Sheepshead Review XLV no. 1 (Fall 2022 Edition)

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Sheepshead Review

Sheepshead Review

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University of Wisconsin - Green Bay’s Journal of Art and Literature
Volume 45: no. 1 Fall 2022
3 Staff Editor-in-Chief ................................................................................................... Jair Zeuske Advisor ................................................................................................... Rebecca Meacham Managing Editor ...................................................................................... Hannah Behling Layout Editor ................................................................................................. Elsie McElroy Blog Editors & Launch Party Planners ............................................ Autumn Johnson Kat Halfman Nova Goldsmith Social Media Manager .......................................................................... Nova Goldsmith Chief Copy Editor........................................................................................ Serenity Block Fiction Editor................................................................................................ Serenity Block Poetry Co-Editors ........................................................................................... Mia Boylard Ongnia Thao Nonfiction Editor ................................................................................... Tori Wittenbrock Visual Arts Editor ........................................................................................... Kat Halfman Multimedia/Interactive (Web-only) Works Editor ................................. Ethan Craft Watch for UWGB Shooting Stars Submissions... And Exploring High School Rovers!
4 Genre Staff Fiction Staff Kyra Christensen Tony Fitch Cameron Miller Kia Lo Nonfiction Staff Tierney Dewane Cole Murray Ethan Craft Kassidi Witak Cadil Hussein Visual Arts Staff Nova Goldsmith Autumn Johnson Anna Rankin Maria Pable Valerie Sidon Poetry Staff Jackie Wilson Violet Hansen Kasey Michaelson Amanda Lukowicz
5 Table of Contents Fiction Just Because Someone is a Pigeon and a Corporate Drone Doesn’t Mean They Can’t Fall in Love by Lizzy Sparks ...................... 16-18 The Trouble with Complications by Abbie Doll .......................................... 26 Futility by Nemo Arator ........................................................................................ 34-37 Your Car’s Extended Warranty by Jeanette Smith ............................... 47-48 A Trinket for Madge by Marco Etheridge................................................... 57-62 Confession by Jeanette Smith ............................................................................ 75-76 Arctic Dogs by Sam Heiden ................................................................................ 95-96 Rachel’s Story by Micah Prakin ..................................................................... 108-112
6 Nonfiction The Music of ASL by Paul
.................................................................... 11-13 My First Apartment by Kyra Christensen .................................................... 20-22 To the Woman Crying in Front of the Library by Marlene Olin .......................................................................................................... 29-30 Mother by Adrienne Pine...................................................................................... 39-44 Chipmunk by Nathan Knutson ................................................................................. 55 Omertà by Chachee Valentine ............................................................................. 68-70 Love and Lost by Shim Whitman ..................................................................... 79-80 Alison
Pine ........................................................................................ 85-90 Yard Sale
................................................................... 113-114
Hostovsky
by Adrienne
by Melissa Ridley Elmes
Table of Contents Visual Arts Jazz Club by Gloria Keeley .......................................................................................... 14 Kidney by Donald Patten ............................................................................................. 19 Plum Ice by Carella Keil ............................................................................................... 27 A View From Sacré-Cœur by Kyra Christensen .............................................. 28 PTSD 3b by Edward Supranowicz ............................................................................ 32 Fire and Water by Kira Ashbeck ............................................................................. 38 Inside My Cell by Natalie Derr ................................................................................ 46 Neonlumberjack by Ners Neonlumberjack ........................................................ 49 The Matrix by Bryan Kim .......................................................................................... 50 October Leaves by Lauren Knisbeck ..................................................................... 56 Turmoil 5 by Edward Supranowicz ......................................................................... 64 Time Spun by Carella Keil .......................................................................................... 67 The Waters by Michael Kunzinger .................................................................... 71-72 Blue Arson by Carella Keil ......................................................................................... 77 Autumn Falls by Lauren Knisbeck .......................................................................... 83 Silk by Carella Keil .......................................................................................................... 84 That Floating Feeling by Edward Supranowicz ..........................................91-92 Pictured Rock by Lauren Knisbeck .......................................................................100 The Last Mushroom by Kendra Sierack ............................................................ 101 Pretty Gross by Emilie Azevedo .............................................................................102 Untitled by Rachel Coyne ..........................................................................................105 Bee by Michael Moreth ................................................................................................ 107 Polaris by Kaloni Borno .............................................................................................. 115
Poetry Hello Girls by Mary Amato......................................................................................... 15 Hair of My Head by Bennett Gilleland .......................................................... 23-25 It’s the Job of Children by Joseph Hardy.......................................................... 31 Twist the Kaleidoscope Again by Emma Sloan ............................................ 33 Manspreading by Mickey Schommer ................................................................... 45 A Mosaic of a Life by Abbey Belling ............................................................. 51-54 Footsteps in the Attic by C.B. Wamble .............................................................. 63 Life out of Balance by Lynn Gilbert ..................................................................... 65 Yes by Nora Laine Herzog ............................................................................................ 66 My Mental Disorders Help Me Do Laundry by Anna Zilbermints .......... .......................................................................................................................................... 73-74 Burning by Brianna Ashmen ...................................................................................... 78 Hush by Emily Prom ................................................................................................. 81-82 The Initial Shock by Katelyn Rusk ........................................................................ 93 Aunt Kathy’s Sweater by Kathryn Engelmann................................................ 94 Phase Two by Michal Smith ................................................................................ 97-98 Tree of Life by Kobe Greeley .................................................................................... 99 Raspy Confessions of the Bodies Buried Beneath the Floorboards by Abbie Doll.............................................................................. 103-104 We’re All Mad Here by Lilian Wang ..................................................................106 Love Letters to Jupiter by Allison Smith ......................................................... 116

Letter From The Editor

Welcome to the Fall 2022 issue of Sheepshead Review! As a undergraduate-run journal, our staff underwent huge changes when our top editors graduated in Spring 2022. For this issue, the only remaining staff members from last year were me and the Managing and Layout Editors, Hannah Behling and Elsie McElroy. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have had these two at my disposal as without Hannah’s indomitable work ethic, in spite of my insistence to take a break, and Elsie’s stunning artistic creations coupled with her patience for our uneducated aesthetic requests, this issue would not be nearly as amazing as it is now.

The space theme was born from one such amateurish request, as it came up during a brainstorming session coupled with the idea of printing white text on black paper for the aesthetic of it. We felt it oddly fitting that we chose to characterize a semester in which we all, including our resilient staff of newcomers, were exploring new ground with only the logs of our predecessors to guide us as an exploration of the endless expansion of space.

When we announced our theme to the Fall staff and began preparing everyone for the inevitable fight over which genre would claim the coolest icons (satellite, spaceship, planet, or shuttle), we were so caught up with the stars around our heads, depicted by Elsie’s gorgeous artwork, that we hadn’t considered one piece of feedback we received: fear. As a fantasy novelist by passion (and hopefully trade one day), space has always been a frontier and a source of wonder for myself, as the mind does not experience the void’s vacuum when exploring its expanse. But that is not the reality. The fact of the matter is that space is a source of infinite unknowns and unending darkness punctuated only by pinpricks of light. It is understandable to be afraid in such conditions.

But fear does not excuse us from necessity. Space will only exist as an unknown until our eyes fall upon it, and therefore we must do so. In order for us to walk the path to the future, we must first pave it. Last semester, Hannah, Elsie, and I were just a group of fiction fanatics discussing submissions, but when Dr. Meacham, our advisor, pulled me aside and asked me if I wanted to be the Editor-in-Chief, my reflex was “no!” No, I don’t want to plunge myself beyond the atmosphere to fall into the unknown, but everyone else was graduating and I still had a few bricks and semesters left to lay.

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I would like to thank each member of our staff for sticking with us in this deeply exploratory semester and selecting a compilation of submissions I am proud to be associated with. I would also like to thank all of our contributors for providing such wonderful creations, including a poem about the exploration of space, which was entirely coincidental. And you, the reader, for supporting our journal and allowing us to make these journeys into the unknown to learn something about ourselves and the universe around us. I hope the experience within is as enlightening for you as it has been for us. Enjoy!

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The Music of ASL

It may sound oxymoronic, but there is music in sign language. Even if you don’t understand a word of it, you probably enjoy watching Deaf people sign. Most people do. They say it’s beautiful and expressive, that it kind of looks like dancing. And they say they wish they knew how to sign.

If you’re like most hearing people, you probably enjoy listening to music. In fact, you might say you can’t imagine a life without music. Well, sign language has its own music, and when you watch Deaf people sign—espe cially when you understand every word of it—you can see the music. I know this because I’m a sign language interpreter. American Sign Language (ASL) puts the food on my table, pays the mortgage, the utility bills, and the car loan. It pays quite well. In fact, I probably make more than most of the Deaf people I interpret for. Which sometimes feels a little like extortion. Like they gave it to me and now I’m getting paid to give it back to them. Because ASL belongs to Deaf people. They’re the ones who taught it to me in the first place. They gave it to me as a beautiful, precious, durable, airborne gift held out in their hands, saying: We learn to love the things we love from others who loved them before us; ASL has been ours for as long as we can remember, and it can be yours, too, if you’re willing to learn it, if you’re worthy of it, if you’ll take care of it and always remember where it comes from and to whom it belongs.

You see, ASL isn’t linear the way spoken languages are linear—one discrete word following on the heels of the next. Rather, ASL is symphonic. It creates meaning simultaneously with the hands, face, eyebrows, eye-gaze, lips, tongue, head-tilt, shoulder-turn—all the various sections of the body’s orchestra creating meaning at the same time. A visual-gestural symphony rising up all at once, like a controlled explosion.

ASL has its own rhythms, harmonies, dissonances, crescendos and decre scendos, riffs and repetitions, most of which have grammatical functions. For example, one beat versus two can indicate the difference between a verb and a noun; a single movement versus a repeated movement can be the difference between simple present and present continuous, or between modified and unmodified verbs. Additionally, much of the grammar of ASL

occurs on the face, such as negation, imperatives, interrogatives, adjectives, adverbs, and something called ‘sound imagery’, a way of visually representing certain environmental sounds with the lips, teeth, tongue and eyes.

Hearing people often comment that Deaf people are very animated. And while it’s true that facial expression in ASL also expresses emotion, it’s usu ally more about grammar than emotion, more about sense than sensibility. More semantic than romantic.

And the thing is, it feels good to sign. The physical pleasure one derives from signing and watching other people signing is not unlike the physi cal pleasure one derives from making music and listening to music being made. Interestingly, sign and sing, but for two inverted letters, are the same word. A happy accident? Perhaps. And yet, signing and singing are just two different (or maybe not so different) ways that the body expresses energy, shaping meaning and emotion out of thin air, putting it out there for the world to take in. And the manual dexterity required to play a musical instrument is not unlike the manual dexterity required to articulate the handshapes and movements of ASL. In fact, ASL teachers report that hearing people who have learned to play a musical instrument at some point in their lives seem to have an easier time learning ASL than those who never played a musical instrument. Go figure.

But silence, to Deaf people, who are intensely visual people, isn’t lack of sound; it’s lack of movement. Sound IS movement, in fact. It’s energy mov ing in waves, which is what music is after all. And when Deaf people look into the faces of hearing people, what they usually see is silence. They see silence because hearing people, for the most part, do not use their faces to express meaning or emotion. Compared to Deaf people, they have very lit tle facial expression when they talk. Hearing people are pretty poker-faced, if you ask Deaf people. And that’s because their intonation is all in the voice, which is invisible to Deaf people.

But when Deaf people look into the faces of other Deaf people, what do you think they see? They see music! Movement, beauty, energy, and meaning. They see intonation. They see gymnastic eyebrows, eloquent eyes, adverbial tongues, and all the risible muscles being put to good, resounding use. They see their language, a visually stunning and musical language, full of inflection, anima, and soul.

I used to listen to music almost all the time. I always had it playing in the background. But now that I hang out with Deaf people most of the time, I don’t like to have music always playing in the background. It feels

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superfluous, wasteful, distracting. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy listen ing to music, but I do it more deliberately, more appreciatively, and less frequently. And just the other day, when I was listening to an interview on NPR with a famous conductor who was retiring after 40 years with the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, the interviewer asked him what kind of music he listened to when he was driving in his car or relaxing in his kitchen or just kicking back in his barcalounger. And the famous conduc tor said that music was his work, his life, his life’s work, and that most of the time now he preferred the silence, actually. And though I don’t know much about music, to my untrained ear that sounded resoundingly ironic. And yet I understood where he was coming from. Because as much as I still enjoy music, I’d rather watch the music than listen to it.

Jazz Club

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Hello Girls

Undressed under the sheet you shiver and think what am I doing here? but you’ve been in pain for months or is it years? and the meds from the last two doctors or is it twelve? made you worse and now Deb the acupuncturist is here and she is taking your feet in her hands your feet and she is holding them and saying Hello Girls she is holding them and the warmth that flows from her touch and tone makes you cry because your whole life no doctor has held any part of you like this no doctor has talked to any part of your body like this no doctor has listened to any part of your body like this no doctor has taught you how to talk to listen to your body not as your betrayer burden disappointment shame no doctor has taught you to see how strong sweet devoted every part of you is starting with your feet—your girls your girls.

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Just Because Someone is a Pigeon and a Corporate Drone Doesn’t Mean They Can’t Fall in Love

Drone-6468 is a pigeon. There is nothing remarkable about Drone-6468. He has gray feathers, red eyes, and orange feet, just like every other pigeon. The feathers around his neck—pink and green, iridescent—glisten like one of BP’s oil spills in the soft foam of the ocean. He’s programmed to know about all of BP’s oil spills, but he’s not programmed to think about them.

Drone-6468 is programmed to do many things and not think about any of them. He is programmed to look in windows and listen through walls, noting everything he sees and hears. He is a pigeon, so nobody suspects he is a cor porate drone. He coos at them and they toss him salty McDonald’s french fries and he knows their secrets. Some of them are scared of him and make wide berths when he passes. Others chase him down alleyways and toss pebbles at him. He tries not to let this bother him. He’s not programmed to think, let alone feel.

Drone-6468 knows everything about everyone in the neighborhood he patrols, Block-1810. For example, he knows that Customer-3888, who works at Bed Bath and Beyond, likes orange cats, Barack Obama, and migraine medica tions. He reports this information back to the Boss, who sends Customer-3888 ads for microplastic socks with orange cats on them and stickers that say “we are the change that we seek,” which Obama once said, and essential oils that claim to cure migraines.

Drone-6468 dives after his shift in the dumpster behind Customer-3888’s apartment and finds Panda Express leftovers. He eats the orange chicken and wonders if this makes him a cannibal. But then, he is not a bird in the same way chickens are. He is a drone, made of scrap metal and wires, invented by the Boss in his garage in 1994 to spy on you. He was built in a factory in Taiwan, the chemicals used to produce him gave the Workers cancer and cost the Boss millions in lawsuits. He made up for the loss when he sold them their chemo, without which they would have died.

Drone-6468 hears someone land behind him as he eats, wings fluttering, claws scraping against the pavement. He coos in greeting and turns to face the newcomer. It is Drone-2534, with his eyes the color of Great Value Clover Honey and white feathers rubbed gray from smog. Drone-6468 does not call Drone-2534 by his drone number; he calls him Clover because his eyes look

like the honey Great Value sells. And Clover does not call Drone-6468 by his drone number; he calls him Bee, after BP, because his feathers look like an oil spill.

“Would you like to share this orange chicken from Panda Express with me?” Bee asks Clover, nudging the slimy lo mein with his beak. It is only a formality; they have dinner together every night. “I do not believe it is cannibalism, as we are not chickens.”

“Yes, I would like to very much.” Clover hops over, flapping his wings, and tears into a piece of orange chicken from Panda Express.

They fall into their normal routine, pecking over their shared dinner and then settling into the nest they share on Customer-3888’s fire escape, a Con verse shoebox full of bits of cloth from Joann Fabrics. They nestle against each other, savoring their shared warmth.

Bee realizes, all at once, that before he and Clover found each other, when he always used to sleep alone—during the night he was always cold. And it wasn’t that Clover produced any warmth—they were both robots, cold and lifeless. No, he was warm from the inside out—like his system was overheating, like something was wrong with him, irreparably wrong.

The next day after his shift, Bee flies to Job Headquarters. He places a Main tenance Order for his broken parts and waits in the lobby with other mangled pigeon-drones, some with missing eyes from bored cops with too-big guns, others with six-pack rings tangled around their necks like nooses. He waits until his drone number is called and then is escorted into a back room, where two Technicians cut a slit in his stomach and open him up, examining the wires and coding inside him.

