Pensworth Spring '13
Pensworth: A Journal of Student Writing and Art
New Series No. 10 Spring 2013
Edited by Rebecca Branham, Student Editor Emily Hemphill, Student Editor Madison Wesley, Student Editor Cory McClellan, Faculty Advisor Jamey Temple, Faculty Advisor and Managing Editor
sponsored by Sigma Tau Delta and the English Department University of the Cumberlands
Editors’ Note Pensworth appears annually in the spring. Students of University of the Cumberlands may submit work for consideration for the next issue by the last Thursday before Christmas break. Submit original poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, photography, and artwork online at www.ucumberlands.edu/pensworth. Visit the website for details on how to submit your work. Since its first issue in 1985, its revival in a “New Series” in 2003, and now its current online format, Pensworth has provided an outlet for students’ creative work, and our thanks go to all students who have submitted work to the journal. We believe the current issue once again shows an impressive array of talents. We are proud to publish in this issue the winning manuscript of the University of the Cumberlands annual Creative Writing Award, sponsored by the English Department. Submissions for the Creative Writing Award are accepted in late February and early March. Contact the English Department for submission guidelines. We are also pleased to present the winning piece of University of the Cumberlands annual The Next Generation Creative Writing Award for local eighth grade and high school students. To learn more about this contest, visit www.ucumberlands.edu/pensworth/contests.php.
Front Cover: Jessica Meece, “Ever Changing” Back Cover: Jessica Meece, “City that Never Sleeps”
Contents Spring 2013
Poetry and Artwork Photograph, Jasmine Minke..................................................................................1 Open Book, Rhyana Barker................................................................................. 2 When momma’s at church, Rebecca Branham .................................................. 3 Paternalism, Mythcah Godsey.............................................................................. 4 Garlic Bread, Hayley Davis.................................................................................. 5 One to six on a Tuesday morning in June, Emily Hemphill.............................. 6 Salad Days, Thomas Sakowich............................................................................. 7 Photograph, Emily Kays....................................................................................... 8 Play-doh Heart, Madison Wesley......................................................................... 9 Money’s Fool, Hayley Davis............................................................................... 10 When Making Cotton Candy, Rebecca Branham............................................ 11 Something Familiar, Mythcah Godsey.............................................................. 12
Creative Nonfiction and Artwork Photograph, Emily Kays..................................................................................... 13 That Time of the Month, Madison Wesley........................................................ 14 Dining Out, Hannah Roehrborn........................................................................ 17 When Hips Become Trips to the Vet, Emily Hemphill.................................... 19
The 2011 Creative Writing Award Winner with Artwork
Photograph, Jessica Meece..............................................................................27 Egyptian Room, Tyler Collins........................................................................28 Airport Music, Tyler Collins..........................................................................29
The 2012 Next Generation Creative Writing Award Winner with Artwork from Cumberlands Student Photograph, Emily Kays.................................................................................30 The Yellow Heart, Elizabeth Smith............................................................... 31
Jasmine Minke, Balloon Eclipse
Open Book Flip my pages My dog-eared pages My tattered pages My ripped pages My missing pagesâ€” Read those too Hold me by my fraying spine With the light touch That makes me cringe In sheer disbelieve That someone Would actually even ever consider Picking me off the shelf In the first place
Rhyana Barker, Open Book
When momma’s at church Her brother touches me. Fear floods me and I think of Noah and his ark. When Momma comes home she tells me of Abe and how much he loved God. I tell momma what her brother the babysitter does. “Oh sweetie, you must’ve had a nightmare. God would never allow that to happen to a little girl.”
Rebecca Branham, When momma’s at church
Paternalism I have your sneeze your outbursts your middle finger. Snarls are how we say hell— no, get out of my face. You’d think we would be each other’s side-kick but we’re too busy kicking others in their sides. I flip a shoe off, you do the same and we argue over whose feet reek the most. A girl after your own black hole.
Mythcah Godsey, Paternalism
Garlic Bread Bread must have a low self-esteem clothing itself in garlic. Garlic bread is like a girl with too much makeup, hair too big a Snookie with too much butter. Slippery, soaked in excess fake flavor hoping to add onto the Plain Jane taste. Well, wellâ€ŚMission accomplished.
