Leslie Jill Patterson Nonfiction Editor
Elena Passarello Poetry Editor
Geffrey Davis Fiction Editor
Katie Cortese Managing Editors
Literary Review PhotoFinish
Joe Dornich Nancy Dinan Meghan Giles Jessica Smith
Associate Editors: Chad Abushanab, Jasmine Bailey, Margaret Emma Brandl, William Brown, Jennifer Buentello, Dakota Chisum, Alexa Dodd, Mag Gabbert, Jo Anna Gaona, Micah Heatwole, Bethany McKinney, Scott Morris, Jennifer Popa, Matthew Porto, Jacqueline Price, Kate Simonian, Briana Stewart, Matthew Stigler, William Taylor, and Valerie Wayson. Cover and Interior Photos: Shutterstock. Copyright © 2017 Iron Horse Literary Review. All rights reserved. Iron Horse Literary Review is a national journal of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. It is published six times a 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.
PhotoFinish | December 2017
Finalists Observed Sparks Above Sedona Montezuma Castle Letter to Smith from Outside My Tent After a Blizzard with the Cats Black Jack & Stripy Guy Things Are Simple Here The Hardest Thing Two Girls on Fire Rules in Case of Fire
Winner Cain vs. Cain Contributors
1 3 7 8 10 13 16 19 20 22 25 28
Leslie Jill Patterson
Karl Plank Janice Northerns Michael H. Levin Gleah Powers Alexander Long Brandon Beck Claire Polders Stacey Balkun Lee Anne Gallaway-Mitchell
Amanda J. Bermudez
We frequently daydream about retreating to life off the grid, but with the White House denying climate change, withdrawing America from the Paris Agreement, and selling off our national parks and the Alaska Wildlife Refuge to the highest bidders in the oil & gas industry, we’re not sure a life off the grid will exist much longer. Honestly, Trump’s destruction is so pervasive, we don’t think it’s possible to hide from his reach. Meanwhile, the Thomas Fire has destroyed over 280,000 acres in Southern California, which continues to suffer severe drought, and the 2017 hurricane season saw the worst storms on record in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. When we look at the photograph selected for the IHLR 2017 PhotoFinish, we like to imagine more peaceful days and nights. We’ve enjoyed the various interpretations our submitters have granted the photo, taking us in interesting, unexpected directions in the largest number of PhotoFinish submissions we’ve ever received—seven times the usual number. Here, in our midnight year-end finale, we’ve collected the ten best stories, essays, and poems from the pool. They depict literal campfires, with various partners sharing them—including two cats and a bird! There are metaphorical and philosophical considerations of fire, and happily some terrific poems and prose about the fiery maturation of girls into women. Thanks so much to all of the IHLR readers who submitted to this PhotoFinish. Without our contributors and readers, we wouldn’t exist, and we love literature as much as you do. You make our work possible. So, thank you for a terrific production year; thank you for supporting Iron Horse. We promise to make 2018 our best year yet.
LESLIE JILL PATTERSON EDITOR
Observed Karl Plank
Let’s stipulate the observer effect. We don’t need to argue quantum mechanics, where electrons at the sub-micron level behave like particles and not waves when being watched (which they don’t necessarily do when no one is observing, a situation which screams for someone to deal with the paradox of how we’d know what something does unobserved without observing it), or go into the subtleties of how productivity improved at the Western Electric Plant in Hawthorne, Illinois, when someone brightened the lights. We get it in the same way we got it when Mrs. Badger, tongue-flicking like a frog after a bug, said in sixth grade, I’ve got my eye on you. That altered behavior, for sure, if not made you out-and-out sick to your stomach, so that you would at least feign such scholarly interest as a sixth-grader might have in, say, the composition of the state legislature in Frankfort, which frankly was signficantly less than your fascination with mammary development among certain classmates indicated by the hint of a bra strap on the girl sitting in front of you that you were tempted to snap not unlike the fruit loop on the back of the cool crowd’s cloth shirts (and you did that a time or two, but never got close to doing the other, which is actually hard to mention directly, and thus is here “the other” thing, because if frog-mouth ever observed that, your behavior would be altered for a matter of months, if not more, maybe leading you to therapy, later, as an adult).
