Cover Art: “Jeep” By Lindsey McCarty The staff at Lost River would like to thank the English Department at Western Kentucky University for its generous support in our endeavor. Special thanks to Dr. Tom C. Hunley, Mary Ellen Miller, & Jay Sizemore. Lost River would not exist without you. Additional thanks to Dr. Brent Oglesbee for supplying incentive for the creation of our logo. Lost River logo designed by Duncan Underhill Cover design and layout by Leigh Cheak
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Lost River Summer 2018
Table of Contents POETRY ROBERT BEVERIDGE Terraforming |55 Set Piece |56 CLINT BREWER Henley Street Bridge|32 Carport Vignette |34 Wormwood |36 JOAN COLBY Sick |49 The Bull |51 Stone Bench on the River |52 ROBERT CRISP Waking Life |21 Master and Disciple |22 Journey |24 TOM C. HUNLEY Asylum|63 Verbal Equivalent of Nine A.M.|64 What Feels Like Love|65 ROBERT S. KING How the Invisible Go Blind |77 Worlds Apart |78 DS MAOLALAÍ Lake Ontario |37 Discouragement |38 TERRY MINCHOW-PROFFITT Humor and Loathe the Black Dog |80 ROBERT OKAJI Letter to Schnee from the Stent’s Void |25 Genealogy Dream |26
SIMON PERCHIK * |2 ** |3 *** |4 PETER L. SCACCO First Day of Autumn |82 CARLA SCHWARTZ
This Rope |11 Weighing a December Swim |12 JAY SIZEMORE Searching |5 A Primer |7 Insatiable |8 MARJORIE STELMACH The Century Pines |57 Banjo Angel |58 The Arc of the Covenant |61 TOM ZIMMERMAN Broken Record |53 Blue Ballpoint |54 PROSE LAURA ALLNUTT On the Observation Deck |27 JEANNETTE BROWN July 1999 |67 PAUL BECKMAN Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a Problem but Not the Worst One I Could Have |79 ARTHUR DAVIS Bingo Bailey |13 KEN DREXLER The Touch |40
PHOTOGRAPHY LINDSEY MCCARTY Go |1 Flower Mushroom |10 Green Leaves |23 Distortion |31 Yellow Light |39 Tree |50 Sky |60 Flower |66 Wheat |76 Canoe Leaf |83 Truck |90 â&#x20AC;©
* You canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t hold back this knob already resistant to sunlight filling your lungs the way all the firewood on Earth waits in these clouds as cries and ruin and though the sky is aging you hurry through, each breath weak in the doorway covers it with a lid half lit, half spreading out to open, close and you are breathing for two, the air given some mist to find its way home. - SIMON PERCHIKâ&#x20AC;Š
** Depending on the height, dust is colder in the morning though once you tuck the rag it’s the shelf that staggers pulls you closer and slowly smothered by something damp made from lips, shoulders and the invisible breathing into pieces, smaller and smaller till the air around your heart won’t let go this wood no longer days or falling. - SIMON PERCHIK
*** Where the sky dries up these sunflowers scale back though just as easily you could take a chance trap this rain left over growing wild the way each petal breathes in while laying down where your mouth would be come from a name written on a tree clasping it and the sun not yet a wound that oozes â&#x20AC;&#x201C;you could drink from a slope and place by place tame this mud to bend, gather in wells scented with melting stones and the darkness you no longer want to stop. - SIMON PERCHIKâ&#x20AC;Š
SEARCHING Before you even ask I’m telling you what the poem means, it means I cared enough to write it down any other attachment is simply ornamental I’m stripping myself bare as bone as a moon unclothed by clouds when poets speak of the moon like some elusive muse it’s best to bury it as you would bury a locket, heart-shaped and holding a faded photograph of your mother’s face somewhere in stacks of moving boxes stored near windows you can’t open and within earshot of spiders spinning silk around their eggs your mother was not a perfect woman, but what does it mean to spend your life yearning for her hand like a magnet over your chest pinning you to the refrigerator door? as if you spent your countless breaths like pennies slipped to fortune tellers wanting to hear a different future, to feel a wind shift the sails toward a purpose that seems worthy of all this longing instead there’s just this seasick lurching and creaking of boards straining against twine, with every sloshing wave and every tenuous step taken on unsteady legs, waiting for the ground to open like a mouth of Mondays or Tuesdays or whatever days infinitum absurdum, a surprise would be a gift, a respite from the anxiety of not knowing
what comes next, except that you do know, if you cross this ocean to the other side of the sphere there’s just more ocean waiting for you so what does it mean to be a traveler, they’ll say enjoy the journey more than the destination, pick out one detail, one ream of light herringboned in the tide, and if you reach shore find one mountain to affix your eyes and choose it to climb, but remember this, don’t go too high, because once a summit has been reached you’ll only see the other peaks and wonder if they offer a better view - JAY SIZEMORE
A PRIMER I wear a mask of boulders, I wear a mask of cumulonimbus clouds, things that will never break, things that will never rain. My neck grows tired from the miles and miles and miles of never showing weakness, never stopping to catch my breath, never hiding myself in a bathroom for hours to rebuild my cheekbones and forehead and ocular cavities from the crumbling landslides of impending madness. This is my nervous breakdown. I fear that no one knows me, has ever taken the time to probe beyond this surface flesh, to scale the mountains of my impregnable disguise. I’ve made myself a totem, a sacrifice, a scapegoat for those with legs much longer and more slender than mine. My face holds back a language of dogs, holds back a tongue of thorns, holds back a flood of extinction level magnitude: tears that stayed within this body to nourish something sinister and keep it like a weapon under the Earth’s crust, a mega-volcano of sadness meant to wipe everything away so we can start over fresh, without the preconceptions of our pain. - JAY SIZEMORE
INSATIABLE I have a spleen brimming with words and veins like choked highways trafficked with code, my body a tangled nest of tripwires and old Christmas tree lights that when laid out end to unglamorous end would circumvent the globe and spill the contents of my being like so much nonsense, alphabet soup. The heart works like a printing press churning out pages, pages I add to my binding like inches around my waist, but my memory carries a cruel red pen, this manuscript life just a frantic first draft riddled with an amateur inconsistency that leaves me in rooms wondering why I entered them at all and struggling to recall the lyrics to some of my favorite songs. There are years that seem completely blank, entire sections ripped from my spine or just crossed out with one giant bloody X, and I get by just fine without them, as if they meant nothing, as if my novel was never supposed to be a narrative anyone could follow, especially me, trying to reminisce and finding just vague senses like shadows outlined in fingerprint dust, the scent of an oiled baseball glove, the hot sting of a wasp beneath my shirt, my stepfather’s fist pounding a wall. I want to stop…but I can’t, I’m the shark that dies if it ever refuses to swim, to chase the smell of red ink dripped and dispersed into dark water like some dissipating colorful smoke. I’m the predator, but also the prey, having scratched myself into an open sore, having found a poem and wanting more, I’ve driven nails through each of my palms
and hoisted my own petard, so don’t blame my teeth for what they found in my mouth, if you don’t want to be eaten steer clear of a monster at war with itself. - JAY SIZEMORE
THIS ROPE you hold in tension at armâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s length, swing like a lover, hoping he returns, captured round your arms, your palm curled around a hand, not alone, anymore, you have now, a post to steady by, to tie up to, a stern-faced overseer, the two of you, tied by thick strand to bring you home, a kind of tango of wrap and friction swings the stern back close in toward the dock this rope, whipped at the ends to keep from fraying, to stay worry, this flower, bloomed open as blue as sky. - CARLA SCHWARTZâ&#x20AC;Š
WEIGHING A DECEMBER SWIM I was feeling desire and regret, standing at the water’s edge, still wearing my cycling gear, the unflustered surface, tugging — shimmering in the distance, the water, as inviting as a pond in summer, sun snakes wriggle and wander. Here’s what I don’t like about uncertainty — the way I quarrel with myself to give both sides a fair shake — and meanwhile, sunlight wanes, the clouds thicken, the slim window of chance for a perfect photo closes down. I always swam there, and then he did too, and then the big moon rose low across from the setting sun, but clouds arrived, and the moon set before the night finished its blessing. Then, he slammed a car door on my arm, and when I waived argument he said love was not enough, or mentioned God, and stopped swimming — And then the phone went silent. It was November, and then May. I still shudder at my indecision. But I don’t have to shout to the air as I drive anymore. I can conduct myself with care. - CARLA SCHWARTZ
BINGO BAILEY - ARTHUR DAVIS Martha Bailey tightened her grip on her walker, cursed her failing seventy-six-
three bingo cards across the table. about you, Martha?”
year-old bones, and pressed on to her favorite chair in the rec room where Andrea
“I’ll take three,” she said, carefully watching Andrea arrange her cards.
Connitti had already taken her seat next to Sam Lepre. Andrea Connitti was a heavyset
Since coming to the Royal Regent a year ago, Andrea had become a sometimes winner. It was only in the last few months,
woman in her late seventies who wore a
since she began to win with alarming
bulky garnet pendant like a religious
regularity, that Martha’s suspicions mounted.
talisman. There was speculation about whether it was authentic, or something she
“Bernie,” Martha called, without moving her lips, “how’s the old dog doing it?”
picked up in a discount store and wore simply to make herself feel important. Her Bernie, as Martha referred to her recently deceased husband, would have little
There was no answer, only continued frustration, until one day it came to her. Armed with the revelation she marched into the assistant Director’s Office.
to do with an old gossip like Andrea. “Probably push the old windbag in front of an oncoming truck,” she mused.
“There, what do you think of that.” Connie Jenkins, always one to
Sam Lepre, who had been at the Royal
overthink an issue, considered her options.
Regent the longest, started the bingo game
“You know this for sure?”
early if it suited him, or waited until one of
“What other answer can there be?”
his friends arrived late to begin, and talked
“If you’re right, how can we prove it?
incessantly between games about his
I mean I can’t stop the game and examine her
experiences in World War II.
card right before she passes it to Sam?”
“I want three cards,” Andrea said. “Three for the pretty lady in the bright floral dress,” Sam Lepre said and slid
Martha thought a while as the anger overwhelmed realization. “Well, we have to do something!”
“I’ll make some inquiries about her friendship with Sam. Maybe there’s
“Well, maybe, but it’s only for a hundred fifty-eight dollars.”
something we can learn there.” “I intend to put an end to this,”
“And fifteen cents. That’s three bingo cards, my dear,” Lillian Abbot said.
Martha announced, getting to her feet. Connie nodded. “I’m sure we will find an answer.”
“Her medicine?” Martha said to the spirit of Bernie’s memory. “What the hell are you saying?”
Martha made her way across the
“I don’t really play, but my
lounge and to a group including Tom
granddaughter said she had a good feeling
Lessing, who once had his own pharmacy in
about it and asked me for some numbers.”
Grovespoint, Michigan, and Lillian Abbott, who boasted of her four wonderful
“How wonderful for you,” Martha managed to eke out.
grandchildren though not one had visited her
“You should celebrate.”
in her six months at the Royal Regent. Kitty
“I’ll just keep the money, unless I get
Diamondstein was from South Carolina and
as good as Martha here, then maybe I’ll buy
thought that her last name alone was reason
myself a little something.”
enough for others to be deferential. Andrea was rubbing her garnet
“Martha always holds the hot cards,” David agreed. “She’s the one to beat.”
broach as if she was preparing to cast a spell. “Give the bitch a taste of her own medicine,” Bernie echoed from the past.
“The game’s mostly luck,” Martha answered absently, still questioning Bernie’s suggestion.
“Have you heard?” Kitty asked. “What?” Martha said, knowing she
“Not the way you play it, my dear,” Andrea said.
should have avoided the group after being so upset with Connie’s timid response.
“Yeah, you have to watch her every minute,” Kitty added.
“That our Andrea here won the lottery,” David Offit said in a less than
“Bingo Bailey,” Andrea said. “That’s what we’ll call you from now on.”
congratulatory tone. “It’s not really the lottery,” Andrea said.
entire group moved into the dining room for dinner.
“Of course it is,” Kitty insisted.
“It’s time,” David mentioned and the
Martha Bailey settled into her chair, a
“You’re going to lose your place at the
defeated woman. The waitress brought her
table if you don’t get going, my dear,” he said
apple blintzes, her favorite weekend dinner.
and moved on.
