailed to its bark and a rope swing dangled over the black water. A weeping willow’s cascading branches raked its inky surface. Dutch elm and pine trees shaded it. Adults had no interest in it, but the boys claimed it as our own. A place with few rules and even those were made by boys. We called it Boys’ Lake. Most boys had town roots going back to the founding. The town’s population hadn’t varied by more than a percentage point or two in every census since 1880. Few people made it out, some tumbled in, and most stuck to the town like flypaper. The town had 750 households with about 480 children enrolled in the community school. There were few college degrees in the town, except for the school teachers. Busses brought the farm kids to school from around the county. Farm boys belonged to 4-H and FFA, planning to be farmers like their Embodied Effigies | 11
fathers and grandfathers. The relationship between farmer and land has strong gravity. I was a town boy, not bound to the land. Still, life’s rhythm revolved around the farms. In summers, I helped farm friends bring in hay or detassled corn. Every Saturday night, the farm families came to town. The community gathered on the square around Ringgold County’s courthouse. Business, like my mother’s women’s clothing store, stayed open late. Boys packed the balcony of the Princess theater for a movie. One weekend morning near the end of 4th grade, I pedaled furiously down West Street headed for Boys’ Lake. I hoped for membership in Boys’ Lake society. I rode to the edge of a ditch filled by weeds grown taller than my head, like wheat, and hid my bike there. There were nearly a dozen bikes beside it. I climbed the padlocked steel gate, straddling its “No Trespassing” sign, and walked through the old playground. I saw the boys. Bobby was oldest. He was an eighth grader, cool, not one of the mean boys, and my second cousin. The rules of Boys’ Lake were handed down by brothers, uncles, and cousins and enforced by the eldest boy at any time. “I wanna swim,” I asserted. “You know them rules. Drop ‘em.” Bobby demanded. I slipped my shorts and briefs to my ankles and lifted my shirt. “I don’t see nothin’,” Bobby judged. In the mottled sunlight filtered through the tree canopy, I couldn’t see them either. I knew there were four. I’d counted them multiple times, each time being careful not to pull one out. Bobby dropped to his knees for a closer inspection. He touched my abdomen, finding the roughness of the hairs against my smooth skin. He gathered them between his finger and thumb and tugged lightly. “OK. You’re in.” I kicked off my flip-flops, stepped out of my shorts and underwear, shed the shirt, and ran to the water.
Swimming wasn’t a skill taught in town. There were no swimming pools
12 | Embodied Effigies
and no lifeguards making an extra buck with lessons. Boys learned in farm ponds, river bends, and stock tanks. Swim trunks were never important in any of those locations. The town elders weren’t pleased with boys at the old lake. Afraid of liability for drowning, rusty nails, falls from climbing on old buildings and playground equipment, and other dangers imaginable only to adults, they padlocked the gate. For me, the appeal of Boys’ Lake was the freedom it expressed. I was an only child of parents respected in town society. A better-than-average student who played sports, trombone in the band, sang in the choir, and attended church and Sunday school regularly. Boys’ Lake brought me my first taste of liberty. In the summer of 1964, Dana came from Chicago to spend a month with his step-grandmother, my aunt. With him came his brand new, royal blue, Ford Mustang convertible. That car inspired awe in every boy at the lake. “Gary, hop in,” He called. I and my friends filled his car. We sped over the rolling hills and farmland. Still wet from swimming, the wind dried me and goose-bumped my skin. Sometimes, we’d crest a hill and fly, leaving the road for a few seconds of sheer exhilaration. It was better than any roller-coaster. We rode as far as the bridge over Crooked Creek, where Mt. Ayr ended and Tingley began. We turned around to give another group a ride. Dana taught me to drive in that Mustang. Before he returned to Chicago, I looped the square, giving my dad a regal wave as I drove over the bricks that paved Madison Street. He gave me a bemused look as he paused in sweeping the sidewalk at my mother’s store. My dad was nearly old enough to be my grandfather. He’d raised three boys in a previous marriage. I’d come along as a family surprise when he was 50. I’d seen that bemused look before—a ‘been there, done that’ look left over from his first three sons. Luckily, the town’s one-man police force was not at station when I turned at city hall. Embodied Effigies | 13
The musical “The Music Man” points out that Iowa’s troubles always start in places where boys hangout. The town elders provided the prominent trespassing sign to avoid those troubles. Ignoring it was my act of rebellion. On warm weekends and randomly through the summer, the town police car patrolled the lake to rouse us boys. The lake and woods provided plenty of hiding places to avoid justice. At Boys’ Lake, we learned to smoke, cuss colorfully and eloquently, and share the secrets of masturbation. Those weren’t considered social graces. The Baptist and Methodist ministers achieved agreement—Boys’ Lake was a den of iniquity. The Sunday after school closed, Boys’ Lake’s sins were warned against from the pulpit. I couldn’t fathom the logic. How could such a liberating and fun place be such an abomination? I suspected that Jesus swam in the Jordan River with his friends. Wasn’t that before swim trunks were invented? On the 4th of July after 5th grade, the Kiwanis had their barbeque at Loch Ayr. It was dreadfully humid and hot, causing the cancellation of most fun activities. No breeze nor movement of water provided relief. Even the lake sweltered. I hung out with friends, eating watermelon out of ice-packed stock tanks or stealing beers from the coolers beneath the Shriner or American Legion tents. Teddy came by, twirling a football. “Let’s play.” Mt. Ayr was mighty proud of their Raiders. Joe McNeill had coached them to a 9-0 record and a conference championship. Many of us had older brothers on the team. “Too damned hot,” Paul said. “Not in the shade of Boys’ Lake.” Like the pied piper, Teddy soon had a large group following him as we deserted Lock Ayr. I followed on my bike, passing the dam and fish hatchery. I didn’t bother to hide the bike in the ditch, just propped its kickstand at the gate. We stripped down and cooled off in water 14 | Embodied Effigies
shaded from the blistering sun. Then, we playing tackle football in the old beach’s mud. In the gloaming, our parents missed us. The cop car turned into the lake with red lights flashing and boys scattered. “My bike!” I realized my carelessness in not hiding it. I was in jeopardy. Every boy’s bike was as good as his fingerprint. The cop would take it as evidence I was at Boys’ Lake. I climbed the gate and sat on my bike, staring at the cop car. The flashing lights bathed me in red like a mottled devil, splotched with mud. The car door opened and Howard stepped out. I knew him. His wife worked for my mother. Howard was a touch overweight, like a football offensive lineman. Not someone I’d like to tangle with. He’d raised two girls. From seeing him at my mom’s store, I knew he had little sympathy for the foibles of boys. “What’re you doin’?” He asked. “Bike ridin’.” “Naked?” “I lost my shorts when I wrecked in the mud.” “You alone?” I looked around. “Looks like it.” “Mrs. Grindstaff said there was a bunch of boys over here having an orgy in the mud.” “I’m sure I missed that.” “Move out of the way so I can check.” “No.” I’d positioned my bicycle so that the padlock wasn’t reachable. I emulated the war protesters and hunger strikers, both of whom were in the news at the time. It was my act of civil disobedience. I thought of Mahatma Gandhi, Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins, Freedom Riders, and Dr. Martin Luther King. While I bought time for my friends to fetch their clothes and steal away, I pictured lofty purposes. “I’ll have to call your father.” “Please. I wouldn’t want to have to ride home naked, with Mrs. Grindstaff Embodied Effigies | 15
watchin’.” He talked into the radio for a bit, tracking down my father who waited for fireworks at Loch Ayr. Ungracefully, he climbed the gate to get around my bike. He walked to the fishing dock and shone his flashlight around the lake. It was dark and still. Distant crickets sang for him. A loon offered comment. My dad drove up in fifteen minutes. With a bemused smile, he spread a towel on the seat and put my 20” Schwinn in the trunk. Dad’s ties to the town were long. He was a Grand Worthy Patron of the Order of the Eastern Star. A record he set in 8th grade track still hung on the gym wall. His sister was country treasurer. His parents were buried in Rose Hill. We drove home and he put me in a bath. He poured us glasses of iced tea and sat on the toilet beside me. “Wrecked in the mud, eh? Funny. Didn’t find no mud on that bike. Mrs. Grindstaff …” I interrupted. “… has a dirty mind.” He paused as if considering the truth I’d just revealed. “Dad, are you mad?” “Not really. Seems to me boys’ll be boys.” “Am I in trouble? “I don’t like you hasslin’ Howard.” When he smiled, I knew the punishment would not be severe. I braved a suggestion. “This town needs a swimming pool or it should leave us alone at Boys’ Lake.” Before the summer finished, the town council had committed to building a swimming pool and had removed the trespassing sign at Boys’ Lake. Years later, I discovered that Mt. Ayr had considered a pool for some years. Dad lobbied my suggestion around the town and the council was convinced. I helped letter a new sign reading ‘Boys’ Lake Clothing optional,’ making sure that the apostrophe was placed as Mrs. Braby demanded. The clothing optional part wasn’t intended to grant permission for our skinny dipping. It was 16 | Embodied Effigies
intended to warn those with tender eyes or dirty minds, like Mrs. Grindstaff, of what they might see. Boys’ Lake wasn’t exclusively male. Girls were welcome and encouraged and female nudity wasn’t required. Some girls came to watch and others swam in one-pieces or underwear. Mostly, girls lost interest because of the lake’s other residents—eastern garter, hog-nose, and racer snakes. In the summer before 7th grade, I’d climbed the oak tree and shinnied out onto the branch with the rope swing. Andy was right being me; we played basketball together, he at guard and me at center. “She’s lookin’,” He said. “Really?” I asked, afraid to look toward the girls watching from the gate. “Yep.” I grabbed the rope and swung with a loud Tarzan call. I released the rope and back flipped into the water, showing off. When I came up, I saw her eyes on me. I swam to the beach, stepped into my gym shorts, and strutted over to her. “Hi, Debbie.” “Nice flip.” I grinned. “Wanna swim?” She shook her head. “I don’t like the snakes.” “Wanna go out with me?” “Sure.” My grin widened. “Saturday night? It’s How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.” Debbie and I dated throughout junior high. By then, the new swimming pool had opened in Judge Lewis Park. There were lifeguards, swimming lessons, and Boys’ Lake slipped into mythology. I frolicked in the new swimming pool and graduated 8th grade in a memorable ceremony in the gym where my Dad’s achievement hung. As high school started, my family left town. My father’s heart attack sent us Embodied Effigies | 17
looking for milder winters. What would have been a high school graduating class of 64 students became 63. I overcame gravity. When my parents passed on, I returned them to Mt. Ayr’s native soil, burying them on Rose Hill. On one trip, I visited Boys’ Lake. It had become part of Fife’s Grove County Park. Many of the old trees were gone to Dutch Elm disease. The lake turned into a pond with a boardwalk and gazebo—a pretty scene, tucked in an out-of-the-way place, in the hollows below the small farm town on the hill. As a county park, the allure is lost. I visited with boys I knew from the lake. We shared life experiences and reminisced over beers at Lefty’s Tavern. The important lessons of Boys’ Lake I took with me when I first left town. I had what I needed: a belief in individual freedom and liberty, a streak of rebelliousness, and an appreciation for civil disobedience. In going back, I discovered there was nothing more for me. In forty years since my parents’ passing, I’ve returned to town twice, showing it first to my wife and, then, my sons. We came from Texas to tour the town. We looked at the house I lived in, drove around the square, visited the site of my mother’s clothing store, saw the school I attended, and stood silently at their grandparents’ graves, whom they had never known. We didn’t visit Boys’ Lake. I told them about the values I’d learned there a long time ago and the stories of skinny-dipping and driving a ’64 Mustang around the square. But, it was the stuff of legend—time beyond their ken, like Davy Crocket and the Alamo. Still, they remembered the stories and asked about them from time to time. As my sons grew to adulthood, they gravitated to libertarian causes and chose pathways of advocacy and activism for causes that rebel against the cultural norm. While I don’t always agree with their politics, their work for the Human Rights Campaign and the legalization of marijuana have made me proud. I can’t prove that my legacy from Boys’ Lake inspired their actions. Still, in the mirror, I often see the bemused smile I remember from my father. They’ve learned to recognize it, too. 18 | Embodied Effigies
Black Girls Are Dirty C. Cimmone
Racism springs from the lie that certain human beings are less than fully human. It’s a self-centered falsehood that corrupts our minds into believing we are right to treat others as we would not want to be treated. —Alveda King
Frank and I always ate at the taqueria because no one there, cooking or eating, cared if he was legal or not. No one knew he placed random numbers in the SOCIAL SECURITY boxes of his job applications. No one knew that when he finished his horchata, we rushed home to have unprotected sex before his mother returned home from praying at the Kingdom Hall. She didn’t speak English and I wondered if she ever asked why his bedsheets were always waiting to be washed. On the rare occasion her and I did speak, it was over a pot of chicken, choking in Adobo soaked Chipotle peppers. “Ess essay,” she smiled, pointing the wooden spoon my way. “Yes, yes—we are friends,” I carefully replied, watching her stir the lathered chicken. I smiled with nervousness and boredom. As much as I enjoyed her chicken dishes, my mind sickeningly spun around her son’s new, squared fade and his sloppy tongue. “No, no,” she smiled with embarrassment. “Ess essssssayyy,” now purposefully pointing at the chicken. She waved the spatula over the bubbling red sauce. She sighed. Embodied Effigies | 19
Black Girls Are Dirty
“Francisco!” she yelled. My boyfriend poked his head out of his room. She clenched the spoon and ended her question to him with a much
stressed “Ess essay!” “Oh, she’s just telling you IT’S EASY. The Chicken. It’s easy.” His door slammed and she smiled at me. I’m certain her displease with my cooking skills urged her to report back to the Kingdom Hall that her son was wrapped up with a useless woman. The prayers were likely extensive and tearful. I respected her fears, as I had only been taught to fish with my father and mow and trim yards – both of which my boyfriend was highly skilled at. He didn’t need a business partner, his mother prayed, he needed a dutiful woman. “Does your mom know that I write?” I inquired after the ‘easy’ chicken incident. “I don’t know. What does it matter?” “Well, I dunno. I just want her to know that I’m good for something,” I persuaded. “Charee, I don’t think she really cares. She was just trying to be nice.” “So you didn’t tell her about the contest?” “No.” “I won a poetry contest! A contest across the whole county! You don’t think she would think anything of that?” “Charee,” he began. “You didn’t win.” “I did, too, win—I won an honorable mention!” I defended. He sat up on the sticky sheets. “Babe. You didn’t win. They are just ‘mentioning’ that you tried. Your story was very good, babe. You almost won…but you didn’t. If you won,” he continued, “they would be publishing your story with the other winners.” He rested back on the squashed pillows and pressed the remote. With an arm folded above him, he stared at the television hoping this stature would ward 20 | Embodied Effigies
off any further argument. “I’m gonna go.” “Babe. Come on. I’m just telling you the truth. I don’t want you to show up at this event and expect to be treated like a movie star or something.” “No, it’s cool. I guess I need to realize that I will never be anything in this stupid fucking town.” I slammed the door. I drove home, with windows down and hair flying, and considered that he was simply reminding me that I was no better than anyone else in our dirty little town. All the men worked at the chemical plants; and my father, and his father, too, had scars on their arms to prove it. The women were dutiful; and my mother, and his mother, too, had balanced checkbooks and heavy purses to prove it. Perhaps Frank was reminding me that it was my destiny to marry him. He would work in the plants and I would help his sisters clean houses. I would make Frank legal, by marriage, and our children would be the perfect hue, with my dark, frizzy hair and his broad shoulders. The white people who marched on the other side of town would know where we lived and they would stare at us and wave pages of the bible in their minds. His mother would keep speaking Spanish and his father would still live in Mexico every now and then. And I would keep writing; and each night, I would shove the pieces of paper between the mattress and the box springs so Frank would never suspect I was leaving. The air blew through the cabin of the car and with each gust I imagined the big city, filled with all sorts of different people and funny shaped buildings. Everything moved and people sold baseball hats and newspapers to strangers pushing through the maze. People were crammed in shelves and on streets, but their minds were open and willing. Everyone shuffled around, living and talking to each other like there was no difference between anyone or anything. The city pumped like a muscle—and I moved around in it behind the ingenuous curtains of my mind. Embodied Effigies | 21
Black Girls Are Dirty
