Pensworth: A Journal of Student Writing and Art
New Series No. 6 Spring 2008
Edited by Miranda Howard, Student Editor Jolina Miller, Student Editor Nancy Bowden, Faculty Editor Cory McClellan, Faculty Editor Jamey Temple, Production Editor
sponsored by Sigma Tau Delta and the English Department of University of the Cumberlands
Pensworth appears annually in the spring. Students of University of the Cumberlands may submit work for consideration for the next issue in September and October 2008. Submit original poetry, fiction, personal essays, photography, and artwork to Pensworth, c/o English Department. You may inquire in the English Department, Bennett 013, for details on how to submit your work. 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. Since its first issue in 1985 and its revival in a “New Series” in 2003, 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.
Front Cover: Print by Becky Nantz, Intalgio Back Cover: Drawing by Luke Davidson, Conte Crayons
Contents Spring 2008
Print, Jordan Patton................................................................................................................iv Transcontinental Calling Card, Justin Adams ..................................................................1 Better Homes and Tardy Slips, Justin Adams....................................................................2 Precedent, Miranda Howard ................................................................................................3 Drawing, Nena Garcia ..........................................................................................................4 Sunburn, Miranda Howard ..................................................................................................5 Photograph, Stacy Roth..........................................................................................................6 Bloom, Jamey Scott Robinson ................................................................................................7 Drawing, Donna Strong ........................................................................................................8 Dissonance, Jolina Miller ......................................................................................................9 Photograph, Stacy Roth ......................................................................................................10 Love (Noun), Christopher Peters, 2007 Creative Writing Award ..............................11 Photograph, Stacy Roth ......................................................................................................18 Replica, Aaron JD Sturgill ..................................................................................................19 Kneeling in Silence, Matthew Ryan Sebastian ................................................................20 Drawing, Donna Strong ......................................................................................................21 Untitled, Matthew Ryan Sebastian....................................................................................22 e Freak Show, Miranda Howard ..................................................................................23 e Magic Girl, Miranda Howard ....................................................................................24 Drawing, Donna Strong ......................................................................................................25 Fair Trade, Justin Adams......................................................................................................26 Photograph, Stacy Roth ......................................................................................................27 Moving-picture frames, Justin Adams ..............................................................................28 Experiment Into Haiku, T.J. Akins....................................................................................29 Where the Dead Are Succeeded by the Dying, Jamey Scott Robinson ......................30 Photograph, Stacy Roth ......................................................................................................31 Embarrassed Game, Miranda Howard ............................................................................32 e Words that Went Unread, Jolina Miller ..................................................................33 irty Days Hath September, Stephanie R. arpe ............................................................40 iii
Jordan Patton, Intaglio Print
Transcontinental Calling Card JUSTIN ADAMS
ose eyes on the clock work just ﬁne, said the girl laughing at the boy knocking at the telephone, crack open my slide-rule for the night promises another slice of morning to anyone who shows he can double-knot my heels. But I’m starving, said the boy to the girl singing like a breakfast pillow, I’m starving for a necktie to twirl around your feet, and I won’t wait for the townies to leave before I whisper weather in your ear and peel a fresh-pressed skirt.
Adams, “Transcontinental Calling Card”
Better Homes and Tardy Slips (Hello, Miss, Care to Dance?) Keep away from the wooden elephant paralyzed to the beat of its own window. (Of course,) Martha Stewart once advised me to stir dead ﬂashlight batteries into cranberry sauce. (I'd be delighted.) e paper or plastic ﬂowers have never tasted so much like water.
Adams, “Better Homes and Tardy Slips”
Precedent Barefoot through the clover-ridden ﬁelds ere’s a tea party in the harbor, lots of guys in funny hats John and Yoko’s bed-in under a stand of weeping willows oreau’s sitting on a rock by Walden Pond writing the merits of Civil Disobedience King’s telling a crowd about his dream from a cell in Birmingham County Jail Harriet Tubman’s working on the railroad, all the live long day Ghandi’s starving himself for India, fasting for freedom I’m sleeping, warm in my comfortable bed, dreaming of a place in this tradition I’ll wake in the morning with dew on my toes Still living in a world where turning the other cheek is a sign of weakness Where protesting is seen as unpatriotic and subversive I’ll realize that I don’t do any of these things oen enough at I don’t deserve the power to understand King’s dream or Lennon’s vision I’ll ask myself: What can I do? I’ll probably do nothing, which makes me just as bad as those who don’t get it Nay, it makes me worse
Nena Garcia, Condensed Charcoal Drawing
Sunburn miranda howard
I drink my milk from a glass bottle And you eat Cheerios in bed Common crumbs fall from Your windburnt lips While I dribble On my lobster-red toes. We push closer and closer Rooting for the center of the earth My earth is sand and yours is wheat Or whatever Cheerios are made of.
