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Paha Review Writing and Art from the Hill

Mount Mercy University Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Spring 2013

The term paha comes from Dakota Sioux dialect meaning “hill” or “ridge,” and it was first applied in 1891 by W.J. McGee to the special hill forms in this region of Iowa… Their distribution and alignment parallel to (and very often near) river valleys strongly suggest that paha are actually wind-aligned dunes that accumulated in response to the strong, prevailing northwest winds that were scouring the Iowan surface during this period of glacial cold. Jean C. Prior Land Forms of Iowa We need to recover the ancient sense of homeland as an area defined not by armies and flags…but by nature and geography and by the history of human dwelling there, a habitat shared by other creatures, known intimately, carried in the mind as a living presence. Scott Russell Sanders Mount Mercy University is built on one of the many paha in Iowa, most clustered near or southeast of Cedar Rapids.


in memory of Katie Beckett writer and novelist inspiration for health reform tireless advocate for people with disabilities Mount Mercy Class of 2001


Editor Troy Hess Copy Editors Laura Campbell Christopher Emery Amber Goostree Steven Hoyos Maddy Jones Cory Nye Laina Pilkenton Trent Ryan Amy Stourac Robert Tigan Nicole Tyc Selection Committee Katerina Althoff Abigail Klaasen Laina Pilkenton Trent Ryan Amy Stourac Robert Tigan Nicole Tyc Art Editor

Tanya Stoyanova


Tanya Stoyanova

Cover Art Nick Plagman Sisters paint on cabinet cards Cover Design

Tanya Stoyanova

Faculty Advisors Jose Clemente Mary Vermillion Special Thanks Mildred P. Barthel Andy Casto Christopher DeVault Kim Flugga-Ciha Jim Grove Kathryn Hagy Joy Ochs Joe Sheller Carol Tyx Heidi Wheeler


Contents Adrienne Bailey



Rachel Bailey Jacob


Laura Campbell Castigation David Carbajal Panic


Jerica Christensen Untitled


Aaron Conway Twisted Sinatra

20 61

Randah Espy Clutter



Jenny Evans



Keva Fawkes Self-Portrait


Amber Goostree September 11, 2001



Troy Hess A Glove For gun and rank, he his tie and desk traded

49 67

Katie Hougas Vertigo


Samantha Miller The Imposter


Cory Nye Ready, Set, Write!


Laina Pilkenton Departure The Knight and his Lady

58 74

Rebecca Redmond Still Life


Aunna Escobedo Ruiz Split


Trent Ryan Smoke Hometown

66 76

Jenna Schueller Sunset


Amy Stourac Bob’s Last Planting Smoking Section

9 60

Tanya Stoyanova



Nikol Šustrová der Wecker dandelion White

19 31 68

Alison Swanson Nighttime with Louis


Robert Tigan Red, Black, Green, Yellow


Kate Till Untitled Pig

41 47

Caleb Upah My what a big flower you have


Brenda Westfall Ode to Chimichanga


High School Creative Writing Contest Winners 77 Notes on Contributors



Ready, Set, Write! Cory Nye The start of a poem: you rev the engine at the starting line, waiting for the light to turn green. You idle with the pen in your hand, the vibrating throttle within your grasp. You wait for an idea to come to you, anticipating the colors to drop, Red‌ Yellow‌ Green! The idea strikes you, your pen moves to the smell of burnt rubber. You reach the final stretch, seeing the page full of words like tire marks painted on the asphalt. Racing to the finish, you stomp the gas pedal to the floor, stanzas flowing like gasoline through the parched engine. Finally crossing the checkered flag, you hold your masterpiece in the air like a trophy embracing the victory that is rightfully yours.


Bob’s Last Planting Amy Stourac

On the corner of Ives and Lyman Street in South English, Iowa, lies a garden of forgiveness and grace. Strolling through this garden, with its tenders Bob and Angie Weber, is a peaceful experience—one shared by the many visitors blessed by the love that grows there. I enjoy the early peeps of yellow daffodils in April, the brazen unfolding of the daylilies at sunrise. I savor the radiant, purple perfume of lilacs in May, and the intoxicating sweetness of the Mock Orange bush in June, the path where other peace-seekers have trod, the song of birds protesting our interruption into their paradise, and the gentle hum of Bob’s voice pointing out one life form after another, some purposefully placed, others allowed to grow where nature wanted. The sensual experience of the garden alone brings peace, but part comes from the tour guides. Bob and Angie have crossed through the boundaries of friendship and become my family. Two months ago, Bob was strong as an ox, still a roofer. But the lung cancer had spread fast, and Bob was home under hospice care. In reality, he was home under Angie’s care, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. It was Thursday during my spring break, and I had just spent five days with other friends while they buried their mother. So much death. So much sadness. So many friends who needed me. So many friends I’d neglected for this degree, and some of them, I wouldn’t be able to catch up with now. I had work to do for my thesis. I had so much homework. But when Angie, the care-taker of everyone, asked me for help, I knew she needed it. So I was going to help go through


closets. I was going to help organize things. I was going to fill the house with a sound other than death. I was going to drink coffee with her and hold her while she wept for her dying husband. “It will be nice to make a whole pot of coffee,” she told me. “Bob can’t drink it anymore and I can’t drink a whole pot by myself, or I get all…” She shivered all over to express what she meant. I knew what she was trying to say, but I was ten years younger and still surviving on it. The thought of a half empty coffee pot in Angie’s kitchen, though, struck my heart. Bob not drinking coffee? Somehow that made it real. No Bob, in his blue jean overalls, navy blue hooded sweatshirt, ball cap with his long curly red pony tail hanging out the back, his feet up, T.V. remote in his hand, a seed catalog in the other? Bob’s corner, empty? Bob’s corner, full of metal trimmers, tin frogs and lizards he’d made with them, poetry and gardening books and old botany books rescued from the garbage, ashtrays and a perpetually cooling cup of coffee, often delivered happily by Angie. Bob’s corner empty? Bob’s corner is an example of the delightful hodgepodge of the rest of the living room. Angie’s parents own and operate Ron Cox Sanitation and Recycling. Their recycling system, well-run by overworking owners and their loyal, devastatingly hard-labor workers, like Bob and Angie, have kept this little pocket of Iowa clean for decades. They have been archeologists along the way, rescuing what they could of the waste that those in need consider treasures, or waste that is treasure in disguise. Many of these treasures adorn Bob and Angie’s living room. One can look for hours and never run out of something interesting to see. The glass bottles: bright green, red, yellow and blue. Old pictures with antique frames, new pictures of family brimming with the love that will become antique in the Weber family. My


favorite part of the room, though, is the antique that lies behind the pictures. The wallpaper. “I’m not sure when it was hung,” Angie said one time when the depth of our thoughts had us looking around the room and I noticed it for the first time. “It was here in 1986, when we bought the house.” Metallic, with wide stripes of hunter green and some burgundy, it's laced with gold paisleys and adornments of no particular shape of loveliness. It’s beautiful and old, and made more beautiful by the evidence of a full and happy life that hangs upon it: Mallory’s amazing smile, Bryce’s questioning eyes and Forest’s trusting ones, Bentley’s Grandpa Steve smile and Bella’s baby face, Annie and Alicia in various stages of growing up, Angie and Bob in stages of growing old. All of them with love and laughter bursting out of their faces, bursting out of the pictures. After my first divorce, Angie was the underpaid and overworked nanny for my three older children. While I worked ridiculous hours at the Postal Service, Angie and her family planted deep roots of compassion into the hearts of my babies. I could never have paid her what she was worth. She came over early and woke me up with a sweet smile and a hot cup of coffee. Like Bob, Angie had long hair, except for her rare moments of defiance when she would lop off her pig-tails. No matter how crude her method, her hair is always beautiful: honey-blond, straight and silky. It always smells so good when she hugs you. I would wake up to her smell and her smile. She brought her peace to my chaos. She helped me find my glasses while she helped me find my center. Even in my exhaustion, I had to smile on my way out the door at the sound of my laughing children. I always felt that they were better off with her anyway, and she always reminded me how much they needed me. It was a beautiful place for children, surrounded by women trying to love them for another. When I would express how torn