This brings me to the photograph, which is more than nice, really. Let’s call it a commercial for the naturally wholesome, which ought to be as nice as it can get. A couple in a tent (which we notice is shaped like a fashionable living-room lampshade), backlit at night, so we see a mellow glow and the performance of a gracious evening ritual as the figures, rendered in tasteful shadow, share their beverage of choice (coffee or tea, as I read the scene), while outside, the campfire swirls and snaps as if on cue, offering a bright complement of warmth, illumination, and the sparks you somehow were hoping might occur in the tent, if you were one of these two and all alone, unchaperoned, somewhere out west of where anyone else with prying eyes was going to go. The woman’s cup, held in hand, transgresses the mid-line zipper of the balanced space, but you know that’s as far as it’s going to get, for these are only observed particles of emotion and not surging waves that we see, as if, finally, the couple has been set on an open-air stage for us to view, while we stand with the photographer outside the frame, swatting at mosquitoes (whose unseen presence is really natural), and wondering if Mrs. Badger is still somehow around with her eye on all, tongue at the ready.
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Janice Northerns for Jannica It used to be me charging hard down dark streets to a lover’s arms. And it was me talking poetry and politics in his office as we shut out sirens, first faint, then loud. Emerging hours after the noise died down, we found one corner of campus smoldering and soaked, fire spent, trucks and the arsonist long gone. But tonight, it’s you, daughter, eyeing your beloved in secret code. Telegraphed sparks aren’t mine to know or hold, but I recall this giddy room-tilting spin you’re in, the two of you clothed in a force field conjured by heart’s magnetic north, while outside, whole kingdoms are born, rise up, and burn to the ground.
Michael H. Levin
in the red-rock country What eye can follow where these strata go? Massed piĂąon branches stop sight as it flies. The air is thin, and hikers must tread slow. Unhesitant striations leap and flow past canyoned pathways to each buttressed rise. Few boots can follow where the rouge-red strata go. Caprock grows porous that once wriggled, died, and rained like manna through pre-Cambrian tides. The air is thin and travelers must step slow yet pitch-pine campfires and a flyleaf tent still show: our love is uplift and repose. Some shapes abide, though few may follow where the strata go. The air is thin. Perception here moves slow.
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Michael H. Levin
At age eleven, Luna went on a field trip to Montezuma Castle with her Camp F troop. Lying awake in her sleeping bag at the Sinagua ruin after the others had gone she heard the low, hollow sound of rattles and the voice of an ancient man who tol look for a comet in the night sky. When she saw it shoot past the moon, she felt the dust of Sinagua power penetrate her skin, and she knew she had a gift. In the morn told Mrs. Hancock, the Troop Leader, and the other girls what had happened. They and called her crazy. But underneath their phony voices, Luna heard chanting and It was after what she called her “initiation at Montezuma Castle” that Luna chan name to Moon. Luna needed to be under a different vibration from the name her had chosen for her, which was Maureen. She never felt like a Maureen or a Mo, the ni other kids called her. “You can’t have a Mexican name,” her mother said. Luna love ico, loved the Spanish language. Her favorite word was maquillaje even though, unli girls her age, she didn’t like wearing makeup. Luna wrapped up her Camp Fire Girls scarf and navy-blue felt vest, heavy with hono mostly brown ones representing the outdoor skills she’d mastered: hitting bullseyes in building campfires, pitching tents, canoeing across a lake. She packed the scarf and lingerie box, and resigned from the Camp Fire Girls. It was just as well. Mrs. Hanc threatened to kick her out if she didn’t earn some homemaker beads, which entailed th washing and waxing a small floor, learning to iron, organizing a kitchen cupboard, pr to become a charming hostess. Instead, Luna began to read about goddesses. She learned all their names and th ent powers they possessed. She studied astrology and numerology, and practiced r her bedroom. She liked looking at pictures in National Geographic of indigenous peo designs on their faces. Painting one’s face for a spiritual purpose made sense. She ear the pages and kept the magazines under her bed. A gold-speckled rock her father had her from the Grand Canyon served as a paperweight. When he wasn’t away on busi let her decorate him like a Native man. On Saturdays, sitting in the middle of the labyrinth she created from rocks and s the backyard, Luna, holding a mirror, painted designs on her face: a snake godd started at her left temple and ended at her chin, a waning crescent moon on the rig three broken arrows on her forehead, and a cactus flower on her lips. She’d leave the weekend, refusing bribes of money from her mother to wash them off.
