Mojave River Review - Winter 2014

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Mojave River Review Inaugural Issue • Winter 2014

Mojave River Review Volume 1 • Number 1


L. Ward Abel • Pamela Ahlen • Jeffrey Alfier • Jia Oak Baker Stephen Barber • Angela Cardinale Bartlett • Leesa Cross-Smith Glenn Blakeslee • Linda Blaskey • Ace Boggess • J. Bradley • John Brantingham • Justin Brouckaert • Monica Casper • James Claffey Tobi Cogswell • Juliet Cook • Lori DeSanti • Adam Deutsch James Ducat • Linda Goin • Steve Gowin • Ken Hada • Art Heifetz • Tiff Holland • Ann Howells • Wendy Elizabeth Ingersoll • Caitlin Johnson • Jane Rosenberg LaForge • David Landrum • Mercedes Lawry • Diane Lockward • Paul Luikart Catfish McDaris • Robbie Maakestad • Jon Magidsohn • Dennis Mahagin • Lisa Mangini • Sharanya Manivannan • Anthony Martin Carolyn Martin • Ioanna Mavrou • Jamie Moore • Karla K. Morton • H.L. Nelson • Natalie Nuzzo • Amanda Oaks • Alvin Park • Mark Petterson • Kenneth Pobo • Sam Rasnake • Carol Reid • Cindy Rinne • Daniel Romo • Susan Rooke • Justin Runge Nicole Sheets • Jon Sindell • Samantha Stier • Tim Suermondt Don Thompson • Jonathan Treadway • Rose Maria Woodson


Editor in Chief Michael Dwayne Smith Managing Editor Alisha Attella Guest Poetry Editor Daniel Romo Guest Fiction Editor Leesa Cross-Smith Poetry Editors Allie Marini Batts Jay Sizemore Fiction Editor Epiphany Ferrell Non-Fiction Editors Bonnie A. Spears Arlene White Contributing Photo Editor Frank Foster Cover and other photographs copyright Š 2014 Frank Foster unless otherwise noted. Journal design by Michael Dwayne Smith. Copyrights to individual works published herein belong to the respective authors and artists. Mojave River Review is published by Mojave River Press, an imprint of Mojave River Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Copyright Š 2014. Submission guidelines at ISSN Pending

FROM the editor

THE MOJAVE IS AN UNDERGROUND RIVER. Like the desert in general, one must be attuned to detail in observation to comprehend its spirit. It does not glitter and flaunt. It does not demand attention. Its fertile soil is hidden in pockets along its path from Soda Lake to Deep Creek. A people long ago gravitated to this river, evolved around it, cultivated themselves and the land near it, created an understanding of a universe through it. Later, as immigrants or intruders surrounded the Mojave, the river gathered more and more diverse populations. I’ve known this region my entire life. Along with my travels, the people in settlements and towns and cities near this river have been an integral part of widening my world for nearly sixty years. It has been my privilege to come to know all manner of desert dwellers, from indigenous to industrialized. The old saw is: write the books you want to read but can’t because they don’t exist. I feel the same about publishing a periodical. My little history dictates I dig all eclectic, I dig secret beauty. That’s the kind of magazine I get excited about reading; alas, there are not many around. There are your answers—in case you were wondering why this, and why like this? Our submitters know Mojave River Review is open to all styles and topics of taste, with one “however”: we intend to include work of place, especially the southwest, most especially the Mojave Desert. These pages offer poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and (dear to my heart) “hybrid” works. I did not impose any artificial theme, editorial slant, or superficial order. Our staff read together, discussed, agreed and disagreed, then accepted the

work we knew had to be welcomed into the fluid and paradoxically grounded Mojave River world. Committed to keeping authors’ works grouped, I sat down with my Managing Editor (thank you, Alisha!) and the presentation order for work was discerned based on our perception of shapes and links and breadcrumbs. With eternal gratitude to our contributors, we hope you enjoy. We invite you into the Mojave River community. Please share this publication, and please do consider submitting your most spirited work for our next issue. Michael Dwayne Smith Founding Publisher/Editor Mojave River Press & Review Mojave Desert, CA January, 2014


12 15 17 20 26



35 37 38

Monica Casper Oculus / hybrid Lori DeSanti The Last Cycle / poetry After Image / poetry Art Heifetz Cairn / poetry Manuelito at the Titty Bar / poetry Paul Luikart Marnie and Trig / fiction Mini-Tramp / fiction Daniel Romo Action / poetry (excerpted from his new book of prose poems, When Kerosene’s Involved: Revised and Expanded Edition, available at Leesa Cross-Smith Sketches of a Story about Death / fiction (excerpted from her debut book of stories, Every Kiss a War, available at Diane Lockward For the Love of Avocados / poetry Coloring / poetry The Instincts of a Dog / hybrid How I Dumped You / poetry Samantha Stier The Lovers’ Spat / fiction The Birds / fiction Ace Boggess The Dead Man / poetry Robbie Maakestad First Night in Jerusalem / non-fiction

40 42 43 44

47 48 50 51

53 56

59 61

Caitlin Johnson Doxology / poetry Persephone / poetry Sam Rasnake A not so Sonnet, with Tree and Swan / poetry L. Ward Abel She Is / poetry J. Bradley No More Poems about Unrequited Love / poetry I Hear the Tiniest Sparks and the Tenderest Sounds / poetry Yelp Review – Hard Rock Live, Orlando / poetry Catfish McDaris River of Whiskey / poetry John Brantingham This Spot on Earth is All that Really Matters / hybrid Ken Hada Like Hawks above Sage / poetry Jeffrey Alfier Cantilena for Barstow / poetry The Problem with Sunday Morning at the Atomic Inn / poetry Rose Maria Woodson Snow / poetry The Comet in ICU / poetry Jonathan Treadway They Bring Along / poetry Heathens / poetry July 2009 / poetry Carolyn Martin The Long Trip Here / poetry H. L. Nelson All the Shiny Things Fall / hybrid

62 67

70 74 79




108 110

Angela Cardinale Bartlett An Element of Your Condition / non-fiction The Big A / non-fiction Linda Blaskey Looking West toward the Ozarks / poetry How Love Works / poetry Detritus / poetry Jamie L. Moore Have Mercy, Hold On / fiction Glenn Blakeslee Homestead / non-fiction Dennis Mahagin The Tumbleweed Suite / poetry Great Great Grand Nephew of Jay Al Prufrock on Craigslist / poetry Juliet Cook Wax Fangs / poetry How Extraordinary Sea Creatures are Born / poetry James Claffey Lid & Surface / fiction The Third Time my Father Tried to Kill Me / fiction SOUTHWEST ARTS & LETTERS An Interview with Jeff Alfier and Tobi Cogswell / by Alisha Attella Photography: L.A. to Trona / Frank Foster Tiff Holland Theories of the Shrinks / fiction Lisa Mangini Undressing / hybrid The Logic of Childhood / hybrid Phone Call to a Long Distance Lover, Annotated with Kierkegaard’s Diary / hybrid

115 117 121 123

126 130 131 133


141 142 144

Ioanna Mavrou L.A. Story / fiction Karla K. Morton On the Way to Santa Fe / poetry Ode to an F-150 / poetry Jia Oak Baker Coyote / poetry Pocket Guide to the Cosmos / poetry Tim Suermondt Kennedy’s / poetry Marcos / poetry Standing that Counts / poetry Steven Gowin Ballad of the Giant Thermometer / fiction Don Thompson Choices / poetry Stephen Barber Watermelons / fiction Pamela Ahlen Giant Sofa / poetry Out of Commission in Indian Canyon / poetry Lizard / poetry River Trip / poetry Sharanya Manivannan Madrigal with his Mouth as Crown-of-Christ / poetry The Mirror Tree (Love Poem in Turquoise and Silver) / poetry Cindy Rinne Tricksters / poetry Linda Goin Looking Back, No Barriers / poetry Carol Reid Sage / fiction


148 150 156

159 162 163 166 167

170 178


Tobi Cogswell Sink Laundry and Whore Baths at the Benson Motel / poetry Farming the Border Country / poetry Justin Runge Opus for Popguns and Blood Capsules / hybrid Jon Magidsohn The Threadbare Sun / non-fiction Kenneth Pobo Dindi at the Burial / poetry Dindi Starts To / hybrid Wet and Cold Dindi / poetry Anthony Martin Barracuda Lagoon / fiction Susan Rooke The Line Shack / poetry Jon Sindell The Roadkill Collector / fiction David Landrum Pipeline / poetry Amanda Oaks The Most Perfect Example of Heartbreak that I’ve Ever Seen / poetry Winter Cluster / poetry From My Monotone Mouth / poetry Justin Brouckaert Baby’s First Christmas / fiction Hank, Sr. / fiction Wendy Elizabeth Ingersoll Chords Break from my Hands like Sacraments / poetry Loon / poetry Nicole Sheets How Kind Can You Be? / non-fiction

184 186 189 191 195

202 203 204 205

Natalie Nuzzo Rejection Arrives in the Form of a Letter / hybrid James Ducat Resort / poetry The Persistence / poetry Jane Rosenberg LaForge When We Were Carcinogens / poetry Mark Petterson Civil Procedure / poetry Contracts / poetry Alvin Park To My Niece / fiction Milky / fiction Stream / fiction Adam Deutsch Great Aunt, Winter, and Sun / poetry Mercedes Lawry Imminent Collapse / hybrid Ann Howells Prognosis / poetry CONTRIBUTORS

Monica Casper / Oculus AS A CHILD, I IMAGINED THE HUMAN EYE as a miniature planet, floating in finite gravitational space inside the head, adjacent to its much larger celestial kin, the brain. I envisioned the eye as a lush, round, microscopic world etched with liquid tributaries like tiny rivers, spongy hills inviting adventure, and shadowy valleys rich with dark, primordial secrets. The eye; with its vibrant red capillaries and bright white sclera framed by the delicate spider legs of silky eyelashes. The eye; whose multihued irises of sea-foam green and cool aqua, metallic silver and blizzard blue, cocoa brown and honeyed amber, slate gray and exotic jade, map bodies and routes and whole new worlds. The eye; a shimmering beacon of light and human connection on the craggy shoals of existence. The eye; conduit to the beautiful, known world. But that was before the surgeries and the lens replacement and the troubles these caused. Before I began to wonder about attachment and detachment and reattachment, both ocular and emotional. Now I understand that the human eye is not merely a planet; it is a spectacular, fluid universe. Its seamless function sustains us, anchors us in the turbulent sea of our precarious lives. Of course we touch, we smell, we hear, too: the velvety skin of a newborn, the delicious aroma of hot yeasty bread, the whisper of our own name in a lover’s exhalation. To be sensate in any way is exquisite, outrageous, agonizing, healing. It is hope and despair twinned in the service of being human. 12

But visual sense is a different order of being; there is a reason we have privileged the ocular and—no matter how unjust—feared the sightless. I see, therefore I am. I am, therefore I see. The pupil is a black hole burning with unparalleled intensity and verve while visually consuming everything in its view. Tendrils of nerves, tiny electric arcs, connect macula to retina, iris to cornea, lens to zonules; these fragile strands form a network of communication and recognition, emplacing body and self in time and space. An ocular milky way of cells and blood and diaphanous tissue hangs in this neatly contained inner galaxy like the shiny, tattered remains of a supernova, all color and light and pulsating energy. Then one day, crack! Retinal detachment, and your life no longer looks as it once did, and you no longer look as you once did. A sickening crash in your cranium like metal grating on concrete, like shattered bone, like Arctic ice shivering awake in the warm breath of spring. The universe inside your head explodes, or maybe it implodes. Your eye hurls itself toward the untouchable horizon, or maybe it disintegrates into cosmic dust. Delicately interwoven threads unravel and the interlocking organic puzzle pieces, so carefully choreographed, fall apart. A confusion of signals. Macula rips away from retina, orphaning the lens and sending blood cells and neurons and vitreous fluid surging down 13

dead-end alleyways to certain danger, maybe even death. A blinding flash, a cascade of falling stars. Then darkness, like midnight, cold and still. This is what the body does.


Lori DeSanti / The Last Cycle We are fish scales, a trout fin, made from dead fishbone fossil, hidden under silt; Georgia red clay. * We live like tree roots with leaf vein, warm-blooded dirt dwellers; but things are changing, tectonic plates shifting— we are sinking, drowning like the Maldives. * We were fish, but we are not fish; our scales will not save us. We cannot tread ocean with dust bones, swim through blue space, inhale below surface with dead gill, swollen in water.


Lori DeSanti / After Image The black folds of ratty cotton sheets washed too many times, untouched by your rough skin or shower-wet hair, my linens play tricks on me— sometimes I can make out the imprint of you, if the moonrays blanket my bed at just the right angle, your body molding into pillowtop mattress. I close my eyes like night petals, can nearly feel your leg wrapped around mine like ivy in the darkness; I get up, close the blinds, so there is no white light to define you, and I lose you once more in the black out of my bedroom.


Art Heifetz / Cairn In the dim blue near dawn I build a cairn of small flat stones, the kind we used to skim across the lake, watching the ripples pulse against the shore. There is no water here, only the parched glyphs of ancient inland seas engraved on buttes and mesas named after hats and bells, their red and ochre bands enflamed by the first light like love surprising your heart at seventeen.


Art Heifetz / Manuelito at the Titty Bar Manuelito, Manuelito, you love the ladies, and they love you too. No hay nada they wouldn’t do, like the pretty girls who slither down the poles like snakes at Angelita’s, they come over to your table, rub their breasts against your broad, flat face and kiss your head as if it were their rosary. Despite your compact size, your slanted almond eyes staring from thick lenses, you’re quite a dandy in your blue parrot shirt and sleek straw hat. Quite a dancer too, guiding women two heads taller across the cantina floor. But you want more. Your mother caught you with your hand inside your shorts, your eyes glued to the screen as you watched the bouncing beauties on the tele strut their stuff. Edouardo wants to take you to a good-hearted puta in the zona roja 18

who says she’ll do it for free, just to share the special grace God gives untroubled hearts. The padre says that would be sinning. ¡Que tonterias! retorts Edouardo— You have an itch, you scratch it. Manuelito, Manuelito, you love the ladies, and they love you back tenfold.


Paul Luikart / Marnie and Trig MARNIE AND ME SHOVED A HIDE-A-BED UP under the tracks and slept there side by side all summer. Nights were hot and we always heard rats scrabbling around in the gravel. We were on our way to Seattle. For money, we’d sit downtown by the Hancock building with a little cardboard sign that said, “Please help! Outta booze money! Hey, at least we’re being honest…” I guess it’s ironic that we weren’t actually being honest. Yeah we drank some—who wouldn’t if they were us—but we really were trying to get to Seattle, me and her. Around the end of September, when the weather took a turn for the worse, a turn that lasted until mid-May in Chicago, Marnie said, “Hey Trig, we better get gettin’, you know? It’ll turn us into popsicles out here.” We counted up what we’d stashed, but it was only enough for one bus ticket to the West Coast. “Where’s the rest of it?” she said. “That’s it, Marnie.” “Can’t be. We’ve been here way longer than…,” her flipping through the soft, creased bills, “two hundred fifty.” “We had to eat.” “Still.” We both got pretty quiet. We sat on our hide-a-bed and passed a cigarette back and forth and listened to the el zoom overhead. When it went by, everything shook. I could clench my jaw really hard until my teeth nearly busted against each other and still they’d rattle. Eventually Marnie said, “Which one of us is going then?” 20

“Neither of us,” I said, “We stay until we get enough for two tickets. That’s all.” “Trig,” she said, “If it took us four months to get enough for one bus ticket, we’ll freeze to death before we get enough for two.” “So we’ll go to the shelters. Not forever.” “I’m not going to any shelter, Trig. I’m going to Seattle.” When I woke up in the morning, Marnie wasn’t there next to me. I thought maybe she’d gone to find us some breakfast, but when she didn’t come back after a couple of hours, I started to get worried. I asked around at all the places we went—the soup kitchen, the park—but nobody’d seen her. I even thought about filing a missing persons report, but I figured if I even got close to a police station, they’d lock me up. Look at me. Then I had this thought: She was probably halfway through Montana by now. I checked, and our stash was gone too. That night I did get drunk. Real drunk. And said that Marnie was a bitch and fuck that bitch and by the time I passed out on the hide-a-bed I swore I’d cut her throat if I ever saw her again. But in the morning, there she was. Asleep beside me. Her hands were clutching each other, bundled in front of her chest like little animal paws. “Hey,” I said and shook her, “Where the hell have you been?” She opened her eyes and blinked at me. “I thought—” I started. “Thought I left without you, Trig?”


Then she reached into her shirt, pulled out a couple of Greyhound tickets—and some cash—and shoved them into my hand, then closed her eyes again. “Marnie, how’d you get these?” “Turning tricks.” I propped myself up on an elbow. “What? Marnie, what?” She opened her eyes and for a long time just stared at me. “Hush up,” she finally said, “I need to get some sleep.”


Paul Luikart / Mini-Tramp ABOUT TEN THIRTY, THE DOORBELL RANG. The kids were in bed, so I did a little run on my tip-toes to the door before whoever it was could ring again. I was picturing some wayfarer, out of gas on the state highway that winds past our woods. Or maybe it was just teenagers with a flaming bag of crap. Neither. It was Jeff. He was holding one of those miniature trampolines. Jeff lived across from us. His house was set further back from the road than ours. His front yard was a grove of maple trees, and back up there by his garage he had a car, some old beater, all tarped up. Jeff lived alone—a real odd guy. Once, I saw him raking leaves, only he wasn’t raking them. He was picking them up one at a time and placing them in his trashcan. Another time, a Saturday afternoon, he laid out about fifty empty suitcases on his driveway and then hosed them down. Megan, my wife, thinks he has autism. “What’s that?” I asked. “This mental thing. Or else OCD.” “Is that the one where you can’t stop washing your hands?” “That’s part of it. But sometimes you collect things too. Tons of things. Sometimes it goes all the way up the walls. You have to sleep on top of your stuff.” I believed her. Why not? Megan is an elementary school teacher so I figured she at least kind of gets people. Anyway, Jeff’s stubby beard shimmered with sweat. He was smiling and he held that mini-tramp like he was afraid it would boing away. 23

“A little late, isn’t it Jeff?” I said. “I found this,” he said. “Oh. Well, you can do jumping jacks on one of those. I’ve seen where people strap weights to their—” “I don’t have any weights.” “Well—” “It was near your yard.” He pointed toward the side of our house. “I wonder what it was doing there,” I said, “It’s not mine.” “It’s mine.” “Oh. So when you say you found it, you mean you found it a while ago and it was just…it just got out there somehow, huh?” I let my hands slide into my pockets. “I just found it. Right now.” “I see.” I didn’t see, not really. That mini-tramp was important though. I saw that. “It’s nice,” I said, “Maybe me and Megan could borrow it someday.” “No.” “Alright. Okay.” “You can borrow my lawnmower.” A little more staring, a little more silence and then we both said good night. I shut the door quietly. Megan, sitting at the kitchen table, looked up from her lesson plans. “Who was that?” “Just Jeff.” “Everything okay?” “He says I can borrow his mower.” “That’s why he came over at ten thirty at night?” 24

I sat down across from her. “Nope. He found a trampoline, one of those little ones.” “What the hell?” she said through a roll of laughter. “Well, you know how people like to share good news.” I couldn’t sleep that night. We were keeping the AC off to save on the electric bill. The windows were up. I’d thrown off the sheets. Beside me, Megan puttered and purred and smacked her lips. But then, another sound. Maybe it had been there the whole time and I’d only just noticed it—flubcreek!—I stood, stepped to the window, and leaned on the sash. Once my eyes adjusted, I saw Jeff. In his front yard. Bouncing.


Daniel Romo / Action You’re caught in a Spaghetti Western. I’ve been sent to save you; designated deputy for the day. When you first swung into the saloon the bartender hissed, This is no place for a lady. You rolled into town in taffeta on a tumbleweed, and developed a taste for fire in cheap tequila. But you became one of the bad guys and got burned. The outlaws found out I’m a fake and want me dead. There’s a too-small ten gallon hat and hundred dollar bounty on my head. My five o’clock shadow is drawn on. My chaps are chafing body parts they shouldn’t be. But this movie isn’t about me. I’m not the one tied up. Squirming on train tracks. A frantic piano playing in the back. A locomotive gaining steam.


Leesa Cross-Smith / Sketches of a Story about Death MY MOM LET ME WEAR ROLLER SKATES to my uncle’s wake. She carried me and my feet dangled there past her hips, the wheels, glitter-red and heavy. I wouldn’t look at him. I pushed my face into my mom’s neck and closed my eyes because I was seven or eight. Or maybe I was six. What matters is my mom let me wear my skates. What matters is my uncle wouldn’t stop doing drugs. And one night he got so wasted, he passed out on the railroad tracks and his friends left him there. Because there are people who will leave you on the railroad tracks and there are people who would never do something like that. Not to a friend, not to a stranger, not to an animal, not to a leaf. When my grandma died, I was sad because my mom was sad. My dad bought me a cheeseburger on the way back from the funeral home. For some time after, cheeseburgers wrapped in pale orange paper reminded me of funerals. I stopped eating cheeseburgers but that wasn’t why. I can’t remember why. Maybe that was why. I didn’t know my grandma very well and she ignored me most of the time. But I remember when her dog bit her and she cried on the phone. She was wearing a red leather jacket. What matters is she was the only one who could get me to eat eggs because she put cheese in them and I didn’t even know they were eggs.


