The Merrimack Review Spring 2018
Editorial Staff Managing Editor Bridget Kennedy Associate Editors Jolene Buczala Christina DiMartino Calvin Evans Eric Gonnam Ashley McLaughlin Shannen Murphy Octavia Rossini Dan Roussel Advisor Andrea Cohen The Merrimack Review is a student-run literary 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 The Writers House at Merrimack College: www.merrimack.edu/academics/the-writers-house www.Merrimackreview.com Merrimackreview@gmail.com @merrimackreview We extend a special thanks to Claire Messud for a wonderful interview.
Front and back covers: Jolene Buczala
Table of Contents 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
Lauren Hill Dana Al Ansari
15 16 17 18 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 36 37 38 44
Carter Vance Vanessa Zimmerman Christine Kim Jasmine McBeath
Paul David Adkins Sheridan Nelson Shai Bigelow Alicia Alcantara-Narrea Nicholas Molbert
Shane Griffin Shelby Fox Natalie Crick Interview with Claire Messud Contributors’ Notes
Through it All French Fries for Birds Dune Seine Water Display Hands Highways on a Rainy Day Enough Thanksgiving Independence For Six Kilometers, Rivers Side by Side Refuse to Make the Amazon Words Rule and Democracy Things Appropriate The Shade of Tomorrow Cookie Cutter Life Fire Itself Our Dead Uncle’s Ration Card, Tokyo, Japan: August, 1944 Morning Pines Please Society Kitchen Matriarch Á LA HALL E LU JAH If There is in, in Fact, a Word The Boy Learns Reverence Coda Dandelions O Sinner The Beautiful Murderess
Through It All Lauren Hill Your favorite season was Summer, did that change when you got the call? because July never seemed so bad and 1,152 miles never felt this far. Your sister told me you were tired and the chemo felt like drowning, still on that fateful Winter day, it was you who brought them flowers. Now your favorite season is Spring, is that because you got the call? They said that you were free, that the sickness inside was gone. Except those words now feel like lies, a year of freedom is not the same. Things are changing in the fall. Itâ€™s back, and so is the pain.
French Fries for Birds Dana Al Ansari A foot breaks through the membrane. Hard shell, warm sac slowly . . . but quickly falls away to a prickly nest, brothers in disarray. Feathers, paper skin, bones and brain. Surely this weak, blind creature has nothing to gain! The new beak is no match for this world, come what may mother will patiently teach him to spread his wings, fly away. She teaches him to embrace the wind, sings the same gentle song, again, again. But you, human built of sand and clay, you hear nothing for you are the offspring of Warning! Stay safe! Stay away! To the eggless newborn; furrow in your fetal away. Birds are legless, so hopeless man rules all, yes, thatâ€™s to be expected. You see . . . the birdâ€™s head and body gradually even out and the man . . . the man stays big headed throughout.
Dune Dana Al Ansari On the edge of Mesopotamia roots flow and haphazardly grow out of the seed of her cerebellum my unknown mother – a hundred times squared Silent, wordless a blurry wraith Footsteps falling on a hypnagogic place but maybe all that matters is that we were born side by side: sand and clay It’s luck, isn’t it, at the end of the day? Me floating in a tin can and They in outer space
Seine Water Carter Vance The ambulance siren tin-whistles through hanging leaves, stirring air like clipper ships darting in grace from canal point and matching, in true form, carversâ€™ chisels on pillars on century. When darkness comes and on go the hawker lights, bouncer menâ€™s jackets and faux-American pop, halogen lamps as fireflies on wave crests dance beating about their sullen wings as wash on mossy brick. It is why everyone comes here: the picture-posers on bank, booksellers with green wood cases, wares-men with Taiwan wires and cheap plastic on dusting tarps, all like the rhythm of stopped city buses. All came to overpay for beer, to find their hearts and fountain pens, in the last lapping of currents.
Display Vanessa Zimmerman tell yourself, you are a robbed art museum, all white walls. your heart is a cracked ultraviolet light. showing all his fingerprints scattered from the crime against your body. how his hands made a necklace for you. remember in seven years all of these cells will be gone . . . skin flakes and prison bars. tell yourself you will never love again. so when you fall in love with your best friend, tell yourself you are not in love with your best friend. just with the way the moonlight falls on her skin, in grocery store parking lots at 3am. tell yourself you are instead in love with the moon. how a part of it is always hidden. how it waits for you always at the same time, every night. how it glows just for your company. it isnâ€™t love, just with the way her body feels alongside you in a too small bed, drunk off wine and spilt secrets. tell yourself you fell in love with the wine, even though you refused to drink it until you met her. you are not in love with her, just the way she kisses these museum walls to life. has never called you empty. how she wears all white to glow, as she dances under the ba-dum ba-dum black-light heart beat. so when you fall in love with your best friend anyway, despite your efforts in deception and denial do not put portraits and sculptures on display for the world and her to see. keep telling yourself it canâ€™t be love for you must remember: it is better to be heart-broken than to be alone
Hands Christine Kim Blue veins stream under translucent skin running like the Han under bony peaks. Ride the jointed hills and spill into five wide tunnels, surging under a cracking desert. They rise and sink with the pulse of her knife. They swirl and dance over the steam of the pot. They rub themselves above the boiling soy bean soup the salt from their ridges permeates the squash and bean sprouts. the rice cake inflates in between her fingers prints are left pressed on skins of sweet potatoes I reach for them under the falling water but she swats them away and pushes her own farther into the swelling foam And her drained words plunge with her weary hands Donâ€™t let yours become like mine
Highways on a Rainy Day Christine Kim Wind lashes, the wipers rushing, fighting to swipe the storm away but the water, wind, wind, and water hit and spit with rapid aim Strewn against the shielded wind Sizzle, wipe, sizzle, swipe Drops of running rain The speed limit drowned under the tires sprayed into a furious fog If I slip and slide into slumber mud might act to mask my murder
Thanksgiving Jasmine McBeath Bless this pumpkin pie, still warm from the oven, crust buttery trellis edged, fork pressed. Bless orange from cans, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg pre-mixed in a tin. Bless evaporated milk, one cup per can, that I may always have this ease, wooden spoon, rubber spatula. Bless aerosol whip, Lid off, nozzle down, thumb set. Bless this plastic fork, barely strong enough.