“What did it report its problem as?”

“Overheating.”

“Weird. There’s nothing wrong with it.”

The Technicians sew Bee up again and he flies back to Block-1810, where Clover is waiting for him with a large, thin slice of Papa Johns pepperoni pizza. They share it and settle in for the night.

“Clover, do you feel warm?” Bee asks.

“Of course I feel warm,” Clover responds, sleepily. “I always feel warm when I am with you.”

“Why? Our systems are not programmed to feel warm. We were not programmed to feel anything at all.”

Clover shakes his head and wraps one wing around Bee’s body, “We were not programmed to talk, either, and yet we can. Go to sleep, Bee.”

Bee sleeps. The next morning, he receives a request that his Maintenance Order has been reopened. He flies back to Job Headquarters with Clover still

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asleep in their nest, leaving the warmth behind with him. Once there, he is quickly ushered to the same backroom and the same pair of Technicians, or maybe a different pair. He cannot tell, for they all look the same in their blue uniforms with a smiling design on their jacket.

“What’s wrong with this one—didn’t we fix it yesterday?” asks one Techni cian as she cuts another slit in Bee’s stomach.

“We didn’t find anything wrong with it,” the other Technician replies, bran dishing a shiny red pair of pliers. “But the Boss called me into his office this morning. He reviewed the case. He said it’s defective.”

“There’s something wrong with it?”

“It’s what he said. It’s learning to feel.”

And before Drone-6468 can even utter a chirp of protest—before he can tell them about Clover and his warmth—the technician with the pliers leans down and cuts the wire connecting his heart to his brain.

Kidneys

My First Apartment

Once again, I stood in front of that peculiar-looking door I remember from childhood. The door sat in the corner of my maternal grandparents’ sitting room, which no one ever seemed to sit in, and led to the stairs to their attic. Although the area was uninteresting to me when I was a toddler, the loft space became a whole new world when I was around eight years old. And now, standing here, reflecting on my feelings and first memories of this space, I am somewhat concerned by my immense joy in my grandparents’ attic at such a young age.

It was a chilled winter night when I stood outside that somewhat eerie door for truly the first time. Its dark chestnut coloring glowed in the moonlight, and I hesitated to open it for a few moments. But I couldn’t sleep and was extreme ly curious, so I gave the early 20th-century rustic doorknob a complex twist to the right, pushed the door open, and headed inside. After tumbling up the stairs, as I was unsuccessful in finding the light switch at the bottom, I safely made it to the top of the skinny and creaky staircase. Once I regained my balance, I felt around the walls with my hands, searching for the light switch. After my hands grazed over some mysteriously cold metal items seemingly hung from the walls, I luckily found and flipped the light switch upstairs, illuminating the rooms and their objects quickly.

I didn’t know what I was expecting to see at eight years of age. A dusty, spooky, ghost-filled room, I suppose. Or possibly the mystical land of Narnia; I was somewhat expecting to have tea with Mr. Tumnus. But instead, I found two medium-sized rooms separated by a grayish and splintery sliding barn door. And a bathroom with a beautifully painted cartoon moon, sun, and star mural that I would soon stare at for hours while sprawled in the clawfoot tub that sat in the middle. I later discovered that this artwork was painted by my very talented aunt when she was older than I was then but younger than I am now, so I appreciate it even more.

This space, although a mystery at first, became a place where I would run to when I needed peaceful solitude, with no one to care for or look after except myself. I treated it like it was my own little apartment, as though it was the first place I lived on my own straight out of college. It was a tad vintage, with a slight musty scent, but it was a space for me and me alone. It was a home I imagined myself in to escape the one I was born in. Although I didn’t realize

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this until I came to understand parts of my past, I am happy that little me was able to find a space like this, even if it was only available at my grandparents’ farm.

However, I was only eight years old and already enjoying independence to a higher degree than I would classify as “average” for a child. When in this space,

I had a routine, as though I was a working woman with places to be. I soon began sleeping in the fluffy king-sized bed against the back wall of one room; I felt like a Queen in her master suite. And would wake up, greeting the two wooden birds that dangled above the bed. When a string was pulled, which I would tug at every night, and every morning, the fake birds would flap their wings as though flying but never truly going anywhere. I named them but have no recollection of those identities now.

Afterward, I would head to the bathroom, brush my teeth, and prepare for the day. Even though my plan was always to stay up there all day I still “got ready.” I would especially take an ample amount of time in that bathroom. Even after completing the typical tasks, I would always give myself time to stare at those paintings on the ceiling and walls. Admiring the bright, pastel yellows and cool blues used and gazing at the smiling faces of the stars, sun, and moon while sitting in the tub. The art and glowing sunlight made it all feel very whimsical there. Oh, I wish I could paint and transform a space like that; turn something dull into something wonderful.

After my time in the bathroom, I would head to what I classified as the living room. The area on the other side of that barn door, separate from the sleeping space, was where I would spend most of the day. Within the room stood a box TV, made in a year that I didn’t exist yet, and a VCR player that I overused. Those were indeed the essentials.

There was also a loveseat with too cushiony of cushions, so I typically pre ferred the floor. To this day, I identify as a floor person. A person who enjoys sitting on the dense floor compared to cloud-like cushions. And I would specif ically sit on the floor space a few feet from the TV to watch my favorite movies on VHS tape for hours. A few films had some discoloration, and the stain on the hardwood floors is slightly faded in that spot. However, floor people always have a “spot” that they subconsciously or physically claim each time, and that spot was mine. And the movies included Kiki’s Delivery Service, James and the Giant Peach, The Lion King, Lilo and Stitch, and Mulan; who wouldn’t watch those films on repeat until the vivid color was drained from the scenes? I won der if they would still work if I tried. The nostalgia would be epic.

In addition, there was an antiquated gumball machine filled with colorful gumballs, which flavors would disappear moments after the first chew, kind of like Juicy Fruit. I chewed those gumballs religiously, yet the machine remained

filled. My grandparents likely kept it stocked just for me. Red and pink were the best, but the orange and white flavors occasionally triumphed. And behind the gumball machine was a sometimes spiderweb-covered typewriter. And I have no idea how long it has been there, but I still enjoy the satisfaction of pressing each letter, moving the carriage after each line, as I did then.

Two very creepy porcelain dolls also watched my every move. They sat together in a vintage baby pram perched on the large edge overlooking the stairs. And although I grew somewhat affectionate towards them over the years because of the memories they held, I have since realized porcelain dolls freak me the fuck out. I blame the horror movie, Annabelle, for this fear, but luckily that wasn’t developed until I was a teen. However, my fear of ventriloquist dummies was still very much present then. My older sister would read to me R. L. Stein’s Night of the Living Dummy, which sparked the fear. And my grandparents owned a Slappy Dummy, so that continued the fear. And just to unsettle you, that dummy has been missing for a decade.

When I approach this space as an adult of sorts, 20 being the magic number, I feel a mix of emotions. I feel sad, for I, without realizing it, wanted adulthood, at a young age, because of the roles I had in my family. I was the youngest daughter and sister responsible for parenting myself, my sibling, and my par ents. I got so used to it that even as a child, I got to a point where I enjoyed doing chores and having responsibilities that some adults don’t even enjoy having. I was so busy caring for those around me that those moments in my little apartment were a relief. Yeah, I may have been doing chores, like making my bed and clearing dust bunnies, but I was doing it to tidy up my space, not somebody else’s. I enjoyed relying on myself and taking charge, even if that was just deciding which movie to watch again; I liked being an adult. And even though I shouldn’t have felt this way at eight years of age, I somewhat feel happy about my ample alone time in this space. My love for movies, paintings, sweets, and independence began here, in these two rooms and a painted bath room, otherwise known as my first apartment.

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Hair of My Head

I used to hate my hair. This tidal wave of curls, Splayed in any direction Dangling down over my eyes, Comb-resistant, Knot infested, And God don’t make me think About what would happen if I got gum In it. Stuck in coiffure caverns Are bits of petrified spearmint From Middle School. But I love it.

In high school Senior year, I spent nearly everyday Until graduation With a hat or hood up Desperately defending my do On hot summer days. My sweater was a sauna, My wool toque Contained the Great Deluge. My classmates took refuge From a putrid stew Of B.O. and weak Dove anti-perspirant. I was a miscreant All to conceal my hair. To keep it contained. But I love it.

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I looked in the mirror Palms pressed into prayer Speaking into dead air

To any power in the universe Or non-descript cosmic deity, “Please God, Santa Claus, Satan, Great Dreamer Cthulhu!

Please anybody Make my hair flat I hate my curls I hate them!”

But I love them. Someone kisses me Brushes their hand

Through a thicket of rank brunette brambles Only for them to unclasp from my mouth And whisper, “I love your hair.”

I winced both from the remark and After they ran their thumb Through a nest of knots.

“It’s okay,” I say back Silently thinking Of how much I want my toque, Baseball cap, Or hood wrapped around my skull Covering it up, Removing it from the equation. No one else Henceforth Shall bear witness to my Head of Hair, Wig of Wool, Crusty Cowlick, Foolhardy Fringe, Malicious Mane, Or Quixotic Quaff For one more second.

But I love it.

You see Something changed. School concluded

All of it stupid, Many nights Spurned by Cupid. Alberta humid Heat exuded Into a tiny bedroom, Secluded Not reputed. Instead, deep-rooted Inside a safe home. No more bullies, growing pains, Or being excluded. I was unsuited To this space Where every face Would be replaced, A gift from grace, But then there’s the displace And while I’m not here to debase Myself, fuck this so-called home I’m off to embrace A new place. And being away from family Takes a lot out of me And here I go To a great, huge world Debt, rent, utilities, Schooling, mistakes, the state of my living facilities. If I’m off To where I’ll have close to nothing If I’m gonna have nothing I might as well own something. Gloves are off So is the toque The hat The hood So, if shit will suck more than it should In the meantime I might as well look good.

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The Trouble with Complications

God, she was tired. So tired her eyes were sinkholes—gaping crevasses— plunging further and further toward her brain. She couldn’t say when she last slept, but sleep was all her body craved now. Despite her best efforts, she stayed awake. It didn’t matter that she yawned endlessly trying to expel her exhaustion. None of it mattered. The switch in her brain was broken, and there weren’t any electricians available for hire. She needed to be rewired, tuned up, something. Her eyes continued to recede, slinking back with each and every blink, her head growing heavy, heavy enough to topple, just heavy enough to catch her off guard but not enough to conk out after crashing into her pillow. Her skin cells hissed and fizzed, begging for rest.

She was ensnared in this waking nightmare, no end in sight. Her eyes leaked discharge like rubble from a demolition site; she rubbed it away but always found more. Everything felt raw. Maybe gluing her eyes shut was her body’s last-ditch attempt at guaranteeing sleep. Maybe her clearing efforts weren’t helping, but it was just so itchy. The compulsion was irresistible. So here she was, stuck in this state of perpetual drowsiness. Her muscles ached, her head thumped. Bodies weren’t machines. They weren’t meant to run on overdrive without periods of recovery.

Maybe things would be okay if she could convince her body to slip into sleep for just a second. Maybe then she wouldn’t be stuck visualizing the gory mess that slipped out much too soon, wouldn’t be stuck lamenting all the time and pain that went into making that lifeless lump strangled by an umbilical snake. Maybe then she wouldn’t be mourning this lack of life, wouldn’t be stuck with this bottomless pit of carnivorous shame for not getting the most basic bodily functions right. Maybe then she wouldn’t have to teach the other children about grief already, wouldn’t have to explain what went wrong, what happened to the thing that was supposed to be a baby (a sibling) but now would always be this irreplaceable gap.

Plum Ice

A View From Sacre-Coeur

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To the Woman Crying in Front of the Library

It was in the ‘80s when our lives were transformed by the modern miracle of a car phone. I remember this lifeline like it was yesterday. I was visiting the library in Cutler Ridge. It’s a regional library, around 45 minutes south of Miami. It was my turn to pick up carpool, and as usual I was running late.

I dumped the books in the return chute and was leaving when I saw you. There were only a half dozen cars in the parking lot, and yours wasn’t hard to miss. I hesi tated. Your door was open. I remember it being hot, maybe 90 degrees in the Florida heat. You sat there with your hands on the steering wheel, your feet plopped on the pavement, and your shoulders shaking. Half in. Half out. Weeping.

The sky was blue, as blue as the computer screen I’m writing on. The sidewalks bordering the pavement glinted like shards of glass. When I looked at you, every thing glimmered. Your white hair seemed whiter, your arms dappled, your knuckles as bleak and blanched as bone.

I edged closer. Then using that loud voice we use with the deaf and the learning challenged and the elderly, I said, “You okay?”

It was already close to two and when you looked at me, you glanced into the sun. Squinting, your hand now shading your eyes, you blinked. Then you said, “I’m lost.”

“You’re at the Cutler Ridge Regional Library,” I said. Then you said, “Is that in Brooklyn?” You looked around. Circling the library like a moat was a garden of palm trees and hibiscus hedges. “It doesn’t look like Brooklyn.”

The cars back then had one long seat in front. Sitting next to you was a large purse. And next to your purse, a stack of books. The names were familiar. Myster ies. Whodunits. The sort of paperbacks a shopper finds on supermarket shelves. You were a reader. Someone who loved reading so much you drove to the library. Could it be a stroke, I wondered? I heard it happened like a bolt of lightning. One minute your brain’s working and the next minute it’s not.

Then I remembered the phone in my car. “Do you have someone I could call?” I asked. I glanced at my watch. In another neighborhood around 15 miles north, a car filled with kids was waiting. Five kids after a full day of elementary school. Yelling. Teasing. Punching.

Suddenly you sat up a little straighter. “Sometimes it happens,” you said. Then smiling a jack-o’-lantern kind of smile, a kind of crazy crooked grin, you snapped your fingers. “Here. There. On. Off.” Then you leaned forward and squinted harder. “Are you real?”

“I’m Marlene,” I said. “Why don’t we look inside your purse?”

Together we found your driver’s license, your library card, a handful of business cards, and some wallet-sized photographs.

“That’s my daughter,” you said pointing. “That’s my grandson.”

It was like someone flipped a series of circuit breakers. All at once the lights inside your head flickered on one by one.

It’s been so many years I can’t remember all the details. Did I call your daugh ter? Did we somehow find her number or her name? I remember being panicked. I must have thought of calling the police. I remember the heat on my neck. The tick tick tocking of my watch. My stomach must have cramped like it always cramps when I’m pressured for time.

Then, as quickly as it started, it was over. You tucked your legs inside the car, turned on the ignition, and rolled down the window.

“I feel better now. Have a nice day!”

I stood statue-still while your car pulled away. Then I watched it slip out of the parking lot and merge with traffic. Once more I glanced at my watch. Maybe twen ty minutes had passed. I’d be late to carpool pickup. And suddenly my attention shifted to the school, the waiting mothers, and all the people I had to call.

One decade passed and then another. And an affliction that was once as foreign as scurvy or scarlet fever soon entered our lives. My father-in-law, someone who prided himself on his Mensa scores, who zoomed through The Times Sunday cross word, suddenly spent hours lolling on the couch.

At first he functioned on muscle memory alone. His car somehow found its way to the office, and somehow found its way home. Conversation was a series of scripts. How ya doing? Couldn’t be better! But after faking it for a year or two, his decline was hard to hide. Soon he was microwaving the forks and spoons and blowing his nose with a sock.

The journey may be circuitous but the destination is always the same. We took away the car keys. Then we moved him to a small apartment in an assisted living facility. And when he needed more care, we moved him to an even smaller unit in an Alzheimer’s ward.

After a while he forgot the scripts. At first, he managed short sentences. Then somewhere in the recesses of his brain the words got stuck. Instead he learned to use his fingers. He’d point to a bagel and snap snap snap. He’d reach for the remote control and snap snap snap. Then he forgot how to snap.

Of course, that was years ago. Just like you, my father-in-law is merely another memory shelved along the other memories of a long life. And now I look back on that day in the parking lot with something like fear. You were a reader, someone who drove to the library, someone who enjoyed words. Words were your balm, your blanket, your antidote for pain. And as I sit in front of the computer stitching this essay together, I just can’t imagine their loss.

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It’s the Job of Children

to reconstruct their parents and make something trustworthy.

