Montana Mouthful: Road Trip

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Road Trip


Dear Readers, Welcome to another issue of Montana Mouthful magazine. During the summer months, MM staff members take an extended break—you may notice that we’re open for a longer submission period and our social media traffic slows a bit. This is so we can get out and enjoy all that summer offers in the northern part of the country, including road trips. After all, it’s not long before warm weather fades into a long winter replete with snow and ice-covered roads that aren’t conducive to wheeling down the blacktop. It seems no matter where you live in the country, or in the world for that matter, road trips are a part of life. Often they’re necessary for things like employment, education, or medical treatments. Sometimes, road trips are to visit lovers, and sometimes they’re an escape from lovers. Road trips are sometimes filled with beautiful scenery and other times gloomy landscapes shroud the journey. In this issue, you’ll find a mix of stories, poems, essays, and artwork that reflect the reasons listed above and more. In our lead nonfiction piece, Thomas Cowen conveys a touching story about road trips taken so his son, Justin, can receive medical treatment. ‘Midnight at Motel 6,’ a flash fiction story by Dale Champlin, is about a late-night escape from a lover. Other stories and poems include road trips taken over vast distances in both time and space, such as ‘Postcards from the Gringo Trail,’ by Orman Day, and the poem, ‘The End of the Line,’ by E.D. Lloyd Kimbrel. We hope you enjoy each and every one of the selections. As always, we received wonderful work from some talented individuals. Whatever your reasons for hitting the road, we wish you safe and compelling adventures. It’s easy to get stuck, mired in our routines and chained to our homes, our screens, our habits, and our problems. Travel is an excellent way to gain new perspectives; many would say travel is one of the best ways to keep the mind open to new possibilities and ways of thinking. At least, we think so. Without further delay, it’s time to move along down the road. Happy reading, Jasmine Swaney Lamb Co-Editor, Montana Mouthful

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Vol. 4 • Issue 3

VOLUME FOUR • ISSUE THREE Montana Mouthful is an independent nonprofit literary magazine devoted to short fiction and nonfiction, poetry, and visual artwork. Each issue is themed. We aim to publish three times per year.

Road Trip

Although we seek short pieces—just a mouthful— avoid sending anecdotes. Surprise us with your words. Strive to submit stories that build toward something more than a punchline or trick ending. Montana Mouthful is open to most subjects and styles; however, we are not interested in gratuitous sex or violence.

Introduction .......................................................................II Ten and Two O’Clock.........................................................2 Breaking and Entering........................................................8 The Atlas...........................................................................16

EDITORS Jasmine Swaney Lamb Cari Divine

The Pass ............................................................................20

WE PUBLISH Fiction Flash Fiction: 1,000 words or less (up to 2 pieces); Short Story: 2,000 words or less (up to 2 pieces);

Dear Scrap Metal, ............................................................30

Non-Fiction Essay: 2,000 words or less (up to 2 pieces); Narrative Nonfiction: 2,000 words or less (up to 2 pieces). Poetry 1,000 words or less (up to 3 pieces) Artwork/Photography Up to 10 images SUBMISSIONS Please send us your work via Submittable at Emailed submissions will not be accepted. VIEWING/PURCHASING ISSUU: PEECHO: CONTACT Email:

Wailers ..............................................................................25

Westward Expansion ........................................................33 An Afghan on the Road....................................................40 The Woman in the Wig ....................................................45 Bingo Royalty ...................................................................50 Postcards from the Gringo Trail .......................................52 Midnight at Motel 6 .........................................................59 Editor’s Enclosure: Memory Trail.....................................60 ESL feature.......................................................................62 Editor’s Note.....................................................................65 Biography..........................................................................66 Advertising info ................................................................70

Web: Facebook: Instagram: Twitter: DESIGN Layout and graphic design by Luke Duran, Element L Design

Cover art:


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Ten and Two O’Clock by Thomas Cowen

When my obsession with Norman Maclean began, it was hard to tell. In retrospect, it might have started with his first words in A River Runs Through It, “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” My journey began in Connecticut, on an armchair, next to my bedroom window. During the night’s darkest hour, as my Kindle cast a powdery glow on my face and the moon sprayed across the front lawn. The hour when I usually woke because this was the hour when my son, Justin, woke. I shifted in the chair as I inhaled that first sentence and continued. “We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others.” I shifted my buttocks and leaned into the chair’s arm. Later, I’d wonder how I’d gotten here. I had grown up at the junction of Queens Boulevard and 99th Street, where taxis and buses swam like cutthroat and rainbow trout down the Big Blackfoot River. My father was neither a Presbyterian nor a minister. He was born Jewish, never practiced, and became a Christian Scientist. Worst of all, he used a newspaper instead of a line and a leader to engage a fly. 2 | Montana Mouthful

I continued reading, because we do that with stories that roll off our tongues and through our brains just as rivers run over rocks for the remainder of time. I read until the first daylight outlined the treetops and my wife, Ronee, rolled over, “how long have you been up?” I closed my Kindle and returned to bed. Justin had started waking up eighteen months before. He was not returning from the bars, like Norman’s brother Paul. Justin, too, was the younger brother, but only twelve. He woke up as the morphine wore out, as muscles in his neck spasmed as they touched the bone tumor in his spine. The tumor that made him scream, “Mom, it hurts.” The tumor that made her run to his side to hold his hand as I fumbled to get the next dose, the water, the ice pack. And on those nights, my older son, Brandon, would say, “Hey buddy,” his shadow casting from the hallway light into the dark room. They talked sports until the morphine took hold, the ice melted into Justin’s shirt, and Justin said, “I’m going back to sleep.” Those were better nights, the nights at home. The nights before the road trips to Boston for chemo. The night when I followed Justin’s ambulance to Mass General. Past the Vol. 4 • Issue 3

evening traffic east of Hartford. Past car dealerships, chain restaurants, and the long bend where I-84 turned north towards Massachusetts. There the ambulance sped up. The interstate’s lights disappeared into the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains and with it the next valley and then a hill. Two taillights became one before my wife and son disappeared into the darkness. Alone with thoughts of what the neurosurgeon said hours before, Justin would continue to lose all function in his arms over the next eighteen hours. Following the second of two twelve-hour surgeries that removed the tumor, he was extubated. Then as if in reverse order of how his function disappeared, his eyes opened, his smile returned, and legs moved. The next afternoon he squeezed the surgeons’ hand. We drove home three weeks later. After that night in the armchair, I woke early the following day and continued reading. I finished A River Runs Through It in the middle of that night. I watched the movie the following evening, and the beginning lines came to me in Robert Redford’s voice. As I watched Tom Skerritt, the father instructed his boys, “It is an art that is performed on a four-count rhythm between ten and two o’clock.” Ten and two o’clock repeated in my head as I flexed and extended my wrist. And I swore that night that I would go out to Orvis the next day to purchase a fly rod, waders, and a hat that would hold two dozen flies. Justin felt better on new medications. The following spring, we flew to Atlanta to visit Emory, one of Brandon’s college choices. The next afternoon we drove to Tuscaloosa with Justin sitting shotgun with his wheelchair in the back so that I could wheel him around the sprawling campuses. Ronee and Brandon discussed the University of Alabama tour

schedule in the back seat. Through the downtown traffic, we slowed to a stop before traffic sped up, and we headed westbound on I-20. I looked at Justin. He looked back and smiled. As glass towers yielded to flat nothingness off the highway, I asked what he thought of Emory, “It was OK,” he responded, “but I want to see Alabama’s football stadium tomorrow.” He fell asleep as the road rose, as the trees grew taller, and the interstate rolled through the Talladega National Forest. Through Birmingham, the rental car jerked over a steel plate, and I glanced over as Justin winced. I slowed so as not to inflict more pain, the beady eyes of the driver in my rearview, my punishment.

“Following the second of two twelve-hour surgeries that removed the tumor, he was extubated. Then as if in reverse order of how his function disappeared, his eyes opened, his smile returned, and legs moved. The next afternoon he squeezed the surgeons’ hand. We drove home three weeks later.” We arrived at the hotel sometime after 8 p.m. We dropped our bags in the room and Ronee asked the front desk for restaurant recommendations. “Mr. Chen’s is only a half-mile away,” the manager said as the younger clerk picked up a list. “Chinese in Tuscaloosa?” I asked. “Trust me. Chen’s is the best. I’m sorry for asking, is your son, OK?” He responded as he lifted his head towards Brandon and Justin standing near the front entrance. Montana Mouthful | 3

“He has bone cancer in his spine,” Ronee responded, “It’s called Osteosarcoma. He has OK days and very tough days. But he is very excited to see the University.” “Hmmmm,” the manager responded just as the two boys walked over. “You know the football team stays here the night before home games.” “What floor?” Justin asked, “we are on two.” “Well, they stay on the fourth, take up the entire floor and part of the third. “Cool.” “So how are you doing, buddy?” before Justin could respond, the manager continued, “Sometimes I get to see Coach Saban when he is here. How about if I ask for an autographed ball when I see him?” “Thank you.”

“That man would read those lines and for the first time, they would send a chill across his chest. For the first time, he would understand this was a story about his sons and the one who couldn’t save the other no matter how much he wanted to.” We pulled into a strip mall with a Family Dollar Store, Papa John’s, Pawn Shop, Pain Clinic, and Mr. Chen’s Authentic Chinese Cooking & Oriental Market. I recognized an authentic Chinese restaurant when I saw one. I had delivered Chinese food by bicycle during high school and college. I risked my life for Moy’s Chinese Restaurant on Queens Boulevard, known as New York City’s Boulevard of Death. We entered Chen’s through the Oriental Market. The smell of ginger was thick, I knew I would 4 | Montana Mouthful

smell it on my clothes as I unpacked. 5, 10, 20 pounds, and the largest bag of rice I had ever seen lined an entire aisle. Swords and Chinese death stars hung on the back wall. Over dinner, I listened as the boys talked about Alabama. The football museum, stadium, and houndstooth Bear Bryant fedoras they wore in the gift shop. “What did you think about Alabama, Justin?” Brandon asked. “It was amazing. The stadium, Nick Saban, the football team stay at our hotel.” “Do you think I should go here?” “I’m still hoping you get into Michigan, but I would be thrilled if you went to Alabama, Brandon.” A River Runs Through It is a novella in a book by the same title, which contained two other stories. It was published after it was rejected two dozen times. One editor told Maclean he wasn’t interested because “these stories have trees in them.” It was Norman Maclean’s first book and was published when he was 73. The novella’s opening line sits on many best opening lines lists. The closing lines do too. The tumor progressed. A month later, an ambulance rushed Justin to Columbia University Hospital. For five days, we sat at his bed and at night Ronee and I slept on a pull-out couch, and Brandon slept on a mattress on the floor. Justin lost consciousness on his thirteenth birthday. Brandon was eighteen, yet he never asked if he could go home. I somehow knew I didn’t need to ask. Four days later, Ronee sat on a couch. I whispered to Justin, “I will love you always and forever,” as Brandon stroked his forearm. Then Justin took his final breath. It was after 2 a.m. when we exited the highway. Our final road trip as four, our last return home, our youngest son gone. Vol. 4 • Issue 3

A River Runs Through It closes with the words, “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.” Over the next year, I thought of those words as I read the book a half dozen more times. I watched the movie often and purchased fishadorned watercolors of the first and last pages that I placed on the shelf above my computer. Maybe I was like that editor on my first readings when I thought this was a book with fish and the Bible. But buried deep within the story, within the dark of the night, are the words, “For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them—we can love completely without complete understanding.” In those words, came understanding and Brandon became Norman and Justin became Paul. It is not how it begins or ends but what

is in the middle that is important. Perhaps it took the one editor who understood this was a book about helping those closest to us when sometimes we can’t. Maybe, Norman Maclean wrote the book and, in his mind, there was a father in Connecticut who was more likely to call it a pole than a rod. The type of man who “shouldn’t be allowed to disgrace a fish by catching it.” That man would read those lines and for the first time, they would send a chill across his chest. For the first time, he would understand this was a story about his sons and the one who couldn’t save the other no matter how much he wanted to. The autographed Nick Saban ball never arrived. Justin was gone before the next season began and he passed with hope the ball was on its way. I never went to Orvis to pick out a fly rod, let alone travelled to the Big Blackfoot. Perhaps it is better to know I will one day call Brandon and say we are going to Montana next weekend. And on some nights, as the moon casts its spell on my front lawn, as I sit in my armchair, my right wrist extends and flexes, and I remember that it is an art performed on a four-count rhythm between ten and two o’clock.

Maclean, Norman. A River Runs Through It. University of Chicago Press, 1976.

