Mojave River Review Volume 1 • Number 2
Carolyn Adams • Cynthia Anderson • Nonnie Augustine • Angela Cardinale Bartlett • Allie Marini Batts • Ann Beman • Kate Bernadette Benedict • Ace Boggess • Louis Bourgeois • Lori Sambol Brody • Chris Bronsk • Michael Buckley • Jeff Burt • Wendy Taylor Carlisle Melissa Castillo-Garsow • Jamez Chang • Rita Rouvalis Chapman Chloe Clark • Tobi Cogswell • Michael Cooper • Meg Scott Copses Tasha Cotter • Mary Crow • Rachel Fenton • Irene Fick • Gretchen Fletcher • Joshua Gage • Katherine Gehan •Bill Glose • Renny Golden Mitchell Grabois • Shasta Grant • Felicia Gustin • Lukas Hall • David Harris • Tiff Holland • Megan Hudgins • Tom Hunley • Wendy Elizabeth Ingersoll • Whittney Jones • J.I. Kleinberg • Matthew Klitsch • Tricia Knoll • Philip Kobylarz • Kristin LaTour • Alice Lowe Melanie Madden • David Maduli • Dennis Mahagin • Patricia Marquez Jude Marr • Deborah Mashibini • Darla McBryde • Jeanetta Calhoun Mish • Jane Miller • Constantine Mountrakis • Matt Muilenberg Rodney Nelson • Coco Owen • Robyn Oxborrow • Brianna Pike Kenneth Pobo • Nicolas Poynter • Carol Reid • Kevin Ridgeway Robert James Russell • Victor David Sandiego • Robert Scotellaro Brian Seemann • Rachel Short • Jon Sindell • Merna Dyer Skinner Bud Smith • Clifton Snider • Miranda Stone • Kristin Stoner • Susan Tepper • Larry Thacker • Kevin Tosca • Annaliese Wagner • Denise Weuve • Brandon Williams • Pui Ying Wong • Jeanne Yeasting Changming Yuan
Publisher/Editor in Chief Michael Dwayne Smith Managing Editor Alisha Attella Guest Editor Dennis Mahagin Fiction Editors Epiphany Ferrell Lili Berni Poetry Editors Jay Sizemore Jennifer Glover Non-Fiction Editors Bonnie A. Spears Arlene White Cover photograph copyright © Frank Foster; Interview images used with permission of Anna-Marie Veloz; Street Photography images copyright © Derriel Almario. Cover/Journal design by Michael Dwayne Smith. Copyrights to the individual works published herein belong to the respective authors and artists. Mojave River Review is published by Mojave River Press, an imprint of Mojave River Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Copyright © 2014. Submission guidelines and additional information at MojaveRiverPress.com ISSN 2373-0641
FROM the editor
WELCOME TO MOJAVE RIVER REVIEW, SUMMER 2014. We think you’ll love it. Many brilliant, well-established poets and writers contributed to this edition—Pulitzer and National Book Award nominees, dozens of prestigious award-winners—but as always we include up-and-coming talents, voices rich with imagery and energy. All in all, a ravishing literary mixtape, which I dedicate to our own Alisha Attella. Alisha served as managing editor for issues 1 and 2, and has now decided to pursue other projects. She’s a fine writer and editor, and her help in launching MRR will always be appreciated. Best to you, AA, and success in all. Our special sections this issue include (1) a gorgeous selection of ekphratic works, in poetry and prose, (2) an interview with the uniquely talented high desert artist AnnaMarie Veloz, and (3) a set of black and white southern California street photographs by Derriel Almario. We were blown away by all these contributors. Find them in the middle of the issue. One little heads up: we’re planning on chapbook contests for the fall edition of MRR—20-24 page unpublished collections of poetry and/or flash collections of fiction, hybrid, and nonfiction—so by all means gets those keyboards clicking. We’ll be posting and promoting details. Meantime… happy reading, all! Michael Dwayne Smith Founding Publisher/Editor Mojave River Press & Review Mojave Desert, CA July, 2014 MichaelDwayneSmith.com MojaveRiverPress.com
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Larry D. Thacker Medicine Bag / poetry Mary Crow Blown Away / hybrid Susan Tepper Location of a Parallelogram / poetry Criminal / poetry Robert James Russell An Immense Desert / fiction Dennis Mahagin Incalculably Redundant Idolatrous Ghazal / poetry (excerpted from his new book of poems, Longshot and Ghazal; pre-order at MojaveRiverPress.com) David M. Harris Alecto / poetry Pui Ying Wong The Feast / poetry Moan Melody / poetry The Algae / poetry Alice Lowe A Contemplation of Crows / non-fiction Nonnie Augustine Bare Feet on a Tile Floor / poetry Tobi Cogswell Our Girl Joey / poetry Far from the Winter Races, Far from Home / poetry The Astronomer Measures the Distance to Living / poetry Darla McBryde She Might Not Be Lucid / poetry The Wild Ones / poetry
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57 59 61 63 65
Philip Kobylarz L’Amant / fiction Megan Hudgins This Is before I Get Big / poetry Lessons Learned in the Black Hills / hybrid Cepuscular / poetry Matthew Klitsch Animal Broken / poetry Iso Bear / poetry Michael Buckley Every Reflection a Billion / fiction Carolyn Adams Hawaii / poetry Angela Cardinale Bartlett My Mother’s Kitchen / non-fiction Kenneth Pobo Aunt Gwen Bastes the Turkey / poetry Delia Anne at the Window / poetry Whirling / poetry Things Give Way / poetry Katherine Gehan Dolls / fiction Tasha Cotter January, Sadness, and France / poetry This Disaster Loves You / hybrid Gretchen Fletcher Earth Cries / poetry Memento Mori / poetry Bud Smith College Try / poetry Robert Scotellaro Radio Sunglasses / fiction The Polygamist’s Three Wives / fiction
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Changming Yuan Three Hypergrammatical Rules / poetry Chinese Motifs: the Proto Bagua Poem / poetry Meg Scott Copses On and On / poetry We Were Here / poetry Secret Sky / poetry Kevin Ridgeway I’m going to Die Someday / poetry Stockyards / poetry Hook, Line, and Sinker / poetry Matt Muilenburg The Frisky Sleeper / non-fiction Kristin LaTour When My Lover compares Me to the Desert / poetry How We Forget / poetry Carol Reid Dry Spell / fiction Cynthia Anderson Badwater, Death Valley / poetry The Sick Cholla / poetry Lori Sambol Brody New Moon / fiction Jeff Burt Cricket / poetry Georgia O’Keefe / poetry SUMMER SPECIAL SECTION: EKPHRASIS Nicolas Poynter / Volcano Street Louis E. Bourgeois / The Shed Ann Beman / The Thumb of All Parts Jeanne Yeasting / Hooligan of Love Felicia Gustin / Viet Nam War Vet II Jeanetta Calhoun Mish / Elemental Ceramics Cynthia Anderson / The Lone Woman of the Cave
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J.I. Kleinberg / Seeing David M. Harris / Déjeuner sur l'herbe SOUTHWEST ARTS & LETTERS An Interview with Anna-Marie Veloz by Arlene White Street Photography, SoCal / Derriel Almario Miranda Stone Talk of the Town / fiction Jude Marr Cross-Town / poetry Rodney Nelson Wished / poetry Constantine Mountrakis Black Water Brought Me Here / poetry John, the Pit, and I (I) / poetry John, the Pit, and I (II) / poetry Chris Bronsk Jupiter Sons / poetry Melissa Castillo-Garsow Zero / hybrid Patricia Marquez The Birth / non-fiction Tiff Holland Weathervane / poetry Wendy Elizabeth Ingersoll What is Your Name? / poetry Brian Seemann What Comes First? / fiction Rachel Short Yours, not Mine / poetry 4’ 33” of Fear and Loathing / poetry Denise Weuve Revolutions / poetry Heredity / poetry
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Mitchell Grabois Eternity / poetry Family Reunion / poetry Halo / poetry Renny Golden The Dream, Michael Again / poetry Row the Boat Ashore / poetry Brianna Pike Snail Shell / poetry David Maduli Walking through Triple Stage Darkness / poetry Trimester Lost / poetry Chloe Clark Negative Space / poetry Occurrence of Forests / poetry Irene Fick What We Keep / poetry Waiting in the White Space / poetry Shasta Grant Progress Notes / non-fiction Allie Marini Batts Summers, After Supper / poetry Merna Dyer Skinner A Brief History of Two Aprons / hybrid Catch and Release / poetry Annaliese Wagner My Mama, She Killed Me; My Daddy, He Drank Me / poetry Wendy Carlisle The End of the World / poetry The Lone Ranger / poetry Coco Owen Latter Rain / poetry Happy Hour at the Sagebrush Cantina / poetry
186 187 188 190 194 196 198 200 201 202 204 205 207
Victor David Sandiego Somewhere in New Orleans / hybrid Deborah Mashibini Summer in McIntosh, New Mexico / poetry Robyn Oxborrow Mirage / poetry Hitchhikers / poetry Melanie Madden How Barstow Got Its Name / non-fiction Kristin Stoner Bump / fiction Tom C. Hunley Blurbs / poetry C. Montgomery Burns / poetry Jon Sindell The Driving Instructor / fiction Bill Glose Self-Image / poetry Ace Boggess What Can One Do to Become Another? / poetry Brandon Williams Seven Hours before the Death of his Grandmother / hybrid Michael Cooper #7 Alejandro thirsty, poppy-knuckled and weeping / poetry Clifton Snider Cave of Cosquer / poetry To a Ring-tailed Lemur / poetry Rita Rouvalis Chapman Octopus Rearing / poetry St. Rita / poetry On Beauty / poetry Kate Bernadette Benedict The Red Rock Latitudes / poetry
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The Firegrounds / poetry The Ritual / poetry Jamez Chang and Rachel J. Fenton Two Continents / poetry Lukas Hall As a Balloon You should be Proud / poetry Everything is Subject to Deconstruction / poetry Jane Miller A Dream Come True / poetry Dementia / poetry Medusa at the Stylist / poetry Kevin Tosca Witness of What / fiction Birth of a Pyromaniac / fiction Tricia Knoll Desert Storm / poetry The Caretaker in the Veteranâ€™s Cemetery / hybrid A Pacific Northwest Tourist in the Mojave Desert / poetry CONTRIBUTORS
Larry D. Thacker / Medicine Bag Bring me the veins of the first turning leaf Three scratches from early winter ice cycles Two identical snowflakes from the pine bough A handful of spring rain caught at arm’s length Pinches of bark dust shaved from the Alder Exhaled Crocus pollen from your lungs Inhaled scents of summer’s warmest decay Lightening streaks on the overflowing river The memory of thunder from your youth A vibration of hoofs on the treeless plains Mix in the halved scull of your sister deer Consume the mix under a dying star’s light While going to water and bathing 7 times Crawl into the earth womb of the sweat lodge Form a clay ball from your pooling sweat Fill your bag and clench it close to your heart
Mary Crow / Blown Away I. ground waves supporting the search—me, valved breathlessness weighing down the plume of watery thrusts, trickling of thirsty dangers alight with metallic tarnish, a crimp in the rippling ah, yes! a growth crusted over the light, embedded in a print of odors, springy—if all’s a loosening of self, circuitous, halfheartening, high-strung hum of blurriness II. incomprehensible language erasing at breakneck speed any childhood, spring saved up with its flash and creweled flora, pulsing and quivering, any listening to absence, oh, that promise! the heart’s errata, how a dark-eyed twin stared back from the window with chagrin III. beyond the roar of traffic misgivings sank their teeth into me, taunting me, I didn’t understand—who did they think I was?— flew into a rage, then the whiff of mustard fields beyond the grounds, and again way over treetops gray against gray unfurling like Japanese water lilies over Notre Dâme and still they pinched me as I climbed up, still later, muttering, imaginary foghorns, indistinct words
Susan Tepper / Location of a Parallelogram Whoever dreamt up these spatial proportions imposed limits / This room could have soared as migrations winter swoops and dives again— passing over again— peaked roofs pitched toward cloud-streaked sky Or, the other way— sketched, gone cold in your bones, the nothingness before explosions where stars erode in atmosphere that invites speculation No one leaves their bed early
Susan Tepper / Criminal This room in liminal darkness has but a single lamp cast out of celadon blue lighted to the left of where my heart extends its uneven line you criminal liminal partner for a time
Robert James Russell / An Immense Desert “I TRIED TO KILL MYSELF,” I TOLD HER. We were holding hands drinking expensive juices made with wheatgrass and she didn’t look over at me, just kept sipping hers. “I’m serious.” “I don’t know what you want me to say to that,” she said. “What can I even say?” “I just wanted you to know.” “That’s…” she stopped, sighed and threw out her juice. We were at the center of the mall near the dirty-tiled fountain, surrounded by couples and families sitting on benches and tables eating sweet pretzels and Americanized Chinese food. We were in college then, well into our senior year. “That’s bullshit,” she said. “You know that?” “What? Why?” “You started all of this, this was all your fault, yet somehow you’re making me feel like shit. Like I did something wrong.” “That’s not what I meant to do,” I said. I threw out my juice too and held her hands, both of them, and looked into her ice blue eyes. “I love you. I just wanted you to know how sick it made me, what I did.” “Good for you.” “I’m serious.” “Okay.” She started walking again and I followed her into Wet Seal. I watched as she looked through a rack of boot cut jeans, then another of brightly colored faux snakeskin jackets. She picked out a red one and held it up to herself. 16
“That looks great,” I said. “You should get it.” “Maybe.” “Don’t you have that animal print party coming up? You could get it for that.” She wrinkled her face, held out the sleeves to check the length. “Maybe.” “I’ll buy it for you, if you want.” She looked at me from across the clothes rack, no expression, thin lips tight, hair cut short like I suggested she do months ago. “I don’t need you to buy me things.” “I know. I’m just trying to be nice.” “Okay.” “Hey, does your friend still work at the jewelry store here?” I said. “Yeah, why?” “This…it just made me think maybe we could go look around.” Pause. “You know, at some rings.” She put the coat back on the rack and stepped toward me. I thought of her legs—long and lean—and how I hadn’t wanted them wrapped around me in a long while. I forced myself to think about her naked, about kissing her and being kissed, but felt nothing. I smiled and put my arms around her waist. “Don’t joke about that,” she said. “I mean, we’ve talked about it, and it doesn’t hurt to look, right?” She took a step back, hands at her side and playing with the seams of her jeans. “Are you being for real right now?” “Yes,” I said. “Very.” “And you want to? You’re not just doing this because you 17
think you have to?” “No,” I said. “I wouldn’t do that to you. I want this. I do.” She smiled and we kissed briefly, with no passion, standing in that store draped in champagne and baby blues—the colors of the season—while alt-rock blared on the speakers, and I smelled her perfume, that scent of hers I had once craved, and it reminded me then of the desert, the fragrance of creosote after a morning rain blanketing the harsh landscape for only a short while.
Dennis Mahagin / Incalculably Redundant Idolatrous Ghazal On the websites of AOL, CNN, Fox and TMZ, the font of choice is and always will be Times New Roman. At art coliseums, Mall of America, see the camera pan to lattice-work. Mmm hmm. Knock offs from the Roman. Silicon hops screens, French lily pads, Trojan. Paparazzi V. Selfie: Coming of the New Age is no Bildungsroman. By God he found herâ€”on the Facebook, and launched a hit reality show. Saga of a Polanski: poor old Roman. Starbucks OD, Monday morning and good luck with that Subway. Itâ€™s Carthage all over. Assholes elbows, Romans. Centurions trade derivatives, pop their seedless grapes as emaciated Christians polish the I Phones of Romans.
David M. Harris / Alecto She stalks the house, concealed but for Furious flashes, holding her anger, Damoclean. He scrubs a pot and rinses, sets it in the drainboard. The air writhes with anticipation. Words, gestures, suppressed rather than thread between the hidden tripwires, careful and hopeless. IEDâ€™s decorate the road that leads her from Paroxetine to Buproprion. Its riddle admits no answer. He gentles a cup into the dishwasher. A fork clatters to the tile. Her anger lands, and bites again into his silence, his love. The padded armor cushions the blows, makes them bearable. But under bombardment the thickest batting dissolves at last into lint. He suffers the beating and prays it ends before dust is pounded into stone.
Pui Ying Wong / The Feast The dead have not abandoned us. On the walls their photographs have lost some crispness but sunlight lingers over them. They pose before city entrances, on beaches, in gardens of exotic bloom. They wave from convertibles, ships, tall horses on country farms. They dance in halls bright with chandeliers, tables overrun with holiday food. They raise their glasses and smile into the camera as if they are looking into the future, telling us the feast will never end.
Pui Ying Wong / The Feast “But I spin all these crazy yarns as if sleeping in a mound of narrative” —Zbigniew Herbert Maze of market streets, bric-a-brac, flowers, shoes, browsers’ faces, gazes that peel night to day, little cars going around in search of ascend, descend, yield— to who, to whom these red lights blink and blink, crosswalks, guardrails, scurf pegged air, there’s heart in what you keep opening to, a man leans on the horn as if he’s waited his whole life, enough, how else can we get through and get to, please, the station master speaks, just another foreign tongue but the gesture is clear, no tickets, the phone,
what is your number, dear, write it down, your number, the number must reach.
Pui Ying Wong / The Algae We were driving around aimlessly, along the main road, then across the canal. The air had been stale for days, for months, no relief, no rain in the forecast. All through the neighborhood barbers gave the same haircut, preachers gave the same sermon, busy people pressed on with the heart of a mule. Had it been that long since childhood eloped? And poetry languishing, curled up in a musty folder. Without poetryâ€”would our lives (Could we fool ourselves anymore) go on as before? Only the algae bloomed. Only the algae bloomed.
Alice Lowe / A Contemplation of Crows 1. CROWS INHABIT THE CANYON behind our San Diego house, establish dominance. I admire their stately elegance, their uncompromised blackness. Like my mother’s glossy hair or a strand of jet beads. I regard their movements—their quickness and no-nonsense determination—with neighborly interest. They perch on bare limbs and telephone wires, squabble in mid-air, chase hawks. I hear them even when I don’t see them, hidden among eucalyptus branches, their raucous prattle, “caws” answered with appropriate “caws” of response. They snub my attempts to communicate in crow-like squawks. 2. The American crow—corvus brachyrhyrichos—is among the fortysome members of genus corvus, family corvidae, which includes ravens, jays, rooks, choughs and magpies. Flocks of crows are called “murders”—useful trivia for crossword puzzle buffs. This label doesn’t signify people’s fears of crows, associating them with death— it derives from whimsy and folklore like “ostentations of peacocks,” “parliaments of owls.” 3. Crows are reviled as predators. Yet my cats are predators too, their nature curtailed only by enforced domesticity. They circle and pounce on unsuspecting bugs sidling across the floor or up a wall; they twitch and make that throaty death-rattle-like noise at hummingbirds outside the window. But they eat the cat food I 25
feed them. Crows have to forage for food. Scavengers, they eat everything: insects and mice, nuts and seeds, pizza, French fries, roadkill. There is no designated crow food, and they don’t eat the birdseed I put out on the deck for the twittering wrens, tits and finches. Doves, on the other hand, descend on the feeders, home in and push out the little birds. Lumpen and clucking like their pigeon cousins, doves are messy and not very personable. 4. The painter Jackson Pollock and the poet Marianne Moore had pet crows. Moore immortalized hers in a poem, “My Crow Pluto.” In an Andrea Barrett story, a girl visits a man who has a pet crow. She sits quietly while the adults talk, motionless as the bird scrutinizes her then sidles up close and plays with her shoe buttons. I’d love to entice a crow to some degree of camaraderie, not to tame it, not to compromise its very crow-ness, just to win its trust and affection. It would take time and patience and the right treats. 5. In lieu of the real thing, an almost-life-sized faux-feathered crow graces our mantle. I gave it to Don, my husband, as a birthday gift. I move it around—now peeking out from behind a houseplant, now hovering giant-like over a scale model Airstream trailer (Don’s fantasy, another birthday present), now poking beak-up out of a ceramic crock like pilchards in a Cornish stargazy pie.
6. Don drinks Old Crow, sour mash Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. Originated in 1835, said to have been Ulysses Grant’s favorite; Mark Twain and Hunter Thompson were later enthusiasts. For Don it started as an austerity measure during a period of unemployment, only $13 for the two-liter jug (on special at CVS). Don says it’s pretty damn good, and relative prosperity hasn’t sent him back to single malt scotch. 7. “Old crow” is one of a number of derogatory names—like old bag and old hag—given to aging women perceived as unattractive. Are there similar epithets for ugly old men, or is it just women who are vilified for showing their age? 8. “Crow’s feet” should evoke delicate tripartite footprints in fresh fallen snow or an image on a Chinese brush painting. But we know them as the fine pencil strokes jutting from the corners of our eyes as we approach old-crow-dom. Some of us call them laugh lines or character lines; like stretch marks on our bellies, they show we’ve lived. But many dread their approach as that of an encroaching foe. Google crow’s feet and you find flocks of predatory humans primed to sell you creams and cover-ups, Botox and laser surgery to eradicate them. 9. Crows are known for their intelligence. They can recognize human faces, solve problems. They drop nuts and shellfish from a 27
distance to break open the shells; they’ve been observed creating tools for specific purposes. In Aesop’s “The Crow and the Pitcher,” a crow approaches a half-full vessel but sees that his beak is too short to reach the water, knows if he tips it over the water will spill out. So he picks up pebbles and drops them in the pitcher so the water will rise and he can reach it. 10. The tool we use to remove nails or pry apart boards is a crowbar, named for its resemblance to crows’ feet or beaks. Shakespeare called them “iron crows” in “Romeo and Juliet”: Get me an iron crow and bring it straight unto my cell. Shakespeare wrote about real crows too, owls, ravens, and other birds of evil portent, vanguards of sickness and death. Shakespeare’s rivals, envious of his early fame and success, called him an “Upstart Crow.” Now a bookstore chain and a Napa Valley winery pay homage with that name. 11. To “eat crow” is to humiliate oneself, to admit wrongdoing: crow is foul tasting, hard to swallow, just like being proved wrong. In the Old Testament book of Leviticus crow is deemed unfit to eat, along with eagles, vultures, owls, pelicans and much more. On the other hand, to crow is to boast, as in “something to crow about.” When Harry Truman won the 1948 presidential race, he invited the defeated Thomas Dewey to a “crow banquet.” Was his intention to crow about his victory or to see Dewey eat crow?
12. I have a tendency to bring everything around to food. And why not—it’s a powerful cultural marker; it tells so much about people. That being the case, I can’t end these thoughts without adding that my favorite neighborhood Mexican restaurant is El Cuervo. The crow.
Nonnie Augustine / Bare Feet on a Tile Floor Bob Dylan and I are growing old together. These days I rock to tunes in the Florida room. I walk with a cane, dance without it. A mystery! My dog worries as I whirl and watches from the safe couch. Once I wore pointed shoes. Wore them to death! I’d wait until my slippers were useless, then take the subway to Hell’s Kitchen. The old man at Freed’s would fuss over the fit and I’d hand over dollars. No human audience for my dance needed now. Hips swish with guitars, my feet, drums, and my head, arms take the melody in my return to the high desert, to my company of barefoot dancers. On late Sunday afternoons, costumed in loose white pants, skimpy tank tops and Panama hats, we performed for Albuquerque’s brown and white families in the city’s parks. “Hot chili peppers in the blistering sun” sang Bob as we circled with partners then all together across hot green spaces, covering ground fast, with strong young legs, supple torsos. During the verses we’d each solo, while the others reclined on grass, hats over hearts. Laura twirled her lament, Robert shot his enemy with a finger gun, fierce and convincing, Randy escaped in great leaps from the Sheriff’s posse, I bent back, face to the sunset, leg extended, hands folded in prayer. Soon after the company broke up, the first swath of AIDS cut down Randy and Robert. One had his lover nearby, the other, disowned by his family, died broke and alone in Long Beach, California. Golden Linda, my drinking buddy,
my roomate on tour, died young, too. She kept with Cutty Sark, fine wine, finally cheap vodka until cirrhosis got her. We touch again when I dance to Dylan on the radio. He carries us all along.