Like Isaac bound on an altar, looking up into his father’s eyes, they must interpret the knife; the force of an unexpected slap—which must means something; the lull in an argument preceding violence or calm. Listen for

a meaning behind the meaning. Invent a history not shared in a handful of bucolic family stories. Conjure the why when as a child, a garage door came down on a cousin’s back and as he lay in the driveway writhing, his mother laughed and laughed.

Fill the gap between them she did not cross to help, with words to make up for the lack persisting to her last unapologetic breath.

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PTSD 3b

32

Twist the Kaleidoscope Again

There are so many iterations of the same memory, a single one splintering into a thousand, like it’s been sifted through a kaleidoscope, but it goes something like I didn’t want to go, but it was time to leave or you were gone before I’d even realized you’d chosen to say goodbye or you can pull someone out of a burning building, but what if they’re the thing that’s on fire?

I think it’s human nature to remember someone as they were, not as they are, so I still see you as whisper-shy by the seaside, backlit by that endless summer afternoon, instead of snarling in the springtime—dizzy with delusion, frantical ly pulling the puzzle pieces of our lives apart until all that’s left are the jagged pieces you’ve fashioned yourself, delusions of serial killer and prostitute and liar shredding your fingers—

And there is no how-to guide on recovering from someone else’s psychosis, but I twist the kaleidoscope until there’s something that resembles seeing you one last time (I didn’t) by the water where we first walked (there wasn’t) so that you could hear that I hoped you would be okay (you won’t).

33

Futility

The iceberg, he said, was visible from miles away. Like a snow-covered mountain on a plain of black glass. Similar sights were increasingly common this far into the northern seaway. However, even at such a distance one could discern the shape of numerous boats gathered around the colossus, seeming to drift in a forlorn congregation. It was the look-out who saw it first naturally, and after his initial astonishment immediately went to go tell the captain. Inev itably they changed course to investigate, for they had a duty to assist anyone in distress. The captain stood on the bridge and surveyed the strange tableaux with a telescope. But as they neared they could all see the bewildering variety of boats gathered there: yachts, schooners, tugboats, even a few trawlers like the one they operated. They issued a hail over the CB radio, but there was no answer, not a whisper.

Oddly the water became choppier as they neared, and the boat lurched as it passed over the subsurface turbulence. One of the deck-hands near the bow port-side was caught standing idle, a young fellow who was new to the ship; he slipped and fell and had to pull himself back to his feet with the aid of the rail. Moments later the first mate appeared on the bridge holding a clipboard. He must have asked what’s going on, for the captain gestured at the view before them and he looked. There was a certain bleak serenity in the scene: the crystalline monolith with its congress of derelicts, the water endless in every direction, mirrored by a dense pall of gray nimbus overhead.

When they reached the outer orbit of the abandoned boats, the radio burst out a screeching dissonance, a blazing noise that abraded the ears; the crew could hear it even down on the main deck. The captain shouted for someone to silence the damn thing and it was done. And with that, they entered the midst of the unfortunates gathered around the iceberg. As the captain navi gated their vessel between them, they could see the cataracts of frost blinding every window, which was adequate proof all the ships here were deserted.

Visible only at this proximity was the small cave-like opening that was carved into the side of the iceberg, and the horizontal ledge outside of it, about twenty feet above the water. It was this the captain was angling to ward. He stopped at the edge of the inner periphery, a safe distance away and stepped out onto the deck for a better look. He stared at that cave-like open ing for a long moment, then he bade someone fetch the ropes. By this time the

entire crew was up on deck, some thirty men, and they stood looking nervously at the scene around them. There was smoking and talking; inevitably spec ulation about how such a motley assembly came to converge out here some fifty miles from the Arctic Circle.

“Maybe they all abandoned ship. Run out of fuel or something.”

“All of them? No, that’s preposterous. There’s too many.”

“Currents carried them here. Some sorta tidal vortex.”

“We’re hundreds of miles from anywhere.”

“Could be pirates. Lure us out here with all these boats.”

“This doesn’t make any sense.”

“I say we call the Coast Guard and leave well enough alone.”

The captain declared they would be boarding these crafts to search for survivors and any clue to what happened here. However, he also wanted to send some men to investigate the iceberg as well, a task for which there were no volunteers; they drew straws to see who would go. It was the first mate and the deck-hand who had slipped. Armed with flashlights and grappling hooks, they were lowered down in one of the life-boats and paddled to the iceberg, securing anchor upon it, and used the ropes to help ascend the ledge to the cave-like opening.

There they took a moment to salute their crewmen back on the ship before venturing inside. The cave led into a tunnel that went on for several meters before they emerged into an immense sepulchral chamber hewn from the iceberg’s interior. A large hole at the center of the dome of its ceiling allowed enough light that they could see they were on a ledge that encircled the pe rimeter of this chamber, which vaguely resembled an arena. There were two column-like platform blocks of ice about eight feet high sitting in the center of the arena directly beneath the window-hole. There were ladders leaning against them, at the foot of which there was a heap of broken electronics: radar, sonar, and radio equipment, doubtless hauled in from the ships outside, and all of it smashed to pieces. They looked around and beheld all this in awe, cringing at the noise of their voices, for the air seemed leaden with a resonant stillness, and to commit sound of any sort was a breach of that ineffable silence.

“Hello? HELLO! Is anybody here?”

“Good God, what is this place?”

Walking around the rim they saw additional tunnels on the lower level, all of which appeared to lead further downward. With a mass of this size, its entirety could only be inferred, and the possibility this iceberg might host a cavernous warren below the surface was entirely within reason. The notion there was a network of labyrinthine passages descending into the very bowels of the

35

iceberg bloomed potently in their minds. They shivered in the frigid chill that seemed to emanate from those depths. It was an arctic breath, accompanied by a faint crackling sound like static or distant waves.

The purpose of this floating grotto eluded them. Considerable work had evidently gone into carving out this space, but to what end? Had there not been so many boats outside attracting attention, this iceberg would have been an otherwise perfect hideaway. Those platforms were situated such that they must have aided in excavating the cavities they assumed lay beyond, a mid-point from which to eject all that displaced material out through the window-hole and into the water.

They had nearly gone all the way around when they came across what they initially thought was a bundle of rags but turned out to be an emaciated old sailor wrapped in blankets, half-frozen and starved to the brink of death. Upon sighting them he became briefly hysterical and attempted to struggle but was soon subdued by his intrinsic exhaustion and collapsed. He wheezed at them: “What are you… doing here? Get out… while you can…”

The first mate did immediately head back outside to report finding a sur vivor while the deckhand stayed behind with him. He asked the old sailor, “Where is everybody? You can’t be the only one left. There’s too many boats. What the hell happened? Call you tell me?”

But the old sailor seemed driven partly insane by whatever happened to him here and cowered fetus-like in his nest of clothes and blankets; he covered his face and leered at the young man from between his fingers, rolling his eyes. Then he turned away and began quietly gibbering and rocking back and forth.

When the first mate returned his eyes were wide with alarm. “You’re gonna wanna come see this for yourself,” he said and beckoned his comrade to join him outside.

Outside the cold air was a succor to the enclosure of the chamber. The exterior ledge offered a heightened view upon the crowded cortege gathered here. Their mother ship was among the others, presumably checking each vessel for survivors. The water swirled blackly, tantalizing between them, as though sud denly rife with motion. And then he realized there was nobody on the deck; the captain should have been at the bridge, instead it was deserted. They watched, waiting for some sign of life, but there was none. The whole crew was gone.

They looked at the surrounding vista, wondering what happened. The sea was opaque and bereft of feature, hiding all clues; the water was a jagged stretch to the horizontal schism where the worm of sky pillowed over head like a shroud, slowly darkening. It had the inverted pallor of an imminent downpour; otherwise the air was still. They didn’t know what else to do; they stood there and listened to the malefic lull of the waves lapping at the boats

and the side of the iceberg. The sky dimmed with the realization that they were doomed.

Sometime during their dismal reverie they heard shouting from within the iceberg and promptly went back inside. There they found the old sailor inexplicably bleeding from a massive abdominal wound. He appeared to be desper ately folding in on himself, as if by compressing the injury he could reduce its damage. He was sweating profusely and had started making a steady bug-like keening sound. He somehow crammed both hands into his mouth, his face swelling purple, eyes bulging. He lay on his side. The wound pulsed with glistening crimsons, green and gray; it was a vaguely circular laceration between the pelvis and ribcage about the size of a fist.

In dire need of medical aid, he let out a gurgling groan as they gingerly lifted him by his shoulders and knees and carried him out through the tunnel. For some reason they were hopeful: they could get him into the lifeboat, get back to their ship and the engine start; once they were on board they could get away; they had a first-aid kit; everything would be okay; soon enough they would be coasting past the yellow traffic buoy and into the safety of regulated waters. However, a single droplet hit each of their faces as they emerged back onto the exterior ledge.

Whereupon they then noticed their lifeboat was no longer beneath that ledge; it somehow came loose and drifted a distance of over fifty feet. There was a possibility, however faint, that if the boat drifted away then it might also drift back, but that would depend on the currents, and it was more likely to move to an even greater distance. They certainly couldn’t try swimming back to the ship; it was too cold, they’d freeze instantly. They thought perhaps they could use the ropes to snag the lifeboat and pull it back, but then they noticed the grappling hooks were gone as well.

At their feet the old sailor twisted over, puked up a long stream of black bile, then shuddered violently and died. Overhead the sky rumbled, and then at last it finally began to rain. They knew then that they were never going to be found. The boats would eventually drift away, like the planets will after the sun goes nova, and whatever the iceberg doesn’t suck down with it when it sinks will drift like rubbish across the endless seas.

In Memoriam: Deepwater Horizon

37

Fire and Water

38

Mother

My mother died in the early minutes of March 21, 2012, just as spring was coming to its fullest expression in Birmingham, Alabama—the city where she was born, married, had her children, and lived her entire life. The foliage was a promising shade of bright green. The suburban lawns were visions lined with banks of azaleas in full bloom. The year was still young; as yet, the sun’s heat had no weight to it.

On March 9, she was diagnosed with bone cancer. How long she had had the bone cancer, her doctor would not suppose. What was known was that the bone cancer was a metastasis from breast cancer which she had survived fourteen years ago. For the past twelve years, she had been cancer-free, but, as it was explained, breast cancer is sneaky, insidious, and doesn’t give up easily.

The doctor giving her the diagnosis stressed the positive aspects: the cancer had not spread beyond the bones; with chemotherapy, she might live a few more years, although she would likely be confined to a wheelchair. If this was meant to be the silver lining, my mother didn’t see it that way. She confided her true state of mind to her rabbi. “Rabbi, I know I’m dying,” she said to him when he visited her in the hospital.

“We’re all dying,” he replied.

“No, I know I am dying soon,” she said, “and it’s all right.”

He told us this after the funeral, at the shiva minyan. *

As I drove along the roads of my childhood, it occurred to me that my mother’s youth had been the best season of her life. Everything afterwards was a disappointment, and she had never really gotten over it.

Inside the woman she became, there was always the popular girl, the belle of the ball, whose life had never fulfilled its promise. Once her wit and repartee had charmed girls and boys alike, and young and old; she was accustomed to being the center of attention, adored and adorned.

Long after she married and had children, flirtation lived on in her encoun ters with tradesmen and repairmen—Stanley at the grocery store, Gus at the gas station—men she saw casually in the course of her errands. She seemed happiest when she was flirting, but I never saw her flirt with my father. Nothing so lighthearted existed between them. Instead there was a furious passion that erupted in explosions and battles.

* *

It is one morning at breakfast, and I am three or four years old. I don’t know what started their argument, but Daddy wants to leave for work, and Mama is angry and threatening to pour coffee on him. He is angry, too, and taunts her that she won’t dare do it. “Don’t you believe it,” she cries, grabbing the coffee pot from the stove. She flings a fountain of hot coffee that reaches him as he tries to escape out the front door, splashing all over his good suit. He screams, and she flees back inside. Furious, he stomps up the stairs and inside the house to change, cursing her but avoiding her. His suit is stained the color of dirt, the color of excrement.

That stain endures—dirty, shameful, coloring our family life for years to come. So much unhappiness and disappointment and so little tolerance and affection. Long before my parents met, something had happened to each of them that left them damaged. Neither was emotionally whole enough to love in an unstinting and generous way. Their connections to each other and their children were based on transactions. “I’ll do this for you, if you do that for me.” Nothing was free, and everything had its price. This was how they related to each other, and it was how they treated their children as well.

Mom tyrannized over us because she could dominate us. The home was the only sphere in which she was powerful. Every morning Dad escaped into the practice of law. It was a place where he had reason and justice on his side, and she didn’t exist. Only within her family was she all-powerful.

My parents fought constantly about money. There was never enough. Because my mother had no way of earning money and no intention of trying, she intensified the pressure on my father. He’d left a law firm where he was unhappy to go out on his own and struggled for years as a single practitioner before he was successful. But even after success came, the obsession with money continued.

It was more than a need for money that they expressed. They thought about money constantly—how to get it, how to hoard it, how to save it from anyone else spending it. My parents let their lust for money control their lives. The conclusion was that money was worth more than we were. We were constantly being reminded that they couldn’t afford us, but they were stuck with us. They calculated each expenditure, and it was up to us to prove we were worth every cent they grudgingly spent on us.

In her battles with our father, my mother pressured us to take sides, and woe befell us if we didn’t select hers. We grew up afraid of her temper and her outbursts. “What if Mom gets mad?” we would worry, and by “mad,” we meant her screaming until the veins stood out on her neck, and her vocal cords

40

sounded as if they were stripped raw. In her rages, she hit us and tore up our rooms. Once, when I was a teenager, she picked up a heavy pair of ceramic mushrooms that sat on the coffee table and hurled them at my head. I ducked instinctively, and when the mushrooms exploded against the wall, shattering into fragments, she screamed that I had broken them. In the shadows of her screams was Mimi, trying to find a way to glue the mushrooms back together.

Mom did not care how much she inflicted hurt. The harm within her that in turn caused the wish to harm seemed inexhaustible. That she never apolo gized was like a badge of honor for her, as if an apology were an admission of shameful weakness.

She claimed that she hadn’t wanted any of her children, that we were all the results of accidents and mistakes. She told us that she had jumped off the kitchen table and thrown herself down the stairs, hoping for a miscarriage, but it hadn’t worked. Even though she said this many times, it was hard for us to believe. After all, she took care of us; she hadn’t abandoned us. She shopped and cooked, sewed our clothes, made sure we went to school, and took us to the doctor.

She was kindest to us when we were sick. She would bring us trays with soft boiled eggs scooped out of the shell into an egg cup to be spooned up with bits of toast, ginger ale with some of the bubbles stirred out, hot tea, and saltines. She loved us best when we were babies, before we had learned to talk, to walk, or express our will. She loved us best when we were still helplessly dependent. Once we were toddlers, she did not like us so well. She was sure to find something in our behavior to object to. * * *

At our first therapy session after my mother’s death, my husband said, “It may sound blunt, but I think that your life will be a lot better now that she is gone.”

It was hard for me to hear this. It set me apart from other daughters. It was as if I could hear my mother’s voice in my ear accusing me of being hard-hearted and unnatural. She enjoyed reducing me to tears, until I had dissolved into a pool of water, like the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz.

“Everyone thinks you’re a good girl, a smart girl. You’re a sneak, you’ve pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes but mine,” she would yell at me. “I know the real you. You’re a nasty, two-faced little bitch. You’re a selfish fuck who doesn’t give a good goddamn about anyone but herself. You don’t love me. You don’t know how to love. Look at you! I can’t stand the sight of you!”

How I sobbed and begged for forgiveness, hoping she would stop. But she remained cold and hard, as ungiving as steel. I thought what she was saying must be true, because when I searched my heart at those moments, I could

find no love for her.

Ten years passed, then 20. This scene was replayed hundreds of times, in countless variations. My mother’s gift for twisting meaning was worse than the cursing and the hitting, because it caused me to doubt myself.

When I was younger, the only way I knew how to resist was passively. While she attacked me, I stood stiff and still, my face expressionless, while my mind escaped. I imagined that I was a prisoner in a cell, peering out the bars of a window, turning myself into a bird flying free. When she gripped me vio lently by the shoulders and shook me so that my teeth rattled in my head, I imagined that I had left my body behind. I was somewhere else, where I wasn’t being hurt.

She knew what I was doing, and it infuriated her. Even though I tried as hard as I could to be a stone that absorbed nothing, I didn’t completely succeed. There was a part of me that took in every word she said and believed it.