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Road Test by Sigrun Susan Lane Here we go again, flying across the desert, Mother in the front seat with her silent prayers; Dad guns the engine of the new Buick. The small towns a blur. A two-lane highway across an immense landscape. Like the flat bottom of a great sea, he tells us. This was once an ocean teeming with life, amazing sea creatures. I can almost see it in the washed-out land. Everywhere there is sand. If I close my eyes, I can flood this great basin, see the bony fish, giant squid swimming in the depths. Somewhere farther out they are testing bombs, a burst of light, a large mushroom cloud rises into heaven, signaling the gods we have such power. Melted the eyes of those too close to the flash. Atomic bombs. That can end all life. They don’t count this land for much, or the people who live on it— a land steeped in loneliness and hard to love, the bow-tied men far away grinding out reports. 6 | Montana Mouthful

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El Paso Interactive Art


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Breaking and Entering by Franz Jørgen Neumann

The week after I turned eleven I was placed in the care of my aunt while my parents drove to New Mexico for a funeral. My aunt, a poetry translator who lived in an apartment above a neighbor’s garage, decided to take me to a book fair in San Francisco rather than deal with the domesticity of shuttling me to and from school and music lessons for the few days my parents were away. At the hotel hosting the book fair, my aunt put down the courtesy phone and looked at me blankly, then gave me a sad forced smile. We walked to a post office where she mailed a large envelope of typewritten pages to the contact she’d been meaning to see, someone who wouldn’t be back until the following year’s event. She made me kiss the envelope for luck before she handed it over to be weighed. Instead of returning home, we drove north through rain-lit darkness and spent the night in a motel room with shag carpet, HBO, and the scent of ammonia. My aunt’s car honked in its sleep and woke us early. We continued north through forests that turned to redwoods and closed the break in the canopy the road carved. We never saw the sun. We passed empty summer camps and shuttered cabins, mills, and lonely 8 | Montana Mouthful

service stations selling off-brand gas, and crossed bridges over steaming creeks with names I’d never heard. We ate from a package of bear claws and sucked our fingers clean and listened to my aunt’s cassette collection. Late in the afternoon, my aunt’s car ran out of gas. We waited on the side of the road, but the only traffic in winter were logging trucks with too much inertia to stop, their endless beds loaded with felled trees, bits of bark flittering in their misty wakes. I don’t remember why we were there. Perhaps my aunt had wanted to show me the redwoods, or had wanted to take a drive and simply hadn’t stopped. After walking for a few miles, my aunt turned down a side road. The forest opened up to a meadow at the edge of which stood a modern two-story house built from timber and corrugated iron and great panes of colored glass. Deer stood near the front door, their muzzles fogging. No one was home. We tried the small guest cottage on the other side of the gravel courtyard. My aunt was able to pry open a window sash at the back and squeeze me in through an opening. She held my legs as my palms walked down a wall, a bathroom sink, and to a gritty floor. I found the front door and Vol. 4 • Issue 3

let her in. At nightfall, lights came on in the millionaire’s house—the name my aunt gave it. We tried knocking again, but the lights were only on timers. Peering through the colored glass, I recognized furniture that might be a couch, a chair, a table, a lamp, but not like any I’d seen before. I woke alone in the cottage that night, and went outside to look for my aunt. She was inside the millionaire’s house, upstairs, walking past a bank of windows wearing nothing but a towel. She didn’t notice me. At first I thought she’d broken in, but then I saw a Mercedes parked beside the house, and my aunt’s car sat beside it. When I woke the next morning, the Mercedes was gone and my aunt was outside the cottage, smoking. She told me she’d had her car towed, tanked up, and brought here. She slept in the cottage until the afternoon. We drove home without stopping, except to eat and gas up again, and by the end of the drive my aunt was so tired she was laughing and weeping while I had the job of making sure she didn’t nod off. Not long after, I learned that my aunt was not my aunt at all, but my mother’s on-and-offagain partner. The week my parents were at the funeral in New Mexico was time spent deciding what, if anything, to salvage from a marriage at a crossroads. The week was also an opportunity for my mother’s friend to decide whether a full-time life with my mother and with me was for her. It was not. On our drive home from the millionaire’s house, a thick cloud of bugs exploded against the windshield of my aunt’s car. She turned on the sprayer, but the fluid overshot the wipers, gleeking into the air. I am told I laughed maniacally at her fright and disgust. I can’t help but think it was then that she decided she needed more than my mother and her strange daughter. She

wanted someone who would abandon everything for her—or she wanted the millionaire, or the person who wasn’t at the book fair. She definitely didn’t want my father, who, both open-mindedly and cowardly, had decided to stay with my mother and look the other way. A few months later, a poet fell in love with my aunt, who then moved to Montevideo to live with her and raise the poet’s Uruguayan children as her own, children who I imagined to be quiet and polite. By then, my parents had separated for good. The unit over the neighbor’s garage where my aunt had lived was rented out to a woman who played church music every Sunday morning and who we only saw on trash night, dragging out a

“Instead of returning home, we drove north through rain-lit darkness and spent the night in a motel room with shag carpet, HBO, and the scent of ammonia. My aunt’s car honked in its sleep and woke us early. We continued north through forests that turned to redwoods and closed the break in the canopy the road carved. We never saw the sun.” bin smaller than everyone else’s. And then we, too, my mother and I, moved away. My aunt stayed in touch for a few years through Christmas cards she ran through her typewriter, the card stock left slightly curved from the platen, springing up the envelopes and teasing the possibility they held more than a simple, typed, greeting. My mother saved the stamps for me, though I’m not sure why. I wasn’t a collector. Montana Mouthful | 9

All of this came back to me, in pieces, during a family vacation down the same stretch of highway my aunt and I had traveled. I found the millionaire’s house on my phone, my fingers following the road and zooming in at nearby meadows. Once we were there in person, I told my husband and the kids the story of how I had stayed in the guest cottage one cold winter. The main house was now empty of furniture and for sale, though it looked to have been on the market for a long time. The back door had been forced open at some point, the bolt exposed behind a harelip in the metal. We heaved the door open and entered, walking through the building’s lofty spaces, just me and the kids. My husband stayed outside as though standing guard, a man who doesn’t even jaywalk. I took the kids up the stairs and past the bank of windows where I had seen my then-aunt walking in a towel. There, at the end

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of the corridor, we saw an emaciated deer. She wobbled to her feet at the sight of us. She didn’t bolt; she couldn’t. Instead, she let me and the children guide her gently down the stairs, out the front door, and into the meadow where other deer were waiting. Feeling uplifted for having saved a life— and for the sheer luck of having come back to the house now of all times—I made a call before we left and inquired into the asking price. I could already see it: this would be our summer home if we went in together with my sisters and maybe my cousins. Our own private timeshare. Deer House. We would hike through thick wood, fish streams and rivers, breathe clean air. But no, the price was obscenely out of reach. Before leaving, we walked through the house again, completely, room by room, making certain we left it empty. We placed a heavy stone against the door, then drove on.

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Human Butterfly Preparing to Travel


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Amtrak Empire Builder Approaching Whitefish, MT | EDWARD SHEEHY


The End of the Line after EMH by E.D. Lloyd-Kimbrel

He came with the Underwood by car. She came with the baby by rail. Eleven years from then to then. In-between – Before the replay Of the first before With her and the redhead and him – Words and whiskey and wine Wild streams and savannas Partisans and swimming pools Fame and fury High lonesomes and low tides And another son. She left with the boys by rail. He left with the blonde by car. The road’s still there But the trains don’t run anymore.

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Homesick by Jesse Suess I live in a strange world. The greens this far east are transient, burning themselves up in a glory of reds and yellows and falling like ashes dead and grey. My heart aches for an overwhelming green not some shy color not some reticent shade. I need a green that burns out my retinas, that swirls to infinity that envelops and absorbs everything in its path. I need a green I can taste, that I can smell, that I can hear. I need the green of Tillamook Forest, of the Nehalem River, of the Pacific Coast, of home.

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Journey Into the Unknown | SYDNEY HARRIS

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The Atlas by Ele Pawelski

We buy the atlas the night before driving around Iceland’s infamous ring road. It’s a last minute, impulse purchase, which provokes a heated discussion because I’m of the no-stuff, let’s-use-our-phone-GPS ilk, while my partner loves the feel of paper and is concerned that we might go off course. I give in—maybe we’ll lose connectivity—and skim through the slick pages. Lava fields, black volcanic rock jutting from beneath velvety moss, stretch out infinitely on both sides of the road. The atlas has not remotely prepared us for this spectacle. We pull over to absorb the fairy tale. I take fifty photos or thereabouts before we travel on to Vik. The next morning tragedy strikes: it’s snowing vigorously and the book warps when it falls out of my hands to the wet ground. I smooth it back to health and notice a dotted line indicating a hike nearby. Diligently we watch for the exit sign. And watch. Somehow, we miss it and must turn around. Not the atlas’ fault. Up the hill we find a wildly, isolated lake. Flakes are still falling, dampening sound. At that moment, we are the only humans on earth. While I’m not looking, my partner marks a star at this place in the atlas. With a pen. He thinks it’s valuable to help us remember stunning 16 | Montana Mouthful

locales. I think books are sacred, even water damaged ones. I caress the pages and silently apologize. Passing Eyjafjallajökull, I snub my nose. When this volcano erupted in 2010, I was in Kosovo, my partner busy arranging a visit from Toronto for that exact week. Not only were flights cancelled due to persistent ash plumes, but prices rose considerably afterwards. Eventually he arrived, his luggage four days later. It was messy all around. I want to draw a fat X through this peak, after all the atlas is already in rough shape, but I can’t find the pen. In Höfn that evening, there’s no time to pull the atlas out—the server has breathlessly announced the arrival of northern lights. Every diner rushes outside, abandoning food mid-meal. The nighttime sky is iridescent, like the milky way has tumbled down into Iceland (green only shows up behind the camera lens). Back at the table, we eat our lobster, awed into jubilant conversation about what we’ve just seen. In our room, we consult the atlas and see there’s a decision for us: take the curvy shore route or stay straight inland. Because we have a Vol. 4 • Issue 3

rendezvous, we opt for the second one and reach Mývatn’s hot springs at next sunset. Steam mingles with low cloud in the open pool. We blend into the scenery while catching up with friends from home. They too are driving the ring road, although in the opposite direction. At some point, the corner of the atlas’ first page becomes dog-eared. Suddenly it’s not there anymore. Nevertheless, we soldier on to Húsavík to watch whales before slipping over and down the western side of the country.

In addition to the stars, my partner circles the towns we stay in. By now, I’ve embraced the atlas as a pseudo diary rather than a book. At Keflavík airport, I debate handing the atlas to an incoming traveller. I hold back, thinking I’d like to peruse it on the plane to recall our journey. This was six years ago. I’ve since been back to Iceland three times, but the atlas has been over ten. It’s lent to every friend who holidays there. We tell them to go to the stars and circles. If you’d like to borrow it, drop me a line.

Navajo Nation 2020 | CHUCK LAVOIE

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Shower, Death Valley by Mantz Yorke We don’t crunch far up the gravel, not because I talk of flash floods in slot canyons: it’s simply too hot— ninety-six Fahrenheit on the sign at Furnace Creek. Back in the car we turn on the air-conditioning and head south to Artist’s Palette, buckshotted from time to time by dust devils slinging stones. Faded disappointingly in the sun, the hues of the weathered residues of minerals—ochres, greeny-blues and purples—become richer as cloud gathers and darkens, threatening unexpected rain. Spooked, imagining a flash flood sweeping us away, Sam drives at warp speed down the cut to safety on the wide valley floor. We head north past Furnace Creek, huge drops spattering the windscreen while steam, rising from the dunes, catches fire as the sun reappears below the cloud. We take the 374, heading up to Daylight Pass, Beatty and our motel. A rainbow, thinned to pink by the reddened sun, arcs high in the eastern sky, and fades. 18 | Montana Mouthful

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Arches National Park | EUNWOO LEE

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The Pass by Frank Haberle

After a few hours of nothing, a truck stops on the top of the ramp. Danny watches it carefully. The driver’s probably just taking a break, he thinks. Or checking a map. Or waiting for a partner to catch up. “Excuse me, sir. Are you waiting for a lift?” a voice calls out. Danny runs along the side of the truck. It hisses in a deep, hydraulic whisper. A door swings open. A hand reaches down and pulls Danny’s pack in. He climbs up and follows it into the cool, dark cabin. “Looks like you’re going over the pass. You going over the pass?” “Yeah,” Danny says, trying to catch his breath. “How are you doing today?” The driver starts doing that thing they do with their arms and legs– the jacks and balls and roasting of gears. The truck lurches forward. All at once Danny feels the huge cold weight of whatever is packed into the trailer behind him, pushing them up the hill. “My name’s Ezekial, but you can call me Z,” the driver says, draping his huge, hairy forearms across the steering wheel. “Most folks call me Z,” he says. The truck rolls up the ramp. They swerve away from the huge vein of trucks still on the 20 | Montana Mouthful

highway, pumping raw materials and eggs and hydrogen chloride up and over the next mountain ridge. They are in the only truck going onto the side road, up over the pass. Danny scans his surroundings. First there is Z, who is definitely bigger than him. Danny can jump out if he has to, but he’ll lose his pack. There is a crucifix air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror. The cab is clean, like it has just been vacuumed. “Is this a new truck?” Danny asks. “Hardly that,” Z says. “Had it eleven years.” “What have you got in the trailer?” “Doors and windows. Lots of them.” He takes his hat off and scratches the top of his head. He’s surprisingly bald, for a man with a boyish face. “I build log cabins, me and my buddy up here.” He pulls his cap back on. He smiles. “Say, would you like to listen to some country music?” “Sure.” Z turns on the radio, and it’s the same Danny’s heard everywhere. He heard it when he was sitting at a counter in a Stuckey’s with a cold cup of coffee, waiting for the old man next to him to push his plate away and leave, so Danny can eat the last of his mashed potatoes. Danny heard it when he was trying to sleep standing up in Vol. 4 • Issue 3

a phone booth outside a gas station in a rainstorm. The song is about drinking things away, which really eats at Danny. But he pretends to enjoy it, and Z really likes it a lot, rocking his head back and forth, humming along and tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. The mountain pass gets steeper. Z effortlessly glides the truck around the first switchback. “Would you enjoy a cigarette?” Z asks. “Sure,” Danny answers. “Thanks.” Z unwraps a new box with one hand, crumples the cellophane and packs one out for Danny. Danny takes it and Z holds out a lighter. Danny takes the lighter. He takes a deep pull. The smoke fills his sinuses and the depths of his lungs. It’s been a while. Danny exhales slowly, blowing the smoke out his window. The silver guardrail spins past, framing browned stalks of dead field grass and beyond them, a sudden plunge down a ravine. Can’t jump now. It’s too late. Danny takes another drag. “Thanks,” he says, handing Z the lighter. “That’s okay,” Z says.” You can keep it if you like.” “The lighter?” It’s silver plated, heavy, with a bronco engraved on its front, leaping over a fence. “Sure. Here,” he says, holding out the cigarettes. “Take these as well.” “I don’t want to take your whole pack.” “It’s okay,” Z says. “I don’t smoke.” Danny pretends to listen deeply to the next three songs while Z wrestles the steering wheel. In the first song, a man has friends in low places. In the second, a man laments that he should have been a cowboy. In the third, a woman asks, ‘why not me?’ There are three more switchbacks on the way up, each tighter then the last, before the truck settles into the saddle.

