Oxmag Issue 39 Autumn 2016
Table of Contents Cover image: “Rosa” by Susannah Jordan Martha Phelan Hayes Mother .......................................................................................................................3 Hannah Klemkow WELCOME TO LA GUARDIA ......................................................................................8 Donna Reis Shoes .........................................................................................................................9 Susannah Jordan Looking Up ...............................................................................................................10 Jed Myers My Brother’s Own Throat ........................................................................................11 E. Kristin Anderson Sixteen, what’s happening ........................................................................................12 Patrick J. Murphy The Setting Sun, and Music at the Close .................................................................13 Taylor Meredith Untitled ....................................................................................................................22 Colin Dodds State of War .............................................................................................................23 Guinotte Wise Black Limo ..............................................................................................................24 Susannah Jordan Wintry Mix ...............................................................................................................25 Todd Easton Mills Existence Precedes Gravity .......................................................................................26 Katherine Brown Ramsperger CU Bird ....................................................................................................................33 Susannah Jordan Citrus ......................................................................................................................39 Robert Rice Endings ...................................................................................................................40 Contributor Bios ..............................................................................................................41
Masthead Managing Editor Joe Squance Editor-in-Chief Carly Plank Digital Editor Darren Thompson Fiction Editor Justin Chandler Poetry Editor Isaac Pickell Creative Nonfiction Editor Katy Shay Art and New Media Editor Tammy Atha Events Coordinator Tatiana Silvas Social Media Coordinator Marissa Lane Staff Readers Amy Accongio Nell Allard Carrie Bindschadler Chris Cox Charlynn Estes Chase Eversole Erin Jamieson Katarina Morris Christopher Murphy Kendall Neubeiser Emily Oâ€™Brien Kesha Peyrefitte Gabby Pishotti Recarlo Richardson Eric Rubeo Kaylee Via Elizabeth Weeks
Mother By Martha Phelan Hayes
My mother was born a wildflower, able to thrive anywhere. Or maybe she just grew
where her mother planted her, moving to Chicago, Miami, even southern California before returning to remain settled in both their birthplaces, the suburbs surrounding Boston. They shared these passages with my grandfather, who tap-danced for troops overseas when he wasn’t booked at domestic vaudeville theaters for the acts he performed with my mother’s elder sisters.
I never knew this version of my mother. I only remember her after she had met my
father on a Harvard Square trolley and knew, like a blind man with his hand in his pocket knows a dime, that he was the one. The way she tells it, she looked into the stained-glass blue of his eyes, and we were born. Her story always begins there, as if behind it laid a vacant lot of overgrown weeds and rusted parts of things for which she had little use. If the glossy tone she carried in her voice of this big love had dark corners, she never let on or turned to face the wall; all she had to offer was her pearl-studded narrative, a story of lovers neither star-crossed nor otherwise destined to fail. Children can grow up with more dangerous fantasies.
I was born nine months after their May wedding. Pregnant for the next eleven years,
my mother suffered four miscarriages and delivered seven more children. It was as if she couldn’t print enough copies of the love she and my father had, that the effort drove her to reproduce that trolley-car moment in flesh and blood, to grow exponentially into living tableaus the feelings evoked when she first met him. She coveted us as if this were so and drew us into the romance, creating her own self-contained unit she promised herself was impermeable and secure. We weren’t just consanguineous; we were one.
Trying to catch a butterfly with bare hands might be easier than capturing the
essence of someone whose private thoughts and secrets often remain, even to those closest to them, as distant and elusive as the pin-pricked patterns of stars stitched into the evening sky. But if I could unearth what is at the core of my mother, what drives her to wake up in the morning, to move through adversity, to refuse defeat, I am sure I would find love in its most romantic state. It’s what keeps her believing in her country, her church, and all of us, even when failure is abject and transparent. That the world might be less, that we could have been or done more, that the people and things she passionately 3
believes in might be unworthy does not fit my mother’s vision, a vision she matches with a determination that drives every instinct she has and every decision she makes. It is what makes her, in spite of her weaknesses, a strong and indomitable woman whose chronological age cannot match her youthful propulsion and her romantic ideas.
My mother is a planner and has always enjoyed the prospect of a trip. Sometimes
these are day trips, short shopping and lunching excursions with my sisters and me. All winter she plans for her five-week vacation in Chatham on Cape Cod. When we were kids, she planned for all of us. The spring I was fifteen, she searched the classifieds until she eyed an ad for a lakefront cottage in Maine. She mailed the required deposit, securing a two-week July family vacation. It gave us all something to look forward to, and up until the day we left, we talked about how we would spend our time: early-morning swims, barbecues, sunsets, and late-night card games. We finally set out at three in the morning, our car loaded and crawling through a dense fog that would have been a bad omen to a woman with any less enthusiasm. My father followed the taillights of a tractor-trailer until the sun came up and with it the harsh reality of our accommodation. The reeds had reclaimed so much of the lake that swimming would be impossible. The lake itself looked like the floor of a cave with stalagmites pointing to the sky as if to say, “Get out of here.” The cottage was dank and dirty; an abandoned red sneaker and a broken toilet did not fit the description the ad had promised. My mother was furious.
Back in town, we sat in our blue Ford station wagon, and I watched my mother stand
on the sidewalk and confront the realtor. As her lips moved, she seemed to expand against the edges of the morning light, her size growing in proportion to the time that was passing; but such was her composure that her voice never rose above the sounds of the summer morning that surrounded her. I could not hear what she was saying, but I knew she had won when she extended her arm, opened her hand, and, like an oar drawn back through water, returned it to her side holding the check the realtor had placed in her palm. She had recovered our money. With that in hand and the cottage behind us, we headed to Dennis Port for the same Cape Cod vacation with my grandparents we had taken every other year. What we came to remember about that summer was not the regret of the failed Maine getaway, for in the years that followed my mother showcased in the retelling only the humor of the time spent together, including the minor car mishaps and small household accidents my younger siblings caused in her parents’ home. She repeated these stories until the whole experience shined, until we were part of the telling, until we had synchronized 4
our memories of this botched vacation. If any of us felt the deep disappointment of this cancelled week on the lake, we didn’t get a chance to mourn it. Nettled as she may have been by her botched plans, my mother managed to revise the whole event. This was not the first time I had witnessed my mother’s ability to clean the tarnish off anything unpleasant. She had a natural talent for reordering any temper in our lives and recording it all into mirthful and memorable stories, determined to create for us a world that honored her sense of romance and fun.
This kind of determination is why my mother can put herself behind an idea and
make it materialize with the same command she has for shoving a vacuum across wallto-wall carpet. Why at forty she could teach full-time and get on a city bus once a week to travel the fifty minutes to her graduate classes, earning a master’s degree in special education. Why the day she retired she started to substitute teach and continued well into her eighties, her passion and her professionalism never waning. Why she will push and prod at people to encourage them to move out of a dead-end job, into love, out of a bad mood or an unflattering hairdo. And why, when I was trying to finish college and considered taking a break to work and resolve some financial shortages, she marched me up to the admissions office and made me register, lending me the semester’s tuition. I was a thirtyeight-year-old married woman with three children.
My mother’s drive and determination survived even when my father and my sister
could not. Widowed at sixty, shortly after her eightieth birthday, my mother lost a daughter. In spite of such tragedy, the impression left on all of us by the footprint of these deaths was filled in and covered over by my mother’s will. Even in the depth of this absolute grief, she pushed herself out of bed and stood, almost defiantly, to face each day, scowling at any tendency we had for negativity or lack of initiative or general cynicism.
My mother’s world remains, behind the wall of tears that flows into her own private
bay of grief, potential; romantic love, though currently of a strictly vicarious nature, is palpable and just as promising as she has always alleged. Even though she never entertained another man after she lost my father, my mother did not give up on the idea of big love, her expectations now reserved for her young single grandchildren and their prospective spouses. Love, pure romance, might be the only antidote to the secrets and fears set like minitombstones in the dark warrens of her mind, its promise the hope that can heal all those marrowed thoughts.
