On the cover: “Flourishing Feathers” by Samuel Langenfeld.
Sheepshead Review Journal of Art and Literature
The Staff Editor-in-Chief Advisor Co-Managing Editors
Co-Assisstant Managing Editors
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August Wiegman Rebecca Meacham Rachel Sankey Brooke Poarch Jou Lee Yang Caden Wiles Kori Koehler Jadacey Teska
Blog Editor, The Shepherd
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Outreach Coordinator/ Community Engagement
Jou Lee Yang
Chief Copy Editor Co-Assistant Copy Editors
Indigo Ramirez Carlyn Lowe Seth Frizzell
Lydia Downey - Editor Indigo Ramirez Kayla Englebert Carlyn Lowe Daniel Chang
Seth Frizzell - Editor Jou Lee Yang Brandi Jo Charles Dani Gottfried Rosalindae Siegfried Caitlyn Laabs
Anna Snell - Editor Samantha Myers Megan Jessup Samuel Langenfeld Kayla Underhill Colman Hagen
Caden Wiles - Editor Jadacey Teska Cassidy MacArthur Grace Prust Tessa Ducat Lilly Harkens
Sheepshead Review Spring 2021 : Volume 43.2 Letter from the Editor
Rising Phoenix Meet The Judges 13 The Cost of Living Whisper McDonald 16 My Window Friend Danielle Lemke 22 I Am a Long Swill Of Midwestern Cassidy MacArthur 26 Summer Fragmented Thoughts Samuel Langenfeld 29 Fiction Dreams of the Wolf Matthew Horkman 37 Monarch Kellene O’Hara 46 Littler Women Ji A Ines Lee 52 Maria Mark Robinson 66 Dandelion Greens Cliff Aliperti 74 5
Alfredo Salvatore Arcilesi 93
Letters to One’s Self
Jou Lee Yang
Poetry Reptile Walk: Admit One Megan Wilkinson 38 Pine Needles Andrea Michalowsky 40 Ask The Prophets Maria Barnes 48 Every Memory a Mouth With Teeth Cassidy MacArthur 50 Carried Derecho Danelle Lejeune 57 Hemmed In Jonathan Greenhause 61 Because His Brother, in Kabul, Keeps Andrea Michalowsky 68 Pigeons for Pets Rough Grub Mary Claire Shingleton 69 Monument Susan Al-Saadi 81 Fortune on Sullivan Street Philip Arnold 86 She Said, She Couldn’t Su Ertekin-Taner 87 Found Music Kieran 89 Summer Day Jessica Martin 97 Labyrinth Nicole Farmer 98
‘Yesterday’ is the Most Covered Song in the World The FIerce Root of Attachment the shambles A Life Of Physical Labor
Nonfiction A Chorus of Cicadas Sharon LaCour 33 Behind the Trail Jessica L. Pavia 41 Planned Birth Chloe Hundza 58 Food For Thought Haley Pate 70 Heaven Is a Place for Cats Madison Block 83 Clearwater Big House Cabin Jesse Chacon 105 Visual Arts Have You Any Wool? Connor Doyle 36 Alligator Lizard Carolyn Adams 39 Starry Silence Samuel Langenfeld 45 Facing It Together Jack Bordnick 51
Stripped Jadacey Teska 56 Equinox Queen Fierce Sonia 63 Nature Dance Karen Koretsky 64 Peaceful Busyness Samuel Langenfeld 65 Chicken with Lipstick Nick Grom 73 Unhappy Happy Hour Emma Southard 78 Flower Seller, Honolulu Jim Ross 79 Sunday Boathouse Brady Wiegman 80 Seasonal Change Allison Kufta 88 Composition Aluu Prosper 91 Affection Olga Nenazhivina 92 Nutria Carolyn Adams 99 Makeup Aries Obeng 100 Wild Coco Spencer 108 Rufous Hummingbird Carolyn Adams 109 Carolina Poppies Cass Graybeal Brown 113
Letter from the Editor Welcome to the Spring 2021 issue of Sheepshead Review! This issue was put together through virtual means with special care by UW-Green Bay students all over Wisconsin. Since last March when quarantine started, this is the third issue of Sheepshead Review that we’ve created and staffed virtually. As students and as editors, our approaches to this journal continue to evolve as the world around us evolves and changes. During January, students at UW-Green Bay received the devastating news that one of our professors, Dr. Sarah Schuetze, had passed away. Dr. Schuetze was a professor that I personally looked up to for her generosity, intelligence, and understanding. She was a fierce advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, which definitely made me, a nonbinary bisexual person, feel a lot more comfortable and safe in her classroom. I wanted to use my time as the Editor-in-Chief of Sheepshead Review to create something that would both honor Dr. Schuetze, and that she would have loved to flip through and read. So, in our call for submissions, we asked for pieces that engage with animals, especially with the themes of rehabilitation, healing, and care. Dr. Schuetze had a passion for rehabilitating animals, especially critters like racoons, squirrels, and possums. She volunteered at the Bay Beach Wildlife Center in Green Bay, and often told us about the animals in her care. During one class period, Dr. Schuetze lifted a duffel bag from beneath her lectern and made us all promise that we would keep a secret. Inside the bag were baby squirrels that she brought to campus because she had to feed them every few hours. They squirmed around in their makeshift blanket nest, and Dr. Schuetze smiled down at them with fondness. The compassion that Dr. Schuetze had for not only her animals but also for her students radiated from her. Since her passing, this story speaks largely to the passion and dedication she had and the goodness she put out into the world. While all the work we are featuring in this issue is phenomenal, certain pieces stuck out to me as particularly emblematic of the theme. The fiction piece “Monarch” is a beautiful and heartfelt story about butterflies and the process of losing a loved one. “A Chorus of Cicadas,” a nonfiction homage to the South, shows how we as humans are connected to the life and land around us. And, of course, our cover photo, “Flourishing Feathers,” depicts two baby robins, signifying spring, birth, and growth. As with each spring since 2004, we hosted the Rising Phoenix contest for UW-Green Bay students. This year’s contest features “Fragmented Thoughts” by Samuel Langen-
feld selected by UW-Green Bay alumnus and painter Cristian Andersson, “I Am a Long Swill of Midwestern Summer” by Cassidy MacArthur selected by poet Soham Patel, “My Window Friend” by Danielle Lemke selected by author Laurie Notaro, and “The Cost of Living” by Whisper McDonald selected by author Alex Bledsoe. Congratulations to the winners and thank you to the judges for their time and insightful comments. I also want to thank this semester’s staff for all their work on the journal. While many of us were deeply affected by the passing of Dr. Schuetze, and not to mention being in the middle of a global pandemic, each of you came together virtually twice a week to bring your passion and artistic eye to class and put this journal together. Thank you to any staff members that shared their pets throughout the semester on and off camera, because we couldn’t have done it without those wonderful cats, dogs, birds, and fish! And thank you, reader, for picking up the Spring 2021 issue of Sheepshead Review. I’m confident that you’ll find something memorable and healing within these pages. Sincerely, August Wiegman Editor-in-Chief
Rising Phoenix Every spring since 2004, Sheepshead Review has held the Rising Phoenix Contest to honor the best UW-Green Bay student submissions in both writing and visual arts, as judged by esteemed local and national recognized artists. The purpose behind our Rising Phoenix Contest is to highlight the best and brightest work produced by students on our campus. For this issue, our judges awarded honors in four traditional categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Visual Arts. The winning works are displayed here, at the beginning of the journal, alongside comments from the judges who selected their work. We are always searching for exceptional work, and our Rising Phoenix Contest is one of the many ways is which we strive to honor local talent.
Rising Phoenix Contest Judges Alex Bledsoe grew up in Tennessee an hour north of Graceland (home of Elvis) and twenty minutes from Nutbush (birthplace of Tina Turner). He’s been a writer, editor, journalist, photographer, and door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. He is the author of The Hum and the Shiver, The Girls with Games of Blood, and He Drank, and Saw the Spider, among other oddly-titled novels. His novel Long Black Curl was long-listed for the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize and the audiobook Wisp of a Thing won the 2014 Audie Award for Best Fantasy. He lives in Mount Horeb, WI with his family.
Soham Patel is the author of several chap-
books and the full-length collections To Far From Afar and Ever Really Hear It. A Kundiman fellow, Soham is also an assistant editor for the literary journal The Georgia Review and the biannual print journal Fence.
Laurie Notaro is a #1 New York Times bestselling author of fourteen books. Her works include Crossing the Horizon: A Novel, We Thought You Would Be Prettier: True Tales of the Dorkiest Girl Alive, and There’s a (Slight) Chance I Might Be Going to Hell: A Novel of Sewer Pipes, Pageant Queens, and Big Trouble. She lives in Eugene, Oregon, and mentors college writers at the University of Oregon.
Cristian Andersson is a painter and performance
artist working in Appleton, Wisconsin. He attended both Columbia College Chicago from 1996–99 and UWGreen Bay from 2010–13, receiving his BA in studio and design arts. He primarily works with two different series: his Symphonic Series, which are abstract oil painting soundscapes based on contemporary classical music, and the narrative work of Social Amnesia, which— through encompass paintings, installation, performance, and video work–is sprawling with ideas of forgotten histories, a current state of being that is both overwhelmed and isolated, and a tenuous future as a result. Along with exhibiting work, he curates local exhibitions, teaches classes to teens and adults, facilitates a cultural program working with individuals living with memory loss and their care partners, and has co-founded the monthly printed local arts journal fsm.
Fiction Judge’s Statement Judge: Alex Bledsoe Comments: There’s a palpable contemporary anger in this story that contrasts with its fantasy setting and plot. The nameless narrator is prepared as a ritual sacrifice for her village, but neither she nor they have any illusions that it will have a real effect. She wants to go down fighting, but can find no reason to; her anger is tempered by loss and her sense of the nihilism of the world in general. The story’s villain, the Master, exists simply as the personification of her society that she is powerless to resist, and his minions see her as mere fodder, the latest in a long line of disposable young “brides” for their god (oddly, it made me think of the way the contestants are tossed aside on “America’s Got Talent” and other game shows that prey on people’s dreams). The story contains few specifics of time or place, resulting in a sense of dream logic and, more importantly, nightmare terror as the wheels of her society lock into place to grind her down. And yet there’s hope, of a sort, if she’s willing to sacrifice everything about herself to claim it. I found this angle most surprising, and handled with a real subtlety that sneaks up on the reader.
The Cost of Living Whisper McDonald
I have full understanding of the sacrifice I am about to make, and the gift it will bring the village. They won’t allow me to cry, which is very troubling since I very much would like to rain tears upon their pity filled glances. The Master tells me that this is what true strength is and that I am the most perfect of all those who could’ve been picked. He is wrong though; I was picked since no one would be willing to marry me. Out of the whole village, I am the only one who is alone. In other words, I am the perfect sacrifice since only my Papa would’ve missed me. His standing among the village was rather low as a simple blacksmith; only a nothing, a man with no say. The thought of my Papa always seems to twist my guts and force bile into my throat. As much as I would love to fight and scream my way out of this, there is no point. The bonds that hold my wrists and feet only seem to tighten with my struggles. I have only untill dusk to live out my final moments, but they won’t even allow that. They invited the next village over for the celebration, and I am to be paraded around for all to see. “If you keep wiggling, I’m going to have to tie you to a pole. Putting this paint on is an art and shows your value in our village.” That was almost funny coming from Morg, our well-known town whore. She was put in charge of my face paint and outfit since she’s been loyally ‘serving’ our village Master. I’ve already seen her crawl out of his manor at least a hundred times. What could she know about art? If I had a choice, they would paint me into a fierce animal, cover my lips in red like the blood from my prey. I wish they would make me look like a warrior instead of a bride. I want to look like I challenge death instead of looking this pathetic. Yet here I sit wearing traditional wedding clothes with only the thoughts of my death to guide me through the night. It brings me back to the last full moon when I was told of my fate. “Yahna, this night that we have the eye of our God truly upon us, he has decided that you will be our village’s gift to give on the next moon. You must be very proud of yourself for being chosen.” His voice was like ice crawling down my back, and by looking at the face he was making, he knew my thoughts. Arguing with the Master would be foolish and a mere waste of my breath. I must accept this; I have no choice but to accept this. “PLEASE, YOU CAN’T HAVE HER! SHE’S MY ONLY DAUGHTER, MY CHILD!” My father was hysterical, his face twisted in agony at the news. The goons that travel with the Master noticed his manic behavior and chuckled. The largest brute kicked him down to the ground with swift movements and placed his heavy boot above my father’s
heart. The movements stirred my heart and made me want to feel just as panicked as he was. “Please, I really don’t want to do this. I don’t want to leave my father-” “Shut up. If you don’t want to leave your father, then we’ll make sure you won’t have to.” With a nod to the brute, he started kicking and stomping my father into the ground. His cries quickly turned into hacks that splattered blood all over the floor of our house. My screaming was cut off by a cloth being forcefully shoved down my throat. “Be quiet, you little bitch.” If I had only known I was going to be chosen sooner, I would’ve tried to run away with Papa. I would’ve packed us up quickly, and we would’ve made a way to survive the woods together. It was never meant to happen though. Maybe it was God’s will to have me suffer this fate; maybe this was the reason I was even born in the first place. It was strange to be the sacrifice, the last 20 moon celebrations have gone without one, so why now? It must be the lack of crops that is pushing the Master’s hand in this matter. Idiot. The farmers told him we need to plow new land for better yields. He must truly think a sacrifice is the way to repair the damage that he has done. For weeks I have been perfecting the dance I must perform for the Master and his company. A dance that I wished to practice one last time, but with the ‘artist’ out of my way, the servants crowded me. It was their turn to spend time with me and to eventually transfer me to my death. They’re really just spies that made sure I didn’t do anything harmful to myself or others, in addition to making sure I didn’t try to escape. Their presence only slowed down the time I had left in this hell. My hours were turning into days with the inability to move and speak. When the sun finally started climbing down the sky, I was moved to a seat in front of a great fire. To one side of the table was my Master and the village, to the other lay the overly-friendly guests. I tried to seem oblivious to their looks and their conversations that were directed at me, but it was proving to be difficult with the one sitting across from me. He was truly a handsome man with rougher features and eyes that, unlike most, didn’t have a dark ring to hold in the color. The blue of his eyes seemed to leak into the whites, borderless and untamed. Every second I refused to look his way, the louder he began laughing. With the goal to finally silence him, I gave in and looked straight at him. There was something simply feral about the man. Unlike the rest of his people, he looked and sounded strange. He didn’t really seem to belong with them, but they didn’t question his presence at all. It wasn’t until I heard his voice that I understood just how attractive he was; it was deep and rich sounding. “You wouldn’t look at me and now you’re staring nonstop. I feel as though I should be blushing with your hungry eyes roaming my face.” The audacity, he truly was a strange man. Who would even waste their time talking to a woman meant for death by the end of the party? “I’m staring because I’ve never seen someone need as much attention as you seem to need.” Perhaps I should’ve been nicer, but I am a person simply waiting for death; you can’t expect flirtatious banter at this time.
