Issuu on Google+

torches n’ pitchforks

teacher edition

Fall 2012


2

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


ABOUT t n’ p EST. 2008, Founded and Edited by Jim Churchill-Dicks CONTACT: torchesnpitchforks@hotmail.com ‘hunting for voices that rise above the angry mob.’ torches n’ pitchforks online literary journal is dedicated to exploring the evolving relationship between form and content in creative writing, while also unleashing promising teen voices to the public. Underwritten by The Nature of Words, with additional support provided by the Oregon Writing Project. In this- our first annual ‘teacher edition’- poems, prose and essays are represented from some of our our finest high school educators in Central Oregon. We are additionally graced with some phenomenal writing from college and university professors from nearly every corner of the United States as well; from stormy New England, The Pacific Northwest to Southern California. And in a burst of organic unity befitting the season, Florida has yet to report in. :) All kidding aside, read deeply and often here from these, our teachers; the ones who so regularly sacrifice of themselves to empower the voices of our next generation.

torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

3


contents

8 Jane Sullivan Williams “Kaliedoscope” 10 Rachel Sarrett “My Aria” 15 Elizabeth Thorpe “Keys” 17 Micah Bournes “Perfection” 18 Amy Sabbadini “Thaw” 20 Sarah Robertson “Ewe Too” 23 Nancy Knowles “Caretakers” and “Steet Corners” 26 Tim Zook “Two Hours Before Daylight” 27 Rebekah Picard “Mother” 31 Katie Farris “The Girl Who Grew” 37 Sayantani Dasgupta “Channeling the Chakra: What Indian Universities Can Teach their American Counterparts” 44 Jessamyn Smyth “Skinless” 48 Heather Wiles “My Kind of Town- Prineville Oregon” 52 Jim Churchill-Dicks “Just Beyond My Reach” 57 Norma Barber “So...Is it Fiction?” 59 Kristy Knoll “Dirty Word” 62 Hector West “Witness” 68 Amanda Felton “Being A Little Sister” torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

5


“Release”


Featured Artist: Swan “Swan’s photographs consistently supersede their medium. There is an alchemy here that evokes more than just a mere viewing. Swan’s work evokes a response from -- or dare I say, a creative dialogue with -- the viewer. These images seem to be made of so much more than digital colors and textures at play with light. There is soul here. Swan’s subjects feel like they are saturated with both organic and ethereal materials; so much so that I sometimes think of a contemporary allusion to Poe’s “Oval Portrait” though less sinister and more transcendent and regenerative. His subjects seem to have willingly offered up a portion of their sweat and blood and flesh, and as a result, are made larger for it... as his camera’s eye witnesses and absorbs it all, flooding his images with both darkness and light, in every sense of those words. I am a poet by discipline; teacher by trade, but I consistently find myself coming back to Swan’s photographs and muse, ‘Yes, yes! This is what I had meant to say all along.’” (Jim Churchill-Dicks, Founder and Editor of Torches n’ Pitchforks Literary Journal, The Nature of Words, March 24, 2012)

Swan is a high school English Teacher as well as professional photog-

rapher living with his family in Long Beach, California. To see more of his work, find him online at: www.swanfoto.com

torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

7


Kaleidoscope Jane Sullivan Williams In a kaleidoscope of fractured time you fall a fragment of memory churning a shard of shattered life twirling Captive in this house of mirrors where shifting shadows and waking fears are forgotten faces turning fragile life swirling Frozen in this kaleidoscope of fractured, time I look for you.

8

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

9


My Aria

Rachel Sarrett originally published in Connotations Press 10

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


“Enough”

I am eighteen years old. Despite my best efforts, I am still alive. On December eighth, 1993, at two in the afternoon, after eighteen hours in the hospital, Aria Kai slips from between my thighs. Her name, roughly translated, means “song of the sea.” There never was a more beautiful baby. Her eyes, not gray, not murky, but the crystalline blue of a country club swimming pool, follow her father’s voice. Later, in the plastic bassinet next to my bed, Aria wiggles and mews. The miniscule Pampers crinkle, a siren song, and I am instantly, madly, passionately in love with a five pound doll. After diving into shark infested waters for years, I finally have a reason to search for safe torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

11


harbor. My Aria. I will live for her. Her life will be patently different from mine. I will keep her safe. I bring Aria home. She is so tiny, she needs doll clothes for the first week. I feed her, clothe her, love her, God, how I love her. I protect her—no one spanks my baby. I am not my mother. Is that a positive, or a negative? My mom was home, I go to work, to school. By the time Aria is four, we are living in our sixth home. Is that what did it? By the time she is five, her father and I divorce. What do boys in their twenties know about monogamy or marriage? I refuse to be my mother; I refuse to stay with a man I loathe. I’m the one that walks out. Is that what did it? She stays with her dad so I can earn my degree. Her first day of kindergarten and I am not there because I have classes. Sacrifice always has a price. Her father moves to California. To Illinois. I finish my degree, and bring her home to me again. She sees Dad in the summers. Only the summers. Is that what did it? Aria is fourteen. Already. She hates me. Wishes I would die. Just leave her alone. For eight months I’ve watched my little doll, the writer, the artist, the empath, the perpetual socialite, sinking. Once, her teachers loved her, wished they all could be as sweet as Aria. My “Talented and Gifted” girl was the perfect student. Now, she is failing all of her eighth grade classes (except for Art). Now, she is in counseling. Now, she yells, “Fuck you, bitch!” when I tell her to put the dishes away. She sneaks out at night. She steals money from my husband’s wallet and make-up and clothes from Wal-Mart. Her behaviors are semaphores, spelling out “DRUGS,” but drug tests come back negative. Now, my instincts, my catalogue of literature, and my experiences confuse me. She will drown if I can’t save her. I have no bright star to navigate by, no compass pointing which direction is best. I’m caught in the riptide with her, going under. I don’t know how to rescue her. I open the front door. It glides closed behind me with a soft shhh-click. Aria sits at the kitchen table, gulping a tall glass of milk. Her hair is wet from her shower and I smell the mix of flowers and herbs in her shampoo. She never removes her eye makeup, and the shower has smeared it black, zombie-like, beneath her once brilliant blues. Today, her pupils, enlarged again, leave only an outline of blue, rather than the once vast oceans that were her eyes. Those are pearls that were her eyes… 12

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


“Aria,” I begin, my voice pinched, exasperated, “The carpet at the old house is covered with bark dust. I know you’ve been breaking in through the window again.” Aria rolls her eyes, making whirlpools. I feel red blood pulse from my fast beating, breaking heart to my fingers, my toes, my tongue. I am unmoored, adrift. How can I save her? She’s only fourteen… “Aria, you’ve already lost all of your privileges. What’s it going to take to get through to you? Do you want to end up in jail? You’re already a criminal. You just keep adding on the charges. We have renters in the old house…what you’re doing is called breaking and entering. You’re making some poor decisions that are going to affect the rest of your life.” “Whatever,” she mumbles as she scrapes her chair back from the table and saunters toward the refrigerator. As she passes me, I grab her arm with one hand, and grab the back of her head, turning her face toward me with the other, forcing her darkened pools to look at me. “Aria, you are not an adult. You are a child. You do not run this household. You may not do whatever you want.” Her long artist’s fingers, with cracked orange nail polish, curl into fists. She flings them like a propeller, breaking my grip. Stunned by her violence, I am unable to hold her. She runs through the kitchen, through the foyer, and hurls open the front door. I follow her to the end of the driveway, then watch her run, her long legs pushing, pumping, pitching her away from me. She reaches the end of Nickernut Avenue and turns left. Disappears. My beautiful baby girl disappears. I weep. I call my husband. Her friends. Her father. Aria, Aria, where are you? I take a sleeping pill. Sleep. I dream of my driving along my mother’s arms like a bridge over dark, churning water, but her arms fade away, and I am falling, falling, into Aria’s eyes. I kick and flounder, gulping in copious quantities of chlorine water. Someone throws me life preservers, but they’re all black, and they sink. Aria laughs. Then, morning. “You can’t let her do this to you anymore,” my husband says. torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