Fire Girls to sleep, ld her to e fine red ning, she laughed rattling. nged her r mother ickname ved Mexike other
or beads, n archery, vest in a cock had hings like racticing
he differrituals in ople with rmarked brought iness, he
stones in dess that ght side, em on all
Letter to Smith from Outside My Tent After a Blizzard with the Cats Black Jack & Stripy Guy Alexander Long
Dear J-Bird, I just tried to sing a poem for you titled “Aubade with Black Jack & Stripy Guy,” & even though it’s vanished, its tune lingers inside me like blood & alcohol & hummingbirds, & there were lines that sounded like a sun’s early morning gauze yawning in soft pinks & deep oranges across untouched snow three-feet high, & somewhere in those lines I’ve since sent to fire, I tried to breathe in the scene but failed because another song—an ocean-sized cry behind my eyes, by two cats freezing & starving—took over, & in the poem I nearly sang for you gave way to what they needed: breakfast, lunch, dinner, & all the meals between, & I climbed out the tent, brought them canned tuna in oil, chopped slices of sharp provolone, a big blue bowl of tap water that froze in five minutes, & all of it sounded like this: I bring I bring I bring, & Black Jack & Stripy Guy sang sang sang the chomping song of hunger, abandonment, rushed gratitude, for they know how short time is; they know what makes the sweetest, unbearable songs we can’t shake away, no matter how fucked over we are, for we’re all fucked over, hungry, abandoned, full of rushed gratitude for what we know not so we chomp chomp chomp away, & in the poem I nearly sang for you, I started singing scriptures, my tongue was going mad, it assailed The Gospel According to John, it wailed The Book of Lamentations, it howled The Book of Bessie
Smith Riffing Miles Davis Riffing Chuck D Riffing Kendrick Lamar, & in the poem I nearly sang for you, Black Jack brushed up against me, purring, cleaned his chops on my gloves & jeans, made certain I knew how fearless he was, how boundless his love for humans & dogs & blue jays & wasps was, how bored he was by cars that want to crush him, reminded me how fluent I am in Felinese, & Stripy Guy—a Kosmos, untouchable, one of the roughs—looked at Black Jack & me reciting scriptures, maybe curious, maybe jealous, certainly burping, letting the tuna & sharp provolone sink in, didn’t run for once, & Black Jack made me promise I’d give him one line—All he wants is one line, make it good—then gestured, Let’s go make some snow angels, & Stripy Guy burped again, didn’t run away when I stood up, when I said, “Yes, yes, let’s do that,” & in the poem I nearly sang for you, Black Jack & me, we rolled around in snow, & the sun shone as brightly as a mind gone blank, & Stripy Guy came over to see what we were up to, to watch over us, & I swear the whole world was purring at last the poem I tried to sing for you. Love, Al-Bird
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Things Are Sim
Seventy-five years ago, if the the quarry before they flooded i young women who had been mi yet been reported missing. Altho women were distant relatives. Ten years ago, the Departmen the campground, which required one in town gets cancer in thirty had said with a smile. Incidentall the facility to the federal govern Three years ago, a local high sc dealers discussing the location o the student found the farm and h now selling drugs, they kidnapp this day, refuses to identify his as Last year, in response to a pu pools along the northernmost sh carrying the Zika virus would no Last night, two young lovers s They had been dating for six mo its serene atmosphere and proxi “Isn’t it nice to be in nature fo “We should do this more ofte They turned to face each othe fire’s warm glow.
