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The Merrimack Review

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Winter 2014-2015 | Issue Two


! Editorial Staff

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Managing Editor: Michelle Athena Norton Nonfiction Editor: Julia Lemieux  Fiction Editor: Samantha Myott  Art & Assistant Fiction Editor: Emily O’Brien  Poetry Editor: Jacques Denault  Artist: Shailinn Messer  Advisor: Andrea Cohen

The Merrimack Review is a student-run literary and art magazine. We accept submissions from undergraduate and graduate students, regardless of academic institution or program of study, with the purpose of giving new and emerging writers/artists a space of their own. We are a proud member of The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, and are sponsored by Merrimack College’s Writers House: www.merrimack.edu/academics/the-writers-house.

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Artwork & photography provided by the editorial staff and Shailinn Messer, an undergraduate at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts.

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____________ www.merrimackreview.com merrimackreview@gmail.com @MerrimackReview

! ! ! ! ! ! A special thanks to Adrian Nicole LeBlanc for her time and a wonderful interview. ! ! ! ! ____________

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Contents

! 4 | “The Stories That Writers Dwell In” — Interview with Adrian Nicole LeBlanc ! 8 | Thinking About Pumpkins in July — Lynn Holmgren ! 9 | Extreme Croquet — Hannah Dow 10 | “A Feeling (in five acts)” — Lis Anna-Langston

! 21 | Bow-tie — Anna Maria Hardcastle !

23 | Western Dream — Samantha Baffoni “Secrets” — Kelsey Grimmer

! 25 | For A Lover Long Dead — Alexis Ivy ! 26 | The River’s Arms — Bre Hall ! 27 | Virgo — Samantha Baffoni ! 28 | Boston, April 2013 — Leila Bilick ! 29 | Strigil — Hannah Dow “Eight Minutes” — Tayler Smith

! 32 | Portrait of Tamar — Leila Bilick ! 33 | What We Do — Clark Xu ! 34 | Contributors’ Notes ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! 3


“The Stories That Writers Dwell In” !

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By Michelle Athena Norton

Editor Michelle Athena Norton sat down with Adrian Nicole LeBlanc to talk about her book Random Family, her journey in journalism, and the craft of writing. While Writer-InResidence at the Writers House in November 2014, LeBlanc visited classes, attended a session of the Writers Circle held by Merrimack students, and gave a keynote talk/discussion with several of the people chronicled in her MacArthur Award winning book about love, drugs, trouble, and coming of age in the Bronx.

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(Interview transcribed from digital recording and edited for clarity)

! ! MAN: I want to start with your roots in journalism and what you’ve learned in the field. ! ANL: My roots in journalism spiritually start in my hometown, Leominster, which is considered a blue-collar factory town. When I went off to a fancy college, I was struck by the discrepancy between my experience of home and how such places were characterized. These places were often reduced to their hardship, or characterized too simply. The disjuncture between the reality and these assumptions made a deep impression on me. In my writing, one motivation is to try to show the texture of similar places in somewhat accurate proportion to how they are experienced.

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My professional career had roots in the very same privilege, and I am eternally grateful for my time at that amazing school—Smith College. I learned I wanted to become a writer when I was an undergraduate. I took a non-fiction writing class and I received a lot of encouragement. I’d never thought about becoming a writer. I took the encouragement and ran with it.

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MAN: You’ve been our Writer-In-Residence at Merrimack College for the past week. What has been your experience working with Merrimack students?

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ANL: I love the community service component of Merrimack’s curricula, the rootedness of it, the act of shared experiential education, as far as I understand it. I would love to cook up something similar with journalism. I wish I had more time to learn more about the various programs and hear what’s going on locally. The students I met were very 4


polite, but I sense some restraint in speaking out – people have these passions and I wanted to nudge them a bit: I was tempted to say, Come on! Say what you think! Don’t worry how it sounds! Relationships over time are what allow for fuller conversations. This limitation happens in journalism, too: people need time to get a sense of you and be able to ask questions, as you do with them. But I’m not an experienced teacher. I may know how to do that one-on-one as a journalist sometimes, but I don’t know how to do that in a group.

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MAN: I was not expecting that answer at all. But, I really appreciate your honesty. Even last night in the Writers Circle [Merrimack College’s organized weekly meetings for student-writers] you had a lot of interesting things to say. You have this intuition…

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ANL: I felt badly about that actually. To see people taking such genuine pleasure, and in a self-motivated group, is not common. I do feel you are all up to something more serious than you own up to. There was ambition there, yet an insistence on acting more casual, almost like a hobby. The emphasis on easy fun can be a trap. Writing is hard work. The work can be deeply pleasurable. The pleasure is not in only being kind to each other and encouraging one another by compliments. You are asking people to listen to you and you have to work to earn their time. It’s rude to ramble on for the sheer sake of hearing your voice. I’m a listener or a reader. I’m not your mother; I don’t want to listen to everything you’re thinking; I want to listen to the best of what you got, the thoughts as fully formed as you can make them. This is the hard work. But to then really focus on it carefully, together as a group, can be profoundly gratifying—collaboration with others in the shared pursuit, not just cheering. Cheering is important, but it seems to me there’s a lot more at stake. A deeper expression of faith. Editing can be difficult, and to propose this to a group of strangers? Well. I struggled with that. Because as a teacher, I’d be inclined to say, “Okay now. Great. Terrific. Let’s talk about what wrong in your piece. How do we fix this sentence?”

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MAN: This really is a great transition into the next question! What advice do you— or would you— give your students in either the non-fiction genre, or other genres, that you have benefited from in your own writing?

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ANL: That’s a really good question. Read. Read. Read. And read to your delight. Allow the pleasure of your curiosities in the reading to go wild. Never say, “Oh, that’s not serious enough,” just read any kind of writing all the time. Especially writing you love— crime novels, it doesn't matter—devour them. Spend time treating yourself as rigorously as you might treat an interview subject. Try to apply that kind of scrutiny and discernment and generosity to yourself because your own blind spots can be strengths as well as weaknesses, and you’re responsible for figuring them out. Good editors, if you are lucky to have the same ones over time, will point out such patterns to you, because they are patterns. It’s almost a self-inventory of things you know you’re good at, things you know you are nervous or shy about. And then you can enjoy your flaws. You want to feel good and strong in yourself, as you. You can do that with skills, but you have to have good teachers, a willingness to be humbled on a regular basis.

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MAN: In Random Family, there is a scene with Jessica renting a limo for Serena, her daughter, to celebrate Serena’s Sweet Sixteen.  As they drive around contemplating a place to go, they end up in the familiar neighborhoods of the Bronx. They were bound in this way to what they knew, and even though they wanted to explore outside of that, there didn’t seem to be a direction out— a metaphor for their lives. Did you feel after spending so many years immersed in this world that you didn’t have a direction out, or were you able to separate yourself?

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ANL: Wow. I’ve been asked a billion questions about this book and I’ve never been asked that question. That’s a very good question.

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I think there were long periods of time where that was the very fact. That there would come a time when I would have to leave was, for years, something I didn’t want to think about. I am not sure I did. Editors would say, “You know, you have to wrap it up.” It’s very possible that writers dwell; the stories the writers dwell in are the places from which they can’t separate themselves, or, perhaps, they can’t leave yet. In a way, non-fiction writing is a way to hold time still, to capture detailed experience that would otherwise exist only as memory—this happened here, this happened in this place. For me, anyway. I suspect I’m really writing the same story over and over again. I’m moving the train and maybe it’s getting a little more refined, clearer, about my opinions and motivations. But you could look at the body of my work and see a lot of the same intersections. I’m probably still in that place. A bit more self-aware—I hope! If you don’t think you are as afflicted by your humanity, and as beautiful in your humanity, then it can be harder to see such qualities in other people.