Hayley Davis, Garlic Bread
One to six on a Tuesday morning in June I want to exclaim aloud in Spanish the patchwork-pattern of my school-girl quilt glares like a bull at a red scarf blowing branches create monsters who fear nothing but the darker shade made by flashlight beams I am a fish dry sand stuck to my slimy scales and clogging my gasping gills wishing bottles of wine hung by their corks suspended from bedsprings in water as icy as my navy sheets. later the only sunrise I will see all summer and your voice make salty pillowcases the past and the book beside me in bed makes me laugh and thank Hemingway for irony.
Emily Hemphill, One to six on a Tuesday morning in June
Salad Days I hunger to relocate my salad days to an age where emotion is no longer a part of an ecosystem. My birthright is the cellular phone. I wink at her from two cities away. I send her one hundred and sixty character love letters. My playlist consists of her voicemail on loop. I want to live in a more primitive era; where I could take comfort in the delusion she is not capable of response.
Thomas Sakowich, Salad Days
Emily Kays, Romance
Play-doh Heart To be kept soft, you have to be handled— yet you run the risk of being flattened, pulverized, eaten, molded, pulled apart by sticky fingers. Either that or you can be a look-but-don’t-touch, indignant in your solitude, unyielding in your dehydrating silhouette. Congratulations— or I’m sorry— your canister is finally brimming with thick, crunchy dust, good for nothing but hiding in the back or filling in the cracks.
Madison Wesley, Play-doh Heart
Money’s Fool crisp, clean the scent of lust lingering in the nostrils. Devil’s advocate burns through my pockets, seething with vile desire trying to keep me sane but I’m never Satisfied.
Hayley Davis, Money’s Fool
When Making Cotton Candy Mermaid colors taste the best: swimming blues and purples. Spinning the motor fasterâ€Ś suddenly, fluff. Warm cobwebs grit glued to the roof of your mouth. Keep it in a bag blood red clown, shining on the front. Knot quick, let it cure. A childhood lost.
Rebecca Branham, When Making Cotton Candy
Something Familiar A grit waits to be a grit. My mind is a moth, a suave exquisite material a translucent ribbon. Suspending your arms can really wound it, or at least crush my time. I long to be so affable that I become a god and am misplaced and flouted, too so I could compose a novel. Who will embrace me, who will receive me and who will choose me is not yet certain. When I surrender, Iâ€™ll be even more vicious. Stand up and remember: I adore those who truly see me. For only they are lost who never have been flung apart.
Mythcah Godsey, Something Familiar
Emily Kays, Pray
That Time of the Month
It is a politely-unspoken rule in Williamsburg, Ken-
tucky—and in many small towns across America—that one should not go to Wal-Mart during the first few days of the month, because this time is reserved for those who need the limited space the most. I say the space is limited because during this short span of time, Wal-Mart’s sprawling campus spills over with anxious customers stuffing the aisles to the point of explosion and clutching carts overflowing with precariously-perched goods. At the first of the month, available parking spaces are virtually nonexistent, and usually-short check-out lines tangle around each other and extend the length of the foyer. The reason for these large crowds and chaotic conditions is one that is uncomfortable to articulate and often left unspoken in favor of political correctness, but it is a reason that is undeniable, especially amidst current economic conditions: the first of the month means crowded groceries stores because the first of the month means distribution of welfare checks.
For the 77% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck,
payday means the chance to refill the refrigerator, and for those relying on government funding to stay afloat, this day can be especially crucial. For many, the day this check lands in their hands is the first day in a month that they are able to buy groceries for their families, hence the masses that flock to Wal-Mart like clockwork each time the calendar flips.
Pouring through the doors floods a hodge podge of peo-
ple, some darting, charged by batteries of desperation, and others
Madison Wesley, That Time of the Month
ambling in house shoes, seemingly without a care in the world. Two frail men in ripped hunting jackets haul a bag of Ole Roy into the back of a pickup truck. An exasperated mother loses the sit-still-in-the-cart war with her child and starts laughing with him instead. Siblings walk hand-in-hand behind distracted parents who can’t seem to keep from losing them with every turn of a corner.
