The Merrimack Review
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 Vivian Calderon Front Cover: Audrey 13 Back Cover: Dali 8 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 Collegeâ€™s Writers House: www.merrimack.edu/academics/the-writers-house.
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Contents 4|Apsis ……………………………………………………………………………...Ryan Burgess 5|Survival……………………………………………………………………….Brianna Mahoney 5|Get…………………………………………………………………………….Brianna Mahoney 6|The Dark Side of Baseball………………………………………………………….Greg Larson 13|Frida 9……………………………………………………………………….Vivian Calderon 14|After Chemotherapy……………………………………………………………….Kat Lewis 15|Thief……………………………………………………………………………..Drew Attana 16|Ode to Windchill………………………………………………………………...Ash Goedker 17|The Trapper’s Daughter………………………………………………………....Ash Goedker 18|The Whisper of Ripped Silk…………………………………………………….....Bill Wolak 19|Lawyer Plummets from Limelight…………………………………………..…...Lauren Page 20|Decken Kayss 3…………………………………………………………………..Sarah Kayss 21|Cicadas at Lorelei…………………………………………..……………...Jonathan Gallardo 22|Yeller Yeller……………………………………………………....……………..Drew Attana 23|Full Human………………………………………………………………..….Jessica Costello 26|Cabuya, a scherzo, a photo in waltz-time………………………………..……….Jacob Boyd 27|There Was a Secret Message on the Bottom of My Coffee Cup………….....Emily Ramser 29|Invisible Mirror……………………………………………………………...…….Bill Wolak 30|The Little Chicken……………………………………………………………...….Ellen Goff 39|The Sparkling Eyes of Desire…………………………………………..………….Bill Wolak 40|The Night After Donald………………………………………………...….Trent Kannegieter 42|Looking for Love on the Subway……………………………………….…..Ryan Clinesmith 43|O que acontece no Brasil fica no Brasil…………………………………….…..James Alston 49|The Impact Event…………………………………………………………….....Ryan Burgess
Apsis Stars: falling, tumbling from their spheres, knocked off courseâ€”the howling roar of our dreams running out into the void with foolish strength, our proudest moments and most heinous sins laid bare to any listener with his eye raised above the horizon in search of some distant other a sign that the forerunnerâ€™s helm rests not on his head: a crown of thorns withering with the light of a world centuries gone, borne away by celestial currents rending the tidal sea of life into isolated pools of verdant worlds of denizens with their eyes alive, irises dancing with hope at the needle thin points thrown across the boundless quilt of night. - Ryan Burgess
Survival I read somewhere that you survived the fire. That when the ghastly flames crackled, trying to smother you, the pale skin you walk in was left unscathed. You told the town of the strife and the town told of the man who triumphed like Hercules through such adversity and returned with greater poetry for them. Then I wondered if you ever got the chance to tell them of the fire you —without blinking— threw me into. Told them of the sore bruises on my insides and outs that bore from your wedded left hand. Of the false hope you gave and days of mine you took. Of the aubades you wrote for her and short, ardent nights you simply let me have. When I read that piece I grew cold again— and threw it to the flames without blinking.
Get I don’t get you. When I had you to myself— I still did not get you. You were once new to me, like the crisp sweetness of spring air every year. Then you became all too haunting. Uneasy. Withdrawn. I cringed in this disturbance like a young girl; who shivers at the first touch of autumn air to the temperate skin. I know I can have you, but don’t know if I’ll ever get you. - Brianna Mahoney 5
The Dark Side of Baseball Alex Schmarzo sits in front of his locker in the Aberdeen Ironbirds’ clubhouse during preseason workouts. There are 40 players milling around a locker room meant for 30. Schmarzo was the Orioles’ 48th round draft pick in 2010, which means 1437 players were chosen by every team in Major League Baseball before him. It’s 2012 now, and he is 23-years-old, a veteran among children who have just been drafted out of high school, barely old enough to legally spit the tobacco they all have lodged in their lips as they laugh around him in groups of fours and fives. Everyone is wearing high black socks and the all-black dry-fit shirts and shorts with the single Orioles’ cartoon logo on them. Schmarzo’s lip, too, is fat with Grizzly Wintergreen chewing tobacco that he’s spitting into a small paper Dixie cup he holds in his left hand. Spit shoots out of his mouth framed by a fu-manchu mustache that makes the brown gobs look like footballs soaring through goalposts. Bags shadowing his blue eyes, he stares at the ground that is visible through the faded carpet. I know Schmarzo well enough already to guess that he did not sleep last night. When I ask him what’s going on, he glances up to me and shakes his head, running his hand through his hair, which is coarse and feathers out from the bottom of a mullet that sticks out the back of his Ironbirds cap. “I’m leaving,” he says. “Just look at all these guys.” He gestures around the packed clubhouse to players enjoying themselves despite the fact that some of them must inevitably be released. He has already cried wolf about quitting baseball at least twice since he drove up from Sarasota, Florida, where most of these guys have been playing in 100-degree heat in front of crowds smaller than the team roster at the Orioles’ minor league spring training facility. I only nod to acknowledge his statement. “I’m too fucking old to be here, man. What am I even doing here?” I refrain from reminding him that his ERA was 6.69 last year, much worse than what he would need to move up in the organization. I shake my head, not sure how to respond. “They’d be doing me a favor if they cut me, really. But I don’t know what I’d do. Look around at most of these guys: almost none of ‘em have a college degree. Jiminez, Rivera, Nivar, they probably never got out of elementary school. Maybe three guys in this clubhouse have college degrees, and I’m one of ‘em. And even I’m fucked. Some were drafted out of high 6
school. Most of these guys don’t know how to take care of themselves because people like you feed them and do their laundry and shit.” It’s early on in my new job as the clubhouse manager for the team, and Schmarzo is simplifying it a bit, but yes, my job is essentially to feed the team and do the laundry. I, like Schmarzo, have a college degree, but still find myself caught in the web of baseball the same way he and the other players in the clubhouse have been ensnared. Just to be around the game and make a bit of money, I will be spending my summer cutting up celery, oranges, and watermelons and whipping up chicken salads to feed the Ironbirds as if I’m the team mom. I’ll be spending the nights after home games scrubbing their game-worn pants, throwing them in the laundry, and cleaning the clubhouse well into the A.M. Some nights I won’t even sleep because the visiting team will arrive at 2 or 3 A.M., just as I’m finishing up the Ironbirds’ laundry, and I’ll have to wash the visiting team’s jerseys and jockstraps. Then the sun will rise and it’ll be time to make coffee for the Ironbirds coaches who arrive hours before the players. My next summer working for the Ironbirds, I’ll say “fuck it” to having an apartment (which was populated by no fewer than 3 Ironbirds players sleeping on the floor at any given time) and just start living on a blow-up mattress in the equipment closet. But I’m not even a player for a professional baseball team: I do all of this humiliating work because I like to be around the game. I’m the little brother just tagging along because I want a taste of what it’s like to be a big kid. Because ever since my days of playing high school baseball, I’ve wanted nothing more than to be drafted and become a professional baseball player. The problem with that plan was that I couldn’t hit worth a damn and I was the back-up shortstop on a low-level high school team in metro Minnesota: a state more known for ice fishing and hockey than producing baseball stars. And I’m not Joe Mauer, Dave Winfield, or Paul Molitor: I’m Greg Larson, and I suck at baseball. The problem, I’m seeing already, is that these guys don’t suck at baseball. In fact, they are some of the elite players in the world, and the difference between their skill level and the skill level of those on a Major League roster is so small that most people in the world don’t know the difference. Ironically, you could include these guys in the Ironbirds clubhouse in that collection of people ignorant to that difference in skill; their own illusions that they hold onto have made them blind to the fact that almost none of them will ever step foot on a Major League ball field. Alex Schmarzo harbors no such illusions. Alex Schmarzo could be served well by being a little more blind. “Most of us don’t have any idea what we’d be doing if we weren’t playing baseball,” Schmarzo continues. “It’s our identity.” 7
Zach Petersime—Alex’s best friend, roommate, locker neighbor, and 45th round draft pick—walks past us. “Slime,” Schmarzo calls him, a play on the end of his last name. “What would you be doing if you weren’t playing baseball?” He looks at Schmarzo like they’re both stupid and shrugs as if the question has never crossed his mind before. Slime says he has no idea and walks away. “See what I mean?” Schmarzo says. “This life fucks with you, man. I always say it’s like scratching lottery tickets: when you have enough guys together playing the lottery—buying scratch-offs—of course one or two of them are going to win big. It’s inevitable. But they win and you’re just left sitting there scratching away. You throw your money and time away one dollar and one day at a time. But those guys won though, right? So maybe I can too. So we keep coming back for more and more until we realize that we’re broke and out of time.” He breaks his frantic eye contact with me and leans his elbows back onto his knees and stares through the floor again. “That’s what it’s like to play Single-A baseball.” *** The evidence to validate Schmarzo’s observations came in windfalls in the months and seasons thereafter. So far, nearly three years after that conversation, the only lottery ticket winners from that season’s Ironbirds team have been right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman and first baseman Christian Walker, who were drafted 4th overall (1st round) and 132nd overall (4th round) in 2012. Kevin Gausman has been a valuable pitcher for the Orioles in his first few seasons as a major leaguer, and Christian Walker was called up to the Orioles for the first time in September of 2014—long enough to have his “cup of coffee” in the Majors as they say, and long enough to hit his first big league home run. In the day-to-day operations of the clubhouse, it was obvious that Schmarzo was right when he said that most of these guys didn’t know how to take care of themselves. As the clubhouse attendant, I did those things that players couldn’t do for themselves, which was often everything except wiping their butts for them. Aside from cleaning up after them, I fed the players and did their laundry. And it is because of this aspect of my job that I feel at least partially responsible for being part of the unfair system that takes advantage of minor league baseball players. Although scrubbing game pants and having a pre- and post-game food spread was a necessity, it’s the way I was compensated for this job that makes me feel guilty even to this day. 8
