Vol. XII <> 2019
Masthead Natalie Schriefer Editor-in-Chief Eric Ong Assistant Editor Karen Ciosek Poetry Editor Cole Depuy Poetry Editor Princess Zuri McCann Poetry Editor Mikey Sivak Fiction Editor Mike Tenney Fiction Editor Giovanni Valentin Fiction Editor
Noctua Review is the annual literary journal produced by the MFA program at Southern Connecticut State University. We are staffed solely by MFA students. This issue was made possible by generous contributions from SCSUâ€™s Graduate Student Affairs Committee (GSAC) and SCSUâ€™s MFA program. Thank you for your support! Cover art: "Nor Whitman's Lilac" by Harold Ackerman.
Noctua Review Volume XII 2019
Southern Connecticut State University
Table of Contents 7 14 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 32 34 35 36 37 38 40 42 51 52
Fiction Chinese Elm Brennan Burnside
The Window Inside Drew Pisarra
Dayal Fabiyas M V
Chandelier Cameron Gorman
This Evening Amy Baskin
Art Untitled Janna Jensen
Man Walking Heather Williamson
Gateway Fabrice Poussin
Still Life Kathleen Johnson
Tala Abu Rahmeh
The sea is never the same twice Gaza gathers its waves, ashamed of a dress so open, not sure where to bury a hundred children, broken jaws and toys, ceilings falling on lovers like sleep, old pictures feeding flame. I don’t know how to feel about you, Gaza. I cry in my sleep, wake up listless, tears falling inwards wetting my heart. I think of my mother dying over and over again, shielding bombs from my face with her arms. The sea is never the same twice, every day it gathers heavier ashes, new kinds of missiles and diapers. Did you know that tires don’t float, and neither do bodies at the beginning of death? After the story gets old, they resurface like children after a crumbling game of hide and seek. I don’t want to write more poems about you, Gaza, I don’t want you singing in the street, ululating your martyrs, half of them born without dreams, wading through shit and bullets just to get bread. Gaza, I want you to know that dead people do not free countries.
Chinese Elm -PANEL 1The town library was an old concrete block forgotten in the neglected cul-de-sac of a small village in South Carolina. Founded in 1932, it was expressionlessly Stalinist and designed by a secret admirer of the Russian state, who longed for the days of Nicholas the Second and mourned its current political shape. He lived at a time in American history that has since been rendered tasteless at the very least. (Vitriolic at the very most.) You must study the library for days and complete an unhealthy amount of research in order to discern that this ancient architect had turned the Communist model inside-out: the ancient interior was made of emotionless wet stucco, the exterior was an unadorned concrete cube. The interior, in other words, was flimsy and unreliable (while the outside looked as if it would withstand a nuclear holocaust). As the poet, the center would not hold. For a short time after the Great Depression, Communism offered a new kind of political animal outside of the free market and I think the library had been stunning or even provocative in its the time â€“ but time had not carried it so gallantly. Now it was forgettable, boring and aged. The interior had been replaced numerous time and suffered several tragic bouts of mold. The true tragedy though was the depreciation of its exterior: the one aspect expected to last. The problem began in the roots. Its foundation tilted, slowly sinking into the spongy earth. It was solid stone spotted with black matter that one unfamiliar with the area mightâ€™ve thought lemmings or algae, but it was actually Spanish moss native to the village. Gray-green beards like Christmas decorations left up too long. Coarse hair hung from the chins 10
of old men gave the appearance of wisdom. Its coloring was strong. First brown and blonde…then, grey…finally, white…when appropriated by the sides of buildings, the moss converted itself into a rotting, vine-like infection. Its body dried to the stone, like earthworms on a sidewalk in August. The library was no longer a manmade structure anyway. Its steady presence on the small plot of land (a cul-de-sac collecting whatever cars it could off Main Street and getting fewer and fewer each year) had been embraced by an island of grass in the middle of a cracking asphalt parking lot fed by Main. Some had seen butterfly weeds growing in between the tiles in the bathroom. An infestation of salamanders and tree frogs in the children’s section. This was only nature converging on the interlopers, reclaiming what had been colonized long ago. The time was coming soon when it would disappear entirely. (…or, so people said...) It was there, on Tuesday evening, as the closing hour neared and the summer light faded into a ripe peach wrapped in a dusky blue that the lights peering out from the eight windows lining the small edifice became the eyes of a god holding the whole of the landscape in place with its soporific yet steady gaze. It was a transubstantiation of matter. Not strange if you understand that the gradual spiritualization of the world (to call it destruction is a highly pessimistic understanding of the phenomenon.) They should be welcome, encouraged even. These types of transformations occur more and more often as the earth is less and less unobtrusive of its claim on lost property. That, if you are at all concerned about the future of our planet, is not a bad thing. -PANEL 2Matilda Van der Stok had been named after her grandmother, who died in Dresden in the Second World War just a month before the infamous bombing when she slipped on a bar of soap in the bathroom left absent-mindedly by her younger brother (Matilda’s great-uncle Hans) and cracked her head against the sink. An injury ultimately causing a fatal swelling in her 11
brain and precipitating the lore of a curse on the first-born female of every generation. She’d given birth to a daughter one year before, Angela, who would become Matilda’s mother. The father, Simon, would take his daughter to stay with his parents who lived in The Black Forest (a people whose house was, in fact, in a constant state of reclamation by the earth). He would mourn his wife’s death in silence. Then, stare in utter disbelief as the entire country fell into disarray after the Allied victory. An extremely melancholic man, it felt to Simon as if the catastrophe of his interior life (a juxtaposition of a violent storm and a deadening drone) had intruded upon the exterior world, although he would never verbalize this to anyone (it is a thought that would die with him). He would also never meet his granddaughter. One who, coincidentally, shared a similar constitution of soul: baring all eccentricities of her interior for fear that verbalizing them would cause an apocalypse. The world was too weak for what she felt. Silence being her method of saving the world. It was a harmless form of egoism. Matilda repeated her name or her grandmother’s name (she wasn’t sure which at that moment) as she rubbed a small paunch of five months pushing her aquamarine American Eagle polo tight about the stomach. She’s sucked herself into a vacancy of presence. A dark night of the soul. A mirror reflecting itself. There she was. All alone. Feeling as if she would always be alone, just as her grandmother had been alone on that bathroom floor. She was sitting on a small couch with her legs lightly pushing against a reading table and her eyes looking for some solace in the tired, opalescent smile of the dying day. She breathed deeply, absently tracing her finger over some invisible form on the window to her left. It’s beginning, she thought. The land’s autumnal spices were already pouring into the streets in the last week of August. Her cellphone had a crack running diagonally across the screen caused by her hand’s temporary palsy as she was thinking of something else in the kitchen the day that it had occurred to her that she both wanted and did not want the child to come. The knowledge that, first, it would hurt so 12
much and her life would be upended and a path that she had imagined possible would never again be possible, even if the child were to be aborted or adopted. Things would be irreversibly changed; all paths would be tinted in the colors of the child (whether it ended up existing or not). It was the first time that life had occurred to her to be like a series of closed doors with small cloudy windows at the top where one could see the figures, the amorphous forms of things moving, but never, ever see clearly what it was that was being viewed…. …However, she was still able to form in her mind the image of herself as an English professor giving a lecture at some big university like Harvard. The image had been so fertile once before. Now, with the baby coming, things had changed. Every time the image arose in her she felt herself to be hollow, of no meaning or content. …A tree frog landed on her lap and she shrieked, brushing the small creature away with her hand. It disappeared into the dim body of the library. She glanced at the walls. Tree frogs, praying mantises, stick bugs and the occasional salamander climbed the walls and shelves. Things would change, she thought. Metamorphosis would occur and she would become something she’d never thought imaginable or desirable. The image of herself as an English professor becoming translucent: as if it’d been handled for years, rubbed furiously like a prayer bed until its ink faded into only a faint shape. It wasn’t possible now. It never would be. She nearly cried as she went back to her novel. A book named Plainsong. Her eyes scanned the beginning of a chapter where the author described a young girl pregnant like herself in a small town somewhere in America and the girl in the book was standing on the street at night by a pay phone in front of a line of Chinese elm trees. Matilda tried to imagine a time when she had stood by a payphone in just this setting, but she couldn’t remember ever having seen such an object except in old movies. Yet, she had the eerie feeling that the girl in the book was actually her. Quite suddenly, a circular bulge pushed against the paper from be13
neath and before Matilda could turn to the following page to investigate a tree grew from the book. At first small and then larger and wider until she dropped the book. The carpet had already been covered in Sudan grass. A wooden stem broadened. The ceiling groaned as branches pushed against it. There in front of her and above her was a Chinese elm in full bloom. -PANEL 3Plainsong by the writer Kent Haruf has its own particular folklore among librarians in the American South. It is also known as “The Elm Book” because of its predilection for the sturdy tree in its narration, but also because the book itself has been said to respond to human suffering and struggle through varieties of metamorphosis producing forms not particularly useful to the individual present. All this is purely anecdotal; however, a purely chemical reaction to human emotion is not out of the question and librarians in the American South swear that it was Kent Haruf ’s own suffering unwittingly injected into the book through palm sweat that evokes this unique phenomenon. There is only anecdotal evidence to support the other urban legend: that Plainsong is a harbinger of a library’s sudden disappearance. There are those who will swear on a Holy Bible that libraries in their small towns have vanished overnight and in their place were small communities of elm trees. People say that they were shocked at first, but over time they grew used to the presence of the trees. The name “Chinese elm” being so entrancing, so exotic. Imagine, they say, that something so far away grew here. Within a week, they struggled to remember what had once been there.
river elegy to grandma
watch the rain paint black fields silver blue from the wooden bridge by the willow grove with me watch filter strips comb foamy oil from weeping slopes into the Maquoketa rainwater billboards pour ash over today: the color of the sky, the color of his clothes-hanger shoulders, the color of the river on ash day the only day, you said, when you were able to carry him imagine with me the river boiling from rain
but the river is wide, the river hums instead, snoring in its bottle green bed though never sleeping, no, the river never slips into mirror-daze remember the river lazing yellow in the heat like a sunday? but the river never sleeps, not on bright days and not now on ash days when wakeful water churns as blue ash billboards and blue ash sky and willow bark and oil shout places to stay, places to stay, places to stay
Transition It’s like bungee jumping, you know? you’ll be fine, probably, but you just can’t bring yourself to make the leap. And here’s me, lost in my oversized hoodie, my head engulfed in hair with just enough of my face showing to make me recognizable. If I had known how good I’d look in a dress and high heels, in color matched lipstick, in dangly earrings— If I had known that my social ineptitude was caused by a lack of confidence that could have been fixed with pills and a cute skirt— If I had known how good I’d feel being me— If I had known, I would have made the leap. 18
Home This handspun homebodyâ€” hearthmaiden, motherly beyond compare. Willing spinster, homemaker, sitting, As I, in bedroom corners watching children sleep. This breadwinner, hunter, household protector. Never settled, but restless in search of food and space and warmth and opportunity to grow her family. This demigoddessâ€”immortalized Arachneâ€” Completing tasks of beauty, seen and washed away, forgotten, to move on, to spin like her ancestors. I, too, spin life and hearth and home.