• I was glad to see Frank in the coffee house parking lot on the night of my less than ‘Honorable Mention.’ I knew he was not thrilled to drive across the river and park on the other side of town, but he was kind enough to take off his baseball cap and put on a Polo shirt. He smiled next to his father’s truck and I waved timidly. “You showed.” “Of course.” He said. He stared at the gum patterned pavement. “I love you.” He finished. I loved him more than most anything, and when I denied a reply, he smiled and shook his head. His black hair swirled and glistened and I followed his cologne into the little coffee shop. The shop was warm with people and white froth. White twinkling lights draped a mock stage and machines were grinding. The dainty doorbell was working more than it ever had with its DING DING DINGing. Wooden legged chairs were scooted and benches with frumpy cushions were filled with middleagers sipping and gulping. “We are the youngest people here,” I whispered to Frank. He looked around the room. His eyebrow was on deck as he mumbled, “…yeaaa…and I think I’m the only Mexican here…” I skimmed the room. Blush faces stared back at me. We had been in this predicament many times before, and small towns were no stranger to prejudice and accompanying malice. There were certain places Frank could go and be welcomed. There were places he could go with me and be excused. Frank made people nervous with the color of his face; and I made people nervous when I reached for his hand and gazed into his eyes with sweetheart bliss. We were out of our comfort zone but not out of eyesight. “I think its fine. No one here is interested in that. Everyone is talking and just having a good time.” I reassured. 22 | Embodied Effigies
“Yea, but you’re white.” I looked down. The crisp paper in my hand was joyful and full. My name was nowhere to be found. I fumbled the paper, front and back. “Frank,” “Yes…” “Frank, my name isn’t even on here? Why did they even invite me?” My heart pounded. The sweat started on my forehead and seeped around the nape of my neck. “Babe. Because you didn’t win. I already told you that. They aren’t going to put “CHAREE CIMMONE: NOT A WINNER” on their stupid fucking handout.” I sighed. He was right. The mailman had delivered a generically typed letter describing the contest, my participation results, and a lighthearted invitation to the reading. I had circulated the letter all over town as if shouting COME ONE! COME ALL! COME SEE THE GREAT CHAREE CIMMONE ACCEPT HER AWARD! Fortunately for my sake, my friends were stuck on the other side of town with no intention to venture to the neighboring town overflowing with the majority. I had a few friends within the majority but I always felt dirty and scathed when they commented on the ‘black people’ who moved in to the new house on their corner. I never had much to say when they scoffed at the cashier as she mumbled the best broken English she could muster. I never understood the majority. I fantasized about the big city, miles away, with people stuffed in shelves and cars and shades mixed up in diners and theaters. People flipped and flopped on the streets like a hundred little fish my father had just shaken from his cast net. The shiny fish were waving next to the big fish and the speckled shrimp popped over the tiny mullet that knew not how to act. I thought about my father’s big hands scooping up the people of the big city and dumping them into his bait bucket. I peered over the edge of the bucket and watched the menagerie of gilled Embodied Effigies | 23
Black Girls Are Dirty
and fragile creatures, pulled from the ocean against their will, looking for comfort or escape. “Babe. Babe,” Frank nudged. I pulled my head out of the bait bucket and looked up at the mock stage. “Thank you, everyone, for joining us tonight to celebrate the county’s finest poets!” The crowd cheered and ceramic cups clinked on saucers. A blonde-haired magazine editor leaned over the microphone and stroked her satin scarf. Her aged blue eyes smiled at the crowd. Her jewelry was gold and grand and waved at the audience. The crowd smiled and clapped when she provoked such, and she went on to describe the contest, the contenders, the winners and the prizes. Her publication was held up and fanned through, its pages slick and colorful. I knew my name would never appear in her publication, but I held high hopes my name would be still mentioned with exuberance. The editor’s beige pantsuit pushed through the crowd with matching heels. She clapped and smiled for each of the readers: First Place, Second Place and Third Place. First Place was an older man, reading a poem about his wife, his dog, and a trip they took. Second Place was a middle-aged woman, who seemed she should have placed first and I smiled at her as she walked off the stage. Third Place was a ten-year-old who wrote about her new bicycle and the speed of the wheels. “And finally, I would like to recognize our Honorable Mention tonight: Ms. Charee Cimmone. Ms. Cimmone, can you please stand for the audience and give a wave?” She waved for me as I stood. I turned towards the applause and smiled with fallen jaw. I thought about my poem: a poem about a widower who simply could not fight the urge to paint his late wife’s portrait over, and over, again. He was light and low and carried his brushes in his pocket. I had hoped the crowd could have heard his story. I had guessed wrong when I read that typed letter weeks before. I loosened my brow and sat down as the crowd faded. 24 | Embodied Effigies
“Your poem was good, babe. It really was.” Frank patted my knee like my father had done after my mother’s scolding. I sighed. The event died down and the microphone wire was wrapped up and put in a box. Papers, examining the life of the placed poets, were left on the floor and under saucers. The editor mingled in the crowd. “Is she coming over here?” Frank warned. The magazine editor made her way to Frank and I. My heart dropped as she reluctantly extended a hand. “Charee?” I nodded. “I was very impressed by your work. Can I speak with you for just a moment? Just a quick moment.” She braced Frank’s elbow, excusing him herself. “Yes.” I stepped aside with the editor of the fancy magazine. I assumed her house in the big city was laced with gold trinkets, respectfully accentuating her jewelry. Frank’s eyes were bright and wide as he walked away. His wink was full of everything I needed. I smiled. “I wanted to tell you how wonderful your poem was.” I smiled—halfheartedly. “I really enjoyed the story and the emotion you are able to evoke in your reader. I thought your poem was perhaps the best I’ve read in a long time.” Her gaze was thick and sturdy, almost as if expecting my reply, “But I didn’t win….” Her face twisted and turned as she leaned over my shoulder and whispered into my ear, “It’s the funniest thing, Charee—when I saw the name, Charee Cimmone Walker, well, I have to admit….” She paused. “…I thought you were black.” Embodied Effigies | 25
Black Girls Are Dirty
She backed away as if she had never whispered a word. My skin curled up and I felt the power of words rush over me. My name cried as a hand full of dirt, ashen and wasted, was rubbed all over its life. The progression of time was evacuated and I stood silent, as if she had gasped and wailed at the police, “that one—that one right there!” My throat snagged and my nose dripped. “But I would like to give you my card, Ms. Cimmone, and you consider being a regular contributor to my magazine. We are located in the city, as I’m sure you’re aware. I’d love to have you on board.” Her voice was now available for everyone to hear and she handed me a business card, busy with numbers and dashes, letters and dots. She cautiously placed her hand on my shoulder, to prevent my racial association from rubbing off and staining her beige pant suit. She sighed and pressed her lips as if she had removed a one hundred-year apology. “It was nice to meet you, Charee.” She moved back into the crowd, and upon her departure, the laughs and words of the small coffee shop became evanescent. I turned, to see Frank waiting, hands in pockets, near the door. A forgotten umbrella, alone since the summer, sighed with Frank as I made my way to the door. “Well? What did she say?” Frank asked, softly folding his knees up and down in curiosity. I stared out at Frank’s truck. My eyes fell to the floor. I looked up at the sleeping, rusty bell above the door of the coffee shop as Frank became feverish. “Well, did she change her mind? Did she offer you a job in the city?! What did she say?!” I felt the white card slip from my hand, along with the list of First, Second and Third Placers. I looked into Frank’s dark eyes. I thought about our little town that protected us the best it could. And I thought about the big city I had always dreamt of and my father’s bait bucket - now swimming with angry creatures— 26 | Embodied Effigies
piercing flesh and fighting the water with malignant gills and selfish fins. I nodded. “Nothing, Frank. She didn’t say anything that mattered about anything.”
Embodied Effigies | 27
Bitter Hope Joanna Zauber
I’m sobbing in my round wicker chair and I don’t know why. Except that I do. Every time I think about getting ready to go to class – a purely recreational class that I had, until today, been enjoying – my chest gets tight, like I’m on the verge of having a panic attack. I tell myself that I’m being ridiculous, which only makes things worse. I really should know better, but right now I don’t have it in me. My husband stands next to the chair, holding my hand. Nate reassures me that I don’t have to go to class if I don’t want to. I already know that, but skipping a commitment usually makes me feel worse. Like all of the times when I’ve skipped my knitting group because I didn’t have the emotional energy to both socialize and talk to my parents for their weekly check-in, so I ended up crying in my comfy chair. I go to the bathroom to wash my face and end up sobbing into the towels. My chest feels tight, like something is lodged inside it, taking up space I need for breathing. This is ridiculous. Nate hears me crying, and is waiting for me outside the bathroom with a hug. I ask him what he thinks I should do – I am miles beyond the ability to make a considered decision of my own – but of course he doesn’t know. • Oh, my dear sweet child, thank providence for that. Anybody who knows what you should do is not to be trusted. You know, in your soul, that the only answers that can save you have to come from within. There quite simply is no other way. You must find the way yourself, stumbling and tripping over rocks and sliding Embodied Effigies | 29
down mountains and waterfalls all the while. Run away from anyone who says otherwise. • Now I need to find the shorts I wear to keep from flashing my underwear when I bike in a skirt. I go into the back hall to check the laundry. Nate calls out that I look like I’m getting ready to leave, and I reply with a weak “yeah.” No bike shorts back here. They are in the bedroom, next to the hamper. I pick them up, then collapse onto my pillow, sobbing. The worst thing is that the crying doesn’t even help. Sobbing is usually cathartic, like a thunderstorm that clears out the summer humidity, but today it does nothing to relieve the oppressive conditions. I hear Nate get up and walk to the bedroom. He sits next to me on the bed and starts stroking my head. “I know I said before that I didn’t know what you should do, but I don’t think you should go to class tonight.” I came to the same conclusion. I just wish that it made me feel better. The decision lifts the utter panic, but I know I’ll feel guilty about it soon. I’m lost and afraid and I don’t know why. I only know that it hurts and there’s nothing anybody else can do about it. No matter how much Nate loves me, he can’t save me from this. I’ve been dipping in and out of severe depression for a year and a half now, after having thought that I’d finally beaten the monster back. I’m struggling every day. The wish to die is once again a comfortable companion, and no amount of meditation, therapy, positive thinking, or distraction helps. Today is beyond even that. I’m scaring myself more than I want to admit. • My darling: you are working so hard at clawing your way out of depression, hopefully for the last time. You are examining fears and injuries long left in the dark, and fighting like a cornered animal to finally build a life that feeds you. That’s exhausting. You have such a shallow well to draw from, have you considered that you are simply tired? That you need love and nurturing and a sustenance that isn’t food or drink? I know you have. And I know that, at the moment, you are incapable of 30 | Embodied Effigies
connecting to any of that. But oh, my love, how I hate to see you suffer like this! • If I’m going to miss class, I need to replace it with something else. I can’t spend the evening on Facebook and Wikipedia and Tumblr. That will leave me feeling even worse. If I’m not going to do the responsible thing and make myself miserable by fulfilling my commitments, I need to at least do something to make myself feel better. Inspiration: I’ll bike to the river and play Pokémon Go. I installed it this morning on the advice of a friend. I’ll get outside, get some exercise, and be rewarded with Pokémon. I can take refuge in a virtual version of this world, one where rewards and surprises lurk around every corner instead of failure and selfhatred. I sit for a little while, trying to pull myself together enough to take action. The chaos in my chest dulls to a flutter. I feel the tiniest bit hopeful. It’s a fragile feeling, one that I suspect is more the hope of real hope than the genuine article, but I’ll take it. Soon, I slip my phone into my bag and walk out the door. I bike along the newly expanded path by the Charles River. The grass seed hasn’t sprouted yet and everything is covered in turquoise fertilizer, but it’s an improvement over the crumbling path that was here before. As I pedal along the pressure in my chest starts to lift. Only for a moment, though. I lock up my bicycle, open the Pokémon Go app, and force myself not to look too deeply inward. Carrying my phone at my side in “power save mode” and trusting that it will alert me to any Pokémon, I try to focus on the warmth of the late afternoon sun, the flutter of red-winged blackbirds, the smell of the damp grass, or the lapping of the river. Sometimes I even succeed. Mostly, I notice how awkward I feel. Is everyone staring at me, judging me for holding my phone? Are they laughing at me behind their blank faces, for playing a stupid game? I hear the voices of my Facebook feed, laughing at all the stupid people with their stupid Embodied Effigies | 31
phones, sleepwalking through life, stepping into oncoming traffic. I don’t agree with their judgments, but I also don’t want to be judged. I’m not strong enough. • Maybe you’re not strong enough today, but today is not every day. Maybe today you are fragile, but other days you are strong. I wish you wouldn’t forget that. On another day, you could sit by the river, dangling your feet in, and letting the play of light lull you into trance and connection. That connection would allow a trickle to start filling the shallow well of your emotional reserves. On another day, you could lean against a tree, and feel your roots sinking into the earth, branches into the sky, and sense the flow of energy between the two. That, too, would feed you. A part of you knows this, and aches for that communion. I’m so sorry that today, that sustenance is closed to you. It isn’t fair. But it is true. • I might feel less self-conscious if I was playing the game successfully, but no matter how far I walk, I don’t seem to find any Pokémon. I decide to circle back towards my bicycle, and cross a small bridge to an island or peninsula, following the faint whiff of curiosity. I rarely walk through this area. My phone vibrates: a Pokémon is near. I look at the map, and think I’m walking towards the blinking image, only for my avatar to go in the opposite direction. I turn around, and the Pokémon is gone. It starts to well up in my chest, a feeling I can’t name, but with which I am intimately familiar. A painful pressure builds to a crescendo behind my sternum, demanding release. A wild creature tries to claw its way out of my chest. I wish I could cut through my rib cage to free it. I don’t want to hurt myself, but something in me is trapped and desperate, and a cornered animal will do anything to escape. Something inside me desperately wants – needs – to escape from me. From my life. • Sweet child. There is so much you can’t see yet – from what you are trying to 32 | Embodied Effigies
escape to why – but the wild animal? That’s you. You are that wildcat, that ordinarily timid rabbit who is ready to kick the crap out of whatever is threatening you, that sweet-faced robin ready to peck someone’s eyes out. That fierce determination is your own. And some day, I promise, it’s going to save you. I’m sorry that it can’t be today. • I eventually track down the Pokémon, who the app tells me is called a Psyduck. His stunned expression matches how I feel. After that, I start finding more of all types of little creatures. The four Magikarp – fish who flop around on their sides, gulping for breath – make me feel sick when I look at them. The dopamine hit that comes with each capture is nice. It’s a distraction from the panic and depression. That’s all I that I should have expected from this outing, but I hoped for more. I always hope for more. It’s my Achilles Heel, hoping that this approach or that solution will shift the pain lodged deep inside me. I tried antidepressant after antidepressant for 16 years, and none of them did more than dull it. I’m ready to give up, but I don’t know how. I’m more the Magikarp than the Psyduck – flopping around, a creature out of my native element (whatever that is). All I can do is twitch helplessly. When I unlock my bicycle to go home, I feel different, but not better. I’ve lost touch with the pain, rather than done anything to soothe it. I don’t want to think that is the best I can hope for, but the wild creature trapped in my chest believes it might be. It wants to claw through my skin and race off into the sunset, leaving me and my life behind. I pedal home with less anxiety, but also less hope. Part of me honestly thought that this outing would help ease the pain of my depression. Losing that hope hurt. Why can’t I stop hoping? Giving up would hurt a lot less than the constant trying and being disappointed, but can’t seem to manage it. I go home, and try not to feel anything. • But you do hope, sweet child. I am that part of you that won’t give up, Embodied Effigies | 33
that keeps getting up day after day after day and gives living another try, and then another. I am holding on to that hope for you, until you are ready to embrace it again. If there were words to make depression go away, a secret incantation that would let you skip all of this and go out dancing into the world with lightness and ease, I would entrust you with it, I swear. But this is your journey, and I cannot take it from you. If there is meaning to be found in this, you will have to make it yourself, with your own two hands. If there is beauty to be found, a treasure to be unearthed, only you can find it. This is not what you want to hear. This is not what anybody wants to hear. But you recognize it as truth, because it stills the beast in your chest.