My mother is not without her weaknesses and vulnerabilities; she worries, sometimes 5
portending trouble even where there is none and the probability unlikely, as if the mere practice of concern itself might work as a mantra powerful enough to save us all. And she can grip us with a demand and expectation for our return to her only a monarch butterfly could match in its thousands of miles fall treks. It must be insufferable for her to accept that we have left home and morphed out of her cluster of cherished babies into distinct and fiercely independent individuals, that she cannot stop that flow of time that manages such a gulf between us.
My mother’s reluctance to let go was never more apparent than when at thirteen I
decided to straighten my wavy hair and grow out my bangs. The calming of waves and the growing out of bangs can be a long and frustrating process, but it was worth the effort. I wanted my hair to be long, straight, and parted in the middle, like every other girl my age. When I asked my mother to apply the chemical straightener, she agreed. I did not know until years later that while I hung my head over the sink, closed my eyes, and trusted her, she poured the whole concoction down the toilet. As the bangs began to grow, she battled every sluggish inch of progress with suggestions that I give in and cut them, suspicious most likely that the parting of my hair, the awkward way each naturally curly side went its own way, was emblematic of our own inevitable separation. I suspect her hands must have quivered from the restraint it took not to grab the whole mess and cut it back into one, even, and unified length.
My mother is impatient. She does not hesitate to give unsolicited advice. And without
warning or apology, she will hang up the phone when she doesn’t like what she hears. We all have experienced her dismissive hand, the flyswatter slapping away an idea she feels the need to kill, words falling dead in the air right before us without a chance under its force. She is as equally intolerant of an inflated ego as she is of a dismal outlook. And while she has no fear for her own mortality, she cannot look at ours—or at our sorrow, our disappointments, our occasional bouts of doubt or depression, our lack of faith in what she interprets as an auspicious world. They scare and weaken her, shut her down until she can revert so far into herself, disappear in the face of these adversities, that she cannot muster a modicum of the strength we expect of her, sometimes when we need her most, our forgiveness for her shortcomings made possible only because she has returned to us so often; and when she does, it is with that recharged resolve to make things right.
Though my mother’s desire proves stronger than her body’s obedience to age, time
has forced her to accept that which she cannot change. When her brother recently died, 6
he took the final root to her past, a detachment that rendered her sole. Now bereft of a generational context, of a memory holder, she must live in our world, a vulnerable and at times clearly frustrating situation that can only compare unfavorably with that treasured role she so passionately embraced as our escort in the gala event she would describe as life. But even this state is no match for her spirit. She challenges it by staring straight into its blinding light, allowing her an image, although perhaps muted, that is no less colorful or expertly crafted than a Monet water lily.
I am convinced that my mother will never give up, that she will continue to live with
faith in and expectation for whatâ€™s ahead, and will remain married to the grand idea of romance, of any given dayâ€™s ability to bloom. She will leave this world believing in us, in the miracle on that trolley car, and in the promise of its prismed light that she has been following all these years.
WELCOME TO LAGUARDIA by Hannah Klemkow I bought a slice of pizza with big fat tomatoes and salty spinach I still missed you I bought a copy of The New Yorker it was disinteresting and I didnâ€™t feel any smarter The Delta terminal is mean and weighty Delta has seen the passing of worn bodies the flow of backwash, spit leaning brow on frozen window. I miss the rash and soapy rain The way the streets would hiss your dead of night soul your ashen soul Iâ€™m afraid of flying
Shoes By Donna Reis On the icy-black, ocean floor lie hundreds of shoes. Some side-by-side as if slipped off before bed, others—akimbo, forever searching for their mates in the wrong direction, others sleep on their sides with children’s lace-ups in tow. Wing-tips who lost their spats, retrace their steps. High-button, heeled boots still try to run. Spectators sneer, Floozies. Married shoes whisper, You never left me, torn soles of bellhops, cooks, maids, and machinists—row after row, so still, still there.
“Looking Up” by Susannah Jordan
My Brother’s Own Throat By Jed Myers Two near-invisible old guys edging the surf, we amble north, keeping the constant Atlantic’s loud whisper off to our right with its ledge the horizon. And to our left, the slow single-file procession of tall hotels seems endless as well. We shamble on through squads of next-to-naked small kids splashing the shallows. We’re in our clothes. My brother jigs clear of each frothy fan and keeps dry. I’ve got my cloth slip-ons and pant legs soaked. Gulls, terns, and sandpipers congregate close, mingled like gangs gotten used to each other. Human twosomes saunter beside us in swimsuits. They appear comfortable so exposed. Their talk drowns fast in the jostled air. My brother sputters into the drone how the last romance spun down and crashed—around him the stir turns to the laughter of churned water, children and birds, and of the chugging single-prop up there lugging its banner for a new lotion across the blue span. And out of my brother’s own throat a guttering tone—he savors the joke, as if it’s on some other old man.
Sixteen, whatâ€™s happening By E. Kristin Anderson Against her face, perpetual foul-up hooked the air; in the corner the flicker of a sister stepped in waiting for doom, five minutes blinding her neck. Heat grotesquely apt, a drip, a gurgle, blood from the failure offered paper, a wild talent. How else could centuries lay this laughter, not knowing an incantation in the center? Water stood patient. Loud struck her chest, a red flower. Plug it up.
Plug it up.
Plug it up.
This is an erasure poem. Source material: King, Stephen. Carrie. New York: Anchor, 2011. 5-9. Print.
The Setting Sun, and Music at the Close By Patrick J. Murphy
Ralph sat next to her in the passenger seat with the beer in a brown paper bag on the
floor in front of him. He was her brother's best friend. Angela had known him as a child, and now he was a tall thin man in a tee shirt and jeans with the legs tucked into cowboy boots, looking for a night on the town. He passed her a can.
"Lot of steak places," he said.
She supposed so. The Tallahassee night was damp and muggy, filled with the scents
of pine and the distant Gulf. They were heading out Monroe, and there were restaurants one after the other. She'd stopped noticing such things years ago. They went past the mall, only partially screened behind azaleas and crape myrtle, with its empty parking lots and desolate security lights. They turned left and took side streets through a neighborhood of small houses until they hit State Road 20. She waited for Ralph to ask her where they were going, but he merely sat there, his beer resting on his thigh, and stared out the window.
“I can’t stay out too late,” she said, but it was already one in the morning. They’d
seen the State Capitols— the historic one surrounded by flowers and flaunting striped awnings, and the modern glass tower built just behind it. They’d eaten dinner and walked around Lake Ella, the fountain rushing at its center, the gravel path around it intermittently dark. They’d kissed once or twice. Angela had let him, flattered that he wanted to and knowing that it couldn't get too serious. He was leaving the next day, she thought, a man just passing through.
He leaned back and stretched, his arms high above his head, as if being arrested.
His tee shirt rode up, exposing a thin belly lightly furred. "You're not tired, are you?"
The streetlights vanished, then appeared again near Capital Circle. A truck pulled up
beside them on the passenger side. Out her window, across the street, an attendant with a clipboard and pencil read the pumps at the Dixie gas station. The light changed and the intersection fell behind, an island of brightness growing smaller. On either side of the road rose young pines. Deep between the trees, a thin, sinuous line of fire fed on the carpet of needles, then it was gone and the trunks blurred again into walls of gray, branches dark against a full moon sky. 13
"This is great," he said. “There’s something about the country at night. This is so
She didn't think so, but wasn't certain what he meant.
"You know. Headlights shining twenty, thirty yards ahead. Everything else dark and
mysterious. There could be anything out there, waiting for us. Anything at all."
That was exactly what she was afraid of. She took a cassette out of a box and shoved
it into the player.