13


I see my baby doll toddling to the sliding glass door, watching my dad’s Lab run around the swimming pool. “Doh,” she says, “doh. Woof. Woof.” “Just let her go to her Dad’s house,” my husband reasons. I see my baby sleeping with her eyes half open, slivers of blue shining like beacons, one tiny fist gripped around a sea foam colored crayon. As I adjust her covers, I hear her say, “I not tired, it’s good morning.” “It’s what she wants.” My husband logically postulates. I see my first-born with her ringlets tied into two ponytails, a blue polar fleece zipped to her chin, and a towel wrapped around her legs, triumphantly scooping sand into an intricate series of castles. I see her bent over a sketch book, colored pencils and charcoal arrayed like a surgeon’s scalpels. I see her pinning up her little sister’s hair, saying, “There. Now go show Mommy how beautiful you are.” “She’ll see the grass isn’t any greener.” My husband calmly states. I see a looming maelstrom of possible images: Aria in the back of a police car. In a jail cell. In a haze of marijuana smoke. With track marks. Begging in front of Wal-Mart. Naked and emaciated on a pole. Nine months pregnant. In the morgue. “Okay.” I breathe. Pick up the phone, dial 319…the line rings, hollow, like tumultuous waves crashing against a rocky shore. Her father answers, “This is Dan.”

“Dan, it’s Rachel. Go ahead and buy a plane ticket.”

Letting go feels like putting rocks into my pocket and walking into the river. Or maybe, letting go feels like dropping the oars into a roiling river and letting the boat drift where it may: into the rapids, careening over a waterfall, or safely bumping into sandy shores.

14

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


“Hold on a Little Longer”

Keys

Elizabeth Thorpe Gate, doorknob, deadbolt, mailbox. I pull the keys off the keychain. My fingers brush your palm as I give them to you, the way they used to when we walked to the movies, or home from the grocery store. It was a game, sort of. To me. I reached my hand out to touch yours, touch it again, touch it again, as long as I could before you pulled it away. Sometimes I was able to touch you three times, but sometimes you put your hand in your pocket right away, or transferred a grocery bag from one side to the other. You only held my hand in bed, where nobody else could see. And I thought that was enough. I give you the keys, and it’s okay, it’s pretty easy. My keychain lightens to only what I need. Harder is losing the blanket of “stop it” and “I don’t feel like it” and “I’m trying to sleep”. Years of cotton batting stuck so tight to my skin that I can’t pull it off anymore, and my nerves are slow and sleepy. And I don’t know yet that they will wake up someday, that someday someone will tear the fabric back and reach through to my skin. He will take my hand and massage it with his. He will hold it at the movies, in the car, on the street in front of everyone. And I will put new keys on my keychain, and I won’t play that game anymore. torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

15


Perfection A friend once was given a beautiful plant. Every day he watered it, with eagerness. Placing it precisely adjacent the window, convinced that this position provided the perfect portion of solar sustenance. He took pride in his plant, and he knew by the lushness of the leaves, and the healthy bark, that his labor of love was paying off. Until one morning, he poured delicately into the pot, and water spilled over. He looked closer and saw the plant was flooded. It wasn’t absorbing the drink. His love had been sitting stagnant. Confused, he rubbed his fingers against the leaves… Plastic. Perfect. Unreal. His heart sunk as he despised the same perfection in which he once took pride. The plant’s beauty was repulsive, a thief, stealing affection intended for something that could actually receive love. Something less than perfect. Something that could die. Something worth mourning. Something alive.

-

Micah Bournes

torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

17


Thaw Amy Sabbadini

18

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


Locked up in glacial heights My creativity is a frozen prisoner Winds blowing I brace myself Emotions crystallized in ice To keep still is to keep safe Necessity prevails Survival trumps art With the warmth of camaraderie, I relax Melting A trickle begins to drip onto the sheets of paper Drops converge, merge As companions channel the flow, Guiding its direction, giving it purpose Nurtured by fellowship The meanders of my babbling brook cascade into a roar as I write Inspired!

torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

19


Ewe Too

Sarah Robertson The rough cotton gloves began to bite into the soft spots on the palms of their hands, but they continued to dig. Ignoring the blisters beginning to swell, their shovels dug into the hard dirt - arrhythmic and awkward. Turning them over to be used as pick axes, they chipped away at the dirt, widening the hole and scraping out the excess soil. Overhead the clouds were moving in, covering the sun and signaling rain. They needed to finish before it came. Sweat rolled down their backs and they talked little even though sharing the small space of the hole grew cumbersome. When it became impossible to be in the hole together, they stopped to measure its depth: three inches too shallow. They picked up their shovels again. The strong scent of lanolin wool wafted on the breeze, mingled with the guttural odor of fresh blood. 20

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


The sheep had been covered but that didn’t prevent the flies from landing on any place left unprotected and vulnerable. They continued to dig silently as more clouds rolled overhead. The ewe’s final hours had been painful - both the women felt this acutely in their hearts as they toiled at digging the grave, but neither spoke it aloud for fear of upsetting the other. They had discovered the ewe early that morning, standing silently in the field above the house. It was her silence that had warned them of her injury; it was the vicious crimson stains beneath her jaw and hindquarters that had told them instinctively she was dying. Coyotes had attacked her - ripping into her throat, rendering her mute, flaying open her underbelly just above her hind legs, leaving a sharp gash across her dark muzzle. The women had tried to lead her closer to the barn, falsely hoping to mend her wounds, but the journey had proven impossible; she had leaned heavily against them, more tame than ever before in her life. Calmly encouraging her forward with a trail of apple pieces, each step had been laborious. The bright red dripping from her thick wool had mingled with the dew on the tall grasses, painting parts of the field in the pattern of her suffering. She was an old ewe and they had known the decision would have to be made to put her down. With the men away working, it had fallen to the women to decide. They had wanted to get her onto the ground, to assess the damage and to try to make her more comfortable, but her size outmatched their strength. It was an undignified moment, but it had to be done. Together they had each grasped a set of her legs with one hand, put a knee into her side, the younger woman cradling the ewe’s head with her other hand and the older woman guiding her hindquarters. Grimacing at the pain they inflicted, they had roughly flipped her onto the ground, blood smearing their forearms and hands. The older woman had started to cut the thick tendrils of blood soaked wool. Like sopping ribbons, she discarded them to the ground for the flies to land upon. The sheared wool had revealed the fatal wounds -hidden no longer and unable to ignore. Kneeling beside the ewe’s head, the younger woman had tucked clean rags against the hole in the ewe’s throat, whereupon she had immediately sighed and begun to chew her cud. Without conversation, the older woman had returned to the house for the rifle, while the younger woman remained with the ewe, petting her muzzle, whispering gently into her ears. Returning quickly, the older woman had gently touched the ewe’s head, stroking once down her nose and back up over her ears. Standing, her daughter had placed her hand on her mother’s shoulder, nodding in support. Together the women had moved behind the ewe’s head. Shouldering the rifle, the mother had sighted and cocked the gun - one quick shot broke the morning’s quiet followed by another. torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