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Death and the Photo Studio De Luxe on an Infinite Fifth Power Avenue John Ellis I’m sitting in my car, parked in the fire lane across the street from my apartment. This is where I read the letter that tells me you’re dead. I check my watch. I stare at the upholstery. I read the letter, again; it’s an email, but I’d rather say “letter” on your behalf—it sounds sanctioned somehow, hallowed. The language is maudlin, artless; you—a writer, a college professor— wouldn’t like it. I interpret it then, not so much the letter but the impression it generates, something akin to seeing footprints, tracks, or ash on the carpet when you don’t smoke—something indicating someone was here. This is what I knew before: most days, we need or want or just expect that someone, anyone, everyone will be here tomorrow, the next day and the next. But this impression is a crack in all of that. The fire lane is in an alley, and I stare between the rungs of the steering wheel at trash bins, a fence, the sunset staining bricks, windows. “So, you won’t be teaching tomorrow,” I ask, aloud. “But, the paper—it’s due.” Is this protest—denial? Grief, maybe? I think it’s too soon for grief. The world draws itself into the alley. I lose focus, noticing the windshield, the patterned dirt across the corners. I haven’t finished writing the paper, and I consider whether or not I should. “You’re just…here now.” I say. I think about pressing my index finger to my temple, but my hands sit on the steering wheel. I remember something then, Embodied Effigies | 35
Death and the Photo Studio
something I read years ago—Buechner, I think—and this is when it begins, the shift: flesh become memorial. I see a room. I see a window and a door, and you, sitting across from me. You’re speaking, teaching, like always. Through the window, there’s a radiance, a spotlight. But it’s not light; it’s something else, something obscure. You stop speaking. The room has tilted, the geometric subtlety of a faulty foundation. We stand, brows arched, but without any particular manifest urgency. I look at you, you look at me, you take several steps toward the door; the room tilts again. Outside, the landscape crawls toward the opaque. My arm crosses the bridge of my nose. Don’t look, I say. Don’t look at what, you ask. I’m not sure. You draw in, a short breath: John, you say, John, turn on your headlights. I turn the knob, a glut of light. Dusk disbands from the alley. Upholstery. “But memory is fallible,” I say. “You said that many times about writing.” I try to remember what you were like last Thursday. Was there something about you? Maybe there was and I didn’t notice. Maybe there was and I did notice and did nothing. Thinking on this is like pushing against something immovable. I’m drawn into the room again. It capsizes. I hold on, spin, right myself, look at you. You’re holding on to the door handle, trying to open the door, trying to go through the door. Through the window, obscurity moves towards us. Can you wait, please, I ask. Your eyes are shut as you wrestle the door. Listen, I say, Remember that time we stood in the hallway after class? That time we spoke outside the classroom? I want to…I want to hold on to that, I say. Your eyes move to each corner. What are you talking about? 36 | Embodied Effigies
To me, the moment is omnipresent. I can’t remember your exact words nor the image; it’s more a silkscreen—an impression. But it’s brilliant. You said something like, ‘and anyway, you’re a good writer.’ That was the first time anyone paid my writing a compliment, one that didn’t seem patronizing. I didn’t question if you were being genuine. Maybe it was because it was in passing. Maybe it was your facial expression; I don’t know. I breathe out. But I’m thankful for it. I tried to tell you that on the train. Right, when we rode back to San Francisco on the same train? It was just before your stop, I remember—you thanked me, you say. I nod. I see you’ve let go of the door handle. It occurs to me that if I can keep you talking, maybe I can keep you here a little longer. This is difficult, you say, looking down at the space between the doorjamb and the floor. Anyway, you should put a lid on that memory, put it in the vault, you know? The room begins to right itself. You sit against the doorframe. Less centrifugal force now, I say. Are your headlights still on, you ask. I nod. I lean into the headrest. There’s an open package spread across the passenger seat, a safety razor I ordered weeks ago. A box with translucent film. A booklet of instructions. A single razor blade that sits in the cup holder, having escaped from its paper sheath during shipping. There’s a product booklet, the instructions in German. I had been looking at the booklet when I received the letter. Only several seconds separated mundanity from shock. I try to imagine you on the train or when I saw you waiting for the bus. You were always smoking, reading. When you saw me, you would put down the book and ask what I was working on. We would keep talking, usually about books, authors. Once, you told me that you never had a driver’s license. No driver’s license! You loved Jo Ann Beard; the Fourth State of Matter was one of your favorite pieces. You abhorred public speaking. You wanted to write a piece about Embodied Effigies | 37
Death and the Photo Studio
your hair. When you wrote your novel, you said that you intended to push the American Vernacular as far as you could. You were brilliant. The passenger-side door opens. You sit down. You shut the door. Your breathing is thick, strained against your glottis, the way it always was, probably from smoking. Your hair is a dank grey and full and combed with geometric precision, as always. Your stomach protrudes against your short sleeve collared shirt, the same you wore last Thursday. You ask why I’m parked here; it’s a fire lane. You tell me I should put on my hazards. I say, okay. “You look upset,” you say. “You…I want to say…I want to say…” My face reddens. You twist in the seat, turning your head as if to examine the passenger-side mirror. Your stomach presses to one side: “What am I sitting on?” “I…it’s something I ordered. A razor.” You lift up the box. “It’s German?” You look at me. “You speak German?” “No.” “You’re not going to shave your head with this, are you—in mourning?” You laugh, air threaded loudly through your nostrils. “Your sense of humor was one of the best things about you, professor,” I say. “When I got the letter about…” “Someone sent a letter?” “It was an email.” “Ah.” You lay against the headrest. “Look, it’s beginning to rain. Hmm. That’s timely. Let’s go for a drive.” “Where?” You shrug. “Just for a drive.” I tell you to put on your seatbelt. The rain slopes, a translucent awning against the car. The windshield leads us to four lanes bisecting the downtown neighborhood, heading west. The sun bows beneath the horizon. “What’s the speed limit? The roads are always slickest just after the rain has 38 | Embodied Effigies
started. Oil mixes with…” I breathe through my teeth. “Um, you don’t have a license. I mean, you didn’t have a license. I’m talking, anyway; you’re not here. I read that, about the road’s slickest conditions being just after the rain. Last year, in traffic school.” “Fair enough.” You arch an eyebrow. “Why were you in traffic school?” I glance outside. My lip curls. “Fine,” You say, “You don’t need to tell me.” “Speeding,” I say. Your eye beats. “Well, I didn’t peg you as the speeding type.” “It happens.” And I think on this: yes, I speed. I shouldn’t, but I like driving. Driving fast. Your hands cross in your lap. “Ah, rain,” you say. For several minutes, the deluge is all there is, an understated violence against the hood and windows. I glance at you. “Why didn’t you hang on to it,” I say. You lean against the window. “To what?” “This,” I say, shrugging. I turn the steering wheel. “What?” “This!” I slap the console. “This.” My palm opens upward, gesturing toward the sunroof. “Rain. Why didn’t you…why didn’t you hold on to something, here, I mean? For God’s sakes, we have our last class tomorrow. It was tomorrow.” My voice cracks again. You look through the passenger-side mirror. I continue: “Or… or this: driving? Or…small things, like waiting for something in the mail? There’s a lot more to want more of,” I say, stressing each syllable, emphatic. My face crumples. You reach up, turning on the dome light. “You’re religious, aren’t you,” you ask. You look through the sunroof. “See, it’s…” The words garble then, erased. Not even a silkscreen. I know you—I—won’t—can’t—say anything else, won’t know anything else. I sigh, turning on the heat. “Did I ever tell you that Nabokov quote about remembrance,” you ask, spreading your arms behind the headrest. You tell me the quote. “That’s what Embodied Effigies | 39
Death and the Photo Studio
matters, now,” you say. I don’t say anything. You look toward me again. “What I’d really like to know, John, is will you write something, about all this?” This is just like you to ask, even now. “Probably. Yes.” “Maybe…something like the Burroway piece?” She was the last author you introduced us to. It’s a good idea, I realize. I see you nod toward something, patting your shirt pocket. “Really wish I had a cigarette right now.” We cross Van Ness Avenue and I turn into traffic. The light lays open the passenger seat, empty. I’m left there, in the solemnity of rainwater and dome light. The room spins again, a wheel. Everything slips to its opposite end. You’re at the door, turning the handle. You press through. Outside, the landscape is a flat line, spinning, I realize, with the room. I stand up, holding on. “Where…” I ask, looking over your shoulder. You shrug. I don’t know, you say; oblivion? It’s declarative and interrogative at the same time. I tilt my head, frowning. You cough; the sound comes from deeper into the opaque. It’s as if you waded into a lake at nighttime. My eyes widen—vertigo—and I press my face into my arm. “Professor,” I say. “Professor, I’ll remember what you said to me in the hallway.” Form melds with form, and I hear you yell towards me: John, I’m here now. The room twists, wild. I can’t look up even to try and see if you’re tapping your heart or your head or if you mean that you’re simply out there. A kaleidoscope— finitude perhaps, all choices, all matters, the consequences of making something of sorrow and joy and drudgery or not—churns into confetti, evaporates. When I look up, I see the alley in the limit of my headlights, blackened by rain. I park the car. I go inside my apartment. I grieve. And then I finish the paper. Dedicated to Wesley Gibson 40 | Embodied Effigies
Bursting Grey Sarah Coble
Greyness encompasses the sky, the clouds thick and heavy with wanting to burst. It starts with a few sprinkled drops of wetness, and walking along you wonder if you just imagined the wetness that dots your cheeks or if it’s beginning to rain. You sigh, knowing that you aren’t wearing the right shoes for the rain and that getting caught in it will mean you’ll spend the remainder of the day with cold wet feet, sopping on your way to class and through the courtyard and rushing to get home before you encounter any more puddles. But you never were lucky, so soon enough the little pinpricks of water turn into more frequent drips that permeate your scalp, the outer layer of your hair becoming a wet sheath and you know it’s only a matter of time in the dry heat of a classroom that your hair will begin to frizz. Your footsteps quicken and you curse yourself for not having the foresight to look at the weather, a daily ritual that never seems to right itself. If only you hadn’t been running behind that morning you might have put on your other shoes, but you know that you’d rather get that extra ten minutes of sleep instead of spending those precious minutes getting ready. The rain keeps falling, and the drops get heavier and more frequent, your clothes quickly become damp with rainwater and they turn a few shades darker than they originally were. There is a desire to be somewhere else, to gravitate away from the sopping wetness and the sense of responsibility traipsing through the rain, and yet you know it will simply continue another day as well. But you know it’s also futile to hurry at this point, you still have to wait on the bus and you’re already wet and no one really carries an umbrella around here. You tell yourself that maybe it would simply be easier to just always dress right for the weather Embodied Effigies | 41
considering it’s the rainy season, but that, too, is futile. When you reach the bus stop, you glance toward the road with the hope of a bus coming soon, but all you see are a bunch of cars that aren’t stopping for you. You keep your eyes focused on the ground, the dark grey asphalt littered with water and the gutters accumulating a small stream to run into the drains. The wind blows, caresses your cheeks with a cool and stinging touch, but the longer you stare down the more it feels as though you are flying. Watching the rain come down makes it look as though you are floating up, going away to some other land in the sky away from the cold and where you’d have the right shoes and the bus would always be waiting. That feeling of flying and transporting is only increased the harder the rain falls, and you keep wishing it will keep falling harder and harder, that you will go faster and faster into this world it feels like you’re being guided to. You know that if you blink it will go away, if you look away you’ll be right back on earth and the rain will be coming down instead of you going back up. So even though a pinprick stinging sensation begins in your eyes, you just keep watching the ground, remembering stories of not looking back or everything would crumble. So you can’t look back, can’t look away, just keep floating into this faraway world. But then the bus screeches to a stop in front of where you’re trying to fly away, and the spell is broken. Finally blinking and looking up, you pull the bus fare from your pocket and step onto the bus with a soggy sound of wet footsteps.
