Copyright © 2012 by the Student Publications and Radio Committee (SPARC). The Grinnell Review, Grinnell College’s biannual undergraduate arts and literary magazine, is a student-produced journal devoted to the publication of student writing and artwork. Creative work is solicited from the entire student body and review anonymously by the corresponding Writing and Arts Committees. Students are involved in all aspects of production, including selection of works, layout, publicity, and distribution. By providing a forum for the publication of creative work,The Grinnell Review aims to bolster and contribute to the art and creative writing community on campus. Acknowledgments: The work and ideas published in The Grinnell Review belong to the individuals to whom such works and ideas are attributed to and do not necessarily represent or express the opinions of SPARC or any other individuals associated with the publication of this journal. © 2012 Poetry, prose, artwork and design rights return to the artists upon publication. No part of this publication may be duplicated without the permission of SPARC, individual artists or the editors. The Grinnell Review is printed and bound by Pioneer Graphics in Waterloo, IA. It was designed using Adobe InDesign® CS5. The typeface for the body text is 14 pt. Perpetua and the typeface for the titles is 48 pt. Didot. Cover art: Front photo by Lily Jamaludin, back photo by Emily Stanfield, transferred and designed by Andy Delany and Caleb Neubauer. Inner cover art: Front photo by Lily Jamaludin, back photo by Lily Jamaludin, transferred and designed by Andy Delany and Caleb Neubauer. Inner title art: Untitled manipulated digital photo by Lily Jamaludin. All editorial and business correspondence should be addressed to: Grinnell College c/o Grinnell Review Grinnell, IA 50112 www.grinnellreview.com Letters to the editor are also welcome. Please send them to the address above or to email@example.com
XXXXI | SPRING 2012 ARTS SELECTION COMMITTEE Hannah Bernard Eva Dawson Hannah Fiske Abraham Kohrman Clare Lowe Paige Murphy Paul Tavarez Quinn Underriner
EDITORS Andy Delany Caleb Neubauer
WRITING SELECTION COMMITTEE Caitlin Beckwith-Gerfuson Clare Boerigter Leah Dawson Iulia Iordoche Elif Karates Abraham Kohrman Claire Lowe Darwin Manning Clare Mao Emily Mester Paige Murphy Drew Oringer Eleanor Stevens Quinn Underriner
Contents WRITING Anonymous When We Behaved in the Image of Binary Stars: A Model of Mutual Human Support
Leah Dawson The Traveler 50
Jumi Bello blood 21 Untitled 77 LETTERS TO GOD 96
Sophie Haas Unfamiliar Edges 78 Chasing Sand Crabs in Santa Cruz 91 Following the Mississippi Down Broadway 109
Clare Boerigter God wrote two books 54 Us American Girls 69 Williams of the Dog Days 72 On Highways to Campton 112
Erica Hauswald Cutting Lunch 24 Cape 51 Ghazal for February 57 Paper Hats 108
Tessa Cheek Grandmother 23
Joe Hiller Tusks 11 A Day At Barney’s (Chickens) 33 Family Student Housing 93
Eva Dawson Steven’s Keys 36 A Dorm Room Mattress 68 iv
Dylan Fisher Accident 41
Linnea Hurst Alice 100 Lily Jamaludin Below The First Cut. 22 Erik Jarvis Betting 40 Letter from a Gardner 55 Glenda López Mechanized Prayers 99 Justin Miller Pinkies 33 Er (Almost-Half There) 85 Daredevil Dive, From a Board Three Feet in the Air 91 Robert O’Connell Smiling at Serious Things: An Evening with Dave King
Daniel Penny On the Body Parallel On the Edge of Twenty
Eleanor Stevens Varsity Insomnia 79 A Place in Mike’s World 129 Quinn Underriner Wassily, Wassily 22 Hannah Taylor Wild Animals 101 Anika Wasserman Teresa 21
Drew Ohringer Stein’s Woman 63 v
ART Tyler Banas Morning Glory Eruption
Caroline Froh Untitled 127 35
Hannah Bernard Chicago 123 Catherine Bisignano Hindustani Parivar 124 Colin Brooks Krumm Star Swirl 26 Underneath the Train 59 Soft Smoke 82 Night Docking 121 Untitled 126 Eva Dawson Hands 49 Leah Dawson Catacombs 27 Andy Delany House Duality 32 Fisher at Rifle Falls 49 Jump 71 vi
Ian Gold Teach 122 Linnea Hurst Untitled 125 Iulia Iordache Letâ€™s Talk About Freedom
Lily Jamaludin Untitled 39 Sara Kay Ode to Jonney 110 Ethan Kenvarg Justin and Nicole 83 Jumi 106 Abraham Kohrman Untitled 30 Untitled 38 Untitled 52 Untitled 67
Andy Lange Home Away 107 Lea Marolt Sonnenschein Caught in the Moment
Colin McCallum-Cook Morning at Bellâ€™s Beach 28 Fox Glacier 53 Justin Miller Hand 31 Susanna Moller Purple Teeth 34 Caleb Neubauer Still Damp 29
Emily Stanfield Badlands 25 Custer 56 Sara at the Badlands 111 Eleanor Stevens I Live in My Head
Annie Tempest Swing Low 58 Peaks 62 Noodles on Line 1 86 Thing 3 128 Cassidy White Triangles 31
Daniel Penny Untitled 67 Untitled 87 Ben Schwamb Untitled 70
Letter from the Editors We’ll just be honest: we wish writing this Letter was as fun as, say, playing a marathon game of Calvinball ought to be. Or as simple as turning a cardboard box into a Time Machine. Or as easy as flipping the same box over for a Transmogrifier. But, alas, it is not, and we’re itching to get out there and play and bet you haven’t even bothered reading this far down, so we’ll just start thanking people. We would like to express continued thanks to the members of the Writing and Art Committees, who didn’t even get Pagliai’s this year—we owe you extra now; the board of SPARC, especially Bingxi Wu for lending the dough; Tilly Woodward, for opening up Faulconer Gallery for our Open Mic event and for staying to listen; Margaret Allen, for unlocking Bob’s again, which we’re so glad still exists; Jim Miller and everyone at Pioneer Graphics for making the actual bookpart possible and for having endless amounts of patience; the English department for their splendid release parties; and Mike and Mario, for haunting us at every step. Finally, we’d like to give the most gargantuan of thanks to the writers, poets, artists, and photographers whose work make this whole publication not only possible, but worth its very existence. Keep making stuff.
Your most humble editors, Andy Delany & Caleb Neubauer
“Other kids’ games are all such a bore! They’ve gotta have rules and they gotta keep score! Calvinball is better by far! It’s never the same! It’s always bizarre! You don’t need a team or a referee! You know that it’s great, ‘cause it’s named after me!” The Calvinball Song, by Calvin and Hobbes, and the great Bill Watterson
Tusks Joe Hiller The man who killed my father wore a handlebar mustache, a thick black handlebar mustache. Well, that’s what I heard, and I liked the image enough that I believed it. The night after the officer knocked on our door, followed immediately by a handful of relatives and some sundry business associates and the masses of lingering acquaintances that turn up at death, I stood at the sink, my arms soaped past the wrists, scrubbing sancocho from the spoons. My mother was resting in her bedroom and my mind drifted in the quiet. The hot water aggravated the tender places where the skin pulled back from my fingernails, but I didn’t mind—it was good to wash dishes, to stack the clean ones on the edge of the counter in squat tidy piles. I was just moving to the bowls when I heard a sharp tap at the door. Before I could shake the suds from my forearms, Juancho, mi primo, my mother’s sister’s second son, rolled into the house, his open shirt hovering about his ribs. The smell of sweat, axel grease and fried food filled the space around him. He poked me in the stomach with a plastic CocaCola bottle full of sugarcane liquor—the sort that curls sweetly at the base of your belly—and shooed me outside. With a twirl, he sprawled into the nicer of the two hammocks suspended from the iron beams of our roof, leaving me to half-lean against the tattered wreck my mother refused to throw away. “Listen, primo, you oughta know what happened to your dad,” he began. “I mean de verdad—none of that sanitized shit they feed you for the obituaries.” Juancho didn’t put much faith in the inky formalities of the police report, and he didn’t trust the newspapers a whole lot either. “Nobody’s gonna tell you everything, so don’t trust ‘em if they pretend to,” he’d say, arching his eyebrows and creasing his lips in cynical little angles. His face was still young—he was nineteen in September—but if you caught him in the right light you could see the fine web of wrinkles that was beginning to creep across his brow, his forehead ridged like a piece of paper that’d been bent and smoothed over again. On weekday mornings Juancho hawked watermelons and pineapples from a rickety box strapped to the frame of his bicycle. At a panadería across the plaza, a young woman sold coffee and sweet rolls from a crisp white case. My father was her most regular customer. Not because her stuff was the best—it wasn’t—but because she had stunning breasts and wore low-cut blouses underneath her aprons. My father’s adulterous longings were no secret—my mother could read his lust in the way his breath tightened each time he went out for coffee. She wasn’t concerned, though; we all knew my father had too much paunch and too little money to woo anyone so sensual.
But my father was a persistent man, or perhaps just an unrealistic one, so Juancho saw him most mornings. “Pero te lo juro, this time was different, you know?” Juancho poured some of the liquor into his mouth, wiping his cheeks on his sleeves. “Normally your dad came by and raised his hand and said ‘Pues, Juanchito, where’d you find that pineapple? You know it looks like shit, right?’ and then he’d go off laughing like a maldita hyena. On that day, though, he didn’t even look up. Just stared at his feet. I figured he was hung over, or maybe just pissed at something, the old prick.” Juancho paused and ran his fingers through his hair. He inspected his fingernails, one by one, hand held near his face. Juancho had a vain streak. “They got him when he came out of the panadería. Zoomed by on a motorcycle. The driver wore a helmet that covered his face, but the guy on the back didn’t bother. He had this waxy black mustache, looked like you could cut it off, flip it around, and stick it on the hood of a car like some kinda ornament. Ridiculous.” Juancho flicked his toothpick towards the street. “Your dad didn’t try to run or anything. He just stood there sipping his coffee. Then bratt bratt and he crumpled, a couple of little red spots blooming across his shirt.” Juancho straightened his arm, extended his thumb and pointer finger, and rattled his tongue against the roof of his mouth. I looked over at him. His naked chest was craggy in the broken light. He swung over to punch me in the shoulder and let out a hoarse guffaw, like a lanky crow. “Naw, shit man, te estoy jodiendo,” he coughed. “Your dad took off sprinting soon’s he saw the fuckers on the motorcycle, but they gunned him down no problem. He left a trail of those little flat pastries scattered behind him.” I tried to smile, but my lips felt fat and hot and uncooperative. I leaned deeper into the cords of the hammock, relishing the places where its knots bit into my back. The grin faded from Juancho’s face as he took another long pull from the Coca Cola bottle. “At least he didn’t piss himself. Lots of people do that.” Juancho lifted his legs and let momentum rock him back and forth, his hands crossed under his armpits, the bottle nestled by his crotch. After a minute or so, he held the bottle out for me to take. The homemade alcohol felt warm in my hand and burned a rut in my throat. A feral dog loped by, its skin marbled by mange, its nails click-clicking on the stones long after it disappeared into the hazy edges of the night. Eventually, Juancho got up and walked back inside. I followed him to the door. We didn’t say much to each other as he left, but when I tried to hand him the bottle, a few shots still swirling around its base, he smacked the back of my head and called me an idiot. I bolted the door behind him and went back to the kitchen. Everything was disheveled, and suddenly I hated the mess. I couldn’t stand the stale remnants of bread and cake crumbled across the table, the rings of fruit juice overlapping on the windowsills in a sticky 12
film. I was tired, but I scrubbed until late. I had to. By the time I folded myself into the sofa in the front room to sleep, my knuckles were sensitive and red, as if my hands had been crying. We buried my father the next Sunday. It was a hot afternoon, the sky pale and empty, our shadows stark and flat against the jagged grass. The cemetery sprawled across an old hillside that lurched from the lowlands before sinking again into the banks of the river like an exhausted beast. Clusters of gaudy red flowers and shabby crucifixes glimmered garishly across its flanks. From its highest point you could see the fires of the oil refinery burning in the distance—my father used to say that ghosts got drunk on the fumes and partied there, and that’s why the air above the flames danced and shook. They had carved my father’s name—Alberto Miguel Vialez—into the gravestone in amateur cursive; the forced floweriness of its loops and curls made me want to spit. My mother whimpered as they lowered him into the ground, rolling her rosary in a sweaty palm and suppressing her sobs. “That, that…man,” she heaved, and my aunt circled an arm around her waist. In the heat, the neck of my borrowed suit began to prickle, as if a line of ants were picking its way across my collarbones. I clasped my hands behind my back. Sweat flecked my chin and left it shiny. We had to end the service early when a group of delincuentes marched in, pants hanging off their skinny asses, to bury one of their own. They blasted Puerto Rican reggaetón and yelled slurs at each other. One kid held a baseball bat in his left hand, nodding it absentmindedly as he walked, its dinged silvery aluminum thicker than his arm. At the back of the funeral party, almost out of sight, a pair of gray-haired women staggered solemnly, the worn cloth of their dresses fluttering lightly around their knees; above their mouths their cheekbones curled inwards like dry leaves. I watched as one stumbled on a bit of exposed root and caught herself against the other’s waist. Juancho pointed with his chin and hissed under his breath as we escorted our grandmother through the gates and back down the hill towards town. “Probably some dipshit prepubescent tipo knifed before his balls dropped.” “I just hope he got buried in something nice,” I muttered back. I didn’t want to imagine the two old women kneeling to pray over a scrawny torso wrapped in some sweat-stained, sleeveless jersey—I didn’t want that vulgarity reflected in their rheumy eyes. The delincuentes were coarse and universally despised, but even they had to have some dignity. Even them, even just a little. Three days after the funeral, I bought a gun. It was a small thing with a snub nose, but its weight felt menacing in my hand. Juancho lent me the money. “For protection,” I told him. 13
“Don’t stick your hand up your own ass, primo,” was all he said as he handed me the wad of raggedy bills. My mother found it a week later, wrapped in a sock and nestled in one of my boots. “I don’t like it,” she said, her fingertips tracing parallel lines against the flesh of her upper arms. “No, no I don’t like it at all.” But when she disappeared out the front door that afternoon, she left the gun spinning softly on the kitchen table, and she never asked about it again. Lots more people were killed around the same time as my father. It was a bad time. Bodies began appearing at the garbage dump a mile or so from our house, their hands bound with strips of barbed wire, their faces twisted and torn. Nobody walked around at night. That is, nobody walked around but the wacked-out basuco addicts, and nobody cared what happened to them. Shit, with their lips and tongues and eyelids flaking and their skin stretched tight across their veins, those damn drogadictos probably cared least of all. They were already halfway gone, just waiting for someone to sever the cord that held them to earth so they could float all the way up, leaving their itchy shells for the dogs. I kept going to school until my uncle, Juancho’s father, found a death threat tacked to the door of his tiny internet spot-cumcopy shop, Todo Copia. My uncle meant the name as a pun on the Mercedes Sosa song, “Todo Cambia,” but I don’t think anybody got it—aside from the weepy vallenato that streamed ubiquitously from taxicabs and the hymns we hummed for mass, music wasn’t a big thing in that part of the country. My uncle used to sit in the back of the shop, behind a grimy glass window, watching reruns of Los Simpsons while chewing his thumbnail. He wore round glasses and collared shirts buttoned to the very top. Not many people came in, but whenever someone did, my uncle would stand up and wave them to a seat with a solemn stooping bow. I saw him bow like that since I was little, but I could never tell if the gesture was in earnest or some sort of obscure private joke. My uncle could be a quirky man. The death threat was printed in capital letters on a fresh sheet of computer paper. It read: LUIS FLOREZ CARDONA EL GUERILLERO CAMUFLOJADO SERÁ JODIDO DE UNA TODOS LOS HIJUEPUTAS QE LE AYUDAN TAMBIEN MATAMOS NI UN SBVERSIVO ESCAPARÁ (LUIS FLOREZ CARDONA THE CAMOFLUGED GUERRILLA WILL BE FUCKED UP ALL THE SONSABITCHES THT HELP HIM WE WILL ALSO KILL NOT A SINGLE SBVERSIVE ESCAPES) 14
My uncle’s name was Silvio—nobody had ever heard of LUIS FLOREZ CARDONA—but that didn’t matter. My uncle couldn’t stay. My aunt left with him, as did Juancho and his two younger sisters. They gathered their things and went to live with a friend in the capital. It was years before I saw them again. Before they left, I helped my uncle lift the computers and scanners into cardboard boxes lined with squeaking white foam. The boxes were deformed and their flaps didn’t quite meet in the middle; through the uneven slits I could see our faces and hands reflected glassily on the screens. When the shop was open, my uncle kept his computers in a narrow oval facing towards the center of the room, to prevent all but the most shameless from looking at indecent things on the internet. Still, some desperate teenagers would block his gaze with a folder and set to devouring the images of perfect nubile bodies they’d pull up on the screens, giving themselves away when they let their hands drift to knead the rising stiffness in their pants. “It’s not la pornografía you gotta worry about,” I once heard my uncle tell my father, “but los virus.” For a long time after that, I burned to know what he meant—I imagined quivering men clicking on pictures of breasts and breaking out with sudden sweaty illness, or keyboards contaminated with the lewd colds and gripes of accumulated sins of the flesh. Whenever my nose started to run or my throat bunch up with phlegm, I’d wonder about dirty computers and naked women and fantasize about sneaking into the shop at night to scroll through filthy forbidden pages. Sometimes, if I was alone, the thoughts made my stomach lighten and I’d feel the strain of arousal against my underwear and I’d go off to the bathroom to pull myself into silent heaving release, leaving the clumped strands clinging to the hairs in my belly button like the leftovers of a sneeze in a handkerchief. When my uncle and I had everything packed up, we wrapped the cardboard in bands of tape, sealing the metal and plastic and our shadowy reflections inside. We stacked the boxes in the back of a truck—they now belonged to some off-the-books businessman who bought bulk electronics and paid in cash. After the truck pulled away, my uncle closed Todo Copia’s door and turned the key in its lock. Moving jerkily, he spat on the ground, bit the lining of his cheeks, and threw his fist against the wall with all his weight, leaving shreds of skin on the side of the building. As his hand began to bleed, he lifted it to eye level and watched without speaking as a fine red stream rippled down his knuckles to stain the front of his shirt. I leaned on one leg a little ways off, trying not to watch. When Juancho and Uncle Silvio fled, their fruit and copyshop money left with them, and I had to find work. My mother didn’t say as much, but I could feel the strain in the way she scraped the bottom of the rice pot, whipping the wooden spoon back and forth til I thought the handle would snap. When I spied her refilling her empty perfume bottle with water from the tap, bubbles sputtering as the liquid trickled through its minute neck, I couldn’t bear it any longer. I went first to the padre at our church. He had an answer to my question before I finished asking. “Well it’s good of you to come see me! I know of a trabajito just right for a decent young man!” The padre had a habit of ending 15
each sentence with an upward tilt of his head and a steep rise in the pitch of his voice. He wore a bright gold band around each finger and his thinning hair seemed to flounce even when he stood still. “Sí, just right, just right!” He continued. “You will sweep the chapel here, and also the one at Santa Isilda. Three times a week!” Santa Isilda was twenty kilometers away, through dirt and muck whenever it rained. There were no buses that way on Sundays, so I’d have to hitch a ride or walk. I flexed my jaw when the padre told me how much he was offering for pay. “But, mijo, the work of God has its own rewards!” He lifted his hands in praise, his palms to the sky. I thanked him for his time and turned curtly on my heel. I passed a crippled beggar woman stretched out on a faded blanket as I left the church. We both kept our eyes on the ground as I walked by. After class the next week I spoke with the math teacher, Señor Renoa, a gruff barrel of a man who worked nights running security for the oil refinery up the river. He drove a flashy car, a sleek black late-model SUV, and parked it with two wheels up on the sidewalk in front of the school. A thick gold chain swung on his neck and a fat silver watch circled his wrist. He dripped with indiscreet wealth, but I don’t think he was ever robbed—men that overt were never careless enough to leave themselves vulnerable. “Disculpe, Señor.” I tried to keep my voice low and even, but sweat pooled on my brow. “What?” Señor Renoa didn’t look up from his papers. “Well, I was hoping there might be a job out at the refinery. My father was shot, you know, and things are get—” “You have a car? A motorbike? Don’t be a punk—you think you gonna just walk there after school?” Señor Renoa had a small patch of white hair, the size of a thumbprint, near the crown of his head. They said it was from when a bullet grazed his scalp. “Pues, no, but I know the buses. I want to work in the daytime.” Señor Renoa set his pen down and looked up at me, measuring my shoulders with his gaze. I had grown a bit in the last months, and my chest was starting to broaden. “Kid, listen, we got a couple of openings, but all unregulated shit, off the clock and nada seguro.” He eyed my face. “Your mom know you quittin’ school?” “Of course,” I lied. “You’re serious? Don’t screw with me—if I pull this thing together for you, well, tú sabes…” The words drifted off, but his glare cut hotly into my cheeks. “You know how it is. My reach only goes so far.” “Sí, I know.” I was bluffing, but only a little. Nobody gave jobs as charity—favors were spiked with obligations, layered one under the other, never revealing themselves directly. They were like the water that gurgled in the stream behind our houses: every now and again the refinery would spill something clear and noxious and a kid would die, doubled-up and covered in yellowy shit, but we still went swimming when the heat became too much. 16
