issue twelve / fall 2017
ISSUE 12 Fall 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 POETRY EDITOR Jen McClanaghan Salve Regina University
ASSISTANT EDITORS Alanna Hammond Tori Bodozian Nicola Alexander EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS Hannah Teller Robert Dawe Megan Derouin Michael Mollins Melanie Rickles
CONTENTS FICTION 14 The Cleanup
POETRY 12 Skid Loader
by Zan Bockes 19 Portrait of a Grandmother by Nathan Elliott
by Radford Skudrna 13 Spring Cleaning by Radford Skudrna 46 There are Tunnels in the Stone by Nicholas Alti 47 Once, a Man & a Flower by Nicholas Alti 48 Malignant by Nicholas Alti 50 Oaths & Howls by Nicholas Alti 59 How To Be a Character in My Book by Martin Ott 60 Hearing Paws by Mark Taksa
NONFICTION 5 Passion
by Peter Grandbois 39 Enigma by Erynn Porter 51 A Perfect Slice of Orange by T. Boughnou
PORTFOLIO 27 Soldiers Home
by Arthur Rainville
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Passion by Peter Grandbois
We fly. Not like ghosts, plucking ashes from mouths, but like birds buoyed by the blue light of wings. We skip to the back of our eyes. We shape the world perched on our fingertips. We fall to the ground like dying soldiers only to rise again, this time under machine gun fire, this time blown up by a grenade, this time under heavy artillery, this time strangled by our own hands. We rain like a swarm of bees over the wood and build our forts, our tepees, our igloos. We lift our bodies from poison ivy scratches and torn pant tatters and lay our shadows among the trees. We melt in the afternoon sun and drip drop by drop onto the dangerous ground, then lick our dry lips and dig deep. We follow our tunnels to the center of the earth where we dream with eyes twitching of a day when we can do it all over again. A couple weeks ago at the 2014 U.S. National Fencing Championship, I was fencing in the gold-medal match against a fifty-five-year-old fencer and two-time veteran world-team member. In terms of the action, it was not a great match. His knee had given out earlier in the day and my elbow was in so much pain I could barely hold the foil. That said, you couldn’t tell we were injured. Yes, there were no lightning-quick phrases, no attack, parry-riposte, contra-riposte. Yes, my opponent fell on an attack when he put too much weight on his knee. My point is that despite our handicaps, despite the fact that we were both clearly suffering, we both fenced as hard as we could. More importantly, I smiled during the entire bout and could see my opponent’s smile through his mask. MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 12
It didn’t matter that we were tired. It didn’t matter that we were hurting. Scratch that. The fact that we were hurting made all the difference in the world. The word passion comes from the Latin patere, meaning to suffer. That usage is considered obsolete, except when you talk about The Passion of Christ. When we think of passion now, we think of something like the Meriam-Webster definition: “a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something.” But it is the original definition of passion that interests me. There was something about that moment on the gold-medal strip. Yes, we both had a “strong feeling of enthusiasm” about fencing. That was part of it. A small part. Bigger still was the fact that we were both suffering: the compound, running attack he made in the action after he fell from his bad knee; the way I responded in kind, striking with a combination doubleadvance, balestra lunge I had no business attempting. The fact that we fought until time expired. The fact that we would have kept fighting had they let us—much like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail —we would have continued even with both legs and both arms lopped off. These things mattered. My opponent had nothing to prove. He’s a wealthy entrepreneur who travels the world. He’d already been on three U.S. fencing teams. And though I’d never made a U.S. team, I would argue I had nothing to prove either. I had been one of the best fencers in the country twenty years before. I was a successful writer and professor with a beautiful family. And yet we were both there, risking permanent injury and guaranteeing we would be taking plenty of Advil that night. Why? Because when we walk into a fencing club and hear the clang of steel, when we put that mask on and smell the stench of stale sweat, when we don that glove and feel the stiff leather begin to loosen, when we pick up our weapon and sound the weight of it, when we feel the force of its arc run through our arm as we hit our opponent square in the chest, we take a step closer to that long dead definition of passion and the knowledge that if you want to feel—really feel—there has got to be a bit of suffering. When I was younger, I thought the best part about writing was having written, but as I get older I have realized how important the writing process is to me. I used to fear sitting in my writing chair each day. I would live in terror of those moments where nothing comes; where you sit and sit and stare out the window and play with your nose, then get up and make a cup of coffee; sit down again and play with your nose. Those moments were confirmation that I did not have what it takes to be a writer. I thought I wasn’t being productive if my fingers weren’t flying over the keyboard, if I did not churn out several pages in a few hours. Something has happened. Something has changed. I now think of the time when I am typing as the least important; the least fruitful. Creativity happens in those moments when 6
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I thought nothing was happening at all. Nothing except sheer terror. Nothing except suffering. Those are the moments when I feel like a writer. The times when I have no idea what I’m going to do, the times when I sit on the verge of panic and despair, wondering if I’ll ever write another sentence again. That’s when I feel the most connected to the work of the artist. Hemingway liked to have a plan. He preferred to stop writing at a point where he knew what was going to happen next because if he did not, he feared the anxiety over not knowing would kill him. But it’s that anxiety that drives the creative process. Let it stir the pot overnight and see what you’ve made by the next morning. I used to think I needed a plan in fencing, too. I would study each fencer and prepare a strategy for the bout. I’d know the first few moves I’d attempt: how to best defend myself. I don’t know if we simply don’t care as we get older, but as a veteran fencer I no longer study my opponents beforehand. There’s something too controlled, too safe about it. Instead, when the bout comes, I try to enter it without preconceptions. When my opponent attacks, I listen for his style. Is he classical or unorthodox? When I attack, I listen for the tempo of his defense. A waltz or a samba? It’s true that in both writing and fencing—this ability to let go and trust the moment comes with experience. You must have faced countless opponents to know that you will sound them out quickly, read them before they have a chance to read you, to know that the discomforting fear of the unknown is the price you pay for acting in the moment. The blank page paralyzes many young writers. They become so afraid they forget to listen—to themselves. To the words. They forget to live in tune with who they are. It’s not easy. I forgot once that I was a fencer, and it took seventeen years to remember. I’ve forgotten my need for music many times. I feel as if I’m in a constant battle to listen to my writing self against the sea of voices that threaten to drown it. How many of us can say we listen well all the time? There are many reasons we may turn a deaf ear to that which is part of us, some of them valid, some born from rationalizations designed to “protect” us. The fact is, the world creates a deafening amount of noise. When you sit down to write and wait and wait for those words, Facebook and Twitter will whisper in your ear. E-mail and the Internet will shout your name. Friends and family will call begging you to stop what you are doing. Listen to the voices and you no longer need to suffer. There is nothing harder than sitting alone with yourself, waiting for the words to come, knowing they may not come and that it’s okay because grace lies in the act itself, knowing that even if they do come few people will ever read those words, and of those fewer still will care about them. I have been called a passionate teacher; in fact, it’s the word that comes up most often on twelve years of student evaluations. And each and every time I read the word, I wonder what my students think it means. I don’t see myself as passionate. I’m only doing my job. I teach literature and MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 12
creative writing. And I try to do it well. To the best of my ability. Do I love what I do? Yes. Do I suffer? Yes. But not in the way you might think. There’s nothing worse in this world than to teach a book you love. A book you’d kill for; die for. Only to have the students say: “‘I don’t get it,’ ‘This is boring,’ ‘This is stupid.’” To love what you do seems like a foreign concept to most of my students. School is not about doing what you love but about figuring out what the teacher wants and parroting it back. It’s about taking the courses you think you need for a “career,” or more often the courses their parents think they need for a “career.” University as vocational school—not as a place of inquiry—a place where you discover who you are and hopefully begin to ask the questions you’ll keep asking the rest of your life. The parents are the worst. It never ceases to amaze me, perhaps because my own parents were so supportive of whatever direction I wanted to take in my life—no matter how foolhardy—well, my parents did have a difficult time accepting my fencing. But when it came to school it was another matter: literature, physics, astronomy, biology, theatre, and creative writing. I was a major in each of these subjects at one point in my college “career,” actually getting degrees in three of them: literature, creative writing, and biology. I barely passed physics, and to this day think my “passing” was a gift from the professor, who wondered how I was so misguided as to think I would become a physicist. But isn’t that what college should be about? The exploration of who you are and your place in the world. Pushing your limits to discover what you can and can’t do. Pushing so hard you fail once in a while. A journey with at least as many mistakes as successes. It should be where you find your voice. And yet, I’m not sure I’ve yet met a parent who didn’t try to dictate—sometimes passive-aggressively, sometimes through any means necessary—what their child should take in college. From the point of view of many parents, passion (in both the original sense of the word and its current meaning) is a luxury you cannot afford. I watch my students wrestle with the parental reins, some of them breaking free, others getting more tangled the more they struggle. Is it so odd in this day and age to actually do what you love? I think so. Particularly, when what you love is something society doesn’t value—like writing books; like fencing. When students come to me for advice, I tell them follow your heart. They look at me as if horns have just sprouted from my forehead and fangs flashed from my mouth. Maybe that’s really what they see. After all, capitalism demands inauthenticity to thrive. It’s all about turning human beings into customers and making them think they need things they don’t, that they can only be happy if they could just have that thing. The messages in TV and movies are almost always to be someone else, be someone other than who you are: a superhero, or a super cop, be a warrior or a princess. Be beautiful in the same way that each two-story face peering down at you from the screen is beautiful. Friendship is no longer about actually being there for someone—actually talking with them—but about how many “likes” 8
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you get on Facebook. Learning is no longer about the questions you ask but about how comfortable you feel in the classroom: no trigger warnings please! Vacation is not about the experience but about how many “selfies” we can take to show our friends we had an “experience.” As a culture, we don’t seem interested in suffering for the sake of a “questionable” activity, one that doesn’t make gobs of money or instantly bring us one million “hits.” We are interested in being entertained. We are interested in being “liked.” We are interested in being seen. Passion means cutting the heart from the rib cage, putting it on a platter, and eating it. It’s hard to do that when you split open the chest and find nothing but darkness inside, or worse yet, find a video game of a beating heart or a Facebook photo; or a Twitter feed declaring to all that you have a heart, you really do. I ask my students on the first day of class what makes a book “successful.” Inevitably, one of the first hands raised mentions how much money the book makes. I then tell them that in my experience there is almost always an inverse relationship between the quality of the writing and how much money the book makes. They do not believe me. So I give example after example. Some students agree to “think about it.” Others never will. Fencing has no economic value so it can be real. Writing—at least writing that disturbs us, defamiliarizes us, challenging us to re-examine the metanarratives we’ve been spoon fed, daring us to throw away our old notions and see the world anew—has no economic value so it can be real. Spend five years pouring everything you know, everything you are into a book. Then spend another five trying to get it published by an obscure, independent press only to see that book ignored by the rest of the world. Do it again and again MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 12
Most people give up on passion as they get older. Most settle into lives of compromise. This is the normal pattern as people get tired of pushing up against their limitations or the ways in which the world beats them back when they stretch too far.”
and maybe then you’ll understand the meaning of passion.
