Living in uncertainty makes me creative. pantea amin tofangchi
Issue 54 Winter 2013
From the Editors
Dear Readers, This issue’s cover, “Firework,” is an original monoprint by Pantea Amin Tofangchi, our graphic designer. Pantea is many things – a poet, a graphic designer, a book artist and now, a print maker. With the new year and this new issue, we want to express our gratitude to her and introduce this amazing artist to you. Pantea grew up during the Iran Iraq War, worked as a journalist in Tehran and emigrated to the U.S. in 2000. She joined Passager in 2008 as a graphic designer after graduating from the University of Baltimore’s MFA in Creative Writing & Publishing Arts program as a poet. In a moving interview recently published in the Little Patuxent Review, “Images of War and Immigration,” Pantea reflects on the effects of the war on her childhood. Being an immigrant, working as an artist is a way of bringing disparate worlds together. “I think about every letter that I put on a piece of paper, like a drop of paint on a white canvas. . . . Each letter is an image, especially Roman letters. I get to know them based on their shape first, because I look at them completely differently since my native language, Persian, is very different.” When we asked her about “Firework,” she said: “In monoprinting, pouring different colors and ink on the plate, knowing what I have in mind will be different from the outcome, there is always a surprise waiting. I love that moment.” Here’s to Pantea, here’s to print, here’s to you, dear readers and writers. We hope your year has many good surprises in it. P.S. To read the interview in Little Patuxent Review, go to our website www.passagerbooks.com and click on the link.
about life Yes, I really did like those days, right before they slap you on the bottom hand you wiggly fingers and the one-page instruction booklet with the single word sex, and say have at it. It was mesmerizing to drink rain-water before its long drift down to spatter the rhododendrons outside the window. And no flu-like symptoms. No guilt, sorrow, regret, no, that was all laid out like new clothes across a bed. I admit I preferred the before-life, poised far above the swarming globe, dense stars to my left, the savannas of sun to my right, the broad swathes of blue air, a faint hiss that might be music, or war â€“ as if at the top of a slide, then, whoosh, down we go, landing elbows scraped and head swimming as we march, single-file, into the classroom. John Glowney 7
All of Me • Liz Brown
y family doesn’t do death. Well, at least not like most other people. One of a scant handful of good examples my mother and father set for me was to will their bodies to science. And, when I die, face down on my to-do list, I will follow in this tradition. I have instructed my children to spend the embalming, wake, funeral, burial, and buffet reception money in Acapulco, drowning their sorrows scuba diving or dancing in a thatched-roof bar. As much as I dislike wakes and funerals, I love memorial services. The writing and speaking is usually better, since there is often a gap between the sad event and the service. At mine, while Mary Oliver poems are being read and Greg Brown songs are playing, I’ll be comfortably chilling in a drawer in the basement of my undergraduate alma mater’s medical school in downtown Boston. Every year since I graduated, they’ve been trying to track me down for donations to their annual fund, capital campaign, or scholarship drive. I figure that one dead body equals about 25 years of deferred financial contributions. They probably prefer money, but I learned my lesson after the one year that I did give, seduced by the earnest solicitation of 8
Meg, an undergraduate, calling members of my class to see if we could raise some fantastic sum of money for undergraduate aid. After that moment of weakness, I must have earned myself a higher credit rating because the telephone calls and mailings increased two-fold. I soon got wise to those “development” tricksters and began answering the phone in a French accent when they called. Non, Madame eez not ici at the mo-mon. Later, I flat out told them that I was a public school teacher, newly divorced, with two kids in college. Then I asked Meg or Amy if the college had a few bucks that they could give me. I didn’t feel bad about not donating knowing that, down the line, they would be getting my cadaver. You’re welcome, Alma. I was telling my periodontist about my plans to make what they call an anatomical gift. He had been chatting about his experiences in medical school and the shenanigans students get into to alleviate stress. I was unfazed by his stories of the biographies that the students create about their cadavers, the theories spun about tattoos, grooves on ring fingers, scars. If he was trying to discourage me from my plan, it wasn’t working.