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mple Here Brandon Beck
Civilian Conservation Corps workers had thought to inspect the debris at the bottom of it to create the lake and adjacent campground, they would have found the remains of two issing for forty years. They would have also found the body of an older man who had not ough the circumstances surrounding their deaths were unrelated, the older man and young
nt of Defense was testing radiation-hardened electronics at a secret facility two miles from d exposing classified circuit board prototypes to powerful radioactive isotopes. “If everyy years, they’ll just blame the water department,” the lead scientist and project commander ly, it had been the director of the city water department who cast the deciding vote to lease nment without knowledge of its purpose. chool student, desperate for money to pay for his girlfriend’s abortion, overheard two drug of a secluded marijuana farm at the western edge of the campground woods. That night, harvested five plants. When the drug dealers discovered what had happened and who was ped the student and stabbed him five times in the abdomen. The student survived but, to ssailants or the reason for the attack. His ex-girlfriend refused the money and kept the baby. ublic outcry over the Zika virus, the city sprayed insecticide onto the stagnant water that hore of the lake. Had they sprayed the entire shore rather than just a section, mosquitoes ot be buzzing through campsites 4, 6, 10, 11, and 17 in search of a host. sipped hot chocolate and watched the crackling campfire through the screen in their tent. onths and were both camping for the first time. They chose this campground because of imity to a lake. or once?” the young woman spoke softly. en,” the young man agreed. er and smiled, tired from their earlier hike around the lake, and intoxicated by the camp-
The who coun rive a
The car to plain tainâ€™s the te
The meal into y will f nicely
The long age, tratio the e each
But I espec that e gone and s you u abou
The Hardest Thing
hardest thing about camping is not the getting lost on the way or the fighting over was in charge of map reading. You’ve been together long enough to know how to nter road rage with a cornucopia of candy bars and loud music. Eventually, you arat your destination anyway.
hardest thing is not the setting up camp. Tired from driving all day, you unload the ogether and carry everything up the hill to that unbeatable-view location, not comning about how it’s already dark and the view invisible. You’re shocked by the mouns deep cold and build a fire, hoping that the flames will warm your bones through ent’s uninsulating fabric. Fire may also scare the bears—or at least fade your fear.
hardest thing is not the earth, although it’s like stone and back-breaking. During ls outdoors, you crush sand between your teeth because of the pole wind blowing your bowl. You foresee that the blisters from hammering herrings into the ground freeze into calluses. Even the light is unyielding. But, to be frank, you toughen up y and soon learn how to brace yourself against the world.
hardest thing about camping, you think, is the no-phone-signal intimacy of the evenings inside the tent. It gets dark rather early this season, and you’re not at that yet, when you can go to sleep at ten. So, there you are, all wired up with the frusons of the day, and no escape, nothing to do but sit there and look your loved one in eye. You talk about past adventures and future dreams. Make confessions. Console other. You glimpse pieces of the other you thought had died.
I’m not telling this right. Because the hardest thing, really, is not the intimacy itself, cially not once it’s established and undeniable. The hardest thing is the knowledge everything—the beautiful cold, the heartening fire, the vital reconnection—will be e the moment you break camp and go home. You try to be blind to this looming end stay in the moment. You try to forget the daily doses of disappointments waiting for upon your return. With all your might, you try to deny the truth that the hardest thing ut camping is the realization that home is not the place where your life happens.
Two Girls on Fire Stacey Balkun
blazed through the forest, Bics tight in closed fists, painted lips smoking. Their tongues lit up like oak leaves, bronzed as books of matches tucked into back pockets, their story and its ending yet unwritten. This their last hot night together and the old crab apple trunk split down the center, sap dripping through the heat of another drought, thick as the blood that stained their shorts, turning snapped twigs into kindling, rough as the shadows around the mouths of boys who edged against their woods, boys smelling of pitch and butane, boys spilling whiskey onto the fire, eager and aching for flame.
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Rules in Case of Fire Lee Anne Gallaway-Mitchell
We were warned about the dangers and the causes, but you left the fire unattended and we went inside, where we talked of pioneers in their wagons, calling it a night, hoping their smoke did not reveal their position to bandits. Did we then, as now, attempt to leave no trace, take nothing? We all have left more than our ashes. If fire gets in your clothing, don’t hightail it downstairs or out of doors. Don’t get excited. Keep your head down. To relieve the pain of burns: cold water, egg whites, castor oil—a cure-all of our ancestors, those pioneers, who left everything behind, even their stoves hot, coals aglow, all oxygen and fuel with nothing left to feed it.