Not only is there no money to be made following your heart but it will take everything from you.”
There’s not a lot of glory winning the National Fencing Championship in the Over50 division. And there certainly isn’t any money. But I remember walking onto that final strip and saluting my opponent. When the mask came down I remember wanting that victory more than I ever wanted anything in my life. It is not that I don’t value my children, my family, my career. Of course, these things matter to me. Most of the time they are all that matters. But not in that moment. And I’m sure it was the same for my opponent. When the referee called us to fence with allez, allez! I came at him with everything I had. Beat one-two, followed by a half-lunge to set up the counter-riposte. He took the bait, and I slapped home a parry four. He came right back at me. And when he drilled me square in the chest, this otherwise mild-mannered entrepreneur arched back in a scream straight from the fields of Agincourt, or Maldon, or the Red Cliffs. Most people give up on passion as they get older. Most settle into lives of compromise. This is the normal pattern as people get tired of pushing up against their limitations or the ways in which the world beats them back when they stretch too far. It’s much easier, and, perhaps, in some ways wiser to accept who we are. The problem is that human beings are dynamic and not static at all. Who we are is always changing, always in a state of metamorphosis—sometimes violent —demanding of us to become something new—sometimes calmly whispering that we redefine all that we are and all we’ve been. Yes, the body wears down eventually, and we must listen to it. I fence in the Veteran Division as an acknowledgement that I can no longer move at the speed of the elite fencers. As I write these words, I know that in two hours I will go to the fencing club. I will open the hatch of my Subaru and plan out how best to pull my fencing bag from the car without straining my already 10
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strained wrist. I will enter the always-too-cold salle wishing they would spend more on heating so my old joints won’t take so long to feel as if they actually work. I will I slip my orthotics into my fencing shoes and carefully wrap my fingers and wrist, knowing that a thin line keeps me from re-injuring old wounds. I will spend double the time of the younger fencers warming up: running, stretching, doing footwork and bladework so that when I step onto the strip I don’t pull anything—or at least decrease my chances of pulling anything. Most of all, I will use that time to prepare psychologically for the pummeling I’m about to take to ego and body as I face off with four or five of the top young fencers in the U.S. They respect me. A little. Because I make them move. A little. There is still value in pushing myself beyond what I could do yesterday—executing a parry-riposte or contra tempo better than I did before, writing a sentence that sings a little louder and clearer than the last.
We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.
The end of Eliot’s Four Quartets reminds us the journey is never over. At some level, we intuit this. What is more difficult to understand is the fact that this knowledge, as Eliot reminds us, costs “not less than everything.” And that, of course, is the real reason capitalism abhors passion, offering instead cheap knockoffs from tourist shops. Not only is there no money to be made following your heart but it will take everything from you. If it came down to a choice, few of us would make it willingly. Unfortunately, it rarely comes to that. We do it or we do not. High above the living, there is Beethoven’s Opus 131, String Quartet No. 14, swallowing pain, singing us toward the long sleep, blooming beneath our skin like black dahlias, reminding us what it means to be human. The baby steps onto foreign grass; the dark sea to which we retire the first time we are unloved. The bee stings in the throat. The old man watches desire wink out night by night, like candles in the window. Smoke like ghosts of regret stealing through the thickets of our years. And here we are, waiting to hear the music, dancing blue-faced and infirm with slowly burning bodies that totter toward the pounding wind while somewhere our clubfooted souls lie huddled in a corner, or beneath the sheets, praying for an end to the rain.
Peter Grandbois is the author of eight previous books. His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in over ninety journals. His plays have been performed in St. Louis, Columbus, Los Angeles, and New York. He is a senior editor at Boulevard magazine and teaches at Denison University in Ohio. MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 12
Skid Loader by Radford Skudrna When Mom knew my homework wasn’t finished but had an appointment anyway, she’d clear off the long table in the back. Sometimes centerpieces covered the surface, cut stems piled high at my feet. The flowers dribbled as she carried them to keep. I remember the squeegee squelching in circles. How she’d wipe her hand across the counter to make sure it’s dry enough for me. Then she’d be gone, back into her office with a bride-to-be and company, their high-pitched laughs breaking the sound of study. Once in a while, another noise too: outside, Pop’s skid loader. Its engine turning over. Its wheels fixed and dragging across the ground. From the window, I’d watched him pirouette, the zero-radius friction churning gravel through the mud underneath. But even then I knew I knew nothing about lift arms and moving booms. Nothing about moving the earth below me.
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Spring Cleaning by Radford Skudrna Yesterday my mother and I sorted through the boxes in the basement. Lining a trash bag, she nodded toward the one spilling over with banking slips. We flipped through stacks of books on arranging centerpieces, then tossed half the pile. We moved the wooden crates packed with ornate crystal candelabra, the candles next on the agenda. What about Popâ€™s tools? I asked, knocking on the steel cabinet. The drawers, rusted, grated as I opened them. In the chest: worn sand paper and uncapped glue, wrenches without sockets, no saw, but dozens of blades. I shook the spray paint while she dragged the trashcan over, not realizing his footsteps coming down, his breath coarse as he cleared his throat and asked what we were doing.
Radford Skudrna earned his MFA at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he currently teaches. He has served as a Lannan Fellow at the Folger Shakespeare Library, editor for roger and Interpolations, and member of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. His writing has appeared in Steam Ticket, Gravel, Agave Magazine, A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, Split Rock Review, The Missing Slate, Bayou Magazine, and Barely South Review. MOUNT HOPE â€˘ ISSUE 12
The Cleanup by Zan Bockes
The Boss said it was an accidental overdose. At least that’s what he heard from the woman’s case manager at the mental health place, who hired Happy Home Cleaning Service and let us into the apartment. The case manager had found her the day after her death, lying on top of the bed, surrounded by empty pill bottles. That didn’t sound too accidental to us, but what difference did it make? This was a big job and we’d get lots of hours in. Maybe the Boss would buy us lunch. When we arrived the moving team of three burly, grunting men were already carrying a tattered recliner out to a pile by the dumpster. At the door to the woman’s studio apartment we were assaulted by strong odors of cigarette smoke, cat urine and a half-eaten bowl of potato salad that sat next to the kitchen sink gathering mold. We didn’t know her name, but we heard the case manager tell the Boss she had no relatives or friends to contact. We wondered, what do you do in a situation like that? The three of us on the cleaning team couldn’t imagine being so disconnected and alone, no one else to take over and deal with what was left behind. To have people like us barge in and make all the decisions about what was valuable and what wasn’t. 14
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A small orange tabby cat perched on one of the bookshelves that crowded the room, hunched and wary at first. If it had wanted to, it could have leapt from one bookcase to another around the room and never touched the littered floor, as there were four tall, five-shelved cases in no particular arrangement, their sagging particle-board shelves loaded with white three-ring binders. At a glance, the binders held lists of food—grocery lists, columns of calories and fat grams, recipes, weight records, diet plans torn from magazines, detailed pages of exercises, ten years’ worth of documentation carefully recorded in the woman’s neat, rounded handwriting. We counted fifty-three of them and then gave up as we shoveled them into garbage bags. Between the bookshelves, paths through strewn newspapers and People magazines led to the kitchen and bathroom, where every surface was jammed with toiletry articles: used Kleenex, waxy cotton swabs and mangled tubes of toothpaste. The kitchen overflowed with wrappers and crumbs, potato chip bags and sticky spills, the counters so piled with dirty dishes that none were left in the cupboards. We could never live like this. By the time we finished with the closets, bagging up stale-smelling dresses and elastic waist pants, the cat seemed to be used to us. It came down from the bookshelf and wound around our legs, looking up beseechingly with muted “meows.” We’d found full bowls of food and water in the bathroom, which the case manager had left. As the movers struggled with the bookshelves, we stopped briefly to pet the cat. It rubbed its cheeks against our feet, dumping itself over on its back to allow us to scratch its stomach. And we wondered what might happen to it, and the Boss said the case manager would take it to the Humane Society, which probably meant it would be euthanized. And maybe that was best. Every now and then we came across salvageable items—a brand-new package of very large cotton underwear, unused cookie sheets, self-help books (Thirty Days to a Slimmer You; Managing Your Depression; The Fat is in Your Head)—but the Boss told us to toss everything. We thought we should donate the stuff, but he said it all stunk of “Schizo-Lady” and we didn’t have time to sort it out anyway. “Eighty-six it!” he cried. “It’s outta here!” On a rickety end table, we discovered the woman’s last cigarette–a Winston with an inch-and-a-half of ash lying in an ashtray shaped like a bare foot and printed with “I Got A Kick Out Of Kansas City!” There was something eerie about the cigarette, for not so long ago the woman’s lips had touched the filter, drawing the smoke in and blowing it out into the hazy air. She must have put it down before she moved to the sheetless bed, the stained mattress hollowed out where she slept, the fabric gray from her oily, unwashed skin. We thought of her final decision—how it must’ve been a complete giving up, her life so unbearable she didn’t even finish her last smoke. MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 12
I guess she’s lucky to be out of this place– there’s too much commotion and noise around here. You’d think this was a zoo or something.”