! MAN: You seem to have this acceptance of what you can’t answer. Not fully, at least. !

ANL: Well, partly because it doesn’t give you any room to move around if you’re supposed to know everything—the expectations are a certain kind of straightjacket. Success can be a bit like that too. It can help you with your material life and your freedom to pursue your interests, but one has to be able to hear the voice from within yourself, which doesn’t always mesh with what people have come to love or expect. Then there are other responsibilities to readers—tall different levels of economy and efficacy. Here, at Merrimack, I can indulge my complications about the craft because you’re a writer, and I can fairly assume your detailed level of interest, but if you are a busy woman, and a potential reader, I must earn your attention—and still stay true to myself.

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MAN: So what would you say to someone who is trying to establish himself or herself as a writer, a current student or someone about to graduate? What would be your advice to them? How do I go out into this world?

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ANL: The bigger question is how do you create a sustainable life as a writer, and I think that’s really worth thinking practically about. For me, the key would be to figure out a 6


way to earn money that doesn’t necessarily use the same muscles that you use as a writer. Or uses the muscles in a way that feeds the writing. Find a way to have solitude, which you need. And I would say to find a cabinet of people who are good counselors, which include your teachers and fellow readers. Become such a person yourself. We all need people who keep you reading and writing in whatever direction you’re going in. If you have to do other work for a little while, or forever, you have mirrors reflecting this deep interest of yours during the rough times— when your ability to see may become obscured. They can’t convince you, but they can hold the light at the end of the tunnel.

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! Thinking About Pumpkins in July ! !

July and the ovens are sleeping. Outside, children run pink at the chin with melon juice, fresh tomatoes sliced and freckled with salt. Neighbors obsess over zucchini recipes and the eggplants’ black magic. Shiver past

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the freezer aisle toward produce Fresh-Picked, Off-the-Vine, By-the-Mouthful.

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No one thinks of pumpkins until orange belly-up October arrives, knives shark-circling for a top trap-door, carving through bumpy rigor mortis, creating posthumous personality in a gap-toothed grin.

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Invisible is the long stretch of hot months when neon-green vines give rise to mammoth-umbrella leaves covered in delicate fuzz, while closemouthed, the ancient gourds become fluent.

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A growing city, shaded metropolis of nesting field mice, their offspring safe from the owl’s hunt until the leaves

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all wither in the field, unveiling, stretched, orange drums.

! By November pumpkin’s complexion will be ! smooth as caramel, pressed into pie-shape. An entire summer’s sun-turned-sugar, cream-topped, forgotten July, warm spices layered like quilts, the drunken weight of winter dreams.

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—Lynn Holmgren

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! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! 


Extreme Croquet

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After responding to the Craigslist ad, we gather here today in loincloths and dotcom T-shirts (You wear a bear costume. I am Abe Lincoln without pants). Wickets are an afterthought—children and dogs, legal obstacles. We all take turns slamming our mallets against wooden balls. A good swing is hopeless when your ball is stuck in the mud, but you smack away, mud splatters your fur, my beard. A hornet’s nest is the third wicket: your ball makes contact—best shot I’ve seen all day—I shriek (still wearing a loincloth, if you recall), hold tight to the stuffed pony that’s between my legs, give it a quick wallop, run. I want to say at least you didn’t hit a goat this time, but the red hives of my skin say a goat provoked is seldom fatal.

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—Hannah Dow

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! ! A Feeling (in five acts)

! by: Lis Anna-Langston ! ! ! i.

"It's a feeling," Eloise said. "A what?" "A feeling." She didn't have time to finish the explanation because a small, robust woman piled items for purchase on the card table. I stared deep and hard at the feeling, taking in the details. Eloise turned awkwardly in her fold out chair and rolled her eyes in a way that whispered Philistine, soft, yet final. "It's high art," she pressed. And we left it at that. Until the sale wound down. Stragglers came and went. Cars slowed but didn't stop. The feeling sat alone on an end table next to a set of golf clubs, lonely and out of place like a third grader trying to crash senior prom. The sky was overcast. Saturday. Occasionally a deal seeker actually stopped at the curb and jumped out of their car. It stunned me how ready people were to dig through the contents of someone else's life. I contemplated the side bar and club chairs but mostly I stalked the feeling. Its slopes and tubes and the great open space in the middle. My peripheral vision remained keen and alert. If a yard saler came anywhere close I was ready to snatch it up and run to the card table. Until then, I was on the fence. I didn't exactly need a feeling, nor did I have any idea where I'd put one. A red headed woman in a purple shawl and necklace big enough to sink the Titanic bought the Club Chairs out from under me. Which she paid too much for because she could have bought them online for half the price. That would have required her to use a computer which she admitted to Eloise was her least favorite way to shop. "I like to touch things," she cooed in that way all computer illiterates do as she peeled off five and ten dollar bills. I reached out while no one was looking and touched the feeling. My fingers surfed the waves of its ripples and bumps, glazed ceramic cool to the touch. Next went the golf clubs. Divorce is messy. The guy who bought the clubs got a chubby from his incredible find. "This totally makes up for the last fifteen yard sales I stopped at and didn't find a single thing." He beamed. Swear to god. Dream on, buddy. The end does not justify the means.

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Speaking of end, the end tables were still on the grass. Afternoon light slanted down, flirting with treetops. It was a perfect day to drag the contents of your broken home out onto the lawn and unload it on strangers. People drove by but no longer stopped. Pickings were slim. A measly array of items lay strewn across the grass. Crank hand mixer, throw pillows, floor lamp. Determined dark circles formed under Eloise's eyes. She closed the cash box and lifted the handle. "See anything you like? The friendship discount will be applied." I pointed at the feeling. Eloise thrust her hand out, palm up, "Pony up some cash." I glanced at the price sticker. A blue dot with $120.25 was scribbled in the center. "A hundred and twenty bucks is kinda pricey doncha think?" She rolled her eyes. Philistine. "I made that with my bare hands." The same ones wanting to be filled with cash. "I'm on a budget." "You're always on a budget." "I'm smart. I have priorities." "Your only priority is to swindle me out of my feeling at cutthroat prices." It was true. "How much money do you have?" "Thirty-two dollars. But the thing is that I love these end tables and can put them to very practical use."

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My boyfriend in college took my panties off during a riveting game of truth or dare. It wasn't like I was a virgin. I'd had sex before. Nothing weird. Standard fare. I'll show you mine if you show me yours. Watching him slide my panties down my thighs was admittedly kind of hot. Then he put them in my mouth. There are moments like this in life. The ones where you can spit your panties out. Or. The or is too dirty to contemplate. Fascinating opportunities to explore strangely erotic sides of your personality you never knew existed. Because part of me liked it. The other part knew I was never supposed to like anything that dirty. It's like that with everything though. The chocolate cream doughnut you're not supposed to eat. The hot guy you're not supposed to want. We are constantly at a crossroads of unexplained desires and irrational urges. Feelings that don't define who we are but instead kick us out of the comfort zone of who we think we are and into the great vast opening of urges. A landscape littered with the bodies of everyone who didn't get it right. Emotionally slain people who lacked insight into what fueled their desires. A landscape of limbo and innuendo. We don't talk about how things don't fit. Culturally the language we use is one that addresses how to change. Twist it, cram it, shove it. Stick it in the freaking hole and hold it there. And we wonder why sex is so deeply unfulfilling. That last thought was so deeply unfulfilling that I stopped. My fingers spread as I flattened the book open in my hand. 11


Erotic Book Night was in a few days. It was my turn to host. We could have met at someone else's apartment but ultimately I was lazy and offered. I am a lazy perfectionist. Hosting meant I didn't have to leave my apartment. Lazy or not, I still had those panties.

