Zig Zag Lit Mag
Dear Addison County,
Thank you. We canâ€™t believe only two short years ago we were preparing to release our first issue. We are growing every year (Issue.4 had our most submissions yet!) and are amazed and excited by the work in our Addison County community. Special thanks to the Vermont Book Shop, Vermont Coffee Company, ARTSight Galleries & Studios, the Little Pressroom, the Bixby Memorial Free Library, Lily Hinrichsen, the Bixby Writersâ€™ Group, the Otter Creek Poets, and to the Mt. Abe teachers and students behind Nodah. We said farewell this year to our co-founder Muir Haman, who has been with Zig Zag since its genesis. He has moved to a new position in a new state and we wish him the best of luck moving forward with his family. Submissions will be open for Issue.5 during the entirety of June 2018. To download your free digital copy of this or past issues, to keep up with events, or to find out more about us, check out zigzaglitmag.org, and remember . . . Read Local. Write Local. Zig Zag Crew
Table of Contents
4 Sassy Blurb with Eye, Teeth, and Left Foot—Ross Sheehan 10 House of Reason—Ray Hudson 11 American Typewriter—Linda Shere 12 fate’s fate—Erik Rehman 15 Before You Go (a novel in progress)—Elaine Anderson 22 Arbus Twins—Peter Bruno 31 Nourishment, Eastern Washington State—Ray Hudson 32 Dear Make Nkhombe—Corinne Kehoe 33 Two Worlds Stiched Together—Lily Hinrichsen 36 Cover Artist & Writer Spotlight—Lily Hinrichsen 37 Y as in Yellow—Margi Rogal 39 War—Cliff Adams, Jr. 41 A Boy’s Eye View—Lincoln McGrath 46 A LIFE IN FULL: For My Father—Burgess Needle 47 The Stripper Santa Incident—Trish Dougherty 50 Kestral Lane—Ken Hypes 56 Clover—Janet Fancher 57 The Professor’s Garden—Anne Louise Agan 59 A WOODCHUCK TELEMACHIAD— Ed Webbley
Pressing Leaves—Susan Jefts 64 Exploding Volcano Eye with Grasp and Teeth—Ross Sheehan 65 Apples—Elaine Pentaleri 66 Self-Portrait at 41—Michelle L. Mowery
Readers Take Note : We do not censor the content of
our submissions and even though we publish work by writers ages 2–200, not all works will be suitable to all readers. A pepper
in the table of contents will designate those works
that may have spicy ingredients.
Addison County Whereabouts In Issue.4 Bristol
Cornwall Ferrisburgh Hancock Lincoln Middlebury New Haven Orwell Panton Ripton Starksboro Vergennes Weybridge
A WOODCHUCK TELEMACHIAD That one night, Ma out, trailer cold, water thissing from the kitchen sink from as yet unfrozen pipes, the hungry cat cursing him: barely schooled boy, numb redneck who would spray ethyl ether into the carburetor of the GMC and with the battery charged all day on the kitchen table, and now by a cinder block weighing the gas pedal, filling the barnyard with exhaust the color of a bruise, all to crank the truck’s heater so to have a warm place to read the Sporting News before the sun fell. He would drive up to the access road above the interstate construction where in the dusk the blasted ledges hurt the ridge like a bad sprain. Sitting in the warm cab of the truck, sipping a Pabst through a chaw of Red Man, contemplating his limited success with the girl from Marshfield he met at Cole’s Pond Casino last summer, he saw himself: fledgling drunk, furtively holding hands with the ghost of a thistle. From up there he could watch for lights in the trailer. He wondered if his mother remembered it was her birthday. From the ridge, the darkening town looked prim, well laid out. He couldn’t see the tenements by the river, or the grain elevators by the railyard, or the foundries. The select board had pulled the streetlights from the rougher parts of town so that tourists and skiers, high up on the interstate would see only the village lit up, only the white frame houses, the
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brick business block, and the spires of the churches. Still, he thought, it looked beautiful from up here. Soon, the access road would be cut off by the new highway, and he would have to hike to the ridge. Sipping his Pabst and spitting into a Dunkin Donuts coffee cup, he swung his legs sideways on the truck seat to keep from cramping. They’d had a good practice, and he was feeling it. He’d won the takedown scramble for the first time in four seasons, countering three desperate throw attempts by his usual practice partner, Max. One week away from states, the whole team was peaking. Coach had let them out fifteen minutes early. Under his weight, still dehydrated, he would drink another beer, read about the Red Sox and Bruins, and then head down to the trailer to finish his Trig homework and bench and curl before he slept. It occurred to him that Cousin Tommy still hadn’t brought the heating oil. Tommy had left before chores that morning with the 100-gallon tank lashed to the field truck, planning on siphoning fuel oil from Gramp O’Rourke’s evaporator units while the old man was away in Montpelier, testifying. With all the problems, he found himself wishing for his father, but he was away again, playing six nights a week in the city and picking up some studio work. Lately, his checks hadn’t been as regular as before, and things were getting tight again, but he missed his father’s optimism, his resilience. When the house burned, along with his father’s books and instruments, the piano, his mother’s antiques—everything—his father had borrowed sleeping bags and moved them into the barn for two weeks until he and two uncles bulldozed the cellar hole flat, poured a concrete slab and produced an old turquoise and white three-bedroom trailer that one of the boys had won in a poker game in Island Pond. Since then, the farm had failed, his brother had left for the army, and his father for the jazz clubs in New York City. If it weren’t for school—and Ma— he considered, he’d leave, too.
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At school, Mr. Burton had him reading some fairly strange things this semester. Physics and Trig were providing a challenge. French IV and Honors European History were a breeze. But Burton’s English class followed him everywhere, even here, in his retreat, where he hid from the bill collectors and other assholes who plagued his mother. Burton had assigned him an independent study unit this quarter: WH Auden and Wallace Stevens. He had always liked English—DH Lawrence and Hemingway with Mrs. Connor—when she was sober— and Chaucer and Shakespeare with Charlie Hollins—when he wasn’t putting moves on every fast girl in class—but Burton was different. The two would meet every Tuesday and Thursday during lunch period . . . at first to shoot the shit, but lately they would discuss poems, and how to write essays, and even now his own poems. First, had fallen for the titles of Steven’s poems: “Le Monocole de Mon Oncle,” “Tea at The Palaz of Hoon,” “A Rabbit as the King of Ghosts.” Then, his words: “somnolence,” “ratapallax,” “convoluvulus,” “concupupiscent,” and all that. Lately, he thought that he was beginning to understand Burton’s point about language, about imagination. Auden might be another story. Burton had led him painfully through the historical fact that Auden was queer, but one (at the time), could not tell. Though he struggled with “The Shield of Achilles,” he went back again to The Iliad, which now grew in his mind. He now liked its power, its anti-war message, the grim images Hephaestus hammered into the shield. Even thinking it now brought tears, wondering about his brother at Fort Benning. He saw truck lights approaching the trailer. He put his truck in low and headed down the hill. Idling in the drive was the field truck with the oil tank lashed to it, but Tommy wasn’t driving. Uncle Ray was.
