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Vol. 1 Issue 3 New York London Hong Kong Philippines

STUBBORN TONGUES Justin Price

The Agent of Light

Belle Ling

page 06

page 28

page 08

Prose

Marie Hyld

Poetry


New Reader Magazine September 2018 | Vol. 1 Issue 3 COVER IMAGE

By Kring Demetrio CREATIVE STAFF Lead Editor : Managing Editor : Layout Artist : Publicist : Researcher :

Dominique Dela Paz Janette Tolentino Iain Yu Kota Yamada Roseilyn Herrera

FEATURE WRITERS

Celina Paredes , Jazzie Maye, Neil Gabriel Nanta, Rio Bianca Lim, Sarah Ann Eroy, Tiffany Joyce CONTRIBUTORS

Aaron Buchanan, Adam Breckenridge, Andrew Kozma, Angélique Jamail, Belle Ling, Cynthia Blank, Donald Illich, Erik Joseph Moyer, George Salis, Hyten Davidson, Idan Cohen, Jeremy Nathan Marks, Jesse Kemmerer, Jessica Sticklor, José Sotolongo, Justin Hamm, Justin Price, Kaia Ball, Lawdenmarc Decamora, Lucy Marcus, Margaret Shafer, Mark Mayes, Nicole Porcello, Rachel Rodman, Rekha Valliappan Steve Klepetar, Tawni Waters, Thomas Elson MARKETING AND ADVERTISING

Laurence Anthony laurence.anthony@newreadermagazine.com

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EDITOR’S NOTE

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mmigrants occupy a strange space between two cultures. Salman Rushdie said in his essay “Imaginary Homelands,” “Sometimes we feel we straddle two cultures; at other times, that we fall between two stools.” Many authors writing in diasporas talk about a kind of homelessness. Jhumpa Lahiri’s Gogol Ganguli in The Namesake struggles, like many second-generation immigrants, with this identity. “Teleologically speaking, ABCDs are unable to answer the question ‘Where are you from?’” the sociologist on the panel declares. Gogol has never heard the term ABCD. He eventually gathers that it stands for “American-born confused deshi.” In other words, him. . . . He knows that deshi, a generic word for “countryman,” means “Indian,” knows that his parents and all their friends always refer to India simply as desh. But Gogol never thinks of India as desh. He thinks of it as Americans do, as India. In this third issue of NRM, we pay tribute to the stubborn tongues of our homelands—the words, stories, and tastes that pursue us past border walls, whether they are actual border walls or walls built in the mind. In the Philippines we meet a community of young storytellers and filmmakers struggling to keep a language alive. In Atlanta, a group of writers and performers create their own cultures and their own myths. From Australia and Alaska, we asked Belle Ling and Justin Price about what inspires their work and spoke to Danish artist Marie Hyld about intimacy and loneliness in the age of the app. From New York, multimedia artist Cacia Zoo told us about coming to America expecting to be American and becoming Asian instead. As usual in this issue you will find fine prose and poetry from brave, talented writers all over the world, without whom this issue would not be possible.


Contents Feature

Short Story

06 Artist Profile: Justin Price

42 Man of the House

08 Artist Profile: Belle Ling 12 Artist Profile: Cacia Zoo 16 Artist Profile: Ara Chawdhury CELINA PAREDES AND NEIL NANTA

20 What are you looking at? Binisaya film culture

JAZZIE MAYE AND RIO LIM

24 The Rules of Write Club:

A Conversation with Myke Johns about Write Club Atlanta

28 The Agent of Light

Photographer Marie Hyld Dares Unguarded Exposure to Constructed Vulnerability

JANETTE TOLENTINO

New Reader Media 38 The Three Rights in Turning Novels to Screenplay JANETTE TOLENTINO

160 To-Read List NRM takes on the challenge of bookmarking emerging voices in the indie publishing world, presented in random order. Writer’s Corner

AARON BUCHANAN

62 Her External Heart GEORGE SALIS

66 The West Virginian Starfish HYTEN DAVIDSON

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74 Open Heart Mike Night

(an excerpt from a longer tale)

IDAN COHEN

86 Livin’ Easy JESSE KEMMERER

94 The View Inside JOSÉ SOTOLONGO

104 Save Big Jay JUSTIN W. PRICE

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114 Flowers KAIA BALL

118 Workshop of a Rape Story LUCY MARCUS

122 Silver Stains NICOLE PORCELLO

134 Love in the Time of The Far End of Falling

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REKHA VALLIAPPAN

Writer’s Corner

144 Slim’s Special Girl

162 Events, Conferences, and Awards

152 More Yesterdays

TAWNI WATERS

THOMAS ELSON

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82 Poetry

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49 As He Had No Issue the Title Became Extinct On His Death Rondo Hatton, the Ugliest Man in Pictures ANDREW KOZMA

58 Bowl Bagpipes A Monk and His Tofu BELLE LING

71 Impact Lullaby Eyes to the Sea CYNTHIA BLANK

80 Ghost Factory Ears Forest, City DONALD ILLICH

92 Watching Episodes of Chopped Junior Before Di Fara’s ERIK JOSEPH MOYER

134 Flash Fiction / Essay / Humor 108 Instructions on Being a Feminist Discourse on the Reincarnation of Jack Reed Ode to Ragnor Lothbrok JESSICA STICKLOR

53 A Human in Parts ADAM BRECKENRIDGE

54 Thoughts and Slayers:

What We Do About Grendel, Our Oldest and Most Persistent Villain

ANGÉLIQUE JAMAIL

121 The Pilgrimage JUSTIN HAMM

128 UFO spotted non compos mentis in Pishoomland Heartbeat I, from the etcetera farm LAWDENMARC DECAMORA

140 Moses Resist the Pillow

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MARGARET SHAFER

148 What’s the Matter? Catseye MARK MAYES

150 Three Recipes RACHEL RODMAN

99 Postgraduate blues Brown Recluse Northern Seasons The Boss JEREMY NATHAN MARKS

156 Prism The Starving Time Certainty STEVE KLEPETAR

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Prose

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ustin W. Price is one writer to keep an eye on. We first met him when he sent in Fort Building, which you can find in our first issue. Justin released a poetry collection, Digging to China, with Sweatshoppe Publications in 2013, and he was nominated for the Gover Prize for short fiction in 2014. His work has appeared in Best New Writing (2014 edition) and in many publications. He’s just finished a novel and is currently working on a collection of short stories. We have had the pleasure of publishing one of his short stories, Save Big Jay, in this, our third issue. It’s hard to not lay on the sap with a story like Save Big Jay, which is a tribute to a friend of Justin’s and at its core is a story about capital-letter words like Mortality and Friendship, but Justin never slips into mawkishness. He keeps the prose tight and ends it with a bang. We caught up with Justin to ask him about Save Big Jay. What (and what doesn’t) inspire his writing? NRM: Tell us about Save Big Jay. What inspired it? What was happening in your life when you wrote this story? Justin Price: Save Big Jay tells the story of two long-time friends spending the day together. One friend (Jay) is in the end stages of cystic fibrosis, and the narrator and Jay know it’s the last time they are going to see each other. Despite the heavy subject matter, it runs the gamut of emotions. There’s definitely humor and anger and sadness and everything in between. The story was inspired by a friend of mine who passed away earlier this year. I was living a thousand miles away, so I wasn’t there when the end came, but we were keeping in touch through Facebook Messenger and texting, even up until about twenty-four hours before he passed. A lot of the details were true, such as how we met and some of the things Jay said. Other things

were pieced together from stories and anecdotes that his friends told upon his passing. Out of respect for the dead, the only thing I changed about the ending were the names. I wrote the story about a week after he died. I wrote it in one session at a bar in Juneau called The Rendezvous. I did a couple of small tweaks and a small rewrite but otherwise submitted it as is, which I never do because I’m a total perfectionist when it comes to my writing. NRM: Tell us about the novel you just completed. When can we read it? JP: The working title of the novel is What Happens When You Don’t Know Anything. I started it back in 2006 and finally finished it late last year. It needs another run through and edit before it’s ready. I don’t know when it’s going to be released. I’m still trying to figure out how I would like to go about publishing it. (I’m vehemently anti self publishing, due to the fact that many self-published authors don’t take the time and money to make sure a book is properly edited and beta read. If a publisher doesn’t want it, it’s probably not good enough for mass publication. I know that will ruffle some feathers, but I’m not afraid to do that.) [A note from the editor: New Reader Magazine is endlessly inspired by zines and DIY publishing, and we’re always discovering great writers who decide to go the indie route, so some feathers were indeed a little bit ruffled at headquarters. But it’s all good. Agree to disagree!] The novel was inspired by my time living in Las Vegas, Nevada in the early 2000s. It started out as a semiautobiographical novel but then it went in a totally different direction. It basically tells the story of an aspiring poker professional named Carney Evans who’s goal in life is to win the

world series of poker. The story opens with him sitting in a hole in the desert with a shot gun under his chin and then recounts how he got into that position. It’s one of those novels where you root against the protagonist and where you enjoy watching his life crumble around him. Fans of noir, literary fiction, and transgressional fiction should enjoy it. NRM: Name a book you didn’t finish reading and tell us why. JP: Tropic of Cancer. I like to read the classics. I think you can learn a lot from them as a writer. But I couldn’t even make it six pages into that one. I’m not a prude and I don’t even mind erotic literature, but this one seemed over the top and forced. I don’t like anything that is shocking just for simple shock value. I set it down and haven’t even picked it up again. Another was Beautiful You by Chuck Pahlaniuk. I love Pahlaniuk but I hated that book. Couldn’t even get into it. It felt like he phoned it in. NRM: What non-“important” piece of culture could you not live without? JP: I love The Office. Does that count? My wife and I binge watch the series and have probably completed it a dozen times and it never gets old. We know every line and even use many in our day-to-day. Also, the band Toto. I just love them to death, even though most of my musical tastes run to the heavier side of things. NRM: What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten? JP: You know, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten any bad writing advice. But I would say, if I was to get some, it would be something along the lines of write for money and don’t write what you know. And always, always listen to everything that beta readers say.

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Poetry

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his month’s featured poet is Belle Ling, a poet whose writing evokes both the world of the spirit and the world of the senses. Currently studying her PhD in Creative Writing (Poetry) at The University of Queensland, Australia, Ling tells us about her work and what inspires it; her dissertation on Neruda and food odes; and how poetry continues to surprise her. Belle Ling’s poems have appeared in literary journals all over the world, like Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Barnwood International Poetry Magazine, Overland, Meanjin, Taj Mahal Review, The Istanbul Review and more. Her poetry collection, A Seed and a Plant was shortlisted for The Hong Kong University International Poetry Prize in 2010. The HKU International Poetry Prize is a prestigious award open to poets worldwide. Belle Ling’s poem, “That Space,” won second place in the ESL category of the International Poetry Competition, organized by the Oxford Brookes University in October 2016. She was the recipient of the Playa Residency, Oregon, in 2014. She was awarded a Merit Scholarship at the New York State Summer Writers Institute in 2017. These days she’s working on her dissertation on the relationship between food and poetry by looking at Pablo Neruda’s food odes. NRM got to talk to this poet and academic about her work and what inspires it. NRM: You have three pieces in this quarter’s issue, “Bowl,” “Bagpipes,” and “A Monk and His Tofu.” Can you tell us what inspired each piece? Belle Ling: I am always interested in the symbiosis of the ordinary and the extraordinary when I look at the everyday life. I like reflecting upon something that may mean nothing to many people but to which I have deep attachments, such as miso soup, tofu, the eggs on a breakfast plate, a knot of lights on my desk. They attune me

to the phenomenality — the resonance given by a phenomenon — in which I am embedded, despite it being too diffusive to be pinned down. This is the basic stimulus to my three poems, “Bowl,” “Bagpipes,” and “A Monk and His Tofu.” “Bowl” is a very self-reflective poem. It was originally a simple poem describing the appearance of a bowl — how it protruded on one end and how its bottom was scorched. The more I wrote, the more I was dissatisfied with the straightforward portrait of the bowl. I asked myself, what is the bowl leading me to? It immediately led me to its liquidity, for it was originally clay being kneaded, coiled, and moulded into a shape of bowl. The idea of “shaping” made me shiver. It seemed that when writing the poem I was being shaped by the bowl, and not that I was the poet imposing my will on the bowl. The bowl, as an active performer, was felt very mysterious to me. It acquired a shamanist voice, which was like hypnotizing me to think this and that. I was thrust into a “what-if” dreamscape: what if the bowl was not actually what it appeared? What if the bowl was something that my mind could never fully grasp? The doubt cast me over to a deeper meditation upon being and existence. The act of thinking was unavoidable. However, every time when I think about what I am thinking of, the major subject that sets off the train of thinking is put into metamorphosis. And this is the tenor of my poem. “Bagpipes” explores how the ceremonial evokes the surreal. I am very entranced by the bagpipe music, which is very steady, loud, and concentrative. One year, on the St. Patrick Day, I saw the bagpipe parade in the plaza at the city of Brisbane, the solemn quality of the bagpipe music shut me off from the surroundings, and all the things around me, such as sunshine, laughter, winds, trees, pedestrians, seemed to be floating as if they were unreal. I felt like being sucked

into a transcendent zone where the mundane receded to the background, and the more serious issues regarding life and death came to the foreground. It might also have to do with my impression of the bagpipe music being performed in funerals. That is why in the poem religious colorings, tainted by Saint Patrick, church, prophets, souls, play a role. They helped establishing a mystical space on the one hand; and on the other, they spurred me to dig into the issue of life and death. It is not an easy topic, and I have no intention to be didactic. In that deep thinking moment, I felt very fragile. It seemed that the bagpipes reminded me of the inevitability of death and loss. Yet, the bright sun in that afternoon appeared murmuring to me, “a new strength is always here.” Still bewildered, that murmuring voice was like something very far away — frozen, cracked, dreamt. A Monk and His Tofu is inspired by the lush silence of tofu. I love the simplicity and the rich symbolic potentials of tofu. In Chinese culture, tofu can be cooked in multifarious ways, while at the same time it can just be eaten raw without any seasonings. To me, tofu symbolizes emptiness and abundance. The double meaning led me to a Buddhist monk’s practice of emptying the self. I was thinking: how does a monk pursue emptiness while keeping himself in a desireless state? What is the monk thinking in his struggle between pursuing and not pursuing, desiring and not desiring? Is there a struggle? How does he manage his emotions without letting them affect himself? And I thought: the ways a monk prepares a tofu may leave some traces on how he deals with his selfemptying practice. Tofu appears as a form, but it is also formless because of its flexible changeability — just as the monk negotiating between holding onto the form of the world and letting go of anything that ties him to any apparent forms of being.

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NRM: Tell us about the dissertation you’re working on—about Pablo Neruda and his food odes. What do you think is the relationship between food and poetry? Does food feature in your poetry a lot? BL: I remember I was introduced to Pablo Neruda’s poetry by reading his “Ode to the Lemon” in the poetry class of Judith Beveridge when I studied my Master in Creative Writing at the University of Sydney. I was amazed by Neruda’s poetic language in portraying the lemon’s dripping and its liquid dynamics between the macroscopic and the microscopic. He writes: the knives cut “a small cathedral” in the lemon, and “the hidden apse / opened acid windows / to the light,” with the lemon drops pouring out “the topazes, / the altars, / the cool architecture.” Food is not simply the commonplace, and it also should not be just limited to cultural discussion. It can be rich resources for poetic insights. Neruda published four volumes of Elemental Odes between 1954 and 1959, when he returned to Chile after his political exile. My dissertation focuses on Neruda’s food odes, for instance, “Ode to the Apple,” “Ode to the Artichoke,” “Ode to the Salt,” “Ode to the Tomato,” “Ode to the Onion,” and more, to see how food is not an inert object but a very unique layer of sensuousness in our everyday life. I discuss how Neruda uses the odic poetic conventions of apostrophe, anthropomorphism, and prosopopoeia to establish an intimacy with food. I also make use of Gilles Deleuze’s idea of the transcendental to examine how the poetic language of Neruda’s food odes transforms the food into a kinetic agglomerate of intensities. My dissertation, as an accompaniment to my poetry manuscript, also looks at how my poetry writing process can be understood as a dialogue with Neruda’s food odes. Food and poetry can be related in a very interesting way by using a phenomenological approach — how does our experience

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of food, including the taste, the cooking, the rituals, the preparation, the socialization involved, the consumption, influence our pre-conceptual sensuous attunement to things. Michel Delville, in Food, Poetry, and the Aesthetics of Consumption: Eating the Avant-garde, says, “one of the most interesting aspects of gastroaesthetic analysis is that it examines the possibilities of alternative forms of ‘sensuous’ knowledge.” I think in my poetry food is the predominant imagery, because it is a threshold which opens me up to the limitless philosophical potentials of the elemental. NRM: Who do you want to read your work? BL: I do not have a particular group of audience in mind. But I can say that I want my reader to be surprised by not just the imagery but the philosophical thoughts that I try to weave into my poems. NRM: Name a poem you think everyone should read. BL: It is really a big question. I think every poem does have its own uniqueness that deserves appreciation. But if I have to name a poem that I want people to read, that would be Pablo Neruda’s “Barcarole.” It is one of his poems from his second volume of Residence on Earth published in 1935. I like Nathaniel Tarn’s translation. You

can find it in Tarn’s edited book, Pablo Neruda: Selected Poems. It is one of Neruda’s love poems. In fact, he has written lots of wonderful love poems. “Barcarole” captures the otherwise inexpressible yearning very beautifully: “if you would blow on my heart near the sea / like a white ghost would blow, / on the lace of the spume;” “In the marine season / a shell of shadows spirals like a cry, / seabirds mistrust it and flee….” It also surprises you with many unexpected metaphors, when it describes his “heart”: “its black blood syllables would sound, / its unquenchable red waters swell;” “it would sound like death itself, / calling like a pipe full of wind and crying, / or a bottle gushing fright.” It is a kind of poem which is so refreshing that it makes me want to write more poems. NRM: What’s the most unexpected lesson you’ve learned about poetry? BL: I always need to let go of the organized plan for my flow of ideas, and let the words, the sensory impressions, and the thoughts lead me to places that I have not thought before for my poems. At the same time, I need to hold back from the overflowing gush of language which might tip my poems over to an extreme absurdity. Poetry teaches me how to be adventurous and be challenged. It has been training me to believe in the craft itself and have faith in my pursuit of the craft.


Artist Profile

Cacia Zoo

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Cacia Zoo has a lust for life. An artist who lives in NYC and works with many different mediums. She spoke to us about her views on art, sex, censorship, and what inspires her work. the work gave people things to look at, think, and feel. I’m interested in creating the work right now. Let’s come back to this question forty years later and you tell me how you see my art. I’d love to hear that. I’m very thankful to have built many creative relationships with various subjects. They trust me and I don’t take that for granted.

NRM: How do you define yourself as an artist? You wear a number of hats— you’re a model, a videographer, a director, a photographer... but what is your favorite medium to work with? Cacia Zoo: I know I can be a maniac. I so want to do the best I can with everything I love, and I love art, creativity, and expression. There is not one moment that goes by that I don’t think about art and ideas. I also am just too stubborn to choose and too fickle to settle on one medium. I have to always be doing and making. I never want to restrict myself to one field, so I need to also work three times as hard to get anything done. As long as everything I do is creativity related, my practices and skill all compensate and enhance one another. My dance background helps me be a good model, for I can always project myself from a photographer’s angle. My photographer’s composition mindset helps me see how I want to move from one scene to the next in video. Painting helps me actualize concept and see bigger pictures. Music moves me, transcends my mind and

paints a story—non-lyrical music, that is. At any time of the day, I’m always developing ideas. I will say I increasingly love video as a medium, compared to photography, which it is a still image that can be interpreted in million ways. Video also incorporates a process, a timeline, a beginning, middle, and end, a story also with sound and audio. I think video is the closest medium of art that can [really convey my ideas]. . . if not completely, it’s close to that. Still images sometimes need words to compensate to the image and its meaning; in video I can put all my emotion, intention, and creativity [into them]. NRM: And how do you define your art? How do you choose your subjects as a photographer/ videographer? What themes keep coming back to you, and what inspires you the most? CZ: “Liberated 21st century feminist.” Haha. No, I try not to define my art. I’m not done yet. Do you think Picasso or Jean-Basquiat ever tried to explain their art? They created the work, and

NRM: There’s a lot of body freedom in your art—maybe even a measure of exhibitionism—though it doesn’t really feel like it’s trying to be vulgar or overly sexual. It feels more mischievous or childlike, like you don’t care where your body goes or what it looks like, because you’re moving and creating and loving yourself for the joy of it. Some people would call it sex positive or body positive. What does sex positivity mean to you? Why do you make the art you make? CZ: I don’t call myself “sex positive,” actually. I discovered that term much later when someone referred to me as a sex positive feminist artist, and I was like, cool. Sex positive, body positive. . .isn’t it strange we need to add the word “positive”? We add “positive” because [sex and bodies] are usually not shown in a good light. And that is what I hope to change. Sex is good. Body is good. There’s no need to feel shame in expressing our natural self. Even in private, with friends, I’m always outspoken about my sexuality, sex life, experiences, and fantasies. I talk about sex like I talk about food, really. There are the dishes I really love and there are dishes I’ll drool over, and there are dishes I’d love to try. We can all benefit from talking more openly about

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Artist Profile

sex. More than just thinking, talking also helps [things] manifest, I think. I like to get my turn-ons from conversation than pictures. [You use your] imagination [more]. I think that is what “sex positive” means: No shame and no apology in exploring and understanding your own sexuality, either through yourself or with partners. Free free free. Just be safe and don’t hurt anyone—not without consent, of course. I think it’s ironic, actually, that we call nude people “exhibitionist.” Nude is really just pure body. Exhibition is that you have to show something, right? How come we don’t call Met Gala peeps exhibitionist? There are red carpets, everyone attending it is in dramatic makeup, fancy gowns, diamonds, and jewelry, and it’s held at the Metropolitan museum. Isn’t that more the definition of “exhibition”? Naked is just naked, pure skin and natural form. I have a body, you have a body. There is so much more we can relate to each other than about what brand, what gown, what dress, or what pair of shoes or what accessories I have on. I think it’s ironic we call people who love being nude “exhibitionist.” Words

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and their meaning can be distorted out of context by people in different times. If you think about it, when we destroy something made by man, we call it “vandalism,” but when we destroy nature, we call it progress? I think nude people are the most beautiful. Nude people are hippies. They’re usually the most pure and honest kids in the wild. Nothing to hide and arms wide open. They’re the pure humans. NRM: In one of your videos, you said you came to America expecting to become American, but instead became “Asian.” I feel like a lot of people who come to America feel the same. Do you ever feel limited in your expression by these stereotypes? Do you ever feel a pressure to represent Taiwanese people or artists in America, even just as an example of a Taiwanese person who isn’t “typically” Taiwanese? What does representation mean to you? CZ: I don’t feel limited in my expression as I don’t edit myself for the convenience of others. I much prefer to be liked in my truest form than something else. With that being said, I do hate certain

stereotypes that come with being Asian in America. Nerd, boring, good at math, know kung fu… Years ago, when I was waiting for a bus, someone’s wallet was being snatched and everyone turned to look at me like I’m supposed to whip out some moves or what? Haha. If anything, I think breaking stereotype is my drive. I want to break all of them. I’m proud of where I’m from, Taiwan. I won’t kill anyone in the name of Taiwan though. I don’t know if I’m fit to be a Taiwanese representation; I always feel genuinely different from everyone when I was there. That’s why NY attracted me. I feel like the most interesting weirdos on earth are all here. In my ideal world, there will be no stereotype based on nationality, skin color, or gender. Those separations are very much about politics. It’s how America has categorized people for the convenience of government profiling people for centuries. If we do see people in categorized checkboxes, like the ones they’d have at custom border or in immigration bureau: black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, others.... then the government wins. They have divided us into boxes that


Multimedia

they can analyze and continue their prejudice and biases. Those boxes are too simple. Humanity is much, much richer and more complex than that. I want to perhaps represent the change, beyond Asian, beyond nationality, beyond skin colors. I’m ready for a future that’s more culture integrated, more mixed, more open space instead of these prudish, rigidly confined categories. NRM: You sent us a video, “Packing Lots of Love to March for Our Lives,” where you bedazzle a dildo/cover it in glitter, protesting violence in the media and censorship of bodies and sex. Why do you think we’re so offended by sex and bodies and yet so jaded when it comes to depictions of violence? CZ: Because this is a man’s world. This world is run by power, money and control. Guns chased Native Americans to almost extinction. Organized gangs built America in some ways.

Sex and body, “virgin VS whore” syndrome originated from religious shackles. Earliest settlement from the Mayflower boat, they were mostly protestants, and Protestantism was [started] by Henry VIII breaking away from catholic because he want to get divorce so he can re-marry and break the holy ceremony. Women were reduced once upon a time to just being baby-making machines. They were not free, not in their behavior, manner, nor were they educated. Men want to control women... so any society, all society there are virtues that grounds

women’s behavior, that forces them to obey. Every woman is either a virgin or whore, wife material or sex kitten. Fast forward to now, you can still hurt some women by calling them whores. Not me. I want to change that. The only way I can do it is by being the example. Being that 21st century badass free woman that I truly am. I love whores! I love women who don’t care to live up to the normal stands. I love women who are unapologetically bold and independent. I surround myself with these women and I am here for them. We support each other. It’s fabulously powerful.

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Artist Profile

An interview with Ara Chawdhury: from birthing, art and DIY filmmaking CELINA PAREDES AND NEIL NANTA

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Film

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ulti-awarded young filmmaker Ara Chawdhury (Young Critics Circle, Cinema One Originals Film Festival, and Sinulog Short Film Festival awardee) is always eager to reinvent herself. She let us into her home to talk about her upcoming projects, the current condition of Cebu’s art scene, and her future plans and move to Manila. Since the success of Miss Bulalacao (2015), which won multiple awards including Philippine Best First Feature in 2016, she has directed even more films, and has an ongoing project, Deus X Makina. Ara’s partner, Christian Linaban, the writer and director of Superpsychocebu (2016) created the film from their own respective pockets, giving them all the rights for their film. As a result, the stoner comedy film has been shown in guerilla screenings in bars and other private venues in the Philippines. The water birth of her first son, Malaya (Tagalog for “freedom”), she says, inspires her. “If it wasn’t for that pregnancy, or that empowering experience, I would not be a director.” Ara laughs as she recalls her first feature length. She uses the things around her as film material. She says, “I always knew that what I really wanted out of filmmaking was to tell stories.” As we interview her, her two little boys are around the house, eating donuts. Sitting on the couch, Ara opens up about her latest passions: NRM: We’ve read through your previous interviews that you did waterbirth. Ara Chawdhury: Malaya, but Raja no. The time that I had Malaya, naa na’y home birth ban [a ban had already been placed on home births]. Apparently, Biliran started the home birth ban and it spread to the whole country. My mom was working for the hospital, and for her own child to go against what they tried to institute...it was a big no-no for their community. So I was not allowed to have a home birth.

Photos by Jon Uson

NRM: But if given the chance, you would have had it homebirth, too? AC: Oh yeah. Para nako ang waterbirth, na homebirth pa jud mura ka’g ga spa. [For me, a water birth that’s a home birth as well is like being in a spa.] (Laughs.) In terms of birthing experience, it was very spiritual, it was very empowering. After giving birth to Malaya, I felt like I could do anything. NRM: What’s it like working for Cinema One? AC: Cinema One is essentially making content for their own channel, they show movies [on their] cable channel. They’re commissioning filmmakers who win the grant to make movies for them. That’s how they make decisions. And if your film is successful enough to get distributed, nya maka national theatre siya, naa ka’y income [and if

the film makes it to national theaters, you have an income]during the time that it’s in distribution. After five years, balik na sha sa channel [it goes back on the channel]. Mura’g [Like], it’s a great opportunity to get your name out there, to really come up with stories where your content is worth watching and pushes artistic limitations. NRM: What is your philosophy on DIY Filmmaking? AC: Personally, what’s really important to me is pre-prod time. Time element is dependent also on your collaborators. If you’re working with professional actors who are not from here who also have other projects to do while they keep flying in, it would not make sense to make a film where you shoot on weekends. But for example with the project that I’m doing, Deus X Makina

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I’m at 110 scenes right now. A hundred and ten scenes divided by ten days means that you shoot ten scenes per day. That’s crazy. So either I edit the script and take out something huge to fit the production schedule, or I push for a bigger project so we have more time. It really depends on a per project basis. NRM: What is your philosophy on production? AC: With production in general, what’s important is what you capture within the frame. It is the thing that remains. You can edit the workflow according to what can make the best output. NRM: Tell us about your upcoming project. AC: Deus X Makina is a love-hate story between a graffiti artist and a graphic designer. It’s art versus design, based on Cebu. I thought that it’s an interesting juxtaposition considering na [that] creatives are struggling in Cebu. We don’t really have jobs for creatives. It’s funny that I didn’t know for a very long time what the difference was between art and design. Then when I was writing the script, I found out that, “Ah dakoa diay sa difference between art and design.” [“Oh, wow, there’s a huge difference between art and design.”] NRM: How did you find out? AC: Reading lang [Just reading]. Reading and reading and reading and reading. Later, as I was writing the script, I started interviewing people, asking them about their experiences in the design world—and art. I worked primarily with artists because of film, and because I used to be a nude model. I used to pose for Ben Cab [Filipino painter and 2006 National Artist of the Philippines for Visual Arts]. NRM: Interesting. AC: Yes, I wouldn’t mind posing for artists, cause when they look at you,

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they’re not looking at you as a sexual object, but as a model. Also, because I was a frustrated artist when I was younger. NRM: How long ago? AC: [I was] nine years old. So I’m familiar with artists, I’m familiar with the process. I see a lot of similarities with “art for art’s sake” and what we do in the indie film scene na [in that] when we make something, it’s for the sake of the story. Ing-ana sad sa art. [That’s how it is in art, too.] It’s really expression. It’s shit. It’s excrement. NRM: Is design more susceptible to criticism than art? AC: In terms of susceptibility to criticism, everything is susceptible to criticism. But with design, it’s manageable. If it hits its mark, you will see how people respond to it, not just in terms of criticism (by that I mean academic criticism). With design, if it works, customers buy, right? With art, that’s when it’s really dependent on academic criticism. NRM: What are your plans? AC: I might be moving to Manila soon. I’m just waiting for Deus X Makina to happen since I am shooting here. So maybe that will be my goodbye to Cebu. NRM: So when you get to Manila, will you start making Manila-based films? AC: Most probably. It depends on the story, like if it’s really Bisaya (and I have a lot of Bisaya in me), I’m gonna get out of Manila to shoot it. But if the story is based in Manila, then I’m sure my experiences are going to affect my writing. NRM: Superpsycho Cebu was such an inspiration. Think about it, it’s an indie film; you shoot at your own time. AC: That’s one of the things that I wanted to replicate kay lingaw jud kaayo ang experience sa Superpsycho Cebu

[because “Superpsycho Cebu” was a lot of fun]. Of course nag apas mi sa daylight [Of course we were worried about daylight]. Everybody had multiple jobs, so indie jud kaayo [it was very indie]. Because this was funded by our own pockets, we had a say whether we could do one more day. While it was a great experience, it was also not sustainable. A lot of work we got from that was filled with sweat equity. We owe people after making that film. NRM: What are your influences on art in general? AC: I’m an emotional artist, and art is my therapy. I look at everything. People would say na [that], “You’re like the ‘Wes Anderson of Cebu’. Cute, but that’s not why I framed and colored the film that way. You always try to reinvent yourself, things that inspire you, look into yourself and into your experiences. I am inspired by a lot of physical comedies. When I was younger, my dad limited TV time. He would choose the films that we would watch. We would watch Merrie Melodies, black-and-white films. NRM: On looking for inspirations and writing scripts. AC: A lot of what I write, a lot of what I make into film, is stuff that I observe in real life and mistakes I’ve made personally [...] or things that I laugh at. I like to watch people a lot. (Laughs.) I can’t talk to people, really.I don’t know how to make small talk with people, that would be interesting for me and for them. I think that’s why rather than talking to people, I just watch them. Trying to observe, Unsa kaha ilang lingaw [I wonder what they’re into]? Wondering what their lives are like. What do they tell their husbands when they’re about to sleep? What do they tell themselves in the mirror? I try to think about what makes people tick. While haka-haka rana tanan [It’s all speculation]. (Laughs.) I like to listen to people as well. I used to be part of a youth group, Youth for Christ.


Film

me. I don’t necessarily believe in all the things that I hear. But it’s interesting, still. That goes into the stories. NRM: Thoughts on student films? AC: If you’re a graduate, or even if you’re in high school and you got the basics down, then you can probably make a film on the weekends. I feel like a lot of students limit their capacity, na, “Ah student film ra bitaw ni” [thinking, “Ah, well, this is just a student film”]. But you also have to consider managing your expectations. Don’t pretend that your classmate is 40 years old. NRM: On mainstream films. AC: People are understanding more and more when it comes to visual cues now than they used to. The audiences are becoming smarter. So even with our films it’s starting to show. I used to say that subtlety is in the realm of indie. But it’s changing. More and more people are starting to look for subtlety in mainstream films. I met somebody who said Cebuano filmmakers don’t want to sell out. I’m like, no it’s not that we don’t want to sell out, it’s that we want to make Cebuano films. We can sell out to Cebuano audiences; we just need to collectively find out what a Cebuano mainstream film looks like. We don’t know that yet. At least not now. We’re trying to find out what it is. We don’t really have academic critics here. If mainstream films is design work, we’re trying to design for a market that has not yet been tested. So we’re not not trying to sell out, we’re trying to figure out how to sell out.

Magsturya na mga tao sa unsa ilang mga problema, unsa ilang mga spiritual warfare, mga ing-ana [People talked about their problems, their spiritual battles, things like that.]. Psychology mana [That’s psychology.]. So that goes into my script. When my classmates have problems, they come to me for

advice. That goes into my script, too. I’m sorry. (Laughs.) There was a meme somewhere, if your friends are writers—(Laughs.)—be prepared to see yourselves in their books. So mao na siya [So that’s it], I am inspired by life. By the shit that I see around me, the things that people tell

Follow Ara Chawdhury and Panumduman Pictures on Facebook @panumduman.

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Community

What

are you looking at?” Binisaya film culture

JAZZIE MAYE AND RIO LIM Photos by Novie Ann Brigoli

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H

ave you ever seen a Cebuano film? Have you ever heard of one? If you haven’t, like probably eighty percent of the world, come and join us as we take a short glimpse at a small island in the Philippines, Cebu, and its history of filmmaking. Cebu is a highly urbanized city in the Visayan region of the Philippines. In Cebu, the people are referred to as Cebuanos and the language as Cebuano or Bisaya. In Manila, the capital, the people are called Manileños and the language Tagalog, which is also the standardized national language of the Philippines. So, films produced in the capital city, Manila, are called Tagalog

films and Cebuano films for the films produced in Cebu or by Cebuanos. Tagalog films already dominated Philippine cinema even before Cebuanos started making films. However, in an archipelagic country with diverse culture and language, the centralizing of the Tagalog language and the cultural practices in Manila cannot speak entirely for the country’s multiple regional treasures and identities. In fact, what Manila nationalized was a single and incomplete representation of the entirety of the country. Cebuano films by Cebuano filmmakers and other regional artists rivaled Tagalog and Manila-based


Arts and Culture | PHILIPPINES

films in the 50s and 60s, but sadly, that beautiful piece of history in Philippine cinema was buried deep in the archives after seeing a brief but miraculous revival in the 70s. The rise of the Cebuano film industry shined a light onto other cultures and languages found in the Visayas and Mindanao regions . Cinema became a medium where they could express and reflect who they are as Cebuanos and Visayans. They began telling their own stories using their own dialect. The industry produced a number of films out of its own pockets. During both Golden Ages of Cebuano films (in the 50s and 70s), they gained recognition not only in Manila but in Europe as well. But the critical success of Cebuano films was just the tip of the iceberg. Cebuano films were intended for Cebuano audiences as they spoke directly to Cebuanos. These films gave Cebuanos a sense of pride, and for the first time they were able to see their own stories and experiences represented in films. The promotion of these films came from radio announcements and small advertisements in newspapers and magazines, yet despite the industry’s effort in promoting their films, theater attendance grew smaller due to economical-political factors, and worse, the coming of television and the VHS. Not only did the industry face the problems mentioned above, but they also faced problems in terms of film production, distribution, and exhibition. Producing films was difficult, especially with tight budgets. Cebu studios lacked filmmaking equipment, and filmmakers had to fly back and forth from Cebu to Manila as they relied heavily on Manila’s studios and facilities. They were also only able to produce one to five copies of their films and pass them from theater to theater. And even though the Cebuano film industry showed progress and success, it still lacked the support of local government and audiences, one of the factors that eventually led to its death after 70s.

Today Cebuano films produced in the past years are all but lost. It is difficult to locate them as film stocks rot in archival shelves and local governments are unable to properly preserve them. It is then fortunate that the dawning of the digital era ushered in great opportunities for Cebuano filmmakers: there is access to cheaper and more portable equipment, digital formats for easier distribution, alternative avenues for exhibition, and even easier ways to connect with other cinephiles and film professionals through the Internet. It is a great time to make movies.

Despite these technological advances, there is still much to prove and more work to be done in bringing forth a full revival of Cebuano cinema. This is where the Binisaya Film Festival comes in. Since its establishment, the festival has been set on showcasing the very best of local films while simultaneously cultivating a community that can appreciate Cebuano works and sustain local filmmaking. It all started in 2009, when a group of stressed out college friends were rushing to finish their films, all intended for a film festival in Manila. As pressure mounted in that small apartment,

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the soon-to-be festival founder Keith Deligero wondered aloud how ridiculous it seemed that their works needed to be sailed off elsewhere in order to be shown. As they committed to the idea of a group screening for friends by friends, they came to realize that it was imperative to tap on the shoulders of other creatives who shared their passion to make films but also experienced the same frustrations. And so in 2011, the Binisaya Film Festival was launched. Fast forward to 2018, Binisaya has somewhat become an indicator for the progress, challenges, and changing tastes of Cebuano cinema. The organizing partners for this year, Black Burot Collective, share all of these and more as they divulge their goals for this year and the lineup of events. “Tan-aw man ka?” which literally translates to “What are you looking at?” serves as the film fest’s guiding theme and call to action this year. Festival director, Ronnie Gamboa Jr., explains that when they pose this question they want to see if the attending crowds would react or respond, adding that there is a difference between reacting and responding. Reacting is being reflexive and acting immediately; responding is taking the time to think about the situation and acting or thinking accordingly. “In our theme, we challenge the audience to think for themselves. To answer the question about why they watch what they watch. It could be a subtle inquiry that you can answer to or a bold statement meant to be a catalyst to something bigger. This is not just us trying to make you watch our films. This is us trying to talk to you, engage with you.” Community building and audience engagement seem to be big priorities for this year. Keeping true to the statement that “there is nowhere that Binisaya cannot go,” Black Burot and their band of volunteers crusade Cebu provincial towns up north and down south, from Olango to Ronda, in a

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reprisal of the yearly film caravan now dubbed the Barrio-Barrio series. The fact that these audiences have expressed surprise at the thought of Cebuano films thriving (let alone existing) is quite eye-opening to them. “Prior to the screening we asked, ‘Are you people interested in this kind of stuff?’ And there are some people who would say, ‘Yes, because we haven’t had this kind of thing before.’ Or someone would tell us, ‘There was, but that was a long time ago.’” Gamboa goes on to say that they have been welcomed wherever they’ve pitched their projector, and local government units have taken measures to support their efforts by providing venues, sound systems and chairs, even some extra promotion. They have made an effort to tailor the films screened with the culture of the community. For example, in Olango, they screened the award-winning film “Katapusang Labok” by Aiess Alonso, which featured the life of a fishing village very much like Olango’s own. Curating with this line of thought instills in provincial audiences that “simple stories about simple people can actually be made into a movie and people can actually enjoy it,” Alonso adds.