The movers lifted the mattress and the cat jumped up on it, digging its claws into the greasy fabric. When they tilted the soggy bulk sideways and shook it, they dislodged the cat, which tumbled to the floor with a high-pitched cry. The furniture, saturated with sour odors and cigarette smoke, was a total loss—the mattress and box spring, the wobbly table, the leaning bookshelves—all were hauled out to the parking lot of the apartment complex and stacked next to the dumpster along with heaps of cardboard boxes stuffed with the detritus of a life, now dampened by a brief spate of rain. In the colorless sky the sun hung like an unblinking silver eye. It got easier as we worked, throwing things out. The Boss hurried us along, supervising as we grabbed books and towels and pots and pans, shoving them into boxes and trash bags, not really looking at any of the items. He flipped a stack of old Polaroids into a wastebasket. We took turns working on the walls. A film of nicotine coated every surface, saturating our rags and coloring the water in our buckets yellow-brown. A few paintings hung crooked and oddly placed, paint-by-number scenes of mountains and streams clumsily rendered by a shaking hand. Our shoulders ached from scrubbing over our heads. Once the movers left the Boss went back to the office to arrange another trash pickup, leaving our cleaning team to finish. We started vacuuming, but not very thoroughly. We’d heard the carpet was to be torn out and didn’t bother using the crevice tool, although strewn sunflower seeds and gum wrappers had collected along the baseboards. So what if the Boss got on our case about it? He didn’t even give us a lunch break because the place had to be done by 4:00, when the building manager was to do the final inspection. Suddenly the vacuum ceased its whin16
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ing. A gray-haired woman stood at the open door, holding the cord she’d just unplugged. “What’s going on?” she asked. “Did that lady move out?” We looked at each other. “Where’d she move to?” The woman peered at us through thick glasses, her heavy-lidded eyes magnified to clams. She glanced around at the vacant room. “I guess she’s lucky to be out of this place–there’s too much commotion and noise around here. You’d think this was a zoo or something.” We exchanged rolled eyes as the neighbor continued. “I’d move myself if I could afford it. Disability hardly pays anything–you get tired of barely scraping by.” She dropped the vacuum plug on the floor as though she just realized she was handling a snake. “It would have been nice if she told us she was moving out. You know, said ‘goodbye.’ For closure, I mean.” She crossed her arms over her ample chest. “Did she leave town?” No, she’s deceased, we told her. “Dead?” The woman gaped at us, revealing a scraggly row of gapped teeth. “That can’t be! I saw her in the hallway just a few days ago. Well, maybe it was a week or two, now that I think of it. What happened? Was she sick?” All three of us looked at the floor. “I know she had a weight problem, maybe diabetes... I’ve got that too, unfortunately. It makes it hard to lose weight, as you can see...” She looked down at her bulging stomach with a half smile. “So who are you people? Relatives? I didn’t know she had family.” Her eyes settled on the Happy Home Cleaning Service logo embroidered on our shirt pockets—a dancing house with a wide grin on it. “Oh, you’re the cleanup people,” she said. “Did you know her? She was such a sweet lady... always said ‘hello.’” We shifted from foot to foot, eager to end the conversation and get back to work. “What did you do with all her stuff? Give it to Goodwill? Actually, they should have a yard sale for all of us in this building—everybody’s got stuff to get rid of. We could make a little money.” At this point the cat emerged from behind the drapes and crossed the room, hanging back to watch us with luminous green eyes. “Is that hers? I didn’t know she had a cat. We’re not supposed to, you know. We can be kicked out because of that... What’s going to happen to it?” We shrugged, hoping the woman would move on, but she started to rummage through a box of jumbled items near the door. “Do you care if I take these cookie sheets? I mean if nobody wants them... They look brand new. I bake a lot for my grandkids. Seems like there’s never enough cookie sheets...” We told her she might as well, hoping the Boss wouldn’t catch us giving stuff away or scavenging for ourselves. “Oh, this is cute,” the woman said, holding up a snow globe with MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 12
reindeer and an igloo. She shook it and the little snowflakes swirled around the simple scene. “Can I have this, too?” Take what you want, we said. The woman dropped it into a large pocket in the shapeless tent of her dress. “Well, I’m sorry to hear about her death. Everyone here will miss her, I’m sure. But it happens, I guess. To all of us. And you never know when, or how. Anyway,” the woman said, palms upturned, “what can be done about it?” We started looking at our watches. It was 3:30 and we still had to take down the thick drapes and wash the windows. “I’ll stop bothering you folks,” the woman said, picking up the cookie sheets. “Like I said, I’m awful sorry.” At this point, the Boss appeared again, pushing past the lady at the door. “Well excuse me!” she said with an exaggerated step to the side. “Who taught you to be so polite?” The Boss glared at her. “There’s nothing to see here, lady.” The woman sniffed and turned away, the cookie sheets tucked under her fleshy arm. We closed the door as she left. “Back to work, girls. Let’s wrap this up,” the Boss said. He plugged in the vacuum again. When we began to take down the drapes, the case manager arrived with a cat carrier. In a high, soft voice, she coaxed the cat out of the closet: “It’s okay. Come on out, Sweetie...” Gathering it in her arms, she forced it into the carrier. The cat mewed plaintively, sticking its paw through the wire. We sprayed and wiped down the windows. Through the rain, we could see the overloaded dumpster bursting with a haphazard pile of broken furniture and bulging black trash bags. The neighbor woman was digging through the soggy cardboard boxes, salvaging what she could.
Zan Bockes (pronounced “Bacchus”) earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana. Her fiction, nonfiction and poetry have appeared in many magazines and anthologies, and she has had four nominations for a Pushcart Prize. Her first poetry collection, Caught in Passing, is available from Turning Point Press (WordTech Communications), and another collection of poems, Alibi For Stolen Light, is forthcoming from FootHills Publishing. 18
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Portrait of a Grandmother by Nathan Elliott
I was looking at an old Polaroid when it dawned on me that my grandmother might have been gay. Keep in mind that she had been dead for nearly ten years when this finally occurred to me. She might have commented, had she been given the chance, that I never had been that bright. On the other hand, she might have been shocked that anyone would dare to say that about her. Not so much that she was gay or that she wasn’t: being gay, or not being gay, was simply not something she ever thought about much. I say that, at least in part, because of a conversation I had with her about three years before she died. A lesbian had hit on my extremely gorgeous cousin—this had upset my cousin, who is religious and conservative–and it also threw my grandmother a bit, or at least I thought so at the time. All of my cousins are (a) women, (b) completely gorgeous, and (c) to my knowledge anyway, completely straight and about as heterosexual as women come. But that being said, if I was a lesbian rather than a gay man, and one of my cousins walked MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 12
into a bar, I’d probably take my shot even before I’d made a judgment about (c). Actually, they are the kind of women we used to joke might make a gay man go straight, back before the fundies I grew up with actually started trying so hard to make us all straight. Where was I? Oh, right. My grandmother. Point being: she hardly knew what the word “lesbian” meant, and couldn’t even bring it to mind when she was telling me the story about my cousin getting hit on by a lesbian. Let me tell you, she was beautiful once, as well, just like my cousins. She was always beautiful to me, even when I was a little boy and she was already quite old and wrinkled and shrunken. But when you look at pictures of her in her late teens and early twenties, she is completely heart-stopping and you begin to see where my cousins get it; the cheek bones as well as the intelligent, lively eyes that are both warm, yet dangerous to fools. There’s this picture of her when she was eighteen or so—I suspect it was taken when she had just graduated from high school—where she looks a bit somewhere south of Katharine Hepburn and just a trifle east of Maureen O’Hara. Imagine that, enter that fifth dimension beyond space and time and who could actually mate with who, and then slap a Mississippi accent on the result of the whole thing. That was my grandmother. The Polaroid I was looking at when I had my revelation was taken about twenty years after that senior year picture. She had moved two thousand miles from Mississippi to North Idaho, she had taught the fifth grade for fifteen years, she had had four children. She still looks stunning and looking beautiful after all of that is “no mean feat,” as she might have said in her slightly old-fashioned idiom. I was sitting in my favorite restaurant in North Idaho, a grocery store/restaurant hybrid that has all but died out of North American life, but used to make rural life worth living. That place felt like it had belonged personally to my family for at least fifteen years. Across the table was a woman who had known my grandmother since the fall of 1958, when my grandmother first breezed into that same grocery store/restaurant and demanded to know if they sold caramels for caramel apples. But Edith didn’t tell me Grandma was gay. The picture did. § With apologies for getting all meta about this, here’s the place where I interrupt the story to tell you another story that you need to understand the story of me sitting in that restaurant. I wasn’t present for this story. And it’s another story that I didn’t know until well after my grandmother was dead, so I’m very removed from it, and perhaps getting meta about it is a way for 20
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me to underline everything I don’t know about, well, anything: I can’t pretend to a false confidence here. And the whole sorry narrative mess is wrapped up in another story, the way that these things tend to be when it’s your grandparents, and they are already dead, and there’s so much you want to know about things that you will never completely know or understand. My mom was going through a bunch of old family papers and pictures. Dad was already responding pretty well to treatment at that point, but all the same my entire life felt up in the air, and there was this swirl of pictures and papers, and my mother clucking—she just went on and on and on—about whether or not I wanted this, whether I should take that, what she should do with it if she kept this. Into the middle of that dust storm of anxiety and indecision my attention suddenly focused on a stapled bunch of yellowed papers with doublespaced typing and a clear title in all caps: clearly it was a kind of term paper. My grandmother’s name was at the top of it, she had turned in for a graduate class in Education she had taken in 1963. The title, in Courier font that was just how typewriters worked back then, and not a hipster affectation, read: “CHILDREN WITH CLEFT PALATES.” My grandmother was not a great writer, but she wasn’t a poor one either: I could hear her voice pouring off of that page from the first line, even in a language that she must have found somewhat stiff and academic for her Mississippi accent. She found refuge, I think, unconsciously and effortlessly, in the iambic rhythms of the King James translation of the Bible that had been beaten into her head since she was in the womb. In that strange hybrid of Mississippi accent, biblical language, and graduateseminar-paper-speak, she told the story of the birth of my Aunt Kate. I knew of course, that Aunt Kate had been born with a cleft palate: I had known that, in a sense, before I knew what a cleft palate even was. By the time that I came along, that cleft palate had been reduced to a tiny lattice of scars on her upper lip and MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 12
You didn’t get to be different like those French or British models and actresses across the Atlantic. In America you were either beautiful and flawless, or you were not.”