A woman waiting in line passes time
with those around her, remarking, “I’m just glad I finally got my paycheck so I can stock up on my goods. Of course, it ain’t nearly enough to get around to it all, ya know? I got my $450 monthly truck payment there ain’t no way in hell I’ll meet, but that’s a’ight, I reckon. I got my boyfriend’s truck to borrow—he’s older’n me, ya know—and he don’t mind it. I figure he likes takin’ care of me like that…gives him something to do…”
As diverse as the men and women who
“The small inconvenience of overcrowded stores is representative of a much greater and more pressing problem.”
buy their groceries at the first of the month are the responses of those who are observers rather than members of this group. Overwhelmingly negative social media rants abound, with people updating statuses to read, “Oh how I HATE working register at the first of the month…” and tweeting, “Note to self: never ever again shop on the first.” Others, instead, adopt a sympathetic rather than condescending perspective and avoid picking up groceries during this time because it makes them “sad to see people like that and know that the small inconvenience of overcrowded stores is representative of a much greater and more pressing problem.”
The majority of people, however, seem to possess the
negative attitude regarding this genre of shoppers. While some Madison Wesley, That Time of the Month
people passively avoid the stores at this time, others display their dislike more aggressively, rolling their eyes or making faces and comments in the store to illustrate their disapproval, or ranting about this monthly phenomenon to make their displeasure known. One fed-up resident of small-town Kentucky said, “I just can’t take it because it’s depressing. I mean, these are supposed to be my people? If that’s the case, I don’t like it at all. I have nothing in common with my people. I don’t respect my people. I hate my people.” Apparently, first-of-the-month outings don’t foster community camaraderie.
As the attitudes of these people and of the shoppers
themselves express, crowded registers simply shed light on the larger issue at hand: the presence—and prominence—of poverty in this small southern town. According to the US Census, 27% of Whitley County residents live at or below the poverty line, and the line dividing general public perception of people above and below the line is arguably even more stark. Those who do not receive government assistance tend to look down on those who do, but aside from expressing personal opinion, not much is being done to address the problem—and perhaps not much more can be done.
If you take a moment to walk among the throngs of
people in Wal-Mart on the first, you might adopt a new perspective. You may see that people walk through the doors as if they are coming home again. They greet familiar faces, people they expect to see in the same places, while walls of community build up around them. You find yourself lost in the bustle, wondering how you arrived in the first place, wondering if you’ll ever find your way out again, wondering why you’d ever really want to do that anyway.
Madison Wesley, That Time of the Month
Dining Out There are fourteen of us all together. I am second from the top, with only one boy older. We fill several tables at Old Country Buffet, where I can eat as much macaroni and cheese as I want. It must be someone’s birthday. It’s always someone’s birthday with fourteen of us, and the boys are always sneaking back in the buffet line for lemon slices.
It’s my job to tell on the boys. They are always
spitting lemon juice all over the table and that table isn’t even yours, you know, and I’m second from the top so you have to listen to me. And when they don’t listen to me, it’s the yelling uncles’ jobs to yell and make them listen to someone. But one uncle laughs and the other
“It’s my job to tell
uncle doesn’t listen to
on the boys.”
me either. Instead, he
yells over the laughing to draw the attention back to the television in the corner that is too far away to read. Dad doesn’t yell or laugh, but looks at the television and holds Dean because he doesn’t feel good. Dean is too little to be one of the boys, so he just watches the spitting from Dad’s lap.
“Pablo, will you quit with the game already?” says
Aunt Kelli, the one with the laugh.
“It’s almost over. Guy, did you see that pummel?
Bam.” He claps once, louder than he yells. Hannah Roehrborn, Dining Out
“We’re about to sing.” Aunt Lori is lighting the sparkler
candles that always scare me.
“Do you want to help sing, Deanie?” Dad puts him on
Mom’s lap, right on top of the scarf she was knitting. Dean still watches the boys.
“It’s time to sing!” I’m yelling at the boys, whose shirts are
wet down the fronts.
“Happy birthday, dear Brandon, happy birthday…”
I don’t feel good because I ate too much macaroni and
cheese, but Dad can’t hold me because I’m not little anymore. We’re filing out into the parking lot, and someone is counting to fourteen behind me. The boys are laughing and running in the street, so I have to go tell on them. Dad opens the car door and stops at thirteen. “Where’s Dean?”