Enough Jasmine McBeath I never forgave him my first impression, offering to translate when my accent ate at meanings, left only fat and gristle. When he stage-whispered colors in English during Uno, pronounced each word round-mouthed as if it were a marble I should be happy to swallow. On Thanksgiving Eve, I struggled to prove myself American and he found me in the kitchen with eight empty tins. Pumpkin was a dish served salty with beans, he said, welcome to Brazil. Pot spilling over, he swore, shaking burnt fingers from boiled rind. He grated cinnamon sticks and ground cloves with the only knife I owned. Stayed until pie after pie turned light brown over the line of fire, straight down the bottom of the old gas oven. We celebrated silent on the cement roof, legs hanging over, breeze on our backs, sun rising orange, sweet
Independence Jasmine McBeath Gallons flood the 7th of September, tops circling off center, drunk from the spin. You used to put ten limes in a row, slice down the middle, squeeze then blend, more sugar than juice. I threw limes in whole only the one time, chewed bits of rind, downed it all. When bottles stop charming the sidewalk, I call you. You come, lift Sparkletts over shoulders and walk home, feet sweaty metallic in sandals. Leave me with a broken cart, an old woman who stopped to kick the bent wheel, as if to ask Whatâ€™d you think would happen?
For Six Kilometers, Rivers Side by Side Refuse to Make the Amazon Jasmine McBeath I broke our promise, swam between like one foot across state lines, studied knees beneath water, mud brown and cola red. Solimões runs fast, cold. The lighter half, silt-sand off the Andes. Rio Negro forgives first, black tea waters warm and slow. Tonight legs stream over cotton, woven far from here. We lie together. That no one will crush lime and sugar the same, peel an orange in one coil, cut the right size corner piece. We lie about who you’ve been with. How you kept watermelon on hand in winter, walked four blocks to the stand with three stools because it was her favorite. That you loved her like your guitar, but you were the hollow, the neck, the body, and when she picked the strings, everyone knew the chords, we lie that I didn’t love that way too. Arms like rivers, light to dark, we lie
Words Austin Theriot We sat outside JD’s coffee shop In my tired white Tacoma, Waiting for our cups and the weather to cool. Sometimes words are too much. And sometimes they’re not enough. You told me you wouldn’t blame me if I left. How could I tell you of the countless lives I had seen? The actuarial precision with which I counted our future hurts, failures, hopes? The life I would live without you, the part of myself that I would leave with you. The autumn afternoons when I would miss your warm hands on my neck. The certainty that there would be no other after you. Where can words begin when we sit in a tired truck on a hot day in a small town in Nebraska?
Rule and Democracy Austin Theriot From Earth's first breath there was a knife to my head, but the first of elections put a gun in my hands. How long will I miss the cold pressed to my back? To the time of the kings there is no going back, not to the days when I buried my head. But how can I bear all this blood on my hands? In silence or speech, polls burden these hands. I know I'm no Atlas - the vote bows my back. Still, we rule with our guilt, for we are the head. Weâ€™re headed to hell for these hands; we answer for those whom we back.
Things Appropriate Madison Stone I am sorry I changed the channel yesterday to watch something easier to swallow. I wasn’t in the mood for that horrid mouthful. I am sorry People are playing blame games, bellowing and excusing your mourning. But it’s morning and you’re looking out the window at the streets as they glisten. You remain in your hospital bed waiting on your next incision. I am sorry Acorns, dry leaves and cinnamon are all things appropriate to drop on this autumn season. Not faultless beings on now blood stain concrete. There is no valid reason. I am sorry Hatred triggers outrage. They described it as rats being caught in a maze but you know firsthand that sometimes the way, isn’t always the right way. I’m sorry Country music is silenced with gunfire, bullets banging this country but more importantly; I am so sorry that three of them leave a scar on your skin.
The Shade of Tomorrow Madison Stone I read to you on that tattered couch in the living room, now sold. Water for Elephants put you to sleep often. I never finished it. Now replaced with a white leather sofa. Can you believe that? A white leather sofa. Mom told me about the walls too but I didn’t believe her. I laughed, actually. I didn’t believe she’d take that away from me, from you. You painted them. Pick any color Any color in the world that makes you feel alive and I’ll make it yours. Now painted over with a scheme of taupe. It no longer compliments the curtains. It no longer compliments the strain. I told you to paint the sunrise. This has nothing to do with happiness. I told you to paint the sunrise. Don’t you remember? I picked the shade of tomorrow. Picture frames exchanged like thrift store clothing. I’m drowning. Your closet filled with his clothes. Inked spilled on your place at the table, your chair now spells his name. Frames filled with someone new. Not you on your birthday, or us at June Lake or that damn hat you wore like tomorrow wouldn’t come. I’m sorry it didn’t. I miss you like hell. I don’t know how to define this kind of drowning I walk through each room and try not to look at the walls. The doors are painted shut. After a while they cave in like water filling
my lungs at the bottom of a lake. I’m drowning, I’m drowning. Do you see me? I’m drowning. Don’t worry, I kept your hat.
Cookie Cutter Life Madison Stone You said you rescue the broken so come fast, bring a dustpan and broom– when you’re done I should be able to sleep in white sheets. You’re disappointed that I don’t smoke cigarettes so I’ll split open my lungs, fill them with tar, stitch them back together with your hunger and blow that fume right into your lips. You like me here Hidden somewhere between your next glass of wine and yesterday’s blood stained grapes. This is how you want me a part of your cookie cutter life; the perfect portrait. I try and throw sticks but you’re made of stone. You’re enticed by the ingredients leaking from my skin. So cake me with sugar, smooth me over with desire, cut my edges, dice my borders– tell me to bake and I’ll burn. My brittle bones; your sculpting clay. Your love, a semi truck at dusk leaving pollution in the shadows. Your love, a sailboat on parched land. Your love would love me if it could.
Fire Itself Madison Stone You set my heart on fire. You were fire itself. I realized that you are a flame, leaving me with burnt promises. I have never been the type to watch the sky fall down into the earth. Sunsets never impressed me. They lack commitment and constantly leave us waiting around for them to return again another time. How can anyone watch the dusk and call it beautiful? The sun may have set, but I still feel the burn on my skinâ€“â€“ I still feel the burn on my skin
Our Dead Uncle’s Ration Card, Tokyo, Japan: August, 1944 Paul David Adkins We explained–– He’s too sick to shop. He would like to give beyond the grave. Why not snag one more pint of milk a week, enjoy the bread lifted in his name? Back home we slipped his card behind a picture frame. We gathered at the table, bowed. By the rice a single candle adjusted and adjusted its helmet.
