Mojave River Review Spring/Summer 2019
Mojave River Review Volume 5 â&#x20AC;¢ Number 1
Publisher/Editor Michael Dwayne (aka MD) Smith Associate Editors Carolyn Adams Epiphany Ferrell Jennifer Glover Bonnie A. Spears Arlene White Contributing Photography Editor Frank Foster “At the supermarket the floral woman asks me if I need any help. Complicated question, I reply and spend a few minutes dipping my face into the rising breath of flowers.” —Matthew Siegel JUNE 2019 Cover image and all other photographs copyright © 2019 Frank Foster unless otherwise noted. Journal design by MD Smith. Copyrights to individual works published herein belong to respective authors and artists. The Mojave River Review is published by Mojave River Press. All rights reserved © 2019. Submission information at MojaveRiverPress.com/mrr. To be alerted when Mojave River Review re-opens for submission, “like” us on Facebook and “follow” us on Twitter. Write with the blood, Dear Friends, and the reader will listen to the dream.
“Linda Blaskey bravely writes moving poems filled with longing and loss. Hers is a voice exquisitely sensual, yet peaceful. A stunning book.” —Jan Beatty, author of Jackknife: New & Selected Poems “Linda Blaskey’s poems, with their quiet observations and subtle language play, draw us into small and necessary pleasures. These lyrics capture joys of domestic contentment while acknowledging the turmoil and ecstasy that roil beneath the tranquil surface.” —Gerry LaFemina, author of The Story of Ash “These poems run wild with life, and Linda Blaskey’s honed lines chop up the landscape, natural, emotional, and spiritual Her debut collection is sharp as fence wire.” —Stephen Scott Whitaker, National Book Critics Circle GRAB YOUR COPY AND COPIES AS GIFTS FOR FAMILY AND FRIENDS!
BARNES & NOBLE
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FEATURED POET Linda Blaskey Interview! Poems from WHITE HORSES, new poems! Brian Fanelli Snapping a Photo with Chatterer the Cenobite at a Horror Con Reconciling with Home Carolyn Oliver You Can Swallow Any Secret, but What Good Will It Do? Sentries Tim Suermondt The Saints and the Gods are Optimists The Annals that Count Will Only Mention a Handful Mercedes Lawry Window of Opportunity Spoiled for Choice Smudge Kenneth Pobo But Drowning Wandawoowoo and Crickets Something Fabulous Wandawoowooâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Mini-Blinds Eleanor Kedney Home Childhood Michael G. Smith Benefits of Having Had a Stroke Blank Pages Alice Lowe Drawing Life John Grochalski Walking Home from Work on the Evening
67 69 71 76
86 89 91 95 97
after a March Snowstorm Godâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Creature Good Guys Lisa Bellamy What Was She Doing? My Higher Power John Sibley Williams Heaven Backwards Than a Speeding Bullet Toti O'Brien Speculum J. Thomas Burke Like Bison Perpetual Care Last Evening in Lepanto Francine Witte Breach Romeo Stan Sanvel Rubin Simple Miniature Horse How to Breathe at a Deathbed Lisa Mase Staurolite Mine Near Taos We Were 21 When You Died Max Heinegg Robert Johnson Zoo Cyn Kitchen Ohms Law Soliloquy Kevin Tosca Progress In the Sixteenth Arrondissement Cari Oleskewicz
113 116 117 119 126
Sharp Pieces and Prickly Things Things I Saw in Nice that Did Not Include Death Bruce McRae Long Distance Love Off the Record Rikki Santer While She Stands Now Playing: Everything I Said at The Party Is There a God Cento Ethan Joella Out in the Air Mary Buchinger In the Heart of the Small At the Cemetery Ghost The Odyssey You Never Signed Up For Luke Kuzmish Apples Turning Brown Patricia Nelson The Day Len Kuntz Osito Recess Susan Tepper Tricks Ace Boggess Do You Want a Revolution? If You Were Abducted by Aliens, Would You Tell Anybody? Will You Ever Talk to Your Ex Again? Cynthia Anderson Jackalopes Sounding Yucca Man's Lament Jason Baldinger
153 155 156 160 162 167 168 172 175
For Wang Wei We Talked About the Universe on the Afternoon Your Mother Died Baker Street Leah Browning Fever Dreams Richard Downing Prequel Backseat Myths Illegal Sol La Inmigrante Janice S. Fuller Nogales The End of the Drought All Your Friends Another Country Jake Sheff How to Wreck a Day Ida Beal Waiting for My Dog to Die Charles Duffie Hombres Dianne Olsen Leftover Memory Mark Blickley Valadon: Reclining Nude Cheryl Caesar Betrayal Stephen House Cat-Story Trickery Chila Woychik Fresh Fire Lauren Scharhag
185 187 192 194 196
Kitten Love Casino Christmas Steve Deutsch First Kiss A. Molotkov Heaven for 2 Aerodynamics Lesson Evidence Annie Blake Caerimonia De Ligno Todd Mercer Christmas at the Canyon House The Tailors Scott Wiggerman The Mystery of Sleep Questions about This Rock Jonel Abellanosa The Epiphany Lee Ann Pingel La Madonna de las Naranjas The Horse on the Hunnicutt Farm Chicken Truck I Chicken Truck II Gary Glauber Holiday Apothegms Hannah Kinsey Spring Cleaning Leaving in the Dark Fall River Desmond White The Garden of Forking Palms Kevin Ridgeway The Night I Found Out I Was Getting a Divorce What I Do with My Rejection Letters
215 217 223
229 233 235 236 238 241 244 246 249
Lost in the Desert of My Youth in a Blind Raging Search for All the Missing People Lorraine Caputo Solitary Shores Rowan Johnson King of Sintra Jesus Prays for Unity T.M. Thomson Under Spring Moon: The Lizard Angles My body is Bobtail Squid as Morsel Woman Plays to Cats, A Serenade in Three Acts Jeff Fleischer Signature Barbara Buckley Ristine Upgrading to Motherhood 2.0 Jack Mackey Forest Love Michael J. Galko The Mosquito Net Jedediah Smith An Episode in Early Sonoran History, circa 1983 Tricia Knoll Jack Life History with A Labor of Moles Steven Duncan Not Without a Trace It Took All These Years to Tell Gayla Mills The Soft Spot Zachary Kluckman Synonyms for Vessel Every Time I Read the News
251 254 255 259 263
Wendy Hoffman Me, a Hero Scott F. Parker The Word Coffee John Sierpinski Family Reunion Bruges, Belgium Anna O'Brien Wildcats We Will Be Mark A. Fisher A1C California Contributor Notes
“The Girl & the Fox Pirate fills the reader’s heart with wonder and pretty, arresting little stories exploring the dreamy, the magical, the mysterious, the unexpected. Gehan is a fantastic, delightful, never-wastes-a-word writer with a knack for punchy, killer endings. A charming, keen collection of creatures and treasures where even the darkness crackles with electric lights.” —Leesa Cross-Smith, author of Every Kiss A War and Whiskey & Ribbons “Reminiscent of Jayne Anne Phillips’ Black Tickets, these are stories and poems at the same time – brief, lyrical glimpses into the richest interior worlds. Gehan’s sentences are crystals, beautiful and sharp, revealing hidden facets of ordinary people in a uniquely brilliant light. A sparkling debut.” —Jessica Treadway, author of Lacy Eye and How Will I Know You? GRAB YOUR COPY AND COPIES AS GIFTS FOR FAMILY AND FRIENDS!
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Mojave River Press & Review Spring/Summer 2019 Featured Poet White Horse is Not a Horse LINDA BLASKEY is the recipient of two fellowship grants from Delaware Division of Arts. She is poetry/interview editor for The Broadkill Review and is coordinator for the Dogfish Head Poetry Prize. Her work has been selected for inclusion in Best New Poets and the North Carolina Poetry on the Bus Project. She spent her childhood on the plains of Kansas and in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. She now lives in southern Delaware with her husband on a small horse and goat farm. Her remarkable debut poetry collection, White Horses, has just been released and has already received numerous accolades. We’ve asked Linda a few questions, and (lucky you!) she not only gave some fascinating answers, she gave us new poems, as well! We of course include here a couple of poems from White Horses to whet your appetite—and if you’d like a signed, limited edition you can use this special link. We’ve also included, at the end of the interview, links for acquiring standard copies of Linda’s book (softcover or ebook) from three online booksellers. This is a brilliant collection of poems proudly brought to you by Mojave River Press, ’natch. Enjoy!
A Conversation with Linda Blaskey Mojave River Review: What can you tell us about why you started writing poems in earnest? Who or what provoked that 13
craving? And who or what has inclined you to sustain the work, develop it? Linda Blaskey: I started out as a prose writer, mostly short stories, and was fairly successful; even had a story selected for dramatic presentation by InterAct Theatre in Philadelphia. But then at a writer’s conference, in 2002, I was assigned to assist Fleda Brown, Delaware’s Poet Laureate at the time. My job was to handle the money while she signed books. During some downtime we discovered we both spent our young years in Arkansas. She signed her book, Fishing with Blood, to me and referred me to particular pages that had poems about Arkansas. And that was all it took – I wanted to write poems. Since I knew nothing about writing poetry, I sought out the guidance of others that were successful in that genre, people like Bruce Weigl, Erin Murphy, Fleda Brown, Carol Frost, Marie Howe, but especially Gerry LaFemina and Jo McDougall, Arkansas’s current Poet Laureate. Gerry and Jo have been long standing mentors. MRR: Your debut collection, White Horses, is lovely and heartbreaking. I couldn’t sleep the other night and read it, again, straight through, and it remains undiminished after several readings. Are there a couple of poems from the book you could touch on that might serve as signifiers of the whole? I mean in terms of process, empathy, image, and form. Your poetics balance an earthy richness, an authenticity of American experience, and a well-earned philosophy, as if from a lifelong friend. 14
LB: “Looking West Toward the Ozarks” might be my favorite poem in White Horses. And not because it was first published in Mojave River Review and subsequently chosen by Dorianne Laux for inclusion in Best New Poets 2014! But because it contains life’s events. We are born and we die and all that is sandwiched in between is ours alone. Once we are gone what is left is just story. My entire life is in that poem (though, I am fortunately still living). Interestingly, the case might be instead of the book containing the poem, the poem contains the book. I would also have to mention “Deciding What to Do with an Old Loveseat” and “To an Aunt Recently Deceased” because it is in those two poems that horses, some white, some gray, begin to appear. Those are the two poems from which I drew my title. There is a paradox in Chinese philosophy, around 300 BC, that says “white horse is not a horse.” The idea seems to be that “horse” is the thing and “white” is a definer of the thing. There is an ongoing discussion about this paradox but I choose to think of it as there being many dimensions to what we see and experience. And I hope the poems in my book are more than just “horses,” that readers will see the deeper levels. MRR: Are there other arts or artists, meaning non-poets, who have influenced your work, your sensibilities? Tell us about them and how they’ve affected you. LB: I love photography! And pen and ink drawings. And paintings. My brother is a professional photographer. He has given me so many books of photographs, the most recent being The Appalachian Photographs, by Doris Ulmann (she died in 1934), 15
and The Autochromes of J. H. Lartique, 1912 – 1927. I study those books, pull them up close to my face, smell the pages, look at shadow, light, all the nuance, stare into the faces of the subjects. All this is training for the detail I try to put in my poems. I have a friend, Marcia Reed, who is a marvelous painter and collage artist. Her use of color and shape is astounding and I have found myself standing in front of her work just mesmerized. The poem “Dove”, in White Horses, was inspired by her work. “On the Prospect of Dying” was inspired by the art of my husband’s “honorary” aunt, Vita Solomon. Music. I forgot music. It is always playing in the background of my life and I have several poems based on music – one about Rufus Wainwright’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel, No. 2”. I have a poem titled “Eric Clapton’s Guitar”. And there is “Chopin Ballade in G Minor”, which is the last poem in my book. Of all the art forms I find it hardest to write a poem triggered by music. And the majority of those poems are failures. Curious. MRR: Let’s talk about other poets. Who can move you? What poems or volumes? What is it about them? LB: I’m not sure I can completely answer this question! There are so many poets I turn to. I’ll try to give some specifics, though. I am not a brave writer, though I long to be – brave in digging deep, brave in my revelations. Whenever I feel myself wimping out I turn to Bruce Weigl’s, What Saves Us. Always I go to that book. 16
And to Jan Beatty’s, Boneshaker, which changed how I look at poetry. I admire Mark Doty’s book, My Alexandria. At first I had a lot of trouble with that book but with concentrated study, and careful guidance by Gerry LaFemina, it has become one of my favorites. And there is Mark Kraushaar’s book, The Uncertainty Principle. He is a master at controlling a poem through pacing. One of my favorite poems of Beatty’s is titled “Notes on a Nevada Flood”, from The Switching Yard. It is such a gut-level expression of love. I aspire to write like that. Gerry LaFemina’s poem “The Silence That Follows”, from his book Vanishing Horizons, is one that I return to again and again. Each time I read it I think “how does he do that”. It is a perfect, I think, example of how to write a meditative poem. Destiny Birdsong’s poem “Sugar” from the anthology Hardlines: Rough South Poetry. Actually, any of Destiny’s poems. Her work just gets right up in your face and I admire that and wish I could do that. B.H. Fairchild’s poem, “Beauty”, from his collection, The Art of the Lathe. It is seven and a half pages long, mesmerizing, and probably the poem I recommend the most for others to read. I also admire poets that play fast and loose with punctuation. Carol Frost, Jan Beatty, besmilr brigham. Playing with, or disregarding, punctuation can do so much for a poem. I’ll stop now, after one more book mention: Tyree Daye’s debut collection, River Hymns. He writes about experiences that I can’t possibly have any knowledge of and yet he nailed my feet to the floor and said “look at this”. And I did. And I do. I go back to his book time and time again. It is, again, about bravery. 17
MRR: Do you enjoy readings? How important is it, do you think, for the poet to be actively reading aloud in front of an audience? And do your own readings result in any ideas toward reworking the poems? LB: I do enjoy doing readings. I want the audience to feel I am being absolutely honest with them – here are my words and I am saying them out loud to share with you. Kind of like “take another little piece of my heart”. People know when you are being honest. When I prepare for a reading I select poems that hang together in some manner. Then I arrange them in the order I want and then read them through. Once! For timing. I feel with too much rehearsal you can turn your words to cardboard. You want your words to sparkle and to do that you have to accept and allow for risk. And, yes, in the middle of reading a poem I have heard things that don’t work or things that might work better in a different order. If I’m on my game, I’m sometimes able to make revisions while reading the poem! MRR: What would you tell a beginner in response to the question What’s the best education for a poet? Or do you feel one must blaze one’s own trail through the proverbial poetic wilderness? LB: Okay, let’s talk about Picasso. As a young man he studied the basics of painting and he became quite the accomplished painter of realism. Without the basics as his springboard he could never have made the leap from realism to the paintings he is best known for. He could never have developed his unique eye. 18
That is to say, I think a beginning poet needs to learn the basics, the mechanics, of poetry but whether it is by way of formal education, as was the case for Picasso, or self-taught through research and workshops with proven poets depends on what works for them because, no matter what, they will end up having to blaze their own trail anyway. They will have to do the work. They will have to find their own voice. No one can do that for them. And while blazing that trail, I say READ. And read some more. Read every type of poetry they can get their hands on. You cannot write poetry if you don’t read it. And look around you. Observe. Learn to notice detail. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to seek help from poets you trust. They will help you. As an aside: I coordinate the Dogfish Head Poetry Prize, which is now in its 17th year. Every year, when the contest opens, people say to me that they don’t enter poetry contests anymore because it is only poets with MFAs or are in an MFA program than win. I don’t know the statistics in regard to that statement and this is not meant as a commentary about MFA programs but, rather, about the perception of some poets as to where poetry is currently heading. It breaks my heart that there are exquisite voices out there that we may never hear because they feel defeated before they even begin. What can we do? MRR: In what ways do you challenge yourself or shake things up in order to not fall into the trap of writing the same poems over and over again?
LB: One of my favorite things is to write “after” poems. I will read poems of another poet and then write an “after Jack Gilbert” poem, or “after Jan Beatty”, or “after Mark Kraushaar”, or “after Fleda Brown”. I’ve done all of those, and more. Each poet has a different approach, style, and to try and write as they do forces you out of your comfort zone. It is a confidence builder. Or sometimes I will get radical, for me, and “fracture” a poem, like the poem in White Horses titled “They Laughed When I Read Them a Poem About How My Mother Died”. Writing that poem in that form taught me so much about using white space, about controlling the poem and how the reader reads it. Sometimes I write “answers” to poems. Both “After Reading “Great Day in the Cow’s House” I Consider My Grandfather”, and “How I Came to Finally Understand “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” are examples of “answers” to Donald Hall’s and James Wright’s poems. And I do that for the same reason I write the “after” poems. If you notice, my answer to Donald Hall’s “Great Day in the Cow’s House” poem has longer lines than I usually write. It was great fun, a challenge, and a learning experience. I am much more comfortable now with longer lines. Each poet has their own obsessions, subjects that they return to often. My hope is, by challenging my comfort zone, when I return to favorite subjects the approach is fresh. MRR: Where is the work going from here? Can you give us some hints as to where your next collection is headed?
LB: How did you know I’m already thinking ahead? I have a folder that I slide “finished” poems into, but I’m not writing toward a specific idea. I’m going to go back to the question of readings: I feel that, for me, if I focus my writing toward a manuscript, if that is the driving force on my mind, the “risk” will be lost. I prefer to react to a trigger, wherever it may come from, whatever its subject may be, and then write the poem. That sounds kind of freewheeling but it really isn’t. There is discipline involved. I love the delightful surprise in discovering, at the end, that the finished poems are having an unplanned conversation. How could they not? They all came from me, in my voice. Siblings.
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Linda Blaskey Deciding What to Do with an Old Love Seat from White Horses
Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve been standing in front of it for so long the room has gone dark. It belonged to a friend long dead and had a settled life with her but a hard one with us. Certainly never cuddled on by you and me. Under our thin replacement slipcover it is rent by catâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s claws. From the corner of my eye something white moves beyond the window and for a moment I think it is snowing. But it is September and seventy, like me, and the movement is two white horses, tiny like toys, in the back pasture. A red-shouldered hawk sits on a fencepost waiting for prey. Yellow jackets circle the compost heap in search of something sweet.
To an Aunt Recently Deceased from White Horses
A gray mare came down the mountain and turned into a little girl. It was what was needed at the time. She ate only apples but never forgot the taste of high-meadow grass. The girl became a woman who fell in love with a handsome cowboy only to learn love was like chewing brambles (he wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t really a cowboy after all). What are you now, woman once a child once a horse? Eighty-nine new stars turning in the sky. Eighty-nine bristles in a daughterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s horse-hair brush. Eighty-nine smooth, blood-veined pebbles. A gray horse lives in my meadow, moving in and out of shadow like vapor. I call out I know who you are.
Ars Poetica she is the best in line and stanza
jazz singer, scat artist with her riffs and trills nightingale notes sifting through forest in early light listen not a question anywhere no
no ink spills, start-overs just weavings thrown to the wind she cracks her poem open like the gull cracks a shell letting it fall to its beauty
Seven Poems in the Voice of a South Korean Farm Girl, 1972 1 Side by side we peel bark to make soup. Our knuckles bleed. 2 Our hut is small and hot. Mother stirs soup made from sticks and leaves. We wait, our mouths watering. 3 Side by side we chew roots dug from dry ground, bitter like another morning. 4 The calf has wandered, lost itself in tall grass. Its mother calls, her voice a marked path easy to follow. 5 I am the oldest and a girl. I am sent to Seoul to the factories. My family needs more than soup and roots. 6 And what does one know at seventeen? And what does one know in a strange place at seventeen? Only that his skin is warm like the flanks of our oxen. 25
7 Mother writes that the calf is missing again. She does not expect it to return.
On the Way to the Benjamin Moore Paint Store The light has brought traffic to a halt. Stacked us up like scales on a fish. Through the windshield the spine of a dragon floats in the sky until it becomes a line of firs. Charley Burnes once told me he imagined Scotlandâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s trees always bent over with snow. He had never been, saying it took our family two hundred years to inch their way from where we waded ashore to the Arkansas town now lost to maps. The light turns green, releasing us. I think of ancestral cottages with thatched roofs, mud-daubed walls, everything white-washed.
Motel at the Waterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Edge after Jack Gilbert
Ceiling fan turns in lazy rotation. He is lying on his side, shades drawn. The party is outside, red lights, white lights strung from tree to tree; and there is the laughter. Someone stumbles against the door and he remembers the sidewalk, the trip, how he caught her, kept her from falling. They were fourteen then and had already fallen. He thinks of her and of all the unfamiliar women since. The receding tide reveals what lives in mud and brine.
A Lament on Leaving Spain, 1938 Blood defines the cobblestones. Even vino de mesa does not stain so deeply. * España, España – the fields, the vines – heart of my grandparents, you are so small. * An ocean embraces, an ocean devours the coast of España. I turn to the West. I fear I will drown. I am dying. * My cigarette quakes. The ash must fall in order to begin again. I loosen my abrigo, loosen my belt, my rope shoes fall to pieces. * Though I would run to you, you cannot breathe heat back into my mouth. I can no longer taste the salt or pimentón of our lives. * I fill my pockets with your sand. I carry esta oro in the seams of my clothing, step off the cliff toward a different sun.
Brian Fanelli Snapping a Photo with Chatterer the Cenobite at a Horror Con At first, I’m afraid to approach him, the cosplayer in latex and leather, whose mouth is a gaping hole with yellow teeth that clicked incessantly in the first Hellraiser film. His eye slits stare at our iPhones as we snap the selfie and I worry he’s going to turn his bulbous head towards me, chomp on my neck, add scars like the ones marking his stitched-up body. He stands there like a sentient being, his long arms hanging at his sides, and I watch to make sure one of those hands won’t reach up to choke us. We somehow smile in the picture and tell him, Nice costume, but he doesn’t nod or speak. He waits for the next couple to take our place, another five-second photo. Before we leave, he slips us his business card, black like the leather hugging his body. It says to tag him on Instagram. You say that we’ll do that as we drift to more vendors, more tables, and then meet four hulking Jasons wielding bloody machetes. You tell me to hold your purse as you pose for another photo, allow one of them to press the plastic blade to your neck, as you stick out your tongue and ask me after, Did I look dead enough? Later, the Cenobite loves your photo on social media, but doesn’t comment, silent still, but always watching, scrolling for selfies with gloved fingers. 31
Reconciling with Home This is the place we promise to leave because February feels like fifty days of sleet, because March bellows late season northeasters, because April is a washout, because summer blazes like smokes my father sparked each time he leaned against the banister, stared at patches of trees. Did he dream of life in another city before cancer killed him? Did he remember mines that swallowed my grandfathers, dead before I knew them? This is the place we promise to leave, before we inhale more of the landfill's stink, or avoid the Susquehanna, its water yellowed by mine sludge. Maybe weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll settle in Stroudsburg or Ithaca, one of those college towns with three bookstores and corner cafes. You tell me about your life in New York, poetry readings and art shows every night, and how you dyed your hair blue and no one cared. Maybe weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll move there, blend in with other out-of-staters, flee the neighbors who whisper each time we fight over jobs we couldn't snag. We are their prime time, red-faced anger, shouting atop our well-groomed lawn. They never follow us inside for the aftermath, or watch us disarm each other with a kiss. We remember that this place gave us each other, 32
after you moved back here and we met mid-January, one of those raw days, when we had to will ourselves to rise from bed and face the frigid day, thawed by each other’s company, the gesture of reaching across the table, holding each other’s hand inside that cozy pizza café.
Carolyn Oliver You Can Swallow Any Secret, but What Good Will It Do? THE NIGHT BEFORE the revolution exploded, four friends ate mussels, the last they’d taste for years. Rina found a pearl in hers, a drop of purple-blue balanced in the shallow bowl her tongue made. It wobbled, then disappeared. She coughed once and her skin began to glow, brighter and brighter until she outshone the only lamp in the room. The others pressed towels under the door, threw sheets over the windows. Someone called a doctor. Still Rina shone, the light concentrating, turning in on itself, magnifying as she shrank. “The horses are coming. Don’t turn your backs,” she said, in the same voice she’d used to explain how milk counteracts pepper spray, how to splint an arm. Plink: the light snapped shut and the pearl, just faintly luminescent now, fell to the floor. They buried it in a tin box with the papers and the weapons. After their horses trampled the three friends, the police dug up the box. The pearl dust glowed in their boot-prints until dawn. All the prisoners turned pilgrim, waiting their turns to experience the relics of the shining girl.