Snow-caked summits drift by in little waves. As the truck lurches forward into a steep valley, Danny feels the weight of the load it carries start pushing him down the first steep hill. At the end there’s a guardrail, where the road U-turns back into the mountainside. Beyond the guardrail there’s nothing. “Do you mind if I ask you a question?” Z says, staring straight ahead. “Nope,” Danny says, lighting another cigarette with his new lighter. “Shoot.” “Do you believe in Jesus?” “Yes.” “Really? And you accept him as your savior?” Z downshifts, twice; the smell of brake fluid and smoke fills the cab. He turns the truck in a wide arc. The force swings Danny from the bucket seat, toward the center of the truck. He looks down at the rocks. The truck straightens out. Another switchback appears, two hundred yards further down; the truck picks up speed. “Yes,” Danny says “Yes. I really do.” “Boy, am I glad to hear that,” Z says. “I’m really happy for you. Because I was lost for a really, really long time before I found Jesus.” “Where?” “Where what?” “Where did you find him?” “Well, here, actually,” Z says. “That’s the reason I was thinking of him. I found him right here.” “That’s great,” Danny says. The mountains on this side of the pass are beautiful and seem to go on forever. “Yeah, well, what happened was.” Z takes a deep breath and downshifts. “You’re not going to believe it. But. Boy. What happened was this: just ten years ago, when I was just starting out, me and my partner rented a flatbed, and we were hauling a load of logs over this pass. Only, we got real drunk in town before we loaded up. Montana Mouthful | 21

Because we were lost, you know. We were lost souls. And the truck was a rental, and we overloaded it real bad. And we just made it over the pass back there. “And we were coming down the hill, and my partner went to downshift, but something happened, and he couldn’t get the gearshift back into four. He couldn’t get the gearshift into anything. The clutch just stuck. And the truck just started rolling. Wow. Boy. “So I tried, and he tried, and we tried together, but we could not move that gearshift into a gear. Fourth, fifth. It didn’t matter. Hold on, my friend said. I guess we were both saying things. Name in vain. Stuff like that. You know. Because we so were lost. “We took that first hairpin back there doing sixty. I don’t know how we did it. He took as

“Danny scans his surroundings. First there is Z, who is definitely bigger than him. Danny can jump out if he has to, but he’ll lose his pack. There is a crucifix air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror. The cab is clean, like it has just been vacuumed.” wide a turn as he could. We lost some logs over the edge. If you look at the next turn you can see them, stuck up in the air. But we made it. But then we came out of that curb, and gosh. We were still picking up speed.” Hiss. HISS! The truck pumps air around the axles. There’s a soft jerking sensation. Danny looks at the wall of cracked stone in front of him, like a cleft lip, where the mountain to the right leans down onto the valley on the left. Z starts the turn. “And so then we got real quiet. We stopped 22 | Montana Mouthful

cussing, stopped the name in vain stuff, stopped everything. The truck was up to seventy, then seventy-five. We were leaning on the gearshift, both of us, with all our strength, feeling it bend. Looking at this big rock face growing right in front of us. And then my friend said, suddenly, out of the bottom of his breath, ‘Thank you Jesus, for everything that you’ve given me in this life.’ And the truck snapped into fourth gear, effortlessly, just like that.” Danny can almost touch the stone rock face as it spins past him, as the truck’s weight presses him against the door. “So you made it?” “We made it,” Z says. “We just barely made it.” In the gully before the next turn Danny sees them; four logs, dried, petrified, sticking up from the earth like trees stripped of everything. Z is quiet now, lost in the next country song, tapping his hands on the wheel. In the song a man is going to love a woman forever and ever, forever and ever, amen. Danny lights another cigarette and blows the smoke out into the valley. In two more turns they are surrounded by trees, on a flat stretch of road. Z pulls off at the first exit. “Well, here’s my exit,” he says. “I live up that way. Do you need anything? A hot meal? Anything?” “No,” Danny says. “I’m all set. But thank you.” “Thank you,” he says, shaking Danny’s hand. “and I’m really happy for you. I’m really happy you’ve found him, too.” Danny climbs down and Z hands him his pack. The truck growls and rolls away, down the exit. Danny is left alone with a perfect view. He can see the two great snowy mountain peaks, the sheer ledges, the little trees popping up out of the ice. And he can barely make out the road he’s just travelled. It’s a thin scribble, a little black line winding back and forth, back and forth, back up and over the pass. Vol. 4 • Issue 3


Summer Storm by Susan Muth

Lines from Mitski’s “Last Words of a Shooting Star” I always wanted to die clean and pretty but the rain’s silent slaps turned power lines to jungle vines, electrified and waiting for the next day to arrive. Hunker down and wait it out the radio said over a scene of pelting downpour off the parkway. I always wanted to die pretty and clean but when trees split to form a bridge over four-lanes, I knew there was no crossing over to the other side with no scratches scored on skin, no walking through iron gates without a little mud mingling in strands of hair, no slamming on brakes in time for rain to wash me clean.

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O Grito 24 | Montana Mouthful

Vol. 4 • Issue 3


Wailers by Catrina Prager

When she left, Jack didn’t know what to do with himself. It wasn’t how things were supposed to go. She wasn’t supposed to go so soon, and he, well he was supposed to be all figured out by the time she left. We always think we’ve got more time than we do, Jack thought, staring out the window after her. She turned and waved, but as the seconds went by, the distance between them grew, and she started waving less. The way you do. Every goodbye has that one moment when one person decides they’ve waved long enough. And you’re just left standing there, with your hand in the air, and you make believe like you weren’t about to wave again, after all. Or so people did. Jack, he couldn’t have cared less what the people around him thought, so he just kept waving, sure that his grandmother would turn to look for him. And when he got tired of doing that, Jack began wailing again. You could never have enough wailing, Jack thought, and there was really nothing that couldn’t be made better by wailing. Jack was four, and so far, he’d thought it a pretty good age to be. Around him, people turned and watched. People did that a lot. They liked to look at Jack and smile, and when he noticed them, Jack

would always smile back, like they’d always been the very best of friends. Only Jack was too upset now, and he couldn’t think about what was going on around. To him, there was just the bus. The window. And the other bus. The one his grandmother was on. He’d tried shouting after her. Tell her she was on the wrong bus, and that they’d get lost if she didn’t get off soon, but he couldn’t make her hear, so now Jack just cried, while Grandpa did his best to comfort him. Grandpa looked sad, too, but he didn’t knock on the window or wail. Obviously, he didn’t get what was happening. He didn’t understand about Grandma getting lost, about not finding your way back, so it was up to Jack to scream and get her attention. Jack wailed, but when the woman on the other bus turned to look at him, she wasn’t Grandma anymore. And Jack wondered if she ever had been. Jenna made an effort not to look. It was rude, and if there was one thing Jenna couldn’t stomach, it was rudeness. The old man looked embarrassed enough as it was, without her Montana Mouthful | 25

staring. So instead, she kept her eyes glued to her phone, because wasn’t that what kids her age did? Not her, but Jenna was past the age where being different was interesting. You’re only sixteen once, and she was tired of having no one to talk to. So now Jenna did all the happening social apps. Refreshed her Instagram feed, and rolled through her TikToks, even if she didn’t actually care what any of them had to say. Right

“The bus passed by his house, but Jenna knew that already. She’d taken the same bus three times this week already, and it was only Wednesday. He was never there, no matter how much Jenna squirmed and twisted in her seat. Maybe not so different from the little boy opposite, she thought.” now, she only cared what one person had to say. Or didn’t. He hadn’t said anything for three days now, and that couldn’t be good. Jenna hadn’t told Emily or any of the other girls Jenna called friends. Emily would think she was weird. Anti-social, or whatever. Emily thought girls should be ladies, and men should always be gallant. That love should be instant, like coffee, and that everything could be solved by a cute pup. Jenna opened the conversation. Again. On the chair opposite, the baby cried. Jenna wanted to cry, too. To wail. There was nothing. There was worse than nothing. He hadn’t even seen her last message, or rather, had chosen not to respond. And he’d never done that while they were together, but now, they weren’t anymore, so he could do what he wanted, right? 26 | Montana Mouthful

It had been Jenna’s idea to end things, but she’d come to think better of it since. He, on the other hand, had not, so here Jenna was. The bus passed by his house, but Jenna knew that already. She’d taken the same bus three times this week already, and it was only Wednesday. He was never there, no matter how much Jenna squirmed and twisted in her seat. Maybe not so different from the little boy opposite, she thought. Four stops left, just as the light turned red. Another ten minutes to go. Jenna willed the tiny icon to drop. For him to at least acknowledge how much she missed him. For them to try again. Meanwhile, she refreshed her Instagram feed. There were so many brilliant things happening in the world. Just not for Jenna. Joshua thought he was gonna be sick, and he had a bad enough turn riding the bus, already. It wasn’t that people stared, he’d gotten used to that, and he wanted to say fuck you, and sometimes, he did. But that was usually right before the driver came round the back and bustled him out. And Joshua didn’t like being in the cold, so he bit his lip. His bleeding, cankerous lip. No two ways about it, Joshua was ugly. He always had been, but that was another thing he’d long gotten used to. Joshua focused on the little boy. The little temper tantrum. Here was a kid used to being listened to, getting the grown-ups to do as he wanted. No point in crying, when you know they won’t listen to you. Joshua had been like that, too, once. But then Mother had smacked him one with the TV remote, and Joshua had grown pretty goddamn quiet after that. He still had the mark, but now, Joshua had lots of marks and bruises. One day, they might turn Vol. 4 • Issue 3

into scars, though Joshua didn’t think he’d make it that long. Tell you a secret, he hoped he wouldn’t. He wasn’t soo-ee-cidal, he just didn’t wanna live anymore. Besides, if he died, things would be easier for Leo, and in the end, that was all that mattered. Leo wasn’t a good person when he was with him. Said Joshua brought out an ugly side of him. A side that said terrible things, and that liked to smack people around. Leo’s latest thing was Joshua’s smell. Joshua knew he smelled. Or at least, he didn’t know, but guessed by the repulsed expression of the other people on the bus. Some tried to hide it, while others stared at him accusingly, almost menacing. But there was nothing Joshua could do about it. No running water in the abandoned depot where Joshua lived. It was alright as far as shelters went, and for a while, Leo hadn’t seemed to mind it. Joshua had tried to fix things. Last week, he’d fished out a half-full deo stick from the trash behind the deli. But Leo had thrown it at his head when he’d found it, said he smelled like a woman, and what did he want to go and smell like a chick for? So this morning, he’d gone and palmed ten dollars from a lady who’d fainted on another bus. No one had paid him any mind in the tumult, and no, Joshua wasn’t proud. But he tried not to think about that too much, just like he tried not to think about the puke in his throat. It was his meds, or rather, lack thereof. Trouble was, there were just so many of them, Joshua could no longer remember which ones made him sick when he didn’t take ‘em. Not like he had the money for all that, anyway, so Joshua chose to look on the bright side. He was going downtown to get man spray from one of the seedier stores where they didn’t throw out people like Joshua. And maybe

tonight, Leo would be happy again. Maybe they both would be. Janine remembered wild sex. The bus had stopped right beside an alley where she’d done it once, blind drunk, and with a man who’d never called her again after. Janine hadn’t minded. Back then, Janine didn’t seem to mind anything, at all. How had that happened? The engine revved. Janine looked away from the woman she’d been once. She focused, instead, on getting her hands to stop shaking. She wondered why they made the damn envelopes so big? She’d always hated hospitals, and now she remembered why. She felt like everyone on the bus was staring at her, save perhaps for the crying child. Janine couldn’t see very well from her seat at the back of the bus. Boy or girl, she wondered? Couldn’t have been more than four

“She felt like everyone on the bus was staring at her, save perhaps for the crying child. Janine couldn’t see very well from her seat at the back of the bus. Boy or girl, she wondered? Couldn’t have been more than four or five, she reckoned, by the constant stream of unintelligible words that bubbled out through the cries.” or five, she reckoned, by the constant stream of unintelligible words that bubbled out through the cries. Her own Maggie was nine, and her Ian was eleven. A proud age, but a difficult one. Already, his mother could feel him starting to rebel. To struggle. To grow up. To what? Montana Mouthful | 27

Soon, he’d be comforting his own wailing ones, or screwing some woman against an alley wall. Or carting test results that made everybody miserable. Soon, yet impossibly, unfairly far. In a world that, Janine knew, she’d never get to witness or explore. What would her children’s lives look like, ten years from now, and who’d be there to care or comfort them? Their father could never be bothered to care, and why should he start now? Especially after that last row, on Ian’s tenth birthday, when she’d slammed the door in his face? Still, she held on to him, with an absurd, almost paralyzing sense of ambition, because without her ex, there was simply no one else left. Her folks were both dead, and her sister lived in Canada. Three years since they’d spoken last. Janine had never been good at keeping people close, but she never thought that would one day mean her children. For now, she resisted the urge of looking— again—at the test results. But what would happen to Ian and Maggie when the words inside the envelope became an inevitability? Jon listened to the little pings, pretending things could be different today. That he wouldn’t check his phone at the next red light. That there wouldn’t be half a dozen or so brightly colored icons to alert him to the love

28 | Montana Mouthful

of so many different women. Jon didn’t kid himself. He wasn’t handsome, and it sure wasn’t his bus driver’s uniform that kept ‘em coming. But he was easy enough on the eye, and he was always willing to love another. For ten minutes, sometimes a whole hour. By the time he got home at night, the love always dissipated, and he was left standing on the doorstep, trying to hold on to something about the woman waiting inside their house. Her name. The feel of her hips under his palms. The scent of her skin pressed against him, when they made love. Of course, he could never bring himself to, not anymore. Wouldn’t risk soiling her with all the nasty things he might’ve caught. Jon always told himself he’d be more careful next time. If he couldn’t stop altogether, at the very least, be protected. But Jon never was too good at taking care of himself, so now, he was ashamed to touch his wife, for fear she’d know. And then, she would hate him. Jon never could stomach that—people hating him. He was needy, and what was worse, he was weak. He knew he’d give in, in the end. That he’d keep picking up random women on the Internet, breasts of no name. That he’d keep feeling guilty, and that his wife would keep being alone. Just like he knew his bus would pass over Dohery Bridge three stops from now, and there, it would swerve. And all the pinging would be over. But until then, the phone wailed.

