IHLR 2021 PhotoFinish

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Leslie Jill Patterson Fiction Editor

Marcus Burke Poetry Editor

Geoffrey Davis Nonfiction Editor

Elena Passarello Managing Editors



Jacob Hall Sara Ryan Maeve Kirk Brook McClurg


Copyright © 2021 Iron Horse Literary Review. All rights reserved. Iron Horse Literary Review is a national journal of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. IHLR publishes three print issues and three electronic issues per year, at Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, through the support of the TTU President’s Office, Provost’s Office, Graduate College, College of Arts & Sciences, and English Department.






My friend tells me sheep are the weakest creature / CLARA BUSH VADALA


4 8

While the Moon Grows Full Outside My Window / BROOKE WHITE A Herd by the Side of the Road Listens to Yeats / SUSAN CARROLL JEWELL

10 14 16 19 20 23 24

Without a Word / CARLTON CLAYTON

We See What We Look At / JOSH LUCKENBACH

The Sheep Won’t Show & Anyways He Only Knows Two Numbers / BROOK MCCLURG

What Forever Means / GRACE Q. SONG

Lambswool Ekphrastic / PAUL ILECHKO

Pasce Oves Meas / MATTHEW HAWK


MISCELLANY Contributors


hen I picked this year’s PhotoFinish prompt, a picture taken by Audran Gosling, I couldn’t help but see the faces of the men and women who stormed the capitol about this same time last year, on January 6th, in an attempt to destroy our country’s free and fair elections. The sheep’s faces, many of them wearing masks, look so determined, so sinister. Someone has tagged their ears to make certain they remember whose herd they belong to. Their coats are thick; they are ready to be fleeced. And in the background, there’s a storm kettling. From the submissions we received, we selected Clara Bush Vadala’s poem about a sheep driven mad by his own reflection as our winner. Then we added seven more manuscripts from our submission pool, plus two by staff members: Associate Editor Josh Luckenbach and Managing Editor Brook McClurg. Reactions to the photo triggered poems and essays about vampires, women, Yeats, racism, the environment, counting sheep, love, fashion fads, lost sheep, spirituality, and our impulses toward violence. We hope you enjoy these ten ekphrastic works! Don’t forget to check out our 2022 prompt photo in May on our website and submit your own responses next summer. We look forward to reading them! Have a happy New Year—





My friend tells me sheep are the weakest creature CLARA BUSH VADALA then she brings home Regis. Regis had eaten some foreign material and survived it. See, normally a sheep would be dead by now, but he just wouldn’t go, and she kept thinking about him, expecting him to die in the field of concrete, where he was like a chalk outline: almost something dead, but just on the other side of it. Feral, with probably a respiratory illness. One evening, as the darkening clouds made sheep of themselves behind him, he rammed the floor-to-ceiling glass window of their rental into pieces, thinking his reflection was another sheep staring him down. The window, tenuously taped until it could be replaced, remained high risk for ramming: in every shard a sheep, a sheep, another sheep— multiplying, identical Regises, taunting the flat square of his head until he could no longer take the audacity of them, rammed a last time— and when they came home that night, there was only broken glass and blood and Regis Earl Mulberry bleeting right there on the living room rug.

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lips from the Twilight Saga auto-play each time I log on to Netflix. I acquiesce and watch for the thousandth time, and after the leading man tells the leading lady, “The lion fell in love with the lamb,” I get to wondering about desire and performance. I wade through history and myth. I learn that Carnival was once Carnevale, a farewell to meat, and Carnevale was once Carrus Navalis, when ancient Egyptians carried images of the goddess Isis to the sea to bless sailors, some wearing sacred animal costumes. I follow one story to the next and happen upon the legend in which King Amulius decided the best way to punish his sister for her broken vow of celibacy was to have her twin sons tossed into the Tiber River. A servant placed the twins in a basket and forfeited BROOKE WHITE them to the water. The river-god carried the boys to the arms of a fig tree, where they were saved by a roaming she-wolf. Both fierce and nurturing, the she-wolf raised the boys, Romulus and Remus, in her den. Her den marked the founding place of Rome. The Lupercalia festival was meant to honor the she-wolf and please the fertility god Lupercus. To celebrate Lupercalia, male goats were sacrificed, their blood smeared across the faces of two naked priests. The blood was wiped away with milk-soaked wool. After the feast, priests took strips of goat hide in hand and ran naked around Palatine Hill, whipping any woman they passed. They called this a fertility rite. Next, men pulled a woman’s name from a jar and were coupled for the duration of the festival. I wonder if this is how the she-wolf would want to be celebrated, if whipping women and randomly assigning them to the men in town would be her idea of a party.