"What the hell is that?" Ralph asked a minute later. ***
Angela had always enjoyed music. She'd sung as a child, first in the church choir,
then in high school, but it wasn't until college at Florida State that she'd started taking it seriously. She'd auditioned on an impulse and still remembered the fear, the exultation, as she stood in the choir room readying herself. She was slender then, and conscious of the figure she made. She held herself erect, head back. Breathing from the diaphragm.
"Do you know Schubert?"
Three men and a woman, dressed in casual clothes, sat on folding chairs on the
second tier, half circling her. Behind them, near the ceiling, competition banners hung.
She panicked for a second. "He's a German composer."
One of the men looked impatient. "Can you pronounce German? Can you sing it?"
She shook her head. The woman rose and handed her a manila folder filled with a
selection of show tunes and a modern cantata in English. The first day of auditions was a’ cappella. She looked at the music, then waited for their signal. As soon as she began, their faces changed. ***
"That's some weird stuff there," Ralph said.
She glanced at him and smiled. He was sitting forward, as if unable to contain his
impatience. Waltraud Meier sang the part of Venus, yearning for her lover. “Geliebter, komm!” He waited a few minutes, then ejected the cassette. "I'd rather talk." "Okay."
"I'd always rather talk. Communication. Getting to know people. Two minds, two
souls. It's really sexy. You know what I mean?" He didn't wait for an answer. "Though I 14
feel I know you pretty well, already. We go back a ways, I guess.”
She wasn’t sure that was really true. Years ago, in Miami, Ralph had hung around
the house a bit, a gawky boy stealing peeks while waiting on her brother Rickey. She hadn’t been interested then. He’d been so very young.
“We were hell-raisers, all right,” he said.
“Not we. You guys.”
“Rickey still is.”
Angela glanced at him. She had known it would come to this, eventually. No get-
together was complete without some talk of Rickey, what trouble he was in, why he couldn’t handle his life without drugs, what a shame to have wasted so much potential. When she was younger, not so independent, Rickey’s recklessness had scared her, made her question her own motives, her tendencies. It could have been genetic.
“What’s he doing now?” she asked.
“No idea. He’s avoiding me, I think.”
She glanced at him. His face seemed open, ingenuous, then a passing light threw it
into grotesque shadow.
“I tried a bunch of times to look him up,” he said. “He’s just never around.”
They passed a trailer flood-lit and set far back behind a chain link fence with
"Repentance Tabernacle" painted in large letters on its roof. Beside it stood a huge, white wooden cross. A mile later, a gas station and a Hogly Wogly mini-mart flashed by in a blaze of colored light and was gone. The night seemed darker.
"I'd go crazy, here," he said.
"In the spring, it's nice." Her words seemed like a condemnation. And there was
nothing really wrong with the town. It was just that she'd been there too long. It was where she had stopped and never managed to get started again.
He laughed and talked about Miami, all the changes that had occurred since she’d
been gone. He had been painting houses there, helping a private contractor he’d met at a gas station. It had been boring, deadly, but now he was skipping out, breaking loose, on his way to explore the entire country. No telling where he’d be soon -- Phoenix, Albuquerque, San Francisco, Seattle.
She thought it sounded nice and let the words wash over her, like the night, like the
moon. *** 15
Angela was required to take recital hours. She was excited and scared at the thought
of performing in front of others. It's unavoidable, she told herself, with some gratitude, knowing she wouldn't ever have the courage to do it on her own. And it's training, that's all. Nothing to worry about. Still, she spent long hours in the practice rooms, memorizing the three pieces she had chosen. Two works by Schubert, flaunting it a little, showing what she'd learned, and a modern piece by Britten. Her accompanist was a foreign graduate student named Georg, a thin man with dark glasses and hair trimmed to a stubble. She felt uncomfortable around him.
"I'm sorry," she constantly found herself saying, as they went back to the top or
started from the coda. But there were moments when the sound took control and she was lost in amazement at what they both had done.
"That's not bad," she said once, having to say something, unable to simply let it all
Georg looked at her, as if he hadn't understood.
She bought a dress, a long-sleeved, ankle-length black gown with a neckline she
considered too daring, but had purchased anyway. She tried it on again in her dorm and stood in front of the mirror, thinking it all a vast mistake.
When the day came, she couldn't eat. She called her mother in Miami and tried to
convince her to come and watch. It was only five hundred miles, after all.
"You're a big girl, now," her mother said.
Angela knew she was right. It was going to be terrible. No one would drive that far
for such a miserable evening.
"Maybe I should come home," she said. "Give up the whole idea."
Her mother snorted.
She had lived in the suburbs. Each house in her neighborhood was one of three
nearly identical models. All the streets ran with geometric precision, and she'd hated the flat sameness of it all. Now, she imagined being back there, safe and comfortable. There was a white coverlet on her bed and lace curtains on the windows. Rickey had moved out of the house by then, and it all seemed so much better than what her life had become.
She wasn't sure she would remember the words, the notes. She went for a walk
around the campus. Her breath was shallow, and she found herself almost compulsively clearing her throat and muttering small sections from the scores. People must think she was crazy. But what if she were coming down with a cold? Vocal cords an instrument? 16
Her voice an instrument? It was an absurd idea. She couldn't do this. It was impossible.
The auditorium was tiny and the stage had no wings to hide in, merely a set of steps
to either side. She sat uncomfortable in one of the front row chairs until Dr. Stansin introduced first the accompanist who walked out and sat on the bench by the grand piano and then herself. She rose slowly. She wanted to laugh, but had no idea why. The laughter was there, inside, moving dangerously around. She stood at the center of the stage, one hand placed, as required, on the black glossy wood of the piano, and faced the audience she could no longer see.
The music started, six bars of introduction, and then it came: the first note, startling.
Was that her? she wondered. The music was soft, barely a whisper, the flute-pure phrases drifting in the darkened air. The audience was silent. She could feel their eyes. The notes rose and dropped in such exquisite patterns and suddenly she felt she might cry. Her body clenched, except for her throat and her diaphragm and the lungs driving it on. The music continued, so beautiful, so beautiful, as if it came from someone else. ***
She turned left onto Sam’s Lane, two red dirt gouges between the pines. Branches
arched overhead, forming a dark tunnel pierced by her headlights.
“We’re going to a club I know,” she said, though he still hadn’t asked. “Dave’s. It’s
jazz. They get performers in from everywhere, Willie Dixon, Howling Wolf, Gary Primish, though it’s actually just a private house and the acoustics are some of the worst I’ve ever heard.” She realized she was nervous, but had no idea why. Ralph sat stiffly beside her, a strange presence, but perhaps it was the night, the trees closing in.
“But we can’t stay long. I have to work tomorrow.”
She was employed by the State in the mail room of the Department of Insurance,
sorting incoming letters by floor, running the outgoing through the Pitney-Bowes. After college, she’d landed a job in the chorus of the Western Opera Theater, a touring company in San Francisco, but the life of an artist had seemed too chancy, too insecure, and she’d backed out in the end. That’s who she was, she thought, cautious, careful, a little boring, not at all the kind of person who would be driving late at night with a man she no longer knew.
A small, hand-painted sign stood at a sharp bend in the road, then they passed a
trailer with a white wooden fence covered in vines. The way narrowed even further and the ground tilted alarmingly, then they were through. A concrete-block house stood near a 17
huge oak hung with Christmas lights. Fifteen or twenty cars parked just beyond the tree.
“I don’t know about this,” Ralph said, as they climbed out and walked around to the
A young black man with a closely shaven head sat in a tall chair beneath a canvas
canopy. An older woman, looking like his mother, stood by his side. She smiled as they approached.
“The young people, today,” she said. “They all want to do everything themselves.”
“I don't particularly want to work the door,” the young man said.
The woman pointed to a sign on the wall. “The barbecue tonight is outstanding.”
Angela had opened her purse and taken out her wallet, when Ralph grabbed her arm
and pulled her back. She assumed he was going to offer to pay, but he surprised her.
“There aren’t a lot of blacks here, are there?” he asked.
She didn’t understand at first. “It’s okay,” she said. “We’re here for the music.”