I felt between working and mothering, she would remind me that my children were watching me work hard and try, and that meant more than anything. No one knows better than my kids and me what her mother-tutoring meant for us. When I share her wisdom with young mothers, I know they won’t get it right away either, but Bob and Angie have taught me the power of planting a seed. Bob is a man who, even during my man-hating phase, I couldn’t hate. How could I, seeing the way he loved Angie, my friend, my sister? I always considered him a hero because he married her when she was young, wild, and pregnant, even though he was young and wild himself. He remained a rock for her to lean on, even in the rough years, because he was man enough to be one. Angie says they will move the largest boulder from their yard for his headstone. How appropriate. I think of the memories the remaining Weber’s will share around that rock, beginning with the one about when Angie hauled it home after a day landscaping for Mike Crippin. Both Bob and Angie were boulder hunters, always on the look-out for anything from nature they could make a home for. Gardening, for them, was a constant action, no matter the season. The most cherished of their blossoms, Annie and Alicia, were teenagers by the time our families merged. They had been raised in a loving hippie home, by parents who each fought a bout of alcoholism. But they were loved and cherished and nurtured and scolded into the beautiful mothers they now are despite the mistakes of their parents. The Weber family is a testimony to commitment, forgiveness, and acceptance. And never was it more evident to me than the day of Bob’s last planting. As we drank coffee in the kitchen, Bob snored in the next room. He was lying on the sofa. I remember the hours I spent crying on that sofa while Bob and Angie counseled


me through broken hearts and aftermaths of bad decisions. They planted seeds of wisdom in me about Jesus, peace, and compassion. They must have known that I lacked the depth to comprehend all they were teaching me, but they told me anyway, in loving faith that the Spirit would continue to nurture my growth. “We got plants in the mail today,” Angie said. “Bob was excited and we went out to plant, but he got too tired.” She looked tired. She was tired. Tired of being sad. Tired of crying. Tired of being helpless. Tired of being right about all those warnings to stop smoking. Tired from carrying the part of the burden that only she, as the widowto-be, could carry. Tired of running from the truth that once this nightmare was over, “We will no longer be a we.” So she and I got up and went to clean out her closet. Because we are women, and that’s what we do. Tired, or not. “If you ever have an extra lampshade in the way, they make great hampers,” Angie said. She giggled as I looked down at the faded olive green lampshade with yellow tassels that I was pulling clothes from. I hadn’t even noticed it. That was the way of the Webers; recycling is not what they do, it’s what they live. And their life is so full and rich in its simplicity because of it. We got half way through the closet project, where we were bagging up excess clothes for Goodwill, when Bob woke up spunky. After devouring a bowl full of fruit, he was ready to go planting. Even though he was disoriented, his desire for activity excited them both. Hitting the outside running, Bob immediately eyed a spot perfect for the clematis. He began digging with fervor, building a nest of dirt. First he dug the hole with a spade. Then got down on his knees and ran his hands through the dirt, breaking it up, feeling the texture, his hands analyzing the acidic balance. A poet of the soil. I watched him work, with childlike excitement interlaced with the joy that comes


from a lifetime of being connected to the soil. Then he sought the perfect spot for a rhododendron and decided that a daylily must be moved. A moment of frustration ensued when Angie attempted to dig a new hole for the daylily. Bob wanted her to dig it up first, so the dirt that would be pulled up with it could be used in the replanting. But he couldn’t communicate this effectively in his disoriented, medicated, and excited state. He became short with Angie, and she choked out an “I’m sorry, Bob,” forgiving him as his harshness hurt her. He immediately responded, “I’m sorry, Ang, you’re such a great help. You are.” “Thank you Bob. You are too.” They continued the replanting, alternately praising each other’s gardening skill. No wonder plants grow beautifully here, planted in an air of such love. After the daylily was back in the earth in its new nest, Bob next ascertained that the soil in the spot for the rhododendron was not acidic enough. His hands swept through the dirt. “More, more, more,” he chanted. “We need more stuff in this soil…to balance it…we gotta… we gotta…” He knew what had to be done, he knew. But he couldn’t say it. Angie struggled to understand, risking upsetting him as she tried one suggestion after another until she understood he wanted the wheelbarrow back by the compost pile. So we took the winding path past the potting shed and the clothesline and the archway to the pile of dirt and compost. Bob scolded Angie for pulling out the dead leaves and roots and other debris from the dirt. Bob was trying to tell her that it needed more debris for acidic balance. They eventually loved each other through that moment of confusion as well, and after Bob rested a brief moment in his new yard lounging chair, set to face the sun, we were back in the front yard. Bob’s urgency heightened at the same pace as his


fatigue. He knelt by the gutted, waiting earth, adding dirt to the gaping wound, massaging it, caressing it, shaping it into a nest, ripe for planting. He loosened up the roots on the bottom of the plant container, breaking up the dead ones and throwing them into the hole. “That will help… more acid…more dirt.” He asked for more dirt repeatedly and with such urgency—“More…more…more!”—that Angie lovingly flirted and reminded him of another time those words were used. She simply couldn’t shovel fast enough, so Bob instructed her to lean the wheelbarrow up on its end, and he poured the dirt out as if looking for treasure within it. As he planted this last plant, I watched him. I watched her watching him. I watched her helping him. I watched a lifetime of love unfolding before my eyes, and I was awed to be in the presence of it. I knew some of the struggles Angie and Bob had loved through. They had their moments when one would wander, or resent, or question, and the other, with Annie and Alicia tucked safely beneath their wing, would hold fast to the thousand roots that grew on the corner of Ives and Lyman, and weather the storm. The beauty of Bob and Angie’s love was that when the storm had passed, there was forgiveness and growth because of it. Just like the re-planting of the daylily, to make room for another plant to love, just like the addition of debris to balance the soil, Bob and Angie tended their marriage in much the same way. I watched them in pain on both sides, and I’ve watched them heal and grow and seek to understand each other while not being afraid to disagree. They’d grown to trust each other enough to accept each other, debris and all. They’d loved enough strength into each other to say goodbye with grace. On Friday, the day after the planting, I received a text from Angie. “Glad you were here, Bob’s having a bad day.” Then two days later, “Bob hasn’t eaten since Friday.”


I knew what that meant. He was ready now. He would be gone soon. I called her Monday to see if I should bring the kids to say goodbye and she said “I don’t think Bob wants anyone to see him like this.” Already? I was just there! I knew then how fast this was going to happen. Bob’s last planting became a million times more important than anything else I could have been doing that day. It was one of the most enriching experiences of my life as I witnessed, firsthand, the forgiveness in love and the growth in dying.


Castigation Laura Campbell I remember… when my tongue burnt black for the things I said. when you cradled your insults like your poor, lifeless child. when your promise was the sky when it was created from dirt. when you justified your reason to call me a whore, I imagined you eating me like a fly’s dead vulture on the floor. I remember… the way you leeched onto my past like my blood was stained. the way I spat back, like a gun with no bullet—a sinister trigger in an empty hand. the way you told me I was a sickening burden to the filth I already am. the way you were never satisfied with me. But how could I have been proud of you? I imagined you were the gristle, fat and bone I had to chew through. I remember… how my body was made entirely of glass when you decided to be the hammer. how many of those you counted and disposed of before you got to me. how I drowned in pitch to a point I found myself becoming inebriated. how I was a mud-ridden cur in a cage living in a box


constructed by you. how the kisses and stitches revealed how I hoped Death would have mercy. I imagined you were the fire and I starved for ashes; your flames burning with me. I remember...

Nothing at all.


der Wecker Nikol Ĺ ustrovĂĄ every morning is the same I wake up. I strike the alarm I go to the bathroom and look at my dying face. The wakes behind the boat of love


Twisted Aaron Conway Not a leaf wavering. It’s quiet and no longer can the breeze’s breath be felt. An air that’s thick and tangible is blanketing as if trying to suffocate us. The early heat—once a consuming fire—shifts its presence. An unusual briskness considering the conditions. The sky is conquered by darkness. The optimistic world around me packs up and runs for cover. Bullets of ice and water—loud and hard— batter and bruise their victims without relent. The wind warns us with screams— screams we not only hear, but feel. Then silence. The energy kicks like a shotgun—from nonexistent to merciless. Electricity snaps its way in and out, shedding light for only a moment before casting us


back into darkness. The devastating force has the power to shred a town—or a mind in only a matter of seconds before hurling us about without ceasing. It’s a fit of rage spinning in circles— annihilation in its purest form. No remorse for damage done. Only when it’s satisfied will it slip away, leaving behind broken dreams and broken bones. And—in some twisted way— hope.


Sunset Jenna Schueller Sun-set n. 1. The disappearance of the sun in the sky to the west / A romantic date night in a grassy field on the countyside / A young couple lying in the back of an old pickup truck watching the sun fall on the western horizon / The air is silent / The air is cool as the sun drops on that beautiful summer night / The sky full of warm colors / Red, orange, yellow, dark blue or purple, almost black / Where people dream and wish / Then it just disappears


Red, Black, Green, Yellow Robert Tigan It’s short comic book history lesson time. There have been five different people who have assumed the identity of Robin throughout the character’s 71-year history. In order: Richard John Grayson, Jason Peter Todd, Timothy Jackson Drake, Stephanie Brown and Damian Wayne. Usually, if I’m referring to a Robin, I’m referring to number one or number three, because those are the two who I believe matter the most. The others I may refer to in passing using their real names.