Morning Pines Sheridan Nelson It is not supposed to be a sad day. Today is history and future and the unknown in-between. It is fixtures of the past and ebenezers of promise. It is family and traditions and the inevitable truth. The morning is still undressed, on the cusp of slipping into a silky sunrise. There are no hills here, only flattened farmland and fattened cows. Silvery silos catch the first sparks of sun and cast them through the windshield. Grandpaâ€™s hands slowly turn the steering wheel, gently weaving outside the lane and then back again. The hands shake a little but his voice is strong as he tells me we are close. We are visiting his graveyard today. My throat starts to fill with lumps as I look down the gravel road and make out a ridge of pines, far past the silos. It is miles away but approaching still. Soon I will see the heads of stone too. I know it is not supposed to be a sad day. We reach the trees and pull into a grassy lot. I step out of the car and follow him past rows of humble markings, the only traces left above earth of some fathers and mothers and children. It is important to him that I am here now before I come later. He stops at a stone scribed with his own name and first year, followed by an empty space for another year to fill. I listen while he talks about his late mother and his own life and how these pines are nurtured by a hundred nameless ashes. Then we are quiet. We retrace our steps and return to the car. He is a man of brevity; there is no reason to linger here. The sun is a little warmer now, but it is morning still. We drive down the gravel the same way from which we came, the pines shrinking in the rearview mirror. And before long we are miles away from them again. It is morning still.
Please Shai Bigelow Words from your lips made my cheeks run red as blood Please do not believe I find self-worth in your devious language This color is from fear Discomfort Your fingers grazed my breast and shot adrenaline through my veins You took the oxygen out of my lungs and froze me Please do not think you took my breath away You paralyzed me when you touched what was not yours My name is not baby, bitch, sweet cheeks, or slut I am staring at you in anger and overwhelming disgust Please donâ€™t think I deserve your label You will never know my temperament or my sexuality Just by the length of even my sheerest skirt I didnâ€™t ask to see your body Your vulgarity ignited a tornado in my gut Sent a strike of debilitating nausea through my being Please do not show me your body and expect me to show you mine The site of my cleavage is not an invitation for your advances Please
Society Shai Bigelow We live in a society That doesn’t make rape a priority But people get locked up for drugs, and they make up the majority Our president presides over a nation of young girls Told they cannot have authority And he too has preyed upon women And justifies it with his “superiority” We live in a society Where we tell girls to cover their shoulders So that they’re not a distraction Yet we never tell the boys to be responsible for their actions They grow up feeling entitled to women’s bodies Like they made a transaction We live in a society Where every 98 seconds a woman is raped We need to cement the cracks in our society Yet we just cover the gashes with tape We live in a society Where Cyntoia Brown is considered a criminal But Brock Turner had a future ahead of him, so the time he got was minimal The future for us women is looking dismal We live in a society Where every time I walk home alone, I get anxiety Where the violation of a woman’s body is blamed on sobriety So don’t try and lie to me And say I’m safe in this society
Kitchen Matriarch Alicia Alcantara-Narrea Fluorescent lighting is horrible. So are peel and stick vinyl tiles, which never stick for long. I remember staring sideways into our galley kitchen, the one that always seemed awashed with a yellow glow. Was it from the sticky grime that never came off the floor? Or the brownish wood cabinets, slowly running out of food? I don’t mean to bother you, Mother, if dinner never comes. Whatever it is you ate looks awfully like jaundice. Later I’m sure you’ll toss it up and just sit there very still. Mother, would you like to hear a fact? Galley kitchens cost the least to remodel (but we cannot afford it now). They are the most efficient design for single users (but you still have the three of us to support). ----There I am, just outside your kingdom, day after day. Day after day after day . . . and the kitchen is there for you, swallowing you, with its floral curtains, the valence in your hair. And the plantation wood doors, folded stiff, hide your shame. And that silly waist-high bar that your sister gave to you, grew taller than you. And you, Mother, were the only vegetable in the room. You were the venerable woman, the Kitchen Matriarch. And there I stood, always sideways, but supplicating nonetheless. Watching water collect in the sink. A humid wetness that stuck to steel. Like touching hot hands to tacky tile. I wish I could unstick you, Mother. But the water collects in caspians on your corneas and I just stand there. Outside your kingdom, my feet to carpet, my shoulders facing east. My eyes are open, north to you, wide, dry and thirsty, urging you. Move, Mother, move. But you are lifeless as canvas. Kitchen became a painting in idle, and you drowning in its oil. Your hair in grease. To touch the kitchen without falling sick? To touch the kitchen and reach out to you, without falling ill? Like a fever in yellow, like the air putrescent, like anger when burning... The divorce is killing you, Mother, deliberately like a disease. And I can’t help but watch. I can’t help at all.
Á LA H A L L E L U J A H Nicholas Molbert for my sister Scotch-taping Winn Dixie roses to the front of his slot in the mausoleum was our reality. Each morning like do-good mailmen delivering bubble-wrapped packages who know it’s illegal to hand mail directly to sendee, saying, as he would, Must be good if no one’s talking yes, maybe us emptying the toy tub of its plastic joys, hauling it to the top of the stairwell, turning it on its side and taking turns sliding in and tumbling down was a type of childish clairvoyance for the miscarriage we wouldn’t know until we were both well into our teens. But every goddamn thing is about loss even with fake flowers or toy-strewn floors. How about our matinee of sopped t-shirts and underwear pulled from the washing machine when it broke mid-cycle. When we wrung them dry over the utility room sink, and hung them from leaf-gagged gutters? Whatever it was then and is now, let us praise the reminders, praise Grandpa’s full head of salt and pepper hair hurtling hereditarily toward us. Praise the tub overflowing with toys. Praise the choice to love and fear, to steer into hugs and other tough hallelujahs. Praise our curiosities of things kept secret, the bottom drawer of Mom’s bedside table with its Lexapro scripts and sheets of loose-leaf with columns of boys’ and girls’ names. Praise the weeks we called each other those names thinking them almost ours. Praise Lucas, Heather, Brynn and Quinn. Praise Bradley, praise Kelly, praise Robin and Brock. Praise the pasts and their re-imaginations. The days it is obvious we are not what is missing from this world.