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The feeling started out in the kitchen. Odd, out of place, squeezed in-between a vintage sugar canister and the knife block. So it moved to the coffee table in the living room next to four Arabian Night scented pillar candles from the after Christmas sale my cheap ass rationed by only lighting for special occasions. I.e., Never. I had a lot of space. Since the boyfriend had moved out I'd cleaned but not rearranged. Caleb was a packrat and a hipster douche bag sports enthusiast. For two years every available space was filled with helmets, canoes paddles, knee pads. Now I could stretch out in my space and admire my feeling. After a few glasses of Concha el Toro the feeling commanded more of my attention. Studying the angles, I convinced myself it was a heart. Valves jutted up from the open center. A bumpy, lumpy, puke green heart.

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It remained a quiet side piece until my downstairs neighbor Ramon broke up with his girlfriend. El Jimador Blanco bottle in hand he appeared at my door at 12:17 AM still glued to and obsessing over his phone. "When will she ever stop texting me?" I shrugged. The mystery of life. I did not have an answer for that question. I did have three fresh limes and salt. What started as a charade in macho ambivalence quickly descended into weep fest. "I loved her," he stammered, his soft Latin accent pronouncing it, "Eye wuvvv her." "I know you did," I said. Lick it. Slam it. Suck it. Tears streamed down his chubby cheeks. The thing is that you can't date up. You can only date to your speed or date down, which is less preferable, but you cannot date up. It is a long, tedious nightmare. And Christy was up. Unfortunately. She was smarter than him, prettier than him and the attention she got from other guys made him a bona fide lunatic. So she yelled at him. In public. And they broke up. The end. Not really. My phone rang. I ignored it. Most people snatched up the phone after midnight. Not me. Single people with disposable income and their own apartment never benefited from midnight callers. Those callers needed money, rides, couches, moral support. None of which I offered. The call went to voice mail. I ignored it because Ramon was enough to deal with until the caller rang back five times in a row. I glared at the unfamiliar number on my screen, set up another row of shots for grieving Ramon and excused myself. I dialed the number. 12


"Hello," Eloise whispered. "Where are you?" "In a Motel 6." "Whose phone are you calling from?" "I had to disconnect my phone. I'm using one of those prepaid ones from Wal-Mart." What I wanted to say was, "You're staying in a Motel 6 and you set foot in a Wal-Mart?" Instead I asked, "Are you okay?" because clearly she wasn't. My nose twitched. I leaned back, glancing through the doorway into the living room. Ramon had fired up a Lucky Strike. "I'm sort of underground," Eloise said. "Ummm, what does that mean?" "It means that John was really mad when he got back from Palm Springs and found out about the yard sale." Oh. That. Tequila whirred in my bloodstream. "What are you going to do?" I peeled the paper wrapping off of a blueberry muffin and snarfed it down, trying to maintain a buzz and not go straight to drunk. "I'm gonna file this time. I'm done." "That was kind of obvious when you sold his golf clubs. Where are you?" "I'm going to Flagstaff. I just have to finalize a few things. How's the feeling?" I swallowed. Dry muffin turned my mouth into a desert. I glanced back into the living room. Ramon lay sprawled on the couch, flicking ashes into the center of the feeling. A burning ember, ashes, and smoke inside a lumpy heart. Ramon took a swig of tequila. "It's good," I said. "Practical. A centerpiece. It's getting a fair amount of attention." "Good," she said firmly. "I put a piece of my soul into creating that piece of art." The same one currently being filled with cigarette butts. "Take care of it," she sighed. "I'll call you when I get to Arizona. You can visit." "Sounds like a plan." She sighed big and loud. "Plans suck." I walked into the living room. Smoke twirled up and around Ramon's face, his dark eyes heady and languid. I thought he was about to say something interesting, instead he leaned back, made eye contact and said, "That is the ugliest ashtray I've ever seen. It makes me want to cry."

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4:14 AM. A heart full of ashes. Ramon stumbled drunk and weary into the hall, promising to return. I emptied the feeling, washed the inside of the lumpy heart, negating intense guilt. I had a buzz. Ramon was grieving the end of his two month, twenty four day, earth shattering love affair. Insomnia arrived without notice. Me and the feeling watched reruns of Gilligan's Island. A ridiculous show but my father had loved it. The Professor was his favorite character. I had fond memories of him sitting up late at night at the island stove, finishing up his notes and laughing in that gentle way people do when they are genuinely amused. I wondered if the feeling could be a kind of oracle, a crystal ball. Like I could lay my hands on it and divine the future. Grab its strange valves, jutting out from the center and beg for holy, righteous guidance. 13


iii.

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Erotic Book Night. EBN to us seasoned pros. It was my night to host. Since there was now an ashtray on the end table everyone assumed they could fire up. I opened the window to the fire escape and left it at that, too tired to argue. Kate read passages of erotic fairy tales aloud as she flicked Camel filter ashes into the feeling. I watched, mesmerized by the sight of a smoking heart. A heart on fire. Okay. Maybe it was the wine. Red I can handle. White makes me sway like a drunk stripper. "I love it when you dance us to the door," Erin cooed. I decided right then all wine makers should make people video tape themselves from cork pop to passing out. Though no one has ever passed out on wine. Technically. Because wine is more like an art form with the aging, tasting, breathing. Less like alcohol. It's like a coincidence that wine is even alcoholic. So I was on that thought, looking down at my yellow rubber gloves, cleaning out the crevices of a violated heart. A heart on fire. Smoking. A heart not merely content to be a non-specific, generic, broad feeling. Obsessing meant I was hungry. Low blood sugar created a nasty loop in my brain. I set the feeling upside down in the drain and popped off my rubber gloves. Three Fortune Cookies sat on the counter in front of me. I closed my eyes and mixed them all up, choosing one quick. I cracked open the oracle. And read. It was blank. Argh. Of all the times for a fortune cookie to malfunction. I needed a sign from the universe. A nudge from destiny. A bright, flashing sign. Anything. To let me know I was on task, on track, purposeful.

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Work as I knew it was copyediting for a company that owned five magazines, three of which were related to the great outdoors. {Shrug}. What could I say. I was great at copy regarding fishing and Moose tracking. I was also the only vegetarian in an office full of men I would never date. Flannel and Fleece, I called them, though not to their bearded faces. Beards are for dragons, Erin liked to say. I was halfway through an article about how to avoid forest fires when I suddenly wondered what the feeling was doing. It was upside down. 14


Damp, possibly dry. In a semi unfamiliar place. A metaphor for me. If I liked metaphors. Which I didn't.

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I avoided the feeling. Eloise called to say she'd met a man at a Honky Tonk. "Pardon me for saying this, but have you gone crazy?" "It was the only place open and I was hungry," she said cryptically. This from the woman who sends her salad back to the kitchen when the lettuce is too dry. "Where are you?" "Oklahoma." "Does he have all of his teeth?"
 "Don't be rude." Her goodbye was curt but I could tell she secretly admired my sarcasm. I went back to cleaning and sorting my walk-in. Pants. Shirts. Short sleeves. Tees. Straps. Larger questions loomed on the horizon like what was I gonna be when I grow up. Which was about ten years ago. By my calculations. Twelve by normal standards. I was having a hard time making grown up decisions. So I threw my money away renting and getting facials. It was why I loved my building so much. None of us had bought into the whole grown up thing. I took a break to get a Ginger Ale. The feeling watched me from the end table. The small table made it look larger. Like it was expanding. Erin buzzed the doorbell at 6:14 and saved me from existential hell.