The exchange of money in baseball clubhouses works on an archaic system that nobody can quite explain. I mean that in two ways: 1. Clubhouse managers such as myself (or clubbies as we are called) provide food and services to the players, such as tobacco runs and beer, in exchange for dues that they pay on a per-day basis ($7 per player per day in my clubhouse). What makes me feel guilty about this system (which is used in every clubhouse across minor and Major League baseball) is that the meal spreads I provided often consisted of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or leftovers from the stadium kitchens, items that cost me no more than a few bucks for a jar of peanut butter or a twenty to grease the palms of the food services kids in the kitchen. When you add into account the schemes I had running inside of and outside of the clubhouses (trading opposing teams cases of beer for team caps, then trading those caps to the stadium’s beer supplier for even more cases; making players turn in their broken bats for a new one, then selling those broken bats out of the gift shop for a cut of the sale), I was turning a profit at a rate that was higher than most of the players on the team. In each of my summers working for the Ironbirds, I netted about $15,000 in a matter of a couple months. There were at least a handful of players on that team who made less than me when you add their sub-$10,000 signing bonus to their season salary. 2. Low-level minor leaguers make about $1200 per month. And that’s only during the season, which for us was only two and a half months long. According to a complaint in an upcoming lawsuit between a group of former minor leaguers and Major League Baseball, big league salaries have increased more than 2000 percent since 1976, while minor league salaries have increased by only 75 percent, a rate that does not even compensate for inflation over that time. When you take into account the dues they had to pay to guys like me, rent to host families, cell phone bills, and agent fees, Schmarzo was right: a lot of these guys were literally losing money playing minor league baseball. Some guys recognized this fact; some of them wouldn’t have noticed if you hit them on the side of the head with a 95-mile per hour fastball. And everyone coped with the struggles of minor league baseball differently—the 9-hour bus rides, the 60-hour work weeks, the shitty meals, being apart from wives and girlfriends—but the most common response was to get drunk and cheat on loved ones. My second season with the Ironbirds, our trainer, our manager, and I spent almost every home stand night sleeping in the clubhouse: the trainer with his air mattress blown up on the weight room floor, the manager in his private office, and me in the equipment closet. The three of us would stay up late drinking beers the night before the team would go on the road in the dawn hours, taking cuts in the batting cages at 3am with stogies in our mouths, the manager 9
telling me about the yoga instructor he was looking to fuck, and I’d think back to tickets I had left for him at will call a few days before; tickets for his wife. More than once I remember having to shake our still-drunk trainer awake so he could get on the bus full of kids half his age and twice as sober. Likewise, our batting coach’s fiancé broke up with him in the middle of the season because of problems that stemmed from his constant absence. Then there was Gary Allenson, or Muggsy as he was known in the clubhouse: an ornery prick who called everybody “slick,” had a bushy mustache and piercing blue eyes, and stood up straight enough that he was maybe 5-foot-6 on a good day. Muggsy had a career .221 batting average in his six years (1979-1985) in the major leagues from. The year before, he was the manager for the Orioles’ AAA affiliate, the Norfolk Tides, and spent time as a bench coach for the big league team, and now here he was, coaching 19-year-olds in Short-Season Single-A in “Aberdeen, Fucking, Maryland” as many guys in the clubhouse called it. “Hey, slick,” he called to me from his office one boiling hot afternoon during pre-season workouts. He gestured for me to enter, so I walked in and he shut the door behind me. Before I could say my prayers, he said, “I can’t open the beer,” in the most dejected way as he held up a bottle of the Fat Tire I had left in his fridge at his request. I pulled the bottle opener off of my keychain and handed it to him. “Keep it,” I said, and he cracked the top and sucked down the beer as if it might quench something other than thirst at 12:30 in early June in the New York-Penn League. If the players were lucky, they would wind up with a career like Muggsy: a few years of Major League service, a coaching job in minor league baseball, and a yearning to get back to The Show to vindicate a desire that they never fulfilled as a player. Left with no college degree and no job prospects outside of baseball, former players often had no choice but to go into coaching. This is what happens when organizations take kids straight out of high school and the Dominican Republic as teenagers and drop them into a life that grinds them every single day and doesn’t give them the tools they need to help themselves financially, socially, or mentally. And they all think they can make it because from the time they could throw a baseball hard enough to make the other kids’ knees shake they have been pumped full of bullshit. First it came from dads and coaches in little league and Legion baseball: “You’ll be a Major Leaguer some day, son.” Then the college coaches started to show up and watch them play: “We’ve got a scholarship with your name on it.” Then the Major League scouts started showing up with radar guns and charts in their laps, sitting behind home plate wearing sunglasses and polo shirts with Tampa Bay Rays or Cincinnati Reds logos on the breast. Telling kids they project well enough to be in the Majors in 10
4 years, maybe 3 if they stay on the same path. Then they get drafted and minor league directors and strength coaches tell guys like 39th round draft pick Scott Kalush that if he works his ass off he has a shot. Scott Kalush spent the majority of the season packing on muscle that did nothing but pad the space between his ass and the aluminum seat of his spot in the bullpen, waiting to warm up the next relief pitcher during the game. He packed on muscle that finally brought his weight above his college batting average of .198. He packed on muscle so he could be nothing more than a bullpen catcher in an organization that only hung onto him so he could help develop its pitchers, because although he couldn’t hit, the pitchers loved throwing to him; his instinct behind the plate far exceeded his instinct in the batter’s box. He had soft hands behind the plate that allowed him to block balls and frame pitches with the skill of a veteran, but those soft hands did not translate to hitting prowess once he took off his pads and stepped up to the plate to hit. Kalush once told me that he thought he had a chance of being a Major League player all the way up through the middle of that season, a time at which he had a .120 batting average. With the sheer numbers involved in the Major League draft, there are bound to be young men left in limbo like Scott Kalush and Alex Schmarzo; baseball isn’t like other major American sports. For example, the NBA drafts 2 rounds of about 70 players and has only one developmental league. The NFL drafts 7 rounds of about 225 players and doesn’t even have a developmental league: their drafted players go straight to the big team. The NHL drafts 7 rounds as well, scooping up about 200 players from all over North America and Europe who often go into one of two major developmental leagues, where they are unionized and make a livable salary of $32,000-$42,000 a year or more. But the Major League Baseball draft? 40 rounds with nearly 1500 players and about 20 developmental leagues. None of those 1500 go straight to the Major Leagues, and most of them will never throw a single pitch or get a single at-bat at the Major League level and make an unlivable wage. (Up until the last few years, there were 50 rounds, and in 1996 there were 100.) And although some of the higher draft picks get significant signing bonuses, these are the same draftees who are slapped with a “prospect” label by the organization and are often given a faster and more lenient track to the higher levels of baseball. The rest are left to fend for themselves at the bottom of the pecking order. *** Alan Mills, the pitching coach who wears the kind of sunglasses that were fashionable in the height of his career in the mid-90s, busts through the door of the clubhouse that leads out to 11
the field. His 6-foot, 200-pound frame commands the room when walks into the clubhouse with his orange fungo bat in his hand, strutting as if he drags every one of his 12 years in the Major Leagues with every step. It’s only the pitchers and me in the locker room now as I sit talking to Schmarzo, who is still staring at the carpet as Mills walks in. “Pitchers!” he yells as they all scramble from the couches and chairs near their lockers. “Time for PFP, cocksuckers,” he booms, spitting the juice of a fat horseshoe of tobacco wadded behind his lips. He struts around the room tapping guys on the dick with his bat. They all throw on their caps, grab their gloves, and hurry out to the field for Pitchers Fielding Practice. Mills trails after the last of them out of the clubhouse before turning around to Schmarzo. “Hey, meat. You comin’?” Schmarzo exhales because he knows he isn’t going to leave. He isn’t going to stop scratching until someone tells him he can’t. He sets down his spit cup, slowly stands up and grabs his glove from his locker before twitching his neck to the left as he does sometimes before walking outside behind Mills to field ground balls and throw them to first over and over again. And he will be back the next day, and the day after that, until he gives up a grand slam in his first appearance of the season and sings the same tune again. “I’m too old for this shit,” he will say. But then something will change, something will click like the twitches of his neck whenever he makes a bad pitch: Alex Schmarzo will give up all hope of success and in doing so he will enter a hot streak of 18 scoreless innings of relief over the course of nearly 3 weeks in July. And his dream will come true: Alex will be moved up to the Orioles’ low-level Single-A team, the Delmarva Shorebirds. But Delmarva is still a long way from Baltimore. And here in Aberdeen Fucking Maryland, even though Camden Yards is only 30 miles down the road, for Alex Schmarzo, Scott Kalush, and many others in this clubhouse who don’t have the “prospect” label slapped onto them by the organization, Camden might as well be a thousand miles away.