brown “Okay, Liz. Listen to this: they will bisect your skull with a circular saw.” He took his fingers out of my mouth so that I could respond, he obviously hoped, in horror. “So what? I think by the time they do that the bloom will be off the rose, if you catch my drift. I think that’s a fine use of a cranium. I’d want to do that, too, if I were them.” I was a little surprised by Dr. DiMarco’s attitude. Why would I care if they sawed my skull in half? Would my date to the Celestial Cotillion show up, see me with half a head, and run off, screeching from my cloud condo? Was I worried about my yearbook photo in Grim Reaper, Volume 50 gazillion? Would my corpse suddenly lose its sex appeal minus some cranial real estate? I mean, if it was that distasteful, perhaps the medical student could arrange me on a bed of red leaf lettuce and arugula with my good side up. Even some of my colleagues got tonguetied when I brought up the subject. Sitting around the English department lunchroom, trying to consume enough calories to support life for the balance of the day in 20 minutes, the conversation has, on occasion, turned to matters of our mortality. After all, we’re high school English teachers and therefore obsessed with death. We see it
everywhere – in every poem, soliloquy, and play, even lurking behind some joke on last night’s “Family Guy”. There are a fair number of us who are atheists, agnostics, or don’t careists, so the humor can get a bit dark at times. But for a minute there was an awkward blip in the conversation. You would think that I had announced that I was considering a sex change. One of the other reasons this option works for me is that I don’t like waste. I don’t like the idea of being stuffed and mounted for an afternoon of ritual, put in a container that could cost roughly what my 2008 Honda Fit ran me, and then put in the ground. The idea of taking up green space that could otherwise be used for a playground, walking trails, or a wildlife sanctuary, doesn’t sit well with me. Like golf courses, I don’t get cemeteries. And I like the idea of squeezing every bit of utility out of this vessel I’m borrowing. I would much rather have a team of bright humanitarians huddled around me on an exam table, helping themselves to whatever crosssections of this or that than to be buried. I don’t care how nice the box is.
hen my brother died in 1999 at the age of 44, my father decided to have his body cremated. I don’t recall the reason why, but it may have been that, despite 9
brown Charlie’s recklessness with his health, he may not have ever made his “final wishes” known. The mystery of death – what happens as we die, what happens after – still seems so much less important to me, in Charlie’s case, than why he died in the first place. I spent a lot of time thinking about that question before sitting down to write a eulogy for him, determined not to be phony. My sister and I agreed that his death notice would include wording that spoke to the cause of his death. Charles E. Brown, 44, died suddenly after a long struggle with alcoholism…. Our reasoning was that, by including that information, Charlie’s death might possibly prevent another. Besides, there was no point in hiding it when everyone knew. And it seemed there was something to be said for his being useful, in his own way, after his death. In my eulogy, I mentioned how smart my brother was, how funny, how he made the ridiculous sublime. But I also mentioned that he lived in a world that did not value him because he was gay. I didn’t mention that the “world” to which I was referring was our home, my parents, and especially my mother, who had died 14 years earlier. Even at an early age, my brother knew he was gay, I knew he was gay, and we both knew that that wasn’t okay with the parents. As I said to the 10
friends and family members at his memorial service, people need to feel that their lives matter, that there is goodness in them, and something worth sharing with others. Everyone needs to feel that the world is, in some way, better by virtue of him or her being here. Otherwise, when life is hard, as it so often is, coming up with a good reason to be good to oneself can be tough. Charlie either kept forgetting, or never knew, that he was good enough and that his life mattered. When we were both little, and life – at least in retrospect – was easier, we didn’t worry about such abstractions. I was four years younger than my brother. When we were little, we played our favorite game, the politically incorrect Poor Family, pretending that the space behind my father’s enormous armchair was where we lived with my three baby dolls. As older children, we watched “Creature Double Feature” on my parents’ double bed every Saturday afternoon, whether it was raining, snowing, or a beautiful spring day. One of our favorite games was restaurant. We made menus with crayons and construction paper, featuring such delicacies as grilled cheese with bacon or tomato, soup du jour (Campbell’s), and Jell-O with Cool Whip. We took orders from the rest of the family and served my parents supper on TV tray tables, while they
brown watched Guy Lombardo’s frothy musical variety show, and we ridiculed our patrons – like real waiters – when out of earshot. Over the years, Charlie developed a telltale passion for Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe movies. He read their biographies, watched their films whenever they were on television, and collected their recordings – even Marilyn’s. He had always been interested in electronic gadgets and the latest in telephones, televisions, computerized anything, movie cameras, and all manner of appliances. Despite a tendency to matriculate and demit from colleges frequently (he attended the University of Arizona for one day), he somehow managed to eventually earn a bachelor’s degree as well as a master’s degree in public administration. He loved to travel and made a close friend in England whom he visited whenever he scraped together enough money for a plane ticket. Those visits often meant he simply quit the job, rather than waiting and accruing vacation time. It took my sister and me a long time to clean out his room after his death, in part, because we were a little afraid what we would find. In his closet were picture frames with the glass splintered over family members’ faces, mysterious plugs and plastic parts from long-gone walkie-talkies or clock