21


They had waited a minute and then she gently had nudged the ewe with the toe of her shoe. They had waited again – nothing. Walking together, they had turned towards the barn, leaned the rifle against the barn door and retrieved shovels, gloves, an old blanket, and the brown bag of lime. After covering the ewe, both to discourage flies and in an unspoken need for both women not to look at her face or her wounds, they had set to work, digging the grave beside the body. The ewe was too heavy for them to lift and they had to bury her where she had died. As they finished the digging, the older woman helped her daughter up out of the rough gravesite. Finally, it was deep enough and wide enough to accommodate the dead ewe. As the dog panted happily in the shade nearby, keyed up to the heady scent of blood in the air and sated from licking the red stained grass, they laid the shovels on the ground and stretched their aching backs. Moving together they stood on the far side of the sheep. The moment they had dreaded most had arrived. Undignified but necessary, they feared their strength might fail them when they had come this far. In unison they bent, placed their hands against her silent body, and rolled her into the grave. Landing unceremoniously, the blanket askew, the ewe flopped into the hole. Her back legs bounced and then raised in salute to the sky. The women, afraid to pause, grabbed up their shovels once more. Covering her over with lime and dirt, they began to talk – quietly at first but with more freedom as the dirt enveloped the ewe. Together they agreed it had been the right choice. Together they agreed she hadn’t suffered long. Together they agreed she had lived a good life. In this way mother and daughter comforted one another and yet grieved silently alone in their own hearts. When the men returned, the women spoke little of the event; instead they chose to guard it quietly within themselves: a moment of courage, of strength, of delivered death.

22

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


Poems by

Nancy Knowles

Caregivers Her favorite color red, Marisa arrives like a fire engine, Spotlessness in her wake, Banishing dog hair to the trash, and Adding peppers to leftover chicken. Marisa dresses my mom In clothes she rarely wore: a black-and-white striped housecoat with a red woodpecker, a jaunty hat with the brim turned up, shoes with rubber soles. She applies red lipstick and dusts Mom’s pale, freckled cheeks with pink blush, exclaiming, “Don’t you look pretty?” Marisa encourages Mom to walk to the bathroom, to the chair by the window, to the backyard--“Go! Go! Go!” She steadies Mom’s arm on her own, Puts her other arm around Mom’s waist, and together they take careful steps. At the beginning of her shift, Norma moves Mom from the chair by the window to the wheelchair torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

23


where she will remain all day regardless of her own desire to rise. “Where are the footrests?” Norma demands. Under Marisa’s sovereignty, we have not needed them and can’t remember where they are. When we wheel Mom from room to room, we must remember to tuck in elbows and feet. With big, capable hands, Norma grips the safety belt circling Mom’s waist to haul her from wheel chair to toilet to shower seat to wheel chair to car seat. She carries Mom’s weight and hustles through the motions to stifle objection and avoid the attempt at self-sufficiency that can lead to injury. When Dad moves Mom to a facility, Norma is the caregiver he retains, more comfortable in safety than in empowerment. Mom is not one of the women who walks the halls, fingers lingering on the ridge of wainscoting that can lead them in infinite laps. She spends her days securely in her chair thumbing through worn magazines and joining her roommate in flinging yoghurt at the wall.

24 / Fall 2012

/ torches n’ pitchforks


Street Corners In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, she liked to visit Bank of America to yell at the clerks, gesticulating, incomprehensible. Retired architect, mother of two, expert worker of crossword puzzles, she resembled the crazy person with the sign on the street corner, shouting about salvation, immune to logic. After a while, he refused to go in with her. He stood with his dog across the street staring at the blue sky and the cars passing carrying normal people elsewhere.

torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

25


Two Hours Before Daylight Tim Zook Two hours before daylight we load up and go, competitors and friends, friends first, made faster by our competitions, we load and go, wrapped in old blankets, our coats zipped high, and our conversation escapes from our hood-tunnels warm and gentled with laughing – Michelly and John will race till they want to puke, made harder by the can’t and then they’ll flounder on the grass gasping, flailing arms with glory laughter while Bruce finishes his race, his grin silly-plastered over the entire course. Glad to be alive and running – being here two hours before the sun comes, on this cold old bus – we do it to remind us that we are friends and alive. 26

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


Mother

Rebekah Picard Cold, still Time Traveling, spinning circles down, Down to a second When moss-laden rock is rough against The silent sand That files through The hourglass, measuring sermons Smooth with salty blood, The damp dew settles On the tick-tock of the Sacred Clock Building pink Sun Stones That stand raw and alone, decomposing While the waking wind rolls against the The bald Juniper berries Of Time.

torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

27


“Out of the Depths”


the girl who grew Katie Farris

I

know what I look like, lying in this muddy water, my toes and fingers thick as the trunks of elephants, my eyes rusted almost shut with pondweed and petrified eyelashes. A giant doll of a woman, though my eyes no longer open and close. But. You came to hear a fairy tale? Hear:

* * *

When anyone asked the girl what she wanted for Christmas, she told them history books or crystals for her collection. But the desire that lit her darkest nights was to grow up. One summer night, she did grow. As she slept, she grew extraordinarily tall; she wound herself tighter and tighter into her bed to fit. When she woke, her head kissed the ceiling. All that day, she watched in wonder as people ran from her, and she was satisfied. She let go a laugh that haunted children into the arms of their mothers, and the mothers into the arms of their torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

31


fathers, and fathers into the arms of the churches. Still, she kept growing. That first day she drank 47 pails of milk drawn from the sides of gentle cows, she gorged on blackberry brambles and their thorns and stingers tickled down her throat. She ate the cats and dogs of her former teachers and other torturers and was gratified by their tiny cries. Soon she was as tall as buildings, as trees. At the end of that day, her mania ended, and she was sorry for eating the cats and dogs (although not for anything else), and she helped the town rebuild by lifting logs and other rubble daintily between her first finger and thumb.

She lived in a nearby bog, where she ate only vegetation and the tiny eggs of birds, for she had lost her taste for meat. She found she liked to sleep standing up, liked waking for those lost quiet minutes in the middle of the night and looking down on the town through her half-closed eyes. Knowing she cast a shadow. She lived like this for many years, one day tearing down the waterwheel, overturning silos and eating with her greedy mouth the ripened barley, the next sowing entire fields 32

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


with one cast of her arm, or harvesting rows and rows of corn in a few sunladen minutes, one stalk hung lazily between her teeth like a shaft of wheat. The people of the town, in turn, made offerings to the girl who grew; wheels of cheeses, vats of cream, salads of enormous seaweed flats brought in from the shore, a day’s truck-ride away. The town became known for breeding enormous poultry that laid eggs bigger than a man’s head—for her, the size of a delicate currant. After many years, she was twenty stories tall, but no taller, and 9 years old, but no older. And she was feared, and needed, and powerful.

* * *

And here the fairy tale ends. I was powerful, needed, yes, but fear… fear is what completes this story. There was a drought. People suffered and could not stop suffering. It was not the middle ages, little man, but it might as well have been. A witch-hunt, with no witch, and no hunt. They torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

33


knew right where to find me. I was sleeping, standing as was my habit. The crowd could have been mice for all the attention I paid. The first blow of the axe tickled my ankle, but didn’t wake me. Then it stung, and I scratched it with the toe of my other shoe, killing a man (my first, my only, my accident). Next, a chainsaw on a brave ladder hamstrung me. Crashing to the ground, to my knees, I was awake and blinded with pain and I cried so loud everyone’s eardrums shattered and blood leaked from their ears and then we were all, all of us, in pain. When I woke up things were much as they are now. Here is the rock that was my foot, and here the rock that was my shoulder. Do you see what I am turning into? The ocean could be my bath, the clouds a corona round my head. This is what I know; that regimes of fear end in pain. Patent leather holds up remarkably well in swamp water. That people forget. That it is no pain to be forgotten.