Stacy Roth, Photograph
Bloom JAMEY SCOTT ROBINSON
I sit rooted in the cold, moist ground Awaiting that ﬁrst ray of light at dawn When that bright light creates bright life. But I am still sore afraid of the world outside, Fearful, my leaves tremble and grow pale. Nobody really likes a ﬂower that hasn’t bloomed. I wonder if my petals will be red, or blue, or yellow even? I am too ugly to be called even a weed, Only a small reﬂection of potential unrealized. I have thorns that will hurt when reached out to, ough I really don’t mean to hurt anybody. Nobody really likes a ﬂower with thorns, out of bloom. In solitude I sit, rooted to my station in the earth. Now basking full in the glory of the Sun. I shake oﬀ my fear and stretch out with glory And behold a rose with petals of purest white. So odd it is to see such a unique sight, at I am plucked from my home, in the name of love Put on display for the entire world to see I have bloomed at last, yet soon my life will cease to be. Nobody likes a ﬂower that has wilted…
Donna Strong, Charcoal Drawing
Dissonance JOLINA MILLER
e teacher says, “Cognitive Dissonance is when two pieces of our world do not ﬁt together.” A pause and a question: “Does anyone have an example?” e students let their answers fall like beads from a string: eight a.m. and classes, rainy days and weddings, Christmas carols and techno music. I have one, I long to say, my best iend and cancer. “What do you do to reduce the tension? Do you ever tell yourself lies?” I clutch the pen so tight my knuckles look like bone: It’s not that bad. We’ve seen results like this before. Maybe it’s just a calcium deposit. “Sometimes, we will even devalue or discredit the source of the information. Like what nutritionists tell us about the Big Mac. We purposefully ignore their information because we so badly want the sandwich.” I devalue--I discredit Dr. Meleck and his knowledge. All he did was a needle biopsy. He should’ve referred her to the orthopedic surgeon the second her hip lit up the screen. “We rationalize that we can eat one, two, or three Big Macs--because, in the end, we think something else will kill us anyway.” e next slide shuﬄes into its place. “ere are several things that can cause dissonance. One is a loss of group prestige. What if the team you are rooting for loses the World Series? Will you experience a sense of loss? What if my best iend loses to those ravaging cells? Will I experience a sense of loss? “Another loss that creates dissonance is the loss of personal prestige: I experienced this when I bought a new washer and dryer, and they didn’t wash my clothes the way I wanted them to.” My best iend felt the loss of personal prestige when she awoke to ﬁnd her pillow covered with more hair than what was on her head. “e most dissonance is experienced when we are faced with an unpredictable outcome. When we do not know what is going to happen, the pieces of our world do not seem to ﬁt together. But if we are once again reassured we have emotional and physical security, consonance will be attained.” Teacher, tell me, that I can still have 10, 20, 30 years with my best iend; Teacher, tell me, in the end, what that something is that is going to kill us all anyway.
Stacy Roth, Photograph
CHRISTOPHER PETERS 2007 CReATIve WRITING AWARD WINNeR Love (noun): a feeling of great pleasure, desire to protect, or sense of community directed at/incited by a specific object, person, place, etc.; a longing or desire for someone/something; a damnable emotion that no one can explain or understand.
Despite the cold luminescence provided by the light in my ceiling fan, my room felt warm and dark; my sheets were pulled up to my chin, enveloping me in their womb. My mother leaned over me, sitting halfway on the bed, supporting herself with her left arm. I was six. Bye-oh my baby, bye-oh baby bye, she sang, her voice soft and soothing. It was my favorite lullaby, and I often requested it at bedtime. Her song was a cycle of love, a delineation of how much all my sundry relatives loved me, even when they were doing other things or when they were far away. Each verse of the lullaby sprang anew from the mind of my mother; she never ran out of ways to sing of love. Daddy still loves you, Daddy still loves you, Daddy still loves you, when he’s gone to work. Perhaps because I cried so often, my mother felt the need to impress love upon me. She finished the lullaby, her voice dovetailing into silence. “Goodnight, Tiger,” she said (I had been nicknamed Tiger because of some old Elvis movie – one of my parents’ most beloved flicks). “I’ll see you in the morning. Sweet dreams. I love you.” It was our bedtime ritual for her to say those things and for me to repeat them. The last words spoken between us every night were “I love you.” Tradition satisfied yet another night, she kissed me on the cheek, padded across my green area rug beside the bed, turned off the light, and left me alone in the darkness, full of the promise of love. Then our bedtime ritual stopped, seemingly without warning. I was bade goodnight from my mother as she stood in my doorway, silhouetted by the hall light. She told me to have sweet dreams and “get some rest.” Alone now, I started tucking myself into bed, softly murmuring the now silent strains of past comfort. I’ve always felt sorry for my fourth grade teacher: my two rowdiest cousins were in Peters, “Love (Noun)”
my class, and they were a handful in themselves. At least our seating assignments were shuffled every so often, separating Josh and Matt – and me. It was in fourth grade, age nine, that I noticed a complete mental shift in my relatives. Somewhere along the way they had gone from running away from girls due to a monstrous fear of cooties to wolf-whistling to the class belle, a lithe brunette with dark brown eyes that were guaranteed to give men strange blank smiles in years to come. I didn’t quite understand the change, but I dealt with their new emotions as best as I could – after all, they were family. Writing is an integral part of elementary school curriculum, at least in Kentucky, and we were required to write a short story about the topic of our choice. As a rather imaginative child, I had no problem whipping out a decent piece in a short amount of time, but I balked when I was informed I had to read my composition aloud to the class. My cousins had no such anxiety and eagerly recited their own stories. I noticed a common thread in their works: both had transformed themselves to adults with families, and those families featured the same girl – the prettiest girl in class – as the wife and homemaker. Confusion swirled in my mind as I attempted to decipher why in the world those two would want to get married. Weren’t we too young for that? Weren’t girls still off-limits to the “tough” boys? And why her? She was just another girl in our class, nothing particularly special about her. After all, there were other girls in the class that made better grades than she did. Later that year, when I was denied recess for botching an assignment, it was the apple of their collective eye that stayed behind for a few seconds to tell me that everything was ok. “It’s just one assignment,” she said. “I know,” I choked out, “but if I can’t do this right, how am I going to do everything that’s based on it right?” “Yeah, but you’re smart. You won’t lose recess again.” She smiled briefly and followed the rest of our class outside. Even though my vision was blurred from tears of failure, I began to see why my cousins might have decided to “marry” her: she cared. The house was empty; I was alone. I was in my bedroom, sitting on the edge of my mattress, a single lamp driving back the darkness of the winter evening outside. I often preferred to keep my own company when the rest of my family went out visiting. Tonight was nothing special, just a standard-issue excursion to see my mother’s parents. Gregariousness is not in my nature. I don’t function well in social situations, even with people I’ve known all my life. I can’t breathe in crowds; it takes all I have 12