Tobi Cogswell / Our Girl Joey Joey has a man’s name and drives a man’s truck, but she doesn’t look like a man. No, golden hair flashing brilliance with the sun, black Ray-Ban’s stolen from her dad, a smile that could light two towns on fire at once, she is the girl you want by your side always. And in those last rains— with wind that could scare men experienced with the anger of the sky, a tree fell on the house next door. They all felt the Earth shake like a monster shedding water from a dark dip in the hellish waters of stormy nights, they all hugged somebody close. Then Joey, her truck, her winch, her hatchet and will helped free that house from its leafy bondage. And that is why she always has a booth at the TTT Truck Stop in Tucson for lunch, where chili
cheese fries donâ€™t need cutting with a hatchet, not even with the dullest knife.
Tobi Cogswell / Far from the Winter Races, Far from Home He reads the racing form under the pool table light, always searching for that one horse even though he doesn’t bet anymore. Then respectfully, he steps back to sit, drinks coffee at the darkened bar. He doesn’t want to leave a ring on the rail or damage the felt. The morning barmaid calls him hon, though his name is Dave. Especially in the mornings he needs such small endearments to get him through the rest of a rotten day. And now it’s snowing, no way to tilt his face to the sun and forget. Only that first 200 watts of chandelier and a ghostly horse—his version of other people’s fireplaces, homes and friends. Mulled cider and hugs. His family. Shadowed, imperfect, calling him honey, waiting for the wind to taste like home.
Tobi Cogswell / The Astronomer Measures the Distance to Living He has always been able to measure intention. He knows the waitress will pocket her tip, the bartender will short half an ounce on ten drinks, get plastered before going home to lonely, but the girl? To measure her is to begin to lose her, and he cannot bear to fathom that. He watched his daddy watch his mother die, there was no measure for the sorrow. The rows upon rows of yellow and gold poppies and pills for pain, for pain, for more painâ€” he cannot be that man. Medicine and reading glasses on the counter, her favorite book pockmarked with sorrow. He never learned to measure that ability, or desire, in himselfâ€”to say goodbye and bless the broken angel, to measure time not in loss, but in gain.
Darla McBryde / She Might Not Be Lucid But there’s no time to change directions the ghost boys have dropped the handkerchief scent of gasoline and English Leather She’s a rocket red 460 Ford racing a highway of hallucination threadbare tapestry sky wrapped around a hypnagogic moon show of light trapped between the two lane blacktop of waking sleep There’s a hole in the box under the bed where the touchstone fell through she needs it to make out the meaning of maps ink fading like the nameless blue of an old lover’s tattoo
Darla McBryde / The Wild Ones —for Robert B. Obsessed, Robert watches the radar and finds it is snowing on the wild horses of Placitas. He imagines them huddled together behind a boulder windbreak, tails swishing slowly, hungry for sunshine and grass. Eight hundred miles away, he keeps vigil, surrounded by the photographs he brought back home. “Look,” he points, “there’s a glimpse of God in the old one’s eye.” A stallion and a broodmare stand face to face, virga on the horizon, their manes groomed by the thunderstorm wind. When he calls the horses to him he breaks free from the death grip of gridlock traffic, breathes deep the clear light of faraway New Mexico air, and for a few moments he is redeemed. Do the ponies know they walk the paths of his nomadic heart? That he wakes hearing the percussion of hooves, a gentle rhythm tapping the unyielding ground of dreams? He tells me he’s saving money to go to them again, maybe he will find the chestnut mare and her gray stallion with a new brown colt in the band. He will join them in the slow turn of the seasons, match their easy gait across November’s long shadows, their ancestral paths worn by 400 years across the mesa. And, Robert will again manage a melancholy acceptance as they follow the arroyo, walk into their high desert hills and disappear.
Philip Kobylarz / L’Amant THIS IS WHAT HE DID, SOMETIMES. He would get out of his car, close the door, walk away some distance onto the newly blackpaved and white-striped pavement, and at the top of his nasal cavity, emit a high pitched “bwoop-bwip.” He wanted others to think he had a car alarm. He wanted others to think such things about him. He really thought that others thought his pinkie ring was real gold. He would drive the freeways with a department store mannequin in the backseat, partially to use the car pool lane and increase his arrival time by minutes, but mostly to drive and gesture wildly, speak loudly with a gaping mouth, point rudely, and converse ecstatically with his passenger, who by fright, submission, or higher class was relegated to the backseat, her head still and ear cocked in wonder and amazement, red wig slipping off to one side of her shiny tan head, at what a wonderful person, beneath all of his foibles, he really wasn’t. He would write memos and even letters to himself because he liked being reminded of things he must one day do, the debts that would be forgiven only in the wake of his death, and he always enjoyed coming home to a welcoming mailbox. He would remove his sunglasses from his face several times a day, not to get a better view of the distance or an object susceptible to nearsightedness, but to check his teeth and hair, and to give himself a wink. No one else would. It wasn’t that he loved himself narcissistically and was deeply, profoundly egotistical. Not at all. It was just that he so dearly needed someone, like we all do, to love.
Megan Hudgins / This is Before I Get Big When I open my eyes my dad has his gun raised, eye in the sight, pointed at a pecan tree. One POP and the leaves rustle like applause, a small shadow dances across the spotlight of sun. Two POPs and the squirrel swan-dives into the yucca plant at my feet, a cross between crunch and thud. ~~ My dad is walking toward the porch, butcher knife in one hand, wet-black slender something in the other, breathless with impatience and obligation. Behind him, my cat Broccoli has bled a dot-dash trail into the machine shed, his tail only half of what it was. My dad mounts the porch
and says Broccoli wonâ€™t sit near the engine of the truck anymore. ~~ My dad, shirtless, wipes his mouth with a shaky hand and sets the trashcan back down, right arm in a sling, a centipede of stitches crawling over his shoulder. He sits with his head down, staring, waiting, goose bumps growing into mountains. He shivers and pukes before I have the chance to close my eyes again.
Megan Hudgins / Lessons Learned in the Black Hills I. Those are not birds at night but bats that will snatch a mosquito from in front of your nose as you blindly feel for your pants at your knees. II. He is more selfish in sleep. III. There hasn’t been a bear in the Black Hills in over 50 years, and the cougars are like the one in your grandpa’s timber—stories of stories from old men in Cargill hats. There was no need, then, to pack 100 yards of rope in place of more food. IV. “Bison,” not “buffalo.” V. You will regret the weight of the Micah-flecked and butterscotch rocks more than you will want to remember him pressing them into your palm. VI. A rotten mango from his backpack does nothing for either hunger or thirst.
Megan Hudgins / Crepuscular She will begin with this clover blossom, crunch it between her most herbavoric molars and feel the juice seep out, a green sweet, She will stay here—long, bare legs folded to the ground, face inches from the earth—and smell the soil, the detritus, things never quite dead, just repurposed. She can smell her life before this one, her animal body’s bones eaten to a soft bed for roots and bugs to lay themselves down. She pushes her fingers into it and squeezes the old lives of things. She lifts her head. The sun is pink and half-bitten by the neighbor’s picket fence, the perfect time for feeding.
Matthew Klitsch / Animal Broken This golden rabbit in my hands could be a king if born in a world where rabbits were kings. Take the smallest thing you have ever known, pretend you cherish it. Even if you really do, we’re pretending now that it has value. The finest dust when you crush it—small and cherished things are for crushing in any world we occupy. What scares me though is that most of the time I don’t care. What a gift, to be king over all of this. The ebb of pain in the tiniest heart must be—
Matthew Klitsch / Iso Bear you came and brought me water changed my bed after rolling me over wiped my backside with warm moist towel collected my soft dark stones in tissue praised my innards’ easy invention if I could walk this would be a love song I’ll praise invention too churching my way through blueberries if I could walk this would be a love song I’ll happily snap branches some other being made just for my paws’ jolly weight I mean to say you could come there too but you’d see sky with your same human eyes earth under you would be a human earth do you understand? I don’t mean to be cruel… human, see
in my eyes? I want you where I walk again I walk again do walk
Michael Buckley / Every Reflection a Billion CONTAMINANT WARNING, the signs read the morning that Louis was born, No Swimming. The day was all hammered metal, sky, sand, grey beach bungalows all around; and Louis, who was formed entirely of peaceful communities of E. Coli and other bacteria—a revolutionary, walking metropolis—found a pair of discarded jeans under an upturned cooler, put them on along with a thrown-out towel, and walked into town. The first place he came across was at the end of Second Street. It was a coffee shop, and Louis stood staring at his reflection in the window, the billions of beings that made up his face each experiencing nostalgia. The feeling was different for each of them; some of the bacteria were middle-aged when, moments ago, the New Metropolis of Louis rose out of the sloe, reflective bay. They remembered with fondness the cold embrace of the water and the whispered homelands of their fathers, stretching back into an eternity of sewer line. Others were younger; their memories of the bay spiraled with revisionist histories. Still others had sprung into existence on the trip from the bay, and now, confronted with the reflection of The Metropolis of Louis, they dreamed of lives faraway from the sea, in the weightless stretch of the blue sky. “Louis?” a voice said. A girl had poked her head out of the coffee shop. A furious debate sprung to life within the bacterial centers of power: What to say? After a moment she took silence for confusion and embraced Louis, the shop door jangling shut behind her. “My God, I was so worried. Where have you been all 46
night?” She angled her head and snuffled. “You smell awful. Come in and sit, have coffee.” The shop was warm and redolent of wonderful, bizarre things: coffee, croissants, melting Swiss cheese. Louis sat near the window and the girl disappeared behind the counter. Populations of bacteria roared in debate over the meaning of The Girl. Another world, full of nameless places to explore? An enemy? And what to do if life Out of the Bay was to be a series of meetings such as this; there were warriors among them, of course, and most bacteria took it as common knowledge that the nature of life was to rob it from others. But there was dissention too— hadn’t their lives In the Bay been cold and brutal, dark, short; surely the world of air and daylight was different. Sounds broke the reverie of the bacterial metropolis. Halting, spasmic sobbing came from the area behind the cash register, where The Girl was. Debate among the bacteria silenced for a moment. They listened. And a familial memory overcame the billions all at once: Nighttime. The moon reflected in the water, a perfect wound of light. A man stumbles along the sidewalk that fronts the beach, a cigarette falls from his hand. He has argued with the woman he loves. He’s weak, reeks of booze, dizzy with drugs; he was going to grow into a different man, a version of himself that he is, at this moment, certain is dead. In the sand he pulls his jeans off and leaves them under a cooler. He walks past the Contaminant Warning signs and falls to his knees in the shallow salt water. Staring at his reflection, the Louis that has so absolutely failed, who has so completely broken every heart he touched, he 47
brings his right hand to his temple and pulls a trigger. Blood arcs over the water. Billions of E. Coli bacteria watch this. The mystery of the gunshot fades—something like a comet—and left behind is the optimism of Louis’ face. Realization that if every cell clung to another the whole could rise out of the water, warm. Walk the land. Dance out from under the blackness.
Carolyn Adams / Hawaii The boys killed their father, so the family story goes. (We’re bad with history, details get muddled, lost.) He beat their mother, so they killed him with machetes, there on the beach. (Why that beach, why that day, all lost.) My mind’s wild eye sees the foam on their lips as they swing the heavy knives. Stink of brine. Gulls screaming. Red on the white sand, red in the blue water. (Triumph, horror on the woman’s face.)
Angela Cardinale Bartlett / My Mother’s Kitchen ONCE, I WALKED IN ON my mother and my stepfather, sleeping in the early morning hours, naked. I don’t remember why I was there. Their bed was a mattress on the floor. My stepfather’s flabby white ass glared back at me, peeking above the blanket. That blanket had some sort of animal on it–an eagle, a bear, a wolf howling at the moon. He was the sort of man who would own a blanket like that. He had a large, bushy mustache. He owned a yellow Datsun. He collected beer bottles and knives. He was also the sort of man who instructed me each night to lie on my stomach so he could tell me a story. He would gently pull my pajama bottoms and underwear down, and lightly trace his fingers over my own bare ass before bed. I remember the heat and alarm that flushed through me, but I didn’t know what to say or do, so I said and did nothing. I was maybe 7 or 8 years old when I walked in on he and my mother, and I recoiled at his surprising nakedness, and quickly and quietly shut the door. I felt like I had made some grave violation, that they would find out and punish me. But they simply slept on, and I went back to my bed and fell asleep. When I woke, I found them in the kitchen, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, like always. The smoke hung around their heads and mixed with the morning light. In that kitchen, my mother taught me how to mix equal parts cinnamon into sugar, to spread butter onto warm toast, and pour the mixture over it. We shook the excess onto the plate, and dipped our fingers into the sweet brown powder and licked 50
them. I could eat six slices of cinnamon bread at a time. I could eat a loaf. I was a heavy child, a voracious eater, and I always wanted more. We did dishes together in that kitchen, filled water balloons for fights. My sister and brother and I spent hours building Play-doh and Lego creations at the big, round table. There’s something incongruous about the fact that my mother was a drug dealer whose life was unraveling, but that her kitchen counter featured matching ceramic canisters marked “Flour,” “White Sugar,” “Brown Sugar.” This was a novelty to me. She owned a spice rack, and she used her spice rack. Also a novelty. The house the kitchen occupied was a shabby rental at the end of a dirt road in the hills above Lake Elsinore. The house was infested with carpenter ants and tarantulas. The tire swing in the back yard swung directly over a cliff. The kitchen, though, was clean, organized, inviting, safe. I only went to my mother’s house for sporadic weekend visits, and, once, a whole summer, over the course of three years. It was a temporary place to her, but it was the only place in which I ever remember her living. I have a lot of terrible memories of her, of that house, but none of them took place in the kitchen.
Kenneth Pobo / Aunt Gwen Bastes the Turkey and thinks about how Delia Anne stood apart from the other playgrounders: Mommy, can we go home now? The sun, a gold stick. Delia Anne’s winter coat hung like fog on her shoulders. Gwen told her, Go and play. Look at the other children. The child looked and ran to the fence. Thirty years later, it’s Thanksgiving and her daughter has returned from oily Mayflower, Arkansas, her husband Ash having left her for a Pascagoula woman who found The Lord, dumped Ash who came crawling back but she too had found the Lord and got a job in a Christian book store, dousing Ash in prayers and guilt. Gwen liked him until Pascagoula. Grief and fear set the table. The future usually takes the end seat, the place of honor. This year there’s an empty chair there, no need to save the dark meat. Gray sky knocks at the porch door. Loudly. No one answers.
Kenneth Pobo / Delia Anne at the Window Mother is like a window that I have to break. I stand outside and shout. She wonâ€™t hear behind thick rain-stained panes. She nags that I should be more grateful. After all, they worked hard to give me a place to live for a quarter of a century. I am grateful. I am also a stone hurtling toward the window. When it breaks, who will clean up the shards? Who will get new glass?
Kenneth Pobo / Whirling With Tommy Roe, a 1961 album I bought in 1971, still in high school where I did a lot of whirling, little dancing except in my room, Mr. Roe teaching me how to jam up and jelly tight. Whirling between classes got me dizzy, geometry not keeping me on my toes but cutting off my toes, gym where I learned that a boy shouldn’t whirl— a boy should look grim as a gas pump. Whirling up to church, I sat as Pastor droned the morning prayer, no fair peeking, eyes shut tight, ears full of radio tunes. The more I tried to holy up, the more I heard Tommy Roe singing “Stir It Up And Serve It.” Other boys stirred me up, kept me in a wobbly whirl, maybe even a twirl. I asked Jesus to bolt my desires to the floor so I could marry some girl I could whirl with at the reception, probably not. I knew. Graduation ended Tommy Roe’s hit singles. But not my whirling. I do it every day. Living in a cyclone, it’s not so hard. 54
Dorothy did it and finally saw color. Whirling and whirling, finding a still point where a tuckered sun goes to sleep.
Kenneth Pobo / Things Give Way A heavy rain canâ€™t melt every snowpile. Spring will bring a big blowtorch, make way for the first crocuses, a strange red hyacinth among the dozen that should all be purple. I should be purple, holding my breath until all the snow is gone. I look out of windows, water expectations. The more I want life to hurry up, the closer death comes. Snow, invincible today. The sun is out. Icicles drop off the gutter. Flakes feel a nervous warmth, huddle against a pine.
Katherine Gehan / Dolls THE TEENAGE CASHIER looks like my daughter. I tell her I want my plain ham and cheese on a regular roll—not some submarine bread. Also, a chocolate chip cookie. She smirks because she thinks a guy with a leather vest and a tangled gray beard can’t want a cookie. Like it’s impossible. This girl couldn’t imagine my wife’s doll collection either. So much they can’t imagine past their glittery eyes. She rings me up, tells me to have a seat. The old girl at home has the living room set up pretty sparse: On the book shelf without any books she’s displayed the folded flag they gave us at the burial, a collector’s-edition Barbie in a ball gown, and a framed high school diploma. When I go out for motorcycle rides with the Legion guys she habitually watches the cable news for stories about young people dying; it got obsessive when we learned our girl wasn’t coming home. The stories don’t have to relate to the Middle East or the military. The stories are sometimes about cheerleaders who fall from balconies in Hawaii, or sloshed kids who drive into trees. At night when my wife has taken one pill too many, she sometimes whispers to me: In the letters she writes that she couldn’t stand anther winter. She sees children starving in the snow. My wife speaks in the present tense. I don’t know if anything she says is true. The Army reported that it was friendly fire that killed our girl, but my wife insists there was a death wish. It’s the bedroom where she keeps the dolls. So many. I come home from a day at the garage or from riding the country 57
roads, the engine’s thunder still vibrating my legs, and she’s always back there, sitting on the bed, some doll with yarn for hair pressed up against her face. She’ll say, Smells like her, you know? Even now, still does. She buys dolls for a buried daughter, for a grownup girl who died with a gun in her hand, a girl in action in a war where she wasn’t supposed to see any. She buys dolls for a girl who hardly ever played with them. Now we’ve got so many it’s beginning to look like those reality shows where the folks can’t walk through a room, boxes stacked high to the ceilings. Old buddy of mine once explained his wife like this: She’s a bag of flour. Constitutionally incapable of keeping herself contained. It’s not profound or even true most of the time and I don’t think of most all women this way. But he’s got an idea there. A different teenage girl brings me my lunch on a blue plastic tray. Yes, I say, that’s right, I didn’t order a drink. There’s mayonnaise on the submarine roll and it’s the wrong kind of cookie. I don’t complain.
Tasha Cotter / January, Sadness, and France I was trying to work out who I know and thought maybe there’s too much beauty in the world. The Alsace-Lorraine region of France exists. And so do evergreens. My Christmas tree has been stripped save one ruby ornament, which hangs from the lowest branch like a drop of cherry syrup on your fingertip. There is too much quiet on me today. I’ve been so cold I’ve shrunk. I rinsed the crystal platter and watched the stray tongue his one tooth while trying to define what is standing still. It feels like I made room for another year. It feels like being a foreigner in France. Everyone is before me because they belong. I know this and I don’t know what for. I want to stand and take in color, so no one will think I’m an orphan, but I don’t. I want to be still, so when the ice breaks I’ll hear it shatter on the ground and the sound will break me for you.
Tasha Cotter / This Disaster Loves You You are handed a drop in, swing around note. Down the hallway goes the last word on devotion. You shut all the windows. Someone on TV is discussing the inculcation of smoke. You watch a moth flit around an open flame you lord around its head. Say there is smoke. If there’s smoke it’s a buffet of flame as innocuous as crabgrass. Out your dining room window there’s a frantic squirrel on a ledge chewing spring buds off sticks and you watch as it tries to establish residence on a precipice, make a little tipi of wood, but a freak storm rushes it all into the wind. You think of all the effort, disappeared. Turns out, those wooden poles were light as matchsticks, so nothing seems born to love you. The world slips into an egg-shaped, sort-of state, and you look into moving to Oregon. You grow into a garaged object and imagine all the ways in which to be left behind could be construed as fair. And all the little paths before you. The dirt has already kicked through the grass. Get a job, my love. I’ll drag you back if I need to. The directions say to go anywhere.
Gretchen Fletcher / Earth Cries “What does the earth say, oh sage?” —Richard Hugo to William Stafford Cries left behind on trails of the Plains rise to my seat 23F in the 737 as I fly toward the Mile High City, Denver 5,280 feet up. Streaming vapor trails, we fly over fords and white blazes that mark the trails of ‘49ers, Latter Day Saints, and the Donners who left their cries in the land they crossed. I look down to where the earth tells tales through its gullies and ravines and canyons long since dried of the creative force of water. Far below, the Arizona earth—scratched and scabbed with ocher boulders, pebbles, and fist-sized rocks— cries out, aching for rain that seldom comes. The government said the bomb “seared the sky” when it released its mushroom and “melted the desert” outside Los Alamos. At 35,000 ft. I put in my iPod ear buds, slide the volume to its highest level. Christa Ludwig sings Das Lied von der Erde. Mahler drowns out the cries that rise from the earth.
Gretchen Fletcher / Memento Mori Beside the dry road that runs through Taos a steer skull stares eyeless from a pole, impaled there as welcome? Warning? Weathered to the lime-white of death by New Mexico's sun, it seems to be waiting as if for O’Keefe to return, limn its chalky curves on canvas, fill its empty sockets with that New Mexican blue that wards evil spirits away from doors and windows of adobe homes. As I walk the dry road from the Sagebrush Inn to the Guadalajara Grill I pass the skull every day waiting for it to speak. It finally does: “Life is short. See while you have eyes,” it says. “Taste while you have a tongue.”
Bud Smith / College Try passage lead beneath the street where you live letâ€™s check them out the skies never get blue enough for us here I promise to often swim in the drainage ditch at night believing in the ghosts leaving bending around the tops of trees greeting far-off things not just mentioned briefly in text books some wall must push inward and take us to the moonlit beach this car cannot stand another tour of the county mall and its food court one of these tiles rotates one of these piano keys 63
makes the earth move revealing a secret life hidden behind the dusty bookcase for your birthday I'll send a box packed with stairs that go up somewhere and a postcard, noting in certain strange religious sects kids are allowed to smoke freely on the roof as the neighbors cement their windows closed dusk starts smoke appearing puffing drifting out of brick chimneys making a map of sorts I take a polaroid that says one minute “Believe in Want” till the wind changes the thing to “Believe in What?” start with me
Robert Scotellaro / Radio Sunglasses SHE ORDERED TWO. One for herself and one for her teenage daughter. Radio Sunglasses. The girl glared at the pair she’d just taken off. Music spitting out a staticky hiss. The mother wore hers. Bobbing her head to her own static. Since the divorce, sleep had been a greased pig the mother chased. And the house was filling with items from late-night infomercials. The Hurricane Spin Mop, Coffee Carousel, Hang a Bunch Hangers, The Lint Lizard … These are cool, the mother said. Cool? The girl wondered if the pills were even working. And what was next? Next in the big picture, any picture at all. The girl was still in her cheerleader outfit, which had a small spot between the pleats Stain-Buster! couldn’t tackle. The mother tried to tap cigarette ash into a Coors bottle cap, but missed it completely. Come ON, she said. The girl rolled her eyes. Could hear the static banging against her mother’s temples, her straw-dyed hair, her Wonder One-Snap Rollers.
Robert Scotellaro / The Polygamistâ€™s Three Wives THE COMMUNE STOOD between a vast stretch of scrub oaks. A land purring with haiku, few noticed. The three women sat in the kitchen around a pie one of them had baked, and realized each of them had been faking orgasms. The youngest one blushed. The middle wife was suddenly taken with the blades of the ceiling fan. The eldest, spit out a bit of pie as she laughed, which the baby on her lap stabbed with a finger and ate. He sat in the next room. Looked over imperiously, and smiled. He was playing chess with his oldest, and not knowing which piece to move, he moved his coffee cup from one coffee ring to another. Off the kitchen, was the clomping sound of sneakers jogging around in the dryer, mixed with the wives laughter. A bee flew in one window and out another, preferring the roses.