34

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


Praise for boysgirls “BOYSGIRLS is one for the classic fairytale shelves, joining Borges/Lispector, Calvino/Carter, Andersen/d’Aulnoy with its spectral powers. Katie Farris’s spare and lyrical language levitates here—she is a haunting and new revelation.” –Kate Bernheimer, author of Horse, Flower, Bird and editor ofThe Fairy Tale Review “In this first collection, Katie Farris reminds us that “Times are hard for dreamers”, only to go on to provide a number of vivid singularities…a storm of unexpected pleasures to be dreamed while awake.” –Rikki Ducornet, author of The Fanmaker’s Inquisition, winner of Lannan Award “Smart and witty, tantalizingly interesting characters: the boy with one wing, the inventor of invented things, the brief sparkling cameo of the cyclops…something of a little tour de force.” –Robert Coover, author of Origin of the Brunists, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award

“Farris…has crafted her unheard stories so intricately, with so much care, that we feel… as if they’d been given to us from another generation.” –Micah McCrary, Bookslut “These kaleidoscopic fictions have an astonishing delicacy. They spark and cascade and then burst again, changing shape and settling into surprising, entrancing patterns.” – Joanna Scott, author of Arrogance, winner of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship “Katie Farris is one of the artists who have bent the notion of what it means to be a writer in the 21st century. Like Henry Miller and Anais Nin, [she] stepped to the edge of what is known and then jumped off…Farris’ prose poems are a new brand of fairy tale, or perhaps I should say she harkens back to the beginning of the fairy tale form, when they were for adults, and told in salons around Paris by women who’s sexual energy overflowed in the telling of each tale, before the Brothers Grimm began their trek around Deutschland.” -- Ping Pong: A Literary Journal of Henry Miller Library torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

35


Illustration for Sayantani

36

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


Channeling the Chakra: What Indian Universities Can Teach their American Counterparts --Sayantani Dasgupta

The Sanskrit word “chakra” literally means wheel. Chakras have appeared in art and architecture to represent energy, progress, life, sometimes the rays of the sun even. According to Hindu belief, they are also located right inside the human body. Here, they function as energy centers. They inhabit strategic locations such as the center of our forehead, our navel, and the base of the spinal column. They influence thoughts, channel energy levels, and monitor bodily functions. But because chakras are not visible when a human body is put through dissection, they are often dismissed as “fairy tale fluff.” The allegation is clear and simple: if it cannot be seen, it must not exist. In other words, what we see, must be, all that we get. One particular fall semester, I taught a 100-level, Introduction to World History class at my university. One of the tests that my students were required to take was based on six chapters of the text book. My colleagues suggested I provide the students with a study guide, an unheard of concept in the nationally ranked St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi, where I went for my undergraduate degree in history. I decided not to compare my experience of being a freshman student in 1997 with my students’ in 2009. So, I heeded my colleagues’ suggestion, created the necessary study guide, and presented it to my class. Luckily, thanksgiving break also fell in at that time period, so my students had the added advantage of preparing over ten days, if they so wished, of course. On the day of the test, everything went off smoothly: we all arrived torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

37


on time, they wrote their answers while I sipped an Americano and kept a close watch, and once done, we left for our respective destinations. That very evening, fearing the worst but not really expecting it, I ate a light supper and sat down to grade. A scan of the first question “Who was the Buddha?” revealed the following answers from eight different students: • The Buddha was Gandhi. • The Buddha is the priest of Buddhism which involves worshiping The Bud. • The Buddha is the one who prays to the Buddah. • The Buddha is always in agreement with Allah. • The Buddha is basically THE GOD of the Hindu religion. • The Buddha is not a person, it is a way of life. • You can become the Buddah once you see everything. • The Buddha’s real name was Guatemala Buddha. As I read these answers, I began to question and re-question everything I knew and had taught in my class. The response to the question “Name at least six countries of Southeast Asia”, turned out to be even more scarring. Someone wrote, “Asia, Islam and China” another said, “Arabia, Africa and India.” Four hours later, I could grade no more. What appalled me was not that my students had not gathered enough about the Buddha from my lectures, class notes and discussions, or from the textbook that devoted an entire chapter to him, but that they didn’t already know the name of the founder of the fourth largest religion of the world, with adherents numbering in hundreds of millions and spread across many, many countries of the world. The grading adventure reminded me of a discussion I had with a few American friends not too long ago on religious tolerance and fundamentalism. I remember one of them telling me that a constant deterrent towards starting dialogue among the various faiths in this country, is a specific kind of etiquette-training that most Americans receive at home right from the time they are young. This training expressly forbids the discussion of religion and politics in public in order to ensure that no one’s sen38

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


timents are hurt, no toes are stepped on, and no one thinks of the other as rude. Suddenly, the responses to “Who was the Buddha” made sense. Just because the Buddha wasn’t visible on every surface of the campus like an advertisement, just because outside of classroom there was probably never any discussion about him, he simply did not exist in the minds of my eighteen-year-old students. The Buddha had never even existed for them. He was like the chakras, hidden and invisible, and full of fairy tale fluff. But how, when and why did religion and politics acquire such bad reputation in the public domain? Particularly given that irrespective of age, gender, profession, education, bank balance, nationality, ethics, faith, or the lack thereof, both religion and politics play such decisive roles in our lives, whether or not we acknowledge their presence. Then how do we, as teachers and administrators, justify not providing enough of an environment for dialogues on these subjects? If the power and presence of these two forces are not introduced along with the basic practice that divergent views can and should co-exist peacefully, how can we expect our students to take their roles as citizens seriously? Moreover, how do we ensure that they reach a stage where pluralism is accepted and appreciated, particularly given the increasingly global culture of our planet and the many social duties and responsibilities that come with it? The college and university I attended in India were academically strong, and that they were political would be putting it mildly. They encouraged us—its students—to develop a questioning attitude towards everything we saw around us. This meant not just perusing the heavy tomes in the library, but engaging actively in student politics, participating in year-round formal as well as informal debates, declamations, discussions, paper presentations, trivia competitions, and symposiums that went beyond the immediate class curriculum and brought in inter-disciplinary themes and subjects. On many mornings, I actually felt that I was learning more from my fellow classmates than from the teacher’s lectures, because no matter the issue, they had opinions and were not shy to share it. When I reflect on those days, I also remember how much we were constantly entorches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

39


couraged both by the syllabus structure as well as by our teachers, to meet them outside the classroom in social settings to explore topics of interest without the stigma of being a brown-noser (a term I learned only after coming to America.) There are several ways in which I see eighteen-year-old Americans as being exactly alike their Indian counterparts. They all glance at the clock every thirty seconds when a lecture is going on, they appreciate cookies and candies irrespective of the occasion or festival, and they fear the library as if it were a leviathan monster. But it is the political apathy that I react to the most, probably because I am an international faculty member on my campus. It makes me want to suggest platforms for open conversations, albeit in the presence of teachers who can act as moderators in order to ensure that the topics stay on course and do not degenerate to something on the lines of “my last Facebook post got 8,949 likes.” I also want to emphasize on the need for such conversations from their year one as college students, so that four years later, when it is time to graduate, students know that outside the comfortable and sheltering walls of their campus, there awaits a ruthless world whose inhabitants might very often think and behave differently from what they were used to. But will it make experts of them all? Did it make an expert of me when I was in college? Absolutely not. But here is what it definitely did: it made me realize that just because something might not be dangling in front of my face all the time, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s just hidden, sometimes partially, sometimes overtly. But it exists, just like the chakras inside the human body. It is left to us to find its location and purpose.