Then she stopped and looked at him, his expression, his eyes, and knew he wasn’t at all the boy she remembered. She straightened and put her wallet away. “It’s getting late.”
She turned and walked back to the car.
“I just don’t like being in the minority,” Ralph said. “It makes me nervous. I get that
too damned much in Miami.”
“I understand.” Her low heels sank into the dirt and her ankles wobbled.
“It’s the Cubans,” he said. “I didn’t piss you off, did I?”
She unlocked the doors and climbed in behind the wheel, then started the engine and
“I hope I didn’t piss you off,” he said, as he sat down. His voice had changed, growing
almost carefree. The Christmas lights mottled his skin, gave him a secretive, sly look. “That’s the last thing I wanted to do. I would never want to do that.”
They were silent for a few minutes, as the car bounced along the ruts. Ralph sat
motionless, then he leaned forward and pushed the tape back into the player. Jane Eaglen as Elizabeth, overjoyed that the man she loves has returned to her hall. Ralph nudged the volume down, then swiveled in his seat. “I can’t stand this stuff,” he said after a moment. “It sounds like pompous shouting to me.”
“Wagner takes some getting used to.”
“It’s all the same. It’s all fucking PC crap.” He sat back and tapped his hand on his
knee. “Did I tell you that Rickey is dating my sister?” 18
Angela hadn’t known Ralph had a sister.
“They’re quite the couple. Going everywhere together. I guess I should have
expected it, what with me being friends with him for so long. I should have been more careful.”
“I’ve always been too careful.”
He smiled broadly. His teeth shone in the panel lights. “I disagree.”
“You don’t know me.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said.
The night was darker, the trees closer to the car. They had stayed out too late, she
thought, and knew she would have been happier alone.
“Can I tell you about my sister?” Ralph’s tone was conversational, but his voice
cracked at the end.
“Sure.” She stared out the windshield at the red clay ruts and the lights stabbing
through the trees.
“She’d nearly graduated, education major, then she started going out with Rickey. I
asked him not to date her, she was my sister for God’s sake, but he thought she was hot. And I asked her not to go out with him. She promised me she wouldn’t, but of course she did.”
Ralph stopped talking, and they drove in silence, but for the shaking of the car.
“Did you know,” Ralph asked a minute later, “that Sarah now takes meth? She’s
addicted, an addict. She can’t stop.”
“I’m sorry,” Angela said. She tried not to look at him. There was something going on,
and she thought for a moment how far away from town they really were.
“Yeah. Rickey started her snorting the stuff, recreationally. Then he taught her how
to smoke it. Now, she mainlines.” Ralph leaned forward and looked at her. “That’s where you inject it into a vein.”
“I know what it is.”
“Rickey did that to my sister. And now, here I am, out with his sister. Ironic, huh?”
They passed the trailer again, and Angela thought for a moment of pulling into the
yard and running for the door, but the trailer was dark.
“Did you know that almost no one ever shakes the meth habit? I’ve heard around six
percent. Only six people out of a hundred ever manage to quit for good.”
She didn’t want to look at him. “Why are you telling me this?” 19
“I thought you should know.”
Angela grabbed the wheel tightly to keep her hands from shaking. “You’re scaring
Ralph put his hand on her knee and squeezed. “I just don’t think Sarah is going to
be one of the six. I think my sister’s life is pretty much ruined.”
Angela tried to move her leg away, but couldn’t. “I don’t even know you.”
Ralph lifted his hand and brushed shaking fingers across her right breast. He looked
out the windshield. The shoulder widened, canopied by branches and vines. “Pull over here. Here is good.”
She accelerated, and he grabbed her arm.
“Pull it over.” He twisted the wheel. The car rocked out of the ruts and into the
grass. He pushed her back against the seat, then turned off the ignition. The lights still burned. He reached over and unlocked her seat belt, raised it slowly off her. Tannhauser still played. “I want you to get out of my car,” Angela said. “I want you to leave me alone.”
Ralph rubbed his neck. “That’s the problem. I don’t really know what comes next.
I’ve thought about it a lot. Tit for tat, this for that.” His eyebrows rose, making him suddenly look younger, vulnerable, as if he’d been caught skipping school. “I’m not sure what to do. I’ve imagined a lot of horrible things.”
“Please,” she said. “This isn’t my business. Besides, Rickey doesn’t like me all that
“I know. He doesn’t like anyone.” Ralph slid closer. “You know, you’re pretty good
looking. Always were.”
“Are you going to hurt me?” She watched his eyes grow shiny and hated that her
voice shook. This was just a kid.
“There’s got to be justice. There’s got to be something we can do.” Ralph drifted
one hand across her cheek and down the side of her neck. He leaned closer, as if about to kiss her, but she threw him back. She stabbed her fingers at his eyes, but missed, then rammed the heel of her hand against his nose. She pulled on the door latch and half-fell into the road. She surged to her feet and ran, stumbling in the ruts, and crossed over into the trees. Behind her, she heard Ralph climbing out.
Vines wrapped her face and hands. Damp leaves slapped her cheeks, her eyes, and
she pushed through, dodged. She stepped in something wet and lost one shoe and kept running. She reached barbed wire and a large “Posted, No Hunting” sign she could barely 20
read. She turned and followed the fence forever, tripping on the scrub, raking her hands and arms against the barbs, then stopped and fell quiet.
It was dark, her car lights merely a glow in the shadowed distance. She crouched
between two pines and held their rough bark in her hands. Her lungs breathed deep. After a while, her bare foot ached.
She waited, beyond time, a part of the forest, the swamp, the clutch of life around
her. The moon and the stars swung. Sounds began, the slip of something through needles, the rustle of something in dry leaves. Insects whined, and in the distance frogs called rhythmically. Her blood ticked slowly in her wrists.
Ralph walked the road in front of her, peering into the trees. “Angela,” he shouted.
“Come on out.” But he was larger than before. His black shape loomed and moved in jerks and fits. Its arms swung, as if he were running. “I’m not a bad guy.”
She pressed herself against the ground.
“I’m not going to hurt you.”
He stood for a minute, waiting. “Fuck!” he shouted and raised his hands, then slung
them down, as if driving stakes.
She remembered the feel of his face on her fingers, his nose against her palm. He
had kissed her. She hoped she hurt him. She wanted to do it again.
Minutes later, her car started, and suddenly Tannhaeuser rode the night air, the
Landgrave starting the singing competition, tenors battling in the name of love and beauty. Angela crawled carefully closer to the road, peered between shrubs to see her taillights bouncing and jarring away.
He’s stealing my car. The thought surprised her.
The night returned and settled in circles. She stood again, stepping slowly from the
trees. There was a breeze on the road, blowing cold around her neck, her legs. The dirt crumbled beneath one foot, slipped between one set of toes. She wondered for a moment what it was she should do, then thought of the club, where saxophones moaned and guitars reverberated, where someone would be singing of love too close to the mike to the press of people much like her, playing it safe, yet out in the dark for music. She limped slowly toward them.
“Untitled” by Taylor Meredith 22
State of War By Colin Dodds Of course there’s war, a seabird chirrups at the other lonesome predator in the sands who also spends someone else’s money eats someone else’s food beds someone else’s beloved on someone else’s land No one wants to hear his apology The tern struts and screeches You may think I am interrupting you. But if you look at it from my point of view, you would see that just the opposite is true. He’d gone to the beach to escape the war the hierarchy he’s embedded in the people he exploits and the ones who exploit him to encounter something else The sky snarls with the ocean its devouring mouth bloodied at one corner where casino lights victimize one another Shadow scenarios rise and fall all night all life or death all quite real ultimately And that night, it’s all ultimately Phalanxes mobilize below his damp hands War pursues and subsumes his meditations The music stops in a world without end and he can no longer call his uniform a disguise It’s the beginning of the bad story
Black Limo By Guinotte Wise In that limo, sleek as a brace of cranes aloft and streaking south, but bituminously black as Johnny Cash's overcoat, or say, black as a current dictator's heart, reflecting reds and pinks of La Cienega Boulevard's weedpatch of hollering signs I am enveloped, sitting back, waiting. An ex-CIA man with white blond hair lays his palm upon my chest, says, "What a fun sweater!" I look down, his hand is withdrawn. Slowly. I say, "It's from Benetton." Meaningless. There are others in the limo. Two women, three men, on our way to see a flamenco performance. A daughter of a deposed third world General. A woman doing coke. The driver has a thick neck. The other men are latin, not the ex-CIA man. I am as safe as I'll ever be in Los Angeles. Rothkos of oil slick red, yellow, blues of the night, slide off the windshield.