Clarissa knew she liked it, and Martha had taken great pains to cultivate the relationship so her finicky eating habits would not be met
Clarissa came over to clear the table. “Martha, are you all right?” Martha stared down at the cold
with stone silence or outright indifference.
blintzes. “I think I’ll go back to my room and
Though Bernie died two years ago, she never
lay down for a while.”
stopped talking to him as he continued in the
It would become her new name—a
same ethereal spirit, guiding and helping her
derisive, demeaning definition of a marginal
through the terrible early days of their
loser. And how had the bloated, nagging
shrew, an ex-hairdresser from New Jersey no
“Hey, Bingo Bailey!” Kitty Diamondstein said. “You’re going to be late.” Martha recognized Kitty’s Southern
less, managed to compromise Sam Lepre? Andrea was putting the colored wooden tiles on numbers on her bingo card
drawl and looked up. Did she say “Bingo
that Sam hadn’t actually called, then
Bailey”? Did Kitty actually use that horrible
declaring bingo and handing him the card
and letting him silently authenticate the David Offit was coming toward her as
fast as any eighty-year-old man with two
winning line of numbers. That was the answer to their charade.
arthritic hips can move. When she first saw
She never really had bingo.
him at the Regent, he had reminded her of a
And of course Bernie was right about
young boy she went to high school with.
Andrea from the beginning. He was always
Her parents liked Glenn. He was
right. Got through engineering school a year
bright, athletic, and came from a good family.
early, had half a dozen patents in his name,
They dated for a while, not like today when
and knew more about organic chemistry than
the first thing you do is get drunk and naked.
the fools that taught him. He had served in
She couldn’t recall why it lasted for such a
the Army and, as an assistant coroner for the
short time, only that David Offit had Glenn’s
city of St. Louis, was given a Departmental
bright blue eyes and warm, open smile.
Award of Recognition when he retired.
“Here,” he had said that fateful second night they had sex, dropping a small glassine packet on the desk in their room at the Holiday Inn in Evanston, Illinois. “What is it?” she had asked, thinking
more importance since Bernie’s passing. She fell in love with Bernie and as quickly wanted him to leave his wife. It was what they both wanted.
only that in an hour he was going home to
Martha made it to the toilet in her room just
his wife of eight years.
in time. She finished and fell into the chair at
“Seems a young wife poisoned her
the foot of her bed. The television stared back
husband and almost got away with it. Gave
at her. She drifted into a reverie of memories.
her hubby a dose of the white powder in that
She was again ten years old and working in
packet, which is nearly untraceable, and a
her father’s grocery store on 98th Street and
day later the central nervous system shuts
Broadway in New York.
down. Reads exactly like an acute TIA, a
She was arranging shelves with
transient ischemic attack, if you don’t know
produce, setting out stacks of small brown
what to look for.”
paper bags under her father’s watchful eye
In a strange, tantalizing way, Martha
while her brother and two older sisters were
was excited about the illicitness of what they
were doing, and Bernie’s clever intellect and
There were fleeting flashes of her life with
endless stories about the intricacies of
Bernie when they married a year after his
murder and mayhem only flushed her with
wife died. Even back then Martha questioned
curiosity. “Okay, but what do you want me to
the circumstances under which such a
do with it?”
healthy young woman’s heart could
“Well, for right now, don’t hold it between your legs for the next few hours,” he
to those images and memories had taken on
suddenly fail. “Bingo Bailey,” she said, her lips
said, unhooking her bra.
barely parting. She wanted to cry, but the
Martha moved along toward her room,
sound of it was so ludicrous it made her
letting her mind drift back to better times
smile. She leaned over and opened her
and to her two wonderful sons with Bernie,
dresser drawer. A small envelope was neatly
and her career as an office manager of a
buried in the folds of a dark blue blouse. She
prestigious Wall Street law firm. Holding on
fingered the glassine packet in the envelope.
One of the aides was playing a guitar in the
“From now on ladies and gentlemen,
far corner of the lounge. Most of the
there’s going to be a late evening game. And
inhabitants were sitting with their eyes
the ante is ten cents a card and two dollars a
closed, tempting the gods to reach out and
win,” she said, brimming with enthusiasm.
take them before they had to endure another day of frozen solitude. Martha walked up to Clara Burns,
There was a collective shock. That was twice the ante and twice the reward for a win in Sam’s game.
“Hey, are you up?” Clara was startled, as were the women around her. “Of course I am.” “Then come with me,” Martha said as though she were taking a platoon into
“The game will begin exactly at eight and will run for ten cards, and the one who wins the most games automatically gets three free cards for the first game of the following night.”
combat. “Hey, Tom, you’ve had enough sleep
“Three free cards?” David Offit asked.
for a lifetime. Let’s go.”
“That’s the rule,” Martha answered.
Tom looked up from a book of modern architecture that had been
“How can you do that?” “Because I can, Lillian. That’s why.
contributed to the Regent. He’d been reading
And they’re my rules, and if you don’t like
it for two months and was on page twenty-
the game, you don’t have to play.”
three. “What’s going on?”
Martha gladly decided to make up the small
“Come with us,” Martha said
difference between what was collected and
nodding to Clara, who was one of the few
what was won and consider it an investment
natives who could maneuver without a
in her own sanity.
walker. Martha found Lillian and David Offit, who was annoyed but at last went
Kitty Diamondstein grabbed the closest chair. “Hell, I’m in.”
along with whatever was going on mostly
Clara sat down. “I love it already.”
because Kitty had agreed to join in what was
A woman Martha didn’t recognize sat
turning out to be Martha’s militia. Three
down next to Clara. She unbuttoned her
other women absently tagged along.
yellow sweater, looked around at the rest of
Martha switched on the lights in the rec room, bent her frail frame, and came up
the crowd, and said, “I’ll play any game that Sam Lepre isn’t calling.”
with a wooden box filled with bingo cards.
The table filled up quickly, as did
Not knowing what the problem was
another nearby. A dozen spectators looked on
with so many residents standing around,
Doris was delighted to see all the smiling
Martha was bubbling with excitement
faces. “Okay, I’ll have one of the aides bring
as she pulled the first small white ball from
you hustlers some juice. If you’re going to be
the rotating basket.
up this late, you’re going to need some
“N-55,” she said, looking up at
twenty or so eager happy faces. “N-55.”
“Great,” Lillian said.
She continued calling numbers until
“How about a beer?”
Doris Epstein, the night manager, noticed the crowd in the rec room. “Doris, would you care to join us,”
“Shame on you, David Offit. This is an assisted care living facility,” Doris said, “not a saloon.”
Lillian asked. Martha beamed. “We’ll even give you a free card.”
The lady with the yellow sweater turned to Doris. “Who says we can’t have a saloon in an assisted care living facility?”
“What a wonderful idea,” Kitty said.
“Great idea. Let’s put it to a vote,”
“Why don’t you join us, dear? We’re having
Clara said quickly. “All those in favor of
so much fun.”
putting a saloon in the lounge raise your
Doris looked around. “Is this your
idea?” she asked Martha. “It is.”
Aches and pains and arthritis aside, hands flew up in all directions.
“Did you get Connie’s permission?” “I would have if I thought it up before she went home.” “It’s ten cents a game and two dollars
“You’re all incorrigible,” Doris giggled, making her way back through the crowd. “Do any of you evil hustlers have
a win,” Kitty said. “You know what that
B-11?” Martha blurted out, reenergizing the
“Yeah, it means you still aren’t going
Kitty looked down at her card in
to win a game,” Clara said, sparking
disbelief. The top row across on her bingo
card was filled with small wooden chips. She hadn’t won a game in weeks, and here she
had won the first game of the evening group,
everybody as if they were misbehaving
obviously a more important achievement
children. “What’s going on here?”
than one measly win at Sam’s table. “BINGO!” she finally blurted out.
“What does it look like?” Martha answered.
“No way,” David laughed.
“You can’t play bingo at this hour.”
Martha took her card and checked out
“Who says?” Martha asked.
her numbers against the ones she had called.
“You just can’t, that’s why,” she said
Unlike with Sam and Andrea, she actually
stumbling over her anger while covetously
made sure the card count was accurate. “We
rubbing her pendant.
have a winner.” A cheer went up at the table, bringing a dozen more residents into the thickening crowd. One of the men holding a card dropped it and all his little wooden buttons
“Andrea here says we can’t play bingo. Apparently she’s Royal Regent’s Bingo Bouncer.” “Bingo Bouncer,” David Offit laughed. “That sounds about right.”
in order to applaud. This drove the laughter
“Look,” Kitty said, “even I won.”
deeper into the recesses of the Royal Regent.
“And who asked you to butt in?”
One of the aides picked up his card from the
David said. “If you don’t want to play, it
carpet while another arrived with a
doesn’t mean you can spoil it for us.”
complimentary tray of juice. “Hey, you people, keep it down. We’re going to wake up the old folks,” Martha said. Kitty laughed so hard she knocked over David’s juice glass that fortunately had just been drained. Clara pointed out, “Poor Kitty, she can’t even hold her juice anymore.” At that moment, the center of the
Andrea stood to her full height and cocked back her head defiantly. “I’m going to tell Connie.” “Go away. You’re spoiling our fun.” Clara said. Lillian slapped the table with her open hand. “She’s right. You’re holding up our game.” “What are you going to tell her, Andrea,” Martha asked, “that we have twice
crowd parted and Andrea Connitti marched
the crowd and are having twice as much fun
through. She glared questioningly at
A voice from somewhere behind Andrea floated over the tops of heads, “Hey, Bingo Bouncer, what’s it your damn business anyway?” Andrea Connitti flushed with anger.
made it back to her room, and fell into bed. “Bingo!” David yelled somewhere in the distance, ending the fifth game. “Bronzed balls and a second win,”
Martha was running her game. Her and
Martha said, feeling more alive than she
could recall. “This is your lucky night, David
Martha pulled a white ball from the wire cage. “O-15. Does anybody have O-15?” “I have it,” David said almost jumping from his chair.
Offit,” Martha declared. “It certainly is,” he said, his blue eyes sparkling more agreeably than ever. “Yours and mine,” Martha said,
“So do I,” Clara warned.
silently reliving the exact moment they left
“But I called it first,” he insisted.
the Holiday Inn that night and Bernie
“David’s right, so he gets a special
handed her the packet.
award for having called Bingo first,” Martha
“Here, keep it. Just in case I
declared. “Which is, we’re going to bronze
misbehave after we get married,” he said,
the ball for him, but you’re both sharing the
pinched her ass and closed the door to their
hidden paradise. “Hey, David, is getting his balls
bronzed,” one of the men in the crowd yelled out.