- Greg Larson
Frida 9 by Vivian Calderon
After Chemotherapy She tells me to take the picture and be done with it, eyes fixed on the kitchen floor, a cigarette snug between two fingers. To think just this past summer I had been busy aligning the apexes of the Rocky Mountains, the tines of burnt pines, adjusting the white balance to take in pastel plumes of wildfire smoke. The bone glare of sunlight on ice glazed peaks. Here I am right now â€” adjusting nothing, aligning nothing. The room is too dark. My shutter is too slow. Before the flash blooms, she looks up. Graveyards in her eyes. What I would give to be a pile of ash, to remember differently, her dark eyes. - Kat Lewis
Thief I used to steal make-up from drug stores and fistfuls of classic cinema from now bankrupt rental chains. I’ve walked right out of a loading dock carrying one corner of a pool table, and pushed through the emergency exit with a nose of a grocery cart, its rickety wheels groaning with liquid cargo. I’ve raided roommate’s music collections and closets, and I’ve pocketed loose change from party countertops. I’ve stolen the right words, and lied about car accidents, fist fights, and every little insignificance of my past. I’ve convinced friends and lovers that I really am the man I keep saying I am, and in the same breath I’ve stolen that earnest hush from the bathroom mirror when I tell myself, one goddamn day, I will be. - Drew Attana
Ode to Windchill Even mornings rise with your seize in mind: I am bred to know three degrees quickens to thirty-seven below zero. You lock my spine in place, my elbow on elbow huddle, cricking my neck as I wait for a cab, watch my breath nerve into ice on gloves. Wind, measure of my body, you reduce me like you do the lake, a worked surface. You contract my body, escaping heat through slivers of exposed skin. I become a phenomenon. People stop and line rocks to watch steam, me, crawling into air. If I temp you right, everyone will see you sunset, oranged in my palms â€“ living. We will warm this way, balletic, silent, lithe as you take me at my hips, drive me down to frostbite. - Ash Goedker
The Trapper’s Daughter You’ve grown into winter now, and grown into knowing you’ve never owned your own lungs. Knowing the arch of birch on Red Pine Road led you to trace moss to the edge of the bog behind your house. This is where they found a man stiff in his railroad bibs, preserved since 1926. He reminds you of your grandma’s cinnamon – bottled and still. You started to hold things, Brainerd, with its underbelly of milled blueberries, buttons kept in a jar on the windowsill of your mother’s sewing room. You’ve been the trapper’s daughter since the day you cradled your hair around the kink in that dead beaver’s neck. Nobody could talk your fingers from his claw, and nobody tried to convince you back into your shirt when you stripped to butterfly underwear and curled around him. Every time your mother coaxed, you melded the beaver’s coat into your ribs. and when your daddy sang “Simple Man” at your ear, you clamped your jaw and shook until dusk. - Ash Goedker
The Whisper of Ripped Silk by Bill Wolak
Lawyer Plummets from Limelight â€”For his son, C. We were born into the race to nowhereâ€” grew up in mansions outside the nation's capital where you gave me mustache rides while your parents smoked crack in the next room before your dad went into court and your palms were huge and vascular with veins a shade of green only the olive-skinned are blessed with and my hands were covered with fuchsia leather gloves stroking the nape of an eternal flame at funerals while you sobbed into my black dress coat two too many times because we were tragedycrossed kids smoking pot on playgrounds, kissing while your parents were strung-out and missing. - Lauren Page
decken kayss 3 by Sarah Kayss
Cicadas at Lorelei When aliens had invaded our planet, they didn’t swoop down from the skies. They emerged from the earth and swarmed the eastern United States. My friend Liz and I stood outside her house at the end of Lorelei Drive. She was nine, I was eleven. We had the same body type: small, thin torsos awaiting puberty, arms that seemed too long for our bodies. The only difference between us – her hair, which ended just above her shoulders. We watched the invasion together as her mother taught my sister the piano. The B-flat major scale played as Liz and I walked out of the house and into the chaos. We stood in front of the sycamore tree in Liz’s front yard. Hundreds of abandoned exoskeletons clung to the bark, wrapping the tree like a winter coat. My glasses protected my eyes from a collision with a sex-starved insect who had spent the last 17 years sucking on tree roots. The cicadas flew through the skies, not with the grace of a swallowtail or the speed of a housefly, but with all the finesse of an overstuffed Cessna with a drunk pilot in the cockpit. The noise was impossible to miss. The cicadas only knew how to play one note, but they played it at over 100 decibels. I stuffed pieces of torn-up tissues in my ears to prevent hearing loss. Robins whistled, garage doors yawned open, car engines rumbled, my sister’s attempt at Golliwog’s Cakewalk slipped through an open window, but they were whimpers compared to the male cicadas’ monotonous love songs. Liz told me I would be 28 the next time the cicadas appeared. “You’ll be married!” she yelled over the cicadas’ cacophony. “You’ll have kids!” - Jonathan Gallardo
Yeller Yeller I see him still, his wild eyes flushed like brake lights. The traffic had parted, swerving around him as he limped along parallel yellow lines leading the asphalt path to the sea. He paused to gnaw at himself then spin, round and round, like a top, or an anxious mind. As I got out to help, he rushed at me, all foam and daze, his golden fur matted, shellacked from previous hits, but rather than attack, he brushed by my leg, —collar jingling, singing a life line home, his bent tail wagging out of habit or memory—and ran head first into the hard plastic bumper of a slowing Mustang, smoke and rubber tracks left behind in the concrete wake. But he wasn’t done yet: On his feet with a shake and snort, he took off, running as if he’d just discovered legs, off the highway through the weeds and brush, aimed at the parting tree line and the great Ocean beyond. - Drew Attana
Full Human I was six years old and one of the only kids who could defend my school from the vampires. Most didn't even know the vampires existed – they were too busy playing handball or Yu-Gi-Oh! at recess to notice. But they were there, and they were scary, because the vampires Jonathan and I hunted were spirits that could take over anyone and turn them into a vampire, too. Jonathan was the leader of our group, which was usually just the two of us but sometimes had a few more from our class when they felt like helping. He had blond hair and pasty white skin hidden under a wide-brimmed boonie hat and was half vampire himself, but it was okay because he had it under control. Mostly. Sometimes I would be discussing a plan with him and his body would tense up and he would stare into the space behind me, and I knew. His voice would change and in a cackling falsetto he would say, “Jonathan isn't here anymore.” Sometimes he would chase me around the field if the alter-ego was in a bad mood. Other times he continued planning the way human Jonathan did, but a little meaner and with a little less care for the person being taken over by the vampire spirit. In fact, I was the only full human in our group, even during the recesses where more kids joined in. Megan told us one day that she was half fairy. Emily Ann was a non-believer who wanted to catch ladybugs instead of protect the school, but sometimes she stopped by to see what we were doing. I watched the Power Rangers and Dragon Ball Z and wished I was more than just human; I was one of the tallest in my class and in the advanced reading group, but I wasn't half fairy or vampire. “Have you heard of Nikki G?” Jonathan whispered to me during class one day. It was dangerous to talk during class, because if you were caught by Ms. Harpurn, who looked and acted like Cruella deVille, your name would immediately be written on her sad list. I was the only one in the class who had never been on her sad list before and Jonathan knew that, so it had to be important. “No,” I said. “Why?” “He's new, and he's dangerous,” Jonathan said. “Okay,” I said, a little hesitantly. “What are we going to do?” “Don't worry, I have a plan.” 23
The plan involved me standing in the middle of the baseball field, which was never used for baseball, and be bait for Nikki G. I was the only full-human which meant that I was the most vulnerable and Nikki G. would sense that, so I was obviously the best bait. Jonathan waited on the grass with his hands stuffed in his pockets and whistling badly to the sky, acting natural, and I kicked the dirt, waiting for our prey and trying to act natural too. But I was excited. I didn't know who Nikki G. was, so I searched the playground for one of the huge, green villains that Daphne and the Pink Ranger were captured by. Then Jonathan became stiff where he stood, then looked at me with the creepiest smile that made it seem as if he wanted to eat me alive. “Jonathan?” I asked. “Jonathan isn't here anymore!” He didn't chase me – we kept waiting – but I kept looking from the open field to Jonathan, ready to run at any second just in case either ran after me. “There he is!” Jonathan eventually hissed at me, pointing toward the black top. “...Nick?” I asked. I kind of knew who he was, but I didn't know he was dangerous. He wasn't as new as I thought he was – he came at the beginning of the year. But Jonathan was the one with the vampire sense so I had to trust him, even though Nick was just playing handball or tag or something with the other first graders. He had to be dangerous, so he had to be stopped. “No, he's not Nick, he's Nikki G! Come on! Let's get him!” Jonathan sprinted toward the blacktop and I followed, but I soon fell behind because Jonathan had a magical water bottle that made him and only him run faster when he drank from it. We weren't following the plan – why even have a plan if we were going to forget it right away? – but Jonathan knew what was going on better than me. Nick saw us racing toward the blacktop and must have started running when he realized it was him we were after. “What are you doing?” he cried. “Nikki G., we're here to get you!” I called back. We chased him away from the blacktop and toward the back of the playground where the baseball field and huge, thorny bushes were. “I'm not playing this game!” He sounded angry, not afraid. He was leading us into a trap, because he knew as well as we did that we weren't playing a game. Even though I would have preferred a plan like they used in books and TV, the chase was thrilling because Nikki G. could turn around at any second and hit us with a fire blast or find 24