Peters, “Love (Noun)”
to stay in the store section of a Cracker Barrel restaurant and not run outside, fleeing the confines of the displays and the seeming hundreds of people crammed into what feels like the space of a subcompact car. And there is always a crowd at my grandmother’s house – which is where my parents and sister were that night. I love my Mamaw, but it would do no one any good if I spent my evening in the chair furthest from the congregation of relatives, struggling to draw breath in the mob. Had I gone, and had I further managed the feat of breathing somewhat normally, my hard-won air would’ve been used for the deplorable purpose of verbally jousting with my family. No, I would tell my favorite aunt once again, I did not have a girlfriend, nor did I intend to have one for quite some time; no, school was still more important; yes, I’ll take care of that later, maybe when I turned sixteen, but not now, so could we please discuss something else? No, there was no good to be accomplished in accompanying my family in their visitations. I did much better home alone. My watch lay on my nightstand, leaving my left wrist exposed, the oddly darkened flesh looking like the limb of another person or some otherworldly creature. Perhaps it was this distance that gave me the illusion that I would feel no pain if I slid the small knife I was holding into my own flesh. Before I performed the actions I had deemed would be my last, I paused to reflect on what had driven me to suicide. Marching band was the bane of my existence; it took a supreme force of will to coerce myself into attending rehearsal four days a week, three hours a day. The band was my second family, true; I spent as much time with them as my parents and sister, and our love of music bound us together – but it was a family that had rejected me, a family that didn’t want me, a family that would have gladly orphaned me on the doorstep of another extracurricular activity. My fellow players would ignore me, exclude me from conversations or group meals, and generally snub me, interacting with me only when forced. I had no friends; I was taunted and tormented by the girls in my school, teased as an egghead that had no real feelings. I was nothing but a fourteen-year-old failure. After I finally gave them an honest answer to their daily query of “How was your day?” my parents contemptuously listened to my assertions that people didn’t like me. Instead of comfort, I received scorn and chastising. “Oh, shut up,” my father told his teary-eyed son one night. “You need to loosen up and stop being so arrogant and commanding. People might like you if you’d try to like them.” And so I had tried to be liked, deliberately altering myself to be more “user friendly.” I stopped trying to help people and began to act almost goofy so others Peters, “Love (Noun)”
would feel more at ease around me. After watching countless reruns of M*A*S*H*, I had tried to mimic the dry wit of Hawkeye Pierce. Even so, my attempts had utterly failed; my new persona was worse than the old. My life, I felt then, was completely bereft of love. Those were the thoughts on my mind as I silently put the tip of the knife’s blade to the vulnerable skin of my wrist. I applied pressure and began to draw it across my arm, intending to leave a bloody and fatal line of crimson. The initial pain of the puncture made me gasp; I dropped the knife and clutched my offended flesh. Despite my pain, I was forced to silently laugh at myself. You’re so awful at life you can’t even kill yourself right. I picked the knife up off the floor and returned it to its place beside my pocket New Testament. Leaving my room, I went into the living room and watched television until my family returned. They told me that I should go out with them more often: it wasn’t right for me to stay at home “staring at the walls.” When my parents asked what I had done that evening in their absence, I told them I had watched TV the entire time. They never questioned it – and their silence, their conviction that nothing was wrong in my life, hurt worse than the knife I had put to my wrist. My grandfather lay dying in the hospital bed. His gown hung loose on his emaciated frame. It was dark outside his window and not much lighter in his room. Cancer had claimed the majority of his vital organs, feasting upon them like some perverse parasite, rendering him almost comatose. Hospitals usually smell of antiseptic and sterility, but in my grandfather’s room dwelled the scents of decay, disease, and death. I stayed in his hospital room for weeks, spending every spare moment I had with him – as did the rest of his rather large family. My grandfather and I had never been especially close, but it was more my fault than his. He had tried, taking my family (myself included) on trips with him, going boating and fishing together, and mischievously asking me to let him cut my hair every time it looked a little shaggy. But there was something standoffish about him – a trait I perhaps inherited – and I had never been drawn to him the way my sister and cousins were. And so I stood in a hospital room, wishing I had another chance, another day trip to buy molasses from the Amish community a few counties over, anything that would let me hang out with my grandfather and respond properly to his love. This particular visit was drawing to a close. My family gathered at the foot of his bed, illuminated by the fluorescent glow of the solitary lamp above his pale head. We began to bid him farewell one more time. My father spoke first. “I love you, Dad,” 14
Peters, “Love (Noun)”
he said, and quietly left the room to await the rest of us. Mom was next: “I love you, Daddy.” Her voice quavered with barely contained emotion – it was her father on that bed, the father she had watched go from woodsman to living corpse. My sister took another step towards my grandfather’s reclining form and whispered, “I love you, Papaw.” I was last. My mother, sister, and grandmother were still hovering in the room, awaiting my parting utterance. For some reason I couldn’t repeat my family’s words; saying “I love you” was expressing far too powerful and mysterious a sentiment, words I didn’t really know the meaning of – and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I hesitated for a moment while I selected my alternative farewell. Finally I managed to choke out a rasping, “See you tomorrow, Papaw.” I watched the floor as I left, unable to comprehend why I couldn’t tell my grandfather that I loved him. That was the last time I saw him alive. He died the next morning while I was at school, on Valentine’s Day. “Look! It’s the prom sentinel!” I heard a voice to my left proclaim loudly. I turned my head fractionally to that side and saw one of my friends – another geek, like me, except for his voracious sexual appetite, a combination I considered rather paradoxical. He and his date were coming towards me through the decorations and darkness in the high school gym. “Dude,” he shouted, attempting to make his voice heard over the din, “you’ve been standing there all night!” I shrugged. “Yup.” His date – a girl I had long considered incredibly annoying – giggled. She was always giggling, I thought. For all of her supposed virtues, her head was as empty as the space between stars – and she lacked sufficient other merits to make up for it. Short of acting out of desperation, I couldn’t understand why he had asked her to his senior prom. I hadn’t settled like that, and I didn’t think he should’ve, either – and there was absolutely no way I would’ve settled for that bimbo he managed to acquire. “Take his picture! I want a picture of the Prom Sentinel!” she cackled, the light making her red dress sparkle as she shook with inner mirth. I rolled my eyes, but otherwise didn’t move as my friend sold me out, raised his camera – a cheap disposable – and snapped a photo of me. Still giggling, his date led him off to the dance floor. I maintained my vigil. I hadn’t moved from that spot since shortly after arriving at my senior prom – supposedly a very happy, festive, magical occasion. But aside from substituting a Western-style tuxedo and cowboy hat for my customary loose shirt and khakis, prom found me no different than on any other day. After all, I was still standing away from the bulk of the student body, alone, watching them go Peters, “Love (Noun)”