40

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


cada|casa is a community education project in Portland & Bend, Oregon. It is our goal to offer affordable, alternative, community-based education for teenagers, and students of all ages. We also serve as the educational branch of the PoetHouse, which is a non-profit that aims to expose the Central Oregon community to the power of art by providing a forum for art education, sharing, creating and empowerment. Our programs (and name) are focused around Community, Academics, Sports, and Arts... and similarly in Spanish (Comunidad, Academia, Deportes, Arte). Also, in Spanish, cada casa means every home, for hopefully every home can contribute or benefit from what we do. For more information, find us at http://www.cadacasa.com


Damage suffuses The Sin Eater and Other Stories. From within Elizabeth Frankie Rollins’ construct of the blighted home an adulterous husband calls on the services of a stranger to expunge his guilt, a young couple is diagnosed with the bubonic plague, and a bored woman finds herself growing a tail. Yet these others don’t dwell; instead, they frame themselves in a way that is sound in structure and sentiment and plunges them from metaphor into modern-day marvel. In the evocative stories of this debut collection, even the tightest crevices dazzle with restorative possibility.

The Sin Eater & Other Stories by Elizabeth Frankie Rollins

Cover design by Ben Johnson and Noah Saterstrom


PRAISE for The Sin Eater and Other Stories: “The way the human condition—with all its difficult, marvelous details: solitude, interruptions, loves— is constellated in these stories by Elizabeth Frankie Rollins reframes the vast space between ourselves and others. Where seemingly there is nothing in the spaces between, here we read compassion through attention. This book performs its title, visits us like a Sin Eater in the night, so that we all might learn better how to rest in peace even as we live with all of our messy love, hope, and desire.” —SELAH SATERSTROM, author of The Meat and Spirit Plan “A few years ago I heard Elizabeth Rollins present ‘The New Plague’ at a reading. I thought back then that it was the best story I had heard in a long, long time. Rereading it, I still think it is one of the best stories ever. And I am happy to report that the rest of this book is pretty darn awesome. Rollins has vision, voice, and heart, and an ear for what disturbs and what restores us. Anyone with an interest in what’s really going on in new American fiction should read her work.” —REBECCA BROWN, author of American Romances “In this brilliant and riveting collection of stories Frankie Rollins provides a courageous and intimate glimpse of the human psyche in distress. We are magnetized to plague, secret anatomy, and the allure of inexplicable impulses which blur reality with the uncanny. In The Sin Eater and Other Stories we encounter a haunting text which lingers on the tongue, and an adept talent in the tradition of the best of storytellers—which strikes the reader as both new and yet reassuringly familiar—a voice one is immediately compelled to trust.” —LAYNIE BROWNE, author of Roseate Points of Gold “Rollins’ first collection places her solidly in the company of writers such as Aimee Bender, Kevin Brockmeier, and Deborah Eisenberg. The trapdoors in her stories are impeccably placed. Rollins knows all too well the beautiful, dangerous, bewildering human heart, and her stories live in the lulls between its beats. ” —ROY KESEY, author of Pacazo and All Over “The Sin Eater consumed me night after night, enchanting me with its shape-shifting tales. This debut collection from spellbinder and fairy-tale marvel Elizabeth Frankie Rollins is a prophetic and wonderful book.” —KATE BERNHEIMER, author of Horse, Flower, Bird “Elizabeth Frankie Rollins has drawn back the bowstring of apocalypse and let her arrow tales fly—a terrific debut collection that always hits its mark.” —BRENT HENDRICKS, author of A Long Day at the End of the World


“Transition”

Skinless Jessamyn Smyth


*** Oh, pretty child, already-tired child, secretly optimistic child, skinless child who believes she is both much more and much less powerful than she actually is, child who never was one: you are so old. I’m younger than you now, you with your peculiar and early developmental curves, your passionate wish to be as androgynous as David Bowie and your perniciously Betty Boop body, your badly-growing-out Billy Idol haircut (so reliant on Aqua Net, on Dep) and too much ‘80’s eye makeup: long since working and struggling to pay the bills, already in college with such fierce and bloody joy in the life of the mind and the intensely focused crafting of words in such perfect cellular knowledge that nothing else will save you or build your bridges or keep you anchored to this earth, already years into recovery from near-fatal inheritances of addiction and abuse and already turned-outwards to try to make it hurt less for others, still putting your own body between the monsters and the rest of them, still trying to turn the monsters into something else, already running away to the woods for respite from human noise and refilling of the well, already and always finding not just courage but real peace in the specificity and truthfulness of chickadees and wolves, a longpracticed book-junkie already, bathing daily in language, long-since a skinless freak who hears what is really happening under the surface at many decibels higher than what is actually said, who reads a room in seconds and always knows who’s lying, who’s in love, who got lucky last night, who is frightened, who is dangerous, what machinations are at work, already sadly on your way out of the first love you really thought would last (you had such a clear vision of the two of you old, sleeping back to back in flannel pajamas: should I tell you now that she’ll relapse continually and die of alcoholism in her 40’s? That you will write a poem about her comprised of the only two lines left, the only things that still matter, the only things that say anything truthful at all about tragedy: “she was really fucking nice to me, always/she tasted like milk”), already with a dog whose uncomplicated and joyous presence made it more possible for you to be in this world as a profoundly feline being—and more than anything, you, old child, with your utter conviction that you can save them all; that if you just love them enough, or the right way, you can save them from themselves, save those you love from harm, save the entire goddam world. torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

45


Would I tell you that in some essential ways, where you are now is about the sum of it? That the drives and engagements and salvations and illusions and longings and struggles and moments of transcendent beauty and contact so shattering it allows you to remain open in spite of everything will remain fundamentally the same, and that it won’t get much better or much worse, and that the most salient survival skill is stamina, particularly when you eventually figure out that you can’t save any of them? I don’t know if it would be a kindness to tell you that. I don’t know if you could hear me if I said god, honey, you’re doing it right, it just isn’t easy, I wish you could be gentle with yourself. I don’t know if the fact that I’ve been worn more smooth than you are right now by cataracts and rapids is a good thing or not: I know so much less than you did, certainty is the main thing worn away. Probably, this makes me wiser than you, but I’m glad I still have trace of your sharpness, your fight: we need each other, the skinless freaks, at all stages of development. I want to tell you: the master of running into brick walls has a finite career, but I know you won’t stop. Without passion, we’re just buffeted. Without justice, nothing changes. Without transformation, putrescence. I don’t want you to stop. I want to be able to save you, but have learned that even if I could, you don’t need it. I want to be able to cushion you, then, to bring some greater gentleness to protect you just a little, but I don’t really know how, and suspect it can’t be done. You were not made for a comfortable life, really. I think you were made to be an ignition: and while that is a beautiful, powerful thing, it is ungentle, and the power of it resides in entirely different places than you think. I don’t want to tell you how vulnerable you are. If you knew, fear would stop you. If there’s something I know now that I wish you knew better, it’s this: the small moments of comfort matter more urgently than you could possibly imagine. They are the sustenance you need, and you will die without them, become unable to go on. Find them. Make them. Notice them the way you notice a dog-toothed violet deep in the Green Mountain National Forest: notice every dapple and shade. Let the beauty of it stop everything, stop the world for a second. Because it’s going to be hard, there will be much more “no” than “yes,” and you will start to feel like your 46

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


lifelong affinity with Athena and Artemis is supplanted by Persephone and Eurydice, death will follow you so: you will get downright pissed off at all these fucking underworld passages and wasting, fading griefs, and be done with them, but they will not be done with you, because mortality’s the end-all be-all of the brick walls you can’t crash through, the things you can’t save anyone from, least of all yourself. That comfort—and sometimes-blinding joy— you find in solitude, in dogs, in wolves, in bears and bobwhites and your own feline skin and forward motion, in venerable pines and vast sycamores, in the sunning snake you almost stepped on, in the press of a lover’s mouth or the veins on the inside of his wrist that move you so suddenly and viscerally you weep and laugh at the same time, in the rare shock of the generosity and brilliance humans are capable of in spite of everything, in the fierce wit and deep kindness of your friends, in the people who love you with all their flawed care whom you love in return and just as badly, in art-making so obsessive and outside of time, in the moments of gentleness you do find: I want to tell you to stop everything for these things, and give yourself to them unreservedly, because while everything else also matters, only these will give you peace. Only these will let you be young.