a way to put his vampire spirit in us. We were in danger, but not the kind of danger that kept me up at night, because Jonathan was there and knew what he was doing. But at some point Nikki G. stopped and turned around and looked thoroughly annoyed. We stopped too. Nikki G. called us crazy and Jonathan demanded to know what his plans were. But as they talked I watched the fearsome, evil Nikki G. morph back into just Nick, some kid from another class who was sort of tubby with a buzz cut. I felt embarrassed. I felt bad. We let him go. He probably threatened to tell on us to the lunch aids. At some point over the next few months Jonathan and I stopped hunting vampires and started becoming spies when the Scholastic catalog sold spy gear. If I wanted to be more than human I wrote stories where I had super powers and saved the day. Jonathan and I didn't talk about our hunting days â€“they just never came up. But one day, when we were about eight, I asked if he ever really was half-vampire. I had a suspicion similar to the one I would have a few years later right before I discovered Santa Claus' wrapping paper in my dad's closet, and I was afraid of his answer. If he was just pretending to be half-vampire, that meant being chased by his alter ego wasn't much better than the climax of Duck Duck Goose, and that the spy equipment we bought from Scholastic catalogs probably wouldn't help me see in the dark, and that walking on tilted ground wouldn't help me to walk on the ceiling when I needed to, and that the entire time saving the school was a game to him and I was the only one who believed it. Jonathan sighed. â€œSome things just shouldn't be brought up again,â€? he said.
- Jessica Costello
Cabuya, a scherzo, a photo in waltz-time If we shoot her from behind some palms beside her shanty then move on quietly a little further up the beach for food and wine, do we do her any harm, this girl who has an arm missing—sitting in the sand before her doorstep, playing quietly on her own? What is it that we capture? Why try to pin it here in the midst of our vacation? To have, as in ‘She has this movement to herself, ’is transitive, gone across; the girl can take or hold, is marked by or contains. She escapes our recollection. A second soloist restrained, the girl is not her image. She’s caught up in the game she plays and keeps on playing quietly on her own. It’s best to let her be. A wrench, a necessary irruption in our theme: the one-armed girl in pink outside her piecemeal shanty ignores us as we pass. - Jacob Boyd
There Was a Secret Message on the Bottom of My Coffee Cup There were letters written at the oddest angle on the bottom of my coffee cup, almost as if someone had written them upside down in space with one eye closed. I couldn’t read them. Not from inside the coffee cup while I was drinking said coffee. What if there was an emergency, a robbery about to happen, and the cute barista with the thick, black hipster glasses was trying to warn me? Or maybe, she was trying to tell me my fly was unzipped and didn’t want to embarrass me by saying so in front of everyone. I had never received a message on a coffee cup before. No compliments, phone numbers, or warnings. I had never even gotten so much as a doodle. The closest I’d ever come was my name, spelled wrong, at a busy Starbucks. Back in high school, I’d dreamt of having someone write a secret on one my take-out coffee cups. Then again, I spent every waking hour possible at the coffee shop down the street from my house, so I often thought about things related to coffee. Even though I knew all the baristas at that shop, I never received any messages on my coffee cups. They didn’t even write my order. Though that might be because they knew it so well, considering I was there everyday. To make up for the lack of messages I was receiving, I started writing my own. I started writing poems and leaving them behind every time I went home. Shitty poems. Love poems. Sad poems. Poems about everything. I told myself I left them for anyone and everyone to find and read, but I really left them for her to read. I once left her a love poem under the newspaper on the table next to the armchair she always sat in, the one right across from my chair of choice, but she told me she never found it. She told me once that I had the most beautiful forearms. She’d traced a vein across my arm and to my palm with her index finger. That was the only time she ever touched me. Afterwards, she told me my forearms reminded her of a girl she once dated. She never told me what happened between the two of them. I only knew that she loved that girl. Once, she brought in a wooden board and sketched on it while our friends told stories around her. She drew scribbles on it. Squares and circles that blended into one another, almost
like an alien language. She drew them with this careful precision as if writing a message to God. Sometimes I wonder if she ever wrote me a message in her secret language. I finished my coffee and flipped the cup over. On the bottom it read: â€œChai Latte.â€? - Emily Ramser
Invisible Mirror by Bill Wolak
The Little Chicken No fewer than six chicks came into the world on Jo’s birthday. Jo was disappointed. She was turning seven so she should have gotten seven chickens. But she reminded herself that hatched eggs were most definitely a gift from God and that God always grew tired when he got to seven. In the middle of August, the only thing hotter than the sun was the air. But this morning on her birthday, Jo didn’t care about the second and third skins of sweat stuck to her back. Because now she had chickens. She crouched further into the coop but stayed huddled in the corner. The hen was at the back of the coop, her chest swelling and shrinking. Jo had forgotten that even chickens had to breathe. She counted six, and she wanted to scoot closer, but she didn’t move. She had enough white scars on her arms and hands from mother chickens already, so she knew not to be nosy. The chicks would come out to play eventually, maybe later when the afternoon cooled and the sun sunk behind the edge of the farm. “Jo Anne! Jo Anne, get out of that chicken coop.” Jo maneuvered backwards out of the chicken coop and slid down the small ladder until she came to a stop at her grandmother’s rubber work boots. “Momaw, there’s chickens.” “I know there’s chickens, girl. Why’re you bothering them?” “I was just looking.” Her grandmother, wrinkled hands draped over her wide hips, made a humming noise that sounded like the slow rumble of a newborn tornado swirling in from the distance. “And now you’re covered in crud,” she snapped, gesturing at the dirt and straw in Jo’s hair. “Is this how you want to look on your birthday? Go start a bath. I’ll have to come in and clean you in a minute.” “I’ll take a bath later,” Jo said. She wasn’t exactly sure what mothers did, but she had a sneaking suspicion her grandmother was trying to nudge her buoyant frame into a space that never quite belonged to her. “And I can do it myself. I’m seven now. I don’t need help.” “Seven might be too grown up for you, especially if you go ruining your nice trousers crawling around in chicken coops. Pretty is as pretty does, remember?” Jo hummed a response that was not even close to being as strong as a tornado. “Why’re there chickens, Momaw? Why didn’t we just eat the eggs this time?” 30
“Because sometimes we need more chickens.” “How do we choose which eggs get to be chickens?” “That’s too many questions before noon. Go run your bath.” With absent hands, Jo fiddled with the bottom of her grandmother’s apron. Flour came off on the tips of her fingers. “Can we name them?” Her grandmother pointed to the white farmhouse in the distance. Her grandmother was always pointing back to that house. “We don’t name the chickens,” her grandmother said. “They won’t all live.” “You’re going to die and you got a name,” Jo said. “You’re right. That’s because I’ve been around longer than you can imagine, which means I’m in charge. Now go back inside and clean up. I best not see you out here messing around in the coop again.” “Yes, ma’am,” Jo mumbled. “What was that? I couldn’t hear you.” But Jo was already running back to the house, her bare feet stinging where they trampled pebbles on the ground. *** “She won’t let me name them,” Jo whispered to her Pa at the dinner table that evening. Her grandmother was hunched over the oven, so Jo had seized her chance. Her Pa smiled at her over a fork of ham. He had the same straw on his head as she did, and the same tanned skin from the same work under the same sun. “She’s a tough old woman. Wouldn’t even let me name my dog.” “What did you call him?” “Just Bud. Like what I called you when you were born.” “Why didn’t I have a name?” “Your Mama hadn’t picked one out yet. So when she was gone, it was up to me.” “Oh.” Jo leaned back in her seat and the wood creaked under her. Everything in the house creaked, like it was screaming. Her Pa never talked much about her birth. All he ever said was that she was a baby that had screamed as much as the house did. “I came up with your name,” her grandmother said, returning to the table with a steaming iron skillet of yellow cornbread. “Jo Anne, after your great-grandmother.”