The uncles and the aunts and the boys stop yelling and
laughing and look for my brother. He comes out the door of the restaurant holding a lemon, but Dad can’t run to him and hold him again before the crying starts.
Hannah Roehrborn, Dining Out
When Hips Become Trips to the Vet You didn’t understand why I was crying, sitting with you on your bed, knowing you wouldn’t sleep in the little den you had in my room anymore because I was leaving you behind for the sake of higher education. You were ten years old, and I knew Labrador Retrievers didn’t last much longer than that. Most of your days were spent sleeping, lying in the sun – another favorite pastime. I was begging you, pleading that if you knew it was time you would let us know when I was home for a break. I wanted to be with you, there for you, the
“You were strong, and you were friend you’ve always been for me. always there You were strong, when I came and you were always home...” unfathomably faithful
there when I came home,
with a wag of your tail and big melty caramel eyes that said “I’m so glad you’re home!” Eventually you couldn’t make it to the door to greet me – you didn’t like to go down the steps. Then you couldn’t hear that I was home at all – I’d have to come and find you.
I never walk past lost dogs. Usually, I return them.
If there is no phone number on their tags, I look up the address. If no one is home I put them in the yard and close the open gate that let them out, or find some way to box Emily Hemphill, When Hips Become Trips to the Vet
them in on the porch. If there are no tags, I pat them and tell them to go home where it’s warm and they have food to eat and someone who loves them. Then I get away from them as quick as I can and plot out all of the terrible things that should happen to irresponsible dog owners who do not care enough to give their dogs tags. I do this because of you, because I can’t imagine losing you, because anyone who brought you back to me would be my hero.
I didn’t know you the first time I saw you; you were small
and dark, sniffing flowers in the yard contained by a 4x6 inch photograph on our kitchen table. The boys and I had been in bed already, but Dad called our names down the hall and the pitterpatter of small feet on the hardwood revealed that we had been eager for an excuse to stay up later.
“Whose dog is that?” Mom asked as they showed us your
photo. Her voice had the tone parents use when they think you know the answer.
In the yellow light from Grandma’s fruity glass lamp,
sleepy eyes only noticed that you were dark, that you wore a pretty pink collar, that you liked flowers.
Kimberly’s? I guessed my best friend.
“No,” they said, disappointed.
Aunt Beth and Uncle Greg’s?
“No,” again. “Those dogs are black.”
I looked closer and saw that you were brown, like fresh
mulch warm from the sun, a chocolate kiss, Christmas tree bark. But you were a dog, and these were the people who I knew with dogs. Dad cleared things up when I asked.
Emily Hemphill, When Hips Become Trips to the Vet
“Whose dog is it, then?”
“That’s our dog.”
We sat anxiously, expectantly in the car the day we drove
hours and hours to get you. The boys fell asleep, but I remember Mom’s sister handing you off to us, your family. You whimpered as we drove away from her, and cried off and on the whole way home. Mom held you in her lap and rubbed your neck, scratching your soft, loose ears while you studied the world that flew past your window as we took you miles away to home. The Naming went like this: I suggested 1. Cocoa, 2. Hershey, and 3. Nesquick; Matthew liked Wishbone; Timothy said “Dog!” Mom won out, and we named you Nutmeg on your papers. You probably don’t know that, thinking it has something to do with squirrels, or food that you aren’t allowed to eat. When people ask about you they call you Megan, but I always correct them, because your name is Meg.
You grew from a puppy to a full size young dog on
Grandma’s porch. When we moved to the New House, you were happier than any of us. Items Received in the New House: Dad: a garage, an office Mom: a kitchen, a private bath Me: a big room with lots of bookshelves Matthew: a bigger room, a bunk bed, a playroom Timothy: a bigger room, a bunk bed, a playroom, a bouncy horse You: A YARD! WITH A FENCE!! A YARD A YARD A YARD!!! Emily Hemphill, When Hips Become Trips to the Vet
Galloping around the yard was your
favorite; your tongue always hung out, your ears flew behind you and legs propelled you forward so fast that you couldn’t stop. You’d race in circles around us and the shed, and we’d get in your way to try and stop you. You got so frustrated! You’d dart aside at the last minute to avoid knocking us to the ground, but growl enough to let us know you didn’t think the joke was funny.