“A truly fierce one. Makes me wonder why you were picked.” “I was picked since no one wants to marry a woman who desires to be treated as an equal. If you listen closely enough, you’ll hear all of the bad things about me whispered around the table. It’s a waste of time to explain my worth, or should I say my lack of worth?” It wasn’t a lie, almost everyone at the table was discussing just how great of a choice I was and how thankful all the other girls were that it wasn’t them. For almost a full minute the strange man went quiet. I almost thought myself rid of his voice. “I see. If you asked me, if you said please, I could take you away from here. You could come back to my village and no one would question it. I would keep you safe and you could marry me.” A trap, it must be a trap. Never in my 20 years has someone even looked my way let alone ask for my hand. I have already accepted my fate, I already know my answer, and it’s my father. “No.” “NO? What do you mean ‘no’? I just offered to save your life and you don’t want me to?” Although his voice seemed concerned and confused, his face betrayed his emotions. I would say he almost seemed joyful that I refused. The eyes are truly telling and his were sparkling with the fires’ glow. Thankfully the conversation ended right there when the Master started to knock on the table to get the crowd’s attention. “Thank you everyone for joining me on this celebration of our God. It is time for the final dance before we give Yahna the privilege of being a gift for him. Let the dance begin!” A twist and a turn, a leap and a shuffle, the dance is an easy task and one I decided to take seriously. I could’ve messed it up or made an attempt to run but in the end, I’d rather join my father peacefully than in shame. The only thing that drew my focus away was the two blue eyes following every move I made. It was as if he thought his intense stare could make me change my mind and run to him. A part of me wanted to but I wasn’t so foolish that I would miss the danger that flickered in his gaze. With the dance completed it was time to be tied to the stone table that would soon be covered in my blood. Bonded once again, my wrists and ankles ached with the touch of the rope. They weren’t gentle in tying them, but they did seem joyful in the process. I’ve never had the pleasure of watching an offering, but I picked up a few details from the stories my Papa told me. Once I was tied to the stone, the Master would let three drops of blood fall onto my face before retreating back to the village with the others. I would be left on the table to wait for the one who would take my soul and deliver it to the God. Basically, the being would either simply kill me or eat me; the details apparently depended on the sacrifice. “You’re in the hands of God now, my child. May the heavens bless us for our gift.” One, two, and finally the last drop. The ritual was complete. The table felt cold on my back and the warmth of the torches faded faster than their light. I was hoping that this would be quick, but I truly don’t have much luck in this life. I found myself counting the stars and tracing the constellations with my eyes.
Eventually I simply started feeling pissed off; how could this thing take so long to retrieve me? Was I not even good enough to be a sacrifice? “Hey! Asshole, could you hurry it up a bit? UGGGHHH!” Silence. What was I expecting? Maybe this whole sacrifice thing is a just an easy way to get rid of people with an excuse. It was no secret that my father and I were mere outcasts, so maybe the Master simply wanted us disposed of. Nothing at this point could truly surprise me. “Why didn’t you accept my offer earlier? A sacrifice hasn’t refused my offer in a long time.” That voice! The strange man from the village, what was he doing here? “You should leave, you could die with me if you stay here.” “Foolish human. I am the one that is supposed to come for your soul. I can’t say I really want it now though. It’s much more fun when the soul is so willing and full of hope.” “They took away any hope I once had; there can be no hope left in my soul. I refused you since it would do me no good. I wouldn’t be able to be with my father for a long time if I went with you. Seems like I made the right decision.” Although it was definitely the man from before, his appearance was slightly different. His nails were now long and sharp, his canines poked out from his lips, and his ears pointed towards the sky like a fairy from Papas’ stories. The moon was shining brightly on the table and the trees that surrounded it, but he still remained cloaked in darkness. “How about a proposition then? Your village is starting to annoy me, and I grow tired of it. I should sincerely take a bride this time and I find your personality to be highly intriguing. How about I take the souls of your whole village instead of yours? All you have to do is agree to be my bride and be the one who will forever be by my side.” His lips pulled into a dangerous smile that felt colder than the breeze of the night. “Kill the village and the Master, but at the price of never seeing my father? That’s a difficult decision.” “Which will it be?” “Revenge.” With that one word the bonds that held me were ripped with a flick of fingers. Rubbing my sore wrists, I shuffled off the table to stand before the man. “I knew I liked you. Good decision. Had you said no, I would’ve killed you and the villagers. Now let us begin this journey as husband and wife. Hold out your wrist.” One nail dragged lazily along my arm revealing a long trail of blood. He held my arm with one hand and with the other he reached into a satchel attached at his waist. The vial he pulled out was pearlescent in the moonlight. With a pop, the lid was off, and the liquid was being poured onto my bleeding arm. I can’t say it wasn’t painful, but it didn’t exactly feel like pain either. A coldness swept into my heart and took a hold of my head. For the first time everything that I have ever felt was now clear. “Do I get to kill the Master?” “Anything for my Wife.”
Nonfiction Judge’s Statement Judge: Laurie Notaro Comments: I would have to say that the one that stood out the most to me was “My Window Friend.” I loved a lot of them— this story, however, was the perfect story at the perfect moment. We’ve been inside for a year now-- having a mysterious little being appear from outside is just the thing to delight. Sometimes, timing is everything. Maybe it’s because we all need/want/crave a little bit of wonder now, “My Window Friend” was just what I needed to read at just the perfect time. What I loved about this piece the most was the arc of having something wonderful, magical and mysterious appear that was solely the narrator’s experience. It was comforting, while at the same time, had a touch of the unknown that was just enough to intrigue me to keep reading further and carry on through the story. Gently, the author unwrapped this story, layer by layer, revealing just enough at one time to keep me wanting more. The craft of showing the story and not merely telling it was abundant, as I could feel the cool tiles under my feet and was also engaged in the narrator’s sense of complete delight with an unknown creature that they look forward to seeing every day. The happiness is solely the narrator’s, and thus, soley the reader’s; we do not have to share it with anybody, and it remains beautifully secret, like a wonderful treasure that represents both joy and magic.
My Window Friend Danielle Lemke In my house, there is a small room with perpetually cold tile floors. It is the enemy of bare feet whose only goal is to stand by the narrow windows on either side of the solely decorative doorway. The air vents spewing the cold air out on the hard floor counteracts the July heat, making it feel like I’m walking on a frozen river in the summertime. I bear the pain until the cold freezes my bones, then transition to the other foot to allow it to thaw. The process exponentially gets faster as my feet stay colder longer. The cold creeps up my legs, and soon I’m shivering and chattering my teeth, but there is a reason why I chose to torture myself like this. I reach out my short arms and touch the windows for a form of heat. When I do, there is something on the other side to meet my stubby fingers. He, I’m assuming it’s a he, is a little smaller than I am, but his nose is so much more pointy. His paws are as small as the cats at my Grandma’s house, his tail is as bushy as my mom’s hedges, his face looks like the puppies in my books, but he doesn’t look like a puppy. I don’t know what to call him, or what he is. He visits me every now and then. Today would be the third day in a row I get to see him. Every time I bring Mama or Daddy to see him, he always runs away before they can see him. I guess he’s just really shy. So it’s been just us meeting like this. I don’t mind though. He’s my friend. I look out past him into our front lawn. Our house is surrounded by woods, so it’s hard to see where he lives. Daddy says that there is a hole on the neighbor’s lawn that wild rabbits sleep in. Does he sleep in the ground too? Wouldn’t he get dirty if he did? I looked at his fur through the window. It didn’t look dirty. It was all clean and shiny. I wonder if someone is taking care of him? With my hand against the window, he padded up to it and tried to sniff it through the glass. I wonder if my sent traveled through because he couldn’t stop sniffing the window. Then without warning, he licked it! There must have been something bad tasting on the window because he shook his head with his tongue out. He tried to lick my hand through the window! I burst out laughing because it was so funny. I danced on my frozen feet, laughing so hard. Mama must have heard me and entered the tiny room. My friend saw Mama behind me and ran away as the doors behind me opened. “What are you laughing at, honey?” Tears swelling in my eyes from the pain in my sides, I couldn’t stop laughing as I said, “He tried to lick my hand through the glass… and made a funny face!” I returned to my laughing fit as Mama looked out the window, trying to see what I was talking about.
Seeing nothing, she said, “Alright, sweetheart, time to come in for lunch.” Then ushered me in the doors she came through. Before the windows were out of sight, I turn back to see where my friend was standing. A wave of wishful thinking washes over me as I wonder what would happen if the glass wasn’t there tomorrow.
Poetry Judge’s Statement Judge: Soham Patel Comments: These fourteen lines engage repetition, sound, and rhythm with juxtaposed images of hope and brute darkness. From the word ‘swill,’ in the title, I am reminded to be open to the possibilities of language. It is a mouthful, scraps, or, considered as verb—it is possible the subject is a present continuous performance of a long action—a washing off or a drinking down. The Midwest often gets left behind or is considered flyover country. A departure occurs in this poem, we leave the farm and go to the sea, but still the speaker venerates place by way of confession and forgiving gestures.
I Am a Long Swill of Midwestern Summer Cassidy MacArthur
and, I am dark deer collision in frigid morning, I am the dust kicked up by the car as we left the farm behind us. I am blue in the face during birth, not quite ready to face breath yet, and I am throwing away the rocks in my pockets and shoes as I stare into the sea and decide to walk back home. I’ve seen enough. I’ve been enough. I’ve been on the kitchen floor, muffling sound in tile. I’ve been up on the rock, watching the ships come in, watching color dull as I grow older. I have been a heart attack for 13 years, my life unspooling and tangling in my hair. I am terror, didactic and punishing, holding my head in place as the fire eats away at my garage. I am death, I am dying, I am sleeping and quiet and dead in my bed already.
Visual Arts Judge’s Statement
Judge: Cristian Andersson Comments: When I initially viewed “Fragmented Thoughts,” I thought I was seeing a somewhat straightforward portrait image, with a clever use of projection to add in visual interest. The more I sat with it, however, the complexities and contradictions in the work began to emerge. The individual falls into an extremely shallow depth: a projection of a presumably white grid softly criss-crosses across the person, blurred edges on the lines give prominence to the tight focus on the features of the individual’s face. The backdrop, also a grid pattern, seems to be flatly up against person, compressing the space. The background isn’t a straightforward pattern, but rather seems as if the viewer is looking up a series of windowed skyscrapers. Buildings that do not grow upward with regularity, however, but instead fold, bend, and twist. In spite of the perceived depth the background gives, it is also extremely flat in appearance, adding to the confusion as to what I am seeing. And, just as I was comfortable knowing this created background space as being completely flat, perhaps computer generated, I see that some of the “windows” have an interior edge to them–a thin line that once again gives depth to the space. The projection that falls across the face of the individual also distorts the image. Whereas the background is hard angles, the projection undulates, making a cheek that should angle forward, fall softly inward. The forehead expands outward, the nose downward–it is extremely difficult to understand what the true structure of the face looks like. What we are allowed, however, is a crispness to open eyes and parted lips. These physical elements begin to let us in to the humanity of the individual amongst the distortions of the grid patterns. While the emotion is difficult to discern, there is a definite awareness
in the gaze of the person. And while the entire composition is shallow, the eyes are focused on something distant. The photographer has cleverly constructed the composition: matching the stripes in the clothing to the lines of the grid, hair that is pulled to the side of the picture frame in much of the same way that the background grid angles the other way. A necklace that is falls in a way that mirrors the angles of the projection that eventually obscures it. All wrapped up beautifully in black and white.