perhaps the slightest of lisps when Aunt Kate spoke. My Aunt was actually quite attractive by the time I knew her, although perhaps she always suffered in comparison to her own mother. And our community being what it was, a flaw was a flaw, a lisp a lisp; there was no such thing as a beauty dimple, or a fashionable gap-toothed smile, sexy breasts that were a bit too big, or breasts that were sexily small. You didn’t get to be different like those French or British models and actresses across the Atlantic. In America you were either beautiful and flawless, or you were not. And having that web of scars and standing next to my grandmother at family events meant that Aunt Kate would always and forever be a not beautiful. I think I always felt a bit bad for Aunt Kate in those pictures. What I didn’t know before I read that paper was that my grandmother herself refused to see her baby daughter for three days after she gave birth. My grandmother—in this paper that she wrote for a graduate seminar in the early 1960s, when Aunt Kate was just beginning to weather a long and difficult adolescence—tells her audience that after the doctors told her that her baby daughter’s mouth was a twisted mess, her mind had been filled with the image of a classmate from childhood who had had an untreated cleft palate. For two days and three nights this specter of a third grade bully with deformed lips who could not articulate much of anything had chased her through guilt-ridden fever dreams. But even that detail, as awful and as interesting as it might be, was not really the most interesting part to me. On the third day—and believe me, I wish it was anything but the third day, because that little detail makes the whole thing sound like something a third-rate García Márquez wanna-be might come up with—a family friend showed up, at her hospital bed, and “spoke the words I needed to hear.” My grandmother continues: “I cried for hours. And when I finished, I asked that I might see the child. And when they brought the child to me, I knew that indeed the child was my own, and come what may, she would never lack for love.” Who was that friend? For whatever reason I went past the pain my grandmother felt that day. I went past the guilt that came out of that handful of stifling days in a Mississippi hospital room, back before air-conditioning changed the South. I went past the way that guilt must have shaped her relationship with her daughter. I wanted to know who that friend was. Maybe it was just a friend from childhood, from church, from the school where Grandma taught the fifth grade. Maybe. § I was sitting in that restaurant, just having finished a pretty satisfying burger and fries washed down with Diet Coke, and having gotten over 22
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my glee in the fact that the restaurant still used the paper place mats with the map of Idaho on them (which was more responsible for me knowing the geography of my home state than anything I ever learned in school). Edith had popped out this old album of Polaroids for me to look through. I had asked her to do this, of course. I was doing a series of poems for my MFA, and I had decided to do it on old diners. Edith’s family had owned that old grocery store, a grocery store with a grill and a Formica lunch counter, metal signs advertising 7UP and Orange Crush, paper napkins and few rickety tables with translucent plastic condiment dispensers that showed the red of ketchup and the yellow of mustard so brightly that you spend the rest of your life subconsciously describing all colors as “a bit drab” in comparison. In several of the Polaroids you can see me as a two-year-old, hanging out in a metal shopping cart, being fed fries through the thin bars, as if I were a bear cub in an old-fashioned zoo. I’d seen the pictures before, of course, and they were what had led me to adopt this as the theme of my final project. I’ve always found these greasy spoons—the background chatter of clanging silverware, and the smell of deep-fried potatoes—about as relaxing and soothing as a womb space. When you look at those old pictures, and the way that family and friends actually just lived in these spaces, it becomes obvious why. So I had asked Edith to show me these pictures again—she laughed at the notion that she would loan them to me—but she had agreed to meet me to go through them again, and to tell me what I wanted to know. One particular picture caught my attention: my grandmother was behind the counter, her arm was around Edith, and she was giving Edith a kiss on the cheek. My grandmother was wearing this vibrant red dress—it must have been Christmas—and she had a Christmas-tree brooch on, just north of her left breast; her hair, in that Polaroid, was a vivid red as well. I had seen the picture before, probably many times, but I had never paid much attention to it, usually focusing on the childhood versions of myself and my cousins. But I found myself staring at this particular picture this time. Hard. And not so much at my grandmother, in the picture, but at Edith herself. She’s laughing, and the kiss itself was no big deal: my mother’s family was Southern and there was a fair bit of hugging and kissing at any holiday gathering. But the arm around Edith’s waist was a little too tight, and Edith was looking back at my grandmother, not fondly, not amusedly, no. She was looking back at my beautiful grandmother the way that a woman deeply in love looks at the person she will give up her virginity, her reputation, even her dignity for. After I had lingered on that picture for far too long—so long that Edith had eventually stopped her usually steady stream of chatter about this person and that relative, and what happened to so and so’s granddaughter in Boston, and who was on a mission trip to Kenya—I looked up at Edith. MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 12
And that seventy-three-year-old woman blushed like a sixteen-yearold chick from a tiny town who just had her cherry popped in the back of a pickup truck. § I still didn’t know anything, of course. I had a guess about how Edith had felt about my grandmother. I had a mysterious figure coming to my grandmother’s hospital bed in 1950s Mississippi. That was about it. I tried to ask leading questions to my mother, but she was no help. Not because she was dodging, but because she really seemed to be having trouble understanding what I was trying to ask her. It had never occurred to her. She and her siblings had been the product of a marriage that lasted over three decades, until my grandfather’s death. Mom knew I was gay, and she had come to terms with it, but on some level she would always regard it all as the innovation of a modern-day age. I think she blamed television and VCRs, and just possibly Facebook and Twitter for my being gay; if other people from New York, Hollywood, and Chicago hadn’t put those weird ideas in my head, she might have had some dang grandchildren by now, dang it. And so I come to a third story about my grandmother, one that is not about lovers that she could never be completely honest about, even with herself. At least, not explicitly. Please bear with me when I tell this story, and what I think it might mean. We are in the realm of speculation here, but my guesses have a proven track record at this point, and I think they do because they are the product of knowing her well. I knew my grandmother for the last thirty years of her life, but I sometimes feel that in those last three decades I was the one who understood her the best. We laughed at the same things. We liked the same food. We insisted that coffee be strong enough to make one cup last the whole damn day. That might not seem like enough to claim to be soulmates. But trust. I knew this woman. The story goes: Once upon a time, not so very long ago, my grandmother lived at the top of a steep hill in North Idaho. Even in the summer getting up the grade that led to her driveway, and around the vicious corner that landed your car right at her front door, took a certain amount of driving acumen. You had to build up a certain amount of base momentum, and then, in the space of about two split seconds before you hit that hard right turn, you had to give the engine the extra encouragement of just the right amount of increased gas to make it up the steepest part of the grade. Or, to put it the way my less polite uncle who worked the oil fields put it to me when I was learning to drive: you had to learn to pound that fucker at just the right goddamn moment. My grandmother drove a Peugeot, a bizarre choice of my grandfather’s that she inherited after he died. One day she was driving that steel-grey French car straight up her North Idaho driveway and smashing the gas pedal at just 24
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the right moment. She did this at least once a day after checking her PO box downtown, so she had the timing and the grim expression that went with it down better than anyone in the family, including my foul-mouthed uncle. A grouse—an odd-looking mountain bird that I learned to hunt with a twenty-gauge shotgun before I left Idaho and Southern Baptist fundamentalism for the University of Chicago and the call of poetry—a grouse—a bird never known for its intelligence, even by bird standards—stepped out right in front of my grandmother’s expertly gunned French import at just the right moment to have its grouse head completely detached from its pleasantly fat grouse body. My grandmother got out of her car and examined the bird closely. She had shot quite a few of them herself, before widowhood meant that she no longer accompanied her now-dead husband on hunting trips. She made a decision. First, because there was ice cream and other things that might melt, she took the groceries purchased from Safeway twenty minutes before into the kitchen and put them away. Quickly. Then, just as efficiently, she returned outside and gathered up the bird. She discarded the useless head. And then, using experience no doubt gained in the Depression-era farms of Mississippi, she expertly cleaned that grouse. I think I could safely bet fifty dollars that bird was roasting in a 350-degree oven twenty-five minutes after it found itself in the undignified position of being decapitated by the only Peugeot registered in the State of Idaho in 1984. It’s one of my favorite stories about my grandmother: she loved food, she loved eating it with other people. She was a fantastic cook, especially when it came to fried chicken and other poultry. She used simple, available ingredients—in this case what was available was road kill from her driveway—and a direct approach to cooking that she had learned back when castiron skillets were not yet the fetish objects of Brooklyn foodies. She liked her weird French car, and she liked to hunt. She was a Mississippi-born woman living in Idaho. She was also a devout Southern Baptist, whose father, brother, and husband of thirty-seven years had all been pastors. She was in church at least three times a week, Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday evening for prayer meeting. I think she might also have liked to sleep with women occasionally, and I think that final contradiction is what allows me to make sense of that story. It bugged me for years: she wouldn’t have bought that ice cream, and the peaches for that famous peach cobbler, not just for herself. No ma’am. No Sir. She never did stuff like that. She made that dessert when she was having company, when she was about to share a meal with someone. MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 12
She told that story a hundred times, and she never told us who she was making supper for that night. She let us believe she was a lonely widow making a lonely widow meal, and because we were so convinced she was a lonely widow, we filled in the blanks exactly like the suckers she knew we were. If it had been Edith, I think she would have told us. Edith was a church member, their cover was clear, and likely their relationship had ended years before—because relationships often do end, and most importantly because Edith moved in with Caroline in 1978. No, at that point my grandfather had been dead for five years, and her ex-lover Edith was shacked up with a butch pharmacist. So I think my grandmother, in her late sixties, was preparing for another lover. And then when she struck that grouse, she knew that the capricious gods of sex and warm weather had just provided her with a beautiful piece of freshly killed piece of meat to roast—something much better than the bland chicken slaughtered three days before and then wrapped in plastic that she had bought at Safeway. God had given her that grouse, and he had given it to her to feed the woman who would end up in her bed that warm summer night, full of peach cobbler. I know most of the family, if they hear of this, will refuse to believe it. Yet I know. I know deep in my heart. More importantly: I hope. I hope my sixty-six-year-old Mississippi grandmother found a warm body and sweet lips and killer thighs in her bed that warm summer night in rural Idaho.