When my grandpa died, I was too young to remember. What matters is people tell me he was crazy about me. What matters is he had a big pickup truck, gold like bourbon. You can die when you’re in your early fifties because you work too hard and you don’t take care of yourself and you don’t stand up for yourself or teach your children the right things or learn the right things. When my grandma died, I was sad because I look just like her. And she liked to recite poetry from memory. Lines and lines and lines as she looked out of the car window. We would drive from home to Alabama. From Alabama back home. What matters is when she went to Detroit we’d go pick her up from the bus station and my dad would give me quarters so I could watch the little black and white TV they had bolted to the seat. And when the time was up, the TV would go off automatically. It scared me every time. What matters is I miss my grandma and how she had those poems memorized and how she’d look out of the car window and how she always wore navy blue skirts. When my grandpa died, my dad found him. I remember sitting in his garage with the door open when it was raining. And the time he put a fish sandwich in the kitchen drawer. What matters is one night my dad and I found him wandering the streets and he said the moon was chasing him. And the time when he pulled out a shotgun and shot through the ceiling, my brother cried. What matters is when they buried my grandpa, the ground was frozen. Too frozen. It took them a long time to dig the hole.


What matters is that you talk to your kid and let them wear their skates to a funeral home and feed them and realize they get sad when you get sad. What matters is that the moon is chasing us all.


Diane Lockward / For the Love of Avocados I sent him from home hardly more than a child. Years later, he came back loving avocados. In the distant kitchen where he’d flipped burgers and tossed salads, he’d mastered how to prepare the pear-shaped fruit. He took a knife and plied his way into the thick skin with a bravado and gentleness I’d never seen in him. He nudged the halves apart, grabbed a teaspoon and carefully eased out the heart, holding it as if it were fragile. He took one half, then the other of the armadillohided fruit and slid his spoon where flesh edged against skin, working it under and around, sparing the edible pulp. An artist working at an easel, he filled the center holes with chopped tomatoes. The broken pieces, made whole again, merged into two reconstructed hearts, a delicate and rare surgery. My boy who’d gone away angry and wild had somehow learned how to unclose what had once been shut tight, how to urge out the stony heart and handle it with care. Beneath the rind he’d grown as tender and mild as that avocado, its rubies nestled in peridot, our forks slipping into the buttery texture of unfamiliar joy, two halves of what we shared.


Diane Lockward / Coloring Rose was the color of her cheeks, skin thin as sausage casing, so precise with her rouge as was the girl with her crayons, lined up in a box of symmetry, their lovely points to outline and color her trees, her mountains, and sun, until the hideous art teacher crept up beside her and with ringless fingers broke magenta, snapped it in half, and used the side of one piece to shadow and shade. It was a kind of beginning, to hate someone so deeply, someone who could break the beauty of magenta. Many times in the days after, she was offered crimson, scarlet, purple, but the spot inside her that had loved magenta— now a cistern of grief. Not ever in the years that followed would love be that fierce, never again the sun that intense.


Diane Lockward / The Instincts of a Dog Sometimes to sidestep an obligation or invitation, I say, I have to take the dog to the vet, though the dog’s been dead for twenty years and wasn’t even mine—it was my brother’s. I like the sound of those words—I have to take the dog to the vet. It’s what responsible, compassionate people say, the kind who go to wakes and parties, the kind who attend to a dog’s needs and don’t mind being seen walking with a bagful of turds. When I was a kid, a German shepherd named Freund attacked my little brother and bit his private parts. A passing milkman rescued him. He carried my brother home and dropped him off like a quart of milk. True, it was my brother the dog attacked, not me, but we had no dessert that night because my mother was hysterical and could not stop crying. She bought my brother a dachshund to help him get over his fear of dogs. That elongated mutt vomited worms on the furniture, peed all over the house, and sunk his teeth into my ankles when he walked between my brother and me. Even then I preferred to walk alone, dogless, and unaccosted as I did today, enjoying the greenery and yellow daffodils, the peace of my aloneness. I sat a while in the park and watched a small child with his mother. They stood by the lake preparing to launch a boat made of Popsicle sticks and Styrofoam, a blue cotton sail mounted to the top. The boy kneeled down and set his boat in the water, holding tight to a string. As the boat drifted farther and farther, he became afraid and dropped the string. His boat foundered and sunk, its blue sail waving good-bye, goodbye. The boy began to weep and howl.


It was the same sound my brother made the day the leash slipped out of his fingers and his dog disappeared, the same howling all that day and for many days after, his small hand in mine as we searched the neighborhood, his face red, his cries just that highpitched and desperate, his lungs gasping for air.


Diane Lockward / How I Dumped You I cast you off the way a cicada wiggles out of its husk, a vacated hotel on the bark of a tree. The way a snake moults, its skin somebody else’s belt now. Like the extraction of a bad molar, rotten at the root, and though the hole bled and required seven days of diarrhea-inducing antibiotics, it filled with a pearl. As a baby loses its first hair, the fuzz gathered like tufts of tumbleweed, the mother getting used to loss in small bites, I lost you hair by hair. Dropped you like a diseased branch ripped from a tree, broken in pieces, tinder into the fire. Quietly, like a bird feather, while I flew south without you, my wings flapping faster and faster, the feather an amulet, a talisman, a warning. I flicked you off like a flake of dandruff. Oh Christ! how you made me itch. I dug in and picked you out like a scab, opened the wound again and again. Yes, I am scarred. Because no patch could repair you, because no landfill could hold you, I dumped you like an old tire onto the highway. I violated a local ordinance and hurled you like a bagful of dog-doo onto someone else’s yard, tossed you like watermelon rind after a picnic, like a brown banana peel, like a used Kleenex, like a dead chipmunk. I scraped you from the sole of my sneaker like a wad of chewed-up gum. Deleted you from the dictionary, a dated word, obsolete and rootless. I’ll never need your name again. I became an oak and held to the bark like a cicada, my lacey wings grown hard as bone. I tossed you out like a peanut shell.


Samantha Stier / The Lovers’ Spat IT STARTS WITH SOMETHING SMALL. A comment, a reaction. A misplaced item. A miscommunication. An aberration in the path. It escalates quickly. A hot lash of emotion, a withdrawal, a grim mouth. Then a raised voice. Breath turns red. We play dirty. We are bringing up what we promised never to bring up again. Soon we are using our most advanced vocabularies to properly attack each other. Each sentence more cutting. The next could be the lethal slice. In the frosty kitchen, you recall my earlier statement, point out its fallacy. Later, in the bedroom, I accuse you of becoming victim to your own hypocritical theories. The narratives we weave, twist and turn, leaving dozens of loose plot lines and gaping holes; both of us are unreliable narrators. Outside on the patio, vocabularies are abandoned in favor of shouts and tears. Inside, after the cops have left, we are hushed whispers of hurt and despair. The wounds are still open, throbbing and vulnerable, and when we try to heal, we only cut them deeper. Little blades, reminders of what we said, lie all over the house. Finally, we sleep. In the dark quiet of the night, when the tears have turned my eyelashes crispy, I wonder why this is better, why I choose this, every day, just so I am not alone.


Samantha Stier / The Birds TWILIGHT SPREADS over the back lawn, and the pond lies low, round and flat as a silver dollar. He calls me back inside. I can’t tell you what comes next. When I’m in the yard alone, the silver dollar is my ocean; a patch of fallen leaves and twigs my ship. But the ship will never go too far. On some glorious nights he forgets to call, and I stay outside by myself late into the night. Mornings I watch him shoot the beautiful soaring birds and their corpses fall with tiny slaps into the pond. Later, when he has disappeared into a bottle, I collect the birds and bury them in warm dirt, whispering soft prayers. Tomorrow, he will be angry. I will look right into his eyes, see the devil there. I imagine that one day his body will slap into the silver dollar, a corpse with the birds.


Ace Boggess / The Dead Man that man is dead his outline chalked on asphalt he walked all those years around the prison yard his image baked into vapor his blood transfused by dust it’s too early to forget him & he’s forgotten his eyes like glittery UFOs his stink of mint & ashes he has flickered once & there he is no there! there! by the door with the wreath by the window wearing the sun an entire gleaming cathedral of new light


Robbie Maakestad / First Night in Jerusalem FROM THE AUSTRIAN HOSPICE’S TARPAPER ROOF, the surrounding sprawl of houses and buildings seem built on one another, crushing others to reach higher to the graying sky. In the narrow streets below, the Islamic Quarter bustles—young boys push delivery carts stacked with boxes, men scurry to mosque as the sun dips toward the horizon, merchants shout Habibi Habibi to tourists walking the Via Dolorosa, luring them into shops crowded with silk scarves, olivewood crucifixes, embroidered dresses, and camel-leather sandals. The fourth story roof offers sanctuary from the busyness—an oasis of solitude, shattered only by muffled sounds of swirling commotion. To the southeast, the Dome of the Rock’s shimmering gold veneer reflects the last glimmers of sunlight glinting over Mount Zion. The tan-stone aboveground graves on the Mount of Olives contrast the grandeur of Islam’s oldest building. The Tyropean Valley cuts the city like a wagon rut, the buildings piling up both sides of the slanted earthen grade. At the western slope’s peak, the thick square tower of the Church of the Redeemer points heavenward, a white projection against darkening sky. To the right, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre’s blue domes poke up from the city clutter like downturned ceramic bowls. A mosque somewhere to the south begins the call to prayer when the sun is fully blocked by Mount Zion. The faint droning of that singular adhan floats up through the cityscape. The keen is caught up by the muezzin of a mosque closer to the hospice, then by another, then another. The worshipful wail 38

spreads across the city as street lights flicker on in the growing darkness. The loudspeakers atop the mosque minaret directly across the street crackle to life. Soon, I am surrounded by a veritable beehive of sound—a gorgeously hideous cacophony.


Caitlin Johnson / Doxology Let this be my doxology, then: I see your face in my dreams sometimes, unaware it belongs to you. But I feel your touch in the morning: my first conscious inhalation came from you. And I remember the sensation in my chest then, the way my lungs swell even at rest, the joy of you.


Caitlin Johnson / Persephone You & I are sinners both. When you stole me, I knew: Hades the kidnapper, Persephone the willing. I should have scrambled away, scratched at your dark eyes until they bled. But no. I stayed. I will decay here at your side, & these white shoes won’t be satin anymore—silk threads worn away to nothing, exposing the leather underneath, the pure gnarled self.


Sam Rasnake / A not so Sonnet, with Tree and Swan — Warf-Pickel Hall, 4th floor, seminar room, cups of tea, worn copies of the Phaedo face-down on the table after the tree falls I cough the silence to a thimble I wear on my left index finger — after the tree falls there’s nothing left — after the tree I can’t decide which way is true north — after the tree falls mass speculation of does it make a sound or no if there’s no one — we discuss it for days never arriving at any one conclusion other than the many possibilities found in what is missing — after the tree falls or doesn’t fall one could say it has already fallen which explains so much about nothing making this a found poem — after the tree falls falling or fallen or not so depending on your school of thought we chop firewood for more winters than we have — maybe Plato got it wrong — the swan having held the song all its life refuses to sing but then the song doesn’t need a swan to sing — its ocean is silence


L. Ward Abel / She Is This morning was a pair of cool wet hands under east facing trees. Coffee overcame last night's wine. All I wanted was this. So I named it something I could remember, simple, true as a stare, as real as this paint brush.


J. Bradley / No More Poems about Unrequited Love We are restraining orders waiting to happen. The batteries in the boom box, the ink in the gnawed Bic pen, your chances died the moment they walked through the door. Your mother will never tell you: want is what powers lamps, gives perfume its linger, cleaves schooners. Want makes her name a mirror you think you can see yourself in, his name an open window. Want dresses as need, aims the crossbow.


J. Bradley / I Hear the Tiniest Sparks and the Tenderest Sounds Romantic movies never show the consequences of credit, what forever looks like when it begins underwater. Reality television gives it vodka. Cameras weep like a cracked nuclear reactor. The bachelor party comedy boils down the color of her bridesmaids’ dresses to the temperature of your wedding night and honeymoon; it panics when cerulean slithers down the aisle. You think the dragon is haggling over font, stationery, flowers, guest lists, wedding cakes, colors. You armor your liver against it all but the beast is in the pedestal, Mr. Darcy’s saddle, the cassette tape unspooling every promise you think you can keep.


J. Bradley / Yelp Review - Hard Rock Live, Orlando Everyone becomes the drowning man with enough persistence and patience. When you curl in the corner of the general admission section, your sleep builds islands. You will sweat the names of what will inhabit them. You will not remember how you offered your teeth to pluck string or puncture ear drum enough to make Hitchcock envious of your spiral.


Catfish McDaris / River of Whiskey A curse hung in my ear. I got the bottle, poured myself a drink, lit a cigarette. It didn’t make sense. Some lady wanted to play, to know something about my business. Whiskey calmed my nerves. I was half asleep, dreaming about giant catfish in the river. …my mother tells me some are so big alligators leave them alone. I catch one—Its head is the size of a man’s torso, I shout, but Mother must not be able to hear. The catfish keeps trying to dive, and when I let it go, I’m crying… I picked up the receiver. “Hello?” The accent wasn’t French exactly. “I am calling you about a problem.” Enunciating each syllable, “Who in the hell is this?”


John Brantingham / This Spot on Earth is All that Really Matters I woke up fuzzy this morning, and nearly asked you if you remember the time when we were kids and you dropped an ice cube down the back of my shirt, and I would have been angry, but it was you, and I liked the way you laughed, and the valley heat was oppressing us anyway, and I knew I’d be able to get you back, and you were starting an all-day thing, and we’d have each other laughing right into the evening. And just when I was going to ask, I remembered that wasn’t you. I mean it could’ve been. I would have loved it if it had been you, but it just wasn’t. And that made me think of another time when we were in high school, and I sidled up shyly, awkwardly and asked my question, and your smile answered me before you spoke, that smile burning its way into me, and it would have been a great memory we both shared except you and I met in college, and besides, we went to high school at different times, and me asking you out then would have just been weird. And so I think I’ll just ask you if you remember when I was discharged from the Army and you met me at the airport and threw yourself into my arms, we kissed to the cheers of all my buddies, who knew I needed you, who were happy I was finally home, finally ready to get a plot of land to farm on, that I would finally find peace with you and our whole life in Iowa. And that’s another person who wasn’t you, and come to think of it, it wasn’t me either, but it might as well have been. It was two people just like us except for the fact that neither one of us knows how to farm, but that’s all right. In this dream world, you and I work the farm and make bread or milk cows or whatever it is that people dream about doing on that version of Earthly paradise. Me, I spend all day bringing in the spaghetti harvest and 48

tending to the potato trees, smiling the whole time because I know that when I come back at the end of the night, you’ll be there having just finished canning the cornbread and teaching the chickens to hunt. You’ll be there waiting for me, and we’ll be able to live in this world free from the war that tore us apart and taught us that this spot on Earth is all that really matters.


Ken Hada / Like Hawks above Sage Something about a prairie makes you want to follow, flying low like hawks above sage, scattered stalks of bluestem renegade in late October, too stubborn to die easy, too tough to be anything else. The wind has ended. Calm covers like glass, the world a museum. I would pay twice to soar once again; I would pay double to see from a hawk’s eye cruising, regal, sovereign, peerless.


Jeffrey Alfier / Cantilena for Barstow I’m never sure why I come to these deserts. Last night in another floundering bar, one more man called one more woman a soulless bitch, sparking a backslap of flying alcohol that made men look away. Today a white butterfly fell into my coffee while a radio voice sang there’d be lightning in her fists for a man fool enough to show at her door. I was sufficiently blue inside to believe it meant the end of grace. The motel room I took tonight was so quiet I heard a young couple through walls thin as the lace she wore for him, while all I have is the musk of faded wildflowers ghosting a cracked vase, Venice painted badly on the wall. The couple’s whispers turn to passion. Radio Zion flutters in static on my nightstand. Spanish praises God for numbering all the hairs on all our heads. We creatures strayed from Heaven, who, at mindless hours, waken and shut our eyes.


Jeffrey Alfier / The Problem with Sunday Morning at the Atomic Inn I knew you couldn’t guess who this number was on your caller ID, but no, I don’t know where my cellphone is. Thank God Nevada still believes in payphones. Well her name was Stephanie if that’s important which it’s not and we’d just ambled separate ways after that piss-water dive that fancies itself a western saloon, not wanting anything beyond dull words in a dull town. I mean, it could have been the way her red or brown or just dirty blonde hair framed nothing but a kind face. I didn’t dwell on it and she ain’t here now. I swear I already forgot her and how she misnamed every damned song on the jukebox even the one we danced one lousy dance to and never got familiar beyond those questions never meant to go anywhere, like ‘So what in the world are you doing this far west’ – Yes, this very place, where I now have to ask you to never hang up on me again, your silence on the other end like a hotel fire raging at every exit.


Rose Maria Woodson / Snow in the hourglass time doesn’t fall it melts the full moon melts into loon lake you can’t see where one ends the other begins trembling cries bend night beautifully as fireflies spark dark doors & breath sweet saps its own rhythm in a cathedral of ribs & wildgrass feathered fans stirring the air as though we were in a hot holy place beneath vaulted trees moonflowers baptize we rise infused grace at once stars pressed against a window winter night 53

Rose Maria Woodson / The Comet in ICU The color of the world bleeds out here. The flaming fall canopy along Thatcher Road, each leaf flickering, on fire above the rush hour ribbon honking steel. Gone. The intoxicating lavender fields we found by the wide grace of a wrong turn that day. Gone. Honeyed elegance of the golden retriever sleeping at our feet as the summer sun soothed the world. Gone. A dagger of fate & the world hemorrhages. We hang about, brooding bottles on an old southern tree. What spirits vigilance forestalls is anyone’s guess. Still, we migrate to your bedside, carry twigs of good old days. A taste of salt nests on our tongues. Lost in a season of glass, everything shatters. We shrink to knickknacks, this close to the edge. I sink in a chair in the corner, back to the sun. You linger on some shore beyond the scrubbed room & shiny needles, leaving me alone with floundering words, sorry little fish lost in some current inside, always changing, always the same, 54

like clouds, stars, like women who come each day to a marketplace, fan rainbow skirts & orchid sun about them, hang pretty parched necklaces, overpriced & priceless, all the time posing for tourists who will depart in one dusty hour. We are all leaving, like moths, this close to incandescent truth. A flash. A shimmering door closes. I am not ready to see you, burning brightly, slip into eternity, drip by drip.


Jonathan Treadway / They Bring Along At night my slobbering angels go marauding through my room, put a dunce cap on my head, steal my good ink pens, break all my favorite records, leave dead robins under my pillow. They speak of old pulpits and devil dodger preachers, of ships long forsaken. They speak of tales with short autumns, of empty crowds of blood in Kentucky sink holes, of sad waitresses with eternal hellhound winks, of false horizons, of getting lost on gravel roads in the Mississippi delta. My angels speak of secondhand, one night stands, of charitable loneliness and expired lovers. They bring along skeleton Nashville troubadours with lost galaxy songs. They bring along chorus lust lips and walking skin coffins. They bring along painted gospel backsliding dogs with music boxes hanging from their bellies to keep watch over me until a polished hard shell morning digs itself in.


Jonathan Treadway / Heathens A wink with the power of nylon legs At closing time. A deep fried redemption, Unlocked with lead foot tongues, Color tattoos, and laugh lines. She smiles, Spiritual pale skin, Hitchhiking dreams And impulsive temptations. Daughter of Saint Mary. Tears and taxidermy love. Louisville brimstone darlin’. She told me her real name was Karma, with a Mutual affection For scratchy old blues records, Lenny Bruce, and other comedians Who talked dirty before it was cool. The Sunday morning Shoeshine light soon found us, And we were both Just heathens of loneliness With TV crosses in our short-timer eyes.


Jonathan Treadway / July 2009 Golden ghost land USA, summer shaker haze. Hot tread wheels desire cutting through rawboned dust ocean route of desert. Deep long vein unfolding crooked oil spotted mystery sanctuary without walls. Open road stars new window of earth showing a little leg. 2,000 loose drunk handshake miles behind us. Driving to exist. Gun powder in the air. My brother and I speaking with unmuzzeled Kentucky tongues in California. We end up on the road where James Dean met eternity, and I hear honeysuckle love songs playing in the dull hotel of mind. My brother turns and says God has a rusty switchblade across his throat. So we swerve and head to Vegas.


Carolyn Martin / The Long Trip Here Think of the long trip home. Should we have stayed at home and thought of here? Elizabeth Bishop, “Questions of Travel” It’s on infinity, she says, fiddling with the Canon’s lens. I hold my tongue. This camera’s eye can’t catch those skulking skies above the mountain’s folds or herds of saguaro stretching miles below. Better close-ups of prickly pear or cholla teddybear or rabbits in mesquite. Contrasts are clearer closer in, I almost say, but today is hers to frame. I’ve no thirst for being right when pincushions hint of spring and we have tamed traveling to see what’s now to see. We’ve ditched the urgency to say we’ve been— the proof in earrings, T-shirts, sandy boots. Only this today, this beauty painful in its breadth and height. This standing still— content that hummingbirds need spider webs to fix their nests and three-year saguaros grow a meek one-inch. We used to pass them by. Now no rush to see what guides insist. She takes her time framing shots; I search out poetry. The breeze-cooled sun plays on my face … the sharpness of a barrel’s spikes … to write of deserts, one must be … . But then she shouts me back to check the reddish blur against the sky. Can you crop this closer in?


Her patient luck has caught two red-tailed hawks spiraling to earth. A mating dive? A date with death? Embrace or slash? Who knows? The answer lies beyond our scope. Perplexed, she stores her shot, then off to search again. ‌ one must be ‌ what? I ask my waiting poem. Could we have thought of here if we stayed at home?