Fragmented Thoughts Samuel Langenfeld
A Chorus of Cicadas Sharon LaCour
Three distinct memories from my childhood in the South involve views of my bare feet on or submerged in various elements. All of these elements were warm, and all of them smelled rich and dark. The feel of them against my skin is still vivid. All of them had breath and life and gave me the sense that there is something unseen under the surface of things, something alive and vital. My family often visited a park on the Biloxi River in southern Mississippi not far from the Gulf beaches. The bluffs of the river were carved out of a deep marooncolored and thick, sticky clay. The clay had an ancient smell. Over and over again, my cousins and I would make our way from one end of the bluff to the other, 20 feet above the river, hanging onto the roots of the trees that hung over the edge at the top. We had scooped out a slide in the clay with our hands and added river water for a fast ride down the bluff. The slide was a narrow gulley or ditch, just wide enough for our bottoms. We would take turns sliding down the shiny, slippery clay into the persistent current of the river. The current took us past a narrow stretch of green island where a rope had been attached to catch us before we were swept out to the rapids. Only once do I remember a parent having to be called to retrieve someone downstream. Otherwise, they left us completely alone, independent and fearless, to fight our battles with the bluff, the current and the cottonmouth snakes that hung from the branches and shimmied away when we swam in the shade where the water pooled. I knew that the Biloxi tribe of Native Americans had lived near there, maybe even in that very park. They were mound-builders and hundreds of them had been wiped out by smallpox. I looked for remnants of them buried in the clay, but I never found anything. In the woods at night I wanted to hear them whispering in their language which is now obsolete. In the South you can go barefooted almost all year long, so I often see myself back then looking down at my bare feet. The lakefront in New Orleans is dominated by an eight-foot concrete seawall built in the 1930’s that goes on for miles. There are 12 steps leading down to Lake Pontchartrain, the last few of them covered with a phosphorescent green moss that swayed in the waves like a mermaid’s hair. The silky moss covered every square inch of those bottom steps, and don’t go past step eight, that moss is slippery as hell. The seawall was made of a warm and nubby concrete rich with rocks, clamshells, and glass. I’d rest on a dry step, watching the mullets jump and waiting for the lake to splash me. On a hot day, it was heavenly, even if the water
was warm. The moss would call to me and when my daddy was off pulling up a crab net or going to the ice chest, I’d step down closer to the bottom. I had to feel that moss under my feet. We didn’t swim in that part of the lake, and part of me wanted to fall in just to see what was at the bottom of those steps. I never did though. The water smelled dank and fishy. The bottom of Lake Pontchartrain consisted largely of clam shells, tons and tons of them. All along Lakeshore Drive shell middens have been uncovered, discarded clamshells and kitchen refuse of the tribes that lived there. The stone-like shells are everywhere along the coast; they are in the concrete that built the seawall and in every construction site. Other places had driveways made of pea gravel or blacktop, in New Orleans they were made of Rangia cuneata clamshells. I figured some of those shells could have been thousands of years old. The seawall extended as far as I could see to the yacht club and the New Canal Lighthouse where my Great-Uncle Bee had been a lighthouse keeper. On Fridays we’d drive past the lighthouse and the New Basin Canal to Bucktown, an old fishing village known before my time for its gambling, jazz, and liquor-driven fights. We went there to buy boiled seafood, crabs mostly. The seafood place was hidden in a grove of huge oak trees not far from the lakeshore. You could see the lake and the silver line of the causeway that led to the Northshore. My daddy would drink a beer, smoke a Camel, and laugh with the other customers while I explored. The smell was like the lake with other things added an earth-smell, like good, rich dirt mixed with Spanish moss and damp stone. I recall feeling sad for the huge, lonely alligator they kept in a cage off in a dark, shaded corner. I used to think he might be dead because I never saw him move. I’d squat and stare at his nostrils flaring in and out just to make sure he was still alive. I also felt sad for the baby soft-shelled crabs. They sat, dozens of them, in a table-flat tank of moving water, waiting to be sold to restaurants where they would be deep-fried and eaten whole. Those giant oak trees had a carpet of tangled roots under them, some as thick as my daddy’s arm. I remember climbing on the woody roots with my toes clinging to the cracks and crevices, pretending that if I didn’t keep my balance, I’d fall thousands of feet to my death. The trees themselves were three men wide and hundreds of years old. The roots wound around in maze-like pathways from tree to tree like gnarled wood ropes under a canopy of magic right out of Tolkien’s Lothlorien. This place had an especially magical feel to me. It was here that I first got a real sense that there was more to this world than what can be seen. 50 years later what remains with me of these places is the sense of all the life preserved in the dirt and trees and water and stone. The blood and bones and spirits of everyone that lived there. There’s the sound of dancing and lovemaking and children playing, all to a background chorus of cicadas. But along with that is a nostalgic tug of sadness that makes it real and tangible and whole. The pain of the 8000 Irish who died building the New Basin Canal and are buried in it; of the Cajuns who weren’t allowed to speak French in school; of the African slaves inventing jazz at Congo Square, or the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe banished to Isle de Jean Charles, an island that today
is slowly sinking into the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a sensation I’ve had only in the South, that blend of joy and sadness that seems to seep up out of the soil. Maybe the source of it is simply childish sentiment. Every place has its pain and its joy. I believe there are mysteries preserved in the elements all over this earth, but for me, they are closer to the surface in the South than they are anywhere else that I have ever visited. All that living settles in the dirt and stays there. You can feel it through your bare feet.
Have You Any Wool? Connor Doyle
Dreams of the Wolf Matthew Horkman
Being born and raised on the battlefield, all I heard were the sounds of guns and screams. It was agony. I was a dog of war. I watched those close to me perish. We were hunted like rabid dogs, judged not by our actions or character but by matters out of our control. My freedom came amid the night. While others feared the sounds of the darkness, I cherished them, for I was able to close my eyes and see the moon in my dreams. I would bask in its glory, as it shone throughout the darkened sky. I would pray and listen for a sign. When all hope felt lost, I heard sirens echo throughout the night sky. Only these weren’t manmade sirens from machines on wheels. These were nature’s sirens howling on four legs. Though I physically remain on the battlefield, my consciousness is transported. No longer am I a dog of war fighting for a cause that I don’t even comprehend. I am a wolf, proud and noble. I hunt with my pack; stalking my prey and waiting for the time to strike. I run through the forest, with the cold snows bellowing in my face. I used to fear the cold but now I embrace it. The air is pure while the blood trail is fresh. My senses are stronger. I can see in the dark and smell miles away. I’ve always dreamed of a place like this. A place of freedom, a place where my pack and I can remain hidden. We can observe the cruelty of mankind from afar instead of living it. Alas the sun will arise, and I shall awaken. My presence no longer hidden. My senses will fade, and the cold will become fearful again as it fills my heart. I now walk on two legs again. The cruelty of mankind will consume me. I will seek retribution for those who have wronged me, for reasons I am unable to understand. No longer will I be the untamed wolf that leads, but rather the dog of war that follows. Do not fear for me as the sun must set again. The night sky will return just as I will return to my pack. I’ve waited for this hunt. I am a wolf, proud and noble.
Reptile Walk: Admit One Megan Wilkinson
Henry David promised freedom in nature and these biologists heard, Manufacture a lake; name it after him. For science they suck and sigh, twice monthly, the scent of Thoreau’s desperate insides. He yawns ripe, sweeping unkempt hair from faces that splutter words of Latin, eager to plunge arms into him, feast hungry eyes on his wriggling secrets, hold dripping traps high above Velcro sandals. Lithobates catesbeianus, they can hear breathing through your glistening epidermis. Enlightenment’s duty is to preserve you in a Snapchat storm and marvel as your bladder releases. The sizzling night swells in serpentine whispers, drags sweat droplets from keratinized bodies, threatens to rise in an engulfing chorus, invites a matching trade: life for understanding. Still their tenured guide beckons, his delight palpable, his hubristic bulk of knowledge buoyed by warm Miller. Headlamps streak over a creation’s protective blanket, glinting orbs alive in the darkness, drift toward the apple and the bite.
Alligator Lizard Carolyn Adams
Pine Needles Andrea Michalowsky
This morning, they covered my pillow. I brought our forest home with me. Besides the trees, my bed was empty: blankets and my body. Having listened to the night’s last owl, having listened to the racoons slow, having listened to your heartbeat in the fur that lines your chest, I drove home as the moon turned red with setting. It’s true some roads glow only at night. I slept at darkest morning. I woke to light alone. Animals can always find their homes: sparrows return to the hedge where they hatched, as opossum mothers line found dens with dead leaves and dead grasses. This nest no longer warms me. Pine trees split my bedroom ceiling. I pull the eiderdown from the closet. Tonight I’ll sleep unexposed. Opossums’ fur is soft and thinning; they would grow cold without their denning. Their pups are born in a pouch to suckle: close as a heartbeat and so warm.
Behind the Trail Jessica L. Pavia
On the day I found the corpse, I was stuck inside my grandparents’ condominium in downstate New York, watching news filter across my phone screen. No matter which app or website I turn to it seems as if the world is ending. Social media is riddled with claims of an impending civil war, and just when I think I’ve mustered the knowledge, the research, to put my fears to rest, I stumble upon a news article saying China told its troops to focus on preparing for war. As if that’s not enough, COVID numbers are rising globally, again. I am not prepared for any of that. I have fantasies of living off the grid and farming my own nutrition. I watch canning videos if I have trouble falling asleep at night, and ordered something called “Survival Seed Kit” off of Etsy. But there’s nothing I can do now besides obsess over images from the Capitol insurrection and tread the waves of VICE articles infiltrating alt-right militia groups with machine guns knowing — nausea burning a hole in my stomach by the sheer knowing—that if any of these groups come, I’m trapped with no form of self-protection. So, I walk. I know I have to put the phone down and in a blip of self-control I do, and I go outside and I walk and I don’t stop. The leaves are rusting orange and red, and I weave in between them, ducking my head to the lower branches. I submit to their whim and keep my body small, nimble. There’s a pond ahead of me surrounded by dying trees, bare and sullen. It’s as if I’m walking into a different world; this one accented by jutting limbs and spears of wood sticking out from the water, all grey where the color used to be. I let my sneakers fall heavy on the changing landscape, keep my eyes ahead so that every dip in the earth is a surprise. Walking along the pond’s edge, I find a marked trail that I had never noticed before, the condominium’s sign nailed to a thin tree. It lists all the things you can’t do: no hunting, no fishing, no littering, no swimming, and no straying from the trail. A path of crunching leaves and brittle tall grasses leap out in front of me. The trail seems as if some big man came to this rough and stomped down in his work boots — flattened, but barely. There are noises and rustling filling every inch of air, and I have the conscious impulse to look behind me, keep darting my head to the sounds. I become acutely aware that someone could kidnap me here, in broad daylight, because my body is fragile and alone and disappeared into the woods. But I keep going, a sense that I will be scared, that I will jump, rising in my gut. The path forks into a prairie area, and I am only minutes into this walk but to the left, the trail is blocked by a thin tree that must have fallen during a storm. I approach it but see there’s no way I can go underneath or around. The branches and leaves have fallen
but hold their shape. They have not bent. I would need a machete to get through. I backtrack barely 20 steps and start on the other path, the one to the right of the fork. The grass is longer here, thicker. I worry momentarily about the shoes I’ve worn, the short ankle socks, how it’s deer season, and this area is known for ticks. But again, I keep moving. Now it’s getting wet. But only in one streaming line. If I move to the left, if I step onto higher ground, I will be fine. I keep ahead. Then the smell starts. I think it’s from the water, some sort of sewage or mix of rotting plants. But ever so slightly, so frustratingly movie-like, the camera pans from the stream to my shoes, to the leaves ahead, and, finally, to the ribcage. I’m not shocked. I stand there, still. The smell in my nose; I don’t balk. I’m not nauseous. I don’t like the smell, but I can stand it. And so I do. I step closer. I’m not sure why. But I think I’m trying to see if there are legs or arms or a skull. Trying to identify if what’s in front of me is human or animal. The trail borders a road and so, in a split second, I decide a deer must have been hit by a car but not enough to die on impact — it hobbled over and fell to rot. But then I begin to worry it’s a sign of some sort. I turn around finally, slowly, and begin walking out. I don’t stop to look around this time. I check behind me every once in a while, half expecting some raging murderer to chase after me, angry I found his hiding spot. Yet I make it out of the path, back to the pond, and I head to the circular track mirroring this trail entrance. I keep walking and walking, loop after loop. I think it must be a mile now. Now I’ve made this rotation eight times. I keep going. *** I reach out to my friend who is rather witchy. I ask her if this is some sort of omen, if there’s any spell or incantation I should sing to not let the vibes of death and decay follow me around. I wonder if I’ve cursed myself. She replies saying it doesn’t sound like one, but rather a possible parallel to what I had been thinking on the day. I think she means the corpse isn’t there for me, but perhaps I invited it. That my fears and anxieties both of impending doom and the softer yet persistent drum of possible danger on the trail had to be satisfied by something, and this was it. My body was ready to be scared, to jump; it sensed something, and it was right. No, I wasn’t expecting a deer — I was imagining something much, much worse — and yet, my body knew. *** The next day, I’m still thinking about the corpse. I find its image lingering in my head as I wake up, make breakfast, get ready for the day. It’s not that I’m thinking about it in a useful way, rather I just am. Its shape, those rotting limbs, they keep popping up as if to remind me it’s out there, waiting. As if it’s scared I’ll forget about it.
I go for a walk again, telling myself it’s because I want to forage for mushrooms, maybe find the one with spores that puff gas, and not because I want to see the corpse again. I tell myself I’m not even going to head down the trail today, but stick to the pond’s edge. Instead, I skip the thing entirely, direct my body straight to the circular track, but change focus at the last second, finding myself at the path entrance. Then through it. I’m not slow-going this time. And I’m even more anxious, more tormented by the dashes of rodents and the coo of birds. I’m aware of every movement or change in sound. And I’m practically running, long strides towards what I know I’m here for. Rather than fear, I know my quick pace is out of shame — shame for this strange part of me that wants to see the corpse again, wants to revisit the disgusting rotting bones rather than run from it. The road forks, the tree is still down. I make as if I’m going to head that way but I know I’m not. I’m in the long grass again; it’s overgrown again. There’s the streaming water again. There’s the carcass. Again. It seems further away this time. But still, I wonder how I hadn’t noticed it yesterday. Even by the first puddle of water, I can see the browning bones. It’s not that hard. But now that I’m here, I don’t want to move closer. It feels as if I’m inviting something in, something I don’t want. What kind of person wants to see this? I ask about myself. And yet in my head, I argue. I say, This is what you came for, isn’t it? What were you expecting? Why won’t you get closer? I don’t sense the smell this time. Or maybe I haven’t let myself get close enough. I inch forward, trying to get the whole corpse in view. I can see where the skin is melting off the ribcage but only this piece, no matter how I position myself. I am only given a small piece of whatever, whoever this was — just the ribcage sticking up out of the dirt, so regal with its chest pushed out like that. And today it all appears more human-like. Yesterday, the ribcage seemed smaller, more rounded out like a deer’s would be, like a big dog’s. Yesterday, I thought there were too many ribs to make it human. But today, I’m not sure. Today, I think it could be a body. I bring my hands to my ribcage and feel around, poke into my skin to feel my bones, and search for the small spaces between. I’m more solid than I expected. I study the corpse, count how many bones make up its ribcage and try to count off on mine. Later, when I’m safe in the condo, I’ll google how many ribs a deer has versus a human. The difference is startlingly slim: a deer has 13, a human 12. But right now, on this trail, I don’t know that yet. All I know is that my torso feels how the corpse’s looks. I head back just as fast as I entered. This time, when I walk back through the trail’s entrance, I don’t stop by the track or the pond. In fact, I don’t stop until I’m inside the building at the management office. A young man sits behind a plastic partition and rushes to pull the discarded mask over his face. “Hi, um, I was on the trail back there, and, well, I don’t know how to say this in a not awful way, but there’s a rotting corpse on the right side.” “A corpse?”
“Yeah. A deer. I think you need to get someone specialized to remove it. So, I wanted to tell you.” In fact, I know they do. I looked up the companies yesterday when, instead of losing myself in different doomsday articles, I researched how to safely remove a rotting animal corpse. It’s not something anyone can do. “On what side of the trail again?” “If you’re walking straight out, you get to a fork by this meadow. If you take the left, there’s actually a tree down, so you can’t go that way. But if you go right, it gets wet, and muddy, and then you start to smell it. If you keep your head straight, you’ll see it.” The man says thank you and assures me he’ll do something. I leave my name and apartment number, in case he needs to call. For a few days, I wait by the phone. Part of me is convinced that once they go to remove the corpse, they’ll discover it is a human body. That I’ll become entwined with the crime scene, a witness who arrived far too late. But no one calls. I think about asking the man at the desk for an update, fearing he never did tell them, but I either miss him or worry he’ll find it strange. I decide the corpse must have been a deer, otherwise there would have had to be an email and news cameras and cold cases dug up. It would have been a mess, an anxiety-inducing story I wouldn’t have stumbled on mindlessly, the safety of a screen, of being able to scroll past the pictures. It’d be death in my backyard, the evil I’ve always feared come immeasurably close. But, maybe, management never called a removal crew, never did anything with the information I left that day. Maybe they didn’t actually care that there was a corpse. The man I spoke to brought the note to a meeting and everyone laughed, never thought the worst, never crashed head first into the most disastrous possibility of an otherwise common occurrence. A girl saw a dead animal in the woods, they’d say. Big whoop. If a removal crew never came, then I could walk out into those woods again and visit my corpse. I could smell it again, try to point out the bones under the first snow fall. I could keep this thing company, turn the possible curse into a mutual bond of protection, watch as the bones decompose, count the days until just a memory remains. There is only one rib difference between a human and a deer. One miscalculation, one bone gnawed off by some woodland thing. A human or a deer. Nature or unimaginable violence. It’s not worth worrying about right now. That’s what I have to tell myself, often: It’s not worth worrying about the thing that has not happened, may never happen. While the corpse did happen — a living thing turned unrecognizable — now it is forever resting, pieces of itself becoming food for mushrooms to return as energy to the earth, for the animals who call it home. I have to hope it’s nothing sinister, nothing more than life’s cycle. One tree of many fallen in the woods, now seen and heard.
