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ARTS | CULTURE | EVENTS

Spring 2014 | Vol 2 No 4

Monica Ann Wilkins’ Colorful Story New Guitars Mimic Old-Time Blues: Michael Hauver, Luthier Making Connections: The Photography of David Rosen Mercy Killers Comes to the Eastern Panhandle Eyes, Ears & Soul Kipyn Martin Ed:Cetera Babysitting, The Affordable Care Act & How To Reduce Lyme Disease Poetry Five Poets, Seven Poems Fiction

J. M. R. Harrison Jim Koenig Coda And the winner is ...

“Self Portrait” by Monica Ann Wilkins


CONTENTS

Spring 2014

Monica Ann Wilkins’ Colorful Story

New Guitars Mimic Old-Time Blues: Michael Hauver, Luthier

Making Connections: The Photography of David Rosen

Mercy Killers Comes to the Eastern Panhandle

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Letter From the Editor Making Time

Ears, Eyes & Soul Kipyn Martin

Poetry Five Poets, Seven Poems

Fiction J. M. R. Harrison & Jim Koenig

Ed:Cetera Babysitting, The Affordable Care ‌

Coda And the winner is ...

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C O N T R I B U T O R S Todd Coyle is a journeyman musician

PaulA Pennell, having developed tech-

who has performed in and around the Eastern Panhandle of WV and around the country for over 30 years. He has worked in folk, blues, pop, jazz and country bands as a guitarist, bassist, singer, producer and sound man.

nical proposals for over 20 years, enjoys the contrast of writing about creative people and their art. An artist herself, Paula works with hot glass and keeps bees at her home in Monrovia, MD.

Sean O’Leary is a playwright, newspaper

writer who began her career as a journalist. She has served as a marketing communications specialist and a magazine founder and publisher.

of My State: A Native Son’s Search for West Virginia, is a collection of

his newspaper columns. Sean is also the author of seven full-length plays. In 2006, he was named to The Literary Map of West Virginia. Judy Olsen, a Washington, DC, native

residing in Shepherdstown, WVa, has had a love affair with photography since her teens. After 30+ years in the corporate world, her passion has been rediscovered. She enjoys capturing the world of light and shadow that will never come again in exactly the same way.

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Cheryl L. Serra Managing Editor Kathryn Burns Visual Arts Editor Zachary Davis Fiction Editor Tom Donlon Poetry Editor

Sheila Vertino is returning to her roots

Amy Mathews Amos, Paula Pennell,

as a freelance writer and journalist, after a career as a magazine editor-in-chief and book and research publisher. Based in Shepherdstown, she describes herself as a culturally curious word nerd.

Ed Zahniser

Ed Zahniser’s poems have appeared in

over 100 literary magazines, 7 anthologies, 3 books and 3 chapbooks in the U.S. and the U.K. He is co-editor of In Good Company, an anthology of area poets celebrating Shepherdstown’s 250th anniversary.

Berkeley Street Bakery Entrepreneurs’ Café Panhandle EarthDay Celebration

Missed an Issue? Dec 13–Jan 14 Subscribe! Fluent Magazine 4 | fluent

Nancy McKeithen Editor & Publisher

Contributing Editors

A D V E R T I Z E R S Old Opera House The Bridge Gallery Mark Muse Photography Skinner Law Firm

Spring 2014 | Vol 2 No 4

Sheila Kelly Vertino Associate Editor

Cheryl L. Serra is an award-winning

columnist, blogger and marketing consultant living and working in Harpers Ferry, WV. His new book, The State

MAGAZINE

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Submissions For information on submitting unsolicited fiction, nonfiction, plays and poetry, please see the website: www.fluent-magazine.com/submissions. Please submit events and arts news to submissions@fluent-magazine.com. Fluent Magazine is published bimonthly and distributed via email. It is available online at www.fluent-magazine.com. To subscribe www.fluent-magazine.com/subscribe All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be duplicated or reprinted without permission from the publisher. © 2014 Fluent Magazine

Fluent Magazine is grateful for the support of the Jefferson County Arts and Humanities Alliance (AHA) through its Community Arts Impact Award program. Jefferson County, WVa is a Certified Arts Community.


Making Time For photographer David Rosen, making time for his art is a whittling down of choices and juggling work, family, town council and a local entrepreneurial micro-grant program. Painter Monica Ann Wilkins is known to make time for her art—watercolor painting—even while riding in the car, in a balancing act of palette, paints, brush and water bottle. Playwright Michael Milligan is making time to bring an important issue—the political battle over healthcare—to the stage through his art. He’s shepherding the production of his play “Mercy Killers” around the country. For luthier Michael Hauver, making time for his art is also making a living. That these artists make time to photograph and paint and write and build is what Fluent thrives on. As we near the two-year mark of publishing, we’re looking for input on filling Fluent’s editorial calendar for the next two years of issues. In the next few weeks, we’ll email subscribers a short survey—and also post it on the website—so you can let us know what you would like to see in Fluent. We hope you’ll make time to tell us.

“McMurran” by David Rosen

Nancy McKeithen Editor & Publisher

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EARS, EYES & SOUL

Kipyn Martin: Singer / Songwriter Living Her Passion BY TODD COYLE

FLUENT Your recent album “Undercover Muse,” tell us about it and the philosophy behind the title. KM “Undercover Muse” is my debut album, which was self-released in 2013. The album offers a representation of my live performances, as almost the entire album is just one voice and one acoustic guitar. It’s what it would sound like if I were sitting next to you, and it’s a collection of songs which I am very proud to share.

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Most everyone who has ever been involved in a creative endeavor understands how the inspirational force, the muse, operates—unpredictably. In a way this album is my offering to her, stating from an artist’s standpoint, “I’m present and willing to write the songs. I’m listening, and I’ll do what it takes.” FLUENT You grew up in a musical family in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. What are your roots?