“Wintry Mix” by Susannah Jordan
Existence Precedes Gravity By Todd Easton Mills
At the airport the security check line moved slowly. Raymond, who was forty-one,
waited until the passenger in front of him had moved two steps forward. A small nervous woman standing behind him looked uncomfortable as the gap widened. “The line is moving,” she said. “It’s moving again.”
Raymond didn’t hear her because he was thinking about his flight. He knew he would
have to deal with the low headroom over his seat and being packed like a sardine for ten hours. The aisle seat was essential. He would project his consciousness into the open space of the aisle. That would work as long as the aisle was clear. He didn’t know how it would go once the cabin lights were turned off.
A TSA agent noticed Raymond’s odd behavior. “Are you alright, sir?”
“I’m fine. It’s my first international flight,” Raymond said.
The agent stared at the tall, dark-haired man, surveying him for suspicious tics.
“You’re perspiring, sir.”
“I’ll be fine; I have my pills.”
“What pills are those, sir?”
“Anti-anxiety and sleeping.”
“Would you mind stepping over here?”
Raymond felt his chest tighten, and he started to hyperventilate.
“This way, sir.”
To calm himself he focused on his breathing and imagined he was a monk walking
through a cloistered garden. He followed the agent to an inspection table where he was asked to unzip his shaving bag. The agent checked the label on the vials, thanked him, and politely directed him to the front of the line where he was scanned (arms up), and once again (wallet up), for a reason that wasn’t given.
Boarding the plane was another difficulty. The line inched along and came to a
complete standstill when he was inside the boarding bridge.
“Bonjour,” said the Air France attendant. He started down the wrong row. “This way,
He sat in row twelve next to a large man with a shaved head whose muscular forearm
occupied the armrest. When the seat belt sign went off, the large man folded his arms 26
across his chest and nodded to Raymond. Raymond thought he understood his meaning and folded his arms—or did he mean it was Raymond’s turn for the armrest? Suddenly, a metal serving cart appeared in the aisle. It was a gray cube on wobbly wheels, put together by a workman who spaced the rivets unevenly. The flight attendant slowly took the order, coddling an elderly man hard of hearing.
“Cranapple, is that right?” she asked.
She leaned in closer. “Cranapple?”
Raymond felt sick.
“Are you OK?” asked the large man.
“Fine, I’ll be fine. I’m claustrophobic and that cart—”
“Takes up all the aisle, bothers everyone,” said the large man. “Don’t leave your knee
out there. They can take off a kneecap with that thing.”
Raymond tried to laugh. He would take his pill now; better take two. ***
“Sir, wake up. The plane has landed,” said the flight attendant.
He woke groggy and slow and could half remember his dream, a blood-stained room
where he was trussed like a chicken. His throat was dry from the medication, and his legs felt numb. He checked that his wallet hadn’t slipped under the seat and that his passport was safe in his inside jacket pocket.
“You were dead to the world, sir,” said the attendant.
After clearing customs at Charles de Gaulle, he withdrew euros from the ATM and
joined a line of passengers waiting for cabs. The Paris sky looked like it might rain. He didn’t like the look of the clouds that seemed too low.
“Mind if I open the window?”
“This is a no smoking cab,” said the driver.
“I don’t want to smoke; I just need some air.”
“I’m afraid so.” After Raymond rolled down the window, he felt his chest relax.
His hotel was on the Left Bank, close to Place Saint-Michel. The front door was
medieval, and the lobby was furnished with blue velvet sofas and gilded mirrors. Raymond didn’t like the brocade curtains that masked the light from the street. He walked quickly to the reception desk. 27
“Would you mind if I looked at the room first?” he asked.
The hotel clerk forced a smile.
“Does the room have a window? I am claustrophobic. Claustrophobe,” he said, using
the French word he had practiced.
The clerk handed him the key. “Fourth floor.”
A few steps away was a brass elevator for a single passenger. It had an accordion
gate that closed against the passenger’s chest, and the ceiling height was an inch taller than Raymond’s head. He watched an attractive young woman with a backpack get into the elevator. She needed to compress herself and her backpack to fit inside. “Could you direct me to the stairs?” he said.
This is a surprise, he thought. There were high ceilings and double Haussmann-
style doors leading to the balcony. He would be able to crack the doors open at night— which usually prevented his sleepwalking. There was an old Chestnut that grew close to the balcony with branches that would break his fall. Why do I always think the worse? He called downstairs: “Thank you, I’ll take the room for seven days.”
He took his time unpacking: a cotton pullover, his new jeans, T-shirts, new socks
and underwear, and a pair of leather shoes with rubber treads for hiking. He was casually obsessive, removing the store tags with his nail clippers—and folding everything neatly before crawling into bed. He would have liked to go for a walk, but it was getting foggy. Tomorrow he would explore; tonight he would read in bed under the cozy comforter. ***
“You have techniques to deal with the stress. This trip will be good for you.” He had
been going to Concepcion for his phobia for more than a year. This would be his second trip by plane. The first, LA to San Francisco, was a one-hour flight. “This is your leap!” Her name was Cali. She was a psychiatrist with a degree from a Cuban medical school, and he was happy she could write prescriptions for meds. Yes, this was his leap. He loved the way she said it. Her confident, perfect l. Her serious gray eyes. ***
In the morning it was warmer. Raymond explored along the Seine stopping at a café
for lunch. He ordered mussels and a niçoise salad. The meal came with crunchy string beans and fresh baguette. He watched a woman with a spiral notebook sketching a street scene. I will draw, he thought. I will draw bridges and the statues in the park. I will stay close to the river where there is plenty of open space, even when the barges go by. I can 28
The next day he didn’t want to leave his room. A warm, yellow light poured
in through the balcony door. He would be happy just to thumb through the French architectural magazines he bought at a stall on the Seine. Today is Saturday and there will be long lines at the museums. I’ll go out later; I don’t have to face all my fears at once. On the third day it was colder, and he was glad he wore a scarf. He had walked at a brisk pace and was about three miles from the hotel. In the Champ de Mars, he saw a young man holding out his hand to balance something invisible. Performance art! Raymond laughed: No, an optical illusion. The young man was holding the Eiffel Tower in the palm of his hand. Exhilarated, Raymond sprinted toward the great tower. The ground was hard and the lawns brown—it felt good to run in the open. The open! Suddenly, it stood against a gray sky: four great arches and the inwardly bowed tower. It was taller than he expected with a bank of clattering elevators. He would take the stairs to the top. But he was out of shape, and the stairwells would be dark. He stood by the elevator watching a tour group go up—and counted the minutes until the elevator came back down. Another day.
It was easy to while away the time. On the fifth day he read the international edition
of Time in a café near the fountain at Saint-Michel. He wondered if he loved Concepcion, or were his feelings transference? He had confessed he couldn’t make love unless he was in a large room with a king-size bed. She said, “That will probably limit you in France,” and they both laughed.
On the sixth day he met Greta, who was sitting at the next table. She was a
philosophy student from Bryn Mawr, slender with short blonde hair and existential eyes.
“I saw you by the elevator,” she said. “I thought you might be catatonic.”
Raymond laughed: “You’re the one with the backpack.”
“How long was I standing there?”
“A long time,” she said. “I don’t like elevators either. My irrational fear is that I’ll get
stuck between floors.”