A WOODCHUCK TELEMACHIAD
Hey, hot shot. Hey. Where’s your mom? Not here. I can see that. Where is she? Probably having a drink in town with Marge Pelkey. Well, I’ll hook up your oil, and wait for her, if you don’t mind . . . I don’t think do, Ray. Lissen boy, you need to get off your high horse. You ain’t going to kick my ass like you did Glen Pelow’s. No, but you stay away from Ma. Well, you know I don’t have to hook up no oil. That’s for sure. If the old man knew you and Tommy was stealing it . . . you and your ma owe me something wicked to begin with . . . Do what you have to do, Uncle Ray . . . He parked the truck and sprung the hood, lifting the battery from the cradle and carrying it inside as if it were an heirloom. It was too cold to shower, so he sat at the kitchen table in front of the space heater and opened his Trig book. The trailer jumped as Ray dropped the oil tank outside the furnace closet. Someone must have taught him to connect the oil tank, to purge the filter, to prime the fuel pump, to clear the ignition, to step back when he threw the badly wired switch to ON, 7
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but he couldn’t remember. Who taught him how to castrate pigs? To shoot gray squirrels and slit them open for butternut meats? Ray had shown him how to work the brook for trout, and Dad taught him how to read music, but when he tried to remember how he had learned everything that made him, and although he knew where—right here amidst his uncles’ scabby vertical farms—for all he was worth he couldn’t feature who taught him all this. The heater kicked on with a troubling loose thump. The smell of dust rising from the vents brought him back to the dirty trailer. Later, after lifting weights and eating a can of peaches, he crawled under the blankets into bed. With his sweatshirt hood pulled over his head, he began reading “The Man with the Blue Guitar.” He had borrowed a book of Picasso’s paintings from the Atheneum, and propped up on the chest of drawers beside him, the blind, blue guitarist accompanied Steven’s improvisations on the imagination. He found himself reflecting on Burton’s startling advice from this noon’s meeting. With his SAT scores and his football, Burton claimed, he could go to Columbia. God knows he showed need, and his transcript was solid, as Miss Minerva, the Guidance Counselor pointed out. The first thought he had regarding this was that he could bunk with his father in the apartment he shared with Benny the sax player up in Washington Heights, but soon, as always, the plain truth arrived: He could not leave his mother in her current state. With Kendall in the army and Dad God knows where? With Ma owing everyone in the county, and about to lose what was left of the farm? He awoke to Ma’s voice out at the end of the drive, driving off yet another suitor. He knew by the crispness of her good-bye, and the slurred wheedling of the male voice, followed by the scratch of tires. He heard her walk in alone. She put a record on the turntable, and soon his father’s scratchy trumpet solo filled the trailer. “Salt Peanuts” he thought the song was
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called. It was if his father was home late from a job, ducking in his room to say goodnight, still in his tuxedo, reeking of cigarettes. Later, his mother checked on him, intending to turn out the light. Open on the bed were the notes he was taking. He had copied in large block letters: THAT GENERATION’S DREAM, AVILED IN THE MUD, IN MONDAY’S DIRTY LIGHT, THAT’S IT, THE ONLY DREAM THEY KNEW, TIME IN ITS FINAL BLOCK, NOT TIME TO COME, AWRANGLING OF TWO DREAMS. HERE IS THE BREAD OF TIME TO COME, HERE IS ITS ACTUAL STONE. THE BREAD WILL BE OUR BREAD, THE STONE WILL BE OUR BED AND WE SHALL SLEEP BY NIGHT. WE SHALL FORGET BY DAY, EXCEPT EXCEPT THE MOMENT WHEN WE CHOOSE TO PLAY THE IMAGINED PINE, THE IMAGINED JAY. Reading this, his mother was vaguely pleased. What in the world has he been up to, she wondered?
Ed Webbley Starksboro
A WOODCHUCK TELEMACHIAD
Sassy Blurb with Eye, Teeth, and Left Foot
Ross Sheehan Vergennes Sassy Blurb with Eye, Teeth, and Left Foot
House of Reason What is it about failure that brings me back to a high corner bedroom in your house? Beauty is in the hall pounding at the door. The hard bones of her wrists and arms, radius and ulna like crowbars, battering to get in. There are dark circles under her eyes. She survives on scraps and is easily bought. The floor is littered with strands of myself I have tried to splice into rope. The narrow window looks down onto a familiar lawn and the road to the asylum curves away like the edge of a nickel.
Ray Hudson Middlebury
House of Reason
American Typewriter Me, and, you? Too? You never said anything. Well, neither did I. And? More? Many? And? Maybe all? Too? Ten years old. “Hello.” No, my mommy is not at home, Can I take a message please?” (just like I have been told to say) “Are you wearing any panties? What color are they? How many fingers can you put between your legs?” Standing in the kitchen scared. hey little girl hey little girl hey little girl Instruction: (the only one) keep your legs together Observation: After he died, she dyed her hair red, got a nose job, went out almost every night very dressed up. Came home very late.
Comment: “Who do you think you are? You can’t change the world” Flasher behind a statue of the Buddha the Chicago Art Museum. Crowded subway, not unusual Central Park Instruction: (the only one) keep your legs together Sixteen years old, first visit Gynecologist’s office. White coat, folded white sheet shiny instruments. No nurse. “Well, let’s take a look at you. Nice very nice, oh beautiful, oh yes, oh yes Nice, so nice, oh oh yes, very very nice” Oh so nice Lookin’ good Hey baby Hey baby. No. You know you want it. No. I mean it. Paying rent for my first apartment landlord inching around the table towards me, “You don’t have to pay your rent, you know. Come on. You could buy yourself something nice. Keep your money.” Getting closer. “Come on.” Window and fire escape.
Que Linda Observation: Mother meeting first serious boyfriend. “He is so tall and handsome! You are so lucky.” The bank wouldn’t fund my project until I came back with my then husband who said it was his work, and I was just being over excited. It was apologize or leave without money. Comment: “Who do you think you are? You can’t change the world” Comment: “I like your hair long.” No I liked Anita Hill. I knew we were in trouble Comment: “Stand on a chair. so you can look him in the face and say, I like my hair short.” You touch my children. . . .
Linda Shere Middlebury
fateâ€™s fate That tragic night, their comatose hearts woke, disconnected their feeding tubes, and hopped down the middle of the overlit roads like an army of three-legged toads. Some woke to find them huddled in a dark corner of the kitchen where the thread-limbed spiders suspend their tenuous webs; stuck in the toe of a boot; pinned in a mousetrap in a musty attic; wedged in a mail slot; backed, hermitcrab-esque, into a shelved conch. Of these, few were freed. Most were caught and placed in a birdcage, fishbowl, or whatever was available: a vinegary pickle jar capped with a punctured lid; a tin pail removed of its gardening tools; a corrugated coffee can emptied of its bent, rusty nails and threadbare screws. Those held captive soon died, imploding under haloes of mold. Lifted with grill tongs, spatulas, soup spoons, and calloused hands, those telltale hearts were dropped into shoeboxes and buried in the backyard; slipped into ziplock bags and crammed in a basement freezer beneath the packages of ground beef; flushed down the toilet; fed to the cat.
Over the precipitating days, candlelit vigils were held, though most kept to themselves, shutting themselves inside and weeping in isolation. A few dissolving like sugar cubes in the rain as they cried themselves away. People who were awake when their hearts disembarked struggled to describe the feeling: the men said they now had a sense, albeit morbid, of what childbirth was like, a notion the women disagreed with entirely. Some said that their heart departed like a released fish: writhing while the barbed hook’s plied from its gasping mouth, held for a moment before it slips from the angler’s hands back into the river. Others quipped that it simply felt like taking a shit. Regardless, all of them stated that their hearts floated away while they watched in paralyzed awe: their remnant veins long as the tentacles of a jellyfish, trailing below them as they bumped against the ceiling like a helium balloon; acclimating to their new element and descending to the floor where they synthesized gravity and hopped away. Corpse-hearts were found throughout the ensuing weeks, washed to the banks of withered rivers; mangled in the corners of doghouses amidst saliva-coated bones; left on cellar doorsteps by a neighbor’s cat; knotted within plastic bags in trashcans outside of vivisector’s labs; road-killed by cattle transports which left them flat as wildflowers press-dried in a Bible; sandwiched in defibrillators at doctor’s clinics; dangling in nooses strung to poplar trees from which they hung like strange fruit: branded with a pair of initials, riddled with circular burn marks, swarmed with iridescent-green flies. Soon, the only vestiges were the disappearing smears on the pavement, left by the ones that were crushed beneath the radials of the insatiable garbage trucks as they were driven
early that fateful morning to their troths. An elderly woman from a small town made a map of those locations, marking them with a candle upon each anniversary. But no one preserved the memory after her death, and the map, forgotten, was lost. For a time, there was a belief that a solitary heart occupied a reliquary somewhere in absolute secrecy, its caretakers fearing that the lynch mobs who roamed the streets on the morning of the exodus would coalesce, nail it to a stake, and set it aflame. A spirituality grew like a cocoon around this rumor, and this fabled heart became a prophet for a growing populace of followers who, in its adoration, claimed to be saved. Eventually, the usual routine of the people reclaimed them, and the occurrence was, if not forgotten, buried in that realm of memory where insurmountable hurts are interred; their mnemonic bones resurfacing unexpectedly while their host nibbles a cracker at the kitchen table on a cold November morning, arranging with a lone forefinger the crumbs on the plate into fateful constellations. A story in a paper from those days told of a woman who woke one morning, feeling a familiar weight and warmth in her chest. Who, upon lifting a pensive hand to affirm the possibility, felt in alarm the ticklish, startled scamper of tiny claws dribble across her skin as a field mouse departed, slipped from under the woolen blankets, and dove through a knothole in a floorboard. And how she kept its nest of feathers, lint, and string intact for months after in the hope it would somehow return.