Andrea turned, pushed people aside,
WAKING LIFE In the hyper-reality of her dreams, I’m able to read her emotional shorthand. The terrain of our love is mostly mapped, and any areas of shadow are alluring instead of frightening, promising adventure rather than certain death, as it goes in waking life where we toil in tunnels that haven’t seen light since the sun and moon took over the sky. Down there, air is a commodity that confuses, our lives held in black, fractured balance. - ROBERT CRISP
MASTER AND DISCIPLE My kindly old master became an envelope, which is typical for him since he loves letters and wanted nothing more than to be, at long last, stamp-worthy. I kneel before my lattice altar and reprogramme myself to receive and send spiritual postage, ignoring the cardboard crows who are determined to nest around me. - ROBERT CRISPâ&#x20AC;Š
JOURNEY Do you forgive me? she breathes in the night, somewhere in a distant land blanketed by snow. I mend my broken bones and try to walk to her, swallowing stones along the way, praying to gods long dead and forgotten. One morning, in a sunshower, I stop to name my pains and write her a short letter. I am coming, I say, using a needle and my blood. The wind carries the letter away--perhaps it will reach her. Later, I rest in a broken church with stained glass pictures of my life before I knew her. I break them all and return to the road with the other shadows. - ROBERT CRISP â&#x20AC;Š
LETTER TO SCHNEE FROM THE STENT'S VOID Dear Dan: I've been trying to revive that dream, the one in which the rare Texas bird sings "cuckoo, y'all," before shimmering through the night's shrilling heart and wakefulness, as you clamber up the balcony to join me in knocking back Japanese single malt, chilled soba and Doritos. The distance between earth and a first floor balcony may vary, but the fall's impact can't ache so much as what never was or won't be. My mother's family hovers out there in the World of Darkness, while I stumble through my days under the Texas sun, rice grains trickling from holes in my pockets, studding the way between there and here, back and forth, between us and them, now and maybe. I confess that communication doesn't come naturally to me. I'm reticent and slow on the uptake, and enjoy my time as a shaded diminishment with only occasional forays into the light. So much to learn, so little capacity. I could spend hours watching the spider working among the unread books, while my mandolin languishes in its case and the earth keeps spinning, spinning, holding us in place. What tunes have I forgotten, which remain unsung? The wire mesh tube in my heart cleared the way from a numbered life, and now I roll along in words, which bear their own bags of worry. But I've learned to empty and stack the burlap on the floor near the resonator, and the sacks magically replenish themselves every night. So it goes. Empty, refill. Like a glass of Hibiki, or blood pumped through our anterior descending veins. Tonight rice and peppers will fill my belly, with fish, a mango cream sauce, and a bitter ale, which I would share with you, perhaps in another dream, or better yet, in person, under stars announced by mythical birds on a warm night with laughter in the breeze. No ladder needed. Come on up. Bob. - ROBERT OKAJIâ&#x20AC;Š
GENEALOGY DREAM To recall but not recall: family, the swift curve of evolution's arc. One moment your knuckles scrape the earth's surface, and the next you're pinpointing mortar fire by satellite phone. Or, having plowed the field by hand, you fertilize with human dung (no swords in this hovel), only to wake into a dream of high rises and coffee served steaming by a blushing ingenue who morphs into an uncle, killed in China on the wrong side of the war, leaving his sister still mired in grief six decades later under the Texas sun. On this end of memory's ocean, we know poverty and its engendered disrespect, neighbors' children warned not to play with you, for fear that the family's lack of nickels would rub off and contaminate, that your belly's empty shadow might spread down the unpaved streets and envelop even those who don't need to share a single egg for dinner. Years later the son will celebrate his tenth year by suffering the indignity of a bloody nose and a visit to the principal's office, a gift of the sixth grader who would never again employ "nip" to disparage someone, at least not without looking over his shoulder in fear of small fists and quiet rage. Which half measures harder? In one hand, steel. In the other, water. I pour green tea on rice and recall days I've never lived. - ROBERT OKAJIâ&#x20AC;Š
ON THE OBSERVATION DECK - LAURA ALLNUTT I feel it every time I leave home to do something new. It pits in my stomach and
same school. It was where we became friends, where my anxiety started.
gnaws at my mind, creating feelings that if
We climbed 177 steps up the
left unchecked, lead into another attack,
rounding, narrowing lighthouse without
another beating down of my dignity, another
handrails. The space was closing in, the
reason to just stay home.
cylindrical tower dark, the air thick with
I felt it again on this cold winter Saturday
heat. My heart nearly burst with anxiety, and
when my friend Sarah and I headed to the
once I sat on the brick steps and
Carew Tower Observation Deck. At forty-
contemplated throwing myself down the
nine stories high, it lends a God’s-eye view of
dark, forever hole that we so carefully
Cincinnati. We’ve loved the Queen City since
avoided in the ascent, because I couldn’t
we moved here two years ago this winter,
imagine having to walk back down if ever we
and any Saturday without plans is planned
reached the summit. We did, but I don’t
to explore the city more.
remember the scenic view of the Gulf that
Sarah usually plots our adventures,
supposedly made the climb worth it.
and I drive us to them. This arrangement
Even Sarah took a seat and drew in
works since I wouldn’t plan anything
deep breaths to ward off panic. “I have to do
otherwise, and I’m unlikely to leave home
the things that scare me,” she always says.
without her, my adventure buddy, the one
She’s helping me learn to do the
who knows my inward battles and helps me
things I think I can’t because staying home
through them. That she planned to scale a
makes me feel worse than doing the things
building just to peer back down the nearly
that bring on attacks. It’s a lose-lose battle,
600 feet to the ground seemed reckless,
but at least one option offers proof that I am
careless of my impending anxiety. We’d
scaled heights before—the Pensacola
In Carew Tower, we entered an
Lighthouse in Florida almost five years ago.
elevator that looked like every fancy elevator
We used to live in Pensacola, worked at the
I’d ever seen in movies, columns of numbered buttons that glow when pushed.
The pit in my stomach grew heavier, knowing we’d have to ride up and up, higher
“I’m serious,” she said. “I’m not comfortable.”
and higher until we reached the fiftieth floor. Only we didn’t reach the fiftieth floor. The
“We’ll take the stairway the rest of the way.”
elevator didn’t go that high. It stopped, smoothly, at floor forty-five.
“I don’t like heights. Do you remember that I’m scared of heights?”
The elevator served as a time portal. Here on floor forty-five, the carpet was dull,
“Yes, but you always do the things that scare you.”
the floors faded, the smells of mold and must
“Not this. I don’t need to do this.”
lingered from an era that once held
She was serious, and it confused the
sophisticated patrons covering the fear in
pit in my stomach. It lightened but didn’t
their souls with long cigarettes and sexy
know whether to stray or stay. So I said what
swirls of tobacco smoke. Their ghosts were
she always says to me: “Just do it. You’ll be
our only traffic.
glad you did.”
A sign for the observatory deck
“No, I won’t!”
directed us to round a corner and follow an
At that moment, a black, stocky man
empty hall to another sign: “Take elevator to
about fifty lumbered down the hall, carrying
observatory deck.” I pressed the button,
a sandwich whose smell made my
pulse rising, and an elevator the size of an
compromised stomach turn.
outhouse opened. “Elevator holds four adults,” a bronze sign inside read. It was dark, rickety, and dank, and I imagined it hadn’t passed inspection since the Nixon Administration. “I’m not doing this; I’m going back down!” But I didn’t say those words. Sarah said them. Sarah, my rock, the pioneer, was retreating down the empty hall. “Hey, hey, hey,” I said and caught her by the shoulders. “No, no, no, no.”
“You girls going to the observation deck?” “We were, but we’re afraid of the elevator,” Sarah said. “Is it safe?” “Safe? Yeah, it’s safe! I ride it every day! Just wait, I’ll ride up with you.” He went into the men’s room then, and Sarah and I dashed for the stairwell before he could coerce us onto the outhouse elevator. The stairs were metal, the walls white, the air cool. With each step, I imagined the old stairs giving way and plummeting us to
the basement. One more step, one more step,
But my mind and my feelings separated, and
one more step. And after thirty one-more-
in the divorce, left me weak, trembling,
steps came a door that led to the observation
deck, where the man from below was waiting
“It’s not fear,” the man said. “It’s not fear of
with a woman behind a cash register.
anything. It’s just—,” and he waved his arm
“We took the stairs,” Sarah said sheepishly. “I figured,” he said. “I told you I’d ride up the elevator with you!” As I paid for our tickets to go out on
across the room, as if to indicate the world, life, the course of things we can’t control. “But I don’t want to bore you with this talk. You girls enjoy the deck.” “No, no, I understand,” I said. “I
the deck, Sarah explained her fear of heights,
battle anxiety too.” I’d battled it for years, not
how she developed anxiety about them years
knowing it had a name, convinced I was
ago in Georgia when she’d climbed Stone
dying of the world’s slowest cardiac arrest as
Mountain in the rain and nearly fell to what
the attacks happened more and more
could have been a tragic injury, or even
death, and how she hadn’t known her fear of
The man’s eyes widened with the strange joy
heights until that moment.
of meeting someone who understands. “And
“I know all about anxiety,” the man said. “I got it myself—these . . . uh . . . panic
how’re you doing?” he asked. How to answer a question like that
attacks. There was a tragedy in my home, in
from a man seeking hope? When I’d finally
my own house.” He let the words hang with
told my boss and then my doctor about the
his head as he paused. “I just can’t be in my
attacks, when they explained it as mental
own home no more. I just stood up one day,
illness, I was nearly crippled. The medicine
and I fell back down, and I had to go to the
did little to help, and with a 5/5 teaching
emergency room. I couldn’t breathe. I . . . it
load plus added school responsibilities, I
was a tragedy.”
didn’t have the time or ability to heal. In a
I nodded, the pit returning and growing. My anxiety started in my own
few months, when the semester ended, I quit. I wanted to tell him, “I’m cured! I’m
classroom in front of twenty college students
free! And you can be too!” But I’m not, and I
as I read them an Annie Dillard essay. It
can’t be, and giving false hope would be a
wasn’t a tragedy. There was nothing to fear.
greater sin than the lie itself, because hope
deferred makes the heart sick. But it’s been
suburb, rows of homes standing rigidly
two and a half years since I took control of
against the cold; and to the opposite end
my health, my life, and I’m not as bad as I
huddled the bustling city streets, the Bengals
stadium, Macy’s, Kroger, Fifth Third Bank, “I’m better,” I said, because I am and
and miles and miles of interstate and
because I was standing 600 feet high in a
highway weaving in and out to where we’d
place I’d never been and talking to a man I’d
been and where we were.
never met, and without the dread, the fluttering heart, the shortness of breath I’d
“It’s so beautiful!” a young woman said, snapping pictures on her iPhone.
have felt just a few years ago. “She read a book that helped,” Sarah said.
“And cold,” I said because I couldn’t say all that was inside me. We left then, the wind whipping our hair.
I told him the title of the book, the author’s name, where he could find it. But I
“Have a good day,” Sarah told the man on our way past.
wanted to give him more, because it was more than the book that helped. It was
his eyes wide again. “And I’m glad I met
everything else too: the prayers, counseling,
the uprooting of my life from Pensacola to Cincinnati, the friend at my side. “It does get better,” I said, but I
We descended the stairs, Sarah in the lead. “That wasn’t so bad,” she said. I clung to the railing. A young man
wanted to say more, only I didn’t have the
stood one floor down, head down, leaning
words, just a vast space in my gut that
against the wall. Instinctively I assumed he
yearned to heal and be healed.
too was scared of heights, and I was right,
Sarah and I spent all of ten minutes on that
because the young woman from the deck
wintry roof, looking down with the gray
came behind us, saying, “See. They were on
skies on the Queen City. On one side sat her
the deck too,” as if to say that if Sarah and I
old brick buildings with black metal fire
could do it, anyone could.
escapes. The broken windows, the empty streets sighed, longing for yesteryear’s vestiges of glory; on another side, the muddy Ohio River flowed slowly, dividing city from
“You two as well.” He pointed to me,
I wonder how she knew.
HENLEY STREET BRIDGE The waterfront’s face lies a cocksure, bastard’s lie. Crumbling rocks hiss tales of mad, bluegrass nights of sublime, golden Tennessee whiskey, and young girls’ knees perpetually emerging from under gingham dresses. Laughter, salty steaks, and inconsequential abandon given in tribal offering, an unhinged, primal howl amidst the chaos and din of a forgiving Southern night. The old gods hide in each crag and covey on the descent to the landings, somnolent and monstrous reigning over the memories of two centuries of the poor that fished, fought, and fornicated, keeping the sickness and hangovers at bay with cheap liquor in pints and hand-rolled cigarettes in the oil slicks and offal. Under the bridge, a fisherman rends a fresh catch, bringing forth blood as if bursting from a lover’s broken heart, and the penniless and damned melt away into fumes of small outboards and the ghost wake of skiffs while tending ancient catfish lines, muddy boots and broken bits of bottle, cigarette butts, bad coffee, and small fires outside dingy canvas tents. Still, any November sunshine is a gift, like the green eyes that meet me every morning,
unexpected but familiar, conjuring a gentler civilization of families, tall glasses mixed well, grill smoke, color, and pageantry. The old gods linger and wait for the merriment to pass, plotting births and deaths, with each small wave, tempting the innocent to discover their secret language. - CLINT BREWERâ&#x20AC;Š
CARPORT VIGNETTE Though in the throat of January the green onions and fescue begin to struggle, to strain against the shrinking cold. I see rabbits every morning on my walk, impervious to the weak Southern winter, small travelers undaunted. The neighborhood is a pile of lost things, of stray chickens and old dogs and stacks of tires under tattered American flags left over from the Indian summer. Old women smoke on sagging porches in flannel robes, their men gone in work trucks to labor and then drink. Their wages pay for mortgages, bail bondsmen, groceries and condo rentals on the cheap side of the Gulf Coast. Ditches fill with rock from the county trucks and more green onions, beer bottles and the occasional newspaper, lining roads of ruts and pockmarks much like the complexions of the local teenagers, their nails dirty if boys, the girls with blue and purple in their hair. They strain too against the weak Southern winter, waiting for days on the lake filled with cheap beer, condoms and risk. There is this one lady, neat as a pin, straining against both winterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s slight grip and shambling casualness of her surroundings.