H.L. Nelson / All the Shiny Things Fall Me - harried mom, hurriedly soaping in the tub, before demands of motherhood take over and make my needs a dream. My son precocious three-year-old, padding in on sleep-drunk feet, before demands of career and family make him a man. He toys with the shower curtain, rolls and unrolls it, tries to amuse me. Our curtain - bought at Target for $29.99, featuring sequined, entwined infinity loops in rows, was made in a factory with machines in rows, workers stitching separate sequins, missing their three-year-olds who stay with extended family, their own baths hung in utilitarian cotton, or nothing at all. I tell my son, “Careful, all the shiny things fall.” He unrolls it gently, now regarding the curtain as a new thing, a precious thing mommy will be mad about, if marred. He pokes the sparkling shinies, says, “Pretty.” This same curtain six months later, a nuisance on the curb, while a plain, new one comes from Amazon. The older one’s sequins shed on the sidewalk and lawn, and later, a little girl skipping past finds them sprinkled, fills with wonder, believes fairies have been twirling there for her.


Angela Cardinale Bartlett / An Element of Your Condition I LOVE YOU, I SAY, AND YOU SAY I LOVE YOU, TOO. You stare at shadows or reflections or your iPad, and the structure of your words is hollow. You place your tiny, perfect hand on top of mine, all scarred and veiny. Your bones are so small. I examine them in those seconds, the rippling movements beneath the skin. They remind me of the hummingbird skeletons we saw through glass at the nature preserve in Austin this summer. I could snap them. You are so small for your age. The man at the electronics store today thought you were two years younger. He told me a story about a woman on the news who didn’t feed her toddler. As he spoke, he watched my face. I tickle you and you roar into my ear. It is too loud, almost painful, but your breath is hot against my skin. When you hug me, you turn away, all vertabrae and elbows. An element of your condition is your discomfort with touching, and being touched. Your eyes are cartoonishly large, beautiful, deep gray blue ocean, and they are always fixed elsewhere. But I am your mother and I want to drink you in. There were years lost when you would scream and cover your ears if my fork made even a tiny clink against my plate. You banged your head against hard floors, slapped your own tear-carved cheeks, compulsively opened and closed doors, flipped light switches on and off. You couldn’t stand photographs. You couldn’t say mommy. But none of that mattered as much as when you screeched, like an injured, angry animal, every time I tried to touch you. I knew not to take it personally. I couldn’t help it. 62

You are doing better. You are only six. I want desperately to see the future. You are obsessed with yellow, so I try to picture you living in a yellow house, driving a yellow car. I can’t imagine very long. I can only see your round face, your full lips, those enormous eyes, the face of a little boy. Soon, the questions invade. Will you be able to live alone? Will you be able to go to college? Will you be able to have a job? Will you have a partner? Will you have children? Will you have friends? Will you continue to rage and scream? I try and put them away. I count the ways in which everything has improved. One thing at a time, everyone tells you. One thing at a time, I say. It has been three years since your diagnosis. You have been instructed to tell me you love me. You have been taught to allow me to touch you. Sometimes it feels real. Sometimes I believe you. But I am not so different from any other parent. I always want more and more and more and more and more.


Angela Cardinale Bartlett / The Big A “BY THE WAY,” MY FATHER SAID on the phone this morning, “Diegolina died a few days ago.” He dropped it in casually, after detailing his weekend. He’d gone snowshoeing for the first time, with his girlfriend. He and my stepmother have been divorced for several years now, and Diegolina was my stepmother’s mother. I had been taught to call her Abuela. My father called her The Big A, made her a joke. She never thought that was funny. Abuela had a hard life. She dropped out in elementary school, sold tamales wrapped in banana leaves on the street. Her home was a collection of tar paper and tin shacks. She cooked food over a fire in the dirt. She had seven children. Her husband was a drunk who beat her constantly and, once, tried to force her to drink poison as my stepmother watched. He hit her in the face with a belt buckle, and, as a result, she was nearly blind in one eye. Abuela lived with us for weeks here and there throughout my childhood. Ay dios mio, she used to say, all of the time, stereotypically. She watched telenovelas endlessly, the loud music and dramatic exclamations bouncing through the house. She cooked a red soup with chunks of shark meat floating in it, homemade corn tortillas. She cried for hours and hours. She told me I was fat. She told me my stepmother betrayed her country when she became a citizen. “Angie, Angie,” she called me. I bent to embrace her tiny frame, as I was required to do, and she’d cup my face and kiss my cheek with feathery lips. Her brown skin felt cool, and smooth, like wax. She smelled like flowers, and something else, something bad. I was expected to love this virtual


stranger, whom I first met when I was 8, and whom I saw in short, sporadic bursts. I did not make an effort to know her. I am ashamed to say that mostly, she annoyed me. I was a selfish teenager, and she sighed and criticized constantly. She took up a bedroom, and I had to share a bed with my sister. She spent what seemed like hours in the bathroom. My stepmother was even meaner than she usually was with Abuela around. I didn’t have the patience for it. My junior year of high school, she got sick, and I had to take over her job for no pay at the Wishy Washy Laundromat. Abuela was sick a lot–she had diabetes and gall bladder problems and severe depression. I was in high school at the time, and for weeks, I stayed up into the early morning hours, scraping hair and gum from the wheels of the laundry carts, sopping up strangers’ scum. When I wasn’t annoyed with her, I made fun of her. I have a photograph of her wearing a black t-shirt featuring a huge, fluorescent green marijuana leaf. It says, “This bud’s for you.” She had no idea what she was wearing. She poses for the photograph, stony-faced, somewhere in San Bernardino. None of my stepmother’s Mexican family smiled in photographs. It was only after she lived here for several years that my stepmom began to smile. When you think about it, the constant smiling is goofy, for people who don’t know true suffering, who expect everything to work out. For Americans. It was cruel of me to make her into a joke. I make jokes all of the time, about everything, even when I shouldn’t. I didn’t want to deal with the guilt of knowing about her life and the lives of all of her family back in Mexico. Were they my family too? Who was she to me? Who were they? My stepmother didn’t 65

seem to care, then, or now. Abuela was sick in a hospital in Mexico for a while, and my stepmother didn’t visit. Her family will call her for money, and she will send it, like she always does, and she will do so begrudgingly. She will not go there to face all of those hungry and angry faces, all of the chaos that will surely result from this death. Once, when I was maybe sixteen years old, Abuela sang a birthday song to me in Spanish, in front of my family and a few of my friends. She had tears in her eyes. I know it took a lot of courage. I didn’t love her, but sometimes I think she loved me.


Linda Blaskey / Looking West Toward the Ozarks My bones are losing calcium. This is how it will end I think— bones thinning to chalk— Chalk is calcium carbonate. On the sandstone bluffs above the Buffalo River I will use chalk to write my life in glyphs— one for mountain one for father one for hearth one for leaving This is how it will end I think— the rain will finally come, words from bone will wash away. My sons will lose the path home.


Linda Blaskey / How Love Works Maybe it was because he was so thin something in her stirred. Or maybe it was the way he held the word macrobiotic in his mouth, sweet, like a child’s will hold a Tootsie Pop. He fed her brown rice and said chew each grain a hundred times before you swallow. He said help yourself to whatever I have. Maybe it was the offer. Or was it his toed-out stance in front of the sink, how his shoulder blades worked under his shirt as he washed dishes? Or was it the defined tendons of his bare feet. Who knows? The year of Woodstock he gave her wool socks for Christmas. For warmth, he said. Even when they’re wet they will hold warmth. During the Summer of Love he read to her from Beagle’s The Last Unicorn under a sugar maple on the banks of the Wissahickon. After that she was blind for a while then later learned that maples are slow growers and it is optimistic to plant one in the yard; that a grain chewed even a thousand times turns to vinegar; that wool, when wet, opens its weave to evaporation.


Linda Blaskey / Detritus You’ve left your dishes on the counter for me to clean up again. I haven’t put the lid on the peanut butter jar in the right way. Your socks are everywhere and I wish you’d shave on the weekends. I’ve left the car low on gas, and isn’t it my turn to feed the damn cats? We’ve been bickering for days and I want to flee to higher ground, like I fled the carcass of the dead dog washed ashore by last night’s spring tide. The body was skeletal, the limbs and metatarsals contracted but the head was intact, still covered in hide, lips pulled back in a snarl as if fighting to the end.


Jamie L. Moore / Have Mercy, Hold On MISS ETTA HANDED ME THE TINY COFFIN, no bigger than a shoebox. It was made of pine and painted blue. She bought it to hold her recipe cards in the kitchen. Johnny came over last night to take the hinges off of it, and nail the top down. Miss Etta didn’t want me to watch. She guided me back to the guest room she had graciously offered me when I was pushed out by my own family. I waited until I could no longer hear her shuffled steps and then snuck back downstairs. I looked on quietly, hiding in the hallway. I watched Miss Etta gently lift the wrapped baby bundle and place it in the box. As Etta held the lid, Johnny tapped a thin, shiny nail into each corner. After bringing us to the cemetery, Miss Etta told Johnny to drive around for a while. This was woman’s work, she said, and I was relieved when he finally agreed to go. I’d kept it together as he paraded me around, his illegitimate woman. Four months was a long time to keep a secret, but I didn’t want to lose him. Only Miss Etta, his auntie and caretaker, had done the math to realize what was wrong. A man can be tricked, but never an old woman. Miss Etta led me over to the far corner of the field through a maze of inlaid stones. We stood in a small patch of weeds. Miss Etta huffed as she lowered to her knees, pulling up her flowered house dress to keep it off the grass. I watched as she snatched up plants to reveal a small unmarked stone. She reached up for my arm, her long, dark fingers wrapping around my wrist. 70

Her rounded fingernails left crescent imprints on my inner arm like a bite. “When I first came to live here,” she started, “I was still young enough to be carrying a child. I was on the run from a man who cursed me with his seed. Maybe it was because I was so resentful that God took that baby from me. He was born too early, with the cord wrapped around him tight. He left this world before he had of breath of its air. I buried my son right here, hidden from everyone else. I never gave him a name.” Miss Etta pulled out the small garden shovel she carried with her for this trip. She dug right next to the stone of her own child, sharp stabs clinking against the stones that surfaced with the dirt. She kept her eyes down, but her face was pulled tight at the center, furrowed between the brow and lips. “I know you’re like me,” she said. She stuck the pointed end of the shovel in the ground and left it. “You were carrying something past, weren’t you?” That man. He placed one hand on my collarbone, close enough to my neck to make me twitch. “Don’t move,” he said, his voice heavy. I felt his calloused thumb brush the skin above my underwear. I pushed at his chest, a solid wall of body. When I jabbed with my knee, he pinned my leg down, his shin to my thigh. He unbuckled his pants. The inside of my eyelids went white with the first rush of pain. Sweat dropped from his chin to the bridge of my nose, sliding backwards along my forehead. I touched my face, the only part that still felt connected to me. I held my hands there, the last part left of me: two eyes, a nose, cheekbones, lips. 71

Miss Etta took my hand. “Sometimes a death is a freedom, sad as it may be.” Before standing up, she kissed her fingertips and lightly touched the spot where her no-name baby lay. She sighed at the creaking of her joints, and motioned towards the hole in ground. “Now, it’s for you to finish,” she said, walking back towards the front gate. I knelt down, patting the dirt inside the grave as if to check its sturdiness. As I placed the box among the dirt, I felt a slice of pain in my abdomen, an echo of the cramps that pulled the baby out of me. When the pain came, I saw waves of color as I closed my eyes and cringed: lines of orange and red; sometimes a shock of blue. Miss Etta's voice was a chant, half to me, half to God. Have mercy, hold on. She rolled up her sleeves and asked me to lean back so she could look. She checked me with careful fingers, prodding where I was swollen and tender. My voice struggled. “I’m not ready.” “We’re never ready,” she said, “I figure this is going to happen fast.” The next pain I had, she said Push and I did, both from instinct and instruction. It was only minutes but the pain passed like hours. It slipped out of me in a big rush of water and dark blood. I looked down even though it seemed like I wasn’t supposed to. I could just barely make out its still webbed fingers and toes forming beneath the translucent skin. I couldn’t hear a breath. No cry, no movement. She told me I had to push again, 72

to release everything in me that the baby had been swimming in. I sat there watching my life pool at my feet. I was dead. I was alive. Grains of dirt packed under my fingernails as I pressed down and down and down again, packing it hard and perfect. The box, my baby, now invisible. I wondered why freedom felt so heavy—wasn’t it supposed to feel like flying? I found a few heavy stones to mark the place, some dandelions in lieu of flowers. Miss Etta was waiting for me.


Glenn Blakeslee / Homestead THE TURNOFF is just a little ahead, on the left. Think you could live out here? I don’t mean in one of the little cities out here, like Inyokern or Ridgecrest or, yeah, Mojave, where people congregate and try to maintain their dusty tract homes and keep their green yards green, and hope and pray that a Vons comes to their neighborhood soon. I’m talking about out here, out there, in the middle of all that sagebrush. No, I couldn’t either. My Dad did, of course, that’s where we're going. He retired out here, believe it or not, from the Merchant Marines. He spent all his life on the sea and then he traded it in for all... this. Sagebrush as far as you can see, and the winds blow like this all the time. In the depths of winter there’s snow, a lot of it but it melts fast, and then the flash floods and the mud. See up there, on my right? See that mountain range? That’s Sand Mountain. See where it dips down there, near the end? There’s a tunnel there. Some guy, retired from the Navy, spent twenty years of his life digging a tunnel to nowhere through a mountain. Yeah. I guess that’s how they are. My Dad couldn’t take living in a tract house. He didn’t have a need for neighbors that he couldn’t choose, didn’t want to live in a place where you couldn’t see the horizon for buildings. He and a friend, Don, bought eighty acres of this land, out here in the middle of nowhere, and he slapped a trailer on it and he called it home. I think it’s only another mile or so. 74

No, it wasn’t just a trailer. There wasn’t any water, so he and Don drilled a hole in the top of the aqueduct, and they used an old flatbed truck with no brakes to haul water back to their land. He’d pump the water up to a tank on a tower and that way they’d have flush toilets and faucets and showers, and water for the trees. Under the tower, because they didn’t have electricity, he built a generator shack and he had a couple of wind turbines to help charge the batteries. Okay, there it is. Right there. Pull in right there. Stop for a second. Yeah, there are a few people out here. There are bike trails all through here, and all along the base of those mountains where the aqueduct runs. A lot of the bikers were friends of his, they’d come out here riding and then later take the family out to see old Chuck, the Desert Rat. The bikers would come by, the cowboys out here with herds would come by, and people from town would come out to see him too. My cousins practically lived here. Go ahead and drive up out of the wash. They were people he could choose, that he thought he could choose, instead of being just people he saw. They came out here to see him. They’d drink beer and tell BS stories. We’d come out here and do anything. We’d ride the bikes and the ATC’s, and shoot guns right there in the arroyo. For a while my cousins would come out here just to blow things up. We’d sit around a campfire at night and drink more beer, and we’d catch these little mice with puffballs on the ends of their tails. And the stars would shine like you’ve never seen. The road’s a little washed out here on the hill, but then it’s straight on and flat. Over there, see that rock column? That’s 75

Robber’s Roost. There’s a bunch of treasure legends about that place, but no one’s ever really found anything that I know of. Now it’s a bird of prey sanctuary. Dad had a bunch of lean crazy dogs, and we’d drive up into the foothills there with the dogs running behind, and he’d show us hidden springs and streams, and we’d pick up arrow heads right out of the dust. He made friends with the wildlife, like the raven that would sit on his shoulder, the one that flew into the turbine one windy afternoon. Well, yeah, he always had his bottle. He always drank. He and I didn’t always... well... hardly ever got along. Everybody else was his friend though, whether they were good friends or not. He picked up a hitchhiker one time, and the guy stole his truck and drove it out into the desert with the cops chasing behind. Once they’d shot and arrested the guy they found a whole arsenal with him, in a bag. Dad trusted everybody, like me he had to learn the hard way. That’s a nice little pool there. Must be left over from the rain. Hey! Look at that jackrabbit! He was huge! Slow down a bit. This was his view. He could see this from the big picture window at the end of his trailer. The sun going down behind the mountains, the long shadows lying across the valley floor, those mountains rugged like they were sculptured. It never really changes, it’s the same mountains every day, year after year. But it does change, I guess, the seasons and the wind push the sand around, rocks grow from the dirt like they’re alive, and it’s teeming with the movement of wildlife, like that jack we just saw. The bushes sway with the wind, they undulate like the sea—the sea that he’d left behind and then come home to, I guess. 76

Yeah, go ahead. And the wildflowers! And the smell of sage after the rain. See that line along the foot of the mountains? That’s the aqueduct. We should be able to see the tower soon. One night when it was really cold—I think around Christmas, there was snow on the ground—Dad was running his generator, the one under the tower, and the thing caught on fire. Don saw the fire from his place a half-mile away, and came running over to help. It was a really fierce fire, so hot that it melted the aluminum aircraft tank that sat on top of the tower to hold the water. The water rushed into steam and misted away without putting out the fire, and Dad thought that the fire would spread to the trailer, but it didn’t. While helping to put out the fire Dad’s friend Don had a heart attack, and he died that night. There’s the tower, see it over the brush? After Don died Dad kind of went downhill, it got harder for him to take care of himself. We’d come up here a lot more, to try to take care of him. But it was hard. This was his dream, his home. He thought he could come out here and live, out here in the middle of nowhere. He thought he could make his place, and make it endure, with green trees and water and electricity. But the desert endures in its own way. Yeah, turn on that little road. Two years after he died I dropped his ashes from a Cessna 150. My sister, Lisa, was here on the ground, and she said it was calm and hot and there was no wind. When she saw the ashes drop, she said she felt a sudden wind blow across the sage, and through and around the trailers and the carport and the things left 77

behind. She said the wind had a voice like a low buzzing hum and, though it didn't speak to her, she said that when she felt the wind she knew that Dad was back home. Okay. This is it. We’re here. Oh, no. Since I was here last, someone’s broken every window in the trailer, see? And there, it looks like someone's been ripping off the aluminum siding. The carport’s collapsed, yeah, and someone has pulled off the side of the little trailer, and pulled out its cabinets and sink and everything. People got no respect. Yeah, I’m all right. It’s like any other desert dream. You’ve seen them before, the leaning shack on the side of the road, the stone fireplace standing alone in the brush, the cafe sign on a road that leads to nowhere. We can only take so much, we can only live for so long, and then everything collapses. Dust to dust, right? We leave parts of ourselves behind but the parts... they only last for a while, too. They're only buildings, after all. They’re only a framework to hold us while we live and breathe and love. It was the desert he loved, and the desert endures. Can you feel the wind?


Dennis Mahagin / The Tumbleweed Suite a tumbleweed resembles some humans I have known, none without substance-- only blown blown blown . * Because a tumbleweed will kill to have its dust spits out the Oxycontin and fills its stickery lungs 79

with another gust. * There are a few fevers and tumbleweeds in Nome – but none at all in Rome ... – a poor tumbleweed has no idea of nuclear Family, makes itself so scarce in winter. * When the tumbleweed stumbles onto Twitter, 80

the peeps roll their eyes, point and snicker. * I’ve known tumbleweeds to fly standby with Gordon’s gin and gasoline at high school reunions and bonfires ... -- but they’re all terrified of the ocean. * A tumbleweed who lands on Facebook will spontaneously combust. * The tumbleweed has its own Wikipedia 81

page -One scratch of the screen, and you sniff the Sage. * A mountain is a pretty good ice maker but the tumbleweed often times believes it’s a whisk broom. * two tumbleweeds block in a bar, -- its splintered door frame boarded up, long since blown out, 82

abandoned. “we’re the new owners now,” cackles the one. “yes we are,” another one hums... “yes we are.” * Whenever Conscience speaks with a divided, uncertain and disputed voice several dozen of them congregate, flying by a Yield sign, attack formation, slap happy acrobats whipping this way and that terrible scirocco wind of Burns Oregon, hell bent and tell all your friends when one of them Tumbleweeds -- hits dead center the little triangle of cadmium within the rust red of Yield, first sort of cracked, 83

then sighed, ecstatically dead again, and flattened out at last ( for now ) definitive , or at least congealed.


Dennis Mahagin / Great Great Grand Nephew of Jay Al Prufrock on Craigslist I don’t really need a gig, a GF or place to live, but do I dare give copulation? -- stroke a mermaid's locks station, unto station?—never mind what I meant to say, not, when Failure lights the way, orange milk plus sort of pink as any dawn – I’m talking Angel224 now she’s got it going on – fluttery and buttering her torch in the catacombs, switchbacks but will she not sing, will she not sing for me? – … I thought as much, the blown breath, earth sea, and little motes of spittle in a variety of watery mist … -- or imperceptibly, next to nibbled peach, what a man must reinvent when his pass is rejected all ass, bright baubles, bracelets, mothlike lashes bat, and she’s all, “I just don't … just don’t … like you like that, are you okay?” It’s made me wish to splash some water on my face that could never get cold Enough, I say, abject fly eye, behind the hard-black bubble of smoked glass, arc of the welder, Mig, Tig, and a little piece of juice runs slowly down the jaw line... “It's no big, babe … I felt you here and just thought umm, oh never mind ...” Failure wears a submariner's watch – saddest version of so called “bling,”__ ever 85

tinted aqua blue fat eternity luminescent face Calligraphic, Roman numerals’ grace us early for a funeral — that of a patriarch or daughter, these winters' days so bright, and do I dare to touch my crease in the slacks, folded over seat backs? -- one night stand from a bachelor’s lifetime of lifetimes ago? -- gold Zippo left behind on quartz coffee table top, with Zig Zag papers, Jesus face and Basic ether for the mind, this station can we ever change? -- -- because they called it a clit, or pine siskin, I got behind, watched throb, and flit up close, so slick, but switched, right there in TV light, -- because you asked for – worst lay ever, in a crack of pink cum orange under hotel door, to failure what has been here, forever — and before, -- I really never meant, but try to sing, sorry ass material reflecting goons in tea spoons, semi-sweet erect nipples, candle wax and all that peach meat failure was born to consume.