Within Metropolitan Cebu, screenings abound. Jom Ouano, PR and Head of Promotions, shares a story of how he had spoken to various people and came to the conclusion that most of them were still in the dark about Binisaya. He realized that there was more promotion to be done. So for the months of August and September, there will be screenings all throughout the city. Dull Monday evenings? ASPACE Cebu hosts screenings for the AdlawAdlaw series, a feature-length project made up of seven short films from the most promising new directors. Lonely and feeling boozy? There’s Tuesday Midnight screenings at Kukuk’s Nest. Want to take your mind off that damn proposal group project? There are outdoor screenings at the Grid every Wednesday. Need a break from burning the midnight oil? The Rizal Public Library screens films on their balcony at midnight on Thursdays. Saturday food trip? There’s Binisaya outdoor screenings at Sugbu Mercado, a weekly food market in Cebu. A peculiar feature for the pre-festival showcase is the inclusion of midnight screenings. When asked about this concept, Gamboa said he’d wanted to experiment. We had several


Arts and Culture | PHILIPPINES

opportunities to be part of the audience for these events and they were interesting, to say the least. The ones held at Kukuk’s were intimate and how we would imagine the French would view their films. Cigarette smoke swirled in front of the screen and patrons watched on, cradling their drinks. That night they screened Lunes-Lunes, a collection of different short films from several filmmakers, which tackled the theme of loneliness .The screenings at the Rizal Public Library had a great turn out and were keenly observed by studyholic students. Rizal himself would be proud. Other activities include their school tour, where they partnered with seven major universities. Along with their collection of films, there will also be notable speakers who hope to coax students to think about and ultimately support their own regional cinema. Filmmakers can also look forward to participating in competitions such as the 48-Hour Shoot Out. “It’s a competition where you’re supposed to write, shoot, edit a film in 48 hours. This happens on September 7 to 9.” These events serve only to whet the appetite leading up to the main event: the Binisaya Festival Block Party, a three-day celebration held at the newest film school in town, the Film and Media Arts International Academy (FMA). Tiffany Joyce, overall coordinator for the festival, gives us a glimpse of what can be expected. “Aside from doing film screenings, we will have musical acts and local concessionaires during the festival. We’ll have someone doing performance art. We’re also tying in with local brands to promote them. We’re trying to get as much people to be involved with the local subculture. I guess I can say that it’s not your usual film festival.” Wherein the past the festival had ran for a week, this year they will be compressing the activities to go only three days. Gamboa explained that,

“it’s an experiment on how many people we can gather. We want people to be proactive in the scene and maybe by doing this we can improve the number of people who are going to be involved.” On Day Zero, as they call it, they plan to screen films from various films schools which include the best thesis films from the University of San Carlos and FMA. Additionally, they will make an effort to pool all locally produced music videos from the past year. “It’s a showcase of what the local film scene has been doing last year. It’s like a review.” Day One of Binisaya will open with the year’s reprisal of the Adlaw-Adlaw series called “Miyerkules-Miyerkules” (Wednesday-Wednesday). The nine films for the main competition will also be screened—outside, if weather permits. Day Two will be jam-packed from morning to evening. Binisaya Shorts in Exhibition will show works from peripheral Mindanao. This section will be “locating and archiving the region in contemporary Filipino cinema” through the first films of up-and-coming and established Mindanao filmmakers. The Asian Shorts section will exhibit films from neighboring countries. This year, entries have come from India, Indonesia,

Taiwan, Nepal, China, and Malaysia. The Homecoming section is reserved for the films that are full-fledged Cebuano but have been screened elsewhere but Cebu. This distinction will go to Keith Deligero’s Babylon, which had made it to the Berlinale Short Film Competition in Germany. The closing of Binisaya will be the awarding for films in the main competition, as well as for the 48-Hour Shoot Out. By the end of it will be an after-party, which they hope will give everyone from the film community a chance to mingle and form relationships with those from other local subcultures, like the music scene and the art scene. A “win-win,” according to Ouano. There is more to be covered and things are just heating up as Binisaya heads towards its main event. Throughout the making of this article, we have truly had some unique experiences and come out realizing the ways Cebuano films have contributed to our identity as a region. It has been said that it really is a thankless endeavor, but an endeavor worth pursuing. If you have made it this far, please take this as our call to action to you. Contribute, collaborate, and challenge how you perceive your local films. Now, what are you looking at?

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The Rules of Write Club: A Conversation with Myke Johns about Write Club Atlanta

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yke Johns and Nicholas Tecosky have been running Write Club Atlanta for just a little bit over seven years. In those seven years, Write Club Atlanta has earned numerous high-fives and awards like the Readers Choice for Best Reading Series (2013, Creative Loafing Atlanta) and the award for Best Reinvention of Reading Series (2012, Creative Loafing Atlanta)—no small feat for what started out as a relatively small gathering in a city brimming with all kinds of artists and artist groups.

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If you haven’t heard about Write Club yet, where the hell have you been? Founded by overlord Ian Belknap, Write Club is “the world’s greatest competitive reading series, featuring only the most audacious and fearsome of writers and performers.” It is literature as bloodsport. The rules are this: Two writers are given seven minutes to impress a drunken, bloodthirsty crowd with words. Once sated, the audience picks a winner, and the winner gets to pick a charity to award a cut of the event’s proceeds. Loser is hung by his thumbs.

Well, okay, no, not really about the thumbs, but the point is Write Club isn’t your grandma’s poetry reading (unless you’ve got a really cool grandma). It started in Chicago and quickly spread to three major cities in the USA: Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Atlanta. In these three cities, Write Club has provided deeply repressed writers an outlet for their aggression. As a person who occasionally pretends to write things, I’m interested in creating safe spaces for drunken belligerence and occasional dissent, so I asked Myke


Arts and Culture | USA

Johnshow he and Nicholas Teckosky made it all happen. Myke wears many hats, and he’s a master multitasker. He started writing when he was a kid, then went on to study creative writing, and in his own words, “completely failed to get a job that had to do with anything like writing.” These days he’s still writing, is a producer at 90.1 WABE, has two musical projects (Mice in Cars and “dad punk” band Meaning of Everything, both on Bandcamp), and co-produces Write Club with Nicholas Tecosky. He’s also a dedicated dad and spider slayer; at one point we had to pause the interview so he could save his kid, who he was bathing during our conversation (master multitasker, remember?), from a spider in the tub. It was truly heroic and all kinds of adorable. Myke and Nick met when they were two young, disaffected dudes working at Stone Mountain Park in Georgia. At the time, Myke was a sound tech and Nick was an actor. “He wrote a bunch of the short children’s plays that they performed out there,” Myke said. “It was a really weird job in a really weird place.” A few years after they met, Ian Belknap came down to Atlanta to do a one-man show at the PushPush Theater, which both Myke and Nicholas were loosely associated with. “Ian was doing his one-man show while he was

in town, and he decided to put up this other show that he’d been sort of trying out in Chicago, called Write Club,” said Myke. “So the theater and he put out the call to writers they knew were in town, and Nick was one of them. I got the email and ignored it because I didn’t know what the show was, but I went and saw it and immediately started kicking myself for not participating in it. We were in this tiny, scuffed up basement-looking theater, and there was this angry dude from Chicago just yelling at us. Then writers would get up on stage and read these really intense pieces. Everything was timed and the angry guy from Chicago would force us to vote on a winner. It’s an hour long, and then it ends,

and it was the most intense, amazing experience that I’d come across in a theater in years. So immediately I was like okay, crap, I should have done this. Ian did a few more of those while he was in town and then because Nick had participated in like two or three of them, he turned to Nick and said, do you want to try and host this here after I go back to Chicago? Nick’s only caveat was yes, but I want to bring on a producing partner, and that was me.” And so, in June of 2011, after two months of plotting, Write Club Atlanta was born. “It was very low to the ground, very low-fi. We had a space that allowed us to do a show for the cut of the door. That was an advantage; we didn’t pay

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for the space. They just took a cut of the ticket space. So we had a cut, and it was just up to us to pull together the writers. For the first show we just pulled from the folks we know—people in the theater world in Atlanta who we knew could write.” From the beginning, Write Club was well-received by the community of writers and theater artists in Atlanta. “I feel like this is one of those things that would be easy to mythologize and just be like, Yeah, there were a hundred people there! But there were about fifty people there, which looked huge in that

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tiny event space. Because there had been a little bit of a buzz with like Ian coming down and doing a show, I think that drew a crowd. So it was a small, but incredibly enthusiastic crowd. The writers all brought their A-game.” Write Club Atlanta has been drawing in all different types of writers, performers, and audiences ever since. Myke tells me a story about one of the earlier shows: “Here in Georgia we get these crazy flash summer storms. We happened to get one that night, and I remember there was a point in the middle of the show where one of our writers, a woman named Suehyla El-Attarwas cursing god in this piece. There was a thunderclap outside and the lights in the theater dimmed. The power browned out. It was really good theater.” Memorable pieces like this one have inspired a collection pieces performed at Write Club, Tender Bloodsport, edited by Myke, Nick, and Deer Bear Wolf’s Matt DeBenedictis. (Deer Bear Wolf is a non-profit that, among other

things, provides artists with emergency assistance and musicians with grants for recording, tour assistance, merchandising, and marketing.) Tender Bloodsport features the designs of Brian Manley, and writing by playwright Topher Payne, Suehyla El-Attar, Johnny Drago, Theresa Davis, and Kate Sweeney, to name a few. The danger in many art and literary circles is that sometimes these communities turn into echo chambers, so how do they avoid this happening at Write Club? “We make concerted efforts to make sure we’re reaching outside of our bubble,” Myke answered. “For the first couple of years we were doing just the theater crowd, friends we knew, people in our extended writing community, but after a little while it started to feel a little bit stagnant. At the time Write Club was starting, there were so many other events that were popping up, and a lot of them were run by women, LGBTQ folk...so they were highlighting voices—people who didn’t look like us. We started making it a


Arts and Culture | USA

point to make it out to these readings and meet new people, and we’ve been going through that again in the last year and a half or so. Nick and I have been attending a lot of slam poetry events—there’s a big slam community in Atlanta. They are nationally published writers that participate in those. There are slam teams that compete in national events. So there are a lot of really good, really funny, really intense writers who perform really well, who we are fortunate enough to have been able to fold into our community.” Myke tells me that, “because we’re bringing in those voices, and frankly because we’ve been bringing in the voices of a lot of artists of color” Write Club Atlanta has become a strong and diverse community. “I feel like the show can really only be improved by adding those voices to the mix.” Writers in and around Atlanta have been inspired to go on and create bigger projects and their own shows from their seven minutes of Write Club. As of July 13 (and until August 4), Black Nerd has been showing at Dad’s Garage, an award-winning non-profit improv theatre company that’s been around since ’95. Myke says that John Carr, the playwright, has told him on many occasions that the show would not exist without Write Club. “A lot of what he wrote originated on the Write Club stage. He wrote it for our show; he wouldn’t have written it without our show. [He’s told me he] wouldn’t have felt brave enough to tell his own stories without Write Club there. “He’s just one example of somebody who, because of the show’s intensity and because of the audience that we bring in, found something in himself to give to the audience that he would not otherwise have given. When we first started Write Club, I started saying pretty early on that the real tragedy would be if we started this thing and nothing ever came of it. If nobody ever released a book that started as a Write Club piece. If nobody ever wrote a play

that started as a Write Club piece. That would be the real tragedy. If people wrote for the show and then just never did anything with it, that would be a big loss. And fortunately that didn’t happen. People have taken the work that thee have produced to yell at a crowd of a hundred drunks and have gone on to make it a thing in the world.”

So, say you want to produce a Write Club in your own town/city/dimension. How do you do it? “We would get you in touch with Ian Bellmap, get his blessing since he’s the founder, the overlord, the final say in what happens with his brand. But then, apart from that it’s sort of, all right, go do it. It would be up to you to find whatever producing partner that you want to bring on board, book the venue, and all that other stuff. There’s sort of a list of best practices that Ian and Tecosky and I could send to you, but. . .There’s honestly no legal entity regarding Write Club. It’s all sort of like, a loose affiliation of drunks who know each other and also occasionally write.”

Could you and a bunch of your friends just show up at a pub and call it Write Club? “You wouldn’t get into any legal trouble, although there would be an angry guy in Chicago [and a lot of his friends] who would probably be cursing at you on social media quite a bit.” Myke has some advice for aspiring writers and community builders: “Apart from the obvious one, which is just write, just write as much as you can all of the time, I can’t really stress enough the importance of being an active member of a community. “There are always two events that happen at Write Club. There’s the show, and there’s the stuff that happens at the bar after the show, and that is just as important as Write Club itself. Because that’s the culture, this community of people who have this ongoing conversation. “Every month Tecosky and I get to get up on stage and take Atlanta’s pulse. And the audience gets a bit of insight into what it is Atlanta is thinking about right now. I feel that creating that sort of space for those exchanges to happen is important. It’s important personally and politically, because you’re creating a space for people to express what’s inside of them and also rail against the things that are outside of them. The community that creates is important. It’s something that people come to rely on. People have come to rely on and trust Write Club here in Atlanta. I feel an enormous sense of responsibility to that.”

For more information about Write Club, visit WriteClubNation.com and @WRITECLUBRules or @writeclubatlanta. Check Myke John’s writing out on Medium @mykejohns and listen to him talk about stuff on WABE.org.

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Features

THE AGENT OF LIGHT Photographer Marie Hyld Dares Unguarded Exposure to Constructed Vulnerability JANETTE TOLENTINO

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Arts and Culture | DENMARK

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n the age of the screened present, the need to take photos is alive as can be. Human experiences these days are bound to end in a tangible digital representation. A photograph. It is not uncommon for people to go out of their zones, take risks even, to experience and to capture. The general inkling is not to let that fugitive moment pass by undocumented. Only a few question the rational lines. Does serial documenting dilute the realness of the experience? Do we reveal more of ourselves in candid or in the pre-arranged? 24-year old Danish photographer and truth seeker, Marie Hyld braves the natural fluidity of vulnerability inside the private walls of strangers. She engages into imitated intimacy with her willing participants from the dating app Tinder, in a project she launched this year called “Lifeconstruction.”

NRM: What’s fascinating about your work is your focus on intimacy. How did you get into that theme? Marie Hyld: Ever since I realized the strength of a camera and its ability to allow intimate spaces to unfold, I’ve always wanted to push it further and further. My parents have always been nervous on my behalf as I, since I was 14-15 years old, have thrown myself into meetings for photo shoots that weren’t always safe. But I did it anyway. I was very driven when It came to challenge my own and others prejudices and to kick my way out of the comfort zone. Regarding Lifeconstruction, I just stood one day and played around with the idea of experiencing forced intimacy with strangers from Tinder. Afterwards, I couldn’t shake off this intriguing idea, even though I also found the thought of these meetings strongly intimidating.

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My fascination towards the concept stood stronger than my fear. I seem to have a hard time getting fed up by intimacy- in fact I’ve been told that I have a rarely seen need for the amount of it. Unfortunately, I’ve found it harder and harder to receive/ experience it satisfactorily which for me is face to face, bodily warmth, eye contact etc. That intimacy is increasingly fleeting these years, and I have had a clear understanding that technology and social media are to blame for it. So besides from exposing social media as a fraudulent scene, I wanted to create awareness of how we lack this faceto-face time today and to encourage people to reach out. I could feel this subject strongly move something deep inside of me. Before, under and after the project. I could sense the fervour in my participants too.

NRM: Walk us through your process in choosing and capturing subjects. MH: What fascinates and truly moves me sticks with me. If I don’t act on this fascination right away, it plays around in my mind like a bouncing ball - poking me and telling me to grab it and give it a throw. What I choose as my subjects has usually been intriguing me for a while. It has been like an unstoppable itch that I finally decide to act on. To scratch - to photograph. All of my subjects has always been an outplayed part of what’s inside me. I’ve had subjects such as siblings’ relations - which touches me deeply on a personal level as I have a unique and heartfelt relationship to my brother. This subject about social media and intimacy erupts from my interaction with the social media-playground for many years now. But also, from the fact that, I have become more sceptical of social as I have grown older. Besides that, I’ve always felt a fascination towards intimate bonds between people. NRM: How long did it take for you to finally do it? To just throw the dice and be brave. MH: It didn’t take me long as I was very driven. It took me about two weeks talking it through with the people close to me. By the time I felt that it no longer did me any good talking about it, I acted. I then reconstructed my Tinder profile to the particular project, had my first match and, two days later, knocked at my match’s door with a galloping pulse and superficial breathing. I remember feeling strangely alive.


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NRM: How did you go about selecting your collaborators for the Tinder project? Were you looking for certain set of qualities? Did you have some kind of method or was it all done randomly, after swiping right? MH: I haven’t really given it any thought until now, but I did look for some set of qualities when swiping the participants of Lifeconstruction. The qualities were widely different due to me not having a finally structured picture in my head of who I wanted to be a part of my project. I just alternately got drawn by the ones I matched on Tinder as I imagined them as the next link in the chain, as a part of the big picture and our scenario for the shoot. I always had a very clear picture in my head of me and the participants together when matching them on Tinder - though the most appealing scenario from our meeting rarely showed out to be the one that I had imagined. Traits that would captivate me while swiping could be; the participants’ apartments, a certain quirk to them, a trustworthy smile, their funny replies etc.

I was especially looking for kindness since it’s an extremely vulnerable position for me to be in, walking into a stranger’s home and act out intimate scenes with them. So, indeed a sign of kindness was a big priority for me. When I was met by this sought kindness online, I just had to trust my intuition. Because I know just how easy it is to pretend. So, every meeting involved a two-lane leap of faith - they dared to let me into their private space and I dared to enter their foreign space. Would you consider this project as portraits? Or are they modelling for your creation, a feeling you wish to communicate through photos? I wouldn’t consider the product of this project portraits. I would rather see them as a reaction of opinions and feelings that I wish to communicate through photos. These opinions and feelings resulted in the creation of Lifeconstruction, in which I see the participants as my co-players and the creation as our product. As I met my participants, we both entered this creative space where

we, jointly, had to construct a scene of intimacy. It was up to both of us to make that scene credible. That was our focus. I see it as a shared creation, communicating a message. NRM: What was the experience like when you first met them? MH: Not one shoot resembled of the other. Firstly, the environment changed from meeting to meeting - and so did the participants. Therefore, every meeting felt quite unique to me. That said, there was a common structure that every meeting had to include in order to create this photograph. In the very beginning of a meeting, I would normally walk around in their apartment, searching for a spot to act out the scene in while chatting with them. (The conversation always involved an insight for me in what made them

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match me and participate in this certain project. A lot of them told me that they simply needed an uplift of some kind - something to shatter with their trivial everyday life. Some of them told me how they wanted to kick themselves out of their comfort zone. And some just wanted to help convey the message about the social media. There was a big diversity in the reasons for participating. I enjoyed listening to them.) When we jointly found a place and constructed a scene, the photo shoot launched. As soon as the participant and I felt that we had taken a credible picture of us as a couple, we quickly split. In fact, none of the meetings lasted more than one hour. I had settled this structure of the meetings before I even started the project to assure an equal amount of depth (in the relationship) between me and the participants. (In general, I’m pretty sure that both the participants and I felt secured by the fact that the goal of the meeting was to create an illusion together. Instead of focusing on us getting to know each other better which a first meeting normally does, there was a common task/mission instead. It always felt like some kind of game, a puzzle we had to make, creating this credible photograph of us as a couple. That quickly became focal point of the meeting. We exchanged ideas and thoughts, tried out different settings and lightning, laughed at the horrible pictures that revealed our non-existent relation.) NRM: Was there any kind of preparation that you had to do before commencing work on your documentary? MH: I had to restructure my Tinder profile to this certain project. I had to explain people the idea behind the shoot, explain the procedure of the meetings and finally that I expected it to be published. Since I was going to deal with a lot of strangers, I also planned a way to for

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Arts and Culture | DENMARK

me to reach out to either my boyfriend or my parents in case a meeting should develop into something that I needed to escape from. We agreed that I should forward my participants addresses to them for them to be able to reassure that no one was hurt within one hour. I made sure to always text or call them when a shoot was finished. I made sure to always charge my portable speaker since I discovered that music had a very uplifting effect on the shoot. It helped me and the participant getting in the mood, eliminated the awkward silence and just made the whole process more fluid. NRM: What’s your preference when doing shoots? Do you have a specific or preferred camera that you work with for indoor or outdoor shoots? MH: I’ve always used Nikon and have always been an admirer of their gear. I use Nikon D700 and primarily vary between my dear 50mm, 28mm and 85mm lenses when shooting. NRM: What do you think about filters in general? MH: I think filters are a great way to change the expression in images. Editing plays a central role in developing your pictures, filters included. I mainly correct color saturation and balance in my photographs as I find those to be especially defining for the mood in the pictures. NRM: Would you consider yourself as a collector? MH: It really depends on what you would define as being a collector. What awakens in my mind when I hear the word ‘collector’ is collector in the form of collecting memories, moments and feelings - all this through photography. And that’s what I do. So yes, I guess I would consider myself a collector. When you’re in the zone, in your creative process, would you consider yourself a sprinter? Like you’d get these sudden surge of energies and immediately dive into the work without

pausing until it’s done? Or would you consider yourself a marathoner? Where you’d take your time, plough through the work like a mule, pour in equal amount of energy in every detail until you reach its completion? A sprinter. I get sudden surges of energy where I immediately dive into an idea of a creation, a new perspective, an edit etc where I do not pause until it’s done. I try to avoid interruptions when I’m in my creative zone, so my boyfriend and I have this whimsical complicity about being in a compact space (our apartment) when I get these sudden ideas and or boosts of energy. A harmonic space occurs where he just naturally turns to his own thing and lets me do mine. No questions, no interruptions. He then opens up

to interaction and conversation as soon as I start leaning back, stretch and sighs. I’m very moved about this understanding and respect of his regarding my creative process. NRM: They say that a lot of artists today are attracted to perishable, volatile forms. What’s your take on this? If works of art are meant to be preserved in museums for long span of time, 100 years give or take, should more emphasis be given to impermanence? MH: I’m not sure if I agree that artists tend to use perishable, volatile forms, and it’s impossible to say if they are in fact short-term. I believe art is about expression, communication and beauty in all forms.

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Works of art are not necessarily meant to be stored in a museum for 100 years in order to be art. Artistic expression is much more to me than the work of art itself – it represents something within its context in time and place. Impermanence is not really an issue to me in that regard – I consider my pictures to be works of art but no one knows if the pictures will have the same relevance in 20 years regarding social media for example. My pictures will be the same in 20 years, and maybe then, they will tell of a time that once was – much like old paintings in old museums do. NRM: How would you define the new artist? In today’s transformative phase, everybody’s doing everything at the same time, dabbling different medium of expression, is it limiting to tie one down with a definition? MH: The great thing about artworks and their creators is that they define themselves. Who am I to define “the new artist”? Artists are expressionists, they always have been, and I hope that they always will be. If artists label

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themselves it can be a limitation, but it also allows for deeper, more thorough interpretations within their work. Making unique expressions within a theme or a definition is one of the most satisfying things you can do as an artist. NRM: Would you consider yourself as someone who grew up as an artist? Did you imagine a different career other than as a photographer or writer? Or did art happen to you by accident? Like it came to you one day and it’s all you can think of doing for the rest of your life? MH: In my upbringing my mother’s face was constantly replaced with a camera even before I made it to the world. With nothing but her enthusiasm and the desire to perpetuate what is now and what has been, photography naturally became an object of fascination as I grew older. I’ve wanted to be a photographer for as long as I remember. Photography has had a strong connection to my personal development. It’s not just a light capturing machine. It has been and still is a compensation for my voice and

a drain for my thoughts and feelings. I’ve always found myself short of words and on the other hand full of thoughts and feelings. So as soon as I found that I could use photography as a medium for expression, the camera naturally became an extended part of me. I used the majority of my children’s savings to improve my photography skills. In that process I came to find that photography should not be my only focus in life, career-wise. I felt that having to make a living off photography


Arts and Culture | DENMARK

not depending on it as my only income. I hope that it shines through that my photography comes from a place of passion and inspiration.

really challenged the playful energy I had towards it – and so did obligations to execute orders from others. So, I decided to start on a professional non-creative education - something that also felt meaningful to me. In 1.5 years I’m going to be a graduate in Occupational therapy. It’s really something else, but I don’t mind. I have a strong feeling that my photography will be so much better when it comes from a place that is driven, playful and free. And that a balance between something earthbound and creative will give me the balance in life that I need in order to feel at peace. Sometimes I feel, that I saved myself from losing my desire to photograph by

NRM: Tell us about your ongoing and upcoming projects. MH: Recently, I’ve recognized and been more and more in touch with the masculine qualities of mine. This because I’ve had the honour to be a part of a workshop that presented me and other women to the idea that people contain both masculine and feminine energies no matter the gender. So, among other things in this workshop we worked on creating some more fluid boundaries between the masculine and feminine - and on allowing the masculine part of us to unfold or to develop. This whole process and idea somehow set me free. There were definitely ways that I had acted until now that didn’t feel truly like me but rather as a reflection of what I thought people wanted to see. This made my mind wander - who else felt this way? That inspired me to start a project called Tortuous which I’m currently working on. I’ve maintained the structure of approach since Lifeconstruction in this

project since I’m still using Tinder to reach out to strangers, I’m still showing up in their homes and there’s still some kind of transformation finding place. I’m taking a picture of the participants when I meet them. This picture is being set up against a picture of them expressing what might not be expected of them - somewhere on the scale of the fluid form of masculinity and femininity. Through this process we’ve created provocative and captivating motives. It has shown me, that I wasn’t alone. It has also increased my urge to show people that there’s no limit to how to express yourself. You’re simply free. Stories from the participants are attached to their photographs which takes us to the personal field of the subject. The participants have gotten more room and authenticity to speak and to be heard than previously in my projects. People have surprisingly interesting minds. My newest project Tortuous will be done within a few weeks.

Follow Marie Hyld on Instagram @mariehyld and Facebook to get the latest update on her upcoming book Lifeconstruction and other projects.

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Marketing and Publicity

The Three Rights in Turning Novels to Screenplay THE RIGHT PERSON, THE RIGHT PITCH AND THE RIGHT TIMING

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Paper to Film

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here are two familiar paths a selfpublished novelist can possibly take to achieve a box office hit: pitch to a producer or pitch to a screenwriter. Just like any produced material, there is always some form of pitching involve if you wish to put your work out there for the world to consume. Marketing is a crucial part for every pursuit. A typical scenario for selfpublished writers would start off with paying loads of cash upfront to gain coverage. Then, possibly, generate a return of that effort in the form of either more book sales or expressed interests from film executives. It’s close to the ending every self-published writer hopes to achieve. Luckily, it’s not the only one out there. Ashley Myers, one of the most prolific and successful self-made screenwriters today, follows a few simple rules when it comes to turning novels into screenplays. They sound simple but the legwork is not. It’s hard work and almost always prone to rejection. “You basically have three choices, and the choice you make depends on your own situation. You can either shop the book around to producers (or agents, directors, and actors), you can hire a screenwriter to turn your novel into a screenplay, or you can try and write the screenplay yourself,” says Myers. In his blog, sellingyourscreenplay. com, he’s created a tested and proven step-by-step guide for making it big with small. When we say small, we mean

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Paper to Film

minute but very methodological steps that have worked for him over the years. His five-week program is available for download online for free. It’s an entire process that details what a writer needs to do to make the transition from printed to projected medium. What a writer has to do for film rights buyers to actually “show the money.” As for the actual screen writing, Myers goes out for the kill at the onset: the logline. To him, there’s no better way to make a first and lasting impression. It has to start with deciding who gets to write the screenplay. He discourages novelists from doing it themselves. Though it may seem like the most economical and viable option, he is not for it. Unless the author has changed his or her passion for writing and redirected it to screenwriting which doesn’t happen often. Learning the craft of screenwriting requires years of discipline. Being an author requires the same in equal measure. And since a novelist has already put in the work for writing novels, his advice is to best leave screenwriting to those who have an established affinity for it. If you’ve already met with a film producer, part of his or her investment in your story is to hire a screenwriter. If you already have a screenwriter in mind, you need to make sure that he or she is the right person to repurpose your novel to a visual medium. Keep in mind that once you’ve partnered up with a screenwriter, your work is tied to that person until it is done. In an interview with Jane Friedman, a highly esteemed industry expert in publishing, Myers shared his humble beginnings. His first attempt in selling his screenplay was to go through back listings of trade magazines. “It was bittersweet. The first screenplay I sold had been rewritten substantially, and I didn’t think that it was very good. So it was exciting, but some of the lustre was taken off because of the extensive changes that had been made, which I thought

really detracted from the piece. I would say the greatest moment of pure, unadulterated joy was actually when I first optioned that script. My writing partner and I were paid $500 for the option, and we were young and naive enough to think that it was certain that this script was going to get made. At that point the producers were all compliments, saying it was perfect the way it was. It did get made, but as I mentioned it was so rewritten it was barely recognizable as our screenplay. But looking back at it now, the producers were very lucky to actually get the project going. Since then I have optioned dozens of scripts with very few actually getting made. I will say this: the producers were a bunch of really cool guys, even though we didn’t see eye to eye on the script changes. My writing partner and I were on the set numerous times, and it was everything I thought it would be: exciting, fun, and mingling with celebrities.” Before considering turning books to films, ideally, the work would fare better if it has generated ample interest. Awards or any kind of recognition for your work would help you gain more traction from film executives compared to works that have yet to earn a mark from the book world. Authors need to concentrate a good amount of effort in building a community for their work and establishing a network of film rights buyers. As Myers would put it, unfortunately, there is no room for ideas coming from outsiders of the movie circles. Hollywood is innately guarded in that way. Screenwriters have their own, probably hundreds, sets of ideas that could potentially turn into a good movie. They’ve already poured in years of their lives for their ideas to try and make them work. For someone who’s just starting, it would do you more good than bad to learn from them. Producers also have their own set of standards on what works and what doesn’t and what they’re willing to invest on. To

understand this dynamic in the movie industry is to get inside the circle. You need to be where they are. Myers took a leap a few years back and relocated to Los Angeles where the top honchos of the industry are. It turned out to be the best decision he ever made. He made a successful career as a screenwriter and is also considered as one of today’s renowned mentors. You need to put yourself out there to get a feel of what the industry is like up close and get a better idea on how to position your book with the right pitch. Joining annual film conferences, festivals, and pitch sessions is a good starting point for meet ups and building your contacts. If you can’t be there physically, then try and build a compelling presence digitally by sending out query letters on a regular basis. Also, since we mentioned legwork, being where the right people are also comes with a real-life, first hand understanding of what the industry is looking for. Whether or not the kind of book that you’ve already written is something they are keeping an eye out for. Timing is everything, especially in the movies. Come to think of it, the whole industry is built on timing. The right script, the right director, the right cast, the right crew, the right budget—every detail is exacting as can be to effectively deliver a good story. A story that we sit on for less than 2 hours (sometimes more) and yet we get to experience joy and pain and suffering even, at times, love. But what if, along the way, you find out that your story is not ready for the big screen? In motion pictures, dedication is real and takes years, so does patience and persistence behind the scenes. If you’ve truly found the real essence in writing (or even when you’re co-writing), it’ll get you through your worst by showing you how you are at your best. For your story to push forward, the first right move is on you.

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Literary Work

Man of the House AARON BUCHANAN

A

lmost a year after Grace Switowski died of cancer, Jeremiah had his first night terror starring Jesus Christ. He woke up with every inch of his skin stinging with panic, unable to move. Two weeks before the terror, Jeremiah’s dad took him up to Manistee for their annual fishing trip, leaving his mom and his little brother, Asa, at home. It was his fifteenth birthday.

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His dad stopped for coffee and nightcrawlers north of River Junction; sipped coffee and tossed a Hostess fruit pie onto Jeremiah’s lap a few hours before the sun came out. Jeremiah’s dad, Rocky Jones, had parked at Joslin Cove and told him that he was leaving mom, moving to Dallas for some new job and that Jeremiah would have to be the man of the house now. Jeremiah yelled at his father, cursed him,


Short Story

pleaded. He got out of the truck, went down to the water, realized how pissed off he was, and turned around to go back to his dad’s truck. He was a few inches taller than his dad now and wondered if he could beat the shit out of his father. His dad had knocked him around from time to time and he thought that maybe he could finally take him. He didn’t think he could. But he knew if he ever saw him again after that day, he’d lunge at him and let fate decide. He opened the passenger’s side door and plopped down next to the cooler full of nightcrawlers. Even then, Jeremiah had thought about tossing off its Styrofoam lid and throwing the dirt and worms on his father. “Two-flush kind of day, Cricket. I know. And I know you’re mad. Mad enough to…” His dad never finished the thought. Instead, he had told Jeremiah that at least he wasn’t like his own old man. Jeremiah’s grandpa used to beat the shit out of him when Rocky was a kid. He had gotten hints of that on other fishing trips, but never the details, just phrases like cantankerous coot or mean old fuck. But then his dad told him something he’d never told him before: that his very first memory in life came from sitting in front of a turned-off television, staring at the black-eyed reflection in the glass because his own dad had punched him in the face. He said it had been on Christmas Day when he was four years old and he remembered seeing the reflection of the wrapping paper in the TV’s glass. Rocky Jones then opened up the glove box, fetched a couple cellophane-wrapped cassette tapes—a Bowie tape, a Tears for Fears tape—meant to be his birthday present, said happy birthday, and told him if he could figure out things on his own at age four, then so would Jeremiah. They had never even fished, not a single line cast into the morning calm of the cove. They came home to the house outside Rigdon a couple hours later. His dad sped and passed cars and ran red lights to get home. They didn’t stop to pee, and Jeremiah was afraid to ask to stop. They came home to the house outside Rigdon a few hours later—before his mom would get home from work, before Asa would step off the bus from school. His dad packed up a Craftsman tool chest and Hefty bag full of clothes and left Jeremiah at home to explain everything to his mom and little brother. There were no good-byes, no hands on his shoulder. Jeremiah had no idea what it meant, being the man of the house. He’d heard it on TV a few times. Cowboys leaving their families on the frontier, tumbleweeds blowing across the soundstage as they promised to come back after some trip to town or some confrontation. Difference was, Jeremiah’s dad had no intention of returning. He had known that as surely as he had known there was nothing he could do to convince his dad to stay.

That night, at the end of July, after Jeremiah and his best friend Kenny spent the day fishing at the St. Tom River behind Jeremiah’s house, Jeremiah had his horrific dream of Jesus. Jesus called all the saints up in his Rapture, but instead of meeting in the clouds as promised in the Word of God, he convened them all at the park next to Rock Lake. Jesus wore a yellow robe with a maroon sash and leather belt and flashed a smile that upon noticing, required the believer to prostrate himself right then, right there. He was flanked by men and women in robes that glistened white between the shade of the trees, even though the sky was mostly gray. Out of a van, they took Satan—who looked exactly like Tim Curry from Legend, which Jeremiah had seen just the month before—and part marched, part dragged him to the front of the throng— to a stage that seemed to appear out of nowhere. Jesus unsheathed the sword at his hip and he tapped the blade with a forefinger. Everyone else was doubled over, face to the ground, but not Jeremiah. He saw flames on the sword sputter indecisively to life, and once the crowd stood and saw the flaming sword and Jesus’ divine carnival-huckster smile, they oohed and they aahed. But Jeremiah felt only seized by dread. Jesus tossed the hilt from one hand to the next and in one deft movement, swung it around and plunged it through red Tim Curry’s torso. He toppled over, hands still bound behind his back. He spasmed and bled, the crowd gasped in astonishment. Jeremiah rubbed at his forearms, the same nervous habit that caused his dad to call him Cricket. The moment’s silence broke as the throng suddenly thundered with applause. That, too, startled him. Jeremiah looked up and saw Jesus holding the flaming sword aloft— burning now with a cartoon-like flame that defied explanation. He was aware that Jesus had just said something, but he didn’t hear it. He looked around, scanning the crowd for faces he knew, but there was no one. No one acknowledged him. They were all too much in Jesus’ thrall to notice him. The dread was now eating at him. It felt like worms gnawing at his guts. And Jeremiah wasn’t convinced about Jesus’ show at all. Why were all the saints gathered there of all places? Why could all the Saved fit into this park? To him, the entire scene seemed more a charade than fulfilment of prophecy. In a hazy, nonsensical dream cut-scene, Jeremiah found himself in the same Ford Econoline van that had held the devil. Jeremiah was rooting around scattered papers lying on the floor. Each sheet he held up was either blank or had erratic, meaningless lines drawn from top-to-bottom or side-to-side. He found a stack of Bibles with various leather coverings as well. He grabbed the one nearest and flipped through the pages—each one was blank. Around the floor there were other objects, but none he could recognize. Then he heard—knew, more than heard—Jesus and Satan coming into the van. They were laughing about the show, but Jeremiah swore Jesus was saying something about Grace Switowski as he opened

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the back doors of the van. When Jesus saw him, he came at Jeremiah with his smoldering sword. And then he was awake, disoriented, and blinking his eyes to make out the shape and definition of his and Asa’s bedroom. He could not move. His skin hurt. His mom had always told him that the flames of hell burned so hot that they were black, so for a quick few seconds as he struggled to control his breathing, he wondered if he was in hell. Finally, he slid one hand over his arm, felt the skin there, felt the damp clamminess that somehow reassured him of his reality. He sat up to further test the dream and its ensuing paralysis. He looked out the window and at the moonlight dancing over the St. Tom River. He smelled the room; inhaled the sweat-smell of boys he’d gotten so used to—even Kenny’s usual body odor mingling in with his and Asa’s scents was oddly reassuring. Across the room, Jeremiah made out the lump of Asa sleeping soundly. He stretched his hearing toward him and heard Asa’s soft snores. Kenny was curled up on his pallet of blankets next to Jeremiah’s bed, shifting and rolling restlessly as usual. Jeremiah looked back at Asa, made out the small black rectangular shape of the Bible on the nightstand next to Asa’s head. His mom always put it there after she read him a Bible story at night. Last night’s story, he recalled, was Elisha making his mockers go bald. The night before was the story of how Elisha called a bear to eat the children who mocked him. Now though, Jeremiah saw the Bible as something new; hexed was the word he thought, but knew wasn’t quite the word for it. Quietly, he slipped it under his arm and went down the stairs, sure to keep his feet to the edges of each step so he wouldn’t make a noise and wake up his mother. He slipped out the screen door at the back of the kitchen and went down the slight incline to the river. He was barefoot and wearing nothing but a pair of gym shorts. The moisture on his feet made him feel dirty head-to-toe. The night air on his skin made it ache more. It still ached and stung over his entire body. Jeremiah found that he was still breathing loudly, as if he were running out the back door and down to the river, but he had only walked slowly so he would not slip on the sodden grass to the river. He threw the Bible in the water like a frisbee, but it came open and the thin pages seemed to scream at him as it flapped in the air and landed in the St. Tom. And not for the first time since he’d awakened, he thought of Grace Switowski, not even five years older than him. The book made a muted thunk as it hit the river. He thought it was odd that a book hitting the river would make such a non-sound. Fast as the current was, it should still have made some sort of audible kind of racket. As for any noise, Jeremiah wasn’t worried about it being heard above in the house at all. Noises from the river were

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commonplace; those in the house above the river were conditioned not to hear the miscellany of boats and fauna, flotsam and jetsam. Grace. Two weeks after Jeremiah turned fifteen, he no longer believed Grace was somewhere better. At church no one seemed to remember her; no one around him seemed to recognize how easy it was for someone so young just to end. Jeremiah thought that Jesus, the Bible might just be the excuse that people used to allow them to forget. If they were in heaven, then it was okay to move on and forget. Jesus remembered them, so we didn’t have to. Still in the night air, Jeremiah shuddered. Finally, the lump in his throat became warm spit and he wasn’t sure if he had to puke or shit. Or both. He knew his mom would disown him if she ever heard him say anything like that. Send him off to live with some unknown relative. Or worse, his dad. Or maybe she would call for an exorcism. After his mom, Diane, had left for work the next morning, Jeremiah found himself hazily watching cartoons, then news. By the time the game shows came on at ten, Asa was out watching with him. Jeremiah thought about telling him the dream, but knew he was too young to understand and be trusted. When he and Dad had been at Joslin Cove, he’d called Asa his mom’s creature. Although he hadn’t taken it to heart at the time, Jeremiah knew Dad hated Asa and that was another reason he’d never come back. It was too bad, really. If his dad had taken any time at all, he would have seen that Asa was just trying to make their mom happy. Since that strange night with the laying hands on Grace, Asa had been less and less interested in church. Though his father would probably never know, Asa was his own creature entirely, of that he was sure. Still, all he had to do was mention part of the dream to their mom and then Jeremiah would spend the next several weeks undergoing what his mom called “biblical counseling” with Pastor Schmidt, though he had no idea exactly what that meant. He knew enough to not want any part of it, though. Kenny slept longer. It was noon and Jeremiah had thrown a Tombstone pizza in the oven when Kenny came down the stairs in his Detroit Lions t-shirt and maroon briefs with detaching waistband that Jeremiah had thrown in the trash the week before. Now that he recalled, even the Lions shirt used to be Jeremiah’s. He’d lent it to him right after Christmas and Kenny wore it until it smelled so bad, Jeremiah had no desire to ever have it given back. Kenny groaned, sniffed at the air, smelled the pizza, stuck his hands down his underwear and scratched himself. “You ever have a dream where someone tried to kill you?” Jeremiah asked him. Kenny sat at the kitchen table, yawned, stretching out his arms.


Short Story

Jeremiah looked over in time to see Kenny’s uvula flipping back and forth in a yawn that had become part Tarzan-yawp loud enough to hurt his ears. Jeremiah was slicing the pizza by the time Kenny answered him. “Yeah. I guess. Why?” Kenny lifted a cheek from the chair and passed gas. It was enough of a morning ritual, Jeremiah had long since learned to disregard it. He used to laugh, but now Jeremiah was annoyed by it. In fact, he looked at his best friend and wondered if they had lived around Kalamazoo or Grand Rapids, or somewhere even more populated, if they’d have been friends at all. “Bad dream last night. Couldn’t sleep. No big deal now.” He tossed a slice of pizza onto a paper plate and took it to Asa in the living room. He left Kenny in the kitchen to eat what he wanted. Usually, Kenny was his own plague of locusts and if left to his own devices, ate whatever he could get away with. Today, Jeremiah didn’t even mind. He wasn’t hungry. Jeremiah left them both in the house and spent the next couple hours alone outside on an Adirondack chair by the river. Asa brought out some of his Transformer and GI Joe toys, played at the bank, but took them inside after a while. He came up with a story about Asa’ Bible and by the time his mother came home, Jeremiah had dug a hole in the backyard deep enough that it could have held the Bible. He immediately filled it back in, patted down the sod sloppily enough to be noticed, then went inside to tell his mother he’d spilled Kool-Aid on the Bible, didn’t know what to do with it, so buried it in the behind the house. Jeremiah was just clumsy enough that he thought she would buy it, odd as it was. “What do you mean, you ‘buried it?’” Diane asked. She wasn’t suspicious, but he could tell that to her, it sounded like a stupid thing to do. Choosing that moment to tell her was a calculation on his part. She was cooking and less likely to, as Dad had once called it, “throw a hissy-fit.” He hoped. “It’d be too sticky to dry out,” he explained. “I didn’t want to just throw it in the trash. So, I gave it a burial. Isn’t it what soldiers do to flags that get ruined?” “I’m not sure about that, but you need to buy your brother a new one.” She was dying her hair auburn those days. It was still tied back and still wearing her blouse and skirt from work. She turned to give him the insincere smile he hated—he’d learned to associate it with predatory animals. She stirred something that smelled industrial—canned beef stew or corned beef hash. Something from a can. He could make out his mother humming over the range-fan. It was a hymn. She was always humming them. It was “Victory in Jesus.” She’d played it on the organ the Sunday before. It was also her go-to calming hymn, but he wasn’t sure if she was angry at him or the song was just worming through her mind, getting recycled from earlier that week. He saw the beads of sweat sliding down her face, smearing her make-up.