I distinctly remember the sensation of the branches piercing my shirt. This wasn’t the first time I had been disoriented like this. I hung there over the retaining wall (never mind how I got there—through my own stupidity) yelling for help once again. I wasn’t thinking about how I could’ve been hurt if the branches of the bush had snapped, like my arms would’ve had I gone over that wall. I was thinking about how my shirt, which I had paid good money for the previous year at Wizard World Chicago, was forever blemished. When my father pulled me up off the incline, I looked at the two small holes that the brittle sticks had created. Ignoring the blinding whiteness of my skin, I was disheartened that the yellow R was no longer pristine. I didn’t realize how close I came to serious injury. As my dad said that day, “Your Robin shirt probably saved your life.” I wonder, if I have seven of them, is my life going to need to be saved six more times? I was horrified when my Painting I teacher suggested changing the color scheme on my final painting for the semester. I wanted to look her dead in the face and say, “Are you crazy?” She had just basically asked me to commit


an act of sacrilege. If it isn’t black, red, yellow and green (or some combination of those colors), it’s not Robin. I’m speaking strictly about 2-D perspective, as I have plenty of Robin action figures that are not those colors—that’s a sad statement. My obsession with Robin has colored my personality. In most social situations, I’m the one standing against the back wall out of the way. I, like a sidekick, try and bring out the best in my friends, or at least make them look better by comparison. What I’m saying is that I’d rather help people succeed than succeed myself. My mission on that first trip to Chicago was to fill in all the holes in my collection. My first convention was also what I consider to be my first real vacation. The only other times I had been on anything that someone else might consider a vacation, going out of state, had involved lengthy hospital visits up in Minnesota, consulting doctors about my bad hip. These weren’t very fun for me as an eight-yearold. Staying in a hotel that has a pool does not a vacation make. This made staring at the shiny book covers in their plastic bags with their yellow trade dress laid out on the bed seem all the sweeter. My collection was complete. It also helped that my mom wasn’t there to scrutinize how much we were spending at the convention. This past June DC Comics announced it was rebooting its universe. I felt like a longtime friend had just punched me in the face. Rebooting means that all the events that happened in DC Comic’s 75-year history didn’t happen, or in this case, happened, but not in the way that it was initially presented. This dissolved connections between characters that have been around for 20 years. I believe all of this was done to make the comics easier to adapt as


movies—a fact that makes me all ragey inside. When I sat down in September to read the first issue of the new Teen Titans, I tried to keep an open mind, I really did, but without those relationships, there was no emotional resonance for me in the pages of that book, not to mention the fact that writer Scott Lobdell has turned Tim Drake into a 21st-century cynical denizen of the Internet. That’s not who Tim Drake is; he’s one of the few heroes that hasn’t fallen into the post-1986 trend of making heroes “dark and gritty.” None of the characters that I had followed since I started paying attention to comics at age three were the same. I went from reading 13 or 14 DC titles a month to reading one. For a couple weeks I considered giving up comics all together—it was a dark time. I remember staring at the white walls of my cousin’s bedroom. One wall was covered in comic book covers. At the time, I felt this was the coolest thing ever. Now, if I had a time machine, I would go back and punch my cousin, Andrew, in the face for tearing apart comic books like that. I was younger and dumber back then. So, because he was older than I was and the closest thing I had to a brother, since I’m an only child, I didn’t question any of his decisions. I wanted to do everything he did and like all the same things he liked. It was then that my journey into obsession with Robin began. Andrew’s mom bought him Robin with a cloth cape from the Batman Returns movie tie-in toy line from Kenner. Back then, Andrew and I used to trade action figures and other toys. Being the younger one, I always got the short end of the stick. I can’t tell you how many times I asked him to trade that no longer mint on card Robin figure. I just wanted the figure. I didn’t even care about the bulky grappling hook attachment on the figure’s back. What’s interesting is that Robin didn’t even


appear in Batman Returns. He was supposed to be played by Marlon Wayans. Which may explain why this particular Robin is the only one I’ve ever seen with a high top fade. I eventually got Andrew’s action figure and comic book collection. So, now I have that Robin on top of the one I bought at a convention (that I think I opened). Not to worry, though, my dad has a mint on card version stashed in our basement. There is one item (other than Detective Comics 38, the first appearance of Dick Grayson as Robin) I would consider missing from my collection of Robin-based items. It’s a mint, in-box version of the Robin dragster from the line of action figures and vehicles based off of the 1992 cartoon show Batman: The Animated Series. Yes, I do have a Robin Dragster, but it’s in very poor condition and out-ofthe-box. I’m still thankful that my dad found one for me at one of those flea markets in the Teamsters building. Having a complete run of a comic is pretty important to people who read comics. My first complete run (meaning I began picking up the book at issue 1 and saw it through to the end) was the team book Young Justice. It was a team consisting initially of Tim Drake (Robin), Connor Kent (Superboy), and Bart Allen (Impulse). The friendship between these three characters endured for 15 years, until that screwy reboot. The friendship did endure some hardships. For example, both Bart and Connor died— Bart saving Central City (where speedsters like Bart Allen come from) and Connor saving the universe. It’s okay. They came back to life because it’s comics. Only Uncle Ben stays dead in comics. My friendships mirror those of these three boys. I’m Robin in that I’m pretty steady, unchanging, and dependable in much the same way that Robin is—at least


in the sense that he had the longest ongoing series of these three characters, and in my opinion, the most well-written (disclaimer: I have not read the original Superboy series or the Impulse series). I’m also pretty brainy like Mr. Drake. Superboy is a clone Superman. If I had to pick one of my friends who is most like Superman/Superboy, I’d have to pick my friend Derrick, who’s a theater major, or an acting major, or maybe a film major. Anyway, he’s in one of those majors where people get to pretend to be other people. Everything seems to come insanely easily to him. Last time I saw him, he told me that every paper he’s written during his college career has been done the day before it’s due. And then on top of that, the lowest grade he has ever gotten on any of these papers is a B+ (I hate him for this). Derrick is also insanely physically fit. If this doesn’t earn him the Superboy position in this analogy, I don’t know what would. Any comic book speedster is not so much just somebody who can run really fast; speedsters have untapped potential as well. If there is a better example of untapped potential than my best friend Cory Taylor, I have yet to find that person. Cory is one of those guys who’s either a mad genius or a serial killer. Really, some days I’m not sure which. One of the trademarks of the Impulse character is his ability to eat a lot due to his insanely fast metabolism. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen Cory shove at least four pieces of pizza into his gullet in one sitting. He is also one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Most of his thoughts are so out there that you can’t help but consider them. For example, the pilot script he wants to work on this summer involves a super volcano destroying half the world and what he calls “tree Nazis” (I know, I don’t know where this is going either). Another way he is similar to Impulse is that, during the Young Justice era, Bart often had pictures instead of words in his thought balloons. Cory


often takes class notes via pictograms. If he reads this, he’s going to be upset that I didn’t compare him to his favorite comic book character, Dr. Doom. But using a Marvel villain when trying to make an analogy to a DC hero wouldn’t make much sense at all, now would it? As I look around my room right now, I count no less than 30 Robin-based items. I have multiple sketches from the last two years of comic book conventions that still need to be framed and hung up before we head to another convention in two weeks. Damn my tiny room! Let’s talk about chicks, man. Batman comics have even influenced my taste in women. Coincidentally, it is my taste for Batman comics that’s kept me from having the time and money to pursue girls. (No, I can’t buy you dinner; I have comics to pay for.) Barbara Gordon (Batgirl/ Oracle) is my dream girl. She’s a smart, fiery redhead who doesn’t take shit from anyone. As Oracle, her job was to keep an eye on intelligence for Batman and various other superhero organizations. She’s kind of a big deal. In probably the most important Batman story of the last 30 years, Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, The Joker shot Barbara Gordon through the spine when she answered her front door, leaving her paralyzed for the better part of 30 real-life years—time passes much slower in comic books. This is when she assumed the identity of Oracle. Her on-again offagain relationship with Dick Grayson is one of the funniest and sweetest in comic book history. The other girl in the Batman universe who has always caught my eye is Stephanie Brown, who was also Batgirl, but that’s a discussion of superhero tropes that I don’t want to get into right now. Anyway, Stephanie first appeared on my radar as Spoiler in the fourth or fifth issue of Tim Drake’s ongoing series. She’s a short, plucky blonde—the kind of girl who seems


really dumb on the surface, but is actually quite intelligent. She had an on-again off-again relationship with Tim Drake (seeing a pattern here?). Actually, now that I think about it, maybe the reason I don’t have a girlfriend is because I can talk about Robin’s influence on my life for seven pages. Having just come from my third viewing of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, my dream of seeing a properly done big screen version of a Robin story has been rekindled. A solo Robin movie will never happen. Nobody takes the character seriously enough. Plus, the current style of Batman films has no place for a Robin. So, I guess I’ll have to wait for the reboot of the franchise in another two years. Maybe by then I will have started taking writing seriously as a career, and in my pipedream, if there is a solo Robin film, I’ll have the writer credit.


September 11, 2001 Amber Goostree I’m sitting in third grade math class— I hate math. An announcement— we get out of school early. Kaysee and I are excited, but Mrs. Strothman is not. In fact, she’s crying, crying a lot. My mom picks me up from school– this is unusual. Mom is crying. Confused, I don’t say a word. We go to my stepdad’s work— the police station. I listen to them as I eat my Lunchable. Michelle, I don’t think you understand they’re gone! New York is complete chaos right now! We start driving home— Mom sobs to herself. I grab her hand. Mommy, what’s gone? She runs her fingers through my long, blonde hair—

as she continues to cry.


dandelion Nikol Šustrová I broke my own thoughts in two halves. The shower cries a river (in the background). I wanted to be strong. Do you remember? I don’t think I’ll ever become the person I wanted to be. The dandelion with white thoughts that don’t matter until the wind takes them on the journey to the sun.


The Imposter Samantha Miller Your brilliant blue eyes no longer sparkle staring at the wall or maybe even out the window. Ignore the mindless droning of my aunt. She never shuts up, her way of dealing with this. I look down at your hands— ice cold and transparent. I hold on tighter not saying a word. A moan escapes from your mouth. I wince. I hate seeing you in pain. The lady whose hand I‘m holding is not my grandma. It is an imposter. It took your smile, your laugh, your soul. The cancer took it all and left us with your outer shell. You are lifeless, angry and pale. Not the lady who was always laughing, making cookies, teaching me to sew and doing her crossword puzzles in her pink recliner. There is a crushing feeling in my chest. I choke back sobs, knowing you are in a better place, and you no longer hurt. But everything has changed now— and as selfish as this is, I wish you were still here.