***

Jessamyn Smyth’s writing has appeared in Red Rock Review, American Letters and Commentary, Best American Short Stories/100 Distinguished Stories of 2005, Nth Position, and many other journals and anthologies. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, her book Kitsune is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press’ New Women’s Voices Series (2013), and she has recently finished several books which she hopes will be in your hands soon. Her dog, Gilgamesh, is epic.

torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

47


My Kind of Town-Prineville, Oregon By Heather Wiles

“It’s hard to make a living here… but easy to make a life.” Eleven years ago I loaded up what little possessions I owned and drove thirteen hours to what I thought would be my temporary home, Prineville, Oregon. Located in the heart of Central Oregon near the well-known town of Bend, Prineville is a small, old-fashioned town with a unique charm and intimacy. People in this part of the country have a set of values different than you would find in a big city. We smile at each other, talk to strangers, wave at each other when we pass on the street and we spend much of our time outdoors. We cherish the outdoors. We are a community of ranchers, fishermen, hunters, snowmobilers, boaters, hikers and bikers. There are towns close to us that boast larger populations and certainly higher income levels 48

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


but none are as friendly. Our population of cattle is larger than that of the people, and that is a good thing. We buy our beef from local ranchers or raise it ourselves. Calving season is one of the best times to see our valley, coming upon a new baby being licked clean by a mama that has just pushed it into the harsh winter winds while the bald eagles swoop down to snack on the after birth. The scenery is filled with stark contrasts. Dry sagebrush and juniper-covered mesas drop suddenly into spacious green ranch and farmland. High Cascade mountain peaks with year-round snow serve as the western background while pine-forested smaller mountains grace the East. High rimrock buttes jutting skyward greets visitors at all six gateways into town. Prineville is like one of the junipers that cover its hills, its roots are deep but only because it seeks the simple necessities of life. It clings tightly to those roots and yet dwells in the modern age as well. It grows and shrinks, as most small towns do, with the booms and busts of the business cycle. We have an economy that has depended at times on cattle, lumber and tires. Currently it is a mix of the three. The sheep and cattle wars were big in these parts. Now many people raise both, a compromise based on the usefulness of each. Nature at its finest exists in our sunrises and sunsets, as they blaze red, yellow, purple, pink and blue. Our town is laid out along the convergence of Ochoco Creek and the Crooked River. Both have been dammed and the reservoirs that have resulted provide endless water recreation and fishing. The water system of canals pouring from these reservoirs feeds the farm and ranch lands and is one of the geniuses driven by man’s desire for a better life, taking a once dry desert landscape and turning it green. At Christmas time the town adorns the streetlights of Main and Third with lighted candy canes nestled inside cowboy boots and cowboy hats overflowing with presents. The courthouse, grey stone with a domed white clock tower, is one of the oldest in the state, built in 1909. Ivy covers the front reaching the third story as it meanders along the stone walls. A fountain greets visitors and leads to a large staircase and twelve foot tall double oak doors. We have a bike path which follows Ochoco Creek through town and is frequented by young and old. Our library is located close to the river, inviting you to check out a book and stroll along the rippling water. torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

49


On the Fourth of July, our fire department puts on a fireworks display from the top of the viewpoint which overlooks our quaint town. We sit nestled under our blankets watching the colors blaze in the sky while the temperature drops 20 degrees. Our summers are hot, as you would expect from a desert, but not too hot. We tend to only have a few days in the 90-100 degree range. Most of our summer is spent in the comfortable 80’s. If you are uncomfortable with the heat on any given day you can climb high enough to see that temperature drop into the 60’s or plunge into a local lake to cool off. We see sunshine almost 300 days per year which improves the attitudes of most of us. Our winters are cold, sometimes snowy and windy. It’s hard to make a living here… but it’s easy to make a life. On any given day we could hike a Cascade mountain, canoe a local lake, climb Smith Rock, snowshoe an unknown trail, or simply sit in the peace of a slow, quiet, sun-filled day and warm our souls. Mt. Bachelor is less than an hour away for skiers and snowboarders. Bend, a 45 minute drive, offers the best shopping for the necessities of life and wonderful places to eat. You can drive the Crooked River Canyon as it winds gracefully through the high jagged rimrock cliffs, and caresses grassy fields and imagine how it carved this area with its once fierce waters, now dammed, tamed. Hawks and eagles patrol the river and I have once witnessed the quick grasp of a trout out of the rippling river by a majestic eagle that took off to savor its kill with the fish flopping in its talons. When nature has satisfied, town offers the Pine Theater, a restored singlescreen theater from a forgotten age. The county rodeo and fair are the two biggest events of the year and draw visitors from all over the state. Everyone turns out for the parade and cattle drive through town. The grandstands during the rodeo are filled with cowboy hats, brand new Wranglers and stiff, starched shirts. On Sunday afternoon there is a stick horse race for all the kids. They are rewarded with ice cream cones for their effort and the winner receives a buckle. Our fair might be small on rides but it is big on animals. Future Farmers of America and 4-H are well represented in our community as youngsters learn how to make a living through the proper care and feeding of their animals. We now have five stoplights which sometimes feels like too many. Our biggest traffic jams are during hunting season when it seems as if the whole state passes through to the surrounding mountains on a quest for meat to fill the freezer and possibly a trophy set of antlers. A large percentage of students in our schools take 50

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


the time off to hunt as well. Providing our own food is goal many of us share. We can grow a nice garden here but always have to be prepared to cover it, even in July, if the frost hits. We still know how to cook for ourselves from what we grow, gather, fish and hunt. The Native Americans loved this valley for all it provided. I imagine the settlers were encouraged by our fertile river bottom soil, the abundance of animals and the long sunny summer days. I have been a visitor of Prineville my whole life. I moved to Prineville from Montana thinking I would someday go back there, but Prineville has held me with its welcoming comfort that always makes me take a deep breath and sigh with a knowing I have found home.

torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

51


Just Beyond My Reach Jim Churchill-Dicks I. Minnesota Flats: 3 a.m. Rustling in your bag, your knee in my crotch you crawled from our tent. I drifted back to sleep, you screamed— I stumbled out to save you Imagination ready to fight back the creature or shovel the innards back into your body but you were dancing, hooting when I saw it; our familiar broken horizon, this time bathed in emerald light, an auroral bubble like from Atlantis, and sprouting above us, salmon pillars of light. We branched up our arms, twirled and howled at the thrumming pulse in the sky.