Juliet Cook / Wax Fangs 1. Maybe I could be a character who carries around a bedraggled stuffed tiger sort of like The Log Lady carried around her log – stroking it, whispering, calling upon it for psychic advice. The latest problem is, when I think I’m softly whispering, my discolored tiger teeth bite hard, sink down, drip blood. I’m either a hypochondriac or a repetitive drooling mouth freak. 2. Maybe my calling was turning a clingfish into a land animal; a new self that wouldn’t stay submerged underwater with that clown anemone who invades others’ coffers and giggles out jiggle jelly. I wanted to ditch that fake fish song. I thought I did. Then I saw a whole group of clown clones, insisting their party would never end.


Juliet Cook / How Extraordinary Sea Creatures are Born Inside my wrists, broken legged bees were forsaken. Love left them, socket mauled their stingers. Inside my legs, the bees preposterously throbbed; crawling and dripping all over the place, trying to somehow fly again, repeatedly falling down, wounding more holes between the linings until orchestral silver capillaries burst out a screaming hailstorm of mutated sugar cubes that launched up, then exploded, then crashed under water. A new feeding tube of wet bright stars re-birthed me into bee-starfish. Mother mermaids taught me an extraordinary path of flight. Ripped off stingers re-grouped inside my nether chords, like living breathing heaving sand dollar dove shaped teeth; like a sweet sizzling vagina dentate that will snap against the next fake love jam that attempts to enter.


James Claffey / Lid & Surface THE SEA CREATURE SITS ON MY DESK in a vial of medicinal alcohol, its eighteen legs rotten and unmoving, the center of its eye a glib pinhead of blue. My small boy carried the corpse all the way home, past the waving grasses, through the sandy paths of our estuarine neighborhood, until we lowered the beast into the clear liquid. “Can you bring it back to life?” he asked, his voice squeaky, his anticipation obvious. I shook my head, screwed the lid on the glass jar and tousled his hair. “No, lad, I can't resurrect this poor thing.” Weeks later, my son back with his mother, the jar containing the corpse murky, the decomposing flesh darkening the alcohol, I sit in my office with the uneaten body of whatever sea creature the remains might be. Rotten flesh mixed with any algae that clung to its body when we picked it from the tide pool means the swampy mixture is fizzy at the top where a little oxygen exists between lid and surface. As I hold the vial up to the sunlight, I contemplate squirreling the whole lot away for twenty years, until my son is himself a father. Instead, I open the lid, sniff the putridity, and empty the whole damn thing down the toilet and flush.


James Claffey / The Third Time My Father Tried to Kill Me I LAY ON THE BED FOR THREE DAYS and waited for the swelling to subside. My left eye wouldn’t open and the world through my right one was a sunburst, even through the closed drapes and the wet towel that covered by bruised face. We’d been at the neighbor’s house, for a “session.” Fiddle. Bodhrán. Tin Whistle. Bushmills. Guinness Extra-stout. They were Northerners. From Derry. Provo’s my father said. Sympathizers. Sotto voce. They sang and clapped and stomped shod feet on hardwood floor, the smell of man sweat and bomb making thick as perfume. * When it came to the end, and they played “The Fields of Athenry,” the players roared the chorus, “Did they beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly/Did they sound the dead march as they lowered you down/Did the band play the last post and/Did the pipes play ‘The Flowers of the Forest.’” They raised glasses, and the singer cried, “I...I... IRA, fuck the queen and the UDA,” as everyone drained their drinks. I said something about how the queen didn’t seem so bad and my father bristled. * Fuchsia bushes, a monkey puzzle tree, and my mother’s prize roses were the only witnesses. My head hit the railings again and again. Blood fizzed and ran down my face, a warm stream, and he said, “Never defend that b#$%^ again. Never. Do you hear me?” With each word he spoke my skull met iron and the earth spun as he dragged me to the front door. She screamed when she say the state of me. “Leave him alone. Bloody Royalist,” he said. 90

She helped me to the bedroom and brought ice and whiskey for the pain. * The first time my father tried to kill me, I was swaddled between both my parents and couldn’t stop crying. The curtains were pulled shut, the room black as my mother’s insides. He kept muttering, “Aw, for Jesus’ sake, can’t you quiet that babby?” She tried. Soother. Gripe water. Rocking. The lot. I cried on into the small hours. She must have fallen asleep from exhaustion, and he placed his hand over my mouth and nose and pressed down. Only the 5AM milk delivery cart and its rattling bottles saved me. She woke to the tinkle of glass on glass, and he pulled his hand away like a bad schoolboy trying to steal a few sweets from a jar of Bullseye’s. * The second time he tried to kill me we were paddling in the waves at Brittas Bay. I was dogpaddling in the water, looking for sea creatures in the clear ocean. Mam was smoking a fag in the shelter of the windbreak—the striped one with wooden stakes— and she couldn’t see us from her vantage point. “Would you swim properly,” he said, pulling at my arms and trying to show me how to move them over my head, the way Johnny Weissmuller did in the Tarzan films. I sank, my lungs full of water, his foot on my back, holding me under. Maybe when my arms stopped twitching he got nervous, because next thing I knew, I was on the sand, lying on my back, and him pushing on my belly until the saltwater sprayed air and I turned blue to white and gulped air. 91

Southwest Arts & Letters / An Interview with Jeff Alfier and Tobi Cogswell by Alisha Attella IT’S EARLY NOVEMBER 2013 in Seal Beach, CA. Jeff Alfier and Tobi Cogswell sit around a plate of fried pickles, soaking up the sounds and smells of the local BBQ joint with its mellow Americana music pumping around aisles and corner booths, servers keeping time as they rush past corrugated tin walls with metronome trays of dishes and catsup bottles, and scratching out the daily specials on chalkboard walls. You could spot their contentment from a mile away. It’s all right here in this room, the stuff that comes across in their own work as poets and as editors; the stuff of lunch counters and motels, deserts and washlines, old cars and factory floors -- the tableau and its people who populate their writing and the pages of the consistently excellent journal that they’ve published together for the past five years, the San Pedro River Review. Starting San Pedro River Review had been a dream of Jeff Alfier’s since 2007. He began writing poetry in 1997 and after ten years realized that the playing field for his kind of verse was sparse. He wanted to provide another outlet for poets to share their work, in a new print journal with a broad, national and international reach. Teaming up with Tobi Cogswell, a fellow poet and editor, Alfier said “the dream came true, and we began to accept submissions in January of 2009, and then published the first issue a few months later.” 92

Their first issue was about 1/3 of the size of the current 100 or so page, perfect bound incarnation of SPRR; and was an ambitious saddle stitched journal with color photos throughout. Tobi Cogswell laughs recalling that first experience: “We learned that color is really expensive, and also not to formally accept anything until the submission window is closed...we started putting that issue together and realized that it was all [poems about] birds and death!” By January of 2010 San Pedro River Review had begun attracting the wide spanning submissions that they had hoped for, receiving work from all over the US, and from as far off as China. With the number of high-caliber pieces arriving in their post box, they decided to take a chance and designate the spring issue as an all themed issue, the subject being “Bars, Diners, and Dives.” The issue proved to be extremely popular, and the Spring, themed submission window became a tradition, with the pair publishing six themed issues to date, including two special issues which fell outside their regular publication schedule, and leading up to the Spring 2014 issue whose focus will be “Work.” “The theme is work,” Jeff explains “but it’s everything from the paid work of a professional, to housework, to ‘make work’, however people want to interpret it. We want to see how people take that theme, put it into verse, and send it to us.” 93

“But,” Tobi adds “we’re looking for the concrete over the abstract, we see lots of abstract themes out there. We had one issue ‘Arrivals and Departures,’ and” she laughs, “we had to put ‘that does not mean birth and death!” San Pedro River Review has become well known for is its commitment to the concrete, and by extension its focus on poetry of place. “We’re located here in Southern California,” says Jeff, “but we take poetry of place from all over the world. It has a special interest for us; it’s the tactile images with an excitement of local detail that’s very important to us. But, our general philosophy is, you write what you want to relate, and we’ll see how it resonates with us and if we like it, based on certain general principles, for lack of a better term.” “Yeah”, Tobi laughs again “general principles like Tobi prints it out, shoves it in Jeff’s face, and says ‘is there any reason why we shouldn’t publish it?’” “But”, she adds, “that only happens about once an issue. I find someone that’s so warm, I just need to have it.” This is part of the balance of Jeff Alfier and Tobi Cogswell’s relationship that makes SPRR work so exceptionally well for the reader. They play off of each other’s passions; Jeff for old Packards, desert towns, and factory lines, and Tobi for the shared experiences of our lives through all of these places and times. Living and working together they’ve created a dance of passing ideas and tasks expertly back and forth that meets at the end, between their offices, at their kitchen table with a book that finds both their fingerprints on each page. 94

Everyone who is active in the literary communities of Southern California is aware of the impact that their work together has had on the arts and literary culture of their home base as part of the thriving Long Beach poetry community, and they both happily acknowledge the impact that it has had on their work in return. Jeff is quick to point out that his editorial perspective has been influenced by his “particular love for the Southwest, because most of my poetic life, I’ve been a southwest I look with a particular eye for that.” “For me,” he continues “I’m a great fan of Richard Hugo and his work, and he was sort of a teacher for me even though I didn’t sit in a class with him. I read his work and what he had to say in his famous book ‘The Triggering Town’ and such, where you take emotional possession of things that interest you.” Adding “We sell the magazine locally and have become aware of poets in the local area, ... and we’ve been able to publish them, and so, we’ve increased the regional opportunities for poets that we’ve met whose work we like.” Tobi clarifies, “At the same time, we work really hard to be an international journal, and we know that we’ve only got about a hundred pages to work with, and so as we’re accepting the work, we want the very, very, very best, to make the very best issue that we can, and we do keep in mind that the local area is just one small part of it,... we want everyone to have room in the 100 pages.” In a realization of their early dreams of an internationally reaching, Southwest based journal, they’ve done just that; having created a currency of sorts, with the poetry that they love. They 95

affectionately welcome to their pages the perspectives of the poets of the world, and in turn offer their far flung readership exposure to the amazing cache of talent right here in Southern California, and as Tobi says, they learn “something new with every single issue.� You can learn more about San Pedro River Review, order back and current issues, find local vendors, and submit your own work, by visiting, or by writing Jeff Alfier and Tobi Cogswell at

Photograph copyright 2014 Jeff Alfier



Frank Foster is an award-winning photographer who teaches at Victor Valley College. His gear includes: Leica M9, Ricoh GXR, Leica X2, Nikon D800, Samsung S4 Cell Phone Camera, Nikon F2s, Toyo 45CF, RoBot Star 50.












Tiff Holland / Theories of the Shrinks THIS IS MY FIRST MEMORY: a curtain billowing in the breeze, a twig tapping at the sill, glass crashing against the closed door my mother and I are huddled up against. “I swear, Betty, goddamn it let me in!” Crash. Bam. Shatter. When my father starts to ram his shoulder against the door it shudders but stays shut. I don’t know where we are. I don’t know how old I am. I come half-way up my mother’s leg, so later, I’ll tell the company shrink I was four. I stare at the ceiling. There are hearts stenciled on a border all the way around. I look round and round, trying to count them until I get dizzy. I keep forgetting where I started. “Pleeeaaase….” My father’s voice. Again, I’m assuming it’s my father and then again: crash; bam; shatter. “Damn, that was the percolator,” my mother says and I wonder how she can tell from the sound. She begins to rummage in her purse. For tissue? Lipstick? A handheld mirror? It’s just the two of us on one side of the door. When I stand up, my mother pulls me down as if we were on the battlefield and there was no door, as if bullets were zipping by, instead of glassware crashing, falling to the floor in the next room. He is breaking all her “pretties” the things I’m not allowed to touch. Later, we will find their broken faces staring up from the hardwood. Only then will my mother cry. 108

My mother keeps looking out the window. I don’t know what she’s looking for. My father starts crying on the other side of the door which shakes just a little with his sobs. We are all guests here, the shrink tells me, years later. Our first memories are what form us. They all have theories, the shrinks. In college, one will tell me I’m a lesbian and that is the source of all my problems. Another, who catalogues all his patients according to characters from The Wizard of Oz, will tell me I’m a Cowardly Lion. One will try to hypnotize and several will medicate me senseless. I like this theory, the first memory theory. Outside a black car arrives. Someone hits the horn. My mother takes my hand. I stand. She watches the door as I step out the window, drop to the ground. For a moment it’s like flying.


Lisa Mangini / Undressing The plastic gemstones sewn around the neckline, the cinches under the bust, the dainty little zipper tucked under the left arm – this is the wrong dress. I should’ve known better. My arms stuck above my head in some crippled touchdown sign, shoulders tense and rolled forward. I try moving one arm at a time, to reach the opposite sleeve and pull myself out if it, but I can’t. It’s so hot in here, bright halogen hanging over this dressing room stall like an interrogation lamp. I struggle and sweat. I try to shift, and something cuts into me. Some zipper or seam or something that digs into my armpit. Jesus Christ, what was I thinking? I don’t know what difference it will make, getting dressed up. There was a time when this dress would’ve fit: summer after high school, eighty pounds: gone. It was easy. No one believes me. I lived on black coffee and baby carrots, watched myself disintegrate. I would have dreams that my whole body just vanished, that I became a hologram or a glowing light: everyone adored me; I had no need for flesh. Not anymore. I try to twist my arms above me into a point, like some kind of ballerina pose. I suck my breath in all the way and fold my lips together. I startle easy ever since that one summer. I wait, listen for threads snapping. I change my approach, try crouching so my arms can reach the bottom hem, struggle to pinch the edges in hopes that I can lift it up above my head and be free. I had never been alone with him before. The plastic gemstones leave emerald-cut impressions in my neck. I tug at the dress, twist my hips back and forth until the skirt of it is bunched around my stomach. I feel sick looking at myself. He would drive me around the wooded roads near where he lived. We would listen to jazz, talk late into the night. I can see my sweat turning the fabric dark. I leave the bunched dress around my waist, drag the back of a hand across my face to dry it. He took me up the stairs to his room and closed the door, ripped my shirt when I didn’t get undressed fast enough. How was I ever so small then, small enough to fit in 110

a pretty little dress like this? I tried to push away, and then glimpsed the reservoir below from his second-floor window circled thick with trees, how no one knew I was here, and instantly stilled myself. I thought of how I didn’t know his last name. I keep wiping and wiping my face, hoping the fitting room attendant can’t hear me breathing this hard. I grab as much of the dress as I can in each hand and slowly pull up over my head. For a moment, I am stuck with a cone of fabric around my head, my elbows frozen at ninety degrees. When he finished I didn’t move to get dressed. He whipped a towel at me and told me it was time to go. I circled the same skin over and over, sanding my thighs with the cheap towel. I squeeze one arm out, then the other, and when I emerge, I throw the dress in a ball onto the floor. The plastic jewels clack against each other like ice in a glass. I watch myself in the mirror, lines along my sides from where the seams pressed into me. I cross my eyes until there are two outlines of me, blurry, overlapping, until my eyes hurt. I rub my palms up and down my sides, trying to smooth the red grooves from my flesh. It helps some, but doesn’t make much of a difference.


Lisa Mangini / The Logic of Childhood The worst birthday present I was ever given was a duffel bag full of lacey underwear. The best – that same year, age nine – was a label maker. The logic of childhood supports this. The favorite word of everyone under twelve is mine. The whole house covered in my name: jelly jar drinking glasses, the left and right canvas heels of my Keds, a doll-sized pink-plastic swimming pool. I already knew no sticker could adhere to the netted latticework of undergarments, knew I could not make known to others what was mine. A Barbie doll’s head is made of Polyvinyl Chloride; her body is made out of something too hard to pronounce. She is more complex than any of us would’ve guessed, really. My parents took away all my Barbies once they caught me shearing off their hair, systematically, once scalp at a time. I would scatter the trimmings on the carpet, the white-blonde threads crisscrossed and shining like frost. They gave me string and beads, cardboard slats, glitter lined up in canisters like a spice rack. I spent six months hunched over the kitchen table, my after-school altar, making portraits of women: heart-shaped eyes or walrus tusks, half-snake with sequined teeth, a tornado with a slanted bow. When my mother asked why I wanted a mirror, I told her even after all that practice, I still couldn’t get my expression right.


Lisa Mangini / Phone Call to a Long Distance Lover, Annotated with Kierkegaard’s Diary She calls him, after midnight on a trip to Chicago, Central Standard Time, complaining of Kierkegaard, how he could never move on from Regine, how his work was permeated by teen angst. But how lovely it all is: her morning at presentation on Hegel, her afternoon making faces in a silver kidney at the park, how she took the L alone and didn’t get lost once, how she wants to be here all the time. He is unimpressed with Chicago, and tells her so. He regrets it, knowing it’s his own fault, his own contradictions of wanting her to enjoy herself but not without him. She calls him selfish – a first – and there’s just the slightest rage lining his anxiety as she makes idle threats.

O, can I really believe the poets when they say that the first time one sees the beloved object he thinks he has seen her long before, that love like all knowledge is recollection?

And in the next moment you are so close to me, so present, so overwhelmingly filling my spirit that I am And just as he starts to suspect she may transfigured to myself be serious, that this may really be it, she and feel that here it is starts to cry. Barely, between her breath- good to be. lessness, the distorted echo of her funneled through a cell phone, how that lost hour somewhere between them that dis- Will I experience the appears somewhere in Indiana must be conclusion of all my making everything sound more caustic life’s eccentric premises, than it is, but knows that she does not will I fold you in my want to make him pull away from her, arms? does not want to lose him, but she also feels snared in the radius of distance – 113

her life is on hold, she tells him: unwelcome to move in, forbidden to move Have you gone on away. ahead, you, my longing, transfigured? His eyes burn. He just wanted to hear the sound of her voice, and now he must muster the energy to console her, to wade through her maddening analysis. He speaks to her softly, trying to calm O, I will throw her. He asks her to tell him more about everything away in the city, the commuter train, hotdogs, order to become light skyscrapers, museums‌ anything tangi- enough to follow you? ble that will steer here away from her scrutiny, make her sound familiar to him, somehow more present.


Ioanna Mavrou / L.A. Story THERE ARE THINGS I DON’T KNOW YET. Your original hair color, how to get to Miracle Mile, where I came from and where I am going. I don’t speak the same language as you so I can’t find the words to explain it. My mind fills like a tree with sap. Yes, you are sappy and you fill me up so that I forget my own words and can only speak in cryptic sentences. I don’t know where you came from and where you are going. Have we been together always? Have we grown up here, in the crowded rooms of The Griddle and that other place on Sunset we go to sometimes? Did we always eat stacks of pancakes and turkey burgers with fries and talk about our relationship arcs past midnight? In the Egyptian you smell like jasmine and I of sandalwood, or maybe it’s the other way around. I’ve never heard anyone laugh so hard before the day we went to the Silent Movie Theater. No, I don’t think clouds lift dreams and miseries, I think they’re just weather. The waves of the Pacific are magnificent and cold and I need a valet to catch them for me. I’ve grown accustomed. At the Coffee Bean we drink our coffee iced and spy on tiny actors. We have running bets, a weekly game of cards, a band rehearsal space. You play the electric violin and I bang on some tin cans with chopsticks, and we design t-shirts on napkins. I ask rhetorical questions, and count carbs every night to sleep. The sky whispers previews of upcoming possibilities. There are still unopened boxes of our previous lives that we will look into when we can afford a bigger apartment or a therapist. The palm trees don’t understand working lunches any more than box office math, or our YouTube views. 115

To pass the time we give each other questionnaires to fill out—what we think of potential relationship endings. We scour bookstores for truth, playhouses for soul, diners for Zen theory. At dusk the car lights blink all the way home and the gorgeous pink smog envelopes everything. We contemplate the plastic monkeys hanging by their tails in our drinks, and wildlife shows up on our doorstep at night questioning us with their eyes. You say, “If you can make your own pizza, you can make your own luck,” and I think I should learn how to do cartwheels just like on that old movie L.A. Story. When I fall flat on my face you say “We'll fix it in Post” and laugh again, your Silent Movie Theater laughter and the past fades ever further away.


Karla K. Morton / On the Way to Santa Fe We stopped to picnic along the Palo Duro rim with cheese and olives and almond crackers and a flight of champagne to watch the sun slip down. But night didn’t fall like a closing curtain. It rose—a cool, purple breath from the canyon floor, up from the shadow of spiked bush, up from the holes of masked coons, like the slow howl of coyote, up like the wafting musk of all beasts, overflowing the canyon and into the air, until we were all the color of night. It is not the light, but the dark where all things begin— our pupils wide and wild, once more the carnivores of gnashing molars and long eye tooth, hair bursting from our legs, the bottles, the cooler, the truck lost like overgrown civilization, our bodies reverting to scavenge and smell and scrape of nail. How odd to be so empowered by only earth and water and air, worn wombs clinging to the scattered afterbirth of creation. 117

We who bring life into the world still feel it: a slow, twisting grasp of evolution— the darkness, the ancient sparks, the tumbling, trembling stars.