through the steps of the game of love. That was how I viewed my life, anyway. Being an immensely unpopular persona in my high school, I had only a handful of friends and absolutely no girlfriends; I even failed in acquiring a prom date. So I went by myself, determined to ascertain how all the other guys managed to “get the girl.” I had been almost forced into going by social obligation, but my study gave me something productive to do with my time. Partially obscured by the darkness, I stood for more than three hours by the wall the prom committee had creatively covered with plastic and aluminum foil to resemble a Parisian skyline. Very few people noticed my presence as I stood observing them. I watched as guys took their dates upstairs for punch or water, or to have their picture taken on the “best night of their lives”; I watched them come back down; I watched them dance slow dances; and I watched them move their bodies like serpents in time to faster songs. They say that those who cannot do, teach; I wasn’t teaching, but since I still couldn’t “do,” I resigned myself to watching. Not a single couple escaped my appraisal that night. But even with hours of direct observation, I still didn’t understand what was going on. True, I was able to tell which couples actually felt something for each other, which had agreed to come as friends, and which were clearly playacting ; but I still didn’t know how the game was played, where we picked up our scripts for the show. In the great classroom of life, I had somehow missed the lecture on love – and I wasn’t sure that anyone else had the notes. “How did you know?!” she repeated, doe eyes wide, incredulous, her voice rising in pitch with excitement with each repetition. “It’s my favorite! How did you know?” I smiled sheepishly and shrugged. I wasn’t about to tell her how I had scoured her blog for an hour searching for some hint as to the perfect Valentine’s Day gift; how I had been to two different stores looking for it; how I had been forced to overcome my hatred of telephones to call one of those stores to ensure they still had it in stock. So instead I sat next to her on the stage of the university’s recital hall, as the large room crackled with the static of sixty voices speaking simultaneously as we readied ourselves for rehearsal, the fluorescent lights seeming a little less harsh for her joy, holding my instrument, and grinning like a three-year-old who just got a lollipop from the doctor for being well-behaved. We had met on the same stage upon which we now sat. A shared love of music had brought us to band, and a mutual attraction had brought us to each other. We initially talked about music and books, but we quickly moved on to other things – namely each other. Eventually we were walking to classes together when our schedules allowed, eating together, going through the motions. Everyone considered us 16
Peters, “Love (Noun)”
together – as did I. And so we were for the month-and-a-half from January to Valentine’s Day. She looked once again at her prize – a DVD of Sleepless in Seattle. “Thank you!” I only shrugged, despite wanting to be able to do so much more; but the crowd held me in check. “You’re welcome.” All-in-all, I considered my first venture into the holiday of love a great success. I had made my first true love happy. Exactly one week later, as I was helping her proofread an English paper, she informed me that it was God’s will she date someone else – a rival I was only dimly aware I had. He was a basketball player and extremely popular on campus, a sharp contrast to me, a decidedly un-athletic English major. They had both prayed about it, she said, and both agreed that God wanted them to serve and worship Him by entering into a relationship with each other. I was stunned and confused; but, not wanting to appear blasphemous, I did nothing to stop her as she left me, essay in hand, to go meet her love in the cold under the pale February sun. It had taken three pages, a lot of effort, and more time than I had anticipated, but I had finally finished my essay about love. I looked at my computer screen and smiled wryly. Three pages to say I didn’t know a thing ; big accomplishment. My blog was mostly miniature essays and rants such as the one I had just completed. Since I had previously written everything from movie reviews to an attempted definition of beauty, I supposed that love wasn’t that far out of line for me. My attempt at defining the one universal emotional constant included dictionary definitions, clichés, and sarcastic wit – the last of which is my specialty. My essay was liberally sprinkled with such phrases as “Love binds the universe together. Sentimental drivel, or cold hard fact?” and “The human race has an annoying predisposition to deception.” I read my own essay to myself once again. Not bad, I thought, although I suppose I could’ve changed a few things around for organizational purposes. Leave it to me to try to impose order and organization on something as nebulous and illogical as love. Despite my misgivings, I received quite a bit of positive feedback concerning the blog entry. I was praised for being “profound” and for “describing the indescribable.” It’s possible that the kudos were for my delineation of what I had termed “classic physiological symptoms” or my discussion of how love is uniquely human, even in language (after all, every living creature has “animal desire,” but only humans “make love”). At first the comments pleased me, making me feel appreciated in at least a cerebral sort of way, but then they made me question myself. If I was so good at writing about this stuff, and I knew exactly what I was talking about, why couldn’t I actually use this knowledge and get a date? Peters, “Love (Noun)”
Stacy Roth, Photograph
AARON J.D. STURGILL
Broken shards once mirroring self-contentment, Sharp enough to cut deep in the pain. Simple reﬂections of a subtle depression at led to the neglection in the realization you disdained. A wax ﬁgure modeled aer another; A perfect copy of the popular move. Formed from what everyone else dreamed to be, is is the new version of you! Taught how to talk, how to feel, how to think, Told how to look, how to walk, how to see; A version made to despise the original self you once were And told instead who you needed to be! Now the perfect product of their idolization, You've become a replica, a phony, a machine! Wires in your brain and a disk programming your heart, Does that now give you everything? So why have you shattered what looked back at you? Were you not satisﬁed with what you did see? Maybe you've found the simple idea no one has gotten: To be perfect isn't the perfect way to be...