Learned by Instinct This is what you know. When you smell like Peppermint Schnapps and beer; nasal passages alternately stinging and itching, lined with coke and crystal; lips swollen tender from countless joints, kisses from strangers; it is best for you to sleep in the other bedroom, on the soft, narrow mattress, instead of on the firm, orthopedically correct bed, where I sleep, one eye open. The brass letter opener with the onyx handle is on the desk, within my reach. I might try to open you like an envelope while you sleep it off.
Ann de Forest
A Calavera Here lie the men of many fingers, the men who grasp and push, the corporeal, corporate men who overbear, overtake now taken over, borne under. I finger your ribs, ply your joints, thrust my fist into your hollows. I snap your fragile phalanxes. Your vertebrae rattle, atlas to coccyx, under my thumb. I tickle you senseless, heartless. Devoid of organs, you lack distinction. Your pelvis exposed embraces air. You have no singularity.
The Letter It’s afternoon. The breeze has died. Across the road a black and yellow crop duster hisses its load onto a field of corn. A hawk patrols the edge, seeking prey frightened into the open. The plane lifts with the far rise, sprayers off, turning into the intricate loop that brings it back aligned with the next rows. A distant cloud of dust, lifting and dropping with the terrain, draws the road’s straight line to the house that sits in a prairie low spot, out of the wind and back from the creek. Two-stories, Victorian white with trim. Dirt paths lace it to garden and outbuildings. An old Plymouth, gray as the mailbox, slows to keep its dust from rolling into the clothesline. No wash today—not when spraying the fields. From its right window, practiced gestures drop the flag, jerk the lid, exchange mail, slam it shut. The Plymouth turns away not returning the wave of the woman on the path. A gray wool shawl blends with her hair. When she pulls out the mail to sort it into catalogues, flyers, and bills, a letter sits on top. Sliding a finger under the seal yields a single sheet. She hesitates. Drops the bundle. Runs to the barn, as though speed could make a difference. 22
In Macy’s As I descend to the first floor, across the escalator a young woman is riding up. Sweep of blonde beneath a cap frames a face delicate as breath. Looking up and seeing me, she tilts her head slightly to the side like a whisper of a smile. At the bottom, my steps shorten, taken into the floor by unseen mechanism. Snow swirls against polished exit doors. We love warmth—that it is transferrable— but some things are more beautiful for passing.
Cheryl Anne Hale
My Motherâ€™s Hands combed snarls from my long hair, braiding it so tight, that each root cursed those hands. She sewed my clothes from kitchen-curtain fabric ugly, but with love Her hands, always moving... cooking, sewing, braiding, knitting She bought yarn in loose skeins, full of tangles. I stood before her, hands held out straight, as she dangled loops of yarn around one hand, then the other, the umbilical strand stretching between us as she wound wool into balls, piling them in her knitting basket Her hands, I remember, more clearly than her face. Like two energetic birds pecking at wool, needles clicking like beaks, rhythmically spearing bits of yarn, knitting a colorful nest Sometimes she asked me to paint her fingernails. 24
Her hands smelled like the tiny bell-like flowers I plucked from her garden as a Mother’s Day gift Lily of the valley, the scent of my mother’s hands. When May breezes waft through my own dooryard I can close my eyes and see her hands still winding— clouds of wool.
The Window Inside Little things have always been the death of me. When I was in junior high, I won this Kelly green telescope from the Boy Scouts of America. It was a Model 53B, which—exactly as the catalogue had promised—was a sturdy, semi-collapsible, handheld device with adjustable focus and a carrying case in chocolate nylon that cinched shut with a short, black-cotton drawstring. The telescope itself was about the length of my forearm. Nothing fancy. More like the functional half of a slightly overlong pair of binoculars that had been smashed in two. It looked like a device for snooping, not exploring. I suppose it was the kind of toy I might’ve enjoyed had I been the type of kid who played at being a pirate. But I wasn’t. I hated all forms of dress up, be they costume parties, Halloween parades, or church. I wanted none of it. I was basically a loner who wanted to blend into the background, for as long as I could, for as long as I could remember. In short, I had moved outside my comfort zone big time when I’d hustled those 157 tickets to the Howard County Fair. And I wasn’t about to admit defeat either when my third place prize arrived in the mail with neither a tripod nor any serious powers of magnification. Bigger isn’t always better, right? So what did I do that first night? I pointed my spyglass up to the sky. So what did I discover? Not much. No stars. No comets. No Venus, no sir. No craters on the moon even. At most, I discerned that the encasing, translucent shell of the corner streetlamp was ridged and dirty, its innards speckled with dead flies. Insert shrug here. In the span of ten minutes max, my world had gained a touch of irritable texture while the heavens above remained woefully out of reach. I guess I’d secretly wished for an experience 26
that was only possible with something akin to the telescopic equipment at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. I’d read all about that astronomical hub’s sightings of neutron stars and the asteroid 4769 Castalia. I’d tracked down secondhand views online which were impressive enough to make my newly acquired gadget appear totally useless. I didn’t give a damn about the texture of industrial glass or the delicate veins in a thriving leaf. These were things that I could observe with my naked eye. So what’s a boy to do? I became a Peeping Tom. Understand it was summer. Which means it was hot. Which means I was lazy. Which means I stayed indoors. Which isn’t that remarkable when you consider that I didn’t have playmates, real or imagined. Which is another way of saying that I really didn’t like anyone and couldn’t imagine I ever would. I was an only child whose father called him “perplexing” and whose mother dubbed him “artistic” in a way that sounded italicized. You could hear the curve of mockery in her voice when she complimented me in front of others. In truth, both of them considered me a lost cause. They had scientific proof to support such a claim. You see, when I was very young, my mother had become alarmed when I showed little interest in guns, tools, and matchbox cars. My disinterest seemed unnatural to her so she nagged my father to take me to a shrink. (My mother was a closet Freudian who held on tight to the idea that anatomy was destiny because she didn’t want to work outside of some light domestic duties.) By some stroke of luck, the child psychologist my father consulted told him to come in without me for that first and only appointment at which she instructed him to follow me around for a few months, to shadow me so to speak, and gage my mood. “If he’s happy,” she advised, “leave him alone.” Evidently I passed her test but not his or hers. In their minds, my behavior remained abnormal but without a doctor in their corner, they were at a loss. As a result, they didn’t just leave me alone. They abandoned me. Different was too close to weird. A boy who liked dolls and crayons and reading was best to ignore. They’d been hoping for something traditional, someone on 27
whom they could dump their own failed dreams. Since that was apparently unavailable, they fed me, clothed me then considered their parenting done. I escaped this pervasive indifference by sneaking away to a crawlspace adjoining the master bedroom upstairs, a storage nook that smelled of fiberglass, dust, and pine. This may sound crazy but I honestly found comfort in working myself into a state of heat exhaustion inside that unventilated hideaway. I didn’t mind the occasional rash. The smell of asbestos made me light and free. In my haze, I eventually discovered that the dim light suffusing this paneled kid cave wasn’t caused by cracks in the paneling or phosphorescent insulation. The ambient glow was simply diffused sunlight filtered by a dust-coated Catherine window located just below the eaves. Its position was strangely low since it had been created strictly for the house’s façade. As such, the porthole looked as if it had been fashioned for a family of nocturnal dwarves who’d wisely vacated the premises. I quickly realized that since this window was slightly darkened with dust, no one could see me from the outside even if I brought my face to the pane. I spit-wiped a spot the size of a quarter semi-clear. The view felt God-like in an omniscient way. Sure, it was only the suburbs but even so eavesdropping on the neighbors, the mailman, and Jehovah’s witnesses was not without its seductive appeal. Perched on a splintery beam atop scratchy man-made clouds of a sort, I looked out on my domain and judged without mercy. Not much happened. People looked like case studies. Cars looked weapons in wait. One day I saw my dad flirt with Mrs. Meyers. Another day, Mr. Sova tripped while walking his doberman Duchess down the steps. It was boring and not boring. But with my telescope, it was also intimate. Somehow life gets more interesting when viewed ten times larger and from a distance. Eventually, one day, I tapped into the telescope’s full potential. It was a Sunday. Morning services were over but it was hot as hell so the block was fairly clear. My crawlspace was like a dry sauna. There was only one thing moving: Victor Scathan, a classmate who lived across the street and was 28
now mowing his family’s lawn with a queer-looking machine. This wasn’t a gas-fueled one like ours. This was a strange, man-powered contraption unlike anything I’d ever seen. It had a stubby wooden handle nailed to a long splintery rod that connected to an iron Y bolted to a shredder on rubber wheels. Where Victor had found this torturous object I’d no idea. He was a collector of oddities, not so much an inventor as a tinkerer, a quiet kook whose very nature manifested itself in solitary projects involving the repair of broken relics, the restoration of antique junk, the revival of anachronisms. Normally, I would’ve rolled my eyes but from my hidden vantage point, I felt compelled to stare. The wood looked old. The four thick blades were slightly rusted and thick; the metal curved gently like reluctant DNA. A single, shiny bar in front acted as a kind of guardrail while an open chute in the back directed all chopped grass off to the side. That is, whenever Victor could get enough muscle behind it. At those times, the blades would accelerate to a mesmerizing whirl that hacked off the top of the lawn like a mechanical barber. The machine had none of the ease or accuracy of our gas-powered mower. If it made any noise, I couldn’t hear it from my sequestered spot high above. As I zoomed in for a closer look, I spotted the brand inscribed on the main shaft: Folbate Rotary. As I scanned the lens upward, I noticed Victor was soaked in sweat. When I held the telescope steadily, I could also see his triceps flex each time he’d try to power down another row. I could even see his pecs bunch up beneath his T-shirt, so wet by now it had changed from white to gray. I could also see by the way he wiped his hands on his jeans that the wood handle was mean. He needed gloves. Instead he blistered and bled. Victor was strange. Stranger than me. Or strange in a different way. He was generally silent which people interpreted as morose and attributed to his growing up with deaf parents. Most privately felt there was something wrong with this setup. I knew all about quiet. Talking wasn’t a habit in my house either. I’d actually first registered Victor as someone worth watching after one of my piano lessons with Peggy Orbison, the only music teacher in 29