Panic David Carbajal

I woke up and realized my alarm clock never went off (even though it really did). I had only 15 minutes before I had to be at work. At that moment, I wished I worked at McDonald’s or Burger King, a place where it didn’t matter what I looked like, hidden from the rest of society. Unfortunately, I worked at Tradehome Shoes, one of only two shoe stores in my hometown. I was expected to dress professionally with a shirt and tie, shower, and have neat hair. I bolted to the shower, eyes barely open, causing me to stumble on my shoes and other random objects in my room. The day was already off to a rough start. I jumped out of the shower, remembering I hadn’t ironed my shirt the night before. I rapidly processed my options. I couldn’t call in since I was opening the store that morning. My only option was to iron the wrinkled piece of clothing as fast as possible. Waiting for the iron to warm up, I put in my contacts and pulled on my dress pants. After I began the quick iron session, however, my phone rang from across the room. It was my girlfriend, Annie. “Right on time,” I thought out loud. I had trouble making out what she was saying since I had to squeeze the phone in between my face and neck. I tried not to let my shirt burn rushing to iron it. I reassured Annie I would pick her up at 5:30. Hanging up the phone, I quickly realized she was not ready to get off just yet. I put my shirt on, rushed out the door, making it to work only ten minutes late. Great. Work was brutal because of my frantic start to the day. I had no time to get anything to eat or drink. My part-timer wouldn’t be


in until 5:00. It was noon. I had been at work for only three hours, but it felt as if it had been at least twice that. I was finding it very difficult to smile when a customer walked in. I found it even tougher to keep one when I began to help them. 1:00—the traffic began to pick up as customers on their lunch breaks strolled in to waste more of my time trying on loads of shoes then not buying anything in the end. With every trip to the back room, every kneel and rise I had to make, my body and thoughts began to wear down. I just wanted to go to practice. Today was a tough workout on the track, just how I liked them. It’s one of the only places where I excel. I hoped my legs wouldn’t be dead by the time practice came around right after work. 3:00—I only had two more hours until the end of work and the start of practice. These two hours, however, went by quickly. I was getting so anxious for practice now. People were pouring in, and the best part about it was that they were actually buying shoes! When you’re selling and selling consistently, it always makes the time fly by. Yet all I could think about was getting out of this place and getting onto the track to let myself free. It was my sanctuary. As I finished up with a customer, I noticed my part-timer come in. I glanced down at the computer as I said goodbye to my customer, noticing it was 5:05. I was late for practice. I had no time to lecture my part-timer about the importance of being early, so I gathered my things, said good luck to him and left. I raced to practice, speeding down every street while changing into my running clothes (the shorts were rather tricky). As I pulled into the parking lot, I could see that my coach was already walking towards me. The rest of the team was warming up in the background, running around the track in a tight group. I stood there watching them closely as my coach lectured me on the importance of being early. The sun created the false image of water across their


feet as they reached the backstretch. All I wanted to do was walk away from my coach to join my teammates. I had been waiting for this all day, and here I was, being delayed once again. I finally joined the group after my shortened warmup. I was surprised that my legs felt a bit weak even after cutting it short. I sat and stretched, trying to liven up my legs a bit while coach called out our times for our repeats. As we lined up on the starting line, I worried that my long work shift hurt my legs. Coach yelled go. I started my watch, and I took off opening my stride and pushing hard off the rubberized ground. I felt strong and light. So far, so good. 100 meters went by as I led the pack down the backstretch where I had seen them run so closely before. Now I was out in front of them. 200 meters—the halfway point. I was cutting through the air, but as I attempted to pick up the pace, my legs began to turn on me; my feet felt heavy and weak. I looked down for a split second and when I looked back up, four of my teammates had gone by, then five, then six. By the time we finished our lag, I was dead last. The next four repeats yielded the same. This was not my day. My teammates looked at me bewildered as I took yet another gulp of water from the drinking fountain. I could hear them chatting, wondering what was up with me. I’m sure my coach was thinking the same thing, or perhaps he didn’t even care. At the start of our next repeat, all I could think about was getting out of there. The one thing I had waited for all day was now something I wanted to run away from, literally. What a waste of a day. I wanted to crawl onto my couch and watch television or play some video games. I thought about maybe inviting Annie over to watch a movie...and then it hit me. I had forgotten to pick her up. For what, I couldn’t remember. I was supposed to pick her up at 5:30. But why at 5:30 if she knew I had practice at 5:00? I had no idea what time it was now, but


regardless, I was in BIG trouble. I again processed any possibilities of getting out of practice early. Maybe I should fake passing out. I could pretend I got hurt. No, those plans would require me to play it out for days. I had no viable options. I was dead in the water. The only thing I could do was finish my workout as quickly as possible and get to Annie. The one day when I was physically at my worst. I crossed the finish line after eight 400-meter repeats and a one-mile cool down. It was almost 7:00, but I could finally get out of there. I talked to no one, grabbed my shirt and limped back to the parking lot. There was a pain in my right calf that was preventing me from running to my car. It probably cost me a good minute and a half. I realized how much that didn’t really matter, struggling to even get my key into the door. My hands were slippery with sweat; my keys collided with the ground. I cursed, then took a breath and picked up the keys. I opened the door and sat down, reaching immediately for my phone to call Annie. What would I tell her? I thought of so many possible excuses, but as my phone screen lit, I realized there was no excuse to free me from the wrath that was an angry girlfriend. I had over ten text messages from her friends, all asking the same thing: “Where are you? Why aren’t you at Annie’s birthday party?” I was finally able to recall our conversation from earlier that morning. I was to go to practice in the morning before work and take Annie to the party we were throwing for her that night. But because of my disoriented morning, I had forgotten. Now, I was preparing for my funeral.


Adrienne Bailey Adrienne Self-Portrait, oil onBailey canvas Self-Portrait, oil on canvas

AunnaEscobedo EscobedoRuiz Ruiz Aunna Split,print etching Split,

Jenny Evans Untitled, etching

Rebecca Redmond Still Life, oil on canvas

Kate Till Untitled, oil on canvas diptych

TanyaStoyanova Stoyanova Tanya Self f -P P ortrait mixed media media (oil (oil pastels, pastels, soft Selff-P Portrait, ,mixed soft pastels, pastels,ContĂŠ ContĂŠcrayon) crayon)

Jerica Christensen Untitled Untitled,, hand-colored woodcut

KatieHougas Hougas Katie Vertigo, inkjet print Vertigo, inkjet print

Randah Espy Clutter, mixed media (charcoal, tempera, graphite, ink)

Caleb Upah My what a big flower you have, mixed media (ceramic, paint, artificial flower)

Kate Till Pig, mixed media (ceramic, oil paint)

Keva Fawkes, Self-Portrait, inkjet print

A Glove Troy Hess

Confidently, the tall humanoid dropped to a low stance. He wore battle-hardened plate-mail—all matching and glittering in the red sun except for one missing gauntlet. With the firmest of grips he held two glistening longswords that glowed a misty blue. Around him, the death throes of his comrades rang out. Their weak and battered bodies littered the battlefield in clumps, some still bleeding out, others silent. A few robed healers huddled behind the warrior, unable to help as their magical energy had run dry hours ago. The warrior turned his face—pallid-blue skin, orange braided hair, a snarling maw of ivory tusks—to check his comrades. Useless. He turned back to face the behemoth and shifted his stance: aggressive, unmoving, confident. In the distance was a shadow, rising from a cloud of dust kicked up by a colossal stride. The footsteps resonated deeply within the ancient canyon, painted red by this eternal struggle. The behemoth closed the distance between itself and the resolute warrior. The monster dragged an immense tree trunk, easily the height of seven men, that terminated in a braided knot of steel. This club sank deep into the ground, its weight carving a furrow as it made its way to a final target. In the beast’s other hand, a twisted pile of broken bodies. The behemoth staggered his step and broke into a sprint, causing the canyon walls to shudder as if chilled by the sight. The warrior answered the behemoth’s challenge, running headlong into the approaching, quickening drumbeat footfalls.


With a sudden swing, the behemoth brought his club down where the warrior stood, creating a wide crater. When the dust settled, he discovered the warrior sprinting up the club, onto his arm. Before the beast could register the moment, the warrior sprang towards his surprised face, brought his swords up and slid them deep into the beast’s eye sockets. The behemoth let loose a guttural dirge of a scream. He threw up his arms, peppering the air with his former war-trophies, and before he had a chance to swipe at his assailant or recoil in pain, the warrior slid across the expanse of the beast’s neck and dragged his blades cleanly through it. It was an execution; a punctuation of life, an end. The behemoth’s scream turned into a bubbling rainbow of pixilated gore. He staggered and fell forward. A pile of trinkets and armor surged from his lifeless body. I leaned back from my computer monitor and took a long breath. As I stood and stretched, a few empty Mountain Dew bottles fell off my desk and into the clutter around my squeaking, protesting desk chair. I had been at this boss fight for about four hours, with failed attempt after failed attempt, until finally we cleared it. I was waiting for the rest of the party to get resurrected before divvying out the loot. The clock to the right of my monitor glowed a soft 04.00. I had a paper, one I had already secured an extension on, due in four hours. I hadn’t even started. I turned back to my monitor for solace and began sifting through the pile of treasure neatly clustered next to the decaying corpse of our defeated foe. I leaned over, kicking useless trinkets away. I picked up a few robes and belts, looking underneath until I spotted it. A glove. My gauntlet. It was the last piece I needed to finish the best armor ever forged. The growing, murmuring crowd sifting through the pile of treasure suddenly grew silent. I bent over to pick up the glove from where it lay. The last remnants of the pixilated blood had disappeared