The yard had a swing set and a shed, picnic table and
trees, room for you to run and jump and chase ferocious squirrels. You caused a lot of trouble, usually. The mechanics of a swing set are simple, but you were too busy sniffing the grass to get out of our way. “Meg!”
“If you don’t move you’re gonna get hurt!”
“MEG! You’re a nut.”
We never hit you. We stopped, carefully, and moved to
the other swing.
You loved to play with our socks. If we left them lying
around, you would grab them when we weren’t looking and race us down the hallway to the other end of the house. I had a pair of blue fuzzy slippers you especially loved to steal. Matthew cried once when you ate a LEGO, but I didn’t get upset when Barbie shoes and bikini bottoms went missing. After you snuck in the kitchen and ate an entire pound cake off the counter while we were in the other room, Mom never trusted you around food.
Emily Hemphill, When Hips Become Trips to the Vet
You strove to get around that, leaning your head past the kitchen door to gobble up an entire plate of Christmas cookies. The day you found a half pound bag of cherry cordial chocolate kisses and ate it all – chocolate, cherry, and foil wrappers – you paid for it without any help from us. That was the only trip to the vet that you didn’t enjoy. (So far.)
One day when we were playing, you grabbed my shirt
like you always did to keep me from getting away, but this time it was my favorite shirt – bright blue with five versions of Queen Amidalla on the front – and you ripped a hole in it. It took me three days to forgive you for that one, but I don’t blame you now.
After we taught you to bark at door bells and the word
“cat,” we put you on the fast track to professional squirrel chasing. The tree by the deck had grown tall enough for some branches to hang over the landing, and you would sit at the glass door and watch the gray squirrels frolicking in the green silver maple leaves. If we noticed the peak of your ears, we would slowly open the glass, whispering to you, egging you on. At first you would get too excited and scare them away with your bark of a war cry, but soon you learned. You waited. My finger was on the screen, you were poised and ready. I pushed the lever and you leapt across the deck, making that sucker scramble up his tree, driven by a mortal fear for his life. After you got so good that you almost caught one, Daddy bought you your very own Squirrel, who squeaked when he was afraid, and we taught you to kill him so dead that eventually he could no longer make a sound. Raccoon tried to replace Squirrel, but you just added him to your pack and kept both of them in the basket by your bed. Emily Hemphill, When Hips Become Trips to the Vet
You love our front door. You
used to spend hours sitting in front of the front door, eyes darting back and forth as you watched passing cars or squirrels in the yard. Unfortunately, your nose got in the way quite a bit. Mom gave up cleaning your wet dognose smudges off the door only to have you replace them right away, so the front door was basically a smudge. Eventually, someone would come to that door, and one of us would go to them, and the two would stand there talking, trying to ignore your ecstatic leaps. We would leave an inch too much space between our legs and the edge of the door, and you would dive through nose first, giving it everything you had, pushing through until you were free. You ran into the front yard and across the street, smelling new smells and ignoring us.
“Meg! Come here girl!”
“Look! Beggin’? Don’t you want a treat?”
You stopped and looked at us for a moment, considering
the usually tantalizing strip of synthetic bacon, and continued on your way.
Before long you weren’t interested in nearby smells. You
bolted out the door and trotted down the street, crossing the moderately busy road that was the entrance to our neighborhood, forcing me to drop everything I was doing and grab the nearest leash – usually not even stopping for shoes or to change out of the pajamas I wore all day. We must have been a sight, especially to whatever neighbor happened to be in their yard that day. I found you jumping on them, smelling and kissing, and they held you for
Emily Hemphill, When Hips Become Trips to the Vet
me and always pretended to love dogs. Really they were worried you would trample their flower beds. One time you left while Mom was taking a nap, and she refused to chase you in the car. You got away from me and I called Dad, but a friend recognized you and picked you up in their car from the side of the main road. Another time you crossed that road and ran through a shop before Dad could catch you. You must have thought it was a game. I was afraid we’d never be able to let you win tug-o’-war again.