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Ginger Cookies Karen O’Neil
Here’s the first scene in my head. We are in our brightly lit but not overly large kitchen in Wisconsin. The children—the youngest 3, the oldest 12—are gathered around the deep fryer that the youngest has nicknamed the Daddy Fry. We are making rosettes—a deep fried cookie cre-ated by dipping a special utensil first into the batter and then into the bubbling oil, holding it for just the right amount of time, and then dusting the finished product with powdered sugar. There is much licking of fingers. Rosettes are a German Christmas confection new to all of us—no doubt deeply unhealthy but utterly delicious. The children love making them and then helping to package them up for teachers and friends with laboriously signed cards. At some point my parents will arrive, and Dad will make a big fire. I’ll haul out the ornaments, always a little prayerful that I’ll be able to find them, and we’ll continue a Christmas tradition of decorating the tree on Christmas Eve, no one able to sit still for more than a fraction of a second Or here’s another. An earlier one. We have chosen to move on Christmas Eve, so that the children—only three so far—can celebrate Christmas in our new house. Somehow we manage a tree and stockings, and when they wake up in new and unfamiliar beds, they discover that it has snowed during the night. I can’t find anyone’s mittens in the packing boxes, so I send them out-side with socks on their hands for warmth. And even further back. Christmas in Buffalo. Our first child 4 days old. It is also Chan-nukah, and Bob has brought a small blue menorah to the hospital Embodied Effigies | 43
so that the three of us can light candles together. We drive home in the kind of blizzard that only Buffalo can produce, and we carefully carry a bundled baby into the house, where Bob has erected and even decorated a Christmas tree. The baby will cry all night, and when I wake in panic in the morning to a silent house, I will find her in her car seat in the bath tub, sleeping peacefully while her father shaves. More recently. Christmas in Charlottesville. The house rocking with the music and shout-ings of three teenagers and a 10 year old. The front hall filled with shoes, the door slamming with all the comings and goings. The ringing of the phone is like the bell at a prize fight, each new call, signaling the beginning of a round. The refrigerator opens and halfway closes, and I can just make out the surreptitious chugging of milk straight from the bottle. The family expands. Now there are spouses to incorporate into all of this. Fine, at first, since we manage to be the dominant holiday family. But then the next generation begins to ar-rive, and with it the ominous words from our oldest son, announcing they will be going to the other grandparents for Christmas this year. I open my mouth to speak. “Mom,” he says, before I can utter a single word of protest, “Don’t put me between my wife and my mother.” And these are words that I have tried very hard to remember ever since. Along with our daughter’s admonition to think of it this way. The more people who love them the better. I know she is right, and I work very hard to make that okay. After all, there is always someone home for Christmas, an everexpanding group of grandchildren to whom to pass on all the traditions—ginger bread houses, angel biscuits, cookies for teachers and friends. And then the unimaginable happens. There are now four satellite families, two of them as large as our original family. And one by one they have developed their own traditions. The nerve! Now they have their own hilarious family jokes, their own timetable for decorating the tree and wrapping presents. We have morphed into the visiting grandparents, welcome, of course, but no longer the center of the universe. 44 | Embodied Effigies
Sometimes these days our house is full of shouts and laughter and comings and goings. But sometimes it is very quiet. No staccato interruptions of the phone. No doors slamming or shoes in the front hall. Sometimes it is just the two of us, wondering where all the time has gone, where it will go next, and taking out and polishing memories like ornaments for a new kind of tree. Often as the holidays approach, I feel more sadness than joy, more loss than burgeoning. Hence the ginger cookie tradition, a very small consolation. I churn them out by the dozens, cov-ering every counter, packaging them up and giving them to everyone who has mattered to me throughout the yearâ€”the postman, the house keeper, the overworked woman at the post office, friends new and old. For every cookie, a memory of a different kind of Christmas and a reminder to celebrate this one.
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The Empty House Tonya Kelley
I was nine years old when Regina went missing. Her puppy barked through three games of street ball, several dizzying turns around the cul-de-sac in Stephen’s new go-kart, and two cups of steamy sweet cocoa at Kristin and Sal’s house. For the start of spring it was unseasonably cold, but we donned our jackets and persevered, the steam clouds of breath making their way around the neighborhood every day until sundown. It’s quiet when someone goes missing, but the incessant, muffled barks coming from the garage of the Browns’ house tipped off the neighborhood that something was amiss. And when the sirens began to drown out the barking, we knew it was bad. “So, is it a crime scene if they don’t know where she is?” asked Kristin, feet planted on the pavement, steadying her Huffy between her knees. “Yeah, ‘cuz something happened, idiot,” answered her brother, Sal, whose knees weren’t quite high enough to steady his bike. We had dubbed him “Little Sal” after his father, “Big Sal.” Even though both children were adopted, Little Sal bore a striking resemblance to his adopted dad. Kristin, with her blond hair, blue eyes, and face of freckles looked like neither of the Scianna parents whose Italian genes ran thick and deep. “Everyone knows she’s dead,” continued Little Sal. “He buried her or something. Maybe put her in a wood-chipper like that Craft guy.” His bike began to slip from under him. “Shut up, Sal! You’re so gross,” I whined, though on board with this theory. For such an insignificant state, Connecticut has had its share of murder, Embodied Effigies | 47
The Empty House
and in 1987 wives were in the habit of going missing. A mere three months prior to Regina’s disappearance, just a town or two over from our home in Newtown, Robert Craft had killed his Danish wife, Helle, and put her remains through a wood-chipper. Helle was a flight attendant, just like Regina. And Robert was a pilot, just like Regina’s husband, Willis. It was unclear whether this was a Connecticut problem or an aviation problem. As the conversation ensued, my brother Stephen only laughed. He was the youngest of the group, and more of a reactor than a contributor. None of us had hit “double-digits” yet, but at nine years and three months I was accepted as our tribe’s elder. Kristin was next with almost-nine years, and Little Sal and Stephen trailed with eight years and some months. Despite all of our dramatic postulations, we knew little of what had happened to Regina. We knew she had disappeared. We knew that Willis was likely to blame. But the wheres, and the hows, and the whens became our neighborhood mystery. The nation was watching, but that meant little to a group of children who didn’t yet fathom the magnitude of the event. We lived on Whippoorwill Hill Road. The deep, winding hill which seemed so long to us children spanned only a mile before pouring out onto Route 25—the main stretch of what rural Newtown, Connecticut, considered highway. To our parents, this proximity to highway meant certain death for us kids. We weren’t allowed to ride our bikes past the house with the pond at the bottom of the hill that separated child welfare from the deathtrap of oncoming traffic. This was never a hardship for us. The house with the pond was the second scariest on the street, trailing only what would become of the Browns’ house in the months to come. My parents—all of the parents, really—named each house on Whippoorwill Hill based on some defining physical or otherwise abstract characteristic. The pond house sat on the street’s largest plot of land. The entire property was murky and bleak, overgrown with dense, boggy trees that cast a consuming opaque shadow even in the bright sun of Connecticut summer. The 48 | Embodied Effigies
pond was the centerpiece, rich with algae creating a toxic glow—the only light that broke through the ubiquitous haze. In its heyday the house was a glorious Tudor. In the present of my youth it had been reduced to decaying russet planks and deformed windows that allowed for a peek of the raggedy cloths that were once curtains. Curtains that Big Sal said were useless as a screen door on a submarine in a home that hadn’t experienced human tenancy in decades. At the other end of the street, the safe end furthest from the highway, was the Browns’ home, where Regina lived with her husband Willis and their three young children. Before Regina went missing it was simply deemed the Browns’ house; a name that I, as a young child raised in suburban Connecticut, thought served as a description of the occupants rather than a reference to surname. Regina was a mix of Creole and Haitian. She was unusually striking, like nothing a child in a parochial third grade class of Caucasian New Englanders had ever seen before. She had jet black hair that was frizzy enough to warrant an everpresent ponytail, and rich but bright brown eyes. A few missing molars left her with a slightly crooked smile, but she flashed it generously and genuinely. She had a slight frame, and was always dressed well, if, nowadays, one can consider suiting up in 1980’s fashion dressing well. I don’t remember where Willis was from, outside of the Browns moving to Newtown from Queens, but he was so dark that he appeared, in certain lights, to have a navy blue undertone that us children found intriguing. That, however, is where the fascination ended. He had few redeeming qualities outside of the fact that he was almost always absent. As a pilot he travelled frequently, and as a husband he jetted as often as possible. The marital problems of neighbors are of no concern to children, but Willis and Regina’s domestic situation drizzled out from the house and out onto the street, making it impossible for even the youngest of us to overlook. The couple was in the midst of a sticky divorce wrought with court orders and custody battles. Willis was adamant that the children were not his, making his Embodied Effigies | 49
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plea for guardianship all the more perplexing. Domestic abuse allegations abound, but the only neighborhood proof was the evening Willis chased Regina down the street with a knife. After Regina’s disappearance, Mrs. Van Horn didn’t miss an opportunity to provide this tale to any reporter who came to the door. The pond house supported the southern end of the hill, and the Browns’ house took up space at the northern tip, set on a cul-de-sac, where only a few feet of brush separated the pavement from the cow pasture. A mile of twisted road corded off the highway from the rural farmland and guttural bellows of the cows. The Van Horn’s house—the messy house—sat dead center, flanking the western side of the first of two severe bends on Whippoorwill Hill. The house was set back, not visible from the street, but the sound of the seven Van Horn children constantly permeated the neighborhood. There came the mysterious sounds of the older children, of motorcycles revving and mufflers popping, and late night festivities that I wished I could join. The younger children, much younger than Stephen and I, cried relentlessly at decibels that would cause the neighborhood dogs to howl. The inside of the house suggested that Mrs. Van Horn had given up on domestic duties sometime after the fifth child, and toys fought for space with dirt and dust. In memory, I picture the house encircled by a swirling tornado of dust visible from the end of the driveway. I don’t know how many dogs they had, but each time I was there the breed changed. When Regina went missing, Mrs. Van Horn took the lead. She was the self-described closest friend of the missing woman, though I don’t recall anything that would have suggested that when Regina existed. She spoke enthusiastically to the police, the cameras, the reporters—to anyone who would listen. More than a decade later, Mrs. Van Horn would petition the Newtown police to reopen the cold case. She would contact news agencies and allude to Willis’ connection to Regina’s vanishing, leading to multiple lawsuits that he both filed and lost. Maybe she was her closest friend after all. While they had little choice but to talk to the police, none of the other 50 | Embodied Effigies
neighbors would speak to the reporters and camera crews. They couldn’t interview us children, but they would use us to try to get to the parents. My parents gave me and Stephen a stern talking to when we allowed News Channel 6 onto our property, and Kristin and Sal received a much harsher punishment from Mr. and Mrs. Scianna after letting the crew into the family’s home on a Sunday morning. My parents referred to the Sciannas’ house as simply our neighbors’. Many things were said behind closed doors, but that was the moniker made public. They were our neighbors immediately to the north and, if memory serves, their house duplicated ours. They were both traditional Colonials, two levels, and with furnished basements that felt lightyears apart from the sunny disposition of the upstairs. Both houses had large decks situated off the back side of the second floor, providing a canopy that sheltered firewood, all-weather toys, and some gardening equipment that could survive without the overall protection of the metal sheds some twenty feet away. Our houses were amongst the ones in the middle, and the closest in proximity to the wheat fields that appeared to be an extension of our own back yards. Way back in the distance, a farm house warned that the fields belonged to some other family. The Browns’ house sat two houses up from the Sciannas’. At nine years old I may have been too young, but Regina would occasionally ask me to babysit for her children whose names I have since forgotten. These were only quick stints, and I imagine she was making emergency stops for puppy food or exotic Creole spices. The fact that my mother would supervise didn’t retract from my inflated sense of maturity having been given such responsibility. These young lives were in my hands, and I didn’t take this lightly. The house had a dark yet appealing presence. It was comfortable yet uneasy, as though it wavered back and forth between the impressions of Regina and of Willis. Upon entering, guests were greeted by a long, narrow Persian rug of deep crimson color. It wasn’t until many years later, while visiting a friend who owned a similarly authentic Persian rug, that I could determine the source of the Embodied Effigies | 51
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pungent, musky smell at the Browns’ house. The Browns’ rug led into a living room adjoined to the kitchen by a large opening in the wall that functioned as a serving station. Upon entering this living room, you became fully aware of their puppy, Sport. The mix of rug, dog, and exotic spices wafting from the kitchen formed the air of the Brown house. It wasn’t unpleasant. It was simply an air that remains with you when you are thinking about that time, and that mother, and of Whippoorwill Hill. On my time off from babysitting for the Brown family, I worked for another household opposite the Van Horns’. For them, my duties could be described as odd jobs, and I was always paid in cash. I would solicit Mrs. Driscoll with whatever services I happen to be interested in at the time. I cleaned her house once or twice. Having taught myself calligraphy one summer, I addressed all of the envelopes for her 4th of July party invitations. But mostly, I think Mrs. Driscoll was employing me to spend time with her son. Christopher was deaf and handicapped. He wasn’t completely deaf, so he was able to speak but in a loud, underwater tone that garnered lots of unwanted attention from the other children. I thought he was my age, but in retrospect he was probably older. He had no father to speak of. I was always kind to Christopher behind closed doors, but I didn’t pay him much mind around the other children. The neighborhood parents never named the Driscolls’ house. The Driscolls had been through enough. Regina went missing in the Spring of 1987, two days after I had babysat for the children and three days before my First Communion. That morning, I stood like a bride in the mirror as my mother pinned and pulled at my white dress, creating a perfectly tailored miniature Christian. From the bedroom window I could see Stephen, Sal, and Kristin playing by the birch tree in our front yard. Kristin was hanging upside down, her knees wrapped around my favorite branch, her blond hair tickling the frosted, almost-April grass. Soon, I would join them outside to play. 52 | Embodied Effigies
Sport had been barking for hours when Mrs. Driscoll phoned the police. They found the puppy in the garage with an unopened bag of dog food and an empty water bowl. The concrete floor was a mess. Inside the house, Regina’s handbag and keys lay on a bench atop the right side of the musky crimson rug. The Brown children were with their grandparents in Texas. Willis was in town for a dentist appointment, but couldn’t remember how he had spent the remainder of the day. No one knew what had happened except that Regina was gone, and Whippoorwill Hill was a crime scene. My house banded together with the pond house and the messy house and our neighbors’ house and Mrs. Driscoll amidst a swirl of red and blue lights, and the buzz of news-makers. Our doorbells rang relentlessly, causing a dramatic increase in both volume and frequency of barks and howls. For the spring and into summer, we barely noticed the muggy, dense odor of the cows that seeped through the neighborhood along with the increasing humidity. The wheat went from long, delicately flowing locks, to prickly stubs barely peeking out of the ground, seared from the brutal New England heat. As the sun crept up and down, casting pink and orange swarms over the stormy midsummer skies, it was becoming clear that no one was returning to the Browns’ house. The neighborhood children—me, Kristin, Stephen, Sal, the multitude of Van Horns—fancied ourselves amateur detectives. When the police tape came down, we hung up our Barbies and our Hot Wheels, trading them for notepads and shovels. The fresh scent of the moist summer soil that packed into our fingernails as we dug into the ground looking for clues was the tangible evidence of our labor. Divots left in Regina’s otherwise smooth, emerald yard, and under her deck by the firewood, damp and soft from exposure, are evidence of a child’s tenacity and inability to accept forever as a measure of time. Our mid-evening bike rides were filled with whispering voices hiccupping over the bumps and curls and curves of Whippoorwill Hill. We were trying to remain stabilized, unable to comprehend the imprint this was to leave on our developing minds. Embodied Effigies | 53
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Regina was granted a divorce in 1988, and declared dead in 1995. As with most cases that are lacking in bodies or leads or conclusions, people allege that the investigation was faulty. Her house hadnâ€™t been thoroughly searched until six weeks after her disappearance. Willisâ€™ private plane wasnâ€™t located until 2008 providing little evidentiary value. That same year, Newtown police opened a cold case investigation into the whereabouts of Mrs. Regina Brown. Foul play is suspected. Memories can shift and shape and reform through the years like our growing bodies. Urban legends are erected on a foundation of stilted oral histories spoken by children who turn all at once into adults. An acre of dried wheat can become a vast wilderness of golden sprouts swaying through our minds. But most, if not all, of this is true. People continue to live amongst those fields and cows and shadowy houses, the twisted rocky roads and gravel-filled potholes, and Regina is still missing. And that is never going to change.