While the Moon Grows Full Outside My Window

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The she-wolf occupies a space between wolf and woman. Naturally, she reminds me of werewolves. For most of my life, the werewolves I knew were Tyler in THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, who almost kills his girlfriend Caroline with an accidental bite, and Jacob in the Twilight Saga, who warns Bella not to get too close lest she end up like the girl with a scar on her face from her werewolf fiancé. Werewolf was shorthand for a dangerous man. But TWILIGHT also offered the first and only female werewolf I’ve seen. For so long, it seemed to me that rage and lust, really any ravenous emotion, was masculine, and here was a woman who was hard-headed and prone to big feelings just like my mother and me. Leah was remarkable; she was uninhibited. Unapologetic. She stood out, especially compared to the self-sacrificing leading lady. Leah opened a window and let a realization slip into my room with moonlight, a lingering sense of a womanhood that wasn’t docile or demure. In a world which wanted women to be sheep, she was a wolf. I would be, too.



Brooke White

A Herd by the Side of the Road Listens to Yeats SUSAN CARROLL JEWELL They line up by the fence, staring beyond themselves, the menacing look of earnest thought, unaware of their cloven hooves. They have heard the legends of Byzas and how Io was turned into a cow by Zeus. Now the ungulates are mesmerized by a poet reading Yeats. Watch them search for their souls, for meaning in moving together without intent, except to graze open grasslands where they once were free. They sail to Byzantium and question their existence, puzzled by the notion of eternity, outflanked by the spoken word. All my life, I’ve come upon the unexpected and listened to a hundred million words. Yet I’ve never seen beyond my own reflection or ventured past the comfort of the herd.



Susan Carroll Jewell

cross was burning at the beach along the Neuse River, the same place we held our annual baptism on an August Sunday morning. Planted in the sand about midway down the slope, it burned blazing hot, and the red and yellow sparks jumped high into the night. I could feel the heat upon my face and smell the flaming timber, sizzling like a campfire roast. Through the fire, I could see two cypress trees standing like sentries, Spanish moss dangling from their branches, in the shallows of the docile river below, black under a moonless night. I hugged my father’s legs, his trousers smelling heavily of fertilizer, his meaty hand clamped upon my shoulder. Whole families gathered CARLTON CLAYTON under the pecan trees at the top of the slope. Stock-still, as though forbidden movement. Silent, as though forbidden to speak. We were amassed in loose formation, watching the spectacle below with captivated wonder as if it were high theater commanding our absolute attention. In a circle, they stood, men of about twenty or so, chanting, hidden behind costumes in the color of rebirth, purity, goodness, innocence, the same as our baptismal garments. All we could see of them were their hands, trousers, and shoes. There was one among them with only one shoe, his other limb a peg like a pirate captain’s in fictional seafarer stories, and he limped among the others like a wounded animal. It was past midnight before my father reckoned it was time to go home, and without a word, he turned and walked off. We broke our gaze and followed him to our front door about one hundred feet away, our eyes to the dark street beneath us. The ceremonial chants and groans of the charring cross faded behind us.