52

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


II. Smithman’s Ridge and our ice axes were buzzing. Your honeyed hair rose, an electric lion’s mane. Out of innocence, out of ignorance, we took pictures before beating Hell to lower ground. And how, much later, I cradled your photo with grieving hands. I could only see your shadow.

torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

53


III. Lactic Acid Peak Six of us stood on the summit, lungs and thighs burning. To the Westsunset. Peaches and plums, spun sugar clouds sticking to granite faces. To the East- swallowed mountains, meadows, snowfields; the curtain of darkness, flitted with spasmed lightning. We tumbled down the mountain, roped together, cursing excitedly beneath fiery black toboggans. Time slowed for us, then silence- only the hissing rope on coarse summer snow, crunching boots, our own breath. Descending into a cradle of mist- our rope began to glow, and I saw sparks shoot off from your soles. In whiteout we leveled, nuzzled into the cleavage of the Bon Bon glacier, fading into darkness. The headlamped throwdown of anchored tents, we crowded in- you in theirs, me in theirs. Halogen flash cube, raindrops shouted down. I could barely hear my tentmates talking, but you, nearby- you were singing, the rise and fall of your voice, hovering above me, Enter in, enter in, enter in—

54

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


IV. Solo And oh how you wished for the fog and comfort, wrapped in the earth’s blanket, but instead, you stood alone, a high mountain storm-front whipping against your jacket’s seeping skin, fighting off bullets of rain. You tipped your head into the wind.

torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

55


V. I was leaving you on the dock, and you said “When I first lay eyes on you, jumps and leaps, involuntary lips—” A silence of fifteen years. I was teetering on a cliff, imagining a rush of wind, a landscape zooming closer, kissing the earth and I said, like a benediction Dear God, I want to die, Dear God, I need to live, Dear God, I want to live, benedi sancti vita VI. Giving In You yielded to it; the current’s added weight more elemental than the washed-out sky, as wet clay slorped at the river bottom, adding and adding to itself, holding you earthfast, sinking downward. You would not float away with the ashes of all my prayers. images courtesy of Beyond Malibu

56

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


So…Is It Fiction?

A Political Comment in the form of an Acrostic Poem

By

Norma Barber

Successful American fiction writer, Suzanne Collins Understands the human condition. In The Hunger Games, she Zealously cares for her character A girl named Katniss Everdeen, a Normal teenager living in an unnatural Nation which seeks to keep its citizens Enslaved, afraid and starving – except at the Capitol, where excess and Opulence are the norm, where its Lazy residents play and party, Living a hedonistic lifestyle, heedless of the Injustice their president inflicts on the Districts, where Normal, working oppressed people Slave for their government.

torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

57


High Desert Journal is a literary and visual art magazine published in print and online dedicated to further understanding the people, places and issues of the interior West. Its content helps define this region in literary and artistic terms, and represent a collection of work that charts the changes of a distinctive, unique region. High Desert Journal is one of the first publications to give readers another way to understand and think about the high desert: through the stories and images that spring from the memories and imaginations of writers and artists.


“Breathe”

Dirty Word Kristy Knoll


May. Trembling hands grasp the syringe. Wedding ring casts rainbows in the glaring kitchen lights. One inexpert jab of the needle just under the navel, deep breath. Depress plunger. Last shot before egg implantation tomorrow. Last shot to fulfill dreams, create love, initiate life. September. Steady gloved hands grip the hollow tube. Coarse hairs cover muscled forearms. One practiced thrust of the needle through skin, through uterine wall, through amniotic fluid, through her skull. Depress plunger. Death. The magazines on the table were those you would see in any good waiting room: Cosmopolitan, Vogue, People. Young girls sat with anxious, hunched shoulders, feet flitting nervously on the ends of legs, thumbing through yesterday’s make up tips, “New! Sex Positions He’ll Love!”, profiles of Justin Bieber, Brittany Spears. But the air inside--the air held a poison, a death stench, suffocating in its thick taste. It was a moist blanket wrapped around me, winding tighter as the horrible knowledge finally pushed its way to the surface--in less than an hour, the baby in my womb would be dead, by my word, by my hand signing away her life. It’s an ugly word. Such a dirty word, lurking alongside pedophile, incest, the notorious “C”, Me. Maybe it was the situation. I walked into the clinic with my husband at the age of 28, decades older than the girls in the waiting room. I walked in with a baby of 20 weeks inside me, well past the first trimester, almost to the illegal stage. I walked in carrying three years of fertility treatments, “friendly” advice, an emotional stack of suitcases. I walked in knowing I had made the right decision to end my baby’s life, the baby I had glimpsed on ultrasound just a few days prior, happily imagining her every fiber, her every pore. The baby that, we were informed by a doctor with the softest hands, as soft as a baby’s fine skin, had only a two chambered heart, half of a brain, clubbed hands and feet. The baby that in no way would be viable outside the womb. My womb. The choices were plain: continue the sham of a pregnancy, grow bigger, glow, nurture a life that would never be. Face the anonymous well-wishers in the store, buy maternity clothes, all to…what? Have a baby that would die at birth, or maybe even inside of me before ever feeling the air on her face, the 60

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


kiss of my skin on hers. Or, choose the alternative. Purposely choose to end the life of the baby I had ached for, lived for, always loved in some part of my heart. Murder or salvation? Death or life? On the table, I winced as the ultrasound probe once more found my sweet girl’s face. I could see the deformities, the malformed organs that would not sustain her life. At my final quick nod, hand clenching tight to my husband’s, helpless tears coursing down my cheeks to pool in my ears, the doctor approached my rounded abdomen with the needle, the instrument that would inject saline into her small skull and kill her. I looked away. Saline tears, pooling into my ears and spilling over.

torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

61


“Razor Wire”

Witness

Hector West A walk took me by the big road today, Presenting shades of color blurred in sight: The tons of steel and speed commingled light And life; but for the wind the phantoms stay. 62

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


Against my better judgment on I strode. The Universe had whispered, whispered soft Though heard I naught, but thoughts did surely waft From Heaven’s gate and settled: feather load For me to bear. And there, behind the fence Of chain and barb a blur of shade did speak – Ferociously she wailed and then a streak Emerged as if by spell. A freeze of tense That held the world between the past and now Pressed in, while blurs entrapped in tragic fate Did pause before the awfulness. They wait, I thought, for some mystique of death or tao. Enshrined in memory the blurs did merge, As wail met shriek; then Violence won the day As two Veronan stars met (as they may) When crossed; as such, the one had life to purge Which happened through the shattering of glass. Airborne, a life had ceased but flesh had soared And landed near to me, who stood quite moored Or tethered to the spot. The eyes, alas Stayed open, though the eyes no longer saw. The mouth, as well, agape as if to give Some order to the scene: “Help me to live,” It seemed to say, but life had left his maw. Upwards I climbed on chain and barb and hope, Despite the knowing urge to turn and leave. Somewhere, I thought, a mother’s soon to grieve. Somewhere was there, for then I saw the scope: Still distant hence two bodies on the ground, A lady and a child. With horror plain On face and heart, my ears heard muffled pain. Through twisted metal, rising was the sound:


An operatic struggle with Pale Death Came forth from out the mangled horseless coach. Filaments of fear told me Do Not Approach, But soon, to dying lungs I gave my breath. Though sanguine soaked, my hands worked on until My sense took hold and tried to make me see That breath when forced to lung, and cavity Of chest compressed is but a bitter pill To take – a prolonged life without the light Of spirit. Then from distant winds the scream I needed much to hear: a savior team In lighted chariot arrived despite The flames and carnage the two blurs produced. They brought their gadgets and their needle pricks, Their wheeléd tables and their saline mix. With measured hurry, succor now was loosed. I stood apart from hustling heroes brave, My clothes incarnadine with strangers’ gore. The bodies bagged, yet one survivor more Were loaded, whisked, and ostensibly saved. Now left to answer others’ suspicion, With shielded questions posed in sidelong glance: “Why were you here? Was it by happenstance?” “Well, sir,” I said, “there was no clear mission. I simply walked for walking’s sake and then The sounds of crash and pain chilled to the bone – Sounds flew to those in earshot – me – alone…” My voice trailed off, and round I glanced again. The courage, if displayed at all that day Did less to give me strength and more to doubt My path. The Universe cast a walkabout – Perhaps I should have gone the other way. 64