Aimless cardiologists refocused their attention upon the mystery of continuance, Post-Circulation, becoming the alchemists of a newfound profession: Etherology. Theories fanciful as wiverns, sphinxes, and basilisks emerged, all of them confused, argued, and refuted. Some phlebotomists became maple syrup producers. A thief, lacking a Hand of Glory, used an embalmed heart as a robbery prop and was caught when the lit candle he set in its ventricle was snuffed by a gust of wind. Heart simulators were sold on every corner, their packaging scripted with promises of technological reprieve and prosthetic amnesia. The novelty was forsaken as quickly as it came, and the devices littered another strata in their landfills, those middens amassed of trashed desires. Visiting scientists studied the peculiar condition of these people, eventually concluding that their loss was caused by anthropogenic toxicity: an excess of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, pollutants, or plastics, perhaps. Foreign theologians mused that it was proof of, and punishment for, a lack of Faith. Astrologists thought that the anomaly augured the imminent, apocalyptic arrival of a black hole, a galactic whirlpool of gravity to which, they believed, their hearts had gone and the world would soon follow. Rival religious cults sprouted like mushrooms from the moldering Despair, all of them waging their claim to ascendency, believing they alone would follow their raptured hearts through that burning hole in the sky to paradise. Concerned citizens gathered in opposition to the growing divisionism; clad in black and bearing torches, they walked single file in silence down the streets of the big cities at night, all of them with a wide-open eye painted or sewn onto their clothes.
Some found novel uses for the hollows in their chests, carrying their wallets, shopping lists, keys, or condoms in them. Or a keepsake: a grandparent’s wedding ring, a lock of hair, an animal skull, a seashell, a fossil. A recluse-veteran carried a hand grenade in his, while a clever luthier made a tiny harp he set into the mouth of his “soul-grotto,” strumming it secretly as he lay awake at night, pondering the “if” in life. Most left them empty, lest they remember. Others packed them solid with steel wool or cotton to abrade or staunch the ceaseless phantom ache, endlessly hemorrhaging emptiness. The vacancies their hearts left varied greatly, their size and shape determined predominantly by body type and age. Most people’s holes were equal, in volume, to the space their cupped hands made when placed together, palm to palm. The interiors of those cavities were a spectrum of every imaginable color and shade, some of them obsidian or even pearlescent as an oyster shell. The lids of skin which covered those holes were, as well, quite variable, ranging in appearance from an owl’s closed eye to a gill slit or an infant crocodile’s grin. Within those hollows, the ends of the severed arteries resembled the cocoons monarch butterflies vacate; or the holes nymphs leave when they emerge from the ground to climb trees and metamorphose into cicadas. Fetuses suffered the same complication on the night of the exodus, their partially or fully formed hearts exiting them and slipping from their mothers’ wombs as they would days, weeks, or months later. Those who were conceived on that night never developed hearts at all. These “Pre-Forms,” envied at first, came to be hated as they aged, and their generational memorylessness grew to afflict them like a childhood trauma they couldn’t remember, yet couldn’t forget. The suicide rate was highest in this population. (Being that
slit wrists no longer bled, other means of specie reassignment were sought: hanging, suffocation, or a leap from a high ledge, typically. A failed suicide who shot herself spoke of the cloud of dried blood that formed when the poorly aimed bullet tore through her body: a plume of rust-red dust, reminiscent of the spore a puffball releases when itâ€™s crushed.) Many constituents of this class tried to hide their congenital aberration, paying black-market surgeons to implant holes into their chests. Pointless, for they were all easily identifiable, no matter how eagerly and repeatedly they lifted their shirts or how precisely they recited their plagiarized memories: some lack of shame or abasement that freighted the brows and capsized the smiles of everyone who had lost their hearts always betrayed them. Shunned by family and demoralized, most of them fled, coincidentally taking many of the same routes the hearts had followed before them, escaping by guise of night or sleight of mind. Settling in backlands, abandoned mineshafts, and the villages left to rot in forgotten geographies, these refugee-pariahs become prodigies of self-sufficiency; many such communities flourished, and the lifespan of this diaspora, ironically, increased beyond what it would have been had the great migration never occurred. Thought dead, they lived peacefully off-grid in a retribalized state of awareness, reconnected as they were to a shared heart whose pulsative empathy flowed through their nerves like glacial water through a network of rehydrated streams. Fearing what might be, many of the heart-less people chose sterilization, while others decided to try again. And the complicated, sometimes envious joy felt when ultrasound revealed a heart beating in the embryos in their bellies assuaged their grief, to some extent; though it was sometimes unbearably
strange for them to feel an alien pulse strengthen in their bodies which were silent as broken clocks, their springs and pendulums having long since wound down and stopped. () The descendants of these people live in the shadow of a dormant myth, one prophesied to again set leaf. Burying themselves in fearful careers and tragic distractions, sleeping with a palm splayed on their ribcage, they think theyâ€™ve escaped history. Though the recurring image haunts all of their dreams: That of a lightning-white tree, illumined by a full moon. Its canopy wide as the night. Their hearts, tiny as stars, dangling from its arthritic branches like autumn leaves . . .
Erik Rehman Bristol
Before You Go (a novel in progress) The Only Thing (prologue) I sit immobilized, feeling the charged silence of the condo around me. Seeing our engagement pictures on the mantle, hearing the kitchen clock ticking, seeing the sun’s reflection on the shiny black granite. Feeling what I have inside me, growing. Seeing evidence all around me. Calligraphied wedding invitations in my mother’s careful handwriting are stacked neatly in a box, ready for the mail. In the hall closet, boxes from Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn tower behind the jackets. The butter-yellow Kitchenaide mixer is in there, and the set of Wustoff knives, and the Rabbit wine opener. When am I going to wake up? When am I going to make a move? What am I afraid of? I walk outside in pajamas, hair unbrushed, my bare feet on the gritty sidewalk. I retrieve the trash and carry it back inside, not sure that I really need any more proof. I think of my mother, her marriage, her choices, her mistakes. Years later she still recalls one, saying, “It’s the only thing I did in my marriage that I wasn’t proud of.” But I am convinced it’s the one thing my mother did that gave her the gumption to get out. Her unlikely love affair gave her that brief window of time, that push that helped her stand up to my father. So she could know that there was something else, that there was more to her, and someone else beyond him out there.
Before You Go
I was ten years old when I first fell in love, or maybe I was in love with the idea of being in love. He was going to rescue me from my sadness. My loneliness. He would carry me away, marry me and we would live happily ever after. Like in the Disney movies I watched on Sunday nights, stretched out on the living room floor in my sleeping bag, he would make everything okay. He was eighteen, my Prince Charming. Of course, he wasn’t in love with me. He was in love with my mother. And for a time, she was in love with him, too. I put down the trash bag, and I laid my hand on my belly. What am I doing? Yard Days (chapter 1) I don’t know when it started. It seemed that it was always like this when I was young. Sundays were designated yard days. The days that gardens were roto-tillered, stonewalls were built, and wood was chopped. My father was always taking down trees on our three-acre property. The whine of the chainsaw on Sunday afternoons was an indelible sound growing up. I’m not sure when Tom started showing up, sometime in the fall when I was nine, maybe. I had met him before, of course. He worked for my father and mother in Hobson’s, my parents’ clothing store. I saw him there almost every weekend. There were lots of guys who worked at the store briefly, but a couple worked for my parents for years and became like family. Once, when I barely knew him, Tom gave me a ride home from school when I was sick. My mother was on a buying trip for the store, and my father didn’t want to leave work, so Tom drove me home in his tan Chevy Nova. He left me in the
Before You Go
driveway. I climbed the stairs and collapsed into bed, sweating, my stomach churning, sleeping until my mother could get back from Boston, where she had been buying sweaters. As the years went on, Tom became one of my parents’ most trusted employees. He was one of the few who made deposits, opened or locked up. And after a while, it wasn’t strange to have Tom over on yard days. He lived about a mile down the road, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary for him to run past our yard and pause to see what project my father was undertaking. One yard day, when I was nine, started out crisp and sunny—a good day for cutting and hauling wood. I was designated the stick picker upper, a job that never felt very satisfying or significant to me. My mother floated between jobs. Early on, she’d brought oatmeal raisin muffins out and left them on the patio. My father and Tom would come by and eat two at a time and return to their work. Later, my mother drove the tractor and towed the cart over to the wood pile where my father and Tom would unload the logs, splitting the biggest ones. My father would swing the axe high over his head and the pieces would fly off the oak stump. They worked fast, sweating and laughing and splitting and stacking. My father often embarked on large yard projects, and he would attract the curiosity of neighbors, like when he built my monkey bars out of pressure-treated lumber and pipe and sank them into the ground with cement. Neighbors came each day on that Memorial Day weekend to watch. On that Monday evening when my father judged the cement footers were solid enough, I had my first try. The Nagels, Millers, and Santoses were all there to watch. I felt like a princess as I took my inaugural swing on the bars with everyone watching. I knew Emily Nagel was a little jealous. Her father never built things, but, then again, her father
