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The Merrimack Review

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Editorial Staff Managing Editor: Jacques Denault Fiction Editor: Catherine Tenore-Nortrup Nonfiction Editor: Julia Lemieux Poetry Editor: Jamie Hayes Art Editor: Emma Leaden Advisor: Andrea Cohen Cover art provided by Sasheera Grounden Front cover: Phase Back Cover: Arabian Woman 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 Writer’s House: http://www.merrimack.edu/academics/the-writers-house/

www.Merrimackreview.com Merrimackreview@gmail.com @MerrimackReview

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Contents 4| Interview with Alice Sebold 6| Dead Flowers…………………………………………………………………………Ana Prundaru 7| Again………………………………………………………………………………Caitlin Corcoran 8| Helicopter CH-53D…………………………………………………………………….Jordan Nate 9|Writer………………………………………………………………………………....Rachel Gazan 10| Miss Rigby………………………………………………………………….Lydia López Hurtado 11| Tarot…………………………………………………………………………...Benjamin Mitchell 12| Act of Translation…………………………………………………………………….A. R. Dugan 13| Blow…………………………………………………………………………………..Robert Auld 13| Aquarium……………………………………………………………………………..Robert Auld 14| Follow the Petals……………………………………………………………………Ana Prundaru 15| Cheers to Eli……………………………………………………………………….Bianca Spinosa 23| Adventure……………………………………………………………………….…..Ana Prundaru 24| Surviving a Phobia: Eating/Hydration………………………………………………..John Riccio 24| Surviving a Phobia: School…………………………………………………………...John Riccio 25| These Grounds……………………………………………………………………....Meg Granger 26| Carmen……………………………………………………………………...Lydia López Hurtado 27| Fourfold………………………………………………………….………….Lydia López Hurtado 28| New Star………………………………………………………….…………Lydia López Hurtado 29| Loose Ties in High Tides…………………………………………………………...Meg Granger 30| The Abused……………………………………………………………………….….John Clarke 31| Leaving Mass I Picture the Lives of My Fathers…………………………………….John Clarke

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Interview With Alice Sebold Conducted by Jacques Denault What made you decide to write The Lovely Bones from the perspective of a dead girl in heaven? Having survived rape, I became keenly aware of the young women who died. When I was growing up they were all in the papers, and they all looked the same… They never had a voice. I didn’t consciously think of writing The Lovely Bones from the perspective of a dead girl. I got up from my desk and read a bunch of poems. I sat back down and knew Susie’s voice. I shared those lines with one of my friends and he said to keep going with it.

Is it, or was it, ever difficult to write a scene, because of your own experiences? How much does personal emotion play into your writing process? [Figuring out] how to talk about rape [was difficult]. For the victim, often there are fewer triggers than for the family members. If you know the full facts, then the things that scare you are more limited than those who didn’t experience it. Because it’s happened to me, I get less upset about it when I’m writing. I’ve lived in that world, so I’m less sensitive to it.

What, in your mind, is the most troublesome thing when it comes to writing? Maintaining faith, especially in book length works where you’re trying to write something that you’ve never written before. It’s so important to just believe in yourself, and keep going back to it, even though that can be hard.

What is the process for you when you sit down and write? Do you tend to mull topics over for a while before putting them down, or do you let the pen take you where it will? I often find that I do my best writing in strange places, when I’m not expecting to write. I’ll be in the automotive shop waiting for my car, and I’ll just write. I remember I wrote one of the scenes for The Lovely Bones outside on a planter at the airport while waiting for the shuttle. I like being where nobody knows where I am.

You said earlier that the voice is the most important thing for you. Why is that? It might just be the idea of the storyteller. I’m from a Southern background, and you want a voice. It’s like going to storyteller theatre, where you can just drift away. I often read out loud to my dog, either from other works or from my own. By reading out loud you work with the rhythm of your sentences.