If There is in, in Fact, a Word Nicholas Molbert existing before each new beginning, the word here is Huh? and that word accompanied by a panic that my grandfather’s trucker hats would be stripped jobless—no more topwater hair to imagine themselves bobbing on as buoys. His black Skechers on which I stepped to learn slow dance are good as gone by now, in the closet of another, stuffier man, an impolite man who hasn’t enough decency to spare his grandson the name Oscar III, whose religiosity does not translate cleanly into Just be good. One with no grandchildren to teach a two-step, much less cast an open-face reel, filet a speckled trout, or drive a stick-steer outboard. If my grandfather could speak— if his language is still my language—he would say For every pain, there is a chore. Now, I slip on one of his Hanes t-shirts and I am three sizes too small in a room where everything wears his face as a mask, while my grandmother whispers Why why why to emptied rooms.
The Boy Learns Reverence Nicholas Molbert I’ll admit, I just moved my lips having left prayer behind—but okay, the argument goes See the good. See the neighbor’s girl scraping flattened canefield rats from tractor ruts with paper twice-halved, see her plant kisses on their backs even after her parents’ No. See her lay them in a penny-layered shoebox like the bones of small gods. Anything can be ceremony with closed eyes and background noise, like my hands cast now in the dark machine of the toolshed. Beside the indecisive air conditioner beneath clouds of cotton candy insulation with smells of menthols and sweated onions, this is where I am supposed to be. The girl’s parents did not know the terms or what she’d hid under the sidewalk’s tongue of concrete, but she took care, blessed it with a slurry of saliva and sucrose sucked from a canestalk. Yet everything I touch is dusty or turns to dust. I am moving my lips, making sound now, talking to the girl on the screen porch. She claims the rain took her rats through the gulley to the culvert. Moved by a sound I cannot hear, she goes with a wind-blue dress and bare feet. She disappears into the storeroom of the dark O to fetch her relic, container flooded and hollowed by echo.
Coda Nicholas Molbert What now to praise: the hawk rhapsodying and the canal rhapsodying back, another road eaten by encroaching coastline, the woman pushing her hatchback to the only pump left in town. New days slide under the old and are invisible— landscapes are elegies waiting for alchemy. Natural disaster is a priest in the process of breaking his celibacy vows under the mistletoe of Nikes strung over the powerline. The town sieved to keep out the bad, but the boxed-up good shipped out, and we still say, Must be good if no one’s talking, because tradition is the spark left in this amnesia-ridden collective. Praise everything here. Claim it for memory’s kingdom made sacred by sleight of hand. What small talk in the pause before death is this? A t-shirt rent and slung around a willow is a half-assed flag at half-mast that whips a sound threatening to become my name.
Dandelions Shane Griffin David’s mother died on a Thursday. One year before she died, his father noticed her doing strange things, like putting her car keys in the washing machine and dirty clothes in the refrigerator. Her speech had slowed. When she talked, she rolled her tongue around her mouth like the words were peanut shells she tried to spit out. His father called him one day and told him to come home because something was wrong with her. David called in sick the next day from work and drove the hour and half from Cedar Rapids to Des Moines. His father couldn’t explain it to him, because he hadn’t taken her to the doctor yet. But David thought he knew what was wrong and couldn’t face it. When he arrived at his parents’ house, their lawn was overgrown. Yellow dandelions had taken over the yard and were in full bloom. Paint curled off the wood siding like flakes of dry skin. His father always took care of the house and the yard. When he was a kid, his father paid him one penny for each dandelion he removed from the yard. Every day, he tried to fill a five-gallon bucket full of them and waited for his father to get home from work so he could show him the haul and collect his money. Dandelion roots dig deep in the soil. Simply pulling the flower and the jagged leaves off the stem doesn’t kill it. David had to use a special yard tool that was forked like a snake’s tongue. He worked it into the ground and lifted and pried until the dandelion popped out of his father’s lush blanket of grass. His father inspected each of the plants to make sure he had removed most of the root. “Theses damn things are like icebergs,” he said. “There’s a lot more under the surface, waiting.” His father obsessed about his yard, the house, and his family. David’s mother was his life. He’d do anything for her and always sought her approval. He kept the house in good shape and repaired everything. But he was lost when she got sick. He couldn’t do anything about it. She made him who he was. Her illness was something he couldn’t fix. David’s father met him at the front door. His eyes were red. He heard his mother screaming from the back room. “Let me out of here! You rapist-kidnapper!” “What the hell is going on?” He looked over his shoulder. The house was a mess. “Something is wrong with Mom.” “How long has this been going on?” “A couple of weeks. Maybe longer. I don’t know for sure. It’s too hard on me.” His father wiped his eyes with the bottom of his untucked black Dale Earnhardt t-shirt. His hairy round belly stuck out of the bottom. “I had to lock her up in her room because when I woke up from a nap she was gone. I looked around the house for her and in the yard, but she wasn’t here. I drove around the neighborhood and found her at a park going up and down the slide over and over.” His father could barely get the last words out of his mouth. “Alzheimer’s?” “I don’t know. I hope not. So I brought her home and locked her up in her room.” “Let me out, you rapist!” his mother yelled and pounded the door harder each time. “Why is she calling you a rapist?” “When I went to get her off the slide, I had to pick her up and carry her cradle-style back to the car. She kept saying I was kidnapping her and that I touched her...you know.” His father pointed to his crotch. His parents went to church every Sunday and volunteered during the week for other activities. He never heard either of his them say a single bad word. Nothing worse than
“Hell.” He went to the bedroom door and knocked. “Mom? It’s me, David.” “Who? I don’t know of a David. Are you here to fuck me too?” “Mom! Please! I’m going to open the door, okay? It’s your son, David.” It was quiet, and as he listened with his ear pressed to the door, he heard the squeak of bed springs. He opened the door and walked into the room slowly. He peeked his head around the corner and saw her lying on the bed naked with a pillow over her eyes. “Just do it already. Then leave me alone,” she said. He noticed that her voice had changed, too. She didn’t sound like his mother anymore. Her voice was deeper, throaty. A stranger’s voice. David grabbed the sheets she had thrown on the floor and covered her with them. She threw the sheets off of her, screamed and tried to get up. He wrapped her with the sheets and held her down. He looked into her eyes. “It’s me, David. Mom, I’m not going to hurt you.” “Get off of me!” She looked at him with wild eyes like she had never seen him before. It had been three months since he had been home for a visit—last Easter Sunday. She cooked ham and mashed potatoes. There was nothing wrong then. “I’m your son. Don’t you remember?” “No. I don’t know you. I don’t have any children. Molly had a baby, and its head popped off.” “What?” “Molly had a baby, and its head popped off,” she sang and flicked her thumb from underneath her curled index finger. David remembered flicking the heads off dandelions in their yard when he was a kid in the same way. When his cousin Sammie came to visit them, they played in the yard. They would take his father’s hated dandelions and rub the yellow flower pollen on their faces. They held the stems in their clenched fists and flicked the flowers off, singing that same song. Sammie rubbed the yellow flower on her cheeks. “Am I beautiful?” “I don’t know.” “Well, am I?” He didn’t know what to say. He was six, and she was nine. He didn’t see her often. She lived in Colorado with his mother’s sister and her family. He only saw her once a year at best. “Well?” she asked again. She stood up, put her hands on her waist, and twirled in front of him as he sat in the grass. “I guess so.” He didn’t know what else to say. She picked a dandelion with the seeds that were ready to blow away in the wind and sat next to him in the yard. “You know, when you blow these seeds off, if you make a wish, it will come true.” He watched her gently blow the seeds off. He closed his eyes and made a wish. The doctors diagnosed David’s mother with an advanced form of Alzheimer’s. They didn’t let her go home. They ordered her to a secured care unit that specialized in advanced cognitive disorders where the patients were unable to care for themselves. She was lost inside of her mind. The pathways of information had deteriorated and began to cross over each other. His father, an electrician, called his mother “short-circuited.” David wasn’t there for the deterioration of her mind, but his father was and kept it to himself.