and left the chalky blue glove, starkly contrasting the red, dusty earth. A few onlookers finally broke the silence to congratulate and salute me. Nearly everyone knew that this triumph would occur any day, and now that it had, a mumbling, gasping crowd gathered in a semi-circle around my hunched form. They all knew the glove was the last piece I needed, and they were anxiously waiting, probably with the leader-boards open, to watch the momentous event. I grabbed the glove, which then disappeared into my inventory. After a few clicks, it appeared, perfectly fitted to my hand. At that moment, my position on the server leaderboards moved from second to first. A few Dwarven priests began to kneel and grovel at my feet. Some gnomes began a lively dance around the crowd. It must have been hard for them to be in the presence of the best warrior of all the lands. I stood and basked in the glory, grinning contentedly. My stomach growled. I swung my arm around in darkness near my feet, feeling through empty fast food bags until my fingers clenched some day-old french fries. A few fell apart before they reached my mouth. I swung my chair around and attempted to adjust my eyes to the darkness quicker than they wanted. The monitor felt as though it was burning my retinas. But what was being famous without a bit of sacrifice? As my eyes started to adjust, I half expected to see my old dorm room. The bunk bed quickly materialized into a single queen size bed. The band posters on the wall smoothed into the basement stairs and a water heater. I was no longer at Iowa State. Instead I was in my parent’s basement, a drop-out trying to find his way at a community college. I stood and trudged through the week’s worth of brown fast food bags and empty Mountain Dew liters. My door creaked open to the downstairs bathroom and steps leading upstairs to the kitchen. I could hear my parents—not roommates—snoring at the top of them. I


rushed into the bathroom to relieve myself, mind drifting back to my computer monitor. My mailbox was overflowing with letters of congratulations, invitations to join another raid on some other boss. But I was done. I had beaten the behemoth, gotten the glove, and finished the end game. After six years—or maybe more, it was hard to count at this point—I had conquered everything put before me. I’d risen to the summit of the tallest mountain. I glanced over to my phone. A light was blinking, so I snatched at it to check the message or Facebook response. Just the battery dying, recommending I should plug it in soon. I tossed it back on my desk with a dull thud. A nearby mage offered me a teleport to our capital city so I could show off my new threads. I accepted his invitation and strode through the portal. With the new gauntlet firmly attached to my hand, I now sported a surreal glow, and a pair of ethereal wings sprouted from my back. Only the leader of the boards got this enchantment. Immediately people recognized me and my new look. Shortly, the streets filled with gawkers. Newbies asked me where I got the wings—I laughed off their uninformed questions. With all the pleasant circumstance, I had neglected to alert the one and only person on my friend’s list: Josh, someone I knew on the outside. I opened the social panel—he wasn’t online. I forgot he had quit playing a while ago, so I grabbed my phone and sent him a quick, summary text. He responded, “Meet me at the lot in ten?” He meant the parking lot around the corner. I stood up and thought about changing my clothes. My sweat pants were only a few days unwashed, so I kept those on. However, my shirt was smeared with innumerable grease stains, so I opted to change it. I looked through my closet for a t-shirt and selected one of my old favorites. I slid it over my chest and noticed that it felt tighter as it approached my stomach.


I grabbed my keys and phone, slipped my feet into some flip-flops, and headed out. Next to my bedroom door stood a mirror, and out of the corner of my eye I caught a flash of flesh at the bottom of my shirt. A bulge of fat hung. I never remembered having this pudge. The possibility of being so out of touch with my own body that I didn’t notice putting on such weight was appalling. I grabbed a hoodie lying on the floor and stuffed it over my head, slamming the door on my way out. Josh was already there, sitting on his car hood. He watched quietly as I huffed and puffed my way towards him. “How’s it going?” he asked, pulling a cigarette out from behind his ear, while yawning a sleepy grin. “Awesome. Just cleared Gin-Urgosh the Awakener. The Steelblooded Gauntlet dropped for me. Finished my set and got the number one rank. Feeling pretty…” “Out of breath?” Josh smirked, lighting a cigarette. “Hey, fuck you. Not funny,” I coughed. “What have you been up to?” I pulled my hood up against the early morning breeze while I waited for Josh’s response. He took a long drag before answering. “Got my degree. Doing I.T. shit for the city. Pretty damn good money for a fresh-out-of-college guy like me. Settling down with Jennifer. Proposed last week. Did you get my message?” I did get his message, but last week I was trying at Gin-Urgosh, so ignored it. Eventually I just forgot to respond. “Sorry, busy” was all the apology I could muster. “Busy? Bullshit! Dude, we have to talk!” Josh began pointing his cigarette at me. He tossed his head up angrily and blew out his smoke quickly so that he could continue admonishing. “It's just a game, man. That shit doesn’t matter. You were so consumed with it that you couldn’t even send a congrats back to me about getting engaged?


Fuck that! I can’t sit here and watch you stuff your face with Big Macs and slurp Mountain Dew for every meal while the only exercise you get is mashing away at your keyboard! I quit that shit so fast once I saw what it was doing to you! Why can’t you see it? Do you even remember how well off you were a couple years ago, before you got your head so far up that game’s ass? Full ride, man! And now you’re wasting your parents' money, which they barely have any of to begin with, fucking around at community college? When are you ever going to get a hold of reality?” The lit end of Josh’s cigarette dropped onto the gravel of the parking lot, and we both dropped our eyes to watch it curl up like a dying caterpillar. I turned around and started walking away. Part of me wondered what I was going to do next, whether I was going to log back on or just go to sleep and skip class. Part of me—whispering quietly and sounding almost foreign— wondered if Josh was right. I heard him climbing into his car and starting the engine. I stopped walking and glanced over my shoulder to see him pulling away, flicking his neglected cigarette out his open window. I saw the glow of him lighting up a new smoke. I looked back and angled my walk towards the sunrise. I wondered how long it had been since I had seen a sunrise. Well, I had seen the sunrise over that canyon before we started the fight. I meant a real one. I think. I felt like my brain was fighting with itself. I trudged on. I thought about all the time I had spent battling foes and garnering treasures for myself at my throne. My throne? A swiveling desk chair that whined under my growing weight. I thought about how many pounds I had shoveled on wasting away in that chair. I thought about how many years of my life I had shaved off as I rose to the top of the leader-boards. My path had aimed me right back to home. A


neighbor was outside putting his garbage out and picking up his newspaper. He waved at me with a curious look on his face. “Hey there!” he yelled out to me. With the greeting, it was too late to avoid the neighbor. I headed towards him. “Haven’t seen you in a while! Your parents tell me you graduated last summer from Iowa State and now you’re working on some project? They say you put in long hours at the keyboard.” It took me a moment to catch on. My parents must have lied about me, and really didn’t expect me to be outside anytime soon to let their lie unravel. I played along, thinking on how ashamed my parents must be. “Yeah, working on some IT sh—stuff for the city. Pretty prestigious. But hey I gotta get back inside to take a shower after my, uh, run. Nice seeing you.” I waved goodbye as I finished “jogging” to my front door. I walked carefully up the stairs and into the bathroom, threw off my sweat-saturated clothes, and looked in the mirror. I stared at myself for a while after turning on the shower. I couldn’t remember the last time I took a shower. The whole motion of it felt awkward and rushed. Rushed because I wanted to get back to the game. I wanted to check to see how many messages I had gotten, how many invites to help with a fight and so on. I was a celebrity now in the realm. I wanted to rush back to my throne. A digital throne. Of 1’s and 0’s. A Mountain Dew bottle and headset comprise my scepter and crown. Could I trade it all in for millions of dollars? A private island? A wife and two kids with a white picket fence? No. I let my hair drip dry as I slowly walked back to my desk chair. My computer had fallen into sleep mode, so I woke it with a wiggle of the mouse. There my character stood in the middle of the city streets. A few people still wandered around him slowly, inspecting his glow and wings. Some


messages still trickled in, but they, like the rest, were left unanswered. I leaned back in my chair and thought about the times before I started wasting away at this very spot. I remembered making excuses to professors about why the quality of my work was dropping. I remembered sneaking booze into the dorms and being the talk of the party scene my sophomore year. I remembered asking Helena out on a date my freshmen year, and her excitedly saying yes. I remembered graduating top of my high school class with my parents waving and cheering with tears in their eyes. I remembered first popping the box, the haunting scent of a freshly released DVD case, and the installation disc cheerfully humming in my computer. I remembered a friend telling me as I was buying it that the amount of time people waste playing that game could be better spent curing cancer and all sorts of other things. But he called himself a “true friend� and said he would try it anyway. I remembered his name was Josh. I remembered a study about some mice some scientists put in a maze. The mice ran through the maze, and at the end, they found a button. When they pushed the button once, a pellet of food fell out from a dispenser. The mice were happy. A few days later, the scientists put the mice in the maze again. When the mice got to the end, they pushed the button. No pellet. So they pushed it again. With a clank, their pellet fell out, and they feasted on the crunchy delight. The mice were happy once more. Again and again the cycle was repeated. Before long, the scientists found themselves with mice pushing that button hundreds of times for the pellet. I was that mouse. The game was my maze, and the score, my pellet. I contemplated digital suicide—logging off and deleting my character. Terminating my account. Suicide? The sun would rise tomorrow, and I would be there to see it. I was going to just delete some bits of


information stored on a server somewhere half-way across the United States. And I thought it was the same as suicide? I shook my head and laughed at myself while turning to face the window. I had covered it up with aluminum foil to stop the sunlight from glaring onto my monitor. I realized that natural light hadn’t actually fallen into my room in about a year. I ripped the jigsawed pieces of foil from the window to reveal a golden sunrise drifting into view. Fog lazily floated above the finely manicured suburban lawns. The fog magnified the sight of the sunrise, swallowing the entirety of the horizon. Red tones glinted off the corners of houses, and the blue tendrils of night slowly crawled away. I turned back to the computer, pulling out the gun. I logged on to the account administration page. Click. A bullet loaded into the cartridge. Click. I hovered my mouse over the ‘delete account’ button. Click. The hammer pulled back, ready to fire the bullet. Click. I pulled the trigger. The sunshine and breeze wrapped around me like a warm blanket. Birds sang quietly, still trying to shake the morning dew out of their feathers. I thought about that paper not being done, and determined that I would start it first thing after this walk. But I couldn’t stop smiling and taking in all the nature around me. The resolution, bloom, and shading were all better out here. I thought about those who may never find their glove.