Starry Silence Samuel Langenfeld
Monarch Kellene O’Hara
“Quick, she’s going now.” I didn’t need the shawled woman to tell me that my grandmother was leaving. I saw the shadows dancing in the garden, the footprints fading. I knew that my grandmother would soon disappear. I stood at the cacti, observing the steps of a woman I could no longer see. When she was a little girl, my grandmother brought home caterpillars clinging to branches. She carefully placed them in jars where they transformed into butterflies. When she released them, thousands of butterflies flew over the fence, out of sight. She told me that she wished she had a camera to capture the butterflies going over the fence. But she didn’t. And now, the image only existed in her memory. When my grandmother began fading, the adults told me that this was what happened to everyone who was afflicted with old age. Their appearance became weaker and weaker until they became invisible. Then, they disappeared completely. It started in August, when the summer heat relented lightly. My grandmother was sitting by the pool in her backyard when she glimmered for the first time. “Grandma!” I exclaimed. “Ah!” she replied. It was not surprise or confusion that prompted her response. It was unidentifiable to me in the moment. “What’s happening?” “What always happens,” my grandmother said. The spells never lasted long. They were quick flickers of fades. In the kitchen, a jar would appear momentarily suspended in the air. In the bedroom, a hairbrush floated. I watched her cautiously, the whole time wondering where she went. “I’m right here,” she told me. “I never went anywhere.” But then the fades were longer. They went from a few seconds to half a minute. From half a minute, they grew to an entire minute. Then, five. I timed her fades with a yellow stopwatch. I recorded everything in a composition notebook in columns and rows. I sought patterns, but the only thing I could find was that the fading was increasing...rapidly. None of the other adults watched none of them kept records. It wasn’t worth their noting. “Grandma?” I called into the living room. It had been ten minutes since her latest sighting. I grew worried, calling into
empty rooms, seeking her. Instead, I found little indications of presence. The lamp turned on, the pencil rolled across the coffee table, and the blanket on the couch rustled. I couldn’t see her, but she was here. When she returned to my sight, she was smiling. “I couldn’t find you!” I accused. “I’m right here,” she said. “I never went anywhere.” “But I couldn’t see you.” “But I could see you. I was watching you the whole time.” Hours turned into days. It was all happening so fast, towards the end. I found a woman who told me she could see the things I couldn’t. “I can see your grandmother,” she said, hugging her shawl close to her. “She’s here.” For this assurance, I gave her all of my allowance. When the money ran out, I paid her in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She took them out of pity. The adults never knew. “Yes, my dear,” she told me. “She’s here.” And, every time, no matter how long, my grandmother appeared. “Silly girl,” she chided. “Don’t waste your money on me. I’m still here.” But when a week passed, I knew that there would soon come a time when she wouldn’t be. “Grandma, tell me about the butterflies.” “Again?” “Were you sad? When they left?” “Oh yes, quite. But it was such a beautiful sight – to see thousands of monarchs – flying over the fence! I always wished I had a camera. It’s okay though, I remember, and I can see it clearly.” “It is sad.” “It is,” she agreed. “But they wouldn’t have been happy in the jars. Butterflies are meant to be free.” During the longest fade to date, I called the shawled woman who came at once to my grandmother’s garden. “She’s fading,” the shawled woman confirmed. “Even to me.” I knew what that meant. Once she faded, it would be forever. I watched the shadows, the last moments of her. Her footprints were lighter and lighter. I followed them to the fence of her garden. I was with her, and she was with me. We were together, even if I couldn’t see her. Light began dancing and, as shadows grew into light, I was blinded by the exposure and blinked. When I opened my eyes, the world was still. She was gone.
Ask The Prophets Maria Barnes
Go and ask the prophets About love. Ask them about miseries, mysteries of night, Monochrome pictures of people long dead, Monasteries and musing. Ask the prophets About ends, How ends meet in their homes, How limitless cold moons Multiply by the hour in blurry windows. Go up to them and ask About the distance between two strangers That have never met before but were about to become important To each other, About the crashing car that took the wrong turn And now no survivors. Maybe these prophets know
About hysteria of dancing stars And me As I sit in my room writing you a letter That probably will never reach you. What do your prophets think about it?
Every Memory a Mouth with Teeth Cassidy MacArthur
My scarred back aches as night comes down over the water. Long ago and far away a girl cries out for the shaking to stop. I learned shame before I learned to read. In small and dark hours I touch my ripped leg and wonder what it’s like to get a full, deep breathwhat it’s like to breathe without the memory of you braying at my feet. I make a nest near my window, and simply tremble to the beat of the rain. Some days I wake up and I am my own shadow. When my body huddles herself in a dark room where there is no light to cast me I do not exist.
Facing It Together Jack Bordnick
Sculpture and Photography
Littler Women Ji A Ines Lee
All the girls in Symor village reduced at least once a year. Some reduced on their faces, others on their arms, and the braver ones on their
They came to school with white scars running down sunken cheeks, bones visible beneath their diaphanous skin that bloomed with purples and yellows and greens. When school started, most of the girls were newly arm-reduced and flaunted colorful leather pouch-bags to hold the smooth stump where the once wrinkly, crusted elbow was now round and flawless as a baby’s skull. The most popular girl was Jilia. Everyone in Symor agreed that she was jawdroppingly beautiful–that is, if you had a jaw. When you saw her, you couldn’t help but stare and wonder how she was so delightfully small. Jilia was a new level of small, all but a large eye connected to a pile of paling grey clusters, possibly a fragment of the brain. All of her was suspended in thick pink goop in a capsule-shaped jar held by her bodyguards. The metal ends of her jar sparkled with big bedazzled diamonds left by her most generous admirers. All the girls wanted to be like Jilia, but each was secretly afraid of the pain that came with such transcendent beauty. Of course, they indulged in sacrifice through their regular reductions. But there was a terrifying fear of finality that stopped them from complete commitment. Visions of splendor and infinite beauty filled their throats with longing and their stomachs with dread. Some of the less beautiful girls whispered to each other that maybe Jilia was not as beautiful as people said. They scowled quietly towards her devotion. But while their words disgraced her, their minds were each haunted by the large unblinking eye, an inescapable reminder of an unspoken wish–a violent hunger to be reduced to nothingness. When Tamera moved to Symor, she was the only girl who hadn’t reduced. Her family had moved just two years ago from Bromyson, the neighboring town, a forgotten shadow of Symor where most people could not afford to reduce. The people at Bromyson walked without suspension jars or wheelchairs, with full, crooked limbs swaying freely at their sides. They talked loud and ran fast, oblivious to the ugliness of their unbroken bodies. At Bromyson, most people were businessmen and accountants and workers at big computer corporations, who staunchly defended the antiquated practice of intellectual thought. But the greatest sin of the people of Bromyson was that they
ate food left from the days of production. They ate day after day. Their bodies grew bigger and bigger and bigger. Such was the unspeakable sin in Symor. People were devastated at the tragic news of the Bromysons’ utter incivility. How could they choose growth when they could have reduced every inelegant protruding direction to a simple stump and a broken connection of nerves? And the ignorant ugliness of the Bromysons fell upon Symor like a shadow of warning, reminding young girls to reduce, to keep themselves small and empty and beautiful. Of course, Tamera should be disgusted by her past, disgusted by the limbs that sprouted from her body like weeds. But when she thought of Bromyson, her bones shuddered with a twinge of warmth and freedom and laughter. Tamera’s family was poor. Her father had been a businessman, and her mother a computer programmer. She had long begged her father for her own operation, just one limb, one ticket out of the emotional hell she faced for her size. But her father had refused. She could not afford to be less. She would become a programmer like her mother. She would grow smart and wrinkled and boring. How could they neglect her dream? Who were they to hold her from all that she could become? She would at times attempt to cut her own skin, to remove the large wet chunks of pink flesh. But Tamera would, in terrified frustration, only be able to mark a bloody crevice, skin deep, which would inevitably fill up again with squishy, white fat before she would muster up the courage to try again. On Monday, there was an advertisement in the paper. In the ad, a young doctor smiled with sparkling white teeth, holding a glistening scalpel. “Grand Opening Promotion!” it read. “Reductions starting at $38.99.” Tamera had forty dollars. She cut the little ad from the parchment and took the transfer bus before her parents returned from the city. All of the other passengers were complete, with arms and legs and fingers. Tamera’s mouth opened in shock, disgusted. Perhaps they’re from other cities, Tamera thought, cities beyond Purple County, cities where people waged war over the shades of their skin and not the shapes of their bodies. Tamera looked away quickly and scrambled to the end of the bus, where there was an empty row of seats. The bus plodded along a steaming dirt road, and Tamera, counting mountain after mountain after mountain of bright-colored limbs, slipped into a peaceful sleep. When Tamera awoke, the bus was rolling along a bumpy surface of gravel. She peered over the window as the first heads bobbed into sight. She immediately saw that they were reduced, all of them. Legs or arms ended in a blackened stub, and bits of everywhere–toes, nails, flesh–were missing or shrunken as though the body parts had decided to sizzle and drop dead like old black fruit. Tamera felt a cold pity in her heart. Surely, they were not beautiful; they were sick. Rotting, dying, dead. The passengers shuffled in their seats uncomfortably and quickly looked away, and there was a strange dampness that hung in the air of the bus.
*** Tamera saw the silver shed before the car stopped. She saw the man from her ad grow taller and taller as he stepped out of the shed and lit a cigarette. Then the bus stopped, moved, and stopped again. The doors opened with a hiss, and only Tamera exited. The hot air hit her like a wave, dispersing the free ends of her nose hairs like a thick net. She felt light-headed from the sudden cut of air supply and was unexplainably irritated. “I’m here for the reduction,” she said, but her voice was distant and strange. The man dropped the cigarette and put out the spark with the sole of his shoe. He was wearing long black jeans and a plain white t-shirt. His eyes were sad and deep green, and his chin was marked with an outline of black stubble. “Thank you for coming. Thank you,” he spoke slowly, in bursts of segments, as though the language was not his own. “I am Doctor Noris. Please follow me.” He turned and ducked into the shed. The doctor’s room was at the end of the corridor, a small lit area bare except for the white hospital bed and its adjacent cushioned stool. Tamera lay on the bed and held her arm out in front of her. She had seen the process before, on television and on social media. She pictured a thick layer of sticky white anesthetic spread on her arm and tried to remember for a last time the feeling in her fingers, the movement of her forearm, before it would all become but a memory. Tamera waited and waited, and finally opened her eyes. She saw Dr. Noris’s feet beside the door frame, his arms dragging a big heavy cart on wheels that click-clickclicked against the tiled floor. It was another hospital bed like the one under Tamera now, and Tamera wondered if it should be for herself after the surgery. She would lay on it once she became a woman, once she realized the secret and revelation known only to the beautiful. But on the bed was a lump and the lump began to move. And two pebbly black eyes emerged from beneath the white sheet. It was a young girl. The girl sat up, and Tamera could see the stub of her other arm. The arm seemed to be trapped in a perpetual melting, full and rosy-colored at the shoulder and, just inches down, violently charred and dribbling with ash. Was this what would become of her? And yet it was everything Tamera had wanted, was it not? She felt a strong urge to leap from the hospital bed and run for her life. But she cursed at her panic, making it flee in her place. She lay on the bed frozen as a dead fish in the marketplace. She felt a pang of shock, a shock of betrayal: how could she back out so easily? Did she even want to be beautiful? She stared passively at her right arm, limp between Doctor Noris’s huge black pliers. Something felt very different from the videos, and it was only after he started to yank, after the skin and flesh and bone came apart with a terrible shriek, that she realized — there was no anesthetic. ***
Light swept into the room. Tamera’s right arm was on fire. She had passed out after the surgery, allowing herself a momentary but sweet escape from the pain. She slowly faced the bald stump hanging from her shoulder. Doctor Noris walked into the room with his toothpaste smile. The young girl with pebbly black eyes followed him, but it couldn’t have been the same girl because this one had two arms, one freakishly longer than the other. Tamera thought it strange that the white polish on her own hand should match that one on the hand of the girl. She thought it especially strange that the girl should look at her and say “thank you.” *** Four ten-dollar bills sat crumpled in Tamera’s pocket. She told Doctor Noris she would not, could not pay. She had expected her arm to magically reappear, for all to be forgotten, and then she could try to forgive Doctor Noris for having replaced her hand with a heavy shapeless pain. But Doctor Noris had just nodded and led her quietly out of the shed, into the sweltering heat. Now she was walking to the public morgue, to the mountains of arms and legs and bits of bodies which had been discarded by their undesiring owners. She realized, now, why Doctor Noris had put the ad in the paper. The mounds of flesh were eaten away by layers of black ash and frost and were polka-dotted with discolored rats. The ugly distorted people scavenged the flesh at the bottom of the mountains, but they could not climb up. The drooping stump on her shoulder grew heavier and heavier, and in her mind Tamera saw it burst and gush with endless blood. She would have to find another arm. Tamera began to climb, pungent chunks of fat and muscle squishing and rolling away beneath her shoes. She stopped at the plateaued peak, which sat beneath the peak of another, steeper cliff of pink. The heat had passed through the leather shoes, and the soles of her feet were wet with sweat. Taking a deep breath, she crouched to the ground, shivering as her hand rested on warm skin. Near her was the body of a girl, floating on the sea of flesh and complete if not for her hideous face. The skin from forehead to her right cheek had been torn like parchment, exposing a skull on half of her face. The skull had been concaved on one side, emptied out. Only one of two eyes remained, and the pupil had faded as though tired of keeping a lookout for its owner’s return. The mouth was wide open, gaping with shock. “These must be the failed cases they warn us of,” Tamera whispered to herself. And, as she realized why the unblinking eye had looked so familiar, there was a great rumble and a crackle of thunder, and it began to rain. Arms and legs and bits of fat tumbled towards her from above. By the time her body reached the bottom of the mountain, face and flesh were covered with thick black ash, and nobody could tell that this particular body still had its heart. And that the heart was still beating.