She gardens as early as possible, maybe even the first week of January, with a linen bonnet and matching shirt over khakis, cutting the daffodils as soon as they bloom in April, gathering them in vases for Easter dinner, though nobody really notices. - CLINT BREWERâ&#x20AC;Š
WORMWOOD Ancient furniture under aching fingers, the curl of the arm chair like a gun stock, the pen a trigger. Too many common, quiet hours ahead, monotonous early March skies, and dry, cracked skin. An unfocused mind, the black coffee no salve, a blur of screens, a still orgy of staring into the marble of the old hotel, the windows wink grotesquely. Nothing registers but the clip and howl of Coltrane’s private rebellion, a raging fire in my ears, and the hits of budget scotch to an empty stomach. Cruise the supermarket aisle on painkillers and caffeine, a ruthless memoir being written in my head, a love letter to humanity, to tawdry housewives in dirty sandals carrying their knock-off Louis Vuitton, driving chromed SUVs, cheap cigarettes burning, hardly the landed gentry. Let the monsters out, it’s the only answer. The pen feels like a trigger. - CLINT BREWER
LAKE ONTARIO Lake Ontario gets the same glints as the Liffey or the Seine but bigger less willing to wind itself around your fingers the way I'm coming to realise those rivers do it's emblematic of a city built on a lake that it would have trouble being one where art is really for anyone except artists being unused to cutting itself up the city is undivided big and round as merlot and whole as a fresh plum and not a place where you get mechanics taking a book of poems in their pocket with their sandwiches. nowhere is of course but this won't be the first place it happens. - DIARMUID Ó MAOLALAÍ
DISCOURAGEMENT you can try but you don't have to try. surrender is not shame, it's just a decision you make. most people will never even make a decision and giving up is just as much a decision as anything anyone makes. we can't all be poets or decent piano players or athletes. most of us when you get down to it cant manage to be good to the people we love. there is a world out there full of people who hurt more for holding a coal than would lose anything by putting it down. there might even be a god somewhere but he won't judge you. sometimes you just have to beat your own judgment. sometimes it's the only way you'll get to sleep. - DIARMUID Ó MAOLALAÍ
THE TOUCH -KEN DREXLER The pain in John Skinner's chest began a few weeks after Kate asked him to
the school grounds. The only sound was a
move out of the house, a tight knot that
chorus of crickets making their usual evening
burned beneath the surface like a ball of fury.
racket. Impatiently, John peered through the
Short, shallow breaths were all he could
slats that ran beneath the long rows of metal
manage as he braced himself against the
seats. The moon glowed bright in the night
slippery tiles of the hotel shower, an early
sky, casting faint shadows across the white
morning scare that led to an emergency room
lines on the artificial turf.
visit and a day away from the office. But then
John believed that the Xanax
the tests came back negative and the pain
anchored him, a counterbalance to a sense of
quickly subsided; a panic attack, not his
drift that had recently taken hold. As if
heart, was the surprise diagnosis. "Are you
without it he might float away and slowly
sure?" John asked the young doctor as she
disappear from view, like a balloon that slips
wrote his first prescription for Xanax.
from a child's hand. But after a few months of
Which is why––almost a year later––
A summer quiet had descended on
increasingly heavy use his doctor had cut
John was under the bleachers of the high
him off, suggesting that the time had come to
school football stadium waiting to meet
give a non-chemical remedy a try. It's true his
Conner Alexander, a kid he had once coached
behavior had been somewhat erratic ever
on the neighborhood soccer team when
since the incident in the shower, although he
Conner was a stubby legged eight-year old
preferred to believe it had more to do with
with floppy hair and the propensity to
separating from his wife of twenty-five years
dribble in circles. John's son, Jason, and
than any effects from the little blue pills.
Conner had both recently graduated from
Living alone in a long-stay hotel by the side
high school, although the boys had drifted
of the interstate did not exactly engender
apart long ago when the team folded and it
peace and tranquility in the mind of a
became clear that they had absolutely
middle-aged man. The doctor gave John a
nothing in common except that their parents
business card with the name of a local
were still friends.
psychologist and sent him on his way.
"Thanks, doc," he said as he slid the card into
Connor's slumped shoulders, to wish him
his wallet. But he wasn't so easily deterred.
luck as he headed off into the world, to tell
"Hi, Mr. Skinner"
him he was proud. But most of all he wanted
"Conner. How's your summer been?"
to say he was sorry that Conner and Jason
"Outstanding, sir," he said. Connor
were no longer friends, that these things just
handed John a Ziploc sandwich bag that he
happened sometimes and people changed
promptly shoved into his front pocket,
and really there was no one to blame. It had
fingering the tiny pills through the crumpled
happened to him, too, at a similar age. His
plastic as he counted them in his head.
best friend since third grade, Chris
"When do you leave for school?" he
Kellerman, had transformed himself while at
asked, slipping Conner five twenty-dollar
summer camp from a typical thirteen year-
bills. Conner dropped the money into his
old boy obsessed with sports and comic
backpack and zipped it shut.
books into someone new, someone with long
"Not 'till next week."
hair who said fuck a lot and smoked
"Right. I knew that." Conner's parents
mentholated cigarettesâ&#x20AC;&#x201C;â&#x20AC;&#x201C;although he didn't
were having a going away party for him on
inhale, instead holding the smoke in his
Saturday afternoon, an invitation popping up
mouth for a few seconds before blowing it
in John's email only last week. A quick scan
out between his pursed lips. When school
of the invitees revealed that Kate was also on
started up again Chris began hanging out
the guest list, as were many of John's old
with an older gang of kids who rode
friends and neighbors, most of whom he
skateboards every afternoon in front of the 7-
hadn't seen since the break up and his self-
Eleven. By the end of the fall semester he and
imposed exile at the Residence Inn.
Chris no longer spoke, studiously avoiding
"As always, it's been a pleasure doing business," John said. "I guess I'll see you at the party." They shook hands and then Connor cut across the football field toward the parking lot as he played with his phone,
eye contact whenever they passed each other in the crowded hallways. No doubt, seventh grade had been the cruelest of years. !
the long white wires from his earbuds dangling by his side. John suddenly had the urge to run after him, to put his arm around
The king-sized bed was Kate's idea. He remembered that much. The size and
expense made no sense to John. It just wasn't
out the right angles to get it through the door.
logical. On the showroom floor of the
Once in place the room was so cramped it
Mattress Discount Emporium they'd had one
was hard to walk around the bed without
of their terrible fights; the sales clerks and
bumping into the wall. It was so big that
shoppers pretended not to hearâ&#x20AC;&#x201C;â&#x20AC;&#x201C;heads
from his side John could fully extend his
down, eyes averted. Eventually, as he often
arms and still not touch her; his open
did, John relented, if for no other reason than
outstretched hands beneath the blanket like a
he was simply tired of arguing.
beggar. On restless nights he would watch
The troubles with Kate had been
Kate as she slept across the great expanse of
building for years, a small almost
the bed, her breath heavy and slow. And in
imperceptible rift that one day John was
the darkness her face would glow a pale
surprised to discover had become an
white, as distant and inaccessible as the
insurmountable chasm. It was like he no
longer spoke the same language as her, that the words he used had a different meaning. A simple "I'm going to the store" would be lost
John arrived. Small children were running
in translation and somehow morph into a
through a sprinkler in the front yard as a
full-fledged, gloves-off smackdown, one in
neighbor's Scottish terrier yapped and
which deep-rooted resentments were quickly
scratched and worked himself up into a
unleashed over such real and perceived
frenzy. John stepped over a leaky green hose
slights as unwashed dishes, dirty laundry,
that snaked through the wet grass and made
and an overall undefined but she-knew-it-
his way around the side of the house. There
when-she-saw-it lack of consideration.
must have been fifty or sixty people
Sometimes in the midst of these fights he
crammed into the backyard, most of them
would disengage and look around as if he
hanging out beneath a large white tent, the
had been airdropped into a foreign
kind typically rented for an outdoor
landscape, mystified by the sudden turn of
wedding. A pack of teenagers were playing
events, left wondering how the hell he'd got
with a football in and around the swimming
pool. It took two delivery men half a day to
maneuver the bed up the stairs and figure
The party was in full swing when
John grabbed a beer from a styrofoam cooler and searched for a familiar face in the
crowd, squinting in the late-afternoon sun.
on the elliptical he had stopped exercising
He hated standing alone at a party. It made
and the weight loss continued. It was then
him nervous. Thankfully, the Xanax he'd
that he realized he'd lost all interest in food.
taken before leaving the hotel was beginning to kick in, just enough to take the edge off. "John! Over here!" It was Carl
"It must be the clean living," John replied. Carl smiled and carefully flipped each
Alexander, Connor's dad. He was standing
burger, patting them down as the juices
behind a gas grill, a wide grin on his face;
flowed into the grill. "How's Jason?"
streaks of smoke drifted up from a neat row
"He's fine. He's taking a year off to
of sizzling hamburger patties. Carl and John
figure out what the hell to do with his life,
were old friends, meeting through their
maybe take a class or two at the community
wives when Conner and Jason were in the
college. Anyway, he's going to stay in the
same preschool class. The two couples had
house with Kate for now, which is good news
grown close over the years and spent
for my bank account. And Conner? I hear
countless evenings together, mostly talking
he's going to Penn. Nice."
about their kids and the news of the day, as
Carl nodded, trying not to boast.
well as eating too much and drinking to
"Speak of the devil," Carl said. "Conner! Look
excess. But now their relationship had
who's here. Come say hi to Mr. Skinner."
entered unfamiliar territory. Reliant on their
Conner broke away from a cluster of
spouses to handle their social lives, both men
friends and slowly walked over, politely
found it difficult to make plans on their own
greeting John. "Thanks for coming, Mr.
that actually came to fruition.
"You look terrible," Carl said.
"Not only is he going to my alma
"Thanks, Carl. You look great, too."
mater, but he got into the business school just
"No, seriously. Are you eating?"
like his old man," Carl said, unable to control
John had dropped more than thirty
his pride as he wrapped his arm around
pounds since the separation. At first he'd
attributed it to his daily workout regimen in
"That doesn't surprise me one bit."
the hotel gym, proudly admiring his newly
After a minute or two the
lean body in the floor to ceiling mirrors that
conversation turned to politics and Connor
lined the walls. But after pulling a hamstring
excused himself, rejoining his friends beside
the pool. Carl was complaining about the
the body of the message, only a long
upcoming election when John heard a
convoluted link to a website he didn't
familiar voice call out his name. He looked
recognize. John knew it was probably spam;
up to see it was Carl's wife, Amy, leaning
he wasn't naive. He'd recently completed a
over the wooden railing on the deck. She
required cybersecurity course at work and
gave him a big friendly wave and then
understood the consequences of visiting an
turned to another woman standing beside
unsolicited site. Still, he was curious. He
her, leaning in close to whisper in the
clicked on the link to find a short video of a
woman’s ear. John’s gaze lingered for a
woman on a bed pulling her underwear off.
moment. From behind Amy appeared much
It was only two or three seconds long before
younger than she actually was; her dyed
it abruptly stopped and then started up
blonde hair pressed straight and long, her
again, the same scene playing over and over
shorts short and her top fashionably snug
in an endless loop. Each time the woman's
like a teenage girl might wear. It was only her
naked body was almost revealed, only to cut
face that betrayed her true age. And the
off at the last possible moment. John couldn't
slightly raised veins on her hands.
tell with any certainty––the quality was poor
John had always been attracted to Amy, and on more than one occasion over the
hanging from the ceiling––but the woman on
years their friendly banter had turned
the bed looked a lot like Amy. There was
flirtatious. Two years ago he and Kate had
definitely a resemblance. Later that same
celebrated their last New Year's Eve together
week he ran into Amy at the grocery store in
with Carl and Amy. When the ball dropped
the produce aisle. As they made small talk
and midnight struck they'd all hugged and
surrounded by busy shoppers and neatly
kissed and wished each other a happy new
stacked bins of organic fruits and vegetables,
year. But when John went to kiss Amy––a
John searched for a sign to decipher, a coded
platonic half-kiss on the cheek––her lips had
signal that Amy had purposely sent him the
pressed up against his despite his best efforts
link, that she was lonely, too, like him, and
to avoid direct contact.
that more than anything she wanted to show
Then, the next day, John received an
and it was filmed as if the camera was
him the rest of the video, all of it. But there
email from Amy. The subject line was, thought
was nothing; not a glimmer of mischief in her
you might like this! But there were no words in
eyes, only a vague suggestion that they all
get together soon as she turned and headed
and closed. "It wouldn't kill you to be just a
past the bakery toward the frozen food
little friendly," she said.
section. For the next few months as his
"Actually, I think it might," he replied. And then, without knowing why, he began to
marriage continued to dissolve, John clicked
lie. "I found a nice two-bedroom apartment
the link hundreds of times.
over in the Palisades. I'm moving in at the beginning of the month." "Really? That's great news."