“I don’t think that’s irrational,” Raymond said.
There was a long silence.
“Isn’t it wonderful how everyone flirts in France?” she said. “It’s the national pastime.
You’re a good-looking man. I imagine women have been flirting with you and you haven’t noticed.” She held her coffee cup with two hands. “What have you been doing since you 29
“Sketching—something I haven’t done since I was in school. I love sketching the
“Let me see. Where’s your sketchbook?”
“In my room,” he blushed. “I’ll show you next time I see you.”
“I don’t know when that will be. I’m leaving for Courchevel in two days. Why don’t you
join me for breakfast tomorrow?”
The next morning Raymond waited at window table. He brought his pencil drawings
of bridges and the ancient faces he discovered under Pointe Neuf. Where was she? He waited an hour—then two. Suddenly, he felt cold and this made him think about the mountain resort of Courchevel. Maybe she left early to meet her aunt? Did her aunt suggest an earlier train? Why didn’t she call to say she wasn’t coming? He wasn’t going to wait. And he wasn’t going to go back to his room. He knew exactly where he was going. ***
At the Eiffel Tower, the lines were long because there was only one metal detector
to screen the visitors. He read the sign: “The tower is 324 meters, 984 feet, as tall as an eight-one story building…” With a very slow elevator, Raymond thought. His heart began to race. He stepped into the elevator car at the last possible moment. The door closed and the elevator jerked. There were clicks and a dull hum. When he started to hyperventilate, he closed his eyes. ***
He could feel the gravity around him. When he opened his eyes, he was in Maison
Centrale in a holding cell the size of an empty swimming pool. Heavy iron doors clanked shut. He was in a tank with twelve men—heads shaved, tattooed faces—they sat quietly on their cots, all staring at an Algerian man, his skullcap and full beard. Raymond heard shouting coming from other cells. As he listened, he thought he heard his name being called—one voice above the clamor, high-pitched. ***
“Where am I?” he asked the jailer.
“In Paris,” answered a high-pitched voice.
It was a windowless room with a table and chain. On the table was a 36-inch square
Lucite box with the scratched words: doghouse.
The jailer gave the Lucite box a push, and it swung back and forth. “Do you know 30
what this is?” he asked. “Our last guest called it the doghouse. He wasn’t as tall as you, so we’re going to give you something to sleep. When you wake up, you’ll be neatly folded inside.”
Before he lost consciousness, he heard Cali say: “Replay the scene in your head,
“What is the size of the sleeping compartment?”
But normal had sealed windows. It was impossible to sleep or to even lie awake in the
narrow bed. So he walked the aisles and to prove to himself he wasn’t a coward, rode on the buckling coupler between train cars. It was a clear starry night and once, when the train lurched, he almost lost his grip on the handrail. At 3 a.m. he went back to the sleeping car. ***
Courcheval, La Fromagerie, 1850. He didn’t know if the number was a date or
elevation. The maître d’ who greeted him looked like one of the unfortunates beneath Pointe Neuf. There were rough-hewn beams and a stone fireplace with a crackling fire. Raymond imagined feasting on the rustic specialty: savory meat dipped in melted cheese. If I find Greta, we’ll dine here. At the end of the street was a block of half-timbered condominiums. She is here somewhere. ***
“We have an apartment in the back of the complex,” Greta said. “It’s a funny little
place, and I have to warn you: no windows. My aunt is away. Why don’t you come by tomorrow for breakfast? Don’t look so skeptical?”
“Sounds wonderful,” Raymond said. The sun had gone behind a cloud, and there
were blue shadows in the folds of the mountain.
“Amazing that we bumped into each other like this,” she said. ***
He looked over his mattress at the man who had “Fuck La Monde” tattooed on his
neck. He was sitting up in the lower bunk. There was twelve inches of headroom in the upper bunk—and room for only one man to walk around the cell at a time. The tattooed man folded his arms. Raymond thought he understood his meaning. ***
“My Aunt gave me this ring of keys; maybe it’s this one,” Greta said. 31
“Let me try,” Raymond said. ***
When Raymond screamed, the passengers pushed him against the elevator door.
Suddenly, he was inside the airplane and it was crashing. “Cali! Cali!” he cried. An old man heard: “Ali! Ali!” Another said he saw a knife. Three men jumped on Raymond, beating him on all sides. He fought back viciously and crushed the old man’s head. ***
The tattooed man said: “I need my sleep. If you scream again, I’ll kill you.” ***
Raymond slipped out of his bunk and stood by the cell bars. It was as dark as a
mineshaft with a spreading blot of red light from the security camera.
“What did I tell you?” said the tattooed man.
“What do you want, Monsieur Fuck-the-World?” ***
“Hold me, Raymond,” Greta said. “This bed is so small—and the room is like a closet.
Do you feel it? The gravity of the mountain. Look at you, sleeping away like a baby—not a care in the world.”
CU BIRD By Kathryn Brown Ramsperger
My first memory may well be of Cuba. I’m not sure I’d learned all my English words
yet, but I remember my grandmother telling me to stop jumping on the mattress, then her eyes floating up and filling with tears. She kept saying something about pigs, so I got down off the bed and looked out the window for a potential rabid pig dancing around our backyard.
“Gran,” I said in my four-year-old English, “N-no pig!” I pointed with emphasis,
“Bird.” A big jay hopped on a branch just outside the window, a twig in his mouth.
“No,” she told me, “Not that kind of pig. It’s a bay.”
I had no idea what a bay was, or how to find it, so I began to cry then to sob in
earnest. She patted my knee, which I always hated, then brushed my hair, which I always loved. I stopped crying when she told me a story about a bird, which I later always thought of as a Cuban story even though I heard later it was Mexican, because I related the bird outside and Gran’s story bird to the Bay of Pigs.
“Long ago,” my Gran told me in her voice, husky from secondhand smoke and a
thyroid condition, “Old Owl asked each bird he knew for a feather to give Cu Bird, his true love. When he gave her each feather filled with color, each unique, she’d preen with joy, and he was sure he had her heart. Yet when the last bird had given him its feathered gift, which he handed to Cu Bird, she had a change of mind and heart. She took one look at it, then at him, stuck the feather in her tail, and flew off never to return.
“Now, Owl had told his avian friends that he’d return their feathers after their
wedding, but now he could not. How could he, of all birds, who was supposed to be wisest, have been so foolish as to entrust his flock’s feathers to such a traitor? He hung his head in shame, and went off to the other side of the wood where he could not be found. Truth be told, even though spurned, betrayed, and deserted, Owl still loved Cu. To this day, he only comes out at night to eat, and call, ‘Cu, Cu, Cu,’ as he hunts and hopes for his lost love to bring back his flock’s feathers and his pride.”
I fell asleep in Gran’s arms as she murmured, “Cu, Cu, Cu,” and the crickets began
Later, not much later, I learned what the Bay of Pigs meant when my father told the
“real” story as we watched pallbearers lower JFK’s flag-covered casket into a heap of soil. 33
I took note how John saluted instead of shedding tears. I wasn’t much older than JFK, Jr. I thought perhaps the Cu Bird had flown from Cuba to Mexico after all, just like other Cubans were doing, flying to Florida. People like Desi Arnaz. I wondered if all Cubans were funny and musical.
I thought of the Cu Bird when I saw Castro’s beard, stogie, hanging lopsided from
his thick lips, and when my brother was born and Father complained the cigars he had to hand out weren’t Cubans.
I thought of the Cu Bird when the hijackings began, hijackings that lasted my entire
youth. It got personal every time Gran had to fly from our house to her house in North Carolina amid weekly news reports of hijacked planes, people desperate to rescue their relatives. I would look up at the planes flying over my house and will Gran’s plane to land in North Carolina, not Cuba. Gran loved to fly and always had a good flight, but I never got over telling those human-powered birds not to land in Cuba.
