ISSUE 11 Spring 2017
Mount Hope is published bi-annually in Bristol, Rhode Island, by the Roger Williams University Department of English and Creative Writing. Individual subscription rates are: $20 annually or $35 for two years. Mount Hope ÂŠ 2017, All Rights Reserved. No portion of Mount Hope may be reproduced in any form or by electronic means, including all information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission of Mount Hope magazine or authors of individual creative works. Any resemblance of events, locations or persons, living or dead, in creative works contained herein is entirely coincidental. Mount Hope cannot be held responsible for any views expressed by its contributors. www.mounthopemagazine.com Individual Issue Price: $10.00
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STAFF EDITOR Edward J. Delaney WRITER-IN-RESIDENCE Adam Braver DESIGN EDITOR Lisa Daria Kennedy Massachusetts College of Art ASSISTANT EDITOR Alanna Hammond
EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS Katie Battaglino Tori Bodozian Alyssa Bouchard Allison Campbell Rachael Cavallaro Adam Dâ€™Arcangelo Kayleigh Dedomenico Alexis den Boggende Olivia Fritz Andria Grant Kyle Gravel Alanna Hammond Angela Kaczun Maddy Knoepfel Kerlie Merizier Grace Napoli Christine Peterson Julia Stanton Amy Urso
CONTENTS FICTION 5 The Conflation of Etiology and Incidence by Jeff Pearson 37 My Wife Was An American Hero by Bryon Esmond Butler
POETRY 35 Bird In A Cage
by Diane Lefer 36 Tai Chi by Holly Guran 45 Stoves by Irene Backalenick 46 Naming by Patricia J. Miranda 56 Warmth by Terry Persun 60 Haunt by Joanie McLean
NONFICTION 17 My Non-Fatal Mycophilia, a case study by Mark Pawlak 47 Fusion Piece by Elena Harap 57 The Open Jar by Sarah Rosenthal
PORTFOLIO 23 All The World’s A Stage by Jonathan Kos-Read
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The Conflation of Etiology and Incidence by Jeff Pearson
No explanation except a historical and cultural one begins to unravel the problem of the diseaseâ€™s increasing incidence. (Incidence, to be sure, is a different issue than etiology, and the two are not conflated here.) Culture is the critical variable that explains why and how anorexia nervosa became the characteristic psychopathology of the female adolescent of our day. Joan Jacobs Brumberg, Fasting Girls, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., London, England: 1988, p. 7.
1. Uncle Tim In the falsely optimistic period between her first hospitalization and the onset of the latest decline, a few months when recovery seemed within grasp, I usually took off from work to drive Louise to her private sessions with the psychiatrist each week. In his late thirties, a specialist in addiction, he maintained a low-overhead practice near a sanitarium in the suburbs; the MOUNT HOPE â€˘ ISSUE 11
building, occupied mainly by practitioners of the healing arts, was one of those compact, brick-and-tinted-glass contemporary structures situated in a pod with three or four others of the same ilk, as if intended to evoke the illusion of community. There was a single receptionist for the building, seated at a circular desk inside the front door, but there appeared to be no secretarial or clerical personnel in the offices themselves, which gave off tight, deserted corridors like hotel rooms; in lieu of secretaries, there were individual security systems, evidenced by silver key pads on the office doorframe, out of which protruded tiny glass thimbles that glowed red or green, depending on whether the system was armed. During one of the fifty-minute hours I passed in the comfortable, open waiting area on the second floor, reading a magazine (I think it’s possible I brought work along from the office), an African-American couple of fairly advanced age, both bundled in jackets despite the summer heat, he bent over the bow of a walker, emerged from the elevator, and made their way to a couch across from me. I glanced up, nodded pleasantly, but paid scant attention. Nor did it particularly attract my notice when, five or ten minutes later, the gentleman shuffled past on his walker toward the men’s room. As chance would have it, I presently experienced the urge myself. Entering the restroom, I noted, below the panels of the only occupied stall, six legs, four of them aluminum with wheels attached. “Say, excuse me,” the man hailed as I urinated. It was a polite, mellifluous, full-bodied voice, yet carried an undercurrent of agitation. I am afraid I responded stupidly. “Me?” “Be most obliged if you’d get my wife. Tell her I need help getting up.” He did not give himself a name; there is no way he could have identified me, or even seen my shoes, from inside his box. In retrospect, this fascinates me—was it his confidence I would know who he was, and be able to pick out his wife, or was he too far gone to care? Having seen the couple together earlier, I thought that expecting her to assist was unreasonable, as she was a bit of a thing, and frankly I wasn’t so keen on telling the poor woman to come into the Men’s to rescue him. I heard myself, instead, volunteering to be his rescuer, although I had given no thought to the requirements of the labor. The old man had locked the stall from inside, I was to find; he could neither rise off the stool, nor reach the latch to unlock the door. Without removing my suit jacket, I stepped onto the toilet seat in the adjoining stall; from there to the toilet paper dispenser, whence I boosted myself to the top of the metal partition, threw one leg over without perpetrating self-castration, threw over the other, stepped as gently as I could onto the handle of his walker, and dropped to the floor. He had a strong grip, a hand twice as large as mine attached to a narrow 6
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wrist, skin tough as an old shoe. After I pulled him to his feet, so that he could stabilize with his device, I unlocked the stall and wedged open the door, then escorted him out and left him to the care of his wife, who was waiting in the hallway. She thanked me and explained that on this very visit they hoped to learn from the doctor the cause of the man’s affliction, a recent loss of muscle control that landed him in one predicament after another like this. Louise was just finishing up. I did not mention the incident, indeed quickly forgot about it. But over the next few days, an image of a man extending his right hand as if to guide me in as I came over the top of the barrier between the stalls floated again and again before my mind’s eye. He was not my African-American friend, this imaginary fellow, although there was a sweet helplessness in his expression that reminded me of the man. I soon became convinced that the face behind the image was that of my Uncle Tim. When Gabrielle, my wife, observed one morning that I seemed preoccupied, I told her what was on my mind. I reminded her of how I had found my favorite uncle, a week before his death, in a heap on the floor in the guest bedroom of my grandmother’s apartment. At nine years old, I lacked the horsepower to pull him to his feet with one hand, emaciated though he was; it had been necessary to prop him against the highboy, then coax him to exert his leg muscles while I tugged with all my might on his arms. I finally got him on the bed and waited for Grandmother to return. During the entire process, wordless, Uncle Tim fixed me with that look of sweet helplessness I now could not get out of my brain. “He was savoring his secret resolve to end his life,” Gabrielle suggested. “I wonder if the guy I pulled off the toilet was, too.” “You can never know, can you?” my wife replied. Louise, meanwhile, although on anti-depressants, grew increasingly morose, distanced herself from friends. She invented excuses not to dine with us and probably had begun to restrict again. Although in our eagerness to have her cured we were ever on the lookout for silver linings, at about this time Gabrielle plowed into a cloud that was dark to the core. Louise acknowledged in her diary that, while showering, she had twice tested her nerve against the cold steel of my shaving razor, dragged over the wrist. “I can just see their faces,” she wrote in a neat, backward-slanting hand, presumably of Gabrielle and me, “when they find me naked in my own bloody soup.” My wife insisted that Louise must have intended these private thoughts to be discovered, else why would she have left the journal open, in plain view, on the top of her desk? I disagreed—with the snooping, with the conclusion—but it was no time to argue, or to moralize. Gabrielle was inclined to confront Louise, rather than take her discovery to the psychiatrist, and in light of previous MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 11
experience, I couldn’t argue. When during Louise’s first hospital stay I tried to pass along what I thought was important background information to her various specialists, I was rebuffed—the stated grounds being that privilege walled the healing relationship. It got me nowhere to insist that the girl was still a child, and my flesh and blood. One day Gabrielle calmly pointed out the obvious subtext, besides doctor-patient privilege: until childhood sexual abuse involving one or both of us could be ruled out, flesh and blood added no value per se, only grounds for professional caution. “When there is something you wish me to know,” a social worker icily advised, “discuss it first with your daughter. If Louise thinks it important, she and I may take it up.” Gabrielle and I decided that I should discuss the diary entry with our daughter. “After all,” Gabrielle explained, “the expertise in suicide rests on your side of the family.” Although understandable in the fraught tension of the time, her remark was wide of the mark. Uncle Tim, my mother’s brother, did blow his brains out with a pistol; and it is true that his and my mother’s younger sister, my aunt Rosalie, posted to the Philippines with her husband, the employee of a multinational oil company, one day drove to the edge of the jungle, parked the car and was never seen alive again. (According to the official autopsy, her remains, when found, were too desecrated by wildlife to permit a determination of the cause of death; despite this my uncle, her husband, told everyone on his return to the States that he suspected she’d been sexually assaulted and then murdered by members of the Communist guerilla band that operated in the area.) As for my high-strung mother, when I was a child she developed a dependency on Miltown and Librium; after she died peacefully in her sleep eight years ago, the cause of death, heart failure, was said to have been induced by another generation of mother’s little helpers, in combination with alcohol. Despite their tragic character, these three admittedly unusual deaths in the generation immediately before me, on my mother’s side of the family, stand alone. No similar case histories presented themselves on the side of my father, who was still living, nor are any reported in previous generations on my mother’s side. I myself was thankfully free of symptoms of mental illness; possessing an even personality, I drank only in moderation, I did not abuse drugs, and I could honestly say that, until Louise became ill, I had never felt myself sucked towards anything resembling a black hole of depression. “Maybe I did want one of you to read it,” Louise was honest enough to admit after I explained the purpose of our conversation. On the surface calm, composed, leaner than suited her, though not cadaverous, she suddenly allowed herself an impish grin. “I put a lot of things in my diary that aren’t true-to-life.” 8
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Uncannily, the grin was Uncle Tim’s, reminding me with a jolt that the sweet helplessness came only at the end; a reckless lack of inhibition had been his trademark until then, had attracted my youthful love and admiration. I saw my mother at the stove in our kitchen, mashing potatoes with an old-fashioned hand masher: suddenly, there was Uncle Tim, thirty-two years old, in his Army beige, crawling along the floor, shushing me with a finger raised to his lip. He took the dangling end of Mother’s doubleknotted apron string and tied it to a lariat of mine that he had already connected to a chair, halfway across the room. Then, giving me a grin and a wink, he doubled up in feigned pain and rolled on the floor into the utility room. This, of course, caused Mother to abandon her mashing. She gave a shriek and rushed to his aid, greatly hindered by the chair she dragged behind. Uncle Tim released a staccato burst of high-pitched giggles, in which I joined until I saw Mother’s face. Placing hands on hips, she managed to glare fiercely at her brother for all of five seconds before her mouth, always greased with lip coat the hue of Bing cherries in July, parted in a smile, and she, too, began to laugh. While under other circumstances I might have taken Louise’s flash of impishness as a welcome counterweight to her recent slippage in mood and behavior, I was now struck by the all-too-obvious parallels. The genes that visited tragedy on my mother and her siblings may have skipped a generation, but were unlikely to have fallen out of the line. “Darling,” I told her, “I’d like to make you another appointment with Dr. Shulman.” A day or two later as, too preoccupied MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 11
The genes that visited tragedy on my mother and her siblings may have skipped a generation, but were unlikely to have fallen out of the line.”