Changming Yuan / Three Hypergrammatical Rules 1. All proper nouns, like the first Person pronoun singular, like Your name, must be capitalized And can never be used in the plural Unless you turn out nothing but A common countable nominal being. 2. A pronoun must have an Antecedent, with which it Should agree in person, in sex, In number, just like a Married couple, a father And son, a human and his soul. 3. Either as a complement After a linking verb Or as a modifier right Before a nominal property You are a part of speech That can never be a subject, Even an object on your own Like most humans who live Only to describe others.
Changming Yuan / Chinese Motifs: The Proto Bagua Poem qian far from the southern sky comes along my later father, whose head turns towards the northwest and on a robust horse, his brain shines like gold dui beyond the west lake a young girl tries to drive a herd of sheep into a metal mouth sucking in all the painful pleasures li an oriental woman of beauty rises slowly above the southern fire her eyes burning with wild sparks zhen high above the eastern wood the yellow dragon kicks all the thunders around with its sharp claws while his son moves back and forth following his own heart xun as the wind keeps blowing through the southeastern wood your daughter feels lost at the entrance like a hen eager to leave for something beyond the fence and front yard kan both above and below the house overflows the water while a man in the middle finds himself trapped like a wild hog whose ears would hear nothing from the west or north
gen a young boy uses his strong hands to move the dark earth from the nearest ground to the northeastern corner there to build a big hill to block his beloved dog kun everything will go smooth is still busy cooking at home selves happily on the grass
so long as our mother and cows feed them land stretching south
Meg Scott Copses / On and On What is it, really, to grieve when our bodies won’t miss a beat? The young widow chalks her face white, hating her red insides, still humming and thumping along. Her throat demands water if she’s going to cry like that. Her chest, sore from the heaving, heals itself in sleep. What is pain besides the body’s push to resurrect us every morning? Our tree trunk torsos right themselves, send the proud blood out to starfish arms, and down through our softest folds in spasms of heat and sex. We are wind instruments, only, with holes to be covered. The widow knows, even now, that someone’s fingers will find her, make her sound again.
Meg Scott Copses / We Were Here Every night for three weeks now we've returned from the ICU, to sit stupefied in Mom’s kitchen exhausting ourselves with repetition We just weren’t ready for this, He’s got to fight, and We’ll know more tomorrow. And we do know more but the more becomes less, the information fanning into exponential patterns like branches of seagull tracks on the morning beach, impossible lexicon we can’t trace or understand— bronchoscopy > inflammation > ventilation > pressure valves > blood oxygen > BP falling > pneumothoraces > chest tubes leaking > We count the falling numbers, the breathing between beeps; we watch for small shifts, for you to turn mid-air, like the pelicans you love, diving all afternoon into what must feel like death in all its crashing blindness. Head on your chest, we can’t help listening to lung sounds, to the wild beating bird of your heart still spasming in love, 71
in death. We speak the only language we know— We’re right here, we love you, we’re holding your hand, don’t be scared We’re right here, we’re right here, we’re right here.
Meg Scott Copses / Secret Sky I study my niece’s drawing— her lollipop trees, her lemon wedge of sun, the white space in the middle, which only exists for kids, between green carpet grass and a thin blue line of sky. Here, the stick bodies move like somersaulting puzzle pieces, Here, a girl with braids is lifted from her swing into fixed whiteness of all that sugary space. Here, it’s easy to be brave, because nothing that should not fall ever will—apples always on the tree, kites and balls, a plane in the corner, the pilot waving as he passes the sun, and our bodies, suspended in this ecstatic flight. Inside this, we gorge on air. Inside this, we breathe fat with the feeling of being held by the sky. 73
Kevin Ridgeway / I’m going to Die Someday and they’ll use the insurance money to buy a cheap plot of earth next to the bulldozers and the exhaust of the freeways the preacher who didn’t know me will speak of Jesus Christ and everyone will roll their eyes because my church was rock n roll my cheap pine coffin will be full of splinters that cut my pall bearers’ fingers as they drop it clumsily onto the elevator for worms if they can afford a headstone it will be full of bullshit and lies that say nothing about who I was and the lawnmowers will ride over it every week until it sinks into the ground beneath rotten leaves the world will breathe its stench and its glorious beauty while my skeleton withers in its cheap Sears bought suit glories and tragedies will come that I’ll never see or know it’s better for me to live now than agonize over the pain of going back into the mystery 74
I came from, to dance to the music and make love and be a happy idiot screaming over a billion lights that will dim away like the end of the psychic chants of a spinning rock n roll record full of dead voices drifting into silence as the needle on the cosmic player comes to a halt.
Kevin Ridgeway / Stockyards the girls struggle across the green lawns of the local Christian college in their cowboy boots, their faces immaculate for the local stockyards with honky-tonks and barbecue joints, faded antique stores with names like the One-Eyed Moose and its disembodied big game heads staring out over the crowds, the dust kicking up amongst faded jeans as cowboy hats are adjusted and horses and cows spill into the unpaved roadway you can smell the sweet tang of this western adobe-caked village as people spill out of the taverns, you can hear the pitter patter music in the bare feet of musicians as they tune their quiet guitars for some Hank or Townes and the sun smiles at the old west with its paint brush of Technicolor, those afternoon movies from when we were young having come to life; the smell of manure does not dampen the spirit of the way this city sings its many afternoon masterpieces
Kevin Ridgeway / Hook, Line, and Sinker I donâ€™t behave well in luxurious environments I tend to leave bloody footprints on marble floors and cigarette burns on expensive bed sheets my stench still apparent in the conditioned air the oysters on the half shell and hush puppies in the West Village of Dallas cleared my angry mind and the beautiful people men in their loafers with no socks to leagues of women in enormous hats and peacock gowns all made us smirk in our lint covered cash only grubbiness washing away our faded troubles the lengths of the waitressesâ€™ skirts at the Flying Saucer bar in downtown Ft. Worth really boiled my maker and the highways to the dry flat land boondocks tanned my hide and fried my steak take me away on that passenger ship into the sky home before this all turns into the end of Easy Rider with too many layovers and hangovers and too many weary faces in mirrors
Matt Muilenburg / The Frisky Sleeper I HAVE THIS HABIT of attempting foreplay in the middle of sleep. It started a few weeks after my first son was born. I awoke one Sunday morning alone under the covers, my teeny son bubbling up liquid coos from his bassinet next to my wife Laurie’s side of the bed. Staring up at the ceiling with my hands behind my head, I listened to his infantile jingle and tried to figure out why I felt that I had been rejected the night before. I knew I hadn’t tried anything before bed and wouldn’t be able to for a couple more weeks anyway – doctor’s orders: none of what made the baby until the baby’s six weeks ripe. And yet that obnoxious want was there, making me feel like I’d failed miserably at initiating my primal launch sequence. I got out of bed and went to the bassinet and tickled my baby boy’s belly with one finger, the same finger that had unsuccessfully, I soon learned, tried to unlatch Laurie’s nursing bra, the cups of which folded down to allow for easy access suckling. My son gazed up at me, squishing spit in his cheeks and breathing in that scattered jamboree only the youngest of us can survive on. His lips formed soft circles and his brow lifted and fell like a fleshy piston, his spasmodic fingers and toes jumping in all directions. “What did daddy do last night?” I said, my voice warbling into baby talk. I lifted him from the bassinet and, gently cupping the back of his head, walked into the living room to see Laurie looking up at me, her feet folded beneath her in the rocker. She balanced a dainty mug of coffee on her knee, clasping it in the same hands that had pushed me away a few hours earlier as I tried 78
to create some memories. Now, my wife has this way of politely shaming me with her smile. She raises her eyebrows and slightly purses her lips, tipping her head and tsk-tsk’ing me into putty. It’s the same smile that made me want to fall asleep next to her in the first place. “Did I try something last night?” I asked. “Oh yeah,” Laurie countered and reached for our son. “You’re a bad boy.” I handed him to her and poured a cup of coffee for myself and sat in the loveseat. She retold the story as our son laid against her, his head resting against her chest, his gaze glued to the ceiling fan spinning above him like an out of control mobile. “Such a bad, bad boy,” Laurie said and dove into the play-by-play: around two, I slithered my hand up her shirt, waking her. She groggily told me to stop, but my fingers didn’t listen, marching towards her chest like a giggling peck of teens sneaking into a peep show. Laurie pushed my hands away and that appeared to be the end of it as I rolled over and began snoring. An hour later, my sleepy lusts returned and I spooned against her, working my way north. Again, Laurie pushed me away and again I went back to sleep. At four, I bypassed the scar still teeming from her Caesarian and went for her waistband. Twice she rejected me in that venture and before I could attempt another coup, she rolled out of bed and went into the kitchen. Unable to fall back asleep, Laurie made coffee and listened to me snore in the bedroom as the French Roast dripped into the warm, black swallow of the decanter. 79
“Rejected in my sleep,” I said when she finished. “That’s a new low.” Laurie laughed. Our son started to whimper then, the hunger pangs in his tiny belly disturbing his perfect moment with the ceiling fan. The whimper soon became a whine, a desperate plea for the milk he’d had a taste for since the two of them locked eyes just minutes after they were surgically separated from one another. “Are you ready for some breakfast, little guy?” Laurie said, holding him up to her face and kissing his nose. She asked me to get her the U-shaped nursing pillow, from our bedroom and I agreed, desperately wanting to please all of her needs in order to repent for my REM indiscretions. I stood in the doorway of the bedroom for a moment and took stock. The sheets and covers on our bed were twisted into loose bundles, pillows at the foot of the bed, on the floor, next to the bassinet. The sheets were thrown back and articles of clothing we’d worn the night before littered the hardwood. It looked like the remnants of a drunken rumble, but it was a mirage or, perhaps, a snapshot of the past. I grabbed the pillow and a burping cloth and took them out to Laurie. When I handed them over, she pulled me close and kissed me on the ear and called me a little pervert, her breath steamy. Teasing. “You know me so well,” I said and kissed her on the forehead, brushing the backs of my fingers against our son’s cheek. Laurie slipped the pillow around her waist, raised her shirt and unhinged the bra I had tried so hard to circumvent the 80
night before. Still becoming accustomed to the tender bite of nursing, Laurie winced as our son latched on. For a moment, I watched my son nurse. At first, his fingers continued to spasm, waving in the air like flags atop a newly claimed mountain, before relaxing and falling onto Laurieâ€™s bare skin. One of his hands rested on the top of her breast, the other at the bottom, his head in the middle. This was his breakfast. This was his time. This, I realized, was all his.
Kristin LaTour / When My Lover Compare Me to the Desert He tells me Iâ€™m like a barrel cactus, stroking a finger down the length of my thigh, then rolls his metaphor back. He tries again, a desert jackrabbit, for its powerful legs. This true love of mine, a mate for my soulâ€™s lifetime, sees my scorpion smile, eats his words in small bites after my stinging response. Wait, he says, you are more like lightning, electrifying the Catalina mountains, curling through the clouds, starting fires to clear dead wood and fields of grass. The way we know next spring the fields will flower. You are the Melipona bee that returns to gather the nectar, cultivate the honey.
Kristin LaTour / How We Forget The sky starts at the soles of our feet as we walk the earth, rotating always on its axis. It seeps into our bedrooms through windows and doors, our breath part of the sky. The sky mixes with water; fish breathe where we would drown and plants sway in the currents. The sky takes water back into itself, gently lifting molecules invisible before our eyes, lets it fall when the gathering gets heavy. At our feet, the water pools and puddles in the rain, freezes to ice in winter. We breathe its vapor in our sky. There is no escaping it unless one flies higher than it reaches, very far. Where the sky ends, there is no breath. Even the astronauts have to carry the sky in their tanks, and divers as they sink into water.
Carol Reid / Dry Spell THE FIRST NIGHT HAD BEEN EASY. She was tired from the eight hour bus ride and the promise to her son was still rosy and fresh. She didn’t want to be a story shared at Al-Anon, just another branch of the grapevine in little old Burns Lake. Sunrise was not too bad. The wake-up craving was for coffee, and the stroll from her cabin to the café ironed out some of the kinks from her lower back. She held the mug under the dispenser with both hands and didn’t look behind her to see if anyone noticed her shaking. The coffee smelled of well water, which pissed her off. Five packets of sugar and a slosh of cream couldn’t fix it. She took a pancake and a boiled egg, neither of which did a damn thing for her stomach. She should have looked ahead and picked up a couple bottles of wine at the rest stop in Creston, just to cover the first day or two, but she’d made the promise and had been too tired and now here she was, ten o’clock in the morning, baking in the half-shade of some sticky tree. Thirsty. Sure, she’d dragged herself here to the ranch to dry out but it was too much, she was coming up mummified. She dripped Visine into her gritty eyes and the hawk circling overhead blurred, then beak, talons, wing tips re-sharpened—I can drift, I can fly, what about you, earthbound thing? That guy in the cowboy hat and knife-pleated Levis shirt was walking along the dusty path in her direction. He’d yesma’am-ed her half to death yesterday at check-in. Probably he didn’t live on site. You couldn’t get a shirt that white in the water that came out of the taps up here. Maybe he’d yes-ma’am 84
her down to the Stop and Go in town. “Anita?” Layne from reception flopped into the wire chair beside her. “Didn’t see you at sunrise yoga this morning.” She scraped her chair across tiles and leaned in close. Her cologne smelled mouthwateringly like gin. “Did you get some breakfast?” “I’d have to say no, I did not.” Layne nodded, demonstrating good listening skills. She wore a Tilley hat that that sat low on her forehead, which pissed off Anita even more. “Is there a town bus I can catch down on the highway?” “Leaving the ranch really isn’t recommended.” Layne leaned in even closer and Anita knew she was about to be counseled. “A walk, though. That’s therapeutic, right? I could walk down to the highway, have a moment of clarity, choose to come back to the ranch, all on my own dime. It could be a breakthrough on my part.” Layne’s jaw tightened and she leaned back. Match point. “Your son called the office this morning to make sure you got here. He sounds like a fine young man.” He’s a miracle, Anita thought. “He’s a prince,” she said. Before she could flinch, Layne pulled her close, then just that fast she spun in a swirl of crinkle cotton and headed off toward the office. On her last night at home, Anita had seen a black bear tucked in the crook of a big fir branch. She looked up into its broad black snout and thought, Gorgeous, if you fall on me the last 85
thing I see, hear, feel, smell will be you. Her feet were in full sun now and the exposed skin between the sandal straps felt burnt. When she stood up it was cooler. A little breeze made her some kind of promise, conditions attached. â€œLord, accept the thing you cannot change,â€? she said, and wondered who she might be talking to.
Cynthia Anderson / Badwater, Death Valley Minerals cake like paint on canvas—a crust to hold your weight or break. Beaten, cracked, the playa is a brackish skeleton where violence escalates— too much wind, dust, heat. A band of gold light rims the horizon. Lovers etch hearts on the saltpan, sure a respite here can’t faze them, unaware that the land can kick and bite, knock them flat, or take their breath away for good. Overnight, a deluge triggers mudslides, stranding cars between looming rock and utter desolation—trust turned treacherous when you least expect it.
Cynthia Anderson / The Sick Cholla A ronin clad in full spiked armor is slain, target of an ambush laid by Blake’s invisible worm. I cut the cholla’s phallic heart, uncover a grub swollen with dark red blood. One gold-spangled lance would have finished the intruder, but it burrowed from below and sucked that cactus dry, an excess of joy tempting fate— the host turned brown, collapsed to the ground, its devil exposed, soundlessly howling while the corpse makes ready to bed there forever, impaling anyone close enough to touch.
Lori Sambol Brody / New Moon ON THE MORNING OF HER SIXTIETH BIRTHDAY, she checks for wrinkles in the bathroom mirror and discovers her face has turned into the moon. Not the full moon, as luminous as the pearls her husband gave her as a fifth anniversary gift, his fingers sending shivers down her spine as he fastened the clasp. Not the swollen moon she danced under in the Marin hills with the Commune, Elijah’s hands caressing her hips. Her face has become the new moon, dark and deep as a hole. She peers at her reflection – does a brightness outline the darkness, or is that her imagination? She’s not surprised she can no longer see the contours of her face. The divorced fathers have stopped flirting with her at parent/teacher conferences; businessmen, ties loosened, no longer buy her drinks at the North Beach bar where she meets girlfriends to listen to the blues. Salesgirls ignore her and men no longer assess her, even when she wears black stockings and high heels. She can’t pinpoint when attention tapered off, until it was gone, like the slow turning off of the flow of hot water from a faucet. She touches her face, feeling not soft skin but rock. Her fingers skim over the surface of her moon. She thinks she can recognize, in the mountains and valleys under her fingertips, the different seas on the moon, the impact of lava flows and asteroid collisions. Sea of tranquility. Lake of solitude. Sea of crisis. She likes this new hardness of stone, the sharpness of the craters’ edges. When teaching astronomy, she told her third-graders that 89
the moon’s surface reveals the story of the solar system’s beginning. As her fingers brush her face, she recalls the circular scar from the chicken pox she’d caught from a child in the Commune the day Elijah burned his draft card and left for Vancouver. The age spot on the same cheek she pressed against Luna’s wet cowlick before handing the baby over to the adoption agency. The crescent scar at her hairline, a souvenir from a misdirected bottle thrown during a bar fight, the cut cleaned by the EMT who first asked her out, then to marry him. The wrinkles around her mouth, brown lipstick feathering into soft creases, detected in her reflection on the window of her husband’s hospital room as she watched a gibbous moon rise. She dresses for work, gray pants and black blouse. She’s curious if anyone will notice her new face. In the street car, jolting against twenty-somethings with gelled hair and skinny jeans, eyes slide off her like oil. At the café, the barista, twin titanium rings piercing full lips, focuses over her shoulder. Kids skateboarding to school aim toward her until she jumps from their path. She straightens her back, grips her coffee cup. It’s better, she thinks, that they don’t notice my new face. They don’t know the new moon lies closest to the sun.
Jeff Burt / Cricket I saw the kid hop from home to home, go couch two weeks and backseat of a truck for one, then out on the street a day blazed, uncertain, hungry. As soon as someone came too close he jumped, at times never seeming to touch the ground, up and down the San Lorenzo Valley past semi-vacant houses and a 1950s Silverstream stuck in an uncleâ€™s back yard, or a shed his grandfather in pity fixed up for the boy whose folks had thrown him like a thief to the street, pockets empty except for his hands, ears full of cold, hard words. At night in his crevice he chirped, hyped and hoping, crying fuck it, fuck it, fuck it.
Jeff Burt / Georgia O’Keefe Dunes capped like soft-serve ice cream cones in the wind— when I pick up the bleached steer’s head near Moab the last thing I think about is Georgia O’Keefe painting metaphorical beauty, I think about my skull displayed in drifting sand, crows plucking my eyeballs first then to softer tissues of my brain, I think about what might pass as the cortex is digested— lunacy, analog intelligence, perpetual spiritual hunger, speech cloaked in parables, a tolerance for the scavenger.
SUMMER SPECIAL: EKPHRASIS IN POETRY AND PROSE
Nicolas Poynter / Volcano Street Antigua is in the shadow of a gigantic volcano. Every time you look up, there it is, waiting. Nobody moves very fast there. I think itâ€™s because the streets are made of stones. If you walk too fast, you might twist an ankle. If you ride your scooter too fast, your teeth will rattle lose. You simply must go slow. It took me a long time to adjust to the pace. But once my mind finally slowed down, I never wanted it to speed up again. Antigua is a town run by women, or so it seems. It is probably because there are so many Spanish schools there and almost all the teachers are women. I guess their husbands work in the capital or in the country and are not around during the day. The other explanation is that the men have all fled because they are afraid of the volcano, but the women are not afraid of the volcano. Iâ€™m not certain which theory is true. Some places are special because of how they look and some even because of how they smell. Antigua is special because of how it sounds. Sit on a park bench and close your eyes. No car horns. Other noises survive in the air. Close your eyes and listen to the clicking of the heels, the tempo of a heart beating, as the women of Antigua slowly... slowly... slowly walk, in utter defiance of the volcano.
Louis E. Bourgeois / The Shed: The Daughter of Shadows Speaks from Max Beckmann’s The Dream (1921) 1. Father holds the fish without hands. His parted hair reveals dead eyes. His prisoner’s suit was bought in the fish market— where his hands were amputated for stealing a carp. He stands suspended in the air, looking down on us. 2. My uncle plays a thick trumpet and laughs between notes. He wears sandwich boards all day long in the streets, but he does not beg, his pockets are always empty. His blue sandals do not become him, and he laughs. His name is Joseph, and he only speaks Hebrew at night. 3. Mother does not have all her bones. Her legs are sieves of flesh, folded at right angles. The wheat grinder has taken her soul. She smells of creosote and crabs, her eyes are blackened and her hair thin. 4. Mother holds the monkey in one hand, in the other, the parrot, taken from the town's arbor. They speak to each other, the three of them, they speak with soft tongues and liquid breath. The dialog destroys Mother, the monkey and parrot know this.
5. Grandmotherâ€™s head is gray and bald. She wears a crimson clown's suit that stretches across her buttocks and down to her missing feet, capped in yellow plastic. The monkey is a constant whorl in her dark eyes. 6. A chinamanâ€™s smile holds my brotherâ€™s face together. He wears a striped skirt with green stockings. A bronze cane and a broken violin keep him company. He has no love for the parrot, whose language he loathes. My brother's blindness has revealed nothing to him. 7. I am the daughter existing in the shadows of the room. With my three fingers I write only what I see. My legs are severely twisted, I cannot leave the shed. If there were a window, I could see herons feeding in the mud, and dark geese diminishing beyond the mountains.
Ann Beman / The Thumb of All Parts THUMBS COMPOSE FRAGMENTS of our hands, as sculpture depicts fragments of our world, and stories relay fragments of our memory. The thumb is the crux of the hand, with its salt-of-theearth dexterity. It even tastes salty. I certainly remember its comforting salt on my childhood tongue. Same with stories. As thumbs are to hands, stories are to memory. Stories feature the crucial parts, distilling memory’s essence. I remember when I was little, going to an art museum, I wanted to touch every last thing – the paintings, the statues, the glass cases, the plaques on the walls between artworks that the adults leaned their heads toward, as if feeding on the words written there. I wasn’t allowed to touch anything. I was learning new manners. I learned that while it’s OK to stare at Degas’s “Dancer Looking at the Sole of Her Right Foot,” it’s not OK to stare at woman boxing at the ear of her screaming child. Must not stare. Should not point. Do not touch. It was easier not to touch the paintings than the sculptures. The sculptures begged me to feel the apples of their cheeks, the ruffles at their collars, the delicacy of their noses. And an outstretched hand beckoned me to mirror the gesture, touching each corresponding marble finger to my own. But I didn’t. I kept still. Polite. Now when I go to a museum, I am tempted all over again to smear my primary digits – every other digit, as well – across the works displayed before me. The thumb, after all, is a sensual member – maybe not so much for its wrinkled-sausage looks as for its touch. The volup98
tuous padding on its tip senses temperature, contact, pressure, vibrations, and pain. The diameter of a human hair is 50 to 100 microns; the thumb can detect a dot 3 microns high. It explains why I might spend 10 oblivious minutes thumbing forth and back across the wales of my purple corduroy pants. It explains how I sense the silk-softness of Ninja-dog’s ears. Or speed-text my friend Katharine, “Book club Sun. at Cam’s.” Or linger twohanded with a warm tea cup after another long, cold run. And, it’s easy to understand how such a sensitive, paddle-tipped instrument becomes a sculptor’s most important tool.