radios, and even withered houseplants that he had given up on. There was a duffel bag full of empty Cossack-brand vodka bottles, the really big ones, and all kinds of empty translucent orange prescription drug bottles. His large collection of Marilyn memorabilia was there, too, and probably worth a lot of money, but neither one of us had the stomach to try to sell it, so we put it all in black Hefty bags and threw it out. The last time I spoke to Charlie in person was at the Brookline District Courthouse. He had been angry with me for some imagined or exaggerated wrong I had done him, fueled by alcoholic delusions and rage. He was in his forties by then, but even ten years before, we had already lost him. The vibrant and intelligent man with the laser wit was gone, replaced by a depressed, ranting drunk who spent his days in my father’s house, either hidden away with a hangover or explosively – and often publicly – inebriated. When he got really “soused,” as my father called it, he left incoherent and disturbing messages on our answering machines. One message he left for me said that he planned to harm my daughters and me. He mentioned a gun; I called the police. I stood before him and the judge, my hands shaking and my voice quivering, and read from a prepared statement. I have a 11
brown copy of it somewhere, stashed among old journals and letters for the unlikely day when I feel able to begin a memoir. But it said something to the effect that, even though I loved him, I could not have him threatening my family and making our father’s life hell. I begged him to get help, again, before it was too late. I looked at his face for the first time in months and it was bloated and blank. Three days before he died, my sister got a call from a bartender at a local Ground Round restaurant. He was about to call the police and have my brother taken away for not being able to pay his bar tab and for being drunk and disorderly. My sister hurried to the restaurant, paid the tab, and helped him into her car. Anne, who had been sober for about 15 years, offered to let him move in with her. He could have his own room and wouldn’t have to pay rent. He could get sober, look for a job, and start fresh. But he would have to stop drinking. Both Anne and her partner were in recovery and they couldn’t have an active alcoholic in their home. “I can’t stop,” he told her.
remember walking into my father’s home, a couple of weeks after my brother’s death, and noticing what looked like a little gift on a chair. I asked what it was and my father said, “Your brother.” The small square 12
box looked a little bigger than those used for Chinese take-out food and was tied with a white satin ribbon. So neat and yet so far. How strange it is that all of that energy, both the positive and the negative, can be distilled down to a pint of rubble. I will follow my parents’ example and leave the 24-hour number for the Anatomical Gifts department with my kids, having submitted the paperwork decades ago. The nice men in the long car will come to the house or the hospital or the gym and collect me, zip me into a black plastic, lined bag, put me on a gurney, and slide me into the back of their car. That will be that, as far as the disposal of my body will concern my children. But I have not followed all of my parents’ examples with my daughters. I tried to remember to say “man or woman” whenever we discussed growing up or falling in love, not wanting them to feel any shame should they realize that they are attracted to members of their own sex. They used to kid me about that but, over the years, as some of their friends have had same-sex relationships or have come out, I think that they understand why I was careful. My brother’s death taught me a lot about parenting, about what matters and what doesn’t. My brother’s life taught me to value my own a little more and to be honest
brown and vigilant about my own relationship to alcohol. Like everyone, there are times when my own life feels empty or too hard. And, like everyone in my family, I haven’t always responded to those times responsibly and lovingly. Sometimes, like Charlie, I isolate myself from others and imagine that I don’t matter. But I have learned not to be ashamed that I can’t seem to graduate from therapy or that I sometimes need to be reminded to be kinder to myself and take better care of myself – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But even as I work on all that, I know that Project Liz will, one day, be over. And, okay, I’ll admit it, I’d love to have one of those New Orleans marching bands parade up and down Beacon Street on the day of my death, near my home in Brookline, right over the Boston Marathon finish line in Kenmore Square, snarling traffic. I’d love to know that my ex-husband and old boyfriends are sobbing a rueful a capella chorus across North America, and that grief counselors had to be brought in to help all of my students cope with and accept my death. But I also hope that the nice men in the long car consider stopping for coffee on the way back to the medical center, and talk about their kids’ soccer games and their high school reunion, or whatever else might be front and center in their lives that
day. Because I want to be useful when I’m dead and quiet, and let someone else do the living and the talking for a change.