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Your writing sessions are spent mostly in stream of consciousness. How does that interact with and alter the subject matter? I’ve been spending a lot of time working on language. When I write a new novel, I don’t always know where it will go. However, at a certain point in any narrative that you’ve created, you need to look at the structure of it, and where it’s going. Poetry is very important. Even as a fiction writer, you need to have that language. Word choice can drastically change the direction of the story. I knew about halfway through The Lovely Bones what Susie’s last three lines would be. I knew that she would be saying goodbye, it would be something that she’d said before, but in a new way. I wrote down the lines that came to me, and hung them in my room for years, unsure if I would even get there. Lucky was very different for one reason. While I wrote The Lovely Bones, and Almost Moon, I didn’t know the ending. With Lucky, I did. I did my best to present my essence of the truth. I find that fiction is much more fun. I believe that I wrote Lucky as a way to say everything I wanted to say about rape and violence, because it was too heavy to put in The Lovely Bones. Susie made me write Lucky. My personal experience has a lot to do with all of my books. Lucky was the result of an autobiography, but it truly came out of The Lovely Bones, because they didn’t belong in the same [book]. The mood that I’m in often plays with what I write. I schedule my writing time because I like to write as early as possible, that way I’m still closer to my own dream world than I am to the literal world. Above all, it’s the creativity and imagination of writing fiction that’s most important.

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Dead Flowers by Ana Prundaru

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Again We meet out on the back patio again, and I puff smoke into your face like stacks in a nuclear plant with workers inside dying to leave. I know every bend in 38 Main Street, but without you I won’t find my way home. A home destroyed from girl clothing, empty beer bottles, and a green bleach-stained couch that coddled me on Friday nights. -Caitlin Corcoran

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Helicopter CH-53D Flying a muscular gray body A mane of rotors A tattooed neck And a spine strapped in strings Of oiled rainbows While hydraulic breath pumps Through its dog stomach, bleeding From the lines above like A red dripped rain running on cheeks And shoulders of the men Inside— like Chippewas painted In war, and from the back the song Begins— not of a Valkyrie ride, But of shells reflecting In Kandahar bazaar, leaping From the roofs into sellers carts like grasshoppers In fire, clacking wings and legs, a wave Of locusts splashing streets and turbans, sprouting Yellow wilted chickweeds In cracks and grooves, brass in beans, Children under pots, burkas in palms, Allah on tongues Oh, how off pitch Is the ballad Of the 53 at noon -Jordan Nate

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Writer Avoidance of transparency, So frightened of penning words That might reveal what lies On the underside. Afraid of incriminating ourselves To what sits in the heart of hearts. So we write on, Never quite letting go, The veil that keeps us from revealing What lies at root of human nature. Never quite allowing, Them to read unfiltered. Blinding them to our hearts as they are. We disguise them, Wrapping them in metaphor, Until they drip with the stickiness of imagery. We cloak them Vaguely in analogy. Weeding out the shallow From among the pools of deep. Here we are, With the same metaphor, Writing of human nature. Until we no longer can remember What hearts of flesh look like. -Rachel Gazan

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Miss Rigby by Lydia Lรณpez Hurtado

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Tarot I watch my brother from across the flood of light streaming from my sister's patio, past her vacant pool, to the thick pines framing her yard. All teeth, he grins as shadows cross his face. They shift like living things, clawing his cheeks and beard, slanting his eyes, as tree limbs antler from his head. Someone moves. Light reaches him, and he is briefly a man, his white shirt blazing through the night. But soon the darkness closes and his antlered crown rears in black. He beckons and I am afraid. He has no love for me, exiled as I am, left to wander the empty rooms of our childhood. My brother, king of death, his throne a kitchen table, his scepter our father's gun, his charge impossible to understand. Would that I could find him and bring him home. -Benjamin Mitchell

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Act of Translation

How long has it been since you viewed anything else?

You look at the glass globe it looks back

If you were to look away—

with eyes that are not your reflection.

break the gaze— face an ordinary mirror

You’re in the garden

would you still look like you?

with the orb again with a pad and pen.

If you found another set of eyes— real ones—

The eyes stare at you—

would they seem satisfied?

observe what you see. The eyes say We see you without speaking

What could you tell those spheres

We're listening they say

with nothing on your pad

keep looking.

and your pen limp in your hand?

You follow instructions and think

The horror of oblique paper of new and nothingness keeps you held therein the globe Seeing you seeing. -A. R. Dugan

"Why do they want to see themselves seeing me? Why do I keep watching them watch me?”