Intending to check out a certain Greek statue, I enter the Getty Villa Museum near Los Angeles. I’ve come specifically to geek out on the statue’s body parts, studying them up close and sketching them. At one point, I catch myself talking to the statue, out loud. And this, I realize, makes me a bit of a freak show. Two things you should know about me, though: First, I’m writing a weird book about my thumbs. Second, whenever I played Truth or Dare as a kid at a slumber party, I always chose the dare. Dares are scary, don’t get me wrong. I dare you to kiss Julie’s brother. Dare ya to eat a bowl of Meow Mix. Dare ya to lick Wendy’s foot. Each and every one mortified me. But once they were done, they amounted to no more than a fading stunt, and maybe a story. Truths, though, they were terrifying. Sharing deep secrets, confessing whos and whats and wheres: That can haunt you for a long, long time. Truth never stops being scary. Back in the Getty Villa, before making it up to Athletes and Competition in the Ancient Mediterranean World, I stop on 99
the marble staircase, just outside the glass doors to the gallery. There it is. That smell – museum smell – the scent of ionized air, a sharp whiff that launders and starches the nostrils and warns the thumbs to keep their furrowed, filmy tips off the exhibits. I remember that smell forever, but I was 40 before I greeted, fed, and assigned it a bunk in my conscious mind. It is the scent of slowly wandering. Taking in new worlds. Tilting your head that way and this. Absorbing. Still life with rabbits, wine, and lemons. Single shard of glazed terra cotta. Statue of naked youth with a faint smile on his lips. The Getty kouros statue stands, left foot forward, looking straight ahead, arms at his sides, thumbs foremost. He smiles ever-so-faintly, as if aware that he’s poster boy for ‘youth’ and ‘male beauty’, as if pleased to represent the ideals of Archaic Greece’s aristocratic culture. Ancient sculptors used canons—sets of “perfect” mathematical ratios and proportions—to create this flawless jock. The Egyptians and later the ancient Greeks would apply these canons, these “rules of thumb,” to measure various parts of the human body in relation to each other. The earliest known canons were derived by the Egyptians, whose grid-based proportions influenced Greek sculptors in the Archaic period (700-480 B.C.). Over time, sculptors and painters sought to develop a rule of thumb that would allow them to depict the perfect human body – not a body based on a real person but a body based on a defined harmony among parts. Sculptors of kouroi drew grids onto blocks of stone to help them maintain a proportion among a figure’s parts as they began carving the sculpture. 100
Using the rule of thumb applied to kouroi on a real person, one would measure the distance from the top of her head to the bottom of her chin and multiply that measurement by 6.5 to find her ideal height. Similarly, one would measure the length of her thumb, from knuckle to end of flesh, and multiply that by 6.5 to get the ideal length of arm.
Sculptor Auguste Rodin collected fragments and antiquities throughout his life. As a young artist-in-training, he would visit museums and study their collected works. At the Louvre, for example, he would have seen and studied early Greek pottery and Greek fragments. He could not help being impressed with such life-sized Greek masterpieces as the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace. “[The artist] thinks … of the whole, even in the part, and his study of the part is for him a way towards more nearly grasping the whole,” the French sculptor said to his English biographer. Replicating, recombining, and refinishing fragments of the human body, he created whole new pieces. Rodin used an assembly of partial figures – drawers full of hands, shelves heavy with legs – to create dynamic new compositions. It’s called assemblage. Rodin’s practice of assemblage reveals “how he liked to surround himself with a certain number of casts of the same subject, which constituted a form of vocabulary, which he would dip into as he searched for inspiration, truncating, adding new elements, simply modifying the original presentation, or integrating it into a new composition.” 101
One of Rodin’s most famous sculptures, The Burghers of Calais honors the heroism of six prominent citizens of Calais during a siege in 1347. Starvation had forced the French city to parley for surrender. England’s king offered to spare the Calaisians if any six of its top leaders would surrender themselves. He demanded these men walk out the gates. They should be dressed in nothing but sackcloth, heads and feet bare, ropes about their necks, carrying keys to the city and castle. Among the six burghers were Pierre and Jacques de Wissant, brothers who share the same hand. That is, two of the brothers’ four hands – Pierre’s right and Jacques’s left –come from the same cast. They share the same strong thumb opened up and away from the fingers. In contrast to his brother's upturned gesture, Jacques’s left hand extends from an arm dangling at his side, thumb and fingers open downward, as if letting something precious fall to the ground. Art historians claim Rodin cast the de Wissant hand from his own, and that later, he would resurrect this partial figure, transforming it into The Hand of God.
Fingers heavenward, The Hand of God holds a great clod of earth. From this raw earth, a man and a woman emerge. Cradled by God’s thumb, their naked, reclined bodies point in opposite directions. Knees bent, heads together as if in a sleepy kiss, they lay their right hands atop one another’s. The bronze sculpture unclenches its sumptuous digits in the middle of Philadelphia’s Rodin Museum, another stop on my thumb tour. A concrete cube and marble shelf elevate the figure 102
to table level. Summer daylight floods in from the windows, yet the room remains library-cool and quiet as an empty chapel. My chain of thought unwinds: Rodin– from a cast of his own hand– created God's hand, in which rests a man and woman, in whom rest the potential to procreate, to create more men and women, with the potential to re-create the hand of their creator, Rodin, a man created by God who from a cast of his own hand … It’s as if I peer into a cosmic hall of mirrors.
Another day, another museum, another stealth mission into the freak show that is my thumb obsession. There I am, slaloming about the Norton Simon’s sculpture garden, with its pond and waterfall, its fragrant lavender hedges, its Chinese Flame trees, banana shrubs, and walls of Heavenly Bamboo. Maybe because I’m there for my obsession’s sake – because no one's shepherding me about the place, directing where to look and how to interpret what I’m seeing – I take one step closer to that lifesized crowd of sadsack-looking figures, one step closer to a grouping of sculptures I’ve seen every other year since the fifth grade. Thirty years later, and The Burghers of Calais have something to say. One in particular. His hand, his right hand, and its thumb. “His right arm is raised, bent, vacillating,” wrote Rainer Maria Rilke. “His hand opens in the air as though to let something go, as one gives freedom to a bird. This gesture is symbolic of a departure from all uncertainty, from a happiness that has not yet been, from a grief that will now wait in vain … a monument 103
for all who have died young.” It is this portrayal of the Calaisian burgher Pierre de Wissant that speaks to me. At this moment captured in bronze, de Wissant could not know he would survive to return to Calais. He could not foresee that Phillipa, the merciful – and heavily pregnant – English queen, would intercede on behalf of all six condemned burghers. De Wissant’s large thumb, representative of his will, curves outward, away from the fingers. It is a sinuous, muscular digit, its curve revealing a gentle flexibility, a give. The young man stands, twisted, his shoulders and hips moving in slightly different directions. His head turns down and away from the direction of his stride. The expression on his face is a resigned good-bye. Standing beside him, I chuck out every last etiquette lesson, reaching toward the anguished fingers.
Jeanne Yeasting / Hooligan of Love After “Oi yoi yoi” by Roger Hilton never could let things alone imagining doorways where windows windows where doors running blank naked through damp streets while everyone zzzz zzzz slept turning her back on bedsheets, pillows’ comfort oh oh, there she goes again down the block, feet slapping the pavement as if as if what? windows? doors? don’t ask – she doesn’t doesn’t contemplate the stars the heavens the end of running or where she should be at this time of night slap slap – why doesn’t she call? whatever can she be thinking all her body exposed but not a chill on her never could stand to answer the phone reply to email or whatever you send whatever are you thinking – why don’t you leave her alone? she doesn’t want you never has, does, will. 105
Felicia Gustin / Viet Nam War Vet II for Raul The Spirits were with him as he flew helicopter missions over Laos and when he first saw, in the jungle below, men explode. In that same jungle he stabbed himself in the arm with a needle to fly again on the high that would erase all memory. Heroin so pure you could smoke it and the ringing in his ears drowned out the war blaring all around. In silence, the Spirits watched as his head imploded. They came home with him to the streets of East L.A., a full-blown junkie now. To survive he robbed small-time dealers since they couldnâ€™t call the cops. 107
Sometimes he tried to stop Mostly he couldnâ€™t. Mostly lasted 10 years until that night, wandering a dark highway in search of his next fix, the man driving the truck, who never saw him, ran him over. As he lay on the side of the road leg mangled, mortally wounded, his blood spilling onto the asphalt, the Spirits decided to let him live. And when he breathed in life, he was reborn. Bursts of color exploded from his fingertips, filling pages and pages with Aztec Gods, galloping horses, and crows landing on shoulders of figures bowing in silent reverence, shoelaces always untied. Then his fingers reshaped metal. Amidst desert scrub he honored the Spirits who spared him 108
in sculptures that rose out of the landscape along the dusty dirt roads he limped along after being saved. The Spirits walked with him and smiled.
Jeanetta Calhoun Mish / Elemental Ceramics: an Imaginary Textbook for Dainis Pundurs EARTH is the essential element from which we birth new forms. You must come to know the porcelain body as intimately as you know your lover’s— learn to recognize its attributes, its responsiveness to the ministrations of your hands, its tendency to grotesque malformation. Leave it pure and white, or adorn it in metallic finery, cobalt, copper, chrome and manganese, adulterate it with horsehair and grog—it has given itself to you; you accept the responsibility for bringing it into beauty. WATER is the hidden element of plasticity, surface tension shuffling the deck of silica cards, the magic of electromagnetism, strong as love, binding earth even in its absence. Exiled by fire and air, it is memorialized in the vessel’s curves. AIR is the invisible element that precipitates the exodus of water. Evaporation moves molecules into sky. In the kiln, dancing with fire, pressured whirlwinds desiccate and solidify. Memory invigorated by breath. Exhalation becomes exaltation as crystals weep. 110
FIRE is the transmuting element, the techne, the gift of an ingenious god. Bone ash and silica sintered into strength and translucence; death vitrified and resurrected, singing in the soprano voice of glass. QUINTESSENCE is the makerâ€™s element, the spirit, the desire that brings all things into being, translated by hands and heart. A master ceramicist may be recognized in the moment when it is unclear if the man is becoming the vessel or the vessel is devouring the man.
Cynthia Anderson / The Lone Woman of the Cave Clad in red, holding her ground, she waits for the sun to penetrate her shelter. Above her, towers of rock lean into each other, triangular, balancing. She lingers in their shadow, their quiet. It is the equinox. The natural order circles with the surety of a hawk, raising the sun at the notch in the eastern mountains. Climbing higher, the heat lengthens its reach, stalks the hidden femaleâ€” no longer hidden. When the light strikes zenith, it sets loose an arrowâ€” a single ray pouring liquid gold into a bedrock mortarâ€” a deep, round, and perfect hole 112
made for this purpose. In minutes, the ceremony is finishedâ€”the arrow returned to the sky, the lone woman returned to pigmentâ€” fixed to the rock of her origin.
J.I. Kleinberg / Seeing: Chuck Close Self-Portrait Screen Print 2012 what can stand such scrutiny shadow ripped from stone solidity discomposed no longer self but cell terrain of delineated flesh accretions and drainages talus of jowl and bloat to be so visible â€“ made so seen an examined dis-integration across this latticed map what is flesh is not flesh but tissue of lozenge and light topography of weathering each dilated escutcheon of color solitary and essential to the faceness of face which the eye reassembles departing the mirror stepping back and back into the known
David M. Harris / Déjeuner sur l'herbe—Manet Look at me.Yes, I’m naked. The men are not. My friend, in the background, is almost naked, nothing but a white shift. Look at me. The men are not looking at me. Am I not beautiful enough for them? Only goddesses are painted nude, you say. I know I am no goddess. I am the first of my kind. Look at me. There will be others.
Southwest Arts & Letters / An Interview with Anna-Marie Veloz by Arlene White Meeting Anna-Marie was a joy. Sheâ€™s no bigger than a minute but once she starts talking about her art, her life, and her family you soon understand the extraordinary scale of her. Anna-Marieâ€™s love of art came on at an early age. She has a wonderful and supportive family, all of whom are artistic in their own right, which has helped her see beauty in all things. She was raised and schooled in the California High Desert, after which she traveled for a time, ultimately returning to teach as an Art Professor at Victor Valley College. Her love for our Mojave environment (all environments, really) can be seen in her sculptures, through which she recovers beauty and life and secrets that have been left behind in the desert. She explained to me how she takes photographs of abandoned structures, then, with patience and care, sheâ€™ll reconstruct them, using sometimes more than 10 different mediums (usually 80% wood). These are all hand-made, painstakingly accurate. Her attention to detail is mind-boggling, fascinating. Some people see these structures as eyesores that need to be bulldozed; she sees through the ruin, tunes in to a resonance that eventually becomes her art.
Anna-Marie Veloz is exhibiting her sculptures, photographs, drawings, and watercolors at the Mojave National Preserve from June 21st through September 20th, 2014. Q: Why do you do what you do? AMV: I enjoy seeing the world. Colors, movement, sound— experiences inspire me to create. It is who I am. At age 5, my parents encouraged me to enter my first art contest at a local video store, Thumbs Up Video in Hesperia. I remember placing my beloved stuffed-animal, Fievel Mousekewitz from the cartoon American Tail, on the kids table in my kitchen and studying detail of the form to draw him. I was exciteed to be one of the winners. I remember walking through the video store, all the artwork was displayed on the walls, and I felt honored and humbled to see my art on the wall among other artists. I felt accepted. This experience helped to reinforce my desire to be an artist. Q: What’s your background as an artist? Who has most profoundly influenced you and in what ways? AMV: I’ve always loved to create two-dimensional works but especially three-dimensional. Throughout my summers, well into my teen years, I would make large theme parks in my backyard. The more realistic the better. Each year I would add to recreate an experience… miniature brochures, souvenirs carts, log rides, restaurants with menus and checked tablecloths, music, landscape, ticket booths. I love to create a world within a world. 117
My Dad and Mom have always supported and encouraged me as an artist, especially in my early childhood, for which I graciously thank the Lord. Words are powerful and can influence direction. I believe that if I had received enough negative criticism I probably would not have gone in this direction. As an artist, you hear, That is not a career, Why to go college for art, Are you good enough? And so on. I had to drown out those words, focus on my faith, and that I am an artist. That is also why itâ€™s very important to me as an art instructor to encourage students. My first official training as an artist really began at Victor Valley College. Professor Catherine Ruane was my foundational drawing instructor in realism. I learned much from Catherineâ€Ś art history, color theory, drawing and realism. Now we teach at the same college! Q: Can you describe your process? How has your practice 118
changed over time? AMV: My process is really about the entire physical experience, engaging all my senses at and in the site. I try to imprint sight, touch, smell, sound, and feeling, to use in the studio, so Iâ€™m not merely relying on reference photos. The photos act as a vehicle for that experience. To help with documenting my influences, I will sometimes record sound, sketch, journal, and borrow natural objects. I may sit in silence, allowing the moment to take over. As a student, I was used to visually recording at a quick pace. Produce the work, find a meaning, get to the next project next week. I had only a short window of time to complete work. Now I can give myself to the process of the art, and the concepts can take time to develop. I can be flexible. I never want to contrive myself as an artist, or to restrict change. I work to learn as much as I can in this life. Q: What can you tell us about your exhibition? How did it come about? How do you hope to affect your audience? AMV: This work was birthed in my graduate studies and thesis work. My undergrad work focused on the human figure, and I wanted to step beyond that, so I used a subject matter that was void of human life, though once inhabited by it. Abandoned buildings. With the encouragement of my professors, I went to various abandoned sites within my own backyardâ€Ś Newsberry Springs, Ludlow, Dagget, Randsburg, Salton Sea. I was amazed 119
by the loss and natural decay in these places that once held an importance place in local society, whether in railroads, mining, agriculture, recreation, or real estate development, all reflected western exploration and settlement. People came to the desert with a purpose. Although many of these specific purposes no longer function as a way of life, we have remnants of the past. I traveled through the Mojave Desert in search of remote places left empty, left behind in the “progression” of society. The American Utopian Dream is ever present, and it’s important to learn with humility the rich history and over-reaching cultivated in the desert. After, various attempts to bring something back to an audience, nothing seemed to do justice. I tried drawing, recording sound, installations, performances, photography, writings. That’s when I realized… go back to my original influences of the miniature. I want the audience to experience the past and the beauty these places carry in their messiness. We are imperfect, yet there is strength and value within us. Also, many of these buildings are in their final stages of decay, so to create them in an artistic format helps preserve their history. Q: What do you dislike about your work? What do you like about your work? AMV: Good question! You know the saying, You just have to walk away. Well, every evening as I worked on these sculptures, I had to stop for the night, but I’d take notes on what to work on the next day. My goal for this body of work was make them as 120
realistic as possible. No evidence of the artist’s hand… glue drips, poorly cut wood, and so forth. But I then had to release them and let it go, mainly because of deadlines, but also wanting to just be done. It’s funny, because with the sculptures I created with a specific realistic vision in mind, but for the watercolors displayed with these sculptures I purposely left my pencil marks, scratches, paint drips and such, working in more of a rough format. It helped me to display the importance of process. I like to get lost in my work, sit and absorb it. It speaks to me. What I would like to improve in my work is the use of even more materials. Q: What are your favorite or most inspirational places? Why so? AMV: I enjoy traveling. I recently went to Bangalore, India and fell in love with the people, the culture, and their buildings. So colorful. However, I like going to places like Salton Sea, and old mining towns. Also, Disneyland has really been a big inspiration for my miniatures, creating a world within a world. Creating illusion is a fascination to me, transporting to another time and place. Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given about living the life of an artist? What advice might you give to emerging artists? AMV: Always create artwork that is from a part of you and for a part of us. Have canvas on the easel, pencils at easy access, and 121
always be visually processing. Donâ€™t be intimidated. Always keep learning and creating.
STREET PHOTOGRAPHY, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA Photographs by DERRIEL ALMARIO flickr.com/yumdizzle23
“There are countless moments throughout the day that go unnoticed. Sometime we are too busy or so caught up in our lives that we miss most of it. I try to slow things down and capture those moments we miss. I try to find beauty in the mundane. I recently began looking in the streets for inspiration. Everyday changes and nothing is ever the same. There is plenty of opportunity and I can find it anywhere. Please enjoy.”
Miranda Stone / Talk of the Town BRADLEY DARTED OUT OF HIS HOUSE and bounded down the porch steps, pretending he didn’t hear his mother calling after him. He reckoned he’d get a whipping later for not minding, but right now he was determined to see his first dead body. Just three doors down on Mimosa Lane, a crowd of housewives and children had already gathered. News traveled from one house to another, and with every minute that passed, more neighbors emerged to watch the scene unfold. Bradley’s mother said it wasn’t right to go outside and gawk, and besides, she had cleaning to do. Bradley didn’t consider himself as noble. His older brothers had gone fishing, leaving him behind as they always did, and he couldn’t wait to tell them what they’d missed. He ran down the street, the soles of his PF Flyers slapping against the pavement. It was only a little past ten that morning, and the summer air wasn’t yet uncomfortable. He reached the group huddled in front of the small clapboard house. Mrs. Carlisle held onto her littlest child Patty while whispering to Mrs. Stephens. Bradley saw the ambulance parked in the street, and behind it, a police car. He fixed his stare on the house with the chipped white paint and overgrown lawn. A neglected hydrangea bush beside the porch steps was heavy with drooping white flowers. The front door of the house was open, but he couldn’t see through the darkness inside. Bradley heard Mrs. Stephens murmur something about a suicide. He knew what the word meant, but it still sounded foreign to his ears. 132
“I wonder how she did it,” Mrs. Carlisle said. “Pills, probably,” Mrs. Stephens replied. “I always thought there was something strange about that woman. She just showed up out of nowhere, moved into the house, and wouldn’t talk to anybody. I hardly ever saw her. When she first moved here, I went over to introduce myself—I took a homemade apple pie to give her. She wouldn’t even answer the door.” Mrs. Carlisle shook her head. “I bet she came from up North. They’re like that, real standoffish.” Bradley didn’t know the name of the woman they were discussing. He’d seen her a few times as she walked to her car. She seemed normal enough, and fairly young, maybe his mother’s age. He remembered that she walked very carefully in her high heels, as though avoiding holes only she could see in the sidewalk. He glanced over his shoulder, expecting to spot his mother standing on their porch, her steely eyes warning him of the punishment he would receive later on when his father came home from work. Relief washed over him when he found she was nowhere in sight. The crowd around him began to hum with excitement. Bradley turned and saw a man in a white uniform maneuvering a stretcher through the front door and onto the porch. The indistinct shape of a body lay under a white sheet atop the stretcher, and Bradley felt a twinge of disappointment. The man with the stretcher paused on the porch, and a police officer came out of the house to stand beside him. Then a man Bradley recognized as Dr. Conner appeared, his arm around the shoulders of a sobbing woman Bradley had never seen before. 133
“Maybe that’s her sister,” Mrs. Stephens said to Mrs. Carlisle. “I see the resemblance. I guess she’s the one who found the body.” Dr. Conner went around to one end of the stretcher, while the man in white grabbed hold of the other end. The two men spoke in low tones as they began to ease the stretcher down the porch steps. The man in the white uniform was walking backward, and he stumbled on the bottom step. As he tried to regain his balance, he lost his grip on the stretcher, and Dr. Conner scrambled to keep hold of it so it wouldn’t go barreling down the steps. During the struggle, the sheet covering the body slipped, revealing a head so bloody, Bradley couldn’t make out the features of the woman’s face. Her hair was matted in red, and part of her skull was missing. He felt burning acid rise in the back of his throat, and he took several gulps of air. The neighbors around him let out a collective gasp of horror at the sight, and the woman on the porch began to scream. Dr. Conner hurried to conceal the body with the sheet while shouting at the man in white for being a clumsy fool. Bradley turned his back to the house and instead watched the neighbor women around him. He noticed the stricken look on Mrs. Carlisle’s face. Mrs. Stephens cupped a hand over her mouth. Bradley wondered if she was feeling sick to her stomach, too. He held his breath and waited for the women to collapse into hysterics, resolving to be the first to comfort them when they did. He was proud of his steady hands and dry eyes. His brother Tommy would have puked up his breakfast by now. Mrs. Carlisle was the first to speak. “Oh, my word, did 134
you see that, Myrtle?” she breathed. Mrs. Stephens nodded, her hand falling away from her mouth. “I can’t believe my eyes.” She raised her chin an inch higher. “What kind of woman shoots herself in the head while wearing her nightgown?” Mrs. Carlisle grimaced and pulled Patty closer to her. “Couldn’t even be bothered to put on a dress before blowing her brains out,” she said. She cast a pitying look at Bradley and sighed. “I just don’t know what this world is coming to.”
Jude Marr / Cross-Town two buses and a subway crush to get to Red Hook, and— Amanda, friend who could make a torn tee shirt breathe: friend whose sleeve smelled of consolation, back when batter hugged the bowl’s curve and every afternoon ran, arms wide, toward cake— Mandy, sitting in state with fifty candles, does not unwrap the gift I have flown six hundred miles to deliver— my hand, curled around her wrist
Rodney Nelson / Wished the woman I was to meet a friend of another time came to the booth where I was waiting seemed glad enough had not aged but she was not the one I wanted to be with and have lunch and I wished I knew the name and look of the one I really waited for I walked out in November to meet the weight of it again where the park went down to new ice taking in an abatement of color that I liked but I did not want to be here now and I wished I knew the name and look of the country I was waiting for
Constantine Mountrakis / Black Water Brought Me Here like those meteor showers I always planned on staying up for but never did. There was magic in the sky while I slept. On those mornings my absence troubles the house like a phantom limb. Logic and history say I should be there, but Iâ€™m not. Black water is a product of storms. The twisted log of my life washes up on your doorstep.
Constantine Mountrakis / John, the Pit, and I (I) A tree obscured by ancestral dusk a living periodic table, tines frowning strangers, restricts me to walking its tight ley lines I read the chipped paint of the off-white wall as an atlas to half-knownhalf-imagined lives
Constantine Mountrakis / John, the Pit, and I (II) The Pit was a neighborhood that no one chose to live in. Instead, the tides of calamity and ruin stranded their unfortunates, encrusted in the salts of Hell. None chose to live in the Pit, except for Johnâ€” In those broken houses, like the cracked teeth of dead menâ€™s mouths, he rooted himself in the alluvium, the imprint of misfortune upon Greek soil, a fertile mud of murderers, whores, and addicts. This is what I am told when I put my ear to the mouths of dead men to hear the history of the ocean.