Last summer I walked you outside every day, and “mail”
became your new favorite word because it meant you got to smell new smells without having to escape. When I tried to play I discovered that you’d lost most of your interest in Squirrel and Squirrel (Raccoon). When you went outside you had to use the stairs, but you stood at the bottom of them and begged us to come get you and bring you inside. We coaxed you into using all of your strength by calling you and holding out snacks. You gave it all you had, and my heart leapt with victory every time you reached the top step. Once you made it inside we told you how good and brave and strong you were.
That was at Thanksgiving.
By Christmas you could hardly get up on your own – but
you still loved the candy cane shaped rawhide Daddy gave you when we opened presents. It was longer than you are. You finished it off a few days ago. You look as happy as ever, Dad says, even though sometimes your legs fall right out from under you and I wince at the sound of your hips hitting the floor. I can Emily Hemphill, When Hips Become Trips to the Vet
imagine what happened when Dad called the vet for the umpteenth time.
“Is there anything more we can do for her?
“…Only making her comfortable.”
“She can’t get up the stairs at all anymore.”
“It was only a matter of time.”
“How do we know if she’s in pain? She doesn’t look sad.”
“Well, they can’t tell us what they’re thinking. I’m 95%
sure, based on her actions, that she’s in a lot of pain.”
So it’s up to us. It’s up to me. To go to class and work and
church and do well, when what I want to do is make you a pot roast and let you have all the juice, buy McDonalds out of double cheeseburgers, bake five dozen Christmas cookies with all the trimmings and clean out the shelves in the checkout aisle to get you as much chocolate as you can eat.
Next time I come home, you won’t be there to meet me,
and I won’t go looking for you. You won’t be lost in a neighbor’s flower bed, making them worry about their plants while I frantically search for you. You won’t be sleeping, you won’t be running in circles outside. The socks and blue fuzzy slippers of the world will be terribly safe. No one, friend or otherwise, will recognize you wandering lost through the streets and bring you home.
It won’t be scary because Daddy will carry you. Matthew
will bring Squirrel and you’ll have treats, and even though she wouldn’t get up to chase you down the street Mom will tell you that you are a good dog. I’ll be sitting at a desk taking notes, and throwing your tennis ball for the last time, wondering how I can be such a horrible friend.
Emily Hemphill, When Hips Become Trips to the Vet
two poems by tyler collins 2011
Creative writing award winner Jessica Meece, Light at the End of the Tunnel
The Egyptian Room A mummified Siamese cat rests beneath fingerprint stained glass while hieroglyphic drag queens look beyond their frames and damage their vision from the glare of eco-friendly light bulbs. Cracked clay jars sit empty several feet from a water fountain that is being repaired because the water isnâ€™t cold enough, A woman begins reading a display that states the great pyramid took 20 years to construct, but is interrupted by her child who wants to see the dinosaurs again.
Tyler Collins, The Egyptian Room
Airport Music In the terminal everyone’s having staring contests with cell phone clocks while tapping toes against bleached tile. passengers clutch briefcases or squirming babies– others imagine firework death while sucking the juices from nicotine gum. A woman sits across from me in a black burqa. she tries to calm her wild child who’s having obnoxious adventures with a Spider-Man action figure. he screams sound effects during our silent wait. She bends down, grabs the Spider-Man and softly sings the theme song while making it dance– the child calms down and we do too.
Tyler Collins, Airport Music
Emily Kays, Overgrown
2012 Next Generation Creative Writing Award
Fiction by Winner Elizabeth Smith, Somerset Christian
The Yellow Heart The roar of the cannon echoed loudly and without warning. The sudden start of the attack surprised me, causing me to noticeably jump in fright. I glanced around stiffly, praying no one had seen my reaction. From the faces of stone around me, I doubted they had. All the men around me seemed focused on the ground before us, their faces betraying nothing of what they felt. The only emotion shining through the cold faces was the fierce look of determination. I glanced further down the line, hoping to see someone else as afraid as I, and spotted a man bowing his head as he read the small New Testament in front of him. His lips moved as he quietly read the Word, and I wondered what passage he was reading that gave him such strength. For on his face, instead of the fear I hoped for, was a strange peaceful calm and resignation for what was to come. Perhaps the men around me were scared, but if they were they hid it well. From what I could see, I was the only one shaking in fear. Another shell exploded above the lines, sending shrapnel crashing down to the earth. I could only watch, wide-eyed, as men collapsed to the ground, screaming as their life blood began to stain their uniforms. I tore my eyes away, shutting them tightly. The screams--the unearthly screeches of pure agony--pierced my ears, and my grip on my musket tightened. My knuckles were white, the wood cutting into my palm. Though my eyes were closed, I could still see the men writhing on the ground, screams tearing from their throats as they clutched their bleeding wounds.