It was hot. Hotter than it usually was in the summer. Their house—like most old houses in the area—didn’t have air conditioning. They kept the screen doors open at front and backs of the house as well as the front and back windows upstairs to ventilate the place. There was a fan in the living room and in both upstairs bedrooms. But not the kitchen. Jeremiah hoped her demeanor might be from a long day and a hot kitchen. “Sorry. I’ll give you what I have for a new Bible,” he told her, but hoped she would forget. He left the kitchen, grabbed the box fan from the living room—Kenny and Asa both complained—and plugged it in facing his mom in the kitchen. “Thanks, dear. Just grab my old Bible off the bookshelf and set it upstairs, will you?” Jeremiah flinched, but was thankful that Mom’s back was to him. The stinging sensation on his skin had not dissipated at all as the day wore on. One forearm absentmindedly rubbed at the other, but it hurt. “Yeah. No problem.” Before he left, he asked his mom the only the thing he thought he could get away with regarding the dream: “Mom, why do you think God didn’t heal Grace of cancer?” Diane added salt and pepper to her concoction, which he noticed was Hamburger Helper. “Just wasn’t God’s will, I suppose,” she answered. “Was there any real hope that he would?” He instantly regretted asking and tried to backtrack, clarify. “When it comes to asking God for healing how do we know when he’ll heal and when he won’t?” His mom grabbed four bowls from the cabinet and scooped out the Hamburger Helper in three equally measured portions, plus a little less in a bowl meant for Asa. “We don’t. But we need to ask anyway.” “But—” Jeremiah formulated a question, but bit his tongue. He actually rolled it and then bit it. “Okay.” He ran the Bible up to his bedroom and came down to find his family and Kenny sitting at the table. The four of them held hands at the table and prayed silently. Jeremiah recited Bowie lyrics in his head. He opened his eyes, saw his mother’s eyes were still closed, then looked at Asa silently chanting. He read his lips: it was Jesus over and over. He wondered if that was all Asa ever really said for his meal-time blessing. It creeped him out to see Jesus mouthed at him with such mindless abandonment. Jeremiah was prodded awake by Asa that night. He was eight now, but still would climb into his bed when he had bad dreams. He eyeballed his mom’s old Bible on the nightstand next to Asa’s bed and the clock whose red numbers formed 2:34. Asa was just big enough that sharing a twin bed had Jeremiah wedged up on his side against the wall. He fell back to sleep with his arm as his pillow. Jeremiah awoke the next morning without any feeling in his right arm. Asa was already awake and had left the room, but

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Jeremiah never shifted from against the wall. He slipped on a pair of jeans over his shorts, put on his socks, shoes, then finally a jacket without a shirt, left it unzipped. Carefully, he took his Sony Walkman out from under his bed. He removed the tape of a Christian rock band and placed it gently at the bottom of the trash can, covering it with papers, a couple banana peels, and the rest of the garbage. From the top shelf of his and Asa’s closet, he fished out the Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) tape his dad had given him in Manistee, slid it into the Walkman and gently clicked it shut. He looked over at Kenny, still asleep, then told his brother—eating a bowl of cereal in a ball bigger than his head—when he got downstairs that he was going for a walk. When he stepped outside, he smelled the dampness in the air. The morning was cool, but was so muggy it sapped the air out of his lungs. It was probably made worse by a thin patch of mist hanging above the road in front of his house. As he zipped up the jacket and put the headphones over his ears, he realized that after a few hours’ sleep, his skin no longer ached. He crossed the pavement, took a moment to stare to the west, to the east and the lights of Rigdon in the distance. He stepped into the woods, thinking. Jeremiah felt there was an invisible measuring stick following him most of the time, just off to his side and in the corners of his eyes. It measured him against his father, his mother, his brother. Over the past year, he also noticed new indicators, new hashmarks on the stick: success in high school, success with girls; college plans, job plans, family plans. He wondered what Grace’s stick would have looked like before the cancer and if her imaginary measuring stick was erased or broken when she was diagnosed. Or if cancer patients got their own special kind of stick that measured response to treatment, ability to cope, ability to keep hoping. Ability to put one’s trust in God. Jeremiah saw that compared to most of the people in his life, he did not measure up in that regard. Even Kenny spent time watching Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland and other so-called faith-healers. With each step, though, Jeremiah realized that everyone in his own life also failed his measurements for them; his expectations. Bowie’s “Fashion” ended on Side A, so he fast-forwarded to the end and flipped over the cassette. In the silence of the night, “Teenage Wildlife” wound into existence. Jeremiah walked deeper into the woods than he had in years. He was almost to the spot where he and Kenny had found a patch of broad trees that had fallen over in such a way that made for a perfect fort beneath, with a thick walkway made of one of the trunks they used as a kind of rampart. Four thick-trunked trees had fallen in toward each other, with a patch of bushes and shrubs between them.

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They had hacked down some of the bushes and found other sticks and fashioned out a roof over the central area. They’d named it JK Lodge. The Lodge was so far back into the woods, you could see a farmer’s soybean field in the distance. It was even so far back, they’d only ever returned to it twice after its discovery. Jeremiah’s gaze swept across the woods behind his old fort and toward home. He rubbed his forearms together, turned around and kept walking. He found himself stepping over soybean plants in the field behind the woods. After the first several rows, he gave up trying to step over the plants. He scuffed over the fat, green leaves heavy with dew, trampled one-after-another. Jeremiah crossed the farm road on the far side of the field, crossed a line of oaks and sugar maples and found himself on a dirt road that he didn’t recognize. He’d known there were dirt roads and farm roads north of the river, but never had occasion to be driven one. Asa, Kenny, and he rode their bikes around, but usually just to and around Rigdon. In front of him was a path that barely counted as a driveway. He saw the roof of a house obscured by pines and a capped faded brown pick-up parked by the roof. He crouched down and scooped up dirt and brushed it over his wet tennis shoes, hoping that’d make them dry faster. One dew-logged lace lay on the ground, rubbed his hand in the dirt and tied his shoe. When Jeremiah finished drying and tying his shoes, he looked up. An old man was picking at something in the road. He wore suspenders and cream-colored shirt and had enough of a paunch, standing straight was difficult. When he stood, he looked over at Jeremiah and mouthed something. The last track on side two of the cassette was playing through his earphones. He put them down around his neck. “Sorry. What was that?” he asked. The old man was completely bald on the top of his head, though he had a shaggy brown-gray mop of hair around his glistening head. The heat of the August day was coming on fiercely and the man wasn’t in the shade of the maple like he was. Now that Jeremiah could see him face-to-face, he saw that he was wearing a bolo tie—something Jeremiah had only ever seen on the episodes of Hee Haw his dad used to watch. The old man cleared his throat, a sound that sounded like someone crunching loose gravel, “I said, are you lost?” Jeremiah shrugged, even though he knew how to get home. “Maybe,” he said. “Just out for a walk, really. Doesn’t really matter where I end up.” The old man laughed and Jeremiah noticed just how distinctive his face was. He didn’t recognize him. He wore more of a push-broom than a mustache and Jeremiah knew he would’ve recognized him immediately. He was a stranger. “You’re right, of course. Doesn’t really matter where you end up. That’s the same place for everybody. Unless it’s not.”


Short Story

Jeremiah rubbed his arms together, remembering the cartoons and his mom telling him not to talk to strangers. But he was almost a man. He stopped rubbing his arms and put hands awkwardly at his hips. “I don’t guess I understand what you mean,” he replied. “Name’s Hank. Yours?” He hitched up his pants, adjusting, but with the suspenders, they settled to the same position they’d been just a moment before. “Jeremiah.” He wondered if he should tell him his last name, but decided he didn’t care. “Jeremiah Jones.” “Well, Jeremiah, what I meant is that everything and everyone ends up the same place eventually,” he put a hand under his gut and knelt down to where Jeremiah had first seen him. “Come a little closer, I’ll show you.” Again, Jeremiah knew he should be wary, but the man was old enough, fat enough, that outrunning him would be a cinch. He crossed the road and noticed he didn’t hear any cars; no sounds of boats on the river. It was a strange place and Hank was so peculiar, Jeremiah thought it seemed like a different world altogether. Hank motioned for Jeremiah to crouch down. He noticed how large Hank’s hands were, how disproportionate they were to the rest of his body. Hank leaned over and picked up what looked like a dead crow or blackbird by its tail feathers. “We all end up here, flattened by some car and in a hospital bed. All the same,” Hank wheezed. “But sometimes, if you know just where you want to be, you can just keep going and come out the other side.” Jeremiah wasn’t following and it must have showed. Hank’s mustache curved upward in a smile, revealing yellow teeth and one missing tooth on the bottom. “You wanna see something?” Jeremiah was bending closer toward Hank and the dead bird. He leaned in, palms on his knees. “Sure.” He was out of the shade, too, and was starting to sweat. He wiped at his eyes with the bottom of his t-shirt. Hank stood and Jeremiah followed. He held the bird in one colossal hand, cradled it. He hunched, embraced it in his mass, brought his what must’ve been its beak to his mouth and exhaled. Jeremiah did not know what he was witnessing. He was overcome by the uncanny and desolate beauty of what he was seeing. He felt in that moment he was suddenly existing simultaneously as the child he’d been; himself there in the present; as the adult he somehow knew he would one day become. “Go on, now.” Hank dropped the carcass, but it had ceased to be the dead-thing. A blackbird flew away and landed in the sugar maple just over where Jeremiah had dirtied and tied his shoes. The bird was alive. He could make out the red and yellow patches on its shoulders. It could not have been the same bird. Not only was it alive, it has made clean.

“I’ve never seen,” Jeremiah stammered. “A trick, right?” But it seemed more than that Jeremiah knew he’d never be able to reconcile the bird with what he’d been taught. Hank was smiling. He dabbed at the sweat on his forehead with a handkerchief. He reached into his back pocket, pulled out a pipe and a rolled pouch of tobacco. He packed it as Jeremiah stared at the bird hopping from one branch to the next, listening for its song. Jeremiah caught a whiff of the minty tobacco, felt deep pangs of nostalgia for something out of memory, but utterly familiar and haunting. He turned to Hank. “Who are you?” Hank put one hand his pocket, puffed his pipe with his teeth clenched over it, holding in place. He rested the pipe’s chamber between oversized thumb and forefinger. “Just a neighbor, Jeremiah Jones. And the only time I see people down this road is when they’re lost and stop and ask for directions.” “I didn’t ask for…” Hank waved him off. “We’ll call it force of habit, then. Take it easy, Jeremiah Jones—it’s going to be a hot one.” Hank patted Jeremiah on his shoulder and ambled down his driveway and disappeared behind the pines that obscured the rest of that world. On his way home, Jeremiah remembered Grace again and wondered if she could have come out the other side, too. He felt alive again in the past, present; he questioned the future. He questioned the role of God, Mom, Dad; where he would end up next. He pictured his mom’s tattered Bible sitting next to Asa at night, poisoning both their dreams. Once home, Jeremiah dug out the same hole from the day before and tossed the old Bible in. He thought of the bird; his father, his brother, and what his mother would say. But with each shovelful of dirt, with each humid breath, with each sheen of an empty shovel, Jeremiah held each thought; he let them in as close as Hank had held the crow. He let them live and breathe and change.

Aaron Buchanan is a writer who lets instructing philosophy and Latin in Tampa, Florida, pay his bills. He is a Michigan native—a mystical, incongruous land which features prominently in his work. Aaron is also the only one he knows who has a four-feet-square painting of David Bowie in his living room and adores that his kids will grow up thinking that that is completely normal.

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Andrew Kozma’s poems have appeared in Blackbird, Redactions, Strange Horizons, and Best American Poetry (2015). His book of poems, City of Regret (2007), won the Zone 3 First Book Award.

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Poetry

As He Had No Issue the Title Became Extinct On His Death ANDREW KOZMA

The air is wet and yellow. It crumbles like ash from a discarded cigarette. There is rain incoming. There is concrete incoming. Tomorrow I will sleep with the fishes who never sleep, the sharks which never stop swimming, the lies that never stop being believed. Time-lapsed, the world falls to pieces. My yellowed teeth corrupt my breath. I once believed immortality, at least one thing unending, but all that exists can be both created and destroyed. In the empty lot wildflowers rampage and the foundation disintegrates.

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Poetry

Rondo Hatton, the Ugliest Man in Pictures ANDREW KOZMA

Silent behemoth, face jagged into a shape no one but the silver screen could love, O Rondo, bless me with your stare buried in the bones of your face, the bones that wouldn’t stop growing, so desperate for love as only bones can be loved. With the clarity of the air, the embrace of the soil, and the kiss of dogs’ jaws, your skeleton will live as one with the world, as you could never be. But I was once someone like you, or better. The earth opened at my feet to reveal the jewels which make a life worthwhile. I, the handsomest in my high school class, a myth of glory before me, but a myth I had no part in writing. My outsized hands, my swollen brow, my enlarged and tired heart, these I gave to you, but not, dear men and women, because I wanted to.

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Flash Fiction

A Human in Parts ADAM BRECKENRIDGE

Y

ou’ve always had an uncomfortable relationship with your right hand. It has always thought itself the favorite just because you use it more often, frothing with jealous rage towards your left hand when you used it instead, and no matter how deeply you breathe to try to still that trembling fury, you’ve always known that it would lash out. That it chose to do so by chopping off your left hand as you were slicing a tomato was more surprising, but not as much as the shock of then seeing your left hand, an appendage you had always thought so peaceful, steal away the knife and sever your right hand before you could stop it. It’s hard to know what to do when you’re standing with your dripping stumps spattering blood on the floor, the half-sliced tomato on the countertop and your severed hands battling each other to the death, but all told, you handled the situation rather well. All the same, you decide to meditate, hoping for some snatches of tranquility. And so you settle in for a body check, your hands curled on your shoulders like the angel and the imp (though you could hardly say which was which), your bowels churning in mutiny, your nose itching and you find, to your shock, that your legs are gone, detached from the remainder of your person to make their own way in the world. You can feel them walking past horizons you’ve never visited to places you would never go. The vanishing of your lower torso frees the way for your innards to march forth upon the world, to the delight of your friends and well-wishers, who pick them up for close examination, exclaiming that they’ve always wanted to know what you were like on the inside, squeezing your pancreas until you cry out in pain. “This is where true beauty is found,” they say as they fondle your spleen, their hands soaked in your blood. Some organs stray but most stay close to the familiarity of your body, which is slowly coming apart, your ribcage splitting at the sides, the spine and sternum clicking around like spiders on rib bone legs. “And what of this is me?” you wonder as your eyes, lips, nose and ears part way from your face, propping your head up on their backs as all the parts of you wander down main

street, past the bakery, the Laundromat, the lawyer’s office where your rectum has pressed itself against the glass, mocking the attorney behind his desk. He threatens to sue even as you explain you have no control over your bowels, but at least they don’t cause half the chaos that your genitalia have wreaked. Usually you’re sure that your eyes are your eyes, at least when they choose to look at what you want them to look at, but whose lips are these brushing up against yours, so soft and full to the touch? You want to look at them but your eyes are following a piece of ass down an alleyway on the other side of town. And now the parts of another are mingling with yours, a pair of feet that clearly don’t belong to you, a hand burdened by a ring, eyes that stare longingly at your fragmented face. The hand brushes your back, your eyes seek out a nose or a lock of hair, but can’t distinguish your parts from theirs. And now this other’s parts are intertwining with yours, skin and organs blending together until you no longer know what belongs to whom. You never know where you are in this process of melding and the dizziness of it would make you vomit if your mouth was still connected to your esophagus and your esophagus to your stomach. And yet in the churning there are flashes where your cheek brushes the other’s cheek or your hands rest peacefully on the edge of a pond or a breath of the other’s lungs caresses your neck, and for just a moment, you feel complete.

Adam Breckenridge is an assistant professor of technical writing at the New England Institute of Technology in Rhode Island, where he teaches technical and creative writing as well as film classes. His fiction has previously appeared in Independent Ink, Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens, the WTF?! Anthology, Strangelet Press, and elsewhere, and most recently he was accepted into the Final Summons Anthology from NESW Press and Visions Magazine out of the UK.

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Thoughts and Slayers:

What We Do About Grendel, Our Oldest and Most Persistent Villain ANGÉLIQUE JAMAIL

T

he oldest surviving poem in English highlights much of what we still struggle with, centuries later. It involves a monster who destroys the mead hall, the most communal of settings.

Grendel lives. Sadly, he thrives. The Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf is a part of our language’s literary canon and cultural heritage, and the poem’s first and most infamous villain remains a threat to us. In the story,

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Grendel, the monster who attacks the inhabitants of modernday Denmark, is a vaguely humanoid beast with impenetrable skin who kills and eats the Danes, gobbles them up like jelly beans right in their own mead hall, every night for twelve winters. His monstrosity, however, comes from more reasons than just wrecking shop in the Danes’ mead hall, and he’s still vitally important for what he represents within our society, far removed from Dark Ages Denmark and those who fought against him, or chose not to.


Essay / Humor

* * * The epic contains surprisingly little physical description of the monster. When I used to teach Beowulf to ninth graders, I would talk to them about what I called The Grendel Situation and then ask them to draw pictures of him. Mostly they came up with fangy, clawed, hairy, green creatures dripping with the blood of half-Dane corpses. What they could not yet internalize was the abstract evil Grendel presents and the practical, tangible dangers that make him relevant now. They could not yet see that we, too, are living in the mead hall. Grendel’s role as a monster is defined in part through his lineage. One of the most important values in the Danes’ culture was one’s pedigree. Warriors often introduced themselves by giving a litany of their father’s and sometimes their grandfather’s accomplishments. Beowulf’s explanation of who he is to the Danish coast-guard references his king and his father before anything else: We belong by birth to the Geat people and owe allegiance to Lord Hygelac. In his day, my father was a famous man, a noble warrior-lord named Ecgtheow. He outlasted many a long winter and went on his way. All over the world men wise in counsel continue to remember him. (Heaney, lines 260–266) Grendel, on the other hand, is delineated as being a descendant of Cain, Adam and Eve’s son from The Book of Genesis who slays his brother, Abel. This crime earns him God’s mark, ensuring he can never be killed by anyone, including himself. Cast out and cursed to wander, Cain becomes a pariah. Grendel, too, …had dwelt for a time in misery among the banished monsters, Cain’s clan, whom the Creator had outlawed and condemned as outcasts… … and out of the curse of his exile there sprang ogres and elves and evil phantoms and the giants too who strove with God… (Heaney, lines 104–107, 111–113) In Anglo-Saxon, Grendel is compared to eotenas (Beowulf, line 112), a word whose etymology relates it to jötunn, the Old Norse word for giant. The etymology for eoten is “cannibal” or “one who eats you.” Because that’s what trolls do. So lineage was important to the Danes, but what bothered them? One of the biggest taboos in Danish culture at the time of Beowulf was the killing of one’s kin: wrecking your community was a no-no. Who is Grendel’s only notable ancestor? Cain, cursed by God for murdering his brother. The logical extension of this means Grendel himself is doomed to be at odds with God or goodness. For the newly

Christian audience of Beowulf, this lineage had a striking impact: Grendel was necessarily evil. Even before they knew him, they knew he came from bad stock; for them, this was a problem. Grendel doesn’t rise above this lineage, either; his role as a monster is defined by his anti-social actions. He attacks the Danes in the mead hall Heorot, the center of the community, by literally killing and eating them. Yet he also attacks the Danes in a broader way by making Heorot an unsafe place, so that the Danes begin sleeping far away from the mead hall. The sense of community is broken apart, as the place where everyone congregates for social and political purposes becomes a place of danger and death. Grendel is a monster because he commits the atrocity of murder against individuals, and he is a monster because he commits atrocities against the society in which those individuals live. But Grendel doesn’t merely destroy the community by invading the sanctity of the mead hall, causing sorrow where mirth existed before. Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, cannot adequately defend his people from such unambiguous villainy, which threatens his ability to fulfill the Good King paradigm set down in the prologue of the epic by his legendary ancestor Scyld Sheafson. As a good king, Hrothgar has a few simple duties: defend his people, share his prosperity with those who are loyal to him, and intimidate the communities around them. But Grendel prevents him from doing at least two of those, and the Danes, who are not fools, weigh the danger of making themselves a Grendel snack against the loss of hanging out with their buddies in the mead hall. The Danes begin living elsewhere. But in doing so, they run the risk of becoming isolated from each other––and of becoming outcasts themselves, like Cain, like Grendel. And thus monsters. * * * In some ways, we live in the mead hall, too. We congregate in places that manifest our culture and who we are as a society. We align ourselves through our involvement in geekery and sports and worship, in academia and cinema and social media, in the myriad other ways through which we define our free time and the people we spend it with. The mead hall is spacious and acoustically gorgeous. It magnifies us, broadcasts who we are until we fill the space around us with our greatness. The mead hall amplifies us back to ourselves, and if we aren’t careful, it becomes our echo chamber. Yes, we live there, and we aren’t any safer from Grendel than those Danes were. * * * Every once in a while, one of my ninth graders would fill the page with a drawing of a swirling, dark gray tornado, with

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words like “nuclear war” and “terrorism” and “man” spinning out of the vortex. I would look at that drawing and think, You get it. Grendel is the personification of humanity’s fears. He demonstrates evil on a practical level––but also potential evil, what all people might become. He is, after all, descended from a human. But thanks to generations of foul pedigree, he’s different. Turned. For a contemporary equivalent, consider zombies. In one sense, Grendel and zombies have little in common. One is a rage-filled beast living at the bottom of a lake so toxic it’s actively on fire. The others are the dead, also turned, whose resurrection has to be the cruelest joke imaginable. They shuffle their decaying corpses about, literally mindless, acting solely on their carnage instinct: a hunger for human brains (or any living flesh, depending on the mythos you’re going with). Zombies are people, but with the rational, civilized parts rotted away. And what do zombies do? They impact people’s behavior in radical ways because they threaten to make us like them. Just take, for example, The Walking Dead, whose popularity is a clear indication of our society’s fascination with torture porn. Spoiler alert in case you’ve just started watching the show from the beginning: everyone is a potential zombie. Thanks to some virus that has infected the entire human species, zombiehood is everyone’s ultimate fate. And the people on the show are constantly fighting against that: the urge for survival is now layered with knowing there’s no glibly escaping their eventual undead hell. So perhaps it’s stress that makes the humans on that show the more dangerous monsters. Zombies can be dealt with––and generally are, in a narrow rotation of uncreative ways. But the humans fight for territory and scarce resources and revenge. And sometimes pride. They fight in disgusting, evil ways, and so they are monsters, too. As John Gardner’s iteration of Grendel says of warring humans, “no wolf [is] so vicious to other wolves” (Gardner 32).

abuse or intimidate or violate another person. Grendel is the social convention that allows those trolls to get away with it and the further victimization that compels the silence of those who have been harmed. Grendel is the awful circumstance, the miasma of profiling and prejudice and poverty and a lack of education and a lack of social awareness, which allows for the tragically predictable conditions that make possible such a thing as “suicide by cop.” Grendel bullies the uppity outspoken to keep their opinions to themselves, so they quit engaging in public discourse. Grendel shames people, casting doubt on the trauma they’ve lived through so they are less likely to call out their abusers. For some, Grendel is social media, too overwhelming too consuming too poisonous. But Grendel also induces people to step away from social media, so they lose touch with those who are dear to them emotionally but far from them geographically. Their voices, sometimes the voices of reason, disappear from the conversation. Terrorization and isolation are equally capable of destroying a community. Grendel is the political misdeeds and anti-social policies that wear people down day after day until they are so fatigued by compassion or empathy or anguish or fear that they begin to check out and stop engaging with public action. Grendel represents another, more subtle threat, too: if we collectively allow monsters to exist, do we collectively become monsters as well? As a society, we’re shockingly adept at pointing out the hypocrisy of others; it is part of our own lineage. As the parable goes, we can identify the speck in another person’s eye more easily than we can identify the plank in our own. And those in our community who have the privilege of living above the fray cannot always automatically recognize that this privilege exists, because we have inherited it over generations, because it is the burning lake we swim in. As David Foster Wallace might have reminded us, “this is water.”

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In the epic poem, Grendel’s defeat comes at the hands of Beowulf, a Geatish hero keen to prove himself. Beowulf has heard of this scourge of the Danes and knows they can’t handle the problem alone. He travels across the sea and presents himself to Hrothgar, the aging Danish king, and offers his assistance. That night when Grendel invades, Beowulf battles him in single combat, without armor or weapons, bringing to bear the strength of thirty men in the grip of each hand. He rips Grendel’s arm off, and the monster exits stage left to die, but the battle isn’t quick. They fight most of the night. Beowulf doesn’t defeat Grendel just by being stronger; he defeats him through persistence. He refuses to give up; he refuses to let go. Like Grendel, Beowulf is also abstract rather than literally real: he is too physically strong to be one single person.

We can’t, it seems, escape Grendel. He’s everywhere, all around us. Grendel is every man who walks into a movie theater or café or opera house or concert or prayer meeting or classroom––or drives into a marathon or protest or holiday market or carnival or crowd of tourists––and lays waste to people who were doing nothing to him. Grendel is every mean or myopic kid lashing out at their peers while hiding behind one of a billion ubiquitous screens. Grendel is the concerted effort to discredit that which one does not like, to call it fake or unimportant or irrelevant. Grendel is a trumped-up charge against someone whose righteousness is a threat. Grendel is every wretched troll of a man who, directly or indirectly, uses his penis––or his own idea of its greatness––to

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Essay / Humor

But he is also important for what he represents within us. In the poem, he faces other monsters than just Grendel, each more overwhelming and fantastical and impossible than the last. He’s like Superman or Captain America without the Dudley Do-Right image. And, just as with comics, when we internalize those stories, we have to understand that a superhero won’t actually sail in and save us from monsters. We have to save ourselves. And what does that look like? In Beowulf, the Danes’ hero comes from the outside. Hrothgar fails to protect his people for twelve winters in part, perhaps, because he has been laboring under the Good King paradigm for so long. He has othered the problem because it is easy to do so. He does not appear to consider, for even a moment, that the violence Grendel visits upon his community is not substantially different in scope or in result from the violence he himself has visited upon other communities on his path to Good Kingship. Hrothgar, in seeking to live up to the example of his glorious lineage, must become the “scourge of many tribes, / A wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes” (Heaney, lines 4-5). When he becomes a “terror of the hall-troops,” “[t]he fortunes of war [favor] Hrothgar” (Heaney, lines 7, 64). And that good fortune makes him the “good king” he has striven to be, but this isn’t enough for him to be truly beneficial to his people. When Grendel comes calling, the king fails to vanquish that which he fails to recognize as his own failing. Hrothgar’s defense against the scourge of his own mead hall is ineffectual because he lacks self-awareness. He refuses to acknowledge that maybe he isn’t, any longer, a good king. In an effort to save themselves, how do the Danes react? …powerful counselors, The highest in the land, would lend advice… … Sometimes at pagan shrines they vowed offerings to idols, swore oaths That the killer of souls might come to their aid And save the people. (Heaney, lines 171–178) The problem, as almost everyone knows, is that thoughts and prayers aren’t really a solution. Even we, in our own mead hall, can see they don’t work. * * * Hrothgar ultimately allows his people to be saved by accepting Beowulf’s help. In keeping with his cultural values, the king capitalizes on the Geatish hero’s excellent lineage and on the debt Beowulf’s father owed to Hrothgar from their youth. In doing so, Hrothgar saves his own reputation in front of his devoted subjects, but only by humbling himself and admitting he has failed. He has been in power for too long. He opens up to the strength of a man many decades his junior,

inadvertently making way for a new generation of leaders: when Beowulf returns from the haunted mere triumphant, Hrothgar is so overcome with gratitude he tries to name Beowulf his heir. Queen Wealtheow wisely reminds the old king of their own sons, and Beowulf, now a trusted and treasured friend and ally, returns gloriously to Geatland, where he will one day become king himself. Now let’s get back to the metaphors about the Human Condition the literature has gifted to us. If Grendel is carnal rage and revenge and violence and isolation, then Beowulf is reason and respect and logic and building community. Beowulf is appreciating our differences for the strengths they can bring us. Recognizing the importance of opening up to other people, searching for the value in the Other. Finding common ground and dismantling the systems of oppression that we have blindly let in, as well as the ones that have beaten down our doors. This is not beyond us. Everyone gets tired sometimes. Consider, though, a choir, in which many people sing, but not all at the same time. The tenor section fills up the cry while the soprani take a breath. The bass and alto contingents alternate their intensity. The singing doesn’t stop, and no one’s voice gets destroyed from overuse. They all come back together to finish the song, filling the mead hall with the resonant beauty of their music. The monster isn’t snarling at the door; it’s inside, with us. But we can be stronger than it. We have the numbers on our side. We are a community filled with numerous groups of people, sometimes thirty strong, sometimes three hundred, sometimes three million, calling and writing and voting and marching together, actively seeking to engage people interested in making the world less monstrous. Grendel’s time is up. Hwaet. Let’s get to it, shall we?

Angélique Jamail’s writing has appeared in more than two dozen publications, most recently, three poems and two essays in The Milk of Female Kindness—An Anthology of Honest Motherhood; two essays of literary criticism for Femmeliterate; culture pieces in Bayou City Magazine (online); Houston’s WriteSpace blog; an essay in Pluck Magazine; and poetry in the Mutabilis Press anthology, Untameable City. In 2011, her work was highlighted in the New Letters Prize for Poetry (finalist). Her novelette FINIS. was independently published in 2014. She blogs at www.SapphosTorque. com. Currently, she teaches English and Creative Writing to grades 9-12 at The Kinkaid School in Houston, Texas.

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Bowl BELLE LING

Think bowl as a circumference, turn your finger clockwise to circle everything that is — or try another way: furl your steps to evade anything that’s going to disappear — this bowl, so serene. Fish for your head by wheeling your neck. Strain your eyes to check if any shadow’s risen, to see if anybody’s around. Ride on, again, the thoughts that the bowl holds: the uprising islands of the clay en masse, the million eyes of red paints, the brown-veined flames haemorrhaging, the patina’s blue lips; the scorches of yesterday still burning — these are a day’s outrage, when nothing happens, even when you shout at it. Turn your mind away from anything that makes you think of the bowl. Refrain from asking what you’re thinking of. Appear as if this bowl is your every new-born that is undone every time you try to think of it.

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Poetry

Bagpipes BELLE LING

The squares of tartans under the sun are cooked like green couscous in tides of sweat — the most fearless cookout in summer. Saint Patrick is screeching like neon billboards, Can’t you see the shamrocks? So much jungle unashamed of its black outbreaks. The cathedral is peeling people’s souls. The weather is un-air-conditionedly cool. The church bell, like a lizard’s skin, turning pink-red. So vivid, God’s voice — the pedestrians whisper. The sparrows are gems unstuck, crooning, prophets are drummed up —

This afternoon is a parade of sequins — the pipes and their broken chords, the grails of white lilies and their luminous views of things, the lovers’ whale-whirl kisses, and the soft-shell silence in the bellies of air. Saint Patrick slips in and says: Come with me, I’ll show you the world, in broken shadows, open to a new strength. His voice takes off at a cracked leaf — and lands on the green ice near my dreamt Artic.

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Belle Ling is a PhD student in Creative Writing (Poetry), at The University of Queensland, Australia. She likes writing poems which shuffle between the quotidian and the transcendent, provoking in-depth thoughts on philosophical reflection. Her poems have appeared in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Barnwood International Poetry Magazine, Overland, Meanjin, Taj Mahal Review, The Istanbul Review and more. Her poetry collection, “A Seed and a Plant” was shortlisted for The HKU International Poetry Prize 2010. Her poem, “That Space,” won a second place in the ESL category of the International Poetry Competition organized by the Oxford Brookes University in October 2016. She was the recipient of the Playa Residency, Oregon, in 2014. She was awarded a Merit Scholarship at the New York State Summer Writers Institute in 2017. She is currently working on her dissertation on the relationship between food and poetry by looking at Pablo Neruda’s food odes.

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Poetry

A Monk and His Tofu BELLE LING

His white gaze sits like the unquivering sun. It scales the size of a spirit, stretches to the edge of the cube, and slides off the illusive slope. From one side to another, he wants to cut a shape, like a fortune-less life: longings and karma cancelled. He pockets sadness, not exaggerating any deaths; he sighs an unreal cloud for the fated sun to rise. He defers his smile until the heat hauls the lake to his body. His body is a backdoor, his thoughts departing — each slice turns thinner for a second life in the boiling water. From bubbles to bubbles he is expecting something more —

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Her External Heart GEORGE SALIS

S

acagawea of the Lemhi Shoshone tribe Akaitikka, the Eaters of Salmon, was leading on Horseback Captain Meriwether Lewis, Second Lieutenant William Clark, and thirty-one other members of the Corps of Discovery through the Bitterroot Mountains of the Rockies. Although they followed her through such precarious passages where wild spirits preyed, little did they know that she was lost but for the guide of her baby kept to her back, an External Heart in a cloth Womb, pulsing against the center of her spine and showing her the way. The white men mostly kept their distance, whether out of fear or respect she did not know. Lewis most of all treated her child like an absence, although she was grateful for his potion of snake’s rattle which aided her difficult delivery a few months ago. Conversely, Clark gazed upon her baby as though he were a totem, and while she named him JeanBaptiste, Clark christened him Pompy, the springy sound of the endearment reminding her of bambi, the Shoshone word for the head. Perhaps Clark sensed the importance of her son, that he was more than a mere infant, but possessed muscular links to the spirit world. Although she shared a spinal language

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with her child, she knew that there was more in his seeing eyes than she could possibly comprehend. For instance, as they were sailing up the Missouri River, she sang a lullaby to Jean-Baptiste about Issa the Wolf, Creator of Spirit and Flesh, Water and Earth, and her baby opened his mouth to attempt his first word. Sacagawea smiled in anticipation, but no word came, or if it did it took the form of a squall that made the captain lose control of the boat and nearly capsize it, the river water dancing between rainbow colors. She reflected on that message of Wrathful Wind, of Epileptic Spectrums, and wondered if it was a warning, that she was making a mistake helping the white men, but she wasn’t sure. And before she surprisingly met her long-lost brother Chief Cameahwait in their effort to obtain horses, they had encountered cloud-swarms of mosquitoes that attached to the exposed skin of their bodies like tree splinters, and only the sharpness of blades were successful in removing them, yet Jean-Baptiste remained immaculate, blushing like rose petals. The mosquitoes must have known that his blood was pure wind and that a single sip would have sundered their carapaces in two. And she noticed


Short Story

that the white men who were closest in proximity to JeanBaptiste were more likely to develop strange maladies: boils that reflected the surface of the Moon during Suntime, toes that turned into tree roots and bored beneath the earth to drink groundwater, pupils that gluttonously ate light to the point of blindness (or second sight), and the spontaneous defecation of bird eggs (all dashed against rocks by the fearful white man mothers, except for one that hatched to reveal a newborn double, which was hurriedly aborted), among other oddities. The plants and animals spoke to Sacagawea in the language of medicine and sustenance, and she concocted remedies out of gooseberries and camas root, buffalo meat and furs, salmon and trout. But words of witch and sorceress were whispered as eyes speared the back of her head, deflected off her baby’s cryptic aura. She didn’t blame them for their fear. Come twilight, their horses trotted onto a left-hand trail, above which the disembodied eyes of owls peppered the limbs of trees like leaves. Some blinked, but most watched with uninterrupted judgement. When one of the white men said, “I’ve a funny feeling,” they heard an echoed screech

enwrapped in rustling, and a white man screamed in pain as he was wrenched upward by silent talons into the tree crown. Brandishing torches, the white men burned and singed the tree trunk, the owl eye leaves, while Sacagawea told them, “No! You mustn’t!” and the eaten white man was regurgitated at their feet, unhurt but for talon holes on each side of his shoulders and drenched in digestive tree sap. They galloped at full speed out of that trail and only after they entered a small clearing of darkness did they stop for Sacagawea to treat the white man’s wounds and to make camp. By then she could feel their eyes spearing not the back of her head but her External Heart, Jean-Baptiste. At dawn’s break, Clark overslept in his tent and the white men harangued him and hollered obscenities from outside, until Lewis entered to wake him and said, “Judas priest!” After an anxious moment, he exited the tent with a skunk kitten bundled in his arms, his stone face dripping with olive skunk squirt. Words of black magic and witchcraft were not-so-whispered by the white men now, and Lewis handed Sacagawea the bundle while saying, “Do not think we’re

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unaware of who’s doing all of this. Remedy this monstrosity, or it’ll be your undoing.” She attempted to scrub Clark’s woolly head in a nearby stream, but there was no change in his illness. She realized that she must cure the curse by bathing the baby buhni’atsi in a transforming waterfall, and she carried it in a cloth womb over her breasts, wondering why Jean-Baptiste had done this. Perhaps he was trying to bring the white men closer to nature, for they had long abandoned her, even while traversing across a valve of her heart. They followed Sacagawea many paces behind as she led them up and down winding forking paths, vigilant of wild spirits in any and all forms, until at last she heard the liquid flute of Yellowstone River, and when she saw it she kept it at her side until they encountered roaring growling whimpering Yellowstone Falls. She explained to Lewis what it would take to remedy Clark’s curse. Slowly, Lewis nodded, his olive-stained eyes unblinking, and then a solemn voting commenced. Rather than any white man doctor or medicine, the majority, swayed by their awe and fear of her External Heart, ruled in the waterfall’s favor. And so, with half their numbers atop the Cliff and the rest, including Sacagawea and Lewis, at the mistwinded bottom, the skunk kitten was pitched by someone in the former group into the rapids and subsequently fell as a black-and-white-striped dot, and thrashing amid the cloudpatched water, limbs reaching, head bulging, tail shrinking, he metamorphosed into a white man once again, his body spared the rock spears and rock tomahawks, finally retrieved by his brethren where the water was calmer. Some of the white men cheered and yippee’d while most were silent, aside from a cicada dispersion of whispers. Spitting up water, Clark stood naked and drip-ridden, stumbling as if awoken mid-dream before Clark’s Night Man wrapped him in several wool blankets, and succumbing to exhaustion he rested on all fours like a wilted buffalo. Fear became Sacagawea as she realized the pulses on her spine had ceased, and she reached behind for her External Heart only to find an absence, the cloth womb flattened against her back. She turned around and witnessed Lewis holding high Jean-Baptiste upside-down by his ankle. In his other hand, he brandished an onyx rock and in a hysteric voice said, “Another vote, gentlemen! Who

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thinks I should crush the head of evil with this here rock!” The white men stared, motionless as albino pillars. “What say you! Are we all just pawns to this one’s Satanic power?” And a red sun glow developed in her baby’s stomach as he squirmed. At first soundless, her child was on the precipice of releasing an anguished wail, and like his first word it was more than that, expressing itself as a light-boom that shrouded the entirety of the Corps of Discovery while Sacagawea dived into the Yellowstone River, protected by a cocoon of water and mist, except her left arm, shoulder, and eye, which was scorched. She emerged from the aquatic cocoon with invisible bird wings upon her back, and she bolted skyward, seeing many different animals roaming the blackened ground below, a disoriented Clark stag, a confused Lewis snake, a stunned Toussaint hog, a freed Night Man nightingale, from horses to hummingbirds, all and each to his own essence. She flew onward, and with her few charred parts she was now able to see and touch the spirit world in full, while her other eye and the rest of her body remained in chains of flesh, and so she would simultaneously search both worlds for whatever form her child now took, breath or beast, wind or water, Issa the Wolf or his trickster brother Coyote, or All as One.

George Salis is the recipient of the Sullivan Award for Fiction, the Ann Morris Prize for Fiction, and the Davidson Award for Integrity in Journalism. His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, The Missing Slate, CultureCult Magazine, NILVX: A Book of Magic, Quail Bell Magazine, Crab Fat Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Isacoustic, Atticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is the author of the novel Sea Above, Sun Below (forthcoming from Dink Press). He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. www.GeorgeSalis.com


Literary Work

The West Virginian Starfish HYTEN DAVIDSON

R

ichard Karn was just signing off from a rerun of Family Feud as Carly’s eyes began to close when the phone rang. She languidly rose from the couch, eyes on the screen as she answered. “You hurt or anything?” she greeted. “All right. Give me. . .fifteen minutes. Okay.” The tires of her truck grinded to a halt where the gravel driveway met padded earth of the Appalachian Trail as her high beams flashed first over the scan of trees, then a handmade white sign. The sign read, in red paint, “Give up? Call for pickup. 757-8245.” Next to the sign stood a scrawny girl wearing a backpack bigger than she, raising her hand against the beams’ light. Carly rolled down her window and waved the girl over. After heaving her backpack up and over into the bed of the truck, the girl crawled into the passenger’s seat and half-heartedly smiled at Carly. They pulled away.