our neighborhood. Victor always had the time slot right before mine. Not to boast but he wasn’t as good as me when it came to dexterity or memorization. Yet in his favor, he played with feeling, something I hadn’t considered up until that point. I was all fingerwork and speed. But as I watched his back arch into and away from the keyboard, it suddenly occurred to me that music was something that could be experienced internally and deeply so. That was a bit of a revelation. The fact that he was studying piano at all struck me as bizarre given his situation. Perhaps his parents enjoyed the vibrations? Mine certainly didn’t. They hated when I practiced at home and encouraged me to stay after school whenever I wanted to drill my Chopin. The upright in the living room was off limits except when guests were visiting. Otherwise, I was encouraged to use a flat wooden keyboard when the time came for me to practice my scales. They told me that if I had any talent, I should be able to hear music in my head. That it would make me a better listener. Perhaps it did. I could sort of do it but I never felt it like Victor. Hearing and feeling aren’t the same. He was a true piano player. I was a player piano. I’ll never forget his impassioned attempt at that schmaltzy “Fur Elise” and how much his shoulder hunch entranced me. You could see Beethoven talking to his body, creating a muscle memory, channeling notes through his fingertips as they touched the black and white keys as if they were alive. I’d never done that. My body was a tool, an instrument, a thing to get things done, not a place to get feelings felt. At most I was storage. So what was it about Victor’s muscle movements, his vigorous push of the manual mower that forced me to think of music, to feel a kind of music inside? The veins on his arm popped out with each effort. Then he’d stop to pull a splinter from his hand and suck on his palm. I know for sure that’s what he was doing. I zoomed in. I watched his tongue without shame. I didn’t miss a detail. When he’d pause to squint at the sun, I’d pull in tight on his lashes, which were blonde, not red. He looked much better at those moments because his eyes were set too close. I liked watching Victor. I liked this hidden gawking, this longing 30
from a distance. I liked how the sweat made a line down his back then spread out like translucent wings. I laughed out loud when I saw how the seat of his pants had grown wet. And yet, I marveled at his perseverance. Our neighborhood was known for big lawns. The Scathan’s was the biggest. Of course he’d sweat. I was sweating myself. Even so when he pulled his shirt off, it came as a shock. Because seeing Victor’s body made me realize how little I understood my own. Not just as I was right now, bunched up like a gnome on an unfinished beam, perspiration blinding my eyes. At best, my own body was a place of potential. Victor’s body had evolved. Not that he looked old. What he looked was ready. Ready for what? I had no idea. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be him or touch him. Probably both. I kept watching to figure it out. What I learned is this. That some men had breasts. That pecs came in shapes. That nipples could resemble buttons and candy and fruit all at the same time. That pale white skin could flush furious shades of pink then turn gold even when glimpsed through dirty glass. That tan lines were erotic when they burned. That you could have a lot of bright orange hair on your head and your legs but little above your waist. That the drawings in my comic books, the sculptures in the church, the Big Jim and G.I. Joe dolls were in fact based on real life, real people. That superheroes were real. That it all felt wrong and off-limits and out-of-bounds. I wanted to be him if for no other reason than to look in the mirror with pleasure. After I came out of the cave, I skulked down to the air-conditioned couch where my father was “reading” Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue. My mother was holding a tube for the vacuum cleaner, although I don’t think the machine itself was in the room. “Good Lord,” she said when I walked in. “What did you do, pee on yourself?” I said nothing but looked down at my pants. Midway down my right upper thigh was a round wet spot. I’d cum in my pants. I felt my ears redden with shame. My mother quickly surmised what was up, at least in part. She mock-screamed then laughed, “Good lord, he’s still hard.” What followed was violent and spontaneous. 31
Afterwards outside, I found the kind of silence that comes when your ears are overwhelmed by the sound of your own rushing blood. I felt free in a way that I hadn’t thought possible. I had as little concern for the wreckage I’d left behind as I had for the welt I could feel rising on the back of my head. All of this would pass. I hadn’t made this mess, I’d struck out to free myself from it. Now, I had no destination in mind except away. There was no one in sight. The heat continued unabated. The block was barren. There was no Mrs. Meyers, no Duchess, no Folbate Rotary machine. The lawn across the street looked shorn; our own looked scraggly. No matter. I walked towards the highway that defined my neighborhood’s edge and hoped I’d never see these homes again. In one hand, I held the lens that had come dislodged from my weapon during the fight. Beneath the glass, I could see warped versions of my fate line and life line, side by side. I flipped the glass over. Everything shrank. I became small. I preferred it that way. I wondered who would be there at the strip mall. Probably, no one. The place was a row of empties: an abandoned grocery, an ATM with no bank, and a seedy bar called Tiney’s. That was it. At the intersection, I stuck out my thumb. The sun was lower yet the temperature held. I wasn’t upset. I wasn’t anything. A car pulled over. From the driver’s seat, a man who glanced over at me with a sense of purpose that jarred me. At first I wondered if he knew me, although that was highly unlikely. Regardless, I got in and within a block, he’d placed his hand on the back of my neck with a pressure that felt like ownership. I ignored the gesture, choosing instead to wedge the lone chipped lens in front of my left eye like a homemade monocle. The world grew mercifully blurry as we quickly pulled onto the freeway then veered off in a direction that I didn’t know. I felt a sharp bite in my cheek so I squeezed my eye harder. I turned to the driver and said, “Look at me!” When he did, he went pale. “You’re bleeding,” he said turning his eyes back to the road. “I’m a pirate,” I replied. 32
“You’re bleeding,” he repeated. “No, I’m not,” I replied. “I cry red.” I wiped a crimson tear from my cheek then held my finger in front of his face so he couldn’t miss it. “See?” I kept my finger there until he took his hand off my neck and pulled over. I heard the door unlock. I didn’t mind. I was used to rejection. Plus, the surrounding landscape looked unfamiliar and that was good enough for me.
Aunt Pauline at 83 She fishes for a living, finds her wallowed spot on the pond dam, squirms her legs to the place they fit down the bank. She sits right on the edge, a little sprite, as if the pond is there because of her. With her a cane pole, catawba worms, and resolve as big as any yellow cat sheâ€™ll catch. We look out our comfortable window and wonder how she stays put, hooking bass and bream one after another, breaking her line, repairing it, sipping ice water from a quart jar in a cooler shared with chilled bait. She just waits for the nibble, the biteno worry that one might get away. There is a reckoning. Some are baited, some turn away. Only a few will be fit to keep. She fishes for a living, throws the line as far as she can and holds onto it, satisfied with the pull that keeps her alive.
Pulling Away Inseparable mother, daughter. A duo since birth when you were first placed in my arms. I didn’t want to let go, didn’t care if amniotic fluid dripped onto my skin. We were bonding. Daddy cut the cord. We were still connected— as you were washed, weighed, ointment rubbed near your eyes. Photographed, foot and finger printed. Returned to me. Latching on was easy; my milk production slowed. Days later back in the hospital, yellow skinned, you were placed under bilirubin lights. In the morning you were cleared, slept in my arms, head against chest, a blanket over us. I gladly stayed home. Read to you, fed you, changed diapers, scrubbed spit up milk. You smiled, always smiled. Holding you was my joy. When you were three, we walked to the gate at Quassy. You let go of my hand, ran ahead for the carousel. You wanted the white pony with red roses. I ran after you, lifted you onto the seat, rested my arms around you. Today, I am still running after you, the space even wider.
Considering the Catalpa Joy plucks a fallen blossom off the ground and tells me it reminds her of Ohio, that she never sees the heart-leaf tree around the neighborhoods out East where she’s lived for coming on twenty years. But I look down at the road dusted with trampled flowers and imagine the three-foot pods to come. I know her strange tree well; my neighbor’s yard harbors a giant specimen that in a winter storm might cleave our house in half and in summer blocks the sun so passionately that nothing grows under it. Wherever the seeds land, they begin sprouting fingering roots with the vigor of hateful ideas. The foundation of a house won’t survive them, I tell her. They return no matter how much you pull them. That is how awful things always are.
Lost Poem I lost a poem once. Unlike a cell phone, I had no insurance on it. It was only one day old and hadnâ€™t even heard a waltz, or tried persimmons and pears. It never got to skate under the stars and was too young to know the difference between moonlight and lamplight coming through the slats of the venetian blinds. It barely had time to lift itself off the page, take a shower, put on pajamas and listen to the evening news about wars. It didnâ€™t have a chance to put on make up or a dress and heels and yet it was lucky. It never got to see the homeless man in the dark alley leaning against a giant oak tree. It got lost without ever having a single duty or debt, not even a chance to tell the blind villager the correct time. It was too young, even, to know desire, only recently beginning to wander among the lines of its body. 38
Parrot Plague After working all week to save the corn crop, I lie down in the bathtub soaking my aching legs, contemplating my toes sticking up out of the water. I think about the parrot I just shotâ€” how it fell from the branch and too wounded to fly began to stumble across the lawn dragging its wings. I did not want to waste another shell, and I knew a chimango would be along sooner or later.