Sentries TOO CLEAN, THE BEACH. Could have been a mid-fall morning, after the community service crews spiked away the plastic detritus, but it was August, almost twilight, hot even with the wind spurting off the waves. Warning signs bristled every few yards from the parking lot to the edge of the beach grass. All the white lifeguard chairs stood abandoned except one at the northernmost edge of the beach, close to the spit of rock where a herd of gray seals absorbed the lingering light. For long minutes the sand hissed under my feet as I made my way toward my grandmother and the shotgun cradled in her arms. She’d dragged the chair calf-deep into the surf, where the incoming tide pressed seaweed against its front legs. I placed my bag and sensible black flats on a big rock well past the high-tide line before I crunched over the layer of shells and pebbles toward my grandmother, making sure she could hear me coming before I handed up an iced coffee. The seals’ groans vibrated against my skin. “MB, you need to come get ready for the wake,” I said. “My good shoes are in the car.” I wrenched my gaze away from the gun to examine her: crumpled black dress, good pearls, smudged lipstick the same shade as her sunburned shoulders. Fearsomely prepared, as always. She didn’t ask why they’d sent me to get her. My dad, his brothers, and Aunt Agatha were wrecked, and they’d never be able to stand up to her anyway. The in-laws she regarded with a polite lack of interest. My grandfather couldn’t leave the nursing home. And of 35
all the grandchildren, I was the only one she hadn’t driven off the Cape. The cool water stung my freshly shaved legs even as sweat trickled down my neck. “How long have you been out here?” I asked. Nobody had seen her leave the house. She ignored me, taking a long drink of coffee. Finally, she said, “Tell that girlfriend of yours to mind her own business.” That girlfriend of mine was right now leaning against her squad car in the parking lot, furious. Mercedes was the only reason MB hadn’t been arrested yet. If I didn’t get her off the beach by sundown, Mercedes said, I’d better start praying for bail money. “It’s her job. You know you can’t be out here with a gun.” A shadow pulsed under the water, and I gasped. Cool as you please, Grandma set the coffee next to her and aimed the gun. Far as I knew she hadn’t been hunting since she was a girl and they needed the venison to get by in winter, but she handled the twelve gauge like a soldier. If Mercedes weren’t so pissed, she would’ve been proud. After a second MB relaxed back into the chair. “Just another goddanmed seal. Should have been one of them.” “Gran, that shark isn’t going to come back here.” “You don’t know that.” Another seal popped up, its big cartoon eyes regarding us calmly before it dove under again. I’d never been close enough to notice the dark spots on their silverbrown fur before, or the way their snouts seemed too long for their heads. A fierce gust blew in, crystallizing the salt on my arms. I changed tactics. “Someone’s going to call the TV station. You want to be all over the news?” 36
“We already are.” “The town isn’t going to sympathize with you anymore if you make things worse for them.” She snorted. “Come on, let’s get some aloe for your burn. You don’t have to say anything at the wake. All the aunts and un”—I caught myself and hurried on. “Everyone will be like a big buffer around you.” “I’m not out here because I’m afraid of talking to people, Beatrice. I’ll get there when I get there. Thank you for the coffee. Now get out of the water.” I didn’t like the way she was eyeing a cluster of seals on the edge of the slick rocks. I imagined the blast, one of them slipping from its perch and smacking the water, the waves stippled with blood, Grandma reloading, ready for the frenzy, hoping for her chance. I imagined Mercedes sprinting toward the sound of the gun, holding me too tight while the tide pushed the dead seal against the white chair, seaweed smothering its face. I sloshed away and headed for the rock where I’d left my shoes. I pulled off my dress, my underwear and bra, left my earrings on top of the pile. Then I walked out into the waves, slid under the surface where the water went cold.
Tim Suermondt The Saints and the Gods are Optimists And according to my calculations, they’re fifty percent right. I saw the sun painting a row of yellow houses. I saw the harbor part and scores of people move through the narrow path between the skyscrapers of water. I heard a woman singing, a voice so ordinary it was extraordinary. I heard a speech for peace, who knows—maybe one day… And on the very day I heard a friend of mine died, I saw him sitting at the bar—looking up at, dare I say the angels?—nursing a pint of beer he can take eternity to finish.
The Annals that Count Will Only Mention a Handful I want to tell everyone that Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve failed as well, but my love is waiting for me in the bookstore. Sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll be the one with a red rose in her hair, the one leafing through the philosophers, George Berkeley knocking on his book cover, trying to get her attention, rigid in his idealism. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll get there as fast as I can, happy to see her selections and poor George Berkeley left behind when we leave for our breakfast lunch, daily affairs taking their place again, a plate of eggs the center of our universe. Forget everything I said about failure.
Mercedes Lawry Window of Opportunity MISS CASTLE THOUGHT I could be somebody – as in, somebody the world saw as suitable, someone who could matter. I had a chance. For about 4 days I bought into the myth, even though I knew deep down it was bogus. I come from shit and that’s where I’m headed. No mystery to it, no brilliant detective work and sure as god is nothing but a bad joke, no miracles. When you don’t have anything and an opportunity comes along to have something – well, you take it, right? So it’s illegal? That doesn’t enter into the decision. It’s pretty much always illegal cause that’s how the world goes round. Sooner or later you get caught, it’s part of the game, no big deal. Miss Castle kind of knew the score on that but she had hope. That’ll get beat out of her. I knew it was false. False hope will fuck you up every time. You have to protect yourself. I’m pretty good at it. I had to start early. Asshole dad who liked to – you know—mess with me and my sister. Mom who drank herself into a stupor most days before dinner. I learned to heat shit up at an early age. Last time I was in, I made a friend, as much as you do in jail – Rosie. She had a crap life too but it was different from mine in some ways. We had stories to tell each other and I don’t know why but we trusted each other right away. That doesn’t happen. I usually assume someone is out to scam me until they prove otherwise. I don’t take it personally – we’re all fighting to survive, I just knew from the get-go that Rosie was okay. Then – bam— 40
she gets deported. She was going back to an even worse hell: gangs that would kill her for sure. Plus the whole rape thing. So they’re building a new kid jail – juvenile detention facility, as if that prettifies it up. You know it’s not going to be nicer – just bigger. Jails are a business even it they’re run by government – city, county, hell I can never keep them straight. Maybe the new place will have more choices – like vegan and nongluten. Maybe there’ll be a garden on the roof. I’ve heard of jails where the prisoners work in gardens. I don’t know a fucking thing about gardening but if it gets you out in the fresh air, I’ll learn. I don’t mind dirty hands. Some of these girls with the nails, you know, like talons and a bunch of colors – they won’t be doing no digging. I don’t know how they do anything with those things and when I say anything I mean a whole lot of private stuff where you’d think they’d be a problem – an impediment, as Miss Castle used to say – they’d get in the way. There must be a technique. My sister liked all that girly stuff. She’d put on Mom’s make-up and do the princess thing. I’d play along and call her “Your Majesty”. Sometimes I’d pretend I was her faithful wizard, a wizard who could fix whatever was wrong. We didn’t have to wait for a damn prince. I don’t even know where she is – Laura. She could be dead for all I know. I tried the Google thing but no luck. What’s the point of worrying? Maybe dead would be better. I’ve always said that. People act like dying is the worst possible thing. How do they know? Nobody knows. For sure you’re escaping a hell of a lot of misery on this earth. Heaven, hell – please – keep your fairy tales to yourself. Nothingness sounds fine to me. 41
I couldn’t kill myself though. I don’t think I could. I watched someone do it once – he didn’t know I was watching. It was kind of like a dream or nightmare. It was what he wanted, I had to respect that so I didn’t do anything. Did that make me an accessory to suicide or a murderer? I never felt guilty. That’s a waste of time. Last time I was in, some doctor tried to give me meds that didn’t sit well with me. I’m fine with taking pills I can enjoy but this stuff – shit, it made me crazy. If they just want to keep us calm and quiet, there’s lots of choices. We’re not all psychos who need the heavy-duty crap. Just give me an Ambien. I’ll be happy to sleep through my time in jail. Too bad we can’t store up sleep for those nights on the street when you can’t get 2 minutes of rest. They torture people with that no- sleep shit. I think it’s a war crime but since when did that stop anyone. When I get out of here I’ve gotta find Nadine. The bitch is pregnant and is not handling it. She might do something really stupid. She doesn’t think straight to begin with. Add vodka, meth, whatever – zoom - crash. One minute she wants the baby, the next she doesn’t. She has no clue about babies and already this one probably has brain damage. I know where she can get help, if she’ll let me take her. She reminds me a little of Laura. I don’t know why. Laura might have been a good mother even after all the shit in our house. People can get past things – it’s rare for fucksakes but not impossible. I wished that for Laura. Maybe if she came across a Miss Castle and stuck with a program. Sometimes I pretend it happened – Laura’s in a nice house with a family all clean and sober and going to soccer games and baking cookies. She’d make her kids Halloween costumes. Some people really live 42
like that. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s another planet but itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s just about 3 miles north of here. Chocolate chips. Our mother never baked a damn thing and you know what, neither did I.
Spoiled for Choice UNDER THE HOMOGENIZED SKY, she stepped back from the fir tree which had taken on a menacing air, however a tree might do that, assuredly only in her mind. A mind that rattled and skittered and paused and picked up steam. Usually she felt at her best in the great outdoors but today, with that bland sky that might have been artificial and this tree which loomed ominously -- those two things disrupted her comfort zone. But she hesitated to return indoors, into the big, old creaky house of echoes which sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d inherited and was clueless about turning into cold, hard cash, which she needed. It was in disrepair, this house, and located where few would chose to live. The term godforsaken was apt. In other words, it would be a hard sell. Insane asylum, boot camp for juvenile delinquents, hermitage for a self-sufficient, independently wealthy writer of true crime? A home for a Miss Haversham? How to advertise for such? The ordinary real estate agent would not be interested, not have the sort of connections necessary for such a unique venture. She peered again at the tree. It looked less menacing. She decided to give it the benefit of the doubt. It was, after all, naturally on guard and she was the interloper, unfamiliar, might possibly be planning an excavation of the entire area for a glittery casino. In truth, she was just a confused young woman. It would be some time before any changes would be made, if they would. The tree might live a long and undisturbed life until nature took its course. In the meantime she would heat some soup and curl into her sleeping bag on the front porch and try to stay awake long enough to see the stars â&#x20AC;&#x201C; there must be multitudes here. 44
Astronomy lab? Headquarters for those trying to make contact with aliens? She needed to start a list. Things slid in and out of her mind like snakes. Ideas had to be pinned down. What was promising in the wee dark hours when wolves roamed might not be so appealing in the creamy morning light. Ideas needed time to steep. Like tea. She had given herself two days out here. She would walk through the house east to west, west to east, upstairs, downstairs, in circles and in a linear fashion. Sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d open herself to every possibility. And if all else failed, sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d contact her cousin Bruce who was skilled with practical matters and could likely provide useful advice. He knew people. He might even have an idea himself and be willing to share should she offer him a generous percentage.
Smudge The left eye is not as good as it used to be. Clip, clop, remember the old horse at Bailey’s… a dull brown, as drab as ever a horse could be? I see it in my memory box – the part of the brain that houses the pictures. I don’t know why. The horse was nothing special to me. It was the sound, though, the clip clop I liked. A comforting sound for some reason. Maybe I was a horse in a previous life or in love with a horse or a horse of a different color. The left eye is definitely failing. The glasses are always a smudged mess but even so. I clean them with the little orange cloth, smooth as a baby’s bum. It’s been years since I touched a baby’s bum, trying to wipe Ethan clean with very little luck. I hold the glasses up to the window and look through. It seems they’re never perfectly clear. I give up and put them on and I wonder if the left eye’s the fault of the smudge or are the cataracts coming on. If one more person tells me the cataracts are a minor issue, no trouble at all, suck, suck, gone, good as new. It’s a lie, not so easy as that. I looked it up on the Google. You need the help, someone to take you and someone to bring you home and drops to put in. One eye at a time. Two annoyances. Do you wait until both eyes have the cataracts to get the operation? I suppose I’ll have no choice sooner or later. Clip, clop. I don’t want to be the old blind one sitting listening to the noise – the horse, the bus, the ratty little kid on his scooter, the neighbor’s blaring TV full of gunshots and screaming. Plenty get along with one eye. You make the adjustment. It’s all adjustments now till the end, little pieces of ourselves breaking off. Clip, clop. 46
Kenneth Pobo But Drowning Should I watch a rerun or read poems? Poems can be reruns. I go back to them and know the funny parts, the sad parts, unexpected words. Tonight I choose poems. Stevie Smith. I start with “Not Waving but Drowning.” I first read that in college, got a C+ on my paper, wrote too much about almost drowning at church camp. I didn’t realize how far I’d gotten from shore. I was a bit away from the others, started to flutter and scream, water entering my lungs. I believed that Jesus walked on water— would he come? Instead Mr. Edwards jumped in, pulled me out. In the poem, no one pulled the guy out. I got questioned back on the beach, mostly implying how could I be so dumb? I had no answer. I changed back into my shorts and tee and waited to be driven home. I put it behind me—or so I thought— until I read Stevie Smith. I remembered lake water tasted like cold wet leaves even in July. A dead turtle, I remembered that, too. Beside a sand castle, on its back.
Wandawoowoo and Crickets Pastor Clack’s family lived above the sanctuary. His daughter Jessica told me that she and Jesus played Monopoly. Jessica was truthful. She had to be. Her parents kept a lying chart. Caught lying three times in a year and they said she’d be out on the street. We’re still friends, three decades later. A tall Dane, our Jesus had blond hair, lived in a great Copenhagen in the sky. I wonder about Jesus and Mary Magdalene. And John or James. All that love darting around. Like crickets when the light goes on in the dark basement.
Something Fabulous Night catches Wandawoowoo up on the news from an evanescent pink Rose of Sharon. She sees her life as a winding staircase maybe leading to nothingâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;though something fabulous might appear, a deer in a toadâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s eye, a barn owl leading an orchestra, a wasp coaxing dawn out of a pink bed.
Wandawoowoo’s Mini-Blinds Maybe it’s time to stop arguing with windows. They keep letting nasty light come in. I’m never “fast” asleep— I’m slow and time sits in a corner and reads. Light comes to the window and, like a toothpick between two teeth, it enters my eyes. I’ve never understood the phrase “Good morning.” Good? A day begins. Someone dies. The coffeemaker may or may not work. Today I resolve to go to a store and buy mini-blinds. I need protection. Let them hang like a white beard off a face. If the sun tries some jujitsu move to get in, the blinds will know how to counter. I’ll stay in darkness, sleep, the stale world far away, dreams like ostriches strutting to the alarm clock and making it sorry it was ever manufactured.
Eleanor Kedney Home My dog wants to catch what movesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; quail, rabbits, lizards, a squeaky football in her mouth. She chases coyotes out of our driveway, the wet spots of her boundaries in the yard, while I find solace in the familiar creosote, the steady rock mountain views. She taught me to claim space and join a pack. Lying beside her on the carpet, for the first time I let myself love a place. I pet her brown and white fur as she rolls onto her back, exposing her soft belly.
Childhood She was a howler with a bad leg, a dim light in her brown eyes, ears low, followed me from room to room, pawed the back of my calf as if to say, turn around. She hid behind my skirt when a door slammed or a man spoke. I kept her and thought no one would understand. My father drank and broke furniture in the night, returned to the Navy ship before dawn. I held the hem of my motherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s dress, she lit a cigarette and cooked breakfast. * I stop a chore when Jackalyn runs circles around the couch, pull her frenetic body to mine and kiss her snout. She nuzzles my hand, pushes into it when I stop petting. When the coyotes gather in the wash and yip, we find each other and howl, full throttle, singing the way children sing before theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve learned not to. 52
Michael G. Smith Benefits of Having Had a Stroke (Let me show you)
How do you control your body temperature? At any moment the sky holds all species of weather. Do the heavens ever eliminate possibility? Wind-blown sand dunes poking its flanks, a blue mountain rises in the distance. How do you climb mountains now? Because I no longer know what I am doing, people should not worry about me. Do hiking poles help you clamber up the slopes? Bodhidharma is always seen wearing one sandal. The other is in his grave. Do you have a will? My niece holds the bowl of brownie batter while I stir. How is it to stir? When I push the walker at light speed, I circle the Earth 7.5 times per second. Are you touched by dark matter? Hummingbirds prove bodies radiate anti-gravity. Now when my mind feels logy I no longer bully my feelings into leaving. Have memories of your divorce fared well? 53
Time is an important border to weather while waiting for tire-rutted slick rock to cheer up. You have used the word weather twice. Hydrogen sometimes is an electron donor and at others is an acceptor. In every moment we are guest and host. What angle would you give to a person in a relationship triangle? Gravitational stress on the Moon during a Sun-Earth-Moon syzygy can trigger a moonquake. What do you think about during free fall? My flip turns are no longer perfect and never needed to be. This sounds like arrival. Who are these generous friends? Moon of Cold-exploding Tree, Moon of Making Fat, Moon of Chokecherries, Moon of the Rut, and all Lakota days in-between.
Blank Pages I am given the gift of a grizzly bear, an independent being, less than a pound at birth (a few apples held with two hands). I am given the gift of recycled paper mixed with hemp, a notebook bound by wire, a grizzly bear on its cover. I am not given a grizzly, for what can I give a grizzly in return? I am given threads into my own wilderness on a dark night and its infinite points of light.
Alice Lowe Drawing Life At sixth grade camp on Mount Palomar, our assignment was to draw a picture that captured a highpoint of our week-long experience. I slathered dark crayon all over the page, scratched away bits of the waxy surface, inserted yellow streaks top and bottom, muddled it around with my thumb. Voilà, “the lake at night,” a cloud-enshrouded moon reflected off the inky water. Mr. Keck, my teacher, dismissed it as a cheeky response in lieu of an honest effort. He was right. I masked my lack of artistic aptitude with avoidance and a show of impudence. I was smart and bookish; why should I waste time at endeavors to which I had nothing to contribute, from which I had nothing to gain? My husband paints—big brushy abstracts, stark color fields, geometric configurations. Over twenty-some years he’s expanded my appreciation of visual art, but painting is “his.” I’d never venture into it. A friend in a rural mountain community took up watercolors, from which she derived enormous satisfaction. Another friend’s contented glow comes from pottery; working at the wheel takes her into a Zen-like space. She gave me a graceful celadon-glazed urn for a housewarming gift. A former colleague extolled the joys of making stained glass. An acquaintance, a Virginia Woolf scholar, does intricate woodcuts; her print of Woolf’s Sussex house hangs over my desk. 57
An urge to try my hand at some visual art form came from increasing twinges of envy at the achievements of my talented comrades. I’m not devoid of creativity—I write and garden; I was a gifted pianist in my youth—but now I wanted to make visible, palpable art to hang on a wall or sit on a shelf. I was ready to wade beyond my comfort zone. I just needed to find my niche. My first foray was into pottery. I loved the feel of the damp clay in my fingers, like rich moist garden soil. I formed handpinched pots, admiring the exquisite—delicate, shapely, understated— creations of one of the studio’s advanced students. Mine resembled children’s mud pies: squatty, misshapen, dark and smudgy, too thick or too thin. I gave up after several months but still take pleasure in the fruits of my labor that adorn my desk and countertops: small primitive vessels holding paperclips, receipts, earrings, coins, salt, do-dads. A garden is a work of art. My house sits on a canyon, so I have no yard, no earth, only a deck and patio. They’re the setting for my container garden, a display of pots, boxes and tubs filled with succulents of varied textures and shapes—lethal spikes to soft fuzzy rosettes—and an array of color, myriad greens plus pale blue-grays, inky purples, sunburst oranges and reds. Gardening is visual, tangible, nourishing, but it doesn’t satisfy my creative void. Unlike a painting or pot, a garden is a continual work in progress. To record its year-to-year incarnations, I unearthed my point-and-shoot camera. I shot rolls of film and filled shoeboxes with prints of assemblages, individual plants, and solitary blossoms, 58
some of them pleasingly artistic. I memorialized the nightblooming cereus with its iridescent white flowers, big as dinner plates, that open for a single night each year. But photography wasn’t my thing. A botanical illustrator whose medium is colored pencil was hosting a drawing retreat in her showcase garden. Intrigued, I signed up, bought drawing pads and pencils. Perched on my campstool amid Irina’s sculpture-adorned beds of native and drought-tolerant plants, I scratched sketches of spiky bromeliads and undulating grasses. I loved the methodical process, the smooth feel of the pencils—not intimidating like paint—and their subtle gradations of color. In subsequent classes Irina demonstrated techniques and challenged us with increasingly complex subjects—gourds, apples, still-life arrangements, the cactus garden in Balboa Park, windswept trees at Torrey Pines. At home I posed my garden subjects, turned them to catch the sun just so and expose the best angle, rendered them in my sketchbook with sharpened pencils. I learned to observe with an unhurried eye, to see nuances— the arc of a leaf, the thrust of a petal—and to draw with precision and detail. I’m a quick-moving person (my husband calls me the “Energizer Bunny”), yet I savored drawing’s meditative tranquility. You’d never find me sitting cross-legged, eyes closed and palms up, murmuring a mantra, but I would reverently contemplate the curves of a daffodil as I replicated it on the page.
Irina selected two of my drawings for student shows, a knobbly ochre gourd overlapping a round olive-striped squash, and a gray-green aloe edged in burgundy. Displayed on the wall, professionally matted and framed, my contributions held their own. I continued to draw, experimented with pastels and charcoal, took life drawing classes. But after a couple of years I didn’t see improvement, thought my work lifeless and graceless. I packed away my pencils. The pencils, the clay, the camera: I seek challenges but shirk from persevering at activities that don’t yield timely progress and success. It’s sixth-grade camp again. Laziness? Fear of failure? I don’t know its roots and can’t seem to shake it, but I’m not ready to give up. I don’t dismiss my artistic ventures as dilettantish whims. Each undertaking has added a rich layer of experience to my life. It’s all copy, as Nora Ephron reminds me. The door hasn’t slammed shut; I may have unfinished business with those pencils. I recently received a mailer from a New York gallery promoting an exhibition of modern and contemporary nature painting. The center panel is a reproduction of a piece by American Expressionist Alma Thomas, a four-foot-square canvas covered in dark blue globules of varied shapes. Traces of pale blue, yellow, and green bleed through from behind, evoking sky, sun, and trees. Its title: “lake reflecting advent of spring.” I may have had something with “lake at night” after all.
John Grochalski Walking Home from Work on the Evening after a March Snowstorm my wife texts me that they are fighting on the subway platform over delayed trains from snow and frozen tracks and in the hardware store the man behind the counter with his plastic pool sales and garden hose dreams is pushing spring like itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a new drug this evening the setting sun paints portraits on the sides of buildings that i take pictures of for posterity and the vain glory of social media but the sidewalk tells me that winter keeps lingering on this unholy mess of snow and ice that the neighbors leave sitting there like offerings to the gods that i have to dodge like traffic unless i want to break an ankle it knows the march of time better than any groundhog 61
it knows what lingers more than most better than any plastic patriot loitering through their lifetime taking up and down their silly american flag and planting fake flowers in their lawn as if they could fool any of us at all with their optimism with their confounded hope.
Godâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Creature bill used to smack his women around fondled teenage girls in the bushes against their will grabbed asses in clubs groped breasts in movie theaters if he had a scratch on his face heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d say, yeah, well, you should see her was too much for his frat and even they had to throw him out now you can see bill online born again hallelujah! eating chik fil a with his towheaded miracles attending church and pro-life rallies railing against feminists and roe vs wade 63
making america great again with this brand-new bible and a whole new way to snuff out women telling everyone he meets how he’s repented for his sins how he’s nothing but god’s creature now.
Good Guys the bartender at the end of the bar says, this #metoo business is really making it hard on guys you know, the good guys he says, man, we canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t say anything to a woman anymore the waitress eating her salad for lunch says ugh, when will it end? he says, i donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t know with all our castration? then turns to three generations of blonde women coming in for their weekly family lunch looks at the thirteen-year-old girl with her golden tresses and braces smiles points down at her fashion statement and says, 65
sweetheart, i think someone ripped your jeans and she laughs and the mom his age laughs and grandma laughs too as he wipes the drool from his mouth fixes the girl a large shirley temple with a big huge cherry sitting right there on top.
Lisa Bellamy What Was She Doing? “What was she doing at a kegger, anyway?” – Facebook comment regarding a sexual assault survivor’s Senate testimony What was she doing at a kegger, what was she doing out-and-about, Friday night, early morning, evening, noon, late afternoon? What—she didn’t stay home? Well, no wonder. What was she doing babysitting, giggling, at a sleepover, bowling, jogging, strolling, walking the dog, riding her new red bike to her best friend’s house, why did she go to that basketball game only to be lured to his house, that says something, doesn’t it? Afterward, why did she lie to her parents, honestly what was she doing, walking that morning on the sidewalk to her part-time job at the bakery, who said she could walk, what was she doing at the mall, did she have something to buy, God knows what she was wearing. What was she doing in shorts, pants, not pants but a skirt, not a skirt but culottes, why the bangs, why the pony tail, why sparkly barrettes, the long hair, hijab, dreadlocks, short hair, what was she doing looking at him, looking away, looking down, looking up at the sky, when he said hi, why did she say no, why didn’t she say no, I don’t believe her when she says she said no, who said she could breathe, don't you dare tell me she was scared for her life.
My Higher Power Call me fortunate, even blessed— a teeny-tiny lady floats in my right eye, I choose to call her Cheryl; I check in with her when agitated thoughts burst and explode, brain on the fritz— defective popcorn popper, all sparks and smoke, wiring loose— no matter what the retinal specialist says, I want Cheryl to stay—Anyone, dear, including you, she proclaims, can walk on water, waving, blowing a kiss, each time I look in the mirror.
John Sibley Williams Heaven Backwards An earlier pilgrim had placed this crushed beer can under the largest of many desert arches. Is it my duty to drink from the gray backwash, brush dust from time-smoothed stone, pretend there is more to stone than what we shape from it? The Colorado River goes where it wants, but bridged over, traversable, makes for less an experience than photo op. Here is the photo I framed for later: clumps of cumulus growing ambivalent around the edges. The caption: the sky shouldering us shouldering the sky. Thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s not enough on my shoulders to call this martyrdom. Too many saints now to know which to pray to when drowning or falling in unrequited love. Each arch dead-ends in more earth, thirsty earth, an earth that doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t ask for forgiveness, that still we forgive; perfect halfcircles broken only by a few meters of self-fulfilling sky.
Than a Speeding Bullet Anything can be mistaken for people: skyscraper, burning silo, a whole city busy neglecting itself, a river scarred over in ice. From up here, red cape weighing down the wings it gives, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hard to tell if the world is swelling or swallowing, if life is just a costume we take off & put back on without warmth. Before my brother flew a bit too high to steer home safely, heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d cut up the curtains & wrap me in barkcloth & push my ten-year-old body off our one-story roof, saying the sky never stops calling us. I still canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t remember the how of my landing, if my ankle eventually untwisted, if our father ever unwore his anger. But there was a moment, mid-ascent or mid-fall, this gentle ratio of land to sky seemed sustainable. Before he ransacked his veins with heaven, before I tried & tried & failed to join him there, there was a moment I thought the sky filled with justice, that guilt like all duties could be hurdled in a single bound.