Chris Bronsk / Jupiter Sons To be apprised distinctly of the vital fears for instance, of pin bones in a fishcake. Of sugared gumdrops laced with glass. Of being magically halved by the lap belts in a skidding â€˜72 Cougar, the specific dread of reluctant angels or just Saint Bernadette appearing in the cracked plaster of our room, her face dusty like the pearl-handled pistol under Nanaâ€™s pillow. Of being raised shuddering to think of the streets, of dragging our red vinyl grips south along the bypass. Of the potential imminence of waking up in a hot car in the Acme parking lot or simply being taken away by God or someone else who once said he loved us. Is it any wonder, then, we bolted headfirst toward the world? Right now you might be waking somewhere to posole, blood oranges, and strong pot in the storm of a wooden bowl like this electric corn snow here risking the cedar trees. Or just your finite heart brisk in the eye of daybreak.
Melissa Castillo-Garsow / Zero
Is where space ends called death or infinity? â€”Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions It took us a long time to discover the number zero. But it was our ancestors who did it, who figured out nothing and now it (the zero) haunts us. donâ€™t touch me/ please hold me i know what that feels like calls straight to voicemail the silent no stillness of those pounding thoughts saying murder oneself count the bones be the bones be the zero the nothing the negative i see you everywhere in gaunt sunken faces boney chests ordering salads w/ no dressing those basins of collarbones collecting water collecting zeros there is a zero vector which starts in one place and ends/ in the same place I am that vector. We are starting and ending in the same place. In the zero, in the empty sadness that feels like breathing is hard. My seeds are living in you, planted and firmly rooted. The same long nights the same long days the same troubles living and I am sorry.
because I don’t want to believe can’t believe refuse to believe you are like me refuse to believe don’t want to believe when they say there’s no cure Because I am thawing breathing most days living some days and I will murder myself cut away those little pieces burning anything to nothing before a beautiful girl with a crinkled nose becomes anything like me. But a mathematician once told me about infinitely. Said you can add infinity to infinity. Multiply infinity. We can be infinity. Infinity is that girl that does not know her beauty.
Patricia Marquez / The Birth I WAS BORN ON THE WARMEST January day in El Paso history. My father told me this story dozens of times. My mother was sleeping when she went into labor at seven in the morning. My father was getting dressed for work and didn’t have time to put on his socks; he stuck his bare feet into his loafers. My mother managed to push an armchair next to my crib in my new room so it would be there when they returned. When they stepped outside, the desert sun was shining brightly in a cloudless sky and they immediately realized the temperature was too hot for coats, so they took them off. My father had called a cab; it was waiting for them. My mom was already in agony, but they laughed when my father said that with their luck, the cab driver wouldn’t know the way to the hospital downtown. He did, though, and they made it to the maternity ward without so much of a hitch. The labor lasted six hours. It was a short amount of time relatively, but it was an arduous amount of time, since I was turned upside down and the obstetrician, a middle-aged Indian woman, had to use scepters to grab my head and flip me right side up. That was during the third hour, when my mother started crowning. Once the obstetrician did this, however, I stopped coming out altogether. And then two hours of nothing, except contractions and frustrations and discussions of waiting just a little bit longer before performing a caesarean. Apparently this Csection talk was on the cusp of actualization when my mother’s contractions tripled exponentially, and I was ready to be born. My father says the sight of birthing is a terrible one, that there are rips and fluids involved you can’t even imagine. He says 144
this with jest, not revulsion. He says I plopped out headfirst all slippery-like, like a seal from a fishing net. I was silent and purple and dying because the umbilical cord was strangling me, so the nurses took me out of the room and into the baby ICU. My mother asked my dad if I was ok, but before anyone could answer she began bleeding all over the linoleum floor. And that’s when the obstetrician called in the emergency staff— I don’t know what they’re called— and they lifted her butt as high to the ceiling as possible and did everything they could to stop the hemorrhaging. I like to think they did everything they could. I know they did, but I also know that once something inside someone tears, they bleed, and often there is nothing anyone can do about it, not even in this day and age of advanced medicine. The body is very much like a fire hydrant once opened. But she became very sleepy and died quickly, and that was the end. Before she fell asleep, though, she told my father that she could hear me crying from across the hall. My father tells me he didn’t believe her, because there are so many babies born everywhere all the time and they all sound the same. But he lied to her and said that he could hear me, too. It was only after she was gone and I was no longer strangled, that we met for the first time and he recognized my distinctive cry from earlier, which my mother had rightly identified as mine. Somehow, I can see my father standing in an empty hospital room after his wife’s body has been taken away. I see him wearing his work slacks and shirt with no tie and shoes with no socks. I see the nurses place an infant wrapped in a pink blanket into his arms. His eyes are red and sore, and I see him putting his 145
face close to mine and pressing me into his neck and rocking a little, side to side, crying. I see the empty room as foggy and white and peaceful. I see two competing natures at work, and one of them winning.
Tiff Holland / Weathervane I’m going to fold myself up a tin-foil hat and walk out in the rain, try to short-circuit this constant buzzing, redirect it with a Kaiser Spike, a weathervane made out of chicken bone. I’m going to candle this ear, this end-of-tonight’s broadcasting-static, let the hot wax cool into perfect-wicked cochlear images, and then I’m going to set them on fire, burn the sound down like a lightning-struck tree, a feeble black thread I’ll give a good yank. I’m sterilizing needles for acupuncture, studying reflexology. I’m going to ruffa pound myself quiet. All I want is to hear my heart beat, blood pooling into bruises, my own thoughts moving in a straight line. Placing pennies on closed eyelids, draws all the sounds away from a body, bottle trees evict any kind of haint, dog bark overwrites exclamation point script and there’s always the garbage disposal, the dishwasher, to grind to ground, to wash away. The vacuum cleaner with its attachments designed specifically to exhume dirt and dander, dust and dead cell is worth a try, but first the hat, flag-of-surrender folded, shiny side in, or maybe sculpted into a fancyrestaurant left-over swan. I’m going to swim away on a sea of hum-statichiss-ring-buzz, use it against itself, transmit to the universe on my private frequency, while I take a bat 147
to invisible, internal pitches, and when the storm finally comes, just to target something tangible, hit soft-ball sized hail over the backyard fence in the rain.
Wendy E. Ingersoll / What is Your Name? A man and a woman sprint down the steps through rice-rain, spring into a yellow Dodge Dart, hurtle to Jersey. An era later, she free-falls lone into a forest green Hyundai, reappears in Delaware. In the garage-apartment of all our stories sleeps the alternate I, parallel heart. In between, she thinks she has all day. Her foreground is children, background she plays herself, basso continuo. When that person beside her at the piano urges Drive, baby, drive, she floors it.
Brian Seemann / What Comes First? MY WIFE, SHE SITS AT THE WINDOW looking out onto the front yard and the quiet intersection beyond the driveway in our sleepy little neighborhood, worrying a splinter embedded in her palm. I haven’t asked how she managed this particular affliction, nor, for that matter, have I inquired into any of the others she’s come home with. As she’s done all week, last night she slipped into the blackening evening and returned only as the sun began to rise. She’s said nothing in regards to her absences, and for better or worse, I’ve said about as much. I allow her to sleep in the living room whenever she comes home, and then I go to check on our two-year-old asleep in the other room. This morning, however, she woke early, and she’s already showered and fitted into the only black dress she owns. Me, I’m in the first and only suit I’ve ever bought, the same I said I do in three years ago. I haven’t said anything about the splinter or her whereabouts because the boy she once babysat, the high school junior she saw as a kind of younger brother, the flaky kid who shot off fireworks every year across the street from my in-laws, carelessly —according to the eyewitness reports in the newspaper— skateboarded into the middle of a busy intersection only days ago and was seemingly lifted—again, from eyewitness accounts—by the late afternoon sunlight and then dropped back to earth. I’ve tried to give my wife a little space in order to process this. I’ve dropped-off and picked-up our son from daycare, I’ve done the cooking, the cleaning, and the laundry, and I’ve tried to be there, wherever there is, to lend an ear, a shoulder, or whatever she needs. But these are things I haven’t often done, and in order to 150
be there, I need to have been there before, and we both know that hasn’t happened. So as the days wind down to their final hours, she’s escaped my efforts and left me to wonder what morning will bring. So far, it’s been splinters, scuffed knees, stained clothes, stale odors, a diminishing bank account, an empty bottle or two rolling under the car seat. I’ve always tried my best to be a loving husband, so naturally, I’m supposed to worry. But of all those things—and more—what should I worry most about? What comes first? While we wait for the babysitter, I bring the boy in from his bedroom because he’s been calling for his mother for the past hour. His toys and books lay scattered throughout the room, and he trips over himself in a rush to find the set of toy cars my parents bought a few weeks ago, and he takes up a red one and puts grooves into the carpet, speeding it around and around, his mouth sputtering out the vrooms and squeals he’s picked up from playing alongside me. At these noises, my wife looks up briefly from her hand and looks at him, then me, before returning to the sliver stuck inside her skin. I make some effort to get him to quiet, but he only fusses and I give in. I glance over my wife’s shoulder and see the newspaper at the end of our driveway, and leaving my son to his cars and my wife to her scratching, I open the front door. It’s not a long walk to the end of the driveway, but I’m not three feet out from under the roof of the house before there’s something of an unburdening that moves through me. Maybe it’s the slightest touch of a breeze or the faintest bit of warmth finally coming from the sun, or maybe there’s just a looming recognition of some kind of finality this morning as we prepare to go to the same church we married 151
in, but I feel calm, and for the first time in days, I feel okay—not great, not better. Okay. So okay, in fact, that when I bend down to retrieve the paper, I don’t even bother to turn when I hear the front door opening. Instead, I snap the rubber band from the paper and thumb through to the sports section. I already know who won last night’s game—I watched it live and again when it reaired at two A.M.—but I scan the box score anyway. The season’s early, and my team still has a shot at making something of itself, and right then, I feel this could be the year, out of all the years, that they finally win it all. I’m imagining all the scenarios of a winning season when from the corner of my eye I see my son stumbling across the yard and into the street. I immediately drop the paper and rush after him only to realize that the neighborhood is still, the roads empty. By the time I catch up to him, he’s taken a couple steps onto the asphalt, and rather than swoop down to collect him in my arms, I stand and watch him continue across the street. I call after him, seeing if he’ll turn and come back to me, but he moves further away, one small step after another. I ought to chase after him, fulfill my fatherly duty, but I stand there at the edge of my yard as his stubby legs stomp across the pavement. I get a kick out of it, and smiling, I look back at my wife still at the window. Her silhouette fades in and out of the sunlight, as if she’s retreating from me. In the distance, I hear the sound of a car horn, and I turn back to my son, who’s made it safely to the other side of the street.
Rachel Short / Yours, not Mine I read poems to the dog all afternoon While he napped on the couch beside me, Sometimes breathing heavily As the scenes played out In black and white dreams, Sometimes opening an eye or both To glance over at me in disbelief. Sometimes, raising an eyebrow in agreement. I read poems to the dog all afternoon. Your poems, not mine. He napped on the couch beside me, Sometimes kicking, twitching In a black and white chase, His dreams as fragmented as the lines But possibly more grounded in reality, Sometimes raising an eyebrow in agreement. Your dog, not mine.
Rachel Short / 4’ 33” of Fear and Loathing I’ve been reckless for days, stored up enough passion to compose Gonzo Hunter S. meets Cage in tonal mortality— Death by gravity and satellite. 4’33” of fear and loathing: A depraved mind goes to the bourbon ball and dances with paint slated piano. Chocolate for lipstick, and a passion for a tripping, gripping waltz. The keys are junk, the floor is wet. Declarative sentences discarded like confetti. The saxophone player is locked in the bathroom. Someone pissed on his shoes. The next time you hold a candle to a fat ladies dress make sure she doesn’t smell of moonshine… (but that was the scream I was looking for) …standing ovations are strictly prohibited.
Denise Weuve / Revolutions 3 a.m. thursday not quite friday heading towards Vegas like teenagers eloping under an Elvis guise neon chapel neon drink neon life then neon dies save a letter or two on the L Q OR sign flashing outside a $40 a night hotel on the east side— Let’s reminisce about that later, tell of happiness as the myth it was— we can track laughter lines over forged signatures on a marriage license through decades of taxes until they end with Southern Comfort midnights and age spots beneath purlieu fluorescent bulbs
in the suburban kitchenette
of reality at 3p.m.
Denise Weuve / Heredity The moles you search out on your arm still have not given way to disease. But this time it is no phantom lump in your breast. This time it is eating you from the inside out, malignant as all four children combined. You curse the four men youâ€™ve loved who left children, blame them for the cancer poisoning your uterus. When the doctor guts you, promises it is all gone, you still feel them deep inside, the husbands digging in you, planting their hate, bluer than any despair in your childrenâ€™s eyes. You have watched them grow into their fathers, oneâ€™s drug addiction, one with alcoholic binges, another just a thief, and this one, blessed female who too often walks as pigeoned as you into the callous hands of men. 157
You leave her death neatly wrapped in yearly visits to the gynecologist, scraped from the inside out. Each year she reaches out, head tilted to the doctorâ€™s whisper and does not breathe long enough to hear, you are not your mother.
Mitchell Grabois / Eternity I sat facing the door of the restaurant drank sweet tea until my teeth hurt wondered about the rate of diabetes in the Deep South didn’t feel inclined to change my behavior I’d change it when it was too late I waited for Tiffany to walk in my illicit schizophrenic lover she’d greet me casually as if she hadn’t escaped and tell me how important I was to her that she’d been slipping into a really bad space and would I talk with Dr. Tuna Fish about increasing her medication maybe try out that new anti-psychotic she’d dreamed about the one whose name starts with a ‘C?’ sitting there I felt more sympathetic toward our patients than I ever had I felt their mule-stubborn tires-skidding-on-asphalt denial as if it were my own in the john I took a piss and read the graffiti above the urinal Eternity—Too Long To Be Wrong someone had written it there just for me I paid my bill
Mitchell Grabois / Family Reunion Everyone is talking at the same time and in incomplete sentences Some people are speaking in English and other people are translating the English into Hebrew and some people are translating the Hebrew into Yiddish and some people are translating the Yiddish into Russian and some people are translating the Russian into Polish and then some people are translating the Polish into English No one makes any sense and everyone is happy
Mitchell Grabois / Halo Francisco Cortez entered the bay with fifty Spaniards and met ten-thousand hostile natives a suicide mission animated by the spirit of the Sacred Virgin Cortez carried her banner Just as the natives readied to begin their slaughter a beam of light shone direct on the flag on the Virginâ€™s face Gave her a halo which blinded the natives Ten thousand fell to their knees in surrender and while their faces were downcast Mary, Mother of God snickered
Renny Golden / The Dream, Michael Again She is cross-country skiing in the desert past cholla, juniper, smoke trees, her skis brush sapphire wooly stars, yellow monkey flowers, wave tiny flags of bitterbrush. Such trudging toward God. A house ahead. It is not God’s. Michael is waiting, hollow-eyed but not grave. His shirt collar is frayed but his children wear Spalding high tops, colored socks, a crisp shirt. Michael serves soup, corn bread. His hair white as clouds. Michael’s gaze as if this were communion bread which she doesn’t believe in. Wine as if a last supper which it is. Not now, soon. Michael has been giving things away for years. All he has left is himself, worn out, limping, a dog ready for the woods, his brilliant mind unfettered, a bird flicking away suddenly, then returning like a carrier pigeon with startling messages. Angels, too, but he can’t explain it. Words flown toward mountains. Still in his eyes the old kindness. The desert burns to a magenta silence. She knows he is leaving or is it arriving? Michael “sees” crazy stuff; it is about God but he can only serve soup, offer thanks. His children try not to cry. 162
Renny Golden / Row the Boat Ashore â€”for Pete Seeger
That hammer like rain filling cisterns in all of America, and troves of rainbows. Your banjo a flight of canaries. All of us outcasts come for music, the surprise of our harmony rising beyond ourselves, as if everything were possible, a chorus of strangers follow your hands, hold their parts. You kept on the sky trail that Woody and Lead Belly sang open. We dared because you asked us to remember who built the canals, laid the tracks, tilled and seeded, mined, forged steel; builders who endured lash and lynch mobs. In the end you sang for poisoned rivers. Dauntless before fouled waters, nothing dirty, nothing damaged, nothing so forsaken as youâ€™d lay down a tune to coax from burden. Nothing so tarnished but you did not ring that warning bell: this land belongs to you and me. Who stood before 10,000 Russians, cajoled Michael Row the Boat Ashore in four part harmony. Pete, watch us. We are rowing the boat ashore. 163
Brianna Pike / Snail Shell The world is a mist. And then the world is minute and vast and clear. —Elizabeth Bishop, “Sandpiper” Fingers sift through shells, stones, and beach glass. It has been two years since we walked this shore. Sandpipers and sanderlings our restless guides across a wet gray plane, back and forth they gather at the surf’s edge like living lace. We are specters in the fading light, wandering the beach in vain, hunching low to paw thick shell beds. Usually, you prefer the deep blue of open oysters, but now, you are looking for perfection, concise, concentric circles that spiral into one another, a pinwheel of the sea. You found one, almost whole, nestled inside a clam shell, and dig it out, marvel at its design. Cradled against your chest, as if that small shell could comfort your anxious mind. You continue to scrutinize sand looking for a match. You spot a slight spiral, lean down to find it broken by the sea, so you toss it back and walk on. 164
David Maduli / Walking through Triple Stage Darkness you hear a melody in the key of maritime distress off the coast of nothingness. or is it sade’s absinthe lament. or charlie hunter speedballin with guitar and bass down a single eight-string axe. or a church choir of termites amplified on a thousand speakers in stereo surround. or is it the devil. you still shade your salvation with aviators and heave a black duffel full of dopefiend beat and you know what? you ain’t scurred well maybe just a praying mantis’ wing and you have dead presidents in your pocket and a silver cross and debt. sense you’re not alone, know you’re not in a crowd. feel a presence in front of you and an absence behind that breathes just as cancerous if that makes sense— my god, my god. each fingernail caked with cavern is a prayer. sanctity is made with theremin and traction. snow is a summer kiss. now you begin to place the source and tenor of the instrument as it wraps you smooth and pliable, pythonic. you hear it from all: a steelpan. rusted. probably torchwelded from an oil drum. sponge and rubber-headed sticks strike each hit as you cry out in harmony. another someday is the only light you carry.
David Maduli / Trimester Lost tall grove of smokestacks low noon of two suns city block doldrums no reprieve from waiting roomâ€™s asthma no tags the eighty-eight buick regal trunk spills elephant bulls ground stomps ground raccoon roadkill flips the finger tap the richmond refinery cigarette into bay ashtray the choke of the woman you love under anaesthesia inside windowless chamber sure surgical hands remove spirit child unborn returned before bones fragmented cocoon summoned home some roots now entombed new redwood tons must grow how many more buried moons til we ready for you? still too soon
Chloe Clark / Negative Space We know now the island Amelia paced back and forth upon. Those makeup jars they found, did they retain any soft scent of the creams she placed on her face? We know now that she lived there and that she died there, all while the world searched everywhere else for her. We know now some kind of loss that comes with the solving of her mystery, some loss we cannot quite name. We know now how we wished never to find her, to have kept believing she never fell, that she just kept going until the sky gave way into the sun.
Chloe Clark / Occurrence of Forests We learned to catalogue trees as if they were already books, though it has not always been like this. For years there were not names that we would dare to give them. And we have been told that fire was always stolen, though once it was given as a gift. The story is forgotten of how the tree laid down its branches. We have named yew, ash, oak, pine, though only to ask forgiveness or as close as we can get. The flame reduced roots to ashes and no longer could the truth be read in rings.
Irene Fick / What We Keep In the restless Spring of my twenties, Mom boarded an overnight train bound for my latest address, resolved to help me settle. She tossed off her mules, puffed on her Pall Malls, and got to work. Mom knew how to keep house: sprayed each room with Lysol, scrubbed floors, shopped at the local five-and-dime for a wind chime strung with sea shells, a welcome mat branded with a pelican, placed them at my front door. Mom was tired of tracking my moves, tired of replacing each entry in her book with new cities, zip codes, tired of trying to ground my shaky roots. After weeks of wear, we called a truce, perhaps lulled by the sun’s insistent warmth, the Gulf’s hypnotic pull. We linked arms, curled our toes in the forgiving sand, the daughter who strayed, the mother who stayed inside firm, familiar borders. After she died that winter, this is what I kept: a snapshot, unlike all others—Mom, her salon-proof hair unbound, whipped by the wind, an enduring smile framed by untouched lips, all this, all this, under a wide and bountiful sky.
Irene Fick / Waiting in the White Space Snow dropped without mercy that winter, smothered the Midwestern plain, layers and layers of white, blades of ice, spilling into spring. We waited in our rooms, coiled like fists, waited to crush into winged cars, cruise Dandyâ€™s Drive-In, waited for six-packs of malt liquor to thaw our blood, disarm our spirits. We waited for Miss Janottaâ€™s shorthand class to end, for ivory diplomas that would jump-start our grown-up lives, waited to cram our feet into stiff high heels, board the rusty cars of the Illinois Central to join big-city typing pools. We waited for summer, for white weddings at Saint Something or other, beef-and-beer bashes at VFW halls, slurred toasts to the bride and groom, their futures now solid with gold-plated rings. In July, we gaped at headlines and photos: a drifter named Richard Speck had slaughtered eight student nurses on the South Side. Save for perfect white caps pinned to their frozen bouffants, they looked just like us. From the grimy windows of the train, we could almost see their block, imagine the blood, the chilling white terror, and wonder why they waited, and waited, while Richard Speck stabbed and strangled them all, one by one.
Shasta Grant / Progress Notes MY GRANDMOTHER HEARS VOICES, says the walls close in around her. She places her hands over her ears. We can’t leave the house without checking and rechecking. Are the lights turned off? Is the stove turned off? What about the oven? The space heater too? Is the water dripping? Did you double check? The voices get louder and louder. My mother calls our house at 2 a.m and screams: I’ve slit my wrists. I’m bleeding to death. I want to die. It’s all your fault. My grandmother sits in her psychiatrist’s office. Her torso and shoulders move of their own will: jerking, pulling. The medicine makes her sick, she says. Strangers call our house at all hours of the day: I know all about you. Your daughter owes me money. She better pay up. My mother calls our house at all hours of the day: I can’t take care of this baby. I won’t take care of him anymore. Is this her second or third child? I don’t remember. My grandmother paces, twitches. What should I do? What should I do? She hears voices. Sometimes it’s her psychiatrist: You need to set limits. You need to stop enabling your daughter. Sometimes it’s someone inside her head: It’s your fault; you’re a bad mother. My grandmother calls the police to report my mother. She’s arrested for passing bad checks. She’s arrested for child neglect. My grandmother folds her arms across her chest and rocks. She touches the knob on the stove. Off. She turns the fau171
cet knobs. Off. She flicks the light switch. Off. What should I do? What should I do? My mother and the baby move in with us. She has a rabbit and some snakes too; they stay in the basement, where I used to play but now I’m too scared to go down there. My mother tells my grandmother what to do: I need this, get me that. My grandmother runs around, taking care of us. She buys new clothes for the baby, for my mother. I’m terribly upset. Everyone is yelling. My mother is screaming at me. She’s going to kidnap me. C’mon, let’s go! My grandmother throws her and the baby and the rabbit and the snakes out of the house. I’ve got a temperature of 102. My grandmother hears voices. Sometimes it’s the psychiatrist: You have to resolve not to take any more of her children. You have to decide not to bail her out of jail anymore. My mother has already skipped bail four times. The psychiatrist makes a note on his pad of paper: she’s almost a caricature of the blindly doting mother. We drive to Toys ‘R Us and I pick out whatever I want: a cart full of Barbie dolls, Barbie clothes, Barbie shoes, Barbie furniture. We’re all doing much better now. My grandmother promises her psychiatrist that she will call the police if my mother returns to the house. My mother wants custody of me so she can collect more welfare. My grandmother hears voices. The walls close in around her, the room gets smaller and smaller. There isn’t enough room for all of us in here. Are the lights turned off? Is the stove off? She can’t sleep, can’t eat. I’m losing my mind. Her lips twitch, her eyes dart. She 172
thinks about taking all the pills that fill the medicine cabinet. My mother visits for two days. She was so good; she smoked and drank all day but she didn’t swear. My grandmother hears voices, says the walls are closing in. My mother goes to court to win me back. She loses. The psychiatrist makes a note on his pad of paper: limit setting apparently impossible. My mother sees a therapist. We’re all doing fine now. My grandmother doesn’t hear voices anymore: I haven’t in awhile. She goes off her medication. I can’t stand it anymore. Are the lights turned off? What about the stove? Is the door locked? The back door too? Did you double-check? My mother calls at 3 a.m. I need money. Can I borrow your engagement ring? My grandmother hears voices, threatens to kill herself, holds all the bottles in her arms. My mother wants me back. What should I do? What should I do? The phone rings at 1 a.m. You better tell your daughter to get me my money. My mother is arrested for using a stolen credit card. My grandmother’s shoulders twitch, she vomits, she can’t eat. I’ve got a fever of 102. My mother wants to steal me. My grandmother hears voices. Her face is bloated; her hands tremble. Is the stove turned off? Is the door locked? The back door too?