Blow Like yin & yang in his dark apartment, or black & white, what I mean is we leave the living room in this scenario high as kites, I strip off my clothes & slip on the night, I slip from the blow our bare skin like light, I slip & let go & fall from the height of the mattress, a mouth my own body knows without practice, & into life.

Aquarium I give the turtle performance anxiety. His name is Spike. He doesn’t catch any fish the day I stand in Jon’s apartment, fingers pressed to the glass of his aquarium. He watches my hand. We are still until I turn away, Jon dropping a dozen goldfish into the tank, Spike circling, opening his mouth milliseconds too late. Sarah says his head looks like a limp dick when he’s nervous, says she found him tanning on a log in a quarry, says he probably misses the log and hates hearing the story. Says he understands. So we watch the shadows, the florescent light of the flow of the water cast across the ceiling, and agree we are like him, the turtle, the goldfish, the log, tapping on the glass of our own aquariums hoping for a crack, only to find, every time, a filter. -Robert, Auld

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Follow The Petals by Ana Prundaru

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Cheers to Eli Karen wouldn’t be attending the vigil at the Jackson County cemetery. Someone had to go to the ceremonies in Washington and listen to the bugle play Taps and answer the reporters, all their questions the same: What are your impressions of the ceremony Mrs. Walters? Mrs. Walters, how do you want Eli to be remembered? How did you feel when you first heard the news Mrs. Walters? Karen prepared herself each year. Still, the cool metal of the clipped microphone against her collarbone, the tone of the reporters as they spoke to her, took her to a place where the gnawing pain surged like hunger, no duller than it had been ten years ago. Karen attended the ceremonies in Washington. She heard Taps, and the crack of three gunshots in memory of her son’s sacrifice. They all called it a sacrifice, all the senators and congressmen and journalists. Even the Vice President said it when he shook Karen’s hand years ago: “Your son paid the ultimate sacrifice, and America is so grateful for his service.” At the cemetery, Eli’s aunt and uncle carried glass bottles of Ale-8 ginger ale out of the truck bed. The green bottles clinked together. You could only buy Ale-8 in Kentucky. Coke and Pepsi had been trying to buyout the company operation for decades, but the Winchester company refused to sell. They were stubborn in that traditional way, rare even now in the heartland. The rugged part of the country the coasts either converted into suburbia or ignored. Ale-8 wouldn’t sell to Coke or Pepsi. They shipped around Kentucky, but nowhere else. It was a point of pride you couldn’t get it anywhere else. Eli didn’t drink it for those reasons though. He drank Ale-8 because it tasted good. At his graduation party at the University of Kentucky, while his friends shot gunned Miller Lights, Eli drank Ale-8. He was no moralist about it. He drank beer. He just preferred Ale-8. When he joined the Navy and had to move to Washington for specialized atmospheric training, Karen would ship her son care packages of the stuff in metal tin so he wouldn’t forget the taste, along with homemade chocolate chip cookies and a sweet note. He lived in Arlington, a place where you couldn’t go three minutes without hearing the roar of a jet engine taking off or landing. His buddies gave him grief over the care packages, but there wasn’t a guy among them who didn’t want one of his own. Eli’s mother thought some high-minded and presumably loose DC woman would rope him in. In a way, the strings Eli’s mom carefully tied around those tins were meant to tie down more than the cookies. But there wouldn’t be time. He was killed in Fallujah, Iraq by an IED two months