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Dear Scrap Metal, by Cali Caughie

Winter is coming. As the cold settles in, so do the memories. The initial chill of bare hands. The warm revival brought about by the chugging heat pump. Aromas of stale air and residual wet dog. Sips of coffee. The gas light is on, but I can probably make it further. Thoughts of life, thoughts of people, thoughts of work. This, my seasonal pattern and routine. My weekly winter commute. Every Tuesday in the pitch-black night, I bid farewell to the dry, rectangular plot of land I leave behind as I pull out onto blustery roads. Windshield wipers work frantically to erase traces of ice and snow; defrost swiftly stalks upwards in lethal attack. One hundred and eighteen miles to go on Montana’s U.S. Highway 93. My route begins in Missoula and winds upwards, gaining elevation as I drive into the Flathead Indian Reservation. Home to the Bitterroot Salish, Kootenai, and Pend d’Oreille tribes. Small towns mark the passing miles and faint outlines of the Mission Mountains awe me in dawn light. As I hug the curving landscape of Flathead Lake, hues of pink and orange dance across the big sky. In the last miles, the road straightens towards my destination— 30 | Montana Mouthful

Kalispell Regional Medical Center. Here, I will spend the day conducting evaluations. Diagnoses. Prognoses. Illness and injury. Disorder and disease. Health and humanity. The drive is early and dark, and I often blast music to offset my fatigue. I quickly learn that not just any tunes will do. Bob Dylan’s croon coddles my sleepy eyes with much too intimate an embrace; so instead, I settle for a Native American rap rhythm I find fitting for the drive. The drums and chants of Supaman, and his words questioning the trauma of a people, keep my eyes wide upon the road. A road touted as one of the deadliest in the country. Reminders of this death are not infrequent on the drive. In Montana, highways are dotted with white crosses marking traffic deaths. I go slightly rigid each time I go past these roadside markers, a chill creeping up my chest and sweeping down my arms— ending in an involuntary gripping upon the steering wheel. On highway 93, it seems I drive past these signals of death constantly. Sometimes one stands lonely in a roadside field, another may loom large upon a rocky outcrop. Other times, two or more stand together appearing to hold hands, their horizontal cross pieces touching Vol. 4 • Issue 3

side by side. Occasionally, a small one stands between two taller ones. A family unit. Protectors and their young. In each white flash that catches the beam of my headlights there lies a terrible unknown story. In 2019, Montana Highway Traffic Safety reported alcohol and drug related traffic accidents, followed by roadway departures, are the largest reasons for the deaths. High speeds and alcohol are a deadly mix. Not to mention the all-too-common sentiment towards suicide. Ninety-one percent of all fatalities in the state in 2019 were reported to have occurred in rural areas. Nineteen percent of these fatalities were Native Americans. Each week I commute, I feel somehow more acquainted with each cross. Fresh flowers encircle a few every time I go by, and the long drive finds me thinking about the caretakers of these roadside markers. In my work within mental health, I find I am coming to know these stories. Stories of trauma. Stories of addiction. Stories of historical loss and systemic racism. I sit with tears and hear deep anguish. I see lives changed forever for those both dead and alive. I do not pretend to know these stories well. Nor do I mean to say these are the only reasons for such losses. But I do mean to communicate that there is pain along these roads. Palpable pain. Shock absorbed by one

set of car dampers after another, again and again and again. As I drive, I find myself searching for prayer though I am not religious. I want to tell these little thin pieces of painted scrap metal that I am so sorry for their loss. That I feel for them. That I am sending love to their families and

“I want to tell these little thin pieces of painted scrap metal that I am so sorry for their loss. That I feel for them. That I am sending love to their families and communities. That I cannot begin to imagine the depths of their sorrow.” communities. That I cannot begin to imagine the depths of their sorrow. As I drive, I want to send hope along this highway that feels so marred by death. I want to recognize that there are lives driving up and down this road every day. I want to tell all of them that I care about them—each of them. I want to share that I think about the unmarked lives of these people and their loved ones. We are all on this highway together, if only for a moment, and I send my prayers.

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Open Road 32 | Montana Mouthful

Vol. 4 • Issue 3


Westward Expansion by Cynthia Rogers

In January of 2020, I began planning a road trip with a specific goal—to gather facts and impressions for a novel that would take place in the West. I’d leave Minneapolis in June and tour states with low populations and few Covid deaths, states that had been social distancing for centuries. The car was laden with boxes of supplies but also knapsacks of worry. The murder of George Floyd had been followed by days and nights of smoke, demonstrations, protests, boarded windows, surveillance helicopters, and diverse rivers of news—true, false, and re-imagined. So eager was I to get down the road that it seemed a no-brainer to skip the side-trip to a distant-relative’s homestead cabin in southern Minnesota. Though I’d grown up among the buttes and plains of the western Dakotas, it had been years since I’d travelled points farther west. That first day on the road and every day thereafter brought a gradual decompression of stress. It was the wide-open spaces; they began to expand my shriveled heart and mind. Left behind was a too-small condo in a complicated urban setting and a daily news feed that provided little lifegiving sustenance. I leaned into the road and

lightened up. When I finally spotted a bison, my heart leapt. The bull was plodding along a scoria road in Teddy Roosevelt National Park. I trailed him, admiring his big noble head, his swinging tail, the mass of curly hair around his forelegs—like the furry tops of snow boots I’d recently put away. Farther along, a grazing bison lifted her head to chew her cud, her beard moving with each chomp of the jaw. To stop, roll down a window, and listen to the sound of a bison pulling up long-rooted prairie grasses and munching . . . well, it’s one of life’s purest pleasures. I counted each hefty broadside and each rusty-orange calf among the hillside gatherings. I counted each loner walking the road or moving down a ravine. What is it about a head count—in this case, 46 in a two-hour span? It’s evidence of life, of their survival. I hold onto that fact and avoid the daily death count of Covid and the weekly killings of Blacks. To walk the deep, ancient trails left by bison herds, to hear meadowlarks singing while fording a stony creek, to laugh at marmots lolling on their backsides on a prairie golf course, to drive up a Wyoming mountain and smell the alpine freshness, to spot Bighorn Montana Mouthful | 33

sheep climbing a perpendicular Badlands butte . . . it all adds up to a religious experience. But it was the visitations to four specific historic sites that pushed me toward a reckoning. On a South Dakota bluff, along the Missouri River and overlooking Lake Oahe, is the final resting place of Chief Sitting Bull, the respected Hunkpapa Lakota leader and warrior, the man under whom the Sioux peoples united in their struggle for survival. The large but simple monument of his likeness is set away from the highway, near a gravel road where the breezes are as plentiful as the grasses and wildflowers. Small offerings by recent visitors were evident— feathers, tobacco, coins. I have nary a drop of Native blood, but I was glad, honored, to spend an hour with him in that lonely place on the Plains. When I sat beside him to eat a sandwich, I noticed a small band of horses, guardians perhaps, their tails and manes flowing with the wind. What a picture they were. Sitting Bull’s heart and soul must appreciate the peace and power of this place. Mine certainly did. On another perfect but cooler afternoon, I stood atop Medicine Mountain, part of the Bighorn Mountain Range in Wyoming. Because of the 10,000-foot height, I’d walked the last two miles through snow, along narrow ridges, and past deep precipices that quite literally took my breath away. Hikers were few. Clouds were abundant, one hovering below. When I reached the summit, I was alone, except for the ancient stone Medicine Wheel, created some 900 years earlier by indigenous peoples. The wheel spokes—28 lines of stones radiating from a central rock cairn—are still visible, sacred ground used for religious and healing ceremonies. The number of spokes may have matched the days of a lunar month. The site is believed to have strong magic, good medicine. Today’s Natives still visit and walk 34 | Montana Mouthful

the circle, just as the Ancients did, just as I did. Items tied to the fence—pouches, beaded bags, feathers—fluttered in the breeze. I walked in silence, around and around, grateful to be in step with centuries of walkers. The walk back to the car felt serene, as if I’d exited a magnificent cathedral in the clouds. A few days later, I crossed into Montana and onto the Crow Indian Reservation where the Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is located. Full sun illuminated the acres of rolling hills, grassy ridges, and deep ravines on either side of the meandering Little Bighorn River. I’ve walked old battlefields before; imagining the scenes is always humbling. The area is dotted with some 250 white marble memorial markers, indicating where General Custer and his soldiers died, most placed there in the 1890s. Many are simply engraved: U.S. Soldier, 7th Cavalry, Fell Here, June 25, 1876. There are far fewer of the two-foot-high, red-speckled marble markers for the Natives. These were added many decades later, but are beautifully etched with symbols, tribe affiliation, and the warrior’s name in both English and his native language (Little Whirlwind, Limber Bones, Hawk Man, Swift Bear, Long Road, Noisy Walking . . .). In 1876, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and several thousand Lakota and Cheyenne had set up an encampment in this area, preferring their nomadic way of life to the restrictions of a reservation. In other words, they were peacefully resisting. But General Custer decided to take things in hand and ordered an army takeover. He and his soldiers underestimated the number and staying power of the Natives, who won that battle-for-survival, though they lost the bigger war. At the nearby National Cemetery, on a granite memorial marker, are these words: “To the Officers and Soldiers Vol. 4 • Issue 3

Killed in action . . . while Clearing the District of the Yellowstone of Hostile Indians.” This wasn’t the first time I’d stared at words etched in stone—words commemorating something or someone in the nation’s history—and knew it contained fiction. Near the end of my trip, not far from Mount Rushmore, I stopped to check on the Crazy Horse Memorial. Sixty years had passed since I’d last seen it. A man, astride a horse, carved out of a mountain, is neither an easy job (one can see blasting puffs high on the mountainside) nor a quick one (the project began in 1948). The granite face of the leader had progressed mightily, and the outstretched arm—the only part I could still recall—helped visitors envision what’s still to come. According to Joseph Marshall, a member of the Lakota Sioux, Chief Crazy Horse was known for his ability to make good tactical decisions as a warrior, but he was also a shy man, who never bragged about his skills. Because of his reputation and humility, 900 people followed him after the Bighorn Battle. Only 100 or so were warriors; the rest were elders, women, and children. It was for the welfare of these people that he finally surrendered to the U. S. Government, still a defender of his peoples’ way of life. The granite mountain’s outstretched arm, with the index finger pointing into the distance, represents the response he gave a white man who’d asked, “So . . . where are your lands now?” Crazy Horse’s reply: “My lands are where my dead lie buried.” Chief Crazy Horse was 34 years old when he was fatally wounded during an arrest. Chief Sitting Bull, at age 59, was also fatally wounded during an arrest. He’d been pulled from his bed at sunrise by Indian police, but refused to go quietly, which gathered a crowd. A young

person in the crowd shot at one of the police, who retaliated by shooting Sitting Bull in the head and the chest. It’s been more than a century since the deaths of these two respected Native chiefs, the names of whom most people in this country have long known. It’s been only two weeks

“That first day on the road and every day thereafter brought a gradual decompression of stress. It was the wide-open spaces; they began to expand my shriveled heart and mind. Left behind was a too-small condo in a complicated urban setting and a daily news feed that provided little life-giving sustenance. I leaned into the road and lightened up.” since I left Minneapolis, but I think about the markers and mementos left behind for George Floyd and so many others, killed during arrests. On my way home, I think about my relatives, the ones who’d occupied the homestead cabin in southern Minnesota, the cabin I’d bypassed at the start of my trip. Their story began in the mid-1800s, when the family had travelled from Norway to make good on promises made by developers. They claimed a plot of rich soil near woods in the Minnesota Territory, land which hosted the vegetables and grains, chickens and cattle that nurtured them for the next ten years. Natives had lived off the Great Plains for centuries, making good use of every hide, sinew, and hoof of the bison they killed to survive. But by the second half of the 1800s, the large bison Montana Mouthful | 35

herds were gone, and the Natives were starving. A broken government promise of food and supplies had set off a chain of events that created the Dakota Uprising of 1862. Young Natives, fed by bravado and a sense of injustice, began a raid that left devastation behind. When the raiders came to my relatives’ cabin, Guri was working in the potato field. She quickly hid, with her baby, in the nearby root cellar. Her sons and husband were murdered, her daughters kidnapped, her livestock stolen. Neighbors and the government helped her out. She carried on. The baby girl grew up and married a widower with two children, one of whom was my grandfather. For years, I’ve tried writing about that horrific event. It’s not a simple story but a small part of a huge national story. At times, I’d felt ambivalent about it. Maybe it was the letters Guri wrote home to Norway; she’d been scarred by what happened on that farm. Maybe it was the family’s naivety about their newfound setting, about what they didn’t know or understand. Maybe the ambivalence was about my own psyche; I needed the trip west for a broader view. In the year since the road trip, I’ve wondered about other things: Did I hold more sympathy for what the Natives lost than for what the homesteaders lost? Had the magnificent scenery and natural bounty of Wyoming, Montana, and the western Dakotas filled me with a deeper but

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more romantic notion of the past? My desire to write a novel has diminished considerably. I’d rather finish this essay. There’s an awakening happening in this country. And in me. But it’s a confounding awakening. Five years of upheavals have lit up terrible disparities in this still-new century, rifts that are not new. But without the revelations of murders, a pandemic, healthcare, hunger, science, politics, I may not have seen the correlations between the present and the past. My ambivalence is disappearing. Picnicking with Sitting Bull on the bluff overlooking the Missouri was equally as compelling as my very first visit to the historic site of the homesteading relatives. The cloud cathedral on Medicine Mountain was a visit more soulpenetrating than crossing an ocean to visit Notre Dame. The battlefield with its bronze markers of the fallen stay with me—warriors who felt empowered by hope, whose names carry no rank, but tell something of who they were. I feel more respect for the national monument of a young, brave, and humanitydriven Native Son than for the monument of four white leaders with trespasses too many to name. These mountains and forests, these prairies and badlands, these historic sites and trails, these stories and photos of slain bodies keep calling me. I must continue to walk the trails, to see the markers, to make the connections.