Stripped Jadacey Teska
Carried Derecho Danelle Lejeune
A baby I miscarried had her heart inside out. Part of her organs on the outside. Inside out baby, I thought when I saw her. Upside down and inside out. This is what happens when you are born of snow, stitched together by wind and prairie grass. Fires sweep fast in the darkness. The night she was born there was a storm that took down sixty century old trees, ripped them from the earth, roots in the air. A medusa crowned against the electricity of jagged skies. What kind of miracle, gale of winds could have saved my baby girl? What sacred hurricane make things right so I could have held her to my breast? My heart beats her name, I have never spoken, tongue never felt syllables, every breath, like swallowing wool lint and splinter dust.
Planned Birth Chloe Hundza
The clear liquid in the IV bag drip, drip, drips into the tube leading into my arm as I walk down the hallway towards the operating room. I was offered a wheelchair for the short walk, but I declined. The blue disposable hospital slippers are thin as paper, and I can feel the cool, slippery linoleum on the soles of my feet. The IV already feels uncomfortable in my arm. I look at the spot where the tube disappears into my skin under the clear surgical tape. I brace myself for more similar holes. Holes that need to be made in my body to get you out. I know that you need to come out now, but it feels too early. It is too early. None of us are ready for you to leave the safety of your temporary home. Your first home: me. I force myself to step. Every step is a conscious action, a conscious exertion of my will upon my own body. Maybe it would have been easier to take the wheelchair. But no, I think, it’s better this way. I try to focus on the cool floors on the soles of my feet and the cold, hard metal of the IV stand with its rattling wheels. But with each step I am painfully aware of my destination and its increasing proximity. The hospital has a very distinct smell, like disinfectant. I think I can smell the metallic tinge of blood, but perhaps that is just my imagination. I want to be anywhere but here. I am in fight or flight response. Every cell in my body wants to run. Leave. Say, “I have decided not to do this.” But I can’t. We would both die if I did. It is so strange to be walking to your own surgery. As I walk, I wonder about people who have elective surgeries and if they feel like running too. The difference is that they could run. I can’t. I can feel you moving inside me and I try to memorize the feeling. It feels like nothing else. I stop walking for a few seconds, pretending I need to rest, but really I want to feel you move unencumbered. Without distraction. You are nervous too. I can tell. Maybe you are nervous because you can feel how nervous I am. But you are in the dark, both literally and figuratively. I feel guilty that you have me and my faulty womb. I squeeze my eyelids shut to force my tears back behind my eyes. I swallow hard, but the lump in my throat won’t go away. If I start, I am worried that I won’t be able to stop. “I am sorry,” I say for what seems like the millionth time. I am sorry that this is our reality. But no amount of wishing will change it. I shiver. I feel cold in the huge blue and white polka-dot hospital gown. I look down at my massive protruding belly and think how ridiculous I look and feel. I can’t believe that this is all real. It feels dream-like. I try not to bend my knees any more than
I need to for fear that my legs will buckle under me. Despite my shivering, a cold sweat is breaking out on my back and it is pooling in the hollow of my spine. Almost there. We turn the corner and see the room. The room that you will be born in. A nurse comes with blood bags in a small red and white cooler, in case I need a blood transfusion during the surgery. She opens it and there are two bags of A positive blood. They check my chart to verify that it is the correct type—it is. The cooler looks like one you would see on the beach on a hot summer day. Probably holding sandwiches and cold drinks. It is so out of place that I almost laugh before I remember where I am and what is about to happen. The nurse sits me down on a flimsy white plastic chair outside the operating room. The lights hum above me and I try to focus on the sound as I close my eyes. Your father goes to change into scrubs. He won’t get to be in the room with us, but we are hoping he will get to hold you when you come out. I feel a pang of sadness at the thought that I won’t get to hold you right away. My stomach is past the point of butterflies and has crossed over into a pit, a black hole perhaps. I hold my midsection protectively. Rubbing the spots where you move. I hope I will be able to touch you soon. “We’re ready for you.” Your father helps me stand up from the flimsy chair and we hug outside the operating room. We both start to cry. The lump that has been living in my throat for days has finally won. I wonder if this will be the last time I will see him. There is so much I want to say. But I can’t form the words and anyway, there isn’t time. I walk into the room. It is surprisingly large and there are lots of people. Everyone is introduced to me. There is an anesthesiologist and his assistant. Two nurses. Two OB/GYNs. And finally, two people from the neonatal unit for when they get you out. A nurse helps me climb clumsily onto the operating table and everyone gets to work. This is just another day at the office for them. Yes, the specific circumstances of my case are unusual, but otherwise this is a normal day for these people. A day like any other. For me, it is not. I manage to stop crying for now, but that lump in my throat is threatening to erupt again. I want to leave so badly. I have the strongest urge to resist what is about to happen. To freak out and tear the IV out of my arm. Scream. Cry. Beg. Instead I lay down on the operating table. My arms are tied down, and I have monitors of all kinds strapped and stuck to me. I can still feel you moving around inside me, and I can’t help but feel that I am going to miss you. I already miss you, even though you haven’t left my body yet. I am trying to focus on my breathing and take in slow and steady breaths, but each breath feels shaky and I can’t steady it. The anesthesiologist wants to use a monitor that will measure my blood pressure more accurately. He has my left arm, and it hurts when he punctures my inner wrist. Blood squirts from the fresh wound onto the front of his clean scrubs as he repositions it. The image of my blood on his blue scrubs makes me feel queasy. Another hole. I know there will be much more of my blood out of my body soon, but at least I won’t be there to witness it.
Almost ready. I am all prepped for surgery. Except the catheter, which they have kindly chosen to insert after I am put to sleep. I try to focus on the ceiling. But there is nothing much to focus on. It’s just white. Sterile. The anesthesiologist brings your father in to say “goodbye” again and we both can’t help but cry. This “goodbye” feels more real. More final. I am moments away from being asleep. You are moments away from being out. I feel so vulnerable. I want to cover myself. To use my own arms to protect myself and you. But they are strapped down and I can’t move. Your father reluctantly leaves and I don’t remember what we said besides exchanges of “I love you.” A nurse tells me to “take deep breaths,” but I feel like I can’t breathe. I can feel myself panicking. I tell her and she checks my oxygen levels. They are normal. But none of this feels normal to me. It all feels about as abnormal as anything could feel. I can’t really fathom what is about to happen to me. I can’t wrap my head around it. It is so foreign that I am about to be cut open. We work so hard not to be cut open all our lives. To avoid getting hurt. To avoid having our protective barrier punctured in any way. To be heathy and to not need surgery. But I chose this pregnancy, although I hoped it wouldn’t lead here. The nurse comes back from checking my oxygen levels. She grabs my right hand and squeezes while she looks into my eyes. I think she knows how scared I am. The anesthesiologist tells me he is going to begin. I turn my head to watch the IV drip, drip, drip again. It looks the same but in seconds I can feel the anesthetic flowing into the veins of my left arm. It feels cold and prickly. It almost burns. It moves up my arm. Taking over. I turn my head and look into the kind face of the nurse on my right, and she smiles and nods reassuringly at me. I look up at the boring white ceiling and silently say, “I am sorry, and I will miss you,” one last time.
Hemmed In Jonathan Greenhause
It absolutely does & doesn’t matter who you are. Your ancestry, your decency, your tendency towards relevancy or your strict designation as passé or blasé. Your identity shifts, is adrift with this sense your roots are a tense accumulation of false histories, of myths deftly fashioned yet currently out of fashion. Your passion is structured to raise your baser parts into ecstasy without ever getting to see how your sex betrays your abstinence. Your absence is notorious, is symptomatic of an illness,
of your refusal to accept how you’re being rejected, how you’ve neglected to engineer spare tires & air bags to escape from this automobile wreck, from this reality check that was never meant to be.
Equinox Queen Fierce Sonia
Nature Dance Karen Koretsky
Cyanotype/ Photographic Blueprint
Peaceful Busyness Samuel Langenfeld
Maria Mark Robinson
Maria was a good Mexican wife. She made dinner for her husband, cared for her two children, and made sure the housekeeper did her job. She took care of her husbands’ needs and treated him like the man of the house. She held true to the values instilled in her by her parents when she was a child. She was a good Catholic woman who lived according to the Bible and the teachings of the Catholic Church. She was a good Mexican wife. So, what was she doing here in this bed with this man, a man who wasn’t her husband? How had she been able to have an affair with this man for the past five years? How could she be so in love with him? She had been asking herself those questions since the first time they made love together five years ago. Every time she broke it off, she swore she would never go back, could never go back. But here she was again, lying in his bed, her toned naked body next to his. She was breathing heavily. She always had trouble catching her breath after having an orgasm with him. Their love making was always intense. She put everything she had into it to please him and could tell he did the same for her. But it was still wrong. How long would she suffer in purgatory for this affair? What she felt most guilty about was that she did not feel guilty about it, the sex, the affair. She felt guilty about what it would do to her children if they ever found out, and they would. These things had a way of surfacing. When it did, it would destroy everything: her family, her image, and her friendships. It would not do any harm to her husband except maybe bruise his ego a little. No, he would just run to his mistress and tell her “it’s ok now”, tell her how his slut of a wife had been unfaithful to him, tell her that they do not need to sneak around anymore. After all, he was a man. He could have affairs; he was expected to have them. She, however, was expected to be the good wife. She was expected to be faithful. And she was faithful. She was faithful to her lover. She had stopped having sex with her husband when she found out about his affair. She only had sex with Jordan now. Her heart and body belonged to him and him alone. She rose on her elbows and looked at him. He was staring at her. She liked the way he looked at her. “I am going to take a shower,” She said to him. “Would you care to join me?” He watched her beautiful, naked body as she stood. He was beginning to get aroused again. The simple sight of her excited him. She looked over her shoulder at him with those eyes, and he rolled out of the bed and followed behind her. They washed each other, made love in the shower, and then washed each other again. When they had finished washing off, he stepped out while she rinsed her hair.
She always seemed to work up a sweat with him. She turned off the water and pulled back the shower curtain. He was standing there wrapped in his towel, holding her towel open for her. She stepped out of the shower and into his warm, waiting arms. She knew before she pulled back the curtain that he would be there waiting for her. He always was. He was always holding her towel waiting to dry her. She loved him so much. Once she was dry, Maria went back to the bedroom and stood in front of the mirror and brushed her hair. She looked at herself. She was still beautiful, even at 46. She was older than him but looked younger. She had taken good care of herself. When she had first began sleeping with him, she had had a hard time looking at herself in the mirror. But now she did not care. Her husband cheated on her. He stopped loving her a long time ago, and she had stopped loving him as well. They were still together for one reason: her children. She did not want her children to be the children of a broken home. She would stay with her husband until they were both out of the house and in college. She looked at herself in the mirror and thought, what then? She loved Jordan, but she had no intentions of remarrying after she left her husband. If he were okay with that, then they could make it work. She remembered when she first learned of her husband’s infidelity years ago. It almost destroyed her. She had to be put on antidepressants by her doctor. She stopped eating. She could not sleep at night. Her world was crumbling all around her. She had never even looked at another man, and here was her husband sleeping with another woman. Men flirted with her all the time, but she would ignore them. She loved her husband. How could he have done this to her? Her confidence as a woman had been destroyed. What had she done wrong? What could she have done to make it better? She had thought their sex life was great. What went wrong? During those dark months, she would look at herself in the mirror naked for hours wondering what was wrong with her. She exercised every day to keep herself fit for him. When she looked at herself in the mirror back then, she looked in shame. She finished brushing her hair and walked back into the bedroom. He was lying on the bed in just his boxers. She loved looking at him. She imagined this must be how he felt when he looked at her. She thought back for a moment, all those months ago, to those hours spent in front of the mirror questioning her confidence. She smiled at him. How did she look at herself in the mirror now? She did it with confidence; the confidence of a woman in love, and a woman loved.
Because His Brother, in Kabul, Keeps Pigeons for Pets Andrea Michalowsky
In sleep, he grinds his teeth. I hear the wearing down of bone. I want to ease this pain. I press my face to his to wake him. He presses me away. That first night, I followed this boy for his warmth. If not for hours lost in Venice, in the rain, in the dark, and cold, I would not have welcomed the boy from the bus. In loneliness, even strangers can console. Tranquila, he told me, on the path to his home. He held me all night long. In the morning, he will break bread to scatter on the sidewalk. He feeds the pigeons. I won’t tell him this is wrong. He will take a bird in both hands, flipping wings and all, to learn its sex. I cannot approach wild animals like this, with ease and offer. I can’t admit I may scare, may harm.
Rough Grub Mary Claire Shingleton
Cornbread and pinto beans spread across a porcelain plate, topped with bitingly sour pickled vegetables and a tiny mountain of boiled potatoes. Each mouthful is a taste of my life: Tennessee Valley poverty, hot and lasting; comfort, steaming and starchy, in the books I devoured while hiding behind the house children, constant and consistent; bitterness beside a broken, angry man. This meal is better served in solitude. Others taste the medley of flavors and smile politely, admiring its simplicity. They do not feel the ground shift under their feet as they chew, do not savor each forkful until it sends them into another decade, where their mother stands, plump and buxom, young and self-centered and exactly right. I take this bite alone. I do not share. I float through time, a mere visitor, feeling thousands of tiny heartbreaks and go back, still, for more.