“I just like Jo,” Jo said, digging a spoonful of cornbread out of the skillet. The piece of bread crumbled before it made it to her plate, but that meant it was good, meant the bread was made full of butter. “Jo Anne is your name,” her grandmother said. “Be proud of it.” “I bet the chickens want names,” Jo said. She looked to her Pa for help. But he was quiet, staring at the gravy on his plate. He always got quiet around her grandmother, like the old woman took all the space in the room, took all the air to speak. Jo thought that maybe that was at least a small bit of the reason her mother wasn’t here now. Maybe her grandmother was so much of a person there wasn’t enough room for anyone else. “One of them’s already dead anyhow.” Jo abandoned her cornbread. “What?” “You heard me,” her grandmother said. “I checked just this evening as I was getting eggs for morning. Your hen only has five chicks now.” Swallowing the lump of bread already at the back of her throat, Jo almost choked. The bread went down dry and rough. “But why did he die?” Jo asked. She knew which one it was. She had spotted the fellow as he broke through his shell. He had taken a long time to hatch. “Sometimes chicks just die,” her grandmother said. Jo’s Pa leaned over then and said, “Maybe she ran away. Probably got tired of the old hen’s squawking.” He winked at her. Jo smiled. Five chicks were still acceptable. *** The five chicks followed their mother around the fenced-in plot of dirt next to the coop. They were the size of small hands now, and moved how chickens were supposed to move. If she stood at the far corner near the piece of fence a rabbit had chewed through once, Jo could almost block out the white farmhouse with her view of the coop. She didn’t want her grandmother to know she was out here filling her toenails with mud. Jo followed the line of chicks at a safe distance, not too close, not too far. She had become familiar with that kind of distance over the years. It was always, Not to close to the house that you disturb your Pa, Jo Anne; or Not too far that I can’t see you, you know better not to go down by that creek, that’s the Wilsons’ land… “Are they yours?” Jo looked up. A boy, his knees just as red and scraped as hers, stood outside the coop fence. He traced the parallel wire lines with his pinky. She hesitated. The only boys she knew 32
were the ones in class who liked to call her scarecrow because her hair made her look like she was stuffed with straw. “Of course they’re mine. The farm’s mine, too. Why are you on it?” “I live on the other side of creek. I mean, I do now. I usually live with my parents, but I’m staying with my gran for a while.” The boy seemed to remember his purpose and rubbed his palms on the back of his jean shorts. “I can see your coop from across the creek. Thought you had chicks maybe.” Jo decided she liked this boy and his interest in her chickens. “I have five. What’s your name?” “Emmett.” “Jo Anne!” Jo ran her hands over her blouse, trying to smooth out the wrinkles. In church, her grandmother prayed to God to ward off two things, sin and wrinkles. “I’ll be right back,” Jo said, counting her chickens again. “Watch the chickens for me?” A grin took hold of Emmett’s face. His teeth were the same off-white as chicken eggs. “Sure, of course I can watch them.” Moving with a deliberate slowness, Jo trekked back to the farmhouse. Her grandmother was waiting at the edge of the porch. “Who’s that boy, Jo Anne?” “That’s just Emmett.” Jo stopped at the foot of the porch. If she climbed the steps, she would be out of the safety of the tall grass and her grandmother would see her red knees. “He’s one of the Wilsons’ kids, isn’t he?” Her grandmother pursed her lips, but her mouth was already so sunk with age, her lips just disappeared entirely into the skin beneath her nose. “I don’t want you playing with that boy. The Wilsons are always stepping too far into other folks’ land. Tell him to get back across the water.” “Yes, Ma’am.” When Jo got back to the coop, Emmett was tracing the chicks’ steps as if he were the sixth missing chick. “They like me,” he said without looking at her. “My Momaw doesn’t want me around you.” Emmett glanced up. “Why?” “Don’t know.” Jo looked to the ground, her face heated because she did not know why she was not allowed to spend time with boys who watched her chicks. She noticed then that his feet were bare like hers, with mud tucked between his toes. “But I don’t care,” she said. “Come visit again. We’ll stay behind the coop.” 33
Emmett smiled his egg-smile again. “You sure?” “Sure. And you can have a chick if you want.” Jo felt she needed to give this boy something. “Really?” he asked. His hands were already reaching for a chick. He picked the largest one and cupped it in his palms. “Sure,” Jo said. “Just give him a good name.” *** Jo needed to come up with four names and fast. The chicks were dropping like the gnats did when her grandmother was feeling particularly powerful with the swatter. She was sitting on the back porch, wearing nothing but her Pa’s T-shirt and her underpants. Her grandmother insisted on giving her a new set of flannel pajamas every birthday, and Jo hated them. They were always hot. She had a feeling her mother would have picked out good pajamas. Jo had been out here since supper, listening to the cicadas and the silence that only belonged to places and people wedged miles from everything loud. It was dusk, and her chicks were now a week old. They were summer babies, which meant they needed summer names. Something that was more than just a grandmother’s name, at the least. She didn’t appreciate hand-me-downs. A few good possibilities came to mind just as Jo heard the screaming. Not screaming, exactly, because chickens couldn’t scream. But they could holler. She flung herself off the porch and sprinted barefoot toward the coop. Her grandmother must have seen her through the kitchen window, because Jo heard her name chasing her across the farm. “Jo Anne, get back here! You’re indecent–” Jo didn’t care, and almost relished the feeling of hundreds of nips on her legs as bugs swarmed her skin. She would wake up with more chigger bites than she could count, but she didn’t mind. As she finally reached the coop, her straw hair stuck to her forehead the way hay stuck to mud after a long rain, and hairline cuts littered her legs where the tall grass had gotten greedy. Jo entered the fenced area off the back just in time to see a hairy blur of red and hunger. The fox slunk under a gap in the wire fence and was gone, leaving the mother hen pecking at the world around her. As if she were stepping through tall grass looking for barn snakes, Jo crept one 34