Toti O'Brien Speculum WE CALLED THEM “THE VANISHERS.” Someone tried to range the phenomenon under the ‘extinction’ umbrella but no, it didn’t belong. It couldn’t, because of the holes. Those trees didn’t wither, dry, perish, stop reproducing... With no warning sign they were gone, leaving just a deep gaping cavity, a scar. Rather an open wound. Oh yes, they were gone roots and all, as if pulled away by reverse gravity. Why call it reverse? Let’s say ‘another’ gravity, operating from a different center of attraction, a planet clearly stronger than ours. Wait a moment. If such thing existed—and that sounded improbable—shouldn’t it work its charm upon every living thing as well as unanimated matter? It didn’t. True is that the phenomenon spread following a worrisome parabola. But it affected random individuals, with no geographic criteria and regardless of species. Therefore, it was kind of inevitable to assume, suspect… I know it sounds crazy. But how could we not believe there might, there must be a sort of participation, at least acquiescence? I mean if the pull was there (that orbiting whisper, that sweet, seductive murmur, come this way, that sly siren song), some were clearly more sensitive to it, or just willing to go. A matter of selfdetermination. Some… trees? Mostly conifers. Tall. Slender. Streamlined. Aerodynamic. Did morphology perhaps have an influence upon 71
the selection? The hypothesis of ‘election’, as I said, soon became predominant, and endowed the whole thing with a disquieting halo. Because, frankly, why would a tree choose point blank to abandon the premises? Didn’t it look ominous? Like when birds fly real low just before a storm, like a din of caged animals when an earthquake is coming. Like a biblical invasion of locusts… like a punishment. The holes were bad looking, besides dangerous. So revealing, so blatantly screaming of a piece of landscape gone amiss. Like a broken front door after a burglary. Like a china vase scattered on the rug, and no one bothered to pick up the shards. No one filled those holes either. Due to the novelty of the phenomenon, as it usually occurs administrations got tangled into a maze of mutual responsibilities. When it happened on private land there was still uncertainty. Should insurance be involved? Were those natural disasters? Most likely. That, of course, shouldn’t have stopped anyone from throwing in some dirt and mending the scratch, thus restoring surface integrity. But it didn’t happen. As I said we felt a suspension, a shyness. Should we call it fear? Maybe, no one touched the holes because of the untold assumption that if nothing was meddled with, the flight might be reversible. If we carefully kept things as they were the fugitives might one day return. Which would be nice, for sure, as the deserters were indeed gorgeous specimens. We have said so. Then the holes got filled. Slowly. The rain did it although it took forever, as the lack of shadow caused rapid evaporation, and tall healthy trees have deep roots. But eventually we witnessed 72
a proliferation of ponds—small, just like children pools—squarish, seemingly manmade and too regular. Trimmed with scarce vegetation. No lilies. Ducks, yes, one per unit— gradually, they came to inhabit a pond each, as if realizing the size invited a cellular style of existence. Private, singular. Very focused if slightly selfcentered. Those ducks were also random, belonging to the most various species, following geographic locations. Did I say the uprooting occurred all over the planet? Kind of simultaneously. No weather, no habitat was spared besides the great deserts. The rain forest, perhaps, just because in such mess keeping track of defections was hard. We called them “the vanishers.” Someone wondered about possible destinations. Aimlessly, because how would we know? Theoretically the trees might have disintegrated in space—a reasonable hypothesis. Only, we believed they had not because of the urgent, the deliberate mood—so strong, so unmistakable— the holes clearly betrayed. As we got persuaded the vanishers willed themselves off— at least agreed to the exodus—a ‘somewhere’ necessarily followed. Nothing hinted at a manner of vegetal suicide. Such impulse leaves a messy aftermath, a nasty exhalation that wasn’t there. No. The goers had arrived on some rocky thing, planet or satellite. What tickled the imagination of curious (restless? perhaps troubled) minds was ‘how’ they landed. Did the crown hit the ground? Anything might have happened as they fell out of gravity—they might have turned around, evolved, revolved. Did they ever fall out, though? As I said, we sensed their trajectory was 73
determinate. Somehow furious. Maybe a bit rushed? Inconsiderate? Who are we to judge? Firm. We, in other words, were sure they went from here to there, here to there, period. They must have landed on their head, roots groping the skyâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;like upturned turtles, poor things. Did someone redress them for their roots to get the proper nourishment, for them to thrive again? To thrive more, as no doubt they had gone for sound reasons (if subliminal, inarticulate) in search of a better life. Was someone there to receive them? Were they expected at all? Foreseen? Predicted? Had strange things occurred (telling signs, such as small ponds being deserted by the local fauna and spontaneously, briskly drying up)? Speaking of duck(s), were the inhabitants of the site of destiny scared? Did they see the projectiles of wood, needles, sap about to hit the ground? Did they manage to promptly take cover? Did they wear proper headgear? Was anyone hurt? Did they understand they were receiving, alas, stolen goods, arbitrarily inheriting someone elseâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s legacy, riches, blessings? Did they fear a kind of divine punishment instead? Did they apprehend further catastrophes? Were they plainly confused?
J. Thomas Burke Like Bison When first we met, my wife's grandmother grabbed me by the cheeks, looked deep into my eyes, and announced, You look just like I said you would. Her words my flesh. She held my face a long time between her hands. My mind drifted into the beige carpet. Then the whole building receded into Minnesota earth. Around us, prairie sprouted and we morphed into bison staring at each other with big brown eyes sadder than holes poked in t-shirts by self-inflicted insulin shots. The bison that was me blinked. Swiss cheese means more than the future of mathematics. Her words toppled over the way her empty oxygen tanks had fallen along the hallway floor. 76
Beside us, in his recliner, her husband said nothing and pondered the television or the horizon, gold as American Buffalo bullion, and burning down to night.
Perpetual Care Desolate castle, the sky, the wide desert. So says Li Po (701-762), if one asked Ezra Pound (1885-1972), who called the Chinese poet a Japanese name, Rihaku, and could not read Chinese in 1915, the time of this translation. I read neither Chinese nor Japanese but in spare moments do study Kanji (namely, never). A Japanese system of writing that utilizes characters borrowed from Chinese: Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed., 1993, given me by my maternal grandparents in 1994 when I graduated high school in Goose Lake, Iowa. I already owned a Bible, because back then, in those parts, scripture had priority over dictionaries. Still, Leo and Rosalie knew I was college-bound. Rosalie now prays every day while Leo rests in that Trappist pine beneath the cold Iowa dirt atop my favorite hill. It is a desolate castle: just the dead, the grass, the stones; where sky spans wider than the deserts between words. * A tire's vulcanized rubber blathers over a potholed road blocks away. Hounds 78
lick themselves, chained to stakes in uncut grass. As kin, the wheel's bay met briefly before each tongue resumed its wont. * The ant's a centaur in his dragon world, says Pound according to The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, 3rd ed., 2003, Canto LXXXI. Pound's a centaur in the anthologized world and Rihaku in his Orientalized world, while I'm the ant in his centaur world. Iowa, the home of graveyards, where Leo was alive in long-ago days. Rosalie resides still in one of Westwing Place's seventy-seven intermediate beds in DeWitt for long-term nursing care. With convenient access to all hospital services (such as radiology, laboratory, therapy, and emergency), she the dragon in her daughter's ant-days. A dictionary's the Bible of my dragon world. Poetry's the centaur I ride through each page, yelling, Forward! But she turns her human-looking head over her human-looking shoulder and says, Truly, Jeremy, I'm right here. No need to shout. 79
Last Evening in Lepanto Along the outskirts of Lepanto, across a dirt road from a cemetery, sat the drive-in movie theater. In good old days, Elvis used to ring the sheriff to request an afterhours show. He'd pull in and catch John Wayne strutting across a night sky, all pilgrim this, pilgrim that. Dressed as Genghis Khan? John Wayne, I mean. Elvis would have stood out in that rural Arkansas dark, donned in twelfth-century Mongolian garb. Now beat as an unknown cowboy, I check the time before entering Mongolian Grill for supper. The glass door chimes a hanging bell. When the plastic seat thunks from the notebook I chuck into a booth, a tableful of police officers eyeball me and I hanker to ride out my last evening of rumination in Lepanto.
Francine Witte Breach One day, you’re on the couch being no one. No mother’s maiden name. No hidden security code. You are just you. Free to have cybersex, free to text Cookie, 21, in New Zealand, free to ghost her when she hits you for cash. But everything’s different now. Get the hell offline and talk to someone IRL, because, man, they never lie. Trouble is, you told the universe you wanted to be famous. Turns out it heard you wrong. Didn’t understand that you meant Sunday night glued to the TV famous, coming up after the break famous. All the universe heard was that you wanted love, that you wanted everyone to know who you are. You just wanted to choose the ears that would hear your name.
Romeo I’m reading my Shakespeare when Charley interrupts to ask what I’m doing for lunch. This is the conversation we’re down to. I’ve heard this happens to every couple eventually. I tell him, most likely a sandwich, one with lots of mayonnaise and probably whole grain bread. I haven’t decided what to fill it with though. I tell him this to create an air of suspense. I think about Juliet and if she had lived would she be talking like this to Romeo? No more starsplayed nights of longing. Just the simple discussion of lunch. Would she expect Romeo to pitch in with the housework? And how would they divide the bills? In my head, I’m in a night chamber, Charley outside, whistling me down. I want to go. He sounds like he did when we started, but alas my window has been painted shut, the weeds on the balcony long overgrown.
Stan Sanvel Rubin Simple It isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t as simple as that, buddy. It wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t as simple as you thought, pal. Wanting to start over on a new ranch. Wanting everything to begin again as if there had been no ending, no lives crumpled like sheets of tossed paper on which all the writing was crossed out like the lives you ended with faithlessness, unable to decide what it was you wanted, if you really wanted anything at all. But the writingâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s still there on the walls of your heart along with the names of the dead.
Miniature Horse has no known uses, but the Shetland pony, short and strong, can pull its weight in brutal wind or, blind from birth, deep in the dark of a Welsh mine, haul coal all night while a black lump slowly grows in its chest like a secret treasure, a second heart he must carry fatal as sunlight, the kiss of fresh air.
How to Breathe at a Deathbed An abrupt in and out, then another is the way to breathe where no one notices the despair you carry on your face which has become the mask of another face even you have never seen. A quick inhalation as if not to drown when you bend to kiss lips parched with fluorescent light, while birds you canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t name spring from a distant tree, alone and lucky. If you try to breathe out, the air held in your chest like a charm grows heavier. You will learn, as at our birth, breathing and screaming are indistinguishable.
Lisa Mase Staurolite Mine Near Taos Watch out. That canyon has swallowed some cars, lured people down its muddy road and spit them back in jagged pieces. This is rock country, chipped from the walls of condemned mines, carved, polished and sold for ornament, hiked, driven, and photographed for an effect never as stark as sunset. This is gun country, bullet holes through blue metal signs shot up like church bells across blind dirt roads that parallel highways, glittering with rivers of broken glass. This is desert country, women blooming golden from sagebrush and men hemmed in weathered leather, exposed as sandstone pressed against black mountains. Day burns hot and night falls cold. This land turns trash to art and tragedy to hope back to tragedy. Watch your step. 86
We Were 21 When You Died Between drags off a clove, “let’s sneak out tonight”: you convinced me every time. You must have known what was coming. Life worked through you so quickly while you lived it. That day your body, released like a catapult, hurled to the asphalt, Pakistani Princess in a red pickup, twisted inside the rusty frame. Now you are free. Sommayyah Siddiqi, you would always remind me that reality hangs smoky, shaped by a single exhalation before it vanishes. You left as your rig was still spinning, to Pakistan to kiss your grandparents on the cheek, to New Zealand to wrap your sisters in a blanket of solace, to Bali and the rain-washed morning when we met, you traveled more in that instant than your brief time had permitted. 87
Your shimmering particles arrived at my door Sommayyah. They spoke of the fury that took you too soon. I shaved my head for you, honoring the time we bowed low, wrapped in white, entering the mosque only because you could, bobbing our heads in unison with the others before our bus left for the beach. You drew Arabic script in the sand with a stick. The ocean washed it away so quickly, almost before you could read it back.
Max Heinegg Robert Johnson The story runs he couldn’t catch a tune with a hound’s tooth, so, he took his dream of delta rain on a train to Clarksdale & returned weeks later with a gift, but the Devil prefers to receive. Some say he was starving, so what was the danger in parting with his immortal soul? A flower is wasted on a grave. For twenty-nine songs in Texas, twenty-seven years to praise, that mean old evil spirit took three days to kill Old Bob in his cups, a scorned lover’s whiskey crowned the dusk, his crossroads past, new haunts to busk.
Zoo Suicidal boys try the door to the polar bear, who twists a 20 gallon bin into a chew toy. Seeing this, little hands slap the glass harder, knocking on a world that would not tolerate such puny masters. Their mothers call after them, holding them at a visible distance, as they discuss recipes, wondering aloud if returning to their jobs is a good idea. Get the hell out of the house! My wife says, All that eating & shitting & cleaning kills your mind! In another enclosure, a boy sits plugged in, humming along to the bars, hardly noticing his peers, sweet-seeming tweens who knuckle to rouse the alpha, a 550 lb. sage, who chews on romaine & quiet. We all wait for the potential to become kinetic- at last, we luck out to see him when he crosses, massive, effortlessly acrobatic, stronger than all of us. Penned, but not entirely.
Cyn Kitchen Ohms Law 1. jellyfish sleep, scientists say, without a brain, which is to say, even without brains jellyfish sleep. if by this measure, I am genius synaptic sirens rendering me fully alert in the elbow of night. thoughts, like misguided missiles over a flat gray plain, luminous tracers I follow like a child after fireflies. Look there, another here, theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re everywhere lovely, meaningless madness. 2. current is to charge as train is to tunnel as rising heat surging behind my breastbone is to voltage that illuminates the filament of my solar centers. power rising into cortex, this heat up & out my body cannot contain 91
fingers of flame lick my neck, crashing in waves over the shore of my crown. this is malfunction, breaking down the body preparing for its eventual failure, not today but one. 3. I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t understand the containers that hold such laws as A squared plus B squared equals C squared or that resistance R in ohms (ÎŠ) is equal to voltage V in volts (V) divided by current I in amps (A) or perhaps it is not the containers that fail as much as the laws they contain. for example, what I do not comprehend is not dependent upon what I do. like Whitmanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s multitudes & today those multitudes are this: my eyes are red curtains drawn open these hands covered in so much ash water rising in beads out of flesh a stone tablet, bleached bone, beating heart pounding through its ancient rhythm.
Soliloquy the yard light casts my acre in a pool of yellow spilled onto a sheet of night. rivulets of shadow trickle away from the puddle of illumine, run off in streams toward the depths of darkness where creatures plash about their hidden ceremonies. the vaulted night sky swallows light whole. wind crashing in waves over the dry prairie flora like breakers. I am the shore. at my window, I gaze onto the night not yet day wonder at the flickers of distant farms people there, floating in their own puddles. we, alone together, in a world too dark to see. 93
I hear the neighborâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s dog his low, steady woof, calling out the stars by name.
Kevin Tosca Progress MICHEL LACROIX. That is: A grown Frenchman with an iPhone strapped to his bicep riding a hoverboard in the Bois de Boulogne while smoking an e-cigarette and smiling like Humphrey Bogart for the airborne, camera-equipped drone controlled by his sevenyear-old son. He adjusts the wires coming out of his ears. He adjusts his crotch. It’s summer: Sunday, July 3, 2016, and he’ll treat Jules, his only son, to lunch at Le Chalet des Îles, the chic restaurant in the semi-civilized woods you pay a ferryman a few coins to get to. They’ll share an appetizer before the main meal, order dessert after. No doubt the tarte aux pommes for Jules, the millefeuille for Michel. With his glasses of wine and his son’s two Cokes, with the shrimp and the leg of lamb and the dry-aged burger, it’ll cost Michel over one hundred euros. This day is not special. It won’t be remembered by anyone except for the friends and families of the three hundred dead in Baghdad.
In the Sixteenth Arrondissement SOMETIMES THE STUCK-UP bitter old Botoxed women angling for position with unapologetic and undisguised homicidal impatience in Monoprix’s checkout aisles are just too much, so instead of trying to reason with the evil rich swine, you take your two-euro bottle of Bordeaux and smash it across their face. And while they’re bleeding to death next to the Mentos and Cachou Lajaunies, you can still hear them saying: Me first, Me first, Me first, as you calmly wait to pay the pea-brained cashier and feel a soupçon of pity for the other SMIC earners who will be forced to clean up the mess.
Cari Oleskewicz Sharp Pieces and Prickly Things THE AIR CONDITIONING in our economy-class rental car is breathing heavy. It’s full blast, but I’m sweaty and shifty. My sister, driving, is flushed. Las Vegas is an hour or more behind us, and the only thing between it and our Oakland destination is heat. In Primm, we stopped for coffee. I ordered something iced and asked the barista how she managed to live with this stifling, living fever. She frowned. “It’s only like 115 today.” I stared at the not-normal sentence. Your mind will kill you out here. You will feel it sliding out of place, and strange, strange thoughts will slip in and out. You’ll feel off balance. It’s a power grab. The desert is greedy. You will think of people. The guy you misjudged with the online dating site. Your neighbor, who should be watering your plants and not going through your private drawers. The dog, and whether it was worth upgrading to the Dream Package at the kennel. How important is the organic treat and the bedtime cuddle? Then you will think of darker things. You imagine beaked creatures at your shoulders and eyes in the mountains. You think of drowning where there is no water and focus on what the first stab wound would feel like; that precise skin spot that meets the tip of a knife. And you can’t keep your eyes open, not fully. They sag and they wilt. Low-energy eyelids. You have to drink, constantly. Water is best. Drink it quickly. Don’t let it sit in the console cup holder for any amount of time. Don’t hold your fountain soda between your sweaty knees. 97
Everything goes warm. I chew the ice from my Carl’s Jr. root beer ferociously to enjoy the crunch of hydration before the slick cubes turn tepid. There will be swarms of windmills in the distance. They are tremendous. They are glossy and white and their lines are so purposely designed that you may fall dizzy. They are striking against the desert brown. They are cartwheeling arms; they are cutting through a space I don’t understand. Somehow we know they are here to save us. Improbable hills of dust hold them. This landscape requires awareness. Elders stand at the side of the road, watching something. Slim arms are locked into place across their chests. A few of them have been to Arizona. In California, tomatoes are in transit. Bright, sunbathed tomatoes and trucks of garlic. Your mind gets strange again. You imagine yourself dragging a rake. You’re raking a path through the Mojave, and into Death Valley. What would you collect but secrets? The dead don’t come here. They prefer lush lands where they can pet the mountainsides and blow clouds across the sky. There are sharp pieces here. Prickly things.
Things I Saw in Nice that Did Not Include Death 1. Sea bathers plump and reedy. Swimming costumes and speedos. 2. My daughterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s envious gaze. 3. Slick hair on a Frenchman. 4. Insensible shoes on an English-speaking tourist. 5. A rocky beach; smooth and rosy and alive. 6. My sister, taking a hundred perfect pictures. 7. A woman in a burqa. 8. A man in an American flag t-shirt. 9. Italians and Germans. Someone from Brazil. 10. The bus that would take us up the mountain to Vence. 11. Fried seafood and crisp white wine. 12. Escargot and Nicoise salads. Bouillabaisse! 13. An African dragged from a train. 14. The smallest bishopric. 15. Illuminated statutes bent in prayer. 16. A birthday party at 3:00 a.m. 17. Recycling trucks rolling through narrow streets at dawn. 18. Noses raised to the scent of chocolate. 19. The curve of a hillside, hinting at San Remo. 20. Green spaces and tan stucco. Buildings bathed in pink. 21. Outdoor kiosks swollen with postcards. Chagallâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s mosaics and yellow pots and green oils. 22. Bursting herbs. 23. The future, in a fluid sea. 24. The Palace of Justice. 25. A sunset no one could anticipate. 99
Bruce McRae Long Distance Love Stars like question marks after earnest enquiry. Stars like asterisks signifying lack. Campfires of the Gauls. The undeadâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s lanterns. Goodbye Sol and Ganymede. Goodbye Luna, the stars winking provocatively. Stars like kisses. The Xs a lost love sent to me at the end of her last long letter.
Off the Record Not now, I’m listening to the rain’s confession. Told in confidence one November morning. Spoken in whispers and gasps, the rain’s secret life, its untold story. Sweeping leaves after the storm, the rain took me aside, wringing its blue hands, eyes sparkling with tears. The rain confided in me. But what can you say? How does one reply? Clouds hushed and gathering, as if something were on their minds. As if they too had secrets to spill over the blackened horizon.
Rikki Santer While She Stands While she stands on the roof, thud pleads with her for consideration. While she stands on the roof, salvation tries to nudge her from the edge. While she stands on the roof, a pigeon overhead punctuates her shoulder for the soliloquy that ends with Who cares? While she stands on the roof, the finger of a small girl from a window next door points at her, then draws circles in the air. While she stands on the roof, she rewinds the scene with a spotlight beam streaming from dark clouds above. While she stands on the roof, an umbrella laughs upwards twirling its colors amidst the legion of black ones far as she can see. While she stands on the roof, she measures each of her heartbeats & envies the sun that commits every morning to show up. While she stands on the roof, her rumbling cell phone calls too much attention to itself, then is launched to the dumpster below. While she stands on the roof, she is convinced she can fly, and for a few moments, she does.
Now Playing: Everything I Said at The Party In the first hour I was full of flourish, an almond tree tossing tender blossoms to each co-worker, even to Sheila who bogarts spotlight like a delinquent. Then the jello shots played a glissando & my history was erased with each whisper-thin curl of my cigarette as irritation ignored her Miranda rights. Was the zit on Marlon’s nose a barnacle named Cro-Magnon, or Tina’s Instagram cat photos as stimulating as the mold in my shower? Did Ruby’s arugula salad taste like fortified E. coli & Tim’s EDM mix make me want to drown myself in a biblical healing pool? Did Bryce agree that her chronic nail biting was a manual art most delectable & that her cousin’s cosseted life persists like a high-def hunk of throat-gagging fudge? Into my morning coffee, sugar cubes cannonball & this sound track sputters and skips. My iPhone nuzzles under a pillow for shelter while enemy machetes glisten in the social media of day.
Is There a God Cento Gratitude to poets: Anne Waldman, C.D.Wright, Ales Steger, Sam Sax, Lynn Emanuel, Louise Gluck, Alicia Suskin Ostriker, Alice Fulton, Roy Bentley, Carol Snow, Elizabeth Bishop, Linda Bierds, Gertrude Stein
We were on Tibetan translucent time The once the now the then and again. As you would eat the fingertips of god, dress lifted off a mannequin to reveal nothing. The hard darkness is padlocked with a huge heart, no place to put a key or lock or unlock. So you invest authority in signs you cannot read with any accuracy. Which train are we on is there a quiet car is there a car for weepers the tic of prayer persists in nonbelievers. You canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have god in with the luggage. As it happened I drowned the ants on the plate to stop being God to them. The waiting room was bright and too hot. It was sliding beneath a big black wave, another, and another. Like thoughts, some become monuments. 105
And the circus tent with its acrobats, stern-faced and gilded, circling the ring on their parallel horses. Act so that there is no use in a centre.
Ethan Joella Out in the Air On the night my wife’s mother died, we all walked from the hospital out into the city. January wind, people in hats heading back to their apartments after work, all the dogs coming out for their walks, the sun fading behind the buildings, the cable car to Roosevelt Island limping back and forth in the air. Stealing glances at my wife as she reached for our daughters’ hands, I looked for recognition from the faces of passersby of what we had seen just minutes ago in the stifling room, the tubes, the closed curtains. Now out in the air, holding Ann’s last bags, we staggered with no direction. I thought the earth would feel our death, cave from the weight of it. A few trees still had Christmas lights, some people stepped out of our path. Sometimes we waited to cross, and the cabs and bikes bolted by, and sometimes we heard an ambulance, its sudden startling cry.
Mary Buchinger In the Heart of the Small Between cars in the parking lot I find the bottom two-thirds of a dove’s white eggshell part-filled with morning’s rain Against the inside edge I see a greyish swirl— knots of attachment called the chalazae A translucent sheath holds the ivory shell more or less intact fragments dislodged here and there fallen away leaving jagged cloudy windows I trace a circle of cracks where a beak might have first tried out itself as a tool— what did that feel like? the movement of the neck urgent burgeoning strength tested as it pecked at what held it What I hold is only one part of the whole— 108
its spiral of pieces larger to small and smaller a mosaic held together by a thin membraneâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; its season of use ended yet here cupping rain
At the Cemetery In the greeny dell below me a man gestures talks loudly Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m telling you headstones glow in the sun a whole congregation at his feet in a semi-circle of marble some lean half-sunk one labors under a tree root ivies tongue the stone lozenges grey weathered roses ground down sharp made grainy by rain the last of summerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s bees reap late purple flowers clouds bat the sun how alive his dead are gathered around him listening
Ghost You pale quavery thing always rushing with your heart in your mouth toward any scene of utter inhumanity inserting yourself for the jab to the testicles proffering your most tender parts for the surprise and pain of malevolence for the barely detectable diamond-hard lump. You whoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve always longed to be a barn cat romanticize a life of scraps and outsized hissing even as you hoard your two-for-five-dollar Cheerios and hug your sweeter than life itself children against your scrawny breast. You say, Try me just try me, then hide, trembling, when the breath of anything evil draws near. You impetuous reluctant monster you want to believe there are no false gods. You try to climb inside the refuge of trees as if you could bear stomataâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;their opening and closing so much like breathing. You pray not to praise, all your pale fears show themselves in words that never quite fit the gap between buttons yawning and taunting.