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Lee Anne Gallaway-Mitchell
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Cain vs. Cain Amanda J. Bermudez Of course, he remembers the goddamn sandwich board: Today’s soup: the tears of our enemies. Jay’s subsequent promotion at the Rabbit Hole (presumably on account of being so goddamn clever) was immediately followed by Jasper’s now-infamous Yelp review, in which a web-savvy sixty-five-yearold woman had graphically described how the new manager had sexually assaulted her service dog (which was also pretty goddamn clever). Both boys had (of course) been fired. Both had (of course) told the other he quit. Now, in the fragile Chinese paper-lantern glow of their boyhood tent, Jasper and Jay share the contents of their father’s dented flask. “People like us,” says Jasper, “we need wars.” “Do we?” says Jay, but of course he agrees. Outside the tent, the blistery red licks of the fire jut skyward in fits and starts. “Don’t come crying to me if this turns into some ‘Tell-Tale Heart’ shit for you,” says Jasper. “I won’t,” says Jay. The trip had been Jay’s idea, a kind of campy ode to the past twenty years, which had been a kind of campy ode to the first twenty chapters of Fight Club. The last time either could remember having functioned amicably is when they’d vowed to date the Olsen twins together in the fourth grade. The years since had been a cavalcade of escalating transgressions, each more Andronican than the last. e.g., On account of Jasper (who claims to be a vegetarian), Jay no longer has pets larger or more sentimental than a goldfish. e.g., On account of Jay (who claims to be straight as a proverbial arrow), Jasper no longer mentions when he’s engaged.
“This is reminding me of something,” says Jasper. “Genesis?” says Jay. “No, the summer after kindergarten,” says Jasper. Beneath a swath of violet, the indifferent fire laps at the collapse of a log. Or a femur. Jay pours another shock of liquid into the speckled aluminum mugs. “What is this shit?” says Jasper. “Amontillado,” says Jay. “Cute,” says Jasper. The click of the toast becomes a kind of mirror, each hunting down the slight genetic deviations, the shape of the brows, any rogue curvature of the hairline. A rubbery, earthy stench of flannel and DEET and neanderthal impartiality and drugstore cologne winds its way beneath the rift of the tent flap. “Why did you hate him?” says Jay. “Because he loved you more,” says Jasper. “What about you?” “Because he loved us the same,” says Jay. Tomorrow, they will almost certainly relapse. Even now, behind the near-orgasmic flicker of unity, each is silently coiling an exquisite plot to pin this on the other with the precision of a boutonniere. Each will be up before dawn, jockeying for who calls the National Park Service to file the report, scuffing each other’s boots with the ashes. Tonight, they’ll talk late into the night, each adoring the other as the best lesser version of himself, roasting marshmallows over the embers.
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Contributors STACEY BALKUN is the author of Jackalope-Girl Learns to Speak and Lost City Museum. Winner of the 2017 Women’s National Book Association Poetry Prize, her work has appeared in Crab Orchard Review, The Rumpus, Muzzle, Bayou, and others. Chapbook Series Editor for Sundress Publications, Stacey holds an MFA from Fresno State and teaches poetry online at The Poetry Barn and The Loft. BRANDON BECK is the founder and editor-in-chief
of West Texas Literary Review. He writes poems, short stories, essays, and academic articles, which have appeared in Coup D’Etat (forthcoming), Oddball Magazine, The Texas Tribune, Texas Tech Law Review, and South Texas Law Review. He has degrees from The University of Texas at Austin, Boston University, and Texas Tech University.
AMANDA J. BERMUDEZ, winner of this year’s PhotoFinish, is a screenwriter and director based in Los Angeles, California. In addition to films and stage productions, her work has appeared in Sick Lit, Spider Road Press, concis, and more. She is a National Merit Scholar, recipient of the Jameson Prize, a Writer’s Digest National Award Winner, nominee for the Spotlight Culture & Heritage Award, and winner of the 2017 Cinequest Film Festival screenwriting award. About her story “Cain vs. Cain,” she says, “I’ve always been suspicious of photographs. The medium seems inherently deceitful: both exquisitely nonfictional and irresistibly misleading. Photographs often suggest camaraderie, fraternity, moments of unity veiling complex histories of violence and intrigue. This premise was the point of departure for ‘Cain vs. Cain.’ The element of fire might be nature’s most perfect symbol of this dynamic, and of human impulse: a force of illumination and destruction that is best pitted against itself.”
