Photo Credit: Alexandra Gambacorta
Marquette Literary Review
Spring 2018 Issue XII
The Marquette Literary Review, the official literary magazine and creative writing journal of Marquette University, presents the short fiction, poetry, creative essays, visual art, and flash fiction of Marquette’s most talented student, faculty, staff, and alumni writers. The Marquette Literary Review is published annually at Marquette University, P.O. Box 1881, Milwaukee, WI 53203-1881. Telephone: (414) 288-7179. Web address: marqreview.weebly.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org A collection publishing the most unique and powerful voices, the Marquette Literary Review compiles only the best literary works – those that are honest in their exploration, critical in their presentation of the human experience, and highly valuable in their literary merit. This publication is edited by undergraduate students in the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences at Marquette University. Materials for publication in each issue are considered by direct submission. Editorial Team: Ryan Higgins, Luke Kaspari, Vanessa Koerner, Quazaye Konkel, Kara McCauley, Andrew Posegay, Abby Vakulskas Faculty Advising Editor: Dr. Tyler Farrell ã 2018 by Marquette University Front cover: Alexandra Gambacorta, “Pomodori di mio Nonno”, photograph. Back cover: Alexandra Gambacorta, “Italia,” photograph. Acknowledgements: The Marquette Literary Review team extends its sincere gratitude to all who have contributed to the continued success of this publication. We would like to offer special thanks to Dr. Tyler Farrell, for his mentorship and advising assistance; Wendy Walsh, for her administrative support; Dr. Angela Sorby and Dr. Larry Watson, for their sage knowledge and input; all other faculty and staff members of the Marquette University English Department, for their willingness to promote this journal to students, staff, and Marquette English Department alumni; and finally, to all authors and artists who submitted pieces to this Spring 2018 edition of the Marquette Literary Review, for their courage, creativity, and dedication.
Contents Spring 2018 Dr. Tyler Farrell Introduction
The Editorial Team Letter from the Editors
Jennifer Walter “All American”
Leah Costik “Mkushi, Zambia”
Leah Costik “Wildebeest”
Ellery Kemner “Oil Slick”
Emily Kuether “Monochromatic”
Andrew Posegay “To The Woman Dangling Twizzlers from Her Mouth for Far Too Long at Gate C26”
Buchanan Waller “The Tuscon Patriot Militia”
Abby Vakulskas “Red Wing”
Andrew Posegay “Sleep”
Ellery Kemner Photograph
Jimmy Drenovsky “Ode to Creation”
Haley Wasserman “Esther 4:14”
Michael Welch “Skids”
3 Jacob Stephen “Thanks for Asking”
Leah Costik “This, to No Addressee”
Jacob Riyeff “Dawn Breaks on the Rock, or, Der Abgrundskinder”
Jacob Stephen “Forgetting”
Ellery Kemner Photograph
Peter Spaulding “Numen Flumenque”
Peter Spaulding “Waxhaw, NC – 2008”
Emily Kuether “Opinions”
Annah Horst “Firelight”
Edi Kuhn “Tooth and Nail (8/5/15)”
Kaley Rohlinger “Eleanor”
Edi Kuhn “Tip (12/13/17)”
Emily Kuether “I Made a Deal With Venus”
Haley Wasserman Drawing
Jannea Thomason “White Edges”
Annah Horst “April Snow”
Saul Lopez “El Viaje”
Shane Martin “The Signs of Home”
Jacob Riyeff “God Lives on the Lower East Side”
Annah Horst “Heart of Milwaukee”
Jimmy Drenovsky “Death Fantasies”
Carolyn Lewis “Frith”
Claire Bruns “Strange Encounter”
Jonathan Chacon “Subservient Ends, or Friends, or Whatever”
Abby Vakulskas “Stellar’s Jay”
Beau Draghiciu “Derelict Hearts”
Ellery Kemner Photograph
Jacob Riyeff “Birth Imagined from a Different Room”
Cecilia Anderson “One in the Evening”
Annah Horst “Sig’s Lagoon”
Aishah Mahmood “Bach’s Chaconne, Partia No. 2 in D Minor”
Sofia Driscoll “Unwavering Optimism; Wavering”
Brandy Kinnunen “Quietus Est”
Introduction This is a place where Marquette writers shine. We, as a community, are represented here by undergraduate/graduate students, faculty, staff, and alumni - and the voices are wide ranging and powerful. From the “Strange Encounter” of meeting a new person in a new place to “Forgetting” and reflecting on a mother’s change – all of these works express feeling and pathos, close emotion and reflection. They speak to a larger and public voice – voices echoing through history - through our personal world reaching into the world of everyone. An artist’s aim is to express in an honest way – a portal into the unspoken or unseen and give it a voice. The Marquette Literary Review is our community and represents our work. It is our voice and ideas. I am grateful for the opportunity to help showcase these artists and writers and humbled by the professionalism and hard work of the editors. I know you will be impressed with everything this publication has to offer. Enjoy! Tyler Farrell Faculty Advisor
Letter from the Editors The Marquette Literary Review has been showcasing the work of talented Marquette students, faculty and alumni for years. When our team first came together, we acknowledged the incredible responsibility that came with taking on this growing legacy and immediately devoted ourselves to putting together the best issue possible. As we began receiving submissions, we learned that the selection process wasn’t going to be easy. Everything we received held merit. The creative talent of the Marquette community was instantaneously showcased to us through the complex selection process. The high quality of submissions drove us to dig for what content we found to be the most challenging, thought-provoking, and profound. We chose pieces that explored everything from the complicated nature of today’s political climate in the desert of Arizona to the rain on a corrugated roof in Zambia. You’ll find characters who have heart and courage, whether they are foraging in a post-epidemic world, preparing for an audition, or reading Tolkien in the park. Rich imagery brings scenes of hometown nostalgia and surreal wildebeests to life. Your heart will soar with a new father welcoming his son into the world, and immediately fall to the floor with the pieces of a poet’s mother. We were astonished by our selected contributors’ ability to portray the heartbreaking, triumphant, complicated and exquisite nature of our world in a brutally honest way. This, we feel, is the true intention of art: to instill a real, lasting sense of purpose and emotion. We’d like to thank our contributors for having the courage to create and share such beautiful, honest writing and art. Thank you for taking a risk, accepting the challenge, and working to further Marquette’s creative community. We would also like to thank Dr. Tyler Farrell for supporting us through this process and being a point of constant wisdom and encouragement. We are eternally grateful. It has been our honor and privilege to review the creative work of our fellow Marquette students, faculty, and alumni. We hope that this edition of the Marquette Literary Review will provide you with this same sense and inspire you in unexpected ways. Sincerely, The Editors
Jennifer Walter “All American” My accent smells like bacon grease and has the body of a 2004 Ford Flex. It will put last names through a wood chipper. It will deny the existence of umlauts. My accent wears sweatpants in public. It orders Leitungswasser at every restaurant in Germany because it would rather drink from the sewer than pay for water. My accent slips and falls in the woods during winter. It gets mad at the ground for being so slippery. And the next day it goes out to the same woods in the same shoes. My accent never listens. It never learns. It makes excuses because it wants to go home. It leaves the bar early because it is afraid of missing the last bus. It is afraid of the cold and the possibility of sleeping on a stranger’s floor. It is afraid of being uncomfortable. My accent buys peanut butter with an American flag on it. It refuses to make eye contact with the cashier at the grocery store. It forgets how to say “Bitte” and “Danke schön” and when it drops a Euro coin on the floor, does not return to pick it up. I do not know if accents die like childhood pets. But every time I put the leash on it fits a bit looser. Maybe if I keep tripping through the woods on ice laden paths I will learn how to walk. Or how to change my shoes.
Leah Costik â€œMkushi, Zambiaâ€? during supper, i am self-conscious, of the dirt on my heels, from the walk to your home. at dusk, i bathe with water, we heated with a coiled pipe, sleep with my face to the gray wall, our ankles crooked. i turn and tuck my knees, into your chest, your doe eyes, unblinking, your palm on the back of my neck. the keyhole beneath your clavicle, is where i press my thumb, softly as you sleep, our midnight seal. outside, the dog is barking, rain beats the corrugated roof, the dusty ground swells, into streams of golden leeches. months later, you will write, that you are surprised, remembering the cardamom, the cloves, you miss the spices in my hair.
Leah Costik “Wildebeest” The cardiologist holds a stethoscope to her chest, listening, eyes closed. He’s sitting on a stool, knees apart, leaning forward. She closes her own eyes briefly. “So, we’re here to talk about…” He flips a few pages and skims them absentmindedly. “The pain you were complaining about in your chest. As you know, we did some tests.” He looks at her over his glasses. She nods, looking down. She peels the top of her thumb nail off. A moment passes. She feels the fuming wildebeest. The cardiologist taps his pen against the rail of her bed. Once. Twice. Three times. “Your chart also tells me you’ve been discharged within the past several months from our psychiatric unit for the second time,” he says quietly. He doesn’t mention the part on the chart that says patient tried to sever femoral artery. “Is there anything you’d like to talk about today before we continue?” She shakes her head; looks away. A piece of brown, curly hair falls into her mouth. She sucks on it, separating the strands with her tongue. He purses his lips and exhales, annoyed. He closes her chart. “What our tests revealed is a genetic defect in the wall of one of the chambers in your heart, which we will unfortunately need to operate on. Do you understand?” She nods, biting the soft pink on the inside of her lip. Hotness creeps onto her tongue. She sucks the blood through the tiny crevices between her teeth and smiles faintly, then grimaces. Lying in the operating room, she sleeps, sedated. The cardiologist begins. At thin incision near the left breast. Tiny, elegant beads of red. Suction. Cauterization. A pumping mass exposed. The nurse gasps and quickly stifles himself, trying to disguise his horror in a cough. The anesthesiologist starts muttering, backing away from the operating table. The cardiologist blinks. The sound of wetness exploding, of ripping, of gargantuan expulsion comes from her chest. A wildebeest blooms. Struggling to all fours, it rises onto the hospital bed. From wide horns gleaming, tissue hangs like vines. Its coat matted, wet and shiny, and blood drips from its beard and mane. The medical team stands back, pushed against the wall, horrified into silence. The animal raises its head and inhales deeply; its rib cage bulging against taut skin. Exhaling, red mist floats out of its nostrils. It jerks its head up, neck outstretched tightly, and a terrible sound erupts into the sterile room. Under an oxygen mask, she dreams of a wildebeest slinking into the mirage.
"Oil Slick" Ellery Kemner
Emily Kuether “Monochromatic” My life is like Waiting for Godot, a tragicomedy: always in the purplish-haze nether and idle out of fear. God is laughing back at me and my mom tells me to listen, but I am scared to hear, scared to slip into the dark at night, even though green and yellow stars line my eyes, as bright as a cat’s moonshine reflection in a mirror. “What are you looking at?” I ask the mirror, crank the glass shower knob until the water runs, hot. Turn my body into comedy and lather rosemary mint over my eyes. Pray and wait for Virgin Mary to save me from the fear that the sting from soap makes me see dark. Maybe, then, I’ll finally listen. Sometimes my mind feels like it’s been cut up into tiny paper triangles. I listen and stare at my blue-flecked undereye in the mirror. I sit in the tub, wait and wonder if there’s yellow in the dark, or if there will ever be, the comedy to my anti-comedy? If my life is a trapeze game swinging from fear to light, light to fear, How will I know when to open and close my eyes? My eyes say much less about me than my undereyes, which are bigger than the book that made me listen. The book with forbidden fantasies He told me not to fear. Like Vladimir to Estragon, Jesus to God, absurdism is an anamorphic mirror that we cherish, like a black-ink butterfly, and that we laugh at, like some comedy. His goatskin stain is the shade of my undereye – dark. The thing about a tragicomedy is that, no matter how dark it gets, there are peeks behind caulked eyes and secrets between surrealist lines that let me relish the comedy. If I do not cup my ear to listen to the snake-implanted message, I might never see the mirror that’s positioned facing me, pleading for my fear. Eventually, I will learn not to hate fear, to not be anxious of the dark, and to not be ashamed of who I see in the mirror. The only thing that has lied to me is my own godforsaken eyes. If I would have known only to listen, I would have easily found the comedy in my tragicomedy. I would have opened my bloodshot eyes, climbed out of the moonless dark, listened and laughed at the mirror, at life’s tragedies and comedies.
Andrew Posegay “To The Woman Dangling Twizzlers from Her Mouth for Far Too Long at Gate C26,” Never in my life have I fallen so brutally, immediately in love as when I sat cross-legged across from you for those twenty-four minutes of awkward preflight observation. The attendant—neatly dressed—crackled over the speaker to invite us onboard, and you—without remorse— hung three braids of sugary sincerity from your teeth and just beneath your first and second chins. Double-knot Skechers, late-middle age, and bright, weathered authenticity— you wore them comfortable as the soul beneath your skin, which as it were, fit so snugly inside your body, that light seemed to leak from your pores. Humanity, in a thousand ways and a thousand lifetimes might stretch their fingers around the Earth to touch continents or nations or hearts and never find your gift: self-realized, without apology, beauty unbound, Yours, ~ASP
Buchanan Waller “The Tucson Patriot Militia” The sun was beating down on the barren South Arizona desert. At 7:30 in the morning, the heat index was already pushing 100 degrees – not that the heat bothered Kurt. He had spent a good portion of his twenties in the Iraqi desert, so the Arizona heat was nothing new. Kurt was sitting alone on the back of his pickup. Nearby, a group of older guys sat in a circle around a fire pit cooking bacon in metal skillets. Clearly, the heat wasn’t bothering them much either. About 40 men were gathered at a ranch off the highway just south of Tucson. A bearded man dressed head to toe in camo stood up in the middle of the circle. “Thank you all for coming,” his voice boomed. “As of now, the protocol of the Tucson Patriot Militia is in effect. We’ll be moving out to start our patrolling operation at 0800 hours.” Kurt hopped off his truck and cautiously approached the group sitting around the fire, which he figured must be the leaders of the militia. Some other loners moved to do the same. This was Kurt’s first border patrol and he didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot with any of the higher ups. “Which one of you is Snake?” Kurt asked. “I was told to report to a guy named Snake.” “That’s me.” One of the men cooking bacon stood up and shook Kurt’s hand. Like Kurt, he was wearing black aviator sunglasses, desert tan combat boots, and camo pants with large cargo pockets. Tucked into his trousers was a XL sized t-shirt with the words ‘Build That Wall’ printed across the front and ‘Trump That Bitch’ printed across the back. “Good thing you checked in with me. Most of these new guys just gaggle around and then I have to track them down.” “You ain’t gotta worry about me.” “I appreciate that,” said Snake. “We got some more bacon over there if you want. Otherwise, you can throw your gear in my truck and we’ll be leaving in a few minutes.” “Sounds good to me.” “Hey, wait one minute.” Snake stopped Kurt and pointed down at his rifle. “What on God’s Earth is that?” “It’s my rifle.” He pointed specifically at the magazine carrying the ammunition. “Why is your magazine only 10 rounds? Everyone else here has 30-round mags.” “That’s the new law in Arizona,” said Kurt. Without a word, Snake reached into his cargo pocket, and after digging around for a second he pulled out two 30-round magazines. He put his index finger over his mouth as he handed them to Kurt. “We’ve got your back.”