The Odyssey You Never Signed Up For not to go too dark, but this wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t it at all, at all your questions turn out to be wrong you forgot about dusk, about leaves and rain you missed the part about expectations about falling short, those contingencies writ small that a life is built on sea rocket and grasses that take the dune the indigo currents hunting you whole racks of ancient trees bent down to earth gratitude, schmatitude, this measure of everything against what could be worse wears you out, the calculations so grainy even when it comes to the enemy, that annoying shifting target, you always circle back to yourself, the last place you want to go, Sisyphus, Sisyphus, no escape
Luke Kuzmish Apples Turning Brown when I was sniping cigarettes I learned which ash trays to hit the ones with women who could only make a half a cigarette nurses secretaries social workers before they got called back to work there’s nothing effeminate about smoking a discarded cigarette whose filter is covered with lipstick or maybe there is but that part of me —the proud part— I couldn’t access while I was fiending for a cigarette that day I was woken up by a janitor in the back room of the library covered in drool 113
barely registers as a bad memory â&#x20AC;&#x153;we close in 10 minutesâ&#x20AC;? I hope I thanked him for his kindness for the way he kept my dignity intact and when I stepped outside it started to rain it always seemed to when I had no place to go in a bag thrown over my shoulder which held everything I owned I had some apples turning brown a gift from my friend I took a bite and tossed them into the water to think I wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t done trying to fight for this existence of missed shots in my neck of walking 30 blocks in 3 dollar shoes
to find out my dealer wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t home â&#x20AC;&#x201D;the princess was in another castle of soup kitchen lectures, pity, and fish every Friday of running on dull instincts of pulling out my hair in motel bathrooms of pretending freshmen philosophy class was enough to quell the screams of my conscience
Patricia Nelson The Day The day is small that bares the women with bright sleeves, the swish of temporary grasses, The flare of apple that comes from the circle of stem and root, revising both, making them sweet. The day is deep with failed animals. A wilderness of extinct objects returned to their fading sockets. Unseen eons shift as the day returns. The insult ripens like a clotted web.
Len Kuntz Osito
for Katherine Osito, yes, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s true, you are small, so curious, stuck in wide-eyed wonder with open arms and mitts, but Osito, your voice is a strength, is a sonnet, is a strong wind the trees lean into in order to hear your story, the one about the woman who lost a boy, though on some evenings, like this one, he still comes round, a jangle of joy, his ghost wearing that familiar grin, playing his strings, sweet music only the night can gather.
Recess I am filling my head with rusted soup cans, acid rain, and broken rulers, tongue stuck on a frozen tether pole, heady cackles eating up all the oxygen, sharp antler elbows to the ribs, an ass kick here, there, everywhere the chorus of youth shrill and delighted by the fall of another school year, the devilâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s matrix and a new dunce discovered in the ash heap of frivolity.
Susan Tepper Tricks DEAD OF NIGHT while Luanne slept he packed the car. He’d lapsed the insurance on The Coconut Grill a year earlier. Push to shove he couldn’t say why. Luanne, of course having no idea, cooked merrily along; till the hurricane hit and the storm surge like a great white swallowed up the entire wooden structure, and everything else beachfront. Left where The Grill once stood was a shallow cellar used for food storage. Kids jumped in and out, slopping around in the dirty water, bashing each other with bags of ruined food. After he got the car packed, he sat in the living room, nursing a bottle of Scotch, till the sun came up. At breakfast announced he was going north for the hunting season. Doing pancakes in a red fryer, Luanne chuckled. “Crocs?” “Deer.” She looked back over her shoulder. “Deer?” He stared at her, keeping it all empty around the eyes. “Where deer? Where north? Alaska?” “Not that far north. Bucks County.” Her pancakes always turned out the perfect shade of golden. He watched her flip the first batch. Today being no exception. She deserved to have her own cooking show but of course you need connections. Who here in Pompano was connected? Nobody he knew. 119
“Bucks County.” She held the spatula aloft. “So where the hell is that?” The hurricane had ripped out the kitchen storm window along with its frame. Taped over, the plastic sheeting was coming undone. He’d planned on replacing that window. “Don’t go burning them hot cakes,” the old lady called out. “This artha-ritis is killing me.”
A kitchen towel around her trim waist, she was cooking breakfast for his mama. Cooking all their meals and not complaining. They had nowhere else to put the old lady. He felt a wash of guilt. He saw Luanne’s chest heave in the white T-shirt. A do-rag thingy tied around her black hair. Beads of sweat starting to form on her face. She was a hottie. On the skinny side but still hot. “Mama, I don’t burn food. I’m a professional cook.” Then she threw him a look that could choke a rattlesnake. “At least I was … while I was under the impression we had insurance on the restaurant.” She didn’t say The Coconut Grill. She only said restaurant now when she brought the subject up; which wasn’t often. Her long slender arm went taut as she squirted more butter into the pan making it sizzle. Clearly she disliked his mama. When The Grill was operational, it gave the two women plenty of space. Now Luanne was going along in the house, in a quiet state of mental hell. She’d never been one for the family scene. Left home right after high school. Bummed around cooking in diners and coffee shops. Never explained that period of her life. Just said It was time to be on my own. He watched her stacking the cakes on a 120
plate which she slipped in front of his mama. Then she thumped the syrup bottle on the table, sat, crossed her legs and lit a cigarette. Still near the screen door, he watched it all play out like a movie. Debated about bringing his golf clubs. He was thinking nature can play cruel tricks on a person’s destiny. “So, like I was asking, where is this Bucks County anyway?” “Pennsylvania,” said the old lady poking the pancakes with her fork. “These are mushy.” Luanne blew smoke out her nose. “They’re fully cooked.” “I don’t know about that.” “You don’t want them?” She reached for the plate. “I never said that!” “Mama please eat the pancakes Luanne cooked you special.” “Bucks County General.” The old eyes brightened. “That’s where my Ray got born. His daddy worked the steel mill. It was a fine place to grow a boy.” Luanne snickered. “You grow vegetables. Boys grow themselves.” “You have to wind her up, Luanne?” He yanked a chair across the floor. His mama said, “Ssssshh.” “I just want a nice peaceful drive up the coast. Is that too much to ask for?” “Hold it right there!” Luanne stubbed the cigarette out in her bowl of magical crystal stones. Smoke rising from the bowl. “You’re thinking of driving to Bucks County by yourself? Ray am I getting this right?” 121
He grabbed the bowl of stones holding it under cold running water. “These are good hot cakes,” said the old lady. “If you think I’m about to baby-sit your mama while you cruise up the coast to kill deer.” She pulled off the dish towel flinging it. “In case you forgot we have a situation. We have to rebuild or sell off as a vacant lot. That’s gonna take time. Whose time, Ray?” She was up, and in his face. “Honey, it’s just a little vacation. Not even a vacation. A few days and I’m back before you even realize.” “Oh, I realize.” Dripping syrup on the vinyl tablecloth, the old lady asked for another napkin. Luanne just stood there still as her stones. “Use one from the napkin holder, Mama.” “Thank you, Son.” She dabbed the drips smearing them. “Not like that,” he said rushing in. Luanne yanked off the do-rag, hair tumbling to her shoulders. “This ain’t gonna happen.” He shut off the sink tap drying the stones one by one. Then placed them back in the bowl. “It’s a miracle they weren’t scorched.” He sat at the table tilting the chair back. “Watch it, Son, you could get hurt.” It made him uneasy when Luanne grinned. She fingered the crystals, holding up a purplish one formed like a bullet. “All right, then. You and your mama go to Bucks County Pennsylvania. Snag a bunch of deer. Go visit your daddy’s grave. Have a ball.” He brought the chair back down. “How can I take Mama all the way to Pennsylvania? What about bathroom stops?” 122
“What about them?” “Times Square,” the old lady piped up. “He’s going to see the naked painted girls.” “Mama where’d you come up with such an idea?” “Naked painted girls?” “Ignore her.” The old lady waved her fork. “I heard you telling Deeter.” Luanne’s eyes had narrowed to slits. He got up and increased the cold on the free-standing air conditioner. The thing was a piece of shit. He should have fixed the damn window and put back the proper window unit. “Mama doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” “I sure as heck fire do.” “Look. I can’t take an old woman into gas station bathrooms. Someone sees, the next thing you got the cops on your back for indecent actions.” Luanne just sat there lighting another cigarette. “Tell them it’s your mama. That she has arthritis and can’t get on the bowl by herself. The cops will understand. It’s part of their compassion training.” “You’re saying you won’t stay here with Mama?” She smacked open the screen door. After pouring more coffee for the old lady, he followed Luanne outside. She’d perched on the rail of their small front deck. She looked small, as well. Even the sun, as it neared noontime. Small. Glowing unnaturally orange with a mist. “That sun look orange to you?” he said. “I hear the tide swells yesterday brought in some real choice crab. Too bad we have no restaurant anymore.” 123
Shielding his eyes he turned his face toward the causeway bridge. She slid off the rail, looking at him, a hand on her hip. Pretty aggressive stance, he was thinking; and that she could use a little heft up top and in the rear. The naked painted girls in Times Square looked fleshy on the internet. Deter calling it a flesh parade. He’d never seen anything like it, not even here at the beach with those thong bikinis. The naked painted girls posing with the tourists, eating hot dogs, drinking soda through straws, petting dogs. He couldn’t get them out of his mind. Every square inch of flesh painted. “When I get back Luanne we should get married.” The first time in weeks he saw her smile. For real. Softening. Sooner or later Luanne always softened. He circled the top of her arm with one finger, whispering baby, baby. The sun’s strange orange glinting off her teeth, making them gold, off the white of her T-shirt where he could smell Clorox, the palm trees, line of parking meters, sides of cars trolling the main drag. Everything aglow in its own way. And, would be again when he got back. “So we’re OK?” “Mister.” She said it real throaty. Had this way of working her tongue at the corner of her mouth. Super sexy shit. He wanted to take her into the back bedroom but Mama was awake. “So we’re good?” Luanne checked her phone. He watched her move lightly down the few steps of the deck, slide into his car and pull away. Before he could do anything. 124
Ace Boggess Do You Want a Revolution? –Google auto-fill (i.e., flarf)
in the sense of overthrowing the government, no. in what sense then? the sense of how the Beatles changed music forever, did it again so rock & roll could be weirdly varied, still loved, popular, best-selling. when John Lennon sang his answer to this question—also no—it was another revolution; not bloodshed, but a ladder leading up to some Divine—rather than Jacob’s, one in back for drunken angels staggering home, stumbling. Nirvana did this, too, overthrowing the government of our sluggishness, made the 1990s interesting even after Cobain … well, you know. I’ve been waiting 126
for the next rifle shot on the FM front. bullets sound the same these days, ricocheting back & forth across the airwaves. I want a new British Invasion, another gritty burst of Grunge. maybe the songs will save us, topple tyrants. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d be happy if they just reminded us how freedom feels, & youth, & how to live with ourselves.
If You Were Abducted by Aliens, Would You Tell Anybody? –question asked by Nathan D. Horowitz
Is there a secret so outlandish one might keep? Not money found on the sidewalk, not the stray pair of lips met in a doorway between opposing rooms. We fail to hold on to little lies like how we regifted last year’s Christmas junk. Am I to keep silent after firsthand proof the unbelievable is true? I’ve heard at least three maxims noting how the wisest never speak, but I’ve had enough not-speaking to last ten lifetimes. I’d rather welcome the laughing mayhem of ridicule, smell it coming off the TV like burning dust, than pretend I have not been caressed by the universe. I’d speak it— another aspect added to the rest which might help define me, explain my awkward sideways glances, voice muted of deceptions except fear— that, too, for once, would be rational, & my irrational brain would let it go.
Will You Ever Talk to Your Ex Again? –Google auto-fill (i.e., flarf)
say nothing rotten here. not a bad word. I don’t hate or think about her much, except some leftover anger about how things turned out, the timing of it, like arriving at the beach before remembering I left my sunscreen in West Virginia. bound to burn a little, but as much my fault. fate, say—can one blame the Divine? anyway, I rarely think of it, though when I do I put a lot of work into it—rambling conversations in my head that wouldn’t play out in real life, assigning plusses & minuses never equaling X, when all I’d want to say is I was right & you were right & everything turned out as needed, except that one thing we couldn’t talk about, leaving no reason to talk about things at all. 129
Cynthia Anderson Jackalopes The way they leap, they must be immortal— crisscrossing the landscape from creosote to catclaw, long legs and ears and lofty horns, flashing their black tails like exclamations or Morse code—they tease the corners of your eyes, then vanish quicker than you can say lightning or there’s no such thing— On moonless nights, if you lure them with Jack Daniels, they’ll echo your songs around the campfire, tenor voices raised— warrior rabbits gentled but untamed, crouched just outside your circle of light.
Sounding Coyote mounts the highest rock—nose lifted, sharp yips. She and the sky have an understanding. It’s a mystery when the blue will fall— so she takes her intention with her, bounding downwards. Someone will die, and you’ll be left to tell what they did for you, and to you—even if you’re not sure how to say one true thing, how to get past a stab, a curse, a dare. Coyote stares you down. You may be wrong— you’ll always be wrong, it’s your word against theirs. But your word is your vow between you and the sky and the blood pounding in your throat as you let loose the cry that will save you.
Yucca Man's Lament We belonged to the hidden places— the far desert you were never meant to enter, gloomy spots you hated. My clan followed coyote trails, found all the game we could devour. Few of your kind knew us, and those who did let us be. We kept to ourselves until we couldn’t. Until roads and houses reached our territory. You fear our hairy bodies, our stink, our red eyes. But we never hurt you. We ran from you. We’re still running from your machines, your weapons, your streetlights and headlights. Now that you’ve taken so much, you must be lonely. Lonelier than us. You think we’re gone— what, then, do you make of giant footprints near your fences, fast-moving shadows darkening your windows, the stench that stands your nose hairs on end? What more will you take from us? 132
Jason Baldinger For Wang Wei january wind lost in paper leaves still attached to a young birch as wang wei says a hint of drifting voice no more
We Talked About the Universe on the Afternoon Your Mother Died I forgot I had a joint hanging on my lips as I shambled up the stairs at the sea palace I looked like a middle age weed dealer from Morristown dumfounded that wicked jersey girl cackle could still ring in his ears still doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t explain why the guy I passed was staring at me you said after you pulled your mom off the ventilator all you wanted was a drink the weather was ice and you had nothing but a cheap bottle of wine from a target and the shelter of the Columbus red roof inn washing down shitty cable television with that typical motel loneliness 134
the universe is a cold indifferent place with plenty of space to feel bereft
Baker Street there are no saxophones playing as I roll down baker street just brown lifeless knotweed shoots and trash blowing tumbleweeds if you wonder what comes after the blues I may have some thoughts after the sun sinks itself deep into the allegheny
Leah Browning Fever Dreams THE BUS WAS HALFWAY to the campground, hours from home, when he began to feel ill. They were on their way to a corporate teambuilding retreat, where they would spend the weekend doing trust exercises and roasting marshmallows over a campfire, or whatever one did on such an excursion. Martin was in the middle of a divorce and hadn’t read the materials that the company had sent out about the trip. By the time they arrived, he had a high fever and the shakes. While his coworkers settled themselves in their communal bunk beds for the night, Martin was led to the infirmary—a name that charmingly connoted another time—and given pain relievers and a glass of water and put to bed. This was his lot in life, it seemed—always to be ailing when it was least appropriate. In his early twenties, he had been invited to a bachelor party on a yacht, and he hadn’t realized until the boat left the shore that he was prone to seasickness. He spent the night hanging miserably off the side of the boat, joined later by a pair of beautiful girls—girls he’d have been too shy to approach in his everyday life—and yet here they were with him, shoulder to shoulder, all three of them wretched and heaving. When the girls finished, they helped each other up and went back to the party. In the night, Martin woke briefly as someone laid another blanket over him and replaced the cool cloth on his forehead. In his confusion, he thought that it was his wife, his soon-to-be-ex137
wife, performing these ministrations, and in the darkness he whispered her name, but it was too late and the person was already gone. There was an extra blanket folded up next to him. He halfwoke again and again, and in this delirious state he mistook it for his dog, now long dead, asleep at the foot of the bed. Three days later, he was well enough to ride home on the bus with everyone else, though no one wanted to sit next to him. There was an elaborate pantomime to that effect by the guy who always took the last bagel. He bent over backwards to get away from him, clawing the air, and Martin was forced to chuckle along—See? I can be a good sport. He allowed himself to be placed into quarantine. He hadn’t told anyone about his wife because he couldn’t stand the thought of the awkward, pitying looks—everyone talking about him behind his back. He knew that they wouldn’t have teased him like this if they had known. So he sat by himself in his seat all the lonely hours back to the city to collect his car from the parking lot and drive back to the empty apartment. Years later, at night, he would dream of this.
Richard Downing Prequel
Many in Mexico consider the caracara (Caracara cheriway) to be a national symbol. It is one of the slower raptors, relying primarily on scavenging, and was considered sacred by the Aztecs. She had wanted at that momento exacto to be the crested caracara that swooped low before her eyes just before the door closed and the lock clicked from the outside. She had been the last one to stuff herself into the back of the semi-trailer truck, pressed hard against a promise and a thin-faced hombre. It was difficult to breath. She had to pee. She felt hands. They all had the same dream and different dreams. AmĂŠrica would be a better place. 139
Backseat Myths I. She’d always heard so she’d always believed that a sparrow at the window at dusk meant muerte for someone in their home, so forgoing the slight breeze she rolled up the back window far enough so that at least the sparrow could not fly inside, and she told herself to tell her madre when she woke to drive more carefully la mañana siguiente when they left for a different lot. II. Crows, she had been taught by her abuela, plucked out the eyes of the dead and, if nana had been drinking, the dying. 140
The granddaughter had in her evening prayers wished crows, grandes y negros, upon the men who came for them, separated them, sent them back as one would return a defective toaster or a carton of expired milk. She no longer prayed for this. There were no receipts for her padre, her younger hermano. She wanted the men to see this. III. La abuela had told her about the doves, how they were the messengers of deities. La nieta rolled down the back window to better glimpse the last light of dusk and the pigeons with their bobble-headed pecking at the crumbs at the far edge of the parking lot. There must be mucho migajas, she thought, to bring so many messengers, so many gods. Is this how they pass the time? Is pecking some sort of divine code, a way of speaking 141
in tongues? Pigeon tongues? She laughed quietly so as not to awaken her madre whose head rested on the steering wheel, her mouth slightly open, slightly moist. And what of the old man standing among the birds, scattering seeds from a brown paper bag? Is he God? Jesus? Which dove, she wondered, sent for Him? And why was he staring so hard at her madre’s car? IV. “A dove, mi chiquita, a white dove, will one day carry you to heaven.” She remembered her nana’s words and wondered, What color was the dove that took Nana to heaven? She laughed as she pictured the plump woman. And how many? Nana in the kitchen—always tasting tamale dough. And flan. And the wine. Red wine. She chose a cote of lilac doves, wings flapping hard, a piece of Nana’s vestido in each beak, straining into the ascension, Nana, glass of wine in hand, advising each dove as they rose and fell back as one. 142
A stray dove began pecking its way toward her car door. Window up or window down, she wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t sure. This dove was neither white nor lilac. The old man continued to scatter seed as he moved closer to the car. All men moved closer to the car.
Illegal Sol She would check the sun the way you would check your watch. Her nana had taught her how to tell time by the position of the sun. Her nana had taught her to weigh the seasons into the equation. She wanted to know about the stars, to learn what las estrellas had to say to her, but nana said first the sun, first you learn to know where you are in time then weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll see how las estrellas can tell you where you stand. And nana would more times than not tip her glass of red wine skyward and la nieta swore her nana looked straight into a sun that would not dare to blind her.
La Inmigrante El momento of absolute terror
the shadow of the hawk over the squirrel,
Janice S. Fuller Nogales A snake that slithers through the desert, over mountains, valleys, through the town. One city, two countries, a baby split by Solomon. The Wall, a rusty strip of metal, taunts young men who sometimes hang precariously from the top like snow on nearby mountains. Dark-eyed women at the border crossing sit huddled with their silent children on the floor, hoping for an â&#x20AC;&#x153;Enter.â&#x20AC;? Food in plastic bags, blankets piled at their feet, hardly any extra clothes. No sound from babies, no one cries. No games, no laughing. Just eyes that watch the citizens and visitors as the clang of metal gates counts the line of lucky people. Spirits of the travelers whoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d gone before sit with them along the wall as they wait to hear their names.
The End of the Drought Just as the desert gasped the rains came. We lay in bed, eyes and ears open, wondering at the unfamiliar sound. Ocotillos stood up, waved their spiny stems, pushed orange tongues up to lick the hummingbirds as they flew by. Saguaros plumped out their arms, embraced every single silver drop. Bobcats and javelinas somewhere in the washes lifted faces to the shower, washed off dust, danced in the downpour. Fire stopped and thought again, changed its intention, sat back down, smoldered in disappointment.
All Your Friends after Harley Elliott
Your friend the dove was here today its soothing Om-m-m a hum at desert dusk. Your friend the Road Runner raced by as well a streak of stripes across the speckled stone a sword with points at either end. Your friend the Gambelâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Quail was here today with dappled chicks a dozen strong a swirl of dry leaves random in worried agitation. Your friend the hummingbird was here today a blur on emerald a whir of blinking ruby. All your friends were here today sentries with an open eye to watch for signs and wait for creatures not so safe. Their voices echo through saguaros 149
vapors rise as small feet scatter scent of rosemary alarmed but reassured by your return.
Another Country I walk the streets of Santa Fe, ride the roads of New Mexicoâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; need to pay attention! Geology exposed, different side to side. The road a line through crimson, saffron, gold. A moonscape of mesas, mountains, hoodoos. Flat roofed houses, adobe with viga punctuation strike me with their contrast to the clapboard of my Midwest home. Rounded corners, terra cotta tiles. Doors and windows interrupt in purple, turquoise, orange. Geometric carvings sharp or flowing, images of horses, warriors, cliff dwellings tell the stories of this place. The words with intoxicating sounds, the champagne of language, connect me to the history and the people. Kachinas, dolls with spirits. Kivas, fireplaces reeking of Mesquite. Ancient pueblos, Spanish crosses, Mariachis, Abiquiu. Lyrical names sounding notes of native flutesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; Carmelita, Sangre de Cristo, Manual. Sopaipillas on every menu. Red, green or Christmas salsa. Green chilies drying on the roof near swamp coolers and carne seca beef. Flavors sharp with comfort draw us to the Plaza Cafe for tastes of Huevos Divorciados and Posole. I notice men with hair in braids or ponytails. Bolo ties, tight jeans, big buckles on belts with turquoise stones or coral. Women with their clothes like paintings. Long skirts with patterns 151
of sunsets over mountains. Boots, tooled high or low. Earrings that dangle, caught in thick, dark hair. These are Pueblo people, Spanish, Anglo mixed and shaken into a new place, an uncommon land to me. Another country.
Jake Sheff How to Wreck a Day The amber moon shines like scotch and soda shines. Like Midwestern manners. You know I’m right, you’re wrong about time. It didn’t break up with space. This bowl of pale cream is good. But the weather isn’t losing sleep. You’re wrong. You know I’m right. This season’s team of tears is just another violent veil. I do appreciate the calendula. It does fill up the hollers with spring’s warm handoff of power to summer. You know that isn’t true. The fairest pharynx of them all isn’t yours. The hammering of hammers doesn’t come from any place you name. You know, I’ve been where liquid needles fell from clouds like this bowl of pale cream. I know that woman. In a dark and childish heat, her yawp is wrong. She talks and talks about her dreams. You know inside her dreams she keeps apartments for the dead and her crazy truths, don’t you? 153
You’re right about soap bubbles’ moist reflections: vitamins and razors. Yes, yes. I know gas prices are wrong. I’m sorry if you think your boyfriend does. An optometrist wouldn’t know a nictitating membrane if he blinked one. Did you know I’m under water? Could you not stare at me like you’re a screen of ghost bamboo; what’s true around the wrong I’m in? I didn’t know what’s better left unsaid doesn’t take too kindly to a cornered light in the Midwest. Did you? “This changes everything,” said morning. Right now, for all I know, is an empty bed.
Ida Beal Waiting for My Dog to Die Captive in a gamblerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s mind each day is fogged by folly and optimism. The indignities of keeping watch assault the best and worse versions of ourselves and we ache for signs. A crow at the top of a palo verde tree, frozen in a cloudless sky, it is neither a prophecy nor an omen. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a black bird in a green tree against a blue sky and we get another day.