KM I am thankful that my mother and sister jumped at every opportunity to sing three-part harmony with me when I was a child, and that my Dad, a blues singer and keyboard player, sat down with me at the piano every chance he got. Throughout grade school I was enamored with choral singing, the passion which continued through college to graduate school and now still persists. My roots are richly and diversely musical, and I try to water them as best I can. FLUENT You’re a huge CSNY fan. What did you learn from each of them and the other influences who shaped your playing and writing? KM Absolutely I am. Each maintains his distinct tone, yet their voices blend together seamlessly for their timeless signature sound. Likewise, CSNY’s sensibilities behave the same way with songwriting. I hope that in my songwriting career, I can maintain uniqueness while collaborating with other artists in real harmony. That’s a beautiful thing. FLUENT What’s your education? What’s your take on the state of education in our world today? KM I did undergraduate work at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, WV, which culminated in a Bachelor of Arts in Music in 2008. Then I attended Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, VA, where I received a Master of Music degree in Composition in 2012. I remember a harsh struggle during undergraduate study, during which I felt that classical music and folk-style music were at odds with each other. It took graduate work to boost my confidence in my compositional voice such that I could discard whatever pre-existing notions told me that I couldn’t be both a composer and a songwriter.

KM Compare the river to music. And … Shenandoah or the Nile? The river’s meaning in my life is about as mystical and powerful as its behavior. The word Shenandoah simultaneously symbolizes a journey and a place of rest for me. The spirit of the river is that which carries me through the bends and turns of life. And when I need to touch base I know that my family (biological and otherwise) resides just along the banks in multiple towns in the valley. Its beauty is something that I know I’m not ready to tackle in song just yet. The lyric in the famous traditional tune goes, “’O Shenandoah I long to see you.” I haven’t been gone long enough to write a love song full of yearning to the river quite yet; but I want to. Music is a lot like the river: When you submerge yourself in it, it takes you somewhere. And after I visit the Nile, then we can compare the two! FLUENT What’s your take on the arts in the Eastern Panhandle of WV?

Honestly I am rather uneducated when it comes to the state of education in a global sense. (I hope that my father with a doctorate in education will forgive me after reading that.) But higher education has given me some incredibly useful tools for my career as a professional musician. Learning is good.

KM I think that rich Appalachian culture mixed together with proximity to the nation’s capital make the Panhandle a truly unique place of creativity. I am honored to have grown up here. And I would love to see more funding for performance spaces and galleries, and I know a lot of people who feel the same way.

FLUENT The Shenandoah River seems to have had a big influence on your life. What’s the river mean to you?

FLUENT Kipyn is an interesting name, what’s the story on it? u fluent | 7


KM My older sister heard the name when she was very young, and asked my parents, “If I ever have a younger sister, can we name her Kippin?” A few years and alternate spellings later, there I was. FLUENT You use open tunings extensively. Which ones do you use? KM I utilize drop D and DADGAD mostly (with the occasional capo). FLUENT What’s the allure of open tunings? Explain your use of them. KM I have always been a rhythm player, accompanying my own voice. And after I strummed chords for years, there were only so many standard position chords I could play until I just yearned for more color choices. Extending the bass note down a whole step on the guitar adds fullness to anything in the key of D. And DADGAD is a world of its own, promoting

maximum color with minimal chord shapes in the left hand. I’m still exploring. FLUENT What’s in the future for Kipyn? New album? Hopes? Dream? KM A new album is definitely in store. Hopefully lots of them! I hope our culture will continue to refresh its appreciation of folk music, and continue to support local artists. I dream of winning a Grammy someday. That’d be nice! FLUENT What’s your perfect afternoon? KM It would be spent in my home with a cup of French press coffee next to the warm fireplace with a blank page and a pen. My best friend and our kitties would be roaming around, being adorable and content. The important context of this afternoon is that I have nothing to do but create. The only task would be writing my heart’s intent to yours. fluent

things you’ll find on the fluent website all free, all the time the magazine: current & past issues to read and download gallery exhibit information calls for artists / contest info / audition listings arts & culture events listings arts class listings arts news how to subscribe, how to advertise, how to submit work, how to contact us <updated daily>

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FICTION

Tryst BY J. M. R. HARRISON

“So beautiful,” he sighed, “it breaks your heart.” But he was not looking at or listening to me; he was staring into a past distance. He shook his head slightly, dispelling the ghosts. He was looking in my direction again, those eyes I once spent hours pondering whether blue or gray, but his manner turned professorial. “Unattainable beauty cannot have that effect. Longing might dent the heart, but breaking it needs something you can hold.” He fisted his hand for emphasis. I reached across the table, and dumped three teaspoons of sugar in his coffee, stirring it loudly. He likes it black. He continued, oblivious, “But only briefly. Here, and then gone.” Theatrically, he opened his hand. We never had Paris, only shoddy, bohemian imitations like this cheap restaurant where the candles dripped wax on empty Chianti bottles. I felt a pang—of longing? Grief?—as I watched him, my first love, my once lover, but not my future. “Heartbreaking beauty is always transitory. The Japanese know this. That’s why they’re fascinated by cherry blossoms,” he concluded with a flourish. His smile wavered as he regarded me. I had missed my cue to look adoring. I looked down at the dingy tablecloth. “I don’t know,” I said, glancing up through my eyelashes. He relaxed; I had been recast as the slightly dim ingénue in need of further explication. “Beauty’s such a vague, overused word. And breaking hearts—an abused cliché. Don’t you think?” fluent

J. M. R. Harrison’s poems have appeared in various publications, including Fluent. “Tryst” is her first fiction publication. PHOTO Judy Olsen Photography


M I S S E D

A N Y

I S S U E S

O F

F L U E N T

M A G A Z I N E ?

C L I C K O N T H E I S S U E S B E L O W T O R E A D T H E M .

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By Sheila Kelly Vertino

T

he roads around Morgantown are lined with rows of skinny,

unremarkable trees. Dull gray and brown, they might go unnoticed by some. But not by painter Monica Ann Wilkins, who has painted an entire series of those trees. “Put on your imagination glasses,” says Wilkins. “Painting allows me to move a tree or add a mountain, bend a river. You do not have to be shackled to paint nature as you see it or know it. You want to relate to it and paint what you feel about that field or barn.” u

“Colorado Wildflowers,” a commission.