Nathan Elliott grew up Southern Baptist in logging and paper-mill towns in Idaho. The vagaries of love brought him to a paper-mill town on the west coast of the island of Newfoundland. He has published creative nonfiction with Creative Nonfiction, Tahoma Literary Review, and Peach Fuzz. He is at work on a book—funded by a grant from the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council—about his move to Canada. Twitter: @writeronabike 26
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Richard Pandozzi Army, Korean War
Photographs by Arthur Rainville They served during many wars, conflicts faded into the ether of history but still vivid to these veterans. They survived Wold War II, The Korean Conflict, andThe Vietnam War. Here in Bristol, many of them are living history, in residence at the Rhode Island Veterans Home, which has stood since the 1890s and is now going through a major renovation. In conjunction with The Veterans Home and The Bristol Art Museum, portrait photographer Arthur Rainville set about recording the faces, hands and medals of many in the home, which was then presented to the community in an exhibit at the museum and the Rogers Free Library. We present a selection of those photographs here.
Joseph Quintal Navy, World War II
Above: Andrew P. Raimondi Marines, Vietnam War Left: Joseph Quintal Navy, World War II
Above: Harold Demopulos Army, World War II Left: Ruth Lacroix Army, World War II
Above: Francis Knight Army, World War II Right: Stephen Brien Army, Vietnam War
Allen Timperley Air Force, Vietnam War
Eskil Lindh Navy, World War II
Walter Johnson Navy, World War II
Rose Wiggins Army, World War II
Enigma by Erynn Porter
“The sensation of my own body may be the only subject on which I am qualified to claim expertise. Sad and terrible then, how little I know.” —Eula Biss Many people have looked inside me. I have maps of my heartbeats, photos of my insides, and ghosts of machines long gone still haunting me. They have used scans, X-rays, ultrasounds, tiny cameras, and MRIs, all to try to figure me out. They have looked at my brain but can’t find any answers. All they want is to find the problem, to be heroes. I have ceased to be a person to them—I am a patient, a puzzle, an enigma. I’m sure by now you could create a new me from all the images they have taken, a 3-D likeness of my body— still broken, though. It hasn’t helped me; the pain is still there. Lurking in my nerves, stalking my organs. They tell me there is nothing, that they can’t see anything, but I know better. Enigmas seem like they should be powerful, but if I were powerful, would I have this problem in the first place? Or is that merely another riddle to solve? Similar doctors ask me similar questions in similar neutral-colored rooms and I answer them. Sometimes I answer them wrong. They say they don’t understand. They look up at me and tell me I’m incorrect; it must be in MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 12
my head. I want to tell them they have already checked my head. Instead, I stare down at them from their tables and say nothing. They questioned me as a teenager: Is it hormones? Is she doing this for attention? I never understood that. Why would I go through waking up every morning, knowing I was going to starve, for attention? As I got older, it got worse: Why hasn’t anyone figured it out? I really must have made this up. How could I have seen so many doctors for so many years and not be cured? Well that’s what I’d like to know too. Enigma is an encryption machine created by a German inventor Arthur Scherbius that was used heavily in World War II. Another name for it is the Writing Enigma. The way the encryption works is a person types one letter and a different letter goes out into the world. To decipher the message, one would need information about the starting position and order of the three wheels within the machine. The wheels have twenty-six spokes, one for each letter. When one wheel goes through the alphabet, the next wheel starts. This creates thousands of possibilities, though no letter could ever be encoded as itself. Enemy armies spent years and tons of brainpower to figure out the codes. The French were able to bribe a German cipher to get to the Enigma and copy it. They were able to intercept every message and knew when Germany was preparing for war. I can’t help but wonder if my body has a secret code that no one has been able to crack. Would an Enigma machine unlock a human one? People like a puzzle only for so long, until they realize it’s unsolvable. Soon doctors were berating me, telling me I wasn’t doing enough. I wasn’t following their six different diets at the same time correctly; I wasn’t allowing the pills to stop my pain. In other words: I wasn’t getting better. I was making them look bad. They would make appointments to tell me nothing. I mean this literally. They mailed me test results that said there was nothing and then forced me to keep an appointment to tell me what the letter said. Then they would cancel the important appointments. The appointments I needed so I could get prescriptions renewed. They stopped answering my calls. I was so tired, my body was tired; all I could do was lie in pain and wait. Wait for what, I’m not really sure. Maybe a grand stop to it all, though that might be too cliché. With this pattern of appointment failures, pain, and lack of food, I was in the E.R., unable to keep anything down for two weeks. They sent me home within the same night. I was back the next day, sent home again and I was told to see the same doctors that had put me in this position. A few days later, those doctors saw me in a wheelchair, unable to walk. My legs could no longer support me. My father had to wheel me to the room and help me sit on the green leather table. They eyed me like a dangerous creature, capable of 40
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ruining everything. They asked me what I did wrong. The Sphinx is an enigma that has survived centuries. There’s the tale of its riddle, which has foiled many heroes: “What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three in the evening?” Only Oedipus answered correctly with “man.” What if man, or more specifically a woman, couldn’t walk anymore because her body couldn’t support itself? Does that woman still count as human, or has she transformed into something else? I did my best to keep track of everything, to prove to myself and them that what was happening was real. I had a journal that listed everything I ate, everything I drank, what I wore and where I went, what pills I took and when, and what my bathroom habits and “experiences” were. I kept track of every bruise from falling. How many times I was asked if I was pregnant due to the bloating of my stomach. How many times my heart slowed so that black crept into my vision while I was standing at the register at work. How halfway through getting ready for that appointment, my arms seemed to disappear from my body, and my mom had to dress me while tears ran down my numb face. Despite its status, the Sphinx has been battered by the elements for 4,000 years: buried up to its head in sand, only to be uncovered and covered again. It has faced disfigurements at the hands of vandals and treasure hunters, and has cracked from bouts of floods and droughts. After discovering the water damage to the Sphinx, researchers wondered where such water came from in the desert. They discovered that the land has had extreme climate patterns through the centuries. Monsoons would wash away sand so green could poke its head through, only to be browned into dust once more. Zahi Hawass, an Egyptian archeologist, saved the Sphinx from damage in 2007 when too much sewage dumped in a canal caused it to flood. Hawass said, “The Sphinx is the oldest patient in the world. All of us have to dedicate our lives to nursing the Sphinx all the time.” Is it weird to be jealous of a monument? Do I need more status to get the same patient care the Sphinx has? I have to work on other peoples’ time and get worse while I wait. Aging backwards to toddlerdom where I stumble instead of walk and spit up food. Some days I’m not able to dress myself, or shower for a week. I have to accept that there are times where I’m not allowed to walk up or down stairs because I will fall. Or that I have to have a chaperone at all times to make sure I don’t hit the ground. At the same time, I age forward where I live the same life as my grandmother who is in a nursing home and ninety-three. Constantly MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 12
watched, having hours upon hours of free time, and feeling utterly useless. Now knowing what dying must feel like. Not having the strength to be able to lift my hand to brush hair out of my face but having pain strong enough to curl my ribs into my heart. Being so weak that the rage that fills me is bright like a light but one that ultimately goes out with no energy to sustain it. It means watching everyone watch me get wheeled out of that appointment.
I am able to contain a lightning storm of broken nerves inside me. Sometimes it escapes through heat that overwhelms me.”