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Souvenir Shop 38 | Montana Mouthful

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Get Your Kicks on Route 66 by Jean Fineberg

After Nat King Cole, Chuck Berry and The Rolling Stones New York, NY Dawn smells of piss and anticipation. Eight pumped up musicians, one roadie and so-called manager on the lookout for the magic bus.

Albuquerque, NM Roadie makes a beeline for a rabid fan, disappears after the second show, reappears smiling on the last night, we schlep our own gear.

Lewisburg, PA I tape photos of Jeff Beck (a blues thing, not a sexual thing) and Janis Joplin (maybe a sexual thing) above my seat. Someone breaks out the cocaine.

Kingman, AZ Warmup band “Ritual” is crankin’ it. Our stoned guitarist jumps onstage, picks up their bad boy singer, they catapult backwards, she breaks her leg.

Toledo, OH Day off, pianist falls asleep on Luna Beach, gets second degree sunburn, wakes up when police chase her back to the motel.

Los Angeles, CA So-called manager's check bounces, all but two motel rooms bolted shut. Tour-end party lasts all night Band gets their kicks.

Tulsa, OK Driver refuses to continue unless he’s paid RIGHT NOW, so-called manager makes 100 calls, hours pass, RIGHT NOW happens.

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An Afghan on the Road by Horia A. Pop

He was hitch-hiking when I passed him on the road. I couldn’t help thinking, damn! he’s an old man for a hitch-hiker... A couple of minutes later, I had to stop. I swerved and made a u-turn like a master driver under cats and dogs. But I couldn’t see a thing with that blasting. I was sure someone had taken him alright when I thought I’d just seen a moving thing under the rain. I slowed down, made another u-turn, stopped right next to him, leaned towards the handle, and opened the passenger window. “Where are you going?” I yelled. “To work,” he said. He was soaked from head to feet. “Come on in,” I said. “Have a seat.” He didn’t sound like the talkative type of man. I needed to talk. “Do you think there’s some work for me too where you’re going?” I asked. “What work?” he asked with a terrible accent. “I dunno,” I said. “I’d take anything. Farms. Factories. Garbage man. Baby-sitter. I’ve done lots of petty jobs back there, in my country.” “You know hard work?” he asked. “Olives and salads where I go. Hard work son,” he said. 40 | Montana Mouthful

I peeped at him sideways. He had a green fisherman’s hat on. A big, clean, white moustache. Some visible hair in his ears. Some hair came out of his nose too. He was dressed with a checkered long sleeves shirt and he had some sort of worker’s trousers on. The shirt and the trousers looked from another century. Back in time when men had imperfections. And I looked at his hands. Then, I looked at my hands. And I was suddenly ashamed of myself. I could never shake hands with that man and not feel ashamed. My hands were so clean, so clean. Too clean. I had the skinny fingers of a pianist, of a hungry poet, definitely not of a hard worker. The place of work was more than two thousand kilometers ahead. I told him I didn’t have much money left, I told him I had slept in my car the nights before. I couldn’t afford a motel, and my last meals were sardines on white bread. He said he had enough money for the gas, the meals and the motel. I thought, but then why does he hitch-hike? And out of a whim, out of curiosity, out of a natural love for adventure and surprise I trusted this stranger, this man. And I Vol. 4 • Issue 3

listened to the story he unfolded, little by little, on the road to work. His name was Rezae, and he had been working in Australia for the past twenty years. He had fled from his country, Afghanistan. There, he had a son, two daughters and a wife. He lost all of them. How he lost them, I never dared to ask. Once, weeks later, he showed me a picture with all of them together. He was young. I had never pictured him young. I barely recognized him. From the grandpa under the rain to the young proud man with his family, decades and wars and roads had passed. Then he told me about his forefathers. He came from those hidden, mysterious, almost legendary regions, Marco Polo wrote about in his travels’ memoirs. As I listened to him, I started drifting in imaginary landscapes, along the ancient caravans. I pictured myself on the hump of a camel, rocking myself to and fro, slowly, slowly advancing in the vast wilderness of the oriental deserts. “Son, I need go hospital,” he looked at me straight in the eyes. “The hospital? What hospital?” I said, halfawake from my oriental dream. “I know what hospital. I tell you. On the road. Not far,” he said. “How far?” I asked rather cautiously. “Three days” he said rather confidently. “Ok. You tell me where it is,” I said rather naively. At the parking lot of the hospital I asked him if he needed me to accompany him. I expected him to say no, obviously, but he said yes. So I followed him. A young doctor, in his late twenties, at best thirty years old, called his name after an hour

waiting. Rezae said, “Come with me son.” I followed both of them... In the office, I could still not see what I was there for. I didn’t speak the Afghan idiom, I knew Rezae as much as a man knows a hitchhiker. All the while, I remained silent, all the while, I dared not look at Rezae. Somehow I felt ashamed of his shame. Why did he tell me to come with him? The moment the doctor started speaking to him, the list of his illnesses began to frighten me. I wanted to leave at once. I pretended I was lost in my thoughts but I was not. I heard well what the doctor charged him with. He needed medical treatment on the spot. It was terrible, terrible. I drew my conclusions before the doctor: he had less than a year in front of him. But Rezae drew on a very different conclusion than the doctor and I. When the doctor finished to recite the fatal list, he plainly said: “No good that.” A deep silence followed. Then the doctor asked: “What isn’t good?” “Your offer” said Rezae, “It’s no good.” After two thousand kilometres on the road, one day of rain, one visit at a hospital and one night at a motel, a dreamer and an Afghan stopped by a caravan park in the bush of Australia. There, the dreamer found some work—a woman to wake him up and to fall in love with—and a new friend : an old, stubborn Afghan, not ready to die, despite the odds of a young and wise doctor. Maybe the lines of certainties blur too much under heavy rains. I just wonder if that doctor would have drawn the same conclusions under a beautiful, clear, blue sky. Montana Mouthful | 41


On the Highway in Winter by Archana Sridhar

Maybe we all crave big things in America. That giant white Jesus – Are You Hurting? Are You Lost? He asks us. I must have driven by Him a dozen times towering over His dirty pond, His holy font. I daydream of summertime bringing flocks of followers to be dunked under muddy water, reborn.

Stripes of straw-coloured cornstalks peek out from under snow blankets. They blink into the sun rising over the Ten Commandments. Massive medieval script screams out Do not covet one another’s wives against a midnight background. Drivers slink by, avoid eye contact.

YOU MATTER! shouts the royal-blue billboard of the Cedar-something Church. In southbound traffic, I wonder “Do I?” while those oncoming see the exclamation shrink away in the rear view as they make their escape to the great white north.

Gravelly paint pebbles Choose Life in cursive aside a fetus that floats off in the distance, tethered to the cement by a purple umbilical cord. In miniature, an astronaut meant to remind us of life only reminds me of space, and how fragile we are, fading acrylic profiles, slathered messages to the aliens.

Prisoners in neon-yellow huddle together at the shoulder to receive their daily instructions: pick up litter at the exit ramps and don’t complain about the cold. Breaths held alongside stories under the shadow of a correctional sign of terror: Do not pick up hitchhikers.

Lined up on a 30° angle, ready to leap onto the highway, camper vans by the dozen, their roofs tinted against spiralling sun-rays. A gunmetal Ventana like a B2 bomber announces itself through silence: The Biggest RV Sale in Ohio is a heat-seeking missile to my new future.

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Across the horizon, the sky is shirred with strips of cirrus clouds. A murmuration of starlings stretch themselves out like fishnet stockings in glittering black then suck back into themselves. Holy matrimony is between a man and a woman, says the next sign as the letters press into my skin.

The U.S. Plastic Company ♥’s Jesus. I know it’s true because it’s splashed across the side of a warehouse. Abe Lincoln’s craggy brown face comes next. He’s disappointed in us: Civility is what we need He cries at what we’ve become. But to me alone he whispers, kindness be damned.

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Top of Terceira 44 | Montana Mouthful

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The Woman in the Wig by Dawn Smith-Theodore

My fifty-year old mother borrowed cars to follow her younger ex-lover, Brice. She knew her 1975 red Chevy Impala would stand out so she used her friend Diana’s car, a non-descript brown Ford that blended into the darkness of night. If Diana wasn’t available, she recruited Jeanne and her black Torino. She always insisted I come along. I was twenty-two, home in Ohio and biding time until flight attendant training. I hated going on the stakeouts but I knew it made her feel better to have me in the back seat on these local road trips, and I never said no to mother. “What are you doing tonight?” she would ask, “Will you take a drive with me? We won’t be gone too long.” She would already be transformed for the evening. Mom had kept her dancer’s hair, a high bun, into middle age but on these nights, let her hair down so she could wear a long dark wig with her big sunglasses. I am not sure where the wig came from but the disguise made even me doubt her identity sometimes. My mom was chasing after her 29-year old ex-lover and his 17-year old girlfriend. It was a crazy, tangled mess. After the first trip I knew not “too long” could mean hours yet I became her loyal ridealong. I had no interest in being a private

detective or my mom’s co-pilot, but I felt like I didn’t have a choice. It was as if I was held captive in the car while we listened to an eight-track tape of Frank Sinatra and drove through the neighborhoods of Fairfield. The usual route included a drive by the townhouse that sat at the bottom of a hill on the south side of town, almost to the Cincinnati border. It’s where Brice’s girlfriend, Bev, whom he would later marry, lived with her mother at the time. We always did these escapades late at night, after my dad was asleep, returning before he awoke and having no idea we had left the house. I often thought how glad I was that my dad was a sound sleeper as we snuck back in the house, my mother’s wig off and stuffed in her purse before we came through the front door. My dad treated Brice’s presence like the dance studio below us, it belonged to my mother and he accepted it. We would also do stakeouts at Brice’s new dance studio, The Dance Place. It was in an old strip mall on Dixie Highway where all the storefronts closed by the evening. It was easy to lurk in the large parking lot undetected with a clear view of who was coming and going to the studio. Brice had not only left my mother for a Montana Mouthful | 45

younger woman but had absconded with students and their files from her successful dance studio. She seemed to be punishing herself by watching which of her dance students had betrayed her and gone to Brice. Bev had been a student of my mom since she was three-years old. Her parents had gone through a divorce and the dance studio became her second home. My mom had taken her in like she did many of her students. She was always for the underdog and was always rescuing animals and people and Bev had been one of them. In the year before she left, Bev had worked as a secretary at the reception desk of the studio to earn money for college. It was Bev who had copied all of my mom’s student files so Brice could recruit them for his studio. She was losing her lover and her loyal following

“We would also do stakeouts at Brice’s new dance studio, The Dance Place. It was in an old strip mall on Dixie Highway where all the storefronts closed by the evening. It was easy to lurk in the large parking lot undetected with a clear view of who was coming and going to the studio.” all at once. I worried what would happen once she lost me when I left for flight attendant training in the upcoming weeks. Sometimes it was just the two of us but usually the car’s owners would come along. Jeanne was dealing with her own heartbreak after her husband left her and the rides were a welcome distraction from her broken home. Jeanne was good for my mom. They had been friends since high school and laughed a lot. She 46 | Montana Mouthful

was tall and lanky with short silver hair. She had taught math at my high school and her husband was the football coach. Diana, who had been a student and a teacher and her friend, worked at a donut shop early in the morning so the late-night runs were too late, unless she had the next day off. Diana would sometimes bring treats for the nightly drives if she was the passenger. My mom washed the donuts down with a Coke, never gaining weight on her petite body. I would pretend to nibble on the pastries Diana insisted I take. As someone who suffered from anorexia, I was almost always worried about my weight and had the added pressure of a weigh-in for my upcoming flight attendant training. I was always scared we would get caught stalking Brice. Unlike my mother, I was born a rule follower. I am not really sure who I thought would catch us except possibly Brice or Bev and they probably wouldn’t have cared. I remember one night when Brice drove by and we all ducked so he would not see us. Did he know my mom was following him? Did he care? Those were the two questions that rolled through my thoughts as we were staked out at our normal spots. We would often idle at the top of the hill looking down on the cul de sac of townhouses, hoping for a glance or a drive by of a car with Brice and Bev in the front seat. It was the dead of winter so people were bundled up in their homes trying to stay warm, not out looking for a spying ex-lover. Sometimes we would see Brice’s car parked at Bev’s house, but so what? I was never sure what the purpose was and how my mom had enlisted not only me but also her friends who seemed to think this was worth their time. I didn’t tell my own lover, a pilot named Will, about the drives when he called, as he Vol. 4 • Issue 3

would think it was crazy and I wanted to have a normal relationship. I didn’t tell anyone because I always wanted there to be a vision of normalcy in my family, a house with a white picket fence and a mom who drove a station wagon to the market, not a borrowed car to follow her inappropriate ex who had moved on. I often thought about this sitting in the back of borrowed cars as my mom kept a lookout asking, “Is that him?” One night as we sat on the side of the road above the townhouses, a police car approached us from behind where we were parked. I could see the red and blue gumballs circling around our car. Thoughts raced through my head. We are going to jail for stalking. My dad will find out. Will he even bail us out? I wished one of my mom’s friends was along that night but it was just the two of us. I was afraid my mom might not even pull over but she slowly pulled to the shoulder. I sat in the front seat expecting my mom to dig in her purse for her license but instead she opened her door and jumped out of the car. The policeman walked up toward the driver’s side of the car. My mother knew she was supposed to stay in the car but she didn’t care. She smiled as she stood tall, showing off her best dancing posture. “Is there a problem, Officer?” “Nellie-Lou?” he said, looking at her face.