This is how I remember her, before the demons fully took charge.”
to read, I sat in the second-floor waiting area of the psychiatrist’s building, the elderly African-American couple rowed in from the elevator, he again piloting the walker, both more or less overdressed for the August torpor. A warm, intelligent glow sparked in the face of the woman, while the husband met my eyes with a vacant stare. “There’s the nice gentleman who helped you in the bathroom,” she reminded in a tone mothers use to extract the vocalization of gratitude from children. The man did not respond. The glow left her face. “We’re not doing well,” she acknowledged. His long, crooked fingers drummed the walker’s prow, he gazed off past me, into a memory, or into nothingness. I forced myself to inspect the mahogany face with care; it revealed nothing. “I’m sorry,” I told the woman. She frowned, we both looked away, and she and the old man, like refugees from a war or natural disaster, hobbled off down one of the tight corridors, while I privately welcomed release, at least for the time being, from Uncle Tim.
2. Esther At a time when, in retrospect, Louise in all likelihood had already begun to experiment with restricting, the three of us drove into the city for my sister-in-law Esther’s first one-woman show, staged in a small TriBeCa gallery that operated on cooperative principles. Esther had achieved admission on her third try, earning the right to use the space, and also to post a sizable membership fee. Shortly thereafter, the invitation arrived. On one side, the invitation displayed Esther’s close-up photograph, in black 10
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and white, of the whiskered nose of a fat rat pressed against the erect nipple of a woman’s breast. The back side of the invitation, in addition to dates and address information, contained the exhibition’s unusual title, “Oysters and Horns: The Animal Kingdom as Metaphor for Human Sexuality.” Louise, who took in the mail that day, asked if she could accompany us to the opening. After a phone call to Esther produced the assurance that none of the works in the show transgressed artistic good taste, Gabrielle told our daughter yes. The remarkable thing was that the girl took most of it in stride, although at one point I saw her, flushed, leafing through what I thought was a program for the exhibit, later to discover it was a copy of a magazine of erotica out of Berkeley in which Esther had published outtakes from the show, more explicit than what adorned the walls. Such as it was, the artistic leitmotif in the compositions consisted of symmetries rung from the unexpected juxtaposition of close-ups of penises and vaginas with assorted horned beasts and shellfish. In a blurb in the Berkeley magazine, an editor opined that, in Esther’s work, “The camera’s eye extracts from the dark impulse of bestiality a fresh and subtle new aesthetic.” Although Esther, to the best of my knowledge, was not a closet fetishist, in her exhibitionistic keening for attention the last thing she could be accused of, in my admittedly unsympathetic view, was freshness or subtlety. Having endured an hour of the opening with only judicious lapses from the oath of silence I took upon entering, I was happy to be out on the street, hailing the cab that would carry the three of us uptown for the matinee performance of a new play dramatizing the correspondence between Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf. I had selected the play because Vanessa Redgrave, who played Sackville-West, had charmed me years before in a production in the West End while I was abroad on business. Little did I suspect that the afternoon of theater would add homoerotic undercurrents to the river of graphic anatomical images that swept us out of Esther’s opening, or that Louise, who spent a good part of the performance in the ladies’ room, had slipped the Berkeley magazine of erotica into her blouse before we left the gallery. In my mind is an image of the three of us lingering over the cheese plate at my favorite French restaurant later that night: the subdued light, the last of a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in Gabrielle’s and my wine glasses. Louise, having demolished most of a quarter-round of mild Camembert, stabbed into a bouton of chèvre, for which she had recently developed a taste, and eyed the untouched wedge of mottled Roquefort on the opposite side of the platter. Sensing that I watched, she looked up, winked conspiratorially, spread the chèvre on a morsel of baguette, bit into it, smiled. This is how I remember her, before the demons fully took charge. During the two-week run of the show, Esther suffered a series of reverses MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 11
that, finally, prevented her from tending to the gallery. First, back on the Island, her German shepherd got loose and bit the visiting mother-in-law of a neighbor, who called the police. Next, Esther’s then-current boyfriend, a poet she had met through a personal ad, accepted a teaching job that required his forthwith departure to San Antonio; they would be reduced to seeing each other at holidays and during the summer, assuming at least one was not so set in his or her ways to travel at such times. As the crowning blow, Esther landed in bed with a mysterious inflammation of the lungs that affected her balance, her eyesight, her digestion and her ability to sleep. Neither of her daughters, one now an optician’s assistant, the other a schoolteacher, would or could abandon their routines to tend the gallery for her. Arguing that she faced no similar conflicting responsibilities, Gabrielle volunteered to drive down and keep the gallery open the final week of the show herself. “What about Louise?” I demanded. “She’ll be fine here with you.” “She’d get more out of a week in the city.” “I won’t have any time.” “You wouldn’t be worried about exposing her again to your sister’s fresh and subtle new aesthetic?” Gabrielle glowered. “Fine, I’ll book a double.” I don’t know why I goaded my wife, or what it was exactly, during that week they spent in New York, that prompted me to rifle Louise’s desk drawers and discover the Berkeley magazine of erotica. I never said a word—to wife or daughter, to therapist or fellow support-group member. The last time I saw my daughter, her skeleton jabbed out against her skin like tent poles—at the collarbone, the elbow, the hips, at the puny ankles. Lanugo furred her jowls and forearms, a phenomenon that in my mind disturbingly conjured the rodent in Esther’s marquee photograph. The helpful staff of the inpatient care facility told us that they would never, ever, leave her alone, for fear she might purge, or slip metal into a body cavity before being weighed. My own health remains excellent, my weight well within normal bounds for someone of like height, build, age. No one watches over me—in this private underworld, there is no sympathetic goddess or poet to guide the way. As certain of my culpability in Louise’s illness as I am ignorant of my sins, I stand alone in the din, the stench, the flames, yearning to exercise a new capacity for penitence I feel I can tap. Louise has her living hell, and this is mine: to believe that I possess the key to her cure, as well as a willingness to share it, yet to have mislaid both, with no idea where to look. I begin to wish that one of us would die—to end this living hell, at any cost. It was determined that pigeons were responsible for the lung problem. 12
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For months, Esther had had two of them flying free in the garage, sometimes they managed to slip into the house itself, where according to our niece their calling cards went unnoticed for days. An exterminator came, a cleaning lady; in due course, my sister-in-law returned to good health. The exhibition faded into history, although at Thanksgiving, when we all assembled at my mother-in-law’s on the Upper West Side, Louise by then noticeably thinner, polite inquiries were made about future projects. By then, Esther had moved on—to the practice of sitting meditation, and to walking mindfully, in which she was taking instruction from a Buddhist named Weinberg, to whom she had been introduced at a recent retreat in the Berkshires. Slyly, I smiled across the room at Gabrielle: your sister Esther, my smile said, what a case. Gabrielle scowled, as if to underscore the tensions that now beset our little family.
3. Raymond Because he so hated to travel, after Mother died we often flew out to spend Christmas with my father, combining the visit with a few days of skiing in the Rockies. A robust septuagenarian, Raymond, as he preferred to be called, insisted on cooking the Christmas dinner himself, something he had done since I was a child. Of English stock, he prized his roasts and puddings above fowl; while carving, he told stories of dinners of Christmas past, drawing our attention to supposed imperfections in the fare he served up that day compared to some idealized five-star masterpiece he’d cooked ten or twenty years ago or more—a standing rib roast from the 1970’s, say, with nonpareil marbling, a celestially light and fluffy Yorkshire pudding from the 1960’s, a leg of lamb from the mid-Eighties so succulent in its jacket of crispy fat that begging dogs congregated outside the kitchen door as it cooked. I can taste that crispy; I can hear Raymond hawking it. “Here, Gabrielle, let me give you a nice bit of crispy.” She, from a long line of men and women with heart disease, would always decline. Beginning about the age of nine, I was allowed to make the mint sauce, shredding the mint itself, which had been grown in the garden and in the fall hung to dry in the cellar, with a special bladed roller, adding boiling water, apple-cider vinegar, sugar to taste, stirring it, at last offering a spooned sample to the master for approval. Eyes shut, mouth open, bending down for the taste, he never appeared so human. It was as if I had him beneath a microscope, between tissue-thin glass: I could see skin pores, splinters of beard, a BB or two of perspiration gathering above the thin upper lip, a skin-colored mole loosely attached to the lower lid of the right eye, another, pimento-colored, at the temple, hair filaments poking from a nostril. The mint sauce was heavenly on lamb, spread over the meat along with pan gravy. Since marrying Gabrielle, I have lost the taste for it, and eat MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 11
He then tossed off the observation that Louise, by starving herself, was subjecting her body to the very style of dominion she felt her parents exercised over her life.”