foot at a time toward the hen. She found a spray of feathers, one hen, and two chicks shaken but still chirping. “Jo!” She looked back toward the house, back toward someone who used the named she wanted. Her Pa stood on the porch; she could just make out his silhouette in the twilight. “Jo, come back here! I need your help, Momaw’s fallen, she’s sick–” Her Pa never screamed from the back porch. He would never call her away from her chicks for no reason. So she herded the mother and the two chicks into the coop and sprinted back to the house. *** Her grandmother was not sick. Sick meant soup and a hot bath, and maybe a sip of her Pa’s whiskey if she had a cough. Her grandmother was something much worse. Jo waited outside on the back porch. She hadn’t bathed properly for a week, not since her grandmother collapsed. Something about, It’s just old age. The adults never told her anything, even though she was practically one of them. She was raising two chicks, after all. She heard him before she saw him. Emmett had snuck up to the house while she was caught up in the concept of adulthood. He was still in his jean shorts, and he was just as covered in mud and grass as she was after a week spent avoiding the bathtub. They looked a pair. He poked his head through the wide slats of the porch railing. “I haven’t seen you out much with the chicks. They all right?” “I just have two now,” Jo mumbled. “Oh.” He thumbed a protruding nail by his head. “My gran took mine away. She wouldn’t let me keep him.” Now it was Jo’s turn. “Oh,” she said, not surprised at all another grandmother had taken a disliking to her chicks. Before Jo could say anything else, she heard the screen door. “Jo?” her Pa asked. “Out here.” “Jo,” her Pa began, but he stopped with one boot in the house and one boot on the porch. His voice changed when he saw Emmett. “Hey, son. Aren’t your folks looking for you? Do they know you’re across the creek?” “I live with my gran.” “Sun’s going down, maybe you should head on back.” 35
“We’re playing,” Jo said. “Y’all can play later, Jo. I need you to come inside for a while. Bye, son.” Emmett smiled one last time at Jo and began the hike across the farm toward the creek. Jo watched him go, like she usually did, but this time it was only because she didn’t want to look at her Pa’s face. Her Pa never talked much. All his feelings drooped in the lines around his mouth. Her Pa still held the screen door wide open, and she could hear the bugs whizzing into the house. Her grandmother would have a fit with the swatter. “Is Momaw all right?” she asked. “Just come inside, Jo. It’s getting dark.” *** The funeral was more boring than baths and early bedtimes. And even dead, Jo’s grandmother was still making all the rules. Jo was stuck in a black dress with white ruffles. It was a dress her grandmother had probably picked out in preparation of her own funeral just because that old woman had to plan everything. But the dress was hot, which meant Jo would throw it to the back of her closet as soon as everyone got out of their house. The reception was even more boring than the funeral, was full of people bringing biscuits more genuine than their condolences. The clothes weren’t the worst part of the funeral. What Jo couldn’t stand was that for once she almost missed someone telling her what to do. She had no idea how to act; the only funeral she had ever attended was her mother’s, and she hadn’t been old enough to even see the coffin. Was she supposed to cry for her Momaw? Somehow it felt wrong to cry for that woman when she hadn’t gotten the chance to cry for her own mother. “Don’t pick at your dress, Jo. You look beautiful.” He Pa came up behind her and put a solid hand on her shoulder. Despite her best efforts, he had found her behind the chicken coop. “I hate this dress.” “I know. But Momaw picked it out for you. You going to argue with her now?” Jo huffed. Her chickens were in the coop and she had just been staring at dirt for the last half hour. “No.” “Pretty is as pretty does, remember? C’mon, I want to show you something.” Jo followed her Pa. They crossed the one lane road that ran around the farm and climbed the small hill on the other side, leaving behind the guests in black for the green of the forest. A cemetery sat on top of the hill, but cemetery was a generous word because it was mostly just a 36
few forgotten headstones hiding amid the trees. She wasn’t sure which had come first, the graves or the trees, but they seemed like they were getting along. Her Pa didn’t hold her hand as they walked like he usually did. His attention was on the ground. He was looking for something. They climbed over headstones that didn’t have names anymore, and finally came to a stop in a small open patch of grass. From their place on the hill, they had a view through the trees of the white farmhouse and the guests milling around the backyard like little black chickens pecking the land. Her Pa bent down, found a rock the size of a biscuit, and handed it to her. “Throw this.” Jo accepted the stone after a pause. “Throw it? Where?” “Anywhere. Just toss it on into the green there.” She tossed it with a limp arm. The stone landed six feet away next to another headstone that had given up on trying to keep itself together. “Okay,” she said, and crossed her arms. She didn’t have time for games right now. She had two chickens to mind. “That,” her Pa began, “is where I want to be buried.” Jo dropped her arms from her chest, her eyes on the stone where it had hit the ground. “All the way up here?” she asked. Her father hummed his consent, just like her grandmother did. “We didn’t bury Momaw up here.” Or Ma, she wanted to add. Wasn’t her Pa supposed to be buried with her mother, weren’t they supposed to at least get time together in whatever came after? “That’s all right. This is where I want to be.” Her Pa held out his hand. “Let’s get back.” Jo took his hand and followed him back down the hillside toward the house, the entire time thinking that she should have put a bit more of herself into the toss. *** One chick was waiting for her. He wasn’t the smallest or the largest, and he wasn’t the best looking of the bunch, but he was there and that’s what counted. Jo wasn’t sure what had happened to chicken number two; maybe the fox had gotten hungry again. Jo stared at the chick as it strutted around the fenced area, looking for his mother. The hen was probably in the coop, resting. It took a lot of energy to lose things that mattered. “Do you even want a name?” she asked the last chicken.
“I think he’s earned a name,” Emmett said, appearing next to her. This time, he had come from the farmhouse. He was in a suit that looked like a hand-me-down. This time, he wasn’t trespassing. Instead, he was welcome. “I like your dress.” “I only got one chick left now.” Jo said. “What are you gonna name him?” Jo thought. “It’s a she,” she decided. “It’s a girl chick. And I don’t think I’ll name her.” “How are you gonna take care of her if you don’t have anything to call her?” Jo shrugged, thinking about how her entire life she had always called her grandmother Momaw and nothing else. “I’m not gonna take care of her. That’s not my job.” “You’re leaving her? Just like that? I can help you, if you want.” “No,” Jo said. “No, she’ll be okay.” “And if she’s not?” Jo shrugged again. She liked the way her shoulders moved when she did that, like with each bounce another problem, another responsibility fell right off. “Then she’s not okay. Sometimes not all the chicks make it.” Shrugging also kept her from acknowledging and putting a name to the hot pressure behind her eyes that meant tears. Her Momaw was right, it was easier to not give something a name.
- Ellen Goff
The Sparkling Eyes of Desire by Bill Wolak 39
The Night After Donald ‘Twas the night after Donald And all through the south Not a person could keep Their fat foot out their mouth The 2016 Candidates seemed quite scarce Until Trump came to Mobile And made it a farce Miss Clinton and Sanders Were smug in their tone And Republican hopefuls Worried straight to the bone But Kenn with her blanket And I with my hype Had just settled down For the joke of our life. The rednecks piled in To Ladd-Peebles with care, With hopes that the Donald Would descend from the air. Then a stranger appeared In a red baseball cap And he grinned as he caught us In his celebrity trap His hair seemed to me Like wisps of a cloud And I would’ve said something If he wasn’t so loud Who was this guy, This arrogant chump? And then it occurred That it must be the Trump!