Food For Thought Haley Pate
I am a piece of red velvet cake, I am a small part of the whole dessert. As a family, my siblings and I were poured from our box into a bowl. Mixed with butter, milk, and a few eggs. We were laid in a greased pan and popped into the oven. Baking at 98° for nine long months. When the timer finally dinged and signaled that we were done, we were abruptly pulled from the oven and brought into the cold world. We were sliced apart with a knife and now we stand; together yet separate. Cooling on a rack. *** Alabama nights are warm and wet. The heat wraps around you, like you’re standing there in every jacket you own. Every afternoon I walk outside and watch the stars rise as the sun falls. I watch like a mother seeing their kid off to the bus stop. I know that they will get there with or without me, but I stay anyway. When the last rays of light disappear, I stand alone in darkness. Just a figure cast against the stars’ twinkling light. I walk outside my backyard’s gate and out into the woods. I am always nervous. My fingers twist a strand of my hair. My hair is short now, curled and blonde at the ends. The strands are twisting like vines, curled and yellow at the tips like honeysuckle blooms. There is not much space between my house and my neighbor’s. The woods provide a thin barrier between our two yards. I maneuver myself through the trees and find myself standing at the orange fence surrounding their garden. The fence comes up to my chest, I can see clearly over it. My neighbor’s garden is always lit up by giant spotlights, like he’s afraid someone will steal his vegetables. He has a right to be, seeing as I am near. I often crave a snack on these nighttime ventures. He grows tomatoes on tall towers and carrots in thin rows. They’re surrounded by bushels of flowers. I don’t know the names of them. Their colors are vivid in the spotlight’s harsh beam. Tonight I am a tomato thief. I hop his fence and pluck one off of its vine. I stand there for a moment, holding the red fleshy object in my hands like an egg. It is soft and shiny. I feel exposed, alone in a spotlight while everything around me is dark. *** I sit here still, sixteen years later. Stale, cold cake. Sugar still present but dulled and sunken to the bottom. Ants nibble on my sides, rats sniff at my frosting hair. I am surprised I haven’t rotted away or been eaten by a passing animal or some person with
questionable taste. It’s been years since light has touched me, even longer since light has touched the kitchen. It has lost its gentle yellow haze. Its warmth and draw. It is cold and dark. The inside of a beast’s stomach during winter. Empty. Enveloping. The lights turned off years ago, back when we were left to cool. The people that cooked and created us left us shortly after we were done. No warmth to meet us, no being presented to dinner guests with great pride. Sometimes I wonder if we’ll ever be free. *** I exit my neighbor’s yard and continue on, leaving the artificial light and returning to the dark. It is not silent in this place. The distant howling of the highway sounds like spirits singing their tunes, floating around in the sky above. Trees are thin in the beginning of the woods. They grow denser as I travel closer to the creek. There is a large rock spanning the water that acts as a makeshift bridge. I used to balance on it when I was younger and look into the murky depths. I watched the tadpoles in spring, then caught frogs in the summer. Sarah, one of the kids who used to accompany me to the woods, would point at them and giggle. “They swim like sperm cells!” she laughed. She was a few years older than me, so I didn’t understand. I would just stare at the water and watch them wiggle about. They had no clear idea what to do other than ‘we must move’. The frogs were different, much easier to read. They were large, greenish brown, similar in color to the water they hatched in. From sperm cells to creek creatures as large as my child hands. I used to hold them and marvel at how slimy they felt. One day a frog decided he’d had enough of my shenanigans and released the entirety of his bladder on my hand. I didn’t hold frogs after that. Now, alone in the bubble of night, I sit by the creek bank, listening to frogs croak and cicadas sing. That familiar buzz, so dense and rich that sometimes it is all I can hear. *** The people who cut my siblings and me apart made a mess of the place. Anger reached their heads and exploded outwards. Blueberries smashed against the windows. Blue bloody mess. Smeared seeds, sickening purple innards. Strawberries and raspberries. Watermelon and pineapple, all left rotting in a glass bowl. We watched as their insides turned to mush, then to liquid, and eventually spilling out. Candy sat immortal, never rotting and vivid in its jar. I am cake, so close to being a sugary idol like candy, free from death. But I am not contained and protected by a snug plastic wrapper. I am out in the open, with few preservatives. I am not a dessert of pure sugar, but one of pure intent— to fill, whether that be just a stomach or heart. Candy shares their lifeblood with cigarettes and antifreeze. When fruit is flung around so aimlessly, things will fall apart. Raw beef chunks spilling out of the broken refrigerator. Red and staining, artificial strawberry coloring. Wormy and rotted. Falling to the floor with a wet slap. Fly larvae wiggle through their
meaty home, worming their way through the same tunnels over and over again. Till they curl up and sprout their wings. The adults birthing themselves from their degenerated beef mother visit me first. The tempting smell of sugar, but even they see that I am as rotten as their home. They much prefer the bowl of liquified fruit. They want something easy, a quick drink before they escape from the kitchen. The fruit is fermented. Too many flies, drunk on the tempting juice, get stuck in the messy remains of banana skin and watermelon rind. Their first voyage becomes their final resting place. Tiny black bodies with large, staring green eyes floating along in a pool of rot. Dead and falling apart. In the summer silence, they are lured and killed. The bowl becomes a siren, singing with its fruity scent and colors. The lucky flies leave through the vents on the floor. They will escape to the outside world. Blue skies and fresh air. To the light. I am rotting. *** I bite into the red flesh of the stolen tomato. It is tart and soft on the inside. If only I had salt. Alas. Some of the seeds drip out and fall to the ground. Nothing but a pulpy mess on the dirt. I wonder why I keep coming here, to the edge of the creek. The kids I used to travel with have either moved away or grown far too old to care about this place. Perhaps it is because I find comfort here, on a rocky bank surrounded by trees. Nobody can see me, or at least I can’t see them. I am alone aside from the frogs, bugs, stars, and moon. And all of them are too busy singing a song or shining brightly to notice my presence. I appreciate just being another part of the woods, no different than any other passing creature. I could stand still for four hundred years and stay here as a tree, watching. I could see every new generation of frogs hatch in the spring, grow, then return to restart the cycle the following year. Maybe I would watch for long enough and be able to learn their names. I have fallen in love with the scene, but I know my life is far too limited to allow it. Like the tomato I took, I will slowly decay and eventually not exist. But at least I am beautiful in life! Shiny and red just the same.
Chicken with Lipstick Nick Grom
Acrylic and Glitter on Canvas
Dandelion Greens Cliff Aliperti
June 15, Aisle 5, Cashier: Allen “What are these?” the cashier asked, turning to wave a plastic bag of vegetables in my direction. I squinted my eyes then nodded. “Dandelion greens,” I said. The cashier weighed them and punched in the price before placing them on the conveyor belt where they crawled towards me to be bagged. “What do you use them for?” “I feed them to my rabbit,” I said, smiling, happy to have a little small talk during the always awkward grocery transaction. You only buy a couple of things at most stores, but maybe dozens of items in a grocery checkout. Time crawls at conveyor belt speed. “My uncle makes soup with it,” the cashier said. “Yes, I’ve heard the old Italians do that,” I said. “That’s my uncle.” The young man smiled. “An old Italian.” *** June 22, Aisle 3, Cashier: Amanda “What’s this?” she asked, turning towards me and paint-brushing the air with my bag of greens. I squinted my eyes then nodded. “Dandelion greens,” I said. “What do you do with them?” she asked, sending my dandelions along the conveyor belt. “I feed them to my rabbit,” I said, smiling on the outside while chuckling some on the inside as last week’s scene repeated itself.
“My grandma made wine with it,” the cashier said. “I never tasted it though.” “Why not?” I asked, bagging the dandelions. “I was only five!” *** June 29, Aisle 5, Cashier: Allen “What are these?” Allen asked. I knew he’d be holding the bag of dandelion greens before I even looked up from bagging my goods. “Dandelion greens,” I said, my voice a little flat. “What, do you make soup with those?” “I feed them to my rabbit,” I said, forcing a smile. “Oh, my uncle makes soup with it.” said.
“I know,” I said. Allen looked puzzled. “You mentioned it a couple weeks back,” I
I couldn’t help but notice Allen the cashier look at me strange. I suppose I had hijacked his small talk. *** July 6, Aisle 6, Cashier: Natalie She scanned the goods in the strategic order I had placed them on the counter. Ice cream, french fries, creamed spinach, and all other frozen goods had already reached me at the end of the register where I bagged them. Gallon of water, two liter Coke, quart of milk followed. Two packages each of ground beef and center cut pork chops next. Loaf of bread, bag of chips, and other soft stuff crept towards me. And then there were the greens. “It’s dandelion,” I said, beating her to the question. “Oh!” she weighed it and punched the price in. “Whatever do you do with that?” she asked, making a face. “I feed them to my rabbit,” I said. “What’s wrong?” “Oh, good. I thought you ate them yourself.” “Some people do,” I said.
“My aunt has it in her salad,” she said, shaking her head with her tongue out. “It’s a weed! I could never eat a weed.” “So are plenty of vegetables,” I said. “And what about mushrooms? Dandelions just get a bad rap.” I was pretty sure that we were both a little annoyed and both a little aware of said annoyance as I walked away. *** July 20, Aisle 5, Cashier: Allen I fell behind on my bagging waiting for Allen to get to my vegetables. The romaine went through without notice and then as he gaped at the bag of dandelion greens, I readied myself. Allen turned, and before he could speak I said, “Those are dandelion greens—I feed them to my rabbit.” “Well, okay,” he said, weighing them and punching in the price. Allen finished my order and told me the total ($83.51) and then as I was stuffing my vegetables into the final bag I heard him say, “I’ve got an uncle, puts them in a soup.” teeth.
“Does he?” I said, not looking up, trying my best to be polite through clenched “Not for me,” Allen said. “I’m not eating any weeds.”
Well, at least he’s consistent, I thought. Or was that one of the women, Amanda or Natalie, who had a problem with eating weeds? What the hell did I care, I thought as I paid Allen. It’s not like the cashiers meet and decide to mess with anyone buying dandelion (did they?). They were just trying to be nice. Conversational. “Have a great day,” I told Allen. I hoped he didn’t realize the effort behind my tone and accompanying smile. *** July 27, Aisle 6, Cashier: Natalie I let them beat me. Dandelion was bunny’s favorite, but I couldn’t allow myself to get annoyed every time I bought groceries. Annoyed wasn’t even the right word.
Frazzled? Discombobulated? Some sort of nonsense word to fit the now nonsensical situation. I greeted Natalie and went to the end of her counter to bag my groceries as she passed them down the conveyor belt towards me. After a few moments she reached the vegetables and she paused to ask me if that was parsley or cilantro. “Parsley,” I replied. The romaine made it through the process without comment and that left only my dandelion substitute, but Natalie properly identified and priced the bundle of kale I had chosen for this occasion. bunny.”
She told me the price and as I selected the bills from my wallet she said, “Poor
“What’s that?” I asked, freezing with my money in hand, hand halfway extended across Natalie’s counter. “No dandelion for bunny today,” she said. She reached for my cash, but recoiled when I wouldn’t let go. I smiled, though I’m not sure if you’d call it a friendly smile, more manic than anything else. “No,” I said. “But could you tell me what everyone else is doing with kale?”
Unhappy Happy Hour Emma Southard
Gouache and Ink
Flower Seller, Honolulu Jim Ross
Sunday Boathouse Brady Wiegman
Watercolor and Ink
Monument Susan Al-Saadi
My brother died in January. We thought it would be December, since the feeding tubes And indeed, everything else had been taken out of his room, Leaving only breaths, ours and his. His labored and sometimes calm, Ours calm but sometimes would catch, like a lump in our throats. The longer he hung on, the more time we had to watch him breathe. Thinking of growing up; him first, me second; a gaggle below us. Him quiet, unsmiling, building models. Me laughing, crying, reading, writing. How did none of us think it odd an eighth grader Had a beer can collection? Towering pyramid of cans against his wall. Never a drinker, another oddity— Just a compulsion to build something, anything. Looking out his hospital window, I see the spire of St. John’s. His project. Someones else’s now, I guess. An old church will become assisted living Architects build something out of nothing But also turn something into something else A dead church breathes again, assisting others. Isn’t that the mission of a church anyway? He wasn’t religious but still he created, believed. I have a childhood memory of drawing with colored pencils At the kitchen table, giving a running monologue of All the things I was going to do someday. “Why don’t you quit talking about it and do it?” was all he said, Not even looking up from his model. Cut me to the quick, then and now. He didn’t talk about it, then or now.
His kids, young adults, can’t come to his hospital room. They can’t talk about what’s happening. “Tell me when it’s over,” they say. When will it be over, we all think— How many days can you go without food or water? Twenty, it turns out. His youngest came that day to say goodbye to him. Then he said goodbye to us all without words, without breath. I remember visiting my parents when all our kids Were like puppies, falling over each other in the back yard. The rest of us talking in the kitchen, Our mouths full of taco dip, Occasionally going outside to take a picture Or break up a fight He was on the couch with his computer on his lap, Working. Tweaking his plans, consulting with clients. He didn’t talk much, he just did it. At the funeral, his kids went up and spoke. They all clung to each other and took turns, Laughing and crying and starting and stopping. None of us could breathe for the beauty of it. They looked to me at that moment a living, breathing Monument, his finest creation.
Heaven Is a Place for Cats Madison Block
In many of my childhood photos, I can be seen with our family cat, Wiley. In one of my favorite photos, I am probably around four years old, sitting on my parents’ bed with Wiley in a headlock. Wiley, my ever-patient feline older brother, sits next to me, seemingly unbothered by my little arms wrapped around his neck. My parents adopted Wiley before I was born. They weren’t exactly sure what kind of cat he was, but they guessed that he may have been part Himalayan. He had a thick white coat, orange ears, and orange rings around his tail. As a young child, I didn’t know or care much about cat breeds. I just knew he was perfect for cuddling. Wiley would let me do anything to him: dress him up in my dolls’ clothing, stick my Mr. Potato Head glasses on his face, and pick him up and put him in my baby doll cradle. He would sit there for hours and watch me play with Barbies. At night, he would jump on my bed and sleep by my feet. Sometimes, I would lift the covers and motion for him to crawl under, and he would lay his head on my thighs until I fell asleep. I’m sure I must have rolled over or moved in my sleep, at which point, he would hop down and prowl the house for another comfy place to rest that was safe from a sleeping little girl’s kicking legs. When I would walk to the bus stop in the mornings to go to school, Wiley would follow me. My parents even walked him on a leash around the neighborhood occasionally, though he would often stop to lay down in the middle of the sidewalk or drink from the gutter, a bad habit of his we tried to discourage. “You have water in your bowl at home!” we would tell him, but of course he wouldn’t listen. The forbidden gutter water was just too tempting to pass up! We let Wiley explore outside by himself, but we made sure he came home at night. One night, shortly after my family moved to Colorado Springs, my dad let Wiley out in the evening. “It’s too late for him to be out,” my mom warned. “He’ll be fine,” my dad said, shutting the door. Wiley didn’t come home the next morning. Before leaving for the bus stop, I looked around both the front and back of the house to see if he was hiding somewhere — under some bushes or behind the shed maybe? I noticed the wooden fence at the side of the house was broken, like some animal had run through the gap and knocked down one of the middle beams.There were pawprints in the dirt by the fence that looked like a dog’s or a coyote’s. Tufts of white fur were strewn about the grass. Wiley wasn’t coming back.