Woman on a Bicycle This is a baby’s bike! I need one like Charlie’s! My grandson’s friend has a multi-geared, all-terrain bike . . . and wealthy parents. Morning mist just lifting, red sky in my blood, I lift the bike before the whine progresses, straddle it, in floppy slippers and striped pajamas, pedal the hard-packed dirt, knees jacked to handlebars, narrow seat prodding buttocks, wobbly at first, then building speed, standing on the pedals, facing a sun that glistens every silver strand through dark hair, then coasting – Whoo-weeeee! legs levered straight, down the lane, screaming like a gull, swooping, soaring. Airborne over the macadam lip, I rush, an incoming tide, through honeysuckle-scented air onto paved road, spokes a blur, slippers lost, tires humming like marshlands, past fields of sorrel and bachelor button, wild carrot and goldenrod, bike shuddering over loose pebble, pajama legs snapping like sails, on and on, as if I were ten, away from whiney little boys who need this and need that, cheeks flushed, grin unvanquished, bugs in my teeth, laughter splashing, past crab house and moorings, past whitewashed cottages where grown-ups sleep in, past wide-eyed, slack-jawed little boys, breathless, skimming the years, certain as the hard-packed brown earth, flighty as a dragonfly, knees pumping, throat open to the sky, Wheeeeeeeeeeeee! I close my eyes, approach speed of light, achieve lift off. Ann Howells 16
ARNICA (THE WEEK BEFORE THE 50TH BIRTHDAY) SONNET O Laura, Beatrice, count your blessings. Morbidity, mortality are messing with my good sense (and now it’s way too late to die young and stay pretty). So he takes my hand: Be patient. Where’s the arnica? “Per sofrenza si vince gran vettoria.” As you might know, sofrenza in this sense means, equally, suffering and patience. So though it’s true that yesterday I rocked that dhanurasana, today I popped my previously tweaked rotator cuff while reaching for my specs. Oh, what the fuck. What’s one more silly old-gal injury? I’m still the one who visits the cemetery. Moira Egan
Whirlygig Wonderland She’s not around today, her shades are drawn – but, Hi! her tidy yard says, its fey, doe-eyed gang of gnomes and wooden dwarves denying our city’s smokes and glooms. Atop its plastic daisy, a cordial Sun gleams golden for a plywood boy who praises spring and its dragonfly. One star befriends an old and battered Moon and Sky, while Smiley faces a pleased community of elves. The cat. The mouse. The cheese. The cheerful, desperate poses of our better selves outside our better houses. Michael Corrigan
Spontaneous Combustion It was an ordinary day at work, he thought, when he felt the first thump in his chest. He paused, as if hit with the tip of a pointer or a cane. Excuse me, it said, and he gave it his attention. What now? What do you want? Don’t worry, it replied. I’ll make it quick. And it did, exploding throughout his chest, making it a chest of fire, a whole house of fire, burning the oxygen out of his lungs. No, he shouted. Not now! Not now! but it said nothing. It didn’t need to speak. It had no need for symbols of any kind. No, No, he thought he said, but he hadn’t. He just lay there ablaze, giving in. He wanted to say, All right, you said you’d make it quick. But he didn’t say that either. Peter E. Murphy
Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind. virginia woolf
writers marc berman (ma) I began writing on airplanes while traveling from my home on business trips. I am chair of the New England Radio Foundation and a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts. My work has appeared in The Alembic, Lullwater Review, Forge, and others. “Sentinels” (p. 66) was inspired by wondering how President Obama stays so cool in the heat of crisis and battle. I think I figured it out. The poem is one of a series of poetic caricatures of visible American political personalities.