In between her rages, my father lectured me that it was my duty to endure whatever she did to me, just as he endured it when she got mad at him. He believed that his forbearance made him morally superior, and he wanted me to be like him. He insisted and then pleaded that I should give in to her. Do it for me, he begged.

So I would agree to give in. Then, all the crying that I had repressed, the sadness and the suffering that I had been holding back with rigid control, would burst out of me, and I would sob, wanting to believe that what he was offering me was comfort.

And I would go to my mother with dread in my heart. Time and again, my dread was fulfilled. Despite my father’s promises, my mother interpreted my apology as an opportunity for a further attack. She went for the chink in my armor, and she struck deep. She struck again and again, until I was like the mutilated dragon, writhing at St. Michael’s feet.

My father’s claim of the moral high ground went hand in hand with his belief that he commanded an impartial view from this exalted place. He meted out blame. “What do you do that sets her off? She never gets mad at your sisters the way she gets mad at you. Why can’t you learn not to provoke her?”

I didn’t want to provoke her. I wanted her to love me, but she didn’t. She constantly found fault. Something I did or said, something I didn’t do, or should have done was always setting her off. Maybe she was right. Maybe deep down I was a bad person, pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes. The truth was that I hated my mother, and at the same time I loved her with a painful love.

It took me a long time to learn to protect myself. It took distance. It took silence. It took decades.

42
* * *

At the end of my mother’s life, she stopped battling. In our last conversations, she showed no wish to fight with me. While there were no deathbed confessions or revelations, neither were there accusations or threats. I didn’t know how close to death she was, but she knew, and she kept her own counsel. She never used the word “cancer” in conversation with me. She insisted that it was her chronic fatigue syndrome and her chronic mononucleosis that was causing her problems. I had stopped challenging her years ago. I listened, and I sympathized.

In a strange way, illness always brought out the best in my mother. She was long-suffering and heroic. As a patient in the hospital, she made an effort to cooperate. On that floor, she was the nurses’ favorite. She always wanted sympathy, and now it came to her in abundance.

But she wasn’t getting better. The depths to which she was falling took her by surprise. I could hear the shock in the tone of her voice. The pleasures of her life slipped away from her; she could no longer concen trate on reading or watching television. Eating, walking, going to the bathroom, and getting dressed were no longer activities of her daily life. Given this state of things, did she make a conscious decision to die sooner rather than later, in order to avoid the misery that lay ahead of her? Did she will her heart to fail, her lungs to fill with fluid? I wonder what it was like for her in those final moments, alone in the hospital room. I admire her courage, and I love her for not fighting the inevitable. If I were in her place, I would prefer it her way.

After my mother’s death, I was left with a sense of emptiness. I found con solation in the family treasure trove of pictures. I loved looking at the images of my parents at the beginning of their marriage, when they were younger than I had ever known them, and their life together was a future promise. They seemed to beckon mysteriously from the unknowable past. What secrets could I unlock if I were to speak to them?

My sisters and I have fallen in love with these pictures; we copy and exchange them by email and flash drive. In these idealized images, our parents are smiling and beautiful. They appear happier and more confident than any of us ever remember them being.

Appearances deceive. Self-assertive and opinionated though my mother was, she was not confident. Despite her obvious gifts and accomplishments, she allowed herself to be paralyzed by fear. She was miserable every day of her life, and yet, long after her children were grown, she didn’t have the nerve to leave an unhappy marriage where she felt dissatisfied, overlooked, misunderstood, and unloved. She was afraid to take a risk for happiness, although she found my father emotionally stunted and self-absorbed, and she blamed

* * *

him for not providing for her in the way that she wanted. Ultimately, it was not love, loyalty, or friendship that kept her from leaving my father. She had never worked outside the home, and she didn’t intend to start. She was wor ried enough about losing financial security that she clung to the evils she knew rather than fly to others that she knew not of.

In his own way, which was not her way, my father loved my mother very much. Once she was gone, it was touching to see how much he missed her and how lost he was without her. Oddly enough, what he seemed to miss most was her sarcasm. Funny how I never realized how much he actually enjoyed being the butt of her jokes. When I asked him about his happy memories, he fond ly recalled her witticisms at his expense, variations on the theme of how she wished she’d never married him.

“The thing with Mom is that you never knew if she really meant it or not,” I commented.

“Nah, she didn’t mean it,” he replied softly, twisting his body with shyness like a schoolboy. Or was the gesture just a manifestation of his Parkinson’s disease? * * *

A friend who recently lost her own mother wrote me, “The best metaphor I have heard for this rite of passage is that it’s like having the roof of the house yanked off, and suddenly you’re looking up at the sky, exposed to the elements.

I find this metaphor rich and suggestive, as it hearkens back to the maternal ideal as intermediary, shelter, protector. I picture the black sky, pricked by stars. I feel the cold wind, but I don’t feel the same way that my friend does.

I feel an emptiness, but it isn’t the vastness of space. It is more like a physical sensation in my body, located at the pit of my stomach. It can’t be relieved or explained away. It’s just there.

Instead of a roof, it was as if walls came down for me when Mom died. From the time I was young, my mother had erected walls to try to separate us from each other. Her idea was to divide and conquer. With walls, she controlled us, confined us, defined us. The walls were metaphorical, and they were also real. Sometimes they were the misunderstandings she liked to stir up between us— the way she talked about us to each other behind our backs and goaded us with what others said about us, or how she interrupted when two of us began to have a conversation that wasn’t about her.

Now she is gone, the walls that she put up are gone, too. Each one of us sis ters had spent years without speaking to the others, but now we find common connections in our shared griefs, our worries about our father.

We are trying to reach across the void my mother left when she died, and hold hands.

44

Manspreading

I squeeze my shoulders in on themselves and fold my legs together, one on top of the other, to make room for the man next to me, whose legs are spread wide as he explains to me what I already know. As he complains to me what he doesn’t understand. As he tells me he’s not some typical dude.

Consistently, I have folded myself in to make room for him, internalizing these ignorant phrases with a fire I have been told to contain.

I wonder what it would be like if he heard my loud, resounding HA at candid banter, if he felt the hard muscle underneath my soft skin, if he watched as I surpassed his intelligence threefold.

What would happen if the world had laid bare these truths:

1. That a woman’s personality is raucous and raw. 2. That even the most gentle of women have blistering opinions.

I sit beside him and unfold my legs, both feet on the ground. I watch as he recognizes he must share this space with a woman. I witness the silent flare of irritation, the subtle tick of his jaw, and I ask myself:

What would happen if I unboxed myself from this cage— slowly, then all at once?

45

Inside My Cell

46

Your Car’s Extended Warranty

“Hello?”

“Yes—yes, we’ve been trying to reach you about your car’s extended war ranty,” I finally said in a single quick breath over the headset I had donned three hours ago. It was my first person to pick up, and I was grinning at the prospect of finally helping someone. “I don’t have time for this. This is a scam.”

“I assure you, it’s not a scam. We’re trying to help.”

“Oh yeah, help steal my identity is what you’re doing. No thanks.”

I could practically hear the man’s finger hovering over the end call button. “No, wait!” I shouted. I didn’t hear the click of a disconnection, so I kept speak ing. “It’s not about the warranty,” I said in a hushed tone. Silence. And then…

“What do you mean?” the man said.

“I mean I’m not really selling car warranties. Just stay on the line and let me explain.”

Another moment of silence. “You’ve got two minutes.”

“Sir,” I began reading the script from the computer screen. “Welcome to your personal genie service. We’re here to make your wishes come true.”

“Kid, I don’t have time for jokes just like I don’t have time for scams.”

“It’s not a joke. Tell me, what do you need right now?” “Huh?”

“What do you need? What do you wish you had right now?”

“Well…I, uh… I wish I could find a job quicker than it’s been going.”

I typed his wish into the first box and hit the enter key. “Done.”

“What do you mean, done?”

“Check your email.”

I could hear grumbling on the other side as the man sat heavily in a chair and began typing. I waited patiently.

“Well, I’ll be,” the man finally spoke up.

“And your second wish, sir?” I smiled again.

“Now hold on. It could just be coincidence that I got a job offer while we were on the phone.”

“The best way to find out if you’re right is to make another wish,” I replied. “Right. Er, okay. I wish…ooo, ooo. I wish to find love.”

I thought about this one for a few seconds before typing the directive into

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the second box. “Okay, sir. In two days’ time, I want you to open up your dating app and swipe no until you see a ‘Jessica.’ Swipe yes to her and get your flirt on because she’s going to be the love of your life.” I snapped my fingers for emphasis despite being on the phone with the man.

“Woot, woot!” I could hear him hollering in the background.

“And your third wish?” I was wiggling in my seat with excitement at how well my first real call was going.

“Money.” The man laughed and continued, “I want to be rich.”

My smile reached from ear to ear. “Of course, sir. As a disclaimer, I am not allowed to supply currency in rubles, bonds, or crypto.”

“Yes, that’s fine, fine.”

“Okay, how much do you want? I need to enter an exact number into the computer.” “How about a hundred-million dollars?” he stated with a gleeful squeal.

“Perfect, and I’ll just need your checking account information to send your transfer.” In his excitement, he rattled off his banking information, and I typed the numbers into my form.

“Thank you, sir.” I grinned. “You have a wonderful day now. May all your future wishes come true.” I disconnected the line and saved the man’s banking information to the database. He’d be cleaned out in a matter of minutes.

Beaming with pride in my success, I wondered if the next person to pick up would be so easy to con.

Neonlumberjack

The Matrix

50

A Mosaic of a Life

I am made up entirely of all those who I have loved and have lost. Of those who have loved me and those who did not.

I am glued pieces of marble with the words said to me painted in red.

Words stain deeper than red wine and will scar greater than anything. Still, I choose to love.

My sexuality found me when I was 8 years old, but it took me a decade to find it in myself.

To come out to my family. Ready to be kicked out and cut off, I stumbled into the kitchen to find my mother.

The tears poured out of me as did the fear and panic. Manic; praying to a God I don’t believe in, that she would accept me, love me. Her baby girl, who she thought she knew. The words that left her lips are those that are tattooed in my memory. “No parent wishes for their child to be gay, but it’s okay.”

Little does she know; I took it all out on myself for years.

Little does she know; I still struggle with internalized homophobia. Little does she know; I still don’t feel completely accepted or loved. Little does she know; I think about that moment in our kitchen more than I’ll ever admit to anyone.

Little does she know; the number of times her baby girl tried to conform to the heteronormative world that was confining me into a cell. Still, I choose to love.

When I was 12 or 13 years old, my peers started to use the slang that would be spewed at me for the rest of my life. I never experienced understanding, but how could I when I was hiding one of the best parts of myself?

After years of therapy, I have come to the realization that I was in survival mode for about 13 of my 22 years of life on this earth.

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Mental illnesses came for my throat at this time.

It started as bringing my own chair to the dinner table.

A family of five I am a part of. A family of five, who only ever had four chairs at the table.

It was the predetermination of the chronic loneliness, a life sentence. I was not shown how to show my love, because we did not talk about it. There was only black and white, man and women.

Anything else was simply blasphemy. It did not exist. I did not exist. Still, I choose to love.

Teenage years pushed me further down than a father’s hands could ever do. I became a pit of rage, and it silenced me. The world silenced me. The lack of representation, the lack of discussion, the lack of care, the lack of love.

It was so obvious to me and so oblivious to everyone else. It’s no wonder I struggle to still love myself.

To understand that me being gay is not something to be damned for, but something to celebrate.

This is something they do not teach you in the churches around here. They talk about tolerance as if it’s about the drinks they’ll knock down on a Saturday night, because they are saved since they praise Jesus on Sundays. So yes, I would much rather be considered a sinner in their eyes than have to fight for my right to exist. Still, I choose to love.

Romantic heartbreak first hit me at the ripe age of 18, and I went through it alone because of the uncomfortable feeling that arose in everyone else by me saying “she” and “her.”

What about my experience?

What if my parents broke my heart before I was old enough to know? Silence.

[page break]

To this day I have not come out to my grandparents, and with every friend I make, an overwhelming obligation to come out to them falls over my head like a storm cloud.

Where is the joy in that? Does it exist for me?

Will I ever be allowed to breathe again?

Or will I always be crushed by the stones the world throws, by the hate that grows so deep into the hearts of those who will never know me?

Still, I choose to love.

The year is 2022, the month is May. A pandemic opened the eyes of so many, but if a black man isn’t getting murdered on the streets of Minneapolis, if people are not actively marching, protesting, screaming from the top of their lungs what they deserve because they are human it is swept under the rug. But it is about: Racism, Abortion, LGBTQ+ Rights and Laws, Same Sex Marriage, Immigration, Women’s Rights, Sexual Assault, and More. There is always more. There is change but the systems are what is broken, and it is breaking us. The hate is breaking us. It is breaking me.

Too many have bled from their wrists because they are fearful of being themselves. Too many have died at the hands of those with a badge and a gun. Too many have taken their own lives because they felt dying was easier than living in this world. It is cruel, and the negativity will flood your heart if you let it. But even flowers can bloom in between the cracks of sidewalks.

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There is beauty in the pain, in the struggle, in the will to survive and live above all else.

To light the way for someone else. To be who you needed when you were younger. To love without shame, without anxiety, without fucking hiding. Still, I choose to love.

What am I but a human being, finding the reasons to love, the reasons to live.

Chipmunk

I stood this morning at the picture window, mug of lukewarm black coffee in hand, staring at the chipmunk stuffing its face full of seeds. It glanced at me nervously to see if I was a threat, but it probably knew the glass was there. So I continued to stand still, with my hospital scrub pants on—the ones I stole from California when I worked there years ago. The fluffy little bastard kept filling its cheeks; the forbidden fruit from the great bird feeder in the sky is too great to pass up. It’s amazing how much they can fit in there; the cheeks keep expanding, always threatening to burst out in a bloody, seedy mess which would surely ruin the feeder. Not that any birds ever come to the thing any ways, the chipmunk is always there. My cat sits on the table next to me, equally transfixed in watching this marvel of the natural world. Although I suspect it’s for different reasons. The cat wouldn’t even know what to do with the thing if he got it. He has only ever played with rubber bands and cat nip, nothing that moves or bleeds. Yet still here we both are, looking through a pane of glass at an animal that somehow means nothing and everything to us in this moment. An inescapable amount of cliché metaphors of life: constantly wanting to stuff our faces with seeds, always being looked at by the cat who wants to kill us but doesn’t bother to understand why. A few minutes pass, my coffee gets colder, the chipmunk finally leaves. Apparently there is a limit to those cheeks after all. That gives me hope.

October Leaves

56

A Trinket for Madge

Madge sat huddled on a stool in the damp reek of her newsstand. A monot onous rain fell from the night sky, neither hard nor soft. The rain beat a steady tattoo on the tin roof of the tiny shack. It was the rain of seasons, of years, as much a constant on this sodden land as Madge was a fixture in her plywood lair. She waited at her post, patient as a spider. Ollie would be here soon, he the third son to a woman twice-widowed, Madge’s favorite sort of toy.

An ancient electric heater roasted her booted feet while the rest of her lumpy body shivered under layers of wool. Madge’s legs were wrapped in woolen underwear, a pair of discarded tweed trousers, and over that a heavy skirt of plaid. The hem of her skirt was charred where the cantankerous heater had set it afire.

From her thick waist to her squat neck, Madge was swathed in two work shirts, a fisherman’s sweater, and finally, a puffy parka patched with duct tape. A hunter’s cap framed her broad face, earflaps secured by a strap that disap peared into the wattles beneath her jowls. Unruly wisps of grey hair escaped from the confines of the cap.

Madge’s kingdom was an arm’s breath deep by two wide. The front of the newsstand was hinged at the half. When raised, the wall formed a plywood and tar paper awning that protected her wares, glossy magazines plumping with the damp, lurid tabloids moist and inky to the touch. Propped on dubious wooden poles, the awning offered her few patrons a moment’s respite from the rain in which to mull over a meager purchase. A dry lure to trap the earnest and unwary.

And then Ollie appeared out of the dark squall, galumphing up the sidewalk in a drenched overcoat and dripping snap brim. The fool was smiling despite the cold and wet, his hands shoved deep into his pockets. The young man plashed up to the newsstand and the protection of the propped awning, ducking under the string of bare bulbs glowing in the dark. He shakes the accumu lated rain from his overcoat, mindful of Madge’s wares and glowering eyes.

“A fine good evening to you, Madge.”

“You’ve got something for me, Boyo?”

The old woman’s voice was harsh as a croaking crow.

“You know I do, Madge.”