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Hobble and Dance Karl Sherlock
It’s Sunday, which means we eat kapusta. The fork lies to the left of a Melmac plate. My cane goes to the right of the chair’s chrome legs. Across from me at a Formica kitchen table, my father says the cane and the way I eat reminds him of Mr. Dziurowski. Diure-rof-skee—it takes me a moment to acclimate again to all the sounds that go with the letters in his name. My father’s just now getting used to my cane. It’s my first, a horn handle and walnut shaft—just the beast I need to break me into its dance steps. Sturdy. And Mr. Dziurowski predicted I would dance. Not the Mr. Dziurowski my father remembers, rapturously polemical while under my father’s scissors during a Saturday afternoon haircut, but the one my mother recounted while seated across from me at the Heinemann’s Bakery near Sears—about the slender, middle-aged man, taciturn in his air of talcum, who, during the gloaming hour, could be seen shuffling around the block with his Fritzhandle walking stick and his banded fedora, quietly lost in those thoughts that jelly in the mind of a Polish ex-patriot. My head bubbling with my father’s pear-apple pie, I sweeten my story for him: One afternoon, Mr. Dziurowski tapped on the milk chute. “Dear lady,” he said with his vacant, war-bitten smile and his sloping shoulders. He’d been told about my foot, and he wondered if he could be let work on it, for he knew, he said, how it might be summoned open. Days earlier, I’d just emerged ahead of schedule from out of my mother during one of her gloomiest moods: my one ear sans cartilage, Embodied Effigies | 55
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crumpled like a peony; two contrary hands like budding cabbages, curled around thumbs; and, for a right foot, a boxer’s bunched fist, knuckled up, ready to punch. Swayed by an obstetric nurse’s sensible voice, my parents left Mt. Sinai Hospital believing my stubborn foot would right itself. But, after days of wait-and-see, the foot didn’t yield. Each August afternoon, Mr. Dziurowski tapped on the milk chute. He took a seat beside the crib, drew his fedora into his lap, and chanted a soft blanket of simple song over me. Then, with the verge of his thumb he stroked the undercarriage of my closed foot: at first the round heel, then my nubby toes, and finally the creased sole, all the while blowing softly into the crimp of my foot. He did this for ten minutes, for seven days, every day, until, one afternoon, like a sudden shiver of breath, the nerves in my foot awakened, and my toes spread open like heat lightning, and my entire right foot blossomed into Mr. Dziurowski’s hand. “Walk good now,” he said, his accent coarser than her husband’s. “One day, dear lady, he dancing.” Somberly, he gathered in hand his fedora and his stick, then disappeared into the late afternoon. My mother looked on while Mr. Dziurowski shambled past the tarpaper houses, his lips quietly trilling consonants into the open air. Then, stopping at the end of the street, he shuffled the fedora from his hairless head, drew the breeze up into his lungs, and blew it into the soft hollow of his hat. “Nuts!” is all my father says, his shoulders laughing while he riffles into his napkin, so I explain my worry: that I’ve probably grafted pippins onto poems, made this origins story of a man with a cane mostly a fiction. “Some of it, sure, yes, it’s true,” he says, vividly recollecting my mother’s exhausted gloom. “You were, you know, a blue baby—what’s it they call the factor? Rh.’” He remembers someone’s clubfoot, but was it really mine? He’s certain of the milk chute, and the crumpled ear. But, tarpaper houses? No. No way. Shingle 56 | Embodied Effigies
siding, yes, certainly. I ask if he can point out Mr. Dziurowski among our family photos. That doesn’t happen. Instead, we amble through the later pages in the album, where, like wash day, the color photos are separated from the black-andwhites, and his children are still young enough to sit cross-legged in the earthtones of the Dells, stoic as braves. I am the youngest of them, and, as a five-yearold, I am funny-looking and slight: big-eared, teeth like a used book of matches. When I smile just right, my eyeteeth drape my lower lip like tiny fangs. My father closes the photo album abruptly and “Oh,” he says, “Getting dark soon, so we go now to the graves.” He scalps his tweed cap from a hook near the back door. In grade school, even the nuns called me “little vampire” or “Dracula,” casting at first a shroud of otherness onto me. But, when I discovered Barnabas Collins, the morally ambiguous vampiric hero of Dark Shadows, a 1960s Dan Curtis soap opera, it was love—precocious, swooning love—for Barnabus glided across the threshold of the Collinwood Manor with his liquid cool, lachrymose gaze, and his silken hand atop a scintillating silver-grip cane. The next day at school I combed my bangs into a batwing of flanged points, and proudly hung my eyeteeth over my lower lip. Redheaded Jamie Edelberg, who shared my title for “littlest kid in class,” drafted a Faustian contract in red ballpoint ink to become my Renfield. At the morning mass, he huddled against me into a church pew, and we prayed together before the mosaic icon, with its crippled lambkin nestled inside the crèche of an arm and its gilded omega of the shepherd’s staff, bold as a lightning rod. At the cemetery, I’m led to a grave marker where, with the tip of my cane, I brush aside the blanched trimmings of grass from the Good Shepherd basrelief. My father, windbreaker billowing and hands reposed across the buckle of his belt, murmurs in his native language, and for the first time I realize why we’re actually here, his lips chiseling, cadent and beautiful, around all the vowels of Mr. Embodied Effigies | 57
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Dziurowski’s name. I imagine the man’s shriveled feet in the confines of his coffin. Did they bother, I wonder, to bury him with a favorite cane? Do our phantom canes, like our ceramic hipbones, dance us to the next life, not because we are cursed to be inseparable, but because we are indistinguishable? Can the idea of the cane remain with us for eternity, just to hold its beauty to our hand? There’s a cane in our house whose staff, too short for either Max or me to use, is banded by alternating segments of stained woods, like a coral snake uncoiled, but its painted grip is hand-carved into a parrot’s head, the crest of which jaggedly embeds itself into the palm of the hand, and the hooked bill follows the crook of the finger and ends in a stab. It’s completely unusable as a working cane, but we keep it by itself, a fancy inside the Weller umbrella stand. To see it is to love it. It’s really not any more complicated than that. Still, I know for many a decorative cane is a paradox, a queer blend of revulsion with attraction, incongruous to the genderless cyborg in the handicap signs. When I was twelve, I had a sexual dream about Frankenstein’s monster. Even now, I can recall its love story of nipple-hard neck-bolts and the taste of his cadaverous green longing, his paper-thin Karloff lips opening around mine— so monstrously amorous and misunderstood, it could almost change us into a column of our own tears. A man who hobbles before you with a beautiful cane blurs that line between monster and lover, between crutched and fancy. With my second cane especially, the novelty of ambulatory aids grew tiresome and I began, instead, committing to the disabled, beautiful idea of it. Mine was a natural cherry affair: wooden Derby handle; brass quoit at its base like a man’s wedding band. The shaft of it was cut to order and, therefore, something solemn as a bris. And a cane, they suggest, should become part of your physiology. When sizing for one, men should stand erect, let their arms fall slack; in one’s mind, become a scimitar at rest. A woman—or a gentleman of womanly refinement—should stand proudly in high heels and arch the shoulders. Your wrist 58 | Embodied Effigies
bone will mark the proper height of the cane. Your cane should drape from your carpus like a long bone; it should feel a part of you. I suppose I pity the cane held hostage to its identity as a medical supply. We all know the one I mean, with its ashen grimace for a rubberized handle. The more you glimpse yourself with it, the less you want it to be only the sum of its purpose. One day, in a fidget, you flute its adjustable knobbles until it breaks into music, and its hollow aluminum shaft blooms like the Amaryllis Lily in the hands of St. Joseph. You bring the sticks to life until years and canes collect beside the chair where you untie your shoes, but now the canes are your huddled tow-headed children. You’ve raised them to believe they can be whatever they want: a bamboo thicket; a tableau of tube worms clinging to undersea smokers; great rushes of papyrus; a trajectory of comets. If you love them, you think, they will never turn on you. You pray one day, they’ll partner with canes of their own, settle together where the marriage of two or more consenting canes is legal, whisper sweet nothings into one another’s love handles. You could view them again as tools, but it’s a flickering thought, like a memory of your infant toes flexing in the crib. As physical disabilities go, mine is perhaps among the mildest. I don’t know why I feel I have to qualify it like that, except that my credibility and even my conscience have sometimes suffered because of a cane. I don’t recall how long I dragged my legs before I fully admitted my condition. “You owe an apology to no one,” admonished my husband, Max. But I’d go on just the same, feeling myself to be a fraud whenever I angled the car into the disabled parking spots. Then, one day at home, with my cherry cane in hand, I spilled into some empty boxes while twisting toward a bookshelf. And just like that, I believed it, and so I knew it to be true: the cane became the man; the man became disabled. After that, my cane grew self-aware, keeping rhythm to my slightest impulses. Suddenly, at the college, when skateboarders arrogantly slalomed around me on the wending grade of the campus walkways, I had to will my cane not to knock their asses into lampposts. Embodied Effigies | 59
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In fact, I had caught wind some years back that former students Jimmy and Tom had made an exegesis of my canes over their second pitcher of beer: how I wielded one as an assertion of my power over them in the classroom, integrated it into my pedagogy as a weapon of learning. Itâ€™s true, I did playfully rap a desk sometimes when I caught a student passed out during my engrossing lectures about academic tone, but my recollection of it was as an albatross. For years, I griped about what the hell to do with it when I wanted to uncap a whiteboard marker. Even now, it habitually plunges into pratfalls whenever I lean it against a wall or chair. Somehow, though, little by little, I did learn to assimilate to my cane, until it insinuated itself into my body language: a tap on the floor like a comma; the handle turned contrapposto with the change of topic; my right hand clutched around the neck of it when their textbooks werenâ€™t open. Jimmy and Tom had got it right. My cane was its own part of speech: a kind of interjection; its semantics were brandished, like guerrilla poetry. Jennifer was once a student of mine, too. A cerebral palsied body in a motorized chair, she chugged along in a concert of will and faith, while frenetic students darted to their classes. I saw her take the incline of a campus walkway once, stop and start again at the pace of a haiku. Neither was she alone in her condition. Wheelchairs crisscrossed the campus, and sometimes Iâ€™d discover her consorting with other motorized chairs, all of them gamboling under the breezeway like mustangs. But, I never saw them pair up and strike out together into the full brunt of sunshine. If they had intimate lives, I thought, perhaps it was at home, when they could cozy up to the salt and sweet of another skin, caress, be caressed. Be borne aloft from those chairs onto the cool pillows of a bed, to overpower someone with their poetry. Be opened and read, like a palm. Make no mistake: within malady there also ambles a kind of beauty. Comely people have no special claim to it. Cobbled from inelegance into shapeless couplets that crash like plates, its tempo is the jot and stride of a cane. It stumble60 | Embodied Effigies
bums, weightless as a toddler busting asunder the skin of a wading pool. From the zephyr of it, Mr. Dziurowski drew his breath, and to its charms a clubfoot once unraveled, tarsals to heel, like a Calla lily. The very first time I saw Max, my future husband, he shone beneath a pub’s dim bucket-full of lamplight, his fingers flexing into alphabet dances for two deaf men with whom he’d just struck up a conversation. After moving in together, Max and I would dine a few nights a week at Canes Restaurant in Uptown. It’s long since closed now, but this is where Max first told me about chaperoning his blind brother, at summer camp for the disabled, where the deaf kids taught Max how to sign cuss words. Once, while puzzling out an impasse in the school’s hallway, Max’s brother had jostled his cane against a wheelchair. When his paraplegic classmate sniped, “Watch where you’re going, stupid blind kid,” Max’s brother reached forward until his hands connected with the chair, then overturned it. Like Solomon, the principal was summoned. “Fair enough!” his only pronouncement. Neither was Canes Restaurant a champion of the crippled. Rather, it was an homage to the high style of old wealth and wanderlust. Assorted canes filled tall wicker baskets from the markets of Marrakesh behind an ample stock of liqueurs in cut glass decanters. But, these exalted sticks were beautiful accessories, free from the worry of infirmity. The men and women who carried them never actually had to lean upon them. They wore decorative eye patches and arrived in the lobbies of exquisite foreign hotels with a coterie of steamer trunks. When our plates of Tomato and Montrachet Tart were cleared from the left, we’d stretch out our legs beneath the table, wait for coffees, and talk. And, although Max was already seriously ill and living on medical disability, we never once conversed about these lavish surroundings and their depiction of disability as a lifestyle choice—never once—even as I’d steady Max from the restaurant, his legs quivering, and extend my arm to become his cane. It was enough that we were leaning upon one another, and leaving together as more than the sum of our broken footsteps. Embodied Effigies | 61
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Perhaps that’s why, nightly crutched against Max in front of the urgent prattle of newscasters, our legs decked upon the bedspread like chopsticks, I keep all of my canes out of view. Then, I can spread like a washed sheet, exhaled across the mattress, where something summons me inward to the body’s cadences, soft as marrow and round as a moan. It says, “Scrabbled together under your wrapper of flesh, there are sticks.” It says, “Just listen to them, and they’ll make of you a dance.” And I do listen, and they cast my drowsy hand outward in search of Max’s, to rough out the armature of his finger bones into the shape of a crook.