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TREES Below, “Dancing Trees.” Top right, “Smiling Trees.” Below right, “Bluzee Trees.”

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Recently relocated from Morgantown to the Eastern Panhandle, Wilkins’ signature style pushes watercolor well beyond typical pastel landscapes. She credits that break-through to Skip Lawrence’s workshop, where he introduced her to “more paint, less water,” as a way to create deep, saturated colors. “It just clicked because I used to paint in oils and acrylics. Taking more [watercolor] paint on the brush, you get beautiful, bright colors in your work.” Oranges and bright purples are her favorite palette. People often question Wilkins’ use of such vivid colors in a watercolor painting, asking, “Why the bright colors?” To her, it seems obvious to want to push the limits. “Why NOT the bright colors?” she asks. Wilkins believes that “Every painting should tell a story.” And in telling that story, Wilkins says, “I try and produce something that nobody has seen before.” u


Below, “Prevailing Peace.” Right, “Deep Woods,” one of Wilkins watercolors she created using a technique called “negative painting.”

Multi-talented in several mediums, Wilkins began with oils and acrylics, and then tackled watercolor painting. Recently juried in as a signature member of the West Virginia Watercolor Society, she is constantly experimenting with new mediums and techniques. “The materials available in today’s art world allow so much more sensation to be expressed… and manufacturers are adding beads and sand and textures,” says Wilkins, clearly eager to dive in. She also learns techniques and mediums from her fellow artists in the Friday Painters group in Shepherdstown, WV, who freely share their knowledge with each other. Wilkins’ latest conquest: negative painting, a challenging watercolor technique that requires the artist to think backwards about the painting. “You are reversing your brain. You are not painting a positive thing in your images; you are painting around it.” (See painting at right.) Using leaves u


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“One Cow Walking.” To see more of Wilkins’ work, visit her website at www.monicaannwilkins.com.

as an example, she explains, “You want to paint around the leaf, so the leaf itself is light. You put down a mingle of colors. Then you add another glaze, building up the layers.” Amazingly, Wilkins has devised a way to work on negative paintings while riding in the car. On her lap is a stiff surface to hold the paper and a small palette with paints; the water bottle sits snugly in the cup holder in the center console. “You can work small. You’re not doing a lot of paint. It’s OK if you hit a bump. It will work,” Wilkins says with a laugh. Whether she is painting in her studio or on a road trip, for Wilkins, success comes when “I get a feeling of passion and a powerful connection to the subject or landscape I am painting.” Borrowing a line from Jennifer Lopez on “American Idol,” Wilkins says, “That gives me the goosies! If I feel that excitement when I am painting, I know I am on the right track.” And that passion just might look like orange and bright purple! fluent

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New Guitars Mimic Old-Time Blues To understand Michael Hauver’s craft is to experience finger-picking blues and ragtime guitar from the 1920s and 30s. To remember the old bluesmen, like the great Charley Patton, father of the Delta blues; Blind Blake, who became an accomplished blues guitarist despite being born blind; and Barbeque Bob, an early Atlanta blues player who worked as a barbeque cook. Modern blues guitarists pay tribute to these legends by mimicking their vintage sound—

sound best produced by the same guitars seen with them in early photos.

“New-Old” Guitars “Music mimics the human voice, and all instruments are about imitating,” says Hauver, a long-time repairman of vintage guitars, and more recently, designer and luthier (builder) of his own line of new Stella-style guitars, or as he’s coined them, “new-old” guitars. “We

Hauver shows off his finger-picking skills on the first guitar he ever built—a 6-string Stella replica based on the 1920s Galliano model.


By Paula Pennell

all want to make guitars that sound like the vintage instruments, but vintage sound only comes with age,” says Hauver. “As wood ages, lacquer cracks and releases its hold on the wood,” he explains. “Also, tension from the strings can create 150 pounds of non-stop pressure. This causes the top to pull up and the neck to bend forward. More pressure on top equals more sound. It can take 70–100 years for the top and neck to settle in and for the sound to get better.” Oscar Schmidt, the largest manufacturer of fretted (string) instruments in the early 1900s, built Stella guitars, one of the most popular and affordable brands through the 1930s. Today, Stellas (Latin for “star”) are widely collected, selling for upwards of $10,000. And although age does breed a coveted sound, it also introduces a host of structural problems that often render these instruments unplayable. That’s where Michael Hauver comes in.

From Collector to Luthier A long-time blues guitar enthusiast and musician, Hauver had collected a great number of vintage guitars, all in need of repair. One day, he decided to saw one apart and analyze how it was built. From there he began repairing his guitars, and took on jobs from friends and fellow collectors. Over time, he earned his reputation as the “go-to” guy for vintage, and specifically Stella, guitar restoration and refurbishing. What he had yet to learn was modern guitar-building techniques. Hauver wanted to build new guitars the same way the old guitars were built back in the 1920s and 30s, with ladder—or “lateral”—bracing. “Ladder-braced guitars use less wood on top, producing immediacy and clarity of sound and a dry, burly tone that’s characteristic of the old blues,” he explains. PHOTO Paula Pennell

After the 1930s, “X” bracing became popular because it supported heavier strings that amplify volume. Today, guitars simply plug into electric amps for more sound, thus removing amplification as a building factor.

“Music mimics the human voice, and all instruments are about imitating.”

—Michael Hauver

Hauver felt the time was right for ladder bracing (see an example behind Michael’s left shoulder in the photo at left) to make a comeback. And in 2000 he attended the American School of Lutherie in Healdsburg, California, where he studied with Charles Fox. Soon after, he opened Allegheny Blues Guitars in Sharpsburg, Maryland, and the first Hauver Guitar was released—a 12-string grand concert Stella replica based on the 1920s Galliano model. A series of models soon followed, all inspired by original Stella models and the great bluesmen who played them: the “Charley Patton,” the “Barbeque Bob,” the “Blind Blake,” “The Gambler” and “The Mustacio Grand Concert.”