Departure Laina Pilkenton To my screaming family members, I am of no use. Presently, fear-stricken and paralyzed, I am the frozen body that lies in my bedroom listening to the voices dim. I hear the clamor of demolished memories, see the chaos in theft and murder, feel the ricochet of surrender. For centuries I have been immobile, curled underneath this stone ceiling. She feeds upon me like a starved beast.

Now the breath is gone.


Jacob Rachel Bailey Blue Jays are known for their intelligence and complex social systems with tight family bonds. —The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

You lift me up; I’m flying. “Ray!” “Jay!” Our greetings echo like bluebirds at a forest edge, a resonance of childhood closeness. You’re home from college—the vast youthful migration—and I long to hover over you in sisterly admiration. Growing up, you were the Sully to my Dr. Mike, the Iron Will to my sled dog. While I was busy picking dandelions with the glove at my side in the outfield, you did our t-ball team, “The Blue Jays,” proud with your skills on first base. “Peep, peep” we would call to mom—pretending to be baby birds—as we perched around her living room chair, waiting for a bite of her chocolate frosty malt off the wooden spoon. Where did that time fly? I like to think it will be like this always, through distance, marriages and children. Your strong arms encompass me in one immense, warm hug. You’ve returned to the nest. You lift me up.


Smoking Section Amy Stourac I know how much you love me. I see you counting coins to get to me. I see the way your forehead crinkles when we’ve been too long apart. The way your fingers drum on whatever surface they can find, the way you watch the clock, I see you huddle in the cold and attempt to stay dry in the drizzle just for those seven minutes together. I know the power I have over you. I lost you during pregnancy and when you were surrounded by the little ones. But when you were on your knees, with no one to understand, I was waiting. Now I am infused in your life. With you on every car ride at the end of your shift…and the beginning …and every spare moment or location available. So infused that even your voice declares our intimacy. I know how much you need me. I see the way your forehead crinkles when we’ve been too long apart. Put your lips around me…and suck …then blow…away all the years you’ve given me along with the smoke.


Sinatra Aaron Conway I’m taking baby steps. Little things seem to get me through. Yesterday, a student of mine wrote about a repaired relationship with his father he hadn’t spoken to for three years. Today, I’m warming my face in the steam rising off a bowl of chicken noodle soup. The aroma of chicken broth mixed with vegetables marinates the air. The condensation fogs my glasses, blocking out the view of this oversized house. However, if one thing can comfort me, it’s savoring a hot bowl of soup in my screened-in porch during a cool spring rain. We would sit out in the porch for hours every spring, enjoying each other’s company—talking about nothing. Everything. It didn’t matter. We had each other. I can see her still—the way she tips her head back and laughs that contagious laugh as she dances around the kitchen to Frank Sinatra, her brown hair swaying back and forth in front of her shimmering green eyes. Sinatra would sing Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you, if you’re young at heart. For it’s hard, you will find, to be narrow of mind, if you’re young at heart. She’d sing along into her hairbrush microphone. Swaying. Twirling. Reaching her arms out to me, her reserved husband who would give anything to avoid even the slightest appearance of stupidity, even in front of her—especially in front of her. My wife had this way of making me smile even when I hated the thought of doing so. But here I am, three months later, left alone in this house that demonstrates the very definition of the word excess. I didn’t particularly want this house, but I never


would’ve been bold enough to admit it. It’s over the top— too big for me. But she loved it and for that reason, we bought it. The exotic wood floors, granite counter tops, two fireplaces, a deck outside of the screen overlooking our pond, windows that span entire walls, a massive chandelier, a grand piano—it’s the type of house that everyone dreams of, and I never wanted it. I grew up in a small farmhouse in a family that survived on little to nothing. So let’s just say a life of excess isn’t something I was accustomed to. On the mantle across the living room, a picture of her with her new Lexus Hybrid is a glaring reminder— salt in the wound so to speak. It scowls at me. I hate that picture, but can’t bring myself to remove it. It shackles me. Not only does it further demonstrate excess, but it also reminds me why I’m alone in dealing with it. I was surprising her with spaghetti that night. I don’t remember it all that well, and quite frankly, I’m OK with that. She was finishing up a 12-hour shift in the emergency room at Sanford Medical Center while I was playing the good husband. Clean house. Food on. Wine corked. Fire lit. Sinatra’s “Come Fly with Me” album was playing. She usually called me on her way home, unless she’d had a bad day. I assumed this was the case. The phone rang, just like it always did, and I turned down Frank before I answered. I didn’t want her to know of the surprise. “It shouldn’t be long now,” I thought as I rolled up my sleeves, delighted that she was finally on her way. That is, until I discovered I was talking with a police officer. The hairs on my arm shot to a standing position as if they were soldiers saluting the President. “Mr. Gregory, your wife’s been in an accident. She’s being transported to Sanford Medical Center. She’s in critical condition.” I tuned out. I didn’t know what he was saying. The


next thing I remember was weaving down the winding, hilly roads towards the city. Our acreage was already miles behind me and all I could see ahead were signs pointing to Fargo. One thing I have always hated about winter is how early it gets dark—7:30 P.M. looks like midnight. Heavy feathers of snow were quickly covering the windshield. I closed my eyes for a brief moment. I saw my wife sitting next to me in my Chevy SUV. We were on our way to Florida—just the two of us. She had her sunglasses on, her hair pulled back. I loved it when she wore long dresses in the summertime. In an instant, I was catapulted back to reality. It’s all too wonderful, I’ll never find the words that say enough, tell enough, I mean they just—. I turned off the music, again Sinatra. The quiet helped me think. Plus, his optimism just pissed me off. For once, the silence soothed me more than the sound of Frank. I needed that music off. I just had to get to the hospital. Inside the hospital, the lights were bright. I could hear the faint sounds of beeping as I made my way down the chilly hallways. The receptionist told me that the elevators were on the left. “As if I don’t know where I’m going,” I muttered softly and increased my pace. They should know that my wife works there and that I’m fully capable of finding my way around. I repeatedly struck the elevator button, knowing full well I couldn’t hurry it. Finally, it arrived. Inside, I smashed the third-floor button for the critical care unit. The doors closed casually. Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away… Sinatra. I couldn’t escape him. I’d enjoyed gnats at a barbeque more than I was enjoying him at the moment. Maybe it was because we both loved him. He was something we shared. But I hated him without her. His voice taunted


me and I hated him for it. The doors took their sweet time to open. I darted down the hall. I didn’t know where I was going. I’d never been on this floor. I spotted a nurse. “Where can I find room 308?” “Keep heading down this hall and take a right. The room will be halfway down on your left.” I didn’t bother to thank her. I took off again. I passed 320… 318… 316 and 314… 312 and 310, and finally, I made it. The doctor met me at the door, preventing me from going in. I peered through the window, trying to see around the curtain. I could tell that the doctor was trying to establish eye contact. Annoyed by his calmness, I looked him in the eye. “Let me in, I need—” “Believe me when I say we did everything we could,” he interrupted, putting his hand on my arm. In that moment, time came to a screeching halt. What did he say? “What do you mean?” I asked, refusing to jump to conclusions. I shrugged his hand off of my arms and took a step back. “What are you saying?” “She’s gone.” I wanted to see her, but not like this. I wasn’t ready for this. The doctor directed me to a small waiting room just a few doors down where I could shut myself in and attempt to gain some sort of composure. Its shadowy walls were unfriendly—sinister—and it was dark and cold. I lay curled up on the loveseat for what seemed like an eternity as my thoughts raced. I wanted to tell her that I loved her. I imagined her eating the spaghetti that was at home cooling on the stove, and I remember thinking that was what we should be doing But somehow we ended up here… I ended up here. I felt so alone, and the only person who could fix it was gone. I had no one to comfort me. That’s when Frank


snuck in. The small radio in the far corner of the room was barely loud enough to hear, but he managed to serenade me. Finally, in that small, private room in the Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, North Dakota, I raised the white flag. I had nowhere to go and no one to go with, and I didn’t have the strength or energy to get up and shut off the music. So on the loveseat I remained, curled up and broken. All I could do was listen. Once I get you up there I’ll be holding you so near, you may hear angels cheer ‘cause we’re together. In that moment, I could see her dancing again—laughing as she spun in circles and held her arms out for me to join her. I wanted to, but couldn’t. I’m not much of a dancer. So here I sit, in my screened-in porch behind this colossal house that I never wanted, blinded by the steam of canned chicken noodle soup on my glasses. She hated canned soup. It had too much sodium. But I don’t require organic vegetables, handmade pasta, or free-range chicken. No, this is good enough for me. It’s cheap. It’s delicious. And it’s comforting. It takes me back to the countryside again, where life was more than fine wine and rare art— when fresh-picked sweet corn with salt and melted butter was a treat. But these memories propel me forward, one baby step at a time. Maybe instead of Sinatra, I’ll listen to some Cash. Or maybe I’ll sell this place.