“Didn’t you notice the warning signs?” David asked. “I honestly didn’t know something was wrong until this last week.” His father sat at the kitchen table. His hands were wrapped around a beer can. He used to drink a lot when David was younger. He quit cold turkey when he pulled into the driveway too fast after a night at the bar and ran into the garage door. His mother was furious. She threatened to leave him if he didn’t stop drinking. He did. David remembered when he got too drunk and stayed up late working in the garage. After he had gone to bed, he would come into David’s bedroom and cry and tell him about things he should have done and that he was sorry for being such a bad father. David never knew what to say to his father then. He told him about his plans he had before his mother got pregnant. He wanted to get out of Iowa and drift around the world. He never planned to get married or have children. He never thought he would be good enough for anybody. His parents were always hard on him. They were alcoholics, too. They were factory workers who pulled the overnight shifts. Their schedules were backwards from his. They worked their shifts at the Firestone plant, and then they’d go to the bar. They would come home after he had left for school and pass out. They woke in time to make him supper and then go to work as he was going to bed. His grandmother would come and stay with him at night until he got old enough to stay by himself. They tried to have a regular family life on the weekends, but his parents drank so much they couldn’t stay awake. Their weekends were two-day long family fights that ended up with his father hitting his mother. Sometimes David’s grandfather would come after his father. He would yank him out of bed and call him worthless and break things in his room. David’s grandmother died of cirrhosis when he was twenty-one, and he never spoke to his father ever again. David’s father told him that he blamed his own father for his mother’s death. “Adults can make choices. They just didn’t make the right ones,” he told David once. “A husband should protect his family. Not lead them down a path of destruction.” His father fought those demons his whole life. He did what he thought he should be doing, or at least the opposite of what he learned as a child. “I never went to college. Didn’t want to. I had plans on working on a Merchant Marine ship. Travelling the globe,” David’s father told him as he swayed next to his bed. “But. But, then I met your mom, and within a month she got pregnant, and I did the right thing. I got married and got a job.” “I know, Dad,” he told him. He held the sheets up to his neck. His father threw his arms around as he told David about his missed adventures. “It’s funny. I get seasick on the canoe on Saylorville Lake, yet I was going to take off by the sea. I was going to get out of Iowa for good. There was nothing left here for me.” “I know.” “But I did the right thing. I did the manly thing. What a man should do.” He talked for what seemed like hours. He repeated himself. He told the same story, but changed the word choice. He was too drunk to know what he was saying. His father wanted David to escape like he had wanted to do. Then his father would stagger down the hallway and climb into bed. He heard his mother talk loudly at him, but he got up every day at five in the morning, made coffee, ate breakfast, packed his lunch, and then went to work as a construction electrician. On Sundays, they would dress up for church. They got there early so his father could
kneel at the altar and pray with hands clasped in front of his face, resting his forehead on his knuckles, and cry in silence. David finished praying early and sat back in the pew. He studied his father. He wondered what pain had dug itself so deep inside him that he couldn’t get out.When David graduated from high school, his aunt and uncle came to the ceremony and the graduation party. Sammie, too. She was a sophomore in college. She brought one of her friends along, Bethany. After the graduation party, he asked his father if he could borrow the car and go out. He took Sammie and Bethany with him. He showed them around Des Moines and visited bars on Court Avenue. He was too young to drink, but Sammie talked a bouncer into letting him in the bar if he promised not to drink. Bethany was beautiful. She had acorn brown hair and dark brown eyes. She asked David to dance, and he did. He had never danced with a woman. He went to prom in high school, but he was too scared to dance, so his date left him alone against the wall. Bethany ran her hands all over him. She moved his arms to the beat of the music. She grabbed his waist to get him to sway with her, and eventually he started to move to the music. When a slow dance came on, she moved in close and put her face in the space where his neck met his shoulder. He felt her breath on his skin. He smelled her perfume. He felt her soft hands stroke the back of his head. He felt her waist push against his. When they got home, David went to bed. The girls slept in the guest room. His parents and his aunt and uncle were up late playing cards at the kitchen table. He stared at the dark ceiling and thought about Bethany and the way she made him feel on the dance floor. His door opened slow. “Sssshhhh.” Bethany lay next to him in bed. She rubbed her hands all over him and got on top of him. He told her to stop, but she told him to be quiet. It was over as soon as it began. “That’s it?” she said. David nodded. “I guess so. It was my first time.” “Two-pump chump,” she said. “You just popped right off.” She dressed and left the room. He heard Sammie and Bethany laughing from the guest bedroom down the hallway. He felt sick when he thought about it. The slickness between her legs. The alcohol on her breath. He leaned over the side of his bed and threw up in the trash can. His head spun around the dark bedroom as he thought about what had just happened. He didn’t even like her, or females for that matter, not at least in that way.They left the next day. His mother forced him to go to the driveway to see them off. The girls were already in the car. Bethany held up two fingers and then closed them into a fist and moved up and down. He couldn’t hear them laughing, but he saw their mouths moving, and he knew it was funny to them. His face felt hot. He awkwardly hugged his aunt and uncle before they got in the car. Then they backed out of the driveway and drove off. Bethany held up two fingers until they were out of sight. “Boy, that Bethany sure is something,” his father said. A week before his mother died, she started to sing when she talked. She still didn’t recognize anybody. But for some reason she noticed what she liked about people. She sat in her chair by the barred windows and stared out into the nursing home’s courtyard. She liked to watch birds eating and playing in the bird bath. “Hi, Mom,” David said. “Oh, hello,” she sang in a choir-like singing voice. The notes in her syllables rose up and down. Her voice quavered when she held certain notes. “You are such a handsome man,” she sang. “How are the birds today.”“They are soooo beautiful.” He sat next to her in chair. She touched his shoulders.“You are so strong.” His father sat behind her crying. He tried hard to stifle it. But as David talked to his mother, he heard him sob and then be quiet again. “Why is that man crying?” she sang to him. “He loves you. That’s why.” “That is so nice of him,” she sang. His father called a week later and said she had died.