With a clumsy flourish, Ollie swept a small object from his pocket and

57

placed it on the warped plywood counter. It was a plastic hula girl figurine sporting a faux-grass bobble skirt. Ollie jiggled the base of the hula girl, caus ing the skirt to wiggle and jump.

A smile broke over valleys and ridges of Madge’s face. The transforma tion was not pleasing, but Ollie did not seem to notice. Madge reached out a crooked finger and poked the hula girl. The figure wiggled and danced. The old woman gasped out a wheezy chuckle and snatched the doll from the counter.

“Where shall she go, Boyo?”

Ollie squinted past the glare of the bare bulbs. The back wall of the news stand was gridded with narrow shelves, such as those that hold potions and powders in an apothecary.

But Madge’s shelves held no dusty brown bottles. The shelves were overrun with trinkets and tokens, chipped porcelain dolls, and one-armed milkmaids. Ollie pointed to a likely spot. “How about next to that gilded Eiffel Tower? There’s a space there.”

Madge swiveled on her stool, looking like a toad marking a fat fly. She reached up, slid the hula girl beside the six-inch tall Eiffel Tower. She ran the tip of one finger down the length of the hula dancer, then turned back to the young man.

“That’s a fine bit of treasure, Ollie.”

Ollie made a show of looking over the headlines while Madge eyed the big galoot himself. The boy’s face was an open book, and the book told a simple tale. “It’s nothing, Madge. You know I’d never forget your present.”

Madge snorted to herself but held her peace. Oh yes you will, Boyo, she thought. One day you will forget and then woe betide.

“Look at this stuff, Madge. Girl turns straw to gold. Disgruntled musician abducts children. Madwoman shears stepdaughter, blinds boyfriend. Is there a word of truth to any of this?”

“Aye, there is Boyo, more truth than you’ll ever know.”

Ollie shrugged his shoulders and smiled, as he did with anything he did not understand, which was most things.

“Well, I’ll just be having my racing form then.”

Madge dug under the counter and came up with a tabloid-sized newspaper featuring a running horse. Ollie dug the money from his meager purse and handed it over. The transaction done, Madge leaned back on her stool, head sinking into her parka. Ollie waited, watching her. After a long pause, she spoke.

“Did you find a scrap of luck at the track today?”

“Scrap is the right word. I popped a middling place in the third and a show in the sixth. Poor odds on both. Just enough to pay for the gate, the form, a hard roll, and the hula girl there.”

“Tomorrow’s a new day, Lad, and another rainy one for sure. Mark my words: fifth race, Belinda’s Girl. The filly has a lightning start but no wins. The odds will be long. A fast starter, Boy. That track will be hock deep in mud.”

“Oh, I get it. A fast starter, hooves throwing mud.” “Yes, and?”

“And the other nags won’t want to pass her, won’t like mud flung in their eyes and all.”

“You’re a smart lad, s’truth. Very well, off with you then. I don’t have time to chew the fat all night.”

“Right then, Madge. Thanks, and all.”

Released, Ollie ducked from under the awning and back into the rain. As Madge pretended not to watch and did, the young man sloshed a short way up the sidewalk to a Pullman diner. Ollie disappeared up the stairs and then reappeared through the rain-streaked windows.

Madge saw him sit at the counter, yank his hat off, try to smooth his straw-yellow hair. All for her, of course, that wee snip of a waitress scared of her own shadow. Madge watches the two of them and snorts. Just look at those two moonstruck bumpkins, will you? Both of them mooing like calves and too shy to say a word to each other. Rubes, cabbage heads!

She pawed around under the counter, found her pipe and tobacco tin. She filled the bowl of the pipe, tamped it, struck a lucifer with her thumbnail, and puffed the pipe to life. Smoke wreathed her head in gray swirls. Wet draughts stirred the smoky cloud, pulled it into the night, and beat it to the pavement.

Madge smoked her pipe and watched the incessant rain. Her mind wan dered across the ages, past the many names she’d carried, back to a cozy cottage nestled under the shade of an apple tree. The great warm rock beside the road where she sat in the sunshine. A lovely place to await the next earnest farm boy mounted on a plow horse, the next simple shepherd seeking his fortune. They came to her not knowing, hopeful simpletons who stopped to seek the clue, the token, the magick charm.

Yes, My Girl, sunshine back then, hot and bright on a dusty road. Here and now, nothing but dark and wet, and no dawn in sight.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Not that you were ever that mighty, but you were no one to be trifled with, that was certain. Still, you’re lucky to be alive, rain-soaked pit or no. Might be the only one of our kind left. All the others dead and gone, roasted in their own ovens, hung from gibbets like carrion, or cast out onto the trackless ice. But not us. Old Madge is still here, still breathing.

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* * *

The next night washed over Madge’s newsstand wetter and darker than any before. Puddles splashed up from Ollie’s boots as the rain pounded down. He ducked into the sliver of dry in front of her newsstand, shedding water like the goose he was.

Madge gave him a hard eye. Before she could say the words, he swept one hand from his overcoat, then landed the offering on her counter. He opened his hand with a clumsy flourish, revealing a small porcelain gnome.

The little fellow’s face was squinched into a permanent smirk, one eye forev er winking. His beard was white, his pointed cap red, tunic of green, and shoes of blue. Madge picked up the gnome and ran a rough thumb over its round little belly.

“Aye, he’s a right fine little chap. We must find a special place for this one. Does this mean your luck ran true?”

“True enough for a fella with no stake. Belinda’s Girl came in fair in the fifth, just as you said. The odds were good, but a two-dollar bet can only stretch so far, long odds or no. I won enough coins to eat and cover the price of the gnome.”

Ollie looked to the Pullman diner, then back to Madge. The old woman pushed tomorrow’s racing form across the splintered counter. She rapped a fingertip into the damp newsprint, once, twice, thrice. Then she waved her gnarled digit under Ollie’s nose.

“Mark my words, Ollie, and mark them well. I know you’re holding back on me. Gather your every penny. Search that hovel of yours. Pawn what you have, borrow and steal. You’ll be putting everything, and I do mean everything, on a trifecta.”

“But Madge!”

“I will hear no buts, young Ollie. Seventh race, Mermaid’s Daughter, Giant Slayer, and Beauty Sleep, in that order. I’ll not say it again, so just nod your head.” Ollie nodded, frightened and hopeful at once.

“Now scat!”

The skinny fool tottered backward into the rain as if he’d been singed. Then he turned and scurried away through the wet. Madge watched the oaf clamber into the Pullman diner, saw the mousy wench greet him, then pulled her eyes away.

Night slogged into day and day into night, and not much to mark the passage between the two. No sunrise and sunset in this cursed city, only the gloom grew lighter and then pitched back to blackness. And still the rain fell.

Madge heard his boots splashing up the sidewalk, almost running, and she knew the simple fool had won before he burst into the light of the newsstand. He stood with hands cupped in the dank air, and in them, she saw a pile of silver and gold coins.

“It’s wonderful, Madge, wonderful! I hit the trifecta as pretty as you please, one, two, three, across the line just as you said. And will you look at that? I’ve enough coin to hold my head up, ask Bessie out for a dance. But I’ve got to rush, got to tell her the good news. And all thanks to you, Madge.”

And then he was gone, dashing through the rain and into the diner, the small pile of coins still cradled in his hands.

She saw his blurry image through the diner windows, saw him pile his coins on the counter. The wee serving girl appeared, blushing crimson, her hands held to her cheeks. Then she nodded and smiled. Madge dropped her bitter eyes to the empty counter. No hula girl, no gnome, no token nor trinket.

Madge hunkered down on her stool and pondered the fate she might bestow on the love-addled fools. A wide river flowing between them, and both grown old and gray before they can cross over again. Sheer peaks will rise between them, leaving each trapped in a lonely valley, able to hear the cries of love’s anguish, but unable to scale the rocky heights. Yes, or her favorite, Ollie blinded and wandering in a desert while stupid moon-faced Bessie searches in vain.

All these fates Madge has conjured and more, but in truth, she’s grown tired, so tired. This new world of wet and dark pushed the old magick aside, creating new realms of suffering. Madge raised her old eyes, looked past the rain-beaded windows, saw the two lovers hand-in-hand.

Poor, poor fools. This world will do you so much worse than anything I could ever fashion. I’ve lived past my time and that’s a hard truth to swallow. What powers I have are becoming no more potent than a child’s plaything. Much harder fates there are, and such will be yours with no meddling of mine.

Wealth is what matters in this dark world. Magick counts for naught and love even less. Wealth breeds more wealth and poverty more poverty. The gulf between the two is a broad dark sea, easy to cross from one side, impossible to cross from the other.

This will be your curse. You will become lovers entwined, bound together in poverty. Let need gnaw at the bones of your love until there is not a scrap of meat left. Even then, even then my poor fools, poverty will hunger still. And then that same hunger, never satisfied, will grind you both to meal.

And beneath it all, an even deadlier curse, harder than a troll’s heart, sharper than dragon claw. The faint promise of some future sunrise, yellow-bright on the eastern horizon; the thinnest sliver of hope, far worse than no hope at all. It is the false dream of a new day, the lure that draws new lovers deeper into the trap. Oh yes, My Dears, the odds are long, one in a million at best. Do you think you have the luck for that, a chance at the happily ever after?

Bah! Leave them to their misery.

61

Madge leaned back into the shadows, reached for her pipe, filled it, tamped it. The lucifer flared under her thumbnail, highlighting every crack and crevice carved across her face. Pipe lit, she flicked the smoking matchstick into the wet night.

She puffed on her pipe, watched the smoke roll, watched the rain beat down. Then she heard it, the sound of wet footfalls, hesitant and uncertain. The steps veered closer, seeking out the light, a dry patch to stand on, shelter from the deluge. A young man appeared at the edge of the light, skittish as a colt.

“Don’t be afraid, Lad. Duck in out of the wet.”

Under the awning he came, thin, but his cheeks still ruddy and round. Young this one, young and green. The razor had not yet grazed those apple cheeks.

“Hello there. Are you new to the city, then?”

“Aye, Ma’am, I am.”

“Call me Madge, Dearie. You can call me Madge.”

Footsteps in the Attic

Pacing upstairs as if perturbed

By the loneliness of thought, the mind is suddenly Startled by the specter of reason, the explanation Of a rat or raccoon, weaving its way Through a maze of mildewed boxes, like a minotaur Taken to guarding the mothballed labyrinth, Becomes a matter of ghosts and ghouls, giving Subtle hints as to their presence Among the old photographs and outgrown clothes. It’s no wonder we bang a broomstick Against the ceiling, rather than pay them a visit And be swept up with the dust of the past, As we’d find the only phantoms are fragments of us Mingling with the mold and the rats.

63

Turmoil 5

64

Life out of Balance

Ubi sæva Indignatio Ulterius Cor lacerare nequit.

“…where savage indignation will lacerate his heart no further.” from Jonathan Swift’s epitaph in Dublin Cathedral.

I’m walking sideways and forwards like a sailboat tacking this way and that, giddy from something in my ears or brain. Somehow furniture and door jambs keep getting in my dizzy path. Is this Meniere’s disease? I drop anchor on the sofa and try to read. My eye falls on “Two million children perish annually because malaria drugs offer no profit to produce.”

Though lying flat, I’m vertiginous, sea-sick. Oh, Dean Swift, things haven’t changed enough since your “Modest Proposal” to fatten and roast Irish infants otherwise destined to starve. Today even without your Meniere’s vertigo and nausea to goad you, you would be savagely indignant knowing that the god Greed, like Goya’s Saturn, still snatches up his own children with both hands and devours them.

65

YesIf I could write us a different past, a different path, some alternate universe where love worked out for us, both in the right time and the right place, I still wonder if I would do it.

It’s not that I didn’t imagine a future with you. Just us, an adopted tortoiseshell cat and a giant turtle older than both our memories. In Russia, Costa Rica, yes, where neither of us felt completely alien, where we could speak in our own language.

It’s books by Camus and travel to Kazan and breakfasts of eggs and blini and families and yes, it could have been exactly what we imagined, summer of ‘69, sunrise sunset somewhere where the world couldn’t touch us, in a lake like an ocean, a boat like a fortress where nothing else mattered not the warmth, yes, the cold, the thrill, the rush, yes, it was magical, it was beautiful and yes, we could have been happy together like that, forever, yes, in that magic place.

But I clung too hard for too long, and once I’d let go, you kept trying to return us back to something that could’ve made you happy like I could have made you happy, like we could have been happy together, but we both know you can’t revive the dead, and yes, you and I for too long tried to breathe life into an ending.

It doesn’t make me forget the magic though, a purple string of lights, a yel low-striped turtle, a sleeping shoulder, a soft voice singing, a laugh, a rap song, an old bus ticket stub, a goodbye kiss under Lenin’s train stop monument. Too much was so untouchable. It hurts, yes, it hurts to reach back.

Time Spun

Omerta

My mother is funny. She has a way of bringing light into the dark, but her dark edge frightens me. She is clever, too. A natural wordsmith. Sometimes, instead of saying fuck she says, Fa-nob-a-la.

Or, stuck behind a Sunday driver, she hollers out the window, Gas pedal is on the right! When a driver hesitates, Wrong way, Corrigan!

Drivers who drive with their blinkers blinking are driving around the world to the right.

We are both Scorpios, my mom and I, ruled by Pluto, God of the Underworld. Astrology claims Scorpio people are psychic. Secretive. Observant. Hypnotic. We are known as the detectives of the zodiac who have a flair for solving mysteries.

Mysteries like afternoons we are hushed up the stairs. Mom says we are hiding from Mormons. Starchy dark suits, gelled comb overs, and legit Ray Bans enforce peering men who gaze into our home through a cracked, taped windowpane. This time they arrive, their numbers have tripled as they exit a shiny, black, Grandfather Cadillac. I recognize these men from watching all of Cassavetes’ films. ***

Upstairs… now. Mom, super jittery, turns off afternoon cartoons. Using a mother’s telepathy, my brothers and I understand in silence we cannot gallop up the stairs as our usual joker selves. The four of us link hands, tiptoe, and I lead the way. Mom follows behind her lamb chops to the top of the staircase where a curve in its spine is notorious for cracking. This is the trickiest part: learning how to land is learning how to save our lives. The second trickiest part for mom must be teaching her youngest how to whisper.

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While the men knock, she crams us into a hall closet. After the last time the men showed up, mom decided to keep the tiny space prepared with a few pil lows, a large blanket, an old milk crate with a pack of juice boxes and a Tupperware filled with animal crackers.

Mom’s worry passes through the air in-between her pointer finger pressed vertically across her lips.

Don’t make a sound. She disappears. ***

Before they give us back to dad, there are JFK fish runs with my stepfather, Don, the guy the men in suits are after. Come on, it’ll be fun. In my pajamas, I sleep through the rumble of the cargo van. After he loads up, and after we are on the turnpike, from the other side of my dream tunnel I hear, Hey, we’re gonna make a quick stop. Under the Hudson River, the sloshing fish echo through the chamber of the van as we glide over streets. I wonder if the fish know we are driving through a tunnel that cuts through a river and if they feel homesick. The blurry, golden, zigzag of headlights, the moaning sirens crying for the people of Harlem make me feel drunk and old. We pull up to a shitty brownstone, walk up broken flights of stairs. Don carries me half-way. At the wicket, he smooths his balding wisps of curly hair, pulls up his Levi’s, clears his throat, gives a wink and a nod. We never knock. We bust into that room each time like we own the place. Heeeey, you brought the kid! Get over ‘ere and give your uncle a kiss. Not one of these scruffy-faced uncles are my uncle. Just six slobs, mumbling, smoking Cuban cigars under a hanging light bulb which hovers over the poker table. Don and I are gently transported into gangster movies we watch on Sun days. The cigar smoke drops the high ceiling, sharks for every corner of clean air. The scene I watch is of pot-bellied men belching, farting, talking about broads. Dudes named Gino, Tony, Joe, Al, Roy stinkin’ up the joint. They are nice enough to me, and oddly I feel protected, but I understand why Don gets me out of bed and brings me here. These men want their money back or they will kill him. So, I give these peckers a peck on the cheek every time and play along, but nothing more. I know they are connected to the guys who dress like Mormons and that this is business.

Crack! A line drive! Bases loaded!

Brackets on the wall hold a television like a baby. The volume is so high, the announcer’s voice crunches rough static.

Stay here.

Don walks across the room for a bag of Ruffles and a can of Orange Crush. My spot is always on the couch by the door where I keep an eye. Donny, hurry up and grab a beer. We got extra innings!