I walked to the bus stop without my little white shadow and cried most of the day at school. “I know you’re upset about your cat,” my third grade teacher told me with a hint of annoyance in her voice, “but you’re going to have to focus on your multiplication worksheet.” Every day I would look down the street, hoping to see Wiley drinking from the gutter and then trotting back home. Maybe he had gotten away from the coyote after all. We never found a body. A few days went by, then a few weeks. As winter approached and snow started falling, I knew he was gone. Around Christmas that year, we got a new cat, who we named Cleo — short for Cleopatra. She was a young tortoiseshell, only a few months old, and her favorite pastime was chasing my siblings and me around the house until she got close enough to bite or scratch us. My siblings would cry when they saw Cleo staring at them from the top of the stairs because they knew she was going to pounce on them. She was nothing like Wiley, but we grew to love her, even if she was a little mean. I don’t think she was really trying to be mean. She just wanted to play. After church one Sunday, I asked the pastor if animals go to heaven. After Wiley died, I imagined going to heaven someday and seeing him there waiting for me. “There are animals in heaven,” the pastor told me, “but animals that die here on Earth don’t go to heaven. Animals don’t have souls like we do. When they die, they just die.” Not all Christians agree on this issue. Pope Francis said that all of God’s creatures can go to heaven. Other religions have different ideas. In the ancient world, Egyptians worshipped a cat goddess. They believed cats had magical powers and could accompany humans on their journey to the afterlife. Even today, there are religions that believe animals have souls and go on living after death. Hindus believe that animals, insects, and plants have souls just like humans. They believe that all beings can be reincarnated. Humans can be reincarnated into animals or plants and vice-versa. Of course, there are non-spiritual people who don’t believe souls exist at all. Not in humans, not in animals, not in plants. Personally, I would venture to believe animals have souls. Wiley was certainly one of the purest souls I ever encountered. Even Cleo, who was amused by my siblings’ fear of her pouncing on them at the bottom of the stairs, had a soul. She was an adventurous and independent cat who often left dead, chewed-up mice and birds on our porch. She would sit next to them until we acknowledged her, clearly wanting to be praised for her hunting skills. As vicious of a killer as she was in the animal kingdom, as she got older, she became more affectionate towards us. When I would lean down close to her face, she would bump her nose against my lips to give me a kiss and then start purring. I was heartbroken when her kidneys started failing and we had to put her down. She lived to be nearly seventeen years old, and died in my sister’s arms, surrounded by love. All the cats my family has had over the years have had their own distinctive personalities. Piet, named after the Dutch artist, Piet Mondrian, was our fat gray tabby.
Piet was the biggest baby. He was clingy, and always had to be cuddled by my sister. He slept on her bed every night. Piet got embarrassed easily. Once, when he was sitting on the window sill looking at the snow falling outside, he slipped and fell off. We all laughed, and he slunked underneath the Christmas tree and started biting at the branches until we shooed him away. Of course later that night, he still curled up next to my sister to go to sleep. Then there was our orange tabby, Mochi, who was a troublemaker to the core. My brother brought him home one evening, saying he got him from someone giving away kittens in South Valley, a notoriously crime-ridden neighborhood in Albuquerque. As a kitten, Mochi hated the litter box for some reason and would do his business behind the TV stand in the living room. When he got bigger, he was always swatting at Cleo, jumping up on tables and countertops, and scratching everything except his scratching post. Wiley, Cleo, Piet, and Mochi are all long gone now, but I still think of them often. After all, every pet-owner knows that our animals become part of the family... even the shitheads like Mochi. Maybe it’s childish to believe that their spirits lived on and they’re in some kind of cat heaven, but I like to think about it anyway. In cat heaven, Wiley has all the coziest doll cradles to sleep in. Cleo has plenty of mice, birds, prairie dogs, and rabbits to chase. Piet lazily sunbathes on a wide windowsill for eternity. Mochi can scratch up whatever he likes without anyone scolding him or squirting him with a water bottle. In a world where people are cruel and terrible things happen every day, I’m grateful for cats. You may laugh and call me a crazy cat lady, and it would be true, but imagine what life would be like without cats. Even if you don’t have a cat, admit it — you stop scrolling through social media every now and then when you come across a funny cat video. The internet is overflowing with them. There are more than two million cat videos on YouTube alone. You might have even shared one of those “I can haz cheez burger” cat memes back in the early days of Facebook. There are some people who might say, “Pets don’t really love you, they just like that you feed them.” Then there are the people who dislike cats in particular and say things like, “Well you know, if you die alone and you have a cat, it won’t wait very long before it starts eating your face!” Yes, I’m sure our pets primarily like us because we give them food. I also like people who give me food. Who doesn’t? And yes, if you die and your cat doesn’t have any cat food left in his dish, he’ll probably move on to the next edible thing (you) because his survival instincts tell him he needs to eat something. But anyone who has had cats knows that they love you unconditionally. Why else would we be keeping these tiny knife-toed demons in our houses? That love is why they come running to the door when they hear you come home. It’s why they leave you little presents, even if you don’t always appreciate the dead mice on your doorstep. It’s why they rub against your legs while you’re washing dishes. I believe any being that’s capable of giving that much love has a soul, and if there’s a heaven, any soul with that much unconditional love absolutely gets to spend the afterlife there.
Fortune on Sullivan Street Philip Arnold
In the village I was told my fortune. I would travel to a land of mountains. I would lose something of great value only to find it again. “And omens—do you see a red dragon fighting a white dragon?” A baby cried behind a black curtain. The psychic fingered her hair behind her ear as she listened. “I see that you will live in a valley that flows with milk. Your children will nurse there and grow strong.” I handed her five dollars and stepped down onto the sidewalk along Sullivan Street. “Go in peace,” she sang as a lullaby, knowing the dragons’ shrieks caused miscarriages in the village, and fields to go barren, and Vortigern to rise.
She Said, She Couldn’t Su Ertekin-Taner
She said she couldn’t fly Ignoring the feathers attached to her Back The flutter had been watered down by Social standards She said, she could not speak Ignoring the cavernous organs that Housed her tongue What use were cells that had no function? We are bred for refusal And groomed for elegance Folding ourselves into the mouths of men We are their pleasure And their distaste A bittersweet remedy for their Grievances Waves crashing against teeth and tongue We are their words, The enunciation of their priorities She said she couldn’t fly before She noticed the importance of feathers She said she could not speak Before recognizing the weight of her words
Seasonal Change Allison Kufta
Found Music Kieran
He comes to me at night Hot and heavy, is his breath. It covers me completely I can’t stop myself from reaching out to him. But he stops me. Those fingers long not lanky, that usually pluck at guitar strings. Fullness that leaves red marks on my wrists as he pins me down against my starchy sheets. I let him. Because I know this is all I will get before morning comes again, and he is his loyal self once more. He is loyal to his girl. But in the cloak of the night and plied with cheap wine, I am his girl, “His Lady.” And I love it. Right? My bed frame is made from catchpenny wood. It creaks when I move. But I love the sound of its broken anatomy. It gives me something else to focus on. Found music
in a house of nothing but. He is selfish. He loves to take control. He tells me he needs an outlet for his anger. And I will give it to him because I can’t give him anything else.
Composition Aluu Prosper
Oil and Metal Cut on Panel
Affection Olga Nenazhivina
Acrylic on Canvas (397/8 x 293/4 in.)
Pasture Statues Alfredo Salvatore Arcilesi
Millie mooed. Cate mooed with her. The cow stared at them. Millie giggled at the old joke, a pure, authentic song. Cate giggled with her, exaggerated, trembling notes. The cow stared at them. Millie continued to pet the cow’s cheek. Cate stroked the other, looking for signs of impatience in the otherwise stoic animal, searching its blank yet somehow knowing eyes for knowledge of her charade. What made her want to release the scream that had been lodged in her throat for inconceivable minutes was how Millie, sitting comfortably in her numb arms, was so far away from screaming; Millie, who had every justification for adding her shrill voice to the one behind them. She hadn’t asked Millie if she was all right; doing so would have given her the impression something was wrong. She hadn’t asked Millie her actual name; as far as the little girl’s amiable behaviour indicated, they had known each other all their lives, and names didn’t matter. She hadn’t asked Millie her age; from the moment she took the little girl into her arms, she could tell the small human being was no older than her career. Three-years-old, Cate mused again, as she transferred Millie from one desensitized arm to the other, careful not to break contact with the cow. T hree years, and once again she imagined the retirement banner, growing longer and larger as the idea cooked in her mind, advertising the pitiful number. Cate was grateful for the brown-and-white animal’s presence. Moreover, she was grateful that the cow was the first thing Millie had noticed. She wouldn’t have thought to mosey on over to the cow; instinct—training—would have told her to immediately transport the dishevelled little girl to her car; and there they would have waited for the next routine steps. And then she would’ve known something was wrong, she thought. And then she would’ve started screaming. A scream perforated the ambience, a cocktail of pain, fear... and perhaps a note of anger. “Mooooo!” Cate issued her loudest impersonation yet. Millie echoed her sentiments, prolonging and exaggerating the bovine language until it devolved into more giggling. Another scream smothered the laughter, and, for a terrible moment, Cate
thought she felt Millie stiffen; thought she saw resignation on the little girl’s suddenly sagging face. “Moo mooooo moo moo moo mooooo moo,” Cate interjected, the single word spoken in the rhythm of conversation. She fixed upon Millie’s eyes, hoping the little girl would take the bait, ready to shift her little body should she decide to go peeking behind her back, toward the scream. Millie’s bowed lips glistened, saliva pooling as she gathered her thoughts about the conflicting sounds. Cate readied her own lips with another string of nonsensical cow-speak, when Millie broke out of her trance, and fired off a meaningless statement of her own: “Mooooomooooo mooooo”—laughter—“mooooo moo moo moo.” Relieved, Cate kept the dialogue flowing for as long and as loud as was necessary to beat the intermittent screaming from Millie’s ears. As their banter rose and fell with the outbursts behind them, she imagined how the others must have seen them: vulnerable backs; a revolving red light highlighting Millie’s arms wrapped comfortably—Or is she in shock?Cate couldn’t decide—around her neck; mooing from unseen lips; the cow itself unseen, blocked by their combined bodies. How unreal it must have appeared to them. How grotesquely real it was to her. How beautifully real it was to Millie. A terrible thought returned Cate to their cozy huddle: T his is your first time, isn’t it? The scream she struggled to keep deep down in her gorge threatened to erupt. It occurred to her that thiscow—not the pair grazing further down the fence, dangerously close to the break; not the calf flanked by several adults; not the others standing nonchalantly, laying nonchalantly, living nonchalantly; not the countless others that might have been a blur in Millie’s passenger window—but this cow might very well have been the v ery firstcow Millie had ever seen. Cate mooed, and wondered if Millie could detect the underlying melancholy. You don’t need to meet a cow, she desperately wanted to assure the little girl. Not now. Not like this. She was certain that when Millie was one day no longer a size fit for one’s arms—There’s no guarantee of that, Cate sadly reminded herself—she might learn to hate the cow. All cows. The way Cate hated them for what they had done to Millie. To her. To Millie’s mother. The human sounds behind them were less frequent now, quieter, the pain, the fear, the anger—if ever there was—giving themselves to realization. Cate hoped Millie’s mother would soon forget how to scream; hoped her mother forgot her daughter’s name. This line of thinking was drenched in selfishness, but Cate had accepted it... for now; may guilt torment her later. It was just that she and, more importantly, the cow had worked so damned hard to keep Millie occupied. Or are wekeeping the cow occupied?Cate thought for the first time. She looked into the animal’s eyes, glossy black islands surrounded by thin halos of bloodshot white. Pulses of red light, rotating like an angry lighthouse—an eye of its
own—searched those eyes, much as Cate was doing now, for knowledge. Do you see the red light?she mentally transmitted to the cow. D o you understand it? Did you see what happened before the red light? Do you understand what happened? The cow stared. Do you understand that this little girl I’m holding, the one mooing at you, the one petting your face... do you understand that her mother is the one who killed your calf? Based on its indifference, she couldn’t tell if the calf was blood-related to the cow. Would he or she—Cate couldn’t tell which—bite Millie if it understood the situation behind them? Would he or she reconsider biting if it understood the whole thing had merely been a matter of a broken fence? Would he or she refrain from seeking revenge upon Millie if it understood that the calf had wandered through the broken fence, onto the asphalt, and before Millie’s mother’s car? Would he or she rethink their potential bite if it understood that Millie’s mother had, from the looks of the finale, done her best to avoid the calf, but instead clipped its behind, sending her speeding vehicle into the ditch? Would he or she accept that the calf had been mercifully put down, quickly and painlessly, unlike Millie’s mother, who found herself wrapped deep within her metal womb, gasoline-for-placenta everywhere, unable to be reached or moved, lest she perish sooner? The cow stared. Cate focussed on Millie’s silhouette within the animal’s sheeny eye: D o you understand? A voice answered the question. Cate couldn’t make out the words, only the harshness of the voice. She sensed an approaching presence, and immediately understood what was happening. In a voice tailored for Millie’s benefit, Cate said, “Please, don’t come any closer,” and resumed mooing along with Millie. “Officer?” The voice didn’t sound so harsh. Perhaps it hadn’t been at all. Perhaps, Cate decided, she was prejudiced against voices outside of she and Millie’s precious bubble. Cate sensed the intruder take another step forward. “I said don’t,” Cate said in her rosiest voice. “Officer, I need to examine the little girl,” the soft voice said. The well-meaning plea incensed Cate. S he’s fine. I checked her when I pulled her out of the car. Some scratches, a few bruises, but she’s fine. I checked her. And I named her.She knew someone close to Millie must have known her real name, but for tonight, in her arms, the little girl would take the name of the first girl Cate had lost on the job. Footsteps crunched behind them. “Don’t,” Cate emphasized, momentarily breaking her character of utter serenity. Before the intruder could interject, she added: “I... just give us a few minutes, okay?” And then what?she thought. Once again, she caught Millie’s silhouette in the cow’s eye. D o you have a father?
Grandmother? Grandfather? Uncles? Aunts? Anybody? Do you know your name? What would become of Millie when Cate decided enough “few minutes” had elapsed? What would become of the little girl when the cow was gone? The intruder’s footsteps—a paramedic just trying to do her job—retreated, but Cate sensed she hadn’t gone far; Millie did need to be examined. She realized the screaming had died. It made sense to her, not because the outcome was inevitable, but because the paramedic now had time to check on the only survivor. But they still had a few minutes. And so Millie mooed. Cate mooed with her. The cow stared at them.