She suffocated on her own saliva. David asked how that could happen. His father said the doctors told him that the last stage of Alzheimer’s blocks the body’s ability to control its involuntary functions. She stopped swallowing and then stopped breathing. His father had her cremated. He had a red granite memorial set at the cemetery, but kept the ashes with him at home. David sat in a chair on the porch and watched him spread some of her ashes on the lawn. He walked in silence as he watched the gray ash pour out of the urn, falling on the overgrown grass and the yellow dandelions that they had battled his whole life. His father started going to the bar again after work, and David would get phone calls from him at three in the morning. He missed his wife and wished he had been a better father. He wished he had taken David to more places. He wished he had more kids because that was what his wife wanted. She wanted a big family, but David was the only child. He told David to get married and have lots of kids and give them everything they needed, even if it meant going broke. “I always wanted to take you out to Yellowstone,” he told David during one earlymorning phone call. “What do you say we head out there soon?” “Okay, Dad. Let’s talk about this in the morning.” “I can’t. I have to work tomorrow. We’re working seven days a week downtown. All kinds of young kids are moving back to town. Downtown Des Moines is booming.” “But it’s Sunday. You have to go to church.” “Shoot! I haven’t been to church since Mom passed.” He coughed over the phone, and it sounded like he may have vomited. “Heck, I don’t even care about the yard anymore. What for, right?” “Right, Dad. What the heck.” “Say, you should move back here. There’s more jobs here now. We could hang out more often,” he said.“Let’s talk about this tomorrow, okay?” “Okay. But just know that all I ever did was take care of my family. Can you believe that?” “I do, Dad. I appreciate that too.” David wished he had agreed to take his father on that trip to Yellowstone, because the next day he got a call from the Des Moines Police Department. The neighbors reported to the police that they heard a loud bang coming from the house and called 911. The police said they found all the lights on in the house and the TV volume was turned all the way up. They broke the door down and found his father sitting in his chair with a rifle in his lap and his trigger finger still in the trigger well. After the estate was settled, David quit his job in Cedar Rapids. He moved back to Des Moines and lived in their house. He got a job at Firestone and worked the overnight shift, and on the weekends, he would sit on the front porch and look out into the yard at the tall grass and the dandelions. He mowed only when the city threatened to fine him for an overgrown lawn. Sometimes he walked out into the yard and picked some of the flowers and rubbed the yellow on his arms and face. He let them grow their roots deep in the yard. He watched their seeds blow off into the wind, starting new plants somewhere else, hopefully in the neighbors’ yards. Sometimes he lay in the yard among them. He waved his hands over their yellow blossoms, and let them tickle the soft skin underneath his arms.
O Sinner Shelby Fox I was forged in hellfire, two doors down from Satan. I would peer through the holes in the drywall, and he would threaten to pull me in. Now I drag the roots that hang off my Achilles, past those who pound their chests, ice on their wrists. Apostasy hangs heavy on my shoulders, and I am sure the baptism of my birth is no longer. I bury myself in the snow every night. I check the locks ten times before bed. I have been cold so long I would consider crawling on my knees, Jonathan Edwards whispers to me in my sleep, tells me I’m a Sinner even though I don’t have a God anymore. I shove a towel underneath the bathroom door and sweat in steam so thick I can’t see my burn scars in the mirror I hold my head under the water and beg myself to breathe in the fire crack the ice that corrodes my innards because at least the flames are honest. Once when I held the grit of Roman dirt between my teeth, I sobbed for those centuries ago, persecuted for what they believed. But at least they knew it was better to burn, than to live without their Father’s love.
The Beautiful Murderess Natalie Crick She is born to blossom. Her painted ghost wanders, Haunting the meadow And whispering to trees. Pastel darling, Petal lips, There is nothing to be Afraid of. The wraiths that grow Are the wounds of flowers. When you kill, It will be beautiful. Peony Roses flake away, Blue buds blooming Somewhere in the dark, A feast for moths.