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"I thought you were going out for Long Island Iced Teas with that chick from work." I closed the front door and watched Erin teeter down the hall to the kitchen. I snuck a glance at the feeling. It looked shiny but docile. Erin was half stuffed into the refrigerator eating hummus and leftover lentil loaf with a wooden serving fork she found on the counter. "I did," she said, mouth full, making it sound like “I whid.” "So what are you doing here?" "She kept asking me if I liked to do dance parties in my bedroom." "Do you?" Flat Ginger Ale burned my tongue. "No. I don't. But that wasn't what bothered me." "Are you going to tell me or do you want me to ask?" "I'm going to tell you." She flipped open a carton with the curious look of a girl who drank too much alcohol on an empty stomach. "Oh, god. Sesame noodles. You are my savior." Standing upright she shoveled food in her mouth and in-between bites managed to form sentences. "I swear the whole dance party thing was some secret code for let's get it on." Not what I expected her to say. "Oh. Did she say anything else?" 15


"Yeah." Erin swallowed her most ambitious bite of cold take out yet. "She told me I had the greatest tits she'd ever seen." "Awkward." "To say the least." She pushed off from the counter. "I have to sit down. What are you doing?" "Avoiding real life by cleaning out my closet." She cocked an eyebrow. "I don't believe you. You hate cleaning." She kicked off her shoes and took up residence on the sofa. I changed the subject. "What was your favorite thing to do on the playground?" Too weary and drunk to argue she played along. "Monkey bars. I was fucking Queen of the Monkey bars." She ran her index finger down and around the contours of the feeling. "What is this exactly?" "High art. I bought it from Eloise. She sold everything while John was out of town." Erin swung around. "What? Hot John is single?" I rolled my eyes. "Don't act like he hasn't flirted with you at every holiday party since they married." "They're better off divorced," I said cryptically because observations like that unnerved me. "Good for her. How is she?" "She is seeing a man that she met in a Honky Tonk who may or may not have teeth." Erin cocked that eyebrow. "Sounds complicated." The doorbell rang. Erin licked the serving fork she'd held onto and set it on top of the carton. "If we get enough people we can have a dance party." Ramon was standing in the hallway when I opened my door. Hot Christy struck again. "Hearts deserve more time," Erin said, uncharacteristically poignant as she slung her legs over the coffee table and draped her arm over the side of the sofa, precariously close to the feeling. Ramon's face pinched tight as he crumpled into a chair. "Christy stole Fang Goya. She is an evil bitch." Landmark moment. Erin and I looked at each other. Instinctively she reached for the feeling. Her fingertips tapped the swooping curves. Ramon wailed. "Fang Goya." I shrugged. "Email me a photo. I'll start making flyers." "Did you check the basement. He has gone down the garbage shoot a few times on his on," Erin offered.

! iv. !

Things no one talks about. Squiggly little naked stick figures screwing. Dirty but justified in the name of art. Strangely erotic. Perfect for EBN. Line drawings of thighs and boobs, naked white spaces, normally filled with ink or flesh or clothes, now bare. The blank spaceness of it

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all suggested nudity. Filling in the blanks kept society in check. The poetic thigh resting against a bare chest, tells a tale of surrender. A tale of secrets. That's what feelings really are. Secrets. Because no one can ever know the full extent of what we feel. The parts no one ever gets to see. The parts that make us an island. Float on. Drift out. Erotic is a kind of window looking into the person you want to be on top of. Intimacy is overrated. Sex is never something to take seriously. Nudity, grace and vulnerability only come at the hands of strangers. I'd rather be an object of desire. I thought about the feeling. I'd moved it to the window ledge by the plants. Perhaps it was a chaste feeling. Not given to particular appetites. I pulled my college panties out of the back of the drawer and slipped them up and over my thighs.

! v. !

Traffic surged through the streets, a swell of steel moving forward and back. Rumbling, honking. The sound of tires slapping wet streets. That long streeeeeeck sound that water molecules make when disbursed. I was fiddling with my umbrella when it suddenly opened in a man's face. I stepped back a little horrified. He touched his nose and chin, checking for blood, then looked straight at me. John. Dark hair trimmed neat, flecks of gray. The most stunning blue gray eyes you've ever seen. Tall, broad shoulders and chest. These big hands I'd always wanted to feel all over my body. Even when he was with Eloise. Which he wasn't. And that opened up a whole new set of options. "Cora?" "John." He stepped back in the rain, looking me up and down. "How are you?" "Good," I shrugged. "You?"
 I braced myself for the spew of profanity about to come out of his mouth beginning with, "She sold my fucking golf clubs. Who sells a man's golf clubs?" "Okay," he said convincingly which disturbed me more than profanity. Because I'd expected a different answer, I stared blankly at him until he pointed at the small bag in my hand. "A gift?" "A book," I said, handing it over. Carefully he slid the book from the bag and stared at the cover. The erotic poetry and drawings of e.e. cummings. Careful not to get it wet, he fingered the pages lightly. "I was just going around the corner to have a glass of wine. Why don't you join me? We'll catch up. It's been, what? Half a 17


year since we saw each other?"
 Wine was tempting. The disheveled boyishness of John was amplified by the way he handed my book back and shoved his hands in his pockets, waiting.

!

Two glasses of Pinot Noir and one Beaujolais-Village later and we were back in my apartment. A cool humid air hung in the hall. The lights were out. My hand reached for the switch. I felt John's hand slide up my belly to my breasts. I'd offered to make us a quick dinner. Quesadillas with goat cheese and fresh jalapeños. A ludicrous idea fueled by wine that insisted I impress this man with my culinary skills. Except that man was my best friend's soon to be ex husband. And he was pulling my panties down with one hand. But those hands felt so good on my body. How they slid effortlessly across my skin. "I've wanted you for a long time, Cora," he said quietly in the dark. The completely shallow words every girl wants to hear. I want you. Now. In the hall. Right here on the Ikea rug. There was a moment tumbling to the floor where I questioned the moral dilemma of what I was about to do. But "Ex" was the key word here. The game changer. The decider. Eloise was off making out with some guy in a honky tonk. John was now a free zone.
 A hot free zone. Back on the market after eight years. So there I was on top, straddling him in the moonlight, my thighs squeezing him tight, the blissful intoxication of his mouth on mine. The feeling of his chest under my fingertips. "Are you taking anything?" he whispered. "From who," I responded, dazed by the question. My hips moved in time to my heartbeat. "Birth control pills? Condoms? I don't have anything on me." "I'm on you," I said in the most sarcastic tone I'd ever heard myself use. We'd reached the grown up portion of our interlude. The part where he suddenly reminded me that we should have talked about this before finding ourselves half naked on the floor. "No," I answered truthfully. And because of this answer, when the time came, he hoisted me into the air and held me there to finish up. Awkward and sudden. We laid together quietly on the rug. I pulled a trench coat down from the rack to cover us in the damp chill. "That was exceptionally good," John mused. I smiled. Mmm-hmmm. Good. Bang. Bang. Bang. A breath caught in my throat. John laid his hand on my thigh. I prayed silently that the visitor would go away. "Cora. Cora. Opens ze door. Fang Goya has returned home to papi." Ramon. In a single blinding millisecond, I knew exactly what was about to happen. 18