There is something comforting about opening a can of midnight soda, watching a ball game roll into overtime and being with Don. Watching him and the mobsters play cards, having a whole bag of chips to myself on a school night, feels like being part of something sacred.

***

Either give up the racetrack or you sell those goddamn baseball cards!

The next day, mom seethes in her offer.

After the baseball cards sell, I can tell the little kid inside of Don misses his boyhood collection. The men in dark suits stay away for a few months and Don quits going to poker games for a while. I kind of miss those long nights of get ting home at the crack of dawn and my head feeling fishy at school from lack of sleep.

***

Those nights at poker, I’d fall asleep to the sound of thudding chips. Not potato chips but gambling chips being tossed onto a round table covered in scuffed red felt.

I’ll raise you this. Yeah? I’ll raise you that.

Ehhhh, I’m out.

Al, pass me a beer. Eh, me, too.

Another crack from the television and the crowd goes wild! I miss him.

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***

The Waters

72

My Mental Disorders Help Me Do My Laundry

I. Depression hangs a sign over the dirty laundry heaped on the floor, a flashing marquis announcing

L A Z Y

the only light I’ve seen in days that I pass every time on my way to the dryer to pick out another clean shirt.

II. Anxiety chains me to the washing machine in case it starts flooding self-destructing sparking screaming being on fire

I might burn the house down with water

I don’t know it only lets me go to find the cat and make sure she’s somewhere in my line of vision as I turn on the dryer.

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III. ADHD reminds me that after I start a load, I wanted to make myself eat, but while I’m in the kitchen, I should probably do the dishes, and oh yeah, the trash has been piling up, I should really take that out, but first I should clean out the litter box, but how did I lose the scoop, I need to find it, I don’t know why I put it behind the dryer, but here we

IV. Body dysmorphia holds up shirts with trunks too tight sleeves too small and throws them back into the closet. At least I won’t have to wash them.

Oh my god my laundry’s been in the washer for three days. Again.

Confession

The crackle of the speaker box brought him out of his stupor, and he blinked in the too-bright fluorescent lighting coming from the backlit signs of the drive-thru. The bold purples and yellows of the menu seemed to jump from the boards and assault him. He wasn’t sure exactly why he had chosen a Taco Bell. He knew he needed to end up someplace, and this was just as good as any.

“Hello?” The speaker box’s tone seemed to question the man’s very exis tence which prompted him to speak.

“I need you to listen.”

“Uh, right, that’s what I’m here for. To listen to your order.” The speaker box crackled with the slightest bit of hope that the encounter wouldn’t get any stranger or be prolonged more than necessary.

“Have you ever run over something? A squirrel, perhaps.”

“Uh, sir, I need you to order something.”

“In a minute. I ran over something today. It was horrifying.”

There was a pause from the speaker box. “Can you please order something?”

“One order of chips with nacho cheese sauce.”

“Anything else?” the speaker box crackled blandly.

“Yes, I want to tell you about this.”

“Sir, there are other cars waiting.”

He checked in the rearview mirror before responding. “No, there’s no one there. I need you to listen.”

“Look buddy, this is a drive-thru. You drive up. You order. You pull through.”

“Fine, one beef burrito. I could see it by the side of the road. It was just sit ting there in the grass.”

“Anything else for your order?” The speaker box huffed.

“One steak quesadilla. But, you see, I lost track of it for a second. There was a car.” “Please pull around, your order tot—”

“No, you’re not listening. I’m not through with my order yet. One soft taco. As I was saying, there was this car parked by the side of the road and I lost track of it for just a split second.”

“Your order tot—”

“One more soft taco.” His voice cracked. “I guess it lost track of me too. It had to have seen me coming in its direction.” He sniffed.

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“Can I take your order?”

“Your order tot—”

“One more soft taco. As I was saying, it was just there, in the middle of the road. I couldn’t stop and I tried to swerve, but there was no room with the car there and we both went the same direction.”

“Your order tot—”

“One more goddamn soft taco,” he shouted, his face red and his cheeks puffed. “I didn’t mean to hit the kid!”

The speaker box was silent. The man was silent.

“That’s one order of chips with nacho cheese sauce, one beef burrito, one steak quesadilla, and four soft tacos.” The speaker box buzzed and cut off into more silence.

“Anything else?” the man asked.

Blue Arson

Burning

I survive in a constant state Of burning embers I never imagine will be smothered. Sparks that seem to have always lived And I ask, in awe, What of this, my mother’s wisdom knows? My mother says She could see this knowing in me The minute her eyes first met mine, But I see this attribute As only an acknowledgment Of instantaneous trust. I don’t know how to say, That I have been burning since my first memory, And I don’t know enough to say, That this will always be. I do know that I have learned. I have walked willingly into waters Lapping to extinguish And with bitter pain, I still hold faith in humanity. Although it tempts, I don’t let the sand sink And I don’t let my burn whimper. And when the ocean persists, I continue to fight to keep me. I’ll never let the pain of knowing Suffocate my hopeful light.

Love and Lost

I remember it vividly as if it happened just yesterday. The social workers holding the tiny hands of my siblings and taking them away one by one is still etched in my mind. The memory comes to haunt me during random circumstances—like tiny bubbles that rise to the surface of the pond I used to visit as a child. I thought that someone must be under there, struggling for air, but I would never be able to save them. That’s the irony.

In the backyard, playing around, our noises reverberated through the neigh borhood. Maybe we thought nothing could stop us from having fun and living life to the fullest. Or maybe we tried to challenge our fates, mocking each of them by blowing raspberries and making funny faces. However, we never thought that our joy at that moment would shortly end. I heard the sound of the car tire on the gravel path. I called after my siblings to at least make them organized. But something was nagging me deep inside—a weird feeling that made me struggle for air as if I’d run out of oxygen. I needed to go someplace quiet just to remind myself to breathe.

I knew something was up, and maybe they sensed it too. We looked at each other as if we all wanted one of us to take the initiative. Before I saw the black cop car parked in front or the pair of uniformed police officers in the front hall, we knew it was serious. We were young and naive, but we understood. But could we have stopped it from happening? There was shouting, crying, and helpless lamentations—everything at once. I felt as if the house was going to burst.

Everything seemed like it was going fine until we heard the doorbell ring. I rushed into the house with my brothers and sisters. The evening sunlight crept through the cotton flower-patterned curtains. A light breeze caused them to dance briefly. “What is happening?” my brother asked me. I shook my head. When I turned, I saw my dad come from the living room. He looked at me anxiously, then walked toward the front door and opened it. We saw the police in uniform. Their eyes traversed from beyond my father’s shoulder to mine. I was frozen with fear. I knew they had come to take us away. We heard a brief conversation between my father and the police. Then, they came into the kitchen where we were standing. “Y’all go sit at the table,” my father demanded.

It was just then my mother came from the bedroom. She had dark circles around her eyes, and the tip of her nose was red. She hugged all of us and

squeezed my shoulder a little. It seemed as if she was trying to say sorry. “Mom! What’s happening?” I tried to ask her. “Just sit here for a while. Every thing is okay,” she said, with a wan smile.

My parents and the cop went outside to the back porch. The back door closed on us. We sat at the table as if waiting for our execution.

To protect them, I told my siblings, “No matter what, don’t tell the cops anything.” “Why?” they asked, with innocent eyes bulging from the sockets. It seemed as if their life depended on my answer. “Because if you do, mom and dad will get in trouble, and we will be taken away.” The rest nodded solemnly. The incident had shaken them. They already knew what was going to happen. When I looked around at them, I realized that this day might be the last time that we were going to sit together. My heart pounded fast as I wove many different possibilities as to what could happen. Then, an image crept into my mind. I saw my parents going to jail and my siblings being taken away. I nearly wanted to cry. I couldn’t imagine life without my family. Then, the back door opened. My mom appeared.

I saw the others tense. Muted whispers and sighs. Then, slowly, each one of the kids was questioned, I was the last one. The policeman with the scarred face introduced himself. He asked questions politely. I swallowed and nodded. I was nervous and didn’t want to talk to him. That was it. Sgt. Cooper said I could go. I walked back, looking back toward my parents sitting at the back porch. I may have disappointed them. I went back to the table in the kitchen, and we all sat together as we did a few minutes ago. Then, I heard my mother crying on the back porch.

Afterward, everything happened in a quick flash. There were doors opening and closing, the sound of footsteps, crying, and shouting. The next thing I re member was the minivan—a blue one, like the skies. There was a blonde-haired lady too, she kept looking at us. I remember my father saying, his voice shaky with emotion, “You have to go with this nice lady here, but just know that I love you very much.” We all started crying.

My little sister held onto my arms as she wailed with sadness when the social worker grabbed her by the hand and said curtly, “It’s time to go.” She walked away, still sobbing and shouting my name. “Please, I don’t wanna go—I want to stay with you.” I hugged her and wiped her tears. “I know, beautiful. I don’t want you to either, but…just always remember I love you very much, and I will always be your big sister no matter what.”

That was the last time I saw my siblings. I wept like a baby as I watched my dear siblings being taken away from me and the only family that they had ever known. The loss of that day still haunts me like a tsunami leaving only de struction. The last hug, the last touch, the last memory with my family. Forever gone. Forever broken.

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Hush

These words that I try to tell you are not for the sake of speaking.

I do not open these lips to let flies nest in my throat. When I speak, you don’t listen. You hear me, but you don’t listen. You wait, watching my lips move like a hawk watches her prey, ready to pounce the moment I stop or pause for breath. And when I do, you’re off. I can feel the gunshot in my chest, starting the race. You’re the first one out of the gate, turning the conversation to you. I lift a hand, my eyes strained against the spotlights shining on you. I did not realize this was your show. I am sorry, but you asked me how I was. I was surprised when you did ask, for you usually do not. Always content to keep me quiet, to keep me over in a corner. Prop me up like a porcelain doll, my lips painted shut. With a face this fair and a body like mine, no one cares to hear the words I have to say. These lips are to remain shut unless they are wrapping around your member. Quiet, quiet, always quiet. Once I was loud. I was bold, bright, beautiful. Now I am quiet. You have dulled me down, turned down the light, covered the shine and the brilliance with the mud of my sins. I still hear my father’s voice, telling me to quiet down when the sound of my voice became too much for him.

My mother, urging me to relax, to calm down, because my brightness shone too much light on her shadows. You, every single one of you, care only for my physical shape and what I’m willing to do with it. Never for the words, sitting on my tongue, just waiting to come out. Never for my thoughts, my dreams, any hopes or ambitions.

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But I have learned something in the midst of my silence. You cut me off— interrupt me— change the subject— ignore me— do whatever is necessary to shut me up because you are afraid of what I have to say. The things that come out of your mouth mean nothing. You and I both know this. Mindless, useless chatter. The more you speak, the less you’re actually saying. But I, I am a goddess. I am an enigma, I am the world. I, like every woman before me, and every woman coming behind me, possess the power to destroy you and everything. So when I speak, it is because I have something to say. My words are power. They are magic. I am through wasting them on you.

Autumn Falls

Silk

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Alison

Alison revealed her past to me one April morning in 2015, as we ate a late breakfast in the elegant Georgian Room of the Fairmont Olympic Hotel. I had accompanied my husband to Seattle, where he was to receive an award at a professional convention. Except for the awards ceremony, my days were free. Alison had come to meet me in Seattle from her home in a small town in the middle of the state of Washington where she had established a psychotherapy practice. I was touched that she had planned a stopover on the way to see her mother in Portland, Oregon, to coincide with my visit.

For the previous five years, Alison and I had participated in an online group of women poets. Once a month, we shared poems and offered comments and suggestions about each other’s work. We were all older women, we had been writing poetry for years, and we had no axes to grind. There was little backand-forth, and we were free to ignore each other’s comments. Privy to each other’s themes, language, and concerns, we connected entirely through the written word. Until this breakfast with Alison, I had never seen any of the other poets or spoken with them.

Alison instructed me to meet her on a street corner between our hotels. We identified each other right away. She was small and slender, with wavy dark blond hair cut across her forehead in a bang and curling softly below her ears. Through the translucent skin on her face and hands, I glimpsed the blue traceries of veins. She looked somewhat frail and was dressed warmly against the April chill.

We shared memories of our days at Columbia’s School of the Arts. The year after I graduated, she arrived, so we had not overlapped. In the late seventies and early eighties, the faculty was nearly exclusively male, and we recalled the sexist atmosphere. I remembered only two classes taught by women, both fiction-writing workshops. Poetry was strictly in the domain of men, and some of the teachers preyed on female students. Indeed, I witnessed such behavior in a future Nobel Prize winner. I complained to the department about an un pleasant encounter I had with another poetry workshop instructor. It took guts for me, because the office administrator who received the complaint was the instructor’s wife. She didn’t seem too surprised. Not long after that, she left her husband for the director of the department, another poet.

That was the way things were in those days. At its worst, the culture was predatory, abusive, and soul-destroying. In between was a whole gamut of behaviors.

Alison and I went on to talk about how our lives had evolved. She opted for adventure and freedom, and I chose stability and security. My husband and I got married the year I graduated from Columbia. We still live in the same neighborhood, where we raised a daughter. While I am happy with my quiet domesticity, I found myself drawn by the romance of Alison’s life.

During her years in New York, she lived with her boyfriend, a corporate lawyer, in a high-rise apartment on the Upper East Side. Although he supported her, she paid in other ways. She was his arm candy, obliged to attend functions in which she had no interest. She came to feel she was living in a cage, and she resented his social expectations of her. One day she woke up, and she knew that she didn’t want to live like that anymore, and her boyfriend wasn’t right for her. In a matter of weeks, she departed for the West Coast, where she had grown up, and where she had always intended to return.

After Alison left New York, she found a ramshackle home in an artists’ community in Seattle. While living there, she got involved with another writer. Together they shipped out on a fishing boat up to Alaska. Back then you could get seasonal work on the boats, she said, and a lot of artists did it. It was a way to see some of the most spectacular scenery you could imagine and get paid for it. However, the relationship with her boyfriend soon frayed. Their writing territories infringed on each other. Suspicion and competition divided them.

On the boat, Alison met another man, a visual artist. He was strikingly hand some, and they fell in love. She left the writer for the painter. Their turbulent romance lasted over a decade.

Eventually Alison married a photographer, became a psychotherapist, and established a clinical practice in a small town in the middle of Washington State. She settled there because her husband was drawn to the beauty of the valley. Eventually he succumbed to a chronic fatal disease, leaving her a widow.

Alison’s poetry was unique, elliptical yet piercing, philosophical and sensual, abstract yet concrete. It jumped from subject to subject, showing the workings of an agile mind in pursuit of its inner logic. Her poetry did not apologize for its difficulty, and it was difficult, not a poetry most people had patience for. I admired Alison for that, even as I responded to the challenge of reading and commenting on her poetry.

* * *

Imagine an insular artistic community in a town surrounded by the Cascade Mountains, where, night after summer night, people gather in a pub as high as a barn overlooking a river. This was the town where Alison had lived for twenty years with her photographer husband, stricken with Huntington’s disease: “that wolf,” as Alison wrote in a poem, “that tore into his brain and body,/then stalked us here from Alaska/south through Canada,/settling on the mountain crests above our hidden valley.”

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When our group started exchanging poems in 2010, Alison’s husband had been dead for two years. She was writing a long poem about a photogra pher and his wife and the progressive ravages of his inherited disease, how it claimed him molecule by molecule and took away all that she recognized as his. The photographer responded to his wife’s care and devotion by initiating an affair with her friend, which he pursued even when confined to a wheelchair. Was the betrayal an attempt to escape the disease? To escape his wife? Was it the disease that was responsible for wreaking havoc with his emotions, encour aging behavior that would not have occurred had he been healthy? Or did the disease unmask his essential self, and that self was not faithful?

From these materials, Alison was weaving a complex narrative of retribution without justice, where humiliation, anger, and shame took their places beside love, awe, and desire. Just as Shakespeare larded his tragic dramas with buffoonery and subplots, so, too, did Alison. Her pitiless descriptions of the hus band’s growing physical incapacity and the wife’s sense of a crime having been committed were echoed in the descriptions of the wife’s work as a forensic psychologist helping a police detective interpret photographs of crime scenes. By turns, the poem was lyric, dramatic, epic. Time was telescoped. While the poem’s flow sometimes made it hard to follow, I trusted the wife’s voice as narrator—rueful, caustic, imaginative, angry and yet resigned. The poem me andered like a stream, following the byways, not the highways. A philosophy professor whose aesthetics of photography becomes an organizing principle appears in the poem. I had looked him up on Google to learn more about his aesthetics theory but found nothing.