red meat sparingly, except at Raymond’s Christmases. We had begged off the year before because of Louise, using my partner’s surgery as an excuse; it looked now as if we had to beg off again. “What do you mean, you can’t come?” The well-modulated baritone that had served my father with distinction in the courtroom retained its resonance. “We can’t.” “Why not?” “I’d rather not say.” Although Gabrielle could and did unburden herself, in a heartbeat—to ladies in her bridge group, old college roommates, sympathetic neighbors—I chose not to publicize the problem. Unless they came in regular contact with Louise, people had no reason to be told; even then, nuance was paramount, as I learned when a biology teacher we had briefed after the first hospitalization welcomed Louise back to class with, “My, you’re looking well.” In the innocent greeting Louise perceived the suggestion that she had gained a few too many pounds, and immediately began to restrict again. But this—the reflex desire to keep my father in the dark—was different. A child again, burning with shame, I refused to bend, aware that muteness, against so skilled an interrogator, was the only hope. A spasm worked its way through my colon, and my tongue went dry. I don’t remember how I got off the hook. Later, furious with myself, embarrassed, I called back, apologized, and told him the whole story. “I have heard of this,” Raymond sighed. “The affliction of girls too privileged to have real afflictions.” I mumbled something about the “complexity” of the matter, not precisely a cop-out, for the more I learn, the less I feel 14
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I can take as given. Who is to say that Saint Catherine of Siena, for example, or other female religious ascetics of six hundred years ago were not sufferers of the disease? The fact they scalded themselves and lay on thorns in addition to limiting their food intake to the Eucharist seems not such a significant distinction. If emaciated girls in the High Middle Ages suffered the same curse as my daughter and other well-to-do female offspring of the Middle Post-Industrial Era, perhaps we were dealing, here, with a matter genderspecific, but timeless. “I was planning a suckling pig,” Raymond changed the subject. “We’ll give it a try again next year.” My trained ear detected the sadness he felt on Louise’s behalf, but could not express. “Absolutely,” I replied. 4. Gabrielle and Me There was a woman in our support group named Alice, a smoker with a smoker’s pinched face, who at her own expense, her courage masquerading as gallows humor, it seemed to me, tried to make light of how her daughter’s disease had come to dominate her life. “I have this recurring fantasy,” she told us after one meeting. “Before we sit down to dinner, I will have Bill unplug the garbage disposal. I will sneak upstairs, shut the water intakes on the toilets, flush every one. Afterwards, I will patrol the house. I will check every wastebasket, drawer, cupboard. If I hear a window open, a bathroom door click shut, I will dart in and catch her in the act of destroying evidence. I am the Gestapo. She will not sneak food from my table. There will be strip searches.” Alice laughed, blew smoke away from me, then gasped for oxygen. “I’m mad, obsessed. A Nazi bitch mom.” Gabrielle and I chuckled. Obsession was the name of the game, all right. Early on, a psychologist sat my wife and daughter and me down and listened to us talk for half an hour. He then tossed off the observation that Louise, by starving herself, was subjecting her body to the very style of dominion she felt her parents exercised over her life. We were the problem. At the time it seemed too pat; this guy knew nothing about us, and he had been a little slick at the front end with his suggestion that his patients invariably found it useful, after a session, to review his tapes, which could be purchased in the lobby gift shop. But the more time that goes by, the more I think he was on to something. For example, there’s this film loop that spools through my brain at odd moments now, just snippets of things, like Gabrielle preparing Louise, then a third-grader, for the city-wide spelling bee, three hours every Saturday morning, an hour before bed each night (Result: a fourth-place finish). Or me, saying I just wanted to help her “limber up,” taking time every Wednesday evening when she was in fifth grade to drill her on math facts before the weekly review test her teacher gave on Thursdays (Result: an A in math). Or Louise herself, in junior high now, home from school one day MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 11
after Gabrielle had repacked her sack lunch (sticking in yogurt and peeled carrots after culling out chips and cookies made with coconut oil), saying, “I was a little angry at first, but I thought about it, and in the long run your way is better, so thank you, Mother, I really appreciate everything you do.” (Result: we told ourselves this was yet another sign that Louise was sensible and mature beyond her years). By phone, we check every other day with the staff. Louise is adding ounces, yet we ought not think of visiting. This was part of the deal going in. Frankly, there is some relief in knowing we will not see her up close. On the other hand, her absence breeds painful reflection, questions, doubt. I find myself cringing as I remember the smug satisfaction I felt at Esther’s abandonment of her photography for meditation, and the hectoring edge on my voice when I herded Louise to TriBeCa with Gabrielle to manage the gallery during the final week of “Oysters and Horns.” I still have not mentioned the Berkeley magazine of erotica to Louise’s psychiatrist, or the far more disturbing matter of the diary, the delight our daughter appeared to take in the thought of her parents finding her nude body emptied of blood, of life, in the shower. What am I afraid of? Does one fear the unknown for no reason, or because one suspects the sun of discovery will be too bright to bear? Would anything be different if I had told her psychiatrist? Would a larger story unfold? Something, maybe, involving Uncle Tim? Raymond? Me? These tangents I take only to a point; some instinct kicks in, blocks the brain from further inquiry, or the support group’s implicit motto—Parents, don’t be too hard on yourselves!—kicks in and temporarily shunts the questions away. It would be an excellent time for prayer, were I a praying man. Instead, I’m more likely to bring up a bottle of nice wine and surprise Gabrielle with it at dinner, afterwards serve up a cheese plate assembled by way a stop at my favorite fromagerie on the way home from the office. And more likely than not, as I make the presentation, my wife will smile in a way that reminds me of Louise at a happier time, a time free of demons, and for a moment or two I will feel free myself.
Jeff Pearson is the author of the nonfiction book No Time But Place (McGrawHill). He’s published reviews and reporting in High Country News, Pacific News Service and the Rocky Mountain News. He lives in Denver. 16
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My Non-Fatal Mycophilia, a case study by Mark Pawlak
If you call yourself a milk-mushroom, jump into my basket! —Russian Proverb
I suffer from mycophilia, a love for and obsession with mushrooms. In a nation made up largely of mycophobes, who considered all but the white button and crimini mushrooms packaged and sold in supermarkets to be poisonous toadstools, I’m an unrepentant mycophile. I forage for mushrooms in season and bring them home to cook and eat. I also collect ‘suspect’, inedible, and toxic species to practice identification and to add to my general knowledge of fungi. The rest of the year I seek out edible varieties to buy in grocery stores, gourmet specialty shops, or farmers’ markets: chanterelles, shiitakes, hen-of-the-woods, oyster mushrooms, etc. There is a shelf in my kitchen pantry filled with mushroom cookbooks. A living-room bookshelf contains my extensive collection of mushMOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 11
room field guides and books on how to grow your own (I have a crop of oyster mushrooms growing on shredded newspaper in my basement). I also own specialized guides to favorite genuses: North American Boletes: A Color Guide To the Fleshy Pored Mushrooms, Waxy-Cap Mushrooms of Eastern North America, and Morels, plus a rare copy of Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality. And, when I go out to a restaurant for dinner, I scour the menu for dishes that contain mushrooms. After I order an appetizer or entree that includes wild-foraged mushrooms, I become giddy with anticipation. I belong to a club of mushroom enthusiasts called the Boston Mycological Club (BMC). It’s the country’s oldest. I’ve been a member for almost forty years. Summers, the club hosts Sunday morning forays to woodlands, parks, and town conservation lands within roughly an hour’s drive of Boston, such places as the Middlesex Fells, Concord Woods, Hapgood Woods, Mount Misery Reservation, Stow Town Forest. A club member leads each of these “walks,” someone who typically lives nearby the site and regularly picks mushrooms there. We arrive, are handed a trail map if one exists; if not, we’re given verbal directions by the leader; then we disperse, baskets in hand to forage. We come back together after a few hours to display and identify our finds. There is usually a member of the club’s Identification Committee on hand to verify the IDs, and one club member is responsible for recording all the varieties (species) we have found. Like birders, the BMC website keeps a running list of all fungi identified during club sponsored forays. Maria Maravigna, who lived to be 106, even into her nineties led an annual foray to the Town of Winchester’s conservation lands near her home. She walked the Fells at a brisk pace, pointing out spots where she used to find favorite edibles. “Used to be…” she’d say in her thick Italian accent, “Now no more.” At the walk’s conclusion, she invited everyone back to her house. There, with her sister’s help, she cooked up and served freshly picked mushrooms to us fellow foragers seated at picnic tables in her back yard. After the repast, she conducted tours of her pottery studio, where samples of her anatomically correct, glazed porcelain mushroom models were on display. Her porcelains are in private collections and museums around the world. Maria Maravigna: “Used to be; now no more.” It was only after tagging along on one of Maria’s annual forays that my wife, Mary, relaxed her skepticism about my mycophilia. She was charmed by Maria’s Old World manners and New World accomplishments. This led her to conclude that, although we club members were an odd lot for our obsession, we were nevertheless characters worthy of her interest as well as enjoyable company. Not that my wife doesn’t sometimes still wake me in the middle of the night after I have served her a dinner featuring my wild-foraged mushrooms to ask, “Are you sure about those mushrooms?” Club-sponsored events are generally congenial affairs, but not always. 18
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I have witnessed arguments such as when an “Old World” immigrant forager vehemently disagreed with an ID Committee member about the edibility of a particular species: “I don’t care if the field guide calls this red russula ‘suspect.’ Back in Russia we considered it a delicacy.” In Russia, whole families head to the woods during picking season with baskets and buckets in hand. I’ve been told by mycophile friends who hail from that region that camaraderie among fellow foragers is as shallow as the forest soil. Under their breaths they grumble about one another: “That soand-so had better not pick in my favorite spots.” A milder version of the same attitude holds here, too. One weekend strolling merrily down a woodland path in Concord, heading toward my secret spot to picking black trumpets, I was startled by a man who suddenly emerged from dense undergrowth and stammered a “Hello,” trying to look nonchalant. I recognized him as a club member who I knew was also a commercial forager, supplying Boston’s gourmet food stores and restaurants. He asked to see what I had collected, inspected my basket that contained boletes and milky-caps, offered a comment or two on their quality, then continued up the path, looking back over his shoulder a bit nervously. I didn’t move from the spot until he was out of sight, then I pushed through the undergrowth near where he’d emerged. Hidden behind a tree trunk I found an abandoned paper shopping bag filled with black trumpets. The so-and-so had picked “my spot” clean! The National Forest Service closed public lands in the Pacific Northwest to foraging at a time when maitake mushrooms, harvested for the Japanese market, were fetching $50 per ounce. Claim jumping among commercial pickers and migrant laborers had led to violent confrontations, including knifings and shootings. It was like a page taken from the Klondike Gold Rush. The BMC holds its meetings at Harvard’s Farlow Herbarium on Monday evenings during the picking season so that if you should happen to forMOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 11
There is an Eastern European saying: ‘All mushrooms are edible, but some only once.’”