Jose Luis Oseguera
In Ramah “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” —Jeremiah 31:15 Mexicans don’t believe in miscarriages; They believe in angelitos— When you die in the womb, You’re born in heaven. Mom lost a criaturita Four months before she found out That she was pregnant with me, Which—if I’m doing the math right— Was 2 months before she married Dad. I was born overtime, in September 1985— A 10-pound fetus of 10 months— Which puts my date of conception Around Dad’s 18th birthday. “Scorpios always get their way,” My brother often said. “And Geminis give it up fast. They have two faces: Una de santita y la otra de putita.” At the OB/GYN, Mom had to declare prior pregnancies That ended in termination: Whether by choice through abortion— 40
A sin beyond the grasp of evil— Or by God’s will through miscarriage— Because He wasn’t bad, And she was the one to blame, She was no good as a woman: “What are we if not to birth?” Mom would say. As the stinky cotija cheese we hid under The passenger seat of Dad’s ‘93 royal-blue Corsica Whenever border patrol stared At our passports a little too long— Crossing from Tijuana to San Diego— And asked if we were sure There were only 5 people in the car, Mom struggled to smuggle in her mouth The child she’d lost over 10 years ago, One whose body continued to grow Heavy on her mind, wondering: What would’ve he looked like by now? It was a truth she kept on her tongue, Never dared swallow So that her firstborn knew We hadn’t forgotten about him. In our house, we were always a family of 6, Before Dad went to jail for the last time, Because the boy that wasn’t— He who didn’t spill Mom’s placenta Like chicken soup foaming Over the pot’s embrace, Hissing off the fire, Soaking the dirty ground— He who had no name, Would’ve fathered her grandchildren: A voiceless thought that would never Call her Mamá.
#Adulting I make lists in my head of all the things I don’t have time to do. Sweep and mop the kitchen floor, then sweep and mop again in an hour when my boyfriend tracks his muddy boots all over the house. Wash a month’s worth of laundry on machines that groan with age then stop altogether. Clean the bathrooms. Wash the dishes. Buy the groceries. Pretend I have time to give a shit about my health and then stress eat double chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream instead. Out of the carton. Think about unpacking the towers of boxes from moving six months ago. Anguish over the revisions I told myself I’d make to my novel last summer. Look at my savings account and think about taking a vacation, but then fear returning to a dirtier house and an emptier wallet, the recurring nightmare that I will never 42
emerge from lower-middle class America, that maybe I should add traveling musician or Uber driver to my list to earn more money. Because something else is bound to break soon. Realize that I don’t even have time to cook dinner and think about spending five times more going out to eat. Then binge eat whatever I can find in the fridge. Leftover pasta. A whole avocado. A couple bags of candy from my Christmas stocking last year. Sit down in a food coma and review the neverending list in my head, then say “fuck it” and just go to bed.
Mechanical Attraction Condos crop up in fields once occupied by cows and the occasional crocodile to house children and the children at heart in the vacation holyland of Florida. The tourists careen past farms as they cry in anticipation of the newest ride. They don’t care about the sinkholes forming beneath their beds. The acres of endangered wilderness within a day’s drive in their rental cars. The manta rays and manatees that are harder and harder to see. Vacation to them is stylish sunglasses, overpriced park food, two-hour lines, placing more faith in chunks of colored concrete than they place in god, then posting of their bravery on social media. They won’t notice when the land beneath them recedes with the next flood, the next hurricane. They won’t care when the government pries away the lands outside their fenced-in fun. They’ll glance at their phones, then get in line for the next rollercoaster.
Fabiyas M V
Dayal Dayal’s auto rickshaw runs at breakneck speed, rushing through the heat and dust of Chava town. Quite unexpectedly, the rickshaw halts and the Jeep behind it diverts to the right, barely avoiding a crash. The Jeep driver sticks his head out, yells “Are you mad, bastard?” then drives off. The rickshaw has run out of fuel. Dayal steps out and takes a can of diesel from behind the back seat. After filling the tank, he continues his journey. He has forgotten hunger and thirst. His mind frequently visits his old house and always returns with grief and shame. He had been a clerk under the Irrigation Department. A small family can live comfortably with a clerk’s income, yet he had remained bankrupt. He once had a dream—to become the district collector, a glamorous post. Though he tried twice, he failed utterly in the Civil Service Examination. His handwriting, slow and shabby, was the culprit. His father used to say, when you try to catch an elephant, you will at least find a goat. Dayal became a clerk. Now, the sorry figure of his father, always struggling to provide, flashes in his mind. The tarred road ends. Dayal and his auto rickshaw have left the rest of the world behind. They enter a narrow path leading into thick forest as night falls. Crickets slay the silence. Headlights carve a way through the darkness. A deer jumps onto the path, stands and stares at Dayal and his rickshaw, dazzled by the bright light. Dayal waits for it to leave, and continues. After a while, the vehicle loses its pace and halts with a groan; its wheels are fully immersed in mud. Dayal is too tired to push it out. He puts his head on the handlebar and closes his eyes. Soon, he is asleep. *** 46
Sun rays fall through the canopy of leaves, scattering on the front glass of the auto rickshaw, waking Dayal from his dreamless sleep. He gets out of the vehicle, rubbing his eyes and finds a stream. There, he washes his face, then gulps water from the bowl of his palms. The coldness is refreshing. Finished with his morning routine, he goes, sits on a moss-covered stone beneath a huge teak tree. A breeze has started and the branches sway softly, slender as a woman’s arms. There is always a woman behind a man’s success, he thinks. He has read that in some book. “Behind failure, too,” he mutters. After his father died of liver cirrhosis, he began shouldering the family’s burden all alone. Before long, his mother came down with rheumatism. She could hardly get up anymore, and Dayal had to take over the housework. He loathed cooking. Too late, he realizes how much he has taken his mother for granted. Now he gets up, stretches. He has made up his mind to explore the forest. Down a narrow path, he spots a reddish-yellow mango lying beneath a wild mango tree. Suddenly he is reminded of his hunger, a clawing thing in his stomach; he picks the mango up quickly and devours it. After making his way to the rickshaw, he lies down in the back seat and slips into a nap. When he opens his eyes, standing in front of him is a half-naked tribesman in a dusty dhoti. A bottle of honey dangles in his left hand. A woman, perhaps the man’s wife, stands nearby with a bundle of dried twigs on her head. “Who are you?” The man asks. Though he is reticent by nature, Dayal decides that he will speak. He tells them who he is, how he came to be here. They grasp what he is saying and invite him to their hut. He politely declines. They leave, but not before giving him a match-box. “How could Simra abandon me?” Dayal settles back into the rickshaw. Now that she is gone, he understands her at last. She had come from 47
a well-heeled family—a pampered life—with a concept in her mind of a husband, the perfect husband, developed from her love of TV serials and Hindi movies. She longed for a fantasy life, as on the screen, and for a short while after the marriage, she was shy. Her beauty both energized and blinded Dayal. He followed her around like a dog wagging its tail. “A husband should be a grave man, never a chocolate-boy,” his mother reminded him often, and he could not stand her words, her practical wisdom. She is jealous, he thought. Jealous of Simra. Back then he had been sensitive; his mind and face, pure and young, had captivated his young bride. They did not have many happy days left. His meager clerk’s salary was not enough for her, for all of them. Soon their poverty, and his mother’s rheumatism, shattered his wife’s long cherished dreams and with it, their romance. A few months later, his mother passed away. And Simra became a free bird. *** Dayal is startled out of his thoughts by a wild, thunderous trumpet. Immediately, he pulls down the drop-down curtains of the auto rickshaw and peeps through a tiny hole between them. Outside, it is drizzling. Large shapes move in the bush, their footfalls shaking the ground itself: elephants. A grizzled male with long tusks leads the herd. They pass by Dayal and his rickshaw, and through the tangle of grey trunks and stout legs, Dayal sees a baby elephant lumbering along with the rest of them. He stares on, breathless. Soon, the elephants are gone, disappeared into the depths of the forest. Dayal curls up against the seat but he cannot sleep. Yesterday’s events have risen in his mind and this time, he cannot push them away. *** Her father, a churlish middle-aged man, comes by early in the morning. He compels his daughter to take her jewelry, dresses and other belongings. She is poker-faced and obeys her father. Dayal watches all of this, fro48
zen. “I never thought things would end like this... yours is a wretched birth,” her father tells him as they leave. A few minutes later, a black Ambassador car comes to his house with bank and revenue department officials, accompanied by a police Jeep. Then start the loan recovery proceedings. Dayal’s body and mind burn with humiliation; a large number of villagers have gathered in the yard, watching. Some pity him, while others jeer, laugh, and scold. He cannot find a friendly face. “We’re sorry. We have no other way. The proceedings here are finished,” the bank manager tells him. Dayal says nothing. He has lost his house and his land. His pride is steeped in shame. His wife is gone, his neighbours have lost all respect for him, and he misses his mother. There are things more horrible than death in this universe. The bankers are gone by noon. Dayal takes out a brown leather bag, some clothes, and enters his auto rickshaw, the only thing of value he has left. As he drives, he cannot meet the eyes of the people he passes, the other drivers. It is as if the whole world is watching, watching and laughing. *** The tribal couple leave Dayal cooked tapioca wrapped in banana leaf. They often present him with wild fruits, edible roots, honey and the like. He learns from them how to find bread and soon adopts their ways, their secret philosophy—live today, forget yesterday and neglect tomorrow. The auto rickshaw has become his home. Day by day, his mind convalesces. Saffron sun peeps through the twigs. Dayal is out for a stroll when he hears an odd noise. Moments later, a car comes nodding its head along the narrow path and stops beside him. A large man steps out, followed by his wife and a four-year-old son. “I’m Denny, from Chava,” the stranger introduces himself. Chava is near his home village, Dayal realizes. 49