michael bradburn-ruster (az) I have published poetry, fiction, scholarly works and translations including the novel Lady of the South Wind (North Point Press), in the U.S., Austria, Britain and Canada. I have taught literature, philosophy, comparative religions and mythology, and was a featured reader at the Monterey Bay Poetry Festival. “A Secret Transgression”(p. 23) is semi-autobiographical. Years after the event, it became clear that the incident had been a cruel initiation into the psychology of power, a deliberate infliction of guilt in the name of “teaching a lesson.” My style aims at a marriage of transparency and density, whereby surfaces reveal, “through a glass, darkly,” our rich and haunted inner worlds.
liz brown (ma) After many years in university communications, I started a new career as an English teacher at a suburban-Boston high school, where I’ve been for the past 11 years. I’m a recent graduate of the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Southern Maine. “All of Me,” (p. 8) one of twelve essays in my graduate thesis Where Lonely Isn’t, was inspired by the life and death of my brother Charles, as well as the twisted desire to make people uncomfortable by writing about death and what to do with the you-know-what.
jo-anne cappeluti (ca) I earned my Ph.D. in English 22 years ago, and I am still in love with my dissertation’s focus on the way in which Romantic poetry evolves into Modern poetry. I am in this regard inspired by John Keats,
writers T. S. Eliot, and W. H. Auden for finding ways to present their thoughts and feelings as aesthetic possibilities, giving the reader something to think about rather than telling him or her what to think. About “Winter Morning Exercise in the Recreation Hall of a Convalescent Home” (p. 50): My poetry always reflects my awareness of the indeterminacy of life: the metaphysical within the empirical that makes it wonderfully impossible to say that being human is merely this or that.
mary carpenter (dc) I am a freelance writer and lead creative writing workshops for psychoanalysts, prisoners and others. For 30 years, I reported on medicine for Time, The International Herald Tribune and The Washington Post. I have published two children’s books: Rescued by a Cow and a Squeeze, a biography of Temple Grandin; and Lost and Found in the Mississippi Sound: Eli and the Dolphins of Hurricane Katrina, about a group of dolphins rescued in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. About “Waiting” (p. 78): After my mother died, I found myself writing about her, mostly criticisms of how she treated me, but I kept coming back to books from her shelf of favorites. I realized that I had a similar shelf with many of the same books and that my pleasure as a fiction reader started with my mother.
michael corrigan (me) For 35 years, I wrote (part time) mostly free verse. Since retiring from journalism, I’ve been studying and practicing to be a thirdperson, formal reporter/poet, and my God, it is FUN! If I don’t “succeed” – that term being relative if you’re not swallowed up by the shams of po-biz – I can tell you from experience that apprenticeship is, like virtue, its own reward. I am happier than I’ve ever been, if poorer. Retirement is great! Based on things I see as I walk around my neighborhood, I have decided that EVERYTHING is a poem. And I’ve set out to prove it. “Whirlygig Wonderland” (p. 22) was inspired by the almost desperate denial of the so-called real world in a collection of whirlygigs that had invaded a nearby city garden. I didn't know whether to admire the owner for keeping up such a great attitude in the face of reality, or worry about her.
writers donald crane (me) Like many people, I daydreamed through English 101 (oh, so many years ago). But enough must have rubbed off, for often through life I would find myself jotting down scraps of free verse (most often while I should have been working). Since I retired, I have been able to pursue my life-long interest in poetry, and have had poems in magazines, including The Christian Science Monitor and Words + Images. “Granddaughter” (p. 77) was inspired by my brother-in-law and his granddaughter. With her ringlets and big blue eyes she is the most charming little predator imaginable.