Without a Word

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Next morning, the still-glowing embers smoldered in a ring of scorched-black sand, crackling and spitting, sending up the last ribbons of blue smoke. A tugboat pushed a barge of freshly cut pine downriver towards the Pamlico Sound, launching waves crashing to the shore. And the river, a peaceful neon green under the rising sun and reflecting skies of blues, reds, and yellows, rolled on, seemingly unworried by the scars the strife the night before left along its shores. I didn’t know what to think of it all then as the beach was my playground, and I was fascinated by fire. Kicking sand upon the smoldering embers was fun. I didn’t try to reason with the events of the night before or understand it. It was solemn, I understood that then. But the next morning was different. I had the remains of a fire to play with. This was 1962 in James City, North Carolina, and I was three, maybe four years old. It was a vivid scene of hate—what it was, what it still is, what I didn't until then know. My earliest memory, it’s the window through which I've had to gaze at the rest of my life.



Carlton Clayton

hat if, when it comes, as it seems to be coming, we can’t do it, as I’m afraid we can’t? What if fate tags us like a herd for slaughter? Suppose everyone who’s going to know, knows already about the weather in New Orleans, Haiti, California. This pandemic’s the kind of old news that’s killing us in greater and greater number. And fate’s human-made, of course—the livestock mechanically inseminated to birth more livestock to die electrically, even the babies, to feed humans, though only some humans, and though it sickens us, and would sicken more were we made to witness the killing. There is no secret. We see what we look at. A photo of some sheep or some sheep. A dirt path or some dirt. A living thing or a dead thing. In my backyard, the grass is brown this time of year. I wish the hose could JOSH LUCKENBACH spray all the way to Ethiopia. Outside this desert town, the landscape is oil rigs and windmills. The best part of my day yesterday was running around the yard after dinner while my toddler laughed and squealed and my wife sat on a lawn chair nursing our infant and telling about a particular path of light through the window that morning. What should we do, we who know we can’t decide though we’re maybe wrong and we maybe can? Isn’t it worth a try? Maybe grass is old news. Maybe we just go on as we’ve been going, living the way we’re used to and we like, pretending nothing will happen until it does and pretending even then, too, within a fence, running, chasing, discussing phenomenology, crying out in hunger or pain?

We See What We Look At

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Josh Luckenbach

The Sheep Won’t Show & Anyways He Only Knows Two Numbers BROOK MCCLURG

bedtime is a ritual I didn’t wholly know could split you, but daddy, he says, what about my water, but daddy, my story, you forgot my face, wandering fingers smell of citrus he’d been picking at scabs, wants to know what time is it, where our dead dog went, why there are no men in our family shh, I say, you have to count & count on them showing eventually, the sheep I mean that magic lies in the steady hum of repetition

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Brook McClurg

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What Forever Means GRACE Q. SONG When I look at you, my greed melts from bread into honey. I run toward the world with the wonder of a velvet foal. In the fields sweetened by rain, I hang from the clothesline as a poem, billowing in the sail-white wind, waiting for you to come and carry me down, like a lamb, into the tender folds of your cloak.



Grace Q. Song

Lambswool Ekphrastic PAUL ILECHKO Sheepskin was the season’s fashion and stained or worn was best a coat that could have spent some years upon the higher slopes where winds are known to rage and shelter hard to find a herd of them all dressed alike fighting for a chance to buy the genuine garment stained with grass and mud and stinking still of peat bog from the time its previous owner almost lost their life torn and matted nothing matters but to be in with the crowd.

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Paul Ilechko

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Pasce Oves Meas MATTHEW HAWK Peter said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” —John 21:17

Amidst the sun and mist, the darkling clouds cover up the horror of sheep shorn; mother separated from child as the final trumpet trills its shrill sound. The left-behind wander and roam around the pen, now and then wonder why their flock is thinned and skinned from within, herded by a shepherd whose care causes their despair. And yet, lest they forget who begat whom in the womb, and what is the source and summit of their faith in a god they cannot see, they must admit, from time to time, that the blood of their lambs washes away the grit and grime of the sinful and sorrowful, who tomorrow will forget to remember the ultimate sacrifice, paid and laid at the foot of the cross, at the edge of the tomb, as empty as their hearts now are, and always will remain.