Hall light spilled over our bodies. John shielded his eyes, looking up, making a disgruntled noise. Ramon took exactly three steps inside, looked down and gasped. "Are you injured?" In his arms, he held the ugliest cat to ever manifest on planet Earth. Severely obese, tongue hanging out, a huge fang on the left side of his mouth, made more pronounced by the fact that the right tooth was missing, big strange colored stripes glopped all over his body. Ramon had found him in a drainage ditch ten years ago when he was working for a tech company in San Jose. "Oh," he said, innocently. "I had no idea." "You would have if you'd knocked," John growled. His hand was still on my thigh but didn't feel sweet and tender anymore. Ramon backed away like he'd witnessed a crime. "Perhaps, later we will talk."
 "I'll come up in a little awhile."
 The door clicked shut. Both of us laid silent on the rug. Finally, John raised up on an elbow, kissed my nose and said, "I have to get home." In an effort to make small talk that didn't seem like I was dredging up his broken marriage I asked, "Are you going to sell the house?" He slipped effortlessly into his trousers, perfectly balanced. "Why would I do that?" I shrugged, suddenly unsure of my need to conceal the real motive for asking. "Because." He frowned so intensely I could see the corners of his lips pinched, even in the dim streetlight from the living room windows. "I'm not selling the house. Eloise will just have to learn to deal with it." "Oh." I stood and pulled my skirt down to cover my knees. "I'll tell her you said, 'hi'. Where's your bathroom?" "Through the living room," I pointed. "That way." Then the slow, insidious reality of what he'd just said hit me and I asked, "When?" John zipped his pants and smoothed the wrinkles out. "When what?" Lightly brushing his lips against mine, he added, "When can we do this again?" I backed into the coat rack. "No. When are you going to tell her I said, 'hi'?" "Tonight." "When she calls?" John cocked his head to the side and his hair tumbled down over his forehead. "Why would she call? She's at home." "What home?" Stepping back, he looked me up and down. "Cora, are you okay?" "Where's Eloise?" I asked. My voice rose high and shrill. Very slowly, careful to enunciate every letter, he said, "I told you she's at home." I swallowed. "I thought she left." He laughed, shook his head and sighed in a way that said none of it was funny. "She took this ridiculous trip out west to the desert but she's home now. I'll tell her to call you." "But she..." He stepped into the living room, pausing to stare at the feeling, silhouetted in the fading twilight. He cocked his head to the other side. "Where did you get that?" "Eloise. It was -- she gave it to me." "You know she made that for me? For our anniversary." 19


A seething, dark pit opened in my stomach, threatening to suck me inside forever. I smiled, as fake as ever, and said, "No. As a matter of fact, I did not know that." "Humpf," he mused. Then walked through the dark living room into the even darker hall and disappeared. Something unholy and angry swelled within me. I briefly considered the fact that he could be lying. He could be playing it off to get information. To get me to reveal her whereabouts. Without making a sound, I tiptoed to the kitchen and picked up my phone. In the strange early evening darkness I pressed the autodial for Eloise's home number. With my other ear I listened to make sure John wasn't sneaking up on me. Three rings. Four rings. A deep relief spread from my chest outward. John was lying. Trying to get me to give up details only I would know. Seven rings. My thumb slid across the keypad to end the call. "Hello?" My breath choked in my throat. "Hello?" Eloise said again on the other end of the line. She sounded groggy, tired. Without thinking my thumb pressed the button and ended the call. I stood there trying to rid myself of a creeping panic. The front door closed quietly. I stepped around the corner. The rooms were empty. Immediately my eyes turned to the feeling, ready to rescue it from John's possessive glare. And it was gone. A big empty space in-between the plants. My hands started to tremble. Not only had he left without saying goodbye, he'd stolen my feeling. Taken it without asking. Insinuated his way into my bed. If my bed were in the hallway. What a bastard. My phone rang in my hand. I didn't have to look down to know Eloise's name was flashing on the screen. I had no idea what to say. I tossed my phone on the sofa and went to find my keys. For a split second I considered running after John. He couldn't just take something from me without asking. But that deep, angry panic rose again and I knew the answer. Let him have it. It was always his. Some feelings just aren't worth holding onto.

!

! ! ! ! 20


Bow-tie by: Anna Maria Hardcastle

!

It was special, maybe the most special moment of my life thus far. We had been in his car, the backseat. Not really doing anything, just chatting. I had told him at the beginning of the night that I had a surprise for him. He forgot about it until I got really quiet and pulled it out of my jacket pocket. I had been so sure that he had felt it in my pocket when he had picked me up and given me the biggest hug ever. I asked him why he got out of the car. He put me down, looked at me and said, “Can’t I give my girlfriend a hug?” I smiled. We drove around and went to the movies and got something to eat and the whole time, I hadn’t let slip what was inside that shiny silver box. I was waiting for the perfect moment, the exact time that it felt right to give it to him. I didn’t know what that moment would feel like or when it would arrive but I knew that it hadn’t happened yet. I had been worried that he wouldn’t like it, that he would think it was weird. Then, when he had finished kissing me and we lay in the aftermath of ecstasy, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the box that I had kept my hand wrapped around all night, making sure that it didn’t fall out and that he didn’t notice it. “What’s this?” He asked, as I shook from nervousness. I told myself to calm down, that it was just a simple gift and not a big deal. “Open it.” His eyes questioned me and his smile teased me before he opened the box, ever so carefully. I thought he was shaking slightly, too. He removed the silver cover, holding it in one hand and looking at the contents with the other. He let out a sigh and gave me a smile, the one he wore whenever I said or did something that he liked. I was sure that he could see my hair, draped down over my shoulders, shivering from the beat of my heart. “I can’t believe you got me this,” he said, looking at me with that same breathy grin. “You didn’t have to.” “I wanted to,” I told him, trying to smile back. He looked at me silently, his eyes darting back and forth between each of mine as if he couldn't decide which one he wanted to stare at longer. I tried desperately to maintain eye contact, to contain my nervousness and look into those gorgeous green orbs. He broke the silence at the exact moment that I became sure that he could now not only see but also hear my pounding heart. “I love you.” It stopped. My heart, the one that was giving me away, froze. I blinked and replied quickly, “I love you, too.” I think he thought that I didn’t mean it. I was surprised by how easily it had come out of my month, by how quickly I had said the words without thinking about them. But I had thought about them so many times before. I had sat on his lap with my arms around his broad shoulders, looking into the water behind him and wondering whether it was even possible to love someone so much. I had kissed him and kissed him and opened my eyes for a fraction of a second, seeing his closed, and smiled from the feeling of loving 21


someone so much it hurts. I had wanted to say it so many times. I had hoped that he would say it so many times. We had talked about this, decided that we couldn't fall too hard, not if we only had a few months left. But I had fallen. The problem was that it wasn't even then; it happened long before. On the grasses of Central Park, as we had our first kiss, his first ever, surrounded by European tourists and New Yorkers walking their dogs and a little Asian boy blowing bubbles from a tree. Maybe I hadn’t thought so then, but after three years, I realized that I had adored him all along. And there we were, in his car on a school night, just holding and staring at each other. Just being. And he had said it — the words that I imagined would be so perfect on his lips. And I had fucked it up. I had said it too quickly, not given it any thought in the moment although it had consumed my thoughts in those leading up to it. He would think that I didn’t mean it or that he said it too soon and scared me. I guess he did scare me, in a way. I didn’t think that he loved me. I didn’t think that I was as special to him as he was to me. Of course, I would never tell him that. Not with words at least. He probably knew from the way I touched him and kissed him and looked at him that he had gotten me. But now, he told me explicitly, not with games or hidden hints, but with words, that I had gotten him, too. Knowing that didn’t scare me — it terrified me. We had waited so long to say it and now the moment had come and it was unreal. I sat on his lap, wrapped my legs around him and hugged him. My chin was in his neck and his cologne, the one that had been a constant reminder of his presence in my life, radiated toward me, suffocating me in the best possible way. We said nothing because, really, what was there to say after saying it all? I hoped that he would know that I was genuine when I said it back, despite the haste in my voice. And then, out of nowhere, something overcame me. I held on tighter, scrunched up my eyes, dug my nose into his neck and I said it. “I love you.” He didn’t respond for almost ten whole seconds and I thought I had freaked him out. But then, his arms tightened around me. His breath absorbed me. “I love you, too.” He never had a chance to wear it, which I guess, looking back, was an ironic indicator of events to come. But he had fallen in love and I had felt all of that love. All because of a royal blue bow-tie.

! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

22


! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

!

!

Western Dream A Dance with Mr. Mojo-risin’ In this city of night, his is the only light I see. Brighter, brighter now, faster.

A pounding drum, pulses us closer. We dance, captivated and electric, together in this city of night.

I feel alive on the axis of this darkness, and free, in his city of night.

Warm breath surrounds my neck, his light whispers forget the night. He is brighter, brighter now, and fast.

!

!

His light, strange and intense, spins about my shadowy trance. Brighter, brighter now, faster.

I want to obey. I want to chase his light. I will follow his wild eyes and go brilliantly into this city of night.

! !

!

—Samantha Baffoni

Secrets by: Kelsey Grimmer

!

She is curled into herself and away from him. The space between them stretches for miles, even though they are in the same bed. She does not reach for him, and he does not reach for her. There was once a time where this would have been unheard of for them. But as time has a way of bringing people together, it can also rip them apart. She’s lost track of the years now. How sad, to not know how long you’ve been married to the person who is supposedly your soul mate. They’ve known each other since they were children. They held hands in the school hallways. They rode in a limo to prom together. She wore a floor length, angel white dress, and all the parents taking pictures cooed about how she looked like a princess. Those pictures are still tucked away in an album somewhere. It’s funny how when you’re young and beautiful, all your problems revolve around just that, being young and beautiful. What no one tells you is that adult problems 23


are stressful to the point that they become almost vicious. They lash out at you, and hopefully you can move out of the way fast enough. You assume you grow up and adapt to these things, but you don’t really. Sometimes she feels like she’s still a teenager, crying because her boyfriend forgot their anniversary, or because she got a B on a test, or because something else in her life didn’t go exactly as planned. When you’re an adult, no one warns you about the emotional void shaped by empty marriages, bill collectors, and mental illness. No, these are just abstract concepts that will never happen to you, until they do. They were both bright eyed, eighteen year old college freshmen, squished together on a twin sized mattress in a cramped, dark dorm room. She’s been a light sleeper her entire life, and when she stirred, he stirred with her. He felt her wake up, which woke him up, and his arms were already around her, and they stayed there all night. When this happened, he pulled her in tighter to him and lightly kissed the back of her neck, and they both drifted off again. This sequence would repeat itself until the sun came up, until it was time to start the day and trek back down to the train station. He’d kiss her goodbye and put her on the train, and she’d be whisked back to her own campus, reluctant to resume to her normal life without him. She doesn’t know how to approach the subject of divorce. What an ugly word: divorce. It tastes bad in her mouth, like a promise she couldn’t keep, or a secret that she wasn’t supposed to tell. At this point, she doesn’t have the energy, or the will, to fight back. To fight for their marriage, their love, or even their friendship. She knows they will not kiss under the mistletoe on Christmas, or cook dinner together on Valentine’s Day. But she’s afraid she will be met with indifference, that they will go their separate ways and watch the other slowly fade into the distance and become nothing more than a memory. She had forgotten what it was like to be a child, to walk arm and arm, blissfully unaware of the realities of the world. She would do anything to get that back, if she could. But right now, she’s exhausted, physically, mentally, and emotionally. She does not think she could salvage this if she tried. She reaches behind her, and places her palm flat against his back. He does not move an inch. He’s curled into himself and away from her. He’s lost track of how long he’s kept up this charade. He smiled in the pictures, he held her hand, and he kissed her deeply. Sometimes he even convinced himself that what he was feeling was real. Sometimes he’d see her little nose twitch, or a slight shiver through her body. Sometimes he’d wonder how he tricked a beautiful woman into falling in love with someone like him. They were fifteen, no, fourteen when they met. Maybe eighteen when they started dating. Truthfully, he doesn’t know, he’s not good at remembering specific dates. But he does remember driving through town all night, stopping to get pancakes and waffles at the local diner. He remembers watching the meteor shower, and hugging her close to his body to keep her warm, because it was the middle of December. He remembers the first time they made love, and being in too much of a rush to even check if her parents were home. It’s not that he didn’t love her, he always did. But something was always a little off, something he can’t explain. It’s like a part of him was missing, or not fully committed. They ended up falling into the comfortable part of their relationship, and his perpetual anxiety started to subside. But something about her always made him nervous. She’d sneak around corners, and take him by surprise. Sometimes they’d be in the same room for hours, and he wouldn’t even notice she was there. 24


He doesn’t remember when he stopped loving her. He thinks one day he kissed her and it was just gone. He felt nothing. He couldn’t get excited for her, and couldn’t perform. He thinks this hurt her more than it embarrassed him, because he spent the last however many years telling her how beautiful she is. He doesn’t think he ever made a conscious decision to go out and find something else, but it just happened. After work one day, he just really didn’t want to go home, so he went downtown and got a drink at the bar. And one drink turned to two, and then three, and you know the rest. He ended up talking to the bartender, and something strange happened to him. It was like he’d just taken his first breath, or his first sip of water, or seen snow fall for the first time. He was fixated on his every word. It was like this was the first and best conversation he ever had. And now he really, really didn’t want to go home. He wakes up and her hand is on his back. He waits until she moves it, until he can hear her slow, shallow breathing, indicating that she had fallen asleep again. Carefully, he reaches for his phone, and sees his name pop up on the screen. Hope you’re sleeping well, reads the message from the bartender. His cheeks feel flushed, and he falls back asleep with a smile on his face.

! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! For A Lover Long Dead ! !

It’s the Day of the Dead and I sit on this bench, smoke a cigarette. It’s windy, too windy.

!

I went to San Antonio. I would’ve brought you back some miracle dirt but you’re dead already. I listen to Pop music now and my poetry’s going great. You’re in my first book, you know which poem’s

! ! ! ! !

! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

yours. I owe you a free copy. Anyone in the book gets a free copy. I get why you kept secrets, those secrets

!

I found— powders in the glove box of your Honda. I’ve been lying too these days. It isn’t hard. Next time

!

it’s the Day of the Dead maybe I’ll try being moral. I’ll tell the moon to be full. There’s a price to pay in everything we do.

! !

—Alexis Ivy 25


! The River’s Arms by: Bre Hall

!