John left the party without saying
"Yeah, there's plenty of space," he
goodbye. The sun was beginning to set
continued. "Jason can spend the night
behind the neighboring houses and trees; the
whenever he wants."
sky had turned an empty gray before it
She paused for a moment. "Maybe
slipped into darkness. Still, in the half light
now you can get the rest of your things?" her
John could tell it was Kate's car that had
voice rising hopefully. "They're all boxed up
pulled into the driveway, a man in the front
in the basement. It's just that..."
passenger's seat. With nowhere to hide, John waited on the front porch. "Leaving so soon?" Kate asked, as she approached up the brick pathway. Walking
"Sure, not a problem," he said, cutting her off. "It's fine. I'm free tomorrow. Does that work?" Kate folded her arms across her chest,
beside her was her much younger boyfriend,
staring at the ground. "Okay," she said
Sean, a yoga instructor she had recently met
slowly. "Come around two. Sean has classes
while taking his class at the local community
in the afternoon." As she reached for the front
door she stopped herself. "I'm happy for you, "How's it going, John?" Sean extended
his hand in greeting. When John didn't respond in kind, Sean turned to Kate and said, "I guess I'll see you inside." They both watched as Sean entered
John." For a moment he thought she might hug him. Later that night John looked around the hotel room and wondered where he would put all the boxes heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d promised to
the house. The noise from inside briefly
take. He opened the door to the small cabinet
escaped through the front door as it opened
that housed the mini-fridge and grabbed the last remaining beer. As he sat down on the
edge of the bed he flicked the bottle cap in
placed Botox injections to smooth away the
the direction of the trash can, watching
years. And then there was the younger
impassively as it rolled beneath the desk.
boyfriend––which John couldn’t help but feel
Maybe he could rent a storage unit, he
was a bit of a cliché and that she would soon
thought. Or, better yet, perhaps he could just
grow weary of his youthful exuberance and
go out tomorrow morning and find his own
their lack of shared cultural references.
apartment. It was about time. He'd been in
Regardless, they didn’t know Kate like he
this hotel for far too long. And of course he
did. When they had spoken earlier that
would need to buy furniture and towels and
evening outside the Alexander's house John
sheets and so many things. There was much
had sensed something lurking just beneath
work to be done. And when Kate dropped off
the surface, something betrayed in the
Jason for the first time and took the tour she
corners of her pale-green eyes. Perhaps it was
would surely take notice, the little details
only visible to him, that hint of underlining
would impress: a scented candle on a glass
sadness and regret.
coffee table––one he never lit; the professionally mounted posters on the living room walls; a ceramic bowl filled with potpourri on the powder room sink. Outwardly Kate appeared happy, at
before two and rang the doorbell like a stranger, thankful to see there was no
least to the casual observer. She had recently
unfamiliar car in the driveway. Kate greeted
been hired as a marketing consultant at the
him with a half smile and silently let him in,
local tourism board, her first full-time job
leading him directly down a narrow staircase
since the early days of their marriage. In fact,
to the basement. There were five or six boxes
on more than one occasion mutual friends
neatly stacked in one corner, each marked
had commented to John on how well she was
with the letter J written in black. On the other
doing, that there was a spring in Kate's step
side of the room a few unmarked boxes were
and she most certainly had lost a significant
sitting on an unused pool table.
amount of weight. Not only that, but if they
"These are yours" she explained. "I
didn't know any better they could have
still need to figure out what's in the other
sworn she'd had some work done on her
ones," she said, gesturing toward the pool
face, or, at the very least, a few strategically
John arrived at the house a little
table. "Why don't you start moving yours out
squinting in the bright sunlight. Kate was
while I go through the others?"
wearing a bikini and her sunglasses were
"Sounds like a plan."
placed on top of her head. Her arm was
The boxes were heavier than
around John's waist; his hand was on her
expected. John tried his best to make it look
knee. Jason was safely squeezed in between
easy, but the stale air in the basement made it
difficult to breathe. He felt his lungs constrict
"We were so young," Kate said. "And
as he climbed the twelve steps to the upstairs
look at Jason's hair. It's so blond."
hallway. Outside there was no relief in the
John looked over her shoulder and
blinding late-August sun. Beads of sweat
watched her face as she leafed through the
began to pool beneath his thinning brown
photos. She was still beautiful, and despite
hair. After sliding the last remaining box into
the years, not so different from that day on
the trunk, John made his way back around
the beach. It was a time in their marriage
the car toward the house. His reflection
when casual contact between them occurred
rippled across the front windshield; the
almost thoughtlessly––arm to shoulder, hand
image floating beside him as if detached from
to hand, skin on skin––a time long before the
the ground. It was then that he realized he'd
arguments and the endless drift. John was
forgotten to take his morning Xanax.
standing so close he found it difficult to
When he returned to the basement he
swallow. Her hair was pulled into a tight
found Kate rummaging through an open box
ponytail and the back of her neck was
on the pool table; inside were random piles
exposed. And then, against all better
of old photographs. "These are from the trip
judgment, he reached out to touch her. John
to Florida when Jason was two or three," she
lifted his arm. His outstretched hand pushed
said. "Remember?" They were all suntanned
up against the full weight of all his self-
and happy. In one picture Jason had vanilla
doubts and insecurities––bad husband, bad
ice cream smeared all over his round face. He
father, bad son. But still he pressed on. He
was grinning wildly and his hands were
was almost there.
lifted triumphantly in the air, the blue sky
"Doing a little cleaning?" a man’s voice
and sand surrounded him. In another the
asked from behind.
three of them were huddled together on a
John turned and saw Sean walk into
beach blanket. They were all smiling and
John was about to pull out of the driveway to leave when Kate ran up to the side of the car and tapped on the window. She was smiling and holding a tomato plant in a plastic pot; its vines were loosely wrapped around a tall green stake. She said it was a house warming gift and that he should give it direct sunlight and plenty of water. He nodded and thanked her and promised to do so. Then she told him that Sean was planning to move in and the change might be difficult for Jason, but that they had raised a fine boy and given time he was sure to make the adjustment. As she spoke John noticed that an afternoon thunderstorm was beginning to take shape after a long day of sweltering heat and humidity. The sun had temporarily gone behind a line of fast moving clouds and the tops of the trees were gently swaying in the neighbor's yard. Kate glanced up at the threatening sky. Then she leaned over and gave John the plant through the open window, his fingers momentarily brushing up against the palm of her hand. The first fat raindrops hit the roof of the car as she walked back into the house and closed the door behind her.â&#x20AC;Š
SICK They snorkeled off the ship Over the famous reefs. So many colorful fish It was hard, even with the tube, To breathe. One of the crew sliced A conch from its castle, Chopped it into cubes For salad. It tasted like erasers. She lay on the sand Letting the sun take her. The captain bent down, This woman is ill. I am dead, she thought. On the mainland, at the hospital A doctor said Rales. The rattling in her lungs. She dreamed that bats Flew in from the balcony As they had in Merida. That snakes rattled in the cornices Of the Temple of the Warriors, That a child offered her bitter oranges. -JOAN COLBYâ&#x20AC;Š
THE BULL After the tenderloins, rib roasts, stew meat and hamburger Have been carved or ground, we address The rest of the animal: tongue and brain For sandwiches, the hide tanned to leather: Shoes, coats, furniture. Or left to dry as rawhide For whips, lampshades, bootlaces, drumheads. The penis, known as pizzle, for walking canes or powdered Into potions designed to aid erections. In Bolivia Bull penis soup will cure a hangover. Our dog used to chew rawhides Knotted into bows or rolled like magazines. A pulpy mess she frequently vomited, But enjoyed nonetheless. Some dogs choked Or experienced obstructions causing Expensive surgeries. We switched to bully sticks which she likes Even better. An unlovely stink Of bull pizzle, easy to digest. Whose job is this, I wonder—chopping off penises To package for a German Shepherd’s treat— As likely a steer as a bull I think Though bull sounds more spectacular Like bully breeds: those that fight in pits Or decide one day to kill the baby When it won’t stop wailing. -JOAN COLBY
STONE BENCH ON THE RIVER We sit on a stone bench overlooking the Mississippi. Like all the other benches on this waterfront It is dedicated to dead people. This one for Jim and June who will never realize how they have been Memorialized. I try to imagine them and fail. Across the river, a white tugboat is going through the locks A slow process of waters rising to lift this vessel Into the next stage of the journey. As the waters Rise in the storm surge of the worst hurricane To strike Florida in years. As we watch the lined-up barges Waiting like people seeking shelter, our son, his wife and child And their two dogs flee north to the refuge of a cousin in Gainesville. My heart breaks for them, their brand-new home a direct target, How proud they were, the island they loved projected to be underwater. The banyan trees in their yard that our son believed were good omens; But omens are deceivers, a hard truth he too must learn. Yet they are saved Unlike Jim and June whose etched names survey the father of waters. We stroll a street of quaint shops, stop at the Book Nook filled with plaques Of corny slogans, knick knacks made in Vietnam, a few best sellers, Lots of mysteries. I discover a shelf of used paperbacks, choose The Bostonians and The Jungle thinking it must be time To revisit these classics in this newly savage world. Up front some Paintings, or so I believe, of barns, clichéd but colorful. I ask If they were done by a local. The owner enthuses on the artist’s talent, Such an eye, you’d never think they are really photographs transposed Onto canvas. I look away. I could do that. Our own red barns. Paying the proprietor, a chubby woman in a flowered dress With glasses on a chain, I say. Must support a book store. And she smiles insincerely recognizing irony. Long ago, We came here, sat on either that same bench Or one like it. We were young then, a canoe strapped to our car. We sat there deliberately today, repeating a memory As if it might be a good omen. Tonight, in our campsite in the woods, you awake Shaking with a terrible chill, so cold, so ill, your bad heart, failing kidneys. I hold you trembling with your tremors as we wait for daylight. The storm proceeds up the peninsula. The Mississippi has drowned Scores of men, submerged whole towns, once flowed backwards In the great quake of New Madrid. Consider all the dead like Jim and June And soon enough, you and me. -JOAN COLBY
BROKEN RECORD for AZ But that ol’ way don’t work no mo’, an earworm blues insists, the spell like one of John Lee Hooker’s, cooking slowly, spices biting psyche, inciting flesh. I wish I were with you. Instead, a horseshoe booth, brewpub snuggery, midtown Detroit, with Zach and Tyler, three-headed monster talking music, poetry, and social justice. God help us. Change will come, like backyard birdsong, northern woods’ boot-sucking mud, the wandering planets in the blood. The waitress brings me Belgian ale, my third. I text you pictures of the record-pressing plant we’ve visited. It’s retro chic, producing art that spins like wheels. -TOM ZIMMERMAN
BLUE BALLPOINT This blue ballpoint, it glides just like my tongue between your breasts in better days, on wilder nights. And, oh, to moor in thee, as Emily exclaims. But such allusions dog us. I am listening to Archie Shepp, his Coltrane homage not as edgy as I’ll bet it was in ’64. That year I lived in Turkey, army brat whose mom was hot enough to get her ass pinched by the locals in the market. Later, Dad in Vietnam, the ’60s spooling out like torn intestines. Crack a few less beers, and love the world a little more, I want to tell you two, you three, you four. You’re dead. It’s why I write. -TOM ZIMMERMAN
TERRAFORMING The earth moves closer to the sun. Lizards sizzle and pop on rocks. Ice machines break. The air shifts, changes colors, light waves diffuse. The world turns green, then red, burns black. Galaxy twists, spirals into itself. -ROBERT BEVERIDGE
SET PIECE Speak to me once more as if fear were not the base of it all. Pretend the world outside is a plain of black, the surface of the moon awash in ink. This room exists. The lamp, the chairs, these decrepit bodies that pace, the look out windows of endless night. Wrap yourself in the blanket, I'll put the kettle on. -ROBERT BEVERIDGEâ&#x20AC;Š
THE CENTURY PINES Again this morning she wakes to fog-light lodged in the slats of her blinds. She recalls the creaking of rocker blades—proof of abrupt up-rootings. Ghosts? Dawn dreams: evil omens. But does she listen?