Karla K. Morton / Ode to an F-150 To whomever takes you home, F-150, (VIN number 1FTPW12V37KC92785): know she was loved. Know she was purchased from money left to me when my grandfather put a shotgun into his mouth and blew his head off in that Weatherford bathroom on the day the maid was to come to clean up the mess. He, of course, wasn’t in his right mind, or he would have noticed his grandson’s birthday prominently marked on four calendars in his apartment. Know I drove her home from the pound with my new-found Scottish Deerhound on the day I was diagnosed with cancer. Know how she carried me to each chemo, each radiation treatment, how she paused by the roadside when I was sick… Know how she squealed out her right speaker five incredible free years later, radio blaring all the way home from my last oncologist appointment. Know that on the very day that nightmare began one year later, the Texas Commission on the Arts called as I was driving I-35 W towards Dallas, to tell me I was named Texas Poet Laureate. Know how she trembled on the side of the road as I pulled off, door open, and did a crazy-girl dance on the highway. 119

Yes, May 19, 2009—the very day, the very next year. Know how God spoke through her doors We’re just getting started. Know how I traveled the state, piling on 80,000 plus miles in three years going to schools across Texas, bringing the word of poetry. Know how Pontus, my 85 pound Deerhound, curled snug in the back, both seats folded up, my poetry books bound and boxed in the front seat, how we stopped somewhere between Clayton and Springer, New Mexico, and laid in the truck bed to see stars as they were meant to be seen. When it is time, when you come to sell her, when her parts have rusted, and her axle is done, just before you move her to the junkyard… look me up. I’ll buy her seats. Yes, all of them—those King Ranch leather seats, those longhorns who gave their lives for my tush comfort, the seats where I found the love of my life. Try them out yourself. Pull into your driveway when the moon is full. Turn out the lights. Open the moon-roof. Crawl into the back seat. Turn on the CD player to Neon Moon by Brooks and Dunn, and kiss your soul mate— I mean really kiss. Try to tell me the leather isn’t unusually warm, that inanimate objects hold no memories, that souls don’t linger where their happiness first burst.


Jia Oak Baker / Coyote I hit him with my right bumper driving past the last dry creek bed before town, and thought I heard him yelp a quick cry. He was still breathing. His eyes, open, looked like any dog’s, and his muzzle, parted, did too. But the teeth and ears were fiercer triangles. His body, torqued due to force, rested there, rooted in asphalt as his breaths came quick and shallow. The gash on his shoulder appeared not to gush blood but was split open like one of the cracks in the road; his fur, filled with desert scourge, thistles and thorns turned brown and brittle, seemed never to have bothered him at all. I reached out to touch his front paw, the pads worn to a thick smoothness, the claw rasped down to a nub. The sky darkened in increments like a bruise, the sun lowering behind West Wing mountain. I looked in his eyes as his breaths grew shorter. He stared toward the car—door open, dome light on, the dings announcing what I had forgotten.


Jia Oak Baker / Pocket Guide to the Cosmos I.

Call it what it was: a one-night stand.


Never find yourself alone in moonlight with a man that is not your husband.


Most certainly, do not fall in love with said man.


Pray the earth still rotates on its axis, especially when said man never calls back.


Admit the contempt you feel as you watch happy, young couples holding hands in the park.


Listen to friends who tell you sadness can be diluted like a drink.


Be careful not to mistake street lamps for stars.


Remember how the sun is lonely, too.


Pretend to go on. Wear grief like a slip underneath a cocktail dress.


Accept the firmament as dying fires.


Tim Suermondt / Kennedy’s It must have been a bad week for everyone at the bar, all of us nursing our drinks and not speaking a word. Two women in tall, dangerous dresses walk by and yet we barely stir—how did things reach such a sad state? Finally, Francis, who usually talks the least even on the best days offers “I’m leaving, leaving soon and for good.” “Sure, sure” the rest of us mutter, taking a drink in unison. Tomorrow at dawn a cruise ship will sail from Red Hook— too early for us who know how the morning light can sting, how often our hearts don’t start beating until noon.


Tim Suermondt / Marcos Marcos never knew there was something called magic. He always thought Magic was just the name of the Brahman bull on his father’s ranch tucked in the hills like a sleeve. “Magic,” he would hear people say, “you are ugly” or “Magic, you are not so fierce.” Such talk was common and enduring to Marcos, in a way. So when he and his father went to see ‘Hernando the Magnificent’ do his show on the boulevard right outside the Rebeles Theater, Marcos was amazed to learn that magic was indeed more than the name of a bull. He loved the sword swallowing, the fire eating, and the rabbit out of the hat he knew he would never forget. “Papa, you are the best.” And in one skilled, slow move, his father pulled an egg out of his deaf ear. This too, Marcos thought, was magic that nearly rivaled the great Hernando.


Tim Suermondt / Standing that Counts The man on the corner is ramrodded and regal as the blue heron guarding its home in the viburnum. Who the man is and what he’s thinking is irrelevant—all I want today is his “I can take anything you dish out” stance and the accompanying dignity as I try to ignore the threatening sky about to piggyback on the light drizzle, and the bus with its headlights large as prison beams switched on, rattling past, down the world of Main Street.


Steve Gowin / Ballad of the Giant Thermometer THE GIANT THERMOMETER QUIT, and that meth house blew about the same time. Mr. Helmut Meyer of Stuttgart, Germany, Europe, means to repair that Giant Thermometer. The Barstow Desert Dispatch says he wants about $125,000, and a apartment in Vegas, even though Barstow's a damn sight closer. Nobody killed when that crank lab busted into flame. One of em’ll still blow couple three times a year... gets them hazmat boys up here all the way from San Berdino. They bulldozed that one into the desert. My Old Man says to hell with that, though, Baker will rise again. Thermometer stands 13 stories tall and is older than me. Got almost 5000 lightbulbs so bright you’d had to pull your shades if you were in that motel underneath; weighs more than 35 ton, and Mr. Roy Martinson of the old Bun Boy Restaurant, put it up back in 1991. But Mr. Bun failed to convince them Mojave Indians to bless it and dance when the Dispatch man came out to photograph the opening, like he planned. The Old Man says it’s because no Indians never ever really lived around here in the first place; besides Indians got sense to stay out of 134 degree heat, and did Mr. Bun Boy think they were retarded? The Old Man stays down in Barstow now since I turned 18. Of course he claims he’s a quarter Cherokee from back in Oklahoma and says he supposes these days the fundies would have to have something to do with blessing a Giant Thermome-


ter, but it’s too bad them tribes never prayed over it, it might still be up and running today. Well with or without the Giant Thermometer, Baker’s not much. It’s meth or Jesus or both around here. We’re the “Gateway to Death Valley,” but got only 750 people, plus or minus, depending on what tweaker’s in the slammer over Barstow, down San Berdino or up at Avenal State and what fundie’s off at the Oral Roberts fixin’ for the rapture. We still got half a dozen gas stations and some restaurants and conveniences and the school and a couple of taverns, of course, and the famous Martian Jerky, but lots of folks say we already gone to the dogs. You got to take a drug awareness course to graduate Baker Unified because of all that crystal around here. Still though, once you get out in the desert, you can breathe good. And nights, you can see the stars real clear and bright and hear the desert wind if you’re far enough off the interstate. But me, actually, I like hearing them big rigs out on I-15... the Jake brakes and them loud bubbling Cummins and Jimmies and Cats. I been at Baker Convenience and Quikee Fill since I graduated twelfth grade three years ago. Nowadays you got a lot of kids in Christian school on the internet so very few kids shows up over there at Baker High, and no dances cause the fundies don’t believe in it, but that wouldn’t be me; the Old Man’s no Bible Thumper. I like register and counter work and checkin’ gas and pop and beer, and I met me several movie stars and musical artists of note comin’ through to or from Vegas. Some of em’s real nice 127

that’ll tip you a ten, even twenty bucks. That was the fellow starred in that burning up hell rider motor sicle story. Others won’t give you the time of day. I’ve about seen it all. The internet says it cost more than $700,000 to build that Giant Thermometer and nobody ever traveled LA to Vegas without seeing it one time or other, but like I say, it ain’t working at the moment. It’s dark; they say the juice bill’s too high, and the Bun Boy’s gone too now, turned into a Bob’s without that checkered pants Big Boy statue out front. What good’s that? The Old Man claims there’s more than a electricity bill, otherwise why would some Kraut be looking to have a Vegas weekend and fix the damned thing? Old Man's been pullin’ draughts at the Bar X Rancho Café and drinking up his wages down in Barstow a couple years now; he don’t really know a thing about Baker. The Old Lady split for the high life of the strip when I was in kindie garden but she told me couple days ago I could bunk with her and her new Mormon family up there in Nevada until I got on my feet, and she could find me something at Terrible’s Conveniences or one of them casinos, just let her know. I don’t know; Vegas is just a fool’s paradise. A fellow here, Mr. “Prince” Ivan Romanov, got a little goat beard with no ‘stache and claims 40% of Americans believe in Space Aliens from outer space. Built him up that famous jerky business at Area 51 then moved it down here close to the Interstate, Martian Jerky. Some days the line’s out the door. This joker claims relation to the King of Russia and wants to build a flyin’ saucer hotel. The fundies think Prince’ll resurrect the Giant Thermometer in Jesus’ name, and that UFOs will 128

rapture them all on up to heaven or whatever. This Romanov lives down in Palm Springs; how’s he getting’ anything done up here? And the meth heads’re already raptured; they just keep tweakin’ away. I doubt it all, raptures and meth and aliens and all, and that about sums up the Ballad of the Giant Thermometer. I’d stay if I’d had my druthers, but without somebody comin’ up with $125,000 for Mr. Helmut Meyer, I guess it’s the bright lights of Vegas for me.


Don Thompson / Choices Sooner or later every crazed tumbleweed Ends up against a fence. The philosopher in us sees it and nods, Contemplating free will. You could snip the barbed wire Or back off and accept limits. It’s your choice. Or— You could sit there patiently, Your mind in its snarl, waiting For the wind to blow the other way.


Stephen Barber / Watermelons THEM BIG OL’ KLONDIKES WEIGH thirty-five, forty pounds, so you can calculate the torment that loading up a couple hundred on a sweltering day in the Salinas Valley might cause a man. Pa and I were in the big field, and I had just set a watermelon on the wagon that was about half the size of a normal one when the field boss rode up on his gelding. When he saw that little watermelon he yelled down at me, “We don’t pay you to pick ‘em green, boy.” “That watermelon ripe, Edred?” my pa asked. He walked over and stood by my shoulder. “I believe it is,” I said. “The boy says the watermelon is ripe.” “Was I talkin’ to you?” “Don’t matter,” Pa said. “I'm talkin’ to you. This is my boy, Edred, and he says that watermelon is ripe.” “You got a big mouth, mister. I can run your ass off the place.” “That mightn’t be as much fun as you think.” Pa stood up tall with his fists at his side. The field boss pulled a machete from a scabbard alongside his saddle and jumped down from the horse. With a furious swing he split the melon in two, sending both halves whirling away from each other in a flurry of green and red speckled with black seeds. “Looks ripe to me,” Pa said. The field boss climbed back on his horse and slid the machete into the scabbard. 131

“Get back to work,” he said, and jerking the horse’s head around with the reins, rode away. Pa and I both bent over and picked a watermelon from the vine where we were standing. As I set mine on the wagon, he said, “You let a man run that kind of crap on you, and you’ll walk away talkin’ to yourself and feelin’ bad for the rest of your life. Better to take a whipping than leave a man thinking you’ll tolerate his guff.” “Weren’t you afraid he’d fire us?” “Naw. He needs the work done, and he ain’t doin’ it hisself. Anyway, I’d rather go down the road than let a man put a bridle on me.” He put his hand on my shoulder, about as close as he ever come. “I don't want any boy of mine walkin’ away feelin’ bad about hisself.” “He had a machete,” I said. “So what? When he pulled that out, I known he was chickenshit. He’d a jumped down with nothin’ but his fists I’d of knowed he wanted a piece of me. He’d of got it, too.” Pa an’ me worked two more weeks picking watermelons. The boss—I think his name was Dollarhide—never talked to us again. Then we went to Fresno.


Pamela Ahlen / Giant Sofa After the sofa sculpture “Sit Here” (Sofie Siegmann, 2007) Goldwell Open Air Museum, ghost town near Beatty, Nevada

The sculpture sits unexpected, even regal, on desert sand, mosaic shards of booze bottles, bitters, and healing balm, concrete giant strong enough to seat twenty Borax mule teams and heavyweight tycoons, an invitation to sit here awhile, imagine the town rising up before you like carnival balloons— midway of bank, church, school, saloon, a town fired with grit and not a little misery, where folks rest now under wood and iron filigree and snakes sleep out the heat of day, where you, ghost-chaser, call this land a bunch of rocks yawning dust. Sit here a while, imagine nothing left to lose, berserk for holy gold. Speculator, watch the sun offer up its ingots.


Pamela Ahlen / Out of Commission at Indian Canyon On the canyon rim a child tootles a souvenir flute, woeful tune like a mourning dove cooing the rattlesnakes, the bearded palms, blue-note oblivious to the cranky old hiker splayed lizard-like on stone, nursing her bulbous foot that infects the gorgeous day— dull-ache hours of not hitting the trail, no roaming its upthrusts and down, no zigzag ramble, no shared summit. Instead, her lizard-blinking from afar, his solo switchback to nirvana. She’s resigned to ice cream enough for two, a sublimation gluttony, lip-smacking the view.


Pamela Ahlen / Lizard Yellow-fingered like sulfur retrieved from Triassic brine every step a sinking back head rustpitted pipe mouth snakelike inclined to bite mute-eyed idling on scorching rock then one push-up display forelimbs lifted tough hind ones running away indifferent as furnace wind urging rain that refuses all invitations. A dry heave of dust coats our eyes eon’s grit sharp on our teeth our tongues to whom does this world belong 135

all dust-crumble wrinkle ochre-grey fold? Not to us but a Theropod toy screamin’ green among petrified trees.


Pamela Ahlen / River Trip The river’s at ease, having her unriffled say, our strokes a slow feathering down oxbow loops of time: unfolding palettes of pinks and ox-blood reds, sweet-shadowed canyons, orange hoodoos jagged-edged, meeting no one and grateful for it— still days upstream of wild confusion—the Colorado’s opposing force like that other life we lead, multi-tasking fast track mania. We take out onto warm October sand, search for sign, those long ago come this way, wordless stories pecked deep into varnish rock, ledge alive with thunder-bolt, sun moon water star. What articulated thread would we convey? Would long-from-now passers-by unravel meaning in a smiley face, a G2G hashtag crossbone skull— sort what makes us us? Fathom that here among hoof prints and prickly pear we loosen into deep-ink night, gather stars on the bank of being, this river our hallelujah? 137

Sharanya Manivannan / Madrigal with his Mouth as Crown-of-Christ Somewhere it is raining. Somewhere a woman just like me leans across the table and swipes a finger of honey on the mouth of a man who knows better than to drink from her skin without prayer. Here on the farther continent of calculated disregard, I find your teeth and wait—to see if you will summer in me, if you will salt my eyes with your tongue. This heat, you say, this heat, heat before rain, it’s so sultry I’m afraid sometimes— and I put my feet up on the table as every impulse in the room shudders, single drop of sweat down my throat, pool of the suprasternal notch, the linen-covered length of those long lovely thighs I want to lick. Ichorous at the sight of them, I am already claimed, so tell me what goddamn good it is then, that pretty flower, your mouth like a crown-of-christ. Two-lipped, two-petaled. If you cannot open it and annunciate. If you cannot nectar mine shut with its grace.


Sharanya Manivannan / The Mirror Tree (Love Poem in Turquoise and Silver) Tezcatlipoca is the Smoking Mirror, the god of the nocturnal sky, god of the ancestral memory, god of time and the Lord of the North, the embodiment of change through conflict. I held you precious in a time of war and ceremony, adored your melancholies, spoke the rosary of your many reflections over still waters and storms, the weight of your inlaid skull in my lap a volcano, a snake of beads, a sacrificial feast. And when you slipped away I burnt copal incense in all the cardinal directions, singing the names of our dead. Nothing could bring you back to me. The thousand nocturnal skies beneath which I loved you ache with unspent thunder. O shaman of stars, my jaguar, how could I forget your conch eyes, your mountain heart— you incised them into the codex of my body without mercy 139

kissed and painted scars with your coral mouth your knives of obsidian so that now there are no nights left bereft of your sorcery, no empire in any dimension of the world without a mirror-tree carrying in each of its perfect shards the memory of a perigee moon.


Cindy Rinne / Tricksters Coyote overheard The birds exchange Fumbled down the steep Embankment needled By the blazing Sun. Raven Clipped Coyote’s ear. Blood curled in Canine teeth. He flew In chalked figure Eights, caw-caw Mocking the Dog.


Linda Goin / Looking Back, No Barriers Looking back, I remember creating history by planting time and space in a home with an outhouse and a bare thread of electricity. Severed doll heads decorated the fence and irises swayed in Lone Cone’s breezes. That same year, Francis Fukuyama wrote that history will end with an evolution. He meant that events could still occur; but, that all things would move toward a critical conjuncture, a guarded government stifling everyone. Fukuyama meant there would be no more great revolutions or revelations, just barriers. Looking back, I remember creating science by experimenting with time and space, flying to Australia to make paper from plants, love from thick air. I watched toilets flush backwards, waded through the Yarra, felt kinetic energy. That next year, John Horgan wrote that science would end with a final theory, conclude without a bang, without profundity, with laws drawn by gravity, relativity, and natural selection. Even chaos has precise constraints, patterns. Horgan meant there would be no more great revolutions or revelations, just barriers. Looking back, I remember creating destruction that impeded movements in time and space, pausing and turning, rebuilding, reconstructing memories as classrooms, filled with bare bones 142

and books, grand rounds, lectures, and lessons. In all those years, I never wrote anything that would end. I wanted tenure for life with no death, unbounded learning, fields of study filled with flowers, unconstrained, enduring, deaf to sounds of men who built barriers.


Carol Reid / Sage IT’S TRAGIC TO BE ALONE in a place like Taos. Sage is an up color. A field of sagebrush rolls up to the horizon; its spikes abandon themselves to the sun. Erin takes a photograph at sunset, when the sharp burnt scent of sage is most like smoke. She takes the photograph in desperate hope of impressing her new friend. Erin is almost sixty and new friends are hard to find. Later that evening there are dancers in the bar, two-stepping, four-stepping, some other step Erin can’t get her legs around. Viewed from heaven the dancers must appear an elaborate clockwork, orange in the glow from the rust-shaded chandeliers. The partners are so well matched that Erin can’t watch them anymore. Almost drops her glass of Scotch. Almost cries again. That poet boy she spoke to on the train is at the table behind her. Already he is one of her imaginary companions. She heard him read his work outside on the patio at noon. He is New York pale and irresistible. How does someone so young have those words in him? He puts his hand on her shoulder and asks her to dance, but he is far more drunk than she and the dance floor is terribly far away. Terracotta is an earth blanket. Everything in Taos is draped in its pumpkin softness, except at sunset, when violet glazes the sky. She imagines bathing in this wash of color with her new friend, falling together into the falling sun. 144

Tobi Cogswell / Sink Laundry and Whore Baths at the Benson Motel We used to meet each Tuesday at the motel now as desolate and empty as my remembrance of our wild love. Only a barrel cactus out front and a few green patches stir the memory of something new and brilliant, though spikey and sharp. You in your uniform from the train station. Me, tie off, shirt halfway unbuttoned, wedding rings in our respective pockets... The clerk always gave us our favorite room, the one where a window breeze fought heat, and the trucks passing by chopped a cadence that met our lovemaking with perfect consonance for a few hours. You’d wash your panties in the sink afterwards, a dry pair in your purse. I’d take a whore bath with a washcloth from the year the motel was built, then we’d both return to regular lives with other people, other lovers. Today I drove by in a thick rainstorm, 145

clouds as gray as the sky is usually blue. I’m shamed by the desolation of the bombed out shell of what used to be. A smell of skunk follows the car for a mile or more, reminder that all beauty stinks in some way, and destroys even as it is being destroyed. I don’t miss you.


Tobi Cogswell / Farming the Border Country Founders always find ways to name towns crass. So her car stops in the farm town of Empty. The smell of onions and the smell of want perfume her hair, a powerful magnet for men, riven and resting at the bar. Thrown from their homes by sour wives to go plan the next year's dour harvest, they see no end to the grayness passed down, the wheel of luck, stopping on "broken, go back to start" of tough generations of men, crumbled to hardpan. They turn, as though flying in formation, a gracefulness belied by dust and plaid. At happy hour, each would cut off his thumb to be the one who buys her the cold drink, ultimately sending her on her way, the sky changed, the men young, their souls climbing.


Justin Runge / Opus for Popguns and Blood Capsules You build your home close to the edge of dying. When the forest is beaten to lumber, the jars below your sink jingle bell. They wear their skulls and bones like cummerbunds. You compound all your nouns with light. They glow and cool and heat. You turn down everything—a blanket, a body—evading sleep like it’s telemarketing. A minivan protrudes from the snow bank like a sock hole’s toe. Bodybones bob in the opaque creek. Give it a gothic name. Your telephone booth door folds up like a pamphlet. And see, the moths I promised. But you want answers. Gray sits like a boy on your shoulders, heavy. Doctors prescribe heavy doses of paper crane-making. Also, a house of dressthread. For any baby shoes donated to the monument, you are grateful. Consider the curfew breakers, those who filled their gymnasium with nickel crickets. Meanwhile, I am getting better and better at theatre: Where is the shotgun hidden. Where is the shotgun hidden. Like a whodunit, the stage goes black, the light comes back, I’ve moved. And then, three yelped questions, rapid, none answered, gunshot, end scene. 148

There are several things to be shot: a basket, a pistol, a photograph. Grandpa’s simple syllogism: if memories smell of musketpowder, and musketpowder of your overheating television set, then. Come home. I’ve calmed the dogs down. They sleep through the night now, and it’s fun to watch their sleeplungs pump.