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into his deployment. He hadn’t been scheduled for that tour, he was training to be a military scientist, but he volunteered to go. His family searched for meaning, for answers. That was another phrase the reporters used in their stories: a family’s search for answers. It rubbed off and in time even Karen used it. But had there ever been answers to anything? Answers for why before Eli died, she’d felt the death of her husband Roy most acutely in the morning? As if the sky had been lowered onto a point, like a blue sheath over the world. Eli and his sister Cara were just teenagers when throat cancer ravaged Roy. His idea of getting close to God involved sipping bourbon on the rocks on his front porch in the evenings after work, kicking up his cowboy boots, and supporting the weight of his legs on the unpainted wooden fence. His idea of heaven was privacy. The house in the hollow faced the west. He caught the fading light between two hill peaks. During a storm, he’d watch the dark clouds swarm in. When the kids were real young they ran around in the woods past the front yard. When they got older, he’d watch them drive the pickup into town, the roar of that old engine forcing the birds in the branches to flap away. He was proud of his kids for sharing that truck. That was how Roy connected to God, on the front porch, but he got throat cancer and died just months after his diagnosis. It was a laborious, drawn-out death. Modern medicine couldn’t give the man the right kind of ending. Eli was buried next to Roy. In the fading light the family gathered around their gravesites chatting softly. Karen’s two-year-old granddaughter Ella tumbled along the soft grass, testing her legs on the mushy soil of old graves until her mom Cara scooped her up and held her body, light as an animal, in her arms. Cara had always been an athletic girl. Star guard on the Jackson County High School girl’s basketball team like Eli, who played for the boy’s varsity team. When he was killed, Cara seemed to wipe her hands clean of dreams, all those hamster-on-a-wheel theatrics, all those surges of energy that make a life. After graduating from Eastern Kentucky University she married the hometown boyfriend she’d intended to dump because he was lazy, but now laziness didn’t bother her anymore. Her baby Ella brought joy. She had the same brown eyes as Eli and depending on the day this either comforted Cara or made her heart sink like a sack of rocks in the creek at the end of the hollow that flooded every spring. Eli’s father Roy realized his son was different from other kids around his eighth birthday. That was the summer Roy first took him to the grocery store, a sun-faded, aluminum-roofed building on Main Street. Roy wanted to keep the store in the family and he naturally felt if he saturated his kids with the realities of running it, they wouldn’t 16


consider doing anything else. But kids aren’t exactly the sponges their parents hope (or fear) they are. Working at Walters Food Mart ended up having the opposite influence on Eli. The men would stop by Walters Food Mart after long hours working in the nearby coalmines. They’d buy lottery tickets and cigarettes and talk to Roy at the counter about the impending bad weather. It seemed there was always bad weather coming if you heard the men talk, Eli thought, as he stacked a new shipment of Life cereal onto the dry goods shelf. Tornadoes and floods in the spring, droughts in the summer, and blizzards in the winter. Some women came by the store to get Roy to sell baked goods they’d made: homemade fruit pies, cakes, and muffins. Once a woman in a faded cotton dress brought in lasagna. Eli’s mom made cheese casseroles mixed with whatever meat they had in the fridge, but the lasagna looked different with its stringy white cheese and fresh tomato sauce. “I cain’t sell it,” Roy told the lady with a sigh. “I’m sorry, Eunice, but I can only sell baked goods at the counter. This’ll spoil.” “Well, that’s all right,” the young lady named Eunice had said. “But you go on and bring this back to your family and tell Karen I said hello.” “I sure will. Thank you. You take care now Eunice.” Roy paid her five bucks for the lasagna. After Eunice left, Roy pulled out some paper plates, a fork, and some napkins and let Eli eat a giant hunk of it at the counter. “This here’s got tomatoes?” Eli asked, his mouth full of sauce and cheese. “Yep,” Roy said. “Eunice married an I-talian feller.” So Eli started learning about a world outside of Jackson County. The doctor’s wife was a librarian and every now and then she’d drop by the store with a carton of extra books. What Roy didn’t sell he gave to Eli. That’s how Eli got to reading between stocking the dry goods and helping his dad at the register. Some of the books were tattered copies of the classics, like Great Expectations and The Jungle. He even read the girl books like Pride and Prejudice. Eli didn’t discriminate. The librarian brought a hardcover book called The Biographies of the Presidents for Children. It contained biographies, illustrations, and photographs of all the presidents up to the current one, Ronald Reagan. Eli read it front to back so many times some of the pages had fallen apart. His mom had to tape them back together. One night Eli sat in a rocking chair reading the book out on the front porch. The family sat together, Roy sipping his bourbon, the rest drinking homemade sweet tea. “Which one of them presidents is your favorite, boy,” Roy asked. “You been reading that book front to back the last few months, surely you got it memorized by now.” “I don’t know. They’re all OK except for Hoover.” Eli said. 17