The other man explains. He and his family have lost their way while enjoying the charm of the woods. Dayal nods and points with his index-finger in the right direction out of the forest. Denny is fazed. “Could you come in a sit until the route is clear for us, please?” Dayal consents and gets into the car. Though it is worn-down and untidy, Dayal remains unerringly polite; life in the wild has not altered his manners. “Sir.” Dayal points to the left. Five meters away, there is a tiger, pausing as it crosses to watch the car. “Please don’t stop, and drive fast, sir.” “What a trip, Dayal! I’d like to come back, without my family, later.” “Everybody likes the forest,” says Dayal. “I’m preparing a research paper on the wildlife here and I hope… that you can help me with it.” “Yes, with pleasure, sir.” Now they reach the tarred road. “We’re out of the forest. You can let me down here, sir.” “O God! I forgot. How do you get back here?” Denny asks. He stops the car. “I intend to come back the day after tomorrow. So if you don’t mind, please come with us. You can stay in our outhouse, and show me the way when we return.” Dayal does not decline, as he suspects that otherwise, it will take him many hours of walking to return to his rickshaw. They drive for a long while. When the car reaches Chava city, Dayal asks Denny to stop the car. “Sir, I’d like to get down here. I would like to see your city and I will wait for you here, the day after tomorrow.” “Very well, I will be here around in the morning… Please, take this.” The other man has taken out five hundred rupees and offers it to Dayal. “No, sir. I cannot.” “Take it, please. For being so kind. For food, at least, or whatever else 50
you need.” Dayal takes the currency and bows his head. *** After sixteen long years, Dayal saunters along the roads of his home village, the early sun rising and its soft light nostalgic. The village has changed. A movie theater, a wedding-hall, a duplex, a barber’s saloon, an English medium school, metal towers and well-furnished shops have appeared, all put up during his long absence. The coconut leaf-thatched huts have been replaced with concrete houses. Nobody calls out at him, and he would hardly recognize himself if he walked by a mirror; a dusty copper colored beard has grown on his face. His body is hairy like a bear. His shirt and pants are faded. Dayal recognizes one of his old classmates, greets him, hello!, but his classmate walks away quickly, avoiding his eyes. Dayal looks down and realizes that he has not washed in some time; he must resemble a tramp. He continues his walk, a stranger in his own village, where he was born, raised, and lived in for thirty-five years. Yet he wanders with the thrill of a boy at a carnival. *** Twilight looms. Dayal is haggard and thirsty. Still he roams, looking around. He halts at a familiar street, enchanted at a two-storied house, an architectural beauty standing by the side of the road. A lady, neither young nor old, sits on the red marble door-step. Her hair is dyed with henna. Dayal walks up, opens the gate, and enters her yard. Up close, his eyes open wide. Sweetness runs through his veins. She sees him, gets up, and goes into the house. A few minutes later she returns with some coins. She steps up and offers them to him, but he simply gazes at her. “Simra…” He has broken the silence. His voice is charcoal, low and rough. Her eyes stare, widen, and glisten… then move away. The moment is ended. She 51
goes back in and slams the door. Slowly, silently, Dayal turns and leaves, his mind barren, where nothing grows.
Before the Hard Freeze On the snow-covered park bench a last, unexpected moth is drawn to my warmth. It flutters down from the trees to where I sit lands on my knee, stops, as if burned or confused. I watch from behind half-closed eyelids as the fluffy, winged insect crawls towards my stomach, aims at a warm crack between the hem of my coat and the crease of my lap. I hold my breath, as still as the dead. People pass by us on the sidewalk oblivious to this last, tiny moth: this is just another picture I am posing for.
Bloom on Horizon We float. Our eyes go to the line as brilliance pokes. Night dissipates and breaks like an untied knot. Here, far out at sea, sun holds a flower to morning, and we are this daisy on a boat named Flower Pot.
Chandelier Every time the music stops, pirouette. Every time the rhythm of the quivering violins slows, the cat-step of the other girls should send her to the pas de bourrée, the turn, the leap. Sashay to leap. Land. She should not sound like an elephant. The tulle on her skirt, taken in to fit her waist from the last production, should settle after her, sink to meet the tension of her muscles as they flatten against the wood of the stage. Just as it has a thousand times before. Just as it will again, as it does now. Settle, like the canopy from a childhood bed. Settle, and the lights will blaze higher, and the crowd will rise like a well-dressed wave. The crowd’s energy will swell. And it does. And they do stand, washing her in a frenzied call. She stands up straight, holds herself in fifth position, holds and holds, and feels the music reach its agitation. It would be impossible to count how many times she has done this before. In the shadow of castles, in the midst of a Mayday celebration, false flowers raining from the catwalk above. She has played every role. She has sunk her teeth into them. She has flown Odette, she has fluttered the Sugar Plum Fairy. Many times over she has felt Aurora’s pain. She has danced all her life, and she has wanted to. Never was it something chosen for her, no, it was always her choice alone to forgo cake in favor of grace, to practice every day of the week. To be able to stand under the sweltering lights, here. In the wings of the stage, from the peripherals of her eyes, the ropes begin to snake forward and the velvet curtains woosh in, quickly blocking the eyes of the crowd from hers. The heat of the lights falls, and the ache of 55
her muscles creeps in, no longer numbed by the adrenaline surging through her veins. She raises her hands to her head, and sighs. Tomorrow, at the same time, is the next performance. There is no cast party, no champagne or cheese. Only the regular hustle of the other dancers, collecting their things and socializing, clapping her on the back. She smiles and jokes back, smooths her hands along her skirt. This is the usual rhythm. She tells them, like she always does, that she will hang back a little, wait a little bit before she makes her way to the dressing room. No, nothing is wrong. Nothing at all. She just wants to wait. And so she does, watching them move the hollow set pieces from the scraped floor of the stage—grand staircases made of plywood, broken apart by men wearing the company’s logo on the back of sweaty polo shirts. They wave at her, and she waves back. Makes small talk about how things are, about the next day’s show, about her costume. Most days are like this—most days she performs. Of course, it had been easier when she was a supporting dancer. The costumes were less binding, the roles less demanding. Her shoulders rarely burned in quiet of her bedroom after shows. But even then, she knew she would trade all the ease in the world, an ocean’s worth of painless sleep, to feel the breathlessness of the theater in the crescendo of the show, to learn the choreography made just for her. Of course. She has known since she was tiny, her mother has always told her, recounting junior dance recitals with an edge of pride in her voice. Her mother had told her she’d danced beautifully, even then, and she could still feel the roughness of the tiny white tutu around her waist. The first hint of purposefulness. The first itch of needing to be something better than she had been. Up and up. After all, it had been that way, for the longest time. Apprentice in the company to junior dancer to supporting dancer—so on and on for years, her head throbbing from bunning her hair and her ribs poking out from pink spandex. On and on, and up and up. Until, finally, there she was. Here she is. On top of it all, spinning, turning, nowhere else above her, holding and 56
sticking her feet into fifth when she spins out of her turns. She talks until the last piece of the castle has been cleared away, the last branch of the cardboard painted trees has been cut down, the huge rocks made of carefully-placed papier-mâché have been relocated to rest alongside the painted baroque ceilings of opera sets. She talks until the men have finally swept the stage, have told her goodnight, have left her alone on the polished, worn wood. She walks slowly through the emptied stage, blue and red reflecting off of the tiaras the girls have placed haphazardly on folding tables offstage, the leftover light glinting on the false rubies. This is the same place, hours before the show, that they often practice on the bar, legs raising up and resting on it. She is nearly perfect, she knows this, at most exercises. Walking by the cool metal, she lets her hand drift over it, squeezing and holding with a knuckle-white grip. The stage opens, through a black-painted door, to a hallway flooded with yellow light and the remnants of cigarette smoke. She waits and waits outside it until the air is clear from the sound of soft-passing ballet slippers, until the lobby’s grinding noise slows. She has learned her lesson about surrounding herself with adoration. Sometimes it hurts more than nothing, she thinks, and the smiling burrows deep into her so that she has to say something, anything, to stem the praise. Old women pointing her out to their grandchildren, young dancers asking for her signature on their playbills. Or, lately, the photos. The hundreds of photos. No, it’s better to hang back. To avoid telling people, knowingly, that yes, she is shorter than she looks onstage, and yes, she has been dancing here for almost 15 years. Years and years and years. Stepping through into the sweaty air, she follows the row of paintings hung along the wall, portraits of famous opera singers from the 1900s, turbans on their heads and mink heads on their shoulders. Her calves, still straining from the jetes, ache, but she does not stop to rub them. She passes the makeup room, door ajar to reveal a few girls rubbing the lipstick from their mouths in the illuminated mirrors. When she pauses, 57
their eyes turn back toward her in the reflection, black and quick. She has learned not to linger there. Her own dressing room stands alone, a door away from the tiny physical therapy room, locked up tight for the night. She’s been there more often lately, flattening her calves and shoulders on the worn-out muscle rollers, listening to the company’s therapist rattle on about retirement. He was thinking about it, he’d told her. After all, he was getting up there in years, almost 70, and it was probably time. Hell, he could remember when she first joined. A little fresh-faced thing, he said, barely out of high school and dance classes. She’d nodded, pleasant as she always was. Now, he’d said, look at her. She had danced so beautifully, her face beaming out from hundreds of copies of the program left under the red velveted seats every night. But what was she thinking about for next year? She had shrugged. Did it matter? She’d told him her shoulders had been giving her trouble, and she hadn’t liked the knowing nod the man had given her back. In her dressing room, she peels off the pink tights and the leotard, gathers them into a damp ball in her hands. She moves pulls on the sweatpants and shirt she’s brought with her, and stops shortly to let her fingers graze over the blossom of a bruise flowering on her calf. A singe of blue is spreading across the taut skin. She sucks in a breath, shakes her head, and begins the arduous task of searching her hair for every last bobby pin. Outside, in the hallway, the calamboring of the other girls is beginning to quiet as they disappear into the main lobby. A silence settles over the space. She breathes in. Like any great athlete, she thinks, as she unties her slippers. Like any great dancer. She thinks about the long skirts of the choreographers, the commanding tone and clipboard of the directors, about thick brown shoes that might support her feet. In her flip-flops, her black toenails protest as she stretches down to relieve her tense back, and she wonders if she could ever not feel this way—could ever, so much like Ms. Sesta, her first dance teacher, settle for soft thighs and long, wrapping skirts, settle for adjusting the arms 58