Sergeant Kurt Watson had been awake for 20 hours. It was over 120 degrees, which felt even hotter under the weight of all the gear he was wearing. After he finished waving a car through, one of his men asked if he could take their helmets off, just for a minute. Kurt knew he
14 couldn’t let him do that, but he understood why his men were restless. During the first two weeks of their deployment, their checkpoint patrols were 24 hours long. After Kurt protested the long shifts to his commander, they were knocked down to 20 hours. His soldiers were ecstatic. It had been a tough month since their deployment to Yusufiyah began. Part of the ‘Triangle of Death’ south of Baghdad, Yusufiyah had seen more soldiers die in the previous two years that any other comparably sized village, a trend Kurt was determined to stop. Kurt was accompanied by Privates Smith, Sanu, and Weiss. Despite being their Team Leader and half a decade older than them, they had developed a good rapport in the first two months of the deployment. Sometimes Kurt was even concerned they were growing too close. They talked about all kinds of things at the checkpoint they guarded: their previous deployments, war stories, their home towns, and even Kurt’s girlfriend. They were the only people in the entire world he had told about his plans to propose to her when he got back to Arizona. Through the chain link fencing of the checkpoint, Kurt spotted a young boy walking toward them. Wearing a backpack, cargo shorts, and a slightly oversized white polo shirt, the boy couldn’t have been older than 11 or 12. Kurt recognized him by the red and white checkered soccer ball he was dribbling. Those were the balls American forces gave out when they were trying to win hearts and minds. He became worried as the boy continued to approach the checkpoint. “You need to stop,” he shouted. “This is a restricted area.” Their Rules of Engagement were to verbally engage anyone who approached the checkpoint. If that didn’t work, they were to fire warning shots. If warning shots didn’t work, they were to shoot any unauthorized person who approached their gate. The child was unresponsive to Kurt’s orders, and was now within 50 meters of the gate, close enough for Kurt to get a clear visual ID. “Freeze.” His voice was almost cracking. “Or I will have to shoot.” His finger shook as he placed it on the trigger. The kid wasn’t slowing down, but Kurt could not bring himself to squeeze the trigger. He was only able to stand there, petrified, as the kid reached into his pocket and pulled out a hand grenade. “Get down,” yelled Kurt. Private Weiss stayed up long enough to put two shots through the kid’s chest, but the grenade had already left his hand. Only Kurt was able to get under cover fast enough. His ears rung as the grenade exploded. He looked up to see Smith, Weiss, and Sanu all blown to pieces.
Kurt sat stoically in the back of Snake’s truck. His team was doing introductions and icebreakers, something he resented doing. “So I’ll start,” said the man in the passenger seat. “My name is Phil Fischer. I’m the night manager at Conoco, and I’m here to protect my country and help preserve our heritage. I’m sick and tired of seeing –”
15 “Okay thanks Phil,” Snake interjected. “Now before you get going too far, I think we should go to our Mexican come-pad-re.” He motioned to the man sitting next to Kurt in the back seat. “Hi, my name is Enzo Cortes.” The only dark-skinned man in the entire militia, Enzo was used to being singled out, and he didn’t mind. “I own my own real estate company in Tucson, and I’m here because my parents came to America the right way. They didn’t just jump the border and mooch off hard-working Americans.” “Amen to that,” said Snake. “We need more Mexicans just like you.” “I’m actually from Argentina,” he replied. “Hey, my grandpa used to live in Argentina,” Phil chimed in. There was a short, awkward silence as Kurt realized it was his turn to speak. “Hey y’all. I’m Kurt,” he grumbled. “I’m currently…looking for work.” “And why did you join?” “I saw the event on Facebook and just thought I’d check it out.” “Alright.” Kurt went back to looking out the window.
Three years after the incident that caused Kurt to lose most of the hearing in his left ear, he was back in Iraq. His failure to protect his men had nearly cost him his career, and it kept him up most nights. Sergeant Watson had a new squad to lead now, and they were on a mission. Just 45 minutes prior, their Platoon Leader, Lieutenant Bowman, had been shot by a sniper. A West Point graduate who could just as easily discuss 19th century battle tactics or heavy metal music, he was the only member of Kurt’s platoon that he ever could open up to. Not only was Bowman the only one to hear any of Kurt’s jokes, but he was the only person there for Kurt to help guide him through his divorce. This was all fresh on Kurt’s mind as he helped track down the sniper. With his help, they had tracked the sniper to a compound about a mile from where Bowman had been shot. Adrenaline rushed through Kurt as he prepared his men to clear the building. One of the privates kicked down the door, and they entered a hallway with one door on each side and one door at the end. The men broke up into two squads and breached the first two doors. In a moment, he heard the signal that each room was clear. This left only one room for the sniper to be in. He gathered three men from his squad and prepared to breach the final door. Kurt entered last and moved in to see a man with his hands in the air. He searched the man as his men held him at gunpoint. To Kurt’s surprise, all of his pockets were empty. The guy didn’t have a gun, an explosive – not even a wallet. Nonetheless, he was still pretty sure this was the sniper who shot his friend. “Get on your knees,” shouted Kurt. He raised the barrel of his rifle to the petrified man’s face. Kurt’s squad stood behind him, not saying anything. “I want to live,” the man pleaded. “So did my friend.” Kurt pulled the trigger.
16 ---The Tucson Patriot Militia had split into their teams of four to five to watch the border for any suspicious activity. After an hour of patrolling the Nogales border, Kurt’s team finally saw their first opportunity to act. A Hispanic man was walking towards them, about 75 meters away. Phil raised his weapon, but Snake motioned for him to put it down. “Freeze,” yelled Snake. “Put your hands in the air and walk towards me, slowly.” The Hispanic man, terrified, complied with Snake’s orders. “Are you cartel? Or are you trying to sneak across?” The man’s entire body was shaking as he tried to form a sentence. “I’m not either,” he stuttered. “I am tagging Elk.” “Elk?” “Yes, I am a wildlife researcher.” “We’ll see about that when border patrol shows up.” Snake took out his phone and dialed for border patrol, a number he had memorized. Kurt took the initiative to search the man’s pockets. He placed the man’s belongings in a pile as Enzo and Phil held him at gunpoint. All they found were some keys, a bag of beef jerky, and a few pieces of red plastic in a Ziploc bag. “We still have some more searching to do,” said Phil. “You know where these cartel mules like to keep their drugs.” “You know we can’t do that,” said Snake. “As much as we all would like to.” Phil spit. Snake was a lifelong friend of his, and he didn’t like taking orders from him. He turned to Kurt. “Man, I had that wetback in my iron sights. Should have pulled the trigger while I had the chance.” Kurt nodded, but kept his mouth shut. After a few more minutes went by, Kurt saw a black SUV appear in the distance. He rushed to put the stuff they had found back in the Hispanic man’s pockets. The SUV parked and two men stepped out. Both tan and sporting tight blue t-shirts with the words ‘United States Border Patrol’ printed on back, they were almost identical to each other. The only thing distinguishing the two men was the first man’s well-trimmed mustache. The mustached man spoke first. “What seems to be the situation?” “We believe this man might be with a cartel,” said Snake. The border patrol agents huddled for a moment. Kurt notice that they seemed to almost be giggling. They broke their huddle and the mustached man turned to face their Hispanic detainee, “Is that true, Javier?” Kurt and his team looked confused as the agents started laughing. “I see Javier out here all the time,” said the mustached agent. “He works at the local wildlife center, tagging Elk.” “Listen Mister,” Phil’s confusion quickly turned to anger. “These cartels are sophisticated. They can have-” “No, you listen,” said the other agent, “These guys are clean. We can handle this. Go home and let us do our jobs.” Phil’s face turned bright red.
17 “Well why don’t you do your jobs better? I’ve heard cartels are helping ISIS cross the border, and what are you doing about it?” “Wow,” said the agent. “You must have some real good intelligence.” His words carried a level of sarcasm and condescension that Kurt noticed, but everyone else seemed to miss. “Oh yeah,” said Phil. “I even heard that they might be working with Antifa now.” The agent’s face went blank. “Okay,” he said. “Let me be clear: I don’t want to see any of you guys out here playing pretend anymore.” “Too bad,” chimed in Enzo, “it’s called the Constitution.” The agents let out a collective sigh. This was not going to be easy. They sent the researcher on his way before huddling up again, this time for much longer. One of them pulled out his radio and seemed to make some kind of call. Kurt took out a bag of sunflower seeds and began eating as they waited. Some of the other guys put in dips of chewing tobacco. After what seemed like an eternity, a few cars drove up and parked next to the border patrol SUV. Kurt notices a Santa Cruz County Sheriff sticker on one of them. A man in a brown uniform and black billed cowboy hat got out and talked to the border patrol agents before turning to the militia men. “I’m going to need all of you to place your weapons on the ground.” They begrudgingly complied. The mustached agent inspected their rifles while the other agent was saying something to Snake. The sheriff again said something to the mustached agent before turning to address them again. “I’m going to need all of you to come with me.” Kurt finally found his place to speak up. “For what? You can’t just take our guns and detain us for no reason.” “Actually, I can,” said the Sheriff. “You are all in the possession of 30-round magazines. Arizona law only allows for 10.” The men all loudly protested to no avail as the agents cuffed them. They yelled about the tyranny of the government until they were all in the back of the Sheriff’s car on their way to Santa Cruz County jail. On a sunny Saturday morning in Southern Arizona, the Tucson Patriot Militia lost a decisive battle.
"Red Wing" Abby Vakulskas
Andrew Posegay â€œSleepâ€? The universe tilts between your ribs, your hip My hand, the axis, bends light against you, around you Your chest, rising The universe, ablaze
Jimmy Drenovsky “Ode to Creation” “The purpose of literature is to turn blood into ink.” -T.S. Eliot
The writing comes upon me. It’s inside me, it’s inviting. I walk within the doorframe, Feel my spirit stagger blindly. Now I’m reaching, Now I’m falling, Now I’m begging for the concrete. Now I’m bleeding as I lie here Slivers of hope have pierced my hand. Bloody fingers, Bloody knuckles, Now there’s blood upon the pen. I gaze at silly scribbles Hoping sense pops off the page, I am begging for my freedom. I am searching for my name. Let me firmly grasp the days I firmly grasped the pen and page. I will invite spinning blades I will call upon the pain Give me a wick, Give me a light, Give me a page,
22 Give me a pen – NO Let me be wick Let life be light. Let ink inspire, Let it burn bright. Purpose will not soon be found, But still so I will look. I will bleed upon the ground – It will stain with any luck. So I’ll bleed and bleed some more. Screw the ink, I write in red. If you bleed and clean it up, Then your pain is truly dead. I think I’ll bleed, I think I’ll prick, I think I’ll try on all your crowns. Be it bejeweled Or made of thorns Or buried deep beneath the grounds. I’m gonna write, I’m gonna feel, Words will find meaning once again. I’m gonna find my sense of meaning When I’m holding on the pen. I’m gonna take mole hills and mountains, String my words and find my sense. Hell, if I’m lucky then I’ll lose it And create something again.
"Esther 4:14" Haley Wasserman
Michael Welch “Skids” Alexis watched the deer’s eyes. They were dark, like two pieces of coal but glossy as if it had been crying before it died. Except for a streak of blood running from its side it was clean and in better condition than the last one they had stopped for. Its hind leg pointed to the sky, and she wondered if everyone dies like a karate student in mid-kick. But she returned to its eyes, so glossy and large that she thought it would blink at any moment. “Would you mind giving me a hand?” Saint asked, as he pushed the hind leg back in place with a loud crack. “Shouldn’t we wear gloves or something?” Alexis said. “Next time we stop I’ll pick up a pair.” Alexis grabbed the deer by its shoulders, its head resting on her forearm. She imagined that it was watching her, that the poor thing was happy just to be held, even as they threw it into the bed of a ’91 Ford F-250. It made an empty thud, and Saint jumped in to place it on top of the other two. “Damn, that was a good one,” Saint said as they pulled off the side of the road. “That’ll be worth a ton.” In the two weeks she had traveled with Saint, Alexis had learned that clean kills were rare. Normally the animals they picked up were decimated—bodies of deer with heads a mile ahead, raccoons torn in half, dogs blanketed in their intestines. She taught herself to hold back the urge to vomit, but she did cry the first time she picked up a coyote looking more like a botched anatomy dissection than an animal. There wasn’t much to hold it by, so Saint took it by the exposed ribs. “Why do you do this?” she asked on their first day. “It pays the bills,” Saint said. “People don’t want to look at roadkill. I’m the guy that cleans it up.” “That’s disgusting.” “Someone’s gotta do it, babe. So you’re welcome.” At least he was tender about it, as respectful as someone who picks up roadkill for a living could be. One time he found a cat, a slender Siamese with its blue eyes spoiled with blood, crushed so thoroughly it looked like a part of the road. Alexis thought she saw him tear up as he scraped it off with a shovel. “He reminds me of a cat I had when I was a kid,” he said. “My mom got drunk and locked him in the freezer overnight.” After about a week and a half she learned to hold back her disgust, to grab something by the legs when its stomach was torn open and to never make eye contact. They were never out of money because there was always enough work. Everything dies painfully in Iowa. They worked until the sun touched the tops of the cornfields. Then Saint would drive to the nearest motel. The places were filthy, a one floor square compound where people traded cigarettes around the trash compactor and women in short skirts and high heels leaned against
25 parked trucks. For the first few days Saint bought two rooms, just like a gentleman. Alexis appreciated it, but on the fourth day she snuck in after he’d turn the lights out and got into bed with him. Saint let her rest her head on his chest, and his shallow breaths put her to sleep. They did this for almost a month. She met Saint when she was still at University of Iowa. Alexis was a freshman, working at the truck stop Denny’s a few miles off of campus. Back in Chicago she had worked at a pizza place and could never keep up with the rush; would’ve been fired too if the owner wasn’t her uncle. But the only thing these truckers wanted was a cup of coffee and conversation. They were either weary or wired, no in-between. Alexis would always ask them where they were coming from. New York, San Jose, Quebec. A big guy with a double chin and mustard stained t-shirt told her that he drove over the Golden Gate Bridge last week and recommended she see it. Alexis began making a list of places she would go. “Where are you coming from?” she asked Saint that first time. He was sitting in the corner booth, holding his face near the coffee cup and digging his finger into the curls of his brown hair. He was thin but with an athletic frame, and though he looked exhausted he was always smiling, even as she spilled coffee all over the table when she was refilling his cup. It was an electric look—like he was here only for her. “Ames,” he told her. “Sorry, I know it’s not as exciting as that guy’s over there. What was it, Juneau or something?” “I guess I’m okay with that. Why don’t you tell me about Ames?” “Well there’s a lot of corn, but I’m sure you already figured that. Are you from here?” “Chicago,” she said, wiping up the puddle of coffee. “Chicago, huh? Tell you what, if you tell me what to see, I’ll head there next.” He waited for her answer with a smile, like he knew what she would say and had already planned the answer. “I honestly can’t think of anything right now,” Alexis said. “Well then maybe you should come with me and we could figure it out together,” he said. For a half of a moment he was serious, inviting her with his eyes as he took a sip of his coffee. Then he laughed. “It’s an open offer.” But there she was, sitting shotgun of a truck speeding down the highway to Des Moines. It didn’t happen immediately. She was only a freshman in college anyway, just getting into her classes and her parties. It wasn’t until spring semester, when the first snowstorm of the winter smothered the ground in white, that she actually considered it. But even the first time Saint said something, the offer to leave, she was intrigued. “Take a look at the skid marks,” Saint told her at their first pickup. It was a deer, its fur matted in blood and neck snapped skyward. Deep black tire marks etched a half circle around it like poorly drawn body chalk. Saint traced the lines in air with his fingertip. “The skid marks tell the story. You can see the guy tried to swerve, hit the poor bastard, and then regained control before he went off the road.” He took the deer in his arms like a sleeping baby.