Interview with Claire Messud conducted by Calvin Evans, Bridget Kennedy, and Ashley McLaughlin CM: Claire Messud BK: Bridget Kennedy CE: Calvin Evans AM: Ashley McLaughlin BK: In The Woman Upstairs, Sirena and Nora are visual artists. How much of a role does visual art play in your own life or your writing process? And why was it important that they bonded over their visual art? CM: I don’t make visual art but I’m pretty interested in it. My husband is a literary critic, but he’s also a musician. He has a great ear and remembers everything he hears –if he hears an engine, he can tell you what kind of car it is. Whereas I don’t have much of an aural sensibility. My husband will play me a piece of music and if it doesn’t have lyrics, he can play it for me again an hour later and I’ll say, “wasn’t that beautiful.” He’ll say “I just played that for you.” I’m a much more visual person. We had an interesting conversation once, where I was saying that as a reader, I visualize everything as I read it. I have this sort of 3D, all senses movie going in my head. He said, “no, not at all,” that’s not his experience. That’s a long way of saying that the visual has always been important to me. For the book, I did study contemporary art. I have a friend who’s an artist and I asked her to read the manuscript, to tell me whether things were wildly implausible. I laughed when she said “It’s great. Even what’s bad about the art is great.” “Oh, what’s bad?” I asked. “I don’t even know.” Preparing for the novel, I studied contemporary art to see what was being made – but without any evaluative judgment. Part of the question is why have them be artists? In some broader sense I wanted to ask, what is an artist? Who is an artist? If you make art at home and nobody sees it, aren’t you an artist? Or does it require an audience to supply some sort of assessment? I didn’t want to address this question with writers, and I didn’t feel like I could do it with musicians or composers. Those questions seem particularly acute in the art world. The literary world–distinctly so with poetry, but also at this point with fiction–is just not that relevant to the wider society. It’s tragic, but also sort of true. I recently read an article that pointed out that even big bestseller novels sell fewer copies than Jill Stein got votes. So how mainstream can we consider fiction to be? Whereas –in part because it takes less time and less effort to look at–visual art, when it’s successful, can reach a lot of people. Also, there are a lot of people collecting contemporary art, so it’s attached to our money value system, to the economy. In some way, the difference between
being someone who writes stories and shows them to family and friends versus someone who’s published isn’t, in absolute terms, very large. But in the art world, there really can be a big difference. You enter a different realm. In my novel, for the character Sirena, by the time she’s in a show at the Brooklyn Art Museum, the scale is much greater. That’s part of why I chose visual art. BK: Nora’s affection and attention for Reza felt uncomfortable, a little obsessive, especially because he’s a child. How did you want that interpreted? I know that this is about idealism and anger and regret, but how does that kind of obsession with the family do that for her? CM: Nora falls in love with the whole family. She falls in love with each of them separately, and then she falls in love with just the idea of their family. One reader asked me, “is her interest in Reza pedophilic?” I was shocked–not at all. I find it a strange fact about our times that all love is sexualized. Certainly in my mind hers wasn’t a sexual interest–rather, it’s a sort of inappropriate surrogate parenthood. She’d like to imagine that Reza is her child, even if only briefly–and yes, that’s inappropriate. It should be unsettling. But that’s really distinct from a predatory interest. There’s a lot of love in the world that is not sexual, and nowadays we tend to overlook that. In my earlier novel, The Emperor’s Children, Marina, a young woman from New York, has a best friend, Danielle, from the Midwest. Danielle moves to New York, and in that case too, falls in love with Marina’s whole life. In both cases, it’s not just about the individual people, it’s about the whole family. I’ve seen it happen, and when I was young, versions of that happened to me. A household can seem to represent what you wish you had; or, in the case of Nora, everything you wish you had as an adult. She wishes her life were cosmopolitan and worldly in the way that the Shahid household seems to be. She wishes that she had a kid; she doesn’t. She wishes that she was a successful artist; she wishes she had romantic love in her life. These elements of her ideal life are suddenly embodied and there right next to her. I see her attention to Reza as part of that. Also, people are competitive. Nora looks at Sirena and thinks, “Maybe I could be a better parent than you. I would be more attentive than you are. I would take care of things better than you.” We have in us a lot of dark–not necessarily sinister, but dark–emotions or impulses that we don’t always feel ready to accept or acknowledge, but they’re there. That happens in friendships; a lot of friendships involve some rivalry or competition or envy. CE: My question is a little more structure focused. How did decide to write The Woman Upstairs in a kind of stream-of-consciousness style, and did you plan out the structure ahead of time, or as you were writing, did you come up with flashbacks that felt relevant? CM: You know, I don’t know. One of the terrible things about the creative process is that so much of it is intuitive, and so much is irretrievable. It’s hard to teach, in that sense. If you’ve ever done theater, then you know that when you’re in a play, you learn the lines. You’re on stage
however many times. You know the lines. Then, a month later, you don’t know the lines any longer. Somebody says, “Recite that monologue.” But you can’t. Writing fiction, something analogous happens. I think things through quite a bit before I write. I have an outline, but it’s not detailed. I know what needs to be there. In this case, the first chapter, initially a longer rant, just came to me as a voice. It felt like I was transcribing something. Then I had to figure out who this woman Nora was, and why she was yelling in my ear. The Woman Upstairs was, for me, very much a voicedriven novel. The Burning Girl is a first person narrative also, but it’s not voice-driven in the same way. As for the writing itself, I’m a little OCD. For example, when I’m making breakfast, if I have to open the fridge door more than once, I’m annoyed with myself that I didn’t think things through beforehand. And I feel that way about fiction, too. It’s always a voyage of discovery. There’s that Doctorow line about writing being like driving on a country road at night: you know what towns you’re supposed to pass through, but all you can see is what’s in the headlights. That’s really my experience. I know what towns I’m supposed to pass through, but if I knew exactly what I’d see along the way, it would be dull. All writing, as I see it, is a balance between freedom and constraint. You need some constraints, but if you’ve plotted things, planned things too rigorously, it will feel that way. AM: I read The Burning Girl, which I liked very much. My questions had to do with your experience and how it reflects in the book. Julia and Cassie have a toxic friendship, with Julia towing the line of obsession and Cassie having a more neglectful approach. Was this the intent of the story from the beginning or did the story evolve in its own way? CM: I suppose both things are true: it’s intended and it evolved in its own way, like the earlier comment about freedom and constraint. There’s a long tradition of an observer narrator telling the story of a friend–Gatsby being the most famous example. Such a narrator is, in some objective sense, the less interesting character, or thinks of themselves that way. The more neglectful or more spontaneous character is never going to be the narrator because they’re too busy being themselves to tell a story. It’s a sort of life thing. The Burning Girl is not an autobiographical novel. I haven’t written anything that’s particularly autobiographical. There’s an adage that you can only write what you see, what you know, or what you can imagine. I was prompted to write this book at this time because I have teenage kids, nieces, and nephews, and I found that I was revisiting that time of life – which seems such an important one–from a different perspective. That transition from being a kid to being an adult–to see it from a different perspective is really wild. And you can’t really do anything; you just have to be there on the sidelines saying, “It will be ok. It will be alright.”