He started with walls, He ended with screams, And he didn't quite know What the word 'tariff' means “SCREW CLINTON, SCREW BUSH, SCREW CRUZ, AND SCREW WALKER! THEY’RE REHEARSED POLITICIANS, BUT I’M STILL THE BEST TALKER! “LET’S REBUILD THE WHITE HOUSE, PUT THE TRUMP LOGO ON IT,” Believing his words Were Shakespearean Sonnet Every red issue broached? He seemed all for it But he seemed to forget That each claim needs a warrant. “I’ll bury them all, Just Ask John McCain, Whose capture was caused by Megyn’s menstrual pains” And the crowd ate it up, The words of the troll, And tomorrow I’m sure He’ll just rise in the polls If a Trump in the hand, Is worth two in the Bush And the Clinton campaign Truly gave him a push, Then they’ve played the game As the best politique; Their Trump card had Beaten the GOP. And I heard him jeer As he walked out of sight “With me as your runner, We’ve no chance in the fight!” - Trent Kannegieter 41
Looking for Love on the Subway. Aware of the no manâ€™s land But not the man, The divide was breached Over the foxhole And into a foreign trench Where, behind ear buds, Marbles met Then Rolled passed each other. - Ryan Clinesmith
O que acontece no Brasil fica no Brasil 4am, Heathrow Airport. Myself and Haydn have idiotically arrived two and a half hours early for a flight for which we've already checked in, and to kill time we spend nearly a fiver each on a pint before we go through security. We've already smoked three cigarettes in a row to prepare ourselves for the ordeal ahead. The two of us have been invited to travel to Brazil for four weeks. Before what promises to be a traumatic twenty-two hour journey, we've been subjected to a two thousand word application form, an informal interview, a stack of paperwork, a safety workshop and several pre-departure meetings, most of which we didn't attend or complete. A week prior we had a moment of the most intense dread when we thought we needed a visa to stay in Brazil longer than thirty days. (One doesn't.) Haydn's job is to document his time away in order to create a short film which the university can use to advertise the programme. He is to pick up the camera only a handful of times, and curse that he has forgotten it only a handful more, during our month away. Our first moments in Florianópolis are uneventful – getting lost in the suburbs and fearing for our lives in what is, frankly, the safest area in Brazil; sitting through a full-day induction at our host university, sweltering in what was to be one of the only really fine days we were granted during our stay, narcoleptic in uncomfortable seats; taking our freshly-turned nineteen Ohioan friend out to the cheapest bar we could find and making him drink as much as we did ('you Yanks can't drink!') until he threw up forcibly by the bus stop outside. We greet our housemate, a veritable supermodel of 'oh my bloody fuck she's fit' proportions, with a Heineken, which she promptly Snapchats, acclaiming her transatlantic cousins. We like her instantly; the three of us were to become an inseparable trio, and as the trip drew to a close we were to fuck sloppily in her paid-for single room, the taste of Brahma still on our lips, me not believing my luck, with Haydn and his chosen inamorata, equally as inebriated, going at it for what must have been the seventh time in as many days down the hall in our cheaper, shared room. Our first night, however, finds us wandering what is to become our home exceedingly quickly, but what is from this initial impression a scary and different place. The gated house outside which our taxicab drops us may as well be midway up the Brecon Beacons, so steep is the hill one has to climb to reach it, and as we step out of the car, the dogs begin to bark – first the three belonging to Louis, the owner of our house, and from that all the dogs in the adjacent 43
houses and beyond, and all the strays, it seemed, in all of South America. Such is the noise of barking dogs at all times in Brazil that it is a wonder anybody ever sleeps. The first lesson of Brazil I learn getting into bed on this first night. As we lie in bed we feel the ants, few at first, and as we still under our sheets more and more, crawling precariously along the pillow, the spread, up our legs. It doesn't take us long to become used to this insect phenomenon, but this first night is unsettling. Still, after such a long journey we sleep soundly and long. Now, I like travelling. I find car journeys and train rides soothing, inspiring even; looking out the window towards fantastic landscapes and countrysides, especially in Britain; plenty of time to read or merely think. But flying is shit. It's a cliché, but there's always a crying fucking baby when you're trying to sleep; the seats are horrifically uncomfortable and legroom is minimal at best; the food is dirt and the alcohol is expensive; you can't smoke, you feel uncomfortable swearing. The only good thing about flying is that the stewards are usually kind, and it is my humble opinion that they are only nice to the passengers because they know that they're serving shit food in a shit environment and if they weren't, there'd be nothing left. The second lesson of Brazil is learnt the next morning, as we wake, having closed the windows on what is frankly a rather chilly Brazilian evening, to everything being damp. All the clothes we wear and the bed sheets under which we sleep have a slight tinge of wetness to them, where the humidity of the country, even in relatively cold weather, moistens linens and cottons. This is a problem we have for the duration of our trip, and many clothes were thrown away due to damp-induced mould. Bugger. The third lesson of Brazil is first hinted at a week later, but not fully realized until the end of the trip: Florianópolis is an island, surrounded by beaches, over forty of them, and therefore you will be constantly covered in sand. Sand, fucking everywhere, all the time. Piles of it falling from shoes you wore a week ago. Coming home and putting all your clothes in the wash, only to pull them out of the washing machine hours later and with them, a cascade of sand. After finally managing to dry your clothes on a sunny day outside without the dampness of the house, dried sand crumbling under your armpits. Turning socks inside out – sand. Repacking your bag for the next day – sand. Drinking from the water bottle at the bottom of your bag: HAVE A MOUTHFUL OF SAND WITH THAT MATE!! As I said to several people upon my return, 'It's shit to be back, but it's nice to be dry and sand less.' The Americans are true to their clichés – infinitely kind, few understand sarcasm, and many have never left the States. (Canada doesn't count.) Almost all of us get on exceedingly well, but six of us bond especially into a sextet, consisting of the Haydn, his partner in crime and 44
sex, Miggie, the beautiful housemate Hannah, the enigmatic and hilarious Pennsylvanian Kara, the nineteen year-old vomiting Ohioan Cameron, and myself. We entertain them with quotes from various British shows and they in turn rag us for our funny accents and annoy us by arguing that America is the best country in the world. ('We've got The Beatles' is our most popular retort.) Our hexad embarks on our most exciting adventure along a half an hour hike to Caminho da Cachoeira do Córrego Grande in order to see the Poção Waterfall. The hike is a standard affair – crossing a beautiful little stream, in which goes Kara's foot, the clumsiest of the lot, and she is forced to walk the rest of the way with a wet sock. And lots and lots of mosquitoes. Obviously none of us have applied repellent, and so we itch and scratch all the way up the waterfall. Traversing a large pipe in a Tyrolean manner rather than clamber across wet rocks to get to the pool, the six of us first climb up the side of the waterfall, consider jumping in, and then take the easy route down, strip off and jump in the pool. Now, I have scuba dived in six degree water. I have swum in British seas my whole life, I have been to Prague in February, I have jumped in the sea on an overcast day in Pembrokeshire – yes, bloody Pembrokeshire – in March. None of this prepares me for the cold which thumps me in the chest as I tentatively make my way into the water. Before it's up to my knees, my penis has shriveled to frankly Lilliputian sizes and I swear I can see my toes going blue. Not one to be deterred by a little cold and faintly wondering if I will ever see my genitals again I dive in with my GoPro, attempting to swim to the waterfall and back as quickly as possible in order firstly to warm myself up and secondly to get the fuck out of this sodding water. I make it to the waterfall, I have no idea which way the camera is pointing and after the current has taken me back to the middle of the pool I try to find a ledge on the side on which to sit. I'm so cold I can barely tread water and I'm essentially drowning – Haydn seems to notice this and takes the GoPro out of my hands, allowing me to keep myself above the surface. He seems to be less of an utter coward than I and he is not complaining. As much fun as this is, guys, can we get the fuck out? There is a general consensus regarding this idea. Upon returning to more favourable terrestrial environments, I do not regret the Baltic temperatures of the pool – this'll make a bloody good story, I tell myself. We're outside in the garden, smoking what must be our tenth cigarette of the day, and the skies open. In Brazil, it doesn't ever just rain, but seems that the sky is making some drastic attempt to rid itself at all costs of every last remaining drop of moisture that it can, that it is imperative to the survival of the atmosphere that it be utterly, completely rained out, and when it 45