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Driving back down the lonely road to Harper’s Ferry, both girls kept quiet to themselves. Carly never wanted to pry, and didn’t care too much anyway. The girl was crumpled up against the passenger door, head bowed, stifling defeated tears. This was not unusual. Bigger and stronger men than she had ridden in Carly’s truck, unabashedly bawling, mourning the end, having failed themselves. “It was nice to hear a girl’s voice on the phone, you know?” the girl feebly tossed out. Carly shrugged. “What’s your name?” Carly offered back, as the girl’s head was beginning to droop back into shame. “Exodus,” the passenger mumbled. This perked Carly up. If nothing else about this, she did enjoy the guessing game. “Okay. . .let me guess. This was your big religious pilgrimage. You’re going to be a youth leader or something? And I bet you named yourself before you hit the trail.”


Short Story

Growing up in a household where being mean was to be affectionate, Carly never knew the difference. Exodus took the hit heavily and the tears began to flood. “Yeah, basically. Pretty obvious, huh?” Carly shrugged again. Quiet. Then, the idea sparked Exodus and her tears momentarily parted. “Hey…did you happen to pick up a guy recently? A big guy probably. Maybe a 14 Keen?” It struck Carly that this girl was probably exhausted, starved, near delusion. “Huh?” “The past few days I was following a set of footprints—Keen boots, size 14. But I never caught up to him.” Exodus shifted in her seat. “It can get pretty lonely out there, you know? Even with God around. Your mind really gets lost and you start to. . .imagine what this guy is like. What 14 Keen likes, what he dislikes. Where is family is, why’s he on the trail. Stuff like that and then. . .then I toss in my head like, ‘Maybe I’m met to meet this guy.’ Right? ‘Maybe he’s the man of my dreams’ or something. You know?” Carly didn’t. “Nevermind. I dunno.” Quiet. “I didn’t pick up anyone for a week now,” Carly offered. “Oh. Okay.” “There’s a hostel a little way up the road. You want me to pick you up tomorrow and drive you back to the trail?” Exodus shook her head. “No. No, I’m done.” That, Carly understood. The next evening, Carly was getting ready for her date night, French-braiding her hair in the bathroom while the TV chatted at her from around the hallway. Just then, the front door burst open and Tom strode in. “Carllllly. Carlllly,” Tom called, in his best Rick Grimes impression—the accent of which was not so far from his own. “If you leave your door unlocked the zombies are gonna getcha, Carllllly.” Carly called back. “Hey, if you’re going to bust in here you need a search warrant!” “You know who doesn’t apply for search warrants? Zombies. Also burglars. Also boyfriends.” Tom swung around the bathroom doorway to plant a kiss on Carly’s head. She turned to him. “Hey, I thought we were dressing up tonight?” Tom tucked in the shirt of his police uniform. “Didn’t know we were getting so fancy! But don’t let that stop you from dolling up. That hair twisting you do. . .is very sexy. What, are we celebrating something?” “Yeah. Tonight, I cut the cord.” Tom put his hand on the small of her neck.

“Really? You serious?” Carly shrugged and nodded. “Are you. . .ready for that?” “Sure. We’ll go out to eat and when we get back, I’m going to take the kitchen scissors and chop that phone line.” Carly finished up as Tom turned off the TV. She emerged, and hand-in-hand, they exited the house. As Carly pulled the door shut to lock, a noise stopped her. The phone rang inside. “You’re off duty, Carly. End of watch,” said Tom gently as Carly shifted her feet. “One last ride. Last one. It’ll just take a minute. Fifteen minutes, tops!” she called back, already fleeing inside to catch the phone. The smell of the old man sandwiched between Carly and Tom in the truck silenced any opportunity for conversation. Tom did not regret forgoing changing into something nice when the old man attempted to crawl over him to step out onto the hostel steps. The old man bid them thanks and “Adieu.” As the door slammed shut, Tom turned to Carly. “Adieu not want to pick up anymore hitchhikers tonight. Adieu want to resume date night, dieu you?” “Aw, come on, that wasn’t that bad. Not as bad as that one that threw up on you that one time, remember?” she retorted, loosening up. Just then, there was a knock on Carly’s window. The man was back. “Say no vacancy at the door,” the old man said, his breath wafting in as Carly rolled the window down. “You know of anywhere else I can go tonight?” “Shit. Uh…” Carly looked to Tom, who shook his head. “Um, not really. Uh… look, you can just stay at my place tonight.” The man gave a toothy smile, and turned to throw his stuff back in the truck bed. Out of earshot— “Are you crazy?? You want to get murdered tonight?” Tom hissed. “That guy is old as dirt. He’s harmless.” “No one’s entirely harmless.” “Well, if you’re so concerned, you should just stay the night with us, then.” That was new. “Really?” Tom perked up. Carly nodded. “Does he have to sleep with us?” Tom asked as the passenger door flew open and the man crawled back in. Back home, Tom dropped his things by the doorway and made a beeline for the kitchen, hoping still to salvage date night with some cooked steaks. The old man followed suit, dumping his hiking bag, sleeping mat, tent, and trekking poles to the floor. Carly resumed her position on the couch facing the door, so the old man settled in the lazy boy chair adjacent to her. Carly spread her legs a bit and pulled her elbows to the top of the couch. These solo hikers always try to come across

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as dominant, almost entertaining themselves with their own creepy behavior. Carly was content to stare him down. “So are you going to kill me?” the old man asked to empty the air. “Are you going to kill me?” Carly replied. There, all out in the open. “Chances are you two are gonna gang up on me. Some freaky couple’s sex game or something.” “I hate to tell you this, but you look right out of a horror film. Like one where an old mountain man seeks shelter in a young couple’s house, then kills them all in their sleep and takes their bodies back to his cave.” The old man smiled and nodded at this. “There is a third option.” “What’s that?” “We team up and kill that pretty fella in there.” Carly leaned her head to glance into the kitchen, where Tommy was whistling to himself and dodging the scalding spray of the skillet. “Nah, we’ll keep him. He makes good steaks.” Carly decided. “Well, then.” The old man leaned forward in his seat. “Now that we’ve established that no one is killing each other tonight, how do you do?” His hairy arm stretched out toward Carly, and they shook hands. “Acanthaster. It’s a pleasure.” “A. . .can. . .thaster. Alright. I gotta think about that one.” “And you are?” Acanthaster asked, rising to his feet. “Carly.” “Carly, don’t take this the wrong way. But it doesn’t look like this is your house.” “That so?” “I mean, okay, maybe you’re not gonna kill me. But you definitely killed the old man that lived here before you. No lady would decorate like this.” Carly laughed, just a little though. “This was my dad’s place. I just didn’t rearrange it yet or anything.” Acanthaster began strolling around the living room, inspecting the books in the bookshelf, the trinkets on the tables, the pictures on the wall. “Sorry for your loss,” he mumbled, reading a framed certificate on the wall. “He didn’t die.” Acanthaster whipped around. “Didn’t die but gone?” “Yeah.” Carly gave one nod. “Well, what’s the difference?” Carly was taken aback, but feared losing her dominant status in the conversation so she kept her face still. Still, but thinking. “Um. Well. One has a grave and one doesn’t, right? One says goodbye and one doesn’t. One doesn’t want to leave you

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but has to; one leaves you but doesn’t have to.” She couldn’t help it—she shifted in her seat. Acanthaster resumed his inspection of the walls but seemed unsatisfied with her answer. “Dad just disappeared?” Was he asking this to shake her? Try to tease out the weak in her? “Yeah,” Carly coughed out cooly. At this, the old man stopped on a hung photo. “This is him?” Of course it was him. The photo was twenty years old, but he was the same. Big smile in the winner’s circle, all white jumpsuit made dirty. He always got things dirty and always wore white anyway. Next to him in the picture was an eightyear-old Carly, sitting in his racecar and holding up the trophy. “I know him!” Acanthaster exclaimed. “He’s—” “Marty Kansas. Yeah,” Carly completed. “And you’re his kid?” He was trying to embarrass her—that was it. Carly shrugged. “What. . .happened to him?” That question—that emphasis on the happened she knew well. The answer itself, not so much. “After the big crash, he obviously had to retire. But even if he did fully recover, no one cared about him anymore anyway. You know? He had to sell our house, we moved here, couldn’t get a job, didn’t do much besides take pain pills and pick up hikers for free. People eventually just forgot about him, continuing to disappear until one day...gone.” “Just up and left?” “Yeah,” Carly confirmed, annoyed that all his questioning pointed out the obvious. “Left a short note telling me to keep picking up the hikers. To not hang up or give up on them.” “So you’ve taken up the family business. Picking up the needy—” “And stinky. Yeah,” Carly completed. Acanthaster smiled wide at Carly, almost friendly, almost familial. Tommy entered with three plates balancing on his arms like a waiter. Carly softened. Tom had a natural dominance in a room, one that Carly fed off of. “Is she talking about her dad?” Tommy interjected, passing out the plates. “About a legend, yes!” Acanthaster replied, gratefully receiving his food. “He’s not a legend,” Carly cut. “For all we know, he’s probably just another bum in a crackhouse somewhere.” “I’ve been to every crackhouse in Harper’s Ferry,” Tom added. “Yeah, no wonder you’re so perky after work,” Carly shot at him. Tom sat down on the couch next to her, “It’s still date night, isn’t it? I’m perky right now.”


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Everyone, everyone was always trying to embarrass her. Same as her dad, trying to make her life an embarrassment. “Both of you need a cold shower.” Drinking with Acanthaster didn’t feel that different from drinking alone with herself, Carly thought. It might’ve been past midnight. Tom was long asleep on the couch, with his feet dangling over Carly’s lap, her Jack and Coke resting on his calves. Acanthaster was waving his own drink in hand, dripping on the dirt-soaked carpet. “So after three days in this goddamn thunderstorm, I just finally say, ‘Fuck it.’ Left Earnhardt and take the first fork out of there. Wandered around until I saw that sign of yours.” “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Carly interjected. “You abandoned your hiking partner? I though the first rule of the woods or whatever was to not leave your people behind?” “Ah, truth is I was slowing him down. I was sparing him, really. Hate to be a burden.” “Huh. And did those guys give you your trail name?” “No. My wife did.” “She hike too?” “She was the one that wanted to do the whole Appalachian Trail. But no, she never could. I took up the name she always liked. Makes it sort of like she finally got to do it.” Carly pondered. “So it’s a girl’s name.” “Not exactly.” “Well, I’m pretty good at guessing why people got their name. And I got to say I have no friggin’ clue about yours.” “What’s your guess?” “I dunno. Is it a wizard? Is it a Game of Thrones thing?” Acanthaster shook his head vigorously and began untying the laces of his boots. “For our honeymoon my wife and I went to this little remote island in the Caribbean. Beautiful blue, blue water. We’re walking down the beach and I accidentally step on a starfish. Right here.” Socks off, Acanthaster waved the bottom of his foot at Carly. “Stepped right on the crown-of-thorns, also known as the Acanthaster starfish, also known as the most poisonous starfishies in the sea. Stung me like a motherfucker. So my wife runs for help and comes back with a local. Instead of hauling me back up, the guy just takes the acanthaster, flips it over, and presses its belly right up on the sole of my foot. Right here. The thing just sucks its own poison right back out. And I was fine! That’s nature. So then, on my wife’s deathbed, I’m a terrible wreck. I could barely speak, so she did. Gave me my name, to remind me that even in my pain, the antidote is never that far away.” Carly finished her drink. “Which,” Acanthaster continued, “makes it kinda funny that you guys set up shop here. Harper’s Ferry, WV. I don’t know if you know this, but your little town is widely known by through-hikers as the psychological breaking point of the trail. If you make it past here, you’ll make it to the

end. All the people you pick up, blubbering and wallowing—if only they didn’t quit. Their antidote is just a few miles up the road, on the other side this town.” “What the hell are you doing here then? You called me, same as all the other quitters,” challenged Carly. “Maybe so. But I’m just passing through. I’m not stuck living at the breaking point.” Shame and embarrassment. She knew it. Carly stood up and without glancing once at Acanthaster, walked to kitchen, rummaged through the drawer for the scissors, brought them to where the phone hung on the wall, and—like the Fates cutting the thread of a mortal’s destiny with their shears—she cut the cord. And went to bed. The next morning, the old man was gone. Carly wandered into the living room, then checked the other few rooms to make sure he didn’t steal anything. Once returned, she noticed all his stuff—bag, mat, tent, poles, canteen were all still slumped over by the front. The cool air from the garage blew over Carly as she opened the door. She lugged the man’s things over toward the workbench and tossed it underneath. All her dad’s things were there, still untouched—tools hanging diagonally, blocks of wood for an unfinished project on the bench, another photo of himself and Carly in his racecar. She turned and headed back toward the garage door, and stopped. On the floor by the doormat were a pair of rusty red boots, her dad’s old shoes. Carly bent down and flipped the boot over to see the sole: 14 Keen. Carly’s truck grinded to a halt where the gravel driveway met padded dirt, and she stepped out. From the bed of the truck, she hauled out Acanthaster’s hiking bag and slung it around her back. She then turned and stepped onto the trail. It was just past nightfall when Carly wandered into the campsite. Mumbled voices could be heard, and the mirage of little fires visible. One voice from one fire pit called out to her. “Hey! Hey I know you!” Near delusion, Carly turned to see Exodus waving her over. “Guys, this was that girl that picked me up! You seriously saved my ass that night!” “You got back on the trail?” asked Carly quizzically. “I did, yeah! Just needed a day to bounce back. Guys, give this girl all your food and love. Oh, wait, sorry. I never even got your name?” “It’s Acanthaster.”

Hyten Davidson is a writer and actress based in the Chicago area. Originally from Virginia, she got her BFA in Acting from The Hartt School, graduating summa cum laude. Her short plays have been performed in Evanston, Chicago, and New York, and her short film “Partition” is currently in production. For more, visit www.hytendavidson.com.

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Cynthia Blank received her MFA in Poetry from Bar Ilan University’s Shaindy Rudoff Creative Writing Graduate Program. Her poems have been featured most recently in Grey Borders Magazine, Fourth & Sycamore, Young Ravens Literary Review, and Varnish Journal. More of her work can be found here: https://cynthblank. wixsite.com/website.

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Poetry

Impact CYNTHIA BLANK

Looking for a place to start, a jumping-off point: Do I tell the story of the first time I saw him—the white cement floor, my gold shirt with buttons, and his eerie, black-eyed smile sending me flash-flood warnings? Or do I relay the aftermath of a mental hostage-taking? The way the metal wires inside me were meticulously cut, and have still not congealed enough for me to display in dainty, twinkly lights that “It’s okay” and “I’m all right” and that I’m not still dreaming the nightmares of his eyes on me across a room or his hands kneading my skin like smooth, pliant dough. Do I admit I’m still drinking in and shaking like a leaf to the flashbacks when I drive by streets or watch television commercials that remind me I was ever lost to myself, to the constellations around me? And maybe such an admission wouldn’t be the worst place to start— like jumping off a cliff into the sea with absolutely no fear of the impact.

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Lullaby CYNTHIA BLANK

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Sitting at your desk on a wooden, three-legged chair, I turn to examine the expanse of blue, wondering how the coolness of your mother’s cotton blanket would feel if I slipped my legs —naked and guilty— under it and disappeared into the deceptively soft lullaby I hear you singing to the pretty phantom of a victim still inside me.


Poetry

When I flew to Tel Aviv I told myself I was escaping theories of emotional control how to gesticulate wildly on stage and act properly in front of strangers. And you, the plane was descending, and I knew I had come for nothing so mysterious, nothing that could explain away the spasms churning inside me.

Eyes to the Sea CYNTHIA BLANK

As the plane nosedived, past the naked meeting point of blue waters and sky, my ears were filled. I felt flies swarm around me— buzzing flies that refused to be swatted away. My lashes blinked like desperate wings and I became drenched with sweat. I was not drowning but I wanted.

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Open Heart Mike Night

(an excerpt from a longer tale) IDAN COHEN

Spring, turning swiftly to Summer

T

he air is awake. Yesterday’s light rain has left the streets slick and fresh in the cheery noon sun. Droplets of water glisten on the leaves of the growing ivy on the outer walls of the Salon. The lotus in its bowl above the doors is planning to bloom, stretching, building it. It is a lucky Saturday and the remains of yesterdays revels and discoveries are still sleeping it off on the couches. Terry, the bartender, is considering leaving his apartment and moving into one of the back rooms. He spends almost all his time here anyway. He yawns massively as he stirs sugar into a large kettle of black, black coffee and, with only some hesitation, unlatches one of the bay windows that have been closed since fall. It sticks a little and then opens wide, bringing in living air.

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The air, tingling with anticipation. The skies, expectant, open, saying—fill me. The earth, wet, wet after the rain. The whole world turning, turning. And every man who opens his mouth lies, or sings a prayer. Concrete, metal, fabric, wood and living wood, rats, ravens and vagrant parrots, traffic signs and a million souls churn together. Another day in the city, in the world. Harry Roman lounges in the driver-side seat. Jon of the Lilies is driving an intent, casual 60. His well-kept Kangoo can take 120, even 140. The windows open, the living air. The city streets slick under their wheels. Harry is breathing, and feeling a tingle of anticipation along with nagging doubts. Jon of the


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Lilies is feeling the taste of the future, and it’s not bad at all. They catch each other’s eyes and smile. Jon of the Lilies takes a quick right, and another, to a parking under palm trees and oaks in cool shade and sudden silence. He eases into a space and drags the stick up, shaking the whole car. Nice air. They exhale for a moment, and breath in together. The baggage door cracks open and they unpack. Juggling microphone stands and endless PL cables, pillows, sitting matts, posters, a meter tall golden candlestick—“Jesus, who packed this one?”—three guitars, two drums, two melodicas, one kalimba, and leaving the speakers for the next round, they stagger cheerfully through the paved paths and open earth to the open square, where they stop to take in the view. Under the noon sky—in the living air! They take it all in. Half shaded by the towering trees is a masterwork of circumstance—a patch of grass and earth, tending to a circle, its center a low gorge and rising in height from from this epicenter to rolling mounds. The strangest circumstance of nature and city planning. A natural amphitheatre. The grass smells sweet after the rain. There are even butterflies, and down in the center of it kneels a most beautiful woman, her hands and forehead to the moist earth. Her long, black, hardly knotted hair and her dress of red and gold spread around her in a pool. Her brown skin colored beyond bronze by sun. Who has gone more than a round or two in this world and the other. Whose eyes, ancient, are yet without their crow feet. Crazy Maria, praying. They take it in, breathing. “Gosh,” says Harry, to himself. Jon catches a certain expression beneath Harry’s need-toshave beard, and gives him a supportive pat on the back—the kind of pat you give a paratrooper as the bay doors open— drops his gear there and goes back to the car for more. Harry stays at the top of the mound until Crazy Maria kisses the earth and stands slowly up. Her calm light eyes tour the world until they meet his. Each meeting of open eyes contains a sonnet. Each tenuous thread of actual communication is a raging storm over the sea, and a garden which grows from seed to flower—all at once, and with due time. Every meeting of open souls is a glass which fills, slowly, and quenches all thirst. Their eyes meet and she nods, and he smiles, slightly, not too wide. “She is supporting us.” she says, indicating the wet earth which splatters her golden red dress with brown. Earth on her brow as well. Witch. Sorceress. Priestess. And Harry Roman smiles, not too wide, and inclines his head in respect. “Nice of her, for sure,” he says. “Give us a hand with the gear?” She, coming up, running her hand lovingly on the leather skin of a drum, then hoisting the strap on her back, “Sure.”

They stroll down the rolling earth, back to where she had kissed the earth. Above them a man dressed all in white drags a bare foot through the earth. He is marking somewhat. He is grizzled, slim and strong, with the steady hunter’s gait. He listens to the wind when it suits him to. Lightly, his bare foot dragging through the wet soil, he is marking a great circle in at the topmost earth. He sings, softly, to the very air: May all beings breathe, be be May all beings live, free, free A certain life led him onto many paths. From each he picked a flower, and they grow, and he grows, daily, and has been for growing quite some time. He calls himself Ten Hearts. His hair is colored black and dusty, ashen gray. He is wearing all white, fresh from a ceremony, freshly born. Awake and moving. His one-note flute is tucked into the leather thong around his waist, and his hand goes to it at times, as he walks, as he sings. Jon of the Lilies passes him, a heavy black speaker held at his shoulder. “Cheers,” he grunts (but with affection), and Ten Hearts nods and smiles, and continues marking the circle, singing May all beings breathe, free, free May all beings live, be, be And the air is awake! Every living being sings it, Sweet loving laughing redolent untenuous life! Back in the salon, Redhead Red barges through the bars’ bay window with the air of one who has been waiting all winter for this. A canvas bag stuffed with rolls of paper weighs his slight frame down, but he makes the small jump involved quite easily and lands on his feet with a wild grin. Terry is doing yesterday’s washing up, and splashes sudsy water on himself in surprise. Someone by the tables is playing guitar and whistling along with himself, waking up, morning music. Redhead Red looks Terry up and down and keeps grinning. “G’morning! Big day today!” he says cheerfully. Terry shakes his hands and drops of soap splatter Redhead Red pitilessly, but the bastard keeps grinning, protecting the canvas bag with his hands. “Good morning,” says Terry, grudgingly. “What’s up?” “Coffee’s hot,” he adds, and pours the bastard a cup. “Cheers,” says Red, and limbers his way up a tall bar chair, putting his feet up on the bars’ worktable. The sack goes on another chair. “Go on, no one told you? Feels like we’ve been talking about it for weeks now.” Terry tries to give a carefree smile, the kind he’s seen on so many faces in the Salon. It could be a smile that says,

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“I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about, but I’m into it already,” or one that says, “I haven’t heard and I don’t feel the least bit dismayed by this information.” But it comes out a bit toothy. Redhead Red has better eyes than that. “Look, I can see you got that social anxiety going on,” he says with a surprisingly affectionate tone. “You could really just drop that one.” Terry takes this the same way he would take it if he had said, “You could really just get over gravity.” Which is to say, he ignores it completely. With a uncannily fast hand, he grabs one of the posters and unrolls it to reveal a matchless pencil drawing, in Ascension Jone’s distinctive hand: The night sky, full of stars, and a crescent moon, and a circle of men and women in candlelight. One man, lit by the mix of silver and gold, is holding what is indisputably a microphone. The tagline, blazed between earth and sky in terrifying Helvetica— Open Heart Mike Night! Free entry As evening falls In the open aircoordinates emblazoned discreetly on the lower right corner. In the lower left, in 10 font—for the benefit of all beings. “Ah,” says Terry, looking at it. “Damn right!” replies Redhead Red, ecstatically. “We’ve got till whenever to plaster the city with these babies. Now finish your coffee and I’m rolling us one for the road, and we’re off.” He does, he does, and they’re off! Throughout the day posters materialize on the drab walls and behemothian buildings of the city, and elsewhere join the mangle of color and flash that is culture meeting any flat surface. They hug trees along the avenues. They offer up an invitation. A spot of white light and gold. The word goes out. Light fades, as it does, and the day which hints at spring gives slowly way to the night, which remembers winter. Everything is mostly set up. Mats spread over the chill earth. Pillows spread on them in a circle. At its northern side three microphone stands and amped instruments, their cables stretching effervescent to the middle of the circle where the speakers and monitors face outward in all cardinal directions. Harry goes around, putting glass jars everywhere, lighting a single candle in each. whispering, “Let these light our way. One flame, many candles. With great affection.” Now Jon of the Lilies and Red Red, newly arrived, are lugging the generator into place between two magnificent oaks, who will hopefully not mind the noise. Now Jon of the Lilies wipes his brow, takes a breath, prays, “Godspeed, godbless!” and fills her up with the Good

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Lord’s gasoline. Now he sets the clutch, pops the fuel to the injector, and revs her up. The engine coughing into life, shaking and clattering, as the heart may come suddenly alive and tremorous, before Jon sets the clutch back and the generator subsides to a sweet, raucous rumble. And those already assembled can feel it racing in their veins. Electricity, and magic, and life. Crazy Maria, caressing the microphone. “Check, check,” she croons, amplified, echoes popping, “this is just a check…” Throughout the area, the birds hear, the wind hears, all ears hear, her voice echoes… spreads… Time, this fickle constant concept, Passes. Here are many families come as the light fades, In their ones and twos and great packs, wild Children of city and vale, They are coming with blankets to set on the cold stone Or bare feet to feel it With bottles of brazen booze, with thermoses of hot cocoa Spiced with fearsome clove and cinammon With secret notebooks and guitar - kalimbas - shakers drums And vocal cords, with fashionable or Unfashionable hair, with hearts a beating, a beating strong, Summoned by rumour and telepathy, by the strings that bind them, Called by the shriek of an eagle and the miracle of geo location By their hearts and the hiss of the microphone, They are coming, the wild children of the world. They set up camps or sit alone, strumming with nervousness or silence, There are dervishes and dervishes in-training, some initiated, some initiating Some open so open the air around them rejoices in their coming Some in darkness so dark they tighten throats around them Each in their spiral or their arrow or their half-marked circle, Each stepping on the many-faced path. They dribble in, they fill the square the circle and the heart of the world with their presence And their laughter They sit and stretch upon the rings of the circle Each attired for the gathering in their own color, Bringing their own shine Saying; I have heard this is how stars dance together When they are playing in the deep of night Now the moment in which the many, gathered, must be activated. In the silence of the microphones, the assembled


Short Story

dervishes call here and there, utter two-syllable words, look over their shoulders. Could they just start already? Harry takes a breath. Everything is becoming. The crescent moon is rising, and the stars are miracle bright. The heights of the oak and ash trees shake in the wind. The amphitheater glows with candlelight. These many faces and forms, in the silence of the microphones, calling here and there, uttering two-syllable words, looking over their shoulders. Each candle flickers in the wind. Shadows and light play on all things. So Harry Roman takes a breath, and masters his frenzied selves, and bows his head for a moment. And walks into the empty open circle at the bottom of the natural amphitheater. Standing there, he takes them all in as they slow and settle. He knows many of them and has seen them light up. He wonders who is going to shine. He can see them all shining. This is a shining moment. The night stars glint miraculously above them all. “Hi,” he says, amplified. Ad libbing. “Thanks for coming! You look great!” He grins, and somewhere on the third row, leaning comfortable against an uncomfortable Terry, Crazy Maria wolf whistles. Harry grins harder, and a train of whoops whistles shaker hisses and physical percussion follows as the crowd genially applauds itself. Harry claps enthusiastically along, and by a trick of circumstance he is the last to stop. All eyes on him. Right. Breathing. He is enthusiastic. “You might be asking, how does this work? How open, and must it be my heart? It’s very simple! Tara here has the hat!” Tara, in the second row, obligingly stands up and holds up the hat, which is a gloriously upholstered purple bonnet made for a woman with an immense head. She is passionate. Tara is a believer whose belief burns all things clear. A kind of angel, for sure. But she has a soft, eager heart. She may take life hard. So far she is standing on her own feet. The hat is garlanded for the occasion with a bright emerald green LED light. It is an impressively large hat. “You want to get amped, you want to play, sing, talk at us, you just go over to her at the green light, and she’ll put your name in.” Changing his focus of attention. “Jon here is our electric priest. He’ll hook you up.” Jon (of the Lilies), who feels acutely nervous at the focus of human attention, shuffles unconsciously several steps into the dark. “Come on, Jon, just wave,” says Harry, and sticks out his tongue. A lot can go into a glance. A sonnet, a storm, a garden, an entire campaign of companionable war. Jon bares his teeth, steps a few steps forward, and waves. “Now Tara is going to pick a name out of the hat, Jon is going to call that soul up, and there’s you’re going to be, facing us all.

“It’s very simple. Live it. Face it. Face us. Communicate it. Don’t forget to be God if you need to. Show us your true form. Let us show each other our true forms. “Don’t be shy! I have heard that there is a way to be human that has no shame.” And he’s feeling it. Every slump in his shoulders washes away. He’s right here, right now. The desert wind blows. He grins. And he opens, with respect, he lets them all in, into this space, into the ground with him, into the truth with him, into the next moment— “Alright, fairies and imps! The first act is warming up already, get those names in that hat! Tara, stand up again!” She obligingly does. She likes Harry Roman, especially when he’s in a public mood. She believes in him. That’s more than enough. “Open Heart Mike Night!” declaims Harry Roman, wild and mad. “Let’s go sane!” And then the beat of a drum. Very Roberts. the first act. All these souls are jarred to attention by the trash of cymbal and stick. Ttam tish t-ttam tam tish! And let this be known now; the first beat is enough to draw them all together. A common point of attention. Twish ttam tam tam! As the groove kicks in, half time. A hundred souls feel it like a shock of expelled breath, like an intimate touch, a shake of the hips or knees, an explosive release of the heart. Synchronistic waves of affect go through the congregation. Tara smiles wide and energetic, and Redhead Red smiles at that, and someone else is smiling at that, and someone just sways his hips a bit which echoes to someone waving his arms and develops into actual dancing in just a few iterations, once Crazy Maria catches it. Emergent clapping coalesces into a rhythm section. Sharing a common point of attention, any congregation of humans can exhibit signs of shared consciousness. Tttam tam tish! They share the ripple of the snare through air, shivering the flesh erotic. They share a vision of Very Roberts, his golden eyes staring them all down. They share Very Roberts’ golden

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eyes, and look among themselves and say without words; these are some eyes, huh. They share Very Roberts hands, flashing through the air, and the sweat glinting on his strong arms in the candlelight. They share a glance, and say without words; This guy is crazy, huh? And already they are chilling into it. They like the way he’s mad, if we must keep up this act. They can get with it, and they do. They smile, they laugh, they dance, finding each other, learning to move together. They share a reciprocal song which is without words, streaming from them on the finer planes, and they look amongst themselves and say without words; this is some music we’re making, huh? So many things are happening at this very moment. Like serpents, rivers dance down a thousand mountains. Certain precious stones not yet known are being formed, molecule by molecule, by the secret workings of the earth. Lightning strikes a man in Winnipeg. Red Red plots a site for a fire. Inspiration strikes a dog in Budapest. Innumerable souls usher out and in of the great world. Nandrum is waiting to be introduced. Gentle soul, with demons teeming in his arteries and cracks. As the poet said; that’s how the light gets in. Stalwart, unquenched. His grey eyes blaze when he’s really looking at you. Heart pounding, he is standing out of the light near Jon of the Lilies, being introduced. His heart is a deep font, pounding at the earth This goes through his mind quickly Then Jon is calling his name. He is walking in. He is seeing all these eyes lit amidst the candles, and breathing in quite barely, and Now at the microphone he opens his throat And these words ring out: “His heart is a deep font pounding at the earth Saying soon I shall dance with the flowers of spring “His heart has waters chill and sweet And many strange minerals and mysteries Pounding at the skin of the earth, let me out So soon I may dance with the flowers of spring “Pounding at the skin of the earth, open wide, To run racing in the sun and feed the flowers of spring The heart has water for a thousand years To run dancing in the sun feeding the flowers of spring!” It is not the words he says. It is no trick of intonation. It is the fact that he is extemporizing. The night sky which fills with what he is offering. It is the immediacy of the moment. It is the fact which no one knows, but which will turn out to be, in fact, fact; no one will later remember these words. Nor will he. No one is recording. The night sky fills.

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So Nandrum breathes it, and who can tell who notices, and who has heard it, and what they have heard? But the tongue clicks on the roof of his mouth, and he coughs and declaims, “I am a man! Called by my own calling I have girded my lions, I have sun proofed my wings I have heard my heart wandering the mountains, And I shall go and find me.” And he stops, to breathe. These many eyes on him. He is now that shared point of attention. A man speaking strange heavy words into the dark of the night and the cande light. And there in that great intermingling of forms he sees Harry Roman, meeting his eyes, intent and listening. It is a welcome shock, like a splash of cold water. As he meets Harry’s raven eyes, he opens his mouth and says; “Out of the wild come into the world True form, lined with perfect cintures Studded with gems of light, rivers of love Thus I am staring now into your eyes.” And he breathes again, and lets words coil in his mind as precious serpents, and a word breathes a sentence births a paragraph and coils again; “I am a man, wandering the earth And every fallen leaf is my boon companion. They give me many insights on the drying of the skin And the way to fall, and the way to rot. I am trailing my heart Which is wandering on the mountains saying; soon I shall out of the cold earth To dance once more and forever with the flowers of spring. Another billion eons pass. Goats look men in the eye with queer affection. Homes are built and fortunes squandered. Love is born and grows, evolves, is lost, and is gone. Two sweet young men with bronzed brown skin and beads strung around them, Sol and Mano, are playing a sweet tune to life as the moon stands tall above. It melts every heart back to sweetest childhood and the first innocence. Terry the bartender plays with a bucket of soap and water and lengths of string, raising immense bubbles into the air again and again, awed at their perfect form, awed at his miraculous power. Ten Hearts rests, his head in the lap of a sister whose name he did not quite catch, at ease, listening to this melody on love playing before and behind his ears. He feels very blessed. He who has marked this very circle, singing


Short Story

may all beings breathe free, free/May all beings live, be, be. Jem is playing with crystals. Her large red bag canvas, gapes wide glinting with secret color in the candlelight. They range from sweet glinting moonstones the span of a thumb to amethyst colonies the size of watermelons, pulsing purple. Jem is long and slim, pale despite the sun. Her hair is a platinum blonde, metallic, garlanded with lengths of colorful fabric, stones, and shells. She is pierced in many places by metal and the travails of a courageous heart. Her smile is easy, shining now, as she plays with her precious stones, arranging them in an intricate grid throughout the space. Who can tell the precise instinct which guides her? To her these stones are personalities and stories and avatars. They each have their proper place. And men and women, likewise with personalities and stories, each has their proper place. The wind shifts one left, the other right, and they are now positioned just so. The dervishes lean upon each other, singing snatches they catch of that sweet sweet song. The candlelight kisses the moon, the wind kisses all. Jon of the Lilies has taken a welcome break from the spotlight, leaning against a pillow on the third level of the rising circle. The generator is freshly topped up with God’s own gasoline, the spotlight shines clear to kiss the moon, and all is well with the world. The song is lovely. True Sarah is folded into herself not far from him, her lithe brown limbs, lightly furred, hugging her own knees. She is watching him, shamelessly. Her brown eyes are calm. He smiles at her with a tinge of hesitation. She unwraps herself and comes sit by him. “I’ve heard them calling you Jon of the Lilies,” she says, coming in close and intimate, in confidence. Her eyes are deep and curious. They examine him with the lightest of touches. He shrugs, with that same hesitant smile. Unused to such fascinated company. Tara (with the hat) is perched just above them, on the next ledge. Her long and baggy gray jacket trails past her feet on the stone. Her hat shines bright green. She gives them both a bright green-eyed glance to let them know she’s listening, and seeing no opposition, she tumbles down and sits at Jon’s other side. Smiling. His quivering smile quivers further and he sits closer down, one to each side. True Sarah asks, “Why do they call you that?” and he finds himself telling them. Truly anything can, and does, happen that very evening. Later someone will take control of the microphone, feathered hat and all, red-and-white electric guitar, jammin’ “The Final Countdown.” Red Red’s fire burns cheerful bright and intimate at the edge of the park. The music, the human hubub, the lights and the gathered draw attention. A family of five passes. their faces turning towards the light.

“What ho!” Red Red says to them on sight, perhaps too much filled of that great mystery and a judicious good measure. “If but the light calls to you, “ he proclaims, “go to it!” The parents exchange wary glances. They find him a strange man, to speak so portentously. They hurry on. Red scratches the back of his neck in embarrassment. Others passing by tarry, and some who are drawn to the light go to it. Others pass as the wind—it is not for them, this night. For those who hear it—let them say—this night is it is ours. Hear them say; We are the children of the sun, moon and stars. We are those who touch the earth. We are the dancers who intuit That Master Banjoist playing, and dance thereof. We are now tied up together with many wondrous threads. We are now comfortable as a shared body, this shared one night stand, this one night jam that has the tension of history. We are comfortable in our separate bodies. We are comfortable with our true gifts. That sweet song seems never-ending. A host of voices keep it going, infinitely softening, sweetening out. Ten Hearts is piping along. Harry is singing, his eyes closed. Crazy Maria is staring with her eagle eyes at the night sky, full of stars, to meet the candles lit below. Terry passes Red Red back the pipe. Jen’s crystal grid catches all light and releases the rainbow. Very Roberts is on fire, dancing with every lovely gypsy. Jon of the Lilies tells the pair of open inquisitive eyes his story. He shows them his tattoo and his scar. An ancient weariness shows itself in him at this very moment, and their eyes melt it from him. And blessings of various colors cover these assembled families, as sweet as the sweetest nectar of the sweetest flower. A cleaning of form, a healing of sores, a peeling of shields, a deep breath, a soothing touch, a sensation of belonging to the whole damn world, humility, pleasure and ecstasy, the brightest love, a wise respect, an easy smile… And many more, pouring deeply down, insinuating themselves into their fields. Many times throughout that night there is a collective intaking of breath, a collective out-taking of breath. Old wounds are balmed and healed, hearts and eyes and thoraxes and tongues awake from long sleeps, many souls and bodies touched rightly, many paths straightened, love strengthening, truth strengthening, faith strengthening, these connections strengthening, from the very edges of them to the very core of them these souls receive presents from a kind existence, all are blessed! All are blessed! My god, thinks Harry Roman, as his eyes finally close in his hammock (his last sight Jon of the Lilies folding his cables), My god! Good one!

Idan Cohen is a 31-year-old Israeli infected with the English language at the youngest age. A rough laborer with the inclinations of a poet and a mystic.

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Ghost Factory DONALD ILLICH

At the ghost factory no one breathed, made mistakes. Workers ripped spirits out of the bodies, putting them on a conveyor belt to be delivered to haunted houses around the world. They didn’t question their work. Paid in gold coins to place on their eyes, they’d easily cross the murky river with the boatman’s help. No being stranded on shore, shivering in darkness. Their feet wouldn’t get wet. None of them would be flooded by forgetfulness. They’d remember what happened even when they didn’t wish to.

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Poetry

Donald Illich has published poetry in journals such as The Iowa Review, Fourteen Hills, and Cold Mountain Review. He won Honorable Mention in the Washington Prize book contest. He recently published a book, Chance Bodies.

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Ears DONALD ILLICH

Nobody listens to me, I tell the trees, the air. I can’t see an ear anywhere. They must be hidden under hoods, lopped off by an angry Vincent van Gogh. I still make noise with my hands, mouth. Hurting my own hearing, if no one else’s. If I want, I could pretend someone pays attention in darkness. That their presence is a mystery, eyes projecting the only light, seeing everything. Suddenly, I wish to escape, leave this shell of a body, recall it to the sky. The darkness is then re-lit. I see there is nothing left inside it at all. Nobody notices me, I tell the moon, the dark. What creeps up behind me, I don’t know.

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Poetry

Forest, City DONALD ILLICH

I didn’t live in the forest. It dwelled in me, extending its tips toward my brain’s sun, reaching roots into my intestines. Soon, wildlife populated the woods. A herd of deer, possums, porcupines, even a small pack of wolves. Light reached it through my open mouth, illuminating my insides. Within me hikers camped near my pancreas. Their fire soared smoke through my nostrils. I wanted to eat hot dogs, consume their marshmallows. There was no way to reach inside. I had to reside in the city

where buildings hurt the sky with their vertical distances, and airplanes soaked the horizon with their white and blue wings. If I looked far enough up I could imagine the esophagus where our god released his belches, from the smoke that we produced, the gases surrounding our lives.