Jon Magidsohn / The Threadbare Sun ROUTE 160 LED US FROM FOUR CORNERS directly through Monument Valley. Proud, craggy sandstone shapes rose from the desert floor like enormous, crude, root vegetables: multi-limbed carrots, harlequin potatoes and ginger sprouting from the orange-red clay earth, their tuber-arms raised to the sky for having triumphed over millennia of erosion. The pale-blue-sky backdrop accentuated their dark rusty bodies; opposites on a colour wheel that smouldered in the consistent sunlight. Grown up in central Canada’s extreme seasons, the desert took me out of my comfort zone. Those colours didn’t exist in Toronto. Neither did the dry air or the cosmic spookiness. To me, this was a land of artistic interpretation; of Georgia O’Keefe and Sam Shepard and Frank Lloyd Wright. It was part wasteland part kaleidoscope. When I got there I found it was the ideal landscape for lamentation. Sue had died less than four months earlier, ten months after her breast cancer diagnosis and nearly a year after we learned she was pregnant with our first child. Within days of her death, I’d planned this road trip with our son, Myles, whose good nature made travelling cross-country with a ten-month-old in a rear-facing car seat a relatively simple exercise. By the time we’d reached the Grand Canyon, the desert colours had blanketed my vision as if I’d been wearing rust coloured glasses. Through my eyes the canyon vista, tearing through the layered landscape in a jagged swath of dusty red earth, could have been the only thing that ever existed. I carried Myles in his back-pack along the rim of the canyon, sitting 150

occasionally to pause and absorb the tenor of this moment. Among the swarms of tourists we were reduced in scale; abbreviated. Young people scuttled over rocks perched precariously at the edge of the void, proving their youth and fearlessness. Retired couples strode hand in hand enchanted, I imagined, by finally having that adventurous holiday for which they’d saved their whole lives. Everyone took pictures to share in sentimental delight for years to come. Despite feeling invisible, I thought the sight of a man crying at the top of a mile and a half drop, baby in tow, might not be part of the ideal Grand Canyon experience people would expect. It hadn’t lived up to my unreachable expectations either. It was just another hole in the ground. We left after an hour. Scattered around the desert states were other holes in the ground I’d heard about; colossal craters formed by meteor collisions thousands of years ago. Or perhaps by alien spacecraft, proof of which may have been housed in nearby Area 51. If there is life on another planet – and who am I to say there isn’t? – I’d need more proof than a hole in the New Mexico desert. I’m not convinced there is such a thing as paranormal phenomena. I’ve never bought into life after death and I’m convinced ESP is trickery. I definitely don’t believe in fate or destiny. Or even prayer. Sue believed in all of these things. She had an inherent gift of finding explanations for the unexplained, and always insisted she’d obtain proof that everything happened for a reason. Despite a healthy agnosticism, she drew comfort from the belief that we were somehow meant to follow a certain path. She told wellrehearsed stories about how she and I met to uphold that it 151

hadn’t been accidental. In her mind it was all part of something much larger than both of us. So when we talked about death – before her diagnosis – from this life or any other, she took it very seriously. “Which one of us do you hope dies first?” We were lying in bed shortly after we’d gotten engaged and she casually asked this question as if she wanted to know what my favourite breed of puppy was. “What?” Please no, not this question. “Do you want to die first or do you hope it’s me?” “I can’t answer that,” I said. I needed time to prepare for this; I couldn’t just improvise. “It’s a simple question.” Simple? “What about you?” I said. “I asked you first.” She could take my stalling no longer. Here I was, stark naked with my arm around the woman I loved, knowing that we were about to tread on some very sensitive ground. Whatever I said, no matter how sincere or well-intentioned, Sue was bound to be ready with some spiky comment to prove that I hadn’t given the issue much consideration. She’d probably been thinking about this one for months. I stared at the pale clouds through the skylight that hung over the bed, trying not to look like I was thinking too hard. The obvious response would have been, “Me. I hope I die first because I couldn’t bear to live without you.” And that would have been true. I should have just said that automatically. But then I thought about how sad she would be if I died. I wouldn’t want that. She loves me. She just told me she loves me. After a 152

reasonable amount of time passed, I tried, martyr-like, to make it sound as if I would suffer her death so that she could be spared suffering mine. “I hope it’s you,” I said. “Because I’d hate for you to have to live without me.” In my head that sounded selfless and sincere: I had put her happiness before my own. Out loud it sounded selfish and heartless. Sue got very quiet and then started to cry. “I can’t believe you said you wanted me to die.” We never spoke about it again. I’m sure Sue remembered the conversation – she remembered every conversation. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had thought of it years later while she was lying unconscious in her hospital bed. Because, watching her in that bed, waiting for her life to end, I couldn’t sidestep the large index finger jabbing me squarely in the sternum saying, “You…wished…this.” Of all the wishes I’d ever made, the only one to actually materialize was the one I wanted least of all. But it wasn’t a wish exactly, was it? It didn’t mean anything. I couldn’t possibly have prophesied my wife’s death. It was just a game; one of those games that’s supposed to help couples know each other better. A game I knew I would lose.

There was no danger of me losing any games when Myles and I got to Las Vegas. I wasn’t there to gamble, nor did I have the means or the inclination. But after the Grand Canyon and a brief look at Hoover Dam, it was the next logical place to go. In the daylight, the panoply of colours fronting the shops and 153

casinos seemed an attempt to make up for the neutral-coloured desert that surrounded it. By night, each building’s fluorescent neon trying to outdo its neighbours made you forget that there even was such a thing as daylight. I didn’t see any other dads – or moms for that matter – pushing children up The Strip. I wondered if carrying an infant through the Bellagio was reason to be stopped and questioned. Apparently it wasn’t. Myles looked around at the infinite flashing lights and was stunned into silence, his consistent smile momentarily defused by input overload. I thought maybe I should protect his sensitive ears from the incessant blips, beeps, bells, pings and whirs. But I’d seen enough; I literally walked in one side and out the other. Outside we watched the Bellagio’s famous fountain ‘performance’; an aquatic ballet of sorts, incandescent colours above and below the water glistening in the early evening half-light. Beside us, a young couple canoodled against the Romanesque balustrade. He stood behind her, his arms wrapped tightly around her torso just underneath her perfect, healthy breasts; their eyes on the fountain, blissfully unaware of the single-dad and baby next to them. The next day Myles and I would enter California, our week in the desert nearly over. This region had come to exist as one idiosyncratic moment; a single piece of red clay rolled into a giant ball. The infinite redness had become colourless, as if the threadbare sun had lost its illuminative power. Where was the colour, the green of forest-lined back roads, the arable vegetableproducing farmland that fed America? Where were the seasons? Where was the variety, the choice of where to look so that the eye could, in a single moment, receive nature’s full spectrum? In 154

the desert, the rainbow dulled to a monochromatic pencil sketch. Out on the road, driving for the sake of driving amongst the sandstone and dust, I felt galaxies away from the bright green hues of limes or lettuces, glowing yellow lemons or the vibrant, non-rusty red of a crispy pepper. The desert was beautiful but it lacked freshness. It felt dead.


Kenneth Pobo / Dindi at the Burial Aunt Harriet would have wondered why even six people showed up at Lakeview Cemetery. I tossed dirt on the box, returned to my car, escaping Pastor Clamp saying how God was right now holding her‌ she hated to be held, her life a cat in a pillow case struggling to get out. I heard that my leaving early offended the family. I had been insulting. They stayed and dropped a few tears before heading home to hot chocolate and turning on the Weather Channel.


Kenneth Pobo / Dindi Starts To write a story about Lily, a cafeteria lemon square thief who goes from table to table chatting up deserters. When they aren’t looking, there goes the lemon square. She must be careful about Office Wig who watches her, maybe because she’s pretty, but maybe because he takes long hot showers of rules. Dindi likes this story and wishes she knew Lily. They could dash around Escanaba, buy fifties potato mashers in resale shops. But Lily would rather star in a poem called FROG FACE I’m beautiful. No Internet connection is as gorgeous as me. My boyfriend Ax says I’m pure Wifi. I’m anything but pure. My girlfriend Desdemona says I’m a Monopoly game with hotels that build themselves in mid-air. I doubt that I’m suited for love, prefer counting ripples on a prune. I don’t want to slice up any feelings. When I get angry I make my frog face. I croak. Just like you. Lily ends up in jail but not for stealing lemon squares. She ran over a blue fedora which she left for dead. It made the papers. Dindi comes to visit her every Saturday.


Kenneth Pobo / Wet and Cold Dindi I fetch coffee. Later, uniform in the hamper, I get carry-out from the Chinese restaurant that’ll be boarded up next month. In northern Michigan, empty storefronts look like frozen-over lakes. Today it’s wet and cold, a perfect time to watch Bette Davis tell kind but drab Joseph Cotten “If I don’t get out of this town I’ll die.” Of course we die whether we get out of town or not. Waiting. Looking out the window. Looking harder for something we’re missing.


Anthony Martin / Barracuda Lagoon SHERRY DIDN’T COME HOME until morning. When she rode in on a purple, single-speed beach cruiser and a head full of acid, I knew right away where my daughter spent the night. I had put the scene down at the lagoon off limits at dinner the night before. “But they say the people are so nice, mama,” Sherry had contested in her sweetest soprano. She looked calm now, like the Pacific morning haze she pedaled in on, as I waited for an explanation. “And?” “And it’s all so . . . hip.” She accentuated the last word with closed eyes and a tight-lipped smile. “Saying I’m sorry would be dishonest.” “And the bike?” I’d seen others like it in town, all painted vibrantly and piloted by plain, teenage girls sporting striped stockings beneath plaid skirts cut at the lower thigh. Sherry remained silent and sank into the sofa in our den. I motioned to the leather-bound book in her hand. “What’s that?” She smiled another dreamy smile and handed it over. “Another blessing,” she said. “From my new family on the bus.” “The bus?” I opened the book and flipped through its blank pages. A small, dusty photograph of an old school bus parked next to the lagoon, a two-story ferry with wrap-around viewing deck floating just off the shoreline, was tucked inside the front cover. “Oh, the bus. We joined hands there and sang songs and I met many kind souls, mama. Kindred spirits with vision.” 159

“I can’t believe they let them keep that ferry there.” “Oh yes. It’s there. We swam to it just before dusk, cast lines out to fetch dinner from our keeper the lagoon. We sisters caught striped barracuda while Brother Benjamin stayed ashore to trap fowl.” Her eyes were open again and she was caressing the suede sofa with great interest. “No barracuda this part of the sound, Sher.” “Au contraire, mama! And on the ferry painted monkeys and soft rabbits that you can hold and all sorts of friendly canine, too.” “Not cur?” I said. The psychedelic reverie had grown tiresome. Sherry wrinkled her nose. “No,” she answered softly. When I looked again she was asleep. I brought the wool blanket from my bedroom and covered the girl to her shoulders. Stupid girl, I thought, but only part of me really felt it. She was slumbering deeply and her calm face and still jaw offered premonitions of the coming year, of university and work and graduate school, assuming she gets in— assuming she avoids the likes of Brother Benjamin, those smoothtalking tricksters that beckon wayfarers just a step farther down the rabbit hole. I guess I thought she had a little more time. Or that I did. I picked up the little leather book again and flipped to the first page. A neatly written note I must have missed before: Sister Sherry, How wonderful to welcome you to our family on the lagoon. This trip is brighter now by your distinct glow. We’ve travelled a long 160

way to make our home here and we plan on staying a while, god willing and the sound don’t rise. I hope you’ll take care of your purple vessel and use it to journey back to the ferry as often as your circumstances permit. Bring friends. There’s much to learn here. All the animals are waiting. Your guide, Brother Benjamin I tucked the letter into the hidebound book and returned it to my daughter’s safekeeping. There will be time, I thought. There will still be time when she wakes.


Susan Rooke / The Line Shack When he arrives, the dust has powdered everything, seeped inside like gossip whispered at the window frames, beneath the door. Before he unloads the gear and groceries from his pickup, before he cooks a meal or pours himself a drink, he’ll flip the switch outside on the electric pump, start the water running from the well. Then he’ll wipe dust from the table, the chairs, make things livable for the next three or four hard days of mending fences. When he leaves again he’ll close up the shack, spend the last hour of his time there packing, cleaning for whatever hand will occupy it next. Finally he’ll shut the water down. He’ll stand outside and drain the lines, anticipating winter’s cold. The windmill, an artifact of days before electric pumps, will spin unused beside him, clanking, talking in its sleep of rust. When at last he throws his pickup in reverse and drives away, dust will wander in from the horizon, looking for a home.


Jon Sindell / The Roadkill Collector THE ROADKILL COLLECTOR HAD SOFT HANDS at first, but the wind and the sun toughened his skin as the gripping and lifting strengthened his back. On quiet days he would park the pickup and patrol miles–long stretches of woodland highway by foot. His fifty–six year–old belly shrunk and his lung–power increased, but he only spoke when spoken to. “Remember to cook that to at least one–hundred–eighty degrees to avoid trichinosis,” he’d tell scavengers. The absence of a smile did not mean that the collector begrudged hungry people a free meal—to the contrary, he was happy for them, and pleased they fed on lean meat. He simply never smiled on the job. He smiled in the cabin when his woman would sing “Roadkill Collector” like “Daydream Believer,” but the smile was subdued, and nothing like the aggressive grin of his big city days. The roadkill collector did not feel compelled to tell people of the wealth he’d enjoyed before leaving the city, nor did he anger when passing teens would yell Loser! at him as he knelt to a skunk. The collector had been known as “The Skunk” by opposing lawyers, and as “The Stiletto” by his admirers at the firm for an eviscerating tongue. The roadkill collector removed scraps of food tossed onto the roadway by passing motorists lest they lure animals to their doom, and cut sections out of chain–link fences to create escape routes for frantic trapped creatures. He collapsed to his knees as if shot in the gut when a man aimed his pickup at a turtle and crushed it, then gathered himself and swept flesh, shell, and 163

slime into a dustpan and buried it twenty feet from the road. He could not speak for days. The roadkill collector studied Buddhism, Hinduism, and Catholicism in the soft light of the cabin he shared with his woman, a candlemaker he’d met after a year on the job, but withheld from her his skepticism about reincarnation and Biblical creation. “What’s the good word?” his woman would coo when he’d set down yet another holy book or book about spiritual seeking. He’d look up with childlike eyes and say, “I get the foot–washing, and the vow of silence too.” Aside from silence he liked the crackling fire and his woman’s worn voice, and the wind and the birds in the trees by the highway. The roadkill collector studied kosher law, and when he’d come upon a battered deer in agony he’d set a cloth beneath its head and sever its jugular with a swift, deep stroke. When he’d wash off the blood, or bits of entrails and feces from a torn–open coyote or raccoon, he’d reflect on the lives of Untouchables. His wife had named him “The Unreachable” for his workaholic hours and the alcohol–sodden nights when he’d lapse into silence after spending his life force and all of his words bullying people in depositions. In philosophical moods he’d put his whiskey glass down and tell Janet, “I don’t see you complaining about this huge house and three cars,” and she’d drink and say, “Devil’s bargain.” Then he’d peek through the door at his daughter sleeping. He did this for years `til she’d grown and flown, then his wife stood firm in their high–ceilinged entrance hall and declared with a sweeping gesture at the house, “You’re not taking this from me.” 164

“It’s all yours,” he said, and with deep remorse added, “You deserve it.” His daughter zoomed past on her way to her mother’s house for winter break. She did not recognize the man kneeling to a dead deer, nor hear him consoling a mortified couple staring down at the deer. She didn’t recall her father striking a deer on the road home from Tahoe when she was three, or crying about it all the way home, or her father growling at her mother that the animal was dead, god damn it, and even if it wasn’t, he had court the next day.


David Landrum / Pipeline They drew map routes to Texas, Ohio, Massachusetts, drove rusty Buick Specials, V8 Fords; carried six-packs of Lone Star or of Drewrey’s beer, and nihilism. Texas had sandstorms, Michigan had mud— so much you walked up on the pipe, not on the ground. With every place came endless miles, night roads, bright headlight beams, the restaurants, cheap housing. Uncles, cousins came, a tribal shield, close kin against strange talk, strange ways, against strange towns. Following the jobs like gypsies, they worked hard, never knowing when the phone might ring. They sat on porches under pecan trees, and waited for a call to hit the road.


Amanda Oaks / The Most Perfect Example of Heartbreak that I’ve Ever Seen The trail of red ink dust shed from the Queen of Hearts clack-clacking against the spoke of a bicycle wheel as the sun sets just to wait all night to paint the soles of your shoes at dawn.


Amanda Oaks / Winter Cluster They must have smelled the quiet on her skin. The flowers that grew out from her honeycomb teeth that generally sat unbothered. Love is not a word you spit, cackled the queen. The buzzing never really left her head after the whole hive flew from the frost in her mouth.


Amanda Oaks / From My Monotone Mouth I boil water. I pace the floors. Cold kitchen tile under feet. I look out the windows. I curse the cold. I want to pull all my teeth out one by one, seal them in an envelope with a note to you reading: For you dear, my last true smile.


Justin Brouckaert / Baby’s First Christmas SARAH CALLS THE NEW BABY The Boy and pokes him too hard with her dumb sticky fingers. He’s only a week old and his head is still lumpy and bald like an alien. Stupid Sarah sticks her finger in his ear. Monster, she says. No, no, not a monster, mom and grandma tell her. Boy, not monster. Boy, she repeats. They go wild, so she claps and says it again. Grandma told me she and grandpa came downstate because they both wanted to help take care of The Boy, but yesterday I overheard grandpa saying that after three kids mom should really have the hang of things by now. I don’t think grandpa likes coming down the the city. He’s always slamming the door and walking out to the garage where he is now, cutting big wooden boards into small ones. Sometimes he gets sawdust all over my roller blades and my laser tag guns but mom says not to complain about the saw because it’s the only thing he has left here. Grandma and grandpa used to live where we live now until they moved to the woods up north. They let us have this house after a man walking by our old apartment tried to take Sarah away when mom wasn’t watching. Ever since mom had The Boy it’s been my job to watch after Sarah. She follows me around all the time, even when I trip her or steal her toys or tell her that her stuffed bears are really dead and not just sleeping. 170

Why don’t you take Sarah outside to see grandpa, mom tells me. She and grandma have The Boy laid out on a blanket on the couch. Grandma is tickling his toes to wake him because he’s got his days and nights confused and keeps everyone up all night with his crying. My room is right next to The Boy’s, and if I sit up in bed and press my ear to the wall, sometimes I can hear mom talking to him, whispering at him so he’ll stop. I’ve got you, she tells him. Mama’s got you now. But he just cries and cries and sometimes she cries too and grandma has to come in to put them both to sleep. Mom says I’m supposed to love my family all the time, but it’s hard because grandma always tries to feed me apple slices even when I tell her I’m not hungry. Grandpa always tries to teach me about hunting even though I’ve already told him I don’t want to, and Sarah killed my guinea pig Moe. Mom says Moe died of natural causes, but he was only two and Sarah was always trying to feed him things he didn’t want, like plastic twisties or the rubber thumb grandma wears when she’s sewing. When mom tells me to take Sarah outside, I take her downstairs and leave her there with her dolls instead. When she’s not watching I take her favorite stuffed bear, a brown one in a red shirt that says “Baby’s First Christmas.” I walk up the stairs and out the back door, leaving my coat and hat and gloves by the door. It’s snowing outside, and the driveway is icy in the spots dad missed with his shovel this morning. In the garage, grandpa’s got the door closed and the 171

space heater on. He’s playing rock music loud and sawing through a pile of wood that gets smaller and smaller. I take Baby’s First Christmas behind the garage where the ground is melty and smear his face in the snow and mud and dog poop. I pop his black eyes out with a stick and pull at the stuffing. In the garage, grandpa’s table saw whines. When mom and dad explained what happened to Moe, Sarah asked No Moe? and they both laughed and laughed, even though I was standing right next to them. In the garage, grandpa is singing over the noise. I poke Baby’s First Christmas’s head through the fence for the neighbor dog, but he just sniffs at it and walks away. I walk away, too. Dad wanted to bury Moe but I got mad and wouldn’t let him. I just tied a knot in the garbage bag and threw it in a big empty rubber trashcan instead. I felt bad about it afterward, the sound it made. It’s getting dark and cold, and after a while the noise from the garage stops and grandpa brings the big door down with a crash. I sit down in a clean patch of snow and let the cold numb my bare hands. Behind me, the wire fence presses imprints into my back. Later, mom and grandma will give The Boy his bath and grandpa will drive to the store to buy beer. Sarah will crawl back upstairs by herself and everyone will know that I’m missing. They won’t find me back here in the dark. I’ll just stay absolutely still and hold my breath and wedge myself against the fence next to Baby’s First Christmas until I’m just part of the yard. 172

When they start to panic, they’ll call for me louder and louder until my name is high and low and all around and even the neighbors will hear. It’ll get late and The Boy will start crying inside all alone because he thinks it’s morning already. He’ll cry until his face turns red and purple and his fat lumpy head will twist side to side on his neck that mom is always so worried about. He’ll scream and thrash and cough into his pillow, a dark rash flushing up his neck and by the time anyone’s listening, they won’t hear anything at all.