Charles Duffie Hombres IT WAS MIKE’S IDEA to electrify the fence. He was working on a ranch three days a week and knew how it was done. “Keeps the livestock from messing with the wire,” he said. “When we upgraded the system last month, I sort of borrowed one of their old fence chargers. They’ll never miss it. All we need now is garage stuff. Car battery, rebar for a grounding rod, and wire.” “I don’t know,” I said. “Someone could get hurt.” Mike looked at me. “Joe College. Mr. Higher Ground. The rest of us still have to live here. Jesus. You’ve seen them with your own eyes running across these fields. We’ll just give them a jolt. Wake them up to the fact that this is our country. Look,” he said. “I’ll test it on myself first, OK? We do it all the time on the ranch. Rock-paper-scissors-zap!” He laughed and I couldn’t help it. I laughed too. That night we loaded his pickup and drove across scrub and field grass. Our town was thirty miles west of Nogales, Arizona, and about a mile north of the border. We could almost see the fence from our back porches. The ground in-between was an unofficial no man’s land. It was after midnight and still 90 degrees. The moon looked huge, the way it did when I was a kid, a silver dollar of promise on the horizon. We drove right up to the fence. I had forgotten how medieval it was. 18-feet-high, made of rusted steel panels 9 inches 156
wide, with 2-inches of open space between each one. Those spaces always seemed cruel to me, and on gusty days I swear I could hear the wind blow through the gaps like the whine of a train. The metal panels still pulsed from a full day of heat. “We’ll go half a mile,” Mike said, unspooling wire. “The farther we go, the better the odds of zapping an hombre.” He wrapped the wire around the panels, making X-shapes across the two-inch gaps. It was 4 AM by the time we strung wire out and back. Mike used a tensioner to keep it taut. “You never see border patrol out here anymore,” he said. “There’s just too much land to cover. The government should make the whole fence hot, California to Texas.” The moon had traveled across half the sky, pulling away like it was leaving orbit. The earth was just scrub, fence, and us. I used a sledge hammer to sink the rebar. “That’s our grounding rod,” Mike said. He connected the car battery to a control panel that looked like a boxy iPad. “This is our charger. It converts the battery’s electricity to a higher voltage and shoots it down the line.” He ran two connections from the charger, one to the rod, one to the first X on the fence, and switched the system on. “I don’t hear anything,” I said. Mike laughed. “It’s not a power line. Ready?” He held out a fist. “Hey, I never said—” “Christ, this is our last real summer. We’re grown-ups from here on out.” “I’m just going to California. I’ll be back all the time.” 157
“No you won’t.” In the moonlight, he looked ten years old. “This’ll always be your home but you won’t be back. Not really.” He held out his fist. How many times had Mike and I played this game? Daring each other to smoke the first cigarette, take the first drink, borrow a neighbor’s car for a joyride, ask a girl to dance. All those happy secrets. “I’m not going to miss you at all,” I said. Mike grinned. We rocked our fists on the count. “Onetwo-three-go!” My paper beat Mike’s rock. He rolled his shoulders and bounced on his toes like a boxer, touched an X of wire, and jumped two feet in the air. He laughed, slapping his hand against his thigh. “Shit, shit, shit!” We played that stupid game for ten minutes. It hurt like hell. All my bones felt zapped loose but we kept playing. Dawn ghosted the horizon. Mike hid the battery and charger under a pile of scrub branches. We drove home, windows open, the new day baptizing our faces. I slept until late afternoon, then made dinner so food would be ready when mom came home from Denny’s and dad from Chevron. Mom got weepy again about me leaving. Dad told funny stories about all the trouble Mike and I had been, and how grateful to God he was that I was getting out. After they went to bed, I sat on the back porch. I felt homesick already. The horizon glowed orange, like dawn at midnight. I thought it was a trick of the moon. Then I heard sirens. The fire rolled across paper-dry grass and followed scrub bushes like a crackling fuse towards town. It took three days to get the flames under control, and those hot winds howled through the 158
gaps day and night. 20,000 acres and thirty homes were lost, including our house and the little place where Mike and his dad lived. The slag of an improperly installed fence charger led investigators to supply stores, farms, and ranches. Burning ourselves down was the last secret Mike and I shared.
Dianne Olsen Leftover Memory Casey Stengle said, “You could look it up.” So I looked everything up, zip codes, area codes, phone numbers, faces, names, dates— after I looked them up a few times I could remember them. I really liked remembering. Why, I could remember just about anything! Latin names for plants and insects, phyla, genera, species, native habitats, reproductive cycles, soil profiles, spring ephemera, Boyle’s Law, Ohm’s Law, the laws of primogeniture. Even now, though my memory is failing, I can name three conifers that are not evergreen: Tamarack, Bald Cypress and Dawn Redwood (Larix laricinia, Taxodium distichum and Metaseqouia glyptostroboides). Okay, I had to look them up, except for the third one, which I will remember always from the first time I saw a grove of them on a fall afternoon 160
in the grey mist, glowing salmon-pink in their soon-to-fall needles. I may remember you if we meet again but not likely your name, and months from now, perhaps, not even your face. But if you’re interested, I remember that Bess Marvin was Nancy Drew’s best friend, Captain Hastings was Poirot’s sidekick, and Jack Haley played the Tin Man.
Mark Blickley Valadon: Reclining Nude A spotlight comes up on VALADON reclining nude and completely covered beneath a sheet thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s pulled up over her head, signifying her death. Suddenly, she springs up naked from the gurney, bewildered, and wildly paces back and forth across the stage like a panicked, caged animal. She squints at the audience, trying to focus on the people sitting there in the dark. VALADON Where am I!? What happened? Somebody help me! Maurice! Maurice! My precious Maumau! Why is it so cold and dark out there? WHERE AM I? What the hell happened? I close my eyes for one seconde, in the middle of a fantastique brushstroke, and then this. Where is my easel? I have not completed my self-portrait! Why have I been abandoned? Maumau, where are you? WHERE AM I? She shades her eyes with her hand and squints at the audience. Allez savoir pourquoi! Va savoir pourquoi! Who are you? Why am I in your company? You sit in the dark while I am blinded by this terrible light. Tâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;sais? 162
She scans the audience, shielding her eyes with her hand. I know who you are! (she points to an audience member) You’re the great sculptor Anna Hyatt! I remember when you won first prize in the 1910 Paris competition for your life size statue of Joan of Arc on horseback, but the judges take back your prize when they discover you are a woman! And you, (points) Artemissia Gentileschi—the first woman to be recognized in the Post-Renaissance art world. You paint the trauma of being raped by your art teacher, yet after your death your paintings are attributed to your father or other artists! Merde alors! And you, (points) poet Elsa Von Freytag Loringhoven, Godmother of New York Dada! Pioneer of performance and body art, no longer remembered except as the woman who enters Duchamp’s urinal into the 1913 Armory show! Art historians to continue to pissoir your name and reputation! And you, (points) Ann Vallayer, one of the greatest portrait painters of 18th century France, so beloved and popular that your patron Marie Antoinette gives you an apartment in the royal palace! And you, (points) Corinne Michelle West, Gorky’s lover who turns down his six marriage proposals, determined to be an independent artist, forced to paint under the name Michael West in order to gain légitimité as an abstract expressionist painter! 163
Why am I up here in the light while you incredible women are down there in the dark? I AM NOT FRIGHTENED! I refuse to be pulled into a feminine purgatory of neglect and disrespect. I am Suzanne Valadon! One of the greatest artists France has ever produced. And that includes painters whose cocks and ball sacks are crushed into their laps whenever they sit in judgment of their female peers and betters. I am called a slut, a common putain simply because I lived my life like a man. I took my pleasures, seized them without coyness or waiting for approval. I am not one of France’s greatest female artists—I am a great French artist! How unfair it is for women to be cursed with child bearing? When we choose to drift from one lover to another, a swollen belly of lust is often the punishment extracted for our freedom of choice. I am the bastard of a washerwoman who also birthed a bastard, a bastard who became an artistic genius like his mother. My dear Maumau, Maurice Utrillo. As a bastard who bred a bastard, I am an upholder of French la tradition, no? Truthfully, don’t many of you Americans think of the French as bastards, oui? Too many men like to believe we came from their ribs, but they all came from our vaginas. Their balls are so delicate and vulnerable, but our vaginas can take a pounding, ooh la la, yet we are called the weaker sex. After I make love, my sweet juices flood into a river that drowns me in creative visions. Ideas do not come from my head. They come from my womb! Do you know the difference between good sex and really, really good 164
sex? It makes me feel invincible. You see, mon cheri, orgasms not only heighten my creativity, my creativity heightens my orgasms! It is why we women cannot have fantastic sex all the time. I would burn myself out being in a continual creative mania. Not only has my erotique behavior been criticized as being too aggressive and unfeminine, but so has my work. The critics loved to dismiss my art as too masculine because of my loose brushstrokes and coarse forms. Did you know I am the first French female artist to paint a nude male? I’m speaking of real cock and balls studs and not some fig leaf hidden flowery Greek God. C'est vrai! Men can be such frightened bebes. It was believed when I was young that women who worked with naked male models would lose, if not the flavor of their virginity, at least its “sweet parfum.” Not once did it ever prevent any man from sucking my juices. Renoir once told me that his sips between my legs was like honey to the throat, but poison in the blood. Men can be such hypocrites! I displayed uncommon courageux being the first artist to record so precisely and mercilessly the progressive damage of time to a naked female body—my body! I had a stroke while painting my final canvas, a nude self-portrait at age seventy-three. Stripped of the female sexuality that was the rasion d’ettre of France during my lifetime, my realistic naked self-portraits not only created a new art form, but endowed it with the importance it deserves. So explain to me how my 1938 Parisian obituary only mentions that I, the great Suzanne Valadon, an internationally acclaimed artist of the first rank, is reduced to be written up as just the 165
mother and the wife of an artist while ignoring my many artistic accomplishments? I left behind 478 paintings, 273 drawings and 31 etchings. My funeral at the church of Saint Pierre of Montmartre was attended by the most celebrated of Parisian artistsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the mourners included Pablo Picasso. Why must I continue to suffer discrimination as a woman, even as I lay within my freshly dug grave?
Cheryl Caesar Betrayal Detective film before the fireplace; reach for popcorn, all unseeing. Something shifts in my mouth. Something is missing; something added. A piece of the eating apparatus has defected, changed sides, is with the being-eaten. It feels like a tectonic shift. A continent has broken away, leaving a jagged coastline. My tongue searches, recovers, something harder and heavier than the kernels, though as white. Disbelief is in my fingers. Macbeth! The horses are eating each other! This is the stuff of our bad dreams, hopelessly grinding our molars as they crumble, complicit in our own decay. Marching towards entropy. Tooth, you have betrayed me, and we are all going to die. 167
Stephen House Cat-Story when he spoke about the love he had for his cat as a boy his eyes glazed over misty sentiment or feeling tears is all the same with us how he hugged that beast held on tight and the jaunts they would take together away from the house to secret spots to be just them and i knew why pain sailed into me from him as he spoke why i wanted to hold him across the table in the budget restaurant of our excuse for dinner out i knew what heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d suffered as a kid he â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;d told me about it on a beach walk in a dim room looking sadly down and at the end of a jetty over stormy sea and so the cat-story 168
about the comfort that feline friend gave him as a kid made me melt in quiver and whispered a soft reminder that i would never leave him to his aloneness without me to care as we walked out of the eating dive he smiled as his hand brushed mine and my eyes glazed over too
Trickery so many parties too much everything dancing on broken glass blue lips of lust wander nurse my mind bathe my need wake up to an icy dawn in a park with that man again in shattered mist i crawl within grip his poison soul why do i slide back to you slouched in your way of always the same i feed him a cigarette didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t i see you mumbling and stumbling last night somewhere we both loathe in crave a dying bird at the edge of a pond i kneel to hold its rolling gasp stare blind at screeching eyes me and my other truth entwined in crumpled song of sharing death with slipping more and i say nothing like always before now is again the void 170
a scarlet flower in bubbling mud i lick the bloodied petals whisper prayers into a wobbly breeze donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t cry drowning in fight wet trickery never helped before for fuckâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s sake stand up and move away from you do something new recite your manufactured silence of repetition midnight through and through feel limp courage fade hold me help me or slink away as you do and do and release me until the next time chimes
Chila Woychik Fresh Fire THIS SPACE IS DIFFERENT given its audacious sky and gritty, hard, land—an alien terrain upon which little grows but sparsity and want. Plats of chaparral partially line a highway. The sun’s resting place grows bones, sand, and nettles; a dirge hangs off the cracked lips of the breeze. My fourth trip to Arizona proves one thing only: Hell is probably cooler than this in summer. A saguaro’s shallow roots can suck up two hundred gallons of water from a rare desert storm. Avoid snakes and scorpions, but especially a drunk saguaro giving sway to the beat of a violent gale. Migrant men and older women in hats and long sleeves tend acres of vegetables to be shipped to warehouses, trucked to grocers. At 103 degrees, the ground surface can reach 150 or more. Tawny is the color of the Sonoran. Anything else has had help. Before heading into the Yuma Desert mountains, I lift my eyes to the stalwart blue, and pray. I’d like to live another day, free of marauding cougars, killer bees. I watch a clutter of fire ants cross a trail, envision a pack of feral dogs around each bend. The sun slaps my soft white shoulders. Every cliffside cavern is suspect. Yuma is trail country: Indian Pass, Muggins Peak, and North Gila Canyon. Dozens more. Some trails are easy; others challenge the expert. I forgot hiking boots so climbed a forty foot mound just off the highway; it was rocky and prickly with small cacti. I wore sandals and used a choya walking stick. I cursed the hikers who broke bottles on the rocks, or drivers who threw them from car windows. I cursed and cried at the desolation. Cactus gardens can enthrall, and adobe houses can be built in the side of rocky foothills. But who builds cities in the desert? 172
A high moon slings far, the night-blackness dives deep. Coyotes croon an ancient song, and an owl, cool at last, wings the sky. After You Die, You Will Meet God, the billboard says. See? The myth of godless regions must not include the impossibly grim. Back to Iowaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s late Spring empty fields, I long for the badlands again, the wildness, the jolt, the Desert Bighorn Sheep arisen from the sand. Iowa is become tame: tractors on corn and hoppers gorged with soybeans. I crave the severity of endless hours under an absurd sun.
Lauren Scharhag Kitten Love There was only one white family on the West Side. My mother had been friends with their daughters, and I was friends with their daughters’ daughters, one of whom was this perfect whiskey-tango beauty named Tish, who was my first girl crush. She was 14 and I was 7 and she had the blond hair/dark roots/dark brows thing going because it was 1988 and her hair was feathered, of course, and though we were listening to Who’s That Girl I think she was going more for the Heather Locklear look, and she wore ragged cutoff short shorts, of course, threads dangling against her thighs, and she wore shirts tied up to show off her belly, and blouses off-the-shoulder, and fringed jean jackets; anklets and jelly shoes, crooked canine tooth when she flashed her Lip Smacker smile. We always used to play in my grandmother’s yard, but if Tish was home, I’d say, “Let’s go play at your house,” and Tish didn’t mind us kids hanging out in her room. She would let us sit on her bed. She would braid our hair. She would paint our nails. We stole one of her notebooks and found it filled with obscene drawings. I remember a cartoon mouse with an enormous dick captioned, Here, kitty, kitty. If Tish ever found out, she wasn’t mad about it. She sat and colored with us, like always, 175
(non-obscene things, coloring books and crayons procured at the TG&Y). How gently she traced, like a kiss, sparkling Tinkerbell lip gloss over my lips. How she took my hand in hers and whispered, â&#x20AC;&#x153;Tiny fingers,â&#x20AC;? as she blew on my still-wet nails.
Casino Christmas Red-white-green lights more razzle-dazzle than festive. O Holy Night carol of the bells jingle-jangle of nickel slots croupiers in Santa hats trees decked with decks aces wild prime rib at the buffet. A family sets off across the darkened parking lot on foot having gambled away the note on their car. No room at the inn.
Steve Deutsch First Kiss Back in the early 60’s you didn’t need a crystal ball to tell the neighborhood was going to hell. Even the children knew— acquiring a wariness like some sixth sense for city kids In the summer of ’62, I sat with her for as long as the lengthened evenings allowed, on the stone steps that served as a front porch. My friends and hers buzzed about us like gnats. We talked about the future. At twelve, every thought is of tomorrow. I remember our knees would touch now and again like a promise The neighborhood spawned moving vans and U-Haul trucks. Those with any money at all were fleeing to the South Shore— to brand new split-levels with three bedrooms and a bath and a half. 178
My dad, a master of irony, would strike a pose and intone: “To a little bit of heaven on a quarter acre lot.” My family stayed. She left in August just before the start of school. I’d like to tell you I kissed her goodbye as the overloaded van sat idling on the Avenue, Mozart played Requiem on our baby grand, and the Brooklyn sky sported both sun and moon. But, I suppose, you might not believe me.
A. Molotkov Heaven for 2 if an angel has spare wings a bird becomes a lover becomes a pencil who will replace them you write a story of a lover mortality passenger in the lobby of days turned bird but the pencil is dull and if you have something to say the lover is missing in action say it quietly so the news spreads slowly the bird’s wings are unfit for flying you are not counter of moments in a chase of signs as sharp as the bird’s beak as the lover’s words if I lend you my eyelids addressed to you please use them for good dreams if the angel has spare wings the lover will be angry longer than words can cross let’s wear them
Aerodynamics Lesson the air makes its fist as wind as its voice people dying to share their stories their dayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s events their small discoveries their minds brimming with the urgency of self-sharing the smell of paper the way words change it people so intent to be heard they can't themselves hear can't find a place in canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t find a key to this world full of stories forgotten the moment they happen stories without relevance to others stories told by the dead and the living in this world full of emptiness full of plots for a million stories full of feelings the mind and the white sheet both empty both full of everything for a story that wakes us all full of memories that will not last stories that survive in our voice when it strays uncertain of itself when it tells its shaky truths when it loses its thread when it fails when it cracks sharing our story the way the paper changes people dying the sound of your voice the air accepting it
Evidence I KNOW SHE WILL BE HERE. Just like every day. I open the newspaper to the right page. I have an espresso, sipping slowly. Then I have another. She won’t recognize me. Jeffrey didn’t. It’s been such a long time. I’ve changed. She has too. But I have been around, invisibly keeping track of her life. For me, her changes have been gradual, like no change at all, like arriving elsewhere without ever leaving. I move to a table across the way. The newspaper remains open on her table. The three of us used to be inseparable, but everyone knows that such idylls don’t last. Eventually, a choice had to be made, and when it was, I felt almost indifferent about the fact that she chose Jeffrey. I liked Jeffrey. I would have also chosen Jeffrey. The indifference disappeared soon. I felt misplaced, the way an amputated leg must feel when the body that used to include it continues moving, breathing, living. As years passed, the pain got worse instead of subsiding. The two of them didn’t last very long as a couple, but I know that she has never quite gotten over him. She comes in, sits down. She takes no time falling into the trap of the newspaper: the cautious scanning, the finding, the shock, furtive glances to determine if the person who had planted the paper is still here. I am, but her gaze just passes over me, like another stranger. She covers her eyes and remains in that position 182
for a few seconds – a very long few seconds. Then she grabs her bag and rushes out. Just gone, like she has been all these years. Someone with a camera is taking pictures randomly, unthinkingly, like a child playing with a toy whose meaning eludes her. I walk out, feeling the camera’s senseless gaze on my back. It makes me think of something, the summary information about us available in the world outside. If the random bits of us glimpsed by everyone we encounter could ever be combined, a fuller picture would emerge, a portrait much more accurate than the way we perceive ourselves. But what about those things we do that no one was around to observe? Are they retained somehow in this repository of truth? Or are they erased, as if they had never happened? Like the other night, meeting Jeffrey at that bar. He had to scan the half-lit room for a while. I was not motivated to make it easy. Finally I approached him. The conversation was full of gaps, half-broken memories. It was clear he was wondering why I had called. We didn’t have a shared language anymore. He had become cynical, impatient, sad. I knew then: her choice had been wrong. We were both slightly drunk when we left the bar. It was dark. We were by the river. We stopped for a cigarette. He leaned on the balustrade. I dropped a lighter, knelt down to pick it up. I didn’t know, and then I knew, all in an instant. It was surprisingly easy to pick up his legs and swing him over the railing. The splash was soft. He didn’t seem to struggle. I didn’t know if he had told anyone about our meeting. That eternal catalog of our actions the world keeps! 183
I had to make sure she read the obituary. It is short, factual, obviously written by someone who didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t love him. My back feels the cameraâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s stare as the shutter clicks.
Annie Blake Caerimonia De Ligno for my children / how they always cry for their mothers / but they never cry for their young / i count in my head / move the abacus with my hand / a man told me / donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t hang on too long / for your children / be the kitchen sieve and the lancea longini / the ash wood spear / aesc / ask and embla / give the dose of sap from the tree / and on wednesday / the cross over my head / / die / / and the adolescent girl shot the other girl at school / and her exile and how the sun withers and urielâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s guarding the gate / i saw what i wanted to see / a page from some book / and her victim was victorious / because who has the time / to go home and write down what iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m most anxious about / plotting complicit credits on a graph / and how unpunctuated and antonymical her poem is / to spend and credit cards and diatribes / / white powder over my body / ash tree meadow / bury me / the ceremony of the shallow grave / which part of you wants to live / the revenant / and how he crawls out again / does anyone believe that potential is equal in everyone / but her capacity / one day / long ago / before heaven and earth / then she made god / put him in her body like the bones in her knees / adamah / pea 185
meadow / underwater coral / there is a fluidity in her hair / streams and seas / for even though her hair sang / her voice was matted / matte blanco / entangled tongues and storms / wind by knots / the red knot on the shore for our provenance / liminal spaces and providence / just ask king cnut / / tjukurrpa and alcheringa / the dreamtime is cartesian epistemology / but the dreaming / circumcision and the first skin sinks back into mother earth / torches set alight / his revelation when the hut is burnt up / elleh haddebarim / the book of deuteronomy was more about relationship than about law / neophytes / re-incantation of christ / / he gives me the stone / take and eat / this is your body / and the scarification of my chest / sacrificial knifing with rock / ash to hold the blood / no longer the son and the mother / but ngangkari / for i would rather set out / / hunt in the forest / so i used to sit on a school doorstep / in the womb of trees / my journal / because when i read freud / the bible made sense for the first time / my father / tore up into white / mana / and fed it to the birds / primal claustra / and from now on whoever enters my house / / will own their own key /
Todd Mercer Christmas at the Canyon House AFTER WE KNITTED UP FROM OUR INJURIES sustained when a drunk man drove through our living-room and the contractors finished the rebuild, Jane was back to her normal routine, seemingly unaffected. Only an absolute cataclysm can throw her off her game for long. It’s been different for me. I jump when it hails outside, sleet pelting the metal roof and windows, wondering if part of a brokenup airplane might land on us next. Or a dumpster dropped by a neglectful operator of a very tall construction crane. Ready for a meteorite. I can’t relax. Jane if anything is responding with even more zest for life. She’s healthy-minded. Her second career in real estate is going tremendously well. She becomes so attached to “her houses” that customers line up to give her money in hopes of feeling a bond that strong. These are happy people. Jane’s the best at what she does. We’re going to host Christmas, try to get each kid’s family here. Guess it’s been four years since we gathered. Jane’s telling me the menu while I’m watching out the front window for a stray car skidding off the road. It keeps not happening, but I can’t stop checking. We’re serving lamb chops and oyster stew. After the front yard was filled and re-sodded, Jane planted a colorful mix of annuals, a foot in from the new concrete curb. It 187
looked cheery, but overnight a different careless driver screeched their brakes hard, jumped the curb and flatted some marigolds. Absolutely not having it, I headed to the big-box store at sun-up, buying iron fencing, a post-hole digger and cement for footings. A lot of work for a guy my age, but it restored my peace. The next afternoon I napped in my recliner, in the spot where the car had busted through the wall, free from fear of disaster. I started to love the house again, the way Jane always has. The holidays rolled around. I felt mostly recovered from my post-traumatic whatever condition. Then for once the whole family are together. The lamb chops are perfect. Jane’s telling the kids she’s opening a second office at the strip mall to cover listings outside town. That’s when we noticed. We live in a box canyon. One skinny road connects our development with everywhere else. That’s important information. My daughter-in-law was standing at the front window where I’d had to make myself stop standing, so she saw it first, a wall of destruction advancing up the road. She said, “Fire,” quietly, more flatly factual than sounding a warning. She knew as well as I did that there wasn’t anywhere we could move to out of the line of danger. After she said, Fire,” it hit. I don’t remember what happened. I’ve only been awake a minute. It’s confusing. I don’t know who found me, how I got here. I’m waiting to see how many of the others were saved, like I was. So far none, hoping for all of them. 188
The Tailors THEY CALL US THAT because we specialize in making alterations. Only a few hundred people know about our time machine. And of them, most buy the cover story—that it doesn’t function. It functions exceptionally well, since the rebuild after we lost agents into the inter-difference field. Runs like a top. The main constraint—it’s almost literally fueled by dollar bills. Pricey. When someone new finds out about the Tailor Project, they invariably ask: “If this time machine works, and if you sent Tailors back in time to prevent the Holocaust, why was there an Adolf Hitler and the six or more million who perished?” Fair question. Bear with me. It’s hard to imagine how bad that thing that didn’t happen could’ve been. The magnitude of the alternative string. It can be so bad you would wish for your ignorance back. Our Tailors answer, “Have you heard of Gunther Gruber? Is that a household name in this string?” No one has heard of Gruber, of course. Still, some Tailors are pushy, they press the question further. “Gunther Gruber, the Butcher of Paris? Gruber who killed 70 million people with his Rbombs?” You don’t want to know what that R-bomb can do. Jesus. The reason no one can think of that guy or that horrific loss of life isn’t the proliferation of crappy schools/dumbing down of the populace. 189
We handled the crisis, that’s why. We made significant alterations. Two other Tailors and I went back to 1907. We got Gunther Gruber admitted to art school. It was the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. They had a finite number of slots for new students, so unfortunately they were forced to bump one guy to fit Gruber in. Yeah. I know. Sorry, folks. He seemed harmless at the time. Certainly compared to Gruber, who already had criminal conviction for arson and harming animals for amusement by 1907. Fucking Gruber. I still see him in my dreams. I’m working with a psychologist to get beyond it. The Academy so didn’t want him. We had to break our own ethics rules to make it happen. Never mind. It seemed like the right thing to do. We don’t expect thanks for Hitler’s reign of terror, but the other guy was incomparable. Trust me. If I could show you pictures of Dublin after it was evaporated, I would. If I could show you images of the sanctioned cannibalism when Gruber’s men dodged starvation during the Moscow winter siege by eating Soviets, I would. Relics vanish every time we alter reality. The Soviets were pissed. Since you found out this much, let me allay your frustration. As soon as we secure new funding, we’ll send a fresh team for a mission do-over. We’ll get Hitler into that painting program too. You know, or kill him. Whatever’s more pragmatic. Not like we haven’t done that before. Initially we were going to avoid killing anyone (butterfly effect worries, etc.). But 190
the unexpected goes down while time-traveling, and we were forced to neutralize several people. We’re doing the best we can, but we’re still sort of new to it. You know? You don’t know. Goddamned budget cuts. Don’t worry though, we’ll figure it out.