age on your own over the weekend, and if you are not confident about your ID’s, you can bring the fungi you collected to the Monday-night gathering and someone will assist you. During the off-seasons, there are monthly talks by visiting scientists and workshops on such topics as mushroom photography and organic wool dying using fungi. A series of fall classes in mushroom identification is also offered to members at a very modest price. And there is an annual culinary meeting when we gather to share prepared mushroom dishes and recipes. A few BMC members are professional mycologists, i.e., scientists who study mushrooms; the rest of us are amateur enthusiasts, interested, to one degree or another, in learning more about fungi. Some are immigrants or the children of immigrants from Europe or Asia where foraging mushrooms for the table is a tradition. Some members are ambitious to learn to identify all 10,000 North American species, using spore prints, dichotomous keys, and even microscopes, but many just care to learn the edible varieties and how to distinguish them from the toxic ones. If you plan to eat what you pick, you have to be careful. There is an Eastern European saying: “All mushrooms are edible, but some only once.” My grown son, Andrai, called me to complain one day. He’d purchased oyster mushrooms from his local supermarket and so assumed they were safe to eat. The next thing he knew, he was covered in hives, which lasted for days. “Did you eat them raw?” I asked. “Didn’t I teach you to cook them first?” This is good advice regardless of the variety. Another piece of advice: taste just a small sample of any “edible” fungi, especially the first time you ingest it to see whether you might be allergic. There are mushrooms that will give you indigestion, while others will make you violently ill. One common, “edible,” inky-cap mushroom is guaranteed to make you nauseated, but only if you’ve been drinking alcohol. It’s the most frequent reason for frantic calls to the poison hotline—but it’s not lethal. There are, however, mushrooms that will kill you. Every student of Ancient Rome knows the story of how Nero came to occupy the throne after his mother, Agrippina, slipped a deadly amanita into the Emperor Claudius’ favorite mushroom dish. And each summer I come across a news story about a southeast Asian immigrant family that thought they had picked straw mushrooms (Volvariella volvacea) native to their homeland but instead had mistakenly gathered death caps (Amanita phalloides) in the button stage. I won’t get gory and describe death from amanita poisoning but trust me that if you wish to do yourself in, I recommend sitting in your car with the engine running and the garage door closed. In New England, where I live, you can find flushes of yummy morels in early spring in abandoned orchards whose locations, even among club members, are closely kept secrets; but for the most part, the foraging season here runs from July through October. About February, depending upon how 20
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severe the winter, we mycophiles get cabin fever. To cure it, someone had the bright idea to organize a winter foray to Boston’s Chinatown, followed by a lunch at one of the restaurants there that features mushroom dishes. It has become an annual outing. Encompassing just a three-square block area, Boston’s Chinatown is small. Within these boundaries are several C-Marts, a Chinese grocery chain specializing in fresh produce. There are other, smaller, Mom & Pop stores that also carry fresh produce, and one that specializes in a wide range of dried fungi, some quite exotic. There is also an herb shop, on whose shelves you can find mushroom-derived infusions alongside such exotic products as “Clear Eye Tea” and “Forever Young Rose Flower Tea,” plus medicinal reishi and lingzhi, whole, sliced, and powdered. A gauze curtain cordons off the back room where the resident herbalist conducts individual consultations, then he writes out prescriptions to be filled by the staff at the front counter. My first visit to this shop, I mistook him for a bookie. On a typical Saturday winter foray about thirty BMC club members, some with curious friends in tow, meet up at the China Trade Center downtown, break up into four or five small groups so as not to interfere with the business being transacted in the smaller stores, and, with maps in hand take off in different directions. I’ve served as a group leader on two occasions. Our collective fresh mushroom finds are extensive: shiitakes, some with thin broad caps and slender stems, others with thick caps incurved at the edges and stubby stems; birch mushrooms (shimeji), both brown and white varieties; long, thin-stemmed, white enoki; and two or three varieties of “oyster” mushrooms: the blue-capped “winter” oyster, the large king oysters (eryngii), all thick stipe and almost no cap, and abalones. Canned Chinese straw mushrooms are stocked in every shop, as are traditional dried “black” Chinese mushrooms (shiitake actually). One shop specializing in dried produce had five or six grades of these including the prized—and pricey—”flower” variety with their cream-colored flesh showing through the crack-patterned gray cap. It also offered two kinds of wood ear fungi, black (Judas ear) and the lighter-hued cloud ear; a brittle Luffa-spongelooking fungi called snow fungus; and an exotic phallic-shaped stinkhorn called bamboo fungi. I recall one foray when my group puzzled over a shelf filled with packages of ball-shaped, brittle, white fungi until someone was finally able to translate the label as Monkey’s Head, only then did we realize it was a dried version of our native lion’s mane fungus that grows in clumps of long white “teeth” on hardwoods. Back at home after my first winter foray, I immediately went on the Internet, curious to learn how these more exotic fungi were used in Chinese cuisine. I first foraged for mushrooms as a child, tagging along with my grandfather, a Polish immigrant. We collected mostly giant puffballs, which Grandpa battered and fried; and honey mushrooms, which he pickled. In MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 11
those days, the late 1950s, white button mushrooms, grown in abandoned mineshafts in Pennsylvania, were the only kind to be found in supermarkets. Shiitakes, although domesticated in Japan over 600 years ago, hadn’t yet reached the American market. A few decades later, portobello and shiitake mushrooms started to appear in American markets, quickly followed by oyster mushrooms. Today, there are so many commercially grown or foraged varieties stocked by upscale supermarkets that I needn’t head to the woods to keep my larder stocked with such delicious edibles as hen-of-the-woods, black trumpets, lobster mushrooms, hedgehogs, chanterelles, or porcini. There is even a gourmet food store, Formaggio Kitchen, in my West Cambridge neighborhood that is supplied by a local forager; a BMC member, who also supplies to local restaurants. My wide-eyed son Gianni, taking note of the prices per ounce for these said, “Dad, we could make a living picking wild mushrooms!” I needn’t venture to Chinatown in order to purchase oriental favorites anymore either. In the years since my first winter foray, Asian restaurants and Asian markets have proliferated in the greater Boston area and surrounding suburbs. Limited residential housing and high rents in downtown Chinatown are one reason for the dispersion. But to a greater extent this is the result of an influx of new immigrants and Asian college students enrolled in Boston’s many colleges and universities. Within a five mile driving radius, I now have access to Korean, Japanese, Szechuan Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Thai, and Cambodian grocery stores. H-Mart, an Asian supermarket chain, has opened a franchise in Central Square, Cambridge, where I can restock my supply of fresh shiitakes, enoki, simaji, maitake, and eryngii any day on my commute home from work via the Red Line. And yet, in the depths of winter, my thoughts still turn to the narrow streets and crowded shops of Chinatown, where live carp and eels swim languidly in the C-Mart’s large fish tanks, where bartering is conducted in Cantonese, and where every second person you pass on the sidewalk is carrying a signature red plastic shopping bag illustrated with Chinese characters. And in late summer, after a day or two of drenching rain, I’m up at the crack of dawn, pulling on my hiking boots; collecting basket, walking stick, and field guide at the ready in the trunk of my car. Driving west out of the city, anticipating a good harvest, I think of the Roman poet Martial’s epigram: One can live without gold and silver And even resist the temptations of seductive women, But to abstain from eating mushrooms is difficult.
Mark Pawlak is the author of nine poetry collections and the editor of six anthologies. His latest books are Reconnaissance: New and Selected Poems and Poetic Journals 2005-2015 (Hanging Loose, 2016) and Natural Histories (poems, Cervena Barva Press, 2015). His work has been translated into German, Polish, Spanish and Turkish. He teaches mathematics at the University of Massachusetts Boston. 22
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All The World’s A Stage Actor Jonathan Kos-Read’s photographic journey
Jonathan Kos-Read, an American actor, is more recognized in China than in his home country. California-born, and educated in microbiology at New York University, Kos-Read speaks Mandarin Chinese and goes by the stage name of Cao Cao, starring in such Chinese films as Xuan Zang and Mojin: The Lost Legend. In his time in China, Kos-Read picked up a camera and fell in love. His work is filled with vibrant colors, celebrating the life of everyday people in the world’s most populous country, taking faces from the crowd and expressing their lives through his lens. Kos-Read shared his thoughts on his work in an interview with Mount Hope’s Adrienne Wooster.
I needed to up my game with my own headshots, and my own shots of me on movie sets to show directors, and I had a shitty point and shoot camera and I needed a better one. One of the actors on the movie was also kind of a hobbyist and I was like, "Dude, man, I need a camera, like a good one," and he's like, "Well, what kind do you need?" and I was like, "You know, man, like the kind that's big and heavy, and the front sticks out.â€? He said "Okay, I know what you need." So I said, "I'm going to be in Hong Kong next week, I'll pick you something up." So he picked me up a Nikon D90. And you know it was very odd. I just got the camera, and I immediately started playing with it. And it was just magical. I mean it was just one of the most fascinating things that I'd ever had.
Usually, the world presents a story. And sometimes it presents it when I’m out photographing. More often than not, it just, it presents itself as a kind of [vision] and then I have that in mind, that story, and I go out explicitly trying to shoot it. One thing I notice is if I go out with no story to tell, I shoot nothing. It’s a big failure. If I go out with a story in mind, like I want to tell the story of what it’s like to be cold in winter in Beijing, or if I go out and I say I want to tell the story of Beijing is full of crazy contradictions, whatever—it doesn’t matter—then I shoot something and it’s not necessarily the thing that I thought I was going to shoot, it’s not even necessarily the story that I thought I was going to shoot. But I always shoot something if I go out with a story in mind because I’m looking with a target. More often than not, in fact, I shoot a totally different story. But if I don’t have a story in mind then I shoot nothing.
So what I do now when I go to a new place, including being in San Francisco and Oakland right now—which I had a lot of trouble photographing when I first got here—is I just talk to people, wherever I am. You know, if I’m in a cab I talk to the cabbie. I talk to the people. I ask them one question, which is, “If your city were an animal, what animal would it be and why?” People have the most fucking fascinating answers. You always eventually get an insightful, thoughtful person who abstracts out their city with a metaphor and a metaphor is something you can shoot.
I think my style is to make sure every element in the photograph is contributing to the story. The composition, the color, the elements, like theyâ€™re inside the frame. So being an actor is being involved in story creation for my entire professional life. Makes me more cognizant of those things than I might be otherwise.
I decided, “You know what?” I betray my acting art every day for a paycheck. If you create art professionally, if it’s your job—unless you’re some genius or you’re really lucky—that’s going to be some portion of your professional life. And that was really disheartening. So I decided that I didn’t want to be influenced by money. If I have people who want a photograph, I say, “Great. I’d love to give you one.”
Bird In a Cage by Diane Lefer Few of us have done as well as we expected. I wasted my mind, threw opportunity away till failure became what’s most interesting about me. Insignificance as freedom. So I say, hidden in a nondescript life. But today, I’m exposed, conspicuous. Heat waves rise from pavement. Windows closed in building after building where everyone has A/C. No one leans out a window as I do.
Till she does. And I’m the one who hears it: blues piano, Otis Spann, “Bird in a Cage.” Something moves, lazy, in the window across the street. A gauze curtain or a sluggish whisper of humid breeze. The woman crosses in her underwear. Behind her, on CD, notes tremble, flutter, a feather-light tickle to my center, touching, gone. I don’t regret what I don’t have; I value what I do: a neighbor I don’t know whose music moves me.
Diane Lefer began writing poetry again after a decades-long hiatus. Her published prose includes short-story collections and novels, while her works for the stage have been produced in the United States and abroad. She lives in Los Angeles where she offers arts workshops and support to torture survivors from around the world as they begin to heal and rebuild their lives. More at: www.dianelefer.weebly.com MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 11
Tai Chi by Holly Guran We move very slowly, and that is difficult, as though breathing in a tank of syrup, the underground released through feet, toward waist, hands. But it is good noticing all the little in-betweens you miss as the pearls slide or tremble, or for a moment, come to rest. Where feet touch ground— this layer, magnet for my unsuspecting mind that walks around unaware of needing to cohere. As dreams dissolve in their own forgotten dawns, muster courage, I tell myself, take each step where earth touches the soles.