Stonehenge is a mystery that wears many hats: it’s been thought to be a massive royal cemetery built by Merlin and King Arthur, a gathering spot built by druids, an astrological calendar, an observatory, and a place of healing. There’s a man at the center of the Stonehenge legend, “Amesbury Archer.” He gets his name because of his massive collection of arrows that was buried with him. He was sick, a bad knee and an abscessed tooth so bad it destroyed part of his jawbone. Because of his and many other bodies, archeologists assumed it was a burial ground, which corroborated the tale of King Arthur. Timothy Darvill and Geoffrey Wainwright have used the Amesbury Archer to argue that Stonehenge is a place of healing rather than death. Not a single body was from the area; injured and searching, they wanted to be cured. It has been noted that Stonehenge’s rocks are said to have healing abilities activated by water. I’m not going to lie; I’m at the point where I would make a similar journey to be better. Pills haven’t done much for me—maybe healing stones can. Darvill discovered that Stonehenge could be a lot of things because it was built in parts. They discovered charcoal from 6,000 years before the earthen trenches that are so familiar now were even dug. They found Roman coins around the posts, suggesting maybe the Romans were altering the monument while they were exploring the area. Some of the bodies date back to the establishment of Stonehenge, but that was before the healing stones came into play, so a burial site isn’t out of the question. What’s perplexing and amazing about Stonehenge is that it can’t be pinned down with any facts. That’s what keeps peoples’ interest, only they don’t have to fix it. 42
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I know my body more than I’m comfortable with. I’m very sensitive to its needs. I know, for example, if I don’t get a certain amount of sleep, my body falls apart. I tend to feel things shift and settle inside my torso when I probably shouldn’t. I feel a disjointed heartbeat when it shouldn’t be noticeable. Sometimes I can sense nerves misfiring throughout my body: I will drop to the ground and won’t be able to get up for at least an hour, too numb to move. My body will jolt. A small twitch mutating to full body convulsions. I’m aware of everything during those periods, including my parents’ worried faces and how my muscles scream to stop. But they can’t; I can’t. I have to be held down. I am able to contain a lightning storm of broken nerves inside me. Sometimes it escapes through heat that overwhelms me and the only thing that can cool me is the darkness of unconsciousness. Even though I know all this I don’t know why. I wonder why I spent so much time observing myself if it doesn’t help me come up with a solution. Being a human enigma means never being believed, always having to prove yourself. Maybe even beginning to disbelieve yourself. The Iron Pillar of Delhi has stood for thousands of years without rusting or decaying, despite being outside. No one seems to know much about the pillar, asking questions like: Who made it? The inscription on it claims that it is in honor of the Hindu god, Vishnu, and the memory of a lost king. How did it get here? It’s not known for sure but many believe the Pillar was moved from Madhya Pradesh about a thousand years ago. How is it not a pile of rust by now? Scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology have discovered a thin layer of “misawite.” It’s a combination of iron, oxygen, and hydrogen. It seems to have formed over many years to protect itself. The layer almost makes it seem like it’s a living person instead of an iron pillar stuck in one spot. The fact that it formed its own protective layer is more fascinating to me than the fact it has never rusted for 1,600 years. I wonder if I could develop such a layer of protection, use it to coat my insides. There was only one doctor left who was willing to attempt solving me. Problem was, he was attempting to solve a lot of riddles. He was famous for it. He was hard to get an appointment with; his wait time was six months. It was even harder to keep appointments; he cancelled six times. But Dr. L was interested in my case. He liked tough cases—that’s what he told me. I didn’t like the idea of being on a pedestal because of my difficulty. It felt like I was a Rubik’s Cube that he would solve and brag to all his friends about. I didn’t like him. I didn’t trust him. I came into his whitewalled office with trepidation. Staring at all the posters with hands covering stomachs. Almost cradling them, as you would a fussy baby. That pose was familiar. When Dr. L finally knocked on the door and entered, I was prepared MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 12
for a fight. Balding, older, male, and white, he was everything I feared in a doctor. He was tall, I had to look up to meet his eyes. When he looked down at me, I knew Dr. L was different. His eyes were light blue, friendly and focused on me. It took me a minute to realize he was looking me in the eyes. He split his time between his paper and me. He spoke only to me, even though both my parents were in the room. He wrote down everything I said, nodding, only interrupting to make sure he understood what I was saying. By the time I was done repeating what I had repeated so many times, he smiled at me and told me the one thing I’d wanted to hear for years. You aren’t crazy. Those words echoed in my ears, filled my lungs. I felt like I could breathe deeper. That’s how I was finally diagnosed with Pelvic Floor Dysfunction and Functional Dyspepsia. I needed to change my diet, how I eat, and go to physical therapy to start. Was this what being believed in felt like? In Paulo, Malta there is an underground temple called Hypogeum Hal Safieni. It’s also known as “The Labyrinth” because of a series of underground tunnels and rooms all connected together. It’s not known just because humans created an underground temple, but because of its acoustics. This temple, dated to be from the Bronze Age, is made completely out of limestone with domed ceilings. It is believed that Hypogeum housed an oracle that gave its messages to people in there, using the acoustics to appear more powerful. His words bounced against walls and floors and ceilings and into people who came to see him. Even today, if you walk in there and speak, the chamber will amplify your words so that you feel them in your skin and bones, vibrating. I wonder what people say when they are there. What phrases leave their lips? Words they wish to hear or things they wish they could say? A college class recently asked me what my biggest worry was. I thought health but said “Graduating.” I was mocked for my obvious answer, so I changed it to health. I think I wanted my professor to feel bad. No one likes to hear about someone struggling with something as basic as digesting. I wanted him to leave me alone. Instead, he told that illnesses, even chronic ones, are never continuous. “There are good days and bad days. Once the bad day is over, it’s resolved,” my professor said. “Why do you care so much?” “Because I’ll die.” “You know what?” The professor grinned at me. “I’ll die anyway,” I said flatly. “I walked right into that one. But I won’t live a fulfilling life.” “Why? You can do it now.” “Yeah,” a girl chimed in. “Do stuff to make it fulfilling now.” 44
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Don’t you think I’m trying? Then I was told about positive thinking. I let the illness control me; I let it hold me back. I gritted my teeth as the entire class discussed my illness. No one asked what it was, how long did I have it for, or what I had done to fix it. Suddenly I was patient getting talked about like I wasn’t even in the room. Like I didn’t matter. That it was my fault. I didn’t speak for the rest of class. Puzzles can never escape being solved. Saturn’s rings have held the attention of astronauts and astronomers for centuries. It’s been discovered that the rings have been constantly evolving and shifting. One theory is that the rings were created from debris of moons colliding. The gravitational pull bringing it towards the planet, surrounding it. Maybe like the Iron Pillar of Delhi, it created the rings to protect itself. A new spacecraft, Cassini, named after the first astronomer to notice Saturn’s moons, has found the rings to be as old as the universe itself. But the rings are constantly renewing themselves. Staying strong in a devoid atmosphere. Maybe the rings were the planet’s best attempt to make sure observers didn’t get too close and stopped seeing the planet as a whole. Dark thoughts started to smother me when I was at my weakest. I was so drained. Drained emotionally, mentally, physically; drained of blood and dignity. All the voices saying to end it all were sounding like mine. After being tested over and over again and being told “You’re Fine,” I believed I’d never get better. Suicide was becoming a logical possibility to me. If I did it, I would stop being in pain, I would stop being poked and prodded at like I was something farthest from a human being. I would stop being a burden to my parents. The biggest incentive was ending the pain. Everyday was so hard; my body betrayed me at every moment. Sometimes just lying in bed was painful. One day, I almost let myself get T-boned while in a parking lot. I rolled my car out into the street, knowing that a big truck was heading my way. I felt nothing as headlights came roaring at me. I wondered if I would feel the impact or if everything would go dark. Would my bones get crushed into dust? Would problematic organs get punctured? Would it really kill me or mangle me even more than I already was? I pressed the brakes at the last minute. I felt an unknown crushing sensation as the truck passed me. The next day, no one knew what happened. It was easier to act like nothing was wrong. I smiled a lot. Erynn Porter has a BFA in Creative Writing from New Hampshire Institute of Art and is Assistant Editor for Quail Bell Magazine. She has a chronic illness but that doesn’t stop her from writing reviews, essays, fiction, and whatever else interests her. She’s been published in Bust, ROAR, Brooklyn Magazine, and more. She’s an obsessive editor, snow globe collector, constant candy eater, and cat lover. You can see more of her work at erynnporter.com. MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 12
There are Tunnels in the Stone by Nicholas Alti Grandfather, I worry there are bodies in my wake, I worry they will be found. I’m letting you know the thought of my photographs, charred, means the world. Wasn’t your youngest daughter surprised when you were cut from a rope? She found a .44 magnum with a lone bullet in the chamber, the only item in your nightstand besides wooden chess pieces & a bag of opaque marbles. We share that fear, the inability to reconcile with the inevitable day I’ll wake too weak to hang a noose on the bedroom’s doorframe & decorate my neck with it. Don’t feel guilt for leaving while you could, you left behind good money, entertaining stories from grandmother, her vague smile as she tries to remember you. I picked corn from my teeth with a mantis pincer, wrote you a note on an index card. How’s the weather wherever you are? Where are you? I dropped it in the bathtub. It softened, sunk. You never told them, did you? Every Christmas, you left to visit the ragged Japanese restaurant two towns over. You’d order three vegetarian eggrolls, penance for each boy you killed in the war. One boy had no eyebrows. One of his eyes was creamy, a thread of snot hung from his left nostril. Perhaps the family that ran the restaurant knew what you were doing. You couldn’t understand their yelling, and none of us blame you for that, but they gave you a small table and extra wasabi, let you eat in your nausea. You came home smiling, somehow, & warmed like an egg.
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Once, a Man & a Flower by Nicholas Alti In the moonlight of a meadow, who is this man with one small hand & wine red teeth? This man had a son who was a giant ruined poet, keeper of sad violence crushing the Earth he wished to praise. He bent to smell an aster but fell too hard & scarred his thoughts. Always a breathless boy his heart beat gently, but loud enough to frighten the foxes, petrify the lambs at his fingertips. Six colors stained his fingers; he breathed weak wind & tried to stand. Once, when the sun itself condemned he used pine tree as pen upon the lakeâ€™s sand front, writing dried thistle in the eye sockets of fish. Every heron fled at once beyond the hills nearer Zion. His only lover was a book with no real words & bound in flesh. He grew antlers for song birds to perch. They warbled madly, darted into trees avoiding him, all things go, he chased the ripples in the water that ran away until the warm sea made him its heart, becoming the island his father drowned within. MOUNT HOPE â€˘ ISSUE 12
Malignant by Nicholas Alti It was the boys first time in a city buildings, dormant titans awaiting revival, sidewalk people terrifying, their red hands all fists. He loved the distant fear of monsters, field of cryptozoology, his favorite word, the only word over four syllables he knew before this city taught him neurosurgery, intravenous, anesthesia, finally astrocytoma which gave the boy visions of Orion, Andromeda, moonlight his father’s tears, the word that turned his mother to wine. During the days preceding operation his room was shared with a teenaged Chicago native, his swollen head bruised like a malformed gourd. This teen fidgeted and whimpered incessantly, gazed out of the window whenever awake, eyes slits cut into an inflated face. Failed arts and crafts project timid and fraught, a kicked Labrador. Stereo in the room played spontaneously, broke the quiet of night when the teen slept glossed in sweat. He didn’t understand the music, often a single note slowly repeated on violin, other times two teeth, a piano firing off the disharmonizing speed of dreams. Fatigued and drugged, he listened. Beyond midnight, this last moon away from surgery He couldn’t sleep. Frantic waves of trumpet blasts drum beats blared from the stereo. The teen slept beneath two frenzied moths.
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A scratched, massive voice boomed over the trumpets: O child I will discover you with a whip, bury you in your ancestors’ testaments, immerse you in the language of golden pages. You cannot possibly know if these words are my own or divination. I will devour you, boy, like a fire, a forest. Music cut to static; he watched the moths pound themselves against the window, drifting sleep waking briefly, the teen who cried oh shit, oh shit fuck, fuck no hands and face against the window, aghast. He stood, hobbled through darkness, arms extended, feeling what he could not see through eyes, ruined. Young, he realized monsters in intimacy, felt flesh squeeze his ribcage, his fingernails and fear in his mouth. He pushed himself against the wall until the monster limped through hallways, footsteps colliding against linoleum, the boy’s skull. He listened to footsteps all night staring not out of the window but at the guts, blood, and dismembered wings; a moth plastered against the glass— the remaining moth ate it. He watched this insect clean the window of entrails, the sun illuminated it and the moth crashed itself against the glass again. A doctor and nurse came in to put him under, needle sharp, clear liquid in cold veins. They wheeled him through the labyrinth of hallways footsteps still seemed to reverberate from the night before, the monster came alive. Fading, the last thing he heard were gossiping doctors talking about the body, a young man found that morning beaten to death in the hospital parking lot. How his bloated, swollen head seemed to explode from a combination of the built up pressure inside of the cranium, some massively violent colliding force.