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Literary Work

Livin’ Easy JESSE KEMMERER

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Short Story

S

ummer, baby. Sweet, sweaty Summer. One hundred years ago, before the condominiums and tourists and sand-sifting machines, this stretch of Verutta Beach would have been deserted under the sweltering noontime sun, but today it was teeming with life. Striped umbrellas littered the small strip of beach from the tideline to the parking lot. Fluorescent floaties bobbed over the waves like fishing tackle. Taildraggers with trailing advertisements (I got crabs @ Dirty Dick’s Crab Shack, one said) left wisps of white engine exhaust crisscrossed in the otherwise cloudless, blue sky. Jeff Paulson had arrived at the beach shortly after sunrise. He’d walked a mile or more along the hard, wet sand of the shoreline, toting his roll-along cooler, towel, beach chair and umbrella. In the cooler he’d packed his breakfast, a single granny smith apple, and his lunch, fifteen or so Miller Lites (whatever was left of the case from last night’s drinking). After setting up camp, he’d sat watching waves crash over the sand for hours, opting for an early lunch around ten o’clock when the first groupings of beachgoers began making their way towards his spot. He’d noticed the glob of civilization—cars, umbrellas, people—spread from the parking lot to the beach, then elongate until it took up the horizon. Eventually, as always happened, that glob grew to absorb his solitary spot, and he became one of their number—another pale ass in a beach chair, another umbrella stuck in the sand. Now, at noon, he thought about picking up and moving further down the beach, away from the commotion of frisbees being tossed and children splashing in the water, but after his early lunch (and boy, he’d been hungry) he didn’t trust himself to stand, let alone walk. A striped red-and-white beach ball rolled towards his feet and Jeff kicked it back with a bare toe as if shooing away a sand crab. “Thanks, mister,” a boy said, picking it up. He ran away and heaved it at a nearby boy, who was working fervently to build a wall of sand between the encroaching tide and his sandcastle. The ball bounced off the boy’s head high in the air, hovered for a moment as the wind caught it, then landed close to shore, where the tide quickly pulled it away. Both boys splashed after it, laughing. “They’re mine,” a nearby woman said. She’d set up camp not five feet away. Her presumed husband was snoring loudly from a towel beside her beach chair, his back a pinkish red. “Handsome boys,” Jeff said, who hadn’t really gotten a look at either of them. “They’re a handful,” the woman said. Jeff couldn’t see her eyes hidden behind the overlarge sunglasses she wore—what he thought of as Beetle Eyes—but he knew the expression they likely held. Wistfulness. Pride. His wife, Carey, affected the same expression when talking about their own unruly children. Jeff might’ve told the woman that he had two such brats of his own (he would’ve used this term affectionately, and the woman would’ve understood his meaning), but he didn’t feel

much like making conversation. And besides, he wasn’t sure they still belonged to him, if he still reserved the right to speak of them to strangers. So instead, he just kept watching the waves crash onto the sand, which at that moment was difficult because a small crowd had gathered by the tideline. “I hate to ask, but could I have one of those?” The woman motioned to the beer Jeff was holding, the label of which was obscured by a cozy. It could’ve been a soda or anything else, but Jeff got the impression the woman knew better. Since Verutta Beach was technically a National Wildlife park—the beach itself abutted a swamp-like wildlife preserve known for its wild horses—alcohol was strictly forbidden. Jeff didn’t think that rule applied to reasonable people, of which he included himself. So long as he disposed of his beer cans at the end of the day, he didn’t see the harm in having a drink or ten, laws be damned. The woman, it seemed, was of the same mind, and gratefully caught the beer when Jeff threw one her way. “Need a cozy?” he asked. The woman removed one from her husband’s soda, situated the beer can inside, then took a slow, satisfied sip. “All covered,” she said. Then added, “You’re a lifesaver.” Jeff, feeling more comfortable among a kindred spirit, asked the woman what she thought all the hubbub was about. He motioned to the crowd gathered at the tideline. “You know people,” the woman said, sipping from the beer. “Like curious shorebirds looking for something to peck at. A stingray probably washed up on shore. Or they spotted porpoise fins creasing the water. You know, secretly”— she leaned closer to Jeff, explaining this next fact of life conspiratorially—“they’re all hoping it turns out to be shark fins. Give them something to talk about.” “And if they turn out to be right,” Jeff said, “they’ll congratulate themselves years later for keeping their kids out of the water for ten minutes.” The woman smirked at this, but it seemed to Jeff that his comment had awakened some type of motherly instinct in her. She got out of her chair and walked down to the still-growing crowd by the ocean’s edge. “I’ll come back with a full report on the situation,” she said sarcastically as she passed, giving Jeff a mock salute. She didn’t come back. Jeff watched her mingle with the crowd, look out into the distance. He noticed that throughout the length of beach, similar crowds were gathered by the water. “Hey!” It was hard to make out the word through the crashing of waves and the insistent ocean breeze, but the woman had succeeded in getting his attention. She was beckoning him with both arms. Jeff struggled out of the chair, staggered over to where she was standing. “What is it?” he asked slowly, in the practiced way a long-time drunk enunciates each syllable clearly.

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The woman didn’t answer, just pointed out to the horizon, a look of incredulity wrinkling her face—the parts not obscured by her Beetle Eyes, at least. It was hard to make out at first, and Jeff had to blink hard to ensure he wasn’t seeing things, that his early lunch wasn’t inhibiting his vision. Plastered against the horizon, faint with distance but at the same time hard, huge, real, was the visage of a torso. He could see the legs clearly, see them working with motion, plodding forward. They seemed to jut up from the horizon, as if the Earth’s curve were hiding the feet below. A bulging, rocky waist, revealing neither manhood nor womanhood, though the figure appeared unjustifiably human. Jeff knew it was impossible to make out texture at such a distance, but there it was, plain as day; like rock—there was no other way to describe it. Squinting against the sun, he could make out a body, with arms and hands and fingers, all disproportionate to each other, taking up the cloudless sky. The sun was situated such that he couldn’t make out a head or face; the glare left him seeing dancing black spots after a mere glance in that direction. He thought maybe the woman, who was wearing sunglasses, could. “What is it?” he asked. The woman couldn’t respond. She had both her children by her side, holding onto their shoulders firmly. “Does anyone know what it is?” Jeff asked the crowd. He might as well have asked a shorebird what it was pecking at, because the crowd remained silent on the matter. At least, until the thing’s head blotted out the sun. Then the screams could be heard for miles. * * * Jeff remembered sitting with his older son, Tommy, on the freshly manicured lawn of their home in Norfolk, Virginia. Tommy was five at the time, and his younger brother, Davey, was still in diapers. His wife, Carey, sat cradling him on the porch. These were the good times, which always seemed to be situated right before the bad. Jeff and Tommy were taking turns peeking through a slitted cardboard box, awaiting the eclipse. Tommy was squirming in anticipation and, perhaps, a little fear. When the moon finally positioned itself just so—when a strange, glowing darkness fell upon the world—he let out a wondrous, terrified gasp. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” Jeff heard himself saying now, after hearing a similar, amplified gasp from the crowd around him. A black sheet seemed to have been pulled over the world. Hard, fiery edges of light outlined the thing’s rocky, bulbous head, but only for a moment; as quickly as darkness had descended, light chased it away. That’s when the panic started. Jeff, still looking slack-jawed at the huge, plodding thing in the distance, was knocked over as the crowd around him tore apart. He landed on his ass on the wet sand. A sickening

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sensation of vertigo gripped his balls and tugged downward. He rolled onto his side, eyes shut tight, then to his stomach. The tip of his nose sunk minutely into the wet sand. Though he was too engrossed in his nausea to take notice, a mass exodus was occurring on Verutta Beach. Throughout the small strip of beach, men and women were gathering their children (some under the crooks of their arms) and fleeing over the hot sand. With so many people running in the same direction and so many obstacles in the form of chairs, umbrellas, boogie boards, and other beach gear, few made it very far. The sand in particular made the stampede clumsier, reckless. While some of those who’d set up camp closer to the parking lot were able to make it to their vehicles, most were impeded by a clump of fallen bodies at the base of the sand dunes that separated asphalt from sea salt. The ones who’d made it to their cars were met with gridlock; the only road leading in and out of Verutta Beach became bumper to bumper in a matter of seconds, and within minutes families were vacating their cars on the two-lane road to flee on foot. Those driving towards the beach honked their horns and tried to flag down passersby for an explanation, but to little avail. One look into the sky gave them all the information they needed, anyway. A wave crashed and washed over Jeff, filling his nose and mouth with saltwater. He pushed himself up to a sitting position, gagging harshly. His vision was still swimming in front of him, but as it gradually sharpened, he could once again make out the thing it the distance. It seemed to have grown tremendously in the last few seconds; he could now make out the points of its knees, rocky and ridge-like. The glare of the sun made it impossible to see any more of its body from the waist up. Shaking, he got to his feet. He stumbled backwards trying to catch his balance, then stumbled further backwards as insistent, heavy hands gripped his shoulders, pulling him along. His heel stuck in the sand, causing him to crash into whomever was trying to drag him from shore. Tangled up in the body beneath him, Jeff’s first instinct was to fight his way free, elbowing and clawing and wriggling his body away. With some effort, he succeeded. He rolled away on the hot sand, minutely aware of what felt like hundreds of tiny glass shards biting into his face. “What the hell’s the matter with you?” a woman shouted. Jeff had to wipe sand from his eyes to see her clearly. She was crouched in the sand, helping a man to his feet. He shrugged her away when he got upright, took a decisive step towards Jeff, then seemed to take a moment to gather himself. Without saying a word, he took the woman by the hand back to their little campsite on the beach, where their presumed children were huddled fearfully under the umbrella. For some reason, the man’s pinkish-red back brought recognition to Jeff.


Short Story

“Listen, I’m sorry,” Jeff said, staggering towards them. The family paid no attention. They were busy collecting their necessaries into a bag, which the husband slung over his shoulder. “I didn’t know what was happening.” He let out a chuckle, though it contained no humor at all. “I guess I still don’t.” “We’re leaving,” the man said, though Jeff knew he wasn’t speaking to him. The woman was slipping flip-flops onto both her boys’ feet. They were both crying the hushed, fitful tears of children who know something bad is happening but can’t quite understand what. “Where are you going?” Jeff asked. Neither the man nor woman answered him. The whole family was on their feet now, setting off for the dunes behind them. “Hey!” Jeff called. He’d succeeded in getting the woman’s attention. When she turned around, her face was oddly expressionless behind her Beetle Eyes. “What?” she yelled. Jeff didn’t know. He said words he had not thought to say, but when they left his mouth, they felt oddly—and coldly— right. “Gives us all something to talk about, huh?” The woman didn’t acknowledge his comment—or perhaps didn’t hear it; screams still filled the air like the shrieking of ten-thousand seagulls. She grabbed one of her boy’s hands and fled towards the dunes with her family. Jeff watched them crawl up the sand. They’d chosen their spot well, avoiding the clump of bodies closest to them. Within a minute, they disappeared down the other side. Jeff limped back to his beach chair. As he sat down, he wondered how far the family would make it. Looking at the thing off in the distance—now seemingly twice as big as it had been minutes before—he wondered how far any of them would make it. He reached into his cooler and cracked open a beer. This time, he didn’t bother with the cozy. * * * Jeff could remember much too clearly the look on his wife’s face when she decided to end their marriage and, by consequence, Jeff’s role as father to his two children. It wasn’t an expression of anger or sadness or even determination he’d seen in the dimness of the Apollo Theatre & Drafthouse that late-April night, but one of revulsion, utter and complete. The movie had been Carey’s idea, perhaps her last-ditch effort to save their marriage, which wasn’t so much falling apart as it was slipping away, like a dream you remember upon waking but can no longer recall as the day drags on. They hadn’t been on a date in God only knew how long, so when Carey asked Jeff if he’d like to go to a movie, he was frankly surprised. Those days, the two of them only spoke to one another when it was absolutely necessary (Tommy needs picked up from soccer practice tomorrow, for instance), and,

strictly speaking, this question didn’t seem to fall under that category. “You know I hate the movies,” he’d said. “I heard The Hobbit was pretty good.” In her face, Jeff saw the words she’d chosen not to speak— they were written in the frown lines of her forehead. When the sitter showed up fifteen minutes later, Jeff wasn’t surprised to find his wife had already made the necessary arrangements. The Apollo Theatre & Drafthouse was an upscale movie theatre, one that allowed its customers all the privileges of a restaurant dining experience while they watched their movie of choice. Their dinner came late. If it hadn’t—if Jeff had received his double cheeseburger even a half-hour earlier—things might have turned out differently. But it came late enough that he was able to polish off four tall glasses of Bud, and there went the ball game. When the plate was set in front of him, Jeff asked for another Bud. He thought he’d asked for it in his best movie theatre whisper, but apparently not, because the request was met with harsh shushing from someone in the row behind. The waitress took his glass reluctantly. Even in the dimness, Jeff could see the tight-lipped smile she wore. He knew it would be his last drink of the evening. He wasn’t much hungry anymore—his stomach was already filled to the brim with beer—but he forced a few bites down anyway, knowing he had to get something into his system if he hoped to walk out of here in a (mostly) straight line. When the waitress returned with his beer, Jeff accepted it with grease-stained fingers. The glass slipped right through them, crashing onto the bar in front of him and toppling over, its contents sloshing out and onto whomever was seated in the row below. The man let out a grunt of surprise as the cold beer rushed down his back. He whipped his head around to see what had caused it, and something must have been very funny in his expression, because Jeff burst out laughing. He clamped a hand around his mouth and held up the other in his best “Sorry, bro” gesture, but the laughter bubbled between his fingers. Harsher shushing from more voices than one this time. “What the hell, buddy?” the man asked in a stage whisper. Jeff didn’t trust himself to take his hand from his mouth. He motioned to the empty glass on the table then shrugged his shoulders at the man. “Shit happens, huh?” that expression said. If not for the waitress, Jeff might’ve gotten his teeth knocked out that night. She collected the empty glass and told the man in a hushed tone of voice that his dinner and ticket would be on the house. He grunted and turned around, but not before giving Jeff a harsh, accusing look. Jeff, incidentally, didn’t see that look—his eyes were on the waitress who had begun making her way down the aisle.

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“Ma’am,” he called out, rising from his seat a little. “Down in front!” someone yelled. The waitress turned to look at Jeff. He tilted an empty hand to his lips—another drink? The waitress visibly scoffed then disappeared into the darkness. Jeff deflated back down to his seat. It wasn’t his fault the goddamn drink slipped through his fingers. And besides, he only wanted one more. He turned to whisper this to his wife. When he saw the outline of her face in the dimness of the theatre, all thoughts of drinking left his mind. She was shaking her head softly. Her mouth hung slightly open in a grimace. Her face was twisted in revulsion, utter and complete, as if he’d just pissed his pants in public (this, incidentally, had happened before; Jeff knew the expression well). Without saying a word, she got up and left. Jeff might’ve followed her, but he didn’t. He finished watching the movie. He’d paid for the tickets, after all. Now, thinking of that memory—especially the look on his wife’s face, of which the word revolted couldn’t quite describe fully—he’d managed to toss back another two cans of Miller Lite. Reaching into the cooler, he found that he only had one left. It was probably no coincidence that he recalled that night here and now. It certainly wasn’t regret that had driven his wife’s revolted face to the forefront of his mind’s eye, because the truth was, he didn’t regret a thing. Not a damned thing. He’d provided for her and his children, after all. Unlike his father, who’d been known to toss back a beer or twenty in his time, he’d never raised a hurtful hand to any of them. So what if he liked his drink? So what if he spent the better parts of his nights with his lips around a bottle? He worked hard, damnit, he deserved a little relief. No, it wasn’t regret that brought that night to the forefront— it was the lumbering giant directly in front of him. It reminded him of that scene from the Hobbit where the merry band of heroes climbed the mountain. He’d caught it after coming back from one of his many bathroom breaks. The mountain started to move, by God. And that’s what the thing in front of him looked like: a goddamn lumbering mountain. At this point, Jeff couldn’t make out more than a torso with legs. The upper half of the body shot up into the air past the stratosphere and into space beyond, for all he knew. The world was silent. No seagulls ca-cawed, no screams could be heard, no waves were crashing down (the tide had been pulled far out into the ocean, revealing hundreds of yards of sand that hadn’t been there ten minutes earlier). Jeff cracked open his beer—his last, in more ways than one—and struggled out of his chair. Beer sloshed out and coated his hand. He licked it up. Head tilted back, drinking long and deep, he lumbered towards the giant in the distance. But in the distance

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wasn’t quite true, anymore—it was nearly on top of him. He craned his neck, looking up a far as he could, but the thing disappeared in the furthest reaches of his vision. Still shambling forward, taking a drink every few steps, he thought about his two children, Tommy and Davey. Much as he tried, he couldn’t quite recall their exact ages. He wondered if they were glued to the television with their mother close by, watching from a hundred miles away as this thing plodded forward on the screen. On the heels of this thought, Jeff scanned the sky for news helicopters. They were there, all right, like little black dots in the blue sky. Jeff gave them a wave. Maybe they’d catch a glimpse of him standing on the beach, a modern-day David facing off against Goliath. He’d become an overnight sensation—if, that was, the world didn’t end with the coming of whatever this was. Maybe he could be the hero after all. He broke off into a shambling run. The metal of the can clicked off his teeth as he set off, but Jeff didn’t feel it. He drank the beer down fast, more of it running down his chin than his throat. He threw the can as hard and as far as he could. His eyes marked the progress of the can as it careened in the air. What they marked more clearly was how not a single drop of liquid fell out; he’d drank it to the last drop. It landed in the sand twenty yards away, well short of its target. Jeff felt a vicious, body-gripping sense of regret. He imagined it was the way a jumper must feel the second their feet left the safety and surety of the Empire State Building’s highest ledge. He turned to run, lost his balance, and fell in the sand. He scrambled away on hands and knees. He was sure the giant thing would step on him, squash him like the little bug he was, but he saw a rocky foot land a good hundred yards in front of him, plunging into the sand like a meteor. Sitting up to his knees, hands pressed over his ears against the monstrous sound of rock grating on rock, he thought he might make it after all. If that thing didn’t kill him, he certainly wouldn’t let the drink. He was going to get straight, dammit, and he was going to get back to his family. It was his last thought before first being enveloped in a world of deep blue, then deeper blackness. He’d survived the giant’s step, but not the tidal wave that followed on its heels. In the end, Jeff drank his fill.

Jesse Kemmerer lives and writes in West Virginia. He has one publication in the Oddville Press and one upcoming in the Adelaide Literary Magazine.


Literary Work

Watching Episodes of Chopped Junior ERIK JOSEPH MOYER

From the lyric sequence Make-Believe Alex the Greek Dude Down the Hall Says to Me When you cook yourself a home meal doused in flame and olive oil and if you were on Chopped right now you’d for sure be chopped but you aren’t so you can’t help but kiss your fingers and go mwah cause adult living isn’t for no lilylivered dillydallying fence straddling stops to think when you know you just have to eat a heart out raw still beating in your teeth and oh but which fork is most proper malaka and you’re kind of killing it.

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Poetry

Before Di Fara’s ERIK JOSEPH MOYER

She pigeon-toed her way towards me on pizza-greased New York pavement. I can’t remember the last time I saw you in less than three pieces. He wilted over me like newspaper in the rain. Doesn’t London have Casual Fridays? I have a bad habit of asking a question and not listening to the answer. which is more or less a tie that you wrap around your neck. Like I needed another reason not to breathe. We walked slow in a highrise valley, banked against the other’s weight. A recent graduate of the University of Virginia (BA Poetry Writing, BS Systems Engineering), Erik Joseph Moyer’s work has been featured in various university publications, including 4, Virginia Literary Review, and Quince. He currently resides in San Diego, working as a data scientist.

What were you feeling? Lombardi’s would be nice. No preference

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The View Inside JOSÉ SOTOLONGO

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Short Story

H

arlan’s older brother Rick had tried to set him up with girls, until he saw his laptop open to a gay chat room when Harlan was sixteen, then encouraged him to date boys. “Get your pecker wet any which way,” Rick said. “Just don’t act like a pansy.” Their father, Paine, a widower, had not been so understanding when Harlan got a phone call from Bobby, an effeminate-sounding boy. “Why’s that faggot calling you?” he asked when he picked up the phone before passing it on to Harlan, oblivious to or precisely because the caller could hear what he was saying. “It’s about the book club, Dad,” he said after he had hung up. Paine roared. “Go out and play baseball.” He stormed Harlan, who was sitting with a book at the kitchen table, pushed him onto the floor, and kicked him in the buttocks. He took the volume of Leaves of Grass and flung it out the window. Rick watched all this standing by the stove, then lifted Harlan off the floor by his armpits after their father left the kitchen. “You gotta listen to what I said. Do what you have to do, just keep it under wraps. No sissy stuff. This ain’t New York.” Harlan told Bobby, the only gay boy he knew at the rural school in the Catskills, not to call him anymore, without any explanation, and turned away. At lunchtime, he ignored Bobby’s wave from the table where he sat and ate by himself, shunned by the other boys. “Just leave me alone,” Harlan said when Bobby went to try to join him. On the school bus, he walked past the boy, ignoring the empty seat next to him, and sat near the back. He pretended not to notice the young man’s pout and hangdog eyes. During the bouncy ride on the groaning bus, he fantasized about the freedom he would have if his father’s menacing presence were to disappear. When Paine died of a heart attack at work that winter, Harlan felt a numbing

shock when the school principal pulled him out of class to tell him the news. He couldn’t speak, and didn’t cry. Rick picked him at school that day to go see their father’s body in the hospital. Harlan said nothing in the car, but he was terrified that he had conjured his father’s death. “He had what’s called a widowmaker,” the doctor in the emergency room of the small, rural hospital said to them. “A main artery of the heart was mostly blocked, and it just closed up.” Harlan thought the doctor had made up the cause of their father’s death, because it was a mystery to the medical professionals there. During the burial in the graveyard he watched the casket being lowered, horrified that he had gotten his wish. Rick wept softly, standing right next to him, but his own eyes remained dry. He still did not seek out Bobby or other men. He looked to Rick for encouragement to go on dates, a sort of permission, but his older brother was busy with work and his own friends. Two years later he finished high school and got a job at a hardware store in the closest town, six miles away. His social life remained limited to strangers on the internet. When his brother’s girlfriend Carla moved in with plans to get married, Rick was even less available to him. She sneered at him and shook her head when she asked didn’t he have a girlfriend and he said no, and he started feeling like a pariah in his own house. After a few months he left to share an apartment with two other guys, both straight and unaware of his sexuality. When his father’s sister Isabel died suddenly, he was surprised to learn she had left him an inheritance. He was grateful to his aunt for including him in her will. Aunt Isabel hadn’t completely disinherited her only son, but she was at odds with him because he had moved two hours south to New York to be a dancer. “That ain’t real work for a man,” Harlan had heard her say. The sum

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allowed him to buy a small house at a county auction for taxes owed, and still left him enough to buy a used Toyota. When he moved into the two-room bungalow, surrounded by woods and five miles across the creek from Rick, the place was a wreck. The splintering siding hadn’t seen paint in years, and squirrels had chewed a hole through the roof and were nesting in the attic. Harlan heard them scurrying around overhead that first day in July when he moved in, but it wasn’t until it rained two days later and water dripped into the bedroom that he found their entry point. He got the roof fixed with money left from the inheritance and killed the critters with peanut butter laced with rat poison he put in the attic. When the stench from the rotting carcasses was too much, he crawled up through cobwebs and squirrel nests and got rid of them. But he was proud to own a house at age twenty-one, and he loved his little shack, where he could finally be himself without judgement. He missed Rick, and would have gone to visit, but he couldn’t put up with Carla. He hadn’t met his closest neighbor yet, a hundred yards down the narrow, overgrown lane. Should anyone have walked or driven by his house, he wouldn’t have seen anything, because the only window in the front, in the living room-kitchen area, was boarded up, closed tight. The shutters of the rear window, in the bedroom, were rusted and opened only halfway, which prevented him from enjoying a full view of the valley, with its swaths of green firs and blue spruces. The sight reminded Harlan of a beautiful painting he had seen, and he was eager to fix the window, open it all the way. When he went outside and stood behind the house to look at the valley, he saw a dangerous stone ledge with a wide crevice, only ten yards from the house. It was big enough for a man to fall into. He got a job at the local garden center, moving bags of soil and watering plants. He met Reinaldo there, who worked in the office, and whose hair and eyes were as black as a Moor’s in a Velazquez painting. His skin was the color of butterscotch, and Harlan wanted to lick it. Harlan’s own hair was sandy, his eyes hazel below pale eyebrows, and when he looked in the mirror he saw insipidity. He was surprised therefore when Reinaldo, on his way to the break room, smiled at him. “You’re working way too hard. You’re making the rest of us look bad.” He spoke with a slight accent, and he broadened his smile so that his small, vanilla-white teeth flashed and caused a churning in Harlan’s groin. He tried to smile at Reinaldo but only blushed. “I’ll ah…I’ll go on break soon.” Reinaldo shook his head, pursing his lips as if chiding him, and walked away, shoulders wide above round buttocks. At the end of the workday Harlan saw him in the parking lot. Reinaldo still looked fresh and crisp, and Harlan was sorry

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he hadn’t washed his hands, crusted with dirt. He sniffed his armpit before he rushed to catch up to Reinaldo. “Hey. Hi,” Harlan said. “Hello, Mr. Garden Man.” Reinaldo was carrying a lavender backpack. “Sorry. I mean…I missed you. At break time.” Reinaldo stopped walking, turned to face him and said, “You want to go get a beer?” “Ah…yeah. Yeah. I guess.” His father’s thunder and beating replayed in his head as he got into his car, but he followed Reinaldo’s old white Honda to a nearby bar. Over beers, Harlan learned that Reinaldo was Dominican, twenty-six, and had grown up in New York. He was enrolled in the nursing program of the local community college, the garden center only a summer job. His parents lived in New York and were nurse’s aides. “And you? Where do you hail from?” Reinaldo asked. His hands were clean, the fingernails evenly trimmed. Harlan wanted to take those fingers in his mouth and suck on them. He was ashamed of his own calloused hands and ragged nails. “Hail? Oh. We moved here from the Finger Lakes when I was a kid. Wine-making country.” “Did your folks work at a winery?” Harlan hesitated, looked at his beer. “No. My dad did odd jobs and worked during harvest. My mom died when I was three.” He didn’t say that the odd jobs were for elderly residents who could hardly pay, and that his father was hired to pick grapes only when illegal Latin-Americans were scarce. “‘I bring an unaccustomed wine/To lips long parching, next to mine.’” Harlan smiled, unsure what Reinaldo was reciting. “It rhymes.” “Emily Dickinson.” “Ah. Yes. The poet from Amherst.” But he didn’t admit to having read her before, and he stuck his tongue out as a grimace of disdain escaped him like a rat scurrying from a garbage can. “You don’t like her? I think she’s wonderful.” Reinaldo looked at him, head tilted to one side, waiting for Harlan to say something. Harlan didn’t know where his negativity had come from. He had read Dickinson and liked her. In a panic, just to say something, anything to fill the silence, he said, “I’m not much for poetry, I guess. Seems like a silly thing for a man to get into.” Reinaldo looked at him, lips tense, and gulped down the rest of his beer. “Gotta go.” He put some cash down on the counter, too much for his beer, not enough to pay for both. Harlan threw some bills on the table and rushed after him out to the parking lot. Reinaldo was already opening the door to his car.


Short Story

“Hey. Would you like to go out on a real date?” Harlan asked. “I don’t think so. I go back to school in three weeks.” “How about before that? Anyway, the college isn’t that far.” “I’m already busy with schoolwork.” He stepped into his car, closed the door and drove off without looking at Harlan again. Back home, he went straight into bathroom, in the bedroom. In the cracked and distorting mirror over the sink he saw his two-day stubble, cheeks that were pale and porous, and teeth stained in childhood by the wrong antibiotic. He spat at his image. He opened the bedroom shutters as far as they would go, and some late evening light came in. He would have loved to let some light into the living area. The boarded up window there was large, three feet wide, and the wooden planks that covered it were nailed to the wooden frame. Not one was loose or pliable. He went outside, where there was another set of boards. Here, the window frame was weathered and the planks looser. He saw Reinaldo on his way to the break room the next day, stopped watering the African violets, and rushed after him. The break room was otherwise empty. “How’s things?” Harlan sat empty handed at the small table while Reinaldo drank hot tea. “Okay.” Reinaldo looked down into the steaming cup. “I’m sorry if I insulted you. You left so suddenly.” “You didn’t insult me.” He still wasn’t smiling. “Can you think again about going out, at least before school starts?” “I don’t think so. I don’t really have time these days.” He got up and dumped the rest of his tea in the sink. “See you.” He closed the door behind him with a minor slam. The next day he had to work late, covering for a sick coworker, and on the way home he stopped at a roadside Mexican cantina for take-out. As he waited at the counter he saw three men at a corner table, and he recognized the black curls on the back of Reinaldo’s head. One of the other men was speaking while glancing repeatedly at Harlan. Reinaldo turned his head a bit and caught sight of him, then turned back. Harlan paid for his food and left with the dinner that went untouched. He did not see Reinaldo again at work after that, and assumed that school had started. The August evenings were darkening earlier, and more than anything he wanted to open the front window and see the evening star, Venus. He took a screwdriver and hammer and went to work first on the rear bedroom window, scraping off rust and oiling the hinges. After an hour he was rewarded with a spectacular view of the valley. The dangerous ledge with the crevice was also plainly visible now from inside. He cleaned and polished the glass from years of dust and pollen, then went to work on the front window.

He pried open the outside boards first, and raised the glass pane to pound on the inside planks. He worked with frenetic energy, banging, pulling, scattering nails and splinters all over. As he knocked off the inside boards, he could hear the crows outside screaming in protest. He found a mound of twigs and spider webs on the sealedoff sill, and under the mess was a small book bound in blue. When he brushed the leaf mold from the cover, he saw that it was a book of poems titled Penitences and printed in 1938. The name of the author was Oscar Walters, which was remotely familiar to Harlan. After he finished cleaning the glass panes he opened them, and the sight made him smile. The sunlight was starting to dim, but even so the road now appeared romantic, the banks festooned with wild roses and honey locusts. He imagined an overnight guest being charmed by the view, and he moved a chair close to the window and read his newfound book. The poems had no title, except for a date, as if they were entries in a diary. The verses seemed autobiographical. He became entranced by them, and went to bed far too late for a weeknight. The poems told of Oscar Walters having built the cabin by hand with his father, and of both men living in it, cooking and reading in the very space where Harlan sat. He remembered where he had seen the name Oscar Walters now: in the title documents he had reviewed before the auction of this property, now his house. A sonnet dated 1951 described a dream the narrator had in which an old man is hacked to death with an axe. Walters would have been around thirty. Harlan had to read the end of the poem twice: No more torture from he who makes me sad,/ I shall now live the life my nature asks./ Such evil the lithic fissure swallows, and can issue nothing bad. But the very last poem, in which the narrator experienced an erotic bliss every time he visited the stony crevice, mesmerized him, and he ignored the mosquitoes that buzzed his ears and pierced his skin. He closed the book and listened to the sounds he had heard since childhood: bullfrogs, nightjars, owls. His mouth was dry, as if filled with cobwebs. The window had no screen, but he left it open and went to bed.

José Sotolongo was born in Cuba. His fiction and poetry have appeared in several publications, including The Peacock Journal, Atticus Review, Bloody Key Society, Opossum, and Love Like Salt (anthology). He lives in the Catskills of New York, where he is completing a novel.

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Jeremy Nathan Marks is an American writer living in London, Ontario. Recent poetry appears/is appearing in Chiron Review, Rat’s Ass, I-70, Landlocked Lyres, Unlikely Stories, The Blue Nib, Alien Pub, and a handful of others. Jeremy is a regular essayist for The Black Lion Magazine and a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee in poetry.

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Poetry

Postgraduate blues JEREMY NATHAN MARKS

Let us drink whatever we can find And toast the roaches in the walls cots tossed in the halls and doors so broke no one bothers to try the lock Let us drink to grease stains on the stove and tobacco stink in the paint To cat piss and rat bites and rent that doesn’t reflect either of these things Let us drink to the fact that this is only a stage on our journey to having what it is our daddies do.

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Brown Recluse JEREMY NATHAN MARKS

Every word she says about dining under the hibiscus and a flying roach landing in her soup Is technically true. Or having her house guest bitten by a brown recluse until he couldn’t see how she played him for a sap When for the same personal cost he could have walked maybe two blocks And checked in at the Westin.

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Poetry

Northern Seasons JEREMY NATHAN MARKS

Her abdomen has balled like a breadfruit and I recall all those times I tried to accept

In bed a night I twitch behind the net and hear in my inner ear all of those voices of the spirit

The stickling sugar of tropical desserts.

That she swore are the blessings of a woman’s skin.

When my fingers touch her hair I feel caught again in the den of an orb weaver

Just take me back to the scentless sightless drear of my northern seasons.

It was in the banana grove and I was admiring the plangent fruit.

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The Boss JEREMY NATHAN MARKS

Recently my brother caught a crow broke its wing and chained it to a stake by his barn I say why, by God -He replies, to bait the dogs. Give them the taste of blood and they’ll know no other boss Besides, El cuervo is a spy. There are children without milk who stone stray dogs in the streets because they will not fly No, that bastard my brother gestures toward his barn Brother, he understands why.

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Poetry

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Save Big Jay JUSTIN W. PRICE

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I

’d known Jay for twelve years, but I realized that that was the first time I’d ever seen him using his nebulizer in person. I’d seen pictures of it—he was never shy about it. In fact, he dedicated a good portion of his life to talking about it and educating others. But there he was, on his love seat, his nose taped up like a boxer after a fight, sucking on what looked like a giant bong. I guess he didn’t care anymore. He blustered medicated billows out and smirked at me. “It doesn’t get me high the way it used too.” There was that smile. That smile that was caricatured around town on all those T-shirts years ago: Save Big Jay. I didn’t know what we were saving him from at first. It was there at this now defunct all-ages music venue that he ran, The Nomad. We were playing our first gig there. A dilapidated, black building that smelled like sour beer and fresh pizza. This tall guy approached me, plugs in his ears, pierced lip, and that same toothy grin. “Sup bro? Which band you with?” He reached out with his mitt and grabbed my hand. Like everyone that met him, I liked him right away. “The Inuit Promise,” I said, and he showed us where to store the gear. That’s where I saw that shirt, as we set up, behind the merch table at The Nomad. A cartoon, that big face with the large white teeth, the slogan. I’d never met a real-life cartoon. We played the show; afterwards, I went out and smoked a cigarette. He joined me in conversation but declined the offer to smoke. We talked about music, dogs, women, pizza. We clicked like that. We played The Nomad a dozen more times before The Inuit Promise broke up a couple of years later. “Cystic Fibrosis,” he told me after our third time playing the venue. “That’s what they’re trying to save me from.” He shrugged. “It mainly just helps me cover my medical bills. It’s no big deal.” This big dude with the plugs in his ears and that smile, born with a terminal illness. Younger than me by a couple of years, I didn’t know how long I would know him. So, twelve years later, as I saw him sucking on that nebulizer, I knew his time was drawing near. He had already beaten his expected lifespan. He knew it. Tumors in his sinuses. That was the first sign that his timeline was dwindling. “When you’re born with a terminal disease, man, it’s just part of your life. You don’t think about it, bro. You just live your life.” Looking at him on his love seat, I chuckled. “I didn’t know that stuff made you high.” He laughed, that big hearty laugh of his. “Nah, man. It’s a joke. It just helps me to be able to breathe. Which, I suppose, is the next best thing.” I sat down across from him in the leather recliner. He was still tall, but I wouldn’t call him big anymore. His cheeks were sallow, and he had dropped twenty-five pounds. His weight always fluctuated, but this time felt different. I knew he was winding down. “How ya feelin?”

“Man, as good as I can.” He exhaled and coughed. “I mean, I’m tired of being sick. I’ve been sick for thirty-five years. I just want to feel better.” I didn’t know what to say. I was always blessed with good health. I rarely even caught a cold. I couldn’t imagine being that young and knowing you weren’t likely to see thirty-six, let alone forty, which I was fast approaching and had every intention of reaching. “Is there anything I can do?” He looked at me and puffed out another cloud. He smiled, but the smile was more devious than friendly. “Get my dog back.” “Get your dog back?” “Yes. Sarah took her. When she left, after the miscarriage, she took my dog. All I have left are these pictures.” He pointed to the pictures on his wall. A little brindle French bulldog. “I miss that little bitch. Princess, I mean.” “She took your dog? Why?” “Fuck if I know. First she loses our baby, then she takes my dog.” “That’s rough, man. I don’t know what I’d do.” “She says it’s for my own good. I can’t take care of her anymore, she says.” He rolled his eyes and waved his free hand. “I thought you guys still got along?” Jay coughed and laughed again. “In a perfect world, that’s the way it’s supposed to work out. But in a perfect world, I wouldn’t have been born with shit in my lungs and a very definite timeline.” I’d never seen him like that. The Jay I knew who played guard in the high school alumni football games for CF research, taking on the biggest defensive lineman with aplomb. The Jay I knew, wearing a shirt with his own face on it, weaving through the crowds at The Nomad, using his illness to swap spit and get laid with women he probably would have had no chance with otherwise. It was hard to see that now, halfway through the fourth quarter, down by two scores and out of timeouts. He finished with his nebulizer and got up. He wobbled a bit but wouldn’t let me steady him. “Let’s go grab some food, bro. Staying in here is depressing as hell.” He smiled—there it was, that smile—reached into his wallet and pulled out his credit card. “My treat. I’m not gonna be around to pay this shit off anyway.” “Stop it!” I said. “What’s the point of being on the gallows if you can’t have a little gallows humor?” “Fair enough,” I said. He tossed me his keys. “You’re driving, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to be seen around town in a Prius. “ Jay had this souped up Tahoe. Black rims, three-inch lift, all black leather, sunroof, the works. He was always quite vain about his cars. I never knew how he could afford them. He

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always had the latest and the greatest. I’d never known him as anything more than a concert promoter for local concert clubs—hardly a high paying position. But I didn’t ask. The cars were as omnipresent as his smile. I wasn’t an SUV guy, but, if it made Jay happy, who was I to judge? He climbed in, his normally rotund frame now a gangly sixthree. I popped into the driver’s side and backed into the road. “Have you heard Total Collapse?” “Total Collapse?” “Yeah. They’re this new band in town that I’m managing.” He busted out his iPhone and, a few seconds later, chaotic guitars clashed against a syncopating drum and bass line. Then the screaming vocals entered and coalesced with the melodic vocal counterpart. I loved it. He knew I would. Jay closed his eyes, bit his lip and air drummed to the music. “Man, that’s some topnotch shit right there. These guys are going somewhere.” Jay and I had always shared a love of music, and our tastes coincided like peas and carrots. I remember those nights at The Nomad, I was always stage left, forcibly spastic. Songs I’d played a million times, memorized to the point of ennui. My entertainment would be looking out, watching the audience reaction. Watching the swarm of bodies moving to the music, sometimes in time, usually not. See Jay, a head taller than everyone else, Mariners hat askew, arms up, lathered from liquor. See Jay, wearing his own smile and his own slogan on a T-shirt. See Jay weaving through, easy to see. Everyone a blur around him. But there he was, a beacon. Something for me to focus on. I’d jump and run around, pretending to care about the music, spit water like a fountain with the drummer, do all that rock star stuff. But it was all for show. I’d like to think it was all for Jay. He ate that stuff up. We pulled into Almonzo’s. Downtown now. Italian was his favorite. “Great place for a last meal,” he said as we got out of the Tahoe. “Shut up, man. Don’t talk like that.” We took our seats next to the windows, a cozy lovers’ booth for good friends. We didn’t say anything for a while. We just looked out at the rain-streaked windows, sipping ice water, watching the flow of traffic, people, and otherwise. “I love this city,” Jay said. “I mean, where else does it rain like Noah’s ark and not an umbrella to be found?” “I always used to joke that you could spot the tourists because they had the umbrellas.” Jay laughed. He loved to laugh. His laugh was sonorous and real. This was Jay. If I could describe him in one word: Real. “I’ll drink to that,” he said. We weren’t drinking, though. Except for our waters. “Lasagna,” I said when the waiter came. I looked at Jay. “Two. Two Lasagnas.” “Did I already use the last meal joke?” I nodded. “Fine. I won’t do it again, then.”

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I didn’t know what else to say. I had never been around someone with a death sentence. What do you say to someone in that position? As if reading my mind, Jay spoke up. “You know, it’s kind of a blessing.” “What is?” “Knowing. Knowing that you don’t have much time. I’ve lived my whole life knowing. But now, I can see the end. I can even smell it. Death has a smell. Did you know?’ “I bet it smells like dirt,” I said, forcing a smile. “It smells good. It smells like a second chance. It smells like kindness and warmth. You really watch how you treat people when you’re facing a finite timeline.” “I never thought that death smelled nice. That lasagna smells nice, though.” “Lasagna always smells nice,” he said, digging in and grabbing a forkful. “The hospital is my second home. I’m well acquainted with the smell of death.” “So what do you do about it?” “What can you do? We’re all gonna die. No one knows when their day is coming. So don’t treat people like shit, and if you have treated them like shit, apologize.” “I don’t know if I have that kind of time.” I chuckled. I chuckled a lot when I was nervous. “You’re breathing and above ground. You have time.” After lasagna, we headed uptown. Jay wanted me to check out Total Collapse in person. They were practicing. The practice space was a converted moss-covered mansion. There was a bridge leading up to the door, which was sort of guarded by a moat. From outside, you couldn’t hear anything. Jay punched in the alarm code and we opened the door. Jay lumbered ahead of me, his excitement evident along with his pain. “These guys are gonna blow your mind,” he said. We opened the door into the practice room and I was immediately crushed by a wall of sound. I’d been out of the music business for years but it instantly brought back that desire and those feelings. Making music with your friends, creating something out of nothing. I closed my eyes and bobbed my head. Jay air drummed. Some folks found solace in the blues or in jazz. That stuff didn’t relax me. The heavier the better. Give me detuned guitars and a thunderous drum line and I’m set. I could sleep to that stuff. The song ended. “Big Jay, man!” The screaming vocalist dropped his microphone and smothered Jay in a bear hug. He may have been the only person in town bigger than Big Jay. “I’m glad you’re still movin’, man. Who’s this jagoff?” he said, pointing at me with a smile. “This is my friend. I’ve known this guy for years, man.” “Fuckin’ a, man. A friend of Jay’s is a friend of mine. Bring it in.” I was, likewise, enveloped. “Let me point ya around. On the drums there, Lance. He’s a fuckin’ psycho. Lead guitar


Short Story

there is Gavin, Bass, Ryan, rhythm Brett. On the fuckin’ keys and singin’, man, that’s Jason. And I’m Bilbo.” “Bilbo?” I said. “Yeah, man. Cuz I’m so short, man.” He slapped me on the back and looked down at me. His pupils were pinpoints. Jay had sunk into a recliner and was breathing heavily. “You alright, man?” I asked. “I’m dyin’, man,” he said. “But not right now. C’mon. Play another one.” “Any requests?” Bilbo asked. “Like, my funeral song?” “Don’t talk like that, man,” Bilbo and I both said. “I’m just fuckin’ with y’all,” His laugh turned into a cough. “How about something by Slayer?” Bilbo laughed. “We’re not a cover band.” “Surprise me, then.” Bilbo pointed at Lance, the drums started, and the roof blew off the place. Total Collapse. Those guys were something special. They were going somewhere. Jay drifted off. Not sleeping, but his eyes had a glazed over look. His breathing was labored and he rested his hand on his heart. He was somewhere else. We stayed for a couple songs and got back in the Tahoe. Jay wanted to keep going but I could tell he was tired. Without saying anything, we drove back to his place and without objection, he sloughed his way back into his couch and onto the loveseat. “Fun day, man.” I said. “I’ll let you rest.” “Nah, man. Don’t go. There’ll be plenty of time for resting. Besides, without Princess I get lonely.” I sat there for a moment, not sure what to say. I didn’t know what to do with Jay like that. Alone, and not even a dog to keep him company. “She really took your dog?” “She tried to take my guns, too. She was worried I was a danger to myself and others. She’s not a bad girl. I mean, I love her. But she’s worried I’ll hurt someone.” “You?” “I know, right? Bitches be crazy.” “You remember that night at The Nomad when that guy skinhead was slappin’ that girl around?” Jay’s eyes lit up. “Boy. That was a night. That guy was a jackass.” “You pummeled him, man. You sent him to the hospital.” “You don’t hit women, man. You just don’t. I’d never hit Sarah, even though she took my dog and killed our baby.” “I thought she miscarried?” “Ya, but she wasn’t taking care of herself. She missed her prenatals and was only eating like pizza and hamburgers and stuff.” He paused and inhaled. His words were coming out slow and measured. “I told her not too. I told her she had to take care of the baby. She didn’t listen. She killed our baby, took my dog, left me high and dry.”