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Answers to All Questions but One Henry Stimpson Knowing how to find the answers to all questions—from auto repair to genealogy to zoology—made me a peculiar species of idiot savant: a reference librarian. To find a needle of information—say, the salary of a New York City garbage man—in a haystack of paper, I would scour the card catalog, the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, reference books, indexes, magazines, newspapers and sometimes pamphlets. When at last I triumphantly pointed to that golden needle on the page, sometimes the inquirer was happy. But often he or she looked disappointed and said, no, that’s not it, despite my encouragement that it was. Perhaps I hadn’t looked hard enough or in the right places. Maybe there was no answer. Back in the late 1970s, rummaging through the materials in our library all was I could do. There were no computers. But most questions weren’t too hard. I was supposed to help all impartially, but I couldn’t help betraying my irritation when people had ridiculous requests or expected me to be their personal Jeeves. When a woman called asking if Connecticut is part of New England, I said, “Yes, it is.” “Could you look that up?” she asked. “No, I’m sure it is,” I said. She begged me a couple more times before hanging up. I enjoyed thumbing my nose at the unspoken rule that you had to look up everything. She was only a little annoying; there were lots much worse. Researching the quirkiest questions could be fun, unless the patron was a pain. Some of the odder inquiries my colleagues and I fielded: the word for “cradleboard” in Abenaki. How to do the Hully Gully. The history of Greek immigration in our small city. Why doesn’t a spider stick to its own web? Can you Embodied Effigies | 63
Answers to All Questions
convert an old chicken coop into a lobster pound? When E.J., a fellow reference librarian—a perky, sprite-like lady about 60 who’d fussed around in libraries too long—couldn’t find a book about lobsters, she asked me for help. There was nothing under “Lobsters” in the card catalog, but I found a book listed under “Crustaceans” and felt clever. When I helped someone find important information, like how to legally evict a deadbeat tenant or fight a negligent landlord or apply for government assistance, I felt good. I was doing valuable work. That heartwarming glow rarely lasted. The next patron would be a teenage boy slouching to over to ask, “Um, got any books on Indians?” I got the job because I was a man, and I had a master’s degree in library science. I really wanted to be a writer. At 24, while driving a cab in Boston, I had had an epiphany: become a librarian! I envisioned a non-demanding profession that wouldn’t interfere too much with writing poetry. Realizing my vision was harder than I expected. It took only a year to get the degree, but in a lousy job market, it took nearly a year of interviews until I got my first offer. Librarian at New Hampshire State Prison was the last job I wanted, but I took it. After seven months at that dingy slammer, I wanted out. Just then the nearby Concord Public Library posted an opening for a reference librarian. “It would be nice to have a man on the staff,” Mrs. Markey, the library director, mused at my interview. When she called a week later and offered me the job, I was ecstatic. At 27, I finally landed the kind of job I Ionged for. No more trying to calm down inmates ranting at me about overdue book notices! And in a year or two I could use my new job as a springboard to get a job closer to my beloved Boston and my girlfriend. On my first day, in balmy last September, a fan purred next to the open window in Mrs. Markey’s office. “They’ll be upset with me at the State Library for 64 | Embodied Effigies
hiring you,” she chuckled. She had plucked me from state employment and was gleeful to have sort of trumped the director of the nearby New Hampshire State Library, whom she saw as a rival. A stout, canny woman in her early 60s, she said she wanted to do more with audiovisual materials like cassette tapes and perhaps she’d have me take a course in it. (It never happened.) “I’ll turn you over to Benita now,” she said. Benita, the assistant director, greeted me warmly. She was a buoyant, curvy woman of 28 married to a law-school student. That afternoon I’d be manning the Reader’s Advisor desk, the first place patrons went for help with their questions, she said. But there was mote to the job. Benita led me into an alcove where returned books spilled in through a chute. A “page” (usually a high-school girl) pulled the circulation card from a drawer and reinserted it in the pocket of each returned book. When I wasn’t busy helping patrons, I had to go and check each book to make the sure the card and book matched and then stack the books on a cart for the pages to re-shelve. For this I needed a master’s degree? Benita seemed to read my mind. “We’re doing this temporarily,” she said, pushing her glasses up her nose. That was a polite lie. The young and old, sane and insane, polite and grouchy, washed and malodorous, all had questions. Old people came in two types: sweet or sour. Helping a nice old man or woman could give me that heartwarming glow, but the sour ones… Mrs. Lepreau, a widow who usually trundled in with her daughter, called on the phone asking me to find instructions on how to grow basil. I searched through our gardening books, but had no luck. She asked me to look again. Still no luck. “I’m sorry. I’m afraid we don’t have anything on growing basil.” “There has to be something,” she snapped. “Now be a good boy and go back and find out how to grow basil for me!” Embodied Effigies | 65
Answers to All Questions
When an older Italian woman—short, stocky, shapeless black dress—asked me something in what she imagined was understandable English, I was flummoxed. “You’re looking for something about the law? You’re having problems with your tenant?” Another volley of excited, incomprehensible sounds. As she kept babbling and gesticulating, I flushed with hot panic, embarrassed, for some reason, that I couldn’t understand her. Benita rescued me. Another time she gabbled to Peter, a part-timer, about the photocopier, waving her hands extravagantly. He finally gathered that a document she was trying to copy was coming out too faint, and she wanted Peter to copy it out for her in longhand. Mr. Norton, a crusty retiree in his late 60s with a trim white beard—came in almost daily, often asking for help to find something obscure. One day his question was, “Why isn’t the photocopier working right?” It was about the tenth time I heard it that day. “I’m sick and tired of dealing with problems with the copier. I’m a reference librarian not a Xerox repairman!” I snapped, then jumped up and taped an out-of-order sign on it. Visibly rattled, he shut up and walked away. That just about made my day. Even sweet old folks could be annoying. One woman, probably in her early 70s, who wore a dark kerchief and raincoat rain or shine, planted herself with a cloying smile before the RA desk almost weekly. She always had the same question: Can you help me find my favorite books? She read only Miss Read’s saccharine tales of life in an ideal English village and “Anne of Green Gables,” which sounded like “Anna Green Gables,” in her loving sigh. I had to get up and lead her to the same shelves and the same books every time. She politely insisted that I stay with her while she made her selection. “You have to take the bitter with the sweet,” she once said, acknowledging she was a minor pain in the neck. After that, I chuckled when I had to escort her to the same damned books once again. There were young eccentrics too. A tall guy in black about 25 with a red Fu Manchu mustache, trailed by a skinny girlfriend in black, asked me for “everything 66 | Embodied Effigies
you have on Dracula.” He grinned ghoulishly when I unearthed a book or two and some articles and pamphlets about the Count. Another Dracula devotee, about 20, had black hair, white skin and gleaming dark eyes. He sat down in the reference room and read for hours the Dracula materials I gathered, oblivious and thrilled. I was sure he’d been recently released from the nearby state mental hospital and was living in a halfway house. “Can you get me a sewing pattern for Dracula’s cape?” he asked. We did loan sewing patterns, but not for vampires. But I did find a nice color picture of the caped Impaler in the “Encyclopedia of the Occult.” The next day he was back in the reference room studying it intently, muttering and hacking away at a swatch of black cloth with his scissors. Benita made him stop. She could be a priss, even though she did smoke pot, as I found out when I went to a party she and her husband threw. I was increasingly bored, sometimes nearly to desperation, especially when it was dead quiet. I fantasized to relieve my ennui. How could I commit the perfect murder of that narrow-eyed woman with stringy black hair who came in nights reeking of booze, demanding help? I could never dream up a way to kill her without detection, so I contented myself with imagining shutting her gaping mouth with a card-catalog drawer. With the place deserted 8:30 at night except for the bemused housewife working at the circulation desk, I’d sometimes do a half-assed handstand in the middle of the lobby. On one such dull night a young woman came over to the RA desk. I had chatted with her briefly a couple of times. “Do you leave work at nine? Would you like to do something?” she asked. Yes and yes. Valerie said she’d come back a little before closing; she had some cocaine we could try. Was I dreaming? She kept her word. At her apartment, her cocaine didn’t get me any higher than a cup of strong coffee, but I got high on Valerie. She was 24 and looked like a younger version of Kate Jackson of Charlie’s Angels. A graphic designer and photographer, she’d recently broken up with her live-in Embodied Effigies | 67
Answers to All Questions
boyfriend and liked being on her own. My girlfriend in Boston had found someone else; I didn’t like being alone. Valerie was lighthearted and elegant, with a pixie smile. We became friends. I developed an agonizing crush on her. I knew it was hopeless, but maybe there was a tiny chance she’d see me as more than just a friend someday. Wearing a flowered dress with a stained white collar, Mrs. Markey came in at 10 most days. Her young husband had been killed in World War II, her kids lived elsewhere, and she apparently dulled her loneliness with alcohol. One of my few conversations with her was about booze coming in metric-system bottles now. She stayed in her second-floor office, a bit like God up there: invisible, yet you felt her presence below. I was slightly afraid of her. Then she had a stroke that put her in a wheelchair. She retired. Benita, named acting director, called me to her office one day. While I was reliable, it was obvious how bored I was, she said. “Is there anything I can do to make your job more exciting for you?” We tried a few things. One was giving an orientation tour for six men and women with Down syndrome from a group home. Four were pert and talkative; two were silent. I showed them around the main floor, “Would you like to see Young Adults’ room?” I asked. Yes! So I took them up to the second floor. On the wall was a big rubberized three-dimensional relief map of the world—brown-andred mountains like a bumpy rash, vast green plains and hollowed-out blue deep seas. They stared at it, mesmerized and enchanted. It was the greatest thing they’d ever seen. Two of them asked childlike but sensible questions about what the colors and bumps meant. I fell in love with those sweet innocents. That was great, but the question that most perplexed me was: What did I want to do for a living? My rationale for working as a librarian had crumbled. I wasn’t getting anywhere with poetry. Nothing I wrote jelled anymore. Only a couple of my poems had been published. 68 | Embodied Effigies
But I was writing book reviews and articles for the local newspaper, which never would have happened in Boston. Maybe my future lay in prose. I was writing the library’s press releases about upcoming events, and I liked it. I decided to quit and go for a master’s degree in public communication, which began with an intensive summer program in Boston. After that, armed with the certificate from the summer program and my newspaper clippings, I’d get a job in public relations and finish my degree at night. It was early June 1979. I was moving back to Boston at the end of the month. With nothing to lose, one night at my apartment I stormed Valerie, kissing her passionately and fondling her beautiful body. “Let’s cool it a little,” she said, after a minute or two, so I stopped. She visited the library the next day. “Sorry about last night,” I said sheepishly. A wry smile crept over her face. “Don’t worry about it!” she laughed. Maybe she still has that reproduction of an antique map she promised to frame for me. One evening near the end, a slender dark-haired woman around 40, new to town, asked me to give her a quick orientation and show her where books on various subjects were. I walked her over to biography, history, science and so on, and then pointed out the fiction section. “Fiction stories aren’t true?” she said, looking suspicious. “I guess you could say that,” I said. “Why does government let them print all those books if they’re not true?” she said, pointing to the shelves of lies. “Why don’t they stop it?” Stunned, I mumbled something inconsequential. No answer to that question could be found in our books. My years as a librarian taught me one thing: don’t take up a profession unless you have at least little interest in it. Since my career as a librarian ended more than 37 years ago, I’ve had a successful career in public relations, including the last 34 as a self-employed consultant. But it’s on my bucket list to spend a few hours at a public library reference desk, and I’ve signed up with a temp agency for librarians. After decades of little inspiration, I’ve been writing decent poems the last few years, and that’s been a pleasant surprise. Embodied Effigies | 69
Belonging Justin Barnard
Between shouts of peddlers and hustlers, street-corner bucket drummers, honking cars, “you got a minute, man?” and “taxi!” there’s a buzz. The smell of garbage, popcorn vendors, and lilac mingle and waft in the warm breeze ushered up from the subway beneath your feet. People of every shape, size, and color rush by without a glance. Somewhere to go. Busy busy. Headlights, neon signs, and apartment windows make midnight here look like a country twilight. Close your eyes. Welcome to New York. Meet Will Miles Rodriguez, an eighteen year old freshman at SUNY Fredonia originally from New York City. “Brooklyn area,” he describes with pride, “City of New York. City that never sleeps. When I came here it was something new because it’s quiet...to me, it’s like, in the middle of nowhere. Because it is kinda.” An average height, thin, almond-skinned young man with boyish charm. He laughs a lot and is easy to talk to. He smiles with his eyes. He usually pulls his black curls into a manbun, but occasionally braids it. He doesn’t need a razor yet. He doesn’t play video games, but loves to ice skate, especially freestyle. Freestyle is common in the city, but astounds Fredonia locals with its exoticism. Google it, it’s cool as hell. He may be young, but don’t call him bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. If it weren’t for a tragedy, he likely wouldn’t be in this country. If it weren’t for a miracle, he wouldn’t be alive. Will was born in the United States, but soon after his birth the family moved to the Dominican Republic—where Will’s parents are from—until he was school age. Embodied Effigies | 71