I never gave a second thought about why Cuban immigrants would want to return. I
sided with the Cu Bird, who went off and led a completely successful life away from Owl. I never gave much thought to what Cuba was beyond Castro and Ricky Ricardo.
I was in my thirties when I got my first chance to travel there for the charity I worked
for, but my passport got turned down by our state department before it ever got a chance to be scrutinized by the Cubans. By that time, the Soviet Union had collapsed, and Cuba had lost a guaranteed trading partner. Gran had died of heart failure, not hijacking. All those years willing planes to stay on course, and I’d lost Gran in a completely unimagined, but more logical, way. I still had no desire to fly to Cuba. Rwanda, okay. Iraq, been there. Afghanistan, maybe. Iceland, of course. Just not Cuba.
The things we resist persist, and I found myself on a plane to Cuba for a cause. By
now it was legal for Americans to travel to Cuba, though Americans had been sneaking in for a while. I clutched my stamped visa in my sweaty palm and perched on the seat as soon as the plane left the tarmac. I am not a nervous flyer, and it was a smooth ride the entire way. Yet I kept thinking back to watching those planes fly overhead, wondering if they’d end of up in Charlotte or Havana. I kept glancing around the cabin, trying to figure out if the people onboard looked nervous enough to divert us. When I did my walk to the loo, I spotted two men with a birdcage covered in dull pink cotton. I heard no chirping from within. I thought of the Cu Bird and I swallowed hard.
I caught sight of the bird in the cage while I waited for the boxes we’d stored in the 34
plane’s belly. It could’ve been the Cu Bird, and I wondered how the men had permission to travel with a bird so exotic. It had a red beak, pink and red wings, a lime green torso, a blue throat, and a heathered belly. It perched on spindly, yellow legs. It made not a sound as the men ensured its health, but it stared straight at me. I could see its tiny pulse beating beneath its aquamarine feathers.
Boxes in hand, my team and I headed three hours south from the airport toward
We spent five days serving people you could only imagine in places we Americans
would condemn but Cubans call home. I was feeling humbled and guilty by the end of it all. I was prepared for the cars with fins and the peeling, pastel facades of buildings, and I wasn’t surprised people toiled and lived behind the walls in great numbers. I guess I’d thought people lived better away from Havana, and some do. What shocked me were the number of people we’d call homeless, living in a corner behind a gate in what used to be a grand portico, their life and livelihood packed into a few cardboard boxes, their skinny arms and legs jutting out from under clean but ragged clothes. They were not people who’d benefited from America’s throwaways. They’d been wearing these garments for as long as I’d been doing charity work. I was glad I came, ashamed it had taken me so long, and as always I wondered how much the boxes I’d brought would help them.
They always greeted me with a few-toothed grin and an extended arm, but they didn’t
like to talk much. My French was better than my Spanish, but I got the drift that they knew where I came from and didn’t want to say anything a neighbor might overhear and report. So I just gave out food and clothing, and felt the energy of hope and open hospitality they sent my way in spite of their lack and stricture. No wings for these birds, and all I could supply were a few colorful threads.
Sunday came and, free to explore, I slung my camera over my neck and hired a taxi. I
wondered how I’d meet anyone, let alone get any good photos. Speaking Spanish for a week left a dull, persistent ache in the back of my head that ran down my neck, but I wanted to get to know this country that had claimed my reactive attention for so long. I wanted to witness its reality, to discover why those men, who had risked their lives to reach Florida as immigrants or refugees, then came full circle and took over planes to return to Cuba. Was it love? Was it fear? Or was it just that they were seeking that dim, beating green pulse called home?
The taxi dropped me in the town, which had probably once been a city with bustling 35
sidewalks and shops. Now it looked like the verdant, steamy Caribbean version of a ghost town in the Wild West, surrounded by mogates, mountains of mahogany and pine. I walked up and down the streets, every so often spotting a private, trendy restaurant, called a paladar, full of the smell of smoking spices. Tourists cycled by without looking right or left. Most of the city was now crumbly and faded, and I wanted to see inside one or two. I went person to person, asking for an “edificios abandonados,” but they weren’t biting. Men and women alike, they eyed me with interest, my SLR with more interest, but then just pointed with some fast Spanish directions.
I sat down on a cinderblock serving as a bench, defeated. Two boys played stickball
in an alley across the way, and I took out my camera and began to click its shutter. That’s when Jorgé walked up. He had a dog trailing him, the only kind that roams Cuba, a different color of the same breed. This one was a golden brown. The dog wagged its tail at me; its tongue panted a greeting.
“Help? Need help?” Jorgé asked, and extended a hand to help me up. “Come with
me,” he said in Spanish, and off we went. The day became full all of a sudden—not of abandoned buildings, but resurrected, re-inhabited ones. Three generations sometimes huddled into one room; ladies dressed up in Sunday tropical finery; puffing, giant Cubanos sat on ragged porches; and a man and what looked to be his mother sat stiff under cardboard, held up by four sad wooden poles to keep out the sun and rains. Each entryway was a feat of daring that made my heart pump faster, but that Cubans were forced to navigate every day. Each time I entered a dwelling, I expected it to crumble around me. By some miracle they remained intact.
Jorgé held up three fingers. “Every day, three fall,” he said, his eyes blinking with
each finger as they collapsed one by one for effect, and the dog stopped, sniffed, and barked his affirmation.
Jorgé also told me he was twenty-five and a plumber. I looked around, amazed that
these homes had running water. He seemed to read my mind and shook his head no. “I show you,” he told me, and pulled me along behind him again. He wore a thin, pastel v-neck T-shirt that barely covered the muscles on his wiry arms. He also had a watch and a ring and owned a phone, so I figured he must earn his money doing something as important and necessary as plumbing. I had seen no one but him wearing jewelry here.
He took me first to a nice-looking stucco home, almost new. He told me who lived
there, but I didn’t know them. He explained who they were in Spanish, but I didn’t 36
understand. I gathered that he must be a well-respected businessman to get work here. I relaxed and I could tell he did too.
Four edificios abandonados later, I tried to stuff some money in his hand. I knew
the average salary was about twenty-five USD a month. I told him I needed to get back to my group, that I had work the next day, then a plane to catch the day after. I saw his eyes grow wide for a split second. I thought it was the mention of the plane, but then realized it was because I had given him money. We became an argument in action, both spouting off in our birth languages, him throwing the money on the ground, me picking it back up and handing it to him again, him pushing it back into my grasp. I finally won.
He shrugged and put the money in his pocket with a look that said, “Have it your
“Wait a sec,” he told me, like he had heard it on a TV show. I wondered how much
English he actually understood. Probably more than I’d given him credit for.
I did wait, wondering why I waited. I just stood there as a pinkish sun sunk a little
lower over the buildings, breathing in the scent of flowers. A dog, this one black and gaunt, wearing a corncob collar strolled by, but otherwise the street had emptied. I wondered if the dog was fed or punished with such a device, and was going to ask Jorgé when he showed up with three pizzas. He grabbed me by the hand and swirled me around. Then he took me to his house, where he invited me to his family’s house.
Jorgé’s house was no more than a storage unit with a padlock that protected a tiny
TV and a mattress. He picked up an item I couldn’t see in the shadows, shoved it in a backpack, pulled down the door from overhead and locked it again, and we headed toward a long avenue. The exterior of the building we stopped at was peeling lavender paint but otherwise intact. When we entered the door, though, I gasped. We’d entered an atrium supported by decaying Corinthian columns. Every time the breeze blew, the roof rattled. Piles of dismantled car parts, one red, one yellow, one turquoise, one pink, adorned every corner of the atrium.
It got worse as he took my hand and led me across the open atrium and up a
splintered plank to a balcony. There his mother waited, her arms open in an expansive hug for her son, which he returned. I looked down over my left shoulder and gulped. Below us the roof had caved in, leaving a room full of shadows and garbage.