Señor Renoa sat silently for a minute, running his meaty thumbs over his knuckles, before reaching under his desk and unlatching a drawer. He pulled out a slip of paper and wrote down an address, then handed it to me. “Meet there early tomorrow. Take the first bus.” As I turned to go, he lunged forward and seized my arm, spinning me with unexpected force. I staggered against a chair as he wrinkled his formidable eyebrows and hissed, “Bring a gun if you have one. And wear boots.” The bus brought me outside town, through the green oceans of sugarcane to a little island of ramshackle structures roofed with palm. I got out where I was told to meet my employer, at an open-air restaurant called El Serrano. I wore black rubber boots that came up to my knees and a short-sleeved polo shirt that used to have something sewn into the chest—a company logo maybe—but it was so worn that it was impossible to tell what it used to say. I’d jammed my pistol, its cartridge full of the six rounds I owned, into my pocket. A man seated in the shade at the rear of the restaurant beckoned me over. He was wearing dark pants, military boots, and a wide leather belt with a silver buckle that glimmered wetly, like frogs’ eyes. His shirt was tucked into his pants and he wore a camouflaged vest covered in bulging pockets. As I went to shake his hand and introduce myself, he raised his wrist to check his watch, leaving my hand hanging foolishly in the air. “How were the roads?” He asked quietly. “Alright. The mud’s worse than it’s been.” He nodded his head and stood up. Only then did I realize how big he was—the man was enormous, a good half meter taller than me. The tendons of his neck jumped from his dust-lined skin like vines against bark. He turned his back and began to walk away from me, toward the fields opposite the road. For such a large man, he moved with grace, almost daintiness. I followed him, the soles of my feet wrinkling inside my boots. We picked our way down a narrow path, thick with cow shit and hoof prints, until we came to a clearing by a mango tree. Beneath the tree were three men grouped around a filthy Land Rover. They held short-wave radios with long antennae and grinned when they saw us. “Mira, he’s young, isn’t he?” The nearest man took the cigarette out of his mouth and threw it on the ground. He smiled ambiguously—either threatening or welcoming, I couldn’t tell which. “Victor sent him,” the tall man declared without intonation, and the others stepped back, tilting their heads to see me better. “He wants work.” I straightened my spine and set my jaw to keep my mouth from twitching. Crisp patches of sun speared the ground through the 17
mango leaves. My gaze fell to a trail of ants as they dragged an eviscerated beetle carcass in and out of the shade. I felt my fingers tense around the handle of the gun in my pocket. “Time to go. Vamos.” The men opened the car doors, shattering dried rivulets of mud, and stepped into the vehicle. They left room for me to hunch on the slick floorboards between the two front seats. No one spoke as we bounced and skittered over the rough trail, though sometimes the radios would emit rude bursts of static. The men stank like cattle, all dirt and steamy musk. “We have a squatter settlement to evict,” the tall man said suddenly, never taking his eyes off the road. “You will guard the car. You have a gun, yes? Shoot in the air if anyone approaches. Me entiendes? Anyone. And if they keep coming, shoot so that they stop.” “You won’t have to shoot nobody today, though,” one of the men behind me muttered, leaning in close so his damp breath draped my neck. “We’ll keep ‘em movin’ the other way.” He snorted and sat back to straighten his fraying bandana. I started to ask a question but thought better of it and cut myself off. The tall man saw my movement and spoke once more, with the same clipped precision. “Squatters,” he pronounced, “breed lawlessness. Besides that, they are fodder for Marxists. They fall for lies or for force. We show them force.” I bent my neck in a nod. We pulled off the track twenty minutes later, near a kink in the river. The men jumped down, swinging their arms and jiggling their shoulders after the confined ride. They opened the trunk and slid out three long rifles and some sort of machine gun. The guns were a soft black and far cleaner than the hands that held them. The tall man reiterated his instructions to me and set off across the river, stalking like a heron through the mud. The others smacked me sharply but not unkindly across the back and followed the tall man, guns held high, in a tiny, baleful parade. They disappeared through the high grasses on the opposite bank, leaving me alone. I clambered on top of the Land Rover and took out my pistol. Laid across my palm, it seemed to grow darker and denser, contracting like the center of an eye in the light. Shouts and shots began to drift across the river. Nothing distinct, but if I listened close I could hear harsh yells and the crackle of panic. Soon I smelled smoke and started to feel woozy in the glaring light. With no shade, the metal beneath me grew hot and stung the backs of my legs. A speck of a vulture rode spirals of wind round and round the sun. I counted its circuits until my eyes were bleary, wondering when the men would be back. Abruptly, my gaze leapt to the grass on the opposite bank—something had rustled against the dense green wall and then retreated. I scanned the foliage, my belly dipping and my hands balled into fists. Had I seen anything, or was it just the wind? The grass shivered again, almost imperceptibly, and then, as I stared, a long narrow face began to emerge, deep mahogany eyes followed by a pair 18
of twisted horns and a rough mane, streaked with black. The ram raised its nose and sniffed in my direction. I didn’t move. The ram was handsome, sleek in a wild way, almost haughty in its bearing. It pawed at the earth and arched its back to trail its beard in the dirt. Above us, the vulture kept circling. Without warning, the ram exploded from the riverbank in a churning, frenzied gallop. It hurtled through the water and up onto the shore, barreling past the Land Rover and breaking sharply left to disappear amidst the fields that stretched in dense patchwork to the edges of the valley. Before the surface of the river could smooth itself, I heard running footsteps and a girl surged from the grass. She wore a tattered print dress and was barefoot, her toes squelching in the muck. She was lean and dark and her face gave no clues about her age—she could have been fifteen or twenty-five or somewhere in between. She froze when she saw me. We looked at each other. With a single swift curling of her elbow, she slapped at a fly on her neck, rupturing the languorous quiet. Her toe nudged a grasshopper and it launched itself, whirring, from the ground at her feet. Slowly, gingerly, I squatted and closed my fingers around the grip of the gun. She followed my motions with her eyes and let her arm fall to her waist. I stood with the pistol and raised it in an arc above my head, pointing it toward the vulture in the sky. The girl’s chest heaved under her dress. There was a tear down the side of the fabric and, when she inhaled, I could see a jagged faultline of pale brown skin racing from below her waist up to the side of her breast. Desire thickened my fear as blood washed through my body in a torrent. I could feel myself stiffen. I thought about what the men would do if they came back to find me and the girl and an unfired gun. Perspiration slickened my armpits and dampened the legs of my pants. My shoulder began to cramp from holding the gun at so awkward an angle. I prayed that the girl would retreat on her own, that she would run away, that she would follow the ram into the green abyss of sugarcane behind her, but she just stood and stared, immobile, challenging. My heart beat wild rhythms against my ribs as I lifted the barrel of the gun higher, unswerving, tilting it past my ear. When I could reach no more, I pulled its trigger. The recoil sent painful reverberations through my joints, but she didn’t flinch. Only the whites of her eyes flickered. Dust and gunpowder irritated my nose and I felt a sneeze build behind my sinuses. I crunched my jaws together to hold it off, but it erupted from me like a bellow. It seemed ridiculous to sneeze with a gun in my hand—it made me feel trifling, like a child at play, and I shook my head fiercely to clear the twitching haze from my head. When I looked back at the girl I thought I saw a smirk leave her face, and something about her boldness made me furious. Why had she not fled? What was keeping her here? Had the men sent her as a test? What was this? The girl took a step forward. I waved my hands, as if to warn her away, but my motions seemed flimsy, insubstantial, and I grew angrier. I wanted her to be afraid. Instead she took another step, delicately but confidently, and mud bubbled under her shifting weight. I lowered the pistol even 19
with her sternum. The expression on her face didn’t change, but her chest began to rise and fall more rapidly and her nostrils flared like blooming orchids. She lifted her leg to step again. I closed my eyes. The sunlight dappled the insides of my eyelids, its radiance trailing across the darkness like flat white pastries on pavement. I breathed deeply and smelled my mother’s perfume and the mustiness inside Todo Copia until my own wafting adrenaline stench overwhelmed my reverie and brought me back to the slippery metal in my hand. I exhaled through my nostrils. I heard a shot. I opened my eyes to see the armed men swarming back across the river, laughing and whapping each other. I realized I was still holding the gun outstretched, pointing at the river, so I lowered it to my side. The girl was gone. I had frantic visions of her trapped beneath the current, trampled by the men and their thick-soled boots, her eyes open and her blood streaming in delicate ribbons from a single pierced flap of breast and back. I saw her body floating downstream, buoyed by its own putrescence and nibbled by fish, her hair a matted wreath around her skull. I wondered about her family, if she had cousins, if she had children, if they had eyes like hers. But the men said nothing about her, and so neither did I. The girl was gone. We boarded the Land Rover, the men now funky with acrid gunsmoke and oil and terror, and rolled back to town. The men bought me beers, pale and glistening like chipped amber, and congratulated me for not shitting myself. The tall man slipped me an envelope full of crisp bills and another address. On the outside of the envelope, in fine red pen, he wrote a date early the next week. “We will see you then,” he announced, rolling his tongue dryly against his lips. “No need to bring that tiny handgun. We will have something for you next time.” I smiled at him. A strange pride tingled in my gut. The men dropped me off at a brightly lit supermarket. With two of the bills in my pocket, I bought a whole chicken, already roasted and crisp, and a new bottle of perfume. I took a taxi home. I tore into the chicken as I rode in the back seat, pulling at it with my hands and teeth, savoring the rich snap of the bones in its wings. The perfume I left on my mother’s pillow.
Years later, I grew a mustache, a handlebar mustache thick and black, like a pair of tusks.
there is nothing thicker than blood it makes you move it is doing things inside you that even you do not know races and takes your breath in dreams that dark history brew in mine my father has a face that could stop a clock holding my heart in his grip it bulges between his fingers i should run but remain unmoved until it slips from his grasp into my throat hot wet fear churning down my veins dancing with doubt i don’t know what i will see if i peer down into the depths it is an all-out war my blood makes my body a prison fight until revolution has risen
Her glass pressed firm against cracked lips Painted a daring fuchsia, the brightest hue of the evening No competition for the radiance of her eyes Few men can resist their hypnotizing rumba Teresa is the kind who hates white flowers Who hates white houses You can tell She likes to see people breath fire Too much Texas hold ‘em Not enough Jim Beam The motion of her mouth is moonshine Hiding embers under her own tongue I am sure of it Like blacksmith’s heat She shapes me
Below the first cut. Lily Jamaludin Paris was beautiful, donâ€™t you remember? We tap-danced under street-lights, holding hands, faces flushed, the rues running down for miles. Our lungs were bursting like trapped stars. But small towns, they can break you, you were Never the type of person to find stars Trapped in a cyclic sky, anyway. You have found, instead, broken bathroom locks and bitter-cold bottles, olive-glazed eyes and sweet-smelling cylinders, rolled into the crooked shapes of grey arms holding you down, breathing hot down your throat. I want to hold you down, cut you open But I am afraid I will find someone elseâ€™s heart beating with a falling vigor in your ever-shrinking ribcage or, worse yet, deeper down: not muscle but a thousand little mirrors. 22
Wassily, Wassily Quinn Underriner Certain days you cried when you saw Moscow Blue tears that would balloon to the size of brush-heads Before sliding off and beginning a holding pattern in your field of vision Ringing high with a tremulous treble You wept blood as the axis lost its center And this time the balloons would not let go Lofting you over symphonies conducted by Blue Riders Barely able to keep your eyes open as the tears multiplied for the bassoons and cellos who had waited years to be seen with hearing eyes Playing for themselves in between the August heat
Grandmother Tessa Cheek I am stomached ached and aching, Read Kaminsky, whisper, save me, save me, Save me. Grandmother, if I picture you now It is only swimming, At night, In a lit-up pool Some ways outside Sienna. Already you are ancient, a shoutingout wraith in paper skin. You swim in your under clothes They are white, Voluminous. And the light shines through You, pearly and green. You are luminous, everywhere Glowing, hair like Downy fire.
I am not such an extrovert. I like a clean house and An empty room to share with A Russian poet. Grandmother, Please whisper to me the secret Of being secret. Of yelling only on What you do not love, or its converse, Its twin, a sacred, innumerable silence.
Cutting Lunch Erica Hauswald Sometimes, you smelled like cheesesteaks from lunch, and your hair hung limp and long as if it had sucked in that grease. We put down the armrest and arched over it, uncomfortable. I bent my spine back, keeping one eye always on the rearview, watching for vehicles with blacked-out windows, men with bagged liquor who parked all over this city, always watching and ready to stop. Blue Bell Field clearing a space in the oaks, off the Wissahickon where cars wrapped themselves around street lights and the tin can aluminum of guardrails. Back then, you still called yourself bisexual, 24
while I said nothing to anyone at all. The glare of sun yellowed the leather, making the springtime car overripe, rotting, stripping us of any intent to hideâ€” Because, of course, where would we go but the softball fields, that dusty city lot they exiled female athletes to? The laced balls trapped under the seats rattled, rolling from one side to the other, rocking, never settling, as I held you in my hands like grapefruit, peeling through the pores, subdued by your eagerness, heaving with the overscent of citrus.
Badlands | Emily Stanfield | Digitally Manipulated C-Print
Krumm Star Swirl | Colin Brooks | Digital Photograph
Catacombs | Leah Dawson | Digital Photograph
Morning at Bellâ€™s Beach | Colin McCallum-Cook | Digital Photograph
Still Damp | Caleb Neubauer | Monotype
Untitled | Abraham Kohrman | Digital Photograph
Triangles | Cassidy White | Digital Photograph
Hand | Justin Miller | Wax and Plaster Bandage
House Duality | Andy Delany | Digitally Manipulated Solarized Silver-Gelatin Prints
A Day at Barney’s (Chickens) Joe Hiller Knives feel different in my hands now. The weight, the heft, the pull of metal on tissue reverberate like echoes in the dull plastic of the handle and across the blade as I look back at myself graying eyes drift above some nebulous splotch of flesh while curled underneath simmering below the skin my fingers tremble imperceptibly.
Justin Miller Offensively helpless, the newborn mice lay on the bed, and tried to wave hello, like four fat fingertips on the floral sheets. Sly revulsion tip-toed up from my guts, and shyly met my craning neck. Sitting unripe and almost featureless, nubs of mottled flesh with smaller mottled nubs, pre-vestiges of future limbs, these exotic fruit were breathing, but almost too shallowly to tell. Their ribs, soft and trembling, and puffy, rosy rind were proof of fragile animal life. Some natal blood, a sacrilege on linen, indicated freshness. Plucking them with practicality, my grandpa strode over to the toilet and flushed them.
¹ Newborn mice—having not grown hair yet, the skin appears pink.
Purple Teeth | Susanna Moller | Watercolor, Salt
Morning Glory Eruption | Tyler Banas | Digital Photograph
Stephen’s Keys Eva Dawson Under haggard stairs a door opens without keys Crinkled sheets and puckered cases around the placid piano Like a drooping neocortex, crowded with too many wrinkles, Too many thoughts at once. When it’s time to hush Dad drags gaunt fingers through a lawn of unkempt hair. Silence between cups of coffee, thinking, he crosses his knees. Morning sun slaps his Danish skin red, from cheeks to knees. NPR sounds squirm from a silver box and dad looks for his keys. Considering a song for class while shaving spiny hairs From a dapper chin, he forgets a chord and steps back to the piano. Students strain to catch his blue notes like droplets: splash. They hush, Feeling each vibration wobble and rest in the plush tissue of wrinkled Lungs. What is reserved between his wrinkles? Outwardly, he lives in his mom’s skyscraper body, equipped with snapping knees. She gave him blood tainted, whiskey brimming sights and he hushed. Each consumed capsule and cigarette grappled and caged with a key; Boyhood bound and suspended by the taut strings of a piano. Music birthed relief, spreading from the pit of his gut to the ends of his hairs.
Obstructing the screaming, Merle Haggard’s voice hushed Dad down. Loretta Lynn reached through the radio to caress his hair. Sound sleep came by dreams of Lennon’s fingers on keys. New fervor unearthed through the grooves between Al Green’s wrinkles. Hiding from clashing shields of kin, he put his face between knees And between squeezed lids saw glimpses of his first piano. Dad left Idaho for Boston, Boston for the Midwest, grass and gravel in his hair. He harmonized with the engine and rhymed with the wrinkles In the leather steering wheel, looking for somewhere to put his piano. Chancing Chicago, he learned to sing. Guitar propped on knee, Shouting at recollection with perfect intonation. Losing his car keys, He decided to stay. The city brought stillness, made his mind hush. Tonight pink and blue lights splatter him speckled, at the piano. Bubbles of sound expand and explode, floating over one hundred hushed Mouths. A fanfare of lyrics march on, making the stiffest knees Chatter, like sweaty palms and chewed nails and hairs Standing skyward. He smiles, exposing new wrinkles. Fingers dance like the Bolshoi across a floor littered with keys. Leaving the bar, dad reaches for his keys. Lingering notes sew, with hair-thin Stitches, between the delicate wrinkles in his brain. Home, at his piano, Rubbing tired knees, he breathes a limp “hush,” inwards.
Untitled | Abraham Kohrman | Digital Photograph
Untitled | Lily Jamaludin | Manipulated Digital Photographs
Betting Erik Jarvis Goliath delivers one more potent quotable and brute sashays to the dirt, his eyes and teeth dust swollen, and Davidâ€™s skipped the pitch before the mirror comes up breathless, hopped on his motorcycle and buzzsawed through the desert to the tune of a slinky piano and trombone that sounded like it was made from tin shed rusted shingles. The bookies fuming, frothing white hot venom from blistered lips. He was supposed to drop after the third stone. Joe Smiley Patterson sulks like only a double-or-nothing man does, chewing through his cigar and grinding his two gold teeth. 40
David ditches the slingshot at the county market and sparks a special smoke for the underdog victors. Kahlua and coffee, quick piss tip the clerk to keep his trap shut. And he rides on, naming constellations and blessing the stones he threw.
Accident Dylan Fisher He started inevitably and unequivocally with a single pack of baseball cards. In a colorful fury of silver plastic, they revealed themselves as waxy, sparkling surreal. They were numbers and statistics. Enlightening numbers and statistics. Thousands of numbers and statistics. Comforting and sliding through his fingers they made beautiful sense. He would lock himself in his room and warp the rough wood floor in a carpet of Topps, Fleer, Upper Deck—statistics. He organized the cards by date, company, record number into plastic protective sheets, which fit into binders. The binders went into boxes that he pushed beneath his bed. Soon he sought out more cards, stuffing them under his pillow. He pulled a tooth for a card. He lied for a card. He bit and punched and kicked for a card. And he pushed them under his pillow, beneath his bed as if he hoped that the fame and glory of the statistics would glide through his ear canals, filling up his body with their infinite power. Maxwell Thomas Leonhart found himself buzzing at his desk. Throughout the day he completed his reports, slowly moving files from his inbox to his outbox. At one o’clock he took his break for lunch, carrying a brown paper bag to the break room for the daily staff meeting. In these meetings the entire warehouse—hundreds of workers—gathered in a large room. They sat around cumbersome loudspeakers from which they were fed speeches. Speeches about worker productivity, speeches about depression and anxiety, speeches about how these workers were essential to the human life cycle, speeches about time theft. At the conclusion of these meetings there was a period set aside for questions and inquiries. Questions were never asked, and so they filtered back, shuffling wordlessly to the cubicles. Today the meeting felt like ice cream melting under a warm sun. Soon it was nothing more than a puddle on hot cement. By the evening Max’s inbox was empty and he collected the files from his outbox. Max lumbered up to the office in the front of the room, opened the door, and handed over the files. “I quit,” he said and looked down at the floor. “I can’t do this anymore. No one should have this much power over the lives of others.” He waved an empty goodbye to the cubicles, and left the office, home to his condominium and his collections.