of children in classes and shouting at them during rehearsals to stand up straight. It must be not so bad, she thinks, to see the stage that way. To sink into any otherness. She thinks about settling into the plush of the velvet, the lights dimming, and seeing the stage from an altogether different angle. The music rises. She can see, barely, over the head of the woman in front of her. From the side of the stage, in the soft blue light, comes a girl almost a vision. A gazelle-like waif, long legs and smooth skin, her movements fluid and connected. Every lift makes her heart thump. Every turn twists her hands in her lap. She glances around her, to the dark theater, and cannot look away somehow from the stage, from the whirling and the elongation of the spinning. She cannot look away, and the girl is twirling faster and faster, a vision in white or satin, some will-o’-the-wisp. The girl opens her arms, leans toward the audience, hands flexed, and, in her seat, she cries out. Now, she is stepping out of her dressing room, her fist full of scavenged brown pins, pausing outside of the makeup room once more. Through the closed door, she sees only the dim glow of a few lamps and the lights of switched-off hair irons. She remembers this room, the feeling of coming in with the gaggle of other swan-necked teenagers jostling for a mirror. Looking at herself in their dim, metallic light, and thinking someday she might get someplace. In the popcorn-yellow light of the hallway, she smiles, and reaches out to turn the knob, somehow wanting or thinking that perhaps something inside might give, just for a moment— It is pushed outward, then, suddenly, and someone has stepped through the doorway to face her, almost nose-to-nose. “Oh, gosh, I’m so sorry,” the girl says, her eyebrows suddenly knitting themselves together. She looks young, very young, and her blonde hair is still slicked back into the company’s standard bun. The girl reaches out and touches her gently on the arm, as if to apologize—but then draws back as if she’d touched a pan. “And—oh,” the girl breathes, “you were so wonderful tonight.” 59
She smiles, gently, and pats the girl’s arm. She tells her thank you, lies to her and tells her that she saw her dance as well, and that it was just lovely. The girl’s face blushes pink. “I mean, it means so much—coming from you,” the girl says, and smiles again. She tenses once more. “Did you need—I mean, did you want to get in there? I was supposed to lock it, but I can leave you the key if you want.” She quickly shakes her head, as if she’s been found out about something, and thanks the girl. But no. She does not need to get into the room. She thought she forgot something, or needed something, or maybe she just thought she saw someone inside—that was it. She thought she saw someone inside and just wanted to be sure everything was alright. The girl’s face relaxes. Of course. It was an honor to meet her. She hopes they can talk tomorrow, or soon, or sometime again. She nods, and smiles as she watches the girl quickly turn the key to the room and hurry down the hallway, pulling her phone from her pocket as she goes. She is alone again, the whirlwind moment gone, and she stares at the locked door. She turns the doorknob anyway, and when it does not budge, she simply stands in the light of the fluorescents and waits until she hears the girl’s footsteps fade completely. She pats her pockets, checks the time, and pulls her headphones to her ears. In the lobby, the carpeting is gold and red, opulent and so different than the tile of the hallways or the hardwood of the stage. She doesn’t walk on carpet, except for here. Above her, a large chandelier of glass and beads catches light the shade of butter and refracts it, hurtling it down and through to the floor. She lingers for a moment, staring up at it, the same way it has been for nearly fifty years. Hanging in the lobby. The same lobby. This chandelier is older than her bones. She remembers, if only vaguely, the very first time she saw it. It was her audition for the company, she thinks, though she can’t be sure, and it was probably winter. She had been so nervous, holding her 60
mother’s shaking hand as they stepped through the banks of dirty snow to reach the theater. As they approached, she’d squinted at the form of the great chandelier, just made visible over the ticket booth from the door, and gasped. Her mother had tightened her grip. She had made a decision, in that moment, that she would only ever dance. She might not do it there, she told herself, but she would dance. And she would come to work here, where the chandelier threw shades of white and purple and yellow onto people’s dresses and dress shirts. She would. She would. She had. She is. She is, standing here, below the great shimmering thing. Her hips ache. She waves to David, the night guard, and he tells her goodnight. Say hello to your family for me, David, she says softly, and he tells her to be careful on the train. It’s not too late, David, she reminds him, and he smiles, swinging open one of the doors for her. She steps into the humidity of the summer night. This is the city, so there are no buzzing crickets. When she thinks of summer, she still thinks of the sounds of her childhood home — spring peepers singing in the wet wallows of the woods, the grinding of tires on gravel roads. Here, there is a great honking and a swell of music from the passing of cars. The theater is set back from the road, nestled into a courtyard of concrete, so the noise is dampened, as if the water in the air has made it softer somehow. A fountain sprays up and into the light-dark of the polluted night. No stars here, either, but she’s gotten very used to that. She swings her bag onto her shoulder, digging for her train card among the swaths of tights and the silk of her slippers, as she has done so many times before this one. The fountain is the only noise, for moments at a time, in between the passing of the cars and busses and motorcycles. Still not feeling the familiar cardboard corners of the card, she sits down on the gray edge of the fountain and opens her bag, as if to begin digging through it. She pauses. The spray of the water hits the back of her neck, dampening it, making the occasional breezes seem cool. Her thighs hurt, and she stretches one up, up, into the night sky, in a 61
quasi-arabesque. Out of the corner of her vision, she sees movement. Someone coming toward her. She stiffens, brings her leg down, puts her hands on the soft fabric of her bag and draws it closer to her on her lap. The man is disheveled-looking, in a too-large flannel that must be too hot for this July night. Sweat is beading out from under his knit hat, his long hair catching it as it rolls down his face. He shuffles toward the edge of the fountain in a desperate-looking limp. She moves to stand, to walk away, and then she hears something from his bowed head. She’d expected his voice to be gruff, maybe wizened-sounding, but he must be young. Much younger than she’d thought by his face. “You ever go in there?” the man asks, gesturing at the theater. She shakes her head, and realizes that he isn’t looking at her. “No,” she finds herself saying. She isn’t sure why. She is sure he will ask her for a dollar, and she opens her mouth to tell him she doesn’t carry cash on her anymore. “That’s a shame,” the man says. She stops, caught halfway between standing from her position and resting on the concrete, somehow unsure of how to walk away, how to leave the conversation. “Why?” she asks, unable to think of anything else to say. “I don’t know,” the man says, and wheezes out a chuckle. “I mean, I’ve never been in there either, man. Too expensive. I just always see that… what do you call it? That light.” She shakes her head. “I guess it must be nice,” she says. “But I’m not from here.” And for a moment, she pictures herself standing, extending her leg for this stranger, this man, using the sound of the traffic as the musical score. Every time the traffic stops, pirouette. Every time the rhythm of the train underground slows, the rumble of the ground and the droplets hitting her skin should send her to the pas de bourrée, the turn, the leap. Sashay to leap. 62
Land. She should not sound like an elephant. She should stick the leap, she should stand, shoulders back, third position, second position, fifth position. Hold, hold, hold until the curtains drop. Something beyond the peak, something beyond even the most gemmed and jeweled ovation. Something real, perhaps, or else moving— She feels her body standing, moving from the concrete makeshift bench, unsure of where the energy will move her, hoping it might continue to lift and lift her to the dance, and she stands, and her hips cry out in protest. Her hips force her down, to crouch, to rub her muscles. Her fingers tighten, curl into her hand. But she does not cry. “Long night?” the man asks. “Me too.” She does not answer, but instead gathers herself and walks, clipping at a brisk pace, toward the subway. She does not stop to hear the man yell a half-hearted insult toward her, or to see him slowly stand and continue to shuffle across the courtyard, into the blinking lights of the sidewalk and city. She does not stop to silence her protesting muscles again. She walks until she sees the sign for the train, and she clambers down the dirty steps, her shoulders brushing with other shoulders, and she walks until she is still on the train platform. She keeps her head forward as she steps onto the train, holds her bag close to her chest, and she does not stop until, after jostling past a wall of stone-faced men and women, her hand grasps the silver of an overhead stabilizing pole and she can shut her eyes, ignore the scream of her body, the wearing carpet of the theater, the dimming Chandelier light. She is nowhere now but back against the velvet seat of the theater. She sees the girl again, twirling alone on the hazy stage, drifting in and out of realness. It is too silent, too beautiful, and she stands in her mind, in her vision rises from the scarlet seat. Though no heads turn, the girl, staring, stops her twisting movement. She screws her eyes shut, and she opens her mouth—to scream, to shout, to say something, anything, anything! She screams, or sings, or 63
shouts, and she the pain from her body ebbs, poison washed out by the rain, and she holds the girl in this moment, in this instant before the wave, and on the subway she is silent, and she holds, holds, holds, holds.