Scott Wiggerman The Mystery of Sleep
starting with a Dickinson line (#1428) Water makes many beds for those averse to sleep. I guard my husband, who’s always the first to sleep. I’ve come to think of that park bench as the homeless one. A rusty bed of nails: how the cursed must sleep. An owl and a wolf approach along an arroyo. Only a dream, but should it take a hearse to sleep? The creek bed, the lake bed, the bed I call my own. If there are patterns here, they’re as diverse as sleep. What are cats dreaming when they murmur in the dark? A wicker basket, six kittens, immersed in sleep. Unconscious, will you become one with the stone? Paddle slowly on a float but intersperse with sleep. Clouds everywhere, yet tongues and throats are parched. Coma: an endless stretch of years, worse than sleep. Another day, another loss. How leaves tumble down. When they’ve blown off course, who will you nurse to sleep?
Questions about This Rock
a golden shovel including a Dickinson last line (#1243) This hard lump, is it love? Can it be divided into minerals? Or is it—flake by flake—one, a sum greater than its parts? Is it now, not the past? Are you and I an aggregate? Is it always neither/nor? Could you be just one grain? Is all this mass mine? Aren’t you dying to know? Have we only loved our double?
Jonel Abellanosa The Epiphany Why do I feel the divine? Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve been turning hunches like stones, seeing manifest what I imagine. I believe in the unseen, tuning my ear to the inaudible. After my dalmatian died, I drowned in spirits, too drunk to write. Voices louder. A year later, after I dried, a shade stayed. Now I see and hear, the shade still. My shih poo has been behaving like my beloved dal. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve been feeding the stray with his face, homeless dog who one afternoon suddenly appeared.
Lee Ann Pingel La Madonna de las Naranjas It is Christmas Eve in the desert. Not the desert of Palestine or Egypt or even the desert of my heart, though it is one. This is the desert of privilege and poverty, playground and prison. By which I mean if your name is Jimenez or Torres or Ramos, you are going nowhere unless it’s to México when your cousin who works lawns has enough money for gas. By which I mean if your name is Myers or Johnson or White, you live behind ramparts and gates fifteen feet high, and if you are going somewhere it is to Jackson Hole for the summer or maybe to Gelson’s for marrons glacés or maybe, just maybe, to church, like me, driving past miles of walls, some softened with oleander or palms, some softened with orange trees, heavy with midwinter fruit no one but the grackles will harvest. Nothing will grow in the hot sand of my self. I cannot find the Madonna in this church that projects prayers on a screen above the altar, clip art of the Christ child smiling down at the crêche. 196
Where could she be? Where would she be, a brown-skinned girl, a migrant, going to put her name on a register? Among the oranges, of course. Hiding in the small strip of green between cinderblock and asphalt, the only space here that is fruitful.
The Horse on the Hunnicutt Farm The old mare’s wide head hangs heavy on her puckered frame, all bones and angles. I don’t own her, and she makes this clear. “I can take you or leave you,” her flat shoulder says. “Humans come and go, poor in fealty.” My palm open on her neck admits this truth. I offer her what I can give. Small comforts. I serve her mostly in silence with carrots and combs; currying from her sorrel coat the grains of long neglect. We are satisfied with small beauties: the sunlit copper of a shampooed mane, the swivel of one supple ear, the rich fringe of dark lashes. I whisk the gnarled brush down stiff legs and imagine the day, long ago, when her solitude began, the day the bay mare slipped and didn’t rise, the day 198
these swollen knees bent and stretched galloping the fence line down and back, pounding a rhythm to her frenzied cries. I walk that same fence line with her now as she dries, our dank mists evaporating in the spring sun. Fingers curled over her sharp withers, I let her lead me, studying how her searching lips sweep the weedy field, sorting tender from tough, selecting what is good, not what merely can be swallowed.
Chicken Truck I 1. The full cages fill the flatbed high and wide as a semi trailer. Birds in the outer cages feel the sun, rain, wind, cold for the first time. Their feathers fly. For years, these trucks blocked my entrance to drive-thrus, those secret tunnels of love for the slipping vegetarian. Is it still true, in the days of chicken trucks, that only what comes out of my mouth defiles? 2. You would be surprised, the vet says. Surprised at how many chickens survive when the latch to their cage springs open and they tumble into traffic at seventy miles an hour. Do you want a pet chicken? 3. We have forgotten grace, turned a blind eye to sacrifice. I do not want a pet chicken, but I want to remember. When I sit to table, I want to remember the land, the farmer, the migrant worker, the grass and the tree, the blood and the bone, 200
the fruit of the labor. The chicken trucks will not let me forget. Ten tons of grace on wheels.
Chicken Truck II John Lennon told his son he would return as a white feather floating on the wind. Julian waited years for that father-feather before he stopped watching the empty air. I hope he never drove behind a chicken truck. Can you see him? Bug-eyed and agape at the swirl of white feathers, stopping his car, leaping onto the asphalt, lunging after first one feather then another, crying, Dad! Dad?? Dipping and twirling, then slowing, tiring, feathers settling about his feet as the 18-wheeler roars toward doom, his form shattered and shrunken in the reflections of a thousand beady eyes.
Gary Glauber Holiday Apothegms Fate follows into eternity. Once upon mother and father ill-suited, next thing an awkward family’s dysfunction follows. It’s hardly unique. Laying blame is a lesson in futility. Many know such strife; imperfection as way of life. Yet often they will question why normalcy has passed them by. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s family. Always the inevitable comparison with families who seem happier, better adjusted, well-suited to life’s sundry challenges. Thou shalt honor thy other and thy rather. This leads to confusion first, then anger at perceived disrespect or choices made and motives questioned. It is a Gordian knot. Try to make do in spite of graven imaginings.
We do our best with whatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s given. Some walk upright and erect, others slouch toward Bethlehem, trying to live up to imagined potential. Forgiveness is better than hostility. While cure remains beyond us, and even understanding underlying cause seems unlikely, adjusted expectations might help treat symptoms. Making an effort is a possibility.
Hannah Kinsey Spring Cleaning My fatherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s voice lingers in the closed rooms of the house. His bass breaking songs in the kitchen. His imprint with the bones of a book in the chair. His image when the light flickers in the barn. My mother gathers herself in them rocking into the wood as the dead do. She goes backwards over the thresholds Barefoot, digs her toes into the gardens of self that grow in an old houseâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; the supporting beams, the acres of hung clothes, the stains of laughter, words trapped between the couch cushions. The closets have marvelous weeds and thorns of smell fertilized by dust the moths makeâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; they neglect to migrate when sweaters do. I ask my mother why she refuses to wind the clocks, drain the tepid bathwater rather than run the tap. She says she prefers it this way, how some like to read the last page of a story first, imagine a great love at the close or sink into the couch like a stranger. 205
Leaving in the Dark The engine sputters, laughs—chokes. A double-barreled fist bites the ignition. I have been burning for days. The bucket of night and record cold empty the chest. Flakes fall, to widowed prayers that crystallize unnoticed. The moon is full and screaming. I exhale, my breath blisters the air. Headlights split then unravel as I have over the long skein of winter—men. The windows have slowly frosted to figures I can recognize as mornings my mother warned me about, the ones to refuse to bow to. A tree groans then shatters reaching as the radiator forgets to. Ironing his lips until midnight I’ve awaited the hour to print my fingers into the hardpacked reach of his body I’ll leave a light on for. I would ransom the morning if he could afford to start it with me, wake
and his hands seek mine, whisper all of what others have neglected to. Darling, I listen, but all I hear are the spaces you leave open, yourself coated â&#x20AC;&#x201D;your voice oil-slicked.
Fall River Men have forsaken their engines between banks overgrown. Wildflowers brush the carved legs of herons, bitterns. Two paths diverge in rapids, over one a canoe capsizes, a sleeping bag sinks, Heinz ketchup, mustard, matches, an afternoon that was grabbed for. The river swallows the hand, the soft yawn of a mouth that will remain unlatched. Wrinkles and tall skin the river will spit back. What will be remembered: who righted the canoe, reached into the river pulled my father out. Rapidly, thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a memory of rain, rising livid to the surface.
Desmond White The Garden of Forking Palms DAVE ARRIVES AT WORK NERVOUS. Today is like any other day, except when he woke this morning he found a garden growing on his hand. Normally he has hands wet as spit, and he keeps them balled up, or in pockets, or behind his back. As far as possible from handshakes and high fives. But now there's a garden and when he looks it's an anemone of flowers. Tubular purples, lashing whites, yellow hairs, hearts, scallops, and bells. In many ways it's a miracle but Dave doesn't want miracles. A rash, maybe. Fungus. Those treatable diversions. The explainable aliments. Dave avoids everyone, which isn't different from usual. The office is normal, tired—his cubicle sterile. He sits on a chair with wheels and puts his arms beneath the keyboard drawer and faces the computer. But he’s careful not to close his fingers because part of him is impressed by this wilderness excreted from sweaty palms. The garden stays, displayed in secret, to be pulled out for a glimpse. Maybe there’s pride there, too, although Dave won't admit it. A coworker sees the garden. Grimaces. Later, a grunt for attention makes Dave roll around. The boss. Coworkers peering over the walls. Get rid of the flowers. It's unprofessional. 209
Dave goes to the restroom. Wipes his forehead with a sleeve, spies a shaved chin in the mirror. Ignores the colors streaming from his handâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the glow of purple, blue, and gold. Finally, Dave squishes it. Reopens the fist, revealing plant puss and fibers. Water clears the water colors. Wrinkles reappear. Dave pretends relief, but deep down he can sense a wrongness eating at the roots of careful obedience. To avoid a wet face, he hurries back and sits on a chair with wheels and types at a computer obsolete for twenty years. Gently, sorely, returning to hum-drum, to the long sleep between life's funny intrusions.
Kevin Ridgeway The Night I Found Out I Was Getting a Divorce the girls tied me up while i was passed out on smirnoff’s they painted my arms and foreheads with the absurd things i’d said while i got drunk, and then my wife called to say she was leaving me and i attempted suicide by trying to swallow the toxic paint they were using but off i went to the emergency room where my therapist crossed her legs underneath her clipboard in a cocktail dress pulled away from a high society party and she read what it said on my forehead which said I WANT TO FUCK CATS before telling me i really shouldn't drink. that’s when i got on the telephone with my mother and my brother and told them they were both fuck-headed narcissists who ruined my childhood by lying to me about our fathers and then waiting to show me how they did not know how to handle my drinking problem because the mean truth i attempted to speak was their worst nightmares come to life, a heartbreak greater than the loss of the premature love in a life where everything is at such a rapid speed headed for the finish line where we’ll all die alone, scared, disappointed, and hopefully with the words I WANT TO FUCK CATS inscribed into our foreheads as they empty themselves of their consciousness in a laughing practical joke where we all abandon each other in the dark.
What I Do with My Rejection Letters Upon reading the form opening that means I’m in trouble, I begin to unbuckle the belt on my cargo shorts. That’s where all the underwear selfies come from. As the editors go through how my poetry is just not right for them at this time, I begin to wiggle out of my pants until they are around my calves and down to my ankles. I stand up to announce my latest rejection letter to the cute young librarians at the small branch near the Pacific ocean that I now frequent, and I hand my trousers over to the librarian I’ve got the biggest crush on and then I read them some of the rejected poems in my boxers, and they all agree that with a little revision, those poems could be stand-out gems in a small journal of renown, and that’s when the lady at the front desk starts laughing to inform me that my poetry indeed stinks, but she bought a copy of my chapbook anyway just in case I get arrested or become famous for something more ridiculous than spending my hours pining over librarians, reading my sloppy poetry until those spoken-for ladies of the Dewey Decimal sisterhood must lock me out with a kiss on the cheek and a prayer that I’ll finally get a job.
Lost in the Desert of My Youth in a Blind Raging Search for All the Missing People you won’t raise a finger after death made you lazier than the broken heart of an asshole after I watched my one-eyed cat die and my girlfriend fall to a million little pieces but you don’t owe me a thing little do you know that I’m coming with wheels on fire, running down the flooded road in search of my wayward next of kin you men shall all implode in the wake of the skirts we all hid behind the father I might not see before he dies the meaninglessness of this disappointing shrug oh well but not for me kind of life my hardships burn deeper than your minimal scars you ran away from like a pussy in need of tickling in order to remember the years that I cannot recall that would answer questions I had about who you once were with your new and improved family I’m stalking through the night ready to flash my light on you until you’re a headless dandy dolled up in lace and the stockings we used to laugh at because we were better than all those clowns that certainly didn’t love us but I lost my home and you flew away just like you always wanted to a Mary Poppins in a movie you failed 213
to star in now it’s up to me to settle the score and rise above all that you’ve done to ruin my life with an eraser to all that I once dreamed was possible, but it’s not too late for a happy ending, and if there isn’t one, you are a crook not a poet or tears running from my eyes like jokes we used to whisper to each other to feel better about ourselves in the heat of a powerful red sea that exploded just off screen at the end of the best fucking movie I’ve ever been cast in.
Lorraine Caputo Solitary Shores Come the low season dunes drift around the boarded-up hotel & restaurants A silence of surf rolling to the taupe shore, scarlet crabs scuttling, bargello-ing the wet sand Pelicans & frigate birds skim the ocean verdegris, its waves heaving deep green In the debris of sea wash & seashells crumbling from petrified cliffs, those crabs scurry over & through the carcass of a sea lion The tide flows in far & shallow, leaving behind a pale green foam wavering in the breeze Colonies of whimbrels peck the moist arena 215
with their long curved beaks Beyond a square rock arch heaps of ebon-striated stone rise ragged from the glistening strand, capturing tidal pools alive with anemones, tendrils swaying in the fill, the retreat of each wave
Rowan Johnson The King of Sintra JOÃO DRIVES HIS RUSTED TUK-TUK up the steep incline through the Sintra National Park, a forest of fragrant eucalyptus shrubs and tall cork trees near Lisbon. There will be no tourists along this little side road, but there will be lots in Sintra. Maybe today he can find some to take up to Dom Fernando’s Pena Palace on top of the mountain. João is just a rural Portuguese tuk-tuk driver. They kicked him out of Lisbon’s narrow cobblestone streets and steep alleyways a long time ago. Now, hardly any tourists want to take his old tuk-tuk, even in Sintra. Too slow and unreliable, they say. Halfway up the hill to Sintra, his tuk-tuk breaks down near a roadside café. A compact German family has taken over the outdoor table, with the mother cramming vegetables and nuts into a tiny knapsack and the father, a stout fellow with a deeply tanned bald head, tucking into a massive plate of sliced apples. His gold chain bears a crucifix that sways to and fro with every bite. The daughter of about six years old fiddles with her fork and peers shyly at João the tuk-tuk driver. She proudly wears a nametag: Amalia. João beckons her toward the tuk-tuk and she beams. Amalia tugs her father’s shirt but he waves her off and glares at João and then at the tuk-tuk in disgust. João remembers the common complaints from tourists and taxi drivers alike in Lisbon. They all hate us. They say there are too many of us. They say we are just like cockroaches. 217
The Germans finish their meal and speed up the hill toward Sintra in a brand-new Audi. João watches as Amalia waves sadly out of the back window and the big German’s bald head glistens through the open sunroof. João gets his tuk-tuk going again and finally arrives in Sintra, looking for tourists to take up the mountain to the bright yellow and red Pena Palace monastery. But still nobody is interested. João has nothing else to do so he visits the Quinta da Regaleira and trudges around the vast palatial gardens. He stops at the base of the Initiation Well where there is nobody else around. He stares up the steep spiral staircase as the child Amalia suddenly comes tumbling down. João breaks her fall and catches her at the bottom of the concrete stairs, and the child is saved. She blinks twice at João, still in shock and a little bruised. Far at the top of the well, the big German rushes down the stairs, his golden crucifix swaying wildly. João catches his eye briefly before scurrying out of the Quinta da Regaleira just as an urgent crowd begins to gather. Nobody needs to know what happened. Now João feels like the king of Sintra. All the big powerful cars are stuck in a traffic jam all the way to the top of the mountain. Instead, he putters his rusted tuk-tuk along toward Convento da Peninha and finally, all the way to Cabo da Roca. At the Refúgio da Roca, João savors a bowl of vegetable soup. The sun sets as Madredeus sings about boats burning in the sea.
Jesus Prays for Unity OCTOBER 10. LAKEFRONT STADIUM. 1948. The Cleveland Indians against the Boston Braves. The air was cool and thick with smoke, the few women in the 86,000 crowd wore polka-dot dresses and small vintage hats. All the men wore suspenders and leather dress shoes. Last night, during a game of cards, the Southerner had won twenty dollars. He had bought a bottle of Mennen's Cream Hair Oil so he could style his cornrow hair properly, a custom seersucker suit and a prime seat behind the Indians' dugout. His first time ever at a baseball game. He chuckled when he saw the Abe Stark billboard under the scoreboard: "Hit sign, win suit". He had already won his suit. Before the game, he had visited the Old Stone Church on Public Square. The preacher kept going on about how “Jesus Prays for Unity”, but it made no sense to him. He had just arrived in Cleveland, a black man and a brand-new English professor, a Southerner in love with the prose of Mark Twain. A vendor stumbled up and down the aisle and approached his section, trying to hawk his wares over the noise: "Candy 10c, Scorecards 10c, Peanuts 10c, Cigarettes 25c." “Gimme some peanuts,” the Southerner stood up and said, and threw him a quarter. He sat down and munched his nuts. The crowd settled down to watch Satchel Paige strike out Tommy Holmes.
* 40 years later, the Cleveland Indians would be in a long slump. The town, ravaged from decades of failing industry, would pin their hopes on their players. But success was never to be. One failing season followed another. The Southerner, an old man now, would still go to the games and munch his peanuts, but there was no team unity, no spirit… the fans were bitter and the players were constantly bickering. Eventually the Southerner went to see the movie Major League, and he fell in love with the Cuban batsman who loved voodoo but just couldn’t hit curveballs. “Ah, Jesus… I like him very much. But he no help with the curveball.” “You trying to tell me Jesus Christ can’t hit a curveball?” At the end of the movie, the Cuban rejects voodoo and rejects Jesus. He finally hits the curveball and the fictional Indians win the title. After the movie, the Southerner went to the Old Stone church, where that same preacher was still saying Jesus was praying for unity. So how come none ever arrived in Cleveland? The Berlin Wall was going down but what did that have to do with life here? Perhaps, the Southerner thought, that old preacher was really just one of the false prophets from the book of Revelation. All of the dire disclosures of the Seven Seals were still part of life, every day—deception, devastation, hunger, civil unrest, persecution, tribulation, and finally, the revealed mysteries. In The 220
Mysterious Stranger Twain writes that Satan created the damned human race. So, is that true? If not, Jesus, why would you need to pray for unity? You are Jesus. Just decree unity. Pull the team together and pound that curveball into the burning morass of the Cuyahoga River.
T.M. Thomson Under Spring Moon: The Lizard Butterfly perches on the tight green skin of her head wings closed in prayer now open to hold rain. The scales on her back buzz in sun a honeycomb trail that ends in turquoise tail tip. Her digits stretch far and wide covering rock fox den rabbit warren tree trunk. The arms move like snails while sun spins in stomach and feathers rustle under spring moon. Lizard feet each a leafâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;gleaming sunning grooved grasping sun on stones
Angles Snake smooths herself in sun that lies on her scales like a sheen of honey. She has no memory of thawing out of the egg and oozing into this world no memory of her urge to push against the shell and crack it no memory of pulling away from its sticky fluid. But that first visit to the tangle of shade and lightâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; the dingy dim undersides of waxy leaves the beams of the orb on her curious lifted head the petal flight of moths just within reachâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; she has known nothing as soothing as satisfying as this world of dark glistening angles.
My body is a temple as evening shadows overtake it. This morning my porch was lit with waves of sun creeping from beneath rocks and roots spilling from eaves. When afternoon was high all was a sheet of saffron tumbling off roof blazing over tumbleweed and mesa. Now the indigo shade lengthens in corners smudging them out of existence and deepening the altar to bronze. My faรงade slowly cracks under the weight of an ivy ocean. The light enters in smaller and smaller pieces but O how the copper tiles patina into a reef of blooms in my temple as evening shadows overtake it.
Bobtail Squid as Morsel In Hawaii they hide in sand smaller than a fingertip boasting bioluminescent bacteria just under their skinâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; at night with their lit-up outlines they transform into shards of starlight morsels of moon.
Woman Plays to Cats, A Serenade in Three Acts Inspired by Marjorie Sarnat’s “Adagio for Three Cats” The setting—lawn like an ocean with shadows for waves and sun for tide. The characters—one wildhaired woman and cats yellow and black and grey striped and solid and patched soft and fat and muscular but all well-fed Act I—Woman sits on bench pulls out flute and plays a serenade. Act II—Cats gather around her, some wary some bold, some elongate their bodies and creep, others stride. Tempo picks up. Cats leap and twist pounce on allium paw at lilies. Intermission—Cats stretch in shadow-waves roll and rasp against grass yawn and sleep in sun’s tide. 227
Final Act—Woman picks up flute plays again, notes softly riding afternoon’s descent into evening. Epilogue—Cats reclined and alert watch for moon’s rise in the aubergine sky with eyes of saffron and green apple and azure and bronze like ingots. They know woman will put down flute and feed them on this ocean of lawn, the tide of hunger will be spent, and night’s music—cricket violins— will accompany them to sleep.
Jeff Fleischer Signature THOUGH THE LETTERS had barely faded, Hal realized he was unable to determine the identity of the man behind the decades-old signature. Since he and Alice had never gotten around to having children of their own, he didn’t have a baseball at the ready when his young nephew asked, mid-barbecue, if they could play catch. And since never having a family had also meant never buying a house large enough to accommodate one, they had also never gotten around to unpacking all of Hal’s old sports equipment, which remained stowed in cardboard boxes, the ones stacked up in the downstairs closet. “I know I have some baseballs somewhere,” Hal called up as he shifted some of his boxes. “Hold on.” It didn’t take him long to find the one labeled “Baseball Stuff” in Alice’s always-perfect penmanship, or to wipe the minimal amount of accumulated dust off the top. The box was heavier than he’d expected, but he pulled it down and removed the two strips of brown packing tape that had sealed it since their last move. Most of the weight came from long plastic containers full of Hal’s childhood trading cards, but there was also a worn shoebox filled with about a dozen regulation-size baseballs. “Found it!” Hal called upstairs, even though everyone else was still in the backyard and too far away to hear. 229
He knew to grab a few baseballs, just in case Caleb hadn’t yet mastered his control and sent a throw sailing into the Robinsons’ yard; Hal didn’t feel like scaling the wood-plank fence with the neighbors out of town. He took two balls that looked brand new, as well as the neon-orange one his father bought him so he could take batting practice at night. Below those, though, he found something he hadn’t expected. It was a baseball in a plastic case, a cube designed to be as transparent as possible. He could see it was a major-league edition. The stamp between the stitches, where a pitcher throwing a twoseam fastball would have gripped it, featured Lee McPhail’s facsimile autograph, with a light-blue Spalding logo in the shape of a baseball. What grabbed Hal’s attention was the other signature, the one written by hand with a ballpoint pen. The handwriting wasn’t particularly legible, but it was no worse than the hurried signatures Hal left on credit-card receipts or the backs of checks, with the initials “E” and “B” clear enough but the other letters mere scratches. The troubling thing was that Hal not only couldn’t remember which player had signed the ball, but he had no memory of acquiring it. The signer had helpfully added the date beneath his name—but even that information didn’t trigger any memory. “Hold on, I’m coming,” Hal called upstairs. He put the box back, leaving the signed ball out so he could do some research later. Carrying the others he’d chosen, he returned to the barbecue as fast as his surgically repaired knee allowed.
Later that night, after all the guests had gone home and Alice had fallen asleep, Hal crept down to his little office adjacent to the family room, where he kept his computer. Hal had other signed baseballs he kept in his office. One from Harmon Killebrew, a player he only saw near the end of his career, his greatness a thing heard about secondhand or through old highlight films shown during rain delays. Others, too, from Rod Carew, Mudcat Grant, and Tony Oliva. One from Lyman Bostock; Hal still remembered that September night when he heard one of his favorite players had been murdered in Indiana, just hours after playing the White Sox in Chicago. Bostock had been less than half Hal’s current age. He didn’t need to search for those players on the Internet, but it took Hal a good twenty minutes to find the 1976 Twins roster and, through process of elimination, figure out that he possessed a ball signed by Eddie Bane. A name that used to mean a lot to Hal, but had somehow been archived in his brain, like an old friend’s phone number or the name of a fleeting crush. If his memory were better, he’d have recalled how Bane wore glasses, something that had endeared him to Hal. He’d have remembered how, as a kid whose own glasses led to ample teasing from classmates who doubted he could be athletic, seeing a young pitcher with them felt like inspiration. A few minutes on the web taught him that Bane had pitched forty-four times, in three seasons spread over four years of Hal’s childhood. He knew he must have listened to a fair number of those games, probably seen at least one in person, and obviously at some point had met the pitcher on a July day at Metropolitan Stadium and handed him that very ball and a pen. Hal knew that 231
would have been an important day in his childhood, something he would have told all his friends about, and which gave him a oncevalued souvenir that he had eventually relegated to an old shoebox for at least twenty years. He remembered none of that. And that realization, more than the date signed on the ball or the persistent ache in his knees, made Hal begin to think of himself as an old man.