“Like the vacuum cleaner?” Cara asked. “No. The stock market crashed and people had nowhere to live, except in shacks they called Hoovertowns. FDR fixed everything. But my favorite is probably George Washington.” “Lincoln’s my favorite,” Karen said. “Lincoln’s great and all, but George Washington was the first. He was a general in the Revolutionary War, so he could have been king. But George Washington didn’t want to be king. He believed in people running the government and he didn’t want anyone calling him king. That’s why he’s my favorite.” Karen and Roy grew silent. Their minds turned like gears on a rusty bike. They were practical people. They just wanted their kids to live a good, honest, hard-working life. They measured success through staying out of the papers, not being in them. But Roy couldn’t help but wonder what the future held in store for his son. Maybe college wouldn’t be a dream for him. So Roy and Karen started asking Eli about his grades and they pushed him with his schoolwork. Roy let him have days off from the store so he could concentrate on homework. Roy decided Cara would take over the store someday. Later, after he was killed, when Karen racked her brains trying to answer all the unanswerable questions, trying to understand why he’d been in Fallujah when he didn’t have to be there, she traced it back to the men in the food mart talking about a world outside Jackson County. Then she traced it to Roy and his front porch religion, staring at the sky. Eli soaked it all in, she thought. He noticed his father’s interest in storms and cloud formations. Eli turned it into something tangible and rational, into measurements and ratios. Maybe measuring the sky brought Eli closer to Roy. But it didn’t explain why Eli volunteered to go to Iraq. He didn’t have to go. Why didn’t he stay in Washington? What made her boy the kind of selfless person who filled in for people at work, who took notes for his classmates in college, who helped Cara with her homework, and provided life advice? In a way, Karen thought (and she knew very well thinking like before going to bed tortured her) it was all her fault. She had somehow raised her boy to be selfless and nice in a mercenary world, the kind of boy who would not just say he’d think of others before himself, but actually do it. Sometimes Karen thought (and she’d be crying at this point in the night, face down in her bed, arms stretched out straight at her side) that if she could do it all over again she’d raise her boy to be mean and hard. It would have saved his life, she thought (she’d cry until her eyes were raw and then she’d drift off to asleep of sheer exhaustion). Eli began planning his first weather experiment a few weeks after his father's cancer diagnosis. Roy’s throat burned drinking water, but he didn’t part with his nightcap. He needed it, he said. Karen would pry the drink away from him until the end, when she 18


had to give the man a break. Dr. Carter, the librarian’s wife, removed Roy's Voice box. The cancer spread anyway. Eli grew fascinated with atmospheric changes. The Walters didn’t have reliable Internet at home, so Eli went to the county library and sat at a table among the cool stacks, sifting through the wheat-smelling pages of books, reading about weather balloons and Radiosondes. He needed to get a battery-powered one to measure altitude, temperature, pressure, humidity, and wind. He needed a balloon. The family store had helium gas in special, sealed containers, but it didn’t have the other items Eli needed. One Saturday he told his mom he needed to borrow the truck. Since he rarely went out on the weekends except to go to the library or play basketball, Karen let him take it, even though he didn’t have his driver’s license. Eli planned to drive the nearly two hours to Lexington, but he didn’t tell Karen. Armed with a tattered state map at least a decade out of date, a couple Ale-8s for sustenance, and $60 cash in his jeans pocket (his teenage lifesavings), Eli took the Ford. It had a foot-long stick shift he had to reach up to operate. He Inched his way towards the interstate. He stalled out a couple times and had to endure the frustrated honks and yells of the other drivers as they whizzed by. It took three and a half hours, but Eli got to the electronics shop. It closed early on Saturdays, at two pm instead of five pm. Eli sat in the parking lot with the engine off thinking for a long while, his legs stiff from the drive. He pulled out the second Ale 8. A car turned into the parking lot. It Pulled up right next to Eli. A bald man with a large moustache rolled down his window. “You lost, son?” he asked. “No, sir.” “Then what the hell you doing, if you don’t mind me askin’?” “I been meaning to buy something.” “Here?” “Yes, sir.” “We closed two hours ago. I seen you parked here for the last hour. You’re just sitting there, and that kinda makes me nervous, see? Besides is that a beer in your hand, son?” “This is an Ale 8. I was just trying to buy something, that’s all. I drove up from Jackson County.” “Holy hell.” He chuckled and turned the dial on his car radio down. He’d been listening to the Kentucky basketball game. Eli’s family thought he was at Sally’s Kitchen on Main Street watching it on TV with the rest of the boys. “Well good grief, what you been meaning so hard to buy? A walkie talkie so you can communicate with the other aliens in space?” He laughed again.