moira egan (rome, italy) I live in Rome with my husband, Damiano Abeni, with whom I translate. Recent volumes in Italian include Ferlinghetti's A Coney Island of the Mind, Aimee Bender's novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, and a collection of stories by John Barth. Italian poems translated into English have appeared in the FSG Book of 20th Century Italian Poetry and are forthcoming in a volume of Patrizia Cavalli's work, forthcoming also from FSG. “Arnica” (p. 21) is from my series, “Hot Flash Sonnets,” from which work has appeared in Sewanee Theological Review, Assisi, Little Patuxent Review and Baltimore Review.
bea epstein (md) I am a psychotherapist and writer. My stories have been published in The Connecticut Review, Potomac Review, The Pegasus Review and Epiphany–epiphmag.com. One of my stories won a People’s Choice award in Storyteller Magazine. I was the featured writer in an issue of Burning Word. My first story appeared in 2009 in the anthology, My Words Are Gonna Linger. I recently returned from celebrating my 75th birthday riding camels in the Moroccan desert to find Washingtonians rallying behind the Nationals, a team of underdogs, now number one in the National League. “Striking Out” (p. 52) is about my experience as a child of immigrants who believed baseball was a waste of precious time that should be spent studying. It
writers was the summer when everyone else in Brooklyn rallied behind the underdog Brooklyn Dodgers in their struggle to win the World Series against the New York Yankees.
mary m. y. fung and david lunde are collaborating on a book of Chinese Chan (Zen) poems, A Full Load of Moonlight, from which these four poems (p. 38) are taken. mary m. y. fung (hong kong) I have taught Chinese Literature and Translation at the University of Hong Kong for over 30 years and am currently Honorary Associate Professor at the University. My most recent publication is The First and Second Buddhist Councils: Five Versions, English Translations from Pali and Chinese, jointly with K. Anuruddha Thera and S.K. Siu, Hong Kong: Chi Lin Nunnery, 2008. david lunde (or) I directed the creative writing program at the State University of New York at Fredonia for 34 years. I am a poet and translator whose work has appeared in many journals, including Poetry, The Iowa Review, TriQuarterly and others. My most recent book is an English translation of the classic anthology 300 Tang Poems, with co-translators Geoffrey Waters and Michael Farman.
john glowney (wa) I am an attorney practicing in Seattle. My poems have appeared in River Styx, Poetry Northwest (Richard Hugo Prize), Green Mountains Review, on Poetry Daily, and elsewhere. I was co-winner of the Robert Winner Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. “About Life” (p. 7) grew out of a line from an even more ancient poem which was considering the after-life as a well lit apartment without dawn or sunset – I was led to contemplate a “before-life.”
writers james hanley (md) I recently retired as a Human Resources professional, principally to write fiction. An adjunct professor in the University of Maryland and county mediator, I write mainstream and literary fiction, mystery and humor, and have had stories published in MacGuffin, Wisconsin Review and elsewhere. The draft had a major impact on young men during the Vietnam era. “Drafted” (p. 57) reflects some of my experiences with the unnerving process before joining the Navy and learning Vietnamese for assignment in that region.
patrick hansell (mn) I’ve published poems in Turtle Quarterly, Main Channel Voices, Parachute, and Painted Bride Quarterly (forthcoming) among others. My novella, Searching, was serialized over 33 months by The Alley News in Minneapolis. With my wife I co-pastor an inner-city bilingual church in Minneapolis. About “Grandfather, Standing” (p. 44): I often write seeking the spirit of a place and a person, and to be in dialogue with them. A series of poems about my father led me to my grandfather, who died when I was an infant. He had a hard life, abandoned by his stepfather in Canada after emigrating from Germany, seeing his young wife die. I imagined a time between those traumas, with him watching the vast North Dakota sky.
joyce burd hicks (in) For more than 30 years, I have worked with student writers at Valparaiso University Writing Center. My stories about later life have appeared in Literary Mama, Touch: the Journal of Healing, and forthcoming in Feathered Flounder. Recently, I’ve finished a novel that follows the mother and daughter introduced in Literary Mama (An Outing for Betty) as they consider what to do with Mother. About “Is That Your Sister” (p. 67): On Amtrak, I’ve found a story always evolves. A seatmate, loquacious or quiet, sets my mind looking for a plot. On this trip, it occurred to me that unlike travel by plane or auto, rail travel allows
writers anyone to abandon one life to seek another by simply stepping off at a station along the way. The train will soon roll away with no one the wiser.