26 “Like telling a fortune. The skid always knows,” he said. “But what if I don’t want to know?” Alexis saw skids everywhere after that. The highways were painted in them, sharp curves cut on the shoulders, making large S’s that sometimes ended straight and other times off into the cornfields. It haunted her. When Saint turned up the radio she told herself stories of the skids. There was one that went diagonally from the left lane to the darkness to her right. Alexis imagined a young girl driving home from work at the local townie bar, two shots that were gifted to her swirling in her gut, checking a text that her ex-boyfriend sent for just a second before careening off the side. She survived, but her head hasn’t been the same since. Another skid mark went into the guardrail off the bridge. Alexis imagined an older man who had a heart attack after learning his wife of 32 years had passed away in her sleep. He went off the side and joined her. She hated that she did this, that she couldn’t stop doing it if she tried. It was bad enough cradling a dead black lab in her arms, but then she had to start thinking about where it had come from, who was out looking for their pet, who ran over it like it was a bump in the road, and did they stop to check what they had done. Saint told her she was a sweet soul, that he was sorry for making her see this. “We’ll have enough money soon to go on a real trip. Then we won’t have to do this anymore,” he told her. He threw out names—Boston and New York and Nashville and Seattle. But all they ever saw together was Iowa. Alexis believed him, though. So she watched every track that led to the cold, empty eyes of their next pickup, and eventually she followed the skids in her own mind—wondering how she got here and if she was even still on the road. The university placed her in Burge Hall with a petite redhead marketing major named Mattie. She was from a small town in Iowa that had its bible belt buckled a loop too tight. She helped her father tend the farm in the mornings and cooked the meals at night. For all her hard work he gave her a small thing of whiskey when he dropped her off at school and told her to be good. Mattie and Alexis shared the bottle that first night. They went to a frat party; she couldn’t remember which one exactly and she figured she never would, but it had a sign outside that read “Freshmen—$10, Bitches—Free.” She was warm with whiskey and quickly she was dancing in the mass of skirts and skins. A few guys tried to join her, but she pushed them off until she found one with blue eyes and shirtsleeves hugging his biceps. “You seem like you’ve done this before,” he told her, moving his body against hers. “I’ve been around,” she told him. When she woke up in his bed the next day he was gone. She walked home smiling, her body stiff, head pounding. Mattie called her the sexiest girl in Burge, and the guys tended to agree. As things were beginning to turn with Saint, about a month and a half in, Alexis would ask him why he never called her pretty. “Because you already know it,” he told her.
27 In junior year of high school an ex-boyfriend called her a dumbass, which when she was really down on herself, she agreed with. She barely scraped by in high school, only got into University of Iowa because her aunt was a tenured professor of European History there. Even so, she took a mechanical engineering class her first semester, thinking fuck you, Steve. She failed it. Actually, she just counted it as a failure. Alexis dropped the class after the first test, so she quit more than she failed, which was what her advisor told her. You get that from your father, her mom told her once. One day I’m expecting to look up and you’ll be gone. So she wasn’t the smartest, sure. Alexis lived on her looks, which did more for her than anything she learned in school anyway. When she was a kid other parents used to talk about how much of a heartbreaker she would grow up to be. Then it was her teachers telling her she was a distraction to the boys. Then the boys became men and called her sexy, baby, and behind her back, easy. Benefits included never paying for drinks, continuous compliments, and always having an audience. Negatives included catcalls, more than infrequent reach arounds, and everyone she knew having an ulterior motive. But the good always outweighed the bad. Those who didn’t receive much attention would never understand, but there’s something intoxicating about being wanted, being what catches the eye. Even when she had a boyfriend she heard guys whisper, the way some got nervous when she acknowledged them and how others moved closer, calculating every action and semiharmless touch to her arm or curve of her lower back. It was control. Then when they felt comfortable, or when she was bored, she moved on—daddy’s little girl. Sometimes Alexis would try to picture her father, to recreate him in her mind. He was a thick man, not heavy but weighed down by age. He beamed in old pictures with a smile that no one could turn away from, and though Alexis didn’t remember it, her mom told her that he was the most charming man she had ever met. When family friends visited, which became less and less frequent over the years, her father led every conversation with a laugh that touched every corner of the room. Alexis remembered him setting down his beer to pull her into his lap on the recliner and rocking her back and forth until she fell asleep against his chest. But she could not remember what his face looked like. In fact when she pictured herself in his lap she was always looking up at a faceless man with a moustache—the color of his eyes, the shape of his nose, and now even his famous smile just a projection of her imagination onto her father’s face. Before falling asleep, Alexis would still try to bring him back in her memories. But if she was looking for the start of her skid, it was Halloween weekend when Mattie downed three quarters of a handle of vodka and collapsed at a frat’s “Halloween Hoes” party. Their president and head of risk management freaked out and drove her back to the dorm. They dropped her at the front steps, soiled and gurgling bubbles of spit and vomit into the grass. An RA found her and called 911, but there was so much alcohol inside her that the doctors couldn’t even pump her stomach. She lay there for a day and a half breathing through a tube. When she got out her dad took her back home, and Alexis never saw her again. And then Alexis was alone. She didn’t have many friends—Mattie was the closest thing she had—so her empty dorm room was something of a curse. She began inviting more guys over to her room, but most of them didn’t stay for long. What she really wanted was to talk to someone before she went to bed, but they always had an excuse to leave. Alexis began to hate coming home
28 to an empty room. She’d leave C-SPAN on all night so she could hear the voices. It was budget deficit and election talk, sure, but for the lonely even monotone old men can be something of a comfort. “Mattie left,” Alexis told her mother when she called a week later. “I don’t think she’s coming back. Mom, I don’t think I want to be here anymore.” “I’m so sorry, honey. Do you want to come home?” The line was quiet. She thought of quitting, of running away. “No.” A few weeks later she got the job at Denny’s and five days after that Saint walked in. “What are your plans?” Saint asked after she went with him. They were lying on a blanket in the emptied out bed of the pickup truck. The sky looked like a bloody gash as the sun fell beneath the horizon. Saint had pulled off the road and cut a short path into one of the cornfields. The nearly grown stalks reminded Alexis of the skyscrapers in Chicago. Both made her feel dwarfed among something much larger than she’d ever be, the sky only visible when you make an effort to crane your neck. “I don’t know yet,” she said, finishing one beer of their thirty pack. “But I don’t want to go back to school.” “What do you want to do?” Alexis wasn’t sure, so she didn’t answer. “Do you know what I think you want?” Saint said. “I think you want to actually go and live. You’re a wanderer, honey. Like me.” She saw the shape of his smile in the approaching darkness. He threw a beer can into the distance. When Saint said it, it sounded good to her. “You should stay with me,” Saint said. “We can go west first and then swoop back east. Wherever you want. You’re in control.” They had sex that night in the field, sinking into the mud and grabbing at the stalks, which waved in the wind with a breathy whistle like their very own choir. Lying there, caked in the earth with lips to her neck, it felt like the first time. The next day Saint took her shopping, realizing that if they were going to be traveling she would need more than her bag of clothes that she decided to bring with her. They walked the line of racks, thumbing through hangers of clothes. She chose a few things, a blouse and summer dress. Saint didn’t like either, and picked out ripped jeans and a tank top instead. “Just think of how great this’ll look on you,” he told her. That’s what they bought. Which was fine, and when she tried it on she did like it. They celebrated at a burger place just outside of Ames, Saint’s favorite. “Are you happy?” he asked later that night as he cupped her cheek with his hand. “I am,” Alexis said. “I am.” And she was. A lot happier than she had been at school. Because school itself was a skid, one that she didn’t correct. Because after Mattie went MIA, Alexis went out more just to get out of the empty dorm. Because things were beginning to slip, from her grades to her motivation to her slim figure because alcohol will do that. And to get over it she went out more. And besides, the guys searched her out and held their hands carefully until they could put their lips to her
29 neck. And even though they didn’t stay, she was warm when resting her head on their chests. She didn’t even care much for the sex, just the contact. And though she would never tell anyone this, picking up a deer corpse was surprisingly similar—soft and warm against her skin. “Are things getting better?” her mother asked during a call. Alexis turned the radio down in the truck before she answered. “A lot better.” “I’m so proud of you for sticking it out, honey,” she said. “I love you.” “Mom, I have to go. Class is about to start.” Sometimes the animals weren’t dead yet. Alexis cried the first time it happened, a dog so skinny that it was more ribs than stomach. When she put her arms around it the dog turned its head to her, its chest heaving as it gasped for air, whimpering into the gravel. Sometimes Saint left them there to die, telling her that it was more humane. But this time he carried the dog for her, set it in the truck on top of another animal they’d picked up, and led her to the passenger side door. Even as they drove off Alexis could hear the cries behind her, clashing with the hum of the engine. Alexis wondered if men ever notice the cries of an animal they are killing. She used to watch the squirrels scurry before the wheels of her car as her dad sped up to hit them. Other people would slam on their brakes, but her father was firm, as if he didn’t notice them pause in the middle of the road, shocked to stiffness at what she imagined was their lives flashing before their eyes. “That’s sick,” her mother said, hitting him on the arm. But even then he was smiling, even laughing a bit like it was all a big joke, which then reminded her of her first trip to the shooting range—the memories stringing together like the bead bracelets she used to make in her room when her parents fought. She couldn’t have been more than seven at the time, but that’s when she had her first beer, there in the ramshackle cabin in the backwoods of northern Wisconsin after her father’s ten gauge knocked her on her ass. There was something incredibly enticing about it, despite the pee-like smell and the acidic taste when she burped it back up into her mouth. It felt dangerous and exciting, drinking that beer with her dad as he put his hand on her shoulder and smiled. “Don’t tell your mother,” he said. Alexis didn’t. And although she didn’t know it at the time, that was the start of the first skid—The moment she took another sip and told her mother that nothing exciting happened. Alexis had become complicit in a lie, had chosen her father over her mother. It was a small lie, but from then on Alexis could never tell her mother about anything her father did. She couldn’t tell her when her father began bringing open beers into the car when he drove her to class or swim practice, hiding them under upside-down drink cozies. She couldn’t tell her about the things her father said about her on the golf course. They were horrible, vicious words that Alexis learned men only use to describe women. She couldn’t tell her about the way he talked to pretty women at the bars and restaurants he took her to, sounding so sweet in that lower, rougher voice as they exchanged numbers with the check. Alexis couldn’t tell her about how she knew it was wrong, all of it, and how she hated how her father used her. When he introduced
30 himself to these strangers he’d say, “And that’s my little girl, Alexis. She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on.” Alexis couldn’t say anything because even if she didn’t want to be, she was now her father’s daughter, daddy’s little girl, his confidant and spittin’ image. So when he swore she knew she would one day be vulgar. When he flirted she knew she would be unfaithful. And when he left for good Alexis knew she would always run away. As Alexis sat listening to the dying dog whimper in the bed of the truck, she promised not to run away again. Alexis understood herself now—she’d run away because it was the easier thing to do. Sometimes she just felt the need to leave, because it just felt better to disappear and move on. “I think we should start those travel plans we’ve been talking about,” Alexis said. “We will soon, don’t worry,” Saint said. The dog howled in the back. “You’ve been saying that for a while now.” “What, you’re not enjoying scenic Iowa?” Saint smiled. “I need to go somewhere new,” she said. “And we will. Just trust me.” “I need to know when.” “Alexis.” “Can we at least talk about it?” “Will you stop, please?” Saint said. “I just need to know.” “Alexis, please.” “I just—“ “Will you shut the fuck up for a goddamn second?” Saint spat, “Is that physically possible for you?” Saint slammed his fist against the dashboard. For a second there was something hateful in his eyes, but almost immediately he smiled. Charming. The dog had gone silent. “I’m sorry, honey. That’s not who I am.” It’s scary to realize that there are hidden sides to a loved one; hateful, vicious, ugly sides. Alexis remembered one night waking up from a bad dream and running to her parent’s bedroom. Her mother was out at a PTA meeting, but she could hear her dad upstairs. The stairs creaked beneath her. The door was half closed, so she slipped in through the opening. Her dad was packing shirts into a suitcase, rolling them into balls to make them fit. When he saw her, he zippered the lid closed and placed it in the back of the closet. “What’re you doing?” Alexis asked. “Just putting some clothes away.” “It looks like you’re packing.” Her dad took her hand and led her to the edge of the bed. “Look, honey,” he said. “Some things don’t make a lot of sense until we get older. And I want you to stay my little girl for as long as possible.” “Are you going somewhere?”