Summer Day Jessica Martin
Slumped Merlot She says: Pretend I’m not your mother. The boys wait By the pool— I walk down in my slippers. A red ant tries to follow me— I squash him with my finger. Where are your braids? The boys ask. Too old for braids, I say. Give me a sip of that. *** A neighbour wakes me with her foot; I’m sprawled on a patch of grass— Ants everywhere— She says: Children are good at pretend.
Labyrinth Nicole Farmer He dreams of fire. She dreams of drowning. He dreams of walking on water. She dreams of ghosts surrounding their bed. He puts his hat on with a jaunty tilt. She cuts her hair with brutal gestures in the bathroom sink. He goes to yoga. She goes to work. He rides his bike to the movies. She eats her lunch in the staff lounge. He arrives at his audition. She grocery shops. He finds a residual check in the mailbox. She spots an old friend from the theater in the parking lot. He runs the water for his hot shower. She feels her heart jump inside her ribs when her friend touches her wrist. He begins to make a salad. She unpacks groceries. He sings along to a Beatles song at the top of his lungs. She opens a bottle of wine. He smiles and says, “I saw the best movie today.” She looks up and says, “I’m moving out.”
Nutria Carolyn Adams
Makeup Aries Obeng
Letters to One’s Self Jou Lee Yang
To my Body, I don’t know how to start this. I wish I did but writing a letter to yourself — to your body like it’s separate from me— is weird. It’s supposed to be a letter to promote self-love. So, how should I start this? I’m too skinny now. I used to be overweight and that made me . . . depressed? I don’t know if that’s the right word, but it made me feel something. My appetite began to disappear. I would just lie in bed doing nothing, just playing on my phone. When I was hungry, I would think, “What’s another thirty minutes before I get up?” and my hunger would just disappear and never came back. My wrists are too thin now. I can count part of my ribs. My hip bones jut out, and my legs are paper thin. I don’t have the energy to do things anymore. But thanks, Body . . . for holding out. For still trying to remind me when I’m hungry even when I don’t want to get out of bed. Thank you for still trying to breathe even as I look in the mirror and feel shame. Thank you for trying your best despite what other people think of you. I’m going to try harder and do more, to make sure you become healthy again. Sincerely, The New You Dear Lungs, I want to apologize first. I knew it wasn’t a good idea to start smoking at 16. I knew or kind of knew what would happen to you when I started . . . It’s calming to me. Maybe you don’t feel it, but I do. Still, you’ve been holding out while I’ve been focusing on my feelings. So, thanks, Lungs, for being there. For taking that raspy breath. For dealing with the tar building up inside you. Thank you for letting me breathe just one more breath for one more day. I doubt you’ll ever appreciate my actions, but I appreciate what you do. Thank you. Sincerely, Your Selfish User My Loving Hands, How I could never be apart from you. With my eyes seeing nothing and my ears growing older, you are my invaluable connection to reality. You allow me to feel the softness of the world (of a summer wind, of warm blankets, of my granddaughter’s hands) even as life gets harder and more rough.
You allow me to remember colors as my memories begin to fade. Blue is the coolness of water overfilling my palms. Yellow is the warmth of the sun beaming on my figure as I enjoy a spring day. Green is the blades of grass that tickle my fingers as my grandchildren laugh and play. Red is the sweetness and sour tinge of a strawberry, firm in its freshness but soft at its core. Purple is the dew in the air and crispness of the fog that brushes my face. Orange is a flower’s petal, gentle but filled with life — an existence that comes and goes but remains beautiful all the same. It is you, my hands, which allow me to still explore and experience the world even as my days become numbered. Thank you. With all my Heart, Your Aging Person For my Heart, I’m sorry you’re breaking. I’m so sorry for trusting the wrong person and letting them delude my Brain. I’m sorry that he couldn’t stay faithful, that he couldn’t put in the effort to make our relationship work. I thought I was taking care of you. Even when he got mad, I practiced keeping you calm and getting away. Even when he made me cry, I treated myself and fixed you up. But it wasn’t enough. Not for him and not for you. But I’m going to try being stronger. I’m going to try to move on, so you’re not breaking anymore. I’m going to pick up the pieces, tape it up (glue it, bandage it, piece it together) until we’re okay again. Thank you for still beating even as you’re breaking. Thank you for making sure I’m okay even when you’re not. Thank you for continuing to beat even as my Brain seems to be frozen. Thank you for all your hard work. With Sincerity, The Soul You Support
‘Yesterday’ is the Most Covered Song in the World Cyan James
Homesickness means ‘home-pain,’ and started with the Swiss and still feels full of softly rounded holes as well as the thud when blood hits the dead-end of an amputated stump, which is why, probably, it was called demonic in 1688, as though the soldiers who reported it should’ve known better than to return to what they defended because you can never never go back, not to Kansas, not anywhere; as soon as you leave, home turns into something else and don’t even look over your shoulder or you might turn into salt, and what if I feel guilty about that, the not even wanting to turn the other shoulder, because sometimes I just don’t miss Kansas, just don’t believe in it as an idea, or maybe for me home’s less of an anchor and more of an ether; maybe I’m interested in the concept of being poly-homed; maybe I believe everyone should have at least one, or that there should be 31 flavors of home, or that it would be helpful to stop acting as though home is a house project you’re supposed to accomplish alone but with a nice hairdo in a chocolate chip cookie baking atmosphere when memories don’t all smell like butter and I can get impatient the same as I am with hoarders, throw out the old news already, yesterday is not a cabin; you cannot reach yesterday; every day you have to listen to it drown, but we do have different arrangements; we can say sehnsucht, fever grade longing for an unmapped state left undescribed and therefore more baffling than a shed yet think of the possibilities and who might live there and might invite you in
The Fierce Root of Attachment Benjamin Green
Out of the night, fine white snow drifts down the canyon, and while gray clouds settle and obscure the riverine silhouettes of cottonwoods a house finch flies to the nest above my reading room window. She sings a few notes of darkness; the sound of her breath makes little clouds of music that I can see as well as hear. I am not thinking of spring, she does not remember the blaring heat of insect-filled summer. I listen, watch how song breathes into mist in the beauty of cold winter.
Clearwater Big House Cabin Jesse Chacon
In June of 2020, after a year of gradual mental and physical decline, we had to euthanize China, a Beagle mix, one of two dogs I’ve had for 15 years. Her death was a reminder of how quickly time passes and of my own mortality. Since that day, I often have these conversations with myself that eventually end with the voice in my head imploring me to “Get out there and live!” I turned to travel and adventure as solace to pacify my soul. I googled adventure trips, and I spent an entire day looking at videos about hiking Mt. Everest and K2. But after realizing that I would never be able to convince anyone to join me in climbing either mountain, I tempered my expectations and spent the next day looking at whitewater rafting in the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, this adventure was tabled by realizing that the three days of PTO I had left weren’t enough to raft the river. It was barely enough time to drive to the Grand Canyon, run down to the river, dip in a toe, and somehow get helicoptered out like a commando. Alas, these adventures would have to wait. Afterwards, whenever I came across something interesting, I’d tell my wife about it over dinner. A couple of days later she’d lay out every detail for the trip. Where we were going, what time we’d leave, how we would get home, and everything in between. All the while, I would nod in agreement. Even when things didn’t quite add up in my head, I figured things would work out, or we’d figure it out. For months we were locked in this cycle of me dreaming up trips and her planning them. Over and over again, wash, rinse, and repeat like the countless dishes after every dinner. The process continued throughout the summer and into the fall. Towards the end of the year, Nikki, our other 15-year-old Shepherd mix, began to decline quicker than I anticipated. She was no longer the spry pup I had rescued so many years ago who had followed me on countless adventures. She now struggled to walk due to loss of cartilage between her bones. I knew she enjoyed when I carried her down the stairs of the house, so she could take a couple of steps and sniff around the bushes. But in the back of my mind, it was only a matter of time. So, I wanted to take her on one last adventure. I brought it up during dinner, but unlike our other adventures that year, I wanted to plan this trip. I owed it to Nikki for the 15 years of companionship she had provided. I thought a cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway sounded like a good idea. I found the Clearwater Big House Cabin in southeast Washington, one of many cabins rented by the USDA but the only one available for the weekend of New Years. Located in the Blue Mountains of the Umatilla National Forest, the cabin sits at about 5,500 feet above sea level. The cabin had three bedrooms and a non-functioning bathroom. An outhouse is located about 50 yards from the cabin. It’s exactly what you would expect
of a cabin that was built in the 1920’s. During the winter, the road to the cabin is closed, and you have to park about eight miles away and trek in. After reading the description online, I was excited and booked the cabin without any hesitation. I rented the cabin, made a list of what we needed, had a departure date and a return date. Over dinner that evening, I told my wife about the trip and her first question was, “How are we going to get to the cabin from the snow park?” “We’re going to ski in,” I replied, as if it was no big deal. “What do you mean ski in, ski down a mountain to the cabin?” she asked with a perplexed look on her face. “No, we’ll cross country ski in with our stuff.” The words came out slower than normal, almost like I was trying to convince myself that it was doable. “You’ve never cross country skied before,” she quickly retorted. I explained how each of us would tow a sled. One sled carrying all our supplies and the other sled would tow Nikki like she was on a throne. By the look on her face, I decided to hold off on telling her that we’d have to cross country ski about eight miles while gaining 1,500 feet in elevation to arrive at the cabin. Two weeks prior to our trip, we decided to do a test run at Pocket Creek SnoPark in Mt. Hood National Forest. With rented equipment in hand, we went to make sure that towing Nikki was feasible and that she would be comfortable. A fresh layer of pristine fluffy snow which came up to our calves met us at the trail head. We padded the sled with three thick blankets, laid Nikki on top, and off we went. The sled was big, roomy enough for her to sit or lay down. It wasn’t difficult to tow her; she had lost weight due to her ailments, so she wasn’t heavy, and the trail was relatively flat. The real challenge was keeping snow from falling into the sled and covering her. As we broke trail, the sled dug a path and created a wall of snow on each side. If you were to look at us pass by from the side of the trail, you wouldn’t have been able to see what we were towing due to the towering walls of snow we left in our wake. With each step, snow would fall into the sled and on top of Nikki. It was a constant battle of scooping out snow from the sled and brushing it off of Nikki. It was like trying to plug a leaking boat with your fingers; after a while, you run out of fingers. With less than a mile into the trail we called it quits. We turned back; with our heads hung low in defeat, we slowly made our way to the trail head, ensuring Nikki didn’t turn into a big snowball. On the drive home with Nikki resting in the backseat, I looked at my wife and whispered, “I don’t think Nikki will make the eight mile trek to the cabin,” turning to Nikki hoping she didn’t hear just in case she could understand. Straight faced my wife said, “Eight miles! Honey, I don’t think you or I can make the eight miles to the cabin.” I smiled, thinking of the elevation gain that I’d withheld. A week later, I was staring at Nikki from my bathroom window; she was in the backyard. She had been out there a couple of minutes with a howling wind, accompanied by a constant drizzle. Her raincoat offered some protection, but I didn’t want her to get soaked, so I walked to the bedroom and opened the door to let her in;
she didn’t move. I called her name and clapped to get her attention, but still nothing. She stood there as if she’d grown roots, swaying like branches on a tree. I walked out and she looked at me. The look on her face told me everything; I knew she was ready. I carried her inside and laid her down on her comfy bed. Pacing the hallway with the phone in my hand, I felt my heart rate quicken as I tried to dial the vet. Not knowing what to say, I hung up several times before the call went through. My breathing came in short bursts; my voice cracked when someone answered the other end. I couldn’t speak. I tossed the phone on the bed and emailed the vet to schedule an euthanasia home visit for that evening. Due to the recent circumstance, we invited our friends from our COVID bubble to join us at the cabin. My wife and I each towed a sled behind us. I periodically turned to check on my cargo, wishing it was Nikki and not provisions for the weekend. The four of us along with our friend’s two dogs made it to the cabin. It was nice watching Ruby, a Border Collie, and Asha, a fluffy Burmese Mountain Dog, prancing around in the snow. Sitting by the furnace after a long day of exploring the mountain, with Asha at my feet and Ruby’s head in my lap, I couldn’t help but think of China and Nikki. Cross country skiing while tied up to sleds wasn’t my best idea, but my plan was to have an adventure. We had fun and returned home safe. So, I think my plan was a success.
Wild Coco Spencer
Rufous Hummingbird Carolyn Adams
the shambles RC deWinter
it’s all bread and circus now crows chant populist slogans on the white house lawn as plutocrats throw pennies to the poor and stray dogs beg not for bones but for blood gradeschool ballerinas wearing too much makeup fumble their way through the clumsy steps of the uninitiated and wonder why there’s no applause no one tells them the pedophiles are sitting on their hands anyone with a lick of sense has locked their doors and windows those with none wrap themselves in the flag and armor up with every gun they own shouting lies the credulous eat for breakfast no one knows where any of this is going but inside or out everyone’s going to find out when the grave is opened and every bit of wet and dirty laundry is laid in the sun to dry
A Life Of Physical Labor John Grey
The reddish-gold dawn ventures up the factory wall. It’s a pleasant hue with a keen sense of direction. Before work, in the parking lot, I’m relaxing in my car, maintaining a sense of calm, dressed for low visibility. My moustache disappeared. I did not see it go. I mowed the lawn, trimmed the hedges. I don’t remember that. But I used to work on bridges. That I do know. And rooftops. And in the slowdown lanes of highways. (Young thugs, driving by, heads out the window, told me what they thought I was.) Lightning, snowstorm, they don’t bother me none. If I was a believer, I’d reckon God meant for me to have this job. No questions. No reach beyond what I can grasp. No new Nikes either. Just piecing together or dismantling on a concrete floor. Without stopping to dream. Or even think most times. I must say I preferred the bridge to this loud machinery. I was the eagle the town never suspected was looking down on it. I spread my wings angel-wide and conversed with passing gulls.
But I always wondered, what if something breaks beneath me and I fall to my death. Those rocks below could have reshaped me, big-time. My bones would have busted up like ancient pots. Now I just park my fears before the assembling line. No ascending on ladders. No descending into pits. I can work and part my hair at the same time. I don’t play golf. I’m politically unmotivated. I’ve almost paid off my car-loan I prefer predictability to allure. I read the newspaper online. And my horoscope not at all. If this place ever shuts down, if the process stops, then I’ll be screwed like some of these metal parts. Because I’ve saved nothing from this grind. And I don’t want to drive a school bus. And, as a sidewalk musician, I’d frighten the neighbors. For now, busy hands and dull minds make something for the marketplace. I’m happy to be a version of it.
Carolina Poppies Cass Graybeal Brown
Watercolor and Pastels
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