Barbara Buckley Ristine Upgrading to Motherhood 2.0 Preparing update. This may take some time. The lights are dimmed, and the gel is warm against my skin. I can’t take my eyes from the grainy image pulsing on the screen. The technician places markers to point out your fishy bodies floating in the amniotic sea. I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you at first. Forgive me. Unexpected catastrophic system failure. I woke today with that familiar anxiety eating at my guts, afraid you'll vanish before I ever see your faces. It’s like someone is pulling my stomach up through my chest and the walls are squeezing me and I find it difficult to breathe. Your father knows it's best to leave me in silence. An unknown error occurred. I’m not allowed into the NICU because my body is on fire with infection, immobile in this bed with fluids pumping into my arm and I don’t know which is worse, the fever or that I can’t hold you. I hate this photo some kind nurse took of you, she thought she was helping. But all I see are your tiny bodies with skin too big for your bones and those wires and tubes connecting you to life. I make your father take it away.
Syncing. At last they let us take you both home. We place you at opposite ends of the crib, but somehow you worm and wiggle your way to huddle together, your tiny hands thrust in the air like miniature dancers. I can hold each of you in the palm of my hand—how can I be your mother? Late at night, I hold my breath, waiting to hear yours. Verifying update. I watch the pair of you staring intently at one another, your downy hair forming blond halos. You are having an animated conversation that I can’t understand because you have no words yet. Are you telling stories about me? Waiting for changes to be applied. When you nap, I study Paris city guides. The Pimsleur lesson purrs, une noisette, s’il vous plaît, while I fold laundry. It’s Sunday morning, and I am sitting in a quiet café in the Marais, eating flaky croissants dripping with sweet strawberry jam someone’s grandmother made. I hear you crying and the café dissolves. Installation is complete.
Jack Mackey Poetic Biography I’m reading the on-line biography of a famous writer, a laureate whose language is so clever it makes me quake, whose life in academia hovers in the background, the life of I-have-time-and-space-to-write. We are both old men now, but it says that he was born a few years before me, and I think “Oh, good. I still have time.” Then I click on a video where he twangs so matter-of-factly about himself and his writing and quaintly blathers about failing and failing again and I take heart until I see his country porch on his country house off a mud dried road and then just to make me feel worse he puts a floppy mushroom hat and plucks a goddam banjo for heaven’s sake. At least he’s not wearing overalls doesn’t remove his teeth. In a close-up I wonder “How did those crags get carved into his face?” notice his moustache needs a trim his wire-rimmed glasses are slightly askew, explaining his view of the world. So I go outside and add chlorine to the pool dive in naked, swim long, under water start a new poem in my head. 235
Michael J. Galko The Mosquito Net The toiler, at the end of the day: his tools set down in the shed, any gleam they had now smudged, with grease, paraffin, keratin. He washes. Even the industrial soap is insufficient. Its gears grind against his rough calluses in vain. The stains, dulled, remain. As the sun fades over the Alaskan bush he reads a bit. Twenty pages of Trollope (for the sentences and the nuance), a scholarly history of the IWW, or an article from the latest issue of Adbusters. It is hard to keep oneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s eyes open. A little blood from todayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s nicks reddens the page. The planes in the hangar await the morrow. The morrow. Thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Trollope, there. Seventy percent of all Cessnas are in this strange state. Someone has to fix them. His chin droops on his chest, blacking the white hairs. He breathes out sardines. 236
The sun still winking over the rim, he pulls the net aside. Once, its nylon dazzled white. A web of dark ash bursts from where he pulls the mesh, like the snow across from an exhaust pipe, like currant juice atop crĂ¨me fraiche, like the handprints where he grips the sheets, dreaming.
Jedediah Smith An Episode in Early Sonoran History, circa 1983 I’M DRIVING SONORA I-8 feeling maybe Henry Fonda, Neal Cassady, or Hunter S.Thompson — 40 miles east of farmburger dateshake Stuckys I flip a bitch and skid off on a flat track dirt road south — passing lava flows, sea shore fossils, dunes turned stone, I see a ratshack with a man in front — he’s standing there doing salvation rag and pulling his ears — I pull up and first thing he says is: “This road don’t go nowhere” — he’s playing records on a Mattel plastic portable player like pre-teen girls once listened to teenybopper heartthrobs on — he’s maybe fifty maybe younger but worn with a ragged Harry Dean Stanton droopy jowl basset hound look his house is mud packed around flattened tin cans, upturned bottles, chickenwire, 1949 Hudson radiator grill, grey wood, and terminal junk — he’s got colored lights strung around the roof and a Mexican Catholic Virgin Mary Shrine built into one wall — I’m still sitting in the car when he says “c’mon inside, out of the radio waves” — inside, whatta dump — no floor, chicken bones, spangle mix of Christmas wrapping paper taped to the wall, crate fulla coyote skulls, shortwave radio in squids of wires attached to four junkheap corrosion car batteries on the dirt — he says “My name’s Cal and that’s short for California not Calvin” so I ask him why he’s living in Arizona — he tells me of his birth in red corn Kansas, of growing up to be mayor, of his Baptist minister trying 238
to convince his entire congregation to buy land in California — shouting “Garden of Eden, Garden of Babylon, Garden of Gethsemane glory hallelujah, can you smell the orange blossoms yet?” — he locked the church door, drank a bottle of castor oil, and said he’d abstain from the privy and go on preaching until he had twenty signatures for California Cal started out high but hit the skids in Yuma — edge of Pacific time — tales of beatings by the cops in Yuma jail — night riders driving past his shack slamming buckshot into the walls — “They took my boy,” he says. “Said he was mentally retarded — when he was in private school he had a straight A average, now does that sound mentally retarded to you? They got him somewhere in San Francisco now” outside something shrieks loud and hairy and I jump up grabbing my pecker trying not to water my shorts — but Cal barely seems to notice — he says everything’s been made into a movie out here in the Southwest now, that’s just a sound effect — he squints at me, says “the real problem’s radio waves — think of it: hundred years ago, no radio waves — now the air’s full of ’em — gotta be doing something to us” — he sits there talking crazy wisdom Buddhist monk, like he’s hooked into the Power Cosmic — “the waves nearly struck me blind,” he says, “until I learned to suck ‘em into my shortwave” — the cataracts in his eyes had shifted all the stars — he’d made a new mythos for the changed constellations: a wreaking cup of seven stars was the Corn Goddess, mother of Alligator, who begat Salamandros the Ayatollah, who begat Ectus the singer from the days of the T-Bird I look at the desert just waking up into the night and tell Cal it’s time for me to go — he asks me 239
where and I tell him LA — “you be careful over there — Mexicans wanna take over — President put a smoke screen over the city but the Mex’s light signal fires so Russian bombers can get through” — I thank him for the warning and wish him good luck — he nods sagely, lifts one finger, closes an eye and says “Roger Holy-O” — kicking back on I-8 I tune in a Vegas Big Band station that takes me clear to the Coast Range — that’s what I love about the desert — radio reception is so clear
Tricia Knoll Jack I walk to the corral to kick burden-blues in gravel, nudge aside stuttered stones on a rutted road. There is Jack, a retired cowpony, with gray age-spots and the sharp backbone ridge of a smart horse who had sorted cows, rode fences, twisted around barrels. Now munching sweet grain to keep weight on his rump. ` I sidle behind him with a dandy brush, curry out dirt, scrubbing circles, bring up the dust of trail rides on a dude ranch, miles of hoof clicks to rocks bigger than my fist. I swipe his hooves, mud sucked from some sluggish creek while I loitered in gold pasture grass heavy with seed and wished for us a bigger arena. He stands collected under my brush, content to watch others get saddled up. I wipe away fly crust near his eyes, as if he had waited all through lunch for this. My eyes need clarity. The wind holds us, hot to a flick of his swivel ears, a reason for my roaming long hair to shed onto Jack 241
and the dust of his bay coat to turn my right hand gray, my left respecting his solidity of hip. The wrangler said not to mind Jackâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s battle scars, the hairless spot mid-back, that gray-black scab where a saddle scored his spine. Jack is a good boy, she said, full of spunk. His head-down serenity under my touch, his gas passed, a lean to my brush. He was all cowponies, now he is not one and more than any, with me also one.
Life History with A Labor of Moles “Hee was carefull and liberall to obtain good intelligence from all parts abroad. Hee had such moles perpetually casting and working to undermine him.” –Sir Francis Bacon, History of the Reign of King Henry VII The first owner of our blue house sat on his front porch with a rifle and waited for a mound to erupt. And shot. No one kept score. Then my partner took on mole trapping as science, bending a wand down the tunnel to see which way the mole ran. Calculating vectors. Gloving his hands to keep scent off the scissor trap, an oil drain pan over the top to keep the tunnel dark. Trophy photos we took of him holding up his dead moles. Sad catch, those near-blind Townsend moles who blast up mini-volcanoes in the grass with shovel feet. Today two dogs that I walk scout for mounds of fresh-turned soil, allure of fur, what lives out of sight but has a mole smell. Their work is peeing on the evidence. That canine Got you. Your molehill my mountain. For me, your chambers, your secrets. Your dark, your journey.
Steven Duncan Not Without a Trace after Elizabeth Acevedo
I found your wool sweater in my cedar chest of drawers, fleecy fragment of a muffled past laid over moth balls and a half-finished crossword the white spaces waiting for what would never be written you always had a way of leaving yourself behind
It Took All These Years to Tell My great aunt keeps a flat iron golf club beneath the bed in case of late night intruders. As a girl, her father hit her mother when he came staggering through the door. She knew daddy could be an intruderâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; wasn't himself after the bar. He needed stitches where the club came down. His daughter. His golf club.
Gayla Mills The Soft Spot WE ALL HAVE TENDER SPOTS, places we try to protect. It’s best not to talk about it too much. You have to build calluses. You can’t be too sensitive or you’ll go crazy. Sometimes, though, you hear something random, and it pokes that spot. You’re not ready for it, because conversations overheard can be of all sorts. Sometimes they’re funny. Who can believe what people will say? One woman said “The mosquitoes are bad tonight. I just got bit.” The man replied “Do you want me to switch seats with you?” In a grocery store, one roommate said to another “I’m going to get the Chocolate Chip Cap’n Crunch.” The second replied “Not me, I’m a Cap’n Crunch purist.” One frazzled mother explained to her daughter as she threw the bacon in the shopping cart “Pigs would be eating us if we weren’t eating them, and that’s just the way it is, and I don’t want to talk about it.” I laughed at the last one, but really I felt kind of sick about it. This afternoon I drove down the highway during rush hour. There were cars and trucks filling the lanes, though we moved steadily at a 75-mile-an-hour clip. You could see the fields on the sides, if you could tear your eyes away from the road long enough to take a look. The truck ahead was a bit slower. 246
I decided to play the game “what kind of truck is that?” It had lots of vents. As I passed it on the left, I glanced over just long enough to see the pigs. Three rows stacked one on top of the other. The pigs, I think, were lying down. Why would they be that passive? What a strange place for them to be, packed in tight, the cold air rushing in at 75 MPH as trucks passed right beside them, as the cold metal box carried them to their final destination, an end to their brief but painful lives that were most likely lived indoors, in a small cage. People really like bacon, so I guess that makes it okay. I try not to think about the nine billion animals eaten each year. Most of them live harsh lives worse than the worst lives we can imagine. Then they are killed. I’m not talking about the pretty animals we see in the fields in our lovely commonwealth. I’m talking about the places where most animals live, indoors, breathing air that’s toxic from the ammonia fumes from the feces they live in. I read yesterday that a million chickens a year are boiled alive by mistake. That’s how they die, because the conveyor belts move so quickly now that the workers can’t properly tie down one percent of the birds. They know all this because when birds die from being boiled alive—instead of having their throats slit—their skin mottles. So they know it’s a million. But people really like chicken too. I live in a world full of evil things. I just wish the animals didn’t.
Zachary Kluckman Synonyms for Vessel A derelict, he says, is a useless boat. A broken vessel with no life left in her hull. So don’t you be calling me no derelict, boy, I got plenty of float left in me! The spit forms a kind of fur on his lip. A miniscule storm off the starboard slur of his mouth. The kid who started this, with a slander cast casual as alley cats, rolls his shoulders at the old man. Stares at a faint moon haunting the edge of storefronts like a shy child. Waits for the words to stop, as if clearing the mud from a rusty spigot. I wonder if this is meant to be a kind of respect. In his evaluation of the subject, later will he boast of his willingness to listen to a flush of children in similar jackets, count himself accounted for the lack of shouting back. Or brag of the shipwreck he witnessed, how it tried to crawl into a bottle. I want to ask what insurance he carries against the flood of his own middle age. How well he will fare beyond the reef with such a little raft of a heart, but the old man stops, hands the boy his bottle. If you’re so interested in broken vessels, boy, here’s the blueprint. Go on, build one of your own.
Every Time I Read the News My first response is a clenched fist / this is how I was raised / on the thunder of her voice / on the smile that split his lips when the brick shattered over his skull / on the sudden reverberant cessation of sound / how the walls echo that now / that silence so sudden it is like the birds / have forgotten their names / and so have nothing left to say / as if all they were ever really doing was repeating / all of the names they know / nothing about this is song / nothing about these fists / know anything about the shape of a song / the structure of one too different from the other / unless it isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t / unless the thumb held against the index / is a cleft note / unless each finger is a register / voicing pain / each nail a separate note on the scale / you can tell with a look / each broken / each a different length / like this instinct / this reaction / perhaps is not a song / in any language you may recognize / but the heart they say / is the size of a fist / both are known for their beating / one is easier to express / but then the rain outside this window / will do more to change the face of the earth / than any volume of thunder.
Wendy Hoffman Me, a Hero I HAVE MADE MY DOG into a person. It is a symptom of the dissolution of family. Where there once were spouses, children, grandchildren, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins are now pets, pet boutiques and spas. I don’t go that far, but I cook her organic food and bought a Martingale collar and practical harness so that I wouldn’t hurt her neck. We are living in an era of distractions. The only place we can’t live is in ourselves. Health clubs have replaced farms. Pets have replaced other connections because pets don’t speak like humans though they make themselves known. My pet’s a terrier and bosses me around. When I was young, I was as stubborn as she. Perhaps I still am. Why is it so difficult to have a realistic view of ourselves? I pamper her and made her into a human, but she is an animal. I want her to have an animal’s sensibility and life. It has been snowing recently and opaque ice is packed in the backyard by the forest. Cottonwoods and alders block out the exiguous sunlight. The ground probably won’t melt until spring. I slip when walking on it but my dog with her four legs does fine. I’ll call my dog Napoleon for this essay so you get the gist of how she rules me. She doesn’t like to walk on the road. Sometimes I drag her wearing her harness but black ice forms readily on these slick, inadequate surfaces. I have already ruined one ankle. If Napoleon sees a dog she knows on that road, she will cease being reluctant and sweep me along, barking helloes exuberantly. You get to know people walking a dog whether you want to or not. 251
This morning, we walked around the building on the ice, me cautiously, Napoleon with her nose leading, sniffing for I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t know what. She did her business like a good dog and I picked it up with one of those ominous plastic bags that is destroying civilization. I had remained in my nightgown and bathrobe with a long coat over them but did not want to remain on the dull ice with my feet numbing. However, I want my little Napoleon to have a full life. I unsnapped her leash, allowing her to furrow and track while I made my way cautiously creeping to the sheltered front of the building. I waited shivering. I picked up the delivered newspaper and read the boring, repetitive headlines. Usually Napoleon jaunts back to me in minutes. I went back over the treacherous ice to see what was keeping her. I am a worrier and I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t pray unless I think something may have happened. Then I become a hypocrite. I had read that those large cats were spotted in the forest or she could have seen a squirrel, but then she would be barking wildly to tell the whole neighborhood. It was early morning. Or perhaps she made her way under the deck and is stuck or eating something foul. I saw her right away. She was in a deep hole huddled into herself and silent. Not a sound came out of my noisy dog. Whenever she sees a human animal, she barks hello loudly. Wheels drives her crazy. She thinks garbage containers and suitcases are a new kind of animal and to be welcomed. But not a sound from her now. She must have stepped onto the cover to the crawl space which flung one side up like a seesaw. Children playing or a careless workman left it unsecured. She fell in. If she had barked, I would have come right over. When real danger exists, people and animals become silent. How wrong the men who 252
wrote the Bible were when they blamed women for not screaming as males grabbed them to rape. Those who have not suffered don’t understand victims. Those authors knew nothing of powerlessness, vulnerability, terror. One of the only good things in today’s world is that victims are finally speaking out. They are even bringing down the bottom layers of religion, politics and stars. The top layers may go later in the century. My robust, obstinate, self-assured though aging Napoleon, my true companion, remained huddled in the mud. I had put on her collar in haste this morning. Getting her out would have been so much easier with her harness on. Her eyes were not pleading as when she wants dinner or lamb’s lung. They looked hopeless and ashamed. When we lose our power through no fault of our own, we blame ourselves. Here was Napoleon in dire need, and she was not demanding. Her eyes were deeper with sadness than the ditch. I had to get her out and I couldn’t reach her. Where was one of those tall me with long arms when you need them! I pulled the steel cover all the way off. Fortunately, I had spent decades in ballet class perfecting my turnout. I straddled the immense hole in a very wide second position, executed an extradeep grand plie, bent my rounded back all the way down and couldn’t reach her because she veered away instead of toward me. Eventually I reached a bit of her fur, my swift fingers pulled her back to the edge, and I grabbed under her stomach and lifted her out. Then into the house, up the steps and into the bathtub, her second trauma. So I was finally a good mother, not to humans but to this one I have made into an impersonator. 253
Scott F. Parker The Word Coffee His boyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s first word this morning was coffee like coffee was his first word yesterdayâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;coffee & water & filter & daddy & one more coffee & the two of them there together in the morning in the house with no blinds & the sunlight all in their eyes so they were squinting & talking about coffee & how it was good & the daddy all the while thinking how the ritual of it worked, how if he did it right it could be the foundation of something the boy when he had his own boy one day might call love.
John Sierpinski Family Reunion Hotel, hotel, hotel, Chicago, Chicago, Chicago. Lynn’s mom has turned ninety (still exercising every morning.) Now, she wants to go to Hooters because she heard the food is good. Young women bouncing around, cleavage and short, shorts everywhere and I don’t know where to look, but since it’s a sports bar, I watch the world series of poker on one screen, basketball and football on others. Lynn’s sister is in from Colorado, her husband, her daughter, her grandson, thirteen. There it is, I’m thirteen, still listening to grownups, but no electronic devices; Hula Hoop, Slinky, plastic soldiers. Do I still wear 255
plaid pants? Do I look at walls with copper wallpaper? Do I longingly look for fish bait? hotel, hotel, hotel, Chicago, Chicago, Chicago. Last night I had rattlesnakes in my bed, a mind that wouldn’t shut down. Where’s my tattered “Grapes of Wrath?” Where’s my Shakespeare sonnets? Where’s Michael Ryan? Tess Gallagher? Tony Hoagland for Christ’s sake? Hotel, hotel, hotel, Chicago, Chicago, Chicago. I’m ready to go home.
Bruges, Belgium This medieval city, in the Market Square, we didn’t think we’d ever make it back here. Tenth century taverns served beer, tossed out the drunkards, and the townspeople chained them up against a stone wall to throw tomatoes and raw eggs at their heads. Chains still hang on the stone wall. Then the plague hit. Belgium people survived by drinking that same beer, not water. Out of the cesspool slop, the gutters fed the sludge into the narrow, shallow canals. Today, the hip, the chic, the rich live here. They seem happy and there are plenty of bars with good Belgium beer. In the heat of noon it feels cool when we walk the cobblestone streets. Then the giant cruise ships come in, spill their fish guts. Thousands stumble where WW II generals held and shook their hands in agreement not to bomb the city into oblivion. London, Berlin, Rotterdam and Dresden come to mind. Now, the naked fact is that tourists spend money. Two local guys, sitting outside watching a rock band, drinking beer, shout in thick accents, “Go home!” A tour guide with a numbered “lollipop” tells them, “Quiet, behave.” We are staying in a small hotel, and when the four hour tours are over and the cruise ships sail again, we linger 257
with the ghosts of Moore and Chaucer, they passed this way, too. In the quiet, late afternoon shadows, the ducks (with ducklings) and the swans swim in the canals. They have the collective soul of Cervantes, who didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t stop here, but made his way to Amsterdam, instead.
Anna O’Brien Wildcats We Will Be THE NEW PRINCIPAL says one misplaced whisker is all it takes to sway from cuddly mascot to deranged killer cat. We've seen it before. Purceville Middle School let their art club paint their mascot—the Purceville Puma—on the crumbling cinderblock wall behind the bleachers. At a certain angle, it leaps out and comes alive with slightly crossed eyes, dagger-like fangs, and toosmall ears. It is maniacal. We cringe and stifle giggles at away games. Our new school broke ground last spring. Classes start Monday. A spillover school, they call it. The term reminds us of radioactive debris; too many toxic chemicals for one school alone. We capture the refuse. But first, before the doors open into the welcoming embrace of knowledge we are supposed to exemplify, we must have a mascot. Our area is known for aviation, given our proximity to an Air Force test base. Breaking Mach 3, an F-86 speed record, solarpowered aircraft—the right stuff of which to be proud. The Aviators would be seen as inspiring, motivational, and supportive of science and technology. The PTA would approve. So this is Option One. But Option Two in mascot choice is the comfort choice: the Wildcats. We sigh, shake our heads, and lap cream in the break room during our planning week prior to the first day of classes. 259
The Purceville Pumas are the least of the lot. There are also the North County Cougars, the Littleton Lynx, and the Oakville Ocelots. Cats—big cats—are strong, fearless, courageous. They are also ubiquitous. DeWitt County has its own collection of actual big cats, the mountain lions that pace the ridgelines at dusk and steal small lap dogs. These tawny creatures are caught on security cameras, seen along the freeway, and rustle in the bushes when parents take out the trash in the predawn, causing them to shiver and call out into the inky shadows, hearts racing. The new principal—this, his first position—proclaims mascot selection will go to a vote. The staff feels the weight, questions the judgment of opening the choice to the student body. They are pre-teens. They know not what they do. We roll our eyes, pupils already starting to elongate into slits. New schools are so rare now: budgets. The question of mascots hardly ever arises. Precedent makes us nervous; a few decades ago, the Bullwinch Bullfrogs were created. Some of our mentors hopped gracelessly out of the parking lot that hot August afternoon. Could've been worse, we tell ourselves. Bullwinch Bulls was somehow not on the ballot. There's static in the dry desert air. Risk of brush fire is high and errant tumbleweeds mimic giant tempting balls of string. The eighth-grade science teacher admires her growing canines in the chrome of the toaster in the break room. It's noon on the Friday before the start of school. The new principal walks in, poor cub, fussing over the activity bus schedule. It's painful to see how this vexes him when 260
we know in a few days it won't matter. He picks at non-existent lint on his khakis. “Votes are coming in,’ he says to no one. He wants to be liked. We want to like him. We stir our coffee and look at each other, simultaneously embarrassed and protective. He didn’t choose his staff. We were the leftovers, the strays. He clears his throat. “I'm partial to the Aviators myself, but kids these days….” He sticks his arms out perpendicular to his body and mimics the roar of a jet engine, then blushes, coughs, and walks out. Now 3 pm, we stand on the edge of wild in the doorways of our empty classrooms. The waxed tiles gleam in the vacant halls, sensible heels make footsteps clap like gunshot, and posters on food allergies flap in the breeze created by our restless pacing. Ballots are counted this evening. Over Labor Day weekend, someone will paint the mascot on the leader board recently erected over the track but there's something in the air. The students have already made their choice; the vote is a mere formality. A final reminder email is sent by admin, a jaunty subject line with exclamation marks. Tawny hairs have fallen onto the pristine floor and we feel a little guilty—the janitors work so hard. A low rumble comes from the art room; Mrs. Adams has found her purr. At 4:30, the new principal comes out of his office one last time to wish us all a nice weekend. Walking past the boys' bathroom, he pauses. The alarmingly pungent scent of cat piss hangs in the air. We glare at the PE teacher, who shrugs. 261
“The Wildcats are pulling ahead,” he reports. We pretend this is surprise news, which is easy. Presenting not to stalk prey is much harder. “I thought we could open the leaderboard mural to an art contest,” he continues. Does he know how much he smells of fear? “The best student drawing wins?” We recoil collectively. The image of the Purceville Puma that was once laughable is haunting now that it hints at our potential. Someone hisses. The levee we built against the policies of dress code, bullying, sexual harassment, fire drills, and active shooters has been breached. We knew it wouldn’t take much. The new principal’s face goes pale and stuttering, he tries in vain to retract what’s been spoken. Some of us shake our heads. We want to like him. But it’s almost dinner. When Monday morning comes, parents’ unanswered emails from the weekend will be forgotten in the drop-off ritual: excited good-bye kisses, flushed faces, colorful backpacks. We hope you won’t worry. By lunch, we will have scattered to the foothills with your children where we will teach them to hunt, to defend themselves. In the twilight, we’ll lie on our backs and watch the test pilots try to touch the moon. Your children have made the right choice. They are safer with us.