The next morning despite himself Max found himself walking into work. He did not want to be there. He wished that he could be coiled up within his bed or gone, disappeared on a boat in the middle of the ocean. He wished that the doors were locked, that his key-pass wouldn’t work. But, his key-pass was still active and the sliding doors opened with a gust of fallen dry leaves and wind. He snaked his way through the partitioned cubicles to find his workspace. “Hello co-workers.” He greeted his neighbors, expecting to see a tremor of surprise in their eyes, hoping to hear a stagger in their voice, desiring an indication of their shock and astonishment of his return. “It’s a busy day today.” The cubicle to his right spoke without hesitation or stagger or surprise. “Staff meeting at one, remember,” the man on his left mumbled, looking down at the file on his desk. Max too looked down at his desk. There were five new files waiting for him in his inbox. His desk was as he had left it. It had not been cleaned out following his resignation. He opened the top drawer to find his pens and pencils as they were the day before. In the lower drawer his collections—lists and sheets of papers remained, stacked and organized, as they had always been. Max sat down. “Welcome.You must be Maxwell.” A tall young man in consuming glasses and a checkered shirt buttoned to the neck stood at the opening of a pair of metallic sliding doors. He must have seen the wonder on Max’s old face, because with the ease and concision of someone who knew his job too well, he said, “we don’t have many unexpected visitors, you see.” They silently passed a man smoking a cigarette and they were then inside. They silently passed a small secretary’s desk and walked into a long white corridor, surrounded by cubicles. The man stopped. “This is where you will work,” the man repeated. “You are no longer an employee at a decaying sporting goods store. Each and every person sitting before you plays an integral part in the cycle of human life.You are more important than the pastry chef late at night, making donuts for red-faced customers the next day.You are more important than the philanthropist, saving children starving, dying naked and alone. Because you, Maxwell.You decide their fates.” Max said, “I cannot determine people’s destinies. Chance happens. The accident is human.” “There are no accidents.” Max breathed heavily. Max resumed his work and at the end of the day he collected the files from his outbox and walked himself to the office at the helm of the columns of cubicles. His superior, a small man with balding brown hair, sat large behind an undersized table. Max handed him the files. “I quit,” he said. 42
“I hear you,” replied his boss. The next day, Max was back at work, surrounded by hundreds of workers, at their desks, in their egg-white cubicles. He placed three files in his outbox, stood up, and informed the warehouse that his time has come. “I quit,” he told his boss. He collected. When he was a child, Max collected stuffed animals bursting with cotton padding and cardboard building blocks dyed with plastic colors. On behalf of the animals, he would build castles, fortresses, homes, and supermarkets—entirely complete communities. He would stage battles and wars and love affairs. Cities would be destroyed and then rebuilt. The stuffed bear—missing a button eye—would conquer and be conquered. The giraffe would love and hate and feel. And Max would feel. And in a second he could take them all apart. Break them all apart until they were just flowing colors and sizes and shapes ordered and controlled. Max was alone on top of his bed. Outside the air was cold, and callous wind howled and rattled the tree-lined streets of the East Brook Senior Community. Max had once searched for a brook, spending his free time traversing the backyards with swimming pools and paved walking paths. But, he had never found a brook, nor did he expect that there was one, aside from deep black asphalt river that snaked it’s way throughout the condominium community. He opened his eyes and his head pounded. His heart pounded heavy and deliberate. He felt his face and found that it was not that of the young man he dreamt himself to be within his sleep. Deep crevasses rolled about his cheeks and jaw. It was as if over the years the wind blowing outside had molded and sculpted his face. Now he was seventy-one years old and needed to prepare for another day of work. “I wish it was Sunday.” He mumbled to his pillow. Max walked to his worn dresser and changed into the same outfit that he wore every day. Black pleated pants. A lime-green polo shirt that in the right light made Max’s pale face look terribly ill. A name tag with the title Arbiter #252—his name incorrectly printed as Max Lionheart, which he never cared to change—was pinned onto a white baseball hat. The outfit was archaic, and not really worth the trouble. It was a relic from the days when the world was not organized and scheduled. From when Max was the assistant manager to the oldest branch of the West Valley Sporting Goods family. From when West Valley Sporting Goods was a second rate sporting goods store in the Green Village Mini-Mall, set between a large family-owned meat wholesaler and a small vacant shop which used to sell discount cell phones. But, today there were no customers to impress. There was no longer a West Valley Sporting Goods. One day, when the wind was blowing, Max arrived at work to find that the sporting goods, the soccer balls, the running shoes, had disappeared. The shelves were taken down and now there was a cubicle waiting for Max. He sat down on the plastic chair beneath his desk and began to work. 43
Max untied and loosened the laces to his sneakers, slid his feet into each shoe, and went about tightening each lace. From his condominium he took the bus to work. He sat beside his neighbors Mary Stevenson and Jim Fischer. The couple had met stealing pistachios from the supermarket—a story they told with much delight. It was only later, during whisperings late at night, that they realized all their loved ones were dead. And so these days they comforted each other about their losses. Between the black rubbery seats of the bus their hands gently rested together. The bus jumped around and the people changed, entering and exiting at each new stop, but their hands remained fixed and warm. Sometimes Max wished he could feel the warmth himself. Jim Fischer asked, “where’s your final destination?” He said the same thing every day. It defined him in a way, polite and unassuming. Counting down the days until his funeral, he said that God had a plan for him. God had a plan for everyone. “Work,” said Max. “I miss work,” said Jim Fischer Mary Stevenson said, “we’re going to the botanical gardens.” “Would you like to join us?” asked Jim Fischer. “Work,” said Max and he imagined Jim Fischer’s funeral and Mary’s grave face peering over the waxy body. “What are you doing these days?” asked Mary. “I’m working at Superior Consulting Services. At the mini-mall.” Max avoided discussing the specifics of his work. It required a discreetness that over the years he had perfected. “Don’t you miss your work?” said Mary to Jim Fischer. Max arrived at the building fifteen minutes early. He walked quickly through the electric sliding doors and into the bathroom, locking the door behind him. He spent the fifteen minutes reading the comics in the newspaper. Max arrived at the building right on time. Maggie caught him through the window. Like a child, she made a funny face towards him, throwing out her squirming tongue and scrunching her nose. He smiled, but mostly ignored her. She waved. And Max responded with a half nod and mumbled something about how the sunny weather has seemed the same for years. “Too bad the weekend’s over,” he said, not knowing where to look, and finding himself staring at the tiles before her feet. “I had a great weekend.” She smiled. Max had no response. Maggie’s name tag read Case Analyst #236. She was Case Analyst #236. Her teeth shone under graying brown hair. When Max looked into her eyes he saw her as a young woman. Long brown hair and finger nails painted different colors. Red and orange. Fire. Blue and purple. Water. He recalled her walking into West Valley Sporting Goods, her young face sparkling under her white hat and lime green polo. For many years they managed the shelves and sporting goods together. And for many years he 44
wanted to reach out and gently sweep her smooth skin with the tips of his fingers. And for many years he wanted to whisper to her his truest affections. To tell her of his truest love. When he looked into her eyes he saw her as a young woman. But rarely did he ever look into her eyes. He went into his cubicle—a windowless closet buried within all of the others, rows and rows of cubicles—and filled out his forms until the building was empty except for him. “I quit,” he told the empty building before he left. He was fascinated by watches. Max purchased one and then a second and then enough to fill his condominium with the pulsating movements of time. He had a waterproof sports watch. A Timex. A plastic neon green digital watch. A metal pocket watch he found in the cupboard—it was amazing the things one found in cupboards. On his left wrist he wore a fake gold Rolex, which long ago his dad had presented to him, a souvenir from a trip to the Far East. It was Max’s first watch and the one which he wore most closely to the thumping of his heart. At night he put these watches in an old cigar box and when he opened it up he could feel the whole world ticking, clicking along to the sweep of thousands of tiny second hands. Max was drunk in his condominium. “It’s been a while,” he joked with his TV, emitting a tired laugh that belonged to a vacant old man. He brought himself to his feet and stumbled across his kitchenette. The rooms spun in multicolored circles, as Max danced himself around the condo, taking careful precaution with delicate steps. Max enjoyed this. In these moments, he would say that he was giving his life to the gods. He would surrender his fate to the plastic bottle of whiskey. Max was back in his bed. Max turned on the light. On the wall stood a cockroach. It stood the size of a grown man and Max did not know what to do. So he allowed the alcohol to decide. The whiskey picked up a book detailing the indigenous fauna of Northern Australia. And then set it down. The whiskey picked up a book of German fairy tales. And then set it down. The whiskey picked up a book. Max picked up a book. And brought it towards the cockroach. “Please don’t kill me,” said the cockroach. But Max had no control. The cockroach begged. “I am a life like you. Why must you end my life and crack my shell? There could be so much more for me.” But the whiskey was afraid. And Max was afraid. Eyes, closed, clutching the book in both hands he swung until he heard a sweet fissure and a crack. He pulled away and stared. He killed the cockroach with the definitive anthology of Peruvian poetry. 45
Max was well read. He collected books. Fiction novels and anthologies from the faraway places he had never been. He had catalogues and newspapers. He flipped through the pages and was transported into the text. He became the characters, the animals, the poetry. He flipped through the thin pages and his condo disappeared. And he disappeared. On his desk was case file #22069. It was for a young boy. It was simple. Max scribbled some simple notes—test scores above average, first kiss, quits baseball—and wrote up his report, his decision on the fate with recommendations for the next reader. The process was all very standardized and detached and Max was very good at it. He took a certain sense of satisfaction and catharsis from the calculated process. He was able to explain life into a box and seal it shut. He attached the report to the green file folder and moved it from his inbox on the left side of his desk to his outbox on the opposite side. Max supposed that his decision was then put into effect, but he never really knew. All day he moved to the next file. On his desk was the case file for Jim Fischer. It was bottomless orange, the color of the Poppy flower. He first saw the photograph of a young man and did not realize it was his Jim Fischer until he read the name. By then Max knew, as the standards dictated, what he was supposed to do. Illness. Cancer. Heart Attack. Sickness. Suicide. Death. He looked at his picture and drafted his report, filling out the necessary paperwork. Max opened the bottom drawer of the desk and removed a yellowing sheet of paper. On it was written the addresses of the places in which he had lived. He closed his eyes and gradually slid his fingers over the letters. He could feel the swell of the ink. He could remember each room, it’s scent, the sunlight cast of patterns on the floor. He wondered how soon until Maggie fell upon his desk and how soon until he placed her in the outbox on his far right. Max did not place Jim Fischer’s file into the outbox. Instead he slid it into his desk drawer and continued to move through the files, writing his reports, and moving them to his outbox. He did not do this to Jim Fischer. Max could not write off this man’s life, with a few pen strokes and a signature. At the end of the day Max turned in his files and quit, leaving Jim Fischer’s file hiding deep within the desk. He collected pebbles, compliments, magnets from all fifty states, letters, phone calls, photographs, and mechanical pencils. He collected handshakes and hello’s. He would remember each one. The sound, sliding off the lips. The touch, bitter, salty, sweet. The smell like fresh apple juice. He would organize them by duration, by meaning, by era, creating a quantitative scale for the unquantifiable. Max arrived at his desk to find Jim Fischer’s orange file, no longer residing safe in his desk drawer, but rather sitting in the inbox. The file was back on his desk. Max had no choice but to move it, completed, to the outbox. He looked over his handwriting and saw no 46
difference. And he felt no difference. His heart burned and ached for his loss of feeling. His loss of sorrow. The staff meeting was on sexual harassment in the work place. It ended with the amplifiers blaring. “The world thanks you for your dutiful dedication to the human race.” There was a long pause. The room was quiet and Max rose from his seat. “Why are the file folders so revolting?” Max turned and spoke to the speakers. “They are so hideously colored that I cannot look at them. They are like ugly crayons, pastel blues, and greens, and neon oranges.” His voice grew quiet. “Every day we cause suffering and every day we cause pain and we place it within these folders. And I cannot stop. I cannot keep myself from causing suffering. I cannot keep myself from causing pain.” The workers turned to look at Max. Their faces grew pale and the wind outside began to howl the metal warehouse ceiling. The loudspeakers replied. “There will always be a force guiding and directing humanity. Today we are that force.You are that force. In our hands we define the greatness and the insignificance in the world. In our hands we define the human experience.You are human and you suffer and you ache. It will forever be this way.” The warehouse exploded into tears. He collected dream catchers. They were spider webbed circles of string, leather, and colorful beads. And with these catchers he collected beautiful dreams. And he collected nightmares—slumbering in his bed a black widow spider quivered upon his naked leg. He shivered. He wanted to kick, to scream but his body was frozen ad infinitum hearing the spider, and touching the spider, and feeling the spider’s hairs delicate across his skin. Thousands of spiders crawling over his body and legs, filling up his eyes and mouth. They covered the baseball cards. They muted the watches and they ate the I love you’s, until all that remained was emptiness beneath his head. Max was back at work. He was in the break room. Maggie was there too. She was gossiping with Arbiter #183 about a budding romance between Case Analyst #67 and Case Analyst #68. Their conversation weaved in and out of Max’s own thoughts. He was deep in thought. Eating the same meal he ate every day. A homemade turkey sandwich layered in honey mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and olives. A bag of chips and a twelve-ounce can of diet Pepsi. It was perfectly adequate. No more. No less. He had a schedule and a plan that never changed. For five days every week, Max walked the five blocks to what was once West Valley Sporting Goods. The women were still sitting on the tables, talking in loud whispers. Arbiter #183 smiled at Max and then left the room, empty for just Maggie and Max. Maggie swung over to face Max. Her hair was scattered and messy and she fluffed it gently before speaking. “Max. Hey. Max.” 47
With furrowed fingers, she threw some packing chips at him and lightly smiled. Max counted to ten, hoping that Maggie would lose interest. He hoped that she would forget about him. But he knew that she was talking to him. He did not want to look up. Max looked up. “Max, do you love me?” asked Maggie. Max looked up. He could not respond. It was as if his lips had turned into strawberry preserves and as hard as he tried, he could not form and shape his mouth. “What the fuck are you looking at?” asked Maggie. For a while Max was silent and they stared at each other. Max laughed. His mind briefly slipped to the cockroach, and he wondered if that insect was once human. He wondered if eventually this would happen to him. “Maybe I’ll turn into a bug,” he said. And Maggie laughed. And they laughed away the workday. And they laughed away the night. Max collected laughs. When he sat in bed he recalled each laugh. He could see the chuckle and the smile of Jim Fischer riding the bus, gently swaying up and down. Up and down. Up and down. Max remembered the names of those for whom he decided fate and future. He remembered their faces, their first loves, their dreams. He remembered how he changed them and how they will never know his name. Max remembered Jim Fischer and Max began to cry.
There is no cockroach on the wall. Max thinks of Maggie.
Hands | Eva Dawson | Pen and Ink
Fisher at Rifle Falls | Andy Delany | Silver Gelatin Print
The Traveler Leah Dawson It is strange, moving in. There is an agony that settles for the long haul. It does not leave so much as wilt, and thin out, over space. I stare into the motherâ€™s face knowing I have won. And the sisters, and the friends there for show, the louder ones. In the back, the ones standing, silently, unraveling. It is cold in March. For him, I chose sickness. A deterioration of the muscles and a few already thinned veins. Amalgamations of cells, weaving in and out to form the perfect matzah ball lump.
I waited a little over a year, fourteen months, to be exact. Sometimes, on my visits, he would ask Will it hurt? and Why me? but then These animals on the wallâ€”are they moving to you? Iâ€™m too fucked up to tell. Are they speaking to you? Alas. There have been many; there will be more. Battles to fight and fortunes to uncover, to treasure like little stones in my pocket. Today, I remember how this job was passed to me. It happened when my mother, laying naked in her bed grew tired and fell asleep, knowing how many lifetimes there are, and the presents she was leaving to me.
(Does it surprise you that I was young once, and played with trains, and said things like, â€œWhen I grow up.â€??) Beginnings are cruel. I collected little treasure stones with penance and great restraint. I am an unlucky victor. Of course, these thoughts wilt and thin out, over space. I admit I do forget, sometimes, how one little stone means more to a pulse than all of my treasures combined.
Tree frogs chirp until nine, then disappear,
sleeping in the scrub pine. Defiant in its anti-
Even the air is iceridden. Locals rehash
urbanity, this house releases not a single sound.
the sweep of tides flushing out debris, clams
My spine curls, foetal, trapping in
freezing in their pitchgray sandbeds. This wintertime
some spot of body heat. The pitch
summer home sits dark on its plot.
of my own breathing frightens. 51
Untitled | Abraham Kohrman | Digital Photograph
Letâ€™s Talk About Freedom | Iulia Iordache | Digital Photograph
Fox Glacier| Colin McCallum-Cook | Digital Photograph
God wrote two books Clare Boerigter I. The insides of my skin are singing as summer runs like lilies in rain My blood maps my body in new patterns many times a day, and each wash and remaking brings the veins closer to happiness and collapse II. I hold the toad long enough to tell him all my quiet fears, he seems to like that some, pushes his dry soft belly against my palm, nosing the spaces between my fingers, asking me where my webbing’s got to, and have I lost it along with everything else?
Down in the dirt, his jelly cheeks brush outward into night air as he tries to hold me with his sticky slick toes, but he is very small and I too human to condense to his caress, so he leaves me with one final frog-lipped kiss and pulls away over grass and weed The worms are better listeners and beautiful by starlight, their organ skin dark and lustrous under the moon glow I watch them bully the dirt into helixes and half circles for their over-hearted bodies to languish beneath— they are all going someplace, and I whisper to them some of my sadness, that they may carry off pieces to places far away from me The grass is best of all, and that is because it makes me up: I know that veins aren’t so much hollow spaghetti straws as they are fibrous weeds knitted up under my skin as like worms they tunnel their way through dark cells, mounting into stalk highways, breaking over lips, fanning out into the thirsty mouths of my organs
I pull a strand of grass from the ground, and it says a reluctant farewell in the same way my hair speaks to my scalp— I know that this means we’re really all the same, the toad, the worms, the living dirt, and if I’m logical, then I’d also know that if I lie here long enough the human parts break down as every little fiber and wet thing takes them in, sucks them up, slickens themselves with feeling and bumps away like the toad And then I say goodbye too to all the human bits and hello to the dirt, the toad, the worms and all the places they have always meant to take me
Letter from a Gardener Erik Jarvis It’s not that I’m upset that my gladiolus were stolen from my yard, but their stems are much too protracted to be hung in pots from my porch, and last time a young man with his own scissors clipped them from the front garden and I thought perhaps they were for his love, so I honored myself as an agent of passion. But this time it was old Ms. Newbert scaled my limestone ivy wall and plucked my gladiolus from their lounging grace as if she were Arthur himself liberating these sceptered stems for the good of our kingdom, only to pluck the petals from their stems and fasten her favorite to the collar of her rascal hound, Douglas. Please, if you could find a kind way to say Shame on you and your mangy companion, pass that message along for me. 55
Custer | Emily Stanfield | C-Print
Ghazal for February Erica Hauswald Persephone is gone and I, left to decompose in winter. Hell is not some flame-drenched state, but Iowa in the throes of winter. Which dim pioneers, eating with each step the stretch of frontier, thought they could weather these lows of winter? The pale fruit salad with dinner—pears and peeled apples, American traditionals—appear exotic thrown in the monochrome of winter. Why, you ask, this tortured ghazal? Why rehash the knockout blows of winter? A humiliated, reluctant admission— I’ll always make some great show of winter: Sunlamps, Kleenex, earthy vitamins, heavy shades keeping out the sickly glow of winter. Oh Erica Leigh, lady of the meadow, you will be freeze-dried, crushed and covered, buried in the mounting snow of winter. 57
Swing Low | Annie Tempest | Drypoint Print
Underneath the Train | Colin Brooks | Silver Gelatin Print
When We Behaved in the Image of Binary Stars
A Model of Mutual Human Support Anonymous Abstract: This tale depicts a scenario when Carolina and I sequentially exchanged “explosive fuel”—that is, the flames of passion—in an effort to keep each other’s spirit ablaze … just as binary stars do. I faltered. In the final moments preceding our 15-week departure, I was struck by a nonsensical fear. Perhaps I was simply feeling the typical mourning one has when parting from a loved one; in any case, I told her, “I’m afraid.” “Of what?” she asked. I couldn’t pinpoint an answer, and I don’t recall exactly what I said. Nonetheless, it was clear that my heart’s fire was, spontaneously, waning toward exhaustion, like a candle flame wavering in the wind. I’d lost sight of our goal, and my commitment was failing.
She intervened. Without ado, Carolina inquired deeper into how I was feeling. She scooted a hip’s width away so as to create a comfortable gazing distance. “What are you trying to tell me, Tyler?” she prodded as she began to understand the weakness that was overcoming me. And yet, she continued to gander passionately through the windows to my soul; it was her way of donating a spark to my dwindling blaze. Like fireworks blowing from Katy Perry’s chest, a stream of ignition erupted from Carolina’s eyes to conflagrate the central core of my spirit. This was no easy feat for Carolina, for she was giving up a portion of her mass in order to rekindle mine. Truly, it was an act of magnanimous courage—but it left her spirit with little fuel. We triumphed. With my fire lighted anew, I took her hands in mine and channeled flames of passion back to where they originated. I reminded her, “Remember the 3-year-plus plan we designed? I’m excited to fulfill it, and I will not lose sight of my mission so easily. As I’ve said, I just need you to tell me that you are always near.” Carolina’s gaze dropped as she pondered my words and gathered her energy. Eventually, the fire took to. She leaned in for a kiss, which was the final act of equalizing our masses and reinstituting the balanced orbit we had previously attained. Equilibrium prevailed.
Peaks | Annie Tempest | Cut Paper
Stein’s Woman Drew Ohringer It was just like any other session—4:15, Thursday, the house on Nauset Street—except that, when I pressed button number two in the console to the right of the front door, it wouldn’t be Dr. Stein’s finger that buzzed me in. “Don’t worry,” Stein had told me—the direct, colloquial articulation of what he’d been telling me since last spring—“she’ll know what to do.” She’ll know what to do—it didn’t take Phd to buzz someone in; those words, like so many words did then, circled furiously through the hormonal hotbed of my brain. It was those relentless, and, as my mother—who was also a therapist; her office was only a block up from Stein’s—had told me “age appropriate” infusions of doubt, longing, infatuation, confusion, priapism, and raw nerved want that had sent me to Stein in the first place, six months ago. I told my mother that it was about my anxieties surrounding school and the tennis team, simple performance anxieties that really only added to the deep seeded fears that had overtaken me. It was, though, a recent development that had pushed Dr. Stein, finally, to try this little cure, the one I was walking up the peeling gray steps to undergo. “So she was taking you to her room?” he’d asked me at the start of that emergency session a month ago. “To her basement.” “The basement?” “Her room is in the basement. In an old storage closet or something.” “Her” being Catherine, a girl I’d been trying to avoid all summer until she cornered me at a party and started saying something about Kafka. “Well where did you end up?” “Never made it there. We stopped on a couch, she started to kiss me.” Dizzy, my sober tongue drunkenly dashing about, incorrectly syncopated. Her room was only feet away—I was, you must understand, only feet away from my first sexual encounter. “I told her my mom had called and that I’d forgotten we were supposed to have lunch.” I walked the two-plus miles home; Catherine had offered me a ride in her mother’s minivan but I’d refused. “So you ran away.” “Yes. I guess I did.”
“She would have done anything—you know that, right? You could have said ‘go there, do this, wear this,’ and she would have.” At this Stein took a sip from the diet peach flavored iced tea he regularly drank, a bottle of which he ritually tossed to me from the waiting room fridge at the start of each session. When I caught the bottle—and I always caught it—he would say, “nice one,” or , “not so unathletic after all.” Not unlike a little league coach—or, more likely, the father he knew I never had—except for his surprisingly sharp, almost businessman-like suit, and the artificially flavored glass ball. And, once we took our seats and popped open the iced teas, we would be playing a game far different from baseball. And so, after I pressed on button number two—feeling, like I did before my very first session, nervously unsure that I’d buzzed another therapist or the masseuse next door and one of them was answering my finger—I tried to hear in the cold welcome of that buzz something differing, or feminine, or illicit. But I detected no incongruities with what was the usual Thursday routine—that is, until Stein’s door opened and a woman, the woman—or maybe she was Stein’s woman—appeared before me. “You must be Scott,” she said. A rather expected line. Had he briefed her, told her what to say? “I need an iced tea,” I said. I went to the fridge. “You want one? I asked and, when she nodded, tossed her a bottle. She caught it tight and quick like a little league hotshot. Given the reason for her being there—I mean, for the whole plan—it probably seems that physical description is necessary. Was she attractive? Or: did seeing her—seeing as much of her as I had in three minutes—did it make me want to have sex with her? “Is she pleasing to look at?” Stein would always ask me. He’d asked me that about Catherine, right after I told him about the basement incident. “She was sweaty, and her shins were caked with mud,” I’d said. And that was true. She volunteered at a tiny farm in town. So: she was short but substantial. I mean, you knew she was a person, in the erotic sense. I almost didn’t notice she was so much shorter than me until, heading towards Stein’s office, I saw that she was holding the door for me. Before I’d crossed the threshold she said, “ Are you anxious?” Stein, I thought, had scripted this whole thing—she might as well have been Stein. But he’d got it right—memory has dulled the palpitations, cleared the film of nerves that covered that exchange; but then, that was how I always felt then. But then, I was here to lose my virginity. Perhaps, though, that relieved some of the anxiety. This couldn’t be my unique anxious moment—it was universal, shared. Except Stein had had his way with my experience: he’d sent this girl, whose name I didn’t even know. “Not really,” I said. She sat down in Stein’s leather chair, I on the facing green loveseat. Was that where the act would take place? “I’m Jennifer, by the way.” Doubtless, that was not her real name. 64
“Scott. But you knew that.” “Would you like to talk?” “I’m not so sure—” “It’s okay. Whatever you want,” she said with the calm of a nurse about to jab your shoulder. I wasn’t sure how swift or economical this was all supposed to be. I wasn’t sure about much—and why I should I have been? This woman in Stein’s chair, she was the cure! I should have mentioned that she wasn’t dressed like any kind of prostitute, if that’s even what she was. She wore a blue flower pattern dress and a jean jacket. She could have been my age—17—but was probably more like 24, an age which seemed to me then like the height of independence, an age of struggling with calamities other than those which left you curled up, corny, crazed. “I like this iced tea,” she said. “He always has it.” “Try this,” she said, and took a flask out of her purse. “Rum.” Her actions directed me along: she flipped the flask into the thee-quarters full tea bottle and counted to 2 Mississippi. “That way you won’t put in too much,” she said. I mimicked her. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of, you know,” she said. “Did he tell you to say that?” “No, he didn’t tell me anything.” “Okay,” I said, “you can take your clothes off now.” She obeyed—but of course, she was just doing what she knew she would have to do. A flowered blue and striped mound rose at her feet. So now she was naked in Stein’s office, and I was sitting down, clothed, a little drunk. There were many routes to take. I was jumbled: Stein had set up this penetration but I was confused. “Let’s switch places,” I said, and got up from the loveseat. Once I was in Stein’s chair and she’d taken my place in the loveseat, I asked her a question. I said, “Tell me about your momentous deflowering.” “My what?” “Losing it. The big v and all.” “Oh.” I sipped spiked peach tea. “Go ahead,” I said. Her nipples were rather invasive, I noticed. “Well, I was younger than you.” “Naturally.” 65
“I don’t know. It all happened very quickly. In Mark Swenson’s car. A Volvo. They were Swedish.” “Pretty traditional. Do you think about it often?” “I just remember he was extremely worried about blood getting everywhere, so he laid out these beach towels that were still damp. And they were sandy and sand got everywhere—in everywhere, I mean—and I wanted to cry.” “I’m sorry,” I said. Were things going according to plan? Was there a plan? Oh, there must have been—if I were more paranoid by nature (that’s never been my issue, though) I might have even thought that Stein was filming the whole event. He would see me naked. Naked—the analyst’s dream! All the layers off, all the shame piling on—engorged, entrapped. Much like my patient at the moment. I was trying to look away from her. I found a picture on the wall right above Stein’s desk that always intrigued me, a New Yorker cover page from sometime in the nineties, I think. Three women stood on a gray shore in ghostly flowing robes. I asked Stein about it once. “I like it and it has personal importance to me,” he said. Despite the good level of transference we operated on, the matter of personal importance remained a mystery to me. I never knew that much about Stein, I think, even when I felt like I did. Sometimes his adult daughter would call during our sessions. He never revealed this but my mother told me once that his children were adopted. Something always seemed to hinge on that. “So what exactly are we doing,” the whore in the loveseat asked. “You said we could talk.” “Yeah, but not all afternoon.” I looked at the clock: 4:38. There wasn’t much time left in the session, it was true. But what kind of session was this? And anyway, Stein had gone out of town for the weekend; no patients would be stranded in the waiting room, stuck listening to noise machine waves as I underwent a radical form of therapy behind the door. I always wondered what was going on behind that door. Amazing that Stein was a receptacle for other people’s problems, too. And then she was in front of me, I mean right there, this person named Jennifer, all shaven and steely. “What are you doing?” I said. “Calm down.” There was a naked woman in front of me but instead of seeing her I saw Stein. I saw Stein naked and thought of how once I had seen one of my mother’s boyfriends naked, by accident. But then there she was, still naked, and perhaps I could touch her. Stein stared at me through her nipples; they seemed to wear his glasses. I tried to grab them, to get him away, but Jennifer swatted at my hands. “No,” she said. I stood up, or tried to stand up, and she went for my buttons. On any other Thursday, by now, Stein would be saying that it was time to wrap up. 66
Untitled | Abraham Kohrman | Digital Photograph
Untitled | Daniel Penny | C-Print
On the Body Parallel Daniel Penny Stonewall Jackson was convinced that one side of his body was longer than the other, all of his appendages slightly mismatched, as if he were assembled from deadstock. One of my father’s arms is on the short side; he always has the tailor take in a sleeve. In the mirror, I examine two delicate brown dots, beauty marks, my mother called them, pasted just under my clavicle. I always found them sort of pretty, not unlike Madonna’s mole, an ornament for a pair of pouting lips to my set of speckles dividing a ribs-visible chest, 68
But lately, the symmetry’s off, marred by a pubic-type hair sprouting from the tan ellipse on the left, long and inexplicably course. A witch’s hair.