gets to the stage where it thinks it cannot push any more water out it throws down a little more, and it was our guess that the reason our clothes were unceasingly damp (see rule #2) was due to the humidity in the air caused by the tropical rain. We eat, a pasta dish we have now made four nights in a row (overcooked, too little sauce, too much cheese) and head to the university building where we are booked in to play a football match, consisting of lecturers, staff, students and friends, for an indefinite amount of time â€“ generally, whenever the owner wants us to piss off. Down at the pitch, turnout is surprisingly good, and we're excited. Haydn scores several goals in quick succession and I manage to put two away before the end of the match. Teams are precariously balanced, and we absolutely smash them. It feels good. The pitch is a small AstroTurf deal, torn to shreds with massive bumps around the centre circle and today is sodden wet, gargantuan lakes of puddles bringing the ball to a dead stop no matter how hard one boots it. I am in goal, and as the rain comes through the netting above, the dark sky is lit up by a fantastic streak of lightning. From my position it seems so big and so high as to follow even the curvature of the earth, bending up and away and down towards me over on the left side of the field past the trees, easily beating the spotlights in lighting up the pitch. Everybody is taken by surprise and momentarily stops to gaze at the sky before carrying on. We score another goal. It's Haydn's. Of course. It's the last night, and a massive group of us, almost all of the students, have agreed to go to Lagoa da Conceicao, the stunning, huge body of saline water which, legend has it, was formed from the tears of a particularly upset witch many years ago. Along the lagoon are a multitude of pubs and as a probably intimidating-looking group of youths we bar-crawl eastwards along the strand until we end up, sobriety having been left behind several kilometres behind us, at a snooker bar right at the corner of the lagoon. Outside, several of the girls have begun to shed tears; some of them have decided that it is time to go home as they have an early flight and are finding it particularly difficult saying goodbye. I stand awkwardly outside as they hug and kiss, with even Haydn becoming emotional. Wondering somewhat whether I am legitimately made of stone, I say my goodbyes, offering special gratitude to those who have made the trip particularly memorable. And then they are gone. A small group of us, not content to leave so early, determined to make the most of our final moments in this country, decide that, since it is probably only a fifteen minute walk (try thirty), to wander â€“ with beers, of course â€“ down the road to our favourite beach, Praia da Joaquina, the beach on which most of us have learnt to surf, several of us have had what could 46
have been serious injuries in the water and which holds some of the most beautiful views on all of the island. And so, a small group of us, Brahmas in hand, set off down the road, proper mortal, extremely sad, on a mission. We arrive. This is to be the last time we are to see this beach for the foreseeable future. As we walk down the steps to the beachfront, we notice a small group of perhaps four or five sitting just to the right, perhaps one hundred metres away. Undeterred, and with several of the faster walkers already in the water, the stragglers hastily strip off in the half-light of the lamp post and run to the water to engage in one last holiday clichĂŠ. Perhaps it is the booze blanket, but it isn't that cold. When we tire of the water, we decide to climb up the rocks to the north and gaze out across the sea to the sand dunes and mountains beyond, in what we perceive at the time as one last act of freedom before we return to what is surely going to be a disappointing home. Nude, on the rocks, looking out towards the darkened sky, the grey clouds rolling slowly eastwards, the sun as of yet not even close to the horizon, our tranquility is violently shattered by what can only be described as an explosion back on the shore. We start in unison and hide behind a rather measly-looking tree, peering down at the strangers sat on the shore. We had seen no flashes of light, and there was nobody around to slam a door; the idea that somebody had a gun seemed silly, ludicrous even. The thought that crosses my mind is that we are in a dangerous country, that we were lulled into a false sense of security, that we should have been more careful than to walk around in the early hours of the morning on secluded beaches. Overriding all of this is the pertinent knowledge that I am starkers. Cautiously we make our way down from the rocks and quickly gather up our belongings, dress hastily and hide around the side of one of the restaurants which line the shoreline. One of the girls we are with delivers a potent axiom: I've been to India, I've been to Rio, and I thought myself street-smart, but when I thought that was a gun, I shit myself. I believe we all did. We see people at the airport the next day and say legitimately final goodbyes. I have spent literally my last pennies. It's time to go home, though we wish it wasn't. I repeat to Haydn the oath that I've been saying all week that if somebody turned around and offered me a job and a chance to stay here, I'd take it and never look back. The first flight to Rio is a meaningless, hung over affair, and we sit miserable in the departure lounge dreading the long haul. Fortune smiles on us and we sleep through nine out of ten hours of the second flight. We arrive home miserable, tired, desynchronized and wishing fervently that we weren't here, that we were back on vaguely overcast beaches, learning to surf in the rain, having sex, eating pastĂŠis de nata, laughing with our new American friends over the difference between trash and rubbish, 47
motorway and freeway, smoking cheaply and heavily, promising ourselves that we will wake up early and hike through the subtropics and actually doing it, drinking all week and not feeling guilty, not going to lectures. Only some of these wishes survive the transition back home. The blues hit between three and seven days after landing at Heathrow and they're bad. A major case of post-session depression. There's very little you can do about it; smoke through it and try and find something enjoyable, even remotely comparable, to the time you had when you were away. But it's impossible – even the beautiful, calm lake of Virginia Waters, the countryside around Colony Gate and Pirbright Ranges cannot instill the same sense of calm and happiness as could gazing out over the Baía Sul off Saco dos Limões. Eventually, this feeling will leave, and your memories of time you had away will fade, and the conversations you had with the people you met will be forgotten, and the pictures of your trip stored away deep on your hard drive will be all you have left (remember that time I went to Brazil?) and you'll be fine again. Eventually. - James Alston
The Impact Event Radio silence Hanging over the cold dead night, mechanical ears of silicon and steel straining to hear a distant echo from a world far beyond the horizonThe light is dimmed, falling asleep for the briefest of moments before its will to life is restored once more in a momentary droning hum-the temperature inside that last part of the world slowly falling in a quest to meet its exterior twin. Eyes now glazed run, trance-like, over the screen, reading the message sent in an endless loop for days: you are the last of us you are all thatâ€™s left you are you are alone. - Ryan Burgess
James Alston is a history undergraduate student at Cardiff University, UK. He has had one short story published in his own university’s literary journal Ty Celf, several poems through Forward Poetry, and occasionally writes for the political blog Left Foot Forward. Time spent not writing is used producing inadequate electronic music and feeling sorry for himself when he listens back to it. Originally from Los Angeles, Drew Attana spent over a decade getting into trouble from Tijuana to Portland, before heading South. He is currently pursuing his PH.D and teaching at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Jacob Boyd is a Ph.D candidate at the University of Illinois Chicago, and a bartender at the Four Moon Tavern. Other poems of his have recently appeared in Blackbird, Fiddlehead, Fugue, and elsewhere. Ryan Burgess is a student at the University of Chicago, studying philosophy and mathematics. When not writing poetry, he spends much of his time thinking, writing, and reflecting on the two aforementioned subjects, as well as involvement in a number of other political and academic organizations on campus. Vivian Calderon Bogoslavsky is a Colombia Native born to Argentinian parents. She holds a BA. in anthropology with a minor in history and a postgraduate degree in Journalism from the Universidad of Los Andes in Bogota, Colombia. She has studies art for over 13 years with a well know Argentinian art master as well as studies in Florence, Italy, and Fine Arts & Design in USA. Today she is in Madrid, Spain exploring her art. Ryan Clinesmith is an undergraduate at Emerson College. He is a major in Writing Literature and Publishing and is getting his BFA in poetry. Jessica Costello is a junior at Emerson College, pursuing her BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing. She currently works as a reviewer for The Graphic Novel Reporter, and has been previously published in East Coast Ink. She hopes to become a children’s librarian. Jonathan Gallardo is a senior journalism major at Cedarville University. He enjoys playing basketball and quoting Napoleon Dynamite in its entirety. Ash Goedker is from the Upper Midwest (Minnesota and Michigan), and is currently an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho. Her poems have been published in Up the Staircase Quarterly and The Innisfree Poetry Journal. She has a number of obsessions besides poems, and they can be narrowed down to a very simple list: lakes and cheese. Ellen Goff is a fourth year undergraduate at the University of Chicago. She is majoring in English and minoring in Cinema Studies. She writes mostly fiction and larger works like novels and hopes to get a few books published soon. Ellen is from a small town in Kentucky, and has based her submitted piece on her home. Trent Kannegieter is an aspiring poet from Bayside Academy. He loves his girlfriend, Steven Colbert, and the rallying cry of the Renaissance Heroes. Sarah Katharina Kayß, born in 1985 in Koblenz, Germany, is an internationally published photographer, blogger, and poet. She is winner of the manuscript award of the German Writers Association (2013) for her poetry and essay collection “Ich mag die Welt, so wie sie ist” (I like the world the way it is) which was published in (Munich, Allitera) in 2014. Sarah edits the bilingual literary magazine THE TRANSITIONAL and is currently a final year Ph.D. student in the War Studies Department of King’s College London. Her poems, photographs, and essays have been published in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the UK, Italy, New Zealand, the USA, and Canada. 50
Greg Larson is a first-year MFA candidate in Creative Writing-Nonfiction at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Kat Lewis is a new poet and candidate for an MFA in Poetry from the University of Idaho. She obtained her BA in English from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She now spends equal amounts of time writing and photographing, splitting her time between the west and east sides of the country 80/20. Brianna Mahoney is a first year student at Merrimack College in North Andover, MA. She is currently obtaining a BA in English with a Literary Studies concentration. Lauren Page is a DVM candidate at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. If she’s not studying she’s probably asleep. Her poems have most recently appeared in Duende, The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society, and FLARE: the Flager Review. Lauren was a runner-up in the 2014 Steger Poetry Prize and received 1st place Creative Writing Poetry Award from Virginia Tech’s English department in 2015. Emily Ramser is a junior at Salem College pursuing a major in English and Creative Writing. Bill Wolak is a poet, photographer, and collage artist. He has just published his twelfth book of poetry entitled Love Opens the Hands with Nirala Press. Recently, he was featured poet in The Mihai Eminescu International Poetry Festival in Craiova, Romania.