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Oaths & Howls by Nicholas Alti When it happened, I was pouring soup into a plastic container before work. One hand fused to the back of my sweating neck, the other stretched & wrapped around a ladle of white bean chili. I crashed through a window because I couldn’t open doors, & I walked to work because I couldn’t drive. Some others gripped things much less innocuous than a ladleful of food, such as the old woman with veins like a labyrinth, her jeweled hand wrapped around a Chihuahua’s neck, plum painted nails gorged into the dog’s flesh. She lurched down the road screaming of her aching shoulder while the little body swung. A group of parents with hands of coffee mugs & toasters & jam lathered toast ran past me. They were chasing the middle school history teacher, whose one hand molded with the leather belt around his throat while his other held a Polaroid photograph of a naked boy chained to a wall in a basement & its cleanliness made everything worse. Now I’ll always smell of chili powder. I wonder if that’d disturb the little girl whose small palms turned into the glass bottle of bourbon she was trying to pry from her father’s grip. They are Siamese now. But what hurt the most was watching the beloved old cashier from our grocery store on a slow walk home, how her hand coalesced around the handle of a battered & empty cat carrier.
Nick Alti is a recent graduate of Western Michigan University where he hosted weekly writing groups and acted as Editor & Chief of the undergraduate literary journal, the Laureate. His poetry and fiction has appeared in Maudlin House, Steam Ticket, The Birds We Piled Loosely, The Albion Review, and elsewhere. He helps edit novels and judge poetry contests at New Issues Press. 50
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A Perfect Little Slice of Orange by T. Boughnou
I was now sitting inside the 1369 Coffee House in the heart of Central Square. I had just finished having lunch next door at the Live Alive Urban Oasis and Organic Café. And in all honesty, it felt really good being in the Central Square, which was located between Harvard College and MIT. The neighborhood had a genuine feel. The tempo was real. The people were sincere. You knew what was what. It was that feeling of easiness that one encounters in and around the settings of most universities. A sort of unspoken respect, that didn’t make blanketed, critical judgments on the outward appearances of one’s fellows. But rather, a kind of understanding of the world in a broader sense of acceptance. An attitude of cordiality that the traditional workaday world that I encountered—in its frantic running to and fro, in its blind, mad dashes of competition and rivalry, and monetary pursuits—had forgotten what this lifestyle and living was like. And I felt now a sense of great relief. As though I were a galaxy away from the Financial District of Boston, where I worked as a wellness specialist. Although, in reality, it was just four short subway-train stops away on the other side of the Charles River. It was quite amazing that such a small distance could make such a profound difference, I thought. To have such an uplifting impact on my psyche, as I looked around breathing it all in, it felt invigorating. At this point I had made up my mind: resigned to keep life simple. MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 12
Work was one thing, and with that there was always going to be a bit of enduring. That was a fact everywhere and with everyone, just not always to the same extent, I told myself. Sure, I needed food, shelter and clothing—were they not the basic necessities of all? And that was the psychological impasse; the paradox, a sort of living nightmare, fixed on repeat. It was my work that provided me some creature comforts, so in the name of self-preservation, I swallowed a big dose of my pride, and took it. By enduring debauched mindsets, and the constant flaunting of vanity fairs and juvenile provocations. So as to not come entirely undone and thoroughly disillusioned with the human race. Because as a boy I had been schooled to believe that people always led with their best foot. No, this couldn’t have been putting their best foot forward, I was convinced. All their pomp and pageantry was simply a projection of some fear and deeper insecurity. Not to mention the fact that they took the wellness sessions very lightly. The sessions should have been of the utmost benefit to them, for well-being’s sake; and too, it was they who had sought my services and expertise. Yet, they treated those sessions, in my work space, and which I took quite seriously, like a Romper Room. They were oversized youths. But I guess when one had money to waste, I, and the service I provided, were just more commodities to be purchased on the market. Nothing deserving of any deeper consideration or seriousness. And to further illustrate just how very nonsensical and unpractical were these daily episodes, I could not help but recall a specific incident that shall forever remain in my mind. It was nearing the end of summer. The Labor Day weekend was only about two weeks away. And at this time there was always this sense of urgency among this crowd to have one more big event. So as I sat in the fitness office between seeing clients, reading a bit of Schopenhauer to try to get grounded again, there was a light knock at the door. Looking up slowly from my book, I saw a very anxious-looking and rather thin young woman. I didn’t recall seeing her previously. She was attractive in a physical sense, rather tall with dark shoulder-length hair, light eyes and a coquettish manner. All this was quite synonymous of the environment. It was a place to strut and to be noticed. She came in and took a seat across the desk from me. And after the briefest of an intro, without any further hesitation, she began: “I really need some help,” she said. “In two weeks I’m going to the Caribbean, and I want to look my best. You must understand, I’m sure. You must get that all the time here.” “Okay—” I said. “What is your definition of your best?” “I want you to be honest,” she said; “do you think that I can lose ten pounds in two weeks?” “Honestly?” “Yes,” she said, her hazel eyes alight with expectancy. 52
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“In two weeks’ time, no,” I said. “That wouldn’t be wise. I wouldn’t advise it. Not at all.” This she either didn’t hear or didn’t want to hear. “What if I don’t eat for the two weeks—then, do you think it’s possible?” “I wouldn’t attempt it.” “Well—I don’t mean not eating anything at all. I meant just having smoothies. One a day. And not drinking any alcohol. Which that will be tougher than not eating, because I do like a few cocktails every night. I know it might not be the smartest thing, but at least I’ll look good in my bathing suit. So that I can eat and drink more when I’m there. At Turks and Caicos. Besides, who cares about the insides so long as it looks good on the outside, right?” Internally I felt the frustration of this confused thinking of hers, which had become so familiar to me in that setting, which was so full of all that money but so absent of brains. Like a child, she wanted validation for something foolish. Which I could not give. And this kind senselessness was what a passerby looking in at the window, at the physical plushness, might have envied and clamored for. So I endured the foolishness, and the ungrateful attitudes that sickened me, waiting to see a solid step from a best foot. Otherwise, I might have walked away without ever looking back. For what I witnessed of the lifestyles of those I worked with was people who thought of themselves as ‘privileged elites’, and beyond any contempt. But they displayed just how very unhappy they truly were, in their awful treatment toward others. In constant displays of disrespect, even to those of their same lot. At times, it was an ordeal, to such a degree of discomfort and unpleasantness that only after I was set free for the weekend did my mind’s eyes allow me to see the full-scope of just how very much it all repulsed me. It was a form of selfpreservation within me, that was primitively, instinctive. It was like a reflex that preceded all action. Otherwise, it would’ve been an impossibility to remain in that environment. To live in such abundance yet be wholly unaware of one’s own wastefulness. To be unable to see, for lack of vision, the small things that made day to day life worth living. None of this painted a very beautiful picture, I thought, sitting there that afternoon in the 1369. I was hopeful, for myself, that a good change was looming. This was not a productive life. To me it was nothing that might be called living in reality. To look with such distain as my clients did to others who had less material wealth, or who had fewer means to get and acquire more things, was a poor way of existing. I wanted to get back to the earth and nature and a simplistic way of living. I couldn’t go on just existing without something tangible to which I could be solidly rooted. I wanted to be my real self again. MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 12
Owing to the very nature of enduring, I had become accustomed, on the surface, to the hardship of it all.”