A Dorm Room Mattress Eva Dawson Latticed fleece beneath A hilly range of synthetic fibers Motionlessly compressed Within pileous pyramids of Limp duvets Stack on my face Like an old man’s beard, Indecently shaggy.
Permanently horizontal, I endure an imperfect life. Ponds of saliva sink, Snuggled in my intimate surface. These moist depressions turn yellow Like piss colored, pussing scabs. Day old, unwashed skin Eternally leaning and grinding Against my sagging belly. For me, Years are marked by A forever expanding collection of Sweat, stench and crust. Two or three permeable layers Of sheets and fluff Are all that exist Between me and the pubic hairs Of the sleeping and sex Of strangers, passing. They condense my thoughts And crush my breath.
Us American Girls Clare Boerigter We sit and eat salmon, you and I, thinly sliced so you can see the pattern on the plate through the flesh, pink buds rolled around your fingersâ€” In this blue-gold city, we say goodbye to ourselves, spread into the cobbles and the chairs, roll our tongues into strange configurations and buy train tickets to places our mothers told us about at night in the summertime sitting on porches where even the breeze made us sticky and melting into dusk meant succumbing to a cicada washâ€” We made ourselves at home, we came here to find out who we are 69
Untitled | Ben Schwamb | C-Print
Caught in the Moment | Lea Marolt Sonnenschein | Digital Photograph
Jump | Andy Delany | Transfer of C-Print
Williams of the Dog Days Clare Boerigter I. Noah His beard is coming in red. I can’t see the stubble any longer, his face beginning to lose its subtleties. We determine not to look at each other. Or night determines for us. Bill Williams, the mountain overlooking, the mountain hanging, is prefaced by four lesser peaks. Ours is not the least, not the lowest, although ridged by telephones poles—a far running wood-and-wire spine—, it is possibly the ugliest. The snarl of ponderosas and black-eyed aspen have been felled to civilize this foothill. It protests, downing barbed fences. Angry grasses needle. At the apex of its shaved head, a stump is humbled beneath the whine of electricity. We hear it too from our boulder, Noah with his knees pulled up, me stretching out, lying back, shifting to match my bones to rock. We are both Neil’s this summer: his archies, his interns, his crew, his kids. Neil gives us the Kaibab National Forest, lets us feel it through our boots, our backs, our bodies, and we take it—I take it, it becomes mine. In various ways, we become each others too. Noah has seen me every morning for the last forty-nine days, watched me build peanut butter and jelly structures in the North House kitchen. He lends me his fleece when it is cold, his button-down when it is wet, his computer when mine is broken. I pick up his smell almost without meaning to, add it to the accumulation of details that make him Noah. He picks up my spinal column—a fractured impression, a rendering in beaded sap—in the fine grains of his fleece. I apologize for altering it, speaking as though it matters, as though he might care. Tonight we look west as the sun slumps behind the backs of mountains, cars and trucks on I-40 lighting up like bugs. From here, I can see the highway, the Williams Ranger District, Bill Williams Mountain, and Williams, the town of three-thousand that I won’t think about, won’t miss, until five months after leaving it. Malformed and backwater, Williams has dug itself into me. No longer a town but an insinuation, an intimation, a site of memory. In the dark, Williams spreads itself open like a net. The streetlights push out, roping in houses, Route 66 stores and the Grand Canyon Railway depot. I look for the familiar things, the Sultana and the Safeway, the restaurant that serves seventeen kinds of pie. Williams as a fluorescent tangle appears somewhat beautiful. The words “A Treasure in Our Own Cool Pines” present themselves in block letters on the blue highway signs. This is the closest I will ever come to believing it. 72
II. Mica He is, among other things, Mexican and Native American. He tells me it was hard, as a kid, when people didn’t treat his mom right, when they stared. He is twenty-seven, an Iraq vet, and when I hold out my hand, palm up, he presses four darts against my fingers and lets me take his turn. The Sultana is one of Williams’ three bars, its neon sign red, white and flickering. It looks worse from the outside, concrete steps flaking in nickel-sized chunks as they lean up to the door. Inside, there is a dart board, two pool tables, and a drunk middle-aged woman trying to shimmy on the dance floor. The long bar curves back on itself like a gopher snake, the surface slick with finger grease. Mica wants to know what I think the bartender would be like in bed, how she’d use her thick painted nails. She looks tired in the lowlight, her hair—streaked with blonde dye—bunched high on her head. Mica’s dark forearms taper into delicate wrists and are absolutely hairless. He used to frighten me, such a big bear of a man, round-shouldered and buzz-cut. During the fire season, he works on an engine for the Kaibab, sleeping at North House. The first morning I woke up and found him in my kitchen, I couldn’t even say hello, watched him punch combinations into the broken microwave. I didn’t say anything, didn’t tell him. We share a bathroom. Never move his shampoo in the shower. Never hang a towel on his hook. When he isn’t wearing lug-soled boots and regulation pants, he puts on flip flops and manila shorts and small, delicate glasses. He has a tattoo on that naked forearm of his, the left one, and I look at it as he stretches his arms along the bar, cupping his drink. Stylized flames, the ink colored—not particularly innovative for someone in his line of work. I ask him to tell me about it and, even though we don’t really know each other, he does. He starts with something simple: after Iraq, he can’t sleep, or he doesn’t, or he wishes he never needed to. He has a dream, and in it, a demon slides under his skin and begins to peel him, to shuck off his flesh from the inside out. It grows from within his left forearm, moves up his body to his chest, crawls along his neck—burning him, eating. He is drunk, and I am drunk, and when he looks at me, his eyes are bottle glass. The tattoo has made things better, he says, the dreams are lessening. He’s working with an artist to draft the demon sketch. He’s going to tattoo it on his chest. Another will follow, more ink riding low on his neck. Mica believes that when it’s over, when the dream has been pricked into his body, he will be allowed to sleep again. He wakes me up a week later. He has come back from the Sultana, and he is screaming at Tyler—his roommate, a firefighter on a handcrew, a twenty-year-old kid with a girlfriend named Carmela and Ivan, a brand-new baby boy—and Mica throws something. He wants to fight and Tyler—oblivious, always smiling, a little bit slow—talks to him in his usual sidelong way. Three nights later, I push my legs into my sleeping bag, roll over on my bed, and make out Mica on the front porch, light off. His shoulders are curved in, head low, the smoke from his cigarette passing through window screens and into my room. I breathe it in. I want to ask him about Iraq, about his mother, but we never really speak again. 73
III. Joe His hair is getting too long, tucked up under his cap, and I will remember him like this, driving through Williams, his right arm on the console between us, the belly of his brown wrist touching mine. He’s a Brown County boy, and it is something I like to do with him, talking about Indiana and the places where—despite the four years of difference—we both grew up. Tonight, he makes me nervous, or I make me nervous, or we do. It is that, it is really that he has a girl. We talked about her for the first time four nights earlier, or I asked, our bodies—my spine a curl against his breastbone—rounding the hammock low over Arizona cheatgrass. He never mentions her, I hardly know her name, but she is unmistakable when he buys postcards or reads to me from his black book of songs. We play a game with lines—never talk about it—, we pretend. I let him touch me, find little ways to touch him: his forearm—perfectly sun-gold, the first beautiful thing about him—beside mine when he drives, his hand warm against my temple, my ear, the loose long strands of my hair, his silver ringed fingers on my calves, my thighs, the low dips of my back. But we never cross over, and what passes between us can never be quite enough. For that, he will apologize just once. It is not easy, the ways I feel for Joe, it is not simple. As we slide by Williams, a clean knife through fat, I thank him for getting me from the Amtrak Station, a strip of pavement lost in the forest and miles outside of town. We have not seen one another for three days, not since I asked after her. A topographical map would show my route as a blue line, an arc out to Santa Fe, a spur into Taos, a swift cut through Albuquerque, and then a fall from New Mexico to Arizona, a passing blow on Flagstaff until I am here, I am back—Williams. He is good to me, the best yet. I set the music to a band from our hometown, lean my head against the open truck window, suck the night sky and the Williams lights and the road into my chest. The nerves cutting along my stomach start to ease, to wane, to settle. Joe is still Joe. He tells me what it is like to be caught in a cloud of bioluminescent organisms, the weight of the sea stacked around his head and shoulders. He tells me what it is like to have known the elevation and the air of forty-six different states. He tells me what it is like to sink a knife meant for meat into the bone of his left thumb. Joe remains as unchanged as ever, and I realize that it will be okay between us. It is going to be alright. IV. Travis He laces a cord through the twin eyelets on his Stetson. The last one blew away, rolled right out of the front seat of the truck. The second is white, and the cord hangs like a phantom noose around his neck. Sometimes he treats me like a little sister. He gives me half an avocado, shows me how to eat it with a jackknife, telling me to clean the blade when I’m done sectioning the fruit, watching me wipe it off on the leg of my black Dickies. Under browning junipers, he passes me bits of tuna fish on crackers, carrots. When we break from our archaeological survey in the Kaibab, when we unhook our eyes from the ground, he watches me climb stately ponderosas, calls me doll, and tells me not to bust my ass. Travis is a Williams native, which is why he talks funny. A Tempe crack house, a flat in 74
London, a British woman and a Mississippi university have all failed to beat them out of him. Beautiful, dusty, inbred words. Buzz worms. Lurpee. Shin spears. Hogswaddle. Boys n’ berries. It is only a mile from the ranger district into Williams—baked asphalt, two cow guards, an anemic strip of highway—but after a ten-hour workday, Travis offers and I accept. His snub-nosed truck predates seat belts, but it’s alright because the only Williams cop I’ve seen is plastic, a drooping mannequin posed inside a parked cruiser on the east side of town. Travis takes the long straight driveway past the firefighters’ helipad and out of the ranger district. He downshifts, steers with the heel of his hand around the bending service road, its blacktop scratched up with rumble strips. Williams welcomes. The I-40 exit, two motels and a pancake house. The Bill Williams Statue looking startled in his coonskin cap, musket pressed to thigh. A bisected Route 66 corrals the downtown, gives Williams two main streets with a single block between them. Both are one-ways. The well-leathered Germans on their Harleys, the Japanese women with their sunhats, and the two fast-talking Australians we meet in the Sultana, find this division unnavigable. When I am licensed for a forest service truck, Neil puts on his best boss face and tells me to watch out for the Williams tourists. They’re a stupid bunch, and salivating for the Grand Canyon, they can’t wait to leave Twisters, the soda fountain diner, can’t wait for the train to grease along its tracks, can’t wait to put Bearizona, the drive-thru wildlife park, behind them. They jaywalk. They weave. They drive all the wrong ways. Travis eyes them, his Stetson a white smear on the dash. I don’t mind them much. They keep things interesting. Williams—a town cross-hatched by vein-roads, the major artery, Route 66, long since severed—owes itself to them. Travis rolls to a stop, jerking the keys from the ignition. I look out across the Safeway parking lot. At the end of it, a Dairy Queen pokes out of the pavement, an arrogant, self-assured building. I ate there once, and because this is Arizona, when I pulled my head back from my red plastic spoon, I almost wiped my lips along the handle of a handgun. The woman—t-shirt tucked into a bigbuckle belt—let her husband order for her, standing back from the press of bodies. She threw her hip, slotted it into the negative space above my table, pressed the gun in close to my upturned, sunburned nose. I looked across at Travis, tightening napkins under my fingernails. That woman, my eyes never found her face, just the cowhide holster—just the gun. I cross the parking lot, walk in through the gliding Safeway doors. My upper arms register the air-conditioning in a sprawl of gooseflesh, and I hurry because, hand-crank window cracked, Travis must be warm. I walk the aisles. This was the first Williams building I set foot inside, the first that I got properly acquainted with. It once took me twenty minutes to find the orange juice, separated by Southwestern logic, from the milk. Here, punky kids trace memorized paths along the white-and-brown flecked floor. An Indian family practices English phrases in the corner. A brother-sister pair—unseemly in their attractive, tall blondeness—bickers by the magazine rack in Swedish or German. I avoid eye contact with the cart boy and the stock boy and the manager. An old woman clips her fingers along coupon edges, 75
slowing the checkout line. The cashier, like the cart boy, stock boy, manager, has a strange drooping look about him. A hangdog face lengthens his jaw, loosens lips over teeth. Maybe he was dropped on his head as a baby. He smiles, scans my Safeway discount card, says pleasant, forgettable things. In the truck, I sit with plastic bags between my feet. Hot dogs perch on cherry tomatoes and knock up against jaw-snapping granola bars. Two jugs of juice pin a slender sack of pita bread between their sweating shoulders. Travis tells me about the crack house— an alternative to the dorms at Arizona State University—and about the girl who’d lived there with him, a skinny part-time student, part-time stripper. The day that she’d offered on a palm all the teeth she’d unmoored from her head was the day that Travis had sickened, packed and left. I listen for the story and for the sounds, for the way Williams has insinuated itself into him. He can take himself out of this town, but those beautiful, dusty, inbred words will never take themselves from him. V. Yelena They are catching up with us. Hitchhikers, vagrants. The man has a backpack, the woman a duffel bag. She wears a scarf hitched low over her let-down hair. Dark stubble obscures the southern hemisphere of his face. We cross to the other side of the road. It is that in-between time, light and dark brushing wrists, and we are walking our way out of Williams. We, the runners, know the weight of pavement, the intimacy of streets.Yelena met Williams through back roads and side lots and cemeteries. I left leg patterns on Williams’ edges, punching knees through stiff snake-grass. They make us nervous. We are on Williams’ peripheries, we are heading for North House, and they are unsettled, they are unsettling. The man calls across to us, asking after the cigarettes we do not have. I answer, overly loud. When we cut back from the road toward the ranger district, they pass away toward the highway, and my hackles drop down in a slumping of spine. The service road to the district runs parallel to I-40, but it is a slow night and the darkness expands without the interruption of headlights. Bill Williams Mountain imposes itself. Head tipped back, I fail to find Draco.Yelena skims her feet along the ground as though afraid to leave it. Together, we have covered many miles, many switchbacks, many mountains. Now it is that we gentle over the cow guard with the same delicate ankles. Behind us, the lights of the Texaco and Comfort Inn fall as we walk. VI. Clare I am in Williams on a hot dry day, the sun a yolky egg in the wide-eyed sky. The light burns the air, my cheeks, the narrow ribbon of skin along which my hair is parted. Lawns bear the burden of pale grass, stalks hard, waterless, and the tar roads have been bleached of their black.Young boys in white pads and plastic run in predestined patterns around a high school football pitch. A long-snouted 76
shotgun leans up against the bench of a parked truck, its windows open and inviting. I cross one of the many large, empty streets, a happy mutt snuffling behind me. I drop my shoulders, shake my hands at the wrist hinge, straighten up from the neck. Travis has told me that I run as though I’m falling, a graceless clap of heels to pavement. I turn by his mother’s house, think that my knowledge of Williams is passing, short-lived, ephemeral. I have this day, these moments, people and memory. I have the sound of a dog barking and the feel of sweat on my scalp. I have the stock boys from Safeway and the bartender from the Sultana. I have just one summer between nineteen and twenty and I have spent it here, I have surrendered it to Williams, given it over, released it. There are no clouds, it is bright, clear in a way that startles my blue, bleached eyes, sears my vision with sharp whites. In the quiet, I run. It is one of the last of the dog days in Williams, Arizona.
Untitled Jumi Bello i had a strange dream where everyone you met you met briefly there was almost an unbearable lightness of being in it all so light you could go on a dance with the breeze if it simply tumbled down and grabbed your hand not even having to squeeze it tightly just a brush of its fingertip and you’d fall into a bliss deeper than a kiss could ever do it always happens that way you know
stumble, tumble either way is still a step made in surprise towards the object of those distracting eyes i have to tell you if stiff chinned girls make their jaws quiver then sweet cheeked boys turn to stone too the silence grows stronger until not even a soft shy smile can do what you wish your words could everything is bathed in light curling itself around the hips of the horizon it persuades the sky into trying on a different dress i think that’s why we call it the day to day grind because all friction is simply the unexpected urge to grow closer until we can’t tell who we are from each other anymore we almost float i think that’s why i am always seduced by summer it has a strange and gentle gravity to it 77
Unfamiliar Edges Sophie Haas I never knew how good New York City water was until I came here. Makes you want to spit it out. Unbalanced. An itch in the nail bed. I wait and wait and wait for Iowa water to right itself, but it never does. And yet I return to the drinking fountain again and again, cannot be bothered to buy a filter. Some of us learn slowly. Iowa in the morning smells like a starched collar, the snap of the new bristles on a toothbrush. Small. Bright. Clean. White. The grass freshly colored with new pencils, turning the back of my throat green and woody. Manure breezes in—just a subtle reminder. Where is the chorus of furious honking, of rumbles and skids? The subway car that shrieks more hysterically with every stop; children’s voices, too high, slashed with cell phone rings, snatches of conversations about meetings to come. No one looks happy to meet me. Stale coffee breath, bits of spittle from my neighbor’s laugh. The man next to me hacks his phlegm into an envelope, some chutneyfication of history, sealing the edge with a crumbling yellow fingernail. There is the two-note close of the doors, the garbled announcement that could be proclaiming my name, over and over. So-PHIE sophie SO-phie sophiesophie. I will emerge to more shouts, more light, everything brighter, louder. This is Broadway, after all. Push forward into the press of people, jabbing, laughing like a record played backwards. The buildings spin up like swirling smoke columns. The maniacal beat of a busker smashing the sounds of being late in my ears. I break off a piece of New York in my hand. It’s pulsing and shiny, slick as the metal pole of a subway, covered in thousands and thousands of fingerprints. 78
At night once, in Iowa, I counted a thousand stars, one for each mile. I found the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper. I found Orion— his shoulders, his belt, his feet, his phallic sword. In New York, he’s all belt—some glitzy thing he bought for a dollar fifty at 41st and seventh. What’s home without the tall buildings, whose staccato of bright windows changes patterns by the hour? The snatches of Dominican music, the low of planes sweeping towards LaGuardia? I am waiting for the hooded man crouched at the edge of the empty subway platform to step out from behind his prairie home, carbuncled face suddenly illuminated in the starlight. Because this much quiet and calm can only be the kind of chartreuse sky that never bodes well. New York is a paper cut I don’t notice till days later. A yellow bruise appearing without warning on my upper thigh. It only hurts when I remember it’s there. In some unopened envelope at the back of my throat crouches nostalgia, growing, festering. Perhaps someday I will give a slight, polite cough as I listen to the checker at Hy-Vee discuss the merits of yogurt and it will erupt in a quivering mess on the metal counter. The water in my mouth, an unfinished puzzle with sharp and unfamiliar edges, missing some lingering piece of sweet.