Elizabeth Smith, The Yellow Heart
Slowly, the screams began to fade--whether the men passed or were moved, I don’t know. I opened my eyes and I loosened my grip. I stretched my fingers, flinching as little shards of pain hit me. I noticed the wetness of my hands and wiped them off on my wool pants. Licking my lips, I realized just how dry my mouth was. It felt as if I had been chewing on cotton, though I had done no such thing. Slowly, my hands shaking, I uncorked my canteen and lifted it to my lips. A shell exploded up above and I jumped, my precious water falling from my canteen as it fell from my hand. I bit my lip, glancing out of the corner of my eye to see if my jump had been seen, and brought my canteen back to my lips. It was lighter now, though it hadn’t been to heavy to begin with, and as I held my head back, only a small trickle of warm water reached my lips. I took it and raised it higher, but only a few small drops fell out. Reluctantly, I re-corked the canteen and let it rest uselessly at my side. I thought about asking the man beside me for a drink, but decided against it for I wasn’t sure my voice would not shake with fear. Sighing, I resigned myself to a day of thirst. “Attention Company!” The order came suddenly, echoing its way down the lines. “Shoulder arms!” The men around me snapped to attention, eyes forward. I snapped as best I could, but my movements were sloppy even in my eyes. I stared straight forward, but I couldn’t keep my eyes from nervously flickering left and right. A mounted messenger galloped across the field before us, dirt kicking up from under the horse’s hooves. No sooner had the rider disappeared then the orders echoed once more down the line. “Forward, march!” The drums began to beat and I stumbled forward with the men on either side of me. My heart pounded in my chest and my
Elizabeth Smith, The Yellow Heart
breath quickened until it seemed as if I had marched for miles instead of just a few feet. My feet felt like lead as I lifted them, one after another. Left. Left. Left, right, left. One. One. One, two, one. With each step, each beat of the drum, I felt my heart quicken and my pulse race. Each step brought us closer to the enemy, closer to the fiery hail of lead, closer to the end. I bit my lip nervously and looked across the field. Through the thick cloud of smoke I could see the movement of figures, though I could make no clear shapes or colors out. Whether they marched toward us or away I couldn’t say. All “We marched I knew was we were marching into the fire, into the on, leaving the ever-firing cannon’s mouth.
screaming, the A shell lobbed itself above, falling until it crashed to the ground just yards from me. A blinding light dead, and the flashed and the explosion all but deafened me. I stumbled sideways, only staying upright because of dying behind.” the man to my side. With a low growl, he pushed me away and I struggled to remain on my feet. I could hear the screams from off to the side where the shell had landed, but I forced my eyes to remain fixed ahead. We marched on, leaving the screaming, the dead, and the dying behind. With each step, I felt my fear rise within. Never before had I felt this much fear. Fear of what lay before; fear of the deadly wall of fire that grew ever closer; fear of what would happen when we reached that wall; fear that my time had come. The fear grew and spread within me, freezing my blood and sending panic coursing through me until I felt I fall dead of fear before any enemy bullet could find me. A roar sounded from behind my right ear and I jumped, my eyes surely wide in fright. I turned my head and saw the man behind me pulling his musket down and reloading. Another roar sounded to my left and I looked that way and saw the man beside me pulling his musket down as well. With a start, I realized I had Elizabeth Smith, The Yellow Heart
missed a command. My musket suddenly felt heavy against my shoulder and the weight threatened to overtake me. I blinked as the fresh smoke blinded my eyes, causing them to water. The sulfur burned my nostrils and I coughed, trying to expel the taste of black powder, but it remained. The noise of battle seemed to grow louder all of a sudden, sending my ears ringing with the roaring of muskets and cannons, the screams of the wounded, the shouts of battle-crazed men. An explosion suddenly shook the earth, flashing of light and flame reaching from just feet away. A shout escaped my lips as I fell, my musket slipping from my grip. I hit the ground hard, the breath knocked out of me. I felt something hit the ground beside me, but I was too winded to turn and look. I barely caught a glimpse of the men moving