Mark A. Fisher A1C my fatherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s ghost is in each morningâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s due drop of blood (extra sweet) counting up another layer of illness too high again time will tell if memories are thicker than blood and I head down those rabbit-holes of madness a new stage in my evolution that I recapitulate facing more layers of weakness as I become old and struggle to cling to the abyssâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; edge looking down until falling is easier and the children of my mind forgive me and let me go
California I’m a Weedpatch okie a red dirt poet far from those tick infested post-oak tanglewoods with gully-washer creek beds and only man-made lakes filled by wall cloud thunderstorms rumbling across the sky like ghosts of forgotten buffalo yet my words still carry flashbacks of a grandmother’s voice who lived back there somewhere still remembered from the Dust Bowl Diaspora that brought families on the edge of ruin through the Mojave to a place of transformation forgetting Witchitas and Ouachitas when we saw the Sierras and Sequoias becoming lost in the backroads and highways lost in the dreamin’ here where the future was born again
CONTRIBUTOR NOTES A. Molotkov was born in Russia, moved to the US in 1990 and switched to writing in English in 1993. His poetry collections are The Catalog of Broken Things, Application of Shadows, and Synonyms for Silence (Acre Books/Cincinnati Review, 2019). Published by Kenyon, Iowa, Antioch, Massachusetts, Atlanta, Bennington and Tampa Reviews, Pif, Volt, 2 River View and many more, Molotkov is winner of various fiction and poetry contests and an Oregon Literary Fellowship. He co-edits The Inflectionist Review. Please visit him at AMolotkov.com. Ace Boggess has four books of poetry, most recently I Have Lost the Art of Dreaming It So (Unsolicited Press, 2018) and Ultra Deep Field. His writing has appeared in Harvard Review, MidAmerican Review, RATTLE, River Styx, North Dakota Quarterly and many other journals. He received a fellowship from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts and spent five years in a West Virginia prison. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia. Alice Loweâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s personal essays have recently appeared in Superstition Review, Ascent, Waccamaw Review, Baltimore Review, Stonecoast Review, Hobart, and Bloom. Her work has been cited in the Best American Essays notables and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. She has authored numerous essays and reviews on Virginia Woolf, including two monographs published by Cecil Woolf Publishers in London. She lives in San Diego, California; find more at AliceLoweBlogs.wordpress.com. 266
Anna O'Brien is a writer and veterinarian in Maryland. She has had fiction most recently published in Barren Magazine, XRAY Lit, and The Society of Misfit Stories. She loves big dogs and fast bicycles. Annie Blake has been published or is forthcoming in Dream Pop, Menacing Hedge, Gone Lawn, Blue Heron Review, Into the Void, Gravel, West Texas Literary Review, Riggwelter Press, and Cordite Poetry, among others. She is three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Visit her at AnnieBlakeTheGatherer.blogspot.com.au. Barbara Buckley Ristine bounces between flash, historical, and speculative fiction. She avoids reality by spending most of her time falling down research rabbit holes. Her work has appeared in Bards & Scholars Quarterly, the Mojave River Review, and Literally Stories, among others. She lives with her family in northern Nevada. Brian Fanelliâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s most recent book is Waiting for the Dead to Speak (NYQ Books), winner of the Devil's Kitchen Poetry Prize. His writing has been published in The Los Angeles Times, World Literature Today, Paterson Literary Review, Main Street Rag, Pedestal Magazine, and elsewhere. His poetry has also been featured on Verse Daily and The Writer's Almanac. He is an assistant professor of English at Lackawanna College and likes to blog about literature and horror movies at BrianFanelli.com. Bruce McRae, a Canadian musician currently residing on Salt Spring Island BC, is a multiple Pushcart nominee with over 1,400 poems published internationally in magazines such as Poetry, Rattle and the North American Review. His books are The So-Called Sonnets 267
(Silenced Press), An Unbecoming Fit Of Frenzy (Cawing Crow Press), Like As If (Pski’s Porch), and Hearsay (The Poet’s Haven). Cari Oleskewicz is a poet and writer currently based in Tampa. Her work has been included at The Fourth River, Literary Orphans, The Collapsar, PITH, Josephine Quarterly, JAB, The Found Poetry Review, and Lime Hawk Review. She is currently at work on a collection of bird poems.
Carolyn Oliver’s very short prose and prose poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Indiana Review, Jellyfish Review, jmww, Unbroken, Tin House Online, CHEAP POP, Midway Journal, and New Flash Fiction Review, among other journals. Carolyn lives in Massachusetts with her family. Links to more of her writing can be found at CarolynOliver.net. Charles Duffie is a writer and designer working in the Los Angeles area. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Bacopa Literary Review, Prime Number Magazine, Heavy Feather Review, Spelk, and FlashBack Fiction. Cheryl Caesar lived in Paris, Tuscany and Sligo for 25 years; she earned her doctorate in comparative literature at the Sorbonne and taught literature and phonetics. She now teaches writing at Michigan State University. She gives readings locally and has published poems in Writers Resist, The Mark Literary Review, and Poetry Leaves. 268
Chila Woychik, German-born, has lived in the American Midwest most of her life. Her essay collection, Singing the Land: A Rural Chronology, will be released in 2020 by Shanti Arts Publishing. Recent journal publications include work in Passages North, Cimarron, Portland Review, and more, and awards from Emrys Foundation and Red Savina Review. Sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s the founding editor at Eastern Iowa Review. One special young lady calls her Nana. Cyn Kitchen is an Associate Professor of English at Knox College. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in Poetry South, Still, The Mom Egg, and American Writers Review among others. Her book Ten Tongues was published in 2010. Cyn lives and writes in Forgottonia, a downstate region on the Illinois prairie. Cynthia Anderson lives in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree National Park. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, and she is the author of seven poetry collections. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. She coedited the anthology A Bird Black As the Sun: California Poets on Crows & Ravens. More at CynthiaAndersonPoet.com. Dianne Olsen is a poet, freelance writer, and garden consultant living in Massachusetts. Retired from a career as an environmental educator in Putnam County, NY, she volunteers at a teen center, food pantry garden, and summer camp. Her work has been published by Taste of Home, Colloquial Poetry, Isoacoustics, Mojave River Review, Postcard Poems and Prose, and Writerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Resist.
Desmond White is a high school teacher who writes when his students aren't looking. He has published in the Tishman Review, HeartWood, Theme of Absence, Whatever our Souls, and others. He holds an MLA from Houston Baptist University, where he founded the literary magazine Writ in Water, and is currently the editor-inchief of Rune Bear. Des lives with his wife and two cats and the two thousand strays she feeds by the car. Eleanor Kedneyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s forthcoming full-length poetry collection is Between the Earth and Sky (March 2020, C&R Press). She is the author of The Offering (2016), and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Miramar Poetry Journal, New Ohio Review, The Fourth River, Sliver of Stone, among other journals, and several anthologies. She resides in the Southwest with her husband, Peter, their dog, Fred, and cat, Ivy. More at EleanorKedney.com. Ethan Joella teaches at the University of Delaware. His work has appeared in River Teeth, The MacGuffin, Rattle, Berkeley Fiction Review, Cicada, Third Wednesday, The International Fiction Review, and The Collagist. HIs chapbook Where Dads Go won second honorable mention and was published by Finishing Line Press. He has another chapbook forthcoming from Red Bird Chapbooks. Francine Witte is the author of four poetry chapbooks, two flash fiction chapbooks, and the full-length poetry collections CafĂŠ Crazy (Kelsay Books) and the forthcoming The Theory of Flesh (Kelsay Books) Her play, Love is a Bad Neighborhood, was produced in NYC this past December. She lives in NYC. 270
Gary Glauber is a poet, fiction writer, teacher, and former music journalist. His two collections, Small Consolations (Aldrich Press) and Worth the Candle (Five Oaks Press), plus a chapbook, Memory Marries Desire (Finishing Line Press), are available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and directly from the publishers. Gayla Mills has published over sixty essays, features, and flash in publications such as Little Patuxent Review, Spry, Prairie Wolf Press, and Skirt. Formerly a writing professor, her essay collection Finite won the Red Ochre Lit chapbook contest. Her book Making Music for Life: Rediscovering Your Musical Passion will be published by Dover in August. More at GaylaMills.com. Hannah Kinsey is an original native of Vermont, currently a graduate student at Chatham University in the Creative Writing MFA program in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Ida Beal’s work has appeared in Mystic Montana Magazine, James Dickey Review, Her Heart Poetry and, most recently, Whitefish Review. Three poems are included in a theater piece, “I am Not My Mother,” performed by Maryland Ensemble Theater and Society Hill Theater in Philadelphia. J. Thomas Burke is an MFA candidate studying poetry in the Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans. He also serves as a poetry reader for the literary journal, Bayou Magazine. His work appears in Helen, Panoply, SPANK the CARP, 271
Gloom Cupboard and elsewhere. In 2018, he won the Vassar Miller Poetry Award. Jack Mackey lives in Southern Delaware and Washington, D.C. He was recently chosen by the Delaware Division of the Arts to participate in the bi-annual Writers’ Retreat. His poems have appeared in publications from Darkhouse Books, the Rehoboth Beach Writers’ Guild, Rat’s Ass Review,and The Compassionate Friends. Jake Sheff is a major and pediatrician in the US Air Force, currently living in the Mojave Desert. His poems appear in Radius, Crab Orchard Review, The Mojave River Review, The Cossack Review and elsewhere. He won the 2017 SFPA speculative poetry contest and was a finalist in the Rondeau Roundup’s 2017 triolet contest. He’s been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. His chapbook is Looting Versailles (Alabaster Leaves Publishing). Janice S. Fuller lives and writes in the desert of Tucson and on a lake in Wisconsin. Her poems have been published in From the Depths (runner up in the 2017 Haunted Waters Press Poetry Open), Gyroscope Review, The Heartland Review (finalist for the 2018 Joy Bale Boone Poetry Prize), and The Remembered Arts Journal among others. Jason Baldinger is a poet from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has three recent books: This Useless Beauty (Alien Buddha Press) and two split books, The Ugly Side of the Lake with John Dorsey (Night Ballet Press) and Little Fires Hiding with James Benger (Kung Fu Treachery Press). You can listen to him read his work on Bandcamp on LPs by bands Theremonster and The Gotobeds. 272
Jedediah Smith is a public school teacher at City College of San Francisco. He is most recently published in California Quarterly, Ekphrastic Review, Alba, and Hoot Review. Jeff Fleischer is a Chicago-based author, journalist and editor. His fiction has appeared in many publications including The Chicago Tribune's Printers Row Journal, Shenandoah, the Saturday Evening Post and So It Goes by the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. He is also the author of several non-fiction books. He is a veteran journalist published in Mother Jones, the New Republic, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine, Mental Floss, National Geographic Traveler and dozens of other publications. John Grochalski is the author of the poetry collections: The Noose Doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t Get Any Looser After You Punch Out (Six Gallery Press 2008), Glass City (Low Ghost Press, 2010), In The Year of Everything Dying (Camel Saloon, 2012), Starting with the Last Name Grochalski (Coleridge Street Books, 2014), and The Philosopherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Ship (Alien Buddha Press, 2018). He is also the author of the novels The Librarian (Six Gallery Press 2013) and Wine Clerk (Six Gallery Press 2016). He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, where the garbage can smell like roses if you wish on it hard enough. John Sierpinski has published in literary magazines and journals such as California Quarterly, North Coast Review, and Spectrum. His work appears in six anthologies, and he is a Pushcart nominee. His poetry collection, Sucker Hole, was published in 2018 by Cholla Needles Press. 273
John Sibley Williams is the author of As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize, 2019) and Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize, University of Nebraska Press, 2019). A nineteen-time Pushcart nominee, he is the winner of numerous awards, including the Wabash Prize for Poetry and Philip Booth Award. He serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review, works as a literary agent, and lives in Portland, Oregon. Jonel Abellanosa resides in the Philippines. His poetry has appeared in journals such as Rattle, Poetry Kanto, McNeese Review, That Literary Review and Star*Line , and he has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Dwarf Stars Award. His poetry collection, Songs from My Mindâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Tree, was published in 2018 by Clare Songbirds Publishing House, which will also publish his collection Multiverse. He has three other new titles forthcoming from other presses. Kenneth Pobo has two books out in 2019: The Antlantis Hit Parade (Clare Songbirds Publishing House) and Dindi Expecting Snow (Duck Lake Books). His work has appeared in Hawaii Review, Mudfish, Nimrod, Amsterdam Review, Two Thirds North, and elsewhere. He teaches English and creative writing at Widener University. Kevin Ridgeway is the author of Too Young to Know (Stubborn Mule Press). Recent work has appeared in Slipstream, Chiron Review, Nerve Cowboy, Main Street Rag, The American Journal of Poetry, and Trailer Park Quarterly, among others. He lives and writes in Long Beach, CA. 274
Kevin Tosca is the author of The Hug and Other Stories (Červená Barva Press, 2019), Ploieşti (Červená Barva Press, 2019), Revelation #2 (Iron Lung Press, 2019), Questions Are My Only Answers (Alien Buddha Press), and My French (Analog Submission Press). His stories have appeared in Bateau, Notre Dame Review, The Frogmore Papers, Litro Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives in Berlin. Lauren Scharhag is an award-winning writer of fiction and poetry. She is the author of Under Julia, The Ice Dragon, The Winter Prince, West Side Girl & Other Poems, and the co-author of The Order of the Four Sons series. Her poems and short stories have appeared in over ninety journals and anthologies, including Into the Void, The American Journal of Poetry, Gambling the Aisle and Glass: A Journal of Poetry. She lives in Kansas City, MO. To learn more about her work, visit: LaurenScharhag.blogspot.com. Leah Browning is the author of three short nonfiction books and six chapbooks. Her most recent chapbook of short fiction is Orchard City (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2017). Her fiction and poetry have recently appeared in The Forge Literary Magazine, The Threepenny Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Watershed Review, Random Sample Magazine, Newfound, Superstition Review, The Homestead Review, Clementine Unbound, The Stillwater Review, and Coldnoon. Lee Ann Pingel lives in Athens, Georgia, with her husband and a pathologically attention-seeking cat, although she prefers rats to any other house pet. She is the sole proprietor of a freelance 275
editing business, Expert Eye Editing (ExpertEyeEditing.com). Her work has been published in anthologies from Motes Books and Main Street Rag, as well as in Rascal, Ratâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Ass Review, Pink Panther Magazine, Hobo Camp Review, The Fib Review, and other journals. Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State and the author of four books, most recently a poetry collection, The Dishonesty of Certain Mirrors, out now from Cervena Brava Press and This is Why I Need You, a story collection forthcoming from Ravenna Press in June. You can also find him at lenkuntz.blogspot.com. Lisa Bellamy teaches at The Writers Studio; she is the author of The Northway (Terrapin Books: 2018) and Nectar, which won the 2011 Aurorean chapbook prize. Her work has appeared in TriQuarterly, New Ohio Review, The Southern Review, Hotel Amerika, Massachusetts Review, Cimarron Review, Southampton Review, Chautauqua and PANK, among other publications. She has received a Pushcart Prize Special Mention and a Fugue poetry prize. She lives in Brooklyn, NY and the Adirondacks with her family. Lisa Mase was born in Northern Italy to an American mother and an Italian father. She found poetry at a young age to help understand the nature of bi-cultural identity and finds inspiration in growing food and medicinal herbs on her homestead in northern Vermont. Her poems have been published by Open Journal of Arts and Letters, the Long Island Review, Jacard Press, and Silver Needle Press among others.
Lorraine Caputo is a documentary poet, translator, and travel writer. Her works appear in over 150 journals and books around the world. She travels through Latin America, listening to the voices of the pueblos and Earth. You may follow her travels at: LatinAmericaWanderer.wordpress.com. Luke Kuzmish is a new father, recovering addict, software developer, and writer from Erie, Pennsylvania. His poetry has been featured by Poetsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; Hall Press, Beatnik Cowboy, Transcendent Zero Press, Rye Whiskey Review, Ink Sweat and Tears, and Dope Fiend Daily. His latest collection, Little Hollywood, was published by Alien Buddha Press in 2018. Mark Blickley is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild and PEN American Center as well as the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Scholarship Award for Drama. He is the author of Sacred Misfits (Red Hen Press), Weathered Reports: Trump Surrogate Quotes from the Underground (Moira Books) and the forthcoming text-based art chapbook, Dream Streams (Clare Songbirds Publishing). Mark A. Fisher is a writer, poet, and playwright living in Tehachapi, CA. His poetry has appeared in: A Sharp Piece of Awesome, Dragon Poet Review, Altadena Poetry Review, Penumbra, and many other places. His first chapbook, drifter, is available from Amazon. His second, hour of lead, won the 2017 San Gabriel Valley Poetry Chapbook contest. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2015 and has won cooking ribbons at the Kern County Fair. 277
Mary Buchinger is the author of three collections of poetry: e i n f ü h l u n g/in feeling (2018), Aerialist (2015) and Roomful of Sparrows (2008). She is President of the New England Poetry Club and Professor of English and Communication Studies at MCPHS University in Boston. Her work has appeared in AGNI, Diagram, Gargoyle, Nimrod, PANK, Salamander, Slice Magazine, The Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. More at MaryBuchinger.com. Max Heinegg’s poems have appeared in The Cortland Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Glass, Tar River Poetry, Free State Review, and The American Journal of Poetry, among others. His work has been nominated for Best of the Net and The Pushcart Prize—and won Apogee’s Emily Stauffer Poetry Prize. He’s been a finalist for the poetry prizes of Crab Creek Review, December Magazine, Cultural Weekly, Cutthroat, Rougarou, and the Nazim Hikmet prize. A singersongwriter and recording artist (he can be heard at maxheinegg.com), he teaches English in the public schools of Medford, MA. Mercedes Lawry has published short fiction in several journals including: Gravel, Blotterature, Cleaver, Gambling the Aisle and Thrice Fiction. She was a semi-finalist in The Best Small Fictions 2016. For many years, She’s been publishing poetry in journals such as Poetry, Nimrod, Prairie Schooner and others. She has a book forthcoming from Twelve Winters Press and her chapbook In the Early Garden With Reason won the 2018 WaterSedge Poetry Chapbook Contest, judged by Molly Peacock; it is available on Amazon.
Michael J. Galko is a Houston-based scientist and poet. In the past year he has had poems published or accepted at descant, The Concho River Review, Gulf Coast, Gargoyle, Rockvale Review, MockingHeart Review, Nassau Review, Red Earth Review, and Riddled with Arrows. Michael G. Smith is a chemist. His poetry appears in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Cider Press Review, Nimrod, the Santa Fe Literary Review, Sin Fronteras, Superstition Review, and other journals or anthologies. No Small Things was published by Tres Chicas Books in 2014. The Dippers Do Their Part, a collaboration with Laura Young, was published by Miriam’s Well in 2015. Flip Flop, cowritten with Miriam Sagan, was published by Miriam’s Well in 2017. Patricia Nelson is a retired attorney who works with the “Activist” group of poets in California. Her third book of poetry, Out of the Underworld, is due out this year from Poetic Matrix Press. Richard Downing has received the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Prize, Writecorner Press’s Editor’s Award, New Delta Review’s Matt Clark Prize, and Solstice Literary Magazine’s Editor’s Award. He is co-founder of the Florida Peace Action Network and is an activist concerned with the caged children, separated families, and caravanistas on our southwest border.
Rikki Santerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s work appears in many publications, including Ms. Magazine, Poetry East, Margie, Hotel Amerika, The American Journal of Poetry, Slab, Crab Orchard Review, RHINO, Grimm, Slipstream, Midwest Review and The Main Street Rag. Her sixth poetry collection, Dodge, Tuck, Roll, was recently published by Crisis Chronicles Press. Rowan Johnson holds a doctorate from the University of Tennessee as well as an MA from the University of Nottingham, England. His work has been published in Two Thirds North, 4ink7, Passing Through Journal, Wordriver Literary Review, GFT Press, and the Writers' Abroad Foreign Encounters Anthology. He has also written numerous travel articles for SEOUL Magazine. Scott F. Parker is the author of A Way Home: Oregon Essays and the editor of Conversations with Joan Didion, among other books. He teaches writing at Montana State University. Scott Wiggerman is author of three books of poetry, Leaf and Beak: Sonnets; Presence; and Vegetables and Other Relationships; and editor of Wingbeats: Exercises & Practice in Poetry; Lifting the Sky; Bearing the Mask; and Weaving the Terrain. Recent poems have appeared in Softblow, San Pedro River Review, Chiron Review, The Ghazal Page, and Allegro Poetry Magazine. Stan Sanvel Rubinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s work has appeared in such places as The Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, Poetry Northwest, and, most recently The Shanghai Literary Review, Agni, and the forthcoming anthology, For the Love of Orcas. He received the 2018 Vi Gale award from Hubbub. His fourth full collection, There. Here., was published 280
by Lost Horse Press. He lives on the northern Olympic Peninsula of Washington state. Stephen House has had many plays commissioned and produced. He has won two Awgie Awards (Australian Writerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Guild), an Adelaide Fringe Award, First Prize Rhonda Jancovich Poetry Award for Social Justice, and many other awards. Publications include Currency Press, Australian Script Centre, Australian Poetry Journal, Third Street Writers USA, Page and Spine USA, grey border magazine Canada, and The Blue Nib Ireland. Steve Deutsch lives in State College, PA. His recent publications have or will appear in Linden Avenue Literary Journal, Panoply, Algebra of Owls, The Blue Nib, Thimble Magazine, The Muddy River Poetry Review, Ghost City Review, Borfski Press, Streetlight Press, Gravel, Literary Heist, Nixes Mate Review, Third Wednesday, Misfit Magazine, Word Fountain, Eclectica Magazine, The Drabble, New Verse News and The Ekphrastic Review. He was nominated for Pushcart Prizes in 2017 and 2018. His Chapbook, Perhaps You Can, will be published in 2019 by Kelsay Press. Steven Duncan is a poet and medical student living in Dallas, Texas. His poetry has been featured by Ink & Nebula, Prolific Press, Rock Canyon Poets, New Reader Magazine, Three Drops Press, and others. View more published work at StevenDuncan.tumblr.com. Susan Tepperâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s latest novel, What Drives Men, is available online from major book vendors. She is an award-winning writer, author of eight published books of fiction and poetry, who has 281
received 18 Pushcart Nominations, a Pulitzer Prize Nomination for a novel, and many other honors. More at SusanTepper.com. T.M. Thomsonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s work has most recently appeared or is forthcoming in Voice of Eve, Gemini, The Phoenix, Random Poetry, and Aji. Three of her poems have been nominated for Pushcart Awards. She co-authored Frame and Mount the Sky (2017) and is author of Strum and Lull (2019) and The Profusion (2019). More at Facebook.com/TaunjaThomsonWriter. Tim Suermondt is the author of five full-length collections of poems, the latest being Josephine Baker Swimming Pool from MadHat Press (January 2019). He has published in Poetry, Ploughshares, The Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, Able Muse and Plume, among many others. He lives in Cambridge with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong. Todd Mercer of Grand Rapids, Michigan was nominated for Best of the Net in 2018. His collection of pre-owned Italian ties purchased for $2 each is probably the most bad-ass pre-owned Italian tie collection outside of Italy. Just sayinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;. Recent work appears in The Lake, The Magnolia Review, Praxis and Softblow. Toti O'Brien is the Italian accordionist with the Irish last name. She was born in Rome then moved to Los Angeles, where she makes a living as a self-employed artist, performing musician, and professional dancer. Her work has most recently appeared in Crossways, Colorado Boulevard, JMWW, and New Reader. 282
Tricia Knoll is a Vermont poet who always has dogs, communes with creatures. Her recent collection How I Learned To Be White received the 2018 Indie Book Award for Motivational Poetry. More at TriciaKnoll.com. Wendy Hoffman lives in Washington state and has published work in books and in journals. Zachary Kluckman, the National Poetry Awards 2014 Slam Artist of the Year, is a Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Gold Medal Poetry Teacher and a founding organizer of the 100 Thousand Poets for Change program. He was recently one of three American poets invited to the Kistrech International Poetry Festival in Kenya He has served as Spoken Word Editor for the Pedestal magazine and has authored three poetry collections. You can find him online at Facebook.com/zacharykluckman.
Enjoy Mojave River Press books WHITE HORSES – Poetry by Linda Blaskey Available from all major online book retailers as paper or ebook “Linda Blaskey bravely writes moving poems filled with longing and loss. Her voice is exquisitely sensual, yet peaceful. These poems of trucks, backroads, family, and country breathe the ways of love, never treading into the sentimental. Blaskey writes of a life lived, the cost of work, of taking care of others—yet she never forgets the thrill of escape. A stunning book.” —JAN BEATTY, author of Jackknife: New and Selected Poems THE GIRL & THE FOX PIRATE – Flash fiction by Kate Gehan Available from all major online book retailers as paper or ebook “These stories are by turns searing, delightful, and heartbreaking. The Girl and the Fox Pirate is a collection by a writer in full command of her craft. Highly recommended.” —KATHY FISH, author of Together We Can Bury It EVERY KISS A WAR – Short stories by Leesa Cross-Smith Available from all major online book retailers as an ebook “Leesa Cross-Smith is a consummate storyteller who uses her formidable talents to tell the oft-overlooked stories of people living in that great swath of place between the left and right coasts. She offers thrilling turns of phrases, but where she is most stunning is in the endings of each story: crisp, evocative moments that will linger long after you’ve read this book’s very last word.” —ROXANE GAY, author of An Untamed State
Mojave River Review Volume 5 • Number 1
Spring/Summer issue, June 2019 To catch our next submissions period, “like” us on Facebook and “follow” us on Twitter. To read previous issues, visit us at MojaveRiverReview.com. To purchase books by our writers, visit the Mojave River Press online store, which includes MRR editor Michael Dwayne Smith’s Roadside Epiphanies: Jeffrey Alfier, Kithara Book Prize winner, writes: “There is much to admire in the depth and breadth of Smith’s lines. His striking and eloquent control of language and image make this collection of poems a delight to behold.” Susan Tepper, author of Monte Carlo Days & Nights, writes: “This new book of poems is an intense yet down to earth read, infused with mysticism, love, humor and the search for what is crucial to decent existence. A highly recommended book.”