Something had happened at some juncture along way—I couldn’t remember now exactly when. But owing to my studies of Stoic philosophy that had become part of my beliefs, I began to see the unpleasantness of this environment as a modern-day, rare opportunity. I believed, as the Stoics once did, that a challenge was issued straight from Fortune. It was a blessing. Fortune never troubled herself with someone she might easily defeat; no worthy life was ever carved out of an easy route. And at times, it was necessary to endure a harsh winter’s conditions, for some better good in the end. I was finding these precepts quite addictive. Certainly they would have been, to a mind conditioned by study and Stoic discipline. Well, it was at least the pretext I used in order to endure. It was a bright, sunny March afternoon, with an enchanting, cloudless, Max Parrishblue sky, but it was very cold. A nor’easter had just come through a few days ago, and snow was piled everywhere. The breezes blowing over the mounds of snow put an unseasonable chill in the atmosphere. I sipped at my tea, and watched the people come and go from the 1369, and up and down the avenue. It touched me greatly, to look around this place at all the artists and writers, and poets and musicians and professors and students and just everyday folk, people desiring nothing more than contentment. And then the epiphany struck—that was it! I only needed contentment! I finished my dessert, my tea and a sizeable peanut-butter cookie, and I left. As I headed out, looking across Massachusetts Avenue, a thought that often come to my mind, and even into my dreams, came just then. It was as if I was being pulled lightly and persistently by a band of invisible light energy. So instead of crossing over the avenue, (I had intended to go into the Ten Thousand Villages, to soak up as much energy as possible from all the crafts made by artisans from around the world) I turned left, and walked the few shops 54
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down to the Seven Stars. This metaphysical bookstore had been my saving grace many years back; it still had its imprint on me. But I supposed that should’ve been no great surprise, when a place had had such an impact on one’s life. So, attached to that invisible light energy that reeled me, I went in, was led in. It was the middle of the day, so there were not too many people in there. And as I entered, something became apparent. I’d been completely unaware of the sliver of residue of the empty race towards nothing substantial that I endured, still lingering in me. Owing to the very nature of enduring, I had become accustomed, at least on the surface, to the hardship of it all. I’d come to numbing indifference towards it. But now, that residue, which had still somewhat remained in my deeper mind from my morning with the surly people at Boston’s Financial District, finally began to cease. I felt it deep within, loosening, as though a great yoke had been lifted off of me. Not just on the surface but from a deeper place. Now it was all appearing much less bleak. Sure, I would be my usual cordial self: polite and mannered and always a professional. But the day-to-day of what Freud once called the “return of the repressed,” where I pretended to not see, only have it come back later to haunt my mind, was finished. I was no longer willing to bow to the absurdity, and pretend. I would now, bit by bit, challenge those in the Financial District that I would encounter on a personal level. I would go beyond what they only sensed of themselves, and then acted on. I would go beyond just their surfaces, and into their cores. I would push a tad more toward the real world beyond their illusions and delusions. Yes—I had now ventured a long way from work that morning, and all the years past. I sat for a moment and drank in the atmosphere of the place: the smells of the sage and sweetgrass smudging sticks; the enlivening scents from the various boxes of incense all intermingled. Out of all the five squares that were aligned one after the other along the Redline subway-train stops, in Cambridge, I preferred Central Square most. And that was owing in big part to this shop. Regardless of what I was going through, regardless of the ongoing plights of the world at any given time—whether it be changes in the political landscape, or religion, or something else—I found solace here. Why? What was it about this place that eased my tensions and gave me an entirely different perspective, and ways of seeing life around me, and my very own? At the moment I didn’t exactly know. But it was a nice sensation to think with such clear complexity about myself. Suddenly, in the midst of my self-inquiry, I was stood up, like a puppet being tugged at by that invisible light energy that had brought me here on this day. I was now truly a believer that synchronicity did exist. If you saw enough signs and began noting them, your thoughts became things—and those things became an energy. It was the Law of Attraction. MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 12
I remembered now when I was at home in Davenport, Iowa, back in the summertime, almost a year before, walking along the Mississippi River, pondering; I was enjoying that tempo of ease that was so indicative of a sense of place, and that I only ever felt along the northern Mississippi River. I kept seeing a vision of an orange stone and the Seven Stars. But the premonition was overcome by all the festivities and goings-on around the Quad Cities, all such a part of the place, in summertime, and so authentically part of life around the Mississippi River there. There was the running of the Bix, a seven-mile road race, that carried a substantial purse of about twenty-five thousand dollars for such a short distance. It was named after the jazz legend and hometown boy, Bix Beiderbecke. Then, in addition to a weekend celebration festival for this race honoring Bix, there were the jazz festival and the blues festival, each accompanied by barbeque chefs hailing from St. Paul to New Orleans, from Kansas City to Omaha, and all points in between. They flaunted their skills while filling our bellies. There was eating and drinking, music and dancing, and merriment from sunrises to sunsets, and then from moonrises to moonsets over the river. The joys seemed so very endless. And it seemed that every village or town that made up the greater Quad Cities had something going on every weekend all summer long. For four weeks I was caught up in all the wild hoopla of being home, or out on the river, or becoming reacquainted with an old acquaintance as we strode arm in arm along the Riverway, or becoming familiar with a newly found acquaintance who held her place so very near and so exclusively as we sat within a gazebo, illuminated by moonlight. The Mississippi River, so close by, was working its magic. So the thoughts of that orange crystal was temporarily pushed aside. I had come into the shop countless times since my return from the Quad Cities, and had bought many crystals, but had forgotten all about that orange crystal that had shown itself to my mindâ€™s eye. I was consumed with the lore of the dark stones, which were known for being able to soak up all the wickedness and bad, low energies that we often find ourselves around, as I did every day in my working environment. So I was always in the possession of dark crystals. Sometimes I had five or six small ones in my pocket as I trained those noxious clients in their toxic habitat. I had once met a charming young woman from Belfast, Northern Ireland, who had pulled out five or six dark stones from her jeans pocket as we conversed in the shop, just to show me how very protected she was. I guess she had left me with an impression. Because now I emulate her example. It did something to my psyche just to feel them there in pocket. But it became clear again now, that day along the Mississippi River, that bright crystal that I had envisioned. And out of all the hundreds of crystals inside this metaphysical bookshop, it was the one I had perhaps neglected most to educate myself about. Why? 56
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Perhaps because I had been in the company of those who saw brightness in lewd and boastful things. And it had stifled me—and in my deeper self, I had suppressed away so much that was vital and filled with feelings. Such was my experience of the Financial District. It had been most difficult to remain my true self amidst so much comedy. I’d remembered reading a bit from Carl Jung where he spoke of things that almost broke him. So I sank into a kind of functioning stupor; my journal always at hand, I noted the savage misery and my disapproval of it all. And very sad did it make me now. For each day had been a lonely journey, tallying many exhaustive years that seemed destined to forever stretch out ahead. I had not been living my life full-measure, with an overflowing abundance of cheer that was my nature, and the flowing energy of the nature of my home along the upper Mississippi River. I did the complete opposite. I shut down. I closed my blinds on the brightest and most uplifting of days; I shuttered myself against all that I had once been. Not embracing the day-to-day nastiness around me, but closing off to the beauty of naturalness, which was so indicative of the nature of the universe in its simple ways. I was like a vagrant who, on the hottest summer’s day, wrapped himself in his bundles; not because he was cold but so that his garments would serve as a rampart, a barrier between himself and the human race that he no longer trusted. Not able to fathom the thought that he should be touched. And so this was true of myself. I desired very little human contact beyond what was mere necessity. I suppose that the constant strain of it all, the trying to keep myself going, had been more than I’d realized. Had thtoughtly exhausted me fundamentally. And in the process, I knew it now—I’d been really broken. Upon this realization, I was displeased with myself for having allowed others to have gotten to me so much as to make me despise light and all things associated with light, and retreat into darkness. I even convinced myself unwittingly, that I preferred gloomy days. I assume because it kept fewer people about, and it was really the fewer I desired; because it was the multitude that rained on my life’s parade. Boy, how far removed are you from the easy, carefree tempo of the northern Mississippi River and life there, I thought to myself, rather shamefully. But now, through this awareness, it was all coming full circle. And I felt like one in a fairy tale who had lived an entire lifetime in a single night, where he now had seen all the mistakes of where he had gone wrong. And was now waking, in a cold sweat—understanding it had all been but a dream, a nightmare: now he could do it all over again and this time do it right. Without realizing this, though, the space of about thirty minutes had passed since the invisible light energy had stood me up. I supposed I had walked about so consumed in thought, revisiting how I had come to such a state of gracelessness, as I saw it, touching various crystals up and MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 12
down the long counter on this journey, that time had become irrelevant. Now I stood right in front of the orange calcite. It was known as an energizing and revitalizing stone; tapping into one’s creative reservoir: as it balanced the emotions, removed fear, and overcame depression, dissolving the issues that impeded you from reaching your highest potentiality, as it summoned your inner-child. And I recalled now, how I had once been a very creative child, who was very inspired to levels of bliss by just the days themselves—and I had let it, to a certain degree, be taken away from me by the callousness of unfeeling others. That angered me! Now I had a sword and shield. I stood at the precipice of change. I sensed it. And this feeling was one I had not known for some time. Reaching into the boxes among them (there were two boxes, to be exact), one was polished stones, the other rough-cut. I let my hand drift back and forth between the two as if I was dowsing. So with closed eyes, and trying to breathe as calmly as I could, envisioning all those bright sunny days along the mystical, ancient upper Mississippi River, and the contentment that its tempo had always brought me, I lifted out a rough cut piece of that brightly colored orange calcite that was colored perfectly orange by nature just as it should have been, and the one whose energy linked with mine. I then opened my eyes and unfurled my hand like a child excited to know and to see. And there it was, in my anxious palm, flickering like a little beacon of hope. That stone that my deeper self already knew, and had formed a bond. And there, in that instance, there seemed a releasing of all that negative energy and tension that I had existed with for so long. Being somehow assimilated into the brightly colored stone, and now restoring me: resembling a perfect little slice of orange, glistening in the palm of my hand. Now I could but see myself as the better for having overcome. What now in hindsight had been but a small adversity. That would never hold any lasting effects over me, had it might’ve, if I’d walked away. This overcoming would make the days along the shores of that great and ancient crevasse, seem so very long, truly indeed, and the nights under the gazebos so very precious and tender. When I would some day return to the shores of those crying waters, for good.
T. Boughnou was drawn to the writers and thinkers of the ninetieth and early twentieth centuries. After years of a dedicated reading and writing regimen and journal-keeping of his thoughts and observations of his daily routines and personal travels, he began to write. He lives in the greater Boston, Massachusetts area, where he works as a wellness specialist. 58
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How To Be a Character in My Book by Martin Ott Meet me in the shade of the moon at that outdoor café you met that perfect stranger who turned into a cartoon. Discuss the missing sock for hours but as a metaphor for never finding love. Practice terrifying soliloquies in the reflection of the blank TV. Make mistakes and leave behind a missing twin, missing toe, missing hymn. Cry during office parties and bring your soul just a bit closer to the cigarette end. Believe in anything and rush headlong at the ice cream truck and perfect ass, the bitching ride and dope mansion. Don’t forget the guilt and the rope that can be used to tangle, tighten, or pull you up to safety. Call me when I am close because I need you more than what words will convey.
Martin Ott’s most recent book is Spectrum, C&R Press, 2016. He is the author of seven books and won the De Novo and Sandeen prizes for his first two poetry collections. His work has appeared in more than two hundred magazines and a dozen anthologies. MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 12
Hearing Paws by Mark Taksa “No dogs in the cemetery.” Dogs do not read. I note the sign as a joke, then think of the people behind the gate; their bones wore flesh I diet to lose; late to work, they rummaged refrigerators for leftover lunch to add to dog food, and chased their pets off the couch and into the yard, and made an emergency visit at the market, after frisky teeth shred steak on a kitchen table and guests were almost at the door. Bones are lonely in a cemetery. The dead suffer enough by being dead. They cannot dog walk away the weight of restaurant wrongs. Their eyes are lost for the sun, ears for dawn birds. Clawing couches and chewing shoes, dogs gave these bones conversations filling fearful quiet. I wish them the pleasure of hearing paws rip the grass over their heads.
Mark Taksa’s poems are appearing in Common Ground, Big Muddy, and Main Street Rag. He is the author of ten chapbooks. The Invention of Love (March Street Press), Love Among The Antiquarians (Pudding House), and The Torah At The End Of The Train (first place in the 2009 Poetica Magazine chapbook contest) are the most recent. 60
MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 12
Mount Hope is produced by the Creative Writing Program at Roger Williams University, Bristol, RI