31 She felt small as he held her close. His eyes didn’t leave hers. “No.” So when he left the next day, Alexis knew her father had lied to her. But she would continue to wonder if she had realized in hindsight or if she knew the moment he said no. Did she see in his eyes that he was a liar? Or had she invented that in her head years later? Alexis and Saint stopped at a motel a few miles from the highway. She didn’t sleep. Instead she rested her head on his chest, trying to match her breaths with his. In the darkness his figure was almost skeletal. He was so calm it seemed that the man lying next to her was a different person entirely from the one in the car earlier. This was a man Alexis could stay with. She knew it.
“Where do you want to go?” Saint asked a week later. They were stopped to pick up a bludgeoned crow. Saint threw it into the trunk like a basketball. “What made you change your mind?” Saint smiled. “I figured there’s no avoiding it anymore.” Saint started the car and pulled back onto the road. “D.C., Philly, Cap Cod?” he said. “Bismarck, Missoula, Seattle? “Alexis, are you listening?” “Sorry I’m just thinking,” she said, the words like tar in her mouth. “Thinking of where to go.” “San Fran, Reno, Phoenix? Nashville, Atlanta, Miami?” Her mother called after they had parked for the night. “When are you coming home for winter break, honey?” she asked. Alexis looked at Saint, who was lying on the motel bed reading a map he had bought at a gas station, running his fingers over the vein-like highway lines that exited Iowa City. “Actually, I think I’ll stay at school over break. I want to make a little extra money.” Another lie.
Alexis packed in the bathroom, door closed so as not to wake Saint. She strung her clothes over the sink and the rim of the tub, lined her toothbrush and makeup along the toilet tank. She didn’t have much. She made sure to turn the lights off before she opened the bathroom door. Placing the bag at her feet, she watched Saint sleep, who was snoring slightly and sprawled across the extra space on the bed. Alexis fought to swallow with a lump in her throat. She thought to rest her head on his chest again. She left instead. Clouds of her breath hung in the air as she walked to the truck. It was lightly sleeting and catching on the concrete in thin layers of slush.
32 “Mom?” Alexis said to the answering machine. “I’m sorry, I know it’s late. But I’d really like to come home for the weekend. I’ll be there by the morning. I love you.” The lights of the motel disappeared quickly in her rearview mirror. There were no street lamps and her headlights did little to cut through the darkness and sleet. The crow made a hollow noise against the metal as it rolled around in the truck bed, which was still stained in the blood of all the bodies that came before it. As she crossed the bridge leading south her car swerved towards the guardrail, but she corrected herself and continued forward.
Jacob Stephen “Thanks for Asking” dead fish began to fall from the sky in a rush of slimy gills and wet thuds just before the Leaning Tower of Pisa stopped leaning and just after a spaceship skidded across the Scottish Highlands, which woke the Loch Ness monster from her dreamless slumber and angered her so much that she swam like a dagger through a fog to New York City and flipped Manhattan perfectly on its side which made the city look like a broken keyboard and then my dog was run over by a Coke truck and my mom told me she was Trump in disguise and in a rush of panic every boy and every girl started to kiss and hold the person nearest to them for fear of their lives and I kissed a boy and he tasted of peppermint and smelled of spring after a long winter and that is when I “discovered” I was gay.
Leah Costik â€œThis, to No Addresseeâ€? this is a letter to expound on dainty death: this is the hen the fox stole in the night; silence abounds now, this is to trudging through swamps; bogged down, this is: an orange peeled naked, self-conscious, an egg cracked-- the shell, the white, and the yellow yolk, this is for heaving a boulder up a hill; Sisyphusâ€™ sister, this is for pulling persistent thorns from tender heels, this is for the namelessness of the thing.
Jacob Riyeff “Dawn Breaks on the Rock, or, Der Abgrundskinder” What thing I am I do not know. I wander secluded, burdened by my mind. When the firstborn of Truth has come to me I receive a share in that selfsame Word. —Rg Veda 1.164.37 (trans. R Panikkar)
The Rock River’s comforting scent snaked into my nostrils, rousing various layers of memory, calling to semi-consciousness the events and moods of a host of faded days without much effect as I closed the driver's side door. Over the low limestone wall hanging above this most precious muddied water, you’d find carp—obscure and ominous figures just below the surface, mouths gaping just above the current as they gather below the dam to feed in the early morning sun. They invaded decades ago, monstrous dark fish that kids from the Fourth Ward would catch just to smack senseless on the river path. I was once informed by a man who clearly had no ties to the community that only the Hmong immigrants actually ate them. The cars moved predictably down Franklin Street as I crossed over to the Alpine Grill, a dive diner I’d been devoted to since my dad introduced me and my friends to the place in high school. The brick façade was plain, a newspaper machine stationed reverently by a single glass door. That morning there were more cigarette butts lying on the ground than in years past, as they had banned smoking while I was living out of state. But those Wisconsin mornings of ten below: we would walk down the hill, down Main Street, past darkened houses in the pre-dawn black—impenetrable by the mind or voice as the flesh seized up against the frozen air, invading the lungs like iron hands intending gelid harm. A small pack of us would trek along the river and into the warm sanctuary filled with yellow neon light and a terrible cloud of blue-grey slinking from an array of Pall Malls, Old Golds, Marlboros—the windows squared black holes setting off patrons' hats, advertising various area plumbing, heating, and concrete businesses. The smoke so thick you needed to take three or four sips of the burnt coffee before adequately starting to taste it. But then you did. And Nancy would take your order at 5:40 in the morning, another hour before the sun would begin to peek its pink hues over the river and give some mocking nod to February warmth. But this morning was languid, almost hot. This morning I was alone. Or not alone—in a plan ridiculous looking back, Publius Ovidius Naso was with me in his Metamorphoses, which I had planned on reading over several cups of coffee with a platter of heavily greased potatoes and eggs. I made a beeline for the end of the counter, the last Naugahyde stool. Book twelve. Latreus begins to insult Caenus in a terribly misogynistic (and characteristic) fashion, Caenus won’t have it and throws a spear, which lands directly— Isaac Raev! I heard from the table set back against the northeast window. No one in this factory town of German and Irish immigrants ever seemed to notice the opaque East European
36 Jewish nature of my name—just thought it was weird, I suppose. I was always fond of it, even though Pop (my father’s grandfather) didn’t practice and the extent of Hebrew culture my brother and I received from three generations of patriarchs was the exclaiming of Mazal tov! at celebratory moments. But this brings us to my dad’s family and New York, and this is a story about my mom’s family and the upper Midwest. Molly! I called back, genuinely happy to see my grandma’s cousin framed by the farmthemed knickknacks and low-angled sunlight. She sauntered over on two bad hips and knees as I laid Ovid gently next to the warm off-white ceramic mug to my right. How's your mom? she asked as she sidled up to the counter, putting one octogenarian foot up on the stool-step and leaning in to hear my response. Oh, she's good—work and grandma, but you know... Throughout the ensuing series of questions I began glancing furtively back down to my book as if to suggest that I really must be getting back, struggling to honor my elder and hold to my literary plan at the same time. Oh! Bill, Phyllis—Isaac, come over and sit with us, she said, noticing an elderly couple behind my stool. There was no need to add: I insist. Pulling up a mud-brown chair, I left Ovid abandoned at the counter and began sipping my newly-filled coffee as Molly made introductions: Bill, this is Wayne's grandson. Never before in my life had an introduction in diner, parish, school, or street made me reevaluate my relationship with the past in such a total and staggering way—with the human community, the rocks and stream beds of southcentral Wisconsin up to Pelican Lake and down to Galena over the border in Illinois, the sprawling forests and ponderous mountain ranges of Germany and Switzerland, great-uncles and third cousins, miners and farmers and washwomen and carpenters that somehow share genetic material with me. I never knew "Wayne," because he was my grandfather and had died when I was two. There are no memories of him to recall in the deep places of my mind—not even those archetypal, almost mythic memories of early childhood. To be somehow assimilated to this name, to be explained to someone else by reference to this name, to have my irreducible personhood introduced to a stranger by means of the name "Wayne" in that diner on Franklin Street above the Rock River as I absent-mindedly fingered the handle of a coffee mug, a name that referred to a flesh-and-blood man for all three of the other people at the table—gone from the earth for two decades—but that was only a name to me (and this, in the very opposite of irony, since I carry his name between my first and last) unsettled something I couldn't quite grasp in the moment. But a world began opening up around the table, the diner, in a strange light. Bill said at little more than a whisper, Ah—Wayne. Wayne was a good man, as he looked down into his coffee. For Bill, a brittle figure with a blue cap covering his pomaded hair and a heavy flannel shirt, this was clearly all there was to say, though perhaps he didn't have any other words to use before a deceased man's grandson. But I admit that I did take comfort in his assessment, suddenly associated with this war-era version of masculinity and uprightness, even if the stories I had heard certainly did not sketch my grandfather as a conventional saintly character.
37 My mother had driven us up to Edgerton, further up the Rock, where "Tobacco Heritage Days" is celebrated in the depths of July, down from Newville where my great-great-aunt Mamie's hill-top house had been converted into a small convenience store. We turned onto Rollin Street, where Tom Fiedler, Wayne's father, had set up house with his then-wife, my great-grandmother. (He would later leave his small family for one of the women he saw on the side, moving all the way down to Florida to pretend he had no commitments in a small farming community twelve-hundred miles away. His grave is in St. Augustine.) We drove past, mom telling stories of her own childhood and relatives still living but that I would never meet, the house's peaceful exterior holding sadness at bay. And as we glided slowly past, I wondered, with a sense of that universal human pain of family and "doing what we have to do," whether the yellow-sided walls and oak tree canopy had embraced great-grandma’s pain or trapped it. For all the stories of mid-century fun and discipline mom tells—no exemption from chores for home-sickness, helping out on grandma Mary's farm and evading her ornery pigs, choking down buttermilk at dinner because one didn't question one's elders even as great-aunt Gertrude laughed behind her dress-cuffs at the practical joke she was playing on her ten-year-old niece— I admit those terrible stories of pain, of love unrequited, adultery, abuse, drinking, derailing trains, of murder and suicide in the woods, are what permeate my melancholy desire for family and history. And yet the distance between me and all these figures—Fiedlers and Füsslis, Kunkels and Koehls, Ruosches and Rorschachs ranging over several counties and heading back over centuries to one area of Prussia or Switzerland or another—gives them free rein to haunt me in ways that my immediate family's own pain never can. Their descendants are there, but for reasons of bad blood I never knew them growing up, never had much actual contact with these walls of distant relations, the places they farmed and settled, the rural Midwest culture they made with their breath, their sweat, their lovemaking to the wrong person in the middle of a Wisconsin night below a farm-bound moon. Other interests took me far away from there until, when I came back, I no longer felt them around me. A sense of shed tradition left the space about me blank, the banks of the Rock providing a measure of groundedness and home in a world I knew but didn't know, that knew me without me knowing it. Are all of us reaching the peak of adulthood in the aging twentyfirst century—not old, but certainly no longer new—pursued by this same sense of not knowing? By the historical abyss? Amid the sandy, bark-brown shores and train-crossed towns, the fields of corn and soy-beans with their silo-sentinels keeping guard, what centuries-old rat has been gnawing at our cultural and familial roots, leaving forgetful world-droppings in his static wake? I off-handedly noted something about how I hadn’t ever known Grandpa, but at that singular moment at a four-top Formica table at the Grill, Molly sat next to me, making me part of the family again, Bill and Phyllis witnessing my meager reincorporation into a network of pained but related lives. After some polite but unremarkable conversation, I paid my small bill and told my new acquaintances dutifully that it was very nice to meet them. Then, picking up my unread Ovid and nodding in filial piety to Molly, I walked past the nicotine-stained counter and down the three rubber-tipped steps, pushing the glass door open as I sprang into the sunlight, welcomed
38 by the waving green shed by the maples that line the far shore of the Rock. I recall nothing else about that day. A few years later, some local restaurateur bought the Grill in order to close it downâ€”not good for his other ventures, I hear. There is a hole now down on Franklin Street, and I havenâ€™t run into Molly since.
Jacob Stephen â€œForgettingâ€? A piece of your mother falls to the floor each time she loses her car keys. The pieces shatter into a dust that spreads like dropped sugar on the floor and tastes like the sweet memory dripping from her mind. Her keys are in her jacket pocket and under the cover of the bright summer sun she laughs while you shield your eyes from all that is before you. Autumn arrives dressed in the color of dreams you cannot remember come morning. She reaches for the moon and the stars begin to weep. The leaves sing to her a song filled with lyrics of letting go.
Peter Spaulding “Numen Flumenque” The glassy eye is ocean deep. Paolo’s beard-rimmed mouth spat leeward as we boarded the creaking paraw bobbing on the coming tide that dusk. I leaned my weight against the bamboo outrigger, digging my heels into underwater sand, and we pushed off. We drank San Mig and smoked our way, in the halogen light, out to the subaquanian ridge, ang malaking silangan they called it. Paolo’s learned smile looked on our drinking and noise. Standing darkly at the helm, he guided us into the failing light and the only-darkness beyond. As we crossed the ridge the sea turned from gray to impossible, perfect black. Was it the boat or our heads swimming as he cut the engine, clutched the halogen lamp from the decktable, and cast it into the black-wine sea like a sleeping stowaway for Tarshish? We jumped in after it, the saltwater sting in our eyes, as we watched it dropping dropping dropping; and just before the depths crushed out the light, an enormous shift broke in the deep, a darkness rose up, some prelapsarian mass, some unseen face on the deep, or some leviathan limb, turning, seeing our frivolous laughter. We rode back in dark silence interrupted only by the living glow of cigarette.