New-Time Features for Old-Time Guitars Hauver builds four types of guitars, from smallest to largest: the concert, grand concert, auditorium and jumbo. “All can be built with six or twelve strings,” he says. He builds each one to “fit” each individual for comfort and playability. He adjusts neck scale, shape and width to support a player’s reach and hand size; he lowers the strings so playing is low and easy on the fingers; and by using u fluent | 21


Charlie Patton (grand concert guitar). Charlie Patton is considered in some circles to be the father of country blues guitar. The label features a Neil Harpe lithograph adapted from the only existing photo of Patton.

different woods, bindings and purflings (ornamental borders), rosettes, lacquers and decals, Hauver transforms each instrument into a true, one-of-a-kind reflection of the player behind the guitar. As originally planned, he combines new-time features with old-time building techniques. “I build new guitars for players who want a vintage look and sound.” He also builds guitars that are easy to maintain and built to last. Three truss rods are built into the neck for strength. Two are carbon fiber, which has the weight of wood and the strength of steel, and one is adjustable to correct string tension. “The adjustable rod bends the neck either way so it stays in place,” he says, adding that he also uses bolt-on necks rather than glued-on to allow for easy neck resets, and reverse kerfing (lining) for added stability around the sides.

Hauver’s “Mustachio” Grand Concert Guitar has the same body dimensions and ladder bracing pattern as the 1920s A. Galiano guitar. The bracing runs horizontally from side to side and lends to the guitar’s dry, burly tone. 22 | fluent

Hauver insists on building his guitars of solid wood. “Different woods produce different sound characteristics,” he explains. “For instance, maple


Gambler (auditorium) twelve-string guitar with decal motif of playing cards. These guitars are offered with six or twelve strings in several sizes and with a mother-of-pearl fingerboard.

produces a harder sound, rosewood produces a softer sound, and mahogany produces a sound that’s in the middle of the road. I try to build a lot of warmth into my guitars,” he says. “Players can add the edge, but if the guitar is already bright sounding, you can never make it warm. Brightness can be added through the playing.” As for good tone, Hauver says the secret is keeping the bridge in the belly of the guitar. “That’s what Oscar Schmidt did.”

The Story Behind the Label Recently, Hauver began engraving his name into his guitar handles, but the true brand of a Hauver guitar is in the old-style label that displays from the interior. Neil Harpe, a blues musician/artist/collector/ dealer and long-time friend u Auditorium 12-string guitar. “Huddie ‘Lead Belly’ Ledbetter is undoubtedly the most famous name associated with the Stella twelve-string guitar,” says Hauver. fluent | 23


of Hauver, designed the labels, which feature Harpe’s lithographic prints of old-time blues players based on early Stella labels. Harpe’s artwork is a natural fit for the Hauver brand. “Neil created those lithographs 15 years before I even began building guitars,” he says. Hauver stays busy in his small studio filling orders for his “new-old” guitars and performing high-end repairs on guitars from all over the United States, Australia, Germany, Spain and the U.K. “I can complete one guitar in about 60 hours over a 6-week period,“ he says. “Much of that is downtime for drying and curing.” His well-earned reputation continues to gain visibility as modern blues artists like Little Toby Walker, Stefan Grossman, Tom Feldmann and Happy Traum sing Hauver’s praises and use his guitars to teach future generations of blues musicians. “People see these instructors using my guitars and they want the same sound,” he says. They also want the best of both worlds—new guitars with old sound. On this note, Hauver more than delivers. fluent

For more information, visit www.hauverguitars.com. Little Toby Walker talks through the structure of a Hauver “Blind Blake” guitar and plays a demo: http://www.youtube. com/watch?v=AVfqUBGThWg A look at how an old Stella guitar is restored: http://www.stellaguitars.com/restoration%20of%20 a%20Stella.htm R.L. Burnside plays the Hauver “Charley Patton” Guitar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjaYhhe2oWE&play next_from=TL&videos=dgqKXVr7LHA Toby Walker plays the “Barbecue Bob” 12-string guitar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7plVe3VkQRg

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St. John’s DC


Making connections: The Photography of

David ROSEN By Nancy McKeithen

H

e’s passionate about photographing architecture, and about taking pictures of things people connect with. “Buildings speak to us,” says David Rosen. “A good building tells a story to anyone.” Like this yellow church across the street from the White House—it’s one of his favorite photographs. Rosen shoots with a Sony DSLR but says the best camera is “the one you have with you.” While his favorite time of year to shoot is spring—for the color—the picture he has sold the most is one he took in winter: “Panoramic Shepherdstown Street” (page 30). Rosen has dabbled in different media; in college at UMBC, he studied graphic design as a way to get paid to do art. And he does, in a way, running the grants website at the National Institutes of Health. “It keeps Photoshop open on my desk,” he says, smiling. He also loves painting and drawing, “but I always come back to photography and digital art.” The convergence of those is something he first did for fun that has evolved into art u

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that gets commissioned—a photograph of a street in Harpers Ferry or the church where a couple got married, for example. And his work is featured at PLUM, a jewelry store in Shepherdstown owned by his wife, Cari Aliveto Rosen. Also an artist, she specializes in sterling silver and hand-stamped jewelry. For Rosen, making art goes hand in hand with entrepreneurship. “An entrepreneur creates to make money, and an artist creates to make more art,” he ponders. “But in the end, they’re both entrepreneurs. If you’re an artist and you want to sustain it for the long term, you have to do it for profit. I sell art so I can create more art... it supports itself.” When Rosen isn’t taking photographs, he’s often thinking about his audience—how to connect his art to them, and how to market his art. “There has to be a story behind it,” he says. With his help, the buildings he shoots provide that. “Most of my inspiration comes from painters,” he says, mentioning Kandinsky. “His early work was almost all buildings ... almost like fluorescent colors.” The way he describes the painter’s work—“like two pieces of art, layered, where one is the photograph of the buildings and the other is the art and geometry of how the colors lay out”—can describe his own work as well. As his work evolves, Rosen wants to make photographs where there’s a lot of digital manipulation and yet it’s difficult to perceive. “The kind of photograph that compels someone to look at a picture and think, ‘Oh, that’s a good photograph’ and then all of a sudden realize something’s not right,” he says. A surrealist photo. He says he’ll get there, eventually. “Art is something I want to do forever.” fluent

For more information, visit plumwv.com or email rosend@gmail.com.