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 / 65


Conversations Across Borders


Our Mission We believe that reading, writing, and conversation help us see the world through the eyes of others and share our own viewpoints. These conversations help us understand our shared relationship with one another. We develop the ability to make socially and environmentally formed decisions toward a sustainable future. Our vision is a world of increased mutual understanding and connection across borders, boundaries, and languages. Our mission is to bring people together across borders, boundaries, and languages. We accomplish this mission through four programs: Cab Literary Magazine, the Conversations Across Borders Project, writing workshops, and Readings. Our Values We believe that each person has a right to equal education, economic opportunity, and environmental health. We believe that literacy and literature open doors to recognize our mutual humanity. We value reading, writing, and travel. We value conversation. We value safety. We value service. We value personal growth and contribution. We value partnership. We learn continuously. We give generously.

http://www.conversationsacrossborders.org


Being a Little Sister Amanda Felton

Sometimes I think it is a miracle that I survived my childhood. When I was 8 years old I thought I was the same size as a house broom. Never a dumb child, I wasn’t considered “slow”, nor did I have to ride a certain length-restricted bus. No, I had an older brother who had a knack for convincing me that I was capable of impossible feats. I wanted desperately to prove that I was worthy of running with the guys, and I believe that at times my brother was in-fact trying to kill me. 68

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


“Just jump, it’s not that far,” Kelby nagged as we both stood on the porch outside of my bedroom window. “No, you first,” I quipped, feeling anxious about this deadly brush with fate. He disappeared within my window and I peered beyond my checkered Vans, toes gripped just beyond the ledge. Just as I turned to turned to follow him back inside, his hand emerged through the window frame, a broom thrust gallantly within his fist. Never one to give up too easily, he proudly clutched the broom to my frame as he interjected, “Okay, see this broom? This is about your size, see?” This is where my logic failed me (or maybe it had yet to find me at all). For some reason, this argument, presented so resourcefully from my brother, made perfect sense. As he continued his case, he dropped the broom from the roof, lightly tossing it onto the hedges below. The broom slowly drifted down and with a soft rustle, landed atop the green foliage, which then comforted the thin handle with tightly woven bristles. “See Mandy, that’s what you’ll do.” With little more prompting, I was firmly convinced that I too would softly land atop the bushes, perhaps with a slightly more severe shifting of leaves. Without another argument, I leapt from the edge. I remember the sweet aroma of cherry trees in the warm summer air as it blew my hair away my face. My nervous expression grew into a smile that quickly consumed my face. This was awesome! And then… snap… crash… crack… bam! I plunged through the leafy foliage, the splitting twigs, the beleaguered branches, and crashed upon the unsuspecting ground which resisted my body with a resilient pounding. My frame twisted, my lungs gasping for air, I lay motionless as Kelby made his way to me safely down the stairs, out the kitchen door, and met me with the words that I would hear more times than I could count: “Don’t tell Dad!” Growing up with two working parents and living in a huge, historic house in Salem, Oregon, each day warranted a new adventure. Never a “petite little thing”, I now realize that my size may have saved my life. On this particular day, Kelby decided that I could ride down the laundry chute, a straight, 3-story drop. He coerced me into the basement where he had moved all of the dirty laundry into one tall torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

69


heap directly below the chute; he even added some clean towels to the pile for good measure. “See Mandy, you’ll land right here.” Again, common sense had yet to take employment in my head, and history never occurred to me as being repetitious. Climbing up the stairs from the basement, rounding through the living room, we continued up the second flight of stairs. Too scared to go head first, I was adamant: I would only do it if I could go feet first. Not being one to pick an argument over such a trivial detail, he succumbed to my demand and quickly presented me a chair to stand upon. After nearly ten minutes of shifting and maneuvering, I simply would not fit. My brother was really disappointed as we had to abandon our plans. We resorted to pulling the mattresses from our beds and lining the stairs from top to bottom. With a flying jump, we only bounced two or three times before our bodies made it to the landing. It was Kelby’s misfortune that one leap ended with the antique Grandfather clock breaking through the plate-glass window. On this occasion, our folly ended in his punishment, but it wasn’t the last time we would “ride the stairs”. Being the only girl in my family, my childhood involved burning ants, climbing trees, playing cops and robbers, and riding BMX bikes. When the guys wanted to break a record when jumping their bikes, Kelby was quick to volunteer me to lay behind the jump, so that they could all jump over me. If a terrain was too steep and sketchy, Kelby would “let me ride with them” if I agreed to descend the hill first. At times, this resulted in flipping over and tweaking my handle-bars, but it earned me the right of passage for another day with the guys. As a 34 year old woman, I still have pencil lead stuck in my knee from one of my battles with my brother; however, he has several gnarly scars on his head: one from a 9 iron and another from a poker from the fireplace. I did grow out of my naïveté, and I learned to stand up for myself. My brother and I are good friends and he now has a ten-year old daughter that reminds him of me. “Hey Kelby, knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “Karma,” “Karma who?” “Karma’s coming ‘round to kick you in the butt big brother!”

70

/ Fall 2012 / torches n’ pitchforks


THE NATIONAL WRITING PROJECT Writing is Essential

www.nwp.org

Writing is essential to communication, learning, and citizenship. It is the currency of the new workplace and global economy. Writing helps us convey ideas, solve problems, and understand our changing world. Writing is a bridge to the future. Our Mission The National Writing Project focuses the knowledge, expertise, and leadership of our nation’s educators on sustained efforts to improve writing and learning for all learners. Our Vision Writing in its many forms is the signature means of communication in the 21st century. The NWP envisions a future where every person is an accomplished writer, engaged learner, and active participant in a digital, interconnected world. Who We Are Unique in breadth and scale, the NWP is a network of sites anchored at colleges and universities and serving teachers across disciplines and at all levels, early childhood through university. We provide professional development, develop resources, generate research, and act on knowledge to improve the teaching of writing and learning in schools and communities. The National Writing Project believes that access to high-quality educational experiences is a basic right of all learners and a cornerstone of equity. We work in partnership with institutions, organizations, and communities to develop and sustain leadership for educational improvement. Throughout our work, we value and seek diversity—our own as well as that of our students and their communities—and recognize that practice is strengthened when we incorporate multiple ways of knowing that are informed by culture and experience. torches n’ pitchforks / Fall 2012 /

71


CALLING ALL STUDENT WRITERS!

“Blue Mist”


The OWP Award short fiction and poetry

A modest cash prize and recognition will be awarded by the Oregon Writing Project for high school students aged 14-18 writing in either short fiction or poetry. Deadline for contest January 15th. ALL SUBMISSIONS MUST BE SENT VIA EMAIL IN A WORD.doc ATTACHMENT. With your e-mail, write POETRY or SHORT-FICTION in the subject line to: torchesnpitchforks@hotmail.com SPECIFIC GENRE GUIDELINES For Poetry, do not send more than 3 poems at a time, (or more than 6 pages, whichever comes first). Fiction submissions should have a tight narrative arc, and should likewise be 2,000 words or less. For each genre, your level of craft in the use of language, imagery, character and conflict will be of high interest. Local teacher leaders from the Oregon Writing project will judge. Winners will be announced on March 1st via email. All submissions will be considered for publication in our Spring issue.


torches n' pitchforks Fall 2012 Teacher Edition