Holly Guran, author of River of Bones and the chapbooks River Tracks and Mothers’ Trails, earned a Massachusetts Cultural Council award, and is a member of Jamaica Pond Poets. Her work has appeared in journals including Poet Lore, Poetry East, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Borderlands, Worcester Review, and Salamander. Holly resides in Boston with her husband, Phil, and their dog, Ginger. poetry-holly-guran.vpweb.com 36
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My Wife Was An American Hero by Bryon Esmond Butler
“And the strength of those we remember strengthens us these many years later.” They are running out of things to say. Many of the same people are sitting here, only older and fatter. This whole thing is becoming a caricature of itself. I open a note from Brandy. She writes that she enjoyed the article I wrote for the Center’s website and hopes we can chat between events. I look up, catch her eye and we both smile. “And those who cherish memories of those who gave their lives come back to share those memories with us.” “Does it get easier, Mr. Lotz?” “Excuse me?” The man sitting next to me is trying to be discreet, leaning a bit towards me, halfway listening to the speaker. He is some VIP associated with the Center. “I read what you wrote about your wife on the first-year anniversary of the crash. It was very moving. We met briefly on the tenth-anniversary event. We held the candlelight service on the fifteenth anniversary, but I didn’t get the opportunity to greet you. To have you back for the twentieth is an honor.” “Thank you. It’s…meaningful to be back again.” “They were a gallant crew, committed to each other and to their MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 11
Just mention that tragic crash and doors open, red carpets unroll, and first-class plane tickets abound.”
cause, and they made the ultimate sacrifice. In some ways it was so long ago, yet it seems like only yesterday.” It seems like a pain, I think to myself. At first, sharing her memory was helpful, even valuable, to others and to me. Then I became someone who was someone because I had been married to someone. Her parents carried the memory ball until poor health stopped them. Are they both dead now? They must be. Yes, they are. I had read that. The last time I saw them was at the tenth anniversary, we were standing together on the platform, the old man with his arm around me; an uneasy truce. The fact that only her aged parents and her ex-husband were there should have said something about Glenda’s obtuse people skills. I still get letters from “friends,” some I’ve never met. I’m not going to do this again. Well, it’s a nice day, balmy with blue skies. I guess the gods are smiling. “Excuse me, Mr. Lotz?” A man is standing and leaning towards me. I’m on the first row of the platform. Ten years ago this interruption would not have happened; the moment would have been too sacred. I don’t think it would have happened even five years ago. This is my last time here. I guarantee it. “I’m Travis Myers. We’re having a little get-together tomorrow; it was just arranged with some friends of the Center. They would love the opportunity to meet with you. We’ve been working on funding a new program and they’ve shown interest. If you could help, we would be willing to extend your stay here for another day.” “Isn’t there somebody else who could do that?” I ask him. “Monte Johnson’s son is going to be there, but he was young when his father died and he doesn’t remember much. It would be just wonderful to have some personal reminiscence on your part. Also, I’m sure you can respect the need to cultivate relationships. It would be a patriotic step to honor their sacrifice and Glenda’s memory.” “I’ll think about it and let you know,” I tell him. After twenty years I won’t make time for more talk of patriotic obligations. And Monte’s son, he’ll 38
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turn this into another week’s stay at the Marriott. I couldn’t believe he demanded to be a creative consultant for the TV special they made. He must have been seven when his dad died. Incredible. He wanted me to co-write a book on carrying on without our loved ones. He must have been short on cash. For my part I’ve never cashed in on Glenda’s death. And the only bad part about the Internet is that I can’t remain completely anonymous anymore. I’m eternally linked with a woman I separated from two years before she became a posthumous hero. All the same, the Center has been more than generous to me over the years. Sharing a few pleasant memories wouldn’t hurt. Even now, I could take a month off from work for this type of thing and get away with it. Just mention that tragic crash and doors open, red carpets unroll and first-class plane tickets abound. “Thank you, Lori, for your kind remarks. Your father would be proud to see you today and hear of your outstanding work.” I notice Lori has put on a few pounds. No, she put on a few pounds and then a few more. She was fifteen, I think, when her father died. Married twice, she still looks uncertain of herself after all these years. Of course, she spearheaded that memory book and divided the profits between the Center and the American Cancer Society, and didn’t take anything for herself. Last I heard she still tours schools and talks about her father’s sacrifice and uses this morbid celebrity status of ours to speak at Cancer Society functions. Didn’t her mother die of cancer? Well, her parents would have been proud. She turned a tragedy into a life’s calling. I guess I could have done more. But, then again, Lori adored her father while Glenda and I had long since stopped acknowledging each other’s existence. What were her final words to me? “Don’t think for one minute, Randy, that my new salary will get you out of paying alimony when this divorce goes through.” Good God, I can still hear her saying it. “We know that the work of this stellar crew not only showed our country that it could, when challenged, push the barriers of its own ability, but their sacrifice paved the way for a new generation of safety and better planning. The Center is proud to present this video, made for this anniversary, showing the safety of its work, a safety program begun twenty years ago.” The Center leadership is wise, I muse. They’ve gone from redeeming themselves to using this event to raise money. This whole anniversary is a thinly disguised fundraiser. Well, more power to them, they do good work; at least Glenda died working for a good cause. I look around for Melody. She was here on the 15th anniversary event. Charles Overmeyer, who lost his son in the crash, sits next to me, quietly doing a crossword hidden behind his program. “Charles, where is Melody?” “She died three years ago.” “Really?” I respond. “I hadn’t read that in the newsletter.” Charles has been active in the newsletter since its inception. It’s his way of doing someMOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 11
thing to find meaning after his son’s death. “She stopped sending in updates about five years ago. She finally remarried and decided to move on. Her husband sent in word of her passing for this anniversary. They were in Costa Rica.” I think about Melody. She was a young wife, a nice lady, Duane’s second I think, and Duane was a backup who was selected when the first crew member got Chicken Pox—Chicken Pox!—two weeks before the crew was supposed to leave. Melody said once that what she remembered most fondly about her marriage was Duane’s laughter. Laughter. Ha! In our home laughter was sparse, except in the early years. Okay, the first year and a half to be exact. And after all these years, I go over what brought Glenda and I together, what tore us apart. And, of course, there is the irony of having to continue to live with her memory, often in front of an attentive audience. We met in college. I was an English major and teaching assistant and into my Introduction to American Literature class walked the smart and all-together inviting Glenda Gibson. Required to take the course, although already a senior in biochemical engineering, she asked all the pertinent questions, made caustic remarks, and enlivened the semester for us all. We began dating when the course ended. She became my poem, my sonnet. I was her order. She was my adventure. Later she moved to MIT and I stayed in the graduate program. We broke up, got back together, evolved into “just friends,” rekindled our romance, broke up again and then, as our lives moved in different directions, lunged back into what we’d had, hoping to maintain it (or bring it back?), concluding that a life together was the only life we wanted. I’ve determined that youth means not seeing the color red, as in red flags, and only seeing the red of passion and then, later on, the red of anger. We could have filled a moving truck with the red flags that flapped around our obliviousness. We married, filled one with our second-hand belongings and moved to the University of Colorado where I began a teaching career and she worked for the government. So what happened? Well, we had each other but it wasn’t enough. She determined that order was boring, and I realized that I liked adventure best in books. English and science don’t always make good bedfellows (although early on who knows…who cares?). She wanted to make me into who she wanted. I wanted to spend time as we were. It was inevitable that we drifted apart. Oh the hell with it. We didn’t drift. I paddled furiously. Glenda was limited, rude, caustic, controlling, and as obstinate as Paul Bunyan’s mule must have been. She was meant to work in areas where people dealt with each other only secondarily, and then only with tertiary interest. By the end of the first year we were struggling, and one morning while she was away I realized just how much I enjoyed her absence. We re-grouped, re-tried, re-fired, rekindled, and in due course re-realized that we were not meant to be. That is, I did not want to be with her. She embarrassed me in front of my friends and 40
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tolerated me in front of hers. The video has finished; it’s a good video. Charles’ newsletter mentioned that the Center had hired a new marketing director. He, or she, is doing a good job. On the back of my program is a picture of the crew. Some smile; some look determined. Only Brandy’s husband Ronald looks a bit unsure. Is this just hindsight or was he uncertain on that unforgettable day? I was in my office reading on the day of the crash. I had no interest in watching the crew on TV and celebrating in any way Glenda’s dream flight come true. But that day made me a celebrity. How morbid. If this is the last event I attend, and I swear that it is, I’ll be following Melody’s example and finally putting this behind me. A choir from the Loren Frazer Middle School, named for the captain of the crew, is singing. I look around at the other survivors: spouses, or ex- spouses in my case, children now grown. All of us here as the country, these many years later, takes a momentary pause to watch us on TV and to ask out loud “Has it been that long?” Yes, it has. And, I have to say, I’ve become fond of some of these people and follow their lives vicariously through the newsletter. I look over at Winston Drinkwine—Drinkwine!—his a real name, believe it or not, some mistranslated French name. No wonder the French hate us. He was Cranston’s father. I’m told that Cranston was a mathematical genius. Winston? Well, Winston is not. He is a fine southern man who likes to travel and talk poetry. But he is just odd enough to be half a brick shy of a load. His eyebrows are too bushy, his nose hairs have long needed a trim, and one doesn’t talk with him as much as listen and respond only when appropriate. He is one of those likeable, slightly-less-than-normal people you kindly tolerate, realizing that your time with him is a polite obligation. Winston raised Cranston alone; his wife died when Cranston was a baby. His son’s death hit him hard and from it his slightly left-of-center mental state was thrown even further off kilter. About twelve years ago he asked me to help write a book on Cranston, one for elementary-school libraries. How could I say no? Winston had taken old Polaroid pictures of his son, seemingly from every angle, and had been with him in Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, the debate team, math team, track, and more. He told me his son’s story and I saw that his son’s success was intertwined with his limited father’s full participation. If anyone here deserved a book to be written about his son, it was Winston. At the dinner given before the 10-year anniversary hoopla, Winston stood up, presented the book, thanked me and, in what turned out to be the day’s biggest surprise, gave a heartfelt, teary-eyed, lucid thank you to the group, calling us family and saying that being with us kept him going. Looking back it was the most satisfying moment in my long association with this crowd. And the book on Cranston was good for yours truly, thank you very much. The Center published elementary-school biographies of various crew members for school libraries and I became the series editor. When the college MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 11