“What happened to your hair?” I listened with my window rolled down as she told him a story about using the wig for a performance and we had just pulled over so she could take it off. “By the way,” said my mom, “Karen is doing great in class.” The officer smiled and told us to be careful and pulled away. My mother got in the car with a look of satisfaction. I thought about other mother’s. They weren’t driving around in disguises to stalk their ex-lover who was decades younger and dating a woman in high school. I didn’t delude myself that they were all home baking cookies but they weren’t lying to law enforcement in wig. Brice lived with us for twelve years before abandoning my mother. “We are just unlucky in love,” she told me when he left. It was something she said to me many times over the years. She was willing to do anything for the men in her life and I wished she felt the same for me. But nonetheless, she was my best friend, even after Brice had come between us the years he lived in my former toy room, under the same roof as my father. That bond to my mother, wig or no wig, is why I sat in the passenger seat on those long dark car rides, waiting for a glimpse of light ahead, hoping things just might appear normal up ahead.

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Down I-80 by Veronica Nation

Our bags are filled with the usual: sunscreen, towels, beef jerky, swimsuits, sunglasses, and the not so usual:

I hold my hands to my chest and feel the physical ache of loss move through my body and slowly dissipate, like sugar being stirred into water. I can still feel it, still taste the loss, as dissolved as it may appear to be.

and an urn that holds my brother’s ashes. We travel 1,248 miles through lands of Wyoming-nothing, watch sunsets reflect off insect-ridden windshields, evacuate a bed-bug filled hotel room, learn to enjoy the static of the radio, and pause. Somewhere in Utah, we pull over. Mom has a smoke. My sister takes pictures of the trees, too dark to show on her camera. I slump out of the car. The sun is dull behind the clouds and there is that feeling when you know something, someone, is missing. The last time we went on this trip, he was here. Not his ashes, not in an urn, here. 48 | Montana Mouthful

Our car runs on empty as we pray we make it to the nearest gas station, where bedazzled gun-shaped lighters give us a moment of laughter. We make it to Cannon Beach, the place where my brother wanted to live. He would bury his feet in sand filled with fleas and not mind the bites. My mother spells his name out in the sand. I think of the song “Walls” by Tom Petty. Half of me is ocean, half of me is sky. My brother’s ashes are in my hand, then in the water, then traveling through the cold ocean to somewhere far, far away, softly, quietly, gone. Vol. 4 • Issue 3

One Way Boise Idaho | ROGER CAMP

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Bingo Royalty by K.R. Segriff Rita’s got the bird and the suitcase, but she’s not going anywhere until she gets her money. Ronny slouches against the camper-van and tries to work a dry drop of ketchup loose from his t-shirt. “It was me who paid for the cards, so half the money should be mine,” he mumbles. “You can’t buy your way outta ignorance,” says Rita. “Wasn’t for my system, you’d be suckin’ Ho Ho’s, and you goddamn know it.” “Need both of us for the system, Rita. You run the numbers; I blot the squares.” Ronny’s eyes sag like a mid-November Jack-o-lantern as he licks his finger clean of the ketchup. Rita silently curses herself for getting hung up on a man who can’t even eat a hand full of hash-browns without slopping half of them down the front of his shirt. “I can’t believe you’d leave me for of a few thousand bucks, Rita. We got a life together.” “We got a van, a mattress, and a half-dead parakeet named Marilyn. That and fifty cents will buy you a corn-dog.” “Don’t you love me, Rita? Always said you did. Said I wasn’t such a big prize, but I was enough for the likes of you.” “But what good are you, Ronny? I ain’t gonna spend my life sleeping in an Econoline. Besides, I gotta do what’s best for Marilyn.” Ronny slips his moist finger between the 50 | Montana Mouthful

bars of Marilyn’s cage as he sucks hard on the inside of his bottom lip. “You’re right, Rita. What kind of life have I made for our girl?” Marilyn traps Ronny’s finger between the sharp edges of her beak, and he doesn’t flinch as she clamps it closed around the tip. Ronny’s eyes moisten, but he continues to behold the bird with unfettered adoration. Marilyn’s bulbous tongue probes the slick surface of Ronny’s fingertip, and Rita remembers that moment at the Bingo hall when she and Ronny had realized they had won the purse. She remembers how Ronny’s mouth had tasted of tomato paste and cigarettes, how she had felt the soft down of his chest hair against her tank top as he had pulled her close. Rita eases the suitcase to the ground and sighs. She reaches forward to flick a spot of ketchup that has escaped Ronny’s notice and looks sideways toward the van. Tonight is Lucky Tuesday at The Horseshoe Hall. It’s a two-hour drive, but if they leave now, they can just make it. Rita’s got the flyer in the suitcase. Tonight’s purse is ten-grand. They’ve got a system now, she and Ronny. Fifteen thousand will buy them a top-of-the-line Parakeet Palace and a whole lot of Ho Hos with the change.

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Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas


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Postcards from the Gringo Trail by Orman Day

Because of a relentless wanderlust, at age thirtyeight, I quit a newspaper reporting job in Orange County, California, moved out of a sea-breezed apartment in Corona del Mar, and set out for the tip of South America by land with a pack on my back. I didn’t know enough Spanish to buy fish tacos or a bus ticket in Baja. During those eleven months in ’84-’85, I often partnered for safety’s sake with European vagabonds like Martin, a peso-pinching Swiss who forced me to trudge a mile through the rain to save twenty-five cents on a hotel room. A quarter was a pittance to me because I had all-powerful Dollars to exchange at illegal black markets, which offer higher rates than the official ones offered by banks without rip-off transaction fees. After passing through El Salvador’s civil war, and experiencing a Nicaragua ruled by the Sandinistas, I reached Panama, where I sent home my camera. Time after time I had been warned thieves would inevitably steal it from my room or rip it off my neck by cutting its strap. After that, if I wanted pictures, I bought postcards. Images of glaciers, antiquities and Indians carried my scrawled words about romance, stomach distress and peril to a sister 52 | Montana Mouthful

for safekeeping. Sometimes the postcards took flight singly, more often they were packed into envelopes. Always they bore colorful stamps of Brazilian butterflies or Argentine songbirds. Colombia – August 1984 I arrived in Medellin (known for its drugs and murders) from Panama City by plane. Before we landed, a man behind me taped thousands of dollars to his legs. At the airport, for the sake of safety, I teamed up with Martin from Switzerland and a German guy. We checked into a downtown residencia. $5 for my single, and $3.50 each for their double. The place is a brothel and also provides rooms for copulating couples who can’t find privacy elsewhere. (Single men and women in Latin America often lived with their parents and rented rooms like these by the hour for their trysts.) The place was incredibly noisy. All night…phone calls, doorbell ringing, the pleadings of men without both a woman and the necessary funds to buy one. Ecuador – September In a pool fed by hot springs in Baños, Martin started chatting with some girls 16 years old. We had chicken fights, swam through each Vol. 4 • Issue 3

other’s legs, etc. After the baños, the two girls— one in a tight red swimsuit—wanted to go dancing even though it was 2 p.m. and Sunday. They—including a girl’s brother—led us to a nearby disco, which not surprisingly was closed. So, for 500 sucres ($5, a lot for Ecuadoreans), Martin and I rented the disco for an hour. They turned on the flashing lights and music, and we danced, alternating American style and Latin style. They even served us sodas and cervezas. Then it was adios. (Martin didn’t get the kiss he wanted. Ha ha.) Lima, Peru – October In a pedestrian mall here in Lima, a little girl tried to pickpocket the wad of toilet paper in my back left pocket. I felt her hand which had tried to push the wad up and when I quickly turned around, she put out her hand as if begging. Peru – October We saw the Nazca Lines during a 50-minute flight and then boarded a bus for a 24-hour ride over one of the bumpiest roads I’ve ever endured. We entered a mountain area with guerrilla fighters (the Shining Path) trying to overthrow the government. Friday morning, soldiers in ski masks—carrying machine guns—boarded the bus. They got off shortly before we reached a village where we ate breakfast. The soldiers started coming into the village from various directions. In a small house at the far end, they captured a young man who apparently was a terrorist and blindfolded him. The soldiers told us to get back on the bus if we valued our lives. We hurried into the bus, which incidentally started to smell of flatulence, orange peels and body odor. The bus driver said the soldiers told the young man he would be shot if he didn’t tell them where the others were. We last saw the soldiers leading the blindfolded man out to a

field. When the bus passed a house, I saw a middle-aged man…likely the father…his forehead sadly wrinkled and his clasped hands held to his chin. His is a face I’ll never forget. Bolivia – October (With a couple of female backpackers on visiting day, I entered the La Paz prison bearing gifts of pastries, fruit, Astoria cigarettes and pesos for the gringos inside.) It is a house of detention for 1,000 men, including murderers, but mostly drug dealers. There were three Americans (including Joe, a Black man), two Canadians and two Germans. Los gringos. They were thin, pale, unhealthy, and childlike. Two were “celebrating” seven years in the prison, one sent to prison at age 21. One gringo figured he was carrying $100,000 worth of cocaine when he was caught at the airport. They were happy as hell when I gave them a message from Josef, a German I met in Lima. Apparently he had been falsely imprisoned for one-and-a-half years because he didn’t have enough money to buy his way out of jail. He had escaped after the German embassy helped him get into a hospital. He had found his way to Lima and was about to fly home. Inmates aren’t provided with cells. They are simply pushed through the gate and told to fend for themselves. They must rent or buy their rooms. There are regular cells with wooden doors and grilled windows, but there are also makeshift rooms built in various buildings, including what I was told was a former stable. Three of the gringos had a pretty good-sized room which they had bought for $20. It had a small stove and a couple electric lights, shelves of books, a loft, a rickety bench, and bed mats. During our visit there, the German’s Bolivian wife and two blond children arrived. The woman breastfed her baby while her husband ignored his family to immediately look through Montana Mouthful | 53

the food items his spouse had brought him. Money, said the gringos, is everything in prison. The lucky ones are sent money from their families. With it, they can buy drugs, alcohol, prostitutes…about $3 ordered in advance from the social office…or transvestites. Showers drawn from water drums cost money with the scale rising if one wants hot water. Joe can’t stand the stench of body odor, so he often pays for a Bolivian cellmate’s shower. Joe says the stench of

“The soldiers started coming into the village from various directions. In a small house at the far end, they captured a young man who apparently was a terrorist and blindfolded him. The soldiers told us to get back on the bus if we valued our lives. We hurried into the bus, which incidentally started to smell of flatulence, orange peels and body odor. The bus driver said the soldiers told the young man he would be shot if he didn’t tell them where the others were. We last saw the soldiers leading the blindfolded man out to a field.” the toilets is so bad he stuffs his nose with newspaper when he uses them. The prison has numerous inmate-operated enterprises, including restaurants and snack stands. Indio women sit outside frying whole fish and what-not to sell to the men who–if possible–shun the usual prison fare, which is high on starches and is likely to contain an insect or two, if not a larger creature. Guards apparently stay pretty much off the prison grounds. I was told they bring 54 | Montana Mouthful

drugs to retailing prisoners. Prisoners who can’t repay loans are in for a tough time. Joe, who says he learned his combat skills in Vietnam, stabbed a man trying to collect an overdue debt from him. His punishment for the stabbing was time in the freezing cold “Maria,” the space between walls where prisoners are held for breaking rules. Since the stabbing, Joe hasn’t been hassled by anyone. Bolivia – October In the La Paz depot, I climbed on an overnight bus bound for Potosi, which was quite crowded with Indians and their large bags. I started chatting with a young Swiss-Colombian woman who had just put her handbag above her in the rack. As we were talking, two men stole her bag. She broke into tears, grabbed her sleeping bag and fled in rage, partly blaming me, I’m sure. I immediately locked my bag to the rack. Argentina – November Tierra del Fuego (at the tip of South America) is an enchanted land where even dead, uprooted trees have a certain beauty lying on hillsides in the brush and in the shadows of live trees, full of high limbs full of leaves. Chile – November I took a bus—past the falls shown on this card—to Concepcion, a university town. Police came on the bus at one point. The student next to me nervously showed them his I.D. booklet. He explained to me later there had been a demonstration against the dictatorial government of Gen. Pinochet at his school. The cops were looking for certain organizers. Some of his friends were arrested. (How many were disappeared?) He was relieved he wasn’t on their list. Because of unrest in the country, the general has declared martial law. After dinner, I sat Vol. 4 • Issue 3

around the plaza. Police were everywhere and trucks full of helmeted, gun-toting soldiers rumbled through the streets. The curfew was 10 p.m., at which time I was ensconced in my room reading government-censored magazines. Brazil – December My stomach burned for a while during which I seemed to have a flash of insight on the importance of love. I’m convinced that without love and affection at hand, my stomach has been devouring itself. I realize that those who value other things above love are stupid. The pain subsided at this thought. Brazil – January 1985 An Italian man met a Brazilian man who was going to guide him to a place where he could buy $400 worth of gems…a good deal. He met the Brazilian in the square and was led down a dark street. Not too surprisingly, two bandits were waiting with a gun to take his $400. I bought my gems in a shop. My traveling partner Mariette knows a French woman who visited Salvador de Bahia (our destination), was drugged and woke up two days later naked in a hotel room. She had a nervous breakdown. Brazil – March (On a voyage from Belem on the coast to Manaus in the Amazon jungle on a paddle wheeler, I slept a week in a hammock slung on the open deck.) I estimate there were 250 people on the boat until we reached Santarem. Virtually all of them tried to butt in front of me in the chow line. I finally started to lie on my hammock until everybody was done and then

head to the mess hall. (By the time we reached Manaus, I was convinced we had eaten every single part of the cow.) The Amazon River, itself, was mystical. Watching the jungle roll by when we were close to shore was mesmerizing, not so much by what you could see, but what you couldn’t. After secretly rooting for the toros at a bullfight in Caracas, Venezuela, I flew to Puerto Rico and then home. Reporter friends welcomed me back at a restaurant, and I earned my hamburger by telling them stories: the young guy drafted instantly into the army off a bus in El Salvador, the gringo smugglers smoking cocaine in La Paz’s prison, the claustrophobia and altitude sickness that overwhelmed me in a Potosi tin mine. I described the gauntlet of thieves, and the end of my good luck in Brazil, where my Rock in Rio tickets were pickpocketed, and my money belt was snatched from a bag in the overhead rack while I leaned out a bus window to touch fingertips with the tearyeyed woman I met on the last rainy night of Carnaval. My friends asked what I was going to do next. I wasn’t sure. Because my black-market dealings had made my trip so inexpensive, I didn’t have to quickly re-enter the working world—with its measly two-week vacations— and I wasn’t ready to nail my waffle-soled boots to the kitchen floor. So soon enough, I was lugging my pack across China and Tibet, seeking cheap bunks and steamed buns, thumbing rides when I could.