Smoke Trent Ryan After a long day of work, he sits on the porch, holding the flame to the end of the cigar. The ember burns a deep red. The ember is the only visible part in the darkness, his moments of peace, his moments of relaxation, away from the responsibilities of a father. I can still see him as I peek through the kitchen windows. I could go and sit with him, but I cherish watching him in silence more. I especially like when he taps the spent ashes into an old coffee can. These are his moments of peace, his moments of relaxation.


For gun and rank, he his tie and desk traded Troy Hess This morning, a present he, shaving, woke up early. Orders, none he had except two eggs over easy. And weaving his tie, awkward as though his hands were aching, something else they knew better how to finish. Steering, a path through crowded downtown, attention, none he paid to a discarded can. To his desk, arriving, shuffling work and waiting, for the end of it. Those mornings, a past he, shaking, woke up early. Orders, commanding them he had to as two shots rang out. And braiding his arms, confidently about his weapon, gripping, this they knew better, and finished. Surging, a path through scorched downtown attention his all he gave to discarded can. To the asphalt, crashing, burning metal sent him, and waiting, for the end of it.


White Nikol Šustrová I am hidden among white sheets and white pillows and white blankets it’s the very merry little Christmas and I listen to the clocks striking twelve—and I can’t remember how does it feel to be close to a beating heart


Nighttime with Louis Alison Swanson If love could find a tempo, it might find itself tapping and beating along with Louis Armstrong’s sweet, irregular tunes. But it seems that love has no tempo at all. Like Louis’ voice in every song he sings, the feelings are lopsided and out of tune. You meet someone; you hesitantly find yourself moving along at a cheerful, perhaps sporadic, pitter-patter of the beat that is your pulse, drumming crazily in your veins. Then you see the world as the palm on your hand—a fairly tender, safe part of the body. It’s the palm of the hand that he might grab hold of as you walk along—bouncing, bouncing, bouncing with every step. Listening to Louis on this chilly April evening is like lighting a little fire in my heart. I pretend that the warmth in his voice is real, physical heat, and remember what it was like to be in unripe love. Mr. Armstrong croons “All of Me” in his confident, broken voice, and I assume that he must have been singing this song long after he had fallen in love for the first time. To be so confident and comfortable isn’t quite like the hesitancy and shyness of young love. I think that even Louis would not have been able to convey the famous New Orleans “big-top” exuberance he is known for if he had fallen in love the way he sings. To be in young love is to be in a constant state of wonder and anxiety. I grip my coffee mug and smile. Louis could have never known the vulnerability of desperate longing for another—not with his boisterousness—not with his


attitude. Louis, as he sings strongly and with those big “Sachmo” sounds, could not be a victim of defenselessness. I laugh a little bit at the thought of the jazz trumpeter sweating onstage, looking for his beloved in the sepia-hued crowd of my imagination. It is an impossible thought. But then, the song changes and I decide that Louis might have known the strange pain of falling in love after all—cue “La Vie en Rose.” Trills sweep in, the rhythm is slow, and Louis waits awhile to come in. That’s a little bit how I felt once upon a time—the rushing, gradient thrill of feeling new emotions for another human being. I would feel love physically in the same way Louis begins to sing: “hold me close and hold me fast,” with a long emphasis with the ‘o’ sound—like an ethereal ache. I nod my head as he sings. I remember what it is like to ache. Those feelings of two bodies pressed together, each on its side, a tangle of arms over chests, but never close enough. Like if every square inch could be connected with the surface area of the other, it would only be satisfactory. Love is the feeling of needing transcendence beyond the physical, but the simultaneous need to be held—so close, so fast. Louis and I continue on—he sings: When you kiss me, Heaven sighs, and though I close my eyes, I see la vie en rose. Louis is playing at an even, swinging pace. He begins each new line as if it were its own sentence, giving each word a dip or a swing for emphasis. Trumpets sound in between


the chorus breaks, and I listen with a smile, understanding the term “big band” as the brass instruments break into this love song with triumph. Maybe it is the jubilance of these instruments that tells the story of love, or maybe it is the words as they are sung, each new idea plateauing upon the next, like a staircase of melody built upon the mechanics of the bass or treble clef staff. When the brass sings its own song in between verses, it seems to say how strangely true and cliché love is. I think of the times I loved and then of when I fell in love like Louis. How wide the world opened up, beckoning the opportunity to kiss upon doorsteps at nighttime, or to swing linked hands with the wind. How exhilarating and perfectly nerve-wracking it was for me to find my lips, to give a petrified kiss. Bold, I sought a return on my bounding, resounding love. I am glad that Louis seems to understand, having sung this song. It is nice to know, as I sip my coffee and enjoy the small candle on my desk, that I am not the sole sap struck by the joy of quick kisses in the haze of affection. I’m smiling again as I grasp my memories of one year ago, the gentle moments I once lived seemingly glassy mirror images of the scenes Louis paints with his song. I realize Louis and I have both left out the clumsiness of kisses in memory. How awful I must have been in those first pivotal moments of tenderness…. Now I’m laughing out loud in my bedroom as the song continues on, knowing that I was rusty but hopeful, advancing towards something beautiful. I was bungling and hopeless—completely aflutter with happiness. Awkwardly I tried my hand at winning your heart, endless months of polite chatter and stolen kisses as I inwardly swooned, taking the melody of the long trumpet


solos I learned from Louis. I’ve been lost in a smile, and the song begins to end. Though I always knew Louis would stop singing eventually, I sigh. It seems as though the trumpets have reached an epiphany and they soar, then fade away with one long note. I have felt the few moments of falling in love all over again during these private minutes of friendship with Louis and “La Vie En Rose.” I turn the next song down as Louis moves on, back to his old jubilant self, beginning the refrain of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” I stand up slowly and cross the room to where a humble, handsome man sits, chewing on the edge of a pencil, poring over a notebook. He has been quiet as I slipped away into my song. He barely looks up as I rest my hands on his head, and I bend down to give him a quick kiss on the cheek. My action does not evoke a swell of musical notes, and Louis’ song in the background seems unaffected. In fact, the brilliant fellow beneath my fingertips seems utterly unchanged. He is studying for a test, and Louis and I have been distracting him all night long. He does not know of the silent world I had just inhabited as the music played, but I will tell him about it later, when we are lying in bed, side to side, and I can’t get quite close enough.


Ode to Chimichanga Brenda Westfall You arrive on a platter the size of a barge, drowning in white, liquefied cheese. You float on an ocean of beans and a sea of Spanish rice. So gloriously grande. The beans and rice dip their toes into the lake of lusciously gooey cheese. Then slowly they submerge, splashing and reveling as they sink smothered and sopping wet. To the side sits a small island. Lettuce lies in tatters creating a plateau. A meadow of red, white and green lies here as ripe tomatoes, sharp onions and leafy cilantro fuse together. Above floats a dense and creamy cloud of sour cream. When I cut you open there is a scream of steam. Plump and juicy shreds of chicken escape overboard, tumbling from their crisp and tanned vessel. Only to be picked up by my righteous trident and united with others as they are swallowed into a new entrapment. Adios mi amor!


The Knight and his Lady Laina Pilkenton Through the air what sweet music doth pervade? ’Tis the whispered words of the loving maid. Though the ear of her lover perceives, neither his nor her heart believes this night would come to an end. With food, wine, and many a friend they dined, during which their desire infinitely climbed. And much to their company’s dismay, to a secret place they stole away. Past tapestries and through hidden doors, they ran up the castle’s many floors. ’Twas when they reached the very top tower, felt they desire’s overwhelming power. “Thou dost know how I love thee?” ask’d the lad, whose mind saw the pleasures to be had. “Yea” said the coy and cheerful maid, and from reality the surroundings did fade. To their own passions the lovers did yield, while their senses five fiercely reeled. And throughout the brisk night, were they bathed in moon’s pale light. The burning flames and passionate sighs, reflected in the other’s eyes. Feeling the rise and fall, of love’s tender beck’ning call.


Upon his lover’s breast then he slept, a moment so tender she nearly wept. “Thou must return,” said she, “Else my mind shall ne’er be free. And in the dawn when thou dost leave, to thee my soul willingly cleave.” On the morrow in the morn, whose sweet lover will adorn, with silver apparel and battle cries, while away on a faithful steed he flies? ’Tis the lover of the tender maid! Whose fate before him is laid. For the bloody verdict of the king, did not take into consideration the ring, given from the lad to the maid, for the lonely world she would not trade. But alas what is done is done, the lad ne’er to return ’til an army has won. Awake before the sun arose next morn, ’twas the lad, to obey the oath he’d sworn. As he dressed he watched her where she lay, and to the heavens did he pray, “Oh good Lord upon high, watch over me during the battle nigh. Help me return to that she, whom so willingly loveth me.” And alas as his prayer ended, ’twas the floor the maid’s feet befriended. “I have a gift for thee my love, may it guide your spirit from above.” And around his neck did she place, a cross for protection and saving grace.