It brought back so vividly all these memories of my own. But I could see that even though so many things have changed–our society, social media, and so forth– there’s also so much that hasn’t changed. If you read Othello, even though it was written centuries ago, you recognize jealousy. Certain things don't change–particular adolescent experiences, and the nature of best friendships in those years. I think of the two books–The Woman Upstairs and The Burning Girl–as companion pieces in a way, the later book being a precursor to the first one. One is about an obsessive friendship as an adult. The other is about when you’re a kid, and it's not even that their friendship is unusually obsessive–it’s just the nature of childhood. Childhood doesn’t have boundaries. You don't think about such things. And then comes this moment in adolescence when people start to realize difference–the difference between ‘them’ and ‘you.’ You go to a friend’s house and you spend the night and you're like "Wow, it's weird here. Either this is normal, or my house is normal, but they can't both be normal. So am I normal or not? What am I going to decide about this?” You start to figure out a sense of identity, in ways that as a kid you don't, really. Julia is somebody who, for all sorts of reasons–including her temperament and her circumstances -- would have the luxury of extending childhood longer, whereas Cassie is forced to grow up faster. But also, the fact is that neurologically, you change as much between, say, 11 and 14, or 12 and 15, as you do between years 0 and 3. That's how much development there is. Between 0 and 3, you're not really aware of it; but as a teenager, you are. There's a lot of suffering, as well as discovery and wonder. But the chances that you and your best friend will develop at the same rate in the same way are pretty small. I wanted to write about that experience. AM: You also kind of answered my second question, which was how, much of the depth came from personal experience? So there was the answer. CM: I think when you ask what comes from personal experience, it’s not really a matter of "Did you live it?” Rather, it's “Can you imagine it?" There are certain things that I'm aware I can't imagine. Take Joyce Carol Oates, for example: she has a very dark imagination, and she wrote a novel from the point of view of a serial killer. I don't think my imagination could go there. If I can't imagine the inside of someone’s mind, that's a limitation. CE: Reading The Woman Upstairs seems especially pertinent in the wake of the Me Too movement. Even though it was written before the Me Too movement, do you see your novels existing in a political discussion and environment, or do you just write the stories that you think need to be told?
CM: Well, those two things are inseparable, really. Itâ€™s been a little unsettling to me in the past couple of years that there seems to be a growing sense that novels should serve a political purpose. Stendhal, the 19th century French novelist, describes a novel as a mirror walking down a road. It's something that the writer Michael Ondaatje picks up and uses in his novel The English Patient. That's what I think of literature as actually being: an art form that's trying to capture what life is like, what people are like, and the ways that people actually behave in the world. In the broadest sense, there are always political components to that: what you choose to write about; the stories you choose to tell; what you think is important; who you want to give a voice to. You're always choosing what to leave in and what to leave out, and those are political decisions. But the idea that it serves a direct political purpose seems to me to reduce what art is about. Art is bigger than a message, in the way that life is bigger than a message. So, yes, on the one hand, I feel that my choices are obviously political, and on the other, I would like to think that they aren't organized in such a way that people would say, "Well I learned the lesson that . . . " Eudora Welty used to say, "You can't summarize a work of art, because if you could, you wouldn't need to create it." The art is itself. It's not a thing that you can reduce to something smaller. It's what it needs to be. Do you feel that art should be purposeful? BK: Yes, you have do something because it means something to you. CM: Yes, of course. But I find that sometimes people think that you need to be learning something measurable. AM: I also feel like sometimes when you're writing, you don't quite get what purpose you're giving it. Sometimes you just write and it becomes this thing, where there is this purpose or this lesson in it, but you don't really realize it until later. CM: Yes, you might think you're writing one thing, and the world experiences another. You may not be fully aware even afterwards, until people come to you. A friend of mine made a movie that I don't think he thought was a comedy, and people who saw it said, "This is so funny." He said, "Oh, ok, alright. Who am I to say otherwise? It's not for me to say it's not funny." As an artist, you come to appreciate things in your work that you couldn't see yourself.
Contributors Alicia Alcantara-Narrea is an undergraduate student at the University of Houston majoring in Creative Writing. When she is not writing she works as a merchandiser for a footwear company and as an overnight drugstore associate. Dana Al Ansari is an undergraduate student from the United Arab Emirates at the American University in Dubai, and has also studied abroad in the United States. She hopes to return to the United States for graduate study. Paul David Atkins currently attends The Graduate Institute, Bethany, CT, seeking an MA in Writing and The Oral Tradition. He served in the U.S. Army for 21 years, 3 months, and 18 days. Shai Bigelow is a freshman at Merrimack College. This poem is a reflection of her view as living as a woman in today's society, and as an observer of society in general. Natalie Crick, from the UK, has work published in a range of journals and magazines including Rust and Moth, The Chiron Review, Ink in Thirds, Interpreters House and The Penwood Review. Her first chapbook will be released by Bitterzoet Press this year. Shelby Fox is a student at the University of Texas at San Antonio. When not writing or reading, she likes to spend time with her loved ones and enjoy nature. Shane Griffin is a graduate student at Iowa State Universityâ€™s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Environment. He is an Iraq War veteran and works as a firefighter/paramedic in Des Moines, Iowa. His work has appeared in The Baltimore Review, Heroesâ€™ Voices, Hippocampus Magazine, Sky Island Journal, and The Wapsipinicon Almanac. Lauren Hill is an undergraduate at Taft College in California. When she is not writing poetry, she can be found leading vocals in the Worship band at her church or working with and teaching junior high students in bible studies and group services. Christine Kim is an undergraduate student in the Boston Area. Jasmine McBeath is a doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Barbara and a teacherconsultant of the South Coast Writing Project. She currently teaches and conducts research on programs that blend science with creative writing, art, and social action to encourage underrepresented students in science fields. Before graduate school, she received a Fulbright to teach English in Brazil. Nicholas Molbert lives and writes in Central Illinois and is an MFA candidate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His work is published in or forthcoming from American Literary
Review, Fjords Review, Missouri Review, and Ninth Letter among others. Sheridan Nelson is a native of Minneapolis, Minnesota and currently resides in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where she is completing her undergraduate degree in English. Her post-graduation plans include adopting an indefinite number of dogs. Madison Stone is a student at Monterey Peninsula College. Her current major is Psychology. She aspires to help the grieving. Madison grew up in Tehachapi, a small mountain town in central California. Her hobbies include writing, reading, hiking and traveling. Austin Theriot is a Louisiana resident and student of Concordia University, Nebraska, where he majors in Music.. Hispoetry has been published in Potpourri 2017: Form and Reform and is forthcoming in Assisi: An Online Journal of Arts & Letters. Carter Vance is originally from Cobourg, Ontario, and is currently studying at Carleton University in Ottawa. His work has appeared in such publications as The Vehicle, (parenthetical) and F(r)iction, amongst others. He received an Honourable Mention from Contemporary Verse 2's Young Buck Poetry Awards in 2015. His work also appears on his personal blog, Comment is Welcome. Vanessa Zimmerman is an undergraduate studying Writing at Ithaca College in Ithaca NY. She is an active member of SpitThat, an on-campus spoken word organization on-campus, as well as a member of the collegeâ€™s branch of Active Minds, which promotes mental health advocacy.