on, leaving me on the ground. It was as if I was paralyzed and I could do nothing but watch as my company marched further and further away. It was only when they were at least five hundred yards away that the moan reached my ears. It came from somewhere to my right and, though my brain yelled at me not to, I turned to look. A man lay beside me, his head at my elbow. Tears fell from his eyes as another moan fell from his lips. My eyes strayed further down and I gasped as they came to rest on his mangled leg. I felt sick as I saw how his leg was barely still attached, the wool of his pants ripped apart and stained a bloody red. I felt myself begin to shake and, though I wished more then anything to turn away, my eyes seemed to be eternally fixed on his wound, his lifeâ€™s blood leaking from his body and soaking into the earthâ€™s soil. He moaned once more and I finally managed to tear my eyes from the deadly wound. I looked back into his face and, with a start, realized that the man was no more then a boy not yet shaving. His eyes met mine and shame filled me. There I lay, no
Elizabeth Smith, The Yellow Heart
wounds that I could speak of, and yet I did not move while this boy—this man---beside me lay dying. Another shell exploded somewhere overhead and I reacted instantly, covering my head with my arms and burying my face into the dirt, eyes clenched shut. Dirt fell over me and I kept my face hidden until the dirt had ceased to fall. Slowly, I lifted my head and looked around. The battle was far to the front, leaving me in the rear with nothing but the dead and dying. I felt the boy beside me shudder and one last moan escaped his lips. Nervous of what I would find, I turned and looked. His eyes had shut and there was a peaceful look on his face, no hint of the pain he had suffered remaining. With a start, I realized he was dead. Hands shaking, I pushed up, struggling to my knees. My whole body shook and I feared I would lose my meager breakfast as I looked around and saw all the blood, and the death and destruction that surrounded me. My musket lay to my left, still fully loaded. I reached for it, but jerked my hand back fearfully as I saw the dark stain on the stock. Without thought I knew what it was. Blood. I looked forward once more and saw the flashes of the muskets and cannons. I saw men fall, some shaking violently in death’s throws and others simply lay still once they hit the ground. Others were trying to crawl away, some missing arms or legs, or dragging a broken and useless limb behind. I saw a man break ranks and run, throwing his musket to the side. I could only watch as an officer chased after him, pistol waving and mouth open, no doubt screaming obscenities and threats. Still the man ran, not even throwing a glimpse over his shoulder. The runner’s hands fumbled as he undid his belt, tossing it to the side, ridding himself of the excess weight of the cap box and bayonet. He was reaching to throw of the rest of his gear when Elizabeth Smith, The Yellow Heart
smoke left the officerâ€™s pistol and he fell to the ground, rolled once, and lay still. My heart seemed to stop as I watched the runner, waiting for him to struggle to his feet. The form never moved, never even twitched, and I knew he was gone. With a start, I realized that could have been me. It could have been me lying up there, a bullet in my chest, in my arm, or leg or back. It could be me, crawling on the ground, crying, begging for mercy. It could have been me. Fear began racing through me once more and my mind seemed to shut down. I staggered to my feet and took a step back, eyes locked on the battle before me. My hands fumbled for my belt and, eyes still locked forward, I undid and let it drop to the ground, quickly followed by my canteen, haversack, and cartridge box. The weight seemed to lift off me and suddenly I felt as light as feather. Still my eyes could not tear themselves from the battle before me. I could only watch as they sounded the charge and the men charged, yelling for all they were worth. I watched as men fell and screams rang through the air. A cannon roared and a shell exploded in front of me. My eyes jerked away as the shell hit, sending dirt flying through the air. And then I did the only thing I could. I turned and ran.
Elizabeth Smith, The Yellow Heart
Contributors Rhyana Barker Rebecca Branham Tyler Collins Hayley Davis Mythcah Godsey Emily Hemphill Emily Kays
Jessica Meece Jasmine Minke Hannah Roehrborn Thomas Sakowich Elizabeth Smith Madison Wesley
Published on Mar 25, 2013
Since its first issue in 1985, its revival in a “New Series” in 2003, and now its current online format, Pensworth has provided an outlet fo...