Patient fails to show for appointment. We drive to J.C. Penney and fill up a cart: new tights, new shoes, new dresses. Weâ€™re all doing much better now.
Allie Marini Batts / Summers, After Supper Every summer we gathered around Aunt Jo’s kitchen table, eating bowls of vegetable soup that thickened into stew with every ladle of leftovers, new potatoes and summer peas in the pot as the carrots got smaller and the onions disappeared into the depths of the broth. You once asked if we ever ate anything besides that summer soup, not realizing that Wednesdays were the designated soup nights and your dinner invitation always brought you to the table on a Wednesday. After supper we dried the dishes, jostling against each other in the dark cupboard, a breathless kiss when my mother turned her back while we put away mismatched plates. Once the cabinet was stacked and the tea towels pinched up at their corners to dry again, we sat down to take out last week’s tallies, betting pennies in a never-ending poker game. Grams refilled jelly jars used as drinking glasses with a blush wine from a gallon jug. Marshall’s unfiltered Lucky Strikes, smoke coiled blue as snakes up into the lights, white daffodils of glass showing who was winning and who was cheating: your sweaty hand clasped around my knee, hidden under the slick vinyl of the tablecloth, no way to hide the blush on my cheeks except to blame it on the swigs of sweet wine I stole from my grandmother’s glass when she wasn't looking.
Later, we got rid of my little sister by going for a walk, the darkness like a chilly jacket as we looped down Middle Street, cutting over the railroad tracks down to the water. Across the bay, lights in other houses flickered like tiny candles and I wanted to keep you there with me, safe in the arms of my family, instead of sending you back to the Spartan walls of your own room in a house that was not as warm and did not smell like vegetable soup. I tried not to imagine you in that house, drinking your motherâ€™s wine, alone in the dark, filching her Winstons from the pack she left on the empty kitchen table when she headed down to the bars in Belfast.
Merna Dyer Skinner / A Brief History of Two Aprons She hangs the gingham apron loose around her neck. Frayed grosgrain ribbons edge three pockets. Sewn in her youth and stored in her hope chest, the apron hangs low over breasts heavy as breadfruit. She pulls wooden clothespins from a pocket. Bites them between her teeth. It is laundry day on the prairie. She hangs her man’s clothes—lets them stiffen on the line. An errant rooster feather clings to his shirt snapping in the wind. She plucks it off and tucks the bit of red in her pocket. She will tickle him with it later. She pulls the butcher’s apron over her head. Wraps the ties twice around her waist. Her white sheath catches drips of red as she lifts a tray of beef scraps. It is hamburger-grinding day. She pushes twenty pounds of cow through churning metal teeth, blends it into strings of red meat. Smeared with blood by the end of her shift, she flicks errant bits of gristle from her chest, wipes the knives clean against her white thighs. She will cash her check at the corner bar—lick white foam from atop a stream of beers and kiss any man with clean nails.
Merna Dyer Skinner / Catch and Release I watch my father’s thick fingers bait the hook and cast the line setting in motion rippling circles that expand across the lake then smooth out as if sighing in unison. I am five. Dragonflies helicopter lethargically over water. My line jerks— I catch my first fish, too small to keep. We release him back to the lake, his mother-of-pearl scales glimmering in the morning light, his cold body undulating deeper until he disappears. Shrimp carapace scattered on a white plate. I am twenty-five. The difference between wind in my hair and wind on the waves nothing more than quarks in motion here or there. Buttery fingers wiped on white linen leave the DNA of ancient crustaceans. On the table, a splayed lobster tail, crab shells sucked dry, the diamond ring I’ve cast aside. I slip from the room while he takes a call. Survival is a question of instinct, moving this way rather than that. Seeing the bait bag for what it is—an illusion. Death.
Annaliese Wagner / My Mama, She Killed Me; My Daddy, He Drank Me Remember when Mama gave us apples to eat under the juniper tree, before the devil got hold of her, before we heard the jazz men on the radio? Brother, don’t cry when Mama distils me like juniper berries in the bathtub. Don’t cry when Daddy gets home from the plant and they drink gin until sleep, slumped against the bathroom wall, my body left under a pile of laundry needing to be washed. Brother, bury me under the juniper tree, bury me here, shroud my bones in silk. Brother, do you hear that bird singing? Ain’t it always the same song?
Wendy Carlisle / The End of the World The man in the horse blanket jacket, black Stetson, ostrich boots, holds his iPhone at arm’s length. I trail him around the big box store “I’m waiting,” he says, “Just like ’29,”he says. He ends with a flourish— “Get ready! It’s coming.” He touches END. “Who was that?” My husband asks, “nobody,” I answer, “Only some rich, white guy predicting the end of the world.”
Wendy Carlisle / The Lone Ranger There was less to know before that so we applied ourselves to the Lone Ranger and E=MC squared while the world arranged its corners around us, no less large or messy but with mid-century boundaries, the “beyond this place be dragons” of Medieval maps. We were used to duck and cover, 27 cent gas, we knew there were still rules, etiquette as explained by Emily Post, still nocross lines and although we flirted with be-bop and rockabilly, we were comfortable until the scrim burned away at Detroit and Mobile and in Los Angeles, RCA color TV’s displaying Lawrence Welk in his blue tux were pulled from flaming store fronts and we traded coziness for the excitement of appetite and tribal custom in regards the use of pipe and spoon. The tragedy of mismatched purse and shoes was gone, erased by Tet, and was it any wonder we threw down our clothes and marched off upstate trampling the August grasses on our way?
Coco Owen / Latter Rain The rain’s too cruel for late April In Los Angeles. It is written: In the Last Days, God will open the floodgates, Letting His wrath come down on us, When the God of the rainbow unleashes A repressed rage for destruction. The latter rain comes down hard. Sorcerer’s apprentices, we’re swamped; Sweeping, we’re bucketing, bailing— Like Mickey Mouse in a leaky boat, Bobbing on the riled-up waves As we wail, crying river. Thunder-speech Crackles through the unseasonable Rain like a ‘he said-she said’ kind of spat. Plague-like rains tattle on Him with bitter splatter. Thunder, lightning & hailstones Rattle sabers of plenty prime evil. He toys with us, because one apocalyptic Wrecking-ball day with God is a thousand years Of human history washed away— Where human futures are short-sale commodities, Like drinking water. Sow wind, reap whirlwind; Seed clouds, reap the downpour. Thunder says, “Sod off.” So sod off! In the latter days, earth reheats the roses Imported from Ecuador. Consumer goods Destined for us spoil in the rising tide
Sinking our boats. Who will survive What Heâ€™s warming up to? Who can swallow The blessings God pours out on us?
Coco Owen / Happy Hour at the Sagebrush Cantina We went to the famous happy hour At the Sagebrush Cantina In Old Calabasas, where The San Fernando Valley Spread out in panorama Behind us. The peach margaritas Came in troughs rather than glasses. Sitting with friends, we mocked The size of the drinks, The restaurantâ€™s fake hitching rails & white-washed wagon wheels. We mocked ourselves For being there Friday night At an all-you-can-eat Taquitos & nachos happy hour. It was a weird place for a date, but You dished it with such wit, I loved it. Then a knockout sunset got going. Not some schmaltzy Happy-Trails thing, But a nitrous, virulently-neon apocalypse thing! It was sunset-as-assault, like a fireworks show Heralding a nuclear-winter. It punched up an already gaudy sky Into a ghastly but gorgeous blow-out. The sky went fuchsia, scarlet & bruise blue. Word in the bar was that the napalm
Colors came from the after-burn of A Minuteman rocket launch from Vanderbilt airbase up in Lompoc. The waiters lowered the sun umbrellas At the outdoor tables once evening inked out The raucous sunset. The secretaries, The peroxide blondes, the guys In Polos & dudes with gold chains, Drifted out to their Mustangs & Broncos. That was the day I decided to move back. The riot of colors wowed me, & I loved How you made a great story Out of something everyday. I wanted more of your rocket-man wordsâ€” That buzzâ€”& the fireworks.
Victor David Sandiego / Somewhere in New Orleans Thought we came to the hotel wearing shoes, just me and her and Jim Beam bulging my pocket. At the door, she puts out her hand for the key. I’ll do it, she says, with the key, then put my legs in your face with whiskers and cigarette stains on your lips. Let’s turn a light down low, only dark blue neon through the window shade, my hips wide and belly busting on your fingertips. Dark river border crossing train horn far off heading up maybe for Baton Rouge, some paper peels and cheeseburger bits on the floor. Give me a smoke, she says later, a little breeze coming over the sill, baker’s oven July. Her lipstick with a 40 watt bulb over the sink, two mineral trails into the drain, can’t see her too well. Somewhere over by Burgundy St. an engine races from a stop light. I crush a butt in the ashtray, look around for my shoes.
Deborah Mashibini / Summer in McIntosh, New Mexico It was the year of the rabbit, not in Chinese but in McIntosh terms and as far as I know Peter wasnâ€™t anywhere among them. Everyone else certainly was: brown bunnies, grey bunnies, Siamese cat looking bunnies, slow moving fat bunnies, my new patch of spinach eating bunnies. And then there were the jacks: four feet tall with ears so long and such big horsy faces that they looked more like desert deer than any relation to those other rabbits. Caught in headlights on the dirt road the smaller bunnies leap, twist and dodge, first towards one tire then the other. In the heat of afternoons cicadas buzz while turkey buzzards, distinct red heads and bodies larger than any jack, feast on rabbit flesh.
Robyn Oxborrow / Mirage My parents found a man on the desert floor: dry-mouth-taste of Mojave dust, tongue cracked as the lake bed and only a grunt to pass his lips as Dadâ€™s bike boot nudged into his side. Would a flashflood have been a peaceful death? He must have seen Pahrump. His eyes sucked dry by heat, he must have seen the shimmer of buildings offering shade, followed Joshua trees belly dancing until neon legs hatched from an egg in welcome. As his hazed eyes gazed upon that signâ€” tempting bodies, sweet moisture inside, making his sweaty skin chill, he remembered how sun and sand can play tricks, and stumbled back into the desert.
Robyn Oxborrow / Hitchikers A man stands next to the highway, thumb out, cardboard sign that reads: Las Vegas. Mom keeps the Jimmy at 70 mph, repeats the warning, Never pickup hitchhikers. Hours before great-uncle Artâ€™s bloody-bruised head smacked against his own carpet, a man in his passenger seat said Take me to Reno.
Melanie Madden / How Barstow Got Its Name IN BARSTOW, THE SOUNDS OF THE HUMP YARD were my lullaby. Not the romantic, rhythmic chug and whistle of a passing-by train in the night, but the irregular, resounding ka-chunk of cargo-heavy cars slamming into one another—collision, reverberation—and the unrepentant screech and whine of rails resisting those weights. On average, 37 trains laden with freight arrive in Barstow, California, each day, where they deliver their cargo into new trains at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe classification yard (or “hump yard”) before departing for destinations east or west. The hump yard sits beside the Mojave River, and the city of Barstow slopes down to its dry riverbed like one side of an amphitheater. Train activity in Barstow is noisy, day and night, and bellows on the thin, sandblasted air, echoing across town. A city for tumbleweeds, pit stop for interstate truckers, a place where Marines and G.I.s train and taste domestic desert air before sampling arid varieties overseas— Barstow is a city built by and for transience. Barstow lives at the 35th parallel, a line the railroads roughly followed across the Southwest in the 19th century, re-traced by Route 66 and Interstate 40 in the 20th. Southern Californians know Barstow as the halfway point between L.A. and Vegas on I-15. The middle of the desert. Gas stations. Fast food. Outlet Malls. A dot on the map in the Mojave Desert where skinny highway lines intersect, and wide, inkless spaces stretch uninhabited inches north, south, east and west. In Barstow, even after the most brutally scorched summer afternoons of the sun’s unfiltered death rays, the night sky exhales cool breath straight from outer space. Most of Southern 190
California can’t say this, but in Barstow, you can see the stars. The Milky Way, even. When I was growing up the summer nighttime ritual was this: sun down, air conditioner off, windows open. After the racket of central air quieted, travel songs strayed on that starlit breeze: train syncopation. Freeway hum. I dreamed of the road or rail that would take me away from the desert and drive-thrus. Barstow’s Main Street saw its cultural and commercial heyday during the midcentury— Route 66’s golden age. By the time my family moved to Barstow in 1985, Old Town Main Street, U.S.A. had been in decline for decades. The interstates replacing Route 66 bypassed Old Town. Over time, shops closed, properties stayed vacant. Decent folks drove to the mall, vagrants and prostitutes wandered downtown. Browsing Old Town’s thrift shops and low-rent antique malls during my teenage days in the grungy 90s, I saw traces of Barstow’s more glorious past beside the shaded sidewalks, behind boarded windows and exposed brick walls. The faded Victorian glamour of the defunct Casa del Desierto Harvey House railroad depot stood as a ruin behind chain-link fencing, a crumbling reminder that brick and earthquakes don’t mix. A vote of confidence for drywall and stucco. Culture and history seemed wedded to one another in Barstow then, and both seemed to be decaying. I couldn’t imagine for Barstow any future beyond offramps, tract housing, and outlet malls. I wasn’t sure what I wanted, I only knew it wasn’t football and marching band, dirt bikes or the rodeo. I left Barstow when I graduated high school in 1996, certain it had nothing to offer me. 191
Occasionally I still visit, to see an aunt and uncle and a few friends who still live there. My parents moved away from Barstow shortly after I did, so now when I return, it’s as a ghost. Barstow has changed. It is a living, evolving world I pass through as a shiver, recognizing how much I’ve stayed the same. Recently, I discovered that Barstow has better imagination than I ever did—Barstow hasn’t given up on its history and culture. They restored and reopened the Harvey House, reviving its former gilded glory. Now they are aiming to revitalize Old Town, on old Main Street, U.S.A., with public art. In 2007, the Main Street Murals project dedicated itself to the task of “illustrating Barstow’s past to enhance its future.” Art in Barstow! I love that the murals exist, even if their aesthetic isn’t exactly my own. When I first saw their colorful depictions of historical scenes spanning eons, I involuntarily recalled the 1993 Barstow High School yearbook. Its shiny yellow cover features a cartoon Aztec (our mascot) brandishing an axe beneath the caption, “Ask Us If We Care.” I’d been expecting something leatherbound in subtle earth tones. The feeling I got at fourteen when I recoiled at my freshman yearbook came flooding back when I first encountered the Main Street Murals. As if looking down on the place I’m from could erase its traces on me. One of the Main Street Murals honors William Barstow Strong: a proud man, with impressive white sideburns and beard beneath his bald pate, rendered in sepia tones. A painted gold ribbon banner proclaims the mural’s title, “Waterman Junction Becomes Barstow 1886.” Strong worked his way up from humble beginnings, a sta192
tion agent who became the tenth president of the storied Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. William Barstow Strong was at the helm in 1885 when the transcontinental A&P connected to the California Southern Railroad at was then called Waterman Junction. Strong bridged Southern California to the east, at last, at this lonely desert outpost. A year later, the townspeople honored the train man who birthed the new prosperity in this place by re-christening their post office “Barstow.” Local businessman Robert Waterman protested this renaming in a letter to his state senator in 1886, to no avail. He lost Waterman Junction, but in 1887, won the entire state of California by becoming its seventeenth governor. I hope this consoled him some. In 1888, William Barstow Strong, blamed for Santa Fe’s struggles, lost his railroad presidency. Yet Strong’s legacy, in the form of the City of Barstow, endures. I can’t imagine Barstow with any other name.
Kristin Stoner / Bump I THREW MY HUSBAND OFF the top of the car the day before Halloween. It was a nice day, unusually sunny for Minnesota in October, and the kids were screaming in the backseat: “Mommymommy, daddydaddy!” Sam was in his monkey costume for the third day in a row and Lauren’s tangled, brown hair kept the tiara of her Elsa getup clinging to the side of her head. They both had wet cheeks. Their screaming raised an octave when I threw the Escalade into reverse and slammed on the gas, causing their father to roll down the windshield and over the hood, throwing him from his protest on top of the SUV, where he had been proclaiming to me and the rest of the neighborhood that I couldn’t leave and I sure as hell couldn’t take his damned kids. But when I hit the gas and curved around his shaking body in the middle of Franklin Avenue, they got quiet. “Where are we going?” Lauren finally hiccupped. “Omaha, Honey. We’re going to go see Grandma. Remember?” She sniffled. After 100 miles I turned around because I didn’t want to tell Mom what I’d done. Throwing James off the roof of the car means he must have done something awful, and she’d never forgive him. But none of that is the point. When I got home, he had already been to the emergency room and back. The neighbor had driven him after looking out her window at just the right moment. The nurses put ointment on his arm and told him he had a concussion. I found that out lat194
er, after we made love. “I’m fine,” he said without me asking. I touched a bandage around his elbow and kissed him, hard, on the mouth. “I’ve never fallen off a car before.” “I know,” I said. “We must really be in love,” he said. And that’s how we decided to have another baby.
Tom C. Hunley / Blurbs My manuscript got picked up like a toothless hitchhiker, and I need words to cover the back cover. I don’t want to rouse any of my poet friends from their lonely fame. They should be writing poems, not blurbs. They should be jogging or having prescriptions filled. We can all agree on this, I think. They should be tending to their gardens and their students. They should be closing the bar, working on their lines. I could walk up to Matthew Dickman at AWP and go “Matthew, please blurb my book” and he might do it. See, I’m on a first name basis with Matthew Dickman, so you should read me would be what the blurb would say, regardless of what words he put in it. But how would you know he wrote the blurb and not his twin, Michael? Could you tell them apart? They were in Minority Report starring Tom Cruise and I was an extra in The Mirror Has Two Faces starring Barbara Streisand, and probably no one will remember those movies in fifty years or any of our poems or even Tom Cruise or Barbara Streisand. Eduardo Corral is the nicest guy in po-biz, and I’ll bet I could cajole him into writing “These richly-inhabited poems glimpse the mysteries and do not flinch when confronted with the inevitablity of tragedy. Hunley ricochets between irreverent defiance and childlike awe. Reading this book is like taking Jell-O shots at Disneyland.” But what would that mean? Don't ask me; ask Eduardo.
Tom C. Hunley / C. Montgomery Burns I realize I’m as old as that knock-knockit’s-an-orange joke, as weak as Near Beer, richer than Buddy Rich. I’ll admit I’m as lonely as the last bowling pin wobbling alone beside the gutter – oh how I miss my Pin Pals – and upon reflection, I guess I’m as insecure as one of those no-good slugabeds who insults others to make himself feel good. I’m no blackhearted Grinch. I provide jobs for every hungover Joe Meatball in Springfield. I love my teddy bear, Bobo, like a gambler loves a big payoff. Oh, how I love a big payoff! See, I’ve got lots of love in my heart. It’s two sizes too big, if anything. Smithers, there’s someone at the door. Smithers? Where is that slack-jawed nincompoop? Oh, I’ll just open it myself. Grunt. Pant. Open—you—stupid—door. Well, what is it, mustache-man? Time is money. Out with it. What does “How-dilly doo-dilly” mean? You say I can be happy? Excellent. You say I can live forever? Excellent. You say I just have to follow whom? Jesus, eh? I’ll remember that name. But what’s this about giving everything to the poor? Why don’t I just jockey a camel through a needle’s eye, eh? Smithers! Release the hounds!
Jon Sindell / The Driving Instructor “RELAX, HON,” drawls the driving instructor. “If you die, I die.” He’s looking right at me, but I look straight ahead even though we’re still idling in front of my house. He’s one of those losers who looks about fifty when they’re just thirty-two, with a face that looks like it’s being sucked down a drain. And he’s lighting a cigarette! “Would you put that out, please?” He lets out a sigh and rolls down the window and hangs his arm out. He’s a poser, this loser, wearing a tight t-shirt to show off his arms even though it’s cold out. His blond hair is long, and that’s cool, but it’s stringy and greasy, and disgusting to look it. “Those’ll kill you,” I say. “Hooray,” he smirks, “you got an A in health class.” I clamp my mouth shut: an A in health and everything else. What a dumb little driving-school car! This guy’s six-footmoron and his knees are hiked up, and it’s my turn to smirk. I feel him staring at my face, then my neck, and now his stare’s crawling over my chest. “Are we going?” I say. I’m mad at myself, because my voice has just cracked. “Whoa,” he says, “first you’re afraid of dying, now you can’t wait to go.” “I didn’t say I was afraid of dying, I’m merely concerned about whether I’m advanced enough for the freeway.” I’m merely concerned, words straight from Mom’s playbook. “Like I said, if you die, I die.” 198
My hands are fixed at ten and two. I stare straight ahead. “Maybe you want to die.” I say this to hurt him, because I think that it’s true. “Maybe,” he says without hesitation. I’m supposed to feel sorry for him. “Not you though,” he says, jerks his head at our house. It’s a big house, I admit it, a white colonial with red brick. Mom’s flower boxes have red and white cyclamen, and our porch has a swing and a bed for the dog. And I cry, damn it. “Okay, listen,” he says in a deep phony voice. “Let’s not go yet.” “No, let’s.” I floor the gas pedal and aim the right headlight straight at a lamppost five houses down.
Bill Glose / Self-Image You’d think I’d be accustomed to the image that appears in color, matte, 3-by-5; yet each time I glimpse myself in photos, I see the kind of befuddled chap I place on mental Post-It notes to write about later. Memory is a turntable needle refusing to follow the groove, skipping chasms, replaying tunes from yesteryear— stronger, thinner, smoother— stronger, thinner, smoother— Elvis looking back on Jailhouse Rock. Liz Taylor in the Grand National. I am the youth racing within my head at night, facing danger with a smirk, certain, sexy, shameless, the one who scores winning touchdowns, cavorts with tattooed women, Outside of mirror’s grasp I am forever that boy running through fields of purple phlox, arms spread wide as possibilities, certain he can fly.
Ace Boggess / What Can One Do to Become Another? See how the prisonerâ€™s shackled wrists boxed by lock above the abdomen create an illusion of hands in prayer. Am I saying convicts need a hint of safety, comfort, hope, or that faith chains a man the way belief in ghosts hides one under the covers at night? Either/or? Can it be bothâ€” the blessing a curse and curse a light landing warmly on the reef? Somehow there is transformation. The worn mask replicates the face beneath. As Kierkegaard said, if a butterfly forgets it was a caterpillar, perhaps it can forget itself again and be a fish.