I worked for found out about it, I was given a full-year sabbatical with their blessing and eventually was offered a job at the University of Michigan where, through the influence of the memory of Grouchy Glenda and her illustrious cohorts I made early tenure. God Bless America. I did not, however, write a biography of Glenda. There was no way that was going to happen. It was the author Carol Shields who wrote that each life has chapters that are seldom read, and certainly never aloud. When preparing for these anniversaries I open to those chapters and realize again that any joy from our years together has already been sucked out and how impossible it is to trump her memory. When you hear “Randy, you’re like a gall bladder, and let’s face it, they’re not essential, to which I replied “You’re the gall bladder, you put out more bile than anyone I’ve ever met,” to which she said…Oh, I forget what she said. But she said something, and so did I. And eventually there was no reason to say anything. And did she cheat on me? Well, there’s no tangible proof, but I think she did. In my heart I know she did. But it wasn’t the tarnished marital vow that hurt me as much as wondering how I made the decision to choose her in the first place. Cursed be all Introductory American Literature classes. Glenda’s father gave an interview once to their local newspaper and it was carried in a few others. In it he suggested that her “early marriage” held her back and “hindered her momentum” for a while. I called him and he told me he said it because he meant it. I mentioned I knew firsthand that Glenda plagiarized not one but two papers in college (I didn’t let him know that I had fed her the raw material to plagiarize, Okay, foolish young love) and would he be too terribly upset if I wrote an article mentioning Glenda’s recovery from her early years of academic bootlegging? From this, an uneasy truce developed. We both protected her memory and never corresponded again. Okay, I need to stand and stretch. People are looking dazed out in the audience, and we’ve three speakers left, me being the last. Last year I was asked to write an article on Glenda for Time magazine (“Mr. Lotz, would you mind writing a blip about Glenda for our Women Heroes of the Century edition?). I didn’t write about her, but wrote a piece on tragedy begetting meaning, how the crash had not only changed the way the Center works, but also led to heartfelt anniversaries, books for children, survivors’ get-togethers, and even a Star Trek-like following of people on the Internet who still talk about the event as a milestone in their lives. When Monte’s son wasn’t hogging the site’s attention, I even did a few blogs for it. But why do I do it? Why have I kept coming back again and again? Surely the Center needs us to help them build and improve. Certainly America needs to be reminded of its dreams and heroes. Without a doubt we are there to remember, reclaim and rejoin the cause of progress. Yes, yes, all that and more, I’m sure. But I’ve continued because, in the final analysis, Glenda was right. I don’t admit to being a gall bladder, but I am bland, and anonym42
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ity becomes me. I’m the guy who wears beige. I’m the one who dares to live the boss’s dreams. It was my courtship with Glenda those years ago that made me want, for a while, to be someone else. It didn’t work and I returned to Plainville. But her memory does put the spotlight on me now and again, and it feels good. However, I’ve done my part, and with the sun shining, the gods’ smiling and the Center doing well, I say it’s time to plan my exit. I look around and see that Brandy is looking at me and glances away when I look up. I lean over to Charles, who is looking at his son’s picture on the program, and ask about her. “She married again, but it didn’t work out. I think she never got over Ronald’s death.” Charles looks back at the program, leaves hanging what always remains unsaid about Ronald. Had Ronald caused the crash? Was it his fault? Did the uncertainty in the eyes in the group photograph belie what was to come? The Center ruled that there would have been a crash; the post-mortem was accurate and its findings never questioned. This gallant crew of imperfection, now bronzed for the ages, had been destined, pre-determined to crash. But did Ronald White’s uncertainty prematurely trigger what would have happened at some later point? Probably, yes. The Center never pushed it too far, as a group of heroes is, well, a group of heroes, and this group forced the Center to operate better and their memory finances big projects. But there remains a cloud over Ronald’s memory and, by association, over Brandy. Anyway, I knew that Brandy wasn’t happy with her post-Ronald husband, a hometown boy married to a pleasant woman who’d seen too much of the world, too much beyond the town limits. And I know that Brandy and Ronald were not happy. During the 15th anniversary she and I sat at the bar and found that we got along easily. We talked for hours and commented on our happily-neverafter marriages and have corresponded since then. And now, she’s a free agent. I look up again at her. She was asked to say a few words this year. She is looking over her notes and then puts them down. MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 11
Why have I kept coming back again and again?”
She looks up and glances over at me. We hold gazes for a few moments and I wink. She smiles and looks again at her notes. Brandy is introduced and goes forward. While she makes perfunctory thank you remarks I am inspired. I take the last page of my speech and X out whatever I was going to say. I wing it in classes sometimes; why not here? I tear the sheet of paper in two and begin to write. On one part I ask Brandy if she’d like to have dinner tonight. Tomorrow I’m going to be speaking before a group of “friends” of the Center, and would she care to join me? There is a new exhibit at the Reinhold Museum in town and did she have plans? To say yes she only has to nod. I then take the other part and write. Brandy finishes to the standard applause and I, unplanned, get up, walk up to the podium and escort her back to her seat, handing her the note. I then sit down and wait to be introduced. I am presented as the keeper of the memory, the man who edited the series of books that are read by young Americans everywhere. I go up to the podium and put my notes in order and look over at her. She is smiling, and she nods. I look back at my notes, pick up the other half sheet that I’d written on, walk over to the end of the stage where Travis is seated, and give it to him. It reads: Dear Mr. Myers, Brandy and I would be delighted to stay an extra two days and both of us would be happy to speak with the friends of the Center. As well, if there are any other events that we can help with please let us know. Please arrange for a dinner for two at a nice Italian restaurant for this evening and at a nice Chinese one for tomorrow evening. Also, two tickets to the Reinhold Museum for tomorrow are needed. I should mention that with the 20th anniversary going so well I have some ideas for a 25th anniversary memorial book. We can talk about this at your convenience. Cordially, Randy Lotz I return to the podium and look around. This will be my last time here, my last poster-boy presentation. I will go out with style. There is only one thing left. I put on a look of solemnity, look meaningfully to those gathered, and read the words on the paper in front of me, giving us all what we need to hear: “My wife was an American hero...”
Bryon Esmond Butler has served in relief and development and international education, and has lived in Latin America and the Middle East. A native of central Ohio, he holds a B.A. in education, a Masters of Divinity, and is currently at work on a second masters in education. 44
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Stoves by Irene Backalenick We’re connected to the past We Jews who wander By distinctive chromosomes By flickering memories And mythic god-like stoves. In freezing Czarist lands In the shtetls, one-room huts With dirt-packed floors We sleep on stoves, jammed together We children, chickens, goats In later years, across the seas, On another continent We sleepily arise, Embrace the chilly dawn Gathering our clothes Dress, huddled by the stove, The blackened family stove. Now, the stove of our old age, In this senior home, Glossy, white, pristine A foolish ornament For a jazzy kitchen. But does this stove recall As we do our past Its distinctive heritage Of blackened time-worn stoves? As a working journalist for many years, Irene Backalenick wrote feature articles for The New York Times and other national publications. In her sixties, she returned to school for a Ph.D in Theater History and became a theater critic, over the past 30 years. Now, at age 95, she’s turned to a new genre—poetry. MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 11
Naming by Patricia J. Miranda
I’m with my dog beneath the piano, and we’ve crawled here so he can die— chest heaving, eyes distant, the smell of him the smell of earth. And I say his name over and over because that’s what Adam taught: when things begin, there must be sound to set the bond between man as caretaker and beast as beast. How long it took. But at length his name, that sound, settled on something still, wrapped in the red nubby blanket we always shared whenever the night came on.
Patricia J. Miranda’s poems have been featured or are forthcoming in Bop Dead City, DASH Literary Magazine, Into the Void, The Literary Nest, Pif Magazine, and Yellow Chair Review. She lives in the middle of Ohio and wants to vacation in Middle Earth. 46
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Fusion Piece by Elena Harap
Truly, one way to appreciate the beauty of the world is to choose one color and to notice its recurrence in rooms, within landscapes, and upon bookshelves.
— Richard Rodriguez, Brown, pp. 231-2.
Five a.m.; we’ve just switched from Daylight Saving to Standard Time. In my writing room in Boston, I am waiting to catch the first appearance of blue. My armchair is a hunter’s perch; in the woods in Vermont I’ve seen such lookouts, simple wooden platforms, rudimentary treehouses, for spotting game. My chair, my lookout, is also blue––a dusty, familiar, lived-in blue, not the intense revelation of an early spring morning. I fold myself into a comfortable position and settle to the task, contemplating the view from a window that frames naked branches of a maple up the street. The scene is bisected at the bottom by the pale horizontal of my next-door neighbor’s porch roof; otherwise, all I can see is open space. But today there may be no blue; everything out there is soaked with rain. (That’s good, March was a dry month this year.) The sky is a luminous sepia, distant gray clouds set off by the glow of a nearby streetlight. I try to reverse the days, document the change; yesterday at this hour it would have been four o’clock. We saved daylight from the evenings and spent it in the mornings. Now light saves itself; or, it arrives in such abundance that there’s no bother about saving. There will be light in the mornings, light in the evenings, for the next six months. MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 11
Ordinarily, I take for granted the subtle shift from night to day. Beginning my work in the light of a wall lamp, while it is still dark and windows in the alcove where I sit are made faceless with rice-paper blinds, I hardly notice the transformation until my husband comes to say good morning. He turns out the light, opens the shades. On certain clear days, I’m almost overwhelmed by the quick, intense blue filling the window, an unannounced, unimaginably generous gift from the universe. Blue: It seems, in spite of the suffering in the world, to bestow a benediction. Today I’m going to keep watch, witness, record the arrival of blue. It’s not going to catch me unaware. I am going to revel in it. The uncovered upper half of the window is my observation screen––on which nothing is happening, so far. No hurry; I’m waiting. § Krishna nee begane, baru /Krishna, come here. . . I’m waiting… —“Krishna,” A. Harihan and Leslie Lewis, 1991
I’m waiting: I hear the subtle voice of Leslie Lewis, partner in the Indian pop duo, Colonial Cousins: it’s the last line of his song “Krishna,” written with the classical singer Harihan––and I’m in the rectangular, blueshuttered Prayer Hall at Bapagrama School in South India, with the music coming out of a battery-run tape player. There is no electricity, but plenty of light comes through windows running the length of the room. Dance class is about to begin. We’re preparing a performance for an annual, communitywide event, School Day, and the music will be Colonial Cousins’ appeal to the Hindu deity Krishna: Darkness comin’ round and everybody fighting with their brother. Everybody wants control, don’t hesitate to kill one another. Come back as Jesus, come back and save the world, Bless all the future of every boy and girl, Come back as Rama, forgive us for what we’ve done, Come back as Allah, come back as anyone. . . You tell me you’ll be back, that takes the time, I’m waiting . . . I’m waiting . . . I’m waiting . . . I’m waiting, a patient chant, repeated and diminishing to the end of the recording track. The young dance teacher, Manjula, has asked me to help her choreograph the song for tenth-grade students’ presentation. I’m a middle aged American volunteer, a theater person at home, spending a couple of months at this rural school named for Thakkar Bapa, a colleague of Gandhi. 48
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Bapagrama (locally we say Bapagram, dropping the final a) was founded fifty years ago to serve lower-caste youngsters, especially girls. My colleague Manjula is a Brahmin woman in her twenties, also a volunteer, trained since childhood in classical South Indian Bharathanatyam—a precise, vigorous style combining dance and mime, evolved over thousands of years as a form of worship of the Hindu pantheon. Coming together with our distinct cultural tools, we’re setting out to shape a new piece. § In my writing room, my place of waiting, I turn on the light to make some notes and the window goes blank. When I switch the light off I see that the deep V’s of the maple branches have filled up with a subtle gray; it might at any moment shift toward pale blue. The rain has stopped, the arms of the trees rise in perpetual waiting, open. Is waiting a condition complete in itself, or is it unfulfilled without some arrival? This was the tension between Manjula’s interpretation of the song’s ending and mine. “I want to create a fusion piece,” she told me at the start of our project. Colonial Cousins’ “Krishna,” which combines elements of West Indian reggae, of fluid Indian popular songs that pour out of car radios and TV sets around Bangalore, and the elegant, improvisational vocal style of South Indian classical singers, calls upon gods of many cultures to come and save human beings from destroying themselves. The two singers surround their English lyrics with Kannada, the ancient language of Karnataka state, home of Bangalore and of our school––soft syllables, a melodic line: Krishnah nee bay-gah’-nee, bah’-roo/Krishna nee begane, baru /Krishna, come here. MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 11
Is waiting a condition complete in itself, or is it unfulfilled without some arrival? ”