I didn’t know how to swim, but I trudged into the murky curl of the Arkansas River anyway. It had taken Danny and Arthur two hours to lure me off of the beach. “Come on in, Alison,” Danny shouted from the middle of the river where he and Arthur sat hip deep in the current. “It’s a hot today. How can you stand it over there?” The sun leaked into my skin and set me ablaze. I dog-eared the twenty-third chapter of my book, rolled off my blue towel, and walked to the edge of the river. I stuck my big toe in the water as a warm breeze blew around the bend and sent the river rippling around my skin. I told myself the water wasn’t deep in this section of the river. It couldn’t be if the boys were sitting up in the middle and I had come to the river with them because I liked Danny and it was the first time he had ever asked me to do anything outside of school with him. I couldn’t act like some scared little girl. I stepped into the water, which came to the tops my bony ankles, and walked toward Danny and Arthur who were now splashing one another. I had always been embarrassed I was seventeen years old and didn’t know how to swim, so I kept it secret, even as I strode farther from shore I hid my panicked features behind a big, white-toothed smile. Danny grinned sheepishly at me, his round ears rising up. “There she is.” “Here I am,” I said as I walked closer to him. It bothered me how brown the water was. I couldn’t see the bottom. My pace slowed until I was shuffling along in the now calf-deep water. Just before I reached the place he was sitting, Danny grabbed my hand with his large, tan fingers and yanked me toward him. I practically dove into the water, my legs leaving earth and taking flight in the air before they slapped the surface of the water. I tried to push against the sandy bottom of the river, but there was no bottom. My feet plunged deeper and deeper trying to find something solid. My arms writhed in a current-fighting fury. My eyes had deceived me. Danny and Arthur were not sitting on the floor of the river. They were treading against the lulling liquid as if it were effortless. My face broke the surface of the water finally and I gasped at the humid summer air. I kicked hard and looked, through blurred vision, for something to hold onto. Then, my hand hit something solid and I pushed my body as far from the water as I could by dunking the solid object below. My mind was so lost in fear when the object fought back to reach the surface I struggled to keep it under so I could breathe up the sweet Kansas oxygen I needed. “Alison,” someone said over and over. “Alison.” One arm hooked around my body and dragged me to the shallow part of the river bed. Once I was safe and sitting, I looked back to the middle of the river to see a body diving under the water. I sat up straight and waited. A few seconds later Arthur pulled Danny out of the current. Danny’s eyes were closed and his face sagged.

26


Arthur swam Danny to the opposite side of the river, because it was closest to him. He pulled Danny out of the water and breathed into Danny’s mouth and started pressing on his strong chest. I could do nothing. My muscles turned to mush. My skin tingled. I couldn’t swim across the river to aid. I could only watch as Arthur tried to put life back into Danny. I would always view the river as this: the sun disappearing behind the hushed trees on the bank and Danny lying quiet, still, because the river had claimed him. It took him in its grasp and left his body on the sand to remain, in my mind, as memory.

! ! ! !

! !

Virgo

!

He, my August poppy, scarlet and free his crimson scent hypnotizes, sedates. Each fragile leaf, each petal, poisons me and together we dream, hallucinate. He is a glacier that cuts deep through me. His gentle force disrupts my placid shore. Each icicle, each drop, melts me softly and rhythmically we float wanting more. Do you recall those days we nearly drowned, when water and lust flowed fast and intense? Uncertainty and truth emerged unbound from drunken hearts submerged in vast silence. Though cruel obscurity floods this aqueous place, let me lay here still intoxicated by your embrace.

!

—Samantha Baffoni

! ! ! 27


! ! ! ! ! ! Boston, April 2013 !

On your birthday, trembling with anticipation at what life holds, you sent your feet down first to touch the unknown earth. No surprise, you were always running and dancing on the inside. You stopped me in my tracks as I held your head in my hands.

!

Marathoners touched their feet down to a familiar earth, running through the city streets giddy with sunlight. Stopped in their tracks, they held their hearts in their hands. A tremor like death, unforgettable silence, and then those cries.

!

I waited giddy with joy, the city was covered in sunlight, while two brothers waited silent and still in the darkness. The tremor of birth, unforgettable silence, and then those cries. We rested peacefully, forgetting the city was under siege.

!

Those brothers, they must have been silent and still in the darkness of their mother’s body, the first city they invaded and tore open. She must have rested peacefully, forgetting she was under siege. Two people, mother and child, fighting for space inside one city.

!

The runner’s body became a city invaded and torn open. On your birthday, I held your head close to mine to whisper, mother to child, that two people fight for space inside our city: One who builds bombs in the dark, one who runs toward the light.

!

On your birthday, I held your head close to mine to whisper, dance on the outside, clutch the earth with your toes. While they build bombs in the dark, choose to run toward the light. Tremble with joy at what the light holds.

! ! ! !

—Leila Bilick

! ! ! ! 28


! ! ! ! ! ! Strigil !

! ! !

Consider what happens to a bruise: if it travels beneath the skin, rejoins the bloodstream, wades through veins like nothing ever happened. Whether its loss makes the body whole. Admit you wonder this yourself—you watch a bruise as it disappears, observe the measured slowness of its yellowing. Consider how this makes you think of him— the boy who loved you. What happened to him when he disappeared? His strigil hands traveled your skin with the measured ease of an ancient slave—perfuming, scraping, purifying—until you wore him like a bruise. —Hannah Dow

! ! Eight Minutes by: Tayler Smith

!

As I drove, a pint of chocolate ice cream sat in the seat next to me. The condensation slowly dripped down the cardboard container, which made it seem as if the container were sweating. I jammed out to the radio to prepare myself for a fun night because that is exactly what every friend needs after an intense breakup. I parked outside of Katie’s house at exactly 10:55 P.M. with my windows down to enjoy the brisk darkened sky and texted her to tell her I was out front. I waited for seven minutes. Waiting was unusual because Katie cared about being on time and never left people waiting. She was always eager to get out of her house and let the door slam behind her so that her mom’s words would sharply cut behind her back as she 29


ran to my car. I didn’t see Katie often, but when I did, we reconnected as though we had never stopped talking. Katie came from a rough household: her mom hated her and made sure to tell her every day, her two younger brothers got everything they ever wanted, and her dad traveled every month so he hardly raised his own kids. Therefore, I felt as if I were the older sister Katie didn’t have but desperately needed. Since I was two years older than Katie, it was hard to find time to talk to each other through our busy and opposite schedules. The taps on my steering wheel offset the beat of the radio, and the time now displayed 11:03. Okay, eight minutes isn’t the end of the world, I thought. The fidgeting of my phone case became a distraction until my eyes were glued on the seconds ticking away on my wristwatch: 45… 46… 47... The dim greenishblue light glowed throughout the darkness and lit up my face. I texted her again.

! ! ! I waited. No reply. As I unbuckled to exit my car, a loud thud echoed throughout the cul-de-sac. I looked around, but no one was there. I hesitantly opened the door with ice cream in hand, stepped out, when suddenly a cat screeched and darted out from under my car. The cat dodged between my legs, and the ice cream landed face down on the pavement. My heart raced, but I laughed at myself and continued to Katie’s driveway. I tripped up the slanted cement steps and knocked on the door. No answer. I looked at my watch, 11:02. I knocked again, but still no answer. As I reached for the doorknob, my hand slightly pulled back. This isn’t my house, and what if no one is home and I’m intruding? But my thoughts didn’t have enough power to stop me. I turned the knob and slowly pushed the door open, and a sweet aroma filled my senses. Underneath the sweet smell, I could also smell the slight undertone of something burning. I quietly walked over to the kitchen to check the oven and stovetop, but nothing was on. Neither the burners nor the oven was warm. There was no sign of any life form within the past few minutes, at least not in the kitchen. I put the ice cream in the freezer and ate a grape from the fruit basket. The oven’s clock read 11:03. “Katie?” I yelled out. Silence echoed throughout the floorboards and the chill of the house. As I pulled out my phone to check to see if Katie had replied, I heard the loud thud again, but this time it was coming above me. “Katie,” I sheepishly breathed and ran up the stairs. As I ran up the stairs, the twisted banister flashed behind me and sweat built upon my brow. Her bedroom door was closed, and the dim greenish-blue light from her large fish tank crept out into the darkness of the hallway.