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u Yellow Brick Bank


Reflection Blues

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Opera House

u Our Snow Globe


Sunset Library


MERCY KILLERS

Comes to the Eastern Panhandle BY SEAN O’LEARY

Michael Milligan’s poignant one-man play explores the human struggle behind the political battle over healthcare.

I

f you hang around people who work in the arts, it’s not unusual to hear that artistic works can powerfully influence politics... that novels, movies and plays can bring to public awareness issues that would otherwise go unnoticed... or that the arts can change peoples’ opinions about already roiling controversies. Sadly, evidence suggests that this is rarely the case. It’s true that Abraham Lincoln greeted Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, with the words, “So, you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!” The

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British parliament implemented child labor laws and other measures to limit the abuse of workers and debtors in the wake of Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist and David Copperfield. And, in the last century, Sinclair Lewis’s novel The Jungle is generally credited with concentrating public attention on abusive and unsanitary conditions in the meatpacking industry resulting in the nation’s first food safety laws. But, beyond those cases, one would be hardpressed to cite other instances in which works of art were primarily responsible for bringing major issues to the fore or for significantly altering debate.


Still, none of this means that art doesn’t have an effect. It just works more subtly. Michael Milligan’s performance of his one-man play, Mercy Killers, doesn’t tell us what we should do about our healthcare system. It doesn’t even expose us to much of anything we don’t already know about it. In fact, with the advent of the Affordable Care Act, some of the facts the play does present are now dated. But, for an hour Mercy Killers powerfully does something that is in its own right vital and all too rare. We, along with Milligan’s character, a profane but tragically endearing car mechanic, are plunged into an

emotional maelstrom of the inadequacy, resentment, guilt and grief we experience when we are forced to watch helplessly as someone we love suffers, perhaps needlessly, even as the life we built collapses around us socially, financially and in our own minds. We are taken to a place beneath the mind-numbing statistics about the numbers of the uninsured, the percentage of middle-class households plunged into bankruptcy, budgetary considerations, and the astronomical costs of medical care to something more elemental—to the reasons that we must care about these things however arcane the debate sometimes becomes. u fluent | 35


In the end, Milligan’s play doesn’t tell us what to think about healthcare, but it puts us in a place emotionally and intellectually that prepares us to think about the issue and examine it from a 360-degree perspective that encompasses compassion as well as reason. It reminds us of what illness means in all its dimensions for caregivers as well as for patients and what it means in our souls as well as in our pocketbooks. That’s probably why the Eastern Panhandle Single Payer Action Network (EPSPAN), an advocacy group for a single-payer healthcare system, chose to present Milligan’s play as a lead-in to a post-performance discussion that will explore where we are with healthcare, the ways in which the Affordable Care Act may or may not be working, and where we should go from here. But, regardless of where that conversation goes, Mercy Killers is an example of art doing what art does well, which is not nuanced criticism or analysis of policy and proposals. Mercy Killers is a play and a performance that puts us in touch with our humanity and then lets the analysis and policy debates flow from there. fluent

Mercy Killers, a play by Michael Milligan, will be presented throughout the Eastern Panhandle at the following times and places. There is no charge for admission, however, contributions to support Milligan and his national tour of Mercy Killers will be accepted. 3/28, 7 pm, BERKELEY SPRINGS, Ice House, 138 Independence St 3/29, 1:30 pm, CHARLES TOWN, Fisherman’s Hall, 312 S West St 3/30, 2 pm, SHEPHERDSTOWN, Opera House, 131 W German St 3/31, 7 pm, MARTINSBURG, Calvary Church, 220 W Burke St 4/1, 7 pm, RANSON, Baha’i Ctr., 308 S Buchannan St 4/2, 12:30 pm, SHEPHERDSTOWN, Erma Ora Byrd Nursing Hall, Shepherd Universary For more information, go to www.mercykillers.com or www.mercykillerswv.wordpress.com

The Bridge Fine Art & Framing Gallery

Drawing Exhibit • Through March Colored Pencil Drawing Workshop • Judy Bradshaw • Mar 16, 1–4 pm (must register)

8566 Shepherdstown Pike, Shepherdstown WV 25443 • 304.876.2300 Fine Art, Ceramics, Photography & Custom Framing 36 | fluent


ADVERTISEMENT

ENTREPRENEURS’ CAFÉ

EASTERN PANHANDLE

Be part of a local business’s success story. At each Entrepreneurs’ Café, five businesses pitch their ideas and compete for your vote to win the micro-grant cash award. A $10 admission fee from attendees provides the money for the micro-grant, and also includes light refreshments.

A little goes a long way. A larger printer. A promotional video. An automated inventory system. Past winners of the Entrepreneurs’ Café have leveraged micro-grants of $500 to $1,000 to reach new heights of success for their businesses. To date, more than $21,000 in micro-grants has been awarded.

Be part of the Entrepreneurs’ Café. Be part of the success story. [ Wednesday, April 23, 6:30 pm White Hall, Princess & High Streets, Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, WV $10 at the door. All proceeds go to the winner of the Café. To apply to be a presenter: Deadline April 9 Applications available online or email David Rosen at rosend@gmail.com

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POETRY

Into The Meadow For my father

Orphaned

Bushel & Peck

for J.J.L.