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“Well something like that, sir. I been meaning to buy a weather balloon and a Radiosonde, but we ain’t got stores that sell them out in Jackson.” “Those are fifty bucks at least, kid. But we got some used. You sure you want to buy one?” his voice softened a bit. This kid was crazy, he thought. “I been saving up.” “If you got the money, all right then, kid. I’ll open up for you.” By the time Eli got home the sun had long since set. Karen was beside herself. The boys at Sally’s Kitchen told her Eli hadn’t been there all day. No one knew where he was. By the time the old Ford pulled up the driveway, Karen was about to call the police. When she heard the tires crunching over gravel she ran outside to the porch and put her hand on Roy’s shoulder to steady herself. Roy couldn’t speak anymore, but the entire time she’d been running around the house worrying about Eli, he’d written something down on a piece of paper she’d angrily tossed away, “Stop worrying about Eli. He’s fine. Probably doing research.” “Are you kidding me?” Karen had shouted. “I’ve got to worry about Eli most of all. That kid is always out in outer space. No one knows what he’s liable to do.” Karen grounded Eli for two weekends. It was one thing if Eli had spent his savings on equipment to become President someday, she thought. But Eli had long since abandoned the Presidents book. It sat on the bookshelf unread, except now and then when Karen felt nostalgic and would open it to look at the torn pages she’d taped together. Eli used the time to put together the balloon. He’d checked out books from the library, he had the devices he needed, and he’d already taken a canister of helium gas from the store when Aunt Peggy wasn’t looking. He waited for a dry, calm day with no wind before testing it out. He thought the hardest part would be finding a clear area where it wouldn’t get snagged in trees. This was hill country. There were trees everywhere. Nothing was clear. But there was a place in the hollow where the creek got wider and the trees gave way to reedy grass. This flat expanse flooded every spring. It was the color of steel on overcast days and soft brown on sunny ones, when the muddy creek water became clear enough to see the reeds rippling under the surface. In the early autumn, dry season, the thirsty grass in the creek bed scratched your bare legs. That’s when Eli tested the balloon. Eli carried the device in his arms like a squirming pet. He had an Ale 8 in his pocket. He whispered words of encouragement to himself before letting go of the balloon. He craned his neck to watch it take flight, a slow ascent into the lower regions of the sky. Its bright yellow contrasted first with the brown tree trunks, then the green tops of the trees, and finally the 20


endless blue of the sky. The balloon skirted above the tops of the trees until it reached its upper limit. It drifted, halting in its travels, torn between gravity and helium. Eli lifted his hand to his forehead to block out the sun as he followed the balloon’s trajectory. The Radiosonde’s internal constructions frantically whirred and calculated data: speed, wind, humidity, pressure, temperature. Eli thought even if the weather balloon got trapped in a treetop, as balloons sometimes do (the library book had warned him about this) it would be ok. A wayward gust of wind, a random malfunction with the helium, anything could happen to disrupt the weather balloon’s path, or lodge it in a treetop forever. Even if he didn’t get to see the measurements, Eli thought the balloon had done its job by floating there in the sky. The balloon burst on cue ninety minutes later, releasing a little parachute that carried the Radiosonde back to the ground. The device landed in the reeds twenty yards from the creek. Eli gathered it up in his arms. He couldn’t wait to go home and read the numbers. He pulled the bottle of Ale 8 from his shorts pocket and popped the top with his teeth. He chugged the ginger sweet contents down into his belly, and the bottle emptied in a matter of seconds. Eli’s older cousin Randall brought out the balloons and candles at the cemetery. Red, white, and blue. He passed them around. He placed a balloon in Ella’s little palm. “What color does she want?” He asked. Cara sighed. “Blue.” Holding Ella against her hip, Cara moved the corners of her mouth upwards into a tight-lipped smile and closed her daughter’s little hand around the balloon. She looked into Ella’s face. “Now you got to hold on to this here string. You got to hold onto it tight, and I don’t want you letting go of it until mommy says so, ok? This balloon is for Uncle Eli. Remember Uncle Eli? So you got to hold onto it tight for him.” “Ella baah loo!” The little girl shouted. “Ella baah loo!” “Yes. Balloon.” “Eee—laaa” She shouted, opening her hand and releasing the balloon. The soft murmurs of the family gathered in the cemetery gradually hushed as their eyes followed the blue balloon’s progress. “Baah loo!” “That’s right, Ella,” Cara said after a long silence. “Your uncle Eli loved balloons too.”