“We moved back to the DR and lived there for four, five years. Then I came back because...well I got really sick. It got to the point where the medicine wasn’t helping me. There was a point where I was gonna die. My parents brought me back to the states...and the doctors, I don’t know what the problem was, but they couldn’t find what it was back in DR because the medical research wasn’t that advanced. But here, right away they found the problem and I got better.” The family landed in a neighborhood of Brooklyn called Flatbush. Located south of Prospect Park, Flatbush’s 18 by 13 blocks house about 110,000 residents, Kings Theatre and Brooklyn College. The demographics of Flatbush contrast starkly with Fredonia. According to Wikipedia, Flatbush is about 6.5% white. According to city-data.com, Fredonia is 91.5% white. “It’s a lot more dominant, like race here, obviously,” Will mentions, “It’s more white. In the city I was able to see a whole bunch of different cultures, everybody contributing, you know?” According to Will, “it’s not known to be a good area. There used to be a lot of fights, a lot of gun fights, stuff like that, especially on my block. There used to be a lot of shootings on the weekends. It was pretty scary. I used to watch through the windows.” Flatbush is far cry from Fredonia. And not just in the sense of crime or race, but the noise, the pace, the bright lights and starless nights. If a car backfires at 3AM in Fredonia, no one is hitting the deck...not that there’s anyone around in the first place. This lack of activity was the first thing that struck Will. “At 3AM I’m used to seeing cars, traffic even. I come here and at 3AM there’s like nobody, it’s deserted, it’s quiet. That scared me at first. I’m not used to the quiet. Or the dark.” The absence of New York’s constant bustle wasn’t the only transitional struggle for young Will, the shift into college life was another acclimation which took time. In Fredonia’s Educational Development Program (EDP) he had a one month immersion into Fredonian life prior to the full campus arrival. 72 | Embodied Effigies
“When everybody got here in August it was different because everybody already knew each other and I’m the only one from my high school here so I had to make new friends. That was the scary part for me.” Will had to ask himself—and his surroundings— where do I belong? At first the answers didn’t come easy. “I didn’t go out much. I was always in my room. I got homesick. I called my mom like every day. And my dad too. After class finished, if I wasn’t going to go eat I would always just go to my room. I didn’t go to the library. I didn’t do much. I wasn’t really that outgoing.” The panic, or at bare minimum stress, of not knowing anyone in a new setting is pretty universal. Luckily, the college dorming experience gives most freshman at least one person they’re forced to get to know pretty quickly: their roommate. However, living with a complete stranger whom you’ve never met can be frightening. Horror stories abound on college campuses nationwide about crazy roommates and obnoxious neighbors seemingly experiencing alcohol for the first time and enjoying it a little too much, too often. Define unicorn: (n) someone who actually liked their first roommate in college. The roommate experience didn’t initially help Will’s feelings of exclusion. “Dorming was pretty weird at first because you’re living with someone you never met before. You don’t know what to expect from them...living habits and stuff like that. The first three weeks with my roommate I don’t think we even had a word between us...so it was awkward. It was really, really awkward.” Fortunately for both of them, this was short-lived and the twosome eventually broke the silence. “We started talking and seeing each other on campus and saying ‘hi.’ Then we started easing in and that got fixed.” By the end of Will’s first semester he found his social niche. He’s now rushing for the fraternity his older brother Axel belonged to, Delta Chi, and he got a job at the ice rink coaching four and five year olds how to skate. He goes out more now. Sources can neither confirm nor deny whether or not he has a fake ID. Embodied Effigies | 73
• Sitting in one of Will’s classes is what you would expect of a freshman classroom. POLI 120: American Politics takes place in a descending lecture hall with plastic red seats connected in large rows. A desk swivels squeakily up from the side of the seat and gives you almost enough room for a notebook. Dark brown brick surrounds you and you stand on checkered carpeting, likely installed during the 1970s and the origin of the slight smell of mildew. The room fills with young students. Most of them sit alone, swiping through their social media accounts, but several cliques are present. A group of six girls, mostly blonde, walk in and sit together toward the back, chatting merrily. Regina George prototypes. For the first fifteen minutes of this fifty minute class, students continue to file in unabashedly. The professor does most of the talking, occasionally asking questions, but more to tap into their street knowledge than to ask about course material. He’s talking about reasonable searches. “Let’s say I have a kilo of cocaine...is that a lot?” he asks the room in general. A couple of guys in the far back left of the room nod their heads yes with raised brows. “Yeah? That’s a lot? OK, whatever, let’s say I have ten kilos, I don’t know! What would I know?” He’s a jovial, cherubic looking fifty-something. He dons an outfit you imagine being borrowed from Mr. Rogers or Kurt Vonnegut: a brown, buttondown sweater over a checkered beige shirt tucked into olive green slacks. He’s a funny, energetic lecturer. Most of the students in the class are too busy showing each other photos on Instagram or playing games on their phone to notice. Thirty-five of the room’s thirty-eight occupants are white. The blackboard is white too. The lecture moves to segregation. When the professor says the word, you can notice one student’s mind click. His head cocks to the side at “-gation” and even from directly behind him you can sense his inquisitive eyes slightly squinting 74 | Embodied Effigies
in anticipation. That student is Will. Two of the blondes are texting. • Will had a tough transition, academically. He gives off an aura of shame as he discusses the 2.0 he got in his first semester of college. When he describes the advice given to him by his brother, he looks down at his hands, wringing them. “I didn’t take his advice and I failed.” Axel, 26, went to Fredonia from 2010-2015 after a stint at Jamestown Community College. He graduated with a double major in Business Administration and Communications. He looks like Will, but a little older, with shorter hair and more manly meat on his bones, less baby fat. He’s an articulate and agreeable guy, but has the protectiveness and cynicism associated both with big brothers and New Yorkers. “Interview? For what? Who’s it for? What’s he writing? Why’s he writing about you?” the rattle of questions can be heard through the phone at Will’s ear as he sits in the cafeteria of the Williams Center prior to a job interview. Will smirks and rolls his eyes across the table. Little brother assures him it’s fine. “After his first semester, I was really angry with him,” Axel explains. “I give the kid tough-love because it fits my role as big brother and because it’s just in my nature I guess. I see a lot of potential in him and only want the best for him.” Will took it to heart and feels the urgency of doing better. Being better. You can see that in his countenance sitting in a classroom with him. • The Poli Sci lesson moves to stop and frisk. “When am I ever going to be stopped and frisked?” the professor asks the room with arms spread wide in an expression of look at me, come on…. Will cracks a smile and says something to a friend sitting adjacent him. The professor relaxes his arms and answers his own question after a long pause: “Never!” he shouts, mouthing ‘never’ several times while shaking his head from side to side. Embodied Effigies | 75
Segregation, profiling, voting rights, stop and frisk, Miranda rights, these are things out of sight and out of mind for the majority of the students on this campus. Instagram is literally a more pressing issue to the 94.7% of this class whom these topics won’t affect in the slightest. But for Will, that lecture meant something. The discussion on segregation registered with his experience. “When he was talking about segregation I took it into account because, like go where I live.” he explains, “it’s pretty minority-based and then like the way that it’s set up, there’s a train and on one side there’s...like middle class, high class people, mostly white folks and high-income African American people. Then on the other side, where I live, there’s low income minorities, blacks, hispanics. It’s really gentrified. So when he’s talking about segregation I took it and put it into my own perspective of where I’m from and how that’s still going on.” Though he notes this difference between his hometown and his new collegiate locale, there’s no bitterness in his tone. The difference between him and most of his American Politics classmates is intrinsic, yet subtle. His brother Axel gives a similar vibe. “I think I embraced it pretty well,” he recalls of Fredonia. “I relished being the black sheep and different from everyone else and used it as a confidence booster. I adjusted to it pretty well I think.” Axel recalls similar social struggles as his younger brother. He struggled at first to find where he fit in in his new environment. “The student body was very ‘cliquey’ in my opinion. I remember trying to make new friends outside of my suite—specifically girls—and was unsuccessful. I felt like it wasn’t a very welcoming place socially.” But Axel, like his brother Will, eventually found his niche and blossomed into an outgoing young man. He joined Delta Chi and enactus and played club baseball. Axel currently lives in Brooklyn with friends he met at Fredonia. • At the rink, Will teaches the tots how to skate—well...really how to stand up without holding onto a chair or a coach’s arm for dear life. After a half hour 76 | Embodied Effigies
lesson, the kids are given thirty minutes of free time. Recess, basically. The more advanced younger kids and some of the older kids love to play tag. Which is more like a frantic car chase than tag, per se. In any movie car chase, it starts out with one cop seeing Jason Statham or whomever and starting the pursuit. As the chase intensifies, more police come out of nowhere and follow suit. Many crashes follow with some of the pursuers falling by the wayside in fiery explosions. This is basically what the kids at learn to skate call tag. One kid starts with “I’m gonna get you!” which is casual enough. One shaky kid is pretty easy to evade. But then there’s two, then five, then fifteen. They’re slow and wobbly, but they hunt like wolves (“Raptors!” they’d probably protest. Kids fucking love dinosaurs); one going this way, the other cutting off the escape route, and so on. Will is their target on this lazy Sunday. He brought it on himself. He’s on his own. “Hey! Try and catch me!” he yells as he glides sideways in front of a small coterie of chatting children. Several of them shriek with excitement. Something to do! Will starts off chipper enough, he’s toying with them. Letting them get close then dashing away with grace. Doing 360s. Dancing. Will evades one little wolf and skates in a quick circle around him, tapping him on the helmet before gliding off. Several minutes pass and he’s starting to drain. “Help me…” he grunts, panting as he passes another coach. Sorry, bud. Your turn today. In his death throes he makes mad dashes to get as far away as he can. This only leads to exhausting more energy more quickly. The mad horde of weebles on skates attack at various angles. Will is hunched over with his hands on his knees staring at the ice, chest heaving up and down. He waits a split-second too long before making another dash. One of the little girls grabs the back of his jacket, planting her feet and making an anchor out of herself. Another grabs hold, this one a bit off to the side. He’s still moving, but barely. Eventually the rest catch up and circle around him. Donezo. The kids all laugh with delight in their victory. Embodied Effigies | 77
Will’s exhausted, but happy. Surrounded by ten or fifteen laughing kids stuck to him like bubble wrap, he looks up and a big smile strikes across his face. He smiles with his eyes.
Notes: 1. Will Miles Rodriguez and Axel Miles Rodriguez are pseudonyms used to protect the identity of those individuals. 2. The blackboard mentioned on page 5 was actually a dry-erase white board, the distinction was made for hyperbolic effect and was not meant to mislead the reader.
Works Cited: “Flatbush, Brooklyn.” Wikipedia , 16 Feb. 2017. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flatbush,_Brooklyn. “Fredonia, New York.” City-Data , 16 Feb. 2017. www.city-data.com/city/Fredonia-New-York.html. Rodriguez, Axel Miles, e-mail message to author, February 7, 2017. Rodriguez, Will Miles, interview by Justin Barnard, January 30, 2017. ---, interview by Justin Barnard, February 5, 2017. Rushboldt, Raymond J. Lecture, January 30, 2017.
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Refrigerator Protocol Devin Donovan
Set in the center of the kitchen like a celestial body of stainless steel, the refrigerator sucked us in with an autonomous gravity. A six foot tall side-by-side, when its doors swung open it was like Clark Kent ripping open his shirt, or a surgeon cracking open a patient’s ribcage. There was the promise of an exciting mess. Packed tight with food, the fridge struggled to keep everything chilled. Like a bedraggled parent, it was always one step behind. But its effort was persistent and unconditional. This thing would not suffer magnets, so my siblings and I were left to make it proud with the abstract art of our greasy fingerprints. Fixed like a badge to the upper right corner of the door, there was a five-by-seven note card that read, in sharpie, “PLEASE OBSERVE PROPER REFRIGERATOR PROTOCOL.” The protocol, I would explain to curious friends, consisted of the simple steps needed to keep the fridge and its contents organized after its quarterly cleaning. It was an official attempt to enlist the suckling piglets to care for the aesthetic of the teat. But it was never long before we helped the refrigerator shake itself back into disarray. A child will slither out of church clothing as surely as a dog must roll in a dead bird right after a bath. Its natural state was too dynamic for organization. The insides of this fridge pulsed and ripened and decayed like the guts of a living creature. The tupperwares and packages and cartons slid around the shelves like organs, encased in their protective membranes, but always slick with the nature of their neighbors. All boundaries were porous inside this living thing. At the bottom of the crisper drawer, the cold cuts marinated in the collected ooze Embodied Effigies | 79
made up of a mixture of wilted spinach slime and spilled milk. The shelves were sticky with whatever health juices had, in their boredom, eaten their way through the bottom of their tetrapak containers. The cheeks of the milk jugs looked flushed and tear-streaked from the blood that had dripped down from above, where packages of raw chuck were jostled by the internal rhythms of this creature that hummed with life. Whenever I would ask where something was in the fridge, I was instructed to “look with my hands.” This was a bit like a real life game of Operation, where one attempts to extract the prize without touching anything else. In the children’s game, your tweezers get zapped if you venture too far into the guts of the patient. In the fridge game, the production value was significantly higher. If something was put in the fridge without being properly encased, it succumbed to the process of life pushing itself towards an awesome entropy. Fragile food like produce and cold cuts were best consumed directly from the shopping bag, and you never wanted to fall for the thirty-two-ounce tub of cottage cheese trick. “Look,” we would say as we opened the lid in each other’s faces, “science!” When people ask me why I became a vegetarian, I try to show them this fridge. “Imagine,” I say, “that opening up your fridge was like peeling the skin off a cow, and everything a cow gives you is in there—milk and cheese and meat, but it’s all covered in the cow’s blood, just like its muscles and organs and skeleton would be if you flayed it alive.” Usually by now they have stopped listening. We are most likely trying to eat dinner. Maybe they are eating steak. “I’m a vegetarian so that there is no blood in my refrigerator anymore.” So these days my refrigerator stands silent in the corner of the kitchen like a nervous museum curator. There are no fingerprint smudges on the doors or handles. Most of the magnets are ironic gifts; the butts of farm animals hold up coupons and bills. None of the containers within the fridge touch one another. The outside of the tupperwares are dry and unremarkable. The re-sealable bags of lettuce are pressed so tightly they look like collapsed lungs. The butter hides in the 80 | Embodied Effigies
secret butter compartment and the produce is confined to the crisper. The top shelf is a pedestal reserved entirely for a water purifier. The whole thing is clean and white and as sterile as an insane asylum. There is no blood. There is none of the slimy, disgusting chaos that sustains life and distills it into stories worth telling.