Peter Spaulding “Waxhaw, NC—2008” For Joel We walk barefoot down the blacktop of the road extending from the dirt driveway of your house, kicking a too-deflated soccer ball between us like we always had before: casually, on the high school field that had seemed so huge to us then. Sycamores overhead make flowy constellations on the cooling road, so the only thing that really hurts the bottoms of our feet are the pebbles and little blacktop clods that tires have worn away from the road – kicked up and randomly arrayed both on and off the blacktop. Sometimes the back of a heel comes down hard on a blacktop shard and aside from a quick shift in the eyebrows there’s little evidence of any pain, rather just the quick-adjust to catch up with the next pass sent a little too far ahead. But the grass is a relief when you chase the ball into the ditch. I’d like to think I’d always been the better passer, but maybe you are better at even that too, and I’ve just fancied myself a great playmaker because that was what your finishes have turned me into. We run through the backyard shirtless on our way back from the pond, tattooed with strange shapes of caked mud, when the neighbor kids ambush us. We put them in their place in basketball; their feet aren’t as callous. They really just want some fun. They remind us of us a couple years ago, and we are already, at thirteen, nostalgic for that childhood we see in them. We bike downtown and two black kids try to trade us bikes. Probably not a fair trade. The sidewalks scorch our feet; the bike pedals leave indents. But feeling the wind on them on the off pedal is a relief, and the ride back home isn’t long. Summer sings in the voice of cicada and the crack of Coke cans opening. We don’t need the sugar any more than the breeze, but they both find us on the porch. We sit in your room shooting bb’s at each other point-blank, squealing at the pain, hating each other, wrestling a little, then turning on Will: taking turns punching him in the arm and pelleting him passing. He never really deserved that from us. Now he’s a long-haired, bookish, granola-type and proud. We talk about the girls we’re gonna marry and then shoot each other with more bb’s and then chase your cat around the basement until we give up with swollen-red lines of cat-scratch all over our chests, arms, backs, hands. She really did deserve that from us. We laugh at the claw marks the next day at the river float, when we take off our shirts on the shore. You flip your inner tube so much that it never really dries on the non-water side. I can’t remember if your mom drove the car to meet us downriver or if there was a bus. Every time I about dried Will would splash my warming stomach and deserve another capsizing. That night we sat on the back porch with your dad and mom and brother and sister and drank unsweet tea uncharacteristic of the locale, watching Bruiser run in not-quite-straight lines towards innocent birds, laughing at his tongue-out eye-rolling running. And already we could feel it slipping away from grip: that which you are told not to hold on to. Summers and Springtimes are not cruel, but nostalgia is often mistaken as such, and we weren’t old enough yet to tell the difference between the two. Perhaps we can now.
Emily Kuether “Opinions” I haven’t got any. I am a blue rock floating in a deep ravine. I could pick at my port or let the cat lick it, suck out the infection and leave my body as dry as a desert rose. It doesn’t really make a difference to me. I am a ghost in a shell of reverie, Taxol puffs up my veins like a down-filled coat that brings me no comfort. My face is porcelain blue and cold, like my bathroom tile, where I am sick again. Radiation burn bleeds out my eyes, black cherry pits that I used
44 to suck on, then spit out before my mouth was sore. I am dreaming that I lay in a field of clover, but that is just my killer, camouflaged, creeping in. I havenâ€™t really said anything in weeks. No agency, not even in my sleep.
"Firelight" Annah Horst
Edi Kuhn “Tooth and Nail (8/5/15)” I fought with my heart. Literally, with my pink, muscly heart. The heart I cut out of my chest With a tooth I found on the floor And a nail I pulled from the wall. I used the slimy, bleeding bundle of cells To beat you over the head with.
Kaley Rohlinger “Eleanor” The girl runs by at 3:15 today, just like she has the past four days. I tell myself I won't look up at her, just like I have the past four days. And just like I have the past four days, I look up at her anyway. She's wearing bright pink shorts today, and another t-shirt with a volleyball logo on it. Her hair is in its usual ponytail, but there's a little braid leading into it. It looks nice. Her legs—they're nice legs, which I try not to notice too much—carry her into my field of vision and then out of it. I watch her ponytail swish behind her until she goes over the hill and disappears from sight. I have my own reasons for hating that hill, but I've never hated it like this. I used to think I knew this park like the back of my hand, but she appeared on Monday at precisely 3:15, like some wild, exotic freckle. (If I ever meet her, I'm sure she'd be thrilled to hear that description.) I'd never seen her in the park before, which is saying something, considering I've occupied this bench every weekday, from three to four p.m., for the past two years. It's a great bench—the closest to the parking lot, and perfectly situated with one half of it in the shade and the other half in the sun. I started coming here because my mom wanted me to get some fresh air. It's not so bad, really. I bring a book, I sit on my bench, and after an hour she comes and picks me up. She does a lot for me, which I try to remember when she says mom things like "You need some fresh air." I never understood what she meant until I saw the girl. It's not like there aren't other runners in the park—plenty of people go by—but she was the first to make me lose my page. It wasn't that she was wearing anything special, or running out of form (as if I would know). It was just something about her: the way her feet hit the ground without making a sound, the way her legs pumped in perfect synchronization with her arms, the swinging blonde ponytail and steady gaze on the path ahead. It was almost as if she was gliding. I didn't think much of it until the next day, when she ran by again. The same girl, the same time, the same effortless movement. I watched her that time, too. On Wednesday, I tried not to get my hopes up, but I saw her again, and Thursday, too. I'm starting to think someone's performing a Pavlovian experiment on me, because today I was counting the minutes until 3:15. I wonder what she's like—if she speaks as effortlessly as she moves, if her ponytail swishes when she laughs. I realize with a blush that I want to see her laughing, want to be the one to make it happen. It wouldn't—couldn't—never in a million years. I’m lucky just to have my feet on the same pavement as her. I wonder if she'll be here tomorrow. I won't be—Saturday and Sunday are my days off from fresh air. I wonder if she'll notice I'm gone. Then I wonder if she's even noticed I'm here.
47 When my mom picks me up, she asks how fresh the air was. It's a running gag between us now: sometimes I say Ziploc fresh; some days it's stale. We spend a lot of time together, she and I, and I know it's not easy having a kid like me, so I play along as much as I can. Over the weekend, I think about the girl, and by three o'clock on Monday, I'm practically trembling with anticipation. "Something wrong, John?" Mom asks. I realize my fingers have been tapping impatiently on the armrest. "No." I stop craning my neck to look for the girl and shake my head. "Alright. I'll see you at four." "Thanks Mom. Love you." She leaves, and I'm left with my bench and my book. But unlike most days at the park, I can't bring myself to open it. I'm too afraid I'll miss her if she goes by. I settle on holding it open and pretending to read, knowing exactly how creepy that is. My eyes stay on my watch the entire time. And at 3:15, she appears, from the corner at the far edge of the path. I'm both relieved and anxious, and I'm embarrassed at how anticlimactic it feels when she runs by. She's just a person. Just like me. She moves, and eventually she stops. Just like me, if maybe a little differently. She's gone a few moments after she appears, and anyone else probably would have thought nothing of it, but I feel strangely fulfilled. With my mind at ease, I can return to being the me that gets absorbed in books. I don't look up for the next three people that pass by. I do look up when the bench moves. For a second, I'm terrified that it's going to collapse beneath me and leave me helpless on the ground. Then I realize that it's the girl who's sat down next to me, and my terror grows by a hundred. If she was eye-catching from a distance, she’s brain-function-stopping beautiful up close. She’s looking at me with bright blue eyes that are crinkled into a playful smile, and my mind is so foggy that when her mouth moves, it takes me a minute to process the words. “You were here last week, too, right?” In my mind, we’d always been from two separate realities: she the fast-moving, colorful world of the sidewalk and me the latent observer on the bench. Hearing her voice makes me realize we exist on the same plane. She’s waiting for an answer. I manage to nod. She smiles. “What are you reading?” I hold up my book. "Tolkien," I say, and regret it instantly because it sounds pretentious. “Ah,” she nods, and inspects the cover. “So you're a nerd.” Her grin is bright, clearly teasing, and I laugh in relief. “I guess so, yeah.” The smile stays. “Do you read much?” I rub the back of my neck and decide to try and say something clever. “I hate to confirm the ‘nerd’ accusation, but yeah.” She laughs, and it makes me feel like I’ve summited Everest. “That’s cool.” I pretend to wince. “Is it?”
48 She laughs again, and then there’s a quiet between us, the tentative silence of people who don’t know what they are to each other. She breaks it first. “I’m Elsie.” I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for this reveal of information, as I’m now the official beholder of the knowledge of her name. I stick my hand out. “John.” “Nice to meet you, John.” She has soft hands, and a handshake that even the most diligent Boy Scout would approve of. “You too,” I say, and then I test her name out on my tongue. “Elsie.” Tuesday I’ve never analyzed anything the way I over-analyze the wave Elsie gives me when she runs by. I’m full of anticipation when her head appears around the corner; I don’t know if I want her to acknowledge me, ignore me, or both. She waves, but keeps running. After a while she comes around again, at a slow jog, and stops in front of my bench. “Hey,” she says. She looks magnificent today, in black shorts and a shirt that makes her eyes look bluer than the sky. “Hi,” I say back. Elsie squints at the cover of my book. “No Tolkien today?” I fight off a blush and close the book. “I, um, finished that one.” Her eyebrows raise towards her hairline. “Wow. And here I thought you were trying to fight off the nerd accusation.” I shrug and chuckle, mumbling a “Yeah, well,” because I don’t know what else to say. She sits down, looking far more comfortable on the bench than I ever have, even though she’s a first-timer and this bench and I go way back. “I hope you know I’m teasing.” “Yeah, yeah, I know,” I say, probably too quickly. “I wish I could read like you do,” she says. I snort. “No you don’t.” Her eyebrows crinkle. “What do you mean?” “I mean…” I realize I’ve said too much, and I struggle to amend it. “I mean, it’s not as easy as it looks, maintaining this nerd reputation. You have to train for hours on end, day after day. Your hands cramp, your eyes get tired… It’s exhausting.” She grins. “Sounds like.” “It’s dangerous, too.” Invigorated by her smile, I press on. “I mean, we’re talking papercuts, ink stains, headaches from wearing your glasses too long…” I shake my head. “Trust me, you’re much better off being a runner.” “Ha!” The laugh jumps out of her like it has a life of its own, and she leans forward and swings one leg up on the bench. Having never been so close to total human perfection before, I’m frozen in my seat. “See all these?” Elsie runs her hand up her shin and over her knee, indicating various scars. “All from running.” She puts the other leg up on the bench so that she’s facing me, with
49 the tips of her shoes mere inches away from my leg. “These too,” she gestures to another batch of scars and wiggles her toes. “Wow,” I nod, and I’m not sure if I’m talking about the scars or the legs that hold them. “Yup,” she sighs, and swings them back off the bench. “You really suck at running,” I say. Her jaw drops and her eyes shoot open in surprise, but there’s a crinkle of a smile there that makes the risk worth it. “Shut up,” she laughs, and leans over and cuffs me playfully on the arm. “Like you know anything about running.” I can’t help but laugh, because she doesn’t know how right she is. “You should run with me sometime.” The statement comes out of nowhere, and any amusement drains right out of me. “Oh, no… you don’t want that.” “Why not?” She shrugs, and settles into the bench. I, by contrast, couldn’t be more uncomfortable. “I don’t run,” I say. “You could start,” she replies. I laugh again, but not for the reason that she thinks. “Trust me, you don’t want to run with me.” She turns the full wattage of a coy smile on me, and it makes me ache. “I think I do.” All I can do is shrug. Elsie clearly doesn’t find this answer satisfactory. “Come on, anybody can run,” she presses. “Not this anybody,” I say. Elsie puts on a pout. “You wouldn’t even take one little cool-down lap around the park?” “Nope.” I shake my head. She tsks, and shakes her head. “So stubborn, you nerds.” “So persistent, you runners,” I say back. “It comes with the territory,” she winks. “Pun intended.” I chuckle, mostly out of relief that she’s dropped the matter. Elsie slaps her hands on her legs and stands up, a concluding move. “Well, I’m going to take that cool down lap,” she says. Before she leaves, she turns over her shoulder and adds, “Maybe tomorrow I’ll get you to join me for it.” “Maybe not,” I call, trying to keep my tone light. She laughs and jogs away. Wednesday “Hey, you brought the same book!” Elsie announces it with joy as she takes her place on the bench next to me. “I did,” I chuckle, holding it up as proof. “Now, the question is, did you bring it just so that I wouldn’t call you a nerd? Or are you actually still reading it?” I shrug. “The world may never know.”
50 She wiggles her shoulders and settles into the bench. “How many books do you think you’ve read?” A laugh escapes me. “How many laps do you think you’ve run?” She smiles. “Fair.” After a beat, she asks the question I’ve been dreading. “Did you think about that cool down lap?” “Oh, I thought about it all right,” I deadpan. She chuckles and stands up, shifting her weight back and forth as if her hips can sway me into submission. “Last chance…” The afternoon sun makes a halo around her figure. As captivating as she is, I shake my head and give a weak smile. “I’ll be here. When you’re done.” Elsie cocks her head and considers this, then returns my smile with a megawatt one of her own. “I’ll be back.” And she jogs away. Thursday I’m ready for Elsie when she arrives. I’ve been trying to think of ways to keep the conversation away from the cool down lap. “Hey John,” she breathes, and pauses to stretch before she sits down. “Hey, Elsie,” I reply. After a few toe touches, she joins me on the bench. “Elsie,” I repeat. “What’s that short for?” She makes a face. “Eleanor,” she rolls her eyes. “I was hoping you wouldn’t ask.” I think it’s perfect, but I’m trying to play it cool, so I shrug. “What’s wrong with Eleanor?” Elsie crinkles her nose in distaste. “It’s an old lady name.” “No, it’s… elegant,” I say. “Classy.” “Hmph.” She snorts. “Thanks.” “Like Eleanor Roosevelt,” I add. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” she says theatrically. My breath catches in my throat. “That’s my favorite quote.” “Really?” She smiles. “Mine too.” Then there’s a quiet silence between us. She breaks it the same way these little moments always end; by slapping her hands on her legs and standing up. “Cool down lap?” I smile and shake my head. Elsie puts her hands on her hips and cocks her head at me. “You know, Eleanor Roosevelt also said you must do the things you think you cannot do.” I bite my lip and shrug, and wish I had words for the apology that’s burning me up inside. “Alright, alright,” Elsie heaves a dramatic sigh and wiggles a finger at me. “One of these days I’m going to get you, you know,” she says. “I know,” I say, even though it’s a lie. She smiles one final time and jogs away.
51 Friday I wait for Elsie next to the bench, my fingers drumming on the armrests more anxiously than they’ve ever drummed before. I’m dressed up for the occasion—running sneakers, an athletic t-shirt and shorts, the whole shebang. My heart is pounding in my chest, faster and harder than it ever has before, and my palms are sweaty. Part of me is hoping she won’t come. The other part is dying to know what will happen if she does. That’s the part that wins out, as I see Elsie appear around the corner. She’s running at a good clip, but she slows to a stop long before she reaches me. Her hand raises to shield the sun from her eyes, and I lift mine to wave. Once she recognizes me, she bursts into a sprint. I’ve never seen her move like this, power and elegance in one, and thank goodness my nerves have me clamped shut because otherwise, I’d have my mouth hanging open in awe. My heartbeat speeds up to match her pounding feet, and she’s in front of me in no time, eyes wide open and breathing hard. I feel like I’m under a microscope, as her expression shifts from bemusement to mirth to hope and then back through them all again. Finally, she closes her gaping mouth, shakes her head, and gives me an exasperated smile. “Why did it take you so long to tell me?” I feel like I could collapse, I’m so relieved. I shrug as casually as I can manage (not very, at the moment), and grab the wheels of my chair to propel myself forward. “You must do the things you think you cannot do,” I say, and I’m proud that my voice isn’t shaking. Elsie grins, the same bright, radiant smile I picture her with before I fall asleep. Some of the anxiety seeps out of me, and I return it as best I can. “Still want to take that cool down lap?” I ask. She reaches out and squeezes my hand, and her voice is as genuine as it’s ever been when she says, “I would love nothing more.” I feel a hot blush coat my cheeks, but it’s nothing, compared to the warmth of her hand in mine. “Oh, you’re probably going to need that,” Elsie realizes, and lets go of my hand with a blush that matches mine. I laugh and grab the wheels. “I’m probably not going to be as fast as you,” I warn. She grins. “I don’t know, I bet you’d be pretty speedy going downhill,” Elsie says. There’s a teasing lilt in her voice, and I love her for making this normal. With her in her sneakers, and me in my wheelchair, we make our way around the park.