I had this idea. It sounded like lemons

When he lost them at three, left to a farmer in need of extra hands, he grew up digging. Arms taut and muscled, yearning to extend into the dust, he planted his bare feet in the Earth. Turning the fields over, shirt-sleeves cuffed to the elbows; brine rolled off his face and dripped into the soil. He knew parched land though he never spoke of it; he just kept on tilling, reaching, praying for rain to wake them up. Pamela Mathison-Levitt, Martinsburg, WV

a different way to define weight&amount— a different way to talk about death how many lemons is that? asking myself as I touch the clothes on the rack (fifteen lemons) and carry the casket uphill both ways: two hundred and twenty-seven lemons— which means it is too heavy, threatening to spill out over the top of the wheelbarrow piled high with dirt&bones they fall into yet another hole in the ground, filling it with yellow symbolism and lemons. Anna Brammeier Shepherdstown, WV

We should have put you where cows graze and birds light on every limb where maples blaze along an autumn fencerow and June sends waves of daisies, yarrow, and buttercup, should have tucked your bones where you were most at home— sun rising and setting, grass blooming, withering— your soul, shining with dew, singing its celebratory song. Connie Jordan Green, Lenoir City, TN Oak Ridge, Tennessee, 1944 I’ll never forget the boardwalk the skates sang to, how we dropped coins through its cracks, milk money vanishing before we reached school, and at night pines in the wind a whispering choir beyond our bedroom window, oaks towering, their rocky understory becoming our rooms, our paths, and far below the house a gully cutting through clay banks, place of imagined animals ready to pounce, fear an emotion we had to invent in our daily games, the cold war and Nikita Khrushchev, bomb shelters and evacuation routes images waiting to haunt our adolescent years, the simplicity of our childhood a jewel we would turn this way and that, marvel at the light bouncing from its surface. Connie Jordan Green, Lenoir City, TN

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Canary My grandfather carried a canary into the mine he knew what to do when it stopped singing. He crawled backwards out of the womb of the mountain before the bird fell over tight as a willow bud. He traded their money, these tokens lighter than feathers for bread, for jam for his children, shoeless, hungry as nestlings. I carry his name into darkness now: I tell him they are stripping our mountain down to the bones. Where will we go when the rivers dry up when the trees turn to ash and the sky goes black as the mine that took his lungs? He turns away from me, blue eyes shining but I can’t stop singing. Kathryn Wilson, Loiusville, KY Worry Comes to Stay Uninvited, unexpected, she evidenced herself at first with faint footprints on the doorstep in the mornings, odd bits of rubble tracked in overnight, soiling the mat. Soon she grew bolder: jiggled doorknobs, scratched at windowpanes, left withered bouquets of long-dead flowers in the mailbox. When she showed up with her belongings — battered old valise, a steamer trunk draped with cobwebs — she closed the windows to block bird song, the morning breeze; lowered the shades against spring sunlight. All night the measured thuds of her black thick-heeled oxfords echo as she paces from room to room, and a fetid odor's thickened the air, like skunk cabbage decaying in a swamp. Early on it might have been possible to evict her. After a month, she's rooted, her shrouded bulk filling the frontporch rocker day after day as she sways slowly back and forth, staring blank-eyed into the yard, seeing nothing good ahead, and not planning a departure.

Paradise After Arthur Smith I used to live in a similar place. At noon the sun poured over the mountain, spread her molten heat like the hottest ember in the coal grate. By evening the hollows steamed, cooled overnight by a draft from deep mine shafts, by breezes sweeping down the hillsides. Summers were eternal, winters like a plunge into ice water, spring broke in a rapture of bloodroot, hepatica, trailing arbutus, chartreuse trees shimmering on the ridges, autumn like an artist gone mad with his brushes. I used to live where cousins were daily companions, where my grandfather’s hot toddy started the day, my grandmother’s black skillet was always frying up chicken, where my father wore coal dust and my mother sang, sang, sang the day away, used to live in a house small as a shoe box where Christmas and Easter created happy chaos, where childhood diseases sulfured the air, and always the windows gleamed, the porch boards were nailed tight, and love cupped her hands around us all, lived there in my childhood disguise, filling, filling the vessel of self, honey to last a lifetime. Connie Jordan Green, Lenoir City, TN

Carol Grametbauer, Kingston, TN fluent | 39


FICTION

Interlude BY JIM KOENIG

My old man, Rosser, wasn’t in our crappy motel room. On the way back I’d rattled the door on the VFW, and it had just closed. He was on foot. It was turning cold, and I had the trench coat he’d left behind. I wore my surplus Army jacket with a Day-Glo orange peace symbol painted on the back. Instead of carrying his coat, I squeezed it on over my own. It was like putting on his skin because of the booze and cigarette stink. A quick pat and I found his pint and smokes. In the other pocket was his buckeye. It was a country boy thing, an Ohio lucky charm: a fat, glossy brown nut you couldn’t even eat. When loaded, Rosser fixed a Camel between his index and middle fingers and rolled a buckeye in his other hand, waiting for Lady Luck to walk in a tavern and wink at him. Instead, some old woozy broad would sidle-up and cadge a couple of drafts and half a dozen smokes before taking him home. Probably didn’t happen tonight because he’s been pissed-off about something and guzzled more than usual. I just about got loaded myself before a chick pulled me away to dance and I lost track of my old man. While searching for him, I found two bars still open with a few Rosser look-a-likes—wiry old men with G.I. flattops and closely shaved red faces hunched over shots and sweaty mugs. They eyeballed me for a millisecond while stubbing out butts in crowded, smoldering ashtrays. I could tell by the way they looked at me that they thought I was a draft dodger. That’s what World War II vets, like Rosser, always thought about us hippies. He wasn’t in the bar, so I hit the road out to Memorial Park. Once beyond the reach of streetlights, a bright moon spooked-up the landscape as I pushed 40 | fluent