Kneeling in Silence MATTHEW RYAN SEBASTIAN
Kneeling quietly, this wretched soul yearns for peace a bare naked body battered by the storms and trials of a forgotten existence only the relentless torment of time serves to remind him he lives little heed he pays to his broken body apart from his chest raw and bleeding where once a heart full of love and emotion did beat he once could feel but that was another time for now kneeling in silence he dies alone.
Sebastian, â€œKneeling in Silenceâ€?
Donna Strong, Charcoal Drawing
MATTHEW RYAN SEBASTIAN
Mountains tower above unknowable tons of ancient stone resting quietly, as ales’ ageless principle probes you for weakness sneaking through hidden veins deep within the earth. Can you stop it? Your ancient wisdom brings you no proﬁt, ﬁnding your weakness, you become hollowa shell.
e acetic circus clown Waxes humble In lead-based face paint While the ringmaster Tames lions In suspenders and shirtsleeves e trapeze artists Dance on a high wire With no catch-all While the sword swallower Sweeps under the Big Top With a whisk broom And I am the bearded lady In a rusted out trailer Shaving my handlebars for a date With the boy with two heads.
Howard, “e Freak Show”
The Magic Girl MIRANDA HOWARD
Window dressing Stand still – look pretty Part of the illusion Give away all and nothing Cognac and curtains Playing dapper He smells of stale smoke From puﬀ puﬃng at stage le. e disappearing box trick It’s just me crouched In the disappeared chamber Wrinkling my lingerie He’ll saw me in half Or maybe it’s just a dummy pair of legs Wearing my shoes But she doesn’t have my pretty face He’s taking a bow Giving me a twirl with his trickster’s hands e very same ones that grope me Behind velvet curtains
Howard, “e Magic Girl”
Donna Strong, Charcoal Drawing
Fair Trade JUSTIN ADAMS
Exchange certain unalienable mocha lattes for hands full of friction-hot erasers? Not before the cash register strikes midnight and a boxed set of citrus punch becomes a personal ﬂotation device. And not when there's enough rain in my pockets to feed the rosebush beneath the overpass. But if I ﬁnd correct change, there's going to be a bag of pencil shavings steeping in her mailbox, scalding her tongue by morning.
Adams, “Fair Trade”
Stacy Roth, Photograph
Moving-picture frames Her eye-glasses sit on the verge of another expert slope as she asks the lad to remember the lines they ran a week before they knew for sure tonight would be a foreign movie ﬂoorshow like a wedding march Bing Crosby would beam and moan in hindsight that’s ﬁy-ﬁy or better if he can manage a proper toast she always sings to the prying and concerned yes they are real but no my eyes aren’t nearly as anorexic as they look I swear to the last drop I eat a steady diet of scotch tape and mirrors.
Adams, “Moving-picture frames”
Experiment into Haiku Wintry Twilight Extinguished fortnights: Abysmal, nocturnal days. I pine for this spell.
Listless Leaves Essential assent— Arched beneath pounding footsteps. ey seem to brave all.
Canis lupus Alluring specters With feathery, bristled cloaks Of taintless rapture.
Kindred Gilded cherubim Lamenting furtive hymnal: e marvels of life.
Akins, “Experiment into Haiku”
Where the Dead Are Succeeded by the Dying JAMEY SCOTT ROBINSON
Lost to whims of fate go they that fall in place of the grand design Here, and evermore to be enshrined in memories of those yet to die. Yet still in time do bodies bow before the might of age and death at creeps among the lilies like a weed that soon shrouds all. An amorous embrace of darkness to which we hold fast the truth: at all things must pass, so says the laws of fate, inked in blood still warm. In my mind, I’ve seen the empires of man crumble in the pages of history Adding dust upon the dust of years gone by and lost to our decaying memory. ough I were not there to hold the blade that pierced dear Caesar’s heart Nor nailed the hands of Christ into the cross where blood was shed for love. I am a product of the ﬂow in the river of time and fate, cast into the sea of eternity. I’ve never tasted death as close as soldiers on the corpse ridden battleﬁelds Where bitter tongues spew blackened hate and paint their walls in crimson hues. Oh but I could slay the serpent that tempted Eve with poison promises And stopped the hands of fate and death that God, on us has forced upon. But time and fate and death and life, go hand in hand in collaborate strife Rich and poor, nevermore, old and young, dirges are sung, for death is not biased. is hollow earth we cover is a mortal soul, and death will take its toll And where the dead are succeeded by the dying, you will ﬁnd me in waiting.