Shrugging into a robe she carries her mug to the back porch steps where fog-tendrils root in bark-curl and rottage. From the crumbling stoop, she surveys the margins of her hundred-acre legacy, where hooded warblers and ovenbirds switch perches in the understory. A single cone drops solidly into its socket in the needle bed. Deeper in, a woodpecker nails something shut. You may rest assured rest assured rest assured the pine boughs whisper— but she knows a death-threat when she hears one.
In a lifetime of reciprocal breathing, she and these pines have grown into an enmity. They bristle at her shamelessness—her name engraved on a hand-carved cradle, the locked pine box where she’ll store her deed. She begrudges them their stature and longevity, the baleful soughing that seeds her dreams.
Another century will elapse before they’ll have sifted their grievances down to the least common denominator. She’ll be a ghost herself by then. In the interim: high above her, it continues, the unceasing swaying and preening; beneath her feet, the deepening give of the soft needle bed; and always and forever, the mulching, the mulching. -MARJORIE STELMACH
BANJO ANGEL Twelve in the circle that night, the pub dimly lit and the Guinness flowing. Dinny the Piper, clearly the leader, a face calm as cloth, one powerful arm pumping the bellows, one heel pounding the sawdust from ten till two-hours-past-closing: the old jigs and airs—ask him how many, Maybe two thousand, he’ll tell you, and always there’s more. The twelve of them taking turns at the solos: flushed cheeks and pale, a trio of beards, two bald heads, all manner of caps and heavy everyday shoes. Twelve instruments, too: pipes, concertinas, a soft skin-drum, flutes, fiddles, tin whistles. One banjo— a banjo to take your breath. My breath, for I’m in love with the banjo-boy though I can’t see his face. A presence as hazed as the Wicklow hills, he leaned to the shadowed wall, tipped back on two legs of a three-legged stool, as stilled and contained as the blind-from-birth, as the deeply mad or the lost-beyond-dawn. Touched he was, as they said to his face. His hands were faster than watching. Dinny nodded him solos, and he took them up like bread or the ale appearing all night at his elbow. He’d shaped his shoulders and fingertips, his spine, his breath to his banjo’s shape. He smiled at the ceiling, the strings, his hands. He met no eyes, no eyes, not once, but slept deep-in where the Music— two thousand jigs and airs— was only this night being born. A hundred years for the birth of his hands. The heart? Two thousand. More.
As for me—in love with his angle of leaning, in love with his wrist, the light on his eyelids— in back-table shadow I leaned on the unsteady legs of my pulse till the frets of my spine felt the press of the dark beams above me. The sawdust was golden. Young like an angel it was to love him, a boy with those hands— twenty years old at the outside; inside, merely a thousand— too young to have learned those hands or to know that our flesh has a name and a wish of its own to be touched. In a ring they sat, while the pints came free, came down like a benediction from the hands of the ancient bar-girl jigging in sawdust clogs. And they might have played for the rest of the age, had the Guard not come and parked outside—two hours past closing, the guard the guard, and huge fines looming. I dreamt his banjo that night, strung true and his hands upon it, dreamt my hotel bed surrounded with sawdust, in which there remained on waking no footprints. But this I remembered: a tremble of lashes, his quiver of smile, before the din of a truck roaring past—heavy boot on the gas— and light at the window-shade, stinging. I only barely remembered the guard, how Dinny rose like Boss-of-the-Band, rose like a man with a wife and a kid and strode off to work out the day, strode off, and I knew that my nameless banjo-boy, too was somewhere out in the blinding world. Or else he was not. -MARJORIE STELMACH
THE ARC OF THE COVENANT Today, at last, my Ethernet hookup linked our two laptops to a single printer— after manuals and tinkering (if not in that order), interminable periods of holdtime on helplines, receiving little help and too much music (a lot like church). When finally my Quick Brown Fox effortlessly jumped from the keyboard to the laser-jet, I was thinking of King David in his skimpy attire—okay, I was thinking of him naked— leaping and cavorting, fit to discombobulate the big-shots who’d assembled for a statelier unveiling: The Ark of the Covenant— decorous processions, rams’ horns, cymbals. But David’s dance? A scandal! Still, the king was not struck dead. Instead, Bathsheba: David’s royal gaze falling from the rooftops settling on a woman not his own (though owned). Given this scenario, anything could happen, as mostly it does. Solomon happened, that quickened brown fox, and the rest of the story was God’s, was comeuppance, as mostly it is: shameless David shamed, sorry, soon forgiven. And life went on, and life was mostly good. Mostly though, I’ve found that joy exacts a price,
and I confess I did my share of cursing on the hold-line, my share of shameless groveling before the cyber gurus, but when, out of nowhere came the leaping of the Fox unimpeded, through the ether, I danced the naked joy of it, as if I knew no better, as if I thought a covenant might last forever. -MARJORIE STELMACHâ&#x20AC;Š
ASYLUM I’m a refugee from the past, and I’m a braking car, tires screeching before a certain crash with an uncertain future. In the margins of the day, I hear bees in sunlit branches impersonating rain and lighting up every one of the cells that comprise and cage me. The different words for yearning die on my tongue as if they’ve just stung the different words for satisfied. Let’s sleep with the window open, with the scent of lavender, with the sound of rain stunning our childish hearts. Let’s find words in the dictionary of our dreams for every feeling that our cleverness can’t comprehend, every thought we can’t express when awake. I want to climb into this burning and let the night be a story that keeps dreaming itself, a new beginning, a better middle, and in the end, your name running just past my ability to say it. -TOM C. HUNLEY
VERBAL EQUIVALENT OF NINE A.M. You reach for the stars in your cup of coffee but the stars are dead and the coffee is tea. At least you’ve reached middle age, whereas the people of the middle ages rarely did. You drive past a car wash and then a bird tags your windshield but at least you have a car and a carpet where you can spill your drink, which, at least, isn’t Red Bull. You whatever and you whenever and you wear a suit that wishes it were Armani or a concert tee. Let’s say I’m a map and you’re “You are here” and someone else, we don’t know who, is lost and needs our help. -TOM C. HUNLEY
WHAT FEELS LIKE LOVE What if I could bottle my daughter’s joy at the bruno mars concert as she gleamed I love this song as he sang although it hurts i’ll be the first to say I was wrong from her favorite song except for the girl is mine michael jackson/paul mccartney in pop tug o-war adoption means the girl is mine so when a teenage dirtboy asks her to penetrate herself with a pencil while he watches on facetime I hiss at him like a rabid raccoon and his family moves out of town When another teenage dirtboy talks her into photographing herself topless before a mirror and putting it on snapchat I say You don’t have to be nice to people who aren’t nice to you and she says Dad, he said ‘please’ that’s being nice, isn’t it and I can’t even sleep without pills for a year what feels like love is often a lie a boy tellsa lie you need to learn to smell Be mine I say a father is a magic mirror that shows you your beautiful true self I never had a daughter before but I’ve had sons changed diapers coached t-ballsoccerbasketballfootballtennis Her mom and I wanted her the way grass wants sunlight and water when she says she can’t won’t live without some teenage dirtboy I feel like a gimpy superhero flying but not fast enough to protect her from her own dumb heart a father is a tree that hangs onto its leaves as long as possible holds them high as they turn beautiful colors Dad two boys beat each other bloody over me and the one I like got detention she said beaming like she got 100% on a test and another time Dad a new boy has a crush on me and I had to ask does he have a crush Sweetie or did he hear you’ll have sex without even a movie date first the girl is mine mine mine zero degrees outside icy 5:30am I see a boy bicycling out of our driveway he lives across town I knew he would do that for me she says what feels like love is abuse when a boy talks her into giving him all her passwords to prove she’s not cheating on him a father is a parachute that lands you safe as raindrops on a lake adoption means the girl is mine be mine a gold mine a treasure be mine because I cry when you cry be mine because I fear for you when you don’t have the sense to fear for yourself what feels like a punch in the nuts is really love when you love a girl who doesn’t know yet how to love herself -TOM C. HUNLEY
JULY 1999 -JEANNETTE BROWN
The Piper Saratoga departed from Essex
cabin and tame trout. They’ve been polite
County Airport in Fairfield, New Jersey last night
enough not to comment on his collection of
at about 8:30 p.m. It’s said that a haze covered the
Coca-Cola paraphernalia displayed in the
ground, obscuring the lights along the coast,
fake antique sideboard.
which could have been used to navigate by. The
The tension is thick, all four of them
Coast Guard is conducting a thorough search-
stilted, pretending that nothing is at stake,
that corporate VPs visit dock foremen all the
“Can you believe he’s old enough to
time, pretending that they have anything in
fly a plane by himself?” Annie crosses the
common beyond work, which would be in
room to turn down the volume on television
poor taste to discuss. Carl is four years away
while Carl opens two beers. He sets one in
from early retirement and up for a promotion
front of Gerald and one at his own place at
that would be last rung on his ladder. It’s all
about saving face, going out with a bang.
“Did you ask Lizann if she wants a
He’s drilled Annie in what to say and what
beer? We have wine, too.” Annie wishes her
not to say, which topics are off limits, not to
husband had better manners, especially
divulge any plant scuttlebutt, and if she
forgets, she’ll “regret it,” he said with his fist “It’s ‘Lizbeth,’ and I’d love a glass of
wine,” correcting Annie without sounding
in her face. And she knows he means it. Lizbeth takes a bite of her tuna
like it, and then doing the same with the
sandwich, chewing slowly, then says, “This is
men: “You two needn’t gobble down this
lovely lunch. The fish will wait for you.” Annie takes it personally that Gerald
“Thanks,” says Annie. “Everybody likes it. It’s Aunt Mindy’s recipe.” Annie feels
and Lizbeth arrived just before lunch instead
momentarily superior. Lizann, Lizbeth,
of ten as planned. She assumes they dread
whatever, probably eats tuna fish about three
this visit as much as she does, all of them
times a year, from then on it’s swordfish and
gathered for an “informal visit” to allow Carl
caviar. “She had a secret ingredient.”
to impress the big boss with his pseudo log
“I taste tuna, mayo, shallots, lemon
Annie touches her bruised jawline.
pepper,” Lizbeth says. “What’s the secret?”
It’s still sore. “Yes, a cat ran out and tripped
She turns toward the television, not waiting
for the answer. Annie pauses, milking it. “It’s a
“I’m allergic to cats.” Lizbeth looks alarmed. “Is there one in here?” She puts her
secret!” The guys guffaw and snort, chewing
hand to her throat and her eyes widen as if
rapidly. Annie tunes out their talk of baseball
she’s having a seizure.
chatter and by the time she’s gotten out the
“There’s no cat.” Annie takes a
chardonnay and overfilled two glasses,
swallow of wine, then says, “No, not in here.
Gerald and Carl have finished eating and are
It was a neighbor’s cat.”
out the door. Annie takes her time eating, savoring
“Oh,” Lizbeth says, as if she’s not convinced. Her sandwich finished, she
the secret. She’s one up on the Debutant.
crosses the room to turn up the sound on the
They eat silently, loudly crunching the raw
TV she’s been watching over Annie’s
carrot sticks, noisily gulping the wine. The
shoulder through most of lunch.
men left two ghost chairs for company.