Hanged for a Lamb ELIZABETH O’CONNELL-THOMPSON It’s not that I see the stained apron and scrubbed hands, the needful thrashing and fluttering air, and think, How awful—I could never do that, but how awful that I could. Could slip the knife below the oiled wool and hug a warm body against my warm body as I lock eyes with what circles the barn, its matted fur rippling, mine brushed smooth.

Yes, I will share, but only when I’m ready. Selfish beast that I am, I will give and give so that I might live as I always intended to, with a lantern in one hand and the other free.

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E. O’Connell-Thompson

Contributors Carlton Clayton lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. A thirty-year Air Force retiree, he was raised along the Neuse River in James City, North Carolina. He has a strong connection to home, its rich and vibrant communal history, from which he draws much inspiration. “Our memories are shaped differently, and sometimes putting them into perspective can be challenging,” he says. “The key is to start writing. It’s amazing what you remember once you start writing.” Clayton’s PhotoFinish entry, “Without a Word,” was inspired by a moment from his childhood: “Sometimes history is concealed. One fall day back when I was eight or nine years old, I saw a Boy Scout troop at the beach along the Neuse River in my neighborhood. The boys were sprawled out on the sand from end to end, and the canoes were lying at the river’s edge like beached whales. The water was choppy and impassable. They were stranded. For over five decades, that scene stayed in my head. I wondered why I kept remembering it since it wasn’t a significant scene—just boys on the beach. Then, one day as I was driving along I-85 in Charlotte, the beach scene flashed before me. I didn’t question it this time. It unfolded, revealing something far different than the boys, canoes, and the choppy river. I saw the cross burning and the men cloaked in white surrounding it. I saw my father’s legs, and I could feel my grip on them. I could smell the burning embers and hear them crackling and popping. I took the next exit and parked along the roadside. The images were overwhelming.”

MATTHEW HAWK’s poetry has been published in or is forthcoming from Appalachian Review, Paradise in Limbo, the University of Chicago’s The Migration Stories Project, and Rio Grande Review. His chapbook, Poems from the Heart, was published by Desert Willow Press in 2018. He lives in Austin, TX. When Hawk saw this year’s prompt, he knew he wanted to explore the religious connotations of sheep in his poem: “After ruminating over the photograph

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of the flock of sheep, I couldn't stop thinking about all the biblical references to sheep, lambs, goats, etc. I thought the sonnet form would be the perfect container for contemplating themes of faith, doubt, and loss, all of which I tried to interweave in ‘Pasce Oves Meas,’ to reveal a true lived-experience of grappling with belief, or lack thereof.”

PAUL ILECHKO is the author of three chapbooks, most recently Pain Sections (Alien Buddha Press). His work has appeared in a variety of journals, including The Night Heron Barks, Rogue Agent, Ethel, Lullwater Review, and Book of Matches. He lives with his partner in Lambertville, New Jersey. His first album will be released in November 2021. Ilechko drew inspiration for his poem, “Lambswool Ekphrastic,” from the hidden ironies that can sometimes be found within fashion and social dynamics: “My immediate reaction to the photo prompt was that the herd of sheep reminded me of a group of unruly teenagers. All of them dressed exactly alike. Each would be thinking of themself as being unique and (of course) more interesting than their peers, but also, naturally, at the height of fashion. This triggered the idea of a poem that focused on sheepskin, rather than sheep.”

SUSAN CARROLL JEWELL lives and writes in a 19th-century tenant farmhouse in Upstate New York. Since becoming legally blind, she now moves between her country home and a 1923 brick schoolhouse in the city. The ghosts, both animal and human, that still occupy these places inform her work. When describing the origin story behind her poem, “A Herd By The Side Of The Road Listens To Yeats,” Jewell explains that the piece was sparked by the sheep’s eyes. “The intensity of an animal's stare can be intriguing,” she states. “What if there is thought? Can animals be nonplussed by their surroundings? This poem explores not only the transformative nature of the written / spoken word, but also the burden of being a questioning entity. Too often we hang with the same crowd, listening only to like-minded folks. If animals can reflect on their own existence, why can't humans? Poetry helps us do that.”