Hometown Trent Ryan The smokestacks waft odors into the Midwest air. The smell of Quaker invades every sense. The factory town knows no sleep or days off. The cornfields outside the city are endless. The downtown so small you might miss it if you blink. The city known for its bars and churches. The flood that turned heads. The place where corn is king. The place where soybean is prince. The very definition of America’s bread basket.


Creative Writing Contest Winners Mount Mercy University congratulates Courtney Griggs from Pella Christian High School for winning our third annual Creative Writing Contest for High School Juniors. Mount Mercy would also like to recognize the following writers: Second Place: Grace Larew, Iowa City Regina HS Third Place: Anna Wolle, Cedar Rapids Washington HS Honorable Mentions: Carly Dale, Clear Creek Amana HS Meredith Hemphill, Atkins Academic and Tech HS (NC) Laura Hu, Troy HS (CA) Ashley Lodwig, Marion HS J.D. Love-Epp, Rockhurst HS (MO) Afsheen Raza-Faisal, Jamnabai Narsee School (India) Karalee Smith, Clear Creek Amana HS John Ver Mulm, Rock Valley HS Bailey Zaputil, Cedar Rapids Kennedy HS To read the second- and third-place writings, please visit


Whiteout Courtney Griggs I pull back my bedroom curtain, and all I can see is white—white covering the frozen ground like a death shroud, and white flakes still doing kamikaze dives from the sky. I see little splashes of light on the ground from our porch lights, but everything else is colorless. I feel like God is dumping a bottle of whiteout on the world, as if it will somehow undo the sin that has befallen it. For some reason, I have trouble taking my eyes from it, even though this isn’t a rare occurrence in Duluth, Minnesota. When I finally emerge from my bedroom, I head for the big bay window in the family room to get a better look. I know from the small glimpse in my bedroom that I will not be going to school today (Oh, darn. No algebra test). When I reach the family room, I find my mother, twin sister, and older brother gathered at the bay window, still in their pajamas, watching the storm with worry shadowing their features. Then I remember: my father must still be at work. He works odd hours as a doctor at our local hospital, always on call. He was called in for emergency surgery the night before, and said he would be back by morning. The storm must be keeping him from driving. “Has anyone called Dad?” I ask my silent family, already sensing the answer is not a good one. “Yes,” my mother answers. Her voice is almost inaudible, a sure sign that she is scared. “But the line was dead. The storm must have knocked out the cell phone towers. The landline was dead too.” “There’s ice covering the phone lines,” my sister Harmony adds. Just as she finishes her sentence, the lights begin to flicker.


“And, apparently, the power lines,” my brother Darien says. “Uh-oh, Mel, I hope you’re not scared of the dark!” he teases. His one joy in life is making fun of Harmony and me. I open my mouth to answer him, but my mother’s small voice stops me. “Melody, go get the flashlight from the kitchen, please,” she says, halting my retaliation towards my brother. I scurry to the kitchen to grab the flashlight before the lights can completely go out because I am a little scared of the dark. But I’ll never tell Darien that. When I return to the living room with the flashlight, my family is in the same position they were when I first walked in. This time, I join them, watching the storm and thinking about my father. What if he’s snowed in at the hospital and can’t get out until the snow plows come? What if he tried to come home and is still out there? What if what if what if? To take my mind off this horrible question, I concentrate on the storm. It is breathtaking. If it wasn’t so deadly, it might be beautiful—like a large canvas waiting for an artist to paint the first splashes of color on it. I see drifts in the backyard getting higher by the second. The snowflakes look as big as softballs, blocking my view of the trampoline, the shed where we keep our bikes, and the big oak tree containing our old tree house. Sometimes Harmony and I camp out in there during the summer. Once, while we were out there, it started pouring, and we were immediately ordered back inside by our mother. She was always a worry-wart. I think about how worried she must be now. If she won’t let her children out in the rain, how can she handle the possibility that her husband is lost in a blizzard? Poor Mom. I stand next to her and hold her hand, offering whatever comfort I can. Harmony grabs her other hand, and Darien places a hand on her shoulder. She pulls us all close, and we stand like that, watching the storm unfold until the lights flicker and finally go out.


Notes on Contributors Adrienne Bailey is a senior Art Education major from Cedar Rapids. Last summer, she completed a five-week internship in Germany. After graduation she plans on moving to Portland in order to teach art in a non-profit organization for female victims of human trafficking. She loves antiquing and watching Bollywood movies. Rachel Bailey graduated from Mount Mercy in 2012 with a degree in English and Creative Writing. Her busy summer included marrying her husband Matt and traveling to several national parks. Most recently, she accepted a marketing position at Raining Rose in Cedar Rapids. Laura Campbell is a junior majoring in English and minoring in Creative Writing with the hope of becoming a copy editor. Laura has been writing poetry since the fifth grade. Most of Laura’s influence and inspiration comes from listening to music. David Carbajal is a senior at Mount Mercy working on his major in Psychology and minor in Creative Writing. David runs for Mount Mercy’s Cross Country and Track team. He sketches and plays video games or sports in his free time. Jerica Christensen is a junior Secondary Art Education major with a minor in Religious Studies. Jerica’s ideal future is a happy, faith-filled life. Just a few of her hobbies include playing soccer, swimming, photography, biking, scrapbooking, and listening to music. Aaron Conway is an Education student at Mount Mercy. He looks forward to passing on a lot of what he’s learning about writing to his future students starting the fall of 2013.


Randah Espy is a sophomore majoring in Graphic Design and Marketing. She plans on becoming a graphic designer. Jenny Evans is a senior majoring in Psychology and minoring in Art. Keva Fawkes was born in Nassau, Bahamas in 1988. Currently, she attends Mount Mercy, focusing on a Bachelor’s in Fine Art. Keva intends to continue her studies abroad with an interest in Interior Design, Ceramics and Glassmaking. Amber Goostree is a transfer from Indian Hills Community College. She plays soccer and majors in English. Courtney Griggs, a junior at Pella Christian High School, is the winner of Mount Mercy’s third annual High School Creative Writing Contest. Troy Hess is a Secondary Education major with an emphasis in English. Troy is engaged to his lovely fiancée and can’t thank her enough for her support. His interests include writing short fiction, card games with friends, and slinging caffeine as a barista. Katie Hougas is a Graphic Design major with a minor in Film Studies. Her interests include photography, antiquing, and attending music festivals. Samantha Miller is a senior English and Human Resources Management major from Williamsburg, Iowa. When she has spare time, she likes to hang out with friends and family, read, and watch movies. Cory Nye is a junior English major at Mount Mercy.


Laina Pilkenton is a Mount Mercy alumna. She majored in English and Secondary Education and plans to teach in or around the Cedar Rapids area. She is currently writing her first novel and often writes poetry to connect with her characters. Nick Plagman is a senior Art Education major with the goal to become the best art teacher in the entire world. His hobbies include photography, collecting cameras and records, artwork, hanging out with friends and enjoying the high life. Rebecca Redmond is a junior Marketing and Fine Arts major from Bernard, Iowa. Growing up on a farm has heavily influenced Rebecca’s perspective of the world and how she creates art. Aunna Escobedo Ruiz is a senior at Mount Mercy graduating next fall. Aunna’s emphasis is in printmaking, and her overall goal is to obtain a Masters in Fine Arts. She plans to use her Masters to become an Art Professor. Aunna’s interests include music, cooking, and anything else art related. Trent Ryan is a junior at Mount Mercy with a major in English. His interests include reading, writing, watching sports, and painfully waiting for the Chicago Cubs to win a World Series. Jenna Schueller is a 2012 Mount Mercy graduate. She majored in Elementary Education with endorsements in Strategist I, Language Arts, and Reading. Amy Stourac lives in Williamsburg, Iowa with her husband Shawn. She has four children and one step-child, and is expecting a grandchild in April. She plans on becoming a freelance writer, continuing to learn, and developing a community center for the arts.


Tanya Stoyanova is a Graphic Design major in her junior year at Mount Mercy. Her goals include becoming a successful artist. Tanya spends her free time involved in anything art or creativity related. Nikol Šustrová, an exchange student at Mount Mercy, is a double major in English Philology and Film Studies at Palacký University in Olomouc, Czech Republic. She has a keen interest in creative, journalistic and academic writing; photography; translating; and public relations. Alison Swanson is a 2012 graduate of Mount Mercy, earning a Bachelor of Arts in English. She now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she works in special education. Robert Tigan is a senior English major with a minor in Creative Writing. He hopes to graduate in 2013. His interests include comic books and movies. Kate Till is a sophomore Art Education major from Andrew, Iowa. She loves being involved on campus as a part of the MMU volleyball team, Art Club, Drama Club, and Residence Life. Kate Till appreciates all art forms, but she is especially partial to painting and ceramics. Caleb Upah is a senior in the Art Education program at Mount Mercy University. He hopes one day very soon to teach art at the high school level, thus fulfilling his lifelong dream. Brenda Westfall is a 2012 Mount Mercy alumna. She majored in Elementary Education with endorsements in Reading, Language Arts, and Pre-K. She is currently busy planning her upcoming wedding and remodeling her new home.


Paha was composed in 11 point Iowan Old Style and printed on Cougar Opaque Natural 70 lb. Text, 80 lb. Sinar Glass Text and 80 lb. White Sinar Glass Cover. The printer was Welu Printing Company.


Paha 2013  

The Paha Review, Mount Mercy’s annual magazine that features art, poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction—all by Mount Mercy students.

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