Varsity Insomnia Eleanor Stevens Of course it was an honor when the NAIA, the National Association of Insomniacs in Academia, awarded me the 2011 medal. It was a real triumph: more sleepless hours than any other liberal arts undergraduate “still lucid and in a state of academic viability.” The race was tight: I beat my nearest competitor, a freshman at Occidental, by just an hour and a half, totaling thirteen days and fourteen hours before the drugs kicked in. But the victory was soured by the fact that the Iowa chapter of the Association refused to give me a second medal, in addition to my National, for breaking the State record. There’s no question I deserved it. But there was a technical glitch. There always is. All the same, it was a shame they wouldn’t let me raise that record. A crying shame. If only the State Insomniacs kept records by category, instead of lumping together all the areas of sleep-deprivation! I know for a fact that no one in Iowa has topped thirteen-fourteen in my category. Unfortunately, there’s a higher record in another category, and 79
it bars me from any official recognition. The current official record is held by a freshman at Wartburg College who found out she was pregnant and spent a total of fourteen days and three hours tossing and turning before she miscarried. Now, pardon the expression, but that’s a poster child for “Concrete Anxiety” insomnia.You have a problem, you lie awake worrying. But CA isn’t my competitive category. My personal trainer advised me to give up anxiety-based insomnia years ago. Anxiety rolls off my back like water off a duck. I wouldn’t have lain awake five minutes over a pregnancy scare. I would have taken the pill, taken a shower, and turned out the light. No, I fall smack in the middle of “Formless Vicious-Cycle” insomnia, FVC. Unlike CAs, we FVCs have the therapists baffled. Our insomnia just comes out of nowhere. That’s the beauty of it, if I do say so myself. None of the environmental, situation-induced hoo-ha that “Anxiety” competitors rely on. No my little brother has leukemia or I’m losing my scholarship or even I just can’t bear to come out as gay. How do we do it, then? Well, I’m not about to spill any secrets, but I’ll hint that it’s a face-off between melatonin and adrenaline, tension mounting day by day as the sedative fights against the ever-higher doses of the stimulant my brain pumps into my blood to keep me conscious, all reinforced by the carefully engineered belief that I can’t sleep. I clawed my way up to varsity in two short years, teaching myself to stay awake by sheer perverse psychological/psychiatric stagnation, a relentless mental block all the more powerful for it’s very lack of rational origin. What can I say? It’s an art. That’s what I told Sports Illustrated. Keeping records by category at the State level, like they do at Nationals, is the only fair way to do it. FVC is more rigorous than CA. I can’t realistically be expected to keep pace with them. My brain has to keep me awake whether I have an excuse to be or not, beyond the divorce, beyond the abortion, heck, beyond the funeral. The kid at Wartburg had it easy: What if I have to drop out of college? She lay awake wondering. What if I have to work at Burger King?What if my parents replace my bed with a crib and paper my bedroom withWinnie-thePooh wallpaper and give the baby all my old stuffed animals? Me, I have nothing to jazz me up like that: Only one o’clock. Concentrate, kid. Aren’t your feet cold? Get up and find some socks.Wrong drawer, wrong drawer… Drag it out… Oh, right, all your socks are in the laundry. Excellent. Cold feet are good for ten minutes awake any day. Get back in bed. Now shift over onto your left side; you know that makes you uncomfortable. Keep those eyes open! Tell me, what did you have for breakfast this morning? How about yesterday? Recite the ten kinds of cereal in the cafeteria. Cornflakes, Cheerios… What comes after Cheerios? Damn it, I’ve forgotten. Now your feet are hot? Good, kick the covers back off and thrash around a little.There go the church chimes: one thirty. I think their b-minor second inversion is out of sync. The way I see it, every hour I, as a real top-notch FVC, spend awake should count for at least an hour-fifteen by any CA. When FVCs get to compete exclusively with one another, the sport is not only more fair, it also rises to a whole new level. Take intra-murals, for example. My FVC friends and I have devised a point system to evaluate the rigor of our all-nighters: ten points for starters, eleven if you exercise, twelve if you meditate, thirteen if you see a therapist. In a good semester, I’ll earn twenty points a night by running forty miles every weekend and teaching kindergarteners Tai Chi. And then there’s the camaraderie of it. There’s nothing like nursing herbal tea in an agonized stupor at four a.m. with bleary-eyed comrades in crumpled pajamas. We discuss techniques, do Calc, 80
and swap sedatives. We build endurance by trying to lull each other to sleep, slipping chamomile into the tea bags or hiding white-noise machines in the heater. Intra-mural insomnia is a perfect microcosm of what State insomnia could be. Other states set records by category. Why can’t Iowa? They’ve kept categorical records in New York for thirty years and, as a result, produced some of the best FVCs in American history. My personal hero, Johnny Cheever, was an FVC at Cornell who set the still-unchallenged State record in 1962 with a whopping seventeen days and eight hours without sleeping and without dropping below a 3.75 GPA. He didn’t even quit the track team. Oh, Johnny was a real FVC, all right. The man didn’t have a care in the world. His nearest rival accused him of lying awake waiting for the Soviets to bomb Manhattan, but the judges ruled that Johnny had, in fact, kept himself up by getting entire symphonies stuck backwards in his head. And he’s not the only legend New York has produced. Even their CAs are good. Tortured students with the most laughable worries, like the piano performance major who thought her fingernails might chip. It’s inspiring. My point is, none of these athletes would have come to national attention, none of them would have been here to motivate my generation, if New York hadn’t given them the recognition they deserved for their individual talents. So I can’t help but resent it that that teen mama kept me from getting a second medal to hang on my dorm room cork board, along with my National, my letter of commendation from the League of Antisocial Date Resistors, and the announcement of my place on the Dean’s List for the third semester running. Besides, “thirteen-fourteen” has such a ring to it. I explained all this to the Director of the State chapter in an impassioned, ten-page letter I composed between one and three a.m. over a five-day stretch of my latest practice marathon. The Director’s reply came back by email at three forty-six a.m. She told me that the sport was already too competitive, and it wouldn’t do to give insomniacs more incentives. Something about medical concerns and a media scandal. Please. How did she get to be Director with an attitude like that? At any rate, the State record standards haven’t changed. It was a disappointment. But I don’t let that kind of thing get me down. Every cloud has a silver lining: I’ve got two and a half more years in undergrad academia to challenge the Iowa record, and with my stamina I’m sure I can beat it by this time next year, if not by the end of next semester. It’ll be all the more satisfying, once I break fourteen-three, to know I can beat a foeman more than worthy of my steel. All in all, I’m resigned. Content, even. I certainly won’t lose any sleep over an honor deferred. I’m an FVC. It takes more than that to keep me awake.
Soft Smoke | Colin Brooks | Digital Photograph
Justin and Nicole | Ethan Kenvarg | Silver Gelatin Print
On the Edge of Twenty Daniel Penny after “Herbsttag” by Rainer Maria Rilke Herr, es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß. To sit on the precipice of September and watch the long days roll back like the tide To lie supine on green carpets, mistaking the little tickling of ants for the wind’s tongue To stumble through thickets with sun-baked shoulders and muddy ankles caught in a sudden deluge To watch open veins of water slither down a moist glass, wetting my T-shirt around its perch 84
To feel you quake beneath me, collapsed on a towel, our bellies glued together with salty sweat and cum You squealed when I slipped ice down your back But the heat always melts like so many creamsicles left on the kitchen counter The nights grow colder: our freckled skin turns goose-pimply, our tans rub off in the shower I read for pleasure; it was the summer.
Er (AlmostHalf There) Justin Miller “We should have slept at my apartment.” “You want to sleep apart?” I grumble— she must be mad about some thing, I never know. She never says. “Damn it, I hate the cat that lives next door.” There’s no way she ate that cat. Besides how insane that would be, she loves that cat. (Irritated) “Here, it isn’t air we’re breathing, it’s cat. I can’t ever come over.” A comb-over? I haven’t gone bald, not yet. And anyway, I’d buzz it. I did that once, just cause. I finally get all the clues across; Four Down is PHOCIDAE. “I’m hungry, what about you? Let’s get food.” Don’t wanna get nude. I’m hungry though. Ooh, maybe we should get some Reubens, Or pho, said I (there it is again, Phocidae). “You even listening? Fuck, I’m leaving.” “… Hm?” 85
Noodles on Line 1 | Annie Tempest | Ramen and Macaroni Noodles, Glue, Phone Cradle
Untitled | Daniel Penny | Digitally Manipulated C-Print
Smiling at Serious Things: An Evening with Dave King Robert O’Connell
Drummer and bandleader Dave King mouths the word “poem” to his bandmates, indicating “You Can’t Spell ‘Poem in Concrete’”—another clumsily named King original—and the song begins. Guitarist Erik Fratzke strums major chords, bassist Adam Linz thumps along in step, and King ticks a plain, straight-eighth beat, culminating in a staple of his style, a stick smacked against the snare on the final quarter note before the melody arrives that doesn’t bounce back but is held there against the skin, smothering the sound. When tenor saxophonist Brandon Wozniak’s lilting melody begins, King leans back and slaps at his instruments with measured abandon. To watch King at work, here tonight at the Artists’ Quarter in his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota with his band Dave King’s Trucking Company, is to be reminded of his distance from his peers in the jazz drumming profession in almost every aesthetic sense. Looking like a thinner, tattooed version of Sonic the Hedgehog’s archenemy Dr. Robotnik, with a shaved head and a goatee framing an off-kilter smile, King gives the impression that he is willfully unrefined, that his stylistic choices, musical or not, are all intended to keep him from finding himself bent over his drums in that familiar “jazz drummer” crouch, swinging pristine eights under a thousandth rendition of “Bye Bye Blackbird.” His playing is decidedly his own, a splintered, superglued amalgam of high- and lowbrow in which complicated and layered time signatures are treated with the gusto of a rock backbeat. Where most jazz drummers do their work on the ride cymbal, an austere metronome, King tends towards the snare, that cheesy hallmark of game shows and Twentieth Century Fox, producing long rolls and rifle-like accents and just generally beating the hell out of the thing. As “Poem in Concrete” continues, the innocent melody, like a mischievous child whistling and twirling her pigtails before kicking her brother in the shin, gives way to a jarring section of shifting time, and King is in his element, smashing away as audience members knot their brows, tap their fingers, and try to figure out exactly what they’re hearing. Jazz listeners have gotten used to—and, if we’re being honest, have come to enjoy—jazz’s unpopularity. For the price of fifteen dollars, they can expect virtuosic music, a quiet, dark, attentive room, and a predictably homogenous set of neighbors for the evening 88
who will laugh at the common jokes or ask about the book they’ve brought with them for the set break. If fans of the more popular genres get their transcendent experiences, those times when jubilant, vast audiences and iconic performers seem to meld together, jazz fans get their knowledge that, night after night, their experience will be comfortable and their music often genius, even if it doesn’t shake the ground. Those who pay close attention to the music are akin to followers of boxing, both pastimes having seen more popular days and both now playing host to a more specialized, insider-type conversation. If in the past you may have tapped your foot to Duke Ellington or shouted for Joe Louis, you are now expected, to the delight of a few and the frustration of many, to identify 7/4 time or diagnose a toowide hook leaving space for the counter. Tonight, though, the audience is a little different. Upon entering the basement club, you could spot the regulars simply enough; they drifted naturally to favorite tables, shook hands with people they’d seen in recent weeks. Easy to spot, too, were the folks who wanted to do something “cultural” this evening and checked various calendars, as they looked a little overdressed and unsure if they needed to head to the bar or if a waitress would come around. But there are more young people than usual, people in their twenties and even teenagers, likely fans of the popular (for jazz) group The Bad Plus, with whom King has achieved notoriety by playing Nirvana and Aphex Twin beside knotted originals. Before the show, a pair of brothers dragging a father in tow produced a generational, soundtrackto-our-lives moment unfamiliar to jazz clubs, as one of the boys was singing “She Belongs To Me” like he’d just discovered his father’s copy of Bringing It All Back Home. When King entered, he added to the familial atmosphere, his wife and two young daughters trailing him and then perching themselves on barstools while he unloaded his cymbals. King greeted the ticket-taker and bartender, moving like a man who hasn’t had to convince a fresh audience in a long time. They know the deal, he seemed to think, and if they don’t, they’ll catch on soon enough. The evening’s first song sounded like what they would have expected from a King in charge of his own band, unrestrained by the influences of bassist Reid Anderson and pianist Ethan Iverson, who in The Bad Plus balance his ferocity. The rhythms King, Fratzke, and Linz introduced seemed like some sort of antigravity chamber, an astronaut training ground for Wozniak to navigate. Beats came at regular times, but what those times were became harder and harder to tell as King subdivided differently at every turn. He was the cartoon character running ahead, painting a tunnel on the side of a mountain, and cackling to himself when we crashed headfirst into it. People around the room gave up on tapping their toes just as the song saved them, shifting to a recognizable, if oddly arranged, series of 60s-rock type chords with the saxophone darting overhead. As the tune wound down, that more accessible section morphed back to the hard-to-pin-down introduction so easily that it seemed to taunt, saying, “See? Here it was the whole time. Was that so hard?” After the song, King spoke. “That was the title track off our album, called ‘The Road Leads Home.’” Simple enough. But then, “I’m sorry, that’s not the title track. We would never name a title that; that would be awful. We’d have to be some sort of super-earnest
European group to do that, the kind that records for ECM.” ECM, a well-respected major jazz label based in Germany, is surely heavily represented in his audience’s CD collections. “We’d call the first one The Road Leads Home, then the second would be The Road Leads Home, Part Two, then the third would be The Road Leads Home Poem Three,Tone Poem Three.” He offered a smartass grin and ended the bit with one final piece of gentle Euro-bashing. “The last one would be The Road Leads Home, Part Five: Back to the Fjord.” Audiences usually giggle at musicians’ jokes out of politeness and recognition that these admired artists are, in fact, real people. But here, people were howling. King, panting from ten minutes of inspired drumming, started to construct his comedic character for the night, one who would call them on their pretensions, use Fratzke as a Paul Shaffer-type foil, make up a telephone conversation with ee cummings, and sing Queensrÿche’s “Silent Lucidity” into a drum microphone following a fabricated story about how he and Fratzke used to huff paint behind a Minneapolis arena before rock shows. At the night’s end, the audience retains its excitement, pulled along by its rapturous performer and master of ceremonies. As a song ends, applause gives way to King’s musings. At the end of these, laughter gives way to a new song. An expansive, meandering tune with a bassline that sounds like a car struggling to start is followed by what is now recognizable as a King-esque tall tale: he and his band, he reports, received a grant to write a large-scale piece of music and instead spent the money on front row seats at big-ticket sporting events, where they would turn and face the spectators, who became increasingly furious that these people did not appreciate their view. The tension, King claims, feeds the creativity. Introducing the final tune, King says, “This one’s real out there. We don’t even like it. But if I hear any talking…” He pauses for effect. “Any grumbling, we will start the whole thing over.” With that, he produces some exotic percussion instrument and a cello bow and begins eliciting sounds that resemble a ghost’s nausea. Like every cultural institution on perpetual life-support, jazz has had its share of “ambassadors,” from Louis Armstrong to Wynton Marsalis. Though well-intentioned, the resultant projects are doomed to fail, as nothing says something’s not cool better than someone coming to a school and explaining why it’s cool. On this night, though, in a basement in Minnesota, it would be hard to imagine a better ambassador for the music, as people respond to King’s playing, but also his joy, his charm, his invitation to be involved in something more than an exhibition. King hawks his wares without being dowdy, and his audience warms, reacts. One would be tempted to proclaim this the blueprint for saving the music, for expanding the audience, for making jazz cool again. Then, one would remember, turning to the familiar neighbor and gathering the set-break book, that we like being on the inside, and we don’t really want jazz to be saved. 90
Daredevil Dive, From a Board Three Feet in the Air Justin Miller Today’s the day. Move one foot, now the other. The springboard doesn’t spring, it trembles. I’m a grown-ass man. The lifeguard’s sunglasses and bun watch coolly as I step off
me do a dive!”? Time may have gone some other place, taken the day off. I inhale, exhale, lightheaded, and then I man
in my head. The kids are waiting— the rhythm is off. I’m wastin’ daylight. No crowd gathers to watch, to laugh at the other. No one in the no-crowd remembers me from last spring—
myself. I watch my body flop off, buck into light— I might be falling forever— right as the other
no fish, I was a pup even in May. The waiting pool looks unfathomable, man. How do I begin? “Look, mother! Watch
me lands (in water). The other year, when I was ten, I jumped on a bet, off the big tree at Felix’s. I’m watching that summertime (Won that bet twice that May.) in flashes. My body, not waiting, jars the other me back into the roiling light. Waves of summer and spring subside.
Chasing Sand Crabs in Santa Cruz Sophie Haas Blinding light, Santa Cruz. Waves smashing the shore, a wild, seductive beat. Bone and ochre sand peaks and dips at random, freckled with shells, crab-holes. You could watch this stretch of surf for a lifetime without looking up— white caps compress, grow, play hard to get, like the sand crabs that will always burrow faster than you can dig. Anchored in the tide pools, anemones beckon, burnt purple at the thin tips, tendrils— some surfer girl’s hair unfurled and wind-whipped, dragging sun in the wave’s crest. You could watch this stretch of surf for a lifetime without looking, years streaking by like the earlier runners, whose fleeting footsteps beg me: flicker, fade. 92
Family Student Housing Joe Hiller For months on end, she ached for beef. Beef and milk—lots and lots of milk—and spinach. Once she ate a whole can of anchovies with a salad fork while standing by the window. The day her son was born, she raised his puckered face to her breast and inhaled as he latched onto her skin. She wept loosely as she held him. She couldn’t keep food down for a week. She watched him grow round and sprout jiggly rolls on his legs and arms, and still he seized her nipples like a Hoover. His greatuncle called him the chubbiest baby in the world. He looked a bit like a miniature porcelain walrus, she thought. After six months he began to teeth and she started to think of him as one of those menacing, leery oceanfish, like a barracuda wrapped in babyfat. Nonetheless, she cried for hours on the afternoon she had to turn his mouth away. She cried again the next morning, without knowing precisely why. She did a lot of crying. One Thursday her husband brought her a fruit basket—he thought she might like the pineapple. On another occasion he purchased a paring knife from a traveling Cutco salesman and presented it to her with a flourish. When she asked how much it had cost, he looked away and mumbled into his collarbone. “We can afford a few nice things,” his waving hands seemed to say, but he wilted under the weight of her eyebrows and without a word he turned to descend the four flights of stairs and run out into the street to track down the Cutco man. Twenty-three minutes later he returned home, panting, his hands empty and his pockets jangling with $56 + tax. She chopped six carrots, leaving the skin on for vitamins, and boiled them in tap water with a dash of salt. When they were soft enough, she used a fork to mash them into an umber pulp, then spread them in a coffee mug and let them cool to wrist-temperature. She cooed and whispered as she fed the purée to her son. He spat the first spoonful back up with a tiny heave. The second spoonful he held for a second and then let slither down his chin. He refused to open his mouth for the third spoonful. She scraped the leftovers into
Tupperware and stuck them in the fridge. As he looked at her, gurgling, she cocked her neck, hawked a gob of saliva onto the wispy hairs of his head, and walked into the bathroom, leaving him in his high chair. She had three hours of class on Monday evenings. The course was “Human Resource Management,” but she preferred to call it “HRM” (“Human Resource Management” made her feel icky and nefarious). For dinner she packed an apple and a cheese sandwich— provolone on wheat with Dijon mustard—in a crumpled paper sack, but she ate only the sandwich, picking it apart with her thumbs and index fingers. The apple crunched too loudly and embarrassed her; she took one bite and then forgot it on her desk. It was still there seven days later, mushy and decrepit, her bite-mark edged in florid rot. She swept it into the wastebasket with the back of her hand. She watched the grits boil over from a chair across the room. She didn’t get up. The burner began to smoke as she turned the radio to NPR. The post-it on the fridge read “Tuesday – Marinara & Salad,” but the can of crushed tomatoes bulged with an intensity that made her nervous, so she seasoned the pasta with specks of Italian Seasoning and a pat of butter and minced garlic. She rinsed a bag of spring greens under the faucet and tossed it with a diced onion and pumpkin seeds and raisins. On an afterthought she drizzled everything with balsamic vinegar (she pronounced the “sam” in “balsamic” like the “am” in “amphibian”). After setting the table, she took a block of mozzarella from the cheese drawer and grated it over a plate. A few strands escaped and fluttered limply before landing on her socks. Her husband stooped and swept them up with his hand as he came into the kitchen. Her sister visited and drank Diet Coke incessantly. As always, she had glass after glass of ice water and listened, nodding, thinking up answers to the questions her sister never paused to ask. “Why yes, he has grown,” she mused to herself. “He’s four now, you know, and just starting to read. And did I tell you I was offered a job in Pennsylvania? A tenure-track.” Meanwhile her sister mentioned the unsightly mole that had developed on her back, and then began to speak about her marriage and her love handles and a new television series. “Uh huh,” she said, softly. When she visited her parents in June, she wore jeans shorts and a red bandana over her hair. She piled into her cousin’s truck to go to Pee-Dee Orchards to pick peaches. She ate pulled pork barbeque and biscuits and collards and drank sweet tea. She sweated on the porch. Her mother sent her home with salty pink country ham, canned Brunswick stew, rolls of Neece’s sausage, hoop cheese, and 94
the other things they didn’t sell in the North. She sang along to Jim Croce as she pulled past the dingy sign—HAMLET: Birthplace of John Coltrane—and onto the highway. When her son started full-day kindergarten, she packed his lunch in an insulated L.L. Bean pouch: one black cherry Yoplait yogurt, a peeled orange, fruit snacks, a Fluffer Nutter sandwich in a baggie, and a Capri Sun. The sugar made her shudder. He brought the empty yogurt container home, licked mostly clean, and asked her to cut it in half so the skunks wouldn’t get their heads stuck if they decided to snoop around the garbage dump. He was very serious. The night her brother-in-law shot himself in the head, she curled on the bed in the dark. Her husband made dinner, a family recipe casserole with ground beef, canned sweet corn, green beans, and a cup of tomato soup. He ate most of it by himself, doused in Tabasco. Her son looked confused throughout the funeral. She took him out to Taco Bell afterwards, and watched his face light up at the idea of “FIRE” hot sauce. He was gassy the rest of the way home, but she didn’t mind his sharp staccato farts. “Toots,” he called them, and giggled. She giggled too, and then pulled off the road, sobbing. She brought a dozen bagels and some tubs of cream cheese to her morning meeting, but none of the TAs were awake enough to be hungry, so she brought everything to her office and carried a cucumber and some black pepper from home and made sandwiches for lunch until the bagels became stale and unchewable. After that she crumbled them up and fed them to the squirrels outside her window. She measured a mug’s worth of water into a saucepan and brought it to a boil, then poured it over a single bag of Earl Grey. The scent of steeping bergamot and honey soothed her headache as she eased herself into the armchair and picked up an old copy of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Her subscription was fifteen years old. She sighed. At this point, unerringly, she could pinpoint the villain four or five paragraphs in, or else the suspense would fade into circular motifs and overworked metaphors and she would put the stories down unfinished. “Ah well,” she thought, “I like them anyway,” and she began to read.