deeper and deeper into the night. Fucking Rosser, what a trip! Stopping at the Park entrance, I could hear faint grunting noises. I tracked the sounds, my eyes stopping at the cluster of war memorials. Something or someone seemed to be hugging the puny Vietnam monument the town put up in the early days of the war when the first casket arrived containing a local boy and everybody knew there’d eventually be more. Town talk was right on: it did look like a fat parking lot bollard with a tilted hat. A compromise, they said. Viet vets wanted to forget, while the senior set remembered long ago wars worthy of grand monuments. A heroic granite monolith loomed nearby. WW I claimed one massive face and WW II on the other, scores of names chiseled in neat soldierly rows: KIAs move column right, survivors move column left, all heroes to the home, folks. A third memorial displayed a weary, life-size bronze dogface. Crouching atop a high pedestal, an alert soldier listened intently for the enemy, trapped forever in the cold hilly landscape around the Chosin Reservoir in northeast Korea. Soon, waves of Red Chinese would make his life a freezing hell, a brave soldier even in retreat. From about ten feet away I began to make out a man on his knees, arms wrapped around the stubby concrete pillar that honored Viet vets. Whatever the hell he was doing sure looked like he was trying to rock the small monument out of the ground. This was kooky and just like Rosser when he was really polluted. I sat down on a park bench. The bollard had won that round, and the scrawny old man released his hold and settled back on his heels.


It was my father, all right. There were black splotches on Rosser’s moonlit face and hands that were either dirt or blood. His clothes were a mess. He didn’t seem surprised to find me watching. “Looks like you could use some help,” I said, although he never wanted any from his disappointmentof-a-son, a recent college dropout and, in his mind, a soon-to-be draft dodger. Rosser’s breath came in short gasps. “You can give me a goddamn smoke,” he huffed, struggling to his feet. Finding his legs, he wobbled over and sat down heavily on the far side of the bench. I fished out the pack and pint and set them down between us. A small flame wavered underneath the cigarette, his hand unsteady. He followed with a long pull off the bottle. “Don’t be stupid,” he said. “We had the damn war won,” he spoke in the same ruined rummy’s voice that seemed to always need a great hacking cough to clear. I figured he was talking about his war, WWII, but it could be now. The Viet Cong were whipped, the spit-shined, crew cut generals told the president, congress, and us. Then came the Tet offensive and all the hippie war protestors poured onto the streets. I had their look—beard, beads and long hair—because it was the thing to do. Until now, the war had been somebody else’s problem. Then, I lost my deferment and got my draft notice. “We’d be home for Christmas,” Rosser continued, “Hell, we didn’t even have winter gear. Then came the Bulge.” He took another long pull then put the bottle down on the bench between us.

I expected he’d walk away, probably sobered up just enough to be embarrassed since he never talked about the War. “Keep the fuckin’ buckeye,” Rosser hissed, “and, don’t believe Army bullshit, ever.” He got up and wobbled back to the small monument and knelt down hard against it. Locking his arms around the Vietnam memorial, he grunted and rocked, trying to rip it from the earth. Bathed in lunar light, I sipped the dregs of whiskey and watched him do his thing. After a couple of minutes, I shed his trench coat and tossed it on the bench. The surplus Army jacket reminded me that my draft number was up and I had to report to Fort Holabird in a week for my induction physical. Shoving his shiny buckeye into my back pocket, I marched over to help, whether he wanted any or not. fluent

Jim has won numerous awards for his short stories, including several first place awards in the annual contest sponsored by West Virginia Writers, Inc. and a first place from the West Virginia Fiction Contest sponsored by Shepherd University. His stories have been published in six anthologies of Appalachian writers and elsewhere. For the past thirty years he and his wife/ editor, Susanne, have lived in the woods near Harpers Ferry. fluent | 41


ED:CETERA

Babysitting, The Affordable Care Act & How To Reduce Lyme Disease BY ED ZAHNISER

Our present taken-in-stray cat is fastidious about its food and disdainful of its staff if we alter its diet. (I am using the objective “it/its” forms to avoid close identification.) At our former house, the contrast between our cat and the opossum was acute. The opossum thought cat food was wonderful. Had it read The Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Scriptures, it would probably think “manna from heaven.” The staff was trained to place the cat’s chow in the cat’s bowl on the cat’s front porch. But it often disdained the food, after harassing the staff, starting an hour before its mealtime. The major mealtime job for 50 percent of the staff—that would be I—was to go out to check on its meal. Somehow both the kitchen and the immediate wait staff labored under the illusion that we’d get a better gratuity by being attentive. The truth was more like the relationship between Beat poet Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady—the hero of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road. Ginsberg was desperate for Cassady’s attentions, but Cassady merely played Ginsberg along just enough to keep him crazy for Cassady. Our neighbor the opossum, by contrast, didn’t give a smooth, over-sized rat’s tail about the Beat Generation. It wanted the cat’s food. I came out on the porch to check on the cat formerly known as “it” but found instead the possum gobbling the food. “Oh no,” I thought, “ The possum will roll over on the cat’s porch and play dead. Not so. The possum looked up at me and bared every tooth in its pointy-mouthed head. No tip from this diner—just “Get back, Jojo.” 42 | fluent

Obviously, the possum didn’t feel threatened. It didn’t go into its play-dead threat response. That was my karma, which requires some explanation. My first babysitting job—I believe the job is now classified as “child care”—was for the neighbor lady across the street. I was about 13 years old. The lady’s husband had abandoned her for a younger woman who wasn’t bedeviled by three kids that her husband had gifted her. The oldest kid was almost my age and a pal of mine. However, his mother didn’t feel she could trust him to babysit his two younger sisters. As his pal, I knew she was dead right. I had no experience with babysitting, but I was the youngest of four kids and had heavy experience with being tricked and having my mind messed with. Chicanery just might sub for experience at babysitting. So I told the two younger girls that we were going to play a fun game called “possum.” Playing possum isn’t complicated, I explained. You just play like you’re dead. You lie as still as you can and keep totally quiet. The one who plays dead the longest wins. They bit—and didn’t ask about a prize for winning. We three lay on the living room rug. All was still and quiet. “This just might work,” I thought to myself. This must be what it’s like to get paid to do sleep studies. Not that this was even up to minimum wage. This was still baby-sitting rates not child care rates. Many editors refuse to let you write things like: “We lay there for some of