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Adventure by Ana Prundaru

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Surviving a Phobia: Eating/Hydration A family-sized lasagna defrosts in my left hand, fingers at the ready should they sell Macaroni & Cheese in bundles of three, these aisles freest of contaminants, shelf-scuffs accounted for, never mind the mystery splatter intruding on the super-logo display. I buy groceries at the Giant Eagle on Mayfield Road every other night, pay with a credit card that’s dipped in peroxide to sterilize whatever microbes make their home in my birth name’s embossment, the shortened version I go by for quicker interactions. There’s a fancier store in Aurora (9 on a scale of sanitary) next to the yawn-and-you’ve-missed-its-one-roller-coaster amusement park. Last month, I saw a shooting star reflect off a pod of Tilt-a-Whirls, supposing rides follow taxonomies similar to how I depersonalize down to a monosyllable for phobia’s sake. This is a time of tap water, too many prints on bottled, what threats may seep.

Surviving a Phobia: School The last semester of my degree in music, coursework consists of viola lessons, theory, orchestra, and piano technique. I cease four-hour practice days, survive off the chum of détaché, ricochet, martelé, any bow stroke ending in long A, chances are I devoted sessions to it in Bibbins 335, the museum of how I smelled between 17 and 22, vibrato thin to opera-wide. In April, a psychologist informs my instructor I’m clinically depressed, incapable of memorizing Bach’s First Cello Suite. No space for courantes in a head giving malady to habit, perfect pitch internalizing 50 minutes of recital passages – sonatas by Brahms and Hindemith, solo Bach scotch taped, allemande mixed with an eyelash onstage. I never play another note, the quiet reason: tinnitus, an ear disorder which I have a mild case, better than telling people I believe my viola is contaminated. Best to abandon 15 years of training than die in a hospice, a trajectory clear as the callus on my neck. Hair will not grow under my jawline. It saves ten seconds of shaving time. Allows the white lie of ramshackle hearing over dilapidated mind. -Jon Riccio

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These Grounds Green paint on the wooden benches, chipped away, revealing the true brown color. Crystallized, neon blue graffiti shows a Stacey was here, that a Bryan was with her. The once dying grass fully browned, weeds vining up the chain-link fence, so often missing the memo to protect the premises from intruders of the night. Two of three swings wrap the top bar of the set, the third, a cranked-up chain with a cock-eyed seat. Kids in the neighborhood rumor the place haunted, the merry-go-round, screeching, yearns to be spun, the angled seesaws seemingly held down by something, the springers, shaped like rocking horses and ducks, their eyes, which seem to move now and again. Everything coated with sheens of copper rust, blanketed in their white scales of frost, the wind whirling and ghouling about— the atmosphere itself crying help, help. All night, the moon shone down on it all, reflecting warmth these grounds cannot feel. That bewitching warmth, once felt, cannot be unfelt, though forgotten maybe, like the playground itself on a frozen, wintered night. -Meg Granger

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Carmen by Lydia Lรณpez Hurtado

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Fourfold by Lydia Lรณpez Hurtado

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New Star by Lydia Lรณpez Hurtado

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Loose Ties in High Tides Like two buoys in the tide, we floated further and further from another. His ties became loose, he floated free, the tail of his tread being the last I saw of him. My world lately has been seized by a rocking undercurrent in the midst of a dark, storming ocean. I am lifeless, cold, but holding onto my roots, anchored down, waiting and waiting for the wind, the rain to lift. Hoping the horizon will warm to a brilliant orange, a purple, praying for those steady waters. But, I always drown before I can get there and I wonder what seas he swims in now. I wonder if they are fairer, if they are turquoise, where he can see royal blue beyond the minted green. Or if the buoyancy of his heart, his happiness floats there, right on the surface. Tranquil. Pacific. I wonder if he ever found himself another anchor, something to hold him down, keep him safe. I wonder if his ties became loose or if he loosened them himself. -Meg Granger

