Lost River Summer 2018

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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

Lost River maintains First North American Serial Rights for reproduction of works in Lost River and/or Lost River affiliated materials. All other rights remain with the artist. Copyright © 2018 Lost River


Lost River accepts poetry, fiction, nonfiction, & art/photography. See submission guidelines at www.lostriver.ink/submissions

Correspondence can be sent to: Leigh Cheak 11747 Old Nashville Hwy Apt. C8 Smyrna, TN 37167 or lostriverlitmag@gmail.com

Please visit our website for more information about us: www.lostriver.ink

Lost River Summer 2018

Issue Four

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 It’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 


* You can’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 PERCHIK 


** 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 –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 PERCHIK 


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 arm’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 SCHWARTZ 


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

asleep upstairs.

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,

in amusement.

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

uproarious laughter.

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

without you?”


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

Sam’s game.

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 CRISP 


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  


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 OKAJI 


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 OKAJI 


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 BREWER 


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 winter’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 BREWER 


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 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 cigarettes––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 hear––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

Conner's shoulders.

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 he’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

the room.


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. 


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 COLBY 


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 BEVERIDGE 


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 STELMACH 


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



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,

and-rescue mission.

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

the table.

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

really good.”

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

and wet.

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

her relatives.

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,

grandchildren often.”

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 subject.

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

unappreciated, neglected.

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. 


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. KING 


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 God’s boxes make for infinite imagination, but something tells me that everything imagined in a box must fit in the box. -ROBERT S. KING 



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 treasure—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 Editor’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, including 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 organically— 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. She’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


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