LETTERS TO GOD Jumi Bello
Dear God I went to the West Coast recently Gazing out from train windows racing across the Pacific landscape, I glimpse cotton castles in the sky People tell me that they’re called clouds but I think differently I believe they are the wormholes to the great kingdom The secret to the universe may simply be the principle of inverse I’ve got this theory that We’ve got it all wrong in our human books angels are simply the stray animals that escaped from the play pens and Jesus was simply the mailmen way to mistake the messenger for the sender humanity sometimes I think we’ve got it all twisted Love could mean hate Destruction could mean Creation Shell shock transforms to sensation 96
What a frightening deviation from what we feel is Truth sorrow could be the real happiness rivers could be the wounds that the Earth bleeds into and rain rain could be the act of the sky laughing saliva sliding down from between its teeth to drench us all in its infectious ecstasy hurricanes are imitations of the Great Almighty’s fingers stroking our skin when we sleep When your reach out, the moment is so divine that my world becomes a vacuum Rip my house off the ground in order to find heaven or hell I don’t care, I just want to be connected Sometimes I suspect that you only visit the asylums and make lunch appointments for the street side prophets because who’s ever going to believe that they actually talked to God? Insanity is the promise to the mind that rationality can’t keep. Perhaps the action of wondering has a scientific dimension where simply doing it is similar to leaping down a worm hole Dreams are simply the paralleled slits that Time sliced in the seams to lace worlds together perhaps our brains operate as helicopter pads for our minds in order to take flight California could be the first woman
the original Eve and God punished her by turning her into island that’s cursed to sink ten thousand leagues all these cascading rolling hills, mountains more solid than any living lines i’ve ever seen the sky appears to want to wrap it arms around us all it’s possible that we could be the real aliens (and there is evidence to prove it) Did you know that there is a moon on Mercury that supports life forms it’s true, it’s true my friend Dylan told me and he takes hard earth and makes things bloom so i’m going to believe him when he says so and oceans he said that they have oceans too underground hip-hop could be the lost favorite tunes of the Virgin Mary Saint Peter has got the beats bumpin’ to Jay Electronica because contrary to the millenium-old rumor Mother Mary was a soul sistah the city of Nazareth thought that she was possessed by demons it seems clear now to consider how when one is captured by the holy ghost agony can be mistaken for ecstasy it’s disconcerting to realize that at some point in this great yawning existence that i was once part of the same body
as a little girl in singapore. But we all know that your creatures don’t speak the same songs so how is that possible? Unless everything is so intertwined that all our fists and lips have no ends or beginnings where all roads melt into one and every person who has touched your face exhaled ten thousand cocks and tongues this world is a gigantic machine churning us out faster than the speed of you we are born spinning sighing nobody can differentiate if its our first breath or last, whether we are living or dying and if its the latter, then why can’t we stop crying these questions have driven those who traveled along them to madness so we have made answers for ourselves i still search for God’s children I was told that I’d find their nurseries in churches but there was nothing but brimming isles filled with empty faith. Christianity and me have a history that paints a canvas where religion is a caricature of the real believers Manipulating mystery until it becomes something you once loved
just so that you can cuddle up to it that much closer loneliness has always been the most incurable human condition fiction operates as coping mechanisms for the non-believers we craft stories that function as allegories for gaps between comprehension and invisible dimensions for all we know our stories could have begun in the sea the urge to let our bodies basque in the sun warmed breeze was the real enemy It frightens me to write this to talk about you this way but over the years, my prayers have come back with no forwarding address so I have a lot of things to say sooner or later Atlas will have me in his grip giving me discount street lessons on burden for when my shoulders threaten to break This isn’t so much a letter about how I don’t believe in you but more about how I fight to keep doing so how I keep wanting to because I want to I want to more than I want to suck air from the atmosphere with my lungs more than hope, that girl in the summer dress in December 98
more than same sex marriage a cure for AIDS and a newspaper headline that says ART EDUCATION IS MANDATORY printed in English and Spanish so that the kids in Guatemala can read it and tag their dreams on buildings with visions so vibrant they make the Mayans sing celebration from the cemeteries trust me, I want to but WHERE ARE YOU WHERE ARE YOU maybe God is like the mother of the the seventeen year old DC sniper. He’s still watching the recap in horror He doesn’t know where he went wrong with Man Didn’t I give him everything? You ask Yourself. but when the video camera is rolling in front of your eyes, you can’t help loving us and insisting “They’re good men. They just need help. Really, that’s all they need.” While we chomp down ten thousand trees in order to find that one spoonful of honey We’ll alter the moon’s gravitational shift in our quest for that taste of thunder I’m looking for you in the darkness pupils fighting to negotiate with light You are responsible for my beginning you sauteed my soul into creation on a skillet
but when I woke up, you were gone so I was wondering if we could kick it at least once. So this is just me with just the thought to try and see if I could get a why but I’ll just leave this message just to make sure I’m not alone just to make sure I’m not alone. Say hi to Mom for me. Love, Jumi.
Mechanized Prayers Glenda López
We fit well in here, among the automated. The Cross hangs above the microwave. Look, our instant dinner is almost ready
Our breakfast table is your altar. You kneel on the kitchen floor. The Gentle drone of the fridge accompanies
The oven clock displays a digital hour. Sometimes, we replace the count of Rosary beads with its intermittent blinking.
your prayers. I know it soothes you, how the rosary beads glide along the Wrinkled curves of your elder dress.
I notice the old ceiling light dimming. It creates a grand ancestral effect, you say. To preserve you like this,
The lights stay on all night. Inevitably, Our brief exchange of words becomes A hurried decade of Hail Marys.
a peaceful silhouette against the background, I will not change the light bulb. 99
Alice Linnea Hurst Teatime with them was no fun All she could feel was her mother’s hot breath As she leaned in close to whisper “Sit up straight, Alice,” The words nestled under her skin And attached themselves to each vertebra Tugging upwards. In school Alice used her time Perfecting sketches of Two headed bears And obese gnomes. Her teacher told her “Alice you lack focus,” But how could she If she could focus splendidly On exactly how many hairs Sprouted from the mole On his upper lip? 100
Other girls could spend hours Content in fuchsia rooms Pulling dresses over their heads, Each hair remaining in its place. Alice would rather use scissors To cut all her hair off, She imagined her head would feel Much lighter that way And maybe then she could sit up straight. So when she saw that flash of white Disappear under a hedge, Instead of returning her dolls With their breakable skin And eternal grins, She began to run Realizing she was not so much Following the rabbit As running alongside it, Somehow sure, for once, Of her destination.
Wild Animals Hannah Taylor I wore my great-grandmother’s black lace gloves to Annie’s funeral. They reached almost up to my bare shoulders and hung loosely from the tips of my fingers, but they were beautiful, and I felt like Annie deserved something pretty. Ethan agreed with me and put on the khaki pants that he had worn to his brother’s high school graduation, even though he said that he’d probably get in trouble if he got any dirt on them. I wish we could have played some music or something. I wore those gloves to school for the next week. When he asked, I told Mr. Davidson that I was in mourning, which was a word that Ethan’s mom, Mrs. Connor, had said to my mother in the kitchen two weeks before, when she’d come over to sit with Mom for the first time: “You’re in mourning, honey. You do whatever you want. Just let me help you out some. Jim and I’ll take Leah to school until it lets out, and one of us girls will bring y’all dinner every night until, well, don’t let’s worry about that just yet.” I hate the way Mrs. Connor talks, even though I know it’s mean to say so. Her voice sounds like someone has their fingers wrapped around her neck, or like she is just getting better after having a bad cough for a whole month. The worst thing is standing next to her at a swim meet in the summer when she sings The Star Spangled Banner because she sings it really loudly, and all you want to do is give her a glass of water or a Coke or something because her throat must really hurt. I also don’t like Mrs. Connor’s dinners, or any of the other moms’ dinner either, and I told my mother that she should not be in mourning anymore, but I don’t think she heard me. Sometimes I speak very quietly. “You always mumble,” Dad says. Anyway, Mom doesn’t seem to hear me very much these days. Sometimes I wonder if I’m actually speaking at all, or maybe I just think things very loudly. “Mom, don’t be in mourning anymore! I want spaghetti, and mourning means that we have to eat Connor Quiche and Jennings Casserole, and I don’t like them, and you know that.” But Mom and I aren’t telepathic, Ethan says, so she can’t hear me when I only say things in my head. Mourning also means that Mrs. Connor comes over almost every day to spend time with Mom. They sit at the kitchen table and flip through magazines, but I don’t think that Mom reads any of the stories. Sometimes, when Dad’s not home, they smoke cigarettes on the patio, tapping their ashes into a chipped swim team coffee cup that says GO ‘RAYS! in big blue letters. Mrs. Connor does most of the talking, and Mom does most of the smoking and tapping. Mrs. Connor once spent an entire hour telling Mom about her honeymoon in Cape Hatteras and how the road to their beach house had flooded and how the house had had cockroaches, but then she
and Mr. Connor had gone to a really fancy seafood restaurant where they spent $90. “I swear, it’s what saved our marriage, even if it was only 3 days old!” She looked over at my mother, who wasn’t laughing. Mom didn’t say anything during the whole story, and she smoked five cigarettes. Mrs. Connor reached over and put her hand on Mom’s shoulder, held it there for a minute, and then said she had to go. After Mrs. Connor left that afternoon, Mom went back out onto the patio and smoked until the moon came out and Dad pulled into the driveway. If being in mourning meant that Mom could smoke cigarettes, then I thought I should wear the gloves to school. Mr. Davidson patted me on the back and whispered that it was “perfectly alright” and something about my “poor parents” and “such a tragedy.” He was wrong, though. My parents didn’t care that Annie was dead. Dad even said that he was happy about it. “I hate the way the damn thing smells. And she runs on that stupid pink wheel all night long. Why we ever got that thing is beyond me.” I told him that if he didn’t want to be woken up by Annie exercising, then he should probably sleep in his own bedroom instead of on the couch. I told Ethan about my idea to have a funeral for Annie behind the new pool clubhouse. “I’m not sure, Leah. We could get in trouble, and there’s other places,” he said, frowning, but I knew that the clubhouse was perfect because its big grey brick walls are the same color as Annie’s fur, and inside there is a green ceiling fan and a Foosball table, and I like them. Rebecca told me that I’m not allowed to play with the Foosball table, though. “Only teenagers,” she said, which was pretty stupid because she had only just turned thirteen. And I’ll be nine in August, which I think is old enough. But probably nobody will play Foosball for a while because they closed the pool and might not even open it until July now. Or maybe not at all this summer. Rebecca once made a whole list of things that only teenagers can do, like wear bikinis, or go to the movies without Mom and Dad, or stay up late with her friends, or jump off the high dive, or talk to boys on the phone. I told her that Ethan and I talk on the phone sometimes when he wants me to come to his house or to play Capture the Flag at Ricky Hale’s house, and she told everyone in the neighborhood that Ethan was my boyfriend. Last month when the pool opened, the older boys must have said something to Ethan about it or laughed at him or something because he didn’t talk to me for two whole days. So I decided to put one of Rebecca’s bras in Ricky Hale’s mailbox, which got me grounded for a week. Sometimes Rebecca would let me do teenager things, though. When I got poison ivy all over my arms last month, she sat with me on the couch and painted my toenails bright blue and told me about the fight she was having with her friend Katie. Then Rebecca read me a story from a magazine about a girl getting her period, and she told me that I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone—especially not Mom—but that she had gotten her period twice already. I told her I was sorry because it sounded gross and promised that I wouldn’t tell, and then she let me scratch my arms as much as I wanted for ten whole minutes even though I wasn’t supposed to. Ethan eventually agreed with me that the clubhouse was a good place for Annie’s funeral. The dirt was still soft there because they only finished building it in the spring, and it was only June, and it had rained a lot, so it would be easy to dig. He said we should 102
have the funeral at night, though, in case someone saw us and told his mom. She might tell my parents about it, he said, and they probably wouldn’t like it. I told him he was right about that. He had a flashlight that he could bring because Ricky Hale had told him that Flashlight Tag was even more fun than Capture the Flag. Ethan said he might even be able to find a shovel to dig with, but all I had to bring was Annie, he said. In a shoebox or something. But I knew about funerals, so I told him to bring a Bible, and I told him about the gloves. Rebecca and I found the gloves back in December in a cardboard box under Mom and Dad’s bed when we were looking for Christmas presents. Rebecca was sure that there would be some in their room, and we could never go in there when they were home. So she suggested that the two of them go out for breakfast alone. “You never have any time to yourselves. I’ll watch the brat,” she said, winking at me. Mom said she was sweet and told me not to give my sister a hard time. As soon as their car disappeared around the corner, Rebecca and I ran up to their room and began tearing through the closet and dresser drawers. We didn’t even find a single roll of wrapping paper. “Under the bed, little one! Quickly!” Rebecca said, and I dropped to the floor and tried to do the worm, which always made her laugh. Rebecca’s laugh was huge—as big as our house, maybe. In a cartoon it would have made all of the windows shatter or knocked the bad guy off of his feet. Even she was sometimes surprised by how loud it was. Dad always joked that once, when I was only a baby, they took us to the zoo and Rebecca laughed so loudly at the penguins that a group of French tourists thought one of the monkeys must have escaped. He said they were really scared. “Le singe! Le singe!” he would yell while he chased us around the house, and Rebecca’s laugh would bounce off of the walls and up the chimney and onto the roof. From there, it probably jumped down into the trees in our back yard and swung away into the woods, or maybe it stayed up there to watch the sunset or catch some fireflies. “Go, little worm!” Rebecca shouted, still giggling at my flopping body. “For your Queen and country!” I wiggled my butt up at her as I pulled myself along the scratchy yellow carpet until I was completely underneath the bed. I lay there for a minute listening to her shrieks of laughter, imagining that she was a giant dragon perched on top of her mountain and that I was searching for her buried treasures. “A box! Rebecca! A box!” I grabbed hold of the dusty cardboard, and Rebecca grabbed hold of my feet and pulled me out from under the bed. GRANDMA SHIRLEY was written across the top of the box in large green capital letters. We could tell it wasn’t a box of presents, but Rebecca opened it anyway. Inside were stacks of black and white photographs of frowning old men and women, yellowed envelopes stuffed with letters from a man named Henry, a black and green Chinese fan, and the pair of black lace gloves. Rebecca pulled on the gloves and began to fan herself. “Now you do look like a Queen,” I said, and I meant it. My sister was so beautiful. She had big, soft, kind brown eyes and curly brown hair that fell half way down her back and shone dark red at the end of every summer. I did the worm again, and Rebecca laughed so hard that she fell over onto the antique fan, crushing it into sharp green and black splinters. 103
I hid behind a tree in Ethan’s front yard at 10:30 on the night of Annie’s funeral, holding poor little Annie in my black lace hands. I hadn’t found a shoebox and couldn’t stand the idea of burying her in an old toilet paper roll or a zip-lock bag. She’d go right into the ground, and I didn’t think she’d mind at all. She might even like it better that way. When we first got Annie, Rebecca and I had taken her out into the back yard and let her run around. We almost lost her, and Mom was mad at Rebecca for being so careless, she said. But I know Annie loved it, and I told Rebecca so. It was almost like being a wild animal. “Wild Annie-mal,” she corrected me and smiled, and then she rumpled my hair and went into her bedroom and shut the door. She didn’t ever like it when I went into her bedroom, so I didn’t follow her. Ethan finally came outside, and we crawled behind the cars in his driveway so that Mrs. Connor wouldn’t see us. It was hard for me to crawl with Annie in my hands without getting her dirty, and I just wanted to walk out of his yard because it would have been so much faster, but Mrs. Connor keeps a floodlight shining on the front yard all night long. Ethan said she’s afraid of robbers and murderers. Then he quickly said, “But don’t worry, Leah. We’re going to be just fine.” I told him that Rebecca always said that this town was too boring to be dangerous, so I wasn’t worried at all. When we got to the street, we started to run. It was hot for June, even though it was so late at night, and the air was thick and still and humid. “I hate the summers here,” Rebecca always said. “You shouldn’t have to swim through the neighborhood. Can’t we move to New York, or something?” She was always making up reasons to move to New York, but I like it here, I think. But maybe we will move somewhere else now. Dad says he can’t imagine staying. My tank top was completely soaked when we reached the end of Stanley Drive, and the wet lace of the sweaty gloves was itchy on my only recently-healed poison ivy wounds, but I couldn’t stop running until I was standing in front of the pool. I had never been there at night. The water glowed bright green under the almost-full moon and the single street light in the parking lot. It rippled, as if someone had just dived in, but the water was clear and I couldn’t see anyone swimming. The diving board was still broken, and its sharp edges shone in the green light like the splinters of the Chinese fan. The gate was locked and might be all summer, if what Ricky Hale said was right. Ethan caught up to me then, out of breath but still holding the flashlight, the spade, and the Bible. We stood there for a few seconds, staring at the water. Something wasn’t right about it. It was ugly, I thought. I had never seen water so ugly in my life. I didn’t like it at all. I wondered if Ethan noticed how bad it all was too, but I didn’t want to ask him. Everything looked wrong at night, empty and strange and quiet and green. Ethan somehow managed to take my Annie-free hand without dropping the light, shovel, and book, and he pulled me away from the pool gate and behind the new clubhouse. The building was big enough to block out both the white light from the parking lot and the ugly green light from the pool. He handed me the flashlight. I clicked it on and off a few times as he started to dig a hole right next to the grey brick wall, but he asked me to stop so he could concentrate. “The hole doesn’t have to be very big,” he said knowingly, but 104
I told him to make it a little deeper. I didn’t want Ricky Hale’s dog to dig Annie up and eat her. The thought of it made me want to throw up, but I didn’t tell Ethan that. “I can’t go any deeper than that, Leah. There’s rocks.” I knelt down in the dirt. “Read something while I put her in,” I said. He opened up the Bible and took the flashlight from my hands. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. I thought about the pool again, knew that it was still there behind the grey brick walls and the Foosball table and the metal fence. I thought about the diving board. I felt like spiders were crawling up and down my back, or like I had poison ivy all over my body, or like the time I was taking a shower and Rebecca flushed the toilet and the water got cold all at once. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. I could barely see Annie in the shadow of the clubhouse, but I held her cold, furry little body to my chest and thought as loudly as I could, “I miss you. I miss you. I miss you.” With pets, it’s probably more possible to be telepathic than it is with people. I didn’t want to interrupt Ethan to ask him, but I thought he would agree. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. I put Annie into her little dirt grave as gently as I could, and I picked up the spade and began covering her up, like the mud around the clubhouse was a little blanket made just for her. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. Ethan shut the book and sat down next to me in the dirt. He held my hand while I cried and said he was sorry about Annie. So sorry about Annie.
Jumi | Ethan Kenvarg | Silver Gelatin Print
Home Away | Andy Lange | Digital
Paper Hats Erica Hauswald I smash the garlic with the blue-finned back of the knife, forcefully cracking at its hard casing, running the sharp tip along my thickskinned fingertips. When light comes through the makeshift kitchen curtains—some old cobalt tapestry—the room ignites like blue glass; but there is no sun today. A time zone makes a wide world. The shower generates the only steam in this rented cold; it dissipates. In the night room, chilled, with the body compact and 108
dried, grows the will to be sated, satiated; to be tamed, like the Baobob, put down, finished with. In Iowa, a spidery loneliness took root, vine-like, at the pitchblack beginning and refuses to detach. I slam into a woman at Fareway where the meat slicers wear those silly paper hats. I keep searching the aisles, and can’t find you anywhere, as the bowtied boy wrangles the deadwheeled carts back in.
Following the Mississippi Down Broadway Sophie Haas New York it’s not that I miss your graffiti but when I see some tag rush by in a Missouri culvert I see only what isn’t there the minty roof of the Plaza that rises elegant as Audrey’s black dress above the Reservoir at seven-thirty the splattered canvas of faces stretched across the wide mouth of the A train so far from the Eileen Fisher where Meryl tries on boots without a price tag and the thin girls around her parade their skinny genes fibers wrought from Fifth Avenue DNA
let us hail a cab and sail down Lex to buy egg creams near the Flatiron angles crisp as Gaga’s platinum spikes no graffiti here but it will rise in waves as the man across from me on the 1 train vomits a waterfall into his hands that tumbles down the metal doors at 191st now cresting past the Tennessee border I realize the girls with flat-ironed hair at the rest stop are still wearing bell-bottomed genes, faces washed out with jeans that have been through too many cycles and wonder if years from now will you still surprise me paddling out from behind some bend in my mind?