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Enough by Kenneth Chamlee

Albert Bierstadt listens to Fitz Hugh Ludlow expound, 1863 Fitz flares words the way a campfire sparks, meteoric glints and gone, more luxury than light when all is told. The muleteer wants to cave his skull with a cold skillet and fry his brains, hear the fat words sizzle as smooth oil pools, then spoon it to a tin, save it to work the weathered reins and traces. He says this without looking away from the fire’s mesmeric snap. Too close, coyotes yammer at a blanched moon.

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Waahila Ridge Hawaii | EUNWOO LEE

Ephemeral Falls


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Route 1, Elkridge, Maryland | WILLY CONLEY


Midnight at Motel 6 by Dale Champlin

Dragging our suitcases my full-grown daughter and I pass through an incongruous one-story atrium filled with cleaning rags and building equipment, work overalls stashed in the corners. A moldy rug, speckled with cigarette burns and patches of plaster, wrinkles underfoot. I almost trip on a metal toolbox. Blind windows peer out from each unit. What a perfect place for a homicide. After about a quarter-mile walk we come to our room. A mother can’t give her daughter too much advice. I am accompanying Lisa back from her second ill-advised attempt at escape, all the way from Tennessee to Hillsboro, Oregon. And for the most part, I keep my mouth shut. She is too good, too good for Jonny and his judgmental father, too good for Jonny’s cigars and his twisted pecker, too good for his biblebelt-born-again mother, whispering, you know they don’t even share the same bedroom, too good for his four-hundred pound brother and Jonny’s Cookeville, Tennessee. On the first day of our escape, after I point at Jonny’s loaded pistol on the kitchen counter

and take it as some kind of portent, after we swipe the gallon canning jar full of cast-off coins and recoup two hundred and fifty crisp one dollar bills, good for gas money, I take the second leg of driving and in a torrential cloudburst, a rarity for Kansas, miss a turnoff, skid on a slurry of oily gravel and slam into a guardrail almost but not completely totaling her blue silver-flecked ’88 Jeep Cherokee. Car just about crippled, we creak to the nearest gas station where, when Lisa twists out of the driver seat her new iPhone, her first, slides off her lap, and drops to the pavement, shattering the screen. That night, in Creepy Motel, Lisa calls lay-about-Jonny, for advice maybe, for sympathy maybe, but he has none to spare. Fearing for our lives, but wiped out from excess adrenaline and twelve hours of driving, we fall into dead sleep. But we survive the night, the crash, the impending breakup. For the remainder of the five-day journey, Lisa’s small black dog, Bella, rides on my lap in the passenger seat and we don’t say a word.

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Here an editor may share a story, essay, poem, artwork or mixture of these. The work in this ‘enclosed’ space may or may not have a connection to the issue’s theme.

Memory Trail by Cari Divine My husband, Brian, and I used to journal our road trips. I’m not sure who came up with the idea, but now that Brian is gone (he died unexpectedly 12 years-ago), I have some memories documented in his handwriting, which is a beautiful thing. Most of our road trips were to Seattle and the Oregon Coast because we had family and friends in those areas. We also flew to the East Coast and rented a car and drove through parts of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine. I love lighthouses and we saw as many of those as we could. At the end of a travel day, when we were in a hotel or at my brother’s house in Seattle, Brian and I would each write a few pages about the previous 24 hours. Brian’s prose was always more eloquent than mine as he would describe the scenery and the feelings of the day. He never failed to mention good food that he enjoyed. My entries were more factual: where we went, what we did, and things we purchased on the way. Brian was always the artistic one. I took a trip through these journals in preparation for this issue. The memories are 60 | Montana Mouthful

lovely now, when once they were too painful. The journals jogged memories of our first Mariners game in the summer of ’93 where they lost to the White Sox. We saw the salmon run at the Ballard Locks, we got up at the crack of dawn to gaze upon the colorful tide pools on Newport Beach along the Oregon coast. We saw headstones of ‘witches’ in Salem, MA, from the 1600’s. We ate at a floating restaurant called Domillo’s in Maine. We saw lighthouses on the east and west coasts—Portland Head lighthouse, Nobska Point, Yaquina Bay. So many things I’d forgotten until I read those journals again. Yet there was one road trip that we didn’t journal. At the time, back in 2000, Brian was the all-star coach for my son Josh’s baseball team. The all-star tournament was to be held in Klamath Falls, OR. A mere 850 miles away. It wasn’t a bad trek, with one overnight stop in Spokane. Except for the fact that we had our one-year-old son—Wes—with us too, and he had colic. He cried the better part of the trip. I sat in the backseat comforting the cacophonous baby. Josh was annoyed that he even had a little Vol. 4 • Issue 3

brother and even more annoyed to be cooped up in our Pontiac Grand Am. We had purchased a soft car top storage bin that was secured by hooks that tucked into the doors when you closed them. Every time we stopped to change a diaper, use the restrooms, or get a snack, we had to secure all four hooks and try not to slam our fingers in the door. It was not the best design, but it worked. We had a playpen, a stroller, a diaper bag, a large suitcase, Josh’s duffle bag, Wes’s duffle bag, tons of disposable diapers, toys, a bat bag, cleats, a baseball helmet, catchers gear and 4 people in the car. There was no room for anything else. It was a baby screaming sardine can with a million miles to go. This trip cemented Josh’s total disdain for his little brother. Not only did Wes cry a lot, but he would get so upset that he would throw up, usually on me. We spent the first night in Spokane doing laundry and airing out the car. Josh made the second leg of the trip to Klamath Falls with his best friend’s family as they had a big truck and no babies. We arrived in Klamath Falls, removed the giant carrier from the car, and hit the hotel laundry. The tournament started the next day and it was double elimination. The first game was over in four innings; the other team blew us away. While the Washington and Oregon teams play almost year-round, our Montana kids only practiced a few months with each other before they were expected to compete. We were outclassed. The players were staying

with host families, and that night a large portion of the team snuck out and were caught drinking. Thankfully, Josh wasn’t feeling well, so he did not partake— one little blessing. Coach Divine got the call and was fuming. He had to call all the parents, lecture the kids, smooth over the situation with the host family, and carry his disappointment onto the field. Game two was quiet as parents were mad, the kids were embarrassed about getting caught and their loss from the previous day, and the coach was angry with the team. Game two ended in four innings. Most kids got little playing time as they weren’t full games—a mercy scoring rule was enforced— and parents blamed the coach, who of course was Brian. It was a lot of driving for those 8 innings of baseball. A lot. We packed up the next morning and sent all the baseball stuff home with one of the families and headed down to Portland, Oregon, to visit a friend. I don’t remember much else about the trip, because we didn’t journal it, and am grateful for that decision, but I’m still glad we road-tripped together as a family. Despite the baseball game outcomes, amidst all that unpleasantness, was Josh’s first all-star experience, Brian’s first year as the all-star coach and our instilling in the boys that road trips can be amazing, even when things go awry. It only took twenty years since that Oregon weekend, but my sons have gone on two lengthy road trips together to places they’ve never been. They may not have journaled them, but they are building their own memory trail on the road. Montana Mouthful | 61

While Montana Mouthful seeks and accepts stories, essays, poetry, and artwork from around the world, we wish to connect with writers and artists from our local Helena community. Montana Mouthful and The Shop University have teamed up; each issue includes a piece submitted by one of The Shop University’s students. The Shop University was founded and is operated by Suzy Williams, and she writes the following message: It has been a few years now since our tudents have taken the brave plunge to share their writing out in the world. Although the pandemic has altered our methods of learning, it has not changed the pace at which we are studying, using, and enjoying the English language. We are still here promoting a sense of belonging; providing not just an opportunity to learn the English language, but also an pportunity to belong, to feel less alone in a new land learning a new language. In the past seven years, we have had a variety of students

walk through our doors. They come from different backgrounds and first languages. They come with different hopes and dreams, but all of them want to learn English to be a part of the community where they live. The Shop University and Montana Mouthful provide them the opportunity to share their stories with a wider audience and to be part of a bigger community than they could imagine. Thank you for reading our stories as they debut in English!

This issue features an essay and photograph by Liudmyla Mamusheva.

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My Journey in Thailand by Liudmyla Mamusheva

I was born in a small town called Alchevsk in the USSR. In my town there were three metallurgical factories and many coal mines. In the city where I grew up there were no mountains, seas, or oceans. When I was a child, I started reading fairy tales and children’s stories really early. I especially liked fairy tales and stories about wild animals that live in the countries of Asia and Africa. In my city I could see only cats and dogs walking down the streets. Tales of the rainforest and the aquatic world enthralled me when I was a child. My childhood dream was to see animals not only in pictures in books, but also in real life. My first trip to the country of Asia took place two years ago with my daughter, Tanya. We flew from America to Thailand. Our first trip was very interesting and informative. In Thailand we saw a lot of elephants and monkeys. We learned that elephants work hard for their owners. Every tourist in Thailand wants to ride an elephant, take a selfie on his back, or watch a circus show. Many of the tourists do not know that elephants are subjected to physical and mental torture and cruel treatment.

It is very sad, but a large number of elephants live in captivity precisely because of tourism. Before we traveled to Thailand, we did not know about the cruelty to elephants. In Phuket, we met volunteers who buy out the elephant owners. These elephants live in the park, but they don't work in the park. People take care of them. My daughter and I had the opportunity to volunteer in this park for one day. Our morning in this park began with the preparation of food for the elephants. We chopped bamboo with a special knife and put it in a basket. Then we fed the elephants bamboo and bananas. The elephants play in the park, lie in the mud and swim in the small muddy pond. At noon we had the opportunity to wash the elephants with special brushes. The elephants loved it. They were very friendly. The day went by fast and left pleasant memories that will last for many years. Also, we saw a lot of monkeys in Thailand. After the guide told us about the monkeys, I became very afraid of them. Monkeys can be unpredictable. They can strike at people. Vaccination after a monkey bite is expensive. The nature of Thailand attracts with its

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extraordinary beauty. We visited Krabi province. Krabi province is remembered for monumental rocks, islands, and beautiful beaches. Stone cliffs reach 200 meters in height. We also enjoyed swimming in the Andaman Sea. The water was clear and turquoise.

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In Thailand we had a Thai massage and pedicure with fish. We saw many Buddhist temples. They are unique in architecture. Numerous images of Buddha adorn all temples in Thailand. I recommend everyone visit Thailand at least once.