Robinson, “Where the Dead are Succeeded by the Dying ”
Stacy Roth, Photograph
Embarrassed Game MIRANDA HOWARD
A voodoo songbird trills from the weeping willow Snake charming eggs And the witch doctor with the frying pan Are you the lark or the runny yolk? I think I’ll be the over easy ey’re stuck in almost Never were – humiliated chickens Understand cross purpose.
Howard, “Embarrassed Game”
The Words That Went Unread JOLINA MILLER
Seventeen-year-old Sadie Martin pummeled the mound of dough under the weight of the rolling pin with ill-concealed ferocity. Pausing to swipe her forearm against her sweaty brow, she coaxed some schlappich curls at her temple back under her Amish prayer covering. Her narrow shoulders hunched over her work, her back rigid with mounting tension. Deftly she continued, kneading the dough, rolling it out until it was evenly proportioned. Draping the dough over the pie pan, Sadie filled it with thick slices of apple. She cut thin strips of the leftover dough and wove it into an intricate pattern over the slick fruit. Speckling the crest of the pie with cinnamon, she slid it into the immense, ivory-colored wood stove. Resting her palms against the stove’s handle, her resolve failed her. Tears slipped unbidden down her cheeks. Her shoulders shook as sobs wracked her slight frame. Sadie sank to the floor in a gradual heap, her bare feet tucked beneath her. As the memories from the night before flittered like a dry leaf through her mind, she pulled her apron to her face with flour-coated hands. Brokenly questioning no one present, she asked, “Chosha, vhy--vhy are you doing this?” * Joshua Thompson felt his pulse flutter at the hollow of his throat like a dying bird. Bracketing the pen in his callused hands, he signed his name. What’s done is done, he thought. Taking a deep breath, he straightened and ran a hand through his straight, wheat-colored hair. “You’re doing the right thing, son. Now that you’ve turned eighteen, we’ll be counting on you to kill those Nazi Germans.” Silently, Joshua turned to stare at the stocky man clapping him on the back. “Now, if you’ll head on over there to Tex’s Barber Shop, we’ll see if we can’t fix that hair of yours before they send you out.” The man perused him with liquid gray eyes, “Does your mother cut your hair or something, son?” Ignoring the unintentional sting from the remark, Joshua swallowed and replied, “I now cut my own hair, sir.” The man grinned, exposing cramped teeth set in receding gums. Chuckling, he Miller, “e Words at Went Unread”
muttered, “Well, that explains it.” Twenty minutes later and two blocks down the street, Joshua sat quietly and clenched his eyes as the buzz of the barber’s razor resounded in the room. While his hair fell in a pale pool on the cape draping his shoulders, his mind drifted back to the night before--the night that had changed his life forever. * Enraptured, Sadie watched the pinpricks of stars pierce the blanket of velvety sky and thought of Joshua. The wind swept over the Martins’ numerous acres of land, and with gentle fingers, teased the damp tendrils that traced Sadie’s spine. Trailing her hand over the dew-tipped grasses that enveloped her simple, cotton nightdress, Sadie wondered how long she had until her mother called her in for the night. Joshua ran until he felt his lungs would burst. Stopping a moment, he clenched his side and doubled over. Glancing up, he stared at the bobbing circle of lemon-colored moon, hoping he would somehow reach her in time. He began to run again, his hands slicing crisply in the wind, his bare feet skimming the roughly hewn lane that wound beneath him. His mind raced. He prayed that somehow she would understand what he had come to tell her. Now, Joshua could see the dusky outline of the back of Eugene Martin’s farmhouse. A single oil lamp burned behind the netted screen of their back porch. She was still awake. Suddenly, to his right, he perceived a figure in white standing in the field. He stopped and turned, walking slowly towards her. He heard Sadie’s sudden inhalation of breath. She smiled as they drew closer to one another, the moonbeams of light illuminating the whites of her eyes and teeth. He had never seen her with her hair down before. Self-consciously, she touched the windblown curls and, bowing her slender arms behind her, attempted to fold it into a braid. Without thinking, Joshua thrust out his hand. “Don’t,” he said. She paused as they met, his hand still outstretched, and slowly dropped her arms. Her hair swirled around her like a cloud, casting cavorting shadows across their faces. Joshua had to swallow. “vhat are you doing here,” she fiercely whispered, her Pennsylvania Dutch accent a mixture of admonishment and indulgence. “Joshua, my father vill murder you!” . He smiled sadly as he noticed her precise over-pronunciation of his name, “But I had to speak with you.” “Surely vhat you had to say could vait for morning!” Joshua stared unseeingly at the expansive plains rippling around them, “I cannot wait till morning.” 34
Miller, “e Words at Went Unread”
Hearing the slight hesitation in his voice, she said, “Chosha, vhat is letz?” He took a step closer and said, “I’m signing up, Sadie.” Touching her hands to her heated face, Sadie whispered, “Oh, no, Chosha--you couldn’t.” Tears nipped her eyes; she squeezed them tight, willing them to remain hidden, not wanting him to see how much she cared. “See why I had to tell you?” Joshua murmured. “I knew you needed to know.” Sadie looked into the face of the boy she had known all her life and realized she didn’t know who he had become at all. “How could you do this, Chosha? You know vhat my people believe! Do you not even think that vhat God says is true? ‘Thou shall not kill’--How can your englisch world go against that? How can you kill your brothers in cold blood and call it justice?” Anger clipped her syllables, causing her accent to become even more prominent. Her cheeks were ablaze with fury; her eyes glittered with suppressed tears. With his index finger, Joshua brought her gaze up to meet his own. “My country needs me, Sadie. Please