Before You Go
didn’t do other things that my father did. The pipes weren’t smooth like the monkey bars at school. And after one or two passes, my hands were sore, and blisters started to form on my palms. I didn’t say anything, though. Everyone was so impressed with my father and the monkey bars, and they were for my birthday and all. After lunch, my mother asked me to get the springy rake from the basement. She wanted to rake the wood chips into a pile and dump them on the property-line compost. I didn’t like getting things from the basement. It was damp and spooky, and I was convinced that there were ghosts down there. Mr. and Mrs. Wilkinson, the previous owners, had died in the house years before we moved in, and I was sure that their ghostly presences were the ones that made my arm hairs stand on end whenever I was down there. Before going down, I always felt a false sense of confidence. This time I wouldn’t be scared. I would be humming a tune, clomping down the steep steps. I’d keep my cool until I found whatever item I was sent for, but after that, I was usually gripped with a fear, and I’d give in to the panic, racing back up the steps, and slamming the kitchen door shut behind me. Sometimes, I’d try to pull open the heavy wooden double doors that opened out on the back yard. There was a rusty pull chain that released the latch, but it was fickle, and the doors often stuck anyway, and I would find myself panicking and running for the stairs, carrying a snow shovel or an armful of life preservers. The rakes were kept lined up in the coal cellar, the worst place of all. The cement floor ended and there was just damp dirt, and no lights in that corner. Whenever I would reach in there, I’d get cobwebs on my arms and face, and that alone could send me running. I stood at the top of the stairs, readying myself for the task. I would get in and out quickly. There were all kinds of noises that came regularly from the basement. Our old rusty furnace was often hissing and the pipes would clang 25
Before You Go
in response. The wind from the river would rattle the loose panes in the basement doors. And sometimes at night, if we listened hard, we’d hear the scuttling of animals down there—mostly mice, but sometimes we suspected river rats. My father had found their holes once in the coal cellar and had poured quick-setting concrete down them. I imagined the rats, frozen in blocks of cement. I edged down the stairs, turning on the light switches as I went. The furnace was hissing that day and the pipes were clanging, and there was something else too, a snuffling sort of sound. I listened more carefully. A possum had once gotten trapped in the basement one stormy night, and my mother had lured it back outside the next day with bacon wrapped around the end of a broomstick. “Hello?” I called. Our mildewed life preservers and an old yellow-and-white bait box hung from the rafters, looped around our duck boat’s oars. Paint cans, some with rusty tops lined the back wall of the basement, near the dehumidifier which we always forgot to empty. I picked my way between old bikes and even my ancient red tricycle, the one my mother never could bear to part with at yard sales. As I rounded the corner, I saw Tom. He was sitting on an old bench missing its back, next to the furnace. His head was down and his shoulders were shaking. “Tom?” I stopped. Was he hurt? He didn’t look like he was bleeding. He was crying. I had never seen a man cry. My father never cried. Crying was for girls, he said. But there was Tom, sobbing and gulping for air like a minnow washed up on the shore. “Are you okay?” He saw me and wiped his face. “Melly Belly. Come here.” He tried to smile, but it came out crumpled. He reached out for my hand. I sat on the bench next to him. He was warm and smelled like Old Spice. My father used that too. He wiped his nose on his track jacket. “Melly Belly.” Before You Go
“What’s wrong?” He squeezed my hand and his voice broke. “Oh, Melly. I don’t know what to do.” He pulled out a balled up Kleenex and wiped again. “About what?” “I love someone, but she doesn’t love me back. And I just don’t know what to do anymore.” How anyone could not love Tom was a mystery to me. He was funny and smart and kind. I remember not knowing what else to say. The chainsaw whined outside, and we could hear my father shout above the noise. We sat there for a while. I remember wondering how long we would sit there, and whether my mother would be coming after the rake if I didn’t return. Tom seemed to sense my discomfort. “Go ahead, Melly. I’ll be fine.” I burst out of the dark basement, blinking in the bright afternoon sun. “There you are,” my mother said, grabbing the rake. “Are you okay?” I nodded and went back to picking up sticks, but I couldn’t help thinking about Tom. To see him in such a state of helplessness unnerved me. Later, when I crept back into the basement, he was gone. One of These Days (chapter 2) When I was nine, I was afraid of growing boobs, and Tammi DeLuco’s boobs were the biggest I’d ever seen. It was hard to think of anything but her boobs when I saw her. It was like she had stolen a pair of watermelons from Stop & Shop and stuffed them down her sweater. She worked in McCrory’s Five
Before You Go
and Dime, down the street from my parents’ clothing store. I’d see her there after school if I came in for grape Hubba Bubba or Tootsie Rolls. Her line was always the longest at her cash register. Maeve, the other cashier, had time to file her nails in between customers. But Tammi DeLuco’s line was always busy. She knew how to snap her gum just so, and she grew her nails long and painted them with glittery, red Wet ’n Wild nail polish. Her hair was long and brown, with perfect Farrah Fawcett feathers on both sides. She never said much to me, mostly just, “Out of school already?” or, “How big can you blow a bubble?” Then she’d demonstrate for me. She could blow a grapefruit-sized bubble, and suck it back in with a crackle, never once getting it on her face. I had tried a few times in front of the mirror, but I hadn’t yet mastered the skill. Tammi was older than most high school students, because she had stayed back a few years. Before she got the job at McCrory’s, she had filled out an application to work at Hobson’s. “I really like clothes,” she had told my mother. I had watched Tammi stand at the counter and slowly fill out her information in childlike handwriting. My mother, who was in charge of the hiring, thanked her for coming in and filed her application. On Saturdays, Tammi worked McCrory’s lunch counter, flipping burgers and making frappes and fries. Saturdays for me were store days, and if had to spend the whole day there, I might be rewarded with lunch out. My father and I would get to McCrory’s right at eleven thirty when the lunch counter opened, so that we could get a seat near the action. The stools were orange vinyl and they spun. I couldn’t resist, though I always felt queasy by the time my lunch was ready. Tammi had to wear a hair net. It was a McCrory’s rule, but somehow she got around it by leaving her feathered bangs loose. They swung along with her big hoop earrings and her big boobs while she worked the grill and the Fry-o-lator. Before You Go
There was a regular lunch crowd—mostly the other men who owned businesses or worked on High Street, like Mr. Rizzo who, owned the sporting goods store, Mr. Sperry who, was president of the bank, Mr. Paterno who, owned the jewelry store, and Mr. Warner who, managed McCrory’s. Tammi knew them all, knew what their usuals were, and knew what they really came in for. She knew how to lean into the counter and cock her head, like she was listening really hard to what they were saying. She knew how to flip her hair, just so, when she’d dump fries into their baskets. She’d bat her eyes and make each one feel like they were the only man there. My father would lean eagerly over the counter, chuckling at everything that Tammi said. I think he often forgot I was there. I’d eat my grilled cheese sandwich, suck down my vanilla frappe until I had an ice cream headache, and I’d wonder if I was going to get boobs like Tammi. I couldn’t imagine how they might fit on my body. They scared me. When she wore V-neck sweaters, her necklaces got lost in them. The lunch counter was open for two hours, and we’d usually stay the whole time. My butt would fall asleep on the stool, and sometimes I’d ask if I could have a dollar to go get candy. Mostly, though, I’d stay put, for fear of losing the coveted space at the counter. At one thirty, as Tammi started wiping down the grill and shutting off the Fry-o-lator, my father would snap out of his haze and dig a piece of paper out of his pocket—a lunch order for my mother and the rest of their staff. Tammi would cross her arms, plump up her boobs and say, “Now, Brian, why do you always forget until I’m about to close!” She’d blow a big bubble, suck it back in and lean over to take the list from my father. The other men, seeing this ritual many times, would nod or snicker and then make their way back to work. My father had earned himself another fifteen minutes with Tammi, but they had no reason to stay.
Before You Go
“One of these days, Brian, I’m just going to say no.” Tammi would act indignant, bagging up our order. “And then you’ll have to go down to Higgins.” Higgins Pharmacy was across the bridge and also had a lunch counter. The Higgins Ladies, as they were called, all had close-cropped grey helmet haircuts, and not a bit escaped their hairnets. They wore pins proclaiming thirty-plus years of service and called every customer “doll.” “One of these days,” my father said, as he paid his bill and slipped an extra twenty into Tammi’s apron pocket. He walked back down High Street, whistling, while I followed behind with the grease-stained bags and a churning stomachache. Elaine Anderson Middlebury
Before You Go
Peter Bruno Weybridge
Nourishment, Eastern Washington State When the sun widened cracks in the soil and sharpened blades of crabgrass, my mother bathed in the light and harvested it and before winter closed in, there were jars of apricots glowing on the shelves, the flesh under their suede jackets still firm. When I followed my father into a field, his Brittany spaniel startled up pheasants from thick brush along the rows of harvested sugar beets. Their warm bodies rarely bled. At dinner buckshot fell through my fingers to my plate with a leaden ping. My eyes are forever fixed on my mother folding laundry, on my father closing the hood and coming onto the porch, wiping oil from his hands, while outside the window a young willow is sending its roots deep into the alkaline soil for water.