JOSH LUCKENBACH is pursuing his PhD in English and Creative Writing at Texas Tech University. His recent work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Nimrod International Journal, Nashville Review, Booth, Grist, and elsewhere. He received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arkansas and a BA from the University of Virginia. Luckenbach’s piece, “We See What We Look At,” began with a question that he has been grappling with for some time: “I’ve had the final line of Robert Frost’s sonnet ‘The Oven Bird’ stuck in my head for months: what to make of a diminished thing. The global handling of the covid pandemic has left me with little faith in humanity’s ability to confront the challenges we face—challenges that often feel impossibly large and interwoven. Animal agriculture causes climate change causes mass migration causes lack of resources causes economic competition causes war causes borders causes hunger—the list goes on and on. It’s hard to stay optimistic. Lately, pondering the Frost line, I’ve been wondering about responsible ways to entertain pessimism. Can one be pessimistic and still work in every way possible toward justice for all humans and, yes, all animals? Some days it feels irresponsible to be optimistic, amidst dire climate reports and massive governmental inaction. The first line of my poem is a question that I’ve been writing different versions of since March 2020. It’s not unlike Frost’s question. What if there came a point, an occurrence, a thing, which made our fate abundantly clear? What next? What would the responsibility of living entail after that? Seeing Audran Gosling’s photo made me ruminate again on that question—all those sheep ominously packed together in a dark field, one up front with her mouth open, the rest staring past the camera, almost begging.” BROOK MCCLURG received a BA in Creative Writing from Columbia University (fiction) and an MFA from Rutgers University-Camden (nonfiction). Originally from Southern California, he currently lives in Lubbock, where he is a PhD candidate at Texas Tech. His work has appeared in, or is forthcoming from Cagibi, Exposition Review, Wanderlust, and others. His Spanish language translations have appeared in the Loch Raven Review.

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McClurg’s poem, “The Sheep Won’t Show & Anyways He Only Knows Two Numbers,” was inspired by the bedtime ritual of counting sheep: “Looking at the picture I found myself counting the animals, trying to make sense of the crowd of them, which easily led to the idea of counting sheep to help one sleep. I don’t recall this ever working for me—still doesn’t—and yet I find myself, now recreating this bedtime myth with my own son. I’m constantly surprised what comes up in these moments and I wanted to acknowledge their wonder, their bite, and their beauty.”

ELIZABETH O’CONNELL-THOMPSON is the author of Honorable Mention (dancing girl press), and holds an MA in English Studies from Trinity College Dublin. Her work has been published in Poetry Ireland Review, Stirring: A Literary Collection, Entropy, The Best New British and Irish Poets, and Banshee, among others. She is an Associate Editor for RHINO and the former Literary Coordinator of the Chicago Publishers Resource Center. O’Connell-Thompson’s poem, “Hanged for a Lamb,” was our first runner-up for this year’s PhotoFinish contest. She tells us that this piece quickly turned into a space for self-reflection: “Maybe it’s the Catholic upbringing. Maybe it’s too many horror movies, but I’ve long found the vulnerability of sheep unnerving. It pushes a button in me that I don’t like—a meanness or an anger that I am unused to in myself. The prompt photograph gave me an opportunity to confront that feeling and spend some time in it.”

GRACE Q. SONG is a Chinese-American writer residing in New York City. Her poetry and fiction have been published or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, PANK, The Offing, The Journal, The Cincinnati Review, and elsewhere. She attends Columbia University. About her poem, “What Forever Means,” Song explains that she wanted to write a piece that deliberately pushed against the darker undertones of the photograph. “The photo for this year's competition seemed quite bleak to me,” she says, “especially with the dark, brooding sky and the passive, empty faces of the sheep. However, I didn't want to write a particularly depressing poem. I've always



associated sheep with tenderness, sweetness, and happiness, and I wanted my poem to reflect those characteristics.”