An Ode to Jonney | Sara Kay | Digital Photograph
Sara in the Badlands | Emily Stanfield | C-Print
On Highways to Campton Clare Boerigter Anita cut her hair with the scissors on her utility knife in a gas station restroom in rural New Hampshire. It was one of those bathrooms that opened only with a key attached to a long wooden paddle, and as she wiped up with a paper towel, an old man banged impatiently at the door. In the toilet bowl, her hacked off hair made strange shapes before Anita set her heel on the metal lever and flushed the whole mess down. In a matter of minutes, Anita had lost three years’ worth of growth, so that looking in the mirror, she had a saw-toothed bob to go with her broken nose and twice-split lip. She grinned at herself, pulling her mouth wide before ruffling and smoothing her hair with wet fingers. She was hardly recognizable. Outside in the parking lot, Anita tread over millions of tiny dead mayflies, nodding to the middle aged woman leaning against a rusted minivan. In between draws on her cigarette, the woman called out to Anita as she walked toward the highway, “Where you off to, darlin’?” Anita stalled, one foot inside the station’s ring of yellow light, the other planted outside it. The woman smiled with square teeth as she flicked her cigarette onto the concrete, and Anita noticed the woman’s toes beneath the hem of her jeans. “The White Mountains,” Anita called out too loudly, her voice booming in the summer air, “by way of Campton.” The gas pump thumped to a stop, and the woman jerked at the nozzle like it was heavy, her stringy muscles standing out on her thin red arms. Over her shoulder she yelled, “Campton. I know Campton. Little shithole of a town if you ask me. Far from here though.” She slammed the gas cover closed, swiping her hands on her thighs. “I don’t mean any trouble, but it’s a ways from here.You got someone coming for you or something?” Anita sighed, gazing out into the blue-black night. She could make out the ridges of a mountain range over the rattling lights of the highway. “I’ve got someone coming for me alright.” The woman gave Anita a funny, sideways look. She ran a hand across her dried lips and leaned forward, running her eyes over Anita. “Did he do that to you?” Anita sank slowly out of the light, her worn boot heels clicking on the pavement. She didn’t have time for stories about Bo, stories for how her face got this way or why she kept losing parts of herself in gas station restrooms. “He’s the fuckup, not you, ya know? Here, I’m Marianne,” the woman said, fumbling around in her fake leather purse. “Have a 112
coupla cigs. I’m trying for Concord tonight. That’s not so far from Campton. If that’s where you want to go.” Marianne held out what was left of her pack, and even though Anita didn’t smoke, she found herself stepping forward and taking it. Under the glare of the station bulbs, Marianne’s skin looked yellow, her wispy hair badly colored from a bottle. She pursed her lips and whistled as she got her first good look at Anita. “Jeez, you’re just a kid. Come on.” Marianne slammed the minivan with her knee while working the handle, nodding at the slight pop as the door unstuck from its seal. “The highway’ll still be there in Concord.” Bo had told Anita no. Keep your head down, don’t ask for nothing, take handouts from nobody. Me and you, he’d pulled Anita right up against him, his nose in her hair, hands skimming low over her waist. We’re only good when we’re in this together. Me and you, Anita, remember that. Anita walked around the minivan with its bald tires and dirty windows, waiting as Marianne leaned across the seats to unlock the passenger door. She wasn’t seventeen anymore and Bo, skinny and beautifully brown, wasn’t the only one who knew a thing or two about making it on the highway. Anita slid in, leaning the familiar weight of her backpack against her knees. Marianne fiddled with the ignition, swearing as she jiggled the key and pumped the pedals. Anita stared at her lap, at the dirt under her nails, at the tattoo on the inside of her wrist. Bo’d bought it for her, just like she’d got one for him, after their first robbery. If Anita squinted and fisted her hand, the wings of the tiny black bowtie quivered and jumped, a fat-bodied fly within her skin. She pulled at her fleece until the sleeve covered all but the corners of it. With a great mechanical shudder, the minivan nosed out into the New Hampshire night. Marianne turned onto the highway ramp as Anita cranked down her window. The wind grabbed at small hairs she’d missed in her hurried shake out, carrying them into the backseat. Anita tried to follow one, but her eyes got caught on a battered baby carrier strapped to the bench. A small, lumpy turtle stared back at her from its perch, and Anita wondered why anyone would make a kid’s toy look sad. “You look like a Susan to me. A Susan or a Jane. That was my sister’s name, ya know?” Marianne clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. “But sometimes people don’t look like their name. Ever met one of them? Strangest thing, not looking like your name.” Anita wanted to say something about it, but all she could think of was her cousin Maxine, whom everyone called Max until she turned sixteen and became the prettiest girl in the county. Or there was Bo, who was really Bowdin, although she didn’t know whether that fit or not. When you got too close to somebody, it wasn’t easy to decide those kinds of things anymore, when Bo was always Bo. “What’s in Concord?” Anita asked over the rush of air. “You’re a long way from home, aren’t ya? The way you say things gives it away. What’s that, a Southern drawl?” Anita didn’t really know about home anymore. There’d been a house in Louisiana, six sisters, two brothers and a backyard that
was never quite big enough. There’d been motel rooms along highways, Bo, and a pool with beetles, round and slick like grapes, drifting on the water. The minivan rumbled noisily over the broken-up highway pavement, and tsking, Marianne muttered, “I’m so fucking tired of this road and all these shitty little towns.” Looking at Anita slumped in the seat beside her, Marianne sighed, “Maybe you’re on to something, heading for the mountains.” Anita didn’t turn from the window, watching the shifting shapes on the glass as Marianne shrugged and fumbled with the radio. After the Concord exit, Marianne pulled over and Anita got out. Before the minivan could make a run at the road, Anita leaned in through the window. “For the cigarettes, you know, and the ride and everything.” Marianne nodded, her thin hair puffed up like a bird’s down. “Ya sure you don’t want me to take you into town or something?” Anita shook her head, tossing a roll of twenties onto the floor underneath the glove compartment. She didn’t want Marianne to have time to count the bills before driving off, not when she would want to know where they’d all come from. Anita walked north, tracking the signs for Campton in the flashing bursts of headlights. You gotta remember it like this, Bo said as he traced felt tip pen over Anita’s hand, 190 into 495 into 93—it’s a straight shot into the mountains. All you gotta do is look right here, just right here. He waggled her fingers and before Anita could jerk away, or slap him, or tell him how angry she was for what he’d gotten them in to, he bit the corner of her mouth and slid his hands roughly over her ribs, his rings knocking against the dips in her bones. It’ll just be a while, we’ll just be apart for a while, that’s all, and he tugged at her split-ends. We gotta be smart about it, about everything, lay low.You know, Anita, you know that it’s always gonna be me and you. A brief moment of darkness was broken as a car crested one of the highway’s ridges, and in the white light, Anita curled her fingers into her hand, Bo’s pen marks running over her palm like a new life line. The dog nosed Anita’s ear, gentled its teeth around the neck of Anita’s fleece, and rested its long-snouted head on the curve of Anita’s hipbone. Under a picnic table at a truck stop, Anita frowned. She had been dreaming about the afternoon when she and Bo’d held up a convenience store in southern Alabama. The place smelled like piss and potato chips, fly guts gumming up the windows. She’d had a particular feeling that day when she’d looked at the clerk, a fat kid, nose pierced through the septum like a bull. He’d had beautifully long eyelashes like her younger sister Delilah. Bo was screaming and showing off his canines and molars, his face lit up like he was meant for this. Outside, a little boy was catching bugs on the sidewalk, small fingers easing over the hard shells and fat bellies of their delicate bodies. When Bo and Anita walked out three minutes later with a backpack full of twenties and fists full of lotto tickets, Anita almost turned around and said I’m sorry. Bo laughed at the little boy as he scuttled away like a crab from the quick swinging door. A round caterpillar lay in his open palm, and Bo mussed the boy’s hair as he passed. Flying down the highway, her knuckles tight over 114
her knees, the wet summer air and the taste of mayonnaise in her mouth made Anita feel something like shame. Bo was electric in the seat beside her, excitement in his sweat, whistling the same two chords like he always did after a robbery. It had taken years, but he had finally found the one thing he was good at, the way in which he could be exceptional. The dog was making some sort of rumbling sound, a deep humming whine as it pressed its body up against Anita’s back. Had Anita been more awake or farther from her memories, she would have startled; as it was, she rolled over and pushed her face against the dog’s black and white fur as if it were Jag, the mutt she’d left in Louisiana. The dog’s head came up at the sound of a short bark, ears angled forward over its slim skull. “Connie! Sister! Hip, girls!” The dog slunk out from under the table, stomach low in the grass as she sunk down onto her haunches. Sitting up, Anita swore as she knocked her head, blearily eyeing boots and a faded pair of jeans. “Sister, I said hip girl! What’s wrong? You find something down there?” Sister yipped, and Anita scooted backwards as the legs dropped. It was hardly morning, and the man peered at Anita closely through the slats and wood planks, his dark eyes sharp beneath the brim of a Stetson. “Will you look at that,” he said after a pause. “You’ve found yourself a girl, Sister.” Anita flushed, dropping the man’s unhurried gaze as she tossed her bag out from under the table, then quickly wriggled after it. She was aware of being watched by three sets of curious eyes and turning around, she tried to look older. The man—about sixty, long gray hair, big belt buckle, browned arms—considered Anita for a few moments. Sister slid around the table, knocked up against Anita and nibbled at her hand until Anita—absently, naturally—smoothed her fingers under the dog’s jaw. Looking down, Anita thought Sister had a way about her that was hard and ready, like she was a dog that did work. The other, a big Husky, stood with her feet set apart, eyes turned back toward her master. “I used to do a lot of this kind of stuff when I was young. Wanted to see the whole country from the road.” The man hesitated and Anita felt as though he were sizing her up, checking her over like a horse. “Why don’t you let me get you breakfast? Some folks did me a good turn all those years ago, seems only right.” There was something about him that Anita wanted to trust. She didn’t know if it was how he stood, or if it was the careless way he’d braided back his hair, or if it was the two dogs, both solid and toothy, glancing at him like Anita had found herself looking at Bo. And yet, the night in Massachusetts—the young man’s square hands, his wide, quick smile—was not easily forgotten, not when she was always seeing her busted face in mirrors or glass windows or the soft metal of paper towel dispensers. Anita hesitated, considered, felt Sister’s weight against her leg like Jag’s. She did not think that she believed in cruel men with good dogs. “Campton, any chance you’re going by Campton? I mean, it’s close isn’t it?” 115
“I’ve been seeing signs for a diner in Campton, claims it’s got the best homemade pies. Can’t be so far from here.” Anita nodded, brushed her palm across her pocket for the feel of her jackknife, the one she’d got for herself two weeks ago, the one she’d got for herself after. She would always remember the interior of that car perfectly, the smooth leather seats, the smell of a peppermint air-freshener, the shine of pixelated digits marking time on the polished dashboard. There was his blonde hair—so removed from Bo’s wild, black curls—and his left elbow like an anchor sinking into her back. She did not know how she would begin to go about telling Bo. The man before Anita shifted slightly, tapped the Husky lightly on her nose. Anita nodded, said “Yeah, all right then, if it’s no trouble.” “Trouble?” He laughed. “Oh, if you’d known the trouble I know. Hip, Connie! Sister!” Anita watched the dogs run to the car, heads turning from side to side as their noses pulled at smells. The man smiled a half smile and held out his hand. “I’m August.You’ve met Sister, Connie.” He nodded at the dogs as they sniffed around the tires of a pickup truck. Anita swallowed, took up August’s handshake. “I’m, well, I guess I’m Annie, I mean that is”—Anita grinned nervously—“that’s what my sister’s always liked to call me.” “It’s Saint Francis,” August said with a nod toward the small, laminated portrait dangling from his rearview mirror, “protector of animals and, I do believe, stowaways. I’d reckon you two ought to get along just fine.” Anita hadn’t asked, but she’d looked for a good long while. Sister was half on her lap, chin on her paws. “I know.” “Do you now?” “We were Catholic, back home,” Anita said distantly, her eyes following the folds of the road, “and Mom wanted each of us to have our own saint. She gave Saint Francis to my older brother, Milton.” Anita remembered the portraits, like little slips of paper or baseball cards, and how they all fought over them. When it had ended, she’d found Saint Clare between her fingers, a prayer—Oh Lord, protect these sisters whom I cannot protect now—printed in delicate cursive at the bottom. Like Sister, August made a low noise in his throat, which Anita took to be a laugh. “I guess I can’t say anybody gave me Saint Francis. If anything, I took him for myself. Got ahold of him and didn’t let go. Found it in a junk store after my best dog died.” He shook his head, continued, “And I thought, well, Saint Francis and I have got something in common, and anyway, it’s not so bad having him around to remind me of Brother.” Anita looked down at Sister and thought about Jag. He must have been eight when she last saw him, and that’d been almost three years ago. It wasn’t unlikely he was dead, or that her father’d turned him out. August was quiet, left boot propped up on one of the plastic grooves in the door, right hand settled on Connie’s scruff as he drove. The cab of his truck was filled with all sorts of things: 116
leashes and muzzles, wool blankets and biscuits and brown tennis shoes. Maps, the kinds from visitors’ centers, gas stations, and truck stops, found themselves jammed in seat pockets and leaking from visors. “Something waiting for you in Campton, then?” Anita hesitated, tried to fill it out. “I’m going to hike the White Mountains.” August gave Anita a sidelong glance. “Not like that you’re not.” It was a hard sort of silence. “Look, it isn’t any of my business,” August said slowly as he signaled right for the exit, “but those shoes hardly have another mile in them, and if you’d had a tent, well you’d have been sleeping in it.” August ruffled Connie’s ears and looked at Anita, but she turned away toward the window, watching the rundown storefronts off of Campton’s main drag, the fast food joints and the quilt shops and the family-run grocery store. It was not unlike the town which had caused Anita and Bo so much trouble—the one where things had gone wrong, the one that had gotten her here—, and she wondered if the bank would look the same, blue and white brick with its name in dipping gold letters. Sister smelled Anita’s fear and tensed her lean muscles. August turned into the parking lot that a crumbling diner shared with a gas station, “Brother was a stray,” August said softly. “Sister too. Me even.” Connie’s head came up as August downshifted, the dog letting out a happy yip. “But you look like a tough kid, you could be all right. Don’t need an old man telling you how hard it is out there.” August smiled like he’d thought of something funny, brushed his knuckles along the top of Connie’s black snout and stepped out of the cab. “I’m going to get them some water,” he called across the hood to Anita. “Go on and get us a table. Ask if they’ve got fish tacos.” Anita could have run. She thought about it. August was laughing as Connie and Sister pushed up against his legs, talking to them quietly as he swatted at their backs. The diner was paneled in cheap wood with baby-blue upholstery and frilly socks for the waitresses, the kind that turned down at the ankle. Anita hadn’t been in one of these places since she’d worked at Marylou’s, and she got so nervous that she blurted out, “Fish tacos!” halfway through the hostess’s question. The girl looked at her and her dirty clothes and sighed loudly through bean-shaped nostrils, “That’s not the kind of food we serve here, ma’am. Now, was that party of one?” “Two.” The girl smiled reflexively and Anita followed her to a booth by the front windows. Sitting, she looked at her lap, took a deep breath and shivered. The whole thing was Bo, down to the paper placemats and sticky table sheen. Anita had been clicking her heels together like Dorothy when Leni had stopped vomiting and stuck her head out of the toilet long enough to tell Anita to cover her tables at Marylou’s. Leni was almost thirty, pretty in a white trash sort of way, and pregnant, although no one knew if this time it would stick. Anita hadn’t argued, she never argued then. It was why people had liked her so much, or had at least left her alone. She didn’t see him at first. She’d noticed his father’s military haircut and the shine of patent shoes under the table and the salt shaker that she’d need to 117
refill. Anita had stood in front of the booth and fiddled with her pen, running through the customary verses. Bo sat across from his father like something feral, lips tight over his teeth. He was small-boned, large-eyed, hard-mouthed, and Anita had sensed it, or smelled it on him: the rabid will, the perverse strength, his belief that he was capable of anything. Standing there stupidly, she had looked at his angry, wild face and thought here was a boy who could change her. “No fish tacos, then?” August asked as he pushed himself into the narrow booth. “Crying shame. Here.” He set a little square of paper down beside Anita’s fork, “It’ll do you some good, I imagine.” Anita picked up the watery portrait of Saint Francis. The laminate was peeling up around the edges, bubbling like plastic wrinkles along the corners. On the back he’d written something in blue pen. “What’s this?” August looked up from the menu, frowning. “An old friend of mine lives about thirty miles west of here. She’s got some acres and a liking for taking in strays. To work, mind you. I bring up a couple of dogs every few years, the ones getting too old.” He looked out at his truck, at Connie and Sister. “Thought someday you might want that address. Then again, maybe not.” August ordered eggs, tea and toast. Anita asked for bacon and biscuits, eyeing the payphone in the middle of the lot. “Is that where Sister will go?” August nodded, running his fingers over his closed eyes. “It’s where she’s going after this summer. I train dogs to work with livestock. Connie and Sister show what I can’t say sometimes. But it’s a young dogs’ game.” He laughed. “And Sister could use some of her own land to run. Jenny lucked out, got herself a place right under those White Mountains of yours.” The waitress plunked down their meals with a red-capped bottle of syrup. August smiled like it was his birthday, slicing the yellow of his egg in two quick strokes. Anita remembered that Delilah liked them like that too, that her littlest sister, Tabitha, would always wail at the sight of the egg, all thick and wobbly on her breakfast plate. Anita lined up her fingers along her fork, stopped, and stood up, knocking the tops of her legs against the table and upsetting tea from August’s mug. “I’ll be back,” she said, holding up a dirtdarkened fist. There were three stalls in the diner’s bathroom, all cranberry pink like a tongue. The ceramic of the sink basin was deep, and Anita scoured her hands with a smear of purplish soap. She looked up, stared at her face like it was somebody else’s, and saw a bluntnosed girl, hard and ready. At Marylou’s, at home, they wouldn’t have recognized her, and that was Bo’s doing. But she knew she wouldn’t have fooled Jag, her smell being hers, covered and masked but never different. It wasn’t the same, she realized, for the things Bo left on her. She passed over the carefully preserved lines on her palm once, then again. Like the tattoo, this was how Bo marked her. In the mirror, Anita thought she had dog eyes. She worked at her hand using her nails, pulling Bo out of her skin, remembering the slow Louisiana day she’d snuck him into her bedroom. Jag had lifted the right side of his lip and pushed up a razorback. I’ve shot 118
bigger dogs, Bo’d said, and Anita had laughed stupidly, not knowing it was true. She’d hauled Jag out by his collar, ignoring the slide of his claws until they’d stopped and he’d settled, nose pushed tight into the space below the door. Bo was wrong to think she’d always be the Louisiana waitress, following a map on her hand just because he’d drawn it, just because he’d said so. The changes he’d done to her would go: the tattoo—a bowtie for Bo—would be sucked out or traced over, the pen marks—Anita scrubbed unhurriedly, slow and ruthless—would wash down the open drain. Anita knew that if Bo had been there, Sister would have laid down her ears and growled. Anita walked out of the diner with wet hands, picked her way around parked cars, and looked up at Sister when she barked, her snout pressed through the cab window. She fished change from one of the small pockets on her bag, took up the payphone and dialed, looking back at August as he watched her through the diner’s glass. It rang five times before anybody answered. “It’s Anita,” she said, which was stupid. Delilah would have known her voice from anyone. “Annie?” “How are you?” Anita pulled her sleeve nervously up and over the tattoo. “How’s home? How’s Jag doing these days?” Static played along the line, “Jag’s gone, Annie,” her sister began haltingly. “He ran away two days after you. We’ve got Kip now. He’s a nice dog.” Anita stared at her ripped shoes, at the pavement and the places it was cracking up. Her mouth felt sore, her eyes old. Jag had been her dog. He had been hers. Delilah’s voice hardened, “Annie, where’d you go? Milton saw this picture of Bo in the newspaper, something about a bank robbery in Connecticut?” “I’m not with Bo, Del.” Sister barked but didn’t quite cover Delilah’s snort. “Can you hear that, Del? That’s my dog.” Anita looked at August hunched over his eggs, down at Saint Francis laying on her palm. The marks of Bo’s pen were gone, leaving Anita with nothing but a bundle of her own hand lines. “It’s beautiful here, Del. I can see mountains over the highway and everything is always this pretty green.” “Annie,” Delilah said, anger sharpening her articulation. “Where are you?” Anita almost grinned. She could see Delilah in their kitchen, threading her fingers through the telephone cord, Kip at her feet where Jag used to be. “I’m in Campton, Del, in New Hampshire.” Anita turned Saint Francis over, traced August’s clumsy handwriting. “It’s not much really, but I think you’d like it.” “You have to come home, Annie.” Delilah’s voice climbed octaves, “I want you to come home.” 119
She had thought it would be just the two of them—Anita and Bo—forever, maybe. She didn’t know when things had changed, when it had started to feel wrong, when she had closed her eyes, looked at the oncoming years and realized that she could not keep doing this. Perhaps it was around the time she started noticing the people at the gas stations, old men with mismatched shoes, kids with tootsie rolls in their cheeks, girls about her age with beautiful skin. “You know I won’t come back,” Anita said slowly. “But I’ve got plans, Del.” And it was not untrue, not when she could see it clearly—the perfect shapes of dog legs and dog haunches, the long stretches of every kind of green. August had said the woman’s name was Jenny. “I’ve got to go now Del. Tell them all I’m fine, yeah?” And Anita hung up before Delilah could say anything more, could argue or yell or try to stop her. Walking towards the diner, Anita stopped at the sound of Sister’s bark, watching the dog needle her teeth into the air, her oil eyes slick. “That’s my dog,” she said. And then again, “That’s my dog.”