ann howells (tx) I have had poems in Calyx, RiverSedge and elsewhere, and a chapbook, Black Crow in Flight, published by Main Street Rag in 2007. “Woman on a Bicycle” (p. 16) was inspired by an incident similar to the one described, though I did take a few liberties. The setting is a small island near the Chesapeake Bay where my father was raised. My children and grandchildren and I spent happy childhood summers there. Barely one mile wide and three miles long, it is all sand and pines and honeysuckle and blackberries with small white houses dotting the shore. The island has always given me a sense of freedom and exhilaration.
mike jurkovic (ny) Since setting aside my rock 'n roll aspirations, I have over 400 publication credits to date. My first chapbook, Purgatory Road, was published in 2010 by Pudding House Press. I co-direct Calling All Poets at The Howland Cultural Center in Beacon, NY, and produce CAPSCAST, live readings from The Howland found on callingallpoets.net, iTunes, and coming soon to YouTube. About “Passing Shower” (p. 64): Since our weathermen and women really are at the mercy of climate change, they don’t know what’s going to happen. I just decided to mistake Noah’s Great Flood as a passing shower and took it from there.
ruth moon kempher (fl) My dad enlisted in the navy before Pearl Harbor, and I spent most of my youth moving from base to base, coast to coast, school to school, out to the Philippines, and on to five high schools. I was shy, inarticulate, addicted to reading, and after a time, to writing. I had no idea what I was doing, but I sent my work here and there, and people liked it. It was a miracle. I was teaching senior citizens’ Creative Writing, and hadn’t the foggiest idea of
writers where to begin. Dialogue seemed a good starting place, and I needed work on that, myself. I have boxes of notes from that time, when I was working along with my class, eavesdropping, listening to how people put words together, or don’t say anything. . . . That’s where “Anywhere I Hang My Dog” (p. 45) came from: an old box full of notes on bar napkins and old, crazy sketch pads from art class.
victoria korth (ny) I practice psychiatry in upstate New York, specializing in the treatment of anxiety and depression in midlife. I am moments away from completing a Master’s in Creative Writing at SUNY Brockport. About “Necking” (p. 74): I was exploring the many forms of the word, as a noun with multiple meanings, some idiomatic, and as a verb. I wanted to layer these meanings, respecting a (somewhat biographical) narrative outline in a painterly fashion, seeking to create a visual effect through sound.
diana la com (ca) At 81, I am a painter who writes poetry much to my astonishment. I have kept a dream journal since I was young. About 25 years ago I had a dream that said poems were coming but were not ready yet. Three years later, having forgotten the dream, there I was writing poems. I love the way the word supplements the visual. It brings me to a way that is more conscious. Many of my poems, like “Day of the Singing,” (p. 42) arise from dreams. I write the dreams down and then begin to work with them to find what they have to say. I feel deeply that the voice of the feminine needs to be heard in our time. For me anything can be a seed for a poem, from simple acts like weeding the garden to watching a child run after an egret in the park.
john mckernan (wv) I’m now retired after teaching 41 years at Marshall University. I edit ABZ Press. My most recent book is Resurrection of the Dust. My poems have appeared in The Antioch Review, The Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, The New Yorker, Virginia Quarterly Review and elsewhere. I wrote a number of poems all of which begin with the title “Not a Stitch.”
writers One is about a girlfriend – who became my wife. Another is about a person just before being wounded in an accident. This poem (p. 51) is about my father, who died when I was 16 and he was 47. That was the most traumatic event in my life and I have never stopped (probably never will stop) writing about that event.
peter e. murphy (nj) My poems have appeared in The Atlanta Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Commonweal and elsewhere. When not teaching at Richard Stockton College, I direct the annual Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway and other programs for poets, writers and teachers in the U.S. and abroad. Very few Murphy men have gotten out of their fifties. “Spontaneous Combustion” (p. 33) was written after one of several cardiac episodes. One hopes to “rage, rage against the dying of the light,” but when darkness comes, surrender is inevitable.