Edi Kuhn â€œTip (12/13/17)â€? I told a story once In which I bit the tip of my tongue off. It hurt as anything powerful and sensitive would. The little bud fell, wet with blood and saliva, To the ground. I stared in wonder. It held something I needed: The words, those lost to me, hidden in plain sight. I took the tip of my tongue, feeling the warmth Drain away. If only the fear could be swallowed. Instead Speechless, I planted the bud in my mind, stuffing it through my ear. Listening. Attending the thoughts that swirled like wind. Fear becoming fire, roaring brightly as The blood swept through
53 like tides washing it all anew. There, the words blossomed.
Emily Kuether “I Made a Deal with Venus” "Our love is a star Sure, some hazardry for the light before and after most indefinitely." —Bon Iver, “Beth/Rest” In that dark fuzzy existence before my first cry, I made a deal with Venus to see you before you came, so that I would know who to look for. When you got here, it felt exactly like she told me, like golden nectar foaming on a wave in my pulmonary veins. That’s you, walking in the room and sitting down beside me. When I was seventeen, I was a river and you a sponge that soaked me in. I drew your face with charcoal and you drew a book of bears in pencil, only the important parts colored in. I gave you me, and you gave me a ring with two metal birds. Was it just a pretty thing, or a promise? In the lower level lot Sam Beam sang, “Tell me, baby, tell me” and we kissed without looking, right where God could see us. Eighteen, Nineteen. But me, I was only a bird stealing bread from under your nose, and soon our melancholy mouths made a gorge filled with sea salt, spit, and sadness—deep enough to carve an underwater cave and light it with photo booth pictures of us on fire. Bare walls talking, lowering down the coffin in a driveway conversation.
55 I think I heard your heart break. Twenty. Venus doesnâ€™t deal with living, loving stardust. I spent a long time wondering if I had squandered the sweetest nectar I knew I would ever taste. It turns out that second chances start with telling the truth and eating deep dish pizza, or at least ours did. Twenty-one, I was a sugar bowl with a spoon that is too little but wants to be used. And you, patient enough to take a pinch without squeezing too hard. Venus never told me that I would break my own heart. I did that to myself. And a wave that once was crashing is now lapping like a dogâ€™s tongue on waterâ€”thirsty, but tired from the race that it has run. Twenty-two, gin and rinomato, the same but different. Different in that I drink mixed cocktails now. The same in that, just like the first day of my life, for the light before and after, I see Venus, eye to eye, and know that she was right.
Jannea Thomason â€œWhite Edgesâ€? The powdered salt drifts, collects in the sidewalk cracks As if someone took summer chalk and outlined the squares in white
"April Snow" Annah Horst
Saul Lopez â€œEl Viajeâ€? My father smoked his first cigarette in Tijuana, the night before he crossed. From the mini-mart, he could see the wall, the crosses stuck in the ground with his name. He smoked his last one in Milwaukee, the day my grandfather died. From outside his house, he could see a house built on broken English, on calloused hands, and sleepless nights.
He remembered his home, the one where he spent his childhood. The one where he learned that you can live off, happiness and tortillas, He remembered his fatherâ€™s last words before he left to Tijuana, Para salir del hoyo, hay que brincar1. He remembered that embrace before he left for Tijuana, one of three hugs he received from his father. The second one came the day he wed my mother, and the third the day I was born. I saw him from the window, gently blow the smoke out of his mouth, just like my grandpa used to when he came to visit. I saw them both, smoke the same cigarette.
In order to get out of the hole, you have to jump
Shane Martin “The Signs of Home” It’s been a quiet day in Edison Park. It always is. Always been. It was in its purest sense the beginning of a journey, never a destination. Or, rather, founded on a failed journey to green lands. The place between Places. Christian Ebinger and his family were on their way to Milwaukee from Chicago in 1834 when a snake killed their only horse. They were stranded and abandoned with nothing around them and no way to get to where they were heading. So they made do with what they had and settled there. Just like that, my hometown was established on accident. Of course, back then it was called Canfield. Name didn’t change until 1890 when Thomas Edison gave his blessing for it to be changed in honor of him. Twenty years later, it was swallowed up by the city of Chicago. And just like that, Christian Ebinger was back where he had started. Those are the only things to note about Edison Park’s history, and probably the only things of importance until its slow death finally plays out. Sure, it’s the safest place in the city, but that’s because there’s nothing where the city and the suburbs meet. Only interstates passing through. Populated with police and firemen on every block with nurses and teachers in between. Blue collar and working class. Eighty something percent Irish Catholic. Everyone knows everyone. High concentrated homogeneity. A proud and stubborn bunch. Too proud and too stubborn. The winds of change are blowing but they are too rooted to follow. One and half generations rest and most had forgotten the lives of their ancestors, of the grandparents who took flight and refuge from their homes. One step in front of disaster. Two steps behind prosperity. Some remember, not enough though. They should know. It’s written on the signs. Oriole, Ottawa, Ozark, Overhill, Oleander. The Ozone. When the city annexed the town, they changed all the street names to fit with the municipal postal complex. I don’t know what they were before. I don’t think anyone does. We are not a town where that kind of detail is important enough to be written down. All I know is that they were something else and now they’ve faded away. Every one of them once a proud and thriving Native American community reduced to convenient categorization for the city’s carriers. Just names on signs in the fly over part of the city. A city of snakes and schemes. Of a million broken dreams. Another runway this year from O’Hare. More noise traffic from above. Every few minutes a plane drowns out the conversation. All you can do is wait patiently for it to pass, staring back at your friend as your ears are filled with the roar of a jet plane. A plane of strangers who have no idea what they interrupt or what they intrude upon. Another lot empty this year, another business gone. This time it is the Walgreens two blocks from my house. I remember running to it when my mother needed me to pick something up. It’s empty now. An ugly blacktop parking lot with an ugly brick building to match. Out of place with nothing to take its place. Just a monument to decline.
61 Another tax this year from the county. A beverage tax. $0.01 per ounce on every sugary drink. People were livid. People hated it. People protested. Stocked up before it came into effect. Drove across county lines to get around it. Tax didn’t last long. But it’ll be back. A penniless city in a broke county in a bankrupt state. Someone will pay and it’ll be the wrong people. What else is there to say? Ah, yes. The Fest. The Edison Park Fest designed to bring out the best. To showcase everything the neighborhood has to offer stretched over a weekend in August. Last breath of summer before school struck. In the beginning, it was running around to attraction to attraction or in tow of my parents as they said hello to everyone. Ex-colleagues, old schoolmates and distant relatives, I met them all and remember none of them. As I got older, it was about Olympia Park. Every kid I knew all in one place. Drinking and smoking. Laughing and catching up with friends. Everyone hoping that the fights would breakout before the cops broke it up. After high school, the fest means work. Hauling beer cases up and down the stairs of my uncle’s bar, shoving the drunk crowd out of the way, all while waiting for someone to do something stupid. People have a knack for that. Have you no pride, no shame? No joy when you say your hometown’s name? Nah. We are grounded but we are not the ground. When it is time to move we must move on. Should I be proud of the one-way pothole streets that are inexplicably two way? Or is it the stream of house flippers knocking down the neighborhood and building the cookie cutter red brick white stone houses with higher fences? Or of the people that fight every effort to improve Brooks Park, the glorified weed field nestled between two alleys? On and on the problems grow. I am proud when six feet of snow moves in overnight and the next morning everyone is helping everyone shovel their walks then the sidewalk and then the street. Having to plow the streets ourselves because we’re the least important, the last stop for clearing the roads. My neighbor two doors down always spends his snow days plowing the streets. Technically illegal, but who is going to stop him, the police? The same people he’s helping out? Or when the streets flood and everyone shares their sump pumps to make sure basements don’t flood as well because the streets don’t drain properly. Or of the parent volunteers that help out at school for years after their kids have graduated. I am proud of the people that save Stock School, the local public special needs school, every year from being closed due to a lack of funding. The people I am proud of. But my pride is fading. When I was a kid, there were these three old men who always rode their red bicycles on nice days in the evening. These were some fancy bikes. They had bells and whistles, tall flags on the end. But the best part was that one of the bikes had a radio and they would play music off it as they rode. It wasn’t loud but you could hear them coming. They never rode fast, no they went at a leisurely strolling pace, just looking at the houses and enjoying the banal sights of the neighborhood. I always ran to the sidewalk when I heard their radio to watch them pass. I would smile and wave at them and they would smile and wave back. Very nice men. By eighth grade there were only two. During high school one remained. It only then dawned on me what had happened to his friends. I have not seen the last one for some time. Unfriendly faces replace the familiar.
The sharp and bold capital lettered street signs screaming proud to be have been taken down and over the broken roads rises the soft and quiet ways of Clearview, a new federally mandated font that fixes the numerous issues people had with the previous signs. But what can we do? When the wisdom of the system declares that the typeface on your street signs are a safety hazard, you roll over and accept it. And piece by piece the flavor and color of home is stolen away. I’ve lost my way, and everything looks the same. Yet the people remain but forget that no matter how great they seem to think they are, the world cares not. My friends laugh and joke how all our kids will go to St Juliana’s, our old grade school. I just shake my head and agree. I don’t want to ruin their fantasy. They won’t believe me anyway. The community is dying. The world is moving on from us. We either move with it or be ground to dust. My father remembers and my mother agrees. They see the writing on the signs. Every time I come home, he talks more and more of retirement. Of moving where things are better. Kentucky or Montana. Sell the home my parents built. Well, to say they built it would be disingenuous. Rather they shaped the house over the years. Renovation after renovation so all seven of us could live a little more comfortably. The first floor redone. Made the attic livable. Redid the driveway. Finished the basement. Redid the bathrooms. Knocked down a few walls and made three rooms into one. Patch the cracks in the foundation. Built a shed. Reroofed the house and garage. Slowly over time, the house became more and more of a home. Then I moved out for college. Last year my sister did the same. This year it is my brother. In four years’ time, the last two will be gone as well. Just my parents living alone in a house for seven. We moved there when I was barely four to be closer to the rest of the Martin clan, seven households in five square blocks. Soon my parents will leave as well and my hometown won’t be home. Oriole, Ottawa, Ozark, Overhill, Oleander. O’Malley, Moriarty, McDonough, Gavin, Martin 16th District, 41st Ward, Canfield, Edison Park, Home. How long until they are just names on street signs in some corner of the world? How long until all the roots rot and my home gone? Where will it go? Where will I find it again? It’s been a quiet day in Edison Park. Tomorrow will be quieter.
Jacob Riyeff “God Lives on The Lower East Side” anantalokāptim atho pratiṣṭhāṁ viddhi, tvam etaṁ nihitaṁ guhāyām Katha Upanishad, 1.14 The snow atop St. Hedwig’s is a beacon splitting the sky— winter on Brady Street. Beneath the bell tower: Polish stained glass, a hundred years of hand oil on polished pew backs, and Body and Blood burning beneath red candlelight. Who awakens to the Spirit but Christ himself dwelling in the cave of the disciple’s heart? And what better way to sneak him there, past intellect, suspicion, judgment, good sense, than swallowing bread and wine, smuggling the Word made flesh past brain and mouth into belly— down into the cave of the heart where lives nothing but Trinitarian life—welling up like the waters on the first day?
"Heart of Milwaukee" Annah Horst
Jimmy Drenovsky “Death Fantasies” In a crowded church the air is filled by tears cried too young for emotions this real. The headlines read “Bright future” “Life cut short” “Tragedy” There is a woman seated in the front row making no attempt to gather herself; never has she cared so little for opinions. “Unrealized potential” is what makes the whole affair feel like a depraved theft of the worst kind. The longing here is not for sadness. Here you’ve filled the cheap seats with a cop-out desire to be mourned for a future rather than judged for a past. Any tears cried in your name fulfill that selfish desire for a life validated. Why wouldn’t you crave the low hanging fruit?