Brandon Williams / Seven Hours before the Death of his Grandmother I was sitting at the Waffle House in Tempe, Arizona, when the young waitress with the name tag “Merlinda” came up to me with her pad of paper and her stub of a pencil and said ma’am instead of sir when asking if I was ready to make my order. I had a fork in my hand, rolling it over my fingers like I do to kill time, and it’d been a long day driving straight through from Lubbock watching the speedometer vibrate and my left arm burn in the sun, thinking about remission and lymph nodes and my grandmother who could barely walk three months after the first surgery and how in hell she was going to make it through another with her weak constitution and the fibromyalgia that sapped what little will she’d ever had. I had a fork in my hand, and I’d just shaved off a three-year beard, but I still had the long hair that curled like a Midwestern tornado. Merlinda said ma’am instead of sir, and I looked at her with my eyes red-rimmed from the drive and slightly euphoric from the robbery that I’d pulled in Las Cruces of a liquor store called Lucky’s Liquors that I knew for a fact had no security cameras, feeling somewhere in my meniscus the aching certainty that the possibilities of freedom had expanded by way of that one impulsive act. I had a fork in my hand and the knowledge that I had sixteen more hours to drive to make it home and the memory of my brother’s voice over the telephone that had cracked at the beginning of every new thought, telling me come on home, she’s asking for you, and the foul nature of the 202
conversation as it had spiraled into emptiness. She said ma’am instead of sir, and I had a fork in my hand and no way to imagine a positive ending, and Merlinda voiced no apology, and I was the kind of tired and the kind of miserable that let me dream of taking that fork and planting it through the bridge of her nose, settling it deep inside. Maybe I’d use the blood to season my eggs, the flesh for a napkin. The possibilities were limited, but vivid. I let the fork dance around my knuckles the way some people do coins. The pads of my fingers itched with every completed rotation. I could see the future stretched out before me, too bright for my hooded eyes, and like a true or false question on one of those tests my kid brother bubbled in on his way to that law degree, two clear possibilities revealed themselves. Then Merlinda stepped into my vision, still no apology, and I had a fork in my hand when she said, “I’m cashing out for the day, y’need anything else?” I let myself say, “No, ma’am,” drawing out the word, and I let myself exult in the power of decision.
Michael Cooper / #7 Alejandro thirsty, poppy-knuckled and weeping Thumb held over her portrait memory: echo of echoes the sand paper sands clasp hands over fishook mouth pull ourselves back from the sliteye plastic drapes plastic cup alibi: of alibis —person of persons of interest —the motionless drown in Ironlung subpoena, this smooth barrel, wrinkled hands on rusted rung neck we stretch above its rising waters to cry plie plie-girl: The synchronized movements of the yellowed whirl cabs of undelight, she circles searching for her place to doublepark her shoeless blood: of bloodied toe—the sky, this whole city, beating in the sequin hymn of her undress.
Clifton Snider / Cave of Cosquer I did not know what calanques were till I whizzed by them on a boat & sailed into these white-rocked inlets along the gleaming, turquoise Mediterranean coast east of Marseilles. Cave of Cosquer, opening 120 feet below the surface, was on our map. The pilot never mentioned it. My French friend queried & we matched the googled picture on his phone with the black streaks on the white rock we saw passing by. Speeding past the same on our return, I snapped pictures & a quick video with my digital camera & I remembered the painted image of a great auk, northern penguin-like creature immortal in the cave since the Ice Age, made extinct by humans by 1844. One does not know what one knows till one sees it.
Clifton Snider / To a Ring-tailed Lemur What does it mean to encounter you, a wild animal among your fellows, caged at the Jardin Zoologique in the south of France? I expected toucans, depicted on either side of the entrance. Hornbills, from another side of the world, live here now, similar yet entirely different from toucans, as are you to me, far from your home in Madagascar, your bright eyes, like brown globes with pupils framed in black and white, dart like your fingers to search for food, refusing to stay still for my camera. They transfix me, take me back to our common home, Africa, millions and millions of years ago.
Rita Rouvalis Chapman / Octopus Rearing Itâ€™s like teaching high school, octopus rearingâ€” the eggs are the color of wet sugar, sweet, clear sacs as translucent as any heartbroken sophomore. Watch them form, a tentacle here, a chromatophore there. Watch especially the chromatophores; think of a chalk artist mixing his colors. As any eight-armed mama can tell you: baby octopuses are much more work than they look. You would never expect how much they eat. Raise one or two early, to make your mistakes on. Just before they hatch, they flip.
Rita Rouvalis Chapman / St. Rita I am woody with an undercurrent of raspberry. You are saddle leather with an undercurrent of sore. Aphroditeâ€™s sweet-worded desires are the hard sated green of spring: they have the quality of raindrops evolving into hail. What you claim: the overfed sea creature of your tongue and the taste of iron on my lips. What I claim is cheap: The moist yellow cake of your prayers iced with desire.
Rita Rouvalis Chapman / On Beauty 1. It is possible to think In tetrahedral Like the plankton that spin Their personal cathedral Of calcium and silt It is possible to worship Like radiolarian— Their Pre-Cambrian desires A feast for those Who will come later It is possible to judge Our conic progress To arc it across The desert floor 2. Ticketless— Recall the way Is not long Possibility— It exists But only in simile 3. But don’t tell the sweet cherries Shirley Temple is dead
Kate Bernadette Benedict / The Red Rock Latitudes It will be easy going at first: the rangers have put down boardwalks. That way you won’t trample the velvet pod mimosa. Expect a level change soon, and perilous footholds. You’ll crawl on your knees over canted boulders, you’ll scale rusty ladders clamped to vertical cliffs. Scrapes and strains will not deter you. At Expulsion Rock, you’ll be flung into free fall. Instinct will guide you, a forward rappelling. Tell yourself: Bounce. It’s the nearest thing to pure flight there is. At that time of then, the scenery should be arresting. Each moment of pure motion will be suspended. That’s what happens in the red rock latitudes. Don’t be surprised if you also see fires. The dry time is upon us, the time of gusts.
Kate Bernadette Benedict / The Firegrounds The fires aren’t much. There’s one: see? A fallen pinecone self-combusts or a single sun cup. Just tamp them with your boot or throw some water on. They’ve been flaring up all night. No section’s spared, not the great lawn, browned by drought, not the briar maze, not the scholar’s garden. Be warned. There are things here that will unhinge you: weeds the size of the great saguaros, trees that root in Dresden thimbles. When you come across the sleeping persons, sighing and rhythmically writhing, just keep your head up. Scan, squint, sniff. Put out the fires.
Kate Bernadette Benedict / The Ritual You ask how many years we have gathered here, at Clock Rock, to conjure the dawn sun? We summoned the first sun. You ask the meaning of our chants and gestures and what our feet are spelling as we thump out these thundering percussions? The ancestors knew. Our customary number, seven times seven of us, seven times circling, seven times blowing the whittled reed with its seven perforations? It is not written. Still we have authored day. Above the laccolith, the moon pales. Should we linger on our mats one night, should just one choose the work of dreams over this more necessary work, what would come to pass? Why, we ask in turn, would we risk disaster, baleful darkness, earth denied all light?
Jamez Chang and Rachel J. Fenton / Two Continents If the mantle cracks as the plates collide, in time theyâ€™ll turn to point and say that was history, when two continents advanced, and nobody died.
Lukas Hall / As a Balloon You should be Proud You’ve developed hands. Grotesque, stubby fingers and palms, sewn together like colloquial dreams sketched out on your disavowed skull by a 20s era projector. It’s quite the accomplishment! I mean, It’s breath taking, hypothetically. I can’t breathe, well because I’m filling you up with air. My lungs may give out before I finish my lengthy praise. Congratulations, you’ve done a great justice for balloons everywhere. One day, they might shout, “Hands! We want more hands!” And you’ll be at a podium, during your inauguration speech, smacking the wood with those new hands, as they chant. Then again, I’m getting ahead of myself, I mean you’re just a balloon. If I don’t blow you up, you may never have the opportunity to run for president. You’ll probably stay trapped in my head. Besides, maybe balloons weren’t meant to have hands or be president. 214
Lukas Hall / Everything is Subject to Deconstruction I used to love swimming down flights of stairs when I was a child, using only a paddle to propel myself further through the front door and into the trickling darkness that rains onto my old porch. That darkness, you know, the kind that would always be found on the opposite side of your hand, would wash me away into the grass, where I would lay for hours just flapping my arms on the flimsy hay hoping, praying it would leave my halo in the soil underneath. My mother would come outside for her morning smoke, and flick the ashes towards my almost still feet. As if it were theoretically yesterday, I remember 215
the mix of chimney smoke and my mother's cigarette smoke waltzing on the outer edge of my nostrils. Curled together, the smoke would dive and start to ascend into the shimmering flicker of the half there morning sun. She would leave behind the smoke, as I would stare up, at the twirled together smoke being vacuumed into the sky while the school bus honked, and honked, and re-honked, but the only thing running through my mind was, I used to love swimming down flights of stairs.
Jane Miller / A Dream Come True When she wakes in her dream, there is a boat for a bed. She dangles her feet over its edge and sees a pond that extends to her kitchen, her bathroom, her front door. Lily pads of clothes litter the floor. Here she sees her yesterday and the day before in the roots of a sleeve, the pant leg that has pressed into itself like a tin can, the twin cups of a bra floating face up, the gallantly open coat and shoes, on their sides, giving their heels a rest. She sees no way around it. There is coffee to be made. She wades into her life. She falls. She gets up. When she opens her eyes, the water is gone. The clothes wait for her next move.
Jane Miller / Dementia There is a refrigerator, old and white with rounded corners and a small handle like a car door. There are shelves for food past expiration date and bodies past usefulness. There is a bag of linguine mounded like brains. Red sauce soured with age. There is a boy running from injected war, a girl who fears the dark of her growing blindness, the man who knits himself into the far reaches of this upright morgue, who knows the wrong secrets that kill. I am there, hiding on the racks of these forsaken shelves, leftover plots, their edges curled and hard as a taunt, black rot waiting in the air.
Jane Miller / Medusa at the Stylist When she comes into my shop, first thing, I put her under the spell of the heat lamp. When her hair nods off, snake eyes lidded, tongues slack, I braid her danger into itself, fashion of each serpent duo, a banded tassel of forked split ends. In the flashbulb brilliance of metal scissors, snake eyes burst open. Tongues, thick with confusion, lick the parlous air. Bodies writhe in their weave. With guillotine strokes, I deadhead her ends, a garland of last gasps to broom away. I dress her dreads with beads like serpentâ€™s eggs. They rattle together softly when she pays, later, sprout tongues unmanageable with Gorgon rage. She becomes a regular, a trend-setter others follow to my chair. Each woman, a secret Medusa, wants killer hair.
Kevin Tosca / Witness of What MY FATHER ASKED THE SINGER WHY, if he could sing so well, he was in this shitty bar. Why do you think? he insisted. You’re fifty if you’re a day. Can’t write your own stuff? Things too hard out there in the real world for you? My father paused, swished and rattled the ice cubes in his glass. Or is it because you’re morbidly fat? The singer—the one who charged twenty bucks to sing Don McLean’s “American Pie,” the one I had wanted my father to hear—glanced at the bartender, raised his eyebrows, and started another song. The bartender, as he mixed our next round (my father was drinking fast and tipping large), told my father to settle down, to take it easy. I mean, my father said, he is obese. Deny it, he said. You can’t. You can’t tell me I’m wrong here. My father turned his head over his shoulder, stared at the singer. But the real question —the real thing I really want to know—is how long he thinks that poor chair’s got left in it. I helped my father walk the cobblestone streets that night. I supported him on one side while a coworker of his (a man named Perry in his late thirties who had spent the evening with us) supported the other. In the truck on the ride to the hotel, my father sat in the middle. He wanted hamburgers, so we negotiated the drive-thru and I remember thinking, as the pimple-cheeked girl filled our order and handed us the bag, that I had never seen him look so young. At the door of the hotel, Perry wished us a nonchalant good night. Had he seen my father like this before? 220
Inside, we ate the burgers and fries and finished off a sixpack as we watched the last five innings of an Atlanta Braves game. The Braves lost, which was good: my father hated the Braves. He passed out shortly thereafter. In the morning, at a Waffle House off I-16, my father drank a lot of coffee. He ate his eggs and his toast and his grits and he didn’t say much of anything. He looked tired, but I saw no regret, guilt, or shame on his face. If he were feeling any of these things, he was skilled at not showing them. The sun was rising and it promised to be a warm, cloudless day. We’d have an easy two-hour drive to Charleston. When my mother returned home from work with groceries for the weekend, she asked how the trip had gone. Fine, I said. She saw the johnboat (the reason I had been asked to take the truck to Savannah to join my father) in the backyard and shook her head, boats having become backyard statuary before. What did you think of your father’s work? she asked me. Interesting, I said, and though she was never sure what my father did for a living, she accepted that and finished putting the food away. That night, during and after dinner, the three of us got high on Cabernet and Frangelico as we listened to Willy Nelson sing. Not drunk, just high—high in the slow, sweet way. I was twenty-four years old and would have told you that I had, but I hadn’t seen much of anything.
Kevin Tosca / Birth of a Pyromaniac OSLO’S MOTHER YELLED over the noise of the television and asked him to fetch the address book from the kitchen drawer. He muted the cartoon, eased JoJo’s paws off his thighs, and glanced at the fire, wondering if he should add more wood or let it die. “Want to help?” his mother said. She had a stack of Christmas cards and their Technicolor envelopes in front of her. She took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. Oslo sat down, snatched a wreath-shaped cookie from the plate on the table and read the addresses of friends and family members and men and women who were those once-a-year kind of acquaintances—unseen, but maintained. He didn’t mind helping his mother. In fact, he liked it, especially since he had noticed her removing her glasses and rubbing her eyes more often than she used to. Besides, it was easy work and he would soon return to whatever Nickelodeon had coming up next, but he kept seeing something odd in the address book. With an unpredictable regularity, names and the addresses below them were crossed out. “Mom?” “Yeah?” “What do the lines mean?” Oslo’s mother sipped her whiskey Amaretto. “What lines?” Oslo showed his mother the lines in the address book, the ones that tore like arrows through the letters and numbers. He showed her page after page of them. Oslo’s mother had read article after article in Reader’s Digest arguing it was unhealthy to lie to children. She took another 222
sip of her drink and lit a cigarette and touched the red glass ashtray her mother used before the ovarian cancer killed her. She held up the yellow legal pad with the list of all the people she needed to send cards to. “They mean those people are off the list.” She smiled, but stopped when she realized how vague she had been. “It means they’re dead,” she said. “Oh.” “Do you know what ‘dead’ means?” She hoped for a yes because, if pressed beyond a simple ‘not here anymore,’ she knew the words would only get more vague. “Yes.” Oslo finished helping his mother write the Christmas cards, and later that night, after she passed out, he took the address book off the dining room table where she had left it and tossed it into the fire. The fat book with the stitched owl on the cover and the brochures, business cards, flyers, coupons, newspaper clippings, take-out menus, twenty-year-old greeting cards and illegible notes, yellowing letters and fading pictures stuffed in front of the names and addresses and held together by an enormous red rubber band burned begrudgingly. He added wood until it disappeared. When it was gone, Oslo felt proud of himself. Now his cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents and baseball coach and brother out in California and everyone else he knew and loved would be safe, but Oslo didn’t sleep well that night because, while brushing his teeth, he realized something.
He realized there were similar books in the homes of everyone he and his parents knew and loved, books with his mother’s and brother’s names in them—books with his name in them—inside all of them, waiting.
Tricia Knoll / Desert Storm Snowbirds jet into Palm Springs for a golf tournament, slip sunglasses from leather purses. Mummy bags clank clubs at baggage claim. Morning opens with sun on lemons, arugula and tortoises. Expected easy until a thin-skinned silver noon molds gray. Demon wind sheers up a taste of desert dust and climate change. Confetti-ed date palms scrape estatesâ€™ asphalt driveways like a mean manâ€™s unshaved embrace. High gates blow open and away. Saguaros and salt cedars shed. Blinded drivers flee Gene Autry Trail, flashing barricades and high-jinxed signal lights. Pool floats skid on pavement. Finches, doves, and hummingbirds hide in the roof tiles. Grapefruits bomb over-watered lawns. Sirens reign at blown-in glass. By dusk, the hot wind dies, dries up. Vast dust scours 225
coyoteâ€™s wash and settles down the same. We strain red miscarriage from the pool, bougainvillea blooms of blood.
Tricia Knoll / The Caretaker in the Veteran’s Cemetery Santa Fe, New Mexico I sing one-sided rounds. Desert winds trick up echoes. Never accuse me of talking to myself — not in this boneyard of 47,000 white marble tombstones. My shiftless. Slabbed. Death minus birth — I practice subtraction every day. Visitors call me names. Landlady of Ghost Town. Ma’am for my hobbling, Afghanistan’s roadside gift. My supervisor calls me Tombstone Tally. He likes hiring a vet. I’ve fine-tuned the mapping database. We know who’s here and get notices on who’s shipping next to our marble farm. People come in pieces, in boxes, ashed. I lost my right foot. Incomplete is fine. The rows of headstones flicker, a make-dizzy pattern. The freeway is a wasp buzz, a rattler. Neatness keeps restless fires from flaring. Here is order. I mow and sprinkle the greenest grass in Santa Fe. My clean gutters carry off flash floods. I bury keys to the wrought-iron gates in my thigh pockets. At sunset, the stones’ shadows lie down in straight lines. The desert’s angry-hatchet boulders outside the gates never do. The shadows that touch each other comfort me — more than plastic roses or flags left from Veteran’s Day, Dia de las muertos, Memo227
rial Day. The sun’s throw down of neat lines, the full moon’s ghost light on white. Death in parallels. Overlaps. The wind’s invitation into dust’s dance with a stone chorus. One father asked what I think of after-life. I point to scuttled clouds. The bluest sky over red rim rock, kettling hawks, quorking ravens. I show monuments. Dust dervishes curl above one to the men who broke through enemy lines in gliders in World War II. Their silence in a deafening war. I offer the fountain. Little good comes of sharing my ghosts.
Tricia Knoll / A Pacific Northwest Tourist in the Mojave Desert We came wary of baking, seeking May blooms, butterflies, one rest before summerâ€™s grudging endurance. We stepped into sunsets rolled out as adobe roses. The fuzzy teddy bear cholla spined me good. You tweezered my finger webs. Deserts winds chattered palms at the oasis. White wind-farm rotors circled like tai chi arms. Old-timers saw them grinding down their ways faster than winds and rains and time can heal. The Keys family recycled bedsprings into fences. They cemented walls from river rocks. Hold the water, a dam for peach trees. Side-blotched lizards practiced push ups. What do I know, coming here fern-frond hair? Iâ€™d need to breathe here a long time, taste winds and squint at small things. We brought billed hats, sunscreen, and bottled water. We relished overhead fans, ice machines and line-dried sweat-rinsed clothes. The desert tied us up in strings of infrequent shade. We heard back stories. Slashing at tamarisk. Invasive grasses burn bigger fires. 229
Flames spawn prayer rugs of orange mallow, brittlebush, octotilla, primrose, sage, tiny blooms in hard rock pockets. The Joshuas, yuccas and agaves, last straws of drought. Our new eyes lit on worn foot trails, rock piles, petroglyphs, a sun-stroked rattle nake on the front step of the trading post at Indian Canyon. The girl ordered us to step around it. LA smog obscures the Salton Sea. ATM tracks fail to fade. Lovers carve initials in cactuses. We found one stone cairn, a perfect heart shape on a flat outcropping. Small red rock lined up as words: â€œLove me.â€? We coalesced like a milky way beyond city, thinking too late, too much, together. We left loving, my pricked thumb in the palm of his hand.
Carolyn Adams’ poetry and art have been published in Aesthetica, ThunkBook, and Trajectory, among others. She has edited /co-edited Curbside Review, Mad Hatter Review, Ardent, and Lily Literary Review. Her chapbooks are Beautiful Strangers, What Do You See?, and An Ocean of Names. Nominated for a Pushcart, she was also a finalist for 2013 Houston Poet Laureate. Cynthia Anderson lives in the California high desert near Joshua Tree National Park. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and have received awards from Artists Embassy International, Santa Barbara Writers Conference, Santa Barbara Arts Council, and The Wildling Museum. Her books include In the Mojave, Shared Visions, and Shared Visions II. She is co-editor of the anthology A Bird Black as the Sun: California Poets on Crows & Ravens. Nonnie Augustine’s début collection of poems, One Day Tells its Tale to Another, was named by Kirkus Review as one of their Best of Indie 2013. Her poetry and fiction have appeared online and in print, she was recently a finalist for the 14th Glass Woman Prize, and she has been poetry editor of The Linnet’s Wings since 2007. Ms. Augustine has a B.F.A. in Dance from The Juilliard School and a M.S. in Special Education from Florida State University. Her website is nonnieaugustine.com. Angela Cardinale Bartlett has been teaching English at Chaffey College for nine years. She is the founder of the creative 231
writing blog We Will Begin Again, to which she is a frequent contributor. Her work has been published in The Sand Canyon Review, The Chaffey Review, and in the anthology Lost and Found: Stories from New York. She lives in southern California with her husband and two boys. Allie Marini Batts is an MFA candidate at Antioch University of Los Angeles. Her work has been a finalist for Best of the Net and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She is managing editor for Zoetic Press & the Nonbinary Review. She is the author of poetry chapbooks, You Might Curse Before You Bless (ELJ Publications, 2013), Unmade & Other Poems, (Beautysleep Press, 2013), and This Is How We End (forthcoming 2014, Bitterzoet.) Find her on Facebook:facebook.com/AllieMariniBatts. Ann Beman, nonfiction editor of The Los Angeles Review, has been writing a book about thumbs forever. Her work has appeared in DIAGRAM, The Literary Review, Bombay Gin, and Canoe Journal, among others. She lives in Californiaâ€™s Sierra Nevada with her husband and two whatchamaterriers in Kernville, on the Kern River, in Kern County. Cue the banjoes. Kate Bernadette Benedict lives and writes in Riverdale, a neighborhood in New York City. Her collections are Here from Away and In Company. For many years, she published and edited Umbrella: A Journal of Poetry and Kindred Prose and Tilt-a-Whirl, a resource of repeating-form poetry. Ace Boggess is the author of two books of poetry: The Prisoners 232
(Brick Road Poetry Press, 2014) and The Beautiful Girl Whose Wish Was Not Fulfilled (Highwire Press, 2003). His writing has appeared in Harvard Review, Mid-American Review, Atlanta Review, RATTLE, River Styx, Southern Humanities Review and many other journals. He currently resides in Charleston, West Virginia. Louis Bourgeois is co-founder and editor of VOX PRESS. He has facilitated many VOX events over the past five years and is the creator of the VOX Artists Series. Bourgeois, the first graduate of the University of Mississippi’s prestigious MFA Creative Writing program, is also the author of six books of poetry and in 2008 his memoir, The Gar Diaries, was nominated for the National Book Award. Lori Sambol Brody’s short fiction has been published in Tin House Flash Fridays, New Orleans Review, Clapboard House, and elsewhere. Chris Bronsk writes and takes pictures. His photographs were recently featured in Creative Thresholds, an arts and literary journal. He resides in Seattle, WA, with his wife and son and lives in the fire sales of dreams. Michael Buckley’s work has appeared in The Best American Series, The Southern California Review, and numerous times in The Alaska Quarterly Review. His debut collection of short fiction was entitled Miniature Men. He has been nominated for numerous awards, including the Pushcart Prize.