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The Abused Father, I will kill you. I will bury you deep inside my own body. I will hear your heart in my guts & feel your blood falling down my throat. I will sit you in your torture chair, painting your face with dew. I will rip open your cassock & kiss your lips with soot. I will make you gorgeous. I will stuff roses into your marrow. I will sink you so deep your bones hit the water table line. I will bury you, Father, as you once buried me. I will bury you & your sickness will be ashes. -John Clarke

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Leaving Mass I Picture the Lives of My Fathers We are bones being towed by the current of years past bends in a river that is half covered with ice. We are the snow in the sugar maple resisting the wind, failing & falling & being carried back up into the air. Our days are carpenter nails that our fists can’t drive but our nights are shot glasses full of guilt and spirit. Our bodies are blizzards that die out at sea then they are small emeralds beneath a heaviness of dirt. -John Clarke

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Robert Auld is an undergraduate at Salem State University. His poems appear or are forthcoming in BALDHIP Magazine, Soundings East, and Half Mystic. With Sophie Klahr, he co-curates Teen Sequins, an annual online feature spotlighting younger poets. Follow him on Twitter @robbyauld. John Francis Clarke is the son of a bridge builder, a graduate student at Fairfield University working towards an MFA. He is a paranoid schizophrenic who devoted himself to writing poetry while in the Institute of Living to combat the cold, sleepless nights. Caitlin Corcoran is a Senior at SUNY New Paltz and studies Classical Voice and Creative Writing. She enjoys writing surrealist poetry and her influences include Edgar Allan Poe and Billy Collins. A. D. Dugan is a MFA candidate in Creative Writing at Emerson College. He did his undergraduate work at Roger Williams University and earned a master’s degree at Bridgewater State University. His poetry can be seen or is forthcoming in Contraposition, Clockwise Cat, Clarion, Lonely Island, and Words Apart. Recently, his poem “The Creation of a Man” was nominated for AWP’s Intro Journal Awards Project. He taught high school English in southeastern Massachusetts for nine years. With a passion for writing, Andrew reads poetry for Redivider and Ploughshares. He currently teaches and works in writing centers for several Boston-area colleges. Rachel Gazan is a sophomore student at Georgia State University. She is a traveler, an artist, and a dreamer, and her outlet is writing. A self-proclaimed explorer, she plans on seeing and writing about every bit of soil she can possibly set her feet. Sasheera Gounden is a South African English teacher who has a flare for writing. Her article, “Twenty years of growth and success” was published in Accounting SA July 2015 issue. She has written numerous poems and short stories which have been published in The Literary Yard, The Bitchin' Kitsch (2016) and the Guwahatian. Meg Granger is a current MFA candidate at Western New England University, a managing editor of poetry magazine Common Ground Review, and a collegiate-level writing tutor. Aside from being published, her goal is to run a half marathon in all 50 states. She is 1/10th of the way there with Alabama, Missouri, Maine, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. Lydia Hurtado lives in Madrid, Spain and has studied at IES Juana De Castilla in a bilingual section since she was 3 years old. B.C. Mitchell studies poetry in the doctoral program at the University of Southern Mississippi and received his MFA at Georgia College & State University. His work has appeared in The MacGuffin, OVS, Ghost Ocean Magazine, and others.

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Jordan Nate is a former Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, husband of 7 years, ultra-trail runner, and an avid cyclist. He is currently attending Brigham Young University-Idaho and is pursuing a bachelor's degree in English. Ana Prundaru lives near a zoo and will probably never get used to being awakened by lions’ roars. She is the author of 1L4S3T (Etched Press), Unstable Tales (Dancing Girl Press) and Free Dirt is Yours (SOd Press). Find her at www.anaprundaru.wordpress.com. Jon Riccio is an incoming PhD candidate at the University of Southern Mississippi. His work appears in Booth, Cleaver, apt, CutBank Online, Redivider, and Hawai'i Review, among others. He received his MFA from the University of Arizona. Bianca Spinosa is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at George Mason University where she also works as an English Instructor. Bianca earned her B.A. in English Literature and Media Studies from the University of Virginia. She has worked as a journalist in Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina.

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Profile for The Merrimack Review

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