“Any news?” Annie asks, knowing
There’s no common ground between women
the answer. Lizbeth’s whole body looks
except husbands. Annie wonders what she’ll
tense, as if she is capable of willing the three
do with Lizbeth for the rest of this long day.
famous Americans to surface, alive and
The corporate wife is surprisingly dressed down in khakis and a starched white blouse, although the turquoise earrings and
probably dry, with their fabulous hair still in place. Annie feels guiltily grateful for this
necklace take it over the top. Annie has not
distraction that entertains Lizbeth, not that
dressed up for the occasion, wearing jeans
she wants the Kennedys to die, but it does
with a UNC tee-shirt. “Lovely necklace.” It’s
take the weight off Annie.
a true sentence, but saying it aloud, Annie feels smarmy. “Why, thank you.” Lizbeth fingers the
Standing at the bowl of fruit on the counter, Annie picks and sniffs the apples and pears, ignoring the ones beginning to
silver squash blossom. She squints and leans
pucker. She chooses two—“Be right back”—
closer. “There’s something on your face.”
and goes out the back door, across the tiny bridge that keeps her from having to cross
the creek on slippery rocks, and about thirty
large fisherman’s sweater. She could go there
yards into the woods to a tree stump. The
if she wanted. She knows how to get one
chestnut blight came through decades ago,
million dollars without even buying a lottery
killing every chestnut tree around, including
ticket. She could get away, could escape in
those in the national forest and the ones
real life, not just in her romance novels. But
along the Appalachian Trail. But the stump is
after thirty-two years of marriage to Carl, she
a good size, flat, and big enough for a plate
has no idea how to be free.
and glass and utensils, not that Annie ever
Maybe someday she will escape, but
eats way out here. She sets the apples on the
right now there’s Carl’s possible promotion
stump and brushes her hands across her
to plant supervisor to get through. It’s not for
thighs as she looks around at the lush
nothing that she’s the dispatcher at the plant,
greenery. The rainy spring has brought out
hearing or overhearing every rumor and
the mountain laurel and rhododendron that,
supposition. She reminds herself to bring bug
with the pines, form a shadowy glade. It’s
spray and sunscreen to the stump next time,
dank and fecund and at least three degrees
although it’s probably too late for that.
cooler here than near the cabin. A person
Entering the kitchen, a rush of air
could linger all afternoon if she had a book
conditioning makes her smile, but then her
and a glass of iced tea, or something else cold
skin prickles. She’d take a shower, but she’ll
go back out into the humidity later so why
Sometimes when Annie stands here,
bother. “Any news?” Annie poses this
she feels watched. Not by deer or bears, but
question as a running joke. The only news
will be bad news, but it will be a relief when
She meanders back toward the cabin,
it finally does come. It’s horrible to imagine
looking downstream to where the men are
what happened to those young people, to
shouting about another catch. She stops to
imagine where those beautiful bodies are
look up at the sky, not directly at the burning
lying now, but shit happens, even to
hot sun but just to the left, wondering where
celebrities. Lizbeth leans toward the
in the world it is cool in July. Maybe
television, intent as if the missing people are
Switzerland or Norway, probably northern
England or Scotland. She’d love to be chilly
Annie knows she shouldn’t but she can’t help
right now, sitting by a fire, wrapped in a too-
herself. “This promotion is really causing a
lot of speculation at the plant. They say the
two of the same person, fitting the mold of all
odds are fifty-fifty that Carl will get the nod.”
the men in Harlequin novels: handsome,
“Gracious me,” Lizbeth’s hand rises gracefully to her throat. “I wouldn’t know a
tastefully wealthy, and offering to save the heroine from her drudgy life.
thing about it.” “Well, Carl is a better “people person” than Dan, but Dan’s father just retired from the plant after 45 years of ‘Commendable
at Martha’s Vineyard, then proceed with Carolyn
Service,’ so Dan’s got the heritage factor
to Hyannis Port, the location of the wedding of
working for him.” She fears what will
John Jr.’s cousin. At this time, the wedding has
happen if Carl doesn’t win.
been postponed. The Coast Guard is conducting a
“I really don’t know anything about it. Gerald and I have a rule not to discuss his
thorough search-and-rescue mission. Lizbeth turns to Annie. “Two sisters
out of three. Can you imagine that poor
Liar. Annie swats a fly that has come in the
mother? She had three beautiful daughters
house with her. She knew better than to
and now she probably has only one.” Lizbeth
broach the subject with Lizbeth, now she’s
shakes her head in disbelief. “Do you have
embarrassed that she got shut down.
Annie leans back in her fake-cane
It takes a minute for Annie to leave
rocker, feeling a twinge of pain from her
Vistaville and return to her guest. “One son.
broken ribs that won’t seem to heal. She
He and his wife live a couple of blocks from
reaches for Love Will Find Her, and opens it to
here. He works at the plant, too, but not in
the 25-Cents-Off-Ketchup coupon she uses as
Carl’s division of course.”
a bookmark. It’s rude to read while she has
Annie picks up her book again.
company, but Lizbeth is so obsessed with the
Lizbeth watches the announcer shuffle
search, she won’t notice. And furthermore,
papers on the screen, but returns to the
Annie needs to find out if Symphony will
conversation. “Then you get to see your
find true love with Charles or with the Baron,
either of whom would whisk her away from
The plan was to drop off Lauren Bessette
The woman probably doesn’t give
her boring life in Vistaville. Although it really
two hoots about Annie’s grandchildren, so
doesn’t matter. Charles and the Baron being
she won’t go into an explanation of Sherri’s
miscarriages and the adoption of that little
“And they say that although that
Chinese girl that Annie just can’t seem to
Harry Potter book is for kids, a lot of adults
warm up to like she knows she should.
are reading it.”
“How about you? Do you have children?” Lizbeth answers without looking
“I’ve heard that’s just a fantasy book, escapism for kids who have nothing to
away from the television. “Two. A son and a
escape from.” Annie hopes the woman will
daughter, both at school in California.
sit and gaze at the TV again, although there’s
Luckily, Gerald has to check on the Turlock
obviously nothing new to report. “If you
plant almost every month.”
need something to read, I’ve got a shed full
Annie nods. And he probably takes
of these books. Carl built it for me.” Carl
the company plane and you get to ride along.
would not be in line for the promotion if
Good thing you have a real pilot or you, too,
Lizbeth knew he built the shed to look like an
could end up in the ocean. Annie goes back
outhouse and named it the Bookshitter. At
to her book, pleased with her ability to tune
least he built it to the side of the house, out of
out the drone of the announcer.
During a commercial, Lizbeth
Lizbeth ignores the offer. “I don’t see
manages to break her trance. “Carl said you
how you can stand living way out here
like to read. Have you read that new Anne
without shops and restaurants, but I guess
Rice book?” She stands and walks to the back
there are compensations. It’s so peaceful. Do
door. Through its window, she has a view of
you ever see deer in those woods?”
the creek and into the forest. “The Poisonwood Bible was really good, too.” Surely she’s noticed that Annie’s book
“Yes.” And raccoons and possums and rabbits and squirrels and bears and turkeys. Add some trout and berries and
is a romance novel. Any fool could tell just by
roots and you’ve got yourself a real
looking at the cover. Annie considers
smorgasbord. Maybe she should take salt
whether this is ignorance or a slam. “I’ll have
and pepper to the stump, garlic, too.
to see if the library has that one.” She hasn’t been to the library since she was six and discovered a booger on page eight of Winnie the Pooh.
! President Clinton has spoken by phone with Kennedy’s sister, Caroline, and his uncle,
Senator Ted Kennedy. The Coast Guard is conducting a thorough search-and-rescue mission.
“The guy who blew up those people in that park in Atlanta? And something else.”
“He just can’t be dead,” whispers
“An abortion clinic.”
Lizbeth. “That would leave Caroline the sole survivor of Camelot.”
Lizbeth turns toward Annie with a quizzical look. “Is he loose in these woods?”
Annie holds the book to her chest. “I
Realizing her mistake, Annie turns
don’t think she knew about Camelot. She
away. “I don’t know. He could be anywhere.
was just a little kid.”
There’s forest all the way from Georgia to
John F. Kennedy, Jr. was only thirty-eight
years old. His wife, Carolyn, born in 1966, was just thirty-three. “She’s the same age as Eric.” Annie hadn’t meant to say that aloud. “Eric? Is that your son?”
“That’s interesting. Your little house in the forest could have a serial killer at your back door.” The conversation is getting a little too
“No. No my son’s name is Larry.”
close, yet Annie wants to talk about the man
Lizbeth puts her hands to the glass
on the run, the fugitive they call the Olympic
and peers closer. “You’re lucky, you know
Park Bomber, although they haven’t proven
that? You live in this beautiful setting, your
he’s the one. They could be wrong.
son and his family nearby, not much to worry
Lizbeth taps the glass. “He must be
insane to kill people who just wanted to
Annie doesn’t answer. She’s not about to
watch the Olympics. Isn’t there a reward? It’s
debate the pros and cons of rural versus
been a while since all the publicity, but I
urban. She lives rural and fantasizes about
think it was up to a million. Right?
urban, about take-out dinners and taxis and
“One million dollars.” Annie’s atlas is
first-run movies. And wearing high heels and
on top of the bookshelf. She’s drawn circles
around Paris, London, and Amsterdam.
“Something moved out there! Somebody’s there!” Annie freezes, then flips her hand in
Lizbeth tilts her head and smiles.
“Maybe living on the run is his punishment. How long has it been?” “A few years. And it’s not necessarily
the air. “It’s just the Olympic Bomber.” She’s
punishment. Boys around here are raised in
playing with Lizbeth, hoping to shock her.
the woods. They know what to eat and
what’s poison. They know how to trap rabbits and squirrels, and cook them, too.
Lizbeth flinches. “You’re too realistic. Can’t you even hope for a miracle?”
Take Carl, for instance. He could survive for weeks.”
“Catholics believe in miracles. I’m Baptist.”
“That would get old.” “People have gardens in their
Lizbeth backpedals to get out of the way as Gerald blasts through the back door,
backyards. Fresh vegetables just for the
hurrying to the fridge. “Carl’s all bloody, so
taking. There’s cornfields nearby, too.”
he sent me.”
“Sounds like this young man—what’s
Lizbeth shrieks and turns pale.
his name, besides The Bomber?”
“Relax, Honey, Carl’s just cleaning the
“Eric. Eric Rudolph.”
fish and we need refills.” He takes out a 12-
“It sounds like Eric is just off on a
pack of Bud and lowers his voice to tell
lark, like those ‘adventure camps.’” She
Lizbeth that the fishing is boring. “Stocked
pauses to pick a plump grape from the fruit
with trout. Like shooting fish in a barrel.” He
bowl. “We sent our son to one when he was
shakes his head and checks his watch. “Just a
fifteen. The survival camp was supposed to
little while more, then we’ll go.” He’s out the
straighten him out.” She eats the grape in
two dainty bites. Annie doesn’t care but feels compelled to ask, “Did it work?” “It wasn’t a hundred percent successful, but it did keep him out of jail.” Unlike Eric who has a cell waiting for him. Maybe an electrified chair. Annie doesn’t want to think about it, so she turns to the television. “It’s not like John Jr. is Amelia Earhart, stranded on an island out of radio range or something. They’re dead. If they took off last night and they haven’t been found almost twenty-four hours later, they’re
Annie overhears and turns toward the TV. She can see how this is going to go. How dare they come into her house and pretend to be nice, pretend the promotion is a fair fight. Carl’s going to explode when he finds out that Dan’s the winner. ! The Coast Guard is conducting a thorough search-and-rescue mission. Annie’s sweating under the AC and fears the tuna might come back up. Her blood seems to be rushing through her veins, she hears the surf from hundreds of miles
dead. And they’ll be found soon.”
away. Everything she can see, hear, or think
Annie flinches. “People up here don’t
of makes her furious. “This constant
always agree with the government and the
coverage with no news, just blathering to fill
law.” Now she’s sorry she ever brought up
the air. That’s exactly what happened with
the Olympic Bombing. They hounded that
“Those apples you took outside,
poor, innocent security guard until they
you’re helping him, aren’t you.” Lizbeth
ruined his life. Just jumped to judgment like
seems interested and maybe sympathetic.
with Eric. No trial, no conviction.” Without
“You’ve trained him to come round at certain
deciding to, Annie goes to the fridge, pours
times for food.”
two glasses of wine and, still ranting, hands
“He’s not a puppy.” But when he
one to Lizbeth. “Do you know the coverage
doesn’t come for days, Annie feels
was so relentless that Eric’s brother cut off his
own hand? Yes, videotaped himself cutting it
Lizbeth twists a blonde curl and peers
off with a circular saw. I guess he was out of
through the window before she turns to flash
his mind. They re-attached it.”
Annie a wicked grin. “The reward. That’s
“Wow. You really feel strongly about
what you’re doing. Setting a trap to get the
this. Is Eric from around here? Do you know
money. Maybe those bodice rippers have
taught you a little something about plot.” “No, but I know how he feels.” !
Lizbeth bounces on her toes and claps her hands. “You’re a genius. You’re going to be a rich genius.”
According to our aviation expert, crossing large bodies of water on a hazy night may be dangerous because the featureless horizon visually blends with the water, in which case depth perception and orientation become difficult. The Coast Guard is still conducting a thorough search-and-rescue mission. “I wonder if people are helping him, giving him food and first aid kits and maybe guns.”
Annie clinches her sore jaw shut to keep from saying that people with money think everything is about money. She gathers supplies into a shopping bag: can opener, salt shaker, a sleeve of saltines, a box of oatmeal, an ice cream scoop, a small saucepan, Carl’s grill lighter, frozen waffles, a Tupperware box containing the last of Aunt Mindy’s Secret Ingredient Tuna, a scouring pad. “At least he’s free.”