CLARA BUSH VADALA is a North Texas poet and veterinarian residing in Van Alstyne, Texas. Her poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from Barren Magazine, Okay Donkey, and Lammergeier, among others. She is the author of two collections of poetry: Prairie Smoke: Poems from the Grasslands and Beast Invites Me In. More of her work can be found on her website (drclarabushvadala.weebly.com) or by following her on Twitter @doctorVpoetry. Vadala’s poem, “My friend tells me sheep are the weakest creature,” is the winner of our 2021 PhotoFinish contest. When telling us about her piece, Vadala wanted to give special thanks to her dear friend and colleague, Dr Cayley Burleson. for inspiration (and her distaste for sheep): “As soon as I saw the PhotoFinish prompt, I knew exactly what, or rather whom, I was going to write about! A few years ago, one of my very best friends, Cayley, adopted a sheep and named him Regis. Cayley and I met in vet school, and while I primarily treat small animals now, she is a mixed animal veterinarian: she sees both small animals (dogs/cats) and large animals (farm animals, horses, etc). Sheep remain, probably, one of her least favorite animals. Any time we learned about sheep medicine/behavior, it seemed we were always learning about things that killed them, not necessarily things we could fix, so we’d had a silly running joke that ‘sheep are weak.’ A year or two after we graduated, she sent me a message with a picture of a random sheep and said something like ‘Guess what we got?’ She had adopted him from a bad situation and told me she only took him in because if ‘he had survived that situation, he wasn’t a normal sheep’ (i.e., weak), so he must have been worthy of rescuing. Also, she is a kind and caring soul, and an amazingly talented veterinarian, so I’m sure that factored into the rescue. Later, he saw his reflection in their window and rammed right through it, at least twice. I remember her telling me she saw the warning signs of him ‘squaring up’ to the window, looking like he would do it, but she didn’t think he would follow through—until he did! I thought of Regis immediately when I saw the PhotoFinish image, so I knew I had to write about him. I asked her to remind me of his name

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again and she gave me his amazing full name: Regis Earl Mulberry. I was so excited when I got to tell her, ‘You know how I asked about your sheep’s name earlier? Well, a poem about him won a contest!’”

BROOKE WHITE is a Michigander with a penchant for prose and long conversations. Winner of the Hopwood Committee’s Roy W. Cowden Memorial Fellowship for nonfiction, her work has appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Swamp Ape Review, Entropy, and as Lunch Ticket’s “Amuse-Bouche” feature. She received her MFA from the University of Minnesota. She’s currently at work on a book of literary nonfiction about desire, transformations, and fairy tales. Her latest ponderings and delights can be found online @brkthewriter “While the Moon Grows Full Outside My Window” is an excerpt from her book in progress, a collection of lyric essays merging film studies, culture studies, fairy tale studies, and feminism with a coming of age narrative: “I write about cartoons, TikTok videos, Instagram, historic fashion trends, sculptures, lunar maria, middle school, ballet, and more as a way of tracing what I learned about desiring others, as well as being wanted and loved. With this piece and others, my goal is to throw a pebble into the lake of pop culture and follow the ripples through time to find the shape of the stories we keep telling ourselves. I revel in the playfulness and subversion of analyzing movies like Twilight as if they were high art, with the modern and the mythic colliding around subjects like the gaze, girlhood, rites of passage, and desire.”



Iron Horse Literary Review would like to thank its supporters, without whose generous help we could not publish Iron Horse successfully. In particular, we would like to thank our benefactors and equestrian donors. If you would like to join our network of friends, please contact us at ihlr.mail@gmail.com for information on the various levels of support. Benefactors ($300) Wendell Aycock Lon and Carol Baugh Beverly and George Cox Sam Dragga Madonne Miner in memory of Charles Patterson Gordon Weaver Equestrian ($3,000 and above) TTU English Department, Interim Chair William Wenthe TTU College of Arts & Sciences, Interim Dean Brian Still TTU Graduate School, Dean Mark Sheridan TTU Provost’s Office, Provost Ronald L. Hendrick TTU President’s Office, President Lawrence Schovanec

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