the longest minutes of my life.” You can’t qualify the duration of fixed measures of time, such editors tell you. A minute of time is 60 seconds. There is no minute of time shorter or longer than 60 seconds that is a minute. The younger girl lasted about five minutes. She had never been edited, so I’m sure they were long minutes for her. For me those same minutes were short. Oh no, I thought, I’ll have to baby sit for real. I could tell that a re-match wouldn’t sell. I had seen only one or two possums in the wild before getting put in my place by that possum on the cat’s front porch at the cat’s food dish. Possums caught my attention in the 1980s, however, when I read in Natural History magazine that possums are not known to get sick. Possums have been around a long time, unless you subscribe to the idea that God created everything all at once but not quite ex nihilo—sort of like the Big Bang theory but far less wasteful time-wise—in 4004 BCE. Their longevity as a species, scientists speculated, explained their immunity to disease. A decade or more later, my day job (biased toward the empirical) made it necessary for me to see whether the empiricism of science agreed with the literal interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures. I was not in a position to judge which account was correct, the empirical studies or a literal reading of ancient creation stories translated from another language and another culture epoch.

The plural, “stories,” is operative here, because The Book of Genesis alone has two creation accounts. Five more are found throughout the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures. Old Testament scholar William P. Brown recounts the suite of stories in his book The Seven Pillars of Creation. The story pieced together by scientists indicates that possums arose when dinosaurs still roamed Earth. Then-tiny possum-like early mammals arose 65 million years ago. Tiny was good, then, even though dinosaurs—some about the size of a Walmart—were on their way out. High-resolution CT scans of one 55-million-year-old skull were done before The Affordable Care Act kicked in. Why, I don’t know. The skull had been removed from a former lakebed in Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin. Some non-empiricist critics say the Devil sprinkled that skull—and other bones—across various landscapes worldwide to stoke the imaginary fires of science. A 2009 news release from the University of Florida said that “… the evolutionary split between the ancestor of opossums and the ancestor of all other living marsupials occurred at least 65 million years ago.” Bishop Ussher, who did the date study for 4004 BCE, wasn’t born yet. It is not known whether the bishop even knew that marsupials—most popular as kangaroos—are mammals whose young are born at an early stage of development and are carried in a pouch. The nearfetal-stage newborns crawl up the mother’s body into her pouch. Conveniently, the pouch is outfitted with nipples to which the little ones attach. Most mammals are placental, which is irrelevant here, where it simply begs explanation. But this story is only tangentially about possums. It’s more about my first babysitting job, and the attempt to get the girls to play possum. Had I known then what I learned last month, I might have sought a different game metaphor than “playing possum.” My vision of a possum playing dead went something like the u fluent | 43


following: The possum is foraging about and, sensing a threat, plops over on its side and plays dead. When the threat appears to pass, the possum gets up and goes about its business. Evidently it’s more involved than that. In a blog post to “Adirondack Almanac,” Kenrick Vezina, who works for the Genetic Literacy Project, fleshes out— to put it mildly—the details. Vezina reports that “… when it comes to feigning death, the possum is anything but playing … . It drops into a near-coma. It’s tongue lolls, eyes open but vacant, and a foul green liquid leaks from its anus.” Babysitting and playing possum? I was the youngest of four so I never changed a diaper until my wife and I had kids of her own. I passed up the opportunity while “watching” a bevy of nieces and nephews. Among my siblings, I became known as “the changeless uncle.” A green liquid leaking … Yuck! Today’s young kids may have watched on YouTube what I didn’t even know existed. Vezina doesn’t indicate that the possum lies there straining to produce that green liquid. The liquid leaks—an active verb, apparently independent of possum volition. Vezina continues: “It may take a possum upwards of four hours to come out of this apparently involuntary biochemical state.” Four hours? Having those two little girls out of it for four hours—at 50 cents an hour? Still probably not worth the green liquid clean up. You, dear reader, may wish for a different takeaway, so let me share a couple of Vezina’s other facts about possums, facts no doubt due to their longevity as a species, if the science story is correct. “Possums are highly resistant to pit viper (e.g., copperhead, water moccasin) venoms. Research suggests that possums—which will eat snakes, among many other things—are locked in an evolutionary arms race… constantly developing new ways to combat snake venom. They’re highly resistant to rabies, likely as a result of a slightly lower body temperature that makes it difficult for the virus to thrive.” They also function as tick vacuums. A possum trundling through the undergrowth accumulates a large collection of ticks, but possums are such fastidious groomers that ticks which latch onto them are as good as dead. A dense possum population may even help reduce the prevalence of Lyme disease. fluent 44 | fluent

Like Jazz in the American Night, my grandmother’s voice is the American West and her y’alls have lost all sense of propriety since the days she was married to a politician. I can tell she hated those days when her wings were clipped in a suburban cage. she isn’t a Zelda per se, even though whiskey’s about all that whet her tongue but there’s definitely that wild grace about her, and I’ve heard she was a hoot at the dinner parties. she’s settled back in the South now but I know she aches for some lonesome place in New Mexico where we can share a love for the arid palette — the sage and ombre and lavender and orange, the dust and cacti and rugged individualism people will never understand. she belongs with the horses and moonshine and mountain skyline, away from the orange plastic bottles of poisons and cheap rental apartments. we’ll find a little cabin and hunker down for the summer, breathing in inky skies and cassiopea. like jazz in the American night, we’ll whisper with the crickets that there’s nothing new under the sun, but isn’t it fine tonight? Eileen Waggoner “Like Jazz in the American Night,” was previously published in Sans Merci.


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CODA

And the winner is ...

Jeremy Horner stars in “The Silence of the Lambrusco” • A Grapes & Grain Gourmet Production Cheryl Gallery, Producer • Konrad Turnbull, Cinematographer www.grapesandgrainsgourmet.com • 304-876-1316 • 110 E German St, Shepherdstown, WV 46 | fluent

Fluent Spring 2014