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LEE ANNE GALLAWAY-MITCHELL is a writer and teacher living in Tucson, Arizona. She grew up in Lockney, Texas, a small town sixty miles north of Lubbock. Her essays and poetry have been published in Chagrin River Review, 0-Dark-Thirty, and Sun Star. In 2017, she won the Tucson Festival of Books Literary Award for Nonfiction. She is an MFA student in creative nonfiction at the University of Arizona. MICHAEL H. LEVIN is a lawyer, solar energy developer, and writer based in
Washington, D.C., and Menemsha, Massachusetts. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Harvard Magazine, Adirondack Review, Poet Lore, and approximately fifty other periodicals, and has received numerous poetry and feature journalism awards. His chapbook Watered Colors (Poetica) was named a Best Poetry Book for May 2014 by the Washington Independent Review of Books. For more information about his work, visit www.michaellevinpoetry.com.
ALEXANDER LONGâ€™s third book of poems, Still Life, won the White Pine Press
Poetry Prize (judged by Aliki Barnstone) in 2011. A chapbook, also titled Still Life, won the Center for Book Arts Chapbook Competition (judged by Terrance Hayes) in 2010. Long has also published two chapbooks of prose, both with Q Avenue Press: Lunch with Larry (2014) & The Widening Spell, with Jess Smith (2016). His work has appeared or is forthcoming in AGNI, American Poetry Review, The American Journal of Poetry, Blackbird, Callaloo, From the Fishouse, Hotel Amerika, New Letters, Pleiades, Quarterly West, The Southern Review, and Third Coast, among others. Associate Professor of English at John Jay College, CUNY, Long is at work on a biography of American poet Larry Levis.
JANICE NORTHERNS, a native Texan, currently lives in southwest Kansas, where she teaches creative writing, literature, and composition at a community college. Her poems have appeared in College English, Southwestern American Literature, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Conference of College Teachers of English Studies, Concho River Review, RiverSedge, Coal City Review, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of the Robert S. Newton Creative Writing Award for her poetry from Texas Tech University. KARL PLANKâ€™s recent poetry has appeared in journals and publications such as Notre Dame Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Poetry Daily, Zone 3, Limestone, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Briar Cliff Review, Poetry South, ARTS, Saint Katherine Review, and Exit 7. Since 1982, he has taught at Davidson College, where he is the J.W. Cannon Professor of Religion. CLAIRE POLDERS is a Dutch author of
four novels, with a debut in English from Atheneum/Simon&Schuster on the way. Her short prose has appeared in TriQuarterly, Tin House (online), Denver Quarterly, Electric Literature (Okey-Panky), Green Mountains Review, Room Magazine, and elsewhere. She lives in Paris with her American husband, who is also a writer. Learn more about her work at www.clairepolders.com.
GLEAH POWERS is the author of the novella Edna and Luna, published by Vine Leaves Press and named a Finalist in the Novella Category of the 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. A recipient of an award from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund and a Pushcart Prize nominee, Gleahâ€™s work has appeared in print and online in Longridge Review, Permafrost Magazine, Southwestern American Literature, Prime Number Magazine, New Delta Review, and many other literary journals. She completed her formal art training at the California Institute of the Arts and has worked professionally as a painter, actor, and dancer in New York, Los Angeles, and Mexico City. Currently, she is at work on a short story collection and a memoir. Visit her website at http://www.gleahpowers.com. 30
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org for information on the various levels of support. Benefactors ($300) Wendell Aycock Lon and Carol Baugh Beverly and George Cox Sam Dragga Madonne Miner Charles and Patricia Patterson Gordon Weaver Equestrian ($3,000 and above) TTU English Department, Chair Brian Still TTU College of Arts & Sciences, Dean Brent Lindquist TTU Graduate School, Dean Mark Sheridan TTU Provostâ€™s Office, Provost Rob Stewart TTU Presidentâ€™s Office, President Lawrence Schovanec
Our annual finale, released at midnight on New Year's Eve, contains poems and prose in response to a selected photo.