§ Now, even with the light on, the shape of the tree is visible outside the window; the overcast sky barely hints at blue. Streetlights have become dim and inconsequential. The morning paper, encased in plastic, is lobbed from a slow-moving car onto the front porch. The furnace begins to hum and my cat finds her accustomed warm spot on a shelf over the radiator. Blue-grayness filling the window gives way to white; I switch off the lamp and begin to write in a daylight that arrives as fast as memory. Krishna nee begane, baru… Come back as Jesus, come back and save the world,/Bless all the future of every boy and girl. Jesus was played by Ananthkumar, lean, tall, brown-skinned, with the large, dark eyes and short, glossy, slightly wavy, black hair characteristic of boys at Bapagram. Watching rehearsals day after day, I fell in love with the youngsters’ beautiful hair, which the girls wore in double braids or in one glistening cable down their backs, a flower woven in as decoration. Manjula looked much like her students, dressed in the practical salwar chameez, a knee-length tunic with openings on the sides, worn over loose fitting, tapered trousers. The matching scarf for the tunic, usually draped over the shoulders, became a sash during class, tied neatly around the dancer’s waist. In the narrow hall, windows along one long wall opened to the school’s playing field, and on the opposite wall, to an outdoor corridor linking classrooms and offices. We had to keep the blue shutters closed on the corridor side; younger children and passing teachers were always peeking in to watch the staging of the fusion piece––part theater, part dance, spiritual but not sectarian. Darkness comin’ round and everybody fighting with their brother. We worked out a stylized fight, which was to be interrupted by the appearance of Ananthkumar. Come back as Jesus. Manjula had been to a Catholic school and thought Jesus might identify himself by making the sign of the cross. “Jesus was a Jew,” I objected. “He wouldn’t have actually made the sign of the cross. That came later.” I tried to think of an appropriate alternative. We decided on a gesture of compassion, the arms extended, hands spread open in blessing over the heads of the two boys who had mimed the fight as they knelt in front of him. Krishna himself––played by Manjunath, a wiry kid, eyes alight with mischief––was easy to choreograph. Our community was primarily Hindu; everyone knew the story of the flute-playing god, always besieged by admiring milkmaids, known as a great tease, much pampered in his childhood. Manjunath bounded into the stage space, playing an imaginary flute, pestering the women at their tasks, persuading them to dance and play. He tweaked the long, heavy braids of a girl picking fruit, stopped for his mother to feed him a spoonful of cream, whirled another girl around in circles, away from her milking. Elusive, he slipped away just when everyone was enjoying 50
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the dance, leaving them longing for his return. § The streetlights go dark at ten minutes of seven. The sky has settled to a quiet, translucent gray. Someone out on the sidewalk scrapes ice from her windshield. My cat stretches white paws, absorbs warmth into her gray fur. I am not rewarded with blue; the fruit of waiting is the waiting itself. Afternoons at Bapagram, it was pleasant to go into the shady rehearsal hall and simply watch Manjula at work, teaching a Gujarati stick-dance to the younger children, showing some Ninth Standard girls a dignified sequence of classical steps. Around three o’clock, the Tenth Standard dancers came to work on their fusion piece. Barefoot, we did stretching warm-ups, jumping jacks, theater exercises. Since this room was designated the Prayer Hall, we took off our shoes on entering, as when entering a temple. Bharathanatyam, the classical dance tradition in which Manjula was trained, was––and often still is––performed in temples as an offering and a celebration. Dancers, string players, drummers, everyone steps barefoot into the performance space. At Manjula’s home in Bangalore, one evening, my husband and I took part in a concert organized by her brother Ravi, a successful architect. We, too, stepped barefoot onto the small stage Ravi had designed on an open rooftop, covered with traditional palm thatch, to perform a Telemann aria for tenor and flute. § The second day of Daylight Saving, and again I am watching for the arrival of blue in the blank rectangle of my window. I keep other windows covered; like a hunter in a duck blind I’m camouflaged, waiting, watching. The morning is watching me, with its changeable eye, gray and watery yesterday, dry today, and, at 5:30, showing suggestions of purple. I feel restless, unable to be as still as a seasoned hunter should be, tuned to minute changes, the prey coming closer. My restlessness, my detachment as watcher, writing pad in hand, and my greedy expectation of a reward wrap me like the woolen shawls I drape around myself against the cold. Outside, deep color fills the spaces between the maple branches. The sky begins to overtake the interior of the room. The wall lamp in the room becomes a barrier to the bluish outdoor light; I turn it out. Headlights move against the closed blinds of the other windows, the newspaper drops at the front door, the gray cat stretches, on her shelf, lifts her head, and sleeps again in a lazy sprawl of legs and tail. A tremendous expectancy makes me open all the blinds and sends me out to fetch the newspaper. Is it sunrise yet? The eastern horizon is blocked by buildings. Blue is the color of Krishna in the brilliant Mogul paintings of MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 11
the 17th century. I seem to be waiting as if for the god to arrive, and restore civility to my world, turn the savagery in the paper’s headlines to records of peacemaking. § In the Prayer Hall, having missed a rehearsal during the last week of our preparation, I went to watch the ending of the fusion piece. By this time everyone knew the dance. Boys who had previously tended to drift over to the open windows overlooking the playing field, distracted by volleyball games and cricket matches, now took part eagerly. They would volunteer to fill in for absent classmates, even taking female roles. The action unfolded to the familiar music, as Krishna made his entrance, darting playfully from one dancer to another. Krishna’s mother, tall, sweet-faced Jayalakshmi, fed him cream and beckoned to him to stay with her, but as always he slipped away. The calm scene disintegrated; the fight broke out and the women watched in fear. Darkness comin’ round and everybody fighting with their brother. Everybody wants control, don’t hesitate to kill one another. Ananthkumar appeared as Jesus, calming the people, followed by Natesh as Rama. Come back as Rama, forgive us for what we’ve done, Come back as Allah, come back as anyone. The dancers prostrated themselves in prayer. Then the movement resolved into a slow procession of women dancers, curving forward in a single line and forming a symmetrical, three-tiered, sculptural group, those in front kneeling, all with open, cupped hands. They were still and peaceful. The Colonial Cousins sang: Time is the healer, time moves on, Time doesn’t wait for anyone. You tell me you’ll be back, that takes the time, I’m waitin’ …I’m waitin’ …I’m waitin’ … It was a lovely sight––but what did Manjula, my colonial cousin, have in mind? Often during my time in India, I had thought about our two countries’ legacies as colonies of England. We celebrate 1776 as the year of independence; for India, it’s 1947. We share a language, English––tool of both oppression and unity for India. The country has fourteen official national languages, with Hindi as the language of the central government. 52
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(When a Bapagram student asked me how many national languages we have in the United States, I said lamely, “One.”) Manjula and her husband, Amaresh, spoke English together at home, she told me, since their regional languages were different. With me, she spoke English, with our students Kannada. At times she––city visitor––turned to school staff members to interpret her directions in what I guessed were slang terms or village dialect. As we worked on the dance, I listened intently to the rehearsal tape, trying to make an exact transcription of the English words, while she relinquished the stylized forms of Bharathanatyam for a freer movement that must have felt daring, risky. Later we would choreograph a Robert Frost poem together, her gestures creating a fusion woods where two roads diverged under Vermont maples, yet within the complex structure of a banyan grove. Yellow autumn leaves lay thick underfoot in this New England/South Indian wood, while vines, inhabited by monkeys, drooped and twined overhead. I realized, as the music stopped and Manjula adjusted the dancers’ positions in her final tableau, that I’d been choreographing the last lines of “Krishna” in my head. The piece should end, I thought, with some repeated movement, an unresolved gesture that continued, as if beyond the end of the song, the dancers never quite coming to rest. I’m waiting …I’m waiting … My idea of waiting was as a commuter at a bus stop, periodically checking her watch. The god was behind schedule, but he might be along soon. I couldn’t help wondering whether Manjula had gone sentimental with this serene closure, had ignored the uncerMOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 11
My idea of waiting was as a commuter at a bus stop, periodically checking her watch. The god was behind schedule, but he might be along soon. ”
tainty I heard in the song. In the front row, Veena, who was short, with a round face and a single thick braid down her back, knelt in front of her friend Chandrakala. Veena, I had been told, was partially deaf; she and her friend were almost inseparable, and now I saw Chandrakala touch Veena’s shoulder in some sort of private signal that conveyed Manjula’s directions. Manjula stood back, hands on hips, as the group held the pose. She looked hardly older than a fifteen-year-old herself, her light blue salwar chameez gracefully fitting her round, muscular body. Her bare brown feet on the cement floor were solid, emphatic, strong from years of slapping the floor in classical South Indian dance patterns, producing a percussive explosion like a pistol shot. My own feet were pinkish, nobbly, untrained. I stood several inches taller than Manjula, unmistakably foreign in my sleeveless black tank top, loose-fitting cotton shirt, and black cotton pants. Her erect posture bespoke authority. Even as I questioned the static ending for “Krishna,” I could see that she knew exactly what she wanted. Still, I had to keep explaining it to myself. Maybe Manjula’s classical training required something finished and formal, though the song seemed to dictate otherwise. Satisfied at last, she dismissed the group. It was now late in the afternoon, time for everyone to walk the paths to their villages, clusters of tileroofed cement-block houses surrounded by farmland. There would be household chores, especially for the girls, homework assignments; perhaps they would watch a soccer game or an adventure story on television. Mothers were minding the younger children and frying onions and spices for sambhar, the highly seasoned vegetable stew served with rice at almost every meal; fathers were returning from their fields or from jobs in some suburb of Bangalore. A few boys took off on bicycles, but most of the students walked, in groups of two or three, carrying their books, fanning out from the campus to their communities a mile or two across tawny flanks of grain fields, patches of beans and tomatoes, pastures for cows and goats, walled compounds housing schools or homes of the well- to-do, occasionally a gray stone temple where, on their way to school in the morning, the children could hear the chanting of prayers. Not many cars entered these communities; transportation was mostly by bus, along the main roads, or motor scooter, for those who could afford it. The harmony of an agricultural way of life was changing, though. Tracts were laid out for housing developments along the road from Bapagram to Bangalore. On one evening walk my husband and I passed the foundation of a large building under construction, a factory or other new business. Manjula’s brother Ravi, taking in the school’s environment with the eye of an architect and historian, foresaw with some regret the coming of a more affluent future. Our inquisitive students would have access to travel and jobs denied to their parents, be freer of caste restrictions; but the sense of an inter54
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related neighborhood, undivided by paved roads, paced to the movement of people and animals on foot, was passing away. Manjula said goodbye to the last of the girls who clustered around with questions in Kannada. What would their costumes look like? Were they going to wear makeup in the performance on School Day? When was the next rehearsal? We packed up painted sticks from the folk dance, music tapes, and the battery-operated boom box, a prized possession of the school, which was wired for electricity in only a few offices and in the guest house where my husband and I were living. “Manjula, I didn’t understand your choreography for the ending,” I said, “where the song says ‘I’m waiting,’ ” “It means ‘I’m ready,’” she said simply, stating what was, to her, utterly clear. Obvious. “It means, ‘I’m open.’” As if a gentle touch, like that of Chandrakala’s hand on her friend Veena’s shoulder, had instantly corrected me, I saw the shallow perspective of my own interpretation––I’m here; where are you?––in contrast to the wise, yielding, but by-no-means-static attitude of the dancers in perpetual mindfulness: I’m ready. I’m open. Commuters waiting for a bus assume they know when something’s about to arrive. “Krishna” was about what we don’t know, a moment both of belief and of inner, perpetual, attention to the present. § I look up from my writing pad and see an ordinary morning. What was all the fuss about? Light blue sky, bare twiggy branches moving lightly. My young neighbor Alex passes on his way to work, a shock of straight black hair falling across his forehead, his winter coat open. Sunshine touches everything on the street, glancing off car windows, throwing tree shadows on the walls of houses. A jet plane crescendos overhead, then diminuendos, sparrows congregate on the street (someone must have dropped some crumbs), flutter up, and swarm into a nearby green hedge. The light drives my eyes upward, blue to deep and deeper blue.