We were quiet for a while. Jay turned the television on and we were watching something funny and British. “I should talk to her, man. I should see if I did something to her. I mean, people always leave for a reason. Besides, odds are, my baby would have turned out like me. No one should have to live like this.” “It was probably the stress of losing the baby,” I said. “I mean, as the reason she left.” “Maybe. But we weren’t exactly solid before that. I just think that that might have been the last straw.” “Sounds stressful.” “I’m gonna be gone soon, anyway. I don’t want to hit those pearly gates with unfinished business.” I didn’t stop him from saying that this time. I knew, seeing him that day, that time was short for him. He seemed okay with it, but I guess I wasn’t. But why? It wasn’t my life. Maybe he reminded me of my own mortality. Maybe he reminded me that I wouldn’t live forever. I obviously knew that I wouldn’t live forever, but Jay there was a living, mouth-breathing example. It made it hard to ignore. Instead, I smiled and patted his arm. I leaned in and gave him a hug. He felt so small. It felt like his life had left him already. I could feel his ribs. Big Jay no longer. Now he was just Jay. “I love you, man,” he said. “Thanks for a great day.” “Anytime, my brother. Any time.” “I hope to see you again.” “I’ll come by tomorrow.” “I think I’m gonna go talk to Sarah tomorrow.” “All right, Thursday then.” He smiled. “I’ll wait with bated breath.” I walked out the door and sat in my Prius and sobbed. * * * They found him the next day between the garage and Sarah’s house. Princess was next him, whimpering and pawing at his arm, a hot rifle by his side. Twenty yards away, laying just outside of her front door, was Sarah, perforated with bullets, her arms across her face.

Justin released a poetry collection, Digging to China, with Sweatshoppe Publications in 2013. He was nominated for the Gover Prize (short fiction) in 2014. His work is featured in Best New Writing (2014 edition), and has appeared in many publications including the Rusty Nail, Burningword, The Whistling Fire, Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, Manawaker Studios Podcast, New Reader Magazine, and Bloody Key Society Periodical. He lives in Juneau, Alaska, with his wife, Andrea, and their two dogs: a labradoodle, Bella and a Sh’Poo, Sauvee. He is currently working on a short story collection and recently completed his first novel.

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Instructions on Being a Feminist JESSICA STICKLOR

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Poetry

1. Do not make eye contact—you already know about bars, about night clubs, parties, but also not: • At work because they’ll want to help you with your career until they realize you’re not going to sleep with them and then they’ll try to sabotage it • Playing with your kids: they’ll want a play date then and maybe your kids will get to be friends but when they realize you’re not going to sleep with them— And little Billy is upset he can’t see his friend anymore • On the street they’ll be very nice until they realize you’re not going to sleep with them and then— 2. Do not speak too highly of yourself or think too highly of yourself. They will try very hard to make sure you never do that again. • They want you to know that really they’re the smart ones, they know best • You can pretend you know something isn’t that cute but only go so far and don’t ever be right about anything • This is especially true if you are also more than averagely attractive because they will agree with you until they realize you are not going to sleep with them and then they will make sure you know you’re not really anything 3. Do not say something that is above an average intelligence. • They will tell you you’re wrong and go to great lengths to prove it • If you are right they will go to greater length and then start shouting • Once again this is especially true if you are more than averagely attractive because then they will be especially supportive of your intellect, they will tell you all they care about is intellect because they are different until they realize you are not going to sleep with them and then it turns out you’re not that smart really and how dare you think otherwise 4. Do not voice ideas that they have not already heard of. • This will only confuse them • They will argue that you are wrong until someone with a penis comes along and has the same idea and then it will be brilliant

• If you argue that the idea was yours first they will rephrase until it is clear that the idea was never actually yours • Did you know Thomas Edison’s real job was a Patent Breaker for JP Morgan that’s really where he got all his ideas from. Read a book. …Yeah, they don’t like to hear things like that. 5. Do not believe it is your body. • Great strides have been made in this arena until it’s time to pay the piper • Remember that limp dick is okay but not a pill to prevent an abortion • Consent is only a theory in most states and you can’t ever withdraw it in North Carolina • They will tell you they believe very strongly in these things, your right to your body, but like your right to your mind it all goes out the window when they realize you are not going to sleep with them 6. Do not believe them, that we are the same. Remember that they never listened to you and keep your mouth shut. • I remember a time when I spoke with someone about The US Open being held at Augusta National. He said, “it’s fine, it’s just a match, women shouldn’t complain that they can’t play there.” Five years later he was up in arms about the all female showing of Wonder Woman at a tiny theater in Austin, Texas Gooses and Ganders doesn’t make sense to them 7. Don’t Make Him Feel Bad for Wanting You. • And if he doesn’t leave you alone best to just give in • Or he might shoot you

Jessica Sticklor has a degree concentrating in Creative Writing from The New School and an MFA from City College at The City University of New York. She has published numerous short stories and poems in various periodicals, including The Warwick Review, The Saint Katherine Review, and Wasafiri. She has also been included in the anthology A Honest Lie by Open Heart Publishing. In addition, her debut novel, Betwixt and Between was published in 2013 by Ig Publishing. She has taught creative writing at SUNY Old Westbury, City College, The Gotham Writer’s Workshop and The New School.

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Discourse on the Reincarnation of Jack Reed JESSICA STICKLOR

Troubled times ah, yes, troubled We have been troubled before Coming back around on the tale end of 20-something or other Traitors hiding out in Russia, Big Bill Haywood all over again Lonely hipsters drinking craft beer near Houston Australian folk music in the Bowery, synthesizers so soft At least now there’s a second avenue subway And it only costs the MTA their dignity And the on-time rate of every other subway line But those rich cats over on fifth avenue needed it Now they can laugh as they take the car service Something turned in us The wine went sour and it all got black Tell me where is Emma Goldman tonight? She lived in America for thirty-six years and neglected to get citizenship

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Didn’t even bother to apply and so it was back, back to Russia And Margaret Sanger? The lady from Planned Parenthood Cecile something, see, I know Her name, writes me every day Yes, my mother wrote a check, but what’s it for? And who has volunteered to go to jail for this? Cracks lift themselves up Broadway making their way to Fifth Avenue where they stay Clustered Too many cops Everyone’s afraid of them, they weren’t before but now they’re just terrifying Who is going to go to Russia and find out what’s so great about the revolution? The people turned their guns on the generals and now everything, everything is going to Be okay? It won’t go back, the world wouldn’t do that to us idealists


Poetry

Who is going to come back tattered and war-torn and warn us of the evils of Communism? We mustn’t feed the poor, the hungry, comfort to the sick Costs too much in taxes, can’t spend enough at Wal-Mart Then the socialists will win with their wicked agenda Max Eastman where are you and when will Eugene O’Neil write another theatrical Diatribe on coming of age in America on lethargic butterfly wings? As Irish poets drink themselves to death on West 4th Street Troubled times, troubled, yes troubled The Bowery is still the Bowery only now Ralph Lauren lives there and they sell oblivion at twenty bucks a shot They come to New York with angelic dreams Washed away the sin of Middle America, sharecropping in the soul No more of Mama’s chicken, not for them, they come here and find they’ve been priced Out of Brooklyn and Harlem, Queens is next, don’t even bother looking in Astoria It was named after Jacob Astor anyway so it was only a matter of time before the Neighborhood went New York can’t be New York, not until the workers get tired Fed up with low wages, take it to the streets Not just in front of McDonalds, egregious, so egregious McDonalds, but Saks, J.P. Morgan, Verizon There aren’t enough of them blocking up Madison Avenue Wait, just wait Artists march naked on stage wallowing in the filth of Lehman Brothers, shaking a fist at Barclays The pigs fat, just so fat

There was an ad at the bus stop at 75th and Amsterdam It used to be a workers’ neighborhood, then it was for artists but now, now Oblivion It was for a doggie dating service Half the city can’t eat but the other half can afford to find their dog a carefully Vetted soul mate Playground for the rich Someday a boy will come with bright eyes from Portland, Oregon Full of books and art and such intense words He’ll talk of politics and philosophy, drinking beer and wine at unsanctioned parties He’ll sleep with everyone and everyone will love him He’ll meet with artists and workers, and write such words about such people and get all Schmaltzy about the teamsters union and Ginsberg and shit And he, he will go to Russia and come back and shake the world Tell them it’s a new place, these new ideas, we can have them, we can change them What is made unmade and made again as if to lift Heaven to earth a noble kiss to Grasp the Hand of eternity he will swear it, swear it’s true, swear it can happen, no really, really it can just one more revolution and we’ll All be okay And we’ll believe him And then The money will fall, he’ll die sick in a hospital halfway around the world And we’ll see that really what we needed was a car in every driveway, a TV in every Home. No more It will get better and then worse, better and then worse, calmed into complacence a cycle On repeat, scratch skipping every other decade And we’ll wonder where he is and why can’t there be another?

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Literary Work

Ode to Ragnor Lothbrok JESSICA STICKLOR

I tracked the snow to Iceland And found Vikings Stone the color of Charlemagne I knew them What they were How they raped and pillaged and still Standing streets of cobblestone In a city full of Laxness And sheep Shutters so many shutters Little pointed rooftops but not Wood, not trees Concrete and metal It’s the geothermic energy—they told me There are no trees in Iceland Bjorn Ironside They called your son Ironside And Ivar the Boneless Ah, you named such sons in such ways Ragnorok—the death of the gods Ragnor Did they know when they called you? And you, Ragnor What were you searching for? Cities, such cities; London, Paris, Florence Rome, you wanted Rome I know We all want Rome city of cities we have not done better

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I have wanted cities too And loved them Reached for them like Adam reached in Michelangelo And could not face Him, could not connect Would I have gone with you? To these distant shores Shield Maiden Valkyrie They said you were uncivilized and yet Odin plucked out his eye for knowledge Your gods guarded Freyja’s purity with all of Valhalla Chapels and crucifixes where was Odin as you searched such things? Where was Odin as you fell on Christian Crosses? To the sea, to the sea Your people never saw much in ocean gods I stare into this void and wonder what would I say to you? Viking of Vikings What would I say except I know, I know Those who know…we do Glory, power, plunder That’s not what you wanted, brave soul No one who leaves home and ventures oceans lusts for gold They forget that, the price of glory Ah to see such things to know such people A thousand other lives at our fingertips all we have to do is grasp And so few take them Left dangling like Adam I don’t know what you sold them but I see it It was the cities Ships at sea and we should not shutter so aimlessly I would have followed you to the ends of the earth if only to know Does it end? Ever.

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Literary Work

Flowers KAIA BALL

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he screen dimmed as the lights in the room flickered on. He sighed heavily, pushing against his desk to straighten his torso, swinging his legs over to stand and stretch. He listened impatiently to the footsteps marching past, one pair at a time. Finally his own door slid open, freeing him from the tiny space. He walked briskly, passing countless closed doors that still held boys who were listening and waiting just as he had. He could just barely make out the dark hair of a boy far ahead of him, the same one who always walked in front of him. He did not know the other boy’s name, nor had he ever seen his face. Soon he could no longer see that other head.

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Eventually he reached another door, nearly identical to the one he had left behind. On the other side of the door were the transports ready and waiting to take each boy to their residence. He paused, and waited for the door to open. After a moment he realized that there had never been a delay before today. He felt a spark of curiosity. For the first time, he glanced about the space around the door leading to the transport room. He observed, with a bit of surprise, another door. This one seemed different from the doors that he marched past every day, different from every door he had ever seen at this school or his own residence. It


Short Story

proclaimed, in bold letters, that entrance was forbidden. The door was cracked open, with a strange light leaking through the edges of the door frame. Something unfamiliar welled up within him, and he darted his hand forward just enough to nudge the door open further. Shocked by his own audacity, he quickly withdrew his hand as if it had been burned. The strange color had spread, making the walls it touched seem even darker by comparison. He glanced back at the door leading to the transport room. It remained closed. Carefully, haltingly, he pushed the bright door open. He inhaled quickly, nearly choking on air. On the other side of the door there was a room illuminated by strong lights of the same hue that had been seeping through the door. Powerful fans blew his clothes against his skin and his hair away from his eyes. The air tasted sweet, and it carried scents he could not identify. Tentatively, he took a step through the door frame. He turned around again to see the transport door. It remained closed. He stepped farther into the room. The floor was surprisingly soft, dotted with green chunks unevenly strewn over a brown base. He glanced up at the unusually colored light source, and was blinded. He cried out and reached out for the door. His vision soon cleared, and he found that he had stumbled farther from the door. He brought a hand to his forehead and saw that the ceiling was blue with white patches scattered across it. He could not tell how tall the room was, only that it was vast, bigger than any place he had ever been. A tremor surged through him. The emotion that arose was foreign and incomprehensible, complex and strange, like the ceiling high above him. He took one last look of longing behind him. Past the forbidden door, inside the building, the transport door slid open. Something within him hardened. He turned and walked away from the door without a glance at the tangled mass of metal and concrete he left behind. He had never walked for this long, did not know that it was possible to walk this far. This room seemed infinite. The light must have been a heat lamp, for it scorched what it illuminated. The fans still blew, but the power of the lamp slowly sapped away his resolve. He had passed imperfections in the floor, parts of them sunken and others raised. He had passed stunted support beams that stood far too short to lift such a high ceiling. They were unusually wide and colored like the floor, with brown on the bottom and green on the top. Sometimes he would pass patches of the floor that shone with amazing colors he could not name, some nearly matching the ceiling far above him and some matching the color at the base of his fingernails. He had stood and stared at these structures, marveling and trying to find the words to help him understand. These places of great beauty were now far behind him. The floor had lost all color until it stretched blankly before and ahead of him, helping the lamp suck the life out of him. He looked up at the light, and

was blinded again. He cried out and fell to his knees. The nameless emotion from before had returned with great force, slamming into him. He curled into himself, forehead pressed to the dust, eyes scrunched closed. The wonder he had felt initially had evaporated in the heat. He did not know the words to describe this foreign land. He did not understand what it meant to be exhausted, scared or lost, just as he did not know about love, joy, or springtime. Someday he would, but that day in the wasteland, kneeling in the dirt, he knew nothing about the world around him. He stayed like that for hours as the sun lazily traced across the sky. After a short eternity, or so he thought, a weight settled across his shoulders. The touch sent a thrill through him, yet he did not dare to move. With eyes closed and head down, he could ignore all. The weight lifted and fell again, now on a single shoulder. It rested there while a voice began to speak. “Are you okay?” it asked in a voice that sounded similar to the recordings played at school, similar in its light beauty. He could not respond. The voice repeated itself, and this time he nearly replied. “Can you understand me?” it inquired, an edge of worry sharpening the question. “Yes,” he breathed. The voice made a noise that he had never heard from a recording. Surprised, he raised his head and sat up to find another face meeting his gaze. The features were soft and the sky-blue eyes were filled with kindness. The hair was twisted into twin braids. Sensing his astonishment, the face giggled, a strange sound that made him start. It reminded him of a painful hiccup. “What, never seen a girl before?” it asked. There was a long pause before he answered, “No. I have not.” The girl was confused, as if she was unsure if she was supposed to laugh again. They were silent for a moment before he asked, “Is that what you are?” She did not answer, but rather glanced at his clothes. He noticed that her clothes were full of the strange colors he had seen before, and that the fabric covering her legs reminded him of some of the beautiful things he passed on his trek. His gray jumpsuit seemed bland against the tan dust and the blue sky. “You’re not,” she began, the words catching in her throat. “You couldn’t be from,” she tried to continue. “Are you from the School?” He sighed with relief. For a moment he had been worried that something was wrong, but now he knew that this girl understood. “Yes, I am from School 419, District 71. Northern American Region, Western Hemisphere.” He rattled off the facts from memory, proud in the ease with which they came to his mind and the certainty that they held. The girl’s brow was furrowed, but at the end of his recital she found herself chuckling, “You know all that, but you’ve never met a girl.” She sighed and stood, facing away from the sun. “We had better get you back home.”

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He realized what she meant and scrambled to his feet. She noticed that he still felt tired and unsteady. Wordlessly she passed him a container from a bag at her side. He held it and stared at it, confused. Huffing, she took it back, opened it, and returned it to him. He realized that it was full of water. He drank deeply, enjoying the relief. They began to walk back towards his School. They walked in silence for a while. He was certain that she was observing him with the same scrutiny that he watched her. Slowly the tan ground faded into the brown and green pattern he had first seen. He ventured a question,“Why does the floor look like that?” She met his eye, and slowly asked, “Have you ever been outside before?” He waited for her to clarify. He then asked, “Outside of what?” She nodded, as if that had been an answer. She was silent again, as if thinking very deeply. It was quite a while before she began to speak. “From what I have learned about your world, you have lived your entire life inside. ‘Inside’ means inside of doors and walls. You go from one room to another, all inside the same building.” She paused here, waiting to see his reaction. The way she talked was strange, but the facts were there. He traveled from his room at School to his room at his residence everyday. That much was obvious, he told her so. His comment made her smile, just a bit. “The place we are in now is not inside of anything. It is not a room. It is outside of the places you usually are.” There were no words he knew to describe the way he reacted to these falsehoods. It was so impossible, he could almost laugh. “Then where does light come from?” he taunted. “If there are no walls, if there is no ceiling, how can there be lights?” Her eyes never left his. She stopped walking and faced him. She gripped his shoulders and spoke slowly, enunciating every syllable. “You have been lied to. The world you know is fake. Light comes from the sun. The ground,” she pointed down, “is covered in grass and dirt. I come from a different place with families and friends and things you can’t understand.” Her voice had begun to fade at the end. His eyes were wide with confusion. Frustrated, she shoved him backwards and began walking away. He restored his balance and jogged after her. When he finally caught up, he tried to ask her a question, but she merely held up a hand to silence him. They walked together, sharing the silence. “You know what,” she muttered to herself. “You know what,” she repeated, now speaking to him. “That was one story. Here’s another: This a giant room with new kinds of lamps and floors and ceilings. I live in this room because the School wants to find new ways to teach people without using a screen, to see if it helps students learn more efficiently. You’ll exit this room, you’ll go back into the School, you’ll get on your transport. Life will be the way it was

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before, with no Insides or Outsides, just the School and your residence and wherever else they tell you to go.” She fell silent again. Something told him that he needed to understand what she was talking about, but he could not decipher her meaning. He could finally see the School and the attached compounds on the horizon. She stopped and stared at it. She swallowed, as if struggling with words. “This...this is as far as I can go.” He had initially felt relief upon seeing the building, but now he hesitated. He noticed a patch of the beautiful structures from earlier. He inquired what they were called. “Flowers,” she said, nearly whispering. He meditated on this for a moment. “Can I ever come back here?” She sighed, not meeting his eyes. “Maybe. It depends.” She lifted her head to meet his gaze. “Which story do you choose?” A new emotion surfaced within him. It was keener than the fear, more somber than the wonder. It had heavily settled into his chest with each step closer to the School and to their departure. He tried to inhale, but his shoulders collapsed, and the exhale shook itself out. Again, he tried to breath, only to be interrupted. His face became wet. Weight slammed into him, with something wrapped around his torso. He wrenched open his wet eyes to see that she had put her arms around him and pressed her body to his. His breath steadied, and his eyes dried. She let go. Her eyes shone with wetness too. “What was that?” he asked with reverence. She laughed. “The water in your eyes, that’s crying. The arms around you, that was a hug.” He nodded, though he still did not understand. “I choose the first story,” he stated simply. She smiled. “Thank you.” He returned the smile hesitantly, as if he was unsure how. He then turned towards the School and began walking. Halfway to the building, he waded through a patch of forgetme-nots in bloom. He knelt down and carefully plucked a blossom from its stem. He held it up to the setting sun to inspect its beauty, its sky colored petals shining. He turned back to her and held the flower up for her to see, meeting her gaze. He carefully placed the bloom into a fold in his jumpsuit, and turned back to the school. She smiled sadly, her lips pressing together. “That’s called a promise.” she whispered as his form disappeared through the doorway.

Kaia Ball is a microbiology student in central Illinois. Once, on a dare, she wrote an article for the campus paper about finding a mouse in a toilet in the English building. She won first place at that year’s Illinois College Press Association Conference, which she did not know she was competing in. The plaque is very shiny and very heavy.


Literary Work

Workshop of a Rape Story LUCY MARCUS

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oday’s writer feels the cone in all its silent suffocation. She wants to take it off. It doesn’t quite fit, that’s the problem. Its circumference squeezes her forehead, producing an aching, yellow pressure at her temples. The little straps pinch the loose skin below her chin, where an Adam’s apple might protrude if she were a man. She and the other eight students wait in the quiet for their professor, who is always a little bit late. In front of each student sits a copy of today’s story, covered in black and blue pen marks. It’s a classroom policy, the wearing of this cone—no speaking as your peers and professor examine your story, studying its triumphs and pitfalls under the surgical microscopes of thickrimmed bifocals. Without the cone, one might feel the burdening impulse to defend, define, and declare. It’s necessary, this cone, and each student has taken a turn wearing it.

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Today’s writer forgets that fact as she glances around the table. She admires with some envy as the smallest, loveliest baby hairs wave over her peers’ unblemished foreheads in the breeze of the overhead fan. She avoids their eyes, feeling, herself, quite unattractive. The cone looks so silly, like a dunce’s cap, not even a supermodel could pull it off. This writer is no supermodel. At six minutes after the hour, the professor blows through the door, dumping her belongings on the rounded wooden table, removing her silk-lined pea coat, collapsing into a chair. The professor is a young woman, not much older than the writer. Her prolific publications are displayed on special shelves in almost every feminist bookstore across the country. “Let’s get started,” she says in a voice made hoarse by cigarettes and long periods of disuse. Every workshop begins with the things that are working.


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The rule is that you must be specific with your praise. You must define it with an exact-o-knife. When the students speak, they look the professor in the eyes, reading her expression. “I like the imagery, especially the dazed walking part,” one student says. “The sensory details were really vivid.” “The setting was well-established,” another adds, flipping through her pile of pages, searching for an example. “Like here! Page five,” she speaks over the collective shuffling of pages. “We get a full paragraph on the weather. This writer doesn’t usually give us weather and I really appreciated it in this piece.” The others nod and mutter agreement. “I was a little confused by tone,” a pigtailed student states. She has written TONE over and over on the margins in letters big enough for today’s writer to see through her sideways glimpse. “I get a lot of intense emotion on the first page, but then it kind of loses momentum. And we end with this strange joke. Or did I miss something? Maybe I missed something.” She looks around with her shoulders at her ears, then relaxes as the professor nods, lifting her fresh piece of chalk from the table. “I was hoping someone would bring up tone,” the professor says with her back facing the class as she draws on the blackboard. She likes to insert lessons into workshops, waiting for the right issues to come up in the students’ writing. She draws a mathematical-looking diagram on the board, with audibly marked xs and dashes. The student writer’s cone-induced pressure headache obscures the meaning of this lesson. Still, she scribbles a poor copy of the diagram into her notebook. “I also wanted a little more clarity around the narrator’s appearance,” another student shares after the professor sits again. “What was she wearing? How many drinks did she consume, and did she chug them or sip them with a pinky in the air? Those kinds of details could make this so much more real.” The others nod. Now that the first critiques have been shared, the others pour out like a collapsed dam. They want more purposeful details, Too many details, unnecessary dialogue, the writer scribbles in her notebook. Fuzzy timeline. Fix tense shifts. “I’m concerned about the stereotypes,” a student with a quill pen shares. He sounds very serious, like he’s been practicing this comment in his head. “In this political climate, we’ve got to be really careful about which stereotypes we fulfill and which we disrupt, you know? To have a Latino man commit this crime, and in Mexico City on top of that, I guess I wonder if it can happen in a place that might be more surprising.” “Though the man is a white Latino-American man,” another student corrects. “I mean, the racial dynamics aren’t exactly problematic in that way. Though I do agree that the gender roles are pretty clichéd. It could definitely be more original.”

“Right, it’s a little clichéd, that’s all,” the quill pen continues. He writes something with wet ink into his private, leatherbound journal. This is where the cone comes in handy. The writer cannot blabber, “But that’s how it happened!” She cannot define, “And he’s Cuban American, not Mexican.” She cannot defend, “But I don’t remember.” She cannot cry, either, or release the strange laughter she has a new habit of releasing in such moments of recollection. Instead, she continues to take notes in her notebook. She transcribes every word, to be dissected for value later, when she is alone. The workshops always end the same. The professor exhales, pushing a shiny chunk of brown hair behind her ear, and looks at the student writer’s face for the first time. The professor’s glance is flirtatiously embarrassed, as though recognizing her partner after an extravagant bout of lovemaking. She smiles, radiant, with all her whitened teeth. “Does our writer today have any questions?” This time the term “writer” is coy, entirely aware of its audacity. The writer gulps down a stale pond of spit in her mouth and opens her lips. When she tries to speak, she finds an empty well where sound might’ve been gathered. The cone seems to be doing its work. She shakes her head and makes an effortful smile as her peers hand over their copies with apologetic looks that don’t quite meet her eyes. She stuffs the jagged pages into her bag and, wanting a swift escape, hurries to the door while zipping it. Before she can make it through, her head jolts backwards, followed by her body. She touches her cone-elongated head and laughs as she balances herself. She turns to see the other students, who pause their conversations to stare. She knows she can take off the cone right there and leave it in the classroom for the next writer to wear, but she feels its tautness on her forehead. It is sealed with sweat to her skin. With the cone, she has three extra feet, extending synthetically skyward. As she traces her pointer finger over the material on her forehead, she feels a surrendering comfort. She moves through the doorway again, this time ducking in order to fit. All the way home, the writer wears the cone, crouching through doors, avoiding stares, making no sounds at all.

Lucy Marcus lives in Southwest Virginia, where she is an MFA Candidate and Teaching Fellow at Hollins University. She recently received the Melanie Hook Rice Award in the Novel and the Andrew James Purdy Prize for Short Fiction. Her writing has appeared in The Scribes Valley Publishing Anthology, 805 Art + Lit, First Class Lit, and she has an essay forthcoming in Kestrel.

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Originally from the flatlands of central Illinois, Justin Hamm now lives near Twain territory in Missouri. He is the founding editor of the Museum of Americana and the author of American Ephemeral and Lessons in Ruin, as well as two poetry chapbooks. His poems, stories, photos, and reviews have appeared in Nimrod, The Midwest Quarterly, Sugar House Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, and a host of other publications. Recent work has also been selected for New Poetry from the Midwest (2014, New American Press) and the Stanley Hanks Memorial Poetry Prize from the St. Louis Poetry Center.

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Poetry

The Pilgrimage JUSTIN HAMM

Sunset pours into the shattered eyes of an old farmhouse. Out front the gravel road bends around someone else’s corn. A man, burnt red from outdoor labor, wipes his hands over the belly of his denim shirt, discovers there an oily spring oozing from his palms. The man looks and looks and finally finds the spot they buried the stillborn— up near the house, as she’d insisted, so she could watch the grave from the sitting room. A private affair, this. The crows above, in their funeral best, mind their manners, and the deer dare not creep closer than the edge of the Hickory wood. The man kneels near a glass-smooth rock. When it happened, he took it badly, refused an equal share in the burden. There’s no making that up to her now. But he can finally set free some words he’s shouldered these ten-thousand days. They are good words, though insufficient. He is grateful, at least, to deliver them before the mortician picks his pockets and paints away the midnight craters around his own broken-window eyes.

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Silver Stains NICOLE PORCELLO

W

e spent most of that summer at Nana’s; that’s where we found the painting. When we had dinner with her, she always gave us dessert first. We ate strawberry shortcake and let the icing stick to our lips, made kissing faces at each other across the kitchen table. She would give us a taste of the tomato soup while it was still hot on the stove and Noah got to sprinkle the green stuff on the tops of our steaming bowls of the red paste. I would break apart my yellow bread and watch the crumbs fall into my bowl, on my lap, and I licked butter from my fingers. After dinner, I stood up and it would hail yellow. Noah laughed and Nana laughed and Mother would scold me for dirtying my dress when we came home. “Don’t let your father see that mess,” she would say, pointing at the smears, the artwork of meals left behind, a permanent memory of the delicious afternoon.

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Father came home before I could change and he would hit me once, twice, three times because that was the number of stains on the good church clothes that they kept allowing me to wear to Nana’s. Welts appeared, a stain on my skin, and Noah snuck in my room hours later and kissed the marks once, twice, three times for the number of red spots on my skin. They tingled from the coolness of his lips and his breath as he blew across them, letting the heat escape from the wounds. He would ca-caw softly in my ear, like a bird, like the ravens that sat on top of the scarecrow in Father’s cornfield, not fazed, unafraid, watching. His breath tickled my skin and I would smile and laugh and fall asleep because I knew he loved me and I believed that all would be okay again. I called him Silver. He wouldn’t let Mother throw away his old, holey sneakers—his lucky ones—so one night he wrapped them up


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with some silver tape Father had in the barn. When he ran, the shoes would catch the sunlight and create shining silver streaks through the grass. My silver bullet. He called me The Raven. We always ran through the long-grass field behind Nana’s house, playing Cowboys and Indians, and if we had to, we peed among the trees and the bushes next to the tomato patch so we wouldn’t have to go back inside—we prolonged our make-believe and chased the sun for just a little bit longer. The warm urine dripped down my legs and Silver stood guard, scanning the horizon for the invisible evil Cowboy or Indian that might cross our path, that might come near his peeing sister. He passed me a leaf or a pile of grass to wipe with and I hiked my skirt back up so we could keep playing. My skirt got stuck, tucked into the top of my tights, but we ran back and forth across the grass, staining our knees and dirtying our feet. If you were “It” you had to catch the other person. I would close my eyes and put out my arms and let the branches and leaves brush my palms as I paced up and down the trails, searching. Once, when I spotted Silver, I ran; the laces of my boots dragged underneath the soles until I fell face-first into the dirt. I caught myself with my hands and scraped my palms on the small rocks. I cried, wet tears staining my dusted, tan cheeks. “He’s going to be mad!” I said, worried about Father. Silver unraveled the coiled garden hose from the side of the house and turned the squeaky knob the tiniest bit, trickled the water over the smeared dirt and streaks of blood. He took my hands and rubbed them together, washing away the evidence of pain. He shook my hands dry, wiped them against his own jeans and put his lips to the cuts. Then he un-tucked my skirt, skimming his finger around the edge of my tights to make sure everything was in place again. “See, Rave?” he said. “It’s all better now.” And then he jumped up and started racing to the other end of the yard and I followed, I always followed, running for Papa’s truck – the fort. Silver cawed to the sky and flapped his arms up and down and I laughed and chased him and cawed back because I was his raven and I believed all would be okay again. * * * Papa died when I was just three years old. Silver remembered some moments with him. He would talk about how Papa bounced him on his knee as Silver made sounds with his lips that vibrated into his chest with the movements. They would sing old songs, songs of the blues, songs of jazz, and the two of them would take Nana’s hands and they would twirl around her living room to the music. Nana and Silver told the stories as we sat on the front porch, scooping tomato soup into our mouths and watching the sun sink behind the trees, the dark golden colors shining through the branches, creating shadows on the wood below my feet. I

scrunched my eyes shut tight and tried to remember too, tried to feel the vibrations of the music and the bouncing, but even though I wanted to, I never could. I was too young, then. Papa’s old, faded blue truck sat abandoned in the backyard near the shed, where he last parked it to do some repair work before he collapsed from a heart attack while washing tomatoes in the kitchen sink. Nana says that his heart was too full. I don’t remember much about the funeral, either. But the truck became our sanctuary, our playground, our fort—nature tried to claim it; vines and leaves traveled around the edges and through the windows, the bed filled with layers of dust, or snow, or rain, but we would climb back on it, and in it, and that’s when I believed I would feel Papa around me. In the truck I felt safe. * * * We didn’t have cousins or other children in the area to play with. Father’s land reached out for acres to hold the barn and the stables and the rows and rows of corn. The only neighbor we would come across was the dog who lived up the road and howled at the moon before bedtime. Nana was the head of the church choir and that summer she would invite her choir friends and their grandchildren to the house after church every Sunday. Church fit me like a straightjacket. I had to be still, I had to be quiet, I had to be contained. Mother dressed me up in dresses with flowers printed on them and white tights that got twisted in my underwear. She would braid my hair in the bathroom before leaving, pulling out leftover pieces of leaves from the tangles. The little seams at the feet of the tights would always feel wrong against my toes and I would twist my ankles around in my tiny white shoes as they dangled from the church pews. “Stop fussing,” Mother would say and I would sit on my hands and cross my ankles and try to count as high as I could in my head. The other families sat in the same rows of benches, some fathers with their arms around their daughters in their own flower dresses. The parents held hands and looked at each other when the pastor spoke. The children smiled. I would watch the men and women stand and sit and copy their movements. I would try to read the words of the books behind the benches and I wondered if Papa knew God. Mother and Father would usher us toward Nana and the choir ladies at the end of the church service and Mother would tell me, “Make sure those shoes stay buckled! And don’t fiddle with your dress. Be a lady.” And Father, his eyebrows furrowing, would tell Silver: “Fix your tie,” and smack his bottom. He would glance at me, his eyes roaming, checking for stains, a wrinkle, something out of place or not tucked in and he would frown slightly, shake his head and look at Mother, and I wondered how many hits there would be when we got back home.

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They would tap Nana’s shoulder and whisper adult words about bedtimes and cars and dinner and then they would be gone, their backs toward us, growing smaller down the hallway of the church and out toward the car. Mother took off her hat and gloves, trailing behind Father, her hands outstretched as if reaching toward him, but her arms fell behind her back before reaching him and they would disappear from our view. The first day we went home with Nana and the ladies and their grandchildren, I was excited for the company. “We can show them the fort!” I told Silver. “And we’ll play Cowboys and Indians and maybe we can have tomato soup…” “No,” Silver said. I frowned. “Why not?” “Then it won’t be ours anymore, Raven. It wouldn’t be our secret.” I knew secrets meant friends, and Silver was my best one. My only one. So we threw rocks into the pond with the other children and waited for them to leave. I sat cross-legged in the grass in my dress, my head resting on my hand. One of the boys skipped his rock in the pond three times and I smiled. I kneeled on the grass and threw my rock. I tried to do the same. “Show me,” I said, and he came behind me with another rock and flicked his wrist with precision, with practice, and it skipped one, two, three, four times before sinking to the bottom. I smiled, air traveling through my missing teeth, and tried with my own rock. It sunk to the bottom with a plop. The little girls sat on the rocks near the tomato patch and played patty-cake, clapping their hands together and singing songs of Miss Mary Mack. I looked at my own hands, dusted with dirt. Silver caught my eye and warned me with his. Don’t get involved. Don’t spill your secrets. I stopped digging for rocks and sat on the ground. I counted the claps and the skips and waited. When they piled into their cars and peeled out of Nana’s dirt driveway and down the road, Silver cheered and cawed and we climbed into the bed of Papa’s fort and lay down on our backs, looked up at the stars. He pulled up his shirt, showing his white stomach, because he said it would let him absorb star power. We could shine. I pulled my shirt up so we were the same, two white bellies pointed toward the sky. He locked his fingers with mine, rubbing circles into my hand with his thumb, and pointed up at the shapes, the patterns made in the sky. “I think I see a Raven,” he said, and I smiled and cawed again and again till he shushed me, giggling, and I believed that all would stay okay, if only for the night. When Nana dropped us off at home, we would stand in the entryway, our coats dripping onto the welcome mat she had made for Mother and Father’s wedding, back before even Silver was born. I wiped my own feet on the mat every

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afternoon and pretended I was still at Nana’s, breathing deeply through my nose, trying to smell old mothballs and tomatoes and sugar instead of sweet tobacco and dust and mold. * * * Every month, Mother would take a trip into town; she said that she had appointments and would disappear for the day. Father wouldn’t say anything about it and Nana wouldn’t say anything about it and when she was away, cups would stack up in the sink and Silver and I would make grilled cheese sandwiches and dip them in cold leftover soup from Nana’s for dinner. She sent it home with us in twistable Tupperware containers, along with lunchmeats and condiments and lettuce heads and dried fruit, split into serving-size baggies because she knew Mother wasn’t going to Hal’s market during the week. We would line them up, stack them in the back of the fridge, next to the milk container past its expiration date and Father’s bottles of beer. Fuel for working on the farm for the next few days before being dumped off at Nana’s again, our only company each other, the scarecrow with the straw hat, and the ravens that weren’t afraid of any of us. When Mother finally came home in the morning after her disappearances I would glide down the stairs on the tips of my toes, skipping the last step that made the loudest creak, and crawl into the kitchen to watch her. My knees dug into the cold tile and my pajama bottoms got caught under them as I dragged across the floor. She shrugged off her coat and let it sink onto the floor just past Nana’s mat and pulled out the little containers of capsules from her purse. I would cover my mouth, try not to let my breathing give me away. She took a few careful steps and reached up to the highest cabinet above the sink and tucked one of the bottles behind the other grownup drinks that we were not supposed to touch. Then, she popped open the second bottle in her hand and would count out one, two pills and toss them into her mouth. She wouldn’t drink any water. I would watch the lump in her throat as she swallowed and she sat down at the table and breathed heavily. I thought of how small and round the pills looked and wonder how they might feel rolling between my fingers. While she sat with her eyes closed, I began to feel my heart beating faster and I sneaked back up the stairs and under the covers of Silver’s bed, where it was warm and safe and quiet, and he would roll over, rub his fist in his sleep-filled eyes and whisper a caw and I would believe everything would be okay again. Because in the couple of weeks after her appointments she would always come back to us; her eyes would seem more in focus, redness would fill back in her cheeks and she’d make brownies and meatballs and pour us cups of fresh orange juice with our oatmeal in the morning, before she slipped away from us again.