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Foolâ€™s Gold, Ocean City Eric D. Lehman
I must have been eleven or twelve and, as we did every other year, my family had traveled to Ocean City, New Jersey for a short vacation. Each morning we walked from the rented floor of the multilevel beach house across the boardwalk to the scorching desert of the beach, where my younger brother and I half-heartedly played in the sand, having grown out of the green buckets and the primitive castles, grown out of digging massive holes and canal systems in a futile attempt to control the reaching tides. But we still made up stories about other families, or imagined some other boys were our hated rivals. Occasionally we pretended to be on an expedition in farthest Arabia, perhaps in the Empty Quarter, without water or supplies, hiking over the hot sand in our bare feet, thirsty and miserable. But of course we were only pretending to be miserableâ€”we were gloriously happy. What made us happiest was swimming in the ocean, a foreign pleasure to our inland bodies. My parents forced us to apply suntan lotion and we ran from the umbrella and chairs to the heaviness of salt water. Gingerly stepping over the strip of broken shells that separated the beach from the surf, we reached the smooth, soft sand of what we called the Continental Shelf. At last our feet waggled in the water, kicking occasional strands of seaweed. We bobbed patiently, waiting for the next whitecap, and when it came we turned and swam with all our might, sometimes catching it and riding it, but more often letting it crash over us and drive our torsos to the smooth bottom. Those few panicked seconds when we couldnâ€™t surface, held down by the strength of the ocean, were somehow delicious and frightening all at once, as was the grip of the undertow, the receding wave Embodied Effigies | 83
Fool’s Gold, Ocean City
pulling back out, sand skittering around our feet. Then we would stand up and find to our surprise that the water was only knee high, that we had been carried farther than we thought, and now had to turn around and splash back into the deep. After a dozen waves or so we looked up and realized that we had been driven south or north, too, been carried by currents we hadn’t realized existed, maybe fifty or a hundred yards from our parents’ safe blankets and chairs. “Reapply!” My mother would order after we came back from these expeditions. Then for an hour or two we sat on the beach chairs squishing the sand between wet toes, or lay on the dark blue beach towels that sported our last name hand-sewn in huge white letters, so there would be no mistake or attempted thievery. In the early afternoon we would reluctantly put on our flipflops and walk back to the rental, where we could rinse off the salt and sand at an outside shower, and then dive back into the fishbowl of air-conditioning for a real shower and a nap. Occasionally my parents would choose not go to the beach in the morning, and I can still feel the nip of dawn air at the bike rental lot two blocks from the beach, can still feel the rumble of the sandy macadam giving way to the sandy wood slats of the boardwalk. We could go much farther this way, past the long music hall pier, past the closed shops and silent, gated amusement park to a long, thin strip of boardwalk that stretched north along the fronts of houses and hotels, until it finally ended at some sort of beach restaurant. If we turned south instead, we could pass the beach clubs and mansions to where the boardwalk ended ignominiously, at a dune that had been allowed to devour it, and then we biked beyond onto the roads, on and on, all the way to the far end of the island. On those days we usually still padded to the beach in the afternoon, and either way we dragged our parents to the boardwalk every evening, with all the restaurants and stores now open, picking new ones to explore or old favorites to visit. We loved to wander aimlessly through souvenir shops, examining t-shirts and beach shorts, postcards and seashells. Tiny colored rocks and fossils were 84 | Embodied Effigies
my particular weakness, and I lingered around the glued skeletons of fish and weathered wooden buoys, longing to take one home. But these were far beyond the prices allotted by my parents, and I settled for a tiger-striped conch or a piece of fool’s gold. The food on the boardwalk was somehow better, more savory and more sweet, and not just the boxes of Shriver’s salt water taffy we inevitably left with. The dapper gentleman Mr. Peanut swung his cane outside the shop from which the rich smell of roasting drifted far across the boards, and we knew we had come to a special place, where cartoons sprang to life. Thin, hot slices of pizza, fresh lemonade, thick wedges of fudge, or sugar cones piled high with chocolate ice cream all had voices, all called to us in ways that they never did when we walked through a suburban mall or drove past them on a city street. At the far end of the boardwalk we bought strings of tickets at the gated amusement park, with its high Ferris wheel, carousel, and small coaster. But our favorite diversion was to the enter The Mummy’s Tomb, an occasional, impermanent attraction that seemed to vary by year or by season. We would always know if it was open because it was built in part of an old theater, and a mummy would be outside, on top of the old marquee, roaring at the families walking on the boardwalk, making smaller children scream with excitement. Inside the old theater was a separate attraction – a labyrinth of mirrors and yellow glass that never failed to confuse and misdirect – and the entrance to the Tomb. It was no more than a standard haunted house, but maybe because it was not Halloween, or because it had such a clear, well-designed theme, we longed for this experience as we never longed to be scared by any conventional means. Only once had we been really scared, the night my parents allowed us to stay at the movie theater by ourselves, and the film had turned out to be much creepier than anticipated. We walked back uncertainly to the rental, terrified of the legions of monsters skulking behind the bushes and in the crowns of trees to leap out and stick us with their long, curved claws. On a later night this somehow Embodied Effigies | 85
Fool’s Gold, Ocean City
marred the old magic of walking on the beach in the dark, with the huge empty space beneath the boardwalk full of unseen dangers. They were waiting for us now, the werewolves, the vampires, the vague forms of drifters with their long brown coats and vans without hubcaps. The last night we played a round of miniature golf at one of the many courses on the boardwalk. Another family followed us through the eighteen holes, one of whom was a young girl, about my age I suppose, with black shoulder length hair, freckles, and a tank top. Something about her fascinated me, and at first I watched her surreptitiously, then more openly. Around hole fifteen she caught me looking, and smiled at me. That smile! Back home I received only embarrassed turn-arounds or outright contempt. Those last few holes I barely noticed the game, exchanging glances with the girl, trying to catch her name from one of the family members. Then we were at the last hole, one of those where you try to win a free game, really just a guaranteed way to get the golf balls back. I missed, of course, but I seem to remember my father or mother winning a useless free game. We were leaving anyway the next day, so why not give it to the black haired girl? But maybe she was leaving, too? Maybe she even lived near me, out of the thousands of towns she could be from, she must. It was a fated eventuality that she would move to my school, join my class, and become my best friend. Even if not, we could keep in touch by writing, and maybe visit once in a while. My family walked away onto the boardwalk. I lingered, but didn’t see her emerge. Crowds moved in. The music pier glowed with light on the black water. Back at the beach house in my small, unfamiliar room, I lay in bed in the darkness, trying to remember what she looked like. Were her eyes blue or green? A car drove down the street, radio blaring a pop song, “only in my dreams, it was only in my dreams…” I clenched my fists and stared out the open window through the leaves of a tree at a street lamp’s tiny pool of light. 86 | Embodied Effigies
Gettysburg Michelle Chen
Either it’s your rockabilly pose, or it’s the feverish wrath of your naked yellow arms that makes me stumble. We can’t fly for the flies speckling our vision, dark skittish ashes weaving among the stones that threaten to trip us as the class sprawls down the hillside. It is high noon; you giggle at our runaway shadows and I feel it in my throat. Our steps are rarer now, but the wind starts up its gentle pounding at our backs, my ponytail. Your green tussocks peer dolefully and are flattened by our sneakers, the heat granting us fatal clarity. We prop ourselves against the round O of the disused cannon’s mouth as a vagabond’s palms are drawn to a flame. The rubbing begins. We can’t place the foreign smell as we kneel, flies hovering above our elbows, the rasp of charcoal dirtying our fingers, your sudden meditation awry. There is no shade as we plagiarize, so we sweat. Names and dates bob to the surface of the blackened pasteboard, the storm-ridden ocean, the growling foghorn, fever-hot skin. Why did no one bring sunscreen? You feel the scrapes at your door, the stray slackened hand as a mark descends off the granite edge. We could start to believe in ghosts out here. When we hoist the paper, charcoal tumbling onto dirt, there are no flowers to watch us. Teacher puzzles us together again—someone squints east at the bones of a city. Dryness rising in our mouths. Self-sung rambler, dig.
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Contributors’ Notes Justin Barnard, originally from Albany, NY, is a graduate student at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Fredonia. He is studying for a Masters of Arts in English and a Certificate of Advanced Study in Professional Writing. Justin has been published in The Times Union, The Daily Gazette, The Journal of Critical Thinking, and recently presented research at the What is Life? Conference held at the University of Oregon at Portland. Find him on Twitter @JustinBWrites.
Michelle Chen is a poet, writer, and artist who takes inspiration for her writing from the events that occur in and around her home, New York City, though she was born in Singapore and hopes to return and visit someday. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Bat City Review, The Sharkpack Poetry Review, Rattle, The Critical Pass Review, Across the Margin, and elsewhere. Her writing has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, YoungArts, Foyle Young Poets, Ploughshares Emerging Writers, the Mary Ballard Poetry Chapbook Prize, the Lancaster Writing Award for Literary Criticism, and the City College of New York Knopf Poetry Contest, among others. She has performed her work at venues including Lincoln Center, Sotheby’s, the National Arts Club, and the NYC Poetry Festival, and has attended writing workshops at Amherst and the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio with the support of the National Society of Arts and Letters. She attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Visit her and her blog for ambitious youth at www.mcambitiousyouth.com.
C. Cimmone is a North American writer and comic, specializing in blue and observational comedy, short fiction, and narrative nonfiction. Her prose is featured in a menagerie of online literary journals. Print publications showcasing her narrative 88 | Embodied Effigies
nonfiction include the 2015 Story Shelter anthology and Jokes Review inaugural issue, both based on her stand-up comedy and currently available on Amazon for purchase. Cimmone’s chapbook, “When I Was Alive,” was released in August 2016 via Underground Voices and is available on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. To read more about C. Cimmone, please visit www.ccimmone.com.
Sarah Coble lives in Los Angeles, where she writes YA and new adult fiction. She has a bachelors in creative writing from Western Washington University and has had works published under her name in The Arcturus, as well as ghostwriting for various publications. She spends the rest of her time daydreaming, watching Netflix and petting furry creatures. you can find her on Twitter @sarahccoble.
Devin Donovan lives in Charlottesville, VA where he teaches Writing & Critical Inquiry. His work has appeared in Mantis, The Windsor Review, Black Heart Magazine and elsewhere.
John Ellis has lived in Africa, Europe, and throughout the East Coast of the United States, but much of his nonfiction recounts his life in the city he calls home—San Francisco. His work has appeared in Relief: A Journal of Art and Faith and Able Muse: A Review of Poetry, Prose, and Art. He earned his MFA at Saint Mary’s College of California, where he was also a teaching fellow.
Claudia Geagan was formerly the retirement plans manager for a big US corporation. These days she writes, plays golf, paddle boards and does yoga from a leafy mountainside in the southern Appalachians. She has been published by a number of journals including The Louisville Review, The Lindenwood Review, Persimmon Tree, River Teeth’s Beautiful Things and Embodied Effigies.
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Tonya Kelley is a creative writer residing in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications and she is the author of two full length collections of poetry—Unsexy and The First Person (Wasteland Press). She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, and a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts fellowship award for poetry. Tonya holds a BA in Literature from the University of Massachusetts. She is currently an MFA candidate at Mount Saint Mary’s University, where she is a nonfiction and poetry editor of the literary magazine, The Rush.
Gary Kidney lives in Pearland, TX where he retired from work in higher education information technology to find time to write. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Albertus Magnus College. “Boys’ Lake” was written as an assignment for his creative nonfiction class. Gary is currently seeking an agent for a Young Adult contemporary mystery novel and a historical fiction espionage novel. You can find more about him and his work at http://www.garykidney.com.
Eric D. Lehman teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Bridgeport and has stories, essays, and reviews in dozens of journals, magazines, and newspapers, from Berfrois to Gastronomica. He is the author of twelve books, including Becoming Tom Thumb, Shadows of Paris, and Homegrown Terror: Benedict Arnold and the Burning of New London.
Karen O’Neil is a retired secondary school English teacher and administrator who lives and writes in Washington, D.C. She draws on her own experience as a member of a large and somewhat sprawling family to explore inter-generational relationships and the lasting impact of family experience. Her work has previously appeared in The Mindful Word.
Karl Sherlock is a Poetry Writing instructor and Co-Coordinator of the Creative Writing Program at Grossmont College, in El Cajon, California. His queer and 90 | Embodied Effigies
disability-themed poems and narrative essays have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies, including Easy Street magazine, Sante Fe Writers Project Quaterly, Tinge Magazine, The Far East, Dickinson Review, Cream City Review, Wordgathering, The Radvocate, Assaracus, Lime Hawk, Matador Review, and others. His story, “Clear,” a memoir about his own same-sex marriage under the specter of Prop 8, and his husband’s reparative therapy experience as a teen in the Battle Creek Sanitarium, was a 2014 finalist for Sundress Publication’s “Best of the Net.”
Henry Stimpson’s essays, articles, humor and poems have appeared in Cream City Review, Rolling Stone, Common Ground Review, Poets & Writers, The Boston Globe, Yankee, New England Ancestors, New England Monthly, Bostonia, Boston Phoenix, Beauty/Truth, and The Philadelphia Inquirer—plus many business and trade magazines. Stimpson has been a self-employed public relations consultant and freelance writer since 1984. Previously, Stimpson was a reference librarian in a public library and prison librarian (New Hampshire State Prison) and before that drove a cab.
Joanna Zauber resides in massachusetts where she works as a bookseller by day, and writes by night. When not engaged in the production, enjoyment, or sale of the written word, she knits socks, goes for long walks in her local cemetery, and gazes at the moon.
Kirby Wright’s third play, Rag Of Man, opened at the Manhattan Repertory Theatre on February 22nd, 2017. His original screenplays have won nineteen awards at film festivals around the world, including Los Angeles CineFest, Colortape International Film Festival (Brisbane, Australia), Genre Celebration Festival (Shanghai, China), Mediterranean Film Festival (Syracuse, Italy) and The Monkey Bread Tree Film Awards in London.
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The seventh issue of Embodied Effigies, a creative nonfiction literary magazine. ISSN 2572-2573