Still Life: Anderson Center, Red Wing, Minnesota
This Evening This evening, Jill experienced her first death on Facebook. Not an “unfriending,” not a blocking—a real death. It actually happened two months earlier and she hadn’t even noticed. Three hundred and fifty-seven ‘friends’ are hard to keep track of on a daily basis. Ever since the thirtieth reunion, Jill had diligently hopped on line nightly—guiltily—just to check in on the progress of Amy Shield’s publishing career, Jen Stimola’s kid’s bout with rotavirus and Denny Berger’s rapidly receding hairline. But she hadn’t checked up on Ellis Hoffstead. She had intentionally avoided his profile page. Why should she check him, anyhow? She hadn’t even noticed him in high school. Well, she’d barely noticed him in high school. They were on different academic tracks. OK, truth be told, she had once gotten so drunk at Sophie Fuller’s New Year’s Eve kegger in ’89 that she’d ended up naked and smashed on top of a basket of clothes in the laundry room with the guy. Other than that, they’d never said a word to each other in high school. They hadn’t even said anything on top of that laundry. Besides, Ellis hadn’t even been in a single AP class. He’d never spoken to her until the night of the thirtieth reunion in the Holiday Inn over on Ethan Allen Highway. Jill was sitting in a cabana, listening to Stephanie McMillan reminisce about her commitment ceremony with her partner—what was her name?—and phone bank efforts on the pro-marriage campaign when Ellis approached her at the table. Jill had just taken one too many edibles from Raj Stern. She threw her head back, snorting with laughter at some incidental anti-breeder joke and was hoping she sounded giddy and young, not old 66
and spent like a shriveled ovary, when Ellis came up. He was wearing a suit and tasseled Bostonians and looked like he needed loosening up. When he leaned over to Jill, he smelled like something dredged from the harbor of her teen memory— like Polo, or Draakar Noir. He whispered in her ear. “I want to do you hard and long on some laundry.” The first words he’d ever spoken to Jill. The first time she’d ever heard his voice, and even then, it was only a faint whisper, however urgent. Jill pictured finding an abandoned supply closet left open by maid service, but evidently Ellis didn’t have time to execute his long-standing fantasy to the last detail. It was odd how something that started out so impulsively ended up feeling so clinical. They walked in silence down the carpeted hallway to his room. He slid the key in the lock and got the green light to enter and fumble off Jill’s clothing. She felt she was performing a medical procedure, like a surgeon lancing a boil, relieving Ellis from persistent swelling. Or a deep-sea extraction of fossil fuel. Technical. Challenging. Irresponsible. When Ellis rolled off and fell asleep, she made her exit. Jill, bemused by Ellis’ lack of stamina, headed quickly and quietly to her own room for a change out of ripped silk and into jeans. Had she really just done that? It felt surreal, but she felt itchy and raw and could smell lube on her hands. She examined herself in the bathroom mirror and noticed her chin had been roughed up by Ellis’ stubble. She’d forgotten about that element of hetero sex. She had never cheated on Jackie before. She had never cheated on anyone. Why had she done this? What had compelled her? The pot? Was it sativa or indica? Did it matter? She hadn’t gotten that stoned in years. She could blame it on an edible, but what a cop out. She took the elevator down to the lobby and headed out poolside to find Jackie with Raj and his stash, none the wiser. She sat down on a recliner and took another toke to forget the whole thing. And she did forget. Or at least, she tried to. Jill didn’t tell a soul about the speed hump. No one had bothered to ask where she’d been. Jackie hadn’t 67
even noticed she’d gone AWOL during those unremarkable fifteen minutes when she’d ‘changed clothes’. It’s not like she’d been the life of the party, anyhow. When they got home, Jill gave the silk dress to Goodwill and Jackie applauded her. “That thing made you look like your mother.” Jill was relieved the next morning when Ellis didn’t show up for the farewell breakfast in the Nutmeg Room. She would never have to see him again. Except for every time she opened Facebook. Like many of Rutland’s class of ’89 grads, Jill had indulged in a bit of online networking in the months leading up to the reunion. Rich Latourell had sent a request and she’d accepted it gladly, returning with an attempt at wit: “So great to be ‘friended’ by you again! ;D” Pete Schneider and Karen Caruso found her on LinkedIn. Jill was admittedly flattered when Rob Spinoli started following her tweets or ‘twitterlings’ as she liked to call them, in an attempt to sound even airier than the usual 140 characters. So when Ellis ‘friended’ her, she didn’t think anything of it. She saw no red flags come up, no warnings, no black clouds looming on the horizon. She accepted his request and sent a perfunctory “Hope to see you at the reunion!” message back to him. True to form, he responded with nothing in return, and all was so easily forgotten. Forty-eight is a bad year to feel the first pangs of pregnancy. Ever. But Jill was certain that’s what she’d started to feel, and she had been warned it would be tough going. She had scheduled a visit to her OB/Gyn, but the office made appointments a month and a half out. So Jill was holding firmly to pattern- stay the course, jog three times a week, make deadlines for the tech magazine and the white paper that Peggy Florez had asked for revisions on – ignore the lack of regular menstrual cycle and say nothing to Jackie. See what the doctor had to say. She’d thought of ‘defriending’ Ellis, but was frozen by the fear that he, the man of eleven words, her Fifteen Minute Man, would for some reason retaliate by writing about their sex act on his wall. She knew that given his 68
personality, this was not a rational fear, but still. She posted less and less—a Colbert video, a 1970’s clip from The Muppet Show, a picture of Scarlett Johansson’s ass in underwear. She definitely editorialized less. She sensed unwanted attention, reminiscent of fears she’d had when she was a kid and pictured her grandpa Gene looking down from heaven at her whenever she was on the toilet. All-knowing. Invasive. Unwanted. Like she’d permitted some pervert—some peeping tom—to peek into her innermost living room sanctuary as she ate her nightly bowl of Raisin Bran and tried to chill out next to Jackie. Together, but apart, each checking her own laptop for signs of life outside of the confines of their den. But Jackie had just run out to buy a gallon of milk and a lottery ticket before the store closed. Jill decided to confront her fears and check out Ellis’ Facebook page in this moment of solitude. Who else had he friended from high school? Just her? What were his likes and dislikes? What did he do for work? Where did he even live now? All that was there on his page was a post left on the wall from two months earlier, written by his wife. His wife! And she was tasty. Totally hot, in a Stepford wife, rhythm method kind of way. Her message said, “Thank you all for your heartfelt prayers. Our dear Ellis has been welcomed into the loving arms of Our Father. He died unexpectedly from a pulmonary embolism while attending his 30th reunion in Rutland. The wake will be held on Friday from 3–5 pm at Christ the King Funeral Home in Beavercreek, OH. The funeral mass will be said at 10 am. In lieu of flowers, we ask you to consider making a donation in his name to Sacred Seed, the Catholic non-profit educational organization which he founded ten years ago.” Twenty-two people had liked it. She felt bile rise up in her throat and put the cereal bowl down. She started sobbing but wasn’t exactly sure why. For Ellis? For his family? For the fact that she’d never have the opportunity to know him even the littlest bit? As if that would have ever happened. What then? For their unborn, father69
less child? They were old enough to be grandparents! Correction: she was old enough; he was dead. Sacred Seed indeed. Jill’s mood destabilized further and suddenly she found herself giggling. This was one situation where the ends justified the means, wasn’t it? She and Jackie had thrown money at high-priced cryo banks and stranger sperm for years with no more luck than two drunks in Vegas. They’d cut their losses and given up over a decade ago. The irony of having a one night, 15-minute stand with a silent, pro-lifer somehow made it feel easier to explain to Jackie. She could relay it to her almost jokingly, like she’d Garped him for a last chance at motherhood. It would make one hell of a birth story to pass down to their child, wouldn’t it? Would she wait to see if the pregnancy actually took, or should she tell her now? Jill looked back at the Facebook page. Right there was all she would probably ever know about Ellis. Now she was the voyeur, and she wanted to know more. She searched through posted pictures and saw Ellis with his wife and three beautiful children; tailored, combed and clean. Pictures of the five of them eating cotton candy on Main Street in Disneyland. Pictures of kids watching football on a giant plasma screen in a beige-colored great room. Pictures of a baby getting baptized by a priest in a purple vestment and Ellis looking on, silent and pleased. Would her child look like these children? All blonde and blue-eyed, but without the starch and patent leather? How much would it matter to Jackie that Jill had harvested sperm the old-fashioned way? Now, they could be starting a family together, as they had once hoped and planned over sixteen years ago. Jill knew that a healthy family foundation could not be built on a lie or a silent omission. Plus, again, I say, the man is dead, she reasoned. Jill knew that Jackie never could understand how she wouldn’t call herself a lesbian. How she could find men attractive. How she wasn’t disgusted by that most shameless and off-putting of organs. Jackie had truly never had any interest in playing with a cock. She’d never jacked a guy off. Never even helped any of her guy friends cool their jets. But Jill took pride 70
in teaching many a youthful masturbator to explore the realm of the coupled orgasm. She’d helped show Ken Jones that someone besides himself could do it. It made her feel holy, in a way. Like she’d assisted him in completing a sacrament. Jill had been the patron saint of blowjobs in her early teens. She had performed invaluable and unremunerated services for her pubescent peers. There was only one person who ever reciprocated the favor: Jackie. The first time was during junior year in the spare dorm room on the third floor of North Mandelle. They had definitely broken quiet and courtesy hour policies that night. Jill’s cheeks once grew hot and she throbbed at the thought of it. Now, twenty-seven years later, sex was well-timed, precision mechanics. A bedtime ritual used mainly as a sleep aid. Jackie was batting at least .300 on a field where others never even suited up to play. Jill finished her second bowl of Raisin Bran, and decided right then to text a screen grab of Ellis’ profile to Jackie’s phone. “Successful donor deposit,” she wrote as a heading. They would fight and cry and break up for all she knew. Or talk all night and work it out. Either way would be better than nothing. Just something—anything—to feel their pulses beat again. Maybe if they worked it out, they could laugh and together make an anonymous donation to Sacred Seed as token thanks—an offering up for their own revival. It would be their little secret. Jill heard the garage door lift and the car pull up. It was settled then. She would tell Jackie this evening.