Ray Hudson Middlebury
Nourishment, Eastern Washington State
Dear Make Nkhombe
Ngiyabonga, ngiyabonga gakulu for scrubbing our floors on your hands and knees. Do your knees tell you now, “Use the mop, please”? We could have lived with “not so clean” floors. I remember coming home from school and there you were in the sun on the kitchen steps, calling softly, “Sawubona,” as you sipped milky tea with teaspoon upon teaspoon of sugar, eating white bread sliced extra thick. Even with much butter and jam, wasn’t it dry? Ngiyabonga for ironing our laundry. I was happy in my crisp tshweshwe school uniform. Remember when Mom showed me an iron-
Dear Make Nkhombe
shaped hole in my favorite knit dress? You worried I would be upset, angry, unforgiving? Your gently pleading eyes and the call of my closet full of dresses— “What about us, boss?”—filled me with shame. Please tell your husband, Babe Nkhombe, ngiyabonga gakulu for mowing our yard. It looked like hard work—pushing the lawn mower up and down the slope around our house. But always, like you, he had a smile for me. I never saw a weed in the flower beds and today, when I smell sweet roses, your faces waft through my mind. Ngiyabonga for selling my old clothes so I could buy new ones. I know you made some money too, but still, ngiyabonga. The time we brought more clothes to your house I remember my shock: you did not live in a four-bedroom, two-bathroom, large kitchen, large dining-room, larger living-room house. You lived in a one-room cement-block, tin-roofed home with a dusty red-dirt yard. When I
Dear Make Nkhombe
think of the joy on your face as you and Babe humbly welcomed us to your home, it is my bread that is sliced too thickly.
Corinne Kehoe Weybridge SiSwati Pronunciation Key and Dictionary make (ma-gay’)—Mrs. or mother babe (baa-bey’)—Mr. or father Nkhombe (nn-comb-bey’)—a Swazi surname ngiyabonga (knee-a’-bone-gaa’)—thank you gakulu (gaa-kuh’-loo)—very much sawubona (sow-oo-bone-nah’)—hello (literally “I see you”) tshweshwe (tee-shhwey-shhwey’)—South African cotton fabric printed with a repetitive pattern in white on indigo or brown
Dear Make Nkhombe
Two Worlds Stitched Together Two worlds stitched together by the loose threads I pull from the hem in my coat. Two parts of me each conversing in their native tongue come together under the roof of the night sky the inky blackness bridging the gap between my past and the bowl of feathers I now hold in my hands.
Lily Hinrichsen Bristol
Two Worlds Stiched Together
Cover Artist & Writer Spotlightâ€”Lily Hinrichsen
Lily Hinrichsen is a maker. She always has been. Originally from Sioux City, Iowa, Lily’s adventure to Vermont is filled with making. With doing, with creating, and, most importantly, with energy. You’d imagine having that boundless energy would be necessary to stand out among eleven brothers and sisters. That’s the first thing anyone would notice about Lily—her energy. It’s evident in her words, in her art, and in her studio space at ARTSight Galleries. She moved to Johnson, Vermont, in 1996 where she was on staff at the Vermont Studio Center for four years. Lily spent time making Burlington’s Old North End her home before settling into the picturesque village that is Bristol. Lily’s writing is free-flowing and seems to draw inspiration from everywhere, but especially from color. She has a deep love for all colors (especially yellow) and even though she writes with black ink on a typewriter, color is the first thing that jumps off the page. Her art style is eclectic. She’s often combining various mediums, working on designing small books, dioramas, collages, or sculptures. The editing board of Zig Zag encourages our readers to check out her studio space, and all of the other talented artists at ARTSight. Visit www.lilyhinrichsen.com to find out more about her and her work.
Y as in Yellow Everyone loves yellow. Everyday yellow. That glowing crayon that doesn’t show. Sun, moon, flowers. Today, we spent hours on the phone with various financial clerks. Odessa, who said, “Y as in yellow.” I could have cried because I hate finances and love yellow, love Odessa who, says, “Y as in yellow.” As in breakfast: grapefruit scrambled eggs bread and butter plastic table mats, as yellow as can be As in a dress that twirls, as in a school bus.
Y as in Yellow
The sound of Odessa, her voice round like yellow, a slight drawl. Mellifluous yellow.
Margi Rogal Hancock
Y as in Yellow
War War is awful. You see it in movies and you see it on TV. You’ve seen it in Vietnam if you’ve been watching Ken Burns’s The Vietnam War. Seeing war up close can hit you right between the eyes— especially if you are in the military. Your buddy’s body explodes when he steps on a landmine, or a machine gun opens up and all hell breaks loose when your patrol walks into an ambush. If you’re Carlos Arguelles, a fellow Marine I served with in Vietnam, you see it when a Viet Cong fighter’s face is illuminated by the fuse on a Chicom he’s about to lob into your foxhole. In the Vietnam War (or American War, depending on your perspective), Chicom grenades didn’t have pins to pull. Chicoms had strings you pulled to light a fuse—the fuse made sparks and the sparks made light. The light showed your face. I was a Marine in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969. None of this happened to me. My MOS (military occupational specialty) was mortar man— 81 mm mortars. I spent my time in the jungle. We were in the bush with the grunts, attached to infantry companies for
support. Mortars were always in the center. We had to stand watch at night, but didn’t go on patrols. Our job was to stay in the center of whatever perimeter was set up and wait for the call to start dropping ten-pound high-explosive rounds into the mortar tube when the grunts ran into shit. For the most part, for us, the hairiest thing was incoming mortars or RPGs in the middle of the night—unless we were overrun, which means exactly what it says: the enemy runs right over you, hand-to-hand combat and all that shit. That’s what happened to Carlos the night the grenade went off in his foxhole. Carlos got shrapnel in his back and legs, Junior Barber got his leg blown off, and Sargent Adams (no relation) got shrapnel in his chest and face. The outfit had one hundred percent casualties—meaning everybody was killed or wounded. I wasn’t there. I came home without a scratch. Home free. What do I have to bitch about? My thoughts exactly. I went to college in 1967 and quit to join the Marines. I came back from Vietnam in 1969, had two marriages (and divorces) followed by half-a-dozen relationship train wrecks, all without giving Vietnam a thought. Then one night I was alone, sleeping in my upstairs bedroom, when two men broke into my house. I heard some noise, came out of my bedroom and saw the two men coming up the stairs, silhouetted by light from a window downstairs. Immediately I am back in Vietnam. I either kill these two men or die. I attack—“ARRGGGGGGHHH!” Loud, real loud. I throw myself around the railing at the top of the small landing and jump halfway down the remaining stairs
while the two men stumble over each other trying to escape. One disappears into my office at the bottom of the stairs; the other runs through the living room toward the kitchen. I can see him. Half of my mind goes into slow motion—What the hell are you doing? You’re chasing two men! The high-speed half is ablaze with adrenaline—Shut up! We’ve got a mission! Mission brain starts to review my Marine Corps training— training I never used in Vietnam, but training I’m calling on twenty years after coming back. My training tells me to stick my finger into his eye, pop out his eyeball, and hold it in front of his other eye. This will put him in shock for over two seconds, enough time to kill him with my knife. Except I don’t have a knife. I don’t have shit for a weapon. Okay, grab his hair and yank his neck to the side! high-speed commands. That should break his neck, then spin around, go low, and come up under the other guy! By this time, I have caught up to the guy I could follow. I grab his shirt by the collar and yank him toward me—but I don’t go for his hair to break his neck. There is something about him . . . maybe his body is too light, something keeps me from doing it. As all this happens, I know on some deep level I do not have to worry about the other guy. He is not a danger—how I know, I don’t know, but I know.