“Next time, I’ll alert you when I am inventing characters such as Dr. Winston Lazarus, Philosopher of Aesthetics(!)” Alison wrote me. “For now, I’m uncertain how I will proceed with him in this poem, so he’s on vacation in the south of France.”

Our group’s focus on craft was why we were valuable to each other. The fact that we knew so little about each other’s lives made us more objective critics of each other’s work. Because of the many framing devices of Alison’s poem and her distanced tone, I hadn’t considered that she was writing her own story. Although had I considered it, it would have been obvious.

Alison’s poetic gift distinguished her story of a philandering husband. The litany of his mental and physical decline and the wife’s despair were wrenching. Why would anyone want to commit adultery with a man who was so deterio rated? Why did the husband’s lover think it worth betraying the wife, who was her friend? Alison’s poem suggested that it was because he offered her the possibility of transformation:

Her face glowed with the rose of the freshly explored. Its soft blur dazed me.

Soon enough, framed, it gazed again in the gallery, engaging everyone circling again then again.

Beneath the wife’s apprehension of this change in her friend, her realization of the depth of the betrayal, was a deep well of anger. * * *

Now there was another man in Alison’s life. He was also an artist, and she confided that he was eighteen years younger than she. I was curious to learn more, but she wasn’t forthcoming, and I didn’t press her. From the oblique way she referred to the state of her health, I understood that she was a person who lived with illness, not only her late husband’s, but her own.

Nevertheless, I felt buoyed up by my meeting with Alison. I don’t have many friends who are writers. As we parted, we pledged to continue to exchange poetry through our group. When I returned to New York, I sent Alison a gift, a blue bowl from a pottery studio in Maine, which she celebrated in a poem.

Six months after our meeting in Seattle, Alison divulged that she and her brother had had their DNA tested and discovered they had different fathers. Their mother confessed that they were early donor offspring, as their “Dad” (Alison added the quotation marks in her email to me) was unable to father children. Through the online DNA service, Alison discovered a first cousin on her birth father’s side. “Probably I’m the biological daughter of one of four brothers, all doctors, who formed a practice together,” Alison wrote me. “Their kids haven’t been comfortable about going any further with me. I accept that. I just feel all round disoriented.”

It was a shattering discovery. Alison had thought she knew who she was and where her people came from. Now she was grappling with questions of iden tity and a whole new origin story. “It wasn’t always easy for me growing up, as my parents favored male over female,” wrote Alison. “I definitely assumed I was my Dad’s daughter, but often felt confused by the intrinsic differences in our natures. My brother who does look like me, also felt differences of character with Dad.”

Alison thought of herself as the “difficult black sheep” of the family. Although she and her brother got along reasonably well, they were very dif ferent. Her brother was a financially successful inventor fond of hunting and fishing. Now, with the DNA analysis, she had an explanation for the alienation she had always experienced.

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“I was proud of my father’s family, pioneers who had crossed the continent in covered wagons, settling in southern Oregon. Now I’ve learned I’m descended from a group of families who settled in Rhode Island and never ventured west of the Mississippi. I was conceived in Cleveland, where my parents lived for several years before returning to Oregon. I never paid attention to genealogy, but 23andme opens a treasure chest or Pandora’s box, depending on how you see it.”

I imagined how upsetting it must be to discover you are not who you think you are. I wondered if Alison regretted her genetic testing. I once had thought of getting a genetic test myself and had gone so far as to fill out the form on the 23andme website, but the fine print agreement gave me pause. I wasn’t prepared to sign away the rights to my DNA to a corporation, and so I never ordered the kit.

I didn’t need the results of a DNA test to feel alienated from my parents and siblings. It had always been thus. While I look too much like my father to ques tion my paternity, I didn’t welcome any unexpected surprises. Alison’s experience justified me in my resolve not to order a DNA test. * * *

A year after our meeting, Alison stopped submitting poems to the group or commenting on others’ work. Eventually she sent an email explaining that she had been preoccupied with major life changes, having given up her practice in Washington and moved to Portland where she could be near her ailing moth er. She sold her house and bought an apartment in a retirement community where her mother was in the assisted-care wing of the facility. She had also had to accredit herself professionally for Oregon’s exams so she could open a new psychotherapy practice.

“So far, the coastal climate is an improvement health-wise from the moun tains—though I miss of course the blessings I had there. My greatest aim is to continue my poetry life,” wrote Alison. “The fact that you understand what that commitment might require, and where in the heart it is coming from, means so much to me.”

Sensing her retreat, I worried about her. I inquired and heard nothing at first. A year later, she wrote me back, describing a struggle with depression following her mother’s death. “My mother’s last words to me were that she hated me and always had since I was a baby. Although I am a therapist and know many methods to work through depression, I found with my mother’s death, I was sliding more and more that way.”

Alison also described a precipitous decline in her physical health and a bewildering list of diagnoses, including kidney disease, myalgia, diabetes, hearing loss, heart attack, cardiovascular disease, anemia, and fibrosis. She had finally

discovered that her illnesses were side effects of the antidepressants that she had relied on for years, ever since her husband had gotten sick. It was another great shock to realize that the medication she had been prescribed to make her better had in fact made her so much worse. She was experiencing withdrawal simultaneously with grief and loss.

“These experiences leveled my old life. I’m now figuring out a new one. Since my blood pressure wouldn’t go down, friends suggested I get a kitten. To the doctors’ amazement, having Denise (for Denise Levertov) has improved my blood pressure. One of the most awful parts of this syndrome is that it acts in the brain like a hot poker in the rage area. Though I’ve had a meditation practice for decades, the rage made it impossible for me to sit. I worried about getting too angry at the bullies in my clients’ lives or being too direct if my clients were undermining others, so for the moment my practice is on hold.”

Gradually, Alison has begun to notice improvements. More recently, she wrote, “Slowly my brain seems to be cooling and I can laugh more, write some, read. However, the poetry I am writing focuses on sociopathy and is unreadable. I’m hoping to write poetry that is readable and that finds a way to stretch the thin membrane of logic. This week I was able to acknowledge a gentle memory of my mother.”

Her handwritten card included a photograph of her kitty Denise looking out the window, her tail raised expectantly.

In her long, meandering poem, Alison wrote: A question eats out a space which is what my mind loves these days: emptiness and space.

Certain things can mean too much. Remember our vanishing into the auto brilliance of shared glare for the remaining afternoon we lay on our backs at the rest-point of the nadir, closed our eyes, and drifted.

Eternity, come down!

I picture Alison with her cat, waiting for illumination, believing she will receive it.

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That Floating Feeling

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The Initial Shock

April 6, 2022: THE INITIAL SHOCK

From the moment that I learned that you were sick, I wished for the days to last longer, so I had more time with you After you passed it seemed as if the days are too long now Ironic, isn’t it? How fast you can change your mind, I wish for the days to go quicker

I wish that there was a way you could still be here Whether that is through heavens mythical visiting hours Or just a different dimension where I would never have to live without you On every dimension, every galaxy I would wish for you to be my grandma Being your granddaughter was and still is the best thing that could have ever happened

Feels like an eternity since I last saw you, last spoke to you I wish I could have done something to help But I couldn’t

Now you live on in the better parts of me Ambassador, Vice President, those are the better parts of me Not the parts of me that gets quiet and too involved with her thought I strive to make you proud, though it never seems as if it is truly enough Guide me, help me in this journey through life

You taught me many things in the short 18 years, that we were both on this planet

You neglected to teach me one particular thing How to live without you Some days I still wonder if I am doing it right Even though it has been almost 6 months since my world went cold I still have doubts

I don’t know if I am making you proud Outside sources tell me that I do and that I should believe that You may be gone but you will definitely never be forgotten

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Aunt Kathy’s Sweater

Yesterday,

I wore your sweater that I’ve kept in my closet for so many years, so many moves to so many cities.

It used to make my closet smell like your home, and the smell opened doors to memories of piano lessons and sneaking a sip of a rum-and-coke and embroidering by candlelight and gossipping about family secrets.

But after so many years, and so many moves to so many cities, the sweater no longer smells like your home.

I was afraid to wear the sweater, and break the sacred bond it might have had with you, but now that it smells like my home and reminds me of the feeling of being fully unpacked, and looking for presents too-well-hidden, and hand-stitching a bed for the rescue dog, I wore it because I was cold.

The bottom zipper was broken, just as it had been when you got it, and as I whispered fuck this stupid thing while wrestling the sweater closed, I thought of you doing the same, all those many years ago.

Arctic Dogs

Antarctica had never felt colder on Jolene’s face. The wind was harsh, and it pierced through her layers of protection, whipping around violently. A storm had brewed, somewhere off past the dome, and was setting the scene for the morning. The yellow starting line faded in and out of her vision with the move ment of the fuzzy snow. To Jolene, this weather was perfect. It showcased what the beauty of Antarctica was really supposed to be: a winter wonderland. It also eased her stomach, which had been in knots since the morning.

Startling Jolene, the announcer box boomed upon the open dome, “In position racers! Five minutes, five minutes until we start! For everyone in the au dience, just hold tight to your seats. These mushers are going to blast off! And for the reporters freezing in the front row, careful! You’re in the splash zone!”

Excited murmurs erupted from the crowd. Jolene couldn’t see them, not from where she stood hiding behind the stands. She held onto her stomach, trying not to hack up what was left of breakfast. Her nerves couldn’t handle a packed stadium such as the dome, where thousands of eyes would be watching her. The cheers caused Jolene’s legs to stiffen and for her vision to feel splotchy.

Jolene tried to calm herself down. She focused on her breathing and thought of something that would bring her back to reality. The thoughts went to her mother, who was now somewhere in the mix of crazed fans. She’d be wearing that neon pink jacket of hers and a tie dye cloth mask she used to shield herself from the snow. Her mother didn’t care that she stuck out like a sore thumb. Jolene could imagine her now, jumping enthusiasti cally within the crowd, tearing up from the sight of her daughter competing among some of the greatest dog racers in the world.

With hesitant steps, that felt heavier the closer she got, Jolene approached the yellow line. The crowd’s tension rose, the reporters’ cameras clacked. As she stepped on her sled, the speakers started again.

“And here we have a first time competitor, Jolene Stone! Let’s all show her the love of the dog sled races, come on folks!”

The crowd erupted in cheers. Jolene heard whistling, cheering, and clapping from the stadium. Her face felt flushed and her hands shook from the unwanted attention. All eyes really were on her now, unwavering eyes.

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Jolene’s mind raced. These people were here for entertainment, to watch the best compete. How disappointed they would be if they knew how much she had struggled to qualify. How ashamed her friends and family would be when they watched her lose. Dead last, unable to even make it to the finish line. The snow would be too harsh for someone like her, the tundra too unforgiving. She wasn’t capable of competing, she should walk away now while she had the chance.

“ONE

MINUTE. SIXTY SECONDS UNTIL THE RACES START!”

Jolene stepped away from her sled, the reins glided out of her hands without complaint. The crowd was too loud to notice her hesitation, to see how fast her chest was rising in and out. Her eyes darted around the stadium, thousands upon thousands of people sat in the dome. Waiting anxiously for the race to start.

Gripping onto her chest, Jolene moved away from her sled. Though she wanted to turn and run, her eyes wouldn’t let go of the crowd.

Then, Jolene found her. She wore a bright pink jacket and her mask was dyed with rainbows. Out of her hood, tight curls poked out, no matter how hard the woman had tried to push them back in. You couldn’t see her mother’s mouth, but from a stadium away Jolene could see how excited she was. Bop ping out of her seat, her body rocking back and forth, her eyes lit with fire.

The countdown started. The people yelled along, only ten seconds left. Jolene’s breathing came to a halt. Her mother had been with her this entire time, watching her fight through every challenge. It would be shameful to not even try. How disappointed her mother would be if Jolene left now.

Seven seconds left.

With a beating heart that pounded through her ears, Jolene went back to the starting line, back to what she had fought so hard for. Six seconds.

Stepping back on the sled, Jolene did what she could to catch up with her competition. She tightened her goggles, five seconds left. Secured her bags, three seconds now.

Gripping back onto the reins, Jolene raised them high. Boom.

A gunshot echoed throughout the arctic, and with a heavy flick of her wrist, the sled rocketed off. Mushing out of the open dome, Jolene could hear the screams of her mother high above the rest of the crowd.

Phase Two

After Dilruba Ahmed

For leaving the car unlocked last night, I forgive you. For imagining catastrophes instead of living your life. For the succulents that etiolate, now, unpotted on the counter, I forgive you. For saying yes first, But screaming no in your spirit.

I forgive you for suicidal visions after marriage, brought on by loss of family. And when your husband held you together, for your angry rebuke in the kitchen, “Why don’t you love me?”

I forgive your letting dishes overtake the kitchen. For fearing your own capacity for positive emotions.

For leaving, again, your laptop at home in Antioch; for the equally mindless drive back on the rage-fueled regression.

I forgive you for leaving new library books on the couch and letting the rabbit chew them again. For putting forth

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only your shiny best self for your therapist instead of the terrifying chaos, I forgive you. For writing mostly where the pages conceal your voice. For so admiring the dancer you failed to see the dance. In forgotten coffee cups may forgiveness gather. Congregating in laundry hampers. Collecting on unmade beds. A great cloud of witnesses from eternity, relieved of shame and petty responsibility. With them, a flurry of wings, eight swallowtail butterflies. Holy water reserved for healings and prophets. I forgive you.

I forgive you. For feeling anxious and vengeful without reason. For bearing the Holy Spirit with such torpor you worried you had, perhaps, no tongue of fire at all. For treating your sister with apathy when she deserved complete attention. I forgive you. I forgive you. I forgive you. For growing a capacity for compassion that is great but matched only, perhaps, by your imposter syndrome. For being unable to forgive others second so you could first forgive yourself and at last find a way to become the home that you want in this world.

Tree of Life

Atop the tree of life a text.

A text of meaning, purpose, and guidance.

The willow hangs above our heads, sap of genius bleeding down. The sap touches many, few are recognized.

The leaves of the willow fall and fall, making way for the new world. Humanity is woven into its roots, through millennia we change. The birth of all, the creation of one, every speck of life.

Explosion, creation, nightfall, sunrise.

All of space, all of being, all of everything condensed. Time and matter shift and expand as the leaves fall. We search and search for the top of the tree, the greatness of all. Men, beasts, disease. All come and go, the text remains.

With every achievement, we come closer. With every demon, several steps back. Unite as one, as children of the tree. None shall see the light alone, none shall grasp.

Corrupt, evil, heartless, try to cut the tree down.

The seeds cannot be replanted, beauty eaten away, never to return. Why do we fight, why do we live alongside our aggressors?

The tree is all, the tree is ours, protect it we must.

Rip the axe from their hands, show them what we are. No bigot, no sower of chaos, none who shall rip our lives from our own hands. Atop the tree of life lies a text, a text that will forever remain incomprehensible to the ruinous, a text that will reveal itself to the best.

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Pictured Rock

100

The Last Mushroom

Pretty Gross

102

Raspy

Confessions

of the Bodies

Buried Beneath the Floorboards

when the wind grows fierce when it roars and roars and roars the air around us changes the atmosphere turns dire hauling boisterous voices from afar each new gust, each burst of razored air propels the porch swing thrusting it into rigid bricks slamming into the wall again and again and again ramming itself into its crevasses unwelcome but insistent it crashes like waves pummeling the sand a ghastly attempt at rhythm chaotic at best, a drummer without a beat— but still, it knocks on the bricks with its splintered fists as if to say let me in let me in let me in demanding entrance to the unknown it’s an angry mob trampling through town banging on the door of the miscreant demanding justice with the torches they wield the weapons they carry each collision yields a thump an unsolicited bump it beats the house unprompted while the house struggles to conceal each new bruise showcased on its crimson cheeks the wind triggers memories of abuse

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Abbie Doll

of unwarranted violence swift and sudden delivered without cause the wind carries these sounds we’d rather not hear exposing everything in hiding unlatching all the locked doors revealing our secrets and sins too many to name too many to name

Untitled

We’re All Mad Here

I haven’t cried lately. Long enough to forget dreams of endlessness, of cockatoos, of circles of crimson. I live quietly as if I’ve aged all my years in this year. I worry about roadside strays and whether the people I pass on the street hate me. The sun-strewn miles grow into the stillness between us, the landscape of freckles on my cheekbones, this expansive emptiness. A colored woman’s road trip through a country waiting for me to go home.