lee haas norris (or) I have published nonfiction in The Literary Bohemian, Persimmon Tree, The Gettysburg Review and other publications. I served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Moldova in my sixties, later earned an M.A. in English, and taught in the Czech Republic. I'm an avid reader, English Country dancer, musician, choral singer and traveler. When people ask me what I write I tend to say “stories about my life that are almost but not quite true.” “French Lessons,” (p. 17) however, is a true memoir. I kept a journal on that trip and I always knew I'd make a story out of this incident. Twenty years later, I finally did it.
paul pekin (il) I was born and raised in Blue Island, IL, lived at the same address in Chicago since 1965, worked as a printer, a store owner, a college teacher, and finished up as a police officer for the Cook County Forest Preserve. Children, grandchildren, great grandchildren. Beautiful wife. Was published in Passager long ago. “Silence” (p. 34) is part of a longer memoir. I've always been interested in how memory works, how the past seems to persist, but rarely in an orderly
writers narrative, how little flashes and fragments that come leaping out of nowhere seem every bit as precious as any organized story ever could be. I try to get these things into my writing, as much as I can.
elisavietta ritchie (md) I write and publish fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, photographs, and translations from Russian and French, and my work has appeared in numerous publications including Poetry, The American Scholar, New York Times and Christian Science Monitor. How did “Oscar” (p. 14) come about? I think the poem tells the story, however: 1) Each guest is sent to us by God No matter how torn his shirt – from an old Caucasian song my father used to sing, and we had many an unexpected guest. Many of my own stray guests had four legs, but “Oscar” had none due to an incident in the Middle East some centuries ago. 2) “If you have bare space left over,” wrote the artist Botero, “paint in a snake.” 3) Although his outer layer was indeed shabby, after shedding his torn skin, my visitor considered himself an elegant enough gift of God, or the gods, to take advantage of my hospitality. Only because, in Oscar’s presence, my spouse leapt twelve feet backward, did Oscar and I decide he had other domiciles awaiting him farther out in the yard. I am not a painter, but if I could find some bare space on my desk, I believe I could manage a snake.
gianna russo (fl) I am the author of Moonflower (Kitsune Books, 2011), and founding editor of Yellow Jacket Press, Florida’s only publisher of poetry chapbooks. My poems have appeared in Ekphrasis, The Sun, Poet Lore, and Calyx, among others. I teach at St. Leo University. About “Vita Felice” (p. 75): I was at a writing conference in Spoleto, Italy, my family’s homeland, and found myself writing about my grandparents and the old country. My grandmother was the traditional Italian grandmother – a
writers fabulous home cook. Her legacy to us has been the love of food and memories of her fantastic meals. Yet, the only way she could achieve the culinary genius she did was by being tethered to the kitchen.
rossme taylor (md) Originally from Winnipeg, Canada, I have now been living for forty-some years in Silver Spring, MD, teaching music, and also programs of yoga for Seniors. In the 1970s I began to experiment with writing poetry. The inspiration for “Half-Thought” (p. 87) was – quite truly – a dream! I really did “wake up” (or half-woke up) with exactly the experience of the first verse; the memory of a great mouth, criticizing, disapproving, being on the floor, and my running for a big towel to cover it up and stop its noise. That was the first verse, so I wrote it down, and just went on writing!
charles west (ca) I was born and raised a nomadic army brat. To give me a “normal” American experience, my parents sent me to live with my grandparents in a small town in central California, Dinuba, the raisin capital of the world. I am a high school English teacher, in my 35th and most likely, last year. I have published poetry, nonfiction and fiction in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and others. My mystery novel, The Sacred Disc, was published in 2000 by Salvo Press. “Teaching Eddie Haskell to Kill”(p. 54) was prompted by a visit to what used to be Fort Ord, where the story happened. Fort Ord closed down several years ago and California turned part of it into California State University, Monterey Bay. Many of the old army buildings are still there, some just standing empty, like General Joseph W. Stilwell Elementary School where I met Eddie Haskell. Our tour guide asked if I had been there before and I told the story about Eddie Haskell. She said the school had a name for all those old stories – “Ording.”
2012 Open Issue