We are in my kitchen. The room is still dark except for streetlight filtering through the windows. I have a circular fluorescent light fixture in the ceiling that has a hanging string to turn it on. I pull the string so hard the fixture comes out of the ceiling, but the light comes on anyway—I am holding a kid by the neck. A kid. I have literally lifted him off the ground. I don’t know who he is. “Who the fuck was with you?!” I demand. “No, man. We just thought there was a party,” he whimpers. “Bullshit!” I think his partner is a kid I have working for me at my restaurant in town, a kid I think may be untrustworthy and could be up to something like this. It will turn out I am wrong about this, but I don’t know it yet. I haul him into the living room, still holding him by the throat and mostly off the ground. I have grabbed the phone with my free hand and call the cops. “I’m gonna rip your fucking throat out!” I yell, the phone in one hand, the kid in the other. “No I’m not!” I throw him onto the couch . . . only to grab him by the throat again. “Yes I am!” The cop is now at the door. He can see us in the living room but can’t come in because the door is locked. That’s strange, I never lock the doors. Later I will learn the other guy was not only not who I thought, but was a local outlaw training the kid I have by the throat. They obviously thought nobody was home, probably because the house was dark or they may have known I had the restaurant and would probably
be working. Anyway, they came in through my unlocked doors and locked the door behind them in case I came home while they were there. They also opened a window in the office for an escape route if needed. This is where the other guy went. When I caught the kid in the kitchen, the other guy was not even in the house—he’d made a dive through the open window. The cop is still trying to get in. The kid is motioning to him. He’s acting like he wants the cop there to protect him from this crazy guy in his underwear who keeps grabbing him by the throat and screaming he’s going to rip his fucking throat out. I unlock the door and hand the kid over to the cop. That’s the end of the story so far as the break-in goes. I’m now left asking myself—where the hell did that come from? I hadn’t thought of Vietnam for years and never did anything like that in the war. It will be a couple more years before I return to college to finish the studies I left in 1967. Only then will I open the door to my time in Vietnam and find the magnitude of my war experience. War is awful. And continues to be awful, even when you come home. It can still hit you right between the eyes, even years later when you’re asleep in your bed back in America— even if you got missed when you were over there. Yeah, war is awful and it can leave you wounded without a scratch. Cliff Adams, Jr. Bristol
A Boy’s Eye View
Lincoln McGrath Starksboro A Boy’s Eye View
A LIFE IN FULL: For My Father To Whom It May Concern: EMERGENCY 911 was what my old man dialed when he found himself sitting in a pool of blood and they asked what? no pain? Tugging at a nurse’s hem, he exited with a quip: Guess nobody leaves here alive, huh? Early spring four kids and a niece gathered when only the tenderest green shoots showed. We ourselves with tender sensibilities for each other if not for him. As our family business was food we frolicked through egg-salad days ham-and-cheese afternoons and so we planned The big sit-down with Danish, strudel, cream cheese, onion rolls with regular coffee [that’s Boston for cream & sugar] Buffered comfort to help guide our decisions— first, returned nightmare memories: pinches, clamped legs, and those squeezes, scowling he laughed and we cried, Terrorized with no breath along with his words as knife wounds that never healed. Okay, so, the day had arrived: what legend for the grave marker? Held in tight implacable control his daughters unable, unwilling to forgive or forget.
A LIFE IN FULL: For My Father
—LOVING FATHER RESTS HERE— Not in my lifetime! —CARING HUSBAND— You’re kidding, right? How about, HE FUCKED MA’S BEST FRIEND! May he rest in peace with that? And, of his wife, our mother, yes, yes, to all of us she was an angel, but, he said: Try living with a saint. No picnic. When in Boston’s winter chilled gale howled the old house shivered behind aluminum siding he sprawled nude on his back before an open window a black pubic bush his only cover While ma huddled beneath three quilts and a rug I swear to be true dragged up from flooring as a final wall against the keening wind’s assault. Inside, flying buttresses of stacked books: how did so many lyrical novels, charming biographies of noble men elude his being? He took me to see Zoo Story, Albee’s murky gem, then Nichols & May on Broadway. Don’t ever tell your mother what these tickets cost! On to the Apollo Theater, our buttermilk faces in a chocolate sea with me agog— the agility of those dancers! up-to-heaven music and down-to-earth humor. Some years gone, a toddler nephew cried when the old man said, Yeah, that kitten of yours got flushed. Sorry. Just kidding. Jesus, can’t the kid take a joke? He adored sentimental French films. And, tough ones. Could quote from Cahiers du Cinema. Was it possible, he thought of himself as kindly? Oh, we all laughed as our own stories layered on each other, the outside moon rose and we laughed because none wanted to cry
A LIFE IN FULL: For My Father
The way we did when he pushed his knuckles in so fiercely we screamed as he yelled: I’ll get you! I’ll squash you like a little bug! My little bugs . . . Don’t put a God damn word on that marker, said a sister to my right. How about some decoration, at least, my smiling niece appealed. Perhaps a simple set of Playboy Bunny ears? And, we were off. Gusts of laughter, sliding off our chairs in relief. I think I peed myself. Who said that? Okay okay this has to end. —A LIFE IN FULL—a son’s cautious offer. A life full of shit! I’ll do that one! Quiet It’s totally meaningless. So, we’re all agreed, then? We nodded. There he rests, ashes in an urn. No flowers. No small stones above. A LIFE IN FULL. The date of death. He told me my letters to him were good. Drop that poetry, he said, Not your strong suit. Stick with correspondence. Epistolary narrative, that’s your game. And, so it is, Pa. I’ll mail this one out tomorrow.
Burgess Needle Ripton
A LIFE IN FULL: For My Father
The Stripper Santa Incident Apparently cocktails at a garden club meeting were a oncein-a-lifetime event and the small watered-down pitchers of iced tea on their table weren’t going to cut it. Willow and Patty left the private party room and headed for the restaurant bar. It was the Garden Club December meeting and someone, probably Agnes, had procured a Santa to deliver the secret Santa gifts. A stripper Santa, at least that’s what they were all going to call him. He hadn’t actually stripped—he just stumped in with a gaudy gift bag holding the gifts they had all bought for each other and then handed them out while wearing the bits and bobs of a naughty Santa costume. Garden Club members were, generally speaking, good sports. Gardening taught them how to roll with the weather, how to accept slugs and hail and carry on. Under normal circumstances a stripper Santa would be all good fun, and if it had been Willow’s incredibly hot husband—triple fun, but instead it was the also hot, but much younger Connor from the food co-op. Not everyone was bothered, but that was bothersome too. Willow leaned in and ordered a rum and Diet Coke for herself and a Bud Light for Patty. They hadn’t decided yet if they should laugh or cry over Agnes perching herself on Connor’s lap, so neither spoke until their drinks arrived. “How am I supposed to face his mother?” asked Patty. The Stripper Santa Incident
Willow had no answer so she took a long swallow of her drink. Judith joined them with a smirk on her face that didn’t look like it would be leaving anytime soon. “They sent me to check on you guys,” she lied. She ordered a shot of vodka for herself and sat down. “Candace is in the ladies’ room, Googling the statutory laws,” Judith added with more smirking. “Tell her it’s okay as long as she gets his mom’s permission,” replied Willow. Judith grabbed a handful of napkins for Patty, who had spit Bud Light all over herself. “My favorite part was when he called you Mrs. Coach.” Judith was never going to stop. “That’s going to be such a fun conversation with JD tonight.” Willow signaled the bartender for another. “Go easy on the Diet Coke,” she implored. “I carpooled.” Judith and Patty laughed at her. “Of course you carpooled,” mocked Patty. “Was it with Candace?” asked Judith and they all laughed again. “I’ve known him,” said Willow, attempting to explain her distress, “since he was a scrawny little freshman showing off for my husband and dreaming of making the football team.” “JD can be very proud,” said Judith with a leer. “Oh, stuff it, Judith,” said Patty, “I’ve known his mom for decades—I’ve known him since his sonogram. How am I supposed to face her at work next week?”
The Stripper Santa Incident
“Get over yourselves, ladies,” demanded Judith. “You’re making this all about you and your discomfort. He’s old enough to bag wine at the co-op, he’s old enough to make his own decisions and you need to respect them. If he was a girl, you would be admiring her for having pride in her body and all that slut-walk bullshit.” “You might be right about that,” allowed Willow, who was perilously close to finishing her second and much stronger rum and Diet Coke. Judith noticed and decided she’d better keep up, so she downed her shot and signaled for another Grey Goose. Patty wrinkled her nose at the shot. “How can you drink those? It’s like lighter fluid.” “They have the best alcohol-to-calorie ratio,” responded Judith as if it should be obvious. “I wish there was a way you could just inhale the alcohol without the calories and still get the buzz.” “It’s called marijuana, Judith,” Willow informed her, causing Patty to snort. “I feel so sexist,” said Willow, wrapping her arms around herself and shuddering a little. Patty patted her consolingly. “Well, the whole situation is sexist, sexy, sex. That’s the whole situation,” said Judith as she stared sagely at her shot. Everyone nodded and drank. “He’s like nineteen, that’s the prime of his life probably. Of course, we’re going to get all hot and bothered, it’s biology.” Judith sounded a little bit like she might be at odds with herself too.