try to understand. The last thing I want is to hurt you.” He watched in anguish as a single tear curved down her cheek. It glinted in the muted light, resembling a drop of molten silver. “Sadie, please forgive me.” Dropping her gaze, she stared at the grasses writhing under the pressure of the mounting breeze and vowed, “I vill never forgive you.” Without a backward glance, she turned and sprinted over the field, her pale gown billowing, and her hair trailing behind her like an afterthought. Joshua continued to stand there long after she had gone; his mind not fully grasping what had just transpired. Swiping the corners of his eyes with his frayed work shirt, he pivoted woodenly in the direction of his home. As he jerked a stem of grass that lapped at his dusty pant leg, he could hear Sadie’s mother calling for her to come in. It began to rain. * As Joshua began the long walk into town the next morning, only once did he look behind him. Then, shrugging the bulky, sage-colored duffle onto the broad plane of his shoulder, he dabbed the sweat trickling down his cheekbones and set out for the train station. Joshua missed his mother. He longed to breathe in the comforting scent of her: oatmeal soap and sun-warmed cotton. It had already been a year since she had passed away. Sometimes, it seemed just yesterday that he had lain beside her, the browned skin of the forearm that embraced her contrasting with the bluish coloring staining her lips. She resisted until the end, knowing that she was needed to mollify the imMiller, “e Words at Went Unread”
pact of Joshua’s taciturn father. When she knew death was near, she clenched her son to her bosom, the chalky cords of her neck protruding, her shriveled lungs striving to become imbibed with oxygen. She did not cease to fight until the moment when Joshua looked into her face with a peace he did not feel. As a path slick with tears snaked down his ruddy face, he petitioned her to go on, reassuring her with the eyes that mirrored hers from the moment he entered this world that everything would be all right. * Rachel Martin’s eyes softened as she looked at her daughter. Resting her fevered cheek against the cool exterior of their expansive kitchen table, Sadie twisted a dampened hankie between her hands. Two mugs of meadow tea and a plate of sourdough bread remained untouched on the table before them. Placing a hand on the coarse material covering her narrow back, Rachel said, “Sadie, you need to eat something.” The only response was a weak shake of her head. Jerking her hand away, Rachel tapped the table next to her daughter’s face, “You cannot just vaste avay over some englisch boy! vhat vill Bishop Yoder think?” Sadie remained silent. Rachel sighed and picked up her mug. Taking a sip of the tepid tea, she said, “Your father and I have been talking. ve think you’ve had enough time for your rumspringa. It’s time to choose, Sadie. Are you really going to vait for this boy who has rejected all your beliefs, or are you going to continue our family’s heritage and be baptized into the Amish church?” Once again, Sadie uttered not a word. * Staring out of the train’s boxy window, Joshua watched as the sun-soaked fields of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania slipped away. As the rhythmic motion of the train began rocking Joshua to sleep, he caught a glimpse of the Bird-in-Hand Bridge. Leaping to his feet, he stumbled over the businessman reading a novel in the seat beside him and raced to the back of the train. Heedless of the cautionary signs, Joshua wrenched open the caboose’s door and stepped upon the bucking platform. There it was--the Bird-in-Hand Bridge. That rickety mass of spindly logs where he had taken Sadie when she had entered into rumspringa. It was also where he first told her he loved her. Joshua recalled the nervousness he felt while carving those simple words into the hand-hewn wood, but more than that, he recalled Sadie’s silence after he had finished. Tracing the crude letters with her fingers, Sadie eventually spoke, “Chosha, vhat are ve doing? Do you even know ? How can ve ever go on from here?” 36
Miller, “e Words at Went Unread”
Joshua entwined his fingers with Sadie’s and brought them to his lips, “I’ll just get baptized into the Amish church. I will--I promise.” Laughing, he slipped his arm around her shoulders, “I won’t drive. I’ll even grow a beard if that’s vhat you vant.” Plucking his arm from her shoulder, Sadie playfully corrected, “Only married men grow beards.” Joshua looked into her face and smiled, “I know.” The clatter of the train careening over the tracks removed Joshua from his reverie. As the bridge slid out of sight, he wondered why his father had berated him into believing he had a duty to his country when he knew that obligation would take away the woman Joshua loved. Had he been persuaded because those were the only words they had exchanged since his mother’s death? None of that mattered now. It was far too late. While the train dipped into a ravine cracking open to reveal a deep tunnel, Joshua vowed in his heart that once the duty to his country was completed, the only thing he would again fight for was to recapture Sadie’s heart. He was then plunged into darkness. * Lying next to her softly snoring sister, Sadie watched the snowflakes clustering outside her window and hoped it wasn’t as cold in Europe. Carefully peeling back the quilts covering their straw-tick mattress, Sadie tucked a shawl around her shivering frame and tip-toed toward the hope chest at the end of the bed. Kneeling before it, she lifted the once gilded latch her father had blackened with shoe polish so she wouldn’t be tempted by the world. From it, she removed the wedding ring quilt her grandmother had made for her along with the tiny crocheted bonnets, sweaters, and baby booties she was supposed to use once she married a respectable Amish boy. At the bottom of the pile, tucked between the pages of her mother’s German cook book, Sadie found what she was looking for. As always, her fingers shook as she worked to unknot the baling twine she used to wrap the letters Joshua had sent in the seven months he’d been gone. Standing to her feet, Sadie walked toward the window. By the muted light of the thumbnail moon, she scanned the figures on the page, trying to comprehend a language she had only been taught to speak. On each letter, her frustrated tears marred the fluid writing until the love he communicated could never be deciphered. Crumbling the paper in her fist, Sadie tugged on the bottom portion of the window until the ice broke free and the freezing wind rushed inside. As the tears crystallized on her pale cheeks, Sadie gathered the letters from her beloved and, like a battered bird, released them into the darkness. * Miller, “e Words at Went Unread”