Justin Brouckaert / Hank, Sr. I. THE ONLY COUNTRY SINGER worth a damn is Hank Williams, and if you knew one thing about my grandpa, that’s the one thing you knew. “All the rest are phonies,” he’d say. Then he’d pulled his flannel to his elbows and tell us why. To call grandpa a hand talker would be an insult to his art. Other men used violent, looping gestures to tell their stories, but grandpa used his hands like a tailor uses a needle—he threaded his speech with a turn of his palm, a wave of his finger and a flick toward the sky. When he was finished he sat back, folded his arms and eyebrows and dared us to disagree. When grandpa heard we were heading north from Detroit he raced into town to buy supplies for a cookout—hamburgers and brats, hot dogs and corn, cases of Busch. He flipped burgers with one hand and used a squirt bottle to fight charcoal flames with the other. Sweating and laughing, he dipped in and out of the garage for rounds of beer, led the picnic table conversation from across the yard. At dinner he told stories from his Coast Guard days, Detroit in the fifties, translations of dirty German jokes he learned from his father. We laughed until our food turned cold, until my grandpa swept the table clean and reappeared in the garage, testing amplifiers and tuning guitars. Grandpa played lead guitar and mom played rhythm. Uncle Frank played bass, dad played harmonica and my sister could fiddle. The family band used to play in bars across northern 174

Michigan and the U.P. when my mom was a girl, and when everyone got back together they jammed until two, three in the morning, until the whole forest rang with Hank. Grandpa played in front of the others at the entrance to the garage, turning to cue Aunt Laura on vocals, to glare Uncle Frank back into rhythm. When it came time for his own solo he turned and played out to the yard, to the dogs and cats and chipmunks he fed every morning, picking at his Strat like he was headlining the Grand Ole Opry. Whatever gave my family a knack for music passed me by. When the band hit their stride I slipped into the woods and wandered down the paths my grandpa had flattened with his work boots, trampled clear of weeds. I twisted deeper in the dark, trusting the compass at my back, knowing I had at least two more sets until it brought me home. II. Grandma and grandpa had outdoor pets, and outdoor pets only. They were more killers than pets—the cats, mousers who hunted in the garage; the dogs, hounds that bellowed from the porch for hours when my uncles went hunting by the crik. My grandparents lived on a two-lane highway, the type of country road where people drove drunk as often as they drove sober. Across the street was a cemetery banked by deep woods stretching all the way back to Lake Michigan. My sister and I were never allowed to cross the street and the pets weren’t either, but grandpa still ended up scraping each and every one of his killers off the road. 175

Mom said the animals lived longer when she was a girl, but as my sister and I got older, their lifespans shrank. Popsy, a Siamese, lasted five years, and Cody the hound lasted three. Bernadette, a collie mix, was only a year old when she was flattened. Uncle Frank said grandpa got more stubborn as he aged. My sister and I begged grandpa to bring his cats inside, to keep his dogs on a leash, but every year we watched him walk down the driveway to the road with his shovel and garbage bag, slowly stooping down on one knee. Every year we learned and relearned to look both ways. III. Uncle Frank did all the grilling at the last cookout because grandpa could only stand for so long. Grandpa sat in his plastic chair by the picnic table instead, sipping his beer as the conversation crept from public schools to gardening to traffic in the city. “The great thing about zucchinis is that they’re versatile,” Uncle Frank said. Grandpa just smiled and bobbed his head. The cookouts had gotten shorter since picking at his Strat got to be too much for grandpa. He smiled and cracked another beer as grandma cleared food off the table, brought a pot of coffee out for the rest of us. We still snapped to attention when grandpa talked, but he got lost in his own sentences, the airy breaks between words growing longer and longer until there was more silence than story. His hands, still as stone, rested heavy on his knees. 176

Still, he could put a needle to vinyl. Still, Hank Sr. reigned. “I Saw the Light” lofted over from the garage as my grandma’s new dog, a big Pomeranian named Duke, hunted for scraps around the table, dragging a long chain-link leash behind him. Conversation cut out as we drank our coffee. Uncle Frank scratched at his arm. Mom checked her watch. The old bench shuddered beneath us. Dad found a bone at his feet and dangled it front of the dog. Duke lunged, and dad chucked the bone down the driveway toward the road. Uncle Frank jumped as Duke gave chase, spraying sand behind him as he raced down the driveway. Mom yelled dad’s name. Grandma screamed. Grandpa’s foot kept rhythm in standard time. I stared at the base of the picnic table where the coil of chain unfurled, whipping angrily around the metal. Beneath the chain, blades of grass hopped and stumbled. The line withered until it was thinner, and thinner still, and thin, until any second it would snap taut against the base. From the road, a distant hum turned into a roar. Still, grandpa’s foot kept tapping. Still, that goddamn record spun.


Wendy Elizabeth Ingersoll / Chords Break from my Hands like Sacraments Harmonies stain the window’s light; psalms throb my ears, your heartwood. Rare heaven is synchronicity of fingers, keys. Eternity is practice. Liturgy is others’ prayers we echo; temptation is glib beauty we pursue. If the mahogany that formed you fell alone in the forest, would I have missed my life? The past is every melody we’ve ever made, reverberating; future is the next note coming; present is my finger pressing down, your hammer striking.


Wendy Elizabeth Ingersoll / Loon We floated across the hour our mother died like the heron in our cove skims water. We lay on the bed beside her, waited to see if she’d return. At last we rose, opened her closet doors, pulled out one dress after another, selected one for death she’d never worn in life. She would have chosen the fuchsia, immersed herself in hue, as the loon dives deep in our cove. Before she left I asked my mother to fly me again that glance, the lone way all our lives she spoke of love. But she only lay there quiet, swimming beneath the surface.


Nicole Sheets / How Kind Can You Be? AS A TEENAGER, I had Buns of Steel on VHS. Now I’m a woman who’s getting into yoga. Yoga is about balance. It’s about finding peace with what is instead of wasting time on what might have been. All that matters is your rectangle of smooshy mat. All that matters is your breath. Yoga teachers say things like observe the texture of your breath. Yoga teachers could talk all day about pubic bones and pelvic floors. Yoga teachers say things like imagine a light traversing your entire body. Let the light linger where you need more healing. I imagine a yellow ball, bigger than a cantaloupe but smaller than a kickball, hovering above my body, beaming its rays and energy and chi to my junked up shoulders and neck. A man I once loved said he couldn’t describe the color of my skin, its glow as though a porch light had switched on inside of me. He was a man of whom I could never get my fill. I loved him, of this I am sure, and I also loved that hunger. One of my favorite yoga poses is child’s pose, when you sit on your heels, then bend forward so that your arms stretch out in front of you and your forehead touches the ground. Stemless leaf pose is similar, except that your arms rest by your sides. A teacher once called stemless leaf “tofurkey pose.”


One night I sat on a worn-out couch and read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. The man I loved came by for tea. He told me that he wanted to be alone, which meant he wanted to be with someone else. I was the only person who showed up the next day for an evening yoga class. I knew that if I did some yoga, I’d be hungry, and then I could eat. I’d be tired, so I might sleep. I waited in the empty studio. I asked Aaron, the teacher, if we’d still have class. No. Go home! Then he laughed. Just kidding. C’mon, he said, let’s do some yoga. I’m a teacher, so I like questions. I liked them even more when I realized that in academia, it’s perfectly acceptable, nay respectable, to answer a question with a question. How kind can you be to yourself with your breath? Aaron asked during our one-on-one class. Maybe he could tell how much I needed this. In this yoga studio hung a tie-dye tapestry of a seated figure’s blue silhouette. It looked a bit too DIY for the more sleek feeling of the place. It looked like a blanket you might buy once the drum circles started in the park. Colored chakras lined the center of the seated figure, a Roy G Biv of cosmic energy. The root chakra of the pelvis is the seat of anger and passion, a red triangle like a bikini bottom. The fire mellows as you move toward the navel, into the yellow solar plexus chakra. While 181

bumbling through an online crystals shop, I discovered that this chakra is linked to identity. How kind can you be to yourself with your breath? In yoga, questions are often rhetorical. It irritates me when students talk in class. Sometimes there’s a mouthbreather, or one of the grunters, the moaning enthusiastic exhalers who make me uncomfortable. I already have to ignore that I’m bending in all sorts of wacky shapes, my butt perilously close to my neighbor’s face. How kind can you be to yourself? The online crystals shop informs me that the solar plexus chakra is associated with the fire element because fire provides warmth and comfort, but also can cause fear and terror. How kind can you be? I learned that chakras are whorls of energy, sometimes shown as wheels, sometimes flowers. Also from the crystals shop: Yellow is full of creative and intellectual energy. Always use yellow note pads. In those days, I moved from one breath to the next. I hoped the breath could arrest the whorls and wheels. 182

Also: People of high intellect favor yellow. Yellow daffodils are a symbol of unrequited love. Only the breath could keep me still, poised between comfort and pain.


Natalie Nuzzo / Rejection Arrives in the Form of a Letter What is there to writhe to say to drip upon the page, you left me sprawled out upon a spinning needle, I drooled and died for you. ( Well maybe it’s the vision of you ) it’s the musicality of your name say say it say it over and over again — If I said it enough times could I conjure you ? Are you Ashkenazi Warrior Are you ? Are you the first time I remind me of you I remind you of the first a rose a a rose was rose from the ground, below. ( Up a bow down I crush and hahaha laughter fills our phony conversate shuns ) it’s wooded and the leaves yet to turn brown, I’d like to watch a small grey fly perch atop your forehead it shows me that we’re still dead, two fools sit next to each other smiling wickedly my time is a hallowed out gourd, my mind is dried up like a seed. 1. One: Let’s begin our mailroom correspondence. Rejection arrives in the form of a letter to you. No ideas but in Songs, Gilbert Sorrentino said. ( That, and a loaf of brick oven Italian bread. ) 2. Two: It was the musicality I let possess my hips that night in a pornographic sprawl. It was your name that I let do this to me. To see it appear in text and form and space and reserved with lies buzzing around, I’d ask you to move but it’d cost too much. I learn back you lean back I expose you hide it’s simpler when I am the one who is the strip tease. Peel back the dewy layer it’s nothing more than melons masquerading as my mother, in a pale blue dressing gown. It’s evaporating as we speak and that’s fine. 184

1. One Two. 2.That’s what this all has led up too: stare out the window measure space in pulls from a man, it’s electronic this one. For this I beg apology : I get lost inside and the caves open up It helps swallow my sound, I echo against a bag of bones at my doorstep I will collect these and sweep up after you. Pick up the parcels of sin I’ve left behind, step inwards commercially: just remember to mail it back to me.


James Ducat / Resort We are naked. But then, everyone is. And if you ask, the tour guide will offer theories of freedom and egalitarianism and she will be right, all that about doctors and truck drivers being the same out of their clothes. And from a distance – you notice – genderless as earthworms. But you won’t have to ask – she will brief you before you drop your briefs (you are required to be naked in the pool area). As her nipples sway, she will caution against cell phone photos and the internet and you will almost believe – like you believe you can gauge the ripeness of a peach by touch – that genitals mean nothing here. She will not warn you about the charging flex of heat that closes in, carnal as a peeled mango. Don’t stare. Yet even as you lose the need for car keys and unbecome in the chaise longue, your eyes wander back onto those undulant folds and you want to know, know down to the seed, the taste of fruit beneath an unmindful sun.


James Ducat / The Persistence My friend says one enters as another leaves, the door a passage for the soul, I imagine, like light falling off the Salton Sea lifts turkey vultures in slow circles away from carrion. Zero sum is too convenient and like plastic, like violence: a difficult proposition. How many extractions – teeth, laughter – the world chewed like arugula, butter leaf, dandelion, water cress. & Moon & Moon Grafted, gibbous Each Monday called Monday In a winter of ash This careening Implication of cycle Of three hundred and sixty(-five point two) we gave it a name breathed across lips thus it became soon others could smell it vaguely of bergamot 187

thing with one side shadowless turning to stay in view I pretend I am cool with all this not-wanting, but the sentences, infected by significance: sounds bouncing off obelisks of air; the verb exonerate; the adjective ineffable. Still I am a bowling alley on a Friday night, all neon & blacklight and bass & pins carousing: never enough distance.


Jane Rosenberg LaForge / When We Were Carcinogens Water without surface tension is the wind. Water without wind is like the surface of the moon: a brocaded rhythm chained to link and shadow, no movement between sun and reflection: the breathless, disaffected end. At the bottom of the pool, the concrete was sculpted from squares stretched into more difficult volumes, like the web of a volleyball net vying for a patriotic position. My bathing suit then was always red, white and blue. I would have done anything for a part in a movie: spread my lips and allowed the sea to pour in, scour my nostrils. I practiced in the pool. But the sea was always the wrong body of water, and my skin was rippled from the time and degrees, too extended, too cool. I would have bathed myself in insects attracted by the open cans of Coca-Cola, but the world remained as still as a museum, and yet it moved, it moved. Even when tied to a stake and the guns 189

were facing the wrong direction, and all the medicines were merely glue.


Mark Petterson / Civil Procedure We have become specialists at conflict Like in that story you read to me before you hid it under the fire, where the wife throws a glass of red wine at the protagonist because he bought a motorcycle, without telling her, and it leaves a stain on the white wallpaper, in the shape of a man, hiding his face in his upended palms. We should have made some rules. Compiled some casebook that would have helped in these futures with others. As if we couldn’t find the point the issue the gist the tip of my tongue to reserve summary judgment and we should have made some rules. Like: no stories to convey meanings. Like: no throwing wine like in that story. Maybe: don’t contradict yourself This kind of user manual, you could really make a killing selling it. Give specific warnings about us, and what sort of things we’re apt to get into when I think we might be headed into a logical corner, of our own special design. 191

If you included a few mistakes, gave flawed advice, you could keep the customers coming until they’ve forgotten who I was entirely. And then the novelty factor, too. It would sell itself – look at this sad sack misery addict. So very funny. But anyway, I think I am going to keep the motorcycle.


Mark Petterson / Contracts a few times, to a mason jar filled with rosemary and gin I have wondered whether those noises down the alley are the hammering of iron and aluminum gates and nails and maybe a scarecrow into the backstreet neighbor’s garden sill. or if they are instead reports from a small boy’s gun and then whether it is his toy, or his father’s toy, or am I just hearing things sitting on the back stoop, waiting for you. * we make these promises to ourselves. to the sawgrass, to the ranges. maybe things will get better, or tomorrow we’ll just be left, holding the last echo. and the neighbors say the neighborhood is going to the birds and I say I don’t know what that means 193

because I see birds here and there but do you have more to drink? * it’s easier this way, in an economy of remedies, waiting for gyres off-balance and young. And you. You there with violence and peonies, accusing me of just gathering material, not really interested. it’s just a design defect, I said, not market tested, loose things. A calculus of public insurance gone bad. * Take the cactus and go. I’ve killed it anyway. It was an accident. I poured day-old beer into the cactus mug every few days. And beer is mostly water but maybe it just grew too much and felt constrained, died of a broken heart. An accident, like I said. Equally persuaded that it all comes down to something like ordinariness. Workable for some and too-heavy for others. 194

Alvin Park / To My Niece 1. MY BROTHER is a man who loves a woman, your mother. He leaves our farm to live with her. It is from there that family loses itself, when it turns into frayed threads, dish shards left in the sink, corn husks strewn by the door. 2. The night my parents meet your mother, Ma makes a roast. After, when my brother and your mother leave, we sit outside, listen to the crickets. Ma and Pa say, She’s fat. She’s ugly. She’s dumb. She’s poor. She’s not our people. I shake my head, feel my body tire under the weight, my bones suddenly creak in their sockets, but their voices leak through my window, the waves of disapproval carried over the autumn wind and settling by my pillow. Later, I realize I never told them to stop. 3. They find out that she once had a husband, that the two have a son. Ma sits outside, knits a scarf or sweater or blanket. Pa chops wood until sunset, until he shines with sweat, until he walks away with his hands filled with splinters and the dark red shades buried in each palm.


4. When I am young, I accidentally break the window with my hand, Ma and Pa worry about the draft, the flies, the cost of glass. Ma scrubs at the red dots in the floor where I had come undone. 5. My brother holds me by the wrist, my hand submerged in the bucket, and I feel the sting as he pushes the glass pebbles from each cut, each piece of skin shredded, peeling, dead. We watch the blood spill out and fog the water until my hand is numb and bandaged and blue. 6. Pa says, You have no idea what we want. Says, You’re not a son. 7. I read about you from letters, when your mother writes, Morning sickness. I hear of you from talk at the store, when my brother says, My daughter. 8. The night my brother leaves, Pa is weak, fragile, says, I’m sorry. I hope you live a good life. He stumbles outside, the choking in his voice. He sleeps with the horses, the hay braided into his beard in the morning. Ma cries on my shoulder. 9. I wonder at the display, these tears, this melodrama for my brother’s happiness, but I find myself in the field, stripped, my skin sprouting goose pimples, one hand shivering, holding the gun steady, the barrel resting just between my chin and neck. Later, I will tell you that this was not for you or your brother or Ma and Pa. It was me. It was the lack of me. It was everything I didn’t know. 196

10. In the forest in the home that isn’t mine, where the sun blondes the wood floor, I hold you for the first time, pinch each hand, each foot, count your fingers and toes. You hold strong to me and yawn with your soft gums. My brother and your mother watch from their bed. 11. While they sleep, I take you outside. 12. My first words to you: I’m sorry, little one. 13. I’m sorry for this fear, these complications, these long stories. 14. I’m sorry I am just a man. There is blood in my veins that belongs to someone, scars along my hands and heart and neck. I hope you will teach me. I hope that you can hold my hand, guide me to something real and rooted. I hope that I can be the person you need me to be, the branches to hang from, the grass to melt in your palms, the cricket songs come summer. The better man. 15. Swaddled in blankets, you listen to the sparrows, hear each bright note, smile up at something I can’t see, some mote, some memory yet to make.


Alvin Park / Milky WHEN SHE BROUGHT OUT the bucket of milk and saw the man sitting on her steps, she thought he looked familiar. As she neared, she said, I don’t want anything you’re selling. He said, Ain’t selling, miss. Just resting. He flashed a smile that matched his suit that matched the milk glowing in her bucket and ticked something in her remembering like a switch. That smile that felt so close, like she had seen it every morning right beside her. He closed an eye to wink away the sun. I’ll be out of your way soon, he said. A speck of dirt on his lapel, a scuff on the knee of his pants. She walked around him up the steps into her home. The bucket went on the counter next to the sink. From the window, she could see the man’s shoes, unclean, dirtied, layered with mud and earth from years and years. She felt that she knew where the mud came from, that the dirt that cracked closest to the leather sole had slipped between her own fingers, that she had helped ease them off tired feet. She held the glasses steady as she approached the door, the steps, his hand. She said, Thought you’d might like something to drink.


He took the glass, said, Thank you kindly. Half went down in a gulp, and she saw him swill the thick and the sweet in his mouth, saw him lick his lips and wipe away the sweat. The way she wanted to hold a handkerchief to his cheek, to wrap him in something cold, to feel his lips on the insides of her wrists, to ask him the stories he knew and to tell him her own. That she wanted to ask, How do I know your eyes, your chin, the feel of your breath on my neck? He finished his milk, said, Much obliged, ma’am, pulled his body up, the sinews and muscles catching what they needed. She stared after him until his back had gone, his shoes already layered with a dirt, dirt that covered what had been on her steps, in her bones. The milk stilled in her glass. The cows mooed. The click of the door settling.


Alvin Park / Stream WE GATHER WOOD by the lake, where the water can’t reach but the sun has bleached the earth. We build fires that crackle, and the wood looks like broken bone. She asks, Do you remember how things were before? Before we came to these woods? We use bear fur to keep ourselves warm at night. Our sweat mingles. I imagine that she has a plan to leave me. Or to rescue us. I can’t tell by the way she nuzzles my chest, and so I commit to the same dreams I have every night. I make a spear and I hunt what I can. I cut away the insides and leave them for the insects and beasts, but the rain washes away their hunger. The blood runs into the dirt and leaves, puddles with the rain. We can’t drink that, she says. We open our mouths and fill ourselves with what the leaves can’t take. When dark comes, a current forms around us, around the fire that we have sheltered under laced branches. I say, What if we aren’t the only ones? When she falls asleep, I listen to the hum of droplets swell the stream that has formed and engulfed the fire. I settle into the dream—a home, the smell of something cooking, a flower dress 200

draped over her back, laughter from outside—and I plan for tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow knowing she will be gone when I awake.


Adam Deutsch / Great Aunt, Winter, and Sun for Marilyn Adler Each of us lifts a full shovel and sends the earth down, stabbing the tool deep in a mound. The rite is that we’re to bury our own dead and hear the hollow low thud on the box at the bottom. Mostly echo. She was a small woman, frail woven, sharp-angled. Everyone drops their scoop— cousin Frank forgets, is too moved to eliminate the void until a sweat brings him back. Still, the we never really fill the hole. There are men paid just for that, who pull levers on a machine, doze with louder cries and bigger teeth than any blood can harbor.


Mercedes Lawry / Imminent Collapse Slowly, the house is falling down, even as I breathe in and out, bruised apricots in a bowl in a crease of pale sun. Wind pushes at the windows and I suppose a spectacle of shards, removing the skin between inside and out. The furies will rush to find me, no longer needling at bricks and warped boards, at rotting caulk and hollow doors. Reaching for my bones, my hands like useless wings now. Full flush of weather, teeth revealed, false refuge peeled away. I see black clouds gather to the north. I listen to the tidal groans of the walls.