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Hello again! We hope you enjoyed the adventures in the previous pages. Did you have a favorite story? Poem? Image? If so, we always love to receive feedback about the issues. Feel free to send us a comment on our social media pages. This issue was our last one for 2021, but we’ll be back in early 2022 with another Montana Mouthful issue, and this time the theme is “Lost and Found.” So many things can be lost and found: ideas, material items, relationships, and more. Sometimes we experience great sorrow at the loss of something, only to experience great joy at its finding. However, the opposite can also be true— something one wishes to lose is found again and again in habits or through coincidence or even poor luck. Tighten those thinking caps and spread the word that we’re looking for material for our “Lost and Found” issue. Submissions will be open from Monday, November 1, 2021 through Monday, January 3, 2022. We aim to publish the “Lost and Found” issue on Monday, February 21, 2022. Furthermore, you may recall that we were going to run another contest and publish the winners in this issue; however, due to some unforeseen circumstances, we had to push back the contest until the “Lost and Found” issue. So keep your eyes open for contest information during late autumn/early winter. Winners will be published in the “Lost and Found” issue. Again, we’ll post those details at a later date, so keep checking our social media platforms to participate! To end, we extend a huge thank you to our readers, our supporters, our contributors, and our submitters. If you’re a longtime reader, we appreciate your continued patronage. If you’re new here, we hope you come back for another issue of Montana Mouthful. With warmest wishes, Jasmine Swaney Lamb Co-editor, Montana Mouthful

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Dale Champlin Dale Champlin, an Oregon poet with an MFA in fine art, has poems in The Opiate, Timberline Review, Pif, and elsewhere. She is the editor of /pãn| dé | mïk/ 2020: An Anthology of Pandemic Poems from the Oregon Poetry Association. Her first collection The Barbie Diaries was published in 2019 with Just a Lark Books. Callie Comes of Age was published by Cirque Press in 2021. Willy Conley

Guilherme Bergamini Reporter photographic and visual artist, Guilherme Bergamini is Brazilian and graduated in Journalism. The works are of the artist’s dialogue between memory and social political criticism. He believes in photography as the aesthetic potential and transforming agent of society. Awarded in national and international competitions, Bergamini participated in collective exhibitions in 46 countries. Find out more at Roger Camp Roger Camp is the author of three photography books including the award winning Butterflies in Flight, Thames & Hudson, 2002 and Heat, Charta, Milano, 2008. His work has appeared on the covers of numerous journals including The New England Review and Southwest Review. His photographs are represented by the Robin Rice Gallery, NYC. More of his work may be viewed on and Cali Caughie Cali Caughie is a Doctoral Candidate in Clinical Psychology at the University of Montana in Missoula, Montana. Her research and clinical work focus on neuropsychology, which examines the relationship between the brain and behavior. As a developing writer, she is passionate about integrating health and humanities through conveying the human stories underlying disease and disorder. She hopes to continue to incorporate narrative medicine into her future career. Kenneth Chamlee Kenneth Chamlee taught English at Brevard College (NC) for forty years. His poems have appeared in The North Carolina Literary Review, Worcester Review, Ekphrasis, and many others, including six editions of Kakalak: An Anthology of Carolina Poets. He has received three Pushcart Prize nominations and regularly teaches for the Great Smokies Writing Program of UNCAsheville. He has completed a poetic biography of 19th century American landscape painter Albert Bierstadt. Check him out at

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Willy Conley, a former biomedical photographer, has photos featured in the books Listening Through the Bone, The Deaf Heart, No Walls of Stone, and Deaf World. Other publications: American Photographer, Arkansas Review, Baltimore Sun, Carolina Quarterly, Big Muddy, Folio, and 34th Parallel. His book of poems, The World of White Water, is due out by Kelsay Books in Oct. 2021. Conley, born profoundly deaf, is a retired professor and former chair of theatre arts at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. If interested in seeing more of his work, please visit: . Twitter: @willy_conley Instagram: willeecee Thomas Cowen Born and raised in New York City, Thomas Cowen, lives in the beautiful town of Ridgefield, CT. He is an above-average sales engineer, retired amateur boxer, and barely serviceable hockey player. He has been published in the Connecticut Literary Anthology, The Forge Literary Magazine, Good Men Project and Daily Inspired Life. He graduated from the Newport MFA at Salve Regina University and writes about courage and his incredibly brave son, Justin. Find out more at: Orman Day Orman Day has spent years of his life “on the road.” He has thumbed on six continents, hopped freight trains, and canoed the Mississippi for two months. Along the way, he bungee-jumped off a New Zealand bridge, spent a night in jail during Mardi Gras, and witnessed a sky burial in Tibet. Cari Divine Cari Divine is a co-founder and co-editor of Montana Mouthful magazine. She is 50% sarcasm, 50% sweetness and writes for therapeutic reasons. She is originally from Great Falls, Montana and currently resides in Helena, Montana—the birth place of Montana Mouthful. You can follow her on Instagram at @cariberry65 Amy Wellman Edwards Amy Wellman Edwards, Art Educator of 26 years, enjoys spreading her love for the arts to students in DFW, Texas. Teaching elementary students during the day and college students in the evening offers exciting diversity to the day. Edwards works in mixed media, photography and digital art, but she is also extremely interested in writing as an art form. Edwards’ recent poem “The Third Grade” was incorporated in the 2021 GALA show, “Memoirs,” for art and writing. Her photography was published

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in the 2019 publication, Through the Lens. She has also shown work in the Grand Prairie Art Show, The Encaustic Center Exhibition and the Graduate Painting Show at Texas Woman’s University. She continues to strive to create through art and writing. Find out more at: Jean Fineberg Jean Fineberg is a poet and professional jazz saxophonist and composer. Her poet father left a new poem of his on the table every morning, and she recently unearthed a book of poems she wrote when she was eight. Jean has studied with celebrated poet Kim Addonizio, and her poems have been published in Modern Poets Magazine, Soliloquies Anthology, Vita Brevis, Dove Tails, Uppagus, Literary Yard, FLARE: The Flagler Review, Riza Press, High Shelf Press, The Fibonacci Review, The Creativity Webzine, Quillkeepers Press, Superpresent Magazine, Lucky Jefferson, Unlost Journal, The Jewish Literary Journal, Kerning, Jerry Jazz Musician, Parliament Literary Journal and Shot Glass Journal. Her first chapbook, A Mobius Path, will be available from Finishing Line Press in February, 2022. She is currently at work on her second chapbook, tentatively titled Memoirs of a Mean Sax. Find out more at: Frank Haberle Frank Haberle’s novel-in-stories, Shufflers, about minimum wage transients during the Reagan era, is now available from Flexible Press ( ). His short stories have been featured in multiple collections and they have won awards from Pen Parentis (2011), Beautiful Loser magazine (2017) the Sustainable Arts Foundation (2013) and the Rose Warner Prize for Fiction (2021). Frank is a volunteer workshop leader for the NY Writers Coalition. He lives in Brooklyn and works in The Bronx. More about Frank’s writing can be found on his website Sydney Harris Sydney Harris is an artist located in Pittsburgh, PA, who received her Fine Arts Degree from Waynesburg University. Growing up in Pittsburgh, she was exposed to a multitude of different art styles. Giving her the opportunities to grow as an artist and find herself. When it comes to the arts, finding ways to combine them with nature is something that always mesmerized her. She creates artwork that highlights her fascination with nature’s simplest forms, like trees and ocean life. Her use of bright and bold colors makes her work pop and stand out from the rest. Allowing for her to create her own identity in the art community. Find out more at: and on Instagram – sydneyharrisart. Danika E. Hollis Danika E. Hollis is a graduate student in Literature at The University of Texas at Dallas. She loves writing, photography, and Antarctica. Her short stories and photography have been showcased in various publications. Follow her across social media: @danikaehollis.

Sandra Hosking Sandra Hosking is a professional editor, writer and playwright based in Spokane, WA, USA. Publishing credits include The Spokesman-Review, Journal of Business, Glass International, Inland NW Homes & Lifestyles, Down to Earth Northwest, Insight for Playwrights, Joey, 3 Elements Review, West Texas Review, and Edify Fiction. Her plays have been performed in New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Canada, and elsewhere. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America. Hosking holds an M.F.A. in theatre/playwriting from the University of Idaho and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Eastern Washington University. @SandraHosking (Twitter), sandykayz99 (IG). Sigrun Susan Lane Sigrun Susan Lane is a Seattle poet. Her chapbook SALT won the 2020 Josephine Miles award for excellence in poetry from PEN Oakland. Her poems have appeared in a number of regional and national publications including the Amsterdam Quarterly, Bellowing Ark, Cascade, Chrysanthemum, Crab Creek Review, Cirque, Ekphrastic Review, Hubbub, Floating Bridge Press Vol. # 4, 5, 6, 7, JAMA, The Mom Egg, Malahat Review, Melusine, Passager, The Poeming Pigeon, Pontoon # 10, Rain City Review, Raven Chronicles, Sing Heavenly Muse, Seattle Review, Stringtown and Still Crazy. She has received awards for poetry from the Seattle and the King County Arts Commissions. Lane has published two chapbooks, Little Bones and Salt both from Goldfish Press. Chuck LaVoie Chuck LaVoie is a long-time Arizona resident, artist, and homebuilder living with his wife and son in Fountain Hills. His work has recently been shown at the Shemer Art Center in Phoenix, Fine Art Complex 1101 in Tempe, and Raices Taller 222 Art Gallery & Workshop in Tucson. Eunwoo Lee Eunwoo Lee graduated from University College London with a BA History. He’d rather be tracing the zany enchantment of the fallen empires than the glitzy conquests of their heydays. He is a conscripted soldier at South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense, currently on dispatch to the Army Headquarters for English translation duties. Infinite possibilities lie ahead of him afterwards. He will be happy to be reached on Instagram @eunwoojlee or via Emerson Little Emerson Little is a photographer based in Southern California with a Bachelor’s degree in Digital Media Production from Whittier College. He enjoys photographing southwest landscapes, watching science fiction films, and becoming one with the Force. Find out more at:

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E.D. Lloyd–Kimbrel

Horia A. Pop

E.D. Lloyd-Kimbrel, whose car masquerades as a branch library, has been writing since childhood, with poetry a constant. Over the years, in-between various employments and academic endeavors, geographical locations and life events, she has published (in addition to creative non-fiction and biographical, critical, and scholarly articles and essays) a scattering of poems in little literary journals.

Horia A. Pop is still considering Antarctica as a truly believable option though his family does not share his feelings. In the meantime, he works, writes and tries his best not to lose his enthusiasm.

Liudmyla Mamusheva Liudmyla Mamusheva is from Ukraine. She has been living in America for 5 years. In Ukraine, Liudmyla worked in a kindergarten for 25 years. Her daughter, Tanya, was 20 years-old when she moved to America. When her daughter received citizenship, Liudmyla moved to America also. She has attended the Shop University for two years. Amelia Mellberg Amelia Mellberg is a multi-media illustrator & designer, primarily working w/watercolor & color pencil. She is based in Lancaster, PA. She graduated with a BFA in illustration from Pennsylvania College of Art & Design in 2021. Her work is colorful & whimsical, evoking a sense of childhood wonder. If she is not creating she is hanging with her dog, Sebastian! Susan Muth Susan Muth is a first year poetry MFA candidate at George Mason University. Her work has been accepted by The Northern Virginia Review and Penn State’s Literary magazine, Kalliope. She lives in Arlington, Virginia. IG handle: @susie_muth. Veronica Nation Veronica Nation is a Colorado poet and artist. Her work has been featured in LEVITATE magazine, Sink Hollow, 300 Days of Sun, and Two Timbers Press. You can learn more about her writing via her website at or follow her on Instagram @rainandpoetry. Franz Jørgen Neumann Franz Jørgen Neumann’s stories have appeared in Colorado Review, The Southern Review, Passages North, Fugue, Confrontation, Water~Stone Review, and elsewhere, and can be read at Twitter: @storiesnovels Ele Pawelski Ele Pawelski published her debut novella, The Finest Supermarket in Kabul, with Quattro Books at the end of 2017. Her short stories have appeared in the Nashwaak Review, The Refresh, Flash Fiction, Ariel Chart, Quail Bell and Potato Soup. Find out more at: ele; @eleinthecity

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Catrina Prager Catrina Prager is a young writer of fiction, looking for the perfect turn of phrase, elusive though it may be. When she’s not writing, she enjoys swimming, live music, and traveling to discover new characters. Her work has appeared in Bridge: The Bluffton University Literary Journal, and The Rush Literary Magazine. At present, she’s working on her first full-length novel. You can connect with her on Instagram, at@grimmestthings. Lindsey Pucci Lindsey Pucci teaches and lives with her husband and son in Minnesota. Her work has been in the cover of The Sparrow and the Nightingale, published in Parliament, and shown in the State Street Gallery and La Crosse Center for the Arts gallery in Wisconsin. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin– La Crosse with a degree in Art Education. Instagram: @linney_bee Cynthia Rogers Cynthia Rogers is a teacher, writer and editor. Her essays and nonfiction work have appeared in Dust & Fire, Writer’s Digest, Seneca Review, Confluence, Minnesota Monthly, North Dakota Horizons, as well as in publications by Writer’s Institute Publications and Augsburg Fortress. Jim Ross Jim Ross jumped into creative pursuits in 2015 after a rewarding career in public health research. With graduate degree from Howard University, in the past six years he’s published nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and photography in over 150 journals on four continents. Publications include 580 Split, Barren, Bombay Gin, Burningword, Columbia Journal, Hippocampus, Ilanot Review, Kestrel, Litro, Lunch Ticket, MAKE, Manchester Review, Montana Mouthful, New World Writing, Stonecoast, The Atlantic, and Typehouse. Jim and his wife—parents of two health professionals and grandparents of five preschoolers—split their time between city and mountains. K.R. Segriff K.R. Segriff (she/her) is a Canadian writer, filmmaker, and visual artist. Her work has appeared in Riddle Fence, Prism International, and Storm Cellar magazines, among others and her short films have been selected for over 50 film festivals worldwide. Find her on Twitter @kitty_flash.

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Edward Sheehy Short stories by Edward Sheehy have appeared online and print in the Boston Literary Magazine, The Write Launch, and Lake Street Stories (Flexible Press). His poetry has been featured in Jerry Jazz Musician magazine honoring the music of Miles Davis. He was baptized in the Delaware River before the eyes of the Lord and several catfish. Dawn Smith-Theodore Dawn Smith-Theodore, MA, MFT, CEDS was a former professional dancer, owned a dance studio in Los Angeles and has been treating eating disorders for over 20 years through her private practice in Los Angeles. Dawn is the author of TuTu Thin: A Guide to Dancing Without an Eating Disorder. She has written articles for Pointe magazine, and her book has been featured in Dance Teacher and Dance magazine. “The Woman in the Wig” is adapted from her memoir-in-progress titled Mother, Brother, Lover. Find out more at: Archana Sridhar Archana Sridhar is an Indian-American poet and university administrator living in Toronto. Her work has been featured in The Puritan, The Hellebore, and elsewhere. Her chapbook Renderings is available through 845 Press, and her chapbook Our Initials Were U.S.A. is forthcoming with Ethel micro-press. Archana’s writing can be found at Twitter: @ArchanaSAPP Jesse Suess Jesse is a writer from the Pacific Northwest who is currently living in upstate New York. You can find him on Twitter @suessjesse. John Sweatman John Sweatman is an up-and-coming landscape photographer/ videographer from Austin, TX. A life-long fan of adventure travel, he particularly enjoys difficult-to-reach, little seen locations. He lives with his wife and two highly opinionated chihuahuas. Find out more at: and on IG @the_Nikon_don. Mantz Yorke Mantz Yorke lives in Manchester, England. His poems have been published both in the UK and internationally. His collections Voyager and Dark Matters are published by Dempsey & Windle.

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Vol. 4 • Issue 3

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