Annie takes the bag across the bridge, into the glade and sets it on the tree stump. The sun hides behind a cloud, bringing a false dusk that deepens the shadows. The glade is dark and gloomy. Tree roots rise up out of the ground. Ropey vines hang low from tree limbs. Annie turns in slow circles, watching her depth perception turn the world upside down.â&#x20AC;Š
HOW THE INVISIBLE GO BLIND If I am not seen, I also cannot see myself and all the bright lights, the stars my dark fingers long to reach and might snuff out one by one until everyone is blind. Invisible, untouchable, I take care not to touch, not to change the world as it has changed me. -ROBERT S. KINGâ&#x20AC;Š
WORLDS APART In another universe someone who is me but with more outer space studies the gravity of my lesser world. That distant mind probes a sky of no limits but strains to confine his focus to an alien landscape of near horizons such as mine, struggles to understand why we seek contentment in such a small world, why our faith expects happiness in a box. He transmits brainwaves and images arriving perhaps too large for my mirror and light years too late. I send back weak signals to argue that Godâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s boxes make for infinite imagination, but something tells me that everything imagined in a box must fit in the box. -ROBERT S. KINGâ&#x20AC;Š
IT’S A PROBLEM BUT NOT THE WORST ONE I COULD HAVE -PAUL BECKMAN
I can’t smile at will. I can laugh if I’m
listening to a good joke or funny happening, but I can’t smile when people whip out their cell phones and tell me to stand with Elaine in front of a pyramid, a mime, or our anniversary cake. I’m not unhappy—not at all. I practice smiling in front of the mirror or when I’m looking at a silly picture of my grandkids. “How come you never smile?” people ask. “Hemorrhoids,” I often say. And then they smile.
HUMOR AND LOATHE THE BLACK DOG May I say now that April is over and my knees are shot and my hair is gone, how I look forward to saving millions on running shoes and shampoo? Which is great, because Icy Hot and Banana Boat can add up. May I suggest, too, without bragging, that I am a veteran of war after war fought in my lifetime? Drafted? Enlisted? No. Conceived. Behind the lines, sure, but I led search parties for the lost, humored and loathed the black dog, buried more bodies than I can remember. Some days, we marched for days. Rarely did we take a load off. Once, a man with a metal detector and headphones, scoured a beach in Rehoboth, DE, at low tide for hours, up and down he went, back and forth, clamoring for buried treasureâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;or lost mines. He would pause pressed, drop to his knees, scoop up the moist, cool sand. For all that he never looked at the sea. I saw this with my own eyes. Pardon me, if you will, a word of advice. If you do decide to kick your loyal 10-year-old lawn mower to the curb as a hailstorm moves in,
odds are, the next morning you’ll find that scotch-taped sign you made—
FREE FOR THEE (Needs TLC) --soggy, pitted, and wadded in the grass beside the dispensable 6.75 horsepower, 21-inch cut, 190 cc Ready-Start Lawn Machine. That’s when you’re apt to hear the remorse in an angel’s voice: Just one more pull? Might I add, finally, that God will meet us and did meet me on my long walk home once? My head was down but I’m pretty sure I was walking mostly west. It was a May day’s last immaculate light and the sun guttered lavish and low without me ever looking up or having a clue. -TERRY MINCHOW-PROFFITT
FIRST DAY OF AUTUMN You have long since passed without fanfare unseen, unresolved but in this cocoon I have dreamed of you imagined your coming in rich finery subtly hiding amid profusions of rust-colored hues the impending pall of a withering sky bringing slanted light to obfuscate the dwindling of days and prolonged shadows that threaten to hide the cruellest of changes. -PETER L. SCACCO
Poetry Robert Beveridge makes noise (xterminal.bandcamp.com) and writes poetry in Akron, OH. Recent/upcoming appearances in The Nixes Mate Review, Violet Rising, and The Road Less Travelled, among others. Clint Brewer is a writer and communications professional in Gladeville, Tennessee with his wife, three children and two dogs in a 110-year-old farmhouse. He was a journalist for 15 years and covered a presidential race and two executions. His reporting and opinion writing have appeared in the Tennessean, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Nashville Scene, and The City Paper. His poetry has been or will be published in Arcturus, Strange Poetry, Rain, Party & Disaster Society, The Fredericksburg Literary Art Review, The Dead Mule School for Southern Literature, and other publications. Joan Colby has published 21 books of poetry. She has been widely published in journals including Poetry, Atlanta Review, GSU Review, Portland Review, South Dakota Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, Mid-American Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner, among others. She has also won several awards, including an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature; Two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards, Stone County Award for Poetry, Rhino Poetry Award, and the new renaissance Award for Poetry. Her collection, Selected Poems, was the FutureCycle Poetry Book Prize winner for 2013. Pro Forma (Foothills Publishing) won the 2014 Turtle Island Poetry Review Editorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Choice Award. Ribcage (Glass Lyre Press) won the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. She is the Senior Editor of FutureCycle Press and Associate Editor of Good Works Review. For over 35 years, she has edited the trade publication Illinois Racing News. Robert Crisp lives in Savannah, Georgia, where he teaches English and keeps strange company. Learn more at www.writingforghosts.com. Tom C. Hunley is a professor of English at Western Kentucky University and the director of Steel Toe Books. He has published poems in The Leveler, Los Angeles Review, Louisville Review, Louisville Courier-Journal, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Poetry East. His latest collection, HERE LIES, was published in 2018 by Stephen F. Austin State University. He divides his time between Kansas and Oz. Robert S. King lives in Athens, GA, where he serves on the board of FutureCycle Press and edits Good Works Review. His poems have appeared in hundreds of magazines, includingÂ Atlanta Review, California Quarterly, Chariton Review, Hollins Critic, Kenyon Review, Main Street Rag,
Midwest Quarterly, Negative Capability, Southern Poetry Review, and Spoon River Poetry Review. He has published eight poetry collections, most recently Diary of the Last Person on Earth (Sybaritic Press 2014) and Developing a Photograph of God (Glass Lyre Press, 2014). His personal website is www.robertsking.info. DS Maolalaí is a graduate of English Literature from Trinity College in Dublin and recently returned there after four years abroad in the UK and Canada. His writing has appeared in such publications as 4'33', Strange Bounce and Bong is Bard, Down in the Dirt Magazine, Out of Ours, The Eunoia Review, Kerouac's Dog, More Said Than Done, Star Tips, Myths Magazine, Ariadne's Thread, The Belleville Park Pages, Killing the Angel and Unrorean Broadsheet, by whom he was twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He also recently published a short collection with Encircle Publications entitled Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden. Terry Michow-Proffitt lives in St. Louis, MO. His poems have appeared in numerous journals and magazines. His chapbook, Seven Last Words (2015), and his first full collection, Chicken Train: Poems from the Arkansas Delta (2016), were published by Middle Island Press. Robert Okaji lives in Texas. The author of five chapbooks, his work can be found in such publications as Vox Populi, Panoply, The New Reader and MockingHeart Review, as well as on his blog: https://robertokaji.com. Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Forge, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. His most recent collection is The Osiris Poems, published by box of chalk, 2017. For more information, including free e-books and his essay titled “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com. Peter L. Scacco is the author of six books of poetry: A New Game (2017), Three Meditations (2016), The Gray Days (2014), Along a Path (2013), A Quiet Place (2012), and Chiaroscuro (2010). Mr. Scacco is also the translator of Théophile Gautier's The Salon of 1850-51 (2018). Mr. Scacco's poems and woodcuts have been featured in numerous print and online journals. He has lived and worked in New York, Paris, Tokyo, and Brussels; he now resides in Austin, Texas. His art can be seen at www.scaccowoodcuts.com. Carla Schwartz is a poet, filmmaker, photographer, and blogger. Her poems have appeared in Aurorean, ArLiJo, Eyedrum Periodically, Fourth River, Fulcrum, Bluefifth, Common Ground, Cactus Heart, Leveler, Long Island Review, Mom Egg, Submittable, Switched-on Gutenberg, Gyroscope, Mojave River, Naugatuck River, Paddock, Solstice, SHARKPACK, Triggerfish, Sweet Tree, Varnish, Weatherbeaten, and Ibbetson Street, among others. Her poem “Gum Surgery” was anthologized in City of Notions, A Boston Poetry Anthology. Her second collection of poetry, Intimacy with the
Wind, is available from Finishing Line Press or Amazon.com. Find her debut collection, Mother, One More Thing (Turning Point, 2014) on Amazon.com. Her CB99videos youtube channel has 1,700,000+ views. Learn more at carlapoet.com, or wakewiththesun.blogspot.com or find her @cb99videos. Jay Sizemore has spent the last 20 years of his life in a box he only planned to spend a summer. He is the most hated poet in America because he doesn't like being told what he can write about by the poetry police. He has written 14 books that you don't own. Now he lives in Portland, Oregon and takes lots of pictures.
Marjorie Stelmach has published five volumes of poems, most recently Falter (Cascade, 2017). Previous volumes include, Bent upon Light and A History of Disappearance (University of Tampa Press) and Without Angels (Mayapple). Her first book, Night Drawings, received the Marianne Moore Prize from Helicon Nine Editions. A selection of her poems received the first Missouri Biennial Award. More recently, a group of her poems received the 2016 Chad Walsh Poetry Prize from The Beloit Poetry Journal. Individual poems have recently appeared in American Literary Review, Boulevard, Florida Review, Gettysburg Review, Hudson Review, Image, The Iowa Review, New Letters, Poet Lore, and Tampa Review. Thomas Zimmerman teaches English, directs the Writing Center, and edits The Big Win dows Review at Washtenaw Community College, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His poems have appeared recently in The Pangolin Review, Dirty Paws Poetry Review, and Rasputin: A Poetry Thread. https:// thomaszimmerman.wordpress.com/ https://thebigwindowsreview.wordpress.com/
Prose Laura Allnutt earned an MFA in creative writing from Fairfield University. She currently lives in the Greater Cincinnati area with her friend Sarah and dachshund, Dudley. She runs the blog ThinkingWithMyMindFull.wordpress.com, which helps others understand and cope with mental illness. Jeannette Brown’s writing has been published in Bellevue Literary Review, Southwestern American Literature, New Millennium Writings, Steel Toe Review, Red Truck Review, Descant, and other publications. She is the co-editor of Literary Lunch, a food anthology. Her MFA is from the University of New Orleans. She has enjoyed residencies at the Sewanee Writer’s Conference, Rivendell Writers’ Colony, and Hedgebrook/India. Paul Beckman has published four story collections, a novella, and a new collection, Kiss Kiss, which came out in March 2018. He’s had over 400 of his stories published in print, online, and via audio in the following mags among others:. Red Fez, Necessary Fiction, Spelk, Connotation Press, and Jellyfish Review. He had a micro story selected for the 2018 Norton Microfiction Anthology, and was one of the winners in the 2016 Best of Small Fictions. Arthur Davis is a management consultant who has been quoted in The New York Times and in Crain’s New York Business, taught at The New School, and interviewed on New York TV News Channel 1. He has advised The New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission, the Department of Homeland Security, Senator John McCain's investigating committee on boxing reform, and testified as an expert witness before the New York State Commission on Corruption in Boxing. Over eighty tales of original fiction, and several dozen as reprints, have been published in sixtyfive journals. He was featured in a single author anthology, nominated for a Pushcart Prize, the Write Well Award and, twice nominated, received Honorable Mention in The Best American Mystery Stories 2017. More at www.talesofourtime.com. Ken Drexler is a writer living in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. His most recent stories have appeared in the Chicago Quarterly Review and Bethesda Magazine. He has also won awards in short story contests sponsored by Potomac Review and the Bethesda Literary Festival. By day he is a reference librarian at the Library of Congress.
Photography Lindsey McCarty is a self-taught artist. Art became a passion for her very organicallyâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; she started drawing and taking pictures as a way to express herself and for therapeutic reasons. It then quickly turned into a hobby she became passionate about. Sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s been creating for about six years now. She does a lot of abstract pieces and designs. She uses mostly micron pens and oil based markers. She also creates several of her pieces with photography, digital art, and other forms of mixed media. She loves creating work that makes people see the world differently. Her business name is Down the Rabbit Hole Designs.
This issue is dedicated to Mary Ellen Miller, a fierce poet, luminous educator, and dear friend. With love.
Photo courtesy of Brook Joyner via the WKU Herald
January 1935 - June 2018