His mother, his sister, her husband, and three children all lived in a room in a home
only a fraction better than the other houses we’d seen that day. Its saving grace was a 37
bedroom with walls and ceiling. The children all came running, greeting me with smiles and shouts, clamoring for the pizza boxes. The next move in this adventure was to make it to the other side of the roof, across more splintered planks, errant trees sprouting up between them. Between the deadwood and the seedlings, we had a stable bridge between the bedroom and an alfresco dining area. I didn’t dare close my eyes as I crossed over, however much I wanted to. Jorgé jaunted across after I reached the other side, one hand balancing the pizza boxes. The children skipped across.
We all sat on buckets over a bright tile floor that only had a few missing tiles, munch-
ing. Jorgé turned some guitar music on with his phone, and it became a party as the pink laundry dried over our heads in the calm breeze. Jorgé and his sister Maria joked, and I laughed loud even though I didn’t understand much. Then we all threw a red and yellow ball around to the kids. Jorgé’s mother brought out a couple of bottles of Cerveza Cristal. The pizza tasted like home. The party felt like a new life.
After, he and I sat and really talked. I was beginning to understand what he was say-
ing, between my high school Spanish days and our mutual sign language. He had tried to escape three times. All three times he got caught. His friends made it. I didn’t ask how long he’d been in prison, how he’d gotten out, and how he got his job afterward. I asked him if he’d try again. His eyes grew wider than I’d seen them all day, and he shook his head. “Too risky,” he answered in Spanish, and looked down at the floor. I squeezed his hand.
“My life is here. My family is here. I am a happy man.” He laughed in a way that
broke my heart.
We sat that way for a long time, watching the sun fade, then set, hearing the
language of the night birds increase as they flitted from roof to crumbling roof, looking for a place to perch. An indigo feather floated down, small like a dove’s, iridescent as a peacock’s. He handed it to me.
“I see you mañana?” he asked me as I stood and dusted off my shorts.
I shook my head no, feeling sadness inside but taking care not to let it show on my
face. “No. I have to go back home.” He stared for a moment, head tilted to the right, his eyes narrow, as though he wasn’t sure if this was an excuse on my part.
“Soon. Home.” I reiterated.
He leaned over and kissed me, just once, taking my aching head in his hands. His
kiss was tender, soft, like we were old friends who hadn’t seen each other in a very long time. Then he walked away into the tropical dusk of another night in Cuba. 38
“Citrus” by Susannah Jordan
Endings By Robert Rice Water’s surrendered the streambed, mostly to moss and drying rock. Bits of brown stick to work clothes, and grass, old now, if crushed or broken, stays crushed or broken. Life thins.
Three hours ago it was heat we suffered up on Noonmark. Smell that now? She’s lit the woodstove.
I have believed in October most of my life, warmed in the light of infinite noon. Now it’s the hard time: air cold as earth, spare singing of stones, that faint stain of sun up on the ridge. Though cottonwood trees would sleep, their leaves, caught in some rhythm old as God, rustle, disquieted, cling a little longer to green.
She’s pulled the kitchen door shut against the evening chill. Shall we go in?
We’ve lost the last whispered light. Look. Star out.
Contributor Bios E. Kristin Anderson is a poet and author living in Austin, TX. She is the co-editor of Dear Teen Me, an anthology based on the popular website and her next anthologies are Hysteria: Writing the Female Body (forthcoming from Sable Books) and Come as You Are, an anthology of writing on 90s pop culture (forthcoming from ELJ Publications). Kristin is the author of eight chapbooks of poetry including A Guide for the Practical Abductee (Red Bird Chapbooks), Pray, Pray, Pray: Poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night (Porkbelly Press), Fire in the Sky (Grey Book Press), She Witnesses (dancing girl press), and We’re Doing Witchcraft (Hermeneutic Chaos Press). Kristin is Special Projects Manager for ELJ and is a poetry editor at Found Poetry Review. Once upon a time she worked at The New Yorker. Find her online at EKristinAnderson.com and on twitter at @ek_anderson. Colin Dodds is an author, poet and screenwriter. His writing has appeared in more than 250 publications, been nominated and shortlisted for numerous prizes, and praised by luminaries including Norman Mailer and David Berman. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and daughter. See his work at thecolindodds.com. Professor Martha Phelan Hayes teaches English at Gateway Community College in New Haven, Connecticut. She is a poet and essayist whose work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including CHEST Journal, Everyday Poems, Freshwater, Fresh Ink, Journey to Crone: A Book of Poems, Naugatuck River Review, Orpheus, The Penmen Review, TYCA Newsletter, and Vermont Literary Review. Her poem “Elle Clare” won first prize in the 2010 Central Connecticut Poetry Contest sponsored by Altrusa International. Martha has attended several workshops, including the Celebration of Poetry writing seminar and Duke University writers retreat. She has studied with Anne Waldman, Peter Selgin, Billy Collins, Natalie Goldberg, and Vivian Shipley. Martha travels extensively, teaches yoga, and enjoys spending time with her family and friends. Susannah Jordan earned an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Queens University of Charlotte. Her flash fiction and poetry have appeared in Apocrypha and Abstractions, The Story Shack, and Eskimo Pie. Her artwork and photography have appeared in Short, Fast, and Deadly; Gravel; and The Tishman Review. 41
Hannah Klemkow is a graduating senior at the University of Michigan studying poetry. She is a winner of the Roy Cowden Fellowship for Creative Nonfiction and plans to continue studying creative writing in the future. Her poems are for girlhood. Taylor Meredith is a freelance photographer from Florida who currently lives in Oxford, Ohio where she runs around taking event photos for the local visitor’s bureau. Along with photography, she enjoys horror movies and shows about tiny houses. You can find her on Instagram (@taytakingpics) and see more of her professional work at taylormmeredith.com. Todd Easton Mills is a writer of poetry and fiction. His work has appeared in Euphony, Amarillo Bay, Rougarou, The Alembic, Griffin, The Legendary, ONTHEBUS, The Coe Review, Yellow Silk, Sage Trail, Forge, Jet Fuel, New Plains Review, Serving House, Barely South, Santa Monica Review, Big Muddy, Poets on 9-11, and others. He is a graduate of Antioch University. Patrick J. Murphy lives and writes in Tallahassee, Florida. He is widely published and has a short story collection out entitled Way Below E, published by White Pine Press. He is a member of The Author’s Guild and PEN Center West. Jed Myers is author of Watching the Perseids (Sacramento Poetry Center Book Award) and The Nameless (Finishing Line Press). Recent awards include the McLellan Poetry Prize (UK) and New Southerner’s James Baker Hall Memorial Prize. His work’s appeared in Prairie Schooner, Nimrod, Crab Creek Review, Cider Press Review, and elsewhere. Kathryn Brown Ramsperger is winner of the Hollins (University) Fiction Award and was named semi-finalist in the 2016 Faulkner Wisdom Competition for her novel The Shores of Our Souls, to be published by Touchpoint Press Summer 2017. For more information on Kathryn and her writing, including her other stories, visit shoresofoursouls.com.
Donna Reis's first poetry collection, No Passing Zone, was published by Deerbrook Editions (December, 2012). She is co-editor and contributor to the anthology, Blues for Bill, A Tribute to William Matthews (Akron Poetry Series, 2005). Her non-fiction book, Seeking Ghosts in the Warwick Valley was published by Schiffer Publishing, Ltd (2003). She is the author of three poetry chapbooks. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. Reis received her Master of Arts Degree in Creative Writing at The City College, City University of New York, in 2002. Robert Riceâ€™s stories and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in various literary magazines, including Hayden's Ferry, New Letters, The North American Review, The Saint Annâ€™s Review, and West Wind Review. He has also published four novels, including The Last Pendragon and The Nature of Midnight. He lives in Montana. Guinotte Wise lives on a farm in Resume Speed, Kansas. His short story collection (Night Train, Cold Beer) won publication by a university press and not much acclaim. Two more books since. His wife has an honest job in the city and drives 100 miles a day to keep it. Visit his website at wisesculpture.com.