Tala Abu Rahmeh is a writer and translator in New York. Her poems have been published in anthologies by Naomi Shihab Nye and Pen Center USA, and magazines including LA Review of Books, Enizagam, 34th Parallel, Blast Furnace, Timberline Review, Kweli and others. You can find her on her website www.talapoetry.com. Harold Ackerman lives and works in Berwick, Pennsylvania. He has had images recently at gravel, uppagus, Fourth&Sycamore, and South Florida Poetry Journal. He hopes one of these days to get a square of light that will make one of his grandsons notice. View his other work at briarcreekphotos. com. Amy Baskinâ€™s work is featured in Cirque, Friends Journal, VoiceCatcher and more. She is a 2019 Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship recipient. When not writing, she matches international students at Lewis & Clark College with local residents to help them feel welcome and at home during their stay. Joe Bisicchia writes of our shared dynamic. An Honorable Mention recipient for the Fernando Rielo XXXII World Prize for Mystical Poetry, his works have appeared in numerous publications. His website is www.JoeBisicchia. com. Teresa Blackmon is a retired educator who lives in eastern North Carolina on the family farm. She has an MA in English from NCSU and an MLS from NCCU. Brennan Burnside lives in upstate New York. Sam Burt is a poet and pastry chef living in Iowa City, Iowa after graduating from Grinnell College in 2017. His work will also be appearing this year in 72
the Berkeley Poetry Review, the Maine Review, and Stonecoast Review. Holly Day’s newest poetry collections are In This Place, She Is Her Own (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press), A Wall to Protect Your Eyes (Pski’s Porch Publishing), Folios of Dried Flowers and Pressed Birds (Cyberwit.net), and Where We Went Wrong (Clare Songbirds Publishing). Ann de Forest’s short stories, essays and poems have appeared in Cleaver, Found Poetry Review, The Journal, Hotel Amerika, PIF, and Hidden City Philadelphia. Beginning in November 2016, she spent 18 months documenting immigrants’ tales of displacement in Philadelphia, where she lives, writes, and teaches poetry to the elderly. Chelsea Dodds lives and teaches high school on the Connecticut shoreline. She received her MFA in fiction from Southern Connecticut State University in 2017, and her writing has previously appeared in Clerestory and Avalon Literary Review. You can read more of her work at chelseadodds.com. Cameron Gorman is a student at Kent State University in Ohio, where she is the editor in chief of the literary arts journal Luna Negra. She is planning on pursuing her MFA soon. Cheryl Anne Hale was recently appointed Middletown, Connecticut’s second Poet Laureate. She is active in both Connecticut Poetry Society and Faxon Poets, where she is co-editing an anthology. She recently retired from a recreational therapy position at an assisted living facility. She currently facilitates art and poetry programs in community settings. John Hicks is an emerging poet: has been published or accepted for publication by: I-70 Review, Ekphrastic Review, Glint Literary Journal, Midnight Circus, Panorama, Mojave River Review, and others. In 2016 he completed an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska – Omaha. Janna Jensen is an award-winning photographer known for her ability to capture the allure of innately beautiful subjects as well as everyday objects. She produces both fine art and documentary imagery using traditional analog equipment and techniques. Her images have been exhibited throughout the USA, Europe, and Asia. 73
Kathleen Johnson has had work in Nassau Review, Barely South Review, Pacific Review, Diner, Oyster Boy Review, and Mindfire. She lives in Northern Michigan by the shores of Lake Superior. Fabiyas M V is the author of Kanoli Kaleidoscope (PunksWritePoemsPress,USA), Eternal Fragments (Erbacce Press,UK), and Moonlight And Solitude (Raspberry Books, India). His works appeared in several anthologies, magazines and journals. He won many international accolades including Merseyside at War Poetry Award from Liverpool John Moores University. Nancy Manning is an MFA candidate in poetry and fiction. Her collection of poetry is entitled Amethyst Garden; her YA novel Undertow of Silence was published by TAG. Nancy teaches high school English and enjoys playing the piano and coaching tennis. She still aspires to defeat Chris Evert at Wimbledon. Jose Oseguera is an LA-based writer of poetry, short fiction and literary nonfiction. Having grown up in a diverse urban environment, he has always been interested in the people and places around him, and the stories that each of these has to share, those that often go untold. Stephen Page is part Native American. He was born in Detroit. He is the author of A Ranch Bordering the Salty River, The Timbre of Sand, Still Dandelions, and a fourth book to be published this year. He holds degrees from Palomar College, Columbia University, and Bennington College. Drew Pisarra is one half of Saint Flashlight, a conceptual art duo that finds innovative ways of getting poetry into public places. His first book of poetry, Infinity Standing Up, came out earlier this year. His first book of short stories, Publick Spanking, came out eons ago. Fabrice Poussin teaches French and English at Shorter University. Author of novels and poetry, his work has appeared in Kestrel, Symposium, The Chimes, and many other magazines. His photography has been published in The Front Porch Review, the San Pedro River Review as well as other publications. Gregg Shapiro is the author of seven books, including More Poems About Buildings and Food (Souvenir Spoon Books, 2019) and the forthcoming Sunshine State (NightBallet Press, 2019). 74
Eva Skrande’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in APR, The Iowa Review, Ploughshares, Clockwise Cat, and Prick of the Spindle, among others. Her book, My Mother’s Cuba, was published in the Rivercity Poetry Series. She lives and teaches in Houston, Texas. Kaitlyn Stone is a recent graduate of Central Connecticut State University and is now living in North Carolina with her fiancée. In addition to poetry, she also writes short fiction, and has previously been published in The Helix Magazine and Across & Through. Elizabeth Sylvia is a reader, writer, teacher and parent living in Massachusetts. Her work has also appeared in Literary Mama. Heather Williamson is a multi-faceted artist based in the California High Desert whose practice includes photography, filmmaking, writing, installation, music, and sound. Her work (and her) are best known for provoking thought and feeling.
Noctua Staff 2018-2019
Editor-in-Chief Art editor design Natalie Schriefer is an MFA fiction candidate. She works as a freelance writer and editor, and her short stories, poetry, and personal essays have been published with MTV, Fresh Ink, and Nanoism, among others. You can find her at www.natalieschriefer.com.
Assistant Editor Eric Ong is a lifelong student (in hopes of outrunning his student loans), an educator (teaching literature by dead white folk to increasingly diverse classrooms), and a part-time petting zoo operator. He runs this petting zoo with his fiancĂŠ, housing a menagerie of small animals. Oh, and he writes sometimes, too.
Fiction Editors Mikey Sivak is a writer and visual artist from the slums of Connecticut. His fiction, poetry, comics, and photography have appeared in a number of international publications. He has three different degrees in English. At night, he fantasizes about motorcycling the Himalayas. Michael W. Tenney is currently an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at Southern Connecticut State University, where he also received his Bachelor’s in English. His primary interests and genres are autobiographical fiction and memoir. When not writing, he sings in his church choir and gives tours at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. Giovanni Valentin writes fiction where he tries to be funny. He probably tries too hard. He’s currently working on a short-story collection titled Goblin-Brained.
Poetry Editors Karen J. Ciosek, a retired teacher and MFA student at SCSU, leads Saturday Mornings with Poetry at the Wallingford Public Library and co-edits their annual anthology of poetry, Perennial Awakenings. She’s a member of the Connecticut Poetry Society. Her poems were published in Cardinal House Poetry and Wallingford Magazine. Cole Depuy is a second-year MFA candidate at Southern CT State University in New Haven, CT. His work has been recently published in Heartwood, Boston Accent, and Word Fountain literary magazines. Princess Zuri McCann grew up in New Haven, CT. She recently graduated from SCSU where she majored in English and is currently pursuing her MFA in poetry. She admires poets like Ntozake Shange and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. She enjoys working in libraries and reading young adult literature and mysteries. 77
MFA in CREATIVE WRITING Southern Connecticut State University The MFA in Creative Writing at Southern Connecticut State University is a flexible full-residency, terminal-degree program that prepares students for careers as publishing writers, teachers, editors, and professionals in the publishing world. We work with students who attend full-time and students who attend part-time, and we are committed to working with the studentâ€™s needs in mind. Our curriculum focuses on the development of the writer through experiences in the writing workshops and the creative thesis, but writers also need to be readers and study literature, so our students study literature from ancient world lit to contemporary lit with experts in each field. Other courses focus on literary theory, composition and rhetoric, and teaching collegiate-level writing. In some cases, MFA students may also teach their own courses. Our MFA Program in Creative Writing is designed for graduate fiction writers and poets who -have the skills and experience to become publishing writers; -have the experience and depth of knowledge to become university instructors of creative and expository writing; -have a comprehensive foundation in intensive literary study, literary analysis, literary theory, and critical writing; -become versatile critical thinkers and perceptive, able communicators, prepared for the post-graduate job market, in positions such as freelance writers, editors, grant writers, teachers, technical writers, proofreaders, copyeditors, publicists, media and marketing associates, freelance reporters, and administrators in arts organizations. In addition to publishing poems and stories in national literary journals, our students have published novels, collections of stories, memoirs, and collections of poems. We celebrate these writers by bringing them back to campus for a public reading of their work. 78
The M.F.A. Program’s visiting writers’ and editors’ series brings nationally-renowned writers to campus to read from their work. Recent and upcoming writers include Xhenet Aliu, Steve Almond, Elise Blackwell, Andrew Hudgins, Randall Horton, Brock Clarke, Marilyn Nelson, Stewart Onan, Tom Perrotta, Alan Michael Parker, Michelle Richmond, Allison Joseph, and January O’Neill. For more information on Southern's MFA program, please visit: www.southernct.edu/program/english-mfa-creative-writing.
Noctua Review Southern Connecticut State University Noctua Review is the annual art and literary magazine produced by the Southern Connecticut State University MFA program. It was the brain child of graduate student (now professor) Lois Lake Church and launched its inaugural issue in 2008. We're always looking for narratives with strong characters, memorable imagery, and maybe a touch of lyricism; for poetry that embraces the economy of language and expresses that which is unexpressable. The staff is solely comprised of MFA students and the lineup changes each fall semester. Issues are available both in print and digitally. We will be open again for submissions for Issue XIII in the fall of 2019. Past contributors must wait one year before submitting again. Visit us at www.noctuareview.com. 79
XII 2019 Abu Rahmeh Ackerman Baskin
Jensen Johnson fabiyas m v
The 2019 issue of Noctua Review, a literary journal produced by the MFA program at Southern Connecticut State University.