Ann Howells / Prognosis When he speaks there is no passage outside this room. Flotsam and jetsam plunge jagged waves. Horizons disappear between darkened sky and flat-lighted sea. Breathe in. Breathe out. The vanishing point is at my fingertips. I am, I know, made-up primarily of water, have pulled and pressed the tides since girlhood, wear kelp and starfish in my hair. Diatoms pattern my flesh. Elements succumb: iron to rust, copper to verdigris, phosphorus to fizz and fume.



L. Ward Abel L. Ward Abel, poet, composer and performer of music, teacher, retired lawyer, lives in rural Georgia, has been published hundreds of times in print and online, and is the author of Peach Box and Verge (Little Poem Press, 2003), Jonesing For Byzantium (UK Authors Press, 2006), The Heat of Blooming (Pudding House Press, 2008), Torn Sky Bleeding Blue (erbacce-Press, 2010), American Bruise (Parallel Press, 2012), Cousins Over Colder Fields (Finishing Line Press, 2013), and Roseorange (Flutter Press, 2013). Pamela Ahlen Pamela Ahlen is program coordinator for Bookstock (Woodstock, Vermont), a Festival of Words, one of three Vermont literary festivals. She has organized literary readings for ILEAD (Institute for Lifelong Education at Dartmouth). Pam received an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her poems have most recently appeared in Bloodroot, Blue Line, Bohemia, and The Sow’s Ear. She is the author of the chapbook Gather Every Little Thing (Finishing Line Press). Jeffrey Alfier Jeffrey Alfier is a five-time Pushcart Prize nominee. His publication credits include Spoon River Poetry Review, Arkansas Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Columbia College Literary Review, Copper Nickel, Crab Orchard Review, The Cape Rock, Concho River Review, Connecticut Review, december, Emerson Review, Georgetown Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, James Dickey Review, Kestrel, Los 205

Angeles Review, Louisville Review, New Madrid, New York Quarterly, Owen Wister Review, Permafrost, Pirene's Fountain, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry South (UK), South Carolina Review, Southwestern American Literature, Sugar House Review, Texas Review, Tulane Review, and War Literature and the Arts. In addition to eight chapbooks, his first full-length book of poems is The Wolf Yearling, published by Silver Birch Press. Jia Oak Baker Jia Oak Baker is a MFA candidate at the Bennington Writing Seminars where she is a recipient of a Liam Rector Scholarship. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Poet Lore, Gulf Stream, likewise folio, Inscape, Thin Air Magazine, and elsewhere. Jia is the recipient of the 2013 Tucson Festival of Books Literary Award in poetry as well as a scholarship to the New York State Summer Writers’ Institute. She currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona, where she helps edit Four Chambers Press. Stephen Barber Steve Barber was born and raised in Santa Barbara, California. He graduated from UCSB with a degree in literature. He now lives in Portland, Oregon where he spends his time writing, reading, and hanging out with his friends. He also enjoys hiking in the Columbia Gorge and the surrounding mountains. Angela Cardinale Bartlett Angela Cardinale Bartlett has been teaching English at Chaffey College for nine years. She is the founder of the creative writing blog We Will Begin Again, to which she is a frequent contributor. 206

Her work has been published in The Sand Canyon Review, The Chaffey Review, and in the anthology Lost and Found: Stories from New York. She lives in southern California with her husband and two boys. Glenn Blakeslee Glenn Blakeslee is middle-aged and works in IT for a big-time Hollywood movie studio. He likes photography, composing music, and good food and drink. He reads anything he can get his grubby hands on. He has a tiny dog and a tiny cat and a huge teenage son. Linda Blaskey Linda Blaskey is a past winner of the Dogfish Head Poetry Prize and the 2013 recipient of the Established Professional Fellowship Grant (in poetry) from Delaware Division of Art. She is poetry editor of The Broadkill Review and lives on a small horse/goat farm in southern Delaware. Ace Boggess Ace Boggess is author of two books of poetry: The Prisoners (forthcoming from Brick Road Poetry Press) and The Beautiful Girl Whose Wish Was Not Fulfilled (Highwire Press, 2003). His writing has appeared in Harvard Review, Mid-American Review, Atlanta Review, RATTLE, River Styx, Southern Humanities Review, and many other journals. He currently resides in Charleston, West Virginia.


J. Bradley J. Bradley is the author of the forthcoming graphic poetry collection, The Bones of Us (YesYes Books, 2014). He runs the Orlando, FL based reading series/chapbook publisher There Will Be Words and lives at John Brantingham John Brantingham’s work has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac, and has had hundreds of poems published in magazines in the United States and England. His books include the short story collection Let Us All Pray Now to Our Own Strange Gods and the crime novel Mann of War. His newest poetry collection The Green of Sunset is from Moon Tide Press. Justin Brouckaert Justin Brouckaert’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, The McNeese Review, Stymie, Banango Street, Sundog Lit, Metazen, and Squalorly, among other publications. A Michigan native, he is now a James Dickey Fellow in Fiction at the University of South Carolina. Monica Casper Monica J. Casper, Head of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Arizona, has published several books, is co-editor and publisher of TRIVIA: Voices of Feminism, and is a Managing Editor of The Feminist Wire. Her creative writing has appeared in Slow Trains, Vine Leaves, The Linnet’s Wings, and other literary journals. Born and raised in the Midwest, she currently resides in Tucson 208

with her partner, daughters, and a congress of nonhumans, both terrestrial and aquatic. James Claffey Writer, James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA. He is fiction editor at Literary Orphans, and the author of the short fiction collection, Blood a Cold Blue. Tobi Cogswell Tobi Cogswell is a multiple Pushcart nominee and a Best of the Net nominee. Credits include or are forthcoming in various journals in the US, UK, Sweden and Australia. In 2012 and 2013 she was short-listed for the Fermoy International Poetry Festival. Her fifth and latest chapbook is Lit Up, (Kindred Spirit Press). She is the co-editor of San Pedro River Review. Juliet Cook Juliet Cook’s poetry has appeared within Arsenic Lobster, Barn Owl Review, Menacing Hedge, PEEP/SHOW, Ping Pong, and many more print and online sources. She is the editor/publisher of Blood Pudding Press (print) and Thirteen Myna Birds (online). Juliet’s first full-length poetry book, Horrific Confection, was published by BlazeVOX. She also has oodles of published poetry chapbooks, most recently including FONDANT PIG ANGST (Slash Pine Press), Tongue Like a Stinger (Wheelhouse), POST-STROKE (Blood Pudding Press for Dusie Kollektiv 5), Thirteen Designer Vaginas (Hyacinth Girl Press), and POISONOUS BEAUTYSKULL LOLLIPOP (Grey Book Press). A new collaborative poetry collection 209

between Juliet Cook and Robert Cole, MUTANT NEURON CODEX SWARM, is forthcoming from Hyacinth Girl Press in 2014. You may find out more at Lori DeSanti Lori DeSanti currently attends Southern Connecticut State University's MFA Program for poetry. She has been featured in Extract(s) Literary Magazine, Blackwire Literary Magazine, Mouse Tales Press, Inc., and Drunk Monkeys Magazine. She’s the Poetry Editor for Noctua Review and a 2013 Pushcart Prize Nominee. Adam Deutsch Adam Deutsch lives in San Diego, where he teaches composition and creative writing, and runs Cooper Dillon Books. James Ducat James Ducat received an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. His work has appeared in Word Riot, Specter Magazine, Inlandia: A Literary Journey, Convergence, The Citron Review, and others. He teaches writing at Mt San Jacinto College, and lives in Southern California with his son in a house painted pink. Linda Goin Linda Goin is a writer, artist, and poet living like a hermit in a northern Kentucky town. Previous poetry publications include Poetry Super Highway, Stirring Literary Magazine, Mentress Moon, YankeeBoy Review, and Inscriptions Online Magazine. 210

Steve Gowin Steven Gowin is a corporate video producer in San Francisco. In the beginning, he hated the Mojave. Then it took him… its hateful and splendid void. Ken Hada Ken Hada's latest poetry collection is Margaritas and Redfish (Lamar UP, 2013). His Spare Parts received the 2011 Western Heritage Award, and four of those poems were featured on The Writer's Almanac. Please see for additional information. Art Heifetz Art Heifetz teaches ESL to refugees in Richmond, Va. He has had nearly 100 poems published in the U.S., France, Israel, Australia, Argentina, Canada, India, Singapore and Spain. A sampling of his work may be found at Tiff Holland Tiff Holland's poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction appears regularly in journals and anthologies, most recently in New World Writing, Elm Leaves, and Memoir. Ann Howells Ann Howells’s poetry has recently appeared in Calyx, Crannog (Ire), Free State Review, and Magma (UK), as well as other small press and university journals. She serves on the board of Dallas Poets Community, a 501-c-3 non-profit, and has edited its journal, Illya’s Honey, since 1999, recently taking it from print to digital. Her chapbook, Black Crow in Flight, was published by 211

Main Street Rag Publishing (2007). A second chapbook, The Rosebud Diaries, was published in limited edition by Willet Press (2012). Wendy Elizabeth Ingersoll Wendy Elizabeth Ingersoll’s book, Grace Only Follows won the 2010 National Federation of Press Women Contest and was a finalist for Drake University’s 2012 Emerging Writer. Her poems have appeared in Naugatuck River Review, Passager, Caesura, Worcester Review, and Controlled Burn. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in northern Delaware and is a retired piano teacher. Caitlin Johnson Caitlin Johnson is the Managing Editor of CAIRN: The St. Andrews Review. Additionally, she holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Lesley University. Her work has appeared in All Things Girl, Boston Poetry Magazine, Charlotte Viewpoint, Foliate Oak, Fortunates, Gravity Hill, Infinite Press Literary Journal, and Pembroke Magazine. She blogs at Jane Rosenberg LaForge Jane Rosenberg LaForge is the author of a full-length poetry collection, With Apologies to Mick Jagger, Other Gods, and All Women, (The Aldrich Press 2012,) and three poetry chapbooks. Her experimental memoir and novel, An Unsuitable Princess, will be published by Jaded Ibis Press in 2014. More information is available at 212

David Landrum David Landrum’s poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Up the Staircase, The Dark Horse, Centrifugal Eye, Red Fez, Angle, OVS, Pirene’s Fountain, and Straw Dogs. He teaches English at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. Mercedes Lawry Mercedes Lawry’s short prose and poetry has been published in several journals, including Gravel, Dying Goose, Cleaver, Newer York, Poetry, Nimrod, Superstition, Prairie Schooner, and others. She also writes stories and poems for children. Diane Lockward Diane Lockward is the author of The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop (Wind Publications, 2013) and three poetry books, most recently Temptation by Water. Previous books include What Feeds Us, which received the 2006 Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize, and Eve's Red Dress, all from Wind Publications. Her poems have been included in such anthologies as Poetry Daily: 360 Poems from the World’s Most Popular Poetry Website and Garrison Keillor's Good Poems for Hard Times, and have been published in such journals as Harvard Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner. Her work has also been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer's Almanac. Paul Luikart Paul Luikart's work has appeared (or is forthcoming) in Barrelhouse, Chicago Quarterly Review, Curbside Splendor, Vector Press, 213

Whiskey Paper, and Yalobusha Review, among others. He has had the honor of being nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Sundress Publications Best of the Net anthology. In March, he'll finish his MFA at Seattle Pacific University. Catfish McDaris Catfish McDaris is an aging New Mexican living near Milwaukee. He has four walls, a ceiling, heat, food, a woman, two cats, a typing machine, and a mailbox. That’s enough for him. He writes for himself and sometimes he gets lucky and someone publishes his words. has his latest book, Jupiter Orgasma. Robbie Maakestad Robbie Maakestad is pursuing a Master of Arts in the Creative Writing program at Ball State University; his focus is in creative non-fiction. He has published previously in The Broken Plate, The Wayfarer, and at Jon Magidsohn Jon Magidsohn is originally from Toronto, Canada. He’s written about fatherhood for, the Good Men Project, Today’s Parent, and Mummy and Me magazines. He’s also been featured on Chicago Literati and the What’s Your Story? Memoir Anthology (Lifetales) and currently publishes three blogs. He’s been an actor, singer, waiter, upholsterer, sales representative, handyman and writer. He moved to London, UK in 2005 where he received an MA in Creative Non-Fiction from City University. Jon, his wife, Deborah, and their son, Myles, are now in Bangalore, India, where Jon writes full time. 214

Dennis Mahagin Dennis Mahagin’s writing has appeared in magazines such as Exquisite Corpse, Evergreen Review, Verse Wisconsin, Stirring, Everyday Genius, 42opus, 3 A.M., Smokelong Quarterly, and The Nervous Breakdown. His poetry collection, Grand Mal, is available from Rebel Satori Press and Amazon. He’s @ scruffy123 on Twitter. Lisa Mangini Lisa Mangini holds an MFA from Southern Connecticut State University. Her poetry collection, Bird Watching at the End of the World, is forthcoming from Cherry Grove in 2014. She is the winner of the 2011 Connecticut Poetry Prize, and her work can be found in Weave, Stone Highway Review, Louisiana Literature, and others. She is the founding editor of Paper Nautilus, and teaches English composition and creative writing at handful of colleges across Connecticut. Sharanya Manivannan Sharanya Manivannan is the author of a book of poems, Witchcraft. She has received a Lavanya Sankaran Fellowship and an Elle Fiction Award, and been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. Her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in Drunken Boat, Hobart, Wasafiri, Prairie Schooner, Cerise Press, Killing the Buddha, the Best of The Net anthology, and elsewhere. She lives in India and can be found online at


Anthony Martin Anthony Martin (@pen_tight) is a reader and a writer but mostly a mutt. His work appears, or is forthcoming, in Nib Magazine, Red Savina Review, Treehouse, and WhiskeyPaper Carolyn Martin Carolyn Martin is blissfully retired in Clackamas, OR, where she gardens, writes and plays with communities of creative colleagues. Her work has appeared in publications such as Naugatuck River Review, Becoming: What Makes a Woman, Stirring, and Ekphrastia Gone Wild. Currently, she is president of the board of VoiceCatcher, a nonprofit that connects women writers and artists in greater Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA. Ioanna Mavrou Ioanna Mavrou writes fiction and runs a tiny publishing house called Book Ex Machina in Nicosia, Cyprus. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from Oxford University. Her work has appeared in The Mays, Litro, The Drum, and elsewhere. Jamie Moore Jamie L. Moore is the author of Our Small Faces, a novelette, (ELJ Publications, 2013). She received her MFA in Fiction from Antioch University, Los Angeles. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackberry: A Magazine, Emerge Literary Journal, Moonshot Magazine, and Drunk Monkeys. She works as an English instructor.


Karla K. Morton Karla K. Morton, the 2010 Texas Poet Laureate, is a Councilor of the Texas Institute of Letters and a graduate of Texas A&M University. Described as “one of the most adventurous voices in American poetry,” she is a Betsy Colquitt Award Winner, twice an Indie National Book Award Winner, and is the author of nine collections of poetry. Morton has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, is a nominee for the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, and established an ekphrastic collaborative touring exhibit titled: No End of Vision: Texas as Seen By Two Laureates, pairing photography with poetry with Texas Poet Laureate Alan Birkelbach. H.L. Nelson H. L. Nelson is head of Cease, Cows literary magazine and Associate Editor of Qu literary journal. Her publication credits include over 40 in a year’s time, including Writer’s Digest, PANK, Hobart, Connotation Press, Metazen, Bartleby Snopes, Thrice Fiction, etc. Her poem “Absolution” was nominated for the 2013 Best of the Net. She is editing an anthology, which includes stories by Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, Lindsay Hunter, and other exceptional women writers. Her web site is Natalie Nuzzo Natalie Nuzzo received her MA in English from Brooklyn College, and her writing has appeared in Overpass Books, Having a Whiskey Coke with You, NAP, and The Medical Chronicles. She is a coeditor of the forthcoming anthology Wreckage of Reason 2: Back 217

to the Drawing Board (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2014). She lives and teaches in Brooklyn. Amanda Oaks Amanda Oaks is the founding editor of Words Dance Magazine & Publishing, as well as chief enabler at Kind Over Matter, an online haven for people to share stories that revolve around kindness & being who you are without apology. She peppers the planet with daily doses of poetry, art & gentle business wisdom. Her & her work have appeared in numerous online & print publications, including Stirring, Dressing Room Poetry Journal, Glamour, Elle, Parenting & Artful Blogging. Her chapbook, Hurricane Mouth, is forthcoming from NightBallet Press in 2014. She believes in our collective freedom & enjoys laughing more than most anything. Connect with her at Alvin Park Alvin Park lives and writes in San Diego. His work has been featured in The Rumpus, Commas and Colons, Penumbra, and The Altar Collective. Mark Petterson Mark grew up in Prairie Village, Kansas. He received his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Kansas, where he cofounded Beecher’s Magazine, a national literary journal. Since then, he has lived in England, St. Louis, and Seattle. You can find his fiction and poetry in journals such as The Mochila Review, Stone Highway Review, elimae, and others. He teaches writing at Seattle Central Community College. 218

Kenneth Pobo Kenneth Pobo had a chapbook published by Finishing Line Press in 2012 called Save My Place. Forthcoming from Eastern Point Press is a chapbook called Placemats. Sam Rasnake Sam Rasnake’s works, receiving five nominations for the Pushcart Prize, have appeared in The Southern Poetry Anthology, Best of the Web 2009, Wigleaf, OCHO, MiPOesias Companion 2012, Big Muddy, Literal Latté, Poets / Artists, LUMMOX 2012, BOXCAR Poetry Review Anthology 2, and Dogzplot Flash Fiction 2011. His latest poetry collection is Cinéma Vérité (A-Minor Press 2013). Carol Reid In the last couple of years, Carol has spent as much time as possible on the road, most happily in the American Southwest, where she was irrevocably enchanted by New Mexico. Home is a small, isolated town on the west coast of Canada, where she has lived almost all her life. Carol's stories have appeared in print and online journals, most recently MoonShine Review and Stymie. She loves to take both still and moving pictures and has recently begun making video renditions of her work. Cindy Rinne Cindy Rinne creates art and writes in San Bernardino, CA. She is a Guest Author for Saint Julian Press and is a founding member of PoetrIE, an Inland Empire based literary community. Her work appeared or is forthcoming in Cactus Heart Press, The Wayfarer, Twelve Winters Press, The Lake, Revolution House, Soundings 219

Review, East Jasmine Review, Linden Ave. Literary Journal, The Gap Toothed Madness, A Narrow Fellow, shuf poetry, Poetry Quarterly, The Prose-Poem Project, and others. Susan Rooke Susan Rooke is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee who lives in Austin, Texas. She has recent or forthcoming poems in San Pedro River Review, U.S.1 Worksheets, Texas Poetry Calendar 2014, Melancholy Hyperbole, and Deep Water Literary Journal, among other publications. She and her husband spend as much time in the mountains of West Texas as possible. Justin Runge Justin Runge lives in Lawrence, Kansas, where he serves as poetry editor of Parcel. He is the author of two chapbooks, Plainsight (New Michigan Press, 2012), and Hum Decode (forthcoming from Greying Ghost Press). In 2013, his work was selected for inclusion in that year’s Best New Poets anthology. Poems of his have appeared in Linebreak, DIAGRAM, Harpur Palate, and elsewhere. He can be found at Nicole Sheets Nicole Sheets work has appeared in Image, Mid-American Review, Hotel Amerika, DIAGRAM, Western Humanities Review, Tampa Review, The Ocean State Review, Cream City Review, Rock & Sling, Geez magazine, Quarterly West, Connotation Press online, Airplane Reading, North Dakota Quarterly, and in the anthologies Permanent Vacation (Bona Fide Books, 2011) and Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical (Cascade Press, 2009), forthcoming in 220

Sonora Review. She’s an assistant professor of English at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington and is currently working on a spiritual autobiography viewed from the unlikely lens of fashion. Jon Sindell A human, Jon Sindell earns his bread as a humanities tutor. His short fiction has appeared or will appear in dozens of publications, including Hobart, Pithead Chapel, Word Riot, Zouch, New South, Prick Of The Spindle, Crack The Spine, Switchback, Weave, and Beatdom. He curates the Rolling Writers reading series in San Francisco. Samantha Stier Samantha Eliot Stier's short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Faircloth Review, Black Heart Magazine, Extract(s), Citizen Brooklyn, Infective Ink Magazine, Gemini Magazine, Drunk Monkeys, Spry Literary Journal, and Blank Fiction Literary Magazine, and will be featured in LA's New Short Fiction Series in 2014. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, and lives in sunny Venice Beach, California. Visit her at Tim Suermondt Tim Suermondt is the author of two full-length collections: TRYING TO HELP THE ELEPHANT MAN DANCE (The Backwaters Press, 2007) and JUST BEAUTIFUL (New York Quarterly Books, 2010). He has published poems in Poetry, The Georgia Review, Blackbird, Able Muse, Prairie Schooner, PANK, Bellevue Literary Review and Stand Magazine (U.K.), and has poems forthcoming in Mudlark, 221

A Narrow Fellow, and Plume Poetry Journal, among others. After many years in Queens and Brooklyn, he has moved to Cambridge with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong. Don Thompson Don Thompson has been publishing since the early sixties including a half dozen books and chapbooks in this century. An LA Times profile, Planted in the San Joaquin, remains available online. Jonathan Treadway Jonathan Treadway is a writer and painter and musician who was born a preacher’s kid, but went on to fail at the family business. His work has appeared in some magazines, print and online, and he has published 2 chapbooks. Rose Maria Woodson Rose Maria Woodson is a MFA candidate at Northwestern University. Her work has also appeared in Foliate Oak, Melusine, Magnolia: A Journal of Women’s Socially Engaged Literature, Volume II, Quantum Poetry Magazine, OVS Magazine, Jet Fuel Review, and Stirring.


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