Elena Harap grew up in Nashville, Tenn. She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her poems and essays have appeared in Jewish Currents, Bayou, Amoskeag, Anthropology and Humanism, and The Boston Area Small Press & Poetry Scene. A founding member of Boston’s Streetfeet Women, she edited and contributed to their anthologies Laughing in the Kitchen (1998), and The Bones We Carry (2009). She lives in Putney, Vt. and teaches in Roxbury, Mass. MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 11
Warmth by Terry Persun
No doubt the neighbors see him dance at night alone, his arms out then close as he swirls, happy now that she’s gone, or has he forgotten her because he is old. “Old man.” While in his head they dance together, her hair flowing through air, her arms matching his, her thigh pushing into him. When she leans close, her cheek, her heart, next to his, he hears her ghostly voice.
Terry Persun has been writing and publishing poetry since the early 1970s. His work has appeared in many small and university magazines including Wisconsin Review, Kansas Quarterly, Riverrun, Rattle, Hiram Poetry Review, Drop Forge, Bluestem, NEBO, Eclipse, Bacopa, and many others. His poems have appeared in six, single author chapbooks and four full-length collections. Terry speaks at writers conferences and universities across the country. 56
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The Open Jar by Sarah Rosenthal
First I cut the apple, a crisp-skinned Pink Lady, bare and waiting for peanut-butter glory. It had been the thick of the season at the McGorlick Park Farmers Market a few blocks away, my favorite farm’s tent a dirty rainbow of apples. McIntosh red gave way to freckled Jonagolds and Galas, then a visual crescendo into the hybrid green-and-red Honeycrisps, warming up into the sunny remnants of Golden Crisp apples, ending with the verdant, shiny green of Granny Smiths. Throughout every overflowing box of apples were hallmark foliage freckles: scarlet, sweet yellow, bold and bright greens. Everything round and smooth to the touch, only a few rough dirty spots, calluses where the apples had to get tough. The tent’s attendant had laid out thin apple crescents, cut haphazardly and impaled by toothpicks, in front of each box so we could see and try them all. Putting slice after slice in my mouth, I tasted the autumn air starting to turn, mixed with bittersweet honey. The Pink Lady apples, all red waxy skin giving way to timid pink flesh inside, were sweet enough to sit in a gas station candy aisle. Three of them had made their way into my shopping cart, coming to rest at the bottom with a soft but satisfying thump. I find myself staring into the warm brown abyss of a jar of creamy peanut butter. I’d picked up the familiar plastic jar at the grocery store, the MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 11
same clear plastic with a teal label and green screw cap I remember my mother taking from the cabinet when I was a kid. Her knife would scoop globs of it onto sandwiches, into cookie batters, into a hollowed-out bone that the dog would chew, his tongue licking out the savory spread little by little over the course of the morning while laying in the sun. I was never the biggest peanut butter fan growing up, but I didn’t hate it either. It just didn’t do it for me the way it did for my brother, who preferred his sandwiches jelly-less, salty-sticky messes of moist bread glued to the roof of his mouth. This was not the kind of pantry staple snack I usually went for, usually succumbing more to the milder, chunkier texture of almond butter, or the dark richness of Nutella. Knife in hand, I smothered strawberries, coated chunks of baguettes at picnics, swirled pans of brownies before they raced into the oven. Now here I was, peering into the perfect whirl that I forgot was the hallmark of a just-opened, untouched jar of nut butter, a surprisingly comforting reminder of another life all together. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been the one to open a jar of peanut butter. After years of dating a guy with a peanut allergy, spreading peanut butter on sliced fall apples this October morning was like relearning to ride a bike after years without—something I knew I still had in me, something that might be lost for a little but never truly lost. I knifed the perfect, factory-made swirl, the teeth on my knife digging perfect grooves through the creamy expanse. Slice by slice, I cradled sweet half-moons only to slather them, clothe them, in the salty brown spread, my mouth a waiting audience. Outside my window, the stilted tree by the busy Brooklyn roadside is finally bursting into a flame of color, ready for fall, the ember orange and red all the more vibrant for having once been green. I loved him the way I imagine soil must love what takes root and buds within it. It was a no-brainer that I wouldn’t eat what could make him sick. The more time I spent with him, the more I convinced myself I, too, was allergic to peanuts, the dangerous little nuggets of light-brown earth a rooted arsenic. I passed them up at parties, inquired at fast food places as to how they fried their French fries, refused Christmas cookies with the telltale, forked crosshatch on top. I could feel my neck swell at the thought of accidentally ingesting it, the real threat of what it could do it to me, and more importantly, what I could inadvertently do to my boyfriend if even a trace of it were to hit my tongue. The more I avoided the dreaded peanut, the more it felt right. Eating apples and peanut butter became a new act altogether. What was an innocent snack I saw my roommate prepare for herself (though she preferred McIntosh apples to Pink Ladies, softer and more saccharine at the bite) became an attainable, even healthy fantasy. All I needed to do was go to the grocery store two blocks over, grab peanut butter, some apples, and pick up a knife with my right hand, and this snack too could be mine. But 58
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somehow thinking about it felt wrong, an emotional affair that I never had when we were together. I hadn’t craved peanut butter while I was with him. This was a sacrifice readily made, as I happily waited for times when he was out of town to only sometimes indulge in the other foods he couldn’t eat—a geometric medley of nutty trail mix, the occasional bag of peanut M&Ms frozen cold in my freezer for that little extra bite—with a grain a guilt. Now that he was out of the picture, I couldn’t get enough, couldn’t stop thinking of spreading peanut butter on lightly toasted bagels fresh out of their bakery paper bag, folded into buttercream on dark chocolate cakes, anointing the sacred apples orbs in front of me. And I felt bad for wanting it, like I was complicit for a crime I wasn’t committing, all because I wanted the thing that could kill the man whose heart I had broken. Whether I wanted to admit it or not, the boundaries of our bodies had baked together. Somewhere in the midst of many years together, the place where I started and he began had folded together, melded completely. We were from the same batch of batter, the inside of one dinner roll continuous with the one crowded beside it in the cast iron pan. The guilt of wanting what he could never have, would never be able to take without his body ferociously rejecting it, felt like viscous milk in the back of my throat. He was not enough to satiate me, and I was not enough to satiate him. What I wanted more than anything was to feel so full maybe I wouldn’t need to cry quietly the way I had been at my desk at work since the breakup happened, wouldn’t need to think about the sour faces of our many mutual friends when they saw me next and I told them the news of our breakup. Maybe the cravings were stress eating, that anxious kind of overeating meant to make it easier to cope. Perhaps this was my body’s way of rebelling, saying “fuck you” to the voluntary suppression of my appetite I’d agreed to for years. It could even be my body’s serious need for salt replenishment after many frenzied crying fests, my face creating it’s own Dead Sea salt mask, sad and dewy. Or maybe it was the intuitive notion that it was time to redraw the territory that was my body, what it could or could not consume. It was time to remind myself that the boundaries of my body were mine to control. The only one who could beat and knead and shape of my amorphous appetite was me. And in the end, the only remnant of my snack was the brand new whirl in the jar of peanut butter, the knife bloodied with the remains of my wanting. Sarah Rosenthal has been featured in The Toast, The Citron Review, SpliceLit, and I Want You to See This Before I Leave Zine. She has worked in advertising and cookbook publishing, and in addition has taught food writing. She lives in Brooklyn. MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 11
Haunt by Joanie McLean There’s that sound on the steps. Of course you’d be here– what with a day like this one has been. The sky’s terrific blue, the jump and swing of the surf. And then the startling appearance of the moon, full and red, stepping up over the distance onto the ruched sea. It’s not footsteps that I hear, not the creak of old cypress treads. Just the sound of air against air. There’s barely a breeze off the ocean tonight– no, yours is a closer sound. I crane from my bed towards the stairwell for sigh or brush of cloth against skin, for intimation of what you’ve become. Do you still sit on the bench at the top of the dunes. Did you love this beautiful day. I try to count the steps as you come. I know there are ten. I wonder if you know that it’s me who’s here. Joanie McLean is an ecologist who lives, works, and writes in Silk Hope, N.C. She is the winner of the New Millennium Writings Prize for Poetry, and has twice been selected as a finalist for the James Applewhite Poetry Prize. Her poems have appeared recently in The North Carolina Literary Review, Verdad Journal Of Literature and Art, and Spillway Magazine. 60
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Mount Hope is published at Roger Williams University, Bristol, RI