The Stripper Santa Incident
“At first it was kind of funny,” said Patty, “the black boots and the short shorts, the open Santa coat with that amazing chest, but then when he handed me my secret Santa gift and called me Mrs. Walsh, oh God . . .” Her cheek came to rest on a beer mat that insisted, in Arial font, the best way to save the world was by drinking the local organic IPA. Willow patted Patty gently on the back. “At least your gift was pretty nice.” Patty had received a gigantic two-pound peanut butter cup. “It is pretty nice,” agreed Patty. Willow had received a Bea Arthur prayer candle. She was pretty sure that Candace had bought it but there was a small tremor of fear that maybe Agnes had bought it to see if JD had a favorable reaction to older women. Judith had received a perfectly useless pair of novelty Christmas socks covered in poinsettias that she had already thrown in the trash. For the last twelve years, Judith had received some sort of poinsettia crap in the Secret Santa exchange. The December meeting had been at her house in 2004 and she had set up a twenty-foot tree that was made of dozens of poinsettias on concentric wooden platforms. It was beautiful. Everyone was impressed. But then, around the middle of January, Agnes happened to be visiting one of Judith’s neighbors when she looked out the back window and saw dozens and dozens of poinsettias dying on Judith’s deck in the bitter cold. And, because it was Agnes, she actually brought it up at the next Garden Club meeting and they had a big discussion about conspicuous consumption and the role that gardeners should play as Stewards of the Earth. Some members looked back on it as one of their finest meetings
The Stripper Santa Incident
ever. Judith promised she wouldn’t put up such a tree again and several members insincerely offered to take care of anyone’s unwanted poinsettias in the future. Exactly what you might expect. It was only under the protective anonymity of the secret Santa exchange that it was brought up anymore. Some of the newer members probably had no idea why Judith always got cheap Christmas gifts riddled with poinsettias. Willow wondered if stripper Santa was going to be on the January agenda. She almost ordered a third drink but stopped herself. Instead she pulled the cocktail straw out of her drink and started stabbing at her napkin. “Okay,” she announced, banging the straw like a little silent gavel, “the first and most important point is to respect Connor’s choices.” “Right,” agreed her friends. “The second point is that there’s no shame in admiring his body. It doesn’t have to be dirty or lustful: he works out, he’s young, these are facts.” “Hard facts,” agreed Judith. Patty snorted into her bottomless Bud Light. “The third point is that we shouldn’t make this weird for him. It’s our problem if we can’t respect his choices. He can’t control whether or not we know his mother, or how old he is. We shouldn’t discriminate against him for those things.” Patty sighed but nodded her agreement. “And fourthly, fuck the patriarchy for making us feel bad about this. Just because they can’t keep their paws to themselves, now we feel like we can’t even admire a fit young body?”
The Stripper Santa Incident
“Wait, how did this become about men?” asked Judith, who had been right there with her until this fourth point. “Yeah,” agreed Patty, looking at Willow curiously, “are you going to tell Agnes she’s the patriarchy?” “Can we watch when you do?” asked Judith. Willow flipped them both off. She dragged herself to her feet and decided to go see if Candace really was hiding in the bathroom. They had carpooled and she hoped she wasn’t in one of her I’m-going-to-die-old-and-alone-with-six-hundredhouseplants moods. And also, she needed to make sure nobody absconded with that Bea Arthur prayer candle. Trish Dougherty Orwell
The Stripper Santa Incident
Ken Hypes Cornwall
Clover I find four-leaf clovers forgotten between the pages of the dictionary— seven between kale and katydid, another five between marvel and mascot. They belong to my father, who finds them most casually on his meanderings. Family legend— a grandmother spotting one while riding in a car, the multitudes pressed and placed on window trim— suggests this ease as genetic, but half scientist he explains the mutation, half poet he speaks of vision. Poking the grass with his shoe, he waits for the right moment to bend his tall frame to pick them. He brought this batch home to press in books—chose K for his oldest daughter, Katie, my sister, because we had been speaking of her
as we walked. M for my mother, Mary. Sometimes he puts them under his own name so he wonâ€™t forget. Months after his visit, on a day strife with rain, they fall the way luck falls: unexpected, hard to hold. Their simple presence fragile and dried. Brittle. Still green. Janet Fancher New Haven
The Professor in his garden.
The Professorâ€™s Garden
The Professor’s Garden 29 College Heights Orono, Maine In springtime, when the earth warmed enough to tickle it with a hoe, my father would hop out of bed at the first hint of dawn, brew a pot of coffee, shower, shave, partially dress (underwear, crisp white shirt, bowtie) for work, slip on my mother’s ratty old pink chenille bathrobe, then head outside to the “Back 48” as the neighbors jokingly called his garden plot—roughly the size of a football field. A slim, hard-bodied man, with a nearly masochistic work ethic, Dad planted by the “rules”—the rules set by his father and grandfather: straight rows, no weeds. It was against the order of things to have weeds where vegetables rightfully belonged. His motto was “A place for everything, everything in its place.” Weeds belonged in the burn pile. Exceptions to the rigid planting rules were the mounds of cucumbers and winter squash at either end of the garden. The cucumbers grew up a trellis of chicken wire. The squash plants went every which way by the end of the summer, but by then, there was so much else to do, he just let them be. A section along the inside edge was designated for a dozen huge clumps of rhubarb, amended with composted manure from the University of Maine dairy farm.
The Professor’s Garden
My father couldn’t seem to help getting up early. As a young child with farm chores to do, he had to be up with the sun. In adulthood, early morning remained his favorite time of day, being alone in the untroubled silence before my mother, brother, and I were up and about. He needed this quiet place in the universe to gather his thoughts before leaving for the campus; especially enjoyed being in the garden after a spring rain, the damp earthy scent as he walked barefoot along the rows of snow peas. One morning after a warm, rainy night, when Dad lost track of time, my mother sent me outside with explicit instructions for the professor to get his ass in gear. I couldn’t see him anywhere, but I could hear him. He liked to whistle when he worked in the garden—usually Stephen Foster tunes in perfect pitch, as if he heard Nellie Bly playing in his head. I found him on his hands and knees, coffee cup in one hand, randomly weeding with the other. He glanced at me briefly, quickly pulled a few more witch grass sprouts. “Best time to get at ’em, Anne, deah, when they come out like buttah,” he said matter-of-factly, ever the teacher. Ever the Maine accent. He never said much against anyone, but you could tell my father had contempt for the neighbor’s wild and woolly garden, about forty feet away, separated by a hand-dug drainage ditch. There was an order to keeping a garden right and he appreciated it and so did I, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I favored the alive and out-of-control garden of Mrs. Caroline Hyland, who broke all the rules and regulations merging vegetables, wildflowers, annuals, perennials, and herbs with no rhyme or reason. Blood-red dahlias jostled with basil and tomatoes, marigolds wove around the peppers, summer squash and pumpkins spread through cosmos, sunflowers, hollyhocks, purple and blue delphinium, bright red-orange poppies, and nasturtiums crawling over a weather-worn red bench: colors that sang. Cucumbers climbed up cornstalks—a horticultural nightmare to my father, to me a paradise. He was cordial to Caroline Hyland, always an acknowledging wave, but it’s safe to say they kept their distance. 61
The Professor’s Garden
It was pretty obvious by the way Mrs. Hyland dressed that she was not your typical 1950s faculty housewife. A mysterious figure in black silk stockings, wide-brim black straw sunhat, long-sleeved black dress to her knees, she looked as if she’d just returned from a funeral and hadn’t bothered to change quite yet. I found this eccentric woman fascinating . . . and studied her with intent. I wanted to meet her and talk to her in the worst way possible, but my mother said, “That woman is possessed,” warning me not to wander into Mrs. Hyland’s yard, and never go inside her house. This didn’t stop me from imagining what it would be like to have a garden such as hers someday or if her house was festooned with dusty cobwebs and black cats slinking around in a dark kitchen filled with powerful savory, sweet, and pungent aromas. I was probably around six when I was old enough to make myself useful in the garden. My first job was moving rocks to a burgeoning stone wall along “our” side of the ditch, using my older brother Paul’s Radio Flyer wagon. I didn’t complain; it was a ticket into my father’s world. I loved being in the garden with him; he lost himself in the garden. I lost myself along with him. Dad planted more than enough vegetables to provide for our family and to share with neighbors who didn’t have their own gardens. Potatoes, carrots, beets, and winter squash went into our root cellar, but there were times when we had an excess of cucumbers, and the local Sampson’s Market bought them. Mom could freeze, can, and pickle only so much before she put her foot down . . . and the cash Dad “allowed me” went into my piggy bank—my own stash, enough for comic books and penny candy. Some evenings, we would go up and down College Heights—our quiet dead-end street bordering the University of Maine—pushing a wheel barrow filled with excess vegetables. If no one was home, we’d place brown paper grocery bags filled with broccoli, green beans, tomatoes, whatever was in season, on the neighbors’ doorsteps. Dad never grew zucchini. No one received the notorious baseball bats. The Professor’s Garden
Gardening was his simple mission—it served him well and sustained him into his late eighties. It was what he needed to feel useful in this world. Sadly, he succumbed to kidney failure shortly after his eighty-ninth birthday in June 2004. The last time I visited with him at his winterized cottage on Orr’s Island where he spent his retirement years and—no surprise—had extensive gardens (with vegetables AND flowers . . . roses and blue hydrangeas, thriving in the cool salt air and acidic soil beneath tall pines), I couldn’t help but notice they were neglected and desperately in need of weeding and thinning. The old professor was so weak all he could do was sit, stooped over on an upturned five-gallon bucket and watch me work. My stoic father, who had always kept his composure, looked at me, and said, his voice cracking, “What good am I if I can no longer work in my garden? What’s the sense of living, Anne?” That said . . . he began crying uncontrollably, trembling and shaking. I dropped my spading fork, enfolded him in a huge hug, and cried into his shirt with a despair I’d never known. He’d already passed the torch. Anne Louise Agan North Ferrisburg
The Professor’s Garden
Pressing Leaves The mist gathers in the valley, rises up to where the pine trees stand in a cluster of watching. I can hear them breathe through the window we opened and then left openâ€” the rain dripping off the eaves onto the plank porch. The sound I heard once in a Japanese garden between a bamboo grove and a bridge.