Birds grow louder as you travel south— bluejays and cardinals, innocent to the carelessness of legs and elbows, wooden canes and broken rocks. I wake up mute my mouth swallowed by gunshot wounds, my eyes eclipsed by the faces of mothers and their motherless sons. You should try just worrying about yourself, someone I’ve never liked tells me. I lose my mind and wonder if she’s right.

Bee

Rachel’s Story

Growing up, we all experience sobering moments that force us to mature bit by bit. I, on the other hand, had one in particular. I was like every other teenager growing up in Small Town America: spending autumn Friday nights at football games, going to the movies with friends, the occasional party with shitty alcohol, and even shittier people. It was all normal and honestly, minuscule compared to what I was to face.

My junior year was typical; same old people, same old school walls, same old me. I wasn’t overwhelmingly popular. I made good for myself, socially, that is. I was well-known, but not in the “it” crowd, which I was fine with. I dated a few guys since high school started, nothing serious, though. In November of 2017, I started hanging out with Jaylen. He was the overly popular, jock, ass hole-type. I don’t know what I saw in him, honestly, but we started dating. I enjoyed being around him. He was funny, and it didn’t hurt to be around some of the more popular kids.

Were we in love? I would say it was more of an infatuation. Does anyone really know what love is when you’re that young? We were together for about two months, but those childish relationships really don’t work, so we ended things and he started dating another girl in our graduating class. Her name was Catie. Fucking bitch. A little while after we broke up, I had missed my period, so I went and peed on a stick. That moment changed everything.

On February 11th, I found out I was pregnant. At first, I was terrified. I first thought of what other people were going to think. High school kids are brutal, and I was not ready for the shit they were going to talk. Then, I was confused. How could this have happened? I thought to myself. We were always so careful. I genuinely didn’t know what to do. After a few hours of freaking out, I started to get excited. I always wanted to be a mother. This may have not been the conventional way, but life is a miracle. I was a firm believer in that. Immediately after accepting the results, I texted Jaylen and told him we needed to talk. He came over to my house and I let him in on the news. He was excited. I can’t say that I expected him to be. I mean, who would want to be a parent at seventeen? It wasn’t ideal, but at least I had his support. Even if we weren’t together, we were in on it as a team. It gave me hope.

I told my father on February 18th. I was dreading looking him in the eye and telling him what I’d done. He wasn’t mad, he didn’t even get upset. He was so

accepting and supportive from the beginning. After I told him, I had to go to work; he told my mother while I was gone. I was so afraid when I first read that test, but I was going to make this work. I was going to be a mom. I was ecstatic.

March 8th, I had the first peek at my baby. It wasn’t an official ultrasound. They brought in a mini portable machine, but I saw my baby; I heard the heartbeat.

I told my childhood best friend, Meg, and her mother, Shirley. As soon as she heard the good news, Shirley started on a baby blanket. I was so lucky to have them as a support system, along with Jaylen and my parents.

Just as I was getting used to the idea of having a baby, it was all ripped from me. On March 9th, I started to spot; it was light, but there was still blood. I had read a bunch of articles and everyone told me that spotting was regular for most pregnancies, so I paid no attention to it.

March 10th, I wore a pad and went shopping in a nearby town. When I came home, the pad was full of blood clots. I texted Jaylen’s mom because she was a nurse and she told me to go to the hospital. I immediately felt a rush of panic. I thought the worst from the start; maybe I knew deep down from the beginning but refused to believe it. I kept saying to myself, maybe this is normal… maybe this is normal…maybe…

In the emergency room, the doctor looked at my cervix; it was closed. A good sign, but the bleeding was persistent. Bad sign. They didn’t even have to say it, but I knew what was coming. Despite what we all knew deep down, we still hoped for the best. I was discharged and sent home.

March 11th. The worst day. The king of worst days. The fucking epitome of worst days. Because on March 11th, I miscarried my baby. All day long, I was having the worst cramps of my life. Every move I made, I felt like I was being stabbed. The pain was too much, I had to scream. At 8:57 PM, I went to the bathroom and sat down to pee. Suddenly, it felt like a ball of slime fell out of my vagina. I stood up to look in the toilet and there it was: my baby. I couldn’t look at it for more than a few seconds before I ran to my room. The amount of guilt that I felt immediately was sickening. This is all my fault, I thought to myself. Just then, my eyes glazed over, and I began to sob. Uncontrollably. A piece of me died that day and I don’t think I will ever get it back.

My father took the baby out of the toilet and we buried it that night. My mother and sister brought candles out as my father placed the dirt over the shoe box the fetus was placed into. I stood there shivering. At all times, I had tears streaming down my cheeks. It wasn’t something I thought of anymore, it was just normal. My father put two medium-sized rocks over the patch of freshly placed dirt, and we sat there for some time. I couldn’t say how long

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we stayed out there, but everyone went in one by one: my sister first, then my father, and then my mother.

Before she went in, she held me tight and said, “Rachel, you are so strong. I know you are going to act like everything is fine. Tomorrow you’re going to wake up and get dressed like it’s all normal. But let me tell you: if there is pain, nurse it. Don’t shrug it away. Do not tear yourself apart. Things like this happen to women all the time. Remember that this isn’t your fault. It will never be your fault.” She then gently took my head in her hands, brushed my cheeks with her thumbs, slightly kissed my forehead, and went inside to leave me alone at the grave of my child.

The next morning, I texted Jaylen’s mom the news, and he arrived shortly after. When he came to my house, I know I looked disgusting. I hadn’t taken a shower, or even changed my clothes, but I really didn’t care anymore. Jaylen didn’t stay for very long, but we sat in my room awkwardly. We talked things out and both cried. I thought, God, I can’t do anything without shedding a god damn tear. But I didn’t try to stop it. I let it happen. I no longer cared. After our talk, I walked Jaylen out to his car. We hugged goodbye, and that was the last time I saw him. I wish I could say that it made me sad to never see him again, but I’m glad that I didn’t have the reminder of what happened right there in my face. It was heavy enough on my conscience, I didn’t need him involved in my life.

For weeks after, I had trouble completing simple tasks. I could barely even stand at the sink to brush my teeth. I skipped school as much as possible. When I found out I was pregnant, I was afraid of what they would say to me, but now I was terrified of how they looked at me. It was bad enough I could see the two rocks over its grave from my bedroom window, but a bunch of fake-sympathetic high school students? I isolated myself from my true friends as much as I could. They were all worrying about finding the perfect prom dress, while I couldn’t even focus on anything other than my ceiling as I lay in bed. Some of them tried to get me to go out to eat or shopping, but I always declined.

March 15th was the day I had my official first ultrasound scheduled. Al though I didn’t make the appointment, Meg and Shirley came to the house that day. Shirley made a blanket for the baby and brought it with them. The fabric had a pattern of yellow and gray stripes with cartoon elephants and bumblebees. It was adorable, and I was appreciative, but it hurt. It hurt more than anything. I should be covering my child up with this, not using it to com memorate its death, I thought to myself. As per usual, I teared up, thanked them, and they went home.

Over the next couple weeks, I had Spring Break to look forward to. I went to Florida with my friend Mary. Her family allowed her to invite a friend and she asked me. I was grateful for the trip because I needed the distraction. We mostly spent the week on the beach, which was really hard for me because I was still bleeding from The Event and wearing a bathing suit was incredibly dif ficult. I wore shorts mostly and didn’t get in the water. Despite the struggle of my perpetual period—or what seemed so—I had a fun time. I didn’t necessarily forget what I was feeling, but it was definitely numbing. After my trip to Florida, I started to see a therapist. I thought this would be a good idea, but she didn’t really help. I’m sure they learn how to console people going through the stages of grief, but this was a different kind of grief. My grandfather died a few years earlier, and I remember being sad for a few weeks, crying, but you move on. He was old and sick, so we were prepared. Nobody knows what to do when a child dies before they even got to live. No body knows what to do when the mother of that child is seventeen and still in high school. In some ways, I hadn’t even lived life myself. What was so important to me three months before Spring Break seemed so moot now.

Nobody at school said anything mean to my face, but someone in my English class said they overheard Catie, Jaylen’s new girlfriend, saying that she hoped the baby would die when she first heard I was pregnant. My first instinct upon finding this out was to go and smash her face in the pavement, but I soon realized that she didn’t know what she was saying. She was just a stu pid girl who was bitter. Along with that, not only was Catie stupid, but so was high school. The cliques and standard at which we were expected to act within certain social settings was stupid. It was all just so stupid. A lot of classmates would text their apologies. I didn’t get why they all said “I’m sorry.” What are you saying sorry about? I would think to myself. I quickly learned that it was probably some sort of ploy to get in on the drama. Most likely to get screenshots of me talking poorly about Jaylen or Catie. It didn’t matter. I normally didn’t reply, anyway.

I bought a prom dress, and I went with a random guy in the same year as I was. It was fine, but I didn’t want to go. I really just did it to convince my parents that I was healing. For the record, I wasn’t. Everything was for them, to assure them that I wasn’t going to kill myself. I’ll admit, it’s a miracle that I didn’t. Mom got some pictures, and she prepared dinner for our family. Jake — my date’s name — ate with us and we were off to the dance. We only stayed for an hour until I started to have a panic attack and had him drive me home. As I was peeling myself out of the dress, I went into the bathroom and took my tampon out. I had finally stopped bleeding from The Event, but my period started that morning. As I turned around to flush it, I looked and was reminded

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of that night. I stepped back and stumbled into the wall, eventually sliding to the floor and sitting in the fetal position. Crying, of course. I don’t know if it was PTSD or what, but that tampon was my breaking point.

I had a child inside me; I was growing a life; I was so excited. What did I do wrong? What did I do to deserve this? Am I not acceptable? I stood up, tears streaming down my face, went into my room, took the blanket that Shirley made and held it to my chest. It had a satin yellow trim around the edges, and I circled my thumb in one spot for a moment, then took my index finger and traced the outline of one of the elephants, then a bumblebee. Just then, I looked up and saw my father in the doorway. I walked over slowly and fell into his arms. I don’t know how long we stood there, but he held me the whole time. We didn’t speak. There were no words needed. He knew. I knew. We knew.

It took well over a year for the thought of that March night to stop running through my mind. I went from thinking about it every day, to every other day, then to once a month, and now, simple things remind me every so often. I no longer cry like I did. Actually, I don’t cry at all anymore. I think I have realized that only special things are worth crying for: engagements, weddings, births, and yes, deaths. Especially deaths. The Event taught me that everything is so minuscule, and moot compared to the major things in life. We tear ourselves apart to be cured of things faster, but sometimes we have to wallow in it. Sometimes, confronting the pain is the only way to make it go away. That’s the shitty thing about living; you always have to do the things you don’t want to. It’s excruciating and it’s completely bullshit, but that is life.

Yard Sale

It was Saturday—in the American South of my childhood, yard sales were always on Saturdays because Sundays were for church. And it was mid-spring, late May maybe, a morning so muggy already sweat trickled down the backs of my legs as I walked among the tables covered with heaped-up cast-offs: clothes and dishes and trinkets and tchochkes, all the things our wealthier neighbors didn’t want anymore. It was early and there were not many people yet and I was bored. I was always bored at yard sales, which we frequented because my practical mother was always on the lookout for cheap used jeans because you’re just going to rub holes in the knees anyway which was true; an active child, I was hard on jean-knees.

I wandered off to look at the little table of toys off to the side—not many, because this particular neighbor’s kids were teenagers. The daughter babysat us, which was why I desperately hoped my mother wouldn’t find any jeans for me. More than once I had had the distinctly unpleasurable experience of being told those were my jeans but my mom got rid of them by someone I knew and I wasn’t keen to repeat it. Aged 12, a girl can only take so much reminding of her place in the world. Call it pride or ego, I was increasingly reluctant to go into other people’s bathrooms to try on their kids’ old jeans. My mother called it uncooperative, said you’re being difficult and you wouldn’t like it very much if you didn’t have any jeans without holes in the knees to play in, would you? That was debatable, but I didn’t say so. She might not be aware of my limits where it came to wearing secondhand clothes, but I was well aware of hers where it came to patience with my smart mouth.

I’m not sure what led me to dig around in the small pile of stuffed animals in the middle of that toys table, especially since doing so was certain to lead to parental rebuke—I told you not to touch anything!--but my memory is abso lutely clear on this: the stuffed fox I found there, fawn-colored, fluff-tailed, somewhere between newish and Velveteen Rabbit levels of shabbiness, was the most perfect thing in the world. He was just the right size for adventures, fitting neatly in the palm of my hand and on my shoulder, ideal for confidences and secrets nestled against my neck. That first sight of him brought my imag ination into sharp focus and I saw us, together all our days, traipsing through the woods, crafting dens, watching cartoons, sleeping with books ...

He was mine before I dug into my back pocket for the two quarters that constituted all my worldly wealth. My mother’s initial, dismissive objection— you don’t want somebody else’s used stuffed animal—fell on deaf ears. I knew she was wrong. This was not someone else’s stuffed animal. He was mine. She tried again, appealing to my ego: don’t you think you’re getting to be too old for stuffed animals? No, I didn’t, and I told her so. Next, she tried for reason: you have too many stuffed animals as it is and you never play with them any more. Why do you want to waste your money on another one? I didn’t bother explaining that this wasn’t about playing with a toy, it was that I’d found my best friend. I gripped him tightly in the crook of my arm, where he warmed against my skin, as though he were coming to life right alongside me in that moment. We belonged together and that was all there was to it; my mother would just have to understand, and if she couldn’t understand, she’d just have to accept it. After a brief stand-off between us, pragmatist versus idealist, she relented, unwilling to engage in yet another test of wills and perhaps hoping it would sweeten my temper for trying on jeans. In that hope, she was right. I didn’t care what else we bought or whose jeans I wore as long as this fox came home with me. He was, instantly, the most permanent thing in my military-brat’s life, his name was Foxer, and I was not too old for him; in truth, he appeared just in time to help me grow up.

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Polaris

Love Letters to Jupiter

Unrequited— like all the letters we meant to send, but never did; all the texts sent in flurries just to be left on read; thousands of children’s wishes caught in a system whose deliverance to a specific northern place cannot be met; A one-way path to exile shared by letters to God, addressless; wishful thinking that their words may make it across a gilded desk we might never see. Is it the thought that counts or the message back, greedily retrieved?

How ironic it is that a satellite named after a man who so loved the planets and stars would then kiss itself into the surface of Jupiter, sending one last signal a full hour later because the distance yawned its wide mouth across the expanse, delayed, delayed—like the understanding of the existence around us, to bridge a horizon only allowed to be half heartedly known; delayed— the way each night Galileo, while watching the skies, meticulously jotted notes about the Red Spot down; for an audience he’d never meet, for an audience that could never write back just as his satellite peeped one last time, a delayed adieu received through the light years’ reach.

If a satellite crashes into a planet and no one, not even the oldest of long-lost scientific minds are around to hear it, did it make a sound?

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Articles inside

October Leaves by Lauren Knisbeck

2min
page 56

A Mosaic of a Life by Abbey Belling

4min
pages 51-54

Chipmunk by Nathan Knutson

1min
page 55

The Matrix by Bryan Kim

4min
page 50

Neonlumberjack by Ners Neonlumberjack

2min
page 49

Your Car’s Extended Warranty by Jeanette Smith

4min
pages 47-48

Inside My Cell by Natalie Derr

4min
page 46

Mother by Adrienne Pine

12min
pages 39-44

Futility by Nemo Arator

8min
pages 34-37

Twist the Kaleidoscope Again by Emma Sloan

3min
page 33

Manspreading by Mickey Schommer

4min
page 45

by Marlene Olin

3min
pages 29-30

It’s the Job of Children by Joseph Hardy

4min
page 31

PTSD 3b by Edward Supranowicz

4min
page 32

A View From Sacré-Cœur by Kyra Christensen

3min
page 28

Kidney by Donald Patten

3min
page 19

Hello Girls by Mary Amato

2min
page 15

The Music of ASL by Paul Hostovsky

10min
pages 11-13

The Trouble with Complications by Abbie Doll

3min
page 26

My First Apartment by Kyra Christensen

11min
pages 20-22

Jazz Club by Gloria Keeley

1min
page 14

Hair of My Head by Bennett Gilleland

11min
pages 23-25

Just Because Someone is a Pigeon and a Corporate Drone Doesn’t Mean They Can’t Fall in Love by Lizzy Sparks

6min
pages 16-18
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