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* * * On rainy days we would play inside, climbing up the wooden steps to Nana’s attic while she worked in the kitchen. We would go through her and Papa’s old clothes in moth-chewed boxes that we blew the dust off of to play dress up. That day, Silver wore an old purse on his arm with Nana’s shawl from when she was in her mid-twenties draped around his shoulders. I pulled long white gloves up past my elbows and waved my arms delicately, like a princess. “Fetch me my horse,” I said in my most perfect accent and he laughed and galloped along next to me. The painting was lying facedown across from some dusty boxes on the other corner of the attic. Orange-brown, curling strips of sticky fly traps hung down from the windows, filled with crusted black flies that stuck to their deaths. Silver reached around them while I gasped and kept my fingers hidden behind my back. He began to flip over the frame, the paper of the black backing showing, ripped in one place, and his eyebrows rose as he peeked at it. He cocked his head to the side and flipped it the rest of the way over. It made a small thud as it landed back on the boxes. “What is it?” I asked, trying to peer around the hanging traps, my arms crossed behind me. “Well…” he said, scratching his chin, like the detectives did in the movies we watched with Nana sometimes. “It’s a painting, I think. Maybe even a masterpiece.” He was smiling now, so I knew that it was okay. “A masterpiece?” I asked. In the painting was a woman. She was sitting, lying really, on a small, fancy-looking light pink couch with little white flowers printed on it. Her arm stretched behind her, resting on top of the couch near her head, which flowed with long, curly locks that draped down her neck, toward her chest. Her legs were bent, tucked behind her. She looked off into the distance at some invisible person or place, her lips pursed. Not frowning, not smiling. She was naked. Silver wiped off a layer of dust from the painting with his finger, leaving a trail across the woman’s nipple. I squirmed, feeling a strange heat prickling at the top of my head as I looked at her. Her breasts were round and curved, her smooth stomach and legs and down there exposed. There was a shadow over it. First I thought it was dust or dirt on the painting. I stretched open the elastic waist of my pants to look at my own. “Take those off,” Silver said. I looked from the woman back to Silver. “Why?” I asked. “We need to paint our own version,” he said. He pointed to the art supplies box by the attic stairs, the one we would always come up to grab and bring to the living room to color and draw with Nana. I paused. Silver always made the masterpieces. We would show Nana our paintings and drawings and she would “ooh”

and “ahh” and smile and put them on the fridge with her horse magnets. “Would you look at that,” she would say, ruffling Silver’s hair and kissing his forehead. “We have a Van Gogh on our hands.” “Why can’t I paint it?” I asked him. “You’re the girl,” Silver told me, shrugging. He waved his hand over the painting. “I have to paint you.” Silver set up his painting area while I undressed. He placed a large piece of construction paper, the brushes, the halfused set of watercolors, crayons, and a pencil on top of the stack of dress-up boxes. He wiped his nose with the back of his sleeve and put the pencil behind his ear. He looked like a real artist. I pulled off Nana’s gloves and dress and then stepped out of my stretchy pink pants, took off my yellow T-shirt and the white undershirt with the light pink bow on the front. They sat in a heap by the window like I was at the doctor’s office getting a check-up. Silver dragged two stools in front of it to get the best light and told me to sit like the woman in the painting. “You’ll have to get rid of those, too,” he said, pointing to my faded purple-and-blue striped panties. “It’s art,” he explained. I shimmed the panties down my legs, over my feet, and kicked them onto the floor with my other clothes. It felt strange, almost exciting, to be undressed—not for bed, not for a bath, but for art. I tried to lie like the woman in the painting, putting my arm above my head, grabbing onto the sill of the window behind me. I looked down at my own body. “I don’t look like her,” I said, scanning my flat chest, the light blonde hairs on my legs, the bareness between them. Silver studied me, his eyebrows furrowing like Father’s, his eyes scanning me from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. I sat perfectly still, trying to hold my breath. Was I good enough for this masterpiece? He knelt down, getting the best angle, checking my pose with the woman’s in the painting. He walked over toward me, slid his hand over my leg, my hip, up to my neck, moving my arms and my hair the tiniest bit, making it perfect. “Nana’s going to love this painting,” Silver finally said, and dipped the paintbrush into the tray of colors. I relaxed and looked out the window, trying to imagine what the woman in the painting saw. Nana found us when Silver’s painting was almost finished. The sun was starting to sink behind the house, the light graying and fading in the attic. I was itching in my seat, trying to ignore the goose bumps crawling across my bare stomach, my exposed legs. I was counting Silver’s movements. One, two, three brushstrokes; one dip into the water cup. Five blinks. I wanted to sit still. I wanted Nana to think our painting was beautiful. We heard the footsteps on the attic stairs first. The wood sent echoing thuds up to where we were by the windows.

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“Is everything okay up here?” Nana asked, her footsteps growing closer. The smell of bananas and honey raced her up the stairs. “We’re working on a surprise,” Silver called. “You can’t look!” “Yeah,” I agreed, hoping our words would shoo her away. The painting had to be perfect before she saw it. “You’ve been up here a long time,” Nana said, still climbing. “Dinner’s almost ready… then it’ll be time to go home.” She didn’t listen to Silver’s requests. She rounded the corner from the staircase and when she saw me, stretched across the stools, naked, with my arm in the air and Silver in front of me, she gasped. * * * Later, we stood in front of Mother and Father in Nana’s sitting room, Silver holding the painting between his thumb and forefinger. The paint still wasn’t completely dry. My clothes hid my body again. Nana had wrapped my jacket around me too; no skin exposed. Mother covered her face with her hands and Father growled deep in his chest, like a lion, and shouted adult words at Nana, who frowned and shouted back. They waved their hands in the air and Father spat words like “disgusting” and “exposed my daughter” and “why do you have that thing” and Nana grumbled words like “you’re never around” and “too young to know” and “just playing.” I scrunched up my eyes, trying to understand but I couldn’t. Silver had painted a masterpiece. I played with the string on my pants, wondering how many hits there would be tonight. There were no stains, only one painting. Silver tapped my foot with his to show he was with me and I hid my small smile under my palm. Father shouted again, turned away from Nana, shook Silver by his shoulders and yelled, “What were you thinking?” He snatched the painting from his hand and ripped the paper down the middle. The pieces floated down to the ground, my body split in half. When we were in trouble, Father would slam his fist on the dining table, leaving a brief print of sweat on the wood, and the silverware would jump and I would jump and my juice would spill and he would hit me, once for the stain in my lap and twice for reminding him he was angry. That night, after the hits, he jerked his head toward the stairs and I scampered up them to sit at the top, awaiting Silver’s punishment. It smelled like blown-out birthday candle—that sweet tobacco from Father’s pipe—evaporating wishes, sweat, dry chicken. My hands were sticky with sugary apple juice and I licked each finger, one, two, three, four, five, ignoring the dirt underneath the nails and the scars from the scrapes and the cuts from the yard. Father yelled and Silver yelled and Mother cried and there were hits and screams and “I can’t believe this” and “where did you learn this” and “little fucking pervert.” Heat crawled up

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my back at the strange words that felt like dishes breaking, ones that could be glued back together but would never look the same. There were more hits and Silver groaned and then my cheeks were wet and I crawled back down the stairs, cawing for my brother. “Get your ass back upstairs, right now!” Father yelled when he saw me, snotty and trembling on the last step. Silver looked at me, his eyes drained, his hands still stained with colors from the paint set. Father shoved Silver along the hallway, to the front door, past Nana’s mat and out to the barn. I shook in the kitchen and Mother whispered, “Oh, God,” to her chicken and potatoes and I thought about Papa. I wondered if he would have liked our painting. When Silver slipped into my sheets that night, I could see shadows in his eyes. This time, I brought my lips to his bruises, kissed them once, twice, three times for good luck. Seeing them hurt more than the welts on my own skin. He hugged my body and rubbed his hands along my legs, my hips, and down there, and buried his face in my neck, shaking even in the warmth. “Let’s go, Raven,” he said after a few minutes, pulling the blankets off of us and swinging his legs down to the floor. “Let’s get out of here.” I followed him, my nightgown tangled around my legs and my feet bare, cool on the wood floor. He dragged me behind him on the stairs, clutching my hand and bringing his fingers to his lips. We had to be quiet, we had to be still, but we couldn’t be contained. We stopped in the kitchen, where he hoisted himself up onto the counter, reaching for the highest cabinet. I heard the soft rattle of capsules and gasped. He warned me with his eyes, his swollen eyes, and pointed toward the flickering light coming from the living room where we could hear Father’s snores. He stepped into his silver sneakers by the door without stopping to tie them and we crept into the darkness. Once we passed the porch and the immediate yard, we scampered toward the cornfield, next to Father’s tractor, ready for harvesting the next weekend. Silver pulled a flashlight from his pocket, propped it between us on the ground, its beam shooting up into the sky. The pills looked strange, whiter than I remembered against Silver’s tanned hands in the dark. He smiled wider than I had seen before, his teeth climbing up his cheeks in a wicked grin, his eyes large, pupils dilated, looking strange behind the purple shadows of bruises. He took two pills, shoved them into the back of his throat and took a loud gulp. “What’re they going to do to you?” I asked. “Mom takes them,” he said. “And they make her feel better. They make her not feel sad anymore. That’s what it’s going to do.”


Short Story

“Mom is sad?” He held one out to me and I took it in my fingers, rolled it around in my palm. I held the pill between my lips, letting it dissolve slightly in my mouth. I tilted my head back against the corn, gathered spit into the back of my mouth and closed my eyes. I let the pill slide down into my throat, inside the body that had to be covered, and I waited to feel happy. We sat in silence, watching the stars. I looked for ravens in the patterns but I couldn’t find any. I wished I could feel Papa around us, but we weren’t in his place, in his fort. I wondered if Mother’s heart was too empty. Maybe that’s why she had to fill it with the white pills. “Does Nana hate us?” I finally asked, the words forming slowly, rolling around in my mouth before coming out into the air. The sounds vibrated in my cheeks, in my chest. He closed his eyes and sighed. “I don’t think so,” he said, shrugging. “But she’s in trouble.” I thought of the yelling, the strange words. “Why?” I asked. “Because you were naked.” “You said that was art,” I said. I pulled my nightgown tighter around me, wondering what was so terrible underneath it. I raised my knees up to my chest, pulled the fabric over them, covering every bit. Silver put his hand on mine, stopping me. “They don’t understand us, Rave,” he said, picking at a scab on his leg until it bled. The blood crawled down his leg toward the grass. He stood up and spun, jumped into the air, flapping his arms while I watched. I was too heavy to move. He climbed onto the tractor, his hands on the wheel, his feet on the chair; I felt a humming in my chest, the hum of harvest, of growth. My eyes seemed to go in and out of focus. I saw the dirt stains on the yellow machine—brown, yellow, black. Silver. The colors, the sounds, they all seemed to move, like a kaleidoscope inside my mind. “I could fly, Raven,” he said, lifting his hands up, up toward the sky, toward the sky without any ravens in the stars. There were no stars. There were no clouds. Just gray. I watched his palms as they opened and closed, watched as he moved his arms out to his sides, as he bent down in a squat, preparing to jump. “No, Noah,” I tried to say, feeling the words tumble out of my mouth, turn into spit on the ground. I rubbed at the welt on my skin, the scars on my legs, and tried to stand, to crawl. “I’m flying, Raven!” Silver yelled as he ripped off his nightshirt and waved it in the air, like a cowboy. I was the Indian. Finally, he jumped from the tractor; the laces of his shoes flapping in the wind, his voice echoing to the trees. Two bird cries, our caw, filled the air before he hit the ground. His body seemed imprinted into the ground, like a snow angel, his image stuck in the dark grass. He rolled toward me, giggling, the blood on his leg dried into a deep, blackish red. He popped open the pill bottle again and told me that he felt alive.

We fell into a strange unconsciousness: not quite awake, not quite asleep. The sky was pink now, the sun readying, preparing to break through. I felt my body more than I felt my mind. I slipped in and out of strange dreams, thinking of rocks sinking into the pond and tomatoes cooking on the stove and the woman in the painting. My skin could feel the grass and hay beneath my legs, the scratches they made on the exposed skin - the skin that got us in trouble, the skin that I now keep hidden. My ears could hear Silver but did not feel him beside me. My arms could move, brushing my hands where Silver should have been. They found the pill bottle, almost empty now, the pills not-sowhite as they spilled into the grassy hay. Somewhere far away, I heard the front door bang, bottles clinking together. Slurred, yelling, grumbled words from Father. “Where are you two?” he shouted, his voice shaky, growing closer. He stopped on the steps and then his footsteps were faster, louder. “Get back in the god damn house!” Silver didn’t answer. My eyes tried to focus and I reached my hands next to me, searching. I made contact, feeling his nightshirt back around his shoulders and I tapped him, shaking to wake him up. I couldn’t hear Father but I could feel him, sense his anger, his fear. I slid down so the grass was close to my face and I could see my brother, the purple behind his eyes. He did not move. I felt my voice explode through my lips, panic flicking my eyes back to Father, yearning for him now. I pushed with all my might, rolling Silver onto his back, and put my ear against his heart. I heard nothing. “Daddy!” I cried, feeling wetness on my cheeks and my nose. He reached me and his knees hit the ground. He pushed on Silver’s chest; one, two, three, four, then he pinched his nose shut and it was like he was kissing him, blowing his own air into his lungs but Silver did not wake up. I clawed at my nightgown, grabbed at the welts on my skin. Daddy held Silver’s head and I held his feet, his lucky shoes still on; my shoulders shook and tears were wet on Daddy’s cheeks and my cheeks as we both cried to God or Papa or someone out there with the power of the stars. Somewhere, I heard the cry of a bird as the sun started to break through the sky.

Nicole Porcello grew up in southern New Hampshire and received her MFA in Fiction at Emerson College in Boston. She enjoys traveling, having spent some of last year exploring Europe and writing at an Artist in Residence retreat in Italy. She recently relocated to the West Coast to explore other avenues with writing in Southern California. This is her first fiction publication.

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UFO spotted non compos mentis in Pishoomland LAWDENMARC DECAMORA

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Poetry

Ting. The train left Guadalupe Station collecting more of Garoy’s ilk, work-tired and sleepy, the Garonoids. Then back to the strange lady stare-kissing the sun, back to Garoy’s scratching his gluteus maximus. Tang. The Garonoids behind them seemed like an onoff light bulb in their stressed shell-light. As the train stopped, they were switched on as if awareness were to penetrate their system. And when motion pedalled, their inner sky of sleep once again shut. Garoy yawned repeatedly, and the lady with the now amber-lit eyes averted her gaze, now toward the approaching station. “We’re heading Bonifacio Station and you’re still scratching your—” He quizzed, “What?” “Your gladiatorial tang tings.” Day after today: and there’s a risk of Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer confusing the morning’s blood pressure. The mysterious light stayed, and Garoy, the only one left inside the train, feared to dismount. Meanwhile the train remained static, which was like waiting for him to make a move. All of a sudden the lady he met reappeared. She stood fronting the door with a smile as piercingly inviting as the sun. “There you are, what’s that huge sun-like thing behind you?” he queried. The lady uttered only five little words, “Come, behind me is Ortigas.” He scratched his ass for the last time, thinking if that were a UFO. . .I wouldn’t anymore mind checking payslips. He dropped his bag and went off to follow her. They never talked while leaving the station. The sun-ship set afoot blinked in crazy colors, like her eyes, like her ever bespeaking eyes. When shadows were no longer detected in the station, the train livened up and coursed back to its resounding business. Pishoom! Pishoom!

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Heartbeat

(Alright make it official you heard it in a speculative membrane-bus!) LAWDENMARC DECAMORA

Watching fast cars from the edge-row seat of a bus, my mind safe-assigns a regular thought I thought was running pristinely naked, or an odor of a girl I thought was the effect of an 8AM lesson on Pierre Gourou slowly kicking in, embracing the trees from around my vision which I thought was tropical time carrying code-specific heat back to my lovely province. This back seat of a speculative membrane-bus now turning loco, calling out all aesthetes and commuters of the Manila mundi to reunite! And ringing—my mind’s chasing the hour like a whiplash too quick to move. Love this shy avocado hope on board—of all round trips I couldn’t finish: tickets there turning to peanuts, roasted peanuts scattering around a wheel to never make this poor brain tired of thinking aahh thought like an Atom-U freight memory ringing like a heart. Or: a deadbeat’s heartbeat.

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Lawdenmarc Decamora holds an MFA in creative writing and is presently completing his MA in literary and cultural studies in the Philippines. His literary work has appeared or is forthcoming in Kitaab International, Mithila Review, Drunken Boat (now Anomaly), The Ilanot Review, Kartika Review, Cordite Poetry Review, Columbia Journal (honorable mention), PoĂŠsie Bleu Souterrain, Papercuts, and many others. He teaches literature and humanities in a prestigious university in Manila.

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I, from the etcetera farm LAWDENMARC DECAMORA

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Poetry

Dear autochthon: We slurp in the Parental Guidance colour of television, this orbit of the lost and found circling the living room with oxygen. Full of class and chrome. I write to you to request subsidy to cover my travel fare from my country to your always royal palatine palace, the hollow spaces of which the bright future of mental othering. Call it a telepathic zone. Call it a rapid polychrome. Of what? Perhaps only time could reimburse with instances of cultural selfing letting the sun set on its inner skin. I know how well respected you are in wishful thinking, your many achievements confronting different time zones and pushing agnotology away from the mouth of trauma, are phenomenal. Or maybe not, just a soft blow. Moreover, it is imperative on my part to thank you in advance for this opportunity to type up words I pilfered from last night’s dream. I know my research project will be a reality with your approval. In case you have suggestions, you can reach me by walking across the slum-shaped bridge that connects to consciousness, or to some trees. And, in case of emergency, slide through it. As there will be notes, slippery notes. In connection with this, may I request this note to be endorsed by the Other? As there will be bombs. Bombs of accent, of class, of colour, of the new. If you require any additional tongues, please let me know and I will be happy to supply them fresh off the etcetera farm. Looking forward to feel a tintinnabulation in my memory clock. Sincerely, The sender of the letter is also the receiver addressed as the Other cc: in between tonsils, “I”

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Love in the Time of The Far End of Falling REKHA VALLIAPPAN

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M

ala is counting the notches on the backs of the twin Foo dogs guarding the entrance to the restaurant, when the ears drop. She has not expected her day would end like this—adrift, her body floating away. It is her ninth date. She is hoping to get something right from over hundreds she has filtered through popular dating sites which has actually advanced to a meaningful dinner at a reasonably swank Asian restaurant. Over dim sum and roasted duck Petar has proposed. Or so she thinks, if you put aside the bag of sour-and-salt Lay’s potato chips he is Instagramming to show her the rock that twinkles hideously. She has accepted. A tiny diamond, meant to gleam wickedly on the third finger of her left hand, has winked away enticingly. He has shown her more. She has finally glimpsed a Dylan-esque looking Petar trying to fit his namesake church tower in the same frame as his puffy face, that he had never let her view, except for his mother, only once. And now for this to happen. Peter’s ears floating in the wonton soup. A ton of screwed up news. He had bent forward low to put a spoonful in his mouth of the steaming hot soup, when plop! into the bowl of soup, looking like a couple of extra wontons, went his two cauliflower shaped ears, simultaneously. The way she saw it, she had no choice. In a blink of an eye Mala, red-hot and not to be mistaken for a second rate version of herself, huge issue, has politely asked for the bill and for a plastic container to takeaway—meaning, the ears. The management obliges, as gracious as ever. The restaurant dining rooms are widely frequented by electric taxis emptying patrons from Vancouver and Honk Kong, curious to taste the fast life—as in aircraft-powered fast, besides their red dragon empress hospitality—a fine blend of old world and home-away-from-home romantic charm. Red is still the visible color of love. Although Mala has several other less flattering explanations for red. But here and now where even the wall paper displays a gleaming ruby red with calligraphic trimmings, to match the friendly tongues of orange-scarlet flame leaping from the wide open mouths of the smiling dragons, red is the color of passion and seduction. To say nothing of the quietly watchful porcelain Foo dogs. The rest of the fancy meal is left behind together with the fortune cookies. Mala feels her heartbeats quicken. “Stay calm,” Peter says, the young buck at the heart of the scoop, as soon as the burning sensation he is experiencing in the area of the detachment has somewhat subsided, like she is anything but, although in the bluster of finding a taxicab, the normal kind, not the electric fleet, she has broken into a sweat. In her hurry she stumbles on the tricky terrain of the city’s sidewalks. She is to be forgiven for the mishap. She is but only halfway through a six-week course at Legwork School—a hundred dollars-an-hour corporate entity which teaches you how to walk in nine-inch spikes—proper footwork procedures

to navigate the city’s mean streets and subways. Stilettos are an addictive trendy must-have in her fashion-statement wardrobe, after watching multiple reruns of Sex and the City. Ambitious women wore heels—very high heels, the higher the better. Gave one an astute view of the world from way up there. Mala was a successful investment banker on Wall Street—according to her mother and scores of aunties. Nevertheless, despite some practice, her nine-and-a-half-inch Louboutins slide neatly into a gutter cover, yanking painfully at her ankle—the only sign displaying her anxiety. Petar understands. A draughtsman by trade and usually handy with his corrugated hands, he reassures her that he is comfortable, except for some loud whooshing roar of sounds flitting past his earless orifices, which could only be the whizzing traffic. But his hearing is otherwise unimpaired. Her concern is not the exposed raw openings on either side of his pale face, looking red and bloodied like signaling twin flags flying on a marble pedestal in the middle of Zagreb, but that no other parts of his handsome face similarly suffer the same fate and fall off haphazardly onto the germ infested sidewalk, while he sets about the delicate task of daintily extricating her shapely ankle attached to the shoe. Mala wants to rip the electrodes buzzing around in her brain. What stands out is that she has been hearing these stories of our times from a string of good prospects. Prospects are boys, anything that “walks in pants,” even a kangaroo or aardvark, who her parents have lined up for her ever since she has reached ripe marriageable age, which is a decade ago, then when that well dries up, extracts a promise from her to walk her own walk and talk the talk. Alone. She figures it out. These are the boys, men-boys, since the word “man” is never used, whom she will have to tackle all by herself, tasked with the “impossible” job of finding a “suitable boy” to marry, on her own. Mind-blowing. Once again, go for the jugular. She knows the score. Find one, with good prospects. Or else. Egged on by a slew of well-meaning “aunties” occupying the cart driver’s seat, the dangling carrot and stick enticement is showing some results. Good prospects means, good “boy,” good job, good family, good looks, in that pecking order. No weirdos. Tough, reliable, and trustworthy “good.” The word, even if at one time was obscure to her, is not any more. One time in a karaoke bar she had met up with a dashing young movie critic. You press a switch and hey! her gamma frequency went into high gear flashing a whole new vision, when he kissed her passionately, tongue hotly probing, under the strobe lights, crooning out deafening “You Used to Call Me On My Cell Phone.” Cell phone?! Weakness grabs at her knees. Her very first self-chosen date. No aunties involved. Freedom to choose on her own, whomever she wants, wherever she wants. Her mind had zapped like a trapeze artist then, till her sunglasses slid right

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off her delicately structured nostrils. Mala in love, with love, and falling off the far end, into the deep end, of course, only not with this debonair Clark Gable in the guise of a mapilai, but with a Marxist she mistook for a Marplist, because the swastikas he wore in sync, front and back, resembled two of Miss Marple’s knitting needles. The affair ended when he did not deny being a Marxist or a Marplist. To her relief, at the fifth try a yellow cab pulls over. Petar is doing his best to appear nonchalant, although he does earn some extra hard stares, which makes Mala twitch uncomfortably. “Look, mummy,” a little girl exclaims from somewhere close at the kerb, “that man has no ears.” “Hush, Sara,” her mother admonishes, tugging the little girl in the green galoshes and pink bow, away. “It’s rude to stare.” Mala’s ring finger which flashes the tiny-teenie diamond shooting like robotic laser stars is warmly wrapped around Petar’s cold and clammy middle and forefingers, as she leads him gently to the cab. But then his fingers fall loose and come right off, and she is left holding two of Petar’s sausage stumps in her right hand, looking like half-eaten Betty Crocker’s sesame chicken dumplings, to match the plastic doggy bag containing his ears in her left. She feels fortunate to have brought on this outing her shoulder strap leather purse, the one she usually carries to the office. She could not have managed several carry-ons otherwise. She hastily thrusts the plastic bag in Petar’s good hand to extract the plastic container to drop the two fingers into, but his palm holding the plastic bag also falls right off, by all accounts with the weight of his own two ears. She grabs the bag in the nick of time before it lands on the littered sidewalk. “Can you manage these?” she asks, and without waiting for an answer, hands him his two bloodied fingers and solid square palm, which he grips daintily between thumb and pinky finger of his remaining good hand, while she manages the rest. All unloosed body parts are expeditiously and efficiently dealt with—thrust into the plastic container. The cab driver wants to know if this is an emergency since he has another fare to consider. “Yes,” she replies, disentangling her sequined multi-colored chiffon dupatta which has blown across Petar’s well-tailored suit and looks perilously close to landing on the germ filled sidewalk. It is how one gets sick with the norovirus. Or e-coli. As you get dressed for the day, you may be coming in contact with those hairy street fiends, plastering the streets. It is surprising how even salmonella finds its way into your best clothes, despite the great choices in laundry detergents. The petri dish of pathogens are the clothes since they touch every surface. She delivers her jingle daintily on the worst microbes that exist on city streets, which take the beating. Dire and disproportionate, but she is in no mood to know or care. Petar unalarmed, but slightly green, nods, grunts, studying the pink configuration of his hand, where the blood lines are mapping, after the loss of his digits.

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Now that they are on their way to the hospital, she can relax. Om Na-mooo Shiva-ya! she says aloud in her head. As expected it calms her in an instant, before she is halfway through. This is the only prayer she remembers, handiest, because it is also the shortest, although her aunties clarify prayer verses in Sanskrit can run from monosyllables of repeated chants to thousands of complicated lines. But she can’t think of any longer than the six-syllables that keep drumming around in her head. Petar in the meantime is having one of those fainting spell moments. He finds himself leaning intimately into her bosom, his body folding in a slow motion side-swipe, so that her cleavage cross-sights his eyeballs, she has to sit him upright. He has a pretty good idea what it is. To avoid a recurrence and bridge the awkward silence, he regales her with stories— episodes of similar complicated out-of-body situations that have occurred in his childhood, well into young adulthood. He has thought he is past these bodily infarctions. One time it was his nose. His spout had inopportunely fallen into a freshly dug out flower bed, into which garlic was planted. The sharp stench of garlic was overpowering. It never left his nose. Reattaching his double-barreled receptors had taken some effort, although the doctors were accurate, simply because that day the cold temperatures in an order of ice cream sundae filled with strawberries had helped with the preservation of his olfactory organ, on that occasion, although he had lost all sense of smell for three years after that particular episode, except for the garlic. The smell ramifications could be endless when a membrane is involved, which Petar is in half mind to continue relating. Reposing in his corner of the slow-moving cab snarled in crawling traffic, Petar has never felt better, minus missing body parts considered. He also finds a capital opportunity to study Mala closely, from the vantage point he’s at. The more he studies her, the more his extravaganza oscillates, the deeper he finds himself falling in love with the bewitching woman. Her modesty. She has tremendous poise, even in a crisis, he has to admit. He admires the way her brain trajectory functions. He loves how she utilizes her infectious smile, even in the solemnest of moments. She had squeezed his fingers together warmly. Although a couple of them had fallen off, it is a promising sign—the “good” start, this newer approach. Mala’s thoughts are elsewhere. On Yash, one whom she has never given up on. God knows! She grows preoccupied. She can’t bear looking at Petar for fear he may read the wrong signals from her glance. She does not want to complain. She has almost bitten her tongue clean in half to stop her verbal bubble from bursting, when he first starts to disintegrate in plain sight. A lot of neurosis going on there. She thinks he is far gone. A new underlying condition. It could even be a new disease. They would give it a new name. Petar’s. Now there’s a thought, she thinks. He looks


Short Story

peaky, but she can never be sure, not with Petar. It is the detached quality in his puffy face. Much ado! he will retort, making buttery flaky pie crust of what ails him, but she has come this close to screaming like bat shit crazy. For a moment there she feels it is she, losing her mind. But now it is his name that lingers lovingly on her tongue, the unbitten parts. Peter-piper-picked-a-peck-of-pickled-pepper— Pet-ar! Not Pee-ter! Peppers. Her tongue burns. Her cheeks redden as she senses the hot blush rising. She catches his magnificent blue eyes boring holes into hers. He works his chiseled jawline to show pearly white teeth in a slow smile he must be far from feeling. She thinks of his beaming wide smile which has first attracted her, how it ignites his eyes, and cries into the tupperware. It hits her between the brows how inextricably enmeshed is the far end of falling in love with matrimonial momentum, she had batted her pretty lashes at him then and he was taken. She was sure he was taken. He was having that dopey look he usually wore, whenever they were together. Her mascara starts to run. She feels a mess. Her nails look a bigger mess, soaked in all that blood, Petar’s blood. She has wiped most of it away. She keeps a closer eye on her nails. She wonders how many gallons of blood does a human body contain. She wonders why blood is colored red, the color of love. She thinks of their hastily forgotten dinner. She is sure she is headed in the right direction with Petar. But her personal roadmap places her squarely once more before Yash. She cries some more, soaking the transparent plastic container she holds like a temple offering. Yash spoke to millions every morning on syndicated shows. Yash could charm a swallow off its nest of hatchlings. Despite his age or on account of it, he has been teaching singles of the world for forty decades how to love in six simple steps. Marching to the beat of his extensive love wisdom playbook, Mala has explored such nuances of love she has not dreamed possible. It gives her something to fix, tying everything together she holds most dear. Her equilibrium restored, a matter of equipoise for her happiness curve to be complete, her new world-view uncovered has been of the “falling.” “Muddling, isn’t it?” Petar inquires, watchful, as if he can read her thoughts. “What is? This?” she asks, pointing at the tupperware. She wishes the cab would go faster. “Life is too short to be worrying about those.” Petar holds his gaze averted, peering devoutly out the window of the cab dodging traffic. He does not wish her to read his mind, or what harbors there. Of Yash. More accurately, he is striving to avoid eye contact with the cab’s rearview mirror. Without ears, and with two bloodied red splotches on two sides of his blond head he looks like a confirmed interstellar interloper from another planet, out to dazzle scientists. Unbelievable! The doctors would be taken up, as they had once been with his nose.

“If it’s that trip to India, we were under water for a week. Think of the germs.” She knows it was the trip. If he does too, she is lost. Mala twists the corner of her chiffon dupatta into a tight knot and tosses it somewhat impatiently over her shoulder. “There you go again, making a Jonas Harding mystery out of the simple things in life.” “All of life is a mystery. When the cocoon of life unspools, you move from one primal state into another, the creation of a caterpillar, meaning you re-shape…” “Profound, a cigar-shaped object, with a reddish hue. And you can tell your love-guru I used to dwell on butterflies a lot. Would he care to see my collection?” Petar leans forward as the cab grinds to a standstill once more, wondering how much longer his burning orifices can take of the ooze trickling. “Yash has a sound perspective on life. On love.” Mala is twisting the other end of her knotted dupatta into knots. There are so many knots at intervals of three inches on the rectangular length of fine cloth, there isn’t much of dupatta left. “That sadhguru mystic? I wish we didn’t have to talk of him. Not now. Glad to know at least he hasn’t lost all his marbles.” “OH—moo—moo—OH—moo—moo—repeat after me…” “Won’t do! You know I tried! It doesn’t work. I turned sick.” Petar clears his throat. He wants a drink of water so badly, it’s distracting. “It’s not like he was taking advantage of us. Thousands attend his talks and book signings. They are all legit.” “If you say so. I’ve heard it said differently. You have to get used to his nonsense.” “Our reason for going in that pouring rain wasn’t to catch stomach flu, but his six-point love plan.” Mala impatiently tosses dismissively the knotted, twisted dupatta over her shoulder. It slides to the seat like a drowned rat. You poor thing! She considers grappling with it one more time. “Leave it alone.” “Don’t tell me what to do!” “I’m going to guess, at 77 years the guy’s a complete fake— an imposter who has lived out his time…” “If other people want to fall out of love, that’s their own business.” “...a snake…” “What do you mean by snake? What do you know of snakes?” “Plenty! Just look at my hands—missing one. Just look at my legs. You want to know how I grew bow-legged? I’ll tell you how—sitting the way he does! Cross-legged!” “It’s the asana, and how to guess you’d turn bulimic! You refused to eat anything, all the days we were there, remember?!” “If I had sat like that just one day longer, I would have had permanent dislocation of my femur. And right now I’d have

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no legs too. Chasing that phony. Don’t you see? What do you see?” “What do I see? Since it’s no longer about me—What do you see?” “Twenty-twenty! I don’t dislike the guy, but with two fingers off, I don’t see why you still don’t see it was all about money?” “OH—moo—moo—OH—moo—moo—” Mala rested her chin on her hands, staring straight ahead. “Are you allowed to do that? Force me to recite mantras.” “It’s because we’re non-believers. No matter, I’m numb to whatever you say.” “A 77-year-old bachelor who has never married, owns luxury casinos and spa resorts in top class cities everywhere, was born in America, gorgeous girls at his every beck and call, the mentality of a two-humped camel, and you actually think the charlatan has the answers to love?” “All my friends’ parents have luxury hobbies. They play cards. Go on cruises. Have kitties. Karaoke kitties. Soiree kitties. Mingling kitties. Lunch kitties. They choose to be happy. They choose to be in love.” “Now let me get the chunk of this straight. I’m trying to understand. Your fatalistic philosopher-type love-guru suggests if I go moo-moo every other day, God will hear and bless our union?” “Couples who live together, sleep together, pray together, bathe together, play together, sing together, will love together. For all time. That’s the reality, whether you like it or not.” “Oh, I like it! I like it very much. Believe me. Why ever not?! I love it. The guy is raking in millions. Six-point plan, my foot. You don’t say…” “He’s figured out how love dies.” “Love never dies. It’s beyond the realm of possibility, even at a stretch…” “His parents committed suicide after Pearl Harbor. The second world war was hard on him.” “It’s inevitable where he’s gotten his theories from. But let’s back up a little.” “It’s tragic.” The cab slows to a stop. Mala scrambles out to assist Petar on the other side. She pays the cab, solicitous, reminding Petar to check that the rest of him is intact. All parts—missing and otherwise. She does a complete search of the cab seats and floor. They are, meaning he is. Satisfied with the thoroughness of her findings, they make their way to the 24hour Emergency entrance at the Hospital. It is brightly lit. A good sign. Petar’s fingers, palm and ears are reset—eustachian tubes and all. The doctors complement Mala on the well-preserved integrity of tupperware contents. The saline solution created by her tears help explain the success of the operation, according to the surgeons. Tears—which had adequately moistened the membranes sufficiently enough for it not to

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deteriorate, the same as the ice cream sundae had done for the nose, so that by the end of the day reattachment was efficaciously considered. Petar and Mala are wed. Wedding registry at Macy’s has a long list of household and kitchen items on the list, except for red furniture. Although a small wedding is sought and considered by the matrimonial pair, with input from aunties, and friends, it turns into a very largish cocktail affair thirty floors high, on a rooftop terrace, overlooking the East river. The weather is uncooperative. Heavy rains fall throughout the day, although it is turning July. The bridal pair remember a certain trip to India of not-so-long-ago. With run-off from the overflowing gutters muddying their sequined satin and gold silk wedding attire, the beautiful bride Mala fears a resurgence of Petar’s curious dropping-off-disease she secretly calls the Peter-Piper-Pepper syndrome. She has more to fear from the red turban he wears. The color of love. But she does not say anything. Neither does Petar, although with festivities and more red from cup fulls of kumkumam powder wafting around in the air, which all brides wear, and bright red flowers and red jewelry and decorative red awnings and fiery red clothes, growing in numbers, his three gunas of nature are working triple time. Then she relaxes. She has nothing to fear. Petar looking royal, like a princely maharajah, emerges, riding a decorated white charger, hands gripping the horse’s reins so hard, the palms absorb the shock, turning all reattached digits snow white. Petar is pleased. His grand entrance does not go unnoticed, more so because he is accompanied by booming sound from colorful swashbuckling sword-bearing swordsmen. Bride and groom looking stylish look totally in love, enraptured. They can’t tear their eyes off each other. They solemnly exchange marriage vows on the Six-Point Love Plan—a hardcover bound edition with some weird decorative trimmings Mala has had book-cover designed especially for the occasion. It is inevitable. OH—moo—moo—OH—moo— moo— is gracefully recited by the army of aunties present. At the reception Petar drinks himself into a stupor. Mala dances with all guests, while Petar manages a shuffle. Yash attends. In the morning the skies are blue, birds sing in the trees and everything is glorious.

Rekha Valliappan writes in multiple genres. A former university lecturer, she holds a MA in English Literature from Madras University and a LL.B. (Hons) from the University of London. Her works feature in such magazines as Scarlet Leaf Review, Coffin Bell Journal, Third Flatiron Anthology, Friday Flash Fiction, The Ekphrastic Review, Ouen Press Anthology which ‘Commended’ her short story, and Across the Margin for Best of Fiction 2017. She won Boston Accent Lit’s Short Story Prize, and reads her own poetry in Liquid Imagination.


Literary Work

Moses MARGARET SHAFER

There are some writers who, like cats, have multiple lives. In a former young life Margaret Shafer’s collection of poems, “Sleeping in Damascus” was published by New Rivers Press. After some time in a bardo during which pause she has been a practicing psychotherapist, she is back with more poetry.

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Poetry

I know what you did for me to make a place among the reeds, how you gave me away to save me, how I came from the net of your womb as a fish and the fierce sea-crushing love of a mother, that too, how you would part the deep for me, how close to shore the beaks of bittern paused their feed but where I walked farther out to cross, the snouts of codlet poked from the ragged edge of solid water. You stayed the congors wound around my calves; they clattered to my feet— anklets of gold—and I stepped over them and across the sucking creatures that animate the sand. Diatoms and stars came out at night, sea floor and bowl of heaven— the same cold fabric beaded with light— and I tumbled through creation, plant or planet stripped of roots.

A people in peril followed me, their sheep and asses stunned by the arrayed crown-of-thorns starfish underfoot, but you turned their poison to milk and manna. I heard the chewing behind me but never turned to look. Yocheved, Yocheved, Mother, I was not born to save them but only to be your son, obedient, first to the crossing, and to give your commandments, unedited and raw, pictures scratched on slate in a child’s hand, for instance, a hairless stick of a man turned away from his neighbors’ goods, whether because he was blind or should not touch them. In the end, your child, who rode in a reed basket on the Nile, rode on the back of Rousete el Bahr, the dugong, into shore. When I looked behind me you’d closed the doors of the sea and a mass of people and sheep awaited direction. Yocheved, Yocheved, Mother, we are still waiting for your words.

Mother, the towering halves of sea you held at bay on the second day gave up their wrasse and reef shark, herring and scad. Blenny and scaly whipray weltered in the muck and cursed you but you kept the sun tracked in the deep slot where I walked. When the sun’s fire burrowed in my hair you sent a cloud to cover me.

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Resist the Pillow MARGARET SHAFER Text “resist” Go ahead. Do it. All those you’ve ever admired do it. They resist inertia, the beckoning pillow, lying down and letting the road roller flatten them to Roadrunner two-dimensional cartoons, they resist that too, they resist the blah blah blah of electronic things (sometimes) they wear “Resist” on their shirts, their pants are marked with it: wash cold, hang to dry, Resist. Pablo Casals, 94, a sack of bones held together with nicked rubber bands, underscored with pain, sat down at his piano, loosened up to age twenty-four and played some Bach, could have stayed in bed. Resist the pain freezing you in place, resist la migra ripping the seams from your neighbors’ daily lives, the filthy rich, filthy in their wealth, unfeeling. Resist them. Corrupt kings and presidents—resist them with inhuman strength, with spitting, with snarling, with votes and letters and your little cash. Text “Resist” and the number following “Resist,” You will be connected with others, millions writing the same song, singing the same poem. Ah, the beautiful pillow, fresh as grass, clean as milk, cool as the interior of a peach, the aroma of a lover beckoning across a forest space, these ripe grapes. Resist it.

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SLIM’S SPECIAL GIRL TAWNI WATERS

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hey called him Slim, though he wasn’t. His soft belly sagged over his belt, giving the women he loved a little something to hold onto when they rode the stallion bareback. Who knew what his real name was? Jebediah? William? Bob? Whatever his Christian name, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t the truth of him that made him appealing. It was the mystery. He was a legend in his own mind, and in the minds of the frumpy women he wooed, castoffs who had been nothing more than unsightly blemishes on the complexion of humanity until he came along and swept them up in his undertow, turning them into something glamorous, something more exciting than disgruntled housewives and gas station attendants and fast-food-drive-through cashiers. A married man, he made them into mistresses, which is almost like being mysterious. Both words start with the same syllable, and those of them who had a few semesters of college English under their belts did not miss the nuance of that linguistic revelation. Slim Pickins, bar-star extraordinaire. He was known in pubs all over Wyoming and beyond, and when he stepped on the stage, wearing that white Stetson, holding his guitar, the lonely, middle-aged bar patrons swooned. Afterward, he’d seduce one of them, or two, if he could swing it. Always, he concluded a quick round of speedy, hamster-ish humping, in a parked car, a broom closet, a roadside motel, by whispering, “You’re my special girl,” his breath soggy with quasi-devotion and Jim Beam. The next day, the “girl” in question would do what she had to do to be near him. Leave her husband. Quit her job. Pack her five cats into a U-Haul and high tail it to Cheyenne, so she could be burned up in the sun that her dissolute star revolved so relentlessly around. Such was the magic of Slim. Before he was a mystery, he was an electrician, with benefits. Dissatisfied wives got more than they bargained for when Slim Pickins loped through the door, wearing cowboy boots, Brylcreemed hair, and a Guy Smiley grin, ready to charge up more than just the air conditioning system. So let’s just say that by the time he made it big on bar stages, he was ready. Practice makes perfect, and if ever there was a perfect wooer of less-than-perfect feminine specimens, Slim was it. But that was then, this is now. Slim Pickins, or whatever his name is, has settled down at last with his wife of 40 years, in a motorhome on the beach in Florida. Meanwhile, like once-high helium balloons, his special girls have deflated and sagged into the same place, a remote Wyoming retirement community marked with a sign, Slim’s Special Girls. An oil paint Stetson hovers under the lettering, and most nights, one or two of the girls can be seen keening in front of it, leaving a flower or a shot of whiskey by the signpost. On Friday nights, they have mud wrestling contests.

The champion wins Slim, or what’s left of him, which is his old Stetson, dented now, smelling of salt because of all the tears that have soaked into its stained, slouching brim. They haven’t seen Slim in years and probably never will again, but Slim’s Special Girls are nothing if not devoted. These are some of their stories.