Susan Jefts Cornwall
Exploding Volcano Eye with Grasp and Teeth
Ross Sheehan Vergennes 65
Exploding Volcano Eye with Grasp and Teeth
Apples Getting ready for bed, I hope for the recurring dream: At a bar a woman waits in the blackness of her own cascading hair, crowned by the highlights of her joy. My days are ruled as if this were my history. The apples on the shelf redden mutely, an unshined gift. The weight of my body surprises me each time I raise my hand to greet someone. The abundance of sorrow bends hours. Tucking itself in, the silence turns easily into its other. Elaine Pentaleri South Starksboro
Self-Portrait at 41 I When I was young I had panties with the day of the week inscribed on them. Monday was only for Monday and so forth. Now, I very often without trying, match my underwear to my clothes. No one noticed then. No one notices now. There is a place called Union Corner in rural Illinois. Everything there is defined. You could package it up in a gilded frame and title it Home. It would look like peonies, lilacs, tomatoes and eggplant, chickens, mulberries, apples and westerns, braided hair, cans of self-caught worms and the solidification of heartache. If you desire a set, you could also package up a version of the Last Supper. It would look like a Christmas tree toppled over and a long driveâ€”away from Home. In a small blue truck youâ€™d see three shadows, a cat, and Madonna. Holidays occur every year but are only celebrated until survival drives a wedge between what was once family. After that, holidays are just another day. 67
Self-Portrait at 41
II Winter is losing teeth. Spring is lilacs. Summer is soybeans and corn. Autumn, my favorite, is everything beautiful that you could not see before and death. Catching tadpoles and ballet-dancing along fallen walnut trees appropriately passes time if you’ve used up all of your worms. Part-time step-parenthood to three (for seven years) proved that I was not cut out for the role. I loved it and hated it. You must only love it, and like it, and sometimes need a break from it. But you can never hate it. Seems my patience is selfish. Or maybe I have my own reasons that you don’t need to know. When the small hollow tunnel pushed me into life I wasn’t ready, and though I came hastily I had to wait. All of the white coats oohed and aahed every day for nearly six months. The woman who walked eight miles each way for all of that same time oohed and aahed too, but she also cried. My Mama was young and strong and tired. And when the miracle wore off they let her take me home. It has been me and her ever since. For the next thirty years white coats were traded for plaid coats Self-Portrait at 41
with faded leather patches on the elbows and blouses and long flowing skirts. I mostly learned nothing in all of that time (except how to manage a monthly loan payment). I am still remitting but I am also still learning. Sixteen thousand to go and I am free. III Girls should know how to do things expected of boys. Fish, ride a dirt bike, fire a gun, take apart and put back together a 1970s radio. Nothing used to beat a fresh pot of coffee with powdered, cholesterol-laden creamer and loads of refined white sugar. A walk to the convenience store for an overpriced box of day-old donuts— life was good. Now instant does the trick with just a dash of cream. It’s liquid candy, sugar free like at the Killian’s farm only without the yellow Corvette. I can still remember the smell of the silos and the day I got to drive that car. I have seen hundreds of shooting stars— auroras galore, but I have never seen from a lover flowers at my door. I still look for them, wishes from the night sky when the air smells of watermelon and I count them and I wait. I wait for someone to help me add ten more to my list of meteors.
Self-Portrait at 41
I imagine a lover’s hand grasping mine and gently kissing its back while pointing hurriedly to the sky announcing, nine! IV I don’t remember things like first kisses or virginity. I’ve blacked them out. You grow up with a hunger to know what it is all about and in an instant they are gone. You can’t take the moments back. You can’t do them over, so why linger on where they went. Remember going to your favorite theme park for the first time? It’s exciting, but you leave feeling like you spent the entire time waiting in line. At the end of the day you find you’ve wasted all of your money on that one rigged game that you were sure you could win. The second time is better. You know your way around the park, when best to get into line and which games to avoid. There’s a back-up twenty in your shoe for the end of the day, just in case. On your third visit it seems you know everything but don’t care about 90% of it. You’ve mastered quickly getting on and off only the best rides, and you don’t care anymore about the games, so you just avoid them. But, somehow you still go home without any of the money you came in with and no prizes. Marriage is the same.
Self-Portrait at 41
It is simply a relationship with a higher level of responsibility. A wedding is one day of your life, or a half a day or maybe just a few hours and then you’re right back to doing and being who you were the day before. Everything is supposed to feel differently, but nothing does. V In my life, I have had the privilege of owning two vehicles. For 11 years I drove and shared my education and two husbands with Jizzy. She was white and four doored and wonderful. I loved shifting her into gear, we fit together perfectly. When I laid her to rest I acquired (by default), from husband number two, the Hybrid. She is grey, four doored, and automatic. I don’t have much control over her, like he didn’t over me. She and I have also been together for 11 years. Both of my girls outlasted every other relationship I have had to date and I am certain, given the spectrum of my advancement, that my next vehicle will be black, have only two doors, and go very, very fast. That reminds me. A lawyer I once dated called me doe eyes— I wonder what he would call me now? I would still call him arrogant and Randy, in that order. There are currently two men I lust for in my dreams. Outside of my dreams, I am married, again. The girls have four years on him. I am still waiting.
Self-Portrait at 41
I am patient. He is not. VI I read once “if you want it, take it.” Do people do that? Wait, yeah, people do that. I have never taken anything I have wanted, but I have been taken when unwanted and not wanted to be taken. And while we’re on the subject— just because I have been broken, doesn’t mean, I am broken. I am still human, I am still a woman. You can touch me, go ahead— show me something different, I want you to. VII When I am free and have finished keeping the books maybe I will go back to building and growing things and maybe I will marry them. By then they will have waited long enough. I will collect worms, go fishing, take a ride on a dirt bike, go to a shooting range and dismantle and put back together something other than my soul. I will have a garden and chickens, lilacs and peonies, a cat or two. I will brew a pot of coffee even if I have no one to share it with. I will possess only soft, feminine, coral-colored panties in hopes someone will notice.
Self-Portrait at 41
Everything will be defined. And when the soybean fields come ablaze at sunset I will catch fireflies, fill my wooden porch with luminaries and when the humidity breaks set them all free and get a refill of lemonade and whiskey. In the meantime, I will wait. Wait, for that one, breathless moment. That one, lifting force of elation. One agreeable, letting go of myself. Michelle L. Mowery Panton
Inspired by David Berman’s “Self-Portrait at 28”
Self-Portrait at 41
A. Jay Dubberly—Editor in Chief
Keith Morrill—Senior Editor
Maddy Willwerth—Design Guru
Patrick Willwerth—Submissions Editor
Zig Zag Literature Magazine celebrates and showcases the creative talents of those who live, labor and loiter in Addison County Vermont.
Published on Mar 18, 2018
Zig Zag Literature Magazine celebrates and showcases the creative talents of those who live, labor and loiter in Addison County Vermont.