Carolyn Lewis “Frith” Frith 1. (rare, archaic, poetic) Peace; security. 2. (obsolete) Sanctuary, asylum. The rain was coming down harder now, so hard that her hair stuck to her face. She stopped and opened her mouth, letting the water drip down her dry throat. The city hadn’t seen a storm like this in a while. She trudged on, adjusting the thin hood of her jacket and scolding herself for not taking the thicker one at the department store. The weather had been hot as of recently, stinking up the bodies and rotting them to their bones for the crows. Where did the crows go when it rained? She looked up at the skyscrapers with their glassless windows and bending, steel spines. The concrete, city roads before her were blemished with greenery and cracks. The rain made everything heavy and every soaking footstep echoed through the deserted metropolis. It seemed to be breathing underneath her as she scavenged the cars, the empty stores, and the hotel lobbies. She didn’t like going too far into any building out of fear of what it could be hiding. An animal, a trap, another human being. She stuck close to doors and always knew the nearest exit. A sign that must have once glowed bright red came into view on the next street corner. The white letters read “EMERGENCY KEEP RIGHT” before a driveway that lead up to the front of a hospital. No one dared entered the hospitals after the virus. That was the birthplace of the outbreak as far as anyone was concerned. She stopped before the automatic doors, breathing in the wet air and fidgeting with her backpack straps. She shoved her hand into her jeans and fished out a piece of notebook paper. Pulling her bandana around her mouth and nose, she gave it a quick re-read. It was a list written in thick, felt-tip marker that read: 1. ANTIVIRAL 2. IV KITS 3. SEDATIVE 4. MEDICAL CANNABIS (if possible) The woman stood there for a while, staring at the words. She looked up at the hospital that dwarfed her tiny, rain-drenched figure, her head craning all the way back until she was looking at the sky. She closed her eyes for a while, breathing slowly under the relentless storm and its iron clouds. Then, as if being woken from a deep sleep, the woman snapped her head forward again and glared at the door before her. She pocketed the list and pried open the once automatic entrance. Inside, the hospital was leaking rainwater from the storm, making the faux-marble floor treacherous. The bandana around her face was for the smell rather than for protection from aerial contamination. She had never had to worry about that. Switching on the flashlight taped to the scope of her rifle, she began her descent into the labyrinth of the breathing, dark
67 hallways. She grabbed everything on the list - medical supplies untouched out of the fear that lay in every virus survivor. The woman even left a specific pouch in her backpack to fill to the brim with orange prescription cannabis pill bottles. Every sound made her flinch, but she walked with the silence of a soft-pawed animal and her shoulder blades mimicked the gliding bone-under-flesh of a predator. She didn’t want to see one of the infected. She couldn’t bear it. Last time she did, she cried harder than she ever had as she shot it in the head. The infected like dark spaces. The infected like human flesh. Her heartbeat began to slow to normal once the hallways started to refill with natural light. The emergency room doors returned and she exited the moaning, abandoned building. The rain had let up slightly, with the possibility of sunlight creeping on the horizon. She pulled the bandana off as she began her walk out of the city, trying to even out her harsh breathing. Her clothes were wet but they felt as if they were saturated in death and sickness. She swung her backpack around to her front, unzipping one of the pouches and pulled out an orange pill bottle. She moved the tiny green capsule around in her fingertips for a few seconds before popping it into her mouth and returning the bottle to its pouch. The empty city suddenly became more fun to navigate. She hopped on abandoned cars, taking their air fresheners. She ran down the once busy streets, carving her name in a stop sign with broken glass. The woman walked for hours before she began to sway with fatigue and the weight of her wet clothes. In the outskirts of the city, right before the suburbs, she rested at a bus stop. Before her, a bus with flat tires, a shattered windshield and rusty advertisements lay still on the street. The rain dripped off the bus’s doors, awkwardly unhinged and open. Shifting around on the cold, metal bus stop bench, the woman stared with interest. Before she moved to get on, a pounding noise breaks the humming of the rain. It sounded like a fist against metal. Silence. Flesh on metal. Silence. The woman stood, and in one fluid motion pulled out her rifle and took aim at the source of the noise: the back of the bus. “If-if you have a gun. Please don’t shoot!” a weak, masculine voice yelled. The silence returned. The woman was shaking now, unnerved to the bone and frozen in the rain. She eyed the broken bus door again. “I-I’m hurt, pretty badly. I’ve been on this bus for days.” the man spoke again, calmer this time. “Are you infected?” He must have seen her if he was knocking to get her attention. There was no way she could pretend she didn’t hear him. Too long of a pause. “No.” “I don’t believe you,” she bit back. She’d learned to harden her heart to strangers. They usually did more harm than good. “I-I might be. I’m going to try to get to that hospital. It was known to receive a shipment of the cure.”
The pocket in her backpack with the antiviral grew heavy and the woman shifted her weight. She grabbed a lot, so much that the wet, cotton seams were bulging with glass bottles and syringe packs. She pulled her eye away from the scope, blinking away rain water. “I took it all.” No reply. Just rain. “What can you do for me?” the woman added, after the man held his silence. She tried to see movement at the back of the bus where the voice was coming from, but the window is oddly warped with rain and shadow. “I’m a doctor. That's how I’ve made it this far.” The man’s voice was now weaker than ever. She had to take a few steps closer to hear the last part. “If you’re returning to a settlement, which I’m guessing you are with all those supplies, I can repay you with my services.” The woman stared at the bus, then at its door that seemed to be emitting the same gnawing anxiety in her gut. She looked around, the world whirling with a dying storm and a setting sun. “What do you say?” The man’s voice returned. It held a tone of familiarity - the way people in the world used to talk to each other before it went to shit, the way people ought to talk to one another. The woman walked up to the bus, squeezed past the broken doors, and walked up the steps. Inside, a man with a silencer sat at the back of the bus, and pulled the trigger. The woman fell to the ground, antiviral bottles rolling onto the bus floor.
Claire Bruns “Strange Encounter” Today, I met a man – A burly man so broadly built That he spilled into my own seat. We came from vastly different worlds, Yet sat side-by-side on some Greyhound bus. For the full two hours, We discussed more than Any two strangers could. I think he doubted the necessity Of my overpriced college education, In the same way that I doubted His many conspiracy theories — And not to mention, His outdated perception of gender roles. But despite my hesitations, I embarked on some voyage with him, Where he showed me his worlds — Here, he patented free energy, And was recently rebirthed in the Baptist faith. Worlds in which GMOs caused transgenderism, And aliens fathered the human race. Ones where his best friends were rodeo clowns, And propaganda videos on YouTube Provided dependable information on the newest drugs. At times I felt belittled, For simply being a young woman, And for not being well-versed in The mechanisms of windmills Or how my intestines process carbon dioxide. My journey with him left me Puzzled, intrigued, furious, And confusedly eager for more. He was like a jack-of-all-trades, A Curious George with internet access, Or any stranger you’d expect to meet on a bus —
Quirky yet captivating, and Spewing with stories of stupidity and wisdom. I would like to think That I gave this man what he sought â€” A means to pass the time, A recipient of his anecdotes, A fresh slate to engrave his theories on. My tongue is now bleeding From withholding one too many Sharply judgmental retorts; I did not wake up this morning With the burning desire to Sacrifice my sanity in a battle of wits. So I listened, And smiled, And nodded, To this newly acquainted stranger â€” Who wore a hat like Holden and Called himself Hunter.
Jonathan Chacon “Subservient Ends, or Friends, or Whatever” The first time we met I was tending bar, you arrived – a towering Grey Beard, a beefed up Allen Ginsburg, St. Nick with a cane– an hour before your friend whose wife had passed recently and unexpectedly. So you were there, like a true old friend, drinking, speaking politic, and staying warm. And in mourning he bought you a round, and another, then some cheese fries which I didn’t charge for, then another round, until you were both good and drunk. and we waited— For the end of my shift, for a remedy to the misery, for the next football game to air — So we could get up and get on with our lives. Then your friend, the poor bastard, finally found it in himself to rise and bid a slurred adieu. And I wiped the bar clean and scrubbed the mugs until my relief came. But you stayed, I imagine, feeling quite rosy for at least another hour. Hell, as far as I know, you’re still there, beard dragging across the faux wood of the bar, not buying a thing while you wait for the next coin toss, or kick-off, or friend to come strolling on over.
"Stellarâ€™s Jay" Abby Vakulskas
Beau Draghiciu “Derelict Hearts” Carrie awakened naked and cold to church bells ringing. She turned over, coiling a dusty pillow around her ears, but it did no good. Her head throbbed, her mouth tasted of ash, and her muscles ached and groaned at their every movement. She shivered deeply and moaned. Behind closed eyelids, flowers of light bloomed in and out of darkness. The ringing stopped, and when Carrie thought nothing else would happen, she sat up, focusing on her breathing. In through the nose, out through the mouth. She looked around. Nightstand, bed, a small hallway with a closed door, dresser, television, window, door, mirror, window. The ceiling fan was spinning fast, see-sawing on its axis like it was trying to free itself from its perch. She tried to follow one of the blades but only ended up making herself dizzy again. Flakes of dust and skin coiled around sheaths of golden light, shifted by phantom spits of air. Everything was grey and dour, and she thought in her dripping misery that whoever was in charge of the world should be held accountable. Carrie swung her feet over the side of the bed and stood up unevenly. She took two or three steps before a jolt of pain shot up her right leg, and she recoiled back onto the bed. She crossed one leg over the other and turned her foot with both hands. She was bleeding, and when she poked the small bright red slit on her sole, she swore again. Carrie looked at the carpet. Broken shards of glass mottled the grey thin rug, reflecting the white ceiling, so that it looked like the ground was spotted with small jagged portals. She wondered briefly what would happen if she dove off the bed headfirst. Her nails were long and the cut shallow, and when she had extracted the piece, she inspected it before throwing it across the room. Putting pressure on her wound, Carrie took a moment to collect herself before she stepped carefully off the bed again. This time she had only taken one step when she heard a door slam behind her. She jumped and landed on her torn foot. Carrie turned, her body rigid and tight, like an electrical current had been shot through her. A man with dark, hard features stood in the hallway staring directly at her. One leg crossed the other, and his arms were outstretched so that his palms touched both walls in a sort of crooked cross. A rat could have run from one wall to the other and never touched the ground. The man took a step forward, and Carrie, on instinct, a step towards the door, cutting her foot again. She didn’t notice the cut. She didn’t notice anything. Right now, there were no alarms going off, and she didn’t know what to do about that. She simply stared at him and he back at her. Something in Carrie snapped, and she became afraid for how naked she was. The man maintained eye contact, though, and after she had covered herself, it looked like he was about to say something. He flopped down on the far bed instead, so that Carrie was looking down at him. He turned the tube on and hit mute. A bald suit wearing a pair of glasses that Carrie normally associated with librarians droned on the news. Blurred, monochrome photos of dead men in the street took his place. Black bars covered their eyes, but Carrie looked away anyway. The man on the bed shook his head and got up and went in to the bathroom and
came back out with a jacket. He reached into its inside pocket, but before Carrie could see for what, her phone rang. That broke her trance. It was coming from the nightstand, where the phone had been partially concealed behind a lamp. It stopped ringing when she grabbed it, and she opened it. It was 8 pm and her ex-husband had called four times. He had left a voicemail. Shaking, she dialed in her password and put the phone up to her ear. His tone was rough and his speech choppy and muffled, and his voice cut in and out. It sounded like he was in a tunnel. “-Damnit fuck Carrie answer---get this in time. I need you to head to Apple High --asleep? Where are you? Ms.--- called. She said she didn’t want to call the police but--” His voice cut out. Her world was almost quiet except for the white noise coming from the receiver and the static coming from the television. She was starting to get nervous that she wouldn’t hear his voice again - that she had missed some key information. She looked over to the man on the bed and shivered. He was looking at her feet. She followed his gaze and noticed something peeking out from under them. The cut was deeper than she had thought, and when she lifted her foot, she felt her skin peel off the carpet, sticky with blood. She felt lightheaded and almost fell. She turned her foot and gagged. A bloody condom ran the length of her arch, limp and greasy. “I don’t know what he did, but she sounded---smell coming from his locker --told them he’s just a curious---everybody home but they won’t let him leave. I can’t- you need to get going.” It was her blood and in her daze she didn’t comprehend, so she peeled it off and tossed it aside without a second thought. There was another long silence, and after a moment, Carrie looked at her phone to see if the call had ended. It had not, and she waited for more, but still, nothing. She checked the screen once more, confirming she was still listening to the voicemail, and put the phone back up to her ear and waited. Still, nothing. Scared, she hung up and tried to call him back. She looked at the screen and saw she had no reception. She had a headache and the room had begun to spin again and now on the television a phone number in a big gold font flashed beside a man whose face Carrie had seen on bus stops and billboards. She closed her eyes and inhaled. “I have to get going,” she said. She waited for a response. She felt a prickling on her scalp, like someone was watching her, and she felt so alone. She jerked her head over her shoulder, unsure if the man was still there. He was, and she told him, again, she had to get going. She found her clothes behind the pillow on the bed she woke up from and put them on. She did her best to wipe the blood off her foot with the bed’s blanket but only ended up leaving behind stray pieces of fuzz on her foot. She would’ve walked to the bathroom, but she didn’t want to get any closer to the man on the bed. She looked at him. He still had not put any clothes on. He was muscular and smooth, with dark eyebrows that made his dark eyes darker. Carrie didn’t know who he was or where he had come from. She didn’t want to know. She wanted to this to be the beginning of the end of his part in her life. He felt familiar, though, and Carrie couldn’t shake the feeling she had known this man from somewhere.
75 She couldn’t dwell on that. She had to get going. She moved to the mirror to get some semblance of herself. The mirror was cracked: divided into sections that held no rhyme or reason for being, each facet off tilt at one angle or another. Its gilded frame was peeling, revealing brushed ash-grey metal underneath. Its corners flourished dramatically into floral spirals, each punctuated in the middle by small, opaque rubies. She ran her pointer along the hairline fractures that bloomed from the bottom-right corner. The candle below the mirror sent ancient shadows dancing across her face. Carrie gazed with stoic unrecognition, unable to move, disassociating herself with what was in front of her. Several dark, bloodshot eyes stared back, and a mouth opened as if it was going to speak, revealing a wet, pink tongue. Dried blood ran from its nose to its lips. It seemed to be waiting for Carrie to do something - for some implied relinquishment that would satiate it. She put her phone down on the dais to balance herself, and her mind was flooded with a wave of sensual input, like an out-of-focus montage, replacing her vision. She realized how sore her feet were, like she had been running, and she remembered an alley behind a bar, more drinks, dancing, more drinks, another alley, laughter and tears. She closed her eyes and a half-finished prayer echoed in her head. Headlights, then, and Talking Heads on the radio. God, she had driven last night. The stream of input stopped as quickly as it had begun, and when Carrie looked back into the mirror, she saw only herself. She looked outside the window, looking for the sun. She couldn’t find it and maybe thought it could have been hiding behind a billboard that read: All Are Welcome Welcome to the Alexandria Motel. The man’s voice was slick like spilled oil when he told her to stay a while. She told him she couldn’t and the dark man asked her where else she would want to be. “I have to get going,” she said. She looked to her left at a pillar beside the door. The cat’s lips had dried into a tight curl against its teeth, and Carrie saw that its nose and fur were caked with something dark brown. Its neck was turned 180 degrees like it, too, had been looking for the sun. Carrie thought of Alice and the Cheshire cat. When she turned back to the man, she realized he had conjured from somewhere a baggie of white. Lines were sorted out on a razor-edged jag of glass. She turned to the man and tried to speak, but all that came out was a dry chirp. She cleared her throat. “I could come back later.” A smile like melted wax stretched across the man’s face.
Jacob Riyeff “Birth Imagined from a Different Room” a full moon like Krishna’s celestial discus hangs white and luminous over the city— awaiting the third living discharge to leap from your contracting uterus. outside, a nineteenth-century water tower pines for the moon, and we see the city thru plateglass, the lake’s expanse below brick spires, its glinting aquatic mansions hiding slick and living treasures. I plan unnecessary fund raisers as we wait, and you misremember me as my buddy Steve slicing open my thumb down to the bone on a bluff over Devil’s Lake— when my morphine drip was really after wild mushroom stromboli outside Big Sur, careening down Highway 1 to San Simeon for fluids and pain relief from doctors I couldn’t hear. And the dulcet strains of Arcangelico Corelli spin delicate webs around the room the tone of harpsichords, culled from a stop at St. Paul’s in Minnesota one damp summer morning a decade ago. and you shake. and you breathe. and soon I will meet this wet and shining gem as he gasps his first gasp here in the beautiful sad old world.