LACY SHEETS (born and raised in Indiana, cat lover, connoisseur of fine light beers, three-time bowling champion) I met Slim in the usual way. Well, it weren’t totally usual. Not like Alena, who just fucked him on the bar after hours like some tramp. For me and Slim, it was special. I went to the club down the street from my apartment one night in ’14. That wasn’t like me, mind you. I spent most nights at home watching Laverne and Shirley reruns with my cats, but my high school friend was having a bachelorette party. So I left Phillip, Peaches, Cream, Star Soup, and Chamomile with a little salmon in their bowls and stepped out. (This here cat in my lap is Chamomile’s great-great-great grandbaby, in case you wondered.) When I walked through the door, there weren’t too many people in the bar, but what I noticed right away was this tall drink of water taking the stage. I was starstruck, if you know what I mean. Gobsmacked. Upchucked. Plundered. Undone. Done under. Whatever you want to call it. My friend gave me a little crown with penises on it—the ones they have at bachelorette parties—and I put it on. When I turned my head again to look at Slim, he smiled at me, and that was that. We both knew then, I reckon, that our love was the real deal. When he sang “I Walk the Line,” he stared straight at me. Into my eyes, into my soul, if you’re into things like that. I am. Because of Slim, I believe in soulmates. After the show was over, I asked him to sign my boobs. I know that seems forward, but I’d had six light beers, and it felt like the right move. I helped him load up his gear, and then, there by the open trunk of his Honda Accord, he kissed me. When he stopped, I was melting. I hadn’t kissed a boy since seventh grade, but that kiss? Man, it made up for all the romance I’d missed out on. It was like one of them fairy tales, or them movies they made in the ’80s. The good love stories. I’ve waited decades for Slim to go all John Kusack on me, show up outside my window with a boombox. I still believe it will happen. I just hope I can get to the window before the song’s over. This walker slows me down. Anyway, I won’t tell you the details of our lovemaking, because that’s private. I will only tell you that the back seat of a Honda Accord can be as sexy as any beach in California if you play your cards right. So don’t let Crystal make you think her time with Slim was better, just cause it happened on a beach. The next day, I quit my job at Subway and drove to Cheyenne.

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After that, me and Slim had oodles more special nights. Three times in bar bathrooms, once under a table at Denny’s, and half a time when he tried to pull that slut Georgia into the action at that party. I walked out because no way in hell was I sharing my Slim with some loser whore. Candice? Don’t ask me about Candice. I ain’t talking to you, or no one, about that. It weren’t Slim’s fault, what she did. That was on her.

CRYSTAL GLASS (born and raised in Utah, lives in a van, followed Matchbox 20, once hallucinated Michael Jackson while high, believes she is the reincarnation of Princess Diana, who died when Crystal was 29, but she’s found metaphysical loopholes to explain it) Time and space bend, motherfuckers. If you didn’t know it, you do now. Einstein said when we got to the end of science, we’d find god staring right back at us. Wrap your head around that shit if you can. I know I can’t, man. Not yet. Maybe never. Anyway, Slim. I called him Slim Jim, like the meat stick, which brings up a whole new connotation, right? Har, har. I don’t hate the other girls, you understand. I mean, I can be zen about this shit. Me and Fancy sucked him off together one night, and even though I punched her in the eye after, I don’t have hard feelings anymore. At least not about that. She’s a bitch for other reasons. She voted for Trump, so there’s that. I don’t speak to Trump supporters, on principle. Be the change you want to see in the world, bitches. Then there was that mix up with our dentures, which I won’t even get into. Suffice it to say, her horse teeth were too big for my head, and when I pointed it out, she never forgave me. My first time with Slim was in my van. Beforehand, I lit some incense to drive out bad vibes, because you do not want to fuck someone without cleansing the area first. I found that out the hard way a few years before I met Slim, with this sketchy MB20 roadie named Jack. Anyway, Slim wasn’t my first rock-n-roller, but he was definitely my best. I’d just chewed up some shrooms when we got started fucking, so by the time we were done, he looked like Elmer Fudd. A sexy Elmer, you dig? I didn’t really have a house to give up, so the girls say I didn’t sacrifice enough to be close to Slim. I just drove my van here and parked it. Whatever. I sacrificed just as much as anyone. Shit, I got his name tattooed on my left ass cheek. It hurt like a motherfucker. Wanna see? Fine. Suit yourself. Other times? There was once at a park, behind a tree that had Muppet faces hidden in the bark (but maybe that was the hash talking), and once by the ocean, when I followed him to a California dive bar to hear him play. I swear, I had sand in my cracks for days after that, har, har. I was wearing a bandana. I never took it off again. See this? It was tie-dyed once, but

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it’s gray now. I shampoo it when I wash my hair so it won’t get skanky. Anyway, Slim knows I’m down with polyamory. I imagine he’ll be back for me soon, maybe for all of us, but yeah. I’ll always be the special one. I’ll be the queen of the hive, per se. Candice? We were friends, right up until the day she did what she did. I lost respect for her then. I mean, you’re a mom, bitch. Her kids fucking found her. I object on moral grounds. Slim gave a toast from the stage for her the night after she died, so whatever. I guess he thinks she’s his. RIP and all that, Candice. This peace sign’s for you.

FANCY FLOORING (born and raised in Rhode Island, was a virgin before she met slim at the age of 29, graduated from her associate’s degree program with a 2.8 GPA, plays the clarinet, sings in the church choir, dabbles in origami, enjoys mild indoor sports, especially water aerobics) I met Slim before he was famous, when he was just an average guy. He came to my trailer to fix my fridge, which had been sparking every time I opened the door. When he walked in, I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. He tipped his hat and said, “What can I do you for, Ms. Flooring?” The way he said “Ms. Flooring” made me blush. By the end of his visit, the fridge wasn’t the only thing that was shooting sparks. I felt like a woman on a romance novel cover, sheltered in his arms, sprawling bare breasted and wanton on the embroidered tablecloth. We shattered my grandmother’s antique salt shaker, but it was worth it. That afternoon, with ceramic shards scattered across the tile like snow, I made Slim a promise I’ve kept it to this day. Slim asked for a beer, confiding he was a heavy drinker. Absolute honesty. That’s his way. As I fetched him a cold one, I swore to him that I would never drink again. That way, if he ever needed a liver transplant, he’d have one ready and waiting for him. I imagine he’ll show up any day, asking for my liver. And I’ll give it to him. Willingly. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for Slim. Nothing. He knows that. He feels the same way about me. It’s magical what we have, really. Have you ever heard that song “I’m Saving My Liver for Slim”? No? Oh, well, it was in semi-regular rotation on the college station here. I wrote it. I have an associate’s degree in music, so… You can see the video on all access cable at midnight tomorrow, if you’re interested. I wore leather pants. Being a star myself has certainly made its mark on me, helped me to understand Slim in a way I never would have otherwise. I struggle with leaving the house. I worry I’ll be recognized, that paparazzi will be waiting. Fame comes with certain challenges, but you can’t know that unless you’ve experienced it. And the other girls haven’t. Combine my


Short Story

and Slim’s shared life experiences with my success and my admittedly lustrous hair, it’s not surprising some lesser minds have been stoked to the proverbial fires of envy. Candice? Candice never even knew Slim. The note she left was bullshit, pure and simple. I don’t know why she wrote it. She was crazy, poor thing. My heart breaks for those children of hers. But psychos will be psychos. Do you have a light? Thanks. Anyway, did you see any of us killing ourselves over him? We all lost things too when we thought he’d marry us. Husbands. Houses. Jobs. Did they find us with plastic bags over our heads? Choose your own ending: • If you think Slim shows up at Lacy’s window with aboombox, choose A. • If you think Slim might be well-suited to the polyamorous lifestyle, choose B. • If you think Slim returns for Fancy’s liver, choose C. • If you think Candice comes back for Slim, choose D. A. A wedding in the community courtyard. There is an illfitting white dress and rice and a little bouquet featuring sweetheart roses. You know the drill. Slim, Lacy, and 16 cats live happily-ish ever after in their trailer park in the trees. They order pizza every Friday and almost always remember to turn down the heat at night, which saves them a bundle on electric bills. Yada, yada, yada. And cut. B. Slim starts his own cult. His 31 wives get a night with him each month, give or take. Crystal relishes her new role as head wife until she has a psychotic break following a particularly intense acid trip. After that, she firmly believes she’s a penguin. When Slim tries to dissuade her, she pecks him forcefully in the eye. Sensing that she needs professional care, Slim checks her into a hospital. She’s still wearing the once-tie-dyed bandana as he drives away. She is also wearing a tuxedo she found at the back of his closet. For a few days, Slim misses the smell of her patchouli. His grief is short lived, however, as he finds her pot stash in her underwear drawer and uses it to center himself. One night, high as balls, he conducts a brief cleansing ritual in Crystal’s van, which goes terribly awry when the van goes up in flames. Luckily, no one is hurt in the ensuing explosion. After that, with an even 30 wives, every girl gets a night with Slim every month, no matter what, except in February. They all live as happily ever after as can be expected, under the circumstances, except on Valentine’s Day, which is a bitch. That’s a wrap. C. Fancy dies in surgery, but her liver lives on in Slim. Right up until his death at the age of 99, Slim is the friskiest resident of the nursing home. As a parting gift to the

world, he infects multiple senior citizens, and a middleaged nurse, with crabs. Fini. D. On a warm July night, Slim Pickings dons a newish white Stetson and tells his wife he’s going for a walk by the ocean. He hopes to find a desperate woman, preferably wearing a bikini, so he can do her under the dock. His wife, who has learned not to ask questions, doesn’t look up from her iPhone as he strides out the door. The beach is strangely deserted, save a lonely figure standing at the end of the dock. Slim strolls toward her, whistling. Even now, music plays its part in his seductions. As he gets closer to her, he sees she is standing with her back to him, her long, brown hair whipping in an aggressive, unseasonable wind. “Howdy,” he calls, but she doesn’t answer. She must not hear him over the howling gusts. Finally, when he is close enough to reach out and touch her, he says it again. “Howdy.” She turns to look at him. He grunts, one of those weird little rodent noises he always makes when he orgasms. But this sound is brought on by something other than sexual release. Shock. Terror. A combination of the two. You decide. It is Candice, the one whose children found her with a bag over her head all those years ago. The bag is still plastered to her face, and as she gasps for air (one might assume that she has spent all the years since her death gasping for air), the plastic moves in and out of her mouth. She takes him by the shoulders and whispers, “I’m Slim’s special girl.” The rattling of the plastic gives her voice an eerie quality. With an unmanly shriek, Slim realizes she’s attempting to throw him from the dock. He starts to cry, tries to pull away. She’s unnaturally strong, and she isn’t on board with his refusal to die. As Slim plummets toward the rocks below, he wets himself. He shatters like that salt shaker Crystal had. His body washes out to sea. The next morning, his wife finds his white Stetson half buried in the sand. The End.

Tawni Waters’ debut novel, Beauty of the Broken, was released by Simon Pulse three years ago. In addition to winning the International Literacy Association’s Award for Young Adult Literature, it won the Housatonic Book Award, was named an Exceptional Book of 2015 by the Children’s Book Council, was shortlisted for the Reading the West Book Award, and was included on the Kansas State Reading Circle List. It was adapted for the stage by Sacramento’s Now Hear This and is currently being adapted for the screen by Jeff Arch, the writer best known for writing Sleepless in Seattle. Her second novel, The Long Ride Home, was released by Sourcebooks Fire in September 2017 to glowing reviews, including those from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Her first poetry book, Siren Song, was released by Burlesque Press in 2014.

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Mark Mayes has published poems and stories in various places, and 2017 saw publication of his first novel, The Gift Maker (Urbane).

What’s the Matter? MARK MAYES

I meet her at the shops on a rainy April day. ‘I’m waiting to hear about a job,’ I say.

‘That terrible job we did, packing Christmas cards, it was hell.’ She nods, and I wonder why she isn’t well.

She is wearing odd socks, a bruised look in her eyes. ‘I’m back with my parents, it’s alright.

She looks broken inside, and it shows on her skin. What kind of hole is she in?

I’ve been ill but I’ll get better.’ I don’t ask her what is was. We talk about how we met because

We say: ‘See you around.’ I walk, hood up, to the green. She moves into her life, does the next thing.

that is all that links us. That, and a mutual acquaintance who, though sensitive, has a mind askew.

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Poetry

Catseye MARK MAYES

A faded tiger stares green fire down the vanishing road. In the back seat I pretend to be asleep. We’re coming home from the sea. I stretch out fully and open my eyes, see the top of his head, a loose hand on the wheel. There is rain on the windows. Moving jewels thread down glass. He drives and drives. A lorry overtakes, throws up spray. He says a word I do not understand. I reach to the ledge and stroke the tiger. Its fur is bleached by the Spanish sun, but now it is a dark shape only, a comforting rough-softness dearly. He drives and drives. ‘Are you alright, son?’ I pretend to be asleep. It’s fun to do that (sometimes). So black behind us. So black to the side. He drives and drives, and I know in my blood all three of us are safe.

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Three Recipes RACHEL RODMAN

15 coffee beans 1 voice box, dissected from the throat of a rooster 1 something: small and round—and pea-like?—which persistently disturbs your rest, the discomfort of which you have been unable to eliminate—or to mitigate—even with the layering of many additional mattresses, stacked up high. And O, Little Princess, how you have tried… 17,000 sound waves, penetrating the darkness, emitted from a distant car alarm. Which trigger, in turn, a terrible fear, that, as you slept, you were transported back in time, 20+ years into the past, because, anyway: in 2018, who even has a car alarm, anymore? And, as your heart thumps, you wonder: What now?

Wakey, Wakey

87 long coils, sculpted from plaster—intended, possibly, to signify spaghetti, or perhaps worms 1 burning giraffe 16 plastic soldiers, who twist and twist and twist, insensibly, inside of the same flame 1 cup of urine. And, just to be clear: This is not a symbol for urine, or an ironical reference to urine; or some clever, synthetic imitation, in the way that you might expect. But, rather, listen—and I really cannot be too explicit on this point: This ingredient is literally just a cup of urine. Stir, stir, slowly until the profundity of what you are engaged in strikes you—really strikes you—and you must stop, just for a moment, to stare fixedly into the air, and whisper: “O, wow.” Assemble a cooking easel, arranged with sauce in three colors: marinara, pesto and alfredo.

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Spatter the three sauces evenly over coils, ashes, and urine. Use bold, consummate flicks of the wrist, as if you are Jackson Pollack.


Poetry

By Bread Alone In that remodeled kitchen, financed by means of that wretched job, which has already drained 10 years of your life—that degrading slog that you engage in, solely for the money (which has NEVER fed your soul, not in the slightest) and which does not, in any spiritual sense, in the least enable you to distinguish yourself from a prostitute—combine: 1 English muffin 1 croissant: no butter, no chocolate, no marmite, no marmalade 1 dinner roll, left out in the air, three nights, and allowed to go quite hard 500 crumbs, scraped from a slice of burnt toast 1 laboratory mouse, fed solely on carbohydrates—no protein, no fats, no supplementary vitamins—and, as a result of that malnutrition, has withered away and withered away, before expiring, with a flat, nihilistic look, as if to say: “What was the point? What was the point of any of this?” Mash. Add flour and yeast. Knead and stir. Transfer dough to your state-of-the-art Breadmaker—the absolute epitome of all of that pretentious, upper-middle class garbage that you have accumulated, for no purpose, except to possess it; because all of that money must be spent on something, mustn’t it? Then shout: “Goddammit, godammit, godammit!” And punch the mother-f’ing countertop, again, again, again. Bloody your knuckles, maybe, or splinter every bone in your hand, because that would be better, wouldn’t it: the pain and the brokenness; that would be better than persistently feeling nothing. Wouldn’t it? Then press start. Rachel Rodman’s work has appeared at Fireside Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, Grievous Angel, The Future Fire, and elsewhere.

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More Yesterdays THOMAS ELSON

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atherine, affectionately called Lily by her father, braced when the force of the earth shifted, and, as when she was child, landed her in this once-thriving farm community to which she returned only when someone died. She sat on her father’s living room floor alone, thirty-nine years old and unable to speak. As if she were a child, she remembered the smoke from incense mixed with smells of baled hay, then strengthened by manure and the metallic odor from farm implements. She saw the early-morning steam rising from the livestock, heard their deep breathing and the periodic snorts from the single bull that stood well-hidden behind the heifers near to the barbed wire of her father’s fence. There had been no sirens, no long black vehicles. No public officials in uniform. Only the church, cemetery, rectory, convent, and school across the road. St. Mary’s Church had been on that corner since 1881, first as a frame building, now a steepled limestone structure, its sanctuary walls festooned with things to make people feel secure. Her father never much liked the eyelevel, full-sized, punctured Jesus hanging with blood dripping from wrists, feet, and ribs. His exposed heart wrapped in thorns, and a hand-carved wooden sign on the wall next to it, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” Behind the church was the cemetery with distinct sections for First Settlers, Catholics, non-Catholics, and across the narrow dirt road, the unconsecrated section for suicides. Next to the church was the priest’s rectory, where Lily’s father had greeted new pastors with an envelope full of cash and a fifth of Jim Beam. One early pastor said, “I don’t drink spirits.” Her father replied, “Would you like coffee?” “No.” “Tea?” “No.” “Milk?” “No.” “Well, hell, then. Would you like a holy card?” That priest didn’t last long. South of the rectory was the convent where, if her cousin is correct, her father met the woman who became Lily’s stepmother. Lily attended the grade school south of the convent. * * * For three days, twenty-four hours a day, an eight-year-old Lily watched while people drifted in and out, whispered, looked at her, turned silent. Visitors in black clothing and red eyes brought food and flowers, then dominated the house. She sat on the floor and watched while strangers bunched heavy black drapery around her mother’s open casket. On the morning of the third day, her father woke her. “Lily, come, get dressed. They’ve taken momma across the street.”

Lily sat in her heavy wool dress in the front pew and endured the dirge slowness of the liturgy and attempted to hold her breath as the odor of incense merged with the smell outside the church. She stiffened when her father held her hand, led her from the church to the cemetery and stood close to the deep hole—dark, narrow, frigid—down which her mother disappeared. As if more could be eaten after dinner in the church basement, their dining room table—the one upon which her mother laid for three days—grew even heavier with all the food brought by relatives. Smells blanketed the house—garlic, roast beef, and gravy. Lily heard the snap of chicken frying in her mother’s cast-iron skillet. She sat on the floor and her lungs heaved with a deep burn that forced prolonged, inflamed coughs, and she heard, “I’m sorry.” “I’m so sorry.” “John will have to marry again.” “Who will take care of the children?” Lily recalled she asked, “Why?” Not about the previous question but about her own. “For her soul, mein kind,” said an aunt who understood Lily’s abridged question. Pray for Momma’s soul? After all her suffering? How bad could she have been? Lily remembered only snippets of the past weeks—the coughing, the doctor, days alone, trips with her father to the rectory. Lily felt the warmth from the floor furnace and glanced at the galvanized metal tub filled with water simmering atop the furnace grill, then raised her head to look at the pictures. She had grown up with old pictures. In the living room. The dining room. A few in the bedrooms. Most in the hallway amidst photographs of young children or weddings. Cracked and peeled photographs. Some black-and-white. Others sepia. Some were silhouettes. A few were tintypes with eyes smudged, as if drawn by a child. Great grandparents, grandparents, her mother, her aunts and uncles, and all the others on that continuum from Germany to Russia to America. And it was only two o’clock in the afternoon. “Poppa, tell me some stories,” Lily asked. And despite the death of his wife, he did. Stories about Germany, or Russia, or America, kings and czars, and always with his soft, resonant, liquid Volga-German voice molded by harsh winters, dry summers, bleak harvests, high winds, and limited contact with the outside world. A voice generations in the making, each w pronounced v. Each v an f. Every j a y. And z’s, like the ts in nuts. Lily floated for years with her father’s voice inside her—through schools, then marriage and a child. Their last name translated into English as “barley farmer,” and that’s what they had been in Germany, Russia, and now in America. Every few years overproduction led to low crop

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prices that begat low farm incomes. The farmers responded by increasing the land under production, which resulted in increased crops with increased yields. The inevitable collapsed prices were compounded by the high cost of manufactured goods, the higher cost of transportation, and the lack of governmental protection. The family spoke a language last heard in seventeenth century Germany. In Russia and America they were isolated, culturally unified, and suspicious. They arrived in America, more akin to nomads than immigrants. * * * One week after her mother’s funeral, Lily sat next to her father while he drove her to see Dr. Bethausen, the same doctor who treated her mother. Lily inhaled and caught the scent of her father’s Palmolive aftershave lotion mingled with smoke from his Camel cigarette with ash unflicked. She couldn’t remember when her father did not have a cigarette clinging to the right side of his mouth, each new one ignited from the stub of the one about to be snuffed out. She pictured the dual faucets in the bathroom, behind which rested his aftershave. On the right, a leather strop hung next to the sink with the straight-edge, boar-bristle brush, and soap mug within reach. She sat in the exam room with its peeling white paint and attempted to read the only wall hanging that the doctor said was “my sheepskin.” The doctor asked questions Lily knew were to be answered by her father. “How long has she had this cough? Has she run a fever at home? Her appetite? Does her cough burn?” Dr. Bethausen said, “She has whooping cough. Keep her inside the house. Nothing more can be done for her,” which, except for the diagnosis, were the exact words he said about her mother. The doctor asked, “How’s she doing, since—” Her father interrupted, “She talks to me. No one else.” Lily would grow into a student who sweat profusely when called to recite. For years, she sat in class and worried about diarrhea, adopted a calming device of shaking her head sideways, often so hard it caused severe headaches. When nervous, she would squint to shut out her environment. In nursing school, she would take voice lessons but avoided public speaking. * * * Her father’s second marriage was as idyllic as most were back then. Her father, a widower with five children who needed a mother; his new wife, an ex-nun who was pregnant and needed a husband fast. A stern woman whose duty was to care for her own children, raise her stepchildren, and satisfy her husband, which she did with Volga German precision.

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For years after her father remarried, the family lived as if there had been an armed truce. Jaws tight, eyes dead, voices silent, but ever vigilant to seize upon the slightest transgression as an excuse to unleash their weapons. * * * It was early April, and Lily had just returned with her father from his medical appointment. Their roles had changed. Lily chose the doctor, and she drove her father’s two-door Kaiser Custom 6. Her father shuffled from car to front porch, turned, and stared at the street. His eyes squinted against the wind. He pulled his glasses off, rubbed his eyes. “Scheisskopf. That’s what happens when you got more yesterdays than tomorrows.“ Lily watched as he exhaled a lung full of smoke. “No,” he said, as if still in the doctor’s office, “I know my family history. It won’t be six months. Our people live until they’re eighty-eight.” He stood quiet for a moment. “Poppa, when do you plan to tell them?” “Not today.” He looked at her. “And I will be the one to do it.” “Okay, but when?” “A couple of weeks. Maybe a month.” “Why so long?” “Because of the family reunion next month.” He inhaled, squinted, exhaled. Smoke the color of morning fog surrounded his face. “I want to be with you when you do,” she said. * * * Years earlier, at the first family reunion, Lily sat with her father while he ate a dinner of roast beef, peas, mashed potatoes, gravy, apple pie, and coffee. After dinner came his nip of Jim Beam straight from the half-pint bottle, usually hidden behind the icon of the Last Supper which rested on the kitchen counter behind the Napoleon Clock. Her father regaled the reunion with stories from three countries—some historically accurate, some enhanced. Lily sat enthralled with pride and wished she were as fearless. * * * Three weeks after her father’s medical appointment, Lily sat behind the wheel of the Kaiser. Once again, her earth had shifted. She wiped the sweat from her eyes, placed her hand on her chest to quiet the pounding, then squeezed the steering wheel to hide her shaking hands. “This is terrible. I’ll be next.” St. Mary’s parish had long since merged with the large parish in Berdan, the county seat. The school is now closed, the convent vacant, the church unlocked only for special occasions. All are old, out of date, barely functional, and smell of neglect.


Short Story

Before arriving at the church, she heard the stories she loved—of crystal sets, overheated radio tubes, distant voices that carried tales. Of her father propping her on pillows and telling her stories until they both fell asleep. Of holding his hand as they walked to the park. “You always wanted to scatter off to look at something. And I’d grab your hand. When you got older, I thought you might not want to hold hands.” Her eyes on the road, she thought she saw his cigarette. “So, I asked you to hold my hand because I needed you to guide me. So, I wouldn’t wander.” “And I believed it?” “And you accepted it.” Her father’s voice continued, “Lily, speak for me.” “You know I hate it. I can’t.” “But I know you. And I want you to speak for me. Promise me. Nobody else. Just you.” “I can’t. I don’t know stories the way you do.” “Then make some up.” And she tried. And she waited. And nothing came. And she freezes. She is eight years old again and on the living room floor. Nevertheless, her father’s voice continued. Gentle. Slow. Persistent. She jerked the wheel to show her displeasure; then, just as he taught her, maneuvered the car into the crowded church parking lot, found a space, and, as her father did when she was a girl, said, “We’re here.” She stressed the w as a v. * * * Lily sat inside the car with her wet hands gripping the steering wheel. Her head echoed with the questions she asked for years. What do I say? How much will I embarrass myself? Will I have an accident? How many are going to laugh at me? Her father looked at her and said, “Lily, now you tell the stories.” Lily’s hands shake. She dreaded public speaking, nevertheless, he insisted. Nevertheless, she decided she will not speak. * * * When she entered the church basement, waves of faces surged forward as if in platoon formation. She had seen them all her life, in school, at church, framed and on the walls of her father’s house. Some in funeral homes eyes closed, mouths shut, faces pasty, at once brittle and damp, as if they had been rained on then left to dry. Her mother. Even her great-aunt Sophie, across the table, smiled for approval. Her uncles, Alex and Leo, sat on her right side, each face unusually smooth and unblemished by sun and wind, each spine remarkably flexible. Not a limp, shuffle, or unfocused eye in the crowd.

His eleven children had begat multiple grandchildren, who had spawned countless great-grandchildren, and it appeared to Lily as though every one of them swarmed forward. Farmers, teachers, a school principal, doctors, dentists, lawyers, a Marine Captain with two purple hearts, a late-blooming CPA, one Nashville musician, and a Registered Nurse. “Who are these people? They look like my brothers, or aunts—some look like your grandmother.” “They’re your grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” she whispered. Well past the stage of calling everyone by name, Lily smiled at the faces last seen on walls. “Mein Got, she looks like little Cathy,” Lily heard her father’s voice. When another walked by, “That’s Mary Ann, no, it’s her grandmother,” but to Lily, Mary Ann looked like a photo of her own mother. Then Lily heard, “That’s my grandfather,” and as if her father stood, he pointed to her. “Lily’s you.” “No, she’s you. And all those over there.” Each one a replica of one of the pictures on the wall. “They are us.” She felt her father turn and look at his own face—the framed picture on the easel. When the priest nodded at Lily and tugged her arm, she pretended to tap the half-pint of Jim Beam, rose from her chair, walked past the priest. When she reached her father’s framed photograph, she wanted to tell him, “Thank you. You told me stories, when. . . Without you I couldn’t have . . . Because of you I could . . . ” Instead, she pretended to take the cigarette from his mouth, then held out her right hand as if she and her father were walking together toward a new discovery. Up three steps, she turned left, positioned herself behind the podium, looked at the crowd, smiled. Her father listened as Lily began. “First, I want to thank all of you for coming to my father’s funeral dinner. And now I have some stories to tell you.” Each time her earth shifted, Lily would return. She would return again and again, and a few times after that, to walk across the dirt road and join the others at the cemetery. She would return to the house and, as she did when a child, look at the pictures. Lily would continue to return to this dusty town until someone else returned to look at her picture and tell stories about her.

Thomas Elson lives in Kansas and Northern California. His short stories, poetry, and flash fiction have been published in the United States, Ireland, Canada, England, and Wales in such journals as the Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Oracle Fine Arts, Calliope, Lunaris Journal, The New Ulster, The Lampeter, Blood & Bourbon, and Adelaide Literary Magazine.

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Prism STEVE KLEPETAR

I touch you and I turn to glass. How strange to feel this transformation on a morning with no clouds. All the light pulses through me, and prism that I am, breaks into its merging colors on the opposite wall. You touch me, and I turn to water, until I boil away to steam shooting merrily toward the ceiling, calling out your name.

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Poetry

The Starving Time STEVE KLEPETAR

“I hear the river is broken Wide open and gathering every distance into one Cold rising sea.� Tu Fu

Calamity comes nearer every day. Here I am, blind in one eye, sniffing the wind: salt from the marshes and a pungent scent of new leaves. Every day the sea rises and rivers break and swell. Their dance shatters. My brother writes from the borderline, where his watchtower trembles and the shore is swallowed by waves. Soon he will migrate inland, dragging what he can. His daughters have woven baskets of straw. Their hair has grown long, hangs in dark plaits down slender backs. His sons have learned to row, and now must pull together on a long oar. Already thin, we face the starving time, waiting in growing light for the days of nests and bees.

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Steve Klepetar has recently relocated to the Berkshires in Massachusetts after 36 years in Minnesota. His work has received several nominations for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize, including three in 2017. Recent collections include A Landscape in Hell (Flutter Press), How Fascism Comes to America (Locofo Chaps), and Why Glass Shatters (One Sentence Chaps).

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Poetry

Certainty STEVE KLEPETAR

She sat at the table and said there’s a time coming, and it’s not far off, when all of this, these hills and woods and two-lane roads, this down-at-heel town with its dust, and brick museum, its rickety wood frame stores, its library and dingy streets, this interminable winter of gray cold, parade of ugly headlines rolling across your TV screen, coughing and fever, and handful of pills, trials that drive you through barbarous days, will seem wind-blown and gossamer, a spume of cloud slowly vanishing above a mountain peak. She said you should know this now, make it real in your bones, feel it in your step and pulse, the way this shadow world will disappear, evaporate into a new kind of air. At the table her eyes burned with certainty. She cast no shadow on the wall. Outside, the leafless trees trembled, their branches spreading darkness through the afternoon.

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NEW READER MEDIA’S

To-Read List New Reader Media, a creative marketing firm working in partnership with New Reader Magazine, takes on the challenge of bookmarking emerging voices in the indie publishing world. Presented in random order, here’s New Reader Media’s reading list for the third quarter of 2018.

WHY ME?

THE WEIGHT LOSS BIBLE

Effective Communication and Self-Awareness

A Scientific Approach to Lose Weight and Keep It Off

LES KLINEFELTER

ZACHARY ZEIGLER

Here’s a book that helps you find out more about yourself, improve your communication skills, and enhance your personal relationships. With exercises after each chapter, Why Me? gives readers invaluable new tools in communication. Author Les Klinefelter spent 30 years as a federal employee in a number of senior management positions and now spends most of his time in a cabin on a lake in Vermont.

If, like most people, you struggle with losing extra weight and maintaining that weight loss, then you’ll love Zachary Zeigler’s Weight Loss Bible. The chapters of this book discuss the hard facts on weight loss, why it is so hard to lose weight, and the many principles that need to be mastered to lose weight. Also, it includes a 24-hour weight loss plan which applies all concepts discuss in the text.

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MESSAGES FROM GOD YVON BELL Yvon Bell, business woman and financial coach, traveled from South Africa to the United States to speak with audiences in both small and arena-sized venues about how they can prepare for and achieve communication with God. In her book, Messages from God, Bell shares her astonishing life experiences in exacting detail. It is a factual account serving as a map for readers to join her on an extraordinary, life-changing trip.


PAYLESS SKYELAR NELSON La’ Vicha Brown is a hardworking mother who is steadfastly committed to two things: her love for God and partying. As she attempts to straddle the fence between attaining her desires in life and meeting the needs of her three children, La’ Vicha has no idea she is about to discover that there are consequences for every one of her choices.

PRINCESS ARIADNE OF MICHELAND BILLY TURLINGTON Princess Ariadne and her best friend Dooby the penguin have been accidentally transported from the magical world of Micheland to ours, and they’re in big trouble! Thankfully, they meet Danielle, a friendly young girl who tries to help them find their way home. Billy Turlington, inspired by his own five-year-old daughter, brings families to this magical tale, illustrated by Victor Guiza.

ADVENTURES OF A RIDESHARE DRIVER CHARLES CAMPISE Charles Campise has 44 years of service in the foster care system in Texas under his belt. Four days after retirement and looking for something to do, he signed up to drive for a ride-sharing company. Adventures of a Rideshare Driver is a collection of the author’s favorite stories from this time.

TRUE TREASURE KRISTY KRAFT A young boy sets out to find adventure, not realizing what else he will find! Even at his tender young age, he serves as a good influence on others that he meets on his adventures. Come set sail with Eric to learn about True Treasure, a story written by Kristy Kraft and illustrated by Adam D. Augustine.

THERAPY MIKE MCCLUSKEY Mike McCluskey’s eleventh full-length book of poetry includes 49 poems and the prose poem “Grim.” McCluskey takes you into the deepest and darkest confines of his mind, delving into the thoughts of a madman and inner reaches of insanity. Here, the poet uses poetry and writing as a way of therapy—and the doctor will see you now.

JERRY BARRY, LIVING HEALTHY CORA DARRAH After retiring from a 35-year career in education, Cora Darrah decided to pursue one of her life’s greatest passions: writing. Now, in collaboration with her daughter Hannah, she presents Jerry Barry, Living Healthy, a wonderfully illustrated children’s book that’ll keep you and your kids straight on the path of health and fitness.

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WRITER’S CORNER

Events, Conferences, Awards

SEPTEMBER Raindance Film Festival London, UK 26 September – 7 October 2018 Raindance showcases, shorts and music videos by filmmakers from the UK and around the world celebrating and supporting independent, new and alternative filmmakers not just during our 12-day festival but throughout the year.

31st Helsinki International Film Festival

Film Festival Munster

Love and Anarchy

September 23 – 27, 2018

Helsinki, Finland

A warm and personal atmosphere between filmmakers and audience are created at the Film Festival Münster, which has three competitions in the categories of feature and short film. Also offered are film workshops for children and young adults, as well as a symposium addressing alternative ways of filmmaking.

September 20-30, 2018 With a name like Love & Anarchy you can be sure this festival will bring the cinematic intrigue with the 170 feature film and 190 short film screenings they will offer. HIFF has become known for screening some of the most highquality, daring and alternative films, in addition to a rich package of cinemarelated events.

Central Coast Writers’ Conference Los Angeles, USA September 27-29, 2018 Whether you are a new writer or an established author, the Cuesta College Central Coast Writers Conference will elevate your writing and scribing passion to the next level. Cited as one of the best writers conferences in the US, this destination conference offers workshops in all genres presented by an inspiring faculty. From Academy Award winners to New York Times Best selling authors to poets to children’s book authors to NetFlix stars, the conference has it all personalized just for you.

Munster Germany

Short Film Festival in Drama Eastern Macedonia, Greece

Reykjavik International Film Festival Reykjavik, Iceland September 27 – October 7, 2018 Reykjavík International Film Festival – one of the biggest and most diverse cultural events in Iceland – transforms the most northerly capital in the world into a hub of cinematic celebration. For eleven days, locals and tourists alike are able to experience the best and freshest of international filmmaking.

September 16 – 22, 2018 A festival rich in opportunities for film-related activities, the Short Film Festival in Drama offers programmes, screenings, professional labs, events for kids and adults, and book presentations in front of the Lake of Drama. And, the festive ambiance of this picturesque and historic Greek town, combined with the warm hospitality of its people, creates a well-rounded experience for those who crave a combination of travel, history, and film.

International Human Rights Film Festival Albania Tirana, Albania September 17 – 22, 2018 The International Human Rights Film Festival Albania is dedicated to promoting human rights and awakening the conscience of festival attendees. Live screenings, debates, Q&A sessions with authors and experts, music concerts, and forums are aimed at inspiring reflection on burning human rights topics. This is a casual yet passionate space to peer into topics that have a deep impact on individuals and the global community.

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WRITER’S CORNER

Events, Conferences, Awards

Los Angeles Film Festival

Vienna International Film Festival

Snow Film Fest

Los Angeles, California

Vienna, Austria

September 20-28, 2018

October 25 – November 8, 2018

Arm yourself with strategies to get your project made and seen.

The Viennale International Film Festival offers a host of high quality films in a relaxed urban atmosphere. Carefully vetted films of every genre are screened, which showcase bold filmmaking that stands apart from the aesthetics of mainstream conventionality. The festival receives regular international acclaim for its large-scale retrospectives on relevant aspects of film history, and offers special programs and tributes dedicated to important personalities and institutions in filmmaking. And, as the festival takes place in autumn, attendees get to enjoy Vienna when it is at its best.

Prague, Brno, Bratislava, and other cities in Czech Republic and Slovak Republic

OCTOBER Nordische Filmtage Lubeck Lubeck, Germany October 30 – November 4, 2018 The only festival in Germany entirely devoted to the presentation of films from the Nordic and Baltic countries of Europe, Nordische Filmtage Lübeck is both a festival for film enthusiasts and an important meeting place for film industry professionals from Germany and northern Europe. In addition, there is an extensive children’s and youth film programme, and a retrospective devoted to important eras, specific genres, and famous figures of film history. Accompanying the film programme are seminars, discussions, roundtable talks, concerts, and readings.

October 19 – December 9, 2018 The Snow Film Fest brings the best winter sports movies to over 200 cinemas in Czech Republic and Slovak Republic. One of the largest festivals of its kind, Snow Film Fest shows acclaimed films about winter sports, skiing, ice climbing, mountaineering, extraordinary polar expeditions and other winter pleasures from domestic and international filmmakers. Adventurelovers and wanderlusters will be in heaven at this festival.

Innsbruck Nature Film Festival

Austin Film Festival and Writers’ Festival USA

Innsbruck, Austria

25 October – 1 November 2018

October 9 – 12, 2018

Known as the “Writers Festival” since its inception 24 years ago, Austin Film Festival recognizes the importance of narrative at the core of filmmaking. By celebrating the work of storytellers; those committed to crafting intricate worlds, fully-formed characters, and diverse perspectives, AFF bolsters its reputation as a champion for the creator.

This international festival attracts filmmakers from around the world and, in addition to the screenings, offers exhibitions, workshops and many other offerings that encourage an ecological and artistic discourse on the most pressing issues of our time.

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Events, Conferences, Awards

One Take Film Festival Zagreb, Croatia October 19 – 21, 2018 This wholly unique festival shows films that eliminate editing by being completed in one take – that’s right, only one take. The films screened at One Take Film Festival have done away with cuts, dissolves, fade in or fade out, and all other types of transitions. This festival creates a space for a new and stimulating format of filmmaking for almost every genre, and in addition to the film screenings, offers lectures, panel discussions, film workshops, and, exhibitions. Dip your toes into this avant-garde style of filmmaking by.

Dutch Mountain Film Festival Heerlen (NL), Aachen (DE), Netherlands, Germany October 31 – November 9, 2018 Powerful stories of mountaineering, outdoor exploration, and extreme sports are told through high quality art house films at the Dutch Mountain Film Festival. New and classic, mountain and sports films will be screened, in addition to an offering of mountain-related activities, lectures, exhibitions, and music. A prime space to meet, and get inspired by, a diverse group of explorers and filmmakers, this festival is a win for nature and sports lovers. And, you might just get the opportunity to watch a film in a cave.

NOVEMBER Black Nights Film Festival Tallinn, Estonia November 16 – December 2, 2018 A cinephile’s dream, Black Nights Film Festival screens an extensive and diverse selection of world-class cinema at various locations in Tallinn, including cinemas, bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. The town becomes a buzzing celebration of culture and entertainment.

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Tirana International Film Festival Tirana, Albania November 2 – 9, 2018 One of Europe’s most prestigious film festivals, the Tirana International Film Festival is an approved Academy Awards qualifying festival, providing extraordinary opportunities for the filmmakers lucky enough to have their short films screened. And, the audience receives the exciting experience of getting a sneak peek at potential Academy Awards contenders.


WRITER’S CORNER

Events, Conferences, Awards

C21 International Drama Summit

UTshine LGBTQ Film Festival

London, UK

Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Festival Européen du Film Court de Brest

November 27-30, 2018

October 12 - 21, 2018

Brest, France

Undoubtedly the most significant annual gathering of the global drama community. Three-day event with an unrivalled agenda, screenings, coproduction marketplace and awards.

There is a multi-tier process of how films are selected for the Festival, but it starts with persons like you. We have a screening committee made up of people like you who watch, rate, and vote on the submitted films. If you wish to become a member of the screening committee, please e-mail spc@mifofilm. com.

November 6 – 11, 2018

Exground Filmfest Wiesbaden, Germany November 16 – 25, 2018 One of the few festivals dedicated to independent and art house cinema, the 30-year-old Exground Filmfest highlights independent film from around the world that offer special insights into diverse cultures and subcultures. Competitions include, American Independents, Made in Germany, and International. They also offer short-film programs and films for youth. When you have breaks between films, be sure to check out the Gutenberg Museum, Mainz Cathedral, or Rhensteig.

Riga International Film Festival 2ANNAS

A showcase of the creative and dynamic young filmmakers in Europe, the Festival Européen du Film Court de Brest is a great way to be introduced to filmmakers who will go on to present their films at prestigious festivals such as Cannes. Founded in 1986, this festival is the second largest short film festival in Europe and plays an important role in the local and regional cultural scene by offering the public an innovative cinematic event each year.

Riga, Latvia November 26 – December 2, 2018

Serien Camp Conference

Celebrating its 23rd anniversary, Riga International Film Festival 2ANNAS is the oldest short film festival in the Baltic States and screens films ranging from short to mid-length that utilize an innovative film language. The good times don’t end after the credits roll, as 2ANNAS is famous for its wild parties in unusual locations that exude a freespirited atmosphere and ample creative expression. Come for the films, but stay for the parties.

Munich, Germany November 9-11, 2018 International tv series festival and conference with screenings, workshops and pitching.

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Profile for newreadermagazine

New Reader Magazine Vol. 1 Issue 3, "Stubborn Tongues"  

"Stubborn Tongues" is the third issue of New Reader Magazine, a quarterly arts, culture, and literary journal searching for brave new voices...

New Reader Magazine Vol. 1 Issue 3, "Stubborn Tongues"  

"Stubborn Tongues" is the third issue of New Reader Magazine, a quarterly arts, culture, and literary journal searching for brave new voices...

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