30


The thud continued, and this time, I knew it was coming from Katie’s room. My walk quickened, and I threw open the door ready to give Katie a lecture about how I waited for the girl who despises to wait for others and how the ice cream melted before she could cry over it. But my feet sunk into the floor, and my weight was thrown forward into the doorframe as I caught myself from falling. “Katie…” I choked. A few sweet-smelling candles burned throughout her room. The smell of lilacs and vanilla swarmed the air, which made it hard to breathe in what I was seeing. I tripped over my feet and flew into her body that hung from the bar above her window. The chair kicked out from under her lay on its side with sturdy feet in the air as her own feet swayed back and forth. I grabbed the chair and placed it back under her as I stood on top of it to reach the cord wrapped around her neck. Her pulse was slowly descending, and I didn’t have much time. I pulled down on the bar above the window, but my weight didn’t suffice. I pulled down on the cord between Katie’s head and the bar, but Katie’s cold hand clutched my side. As I jumped off the chair landing on my back, Katie’s eyes bulged out. Her wide stare and swaying body froze me to the ground. My phone buzzed in my pocket, and it startled me enough to jump back up and look for something sharp. Papers flew off Katie’s desk, drawers flung open and snapped shut, and then I finally remembered how she always slept with a pocket knife under her pillow. Sure enough, the knife was there. I flipped open the blade and jumped back up on the chair. Her eyes prominently fixated with fear as her body started to violently convulse next to mine, which made it extremely hard to cut the cord above her head. The blade wasn’t sharp enough. I held her body to try to control the convulsions, but they were too drastic. I went back to the desk, but something caught my eye. I remembered how Katie talked about how her fish had just died in the small fishbowl she had. The fishbowl sat next to the tank and, out of pure anxiety and slight anger, I threw the bowl against the back wall of her closet. As the bowl shattered, Katie’s body was flopping like a fish hanging by the line. I quickly found the largest piece of glass, ran up to the chair, jumped up, cut the chord with a perfect slice, fell onto the floor behind me, and a dead weight followed suit. The cords loosened around Katie’s neck, so I carefully, with trembling hands, cut the rest of the corkscrew off her neck. Her jolting body was slowly descending as the oxygen caressed her throat to her lungs. I pulled Katie into my lap, and her head rested against my shoulder. I could feel her breathing steady against the loud thuds of my heartbeat. I ran my hand through her lush hair to calm her down, which calmed me down, too. I sat against her bed, weakened by anxiety, and held her hand. So many thoughts raced in my head, but all I could do was stay silent. “Tayler,” a slight breath of air trickled throughout the silence. The sound was so low and quiet that I almost didn’t believe it was coming from Katie, so I looked at her radio because that was the only other thing in the room that could be creating some sort of sound. Katie said my name again. “Make a wish, Kate.” I soothingly said, “It’s 11:11.” Her body relaxed into the safety of my arms.

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! ! !

Portrait of Tamar

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She dances on the black lava rocks on Little Beach, Makena, South Maui. She scrapes the soles of her feet on charred remains of the mountain. Coral is everywhere at the foaming mouth of the blue-green deep. She marvels at knobby fingers, misshapen ears, weightless, porous bones of the sea.

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She gathers them as if they are Indigo Milkcaps and she is a forager, as if they are rough diamonds and she is a miner. They are unexpected. She is a collector of beauty, dropping the beached bones into the hollow of the dress she has gathered into folds to hold her treasure and treasure is everywhere.

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She twirls on a burial ground. The sun beats like a warm heart. Coral clinks in her blue-green dress. Black jagged rocks erupt from twinkling sands. She is alive. She is weighed down by rattling bones. She is weightless. She is overcome, walking among creatures of sea and earth, this paradise and that.

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—Leila Bilick

! ! ! ! ! ! ! 32


! ! !

What We Do

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I dreamed of an emergent universe unwritten with possibility; I dreamed of setting constellations, of eternal revolutions bathed in starlight, of thrown spirals in ethereal quicksand.

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The words grew unbounded in the mind, wider and wider, greater and greater, until they ate up the cargo bay’s belly

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and threatened to somersault the vessel by the slightest touch of wind.

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Waddling overladen in lonely seas, I waited to embrace grey storms.

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A gale came by, and in a crisis I woke up to the belch of a long horn, a bubble of voices and tones planed away to a line by line.

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There is a beauty in things unwritten. There is a beauty in things written. But there is no beauty, no respite in the agony of speaking ink.

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—Clark Xu

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Contributors’ Notes

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Samantha Baffoni is an MA student at UMass Boston studying English with a focus in Creative Writing. In addition to being an avid reader, writer, and lover of poetry, Samantha teaches Composition at UMass Boston.

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Leila Bilick is an MA student in English at UMass Boston. Before returning to school, she worked as a grant writer for nonprofits helping women improve their lives.

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Hannah Dow is a PhD student in English/Creative Writing at the University of Southern Mississippi. Her work has appeared in Red Booth Review, Contrary Magazine, and Literary Laundry.

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Kelsey Grimmer is a twenty-one year old Accounting major at Merrimack College. She is a long distance runner with a passion for writing short fiction.

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Bre Hall is a senior Creative Writing major at Pacific University in Oregon. With her childhood roots in Kansas, the flat lands and small town setting of the Sunflower State finds its way in the majority of her work.

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Anna Hardcastle is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. She is an avid reader and writer of poetry, fiction and nonfiction. Anna is in the middle of writing her second novel but her true passion comes out in her personal essays and memoirs.

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Lynn Holmgren enjoys composing songs and stories while riding her bicycle by the sea. She was raised on Cape Cod and now lives in Dorchester, MA where she is a student in the MFA program at UMass Boston. She helps to organize an award-winning community reading series called Write on the DOT and regularly hosts "Metaphoria," "The Insta-Poet Challenge,” and other original literary game shows.

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Alexis Ivy is a student of Literature at Harvard Extension School. She is a member of Poem Works, Barbara Helfgott Hyett’s Workshop for Publishing Poets in her hometown, Boston, Massachusetts.

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Lis Anna-Langston is the recipient of many awards including; a 2013 and 2011 Pushcart nominee, 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Semi-finalist, a five time WorldFest winner, FadeIn, Telluride IndieFest winner, Helene Wurlitzer Grant recipient, Chesterfield Film Project Finalist, New Century Writers winner and a finalist in the prestigious William Faulkner Competition. You can learn more about her at: www.lisannalangston.com


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Tayler Smith attends The University of Northern Colorado as an English Major. Her passions are wrapped up in writing, the beat of music, and the swirls of coffee. Clark Xu is currently studying English at Vassar College. He spends his time shuttling between New York and Washington D.C., for school and family.

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Profile for The Merrimack Review

The Merrimack Review - Winter 2015 - Issue Two  

A literary and art magazine dedicated to providing a unique space for undergraduate and graduate creators to gain exposure for their work. T...

The Merrimack Review - Winter 2015 - Issue Two  

A literary and art magazine dedicated to providing a unique space for undergraduate and graduate creators to gain exposure for their work. T...

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