Besides Joshua, the rest of the weary soldiers were still trying to feign sleep. Eventually, most of them would become resolved to the fact of how futile it was to try to sleep due to the sweat-inducing dreams that would wake them screaming. Joshua shook his head, his cracked lips curling in disgust. The harsh reality of the dreams was that they were their very lives. They just lived the same horrific episodes day after day. There was no respite from the vivid images that would manifest themselves without warning and without remorse. Joshua felt his threadbare pocket and heard the soothing rustle. He was grateful at least that he still had someone to talk to--someone to share with the dreams he hoped to one day fulfill. He longed to go home, to have the sweet, gentle smile of Sadie to chase away the images that seared his soul black as jet. In the letter crinkled in his pocket were the words that would establish the beginning of those dreams; the words that would ask her to wait for him so he might one day have a future to return to. * The austere bishop led the way, the peak of the black felt hat he wore bobbing above the crowd. The somber group sluiced through the mud, their stiff, lace-up boots sucking the earth with each step. Sadie huddled next to her Dawdi Martin, seeking warmth from his cumbersome bulk. Absently, as they all began to huddle around the ice-swathed river, Sadie realized the hem of her pristine gown was already licked with tongues of earth. She felt detached from her body, as if someone else was going to repeat the guttural, high German words that would condemn her. * The metallic hiss of machine-gun fire splattered the naked terrain. Joshua heard rather than saw his fellow countrymen become assailed by bullets. He trudged on, squinting his eyes under the smothering gauze of smoke. “Josh,” A southern voice rasped. “Help me. Please.” He knew to whom the pleading voice belonged long before he looked down at his feet and saw the freckled face of William. Laying his rifle on the shell-pocked earth, Joshua knelt and sunk his seizing hands into his friend’s stomach. Pressing down, he attempted to staunch the deleterious flow of blood. “William--hold on. Everything’s going to be all right.” Looking into the lusterless eyes of his fellow comrade, Joshua knew they would share the same fate. He would not keep his vow; he would never get the chance to fight for Sadie’s heart. A cacophony of explosions trembled the ground where he knelt. A burning sensation in Joshua’s throat made him long to cough, but when he did, all he could do was sputter sprays of blood. For but a moment, his back went ramrod straight, his arms dangling limply at his sides. All noise ceased as he stared into the cloudless blue sky. Then, as if in slow motion, he collapsed. 38
Miller, “e Words at Went Unread”
* The lilting, a cappella hymns of the gathered Amish community reverberated in the early dusk of evening. The Bishop led Sadie down the slippery slope and into the rushing river. The frigid water nipped voraciously at her flesh. The Bishop recited the mandatory words in his banal drone. Her mind drifting to thoughts of Joshua, Sadie closed her eyes, suddenly feeling faint. The Bishop dipped her back forcibly, the current swaying them both for a moment, and then she was submerged. Pulling her back to the surface, her turgid gown streaming, Sadie tasted the brine of her tears mingling with the icy water and knew she would never see Joshua again. * At the center of his being, lulling waves of warmth crested and gradually receded over the length of Joshua’s body. With blood-stained fingers, he dug into his pocket and pulled out the crumpled letter. He brought it to his lips and gently kissed it. The scent of oatmeal soap and sun-warmed cotton wafted sedately on the shifting breeze. With the last flutter of his dilating eyes, Joshua looked into the face of the woman whose sapphire gaze resembled his from the first moments his mind could remember. He didn’t miss his mother any longer.
Miller, “e Words at Went Unread”
Thirty Days Hath September STEPHANIE R. THARPE
She stands so quietly on a front porch Her face lit by a gentle light— All around her is the night. She calls her daughter And tells her not to stay too late— Just long enough to kiss that boy and celebrate. * I sit with restless hands playing with a napkin While around me leaves ﬂirt with chilly air and I just smile. irty days hath September I’d ask, but you won’t remember— e time we took that road to nowhere, and it ended up being beautiful. e breeze is cooler now as ﬁreﬂies go back home. e sun is gentler now as I place a jacket around my shoulders. I’d ask, but you won’t remember the time we laughed about those songs that no one listened to—except me and you. irty days hath September, and I have another year to see if my dreams will ever come through. ere is a God who is watching over sleepy towns and wild ﬁres: the kind that light up the sky. e smell of burning brush has always been my favorite, With the taste of melted marshmallow Pressed between two sides, sticky ﬁngers, and sweet November almost touches our hands. 40
arpe, “irty Days Hath September”
Justin Adams T.J. Akins Luke Davidson Nena Garcia Miranda Howard Jolina Miller Becky Nantz Jordan Patton
Christopher Peters Jamey Scott Robinson Stacy Roth Matthew Ryan Sebastian Donna Strong Aaron JD Sturgill Stephanie R. î‚Šarpe
Published on Apr 1, 2008