Jeff Burt works in manufacturing. He has published work in Windfall, Dandelion Farm Review, Verse Wisconsin, Thrice Fiction, and is forthcoming in Storm Cellar and Mobius. He loves the smell of a sharply freshened number two pencil. Wendy Taylor Carlisle lives in the Arkansas Ozarks. She is the author of two books of poetry and three chapbooks. Her most recent is Persephone on the Metro (MadHat Press, 2014). Melissa Castillo-Garsow is a Mexican-American writer, journalist, and scholar. She was awarded the Sonoran Prize for Creative Writing at Arizona State University and was a finalist for Crab Orchard Reviewâ€™s 2009 Charles Johnson Student Fiction Award. She has had short stories and poems published in Acentos Review, Hinchas de Poesia, The 2River View, Hispanic Culture Review, and The Pacific Review. To learn more visit melissacastillogarsow.com. Jamez Chang is a hip hop artist, poet and editor living in Englewood Cliffs, NJ. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in PANK, Underground Voices, Stone Highway Review, FRiGG, Prime Number, and Thrush Poetry Journal. He is working on an album, Lit Hop, in which he fuses hip hop with literary text and the voices of poets and writers. He is currently Editor of Flash Fiction at Counterexample Poetics. Visit: jamezchang.wordpress.com. Rita Rouvalis Chapman is a high school English teacher in Webster Groves, Missouri and is none-too-swiftly pursuing an MFA at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. Her work has most 234
recently appeared on Lectores Coffee bags. When not grading essays and writing poetry, she spends her time riding her exracehorse, Metaphor. Chloe N. Clark is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing & Environment. Her work has appeared such places as Sleet, Booth, Menacing Hedge, Neon, and more. Her favorite lizard is the chuckwalla and she has made perfect madeleine cookie. Follow her @PintsNCupcakes. Tobi Cogswell is a multiple Pushcart nominee and a Best of the Net nominee. Credits include or are forthcoming in various journals in the US, UK, Sweden and Australia. In 2012 and 2013 she was short-listed for the Fermoy International Poetry Festival. In 2013 she received Honorable Mention for the Rachel Sherwood Poetry Prize. Her sixth and latest chapbook is Lapses & Absences (Blue Horse Press). She is the co-editor of San Pedro River Review. Michael Cooper is an inland empire poet, PoetrIE member, MFA student, Veteran, and father of two great sons: Markus & Jonathan. You can find his work in Tin Cannon, The Pacific Review, The Chaffey Review, The Camel Saloon, Creepy Gnome, Milspeaks: Memo, Split Lip, and other fine (but wild) publications. He would like to make you aware that the splash zone includes the first eleven rows. Marguerite (Meg) Scott Copses is a native of Charleston, SC. and is a professor of poetry and composition at The College 235
of Charleston. She works with both academic and community writers in the Charleston area. Her poetry has recently appeared in The Southeast Review, The DuPage Valley Review, The Evansville Review, and The Mom Egg. Additionally, she is the editor of Illuminations Literary Magazine. Tasha Cotter is the author of the chapbooks That Bird Your Heart (Finishing Line Press) and Spectacular Girl (Chantepleure Press). Her first full-length collection of poetry, Some Churches, was released in 2013 with Gold Wake Press. You can find her online at tashacotter.com. Mary Crow’s new book of poems, Addicted to the Horizon, was published in 2012. Her awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Colorado Council on the Arts, a Colorado Book Award, and three Fulbrights. She also translates poetry; her most recent book is Vertical Poetry: Last Poems of Roberto Juarroz (2011), finalist for a PEN USA Translation Award. Rachel J. Fenton was born in South Yorkshire and currently lives in Auckland. Winner of the University of Plymouth 7th Annual Short Fiction Competition, she was shortlisted for The Royal Society of New Zealand Manhire Prize and won AUT's Creative Writing Prize for her graphic poem “Alchemy Hour.” AKA Rae Joyce, she works as a graphic artist and comics creator and is featured in New Zealand Comics and Graphic Novels (Hicksville Press). She blogs at: snowlikethought.blogspot.com/
Irene Fick’s first collection of poetry was published in May 2014 by The Broadkill River Press. Her poems have also been published in Philadelphia Stories; Adanna Literary Journal; The Broadkill Review; The Avocet; and Third Wednesday. A former journalist, her nonfiction has been published in newspapers, magazines, and other journals in Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco. She lives in Lewes, Delaware. Gretchen Fletcher’s poetry has been published in numerous journals and anthologies including upstreet, Chattahoochee Review, Inkwell, and The Mid-American Poetry Review. She won the Poetry Society of America’s Bright Lights, Big Verse competition and was projected on the Jumbotron as she read her poem in Times Square. Her chapbooks, That Severed Cord and The Scent of Oranges, were published by Finishing Line Press, and one of her poems was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Joshua Gage is from Cleveland. His first full-length collection, breaths, is available from VanZeno Press. His most recent collection, Inhuman: Haiku from the Zombie Apocalypse, is available on Poet’s Haven Press. He is a graduate of the Low Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Naropa University. Katherine Gehan earned an MFA in fiction from Emerson College, and her writing has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Muddy River Poetry Review, Literary Mama, WhiskeyPaper, MetroFiction, Literary Orphans, Crack the Spine, and is forthcoming in SundogLit.
Bill Glose is the author of the poetry collections Half a Man (FutureCycle Press, 2013) and The Human Touch (San Francisco Bay Press, 2007). In 2011, he was named the Daily Press Poet Laureate. His poems have appeared in numerous publications, including Narrative Magazine, Poet Lore, and Boston Literary Magazine. Renny Golden’s poetry book Blood Desert: Witnesses 1820-1880 (University of New Mexico Press) won the WILLA Literary Award for poetry 2011, was named a Southwest Notable Book of the Year 2012, and was a Finalist for the New Mexico/Arizona Book Award. Golden is a Poetry Editor with Voices From the American Land Press, Placitas, New Mexico; she is on the Advisory Board for the Malpais Review and is on the Board of West End Press. M. Krockmalnik Grabois’ poems have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad. He is a regular contributor to The Prague Revue and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, most recently for his story “Purple Heart” published in The Examined Life in 2012, and for his poem. “Birds,” published in The Blue Hour, 2013. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available as an e-book or as a print edition. Shasta Grant received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. She was a writer-in-residence at Hedgebrook in 2007 and is an editor for Storyscape. Her work is forthcoming or has appeared in WhiskeyPaper, Corium Magazine, Proximity Magazine, The Journal of 238
Compressed Creative Arts, and elsewhere. She lives in Singapore and Indianapolis and can be found online at shastagrant.com. Felicia Gustin is an Associate at Speak Out - the Institute for Democratic Education and Culture, a Board Member at Destiny Arts Center and a Collective Member/Blogger at War Times/Tiempo de Guerras. She lives in Berkeley, California. Lukas Hall is a poet, currently in the BFA Creative Writing program at Hamline University in Saint Paul, MN. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Aviary Review, East Jasmine Review, Rib Cage Literary Magazine, and Souvenir Lit. He also won the Patsy Lea Core Memorial Award in Creative Writing, for his poetry. David M. Harrisâ€™s work has appeared in Pirene's Fountain (and in the Best of Pirene's Fountain anthology), Gargoyle, The Labletter, The Pedestal, and other places. His first collection of poetry, The Review Mirror, was published by Unsolicited Press in September, 2013. On Sunday mornings, at 11 AM Central time, he talks about poetry on WRFN-LP in Pasquo, TN. Tiff Hollandâ€™s poetry and prose appear regularly in journals and anthologies. Recent work has appeared in Mojave River Review, Connotations, and New World Writing. Her chapbook, Betty Superman, won the fifth annual Rose Metal Press prize for shortshort fiction and is being reissued as a novella in flash, also by Rose Metal Press.
Megan Hudgins is a former graduate student and instructor at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she was also the editing assistant for Sou’Wester Literary Magazine. You can find some of her work in SIUE's in-house journal, River Bluff Review and online journals Anti- and Toad: The Journal. She was also featured as one of the River Styx's “Hungry Young Poets.” Tom Hunley is an associate professor of English at Western Kentucky University, the director of Steel Toe Books, and the bassist for the litcore rock band Manley Pointer. Forthcoming are his fourth full-length book Plunk (Wayne State College Press) and an edited collection of essays called Creative Writing Studies: An Introduction to Its Pedagogies (Southern Illinois University Press). His poems have been featured three times on The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor and five times on Verse Daily. Among his publication credits are Atlanta Review, New Orleans Review, Five Points, TriQuarterly, North American Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and New York Quarterly. He divides his time between Kansas and Oz. Wendy Elizabeth Ingersoll’s book Grace Only Follows won the 2010 National Federation of Press Women Contest and was a finalist for Drake University’s 2012 Emerging Writer Prize. Her poems have appeared in Naugatuck River Review, Passager, Caesura, Controlled Burn, Mojave River Review, and received a Pushcart Prize nomination. She’s a retired piano teacher. Whittney Jones is an MFA candidate at Murray State University. She lives in a small town in Southern Illinois where 240
she works as a Project Next Generation mentor at the town’s public library. She has work published or forthcoming in Revolution House, Zone 3, the minnesota review, The Hartskill Review, and Parable Press. J.I. Kleinberg works and plays with words. She is co-author of the book Fat Stupid Ugly: One Woman’s Courage to Survive and blogs at chocolateisaverb.wordpress.com. Her writing has appeared in numerous journals, and her poem, “Better Homes & Gardens,” was recently nominated for a Pushcart prize. She lives in Bellingham, Washington. Matthew Brady Klitsch received his MFA in Poetry from Drew University. His poems have appeared in 5AM, The Massachusetts Review, Colorado Review, and The Dirty Napkin, among others. He spends his time working as a veterinary assistant and volunteering with a wildlife rehabilitation center. He lives in New Jersey. Tricia Knoll is a Portland, Oregon, poet with family ties to both Santa Fe, New Mexico and Palm Springs, California. A poet of place, mostly related to the Pacific Northwest, the arid climates and fauna intrigues her. She is a master gardener. Her haiku and poetry have been published in numerous journals related to poetry of place: About Place Journal, Soundings, Cirque Journal, Windfall, and more. In May 2014, her chapbook Urban Wild comes out from Finishing Line Press. Philip Kobylarz’s recent work appears or will appear in 241
Connecticut Review, Basalt, Santa Fe Literary Review, New American Writing, Poetry Salzburg Review, and has appeared in Best American Poetry. His book Rues was recently published by Blue Light Press of San Francisco. His collection of fiction Now Leaving Nowheresville and his book length essay Nearest Istanbul are forthcoming. Kristin LaTour has a chapbook, Agoraphobia, from Dancing Girl Press (2013). Her poetry has appeared in journals such as Fifth Wednesday, Cider Press, dirtcakes, qarrstiluni, and recently in the anthology Obsession: Sestinas in the 21st Century. She teaches at Joliet Jr. College and lives in Aurora, IL with her writer husband and two dogitos. There is more information at kristinlatour.com. Alice Lowe’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Upstreet, Hippocampus, Switchback, Prime Number, Phoebe, and Hobart. She was the 2013 national award winner at City Works Journal and winner of a 2011 essay contest at Writing It Real. A monograph, “Beyond the Icon: Virginia Woolf in Contemporary Fiction” was published by Cecil Woolf Publishers in London. She lives in San Diego, California, and blogs at aliceloweblogs.wordpress.com. Melanie Madden’s work has appeared in The Essay Daily and is forthcoming in Timber Journal and The Feminist Wire. She is an MFA candidate at the University of Arizona where she teaches creative nonfiction, and regularly performs with FST! Female StoryTellers in Tucson. David Maduli is a writer, public school teacher and father of 242
two. Proud alum of the VONA and Las Dos Brujas writing communities, he won the Joy Harjo Poetry Prize in 2011. Born in San Francisco and raised all over, he is a longtime resident of Oakland. After 14 years as a teacher and over 20 years of youth work, he is currently taking a hiatus from the classroom to pursue his MFA in Creative Writing at Mills College with the fellowship in Community Engagement. Dennis Mahagin has published two poetry collections: Longshot and Ghazal (Mojave River Press, 2014) and Grand Mal (Rebel Satori Press). His writing appears in magazines such as Exquisite Corpse, Evergreen Review, Verse Wisconsin, Stirring, Everyday Genius, 42opus, 3 A.M., Smokelong Quarterly, and The Nervous Breakdown. Heâ€™s @ scruffy123 on Twitter. Patricia Marquez is a writer and English teacher living in Austin, Texas, originally from El Paso. She received her MA in English from Brooklyn College in 2011. Her work has been published in Pacifica Literary Review and York University's Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies. She is currently working on editing her science-fiction novel. Jude Marr has an MFA from Georgia College. Her work has appeared in The Cortland Review, r.kv.ry., and Black Heart Magazine, among others. When not writing or teaching, Jude reads for WomenArts Quarterly Journal and she is an assistant editor at Ghost Ocean. Deborah Mashibini teaches English composition and is a late243
life MFA candidate in the Creative Writing program at Goddard College. Her poetry has appeared in the online journals Postcard Poems and Prose and Looseleaf Tea. Print publications include the 2013 edition of the St. Louis Black Pages and Community Annual Magazine, Kaleidoscope Magazine, American Society: What Poets See, Drum Voices Revue, Untamed Ink, Riverbluff Review, Sestina: Six Women Poets, and The Harwood Anthology. Darla McBryde is currently living in Houston. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the San Pedro River Review, University of NM's 200 New Mexico Poems, Big River Poetry Review, Gutter Eloquence, Di-Verse City, and others. She has published five chapbooks and performs at venues around Texas and was a featured poet for Houston's 2013 Public Poetry program. She was awarded the Lorene Pouncey Award for outstanding woman poet. Jeanetta Calhoun Mish has published two collections of poetry, Tongue Tied Woman (Sarasota Poetry Theater, 2002) and Work Is Love Made Visible (West End Press, 2009) which won the WILLA Award, the Wrangler Award, and the Oklahoma Book Award. She is Editor of Mongrel Empire Press and Contributing Editor for Sugar Mule: A Literary Magazine (www.sugarmule.com) and Oklahoma Today. She is Director of and Faculty Mentor for The Red Creative Writing MFA Program. Find her at tonguetiedwoman.com. Jane Miller is a poetry and fiction writer from Wilmington, DE. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Wanderings, 244
Connected: What Remains As We All Change, HalfwayDownTheStairs, In Gilded Cage, Storm Cycle, and The Broadkill Review. She received a 2014 Individual Artist Award as emerging poet from the Delaware Division of the Arts. Constantine Mountrakis is an anthropologist and writer from New York City. He lived in Athens, Greece until recently, where he pursued a doctorate and a girl. He married the girl. His work has appeared in Red Fez, Blue Hour, and Driftwood Press, among many others. Matt Muilenburg is an English instructor and writing consultant at the University of Dubuque. A graduate of the Wichita State University MFA program, his creative nonfiction is forthcoming in Southern Humanities Review and has been featured in New Plains Review. His fiction has also been featured in several literary journals. Rodney Nelsonâ€™s chapbook Metacowboy was published in 2011; another title, In Wait, in November 2012. The chapbook Fargo in Winter took second place in the 2013 Cathlamet Prize competition at Ravenna Press, Spokane. His chapbook of prose narratives, Hill of Better Sleep, is out from Red Bird Chapbooks. Coco Owen is a stay-at-home poet in Los Angeles. She has published in the Antioch Review, 1913: A Journal of Forms, The Journal, Rio Grande Review, etc., and forthcoming in Cutbank. She also has a mini-chapbook with Binge Press. She is on Les Figues Pressâ€™s board of directors and last worked at Reed College. More 245
of her work can be found at cocoowenphd.com. Robyn Oxborrow was born in Pahrump, NV. She has written articles for Reno Passport, and several book reviews for Sacramento Book Review, San Francisco Book Review, and PANK. Currently she is a student at Sierra Nevada College where she is working on her MFA in poetry. She now resides in Reno, NV where she works as a graphic artist. Brianna Pike currently lives in Indianapolis where she teaches creative writing at Ivy Tech Community College. Kenneth Pobo had a chapbook published by Finishing Line Press in 2012 called Save My Place. Forthcoming from Eastern Point Press is a chapbook called Placemats. Nicolas Poynter has an MFA in creative writing from Oklahoma City University. His work has appeared in North American Review, The Siren, Citron Review, Red Earth Review, Chagrin River Review, Fiction Fix, Gravel, and Florida English. Additionally, he won the 2013 Vuong Short-Story Prize sponsored by the south-central MLA. He is a high-school drop-out who became a chemist, and he now teaches AP physics. Carol Reid lives on the west coast of Canada. Her current project is a collaboration of micro-fiction, line drawing and water color. She also makes jewelry from her many photos of west coast crows.
Kevin Ridgeway is from Southern California, where he currently resides with his girlfriend and their one-eyed cat. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Re)verb, The Mas Tequila Review, The Commonline Journal, and Trailer Park Quarterly. His latest chapbook of poems, All the Rage, is now available from Electric Windmill Press. Robert James Russell is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominated author and founding editor of the literary journals Midwestern Gothic and CHEAP POP. His work has appeared in Joyland, Great Lakes Review, Squalorly, Buffalo Almanack, Pithead Chapel, WhiskeyPaper, and The Collagist, among others. Find him online at robertjamesrussell.com. Victor David Sandiego lives in the high desert of central México where he writes, studies, and plays drums with jazz combos and in musical/poetry collaborations. His work appears in various journals (Cerise Press, Crab Creek Review, Floating Bridge Review, Off the Coast, Generations Literary Journal, Poetry Salzburg Review, and others) and has been featured on public radio. He is the founder and current editor of Subprimal Poetry Art. His website is victordavid.com. Robert Scotellaro has published short fiction and poetry in numerous print and online journals and anthologies. He is the author of six literary chapbooks, with another due out by White Knuckle Press (2014). His story “Fun House” is included in the forthcoming anthology Flash Fiction International by W.W. Norton. A full length collection of his flash fiction, Measuring the 247
Distance, was published by Blue Light Press (2012). He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was the recipient of Zone 3's Rainmaker Award in Poetry. Raised in Manhattan, he currently lives in San Francisco and can be reached at rsflashfiction.com. Brian Seemann has most recently been published in the anthology Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand (Press 53), REAL, Forge, and The Mix Tape: A Flash Fiction Anthology (Flash Forward Press). The 2011 winner of the William J. Stuckey Memorial Prize for fiction, a 2014 Southern Writers Symposium: Emerging Writers Contest Finalist, and an MA and MFA graduate of Wichita State, he currently lives in Austin, Texas. Rachel Short is a composer, poet, and musician from Louisville, KY. She spends most of her time organizing community events that promote the art of others such as Drainage of a Hypernation, NuLu handwritten, Keep Louisville Literary, and Subterranean Phrases. She is the co-founder and Resident composer of the avant-garde music collective, Mothership Ensemble. Jon Sindell is a humanities tutor and a writing coach for business professionals. His flash fiction collection, The Roadkill Collection, is scheduled to be released by Big Table Publishing in late 2014. His short fiction has appeared in over sixty publications. He curates the Rolling Writers reading series in San Francisco. Merna Dyer Skinner writes poetry and personal essays when 248
she is not working as a communications consultant. Her business articles have appeared in national publications and her first published poems are coming out this summer in the literary journals MiOPesias, Star 82 Review and Mojave River Review. She lives in Venice, California with her sixth rescue dog, Sophie. Bud Smith is a writer from Washington Heights, NYC. His book of collected short stories, Or Something Like That, is available on Amazon, where you can buy just about anything from peanut butter pretzels to roofing tiles to home dental surgery equipment. His novel, Tollbooth, was published in 2013 by Piscataway House. Clifton Snider has published ten books of poetry, including his highly-acclaimed collection Moonman: New and Selected Poems (World Parade Books, 2012). His fourth novel and first historical novel, The Plymouth Papers, was published in February 2014 by Spout Hill Press. He retired from teaching at Cal State Long Beach in 2009. Miranda Stone’s work is strongly influenced by the setting and culture of the Appalachian Mountains. Her fiction and poetry have been published in numerous print and online journals, including Pithead Chapel, Prole, and The First Line. Her short story “The Confession” was published in the anthology Southern Gothic: New Tales of the South. She lives in Virginia and can be reached at AuthorMirandaStone.com. Kristin Stoner has been an instructor of English at the college 249
level for the past twelve years. She received her MA in Literature and Creative Writing from Iowa State University and an MFA in Poetry from Antioch University, LA. Some of her recent publications include Natural Bridge and Review Americana. Susan Tepper is a poet and fiction writer, author of five published books. Her latest title, The Merrill Diaries (Pure Slush, 2013), is a novel in stories. She has placed hundreds of poems in journals worldwide. Her story “Distance” is a finalist in story/South Million Writers Award for 2014. Find her at susantepper.com. Larry D. Thacker is an Appalachian writer and artist. His poetry can be found in past issues of The Still Journal, The Emancipator, Motif 2, Full of Crow, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume VI: Tennessee, and Appalachian Heritage. He is the author of Mountain Mysteries: The Mystic Traditions of Appalachia and Voice Hunting. He serves as Associate Dean of Students at Lincoln Memorial University. Kevin Tosca’s stories have appeared in Fleeting, Litro, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, and elsewhere. They have recently been included in “Best of…” anthologies from Vine Leaves Literary Journal and Bartleby Snopes. He lives in Paris. You can find him and his work at kevintosca.com. You can also like him on Facebook. He’d like that. Annaliese Wagner is now earning an MFA in creative writing from McNeese State University. She has been previously 250
published in Gingerbread House Literary Magazine and Blue Lyra Review, and is forthcoming in Weave Magazine. Denise R. Weuve is a Pushcart Prize nominee whose work has appeared in Bop Dead City, Genre, San Pedro River Review, and South Coast Poetry Journal. Her first collection of poems, The Truck Driverâ€™s Daughter (ELJ Publications), is forthcoming. She is a MFA candidate at Queens University of Charlotte, does poetry editing for Cease, Cows, and forces high school students to learn British Literature and love Creative Writing. She can be found at Deniserweuve.com. Brandon Williams is an MFA candidate at the University of California, Riverside. His work has most recently appeared or is forthcoming in Black Clock, Connu, Solo Novo, and MIRAMAR. He was a finalist in the William Richey Short Story Contest. A product of northern California, he finds himself constantly called back to the Sierra Nevada Gold Country. Pui Ying Wong was born in Hong Kong. She is the author of a full length book of poetry Yellow Plum Season (New York Quarterly Books, 2010) and two chapbooks: Mementos (Finishing Line Press, 2007) and Sonnet for a New Country (Pudding House Press, 2008). Her poems have appeared in Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Crannog, Gargoyle, Literary Bohemian, Prairie Schooner, Taos Journal of Poetry & Art, and Valparaiso Poetry Review among others. She lives in Cambridge with her husband, the poet Tim Suermondt.
Jeanne Yeasting is a writer and visual artist living in Bellingham, Washington. Her writing has appeared in various magazines, anthologies, and blogs, including Cirque, and The Far Field. She teaches at Western Washington University. Changming Yuan, eight-time Pushcart nominee and author of Chansons of a Chinaman (2009) and Landscaping (2013), grew up in rural China and currently tutors in Vancouver, where he co-edits Poetry Pacific with Allen Qing Yuan. With a PhD in English, Yuan has poetry appearing in literary publications across 28 countries, including Asia Literary Review, Best Canadian Poetry, London Magazine, and Threepenny Review.
ON SALE NOW AT MOJAVERIVERPRESS.COM Find us and buy brilliant books on our Facebook page, too… FACEBOOK.MOJAVERIVERPRESS.COM In his foreword, Sebastian Matthews says, “Daniel Romo was born to write prose poems.” This incendiary book of poems burns through contemporary American life with wry fire and scorching wit, and through it the poet has created an important edition: one in which he reinvents his craft and transitions into an insurgent, precise, and quotable future. Mojave River Press is proud to present this collection of new and revised prose poems by a nascent master—When Kerosene’s Involved by Daniel Romo. Roxane Gay says “Leesa Cross-Smith is a consummate storyteller who uses her formidable talents to tell the oft-overlooked stories ... creating crisp, evocative moments that will linger long after you've read this book’s very last word.” Kathy Fish says “Her writing is exquisite and fearless, exposed and bleeding onto the page. Every story without exception is smart, gentle, heartbreaking, and most importantly, real.” Mojave River Press is thrilled to release this exciting collection by the freshest, most 253
engaging fiction writer aroundâ€”Every Kiss a War by Leesa Cross-Smith.
Published on Jul 14, 2014
Our ekphrasis issue, featuring poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and hybrid literary works by dozens of brilliant poets and writers, including N...