Night Docking | Colin Brooks | Digital Photograph
Teach | Ian Gold | Digital Photograph
Chicago| Hannah Bernard | Coffee, Paper, Photographs
Hindustani Parivar | Catherine Bisignano | Digital Photograph
Untitled | Linnea Hurst | Digital Photograph
Untitled | Colin Brooks | Silver Gelatin Print
I Live in My Head| Eleanor Stevens | Pen andW Marker
Untitled | Caroline Froh | Silver Gelatin Print
Thing 3 | Annie Tempest | Plywood, Glue
A Place in Mike’s World Eleanor Stevens Whittaker knew Mike wasn’t coming, but he fixed the spaghetti anyway. It wouldn’t do any good to waste it.Yesterday he’d gotten a text message from Mike: hey paul sorry cant make it wed cond wants ext prctc. Reading Mike’s text messages was like doing the missing-letter puzzles in the newspaper, but after a few minutes of careful thought Whittaker understood that Mike had extra orchestra practice and couldn’t come to dinner. The water took a long time to boil. As he waited, Whittaker studied the text message again. Text messaging was something new in his experience. It was one of the many innovations he’d learned about through Mike. Telephones, he’d always assumed, made calls, but Mike had explained that now they sent notes, as well. Writing was more efficient than talking. Texting could hardly be called “writing,” Whittaker privately thought; not compared to the volumes of E. M. Forster he had edited back when he was a professor. But he got a cell phone and learned how to turn the numbers into letters. It was laborious work, but he wanted to prove himself to Mike. “An old man, unlike an old dog, can still learn new tricks,” he told Mike. “I’m not about to let you kids outsmart me.” But he didn’t like texting. He pitied their texted conversations, stripped down to bare little skeletons. Mike didn’t use a superfluous word, not even an apostrophe. Whittaker rummaged in the refrigerator for sausage. When Mike had been little, he’d gone wild for sausage, but now he said he was a vegetarian. Whittaker had forgotten that, yesterday, at the supermarket. When he passed the meat department, he picked up the sausage reflexively, a habit ingrained after years of practice, feeling the familiar throb of satisfaction at the thought that it would make Mike happy. Not until Whittaker got home did he remember that Mike didn’t want sausage anymore. But since the sausage was in the house, Whittaker thought he might as well eat it. He fished out the cold, squishy parcel and went to look for a cutting board. The kitchen was a mess. He’d meant to wash all the dishes and water the plants yesterday, but he’d lost heart after he read the text message. He pushed aside bills to the ophthalmologist and books on twentieth-century British colonialism to clear a space for the sausage on the counter. The dishwasher had been broken for years, but it made little difference. Unless Mike came over, Whittaker used few dishes: the chipped University mug for instant coffee; the tarnished silver spoon, a relic from his mother’s kitchen, to stir it; and the copper-bottomed pot, which doubled as a bowl, for heating canned soup. At the bottom of the sink, he found a cutting board, under some plates and a yellow leaf from the wilting geranium on the windowsill. He ran hot water and washed the cutting board, and then,
because his hands were wet already, he washed the plates and scooped some dishwater onto the geranium. “Just for an hour?” Mike’s mother pleaded. “Just on Friday afternoons until I get off work? You live so close to Mike’s school. I don’t like to leave him home alone any more than I can help, and his father never gets home before seven.” Whittaker remembered her from the old days at the university. A pale, nervous professor, she used to lose her students’ literature comparisons and blow her nose in department meetings. “Of course I’ll watch him,” Whittaker said. He was retired now. He had an hour to spare. Soon the hours extended into whole evenings. “Would you like to stay and have supper with me?” Whittaker asked Mike one Friday after they’d known each other about five weeks. “What do you like to eat?” Mike looked down at the Velcro on his sneakers. “Oh, I dunno.” “What about spaghetti?” Mike hesitated. Then his eyes lit up. “Yeah! With sausage! Can we have sausage, too, Paul? Can we?” They drove to the supermarket for sausage and a jar of spaghetti sauce, and a ritual began. And now, almost ten years later, it had been two whole months since Mike had been over for spaghetti. The last time he came, he was so late that the noodles were cold and gummy by the time they finally sat down. Mike talked with his mouth full about pre-calculus and Haydn concertos, but whenever he stopped to swallow, the kitchen fell silent. Whittaker squirmed, trying to think of something to reply, and Mike texted under the table. What had happened to him and Mike? Whittaker wondered as he sliced sausage. Evenings with Mike didn’t use to be this way. Once, they used to read the comics out loud and play Snoopy. “I’m in my airplane now,” Mike would yell, jumping up onto the stiff old arm chair. “I’m in my World War I Flying Ace! You be Charlie Brown. Hey, Charlie Brown! Bring me my dinner in a dog food dish!” Bending his stiff knees gingerly, Whittaker eased himself onto the rug. “I had to be Charlie Brown last time. I thought it was my turn to be Snoopy.” But Mike only shrieked with laughter and stuck out his tongue. “You’re Charlie Brown! Go out to the mailbox and see if anybody’s written you any love letters.” Whittaker rolled his eyes. “Oh, good grief.” When they outgrew Snoopy, they read the Chronicles of Narnia. When they outgrew Narnia, they read Charles Dickens. In summer, they walked to the park, talking all the while. They were like hours borrowed from the life of another man, those Friday afternoons back when Mike still came over every week. Hours spent laughing over spaghetti and arguing about whose turn it was to read Snoopy’s lines. On Friday nights, as Whittaker lay in 130
bed, reading himself to sleep, his mind wandered away from E. M. Forster’s annotated biography. The words in it were too long. His mind was full of short words, Mike words, words of no more than two syllables and punctuated by laughter. His eyes drifted up to the cracks in the faded ceiling plaster, which twined themselves into likenesses of Mike’s smile. Below on the bed, Whittaker put his hand to his face to feel his own mouth mirror that smile. Was this what it would have been like to have a boy of his own? If things had been different, if he had spent fewer years slaving over his doctorate, perhaps, might he (the thought made him shiver) have been Mike’s father, or grandfather? A man with a real family. He used to lie awake late into the night. The water boiled, and he added a fistful of spaghetti noodles. Mike drove himself over now—when he came at all. Whittaker was lucky to see him once a month. And the less he saw him, the less he looked forward to it. The magic had gone out of Mike’s visits. Mike came, and Whittaker fed him and listened to him talk about calculus, cell phones, music… But what could Whittaker reply? There was no longer a place in Mike’s world for Snoopy, for airplanes and the World War I Flying Ace, for C. S. Lewis and Charles Dickens, things an old English professor could give a boy. And there was no more laughter. In the evenings, after Mike left, Whittaker concentrated fiercely on Virginia Woolf. He didn’t feel like family any more. The cello was the beginning of the end, Whittaker supposed. It began with a telephone call one Thursday afternoon when Mike was eight. “Why not?” Whittaker’s voice was hoarse; it had been days since he’d spoken to anyone. “No, no, I’m not sick, thank you. But why can’t he come tomorrow? … Starting cello lessons?” “Yes, isn’t it exciting?” Mike’s mother said on the other end. “I must say I don’t know whether he’ll be able to sit still long enough to practice, but I hope it will teach him a little maturity—” Her voice suddenly sounded muffled, as though she had put her hand over the receiver: “Don’t you roll your eyes at me, young man!” The voice returned to normal. “—And so, I do so appreciate your watching him, Dr. Whittaker, but it won’t be necessary anymore.” “But we were going to go to the park,” Whittaker said. “Are you sure you’re not sick, Dr. Whittaker?” “He could come over some other day.” “Well,” she wavered, “if you really want to—(Michael, stop pulling at my sleeve!)—I work late Wednesdays, too…” So it became Wednesdays. At first it was all right. Every Wednesday Mike arrived, bent, it was true, under the weight of his cello, his backpack, and his new music satchel; but he was there. But there came a Wednesday when he didn’t come (“I want him to practice for his lesson Friday,” said his mother); and then another when he had a cold. The third time, the telephone rang Tuesday night, and it was Mike. “I can’t come tomorrow,” he said mournfully. “I broke my bow. Mom has to take me to get a new one. But—but… can I call you 131
tomorrow anyway? Just to talk?” “Call me up,” said Whittaker. “You go ahead and call me whenever you want.” Whittaker stirred the pot of spaghetti. The white foam swirled, and tiny bubbles rose through it. The ironic thing was that he had never actually heard Mike play. Once, he almost heard him. That was the day Mike had his first recital. Whittaker drove into town for it, losing his way from time to time. He had memorized countless lines of iambic pentameter, but his brain rebelled against remembering this particular address. When he got to the music studio at last, he hesitated in the doorway, looking in: everywhere, the sound of strings being tuned and bursts of music; mothers, fathers; sheet music scattered under folding chairs; and, right in the middle, Mike, in a white, collared shirt. For a moment Whittaker wavered on the brink of it all, and then he fled. In the end, Mike fell in love with the cello. At least, thought Whittaker, stirring, Mike must have fallen in love with it because he spent so much time practicing and rehearsing that he had no time left to come over. Whittaker put the half-full package of spaghetti back in the cabinet. Then, on second thought, he pulled it out again and added a second fistful of noodles. He could always eat them tomorrow. It didn’t feel right, somehow, to cook only one serving of spaghetti. He added sausage to the sauce and turned it down to simmer. He washed the cutting board again. When he was finished, he sank into a chair at the kitchen table, gazed out at the withered wintery garden, and lost himself in thought. The telephone on the kitchen wall rang, startling Whittaker from his reverie. He eased himself up stiffly and went to answer it: “This is Paul Whittaker speaking.” He held the receiver an inch from his ear, ready to hang up if it was another credit card company. “Hey, Paul,” said the voice on the other end. Whittaker jumped. “Mike! My goodness. How are you?” “Not too bad. Paul, my conductor’s got the flu, and he cancelled our rehearsal. So you mind if I come over after all?” “I… well, Mike… well, no! Come on! Of course you can come.” “Okay,” Mike said. “Oh— ” He paused. “It’s not too much trouble, is it? I know you weren’t expecting me… since I texted you yesterday...” “Oh, yes, I got your text message. I must say, it took a little deciphering, Mike.” He laughed, then wished he hadn’t. He changed the subject and told Mike how it was with the pasta already made and the dishes washed. Mike thanked him and hung up. Whittaker replaced the receiver slowly. For a whole minute he stared at it. So Mike was coming over after all. What a providence that he’d made extra spaghetti. He waited half-heartedly for the old feeling of excitement, but nothing came. He only felt faintly weary. He told himself he’d better go get out a second plate, but it was easier to stand still and stare at the telephone. There was the grid of 132
buttons, some still white, others darkened from years of being dialed. 3, 6, and 9 formed a faint, grey column on the right. Beside it, in the center of the grid, was 5, darker. The buttons made a choppy triangle, gray on white. Whittaker half-raised a finger, wishing, as he always did, that he could smooth those edges straight. 955-6535. Mike’s number. It occurred to Whittaker that it had been a long time since he had heard Mike’s voice over the wall telephone. He wondered why Mike hadn’t texted him. Twenty minutes later, Whittaker heard Mike on the front porch, stamping snow off his boots. Whittaker hoped there would be enough pasta. When Mike started stamping, it meant he was hungry. Mike came in with a clatter, dragging his cello case and looking cold and peeved. “Hey, Paul!” he called. Lately, Mike had stopped hanging his coat in the closet. Instead, he tossed it on top of his cello case and shoved coat and case into a corner of the foyer, where he left them in an untidy pile beside his boots. Ice melted off the boots and made puddles on the bricks. Whittaker almost protested, but he couldn’t find the right words. There wasn’t any good way to tell Mike to stop acting as though he were just passing through. Now Mike was in the kitchen, clattering in the cupboard for a glass of water. “This smells great, Paul,” he was saying. “I’m starving. I skipped lunch to do my calc homework because I was practicing Haydn all evening yesterday. I’m really getting the double stops down, but what the heck is the point if the second violins can’t play the accompaniment? They screw it up every time, and I thought they might get better today, but then rehearsal got cancelled.” Mike threw himself into a kitchen chair. “You’ve been busy, I guess,” was all Whittaker could think of to reply. He went to the stove to ladle sauce. Mike wolfed down spaghetti, talking all the while. Whittaker sat silently and let the words wash over him: words about Mike’s homework, about his solo concerto, about his orchestra. The second violins were hopelessly out of tune. The other cellists had no sense of expression. The whole winds and brass section was nothing but a bunch of promoted middle school students who only played in the Youth Symphony because the winds and brass players in high school had run away to join the marching band. In between the sentences, there were silences, and Whittaker could think of no words of his own to fill them. He nodded and smiled but stopped listening. Instead, he studied Mike. He looked at Mike’s sweatshirt, emblazoned with the logo of his high school basketball team. He looked at Mike’s hair, which Mike was growing out long so that it flopped into his eyes in that funny style kids seemed to love nowadays. He looked at Mike’s glasses: new ones, with delicate rims, which perched jauntily on Mike’s nose and made him look mature and clever, almost like a lawyer. It was when Whittaker looked behind Mike’s glasses, into his eyes, that he noticed that Mike looked tired. His lids drooped. He 133
raised and lowered his fork as though it were heavy. Even his hair flopped wearily. After a time, Whittaker realized Mike had stopped speaking. “Do you want some dessert?” Whittaker asked, to say something. “OK,” said Mike. And then, when Whittaker handed him a bowl of ice cream, “Thank you.” They ate their ice cream silently. They finished, and Whittaker put the bowls in the sink, and still Mike said nothing. “Think you’d better head home soon?” Whittaker said, to break the silence. “Are you all right, Mike?” “Oh, yeah.” Mike squinted at the table cloth. “It’s just… I feel a little… sick.” “Sick to your stomach?” Mike nodded again. He looked very tired. Could Mike have eaten something at dinner that made him ill? Whittaker wondered. But they’d both eaten the same thing. “Maybe a bit of the sausage didn’t get cooked properly,” he said slowly. And then he remembered. Sausage. He shouldn’t have given Mike sausage. Mike had stopped eating meat months ago. “Oh, Mike! The sausage. Why didn’t you say something?” “No, it’s okay. I’m fine.” “I forgot.You haven’t been over for so long— I’m sorry— you should have said something—” “Look, it’s no big deal, okay?” “But you’re sick, Mike! I shouldn’t have… I should… but I thought I cooked it alright.” “I’m sure you cooked it fine.” Mike closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them and spoke slowly. “It’s just that, sometimes… after you don’t eat meat for a while… and then you eat it again, suddenly… But just give me a minute, I’ll be okay.” He tried to smile. His face was grey, exhausted. “I’m sorry, Mike,” Whittaker said again. They sat at the table together while Mike tried to collect himself. Outside on the overpass, traffic muttered to itself. Snowflakes tickled against the windowpanes. Whittaker tried not to look at his watch. Mike sank lower and lower into his chair. After something like a quarter of an hour, Mike stood up and stumbled off to the bathroom. Oh dear, Whittaker thought. The door slammed. He wondered if he should follow Mike. He remembered the time when Mike was eight, when he’d made himself sick eating summer watermelon at a picnic in the park. Whittaker had felt like a father, putting his arm around Mike, holding cold water to his lips, and wiping his mouth for him with a damp napkin while Mike huddled against him, sniffling. But he didn’t go to Mike now. He didn’t think he could look Mike in the face and watch him be sick. And besides, he thought, Mike probably wouldn’t want him to. He heard the toilet flushing, but Mike didn’t come out. Five minutes passed, and Whittaker started to worry. He strained his ears, 134
but he could hear nothing but distant cars and snow against the window. Finally, he gave up. The bathroom was dark when he opened the door, and it took him a moment to see Mike sitting on the rim of the bathtub, his head in his hands. “Mike,” said Whittaker. “Mike.” He knelt beside him. “Are you all right?” “My head hurts something awful, Paul,” Mike muttered without looking up. Whittaker could think of nothing to do but sit next to him. They sat there silently, in the dark. Mike kneaded his forehead. Finally he said: “I feel a little better.” “I’m sorry, Mike,” Whittaker said for the third time, gently. He really was sorry; but he wished he were sorrier. He so missed caring for Mike. He reached an arm around Mike’s shoulders for a second and held him, but Mike stiffened, and Whittaker withdrew his arm. He felt wearier than ever. He felt something else, too, in the back of his throat: a soft, aching tenderness. It was a feeling he remembered from another night, years ago now, when they’d sat just like this on the bathtub, and Mike cried into Whittaker’s shirt and said, “What’s the point of getting married if you’re just going to get divorced?” He got up, and turned on the light, and they went out to the living room. Whittaker sat in the armchair, and Mike sat on the sofa. Whittaker got Mike an afghan. Mike took it without thanking him. “Mike, you didn’t have to eat that sausage.” “You know what?” Mike said. “Look. I always used to eat sausage on my spaghetti. Okay? So, that’s how it’s always been. So I just didn’t want to mess it up.” He yanked the afghan over himself and lay down, turning away. He mumbled something into the back of the couch. “What?” “I said, I didn’t want to mess it up any more.” Whittaker looked away from him and studied the wall paper. It was quiet for a time. “Mike,” said Whittaker after a while, addressing his remark to the wall paper, “why did you call me on the home phone today? Instead of texting me?” Behind him, he heard Mike turn over. There was a sigh. “My battery ran out and my phone died. I couldn’t look up your cell number ’cause it’s on my phone. So I borrowed a phone and called the house number.” Whittaker thought about that. He turned back towards Mike. “But how did you know this number?” Mike looked reproachful. “I remember this number, Paul.” He picked at the afghan. “Besides, I dunno… I wanted to talk to you.” “But isn’t that why we text message? So we don’t have to talk?” 135
It was Mike’s turn to study the wall paper. “I know…” he said. “I know you don’t like text messages, Paul. I…” And then he deflated and sank. “I just wanted to talk to you… I had such a God-awful week.” He took off his glasses. “I’m gonna get a C in my pre-calc class,” he said softly. “My mom’ll go nuts. But when am I supposed to study? I spend every waking minute practicing that stupid Haydn concerto.” He paused. “I love the cello, but …” Mike’s voice died away. His fingers picked fuzz off the afghan. He took a deep breath, then let it out. Fuzz fluttered like snow onto the carpet. “We used to talk about stuff, Paul. Why don’t we talk any more?” Whittaker searched for the right words. What could he say? There’s nothing to talk about, Mike.You talk to me, but there’s nothing left for me to say to you. I answer your text messages, that’s all. But, to his own surprise, he said none of these things. He said, “You know something? I’ve never heard you play.” “Never?” “I never… made it… to any of your concerts.” Mike put on his glasses and raised his eyes, frowning, to Whittaker’s face. “No, you never did.” “That Haydn concerto of yours—do you have the music here?” “I know it by heart.” “Why don’t you play it for me?” For a moment they looked at each other. Then Mike stood up and went for his cello. He sat on a kitchen chair, poised his bow over the strings, and began to play. The music broke out like a bird uncaged, darting from a low note up to a high note, and then it took off, swooping and singing. Once, Whittaker had thought that Mike’s childish laughter was the most shocking sound that would ever echo in his drab apartment. But the laughter was nothing compared to the cello. Never in his life had Whittaker heard anything like it. He thought it sounded almost like human speech, but soon he stopped thinking altogether. The music did something odd to his memory: he heard, but the sounds did not stay in his mind. On and on the tune went, changing, growing, shrinking, and at every moment Whittaker had only a dim sense of what it had been like the moment before. Sometimes the music was high and bright, laughing and teasing and darting up and down as though it wanted to shake Whittaker off. Sometimes it was low and urgent, sometimes gentle. It made Whittaker feel hot and cold by turns. It made him feel anger. It made him feel awe. On and on it went, that speech without words. 136
Finally the music abandoned all control, sailed high, high, and exploded like a firework. Whirling and glittering, it made its way toward earth and settled, coming to rest at last on the same clear chord on which it had begun. The end of the song echoed off the kitchen cabinets. Whittaker wiped his closed eyes with the back of his hand. When he opened them, he saw Mike loosening his bow. “I liked the ending,” Whittaker murmured. “That was the cadenza,” said Mike. “I wrote that bit.” Whittaker watched him put his cello away and said nothing more. The silence, however, was not the same silence he had felt over dinner. The silence inside Whittaker had been empty then. Now it was… less empty. Mike laced up his sopping boots, and Whittaker handed him his backpack. “You feel okay to drive, Mike?” Whittaker asked. Mike nodded and set his jaw. He shrugged on the backpack, bent, and lifted the cello case, straightening his knees slowly, almost painfully. It was the gesture of an old man. He glanced down at the case in his hand. “Some days this thing feels so heavy.” Whittaker half-raised his arms, intending to touch Mike, to hug him, to tell him something. But the music had already said everything. Instead, he walked Mike to the front door. “Goodnight, Mike. I’m sorry about the sausage.” “I’m sorry for getting sick.” “Will you come over again?” They looked each other in the eye. Mike said, “Maybe.” Mike’s hand was resting on the doorknob when Whittaker decided. It was not easy to say, but he said it. “When you have that Haydn concert… text me. And… I’ll come.” “All right,” said Mike. “If the second violins get their act together.” Then he smiled and was gone, out the front door to his car, carrying his cello carefully over the ice. Whittaker followed him onto the porch and watched as the headlights flashed and the door opened. Mike leaned half out of the car and waved. “I’ll call you.”
Leah Dawson ‘13 is from Pittsburgh and has a scar from doing some weird shit in Prague. Once she filled up her water bottle from the fountain in the CCL and the water was brown.
Tyler D. Banas ‘13 thinks identity is ineffable.
Andy Delany ‘13 likes darkrooms and darker rooms. And cats.
Hannah Bernard ’15 will watch Stand by Me with you. 312480-7301.
Dylan Fisher ‘14 hopes to plan his life so that one hour of every day can be spent naked in sunlight.
Jumi Bello ‘13 likes libraries, straw brimmed hats and grapefruit. She wants to cross over continents and make a home inside her bones.
Caroline Froh ‘15’s grandmother wrapped her as a baby in oversized afghans and left her lying in the garden. Because of this she now relishes silences and the smell of lavender.
Catherine Bisignano ‘12 got E. coli while taking this picture. Ian Gold ‘13 is a bad b!tch. He calls the bad b!tch paradise home. He hates basic b!tches. Clare Boerigter ‘14 is happy to say goodbye to Grinnell for a while—fighting wildfires in Utah, learnin’ that beautiful Costa Sophie Haas ‘12 is a Chinese and English double major from Rican lingo—just so that she can say hello again. New York City. She likes cats and anchovies, and would like to live Colin Brooks ‘13 has green eyes and a right foot a half size bigger than his left.
in a houseboat at some point.
Erica Hauswald ‘12 is an English and French major from Philly (the great, underappreciated city of America, which has Tessa Cheek ‘12 will graduate on her birthday with a degree birthed in her a defensiveness she will never quite get over). She in Philosophy. After that, she has a job on a Mississippi riverboat— harbors a vast and endless love of potlucks. taking pictures of tourists. Eva Dawson ‘14 wishes she had a pet aardvark.
Joe Hiller ‘12 could’ve been named after Joe Hill, but he wasn’t. He likes to help things sprout, brew, and ferment. His cat, Waka, is named for both the Shakira song and the Fela Kuti song.
Linnea Hurst ‘15 has many leather-bound books and her apartment smells of rich mahogany.
Glenda López ’12 is from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, drinks more coffee than she should, and is majoring in Biology.
Iulia Iordache ‘15 is Romanian, speaks fluent sarcasm and Lea Marolt Sonnenschein ‘15 enjoys mock-representing people mistake her for a vampire sometimes. She plans on having a herself and her chicken-shaped country of origin. She sometimes concentration in hipster studies. accidentally makes things that are worthwhile, other times—it’s intentional. Lily Jamaludin ‘14 imagines paradise will be some sort of Colin McCallum-Cook ‘12 is a senior from Chester library and all the time in the world. County, Pennsylvania. He enjoys taking pictures of trees, rocks, Erik Jarvis ‘12 is a 4th year music major from the OK Corral. and other things that are good at standing still. He’d rather plant a poet tree than a bigot tree. Justin Miller ‘12 is a poet, and he didn’t know that. He’s also Sara Kay ‘13 is currently studying abroad in Copenhagen, a maker of stuff, and he didn’t know that either. Denmark where she lives in a house that is older than the United Susanna Moller ‘12 is from New York. She loves to knit and States. crochet. She has cupcakes in the oven right now. Ethan Kenvarg ‘12 is very excited to have his photos appear Caleb Neubauer ‘13 gave up. in the Grinnell Review for one last time before he graduates. Abraham Kohrman ‘13 is a bio major from Chicago. He has been a photographer for several years, with interests in abstract, portraiture and alternative process photography. Andy Lange ‘13 is a Studio Art and German major from Carroll, Iowa. Upon graduation Andy plans to pursue a graduate degree in architecture or product design.
Robert O’Connell ‘12 is an English major from Kansas who likes sports and jazz. Drew Ohringer ‘14 is from Boston, MA. He writes fiction. Daniel Penny ‘13 is a writer, photographer, and world traveler. Cry no more; he’ll be back in September. 139
Ben Schwamb ‘12 once heard someone say, “So I point to my mind, I also point to my land.” He thinks that makes a lot of sense. Emily Stanfield ‘12 is a Sociology major, and one of the last three GWSS concentrators. She is from the Cornhusker State, but don’t ask her if she likes football. Eleanor Stevens ‘14 lives in Santa Fe, NM, loves her mother and father, enjoys sewing doll clothes, and is proud of her skills at figure sketching from life. Hannah Taylor ‘12 is an English and German Major from Williamsburg, VA, where she grew up with two parents, two brothers, and two dogs. Annie Tempest ‘12 thinks that it would be better if you put a bird on it. Quinn Underriner ‘14 believes his poetry really speaks to the pressing issue of intern Glock rights. Anika Wasserman ‘15 was born to Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Cassidy White ‘14 Sidways itch, acidity shews, daisy witches, wayside chit, sadistic whey, washy diestic.
The Grinnell Review is Grinnell College's biannual undergraduate student-produced literary and fine arts journal.