Cecilia Anderson “One in the Evening” Brief phantasm drew up his hand And cast down the sighs of those peculiar men Who trace the sun With pencils, black Dixon Ticonderoga. Savage city with a million wild eyes, Have you forgotten to turn out the lights? It’s after midnight Yet yellow pours from your windows In a black out pixel fury. Learning to count from under the table, By threes, my words are unpacked As if last vacation’s luggage. I am the one in the evening And I’ll tell you, I love to happen, too.
"Sig's Lagoon" Annah Horst
Aishah Mahmood “Bach’s Chaconne, Partita No. 2 in D Minor”
2 Years Ago; The air in the concert hall was dry; heavy sighs, muffled coughs and soft laughter filled the air dying with the heavy swish of the curtains being pulled back. The lights dimmed and the thick fabric settled on either side of the stage. A girl who sat in the 10th row back pulled her legs into her chest and settled her chin in the shelf her knees made. She ignored the chastising of her mother and idly twirled her hair around her fingers staring at the old lady two rows down who was fast asleep; her soft snores collected as the program slowly slipped from her fingers. A spotlight appeared, focused on the outskirts of the stage where a woman, with a rigid posture and a narrow, sullen looking face trod onto stage. The sleek black gown collected around her feet. She dipped in a bow that exposed the awkwardness of her limbs. The girl had never seen someone play a violin before. Transfixed onto a point in the audience the woman lifted her violin to her chin and raised the bow. The audience waited. A dark, rich sound rose from the stage, captivating the attention of the audience. The girl’s breath caught in her throat as the strings’ resonating hum reverberated in her chest, touching her deeper than anything had before. The woman’s shoulders were hunched as she dug the bow into the instrument, her brow furrowed, the awkwardness absent, a strange attraction began to emanate from her. As she played the world seemed to open up to her. Tears began to fill the eyes of the audience. Time passed, but all was frozen in the hall until the bow made a final dramatic dip producing a sound that made everyone shiver. The woman let the bow drop to her side. Eyes shining, she made a deep bow to a stunned hall. The audience paused only to catch their breath before they roared to life. For the girl, a fire was lit in her chest, and she held it there, letting it warm her as she clapped louder. Today; In a fluorescent hallway, scrunched faces pressed into knees and crossed legs with bit lips line the walls, jittering as they wait. The apprehension in the air cultivates an uneasiness— clinging to all who pass through. A full pitcher of water and untouched paper cups sit on a table at the end of the hall. The tension radiates, telling you just what kind of people these are, just what kind of day this is. Of the faces that are visible, bloodshot eyes stare, steeled in concentration, their fingers twitching in earnest, running over the air, practicing scales and scores from nothing more than muscle memory.
81 These are the kind of people whose eyes have sheet music printed on them, only ever practicing at the willing of their parents, at the willing of their need to meet the approval of something, of someone. Never for themselves. Never for the music. And it might not have started this way. It might have been they heard the sound of a violin in a movie, and they closed their eyes, transfixed. It might have been that their fingers would press against the music room door, itching to touch a violin, it might have been that they pushed open that music room door after school and slid their fingers over the body of the instrument, heart dropping at the smoothness under their fingertips. And at some point, if it ever was about the music, they grew to resent it. They resented the ache in their back and the swell of their fingers, the emptiness of never being enough, and it became something that made them hurt. Made them want to curl into themselves and be swallowed whole rather than play another note. But they played. They played because it was all they had. They played until their fingers were numb and they couldn’t feel anything. Their nightmares were punctuated with sheet music, the ticks of the metronome, and the small shrill of a note played wrong. Their dreams were silent. Slightly further down the hall, a right turn from the pitcher and cups, are a wall of doors. Soundproof practice rooms lie dark and empty. The third door on the left-hand side has its lights dimmed allowing indistinct shadows to form. Within it the rigid hesitation and the staunch determination of the musician that occupies it trembles. In here the only sounds she can hear are muted exhales of breath she releases and the unending stream of thoughts that she winds her fingers through. She combs through the tangles to find what she needs. Will I ever be good enough? A pause in her breath. Eyes scrunched closed, thoughts betrayed by her every movement, she exhales. There’s nothing more I can do. What I have done will be enough. I’m ready. A smile stretches across her face. The girl’s eyes open, the soft brown no longer betraying her hesitance. Easing the door open, she tiptoes out just as a staff member backstage runs through the hallway, a clipboard of papers and a pen clutched tightly. “Line up! We’re beginning.” She slips her way into the crowd of frantic musicians and parents. Musician’s eyes still absent and empty, their shoulders taut and heads rigid. The parents’ faces are strained and sharp. A set of hands with glittering rings and polished nails grip the arm of a young man in a starched white shirt with the number ‘8’ stuck on. “Do well.” The mother releases her grip at the call to line up, turning towards the exit, and leaves without a glance backwards. His expression widens and shrinks comically.
8’s nerves are visibly fraying, his eyes grow wider, his body almost hums with a frantic nervous energy. He holds onto his cello; the instrument feels like it’s taking up more space than he does himself. The girl smooths the number ‘23’ taped to her dress as she makes it to her place in line. Once everyone is lined up, the tensed shoulders, calloused fingers and outfits pressed into an unnatural rigidness of the people queued up around her starts a small spark in her chest. People filter through the halls, slowly emptying, moving their nerves into the audience where they begin to take up space and fill the air with polite chatter. In the wings of the stage, she waits. She waits as each person strides through. Their shoulders rigid, her face a deceptive mask of calmness. Smiles are faint and forced. One by one, each musician leaves and she steps closer to the curtains edge. 8 plays perfectly. Every note is on time, in key, and held for the right count. But even with his eyes closed you can see the notes in ribbons fleeing past his eyelids, each punctuating one another with a frantic energy that seems to terrify him too. Standing at the edge of the stage she watches without seeing. The spark in her chest has lit a fire. Her confidence slips away. I need to breathe. A few moments pass and she realizes that 22 is on stage and has begun their performance. She cannot hear the music. She can’t hear anything but the pounding of her heart and the small hitch in her breathing. Panic kindles in her stomach, claiming its territory, settling in for the long term. The whispers of someone behind her feel like they are pointed at her. Her eyes close. The lady with the clipboard grabs her shoulder and directs her forward. Eyes barely open, she pads onto stage dumbly. Before she can think again she stands center stage, feet cemented. The lights make the crowd nothing more than a blur of white light. There is a buzz in her ears that threatens to impact her performance. The sheet music starts to burn up, the notes floating away in puffs of ash, fleeing her. An audience member coughs, reminding her of her surroundings. She gives a bow, stunted and jerky. People murmur from their seats, a quiet buzz forming a cocoon over the auditorium. Her violin finds the crook of her chin, the cool of the instrument especially contrasting with the flush of her face. The fire roars in her chest swelling out of control. Eyes closed, she counts backwards from 10 in her head. 5 Her tension melts, the knots of her shoulders fell apart. 4 She raises her bow. 3 The stage crumbles around her.
83 2 The fire in her chest is not in her control, but itâ€™s no longer trying to burn her alive from the inside out. 1 She plays.
Sofia Driscoll â€œUnwavering Optimism; Waveringâ€? The wind blows against my face; Round and blotchy red, I smile. Optimism is independent of circumstance. Negative five degrees. Awake! Your ears are numbed; your music inaudible. You hate that place to which you head With your head unscrewed from your neck And your neck scarfless, cold. Do you not remember? I smile in spite. I smile through the fight. Optimism is independent of circumstance. Nothing will bring me down.
Brandy Kinnunen “Quietus Est” Literally – “he is released” Upon the gravel path there lay A gentle creature sleeping. Its eyes are closed as though they pray The nest-watch they were keeping. Its wings are spread in airless flight, A memory from the past. Though its frame lost the mortal fight, Its soul is free at last. The rocks are cold upon the feather, The feather is colder still. The gesture marks the changing weather. Come snow, and death, and chill.
Contributors Spring 2018 Cecilia Anderson is a finance & marketing double major at Marquette University, college radio DJ, portrait painter, writer, frat star, and concert reviewer. Her work explores identities real and imagined, city scenes and purgatory. Claire Bruns is a sophomore at Marquette University studying Psychology and Writing Intensive English. She journals often and is now exploring other forms of writing, such as poetry, as a means for a creative outlet. Aside from writing, she enjoys traveling, photography, and meeting new people. Jonathan Chacon has always had a passion for writing and enjoys producing works of music, poetry, and short-stories. A Senior at Marquette studying Digital Media and Writing Intensive English, he is excited to learn more and to keep meeting new and spectacular people, all of which contributes to his creative work. Leah Costik is a graduate student and research assistant in the Department of Political Science at Marquette University. She has lived in both Turkey and Zambia, and will spend this summer studying Turkish in Baku, Azerbaijan at the Azerbaijan University of Languages. Beau Draghiciu is a senior in the college of Arts and Sciences. Jimmy Drenovsky is a senior Mechanical Engineering major at Marquette. Despite his rather technical field of study, he is an avid consumer and creator of literature and art. Outside of classes he is the Assistant General Manager of Marquette Radio and the lead singer-songwriter for his band Motel Breakfast. Sofia Driscoll is a freshman at Marquette University, and she has yet to declare her major. She is Retreat Chair for Marquette's Liturgical Choir as well as being Membership Development Chair for Marquette's chapter of Active Minds. She is also on the reception staff at the Ott Memorial Writing Center. Alexandra Gambacorta is a senior at Marquette double majoring in English and Social Welfare and Justice. Her art is influenced by the stories of everyday people, social injustice, and the people in her life who have challenged her, loved her, or made her who she is. Annah Horst is a junior pursuing her bachelor's degree in Advertising with a minor in Graphic Design. She is a creative go getter who enjoys spontaneous dancing, making people laugh, exploring new places, and finding new inspiration. Ellery Kemnerâ€™s work is all about making emotion a visible, tangible thing. What she tries to do in her creative work is give emotions those tangible qualities like shape, color, and size. She hopes to show that beautiful is not just what something looks like, but what something feels like. Her goal is to put as much emotion and heart into an image as she possibly can.
87 Brandy Kinnunen is a senior at Marquette University, majoring in Mechanical Engineering. She enjoys reading and writing poetry in her “spare time”, which helps balance out her technical field. When she isn’t reading poetry or doing homework, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends and exploring new places. Emily Kuether is a senior Accounting major and Economics and Literature minor at Marquette University. She hopes to someday incorporate her passions —animals, poetry, baking— into a business in Milwaukee, where she was born and raised. Edi Kuhn has been at Marquette for about six years now. At first, as a full-time student; now, as full-time staff. This is her last semester before she finally graduates with a Bachelor’s in Philosophy and Psychology. She hopes to be an astronaut on Mars someday. Frith is Carolyn Lewis’s first short story to be published. She studies Digital Media and Writing Intensive English at Marquette University. She favors writing fiction of various genres, but is drawn to post-apocalyptic, psychological, character-driven narratives that play with conventional plot expectations. Carolyn is also a barista, poet, animal-lover, and film buff. Saul Lopez was born in Milwaukee, overlooking Lake Michigan. He was raised in the South Side. He is a Mexican-American poet. He attended Marquette University High School before arriving to Marquette University, where he is currently studying Writing Intensive English and Spanish. He enjoys running and reading 20th century Latin-American poetry when he’s not doing homework. Aishah Mahmood is a native of Milwaukee and is currently a second-year student at Marquette University where she is working towards her degree in Writing-Intensive English. Shane Martin is a current junior at Marquette and his major is international affairs. He’s from Chicago, specifically the Edison Park neighborhood. He likes to write sometimes. Andrew Posegay is an undergraduate senior studying Political Science and Writing Intensive English. Originally from Glen Ellyn, Illinois, he migrated to Milwaukee to write poems about exploding geese. Exclusively. Jacob Riyeff is a translator, scholar of medieval literature, poet, and teacher in the English department at Marquette. His main literary interests are Old and Middle English verse and the monastic and contemplative traditions in western Christianity. His first book is a translation of St. Æthelwold of Winchester's Old English Rule of St. Benedict, an important contextualizing document for Old English poetry and early witness to translation technique in English. His second book is a verse translation of the collected poems of the Benedictine monk and interreligious mystic, Swami Abhishiktananda, due out from Resource Publications within the next few months. His first chapbook, Lofsangas: Poems Old and New, came out in 2015 and presents verse translations of little-translated Old English poems amidst some originals. (These are the kinds of obscure projects he loves.) Somehow he’s ended up in Milwaukee after lots of wandering, and with a wife and three kids too. So much in life and all of it passing, and verse persists as one means to train the attention on what melts the heart and makes days worth living. Kaley Rohlinger is a junior studying public relations, marketing, and writing-intensive English.
Peter Spaulding is a second year MA of the English Department at Marquette. He loves to write – though mostly just casually – poetry, short fiction, and has experimented a little with a short novel he has temporarily titled Bachelor of Silence. His primary scholarly interest is Milton. Jacob Stephen is a junior from Detroit, Michigan, studying public relations and writingintensive English. He enjoys running, singing with the Gold ‘n Blues, and the Oxford comma. Jannea Thomason is a Ph.D. student in the Marquette University English department. Quite blunt, eh? It's what we're taught to say. She writes poetry on women's issues and nature – or whatever she can sublimate her sass into. Buchanan Waller is an undergraduate student at Marquette University. He is currently a junior and majors in International Affairs. Jennifer Walter is a junior majoring in Journalism and German Studies. She has been writing poetry since she was old enough to make her own books out of construction paper and staples. Today, she is heavily involved with student media and is the incoming Executive Director of the Marquette Wire. She is a native of Michigan and is spending her spring semester abroad in Marburg, Germany. Haley Wasserman is currently a sophomore studying Biomedical Sciences and Writing Intensive English. She has been creating and appreciating art, literature and music for much of her life. Michael Welch is an alumnus of Marquette University. He is the winner of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies' Florence Kahn Memorial Award and the author of the chapbook, 'But Sometimes I Remember.' His work has appeared in The Dallas Review, Litro Magazine, Chicago Literai, and elsewhere. He is a Master’s candidate in fiction at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Abby Vakulskas is a junior writing-intensive English and psychology major. She decided to try the art route for this year’s issue and signed up for a Blick Preferred Customer card, so you know it’s real.
Photo Credit: Alexandra Gambacorta
Spring 2018 Issue XII
MLR Marquette Literary Review